Tag: Financial Education

 

3 Ways to Get Out of Student Loan Default

If you’ve missed student loan payments and are in default, you know how horrible it is. Your credit score may be wrecked. Your loan servicer can garnish your wages. You may even be dealing with collection agencies. 

There’s no escaping the negative ramifications for not paying back your student loans – even if you switch banks. 

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and defeated if you’re in default. Yet, you’re not alone. Student loan debt has become a national epidemic. According to the U.S. Department of Education, over 530,000 borrowers entered into default between October 2014 and September 2017. 

If you’re in student loan default, here’s what you need to know to get back on track and improve your finances.  

What is student loan default?

Student loan default is an official loan status that occurs when you miss a certain amount of payments. According to Federal Student Aid, your federal loans are in default once you miss your scheduled loan payments for 270 days or more. With private student loans, you’re in default as soon as you miss three months’ worth of payments. 

Entering into default is a serious problem. Take a look at what can happen

  • Lenders can garnish your wages, making it difficult to make ends meet.
  • The default will stay on your credit report for up to seven years. And, with a damaged credit report, you may have trouble getting approved for a car loan or a mortgage.
  • Late fees and interest will accrue, causing your loan balance to balloon.
  • Your professional license could be suspended, hurting your chances of finding work.

Three ways to end student loan default

If you have federal or private student loans in default, you have three options: 

1. Student loan rehabilitation

If you have federal student loans, one option to consider is student loan rehabilitation. With this approach, you work with your loan servicer to come up with a written agreement where you pledge to make nine voluntary and affordable monthly payments during a period of 10 consecutive months. 

Loan rehabilitation has several benefits. After completing the nine payments:

  • Your loans will no longer be in default.
  • The loan servicer will remove the record of default from your credit report.
  • Your loan holder will no longer garnish your wages or seize your tax refund. 
  • You’ll regain eligibility for benefits like loan deferment or forbearance and access to income-driven repayment plans.
  • You’ll be able to qualify for additional federal student aid.

Your payment is determined by your loan servicer, but it will be equal to 15 percent of your discretionary annual income, divided by 12. Your discretionary income is the amount of your adjusted gross income that exceeds 150 percent of the poverty guideline for your state and family size. Under a loan rehabilitation agreement, your payment could be substantially lower than it was under a standard repayment plan. 

For example, let’s say you’re single, live in one of the 48 contiguous states, and make $30,000 per year. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the federal poverty guideline for you is $12,490. 

Your discretionary income is calculated by subtracting 150 percent of the poverty guideline — $18,735 — from your income. You’d subtract $18,735 from your income of $30,000 to get $11,265. 

Your payment under a loan rehabilitation agreement would be 15 percent of your annual discretionary income, divided by 12. To calculate your payment, you’d take 15 percent of $11,265, which is $1,689.75. Divide that number by 12 to get your monthly payment: $140.81. 

If you can’t afford the payment because of extenuating circumstances — such as higher than usual medical bills or housing expenses — you may be able to negotiate a lower payment. You’ll have to provide the loan servicer with documentation about your income and expenses. They’ll use that information to calculate a new payment after subtracting your necessary expenses from your income. 

If you decide that loan rehabilitation is right for you, contact your loan servicer directly to start the process. 

2. Federal loan consolidation

Another option to get out of loan default is federal loan consolidation. With this strategy, you consolidate your defaulted federal loans with a Direct Consolidation Loan. 

To qualify for loan consolidation for defaulted loans, you must agree to repay the new loan under an income-driven repayment plan and make three consecutive, voluntary, on-time monthly payments before you can consolidate. 

Once you consolidate your loan, your loan is no longer considered to be in default. You’ll regain eligibility for federal benefits like forbearance, deferment, and additional student aid. However, consolidating your debt doesn’t remove the record of the default from your credit report. 

While consolidation can be an effective strategy, it won’t work for everyone. If your defaulted loan is being collected through wage garnishment or in accordance with a court order, you can’t consolidate your loans until the wage garnishment order or the judgment is lifted. 

3. Student loan refinancing

If you have private student loans, you can’t qualify for loan rehabilitation or loan consolidation. Instead, your options are limited. 

In most cases, the only way to get out of default is to pay off your loan in full. But if you’re in default, you likely don’t have enough money in the bank to do that. This doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. It just means you may have to consider student loan refinancing. 

With student loan refinancing, you work with a private lender to take out a loan for the amount of your current debt, including the loans in default. You use the new loan to pay off the old ones, instantly ending the default. If your loans were in collections, all collections activity will end, and the lender will no longer be able to garnish your wages. 

However, there are some downsides to consider. Since your loans were in default, your credit score likely went down. This means you may not qualify for a refinancing loan on your own. 

Yet, you may get approved for a loan if you have a co-signer — a friend or relative with excellent credit and a steady income who signs the loan application with you. Because having a co-signer lessens the risk to the lender, you’re more likely to be approved. Keep in mind that if you fall behind on your payments, the co-signer is responsible for making them. 

Repaying your student loans

If your student loans are in default, your situation is serious. 

However, there are strategies you can use to get out of default and get your finances back on track. By following these tips, you can end the default and start saving money

 

6 Things You Should Know About Financial Freedom: A Proven Path to all the Money You’ll Ever Need

When you think of financial independence, you probably think about people who got rich starting a business, or saved every dime and never had any fun.

Truth be told: There is a way to enjoy your pumpkin spice latte and avocado toast – and still retire early. Take Grant Sabatier. A practicing Buddhist and millennial, Sabatier had a paltry $2.26 in his bank account (plus $20,000 in credit card debt) when he was 24. Yet, in only five years, he grew his pennies to more than $1.25 million. Through his website, Millennial Money, and recent book, Financial Freedom: A Proven Path to All the Money You’ll Ever Need, he now shares his wisdom with the universe. 

While Sabatier’s book is primarily focused on how to achieve FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early), he also offers up tips for growing your money. 

Whether you’re aspiring to be part of the work optional set, or want to bulk up your savings account, here are 6 ways you can build your wealth:  

It’s about your daily habits

Your daily habits are key to building wealth. The average person spends 2,000 hours a year working and earning money. Yet, all it takes, according to Sabatier, is about five minutes a day to manage your money. 

And, when this becomes a part of your daily routine, it’s much easier to control your emotions and get comfortable with risk. This, in turn, will help you make better money decisions.

“While it might take some time to build a new habit, the lifetime impact of small daily decisions and habits can be massive,” says Sabatier.

For instance, something as small as checking the balance of your bank account through a bank app each day can help keep your finances in good shape. 

Other quick and easy things you can do each day? You can see how much you spent yesterday and how much you’ve spent this month. You can also keep tabs on how much you’ve earned from all your income streams to determine if you’re on track with your savings goals. You can also check your credit card and bank accounts to make sure you aren’t dinged with fees and there’s no suspicious activity. (If you’re a Chime Bank member, you’ll never be hit with fees. Never ever.) 

Maximize the potential of income, savings, and expenses 

If you want to grow your money quickly, you should consider maximizing your three “levers:” income, savings, and expenses. 

For example, if you cut back on your living expenses and earn more at the same time, you’ll have more money to save and invest. 

Skip the budget

Most people find budgeting to be tedious, time-consuming, and hard to maintain. To this end, Sabatier says budgets that make you feel deprived and guilty about your spending habits can backfire. Instead, he recommends focusing on lowering your top three major expenses instead — housing, food, and transportation. 

You can reasonably boost your savings rate by 25% (savings rate equals the percentage of your income you’re saving) by finding a cheaper place to live, getting roommates, or saving on transportation by buying a used car. You can also save money on food by growing your own veggies, bartering with your neighbors, or bulking grocery staples in bulk.  

Focus on the future value of a purchase 

That $20,000 you spent on a new car will cost you more than just $20,000. As Sabatier explains, if your hourly wage at your day job breaks down to $20 an hour, that car not only costs you 1,000 hours of your time, but also the future value of that money should you invest it. Using this calculator, if you earn an average of a seven percent return (compounded daily) on that $20,000, in 10 years you’ll have $40,272.35. In 20 years you’ll have a cool $81,093.11. 

Combine and maximize ways to make money

Sabatier lists four major ways to earn a buck: working for someone else at a full-time job; side hustling; entrepreneurship; and investing. And, if you combine different ways to make money, you’ll earn money faster while you have a fall-back income stream. 

For instance, if you have a day job and also a side hustle, and you get laid off, you still can depend on your side hustle. If you have a day job, you can also  “hack the 9 to 5” by making the most of your benefits, such as getting the full employer match on your 401(k) or asking for what you are truly worth. 

Here’s another example: If own your own business but also invest in real estate, you’ll have your investments to fall back on if your business has a few slow months. 

Automation is just the beginning

While “setting it and forgetting it” doesn’t take a lot of effort, automating your savings is just the beginning. Sabatier points out that in order to boost the amount you save to fast-track your wealth, you’ll need to put in the work to bump that savings amount from five percent to 10 percent, or from $100 to $200 a month. This takes serious work and dedication. 

If you don’t have a ton to start with, start small and go from there. It’s helpful to break up your savings goals to see how much you’ll need to save monthly, weekly, or daily. For instance, if you want to save $5,000 in six months, you’ll need to save about $834 a month, $195 per week, or $28 a day. 

Make the most of your time

As you learned from Sabatier’s tips here, we all have the potential to make more money. And, by adopting an enterprise mindset, you can build wealth even faster than you thought possible. Ready to jump in? 

 

Recommended Budget Category Percentages

We all know how beneficial a budget can be. 

For starters: A budget outlines your spending plan so you know exactly how much money goes toward each expense. Budgets are also extremely helpful when trying to decide how much you have available to save and how much money you can put toward paying off your debt. 

At the same time, there are many different ways to budget. One of the most common budgeting strategies I recommend is to set up budget category percentages. For example, a common rule of thumb is that housing costs shouldn’t exceed 30% of your income. What about the rest of your budget categories? Luckily, they can be broken down by percentages as well. 

Read on to learn more about creating percentage categories for your budget. 

Start with the Basics

If you’re new to budgeting, using the 50/30/20 approach is a great starting point. 

With the 50/30/20 budget, you allocate 50% of your income toward living expenses and necessities, 30% toward wants, and 20% toward debt and savings. 

Here’s how this would look. Say you bring home $3,000 each month. Under the 50/30/20 budgeting method, you’d put $1,500 toward living expenses and necessities, $900 to wants and variable expenses, and $600 toward debt and savings. 

While this method is super easy to use, it may not fit in with your particular goals. For example, you may want more wiggle room for your savings account

Get a Little More Specific

If you want to venture beyond the 50/30/20 budgeting method, you can get more specific and add additional percentages while breaking up your spending into more categories. 

Think about your goals and lifestyle. What do you value spending money on? How much are your core necessities? Do you have debt? What are your savings goals? 

Start tracking your spending to see what your current budget categories are. It can be eye-opening to see the percentage of your income that you spend on things like dining out, transportation, and even bills and insurance. 

So, think about setting your own budget percentages based on your preferred spending patterns and goals. With that in mind, here are our recommended budget category percentages that can help you get ahead. 

Basic Recommended Budget Category Percentages

Housing (mortgage and rent costs): 25% 

Utilities: 5%

Food: 10%

Transportation: 5%

Insurance (includes medical, auto, renter’s etc.): 15%

Personal (+ household expenses): 5%

Entertainment/Recreation: 10%

Charitable Giving: 10%

Savings/Debt: 15%

Here’s how this budget would break down if you bring home $3,000 each month:

Housing (mortgage and rent costs): $750

Utilities: $150

Food: $300

Transportation: $150

Insurance (includes medical, auto, renter’s etc.): $450

Personal (+ household expenses): $150

Entertainment/Recreation: $300

Charitable Giving: $300

Savings/Debt: $450

Keep in mind that these are pretty standard budget percentages if you want to have enough money to afford your needs and wants. As you can see from the example above, you still can’t afford to splurge on housing costs, but you’ll have plenty of money for groceries, dining out, giving, savings, and debt payments. 

Once you have your ideal budget in place, you can start allocating money to different expenses when you get paid

Aggressive Recommended Budget Category Percentages

While the basic recommended budget category percentages may work well, you may want to take it up a notch if you have some aggressive savings goals and are willing to live frugally. 

If you are looking to pay off debt quickly or save to meet an important goal, here are some budget category percentages you can try.

Housing (mortgage and rent costs): 20% 

Utilities: 5%

Food: 7%

Transportation: 3%

Insurance (includes medical, auto, renter’s etc.): 10%

Personal (+ household expenses): 5%

Entertainment/Recreation: 5%

Charitable Giving: 5-10%

Savings/Debt: 40%

Here’s how this budget would break down if you bring home $3,000 each month:

Housing: $600

For this amount, you’d likely have a roommate or rent a smaller apartment to keep housing costs low. If you own a home, you may also rent out a few rooms to offset your mortgage costs. 

Utilities: $150

If you have roommates, you can split the cost of utilities to save money. Perhaps you can use Chime’s Pay Friends to send fee-free mobile payments if you’re splitting bills. You can also limit your use of electricity during the day by turning off lights as well as reducing heating and cooling costs by using a programmable thermostat.

Food: $210

Although the amount is quite low, this may be enough for one or two people. If you cook most meals at home, take advantage of sales, and buy ingredients and whole foods instead of packaged food, you can make this budget work. 

Transportation: $90

While this amount is also low, perhaps you work close to home and can keep your fuel costs down. Or, maybe you can use alternative transportation like walking or cycling. 

Insurance: $300

For this amount, you likely shop around for the best insurance rates and drive an older car that doesn’t cost much to insure. You also receive benefits from your job which helps keep this category low.

Personal (+ household expenses): $150

This amount is just enough to buy basic needs and supplies for the house as well as some affordable personal care once or twice a month. 

Entertainment/Recreation: $150

Your dollars can be stretched with free local activities and experiences along with using coupons and deal sites to dine out. 

Charitable Giving: $150-$300

Although you’re determined to save and/or pay off more debt, this budget still allows for you give back to others in need. 

Savings/Debt: $1,200

Accelerated debt payments and savings contributions will allow you to hit your financial goals faster, even if you don’t have a large income. 

The Power of Budgeting

It’s quite possible to save more than $14,000 annually on a $40,000 salary with the aggressive recommended budget percentages above. 

Yet, regardless of whether you prefer an aggressive, basic or other type of budget, breaking up your spending categories by percentages is powerful. It shows you exactly where your money is going and how much of your income is used for certain expenses.  

Feel free to use this new perspective and play around with your own budget category percentages. This will help you determine where you spend and how much you can save. Are you ready to give it a try?

 

How to Ruin Your Credit in Your 20s

We all make some foolish decisions in our 20s — it’s pretty much a rite of passage. But while most of these choices will be forgotten a few days or weeks, the financial ones have a habit of sticking around.

In fact, when it comes to your credit, you can easily make mistakes that will haunt you for years, even decades. And, damaging your credit has some very real consequences: Low scores could make it harder to get an apartment, car loan, or mortgage. (Not sure if you’ve got a credit file yet? Checking your credit reports and FICO scores — which are the most widely-used type of credit score — is almost as easy as opening a free bank account.)

Right now, you’re in a powerful position: You can either build your credit slowly and responsibly, or you can ruin your credit for years to come. Here are the seven worst credit mistakes you can make in your 20s. Once you know what they are, you can hopefully steer clear!

1. Charge More Than You Can Afford

The first and most common step in ruining your credit is living above your means.

That’s what Clarrisa Lee, who blogs at Later-Means-Never, did in her 20s.

“I didn’t have a lot of money growing up,” she says.

“So when I got access to credit, it felt like I’d won the lottery and I could buy everything that my heart desired — which I did, and which has cost me for decades.”

Now in her 40s, Lee is still paying off the debt she incurred more than 20 years ago.

What to do instead: Use your credit card as a tool to build credit, and never as a loan. Only buy what you can afford to comfortably pay off each month. When you pay your statement balance in full, you’ll never owe interest — but when you only make the minimum payments, you can drown in debt.

Here’s an example of what can happen if you only make the minimum payments:

  • Say you charge $5,000 to your credit card at a 19% interest rate.
  • You can’t afford to pay off the $5,000 bill, so you only make the minimum payment of $200 per month.
  • It will take you almost 12 years to pay off your balance — and cost you more than $3,000 in interest.

2. Carry a Balance on Your Card

When Mike Pearson, founder of Credit Takeoff, was in his 20s, he believed a common credit myth: carrying a balance on his card would improve his scores.

“For the first several months of having my first credit card, I kept a small balance rolled over from month to month, because I stupidly thought it would boost my credit scores,” he says.

“This caused me to pay several hundred dollars in interest.”

What to do instead: Pay your statement balance in full each month. Carrying a balance doesn’t help your credit; it only leads to interest charges and a higher credit utilization ratio (which we’ll explain below).

3. Max Out Your Available Credit

Maxing out your cards is another surefire way to harm your credit. That’s because doing so increases your “credit utilization ratio” — or the percentage of available credit you’re using — a number that comprises 30% of your FICO scores.

“I thought I could get by just paying off the minimum, until one day I realized I was using over 75% of my credit line,” recalls Russ Nauta, owner of CreditCardReviews.com.

“My credit scores took a deep dive.”

Here’s how this can happen:

  • Card A has a $1,500 credit limit and balance of $1,250.
  • Card B has a $500 credit limit and balance of $250.
  • In total, you have $2,000 of available credit.
  • You’re using $1,500 of it (or 75%), which might make lenders think you’re struggling to pay your bills.

What to do instead: Only spend a small percentage of your available credit, and strive to pay your statement in full each month. While some experts recommend a maximum of 20% credit utilization, the truth is: the lower, the better.

4. Miss Credit Card Payments

So, you bought drinks for the whole bar, or splurged on some designer sneaks — and then realized you couldn’t afford to pay your bill. The biggest mistake you can make? Deleting your statements without looking at them, neglecting to even pay the minimums.

Since payment history is the single most important FICO factor, accounting for 35% of your scores, that’s like taking the fast lane to terrible credit.

Even if you know how detrimental missing payments is, you can still slip up. Just look at what happened to Self Lender CEO James Garvey when he went on his honeymoon in Argentina.

“One of my credit cards was not set up on autopay and the bill went unpaid for two months,” he says.

“As a result of my dumb mistake, my credit scores were damaged for years.”

What to do instead: Set up autopay for all your bills, then set a reminder to go over your finances once a week. Log into all of your accounts and mobile banking apps to A) check your charges and B) make sure your payments have successfully gone through.

While we strongly encourage you to pay your statement in full, you should always make at least the minimum payment to avoid late fees and credit damage.

5. Close Your Credit Cards

You’ve finally paid off a credit card, and you’re so excited to be debt-free that you immediately close your account. In doing so, you lower your “average age of accounts,” which makes up 15% of FICO scores. Womp womp.

“The biggest credit mistake we made in our early 20s was closing down credit cards we no longer used,” says Brittany Kline, co-owner of The Savvy Couple.

“Looking back we should have kept them open to grow our credit history.”

What to do instead: Although you’re welcome to cut up your credit card so you can’t use it anymore, don’t close the account — especially if it’s your first or only card. Keeping it open will maintain your average age of accounts, and if the card has a $0 balance, will also help lower your credit utilization ratio.

6. Ignore Your Student Loans

Even if you took out student loans when you were just 18 years old — barely an adult! — they still factor into your credit scores. And a quick way to harm your credit is to neglect the bills (as overwhelming as they may be).

Marketer Destinee Wright took out thousands of dollars in student loans to pay for college. After graduating, she let one of them fall into default — a move that ruined her credit for years to come.

“I’m still digging myself out of that hole,” she says.

What to do instead: If your payments are unaffordable, ask your servicer about income-driven repayment plans, which extend your repayment period and cap your payments at a certain percentage of your income. Although you’ll pay more interest, that’s infinitely better than defaulting on your loans and damaging your credit.

If you’re experiencing temporary financial hardship, you can also consider applying for deferment or forbearance, which will pause your student loan payments (but not your interest accrual for unsubsidized loans) for a certain amount of time.

7. Avoid Credit Entirely

The last way to ruin your credit might surprise you: It’s to never use credit at all. If you eschew credit cards or other loans entirely, you won’t establish a credit history, and lenders won’t know whether you’re a responsible borrower.

That will make it extremely difficult for you to get financing for purchases like a home or car.

What to do instead: If you want to build your credit over time, apply for a starter credit card that helps you build credit, and then do everything you can to pay your bills on time and in full. Alternatively, if you’ve already damaged your scores, consider getting a “secured” card specifically targeted at helping people rebuild their credit.

How to Not Ruin Your Credit: Proceed With Caution

Now that you know seven guaranteed ways to ruin your credit, we hope you’ll follow the alternative advice, and slowly build your credit up from the bottom up.

Remember: The important thing isn’t to avoid credit; it’s to use it responsibly. Take it from us thirtysomethings — and don’t repeat our mistakes!

 

Credit 101: The Basics You Need to Know

You’ve probably heard the term credit. You may already know that this is an important part of building a solid financial future. But no one ever seems to talk about the specifics. For starters, what exactly is credit and why is it so important?

In a nutshell, building a healthy and solid credit history is an important part of your financial health. Just like it’s important to save a portion of your income, improving your credit can help you rent an apartment and get approved for a loan.

Are you ready to learn more about credit? We’ve got you covered. Here’s everything you need to know to begin understanding credit.

What exactly is credit?

When you buy something with credit, this essentially means you’re purchasing it now with the promise to pay for it later. Two common types of credit include installment loans and revolving credit. Take a look at what these credit types mean here:

Installment loans

This is when you borrow a set amount of money and use it for a specific purpose, like a car loan, a student loan, or a mortgage. When you pay for something with installment credit, you’ll make equal monthly payments that include interest.

Revolving credit

This is when a lender gives you a line of credit – up to a certain limit – and you then borrow from that amount and pay it off over time or even in one lump sum if you can. A common type of credit line comes in the form of money you spend on your credit card. In this instance, a credit company will extend to you a certain amount of credit and you can spend up to that amount. Your payments each month will fluctuate based on how much you’ve borrowed.

How does a lender decide whether to loan you money?

Let’s say you decide that it’s time to buy a car. You don’t have the cash to pay for it, so you apply for a loan. Easy peasy, right?

Not so fast. Before you can typically borrow that money, a lender needs to feel comfortable that you’re actually going to repay the money. To do this, the lender will look at a number of factors. The most important criteria is your credit history.

Credit history, credit report, credit score. What do these all mean?

Your credit history reflects how you’ve spent money over a length of time.

This may include how many credit cards and loans you have and whether you’ve paid your bills on time. If you’ve been paying for almost everything in cash and you’ve never borrowed any money, you probably won’t have much of a credit history. If you do, it will be summarized on a credit report.

There are three credit reporting companies that keep tabs on your credit history: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian.

Lastly, a credit score is a number that is calculated based on your credit history. This three-digit figure indicates to a lender how likely you are to repay your debts. A higher credit score means you have a better credit history. A lower credit score means you have a bad credit history. Most of the time a lender will use your FICO credit score when deciding whether to lend to you. These scores range from 300-850.

If you don’t plan on borrowing money, should you really care about credit?

If you ever want to rent an apartment, get a cell phone plan, or buy a car, you’ll likely need good credit. Your landlord, utility company, or mobile phone carrier might check your credit. Your future employer might even check your credit.

Even if you don’t plan on borrowing money anytime soon, it’s still a good idea to build up your credit. You never know when you’re going to need it. For example, you might decide someday that you’d like to buy a house. If you have a solid credit history already in place, you’ll have a much easier time qualifying for a mortgage or any other type of loan.

Your credit history doesn’t only impact whether a lender will loan you money. It also impacts how much you pay in interest. Borrowers with a good credit history are considered less risky so lenders will usually offer them lower interest rates. And, lower rates can potentially save you thousands of dollars over time.

How does someone get a good credit score?

At a basic level, good credit comes from paying your bills and making your loan payments on time. But there are a few more things that go into it:

  • Don’t max out your credit. Lenders will want to see that you haven’t borrowed too much money. For example, if you have a credit card with a $10,000 credit limit, it’s a good idea to keep that balance as close to zero as possible. Experts advise keeping your balance below 30% of your credit limit. In this case, that would be $3,000.
  • Apply for credit only when you need it. Applying for multiple loans at once can signal to lenders that you’re having trouble with your money. So, try not to rush out and get a lot of credit cards at the same time.
  • Work on improving your credit history. The longer you’ve been building your credit, the better your score will be. Years of making on-time payments will show that you’re a trustworthy borrower.

How can I start building credit?

There’s a famous quote that says the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. If you haven’t started building your credit history yet, now’s the time to begin.

Start by getting a free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies. You can also request a free credit report each year by going to AnnualCreditReport.com. Once you have the report, start by checking the information and making sure it’s all correct. The report will also include recommendations on how to begin improving your credit.

If you don’t have any credit history and you need to begin building it, there are a few easy ways to get started:

  • Get a secured credit card: With a secured credit card, you make an upfront deposit, which is usually your credit limit. If you make a deposit of $1,000, for example, you’ll have a credit limit of $1,000. After that, it works like a regular credit card. You use it to make purchases and then make on-time payments to build your credit score.
  • Become an authorized user. Do you have a friend or family member that has good credit? He can add you to his credit card as an authorized user. The catch is that your friend will be on the hook to pay for anything you charge and if his credit declines, this can also negatively affect your credit score.
  •  Apply for a store card. It might be easier for you to qualify for a store credit card, one that you are only able to use while shopping at that particular company. Just be aware: Store credit cards often come with higher interest rates, so be sure to pay off your balance each month.

Understand Your Credit and Improve Your Financial Future

As you can see, building good credit is a long game. Yet, if you play the game right, you’ll be on your way to a healthy financial future.

 

What’s a Good Credit Score in Your 20s?

When you’re in your 20s, you’re just beginning your financial life.

This may mean getting your first big paycheck, applying for a new credit card, and managing your checking and savings accounts. Yet, another important aspect of your financial life in your 20s is building your credit and establishing a good credit score.

Your question now may be: What is a good credit score and why is this important? Read on to learn how a good credit score can help you when you’re in your 20s.

What is a credit score?

A credit score is a three-digit number that represents how creditworthy you are. In other words, this number tells lenders how likely you are to repay your loans and if you’re a responsible borrower.

There are many different types of credit scores but the most popular is the FICO credit score. The FICO credit score range is from 300-850. The lower the score, the worse your credit is. If your credit score is high, your credit is in good shape.

What is a good credit score?

Now that we’ve reviewed credit score basics, your next question may be: What constitutes a good credit score? According to credit bureau Experian, a good credit score is 700 or above.

But if you’re in your 20s and just starting out, a score of 700 or higher may be tough as you’re just establishing your credit history. In fact, according to Credit Karma, the average credit score for 18-24 year-olds is 630 and the average credit score for 25-30 year-olds is 628.

FICO has different categorizations for credit scores and a 630 is deemed as “fair”. A “good” credit score based on FICO’s criteria is 670-739, a “very good” score is 740-799 and an “exceptional” score is 800-850.

So, given the fact that the average credit score for people in their 20s is 630 and a “good” credit score is typically around 700, it’s safe to say a good credit score in your 20s is in the high 600s or low 700s.

Keep in mind that when you’re in your 20s, you’re still establishing your credit history and your credit score takes into account the length of your credit history. Only time can help that part, so if you maintain good financial habits, the hope is that your score will elevate as you get older.

Why is a good credit score important?

Let’s be real, your credit score can seem pretty arbitrary. But it’s nonetheless important when it comes to getting your first apartment or applying for your first credit card.

Why is this? Because your credit score can make or break whether you get approved for an apartment. It can also determine whether you get approved or denied for a credit card. It can even affect the interest rate you get. This is crucial to understand because, if you take out a loan, interest can cost you a lot of money over time. Even the difference between a few percentage points can potentially cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars in interest.

So, having a good credit score can help you save money, and help you get better interest rates.

How can you improve your credit score?

What if you don’t have a good credit score quite yet? Or, perhaps you want to maintain your good credit and keep it in good standing?

There are a few simple rules to live by to boost your credit. Take a look:

  • The most important rule is to make all your payments on time. Your payment history determines 35 percent of your credit score, so it has the biggest impact.
  • The second rule of thumb is to make sure your credit utilization makes up 30 percent of your score – or less. Your credit utilization is how much of your total credit you use. Maxing out your cards each month can signal the alarms for lenders and make you look like a risk.
  • Lastly, try not to open too many new lines of credit. Opening too many lines of credit in a short period of time can look risky to lenders and lower your credit score.

Take responsibility for your credit score

As you can see, taking action and being responsible in your 20s can help you build your credit over time. So, refer back to this guide and start improving your credit score now. And, just think: This will help you land that apartment, buy a new car or get your first rewards credit card.

Are you ready to improve your credit score in your 20s and start adulting?

 

8 Ways to Protect Your Personal Information While You’re Banking

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While banking security has certainly improved over the years, thieves, scammers and hackers still find ways to steal your personal information and gain access to your hard-earned funds.

In fact, according to a 2018 online survey by The Harris Poll, almost 60 million Americans have been affected by identity theft. And, in 2017, $16.8 billion was stolen from 16.7 million victims of identity theft, according to the 2018 Identity Fraud Study by Javelin Strategy & Research.

So, what can you do to safeguard your identity and finances against unscrupulous types? Here are eight steps you can follow to keep your money safe.

1. Change your passwords often

Keeping the same passwords across each of your bank, credit card, and email accounts for too long increases the risk of hackers accessing your information.

So, change your passwords frequently. Doing this at least once a month is recommended to keep your accounts safe and secure. If you find it hard to remember your passwords, try using a password generator/scrambler like Dashlane to create and organize your passwords. You can also store your passwords on a secure browser extension like LastPass.

Here’s another tip: Don’t store your passwords on your mobile device or laptop, says Nathan Grant, a credit industry analyst. While it may be convenient, if your device is stolen, your password is right there for a thief to use without having to lift a finger.

“Also, be careful not to enter any passwords or financial information on websites if the URL doesn’t have a secure lock symbol or https in the web browser address bar, especially on public networks,” says Grant.

2. Avoid using public WiFi and shared computers

Speaking of security, be careful before connecting to WiFi in a public place, say experts.

“Public WiFi is great for browsing the web, but you shouldn’t use it to log into your personal accounts and mobile banking apps,” says Adele Alligood of EndThrive.com.

“Doing so can make it easy for someone to intercept your login information and steal your financial data.”

Likewise, avoid sharing your computer or using a public shared computer (like one in a library) if you’ll be conducting banking or financial transactions. If you must do this, log off after your session is over — and, depending on your device, enable two-factor authentication when logging is.

How to tell if your connection is secure? There will be an image of a padlock next to the WiFi address or before the URL on your Web browser. And, if you have to access your bank app? Make sure the app you’re using is security encrypted — especially if you’re making payments.

3. Download anti-virus software

A computer virus is an inherent risk when using public WiFi. But even in private, you may be at risk if you don’t have a good antivirus software installed on your laptop or desktop.

“With a little research, you can choose which antivirus software is right for your computer,” says Justin Lavelle, a spokesman at BeenVerified.com.

“Antivirus software makes sure malicious software is detected and removed from your computer,” says Lavelle.

4. Use caution at the ATM

You can never be too careful at an ATM — even if you guard your debit or credit card carefully.

Lavelle says you should be mindful of criminals who use credit card skimmers. These are devices that can record your card’s information to then use that information to make unlawful purchases.

“Whenever you use a credit card reader, it is smart to inspect the device first,” he says.

“Look at the machine for scratches, ill-fitting parts or seals. Jiggle the machine as well as the PIN pad, or credit card insert. Most gas pumps, ATMs or vending machines are manufactured to be secure. Broken seals or loose parts may be an indication that the machine has been breached, and a skimmer has been installed.”

Lavelle says that most skimmers use Bluetooth technology, so one way to detect a skimmer is to use your smartphone.

“Turn on the Bluetooth pairing, and then see how many odd things pop up. It might just alert you to a skimmer.”

5. Watch out for “sidlers”

You should also exercise caution at busy public points of sale, since this is where thieves known as “shoulder surfers” are known to use stealthy methods to get the digits off your card.

“If another consumer is crowding you in line to pay, don’t be shy to ask them to please back up and give you space,” says Jim Angleton, president of AEGIS FinServ Corp.

“Yes, it seems a bit harsh; however, the vast majority of ‘sidlers’ are purposefully inching up to pretend to use their smartphone to look at email when they are really taking cellphone video of you entering your card and inserting your PIN.

Once they have the perfect photo, they go to their car and use a laptop and portable printer to create a blank card that looks just like your card. They can then go online and purchase a five dollar item to see if the card works. Once they have confirmation, they can then sell the fake card with your valid credit card number, explains Angleton.

Want to know how you can avoid this problem? Opt for merchants that accept mobile payments straight from your phone.

6. Never reveal your personal information

Guarding your bank account numbers or debit card digits isn’t just about hiding your details physically or behind passwords. Sometimes, ID theft involves revealing info to the wrong people.

“Emails and phone calls may seem official and important, but you should never give out your personal details unless you can verify, without a doubt, that it’s safe,” says Lavelle.

“Most retailers make it clear that they will never ask for your password, social security number, or other sensitive information by phone or email.”

Pro tip: Make sure your bank account offers added protection against hackers. Chime’s debit card, for example, comes with an instant block function to prevent unauthorized use of your funds. You can simply disable transactions through the Chime app.

7. Destroy your documents

In the event you want to get rid of old receipts and sensitive banking information, don’t just dispose of this in the trash. Thieves know no shame and will happily dumpster dive to find each piece of a torn-up document.

Instead, invest in a paper shredder that makes any document unsalvageable and unreadable. You can also bring your documents to a UPS, Staples or other local office supply store that offers low-cost document shredding services.

8. Check your credit report

When was the last time you checked your credit report?

Checking your credit report and score is essential so that you know where you stand with your credit. Getting a copy of your credit report will also reveal any erroneous information that could negatively impact your credit.

So, scour your report — everything from the spelling of your name, the amount of your loans and your credit accounts (both open and closed). If you find an inaccuracy, each of the three credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax) have simple steps you can take to dispute anything unfamiliar on your report.

And, here’s another layer of protection: Switch to a bank account that will send you real-time alerts each time a transaction is made.

Stay Safe and Secure

Using these eight steps, you’ll be well on your way to safeguarding yourself and your finances in any scenario — whether you’re banking from your laptop at home, getting cash at an ATM, or shopping on your mobile device.

 

The New Rules of Personal Finance: Gig Economy Edition

Save as much as you can, spend less than you earn, invest wisely. While these pillars of personal wellness may ring true, there are some financial rules that need a facelift. You could say times are a changin’.

My friend and colleague, Kristin Wong, who is the writer and author of Get Money, recently wrote a thought-provoking piece on the new rules of personal finance. Wong takes a look at home ownership, going to college, debt repayment and investing. Yet, the new rules of money also include other facets of our financial lives and take into account how to save money and earn more in the gig economy.

Take a look at four rules we’ve put together to help you tackle your finances in today’s times.

1. Living on Steady Paychecks

Are you one of the 53.7 million Americans who are freelancing?

Then you know that paying your bills on inconsistent income is real. Cyndi Lauper might think that “money changes everything,” but in my humble opinion, variable income changes everything, my friend.

When you have a steady flow of money coming in each month, you can create a spending plan without any issue.

Instead: If your paychecks hit your bank account at different times of the month, consider syncing up paychecks to different bills. For instance, your largest paycheck, which might be relatively the same each month, could go toward rent. Maybe another paycheck from another gig could go toward your student loan and credit card debt.

Jot down when each bill is due, and how much it is. Next, assign income to bills. While some payments from jobs drop at different times of the month, the money you receive from other clients might be more consistent. In turn, this might be able to help you stay on top of your bills.

Want in on another tactic that has been a budget-saver for me? I aim to get one month ahead. So, I try to have enough in my bank account at the end of the month to cover the next month’s expenses.

Pro tip: If you’re a Chime member, try auto-saving a percentage of your paycheck every time you get paid.

2. Budget Monthly

Budgeting monthly makes sense for those who have a steady paycheck and get paid twice a month. But how about those who are gig economy workers or freelancers?

It’s hard to create a spending plan when your income changes constantly, let alone drum up a monthly budget.

Instead: Consider budgeting weekly. Seven days is a lot easier to budget for than 30 days. I personally plan out my discretionary spending a week ahead. I give myself a certain amount each week to spend on food, going out, and personal items. Then I figure out an amount I can spend each day. It’s a fun game I play. So, if $30 is my daily amount, I try to have “no-spend” days or spend less than that. By the end of the week, I’ve have “extra” money to spend.

If that’s too much math and money nerdiness for you, consider assigning an amount each week, and spend it until you reach zero. Hopefully you won’t have to replenish until the following week.

3. Save Three to Six Months in an Emergency Fund

While this remains a solid rule, it’s hard to start an emergency fund when you’ve got bills to pay, a debt load to manage, and other competing financial priorities.

Instead: Start with a rainy day fund. What’s the difference between a rainy day fund and an emergency fund?

A rainy day fund can have different rules. While you might take money out of an emergency fund for say, a major car repair or an unexpected medical bill, you can tap into a rainy day fund when you’re having a lean month and need to cover your bills.

Also, a rainy day fund typically has a smaller balance in your account than an emergency fund. Whereas a rainy day fund might have one to two months of living expenses, an emergency fund has anywhere from three to six months — sometimes more. This might seem like a Herculean task, but try auto-saving small amounts each week into a rainy day fund. Once you’ve got this down, you can work towards saving more into an emergency fund.

4. Save 10 Percent of Your Retirement

To piggyback off of Wong’s advice, it’s hard to say you should save for exactly 10 percent of your retirement, when you aren’t able to save anything at all. According to a report from the National Institute on Retirement Security, about two-thirds of folks between the ages of 21 and 32 have nothing saved for retirement.

Instead: Save what you think you’ll need in retirement. But also, save when you can. As a freelancer, after my living expenses are covered, I save a percentage for my retirement. And there’s no hard and fast rule that you need to save monthly. You could save every quarter or once a year if you need to. As long as you save something, that’s the important thing.

And keep this in mind: We live longer and carry more debt. Semi-retirement seems to be the new norm. So, you might want to consider continuing a side hustle, at least part-time, in retirement.

Take Positive Steps Today

While the same old financial rules will always ring true, it’s important to follow new money rules as well. Hopefully these four new rules of personal finance will shine a light on how you can approach your money differently and still achieve financial wellness. Godspeed!

 

Women and Money: Financial Wellness Advice From Women

In March, we celebrated Women’s History Month and now that it’s April, we’re bringing awareness to Financial Literacy Month.

We wanted to celebrate both occasions by gathering the best money tips from a cross-section of women — from successful female entrepreneurs to women working in male-dominated industries

Here are 6 women who offered up their best tips on women and money, women-owned businesses and more. Take a look.

1. Sandi Knight, Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer for HealthMarkets

Sandi Knight knows how important protecting yourself is. As the Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer for HealthMarkets, an insurance marketplace, she works to help consumers get the health coverage they need.

“I think it is important that women start young in their careers understanding finances, the need for insurance and what creates wealth – and on the opposite end, debt. Insurance, especially life insurance, is critical if they have young children and even more so if they are single parents. If something were to happen to them, how would their children be taken care of?” says Knight.

Knowing the type of coverage you need in terms of life insurance, disability insurance and more can protect you from the unthinkable. While many of us don’t want to think anything will happen to us, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

2. Mira Violet, CEO of digital agency Amethyst Design

Mira Violet is the CEO of digital agency Amethyst Design. The agency helps companies with SEO, web design and more. As a woman owned business, she is all about getting paid what you’re worth.

Many women are underpaid with the gender pay gap and it’s key to boost your pay, says Violet.

“Make sure you’re being paid fairly. Ask male co-workers in the same position and experience level what they’re being paid. Look at sites like GlassDoor to compare your income to others in your job position. The culture of not talking about our finances only serves those who seek to underpay and undervalue us,” she says.

So, it’s key to talk to your colleagues about pay. Look up salaries in your area and compare what you’re earning. At the right time, negotiate your pay so that you get paid what you deserve.

3. Deborah Sweeney, CEO at MyCorporation.com

Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com, a company that helps other businesses form an LLC or corporation. Her top women and money tip for female owned businesses is to know just how you will fund your business. Funding is the bloodline of any business and you want to be clear how you will get your money.

“Starting a business is not easy, especially if you don’t have the funds,” says Sweeney.

According to Sweeney, here are seven ways women can access funding:

1.   Angel investors

2.   Pitch your business idea to venture capitalists

3.   Apply for grants with the Small Business Administration

4.   Crowdfunding

5.   Donations from friends and family

6.   Open several credit cards and increase the limits on each one. (Remember, you’ll have to pay everything back, plus interest)

7.   Ask your bank for a business loan. (Most business loan applications get rejected. You’ll need to have a high credit score to increase your chances of acceptance. Also, you’ll need a detailed business loan plan. You need to give your loan provider an exact plan on how you will spend the money. Without this information, you will likely be rejected.)

4. Gemma Roberts, Chartered Accountant for a large non-profit organization

Gemma Roberts is an accountant and also founder of TheWorkLifeBlend.com, where she helps others build flexible lifestyles and businesses. The crux of getting your money right starts with seeing where your money goes, says Roberts.

“Carry out a full audit of your spending habits. Do you have any savings? If you had an unexpected expense, could you cover it? Do you have any loans or an overdraft?”

“Once you have a good understanding of your current situation, you can set yourself specific financial goals. It might be to pay off your debt, retire early or save for a house. This can seem like a lot of work, but it’s never been easier to improve your financial wellbeing. There are a variety of apps available that help you to budget, save money and set financial goals. Many of them can access your bank account and assess your spending habits.”

In order to improve your financial well-being, knowing where your money is actually going is the first step. Then you can adjust and set goals that work for you. You can even use a bank like Chime that helps you automatically save.

5. Danielle Kunkle Roberts, Co-Founder, Boomer Benefits

Danielle Kunkle Roberts is the co-founder of Boomer Benefits, an insurance agency that helps people with Medicare. She knows first-hand what it’s like to make mistakes in business. One of her top tips for female entrepreneurs is to be wise about partnering up with others.

“Don’t partner with someone you don’t know very well just because you are nervous about starting a business. I made this mistake in 2005 and it took me two years to buy out my other two partners,” saus Kunkle Roberts.

“It’s vital that you know the work ethic of anyone that you get involved with and that all parties have the same money philosophy,” she explains.

“In my scenario, I wanted to invest all the profits back into the business but my other partners wanted to take it all home every month. This left me doing the bulk of the work to generate sales while having only one-third of the profits – my own – to invest back in. Believe in yourself or partner with someone whose work ethic you are very sure about.”

It can be enticing to want to work with others but don’t use it as a crutch. Going into business with someone is like a marriage and you want to make sure you’re on the same page when it comes to your business goals and financial habits.

6. Daniella Flores, senior software engineer

Daniella Flores is a senior software engineer who works on an all-male team for a credit company. As a 20-something Hispanic and creator of blog ILikeToDabble.com, she believes that when it comes to women and money, it’s all about paying yourself first.

“Pay yourself first every time you get a paycheck and by that I mean, automate transfers into savings accounts and investment accounts so you can grow your money,” says Flores.

“Make payments towards debt every two weeks instead of every month. Automate as much as you can, but always track where your money is going.”

With a Chime bank account, for example, you can automate your savings through our round-up program and also save 10 percent with every paycheck. Putting money away for yourself first is a great way to ensure your financial wellness.

Bottom line

When it comes to women and money, it’s all about advocating for what you’re worth and going after what you deserve.

If you’re a female entrepreneur, you’ll also want to make sure your business is financially healthy, too. Just remember: Financial wellness can provide the foundation you need to weather the storms both personally and in your business life.

 

The Cliffs Notes Guide to Money 101

Have you ever hung out with a group of friends and the conversation veers toward money?

You may feel anxious as your peers discuss their savings and investment portfolios. As for you? You keep quiet as you’re completely overwhelmed.

Yet, you’re not alone when it comes to anxiety over money. In fact, many Americans feel uncomfortable talking about wealth and other financial topics. According to a global study on financial literacy conducted by the S&P Ratings Service in 2015, 43% of Americans are financially illiterate. This means that they didn’t have the basic financial knowledge required to make informed and sound decisions about their money.

The U.S. Government is also aware of this problem and designated April as National Financial Literacy Month – all with the hopes of raising financial knowledge. Luckily, gaining insight into your finances doesn’t require years of extensive study. Even a cursory understanding of money matters can have a significant impact upon your financial situation.

To help you become more financially literate, we’ve created a guide that breaks down some of the most important aspects of money management, including savings, budgeting, borrowing, and long-term financial planning. We’ve also included some financial terminology that can help you make informed decisions to boost your savings. Read on to learn more.

Savings 

If getting in shape was your No. 1 resolution for this year, saving more money may have been No. 2.

The majority of Americans desperately want to save more money, but unless you have developed consistent and actionable goals, it can seem daunting.

One simple way to effectively save more money is to enroll in an automatic savings program, like the one offered at Chime. This way, you can start saving money without even thinking about it. With a Chime account, every time you make a purchase with your Chime Visa® Debit Card, transactions are automatically rounded up to the nearest dollar and transferred into your Chime Savings Account. The program also allows you to automatically set aside a percentage of each paycheck into your savings as soon as you get paid.

There are several ways to save more money and your options often depend on your personal situation and lifestyle. Yet, regardless of how much money you earn, if you have an employer-sponsored retirement plan, or a 401(k), it’s a wise idea to contribute as much money as you can – especially if you can save money directly from your paycheck. If a 401(k) plan isn’t an option for you, consider opening an individual retirement account (IRA) to start saving now for your future.

If you’re looking to pull money out of your savings before retirement and want a safe way to earn money, consider opening a money market account (MMA). According to Investopedia, money markets accounts pay interest rates that are typically higher than at savings accounts. Many banks, however, require higher minimum balances in money market accounts in order to avoid fees and earn higher interest.

Budgeting

Another crucial step to saving money is creating a budget. You can start by taking a close look at how much money is coming in and how much is going out. To further explain, your net income is essentially the money you take in each month from your job, minus taxes and deductions. Once you have that net income figure, you can make a list of all your fixed expenses, which are costs that do not change month to month. This may include your rent or mortgage, utility bills and loan payments.

With this information, you can build a budget and figure out how much you can effectively allocate to your savings account.

Bari Tessler, a financial coach and author of The Art of Money: A Life-Changing Guide to Financial Happiness, subscribes to the 50/30/20 budgeting plan, initially developed by Senator Elizabeth Warren. The plan allocates 50% of your net income to fixed expenses, 30% to discretionary spending, and the remaining 20% to savings.

Tessler says that it’s not always possible to save twenty percent, and unexpected expenses may make it impossible to save at all. She emphasizes that your relationship with money will last your entire life, and ultimately, the amount you can save is very personal and can change over time.

Borrowing and Debt

Want to borrow money to buy a car or for a personal loan?

Oya Altınkılıç, a finance professor at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, recommends understanding the borrowing process and what will be expected of you.

For instance, getting approved for a loan depends heavily upon your creditworthiness. And this can be determined in part by your credit score, a three-digit number that gives lenders a snapshot look at how likely you are to repay your debt. Lenders will also look at your current assets, which are essentially anything of value that you own that can be converted into cash, such as real estate or cars. You should have a general idea of the value of your assets, including cash.

If you have a credit card, you may think it’s a good idea to buy expensive items on your card, perhaps instead of taking out a personal loan. However, credit card debt can pile up fast, especially if your annual percentage rate (APR) is high and you are paying hefty interest charges every month.

Just remember: Borrowing money typically has a cost, and it’s best to determine that cost upfront and evaluate it against your long-term financial goals before deciding whether to proceed.

Seek Professional Advice

Professor Altınkılıç says that if you don’t feel comfortable investing or managing your finances on your own, it’s a good idea to seek advice from a financial expert.

“You cannot beat the market on your own so don’t try. It is best to hire a financial professional who understands your short- and long-term investment goals, as well as your risk tolerance.”

“The financial industry is one of the most highly-regulated industries, and you have a higher chance of being successful if you choose someone who is reputable.”

To that end, you can begin your search for a financial advisor at the National Association of Personal Finance Advisors (NAPFA).

Start Saving More Money Today

Tessler at The Art of Money explains that many financial decisions are based on beliefs about security, abundance and fear that were developed during the childhood years.

People get paralyzed by money because of shame and guilt about not having enough saved or not investing earlier. Instead of dwelling on the past, however, it’s important to create sustainable practices around money – starting today.

Are you ready to level up your financial literacy and start saving more money? We thought so.

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