How to Improve Your Credit Score to Get a Personal Loan

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Personal loans are an incredible financial tool. They’re speedy, secure, convenient, and best of all, they can be used for just about anything you can think of. Consolidating debt, making improvements to your home, covering unexpected expenses, paying for a special occasion, taking a getaway vacation… the list goes on. 

If you’ve been considering taking out a personal loan, here are a few tips you can use to get a rate you (and your wallet!) will appreciate. Let’s start with a brief overview of some of the personal loan requirements you’ll need to consider before applying.

What is a personal loan and how do I get one?

A personal loan is a lump sum of money you borrow from a lender and pay back in fixed monthly payments – or installments – over a given period of time.

There are a few general criteria involved in qualifying for a personal loan you should understand before submitting your application, but remember – requirements often vary from lender to lender.  

If you’re hoping to qualify for a loan with a low APR, decent credit is a necessity. Generally, a credit score in the 640+ range is good enough to get you approved for a personal loan. With that said, the higher your score, the more likely you’ll be approved for loans with low rates.

Having a low debt-to-income ratio is another crucial requirement to consider when applying for a personal loan. Does your income exceed your debt? If so, by how much? The lower your debt-to-income ratio, the better the chance you have to secure a low-rate personal loan.

Finally, you’ll have to show lenders that you have the means to repay your loan. Proof of income in the form of W-2s, pay stubs, bank statements, or tax returns may be necessary for approval.

Now that you have an idea of what you’ll need to qualify, we’ll share a few tips on how you can score a better APR for your future personal loan. 

What is a debt-to-income ratio and why is it important?

Your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio is a personal finance measure that compares your overall debt to your overall income. Lenders use this ratio to determine a borrower’s ability to manage monthly payments and repay the money they want to borrow from them.

When it comes to getting approved for a low-APR personal loan, the lower your debt-to-income ratio, the better. With a low DTI ratio, you’re much more likely to receive the loan amount you’re looking for at a great rate because lenders can see you’re already doing a fine job managing your current debt.

In other words, a low DTI ratio shows lenders that you don’t spend more money than you can afford to. As you can guess, a higher DTI ratio tells them quite the opposite. From a lender’s perspective, borrowers with high DTI ratios already have too much debt to manage effectively. They won’t be nearly as willing to lend to high-DTI borrowers because they’re unsure if they can handle the additional financial obligation.

Focus on lowering your DTI ratio, and your chances of receiving a better APR are much higher.   

Debt-to-Income Ratio Breakdown

So – what is a good debt-to-income ratio? The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other experts agree on three general thresholds to consider:

Tier 1 – 36% or less: If your DTI ratio is 36% or less, you’re likely in a solid financial position and may be a good candidate for a low-APR personal loan.

Tier 2 – Less than 43%: If your DTI ratio is less than 43%, you’re probably in a comfortable financial position at the moment, but it may be time to consider ways you can reduce your debt. You may still be eligible for a personal loan, but the rates could be significantly higher.

Tier 3 – 43% or more: If your DTI ratio is higher than 43%, you may feel like your monthly payments are a bit more than you can comfortably handle. At this level, lenders may assume you have more debt than you can handle and may not approve you for new credit.

Calculating Your DTI Ratio

Knowing your debt-to-income ratio upfront ensures you won’t face any unexpected surprises when you apply for new credit. To calculate yours, simply divide your recurring monthly debt payments (mortgage, credit card minimums, loans, etc.) by your total monthly income. Take a look at the example below:

Monthly Expenses

Car payment: $350

Student loan payment: $150

Mortgage payment: $1,200

Credit card minimum payment: $35

Calculating DTI

Recurring monthly debt = $1,735

Total monthly income: $4,000

DTI ratio calculation: 1735/4000 = 0.43375

Once you complete the calculation, move the decimal point two places to the right and you’ve got your DTI ratio in percentage form. In the example above, the borrower’s DTI ratio would be 43%.

How can I lower my DTI ratio?

Higher DTI ratio than you’d like? To lower your DTI ratio, you have three options: pay down your debt, increase your income, or do both at the same time. Your ratio won’t drop overnight, but if you follow the suggestions below, you could see a significant decrease in your DTI ratio before you know it.

Try these tips to begin lowering your DTI ratio:

  • Pay more than your minimum on monthly debt payments
  • If possible, avoid taking on more debt than you already have
  • Increase your income by taking on a part-time job or finding a profitable side hustle
  • Keep your budget tight and curb any unnecessary spending

While your DTI is just one measure of your financial health, it’s still an important one to pay close attention to – especially when you’re seeking out new credit.

Next, let’s walk through some credit score requirements you’ll want to consider when you’re seeking a low-APR personal loan.  

What credit score do I need to get a personal loan?

Generally, the higher your credit score, the lower APR you’ll qualify for. You’ll typically want a credit score of 640 or above to qualify for a loan, but once again – requirements can vary significantly across lenders. If your credit score is lower than 640, options will likely be available, but they may come with higher interest rates than you’re aiming for. 

To receive an APR that works for you and your budget, you’ll want to prioritize raising your credit score. (You can track your credit score for free in the Mint app)

How can I improve my credit score?

Improving your credit score takes time, effort, and dedication, but the benefits a high credit score can have on your financial health are remarkable. 

To improve your credit score, focus on:

Making payments on time: Your payment history determines an astounding 35% of your credit score, which means making on-time payments is absolutely crucial if you’re working to raise it. A single on-time payment likely won’t improve your score by much, so you’ll have to make consistent on-time payments to see a significant increase.

Paying down credit card debt: Depending on your credit limit, carrying large balances on your credit cards could be negatively impacting your credit score. It all comes down to your credit utilization ratio, or how much credit you’re using compared to how much credit lenders have extended to you. VantageScore experts typically recommend using less than 30% of your available credit to improve your score, but the lower your utilization, the better.

Avoiding opening multiple new accounts: In general, Vantage considers borrowers who open multiple new accounts within a short timeframe to be riskier. So, if you’re applying for many different credit cards and loans at the same time, you could see a drop in your score. To combat this, it’s wise to take some time to research the options that are best for you and your needs before applying.

Note: Opening just one new account could make your score dip slightly. As long as you manage your new credit responsibly, it should bounce back quickly.

Recap

Alright, all that’s left is a brief recap to wrap things up. If you’re looking for a low-rate financial product that could get you the money you need in as little as one business day, here’s what you’ll want to keep in mind:

A high credit score is your friend: The higher your credit score, the more likely you are to be approved for a personal loan with a low APR. To qualify for a personal loan, aim for a credit score of at least 640. If you can get it higher than that, lower rates could be coming your way.

The lower your DTI ratio, the better: A low DTI ratio shows lenders you have a good handle on your debt. Aim for a DTI ratio of 36% or lower to be eligible for the best rates. 

Proof of income may be required: Whether it’s a W-2 form, pay stub, bank statement, or tax return, lenders want to see proof that you’ll be able to pay them back. When it’s time to apply, it’s a good idea to have these documents ready.

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How to Design a Life You Love

Are you feeling stuck in a rut? Are more activities sapping your energy than fulfilling your goals? Modern Mentor outlines the 5 proven steps toward designing a life you love.

By

Rachel Cooke
May 10, 2021

design thinking to the “wicked problem” of designing your job, your career, and even your life? Evans and Burnett believe we can.

Design thinking is a means of user-centered design. It’s about designing not the best outcome, but rather the best path for a particular user. In the case of this book, the user is you. Today I’ll introduce you to the five phases of the design thinking process, and how Burnett and Evans might encourage you to harness it in designing your ideal life.

Whether you’re on a quest for joy, change, or a fresh start, welcome to your new beginning.

Design thinking … is about designing not the best outcome, but rather the best path for a particular user – in this case, the user is you.

Step #1: Empathize

Design thinking begins with empathy because you can only design for a user you understand. And since you are the user, this phase is about self-awareness. So how can you get to know you a little bit better? There’s a process Burnett and Evans describe called wayfinding, which is a simple method of self-discovery that puts you in the direction of where you need to go.

Through wayfinding, you’ll discover which activities engage you (leaving you feeling inspired and “in the zone”) and which sap your energy. The process is simple: keep a journal (here’s a good example of one). For the next few weeks, keep track of your work and home activities throughout each day. Whether it’s writing a sales pitch, reorganizing your sock drawer, or anything else. For each activity, grab your journal and log how high or low your engagement was during the activity (did you enjoy your time spent?) and how you feel afterwards (energized or exhausted, positive or negative?).

This process will reveal some important information about you!

Step #2: Define

The next phase of design thinking is to define the needs or insights you’ve gained through empathy. So after a few weeks, take a closer look at your journal and do a bit of reflecting. What captures your attention? Any surprises? 

When I did this exercise, I validated some things I already knew – I love spending time with people and learning about topics of interest. But the news to me was that I was also enjoying writing copy for my website. This insight led me to start publishing an email newsletter which has since become critical to my business growth.

Now it’s your turn. What insights pop out for you? What assumptions can you validate, and what new things did you discover?

Step #3: Ideate

Now it’s time to develop a set of possible solutions. This phase is meant to be playful and exploratory, leveraging the insights you’ve collected.

Burnett and Evans call this Odyssey Planning. I love this phrase – it sounds more like an adventure in the wilderness than a planning process. How you craft your odysseys is up to you – you can draw, write stories, brainstorm or create a mind map.  But the goal is to generate possibilities using pen and paper.

“Each of us is many,” Evans and Burnett say. “The life you are living is one of many lives you will live.”

So start with three possible lives:

  • A better version of the present – what your life would look like if everything stayed the same, but you added in more of the engaging and stripped out some of what leaves you drained
  • An alternate version of the present – what your life would look like if suddenly your job went away
  • A what-if-money-were-no-object version – what your life would look like if finances weren’t a constraint

Let your creative brain take over here. None of these will be your final life design, so don’t be hampered by too many rules. This is only about possibilities.

Step #4: Prototype

This phase is about collecting data to inform how we turn ideas into action plans. Now that you’ve crafted three possible lives that sound great to you. What can you do to test and validate those assumptions?

Who in your life has lived pieces of your envisioned lives? If one Odyssey involves you opening a restaurant or becoming a stay-at-home parent or launching a side hustle, who do you know who has done these things?

Find and interview people who you trust to share the good, the bad, and the ugly of their experience. Arm yourself with as much information as you can, so you can ultimately make informed choices about how to proceed.

Find and interview people who you trust to share the good, the bad, and the ugly of their experience. Arm yourself with as much information as you can.

Step #5: Test

The most valuable thing I learned while going through this life design process was that change needn’t be wholesale. You don’t have to throw out one life and take on another. You can take just one step at a time. Here’s where you put your insights, your possibilities, and your data into a blender and take small sips of the smoothie that emerges.

Maybe in your current job you spend a lot of time in meetings that drain your energy. This doesn’t mean you have to quit your job or boycott meetings. But can you craft a small experiment in which you opt out of one meeting per week and replace it with something that really lights you up? (Go back and check your journal to find the things that make you happiest).

This was my approach. I didn’t throw out my business. Instead, I started turning up the dial on things I believed would make me happy – choosing different clients, saying no to certain projects and yes to others.

If I was right, I kept going. If I was wrong, everything was reversible because I was doing this in small steps, rather than giant leaps. This process can be fun and invigorating. The beauty of human-centered design is that there is no right answer. There’s only the outcome that lifts you up.

And now it’s your turn. Are you ready to build the life you love?


About the Author

Rachel Cooke

Rachel Cooke is a leadership and workplace expert who holds her M.A. in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University. Founder of Lead Above Noise, she has been named a top 100 Leadership Speaker by Inc. Magazine and has been featured in Fast Company, The Huffington Post, and many more.

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Financial Planning Investing

The Best Financial Advice I Got From Mom

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Everyone knows that Mom is always right. But on Mother’s Day, we could all use a little reminder.

We talked to some of our favorite financial experts about the best money advice they ever received from their moms – and how you can apply that wisdom to your own life.

Why You Should Wait Before Buying Something

When CFP Nate Nieri of Modern Money Management was little he saved up enough money to buy a video game. He asked his mom for a ride to the store to buy it, but she would only take him if he waited two weeks to make sure he really wanted it. As his mom predicted, he changed his mind before the time had passed.

“It was a very valuable lesson on impulse purchasing and patience, and something that has really stuck with me,” he said.

How to apply it: A general rule of thumb is to wait at least 24 hours before buying something or a week if the item is particularly expensive. Add it to your wish list or a special folder on your browser and walk away. Chances are, you’ll forget about the item – and if you don’t, it might actually be worth buying.

Plan Your Meals Early

Mindy Jensen, host of the “BiggerPockets Money Podcast,” said her mom told her, “Always know what you’re having for dinner by 8 a.m.”

Jensen got this advice when she was a stay-at-home mom and would forget to plan dinner until late in the day. Usually, this meant getting take-out or going to a restaurant.

How to apply it: The advice rings true, whether you’re cooking for a family or just yourself. If you can plan dinner first thing in the morning, you won’t be tempted to get DoorDash at 6 p.m. Starting in the morning gives you enough time to defrost something, throw a chicken breast in the slow cooker or run to the grocery store for ingredients.

Set Specific Savings Goals

Ricardo Pina of The Modest Wallet said his mom always told him to save for a particular item, instead of stashing money away just because it’s the responsible thing to do.

“Whether we were saving money to buy a new video game or a brand new bike, she used to say that when you have a savings goal, saving becomes so much more enjoyable,” he said.

How to apply it: Set up a savings goal in Mint. Every time you transfer money into your account named “Italy trip,” for instance, you’ll remember why you’re saving in the first place.

If you’re saving for retirement, get a clear picture of what kind of retirement you want. Whether it’s living in a Tahoe cabin or a Florida beachfront condo, a more specific image will make it easier to save.

Start Saving Early

Marcus Garrett, author of “Debt Free or Die Trying,” said his mother encouraged him to start saving early by taking him to open a savings account at age 16. When he got his first job at a movie theater, she agreed to match whatever he saved toward his first car.

“By age 16, I already saw and understood the value of an ‘employee match,’” he said.

How to apply it: If you have access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan, you may receive a company match. This means the company will contribute money to your retirement account, usually up to a certain amount. Always contribute enough to earn the full company match, because it’s essentially free money.

If you’re a parent, you can also utilize this strategy with your own kids by matching every dollar they save. It will encourage them to save more, because every dollar they put away will be doubled.

Don’t Rely on Future Earnings

Jacob Wade of I Heart Budgets said his mother-in-law gave him some crucial advice when he and his wife first got married: always live on last month’s income.

“That changed everything for us and helped us avoid day-to-day financial stress,” he said.

It took him and his wife six months to save up a full month’s income, but it’s been worth it. Even 13 years later, they still live on last month’s earnings.

How to apply it: Having a month’s worth of income in the bank means you won’t have to wait for payday to afford your bills. If you’re self-employed, this is especially important because clients can pay late. If you have enough money in your checking account, you won’t have to dip into your savings to make rent.

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Budgeting Basics: 4 Things Everyone Needs to Know

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What is an NFT?

They’ve generated quite the buzz lately, with many tokens selling for millions of dollars. Let’s take a minute to explore more about NFTs.

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Financial Planning Investing

Personal Finance Interview with Aaron Patzer of Mint.com

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Aaron Patzer CEO of Mint Software

Name: Aaron Patzer
Profession: Founder & CEO of Mint Software
Networth Range: $100,000+
Websites: www.mint.com


Current Financial Strategy:

After a lifetime of reading books on money management, it turns out personal finance can really be reduced to three basic principles:

  1. Spend less than you earn
  2. Make the money you have work for you
  3. Plan for the unexpected

I try to follow all three.

The first one is perhaps the most difficult. Living within your means basically boils down to only buying the things you really need, and consciously saving up for all the fun stuff. I have two cars, a 1994 Jaguar and a 1996 Ford Contour. I bought both used (or “pre-owned” if you want to feel better about yourself), and paid cash. The Contour isn’t worth much, so I don’t pay for comprehensive & collision on the insurance. I intend to drive both into the ground. If I want to have fun, I’ll rent a convertible on vacation. I rarely dine out. Instead I learned to cook (which impresses the ladies ;-), is healthier, and saves a lot of money. Last week to celebrate Mint’s Series A financing, I made filet mignon for two. Total cost ~$25; in a restaurant, easily $100+.

I also pay off all my credit cards in full every month. If you have the discipline to do this, use your credit card for everything. It’s safer than the debit card, gives you an interest free loan for 30 days, and rewards (points or better yet cash back) for anything you buy. The best card for you depends on how and where you use it (e.g. 5% cash back on gas might be the best if you commute, 3% cash back on groceries may be the best card for a family). Let Mint automatically figure it out for you.

“Make your money work for you” means I invest almost everything I save. I usually assume an 8% real return on my money: 11% average S&P return from 1980-2006, minus 3% inflation. If I put away $500/mo each month from age 30 onward, it means $1.2m by retirement, even though I would have only “saved” $210k. Compound interest is a beautiful thing.

I invest almost exclusively in index and mutual funds. Individual stocks vary too wildly, and being a busy CEO, it’s too difficult to keep up with all the relevant news/developments with any one company. My favorite funds are probably the Vanguard S&P 500 index fund (low expense ratio), and the Royce small-cap funds (long term performance).

“Plan for the unexpected” recognizes that stuff happens. You might lose your job, get sick, or have a family emergency. I keep about $15,000 (3 months expenses) in savings just in case. I could invest this amount, but if I needed it, I might be forced to sell just as the market is tanking.

Now, putting your emergency stash in a Wells Fargo or BofA account would be dumb. Instead I keep the bulk of it in ING Direct (4.50% interest). Emigrant Direct is up to 5.05% so I’ve been contemplating a switch (plus Mint has been suggesting it, and I ought to listen to the software I designed!).

Best Financial Tip:

Put 10% of your earnings straight into a stock index fund.

You’ll never see it in your bank account so you won’t miss it, and within 10 years, you’ll be seriously rich. If you actually do this one thing, I guarantee you’ll soon be (financially) ahead of 99% of the people in the world.


Worst Financial Move Ever:

Buying individual stocks, and then neglecting them.

Individual stocks vary wildly. If you pick wrong, and then forget to look at them for a year, half your money is gone. I’ve done it at least twice. Here’s what went wrong: I read a book, got very ambitious to learn all I could about a company, its industry, competitors, and growth potential. That went well for a couple weeks, sometimes even a couple of months – but, well, I got busy.

My current resolve is to rely on mutual funds – have a full-time professional worry about protecting the downside, and optimize for the upside. I spend a weekend once a year selecting the best mutual funds I can find, put money in automatically each month, and then mostly forget about it. Seriously, that’s all I do. No more individual stocks until I can devote an hour or more each day to investing…and who has that kind of time?

Financially, I need Help With:

Managing my spending and making sure I don’t get ripped off.

I mentioned before that the first principle of personal finance is spending less than you earn. To do that, you really need to see exactly where you money goes, and make sure you’re getting the best price on everything. I mean, who really knows if they’re on the best wireless plan? They come out with a new promotion every week and I always suspect I’m not on the best plan available.


What personal finance tools do you currently use to track and manage your money?

Mint of course!

With gas prices rising, do you know how much you spend at the pump?

Don’t know. Fortunately Mint does.

What’s in My Wallet?

Capital One – Personal

Capital One – Business Rewards

5th 3rd Debit Card

Barnes & Noble Gift Certificate (thanks mom)

Blue Shield Insurance

Progressive Insurance

AAA Membership Card

Safeway Club Card

Mint Business Cards

Building access card (Mint is a secure location)

$51 cash (been there forever since I always use a credit card)

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Financial Planning Investing Retirement

Cheer Up, You’re Not as Far Behind on Retirement Savings as You Think

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If you’re like the average American, retirement savings has you totally bummed out. The Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) reports that 27 percent of Americans are “not at all confident” about having enough money for a comfortable retirement, and only 13 percent are “very confident.”

You don’t have to go far to find other scary retirement savings figures, like how the average working person in their 60s has only $144,000 in their 401(k). At a recommended 4 percent withdrawal rate, that’s enough to produce $5,760 per year in retirement income. Ouch.

I don’t want to minimize how scary it is out there for the retirement saver. But I’m an upbeat guy, and I want to inject a Pollyanna-tinged ray of sunshine into this gloomy glade. You may not be as far behind on retirement savings as you think you are, and if you are genuinely behind, it may be easier to catch up than you think.

The standard model of retirement planning assumes you’ll take money you’ve accumulated in your 401(k) and other investments and withdraw it gradually over the rest of your life to replace the salary you were receiving at the time you retired. In order to keep up with inflation but minimize the risk of outliving your money, various studies have found that you can withdraw 4 percent of your portfolio in the first year and an equivalent amount, adjusted for inflation, each year thereafter.

In math terms, the standard model goes something like this:

Your salary × 25 = Your retirement goal

You see this formula all the time. Here’s how the Motley Fool put it: “So if you’re planning to live comfortably on $50,000 a year in retirement, you’ll need to have $1.25 million saved by the time you get there.” Plenty of online retirement calculators make the same assumption.

But even if you assume Social Security will disappear by the time you retire, that number is way too high. Here are five reasons why.

1. You won’t be saving for retirement any more when you’re retired

If you’re putting 10% of your salary into your 401(k), that’s 10% you won’t need to replace in retirement. This is an absolute no-brainer, but it has some interesting consequences we’ll get to in a minute.

2. You’ll spend less, year after year

People in their 80s are different from people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s in plenty of ways beyond wise aphorisms and Metamucil. As we get older, we spend less.

In a 2005 paper, financial planner Ty Bernicke offers evidence that spending drops off precipitously as we move into our 60s and 70s. (People in the 55-64 range even spend less than those aged 45-54.)

That’s even taking into account the fact that the elderly spend more on health care, and it holds even for wealthy retirees whose net worth is steadily increasing. That is, even retirees who are sitting on an ever-growing pile of loot for their heirs tend to voluntarily decrease their spending.

Facing down this data is kind of unnerving in the same way thinking about wills and life insurance is unnerving: I don’t want to think about slowing down, traveling less, spending less on food and entertainment, any more than I want to think about eventually spending zero on these things for eternity. But taking what Bernicke calls a “reality” approach to retirement planning could enable a typical retiree to save less or retire earlier.

3. Your tax bracket will go down

Most retirees are in the lowest tax brackets. Money you take out of your 401(k) or traditional IRA is taxable, but Social Security is only partly taxable, and Roth IRA distributions aren’t taxable at all. Sure, the tax code is going to change a dozen times between now and when you retire, but chances are, your taxes are going go down the day you kiss that cubicle goodbye.

If you’re budgeting for retirement based on the assumption that you’ll spend as much on taxes as you do today, you’re budgeting too much.

4. You can always annuitize

If your retirement savings are marginal (but not way below par), you can turn them into a lifetime monthly income stream by buying a single-premium immediate annuity (SPIA) from an insurance company. Basically, you hand the money over to an insurance company and it gives it back, with interest, over the rest of your life. If you live longer than the insurance company expects, you win. Even in the current low interest rate environment, an inflation-adjusted SPIA pays over 4 percent annually if you annuitize at age 65.

Annuities are backed, up to a maximum, by a state guaranty agency. And you don’t have to make an all-or-nothing decision at 65. You can annuitize some of your money—maybe enough to guarantee a minimum base level of income you don’t want to drop below—and invest the rest. You can wait until you’re 70 and see how things look then; the older you are, the bigger the monthly payout from a SPIA. And interest rates could go up.

5. Every dollar you save reduces your current standard of living

Ah, “reduces your current standard of living” is such a negative way to put a beautiful concept.

Here’s what happens if you decide to bump up your retirement savings by 2 percentage points today—say, from 8% of your paycheck to 10%. For a couple of months, you grumble about your smaller paycheck. Then you get used to spending slightly less and forget about the supposed good old days. Your retirement account will grow faster, and by the time you need to draw upon it, you’ll be able to make smaller withdrawals thanks to your lower standard of living.

In other words, you have more savings to replace less spending. It’s like the universe just gave you a 401(k) match. If you took that extra 2 percent and gave it to charity or sent it to me every month instead of saving it, you’d still be better off, because you’d be saving at the same rate as before but have less spending to replace.

Hmm, did I just prove you’d be more financially secure if you sent me some money? I reckon so.

Matthew Amster-Burton is a personal finance columnist at Mint.com. Find him on Twitter @Mint_Mamster.

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Managing Your Money, Together

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To learn more about how our Minters are achieving their financial goals, we reached out to everyday Mint users, just like you, to hear their stories. Whether it’s paying off student loans, or working toward buying a home, we’re so inspired by the dedication this community has shown in working toward your goals and dreams.

One of the Minters we connected with is Jordan. He shared with us how he’s used Mint to reach a number of his financial goals. Check out his #EmpowerMint story:

My wife and I have been interested in getting out of debt ever since the day we took on student loans. With the desire to pay those loans off, we strived to learn more about budgeting and personal finance.

As we grew in our journey, there were many financial things we questioned that felt ‘normal.’ We heard so many messages that emphasized the need to have the newest toys to be happy, that having debt is normal, and that most people live paycheck to paycheck. We realized that we didn’t feel comfortable with any of that, and that we found satisfaction in being content with what we have. 

Knowing that money issues were often a problem area for couples, my wife and I started using Mint shortly after we got married in 2010 to ensure transparency and partnership from the beginning. We found Mint to be a terrific tool for us to have a complete picture of our financial situation. During this time, I was working full-time and my wife was finishing up her last year in nursing school. Mint was an immediate help in keeping track of where our money was going and in starting budget discussions that have proved to be invaluable in our marriage. It also helped initiate discussions on both near-term and long-term goals, which have been so key in helping us plan both strategically and aspirationally. 

As time went on, Mint was instrumental in helping us achieve so many of our goals including:

Our current goal is to complete our 15-year mortgage in under 5 years. A combination of Mint, aggressive savings, overtime shifts, and side hustles have helped put us in a position to achieve this goal within the next 12 months. Once that goal is complete, we’re excited to have a little fun and celebrate this accomplishment, and then prepare for the next chapter in our financial journey. 

In addition to this goal, we also have various net worth milestones we would like to achieve in the next 1-, 5-, and 10-year periods. We are very excited about the concept of financial independence, and would like to be in a position where we have the opportunity to focus our attention on things outside of work, such as further investing in our family and causes that are important to us. With Mint, we can see how the choices we’re making are helping move us closer to achieving these goals. 

Today, we check Mint on a daily basis in order to stay on top of our expenses and monitor for any fraudulent activity. Years ago, Mint helped me identify a fraudulent charge almost immediately, enabling me to notify our bank and get the issue resolved. Reviewing our expenses enables us to stay within our budget, catch fraudulent activity, and follow the ‘every dollar’ budgeting rules that have been so helpful for us. In addition, linking our accounts has automated what would otherwise be a very manual and time-intensive process. 

I have also loved using the trends feature to have full visibility into exactly how our money is being spent and to help ensure we’re always partnering as we work towards our financial goals, rather than feeling like one person is pulling the other along. We can budget with transparency and not feel any need to hide transactions for personal expenses and rewards or small splurges. 

The trends feature has also allowed us to get a sense of what our typical spending has been in different categories. We periodically review our budget, and being able to easily see our historical spending in different categories has helped us set realistic targets, as well as track our progress when we are attempting to change habits. Lastly, being able to see changes in our net worth over the years has been inspiring, as we have been able to see in real-time how decisions to save or forego immediate gratification can have long-term benefits.

Beyond that, we have found a great deal of joy in doing things ourselves, whether it is cooking meals for the week, doing our own car maintenance, or trying to fix something ourselves before calling someone. Additionally, the satisfaction has compounded as we’ve seen that making these choices has helped us not only learn new things, but also in achieving our goals. 

Knowing what we know now, we’re really excited to pass these values on to our kids, and we’re happy to discuss them with anyone who asks. Additionally, I can see a ‘life’ after work that involves volunteering in some form in the personal finance field, whether that is teaching folks about budgeting or just encouraging them in their financial journey.

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Financial Planning

Use Storytelling to Get Ahead at Work

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Data, facts, and figures may convince people you have the right answer. But sometimes the real challenge is creating a connection that inspires someone to collaborate with or support you. Telling a great story at the right moment may be exactly the tool you need. Learn how to choose your moment and craft that winning story.

By

Rachel Cooke
May 3, 2021

Airbnb that I’ve always loved. When they first launched their home-renting service in 2008, they struggled to attract customers. In 2013, the co-founders decided what they needed was a story. They wanted to do more than win minds with logic, facts, and figures; they also wanted to win hearts. They needed prospective renters and property owners to feel something that would compel them to engage with the service.

Airbnb wanted to do more than win minds with logic, facts, and figures; they also wanted to win hearts.

The company shifted its focus from highlighting facts—like the practicality of renting rooms or homes instead of hotels—to telling stories about the power of belonging.

“Belong anywhere” became the official tagline of Airbnb and led to the creation of their new logo and brand story. Their focus now was on helping people to feel at home wherever they were. Customers began sharing their own stories of belonging. Suddenly, business was booming.

Telling great stories—investing in winning hearts as well as minds—isn’t just for brands. As this Inc. article claims, storytelling is one of the most critical business skills we all need today:

Stories help us understand the world, find our place in it, and even convince others to buy into our ideas and products. … Your stories make you relatable. They show people why something is important rather than telling them.

The two questions we all need to answer are:

  1. How do you choose the right moment for a story?
  2. How do you craft and deliver that story for impact? 

When do you tell a story?

As this Harvard Business Review piece explains:

The art of persuading by winning hearts is about connecting people emotionally to your idea or position.

Sometimes we do want to lead with rational logic and facts. Need to make a data-driven decision on which marketing campaign delivered the best results? Hard data is your friend. But in other moments when your objective is different, a story—a way to connect with someone’s emotions—may be just the thing.

Here, HBR continues, are some of the moments best suited to heart versus mind-winning:

The common thread pulling through these examples is the need for support, allyship, or buy-in. When you need someone to want to do the thing, that’s when a story comes in handy.

When you need someone to want to do the thing, that’s when a story comes in handy.

So I’d like you to take a look at your calendar. What’s upcoming for you? Do you have a pitch meeting with a client? Are you grabbing virtual coffee with a mentor? Will you need support or collaboration from a colleague in a different department?

Have your facts ready. But find a spot for telling a great story. And then follow these steps to craft one.

How do you tell a story?

1. Be a story collector

Telling great stories begins with having great stories on hand. 

When I’m talking to a new client, I have to prove myself. They want to see my track record of success, and I have the stats and metrics to show it. But I also need them to want to work with me. I’m not a vendor, I’m a partner, and I need to build trust and connection. 

So in early meetings, I lean into my arsenal of stories, mostly about my kids. I keep a collection of those on hand for a few reasons. 

First, kids are relatable. Many of my clients have their own. If not, they have nieces, nephews, cousins, and siblings, which helps my stories resonate.

Second, kid stories let me be authentic. I love my kids, and that shows through in my stories, which makes me seem more real.

Third, kid stories are a safe way for me to be vulnerable; to show moments in which I’ve screwed up and can laugh at myself.

Being able to laugh at myself is one thing, but I don’t want to try to impress a client by talking about a professional failure. That’s being a little too vulnerable. Instead, I’ll highlight a mistake that taught me a valuable lesson that ultimately made me better at what I do.

So now it’s your turn. Where will you start to dig for stories that show a softer side of you? Maybe it’s sports, or travel, or cars. Just pick a lane and start building your collection.

2. Establish a story structure

Once you have your source content, it’s time to start crafting the story.

The stories you tell will help others connect with you and want to be part of your success.

While there’s no one right way to tell a story, this  Forbes piece offers a simple outline of the key elements to focus on:

Play around with these elements, and then try to craft a narrative that brings them all to life. The stories you tell will help others connect with you and want to be part of your success.

3. Practice your story

A skilled storyteller makes it look incredibly easy and natural. But have you ever been caught in someone’s story during this moment?

“So, it was last Wednesday. No, actually, I think it was Thursday. No, wait! It was Wednesday because I remember it was raining. But hold on—first I have to tell you what happened on Monday or this won’t make sense.”

Listening to disjointed stories like these can be painful. Does it matter whether it was Wednesday or Thursday? Nope. Are we going to be able to make sense of—and, more importantly, connect with—a story where the teller has to repeatedly backtrack to fill in gaps? Probably not.

You want to practice and refine your stories so that you subject your listeners only to the details that matter and that move the narrative forward.

You want to practice and refine your stories so that you subject your listeners only to the details that matter and that move the narrative forward. Scrub the rest.

Tell your stories to people you trust and watch their reactions. Where do they laugh or gasp or nod? Which moments tend to make their eyes glaze over?

As Ira Glass, a master storyteller and host of the This American Life podcast, once famously said:

Good storytelling includes, among other things, having the courage to cut the crap. Not enough gets said about the importance of abandoning crap.

Pay attention and refine your technique as you go.

4. Connect your story to a purpose

A well-crafted and delivered story can be charming. Good stories create connection and inspire support. But all-charm-and-no-purpose will leave your audience confused and frustrated.

So once your story has reached its conclusion, be sure your point is abundantly clear so you don’t leave your audience thinking “So what?”

Your story’s conclusion has to deliver an insight that links to the moment.

When I tell a story about one of my daughters there is always some levity, something the audience can relate to. But ultimately, its conclusion has to deliver an insight that links to the moment. 

I tell one story about the headache-inducing outfits my older daughter used to wear to preschool every day. I describe the cornucopia of neons and zippers and feathers, and I see people visualizing the hilarious horror right along with me.

It always wins a laugh. But then I get to the point: It’s important, in business and in life, to find safe spaces in which to test and experiment and learn by trying. I want clients to know this is part of my mindset, that I encourage experimentation in safe spaces, and facilitate learning as we go. The story, when I make that connection clear, helps position me as a partner who also knows how to laugh.

So now it’s your turn. Go try this out, and when you see that first spark of connection, tell me the story of how it went.


About the Author

Rachel Cooke

Rachel Cooke is a leadership and workplace expert who holds her M.A. in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University. Founder of Lead Above Noise, she has been named a top 100 Leadership Speaker by Inc. Magazine and has been featured in Fast Company, The Huffington Post, and many more.

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Financial Planning Investing Retirement

10 Steps for Boomers Approaching Retirement

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Baby boomers are used to shaking things up. Due to their large numbers and political activism, boomers have transformed America at every stage of their lives.

Born between 1946 and 1964 and numbering more than 76 million, boomers are the largest generation born in America so far.

Doing well in the prosperity that followed World War II, Baby boomers have a reputation of being big spenders and poor savers.

Now the Great Recession has hit many baby boomers hard. They’re dealing with decreased value in their retirement funds and homes and job layoffs. As a result, the number of baby boomers who are ill-prepared for retirement is increasing.

If you’re a baby boomer who wants to retire, here are 10 tips to help you figure out today’s retirement challenges:

1. Estimate your Retirement Income and Expenses.

It’s important to have a realistic plan for retirement. If you don’t have a budget now, keep track of your expenses for several months to see where your money goes. Based on the figures, make a budget. Be sure to include money to set aside for an emergency fund of at least three to six months of living expenses. Use the pre-retirement numbers to develop your retirement budget. Remember to include things that will change with retirement such as no commuting costs, less money spent for clothes and shoes, and fewer meals out. Estimate your income in retirement as well. See Mint’s Create a Budget for information on how to set up a budget.

2. Decide When to Retire.

After you’ve looked at your projected retirement income and expenses, you’ll have a better idea about when you can retire. Part of this decision is estimating what you think the rate of inflation will be and taking a guess at how long you’ll live. Figuring out what percentage of your pre-retirement you want to live on also is important. You can find online calculators to help you or you may want to hire a certified financial planner to advise you. See the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standard’s website to locate a planner near you.

3. Keep Working or Start a Second Career

If you’ve planned to retire at age 62 or 65 but find your estimated retirement income isn’t adequate to provide the lifestyle you want, continuing to work or finding a new career are two options. In a recent study, workers in their 50s said they are likely to have to delay their retirement due to the recession, a Pewstudy reports.

4. Decide When You’ll Start Taking Social Security Payments.

If you decide to take your Social Security benefits at age 62 or 65, you’ll receive lower monthly payments than if you work longer. The date to receive full Social Security benefits increases annually. For example, if you’re a baby boomer born between 1946 and 1954, your full retirement age will be 66 years. If you’re a boomer born in 1960 or later, your full retirement age will be 67. Baby boomers should work until their full Social Security retirement age, or better yet until age 70, Eleanor Blayney, CFP, spokeswoman for the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, said in an email. If married, the higher paid spouse should delay retirement until age 70, Blayney said. See the Social Security Administration’s Benefits Calculators to estimate your potential benefit amounts using different retirement dates and levels of future earnings.

5. Decide Where You Want to Live.

If you’re like most baby boomers, you want to age in place. A new trend that could help you achieve this goal is the emergence of Neighborhood Villages. In these membership organization, older citizens are assisted by their neighbors so they can stay in the homes as they grow older. See the Village to Village website for information on where the villages are located or how to set one up. Another positive development for boomers who don’t want to move is the inclusion of provisions in the recent health care reform law to help older adults stay in their homes longer. While staying put is desired by most boomers, some may want to move to be near their children or to enjoy warmer weather. If you plan to relocate, do thorough research to find out the cost of living in the area, what medical facilities are available, and what the amenities are. If you need to make significant savings for your retirement, Blayney suggests taking a look at where you live and how much house you really need.

6. Pay off Credit Cards and Mortgage.

Since your income will be lower in retirement, it’s a good idea to get rid of much debt as you can before you leave your job. This will give you more flexibility with your cash flow and tax planning. While many Americans are challenged by credit card debt, it hits seniors particularly hard. Bankruptcies among seniors are rising sharply, driven largely by credit card debt, a study by the University of Michigan Law School shows.

7. Get to Know Medicare.

Begin gathering information about Medicare before you’re ready to retire. You’ll also need to buy Medigap insurance because Medicare only covers basic services. Be prepared to do research on Medicare and Medigap insurance. Both are complicated.

8. Learn About Long-Term Care Insurance.

Medicare and private insurances don’t pay for the majority of long-term care costs, the costs for nursing home care. You need to evaluate many factors when considering whether to buy this insurance: your health; whether the elders in your family went to nursing homes or died suddenly; whether you can afford the insurance; and if you want to leave money for your children. See this AARP fact sheet for details.

9. Plan for Out-of-Pocket Medical Costs.

Set money aside for medical costs not covered by Medicare or private insurance in short-term bonds or money markets. You could incur as much as $200,000 to $300,000. If you still have several years until retirement and are reasonably healthy, consider a high-deductible health insurance policy and set up a Health Savings Account for accumulating funds for these out-of-pocket costs in retirement, Blayney suggests.

10. Examine your Emotional Portfolio as well as your Investment Portfolio.

Baby boomers are a diverse group and their task during retirement is to find their path, Nancy K. Schlossberg, professor emerita at the University of Maryland and author of the book Revitalizing Retirement, said in an interview. The transitions of retirement aren’t easy. “It takes a while to get a new life.” Retirement is a challenge for many baby boomers. With these 10 steps boomers can begin to look at their spending and set goals for retirement.

Rita R. Robison is a consumer journalist who blogs at The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide. Rita blogs via Contently.com.

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Financial Planning Investing

Revisiting the Bank of Dad

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Last year, I told you about how I started my own bank. It’s called the Burton Bank, and it has one customer: my 7-year-old, Iris.

The Burton Bank is based on David Owen’s book, The First National Bank of Dad. Here’s how it works:

1. Every week, I automatically deposit Iris’s $2 allowance.

2. Iris can spend her money whenever she wants on whatever she wants, short of cigarettes or beer. If we’re at a store and she doesn’t have cash with her, I’ll front her the money and enter it as a Burton Bank debit when we get home.

3. On the last day of each month, the Burton Bank pays 5 percent interest. Yes, 5 percent a month. When you’re a kid, time moves so slowly that the 1.1 percent APY you get on a high-interest savings account is indistinguishable from zero. Come to think of it, that goes for most adults, too.

The Burton Bank has been in business since November of last year, so I figured it would be a good time to check in and see how it’s going.

Hoarding and spending

I originally heard about the Bank of Dad concept from Zack Miller, author of TradeStream Your Way to Profits and father of five kids aged 4 to 16. “We have hoarders and we have spenders,” says Miller. “There’s nobody in the middle.”

Mine’s in the middle—or maybe she’s a bipolar spender. Immediately after we established the Burton Bank, Iris deposited her existing savings and then spent several weeks saving up her allowance and some birthday money to buy a $60 Lego castle set involving evil knights and a princess whose little yellow head has a happy face on one side and a sad face on the other. Then, once the toy arrived, she started teasing me about how I have a crush on the princess.

This was an impressive financial feat, I thought, saving up seven times her monthly income for a major purchase. Since then, however, the Burton Bank has never had a balance over $30, because Iris keeps buying Lego-related books in the Bionicle series. If you aren’t familiar with this series, it is the most blatant attempt to sell toys in the history of product tie-ins. In the second book in the series, all six of the main characters fall into a pool of goo and mutate into slightly different creatures, and you can buy Lego sets of the “old” characters or the new ones.

At least, you could before Lego blissfully discontinued the Bionicle series.

Dad’s off the hook

One of the best things about establishing a family bank is minimizing the amount of time you argue with your kid over whether you’re going to buy them something dumb. If Iris wants to buy a toy, she buys a toy. If she doesn’t have enough money, she knows I’m going to give it to her…at the usual pace of $2/week.

That’s going to get more complicated as Iris gets older, however. “It’s really hard to continuously define what we pay for and what we don’t,” says Miller. Clothes, for example. “I do believe parents should pay for a basic wardrobe. But what is the basic wardrobe?” Transportation to school? Covered. Transportation to a party? Hmm.

Still, though, it’s better than the usual system of constant handwringing. “There’s been some friction there, but less friction than before,” says Miller.

Charity and frugality

One of the more controversial aspects of the family bank is that you don’t force your kid to make charitable contributions. True charity is voluntary, and all that. Iris hasn’t done any charitable giving. I suspect this has something to do with the fact that she probably has no idea that her parents do any charitable giving, because we haven’t involved her in the conversation about our charitable goals, and our donations are automated. This is definitely something we should revisit.

Miller has had better luck: his eldest daughter has saved up $80 to give to a charitable cause. Which one? She hasn’t decided yet.

Both Miller and I have found that the Bank of Dad helps a child understand that money isn’t an unlimited resource without having to spout money-doesn’t-grow-on-trees platitudes. “My eldest received a Kindle at one point from her Grandma,” he says. “We did some research to find free books. She’s become more creative in finding solutions that don’t involve spending money. She used to buy books, and now she’s been going to the library and taking out books.”

Mental accounting

My wife and I have always been vocal about setting specific savings goals and establishing separate bank accounts to help reach them. In principle, a single pool of money in a savings account buys you the same stuff as ten separate savings goals labeled “Japan vacation,” “Laptop,” “Birthday,” and so on. In practice, however, it’s too easy to take $50 from the big pool for whatever expense came up this week. Take $50 from the birthday fund, however, and you’re stealing somebody’s birthday present. I trust this observation isn’t new to any MintLife reader.

To a 7-year-old, however, it’s all new. That’s what’s great about being a seven-year-old. So when Iris decided last week that she wants to save up for her own iPod Touch, she asked if she could start a second account and split her allowance in half, $1 to the Burton Bank, $1 to the iPod fund.

“You bet,” I said, and we set it up.

I didn’t say that I have no idea why she wants her own iPod, because I let her play with mine too often as it is. Probably she has the idea that if she had her own, she could play video games instead of doing her homework, and we couldn’t stop her because it would be her iPod. I smell another life lesson coming on.

Matthew Amster-Burton is a personal finance columnist at Mint.com. Find him on Twitter @Mint_Mamster.

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