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Published: Monday, March 20, 2017 @ 8:00 AM
In this series, NerdWallet interviews people who have triumphed over debt using a combination of commitment, budgeting and smart financial choices. Their stories may even inspire you to pay off your debt.
A year before Tracie Fobes was married, she declared bankruptcy. It eliminated her debt, but by the time she and her husband had their first child, they’d accumulated $37,000 more debt due primarily to a home equity loan and two auto loans. Fobes said that until they began to have open conversations about money, she hadn’t realized why they had gotten into debt in the first place.
The Missouri couple started their repayment journey in November 2007, and today, they’re free of all consumer debt. Tracie Fobes is a stay-at-home mom and now blogs about family life, money management, saving and finding deals at The Penny Pinchin’ Mom. Here’s their story.
Tracie Fobes: When our oldest was born, I quit my job to become a stay-at-home mom. This was something that was important to both my husband and I, so we knew it would make our financial situation tight, but it was well worth it. We purchased a brand new minivan right after she was born. At the time, I had another vehicle and owed much more than it was worth. That meant we had to roll that amount into the financing on our van. Our payment had to go up as result. My husband had a pickup as well. While it was a bit older, we still had to take out a loan to make the purchase, which contributed to our debt as well.
We also decided that it would be “smart” to pay for things we needed around the house by taking out a home equity loan rather than using credit cards. The interest rate was lower, but it was still a very stupid mistake on our part. We also had one small credit card that did not have much of a balance on it. We really never used cards too often, so we did not have to worry about that.
I remember going to dinner with some friends one evening. While money was tight, my husband told me that I just needed to have an evening away from the kids. At the end of the meal, while most of us were using plastic to pay for dinner, my friend pulled out an envelope with cash. I asked her what the cash was for and she started to explain what they were doing and how they were digging themselves out from under their debt. In the back of my mind, I started thinking that if they could do this, why couldn’t we?
When I got home from dinner, I told my husband what they were doing. We knew that they made no more than we did. We began our research and within a week, we had started working on a budget and a debt plan. The rest, as they say, is history.
We were a team. We knew we had to work together and be on the same page during this entire process, or it would not work. Our budget was 100% a joint effort. When it came to the debts to pay first, we talked it through and agreed as a team the path to take.
We both looked at what we could do to have money to pay off our debts. My husband decided to sell things he no longer needed. I took the approach of trying to reduce our budget, namely groceries. I began researching and learning ways to really save on the food we needed. In doing so, I began to share my findings with others. That led me to start my website, Penny Pinchin’ Mom, which also allowed me to make additional money that we were able to throw at our debt.
I wish that I could put the feeling into words, but I can’t. It is just something you have to experience. It is like happiness, relief, joy, calm and peace, all rolled into one.
We now have less stress when it comes to money. When the cost of groceries or fuel goes up, it doesn’t make us worry. Sure, we hate it as much as the next person, but it doesn’t really affect us negatively. We don’t worry how we will come up with more money to cover these increased expenses.
In addition, we can do the things we want. We took our three children on their dream vacation last summer. We spent more than a week in Florida doing all of the “kid” things such as Disney, the beach and Universal Studios. The best thing about this trip was that it was paid for in cash. 100% of it. No bills following us home after our trip. Our hard work and savings afforded us this amazing opportunity to do something amazing for our kids.
We also have less stress about job loss. There is money in the bank to cover us should that happen. When you remove financial stress from your life, you get to live the life you want. There is no better feeling.
If you have debt you’d like to eliminate, you’re going to need a plan of attack:
As part of your larger payoff plan, consider consolidating your debts into one new debt with a lower interest rate. This can lower your monthly payments and even help you pay off your debt sooner. You can consolidate with a 0% balance-transfer credit card or a personal loan. Try using a personal loans calculator to learn about possible interest rates and monthly payments, according to your credit score.
Published: Friday, December 29, 2017 @ 9:42 AM
— Buying a home can be a daunting task − whether it is your first or fifth time heading to the closing table.
For most of us, it will be the largest investment of our lives. However, there are factors predicted for the upcoming year that will make purchasing a home even more stressful.
According to Redfin's 2018 projections, inventory will remain low, especially for smaller starter-homes. Additionally, thirty-year mortgage rates are expected to rise between 4.3 and 4.5 percent. Changes to the capital gains tax may also persuade many current homeowners not to sell, putting even more strain on the inventory list. However, there are still deals to be found and your dream home may very well still be out there waiting on you.
When you find it, be sure to avoid these 6 common mistakes that first-time homebuyers often make:
Not getting a professional inspection
The idea of paying for a home inspection for a property that you might not even buy seems like a silly concept to some, but it can save you tens of thousands of dollars in the long run. The median cost of a home inspection is $350-$600 for an average or larger sized house, according to HomeInspector.org. Compared to potential issues with the foundation, electrical system or plumbing, however, it's a small price to pay.
Not putting a pause button on purchases
Buying your first house can be an exciting process and many new buyers get the urge to buy furniture and other home essentials before their closing date. While it's understandable to want to get a head start, it is very important that you not do this. According to Kayla Sweeny, a mortgage loan originator with Southeast Mortgage, a very common mistake is "buying things on credit during the mortgage process. The credit report has to be updated to add the new debt. Debt-to-Income ratios have to be recalculated and the file has to be reviewed again. This could potentially kill a deal."
Not keeping up with correspondence
Sweeny also noted that many first time buyers fail to check their mail, e-mail or messages regularly. "There could be critical loan documentation that a mortgage loan originator or processor has sent the borrower. The entire process is time sensitive. A sense of urgency is a must." This also applies to correspondence from your real estate agent, appraiser and inspector.
Not understanding the hidden costs of buying a home
Everyone knows that you'll likely require a mortgage to purchase a home. Unfortunately, many people fail to factor in the other costs associated with purchase - appraisals, earnest money, inspection costs, taxes, HOA dues, utilities and so on. Rafael Castellanos, president of Expert Title Insurance, told Bankrate.com, "They have an idea of what their mortgage payment is going to be, but they don't realize there's much more to it."
Not working with a buyer's agent
Some first-time buyers believe that they don't need or can't afford a buyer's agent. Nothing could be further from the truth. Home purchasing contracts can be long and confusing, filled with legalese that often baffle the layman. Eddie Hudson, owner of The Smyrna Team at Keller Williams, explains that "this means you have no representation, and working with a buyer's agent is free of charge as the seller is paying the commission."
Not looking into loan assistance programs
Published: Tuesday, February 20, 2018 @ 3:19 PM
We all know that young people should show respect for their elders. In return, those elders should extend all their resources to the up-and-coming generation. Right?
A risky move
"Tempting as it may be to co-sign a loan for your grandchildren, doing so exposes seniors to significant risk," Todd Campbell, owner of EBCapitalMarkets, warned on Motley Fool. "Co-signing a student loan means that seniors are equally responsible for making payments when those loans come due, and those payments are going to put a significant dent in retirement income if the kids are unable, or unwilling, to pay."
With Reuters describing millennials as facing the greatest risk among all U.S. age groups for defaulting on their loans in 2017, that danger is real. So is the possibility of a reduced income for baby boomers who've co-signed those loans, Campbell noted. "The average Social Security payment to retirees stands at $1,294 per month, but the average student loan payment on $25,000 worth of borrowing works out to about $242 per month, or almost 20% of the typical retiree's Social Security income," he wrote.
And if older co-signers assume they'll never need to take over payments on the loan, they could get hit hard, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "As a co-signer, you're not merely vouching for someone's ability to repay a loan; you're taking full responsibility to pay back the loan. If the primary student loan borrower stops paying the loan, you're responsible for making the monthly payments."
According to CFPB, in the past decade the number of older student loan borrowers quadrupled and the amount of debt per older borrower approximately doubled. In 2015, nearly 40 percent of federal student loan borrowers age 65 and older were in default.
"It is alarming that older Americans are the fastest growing segment of student loan borrowers," former CFPB Director Richard Cordray stated. "Many of these older Americans are helping to finance their children's or grandchildren's education while living on a fixed income. We are concerned that student loans are contributing to financial insecurity for many older Americans and that student loan servicing problems can add to their distress."
From 2005 to 2015, the number of Americans age 60 or older with one or more student loans quadrupled from about 700,000 to 2.8 million, according to CFPB analysis. And the average debt owed by an older borrower roughly doubled from $12,000 to $23,500. Juggling debts and later-life expenses on fixed incomes can prove difficult and an increased number of physical and cognitive impairments can limit an aging borrower's ability to stay in the work force.
Industry practices for reclaiming student loan payments are another headache, according to CFPB, from harassing phone calls to the co-signer when the loan originator fails to pay to delaying or denying co-signers' ability to enroll in reduced payment plans if their income plummets.
The bottom line: co-signing a college loan when you're in your 50s or 60s is not a good idea. "It's okay for you not to co-sign for the kids," Santa Barbara financial planner Andrew Anable told the 30secondsMom blog. "It sounds harsh, but the kids need to know this can impact your retirement as well as your credit." If you do opt to sign for some part of a college loan for a child or grandchild, keep the total loan amount below half of one year's income, Anable advised.
What to do if you're already stuck paying back loans
If you're an older borrower who has already incurred student loans on a millennial relative's behalf and you find yourself on the hook for repaying them, the CFPB offered these four tips for helping baby boomers navigate common problems with student loans:
Published: Friday, January 19, 2018 @ 12:32 PM
DAYTON — The latest product recalls include a potentially moldy comforter, an unstable bassinette, and snow globes that could potentially cause a fire, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The Hudson comforters by UGG under recall were sold at Bed Bath & Beyond and may contain mold which could pose a risk of infection or respiratory issues in people with a mold allergy or compromised immune system.
The comforters come in four colors: garnet, navy, grey and oatmeal. They were sold between August 2017 and October 2017.
No injuries have been reported.
If you have one don't use it and return it to the store for a full refund. Call Bed Bath & Beyond at 800-462-3966 for more information.
The Multipro Baby Cradle N Swing bassinet sold on Amazon.com poses a fall and entrapment hazard for babies.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports the bassinets fail to meet mandatory federal safety standards.
It is recommended that you take the bassinet apart and throw it away. No injuries have been reported.
Amazon has contacted purchasers and issued full refund gift cards.
If you have one of these products and did not yet receive a refund contact Amazon at 888-280-4331.
Two Coldwater Creek snow globe models pose a fire hazard.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports light refraction through the globes may melt or singe things placed near them.
Once incident of damage has been reported.
The Reindeer snow globe has the model number XC7484.
The Vintage charm snow globe contains a silver snowman and has the model number 3WGL120.
They were sold in Coldwater Creek stores and online.
Stop using the snow globes and contact Coldwater Creek at 888-678 5576 to return the product for a full refund.
Fujifilm is recalling some digital camera power adapters because they could shock you.
The adapter plug can break or crack exposing live electrical contacts, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The AC-5VF power adaptors were sold with six Fujifilm digital camera models in stores and online.
Don't use the adapter and contact Fujifilm at 833-613-1200 for a free replacement.
Published: Friday, January 19, 2018 @ 2:52 PM
— Too much clutter, too little money, too many gifts you didn't like... an eBay auction is one of the simplest solutions to all three issues.
If your trash might be someone else's treasure, an eBay business is simple to start and accessible to just about anyone. "It has low start-up costs and it can be started out of your home," noted the New Life Auctions blog, written by sellers who have been active since 2000. "You can work at your own pace and on your own time."
Within that flexible framework, though, are certain strategies for making far more money and clearing out a lot more junk as an eBay seller.
»Here are 10 tips from NLA and other experts:
Only sell valuable stuff
Yes, you're trying to profit by selling stuff you don't want, but you want to make sure there are some potential buyers who will disagree with you. Start by perusing eBay's own list of what's selling well.
Understand the fees
While it's easy to enter the world of eBay sellers, sales involve fees and you'd do well to balance them against earnings, according to NLA, which offers an eBay fee calculator that allows you to compare which listing formats and categories have the lowest fees, and how much each listing upgrade will deduct from your bottom line.
Avoid the scams
You might be surprised to learn that plenty of the scams that surround eBay sales affect sellers. "Many of the scams take advantage of sellers not knowing all the rules for safe trading on eBay," NLA said. "It is very important for a seller to completely understand PayPal's seller protection program." One scam involves a buyer using PayPal, waiting for the item to be delivered and then opening a dispute with PayPal if you didn't check "delivery confirmation."
If you don't use PayPal's "signature confirmation" option to sell higher-priced goods on eBay, a scammer might open a dispute with PayPal claiming the item wasn't received. "Unable to show proof of delivery, PayPal takes the funds out of the seller's account and returns it to the scammer," NLA noted. The blog outlines other potential scams and ways to avoid them, including credit card chargeback, fake money order and "you have been chosen to sell our products" scams.
Optimize your title
Your title, not the item description, drives search results. Include critical keywords, using a search of keywords for similar completed listings to guide you. Try to include the same keywords as the listings that sold for the highest price. Avoid words like "look" or "incredible" in your title, advised NLA, since no one uses those words to search. If you have a few words leftover in your title, consider adding a common misspelling of the primary keyword to catch the eye both of bad spellers and bargain hunters who search using commonly misspelled listings.
Emma Drew, who blogs about money on EmmaDrew.info, said you should include terms you would use when searching for something on eBay. (Be sure to check out her "10 weird things that actually sold on eBay" post each month.)
Spell it right
Most people can't find listings with the primary keyword spelled wrong. That means fewer bidders.
Take great photos
A picture may not be worth the proverbial thousand words on eBay, but it's pretty close. eBay itself recommends these tactics in its section on taking great pictures:
List on Thursday nights
It is common knowledge that eBay auctions ending on Sunday evening are the most profitable and popular, noted Drew, and listing for 10 days on a Thursday gives you two Sunday nights.
Allow international buyers
"Every bid counts, even if it comes from the other side of the world," according to NLA. "Odds are they won't win the auction, so why not let them bid?" If an international buyer does win your auction, you are able to charge a separate handling fee to compensate for your time filling out the customs form. You'll also want to make it a policy to insure all international packages.
Don't try to profit from shipping charges
If your shipping rates are unreasonable, most buyers will be on to you in a flash, according to NLA. "People know that they are being ripped off and they will leave your auction and not return. Charge a reasonable handling fee."
Resist the urge to end an auction early
If someone e-mails you with an offer that requires you to end your auction early, don't take it, NLA urged. Even the best early offers are usually just a fraction of what your item is really worth.