How Do Checking Accounts Work?

April 19, 2021

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Rich & Kristina Messenger

Rich & Kristina Messenger

Senior Vice President



McKinney, TX

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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!

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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 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.

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February 10, 2021

How to Save for Large Purchases

How to Save for Large Purchases

So you’re saving for retirement. Good for you!

You’re further in the game than a lot of people. But retirement’s probably not your only financial priority that requires saving for. Buying a house, raising children, buying cars for your children, and paying for college for your children are just a few expenses you can expect along the way. Preparing for those purchases now can protect your finances from getting blindsided when the time comes. Here are a few steps you can take to start preparing for substantial purchases today.

Write down upcoming expenses and purchases. Make a timeline of all your major, non-regular expenses. Determine how much they could cost, and then rank them in terms of urgency and importance. If it’s urgent and important–like saving for the delivery of a newborn–address it as soon as possible. If it’s important, but less urgent–like toddler-proofing your home–schedule it for later.

Budget out how much you’ll need and start saving. Once you have your priorities straightened out, figure out how much you’ll need to have saved and how much time you have available. Then, set up automatic deposits that put aside money for your savings goals.

Seek higher interest rates. Saving for your purchases in accounts with higher interest rates can give your money the extra juice you need to crush your goals. That may mean opening a high interest savings account with an online bank. But for some items, you might be able to find accounts specifically designed to help you. Meet with a licensed and qualified financial professional and see what options you have available!

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January 27, 2021

A Penny for Your Thoughts?

A Penny for Your Thoughts?

Would you rather have a million dollars cash – or – a penny that doubles every day for 31 days?

If you’re eyeing that million dollar suitcase of cash, you’re not alone. Many go ahead and just take the million. Shoot, people don’t even stoop to pick up pennies in parking lots any more, right?

Well, hold on there, Daddy Warbucks. Before you flick that little copperhead in your change jar and run off on your shopping spree, check this out! The total of a penny doubling every day for 31 days equals (drumroll please) over $10.7 million!

Seem impossible? Here’s the play-by-play – or, rather, day-by-day:

Penny doubling corrected (resized 55%)

$10,737.418.22! Are you regretting not choosing the penny?

By day 31, one cent has become over ten times the value of the million dollar cash lump sum. That’s the power of exponential growth – the pure power of compounding.

So how can you apply the power of compounding in your personal financial strategy? It’s unlikely you’ll find someone willing to double your money (in fact, be wary of anyone claiming they can). But you can find effective strategies that leverage compounding through interest rates.

Contact me, and let’s talk about how to put the power of compounding to work for you.

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August 24, 2020

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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August 17, 2020

Dig yourself out of debt

Dig yourself out of debt

I hate to break it to you, but no matter what generation you are – Baby Boomer, Generation X, or Millennial – you’re probably in debt.

If you’re not – good on you! Keep doing what you’re doing.

But if you are in debt, you’re not alone. A study[i] by the financial organization, Comet, found:

  • 80.9 percent of Baby Boomers are in debt
  • 79.9 percent of Generation X is in debt
  • 81.5 percent of Millennials are in debt

There are some folks whose goal is to eliminate all debt – and if that’s yours, great! But one thing to keep in mind while you’re working towards that finish line is that not all debt is created equal. Carrying a mortgage, for example, may be considered a “healthy” debt. Student loan debt may feel like an encumbrance, but hopefully, your education has given you more earning power in the workforce. A car loan may even be considered a healthy debt. So, there are some types of debt that may offer you advantages.

Any credit card debt you have, however, should be dealt with asap. Credit card debt can cost money every month in the form of interest, and it gives you nothing in return – no equity, no education, no increase in earning potential. It’s like throwing money down the drain.

So, let’s get to work and look at some of the best tips for paying down credit card debt.

1. Get to know your debt
Make a commitment to be honest with yourself. If you’re in denial, it’s going to be hard to make positive changes. So take a good, hard look at your debt. Examine your credit card statements and note balances, interest rates, minimum monthly payment amounts, and due dates. Once you have this information down in black and white you can start to create a repayment strategy.

2. Get motivated
Taking on your debt isn’t easy. Most of us would rather not confront it. We may make half-hearted attempts to pay it off but never truly get anywhere. Need a little motivation? Getting rid of your credit card debt may make you happier. The Comet study asked respondents to rate their happiness on a scale of one to seven.[ii] It turns out that those who selected the lowest rating also carried the highest amounts of credit card debt. Want to be happier? It seems like paying off your credit card debt may help!

3. Develop your strategy
There are many strategies for paying off your credit card debt. Once you understand all your debt and have found your motivation, it’s time to pick a strategy. There are two main strategies for debt repayment. One focuses on knocking out the highest interest debt first, and the other method begins with tackling the smallest principal balances first. Here’s how they work:

  • Start with the highest interest rate: One of the items you should have noted when you did your debt overview is the interest rate for each account. With this method, you’ll throw the largest payment you can at your highest interest rate debt every month, while paying the minimum payments on your other debts. Utilizing this method may help you pay less interest over time.

  • Start with the smallest balance: As opposed to comparing interest rates, this method requires you to look at your balances. With this strategy, you’ll begin paying the smallest balance off first. Continue to make the minimum payments on your other accounts and put as much money as you can towards the smallest balance. Once you have that one paid off, combine the amount you were paying on that balance with the minimum you were paying on your next smallest balance, and so on. This strategy can help keep you motivated and encouraged since you should start to see some results right away.

Either strategy can work well. Pick the one that seems best for you, execute, and most importantly – don’t give up!

4. Live by a budget
As you begin chipping away at your credit card debt, it’s important to watch your spending. If you continue to charge purchases, you won’t see the progress you’re making, so watch your spending closely. If you don’t have a budget already, now would be a good time to create one.

5. Think extra payments
Once you are committed to paying off your debt and have developed your strategy, keep it top of mind. Make it your number one financial priority. So when you come across “found” money – like work bonuses or gifts – see it as an opportunity to make an extra credit card payment. The more of those little extra payments you make, the better. Make them while the cash is in hand, so you aren’t tempted to spend it on something else.

6. Celebrate your victories
Living on a budget and paying off debt can feel tedious. Paying off debt takes time. Don’t forget to take pride in what you’re trying to accomplish. Celebrate your milestones. Do something special when you get that first small balance paid off, but try to make the occasion free or at least cheap! The point is to reward yourself for your hard financial work. (Hint: Try putting up a chart or calendar in your kitchen and marking off your progress as you go!)

Reward yourself with a debt-free life Getting out of debt is a great reward in and of itself. It takes discipline, persistence, and patience, but it can be done. Come to terms with your debt, formulate a strategy, and stick to it. Your financial future will thank you!

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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.

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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. 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.

July 1, 2020

Considering a home equity loan?

Considering a home equity loan?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 15, 2020

Should I pay off my car or my credit cards?

Should I pay off my car or my credit cards?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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June 1, 2020

What Are the Effects of Closing a Credit Card?

What Are the Effects of Closing a Credit Card?

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

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

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

Times when cancelling a card may be your best bet:

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

April 1, 2020

Banks vs. Credit Unions

Banks vs. Credit Unions

On the hunt for a new bank?

You might find yourself looking at local credit unions vs. big national banks and wondering “what’s the difference?” It turns out that there are significant differences between the two financial institutions. Here’s a quick summary of the distinctives of credit unions and banks.

Credit Unions
Credit unions are not-for-profit. Becoming a member makes you both a customer and a co-owner. Money that the credit union makes from car loans and mortgages gets used to help other credit union members. However, membership in a credit union can be restricted. It might require a certain religious, social, or community affiliation to join.

Banks
Commercial banks (we’ll just call them banks for now) are for-profit entities with one goal—make money for their shareholders. How exactly do banks accomplish that? It’s not too complicated. They loan money out to people (or you) at a high interest rate. It’s their business model: Use other people’s money to grow their own. That means the top priority for banks is getting as many customers as possible into low interest accounts while providing high interest loans.

Which one is the better fit for you?
It might seem like credit unions are the obvious choice. They’re designed to work for the customer and may offer better interest rates. But they also have limitations. They’re highly localized, meaning you might have a hard time withdrawing cash if you’re on the road. Plus they might lag behind in online or phone app banking. All of these benefits and drawbacks vary greatly between credit unions, so do your research before you decide which one to go with!

The big advantage (and disadvantage) of banks is that they’re often massive nationwide institutions. That means you’re almost guaranteed to find an ATM or branch no matter where you go. Their for-profit model gives them the resources to develop technology, meaning you can probably manage your bank account on the go via your laptop or phone. Just realize that the bank’s primary goal is to make a profit off of your money, so sometimes customer service isn’t a priority.

There are big differences between banks and credit unions that could save you time, money, or both. Don’t just trust your money to a bank because it’s convenient or to a credit union just because it’s local. Do your research to find the right fit for you!

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February 12, 2020

What's a Recession?

What's a Recession?

Most of us would probably be apprehensive about another recession.

The Great Recession caused financial devastation for millions of people across the globe. But what exactly is a recession? How do we know if we’re in one? How could it affect you and your family? Here’s a quick rundown.

So what exactly is a recession?
The quick answer is that a recession is a negative GDP growth rate for two back-to-back quarters or longer (1). But reality can be a bit more complicated than that. There’s actually an organization that decides when the country is in a recession. The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) is composed of commissioners who dig through monthly data and officially declare when a downturn begins.

There’s also a difference between a recession and a depression. A recession typically lasts between 6 to 16 months (the Great Recession was an exception and pushed 18 months). The Great Depression, by contrast, lasted a solid decade and witnessed unemployment rates above 25% (2). Fortunately, depressions are rare: there’s only been one since 1854, while there have been 33 recessions during the same time (3).

What happens during a recession
The NBER monitors five recession indicators. The first and most important is inflation-adjusted GDP. A consistent quarterly decline in GDP growth is a good sign that a recession has started or is on the horizon. Then this gets supplemented by other numbers. A falling monthly GDP, declining real income, increasing unemployment, weak manufacturing and retail sales all point to a recession.

How could a recession affect you?
The bottom line is that a weak economy affects everyone. Business slows down and layoffs can occur. People who keep their jobs may get spooked by seeing coworkers and friends lose their jobs, and then they may start cutting back on spending. This can start a vicious cycle which can lead to lower profits for businesses and possibly more layoffs. The government may increase spending and lower interest rates in order to help stop the cycle and stabilize the economy.

In the short term, that means it might be harder to find a job if you’re unemployed or just out of school and that your cost of living skyrockets. But it can also affect your major investments; the value of your home or your retirement savings could all face major setbacks.

Recessions can be distressing. They’re hard to see coming and they can potentially impact your financial future. That’s why it’s so important to start preparing for any downturns today. Schedule a call with a financial professional to discuss strategies to help protect your future!

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January 20, 2020

Tips for Getting Out of Debt

Tips for Getting Out of Debt

Americans owe a whopping amount of debt.

Total consumer debt, for example, tops $4 trillion (1), and the average household owes $6,829 on credit cards alone (2).

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

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

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

The solution? Create a budget.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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December 30, 2019

The Pros and Cons of Budget Cars

The Pros and Cons of Budget Cars

Buying a car can be pricey.

The average used car costs about $20,000, while the average for a new one is around $37,000. When it comes to transportation (or anything else for that matter), it only makes sense that you’d want to save as much money as possible. But are there times when buying a used or budget car is a better investment than buying a new one? Here are some questions to ask yourself before you make that purchase.

How much mileage can you get out of this car?
One of the big things to consider when researching a budget car is how many miles of prior travel you’re paying for. Buying a cheap (although unreliable) car that breaks down on the regular due to wear and tear may give you fewer miles for your money than paying more for a car that might last 10 years. If you’re committed to buying used, you’ll probably want a mechanic to inspect the car for issues that might affect your car’s lifespan.

How much will maintenance and repairs cost you?
You might be one of the few who know someone with the auto know-how to keep an ancient car running for years. However, the average person will need to have car problems repaired at a professional shop, which can become expensive if it constantly needs work. This can be especially costly if you sink thousands into maintenance only for your vehicle to die for good earlier than expected. It’s worth considering that buying new might save you a huge hassle and potentially give you more miles for your money.

How does the interest rate compare for a new car vs. used?
The uncertainty involved with buying a used or budget car can increase the cost of financing. Lenders will often charge you higher interest for purchasing a used car than they would a new one. Having a high credit score will improve your rates, but that extra cost can still add up over time.

What you’re trying to avoid is buying a used piece of junk that requires constant maintenance at a shop, has a higher interest rate, and gives out too soon. There are definitely used and budget cars out there that have great value. Just be sure to do your research before you make such a significant investment!

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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!

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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.

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November 4, 2019

How to Build Credit When You’re Young

How to Build Credit When You’re Young

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

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

So, where do you start?

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

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

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

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

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October 30, 2019

Handling Debt Efficiently – Until It’s Gone

Handling Debt Efficiently – Until It’s Gone

It’s no secret that making purchases on credit cards will result in paying more for those items over time if you’re paying interest charges from month-to-month.

Despite this well-known fact, credit card debt is at an all-time high, rising another 3% this past year. The average American now owes over $6,300 in credit card debt. For households, the number is much higher, at nearly $16,000 per household. Add in an average mortgage of over $200,000, plus nearly $25,000 of non-mortgage debt (car loans, college loans, or other loans) and the molehill really is starting to look like a mountain.

The good news? You have the potential to handle your debt efficiently and deal with a molehill-sized molehill instead of a mountain-sized one.

Focus on the easiest target first.
Some types of debt don’t have an easy solution. While it’s possible to sell your home and find more affordable housing, actually following through with this might not be a great option. Selling your home is a huge decision and one that comes with expenses associated with the sale – it’s possible to lose money. Unless you find yourself with a job loss or similar long-term setback, often the best solution to paying down debt is to go after higher interest debt first. Then examine ways to cut your housing costs last.

Freeze your spending (literally, if it helps).
Due to its higher interest rate, credit card debt is usually the first thing to tackle when you decide to start eliminating debt. Let’s be honest, most of us might not even know where that money goes, but our credit card statement is a monthly reminder that it went somewhere. If credit card balances are a problem in your household, the first step is to cut back on your purchases made with credit, or stop paying with credit altogether. Some people cut up their cards to enforce discipline. Ever heard the recommendation to freeze your cards in a block of ice as a visual reminder of your commitment to quit credit? Another thing to do is to remove your card information from online shopping sites to help ensure you don’t make mindless purchases.

Set payment goals.
Paying the minimum amount on your credit card keeps the credit card company happy for 2 reasons. First, they’re happy that you made a payment on time. Second, they’re happy if you’re only paying the minimum because you might never pay off the balance, so they can keep collecting interest indefinitely. Reducing or stopping your spending with credit was the first step. The second step is to pay more than the minimum so that those balances start going down. Examine your budget to see where there’s room to reduce spending further, which will allow you to make higher payments on your credit cards and other types of debt. In most households, an honest look at the bank statement will reveal at least a few ways you might free up some money each month.

Have a sale. To get a jump-start if money is still tight, you might want to turn some unused household items into cash. Having a community yard sale or selling your items online through eBay or Offerup can turn your dust collectors into cash that you can then use toward reducing your balances.

Transfer balances prudently.
Consider balance transfers for small balances with high interest rates that you think you’ll be able to pay off quickly. Transferring that balance to a lower interest or no interest card can save on interest costs, freeing up more money to pay down the balances. The interest rates on balance transfers don’t stay low forever, however – typically for a year or less – so it’s important to make sure you can pay transferred balances off quickly. Also, check if there’s a balance transfer fee. Depending on the fee, moving those funds might not make sense.

Don’t punish yourself.
Getting serious about paying down debt may seem to require draconian measures. But there likely isn’t a need to just stay home eating tuna fish sandwiches with all the lights turned off. Often, all that’s required is an adjustment of old spending habits. If your drive home takes you past a mall where it would be too tempting to “just pick a little something up”, take a different route home. But it’s important to have a small treat occasionally as well. If you’re making progress on your debt, you deserve to reward yourself sometimes. All within your budget, of course!

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October 9, 2019

Are You Sitting Down?

Are You Sitting Down?

When things go wrong or we face an unexpected expense, we usually have one of two choices: Use credit to navigate a short-term cash crunch, or dip into savings.

In either case, it’s a good idea to have liquid funds available. Using credit can actually make your money problem worse if you don’t have enough to pay off the balance each month to avoid incurring interest charges. If you use savings but don’t have a comfortable cushion put away, repairing your home’s ancient A/C system may deplete your emergency stores, leaving you with nothing to replace the washer and dryer that decided to break down at the same time.

Ideally, you’ll have enough money saved to cover the unexpected. However, if you’re like many American households, that may not be the case. The U.S. personal savings rate continues to fall.

National Savings Rate
The savings rate is calculated as the ratio of personal savings to disposable personal income. In March 2018, the U.S. personal savings rate was about 3%. So – is that high? Is it low? Get this: The personal savings rate has fallen nearly 50% in the past two years. Tracking the monthly savings rate back to 1959 shows that we’re not as good at saving as we used to be. In the past, the long-term average personal savings rate was over 8%, with some periods of time when it was over 15%. Kind of shames our current 3% savings rate, doesn’t it?

The national personal savings rate is also skewed by higher income savers, with the top 1% saving over 51% and the top 5% saving nearly 40% of their disposable income. Unsurprisingly, lower income families can have more difficulty with saving, as most of their paycheck is often already earmarked for basic bills and normal household expenses.

A recent survey by GOBankingRates found that nearly 70% of Americans have less than $1,000 saved and more than a third have nothing saved at all. Yikes. Age and levels of responsibility can influence savings rates. Anyone with a growing family – particularly a homeowner or a household with children – knows that surprise expenses aren’t all that surprising because the surprises just keep coming. This can put pressure on the best laid plans to try to increase savings.

How to Save More
If you have a 401(k), your contribution to it comes from a payroll deduction, meaning your 401(k) contribution is paid first – before you get the rest of your paycheck. If you have a 401(k) or a similar type of retirement account, there are lessons that can be borrowed from that account structure which can be used to help build your personal savings.

Paying yourself first is a great way to begin building your emergency fund, which can leave you better prepared for the proverbial rainy day. If you look at your monthly expenses, and if your household is like most households, you’re almost certain to find some unnecessary spending.

Start paying yourself first – by putting some money aside in a separate account or a safe place. This can help prevent some of those unnecessary expenditures (because there won’t be money available) while also leaving you better prepared.

The next time the car needs repairs, the A/C stops working, the fridge stops freezing, or the lawnmower breaks down, you’ll be ready – or at least you’ll be in a better position to bail yourself out!

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