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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Source: mint.intuit.com

The Do’s and Don’ts of Home Equity Loans

Home equity burning a hole in your pocket? You may want to think twice about that boat.

Home equity is a valued resource, and if you have it, you might be tempted to tap that wealth for other purposes. A home equity loan, which allows you to use your home’s equity as collateral, is a great way to do this. But depending on your personal situation, it may not be the right thing to do.

Here’s when a home equity loan makes sense — and when it doesn’t.

DON’T: Fund a lifestyle

Remember when homeowners yanked cash out of their homes to fund affluent lifestyles they couldn’t really afford? These reckless borrowers, with their boats, fancy cars, lavish vacations and other luxury items, paid the price when the housing bubble burst. Property values plunged, and they lost their homes.

Lesson learned: Don’t squander your equity! Look at a home equity loan as an investment — not as extra cash when making spending decisions.

DO: Make home improvements

The safest use of home equity funds is for home improvements that will add to the home’s value. If you have a one-time project (e.g., a new roof), then a home equity loan might make sense.

If you need money over time to fund ongoing home improvement projects, then a home equity line of credit (HELOC) would make more sense. HELOCs let you pay as you go and usually have a variable rate that’s tied to the prime rate, plus or minus some percentage.

DON’T: Pay for basic expenses or bills

This is a no-brainer, but it’s always worth reiterating: Basic expenses like groceries, clothing, utilities and phone bills should be a part of your household budget.

If your budget doesn’t cover these and you’re thinking of borrowing money to afford them, it’s time to rework your budget and cut some of the excess.

DO: Consolidate debt

Consolidating multiple balances, including your high-interest credit card debts, will make perfect sense when you run the numbers. Who doesn’t want to save potentially thousands of dollars in interest?

Debt consolidation will simplify your life, too, but beware: It only works if you have discipline. If you don’t, you’ll likely run all your balances back up again and end up in even worse shape.

DON’T: Finance college

If you have college-age children, this may seem like a great use of home equity. However, the potential consequences down the road could be significant. And risky.

Remember, tapping into your home equity may mean it takes longer to pay off the loan. It also may delay your retirement or put you even deeper in debt. And as you get older, it will likely be more difficult to earn the money to pay back the loan, so don’t jeopardize your financial security.

Related:

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

Originally published February 23, 2016.

Source: zillow.com

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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The Top 10 Financial Mistakes for Young Couples to Avoid

Talking about money may not be the most romantic conversation, but it just may be one of the best things you can do for your relationship.

At a time when the stress of a global pandemic has set divorce on the rise — particularly among younger couples, according to the National Law Review — minimizing money disputes is even more important.

But it’s not all doom and gloom: Setting a solid financial foundation is one of the first steps a newly married couple can take on their path to enduring financial harmony. Couples who can avoid the following financial mistakes may best position themselves for future success.

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Mistake No. 1: Not talking about your money past

A man indicates his lips are sealed.A man indicates his lips are sealed.

Many of our beliefs about money form at a young age, and we’ve all had different financial experiences as adults. You and your partner are not going to agree on everything when it comes to money, but understanding each other’s money beliefs and experiences can help you appreciate why they make the financial decisions that they do.

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Mistake No. 2: Keeping money secrets

A man holds money behind his back and crosses his fingers.A man holds money behind his back and crosses his fingers.

“Financial infidelity” can range from small purchases that one’s spouse doesn’t know about to running up large debts that threaten the couple’s financial security. In the case of more serious deception, the act can cause just as much harm to a relationship as an affair. Nearly 30% of Americans said that financial faithlessness is worse than physical cheating, according to a recent CreditCards.com survey.

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Mistake No. 3: Neglecting to talk about your financial future

A path leads forward toward a sunset.A path leads forward toward a sunset.

Many of the money decisions that you’re making now impact not only your current financial security, but also the way you’ll be able to spend and enjoy your money in the future. Thinking about that future together — and making a plan for how you’ll pay for it — is a great way to make sure you’re both on track to make it happen. It can also be one of the most enjoyable money-related conversations that many couples have.

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Mistake No. 4: Letting one person make all the financial decisions

A couple give each other the "side eye."A couple give each other the "side eye."

While it’s fine for one partner to take the lead on handling day-to-day bills, it’s important for both of you to have a broad understanding of the household finances and that you tackle big money decisions together. This not only helps avoid surprises or resentment later, but it also ensures that either partner could take over in the event that one person is unable to.

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Mistake No. 5: Not having a safety net

A piggy bank with a sad face lies on its side.A piggy bank with a sad face lies on its side.

Nothing causes financial stress (or arguments) like not having enough money when an emergency hits. Working together to build up a savings account with at least three to six months’ worth of expenses can alleviate that anxiety — and leave you better prepared when the unexpected happens. Plus, building up an emergency fund is often one of the first financial goals a couple achieves as a team. Once you’ve succeeded together, you may be more likely to see what other money mountains you can climb together.

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Mistake No. 6: Avoiding uncomfortable conversations

A person pulls the neck of a turtleneck up over their face.A person pulls the neck of a turtleneck up over their face.

Sometimes money conversations aren’t fun. You may have to decide whether to help a family member in dire straits, or make a financial plan for what could happen if one of you gets seriously sick or dies. But having that difficult conversation (in a respectful manner) can only strengthen your relationship. And depending on your specific situation, making sure you have the right life insurance coverage could also strengthen your safety net (see No. 5 above). Deciding whether you need life insurance, and how much, is a good place to start and could take less time than you think.

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Mistake No. 7: Not agreeing on who’ll pay for what

Money in a jeans pocket.Money in a jeans pocket.

The decision as to whether to combine all, some or none of your finances will vary from couple to couple. The important thing is to make sure you’re both comfortable with not only where you’ll keep your accounts, but also — if you have separate accounts — who’ll cover which bills. Once you’ve divvied up the expenses, automate as many payments as possible, so that you never have to deal with late or missed payments.

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Mistake No. 8: Sending mixed signals to your kids

A grandfather plays with his grandkids.A grandfather plays with his grandkids.

Just as you picked up money cues from your parents, your kids are learning from the way that you spend, save and invest your money. If you’re not on the same page about your family’s approach to money, you may wind up with a confused child, or a scenario in which one spouse is unhappy with (and potentially blames the other spouse for) the child’s future money choices.

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Mistake No. 9: Not asking for help if you need it

A life preserver floats on the sea.A life preserver floats on the sea.

Sometimes even the savviest among us could benefit from advice. Working with a financial professional can help you crystallize your financial goals, and make sure that you’re on a path to achieve them. Bonus: A financial professional can serve as a neutral third party when disagreements get heated or conversations get uncomfortable. Look for a financial professional who has experience with couples, and one who makes it clear that they want to connect with both of you, rather than focusing their energy on connecting with only one spouse.

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Mistake No. 10: Thinking you’ve settled all your money issues

A yellow road warning sign reads "Oops!"A yellow road warning sign reads "Oops!"

Your money needs and goals change over time, and just because you’re on the same financial page now, doesn’t mean you won’t need to revisit many of the same money issues again throughout your marriage. For example, your life insurance coverage needs early on in your relationship may change if you have children or a mortgage, so you’ll want to think about adjusting accordingly.

The good news is: The more you talk about money, the easier it gets, so having regular money conversations may make the discussions themselves less stressful, and ultimately help build a financial future you both feel good about.

President of Prudential Individual Life Insurance, Prudential Financial

Salene Hitchcock-Gear is president of Prudential Individual Life Insurance. She represents Prudential as a director on the Women Presidents’ Organization Advisory Board and also serves on the board of trustees of the American College of Financial Services. In addition, Hitchcock-Gear has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan, a Juris Doctor degree from New York University School of Law, as well as FINRA Series 7 and 24 securities licenses. She is a member of the New York State Bar Association.

Source: kiplinger.com

The Potential Financial Silver Lining of the Pandemic

To say the last year has been unprecedented might be the understatement of the century. It is hard to imagine anyone who has not been impacted in some manner, some far more than others, by the pandemic. Personal finances are no exception as the volatility of the past year remains front and center for many despite recent market recovery.

However, something interesting is happening. Many people are doing what their financial professionals have been asking them to do since their first appointment! They are paying closer attention to their current and future finances. In fact, according to our 2021 Allianz Retirement Risk Readiness Study, two-thirds (65%) of those surveyed said they are paying more attention to what they are saving and spending, and nearly six-in-10 (58%) have cut back on their spending.

This is, no doubt, a step in the right direction. But — and there is always a “but”— risk readiness needs to be about much more than saving and spending. Although it’s understandably a good immediate approach, given the current environment, there is more to consider, specifically the long term. It might seem difficult to look at now, but retirement planning still needs to remain top of mind.

One area that is often overlooked in accumulating assets that deserves much more attention is income planning. Income planning is ensuring you have enough funds to support your lifestyle throughout your, and your spouse’s lifetime.  The value of income planning should never be underestimated. Without a written plan, which is regularly updated, your retirement dream is nothing but a work of fiction. However, a few simple steps now will set you up for future success. You’ll be much more confident when you reach the retirement reality and embark upon the next chapter of the story of your life.

Know your retirement risks

Significant events are often the triggers that convince people to take a more proactive approach. The pandemic is no exception. It exposed a whole new level of financial risks many people hadn’t recognized.

While it is fresh, use this same lens and think about risks in retirement: longevity, inflation, market volatility, the list goes on and on. We’re reminded of the day-to-day risks that pop up in retirement, such as increased health care needs and mobility issues. This “discovery” phase may be a painful reality check, but it is Step No. 1 in addressing your future income needs.

Review your expense categories

While it is sometimes difficult to predict your retirement spending, using your current expenses as a baseline is a great way to estimate expense categories. As a general rule, your essential expenses, such as food, clothing, shelter and health care costs, take priority over discretionary and legacy spending and require reliable guaranteed income. After all, you must cover essential expenses regardless of market conditions or other factors.

Identify your income sources

While retirement income can come from a variety of sources, most people immediately think Social Security. It is important to know all of the options when filing for Social Security benefits in order to get the most out of them. However, Social Security alone will not provide a complete source of retirement income.

Uncover any potential income gaps

Which brings me to the next point. If, by factoring in Social Security and pension income (if any) you discover that you don’t have sufficient guaranteed income to cover your essential expenses, you’ve uncovered a retirement income gap. This might be jarring, but it is actually good news, as you now know what needs to be done and can get ahead of the situation now rather than having an unpleasant surprise in retirement.

Develop a tailored solution

Working with your financial adviser, you can create a retirement income plan that could cover your essential expenses as well as potentially enhance your discretionary and legacy income. You will want to figure in things like travel, hobbies and other “fun” expenses in addition to the essentials. Retirement shouldn’t be something that is survived but something that is enjoyed.

If you, indeed, have the dreaded income gap, there are several products, such as annuities, that can help you put in place an additional stream of guaranteed income to help cover your needs. (Remember that guarantees are backed by the issuing insurance company.)

There seems to be light coming at the end of the proverbial tunnel. While it might not be an easy mindset shift, getting back on track now with your long-term financial planning will serve you well in the years ahead. The wake-up call has arrived, so what better time than the present to look ahead to better days.

Vice President, Advanced Markets, Allianz Life

Kelly LaVigne is vice president of advanced markets for Allianz Life Insurance Co., where he is responsible for the development of programs that assist financial professionals in serving clients with retirement, estate planning and tax-related strategies.

Source: kiplinger.com

Hey, Big Spender! Can You Afford It?

Big goals can carry price big tags. Whether you plan to buy a home, a new car or treat yourself to a much-needed vacation, you’ll need the money. And before you can really start planning for these big expenses, you’ll want to ask yourself, “Can I (or should I) afford it?”

If the answer is yes, then begs the question, “What’s an appropriate amount to spend?”

Here’s some advice on how to tackle a few big-ticket buys. And, if saving money isn’t exactly your strong suit, keep reading. I’ve included some of my favorite resources to get a jump-start at the end.

Buying a House? Cap Monthly Payments at 30%

When it comes to budgeting for housing costs, my rule of thumb is to spend no more than 30% of your take-home pay. That includes the mortgage, property tax and maintenance payments. The truth is that becoming a homeowner comes with hefty responsibilities and often, unforeseen costs.

Should your new home require a repair, you’ll want to be able to comfortably afford it without stretching yourself too thin. A rookie homeowner mistake is assuming you can spend the same monthly cost on a mortgage as rent. But renters aren’t necessarily required you to pay for plumbing damage or repair broken major appliances on their own dime.

Once you’ve calculated how much you can spend per month, figure out what size mortgage that equates to and that should help you narrow down homes by price. Home search website Zillow.com has a calculator that produces your target home price based on your annual income, monthly debt payments and the size of your down payment.

Speaking of, you’ll want to prepare to put down 20%, especially in competitive markets. For more on the specifics of home buying, check out my previous blog post.

Save more: To minimize monthly mortgage payments, be sure your credit is in great standing. Borrowers with high credit scores (often a 760 or greater) are best suited to qualify for the lowest interest rates on a home loan in today’s market.

Eyeing a Car? Ideally, Budget 15%

When it comes to purchasing a new car, aim to spend no more than 15 to 20% of your take-home pay. This includes maintenance and gas. if you pay with cash, take your annual salary and multiply it by .15 to calculate a max spend.

If you plan to finance or lease the vehicle, take your monthly take-home pay, multiply that number by .15 and that is a healthy budget for car payments (assuming you don’t have other major outstanding debt).

Save More: Go pre-owned. If you’re okay with a few scratches and some wear and tear but with the assurance that the car comes with a manufacturer’s warranty, then opting for a pre-owned vehicle could be a great way to save anywhere from probably 10 to 25%. This option can be more costly than going with a regular used car. But CPO’s come with benefits like a longer warranty and proper inspections.

If you’re set on purchasing a new car, wait until the end of the year when dealers are desperate to unload the current year’s models to make room for new inventory.

And for what it’s worth, waving cash at the dealer won’t necessarily earn you any discounts (unlike in years past). I recently purchased a new car and thought we would get a lower price by offering to pay entirely in cash. Wrong. Turns out, by signing up for auto-financing I was able to score a discount. With the loan interest rate at only 2% I decided to finance the car and commit to paying it off within the year (as opposed to four years) to keep interest payments to a minimum.

Fancy a Piece of Jewelry? Or any Luxe Item? Mind Your Savings.

Who doesn’t want to treat themselves to a little something every once in a while? Personally, I’ve been eyeing the new iWatch.  But for such discretionary expenses (aka “splurges”) it’s best to pay them with cash on hand. If you can’t pay it off in a month, then I question whether it’s really something you can afford. If it’s a financial stretch, perhaps it’s wiser to hold off on the purchase?

For discretionary or miscellaneous expenses, I think it’s responsible to cap spending at no more than five percent of income and that includes things like luxury items and recreational spending. If you need to tap savings, just be sure you replenish the account within the next month and aim to leave yourself with at least a six-month rainy day cushion at all times.

Save more: Similar to pre-owned cars, what about buying secondhand? Tradesy and Poshmark are two websites that have a large inventory of gently used (or in some cases brand new, but discounted) designer goods. These online vendors verify that items are authentic and match the seller’s description.

Sallie Krawcheck, Wall Street veteran and co-founder and CEO of the online investment platform Ellevest, revealed to me on my podcast So Money that discount site The RealReal is her go-to place to splurge. She calls it “financially savvy.” Hey, if it’s cool for her, then it’s cool for me!

Longing to Getaway? Time it Right.

I always say it’s most rewarding to spend on experiences, especially travel. It’s important to recharge your mind, body and soul or to simply learn about other cultures.

For vacations, again, coming from your discretionary budget, aim to spend within 5% of your take-home pay.

Save more:  Depending on when you book your flight you can earn more bang for your travel buck. Data from FareCompare show airfare tends to fall to its lowest level all week on Tuesdays starting at 3pm. That’s typically when airlines release the greatest number of deals and subsequent pricing wars lead to low prices.

Need Help Saving?

All of the above assumes that you have money left at the end of the month after covering your bills to save up and spend on big-ticket items. That may be a big assumption. Many of us live paycheck to paycheck and quite frankly, as humans, we’re not exactly hard-wired to save. As famed behavioral expert Dan Ariely once told me, “We see something, we want it and we go for it without thinking very much. The world is designed to tempt us and we follow and get tempted.”

Here are some free tools that can help us to curb some of that ill-fated temptation.

  • Digit – Save money without really having to think about it. Sign up for Digit by creating a free account. After a few days, Digit checks your spending patterns and moves a few dollars from your checking account to your Digit account, if you can afford it. Users can easily withdraw money any time, quickly and with no fees.. Over time, you’ll build a nice slush fund for yourself
  • Qapital –Qapital lets you set a savings goal and then create rules that trigger automatic transfers toward your goal. For example, users can charge themselves a determined amount for a guilty pleasure. Say they choose to charge $5.00 every time they order takeout, that $5.00 will go toward a goal of their choosing. Or, users can round purchases to the nearest dollar and the change will be allocated toward their specified goal. On this platform, the average user saves $44 each month.
  • SmartyPig – This is a free, high-yield savings account that lets you allocate money toward different financial goals. It can be hard to save for a big purchase if you’re lumping it in with your regular savings or checking account. But by compartmentalizing your savings for a particular goal (e.g. a new car, vacation, etc.) you can better track your progress. Like Digit, you can transfer funds at any given time.

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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Living Expenses: What Are They and How Do I Budget for Them?

Among all the awesome things that come with adulthood, so too come the regular expenses: rent, car insurance, and groceries to name a few. Whether you’re providing for yourself or a family, it’s important to be aware of the various living expenses. Knowing how much basic expenses cost will ensure you’re prepared to tackle them.

You’ll also want to prepare for the unexpected. For example, your income might be lower than you expect while some of your expenses may be higher than you anticipated. Without a solid budget in place, you may run into financial trouble or even debt.

That’s why we put together this guide to living expenses — both the expected and unexpected. We’ll cover what’s considered a living expense and how much you need. We also provide expert tips on how to reduce your monthly living costs.

With a solid budget, you’ll have enough for living expenses, unexpected situations, and plenty of fun, too.

What Is Considered to Be a Living Expense?

Living expenses are expenditures necessary for basic daily living and maintaining good health. They include the main categories of housing, food, clothing, healthcare, and transportation. Understanding what’s involved in each of these areas will help you to budget for them.

Here’s a complete living expenses list:

Housing: Whether you rent or own, there are regular expenses, including some you may not be aware of.

  • Mortgage payment or monthly rent
  • Utilities (i.e. electricity, gas, trash removal)
  • Insurance (i.e. homeowners or renters)
  • Property tax
  • General maintenance (i.e. lawn mowing, snow removal)

Food and grocery: Besides your daily meals, consider other living necessities.

  • Food and beverages
  • Personal care items (i.e. shampoo, toilet paper, bandaids)
  • Cleaning supplies

Clothing: From your work clothes to pajamas, ensure you account for everyone in your family.

  • Daily clothing
  • Formal wear
  • Undergarments
  • Boots, shoes, and coats

Healthcare: Remember to include expenses for your primary doctor, dentist, and other specialists.

  • Insurance premiums
  • Office copays
  • Pharmacy copays
  • Over-the-counter items

Transportation: Depending on whether you take the bus or drive a car, add up your regular transportation costs.

  • Car payment
  • Car insurance
  • Gas
  • Public transportation tickets
  • Taxi costs
  • Parking fees

Miscellaneous: Some living expenses don’t fit a specific category, but still need to be in your budget.

  • Cell phone bill
  • Internet
  • Baby or child necessities

While there are likely other recurring costs in your life, they might not be considered as a living expense. For example, recreational activities and entertainment aren’t living expenses. That means your gym membership and Netflix subscription should be accounted for elsewhere. You’ll also want to ensure your budget includes any debt repayment, such as for a student loan.

How Much of My Income Should I Spend on Living Expenses?

Based on your salary and the cost of living in your city, the exact amount you spend on living expenses will vary. How much you spend on rent, for example, is dependent on location and your standard of living. For instance, rent is higher in Los Angeles than it is in Detroit. A three-story home will be more than a one-bedroom apartment. Figuring out your grocery budget will depend on how often you eat out and if you use coupons at the store.

No matter your preferences or where you live, you can come up with a rough estimate for your living expenses. Focus on the main categories of housing, food, clothing, transportation, and healthcare. Look at each component and write down roughly how much you spend in each area.

In general, experts recommend using the 50/20/30 rule to create your budget, especially if you’re a young adult. The 50/20/30 guideline offers a basic financial strategy for your spending and saving. The rule says that you should spend 50% of your income on your living expenses, like your rent and car payment. You should put 20% of your income in savings, whether that’s for a rainy day fund or a down payment on a house. For the remaining 30%, put it toward personal expenses like a night out with friends or a weekend getaway.

Because the 50/20/30 rule is a guideline, there is some flexibility. You can adjust the percentages based on your unique circumstances. The main idea is to limit your living expenses to roughly 50% of your income. That way, you’ll have enough leftover for your savings and fun expenditures.

What if I Don’t Make Enough to Cover All Living Expenses?

It can be hard to afford the cost of living, especially if you’re in an entry level job or live in an expensive city. Many people — especially those early in their careers — use creative ways to make their budget work.

Here are some easy ways to cut down your living expenses in each major category:

Housing

  • Consider having a roommate to split costs
  • Reduce your utilities by being mindful of water and electricity consumption
  • Move to a smaller, less expensive place

Food and grocery

  • Scale back on eating out
  • Plan your meals to stretch your food budget
  • Limit trips to the coffee shop
  • Buy in bulk
  • Purchase store brands

Clothing

  • Shop at consignment stores or online marketplaces
  • Build a capsule wardrobe
  • Reduce unnecessary purchases

Healthcare

  • Buy over-the-counter or generic brands
  • Check to see if your employer offers flex spending or a health savings account

Transportation

  • Shop around for a better car insurance rate
  • Consider selling your car if you live in a city with great public transportation
  • Buy a used car instead of a new one
  • Use a gas rewards card
  • Try carpooling

Miscellaneous

  • Downgrade your cell phone service plan
  • Use coupons and coupon codes
  • Shop at discount stores

Besides trimming your expenses, consider a side hustle or working a part-time job in your free time. Even working one night a week as a waitress, babysitter or Uber driver can add up to a lot of extra cash. You can also make money online by working as a freelancer or tutor and even completing online surveys.

Be Prepared for Possible Living Expense Adjustments

Some living expenses are fixed and won’t change often, such as your monthly rent. Other expenses are adjustable, such as food and clothing. That means that your spending and savings might differ from month to month, and that’s okay. Having a budget ensures you’re prepared and in a good financial place for whatever comes your way.

Consistent saving is especially important. You’ll be ready just in case a necessary expense comes up. For example, if your car breaks down or you have a hefty medical bill, you can use your reserve or emergency fund. Rather than charging the expenses to your credit card or taking out a personal loan, you’ll be able to cover the bill.

To ensure your plan is working, revisit your budget monthly and make any necessary adjustments. For instance, you may realize you need to allocate more for groceries and less for transportation. After all, financial plans aren’t meant to be static. Life changes, and so can our budgets.

Figuring out your living expenses is a key element of financial planning. With a solid understanding of your recurring costs, you’ll be able to create a more accurate budget. You can ensure you have enough to cover both the expected and unexpected. You’ll also benefit from more financial security and peace of mind.

Sources

Credit Counseling Society | Mint Life | The Motley Fool

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4 Tips Before You Buy Your Teenager a Car

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Roughly 26% of car buyers feel that they overpaid for their vehicle, according to a 2014 survey from TrueCar, Inc. That same survey admittedly also found consumers believe car dealers make about five times more profit on the sale of a new car than they actually do — but whether you truly paid too much for your now-old ride or you simply think you did, there are ways to save the next time you hit up a car dealership. For starters, the rates on auto loans are largely driven by your credit, so simply bolstering your credit score can potentially save you thousands of dollars over the life of your loan. Plus, it never hurts to comparison shop and negotiate when it comes to auto loans and the actual vehicle itself — you may be missing out on savings by doing one and not the other.

But First… How Much Car Can You Afford?

According to Credit.com contributor and car insurance comparison company TheZebra, automotive experts generally suggest auto loans not exceed 10% (if it’s just the loan) to 20% (if it’s the loan and related expenses like car insurance) of your gross monthly income. Of course, that’s a broad rule and every potential car owner is going to have to take a long, hard long at their finances and current debt levels to decide what they can, in fact, afford. Following these three simple cost-cutting steps can help you save big on your auto loan and next car purchase.

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1. Do a Credit Check

Not checking your credit before you start shopping for a car is a huge mistake. Because your auto loan rates are directly tied to your credit scores, even a small inaccuracy on your credit report could cost you. Before you start shopping for your dream car, take an hour to check all three of your credit reports and credit scores online. You need to check with all three major credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — because you don’t know which one a lender will use for your application. If you have a credit score above 750, you can probably qualify for the best rates available and negotiate an excellent deal on your car. If your credit score is lower, see if you can give it a boost before you apply for a loan.

You can view two of your credit scores, along with your free credit report snapshot on Credit.com. The snapshot will pinpoint what your specific area of opportunities are and what steps you can take to improve. However, as a general rule of thumb, you can raise your credit score by disputing errors on your credit report, paying down high credit card debts and limiting new credit applications.

2. Shop Online

Unless you have a credit score in the 800s and can qualify for a 0% auto loan offer, you are probably not going to get the best deal on a loan from the dealership. Auto loan rates and fees offered by online auto lenders are usually a lot lower than the rates offered by dealership financing programs. Plus, you can shop and compare rates online without causing damaging inquiries to your credit report (provided you’re not formally applying for every offer you see). Most online lenders have calculators or rate guides that show you what rate you could receive based upon your credit score. (Note: Be sure to vet any lender, whether online or within a dealership, before taking them up on an offer.)

With many online loans, you fill out the application and receive an approval by email within a few hours. Then the lender mails you a check that is ready to be made out to the person or business selling the car. If you end up not buying a car or not using the loan, you toss the check (shredding it first, of course). Plus, the check from the lender usually specifies a certain price range (for example, $9,000-$10,000). This leaves you with some room for negotiating a lower price with the seller even after you have received your loan approval. Speaking of which …

3. Negotiate the Price

Many people may wind up overpaying for a car simply to avoid negotiating the price of a car with a salesperson. Luckily, the Internet makes negotiating with car dealers a whole lot easier. Before you start shopping, look up the listed price, invoice and MSRP of the car you want through an unbiased site like Kelley Blue Book and request free price quotes online. Armed with these facts, you’ll have an advantage over the salesperson when you start the negotiations. You should be able to save a couple hundred dollars, if not a few thousands, by negotiating with the car salesperson before you decide to buy.

Proving It

You may be thinking: This is all fine and dandy, but does it really add up to $3,000 in savings? Let’s crunch the numbers using this auto loan calculator.

According to data from Experian, the average interest rate on a new car loan for prime customers as of the last quarter of 2015 was 3.55%. The average rates on a new car for non-prime customers and subprime customers during that timeframe were 6.24% and 10.36%, respectively.

So, let’s say you wanted to buy a $16,000 car and had $1,000 saved for a down payment. If you chose a loan repayment period of 60 months, had a non-prime credit score (think just below 700), and got a loan through a dealership, you could receive about a 6.3% annual percentage rate (APR).

However, if you checked your credit reports and scores before you applied and found a way to boost your score to prime (think around 750), your interest rate from the dealership could drop to about 3.5%.

You would have already saved $1,152 dollars, just by checking your credit reports! That’s a pretty good return on your investment. Next, you might be able to reduce your rate even more by shopping for a loan online with your new credit score of 750. Let’s suppose, for argument sake, you qualify for a 2.7% APR (the average interest rate for super-prime customers during the last quarter of 2015, according to Experian).

You would have saved almost $1,473 by working on your loan options using Step 1 and 2. Finally, if you went to negotiate with the salesperson you could probably make a deal with the seller to reduce the price of the car down to $14,000. In this case, you would only have to borrow $13,000 with your 2.7% APR loan from an online lender.

Your total savings from following these three simple steps would equal $3,613 over the life of your auto loan!

Source: credit.com

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Why Credit Makes People So Freaking Mad: A Theory

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Free Credit Report Summary - Payment History

See your payment history?

Payment history is the record of when—and if—you pay your bills. And, it’s one of the main things that creditors look at. Payment history makes up 35% of your credit score—the biggest part. Your report card shows your grade, total late payments and more. See your payment history now »

See How You’re Using Available Credit

How you use credit affects your credit score. Use too much and your score goes down. Your credit utilization ratio, or how much of your credit limit you use, makes up 30% of your credit score. Your credit report card shows your ratio, credit card debt, credit limit and how different factors affect your score. Get your debt usage now »

Free Credit Report Summary - Debt Utilization Free Credit Report Summary - Number of Inquiries

Take a Peek at Your Credit’s Age

Credit age, aka credit history, is the age of your oldest account, not how long you’ve used credit. Creditors want older credit histories. And older accounts are better for your score. Credit age makes up 15% of your score. See your credit history and the ages of the oldest and newest account on your credit report card. Know your credit age now »

See Your Account Mix

Revolving credit, installment loans and the mix of the two—student loans, auto loans, mortgages, etc.—make up 10% of your credit score. A good mix shows creditors you can handle different types of debts. See how many revolving credit accounts and loans you have in your free credit report summary. Check your account mix »

Free Credit Report Summary - Age of Accounts Free Credit Report Summary - Account Mix

Know How Many Inquiries You Have

Every time you apply for a new credit card or loan, it can show up as a hard inquiry on your credit report. That’s true even for denied credit. And hard inquiries make up 10% of your score and can cause it to drop. Applying for credit too frequently is a red flag to creditors. When was your last inquiry? See how many inquiries you have and how long you’ve had them on your report card. Check your inquiries now »

See Why—and How—Your Score Changed

If you want the details of why your score changed, it’s all there. Simply select “See details” for “Why did my score change” to see the historical view of your credit score—and what’s changed it.

Free Credit Report Summary - Age of Accounts

Source: credit.com

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Guide to Organizing your Finances

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It’s spring cleaning season – so why not give your finances a once-over?

That might sound like an intimidating concept, especially if you haven’t taken a careful look at your financial situation in years, but organizing your money doesn’t have to be painful. We’re here to walk you through each step, so you can rest easy about your financial future.

Why You Should Organize Your Finances

Auditing your finances is the first step to getting your financial life in order. Never stopping to inventory what you have and what you owe is like going on a road trip with an incomplete map. You may eventually get to your destination, but it will take a lot longer to get there. Organizing your finances will make it easier to become debt-free, save for retirement, or pay for your child’s college education.

This process can also help you identify any blind spots or problem areas, like a brokerage account you’d forgotten about or an old bank account that became overdrawn. The sooner you discover and address these problems, the closer you’ll be to achieving your goals.

Examine Your Bank and Credit Card Statements

Tracking your expenses is one of the most important parts of organizing your financial world, especially if you’re not in the habit of examining your bank statements.

Log on to your bank and credit card accounts and examine all the expenses from the past few months. You may find recurring charges you’ve forgotten about, evidence of fraud, or unused subscriptions you never canceled.

If you discover charges you don’t recognize, contact the card company to dispute them. You generally have just 60 days to dispute a charge, so don’t expect to get your money back if that time frame has passed. You may consider canceling the card in question to prevent more fraudulent charges.

Consolidate Bank Accounts

Having too many bank accounts can be confusing, expensive, and ultimately harmful. Many banks charge monthly maintenance fees if you don’t meet the minimum balance or have direct deposit, so a forgotten account can cost you.

Go over your current checking and savings accounts to determine which you should keep and which you should close. You should have one checking account and at least one savings account for your emergency fund and other goals.

Some consumers like having multiple savings accounts for various savings goals, like one for vacations and a different one for home repairs. But if having multiple accounts sounds too stressful, then stick to one checking account and one savings account.

This is also a good time to consider switching banks if you’re being charged excessive fees. Online banks and credit unions often have fewer fees and higher interest rates.

Rollover Old 401(ks)

When you leave a job, it’s easy to pack up the items on your desk. What many people forget is to take their 401(k) with them.

Rolling over old 401(k)s is key to consolidating your finances. When you leave a 401(k) at your old employer, you’re likely to forget about it. That’s why it’s crucial to roll it over as soon as possible. Also, if you wait too long, the account may become difficult to access because you’ll have forgotten your password or other crucial information.

You can rollover your old 401(k) if you have an IRA or a 401(k) at your current employer. Contact your old 401(k) provider and ask how to roll over an account.

Once that process is completed, make sure your money is invested. People often forget to invest the money after it’s been rolled over, so it sits in the cash portion of their retirement account barely accruing interest.

Organize Your Debts

If you have any loans or credit card debt, start organizing them with a spreadsheet or pen and paper. Here’s what to jot down:

Not sure if you’ve found all your loans? You can locate them on your official credit report, which you can find at AnnualCreditReport.com. There are three credit bureaus that produce credit reports, and because not all lenders report activity to all three credit bureaus, it’s helpful to view each one.

If you see an account you don’t recognize, it may be a sign of identity theft. You can file a dispute with the credit bureaus to get it removed from your record.

After you’ve organized your loans, you can start to create a debt payoff plan. You can also sync these accounts to your Mint profile, which will send you due date reminders to help you avoid late payments.

Assess Your Insurance Needs

Insurance is one of those financial topics that most people barely think about.

But while it might be a tedious experience, reevaluating your insurance needs is a crucial part of personal finance.

For example, you may need to buy life insurance now that you’re married with kids. You may also want to buy disability coverage or increase the limits on your car insurance. This is also a good time to compare quotes from other companies to ensure you’re getting the best rate.

Find a System You Can Stick to

Once you finish auditing your finances, it’s time to create a system that allows you to keep everything organized. Set up a regular time to go through your bank, credit card, and investment accounts. Pick a day that works every week and make it a habit.

Ask for Help

Auditing your finances can be overwhelming, especially if you’ve put it off for months or years. If you run into a problem, like an old investment you don’t understand, or a credit card that went into default because the bills were delivered to an old address, it’s time to ask for help.

If you have an issue with a loan or credit card, call the lender or credit card provider and ask what your options are. If you have a tax problem, you may need to find a CPA or Enrolled Agent who can assist you. For investing or general finance questions, contact a financial planner.

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