Which Debt Repayment Strategy Is Right for You?

We’ve focused on giving you the information you need to know to get rid of your credit card debt once and for all this month. So far, we’ve explained how to get your debts organized and how to balance building up your savings while paying down debt.

Today, we want to discuss how you can choose a debt repayment strategy to make sure you stay on track and reach debt freedom as soon as you can. These methods can help you power through and repay every last balance.

The Debt Snowball

The debt snowball is a debt repayment strategy popularized by financial guru Dave Ramsey. This method asks you to take stock of all your debts — loans, credit cards, mortgages, and other lines of credit with balances — and list them in order of smallest balance to biggest.

That’s the only factor you need to take into account. So, for example, if you have three student loans and owe $5,000, $10,000, and $15,000 respectively, that’s exactly the order you list them out in. And that’s the order you’d work to pay them off in, too.

The debt snowball has you put as much money as you can toward your debt with the lowest balance first, while still maintaining minimum payments on your other balances. Once you repay that first debt, you take the amount of money you were applying toward it, and combine it with the minimum payment you were making on the loan with the second-lowest balance.

Your payment on this second-lowest balance loan “snowballs,” because the payment is the combination of what you paid toward the first loan and the minimum payment you were already paying on the second.

You’ll continue to snowball your payments and knock out your debts one by one, until you’re debt free.

The Debt Avalanche

The debt avalanche is another system for repaying your debt. With this strategy, you again take stock of all your debts and list them out — but this time, you’ll order them by interest rate.

With the debt avalanche, you’ll list them out in order from highest interest rate to lowest (regardless of balance). Then you’ll work to repay the balances in that order, taking out the loan with the highest interest rate first, then the second-highest, and so on.

The only difference from the debt snowball is the order in which you repay your loans. The biggest advantage to the avalanche is, from a mathematical standpoint, you come out ahead because you’re getting rid of your most costly loans first. Because you’re knocking out loans by interest rate, you’ll gradually pay less in interest over your repayment period.

Choosing a Debt Repayment Strategy

There’s no “wrong” way to knock out balances and become debt-free. But there’s probably one strategy that works best for you over other options. So how do you choose the ideal system for your personal situation?

Start by understanding your own personality. The right strategy is likely the one that’s a good fit for you and the way you think. It’s not necessarily about the details of your debt.

The debt snowball does a good job of taking the emotional and behavioral part of personal finances into account. For many of us, money is about more than just the numbers — it’s how we feel and think about it.

The snowball can keep you on track because it gets you to a “win” quickly. Since you’re paying off the lowest balance first, this repayment strategy will likely knock out your first loan faster than other methods of paying down your debt.

This can be the difference between sticking to the hard work it takes to become debt free, and getting frustrated and overwhelmed by the process.

The debt avalanche is, mathematically speaking, usually better than the snowball. That’s because you focus on getting rid of the debt with the highest interest rate first, regardless of balance. This should save you money over the long-term because you’re lessening how much you’re paying in interest.

But if your highest-interest loan also comes with a bigger balance than your other loans, it’s going to take you longer to repay that debt than if you focused on knocking out loans with balances in order from smallest to largest. For some, it’s emotionally tough to have that first milestone be further down the road.

And that’s okay — it feels good to get rid of loans or balances on your lines of credit!

It all depends on what motivates you. If paying off your first loan ASAP will keep you going and prevent you from feeling discouraged or hopeless, choose the debt snowball. If you want to put an end to interest rates eating up your discretionary income, choose the debt avalanche.

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What About Debt Consolidation?

Debt consolidation is another strategy that may be helpful if you’re struggling to keep track of multiple loans and their payments, due dates, and other information. Consolidation can also help those who have high interest rate loans but good credit scores (be sure to check your credit score with a free credit report on a regular basis).

When you consolidate, you start by taking out a single loan for the total amount of the debt you want to repay. You take the borrowed money from the new loan and repay all the individual loans with balances you already had. Then, you work to repay the single, new loan.

This is a good option if you’re feeling overwhelmed because it simplifies your financial situation. Instead of having multiple loans to keep track of, consolidating leaves you with a single loan — with a single interest rate, monthly payment, and due date.

It’s also worth looking into if your current loans carry high interest rates that cost you money. There’s no guarantee, but you can shop around with different lenders to possibly consolidate existing loans for a lower interest rate. This not only simplifies your debts — since, again, there will only be one balance to keep up with — but it could also save you money if you can get a lower interest rate.

Just make sure you take all the fees into account. A new loan may come with a lower interest rate, but the loan origination fees may mean it’s a wash when it comes to saving money. Everyone’s situation is different, so do the math before making any decisions.

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Family Matters: Affording Care for a Family Member

Twenty-three year-old Emilie Lima Burke has started to save $20 per day.

It’s not for a vacation or her retirement fund. Instead, she’s preparing for the moment she expects she’ll need to take care of her aging dad and all his expenses.  Burke, who runs the site BurkeDoes.com, a financial, health and career resource for millennial women, says that her parents used to joke that she and her sister would be “their retirement plans.”

But that’s seems no longer a laughing matter.

“My dad has struggled with long bouts of unemployment…He has no money saved at all,” says the 23 year-old. “I know that at some point I will be [his caregiver]. When there is no retirement fund or any assets for aging parents to fall on, you just have to make a plan.”

We’re living longer these days, which means that many of us have the great fortune of growing older with our parents. The number of Americans ages 65 and older expected to nearly double by 2050, according to the U.S. Census.

With longevity, though, comes the increasing responsibility and financial pressure to care after our aging family members, especially, if like Burke, our family doesn’t have a financial plan already in place. The average working household has “virtually no retirement savings.”

It’s no surprise then that about one in four Americans (with parents ages 65 and older) is helping a parent with his or her affairs, offering financial help or caring after them.

And not to cause alarm, but more than half of the country – 29 states – have so-called “filial support” or “filial responsibility” laws that could potentially require adult children to pay for their parents’ care if they don’t have the means to do so for themselves.

If you’re struggling to support a family member or anticipate needing to care after a loved one down the road, here are some ways to help make your efforts more affordable.

Know Their Bottom Line

If a family member is turning to you for help, particularly financial help, then it’s more than appropriate to have a candid money talk – no matter how uncomfortable it may be.  Ask to see how much they have in the bank, as well as what other streams of income they may be receiving (e.g. social security, a pension, insurance payout, a portfolio distribution, etc.). Create a budget to pay for as much as possible with your parent’s income and assets before tapping your own bank account.

“I see people who take on credit card debt or stop paying their own bills to care for their parents, but a much better option is to first exhaust all of the resources that the parents can have access to,” says Belinda Rosenblum, a financial strategist at OwnYourMoney.com.

Having a paper trail of statements showing income and expenses will also prove helpful if your parent needs to apply for Medicaid, the health insurance program designed to help those with little money. Here’s where you can learn more about Medicaid eligibility.  Care facilities sometimes have a Medicaid expert on staff to assist with your application, too.

Reach Out to Local and National Resources

When business coach Amanda Abella’s grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a year ago, her family needed to find a way to pay for her extra care. The adult day care alone, she estimates, would have cost $100 per day.

For guidance, they turned to her grandmother’s doctor and the social worker at the hospital and discovered the Alliance for Aging, a Florida-based private, not-for-profit that provides a range of services to older people, including personal care, legal help, transportation, meals, etc. After several rounds of interviews and almost a year of being on the wait list, Abella’s grandmother succeeded and now receives free nursing care.

The lesson: Never assume that you have to go it alone. Help is out there. Local and national resources offer grants and support to seniors. To start your search for funding visit: Family Caregiver Alliance and Paying For Senior Care.

Also worth mentioning: If your aging parents are veterans look into the Department of Veterans. “Often veterans overlook or are not aware of the benefits they are eligible for such as medical care or prescriptions, especially if they’ve been separated from the military for a long time,” says military money life coach Lacey Langford.

Look Into The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

If you need to take time off work to care for a family member, be it a parent, child or even yourself, but worried about losing your job in the process, you may benefit from the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

The federal law grants certain workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year with the promise of getting their jobs back. You can also keep your company health benefits during your time off. Some states such as California, New Jersey and Rhode Island allow qualified workers to earn at least part of their paycheck during this time.

Remember the Tax Deduction

Track expenses and if you afforded more than half of your parent’s needs during the tax year (including utilities, medical bills, food and general living expenses) and he or she earned less than $4,050 (not counting social security), then you may be able to claim mom or dad (or both) as a dependent on your 2016 tax return. Doing so offers you additional tax benefits. You can find more information on how to claim a parent as a dependent on TurboTax.com.

Keep in mind that whether or not your parent qualifies as a dependent, you might be able to deduct the medical expenses (including prescriptions and doctor visits) you paid for on his or her behalf from your taxable income. The IRS requires the total of these expenses to be more than 10% of your adjusted gross income in order to claim the deduction.

Consider Long-Term Care Insurance

If your parents have yet to reach the age where they may need some assistance, see if they’ve looked into long-term care insurance. This can come in handy if they think you may need to afford a nursing home or at-home care later down the road. (And about 70% of Americans who reach age 65 will likely need some time of long-term care before as they age). Medicare does not cover these costs and they can be very expensive.

For example, the average cost of a home health aid, which long-term care would cover, can be anywhere from $34,000 to $57,000 a year depending on where you live.  If your parents don’t have enough saved to cover this, it may fall on your shoulders. It’s just as beneficial to you for them to seriously consider long-term care.

You may decide to purchase a policy yourself and have your parent(s) be the beneficiary.

Keep in mind that the ideal time to buy long-term care is when your parents are in their 50’s and 60’s (specifically between 52 and 64). The younger and healthier the beneficiary is, the more likely he or she will qualify (and the lower the monthly premium). For a couple in good health applying for long-term health care in their mid-50s, the average annual cost is about $2,350 (or less than $200 a month).

Create a Family Fund

Finally, like Burke, it pays to start saving early for the financial what-ifs surrounding our family members.

You can hope for the best, but should also prepare for the worst. Tucking away even $10 or $15 a week for the next five or ten years while your parents are still able to take care of themselves could yield an essential nest egg for everybody when life takes a turn.

Have a question for Farnoosh? You can submit your questions via Twitter @Farnoosh, Facebook or email at farnoosh@farnoosh.tv (please note “Mint Blog” in the subject line).

Farnoosh Torabi is America’s leading personal finance authority hooked on helping Americans live their richest, happiest lives. From her early days reporting for Money Magazine to now hosting a primetime series on CNBC and writing monthly for O, The Oprah Magazine, she’s become our favorite go-to money expert and friend.

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NEW Mint Feature Highlight: Transaction Widget on iOS

Minters – Say hello to our newest feature, the Mint Transaction Widget on iOS! 

With the new Mint widget, you can now track your spending faster than ever without even opening the Mint app. It’s customizable, so you can change your view depending on whether you want to see your last 1, 3, or 5 transactions. Designed to be both convenient and secure, the new transaction widget will never show up on your lock screen. 

How to Get Started

Step 1: Touch and hold an empty area on your home screen.

Step 2: Tap the plus sign (+) in the top left corner.

Step 3: Search or scroll to find Mint and tap “add widget” when it pops up. 

Step 4: Choose the widget format you like best. Now you have a view of your transactions without needing to open the app!

Insider tip: if the line item is grey on the widget it means the transaction is pending. The widget is also available in dark mode. 

The Budgeting Tool You’ve Been Looking For

Mint is here to be your all-in-one finances app, where you can connect your accounts, bills, and more – in just one place. And that’s why we’ve rolled out new features like the Transaction Widget, the This Month tab, and personalized Alerts. You deserve a better holistic view of your financial picture, and we’re here to give that to you!  

Whether you’re just starting out, or have been budgeting for a while, the Mint widget empowers you to quickly access your finances any time, any place – within seconds. With the transaction widgets, tracking your spending has never been easier. 

Try it out for yourself to stay on top of your finances!

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Cord-Cutters Guide: The Best Alternatives to Cable TV

Maybe you first heard the term whispered in hushed corridors at work or in a back-alley near your house, but now there’s no escaping the fact that “cord cutting” has gone mainstream. And it’s no wonder why. The monthly cost of cable TV in this country now averages more than ever before: a whopping $123 per household. But thanks to à la carte streaming services and the disruptive technology that’s taken over the living room in recent years, it’s easier than ever to save serious cash. Cancel your cable subscription, and join the growing ranks of cord-cutters streaming their shows.

Four out of five Americans still pay cable companies for hundreds of channels they’ll never watch. You don’t need to be one of them. Here’s what you need to know about seeing the shows you love without paying an arm and leg.

Cord cutting 101

Although millennials are leading the charge in the cord-cutting movement, anyone with a decent Wi-Fi connection can take advantage of the many available cable TV alternatives. And the soaring number of streaming services on the market means you can watch just about any TV show and sporting event in existence without going through a cable company.

If you watch a lot of shows on your local stations—think ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX—you can tune into them for free. These channels are publicly broadcast and the signals are easy to pick up in most metropolitan areas. All you need is a good HD antenna, which you can score for under $40 on Amazon. Depending on the terrain in your area and your proximity to TV towers, one type of antenna might be better for you than another. But once you’re set up, you’ll be able to enjoy the latest episode of Modern Family with the same crisp picture you were getting through your cable company, minus the monthly bill.

"À la carte streaming services and the disruptive technology taking over the living room make it easier than ever to save serious cash." MintLife Blog

Living the stream

Unless you’ve been held captive in an Indiana bunker for the past 15 years, you likely already know about the three biggest names in streaming: Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. Each of these services lets you watch hundreds of movies and television shows plus tons of original content you won’t find anywhere else. Both Hulu and Amazon offer a large selection of TV shows—with new episodes available a day after they air on cable—while Netflix has a vast library of movies and binge-worthy original series awaiting your eager eyeballs.

Aside from those streaming behemoths, an increasing number of cable channels have launched their own independent services. HBO Now is at the high-end of this category, but many stations offer the ability to stream their shows for free, albeit with a few commercial breaks. And then there’s Dish Network’s newly launched Sling TV service, which streams a variety of live cable channels, including ESPN, for $20 per month.

Plus, there are more niche streaming services, such as MUBI, which focuses on independent and foreign films, and the forthcoming FilmStruck platform, which will soon showcase an extensive library of cult-classics and art-house flicks.

With the exception of Sling TV and HBO Now, the latter of which is available for $15 per month, prices for these services start at under $10 apiece. It’s easy to mix-and-match providers as none of these companies require contracts. You can even share login info with a friend down the block or sibling on the other side of the country, without worrying about anyone getting on your case.

Think outside the (cable) box

A ton of devices are available to help you cut the cable, with more tools debuting all the time. As of now, there are basically two routes you can choose: streaming sticks or streaming boxes.

Streaming sticks, which include the Chromecast, Amazon Fire Stick and Roku Streaming Stick, aren’t much bigger than a pack of gum, and they plug right into your TV’s HDMI port. You can then use your smartphone, laptop or—in Roku’s case—a remote control to launch hundreds of steaming apps. These devices are available for well under $50 apiece, and, on their own, don’t require a monthly fee.

Streaming boxes, on the other hand, such as Apple TV, Android TV and the Roku Player, as well as newer Xbox and PlayStation video game consoles, offer all of the advantages of the streaming sticks, plus the ability to install more apps. These boxes vary in price, but again, aren’t tied to any monthly fees. For serious TV watchers interested in cutting the cord, these boxes are the way to go.

Breaking the news

When you’re ready to cut the cable, invest the money you save on boosting your internet speed. To get the highest quality picture with the least amount of buffering, you need a connection that’s at least 10 Mbps.

Another way to shave a few bucks off your monthly bill is to shell out some money for a modem of your own. Many cable companies charge a monthly fee for renting a modem, but in the long run, it’s far more economical to buy one outright.

Are your utility bills bogging you down? Embrace the cord-cutter lifestyle and never pay for cable again. Not sure where you stand financially? Sign up for a free Mint.com account and get an instant overview of your money. See you on the couch!

List of cable TV alternatives

Streaming service

Monthly fee

Known for

Netflix

$7.99

TV shows, movies, and Netflix exclusives
Hulu

$7.99

New TV episodes a day after they air on cable
Amazon Instant Video

$8.99

Hundreds of old and new movies and shows
HBO Now

$14.99

First-run films, Game of Thrones
Showtime

$10.99

Original series (Homeland, Masters of Sex)
STARZ

$8.99

Modern movie library and exclusive originals
CBS All Access

$5.99

7,500 episodes of classic and new CBS shows
MUBI

$5.99

Cult-classics, foreign and independent films
Sling.TV

$20

Dozens of live cable channels, including ESPN
Crackle

FREE

Funny, feel-good shows and movies
FilmStruck

TBD

Turner Classic Movies and Criterion Collection

Streaming sticks and boxes

Device

Price

Known for

Chromecast

$30

Stream video from your laptop or smartphone
Roku Streaming Stick

$50

Portable tool with tons of popular apps
Roku Player

$50-$100

Enhanced picture quality, solid remote control
Amazon Fire Stick

$40

Best for users in the Amazon ecosystem
Apple TV

$149

Easiest way to play iTunes purchases on your TV
Android TV

$100

Access Android apps, Chromecast built-in
XBOX One or PlayStation 4

$200-$400

Play games, some streaming services built-in
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Budgeting Financial Advisor

How to Create a Budget in Mint in 6 Steps

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Whether you’ve recently decided to upgrade your budgeting spreadsheet to something a bit more automated or you just landed your first job out of college and know you need to get more serious about your money, you’ve come to the right place.

Before starting a budget, log in and make sure all of your accounts are linked to Mint – especially the ones you use on a regular basis (ahem, credit cards included). Once these accounts are linked, head over to budgets and Mint will already have a view of what your current spending looks like in budget form.

Now, let’s walk through a few tips for optimizing budgets in Mint:

Step 1: Know exactly how much you bring in … really!

Think beyond your annual salary. Base your budget on your take home pay (aka, what actually ends up in your checking account) each month.

Pro Tip: Mint goes by the date the income comes in – if you get paid on the 31st but you want that to count toward the next month’s budget, you can adjust the date on the transaction level.

To adjust the total amount of income you expect in the current month by clicking the arrows left or right or clicking on edit.

Step 2: Check the budget categories that have fixed expenses

If you pay rent or a mortgage and it’s the same amount every month, check to make sure this is reflected accurately in your budget.

Look at the other categories that may be the same – car payment, utilities, cable. Mint can automatically recognize a lot of these, but do a quick review and make sure they’re all there!

Step 3: Check the categories that are variable expenses

Across various categories, your budget may change month-to-month, so this is where you will find wiggle room in your spending and cash flow – but be realistic with yourself. If Mint shows you generally spend $600 per month on food and you reduce this part of your budget by half – take a moment to think about the kind of commitment this requires. Unrealistic goals now will likely compromise the overall benefits of setting budgets in the first place, making other goals around savings or reducing debt more difficult – bummer!

This also includes things you may not necessarily think to budget for:

•    Pet expenses (food, vet, grooming)

•    Personal care (Acupuncture? Barber? Nail salon?)

•    Shopping (Is it realistic to say you’re going to go the next 6 months without shopping? If not, work it into your budget), etc.

In Mint, you can set up your budget to be spread over a period of time versus just a particular month – so if you know you won’t need to spend $60 on dog food every month, but instead every two months, it will spread this out accordingly in your budget too.

Step 4: Account for savings, debt pay off and other goals

Once you’ve set all of your fixed and variable expenses, head to the goals section.

Do you have a credit card that you’re carrying a balance on? Add this to a goal – you’ll be amazed at how easy it is to check your progress as your monthly payments make a dent in paying off this debt. If you’re not happy with the end pay off date, make adjustments to the total payments you are able to make on a monthly basis. Do the same with your savings goals and any other goals you may have.

Once you’ve set your goals, now head back to budgets! This is when the fun begins.

Step 5: Adjustments and Extra Expenses

Now that you’re back on the budgets page, take a look at the right-hand column calculating your total expenses – including your goals – deducted from your total income.

If you’re in the red, you have some work to do – but don’t be overwhelmed – you will find your wiggle room and we’re here to help!

Go back and look at your variable expenses.

It can be challenging and even overwhelming to imagine cutting back in certain areas you are used to spending, but this is where the old question “Do you really need a latte every day?” comes into play. Ask yourself:

•    Are you on the right mobile plan (are you using enough minutes to justify your current package?)

•    Can you go without cable? Check out this article on cutting the cord!

Our blogger, Farnoosh Torabi, has helped other readers find their wiggle room. One reader was able to reduce their overall acupuncture visits and changed from an expensive supermarket to a more affordable one to find her wiggle room.

Comb through and be firm with yourself, yet realistic.

If you’re in the green, this is awesome! Take another look at your variable expenses and ensure they are realistic to meet. Ask yourself:

•    Do you have 3 to 6 months worth of savings in case of an emergency?

•    Are you putting enough toward retirement?

•    What other savings goals do you have?

You’re in a position now to work toward accomplishing some of these!

Step 6: Ongoing Maintenance

While working toward specific goals, be sure to check in and track your progress. Check in with Mint, ensure your transactions are falling under the right buckets and categorize the ones we couldn’t recognize. This will give you a clear visual of where you are with each category so you can make smart decisions in-the-moment with your money.

And don’t forget – we are here for you! Reach out to us via Facebook and Twitter or through our support team. Or, reach out to our blogger, Farnoosh Torabi, for her AskFarnoosh series: farnoosh@farnoosh.tv.

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Budgeting Financial Advisor Life Insurance

A Simple Financial Spring Cleaning Checklist

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Spring is the perfect time to complete a financial clean-up. Here we share a few financial areas of your life that may need some sprucing up. No mop required!

1. Banking

The banking industry is quite competitive. If you’re not getting any perks from your credit card company or bank, it’s time to make a switch.

Credit Cards

Credit card companies today offer everything from travel rewards to gift cards to cash back. Many cards even offer perks without requiring an annual fee. If you pay your credit card balance faithfully each month and are only rewarded with a good credit score, it may be time to shop around for a new card. Keep in mind that when you apply for a new credit card, your credit report takes a hit, so take your time researching and don’t apply for multiple cards.

Bank Accounts

Are you still paying minimum balance fees, monthly checking, or savings account fees? How about ATM or overdraft fees? Don’t! There are too many bank options these days competing for your business to still be paying multiple fees.

What about interest rates? Is your money making money? The Federal Reserve recently raised interest rates, but the average savings account rate is still only 0.06%. If you’re not making at least that, it may be time to think about switching.

Do you bank with a brick-and-mortar bank? How often do you actually go into one of their branches? If you think you can go without having an actual bank to walk into, consider switching to an online bank. Not only do online banks have minimal fees, they boast some of the highest interest rates around.

E-Statements and Auto-Pay

Save a tree and lower your risk of identity theft by switching to receiving online statements only. If you prefer to have a paper copy, make sure you shred the statements before tossing them out.

Consider switching to auto-pay whenever the option is offered. American households tend to have many different bills to pay all due at different times; it’s easy to accidentally overlook one. If you switch to an auto-pay billing option, payments are deducted automatically when they are due, so it’s one less thing to worry about. Just be sure to occasionally review your statements to ensure the right amounts are being deducted.

2. Taxes

You most likely have already filed your taxes. Did you have to pay in or did you get a refund? If the outcome was not what you expected, it’s time to double-check your withholding allowance on your paychecks.

We all want to lower our tax bill. Deductions can help, however, unless you pay to work closely with an accountant, how do you know what qualifies as a deduction?

Some common tax deductions include:

Take a look at this article for some perhaps surprising tax deductions you should consider for next year: 9 Things You Didn’t Know Were Tax Deductions.

3. Budget

When is the last time you sat down and wrote out a monthly budget? Do you know your debt-to-income ratio?

A few years ago when I was in the market to buy a house, I opened an Excel spreadsheet and calculated what I spent on average each month compared to the income I bring in. Thankfully, Intuit recently introduce a new app, Turbo, which does this for you with ease. Generally, you want to aim to keep your debt-to-income ratio below 36% and mine was 53%. I had to make some changes. I tightened my budget (mainly by canceling cable TV and renegotiating my Internet bill) and paid off my auto loan. My ratio today is still a bit high, but it’s getting better.

Going through the memberships and subscriptions you currently pay is a great way to quickly lower your debt-to-income ratio. Chances are you’ll find you are paying a monthly fee for something you seldom use, or at least can live without. Do you need both Netflix and Hulu? Both Spotify and iTunes Music? Both Blue Apron and Hello Fresh? Probably not.

Print off the last two to three months of your credit card and bank account statements and go line-by-line to figure out a way you can save some money. Additionally, if you have a Mint account, log in and check out the Trends tab. You can view your spending and see where the majority of your money is going. You may be shocked at how much you spend within a certain category. It’s easy to just hand over your credit card, but actually seeing a graph of how much you spend can be a much needed wake-up call.

Spending by Category _ Mint

4. Retirement

It doesn’t matter how old you are, you need to plan ahead for retirement.

If your employer offers a 401(k), take advantage of it. This is the easiest way to save for retirement (not to mention it lowers your taxable income.) If they offer to match a certain percentage, even better. Aim to increase your contributions each time you get a pay raise, this way you won’t even miss the money.

Do you have more than one 401(k) or IRA? Consider consolidating.

Consolidating retirement accounts that share the same tax treatment can be beneficial for two reasons:

1. Keeping all your money in one place makes it more simple and manageable.

2. Having only one account reduces the amount of fees you’re paying.

A retirement rollover is the best way to move money from one account to another. It’s important to do so correctly to avoid fees. Check out this article for more information: How to Handle Retirement Rollovers Correctly.

For those of you whom have established retirement accounts, when was the last time you rebalanced your investment portfolio? Never?

Typically, the younger you are, the more risk you can handle in your investments because you have more time to make up for any losses. The closer you get to retirement age, the more conservative you should be. Financial planning experts recommend that you rebalance your portfolio once or twice a year, but check up on it frequently to make sure you’re in line with your target.

As you’re thinking about your retirement planning, also think about your beneficiaries. How long ago did you open your retirement accounts? Are your parents still listed as your beneficiaries on your 401(k) from your first job? Or maybe an ex-spouse is still designated? Review your beneficiaries as it may be time for an update.

5. Legacy Planning

Just because Spring is all about rebirth, doesn’t mean we should avoid the subject of death. There are three important aspects of legacy planning that should be dealt with sooner rather than later:

1. Writing a will

2. Authorizing power of attorney

3. Buying life insurance

Wills

If you don’t want the state to decide where your assets go when you die or, more importantly, who will be in charge of your children and funds owed to them, then you better draw up a will. Another, often forgotten, reason to have a will is to ensure no tension occurs within your family after you are gone. Without a will, you may have relatives arguing over your possessions and everyone may want input on what should happen to your assets.

If you have a complicated estate, such as business interests, trusts, multiple investment properties, etc., then you should probably hire a lawyer to help with your will. However, if your estate is a bit more simple (e.g.: married with kids and you own a house) you can draw up your will right online, if you’d like. You’ll need to print it off and get it witnessed and notarized, but it’ll be much cheaper than hiring a lawyer.

Power of Attorney

There are two kinds of power of attorney: financial and medical.

A financial power of attorney is most often just simply referred to as a power of attorney (POA) and this is a document that states a person or organization you name to act on your behalf in regards to handling financial and business transactions.

A medical power of attorney is a document that states a person you name who has the authority to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to do so, for example if you’re unconscious or mentally incapable.

Most people assume only elderly individuals need to have these POA documents in place, but you don’t need to be 80 years old to get into a car accident and become unconscious. If you become mentally or physically incompetent, your designated POA agents can make decisions on your behalf instead of it being left up to strangers who wouldn’t know your wishes, such as doctors and judges.

If you’re over 18 and considered of sound mind, you can draw up both types of POA documents. Hiring a lawyer is an option, but, like wills, you can create these documents online for a fee. Be sure to discuss with your agents of choice before drawing up the documents and make sure they understand your wishes and their responsibilities.

Life Insurance

Life insurance isn’t the happiest financial product to think about. However, while many Americans admit life insurance is important, many households are underinsured. People are telling themselves “It won’t happen to me,” meanwhile they really should be asking “What if?”

If you have young children, life insurance is a must. How would your loved ones be affected if your income were to suddenly disappear? Stop postponing and get a term life insurance quote today. Life insurance is more affordable than you think and because the process is mainly digital, it’s also become much more convenient to buy.

If you already have life insurance, good for you! But don’t forget to review your policies periodically after life changes such as a new baby, marriage or divorce, or changing jobs. Your coverage needs may have changed, not to mention beneficiaries may need updating.

Although many of these financial spring cleaning to-dos may take a bit of time to complete, you’ll feel accomplished and will ultimately be in a better financial place. Do you have any financial spring cleaning tips to share? Leave a message in the comments section.

Natasha Cornelius is a content manager and editor for Quotacy. She has worked in the life insurance industry since 2010, and has been making life insurance easier to understand with her writing since 2014. A long-time Mint user, Natasha loves making frugal fun by creating new DIY projects. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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Budgeting Financial Advisor

Summer Closet and Budget Refresh

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A new season means it’s time for new clothes. But how do you refresh your closet without blowing your summer budget? Fortunately, you don’t have to sacrifice your trip to the beach just to get that new pair of sandals. Use these tips to create a budget and strategically plan out your purchases.

Sell What You Dont Need

If you’re working with almost no budget, turn your old clothes into cash for new ones. Go through your wardrobe, gather gently used items you no longer wear and sell them on secondhand sites or to consignment stores. Use the money from these clothes to refresh your closet with new pieces.

If you’re like me it’s been a couple of years since you’ve really taken stock of what’s in your closest, and it’s probably worth taking another look, freshen it up a bit! There are probably some things that you can get rid of to make room for some new clothes. Look through the back of your closet and the bottom of your drawers, and if there are things you have forgotten about or haven’t worn in years, I think it’s safe to say you won’t miss it them if they’re gone.

If there are pieces that you think you might wear again, do the hanger test. Hang all of your clothes the same way and when you wear it turn the hanger the other way. Check back in a couple of weeks and see if you’ve worn them. If not, you can probably purge them too! Another good test is to box up your “maybes” and check back in 30 days to see if they are still in the box. If they are, clearly you do not need them.

Get Organized

Take a look at your clothes that survived the purge and get organized. I like to organize my clothing by type (dresses, pants, tops etc.), but some people prefer a system based on color. Whichever way works for you, I highly recommend getting organized, as it will help you assess what items you need, what you want and what is truly missing.

It will also help you to identify the styles of clothing that you gravitate toward, helping you figure out what works for you when it comes to purchasing new pieces. Are you looking at a closet full of dresses? Or are your drawers full to the brim with tees and shorts? This will help you understand your personal style and adjust your shopping list accordingly. After all, there’s no need to replenish your shorts supply if you really prefer to wear dresses and skirts.

Next, evaluate your closet to see if you’re missing any true staples. Did you finally have to get rid of your favorite maxi dress because it was just too worn out? Did that favorite pair of denim cutoffs finally have to be retired? You’ll want to replace these pieces because they are classics that you can build your summer looks around. Start making a list of everything you need to buy, based on your inventory. If you realize you already have your basic maxis, shift dresses, shorts and tees, you can simply add shoes and accessories to your list.

Build a Budget

Once you know exactly what you need, plan out a careful budget that encompasses your shopping list. Rather than going to the stores and roaming aimlessly, give yourself an exact number to work with for each piece. For instance, if you know you need a new dress, you might budget $50 maximum for it. If you happen find the perfect dress at a higher price point, revisit your budget and shopping list and eliminate another item or two to make up for the added expense. Having a defined budget—and keeping track of exactly how much you spend on what—will help keep you from wasting money on impulse buys and clothes you’ll never wear.

Shop Smart

Now, to the fun part! The new clothes. Buying new clothes can be a daunting task, especially if you are on a limited budget. Check out your local vintage stores or shop secondhand sites online. With consignment stores and sites, you can find quality pieces at a fraction of the typical cost. Shopping secondhand means there’s a better chance you’ll wind up under budget—which means more money for summer fun.

With some advanced planning, it’s easy to stay on track of your clothing finances and get a whole new wardrobe at half the cost.

Catherine Claire is a stylist and a fashion blogger who can create amazing outfits on a small budget. She is the cofounder of The Crystal Press and also writes for thredUP.com, an online/offline consignment and thrift store with a large selection of wallet-friendly women’s dresses.  

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College Students: Here are The Biggest Financial Mistakes You Need to Avoid

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Slipping up while in college is basically a rite of passage. I made so many mistakes at Indiana University – many of which I would never admit publicly – that reminiscing on my college years comes with a heavy dose of embarrassment.

Thankfully, most mistakes made while at university are temporary. They may have short-term consequences, but drinking tickets and dorm infractions don’t tend to follow you into adult life. Financial mistakes, on the other hand, can be a little stickier.

College may seem like a safe little bubble, but money is still money. The cash you blow on parties and takeout doesn’t magically get reimbursed once you earn a diploma. Beyond that, the bad habits you develop during these crucial years can haunt you for decades to come. Trust me – I’ve been there.

Here are some of the biggest mistakes I made in college, and how you can avoid them.

Not Keeping a Budget

My forays into budgeting as a college student usually fizzled out. Like a New Year’s resolution, I’d make a firm commitment and then give up after a few weeks.

When I was a second-semester senior, I decided to finally buckle down and stick to a budget. Graduation was fast approaching and I knew I hadn’t been handling my money responsibly. It was time to get serious about budgeting before I entered the real world.

At first it was really hard. I wasn’t used to depriving myself, and seeing how much I was wasting on eating out and buying new clothes was a hard pill to swallow. It wasn’t until I started my first real job after college that I finally got the hang of budgeting – but it took a lot of trial and error.

If you’re interested in starting a budget, set up a Mint account and try tracking your expenses for a few weeks. Knowing where your money is going could be enough to change your behavior and establish better spending habits.

Not Making Loan Payments While in School

Did you know you can start paying off your student loans while you’re still in school? Yeah, I didn’t either.

When I was in college, I was certain I’d find a well-paying job after graduation. My loan balance was filed under the “worry about it later” category. It wasn’t until much later that I learned a hard truth – if I had paid just $50 a month, I could have saved hundreds in accrued interest.

Start paying back those loans as soon as possible, even if you can only afford ten bucks a month. You’ll still make a dent in the total balance, and the solid repayment habits you develop in college will pay dividends when life gets crazy after graduation.

Not Researching My Student Loans

I knew while applying to college that I’d have to subsidize my tuition with student loans. Before I made my decision, my parents told me to pick an affordable school where I wouldn’t need to borrow more money than I expected to earn in my first year out of school.

I wanted to be a journalist, and the average starting salary for a reporter was around $26,000 a year. I planned to take out $24,000 total, so I felt good borrowing slightly less than my future salary.

That was the only research I did into my student loans. I didn’t examine what my monthly payments would be or what it would be like to actually live on $30,000 a year while repaying my balance.

When I graduated, I got a job making $28,000 a year and was shocked when my first student loan payment came due. The minimum payment was $350 – or 20% of my take-home pay.  After rent, utilities, groceries, gas and loans, I had little left over to save for retirement, travel or spend on hobbies.

If you’re not sure how much money you’ve borrowed, it’s time to take a closer look. I had so many friends in college who had no idea how much they were taking out. A few years ago, my alma mater, Indiana University, started sending out annual letters to current students showing them how much they’d pay every month. The result? Borrowing dropped 16%.

Talk to your financial aid office about your loans and see if you can take out less next year. If you’re using loans for living expenses, consider getting a part-time job to cover those instead. The less you borrow now, the less you’ll have to repay down the line.

Succumbing to Peer Pressure

When I was in high school, I heard a lot of lectures about peer pressure. Teachers told us not to do things just because the “cool kids” were doing it. They’d tell us to avoid alcohol and drugs and stick to our own values.

Unfortunately, no one explained how your peers could pressure you to spend more money. I can recount dozens of instances where I didn’t want to go out for dinner or go shopping, but gave in because my friends were doing it.

It’s so tempting to live the good life in college, putting off the stress of adult life until after graduation, but it’s also important to learn how to say no and think about long-term consequences. You can always strike a balance between having fun and staying on top of your responsibilities.

Not Applying for More Scholarships

Students usually assume the only time to apply for scholarships is before they start college. The thing is, there are plenty of scholarships available for current students. While I applied for a couple scholarships during my time in school, I didn’t take the applications seriously.

I told myself applying for scholarships was a waste of time. “What’s the point,” I’d think. “I probably won’t get it.”

That line of thinking probably cost me thousands of dollars, and it wasn’t until I was repaying my loans that I realized how much money I’d left on the table. If it seems like a hassle to apply for a $500 scholarship, consider how long it would take you to earn that amount in the real world.

Avoiding Credit

One of the biggest mistakes a college student can do is not track their credit history. A credit report is like a financial grade that lenders, landlords and sometimes even employers use to gauge your creditworthiness. If you have a low credit score or no credit, you probably won’t qualify for an apartment by yourself and will need a cosigner.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to worry too much about my credit while I was in college. My parents made me an authorized user on their credit cards, so while I was attending class and partying on the weekends my credit history was slowly growing.

If you don’t have a credit card right now, and you think your parents could be in a position to help, ask your parents if you can become an authorized user on their card or ask them to cosign on a student credit card.

Using a credit card to improve your credit history is simple if you have great self control. Pay a couple small bills with your card every month and then pay the balance in full once the monthly statement posts. Doing so regularly can give you a huge leg up after graduation.

But do remember a credit limit is not “free money” and should be looked at as a tool for your financial health. A credit card only has benefits if you pay it off in full every month, carrying over debt could be problematic for your financial future.

This blog post does not constitute, and should not be considered a substitute for legal or financial advice. Each financial situation is different, the advice provided is intended to be general. Please contact your financial or legal advisors for information specific to your situation.
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The Hidden Cost of Convenience

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When I am running out of toilet paper, I tap my Amazon app to order toilet paper (along with a weeks worth of groceries to make the order purchase minimum) to be delivered straight to my door within hours. For dinner, I often order on Postmates or GrubHub and about 30 minutes later, dinner is served.

When I am feeling tight, I order an in house- massage right to my doorstep through Zeel. Yes, you can also tap an app to do your laundry, mail packages and have someone walk your dog. But with convenience, there always comes a price, and believe me– it always add up. It’s like magic: the convenience comes to your front door  for anywhere between $4.99 and $7.99 per order, depending on the distance and restaurant–and then like magic, it all disappears.

Where did all my money go?

How much do you really pay for having your culinary indulgences delivered at the touch of a button?

It wasn’t until I checked my Mint app that I realized the hidden cost of convenience.

According to data from Lux Research report, businesses like Blue Apron and UberEATS are developing business models that show just how much diners are willing to pay for not having to prepare or pick up their own meals. Lux’s research shows that, on average, consumers are willing to pay 11 percent more for each added layer of convenience in the food chain in anything from online grocery delivery to restaurant take-out. (https://www.cnbc.com/2017/02/16/consumers-pay-more-for-on-demand-convenience-personal-touch.html)

Sure you can keep simplifying life with tech, but make sure to keep tabs too. Apps like Mint can help you take a look at the bigger picture of how much this “convenience” is truly costing you. You can easily create budgets, and see their suggestions based on your spending on convenience and all the fees you acquire.

What I love is that Mint helps create budgets you can actually stick to, and see how you’re spending your money. If you like earning cash back (who doesn’t?), the app also gives helpful tidbits of information to find savings.

Pro Tip: I found out on Mint that you can earn 4% back on dining, 3% back on hotel & airfare, 2% back on online purchases, and more with the Uber Visa Card. Who knew?

As much as I like making my life more efficient, I was able to  add up one month’s worth of convenience and found that I have been spending $598.10 on convenience/delivery fees. OUCH! Ain’t nobody got money for that!

So here’s a breakdown of some apps and fees — make sure you look through it to see what would serve you best and use Mint to help you budget.

POSTMATES COST TO CUSTOMER: They charge a “small cart fee” of $1.99 on all orders that are less than $10-15 depending on the market you are in. On their website it says: sometimes we don’t know exactly what the items you’ve ordered are going to cost at the store, so we may quote you a small cart fee but not charge it (yay!) or we may not quote it but end up charging it (boo!).

During peak times, delivery prices may surge* (or Blitz).

Service Fee: The Postmates service fee is a variable percentage based fee applied to the purchase price of your items. You will be able to verify the service fee for your order on the checkout screen.

AMAZON PRIME NOW COST TO CUSTOMER: Amazon Prime Now is included with an Amazon Prime membership ($100 a year). Two-hour delivery is free, and you can pay $8 for expedited one-hour service. A minimum order of $20 is required for free delivery.

GRUBHUB COST TO CUSTOMER: Depending on the restaurant. Once you enter your address then a list of restaurants that are able to deliver to you will pop up and show the delivery fees for each restaurant and once the items are in your bag you will see the tax that is applied. Also the tip is completely up to you.

GOOGLE EXPRESS COST TO CUSTOMER: Membership to Google Express costs $10 a month, or $95 a year, and includes free delivery on all orders that meet the service’s minimum requirements. Delivery for non-members starts at $5, but varies depending on the size of the order and the delivery time.

INSTACART COST TO CUSTOMER: The delivery fee depends on the size of your order and the delivery time that you choose. The fee for each delivery will be displayed when selecting a delivery window during checkout, before you place your order.

All orders must be $10 or more. When they experience high demand for a delivery time, a Busy Pricing delivery fee may apply.

DOORDASH  COST TO CUSTOMER: The fee amount varies by region and restaurant and, at times. The site says:  you may notice the fee is waived if we have a special arrangement with the restaurant.

UBEREATS COST TO CUSTOMER:

The primary cost of using UberEATS is the Booking Fee, a flat delivery fee that is typically around $4.99 but can vary city to city. The rest of the cost of your order comes from the food you ordered, taxes, and an optional tip.

So next time you’re looking for convenience, take a look at your Mint app and make sure you’re budgeting for it.

Jessica Naziri is the founder of TechSesh.co, a lifestyle website for women inspired by tech. She has been a technology news reporter for The Los Angeles Times, CNN and CNBC.com. Since then, her work has also appeared in TechCrunch, The Washington Post, Mashable, CBS, The Travel Channel, CNN, NPR, USA Today, Inside Edition, Yahoo!, and Business Insider.

Follow Jessica on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or reach out directly via email Hello@techsesh.co.

The views and opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or view of Intuit Inc, Mint or any affiliated organization.
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How to Keep Your Budget in Check this Holiday Season

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Ah, the holidays. Amid the cheer, festive gatherings with loved ones, and stress from the inevitable craziness, if not careful, they could put a serious dent on your credit cards. While it’s certainly not news that the holidays happen every year, they do have a way of unexpectedly creeping up on us.

However, with a bit of prep, you can avoid those cringeworthy “overspend” moments, and avoid suffering from holiday debt hangover. Here are some ways to keep your spending in check this time around:

Create a Holiday Spending Plan

You may have a budget, or spending plan, for your your day-to-day living expenses. Create a spending plan for holiday-related expenses to see how much you’ll need saved up. This may include traveling to see family, gifts, cards, gift card, party attire for get-togethers, and pet or kid care while you’re out.

Next, estimate how much you roughly need for each expense. I have an spreadsheet just for gifts. For each person I’ll note a few gift-giving ideas plus my spending limit. That way I don’t buy something nilly-willy, and in turn spend more than you I can ultimately afford.

Reduce the Obligations

The holidays are oftentimes a mix of obligations and stuff you enjoy doing. For instance, purchasing a gift for that less-than-pleasant relative you only see once a year, or attending your company party when you’d rather nest at home, feel like obligations. But if you love to bake, then making pound cake for your coworkers is a delightful task.

Jot down what are things you feel you need to do, and things you need to do. You could separate them into “fun” and “no fun” lists. Then go over the “obligations” list to see what you can appropriately nix. If you can’t forgo the obligation completely, figure out a way to bump down the investment of time or money.

For instance, do you really need to buy individual gifts for your uncle, aunt, and their five kids? Or will a single gift for the entire family do? Or do you have to attend every holiday-related gathering, or can you be more selective?

Over the years I’ve set a no-gift rule for my friends. Instead, we plan to get together for a low-key gathering. And I’m trying to gently nudge my family to skip gift-giving altogether (swapping gift cards or cash is kind of silly) and go on a day trip instead. Not only does this save you money, but it cuts down on the stress.

Side Hustle

If you expect an end-of-year-bonus or cash gifts during the holidays, consider taking on extra work. This is only if you have the time and energy to do it. The end of year is usually a busy time, so if moonlighting will only stress you out even more, don’t do it. In the past I’ve catsat and test proctored in December, which boosted my income by $600 or so. While it doesn’t seem like a huge amount of money, it helped me stay out of holiday debt. Plus, when I was catsatting I was still about to do a lot of my work and get my holiday tasks taken care of.

If you decide to side hustle during the holidays, think of low-stress, easy, and fun jobs you could take on. For instance, if you already have kids, maybe watching another kid or two at your home won’t feel like that much extra work. Or if you love animals, take on pet sitting gigs.

Start Your Shopping Early

If you can, try to finish before Black Friday, recommends Kristen Ricupero, a financial coach and owner of Financial Fitness Coaching. “Black Friday deals tempt you to buy things you don’t need, for yourself at a time we should be giving,” says Ricupero. “If you watch carefully, there are generally just as good sales running September to Thanksgiving.”

My mom, the expert deal-spotter she is, swoops in on deals all year long. And by November she has gifts for almost everyone on her list accounted for.

Get Resourceful

There are a plenty of ways to save on your holiday spending without making major lifestyle changes. Shop in your closet, and see if you can add a fresh spin on a fancy dress or holiday party-appropriate suit. Sometimes all it takes are fun earrings, a festive tie pair of cufflinks to breath new life into an initially drab ensemble.

I also am a big fan of using craft paper and holiday ribbons in lieu of standard holiday wrapping paper. And this year I plan to bake up a storm instead of purchasing gifts for my coworking friends and neighbors.

Host a Stuff Swap

Organize a gathering where you can swap unwanted items. You never know, you might find some great stocking stuffers, gift wrap, cards, or decorations that will save you some dough. I’m part of a local Time Bank, where we offer help in exchange for hours, and a Buy Nothing Project group, where we give things away to our neighbors.

Involve Your Family

If you have a big family, do a White Elephant exchange where each family member brings a gift that’s no more than twenty dollars, suggests Amy Schultz, financial coach and CEO of Financial and Female. Holidays with my extended family resemble that of a daycare operation—there are about 20 kids, plus a swarm of pets running around.

“If you feel the need to buy for all the littles in your life, decide what the total amount you want to spend, then divide by the number of kids,” says Schultz. “If it ends up being five dollars per kid, get creative! You want to avoid setting a budget of $30 per kid only to realize you’ve spent $500 on every kid you know.

Drum Up a Plan for Credit Debt Repayment

If you’ve done all you can to keep your holiday spending in check, but fear you might still need to accrue a bit of credit card debt, first off, accept it. Don’t beat yourself up over it. While it’s not ideal, it’s worse if you don’t pay attention to what you’re doing and go hog-wild. But if you’re going to put a few purchases on your credit card, set a limit, and commit to a repayment plan after the holidays.

By preparing now, you can avoid going overboard with the spending. And what better way to ring in the new year than by being free of holiday debt?

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or view of Intuit Inc, Mint or any affiliated organization. This blog post does not constitute, and should not be considered a substitute for legal or financial advice. Each financial situation is different, the advice provided is intended to be general. Please contact your financial or legal advisors for information specific to your situation.
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