The Burden of a Damaged Paycheck

February 1, 2023

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Bir Grewall

Bir Grewall

Sikh American, India born; Bir is a "Top Recommended" Financial Strategist, Advisor & Author



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January 18, 2023

Handling your car loan like a boss

Handling your car loan like a boss

Cars may be necessary to get around, but they can be expensive.

At some point, many of us will need to finance a car. Coming up with enough cash to buy a car outright – even a used car – can be difficult. Enter the auto loan.

Financing a car isn’t all bad, especially if you follow a few best practices that can help keep your car loan in good shape. Avoiding the dreaded upside down car loan – owing more on your car than it’s worth – is the name of the game when it comes to a good automobile loan.

Why do car loans go upside down?

Being upside down on your car loan is surprisingly common. It happens to many of us, and the root cause is depreciation. Depreciation is the decline in value of a good or product over time. Many physical goods depreciate – furniture, electronics, clothing, and cars.

There is a saying that a car begins depreciating as soon as you drive it off the lot. Unlike a good such as fine art or precious stones that you would expect to appreciate over time, a car usually will lose its value over time.

For example, say you buy a new car for $25,000. After three months your car depreciates by $3,000, so it’s now worth $22,000. If your down payment was less than $3,000 or you didn’t use a down payment at all, you are now upside down – owing more money on your car than it’s actually worth.

Some cars, however, hold their value better than others. Luxury cars have a slower depreciation rate than an inexpensive compact car. The popularity of a vehicle can also affect depreciation rates.

What happens when you’re upside down on a car loan?

Being upside down on your car loan may actually not mean much unless you’re involved in a loss and your car gets totaled. Assuming you have proper auto insurance, your policy should pay out the actual cash value of your totaled vehicle, which may not be enough to pay off the remaining balance of your auto loan. Then you’re stuck paying the balance on a loan for a car that you don’t have anymore. That is why it’s essential to avoid being upside down in your car loan.

Strategies to keep your car loan healthy

Keeping your car loan right side up starts with putting a healthy down payment on your car. Typically, a 20 percent down payment may give you enough equity right off the bat to keep your car loan from going upside down when the vehicle begins depreciating. So, if you’re purchasing a $25,000 car, aim to put at least $6,000 down.

Another way to avoid being upside down on your car loan is to select the shortest repayment term possible. If you can afford it, consider a 36-month repayment plan. Your monthly payments may be a bit higher, but the chances of your loan going upside down may be less.

Choose carefully

Keeping your car loan from going upside down is important. Make sure you have a healthy down payment, shop for vehicles within your budget, and stick to the shortest repayment term you can afford. Simple strategies can help make sure your car loan stays in the black.

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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 licensed financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

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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January 2, 2023

Why do banks pay interest?

Why do banks pay interest?

When you deposit money into certain bank accounts, they’ll pay you interest.

Have you ever wondered why they do this? Banks perform lots of services. They’re holding your money for you, making it accessible at tens of thousands of points across the globe, facilitating purchases from e-commerce sites, processing automatic payments, etc. Oftentimes this is done for free or for a small fee. So why would they pay interest on top of all this?

Let’s find out.

Banks play both sides

We need a place to store our money. Some people might not like the idea of handing over their hard-earned cash to a financial institution, but storing their savings under the mattress might make it difficult to perform many transactions, especially online. Banks perform the essential service of giving much of the population a place to store their money while simultaneously facilitating payments between different participants.

Modern economies function on debt (so not all debt is necessarily bad). Corporate debt owed to a bank might be used to grow a business quickly by taking advantage of a great business opportunity.

People don’t always have the entire amount of money all at once to buy something very costly like a house, so banks can help out by lending them the money. To collect the money to lend out, banks receive deposits from other customers.

Thus banks play a fundamental role in the economy, but why do they pay interest? They obviously receive interest on loans, but on the other side, they already offer several free services, like facilitating payments and helping to safeguard cash. Why would they pay people to give them money?

Banks need depositors

Similar to other industries, the banking industry needs customers. This is not only true on the lending side, though. Banks also need customers on the depositing side, because they need to get their money for lending from somewhere. The more customers they have, the more money they can lend out, in turn generating more income.

Since banks compete with each other just like members of any industry, they need a way to attract customers. Sometimes they may offer more features for an account or more free services, but the most enticing incentive is usually the interest rate. And that is the simple idea behind why banks pay interest: zero interest in theory would attract zero customers.

Why more interest for longer deposit periods?

It seems like savings accounts usually pay better interest rates than checking accounts. Why is that? A person probably opens a savings account with the intention of storing their money over a relatively long period of time. The expectation is that the money wouldn’t frequently be removed from that account.

So why do banks generally pay more interest if they believe you’ll leave money untouched for longer? Here’s why. The money you deposit with a bank doesn’t sit idle. It’s lent out to other individuals and businesses in the form of loans. But every bank must abide by minimum reserve requirements,¹ and if they fall below the threshold, they can face serious consequences. Thus they are motivated to have their customers park their money for longer periods of time, and savings accounts are intended for just that purpose. The longer a customer intends to leave their money untouched at a bank, the more the bank might be willing to pay in interest.

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¹ “Reserve Requirements” James Chen, Investopedia, Aug 29, 2021, https://www.investopedia.com/terms/r/requiredreserves.asp

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 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.

December 12, 2022

Starting a business? Here's what you need to know.

Starting a business? Here's what you need to know.

Starting your business requires making a myriad of decisions.

You’ll have to consider everything from a marketing budget to the theme of your website to how you’re going to arrange your office. But if you give careful consideration to the financial decisions concerning your business, you’ll start off on the right foot.

What is your business structure going to be?

Business structures have different tax and liability implications, so although there are only a few to choose from, make your selection carefully. You may consider:

Sole Proprietorship

A sole proprietorship is the simplest of business structures. It means there is no legal or tax difference between your personal finances and your business finances. This means you’re personally responsible for business debts and taxes.

Limited Liability Company

Under an LLC, profits and taxes are filed with the owners’ tax returns, but there is some liability protection in place.

Corporation

A corporation has its own tax entity separate from the owners. It requires special paperwork and filings to set up, and there are fees involved.

Do you need employees

This may be a difficult decision to make at first. It will most likely depend on the performance of your business. If you are selling goods or a service and have only a few orders a day, it might not make sense to spend resources on employees yet.

However, if you’re planning a major launch, you may be flooded with orders immediately. In this case, you must be prepared with the proper staff.

If you’re starting small, consider hiring a part-time employee. As you grow you may wish to access freelance help through referrals or even an online service.

What are your startup costs?

Even the smallest of businesses have startup costs. You may need computer equipment, special materials, or legal advice. You may have to pay a security deposit on a rental space, secure utilities, and purchase equipment. Where you access the funds to start your business is a major financial decision.

Personal funds

You may have your own personal savings to start your business. Maybe you continue to work at your “day job” while you get your business off the ground. (Just be mindful of potential conflicts of interest.)

Grants or government loans

There are small business grants and loans available. You can access federal programs through the Small Business Administration. You may even consider a business loan from a friend or family member. Just make sure to protect the personal relationship! People first, money second.

Bank loans

Securing a traditional bank loan is also an option to cover your startup costs. Expect to go through an application process. You’ll also likely need to have some collateral.

Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding is a relatively new option for gathering startup funds for your business. You may want to launch an online campaign that gathers donations.

What’s your backup plan

A good entrepreneur prepares for as many scenarios as possible – every business should have a backup plan. A backup plan may be something you go ahead and hammer out when you first create your business plan, or you might wait until you’ve gotten some momentum. Either way, it represents a financial decision, so it should be thought out carefully.

Develop a backup plan for every moving part of your business. What will you do if your sales projections aren’t near what you budgeted? What if you have a malfunction with your software? How will you continue operations if an employee quits without notice?

How much and what kind of insurance do you need?

Insurance may be one of the last things to come to mind when you’re launching your business, but going without it may be extremely risky.

Proper insurance can make the difference between staying in business when something goes wrong or shutting your doors if a problem arises.

At the very minimum, consider a Commercial General Liability Policy. It’s the most basic of commercial policies and can protect you from claims of property damage or injury.

Make your financial decisions carefully

Business owners have a lot to think about and many decisions to make – especially at the beginning. Make your financial decisions carefully, plan for the unexpected, insure yourself properly, and you’ll be off to a great start!

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This article is for informational purposes only. For tax or legal advice consult a qualified expert. Consider all of your options carefully.

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.

October 5, 2022

Getting the Most Bang for Your Savings Buck

Getting the Most Bang for Your Savings Buck

Savvy savers know that if they look after their pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves.

So, if you’re looking for places to gain a few extra pennies, why not start by maximizing your savings account?

Granted, a savings account might not be a flashy investment opportunity with a high return. But most of us use one as a place to park our emergency fund or the dream car fund. So, if you’re going to put your money somewhere other than under your mattress, why not put it in the place that gets the best return? Here are some tips for getting the most out of your savings account.

Try an Online-only Account

Your corner bank branch isn’t the only option for a savings account. Why not try an online account? As of May 2022, some banks are offering online checking accounts with rates of 1.25% (some even higher).¹

With the help of technology, you can link one of these high-interest savings accounts directly to your checking account, making moving money a breeze. Say goodbye to the brick and mortar bank, and hello to some extra cash in your pocket!

Check Out Your Local Credit Union

A credit union offers savers some unique benefits. They differ from a traditional bank as they are usually not for profit. They function more like a cooperative – even paying dividends back to members periodically.

A credit union can also be beneficial as they typically offer a higher interest rate than your everyday bank. Membership in a credit union may also have other perks, such as low-interest rates on personal loans as well as exceptional customer service.

Money Market Accounts

A money market account is like a savings account except it’s tied to bonds and other low-risk investments. A money market can deliver the goods by giving you more for your savings, but there are often account minimums and fees. Before putting your savings into a money market account, check the fees and account minimums to make sure they’ll coincide with your needs.

Don’t Use a Parking Place When You Need a Garage

A savings account is a like a good parking place for cash. Its usefulness is in its ease of access and flexibility.

This makes it a great place to keep savings that you may need to access in the short term – say, within the next 12 months.

For long-term saving (like for retirement), it’s generally not a good idea to rely on a savings account alone. Retirement savings doesn’t belong in a parking place. For that, you need a garage. Talk to your financial professional today about a savings strategy for retirement, and the options that are available for you.

Shopping for a Savings Account

Just because a savings account doesn’t offer high yields, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider it carefully. To get the most bang for your savings buck, search out the highest interest possible (which might be online), be aware of fees and penalties, and remember – any saving is better than not saving at all!

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¹ “10 Best Online Checking Accounts of 2022,” Chanelle Bessette, Nerdwallet, May 26, 2022, https://www.nerdwallet.com/best/banking/online-checking-accounts

September 14, 2022

Has Your Debt Outpaced Your Income?

Has Your Debt Outpaced Your Income?

Are your finances feeling tight? It may be because your debt has outpaced your income.

Your debt-to-income ratio is a key factor in determining your financial health. This ratio is simply your monthly debt payments divided by your monthly income, multiplied by 100 to make it a percentage.

Banks and other lenders will look at your debt-to-income ratio when considering whether to give you a loan. They want to see that you have enough income to cover your monthly debt obligations. A high debt-to-income ratio can make it difficult to qualify for new loans or lines of credit since it can signal that you’re struggling to keep up with your debt payments.

Fortunately, your ratio is easy to calculate…

First, add up all of your monthly debt payments. This includes your mortgage or rent, car payment, student loans, credit card payments, and any other debts you may have.

Next, calculate your monthly income. This is typically your take-home pay after taxes and other deductions. If you’re self-employed, it may be your net income after business expenses.

Finally, divide your monthly debt payments by your monthly income. Multiply this number by 100 to get your debt-to-income ratio.

For example, let’s say you have a monthly mortgage payment of $1,000 and a monthly car payment of $300. You also have $200 in student loan payments and $150 in credit card payments. Your monthly income is $3,000.

Your debt-to-income ratio would be (1,000 + 300 + 200 + 150) / 3,000 = .55 or 55%.

A debt-to-income ratio of less than 36% is typically considered ideal by lenders—anything more can signal financial stress.¹

If your debt-to-income ratio is high, don’t despair. There are steps you can take to improve it.

First, try to increase your income. That can mean working extra hours, scoring a raise, finding a new job, or even starting a side business.

Second, you can lower your debt. You can do this by making extra payments on your debts each month or by consolidating your debts into a single loan with a lower interest rate.

Making these changes can be difficult, but they can make a big difference in your debt-to-income ratio—and your financial health.

If you’re not sure where to start, contact me! I can help you develop a plan to get your debt under control and to start building wealth.

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August 31, 2022

A Beginners Guide to Saving and Shredding Documents

A Beginners Guide to Saving and Shredding Documents

It’s time to manage all those papers that are taking up space in your filing cabinets!

But how? Which documents should you preserve? Which ones should you shred? Here are 11 helpful tips on what to do with tax documents, legal documents, and property records.

Documents to keep.

At the top of this list? Estate planning documents. Your will, your living trust, and any final instructions should be carefully labeled, stored, and protected. Your life insurance policy should be safeguarded as well.

Records of your loans should be preserved. That includes for your mortgage, car and student loans. Technically, you can shred these once they’re paid off, but it’s wise to keep them around permanently. Someday you may have to prove you’ve actually paid off these debts.

Tax returns.

Here’s a trick—keep tax returns for at least 7 years. Why? Because there’s a 6 year window for the IRS to challenge your return if they suspect you’ve underreported your income.¹ Keep your records around to prove that you’ve been performing your civic duty by properly reporting your income.

(Check your state’s government website to determine exactly how long you’re supposed to keep state tax returns.)

Property records.

Keep all of your records pertaining to…

  • Your ownership of your house
  • The legal documents for buying your house
  • Commissions to your real estate agent
  • Major home improvements

Save these documents for a minimum of 6 years after you move out of your home. If you’re a renter, keep all of your records until you’ve moved out. Then, fire up your shredder and get to work!

Speaking of your shredder…

Annual documents to destroy.

Every year, you can shred paycheck stubs and bank records. Just be sure of two things…

First, make sure that you’re not shredding anything that might belong in your tax records.

Second, be sure that you’ve reviewed your finances with a professional who will know which documents may need preserving.

Once you’ve done that, it’s fine to feed your shredder at your discretion!

Credit card receipts, statements and bills.

Once you’ve checked your monthly statement against your bank records and receipts, you’re free to shred them. You may want to hold on to receipts for large purchases until the item breaks or you get rid of it.

When in doubt, do some research! It’s better than tossing out something important. And schedule an annual review with a licensed and qualified financial professional. They can help you discern which documents you need and which ones can be destroyed.

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¹ “Save or Shred: How Long You Should Keep Financial Documents,” FINRA, Jan 27, 2017, https://www.finra.org/investors/insights/save-or-shred-how-long-you-should-keep-financial-documents

August 17, 2022

Why Families Buy Term Life Insurance

Why Families Buy Term Life Insurance

Why does term life insurance seem to be so common among your friends and family?

For many, it’s simply the most affordable strategy for securing life insurance. And that means it can provide critical financial protection for many different situations. Here are a few of the most common reasons families choose term life insurance.

The power of term life insurance is that it’s typical affordable. It provides a death benefit for a limited term, typically 20-30 years, which means you can often purchase more protection at a lower price than other types of policies. As long as your protection lasts while you have financial dependents, you’re covered.

But there are more pragmatic reasons why families buy term life insurance. For many, it serves as a source of income replacement. When a breadwinner passes away, the income they provide is gone. That means a family might find themselves with a serious cash flow deficiency in addition to the tragic loss. The death benefit can replace the lost income.

A family might also need to purchase life insurance when they have dependents, such as college-aged kids with high educational expenses. If a family has dependents and no life insurance, the burden of funding higher education falls on the family, who are down an income. With term coverage in place, they have the financial power to help cover those bills with confidence.

Term life insurance can also be invaluable for families with high debt obligations. Because it’s often so affordable, term life insurance may provide significant coverage without diverting financial resources away from getting out of debt. And, if the policyholder passes away before the debt is eliminated, the death benefit can also go towards finishing off loans.

Finally, term life insurance can be used to cover the costs of funeral expenses. Families who don’t have any other form of coverage for these out-of-pocket bills often need extra cash to cover the costs of burial. Term life insurance is a simple way to pay for the funeral the family needs.

In conclusion, term life insurance can be a great way to cover the costs of many big ticket items and expenses at a reasonable cost. Would that be a good fit for your family? Contact me, and we can explore what it would look like for you!

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March 14, 2022

3 Saving Strategies For College

3 Saving Strategies For College

In this day and age, it seems like college tuition is skyrocketing.

Students and parents are increasingly reliant on loans to cover the cost of higher education, often with devastating long-term results.¹

In this article we’ll cover three saving strategies to help you cover the cost of college without resorting to burdensome debt.

Strategy #1: Use “High-Yield” savings accounts. This strategy is simple—stash a portion of your income each month into a savings account. Then, when the time comes, use what you’ve saved to cover the costs of tuition.

Unfortunately, this strategy is riddled with shortcomings. The interest rates on “high yield” savings accounts are astonishingly low—you’d be hard pressed to find one at 1%.²

Even if you did, it wouldn’t be nearly enough. For example, if you had $3,000 saved for college in a savings account earning 1% interest per year, it would only grow to about $3,100 after four years—not enough to cover a whole semester’s tuition!

Even worse, inflation might increase the cost of tuition at a pace your savings couldn’t keep up with. Your money would actually lose value instead of gain it!

Fortunately, high-yield interest accounts are far from your only option…

Strategy #2: Consider traditional wealth building vehicles. That means mutual funds, Roth IRAs, savings bonds, indexed universal life insurance, and more.

The growth rates on these products are typically significantly higher than what you’d find in a high-yield savings account. You might even find products which allow for tax-free growth (the Roth IRA and IUL, for example).

But, typically, these vehicles have two critical weaknesses…

  1. They’re often designed for retirement. That means you’ll face fees and taxes if you tap into them before a certain age.

  2. They’re often subject to losses. A market upheaval could seriously impact your college savings.

Note that none of these vehicles are identical. They all have strengths and weaknesses. Consult with a licensed and qualified financial professional before you begin saving for college with any of these tools.

Strategy #3: Use education-specific saving vehicles. The classic example of these is the 529 plan.

The 529 is specifically designed for the purpose of saving and paying for education. That’s why it offers…

  • Tax advantages
  • Potential for compounding growth
  • Unlimited contributions

It’s a powerful tool for growing the wealth needed to help cover the rising costs of college.

The caveat with the 529 is that it’s subject to losses. It’s also very narrow in its usefulness—if your child decides not to pursue higher education, you’ll face a penalty to use the funds for something non-education related.

So which strategy should you choose? That’s something you and your financial professional will need to discuss. They can help you evaluate your current situation, your goals, and which strategy will help you close the gap between the two!

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Market performance is based on many factors and cannot be predicted. 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 and qualified financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.


¹ “Student Loan Debt: 2020 Statistics and Outlook,” Daniel Kurt, Investopedia, Jul 27, 2021, https://www.investopedia.com/student-loan-debt-2019-statistics-and-outlook-4772007

² “Best high-yield savings accounts in August 2021,” Matthew Goldberg, Bankrate, Aug 25, 2021, https://www.bankrate.com/banking/savings/best-high-yield-interests-savings-accounts/

August 16, 2021

Financial Moves to Improve Your Mental Health

Financial Moves to Improve Your Mental Health

Can wise money moves help improve your mental health, decrease your stress, and boost your peace of mind? Absolutely.

It’s easy to see why. A lot of stress comes from worrying about the future, as well as problems that might seem small but are stressful in practice (such as getting stuck with a $400 car repair bill because your brakes went out).

How much better would it feel if you could stop stressing about money? How much less anxiety would you experience if your retirement savings were on track? And how much more secure would you feel, knowing that should an emergency arise, you have the resources to handle it?

With that end in mind, here are simple financial moves you can make to help improve your mental health!

Create a financial vision statement. Whether you use a financial professional or do it on your own, creating a financial vision statement is the first step to improving your quality of life with personal finance.

What’s a “vision statement?” It’s a one or two sentence description of where you want your money to take you in the future.

Why does it help your mental health? For starters, it gives you a goal to strive towards, and goals tend to increase mental resilience.¹

It also may help reduce uncertainty and ambiguity about the future. When your financial vision statement is clear and complete, your next actions may become clear and obvious.

But while it may seem simple on paper, it can feel overwhelming in practice. Try this process to help take the stress out of creating your vision statement…

Create a list of things you value. That could be family, adventure, stability, comfort, and more.

Write out what a future full of your values would look like. This gives you a more concrete—and inspiring—vision of your goals.

Describe how money can make your vision a reality. This final piece is your financial vision statement. It’s how much money you’ll need to enjoy the lifestyle you want in the future.

Save up an emergency fund. Juggling a paycheck, credit card bills, student loans and other debt repayment, rent, and groceries is stressful.

Unexpected—and expensive—emergencies can make things even harder.

But being prepared helps! Having an emergency fund means that when something goes wrong, you’ll have cash on hand to help cover it.

In general, aim to save 3-6 months’ worth of income and keep it easily accessible. Then, when an emergency strikes, simply reach into your emergency fund to help cover the costs.

Will it totally eliminate the stress of emergencies? Probably not. But it can mitigate the financial anxiety that can loom over you if you’re not prepared.

Meet with a financial professional. Nothing reduces your stress levels quite like knowing your finances are in good hands. That’s where a licensed and qualified financial professional can help.

They can help you develop strategies for reaching your goals, identify obstacles early on, and refine your financial vision statement.

Plus, having someone you can talk to about money can make your finances far less intimidating and stressful. Find a professional who you’re comfortable with and who’s knowledgeable, and start cultivating your relationship. It may be one of the best investments you make!

If you’re feeling stressed about money, know that you’re not alone. And the good news is that you can do something about it. Try these simple steps, and see how you feel!

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¹ “Goal setting,” healthdirect, https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/goal-setting

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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July 26, 2021

6 Viable Passive Income Sources

6 Viable Passive Income Sources

The idea of having a passive income is something that many people dream about.

That’s because it means you can earn money above and beyond physical hours of work that you might put in! And there are plenty of ways to establish a passive income. In this article, we’ll discuss 6 different sources of passive income and how you can take advantage of each.

1. Rental income. This could come from renting out a room in your home, a basement, or a property you’ve purchased. The income from your tenants can help cover maintenance costs and provide you with a reliable, consistent source of income. It’s a simple, classic cash flow creator.

But it’s not perfect. Buying properties may require you to borrow money, which can create risk. Furthermore, managing unruly tenants can be time-consuming, taking the “passive” out of passive income.

2. Affiliate marketing. What if you could get paid to sell someone else’s products? It doesn’t get much more passive than that. Affiliate marketing is where you simply place a link to a product on your social media feed, YouTube video, blog, or website. You get a cut of the profit every time that link leads to a sale.

Just know that affiliate marketing works best for those with some measure of online following—more eyes on your affiliate link means more potential clicks!

3. Create ebooks and courses. Online educational content isn’t the purest form of passive income—it requires upfront work to research and create. But once they’re published, they can provide regular extra cash. Just be sure that you’re creating content on a subject matter you’re familiar with!

4. Blogging. Overwhelmed by writing an entire eBook? Start with a blog! It’s a simple way to get your ideas down on (digital) paper AND generate some ad revenue at the same time. Just remember, blogging may have a long lead time before it becomes profitable.

5. Peer-to-peer lending. Investing in loans has been around for ages—and with peer-to-peer platforms like Lending Club or Prosper, investing can be done quickly online. It’s a simple, quick way to earn interest on the fly.

But be warned—putting money into this type of service could be a substantial risk. There’s no guarantee that your creditors will repay their debts, which could leave you out to dry. So while it’s a viable option for passive income, it may not be 100% safe.

6. Start flipping! And I don’t mean doing gymnastics in the park (though that could earn you some cash—maybe). Instead, hit up a local thrift store. If you see a find that catches your eye, check to see how much you could sell it for on eBay or Craigslist. You might be surprised by the price difference! Buying at the thrift store and selling online could result in a serious profit.

This isn’t a fully passive income—it requires some investment and time searching and shopping for items. But it’s far more fun and feasible for most than real estate or writing an eBook.

So what are you waiting for? If you have the skills, time, and patience for it—then go for it! You might be surprised by how much you can earn with minimal effort.

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July 14, 2021

Is Refinancing Worth It?

Is Refinancing Worth It?

What do you think of when you hear the word “refinancing?”

If you’re like most people, your first thought might be that it has something to do with a mortgage. And you’re not wrong! However, refinancing can apply to many different types and forms of loans. In this article we will explore what refinancing is, how it works, and when it can work to your advantage.

What is refinancing?

Refinancing is the process of transferring all or part of an existing loan from one loan to another. This is done in order to achieve a…

  • Lower interest rate
  • Lower monthly payments
  • More favorable repayment period
  • Or all of the above

Let’s consider an example. Say you have a $10,000 loan with a 5% interest rate and a 10-year term. You’ll pay $106 every month to service the debt, and over $12,000 in total once interest is included.

But you think you can do better! You find someone else who’s willing to loan you $10,000 at a 2.5% interest rate over a 10-year term. You’d save more than $1,000 in interest and pay less every month. That’s a far better deal.

So, you would borrow money from your new creditor and use that sum to eliminate your existing loan. You’ve used another loan to decrease your interest burden and increase your cash flow. That’s the power of refinancing in a nutshell. It’s often worth the effort if you can decrease your interest rate without increasing your term.

But it may not be a silver bullet for your debt.

Refinancing only works if you can score a new loan with a more favorable contract. There may be times when interest rates are high and finding lower rates simply isn’t possible. Even then, a lower interest rate may not offset the costs of a longer loan term.

That’s why it’s always best to work with a financial professional before you refinance any loan. Their expertise can help you determine whether refinancing will help or hinder your progress towards your financial goals.

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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. Any examples used are hypothetical. Before taking out any loan or enacting a funding strategy, seek the advice of a licensed and qualified financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

June 23, 2021

Begin Your Budget With 5 Easy Steps

Begin Your Budget With 5 Easy Steps

A budget is a powerful tool.

No matter how big or small, it gives you the insight to track your money and plan your future. So here’s a beginner’s guide to kick-start your budget and help take control of your paycheck!

Establish simple objectives <br> Come up with at least one simple goal for your budget. It could be anything from saving for retirement to buying a car to paying down student debt. Establishing an objective gives you a goal to shoot for, and helps motivate you to stick to the plan.

Figure out how much you make <br> Now it’s time to figure out how much money you actually make. This might be as easy as looking at your past few paychecks. However, don’t forget to include things like your side hustle, rent from properties, or cash from your online store. Try averaging your total income from the past six months and use that as your starting point for your budget.

Figure out how much you spend <br> Start by splitting your spending into essential (non-discretionary) and unessential (discretionary) spending categories. The first category should cover things like rent, groceries, utilities, and debt payments. Unessential spending would be eating at restaurants, seeing a movie, hobbies, and sporting events.

How much is leftover? <br> Now subtract your total spending from your income. A positive number means you’re making more than you’re spending, giving you a foundation for saving and eventually building wealth. You still might need to cut back in a few areas to meet your goals, but it’s at least a good start.

If you come up negative, you’ll need to slash your spending. Start with your unessential spending and see where you can dial back. If things aren’t looking good, you may need to consider looking for a lower rent apartment, renegotiating loans, or picking up a side hustle.

Be consistent! <br> The worst thing you can do is start a budget and then abandon it. Make no mistake, seeing some out-of-whack numbers on a spreadsheet can be discouraging. But sticking to a budget is key to achieving your goals. Make a habit of reviewing your budget regularly and checking your progress. That alone might be enough motivation to keep it up!

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