What are the Benefits of Online Banking?

online payment

Banking online offers many helpful benefits, making it easier than ever to keep track of your money and stay in control of your financial future. Using your computer or phone, you can instantly view your current balance and recent transactions, pay bills or send money, and transfer funds between accounts. Rather than waiting in line at a bank, you can take care of business all on your own with a few simple clicks.

Pay Bills

One of the biggest perks to choosing an online bank is quick, easy access to your accounts, allowing you to stay on top of your monthly budget and bills. Paying bills online is a great way to ensure your accounts are up to date, with trackable payment confirmation numbers avoiding any worries of your check or cash getting lost in the mail. Save a stamp and a trip to the post office by instantly sending money to those you owe.

Keep Tabs on Transactions

Did your last paycheck go through? What is your current checking balance? With online banking, you can know exactly how much money you have in the bank at all times, without having to visit a physical location. Access your account 24/7 to double check your spending power, and make sure there are not any suspicious transactions. If you ever see a payment you did not authorize, you can call your provider to address the issue right away.

Lower Fees

For many online-only banks, you can receive excellent service and perks with fewer maintenance fees. Since these banks have lower overhead, they can often offer higher interest rates and a wealth of financial products, such as CDs, money market, and high-interest savings accounts.

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What are Medical Loans?

patient having consultation with a doctor

Medical loans are personal loans for medical expenses. When procedures go outside the limits of insurance coverage, or if necessary treatments aren’t covered by insurance at all, medical loans can help bridge the gap during trying times. Learn what to expect and which options make sense for your medical situation.

Most Common Medical Loans

There are many common medical procedures that insurance companies do not cover. Orthodontia, reconstructive surgery, hair restoration, and bariatric procedures are typically categorized as “cosmetic” treatments, and therefore are often rejected by health insurance. Similarly, fees that address infertility, in vitro fertilization, or adoption are usually outside the scope of most plans.

Types of Medical Loans

If medical expenses are proving to be outside your current budget, here are a few different medical loan options for you to pursue:

  • Unsecured Personal Loan - personal loans can offer low-risk, low-cost access to funds. Because many different financial institutions extend personal loans, you can shop around for the best rate, and since these types of loans are not connected to your home or other assets, you won’t face foreclosure in the event you are late on payments.
  • In-house Financing - many medical providers have in-house financing for patients. Be sure to check the interest rates and terms before selecting this option, as they can be higher than larger, more connected lenders.
  • Personal Line of Credit - this option allows you to pull extra funds when needed against your current financial limits, similar to spending on a credit card when you don’t have the money. Just like with a credit card, this money needs to be paid back within a certain amount of time, so be sure to understand how much you need to borrow.

Medical Loan Tips

When looking for a medical loan, it’s important to fully understand what you are signing up for. Make sure you read through and compare the rates, terms, and any associated fees, so that you aren’t surprised by unexpected costs or repayment plans. Ask your lender questions and don’t agree to terms that make you uncomfortable. Making a smart, informed decision will help you feel confident in your choice, save on medical bills, and help facilitate your medical needs.

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Reasons to Use a Credit Card

Credit Card

Some folks talk about credit cards like they’re dangerous and lead to excessive debt, but there are plenty of great reasons to use a credit card as a form of payment. Credit cards offer several perks such as airline miles, sign on bonuses, and earnable rewards, all while building your credit history.

Building Credit

Using a credit card for your daily purchases can be an excellent way to build up your credit history. When you pay your credit card bills on time, you prove to lenders that you are reliable. Staying within your credit limit and paying off statements completely each month will boost your credit score and can help you receive future car loans, mortgages, and more.

Rewards, Points, and Bonuses

Many credit cards offer buyers a variety of enticing rewards and sign-on bonuses. Most operate on a point-based earning system, with dollars spent earning a certain amount of points. You can earn airline miles, retail gift cards, hotel stays, and more, depending on which card you choose.

Depending on how frequently you use your card, these rewards can add up to give you enjoyable perks for money you’re spending anyway. Some cards even offer a cash back system, with points transforming into actual cash.

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How to Keep Your Banking Information Safe Online

Credit Card Fraud

Cyber security is an issue that affects us all, which is why it is crucial to understand how to keep your banking information safe online. By taking a few simple precautions such as using secure Wi-Fi and creating difficult passwords, you can rest assured your private information and account numbers will stay protected.

Browse on Secure Networks

While most of us have grown accustomed to using apps and browsing online from any location, it’s important to save banking tasks for when you’re on secure networks. Avoid checking your account or sending money while using a public computer or free Wi-Fi, especially networks that do not require a password login. These networks are more susceptible to attack, so only log in to your bank while at home or on a password-protected internet provider.

When banking, be sure the website has a “https” at the start (rather than “http”); the “s” stands for secure, and safeguards you against dangerous situations.

Keep Information Private

Never share your personal identity information online unless you initiated a conversation with a trusted source. Do not respond to emails or phone calls insisting you must share your address, birth date, social security number, or account numbers, as they could be phishing attacks trying to get your private details.

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Three Ways to Get a Free Credit Score

Checking Credit Score

Staying up to date with your credit score helps you know where you stand in terms of your creditworthiness, so when you apply for a loan or credit card, you have an educated idea of whether you'll be approved. Additionally, the United States Federal Trade Commission suggests checking your credit report yearly to make sure your information is accurate. Learn more about the three ways to get a free credit score below!

Get a Free Annual Credit Report

The Fair Credit Report Act entitles you to at least one credit report every year from all of the three main credit bureaus: TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. To check your credit score, as well as your full credit report, you can order yours online from annualcreditreport.com — which is the only website authorized to provide a free report. You can order online or by phone. To keep track of your creditworthiness, it's a smart idea to order once every four months from each of the three bureaus — one in January from TransUnion, one in May from Equifax, and one in September from Experian.

Use Your Credit Card Account to Get Your Score

Some credit card companies offer a free monthly credit score or a credit report copy, such as Discover, Bank of America, American Express, and more. If you check your credit card account online, you may be able to keep track of your score right from the dashboard. While these free monthly credit scores aren't FICO scores, they can help you gauge your credit status and keep an eye out for strange increases or decreases.

Choose a Credit Monitoring Service

CreditKarma and Credit Sesame, for example, gives you an idea of what your credit score may be using VantageScore — a consumer credit-scoring model. These monitoring services are free and can help you make better financial choices based on the information provided. You can also download the apps for your smartphone and request free email alerts from CreditKarma with your TransUnion information.

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Can I Pay My Credit Card with Another Credit Card?

Credit Cards

Usually, no — at least not directly. Most credit card companies won't allow you to punch in the numbers for another credit card to pay your bill. The main reason why it's typically not an option is that the processing fees are too high for the company. However, if the due date on your credit card bill is fast-approaching and you don't have the cash, you can find another way to use a second credit card or try another approach.

Cash Advances

If you have a second credit card, you can take a cash advance against it to pay off the first credit card, or at least pay the monthly bill. You can then deposit the cash into your bank account and make your payment. However, there is a drawback to cash advances: the fees. It's not uncommon for a fee to be 5 percent or $10 — whichever is higher. There are also limits to how much you can get. Usually, the limit is lower than a credit limit, so if you're in considerable debt, a cash advance likely won't cover it.

Debt Consolidation

Do you have several lines of credit that you're struggling to keep current every month? If so, consider credit card debt consolidation. For example, taking out a personal loan can help you manage your debts and reduce your monthly payments to one credit bill — that is, your loan repayment. This is a great option, as long as you make your payments on time and can snag a loan with reasonable rates and terms.

Re-Evaluate Your Spending

If you've found yourself in this position before, it's probably a good time to ask yourself, "Why am I overspending and on what?" Review your credit card purchase history and figure out why you're overspending in the first place. Create a monthly budget for yourself and avoid wasting money or credit on purchases that aren't necessary. You can also speak with a credit counselor if you're unsure about your next steps. Make sure the agency you contact is accredited by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

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How Much Cash Should I Keep in the Bank?

Credit Cards

If you're like most people, you've probably asked yourself, "How much cash should I keep in the bank?" There's no right or wrong answer, but there are general guidelines you can follow to maximize your savings and avoid wasting money. Everyone has a different savings formula. However, overcomplicating how you look at your own money can cause you to stress over every dollar spent. Read on to learn more about how you can structure your checking and savings accounts for success.

What to Keep in Your Checking Account

If possible, store at least one month's take-home pay in your checking account. This gives you a buffer without putting you at risk for living paycheck-to-paycheck or hoarding all of your extra money — only to overspend later. Saving the equivalent of your monthly take-home gives you peace of mind for 30 days should you paycheck get lost in the mail or another extenuating circumstance arises. Additionally, it reduces the worry of overdrawing your account or feeling unprepared to deal with emergency situations.

While it may seem like keeping a large cushion of funds is smarter, the truth is: mixing your checking and savings money can trick you into thinking you have more money available. If you keep a smaller but adequate amount in your checking, you'll be less likely to splurge on that new TV or designer jacket because the money's sitting in your account.

What to Keep in Your Savings Account

When it comes to long-term savings, it's generally a good idea to open high-yield savings account that's separate from your checking account. You can even open your savings account with a different bank. Funnel any additional funds into your savings account, and, if you want extra security, keep a small portion of it connected to your main checking account so you can do an instant transfer if necessary. For the rest of your savings, it's best to set them apart from your monthly expenses. And if you have to wait a few days for the money to transfer into your main account, you'll be less likely to waste it.

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Credit vs. Debit Cards

Credit Cards

What's the difference between credit cards and debit cards? Chances are you have at least one of the two in your wallet. Which is better? Both have their benefits and potential drawbacks, depending on your financial situation, spending habits, and credit history. Learn the basics of credit vs. debit cards below.

What You Need to Know About Credit Cards

Institutions, such as banks, issue credit cards to cardholders after they've applied for and been approved for a line of credit. Cardholders agree to repay the money borrowed with interest. There are four types of credit cards:

  • Standard Card — provides a line of credit.
  • Rewards Card — offers perks like travel points and cash back.
  • Secured Card — can't be used without a cash deposit as collateral.
  • Charge Card — doesn't come with a spending limit, but typically doesn't allow unpaid balances to carry over.

Credit card usage also impacts your credit report and credit score. Your credit report provides lenders with a window into your financial history, while your credit score summarizes your creditworthiness. Using credit cards responsibly can significantly raise your credit score and improve your chances of getting approved for personal loans, low auto financing rates, and more. On the other hand, failing to repay your credit card bills can send your credit score into a downward spiral. None of this is true for a debit card.

Also, credit cards offer greater protection for cardholders than debit cards. The minimum user liability for purchases made with a stolen credit card is $50 if the theft is reported within a reasonable amount of time. According to the Electronic Funds Transfer Act, debit card users can receive similar protection if the incident is reported within two days. After 60 days, however, there's no liability limit. Additionally, credit card users can dispute transactions they didn't authorize or if items they ordered online arrived damaged, usually resulting in an immediate deduction. Debit card holders can dispute a charge, but an investigation must be conducted before a refund is issued.

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Diversifying Investments

Business Finance Saving

If you've heard the phrase "Don't put all your eggs in one basket," then you already know one of the top pieces of advice from the leading financial experts! This simple phrase is the heart and soul behind the concept of diversifying investments. Rather than placing all of your money in one place, you divide your assets among a variety of investments to maximize gain and minimize losses. But how does your average Joe learn how to diversify investments in the best way possible? Let's dive into exactly what is a diversified investment and how you can take advantage of this concept in your personal portfolio:

Different Types of Investments

What is a diversified investment? It means spreading your savings across different types of investments - the key words being "different types." Let's say you have a portfolio of stocks and you want to diversify. Should you load up on new stocks? The smarter option would be to add new types of investments like bonds or real estate. This allows you to take advantage of the different pros and cons of investments across the board. Here are a few of your options:

  • Bonds
  • International investments
  • Real estate
  • Stocks
  • Cash
  • And more

Doing the Math

Just how much of your money should you put into each of these investments? It's important to think practically. We like to use a tiered approach with financial planning. Your first tier of savings is your rainy day fund. This pool of money is used as a safeguard against any emergencies you encounter, like medical issues or auto troubles. Your second tier is your stocks and bonds.

Many financial advisors recommend using a simple calculation to estimate how much to allot to each category. Subtract your age from 100 to get a rough guide of how much to invest in stocks. For example, a 25 year old will put 75 percent of assets in stocks and 25 percent in bonds. If you want to try diversifying investments, then you'll play with these figures even more. Try investing 10 percent of your stock portfolio in international investments or 5 percent in real estate. You'll end up with a well-rounded list of investments.

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Debt Management

Debt Management

If you're trying to become debt-free, you need to have a plan to move forward - and learning debt management is the way to do it. What is debt management? It is a customized system that you create to live within your means and slowly emerge from debt. Because the causes of debt are different for everyone, your management system will also be personalized to your specific needs. This guide will break down how to identify your unique needs and how to create a sensible debt management plan that will carry you into the future. Let's get started!

Can Debt Management Help Me?

This debt management plan is best for those who have "unsecured debt". Unsecured debt includes things like credit card debt, bank overdrafts, and personal loans. If your debt is caused by mortgages or rent, this is considered "secured debt." Secured debts are a little trickier, and you may want to consult a financial advisor instead.

Why Do I Need Debt Management Skills?

It's easy to spiral into debt, but it's a lot more difficult to climb out of it. That's why it's crucial to come up with a strategy to move forward, rather than hoping things will simply get better with time. Not only does extended debt reflect poorly on your credit history, but it can also affect your ability to secure loans and mortgages down the line. Not to mention, interest accumulates and puts you in an even deeper financial hole. The best time to work on your debt is the present!

How Do I Make a DIY Debt Management Plan?

If you are driven to become debt-free, we recommend taking an honest inventory of all of your expenses. Take a look at your debit and credit card statements, and see where money is flowing. Make a list of everything that you spend within a month, like:

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How to File Taxes

How to File Taxes

The new year marks the official beginning of tax season, but do you know how to file taxes the right way? After working hard all year long, many people shudder at the very thought of 1040s and W2s, but luckily, the process isn't too tricky with the right information by your side. Let's dive into the basics of how and when can you file taxes, so you can file with total confidence!

Forms That You May Need

While the old system was full of confusing paperwork like the 1040A and 1040EZ forms, the IRS has created a new 1040 form that is the size of a postcard. The 1040 tax form is the standard federal income tax form that you'll need to report your income properly, so don't forget that number! So, where do you pick it up? You can easily download the 1040 tax form online for convenience, but if you'd prefer a hard copy, there are many locations that you can visit. Post offices, libraries, tax centers, and IRS offices across the nation have the supplies you need to file by the deadline of April 15th.

Factors That Affect Taxes

Why do taxes vary so much from person to person?

  • Filing status: You will fall into one or more of the following categories: single, married filing separately, married filing jointly, head of household, qualifying widow with dependent.
  • Dependents: You can file up to four dependents, which may qualify for the Child Tax Credit. Any additional dependents must be included on a separate tax form.
  • Income: Your taxable income isn't just the sum of your annual wages. This can also include your stock profits, real estate sales, lottery winnings, inheritance, and other funds.
  • Tax Deductions: You might qualify for tax credits or tax deductions that reduce your taxable income. Be sure to double check the qualifications that you'll need, and if you have any questions, contact a professional to be on the safe side!

Methods of Filing

The digital age has made tax preparation easier than ever before. Before you can claim that hefty tax refund, you'll need to select your method of filing:

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Apps to Save Money on Groceries

Apps to Save Money on Groceries

You've scoured the sales ads, you've created a grocery budget, but did you know that there are even more ways that you can save on your weekly food costs? Thanks to the latest technology, you can take advantage of tons of different apps to save money on groceries - and it's as easy as tapping the screen of your smartphone! Let's dive into some of our top picks, so you can learn how to save money on food without sacrificing your favorites. These handy apps are available for free on both iOS and Android, so anyone can save big:

Ibotta

Ibotta is one of the most popular apps for good reason. This isn't your traditional coupon app. Simply go to the grocery store, check the app for cash back opportunities, and scan in your receipt after checkout. Within one week, you'll get cash back on all of your qualifying items - and you'll get an automatic five dollars with your first checkout! Best of all, you can use Ibotta on hundreds of different retailers from grocery stores to apparel shops - which means you can save money across the board!

SavingStar

If you're already a coupon-clipping pro, then SavingStar might be your new favorite app. Sign up for this service to register all of your rewards cards in one place. Then, feel free to browse through the latest deals and plan your shopping list ahead of time. All of your discounts will appear at the register when you check out. This flexible choice is a great option that works with nearly all of the major grocery store chains in the United States, so it's definitely worth the quick download!

Grocery IQ

Want the best deals possible? Check out Grocery IQ. Create your weekly grocery list in the app and set your location. The app will run through every grocery store in its database to find the cheapest price on every item, so you know exactly where to head for that gallon of milk or loaf of bread. Plus, you can load your rewards cards to make sure that you compare sales prices for every item.

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Why is it Better to Rent a House

Real Estate

Many people dream of getting the keys to their very first home, but not everyone is clear on the details. Do you want a huge home or a cozy abode? Do you want modern fixtures or that vintage feel? And most importantly: Do you want to rent vs. buy? While buying used to be the more coveted option, renting has surged in popularity due to rising housing costs and a greater need for flexibility. In fact, renting a house can be a much better option for many Americans. If you're not sure whether renting vs. buying a house is for you, then check out our guide. We've laid out some of the top benefits of renting, and how to tell whether this modern option is the best for you.

Flexibility

When you rent a home, you have a lot more flexibility than a buyer. Your contract typically lasts for one year. If you decide to leave after the contract is over, there's no problem. Feel free to find a new residence with better amenities, or downsize to a more affordable living space if you'd like. Unlike a buyer, you have no obligation to to invest a lot of money in a house that you might outgrow. And if your financial situation changes, you're not trapped in a long-term mortgage.

Cost

One of the biggest perks to renting is the lower cost overall. There's no need to squirrel away thousands of dollars for a huge down payment. There's no need to deal with massive real estate taxes. And there's no need to budget for seasonal maintenance and unexpected home repairs. Renting is a much simpler process for those who aren't committed to the sometimes arduous homeowning lifestyle. Additionally, homeowners must deal with the stress of fluctuating property values. When you rent a home, you can focus your attention on other things.

Amenities

Not only is the renting process typically much less expensive than the buying process, but you could also enjoy a number of perks that you might not expect. Are you an avid swimmer? You'll love the convenience of a rental home with a pool - and you won't have to fuss with installation and maintenance costs. Love to hit the gym? Look for an apartment complex with a built-in fitness center, and you won't have to waste time in traffic after work. Many condos also offer services like landscaping to ensure that your home maintains its curb appeal with no effort on your part.

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Why Should I Refinance My Car Loan?

Smiling Young Woman Sitting in a Car

After going through so much effort to secure auto financing, you probably don't want to look at another stack of paperwork for a long time! But, many experts recommend revisiting your plan down the road. Why should I refinance my car loan? Simply put, you could get a much better deal. From lower monthly costs to better interest rates, you might be surprised by the new and improved terms of your auto financing deal if you do a little research. Let's take a look at how to refinance a car loan to reap the most benefits:

What are the Perks of Refinancing?

The biggest benefit of refinancing a car is the potential annual savings that you can achieve. Here are few scenarios where refinancing is a great idea:

  • Lower Interest: Interest rates are not static. They rise and fall due to a number of factors, and even if interest rates have been sky-high for a long time, keep your eyes peeled for the inevitable dip.
  • Dealer-Sourced Loans: Dealership loans tend to have higher markups than other loans, like from a bank or online lender. Take a look at the other lenders to see if you can score a better deal by refinancing.
  • Credit Score Changes: Maybe you bought a car when your credit was not so great, but after managing your money, you managed to move your score up. You might qualify for a better interest rate now, so consider researching your options.
  • Leasing to Buy: If you've fallen in love with your lease, then you might want to buy it when your contract runs out. This can be a good time to renegotiate the terms and score a terrific deal on your car loan.
  • Financial Stress: Sometimes you run into rough patches in life and you need to cut car costs as much as possible. You can refinance your car loan to get a lower payment over a longer period of time, freeing up more monthly cash flow.

What are the Drawbacks of Refinancing?

You know the perks of refinancing a car loan, but before you draw up the new paperwork, when does it make more sense to stick with your current plan instead?

  • Long-Term Loan: Have you been paying off your current loan for years and years? You can get the most benefits from refinancing when you do so earlier in your repayment, so if it's been awhile, you might want to stick with what's working.
  • Refinancing an Old Car: There are tons of benefits of buying used and you can save quite a bit on a pre-owned model, but refinancing is usually not considered worthwhile for the lender when the major depreciation has already occurred.
  • Underwater Finances: If you owe more than the car's value, lenders are less likely to make a deal with you. It's better to regain control on your current loan than to try to negotiate new terms, which might not be favorable.
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Why is Saving Money Important?

Abstract Money Saving

Between daily living expenses and piles of bills, you might feel like your paycheck disappears before your eyes - so why is saving money important? Saving money gives you the freedom to live your life the way you want. Whether you want to upgrade your house or start a new business, you have the power to take control when your financial situation is in good standing. And no matter your current situation, you can learn how to save money strategically to ensure a brighter future. Even a few dollars here and there can really add up over time, and these funds can come in handy when you're strapped for cash. Let's dive into the importance of saving money.

Benefits of Saving

One of the main benefits of saving money is the peace of mind that it brings. A rainy day fund provides protection against life's unexpected obstacles. You can take care of smaller expenses like car troubles and home repairs before they become huge headaches, and you have the freedom to save for bigger expenses like your children's college fund or retirement. Not only will savings set you up for a better financial standing, but better quality of life as well. And saving money isn't just about practicality. While rainy day funds are important, why not start a island getaway fund or a dream car fund? When you learn how to save money, you learn how to take control of your life.

Saving Strategy

Many people complain about financial stress, and when money is tight, it might be difficult to save for tomorrow when you can spend today. That's why it's important to learn how to save money in a way that works for you.

  • If you don't have a lot of funds to spare, consider looking for a savings account with higher interest rates and focus on reducing any debts that you have.
  • If you're comfortable financially, start putting away money into an emergency fund. Most experts recommend saving between three to six months worth of expenses to be on the safe side.
  • If you already have an emergency account, you have more flexibility with your funds. Look into options like IRAs, the stock market, and other investments to build your fortune!

Tips and Tricks

Need a few tips and tricks from the experts? Here are a few other points to keep in mind:

  • While most financial planners recommend saving 20 percent of your paycheck, everyone is different. Learn how to calculate how much money you should save.
  • Age plays a big factor in your saving strategy. While married couples have their own strategies for saving, find out how to save when you're single.
  • If you're new to the savings game, you might want personalized help when getting started. Of course, your bank representatives are always happy to help, but why not try some of the latest money-saving apps on your smartphone?
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What is Passive Income?

Social Media Sign

If you're looking for ways to earn some extra cash, developing a stream of passive income is a great idea. But what is passive income - and what can it do for you? Passive income is a way to gain earnings without active participation. While there's no need to clock in or attend meetings to collect your cash, earning passive income isn't as simple as sitting on the couch and getting rich. Find out the top passive income ideas to set yourself up for a bright future!

Market Your Knowledge

Are you an expert with tons of valuable experience? Do you love to create content? Then you might want to consider making an information product. Information products include e-books, online classes, DVDs, and more. These products package your knowledge in an easy-to-digest format, so curious minds can learn from the best. After your product is on the market, you can kick back and enjoy the passive income that results with every sale. However, creating the product can be a challenge. Make sure you put your best face forward and create something you stand by, and buyers will take notice.

Rent Your Space

A spare property can yield quite a bit of money if you're open to renting out the space. From temporary rentals to long-term stays, rental income can be quite lucrative if you're willing to put forth a little effort. This is a particularly effective passive income stream if you live in a tourist-laden area. If you live in a sleepy town, the market might not be there. And while you can earn a tremendous amount of money as a landlord, you could also lose a lot if you run into the wrong tenants.

Use Your Social Media

Do you have a big following on social media? Consider affiliate marketing to earn some extra cash. When you engage in affiliate marketing, you promote a product with a link on your website. They benefit from your large following, and you get a kickback in the form of commission. The more traffic you get, the better this opportunity can be. But if you don't have the followers, you'll have to build up your base before considering this option. In the meantime, you can utilize your social media resources for other opportunities, like advertising information products or selling your stuff.

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Top Causes of Debt

Debt Avalanche

While most people have the best of intentions, debt can happen to the best of us. From simple overspending to financial fiascos, millions of Americans find themselves in debt every year. But there are ways to climb out of that hole and into a brighter future! In this guide, we’ll go over some of the top causes of debt and how to move on from financial stress. You’ll enjoy debt free living in no time with the right research and techniques!

Poor Money Management

You might be surprised how poor money management can eat away at your finances, no matter how much money you earn. One of the top ways to avoid debt is to avoid spending what you can’t afford to lose. That means keeping tabs on your household income, bank statements, credit card statements, and getting those bills under control. When you track the money coming into your life, you know how much extra cash you have to spend on fun stuff – so you won’t get a serious shock when you get the bill for that impromptu shopping spree!

Life Adjustments

Sometimes life throws curveballs at you that are difficult to predict. Unexpected medical expenses, divorce, unemployment, and other drastic life changes can change your household finances tremendously. While there’s no way to truly prepare for these events, we recommend taking inventory of your savings to stay debt-free. If you haven’t started saving for the future, there’s no time to start like the present. Most experts recommend saving six months worth of living expenses, but no amount is too small when you’re just getting started. Keep adding money to your savings to gradually build a nest egg.

Financial Literacy

Sometimes people have the income necessary to live a perfectly happy life, but poor financial literacy can lead them into a debt spiral. Think about your own financial literacy. Do you know how to do your taxes? Do you know how to balance a checkbook? Do you know when to spend or pay off debts? There's no need to feel self-conscious if you need some debt help, but the important thing is to gain the knowledge that you need to stay financially independent and debt-free. Consider looking for personal finance resources to keep you up-to-date on everything that you need to know. You can find plenty of great information through courses, books, and even online. Keep striving to learn from the best, and you'll learn how to pay off debt fast!

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What is a Savings Account?

Money Bag With Dollar Sign

Everyone knows that saving money is important, but not everyone knows how to start planning for the future. That's where your savings account comes in! What is a savings account, and why is it such a great way to build your future fortune? We're here to explain the benefits of savings in simple terms, so you can start collecting interest!

Why Should I Open a Savings Account?

Between checking accounts and retirement funds, you might feel like your paycheck is being split into a million pieces. So, why invest extra money into a savings account? Savings account interest typically pays more than a checking account, which means you get extra bang for your buck. The drawback is that you are limited in the number of transactions that you can perform every month, due to federal regulations. However, this can actually be a good thing for long-term savings. If you are building a rainy day fund, you'll feel less tempted to withdraw money for splurges with your funds in a savings account. And if you're trying to save money for a vacation or a downpayment, you can reach your goal faster from the higher interest accrued.

What is Interest?

When you open your bank account, you start earning interest - but what is it? Interest is the money that the bank gives you as an incentive to keep your money there. This is one way that different banks compete for your business, which is why it's such a good idea to shop around when deciding where to open your account. Additionally, there are two types of interest to consider: simple and compound. Simple interest is paid out based on the money that you originally had in the bank. Compound interest pays based on your original amount plus interest, which means you earn interest on your interest! Compound interest is more common, and also preferable if you want to earn money quickly.

What is the Best Savings Account?

While there is no best savings account for everyone, you can find the best savings account for your particular needs. Here are a few of the most common options:

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Budgeting for Your First Home

house model house concept

If you’re taking the plunge into home ownership for the first time, it can be a little scary, especially when it comes to finances. In order to create your first home budget, you’ve got to crunch a few numbers. The important thing is to be realistic and stick with something you can truly afford. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get started!

How Much House Can You Afford?

To come up with your house budget, begin with the 25% rule, which is that your mortgage shouldn’t be more than 25% of your gross income. Simple enough, right? Sticking this rule can be difficult in more expensive areas of the U.S., so you may need to save up for a higher down payment. Also, if you have existing debt, you should add that to your total and make sure it doesn’t represent more than 29% of your gross income because lenders look at your debt-to-income ratio when they’re deciding if you’re a good risk.

What About Other Housing Expenses?

Remember that lenders want to lend you the absolute max that you can afford, but you’re also going to have other things in your housing budget besides the mortgage costs. Be sure you’re estimating the costs of homeowners insurance, homeowners association fees, maintenance costs, and utilities. And don’t forget property taxes! These aren’t exactly hidden costs, but people don’t always realistically estimate them when they’re making their purchase decision.

How Much for Your Down Payment?

Put at least 20% down on your home purchase, and you’ll avoid the extra costs of PMI (private mortgage insurance.) Plus, you just want to put down as much money is possible so you pay less in interest in the long run, which really adds up. Remember, you have to pay closing costs, too, so make sure you estimate this in your house budget.

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How to Avoid Wasting Money

Its Raining Money

Congratulations! You’re about to learn how to avoid wasting money, and it’s going to make a huge impact on your life. There are so many little habits that cause us to spend money on things that aren’t worth it, usually because we’re crunched for time.

Ways to Save Money

Small Stuff:

Little things can add up to big bucks, and they’re some of the biggest ways we waste money. For example, every time you choose to buy an individual bottle or water or soda rather than buying in bulk, you’re paying a major markup. And it’s even worse if you’re buying at a convenience store because prices are much higher than at your local grocery or superstore. Why? Because they can’t command the same pricing from the manufacturers that supermarkets can, and also because you’re paying for how easy it is to run in and out quickly. Speaking of drinks, you can keep the costs of your restaurant bill down simply by choosing water instead of soft drinks, which can add $3 or $4 per person to your check.

Entertainment:

Your cable bill and Internet bills are probably quite expensive. It pays to stay on top of what you’re paying for versus what you use. Always try to renegotiate your plan, and consider cutting the cable “cord” so you pay only for what you watch. Your cell phone plan is another biggie. Take the time to review it - are you paying for minutes, data, and features that you don’t even use? Is there a family plan available that will bring your costs down? Moving your newspaper subscriptions to the online version will keep you in the know and save you money at the same time.

Fees & Interest

Commit to yourself that you’re not going to ever pay another late fee again. What a waste! Set up automatic payments and calendar alerts that make sure you pay all your bills on time. And plan your ATM withdrawals so that you skip the fees for using the ATM at another bank, which can be more than $3 per transaction. Pay attention to how much your bank charges for these penalties and convenience fees. Your credit card fees can add up, too. Choose cards without an annual fee, and pay your bills in full if you can to avoid expensive interest charges.

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Rent vs. Buy

For Rent Real Estate Sign

Is buying or renting right for you? Many factors go into the choice to rent vs. buy, so it's important to really weigh the pros and cons of each before you fall in love with a home. Let's start with a quiz to determine whether renting vs. buying a home is better for you:

  • Do you have debt? If you do, consider renting. If you don't, homeownership may be in your future.
  • Are you staying in the area for 3 or more years? If not, renting is a better option. If so, buying could be a good choice.
  • Are you financially stable? If you have doubts, then play it safe and wait until you are sure. If you have money saved and income to spare, you might be ready for a house.

Renting

Most people rent an apartment or house at some point in life. Whether you've just graduated from college or relocating to a new city, the flexibility of this short-term commitment can be a huge asset. And while some people scoff at the idea of paying a landlord, you'll get plenty in return. There's no need to worry about DIY work if the toilet breaks or the roof leaks. Simply call maintenance to have an expert at your door. However, don't forget about renter's insurance just in case of an emergency!

What are the disadvantages of renting? You might deal with rising rent costs from year to year due to inflation and property value changes. That means higher costs for you without any benefits. Additionally, there are no tax breaks for renters. That can be a huge factor in more established workers, though not as big of an issue for those who are just starting a career. Some people dislike the lack of control in a rented space. You can't make changes to the property, you might have loud neighbors, you might have an undesirable parking situation. There are a lot of things that are beyond your control.

Buying

Many people dream of buying their very own home, and it's not hard to see why. Buying a home is a great long-term solution. While the up-front costs of down payments and mortgages may seem high, you are gaining equity as you pay off your loan. Eventually, you'll pay off the entire mortgage and can enjoy your beautiful home without the stress of monthly payments. You can also take advantage of tax deductions. And if you love to decorate, home ownership gives you total control of your space. Paint the walls any shade you'd like, landscape the yard to your heart's content, and rip out extra walls to make that open floor plan come to life. The choice is all yours!

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How to Protect Inheritance from Creditors

Inheritance Court

If you find yourself with a sudden inheritance, you might feel overwhelmed! While this large chunk of change can make a huge impact on your finances, it's important to learn how to protect inheritance from creditors who might try to collect on your sum. Let's say you want to use your funds to finally buy a house, but you're concerned that your past debt will whittle your inheritance down to nothing. What are the rules of inheritance, and how can you use them to your advantage? Let's go through the hypothetical steps.

Check Your Credit

Is your credit score perfect? Less than perfect? Non-existent? Before you jump the gun, it's important to check your credit score to be sure. You might be surprised if you've been expecting the worst. Everyone can check their credit score one time per year for free from each of the following bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. While these records should be up-to-date, unpaid medical debt doesn't appear until it is sent to collections. Keep that in mind if you are wrestling with any costly hospital visits. And be sure to examine your credit report carefully. Even the best businesses make mistakes, so it's crucial to report any inaccurate listings with the bureau to prevent a simple error from costing you the prime credit score that you deserve.

Weighing Your Options

Now that you know your credit score, you are better prepared to make a game plan for the future. If your credit score is in the prime range, you're good to go! Feel free to apply for a mortgage the traditional way and find the house of your dreams. But if your credit score isn't ideal, you have a few options. If your credit score is pretty dire, you might only qualify for high-interest loans that burn through that inheritance quickly. You might find that waiting and improving your credit score can save you money in the long run. If your credit score is merely less than perfect, then you have to weigh the pros and cons for yourself. Consider consulting a financial advisor and explain that you want to learn how to protect your inheritance the right way.

Managing Your Debts

So, you know your credit score and you're creating a plan to build your future. But what about the past? Your old debts might cause a problem when trying to move forward. Since you've acquired a copy of your recent credit history, you have a dated list of all of your debts from the past. But keep the following in mind:

  • There is a statute of limitations on old debts. That means your 25-year old debts can no longer be collected through the court system.
  • Only debts within a 7-year time period will appear on your credit report, so don't be surprised if you don't see that student loan from a decade ago.
  • Recent debts not only appear on your credit history report, but they are also fair game for collection in the courts. This can affect your inheritance money if you have racked up a lot of debts recently.
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How to Handle Your First Credit Card

credit card

Getting your very first credit card is an exciting time of financial independence, but it's important to proceed with caution. We've all heard horror stories of people racking up debt by being a little over enthusiastic with fresh plastic. However, it's easy to make good decisions if you use common sense and do the right research. Find out how to handle your finances like a pro with our first time credit card tips!

Choosing the Best First Time Credit Card

Before you select your plan, it's important to assess all of your options. While there's no definitive best first time credit card, some options will be much better than others for your unique needs. How do you choose the right credit card? Here are a few tips to point you in the right direction:

  • Rewards Cards: Rewards cards give you something back when you spend, like cash back or travel miles. Depending on your spending habits, you might enjoy the kickbacks from an incentivized credit card.
  • Low-Interest Card: Don't have much credit to your name? A low-interest credit card has a low APR, which helps you build credit slowly while learning the ropes of good financial planning.
  • Rotating Category Cards: These credit cards feature different cash back options and rewards rates depending on the time of year. You could reap big benefits if you can keep up with the criteria of the month, but if you don't want to plan that much, you might not see the benefits.

Understanding Your Options

You've picked the category, but what do all these terms mean in the fine print? Be sure to take a second glance and scan for the following:

  • APR: The annual percentage rate is the interest rate, and it's one of the most important factors to check. Your APR is variable, and it tends to be higher if you have poor credit and lower if you have good credit.
  • Annual Fees: Cards with annual fees often have better benefits than those without, but are the perks worth it? Weigh the pros and cons carefully.
  • Sign-Up Bonus: A sign-up bonus can be a nice chunk of change, but double check the terms. Are there higher fees involved? Is this a high-limit credit card? That free money might cost more than you think!

Improving Your Credit

You've researched your credit card options thoroughly, but now it's time to look inward. Do you know your credit history? Do you even have a credit history? No matter your current financial situation, there are always ways to improve your standing - so don't worry! The important thing is to find out an accurate picture of where you are. If you don't have any credit history at all, you can consider a few options to get your first time credit card. You can find a cosigner with good credit to share a credit card with you, so you can qualify for better plans. You can also get a secured card if you have no credit or bad credit. These cards help you build your credit without risk to the lender, which means it's much easier to secure one.

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What is a Co-Signer on a Loan?

Man in a Suit Offers to Sign a Contract

If you have prime credit, then you have a winning ticket toward securing the investments that you need toward a bright future. From auto loans to mortgages, those with prime credit are often rewarded for their smart spending.

But if friends and family have less than perfect credit, you might soon find yourself wondering "What is a co-signer on a loan?" Co-signing a loan allows someone with good credit to help out someone who isn't as financially secure. While this can be a lifesaving gesture to those who are building a new life, co-signing a loan is not without risk. Find out whether or not you should co-sign in our guide to personal finance. Does co-signing a loan affect credit?

What are the Perks of Co-Signing a Loan?

Sometimes good people end up with bad credit. Maybe your spouse is working off college credit card debt, or your son or daughter has no credit history at all. In these cases, you can become a co-signer to a loan in order to look more appealing to lenders. This can help pave the way for your friend or family member to become more independent by securing that car, home, or other investment that they need for a better tomorrow.

What are the Drawbacks of Co-Signing a Loan?

When you co-sign a loan, you become responsible for the investment. Even if your borrower vows to pay every bill promptly by themselves, if they fail to make payments, you are held liable for their inaction. Their poor financial decision can leave a stain on your credit report, so think long and hard before you agree to co-sign for anyone.

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How Does a 401k Work When You Retire?

401k plan

We all know that it's wise to put away money for the future, but not everyone knows what happens after retirement comes. So, how does a 401k work when you retire? The answer isn't so simple. Depending on your age and financial needs, you might spend your retirement funds a little differently than your coworker or neighbor. From qualified distributions to 401k rollovers, we'll let you know all the ins and outs of your 401k retirement plan so you can make the best decisions possible about your future.

Qualified Distributions

Qualified distributions are the most traditional way to withdraw money from your retirement fund, but you have to meet certain criteria to get this penalty-free funding. You must be over the age of 59.5 in order to avoid the 10 percent early withdrawal fee. Depending on your plan, your money may or may not be subject to income taxes. Traditional 401k funding is taxed, while Roth IRA money is not as long - provided you have had the account for at least five years.

Early Withdrawal

Let's say something comes up unexpectedly and you need to dip into your 401k retirement money early. You're free to do so, but you'll have to pay a fee. Before the age of 55, you'll have to pay a 10 percent early withdrawal fee on your money. Between the ages of 55 and 59.5, you may be able to avoid it. However, you can only withdraw money from the 401k from your previous employer. This does not apply to plans from any other employers in the past.

Letting it Lie

What if you are past retirement age, but have no need to withdraw funding from your 401k? No problem! You can't continue adding money after retirement, but you don't have to take out money immediately. If you have over $5,000 in your plan, the plan administrator will continue to maintain the account as long as you request. If you have less than $5,000 though, you'll get an automatic lump-sum distribution.

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Co-Signer vs. Co-Borrower Rights

Meeting in a bank

When making a large investment, sometimes it takes a team to get the job done - and that's where the co-signer comes in. What is a co-signer on a loan? A co-signer is someone who agrees to share the responsibility of the financial investment of another party. Maybe a parent will co-sign an auto loan for a son or daughter, maybe a spouse will co-sign a loan for a mortgage. And while most partnerships go off without a hitch, it's important to be aware of your co-signer vs. co-borrower rights to protect yourself from issues down the line. In this guide, we'll go through the pros and cons of co-signing - and what to do if you need to get out of a bad deal!

Getting a Loan on Your Own

When you're seeking a great loan, you need to present yourself as the best candidate possible to get the best deal possible. Let's say you have prime credit. That means your credit score is nearly perfect, which makes you a very desirable candidate for potential lenders. A good credit score indicates that you have a record of paying off past debts promptly, so there's a low risk of lending you the money that you request. Prime credit holders generally have very little issue getting the auto loans, mortgages, and other payments that they seek. But what if you have less than perfect credit? That's where the problem comes in. A lower credit score indicates that you have had a few issues paying off your debts, and lenders will notice. You are seen as a higher risk candidate, so there's a chance that your application will be rejected.

Co-Signing a Loan

If you find yourself outside the prime credit zone, one way to give lenders more confidence is to find a co-signer. A co-signer is someone with a good, established credit history who looks more trustworthy to the lender. Often, co-signers are close family members like parents or spouses, but they can be anyone who is willing to lend a helping hand. However, the co-signer takes on the burden of responsibility if you drop the ball on your payments. Let's say you skip a payment on your auto loan. That means both you and your co-signer are legally responsible for the debts accrued. This can be a huge problem for all parties involved - and why it's so crucial to only co-sign loans for people whom you can trust.

Getting a Co-Signer Release

So, let's step into the shoes of the co-signer. What happens if you co-sign a loan for someone who drops the ball? Rather than let your credit get knocked down a few notches, you can take matters into your own hands.

  • Pay the lapsed loan for the month to prevent a negative impact on your own credit score.
  • Talk to the borrower and ask for a co-signer release. This absolves you of any financial responsibility from this point onward.
  • Wait to see if the lender agrees to let you out of the contract. The decision is ultimately up to them.
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Benefits and Drawbacks of Online Shopping

Shopping Online

While brick and mortar stores used to reign the retail world, online shopping has become the new king of the industry. From textbooks to clothing to furniture, more and more people are heading online for future purchases. But what are the benefits and drawbacks of online shopping?

Advantages

Online shopping wouldn't be as popular as it is without tons of perks. Whether you're short or time or searching for some specific, there are tons of benefits of online shopping that any savvy spender can appreciate:

  • Convenience: No need to beat traffic and circle the parking lot of the local shops. You can access thousands of online marketplaces from the comfort of your own home on your laptop or even a smartphone.
  • Variety: While physical stores have limited shelf space to budget, online shops do not. That means you might have different and more interesting choices to explore, like unique features and colors than traditional stores offer.
  • Comparison: If you want to compare prices at different shops, you'll have to make multiple trips. Not so with the online marketplace. Some sites even offer one-click comparison shopping for your convenience.

Disadvantages

Shopping online might be a fun experience, but it's not without its share of disadvantages. Here are just a few of the concerns that you may have when shopping online:

  • Security: Modern marketplaces may be safer than before, but there's still a risk that an intruder can get your sensitive information when you purchase goods online.
  • Fraud: Not every vendor has your best interests in mind. Some may accept money and then never send your item in the mail, and customer service might not have your back.
  • Defective Items: Even if the picture online looks flawless, you might receive a less-than-perfect item in the mail due to shipping damage or fraudulent vendors.

Protecting Yourself

So, what can you do to get the benefits of online shopping without the drawbacks? Check out our online shopping tips.

  • Technology: Consider adding or updating your antivirus, antiphishing, and antimalware software to help prevent identity theft.
  • Research: Look for the SSL logo on any vendor site that you use, and avoid any sites that request unusual personal information like your Social Security number.
  • Fine Print: Read the fine print to examine the return policy, and see whether your debit card or credit card company provides protection against fraud.
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How to Avoid Debt After Bankruptcy

bankruptcy

Filing for bankruptcy can be a stressful time. While one chapter may be closing, you might worry about a new set of problems that could affect your financial future. How will this impact your credit score? How will this impact your future investments? And most importantly, how can you avoid getting in the same situation again? In this guide, we'll go through a few strategies to learn how to avoid debt after filing for bankruptcy. With the right planning and knowledge, you can set yourself up for brighter days ahead!

1. Find Out What Went Wrong

It's good to put the past behind you, but when it comes to your finances, it's important to come to terms with what went wrong in the first place. Think of performing a financial autopsy to see what decisions led to filing bankruptcy. What could you have done to prevent it? Maybe you need to learn how to reduce credit card debt, maybe you needed a larger rainy day fund, maybe you need to brush up on your budget. Identifying the key factors that led to bankruptcy can help you find a way to resolve them well before you get in the red.

2. Learn How to Budget

If you want to live within your means, you need to strategize. This means setting a realistic budget - and sticking to it! You'll need to be honest with yourself. Don't punish yourself with a skimpy budget that you'll never keep, but don't forget that you'll need to commit to some compromises. Your top priority is getting bills under control every month. Bills related to your health, safety, and security are the most important. See if you can cut back on non-essentials, like shopping and subscription services. However, don't forget to set a little bit aside for an emergency fund.

3. Prevent New Debt

A big perk of budgeting is avoiding debts, but credit cards can quickly lead to overspending. Be sure to charge no more than you can pay off in full. This will help you avoid high interest rates and growing credit card debt. And what if you start to notice your debt is creeping up like before? Look into some debt-reducing strategies, like the debt snowball method, to regain control quickly.

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Finance Tips for Married Couples

Credit Cards

Money management is one of the top stressors for married couples, and it's not hard to see why! While monthly bills and old debts are difficult enough to manage as a single person, it's even more daunting to manage as a couple. However, a little financial advice can go a long way. Check out our top finance tips for married couples, and see which strategies you can work into your new life together. You might find that just a few adjustments can have a huge impact on your marriage - and your bank account!

Prioritizing Goals

As you know, communication is essential for a happy and healthy marriage. Financial planning is no different. While some people get uncomfortable when talking about money, setting your priorities with your significant other is crucial when working toward your future goals. Do you aspire to own a house? Do you want to own a business? These are long-term goals that are worth keeping in mind while budgeting. What about short-term goals? Maybe you want to plan a fun vacation together or revamp your kitchen. Set a plan in motion to achieve the life that you want.

Managing Money

One of the most important and most personal decisions is whether or not to combine your money. Some couples prefer to throw all of their money into one account, while others prefer to keep assets separate. Maintaining separate accounts with one joint account is a good compromise that balances the best of both worlds. This allows each individual some financial independence, but also creates a common pool of funds to use collectively for bills and other expenses. However, it's a good idea to weigh the pros and cons of various methods to figure out which will work the best for your particular household.

Handling Debts

Not everyone enters a marriage with perfect credit, but it's important to work toward a stable financial future. If you have past debts, come up with a plan to eliminate those old bills. You may want to work together as a couple, or the debt-holder may wish to take care of debts alone. But either way, it's essential to come to a consensus before moving forward. Additionally, make sure that you prevent debt in the future by living within your means. That means taking it easy on the credit cards and impulse buying. If you need tips, feel free to check our our simple money tips for young couples!

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What is a Debt Snowball?

Credit Cards

Even though everyone tries to make good financial decisions, sometimes a little debt can spiral out of control. Suddenly, you find yourself with a pile of bills and a whole lot of stress. So what do you do? Create a plan! The debt snowball method is a way of tackling your debt in small and manageable steps, so you can easily make progress without feeling overwhelmed. Let's go into the basics of the debt snowball method, and learn how to get out of debt!

Step 1: Make a List

Before you can pay off all your debts, you need to know exactly who and what you need to pay. Make a list of all your debts in order of smallest to largest. For now, ignore the interest rate and just pay attention to the total amount owed. Here is an example:

  • Credit Card: $1,000
  • Auto Payment: $3,000
  • Student Loans: $10,000
  • Mortgage: $50,000

This list will become your blueprint for debt reduction. From now on, you will pay the minimum payment on every bill on your list - except for the smallest. The smallest bill is your first priority for elimination. That means any spare cash that you encounter will go into paying that bill until it is fully paid off. In this example, you would pay the minimum amounts on your auto payments and student loans. But any money you obtain through a second job, gifts, or budgeting will go toward your $1,000 credit card bill. Once the credit card bill is paid, repeat the process for your auto payment and so forth.

Step 2: Make a Budget

Prioritizing your debts is just one part of the debt snowball process. The other crucial step is to make a reasonable budget. List out all of your expenses for the month. This will include essentials like mortgage or rent, as well as non-essentials like entertainment. Here is an example:

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What is Credit Card Consolidation?

Credit Cards

If you’re up to your eyeballs in credit card debt and drowning in the chaos of juggling multiple payments and due dates, credit card consolidation might be a good solution for getting you back on track.

How Credit Card Consolidation Works

Just like it sounds, credit card consolidation takes all of your credit card debt and combines it into one lower-interest loan. That means you only have one bill, one monthly payment, and the security of knowing exactly what you owe and what kind of progress you’re making.

Your Options

Balance Transfers

Many consumers like to use balance transfers to bring all their debt onto one credit card. This can be tricky, though. You need to have strong enough credit to open up a new credit card account, and you want a new account that has a lower interest rate than what you’re currently paying. There are a lot of alternatives out there that you can apply for. You can often get a new card with a zero interest promotion for a certain period of time, but be aware that there are usually fees associated with transferring a balance from another credit card, and you might be limited on how much debt you can move to the account. Do your homework and make sure you understand what the new annual percentage rate (APR) will be once your promotional period ends.

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Can I Have a Credit Limit That’s Too High?

Credit Card

Having a lot of available credit sounds good, right? Well, let’s think about this for a second. Lenders are in the business of making money off the interest you pay, so increasing your amount of available credit is a technique for adding to their profitability. But what’s best for your situation?

What is Available Credit?

Simply put, your available credit is the amount that the bank or lender has agreed to loan you. It’s based on your credit limit minus the balance you owe. Lenders decide how much credit to make available based on your income and credit score, which basically tells them how big of a risk it is to lend to you. They look at several factors, including whether you pay your bills on time and if you’ve ever defaulted on a credit obligation in the past.

Should I Increase My Credit Limit?

Sometimes people try to raise their credit scores by increasing the limits on their credit cards or applying for new ones. That’s fine, but it’s important that you understand your credit utilization ratio and how it affects your credit score. That’s the ratio of how much of your available credit is being used. Yes, increasing your credit limits may help boost your credit rating, but if you max out your available credit, you could actually hurt your score. Remember, more available credit comes with more danger of getting into debt you can’t manage.

High-Limit Credit Cards: Are They a Good Idea?

Obtaining a high-limit credit card comes with big responsibility. Does your income support your ability to pay it off? What about your total amount of credit in use? An unintended consequence of having a high-limit credit card is that it can hurt your ability to get other credit, such a mortgage or auto loan. The numbers may appear too risky if a bank sees the amount of credit available to you. There are quite a few credit card options out there, so explore those before jumping into a high-limit credit card.

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Don’t Fall for These Credit-Building Myths

Credit Building Myths

If you’re concerned about ​how to build credit, don’t fall for these myths for improving your credit score. It’s possible to achieve a good credit score, but don’t waste your time focusing on the wrong things. If you can establish a good track record of consistent payments, along with a diverse mix of the types of credit you have, you can ​build up a good credit score​.

Myth #1: Removing Old Inquiries

Every time you apply for a loan, creditors pull your credit report with a “hard” inquiry. This causes your score to go down because it shows you want more credit and more risk. Other inquiries, like offers you receive in the mail or from potential employers, are considered “soft.” You may have heard that if you have more soft inquiries, it can bump the hard inquiries off, but don’t spend time trying to generate more soft inquiries because this is not a major factor in your credit score.

Myth #2: Closing Old Accounts

Although it seems like closing accounts will help improve your score, it won’t, and it could actually hurt it. Why? Because it could shorten your credit history and reflect a smaller amount of available credit, neither of which helps your cause. You want your credit history to be long, and your utilization rate, or how much available credit you’re using, low.

Myth #3: Opting Out of Credit Card Offers

It’s fine to opt out of credit card offers if you’re simply sick of junk mail, but don’t do it with the idea that it will help raise your credit score. These are soft inquiries that don’t affect your credit rating, so it’s not going to make an impact whether you get them or not.

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Bad Money Habits Just Bring You Down

Bad Financial Habbits

Who really wants to be ​bad with money? Sometimes it just sort of happens, and you wake up one day in a difficult situation. If you can swap the bad money habits that creep into our lives for positive habits​, and start making ​good financial decisions​, you’ll be happier and less stressed out.

Living Without a Budget

The idea of a budget hurts, but it’s key for understanding how much money is coming in, what you can spend, and more importantly, what’s left over for saving and investing. Between all the apps and spreadsheets out there, it’s easy to plug in some basic information and start tracking. Weekly and daily updates will help keep you from spending out of control, which will help you avoid the next bad money habit.

Living Beyond Your Means

Overspending is one of the biggest challenges facing people today, with our consumption-driven economy and the fact that we hardly ever pay with cash. If you’re charging basic necessities, running up credit card balances, and borrowing money, you’re clearly spending more than you have. Allocating dollar amounts and holding yourself accountable is the way to do it. And, if you prefer to pay with plastic, use a debit card or pay your credit card off in full each month.

Using Auto-Pay for Everything

Automatic savings withdrawals are a fantastic way to save money because you don’t really feel it. But being desensitized is a bad thing if you’re automatically paying your bills. You need to feel how much money you’re really spending and plan to have enough money in the account. Automatic alerts that remind you to pay the bill are a much better way to do it.

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Smart Short-Term Investments

Short Term Investments

Short-term investments offer you the opportunity to grow your money, while protecting it, too, since you’ll probably want to access it within the next five years. This means contemplating very different vehicles than when you’re investing for retirement and other long-range goals because you don’t have as much time to ride out any market lows. It’s normal to feel intimidated by all the choices out there, and maybe you don’t feel like you have the ​financial skills​ you need for making ​decisions​. Consider these ideas for smart short-term investments that have growth potential, combined with safety and stability. They’ll help you avoid ​investing mistakes​.

Money Market Accounts

Money market accounts are similar to regular savings accounts, and they’re FDIC-insured. When you open this kind of account, you’re investing in the market for short-term debt, so you earn higher interest than a standard savings account. Money market accounts give you easy access to your funds, often via debit cards and checks. Minimum required investments can be in the thousands of dollars, but shop around because there are accounts available with much lower minimum deposits.

High-Yield Savings Accounts

High-yield savings accounts may be available at your local bank or credit union. With rates of one percent or higher, high-yield savings accounts blow away the interest rates on traditional savings accounts, especially the ones offered by online banking institutions. Like money market accounts, they also offer easy access to your funds and are FDIC-insured. The good news is the minimum deposit requirements are not high. The bad news is that the interest rates are still quite low.

Certificates of Deposit

Certificates of deposit, known as CDs, are short-term investment vehicles that put your money away for a set period of time at a specified interest rate. Banks and credit unions offer a number of options for term lengths, usually three months to five years. The longer the term, the higher the interest rate. CDs are FDIC-insured, and the interest rates are typically higher than what you’ll find with a savings account, but you can’t access your money until the term is up without paying a penalty.

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How to Save Money on Car Insurance

happy woman saved on car insurance

Life is just expensive, and auto payments and insurance are one of the biggest monthly costs people have outside of housing. Wondering ​how to save money on car insurance? Here are some tips that can help cut your bill:

Go Shopping

Prices can vary dramatically from company to company, so get several quotes. It’s easy to do online and with a few phone calls. Some state insurance departments publish price guidelines, which is helpful for comparing to see if you’re getting legitimate quotes.

Weigh Your Options

The reason you have insurance is to protect yourself in the event of an accident. Medical bills and legal fees can be astronomical, so consider how much coverage you need carefully. It’s more important to have enough coverage than it is to carry a low deductible, which is more costly. Tweak your quotes to see how much coverage you can get, while at the same time raising your deductible.

Ask for Discounts

Car insurance companies offer discounts for a number of reasons, including time without an accident or ticket, the number of miles driven each year, and multiple cars and drivers. If you live in a lower-crime zip code and store your car in a garage, you might be able to get a lower rate. Teenage drivers will cause your monthly premiums to skyrocket. Sometimes companies offer good grade or driver education discounts, and if your teen is away at college, be sure to update your policy accordingly so you’re not paying for someone who isn’t actually driving.

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Preventing Credit Card Fraud

Credit Cards

You've heard stories of financial catastrophe in the news, so how can you prevent credit card fraud from affecting you? A little prevention and research can go a long way toward your safety. By protecting your sensitive information and maintaining good habits, you can thwart potential criminals from escaping with your hard-earned cash. But first, let's dive into some of the most common methods of credit card fraud that every consumer should know for savvy spending.

Types of Credit Card Fraud

Credit card fraud is an international problem, and the United States experiences the third highest rates of fraud in the entire world! In fact, almost 30 percent of consumers have dealt with this agonizing problem within the last five years. What are the types of fraud that you may encounter?

  • Phone or Mail Order: This fraud occurs when you make purchases through either the telephone or through mail order catalogs.
  • Online Shopping: Your credit card details may be stolen while making purchases online in an insecure environment or fraudulent site.
  • Online Banking: False links through email, text messages, or malware can steal your bank account information.
  • Face-to-Face: Your card or PIN number may be stolen and used in a physical store.

Fraud Techniques

As you can see, there are tons of different avenues that thieves use to steal your credit card information. But there are a wide variety of techniques they can use to complicate matters even more.

  • Counterfeit Cards: While using a tampered ATM, your magnetic stripe may be copied and used to make counterfeit credit cards.
  • ID Theft: Thieves may steal your personal information and open new accounts, like bank services and credit card accounts.
  • ATM Tampering: A device is installed onto the card reader which steals your PIN and swallows the card.

Preventing Fraud

Given the countless scams and criminal techniques used, how do consumers protect themselves against credit card fraud in the United States? The first way to counter criminal attacks is to maintain awareness. A trusting consumer is a vulnerable consumer, so be aware of your security risks every time you whip out your card. For example, avoid making purchases over the phone or through email. Make sure your online shopping sites are secure. And even if the site is secure, try to avoid making purchases when you're using public Wi-Fi. Wait to head home to a more secure location to avoid exposing your sensitive information.

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How to Use Graduation Money Wisely

Credit Cards

When you have graduation money in the bank, it may be tempting to head on a shopping spree. And while every graduate deserves something special for completing such an important goal, we encourage you to think ahead! From college savings to dorm decor, you can put yourself in a great position for the future if you use that graduation money wisely.

Savings

Dropping your graduation money into a savings account may not be the most exciting option in the present, but this smart decision can be a major asset for the future. Consider stashing a portion of your grad cash into a savings account as a small nest egg for the future. You can use that money to cushion the blow if you run into financial mishaps, like unexpected car expenses or tuition hikes. Even a small rainy day fund can prevent major headaches in the future!

School Supplies

If you're college-bound, consider diverting some of that graduation money into your freshman year school supply fund. Get a head start on the crowd by looking for your books early. Used copies sell out fast, and you can save a lot of money by securing your reading list early. You might also think about upgrading your computer before you head out to college. Look for fast, dependable, and portable models over the latest fads. You'll spend countless hours behind that computer screen, so be sure to get one that you can count on.

Dorm Decor

Are you heading into the dorms for your freshman year? Then you might want to pick up some new supplies to make the place a little cozier. Think about supplies like towels, shower caddies, plates, mugs, and other everyday essentials. Don't forget to do a little research to determine what size bed sheets you'll need and what items are allowed in your particular dorm. Many colleges limit items like candles and appliances, so be sure to double check before you shop.

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Types of Credit Cards: Which One is Right For You?

Credit Cards

There are many different types of credit cards out there. Which one should you choose? You never want to leave money on the table, and it’s easy to be swayed by the idea of airline points, cash back, or a free balance transfer. Take the time to understand the fine print and pick the one that’s best for what you need.

Travel and Airline Credit Cards

These are ideal for consumers who travel frequently. Narrow down the ones you’re looking at to the airlines you like to fly and where they travel, and then compare how points are earned, how many you need for a ticket, interest rates, and annual fees.

0% APR Credit Cards

If you’re in a situation where you need to make a large charge that you can’t pay off right away, a 0% APR credit card might be a good solution for you. These types of cards save money in finance charges because they offer zero percent interest for an introductory period.

Cash-Back Credit Cards

With cash-back credit cards, you earn a percentage of what you spend back in cash. This in effect gives you a discount on whatever you purchase using this card.

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Jobs for Retirees to Earn Extra Cash

Job for retirees

If you’re retired or still in the planning stages, you may want to consider a part-time job to earn some extra cash, especially if you’re behind the eight ball in savings. There are plenty of jobs for retirees out there, and they come with more than financial benefits - they’re an outstanding way to keep your mind sharp and develop new relationships.

What Will Work For You?

Before you just go out and get a part-time job, think about your retirement situation and what you want out of it. Have you saved enough money? How many hours do you want to work per week? How much money do you want to make? What kind of responsibility level are you looking for? The more you can define this, the better. You want to look at the right types of positions, and there are a lot of options out there to choose from:

Full-time to Part-time

Sometimes companies don’t want to lose all the valuable knowledge and experience that a long-time employee has, and they’re willing to offer you a part-time or contract version of your old position.

Freelance and Consulting Work

Many skill sets, like marketing, graphic design, writing, and IT are ideal for freelance and consulting. Use your existing professional connections or online sites designed specifically for obtaining short-term gigs like Upwork, Fiverr, and PeoplePerHour.com.

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Questions to Ask When Hiring a Financial Advisor

Financial Advisor

Planning for retirement and investing wisely are goals most of us have, but where do you begin? Hiring a financial advisor is a smart first step. They’re trained to educate you and help you make the right decisions for your situation. But finding one you can trust isn’t necessarily easy. Before you sign on the dotted line, consider these important questions:

Who are They?

How did you hear about this financial advisor? Were you referred by someone you respect? Be wary of turning your funds over to someone you connected with through an Internet ad or telemarketing.

What’s Their Story?

Research your potential financial advisor on the Internet and LinkedIn. Where did they go to college? What’s their professional experience? Do you know any of their clients? Are they satisfied? How do they describe their services? Are they conservative, or are they promising astronomical results?

What About Credentials and Designations?

It’s important to know that there aren’t really any regulations on the use of the title, “financial advisor.” However, professional designations indicate a certain level of education and training. Depending on what services you need, you might search for a:

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Financial Advice to Avoid

Thief robbing dollars

You’re probably used to reading articles that give you tips and financial guidance, but here’s a new take on it all: financial advice to avoid. Well-meaning friends and relatives often give unsolicited input on how you should spend or invest your money, and it’s not always something you should follow. Here are some instances where you should walk, or maybe even run, away!

Hot Stock Tips

While someone may believe they have a hot tip to share, no one knows for sure whether a stock is going to go up in the short term. Even if the tipster has invested in it, do your own due diligence, and realize you’re probably not going to make money buying and selling stocks quickly. Stocks are more for the long view and your own personal investment plan.

Spec Ventures

Speculative ventures are just what they sound like: risky, unsubstantiated deals. Even if you see a business plan, there’s absolutely no assurance that the venture will succeed. Some startups or spec projects will prosper, but if you choose to get involved, make sure you go into it with your eyes open. If you’re going to invest in a spec project, it’s best to do it with money you can afford to lose - one of many investing mistakes to avoid.

If It’s Too Good to be True

Just like your grandpa told you, “if it sounds too good to be true, it is.” The secret to building wealth is time and compounding interest. There aren’t any shortcuts. Anyone promising wildly successful interest or return on investment is at a minimum, stretching the truth.

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Gain the Skills You Need for Financial Success

Financial Success

Thinking about finances can be intimidating. Maybe financial success seems out of reach to you, or you don’t think of yourself as a math person. Never fear. You probably already have some of the qualities you need to get control of your financial world, and if you don’t, you can learn and start implementing them in your day-to-day life.

Organization

This is the #1 thing that can help you stay on top of things and plan for the future. Paying your bills late hikes up your expenses with fees and penalties and can add major stress to your life. Make a commitment to yourself to organize your bills, whether they arrive in the mail or via text or email. If you have a hard time remembering to pay bills, simply use an app to remind you or add alerts to your calendar. Online banking software can consolidate bills and deadlines and make your life easier.

Self-Control

Spending with discipline is probably even harder than staying organized. It takes a lot of willpower to stick to a budget. But self-control encompasses even more than that: if you can understand how you relate to money and finances psychologically, than you can use coping strategies to help keep your behavior in check. Did you grow up poor? You might be a compulsive spender as an adult. Do you buy things and never take the price tags off? It might be a good idea to disable your password or one-click ordering capabilities. Take a hard look at what habits might be keeping you from working toward your long-term goals. Work extras into your budget so you don’t feel too restricted.

Fact-Based Decision Making

Being willing to remove emotion and tackle difficult financial concepts are key to tailoring your investments to work for your situation and protecting yourself from con artists. Whether it’s a potential investment or choosing a bank, it’s easy to be swayed emotionally. But if you evaluate the facts with critical thinking, then you’ll be able to make smarter decisions. If you feel pressured and hurried, it’s okay to say no, and it might even save you from losing a chunk of money.

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How to Make Good Financial Decisions

Light bulb and brain

Choices. Decisions. We’re faced with them every day, especially when it comes to money. Most people struggle with how to make good financial decisions, and while some of us may begin with more advantages than others, our financial journey depends on what kind of decisions we make.

Think

Stop and think. That’s some of the best free advice you’ll ever get. You might be mulling over purchasing a new home, or just throwing something into your grocery cart, but you should always be thinking. Do I really need that? What are the pros and cons here? What’s the upside? What’s the worst thing that can happen as a result of my decision? There are many psychological elements that affect the way we make financial decisions, and they include aspirations, social status, and confusing wants with needs.

Live in the Past

If you feel like you can never get ahead, maybe it’s because as your income increases, you simply spend more, so it never feels any different. Try living like you used to a few years ago. Don’t trade up to a new car just because you want to. If you get a raise, funnel the increase directly into savings or an investment account. If you want to splurge, stop and think about whether you could have afforded it last year and if you think you could afford it next year. Do you need it, or do you just want it? It just comes down to something you probably already know: if you spend everything you make, it doesn’t matter how much you make!

Practice Impulse Control

It’s really hard to do, but the more you can remove emotions - especially fear - from your decision-making process, the better off you’ll be. Fear creates a fight or flight reaction, and that’s why you see a lot of people selling off when the stock market goes down, which causes them to lose a lot of money. If you take the emotion out of the equation and look at history and statistics, you’ll realize that the stock market is cyclical. If you hold, you’re bound to earn your money back and then some.

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Financial Help for Veterans

Financial Help for Veterans

Before you make any big financial moves, wait! Did you know that there are many opportunities for financial help for veterans? Whether you're applying for a home loan or entering college, you might be surprised to learn just how many benefits you can explore as someone who has served our country. In this guide, we'll walk you through some of the most important benefits - and where you can go to research other financial opportunities for the future!

Researching Veteran Benefits

Did you know that nearly 60 percent of veterans don't know what benefits they have earned? While anyone can get quick financial help with resources like cash advances and loans, veterans are entitled to many unique benefits that are worth investigating. Luckily, it's easy to find the financial help that you deserve. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs provides a comprehensive list of veteran benefits, from loans to medical assistance, so you can find the information that you need quickly. This website is a great place to conduct research, while also learning everything you need to apply for each application. Not only can you find information for yourself, but the website also includes a section on how to help homeless veterans in need.

Taxes

Veterans may be eligible for a number of tax benefits that you might not expect, so a little research may pay off in a big way.

  • Free filing: You can get free tax filing help through both the IRS and affiliated services, so you don't miss any important write-offs.
  • Exemptions: If you are an injured or disabled veteran, portions of your compensation may be exempt from income tax. Be sure to check with a professional for details.
  • Income and retirement: Depending on your state, your retired pay may be exempt from state taxes. Click onto the IRS website for more information.

College

Are you planning to head back to school? Keep these tips in mind before you head to campus!

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Combining Finances after Marriage

Combining Finances after Marriage

While managing finances as an individual can be challenging enough, adding another person into the mix can make things even more confusing. However, combining finances after marriage has plenty of advantages if you think strategically. Communication and planning are key measures to ensuring a solid financial future for both of you, and the first step is to do your research. Check out our guide below, and learn how to combine your finances in a way that works well for both of you.

Pros and Cons

Combining finances after marriage can be complicated. Instead of dealing with one set of investments and debts, now you have two sets to handle. This can be a good and bad thing. If one partner has a great deal of credit card debt, for example, the responsibility is now on both partners in the relationship. However, merging assets can also be a benefit. Maybe one partner is a perpetual saver and the other is a pro at managing credit. You can figure out ways to use each others' strengths in a way that lifts you both up.

When to Start Planning

If you're in the middle of planning your wedding, financial planning may not be on the forefront of your mind. But, many couples start the process long before the big day. It's important to sit down to talk about financial concerns - especially for engaged, married, and cohabiting couples. The more you know about your money situation, the better off you'll be.

Topics to Consider

So you've set up a meeting to discuss your finances. What are the important things to cover?

  • Debt: Do you want to maintain separate credit cards or do you want to share an account? Consider authorizing an additional user to share cards, but remember that you'll share the responsibility for any debts accrued. You might utilize services like title loans or cash advances to start with a clean slate.
  • Beneficiaries: If you have life insurance policies or retirement accounts connected to work, talk to HR about updating your beneficiary information and emergency contact if needed.
  • Taxes: Do you want to file together or separately? There are pros and cons to either method, but you need to come to an agreement ahead of time. Also, consider talking to HR about tax withholding if needed.
  • Budget: Some people already have a budget coming into the marriage, while other couples need to start from scratch. It's a good idea to go through your current accounts like streaming services, cell phone services, and others to make sure you don't pay twice for the same thing.
  • Savings: Finally, don't forget to save! Many advisors recommend saving 10 percent of your combined net income for emergencies, while homeowners might want to bump up that figure to 15 or 20 percent to cover household expenses (e.g. furniture, appliances, repairs).
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Learn Tips and Tricks for Cutting Car Costs

Cutting Car Costs

Auto expenses make up a huge percent of your annual budget. In fact, some experts estimate that car costs take up 15 percent of the average American's yearly spending! That's why it's so crucial to learn the best practices for cutting car costs. Between maintenance fees and gas prices, you can really save a bundle if you know how to scrimp!

Efficient Driving

Do you know how to get the most out of every drop of that fuel tank? Improving your driving efficiency can have a big impact on your fuel economy over time. Try a few of these mileage-boosting tips:

  • The lighter your car, the better your fuel economy. Streamline your vehicle by cleaning up the trunk and cabin.
  • Change your oil regularly to ensure that your engine works at peak efficiency.
  • Keep your tires inflated to the right pressure, so your car doesn't have to work as hard during the commute.
  • Roll your windows up on the highway to cut down on drag, but feel free to roll down the window and turn off the air conditioner to save fuel in the city.

Insurance

When was the last time you shopped around for car insurance? You may find that your needs have changed over time. If you've downgraded your luxury vehicle to an older sedan, do you still need the most expensive collision insurance? Speak with your agent about your options. Also, many insurers offer discounts periodically. Don't miss out on a chance to save some cash!

Maintenance

While it's easy to let routine maintenance slip during busy times, it's important to keep your car in great shape to improve longevity and reduce repair costs over time. Regular oil changes will keep your engine in great shape, while tire rotations can prevent warping and poor handling. Plus, a well-maintained car gets better resale value than a neglected model.

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How to Read a Credit Report

Credit Report

Whether applying for a mortgage or securing that dream car, it's critical to know your credit score to stay on top of your finances. But when you get that consumer credit report in your hands, how do you decipher all of the charts and graphs in a way that you can actually use? In this guide, we'll explain how to read a credit report and how to interpret your results. This knowledge can help you correct any errors you encounter and build your credit for the future. Let's get started!

What is a Credit Report?

A credit report is a summary of your debt payment history over time, including everything from loans to credit card debt. This document is most commonly used by potential lenders as a way to assess your financial standing, so they can determine whether or not you are a strong candidate for assistance. When you apply for a credit card or a mortgage, your overall credit score can determine the success or failure of your application package. Your credit report can also influence your interest rate, as candidates with higher credit scores tend to get the better deals.

Why Should I Check my Credit Report?

Checking your credit report may seem intimidating, but it's actually a very important task. When you check your credit score annually, you can spot errors and dispute them before they affect your credit score. This includes issues ranging from fraudulent charges to identity theft. Plus, you can get a better sense of your finances in the present. If that credit card debt or loan is crashing your credit score, it's better to know as soon as possible. The faster you can resolve these issues, the better your financial future will be.

What Does a Credit Report Contain?

While different companies will present different versions of your credit report, the same basic sections are included on all reports:

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How to Choose a Bank

Bank

Are you opening your first bank account or changing banks because you’re moving or dissatisfied with your service? Do the different financial institutions and products seem confusing and overwhelming? We’ll break down how to choose a bank that will be best for your situation, so you can evaluate all your options and make the best choice for you. Have no fear, it’s not as hard as it looks!

Bank or Credit Union?

Commercial banks are for-profit institutions that offer services that will maximize profits for shareholders. Online banks are similar, but they have fewer physical locations, employees, and capital expenses, so they’re able to keep their costs and customer fees down. Credit unions are nonprofit organizations owned by their members, so they are sometimes able to offer cost advantages as a result.

Banking Products

Basic products include checking accounts and interest-bearing savings accounts. A checking account allows you to get cash, write checks, and pay with a debit card, and it can accept physical deposits and direct deposits. Savings accounts are designed for deposits, and are less accessible for withdrawing money. Key distinctions include:

  • Checking accounts - used for frequent withdrawals and purchases, can be free or fee-based, earn interest or no interest, and typical benefits include free debit card and checks, online banking, and overdraft protection.
  • Savings accounts - used for saving for large purchase and emergency funds, different types include standard, money market, and certificates of deposit (CD), and typical benefits include interest earned, government protection, and no high minimum balance requirements.
  • Credit cards vs. debit cards - credit cards give you the freedom to pay the bill later and offer more protection from theft and with online purchases, while debit cards withdraw the money immediately and do not offer protection from theft.

Banks also offer mortgages and personal loans, but no title loans or payday loans.

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Ready for Your New Baby Tax Breaks?

A baby with her mother

Having a baby puts you on the hook for years of expenses, but the good news is that several new baby tax breaks are coming your way! Be sure to explore everything that’s available to you and take advantage of whatever you can. Here’s the lowdown:

Child Tax Credit

You’ll receive a $1,000 child tax credit the year your baby is born, and you’re eligible for this credit every year until the child turns 17. The credit is subject to income restrictions, and it starts phasing out at $75,000 for single and head of household filers and $110,000 for joint filers.

Child Care Credit

The IRS offers a child care credit to help offset the expenses, and it ranges from $600 to $1,050. In order to qualify, you must pay for child care in order to work and earn taxable income. If you’re paying for more than one child under 13, the credit doubles to between $1,200 and $2,100. What you’ll have to pay is based on your income and how much your child care costs, but you can claim up to $3,000 in child care expenses for one child and $6,000 for two or more.

If your employer offers a child care reimbursement account via a Flex Plan, then you can allocate up to $5,000 of your salary to pay for child care, tax free. You can’t use both options, but you can use the Flex Plan for the first $5,000, and then the Child Care Credit against additional funds spent.

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The High Cost of Divorce

Credit Score Sign

Getting divorced is very expensive, and it has a ripple effect on your finances that can last a long, long time. The cost of divorce includes everything from the actual filing of paperwork and attorney fees to the way assets are divided. The more amicable you can keep the proceedings, the less it will cost you.

The Cheapest Option

If you represent yourself in your divorce, you’re responsible for filing all the legal forms and pay for only the filing fees and court costs. You can do this when the divorce is uncontested, and both spouses are willing to settle. This is called pro se litigation divorce, and as long as you and your spouse agree on the specifics ahead of time, it’s just a matter of the judge signing the documents. This method is the simplest and cheapest way to handle a divorce.

Use a Mediator

If you’re not comfortable representing yourself or have disagreements to iron out, mediation is a good option. As an objective third party, the mediator can help negotiate your issues and reach a settlement that’s agreeable to both of you. Mediation is not nearly as expensive as hiring attorneys, and it’s a good way for couples to iron out problems fairly and without a long, protracted court battle.

Courtroom Litigation

If your situation is acrimonious, then both spouses will need to hire attorneys to bring the case to court. The fees add up quickly with upfront legal retainers and court costs. Sometimes one spouse may have to pay attorney fees for the other, depending on the circumstances. No matter how you look at it, you’re talking about high hourly fees and the potential for a lot of billable hours, especially when custody of children and distribution of expensive assets are involved. You may even have to get accountants and real estate attorneys involved, which means more hourly fees. This type of divorce is costly and takes an emotional toll of everyone involved, especially children.

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What is Prime Credit?

Credit Score Sign

Credit terminology can seem confusing. Super-prime. Prime. What is prime credit anyway? As you might be able to guess by its name, prime credit is a good thing, and it’s a goal to shoot for when it comes to establishing and maintaining your credit score. Educate yourself on prime credit, so you’re ready to take advantage of the right borrowing opportunities.

Definition of Prime Credit

Simply put, prime credit means your credit score falls within a range that’s attractive to lenders and creditors. They want to lend to borrowers with prime credit because they can be reasonably sure you’re going to pay it back. While it’s not as high of a category as super prime, people with prime credit are low-risk. Each credit bureau has its own definition of prime credit, which can range from as low as 150 and as high as 950, and includes the very high-end super-prime category.

Prime Credit Ratings

  • Equifax 280-850
  • Experian 330-830
  • TransUnion 150-950

Benefits of Having Prime Credit

Because of the reduced risk that comes from lending to people with better credit, credit card companies and other lenders offer some of their most competitive interest rates and terms when you have a prime credit rating. Now, borrowers with super-prime credit will still pay a lower interest rate because they’re an even lower risk, but a prime credit rating will allow you to access loans and lines of credit, even in a more competitive market.

Know Your Credit Score

It’s important to stay on top of your credit scores so you always know where you stand and if you have any issues to address. You can request a free copy of your credit report every year from each of the three major credit bureaus - Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. Know what your score is before you apply for a loan. You might be classified a prime with one and near-prime with another, which means you’ll be offered very different loan packages. It all depends on where the lender pulled your credit score.

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How to Lower Moving Costs

big truck

Moving is the worst, right? And it’s not cheap, either. If you’re planning to move soon, check out these tips for how to lower moving costs. Moving is a hassle, but at least you can save some money in the process!

Get Organized

Start with a super-organized game plan. Assign tasks to dates and allow reasonable time to get stuff done. This makes moving less stressful and helps keep your expenses low. Plan ahead of time for cash flow, and find resources for getting cash if you need it.

Don’t Move When Everyone Else Does

Schedule a move date during a non-peak period if you can. Everyone moves on the first and last days of the month and in the summer. Weekends and holidays are popular, too, so try do move mid-week if possible. These strategies will help you avoid paying premium rates.

Choose the Best Option

Decide if you’re going to move yourself or hire professionals. If you have a large home and family, getting a moving company might be the best solution. If you’re a student and can throw most belongings in a car or U-Haul, then do it yourself. Do your research and get quotes well ahead of time so you can secure the best deal.

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Cost-Cutting Tips for Freelancers

Freelancer

If you do freelance work, you already know that being self-employed gives you incredible flexibility and freedom, but you’ve got to operate like a well-oiled machine if you want to be successful. You’re running your own business, so use these cost-cutting tips to keep expenses low and your profits healthy.

Free is Key

The beauty of freelancing is that you don’t need an office. Working from home, the coffee shop, the park, or the library - they’re all options for you. Find free wi-fi and a good cell, and you’re all set. Every dollar that goes out is one less dollar that stays in your pocket as profit. This is the mindset you need to have all the time when you work for yourself.

Start Tracking

Unless you’re a freelance accountant, you probably try to spend as little time on financials as possible. But this is the lifeblood of your business, so you need a system that will help you track expenses, invoicing, and receivables. It’s easy to waste money, especially if it’s going out in small amounts. Get a grip on how much you really spend, and it’ll be easy to identify costs that aren’t worth it.

Get on the Cloud

Before you spend a lot of money on expensive software, always check to see if there’s a cloud-based option available. Cloud apps are usually free or have low monthly costs, and you don’t have to keep installing upgrades. There are some great solutions out there for getting access to software on the cheap, like email, Google Apps, customer relationship management, project management and file sharing.

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Finance Tips for Millennials

Millennials

Millennials approach life very differently than generations before them. And while that’s true of every young, up-and-coming generation, finance tips for millennials have changed dramatically compared to only a few years ago because of how they want to live their lives. Sometimes they get a bad rap, but new ways of solving problems are always a good thing.

Prioritize Your Life

Saving for retirement is not the goal for many millennials. It’s way off in the future, pensions are a pipe dream of the past, and there’s disillusionment in the air about what will be waiting after 50 or 60 years of hard work. Millennials want to enjoy life now, and they like the good life. But that doesn’t mean they’re financially irresponsible. You need money to accomplish these goals, and millennials are finding alternative ways to fund a lifestyle of fun and travel.

Create Passive Income

The idea of your money making money or earning money without much effort isn’t new. That’s why investing in the stock market or real estate has always had appeal. But the reality for most people is that they pick up extra work or side hustles when they need cash. That helps, but you’re limited by your time and skills. Millennials are finding new ways to create passive income streams.

What is House Hacking?

Have you ever heard of house hacking? It’s a scenario where you own a house, but you live with roommates, and their rent covers the mortgage and bills in full. You live rent-free and have what you would be spending on that available to fund your lifestyle. Even though millennials are young, it’s possible with different grants and programs to purchase a home for less than 20 percent down. Or, you can start in a more affordable area, with the goal of selling and trading up or acquiring multiple properties as cash flow-generating investments.

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Can You Refinance Student Loans When You’re Self-Employed?

Savings Finances Economy

Freedom, flexibility, and control are some of the biggest reasons people to choose to work for themselves. But if you’re self-employed, how does it affect approval if you want to refinance your student loans? Good question. You can do it, but it’s not always easy.

Unpredictable Income

One of the hardest things to get used to when you work for yourself is fluctuating income. It’s the perfect time to reduce your student loan payments or pay off your debt more quickly by refinancing. The problem is that it’s not always easy to find a lender who works with self-employed individuals. That’s why short-term loans are so common with entrepreneurs.

Understand the Process

Be sure you understand your loan situation. Refinancing may or may not be a good idea. Federal student loans have some unique benefits attached, like special income-driven repayment plans, so you could lose out on those by refinancing with a private lender. You should also know that many don’t work with self-employed clients.

Do Your Research

Go online and research which vendors have the flexibility to work with people who are self-employed. Realize that you may be viewed as higher-risk and face higher interest rates. So having strong credit history becomes especially important. This can be difficult for entrepreneurs who have taken on a lot debt to start their businesses, but it demonstrates much lower risk for the lender.

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Investing Mistakes to Avoid

Savings Finances Economy

The key to building wealth is to follow a strategy and avoid making investment mistakes wherever you can. You may not think of yourself as rich, but putting your money to work for you is the secret to amassing the wealth and savings you’ve only dreamed about. If you can avoid these mistakes and misconceptions, you’ll be well on your way:

Not Saving Money

While investing is a surefire way to increase your wealth, it’s also vital to have a savings strategy that not only puts money aside for your investment accounts, but provides a cash flow cushion. If you consciously save a set amount each month, that means you’re on top of your expenditures and budget, and that’s a good place to be. Your goal is to avoid the stress of credit card debt while putting money away for investing at the same time.

Maintaining Social Media Status

With people constantly oversharing their latest luxury purchases and grand vacations on social media, it’s easy to want to keep up. If you develop the habit of buying certain brands, spending more than you can afford, and acting like you have more money than you actually do, it will wreak havoc on your budget and cripple your investment ability. Don’t compare your results to anyone except yourself.

Limiting Investment Choices

Lots of people think of stocks and bonds as the only realistic ways to invest their money, whether it’s through a 401k plan or a financial advisor. But high net worth individuals typically have a broad portfolio that includes more unique assets, like real estate, gold, and art. Now you can’t count on those items to be easily liquidated into cash, but they will add stability to your investments and increase in value over time. Investing in business ventures is another way to diversify, and by doing this, you can take advantage of the private market. You can also expand your investment options to emerging areas in Asia and South America, instead of sticking only with the United States and other developed countries. Of course, these opportunities require a great deal of research and most likely the help of a financial advisor, but they are another way to branch out and spread your risk/reward potential.

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How to Organize Your Wallet

Man With a Wallet

Let’s talk about how to organize your wallet. What does yours look like? Is it bulging with receipts and scraps? Does it need a little TLC? These questions are designed to get you thinking. Your wallet is an excellent metaphor for the way you handle your personal finances and an expression of your respect for money. Let’s get down to business and get it organized, so you can take a renewed approach to the way you control and spend your cash.

Empty Your Wallet

Open up your wallet, and pull everything out. Chances are, it’s pretty dirty and filled with things you no longer need. If you need a new wallet, now’s the time to replace it with something fresh and new. As for what was inside, file any receipts you might need to save, such as medical or business expenses. Cut up any credit cards that you don’t truly need. Trash anything that’s out of date, like expired identification cards or business cards you don’t want.

Categorize Your Stuff

Next, group your items so you can find them easily. Put credit cards together, cash sorted by denomination and facing the same direction, and gift cards in one place. Medical insurance cards, business cards, library cards, and other things like that can go in a separate area so they don’t get mixed up. Create a designated place to hold business receipts to be expensed, if those are something you need to track.

Specialty Items

Depending on the size and style of your wallet, you can add a few unique items that may help it be more functional. You can slide a GPS tracker into one of the pockets, so if you misplace it, you can find it easily using a cell phone app. Your wallet might have a spot for a key or your mobile phone. You can even buy smart wallets that can protect your debit and credit cards by blocking RFID signals. Some can connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth and charge using solar technology.

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What is a CPA?

Certified Public Accountant

If you’ve heard of a CPA, you probably know it means some type of accountant. But what is a CPA, really? Why is it an important distinction from your average accountant at the office? Let’s take a look at who CPAs are and what they do.

Certified Public Accountants

CPAs, or Certified Public Accountants, are more than just traditional accountants. They exist to help businesses of all sizes grow and flourish. CPAs are knowledgeable in all aspects of business finance, so they can help with everything from analysis and financial statements, to complicated forensic accounting and tax planning. Between their education, credentials, and experience, they’re qualified to do a lot more than run reports and balance checking accounts.

CPA Requirements

It’s not easy to become a CPA. Besides a college degree in accounting, they have the real-world business and financial experience it takes to put concepts to work. In order to get a CPA certification, candidates must pass the Uniform CPA Examination, which is an exhaustive test managed by the American Institute of CPAs. Believe it or not, it’s been around since 1896! The exam includes multiple choice questions, written communication tasks, and simulations of real scenarios on a variety of subjects. Needless to say, it’s highly challenging. The average passing rate in 2015 was a little less than 50%, so it’s a grueling undertaking. The CPA exam takes a lot of preparation, along with the experience and mindset that’s needed to be able to perform in the field. The last step in becoming a CPA is to get licensed by the Boards of Accountancy for the particular geographic location.

CPAs Make an Impact

CPAs hold positions throughout business, government, and nonprofit organizations, including Controllers, Auditors, Consultants, and Chief Financial Officers. Businesses and individuals need CPAs for many functions:

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Pick the Right Tax Preparer

Couple With Tax Preparer

Ever-changing tax laws and confusing deductions are just two reasons why you need to pick the right tax preparer. If a professional is involved, you can feel more confident that you’re doing it right and you won’t face an audit anytime soon.

Where to Begin?

Before you just go with your friend’s accountant, consider your options and know this: you’re legally responsible for every piece of information on your tax return, no matter who completes the paperwork. You need to feel 100% comfortable with providing your personal information, financial data, and social security number.

Find a Qualified Professional

  • Certified Public Accountants - A CPA is an accounting professional who has met licensing criteria and passed a professional qualifying exam for your state. CPAs are allowed to represent you in the event of an IRS audit or other conflict. Questions to ask: Do you prepare individual returns? Do you take continuing education classes? What are your fees?
  • Tax Attorneys - If you’re in a unique situation, such as a tax dispute, audit scenario, or need a complex tax shelter, then a tax attorney is the right resource for you. However, this is an expensive option. Questions to ask: What is your specialty? How much do you charge?
  • Enrolled Agents - An EA has passed an exhaustive exam and received a license from the IRS. Although an EA is less expensive than a CPA, be certain the specialty is in the area you need. Questions to ask: What is your focus? What are your tax preparation fees?
  • Voluntary Annual Filing Season Tax Preparers - The IRS allows people to get certified for tax preparation by completing a specified curriculum. Questions to ask: What’s your experience? Do you have references? How much do you charge?
  • PTIN Holders - Some tax preparers don’t maintain a professional license or participate in the Annual Filing Season Program, but they have an active preparer tax identification number through the IRS. As long as this number is active, it’s legal for them to prepare tax returns. Questions to ask: What is your tax preparation background? How long have you been in business? What fees do you charge?

The Internet is Your Friend

Once you’ve identified a potential tax preparer, use online resources like the IRS’s website, your state’s Bar Association, and the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy to make sure your provider is listed and doesn’t have any disciplinary actions or license issues.

Keep Your Guard Up

Finally, don’t believe any promises of a larger refund, and make sure your refund gets direct deposited into your bank account and no one else’s. And, you may qualify for free assistance from the IRS if you’re in the military, disabled, or meet certain age and income requirements. Pick the right tax preparer, and you’ll be taking a big step for your financial future!

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Surprising Tax Deductions

Goverment Taxes Payday

It’s that time of year again - tax time! These surprising tax deductions can help reduce your taxable income and cut your bill to the IRS. If you’re savvy about your taxes, you can save money and avoid cash flow issues.

Family Expenditures

  • Health Insurance - If you’re self-employed and buy your own private health insurance, you’ve noticed the skyrocketing premiums. You can deduct up to 100% of these costs off of your total gross income, and, if your medical expenses add up to more than 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income, you can itemize those, too.
  • Sales Tax - Did you know you have the option of deducting either sales taxes or state income taxes from your federal income tax? So, if you’re lucky enough to live in a state that doesn’t have its own income tax, you can itemize sales tax as a deduction.
  • Babysitters - If your babysitter is working while you volunteer for a known charity, you can list the cost as a charitable contribution.
  • Charity - Speaking of charities, you may be able to itemize out-of-pocket expenses related to any charity work, like food and drinks served at a fundraiser, in addition to money or goods donated.
  • Education - The Lifetime Learning credit offers deductions of up to $2,000 per year on education expenses after high school. There are specific requirements based on income level, but it’s open to people of all ages.

Work-Related Expenditures

  • Social Security - If you’re self-employed, you already know you have to pay 15.3 percent of your income to the U.S. Government for social security and medicare taxes. The good news is you can deduct 7.65 percent off your income taxes, the amount typically covered by an employer.
  • Business Expenses - All business expenses, no matter how off the wall, can be deducted from your business income as long as you can document how they benefit your company. So make sure you account for every single business expense you make.
  • Teaching Expenses - It’s a well-known fact that teachers spend a lot of their own money on classroom supplies. If you’re a K-12 teacher, you can deduct up to $250 from your income for expenditures on materials.
  • Job Search - Finding a job can get expensive, between the cost of printing resumes, posting on job search websites, and driving to interviews. If you lose your job and are looking for one in the same field, you can deduct any expenses over 2 percent of your adjusted gross income.
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Learn the Latest Tax Scams to Avoid

Thief Robbing US Dollars

Even if you've heard about tax scams of the past, you may want to pay attention to the latest tax scams to avoid. Scammers constantly come up with brand new ways to part you and your hard-earned dollar, but just a little research can keep you from making a costly mistake. Learn the current tax scams to avoid, and spread the word!

Telephone Scams

If you receive a phone call from an angry IRS agent, what should you do? Remain calm, and be skeptical. Many scammers have found ways to manipulate caller ID services, so the call appears to come from an IRS office. They threaten the caller with arrest or deportation, adding insults and hostility for maximum emotional effect. Some scammers even use video relay services (VRS) to take advantage of the deaf and hard of hearing. This unprofessional behavior is not protocol for the IRS, and you should not give out your personal information over the phone.

Email and Malware

While there are many legitimate tax services online, it's important to do your research to avoid a scam. Here are just a few of the common online tax scams to avoid:

  • Phishing emails "fish" for your information. If you receive an email asking for your social security number, credit card information, or other sensitive financial details, do not engage.
  • Scam emails may also promise to help you with the tax process, including ordering your transcripts and verifying information. Know that unsecured emails are never official communication from the IRS.
  • Fraudulent tax sites may infect your computer with malware to gain sensitive information about you. Be very careful to research any tax-filing services that you encounter to avoid such scams.
  • Be wary of emails from the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel (TAP). Though there is a legitimate TAP organization, it is a volunteer board with no access to taxpayer information

What to Do if You Encounter a Scammer

Have you gotten an odd phone call that gives you pause, or have you received a strange email that doesn't seem quite right? Feel free to contact the phishing department of the IRS to help them build a case against scammers. The experts can use the information from your phone calls and emails to identify and stop scammers in their tracks. And finally, remember to trust your gut. While that email about an inflated tax refund may be too good to be true, there are plenty of legitimate personal loan services that you can trust.

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Learn How to Pay Off Holiday Debt

Young Family Having Debts

The holidays are times of great joy, but what happens after the festivities are over? You may find yourself staring at your credit card bill while wondering just what happened. Luckily, it's not hard to figure out how to pay off holiday debt. We'll walk you through some of the most effective strategies to eliminate your debt, so you can start the new year with a plan for success.

Smart Budgeting

When debt is looming, it's time to budget! Nowadays, it's easier than ever to budget effectively. Of course, you can always try the tried-and-true paper and pencil method. Write out all of your monthly expenses, write out your monthly income, and look for places to cut. But, you can also try free budgeting apps to manage your money with just a click. You might find that you just need to cut luxuries like take-out or shopping trips for a few months, but you may need to make other adjustments to pay off holiday debt faster. Consider canceling some recurring monthly subscriptions to free up extra space in the budget.

The Snowball Method

Have you heard of the snowball method? This strategy was created by financial expert, Dave Ramsay, to help defeat multiple debts. First, write out all the holiday debts that you need to pay off in order from smallest to largest. This is your list of attack. Pay off your smallest debt completely, and then move onto the next one on the list. This allows you to get the manageable debts out of the way before moving onto the more intimidating sums. Combined with smart budgeting, this can be a great way to systematically pay off multiple debts.

Increasing Income

In addition to cutting your expenses, why not expand your income? Selling unwanted items can bring in a serious chunk of change. If you've received holiday gifts that just aren't your style, sell them online and put the money toward your debt. You can also use the new year as an opportunity to rid your home of clutter. Go through old books, old toys, old appliances, and other unwanted items and try to find new homes for them. You'll enjoy a cleaner home and some extra cash!

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What is a CD, or a Certificate of Deposit?

Deposit Calculations

You've probably heard of Certificates of Deposit at your local bank, but just what is a CD? Like a savings account, CDs act as a place to store your money while earning interest. But unlike savings accounts, CDs typically have a higher interest rate. So what's the catch? You must leave your money in the CD for a set period of time. In this guide, we'll go over the benefits and drawbacks of Certificates of Deposit, so you can plan your finances wisely!

CDs vs. Savings

While most people have a simple savings account, not everyone has a Certificate of Deposit. Both are fairly simple to open, so what are the main differences between the two?

  • A CD typically has a term length of a few months to a few years. After the CD matures, you can cash out. A savings account can be stored indefinitely.
  • You can withdraw your money from your savings account whenever you'd like, but your money stays in the CD until the term length has been reached.
  • While both savings account and CDs will accrue interest over time, a CD is usually a higher-interest option.

Why Choose a Savings Account?

If you prefer to have very fluid funds, then the savings account is probably the better option. Withdraw your money from a CD prematurely, and you'll face a penalty. Savings accounts may generate far less interest, but they are much more forgiving. You can easily withdraw the money you need for an unexpected emergency, for example.

Why Choose a CD?

While the terms of a Certificate of Deposit may be stricter, you can shop around to find the term length that you want. Some CDs mature after just a few days, while others take years to do the same. That means you have a little more flexibility than you might initially think. Plus, you can yield quite a bit more money from a smart investment. If you have money sitting in your savings account, you can put it in a CD to grow much more quickly than even a high-yield savings account. What if you need emergency cash? You can either pay the penalty or consider an alternate source, like a cash advance or payday loan.

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Discover Our Top Five Financial New Year's Resolutions for 2018

Our Top Five Financial New Year's Resolutions for 2018

The start of a brand new year is a fresh start for everyone, so why not use this opportunity to get your finances in check? Take a look at our top five financial New Year's resolutions to help you find success in 2018. From setting goals to reducing debt, these small habits and simple strategies can lead to big payoffs in your life. Start planning today!

1. Create Clear Goals

Sure, everyone wants to be rich and successful - but what does that mean to you? Do you want to clear your student debts as soon as possible, or are you trying to grow your portfolio? Think about your dreams for both the short-term and long-term. Write them down in a notebook, and come up with a plan to achieve them. Maybe you want to pay off your student debt by the end of the year, or maybe you want to build your retirement account by $6,000 in the next 12 months. Setting clear goals is the first step toward success.

2. Organize Your Accounts

What kind of saver are you? Do you keep your money in one place, or is it scattered across multiple banks and accounts? It may be time to do a little financial housekeeping.

  • If you have unnecessary accounts that you no longer use, be sure to close them. Avoid losing money to excess bank fees!
  • Have you opened an Individual Retirement Account? Whether you choose a Traditional or Roth IRA, you could reap many benefits for the future - as well as tax benefits in the present.
  • Consider an Automatic Savings Plan (ASP) to help you save without stress. These accounts automatically pull money from your account to use for savings, investing, and other financial services.

3. Manage Your Debts

If you are working toward eliminating your debt, think strategically. Make a list of your current debts, along with the interest rate. The higher the interest rate, the higher the priority in your life. It may be worth your while to cash out investments like CDs and savings bonds to get rid of high-rate credit card debt, because you'll avoid paying sky-high interest every year. You could also consider services like a cash advance to help ease your debt for the new year.

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Understand the Process: Tips for Buying a Foreclosed Home

Gavel

Buying a house that’s in foreclosure sounds great, right? It can save you big money, but it’s not an easy process. These tips for buying a foreclosed home will help you understand what you’re in for.

A Different Deal

In a typical home sale, there are usually two different agents involved, with an inspection process and negotiations. Pretty standard. With a foreclosure, you only interact with one real estate agent, and because the house is bank-owned, you don’t have any real negotiating power. It’s an as-is sale, which means no inspection, and you’ll have to pay for repairs.

Get Pre-Approved

Foreclosures usually have many competing offers, so if you want to get in on the action, getting pre-approved is the first step you should take. Before you even start looking, have a lender write a letter that clearly states how much money you’re approved to borrow. There’s no time to do this when the offers start coming in.

Find an Expert

Align yourself with an agent who specializes in foreclosures, so you don’t lose out because of rookie mistakes. An agent who has relationships with banks that own homes in foreclosure is a huge asset. That agent will know about homes about to be sold before the public does. If you filter your searches on real estate websites for “bank-owned” or “real-estate owned,” you’ll see who the players are.

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Realistic Last-Minute Retirement Planning Strategies

Pig Bank

If you haven’t been able to consistently save for retirement and now it’s looming closer, here are some realistic last-minute retirement planning ideas for you:

Start Saving Now

Saving when you’re young is so important because of the power of compounding interest. If you haven’t been able to consistently save 15% of your income throughout your career, then you need to save at a higher rate, starting now. Good news! The IRS allows people over age 50 to contribute more toward IRAs and 401(k)s. For the 2017 tax year, you can max out your IRA contributions at $6,500 and 401(k) contributions at $24,000. $7,000 a year more than younger workers!

Cut Your Costs

If you can make some changes to your lifestyle spending, that can have a great impact on how long your savings will last. For example: If your cost of living is $80,000 a year and you have $400,000 in the bank, then you have enough savings to last about five years. If you could slash your spending by 50%, then your savings would last you ten years. And, it would be earning interest for longer.

But How?

Reducing your living expenses may take drastic decisions to accomplish that goal. Moving to an area with a lower cost of living is one effective way to cut your costs. Places like Florida and the Southwest are much less expensive than coastal or urban areas. You can also review the equity you have in your home versus what you need for retirement. You might be able to sell your existing home and buy or rent a smaller home nearby, while applying your profits to your retirement savings.

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Estate Planning Basics: Everyone Needs a Plan

A will

Wills and estate planning are not just for rich people. Everyone needs a strategy for what will happen to the financial assets you leave behind, no matter how much or little you have. Try these estate planning basics:

What is an Estate Plan?

The term “estate” is referring to whatever you own that has value – your home, cars, jewelry, investments, etc. When you pass away, those items will be given away, and an estate plan ensures that it happens the way you would want it to by defining what assets you have, how they’re protected, and how they’ll be distributed.

Wills

The first, and most important, document you need in your estate plan is a will, so your intentions are clearly stated regarding the disposition of your property. They’re not difficult or expensive to create. The important elements include:

  • A designated executor responsible for handling your estate
  • Selected guardians for your children or others who need care
  • Charitable donations
  • Designations about who will receive what property

If you have a legal will in place, you can minimize estate taxes and avoid your estate going into probate, the state’s court system for dividing up property when there is no will in place. Probate is extremely time consuming and can hold up financial assets that your heirs may urgently need, and it also comes with a hefty tax bill.

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4 Life-Changing Personal Finance Tips

Light Bulb And Brain

You’ve probably gotten a lot of advice about money, and maybe you’ve even taken some of it. If you’re really ready to get control of your financial life, then it’s time to take a look at these personal finance tips:

Take a Financial Snapshot

Your first step is to take a good hard look at where you are today financially.

  • What’s your net worth? That’s the difference between what you have and what you owe.
  • How much debt do you have? Be sure you know the interest rate you’re paying on each outstanding balance. How will you pay them off?
  • Where do you want to be? It’s crucial to set goals. Put everything down on paper, with dollar amounts and what it will take to accomplish them.

Create Good Habits

Next, be sure you spend time regularly paying attention to what’s going on with your money.

  • Start with setting up a written budget. A good rule of thumb is to allocate at least 20% of your income toward your most urgent financial priorities, whether it’s paying down debt or saving toward a goal. And, if you use 30% as a general number for all the money you spend on things that aren’t necessities, you should be able to stay within your budget guidelines.
  • Get on track for paying bills and handling other financial tasks on a regular schedule. Really, this is as simple as entering reminders into your smartphone or writing them down in your calendar.
  • Remember to include quarterly taxes, personal property taxes, and other important bills that you don’t want to forget about in your alerts.
  • Think about using cash only instead of credit cards. It’s hard to exceed your budget when you run out of cash, and somehow, we all seem to pay more attention when we’re parting with cash instead of using a credit or debit card.

Change Your Attitude

This is a tough one, but instead of feeling trapped or bitter because you’re on a budget and focused on your financial goals, switch up your thinking so that you’re excited about what you’re doing. Here are some ways to make it easier:

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Budgeting for the Holidays Makes Everything Less Stressful

Christmas presents

Yes, you heard that correctly. Budgeting for the holidays doesn’t add stress. In fact, budgeting for these additional expenses actually makes life less stressful because you’re only spending the money you can really afford. So, how about feeling calm and peaceful in January because you made smart decisions instead of experiencing buyer’s remorse?

Where Should You Begin?

Well, first let’s talk about the fact that the holidays are supposed to be fun, and the real satisfaction comes from the act of giving something special, not from giving expensive presents. So, with that in mind, make a list of all the expenses you expect to incur during the holiday season. Try to think of everything that might come up. Your list may include:

  • Family gifts
  • Cards and postage
  • Decorations
  • Christmas tree
  • Other gifts for teachers, gift exchanges, etc.
  • Charity donations
  • Holiday meals

Set Your Limit

Next, take a hard look at the money you have available to cover all your holiday expenses, and decide on your spending limit. Be sure that you’re planning to use only money that you’ve saved up or set aside for Christmas. People often make the big mistake of spending money that’s not truly available.

Update Your List

Now, break down your total into dollar amounts for each item on your list. This will help you understand how much you can spend on each gift. Get ready for a mental breakthrough! Instead of hating the boundaries of your budget, you’ll find that it’s liberating to spend money within the guidelines, knowing that you won’t have any regrets later.

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Tracking Monthly Expenses Can Lead to Significant Savings!

Piggy Bank Savings

Checking up on your finances is important, but it is only the beginning when it comes to saving money each month. It is also important to track monthly expenses so you not only see where your money is going, but where you want it to go as well. By keeping an eye on your finances, it is easier to create a budget and stick to it, which can lead to significant savings in the long run.

How Can I Get Started Tracking Monthly Expenses?

There are several easy ways to begin tracking monthly expenses.

  • Take a look at account statements - Be sure to look at all of your accounts to see where you have been spending. This will help you get a sense of your monthly cash flow. You need to see how much money is coming in and how much is going out.
  • List your expenses by category - it is a good idea to group your expenses together by category. This way, you can see what areas are causing the biggest hit to your wallet. It may also help you see where you are spending money on things you don’t really need.
  • Adopt a consistent tracking method - A budgeting app is a great way to consistently track your expenses each month. If you don’t like using apps, a simple spreadsheet will also do the trick.
  • Identify where you can make changes - Tracking monthly expenses is a great way to see what has been costing you and what areas of spending are not as bad as you may have thought. Be ready to make adjustments in spending and stick with your plan.
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944 Hits

How to Save on Your Electric Bill

Light Bulb

Is your energy bill costing you a fortune each month? There are many ways that you can reduce your energy consumption, and in turn, lower your electric bill. If you have been wondering how to save on your electric bill, these simple steps and large investments can help you save significantly in the long run.

Reducing Energy Bills: Summer and Winter

One of the biggest causes of outrageous energy bills is heating or cooling your home. When there is a large temperature difference inside your home and outside of it, your home will lose the heat or cool air until the temperature matches the outdoors. The only ways to stop the loss of heat or cool air is to keep adding heat or cool air or insulate your home to prevent it from leaving. Here is where you can begin to look for cost-cutting options for a more affordable utility bill.

Simple Fixes

There are plenty of easy ways to cut back on your energy bills:

  • Make sure your water heater and hot-water pipes are well-insulated
  • Don’t forget to insulate light switches and outlets
  • Properly seal leaky air conditioning, heating, and ventilation ducts
  • Check for faulty seals around doors and windows
  • Ensure your freezer and fridge are well-sealed

Energy-Saving Investments

Although these projects are a little more extensive, they may have huge benefits when it comes to future energy bills.

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918 Hits

How to Consolidate Debt

Young Family Having Debt

Have you wondered what it means to consolidate your debt. This helpful strategy allows you to combine several old debts into a single debt with a lower interest rate. This can lead to a shorter payoff period or make your current payments more manageable. There are several options available, so it is important to find a method that best suits your needs.

Debt Consolidation Methods

  • Balance transfer card - The benefit of this option is the 0% introductory interest rate. There are a few drawbacks, however, such as interest payments after 12-18 months, a balance transfer fee, and the need for good to excellent credit.
  • Home equity - Home equity offers a lower interest rate than an unsecured loan and you do not need good credit for this method. There are significant disadvantages with this option. If you do not pay off your debts, you could end up losing your home. Repayment terms are also lengthy, sometimes 10 years or more.
  • 401(k) loan - This type of loan is not included on your credit report. With this method, you borrow the money from yourself, and it has a lower interest rate than an unsecured loan. Consequently, a 401(k) loan cuts down your retirement fund, and there are large fees if you are unable to repay the loan. If you happen to leave or lose your job, you must pay the loan back within 60 days.
  • Unsecured personal loan - This type of loan has a fixed payment period, monthly payment, and interest rate. There is usually an origination fee with an unsecured loan, and you have to have excellent credit to receive the lowest rates.

Breakdown of Options

  • With a 0% balance transfer credit card, there is no interest during a promotional period, and you can transfer all of your other credit card balances to this one card. To qualify, you will most likely need a credit score above 690. This method is great if you make a budget to eliminate your debt during that interest-free introductory period.
  • If you own a home, you have the option to take out a line of credit or a loan on the equity in your home. A line of credit works much like a typical credit card and has a variable interest rate. A home equity loan has a fixed interest rate, and it is a lump sum loan.
  • If your employer sponsors your retirement account, it may not be the best option to select a 401(k) loan unless you have already ruled out other methods. A major benefit is that a 401(k) loan will not appear on your credit report, but penalties and taxes are extensive if you are unable to pay back the loan.
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1054 Hits

How to Open a Bank Account

Bank Account

Although it may seem like an intimidating process, opening a bank account is actually quick and easy as long as you are prepared. Be sure to have the required documents on hand, whether you are applying online or in person, so that the process runs smoothly. Wondering how to open a bank account or which account is right for you? Read on below for quick tips.

Should I Choose a Checking or Savings Account?

Deciding on a checking or savings account is a matter of personal preference depending on your financial situation.

A checking account may be right for you if you are looking to:

  • Pay your bills from the account
  • Use a debit card for purchases
  • Write checks

You should opt for a savings account if you want to:

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993 Hits

Financial Advice: Learn How to Apply for a Credit Card

Credit Cards

A credit card is far more than just a piece of plastic. Credit cards are incredibly convenient forms of payment that allow you to make transactions nearly anywhere, and when used correctly, they can help you build your credit as well. But, some people find themselves frustrated when they fail to get approved for the card that they want. We've done the research to find out why people get approved and declined, so you can fill out that application with confidence. Find out how to apply for a credit card successfully below!

Credit Score

Do you know your credit score? This single number can have a major impact on the approval or denial of your application. Generally speaking, credit card companies want to enroll customers with good or excellent credit. That means you should shoot for a score of 690 or higher for the best luck. If you fall below that threshold, you might consider an option like a secure card that can boost your credit score over time.

Debt Level

Your credit score isn't just about how much money you have, but also how much you owe. Your debt is accounted for nearly one-third of your total credit score, so it pays to get into good habits. If you constantly max out your credit cards, this may affect your ability to get another card. Try to keep your balance under 30 percent of your credit limit. Then, don't forget to pay off your balance as fast as possible. Options like payday loans or cash advances can be valuable lifelines if something unexpected drains your finances, so you don't fall behind.

Application Tips

While it's important to have a great credit score and limited debt, it's also vital to fill out the credit card application accurately. Before you apply, do a little research. Some companies lure customers with large sign-up incentives or appealing rewards, but is that truly the best credit card for you? Don’t apply for just any card you see. It's well worth the time and effort that it takes to fit your credit profile. Additionally, it's important to include all of your earned income on the application. If you have a side job along with a full-time job, don't leave that information out. It can help when companies determine your debt-to-income ratio. But, no need to inflate your income! Just be honest, and you'll find the right credit card match in no time.

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1310 Hits

What are the Best Ways to Establish Credit?

Credit Score Sign

Your credit score is a small number that can have an enormous impact on your life. From the cars that you drive to the homes that you own, your credit history can open - and close - many doors to opportunity that greatly affect your quality of life. That's why so many are on the hunt for the best way to establish credit. The good news: It's easier than you think! In this guide, we'll walk you through some of the steps that you can take to boost your credit score. With a little research and hard work, your financial future will be brighter than ever!

Building Credit

While some people jump right into credit card applications, it's wise to start with a secured credit card to safely build up your credit. Just what exactly is a secured credit card? It's a credit card that is backed by a cash deposit, so it's considered very low risk for both you and the lender. While secured credit cards are usually not a long term solution, they are terrific tools to build your credit in the short term. Once you've established yourself as a responsible cardholder, you can get a traditional credit card much more easily. Consider researching different secured cards online to make sure you choose a reputable company with low annual fees. There are many different companies to explore.

Additionally, you have a few other avenues to boost your credit score. Credit-builder loans were designed specifically to help new customers build up their credit, so you could check into your credit union or bank to see if this service is offered. If you need extra funds to get your account started, consider services like cash advances to get the ball rolling. You could also pair up with someone who will act as a co-signer or will give you authorized access on their credit card. Just be sure to talk openly and honestly about the terms of the partnership before you sign anything!

Developing Habits

Now that you have your foot in the door, it's time to put your best face forward! It takes dedication to establish your credit history, so stay focused over the next six months. Here are some tips to help you build your reputation with lenders:

  • Get into the habit of paying your bills - all bills - on time. Not only are collection agencies a hassle, but they also put a major blemish on your account.
  • Don't go crazy with bank accounts and credit cards. Having a few accounts for a longer period of time looks better than opening tons of new accounts.
  • Check your credit score for free once per year. This helps you catch any potential mistakes that may pop up.
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1105 Hits

How Much Money Do You Need for Retirement?

Money Savings

While you may daydream at your desk about your retirement plans, retirement is a long way in the distance for most of us. However, it's never too early to think about your future finances. So, how much money do you need for retirement? The answer is a little different for every person, but we have expert guidance to help you make the best informed decision for your present and future goals. Let's go through the steps to calculate what you need!

Rule of Thumb

Few of us want to work well into our golden years, so it's important to think strategically. Your savings need to be significant enough to support your lifestyle, but don't forget about funds from Social Security. Generally speaking, experts suggest that you will need to replace anywhere from 70 to 90 percent of your income through a combination of savings and Social Security. That may be a big number, but remember: You've got plenty of time if you start early!

Retirement Needs

What exactly will you need when you retire? Think about your current lifestyle, and try to imagine a few decades in the future. Your brand new home may be paid in full at that point, but will you want to spend extra time visiting the grandkids or indulging in your favorite expensive hobbies? This may shift your figures around a bit. Don't forget: Once you're retired, you aren't saving for retirement anymore. Make a list of all the different expenses you currently have and think about your dream retirement scenario.

Adjusting Your Budget

Now that you have a list of your priorities, it's time to play with the numbers a bit. Are you willing to spend less in the present to spend more in the future? Remember that number from before: You need to replace between 70 to 90 percent of your income with investments. If you budget to live frugally during your retirement and save more money from each paycheck in the present, you can lean on the lower end of that estimate. If you want to live lavishly during your golden years, then you should aim for a higher figure to supplement your future lifestyle. Proper planning is key! And don't forget: You always have options. You can consider personal loan services, like payday loans and cash advances, so you don't have to blow your savings on unexpected expenses.

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858 Hits

How Much Money Should I Save?

Money Savings

After your paycheck has been deposited and your bills have been paid, you're probably all set to spend some cash. But, there's that nagging question in the back of your mind: "How much money should I save?" Whether you're a shopaholic or a frugal spender, it's well worth your time to set some money aside for future investments. In this guide, we'll explain how to maximize your savings without feeling strapped for cash!

The Magic Number

While everyone has different income levels and budgets, saving 20 percent of your paycheck is the golden standard for healthy savings. This formula works well for many, but you'll have to do some number crunching to determine if it's right for you. Those in the higher income brackets may feel comfortable saving even more, while those with limited incomes may have to lower that percentage significantly. The important thing is to keep saving, and every little bit will add up with time.

Establish Your Goal

So, why are we saving 20 percent? This is the recommended figure to achieve financial independence later in life. Sure, your golden years may be well into the future, but you can accumulate quite the sum of money if you get into the habit of saving 20 percent of each paycheck. Another figure to keep in mind: Multiply your annual living expenses by 25 to determine the lump sum that you need for financial independence. While that figure may be daunting at first, remember that you have decades to build up your financial reserves. In fact, experts estimate that it takes just over 40 years to reach those goals. And what if you can't reach that 20 percent figure? Any saving is better than no saving, so do what you can. You can also look into options like title loans and cash advances for extra money.

Maximize Your Savings

Is your savings account making the most of your hard earned money? You may want to look into tax-advantaged accounts to maximize your interest. For example, tax-sheltered retirement accounts can provide a lot of bang for your buck. A Roth IRA might be the most popular example. That's because the money that you invest into your Roth IRA comes back tax-free! Plus, many employers will match your contribution up to a certain amount. Check with your company to see if this service is offered, and if it is, take advantage of it! For example, if your company matches your contribution up to 5 percent, you only have to save 15 percent to reach that 20 percent goal!

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780 Hits

Real Estate 101: How to Save for a New Home While Paying Rent

House mortgage loan

Whether you've settled into a tiny urban studio or a quaint rental house, renting can be an appealing short-term option for many. However, most renters daydream about that perfect home that they can enjoy for years. In fact, two-third of those surveyed in a Wells Fargo survey reported that home ownership was seen as a major goal in life. What's stopping the average renter from packing up and moving into that dream home? Cost. But with a little planning, nearly anyone can save up a great down payment. Find out how to save for a new home while paying rent!

Eliminate Your Debts

First things first: Do you have any credit card debt? It's difficult to move into your future investments without settling your past debts. Though you may feel like you are two steps behind while sinking money into your credit card bills, this is actually a huge step forward. Credit card debt typically carries a high interest rate, which can put a major damper on your funds. If you eliminate this source, you'll free up quite a bit more money to shift into your savings account. Also, a debt-free slate will make you much more attractive to potential lenders. It's hard to secure a great rate for a mortgage with a low credit score or high debt-to-income ratio. Put your best foot forward and take care of your debt sooner rather than later!

Utilize Your Raises

The next time you score that big promotion, use the pay bump as an easy way to save up for that down payment. Let's say you receive an extra $1,000 per year after your last evaluation. Rather than using your extra income for extra gadgets and goods, consider moving that sum directly to savings. You'll still live comfortably off of your old salary as usual, while growing your house fund month by month. What if you haven't gotten a raise? Don't be afraid to ask for one. Just be sure to do the research on average salaries to show that you mean business.

Save Your Refund

Do you have any plans for your tax refund? You may want to hold off on that shopping spree or weekend getaway. If you get a big refund, send it directly into your savings account to get one step closer to your new house. However, you may also want to double check with HR. You may want to file a new W-4 to file for extra allowances or withhold less money. That can lead to a bigger paycheck each month, and a faster route to your down payment.

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What are Savings Bonds?

Savings Bonds

Savings bonds have been in rotation since 1941, so many people associate them with the World War II era. However, these investments are still popular today - and with good reason! A savings bond may be one of the safest and smartest investments that you can make. Plus, they carry a number of unique benefits that you won't find from any old check or stock portfolio. Learn all about the advantages of savings bonds, and get ready to invest in your future!

A Safe Investment

Savings bonds are known for being a safe and secure way to invest your money, but why is that? Bonds are backed by the federal government, which can be a huge benefit to you. This means that bonds are quite a bit more stable than a riskier investment, like the stock market. While you can't get the funds as quickly as a cash advance or a loan, the advantages are often worth the wait. And even if you lose the certificate itself, you can get a replacement. Just fill out a Form PDF 1048 from a financial institution with your information, and you can get a brand new certificate promptly.

Accessible Funding

Savings bonds are also quite versatile. While some investments require a huge amount of money up front, you can get a savings bond with as little as 25 dollars! That's one reason that savings bonds are such a popular choice for graduation gifts. Plus, the bond will mature and increase in value with time. So, that 25 dollar investment can grow to double the size as it matures! Unlike stocks, there are no seller's fees to worry about. Where can you get a savings bond?

  • Banks or credit unions
  • Federal Reserve banks (phone or mail)
  • The Bureau of Public Debt

Types of Bonds

If you're interested in buying a savings bond, you'll need to figure out which type you need.

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1025 Hits

Why Do Mortgage Loans Get Declined?

House mortgage loan

It takes a huge amount of work to get your mortgage loan in top shape: hours of paperwork, weeks of phone tag, and endless meetings. After all that planning and preparation, getting declined for your mortgage loan can feel truly devastating. But, all is not lost! In this guide, we discuss the most common reasons that lenders deny your loan. With a little research, you can use this information to secure your dream home in the future!

Credit History

It's amazing how much information lenders can pull from just one number! Your credit score is one of the most important variables that lenders use when weighing your loan approval. A FICO score of less than 620 is seen as undesirable, so consider that when looking over your annual credit score. Also, bad marks on your credit report can turn lenders away. Events like foreclosures and bankruptcy may drop your score temporarily.

Income to Debt Ratio

While your past is important to lenders, your present is just as important! Lenders assess whether you can afford your mortgage using the income to debt ratio. This determines whether your current income can support your upcoming investment. Proper documentation can help you strengthen your case, so dig out those old tax returns and financial records.

Down Payment

How much can you put down for your initial investment? The larger the down payment, the more comfortable the lender feels. Usually, homeowners put down anywhere from 5 to 25 percent of the total cost of the home. Anything less can make lenders nervous. However, some federally-backed mortgages require no down payment at all if that's a concern. You may also look into options like cash advances and title loans from CashMax to create a bigger down payment.

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Tips and Tricks on Budgeting for College Students

Money Savings

Between expensive textbooks and costly tuition and even late night study snacks, college can be a seriously expensive time for students! So, how do you stay afloat during these times? It just takes a little planning. Just like any other subject in school, students can study to improve their financial skills. One of the most important tools in your toolbox is a good old fashioned budget.

Support Team

First, who is paying for college? Are you footing the bill yourself, or do you have help from your family? While many people feel reserved when talking about money, it's important for you to have a clear picture of your finances. Take a little time to meet with your parents, guardians, partner, or any other contributors to your college experience. This allows everyone to go over expectations, so you can budget more effectively for the upcoming semester and beyond. This is also an excellent time to work through your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which determines your eligibility for financial aid.

Pre-College Costs

Even before you set up your dorm room, there are many expenses to consider!

  • College tuition is one of the biggest investments in a student's life, but don't forget about related expenses: textbooks, school supplies, and more.
  • Room and board is another huge piece of your budget. Will you pay an up-front sum to the residence hall, or will you pay a monthly fee to rent an apartment?
  • Transportation will vary from campus to campus. Do you have a car, or will you opt for public transportation? Is campus pedestrian-friendly? Find out about the lay of the land to get a better idea of your needs.

Everyday Expenses

Once you've established yourself on campus, you'll have other expenses to juggle! Really think about your lifestyle, including your wants and needs, to assess how much you may need for the following categories:

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Avoid These Common Financial Mistakes and Gain Control of Your Future

Money Savings

Everyone has money problems, right? Or do they? These common financial mistakes can mean the difference between living under severe stress or having a safety net to get you through the tough times. Imagine not having to worry about money anymore! Stop making these mistakes, and you won’t have to:

Living Paycheck to Paycheck

No one actually wants to live paycheck to paycheck, but it often just becomes a habit. Sit down and take a hard look at your finances. Do you really need to spend every single dollar? What happens if you have an emergency? Would you have to get a loan or a cash advance? It’s time to make some choices about how you’re spending your money and whether you need additional income.

Excess Spending

How do you spend your money? Do you splurge on big, expensive items? Do you buy a lot of cheap little things? Whip out your calculator and add up how much your coffee, lunches out, and movie nights cost. $25 a week on lattes adds up to $1,300 a year, which is a big chunk of change that could go toward paying down debt. Create a budget and stick to it.

Credit Card Addiction

How often do you use your credit cards – occasionally or all the time? If you’re using your credit cards for gas, groceries, and day-to-day items, you’re probably spending more than you make. Using a debit card or cash will force you to spend only the money you have, and you’ll avoid unnecessary interest while you’re at it.

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How to Avoid Scholarship and Financial Aid Scams

Thief robbing money

If you're college-bound, you've probably got a lot on your mind! From classes to campus to tuition, this exciting time can feel overwhelming at times. And the top concern of upcoming freshman? Money. If you're searching for college funding, then you've probably perused the financial aid resources at your school. While there are a ton of terrific options for savvy students, it's important to keep an eye out for scholarship and financial aid scams. In this guide, we'll explain some of the most common scams around today.

The Language of the Scammer

As you've learned in English, a simple sentence can reveal a great deal about the author's intent. Use those analytical skills while scanning through your potential scholarships. If you see any of these phrases, be cautious!

  • A "money back guarantee" is a huge red flag. If the company asks for an advanced fee or your bank account information, stay away.
  • Have you been selected as a "finalist" for a "national foundation" that doesn't ring a bell? This is a common scam that will never pay.
  • If the company promises to "do all the work for you" for a fee, don't trust them. There's no guarantee you'll ever get your financial aid.

Financial Aid Seminars

You may have seen advertisements for financial aid seminars to help students get an extra edge when applying for financial aid. While some seminars may be legitimate, others are not. How can you tell the difference? Do a little research. Talk to your guidance counselor or financial aid advisor to see if the organization is legitimate. Your school has your best interest in mind, so they won't lead you astray!

Additionally, watch out for any seminar that feels more like a sales pitch than an information session. Don't bother spending the money on a hefty entrance fee. You can find tons of solid advice for free! Also, be wary of organizations that give vague or evasive responses to your questions. Reputable companies know that students have a lot of questions, and they'll be more than happy to answer each one!

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Don’t Make These Big Buyer Mistakes with Short-Sale Homes

Buying a short-sale home is appealing for one big reason – you're probably going to get a smoking deal because the bank has agreed to sell the house for less than what the owner owes. But before you jump in, take off those rose-colored glasses and make sure you're not making any of these big buyer mistakes. Running Out of Time A short-sale takes a ...
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961 Hits

What are Money Market Accounts, Anyway?

If you don't already have a money market account, you may think it sounds like something mysterious and complicated. What are money market accounts, anyway? Well, we're going to break it down for you. And don't worry, they're not mysterious or complicated, and they can have tremendous benefits for consumers for the long haul. Money Market Accounts ...
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Don’t Get Burned: Risky Places to Use a Debit Card

Identity fraud and data breaches are so commonplace now, we need to be careful with our personal information. Did you know there are especially risky places to use a debit card? And that cash comes out of your account right away. Protect your checking account by using your credit card instead of your debit card in these spots: The Internet We often...
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Spend Smarter with These Debit Card Facts

You may swipe your debit card daily, but how much do you know about it? Learn some debit card facts to spend wisely! Spend Smarter with These Surprising Debit Card Facts Millions of Americans use their debit cards every day, but not everyone knows exactly how this high-tech payment works. Swipe your card, and data transmit rapidly from merchant to ...
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741 Hits

Heading to College? Check Out Our FAFSA Tips!

FAFSA forms may seem like a headache, but filing your paperwork could save you a bundle for college! Learn our best FAFSA tips in our student guide. FAFSA Tips to Help Fund Your Studies College-bound students across the country have a lot to juggle, but your FAFSA is one form that you don't want to forget! Filing your FAFSA form, or Free Applicatio...
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Find Out How to Balance a Checkbook

Learning how to balance a checkbook may seem daunting, but it's actually a simple process that can save you tons of stress down the line. With simple calculations and a little planning, you can learn how to manage your money like a pro! Read our best tips and tricks below.

Why Should I Balance My Checkbook?

When dealing with any type of payment, it's important to keep good records. While credit card bills showcase an itemized list of your expenses, it's easy to lose track of your checkbook expenses if you don't keep your own notes. Balancing a checkbook helps you keep a running tally of all your transactions, so you can effectively budget and avoid bounced checks.

How Do I Start?

There are many ways to record your transactions. Each checkbook comes with a little notebook that's designed to record your expenses, along with the date and description of each payment. If you don't have this slip handy, feel free to make your own! Use a notebook, graph paper, or print out your own customized forms.

Then, find your current checking balance with your preferred method: log into your online account, visit an ATM, or speak with a bank representative. Write the total at the top of your notebook to get your starting point for the month.

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Credit Card Tips for Savvy Spending

While credit cards are widely used around the globe, credit cards are also frequently misunderstood. Many myths persist about this common form of payment, so it's good to refresh your knowledge from time to time. That's why we are presenting our top credit card tips for savvy spending. Learn all about credit card basics, so you can shop wisely!

Credit Score

A credit card can help you build credit, as long as you use it responsibly. Be sure to check your credit score periodically to find out the state of your finances. There are plenty of online resources to check your score for free. You can also get a copy of your credit report in person to double check the accuracy. However, be careful about checking your score too often. This can deter potential lenders from working with you. If you pay your bills on time and avoid overdrawing your account, you're on your way to a great credit history!

Smart Shopping

When it comes to credit cards, more isn't more. We recommend starting with just one card with a low limit to establish a positive credit history. Examine your bills for accuracy and pay off the total balance every month. You may find it helpful to create a budget to spend within your means. Not only will you avoid depleting your bank account, but you'll also keep your credit score in good standing. If you need to get a new credit card, do your homework! Read the fine print carefully, because the terms may differ from your current lender. And consider negotiating for a better interest rate. While this doesn't work for every company, it doesn't hurt to ask!

Overcoming Obstacles

What if you dig yourself into a hole? Don't panic, roll up your sleeves! If you can't avoid a late payment, talk to the issuer and ask about your options. There may be a little wiggle room if you explain your situation honestly. You might look into options like cash advances and payday loans for extra cushion. Additionally, you should take inventory of your credit cards from time to time. Does every card have a purpose, or could you stand to downsize? Call the company to cancel any unused card and indicate that you want "Account closed by consumer" on your credit report. Don't forget to cut up the card when you're done!

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What Are the Best Savings Accounts For My Needs?

Not all savings accounts are created equally! Before setting up your account, consider is your age. In this piece, you'll find out the best savings accounts for every stage of life. Read on for more information about savvy saving!

The Early Years

As parents, you can teach your kids about the importance of money management from a young age. Check with your bank about special savings accounts for toddlers to teens. These accounts are typically free or low-cost, but they require a parent to open the account. This can be a great place to start an automatic savings plan for your children, so they can see their money grow over time. Not only is this a valuable financial strategy, but a wise educational opportunity as well!

The 20-Somethings

Young adults are more tech-savvy than ever before, so an online savings account can be a great way to streamline the financial process. When you have an online savings account, there's no need to drive to the bank every time you want to make a transaction. Plus, many online banks have lower overhead, which benefits the customer in the form of lower costs and maintenance fees. These conveniences can make the saving process a lot easier.

The 30-Somethings

As you get older, it may be more valuable to consider opening a savings account with a traditional bank. Forming a good relationship with a brick-and-mortar institution can be a major asset when dealing with more serious investments, like financing a new home or saving for children's college funds. Ask about a money market savings account that provides rewards based on your balance. This option can help you secure a better interest rate, which leads to more money in your pocket!

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826 Hits

What is a Good Credit Score for Getting a Mortgage?

So, you've found the perfect piece of real estate to make all your dreams come true. While this should be a time for celebration, just one simple number can change your entire future. Just what is a good credit score for a getting a mortgage? The answer may surprise you. In the past, a 720 credit score would open doors all over town. Now, the best rates only unlock for credit scores of 740 or higher! Read on for our advice to potential homeowners, and you'll have that key in your hand in no time at all!

Checking Your Score

Do you really know your credit score? It's a good idea to check every year to stay on top of your finances, and you can even check it online for free. Unexpected expenses can have a major impact on your score, even if you have a history of good credit. What about that broken water heater that maxed out your card? What about that delayed credit card payment? Take an honest inventory of your situation to make the best decisions possible.

Co-Signing Dangers

Teaming up for a big investment can be a great idea for a driven duo, but be sure that you know your partner well. You could have a sky-high income level with decades of terrific credit, but if you co-sign with the wrong person, your credit score can take a hit. Parents should be particularly mindful of this while co-signing auto loans or other major investments with children, who are less financially established. Sometimes the risk is well worth the investment, but be very careful when dealing with imbalanced partnerships. Instead, you may suggest a cash advance or other personal loan service from CashMax.

Getting Proactive

So, maybe you haven't quite cracked that golden credit score just yet. No need to panic! You can make simple changes that lead to big increases in your score in just a month. First, gather information. Talk with a loan officer about credit analysis, so you can determine why your score isn't up to par. If you find any inaccuracies, get proof and report it! There's no reason to take the blame for someone else's mistake. Finally, work on decreasing your debt. Pay off your credit card balances or consider increasing your credit limits, which will increase your available credit possible.

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How Do I Protect Myself From Check Fraud?

Between paper checks and mobile apps, there are a lot of different ways to make a transaction these days. However, it's important to stay up-to-date to the latest check fraud threats to help protect your bank account. While the dangers of theft and counterfeiting may seem overwhelming, a little knowledge can go a long way to protect you against problems down the line. In this guide, we go through some of the most common types of check fraud and how to protect yourself against them.

Theft

How safe is your checkbook? Sure, you may keep it tucked in your purse or work desk, but is that really secure? We recommend being extra careful with blank checks, bank statements, and canceled checks. Consider placing them in a safe or locked drawer for extra security. If you have any old checkbooks or statements that you don't need, shred them! And stay on top of mail collection. Thieves may target neglected mailboxes for financial documents.

Scams

If you encounter a situation that's just a little too good to be true, trust your gut. Scammers target their victims with elaborate stories to steal money with minimal effort. Be wary of anyone who promises to send lottery money to your home, especially if you didn't buy a ticket! These scammers typically ask for a money wire in exchange for riches that will never arrive. Talk to your bank if you receive such an offer. They can confirm the validity of your earnings or report the scammer to the proper authorities.

Counterfeiting

Do you like to sell things online? Research the market to get a better sense of the prices you can expect. Some scammers offer outrageous sums of money for items in auctions and other virtual marketplaces. While you may rejoice this unexpected jackpot, be careful. As we said before: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. You may find yourself on the receiving end of fake personal or corporate checks that are completely worthless. If you need cash in a hurry, consider a cash advance from CashMax rather than trusting a potentially unreliable customer.

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788 Hits

Planning for the Future: Can I Retire Early?

After years of early morning commutes and late nights at the office, you might start to wonder, "Can I retire early?" The decision to retire can be complicated, so we've compiled our best tips to assess your situation before you take the plunge. Not only are there major financial components to consider, but emotional factors as well. Read on to see whether early retirement is the right choice for you!

Retirement Budget

Have you calculated a retirement budget yet? This important step can shed light on your financial situation in a new way. We recommend setting up a budget and living off that amount for six whole months. This process will help you determine whether you need a little extra wiggle room or not. Don't forget to factor in inflation!

Children

Are your children financially independent, or do they have a ways to go? If your children are still in school, you may want to double check your savings. It's a good idea to have emergency funds for both you and your kids. If you have any children with other special needs, it's important to factor these considerations into your budget as well.

Debt

Try to pay off your debts before thinking about early retirement. From mortgages to car loans, these hefty costs can eat into your retirement budget quickly. However, if your debts are all paid off, you'll have a lot more freedom. You can think about paying off immediate debts with a personal loan service from CashMax.

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Why Should I Consider Rent-to-Own Homes?

While rent-to-own homes were less common just a decade ago, this modern method is gaining in popularity for savvy homeowners. Why? Rent-to-own homes offer unique financial flexibility that is perfect for many buyers. However, like any other investment, there are plenty of pros and cons to consider before making the big move. Learn all the key issues around rent-to-own homes, and then get ready to find your perfect house!

What is a Rent-to-Own Home?

Rent-to-own homes strike a balance between the traditional rental and classic financed home. Like a rental, you pay a monthly rent to the homeowner. However, part of this monthly rent goes toward ownership. This is a win-win situation for the homeowner and renter alike. The homeowner will generate additional income, and you will work toward ownership while enjoying your new abode.

What are the Advantages?

No matter how many open houses and ads you go through, buying a home is a bit of a gamble. You never quite know what will wait on the other side of the door after you sign the dotted line. But, rent-to-own homes are different. You get to actually live in the home and experience the neighborhood.

Plus, there are financial benefits as well. You can secure the sales price and terms from the beginning. That means you'll get the exact price that you negotiate, whether the housing market rises or falls in the next decade. This can be a particularly good option for potential buyers with less than stellar credit. If that sounds like you, consider checking out CashMax's personal loan services for your home-owning needs.

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731 Hits

Guide for First-Time Home Buyers

Between location and price and design, there are a lot of factors to consider when choosing your very first home. While purchasing a new house is a time of incredible excitement for first-time home buyers, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by all the new decisions. Luckily, we've assembled this brief guide for first-time home buyers, so you can purchase your dream home like a pro! Learn how to avoid the common mistakes when handling real estate, and then contact CashMax for our customized personal loan services.

Financial Planning

Your search for the right house starts with the right planning. Before you fall in love with that charming bungalow, it's a good idea to do your homework. Start by checking your credit score through your bank or a free online service, and then consider getting prequalified for a mortgage. This allows you to plan your budget more wisely, so you can find houses that you love that won't break the bank.

Other Expenses

You've crunched the numbers and planned for the down payment and monthly mortgage, but are you ready for the other expenses of home ownership? Do you have Homeowner Association dues? What about maintenance costs? Don't forget about the higher utility costs if you get a bigger home. Also, consider the cost of property insurance and taxes. These expenses typically go up with time, so make sure you have the flexibility to accommodate these rising costs.

Finding Experts

Now that you're ready to search for your dream home, it's time to find the right people. It's important to create a reputable team: a great agent, a solid broker, and a savvy lawyer. This team of experts can turn your wishes into a reality, so take your time to find the best group possible. Don't be afraid to seek references and ask plenty of questions.

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How to Invest for Your Age

We’ve all heard the story of the grasshopper and the ant: the lazy grasshopper who played instead of storing up food for the winter, and the industrious ant who worked hard so he would be well-provided for once the cold weather hit. The moral of this story has definite applications to retirement.

Growing your retirement savings through investment is a long-term process, and the earlier you start it, the better off you’ll be. The important thing when getting started isn’t saving up a lot of money right out of the gate; the first step is coming up with a plan you can commit to and follow through with.

4 Decades of Retirement Tips

In the world of investment and retirement planning, you clearly do not want to be the grasshopper. Take some antlike steps today to help ensure you are comfortable and well provided for when your retirement years arrive.

20s: For many Americans, their 20s are a time for fun, play, and not a whole lot of responsible planning—but that is the approach a grasshopper would take. For a savvy ant, the 20s are the time to plan for your future.

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852 Hits

Top Recommendations for Financing College Tuition

When you're daydreaming about your freshman year of college, financing college tuition is probably the last thing you want to think about. However, there are tons of tips and tricks to make financing easier. From scholarships to FAFSA to public service, any student can find help in a variety of places. Learn all about the different sources for financing college tuition, and be sure to consider CashMax for your personal loan services!

Start Early

Proper planning is the key to your success. Remember: You're competing with hundreds of other students, so you have to think ahead. Do you qualify for any scholarships or federal student aid? Don't wait until days before the deadline! Earlier candidates may have an edge on procrastinators, since some aid is claimed on a first come, first served basis. Get out your calendar and start scheduling!

Save Often

If you want to make the most of your money, you'll want to start saving as early as possible. Even smaller amounts of money over time can make big gains in compound interest. Also, consider saving your money under your parents' names rather than your own. Student assets are assessed differently than parental assets, so you may hurt your chances at a big financial aid package if you keep your money in your own account.

Selecting Schools

It's good to cast a wide net when it comes to selecting your future alma mater. Schools vary in their ability to give funding, so do some research. Work colleges may be a good choice for you, or you might want to search for schools that offer full-tuition scholarships. But, no matter which schools make your short list, be sure to file your FAFSA! This important document qualifies students for federal aid, which can be a major help when financing college tuition.

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Why Do Car Loans Get Denied?

If you've got your heart set on your dream car, you may feel nervous about the final step of financing. Just why do car loans get denied? It all comes down to the auto loan lenders and your personal financial information. While this may feel like an overwhelming process, the good news is that a little research goes a long way in your success. Learn all about the common reasons for rejection, and don't forget to consider CashMax for our personal loan services.

Poor Credit

Do you know your credit score? If not, be sure to check your score annually through any of the free online resources available. Auto loan lenders prefer drivers with scores of 620 or higher, because they are seen as low-risk clients. Drivers with lower credit scores can be considered risky, and thus, they are frequently rejected.

No Credit

So, poor credit can be a major liability in the financing process. What about no credit? This can also be a problem, since auto loan lenders cannot determine whether you are a low- or high-risk client. There are a few ways to work around this issue. First, consider a co-signer who has a good credit score to boost your favorability. Second, you can consider online lenders. However, keep in mind that online lenders have lower requirements and much higher interest costs. It's up to you whether that trade-off is worthwhile.

Loan Documents

It's important to double check and triple check your paperwork before you hand it in. While it may seem silly, you may be surprised how many applications are rejected due to paperwork issues. If you forget key categories like your proof of income or personal information, your lenders may get suspicious. Answer all the questions honestly and thoroughly to prevent any mishaps!

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