The Burden of a Damaged Paycheck

February 1, 2023

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Denise and Chris Arand

Denise and Chris Arand

Executive Vice Presidents/Financial Strategists

2011 Palomar Airport Rd
#101
Carlsbad, CA 92011

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January 25, 2023

Quick ways to cut your monthly expenses

Quick ways to cut your monthly expenses

Looking to save a little money?

Maybe you’re coming up just a tad short every month and need to cut back a little bit. If you’re scratching your head wondering where those cuts are going to come from, no worries! Reducing monthly expenses may not be as hard as you think.

Complete an insurance review

Often, there could be an opportunity to save some money on your insurance without even switching companies. It might be worth taking the time to review your insurance policies carefully to make sure you’re getting all the discounts you’re eligible for. There may be auto insurance discounts available for safety features on your car such as airbags and antilock brake systems. You may also get a multi-policy discount if you have more than one policy with the same company.

If you aren’t sure what to look for, contact your insurance professional and ask for an insurance review with an eye toward savings. They may be able to offer some advice on changes that can lower your monthly premium.

Shop around on your utilities

Some consumers may have a choice when it comes to utility providers. If this is you, make sure you shop around to get the best rate on your household utilities. Research prices for electricity, water, gas, or oil. If your area has only one provider, don’t worry, you may still save money on utilities by lowering your consumption. Turn off the lights and be conservative with your water usage and you might see some savings on your monthly utility bills.

Cell phone service

Your cell phone bill may be a great place to save on your monthly expenses. It seems like every cell phone provider is itching to make you a better deal. Often, just calling your current provider and asking for a better rate may help. Also, study your data and phone usage and make sure you’re only paying for what you use. Maybe you don’t really use a lot of data and can lower your data plan. A smaller data plan can often save you money on your monthly bill.

Interest on credit cards

Interest is like throwing money away. Paying interest does nothing for you. Still, we’ve probably all carried a little debt at one time or another. If you do have credit card debt you’re trying to pay off, you may be able to negotiate a lower interest rate. You can also apply for a no interest card and complete a balance transfer (if any associated fees make sense).

The other benefit of low or no interest on your debt is that more of your payment applies to the principal balance so you’ll potentially get rid of that debt faster.

Subscription services

These days there’s a subscription box service for just about everything – clothing, skin care products, wine, and even dinner. It can be easy to get caught up in these services because the surprise of something new arriving once a month is alluring and introductory offers may be hard to resist. And that’s not counting the eight streaming services people subscribe to, just in case one releases a viral show.

But if you’re trying to save on your monthly expenses, give your subscription services a once over and make sure you’re really using what you’re buying. You may want to cut one or two of them loose to help save on your monthly expenses.

It is possible to cut back on your monthly budget without (too) much sacrifice. With a little effort and know-how, you can help lower your expenses and save a little cash.

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December 28, 2022

The dangers of payday loans and cash advances

The dangers of payday loans and cash advances

If you’ve ever been in a pinch and needed cash fast, you may have considered taking out a payday loan.

It may make sense on some level. Payday loans can be readily accessible, usually have minimal requirements, and put money in your hand fast.

But before you sign on the dotted line at your corner payday lender, read on for some of the downsides and dangers that may come along with a payday loan.

What is a payday loan?

Let’s start with a clear definition of what a payday loan actually is. A payday loan is an advance against your paycheck. Typically, you show the payday loan clerk your work pay stub, and they extend a loan based on your pay. The repayment terms are calculated based on when you receive your next paycheck. At the agreed repayment date, you pay back what you borrowed as well as any fees due.

Usually all you need is a job and a bank account to deposit the borrowed money. So it may seem like a payday loan is an easy way to get some quick cash.

Why a payday loan can be a problem

Payday loans can quickly become a problem. If on the date you’re scheduled to repay, and you’re coming up short, you can extend the payday loan – but will incur more fees. This cycle of extending the loan means you are now living on borrowed money from the payday lender. Meanwhile, the costs keep adding up.

Defaulting on the loan may land you in some trouble as well. A payday loan company may file charges and begin other collection proceedings if you don’t pay the loan back at the agreed upon time.

Easy money isn’t easy

While a payday loan can be a fast and convenient way to make ends meet when you’re short on a paycheck, the consequences can be dangerous. Remember, easy money isn’t always easy. Payday loan companies charge very high fees. You could end up with fees ranging from 15 percent or more than 30 percent on what you borrow. Those fees could be much higher than any interest rate you may see on a credit card.

Alternatives to payday loans

As stated, payday loans may seem like quick and easy money, but in the long run, they may do significant damage. If you end up short and need some quick cash, try these alternatives:

Ask a friend: Asking a friend or relative for a loan isn’t easy, but if they are willing to help you out it may save you from getting stuck in a payday loan cycle and paying exorbitant fees.

Use a credit card: Putting ordinary expenses on a credit card may not be something you want to get in the habit of doing, but if given a choice between using credit and securing a payday loan, a credit card may be a better option. Payday loan fees can translate into much higher interest rates than you might see on a credit card.

Talk to your employer: Talk to your employer about a pay advance. This may be uncomfortable, but many employers might be sympathetic. A pay advance form an employer may save you from payday loan fees and falling into a debt cycle.

If possible, a payday loan should probably be avoided. If you absolutely must secure a payday loan, be prepared to pay it back – along with the fees – at the agreed upon date. If not, you may end up stuck in a payday loan cycle where you are always living on borrowed money, and the fees are adding up.

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This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain products, plans, or strategies that may be available to you. Before taking out any loan or enacting a funding strategy, seek the advice of a financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

November 14, 2022

How much home can you afford?

How much home can you afford?

For most households, buying a home means getting a mortgage, which means lenders play a big role in declaring how much house you can “afford”.

Many people take that calculation as a guide in choosing which house they want to buy, but after you’ve signed the papers and moved in, the lender might not be much help in working out the details of your family budget or making ends meet.

Let’s take a look behind the curtain. What is it that lenders look at when determining how large of a mortgage payment you can feasibly make?

The 28-36 Rule

Lenders look closely at income and debt when qualifying you for a certain mortgage amount. One of the rules of thumb at play is that housing expenses shouldn’t run more than 28% of your total gross income.¹ You also may hear this referred to as the “housing ratio” or the “front-end ratio”. The 28% rule is a good guideline – even for renters – and has been a common way to budget for household expenses over many generations. Using this rule of thumb, if your monthly income is $4,000, the average person would probably be able to afford up to $1,120 for a mortgage payment.

Lenders also check your total debt, which they call debt-to-income (DTI). Ideally, this should be below 36% of your income. You can calculate this on your own by dividing your monthly debt payments by your monthly income. For example, if your car loans, credit cards, and other debt payments add up to $2,000 per month and your gross income is $4,000 per month, it’s unlikely that you’ll qualify for a loan. Most likely you would need to get your monthly debt payments down to $1,440 (36% of $4,000) or under, or find a way to make more money to try to qualify.

Buying less home than you can afford

While the 28% and 36% rules are there to help provide safeguards for lenders – and for you, by extension – buying a home at the top end of your budget can still be risky business. If you purchase a home with a payment equal to the maximum amount your lender has determined, you may not be leaving much room for error, such as an unexpected job loss or other financial emergency. If something expensive breaks – like your furnace or the central air unit – that one event could be enough to bring down the whole house of cards. Consider buying a home with a mortgage payment below your maximum budget and think about upsizing later or if your income grows.

A home as an investment?

A lot of people will always think of their home as an investment in an asset – and in many cases it is – but it’s also an investment in your family’s comfort, safety, and well-being. In reality, homes usually don’t appreciate much more than the rate of inflation and – as the past decade has shown – they can even go down in value. Your home, as a financial tool, isn’t likely to make you rich. In fact, it may do the opposite, if your mortgage payment takes up so great a percentage of your monthly budget that there’s nothing left over to invest, pay down debt, save for a rainy day, or enjoy.

Homes are one of those areas where many discover that less can be more. Whether it’s your first home or you’re trading in the old house for a new one, you might be better served by looking at how big of a mortgage payment you can afford within your current budget, rather than setting your sights on the house your lender says you can afford.

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¹ “How Much House Can I Afford?” David McMillin, Bankrate, https://www.bankrate.com/real-estate/new-house-calculator/

October 17, 2022

Consumer Debt: How It Helps And How It Hurts

Consumer Debt: How It Helps And How It Hurts

What exactly is consumer debt? It’s “We the People” debt, as opposed to government or business debt.

Consumer debt is our debt. And we, the people, have a lot of it – it’s record-breaking in fact. In May of 2018, U.S. consumer debt was projected to exceed $16.5 trillion in 2022.¹

That’s a lot of zeros. So, in case you’re wondering, what makes up consumer debt?

Consumer debt consists of credit card debt and non-revolving loans – like automobile financing or a student loan. (Mortgages aren’t considered consumer debt – they’re classified under real estate investments.)

So, how did we get buried under all this debt?

There are a few reasons consumer debt is so high – some of them not entirely in our control.

The rise of student loan debt: Much consumer debt consists of school loans. During the recession, many Americans returned to school to re-train or to pursue graduate degrees to increase their competitiveness in a tough job market.

Auto loan rates: The number of auto loans has skyrocketed due to attractive interest rates. After the recession, the federal government lowered interest rates to spur spending and help lift the country out of the recession. Americans responded by financing more automobiles, which added to the consumer debt total.

Is all this consumer debt a bad thing?

Not all consumer debt is bad debt. And there are ways that it helps the economy – both personal and shared. A student loan for example – particularly a government-backed student loan – can offer a borrower a low-interest rate, deferred repayment, and of course, the benefit of gaining a higher education which may bring a higher salary. A college graduate earns 56 percent more than a high school graduate over their lifetime, according to the Economic Policy Institute. So, getting a student loan may make good economic sense.

Credit card debt that won’t go away

Credit card debt is a different story. According one survey, 55% of people have revolving credit card debt.² Nearly two in five carry debt from month-to-month.

Still, the amount of credit card debt Americans carry has been on the decline, with the average carried per adult a little more than $3,000.

Credit card debt won’t hurt you with interest charges if you pay off the balance monthly. Some households prefer to conduct their spending this way to take advantage of cashback purchases or airline points. As always, make sure spending with credit works within your budget.

If you’re carrying a balance from month to month on your credit cards, however, there is going to be a negative impact in the form of interest payments. Avoid doing this whenever possible.

Stay on the good side of consumer debt

Consumer debt is a mixed bag. Staying on the good side of consumer debt may pay off for you in the long run if you’re conscientious about borrowing money, plan your budget carefully, and always seek to live within your means.

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¹ “Average American Household Debt in 2022: Facts and Figures,” Jack Caporal and Dann Albright, The Ascent, Sep 20, 2022, https://www.fool.com/the-ascent/research/average-american-household-debt/#:~:text=Data%20source%3A%20Federal%20Reserve%20Bank,the%20second%20quarter%20of%202022.

² “Jaw-Dropping Stats About the State of Debt in America,” Gabrielle Olya, Yahoo, Oct 11, 2022, https://www.yahoo.com/video/jaw-dropping-stats-state-credit-130022967.html#:~:text=A%20separate%20survey%20conducted%20by,balance%20from%20month%20to%20month.

May 25, 2022

How to Build Credit When You’re Young

How to Build Credit When You’re Young

Your credit score can affect a lot more than just your interest rates or credit limits.

Your credit history can have an impact on your eligibility for rental leases, raise (or lower) your auto insurance rates, or even affect your eligibility for certain jobs (although in many cases the authorized credit reports available to third parties don’t contain your credit score if you aren’t requesting credit). Because credit history affects so many aspects of financial life, it’s important to begin building a solid credit history as early as possible.

So, where do you start?

  1. Apply for a store credit card.
    Store credit cards are a common starting point for teens and young adults, as it often can be easier to get approved for a store card than for a major credit card. As a caveat though, store card interest rates are often higher than for a standard credit card. Credit limits are also typically low – but that might not be a bad thing when you’re just getting started building your credit. A lower limit helps ensure you’ll be able to keep up with payments. Because you’re trying to build a positive history and because interest rates are often higher with a store card, it’s important to pay on time – or ideally, to pay the entire balance when you receive the statement.

  2. Become an authorized user on a parent’s credit card.
    Another common way to begin building credit is to become an authorized user on a parent’s credit card. Ultimately, the credit card account isn’t yours, so your parents would be responsible for paying the balance. (Because of this, your credit score won’t benefit as much as if you are approved for a credit card in your own name.) Another thing to keep in mind is that some credit card providers don’t report authorized users’ activity to credit bureaus.¹ Additionally, even if you’re only an authorized user, any missed or late payments on the card can affect your credit history negatively.

Are secured cards useful to build credit?
A secured credit card is another way to begin building credit. To secure the card, you make an initial deposit. The amount of that deposit is your credit line. If you miss a payment, the bank uses your collateral – the deposit – to pay the balance. Don’t let that make you too comfortable though. Your goal is to build a positive credit history, so if you miss payments – even though you have a prepaid deposit to fall back on – you’re still going to get a ding on your credit history. Instead, it’s best to use a small amount of your available credit each month and to pay in full when you get the statement. This will help you look like a credit superstar due to your consistently timely payments and low credit utilization.

As you build your credit history, you’ll be able to apply for credit in larger amounts, and you may even start receiving pre-approved offers. But beware. Having credit available is useful for certain emergencies and for demonstrating responsible use of credit – but you don’t need to apply for every offer you receive.

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¹ “Does Being an Authorized User Impact Your Credit Score?” Discover, Jan 13, 2022 https://www.discover.com/credit-cards/resources/authorized-user-and-credit-scores

February 14, 2022

Tips for Saving Money on Homeowners Insurance

Tips for Saving Money on Homeowners Insurance

Trying to free up cash flow? Then look no further than your homeowners insurance.

That’s because there are several techniques you can use to help cut down your monthly premiums. Here are a few worth trying!

Go all out on security. One of the easiest ways to save money on homeowners insurance is to make your home more secure. Installing deadbolts, window locks, smoke detectors and fire alarms, motion detectors and video surveillance will not only help keep burglars out but may also reduce your premiums.

Just be sure to count the costs before you deck out your home. It may be more expensive to go all out on security than to pay your premiums as they are. Depending on how secure you already feel in your home, investing in extra measures may not be something you choose to do just yet.

Boost your credit score. Your credit score can have a big impact on your insurance premiums. The majority of insurers use it as a factor to determine what you will pay for homeowners insurance, so if your score is low, expect to pay more.

What can you do to improve your score? For starters, focus on paying all your bills on time. Next, reduce the balance on your credit cards. It’s a good idea to set up automatic monthly payments for your utility bills and other recurring expenses. It’s a simple, one-time action that can save your credit score from slip ups and oversights.

Eliminate attractive nuisances. If you have a swimming pool or trampoline on your property, expect to pay more for homeowners insurance. Insurers view them as attractive nuisances, and raise your premiums accordingly. That includes things like…

Swimming pools Trampolines Construction equipment Non-working cars Playground equipment Old appliances

It’ll be a weight off your shoulders—and your bank account.

Maximize discounts. You might be surprised by the wide range of discounts insurance companies offer homeowners. They include everything from not smoking to choosing paperless billing to membership in specific groups. It never hurts to ask your insurer what discounts are available.

Bundle your home insurance with auto insurance. Businesses love loyalty. And they’re not afraid to incentivize it. That’s why insurance companies will often reward you for bundling your home and auto insurance together. So if you already own a car, ask your insurer if you can purchase discounted home insurance. It may significantly lower your monthly rate.

Some methods are more obvious than others, but all of them can add up to big savings over time. Ask your financial professional for their insights, then reach out to your insurer. You may be surprised by how much you save!

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August 11, 2021

Saving Money With Credit Cards: The Ultimate Guide

Saving Money With Credit Cards: The Ultimate Guide

Credit cards are one of the most useful tools for saving money.

That may seem counter-intuitive. In fact, if you’re struggling with credit card debt, it might seem like an all out fantasy!

But if you have your credit cards under control, they can offer significant opportunities to save money.

Here’s your strategy guide for saving money with credit cards.

Eliminate your credit card debt. The simple truth is that credit card debt can derail your financial strategy. No matter how advantageous credit card rewards seem, they won’t offset the high interest rates that most cards feature.

So before you start leveraging the benefits a card can offer, take steps to eliminate your credit card debt completely.

The two most common strategies are the “debt snowball” and the “debt avalanche.”

Debt Snowball: Make only minimum payments on your other cards, and focus all of your financial firepower on your smallest balance. Once that’s gone, move on to the next smallest. Repeat until your debt is gone.

Debt Avalanche: Make only minimum payments on your other cards, and focus all of your financial firepower on the balance with the highest interest rate. Once that’s gone, move on to the next highest. Repeat until your debt is gone.

Another strategy is opening a new card with a 0% introductory APR. Then, use your new card to pay off your old card with no interest. This is called a balance transfer, and there are specialized cards with benefits tailored for this strategy. Check out this Nerdwallet article for a few options! (Note: Make sure you understand any fees that may be charged for a transfer.)

Build your credit score. It’s no joke—the higher your credit score, the greater the rewards you may earn. To help maximize your savings with a card, start building your credit score ASAP.

A simple step towards increasing your score is automating all of your loan payments. You can do this with your credit card, mortgages, and car loans. Once your credit crosses a certain threshold, look for cards with greater benefits. You might be surprised by the difference your score makes!

Choose benefits that align with your lifestyle. DO NOT get a travel card and then plan four international vacations to “maximize your benefits.”

Instead, choose a card that rewards you for your current habits, behaviors, and the way you live your life. It’s a chance to get something back for going about your daily routine!

Travel frequently for work or lifestyle? Consider a card that rewards you for flying or that waives foreign transaction fees.

Loyal to certain brands and stores? Look for cards that offer points for shopping with your favorites.

Above all, remember that credit cards ARE NOT FREE MONEY. The more disciplined you are with your credit card usage, the more you stand to benefit from the rewards.

Ask a financial professional about how you can leverage credit cards for your advantage. They can help you understand your financial position and develop a strategy to maximize your benefits.

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February 24, 2021

2 Strategies to Build Credit When You’re Young

2 Strategies to Build Credit When You’re Young

The sooner you establish your credit score, the better positioned you’ll be for financial success.

Why? Because your credit score touches every aspect of your financial life—a high score can help you obtain a lower interest rate on mortgages and car loans, insurance payments, and even your rent!¹ That can help free up more cash for building wealth.

So, where do you start?

Apply for a credit card… and then use it responsibly! Credit cards are excellent tools for building your credit history. If you attend a university, you might be able to score a student credit card. However, just remember that credit cards are not free money. The less you use your credit card, the higher your credit score. Choose a few recurring expenses, and limit your credit card usage to those. Then make sure you pay off the balance every month, on time.

Use automatic payments on all your debts. Missing payments on your debt obligations can torpedo your credit score. It’s absolutely critical to pay on time for your credit card bill, student loan payments, and anything else you owe.

Consider automating all of your debt payments. It’s a simple, one-time move that can steadily reduce your balances and help boost your credit score.

As you build your credit history, you’ll be able to apply for credit in larger amounts, and you may even start receiving pre-approved offers. But beware. Having credit available is useful for certain emergencies and for demonstrating responsible use of credit—but you don’t need to apply for every offer you receive!

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February 3, 2021

Strategies for Coping With Medical Bills

Strategies for Coping With Medical Bills

What’s your strategy for paying medical bills?

It’s a question anyone serious about protecting their finances must answer. Afterall, medical expenses are the number one cause of bankruptcy in the country.¹

But there are resources at your disposal. Read on for some strategies to help you lighten the financial burden of medical bills.

Review your bill for mistakes. Somewhere between 30% to 80% of medical bills contain errors.² Check every bill you receive for any mistakes and report them immediately. You don’t need to pay for medical services you didn’t use!

Negotiate a payment plan. The scary price tag on your medical bill isn’t always final. Hospitals are sometimes willing to negotiate a lower cost if they’re aware of your financial situation. Contact your healthcare provider and inform them if you’ll struggle to pay the sticker price. Then, ask for price alternatives or for a more lenient payment plan.

Avoid using credit cards for medical bills, if possible. Using credit cards to cover medical bills can be a critical blunder. Instead of paying a low interest–or maybe no interest–bill to a hospital, you may end up making high-interest payments to your credit card company.

Whenever possible, use cash to pay for medical expenses. That may mean cutting on vacations, not dining out, and holding off on purchasing new clothes until the bill is settled. (Hint: A great reason to keep an emergency fund is to pay unexpected medical bills.)

If none of these strategies make a dent in your medical expenses, consider reaching out to a professional for help. Hospitals and insurance companies sometimes have case workers who can point you towards programs, organizations, and agencies who may be able to help provide some financial relief.

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¹ “Top 5 Reasons Why People Go Bankrupt,” Mark P. Cussen, Investopedia, Feb 24, 2020, https://www.investopedia.com/financial-edge/0310/top-5-reasons-people-go-bankrupt.aspx

² “Over 20 Woeful Medical Billing Error Statistics,” Matt Moneypenny, Etactics, Oct 20, 2020, https://etactics.com/blog/medical-billing-error-statistics#:~:text=80%25%20of%20all%20medical%20bills%20contain%20errors.&text=Some%20experts%20across%20the%20web,between%2030%25%20and%2040%25.

January 18, 2021

3 Strategies to Increase Your Credit Score

3 Strategies to Increase Your Credit Score

Is your credit score costing you money?

A recent survey found that increasing a credit score from “Fair” to “Very Good” could save borrowers an average of $56,400 across five common loan types like credit cards, auto loans, and mortgages.¹ That’s roughly $316 in extra monthly cash flow!

If your credit score is anything but “Very Good,” keep reading. You’ll discover some simple strategies that may seriously help improve your credit score and increase your cash flow.

Pay your bills at the strategic time. <br> Credit utilization makes up a big portion of your credit score, sometimes up to 30%.¹ The closer your balance is to your credit limit, the higher your credit utilization. The lower your utilization, the less you’re using your available credit. Creditors view a lower utilization as an indicator that you’re responsible with managing your credit.

Here’s a simple way to lower your credit utilization–ask your creditors for when your balance is shared with credit reporting agencies. Then, automate your bill payments to just before that day. When credit reporting agencies review your balances, they’ll see lower numbers because you just paid them down. That can result in a lower credit utilization and a higher credit score!

Automate debt and bill payments. <br> Late payments for your credit card bill, phone bill, and utilities can negatively affect your credit score. If you have a habit of paying your bills late, consider automating as many of your payments as possible. It’s a convenient and simple way to make your finances more manageable and help increase your credit score in a single swoop!

Leave old credit accounts open. <br> So long as they don’t require a monthly fee, leave old and unused credit accounts open. Any open line of credit, even if it’s unused, increases the amount of available credit you have at your disposal. And not using that credit lowers your overall credit utilization, which can help increase your credit score.

Closing unused credit accounts does the opposite. It lowers your available credit and spikes your credit utilization, especially if you have large balances in other accounts. So if you have credit cards you don’t use anymore, leave those accounts open and hide the cards in a place where they won’t tempt you to start spending!

The best part about these strategies? You can act on them all today. Ask your creditors when your balance is shared with credit reporting agencies, then automate your deposits to go through right before that day.

When you’re done automating your payments, put your unused credit cards into a plastic bag and put them deep into your freezer. In just a few hours, you’ll have set yourself up to increase your credit score and save money!

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December 16, 2020

Save Money This Holiday Season

Save Money This Holiday Season

Have you ever looked at your wish list and thought you heard a muffled scream coming from your wallet?

Inevitably, someone you love will wish for a $1,000 t-shirt or a chocolate fountain. And because you love them, you might go with it. But when December 26th rolls around and the ripped up wrapping paper settles, your wallet might feel a little battered and bruised!

The holidays don’t have to derail your financial future. Here are some straightforward tips that will help keep you on track during your annual shopping spree.

Establish a holiday budget <br> Entering a department store without a cap on how much you’re willing to spend is like walking into a bakery when you’re on a diet. Could you resist picking up a dozen donuts “for the family” or a couple of fresh baked loaves of bread “to make sandwiches later”?

A gift list and realistic budget can cut through the feverish fog of free-for-all shopping and impulse buys. They help you focus as you navigate aisle upon aisle of half-off sales and shiny things you don’t really need but feel like you do.

A budget can also help curtail extravagant gift requests. Telling someone that you want to buy them a gift that’s under $50 can hedge against extravagant designer clothes or the latest technological gadget.

Use cash! <br> Part of the power of cash is that it works in tandem with your budget. Walking into a store with no cards and just $50 limits your spending and forces you to buy only what you intended.

Cash also reduces your reliance on credit. Unleashing your cards to cover Christmas shopping is an easy way to enter the New Year with extra debt. Plus, the interest payments can add up and make your holiday shopping even more expensive in the long run. Stick with cash and save yourself the headache!

Play Secret Santa <br> Secret Santa has long been a staple of huge families that don’t have the time or money to get gifts for two parents, nine siblings, the in-laws, and all the cousins, nieces, and nephews. Everyone still gets a gift or two, but it helps the whole family out on their holiday budgets. Here’s how it works!

Have everyone write their names on scraps of paper. Include some highly specific gift ideas with the names. Then, put all the paper into a hat and shake it up. Have the secret Santas choose names from the hat one at a time. You get to buy gifts for ONLY the person you select!

What’s great about Secret Santa is that the mystery of the game offsets the expectation of getting tons of presents. It’s a fun way to save some extra cash!

So let chance decide who’s been naughty and nice, make a budget and list and check them twice, remember that some cash will suffice, and do some holiday shopping that won’t make you think twice (about derailing your financial dreams)!

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November 30, 2020

4 Insights Into Paying Off Debt

4 Insights Into Paying Off Debt

On paper, paying off debt seems simple. But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy.

In fact, it can get downright discouraging if you don’t see any progress on your balances, especially if you feel like your finances are already stretched.

Fortunately, there are ways to take your debt escape plan to the next level. Here are a few insightful tips for anyone who feels like their wheels are spinning.

You must create a plan <br> Planning is one of the most important steps towards eliminating debt. Studies show that creating detailed plans increases our follow-through.¹ It also frees up our mental resources to focus on other pressing issues.²

Those are essential components of overcoming debt. A plan helps you stick to your guns when you’re tempted to make an impulse buy on your credit card or consider taking that last-minute weekend trip. And tackling problems that have nothing to do with debt can be a breath of fresh air for your mental health.

You have to stop borrowing <br> Seems obvious, right? But it might be easier said than done. Credit cards can seem like a convenient way to cover emergency expenses if you’re strapped for cash. Plus, spending money can feel therapeutic. Kicking the habit of borrowing to buy can be hard!

That’s why it’s so important to fortify your financial house with an emergency fund before you start eliminating debt. Save up enough money to cover 3 months of expenses. Then quit borrowing cold turkey. You should always have enough cash in reserve to cover car repairs and doctor visits without using your credit card.

Your lifestyle has to change <br> But, as mentioned before, debt can embed itself into lifestyles. You can’t get rid of debt without cutting back on spending, and you can’t cut back on spending without transforming your lifestyle.

When you’re making your escape plan, identify your highest spending categories. How important are they to your quality of life? Some of them might be essential. But you may realize that others exist just out of habit. Be willing to sacrifice some of your favorite activities, at least until you’re debt free.

You can still do the things you want <br> This does NOT mean that you have to be miserable. You can still enjoy a vacation, buy an awesome gadget, or treat your partner to a romantic dinner. You just have to prepare for those events differently.

Create a “fun fund” that you contribute money to every month. Budget a specific amount to put in it and dedicate it to a specific item. This allows you to have some fun every now and then without derailing your journey to financial freedom.

Debt doesn’t have to be overwhelming. These insights can help you stay the course as you eliminate debt from your financial house and start pursuing your dreams. Let me know if you’re interested in learning more about debt-destroying strategies!

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¹ “Making the Best Laid Plans Better: How Plan-Making Prompts Increase Follow-Through,” Todd Rogers, Katherine L. Milkman, Leslie K. John and Michael I. Norton, Behavioral Science and Policy, 2016, https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/todd_rogers/files/making_0.pdf

² “The Power of a Plan,” Timothy A Pychyl Ph.D., Psychology Today, Nov 17, 2011, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/dont-delay/201111/the-power-plan

July 6, 2020

Should You Only Use Cash?

Should You Only Use Cash?

Bills and coins are outdated.

Who actually forks over cash when they’re out and about anymore? Paper money and copper coins are a relic of the past that are useless in a world of credit cards and tap-to-pay…

Except when they’re not.

Using cards and digital payment systems actually comes with some pretty serious drawbacks. Here’s a case for considering going cash only, at least for a little while!

The card convenience (and curse) <br> Plastic cards can make spending (a little too) easy. See an awesome pair of shoes in the store? No problem! Just swipe at the counter and you’re good to go. Online shopping is even more frictionless. Everything from new clothes to lawn chairs is a few clicks away from delivery right to your front door.

And that’s the problem.

You might not notice the effect of swiping your card until it’s too late. Those shoes were a breeze to buy until you check your bank account and see you’re in the red, or you get your credit card bill. It’s easy to find yourself in a hopeless cycle of overspending when buying things just feels so easy.

The pain of spending cash <br> Handing over cash can be a different phenomenon. Paying with actual dollars and cents helps you connect your hard-earned money with what you’re buying. It makes you more likely to question if you really need those shoes or clothes or lawn chairs. Studies show that people who pay with cash spend less, buy healthier foods, and have better relationships with their purchases than those who use credit cards.(1) That’s why going with cash only might be a winning strategy if you find yourself constantly in credit card debt or just buying too much unnecessary stuff every month.

Security <br> To be fair, cash does have some safety concerns. It can be much more useful to a criminal than a credit card. You can’t call your bank to lock down that $20 bill someone picked out of your pocket on the subway! That being said, cards expose you to the threat of identity theft. A criminal could potentially have access to all of your money. There are potential dangers either way, and it really comes down to what you feel comfortable with.

In the end, going cash only is a personal decision. Maybe you rock at only buying what you need and you can dodge the dangers of overspending with your cards. But if you feel like your budget isn’t working like it should, or you have difficulty resisting busting out the plastic when you’re shopping, you may want to consider a cash solution. Try it for a few weeks and see if it makes a difference!

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July 1, 2020

Considering a home equity loan?

Considering a home equity loan?

Home prices may be leveling off in some areas but they’ve had a healthy recovery nationwide, leading to massive amounts of untapped equity.

According to a recent report, the average homeowner gained nearly $15,000 in equity in the past year and has nearly $115,000 available to draw.[i]

This can be good news if you need to increase your cash flow to pay for a special project or unusual expense.

Home equity risks
It might be obvious, but a home equity loan is secured by your home, based on the equity you’ve built. Your eligibility for a home equity loan involves several factors, but a primary consideration is going to be the difference between your home’s market value and the remaining balance on the mortgage. Keep in mind that missed payments due to a job loss, illness, or another financial setback may put your home at risk from two loans – the original mortgage and the home equity loan. Before you take out this type of loan, make sure you have a solid strategy in place for repayment.

Home equity loan costs
Funds acquired through a home equity loan can feel like found money, but keep in mind that a home equity loan takes an asset and converts it to debt – often for up to 30 years. As such, you’ll be paying certain fees to use the money.

Home equity loans often have closing costs of 2% to 5% of the loan amount.[ii] It might be worth it to shop around, however, to see if you can find a lender who won’t bury you in fees and loan charges. Interest rates may vary depending on your credit rating and other factors, but you can expect to pay about 6% or higher. If you were to borrow $100,000 of the $115,000 the average homeowner now has in equity, the interest costs over 30 years would be $115,000 – $15,000 more than you borrowed. If you can manage a 15-year term instead, this would drop the interest costs down to about $52,000.[iii] Carefully consider what you’ll use the funds to purchase. A new patio addition to your home or a pool with a deck may not add enough value to your home to offset the interest costs.

Tax benefits
Once upon a time, the interest for a home equity loan was tax deductible, much like the interest on a primary mortgage. Now, there are some rules attached to the tax benefit. If you use the loan funds to make improvements to the home you’re borrowing against, you can usually deduct the interest. In the past, the tax benefit didn’t consider how the funds were used.[iv]

Home equity loans can be a powerful financial tool. But as with many tools, it’s important to exercise caution. Before signing on the dotted line, be sure you understand the long-term cost of the loan. With interest rates climbing, a home equity loan isn’t as attractive a source of funding as it once was.

Depending on how the funds are used, a home equity loan can make sense. If you’re buried in high-interest debt, like credit cards, the math might work to your favor. However, if the money is spent on a shiny, red sports car and a trip to Vegas, it might be tough to make a financial argument for that – unless you win big.

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This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain products, plans, or strategies that may be available to you. Before taking out any loan or enacting a funding strategy, seek the advice of a financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

[i] https://www.cnbc.com/2018/07/09/homeowners-sitting-on-record-amount-of-cash-and-not-tapping-it.html\ [ii] https://www.lendingtree.com/home/home-equity/home-equity-loan-closing-costs/\ [iii] https://www.mortgageloan.com/calculator/loan-line-payment-calculator\ [iv] https://www.cnbc.com/2018/05/21/5-things-to-know-before-taking-out-a-home-equity-loan.html

June 24, 2020

Read this before you walk down the aisle

Read this before you walk down the aisle

Don’t let financial trouble ruin your future wedded bliss.

Most newlyweds have a lot to get used to. You may be living together for the first time, spending a lot of time with your new in-laws, and dealing with dual finances. Financial troubles can plague even the most compatible pairs, so read on for some tips on how to get your newlywed finances off to the best possible start.

Talk it out If you haven’t done this already, the time is ripe for a heart to heart talk about what your financial picture is going to look like. This is the time to lay it all out. Not only should you and your fiancé discuss your upcoming combined financial situation, but it can be beneficial to take a deep dive into your past too. Our financial histories and backgrounds can influence current spending and saving habits. Take some time to get to know one another’s history and perspective when it comes to how they think about money, debt, budgeting, etc.

Newlyweds need a budget Everyone needs a budget, but a budget can be particularly helpful for newlyweds. A reasonable, working household budget can go a long way in helping ease financial stress and overcoming challenges. Money differences can be a big cause of marital strife, but a solid, mutually-agreed-upon budget can help avoid potential arguments. A budget will help you manage student loans or new household expenses that must be dealt with. Come up with a budget together and make sure it’s something you both can stick with.

Create financial goals Financial goal setting can actually be fun. True, some goals may not seem all that exciting – like paying off credit cards or student loans. But formulating financial goals is important.

Financial goal setting should start with a conversation with your new fiancé. This is the time to think about your future as a married couple and work out a financial strategy to help make your financial dreams a reality. For example, if you want to buy a house, you’ll need to prepare for that. A good start is to minimize debt and start saving for a down payment.

Maybe you two want to start a business. In that case, your financial goals may include raising capital, establishing business credit, or qualifying for a small business loan.

Face your debt head on It’s not unusual for individuals to start married life facing new debt that came along with their partner – possibly student loans or personal credit card debt. You may also have combined debt if you’re planning on financing your wedding. Maybe you’re going to take your dream honeymoon and put it on a credit card.

Create a strategy to pay off your debt and stick to it. There are two common ways to tackle it – begin with the highest interest rate debt, or begin with the smallest balance. There are many good strategies – the key is to develop one and put it into action.

Invest for the future Part of your financial strategy should include preparing for retirement, even though it might seem light years away now. Make sure you work a retirement strategy into your other financial goals. Take advantage of employer-sponsored retirement accounts and earmark savings for retirement.

Purchase life insurance Life insurance is essential to help ensure your new spouse will be taken care of should you die prematurely. Even though many married couples today are dual earners, there is still a need for life insurance. Ask yourself if your new spouse could afford to pay their living expenses if something happened to you. Consider purchasing a life insurance policy to help cover things like funeral costs, medical expenses, or replacement income for your spouse.

Newlywed finances can be fun Newlywed life is fun and exciting, and finances can be too. Talk deeply and often about finances with your fiancé. Share your dreams and goals so you can create financial habits together that will help you realize them. Here’s to you and many years of wedded bliss!

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June 15, 2020

Should I pay off my car or my credit cards?

Should I pay off my car or my credit cards?

Credit card statements and auto loan statements are often among the bigger bills the mail carrier brings.

Wouldn’t it be great to just pay them off and then use those monthly payments for something else, like building your savings and giving yourself a bit of breathing room for a treat now and then?

Paying extra money on your credit card bills and your car loan at the same time may not be an option, so which is better to pay off first?

In most cases, paying down credit cards might be a better strategy. But the reasons for paying off your credit cards first are numerous. Let’s look at why that usually may make more sense.

  • Credit cards have high interest rates. When you look at the balances for your auto loan vs. your credit card, the larger amount may often be the auto loan. Big balances can be unnerving, so your inclination may be to pay that down first. However, auto loans usually have a relatively low interest rate, so if you have an extra $100 or $200 per month to put toward debt, credit cards make a better choice. The average credit card interest rate is about 15%, whereas the average auto loan rate is usually under 7%, if you have good credit.[i]

  • Credit cards charge compound interest. Most auto loans are simple-interest loans, which means you only pay interest on the principal. Credit cards, however, charge compound interest, which means any interest that accrues on your account can generate interest of its own. Yikes!

  • You’ll lower your credit utilization. Part of your credit score is based on your credit utilization, which specifically refers to how much of your revolving credit you use. As you pay down your balance, you’ll not only pay less in interest, you may also give your credit score a boost by reducing your credit utilization.

The numbers don’t lie
Let’s say you have a 5-year auto loan for $30,000 at 7% interest. You also have an extra $100 per month you’d like to use to pay down debt. By adding that 100 bucks to your car payments, over the course of the loan you can cut your loan length by 10 months and save $972.32.[ii] Impressive.

Let’s look at a credit card balance. Maybe the credit card interest rate is higher than the car loan, but hopefully the balance is lower. Let’s assume a balance of only $10,000 and an interest rate of 15%. With your minimum payment, you’d probably pay about $225 monthly. Putting the extra $100 per month toward the credit card balance and paying $325 shortens the payment length for the card balance by 26 months and saves $1,986 in interest expense.[iii] Wow!

The math tells the truth. In the above hypothetical scenarios, even though the balance on the credit card is one-third that of the total owed for the car, you would save more money by paying off the credit card balance first.

Financial strategy isn’t just about paying down debt though. As you go, be sure you’re saving as well. You’ll need an emergency fund and you’ll need to invest for your retirement. Let’s talk. I have some ideas that can help you build toward your goals for your future.

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June 1, 2020

What Are the Effects of Closing a Credit Card?

What Are the Effects of Closing a Credit Card?

Americans owe over $900 billion in credit card debt, and credit card interest rates are on the rise again – now over 15%.

If you’re on a mission to reduce or eliminate your credit card debt, you may decide to just close all your credit cards. However, some of the consequences may not be what you’d expect.

Lingering Effects: The Good and the Bad
Many of us have heard that credit card information stays on your credit report for 7 years. That’s true for negative information, including events as large as a foreclosure. Positive events, however, stay for 10 years. In either case, canceling your credit card now will reduce the credit you have available, but the history – good or bad – will remain on your credit report for years to come.

Times when cancelling a card may be your best bet:

  • A card charges an annual fee. If you’re being charged an annual fee for the privilege of having a credit card, it may be better to cancel the card, particularly if you don’t use the card often or have other options available.
  • Uncontrolled spending. If “retail therapy” is impeding your financial future by creating an ever-growing mountain of debt, it may be best to eliminate the temptation of buying with credit by cutting up those cards.

When You Might Want to Hang Onto a Credit Card:
You may not have known that one aspect your credit score is the age of your accounts. Canceling a much older account in favor of a newer account can leave a dent in your credit score. And canceling the card won’t erase any negative history, so it may be best to hang on to the older credit account as long as there are no costs to the card. Also, the effects of canceling an older account may be larger when you’re younger than if you have a long credit history.

Credit Utilization Affects Your Credit Score
Lenders and credit bureaus also look at credit utilization, which refers to how much of your available credit you’re using. Lower percentages help your credit score, but high utilization can work against you.

For example, if you have $20,000 in credit available and $10,000 in credit card balances, your credit utilization is 50 percent. If you close a credit card that has a credit limit of $5,000, your available credit drops to $15,000, but your credit utilization jumps to 67 percent (if the credit card balances remain unchanged). If you’re carrying high balances, going on a credit card cancelling rampage can have negative effects because your credit utilization can skyrocket.

To sum it all up, if unnecessary spending is out of control or there is a cost to having a particular credit card, it may be best to cancel the card. In other cases, however, it’s often better to just use credit cards occasionally, or if you have an emergency.

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April 13, 2020

What Are Foreign Transaction Fees?

What Are Foreign Transaction Fees?

Travelling abroad can be expensive.

Tours, hotels, gourmet food (unless you’re in England), and plane tickets can add up quickly. But a three percent charge for buying something in a foreign country? That can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It’s called a foreign transaction fee, and it’s an easy way for credit card companies to make an extra dime off your out-of-country adventures.

What’s a foreign transaction fee? <br> A foreign transaction fee is a charge that your credit card issuer tacks on when a transaction goes through a foreign bank or involves a currency that needs to be converted. Charges vary between providers, but normally the fee is around 3% of the transaction total.

It doesn’t seem like much. A burger in Germany might go from $3.50 to $3.60 if your provider charges a 3% foreign transaction fee. But it can start to add up over extended vacations or study abroad programs, especially if you’re on a college student’s budget!

Can you avoid foreign transaction fees? <br> Fortunately, it’s getting easier to dodge foreign transaction fees. Some companies have totally eliminated the fees from their cards. Others have cut back on the number of cards that carry the fees. But the trend definitely seems to be that foreign transaction fees are on the way out.

Overall, a 3% charge while you’re abroad isn’t the end of the world. But if you’re planning a budget backpacking trip or trying to make ends meet as an exchange student, it’s probably worth looking into a card that won’t charge you extra!

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March 4, 2020

A Brief History of Credit Cards

A Brief History of Credit Cards

We’re all familiar with credit cards.

You probably have a few in your wallet! But did you know that they’re actually fairly modern inventions with an interesting, and surprisingly controversial, backstory. This is a brief history of credit cards!

Credit before cards <br> The concept of credit is actually thousands of years old. It dates back to the time of the first recorded laws, if not further. But the practice of credit fell on hard times following the fall of the Roman Empire; the Church opposed lending someone money and then adding on interest when they pay it back. But the Renaissance, coupled with the discovery of a huge resource filled continent, saw a revolution in Western banking and investing. Businesses started collaborating to find out which borrowers were reliable and which ones couldn’t pay their debts.

The birth of charge cards <br> It wasn’t uncommon for businesses to loan money to customers. General Motors, for instance, started offering credit in 1919 to car buyers who couldn’t pay up front with cash (1). Merchants with more regular customers, like department stores, started handing out credit tokens that would allow purchases to be made on credit.

But things changed in 1949 when New York businessman Frank McNamara realized he didn’t have his wallet at a restaurant when it came time to pay the check. Luckily his wife was there to rescue him. He and his business partner, Ralph Schneider, then came up with the idea of a card that would allow users to dine around New York on credit. It wasn’t a full-blown credit card; it had to be paid off in full at the end of each month, making it a “charge” card. But it was a hit. By 1951, the Diners Club Card was being used by 10,000 people (2)!

“Giving sugar to diabetics” <br> Big banks were quick to realize that they could make a pretty penny if they started offering easily accessible credit to the masses. In 1958, Bank of America released its own credit cards. Debt from one month was carried over to the next month, meaning consumers could carry revolving credit card debt for as long as they pleased. Magnetic strips—invented in the early 60s—were added to the plastic cards and used to store transaction information at special payment terminals.

But banks had a problem; they had to make sure that the cards were actually accepted by stores. Otherwise, why bother using your brand new credit card? But stores would only accept the cards if enough people actually had them. A mass mailing campaign began, with banks sending out millions of cards to families across the nation. It worked, and soon credit cards became increasingly normalized.

Not everyone was pleased. There were huge issues with cards being stolen out of mailboxes and used to rack up debt. Furthermore, some were uncomfortable with popular access to massive amounts of credit. The President’s assistant at the time described it as “giving sugar to diabetics (3).” Regulations were introduced throughout the 70s to reduce some of the excesses of credit card distribution and protect consumers.

Conclusion <br> But despite the backlash, credit cards had arrived on the scene for good. Banks united to strengthen their network in 1970, forming the group that would eventually become Visa. Interbank Card Association (i.e., MasterCard) formed in 1966 and then introduced a vast computer network in 1973, connecting consumers with merchants in unprecedented ways.

Today, credit cards are everywhere. In 2017, 40.8 billion credit transactions were made, totalling 3.6 trillion dollars (4). The technology of consumer credit has continued to evolve too. The magnetic strips of the 60s and 70s have given way to chips, and now cards are slowly being replaced by phones and digital watches. What started as a way of paying for dinner if you forgot your wallet has become an international and digital phenomenon that’s changed the lives of millions of consumers.

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January 20, 2020

Tips for Getting Out of Debt

Tips for Getting Out of Debt

Americans owe a whopping amount of debt.

Total consumer debt, for example, tops $4 trillion (1), and the average household owes $6,741 on credit cards alone (2).

Debt can cause a serious drain on your financial life, not to mention increase your stress levels. You may be parting with a big slice of your income just to service the debt—money that could be put to better use to fund things like a home, your own business, or a healthy retirement account.

Fortunately, there are lots of ways to get out of debt. Here are 3 of them…

Create a budget <br> Before you can start digging yourself out of debt, you need to know how you stand with your income versus your outgo every month. Otherwise, you may be sliding deeper into debt as each week passes.

The solution? Create a budget.

First, start tracking your expenses—there are apps you can get on your phone, or even just a notebook and pencil will do. Divide your expenses into categories. This doesn’t have to be complicated. Food, utilities, rent, entertainment, misc. Add them together every week and then every month.

Then, review your spending and compare it with your income. Spending more than you make? That has to be reversed before you’ll ever be able to get out of debt. Make a plan to either reduce your expenses or find a way to raise your income.

If debt payments are driving your expenses above your income, call your lender to see if you can get a plan with lower monthly payments.

Seek out lower interest rates <br> If you’re paying a high interest rate on credit card debt, a good portion of your monthly payment may be going towards interest alone. That means you may not be reducing the principal—the amount you originally borrowed—as much as you could with a lower interest rate. The lower your interest rate, the more your monthly payments can lower your debt—and eventually help you get out of it.

Find out the annual percentage rate (APR) on your current credit card debt by looking at the monthly statements. Then shop around to find any lower interest rates that might be out there. The next step would be to transfer your credit card debt to that new account with the lower rate. The caveat, however, is if any fees you may be charged now or after an introductory period would nullify the savings in interest. Always make sure you understand the terms on a new card before you transfer a balance.

Another option is to apply to a lender for a personal loan to consolidate your high interest rate debt. Personal loans can have interest rates significantly below those on credit cards. Again, make sure you understand any fees, penalties, and terms before you sign up.

Increase your monthly debt payments <br> Now that you’ve got your spending under control, it’s time to see if you can raise your debt payments every month. There are two primary methods to do this.

First, review your expenses to see if you can cut back in some categories. Can you spend a little time each week clipping coupons to reduce your grocery bill? Can you make coffee at home rather than purchasing it at the coffee shop every day? These changes can add up! Review entertainment costs, too. Can you cut out one or more streaming or cable services? It might be a good idea to find introductory offers that can reduce your monthly payments. Check into introductory cell phone offers, too, but always read the fine print so you don’t have any surprise fees or costs down the road.

Second, make a plan to increase your income. Can you ask for a raise at work, make a case for a promotion, or find a higher paying job? If that’s not in the cards, consider working a side gig. A few extra hours a week may increase your monthly income significantly—and help get you out of debt a little faster.

Are you struggling with debt? Get in touch with me and we can work on a strategy for a debt-free future.

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¹ “Consumer debt hits $4 trillion,” Jessica Dickler, CNBC, Feb 21 2019, https://www.cnbc.com/2019/02/21/consumer-debt-hits-4-trillion.html

² “2020 American Household Credit Card Debt Study,” Erin El Issa, Nerdwallet, Jan. 12, 2021, https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/average-credit-card-debt-household/

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