The ABCs of Financial Empowerment

A quick Google search of ‘financial literacy’ will yield thousands of results, listing an infinite amount of do’s and don’ts that should (and shouldn’t) be followed to guide you along on your financial journey.

However, when you think of financial empowerment – what comes to mind? As defined by Merriam-Webster, empowerment is “the act or action of empowering someone or something: the granting of the power, right, or authority to perform various acts or duties.” No matter what your current sentiments are related to your finances, we will explore three key areas to not only embrace; but to help you prepare for a strong financial future.

Awareness

Now more than ever, we all have a laser-sharp focus on our money and where it’s being spent. The pandemic has generated a hypersensitivity to how we treat our finances while also determining what essential expenses look like and where they fit into our budget.

Before life as we knew it to be shifted, many of us don’t have to look too far back to remember a time where we didn’t check our accounts as often, our savings plan would fluctuate month-over-month or our emergency fund was used to bail us out of some impulsive spending.

To make sure those days are forever of the past, make it a habit to take inventory and audit all of your accounts. Take at least 15 – 30 minutes to review over any transactions and deposits across all active accounts. Not only does this help improve your self-accountability, but you are also able to make any disputes if anything appears incorrect and resolve quickly.

Another small but impactful tip is to acknowledge your financial health. What top three areas will be your main point of focus? If this is something you don’t know offhand, review your transactions from the last three months and categorize them. How much of your money went to impulsive buys or things that could have been purchased at a later date? Are you seeing an influx in overhead expenses or credit card payments? Are there any spending patterns you can explicitly see? Allow this exercise to serve as an eye-opening experience.

In order to determine where you want to be, you must first truthfully acknowledge where you are. This sets the blueprint and overall expectations with your personal finance journey. Knowing where you are may not feel pleasant but avoidance will lead to bigger consequences.

Betterment

Even though we don’t like to admit it, there’s always room for improvement and our finances are no exception. The first thing that guarantees mastery is actually following the budget that’s created. This serves as a guardrail – it’s used to keep us on track so we can greet our financial destination with open and inviting arms.

Once that’s in motion, explore ways to enhance your financial experience. Begin by automating recurring expenses, such as cellphone service or utility bills. That’s why it’s so important to be as honest and accurate as possible when setting a budget. Nothing should come to you as a surprise outside of any emergencies. When you trust yourself and the financial work you’ve put in, your finances have no choice but to follow suit.

If you haven’t already (or need to get back on track), work to beef up your emergency fund and savings account. Emergency expenses have a tendency to appear out of nowhere, so you want to dedicate a set dollar amount or a percentage every pay period. Setting up an automatic transfer to these accounts establish a routine while putting your mind at ease in the process.

Is there a hobby or skill you’d like to put to use and monetize? No matter how grandiose or small, this can definitely expedite achieving your financial goals. The money earned from a passion project can go toward savings, paying off debt or simply getting back to a place of comfort financially. Vacation funds or prepping for large purchases such as a car or home can also fall within this category. If you want to seek the assistance of a professional, search for financial advisors or coaches that could help you with reaching your goals. Preparation is key and your future depends on it!

Confidence

The foundation has been laid and you’ve been committed to crushing your financial goals. The budget and savings goals are in motion; so what’s next? It’s time to celebrate! Walk into your financial future with your best foot forward. When times seem bleak, remind yourself of your goals early and often.

Reinforcement such as daily reminders on your phone, having goals posted somewhere in your home you can see daily or reciting positive financial affirmations will serve as a second wind when you want to throw in the towel. Be sure to celebrate wins along the way such as debt payoff, reduction or hitting a new savings goal. Never been able to invest before and now you have the additional income to get in the game? Celebrate that!

The best way to generate excitement is to rally your family and get them involved. Create family challenges to get your children excited about saving funds and reallocating money. Come up with creative ways you all can commemorate knocking out a goal by ordering from your favorite restaurant or saving for a family staycation.

In order to walk in confidence, you have to build up the courage to begin no matter where you are or how many times you’ve had to start over. Each step counts – each successful budget, savings goal and consistent reduction of overall expenses. Be sure to keep in mind, financial freedom looks different for everyone and has the ability to pivot over time. While some may want to vacation throughout the year, save for their children’s college fund or wipe debt out completely, all are significant and take sacrifice. What is the key to achieving such a pinnacle level of confidence? Time.

 

Be kind to yourself and understand mistakes should never be equated to failures. Your commitment to this financial journey will always be rewarded.

The post The ABCs of Financial Empowerment appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Steps to Getting A Financial Advisor in your 20s

Getting a financial advisor in your 20s is a responsible thing to do. At the every least, it means that you are serious about your finances. Finding one in your local area is not hard, especially with SmartAsset free matching tool, which can match you up to 3 financial advisors in under 5 minutes. However, you must also remember that a quality financial advisor does not come free. So, before deciding whether getting a financial advisor in your 20s makes financial sense, you first have to decide the cost to see a financial advisor.

What can a financial advisor do for you?

A financial advisor can help you set financial goals, such as saving for a house, getting married, buying a car, or retirement. They can help you avoid making costly mistakes, protect your assets, grow your savings, make more money, and help you feel more in control of your finances. So to help you get started, here are some of the steps you need to take before hiring one.

Need help with your money? Find a financial advisor near you with SmartAsset’s free matching tool.

1. Financial advice cost

What is the cost to see a financial advisor? For a lot of us, when we hear “financial advisors,” we automatically think that they only work with wealthy people or people with substantial assets. But financial advisors work with people with different financial positions. Granted they are not cheap, but a fee-only advisor will only charge you by the hour at a reasonable price – as little as $75 an hour.

Indeed, a normal rate for a fee-only advisor can be anywhere from $75 an hour $150 per hour. So, if you’re seriously thinking about getting a financial advisor in your 20s, a fee-only advisor is strongly recommended.

Good financial advisors can help you with your finance and maximize your savings. Take some time to shop around and choose a financial advisor that meets your specific needs.

2. Where to get financial advice?

Choosing a financial advisor is much like choosing a lawyer or a tax accountant. The most important thing is to shop around. So where to find the best financial advisors?

Finding a financial advisor you can trust, however, can be difficult. Given that there is a lot of information out there, it can be hard to determine which one will work in your best interest. Luckily, SmartAsset’s free matching tool has done the heavy lifting for you. Each of the financial advisor there, you with up to 3 financial advisors in your local area in just under 5 minutes.

3. Check them out

Once you are matched with a financial advisor, the next step is to do your own background on them. Again, SmartAsset’s free matching tool has already done that for you. But it doesn’t hurt to do your own digging. After all, it’s your money that’s on the line. You can check to see if their license are current. Check where they have worked, their qualifications, and training. Do they belong in any professional organizations? Have they published any articles recently?

Related: 5 Mistakes People Make When Hiring a Financial Advisor

4. Questions to ask your financial advisor

After you’re matched up with 3 financial advisors through SmartAsset’s free matching tool, the next step is to contact all three of them to interview them:

  • Experience: getting a financial advisor in your 20s means that you’re serious about your finances. So, you have to make sure you’re dealing with an experienced advisor — someone with experience on the kind of advice you’re seeking. For example, if you’re looking for advice on buying a house, they need to have experience on advising others on how to buy a house. So some good questions to ask are: Do you have the right experience to help me with my specific needs? Do you regularly advise people with the same situations? If not, you will need to find someone else.

5 Reasons You Need to Hire A Financial Consultant

  • Fees – as mentioned earlier, if you don’t have a lot of money and just started out, it’s best to work with a fee-only advisor. However, not all fee-only advisors are created equal; some charges more than others hourly. So a good question to ask is: how much will you charge me hourly?
  • Qualifications – asking whether they are qualified to advise is just important when considering getting a financial advisor in your 20s. So ask find about their educational background. Find out where they went to school, and what was their major. Are they also certified? Did they complete additional education? if so, in what field? Do they belong to any professional association? How often do they attend seminars, conferences in their field.
  • Their availability – Are they available when you need to consult with them? Do they respond to emails and phone calls in a timely manner? Do they explain financial topics to you in an easy-to-understand language?

If you’re satisfied with the answers to all of your questions, then you will feel more confident working with a financial advisor.

In sum, the key to getting a financial advisor in your 20s is to do your research so you don’t end up paying money for the wrong advice. You can find financial advisors in your area through SmartAsset’s Free matching tool.

  • Find a financial advisor – Use SmartAsset’s free matching tool to find a financial advisor in your area in less than 5 minutes. With free tool, you will get matched up to 3 financial advisors. All you have to do is to answer a few questions. Get started now.
  • You can also ask your friends and family for recommendations.
  • Follow our tips to find the best financial advisor for your needs.

Articles related to “getting a financial advisor in your 20s:”

  • How to Choose A Financial Advisor
  • 5 Signs You Need A Financial Advisor
  • 5 Mistakes People Make When Hiring A Financial Advisor

Thinking of getting financial advice in your 20s? Talk to the Right Financial Advisor.

You can talk to a financial advisor who can review your finances and help you reach your saving goals and get your debt under control. Find one who meets your needs with SmartAsset’s free financial advisor matching service. You answer a few questions and they match you with up to three financial advisors in your area. So, if you want help developing a plan to reach your financial goals, get started now.

The post Steps to Getting A Financial Advisor in your 20s appeared first on GrowthRapidly.

Source: growthrapidly.com

The Magical Third Paycheck: 5 Budgeting Hacks If You’re Paid Biweekly

If you get paid every two weeks, you’ve probably noticed extra money coming your way certain months. Maybe you even thought your company’s payroll made a mistake! But it’s no mistake. You get two magical months like this a year: when you suddenly have a third paycheck and—the best part is—your monthly bills stay the same. Yes, it’s appropriate to jump for joy—provided you have a plan for that extra income.

Why does this happen in the first place? If you’re paid biweekly, you get 26 paychecks throughout the 52-week year. That means two months out of the year, you end up getting three paychecks instead of your regular two.

Those two extra paychecks can go a long way. But without a plan in mind, they can also disappear. Fast. The first budgeting trick to saving two paychecks is to find out when they will hit your account. Grab a calendar and write down your paydays for every month in a given year and highlight the two extras. Maybe even put calendar reminders in your phone so you can track when the additional funds will hit your account. The extra paychecks will fall on different days every year, so tracking them in advance is key.

Samuel Deane, a founding partner of New York City-based wealth management firm Deane Financial, says there isn’t one correct way to budget with an extra paycheck, but that it should depend on your personal situation and financial goals. You could decide to give yourself some extra room in your budget throughout the year, for example, or use the extra money for something specific.

There are a few different ways to budget with an extra paycheck.

How can I budget for an extra paycheck? Consider these 5 budgeting hacks if you’re paid biweekly:

1. Pay down (mainly) high-interest debt

Once you’re done jumping for joy at the realization of the third paycheck, consider how your budget with an extra paycheck could help you pay down debt. “The first thing I usually tell my clients is to get rid of high-rate debt, which is usually credit card debt,” Deane says.

Before paying off debt with your new budget with an extra paycheck, make a list of all of your debts organized by balance and annual percentage rate (APR). Paying off the debt with the highest APR could save you the most money because you’re paying the most to carry a balance. Paying down a few low-APR, low-balance debts can also help you gain momentum and bring other financial benefits. For instance, if you owe close to your credit limit on a credit card, the high credit utilization—or card balance to credit limit ratio—could negatively impact your credit score.

If your budget with an extra paycheck includes debt repayment, you’ll start to owe less and have less interest accruing each month, freeing up even more cash from subsequent paychecks.

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“The first thing I usually tell my clients is to get rid of high-rate debt, which is usually credit card debt.”

– Samuel Deane, a founding partner of wealth management firm Deane Financial

2. Build an emergency fund

Paying down debt isn’t the only way to budget with an extra paycheck. “Taking a look at whether you have a sufficient emergency fund is pretty important,” says Dan Stous, director of financial planning at Flagstone Financial Management.

An emergency fund of three to six months of your regular expenses can help you weather financial setbacks, such as a lost job or medical emergency, without having to take on new debt. Keeping these funds separate from your regular checking and savings accounts can help you keep them earmarked for the unexpected (and reduce the temptation to dip into them for non-emergency expenses). Places to keep your emergency fund include a high-yield savings account, certificate of deposit or money market account.

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If creating an emergency fund or adding to an existing one is on your to-do list, a budgeting trick to save two paychecks is to automatically transfer your extra paychecks into your emergency fund account.

3. Save for a big goal

If you want to save for a goal like a new car or home, or contribute to tax-advantaged retirement accounts, contributing two full paychecks out of 26 can be a good start. “If a client is debt-free and doing well, they might be able to focus on other goals,” Deane says. If you’ve got a financial goal in mind, a budgeting hack if you’re paid biweekly is to transfer your two extra paychecks from your checking account to a savings or retirement account right away.

Using your extra paycheck to save for a goal, like a new home or new car, is a smart budgeting hack if you're paid biweekly.

If you have a 401(k) through an employer and already contribute enough to get your maximum annual match, Deane says you may want to consider a Roth IRA. A Roth IRA is for retirement, but it also allows first-time homebuyers who have held their account for at least five years to withdraw up to $10,000 to buy a home, Deane says. Your budget with an extra paycheck could then go to either major goal.

Even loftier, “you could put aside money to start a business,” Deane says. If you plan on starting a business someday you could put away the paychecks annually and let those savings build as start-up capital.

4. Get ahead on bills

If you already have an emergency fund, are currently debt-free and are making good progress on your savings goals, try this budgeting hack if you’re paid biweekly and get a third paycheck: Pay certain monthly bills ahead of time.

“If you have the ability to prepay some of your bills, it can ease anxiety in the coming months,” Deane says.

Before using this budgeting hack if you’re paid biweekly, check with your providers to confirm that you will not be met with a prepayment penalty, and get up to speed on any prepayment limitations. Some providers may even offer a discount or incentive if you pay something like a car insurance bill all at once. You could also explore whether or not prepaying your bills makes sense for utilities, your cellphone or rent.

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5. Fund much-needed rewards

If you’re looking for budgeting hacks if you’re paid biweekly, consider that managing money isn’t only about dollars and cents. Emotions often play an important part in personal finance, and they’re often the root cause of people’s decisions. Accepting this fact could be an important part of successfully managing your money.

“From an emotional and behavioral standpoint, people should reward themselves for being responsible,” Stous says. “Basically, treat yourself.”

Perhaps you need a vacation from the daily grind, want to enrich or educate yourself or your family or simply want to get a date night at your favorite restaurant on the calendar. A budgeting trick to save two paychecks could be supplemented with some spending on yourself.

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“If you have an extra paycheck and a debt reduction goal, then maybe you apply the whole thing toward that goal. On the other hand, maybe you have a goal to retire in 10 years and you’re off track. Then, it’d be wise to put that money, or at least a portion of it, toward that goal.”

– Dan Stous, director of financial planning at Flagstone Financial Management

There’s no one-size-fits-all budgeting trick to save two paychecks

When you’re deciding how to budget with an extra paycheck, you might find yourself going back and forth between options.

“If you have an extra paycheck and a debt-reduction goal, then maybe you apply the whole thing toward that goal,” Stous says. “On the other hand, maybe you have a goal to retire in 10 years and you’re off track. Then, it’d be wise to put that money, or at least a portion of it, toward that goal.”

Even though budgeting solutions are not the same for everyone, being disciplined and proactive about the savings opportunity of a third paycheck can help you form a strong foundation for your financial future.

The post The Magical Third Paycheck: 5 Budgeting Hacks If You’re Paid Biweekly appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.

Source: discover.com

Money Moves to Make in Your 20s, 30s, and 40s

Reaching your twenties is an exciting milestone for most as it means you’ve officially entered adulthood. Along with that milestone comes new responsibilities and worries that we didn’t picture when our teenage selves dreamed of turning 21. We imagined our college graduation, moving into our first apartment, and launching our new career. That vision didn’t include dealing with student loan debt, taking on a low paying entry-level job, or having to confront that despite spending 4 years in college, you’re still unsure how the world of personal finance actually works.

It’s easy to dismiss it all because well you’re a 20 something, and you’ll have plenty of time to play catch up. The reality is that each decade plays an important role in our future financial health. Take the time now to learn about your money and follow the money moves outlined below to put yourself on a path of lifelong financial success and eventual freedom.

Money Moves to Make in Your 20’s:

Learn How To Budget

Building a budget doesn’t have to be overly complicated or time-consuming. It’s actually the first step in putting yourself in control of your finances because it means you know where your money goes each month. The good news is that there are lots of apps and online tools that can make the process a breeze. Consider a system like Mint that will connect to your accounts and automatically categorize your spending for you. The right budgeting tool is simply the one you’ll stick with long term.

Pay Off Debt

Debt isn’t all bad. It may be the reason you were able to earn your degree, and a mortgage may help you one day buy a home. It can also quickly overrun your life if you aren’t careful. Now’s the perfect time before life gets more hectic with family commitments to buckle down and tackle any loans or credit card balances so you can be debt-free going into your 30’s.

Build a Cash Cushion

The financial downturn caused by the pandemic has reminded the whole world of the importance of having an emergency fund. We don’t know what life is going to throw at us and having a cushion can help you navigate the uncertain times. Though it’s not all about having a secret stash of cash to deal with the bad news of life (medical bills, car repair, layoff), it can also be about having the cash to seize an exciting opportunity. Having savings gives you the freedom and security to deal with whatever life brings your way – good or bad.

Understand Credit

Your credit score can dictate so much of your life. That little number can play a big role in the home you buy, the car you drive, and even the job you hold as some employers (especially in the finance world) will pull your credit. It’s important that you check your credit report and score (also available through Mint), learn how it’s calculated, and work to improve it.

Money Moves to Make in Your 30’s:

Invest For Retirement

Now that you’ve spent your 20’s building the foundation for your financial life, it’s time to make sure you’re also tackling the big picture goals like saving and investing for retirement. I typically recommend that clients save 10% to 15% of their annual income towards retirement. That may seem like an insurmountable goal, but starting small by saving even 1 to 3% of your salary can make a big difference in the future. Also, make sure to take advantage of any matching contributions that your employer may provide in your retirement plan. If, for example, they offer to match contributions up to 6%, I would try hard to work towards contributing at least 6%.

Buying Your First Home

Buying your first home is a top goal for many, but it also seems to be getting increasingly more difficult especially if you live in a major city. The most important steps you can take is to improve your credit score, pay down high-interest debt, and be aggressive about saving for a down payment. Saving 20% down will help you qualify for the best loan terms and interest rate, but there are still home loans available even if you aren’t able to save that much. Just be realistic with your budget and what you can afford. Don’t let a lender or real estate agent determine what payment will fit into your budget.

Be Covered Under These Must-Have Insurances

You’ve spent the last several years building your savings and growing your family. It’s now crucial that you have the proper insurance coverage in place to protect your assets and your loved ones. Life and disability insurance are top of the list. Life insurance doesn’t have to be expensive or complex. Get a quote for term-life that will last a set number of years and protect your partner and children during those crucial years that they depend on you. Disability insurance protects your income if you become sick or injured and are unable to work. Your earning ability is one of your biggest assets during this time, and you should protect it. This coverage may be offered through your employer, or you can request a quote for an individual policy.

Invest in Self-Care and Well Being

Mental health is part of self-care and wealth. Most people don’t talk about how financial stress and worry affect their overall health. When you can take care of yourself on all levels, you will feel healthier and wealthier, and happier. But it is not easy. It takes work, effort, awareness, and consciousness to learn how to detach the value in your bank account or financial account from your self-worth and value as a human being. When you feel emotional about your money, investments, or the stock market, learn ways to process them and take care of yourself by hiring licensed professionals and experts to help you.

Money Moves to Make in Your 40’s:

Revisit Your College Savings Goal

As your kids get older and prepare to enter their own journey into adulthood, paying for college is likely a major goal on your list. Consider opening a 529 plan (if you haven’t already) to save for their education. 529 plans offer tax advantages when it comes to saving for college. There are lots of online resources that can help you understand and pick the right plan for you. Visit https://www.savingforcollege.com. This is also a great time to make sure you’re talking to your kids about money. Give them the benefit of a financial education that you may not have had.

Get Aggressive with Retirement Planning

Your 40’s likely mark peak earning years. You’ll want to take advantage of your higher earnings to maximize your retirement savings especially if you weren’t able to save as much in your 20’s and 30’s. Revisit your retirement plan to crunch the numbers so you’ll be clear on what you need to save to reach your goal.

Build More Wealth

You’ve arrived at mid-life probably feeling younger than you are and wondering how the heck that big 4-0 got on your birthday cake. We typically associate being 20 with being free, but I think we’ve got it wrong. There is something incredibly freeing about the wisdom and self-assurance that comes with getting older. You’ve proved yourself. People see you as an adult. Your kids are getting older and your finances are more settled. Now’s the time to kick it up to the next level. Look for ways to build additional wealth. This may mean tapping into your entrepreneurial side to launch the business you’ve dreamed of or buying real estate to increase passive income. Now’s also a great time to find a trusted financial advisor who can help guide your next steps and help you plan the best ways to build your wealth.

Revisit Your Insurance Coverage

Insurance was crucial before, but it’s time to revisit your coverage and make sure you’re protected especially if you decide to launch a business or buy additional real estate. This is also where a financial advisor can help you analyze your coverage needs and find the policies that will work for you.

Consider Estate Planning

Estate planning (think wills, trusts, power of attorney) isn’t the most fun / exciting topic. It involves imagining your gone and creating a plan for the loved ones you leave behind. It is also often overlooked by adults in their younger years. It’s easy to assume estate planning is something the wealthy need to do. It really comes down to whether you want to decide how your life savings will be managed or if you want a court to decide. It’s also crucial for parents with children who are minors to select a guardian and have those uncomfortable conversations with their family members about who would care for the children if the worst were to happen. It’s also a good time to visit this topic with your own aging parents and make sure they have the proper documents and plans in place.

 

Whether you’re in your 20’s, 30’s or 40’s, it can be easy to put off planning your finances especially in the middle of a pandemic. Most of us are busy, and it’s easy to tell yourself that you’ll have time to work on a goal in the future. Commit to setting aside one hour each week or even each month to have a money date and review your finances. Don’t let yourself reach a milestone birthday (30, 40) and regret not being farther ahead. Follow these money moves now to seize control of your financial future.

The post Money Moves to Make in Your 20s, 30s, and 40s appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

8 Essential Rules for Surviving Financial Hardship

At some point, most people experience an unexpected crisis that shakes their financial world. It could be losing a job, receiving a huge medical bill, or having a car break down at the worst possible time. But surviving a pandemic is a situation you probably never thought you would face.

No matter what challenge you’re facing, you’re not the first.

Along with the public health toll, the COVID crisis has put millions of people out of work. For those struggling financially, here are eight critical rules to help you manage money wisely, stretch your resources, and bounce back from this unprecedented health and economic disaster.

8 rules for managing a financial hardship

Here are the details about each rule to manage a financial setback during the coronavirus crisis.

Rule #1: Accept your situation and use your resources to seek help

The key to successfully navigating a financial setback is to be realistic. If you’re in denial and don’t face money troubles head-on, you can quickly compound the damage.

Instead of focusing on the problem, getting angry, or letting stress overwhelm you, channel your emotions into finding solutions. Start talking about your challenges with people and professionals you trust, such as a money-savvy family member, financial advisor, legitimate credit counselor, or an attorney.

Instead of focusing on the problem, getting angry, or letting stress overwhelm you, channel your emotions into finding solutions.

The following financial associations have certified volunteers who can offer free help and advice:

  • National Association of Personal Financial Advisors
  • The Financial Planning Association
  • Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education

Rule #2: Get a bird’s eye view of your finances

To fully understand your situation, create a list of what you own and owe; this is called a net worth statement. Compiling your data in one place helps you evaluate your financial resources, make decisions more efficiently, and have essential information at your fingertips if creditors or advisors ask for it.

First, list your assets: 

  • Cash
  • Investments
  • Retirement accounts
  • Real estate
  • Vehicles 

Then list your liabilities:

  • Mortgage
  • Car loans
  • Student loans
  • Credit card debt

Include the estimated values of your assets, the balances on your debts, and the interest rates you pay for each liability. You could jot down this information on paper, enter it in a computer spreadsheet, or create a report using money management software.

When you subtract your total liabilities from your total assets, you’ve calculated your net worth, which is an indicator of your financial health. It’s not uncommon to have a low or negative net worth when you’re in financial trouble.

RELATED: 10 Things Student Loan Borrowers Should Know About Coronavirus Relief  

Rule #3: Understand your cash flow

An essential part of bouncing back from a financial crisis is keeping an eye on your monthly income and expenses. Create a cash flow statement that lists your expected income and typical expenses, such as rent, utilities, food, prescriptions, transportation, and insurance. Again, you can create this report manually or by using budgeting features in a financial program.

Understanding where your money goes is the only way to prioritize expenses and cut all non-essential spending.

Understanding where your money goes is the only way to prioritize expenses and cut all non-essential spending. Making temporary sacrifices will help you recover as quickly as possible with less long-term damage to your finances.

Rule #4: Shop your essential expenses

As you review your spending, it’s an excellent time to comparison-shop your essential expenses. Evaluate your highest costs first, such as housing, vehicles, and insurance, since they offer the most significant potential savings.

For instance, you may be able to move into a less expensive home, purchase or lease a cheaper vehicle, and shop your auto insurance to find better deals. Ask your utility provider about assistance programs that offer energy-saving improvements at no charge.

Rule #5: Communicate with your creditors

If you haven’t been in contact with your creditors, start a dialog with each one immediately. You’ll come out ahead and get favorable treatment from creditors if you are proactive and honest about your financial troubles. Ask them for solutions, such as deferring payments for several months, setting up a reduced payment plan, or refinancing a loan to reduce your financial burden.

You’ll come out ahead and get favorable treatment from creditors if you are proactive and honest about your financial troubles.

Creditors are likely to ask about details regarding your financial situation, so have your net worth and cash flow statements on hand when you speak to them. Be ready to complete any required assistance applications quickly.

Rule #6: Prioritize your debts carefully

Based on guidance from creditors and finance professionals, prioritize your bills and debts carefully. Your goal should be to conserve as much cash as possible without skipping essential payments. Always pay for necessities first: food, prescription drugs, and auto insurance.

Debts related to child support and legal judgments have severe consequences and should be prioritized

Use your net worth statement to rank your liabilities from highest to lowest priority. For instance, debts related to child support and legal judgments have severe consequences and should be prioritized. Keeping up with an auto loan is a high priority if you rely on your vehicle for transportation. Federal student loans are in automatic forbearance through September 30, and the relief may get extended through 2020.

Your unsecured debts—medical bills, credit cards, and private student loans—are lower priorities. Never pay these debts ahead of rent, a mortgage, or utilities when you have a cash shortage.

Rule #7: Don’t let collectors force you to make bad decisions

Prioritizing your debts means some may be paid late or not at all. If a debt collector contacts you about a low-priority debt, such as a medical bill or credit card, don’t allow them to persuade you to pay it before your highest priority bills.

Collectors may try various aggressive tactics, such as threatening to sue you or ruin your credit. A lawsuit could take years, and a creditor is more likely to negotiate a settlement with you. Remember that a creditor or collector can’t send you to jail for civil debts.

If you are behind on bills, that fact is likely already reflected on your credit reports. By the time a collector contacts you, the damage is already done, and paying the bill won’t improve your credit in the short-term.

Rule #8: Take advantage of local and federal benefits

If your income and savings have entirely dried up, use these resources to learn more about local and federal benefits.

  • FeedingAmerica.org has a map showing local food banks
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the federal food program you may qualify for based on where you live, your income, and family size
  • MakingHomeAffordable.gov can help you find a housing counselor or see if your mortgage is backed by the federal government and qualifies for forbearance
  • Benefits.gov has a questionnaire that helps you discover the benefits you’re eligible for
  • Medicaid.gov is the federal health insurance program you may qualify for based on where you live, your income, and family size
  • Healthcare.gov is the federal health insurance marketplace where you may find plans with substantial subsidies if you earn too much to qualify for Medicaid

Financial challenges can cause you and your family to experience a flood of emotions, including anger, fear, and embarrassment. As difficult as it might be to put a financial crisis into perspective, it’s critical. No matter what challenge you’re facing, you’re not the first. There are millions of people who are dealing with COVID-related financial hardships.

Face the fact that your recovery could take a while. Do everything in your power to manage your budget wisely by getting organized, seeking ways to earn more, and spending less. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from creditors, seek free advice from professionals, and take advantage of every local and federal benefit possible.

Source: quickanddirtytips.com

The 5 Best Financial New Year’s Resolutions

Change has to start somewhere, and for many people that change is easier to make if the starting point has some meaning. It can be a birthday, an anniversary, or any other date with some symbolic weight. Most commonly, people choose the beginning of the new year.

If you’re looking for some New Year’s resolutions that will truly change your life, consider adjusting your financial strategy. Here are five things you can do in 2021 to take your money game to the next level.

Refinance Loans

Interest rates are at near-historic lows, which makes this the perfect time to refinance your debt. Refinancing means switching your loans from your current lender to a new lender in order to take advantage of a lower interest rate. Refinancing can save you thousands of dollars, depending on the original interest rate and total balance.

 For example, let’s say you have a $200,000 30-year mortgage with a 5% interest rate, and you refinance to a 3% interest rate. Your monthly payment will be $244 lower, and you’ll save $31,173 in total interest over the life of the loan. 

You can refinance auto loans, personal loans, and even student loans. However, if you have federal student loans, you may want to hold off on refinancing. Refinancing a federal student loan converts it into a private student loan. This means you’ll give up extra perks and benefits like income-driven repayment plans and deferment and forbearance options.

Transfer Credit Card Debt

If you have credit card debt, you can pay less interest by transferring the balance to a new card with 0% APR on balance transfers. These special discounts usually last between 12 to 18 months, during which time you won’t be charged interest on the credit card balance.

For instance, let’s say you have a $5,000 balance on a card with a 17% APR. If you only make the minimum payments, you’ll pay $1,223.61 in total interest. If you transfer that balance to a card with 0% APR for 12 months and repay the balance in that time, you won’t pay any interest.

There is often a small fee associated with balance transfers, around 3% of balance transfers. For example, if you transfer $5,000, you’ll pay a $150 fee. That still leaves a net savings of $1,073.61 in the scenario outlined above.

Decrease Your Fixed Expenses

One of the best things to do for your budget in 2021 is to decrease fixed expenses like your car insurance, internet, cable, and cell phone. Call those providers and try to negotiate a lower rate.

 Go through your transactions for the past few months and write down all the recurring subscriptions like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and DoorDash. Then, group them into categories like “frequently use,” “sporadically use” and “rarely use”. Consider canceling anything you rarely use.

 See if you can get a better deal on your most popular subscriptions. For example, if you and your significant other both pay for Spotify Premium, get a Spotify Duo account instead, and save yourself $83.88 a year.

Open a Better Bank Account

Most people are missing out on an easy way to earn money through your bank account. You could be leaving hundreds of dollars on the table if you still have a traditional savings account.

According to the FDIC, the current average interest rate on a savings account is 0.05%. Many high-yield savings accounts offer rates between .40% and .60%. 

Let’s say you have $10,000 in a savings account with .05% interest. After one year, you’ll have earned $5.04 in interest. If you moved that amount to a high-yield savings account with .5% interest, you would earn $49.92 in interest over that same time period.

Start Investing

If you’re not investing for retirement yet, this might be the most important financial resolution you can make. Thanks to the power of compound interest, you can start investing now and see huge growth by the time you’re ready to retire.

IRAs and 401(k)s are the two main retirement accounts. Anyone can open an IRA, while only those who have access to an employer-sponsored 401(k) can open one.

 If you’re not sure how to invest in your retirement account, consider hiring a qualified financial planner through the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA).

If you’re not ready to work with a financial planner, you can use a robo advisor like Betterment or Wealthfront, which will create a portfolio based on your age, income, and expected retirement age. Robo advisors have low fees and are designed to help beginner investors.

How to Keep Financial Resolutions

First, start small. Pick one habit to change at a time. If you try to accomplish five goals at once, you’ll burn out quickly and give up. 

When you decide on a resolution, break it up into smaller, more manageable tasks. For example, if your goal is to talk to a financial planner about investing, break it down into the following steps:

1) Research financial planners through NAPFA

2) Send introductory emails to three financial planners

3) Choose the one that seems like the best fit

4) Schedule a consultation

Give yourself a deadline to accomplish each of these tasks, and ask a friend to hold you accountable.

Another tip is to tie your resolutions to a bigger goal. Like dieting or starting a new exercise plan, changing your financial habits is hard. If you’re used to grabbing lunch with your co-workers every day, bringing leftovers from home instead will seem like a huge change.

The key is to imagine the future version of yourself who will benefit from the changes you make today. If your goal is to open and contribute to a retirement account, imagine yourself as a senior citizen living comfortably.

When you’re tempted to skip this month’s retirement contribution to buy concert tickets, think about your future self, what you’d want for them and how they would appreciate your sacrifice. It can also help to remember some of the financial mistakes you’ve made in the past, and how much easier your life would be right now if you had made a different choice.

The post The 5 Best Financial New Year’s Resolutions appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Financial Considerations When Getting a Divorce

In a recent episode, I shared that I would be doing a 4-part series on divorce.  I’ve been divorced for 5 years now and wanted to share what has worked for me, my ex-husband, and our 8 kids during this time. While divorce is not easy, time does help heal, and when your focus is putting your kids first, it is absolutely possible to maintain a healthy, happy family relationship.

My first episode in this series was 5 Expert-Approved Ways to Talk to Your Kids About Divorce.  My second episode in this series was 5 Ways to Co-Parent with Your Ex-Spouse. 

There really isn’t anything easy about divorce. Thankfully, as I discussed in the first two episodes, there are strategies and thoughtful ways to navigate through some of divorces issues, especially if the two parents are willing to put their personal differences aside and focus on their kids. In addition to the emotional turmoil that encompasses divorce, there is also another difficult component that couples must deal with and that is the financial aspect. 

After 25 years of marriage and 8 kids, Mighty Mommy had to get her financial house in order and make some significant adjustments going from a two-income household to a single income.

Here are four financial considerations, as backed by the experts, to keep in mind if you are thinking of or getting a divorce.

1. Get Your Financial Documents in Order

The entire divorce process is completely overwhelming, and when you begin to delve into the financial ramifications, the stress is taken to a whole new level. Once we began having our small tribe of kids, we decided I would leave my career to be home with our family. During the last 10 years of our marriage I went back to work part-time as a freelance writer but by no means was I contributing significantly to our income. My ex-husband managed the majority of our financial affairs so when the reality of our divorce settled in, I knew the first thing I had to do was get a handle on every aspect of our financial status. I honestly wasn’t sure where to begin, but my divorce attorney recommended I start by gathering all my financial documents.

Maryalene LaPonsie, contributor to USNews.com writes in 7 Financial Steps to Take When Getting a Divorce that “as soon as you know you’re getting a divorce, collect all the financial documents you can.” She continues, by stating that these include:

  • “Bank statements”
  • “Credit card statements”
  • “Tax returns”
  • “Retirement account balances”
  • “Appraisals for valuable items, if available”

In addition, other documents to consider are:

  • Mortgage Statement, including any Home Equity Loans and purchase information
  • Checkbook Registry for the last year
  • Any other long-term debt account statements you may have, including car loans

2. Know Your Income and Expenses

When we began our divorce proceedings, I admit I was far more focused on my emotional state than my finances. 

When we began our divorce proceedings, I admit I was far more focused on my emotional state than my finances.  Because my ex was the one who paid all the bills and the sole provider for most of our marriage, I never worried much about the details of our 401(K) plan, life insurance policies or what our overall assets and debt totaled.

One piece of advice I received many times over was that I needed to know what our budget was so I could begin to realistically know what my living expenses would be. 

Jason Silverberg, CFP at Financial Advantage Associates, Inc. and author of The Financial Planning Puzzle, told me via email: “If there was one singular, most important piece of financial advice that I could offer someone going through a divorce, that would be to understand where everything is and what everything’s worth. Without knowledge of what you own and who you owe money to, you really are going to have a hard time moving forward. You’ll also want to understand all of your sources for income and all of your monthly expenses as well. This will help you have a good handle on your budget to provide you critical understanding, so you can make smart financial decisions.”

He went on to say, “This exercise should be done both prior to as well as after the divorce. This way you can get a sense for how your household budget will operate on one income.” To help divorcing couples realize these figures, Silverberg has created the Personal Financial Inventory (1 page worksheet) inside the Picking up the Pieces eBook.

This exercise was extremely enlightening as I realized exactly where every penny (and then some) was going on a monthly basis. I was also able to gauge how much income I would need to start making in order to support these bills in addition to the child support and alimony payments I was receiving. One important factor to consider with child support is that it will decrease as your children get older, so I had to continually modify my budget based on this decrease. At first, it was overwhelming to see how much money I would need to keep our household running, but when you are armed with the figures and you pay attention to your monthly cash flow, it becomes easier to make adjustments. The fact of the matter is that some of the extra splurges such as frequent trips to the hair salon or buying my kids their usual top-of-the line items like sneakers or sports equipment had to be adjusted to what I could now afford. My kids have had some disappointments in this department, but they appreciated how we were trying to work together as a family-unit so that their lifestyle wasn't affected as drastically as it could've been which balanced everything out.


3.  Consider What Professionals Will Represent You

There are important considerations to keep in mind when choosing which divorce professionals will represent you. Adrienne Rothstein Grace writes on the Huffington Post, 3 Steps to Prepare for Your Divorce, that you must align yourself with the right professionals.  She explains “First, think about the divorce process you and your spouse will want to undertake and ask yourself the following questions:

  • “Is this going to be an acrimonious divorce? Or will my spouse and I cooperate?”
  • “Do I already know about all of our household and personal finances? Or do I suspect that I may be out of the loop on some assets, debts or income sources?”
  • “Do I trust my spouse to be cooperative and forthright?”
  • “Do I have any reason to believe that I will feel intimidated by my spouse during these proceedings?”
  • “Are we both focused on the wellbeing of our children?”

Grace says that “If you believe that you and your spouse will cooperate and will have joint best interests in mind while negotiating, then you might want to choose a divorce mediator or embrace a collaborative divorce. Those options are less costly, more private, and usually result in a more peaceful settlement process. However, if you’re not certain about finances, or cannot trust your spouse to be completely above-board and cooperative, then you might hire a traditional divorce attorney, who will only have your interests in focus while they help negotiate the complexities of your divorce.”

My ex-spouse and I decided to retain individual divorce attorneys. In addition, we also hired a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, (CDFA) at the recommendation of each of our lawyers, who met with us jointly to give us a complete overview of what our financial future was going to look like. It's a huge wake-up call when you see all the numbers in front of you on paper.  At our first meeting with the CDFA I learned quickly that I was going to have to go back to work, full-time to sustain the home we lived in as well as the upkeep, taxes, insurance, and basics like groceries for our large family. 

It's a huge wake-up call when you see all the numbers in front of you on paper.

If you surround yourself with competent, caring professionals who will guide you through this very delicate journey, you will have made an important investment in your family’s future, financial well-being.

4.  Stay in the Financial Know Throughout Your Divorce

Throughout your divorce, you’re bound to get all kinds of advice from friends, family, co-workers and other concerned individuals that will be looking out for you and have your best interest at heart.  This can be both helpful and draining depending on your relationship with these people.  When I began divorce proceedings, I too received lots of comments and suggestions from well-meaning folks, but I also decided I wanted to be armed with my own facts so I began reading lots of articles and books as well as listened to informative podcasts about divorce, particularly financially-related pieces.

My QDT colleague, Laura Adams, Money Girl, recently did an wrote about divorce in Getting Divorced? Here's How to Protect Your Money. She interviewed Stan Corey, a divorce expert and author of a new book, The Divorce Dance. This podcast had some terrific insight and some of the topics she and Corey cover in this interview include:

  • Different types of divorce proceedings that you can choose
  • The biggest mistakes that can cost you financially in a divorce
  • Why relying on a single family law attorney can be a bad idea
  • Tips for dividing up financial assets the right way—especially when you’re not so financially savvy
  • How to get divorced when you don’t have much money to pay for it

As you continue down the path of your divorce, surround yourself with as much information as you can, so that you will be able to make the best decisions possible for you and your children.

Five years later, I am still watching my financial picture very carefully.  I work full-time and do freelance work on the side in order to maintain my home and other living expenses.  I am extremely grateful that my ex-husband is very supportive of many of our 8 children’s extracurricular expenses, but the reality is I’m responsible for my own financial future so I have learned to be extremely careful with purchases and expenses.

The final topic in this divorce series will revolve around putting your kids first after the divorce.

How have you managed your finances during a separation or divorce?  Please share your thoughts in the comments section at quickanddirtytips.com/mighty-mommy, post your ideas on the Mighty Mommy Facebook page. or email me at mommy@quickanddirtytips.com. Visit my family-friendly boards at Pinterest.com/MightyMommyQDT.

Be sure to sign up for the upcoming Mighty Mommy newsletter chock full of practical advice to make your parenting life easier and more enjoyable. 

Images courtesy of Shutterstock.

Source: quickanddirtytips.com

Should I Cash Out My 401k to Pay Off Debt?

Paying off debt may feel like a never-ending process. With so many potential solutions, you may not know where to start. One of your options may be withdrawing money from your retirement fund. This may make you wonder, “should I cash out my 401k to pay off debt?” Cashing out your 401k early may cost you in penalties, taxes, and your financial future so it’s usually wise to avoid doing this if possible. When in doubt, consult your financial advisor to help determine what’s best for you.

Before cashing out your 401k, we suggest weighing the pros and cons, plus the financial habits you could change to reduce debt. The right move may be adjusting your budget to ensure each dollar is being put to good use. Keep reading to determine if and when it makes sense to cash out your 401k.

How to Determine If You Want to Cash Out Your Retirement

How to Determine If You Want to Cash Out Your Retirement

Deciding to cash out your 401k depends on your financial position. If debt is causing daily stress, you may consider serious debt payoff plans. Early withdrawal from your 401k could cost you in

Deciding to cash out your 401k depends on your financial position. If debt is causing daily stress, you may consider serious debt payoff plans. Early withdrawal from your 401k could cost you in taxes and fees as your 401k has yet to be taxed. Meaning, the gross amount you withdraw from your 401k will be taxed in full, so assess your financial situation before making a decision.

Check Your Eligibility

Depending on your 401k account, you may not be able to withdraw money without a valid reason. Hefty medical bills and outstanding debts may be valuable reasons, but going on a shopping spree isn’t. Below are a few requirements to consider for an early withdrawal:

  • Financial hardships may include medical expenses, educational fees, bills to prevent foreclosure or eviction, funeral expenses, or home repairs.
  • Your withdrawal is lower or exactly the amount of financial assistance you need.

To see what you may be eligible for, look up your 401k documentation or reach out to a trusted professional.

Assess Your Current Financial Situation

Sit down and create a list of your savings, assets, and debts. How much debt do you have? Are you able to allocate different funds towards debts? If you have $2,500 in credit card debt and a steady source of income, you may be able to pay off debt by adjusting your existing habits. Cutting the cord with your TV, cable, or streaming services could be a great money saver.

However, if you’re on the verge of foreclosure or bankruptcy, living with a strict budget may not be enough. When looking into more serious debt payoff options, your 401k may be the best route.

Calculate How Much of Your Retirement Is at Risk

Having a 401k is crucial for your financial future, and the government tries to reinforce that for your best interest. To encourage people to save, anyone who withdraws their 401k early pays a 10 percent penalty fee. When, or if, you go to withdraw your earnings early, you may have to pay taxes on the amount you withdraw. Your tax rates will depend on federal income and state taxes where you reside.

Say you’re in your early twenties and you have 40 years until you’d like to retire. You decide to take out $10,000 to put towards your student loans. Your federal tax rate is 10 percent and your state tax is four percent. With the 10 percent penalty fee, federal tax, and state tax, you would receive $7,600 of your $10,000 withdrawal. The extra $2,400 expense would be paid in taxes and penalties.

The bottom line: No matter how much you withdraw early from your 401k, you will face significant fees. These fees include federal taxes, state taxes, and penalty fees.

What Are the Pros and Cons?

What Are the Pros and Cons?

Before withdrawing from your 401k, there are some pros and cons to consider before cashing out early.

Pros:

  • Pay off debt sooner: In some cases, you may pay off debt earlier than expected. By putting your 401k withdrawal toward debt, you may be able to pay off your account in full. Doing so could help you save on monthly interest payments.
  • Put more towards savings: If you’re able to pay off your debt with your early withdrawal, you may free up your budget. If you have extra money each month, you could contribute more to your savings. Adding to your savings could earn you interest when placed in a proper account.
  • Less financial stress: Debt may cause you daily stress. By increasing your debt payments with a 401k withdrawal, you may save yourself energy. After paying off debt, you may consider building your emergency funds.
  • Higher disposable income: If you’re able to pay off your debts, you may have more financial freedom. With this freedom, you could save for a house or invest in side hustles.

Cons:

  • Higher tax bill: You may have to pay a hefty tax payment for your withdrawal. Your 401k is considered gross income that’s taxed when paid out. Your federal and state taxes are determined by where you reside and your yearly income.
  • Pay a penalty fee: To discourage people from cashing out their 401k, there’s a 10 percent penalty. You may be charged this penalty in full.
  • Cut your investment earnings: You gain interest on money you have stored in your 401k. When you withdraw money, you may earn a lower amount of interest.
  • Push your retirement date: You may be robbing your future self. With less money in your retirement fund, you’ll lower your retirement income. Doing so could push back your desired retirement date.

6 Ways to Pay Off Debt Without Cashing Out Your 401k

6 Ways to Pay Off Debt Without Cashing Out Your 401k

There are a few ways to become debt-free without cutting into your 401k. Paying off debt may not be easy, but it could benefit your future self and your current state of mind. Work towards financial freedom with these six tips.

1. Negotiate Your Credit Card Interest Rates

Call your credit card customer service center and ask to lower your rates on high-interest accounts. Look at your current interest rate, account history, and competitor rates. After researching, call your credit card company and share your customer loyalty. Follow up by asking for lower interest rates to match their competitors. Earning lower interest rates may save you interest payments.

2. Halt Your Credit Card Spending

Consider restricting your credit card spending. If credit card debt is your biggest stressor, cut up or hide your cards to avoid shopping temptations. Check in on your financial goals by downloading our app for quick updates on the fly. We send out weekly updates to see where you are with your financial goals.

3. Put Bonuses Towards Your Debt

Any time you get a monetary bonus, consider putting it towards debts. This could be a raise, yearly bonus, tax refund, or monetary gifts from your loved ones. You may have a set budget without this supplemental income, so act as if you never received it. Without budgeting for the extra income, you may feel less tempted to spend it.

4. Evaluate All Your Options for Paying Down Debt

If you’re in dire need to pay off your debts, look into other accounts like your savings or emergency fund. While money saved can help in times of need, your financial situation may be an emergency. To save on early withdrawal taxes and fees, you can borrow from savings accounts. To cover future emergency expenses, avoid draining your savings accounts entirely.

5. Transfer Balances to a Low-Interest Credit Card

If high-interest payments are diminishing your budget, transfer them to a low-interest account. Compare your current debt interest rates to other competitors. Sift through their fine print to spot any red flags. Credit card companies may hide variable interest rates or fees that drive up the cost. Find a transfer card that works for you, contact the company to apply, and transfer over your balances.

6. Consider Taking Out a 401k Loan Rather than Withdrawing

To avoid early withdrawal fees, consider taking out a 401k loan. A 401k loan is money borrowed from your retirement fund. This loan charges interest payments that are essentially paid back to your future self. While some interest payments are put back in your account, your opportunity for compounding interest may slightly decrease. Compounding interest is interest earned on your principal balance and accumulated interest from past periods. While you may pay a small amount in interest fees, this option may help you avoid the 10 percent penalty fee.

As your retirement account grows, so does your interest earned — that’s why time is so valuable. While taking out a 401k loan may be a better option than withdrawing from your 401k, you may lose out on a small portion of compounding interest. When, or if, you choose to take out a 401k loan, you may start making monthly payments right away. This allows your payments to grow interest and work for you sooner than withdrawing from your 401k.

This type of loan may vary on principle balance, interest rate, term length, and other conditions. In most cases, you’re allowed to borrow up to $50,000 or half of your account balance. Some accounts may also have a minimum loan balance. This means you’ll have to take out a certain amount to qualify. Interest rates on these loans generally charge market value rates, similar to commercial banks.

Pulling funds from your retirement account may look appealing when debt is looming over you. While withdrawing money from your 401k to pay off debt may help you now, it could hurt you in taxes and fees. Before withdrawing your retirement savings, see the effect it could have on your future budget. As part of your strategy, determine where you’re able to cut out unnecessary expenses with our app. Still on the fence about whether withdrawing funds is the right move for you? Consult your financial advisor to determine a debt payoff plan that works best for your budgeting goals.

The post Should I Cash Out My 401k to Pay Off Debt? appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com