How Do Checking Accounts Work?

April 19, 2021

View Article
Rich & Kristina Messenger

Rich & Kristina Messenger

Senior Vice President



McKinney, TX

Subscribe to get my Email Newsletter

April 19, 2021

How Do Checking Accounts Work?

How Do Checking Accounts Work?

You probably use your checking account every day, but do you really know how it works?

This article will explore exactly what a checking account is and how it works!

A checking account is a simple way to store your money. You can make deposits and withdrawals whenever you need to. They’re easy to access with checks, the ATM, your debit card, and online payments.

The checking account advantage? It’s liquid. You have instant access to those funds at all times without penalty if needed. That makes it ideal for daily expenses like buying groceries, paying for a babysitter, or making an emergency car repair. That’s why they’re so common—there are a total of 600 million checking accounts in the United States!¹

The disadvantage? Low (or no) interest rates! Because many checking accounts come with various fees and minimums to maintain them (usually elevated monthly account balances), the average interest rate is only about 0.04% APY on these types of accounts,² which may not be worth it in some cases if you’re saving up money without investing funds elsewhere as well.

Another downside? Overdraft fees. You might be liable for an overdraft penalty if the money in your checking account doesn’t match what you’ve spent! This could lead to some hefty fees. Thankfully many banks have overdraft protection policies which will prevent these charges, but not all do so check before signing up for a new checking account.

You should probably have a checking account if you don’t already, simply for the ease of living life. They’re not the most exciting thing in the world, but they can be hugely helpful for daily transactions. Just be sure you’re not relying on one to build wealth!

  • Share:


¹ “Checking Accounts Shrink by Nearly 100 Million Accounts Since 2011,” Tina Orem, Credit Union Times, May 8, 2018, https://www.cutimes.com/2018/05/08/checking-accounts-shrink-by-nearly-100-million-acc/

² “Average Checking Account Interest Rates 2021,” Chris Moon, ValuePenguin, https://www.valuepenguin.com/banking/average-checking-account-interest-rates

March 29, 2021

Personal Finance Moves For Small Business Owners

Personal Finance Moves For Small Business Owners

As a small business owner, you’re responsible for everything—from saving on office supplies to making sure folks get paid to knowing what taxes to file and when.

A big part of success is educating yourself on how your personal finances affect your business and vice versa. Here are a few moves that can help keep your personal finances healthy while you grow your business.

Keep track of your monthly income and expenses. Your business income can vary dramatically from month to month, depending on the season, number of sales, trends in your market, etc. These could potentially cause your average bottom line to be lower than anticipated.

That’s why it’s critical to track your monthly income and then budget accordingly. As your income grows and shrinks, you can adjust your spending.

Set up an emergency fund. This money can be used to cover unexpected costs, such as unanticipated repairs or an illness. But, when you own a business, it can also help you make ends meet if business is slow or, say, if a global pandemic shuts down the world economy. Save up 6 months’ worth of spending in an account you can easily access in a pinch!

Know what you owe, to whom, and when it is due. Personal debt can be a serious challenge for small business owners. It may motivate them to make foolish financial decisions to pay off what they owe, regardless of the consequences.

That’s why it’s important to manage your finances responsibly so that debt doesn’t become a problem. Adopt a debt management strategy to reduce your debt ASAP. Your business may benefit greatly from it.

Get professional advice if you need help with your finances. If it’s at all feasible for your business’s budget, get a professional set of eyes on your books. They’ll help you navigate the world of finances, share strategies that can help make the most of your revenue, and show you how to position yourself for future success!

  • Share:

March 10, 2021

How to Reduce Debt

How to Reduce Debt

Paying off debt can be a great feeling.

The burden is lifted and you have more control over your financial situation. If you’re like many, however, paying down debt hasn’t been an easy task due to high interest rates and the sheer size of what you owe. Many people find themselves in situations where they feel helpless. But following some tips from this article can show you a path towards financial health!

Start by making a budget. Write down your income on a piece of paper or spreadsheet. Then, calculate how much you spend, on average, every month. If you can, categorize all of your expenses in order of amount spent. Be sure to also rank your debts from highest to lowest interest rate!

Then, subtract your expenses from your income. The result is how much cash flow you have available to attack your debt.

But before you start chipping away at what you owe, devote your cash flow to building an emergency fund. Why? Because it will provide a cash reserve to pay for unexpected expenses that you might otherwise cover with more debt!

Then, focus all your financial resources on your highest interest loan. Make minimum payments on all your debts until that top priority debt is eliminated. Next, move on to the next debt. Rinse and repeat until you’re debt free.

Track your spending and cut back where possible. When you budget, you might find that you have almost no cash flow. If that’s the case, you’ll need to reduce your spending. Start by cutting back on categories like clothes shopping and dining out.

Above all, be consistent! Reducing debt is no easy task but it’s doable. Cutting back on your spending and consistently budgeting may not be easy in the short-term, but the sense of relief that comes with being debt free is well worth the effort.

  • Share:

February 3, 2021

Strategies for Coping With Medical Bills

Strategies for Coping With Medical Bills

What’s your strategy for paying medical bills?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Share:


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

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

January 11, 2021

Simple Ways to Streamline Your Budget

Simple Ways to Streamline Your Budget

Is your budgeting system slowing your financial progress?

It’s not hard to tell if it is. Consistently ignoring your budget and failing to see results like increased cash flow and reduced debt could be indicators that something’s wrong.

Fortunately, it’s not hard to streamline your budgeting process. Here are two simple steps you can take to make your budget more manageable and more effective.

Prioritize your short-term budgeting goals
Splitting your cash flow between non-discretionary spending, savings, your emergency fund, and debt reduction may make you feel like you’ve got all the bases covered, but spreading yourself too thin might actually be diminishing the power of your money. It creates a house of cards that’s waiting to collapse!

Instead of trying to knock out everything at the same time, your budget should reflect your current financial situation. Prioritize where you put your money for the goal you’re trying to achieve. Start by putting all your excess cash flow towards an emergency fund. Then, target your debt. And finally, start directing your income towards building wealth. You’ll more effectively clear the obstacles that block the way towards financial independence.

Automate everything
What if there were a way to automatically make wise financial decisions without even thinking about it? That’s the power of automation.

Once you’ve determined your short-term budgeting goal, set up automatic deposits that move you closer towards achieving it. If you’re building an emergency fund, set up an automatic transfer from your checking account to a high-interest savings account every payday. You can do the same with essential bills and utilities as well.

Once you prioritize and automate your budget, there’s a great chance that you’ll see real progress towards your goals. And once you see progress you’ll feel empowered, maybe even excited, to keep pushing towards building wealth and creating financial independence.

  • Share:


November 30, 2020

4 Insights Into Paying Off Debt

4 Insights Into Paying Off Debt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Share:


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

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

November 2, 2020

Two Rules That Could Save Your Financial Life

Two Rules That Could Save Your Financial Life

Almost 70% of Americans have less than $1,000 saved.¹

That means most Americans couldn’t cover unplanned car repairs, home maintenance, or medical bills without selling something or going into debt. They’re constantly living on the edge of financial ruin.

That’s where your emergency fund comes in. It’s a stash of cash that you can easily access in a pinch. You’ll be able to pay for that blown transmission without visiting a payday lender or selling your grandma’s silverware!

But here’s the catch: Your emergency savings account won’t help you much if it’s under-funded.

Follow these two rules to ensure that your rainy day savings can withstand the storms of life.

Rule #1: Only use your emergency fund for real emergencies.

I get it. Your emergency fund is an easily accessible chunk of money. Of course it’s going to be tempting to tap into it when you’re buying a new car or planning a dream vacation.

But your rainy day savings shouldn’t fund your lifestyle. They should protect it.

Think of it like this. Your vacation fund pays for your annual beach trip. Your emergency fund covers the bill when your car breaks down on the drive home. Only touch your emergency fund for unexpected expenses and enjoy the peace that comes from being prepared.

Rule #2: Always refill your emergency fund when it’s low

Ideally, your emergency fund should be stocked with 3 to 6 months of your income at all times. That should be enough to cover the gambit from small unexpected costs to a month or two of unemployment.

Don’t be afraid to tap into your emergency savings when you face unforeseen financial hiccups. Just remember to refresh your fund when the emergency has passed. The last thing you need is to be caught in the crosshairs of another crisis without a buffer.

Don’t let a financial storm blow you off course. Prepare for your future, and start building an emergency fund now. If you follow these rules, it can help financially protect you from the challenges life will inevitably send your way.

  • Share:

September 23, 2020

Who Needs Life Insurance?

Who Needs Life Insurance?

Life insurance is important… or so you’ve been told.

But do you really need it? And how can you know? Let’s take a look at who does and doesn’t need the family and legacy protecting power of life insurance and some specific examples of both.

Protecting your dependants
Is there anyone in your life who would suffer financially if your income were to vanish? If so, then you have dependents. And anyone with financial dependents should buy life insurance. Those are the people you’re aiming to protect with a life insurance policy.

On the other hand, if you live alone, aren’t helping anyone pay bills, and no one relies on you financially to pursue their dreams, then you still might need coverage. Let’s look at some specific examples below.

Young singles
Let’s say you’ve just graduated from college, you’ve started your first job, and you’re living in a new city. Your parents don’t need you to help support them, and you’re on your own financially. Should you get life insurance? If you have serious amounts of student or credit card debt that would get moved to your parents in the event of your passing, then it’s a consideration. You also might think about if you have saved enough in emergency funds to cover potential funeral expenses. Now would also potentially be a better time to buy a policy early while rates are low, especially if you’re considering starting a family in the near future.

Married without children
What if your family is just you and your spouse? Do either of you need life insurance? Remember, your goal is to protect the people who depend on your income. You and your spouse have built a life together that’s probably supported by both of your incomes. A life insurance policy could protect your loved one’s lifestyle if something were to happen to you. It would also help them meet lingering financial obligations like car payments, credit card debt, and a mortgage, even if they still have their income.

Single or married parents
Anyone with children must consider life insurance. No one relies on your income quite like your kids. It’s what clothes them and feeds them. Later on, it can empower them to pursue their educational dreams. Life insurance can help give you peace of mind that all of those needs will be protected. Even a stay-at-home parent should consider a policy. They often provide for needs like childcare and education that would be costly to replace. Life insurance is an essential line of defense for your family’s dreams and lifestyle.

Business owners
No one wants to think about what would happen to their business without them. But entrepreneurs and small business owners can use life insurance to protect their hard work. A policy can help protect your family if you took out loans to start your business and are still paying down debt. More importantly, it can help offset the losses if your family can’t operate the business without you and has to sell in poor market conditions.

Not everyone needs life insurance right now. But it’s a vital line of defense for the people you care about most and should be on everyone’s radar. The need might not be as urgent for a young, debt-free single person, but it’s still worth it to start making plans to protect your future family. Contact a financial professional today to begin the process of preparing!

  • Share:

August 10, 2020

First time home buyer? Beware hidden expenses.

First time home buyer? Beware hidden expenses.

If you’re getting into the home buying game, chances are you’re feeling a little overwhelmed.

Purchasing a home for the first time is exciting but it can also be very stressful! Anyone who’s been through that process could probably share a story about a surprise hidden expense that came along with their dream home.

Read on to help prepare yourself for some common costs that can pop up unexpectedly when you’re purchasing a home.

Emergency fund
Before we get into the hidden costs of homeownership, let’s talk a little about how to help handle them if and when they do arise. If you’re getting ready to buy a home but don’t have an emergency fund, you may want to strongly consider holding off that purchase, if at all possible, until you do have an emergency fund established. It’s recommended to put aside at least $1,000, but preferably you should save 3-6 months of your expenses, including mortgage payments. An emergency fund is the most fundamental personal finance tool you can have in your toolkit. It’s like the toolbox itself that holds all your other financial tools together. So, before you start home shopping, build your emergency fund.

Homeowners associations
If your dream house happens to be in a neighborhood with a homeowners association (HOA), be prepared to pony up HOA fees each month (some HOA’s may charge these fees every quarter, or even annually). HOA fees may cover costs to maintain neighborhood common areas, such as pools or parks. They may also cover maintenance to your front lawn, and/or snow removal from driveways, etc. Typically, a homeowners association will have a board that enforces any agreed-upon property standards, such as having you remove ivy from your home exterior, or making sure your sidewalk is pressure washed regularly.

If you purchase a home with an HOA, be prepared for the added cost in fees as well as adhering to the rules. You may incur a fine for such things as your grass not being mowed properly, or parking your boat or camper in your yard.

Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)
PMI comes into play if you can’t make at least a 20% down payment on your new home. If that’s the case, your mortgage lender charges PMI which would kick in to protect them if you default on the loan. It can cost 0.3 to 1.5% of your mortgage. However, once you have 20% equity in the home, you don’t have to pay it anymore. (Note: You may have to proactively call your mortgage company and tell them to remove it.)

Maintenance costs
If you’ve been living the maintenance-free life in an apartment or rental home, the cost of maintaining a house that you own may come as a shock. Even new homes require maintenance – lawn care, pressure washing, clearing rain gutters, painting, etc. There’s always going to be something to upgrade or repair on a home, and many first-time home buyers aren’t prepared for the expense.

A good rule of thumb is to budget about 10 percent of the value of your home for maintenance per year. So, if you buy a $250,000 home, you should prepare for $2,500 a year in maintenance costs.

Home insurance
Be prepared for some sticker shock when purchasing your homeowners’ insurance. Homeowners insurance is typically significantly more expensive than purchasing a renter’s policy. If you live in an area prone to natural disasters, be prepared to pay top rates for homeowners’ insurance. If you live near a body of water, you may also need flood insurance.

Life insurance
Many first-time homebuyers may not give life insurance a thought, but it’s an important factor that can help protect your investment. You probably need life insurance if anyone is depending on your income. Especially if your income helps pay your mortgage every month, you should strongly consider a life insurance policy in case something were to happen to you. This will help ensure that your spouse or significant other can continue to live in your home.

Homebuying is exciting and part of the American dream. But don’t neglect to come back to reality – at least when making financial decisions – so you can budget properly and anticipate any hidden costs. This will help ensure that your first-time home buying experience is a happy one.

  • Share:

August 5, 2020

Savings accounts vs. CDs – which is better?

Savings accounts vs. CDs – which is better?

Interest rates are on the rise, which might not be great news if you carry revolving debt.

But savings accounts and certificates of deposit (CDs) might start looking more attractive as places to put your money. Currently, both savings accounts and CDs might be good options, so which is better? In large part, whether a savings account or a CD is the better tool for saving depends on your savings goal.

Access to funds Savings accounts offer more flexibility than CDs if you need to withdraw your money. However, be aware that many banks charge a fee if your balance falls below a certain threshold. Some banks don’t have a minimum balance requirement, and some credit unions have minimum balance requirements as low as a penny. It could be worth it to shop around if you think you might need to draw down the account at any moment.

CDs, on the other hand, have a maturity date. If you need access to your funds before the maturity date, which might range from six months to up to five years depending on which CD you choose, expect to sacrifice some interest or pay a penalty. Accessing funds held in a standard CD before its maturity date is called “breaking the CD”.

“Liquid CDs” allow you to withdraw without penalty, but typically pay a lower interest rate than standard CDs.

Interest rates CDs are historically known for paying higher interest rates than savings accounts, but this isn’t always the case. Interest rates for both types of accounts are still hovering near their lows. Depending on your situation, it might be better to choose an account type based on convenience. If interest rates continue upward, CDs may become more attractive.

In a higher interest rate environment, CDs might be a great tool for saving if you know when you’ll need the money. Let’s say you have a bill for college that will be due in thirteen months. If you won’t need the money for anything else in the meantime, a twelve-month CD might be a fit because the CD will mature before the bill is due, so the money can be withdrawn without penalty.

If your goal is to establish an emergency fund, however, a CD might not be the best option because you don’t know when you’re going to need the money. If an emergency comes your way, you won’t want to pay a penalty to access your savings. Keep an eye on current rates, and if CD interest rates start to increase, then you might consider them for longer-term savings if you won’t need the funds until a fixed date in the future. For emergency savings, consider a savings account that keeps your money separate from your checking account but still provides easy access if you need it.

Depending on your situation, a CD or a savings account may be the better fit. Shop around for the best rates you can find, and make sure you understand any penalties or fees you might incur for withdrawing funds.

  • Share:


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. Market performance is based on many factors and cannot be predicted. Before investing or enacting a savings or retirement strategy, seek the advice of a financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

June 15, 2020

Should I pay off my car or my credit cards?

Should I pay off my car or my credit cards?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Share:

May 25, 2020

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.

  • Share:


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.

May 6, 2020

How Much Should You Save Each Month?

How Much Should You Save Each Month?

How much are you saving?

That might be an uncomfortable question to answer. 45% of Americans have $0 saved. Almost 70% have under $1,000 saved (1). That means most Americans don’t have enough to replace the transmission in their car, much less retire (2)!

But how much of your income should you send towards your savings account? And how do you even start? Keep reading for some useful strategies on saving!

10 percent rule
A common strategy for saving is the 50/30/20 method. It calls for 50% of your budget to go towards essentials like food and rent, 30% toward fun and entertainment, and the final 20% is saved. That’s a good standard, but it can seem like a faraway fantasy if you’re weighed down by bills or debt. A more achievable goal might be to save around 10% of your income and start working up from there. For reference, that means a family making $60,000 a year should try to stash away around $6,000 annually.

A budget is your friend
But where do you find the money to save? The easiest way is with a budget. It’s the best method to keep track of where your money is going and see where you need to cut back. It’s not always fun. It can be difficult or even embarrassing to see how you’ve been spending. But it’s a powerful reality check that can motivate you to change your habits and take control of your finances.

Save for more than your retirement
Something else to consider is that you need to save for more than just your retirement. Maintaining an emergency fund for unexpected expenses can provide a cushion (and some peace of mind) in case you need to replace your washing machine or if your kid needs stitches. And it’s always better to save up for big purchases like a vacation or Christmas gifts than it is to use credit.

Saving isn’t always easy. Quitting your spending habit cold turkey can be overwhelming and make you feel like you’re missing out. However, getting your finances under control so you can begin a savings strategy is one of the best long-term decisions you can make. Start budgeting, find out how much you spend, and start making a plan to save. And don’t hesitate to reach out to a financial professional if you feel stuck or need help!

  • Share:

January 27, 2020

7 Money-Saving Tips for Budgeting Beginners

7 Money-Saving Tips for Budgeting Beginners

Starting a budget from scratch can seem like a huge hassle.

You have to track down all of your expenses, organize them into a list or spreadsheet, figure out how much you want to save, etc., etc.

But budgeting doesn’t have to be difficult or overwhelming. Here are 7 easy and fun tips to help keep your budget in check and jump-start some new financial habits!

Take stock
Laying out all of your expenses at once can be a scary thought for many of us. One key is to keep your budget simple—figure out what expenses you do and don’t really need and see how much you have left over. This method will help you figure out how much spending money you actually have, how much your essential bills are, and where the rest of your money is going.

Start a spending diary
Writing down everything you spend for just a couple of weeks is an easy way of finding out where your spending issues lie. You might be surprised by how quickly those little purchases add up! It will also give you a clue about what you’re actually spending money on and places that you can cut back.

Don’t cut out all your luxuries. Don’t get so carried away with your budgeting that you cut out everything that brings you happiness. Remember, the point of a budget is to make your life less stressful, not miserable! There might be cheap or free alternatives for entertainment in your town, or some great restaurant coupons in those weekly mailers you usually toss out.

That being said, you might decide to eliminate some practices in order to save even more. Things like packing sandwiches for work instead of eating out every day, making coffee at home instead of purchasing it from a coffee shop, and checking out a consignment shop or thrift store for new outfits can really stretch those dollars.

Plan for emergencies
Emergency funds are critical for solid budgeting. It’s always better to get ahead of a car repair or unexpected doctor visit than letting one sneak up on you![i] Anticipating emergencies before they happen and planning accordingly is a budgeting essential that can save you stress (and maybe money) in the long run.

Have a goal in mind
Write down a budgeting goal, like getting debt free by a certain time or saving a specific amount for retirement. This will help you determine how much you want to save each week or month and what to cut. Most importantly, it will give you something concrete to work towards and a sense of accomplishment as you reach milestones. It’s a great way of motivating yourself to start budgeting and pushing through any temptations to stray off the plan!

Stay away from temptation
Unsubscribe from catalogs and sales emails. Unfollow your favorite brands on social media and install an ad blocker. Stop going to stores that tempt you, especially if you’re just “running in for one thing.” Your willpower may not be stronger than the “Christmas in July” mega sales, so just avoid temptation altogether.

Keep yourself inspired and connected
Communities make almost everything easier. Fortunately, there’s a whole virtual world of communities on social media dedicated to budgeting, getting out of debt, saving for early retirement, showing household savings hacks, and anything else you would ever want to know about managing money. They’re great places for picking up ideas and sharing your progress with others.

Budgeting and saving money don’t have to be tedious or hard. The rewards of having a comfortable bank account and being in control of your spending are sweet, so stay engaged in the process and keep learning!

  • Share:

December 18, 2019

The Breakdown: Term vs. Perm

The Breakdown: Term vs. Perm

Navigating the world of life insurance can be a daunting task.

Even more daunting can be figuring out what policy is best for you. Let’s break down the differences between a couple of the more common life insurance policies, so you can focus on an even more daunting task – what your family’s going to have for dinner tonight!

Term Life Insurance
A Term life insurance policy covers an individual for a specific period of time – the most common term lengths being 10, 20, or 30 years. The main advantage of this type of policy is that it generally can cost the consumer less than a permanent insurance plan, because it might be shorter than a permanent policy.

The goal of a term policy is to pay the lowest premiums possible, because by the time the term expires, your family will no longer need the insurance. The primary thing to keep in mind is to choose a term length that covers the years you plan to work prior to retirement. This way, your family members (or beneficiaries) would be taken care of financially if something were to happen to you.

Permanent Life Insurance
Contrary to term life insurance, permanent life insurance provides lifelong coverage, as long as you pay your premiums. This insurance policy – which also can be known as “universal” or “whole” – provides coverage for ongoing needs such as caring for family members, a spouse that needs coverage after retirement, or paying off any debts of the deceased.

Another great benefit a perm policy offers is cash accumulation. As premiums are paid over time, the money is allocated to an investment account from which the individual can borrow or withdraw the funds for emergencies, illness, retirement, or other unexpected needs. Because this policy provides lifelong coverage and access to cash in emergencies, most permanent policies are more expensive than term policies.

How Much Does the Average Consumer Need?
Unless you have millions of dollars in assets and make over $250,000 a year, most of your insurance coverage needs may be met through a simple term policy. However, if you have a child that needs ongoing care due to illness or disability, if you need coverage for your retirement, or if you anticipate needing to cover emergency expenses, it may be in your best interest to purchase a permanent life insurance policy.

No matter where you are in life, you should consider purchasing some life insurance coverage. Many employers will actually offer this policy as part of their benefits package. If you are lucky enough to work for an employer who does this, take advantage of it, but be sure to examine the policy closely to make sure you’re getting the right amount of coverage. If you don’t work for a company that offers life insurance, don’t worry, you still may be able to get great coverage at a relatively inexpensive rate. Just make sure to do your research, consider your options, and make an informed decision for you and your family.

Now, what’s it going to be? Order a pizza or make breakfast for dinner? Choices, choices…

  • Share:

December 11, 2019

Party of Two?

Party of Two?

Life insurance is the most personal type of insurance you can have in today’s world.

But there seems to be a lot of confusion about it. Every consumer has different priorities and feelings. Add to that the fact that life insurance can be used for a variety of financial goals and needs, and you have a recipe for befuddlement.

When it comes to life insurance, most agree that if you have children, you should probably have it. There is no question. But what if you don’t have children? Do you need to purchase life insurance? Here’s why it may still be important, even if you don’t have kids now (or don’t plan to):

Many households need a dual income to survive.
Since women began entering the workforce en masse in 1960, household incomes have been on the rise. Many households have now adopted a lifestyle that depends on a dual income to maintain itself. If you’re in this situation, there might be some consequences of your life insurance decisions.

If something happened to you or your spouse, would the survivor still earn enough money to maintain their lifestyle? If the answer is no, consider how a life insurance policy might help.

Mortgage debt is big debt.
Mortgage debt in the United States is big – bigger than credit card or student loan debt. Still, mortgage debt is “healthy” debt assuming the growing equity in a home makes it worthwhile.

But mortgage debt can become a problem if a household’s income takes a hit. Life insurance can protect families from this risk by helping to pay off a mortgage, should something happen to you or your spouse. Either a term life policy or a special mortgage life policy can be used to pay off a mortgage.

Mortgage life insurance can be a nice layer of protection for couples that don’t have children but do have a mortgage.

Life insurance can be used as a savings tool.
Many life insurance policies offer a cash value. This means that certain policies can be cashed in whether or not a death has occurred. In this way, a life insurance policy can act as a savings tool.

Couples without children can pay into their policy in the form of the premiums, and then cash it out for a retirement dream: a new home, a hobby business, or an extended vacation. Using life insurance as a savings tool can offer tax benefits, a guaranteed savings method for the “savings challenged”, and a creative way to finance a dream. In short, it’s a savvy use of life insurance for couples who don’t have kids.

Funeral expenses can wipe out an emergency fund.
A life insurance policy can help cover funeral expenses for you or your spouse. This is one of the most common uses of life insurance. The average funeral today can cost between $7,000 and $10,000. That’s enough to wipe out an emergency fund, or seriously deplete it.

Having a life insurance policy in place can help cover expenses if you or your spouse were to pass away unexpectedly, so you can leave your fund for the day-to-day difficulties intact.

Whether you have children or not, a sudden illness or loss of a breadwinner can have lasting consequences for the loved ones you leave behind. Taking advantage of a well-tailored life insurance policy to shield them from an unnecessary financial burden if something were to happen is one of the best gifts you can give.

  • Share:

November 25, 2019

What to Do First If You Receive an Inheritance

What to Do First If You Receive an Inheritance

In many households, nearly every penny is already accounted for even before it’s earned.

The typical household budget that covers the cost of raising a family, making loan payments, and saving for retirement usually doesn’t leave much room for extra spending on daydream items. However, occasionally families may come into an inheritance, you might receive a big bonus at work, or benefit from some other sort of windfall.

If you ever inherit a chunk of money (or large asset) or receive a large payout, it may be tempting to splurge on that red convertible you’ve been drooling over or book that dream trip to Hawaii you’ve always wanted to take. Unfortunately for many, though, newly-found money has the potential to disappear quickly with nothing to show for it, if you don’t have a strategy in place to handle it.

If you do receive some sort of large bonus – congratulations! But take a deep breath and consider these situations first – before you call your travel agent.

Taxes or Other Expenses
If you get a large sum of money unexpectedly, the first thing you might want to do is pull out your bucket list and see what you can check off first. But before you start spending, the reality is you’ll need to put aside some money for taxes. You may want to check with an expert – an accountant or financial advisor may have some ideas on how to reduce your liability as well.

If you suddenly own a new house or car as part of an inheritance, one thing that you may not have considered is how much it will cost to hang on to them. If you want to keep them, you’ll need to cover maintenance, insurance, and you may even need to fulfill loan payments if they aren’t paid off yet.

Pay Down Debt
If you have any debt, you’d have a hard time finding a better place to put your money once you’ve set aside some for taxes or other expenses that might be involved. It may be helpful to target debt in this order:

  1. Credit card debt: These are often the highest interest rate debt and usually don’t have any tax benefit. Pay these off first.
  2. Personal loans: Pay these off next. You and your friend/family member will be glad you knocked these out!
  3. Auto loans: Interest rates on auto loans are lower than credit cards, but cars depreciate rapidly – very rapidly. If you can avoid it, you don’t want to pay interest on a rapidly depreciating asset. Pay off the car as quickly as possible.
  4. College loans: College loans often have tax-deductible interest but there is no physical asset you can convert to cash – there’s just the loan.
  5. Home loans: Most home loans are also tax-deductible. Since your home value is likely appreciating over time, you may be better off putting your money elsewhere rather than paying off the home loan early.

Fund Your Emergency Account
Before you buy that red convertible, put aside some money for a rainy day. This could be liquid funds – like a separate savings account.

Save for Retirement
Once the taxes are covered, you’ve paid down your debt, and funded your emergency account, now is the time to put some money away towards retirement. Work with your financial professional to help create the best strategy for you and your family.

Fund That College Fund
If you have kids and haven’t had a chance to save all you’d like towards their education, setting aside some money for this comes next. Again, your financial professional can recommend the best strategy for this scenario.

Treat Yourself
NOW you’re ready to go bury your toes in the sand and enjoy some new experiences! Maybe you and the family have always wanted to visit a themed resort park or vacation on a tropical island. If you’ve taken care of business responsibly with the items above and still have some cash left over – go ahead! Treat yourself!

  • Share:

November 20, 2019

Which Debt Should You Pay Off First?

Which Debt Should You Pay Off First?

American combined consumer debt now exceeds $13 trillion. That’s a stack of dollar bills nearly 900,000 miles high.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Credit cards: $931 billion
  • Auto loans: $1.22 trillion
  • Student loans: $1.38 trillion
  • Mortgages: $8.88 trillion
  • Any type of debt: $13.15 trillion

Nearly every type of debt can interfere with your financial goals, making you feel like a hamster on a wheel – constantly running but never actually getting anywhere. If you’ve been trying to dig yourself out of a debt hole, it’s time to take a break and look at the bigger picture.

Did you know there are often advantages to paying off certain types of debt before other types? What the simple list above doesn’t include is the average interest rates or any tax benefits to a given type of debt, which can change your priorities. Let’s check them out!

Credit Cards
Credit card interest rates now average over 15%, and interest rates are on the rise. For most households, credit card debt is the place to start – stop spending on credit and start making extra payments whenever possible. Think of it as an investment in your future, one that pays a 15% guaranteed return – the equivalent of a 20% return in the stock market or other taxable investment.

Auto Loans
Interest rates for auto loans are usually much lower than credit card debt, often under 5% on newer loans. Interest rates aren’t the only consideration for auto loans though. New cars depreciate nearly 20% in the first year. In years 2 and 3, you can expect the value to drop another 15% each year. The moral of the story is that cars are a terrible investment but offer great utility. There’s also no tax benefit for auto loan interest. Eliminating debt as fast as possible on a rapidly depreciating asset is a sound decision.

Student Loans
Like auto loans, student loans are usually in the range of 5% to 10% interest. While interest rates are similar to car loans, student loan interest is often tax deductible, which can lower your effective rate. Auto loans can usually be paid off faster than student loan debt, allowing more cash flow to apply to student debt, emergency funds, or other needs.

Mortgage Debt
In most cases, mortgage debt is the last type of debt to pay down. Mortgage rates are usually lower than the interest rates for credit card debt, auto loans, or student loans, and the interest is usually tax deductible. If mortgage debt keeps you awake at night, paying off other types of debt first will give you greater cash flow each month so you can begin paying down your mortgage.

When you’ve paid off your other debt and are ready to start tackling your mortgage, try paying bi-monthly (every two weeks). This simple strategy has the effect of adding one extra mortgage payment each year, reducing a 30-year loan term by several years. Because the payments are spread out instead of making one (large) 13th payment, it’s likely you won’t even notice the extra expense.

  • Share:

November 6, 2019

Common Financial Potholes

Common Financial Potholes

The journey to financial independence can feel a bit like driving around with your entire retirement fund stashed in the open-air bed of a pickup truck.

Every dollar bill is at the mercy of the elements. Think of an unforeseen medical emergency as a pop-up windstorm that whips a few thousand dollars out of the truck bed. And that time your refrigerator gave out on you? That’s swerving to avoid a landslide as it tumbles down the mountain. There goes another $1,000.

Emergencies like a case of appendicitis or suddenly needing a place to store your groceries usually arrive unannounced and can’t always be avoided. But there are a few scenarios you can bypass, especially when you know they’re coming.

These scenarios are the potholes on the road to financial independence. When you’re driving along and see a particularly nasty pothole through your windshield, it just makes sense to avoid it.

Here are some common potholes to avoid on your financial journey.

Excessive or Frivolous Spending
A job loss or a sudden, large expense can change your cash flow quickly, making you wish you still had some of the money you spent on… well, what did you spend it on, anyway? That’s exactly the trouble. We often spend on small indulgences without calculating how much those indulgences cost when they’re added up. Unless it’s an emergency, big expenses can be easier to control. It’s the small expenses that can cost the most.

Recurring Payments
Somewhere along the line, businesses started charging monthly subscriptions or membership fees for their products or service. These can be useful. You might not want to shell out $2,000 all at once for home gym equipment, but spending $40/month at your local gym fits in your budget. However, unused subscriptions and memberships create their own credit potholes. If money is tight or you’re prioritizing your spending, take a look at your subscriptions and memberships. Cancel the ones that you’re not using or enjoying.

New Cars
Most people love the smell of a new car, particularly if it’s a car they own. Ownership is strange in regard to cars, however. In most cases, the bank holds the title until the car is paid off. In the interim, the car has depreciated by 25% in the first year and by nearly 50% after 3 years.

What often happens is that we trade the car after a few years in exchange for something that has that new car smell – and we’ve never seen the title for the first car. We never owned it outright. In this chain of transactions, each car has taxes and registration fees, interest is paid on a depreciating asset, and car dealers are making money on both sides of the trade when we bring in our old car to exchange for a new one.

Unless you have a business reason to have the latest model, it’s less expensive to stop trading cars. Think of your no-longer-new car as a great deal on a used car – and once it’s paid off, there’s more money to put each month towards your retirement.

To sum up, you may already have the best shocks on your financial vehicle (i.e., a well-tailored financial strategy), but slamming into unnecessary potholes could damage what you’ve already built. Don’t damage your potential to go further for longer – avoid those common financial potholes.

  • Share:

October 16, 2019

Tips on Managing Money for Couples

Tips on Managing Money for Couples

Couplehood can be a wonderful blessing, but – as you may know – it can have its challenges as well.

In fact, money matters are the leading cause of stress in modern relationships.¹ The age-old adage that love trumps riches may be true, but if money is tight or if a couple isn’t meeting their financial goals, there could be some unpleasant conversations (er, arguments) on the bumpy road to bliss with your partner or spouse.

These tips may help make the road to happiness a little easier.

1. Set a goal for debt-free living.
Certain types of debt can be difficult to avoid, such as mortgages or car payments, but other types of debt, like credit cards in particular, can grow like the proverbial snowball rolling down a hill. Credit card debt often comes about because of overspending or because insufficient savings forced the use of credit for an unexpected situation. Either way, you’ll have to get to the root of the cause or the snowball might get bigger. Starting an emergency fund or reigning in unnecessary spending – or both – can help get credit card balances under control so you can get them paid off.

2. Talk about money matters.
Having a conversation with your partner about money is probably not at the top of your list of fun-things-I-look-forward-to. This might cause many couples to put it off until the “right time”. If something is less than ideal in the way your finances are structured, not talking about it won’t make the problem go away. Instead, frustrations over money can fester, possibly turning a small issue into a larger problem. Discussing your thoughts and concerns about money with your partner regularly (and respectfully) is key to reaching an understanding of each other’s goals and priorities, and then melding them together for your goals as a couple.

3. Consider separate accounts with one joint account.
As a couple, most of your financial obligations will be faced together, including housing costs, monthly utilities and food expenses, and often auto expenses. In most households, these items ideally should be paid out of a joint account. But let’s face it, it’s no fun to have to ask permission or worry about what your partner thinks every time you buy a specialty coffee or want that new pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing. In addition to your main joint account, having separate accounts for each of you may help you maintain some independence and autonomy in regard to personal spending.

With these tips in mind, here’s to a little less stress so you can put your attention on other “couplehood” concerns… Like where you two are heading for dinner tonight – the usual hangout (which is always good), or that brand new place that just opened downtown? (Hint: This is a little bit of a trick question. The answer is – whichever place fits into the budget that you two have already decided on, together!)

  • Share:

¹ “Fighting with your spouse? It’s probably about this,” Kelley Holland, CNBC, Feb 4 2015, https://www.cnbc.com/2015/02/04/money-is-the-leading-cause-of-stress-in-relationships.html

² “The Case for (and Against) Spouses Having Joint Checking Accounts,” Maryalene LaPonsie, U.S. News & World Report, Mar 7, 2019, https://money.usnews.com/banking/articles/the-case-for-and-against-spouses-having-joint-checking-accounts

Subscribe to get my Email Newsletter