Time Management 101

February 26, 2020

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Rita Taylor Stewart

Rita Taylor Stewart

Licensed Financial Representative



Midlothian, VA

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February 5, 2020

Student Loans: avoid them or use them the smart way?

Student Loans: avoid them or use them the smart way?

Going to college can be a great way to invest in your future and get the training and education you need to thrive in the modern job market.

But we’ve all heard the horror stories of students saddled with thousands in loans that they struggle to pay back, sometimes for years. Student loan debt is often the most pressing financial issue for college students and recent grads.

So how do you take advantage of the benefits of a college education without burdening your future with years of debt? Here are some tips to help you avoid high student loan payments and pay your student debt off more quickly after graduation.

Work through school
The days of working a minimum wage job to put yourself through school seem to be over. However, working enough to cover at least some of your books and living expenses may make a huge dent in the amount of money you’ll have to borrow to graduate.

Work-study programs on campus are often good options, as they are willing to work around your class schedules. Off-campus part-time jobs can be a good option as well, and may offer better pay.

Live as cheaply as possible
Everyone knows the cliché of the broke college student existing on nothing but ramen noodles. While not many people would recommend trying to live on nutritionless soup every day, you should be able to find ways to cut your cost of living to reduce the amount of money you need to borrow to sustain your lifestyle.

Try living off campus with family or roommates and packing sandwiches instead of paying expensive meal tickets and dorm fees. Bike, walk, or take public transportation to avoid parking. Take advantage of free on-campus healthcare, counseling, free food events, free entertainment, and more so you can spend as little as possible on living campus life.

It’s okay to go out and have fun sometimes, but don’t borrow from your future in order to live beyond your means now.

Try to avoid unsubsidized loans
Subsidized loans are offered by the Department of Education at lower interest than many private bank loans, and they do not begin accruing interest until after you graduate. Take advantage of these loans first and try to avoid the unsubsidized private loans which begin accruing interest immediately and often have a higher rate. (1)

Be mindful of your future payments
It can be tempting to expect that you’ll have a great job earning plenty of money and time to pay back the student loans you’ve accumulated. But each time you take out a loan, you make your future payments higher and your payback time longer. Be sure to look at the numbers of how much your payment will be every time you up your loan amounts. Can you realistically envision yourself being able to pay that amount every month in just a few years? If not, it may be time to rethink the student loans you’re racking up, and possibly even reconsider your degree or career plan.

Go to trade school, earn an apprenticeship, or work in your chosen field before you commit to a college degree in that field
It’s not a popular topic with many high school guidance counselors, but learning a trade and finding a well-paying job without a degree is not only possible but a great option. Try finding an internship or trade school where you could get training for much less money than a university.

Consider community colleges and state schools
It’s a common misconception that private, ivy league, “big name” colleges are far superior to state schools and automatically the better option. However, state schools can often have great programs for far less money. Also, if you choose a local school, you can live close to your family support system while working through college. It’s possible to have a very successful career with a college degree from a state school, and be more financially stable in your future than someone struggling to pay off loans from an expensive private college.

Likewise, an associate’s degree from a community college can save money toward your bachelor’s degree, allowing you to pay far less than you would even to a state school. Just make sure your degree and credits will transfer to the university of your choice.

Find a graduate program that pays YOU
If you choose to pursue a Masters or Doctorate degree, try to find a program with a teaching assistant position, fellowship, or some other option for getting reduced tuition or getting paid to get the work experience you need.

Resist the urge to move up in lifestyle when you graduate
When you scrimp your way through school, it’s tempting when you get your first degree-related job to celebrate by loosening the reins on your frugal ways and start living it up as a young professional.

It’s great to reward yourself, and you need to adapt to your new financial situation (you may need a new wardrobe or a better car), but resist going too crazy with all the “extra” money a new job in your field can make you feel like you have. You should still live on a budget and manage your money carefully to pay off your student loans as soon as possible so you’re better prepared to move into the next phase of life unencumbered by a mountain of debt. Make paying back debt a priority, and pay extra when you’re able.

Education can be expensive and in some cases impossible to get without loans. But with frugality and an eye toward the future, you’ll be better prepared to get the education you need to succeed in life without being encumbered by debt for years. The high cost of education combined with the high cost of living can make a college education more of a financial burden for today’s students than ever before. By thinking outside the box and carefully prioritizing your educational goals—balanced with your finances—you can pursue your dream degree and have a better chance at a stable financial future.

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  1. https://studentaid.gov/understand-aid/types/loans/subsidized-unsubsidized#subsidized-vs-unsubsidized

January 22, 2020

Why Financial Literacy is Important

Why Financial Literacy is Important

There’s a good chance that you’re facing a financial obstacle right now.

Maybe you’re trying to pay down some credit card debt, facing a meager retirement fund, or just struggling day-to-day to make ends meet.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless in those situations, so much so that you might think learning a little more about how to manage your money wouldn’t make much difference right now.

But adopting a few key financial tips is often the best and simplest step towards taking control of your paycheck and finding some peace of mind. Here are some reasons why financial literacy is an essential skill for everyone to master, and a few tips to help you get started!

It helps you overcome fear
Let’s face it; money can seem scary. Mounting loans, debt, interest, investing—it can all be confusing and overwhelming. It may feel easier to ignore your finances and live paycheck to paycheck, never owning up to not-so-great decisions. But financial literacy gets right to the root of that fear by making things clear and simple. It empowers you to identify your mistakes and shows options to fix them.

Facing a problem is much easier once you understand it and know how to beat it. That’s why learning about money is so important if you want to start healing your financial woes.

It lets you take control of your finances
Financial literacy does more than just help you address problems or overcome obstacles. It gives you the power to stop being a victim and take control. You can start investing in your future with confidence instead of reacting to emergencies or going into deeper debt. That means building wealth and living life on your terms instead of someone else’s. In other words…

It helps you realize your dreams
Managing money isn’t about immediately seeing a bigger number in your bank account. It’s about having the resources and freedom to do the things you care about. Maybe that means taking your significant other on a dream vacation, giving more to a cause you care about, or providing your kids with a debt-free education.

Where to start
Acknowledging that you need to learn more can be the hardest step. That’s why meeting with a financial advisor is something you may consider. Calculate how much you spend versus how much you make and write down some financial goals. Then find a time to discuss your next steps. You may also want to sign up for a personal finance class that will cover things like budgeting and saving.

Financial literacy is one of the most important skills you can develop. Improving your financial education takes some time but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Give me a call. I’d love to sit down and help you learn more about ways you can take control of 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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  1. https://www.cnbc.com/2019/02/21/consumer-debt-hits-4-trillion.html

  2. https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/average-credit-card-debt-household/

January 6, 2020

Are You Unwinding Yourself Into Debt in 2020?

Are You Unwinding Yourself Into Debt in 2020?

Americans owe more than $800 Billion in credit card debt.

You read that right: more than $800 billion.

It seems like more and more people are going to end up being owned by a tiny piece of plastic rather than the other way around.

How much have you or a loved one contributed to that number? Whether it’s $10 or $10,000, there are a couple simple tricks to get and keep yourself out of credit card debt.

The first step is to be aware of how and when you’re using your credit card. It’s so easy – especially on a night out when you’re trying to unwind – to mindlessly hand over your card to pay the bill. And for most people, paying with credit has become their preferred, if not exclusive, payment option. Dinner, drinks, Ubers, a concert, a movie, a sporting event – it’s going to add up.

And when that credit card bill comes, you could end up feeling more wound up than you did before you tried to unwind.

Paying attention to when, what for, and how often you hand over your credit card is crucial to getting out from under credit card debt.

Here are 2 tips to keep yourself on track on a night out.

1. Consider your budget. You might cringe at the word “budget”, but it’s not an enemy who never wants you to have any fun. Considering your budget doesn’t mean you can never enjoy a night out with friends or coworkers. It simply means that an evening of great food, fun activities, and making memories must be considered in the context of your long-term goals. Start thinking of your budget as a tough-loving friend who’ll be there for you for the long haul.

Before you plan a night out:

  • Know exactly how much you can spend before you leave the house or your office, and keep track of your spending as your evening progresses.
  • Try using an app on your phone or even write your expenses on a napkin or the back of your hand – whatever it takes to keep your spending in check.
  • Once you have reached your limit for the evening – stop.

2. Cash, not plastic (wherever possible). Once you know what your budget for a night out is, get it in cash or use a debit card. When you pay your bill with cash, it’s a concrete transaction. You’re directly involved in the physical exchange of your money for goods and services. In the case that an establishment or service will only take credit, just keep track of it (app, napkin, back of your hand, etc.), and leave the cash equivalent in your wallet.

You can still enjoy a night on the town, get out from under credit card debt, and be better prepared for the future with a carefully planned financial strategy. Contact me today, and together we’ll assess where you are on your financial journey and what steps you can take to get where you want to go – hopefully by happy hour!

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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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December 25, 2019

Ways to Curb Holiday Spending

Ways to Curb Holiday Spending

More than 174 million Americans spent an average of $335.47 between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday this year. And the holidays are just getting started!

You and your wallet don’t have to suffer if you follow these simple ways to curb holiday spending. Well, ways to curb the rest of your holiday spending.

1. Decide beforehand how much you’re going to spend on gifts. Yes: Budget. This is one of the most spoken of tricks to curb spending, but do you actually follow through? Before you ever start your holiday spending, have a firm plan about what you’re willing to spend, and do not go a penny over. If you’re one of the millions mentioned above that already spend a good chunk of cash, be sure to take that into account when you set your new amount. A budget can help get the creative gift-giving juices flowing, too. Remember White Elephant parties where no one could bring a gift that cost over $15? There had to be a little extra thought involved: What would be an unforgettable gift that would fit right into your budget?

2. Dine in. When you’ve budgeted for picking up the tab on a big family meal outing, it can be no sweat! But when you haven’t, the cost can really sneak up on you. Say you venture out with a party of 15 family members. At $10 an entree plus appetizers, desserts, cups of cocoa for the kids, eggnog or something harder for grown ups, and any other extras… Whew, that’s going to be a credit card statement to remember! But what if you instead planned a night in with the whole family? A potluck or pizza night. The warmth and comfort of home. Baking cookies. Still with cups of cocoa and eggnog, but at a fraction of the cost. And with much more comfortable chairs.

3. Stay with relatives when you travel home for the holidays. This practice is standard for some, but if this suggestion makes your face flush and your blood run cold, this may help you change your mind: the average hotel stay costs $127.69 per night. That’s not including taxes and fees. Let’s say you head to the town where you grew up for 4 days and 3 nights. The 3 nights at a hotel are going to cost you…

$127.69 x 3 = $383.07

Add in tax and hotel fees as well as the daily cost of gas to and from the hotel, and the thought of a few nights spent in your childhood bedroom that now has the surprise treadmill-as-a-clothing-rack addition might not be so terrible.

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December 16, 2019

How to Make Better Financial Decisions

How to Make Better Financial Decisions

Numbers never lie, and when it comes to statistics on financial literacy, the results are staggering.

Recent studies indicate that 76% of Millennials don’t have a basic understanding of financial literacy. Combine that with having little in savings and mountains of debt, and you have the ingredients for a potential financial crisis.

It’s not only Millennials that lack a sound financial education. The majority of American adults are unable to pass: “To be financially literate is to have the knowledge, skills, and confidence to make responsible financial decisions that suit our own financial situations.”

Making responsible financial decisions based on knowledge and research are the foundation of understanding your finances and how to manage them. When it comes to financial literacy, you can’t afford not to be knowledgeable.

So whether you’re a master of your money or your money masters you, anyone can benefit from becoming more financially literate. Here are a few ways you can do just that.

Consider How You Think About Money
Everyone has ideas about financial management. Though we may not realize it, we often learn and absorb financial habits and mentalities about money before we’re even aware of what money is. Our ideas about money are shaped by how we grow up, where we grow up, and how our parents or guardians manage their finances. Regardless of whether you grew up rich, poor, or somewhere in between, checking in with yourself about how you think about money is the first step to becoming financially literate.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Am I saving anything for the future?
  • Is all debt bad?
  • Do I use credit cards to pay for most, if not all, of my purchases?

Pay Some Attention to Your Spending Habits
This part of the process can be painful if you’re not used to tracking where your money goes. There can be a certain level of shame associated with spending habits, especially if you’ve collected some debt. But it’s important to understand that money is an intensely personal subject, and that if you’re working to improve your financial literacy, there is no reason to feel ashamed!

Taking a long, hard look at your spending habits is a vital step toward controlling your finances. Becoming aware of how you spend, how much you spend, and what you spend your money on will help you understand your weaknesses, your strengths, and what you need to change. Categorizing your budget into things you need, things you want, and things you have to save up for is a great place to start.

Commit to a Lifestyle of Learning
Becoming financially literate doesn’t happen overnight, so don’t feel overwhelmed if you’re just starting to make some changes. There isn’t one book, one website, or one seminar you can attend that will give you all the keys to financial literacy. Instead, think of it as a lifestyle change. Similar to transforming unhealthy eating habits into healthy ones, becoming financially literate happens over time. As you learn more, tweak parts of your financial routine that aren’t working for you, and gain more experience managing your money, you’ll improve your financial literacy. Commit to learning how to handle your finances, and continuously look for ways you can educate yourself and grow. It’s a lifelong process!

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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.

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December 9, 2019

The Keys to Paying Your Bills On Time

The Keys to Paying Your Bills On Time

Not paying your bills on time can have significant impacts on financial health including accumulating late fees, penalties, and a negative hit on credit scores.

But maybe you – or a friend – learned about those consequences the hard way. Most late bill payers fall into 1 of 3 camps: they forget to pay on time, they don’t have enough income, or they have enough income but spend it on other things.

In case you – or your friend – are stuck in 1 of these camps, consider the following tips to help pay the bills on time.

I forget to pay my bills on time.
If this is you, you’re actually in a more advantageous position. There are many easy fixes that can help get you back on track.

  1. Use a calendar. This is a tried and true, but often underutilized, method to track your bill due dates. When you get a notice for a bill – either by email, text, or snail mail – jot the due date on your calendar. You can also set a reminder if you use an electronic calendar.
  2. Fiddle with your due dates. Many companies offer flexible due dates. Experiment with what due dates work for you. Some people like to pay their bills all together at the beginning of the month. You may find that you like to pay some bills in the beginning and some in the middle of the month. It’s up to you!
  3. Take advantage of grace period/late fee waivers. If you do forget about a bill and have to make a late payment, give the company a call and ask them to waive the late fee. Late fees can add up, ranging from $10-50 depending on the account. It’s worth a try!

I don’t have the money to pay all my bills.
If your income doesn’t cover your outgo no matter how diligently you pinch those pennies, it won’t matter what type of bill payment method you use, you’re going to have trouble. If you’re in this situation, there are 2 solutions: increase your earnings or decrease your expenses.

  1. Find a side gig. Take a temporary part-time job to make some extra income. Delivering pizza in the evenings or on weekends might be worth doing for a few months to make some extra dough.
  2. Shop around. Shop around for savings. Prices vary on almost everything. Take a little extra time to make sure you’re getting the rock-bottom best prices on your insurance, cable, phone plans, groceries, utilities, etc.

I overspend and don’t have enough left to pay my bills.
Managing income and expenses takes some practice and persistence, but it is doable! If you find yourself consistently overspending without enough left over to cover your bills, try the following:

  1. Create a budget. Get familiar with your income and expenses. This is the only way to know how much disposable income you’re going to end up with every month. You can track your budget daily on an app like PocketGuard, Wallet, or Home Budget.
  2. Stash the money for bills in a separate account. Put your bill money in a separate checking or savings account. This will keep it quarantined from your spending money and help make sure it’s there when the bills come due.

Good Financial Habits
If you feel bill-paying-challenged, or you have a friend who is, try some of the above tips. Taking care of your obligations when you need to can relieve stress, build good credit, and reinforce healthy spending habits for life!

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December 4, 2019

Why It's a Good Idea to Track Your Budget

Why It's a Good Idea to Track Your Budget

So you’re finally on board with this whole budget thing.

You’ve set up your plan. Now you’ve got a budget complete with average historical spending by category. You’ve discussed it with family members, roommates, and anyone else to whom the budget applies. You’ve checked off all the boxes. Yet somehow – at the end of the month, the math isn’t working out. The budget is busted.

What went wrong? Life is full of mysteries, like who left an empty box of cereal in the cupboard? Where are my glasses? Why won’t the baby go to sleep? And, where did all my money disappear to?

For a budget to work well, you’ll need to track it regularly and often. Many times, the reason you made a budget in the first place is that there’s very little room for error with saving and spending your money. A budget’s got to be loved and nurtured, kind of like a garden. Sometimes you have to get out there and pull some weeds or dig up a few rocks to keep it thriving.

Making Your Budget
To make your budget (if you haven’t already), there are several methods you can use. Good old pencil and paper never goes out of style. And it might help you see where you stand a little faster than potentially losing your initial momentum by learning a new “app”. Specialized software or online budgeting tools can be great – but they can also be fiddly if you’re not used to them. Rather than trying to figure out complicated menus and search for hidden buttons from the get-go, you might want to try it on paper first to work through your budget and establish a limit for each category of spending. Writing out your expenditures by hand has the added benefit of helping you face reality. It hurts a little more than automated solutions if you have to write the numbers down in black and white. If you’re good with spreadsheets, Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets can also be used to quickly build a budget without a frustrating learning curve.

Tracking Your Budget
Technology can be friend or foe in the home budget process. Even though you may have started out on paper, when it comes to tracking your spending for the long haul and in real time, technology is definitely a friend.

Mobile apps come in two forms: free and not free. We’ll focus on free apps for now because it’s consistent with the goal of keeping your spending under control.

Mint.com is owned by Intuit, famous for Quicken and Quickbooks software, and makes budget tracking very simple. Mint links to your bank account and other accounts you’d like to track, so you can see a complete view of your finances at a glance either on your mobile device or on your computer. Budgets are set automatically for each category but can be changed easily. Spending and income are also automatically tracked and categorized so you can view your progress – including budget amounts remaining for the month. Cash purchases can be added from the home screen.

Another good option is Clarity Money, which tracks spending by category but also provides an easy way to cancel subscriptions and access your free VantageScore Credit Score (by Experian). Clarity Money was featured by Google Play as a “Best of 2017” and is also available for iOS.

Paper or spreadsheet methods help to make the budgeting process more tangible. Automated tracking makes it easy to monitor your progress against your budget – and to maybe think twice about spending on impulse.

The important thing is to think of your budget like a garden – once you have it planned and laid out, it’s going to take regular maintenance to ensure it stays beautiful.

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November 27, 2019

Allowance for Kids: Is It Still a Good Idea?

Allowance for Kids: Is It Still a Good Idea?

Perusing the search engine results for “allowance for kids” reveals something telling: The top results can’t seem to agree with each other.

Some finance articles quote experts or outspoken parents hailing an allowance, stating it teaches kids financial responsibility. Others argue that simply awarding an allowance (whether in exchange for doing chores around the house or not) instills nothing in children about managing money. They say that having an honest conversation about money and finances with your kids is a better solution.

According to a recent poll, the average allowance for kids age 4 to 14 is just under $9 per week, about $450 per year. By age 14, the average allowance is over $12 per week. Some studies indicate that, in most cases, very little of a child’s allowance is saved. As parents, we may not have needed a study to figure that one out – but if your child is consistently out of money by Wednesday, how do you help them learn the lesson of saving so they don’t always end up “broke” (and potentially asking you for more money at the end of the week)?

There’s an app for that.
Part of the modern challenge in teaching kids about money is that cash isn’t king anymore. Today, we use credit and debit cards for the majority of our spending – and there is an ever-increasing movement toward online shopping and making payments with your phone using apps like Apple Pay, Android Pay, or Samsung Pay.

This is great for the way we live our modern, fast-paced lives, but what if technology could help us teach more complex financial concepts than a simple allowance can – concepts like how compound interest on savings works or what interest costs for debt look like? As it happens, a new breed of personal finance apps for families promises this kind of functionality.

FamZoo is popular, offering prepaid cards with a matching family finance app for iOS and Android. Prepaid cards are a dime a dozen but FamZoo’s card and app do much more than just limit spending to the prepaid amount. Kids can earn interest on their savings (funded by parents), set budgets according to categories, monitor their account activity with useful charts, and even borrow money – complete with an interest charge. Sounds a bit like the real world, doesn’t it? FamZoo can be as simple or as feature-packed as you’d like, making it a good match for kids of any age.

Money habits are formed as early as age 7. If an allowance can teach kids about saving, compound interest, loan interest, and budgeting – with a little help from technology – perhaps the future holds a digital world where the two sides of the allowance debate can finally agree. As to whether your kids’ allowance should be paid upon completion of chores or not… Well, that’s up to you and how long your Saturday to-do list is!

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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 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 11, 2019

What Are the Effects of Closing a Credit Card?

What Are the Effects of Closing a Credit Card?

Americans owe over $900 billion.

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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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.

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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% 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 23, 2019

Top Reasons Why People Buy Term Life Insurance

Top Reasons Why People Buy Term Life Insurance

These days, most families are two-income households.

That describes 61.9% of U.S. families as of 2017. If that describes your family (and the odds are good), do you have a strategy in place to cover your financial obligations with just one income if you or your spouse were to unexpectedly pass away?

Wow. That’s a real conversation-opener, isn’t it? It’s not easy to think about what might happen if one income suddenly disappeared. (It might seem like more fun to have a root canal than to think about that.) But having the right coverage “just in case” is worth considering. It’ll give you some reassurance and let you get back to the fun stuff… like not thinking about having a root canal.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Term insurance and how it may help with your family’s financial obligations, read on…

Some Basics about Term Insurance
Many of life’s financial commitments have a set end date. Mortgages are 15 to 30 years. Kids grow up and (eventually) start providing for themselves. Term life insurance may be a great option since you can choose a coverage length that lines up with the length of your ongoing financial commitments. Ideally, the term of the policy will end around the same time those large financial obligations are paid off. Term policies also may be a good choice because in many cases, they may be the most economical solution for getting the protection a family needs.

As great as term policies can be, here are a couple of things to keep in mind: a term policy won’t help cover financial commitments if you or your spouse simply lose your job. And term policies have a set (level) premium during the length of the initial period. Generally, term policies can be continued after the term expires, but at a much higher rate.

The following are some situations where a Term policy may help.

Pay Final Expenses
Funeral and burial costs can be upwards of $10,000. However, many families might not have that amount handy in available cash. Covering basic final expenses can be a real burden, especially if the death of a spouse comes out of the blue. If one income is suddenly gone, it could mean the surviving spouse would need to use credit or liquidate assets to cover final expenses. As you would probably agree, neither of these are attractive options. A term life insurance policy can cover final expenses, leaving one less worry for your family.

Pay Off Debt
The average household in the U.S. is carrying nearly $140,000 in debt, and it’s clear that many families would be in trouble if one income is lost.

Term life insurance can be closely matched to the length of your mortgage, which helps to ensure that your family won’t lose their home at an already difficult time.

But what about car payments, credit card balances, and other debt? These other debt obligations that your family is currently meeting with either one or two incomes can be put to bed with a well-planned term life policy.

Income Protection
Even if you’ve planned for final expenses and purchased enough life insurance coverage to pay off your household debt, life can present many other costs of just… living. If you pass unexpectedly, the bills will keep rolling in for anyone you leave behind – especially if you have young children. Those day-to-day living costs and unexpected expenses can seem to multiply in ways that defy mathematical concepts. (You know – like that school field trip to the aquarium that no one mentioned until the night before.)

But Wait, There’s More
A well-planned term life insurance policy can provide other benefits as well, including living benefits that can help prevent medical expenses from wreaking havoc on your family’s financial plan if you become critically ill. One note about the living benefits policies, though: If the critical and chronic illness features are used, the face value of the policy is reduced. But which might be more prepared to take a financial hit: the face value of the life insurance policy that just helped you cover your medical expenses… or your child’s college fund?

In some cases, policies with built in living benefits may cost more than a standard term policy, but it may still cost less than permanent insurance policies! And because a term policy is in force only during the years when your family needs the most protection, premiums can be lower than for other types of life insurance.

Term life insurance can provide income protection to help keep your family’s financial situation solid, and help things stay as “normal” as they can be after a loss.

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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. 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!)

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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% 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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