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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

Student Loans vs. Financial Aid

A young woman stands outside in front of a green tree, holding her books and wearing a backpack, smiling off into the distance.

As of early 2020, student loan debt in the nation had reached more than $1.5 trillion. More than 44 million individuals have student loan debt, and the average person with student loans owes a bit over $32,000—which is more than half of the average household income in the United States. As a new school year approaches, more individuals are searching for ways to fund their education without going into debt for years. Luckily, student loans aren’t the only way to get help paying for college.

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Learn more about student loans vs. financial aid below,
and get some information about various ways to help fund your education.

Student Loans vs. Financial Aid: What’s the Difference?

Both student loans and financial aid can come from the federal government or the private sector. The main difference between student loans and financial aid is whether or not you need to pay back the money you are given. Student loans generally require that you pay back the loan with interest, while financial aid packages like scholarships and grants typically do not need to be paid back.

That distinction can make a big difference. “Every dollar you receive in scholarship or grant form is a dollar you don’t have to pay interest on,” says Zina Kumok, an editor at Dollar Sprout. And saving that money opens up possibilities after graduation, too. “Students who don’t have to take out as many loans will have more career options and afford to start their own businesses, work in lower-paying fields, or even take time off to travel abroad.”

But as with any financial agreement, make sure you
understand the terms upfront before signing anything. Not all financial aid
comes without strings.

How to Apply for Financial Aid

To qualify for federal loans and other types of federal financial aid, you’ll need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You might need to complete the FAFSA with some of your parents’ income information if you are still a dependent.

To apply for private loans and financial aid, you must
research the program in question and complete the appropriate application
process. For example, academic or extracurricular scholarships are often
offered by various colleges and universities. You’ll have to look on those
university websites or contact financial aid departments at various schools to
find out about how to apply to these programs. Scholarships offered by private
organizations will have their own processes as well.

Student Loans

Student loans provide credit extended to you or your parents for the purpose of paying for college. Student loans do have to be repaid, but typically not until you’re out of school. In some cases, such as if you’re going to work in certain public sectors, you might be able to apply for a student loan forgiveness program.

Subsidized and Unsubsidized Federal
Loans

When you apply with the FAFSA, you may find out you qualify for federal loans. Subsidized federal loans tend to have slightly better terms than unsubsidized loans. Another benefit of a subsidized loan is that the interest on it is covered by the Department of Education as long as you meet enrollment requirements. The amount you can borrow is limited, and interest rates range from 2.75 to 4.3%.

Learn more about federal student loans and economic protections from COVID-19: What You Need to Know about CARES, HEROES, and HEALS.

Private Student Loans

If you don’t qualify for federal student loans or want another option, you can apply for private student loans from commercial lenders. Whether you can get approved for these loans or get favorable terms and rates might depend on your credit score.

Don’t know your credit score? Sign up for ExtraCredit to find out.

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Financial Aid

Financial aid
takes many forms, and most often does not need to be paid back after you
graduate. These types of aid can be offered by your school, other private
institutions, or the government. They are most often divided into needs-based
aid and merit-based aid.

When applying for
any type of financial aid, you will need to research the deadlines,
requirements, and payment specifics carefully.

Be wary of scholarship and other aid programs that charge fees. “Fees are a dead giveaway of scholarship scams,” says Doug Whiteman, editor-in-chief at MoneyWise.com. “Be very careful about handing over a credit card number or other personal information.”

Scholarships

Scholarships are awarded for need or merit, and they’re offered by a wide range of organizations. Schools, private businesses, local and national associations, religious organizations, and charities are all potential sources for scholarships. Most scholarships do not require you to pay them back.

“Students should be more aggressive about applying for scholarships,” says Kumok. Whiteman agrees, citing a recent New York Times article that estimates there are 44,000 private scholarship programs. “The typical student probably has no idea that there’s so much money available,” he says. “Too often students and their families have seen student loans as an easy fallback, before they’ve fully explored scholarship and other financial aid possibilities.”

Grants

Grants are a type of financial aid that you typically don’t have to pay back. Federal and state governments offer grants, as do private and nonprofit organizations. Make sure to do ample research to ensure you get your application right, and pay attention to the grant terms. While many grants don’t have to be repaid, some do.

Be careful not to depend fully on grants, though. “Grants might not be available for the length of your degree program,” advises Anna Serio, a staff writer at Finder.com. “Some only cover the first year, while others are only available during the second, third, or fourth year of school. Even if a grant program covers all four years, you might have to reapply every year to be considered.”

Work-Study Jobs

Work-study jobs help you pay your way through school or
cover expenses. Some work-study jobs are paid internships, where you practice
skills and knowledge you’re learning in school or for your future career.
Others might simply be on-campus jobs in dining halls, fitness centers,
tutoring or writing centers, or other areas.

“Work-study
programs are best for students who want to build up their resume,” says Serio. “Work-study
makes it easier to land a job without experience or in a new field if you’re in
graduate school. Sometimes, work-study jobs can turn into a regular part-time
or even full-time position.”

Tax Credits

If you pay qualifying expenses for school, you may be able to claim a certain amount as a tax credit to reduce your tax burden or even get a refund. The American Opportunity Credit, for example, allows up to $2,500 credit per eligible student, while the Lifetime Learning Credit allows qualified individuals to claim up to $2,000 for qualified education expenses per tax year.

State Aid Programs

Almost every state offers grants or other financial aid opportunities for college students. The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators provides a detailed list of state financial aid opportunities.

Institutional Assistance

Schools may offer many of their own programs, but they
aren’t always well published. When you’re in the process of considering and
visiting schools, during the application process or even after you’ve been
accepted, make it a point to visit the financial aid office. School financial
aid officers can help ensure you’ve applied for all applicable financial aid.

Employer Education Assistance

If you’re already working, your employ might offer
funding for education. Some employers have programs that cover all or part of
the cost of degree programs if you agree to work for them for a certain amount
of time. Others pay for training seminars, workshops, and one-off classes that
are likely to make you a more valuable employee. Talk to your supervisor or human
resources department to find out if your employer offers such benefits.

Other Programs

Leave no stone unturned when seeking financial aid for
college. Numerous programs exist to help fund education for people in specific
situations.

For example, the Educational and Training Vouchers Program provides assistance to those who are or were in foster care. The National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program helps pay for student loans for those who work at Indian Health Services facilities. Be creative! The Tall Clubs International Foundation has a scholarship program for college women who are 5’10” tall and men who are at least 6’2”. Consider what makes you unique and look for scholarship opportunities that may reward you for it.

Tuition-Free Schools

Did you know that there are also some tuition-free schools around the United States? Residents of certain states may qualify for free tuition programs. Be sure to do your research into these schools, as you would with any other. “The programs in the US often require you to work in exchange for your degree,” says Serio. “This can help you develop valuable skills and gives you a leg up entering the job market after you graduate.”

Get the Financial Aid You Need

If you need help paying for schooling, there are plenty of financial aid options available to you. Reach out to your school’s financial aid office for assistance and direction. If you’re interested in learning more about student loan options, you can look through our resource center for more information.

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The post Student Loans vs. Financial Aid appeared first on Credit.com.

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5 Reasons to Buy an Electric Car

5 Reasons to Buy an Electric Car

We’ve been hearing about electric cars for a while, but it sometimes seems that the only people who buy them are either very into being energy efficient or very wealthy. But there are a lot of good reasons for you to consider buying an electric car. They are good for the environment, but they can also be good for your pocketbook. And who doesn’t want to satisfy the demands of their conscience and their bank account at the same time?

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1. Electric cars help the U.S. with energy independence.

The United States spends about $300 billion importing oil into the country. That’s two-thirds of the U.S. trade deficit. Being dependent upon foreign oil leaves the United States more vulnerable to international problems and fluctuations in the supply of oil abroad.

2. Electric cars are more efficient. 

5 Reasons to Buy an Electric Car

With an electric car you never have to stop for gas. You can charge your electric car in your own garage overnight and be ready to travel wherever you want to go in the morning. In addition, you won’t be wasting any time or money buying snacks or pumping gas at the gas station.

3) You’ll likely save money.

Even though oil prices are the lowest they’ve been since 2008, electricity is still the less expensive option. Right now, if you purchase an electric car, recent data shows you will spend $3.74 worth of electricity to travel 100 miles. However, if you purchase a comparable car that uses gasoline, it will cost you about $13.36 to travel 100 miles. In addition, gas prices have a way of rising (or at least being unpredictable), so that journey of 100 miles can quickly get even more expensive for people with conventional cars.

4) You can get paid to buy an electric car .

5 Reasons to Buy an Electric Car

Right now, the federal government offers a tax credit that can reduce the cost of a new electric car by up to $7,500. That can effectively eliminate the cost difference between a gasoline-powered car and an electric car. Sometimes it can even make the cost of buying a gasoline-powered car more than the cost of buying an electric car. However, the tax credit offer might not last forever, so you might want to buy an electric car sooner rather than later if that’s an important factor for you.

Related Article: 3 Tips for Claiming the Energy Tax Credit

5) They’re Low Maintenance

With an electric car you’re not going to have to take your car to the mechanic as often. Although all cars may have problems, electric cars generally have lower maintenance costs than gasoline-based car. With an electric car you’ll also spend less time worrying about how to get by while your car is in the shop, or waiting around at the garage for the maintenance to be performed.

Bottom Line

You don’t have to be a hippie or a billionaire to opt for an electric car. There are advantages for anyone who takes relatively short car trips and has access to charging facilities.

Photo credit: Â©iStock.com/Anna Bryukhanova, ©iStock.com/Drazen Lovric, ©iStock.com/stockvisual

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