Preparing to buy your first home

November 29, 2023

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Phil Baptiste

Phil Baptiste

Financial Professional



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November 29, 2023

Preparing to buy your first home

Preparing to buy your first home

Home buying can be both very exciting and very stressful.

Picking out your dream home is thrilling, but credit scores, applications, and mortgage underwriting requirements? Well, not so much. Don’t let yourself be deterred. Here are a few moves to make before you amp up your home buying search that will help increase the fun and decrease the stress.

Know what you can afford

One of the first steps to home buying is knowing how much you can afford. Some experts advise that a monthly mortgage payment should be no more than 30% of your monthly take-home pay. Some say no more than 25%. If you stretch past that you could become “mortgage poor”. Consider this carefully. You might not want to be in your dream house and struggling to pay the utility bills, grocery bills, etc., or find yourself in a financial jam if an emergency comes up.

Get your finances ready for home buying

If you’re scouring listings, hunting for your dream home, but you’re not sure what your credit score is – stop. There are few things more disappointing than finally finding your dream home and then not having the financial chops to purchase it. You’ll need to get your finances in order and then start shopping. Focus on these areas:

Credit score: Your credit score is something you should know regardless of whether you’re home shopping. Usually, to get the best mortgage rates, you’ll want a score in the good to excellent range. If you’re not quite there, don’t despair. If you make payments toward your other obligations on time and pay off any debt you’re carrying, your credit score should respond accordingly.

Down payment: A conventional mortgage usually requires a 20 percent down payment. That may seem like a lot of money to come up with, but in turn, you may get the best interest rates, which can save you a significant amount over the life of the mortgage. Also, anything less than 20 percent down and you may have to purchase Private Mortgage Insurance – it’s a type of insurance that protects the lender if you default. Try to avoid it if you can.

Get pre-qualified before you shop for a home

Once you have your credit score and down payment in order, it’s time to get pre-qualified for a mortgage. A prequalification presents you as a serious buyer when you make offers on houses. Mortgage pre-approval doesn’t cost you anything, and it doesn’t make you obligated to any one house or mortgage. It’s just a piece of paper that says a bank trusts you to pay back the loan.

If you go shopping without a pre-approval, expect to get overlooked if there are other bidders. A seller will likely go with the buyer who has been pre-approved for a mortgage.

Prepare your paperwork

Getting approved for a mortgage is going to require you to do a little legwork. The bank will want to see documentation to substantiate your income and lifestyle expenses. Be prepared to cough up income tax documents such as W-2’s, paystubs, and bank statements. The sooner you get the paperwork together, the easier it will be to complete the mortgage application.

Shop for the best mortgage

Mortgage rates differ slightly depending on the lender, so shop for the lowest possible rate you can get. You may wish to use a mortgage broker to help. Also, get familiar with mortgage terms. The most common household mortgages are a 30-year term with a fixed rate, but there are 15-year terms, and mortgages with variable interest rates too.

Do your pre-home-buying homework

With a little legwork early on, home buying can be fun and exciting. Get your finances in order and educate yourself about mortgage options and you’ll be decorating your dream home in no time.

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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.

March 15, 2023

Worry Once. Suffer Twice.

Worry Once. Suffer Twice.

If you Google “how to be financially independent,” over 4 million search results come back.

And for a good reason: People are really worried about their finances. Last year, 40% of Americans feel that they’ve lost financial ground since the pandemic.

Do any of these top 5 concerns feel true for you?

1. Health Care Expenses/Bills – 35%
2. Lack of Emergency Savings – 35%
3. Lack of Retirement Savings – 28%
4. Credit Card Debt – 27%
5. Mortgage/Rent Payments – 19%

If worrying means that you suffer twice, millions of people are suffering twice over their finances.

What kind of double-suffering are you experiencing – and are you ready for a way out?

The best way to learn and achieve financial independence is with someone who already knows – an ally to walk the road with you. Someone who has been where you are. Someone with the tools to help you. Contact me today, and together we can get you moving towards financial independence – and some peace of mind.

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March 8, 2023

The Advantages of Paying with Cash

The Advantages of Paying with Cash

We’re using debit cards to pay for expenses more often now, a trend that seems unlikely to reverse soon.

Debit cards are convenient. Just swipe and go. Even more so for their mobile phone equivalents: Apple Pay, Android Pay, and Samsung Pay. We like fast, we like easy, and we like a good sale. But are we actually spending more by not using cash like we did in the good old days?

Studies say yes. We spend more when using plastic – and that’s true of both credit card spending and debit card spending. Money is more easily spent with cards because you don’t “feel” it immediately. An extra $2 here, another $10 there… It adds up.

The phenomenon of reduced spending when paying with cash is a psychological “pain of payment.” Opening up your wallet at the register for a $20.00 purchase but only seeing a $10 bill in there – ouch! Maybe you’ll put back a couple of those $5 DVDs you just had to have 5 minutes ago.

When using plastic, the reality of the expense doesn’t sink in until the statement arrives. And even then it may not carry the same weight. After all, you only need to make the minimum payment, right? With cash, we’re more cautious – and that’s not a bad thing.

Try an experiment for a week: pay only with cash. When you pay with cash, the expense feels real – even when it might be relatively small. Hopefully, you’ll get a sense that you’re parting with something of value in exchange for something else. You might start to ask yourself things like “Do I need this new comforter set that’s on sale – a really good sale – or, do I just want this new comforter set because it’s really cute (and it’s on sale)?” You might find yourself paying more attention to how much things cost when making purchases, and weighing that against your budget.

If you find that you have money left over at the end of the week (and you probably will because who likes to see nothing when they open their wallet), put the cash aside in an envelope and give it a label. You can call it anything you want, like “Movie Night,” for example.

As the weeks go on, you’re likely to amass a respectable amount of cash in your “rewards” fund. You might even be dreaming about what to do with that money now. You can buy something special. You can save it. The choice is yours. Well done on saving your hard-earned cash.

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March 6, 2023

You'll Still Need This After Retirement

You'll Still Need This After Retirement

Ask anyone who’s had a flat tire, a leaky roof, or an unexpected medical bill – having enough money tucked away in an emergency fund can prevent a lot of headaches.

It may seem obvious to create a cushion for unexpected expenses while you’re saving up for retirement, especially if you have kids that need to get to their soccer games on time, a new-to-you home that’s really a fixer-upper, or an injury that catches you off guard. But an emergency fund is still important to keep after you retire!

Does your current retirement plan include an emergency fund for unexpected expenses like car trouble, home or appliance repair, or illness? Almost 50% of Americans surveyed said they have less money saved this year than last year for emergencies. That means 50% of Americans may need to turn to other methods of coverage like taking loans from family or friends or accruing credit card debt.

After you retire and no longer have a steady stream of income, covering unexpected expenses in full (without interest or potentially burdening loved ones) can become more difficult. And when you’re older, it might be more challenging to deal with some of the minor problems yourself if you’re trying to save some money! You’re probably going to need to keep the phone number for a good handyman, handy.

Don’t let an unexpected expense after retirement cut into your savings. A solid financial strategy has the potential to make a huge difference for you – both now and during your retirement.

Contact me today, and together we can put together a strategy that’s tailored to you and your needs.

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March 1, 2023

Money Woes Hurt More than Your Bank Account

Money Woes Hurt More than Your Bank Account

How do you handle job stress?

Sticking to a solid workflow? Meditation? A stress ball in each hand?

Whichever way you choose to lessen the stress (that 80% of American workers experience), there’s another stress-relieving tactic that could make a huge difference:

Relieving financial stress.

Studies have found that money woes can cost workers over 3 weeks in productivity a year! And this time can be lost even when you’re still showing up for work.

This phenomenon is called ‘presenteeism’: you’re physically present at a job, but you’re working while ill or mentally disengaged from tasks. Presenteeism can be caused by stress, worry, or other issues – which, as you can imagine, may deal a significant blow to work productivity.

So what’s the good news?

If you’re constantly worried and stressed about financing unexpected life events, saving for retirement, or funding a college education for yourself or a loved one, there’s a life insurance policy that can help you – wherever you are on your financial journey.

A life insurance policy that’s tailored for you can provide coverage for those unknowns that keep you stressed and unproductive. Most people don’t plan to fail. They simply fail to plan. Think of a well-thought out insurance strategy as a stress ball for your bank account!

Contact me today, and together we’ll work on an insurance strategy that fits you and your dreams – and can help you get back to work with significantly less financial stress.

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February 27, 2023

The Shelf Life of Financial Records

The Shelf Life of Financial Records

When you finally make the commitment to organize that pile of financial documents, where are you supposed to start?

Maybe you’ve tried sorting your documents into this infamous trio: the Coffee Stains Assortment, the Crumpled-Up Masses, and the Definitely Missing a Page or Two Crew.

How has this system been working for you? Is that same stack of disorganized paper just getting shuffled from one corner of your desk to the top of your filing cabinet and back again? Why not give the following method a try instead? Based on the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA)’s “Save or Shred” ideas, here’s a list of the shelf life of some key financial records to help you begin whittling that stack down to just what you need to keep. (And remember, when disposing of any financial records, shred them – don’t just toss them into the trash.)

1. Keep These Until They Die: Mortgages, Student Loans, Car Loans, Etc.

These records are the ones to hang on to until you’ve completely paid them off. However, keeping these records indefinitely (to be on the safe side) is a good idea. If any questions or disputes relating to the loan or payment of the loan come up, you’re covered. Label the records clearly, then feel free to put them at the back of your file cabinet. They can be out of sight, but make sure they’re still in your possession if that info needs to come to mind.

2. Seven Years in the Cabinet: Tax-Related Records.

These records include your tax returns and receipts/proof of anything you might claim as a deduction. You’ll need to keep your tax documents – including proof of deductions – for 7 years. Period. Why? In the US, if the IRS thinks you may have underreported your gross income by 25%, they have 6 whole years to challenge your return. Not to mention, they have 3 years to audit you if they think there might be any good faith errors on past returns. (Note: Check with your state tax office to learn how long you should keep your state tax records.) Also important to keep in mind: Some of the items included in your tax returns may also pull from other categories in this list, so be sure to examine your records carefully and hang on to anything you think you might need.

3. The Sixers: Property Records.

This one goes out to you homeowners. While you’re living in your home, keep any and all documents from the purchase of the home to remodeling or additions you make. After you sell the home, keep those documents for at least 6 more years.

4. The Annually Tossed: Brokerage Statements, Paycheck Stubs, Bank Records.

“Annually tossed” is used a bit lightly here, so please proceed with caution. What can be disposed of after an annual review are brokerage statements, paycheck stubs (if not enrolled in direct deposit), and bank records. Hoarding these types of documents may lead to a “keep it all” or “trash it all” attitude. Neither is beneficial. What should be kept is anything of long-term importance (see #2).

5. The Easy One: Rental Documents.

If you rent a property, keep all financial documents and rental agreements until you’ve moved out and gotten your security deposit back from the landlord. Use your deposit to buy a shredder and have at it – it’s easy and fun!

6. The Check-‘Em Againsts: Credit Card Receipts/Statements and Bills.

Check your credit card statement against your physical receipts and bank records from that month. Ideally, this should be done online daily, or at least weekly, to catch anything suspicious as quickly as possible. If everything checks out and there are no red flags, shred away! (Note: Planning to claim anything on your statement as a tax deduction? See #2.) As for bills, you’re in the clear to shred them as soon as your payment clears – with one caveat: Bills for any big-ticket items that you might need to make an insurance claim on later (think expensive sound system, diamond bracelet, all-leather sofa with built-in recliners) should be held on to indefinitely (or at least as long as you own the item).

So even if your kids released their inner Michelangelo on the shoebox of financial papers under your bed, some of them need to be kept – for more than just sentimental value. And it’s vital to keep the above information in mind when you’re considering what to keep and for how long.

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February 20, 2023

Making Money Goals That Get You There

Making Money Goals That Get You There

Setting financial goals is like hanging a map on your wall to inspire and motivate you to accomplish your travel bucket list.

Your map might have your future adventures outlined with tacks and twine. It may be patched with pictures snipped from travel magazines. You would know every twist and turn by heart. But to get where you want to go, you still have to make a few real-life moves toward your destination.

Here are 5 tips for making money goals that may help you get closer to your financial goals:

1. Figure out what’s motivating your financial decisions.

Deciding on your “why” is a great way to start moving in the right direction. Goals like saving for an early retirement, paying off your house or car, or even taking a second honeymoon in Hawaii may leap to mind. Take some time to evaluate your priorities and how they relate to each other. This may help you focus on your financial destination.

2. Control Your Money.

This doesn’t mean you need to get an MBA in finance. Controlling your money may be as simple as dividing your money into designated accounts, and organizing the documents and details related to your money. Account statements, insurance policies, tax returns, wills – important papers like these need to be as well-managed as your incoming paycheck. A large part of working towards your financial destination is knowing where to find a document when you need it.

3. Track Your Money.

After your money comes in, where does it go out? Track your spending habits for a month and the answer may surprise you. There are a plethora of apps to link to your bank account to see where things are actually going. Some questions to ask yourself: Are you a stress buyer, usually good with your money until it’s the only thing within your control? Or do you spend, spend, spend as soon as your paycheck hits, then transform into the most frugal individual on the planet… until the next direct deposit? Monitor your spending for a few weeks, and you may find a pattern that will be good to keep in mind (or avoid) as you trek toward your financial destination.

4. Keep an Eye on Your Credit.

Building a strong credit report may assist in reaching some of your future financial goals. You can help build your good credit rating by making loan payments on time and reducing debt. If you neglect either of those, you could be denied for mortgages or loans, endure higher interest rates, and potentially difficulty getting approved for things like cell phone contracts or rental agreements which all hold you back from your financial destination. There are multiple programs that can let you know where you stand and help to keep track of your credit score.

5. Know Your Number.

This is the ultimate financial destination – the amount of money you are trying to save. Retiring at age 65 is a great goal. But without an actual number to work towards, you might hit 65 and find you need to stay in the workforce to cover bills, mortgage payments, or provide help supporting your family. Paying off your car or your student loans has to happen, but if you’d like to do it on time – or maybe even pay them off sooner – you need to know a specific amount to set aside each month. And that second honeymoon to Hawaii? Even this one needs a number attached to it!

What plans do you already have for your journey to your financial destination? Do you know how much you can set aside for retirement and still have something left over for that Hawaii trip? And do you have any ideas about how to raise that credit score? Looking at where you are and figuring out what you need to do to get where you want to go can be easier with help. Plus, what’s a road trip without a buddy? Call me anytime!

… All right, all right. You can pick the travel tunes first.

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February 6, 2023

6 Financial Commitments EVERY Parent Should Educate Their Kids About

6 Financial Commitments EVERY Parent Should Educate Their Kids About

Your first lesson isn’t actually one of the six.

It can be found in the title of this article. The best time to start teaching your children about financial decisions is when they’re children! Adults don’t typically take advice well from other adults (especially when they’re your parents and you’re trying to prove to them how smart and independent you are).

Heed this advice: Involve your kids in your family’s financial decisions and challenge them with game-like scenarios from as early as their grade school years.

Starting your kids’ education young can help give them a respect for money, remove financial mysteries, and establish deep-rooted beliefs about saving money, being cautious regarding risk, and avoiding debt.

Here are 6 critical financially-related lessons EVERY parent should foster in the minds of their kids:

1. Co-signing a loan

The Mistake: ‘I’m in a good financial position now. I want to be helpful. They said they’ll get me off the loan in 6 months or so.’

The Realities: If the person you’re co-signing for defaults on their payments, you’re required to make their payments, which can turn a good financial situation bad, fast. Also, lenders are not incentivized to remove co-signers – they’re motivated to lower risk (hence having a co-signer in the first place). This can make it hard to get your name off a loan, regardless of promises or good intentions. Keep in mind that if a family member or friend has a rough credit history – or no credit history – that requires them to have a co-signer, what might that tell you about the wisdom of being their co-signer? And finally, a co-signing situation that goes bad may ruin your credit reputation, and more tragically, may ruin your relationship.

The Lesson: ‘Never, ever, EVER, co-sign a loan.’

2. Taking on a mortgage payment that pushes the budget

The Mistake: ‘It’s our dream house. If we really budget tight and cut back here and there, we can afford it. The bank said we’re pre-approved…We’ll be sooo happy!’

The Realities: A house is one of the biggest purchases couples will ever make. Though emotion and excitement are impossible to remove from the decision, they should not be the driving forces. Just because you can afford the mortgage at the moment, doesn’t mean you’ll be able to in 5 or 10 years. Situations can change. What would happen if either partner lost their job for any length of time? Would you have to tap into savings? Also, many buyers dramatically underestimate the ongoing expenses tied to maintenance and additional services needed when owning a home. It’s a general rule of thumb that home owners will have to spend about 1% of the total cost of the home every year in upkeep. That means a $250,000 home would require an annual maintenance investment of $2,500 in the property. Will you resent the budgetary restrictions of the monthly mortgage payments once the novelty of your new house wears off?

The Lesson: ‘Never take on a mortgage payment that’s more than 25% of your income. Some say 30%, but 25% or less may be a safer financial position.’

3. Financing for a new car loan

The Mistake: ‘Used cars are unreliable. A new car will work great for a long time. I need a car to get to work and the bank was willing to work with me to lower the payments. After test driving it, I just have to have it.’

The Realities: First of all, no one ‘has to have’ a new car they need to finance. You’ve probably heard the expression, ‘a new car starts losing its value the moment you drive it off the lot.’ Well, it’s true. According to CARFAX, a car loses 10% of its value the moment you drive away from the dealership and another 10% by the end of the first year. That’s 20% of value lost in 12 months. After 5 years, that new car will have lost 60% of its value. Poof! The value that remains constant is your monthly payment, which can feel like a ball and chain once that new car smell fades.

The Lesson: ‘Buy a used car you can easily afford and get excited about. Then one day when you have saved enough money, you might be able to buy your dream car with cash.’

4. Financial retail purchases

The Mistake: ‘Our refrigerator is old and gross – we need a new one with a touch screen – the guy at the store said it will save us hundreds every year. It’s zero down – ZERO DOWN!’

The Realities: Many of these ‘buy on credit, zero down’ offers from appliance stores and other retail outlets count on naive shoppers fueled by the need for instant gratification. ‘Zero down, no payments until after the first year’ sounds good, but accrued or waived interest may often bite back in the end. Credit agreements can include stipulations that if a single payment is missed, the card holder can be required to pay interest dating back to the original purchase date! Shoppers who fall for these deals don’t always read the fine print before signing. Retail store credit cards may be enticing to shoppers who are offered an immediate 10% off their first purchase when they sign up. They might think, ‘I’ll use it to establish credit.’ But that store card can have a high interest rate. Best to think of these cards as putting a tiny little ticking time bomb in your wallet or purse.

The Lesson: ‘Don’t buy on credit what you think you can afford. If you want a ‘smart fridge,’ consider saving up and paying for it in cash. Make your mortgage and car payments on time, every time, if you want to help build your credit.’

5. Going into business with a friend

The Mistake: ‘Why work for a paycheck with people I don’t know? Why not start a business with a friend so I can have fun every day with people I like building something meaningful?’

The Realities: “This trap actually can sound really good at first glance. The truth is, starting a business with a friend can work. Many great companies have been started by two or more chums with a shared vision and an effective combination of skills. If either of the partners isn’t prepared to handle the challenges of entrepreneurship, the outcome might be disastrous, both from a personal and professional standpoint. It can help if inexperienced entrepreneurs are prepared to:

  • Lose whatever money is contributed as start-up capital
  • Agree at the outset how conflicts will be resolved
  • Avoid talking about business while in the company of family and friends
  • Clearly define roles and responsibilities
  • Develop a well-thought out operating agreement

The Lesson: ‘Understand that the money, pressures, successes, and failures of business have ruined many great friendships. Consider going into business individually and working together as partners, rather than co-owners.’

6. Signing up for a credit card

The Mistake: ‘I need to build credit and this particular card offers great points and a low annual fee! It will only be used in case of emergency.’

The Reality: There are other ways to establish credit, like paying your rent and car loan payments on time. The average American household carries a credit card balance averaging over $17,000. Credit cards can lead to debt that may take years (or decades) to pay off, especially for young people who are inexperienced with budgeting and managing money. The point programs of credit cards are enticing – kind of like when your grocer congratulates you for saving five bucks for using your VIP shopper card. So how exactly did you save money by spending money?

The Lesson: ‘Learn to discipline yourself to save for things you want to buy and then pay for them with cash. Focus on paying off debt – like student loans and car loans – not going further into the hole. And when you have to get a credit card, make sure to pay it off every month, and look for cards with rewards points. They are, in essence, paying you! But be sure to keep Lesson 5 in mind!’

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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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January 23, 2023

Emergency Fund Basics

Emergency Fund Basics

Unexpected expenses are a part of life.

They can crop up at any time and often occur when you least expect them. An emergency expense is usually not a welcome one – it can include anything from car repairs to veterinary care to that field trip fee your 12 year old informed you about the day of. So, what’s the best way to deal with those financial curve balls that life inevitably throws at you? Enter one of the most important personal financial tools you can have – an emergency fund.

What is an emergency fund?

An emergency fund is essential, but it’s also simple. It’s merely a stash of cash reserved solely for a financial emergency. It’s best to keep it in a place where you can access it easily, such as a savings account or a money market fund. (It also might not hurt to keep some actual cash on hand in a safe place in your house.) When disaster strikes – e.g., your water heater dies right before your in-laws arrive for a long weekend – you can pull funds from your emergency stash to make the repairs and then feel free to enjoy a pleasant time with your family.

Some experts recommend building an emergency fund equal to about 6-12 months of your monthly expenses. Don’t let that scare you. This may seem like an enormous amount if you’ve never committed to establishing an emergency fund before. But having any amount of money in an emergency fund is a valuable financial resource which may make the difference between getting past an unexpected bump in the road, and having long term financial hindrances hanging over you, such as credit card debt.

Start where you are

It’s okay to start small when building your emergency fund. Set manageable savings goals. Aim to save $100 by the end of the month, for example. Or shoot for $1,000 if that’s doable for you. Once you get that first big chunk put away, you might be amazed at how good it feels and how much momentum you have to keep going.

Take advantage of automatic savings tools

When starting your emergency fund, it’s a good idea to set up a regular savings strategy. Take a cold, hard look at your budget. Be as objective as possible. This is a new day! Now isn’t the time to beat yourself up over bad money habits you might have had in the past, or how you rationalized about purchases you thought you needed. After going through your budget, decide how much you can realistically put away each month and take that money directly off the top of your income. This is called “paying yourself first”, and it’s a solid habit to form that can serve you the rest of your life.

Once you know the amount you can save each month, see if you can set up an automatic direct deposit for it. (Oftentimes your paycheck can be set to go into two different accounts.) This way the money can be directly deposited into a savings account each time you get paid, and you might not even miss it. But you’ll probably be glad it’s there when you need it!

Don’t touch your emergency fund for anything other than emergencies

This is rule #1. The commitment to use your emergency fund for emergencies only is key to making this powerful financial tool work. If you’re dipping into this fund every time you come across a great seasonal sale or a popular new mail-order subscription box, the funds for emergencies might be gone when a true emergency comes up.

So keep in mind: A girls’ three day weekend, buying new designer boots – no matter how big the mark-down is – and enjoying the occasional spa day are probably NOT really emergencies (although these things may be important). Set up a separate “treat yourself fund” for them. Reserve your emergency fund for those persnickety car breakdowns, unexpected medical bills, or urgent home repairs.

The underpinning of financial security

An emergency fund is about staying prepared financially and having the resources to handle life if (and when) things go sideways. If you don’t have an emergency fund, begin building one today. Start small, save consistently, and you’ll be better prepared to catch those life-sized curve balls.

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January 11, 2023

Credit unions: What you should know

Credit unions: What you should know

If you’ve always used the services of a traditional bank, you might not know the ins and outs of credit unions and if using one might be better for your financial situation.

Credit unions are generally known for their customer-focused operations and friendliness. But the main difference between a bank and a credit union is that a credit union is a nonprofit organization that you have to be a member of to participate in its services. Credit unions may offer higher interest rates and lower fees than banks, but banks may provide more services and a greater range of products.¹

Read on for some basics about what you should know before you join one.

Protection and insurance

Just like banks, your accounts at a credit union should be insured. The National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund (NCUSIF) functions to protect consumer deposits if the credit union becomes insolvent. The fund protects up to $250,000 per customer in deposits.² Be sure the credit union you select is backed by the NCUSIF.

What credit union is best for you?

Today there are many credit unions available. Many now offer 100 percent online banking so you may never need to visit a branch at all.

The most important feature in selecting a credit union is to make sure they meet your personal banking needs and criteria. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Does the credit union offer the products and services you want? Can you live without the ones they don’t?
  • Do they have competitive interest rates when compared to banks?
  • Are the digital and online banking features useful?
  • What are the fee schedules?
  • What are the credit union membership requirements? Do you qualify for membership?

Take your time and do some research. Credit unions vary in the services provided as well as the fees for such services.

What to expect when opening a credit union account

Each credit union may have slightly different requirements when opening an account, but in general, you will most likely need a few things:

Expect to complete an application and sign documents. When opening a credit union account, you will likely have to fill out some forms and sign other paperwork. If you don’t understand something you are asked to sign, make sure you get clarification.

Be prepared to show identification. You will likely be asked to show at least two forms of identification when opening an account. Your credit union will also probably ask for your social security number, date of birth, and physical address. Be prepared to show proof of your personal information.

Make the required opening deposit. On the day you open your credit union account, you’ll likely be asked to make an opening deposit. Each credit union may have a different minimum deposit required to open the account. It could be up to $100 (or more), but call the credit union to make sure.

Unique benefits

Credit union accounts offer some unique advantages for members. You may enjoy more comfortable access to personal loans or even auto financing and mortgages. Credit unions may offer other perks such as fee waivers, as well as discounts on other products and services that come from being a member.

If participating in a customer-owned bank sounds interesting to you, a credit union may be a good option. There are more credit unions available today than ever. Do your research. You may find an option that compares to your current bank, but offers some greater benefits that will make it worth the switch.

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This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain products, plans, or strategies for saving and/or investing that may be available to you. Any examples used in this article are hypothetical. Before investing or enacting a savings or retirement strategy, seek the advice of a licensed financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

¹ “What is the difference between a credit union and a bank?” Christy Rakoczy Bieber, Credit Karma, Updated Aug 31, 2021, https://www.creditkarma.com/advice/i/difference-between-credit-union-and-bank/

² “Share Insurance Fund Overview,” National Credit Union Adminstration, Updated Aug 10, 2021 https://www.ncua.gov/support-services/share-insurance-fund

January 4, 2023

Tackling long term financial goals

Tackling long term financial goals

Many of us have probably had some trouble meeting a long-term goal from time to time.

Health, career, and personal enrichment goals are often abandoned or relegated to some other time after the initial excitement wears away. So how can you keep yourself committed to important long term goals – especially financial ones? Let’s look at a few strategies to help you stay committed and hang in there for the long haul.

Start small when building the big financial picture

Most financial goals require sustained commitment over time. Whether you’re working on paying off credit card debt, knocking out your student loans, or saving for retirement, financial heavyweight goals can make even the most determined among us feel like Sisyphus – doomed for eternity to push a rock up a mountain only to have it roll back down.

The good news is that there is a strategy to put down the rock and reach those big financial goals. To achieve a big financial goal, it must be broken down into small pieces. For example, let’s say you want to get your student loan debt paid off once and for all, but when you look at the balance you think, “This is never going to happen. Where do I even start?” Cue despair.

But let’s say you took a different approach and focused on what you can do – something small. You’ve scoured your budget and decided you can cut back on some incidentals. This gives you an extra $75 a month to add to your regular student loan payment. So now each month you can make a principal-only payment of $75. This feels great. You’re starting to get somewhere. You took the huge financial objective – paying off your student loan – and broke it down into a manageable, sustainable goal – making an extra payment every month. That’s what it takes.

Use the power of automation

It seems there has been a lot of talk lately in pop psychology circles about the force of habit. The theory is if you create a practice of something, you are more likely to do it consistently.

The power of habit can work wonders for financial health, and with most financial goals, we can use automation tools to help build our habits. For example, let’s say you want to save for retirement – a great financial goal – but it may seem abstract, far away, and overwhelming.

Instead of quitting before you even begin, or succumbing to confusion about how to start, harness the power of automation. Start with your 401(k) plan – an automated savings tool by nature. Money comes out of your paycheck directly into the account. But did you know you can set your plan to increase every year by a certain percentage? So if this year you’re putting in three percent, next year you might try five percent, and so on. In this way, you’re steadily increasing your retirement savings every year – automatically without even having to think about it.

Find support when working on financial goals

Long term goals are more comfortable to meet with the proper support – it’s also a lot more fun. Help yourself get to your goals by making sure you have friends and allies to help you along the way. Don’t be afraid to talk about your financial goals and challenges.

Finding support for financial goals has never been easier – there are social media groups as well as many other blogs and websites devoted to personal financial health. Join in and begin sharing. Another benefit of having a support network is that it seems like when we announce our goals to the world (or even just our corner of it), we’re more likely to stick to them.

Reaching large financial goals

Big, dreamy financial goals are great – we should have those – but to help make them attainable, we must recast them into smaller manageable actions. Focus on small goals, find support, and harness the power of habit and automation.

Remember, it’s a marathon – you finish the race by running one mile at a time.

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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.

December 26, 2022

When should you see a financial professional?

When should you see a financial professional?

Just about anyone may benefit from seeing a financial professional, but how do you know when it’s time to get some professional guidance?

Many people work through much of their financial life without needing to talk to a financial professional, but then something may change. Maybe you are approaching retirement and want to make sure you have your bases covered. Perhaps you just received an inheritance and aren’t quite sure what to do with it, or maybe you received a big promotion with a substantial raise and want a little help with your existing financial strategy.

Whatever the case may be, here are a few signposts that indicate it may be time to see a financial professional.

You are unsure about your financial future

If when thinking about your financial future, and you keep coming up with a blank slate, a financial professional may help you formulate a solid savings strategy. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by differing financial responsibilities, a conversation with a financial professional may help you sort it all out and develop a roadmap.

If you’re juggling a lot of financial balls, such as student loan debt, retirement savings, credit card debt, building an emergency fund, trying to buy a house, etc., you may benefit from some professional financial input.

You have inherited a large sum of money

Coming in to an inheritance is a key signal to seek out a financial professional. A financial professional may be able to help you determine the options you have to manage the money that you may not be aware of. The important thing with an inheritance is to take your time when making decisions and consider any long term implications for your family.

You want a professional opinion

Say you like managing your own money, and you’ve been doing a pretty good job of it. You read the financial news and keep up with the latest from Wall Street. You may feel you’re doing just fine without the help of a financial professional, and that’s great. But, getting a second opinion on your finances from a qualified financial professional may go a long way.

Sometimes with our finances we may have a blind spot – a risk we may not see, or an opportunity to do something better that we haven’t noticed. A financial professional may help you find those opportunities and help eliminate those risks. Even if your finance game is on a roll, a little professional guidance may help make it even better.

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December 21, 2022

How to Know When You Need Life Insurance

How to Know When You Need Life Insurance

You might expect someone in the insurance business to tell you that anyone and everyone needs life insurance.

But certain life events underscore the reasons to secure a policy or to review the coverage you already have in place, to help ensure that it’s structured properly for your needs going forward.

Following are some of them…

You got married.

Congrats! If you have a life insurance policy through your employer, it probably won’t provide enough coverage to replace your income for more than a year or so if you pass unexpectedly. (You might want to find out the specifics for your policy.) It’s time to get a quote and learn your coverage options now that you have a spouse.

You started a family.

Having children is a responsibility that lasts for decades – and costs a lot. The average cost of raising a child until age 18 is estimated at $310,605.¹ That figure doesn’t include college tuition, fees, room and board, etc. It’s time to consider a coverage strategy.

You bought a house.

We don’t always live in the same house for the length of a mortgage, but a mortgage is a long-term commitment and one that needs to be paid to help ensure your family has a roof over their heads. In many cases, two incomes are needed to cover the mortgage as well as life’s other expenses. Buying a home is among the top reasons families buy life insurance.

You started a business.

Congrats, again! Starting your own business may be a terrific way to build your income, but it isn’t without risk. Business loans are often secured by personal guarantees which may affect your family if something were to happen to you. Also consider the consequences if you aren’t around to run the business. How much time and money would be needed to find a replacement or to close the business down? All things to consider when looking for coverage.

You took on debt.

Any sizeable debt can be a reason to consider purchasing life insurance. When we die, our debt doesn’t die with us. Instead, it’s settled out of our estate and paying that debt may require liquidating savings, selling assets, or both. In some cases, family members may be on the hook for the debt, particularly if the only remaining asset is the home they still live in. Life insurance can help put a buffer between creditors and your family, helping prevent a difficult financial situation.

Your birthday is coming.

Seriously. Life insurance rates may be more affordable now than they’ve been in the past – but every year you wait may cost you money in the form of higher premiums. Life insurance rates go up with age.

It never hurts to take some time and review the coverage that you have in place. To be sure, life insurance can be an essential part of a financial strategy and help provide a safety net for your family if something were to happen to you.

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¹ “What does it cost to raise a child?”, Abha Bhattarai, Dan Keating, Stephanie Hays, The Washington Post, Oct 13, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/interactive/2022/cost-raising-child-calculator/

December 19, 2022

How Young People Can Use Life Insurance

How Young People Can Use Life Insurance

Sometimes life insurance doesn’t get the credit it deserves.

Most of us know it’s used to replace income if the worst were to happen, but that’s about it. If you’re in your twenties and just starting out on your own, especially if you’re single or don’t have kids yet, you might be thinking that getting a life insurance policy is something to put off until later in life.

On closer inspection however, life insurance can be a multi-faceted financial tool that has many interesting applications for your here-and-now. In fact, there’s probably a life insurance policy for most every person or situation.

Read on for some uses of life insurance you may be able to take advantage of when you’re young – you might find some interesting surprises!

Loan collateral

If you have your eye on entrepreneurship, life insurance can be of great service. Some types of business loans may require you to have a life insurance policy as collateral. If you have an eye on starting a business and think you may need a business loan, put a life insurance policy into place.

Pay off debt

A permanent life insurance policy has cash value. This is the amount the policy is worth should you choose to cash it in before the death benefit is needed. If you’re in a financial bind with debt – maybe from unexpected medical expenses or some other emergency you weren’t anticipating – using the cash value on the policy to pay off the debt may be an option. Some policies will even let you borrow against this cash value and repay it back with interest. (Note: If you’re thinking about utilizing the cash benefit of your life insurance policy, talk to a financial professional about the consequences.)

Charitable spending

If a certain cause or charity is near and dear to you, consider using the death benefit of a life insurance policy as a charitable gift. You can select your favorite charity or nonprofit organization and list them as a beneficiary on your life insurance policy. This will allow them to receive a tax-free gift when you pass away.

Leave a legacy of wealth

A life insurance policy can serve as a legacy to your beneficiaries. Consider purchasing a life insurance policy to serve as an inheritance. This is a good option if you are planning on using most or all of your savings during your non-working retirement years.

Mortgage down payment

The cash value of a whole life policy may be able to be used for large expenses, such as home buying. A whole life policy can serve as a down payment on a home – for you or for your children or grandchildren.

Key man insurance

Key man insurance is a useful tool for businesses. A key person is someone in your business with proprietary knowledge or some other business knowledge on which your business depends.

A business may purchase a life insurance policy on a key man (or woman) to help the business navigate the readjustment should that person die unexpectedly. A life insurance policy can help the business bridge that time and potential downturn in income, and help cover expenses to deal with the loss.

Financing college education

With the rising cost of college tuition, many families are looking for tools to finance their children’s college education. You may consider using the cash value of your life insurance policy to help with college tuition. Just remember to account for any possible tax implications you may incur.

Life insurance policies have many uses. There are great applications for young people, business owners, and just about anyone. Talk to a financial professional about your financial wishes to see how a life insurance policy can work for you.

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Read all of your policy documents carefully so that you understand what situations your policies cover or don’t cover. This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain products, plans, or strategies for saving and/or investing that may be available to you. Before purchasing an insurance policy, seek the advice of a financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options and the consequences with use of the policy.

November 30, 2022

How to Have Your Dream Wedding Without Nightmare Spending

How to Have Your Dream Wedding Without Nightmare Spending

Planning a wedding is both exciting and stressful. There are many moving parts to coordinate – guest lists, venues, menus.

Not to mention the fact that you’re making some major financial decisions – maybe your first as a couple. Needless to say, your wedding is a huge milestone. It’s easy to get caught up in the wave of excitement. But it’s also easy to go overboard with spending. One day you get engaged and the next thing you know, you’re looking at your wedding album (along with some potentially major credit card bills).

To keep your wedding costs as reasonable as possible, consider a fresh perspective. Read on for a few pointers to keep in mind as you embark on this new adventure.

Take the time to get your mind in the game

When you first commit to walk down the aisle together, it may be tempting to rush right out and buy your fantasy dress, secure the location where you’ll exchange your vows, and get your order in for your dream wedding cake. But slowing down a little and thinking about what would really make your day special can help corral your wedding costs (so you’ll have that much more for a down payment on your first home, for example).

Set a budget and stick to it

The average cost of a wedding in the United States is more than $34,000.¹ But don’t panic. You don’t have to spend $34,000 to have an unforgettable day. You’ve probably been to wonderful weddings that cost less than $1,000 as well as huge ballroom style weddings that can approach six figures.

Spend as much or as little as you can afford. The important point is to set a budget and stick to it. So sit down with your partner and create a budget you can live with, not just for the day itself, but for your future together. Decide on your most important elements, set the costs for them, and get started checking items off your list!

Spend only on what’s important to you

One thing to keep in mind is that this is your day. Your wedding doesn’t have to be all things to all people. What is most important to you and your fiancé? Love gourmet food? Maybe you splurge a bit on your menu. Into fashion? Maybe your attire is the big ticket item. Don’t care much for alcohol? Skip it and budget more money toward the DJ.

Call in favors and use your friends’ talents

Enlisting help from your friends not only can save money on wedding costs, but it can also make your wedding feel more personal and special. Gather up your talented friends and ask for their help.

Ask close friends to participate in the wedding prep instead of purchasing gifts. Acquaintances? Ask them if they will share their expertise for a minimal fee.

Hint: If your style is more casual, skip the professional photographer and ask your guests to take pictures with their smartphones. You can save a ton of money and end up with great true-to-life photos of your wedding (instead of professional portraits that might look a bit stuffy).

Stay calm and plan on

If you begin planning without a clear vision for how you want your day to unfold, you can quickly get caught up in the frenzy. Vendors and party planners will be happy to sell you lots of extras you may not want or need. So, think carefully about your plan, know it well, and stick to it as execution gets underway.

In short, the best way to save money on your wedding isn’t about cutting corners and limiting your guest list. Like any financial matter, it’s about knowing what’s important to you, setting a budget, and getting creative. Not only can this help save money on your wedding, but it also ensures a wedding that is uniquely yours. And the best news? Having some money left over for the honeymoon!

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¹ “This Was the Average Cost of a Wedding in 2021,” Kim Forrest The Knot, Feb 15, 2022, https://www.theknot.com/content/average-wedding-cost

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/

November 9, 2022

How to expect the unexpected

How to expect the unexpected

Unexpected expenses can put a damper on your financial life.

You never know what may come up – vet bills, car repairs, unplanned travel expenses. Life is nothing if not full of surprises.

So, how do you pay for unexpected expenses when they arise? Borrow? Use your credit card? Take out a payday loan?

There is a better way. Wouldn’t it be nice to have some cash stored away to help you out when those emergencies pop up? Well, you can! It’s called an emergency fund. That’s what it’s for!

What is an emergency fund?

An emergency fund is a designated amount of cash – easily accessible – to prevent you from going into debt in case of a financial emergency. But how much should you put aside? Most experts agree a suitable amount for an emergency fund is 6 months’ worth of expenses.¹

Sound like a lot of money? It is, but don’t let that stop you. An emergency fund can help make the difference between getting through a single emergency with merely a hiccup or spiraling down the financial rabbit hole of debt. Or it may help you ride through a few months if you lose your source of income.

It’s okay to start small

The thought of saving six months’ worth of income might make most of us throw up our hands in defeat before we even start.

Don’t let that get you down, though. The point is to start, even if it’s small. Just don’t give up. Begin with a goal of saving $500. Once you’ve achieved that, celebrate it! And then work on the next $500.

Slowly, over time, your emergency fund will increase and hopefully, so will your peace of mind.

Take advantage of “found money”

Found money is extra money that comes your way, that isn’t part of your normal income. It can include things like bonuses, inheritances, gifts, or cash from selling personal items.

When you find yourself with some found money, keep the 50/50 rule in mind. Put half the money toward your emergency fund, and put half toward whatever you like – your retirement, making this holiday season a little extra special, or add it to the college fund.

Let’s say you earned a bonus of $500 at your job. You worked hard and want to reward yourself. Go for it! Use half the bonus to buy the new shoes or the basketball game tickets, but put the other half in your emergency fund. It’ll be a win-win for you.

Take advantage of direct deposit

One of the best ways to help build your emergency fund is to make your deposits automatic. Siphon off a percentage of your paycheck into your emergency fund. Again, it’s key to start small here.

Know what an emergency is and what it is not

One of the fundamentals of building and maintaining an emergency fund is knowing what an emergency is and what it’s not. Unexpected expenses that require a dip into your emergency fund will happen – that’s what it’s for. But tapping in to your emergency fund on a regular basis shouldn’t be the norm. (If it is, you might need to take a look at your overall budget.)

Unexpected expenses your emergency fund may help cover:

  • Car repairs
  • Unexpected medical bills
  • Emergency home repairs
  • Unplanned travel for a death in the family

Some expenses that are not really emergencies:

  • A great sale on a cute winter coat
  • A spur of the moment weekend getaway
  • A spa day – no matter how much you need it!

Keep financial safety in mind

So the next time you see a gorgeous pair of shoes that you just “have to have” – ask yourself if they’ll be worth it if your 10-year-old dishwasher fails and your next dishwasher has to be you!

Don’t forget – start small. An emergency fund is about helping put a financial safety net in place. Don’t find yourself potentially compounding the difficulty of a true emergency by not having the funds to deal with it.

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¹ “Emergency Fund: What It Is and Why It Matters,” Margarette Burnette, Nerdwallet, Dec 21, 2021, https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/banking/banking-basics/life-build-emergency-fund/

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.

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