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Published: Wednesday, December 06, 2017 @ 3:21 PM
When you’re struggling to get ahead, the idea of getting control of your money — and having confidence in your financial decision-making — can be pretty intimidating.
It may even seem impossible — especially if you’ve never learned much, if anything, about personal finance. Were talking budgeting, saving, handling credit cards, paying off debt, money mistakes to avoid (the list goes on and on…).
I’m not going tell you that getting on top of your finances is easy.
Taking control of your budget requires determination, desire and a good bit of flexibility — and there will be setbacks.
But here’s the good news: It IS possible!
Changing your life and getting on the path to financial freedom ultimately makes every single step along the way totally worth it.
With a solid timeline and a list of goals to achieve, you may find that you’re capable of being much more disciplined that you thought!
The idea is to challenge yourself — make it a priority to focus on taking specific steps over the next few weeks to get your money back on track. The hardest part is just deciding to do it, because once you start making changes, you’ll become more motivated and more empowered with every new step you take.
It all starts with changing your mindset.
Getting control of your money is not about taking things away — it’s about adding freedoms to your life — both now and down the road.
A lot of people ignore their financial problems, or their finances in general, because they know they can’t afford to fix everything at once — or they simply just don’t know where to start.
So instead of trying to change everything all at once, start with small steps — small changes and milestones that will get you, and keep you, on the right track.
Making just a few smarter decisions each day can have a big impact on your future, because each step you take will give you more motivation to keep going. And it won’t take long for you to begin to see how all of those small steps are adding up to big progress!
To help you get started, we’ve rounded up a list of some easy things you can do each day to get your financial life back on track! So print this out and start checking items off the list — and before you know it, you’ll have a whole new outlook on not just your money, but your life!
When you know what you’re working toward, budgeting, saving and making changes to your lifestyle become a whole lot easier.
A lot of people don’t realize they can lower their existing monthly bills just by doing a little negotiating. Many people can even get their credit card interest rate lowered — just by asking!
Log on to your 401(k) or other retirement account online and increase the amount you’re contributing each year. A boost of just 1% is probably small enough that you won’t even notice the money gone when you get your next paycheck. And even just an extra 1% can add up to a lot of extra savings over time!
If you can’t do it online, make a note to call your plan provider tomorrow!
The best way to start saving more money is to make it automatic. By giving every dollar a purpose, you can avoid reaching the end of the month and having no clue where all your money went — including the money you intended to save.
Figure out how much money you can realistically save each month, after covering all your bills and other expenses, and then set up your direct deposit to have that amount sent directly to savings. That way you won’t be tempted to spend it, and if you absolutely need the money, you can access it pretty easily.
RELATED: How to maximize your savings
Many people don’t check their credit reports because they either don’t realize it’s a big deal or they don’t want to face what’s in it. Bad idea! The only way to improve your financial life is to know what’s going with it, so you can take steps to get back on track. Here’s why:
2. Old bills you never knew about or forgot about
At AnnualCreditReport.com , you can get a free copy of each of your credit reports once each year. In just a couple minutes, you can see everything that’s going on with your credit. But you can only do this once a year, because doing so more than once per year will ding your credit and cause your score to drop.
You can also monitor your credit for free with a service called Credit Karma, which pulls in your information and gives you a good idea of what’s going on with all your finances and anything that impacts your credit.
The average U.S. household is carrying more than $15,000 in credit card debt, according to a study by NerdWallet. And as that debt rolls over each month, the total amount owed continues to increase — sometimes by quite a lot each month — depending on the credit card’s interest rate.
Think about your situation: do you have any credit card debt or student loans hanging over your head? Those debt obligations can be big obstacles keeping you from reaching your financial goals. So the quicker you get it paid off, the quicker you will be able to truly start building wealth.
One thing you can do today is make just one extra payment toward a debt. While you may not be able to pay off the entire balance today, every little bit helps. Skip a splurge this week and use that money to pay extra toward your credit card bill or student loan debt. Put the extra money toward whichever debt has the highest interest rate — as that’s the debt that will end up costing you more money over time (the longer it sits there accruing interest, the more you’ll owe).
Paying an extra $100 toward debt, instead of wasting it on something you don’t need, will be more beneficial to your long-term financial goals by allowing you to become debt free sooner in life. Plus, the more you start to pay down debt, the quicker you’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel of getting it paid off.
If you have a big credit card bill that’s slamming you with high interest fees every month, transferring the balance could save you hundreds of dollars. By allowing you to transfer the debt to a credit card with 0% APR (annual percentage rate) for a certain number of months, these types of offers can help you pay off your debt in a timely manner — without having to pay interest.
So if you have a credit card with a high interest rate, check out this list of great balance transfer options.
Once you transfer the debt, your payments will go a lot further without the high interest — which will cost you less money in the long run and also allow you to get it paid off quicker.
Unclaimed money from bank accounts, insurance policies, rental and utility deposits, safe deposit boxes and other places could be hanging out there somewhere in your name. All you need to know is how to check and collect it without paying any fees.
It’s particularly easy if you have a unique last name. Simply go to MissingMoney.com and punch in your name to do a database search of available unclaimed funds across all states. With one click of your mouse, you can cover the entire spectrum of what’s available.
Please note that not every single state participates. If you live in a state that doesn’t participate with this free site, there’s one more option for you: Unclaimed.org. This website is a clearinghouse for the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators.
Also, if you ever had an FHA home loan, HUD may be sitting on refund money for you. Go to HUD.gov and see if you’re in their refund database.
Many people don’t realize that a big chunk —often the majority — of their monthly payments are probably going toward interest, depending on the interest rate and other factors (we’ll get to that). So even by paying hundreds of dollars each month, you may not even be making a dent in the total cost of your debt.
Student loan refinancing can be a great way to reduce your payments and decrease the total cost of your debt — while shrinking the time it takes to get it all paid off.
It may be a pain, but taking a few minutes to sit down and shop around can end up saving you big bucks! Here’s where to look and how to start shopping for a better deal.
By making some basic tweaks around the house – like replacing your light bulbs – you can save a ton of money on your monthly bills! Here are 10 ways to get started.
For anything you buy today, find a coupon, a promo code or maybe an alternative option — whatever you do, just don’t pay full price! Once you start to realize all the different ways you save on things, you’ll rarely have to pay full price!
If you don’t check your statements daily, there could be fraudulent charges on your account without you even realizing it. Plus, it’s a good way to keep an eye on your spending and recognize any expenses you can cut!
The easier your passwords are to hack, the easier it is for criminals to get their hands on your personal information — including your bank account. Each little piece of information that a scammer has about you can help them get access to your accounts.
A recent survey found that most people are paying about twice as much as they have to each month for cell phone service. Why? Because they don’t make the effort to look for a cheaper plan.
You may be able to get the exact same place, or at least pretty close, for less money. Check out our guide to the best cell phone plans and deals here .
There are some great apps available that now allow you to start investing with just a few bucks! Here’s a list of some of the best ones to consider.
If you aren’t giving every dollar a purpose, you are very likely wasting a lot more money than you realize.
Creating a budget will help you keep your spending on track. If you already have one, then take a good hard look at each area of spending and see if there are any categories where you can cut costs, which will free up more money for savings.
Check out our step-by-step guide on creating a budget that works for you.
Making a mental note is not an efficient way to track your spending. If you want to actually stick to a budget, you need to track every dollar that comes in and every dollar that goes out.
And it can be a lot easier than it sounds. In fact, there are tons of apps that will do it for you. You can even get updates on your progress throughout the month — like if you get close to going over budget or get closer to paying off a debt!
There are so many fees out there these days, there’s likely at least one in your life that you can eliminate.
Investment fees: Do you know what you’re paying in investment fees? If you don’t, you need to find out — because a difference of just 1% can save you (or cost you) up to tens of thousands of dollars over time — maybe even more. Here’s a look at some low-cost investment options.
Checking account fees: How much are you paying in fees for your checking account? If it adds up to more than $0, consider these cheaper alternatives.
ATM fees: Do a quick search online or check your online bank account to find the nearest fee-free ATM in your area.
I take a list with me every time I go to the store — because if I don’t, I’ll forget the things I need and end up with a basket full of all the random things the grocery stores tempt you with throughout the whole place.
If you have a list, it’s a lot easier to avoid spending extra money. And these apps make it easy for you.
According to a recent survey, more than 40% of Americans either experienced a major unexpected expense over the past 12 months or had an immediate family member who did. And if you aren’t ready for it, you could be facing major financial damage for years over just one bill.
But there’s one very easy solution that will minimize any potential damage — prepare for it!
The best way to save for unexpected financial shocks is to have two separate emergency funds: a rainy day fund and a bigger emergency fund.
If you’re starting from scratch, these goals may seem impossible — but you can get there! At the very least, start by saving $1 a day — and then increase that amount as you can.
The best way to approach saving is to start with baby steps and then build up from there. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to get started.
If you buy everything at the same store, chances are you’re paying way more than you have to on groceries.
You can save more than 30% simply by changing your routine. Check out non-traditional grocery stores like warehouse clubs, dollar stores, Aldi and Walmart for big savings on food and other items you frequently buy at the grocery store (at a higher price).
There are so many ways for pretty much anyone to make extra cash — whether it’s online or in your area.
Check out this list of 35 easy ways to make cash on the side.
When it comes to monthly bills and companies you do business with, more often than not, you can negotiate a better — and cheaper — deal. The problem is most people don’t even ask, so they continue paying for something they could very likely get for less.
According to a survey by CreditCards.com, nearly 90% of U.S. credit card holders who asked to have a late fee waived had their request granted. On top of that, 78% of those who asked for an interest rate reduction were successful in getting that request granted.
Bottom line: There’s no harm in asking! So make the call and see what you can get!
Look for recurring costs that you don’t need or use and cancel them immediately. It’s easy to overlook small charges each month, but over time, they could be costing you a big chunk of cash.
Also look for little expenses you can cut out or reduce — coffee, online shopping etc.
Organizing your home can help relieve stress and get you into a better overall routine. Go through your clothes, electronics, old books and other items that you no longer use or need, and then sell what you can and donate the rest.
You may have built up some rewards without even realizing it! From cash back to airline miles, check your credit card rewards to see if there are any savings opportunities you can take advantage of.
If you’re having a hard time controlling your spending, try using cash. Split up your paycheck for each area of the budget and put the cash in separate envelopes. That will force you to budget based on the amount of cash you have left, rather than just swiping a card and continuing to overspend.
Important note: Once you budget out what you need for the month (or two weeks, depending on how you split up your paychecks), figure out how much extra money you have left to save. Then set up your direct deposit to send that amount directly into savings before it shows up in your account — if you don’t see it, you can’t spend it!
Take a week and plan out your meals and anything else you may need. Then put the cards, cash, mobile wallet and any other spending mechanism away — and don’t spend a penny for a full week. You may be surprised by all the little things you’re used to buying that you don’t really need!
There are tons of free apps out there that can save you money — apps that offer instant deals and coupons for grocery stores and drugstores, and even some that actually pay you cash back just for shopping (to help you save, not spend more!).
There are so many things you’ve become accustomed to paying for that you can actually get much cheaper or even free!
A few examples: Garden supplies, books, online courses, health care freebies and more. See the full list of easy ways to valuable things for free.
If you want to get your money in order — both for the short-term and the long-term — take a look at all of your monthly subscriptions and figure out which ones you don’t really need. Cut at least one. Then next week or next month, cut another one. After a few months, you’ll start to see the difference in your accounts, allowing you to save more and develop better budgeting habits over time.
Here are a few examples of subscriptions you may be able to live without:
Here’s a 12-week savings challenge that will leave you with an extra $1,000 in your pocket by the end!
We recently asked our fans on Facebook about the most extreme or unique thing they’ve ever done to save money. And while some of the responses were even a little too extreme for us, there were plenty of great ideas! For example, any time you get a $5 bill in change, put it away in a savings jar until the end of the year — or some other specific date you set for yourself, when you can use the money to pay off a bill or put toward a vacation.
From party supplies, clothing and socks, to cleaning supplies and household products. The dollar stores can save you big bucks on a variety of things you buy all the time! Here are a few examples:
According to a recent survey, among households with annual incomes of $75,000 or more, one-third live paycheck to paycheck, and 44% said lifestyle purchases, such as dining out and entertainment, were big hindrances to saving. Among millennials bringing home $75,000 or more, 71% confessed these expenses were stealing their savings.
Get into the habit of cooking at home more. The more you do it, the more you’ll save. Plus, a recent study found that eating at home will help you lose weight, too.
Getting a will in place is one of the most crucial aspects of financial planning, but for whatever reason, most people don’t do it.
A new study found that 58% of adults say they don’t have a will in place. On top of that, 64% of parents with kids under the age of 18 have no formal estate plan at all.
If you don’t have children and have very little in the way of assets, that may be OK for you. But in pretty much any other situation, having a will is critical.
If you have children, you need a will for the simple fact that if you don’t have one, the state would decide who raises your kids if something were to happen to you. If there’s no document with written directive from you, that’s just how it goes.
If you don’t have kids but you are married — and don’t have a will in place — the state would decide how your money is allocated if something were to happen to you.
The same holds true if you and a partner are living together and aren’t married. In many cases, your partner will not be considered to inherit your estate unless you put it in writing.
Automatic bill-pay can catch you off guard if you’re still trying to get control of your monthly budget. But you definitely do not want to ever pay a bill late — as late payments have a significant impact on your credit.
So to avoid overdrafting your accounts, just set reminders for yourself on your phone, tablet, calendar or wherever, for when each of your bills are due. And when that reminder pops up, pay the bill immediately so you don’t forget! If you tend to be forgetful or a little unorganized, check out these 6 tips to help you keep your money on track.
Criminals are finding new ways to con people out of money every day, and they’re using our everyday activities to try to catch us off guard — including social media, text messages, emails, phone calls and pretty much every other method of communication.
Any time you log in to any online account, whether it’s Amazon, your bank account or some other site that stores your personal information, criminals could be watching without you even realizing it. And any piece of information they can pick up about you could help give them access to what they’re really after — your money.
So it’s important to text extra steps to protect your information online and the information you access on your devices — and many sites now offer two-factor authentication to add in another layer of security.
Two-factor authentication (sometimes called two-step authentication) requires you to take an extra step to authenticate who you are when you sign in or when you are doing a transaction. It’s sometimes also referred to as two-step authentication.
The extra step just depends on the company or website, so it could be a unique code that’s texted to your cell phone or a unique password you have to give when authorizing anything over the phone. Whatever the extra step is, opt in for it! It’s another layer off security for you and your money! Here’s more on how it works and how to set it up.
By investing a little extra money now on certain things, you can reduce a lot of extra expenses in your life — and save yourself some serious cash down the road.
Published: Wednesday, December 13, 2017 @ 10:32 AM
— It's that time of year again when parents and college or college-bound students fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).
The idea of wading through a form – especially one that requires financial information – is definitely not an appealing idea, but the FAFSA could be a tremendous help in getting your student money to attend college.
The following points are what you need to know, as well as common mistakes to avoid when filling out the FAFSA.
Fill it out – you have nothing to lose.
You may think that you don't need to fill out the FAFSA, especially if you believe you might not qualify for need-based aid. But there's no income cut-off point with federal student aid, according to the U.S. Department of Education. In addition, the FAFSA can help you qualify for all kinds of grants, loans and scholarships, including those offered by your state, school or private organizations.
By investing a few minutes of time, you could reap thousands of dollars in potential rewards.
Submit it ASAP.
The sooner you submit your FAFSA, the better, according to consumer adviser Clark Howard. Although the federal deadline isn't until June 30, 2018, you should check with the financial aid administrator at colleges you're interested in to make sure their deadlines aren't earlier.
Submitting earlier will help you plan how you'll pay for college. You'll also have a better chance of getting as much aid or scholarship money as possible since some colleges distribute their available money on a first-come, first-serve basis, Howard says.
Gather the information you'll need.
The FAFSA asks questions about the student as well as his or her parents if the student is a dependent.
You'll need the following information on hand as you fill out the FAFSA:
Watch out for common mistakes.
The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators points out some common mistakes that can delay your form's submission or cause you to not get the aid and scholarships you might qualify for. They include the following:
Keep an eye out for requests for more information.
Your FAFSA may be selected for verification, which means you'll have to provide some additional or supporting information, U.S. News & World Report explains. This process doesn't necessarily mean you've done anything wrong. You may have a discrepancy or mistake on your form, but some FAFSAs are just randomly selected for verification (lucky you!).
Published: Wednesday, November 22, 2017 @ 12:01 PM
— With the recent massive security breach of Equifax — one of the three credit bureaus with which many may have thought their private information was safer than most — now many people are dealing with more insecurities, wondering where they can entrust their private information, if anywhere.
Here are some options:
Better and cheaper than credit monitoring, an option for optimal security is freezing your credit through each of the three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion), according to WSB money expert Clark Howard at Clark.com.
The fee is $3 to $10 per person per bureau, depending on your state, to allow you to seal your credit reports — except now it's free with Equifax from here on out due to the recent data breach.
You will be provided with a personal identification number (PIN) that only you know and can be used to temporarily unfreeze (or "thaw") your credit when legitimate applications for credit and services need to be processed such as when you are buying a car.
This added layer of security means thieves can't establish new credit in your name even if they are able to obtain your personal information.
LifeLock vs. CreditKarma.com
While LifeLock advertises it can help consumers secure their information to guard against identity theft, LifeLock charges monthly services that start at $10 a month.
This kind of credit monitoring is not the same or as effective as a credit freeze, said Craig Johnson for Clark.com.
Instead, he recommends CreditKarma.com for free credit monitoring.
If you haven't already frozen your credit, now would be the time since Equifax recently got hacked and the information of possibly 145.5 million people was attained by these hackers.
Information accessed primarily includes names, social security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver's license numbers.
To try to compensate, Equifax is offering free identity theft protection and credit file monitoring (but only through Jan. 31, 2018) with its TrustedID Premier.
Another point of confusion is the unsolicited free Dark Web Email Scan offered by Experian to your email, leading to a monthly fee for further scanning.
Experian IdentityWorks also offers a free 30-day trial membership for identity theft protection and resolution, involving a monthly automatic deduction of $9.99 for the plus plan or $19.99 for the premium plan.
It's free to cancel within the 30-day trial period, but the consequences are not revealed up front for those who decide to cancel their membership once the monthly fees begin.
Published: Friday, November 17, 2017 @ 4:17 PM
— Your house is a large expense with many associated costs like a mortgage payment, insurance, maintenance and more.
It provides a roof over your head, of course, but since it usually costs you money each month, why not put it to work for you and earn some cash in the process?
The following are four ways your house can make you money:
List your home with Airbnb or VRBO.
If you're planning to be out of town for a few days or don't mind bunking with a friend, you may be able to make some money by renting out your home through sites like Airbnb and VRBO.
Before jumping in, you'll need to take time to learn about the market, your expenses and any taxes you may need to pay. And before you list your property, you'll need to understand how to make it stand out with a good listing, including compelling photos and competitive pricing. Airbnb has a series of toolkits to help with this.
Rent it out to the area's growing TV and film industry.
When TV, film and commercial producers want to depict a home on screen, many times they'll rent the real thing, according to Money. It can be inconvenient for owners, however, since their homes may be taken over by a large crew and be completely rearranged.
On the other hand, homeowners often have fun with the experience while making some extra money. And while you're watching TV or a movie, you may be able to spot your home.
Host a foreign exchange student or faculty member.
Temporarily hosting a foreign exchange student or faculty member who's studying or teaching in this country can help you make some extra cash for anywhere from six weeks to six months at a time. You'll also be exposed to a different culture and language, and the experience could help you form a bond that lasts even when your guest returns home.
The Penny Hoarder suggests contacting student housing offices at local community colleges and universities, asking to be placed on their list of host families. After this, you'll have to apply, be interviewed, and allow your home to be toured. You'll also need to pass background and reference checks.
Rent out your driveway or storage space.
If you have extra space in your driveway, you may be able to make some money by letting others park there, according to Men's Health. This is especially true if you live near a commuter rail line or sports stadium, but you'll need to check to make sure you're not violating any local ordinances. Check out websites like JustPark to get started.
Published: Tuesday, November 14, 2017 @ 3:15 PM
— Health insurance has a large impact on your finances, so it pays to get the most out of your plan.
Understanding its ins and outs can be confusing, but it's worth your time to check on benefits you could be losing out on or mistakes that could cost you money.
Choose your plan carefully.
When it's time to renew your health care coverage, consumer adviser Clark Howard recommends not just blindly signing up for your current plan, even if you've been happy with it.
Your plan – as well as other options you may be able to sign up for – may have changed. Take a close look at the co-pays, deductibles, in-network providers and other specifics to make sure you're making the best possible choice.
Take advantage of preventative care benefits.
Almost every plan, according to healthcare.gov, offers preventative care benefits that are free. You won't have to pay a co-pay or meet your deductible to get these services at no charge.
Services for adults include age-appropriate vaccinations and colorectal cancer screenings for patients over 50.
Work within your formulary.
Health care plans typically have a formulary, which is a list of medications that they're willing to pay part of or the entire cost of. It may include a list of preferred medications, for which it will pay the highest percentage of the cost.
It pays to be familiar with your formulary before you get an unpleasant surprise at the pharmacy, according to NerdWallet. Print out a copy of the document from your health insurance company's website, or call up an online copy at your doctor's office. Your doctor can work with you to make sure you get an effective medication that you can afford.
Utilize HSAs and FSAs.
If your health insurance plans allow you to put aside tax-free dollars in a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flexible Spending Account (FSA), you should learn how they can help you. Consumer advisor Clark Howard's website, Clark.com, has a chart that explains the pros and cons of each.
An HSA is usually associated with high-deductible plans, and like an FSA, it helps you save money to pay for health care expenses. These can include everything from prescription eyeglasses to medication.
Watch out for surprise out-of-network charges.
Your insurance plan has a list of network providers, and when you can, you should stay in-network. That's easy enough if you're visiting a single doctor, but if you need to have surgery, things can get more complicated.
For pre-planned surgery, Consumer Reports recommends talking with your doctor's billing department to get a list of everyone who will provide your care, including radiologists and anesthesiologists. Call your health care company to see if they're in-network, and if not, ask your doctor if in-network providers can be used.