Tag: Credit Card Debt

Ways to Earn Extra Money for Paying Off Debt

Debt traps you in a seemingly endless cycle. More debt means more interest and less disposable income, which means you’re constantly fighting against the tide and are always one issue away from complete financial disaster. 

Once you start making repayments on this debt, there will be less interest to compound, which means the grip will loosen, you’ll have more breathing space, and you can look forward to a debt-free future.

In this guide, we’ll look at some of the ways you can earn extra cash to start clearing your debt, from acquiring additional work and responsibilities to making money-saving sacrifices.

Stop Wasting Money

The average American household wastes over $10,000 a year on unnecessary purchases. These purchases all fuel the economy and keep you and your family happy. But if you’re losing sleep because you have so much debt, it’s worth making these sacrifices to give you some peace of mind and build towards a better future.

Save on Grocery Bills

The average family spends between $300 and $500 a month on groceries and as much as 40% of this food goes to waste. The majority is fresh food past its expiration date but we also have a tendency to cook monster-sized meals that end up being thrown away.

To save money on your grocery bill, try the following:

  • Plan your shop carefully. Only buy fresh when you’re confident that the food will be eaten in the next day or two.
  • Reduce your portion sizes when cooking. It’s okay to err on the side of caution and make more than needed, but to cook double or triple what will be eaten is just wasteful.
  • Don’t worry too much about best-before dates. It doesn’t mean the food should be thrown away, just that it’s not at its best. The same applies to lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. In this case, you can rely more on the squeeze and sniff test.
  • Cook food that is about to expire and would otherwise be thrown out. You can freeze the meals for later. You can also try picking, preserving or juicing to reduce waste.

Eating Out

On average, American families spend close to $3,000 a year eating out. It’s a great way to spend time with the family or have a date night with your partner. However, if you have a lot of debt then $3,000 worth of restaurant visits is a little excessive. 

Stop spending so much money eating out and focus on some cheaper alternatives. A picnic is a great alternative. You can use some of that uneaten food and spend time with the family without paying a small fortune for the pleasure.

Stop the Vacations

Big families take one vacation a year on average and this costs them between $4,000 and $5,000. The more children you have, the more expensive it becomes. What’s more, around a third of these families will take as many as three additional, smaller vacations every year, potentially spending over $7,000.

Don’t sacrifice spending some time with your family but look for cheaper options instead. Choose a small cabin instead of a plush hotel. You can go for walks, play games, swim, hike—all free activities that could bring you even closer and cost even less.

Hold the Vices

Thousands are spent on cigarettes and gambling, and much more is spent on shopping sprees. If you have any of these habits, it’s time to put a stop to them. We don’t need to tell you about the benefits of stopping smoking or giving up those shopping sprees, but if you’re still not convinced about the gambling, then spend a few months recording every single dollar that you bet.

Most gamblers think they are breaking even or only losing a little, but when they monitor their activity, they discover they are actually losing a lot.

Check Your Subscriptions

According to a recent survey, most Americans underestimate how much money they spend on subscriptions. We’ve turned into a nation of subscribers, spending hundreds of dollars a month on dozens of services we barely use.

We pay for cable, streaming services, gyms—we convince ourselves that it won’t matter as it’s only a few dollars, but those costs can add up to a lot of wasted cash at the end of the year.

Sell Your Stuff

Many sites can help you offload your unwanted items. There’s a home for all the things you no longer need, from electronics and video games sold on eBay or Amazon, to clothes and furniture sold through sites like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and Swappa. 

It’s time to let go, stop hoarding, and earn some cash from the things you don’t need. Be honest with yourself and get rid before the value of those items depreciates more and you end up with worthless, dust-covered junk that just takes up space.

As an example, let’s imagine that you have a dozen old video games worth just $5 each on average, 10 old school textbooks worth just $2 each, a couple of furniture pieces worth $10, an unwanted guitar worth $50, and a couple of handbags worth $25 each.

Individually, those items aren’t worth much and you might think they’re not even worth your time trying to sell them, But combined, you’ll get $200 and if you put that towards a high-interest credit card debt, it could save you twice that in interest over the term. You will also free up some space in the process.

Get Another Job

You know you can make more money by asking for a pay rise. It goes without saying. The problem is, life isn’t quite that easy and, in most cases, asking for a pay rise will elicit little more than a short, sharp laugh from your employer. 

However, there are many ways you can earn money from a side hustle, taking advantage of the gig economy and swapping a little talent, a little time, and a lot of hard work for some cash.

Get a Part-Time Job

There is a multitude of ways you can earn some extra cash these days. The pay isn’t always great, but if you’re working towards clearing your debts and have some free time, every dollar helps.

Uber and Lyft are always looking for new drivers; retailers need shelf-stackers and greeters, and there is no shortage of delivery jobs. Review your free time, calculate when you can work, and see what’s available. 

Teach a Skill

Can you play a musical instrument or speak a second language? Do you have some other teachable skill? It has never been easier to make money as a part-time teacher, as sites like Preply.com, Udemy.com, Tutor.com, Noodle.com, TakeLessons.com, and many more bring all of these opportunities to you. 

You can visit the student’s house, invite them to yours or simply conduct the lessons via Skype or the site’s built-in conferencing software.

Freelance

Upwork.com, Guru.com, Fiverr.com—these sites and more have created a world of possibilities for skilled writers, designers, coders, and other experts. But they offer so much more than that. 

You don’t need to be particularly skilled to work on these sites as the pay is scaled based on ability and experience. If you have a little free time and some competent language skills, you can hire yourself as a virtual assistant to do basic admin work.

There are countless entrepreneurs seeking individuals to complete basic tasks such as transferring data, reviewing images, and answering emails. The pay isn’t great if your skills are limited, but you get to work from home on your own time. 

Cover the Basics

Freelancing and teaching may be out of the question if you don’t have any skills and are not computer literate. But there are still a few other options, including dog walker, lawn mower, babysitter, and general handyman. 

Ask your neighbors, friends, and family if they need any work; check Craigslist and local classifieds. Everyone can do something and there are always odd jobs available if you’re willing to work.

Try Some Other Methods

When the ordinary fails, it’s time for the extraordinary. There are some weird and wonderful ways you can make extra cash when needed.

Sell Your Hair

If your hair is long and untreated, you could make a tidy sum by selling it. Good quality human hair is used to make premium wigs and some companies are willing to pay thousands for the right locks. However, there are some strict conditions, such as the fact that it must be untreated and very well looked after.

House Sit

Sites like Thumbtack can connect you to homeowners looking for skilled workers, as well as people willing to look after their homes and belongings. They will pay you to stay in their homes and perform some basic chores while they’re away, such as watering plants, feeding pets, and mowing the lawn.

Make Something

If your skills are practical and not creative, turn your hand to making things and sell them through sites like Etsy, Facebook or your own online store. The world has been obsessed with single-use plastics for many years and it’s now waking up to the damage that has been done. Many consumers are willing to pay extra for something that has been handmade and is unique, especially if the money supports an independent creator.

Grow Your Own

If you have a yard and some free time, start growing some produce. Crops like potatoes, carrots, greens, and even some fruits are easy to grow and can give you a bumper crop every year. You’ll pay a few cents for the seeds and simply need to devote some time to digging, watering, and harvesting.

Think about how much money you’ll save if you have your own supply of vegetables and fruits and can just pick fresh from the yard whenever you’re cooking. If your family eats a lot of cheese or drinks a lot of wine or beer, you can also start producing your own supply. 

Cheese can be made with a lot of milk, a little rennet, and a few simple steps. Beer can be made using some do-it-yourself kits. 

As for wine, it’s one of the easiest things you can make yourself. You don’t even need grape juice as wine can be made from a multitude of fruit juices, vegetable juices, and more. You can even make a strong, fragrant white wine with a handful of fruit teabags. The only expense is the sugar, which means you can make several dozen bottles worth of wine for less than $10.

Join a Clinical Trial

Although it’s not a method we would recommend, it’s one that’s worth including. If you join a clinical trial, you’ll be paid to act as a guinea pig. The good news is that the majority of these trials run without incident and most subjects are as healthy at the end as they were at the beginning. The bad news is that there is always a risk and there’s no telling what will happen.

You can search for available trials on the Clinical Trials website run by the US National Library of Medicine. 

Summary: Paying Off Your Debt with Extra Money

Your first priority is to meet your minimum payment obligations and avoid any missed payments. Once you meet this obligation every month, you can put any extra cash you have towards clearing those debts. Every little helps, even if it’s just $50 or $100 here and there.

As an example, if you have a credit card debt of $10,000 with an APR of 25% and a minimum payment of $300, you’ll repay $17,251 in total over 58 months. Add just $100 a month and you’ll reduce the term by a whole 12 months and the balance by a massive $3,000. Take a look at our guides to the Debt Snowball Method and the Debt Avalanche Method to find the right payoff strategy for you. Both methods rely on you earning some extra cash and now that you’ve made it to the end of this article, you’ll know just how to do that!

Ways to Earn Extra Money for Paying Off Debt is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

How to Consolidate Credit Card Debt

Credit card debt is on the rise. Millions of Americans are in over their heads. They’re losing sleep, losing control, and worried about what the future will hold. But there are solutions, and consolidation is one of the best.

Consolidation works by “consolidating” multiple debts into one. It’s the perfect solution for mounting debt, one that doesn’t destroy your credit score, liquidate your assets, or make it difficult to acquire mortgages and personal loans in the future.

With that said, let’s look at some of the best ways to consolidate credit card debt.

Option 1: Do It Yourself

The idea of debt consolidation essentially boils down to acquiring a large, low-interest loan and using that to repay multiple high-interest debts. If your credit score is high enough, you can get that loan yourself, clear your credit card debts, and then focus on repaying the loan.

Do It Yourself Consolidation Explained

The average credit card APR is close to 20%. If you have a balance of $10,000 and a monthly payment of $300, this APR will cost you over $4,700 in total interest and your debt will be repaid in just over 4 years. If you were to acquire a $10,000 personal loan at a respectable rate of 8% over the same 4 years, you’ll pay just under $1,800 in interest.

That’s a saving of nearly $3,000 over 4 years, and it’s based on an 8% rate (lower rates are available) and on the assumption that you don’t accumulate any credit card penalty fees or penalty APRs, which are very common on rolling balances.

Pros

  • You Will Save Money: As noted above, this process could save you a lot of money over the long-term and will also free up some additional cash in the short-term.
  • Complete Control: You don’t have to worry about company fees and service charges; you don’t need to concern yourself with hidden terms. With this credit card consolidation option, you are in complete control.
  • Easy on Your Credit Score: While your credit score will take an initial hit because of the loan inquiry and the new account, as soon as you use that loan to clear your credit card debts you should see an improvement. Just remember to keep those cleared cards active, otherwise, your credit utilization ratio will drop.

Cons

  • Good Credit Needed: For this option to be viable, you will need an excellent score. Anything less and you may struggle to be accepted for a low-interest loan. Let’s be honest, if you’re struggling with growing credit card debt, the odds of you having a flawless credit score are pretty slim.
  • On Your Own: While there are benefits to doing everything by yourself, it can also be a little time consuming, and if you don’t know what you’re doing, it can be intimidating.

Option 2: Work with a Debt Management Company

Credit counseling agencies can help you manage your debt by working with your creditors. A new payment structure will be created, and your money will go straight to the agency, after which it will be released to your creditors.

Debt Management Consolidation Explained

To begin the process, search for reputable debt management services in your area. They will assess your situation and determine if you are a good fit for the program. Some charge fees, some don’t, but all will serve as an intermediary between you and your creditors.

Every month you will make a single payment and the money will then go to your creditors. The agency will negotiate reduced payments by bringing the interest rates down and removing fees, therefore making these debts cheaper and more manageable.

Pros 

  • Professional Help: Get quality support from an experienced debt management company, one that will assume control and take the stress away.
  • Cheap: This is one of the cheapest and most cost-effective ways to clear your credit card debt, greatly reducing your total interest repayments.

Cons

  • Fees: Some debt management companies charge fees for their services, although these tend to be nominal and you’ll still save more money in the long-term.
  • Canceled Contract: If you fail to make one of the agreed-upon repayments, your creditors may cancel the improved contract and revert back to the previous terms, erasing all the agency’s hard work.

Option 3: Balance Transfer

A balance transfer is a promotion offered on new credit cards. It invites you to move your balance from your current card to a new one, and in exchange, it offers a period of 0% interest. 

You will need to pay a balance transfer fee, and this is typically charged at between 3 and 5% of the total transfer amount, but it’s often one of the cheapest and easiest ways to consolidate credit card debt.

Balance Transfer Consolidation Explained

As an example of how balance transfers work, let’s imagine that you have three credit cards, each with a maxed-out balance of $10,000 and an APR of 20%. If you’re repaying $300 a month, that’s $900 a month and in 4 years and 2 months, you’ll pay around $14,000 in interest to clear the full $30,000.

Alternatively, you can move all three balances onto a single balance transfer card with a $30,000 limit. Immediately, that balance could grow to $31,500. If you continue paying $900 a month and the balance transfer period lasts for 18 months, the balance will be just $15,300 when interest begins to accrue again. And if you use that 18-month period to initiate a debt repayment strategy, you could clear it in full and avoid paying any interest.

Pros 

  • Multiple Balances Can be Consolidated: You can consolidate multiple credit card balances, providing you’re not moving them to the same creditor.
  • No Interest Repayment: If you plan it properly, you can repay your balance in full before accruing any interest.
  • Available to Everyone: Credit cards are generally easier to acquire than low-interest personal loans and you won’t need an excellent credit score to get a good one.

Cons  

  • Higher Interest: The interest rate and fees may be higher once the 0% balance transfer period ends. If you use the intro period to avoid repayments and not to clear your debt, you could find yourself in serious trouble when interest begins to accumulate again.
  • Large Limits May be Difficult: The bigger your current credit card balances are, the harder it will be to get a balance transfer card with a large enough limit.
  • Fees: Although it’s a great option for consolidating credit card debt, it’s not completely free, as you’ll pay an initial balance transfer fee.

Option 4: Debt Consolidation Loans

Some companies offer specific loans tailored toward debt consolidation. These options work a lot like personal loans, as they are large loans designed with consolidation in mind. However, there are a few key differences, including the fact you don’t need an excellent credit score.

Debt Consolidation Loans Explained

The ultimate goal of debt consolidation loans is not to save you money in the long-term or to reduce the debt period. In fact, it does the opposite. The goal is to reduce your monthly payment and give you a smaller rate of interest, but it does this while increasing the loan period, which means you ultimately pay more money over the term.

Pros

 

  • More Money Every Month: Your monthly payments will be reduced, freeing up some extra cash to use every month.
  • Cleared Debts: Your credit card debts will be cleared in one fell swoop, potentially giving you some financial breathing space.

 

Cons

  • Longer Period: The total length of your debt will be extended, which means you’ll be stuck with the debt for a prolonged period.
  • Cost: While you’ll save some money every month, you’ll do so at the cost of an increased overall balance. Depending on your credit score, you could find yourself paying thousands more in total repayments.

Other Credit Card Debt Consolidation Solutions

If you have a supportive and financially-free family, you can ask them for the money to clear your debts and then promise to repay them in time. 

Of course, this option isn’t without its problems. Firstly, there’s the old adage that you should never lend money to friends or family. It may seem pretty heartless, but it’s a saying steeped in experience. It causes problems, as that debt is right at the bottom of the borrower’s list of priorities and if they’re skipping payments and begging for relief, while at the same time buying new clothes and going out every night, it can anger the borrower.

To avoid these issues, agree to pay them in monthly installments, offer a little interest, and get everything in writing. Make that debt your priority, because by skipping your payments you’ll be hurting your finances and your relationships.

Don’t guilt-trip a friend or family member into lending you money. Don’t ask them unless you have a very close relationship with them, have known them a long time, and know they can easily afford to lend you money. The last thing you want is for them to leave themselves short or to acquire debt just to help you out.

Alternatively, if you own a significant amount of home equity, you can opt for a home equity loan. This will give you a sizeable loan charged at a small rate of interest. It will take longer to repay your mortgage, but by reducing your debt demands you’ll save more money in the long-term.

How to Consolidate Credit Card Debt is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

What credit card should I get?

One of the questions I’m asked the most is, “Which credit card should I get?”

There’s not a one-size-fits-all answer, but here’s how to narrow it down:

Which credit card to choose if you carry a balance 

If you’re in credit card debt, then you need to prioritize your interest rate over rewards. The average credit card charges 16.05%. It doesn’t make sense to pay interest just to earn 1%, 2% or 3% in cash back or travel points.

If you have credit card debt, forget about rewards for now. You can avoid interest for up to 18 months with the right balance transfer card. And some card issuers (especially credit unions) charge ongoing (non-promotional) rates as low as the 6%-9% range. Don’t chase rewards if you’re revolving a balance.

If you have credit card debt, I recommend these cards:

  • Citi Simplicity® Card*: 18-month 0% intro balance transfer offer; transfers must be completed in the first four months; 3% balance transfer fee ($5 minimum); 0% introductory purchase APR for 18 months; regular variable APR of 14.74%-24.74%
  • Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card: 15-month 0% intro balance transfer offer on qualifying balance transfers; intro balance transfer fee of 3% or $5 (whichever is greater); transfers must be made within 120 days to qualify for intro offer; 0% intro purchase APR for 15 months; regular variable APR of 14.49%-24.99%; regular balance transfer fee of 5% or $5 (whichever is greater)
  • BankAmericard® credit card: 12-billing-cycle 0% intro APR balance transfer offer; must complete the transfer within 60 days of opening the account; 3% or $10 transfer fee, whichever is greater; introductory 0% purchase APR for 12 billing cycles; regular variable APR of 12.99-22.99% on purchases and balance transfers

See related: Balance transfer cards with no transfer fee

Which card to pick if you don’t have any credit card debt 

Now we’re on to the fun stuff! The key questions at this juncture focus on how much effort you want to put in, how you spend your money and what you want to get out of your rewards.

Some people treat credit card rewards like a game. It’s fun for them, and they spend time looking for the best deals and juggling multiple cards. Yet about three-quarters of credit card holders prefer simplicity and would rather use the same card or two as widely as possible, we found in an August 2019 survey.

You won’t get the best rewards with that approach, but you can still do pretty well. Here are my favorite flat-rate cash back cards:

  • Alliant Visa Signature Card: 2.5% cash back on every purchase with a $99 annual fee (waived your first year)
  • Citi® Double Cash Card: Essentially 2% cash back on everything (technically 1% when you buy and 1% when you pay it off); no annual fee

If you make more than $20,000 in credit card charges in a typical year, the Alliant Credit Union Visa Signature is a better bet despite the annual fee.

Which card to pick if you’re willing to put in a little work to earn better rewards 

Dividing your spending among multiple cards is the best way to reap higher returns. At this stage, you need to consider how you spend your money. Different cards incentivize different types of spending (e.g., travel, restaurants, groceries, entertainment).

You also need to think about your desired redemption. Cash back has the broadest appeal (after all, who couldn’t use a little more cash?), although travel rewards are usually the most valuable. Some 49% of U.S. adults have at least one cash back card, 20% have an airline or hotel rewards card and 19% have a general travel rewards card, our research shows.

Chase Sapphire Reserve, the American Express® Gold Card, the Citi Premier® Card and the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card).

Each of these issuers has more than a dozen airline and hotel transfer partners, plus you can book an even wider variety of flights and hotels directly through the card companies. These programs provide tons of flexibility, and in terms of cents per point, they generally offer higher returns than cash back cards.

Parting advice

As you can see, picking the right credit card for you is an individual decision. I’ll leave you with two more thoughts:

You’re doing well as long as you’re avoiding credit card debt and redeeming rewards for something that’s valuable to you.

Not everyone wants to fly to the Maldives in first-class and stay in an overwater bungalow. Even if it yields fewer cents per point, a free flight to grandma’s house or cash back on everyday purchases could make more sense for your particular situation.

You should absolutely consider sign-up bonuses when evaluating credit cards, but don’t lose sight of the fact that your credit card strategy should be a long-term pursuit. Especially if you’re new to credit, focus on ongoing value rather than card churning.

* Information about Citi Simplicity has been collected independently by CreditCards.com. The issuers did not provide the details, nor are they responsible for their accuracy.

Source: creditcards.com

How to Trade in a Car

How to Trade in a Car

If you have a car that you’ve been driving for a while and you’re ready to trade it in, you might be wondering how to get the best deal. When you’re trading in a car, it’s a good idea to forearm yourself by doing research into your car’s value. Read on for the rest of our tips on how to trade in a car. 

Check out our personal loan calculator. 

Know What Your Vehicle Is Worth

So you want to trade in a car? You’ll have an easier time of it if you know what the car is worth before you head to the dealership. That way, you can negotiate from a position of strength. The classic resource for evaluating a car’s worth is the Kelley Blue Book but there are plenty of other options online, too. You can also search other vehicles of the same make and model that are for sale or have sold recently and assume that your car is worth roughly the same amount.

When you’re in the research phase, remember to take the condition of the car into account. If your car has dings, scratches or stains, you can safely assume that it will sell for less than the same year, make and model of car in better condition. And it’s always a good idea to clean the interior and exterior of your vehicle before taking it to a dealership to trade in.

Related Article: How Much Should I Spend on a Car?

Negotiate

How to Trade in a Car

Once you’ve done your research you should have an idea of how much your vehicle is worth. That’s the number you can fall back on in negotiations with the appraiser at the dealership. When you’re at the dealership, don’t be afraid to mention – or show proof of – the research you did. As when you’re buying a car, you’ll probably engage in some back-and-forth negotiation with the folks at the dealership.

The dealership will probably offer you less than what you saw in the Kelley Blue Book or the numbers you got from the National Automobile Dealers Association or Autotrader. You can counter with a higher offer, but remember that, unlike when you’re buying a car, the dealership has more leverage over you. They know you want to unload your car, get your cash and get out of there. The appraiser also takes factors into account that you might not be aware of and can’t control. For example, if the dealership already has a lot of mid-size sedans, it might not want to buy yours or might not offer as much for it.

You can get appraisals from different dealerships or companies, or offer your car at an auction or an online auction like eBay. You don’t have to go with the first offer you get for the car. If you have the time, feel free to shop around for a better offer. You can also look for dealerships that are offering special promotions, such as a discount on a new car when you trade in an old car.

Related Article: All About Car Loan Amortization

Have a Plan for Your Earnings

How to Trade in a Car

It’s a good idea to have a plan for what you’ll do once you’ve traded the car in and you’ve gotten the money from the dealership. Do you need to buy a new (or used) car or can you do without? Will you use the money you make to pay down student loan debt or credit card debt? Will you bulk up your emergency fund or save for retirement? If you don’t make a plan for what to do with the money you earn by trading in your car, you risk spending it on an impulse purchase or on little treats over time. That’s fine if you can afford it, but if you have debt or savings goals to meet, it’s a good idea to commit to putting your car trade-in dollars toward those goals.

Photo credit: Â©iStock.com/LorenzoPatoia, Â©iStock.com/sturti, Â©iStock.com/tzahiV

The post How to Trade in a Car appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com

10 Financial Steps to Take Before Having Kids

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), raising a child to the age of 18 sets families back an average of $233,610, and that’s for each child. This figure doesn’t even include the cost of college, which is growing faster than inflation. 

CollegeBoard data found that for the 2019-2020 school year, the average in-state, four-year school costs $21,950 per year including tuition, fees, and room and board. 

Kids can add meaning to your life, and most parents would say they’re well worth the cost. But having your financial ducks in a row — before having kids — can help you spend more time with your new family instead of worrying about paying the bills.

10 Financial Moves to Make Before Having Kids

If you want to have kids and reach your long-term financial goals, you’ll need to make some strategic moves early on. There are plenty of ways to set yourself up for success, but here are the most important ones. 

1. Start Using a Monthly Budget

When you’re young and child-free, it’s easy to spend more than you planned on fun activities and nonessentials. But having kids has a way of ruining your carefree spending habits, and that’s especially true if you’ve spent most of your adult life buying whatever catches your eye.

That’s why it’s smart to start using a monthly budget before having kids. It helps you prioritize each dollar you earn every month so you’re tracking your family’s short- and long-term goals.

You can create a simple budget with a pen and paper. Each month, list your income and recurring monthly expenses in separate columns, and then log your purchases throughout the month. This gives you a high-level perspective about money going in and out of your budget. You can also use a digital budgeting tool, like Mint, Qube Money, or You Need a Budget (YNAB) to get a handle on your finances. 

Regardless of which budgeting tool you choose, create categories for savings (e.g. an emergency fund, vacation fund, etc.) and investments. Treat these expense categories just like regular bills as a way to commit to your family’s money goals. Your budget should provide a rough guide that helps you cover household expenses and save for the future while leaving some money for fun.

2. Build an Emergency Fund

Most experts suggest keeping three- to six-months of expenses in an emergency fund. Having an emergency fund is even more crucial when you have kids. You never know when you’ll face a broken arm, requiring you to cover your entire health care deductible in one fell swoop. 

It’s also possible your child could be born with a critical medical condition that requires you to take time away from work. And don’t forget about the other emergencies you can face, from a roof that needs replacing to a job loss or income reduction. 

Your best bet is opening a high-yield savings account and saving up at least three months of expenses before becoming a parent. You’ll never regret having this money set aside, but you’ll easily regret not having savings in an emergency.

3. Boost Your Retirement Savings Percentage

Your retirement might be decades away, but making retirement savings a priority is a lot easier when you don’t have kids. And with the magic of compound interest that lets your money grow exponentially over time, you’ll want to get started ASAP. 

By boosting your retirement savings percentage before having kids, you’ll also learn how to live on a lower amount of take-home pay. Try boosting your retirement savings percentage a little each year until you have kids. 

Go from 6% to 7%, then from 8% to 9%, for example. Ideally, you’ll get to the point where you’re saving 15% of your income or more before becoming a parent. If you’re already enrolled in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, this change can be done with a simple form. Ask your employer or your HR department for more information.

If you’re self-employed, you can still open a retirement account like a SEP IRA or Solo 401(k) and begin saving on your own. You can also consider a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA, both of which let you contribute up to $6,000 per year, or $7,000 if you’re ages 50 or older. 

4. Start a Parental Leave Fund

Since the U.S. doesn’t mandate paid leave for new parents, check with your employer to find out how much paid time off you might receive. The average amount of paid leave in the U.S. is 4.1 weeks, according to a study by WorldatWork, which means you might face partial pay or no pay for some weeks of your parental leave period. It all depends on your employer’s policy and how flexible it is.

Your best bet is figuring out how much time you can take off with pay, and then creating a plan to save up the income you’ll need to cover the rest of your leave. Let’s say you have four weeks of paid time off, but plan on taking 10 weeks of parental leave, for example. Open a new savings account and save weekly or monthly until you have six weeks of pay saved up. 

If you have six months to wait for the baby to arrive and you need $6,000 saved for parental leave, you could strive to set aside $1,000 per month for those ten weeks off. If you’re able to plan earlier, up to 12 months before the baby arrives, then you can cut your monthly savings amount and set aside just $500 per month.

5. Open a Health Savings Account (HSA)

A health savings account (HSA) is a tax-advantaged way to save up for health care expenses, including the cost of a hospital stay. This type of account is available to Americans who have a designated high-deductible health insurance plan (HDHP), meaning a deductible of at least $1,400 for individuals and at least $2,800 for families. HDHPs must also have maximum out-of-pocket limits below $6,900 for individuals and $13,800 for families. 

In 2020, individuals can contribute up to $3,550 to an HSA while families can save up to $7,100. This money is tax-advantaged in that it grows tax-free until you’re ready to use it. Moreover, you’ll never pay taxes or a penalty on your HSA funds if you use your distributions for qualified health care expenses. At the age of 65, you can even deduct money from your HSA and use it however you want without a penalty. 

6. Start Saving for College

The price of college will only get worse over time. To get a handle on it early and plan for your future child’s college tuition, start saving for their education in a separate account.  Once your child is born, you can open a 529 college savings account and list your child as its beneficiary. 

Some states offer tax benefits for those who contribute to a 529 account. For example, Indiana offers a 20% tax credit on up to $5,000 in 529 contributions each year, which gets you up to $1,000 back from the state at tax time. Many plans also let you invest in underlying investments to help your money grow faster than a traditional savings account. 

7. Pay Off Unsecured Debt

If you have credit card debt, pay it off before having kids. You’re not helping yourself by spending years lugging high-interest debt around. Paying off debt can free-up cash and save you thousands of dollars in interest every year. 

If you’re struggling to pay off your unsecured debt, there are several strategies to consider. Here are a few approaches:

Debt Snowball

This debt repayment approach requires you to make a large payment on your smallest account balance and only the minimum amount that’s due on other debt. As the months tick by, you’ll focus on paying off your smallest debt first, only to “snowball” the payments from fully paid accounts toward the next smallest debt. Eventually, the debt snowball should leave you with only your largest debts, then one debt, and then none.

Debt Avalanche

The debt avalanche is the opposite of the debt snowball, asking you to pay off the debt with the highest interest rate first, while paying the minimum payment on other debt. Once that account is fully paid, you’ll “avalanche” those payments to the next highest-rate debt. Eventually, you’ll only be left with your lowest-interest account until you’ve paid off all of your debt. 

Balance Transfer Credit Card

Another popular strategy involves transferring high-interest balances to a balance transfer credit card that offers 0% APR for a limited time. You might have to pay a balance transfer fee (often 3% to 5%), but the interest savings can make this strategy worth it.

If you try this strategy, make sure you have a plan to pay off your debt before your introductory offer ends. If you have 15 months at 0% APR, for example, calculate how much you need to pay each month for 15 months to repay your entire balance during that time. Any debt remaining after your introductory APR period ends will start accruing interest at the regular, variable interest rate. 

8. Consider Refinancing Other Debt

Ditching credit card debt is a no-brainer, but debt like student loans or your home mortgage can also weigh on your future family’s budget.

If you have student loan debt, look into refinancing your student loans with a private lender. A student loan refinance can help you lower the interest rate on your loans, find a manageable monthly payment, and simplify your repayment into one loan.

Private student loan rates are often considerably lower than rates you can get with federal loans — sometimes by half. The caveat with refinancing federal loans is that you’ll lose out on government protections, like deferment and forbearance, and loan forgiveness programs. Before refinancing your student loans, make sure you won’t need these benefits in the future. 

Also look into the prospect of refinancing your mortgage to secure a shorter repayment timeline, a lower monthly payment, or both. Today’s low interest rates have made mortgage refinancing a good deal for anyone who took out a mortgage several years ago. Compare today’s mortgage refinancing rates to see how much you can save. 

9. Buy Life Insurance

You should also buy life insurance before having kids. Don’t worry about picking up an expensive whole life policy. All you need is a term life insurance policy that covers at least 10 years of your salary, and hopefully more.

Term life insurance is extremely affordable and easy to buy. Many providers don’t even require a medical exam if you’re young and healthy. 

Once you start comparing life insurance quotes, you’ll be shocked at how affordable term coverage can be. With Bestow, for example, a thirty-year-old woman in good health can buy a 20-year term policy for $500,000 for as little as $20.41 per month. 

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10. Create a Will

A last will and testament lets you write down what should happen to your major assets upon your death. You can also state personal requests in writing, like whether you want to be kept on life support, and how you want your final arrangements handled.

A will can also formally define who you’d like to take over custody of your kids, if both parents die. If you don’t formally make this decision ahead of time, these deeply personal decisions might be left to the courts.

Fortunately, it’s not overly expensive to create a last will and testament. You can meet with a lawyer who can draw one up, or you can create your own using a platform like LegalZoom.

The Bottom Line

Having kids can be the most rewarding part of your life, but parenthood is far from cheap. You’ll need money for expenses you might’ve never considered before — and the cost of raising a family only goes up over time.

That’s why getting your money straightened out is essential before kids enter the picture. With a financial plan and savings built up, you can experience the joys of parenthood without financial stress.

The post 10 Financial Steps to Take Before Having Kids appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

Source: goodfinancialcents.com

How to Stop Using Credit Cards

The post How to Stop Using Credit Cards appeared first on Penny Pinchin' Mom.

The reason most people are in debt is due to credit cards. These little pieces of plastic tempt you with high limits and low payments.  They are simple to use and often a hard habit to break.  You have to teach yourself how to stop using credit cards and end the cycle of more debt.

credit card debt

According to the Federal Reserve, Americans have accumulated $992 billion in credit card debt (as of November 2016).  While many people pay them off every month, there are thousands of others who do not.

They just pay the minimum and then continue to use the cards, resulting in increasing debt. If you are serious about wanting to get out of debt, you have to take steps to stop using your credit cards and racking up more debt.

Read More:

  • Why Your Credit Score Matters and How to Increase It
  • How to Pay off Credit Card Debt
  • The Five Mistake People Make When Getting Out of Debt

HOW TO STOP USING CREDIT CARDS

UNDERSTAND WHY YOU SHOP

It is so easy for someone on the outside looking in to tell you to stop spending. However, if it were that simple, you would have quit long ago, right? Before you can stop spending, you have to know why you are doing it.

Your reason could be to replace something missing in your life. It might be the high you get from spending. Your logic is not wrong. It is your own.

Once you understand why you shop, you can then start to work on that, and in turn, your desire to buy as much can slowly fade as well.  Knowing the reason why is one of the first things you must do finally break the cycle of credit card debt.

Read more:  Why you continue to overspend

 

CUT UP THE CARDS

I know that this is pretty extreme, but the truth is that it works.  If you do not have cards to use, you can’t rack up additional debt.

If you are nervous about getting rid of them altogether, put them on ice.  Literally. Put your credit card in a bowl of water and freeze it.  When you feel you need your card, it will be more challenging to get to, and the urge to use it may pass more quickly.

 

USE ONLY CASH

One thing that goes hand-in-hand with cutting up the credit cards is sticking with cash.  That doesn’t mean a debit card.  It is using paper money.

When you use cash, you have to think twice about what everything costs.  When the money is gone, you can’t spend any more.

When you use a debit card, you can still spend more than you intend.  That is never the case with cash.

If you have $100 to spend with cash, you can not make a purchase that is $105.  But, with a debit card, you still can.

It is far to easy to swipe plastic.

Read more:  Setting up and using a cash budget

 

SET UP REWARDS

A simple trick to sticking to not using your cards is to set up milestone rewards.  For instance, if you can go one week without using your card, allow yourself an extra coffee the following week.

As you reach more and more milestones, such as paying off a card, going six months without using plastic, etc., set up small rewards for yourself.  Just make sure that you never cover the cost of your reward by using your credit card!!

 

CREATE A VISION BOARD

If you want to stop using credit cards and pay off your debt, it is helpful to have a goal in mind.  It may be to afford the new car you want or buy a home. It might even be to live without feeling so much stress.

Whatever your reason, create a vision board.  When you have a clear vision of what will happen when you reach your goal, the more likely you are to stay on track.

 

GET AN ACCOUNTABILITY PARTNER

The best way to stop is to have someone to help keep you on track.  An accountability partner can do just that.

If you are in a relationship, you will be accountable to your partner (of course).  However, if you both have a difficult time not using credit, you might want to look beyond yourselves.  Find another couple who is in the same situation as you are and become accountable to one another.

However, if you are single, then it may be a bit more challenging to find someone.  Reach out to friends and family to find someone with whom you can connect and help one another.

 

TRACK EVERY PURCHASE

When you have a cash budget, you get into the habit of doing this.  However, if you are not ready to make that leap, start tracking every purchase you make.

Sometimes, seeing where you spend your money can be enough to make you want to throw the credit cards away for good.

Read more:  How to track your spending

 

MAKE SURE YOU BUDGET WORKS

You absolutely must have a budget.  There is no way to get around it.  But, more than just a budget, it needs to be a budget that works.  Sit down and go back over your budget to see where you may be spending too much and see if you can find ways to make improvements.

Also look carefully at how much money you spend on credit card debt each month.  Imagine what you could do with that money if you did not have to send it away to someone else.

Read more:  How to create a budget that works

 

Put some simple strategies to work and you’ll stop using credit cards and can get in control or your money.  Finally.

stop using credit cards

The post How to Stop Using Credit Cards appeared first on Penny Pinchin' Mom.

Source: pennypinchinmom.com