How to Make Better Financial Decisions

Woman learning how to make better financial decisions

A key financial decision people struggle to make is how to allocate savings for multiple financial goals. Do you save for several goals at the same time or fund them one-by-one in a series of steps? Basically, there are two ways to approach financial goal-setting:

Concurrently: Saving for two or more financial goals at the same time.

Sequentially: Saving for one financial goal at a time in a series of steps.

Each method has its pros and cons. Here’s how to decide which method is best for you.

Sequential goal-setting

Pros

You can focus intensely on one goal at a time and feel a sense of completion when each goal is achieved. It’s also simpler to set up and manage single-goal savings than plans for multiple goals. You only need to set up and manage one account.

Cons

Compound interest is not retroactive. If it takes up to a decade to get around to long-term savings goals (e.g., funding a retirement savings plan), that’s time that interest is not earned.

Concurrent goal-setting

Pros

Compound interest is not delayed on savings for goals that come later in life. The earlier money is set aside, the longer it can grow. Based on the Rule of 72, you can double a sum of money in nine years with an 8 percent average return. The earliest years of savings toward long-term goals are the most powerful ones.

Cons

Funding multiple financial goals is more complex than single-tasking. Income needs to be earmarked separately for each goal and often placed in different accounts. In addition, it will probably take longer to complete any one goal because savings is being placed in multiple locations.

Research findings

Working with Wise Bread to recruit respondents, I conducted a study of financial goal-setting decisions with four colleagues that was recently published in the Journal of Personal Finance. The target audience was young adults with 69 percent of the sample under age 45. Four key financial decisions were explored: financial goals, homeownership, retirement planning, and student loans.

Results indicated that many respondents were sequencing financial priorities, instead of funding them simultaneously, and delaying homeownership and retirement savings. Three-word phrases like “once I have…,", “after I [action],” and “as soon as…,” were noted frequently, indicating a hesitancy to fund certain financial goals until achieving others.

The top three financial goals reported by 1,538 respondents were saving for something, buying something, and reducing debt. About a third (32 percent) of the sample had outstanding student loan balances at the time of data collection and student loan debt had a major impact on respondents’ financial decisions. About three-quarters of the sample said loan debt affected both housing choices and retirement savings.

Actionable steps

Based on the findings from the study mentioned above, here are five ways to make better financial decisions.

1. Consider concurrent financial planning

Rethink the practice of completing financial goals one at a time. Concurrent goal-setting will maximize the awesome power of compound interest and prevent the frequently-reported survey result of having the completion date for one goal determine the start date to save for others.

2. Increase positive financial actions

Do more of anything positive that you’re already doing to better your personal finances. For example, if you’re saving 3 percent of your income in a SEP-IRA (if self-employed) or 401(k) or 403(b) employer retirement savings plan, decide to increase savings to 4 percent or 5 percent.

3. Decrease negative financial habits

Decide to stop (or at least reduce) costly actions that are counterproductive to building financial security. Everyone has their own culprits. Key criteria for consideration are potential cost savings, health impacts, and personal enjoyment.

4. Save something for retirement

Almost 40 percent of the respondents were saving nothing for retirement, which is sobering. The actions that people take (or do not take) today affect their future selves. Any savings is better than no savings and even modest amounts like $100 a month add up over time.

5. Run some financial calculations

Use an online calculator to set financial goals and make plans to achieve them. Planning increases people’s sense of control over their finances and motivation to save. Useful tools are available from FINRA and Practical Money Skills.

What’s the best way to save money for financial goals? It depends. In the end, the most important thing is that you’re taking positive action. Weigh the pros and cons of concurrent and sequential goal-setting strategies and personal preferences, and follow a regular savings strategy that works for you. Every small step matters!

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The Best Student Loan Companies For Refinancing

Refinancing your student loans can make good financial sense, and that’s especially true if your current loans are stuck at a high-interest rate. With a new loan at a lower APR, you could save a bundle of money on interest each month and ultimately pay your student debt off faster. Consolidating several loans into one new one can also simplify your financial life and make keeping up with bills a lot easier.

College Ave and Earnest topped our list, but since student loan refinancing is an incredibly competitive space, you’ll also want to spend time comparing student loan companies to see who offers the best deal. Many lenders in this space offer incredibly low APRs, flexible payment options, borrower incentives, and more. This means it’s more important than ever to shop around so you wind up with the best student loan for your needs.

What You Should Know About Refinancing Federal Student Loans with a Private Lender

The lenders on this list can help you consolidate and refinance both federal student loans and private student loans. However, there are a few details to be aware of before you refinance federal loans with a private lender.

Switching federal loans to private means giving up federal protections like deferment and forbearance. You also give up your chance to qualify for income-driven repayment plans like Pay As You Earn (PAYE) or Income Based Repayment (IBR). Income-driven repayment plans let you pay a percentage of your discretionary income for 20 to 25 years before ultimately forgiving your remaining loan balances, so this perk isn’t one you should give up without careful thought and consideration.

Best Student Loan Refinancing Companies of 2021

As you start your search to find the best student loan for your lifestyle, take the time to compare lenders and all they offer their customers. While there are a ton of reputable companies offering high-quality student loan refinancing products on the market today, there are also companies you should probably steer clear of.

To make your search easier, we took the time to compare most of the top lenders in this space in terms of interest rates offered, fees, borrower benefits, and more. The following student loan companies are the cream of the crop, so you should start your search here.

Our Top Picks:

  1. Splash Financial
  2. College Ave
  3. Earnest
  4. SoFi
  5. CommonBond
  6. LendKey
  7. Wells Fargo
  8. PenFed Credit Union

Student Loan Refinancing Company Reviews

1. Splash Financial

Splash Financial may be a newer company in the student loan refinancing space, but their offerings are competitive. This company lets you check your rate online without a hard inquiry on your credit report, and their variable rates currently start at just 2.25% APR.

Not only are interest rates offered by Splash Financial industry-leading, but the company has a 95% customer satisfaction rate so far. Their cutting-edge technology also lets you apply for your loan and complete the loan process online, meaning less hassle and stress for you as the borrower.

Check Out Splash Financial’s Low Rates

2. College Ave

College Ave offers student loan refinancing products that can be tailored to your needs. They offer low fixed and variable interest rates, for example, and you’ll never pay an application fee or an origination fee. You can even qualify for a discount if you set your loan up on autopay, and a wide range of repayment schedules are available.

College Ave also offers a wide range of online calculators and tools that can help you figure out how much student loan refinancing could help you save and whether the move would be worth it in the end. Considering their low variable rates start at just 2.74% APR, there’s a good chance you could save money by refinancing if you have excellent credit or a cosigner with great credit.

Get Started with College Ave

3. Earnest

Earnest is another online lender that focuses most of its efforts on offering high-quality student loans. This company lets you consolidate debt at a lower interest rate than you might find elsewhere, and you get the option to pick a monthly payment and repayment period that works with your budget and your lifestyle.

While you’ll need excellent credit to qualify for the lowest interest rates, loans from Earnest come with variable APRs starting at 1.81% and low fixed rates starting at just 3.45%. To qualify for student loan refinancing with Earnest, you’ll need a minimum credit score of 650 and a strong employment and income history. You also need to be current on all your bills and cannot have a bankruptcy on your credit profile.

Refinance and Save with Earnest

4. SoFi

Also make sure to check out student loan refinancing company SoFi as you continue your search. This online lender offers some of the best student loan refinancing products available today, including loans with no application fee, origination fee, or hidden fees.

SoFi lets you apply for and complete the entire loan process online, and they offer live customer support 7 days a week. You can also check your rate online without a hard inquiry on your credit report, which makes it easier to see how much you could save before you commit.

Get Pre-Approved with SoFi in Less than 2 Minutes

5. Commonbond

Commonbond is another online student lender who lets you check your rate online without a hard inquiry on your credit report. With student loan refinancing from Commonbond, you could easily save thousands of dollars on interest with a new fixed interest rate as low as 3.21%. Repayment terms are offered for 5 to 20 years as well, letting you choose a new monthly payment and repayment timeline that works for your needs.

You can apply for your new loan online and note that these loans don’t come with an origination fee or any prepayment penalties. Your loan could also qualify for forbearance, which means having up to 24 months without payments during times of financial hardship.

Apply Online with Commonbond

6. LendKey

LendKey offers private student loans and flexible student loan refinancing options to serve a variety of needs. You can repay your loan between 5 and 20 years, and their refinance loans don’t charge an origination fee.

You can use this company’s online interface to check your rate without a hard inquiry on your credit report, and variable APRs start at just 2.01% for graduates with excellent credit. LendKey loans also receive 9.3 out of 10 possible stars in recent reviews, meaning their customers are mostly happy with their decision to go with this company.

Save Thousands by Refinancing with LendKey

7. Wells Fargo

While Wells Fargo is mostly popular for their banking products, home mortgage products, and personal loans, this bank also offers student loan refinancing products. These loans let you consolidate student debts into a new loan with a low variable or fixed interest rate, and you can even score a discount for setting your loan up on autopay.

Terms for Wells Fargo loans are available anywhere from 5 to 20 years, meaning you can choose a repayment schedule and monthly payment that suits your needs. Wells Fargo also lets you check your rate online without a hard inquiry on your credit report.

Get Started with Wells Fargo

8. PenFed Credit Union

PenFed Credit Union offers unique student loan products powered by Purefy. You might be able to qualify for a lower interest rate that could lead to enormous interest savings over time, and PenFed lets you choose a repayment term and monthly payment that fits with your budget and lifestyle.

You can apply for student loan refinancing on your own, but PenFed Credit Union also allows cosigners. Low fixed interest rates start at just 3.48% APR, and you can check your rate online without a hard inquiry on your credit report.

Learn More about PenFed Credit Union

What To Look For When Refinancing

If you decide you want to refinance your student loans, you’ll be happy to know the refinancing market is more robust than ever. A variety of lenders offer insanely attractive loan options for those who can qualify, although you should know that student loan companies tend to be very finicky about your credit score. Some also won’t let you refinance if you didn’t graduate from college, or even if you graduated from an “unapproved” school.

While you should be aware of any lender-specific eligibility requirements before you apply with any student loan company, there are plenty of other factors to look out for. Here’s everything you should look for in a student loan refinancing company before you decide to trust them with your loans.

Low Interest Rate

Obviously, the main reason you’re probably thinking of refinancing your loans is the potential to save money on interest. Lenders who offer the lowest rates available today can potentially help you save more, although it’s important to consider that you may not qualify for the lowest rates available if you don’t have excellent credit.

Cosigner Requirements

Also consider that most lenders will offer better rates and loan terms if you have a cosigner with better credit than you have. This is especially true if your credit isn’t great, so make sure to ask family members if they’re willing to cosign on your new student loan if you hope to get the best rate. Just remember that your cosigner will be jointly liable for repayment, meaning you could quickly damage your relationship if you default on your loan and leave them holding the bag.

Low Fees or No Fees

Student loans are like any other loan in the fact that some charge higher fees or more fees than others. Since many student loans come with an application fee or an origination fee, you’ll want to look for lenders that don’t charge these fees. Also check for hidden fees like prepayment penalties.

Discounts Available

Some student loan companies let you qualify for discounts, the most popular of which is a discount for using autopay. If you’re able and willing to set up automatic payments on your credit card, you could save .25% or .50% off your interest rate depending on the lender you go with.

Rate Check Option

Many of the top student loan refinancing companies on this list make it possible to check your interest rate online without a hard inquiry on your credit report. This is a huge benefit since knowing your rate can help you figure out if refinancing is even worth it before you take the time to fill out a full loan application.

Flexible Repayment Plan

Also make sure any lender you go with offers some flexibility in your repayment plan and your monthly payment. You’ll want to make sure refinancing aligns with your long-term financial goals and your monthly budget, and it’s crucial to choose a new loan with a monthly payment you can live with.

Most lenders in this space offer repayment timelines of up to 20 years, which means you could spread your payments over several decades to get a monthly payment that makes sense with your income. Keep in mind, however, that you’ll pay more interest over the life of your loan when you take a long time to pay it off, so you may want to consider prioritizing a faster payment plan.

The Bottom Line

Student loan refinancing may not sound like a lot of fun. However, taking the time to consider all your loan options could easily save you thousands of dollars. This is especially true if you have a lot of debt at a high interest rate. By consolidating all your student loans into a new one with a lower APR, you could make loan repayment easier with a single payment and save a ton of money that would otherwise go to straight to interest without helping you pay off your loans.

The first step of the loan process is the hardest, however, and that’s choosing a student loan refinancing company that you trust. The lenders on this list are highly rated, but they also offer some of the best loan products on the market today.

  • Work with College Ave, our top pick, to refinance your student loan.

Start your search here and you’re bound to wind up with a student loan you can live with. At the very least, you’ll have a better idea of the loans that are available and how much you might save if you decide to refinance later on.

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How to Escape Debt in 2016

How to Escape Debt in 2016

The new year is right around the corner and if you’re like most people, you’ve probably got a running list of resolutions to achieve and milestones to reach. If getting out of debt ranks near the top, now’s the time to starting thinking about how you’re going to hit your goal. Developing a clear-cut action plan can get you that much closer to debt-free status in 2016.

1. Add up Your Debt

You can’t start attacking your debt until you know exactly how much you owe. The first step to paying down your debt is sitting down with all of your statements and adding up every penny that’s still outstanding. Once you know how deep in debt you are, you can move on to the next step.

2. Review Your Budget

A budget is a plan that sets limits on how you spend your money. If you don’t have one, it’s a good idea to put a budget together as soon as possible. If you do have a budget, you can go over it line by line to find costs you can cut out. By eliminating fees and unnecessary expenses like cable subscriptions, you’ll be able to use the money you save to pay off your debt.

3. Set Your Goals

How to Escape Debt in 2016

At this point in the process, you should have two numbers: the total amount of money you owe and the amount you can put toward your debt payments each month. Using those two figures, you should be able determine how long it’s going to take you to pay off your mortgage, student loans, personal loans and credit card debt.

Let’s say you owe your credit card issuer $25,000. If you have $500 in your budget that you can use to pay off that debt each month, you’ll be able to knock $6,000 off your card balance in a year. Keep in mind, however, that you’ll still need to factor in interest to get an accurate idea of how the balance will shrink from one year to the next.

4. Lower Your Interest Rates

Interest is a major obstacle when you’re trying to get out of debt. If you want to speed up the payment process, you can look for ways to shave down your rates. If you have high-interest credit card debt, for instance, transferring the balances to a card with a 0% promotional period can save you some money and reduce the amount of time it’ll take to get rid of your debt.

Refinancing might be worth considering if you have student loans, car loans or a mortgage. Just remember that completing a balance transfer or refinancing your debt isn’t necessarily free. Credit card companies typically charge a 3% fee for balance transfers and if you’re taking out a refinance loan, you might be on the hook for origination fees and other closing costs.

5. Increase Your Income

How to Escape Debt in 2016

Keeping a tight rein on your budget can go a long way. But that’s not the only way to escape debt. Pumping up your paycheck in the new year can also help you pay off your loans and increase your disposable income.

Asking your boss for a raise will directly increase your earnings, but there’s no guarantee that your supervisor will agree to your request. If you’re paid by the hour, you can always take on more hours at your current job. And if all else fails, you can start a side gig to bring in more money.

Hold Yourself Accountable

Having a plan to get out of debt in the new year won’t get you very far if you’re not 100% committed. Checking your progress regularly is a must, as is reviewing your budget and goals to make sure you’re staying on track.

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Late Payments, Credit Scores and Credit Reports

A missed credit card or loan payment can have a seriously detrimental effect on your credit report. The golden rule of using a credit card is to make your payments on time every time, building a respectable payment history, avoiding debt, and keeping your creditor happy.

But what happens when you fall behind with your monthly payments; what happens when you miss a single loan or credit card payment as a result of a mistake, an oversight or a lack of funds? How will your creditor react, how quickly will the credit reporting agencies find out, and what options do you have for getting back on your feet?

How Late Payments Affect Your Credit Score

A late payment can reduce your credit score significantly and remain on your report for 7 years. It won’t impact your score throughout that time and the longer you leave it, the less of an impact it will have. However, the impact could be significant for individuals with good credit and bad credit.

As an example, if you have a credit score of 750 to 800, which is towards the upper end, a late payment could knock up to 710 points from your score. More importantly, it will remain on your payment history for years to come and reduce your chances of getting everything from a student loan to a credit card and mortgage.

How Soon do Late Payments Show on Credit Reports

You won’t be hit with a derogatory mark as soon as you miss a credit card payment. The credit card issuer may charge you a fee, but by law, they are not allowed to market it as a missed payment until it is 30 days due. And this doesn’t just apply to credit card debt, it’s true for loans as well.

Providing you cover the payment within 30-days, you can avoid a missed payment mark appearing on your credit report. But as soon as that period passes, your lender will inform the major credit bureaus and your score will take a hit.

Some lenders wait even longer before reporting, so you may have as long as 60 days to make that payment. Check with your creditor to see when they start reporting missed payments.

What About Partial Payments?

Many lenders treat a partial payment the same as a missed payment, especially where credit cards are concerned. If you’re struggling to meet your payment obligations, contact your creditor in advance, tell them how desperate your situation is and inform them that you can meet part of the payment.

They may offer you some reprieve, they may not, but you won’t know if you don’t ask. However, it’s worth noting that this will only impact your score if you don’t cover the remaining credit card payment before the 30-day period is up.

To avoid confusion, we should also mention that this only applies to the minimum payment. Some credit card users get confused with the difference between a balance and a minimum payment.

Simply put, the balance is what you clear at the end of the month to avoid accumulating debt and paying interest. If you fail to pay that balance on time, your debt will simply roll over to the next month, after which you will be required to meet a minimum payment on your debt. If, however, you miss that minimum payment, then you’re at risk of your credit report taking a hit.

Reporting agencies don’t record the difference between a rolling balance and a debt. If you spend $3,000 on your card every month but pay it off without fail and without delay, you won’t accumulate interest and technically, you won’t have debt. However, at the end of the month, the reporting agencies will show that you owe $3,000 on that card, just as they would show if you had accumulated a balance of $1,000 a month for three months and let it rollover.

How Long Does a Late Payment Stay?

A late payment will remain on your credit report for 7 years. But herein lies another confusion. Just because it reduces your score by 100 points and remains for 7 years doesn’t mean you will suffer a reduction of 100 points for those 7 years. 

It generally stops having a major impact on your score after a couple of years and while it will still have an impact in that 7-year period, it will be infinitesimal by the time you reach the end.

How Many Late Payments Can You Make Before it Reduces Your Score?

One late credit card payment is all it takes to reduce your score, providing that late payment was delayed by at least 30-days. However, that doesn’t mean you can forget about it once the 30-day period has passed and it definitely doesn’t mean that all the possible damage has been done.

It can and will get worse if you continue to avoid that payment. Your credit report will show how late the payment is in 30-day installments. When it reached 180 days, your account will enter default and may be charged-off, which will reduce your score and your chances of acquiring future credit even more.

Your creditor may sell your account to a collection agency. If this happens, the agency will chase you for repayment, seeking to establish a repayment plan or to request a settlement. Accounts are often in this stage when a consumer goes through debt settlement, as creditors and debt collectors are typically more susceptible to accepting reduced settlements because the debt has all but been written off.

How to Remove Late Payments from Your Credit Report

Although rare, it is possible to remove late payments from your credit report. There are also numerous ways you can reverse late payment fees, and we recommend trying these whenever you can as it will save you a few bucks.

Here are a few options to remove late payments and late payment fees:

Use Your Respectable History

The quickest way to get what you want is to ask for it. If you have a clean credit history and have made your payments on time in the past, you can request that the fee/mark be removed. 

Write them a letter requesting forgiveness, explain that it was an oversight or a temporary issue and point to your record as proof that this will likely not happen again. Creditors may seem like heartless corporations, but real humans make their decisions for them and, like all companies, they have to put their customers first.

Request Automatic Payments

Lenders have been known to remove late payment fees if the debtor signs up for automatic payments. It makes their job easier as it prevents issues in the future and ensures they get what they are owed, so it’s something they actively promote.

They may make this offer themselves, but if not, contact them and ask them if there is anything you can do to remove the late payment. They should bring this up; if they don’t, you can. It doesn’t hurt to ask and the worse they can do is say no.

Claim Difficulties

If you claim financial difficulties or hardships and make it clear that a late payment will make those difficulties much worse, the lender may be willing to help. Contrary to what you might think, their goal is not to make life difficult for you and to destroy you financially. 

It’s important to see things from their perspective. If you borrow $15,000 and your balance climbs to $20,000 with interest, their main goal is to get that $15,000 back, after which everything else is profit. If you pay $10,000 and start slipping-up, the risk of default will increase. The worse your financial situation becomes, the higher that risk will be. 

If they eventually sell the account to a debt collector, that remaining $10,000 could earn them just a couple of hundred dollars, which means they will lose a substantial sum of money. They are generally willing to help any way they can if doing so will increase their profits.

How to Avoid Late Payments

A late payment can do some serious damage to your payment history so the best thing to do is to prevent it from occurring in the first place. It’s a no-brainer, but this is a common issue and it’s one that countless consumers have every single year. So, keep your credit card and loan payments stable with these tips.

Set Automatic Payments

Occasionally, consumers forget to pay. Life is hectic, they have a lot of responsibilities to juggle, and it’s easy for them to overlook a single payment. If this happens, it should be caught and fixed before the 30-day period ends and the credit bureaus find out. But even then, fees can accumulate, and problems escalate.

To avoid this, set up automatic payments so your minimum payment is paid in full every month. You can do this for all debt, including student loan payments. Just make sure you have the money in your account to meet this minimum charge, otherwise, you could be paying for debt on one account by accumulating it on another.

Set a Budget

A credit card is designed to encourage you to spend money you don’t have. You’re buying things you can’t afford now in the hope or expectation that you will cover them later, only to realize that you’re struggling so much you can’t even cover the minimum payment.

If you ever find yourself in a situation like this, it’s time to analyze your finances and create a sensible budget. You may feel like you have a good idea of what you’re spending each month and how this compares to your gross income, but the vast majority of consumers seriously underestimate their expenses.

Improve Your Credit by Fixing Your Debt-to-Income Ratio

Calculate your debt to income ratio by comparing your total debt (credit card payments, student loans) to your gross income. The higher this is, the harder you need to work, and the less you need to spend on your credit card. 

Your debt to income ratio should be your central focus when seeking to improve your credit score, because while it’s not considered for loan and credit card applications, it does play a role in mortgage applications and is important for calculating affordability.

Conclusion: It’s Not the End of the World

A late payment can strike a disastrous blow to your credit report, but it’s not the end of the world and you do have a few options at your disposal. Not only do you have up to 30 (and sometimes 60) days to make the payment and prevent a derogatory market, but you can file a claim to have it removed in the event that it does appear.

And if none of that works, a little credit repair can get you back on track. Just keep making those payments every month, talk with your lender when you find yourself in trouble, and remember that nothing is unfixable where credit is concerned.

Late Payments, Credit Scores and Credit Reports is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

How Much Credit Card Debt is too Much?

Most Americans have credit card debt and will die with credit card debt. It’s one of the most accessible types of credit there is, becoming available as soon as you’re financially independent. It’s also one of the most damaging, as too much credit card debt could hurt your credit report, reduce your credit score, and cost you thousands of dollars in interest payments.

But how much debt is too much? What is the average total debt for American consumers and households and when do you know if you have crossed a line?

How Much Credit Card Debt is too Much?

The average credit card debt in the United States is around $5,000 to $6,000 per consumer. However, this doesn’t paint a complete picture as these figures don’t differentiate rolling balances. In other words, even if you repay your balance in full every month, that balance will still be recorded as debt until it is repaid.

For many consumers, $6,000 is not “too much”. It’s a manageable sum that they can afford to clear. However, if you’re out of work, relying on government handouts and have no money to your name, that $6,000 can seem like an unscalable mountain. And that’s an important point to note, because everything is relative.

To the average American, unsecured debt of $50,000 is catastrophic. It’s the sort of debt that will cause you to lose sleep, stress every minute of the day, and panic every time your lender sends you a letter. To a multi-millionaire homeowner who runs several successful businesses, it’s nothing, an insignificant debt they could repay in full without a second thought.

One man’s pocket change is another man’s fortune, so we can’t place an actual figure on what constitutes “too much debt”. However, this is something that credit reporting agencies, creditors, and lenders already take into consideration and to get around this issue, they use something known as a debt-to-income ratio.

Your Debt-to-Income Ratio (DTI)

Your DTI can tell you whether you have too much debt, and this is true for credit card debt and all other forms of debt (student loans, car loans, personal loans, and even mortgages). 

DTI is not used to calculate your credit score and won’t appear on your credit report, but it is used by mortgage lenders and other big lenders to determine your creditworthiness and if you don’t past the test then you won’t get the money.

To calculate your DTI, simply calculate the amount of debt payments that you have and compare this to your gross monthly income. For instance, let’s imagine that you make $400 in credit card payments and $600 in auto loan payments, creating a total debt payment of $1,000. Your gross monthly income is $4,000 and you don’t have any investments.

In this scenario, your DTI would be 25%. as your monthly debt payments ($1,000) are 25% of your monthly income. If you have a $1,000 mortgage payment to make every month, your obligations increase and your DTI hits 50%, which is when you should start being concerned.

Many lenders will not accept you if you have a DTI greater than 50%, because they are not convinced you will make your payments. $2,000 may seem like a lot of money to have leftover at the end of the month, but not when you factor tax, insurance, food, bills, and everyday expenses into the equation.

If your DTI is below 50%, you may be safe, but it all depends on those additional expenses.

How to Tell If You’ve Borrowed Too Much

Your debt-to-income ratio is a good starting point to determine if you have borrowed too much, and if it’s higher than 50%, there’s a good chance you have borrowed more than you should or, at the very least, you are teetering on the edge. However, even if your DTI is above 30%, which many consider the ideal limit, you may have too much credit card debt.

In such cases, you need to look for the following warning signs:

You Can’t Pay More Than the Minimum

Minimum payments cover a substantial amount of interest and only a small amount of the actual principal. If you’re only paying the minimum, you’re barely scratching the surface and it could take years to repay the debt. If you genuinely don’t have the extra funds to pay more money, then you definitely have a debt problem.

Your Credit Card Balance Keeps Growing

The only thing worse than not being able to pay more than the balance is being forced to keep using that card, in which case the balance will keep growing and the interest charges will keep accumulating. This is a dire situation to be in and means you have far too much credit card debt.

Your Debt is Increasing as Your Take-Home Pay is Reducing

If your credit card bill seems to be going in the opposite direction as your paycheck, you could have a serious problem on your hands. You may be forced to take payday loans; in which case you’ll be stuck repaying these on top of your mounting credit card interest, reaching a point when your debt eventually exceeds your disposable income.

You Don’t Have Savings or an Emergency Fund

A savings account or emergency fund is your safety net. If you reach a point where you feel like you can no longer meet the monthly payments, you can tap into these accounts and use the funds to bail you out. If you don’t have that option, things are looking decidedly bleaker for you.

Dangers of Having Too Much Credit Card Debt

The biggest issue with excessive credit card debt is that it has a habit of sticking around for years. Many debtors only make the minimum monthly payment, either because they can’t look at the bigger picture or simply can’t afford to pay more. 

When this happens, a $1,000 debt could cost them over $2,000 to repay, which means they’ll have less money to their name. What’s more, that credit card debt could impact their credit score, thus reducing their chances of getting low-interest credit and of acquiring mortgages and auto loans.

It’s a cycle. You use a credit card to make big purchases and are hit with a high-interest rate. That interest takes your disposable income away, thus making it more likely you will need to use the card again for other big purchases. 

All the while, your credit utilization ratio (calculated by comparing available credit to total debt and used to calculate 30% of your credit score) is plummeting and your hopes of getting a lower interest rate diminish.

What to do if you Have too Much Credit Card Debt?

If you find yourself ticking off the boxes above and you have a sinking feeling as you realize that everything we’re describing perfectly represents your situation, then fear not, as there are a multitude of ways you can dig yourself out of this hole:

Seek Counseling

Credit counselors can help to find flaws in your budget and your planning and provide some much-needed insight into your situation. They are personal finance experts and have dealt with countless consumer debt issues over the years, so don’t assume they can only tell you what you already know and always look to credit counseling as a first step.

Avoid Fees

Credit card companies charge a higher annual percentage rate to consumers with poor credit scores as they are more likely to default, which means they need those extra funds to balance their accounts. Another way they do this is to charge penalty fees, penalty rates, and cash advance fees, the latter of which can be very damaging to an individual struggling with credit card debt.

Cash advance fees are charged every time you withdraw money from an ATM, and the rate is often fixed at 3% with a minimum charge of $10. This means that if you withdraw as little as $20, it’ll cost you $10 in charges, as well as additional interest fees.

If the cash flow isn’t there, this can seem like a good option, but it will only make your situation worse and should be avoided at all costs.

Use Debt Relief

Debt management, debt settlement, and debt consolidation can all help you to escape debt, creating a repayment plan and clearing everything from credit card debt to student loan debt in one fell swoop. You don’t even need an excellent credit score to do this, as many debt management and debt consolidation companies are aimed towards bad credit borrowers.

Balance Transfers

A balance transfer credit card moves all of your current credit card balances onto a new card, one with a large credit limit and a 0% introductory APR that allows you to swerve interest charges for the first 6, 12, 15 or 18 months. It’s one of the best options available, assuming you have a credit score high enough to get the limit you need.

Monitor Your Situation

Whatever method you choose, it’s important to keep a close eye on your finances to ensure this never happens again. You should never be hit with an unexpected car payment or mortgage payment, because you know those payments arrive every single month; you should never be surprised that you have interest to pay or that your credit score has taken a hit because of a new account or application. 

If you paid attention to your financial situation, you wouldn’t be surprised, you would understand where every penny goes, and as a result, you will be better equipped to deal with issues in the future.

How Much Credit Card Debt is too Much? is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

How I Paid Off $40,000 In Student Loans in 7 Months

Want to learn how to pay off student loans? With my student loan repayment plan, I was able to pay off $40,000 in student loan debt in 7 months!Want to learn how to pay off student loans? With my student loan repayment plan, I was able to pay off $40,000 in student loan debt in 7 months! One of the best ways to save money is to finally get rid of those pesky loans that are hurting your financial situation.

Learning how to pay off student loans can lead to many positives, such as:

  • You may finally feel less financial stress.
  • You may be able to use that money towards something more important, such as saving for retirement.
  • Getting rid of your student loans may allow you to pursue other goals in life, such as traveling more or looking for a better job.

I know these things are true because learning how to pay off my student loans is one of the best decisions that I’ve ever made.

No, it wasn’t easy to pay off my student loans that quickly, but it was definitely worth it. No longer having those monthly payments hanging over my head is a HUGE relief, and it allowed me to eventually leave my day job and travel full-time.

Related posts on how to pay off student loans:

  • 6 Ways I Saved Money On College Costs
  • How Blogging Paid Off My Student Loans
  • The Benefits Of Paying Off Student Loan Debt Early
  • 30+ Ways To Save Money Each Month
  • 12 Work From Home Jobs That Can Earn You $1,000+ Each Month
  • How Do Student Loans Work?

How to pay off student loans and create a great student loan repayment plan:

 

Total how much student loan debt you have.

The very first thing that I recommend you do if you want to learn how to pay off student loans is to add up the total amount of student loans that you have.

When you total your student loans, do not just estimate how much student loan debt you have.

You should actually pull up each student loan and tally everything, down to the penny. By doing so, you will have a much more realistic view of exactly how much you’re dealing with.

Plus, the average person has no idea how much student loan debt they have! Usually, they have far more than they originally thought.

 

Understand your student loans better.

There are many people who simply do not understand their student loans. There are many things to research so that you can create the best student loan repayment plan, and this will also help you understand your loans and interest rates.

You should understand:

  • Your interest rate. Some student loans have fixed interest rates, whereas others might have variable rates. You’ll want to figure out what the interest rate on your loans are because that may impact the student loan repayment plan you decide on. For example, you might choose to pay off your student loans that have the highest interest rates first so that you can pay less money over time.
  • What a monthly payment means. Many people believe that a monthly payment is all that you have to pay, are allowed to pay, or that by paying just the minimum monthly payment you won’t owe any interest. These three things are so incorrect! Even if you pay the minimum monthly payment, you will most likely still owe interest charges (unless your interest rate is 0% – but that is very unlikely with student loans).
  • Student loan reimbursements. Some employers will give you money to put towards your student loans, but you should always do your research when it comes to this area. Some employers require that you work for them for a certain amount of time, you have great grades, good attendance, and they might have other requirements as well. There are many employers out there who will pay your student loans back (fully or partially), so definitely look into this option.
  • Auto-payment plans. For most student loans, you can probably auto-pay them and receive a discount. Always look into this as you may be able to lower your interest rate by 0.25% on each of your student loans.

I recommend that you check out Personal Capital (a free service) if you are interested in gaining control of your financial situation. Personal Capital allows you to aggregate your financial accounts so that you can easily see your financial situation, your cash flow, detailed graphs, and more. You can also connect accounts, such as your mortgage, bank accounts, credit card accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, and more. Plus, it’s FREE.

 

Determine if refinancing your student loans is right for you.

Student loan refinancing is when you apply for a new loan that is then used to pay off your other student loans. This may be a good option if your credit history or credit score is better than when you originally took out your student loans.

By refinancing your student loans, you may qualify for better repayment terms, a lower interest rate, and more. This is great because it may help you pay off your student loans quicker.

The positives of refinancing student loans include:

  • One monthly payment to simplify your finances.
  • Lower monthly payments.
  • Lower interest rates, and more.

Some companies, like Credible, allow you to refinance your federal student loans as well as your private student loans into one. On average, refinancing can save you thousands of dollars on your loan, which is amazing!

However, before refinancing a federal student loan, you will want to think about different federal benefits that you may be giving up. You may give up income-based repayment plans and loan forgiveness for those who have certain public service jobs (such as jobs at public schools, the military, Peace Corps, and more). By refinancing federal student loans, you are giving up any future option to these.

Read further at: Consolidating And Refinancing Student Loans – What You Should Know.

Related tip on how to pay off student loans: I highly recommend Credible for student loan refinancing. They are the top student loan refinancing company and have great customer service! You can significantly lower the interest rate on your student loans which may help you shave thousands off your student loan bill over time. Through Credible, you may be able to refinance your student loans at a rate as low as 2.14%! Plus, it’s free to apply and Credible is giving Making Sense of Cents readers a $100 bonus when they refinance.

 

Reduce your interest rate for your student loan repayment plan.

As I stated earlier, if you automatically pay your student loans each month or consolidate them, then sometimes you can get an interest rate reduction.

With Sallie Mae, I believe the reduction is 0.25%.

That may not seem significant, but it is something! Remember, every little bit counts when it comes to having a good student loan repayment plan.

 

Create the best budget.

If you don’t have one already, then you should create a budget immediately. This will help you learn how to pay off student loans as you’ll learn how to manage your money better.

Budgets are great, because they keep you mindful of your income and expenses. With a budget, you will know exactly how much you can spend in a category each month, how much you have to work with, what spending areas need to be evaluated, among other things.

Learn more at How To Create a Budget That Works.

 

Look for more ways to earn money.

Making extra money can allow you to pay off your students loans quickly because there is no limit to how much money you can make.

Finding ways to make extra money is how I was able to pay off my student loans so quickly!

And trust me, you probably do have time in your day to make extra money.

Just think about it: The average person watches 35 hours of TV a week and spends around 15 hours a week on social media. If you could use that time better and make more money with those extra hours, you’ll be able to pay off your student loans in no time!

Here are some ways to make more money so that you can learn how to pay off student loans:

  • Start a blog. Blogging is how I make a living and just a few years ago I never thought it would be possible. I earn around $100,000 a month through blogging. You can create your own blog here with my easy-to-use tutorial. You can start your blog for as low as $2.95 per month, plus you get a free domain if you sign-up through my tutorial.
  • Start a business. There are many business ideas that you could start in order to make extra money.
  • Sell your stuff. There are many things you can do to make money by selling items. We all have extra things laying around that can be sold, or you can even search for items that can be bought and resold for a profit.
  • Rent an extra room in your home. If you have extra space in your house, then you may want to rent it out. Read A Complete Guide To Renting A Room For Extra Money.
  • Answer surveys. Survey companies I recommend include Swagbucks, Survey Junkie, Pinecone Research, Opinion Outpost, Prize Rebel, and Harris Poll Online. They’re free to join and free to use! You get paid to answer surveys and to test products. It’s best to sign up for as many as you can as that way you can receive the most surveys and make the most money.
  • Become an Uber or Lyft driver. Driving others around in your spare time can be a great money maker. Read more about this in my post – How To Become An Uber Or Lyft Driver. Click here to join Uber and start making money ASAP.
  • Find a part-time job. There are many part-time jobs that you may be able to find. You can find a job on sites such as Snagajob, Craigslist (yes, I’ve found a legitimate job through there before), Monster, and so on.

Related articles that will help you learn how to pay off student loans:

  • 75+ Ways To Make Extra Money
  • 8 Things To Sell To Make Money
  • 10 Ways To Make Money Online From The Comfort of Your Home
  • 10 Things I’ve Done To Make Extra Money
  • Ways To Make An Extra $1,000 A Month

 

How to pay off your student loans – Find ways to reduce your expenses.

The next step is to cut your budget so that you can have a faster student loan repayment plan. Even though you may have a budget, you should go through it line by line and see what you really do not need to be spending money on.

There’s probably something that you’re wasting your money on.

Until you write it down in your budget, you may not realize how much money you are wasting on things you don’t need. And, remember, it’s never too late to start trimming your budget and to put your money towards important things like paying off student loans!

Even if all you can cut is $100 each month, that is better than nothing. That’s $1,200 a year right there!

Some expenses you may be able to cut include:

  • Lower your cell phone bill. Instead of paying the $150 or more that you currently spend on your cell phone bill, there are companies out there like Republic Wireless that offer cell phone service starting at $15. YES, I SAID $15! If you use my Republic Wireless affiliate link, you can change your life and start saving thousands of dollars a year on your cell phone service. If you are interested in hearing more, I created a full review on Republic Wireless. I’ve been using them for over a year and they are great.
  • ATM fees. You don’t need to pay ATM fees, but for some reason so many people do!
  • Sign up for a website like Ebates where you can earn CASH BACK for spending how you normally would online. The service is free too! Plus, when you sign up through my link, you also receive a free $10 cash back!
  • Pay bills on time. This way you can avoid late fees.
  • Shop around for insurance. This includes health insurance, car insurance, life insurance, home insurance, and so on. Insurance pricing can vary significantly from one company to the next. The last time we were shopping for car insurance, we found that our old company wanted something like $205 to insure one car for one month, whereas the company we have now charges $50 a month for the same exact coverage. INSANE!
  • Save money on food. I recently joined $5 Meal Plan in order to help me eat at home more and cut my food spending. It’s only $5 a month (the first four weeks are free) and they send meal plans straight to you along with the exact shopping list you need in order to create the meals. Each meal costs around $2 or less per person. This allows you to save time because you won’t have to meal plan anymore, and it will save you money as well!
  • Fuel savings. Combine your car trips, drive more efficiently, get a fuel efficient car, etc.
  • Trade in your car for a cheaper one. For us, we are car people. Cars are one of our splurges. However, if you only have a nice car to keep up with the Joneses, then you might want to get rid of it and get something that makes more sense.
  • Live in a cheaper home. I’m not saying that you need to live in a box, but if you live in a McMansion, then you may want to think about a smaller home. This way you can save money on utility bills and your mortgage payment.
  • Learn to have more frugal fun. We don’t spend anywhere near the same amount of money on entertainment as we used to. There are plenty of ways to have frugal fun.
  • Look for coupon codes. I search for coupon codes for everything. Today, I have two for you. I have a $20 Airbnb coupon code and a free taxi ride with Uber. Both are great services that I have personally used.

 

See if your employer will reimburse your student loan debt.

Some companies will pay your student loans quickly if you work for them. I even know of someone who receives a $2 bonus for each hour that she works to put towards her student loans.

$2 may not seem like a lot, but if you work full-time, then that’s over $300 a month. $300 a month for student loans is a good amount! And, because it’s free money, it can all be put towards paying off your student loans quickly.

 

Create a plan to pay off your student loans.

After you have completed the steps above, you’ll want to put it all together and create a plan.

Without a plan, you would just be all over the place, making it difficult to reach your goal of learning how to pay off student loans.

You should create a plan that details the steps you need in order to pay off your student loans, what will happen as you reach each step, when and how you will track your progress, and more.

Being detailed with your plan will help you reach your goal and become successful.

 

Stay motivated with your student loan repayment plan.

Finding motivation can be a hard task for anyone. Motivation is important because it can help you keep your eye on the goal even when you want to quit. Motivation will help you continue to work hard towards your goal, even when it seems impossible. Motivation is what keeps you going so that you do not quit.

Yes, student loan repayment can seem very stressful when you think about it. Many people owe thousands and thousands in student loans.

And, no matter how young or old you are, learning how to pay off student loans can seem difficult or even near impossible. However, think about your goal and how good life will be once all of your student loan debt is gone.

Please try to not let your student loans get you down. Think positively and attack that debt so that you can pay off your student loans fast!

Trust me, once you finally pay off those pesky student loans, you’ll be happier than ever!

Related post on how to pay off student loans: 8 Ways To Get Motivated And Reach Your Goals

 

Pay more than the minimum if you want to learn how to pay off student loans!

The point of what I’ve written above is to help you pay off your student loans. However, you can always go a little bit further and pay off your student loans more quickly.

The key to speeding up your student loan repayment process is that you will need to pay more than the minimum each month.

It may sound hard, but it really doesn’t have to be. Whatever extra you can afford, you should think about putting it towards your student loans. You may be able to shave years off your student loans!

What other ways can a person learn how to pay off student loans? What’s your student loan repayment plan?

The post How I Paid Off $40,000 In Student Loans in 7 Months appeared first on Making Sense Of Cents.

Source: makingsenseofcents.com

What is a Judgment?

A man sits on a couch with his laptop in his lap, looking at the phone in his hand.

A judgment is an order issued by a court of law. When you borrow money, you are legally required to repay the debt. This includes opening a credit card account, getting a line of credit from your bank and obtaining financing for a big purchase.

You can also become indebted to service providers. This can include utility companies, medical professionals, cell phone service providers and auto mechanic shops. They provide a service to you and then bill you, similar to a credit extension.

So, what happens when you don’t pay a bill or repay a debt? The company, creditor or collection agency has legal ways to pursue payment. One of those options is to sue you. If they are successful, the court issues a judgment against you.

What Happens After a Judgment Is Entered Against You?

The court enters a judgment against you if your creditor wins their claim or you fail to show up to court. You should receive a notice of the judgment entry in the mail. The judgment creditor can then use that court judgment to try to collect money from you. Common methods include wage garnishment, property attachments and property liens.

State laws determine how much money and what types of property a judgment creditor can collect from you. These laws vary. So, you need to look to your own state for the rules that apply. A consumer law attorney can help you understand your state’s laws on judgment collections.

What Is a Judgment on Property?

Your property includes both physical items and money. That means judgment creditors can seek debt payment from more than your wages and bank accounts. They may also take back a car you financed or other personal property. Another option is placing a lien on some of your property, such as your home.

What Property Can Be Taken to Settle a Judgment?

Creditors must follow the law when applying a judgment to take, or seize, your property. Some things are exempt—which means they can’t touch those items or properties. Some examples include the home you live in, the furnishings inside it and your clothes. State laws identify these items and set limits based on their value.

Non-exempt property can be taken to help meet a judgment debt. Your creditor can take or leverage these possessions in the following ways:

  • Wage attachments. This is known as wage garnishment. When your employer receives the proper legal notice, they must withhold a percentage of your wages. These payments are sent to the judgment creditor until your debt is paid.
  • The Consumer Credit Protection Act caps these types of garnishments. The limit is 25% of your disposable weekly wages or the amount you earn that’s above 30 times the minimum wage. The lessor of these two amounts applies. Some states set the cap even lower.
  • Nonwage garnishment. If you’re retired, unemployed or self-employed, your bank account may be garnished instead. Here, too, there are exemptions. Veterans payments, social security and disability benefits are not eligible for nonwage garnishment. Some states add even more restrictions to the garnishment of bank funds.
  • Property liens. If you own real estate, your judgment creditor may file a legal claim against it. These liens notify lenders of the creditor’s rights to your property. That way, if you sell your real property, the debt must be paid out of the proceeds. In many states, liens are placed automatically when a judgment is entered.
  • Property levies. Judgments may also allow some of your non-exempt personal property to be taken through a levy. Law enforcement may seize things like valuable collections or jewelry to be sold at auction. Sales proceeds are applied to your debt.

What Can You Do to Avoid a Judgment?

Heading off a lawsuit is the best way to avoid a judgment. To do so, don’t ignore calls and correspondence from your creditor. Reach out to learn if they’ll accept suitable payment arrangements. Educate yourself on smart ways to pay debt collectors, and consider using the services of a debt management agency.

What if the loan company or debt collector has already started the lawsuit? Don’t skip court. Show up and fight. You may win if the statute of limitations has expired.

If you haven’t made a payment on an old debt for many years, you may have a successful legal defense. Most states set the time frame between four to six years. Collectors often still file suit because they win by default if you don’t show up. So, it’s important that you go to court with proof of your last date of payment.

If you successfully defeat or avoid a judgment, don’t stop there. Take some sensible steps to help you get out of and stay out of debt. Adopting these smart financial habits can also help prevent future judgment actions.

How Long Can the Judgment Creditor Pursue Payment?

The answer depends on where you live, since state laws differ. Some states limit collection efforts to five to seven years. Others allow creditors to pursue repayment for more than 20 years. With the right to renew a judgment over and over in many states, it may last indefinitely.

Judgment renewals may be repeated as often as desired or limited to two or three times. This is another state-specific issue. Judgments can also lapse or become dormant. The creditor must then act within a specific time frame to revive it.

What Happens When You Can’t Pay a Judgment Filed Against You?

If you own a limited amount of property, it may all be exempt from judgment collection efforts. Also, you may not work or only work part-time. With the CCPA cap, that may mean you don’t earn enough for garnishment.

This inability to pay your debt is called being judgment proof, collection proof or execution proof. While these circumstances exist, the judgment creditor has no legal way to collect on the debt. It’s not a permanent solution. The creditor may revisit collection efforts periodically for many years.

For a more permanent solution, you may want to consider filing bankruptcy. This process can discharge or eliminate most civil judgments for unpaid debt. Exceptions apply for things like child support, spousal support, student loans and some property liens. Speak with a bankruptcy lawyer to learn whether this will help your situation.

Can You Settle a Judgment?

If you can afford to pay a decent lump sum, you may be able to negotiate a settlement. The judgment creditor may be willing to settle if they fear you will otherwise file bankruptcy. Get the terms and settlement amount you agree upon in writing. Be sure the creditor agrees to file a satisfaction of judgment with the court after they receive your pay off.

Can a Judgment Be Challenged or Reversed?

Challenging and overturning a judgment is difficult, but not always impossible. This is the case if there were errors. Perhaps you weren’t notified of the suit or it was never your debt to begin with. Consult with an attorney to find out whether you have grounds to challenge the decision.

If you want to challenge a judgment, act fast. If you received prior notice of the case, you may have up to six months to reopen it. If you weren’t notified, you likely have up to two years to appeal. By reopening the case, you have the opportunity to fight the claim anew.

Do Credit Reports Still Include Judgments?

For many years, credit reports included judgment information. But that changed in 2017. The National Consumer Assistance Plan is responsible for creating more accurate credit data requirements. These changes resulted in the removal of civil debt judgments from credit reports.

Judgments are still a matter of public record. But the NCAP now requires that there be identifying information on these records for more accuracy. That data includes a social security number or date of birth along with the consumer’s name and address.

Public records cannot include this type of identifying information. It would violate privacy laws. This is the reason these judgments are no longer reported on credit files.

How Do You Find Out if You Have Any Judgments Against You?

You should receive a summons when you’re being sued. So, you can expect a default judgment will follow if you don’t show up in court. You can also expect a notification when a judgment is entered against you.

Mistakes happen, though. You may have missed the notice or moved to a new address. If that happens, you may not learn of the judgment until collection actions start.

What if You Find a Judgment on Your Credit Report?

Take action if you learn that judgments are still being reported by Equifax, Experian or Trans Union. The NCAP eliminated this practice. So if there’s a judgment on your report, this is definitely something that you should dispute. Credit repair services, like Lexington Law, can help you dispute the error and correct your report.

If you’d like a more in-depth look at your credit score, give ExtraCredit, our newest product, a try. It has five killer features that all work together as a solution to your credit troubles. Plus, you’ll be able to see all 28 of your FICO credit scores. 

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Disclosure: Credit.com and CreditRepair.com are both owned by the same company, Progrexion Holdings Inc. John C Heath, Attorney at Law, PC, d/b/a Lexington Law Firm is an independent law firm that uses Progrexion as a provider of business and administrative services.

The post What is a Judgment? appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

10 Financial Steps to Take Before Having Kids

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), raising a child to the age of 18 sets families back an average of $233,610, and that’s for each child. This figure doesn’t even include the cost of college, which is growing faster than inflation. 

CollegeBoard data found that for the 2019-2020 school year, the average in-state, four-year school costs $21,950 per year including tuition, fees, and room and board. 

Kids can add meaning to your life, and most parents would say they’re well worth the cost. But having your financial ducks in a row — before having kids — can help you spend more time with your new family instead of worrying about paying the bills.

10 Financial Moves to Make Before Having Kids

If you want to have kids and reach your long-term financial goals, you’ll need to make some strategic moves early on. There are plenty of ways to set yourself up for success, but here are the most important ones. 

1. Start Using a Monthly Budget

When you’re young and child-free, it’s easy to spend more than you planned on fun activities and nonessentials. But having kids has a way of ruining your carefree spending habits, and that’s especially true if you’ve spent most of your adult life buying whatever catches your eye.

That’s why it’s smart to start using a monthly budget before having kids. It helps you prioritize each dollar you earn every month so you’re tracking your family’s short- and long-term goals.

You can create a simple budget with a pen and paper. Each month, list your income and recurring monthly expenses in separate columns, and then log your purchases throughout the month. This gives you a high-level perspective about money going in and out of your budget. You can also use a digital budgeting tool, like Mint, Qube Money, or You Need a Budget (YNAB) to get a handle on your finances. 

Regardless of which budgeting tool you choose, create categories for savings (e.g. an emergency fund, vacation fund, etc.) and investments. Treat these expense categories just like regular bills as a way to commit to your family’s money goals. Your budget should provide a rough guide that helps you cover household expenses and save for the future while leaving some money for fun.

2. Build an Emergency Fund

Most experts suggest keeping three- to six-months of expenses in an emergency fund. Having an emergency fund is even more crucial when you have kids. You never know when you’ll face a broken arm, requiring you to cover your entire health care deductible in one fell swoop. 

It’s also possible your child could be born with a critical medical condition that requires you to take time away from work. And don’t forget about the other emergencies you can face, from a roof that needs replacing to a job loss or income reduction. 

Your best bet is opening a high-yield savings account and saving up at least three months of expenses before becoming a parent. You’ll never regret having this money set aside, but you’ll easily regret not having savings in an emergency.

3. Boost Your Retirement Savings Percentage

Your retirement might be decades away, but making retirement savings a priority is a lot easier when you don’t have kids. And with the magic of compound interest that lets your money grow exponentially over time, you’ll want to get started ASAP. 

By boosting your retirement savings percentage before having kids, you’ll also learn how to live on a lower amount of take-home pay. Try boosting your retirement savings percentage a little each year until you have kids. 

Go from 6% to 7%, then from 8% to 9%, for example. Ideally, you’ll get to the point where you’re saving 15% of your income or more before becoming a parent. If you’re already enrolled in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, this change can be done with a simple form. Ask your employer or your HR department for more information.

If you’re self-employed, you can still open a retirement account like a SEP IRA or Solo 401(k) and begin saving on your own. You can also consider a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA, both of which let you contribute up to $6,000 per year, or $7,000 if you’re ages 50 or older. 

4. Start a Parental Leave Fund

Since the U.S. doesn’t mandate paid leave for new parents, check with your employer to find out how much paid time off you might receive. The average amount of paid leave in the U.S. is 4.1 weeks, according to a study by WorldatWork, which means you might face partial pay or no pay for some weeks of your parental leave period. It all depends on your employer’s policy and how flexible it is.

Your best bet is figuring out how much time you can take off with pay, and then creating a plan to save up the income you’ll need to cover the rest of your leave. Let’s say you have four weeks of paid time off, but plan on taking 10 weeks of parental leave, for example. Open a new savings account and save weekly or monthly until you have six weeks of pay saved up. 

If you have six months to wait for the baby to arrive and you need $6,000 saved for parental leave, you could strive to set aside $1,000 per month for those ten weeks off. If you’re able to plan earlier, up to 12 months before the baby arrives, then you can cut your monthly savings amount and set aside just $500 per month.

5. Open a Health Savings Account (HSA)

A health savings account (HSA) is a tax-advantaged way to save up for health care expenses, including the cost of a hospital stay. This type of account is available to Americans who have a designated high-deductible health insurance plan (HDHP), meaning a deductible of at least $1,400 for individuals and at least $2,800 for families. HDHPs must also have maximum out-of-pocket limits below $6,900 for individuals and $13,800 for families. 

In 2020, individuals can contribute up to $3,550 to an HSA while families can save up to $7,100. This money is tax-advantaged in that it grows tax-free until you’re ready to use it. Moreover, you’ll never pay taxes or a penalty on your HSA funds if you use your distributions for qualified health care expenses. At the age of 65, you can even deduct money from your HSA and use it however you want without a penalty. 

6. Start Saving for College

The price of college will only get worse over time. To get a handle on it early and plan for your future child’s college tuition, start saving for their education in a separate account.  Once your child is born, you can open a 529 college savings account and list your child as its beneficiary. 

Some states offer tax benefits for those who contribute to a 529 account. For example, Indiana offers a 20% tax credit on up to $5,000 in 529 contributions each year, which gets you up to $1,000 back from the state at tax time. Many plans also let you invest in underlying investments to help your money grow faster than a traditional savings account. 

7. Pay Off Unsecured Debt

If you have credit card debt, pay it off before having kids. You’re not helping yourself by spending years lugging high-interest debt around. Paying off debt can free-up cash and save you thousands of dollars in interest every year. 

If you’re struggling to pay off your unsecured debt, there are several strategies to consider. Here are a few approaches:

Debt Snowball

This debt repayment approach requires you to make a large payment on your smallest account balance and only the minimum amount that’s due on other debt. As the months tick by, you’ll focus on paying off your smallest debt first, only to “snowball” the payments from fully paid accounts toward the next smallest debt. Eventually, the debt snowball should leave you with only your largest debts, then one debt, and then none.

Debt Avalanche

The debt avalanche is the opposite of the debt snowball, asking you to pay off the debt with the highest interest rate first, while paying the minimum payment on other debt. Once that account is fully paid, you’ll “avalanche” those payments to the next highest-rate debt. Eventually, you’ll only be left with your lowest-interest account until you’ve paid off all of your debt. 

Balance Transfer Credit Card

Another popular strategy involves transferring high-interest balances to a balance transfer credit card that offers 0% APR for a limited time. You might have to pay a balance transfer fee (often 3% to 5%), but the interest savings can make this strategy worth it.

If you try this strategy, make sure you have a plan to pay off your debt before your introductory offer ends. If you have 15 months at 0% APR, for example, calculate how much you need to pay each month for 15 months to repay your entire balance during that time. Any debt remaining after your introductory APR period ends will start accruing interest at the regular, variable interest rate. 

8. Consider Refinancing Other Debt

Ditching credit card debt is a no-brainer, but debt like student loans or your home mortgage can also weigh on your future family’s budget.

If you have student loan debt, look into refinancing your student loans with a private lender. A student loan refinance can help you lower the interest rate on your loans, find a manageable monthly payment, and simplify your repayment into one loan.

Private student loan rates are often considerably lower than rates you can get with federal loans — sometimes by half. The caveat with refinancing federal loans is that you’ll lose out on government protections, like deferment and forbearance, and loan forgiveness programs. Before refinancing your student loans, make sure you won’t need these benefits in the future. 

Also look into the prospect of refinancing your mortgage to secure a shorter repayment timeline, a lower monthly payment, or both. Today’s low interest rates have made mortgage refinancing a good deal for anyone who took out a mortgage several years ago. Compare today’s mortgage refinancing rates to see how much you can save. 

9. Buy Life Insurance

You should also buy life insurance before having kids. Don’t worry about picking up an expensive whole life policy. All you need is a term life insurance policy that covers at least 10 years of your salary, and hopefully more.

Term life insurance is extremely affordable and easy to buy. Many providers don’t even require a medical exam if you’re young and healthy. 

Once you start comparing life insurance quotes, you’ll be shocked at how affordable term coverage can be. With Bestow, for example, a thirty-year-old woman in good health can buy a 20-year term policy for $500,000 for as little as $20.41 per month. 

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10. Create a Will

A last will and testament lets you write down what should happen to your major assets upon your death. You can also state personal requests in writing, like whether you want to be kept on life support, and how you want your final arrangements handled.

A will can also formally define who you’d like to take over custody of your kids, if both parents die. If you don’t formally make this decision ahead of time, these deeply personal decisions might be left to the courts.

Fortunately, it’s not overly expensive to create a last will and testament. You can meet with a lawyer who can draw one up, or you can create your own using a platform like LegalZoom.

The Bottom Line

Having kids can be the most rewarding part of your life, but parenthood is far from cheap. You’ll need money for expenses you might’ve never considered before — and the cost of raising a family only goes up over time.

That’s why getting your money straightened out is essential before kids enter the picture. With a financial plan and savings built up, you can experience the joys of parenthood without financial stress.

The post 10 Financial Steps to Take Before Having Kids appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

Source: goodfinancialcents.com

Meet the Man Who Makes $600 a Month Selling Crickets

When Jeff Neal’s wife told him she wanted to quit her job to stay at home with their kids, he had to think about how to make one income work.

When Jeff Neal’s wife told him she wanted to quit her job to stay at home with their kids, he had to think about how to make one income work. With over $21,000 in student loans, there wasn’t much extra money lying around. Losing another income stream would be difficult.

But rather than give up hope, Neal did something no one expected. He launched a side business that helped bring in extra money: selling crickets online.

Yes, you heard that right. Crickets.

Now, Neal makes $600 a month selling bugs online at The Critter Depot, which helps him pay off his debt. Read on to learn more about this odd side hustle and how Neal has turned it into a steady income stream.

Searching for a Side Hustle

Neal graduated from Temple University and got a job as a project manager. While he made a good salary, he had student loan debt and a growing family. When his wife decided she wanted to stay home with the kids, Neal knew he had to make changes.

“My wife wanted to stay home, so I had to take full responsibility as the sole provider,” he says.

Since his full-time job involves e-commerce, he focused his side-hustle search on online jobs. After doing extensive research, he decided to put all of his efforts on one specific niche.

The area that he identified was in the pet industry; reptile and exotic animal owners need live crickets to feed their pets, but getting them can be difficult — and expensive. So, Neal’s site caters to pet owners, selling crickets of various sizes in bulk.

But before you rush out and buy tanks and crickets to replicate Neal’s success, you should know his approach is even more interesting. He actually doesn’t deal with the crickets at all. Instead, his business is a drop shipping company.

What Is Drop Shipping?

Drop shipping is a business model where the store doesn’t stock any of the items it sells. Instead, when a customer purchases a product, the drop shipper works with a manufacturer — or in this case, a cricket supplier — to fulfill the order. The drop shipper never comes into contact with the product, so wrangling crickets isn’t part of Neal’s day.

“I don’t know anything about raising crickets,” he admits. “They have short life spans and unique nutritional and environmental needs. It’s a lot of work that takes a lot of knowledge. When I set up my business, I found someone who breeds crickets. He takes care of them and ships them; I just handle the orders.”

For customers, drop shipping is a seamless process, whether it’s through Amazon or a private site. Most of the time, you don’t know when you’re buying from a drop shipper. Once your order is placed, the drop shipper works with the supplier to place the order, and you receive the item like you normally would.

Drop shipping can be a mutually beneficial relationship between the seller and supplier. In Neal’s case, he has the marketing expertise and skills to build a successful website and business. That gets the cricket farmer more exposure and more orders than he would get on his own. Neal estimates that he generates about $3,000 in sales each month from The Critter Depot and his cut is $600.

Previously, Neal primarily sold crickets on Amazon. But meeting Amazon’s strict standards is hard when you’re shipping live insects. He ended up taking his sales to just his website, which requires more work for him each day to build traffic.

His new income stream allows him to take advantage of other opportunities, too. He recently purchased the site Jason Coupon King, which generates another $700 a month in revenue.

Balancing a Side Gig With Life & Work

While Neal’s side hustle is successful, he has to balance his work with his full-time job and his family. But that’s why he says drop shipping is a great option. It gives him the flexibility he needs while still allowing him to earn extra money.

“I don’t have a television, so when I come home from work, I just spend time playing with the kids and catching up with my wife,” says Neal. “Once they’re in bed, I work on optimizing my websites, contributing to forums and building links to my sites.”

Neal says he spends an hour or two a day after work on his side hustle and that his business is still growing. The extra income is substantial enough to help him pay off his student loans early and give his family more wiggle room in their monthly budget. (You can keep tabs on your own finances by viewing two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

Making Extra Money

While selling crickets might not be for you, Neal’s story is just another example of the many ways you can make money on the side. If you’re struggling to make ends meet, or need more income to pay down debt or boost your emergency fund, launching a side hustle can be the right approach.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Neal 

The post Meet the Man Who Makes $600 a Month Selling Crickets appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

Should You Transfer Balances to No-Interest Credit Cards Multiple Times?

Karen, our editor at Quick and Dirty Tips, has a friend named Heather who listens to the Money Girl podcast and has a money question. She thought it would be a great podcast topic and sent it to me. 

Heather says:

I had a financial crisis and ended up with a $2,500 balance on my new credit card, which had a no-interest promotion for 18 months when I got it. That promotional rate is going to expire in a couple of months. I have good credit, and I keep getting offers from other card companies for zero-interest balance transfer promotions. Would it be a good idea to apply for another card and transfer my balance so I don't have to pay any interest? Are there any downsides that I should watch out for?

Thanks, Karen and Heather! That's a terrific question. I'm sure many podcast listeners and readers also wonder if it's a good idea to transfer a balance multiple times. 

This article will explain balance transfer credit cards, how they make paying off high-interest debt easier, and tips to handle them the right way. You'll learn some pros and cons of doing multiple balance transfers and mistakes to avoid.

What is a balance transfer credit card or offer?

A balance transfer credit card is also known as a no-interest or zero-interest credit card. It's a card feature that includes an offer for you to transfer balances from other accounts and save money for a limited period.

You typically pay an annual percentage rate (APR) of 0% during a promotional period ranging from 6 to 18 months. In general, you'll need good credit to qualify for the best transfer deals.

Every transfer offer is different because it depends on the issuer and your financial situation; however, the longer the promotional period, the better. You don't accrue one penny of interest until the promotion expires.

However, you typically must pay a one-time transfer fee in the range of 2% to 5%. For example, if you transfer $1,000 to a card with a 2% transfer fee, you'll be charged $20, which increases your debt to $1,020. So, choose a transfer card with the lowest transfer fee and no annual fee, when possible.

When you get approved for a new balance transfer card, you get a credit limit, just like you do with other credit cards. You can only transfer amounts up to that limit. 

Missing a payment means your sweet 0% APR could end and that you could get charged a default APR as high as 29.99%!

You can use a transfer card for just about any type of debt, such as credit cards, auto loans, and personal loans. The issuer may give you the option to have funds deposited into your bank account so that you can send it to the creditor of your choice. Or you might be asked to complete an online form indicating who to pay, the account number, and the amount so that the transfer card company can pay it on your behalf.

Once the transfer is complete, the debt balance moves over to your transfer card account, and any transfer fee gets added. But even though no interest accrues to your account, you must still make monthly minimum payments throughout the promotional period.

Missing a payment means your sweet 0% APR could end and that you could get charged a default APR as high as 29.99%! That could easily wipe out any benefits you hoped to gain by doing a balance transfer in the first place.

How does a balance transfer affect your credit?

A common question about balance transfers is how they affect your credit. One of the most significant factors in your credit scores is your credit utilization ratio. It's the amount of debt you owe on revolving accounts (such as credit cards and lines of credit) compared to your available credit limits. 

For example, if you have $2,000 on a credit card and $8,000 in available credit, you're using one-quarter of your limit and have a 25% credit utilization ratio. This ratio gets calculated for each of your revolving accounts and as a total on all of them.  

Getting a new balance transfer credit card (or an additional limit on an existing card) instantly raises your available credit, while your debt level remains the same. That causes your credit utilization ratio to plummet, boosting your scores.

I recommend using no more than 20% of your available credit to build or maintain optimal credit scores. Having a low utilization shows that you can use credit responsibly without maxing out your accounts.

Getting a new balance transfer credit card (or an additional limit on an existing card) instantly raises your available credit, while your debt level remains the same. That causes your credit utilization ratio to plummet, boosting your scores.

Likewise, the opposite is true when you close a credit card or a line of credit. So, if you transfer a card balance and close the old account, it reduces your available credit, which spikes your utilization ratio and causes your credit scores to drop. 

Only cancel a paid-off card if you're prepared to see your credit scores take a dip.

So, only cancel a paid-off card if you're prepared to see your scores take a dip. A better decision may be to file away a card or use it sparingly for purchases you pay off in full each month.

Another factor that plays a small role in your credit scores is the number of recent inquiries for new credit. Applying for a new transfer card typically causes a slight, short-term dip in your credit. Having a temporary ding on your credit usually isn't a problem, unless you have plans to finance a big purchase, such as a house or car, within the next six months.

The takeaway is that if you don't close a credit card after transferring a balance to a new account, and you don't apply for other new credit accounts around the same time, the net effect should raise your credit scores, not hurt them.

RELATED: When to Cancel a Credit Card? 10 Dos and Don’ts to Follow

When is using a balance transfer credit card a good idea?

I've done many zero-interest balance transfers because they save money when used correctly. It's a good strategy if you can pay off the balance before the offer's expiration date. 

Let's say you're having a good year and expect to receive a bonus within a few months that you can use to pay off a credit card balance. Instead of waiting for the bonus to hit your bank account, you could use a no-interest transfer card. That will cut the amount of interest you must pay during the card's promotional period.

When should you do multiple balance transfers?

But what if you're like Heather and won't pay off a no-interest promotional offer before it ends? Carrying a balance after the promotion means your interest rate goes back up to the standard rate, which could be higher than what you paid before the transfer. So, doing another transfer to defer interest for an additional promotional period can make sense. 

If you make a second or third balance transfer but aren't making any progress toward paying down your debt, it can become a shell game.

However, it may only be possible if you're like Heather and have good credit to qualify. Balance transfer cards and promotions are typically only offered to consumers with good or excellent credit.

If you make a second or third balance transfer but aren't making any progress toward paying down your debt, it can become a shell game. And don't forget about the transfer fee you typically must pay that gets added to your outstanding balance. While avoiding interest is a good move, creating a solid plan to pay down your debt is even better.

If you have a goal to pay off your card balance and find reasonable transfer offers, there's no harm in using a balance transfer to cut interest while you regroup. 

Advantages of doing a balance transfer

Here are several advantages of using a balance transfer credit card.

  • Reducing your interest. That's the point of transferring debt, so you save money for a limited period, even after paying a transfer fee.
  • Paying off debt faster. If you put the extra savings from doing a transfer toward your balance, you can eliminate it more quickly.
  • Boosting your credit. This is a nice side effect if you open a new balance transfer card and instantly have more available credit in your name, which lowers your credit utilization ratio.

Disadvantages of doing a balance transfer

Here are some cons for doing a balance transfer. 

  • Paying a fee. It's standard with most cards, which charge in the range of 2% to 5% per transfer.
  • Paying higher interest. When the promotion ends, your rate will vary by issuer and your financial situation, but it could spike dramatically. 
  • Giving up student loan benefits. This is a downside if you're considering using a transfer card to pay off federal student loans that come with repayment or forgiveness options. Once the debt gets transferred to a credit card, the loan benefits, including a tax deduction on interest, no longer apply. 

Tips for using a balance transfer credit card wisely

The best way to use a balance transfer is to have a realistic plan to pay off the balance before the promotion expires.

The best way to use a balance transfer is to have a realistic plan to pay off the balance before the promotion expires. Or be sure that the interest rate will be reasonable after the promotion ends.

Shifting a high-interest debt to a no-interest transfer account is a smart way to save money. It doesn't make your debt disappear, but it does make it less expensive for a period.

If you can save money during the promotional period, despite any balance transfer fees, you'll come out ahead. And if you plow your savings back into your balance, instead of spending it, you'll get out of debt faster than you thought possible.

Source: quickanddirtytips.com