Headed in the Right Direction: Managing Debt for Millennials

June 12, 2019

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Heather K. Brinkman

Heather K. Brinkman

Executive Vice President

575 Lynnhaven Parkway Suite #278

Virginia Beach, VA 23452

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March 27, 2019

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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March 25, 2019

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.[i]

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.[ii] 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.

[i] https://www.creditkarma.com/advice/i/difference-between-credit-union-and-bank/
[ii] https://www.ncua.gov/support-services/share-insurance-fund

March 13, 2019

Dollar Cost Averaging Explained

Dollar Cost Averaging Explained

Most of us understand the meanings of “dollar” and “cost”, and we know what averages are…

But when you put those three words together – dollar cost averaging – the meaning may not be quite as clear.

Dollar cost averaging refers to the concept of investing on a fixed schedule and with a fixed amount of money. For example, after a careful budget review, you might determine you can afford $200 per month to invest. With dollar cost averaging, you would invest that $200 without regard to what the market is doing, without regard to price, and without regard to news that might impact the market temporarily. You become the investment equivalent of the tortoise from the fable of the tortoise and the hare. You just keep going steadily.

When the market goes up, you buy. When the market goes down, you can buy more.

The gist of dollar cost averaging is that you don’t need to be a stock-picking prodigy to potentially succeed at investing. Over time, as your investment grows, the goal is to profit from all the shares you purchased, both low and high, because your average cost for shares would be below the market price.

Hypothetically, let’s say you invest your first $200 in an index fund that’s trading at $10 per share. You can buy 20 shares. But the next month, the market drops because of some news that said the sky was falling somewhere else in the world. The price of your shares goes down to $9.

You might be thinking that doesn’t seem so great. But pause for a moment. You’re not selling yet because you’re employing dollar cost averaging. Now, with the next month’s $200, you can buy 22 shares. That’s 2 extra shares compared to your earlier buy. Now your average cost for all 42 shares is approximately $9.52. If your index fund reaches $10 again, you’ll be profitable on all those shares. If it reaches $12, or $15, or $20, now we’re talking. To sum up, if your average cost goes up, it means your investment is doing well. If the price dips, you can buy more shares.

Using dollar cost averaging means that you don’t have to know everything (no one does) and that you don’t know for certain what the market will do in the next day, week, or month (no one does). But over the long term, we have faith that the market will go up. Because dollar cost averaging removes the guesswork involved with deciding when to buy, you’re always putting money to work, money that may provide a solid return in time.

You may use dollar cost averaging with funds, ETFs, or individual stocks, but diversified investments are potentially best. An individual stock may go down to zero, while the broad stock market may continue to climb over time.

Dollar cost averaging is an important concept to understand. It may save you time and it may prevent costly investment mistakes. You don’t have to try to be an expert. Once you understand the basics of dollar cost averaging, you may start to feel like an investment genius!

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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. 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.

March 11, 2019

Does healthy living have to cost more?

Does healthy living have to cost more?

Many of us may be chair-bound during the workday and may come home lethargic and sluggish – seeming results of a sedentary lifestyle and some potentially unhealthy habits of office life.

You might be itching to break this cycle and establish some healthier habits for yourself, but you don’t want to break your budget either.

If you’re interested in improving your healthy habits – but aren’t interested in spending a lot of money to do it – read on!

Getting more exercise
Many people equate maintaining a regular exercise regimen with an expensive gym membership, but you don’t have to have one to exercise. One can perform body-weight exercises just about anywhere, so getting in some sit ups, push ups, squats, and a brisk jog can be free of charge. Other body-weight exercises, like pull-ups, may require finding a place to do them, but all one needs is a horizontal bar. This can range from a sturdy tree limb to the monkey bars at the playground.

Not sure where to begin? There are a myriad of free videos and programs online for all ages, goals, and body types. (As always, get your doctor’s approval before starting any exercise program.) If an exercise program is all new to you, you might want to start with only 10-15 minutes, then work up from there.

It does require forming a habit to establish a regular exercise routine. For that reason, it’s a good idea to build exercise into a part of your day. That way, a sense of something missing may arise when the exercise is not completed, which can be a motivation to get the workout in.

Eating healthy
This one may be a little harder to solve than the exercise issue, because saving money on your food bill may require a bigger time commitment than you’re used to, with additional shopping and food preparation. The good thing about fruits and vegetables is that many of them can be eaten raw with minimal prep time.

Internet shopping provides a myriad of resources for finding good deals for nutritious foodstuffs. If you’re feeling more adventurous and don’t mind getting your hands dirty, there may also be a local communal garden[i] in your area. Some apartment complexes offer their roofs to be used as gardens, and for those with no other options, growing right in your high-rise apartment is feasible[ii]. One of the best parts about gardening? It may give you some exercise in the process.

Unfortunately, most people can’t raise their own livestock, so for meat (and alternative protein sources) online delivery is an option, as well as shopping sales and using coupons at your local grocery store.

If all of this seems like too great of a commitment (admittedly it may take some extra work), there are other ways to start the journey without running headlong into an agricultural venture. Simply avoiding processed and fast foods is a start, as these options can be more expensive and may offer less in the way of solid nutrition. And if you find the “healthy” option too bland, make a pledge to yourself to stick with it until your taste buds become accustomed to the new foods, or experiment with spices and herbs to increase the flavor intensity.

Eating healthy and beginning an exercise program certainly demand a degree of attention and commitment, but they do not always require a lot of money. Regardless of what advertisers want you to believe, it is possible to stay in shape without a gym membership or expensive home gym equipment, and you can eat healthy without spending a week’s paycheck in the grocery store’s organic aisle.

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[i] https://www.organics.org/get-your-neighborhood-growing-how-to-start-a-communal-community-garden/
[ii] https://dengarden.com/gardening/edible-plants-you-can-grow-in-your-apartment

March 6, 2019

Back to the basics

Back to the basics

It seems many of us can over-complicate how to achieve good financial health and can make the entire subject much harder than it needs to be.

Despite what you might read in books, hear on television, or see on blogs and websites, good financial health can be simple and sustainable.

Some of the following basic principles may require a paradigm shift depending on how you’ve thought about finances and money in the past, or if you have current not-so-great habits you want to change. Hang in there!

Let’s start with frugality.

Retail therapy may not always be good therapy
One of the biggest financial pitfalls we may get into is believing that money will make us happy. To some degree, this may be true. Stress over finances can rob us of peace of mind, and not having enough money to make ends meet is a challenging – sometimes even difficult – way to live. Still, thinking that more money will alleviate the stress and bring us more happiness is a common enough trap, but it doesn’t seem to usually pan out that way.

Get yourself out of the trap by reminding yourself that if you don’t have a money problem, then don’t use money to solve it. The next time you’re tempted to do some indiscriminate “retail” therapy, think about why you’re doing what you’re doing. Do you truly need three new shopping bags of clothes and accessories or are you trying to fill some other void? Give yourself some space to slow down and think it over.

Build a love for do-it-yourself projects
Any time you can do something yourself instead of paying someone to do it for you should be a win. A foundation of frugality is to keep as much of your income in your pocket as possible. Learning to perform certain tasks yourself instead of paying someone to do them for you may save more money.

Do-it-yourself tasks can include changing the oil in your car, mowing your grass, even doing your taxes. The next time you’re about to shell out $50 (or more) to trim the lawn, consider doing it yourself and saving the money.

Curb your impulse buying habit
An impulse buying habit can rob us of good financial health. The problem is that impulse purchases seem to be mostly extraneous, and they can add up over time because we probably don’t give them much thought. A foundational principle is to try to refrain from any impulse buying. Get in the habit of putting a little pause between yourself and the item. Ask yourself if this is something you actually need or just want. Another great strategy to combat impulse buying is to practice the routine of making a shopping list and sticking to it.

It may take some time and effort to retrain yourself not to impulse buy, but as a frugal foundational principle, it’s worth it.

Build your financial health with simple principles
Achieving an excellent financial life doesn’t have to be complicated or fancy. Mastering a few foundational principles will help ensure your financial health is built on a good, solid foundation. Remember that money isn’t always the solution, aim to keep as much of your income as possible and stay away from impulse buying. Simple habits will get you on the road to financial health.

A fresh perspective, a little commitment, and some discipline can go a long way toward building a solid financial foundation.

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March 4, 2019

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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February 27, 2019

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[i], 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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[i] https://www.investopedia.com/terms/r/requiredreserves.asp

February 25, 2019

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[i], 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.

[i] https://www.speedycash.com/faqs/payday-loans/requirements/

February 20, 2019

Your health and your finances

Your health and your finances

Staying healthy has obvious physical benefits, like the chance for a longer and higher quality of life.

There is also the increased opportunity to partake in physical activities like team sports, or hiking and skydiving.

But there are also potential financial benefits to staying healthy. These may manifest in lower insurance premiums, lower medical care costs, and other less obvious ways.

The Immediate Benefits
Some benefits may be immediately observable, like a potential drop in insurance premiums for those who quit smoking or who allow an insurance company to track their daily exercise goals and accomplishments.[i] Of course, a healthier body may translate to fewer doctor visits and medication expenses, which may mean lower costs for anyone with high deductibles and copays.

For family members, a longer, healthier, higher quality life may also mean fewer expenses in your twilight years, when senior citizens may continue to live in their own homes without assistance. Of course, genetics play a role in the development and progress of health, but many leading causes of death may be entirely or partially preventable.[ii] Actively pursuing a healthy lifestyle may lead to lower risk of disease and debilitation.

Health and life insurance companies want to attract these kinds of clients (who are long-lived, make fewer claims, and pay premiums for a greater amount of time), so these companies may offer benefits in return. Family members and friends may potentially have less to pay for end-of-life care and even benefit from being able to spend more time with loved ones. This may produce positive financial results, like fewer sick days from stress-related illness and better mental health.

The Less Obvious Benefits
Lower insurance premiums, lower medical costs, and more time to live in a meaningful way are obvious potential benefits of good health. But many latent financial benefits are also derived from maintaining good health. One example is being able to perform certain daily activities that may save you money.

Those with health problems often simply cannot perform tasks that may be taken for granted by healthy individuals, like packing and moving house, walking to the grocery store 15 minutes away, or living in a more affordable walk up building on a non-ground floor. Those who are unhealthy may need to hire people to help them move, to shop for them, or be required to pay a premium for access to a building with an elevator (or potentially even more costly, have a chair lift installed in their home).

A possible benefit of healthier eating is an appreciation for more subtle tastes that are not overpowered by sugar and salt. Those who regularly eat low salt or low sugar foods may create a positive feedback cycle wherein they remain healthy because they start to truly enjoy healthier food. This can lead to a wider range of options of enjoyable food and may help lower food costs.[iii]

Saving on transportation costs can be a benefit of health as well if you’re able to bike or walk to work. Living too far from your place of employment may make this impossible, but for those who live nearby, commuting by bicycle or walking on days with suitable weather may cut down costs on transportation while simultaneously providing the benefit of exercise.

One of the less evident but easily identifiable benefits of maintaining good health may be stronger cognitive abilities and better mood balancing. Eating healthy[iv] may contribute to brain health, while regular exercise[v] may help stimulate improved memory function and thinking skills. Better health may lead to more opportunities. Improved mood may also help navigate society more adeptly, possibly leading to even further opportunity, both economically and in personal fulfillment.

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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. As with any health-related change you may wish to make, seek the advice of a professional nutritionist, medical doctor, or health practitioner.

[i] https://qz.com/1396035/life-insurance-giant-john-hancock-is-asking-customers-to-wear-health-trackers/
[ii] https://www.healio.com/cardiology/chd-prevention/news/online/%7b3fa64285-7e6e-4068-833e-eb85182aa285%7d/cdc-heart-disease-cancer-leading-causes-of-death-in-2017
[iii] https://www.consumerreports.org/healthy-eating/healthy-food-does-not-have-to-cost-more/
[iv] https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626
[v] https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/regular-exercise-changes-brain-improve-memory-thinking-skills-201404097110

February 18, 2019

Do you use the 20/4/10 rule?

Do you use the 20/4/10 rule?

If you’re in the market for a new car, you may already be aware that the average cost of a new car is about $35,000.

This pricetag has been increasing steadily in recent decades.[i] As a result, there are some “new” loan options that allow you to spread out your payments for up to 7 years.

Having a longer time to pay back your auto loan may seem like a great idea – stretching out the loan period may lower the payments month-to-month, and help squeeze a new car purchase into your family budget without too much financial juggling.

Reality check
One thing to keep in mind is that cars depreciate faster than you might imagine. Within the first 30 days, your new car’s value will have dropped by 10%. A year later, the car will have lost 20% of its value. Fast forward to 5 years after your purchase and your car is now worth less than 40% of its initial cost.[ii]

If you go with a longer loan term, it will take that much more time to build equity in the vehicle. A forced sale due to an emergency or an accident that totals your vehicle may mean you’ll still owe money on a car you no longer have. (This is what’s meant by being “upside down” in a loan: you owe more than the item is worth.)

If you’re not sure what to do, consider the 20/4/10 rule.

1. Try to put down 20% or more. Whether using cash or a trade-in that has equity, put down at least 20% of the new vehicle’s purchase price. This builds instant equity and may help you stay ahead of depreciation. Also add the cost for tax and tags to your down payment. You won’t want to pay interest on these expenses.

2. Take a loan of no longer than 4 years. Longer term loans may lower the monthly payments, but feeling like you need a loan term of more than 4 years may be a red flag that you’re buying more car than you can comfortably afford. With a shorter term loan, you may get a better interest rate and pay less interest overall because of the shorter term. This may make quite a difference in savings for you.

3. Commit no more than 10% of your gross annual income to primary car expenses. Your primary expenses would include the car payment (principal and interest), as well as your insurance payment. Other expenses, like fuel and maintenance, aren’t considered in this figure. The 10% part of the 20/4/10 rule may be the most difficult part to follow for many households considering purchasing a new car. Feeling pinched if you go with a new car could suggest that a reliable used car may be a better financial fit.

Cars are often symbolic of freedom, so it’s no wonder that we sometimes get emotional about car-buying decisions. It’s often best – as with any major purchase – to take a step back and look at the numbers and how they would affect your overall financial strategy, budget, emergency fund, etc. The money you save if you need to go with a used car could be used to build your savings or treat your family to something special now and then – and you’ll enjoy the real freedom of not being a slave to your monthly auto payment.

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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, seek the advice of a financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

[i] https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/average-new-car-prices-jump-2-percent-for-march-2018-on-suv-sales-strength-according-to-kelley-blue-book-300623110.html
[ii] https://www.carfax.com/blog/car-depreciation

February 13, 2019

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 17 is estimated at $285,000.[i] Families with children have an average of 1.9 kids[ii], which nearly doubles those long-term costs. (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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[i] https://smartasset.com/retirement/the-average-cost-of-raising-a-child
[ii] https://www.statista.com/statistics/718084/average-number-of-own-children-per-family/

February 11, 2019

Bankruptcy – Consequences and Aftermath

Bankruptcy – Consequences and Aftermath

If you or a loved one is at (or think you may be at) the place where you’re wondering if declaring bankruptcy[i] may be the path to take, there are several serious consequences to be aware of.

Depending on the type of bankruptcy (Chapter 7 or Chapter 13)[ii], debts may be eliminated, reduced, or restructured into a less burdensome repayment plan.

But what about the consequences that arise during the process itself, and what is the aftermath?

Before and During Filing
Before you even file there are consequences that can arise from bankruptcy proceedings: the law requires that the filer undergo credit counseling [iii] by a government-approved entity to ensure the filer understands what will take place during the process and have a chance to look at other options. If bankruptcy still seems to be the only viable option, the filer will then have to file in federal court, paying a filing fee of hundreds of dollars.[iv]

During the process, a schedule of assets and liabilities must be submitted for review by the court. That means the creditors and court will be able to look into your private financial life. Furthermore, the bankruptcy will become part of the public record, and therefore your financial details will be exposed to public scrutiny. Next, in Chapter 7, nonexempt assets will be sold by the trustee to help pay creditors. For Chapter 13, the court, creditors, and debtor will work out a repayment plan based on the financial situation of the debtor.

Discharge usually occurs for Chapter 7 within a few months, and the debtor will be free of the debts. In Chapter 13, discharge comes as a result of successfully completing the repayment plan. If the schedule of assets and liabilities is not filed in a timely manner, the request may be dismissed. If the repayment plan is not strictly followed, the court may dismiss the process and decide in favor of the creditors (who may repossess assets).

Impact on Your Credit Report
Once discharge occurs, the debtor will have escaped from the shadow of debt. However, the ghosts of the filing will remain on the credit report for several years.[v] A Chapter 13 filing will stay for seven years, while a Chapter 7 filing will remain for ten years. It should be no surprise that a bankruptcy, regardless of type, will negatively impact your credit score.[vi] However, over time if an applicant can show a good faith attempt to repay the debts, and begin to develop good credit habits, creditors may be more willing to cooperate.

Successive Filings
One important point to consider is the ability to refile. Because Chapter 7 completely erases debts, possibly with very little partial payment required if the debtor’s nonexempt assets are minimal, the debtor must wait eight years before another discharge would be granted. (One may file bankruptcy before this time, but a discharge – the actual debt elimination – would not be granted.) On the other hand, a restructuring under Chapter 13 is less detrimental to creditors, so another discharge may be granted in a bankruptcy that is filed just two years after the first bankruptcy is filed.

The concurrent and subsequent, long lasting consequences of filing bankruptcy are significant, and those who can avoid bankruptcy should certainly consider all the alternatives. If bankruptcy seems to be the only option, filers should thoroughly understand the consequences of the process before committing to that course of action.

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This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer legal advice or promote any certain plans or strategies that may be available to you. Always seek the advice of a financial professional, accountant, attorney, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

[i] https://www.uscourts.gov/services-forms/bankruptcy
[ii] https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/what-is-the-difference-between-chapter-7-chapter-13-bankrutpcy.html
[iii] https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0224-filing-bankruptcy-what-know#counseling
[iv] https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/bankruptcy-filing-fees-costs.html
[v] https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/removing-bankruptcy-from-your-credit-report/
[vi] https://www.moneycrashers.com/bankruptcy-affect-credit-score/

February 4, 2019

When is it OK to use a credit card?

When is it OK to use a credit card?

Even though your budget might be 100% on point, your retirement accounts well-funded, and you’ve got something stashed away for the kids’ college tuition, sometimes an emergency rears its ugly head.

And despite your best efforts, your only option to cover it might be to use a credit card.

Let’s face it. Once in a blue moon there may not be enough emergency fund to go around. Sometimes the water heater needs replacing right before the in-laws arrive for Thanksgiving. Doesn’t this kind of thing seem to always happen the same week your child falls off the swingset and needs an ER visit?

What is the best way to handle using your credit card for an emergency? Here are a few tips that may help you get out of a jam if you choose to use your credit card.

Take out a loan
If you’re planning on putting an emergency expense on a credit card, make sure it’s truly a last resort. If possible, try to find other ways to cover the expense first. Can you ask a friend or family member for a loan? You may consider other loan options such as a personal bank loan or a home equity loan. These options do carry interest, but the rate may be lower than the one for your credit card.

Use a low interest card
Find and keep the lowest interest rate card you can. Many credit cards may come with an introductory zero percent interest rate for a specified period. But pay attention to the interest rate that applies after the initial period. This is what you’ll be obligated to pay after the introductory period expires.

Keep a healthy credit score
If you have good to excellent credit, you may be able to secure a zero percent interest card to use specifically for the emergency. The idea is that you would plan to pay off the balance during the introductory period.

If your credit score isn’t high, work on it. Make your payments on time and strive to keep a low credit card balance.

Build your emergency fund
At one time or another, many of us have been caught off guard with an emergency. A well-stocked emergency fund is the first line of defense when those unplanned expenses come up.

Aim for an emergency fund equivalent of 6 to 12 months’ worth of expenses. If that seems overwhelming, focus on smaller goals such as saving $500 and then try hitting $1,000. With time and diligence, your emergency fund will grow, and you may not have to worry so much about needing to put emergency expenses on a credit card.

Getting through a pinch with a credit card
If you are in a pinch and absolutely must put emergency expenses on a credit card, shoot for the lowest interest rate and pay it off as quickly as you can. Meanwhile, continue to build your emergency fund so you can be prepared in the future.

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February 4, 2019

Renter or Owner: What type of insurance do you need?

Renter or Owner: What type of insurance do you need?

Whether you’re renting or you own your home, there are various insurance options you may want to consider.

Like any insurance, they’ll help provide financial coverage in the event of an unexpected disaster. There are also varying levels of insurance that you may choose.

For Homeowners
There’s a general category known as “homeowner’s insurance”, which usually covers four categories: interior and exterior damage, damage to or loss of possessions on the property, and personal liability coverage that will help cover the cost of injuries sustained while on the property (such as if a guest slips and falls down the steps to the front door). The damages section of the policy usually won’t cover acts of war or nature, the latter including things like volcanic eruptions or floods. However, many policies will cover lodging and meals while the property is under construction and not able to be inhabited for the duration, such as if an exterior wall is destroyed by fire.

For geographical areas prone to certain disasters, a separate, specialized insurance policy may need to be purchased in order to cover damages or loss caused by such disasters. For example, for areas that are low-lying and near rivers where frequent heavy storms occur, general insurance may not cover damage to the property. Conversely, properties in mountainous areas are unlikely to need flood insurance but may need earthquake and/or landslide insurance if such events are more common there.

For Renters
While homeowner insurance will cover damage to the property – which is a major concern for those with a financial stake in the property – renter’s insurance usually covers damage to and loss of possessions, and also offers coverage for personal liability for injuries sustained on the property. The landlord likely has an insurance policy on the property to help protect against financial loss in the event of physical damage, but their insurance unlikely will extend to the tenant’s possessions or guests’ injuries. Thus, those who rent the property will need to consider insurance policies for these events.

Which Policies to Choose
As with any insurance policy, there may be deductibles, liability limits, covered and noncovered events and assets, and premiums. Generally the higher the limits and the broader the group of included incidents or assets, the higher the premium will be.

Some issues to consider:

  • If you choose a high deductible you may have a lower premium.
  • If you have guests over regularly, greater coverage for personal liability may be worthwhile.
  • If you travel often, an extension to protection may be a good idea. This is because many insurance policies may not cover theft or certain damages (like those arising from fire) for “vacant” homes, since these can be a greater risk when no one is living there for an extended period.
  • Many companies and policies may offer discounts to the premium if you have certain protections, like an alarm system, if you regularly perform maintenance, or opt for fire-retardant materials.
  • Some companies offer premium discounts if you have for example, both your car insurance and your renter’s or homeowener’s insurance with them.

The bottom line is that you should shop around for the best rates and coverage. Each individual will need to find the best fit. Make sure you have coverage for any specific circumstances that may be common in your area. And most importantly, make sure you thoroughly read and understand your policies, and the situations they cover, and don’t cover.

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January 28, 2019

Renting vs. buying a home: Which is right for you?

Renting vs. buying a home: Which is right for you?

100 million Americans live in homes they or their families rent.

Which means about 250 million live in homes that are owned by themselves or their families.[i]

What about you? Are you a renter or an owner? If you’re thinking about making a change, take a look at these important factors when deciding to rent or own.

The Case for Ownership
One very oft-cited benefit of owning over renting is building up equity. When one rents, the entire rent payment goes to the landlord, and the tenant does not own any part of the dwelling at all. With a mortgage, on the other hand, the payer receives some percentage of ownership after every payment (assuming the payment is going towards the principal rather than interest alone), eventually leading to full ownership of the property.

For those with enough capital to outright purchase a property, ownership is almost certainly the best decision financially: no money is paid to a landlord for a service that is consumed but non-saleable in the future. Even for those without sufficient capital, mortgages tend to offer low interest rates (compared to other loan products), and the buyer can usually justify the mortgage interest in return for eventual full ownership. Even if the owner decides to move before the mortgage is completely paid off, the equity that was built thus far can be recouped and used later.

Other reasons to own may include more privacy and greater ability to customize the property. There is also the feeling of stability that you won’t have to renew a contract or potentially pay higher rent during the next cycle when your lease renews.

One of the biggest drawbacks of ownership is the potential that the property value may decline, particularly when still under mortgage. If the value of the property goes down – possibly due to a natural disaster or a lot of foreclosures in your neighborhood [ii] – the equity that was built by the owner may decline, not the amount owed on the loan. Thus a substantial decrease in prices as happened in the late 2000s, could cause an owner to be in the same position financially as a renter – that is, with no equity to speak of.

The Case for Rentership
For those who cannot meet ownership’s capital requirements, renting is not a choice – it’s a necessity. However, even those who would qualify for a mortgage may be better off renting, especially if they insist on flexibility. Selling a property is an involved, complex financial transaction that may take many months to complete. If you’re renting and you need to move, finding a subletter (if allowed) is a possibility, and even when not, a standard rental agreement usually only lasts one year, after which the renter may decline to renew. Thus flexibility is one of the most important factors for those who wish to rent.

And while there is usually much less customization allowable at rental properties, there may be significant benefits included in rent with utilities paid, maintenance performed, and communal facilities like gyms, pools, or laundry facilities available. For owners, maintenance, utilities, and tax bills are solely the responsibility of the owner, whereas for renters, these may be paid in part or in full by the landlord. Regarding the investment side, renters do not own the property, so they do not have to worry about losing equity if the property market decreases in value.

Some drawbacks of renting may be less privacy, not being able to build equity, and the uncertainty of future rental prices or even availability. Of course, if the rent increases too much, the renter has the flexibility to leave the property at the next cycle.

So whether you’re thinking of renting or buying, before you sign on the dotted line, examine your short and long term goals, the risks you’re willing to take, and your budget.

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[i] https://www.citylab.com/life/2018/08/who-rents-their-home-heres-what-the-data-says/566933/
[ii] https://www.thebalancesmb.com/causes-of-property-value-decrease-2124863

January 28, 2019

Your credit score – 4 things you need to know

Your credit score – 4 things you need to know

You’re probably aware that your credit score is usually accessed when you apply for new credit, such as a credit card or an auto loan.

But you may not know it might also be requested by landlords, employers, and even romantic partners.[i]

So what are your credit score and report, what are the factors that determine them, and why do so many diverse parties request to see them?

What is a credit score and what is a credit report?
Your credit score is simply a number that encapsulates your ability to repay debt. It isn’t the only way interested parties can assess your creditworthiness, but it’s certainly often used as a preliminary factor. Having a higher score may lead to lower interest rates, more successful credit applications, and possibly more trust in general.

Your credit report is much more comprehensive and shows your outstanding debts, how well you pay them, the age of the accounts, and so forth. A single bad account on your credit report might damage your score, but your counterparty may be willing to work with you if you can show a strong history with your other accounts – and can justify the problem account.

What constitutes your credit score?
Credit reports are maintained by the three main credit reporting agencies: TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian. A credit score is generated by FICO, VantageScore, and some financial institutions may have their own proprietary algorithms to determine their own scores.

In general, scores are determined by the variously-weighted categories of payment history, the amount owed (credit utilization), the age of the accounts, how much new credit you’ve requested recently, and the types of accounts (revolving, mortgage, student loans, etc.).[ii] Of course proprietary scores may take many other factors into consideration.

Who wants to see your credit score?
Lenders may screen you based on your credit score, then use other factors to determine if they’ll give you a loan. Instant-approval lenders, like credit card companies, may just use your credit score to determine your creditworthiness. For large, long-term loans, like mortgages, you can expect to have to turn over your credit report as well.

Landlords may ask for a report, but might also request your credit score as well. They have the obvious financial interest in relying on you to pay your rent from month to month, but they also may have in mind that if you’re responsible with your money, perhaps you’ll also be responsible to take care of your rented living quarters.

Employers may ask to see your credit report. They may make hiring decisions based on the report, but some states have disallowed the practice.[iii] The chance that financial hardship may prompt employee theft is one reason they may ask, as well as wanting to see your consistency in paying debts over time, which may correlate with your punctuality and persistence at work.

How to improve your score
Those with poor credit may want to improve their credit history, which may in turn improve their credit scores. Payment history makes up 35% of the FICO scoring factors, and this will take time to improve. However, 30% of the score is determined by how much you owe, which can quickly be improved by paying down your debt. The 15% determinant that is credit age can, of course, only improve with time, but the 10% of your score attributed to new requests and 10% to types of credit can be managed in a short timeframe, too; try to avoid applying for a lot of new credit and, when you do, try to get different types of credit.[iv]

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[i] https://www.businessinsider.com/good-credit-score-can-help-you-get-a-date-2018-2
[ii] https://www.thebalance.com/fico-credit-score-315552
[iii] https://www.thebalancecareers.com/why-do-employers-check-credit-history-2059598
[iv] http://money.com/money/collection-post/2791957/what-is-my-credit-score/

January 21, 2019

Do you know your net worth?

Do you know your net worth?

Usually when we think of net worth we imagine all the holdings of a wealthy tycoon who owns several multi-million dollar businesses.

Or a young heiress on the New York social scene, or a successful blockbuster movie actor.

However, you have a net worth too. Essentially, your net worth is a personal balance sheet of your assets and liabilities, not unlike the balance sheets used in business.

Calculating your net worth
First, you’ll want to tally up all your assets. These would include:

  • Personal property and cars
  • Real estate equity
  • Investments
  • Vested retirement plans
  • Cash or savings
  • Amounts owed to you
  • Cash value of life insurance policies

Next, you’ll calculate your liabilities (amounts you owe someone). These would include:

  • Loans
  • Mortgage balance
  • Credit card balances
  • Unpaid obligations

Your total liabilities subtracted from your total assets establishes your net worth.

The number could be positive, or it could be negative. Students, for example, often have a negative net worth because they may have student loans but haven’t had much of a chance to build personal assets yet.

It’s also important to realize that net worth isn’t always equal to liquid assets. Your net worth includes non-liquid assets, like the equity in your home.

What should your net worth be?
The notion that you should be at a certain net worth by a certain age is mostly arbitrary; wealth is relative. Having a hundred thousand dollars stashed away might sound like a lot, but if you live in an affluent area or have a large family to provide for, it may not last long if your job disappears suddenly. In other situations, the same hundred thousand dollars might be a fabulous starting point to a growing net worth.

Net worth can be a way of “keeping score”, but it’s important to remember the game is one in which you are the only player and you’re playing to best yourself. What someone else has or doesn’t have isn’t relevant to your needs and your future goals for your family.

Looking ahead
Measuring your net worth can be a strong motivation when saving for the future. Do you want to be a certain net worth by a certain age? Not if the number is pulled out of thin air. If your net worth marks progress toward a well-reasoned goal, however, it’s extremely relevant.

When you’re ready to put together a personalized plan based on your net worth and (more importantly) your future goals, reach out anytime. We can use net worth as a starting point and a measurement tool, while keeping squarely focused on the real target: your long-term financial strategy.

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January 21, 2019

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.

January 14, 2019

Should I pay off my car or my credit cards?

Should I pay off my car or my credit cards?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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[i] https://www.valuepenguin.com/auto-loans/average-auto-loan-interest-rates
[ii] https://www.bankrate.com/calculators/auto/early-payment-payoff-calculator.aspx
[iii] https://www.bankrate.com/calculators/credit-cards/credit-card-payoff-calculator.aspx

January 14, 2019

A quick reference guide to car insurance

A quick reference guide to car insurance

Been shopping around for auto insurance but you’re befuddled by all the options?

Auto insurance is a common type of insurance we purchase, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be confusing. Buying the right policy for your needs begins with understanding typical coverages.

Read on for a quick reference guide to auto insurance coverage.

Liability coverage is the basis
One of the most important types of insurance is liability protection. Liability insurance is what steps in to help protect you when you are at fault in an accident. Most auto insurance policies contain two types of liability insurance.

Bodily injury liability: Bodily injury liability coverage helps protect you if you injure someone in an accident. The coverage will contribute towards the injured person’s medical bills.

Property damage liability: Property damage liability works just like bodily injury, only it helps pay to repair the property you’re responsible for damaging. For example, the coverage helps pay to fix someone’s car if you rear end them or to replace a guardrail if you slide off an icy road.

First party physical damage coverage
So now you may be thinking, “That’s great, but what if my car gets damaged?” Good point. You may purchase coverage on your auto policy to help protect your car if it’s damaged. This would usually be referred to as physical damage coverage. There are two main types:

Comprehensive: Comprehensive should help cover your vehicle if it’s damaged in anything other than a collision accident. For example, if a tree limb falls on it, it has damage from a hail storm, is flooded, or stolen, you would make a comprehensive claim.

Collision: Collision coverage repairs your car if it’s in a collision accident. Also, you may use your collision coverage no matter who’s at fault for the crash. Physical damage coverages may come with a deductible. That’s the part you’re responsible for paying if you need the coverage, so choose carefully. Deductibles may range from $50 to $2,500.

Medical payments coverage
Medical payments coverage helps pay for you and your passengers’ medical bills if you’re injured in an accident. Typically, the coverage can be used regardless of fault. It’s usually primary to your health insurance, so it would pay out first in that case.

Other options
While those are the most significant and common auto insurance coverages, many companies offer add-on coverages that may be of some benefit. Two are:

Roadside assistance: Roadside assistance can be purchased from some insurers and will help pay for towing or emergency services such as a tire change or jump start. Each insurance company has different limits on coverage, so make sure you know what they are and what would be covered.

Rental reimbursement: Rental reimbursement coverage would help pay for a rental car for you up to a certain length of time and dollar limit. The coverage would kick in if your vehicle is in the shop due to a covered loss.

State requirements
Each state has different minimum auto insurance requirements for drivers. These are usually referred to as state minimums. While state minimum limits would get you on the road legally, they typically don’t offer the best option for coverage. Speak to a qualified insurance professional about getting the best auto coverage for your needs in your state.

Auto insurance needs differ among drivers
Everyone has different auto insurance needs. There are many factors to consider including how much you drive, the types of vehicles you own, and what kind of assets you need to protect.

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This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain insurance products, plans, or strategies that may be available to you. Before enacting a policy, seek the advice of a qualified insurance agent.

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