Saving for a Vacation

How You Can Save Regularly to Vacation Regularly

It’s happened again. You have that itch; the one that sets in about 3 months after your last vacation. You know it’ll persist becoming increasingly harder to deny unless you break your normal routine and run till you’ve reached the nearest sunshine. Accept it, it’s time to for a vacation.

Unfortunately, most people can’t just up and go. Even those traveling on their credit card rewards and borrowed money have to at some point do some planning.

Ideally, you’d like to vacation in a more financially risk-free way; no lingering debt, no regrets. It may sound like hard work to be able to pay cash for all your vacation expenses, but put these suggestions into motion and you’ll have a healthy savings fund every time the next adventure calls.

How can I save?

If you are living paycheck to paycheck, or already feel stretched trying to contribute to retirement and emergency savings, finding any money for yet another cause may seem impossible. However, motivation is a powerful thing.

Cutting day to day expenses will be much easier knowing with every purchase you say “no” to, you are actually saying “yes” to your vacation.

Keep an eye out for short-term sacrifices that can boost your vacation savings. You may wait longer till you turn on the A/C during the day, or only turn it on when it reaches a certain temperature. You could practice no-spend weeks, where you opt to find free entertainment and only eat food that’s prepared at home instead of splurging on dining out.

Maybe you are willing to put in just an hour extra at work each week to be able to stash something away.

Even the smallest amounts, if properly reallocated will bring you closer to some much-deserved relaxation.

Another trick you can try is readjusting your tax withholding to see more money in your paycheck instead of in your refund. Ask your employer for a W-4 form and increase the number you input. The higher the number, the less will be withheld as the government assumes you need it to provide for your family.

**Be careful not to withhold too little or you’ll owe money come tax time.

When your first paycheck comes at the new withholding rate, calculate the difference and set that aside in your vacation savings fund.

How much should I save?

The cost of your trip obviously depends on many factors, most of which are within your control.

Ask yourself what’s a realistic amount to save? If you are desperate to take off in the next six months, you’re probably looking at a trip under $2,000. In the next three months? Under $1,000.

Adjust the details of your trip accordingly. For something more easily affordable, consider these options:

Find exotic destinations stateside. In a couple weeks, I’ll find myself on the west coast. It’s only 8 hours away so I’ll save on airfare and still get to see waterfalls, tide pools, and enjoy the salty air. Every other state seems to have a treasure – a hidden hot spring, a river canyon, an isolated beach, or a charming hamlet. Find something that excites you and is easily accessible.

Travel during less popular times. While it’s a good tip to vacation during off-seasons such as tropical places in winter, deals can also be found by avoiding any holidays. For example, the prices on airfare drop almost $100 the day after Memorial Day weekend. So, celebrate the holiday in town, and then take off to enjoy the same vacation experience at a fraction of the price.

Go somewhere you are ready for. Not all vacation costs have to do with food, lodging, and transportation. A lot of us also like to spend money on gear and what we will wear. Resist the temptation. If you have backpacking gear, go on an excursion. If you can stick to your old sunnies and swimsuit, by all means, head to the beach. Conversely, don’t choose a destination where purchasing clothes for an opposite climate may add hundreds of dollars to your vacation expense.

Choose a place with plenty of low-cost activities. Outdoor destinations are the prime example. If you head to a national park, you’ll pay for lodging, food, and transportation, but everything else is free. We spent under $400 for our family of three (and one on the way) to stay for three days in Yellowstone National Park where we saw rainbow pools, the geyser, 3+ waterfalls, went hiking, and spent leisurely afternoons lakeside.

Increase your savings timeline. There are going to be places you want to go that aren’t affordable within your timeline. Don’t charge them to credit cards, but also don’t give up on them. You have two options: subdue your craving until you can afford your trip, or build both short and long-term vacation funds. Head on a weekend trip sooner and continue saving for that two week trip to Europe later on.

Once you’ve weighed the possibilities, you can use Nerdwallet’s vacation budget calculator to organize the expenses and figure out your target number.

Where should I put my vacation savings?

Because you will likely need your savings within the next year, there are only so many appropriate places for a vacation savings fund.

Cash Envelope

For some, there’s a psychological boost to savings big bills. When saving for my first car I squeezed every $100, $50, and $20 bill I could from my paycheck, then stashed it in an envelope.

The idea of breaking bills deterred me from spending the money. If you know you aren’t good at staying out of the cookie jar, then this trick may work for you. Because the monetary amounts are set, it may also force you to round up savings to a whole $20 bill vs. only $15.

If you are saving for a long time, or if you are saving a large amount, your money is probably safer in a financial institution where it is out of reach from thieves (including you). Choose a location that would be difficult to get to in your moments of weakness.

Credit Union Savings Account

Opening an account at a credit union is another option. Credit unions typically offer an interest rate higher than (sometimes even double!) big banks. This gives your money the chance to grow beyond what you contribute alone. Depending on your savings goals it could mean an extra $5-$30 (plus) for that vacation.

Most credit unions have online account management, can be linked to external accounts for regular transfers, and can be added to your employer’s direct deposit process.

Certificate of Deposit

If you have 3 or more months to prepare, utilizing certificates of deposit might also be a safe way of saving for a vacation. For instance, you could commit a few hundred dollars to certificate of deposit that lasts 3 months. During those months your money is earning interest. You can also continue to save on your own. When the 3 months is up, you can add what you have been saving to the amount in your certificate deposit and commit it for an additional 3 months. Continuing to do so can help your savings snowball over time.

In this case, timing is your biggest concern. Once you’ve committed your money to the bank for a set amount of time, you are discouraged from withdrawing it early. Doing so comes with the penalty of losing interest. You may find peace of mind knowing your savings is off limits from raiding; just plan well enough to ensure it will be available in time for your vacation.

Online Savings Account

Online savings accounts have quickly become popular. They, too, can be easily managed, linked to other external bank accounts, and enrolled in your company’s direct deposit. However, because online bank services don’t have the same costs as physical banks, they can offer even higher APY (interest) than even credit unions.

Keep in mind, your money will not be quite as accessible. When planning to withdraw your money, give yourself a few extra days for funds to transfer to your main checking account.

Also be sure the online bank you choose is a member of FDIC, meets all other government regulations, and offers standard consumer protections.

How can I stick to my plan?

It doesn’t take much to make your vacation actually happen. Stop letting your mindset be the obstacle in your way.

Set your budget. Set a date. Determine how much you need to save periodically and then make it a habit by either moving that money to savings on the same day every week or month or by setting up an automatic transfer to your savings fund.

If you need the motivation to cut your expenses aggressively or to make it the long haul to your goal, swap netflixing and social media stalking for vacation planning. Print a booklet of sights to see, change your screensaver to an image of your destination, or indulge in just one piece of inspiration like a journal or cubicle knickknack.

With a plan in place, each day that ticks by is one day less you’ve spent merely wishing your vacation into a possibility, and one day more you’ve taken the actions necessary to claim your victory.

Do You Have Questions About Saving for a Vacation?

Comment Below and We’ll Answer as Fast as We Can!

We routinely check our articles and blog posts for new comments and make it a priority to respond quickly.

If you need more information on how to save regularly or have any other questions about improving your personal finances, please feel free to comment below and we’ll answer as right away!

Source: https://www.debtreductionservices.org/blog/feed

20 Tips for Maintaining Financial Sanity During a Divorce

Managing your finances is never simple, but a divorce can make it far more complex. In addition to the emotional turmoil a divorce can cause in a person’s life, it can also cause a lot of financial upheaval. By establishing a plan and relying on professional help where necessary, you can ensure your best possible financial outcome and avoid damage to your credit score during this tumultuous time.
If you are facing a divorce in your future, these 20 tips will help you to maintain some sanity when it comes to navigating the financial aspects of divorce.

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1. Consider both parties.
This can seem impossible in the midst of the emotions of a divorce when tempers are high. Still, it’s important to remember that making the best financial decisions for both parties will benefit you in the long run.
2. Don’t heed unsolicited advice.
Whether it’s your best friend or a co-worker, there will be no shortage of unsolicited advice from people you know during a divorce. They’ll be all too happy to share a story of a nightmare divorce, or an amicable one and tell you what you should — or shouldn’t — do in your own situation. It’s best to heed only the advice of those you trust. Always remember that advice is just that, and ultimately the decisions you make are up to you.
3. Don’t tell everyone your business.
When emotions are high we often wear them on our sleeves. In these times, we may find ourselves blabbing about our divorce to everyone, including the grocery store clerk. But because there is so much personal information — financial and otherwise — tied up in the divorce process, it’s best to keep the details of your situation private and confidential.
4. Leave advice to the professionals.
It’s important to only take legal and financial advice from a lawyer and a trusted financial professional. They will be able to objectively help you through your particular situation with the most effective and beneficial advice and strategies.
5. Focus on finances.
A lawyer can help you through the legalities of things like separation agreements and child visitation, but when it comes to finances and managing joint debts, it’s best to work with someone who specializes in finances. If you don’t know where to start, ask your divorce lawyer or mediator to recommend a financial planner they trust or have worked with in the past.
6. Close joint credit accounts.
Once you have filed for divorce, it’s important to cease accruing debt in both of your names. By continuing to rack up joint debt you could end up doing more damage to your credit scores and credit reports and subsequently complicating the divorce process.
7. Open separate checking accounts.
It’s important to remove your spouse’s name not only from your joint credit accounts, but from checking and savings accounts as well. Once you’ve filed for divorce, joint bank accounts should be closed and new, individual accounts should be opened.
8. Keep track of income and expenses.
This is always a smart idea, but particularly during the stress and chaos of a divorce, it can be helpful to track and document financial details including child support and alimony payments, and shared medical and other expenses. There are many personal finance apps available that can help you keep track of these details.
9. Create a budget.
Going from a two-income household to a single income is a major transition. If you haven’t adhered to a budget in the past, a divorce is a compelling reason to start doing so immediately. Make sure to outline everything, including both daily and monthly expenses (groceries, utilities, mortgage and car payments, scheduled maintenance on appliances and vehicles), and long-term expenses including retirement and tuition funds. This will help you avoid overspending as you adjust to your new financial norm.
10. Update your records.
Once your divorce is final you will need to change your marital status on things including tax records, utility bills, health insurance, and property titles (homes and cars, etc.).
11. Secure your own health insurance coverage.
For many couples one spouse is the main policyholder on the health insurance coverage for the entire family. When you get divorced, there will be a grace period for one or both of you to find new coverage on separate policies. Make sure to talk to your employer to find out when the next open enrollment period is coming. If you do not have employer-sponsored health insurance available, you’ll need to research individual health insurance options.
12. Consider adding more health insurance coverage options.
Relative to the previous item, it’s important to carefully consider the potential coverage you will need on your health insurance policies. You may need to add things you didn’t have previously, such as counseling coverage for yourself or your children if they will need it during this difficult and transitional time.
13. Decide whether or not you will change your name.
If you legally assumed your spouse’s last name when you were married you will need to decide whether you’re going to keep it for legal purposes. No matter what you decide, it’s important to make sure your legal name matches the name on any credit and loan accounts. Otherwise you could end up with errors or multiple names or accounts on your credit report that you’ll have to dispute later. This can cause damage to your credit and ultimately even lower your credit score.
14. Begin establishing your own credit.
Once you’re divorced you may find that your credit score has taken a hit thanks to removing your name from accounts and losing some of your established credit history. While it’s not advisable to run up a bunch of new debt, you can benefit by establishing new credit and opening a new bank account and credit card in your own name.
15. Update wills, medical directives, and powers of attorney.
It’s not uncommon for a spouse to serve the role of power of attorney, medical power of attorney and beneficiary to a will. If you have designated your spouse as any of these things, it’s important to update all of these to reflect the new person or people you’d like to appoint to fulfill these roles.
16. Change beneficiaries on retirement accounts and life insurance policies.
Similar to the the previous tip, make sure that your life insurance policy, 401(k), IRA and other retirement accounts are updated to reflect the change in your marital status.
17. Ensure your children are covered.
If you have minor children that should benefit from your retirement accounts or life insurance policies, make sure any changes you put in place account for that. For example, if you have a $200,000 life insurance policy that you would like your now 6-year-old child to receive at age 25, make sure the person you appoint will fulfill your wishes pertaining to the amounts you designate and when. It’s a good idea to get these details in writing and notarized as well.
18. Get savvy in managing your finances.
In many marriages, one spouse acts as the financial manager. That means they handle things like paying the bills, setting the budget, balancing the checkbook, filing annual tax returns, etc. If you are not the spouse that handled these things then you may have little or no knowledge of how to manage these things day to day. It can be helpful to establish a relationship with a certified financial planner, a banker, and a professional tax preparer. It can also be helpful to sign up for an online course on basic financial management.
19. Establish a savings account.
It may seem counter intuitive to try to save money at a time when your financial situation may have significantly changed. However, when it comes to saving money, even small amounts add up. And you never know when an unexpected expense may arise and you’ll need a little extra.
20. Take it one day at a time.
Divorce is never something we plan for, and it can feel completely overwhelming when tending to all of the decisions and details that need to be worked out. But by slowing down and taking things one step and one day at a time, you will find that both you and your finances will adjust to this life change. And you may just make the transition a lot more seamlessly than you think you will.
If you’re concerned about your credit, you can check your three credit reports for free once a year. To track your credit more regularly, Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card is an easy-to-understand breakdown of your credit report information that uses letter grades—plus you get two free credit scores updated each month.
You can also carry on the conversation on our social media platforms. Like and follow us on Facebook and leave us a tweet on Twitter.
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The post 20 Tips for Maintaining Financial Sanity During a Divorce appeared first on Credit.com.
Source: Ramsey Debt Relief

5 Tips to Get Approved for a Personal Loan for Debt Consolidation

If you need relief from your high-interest loans or credit card debt, you may be considering a personal loan. Offered by many banks and credit unions, personal loans let you consolidate or refinance your debt into a lower-interest loan with one fixed monthly payment.
While they do have some disadvantages – personal loans often have higher interest rates than the typical auto loan or mortgage – they are a viable option for consumers who need to pay down high-interest debts.
If you’ve decided to pursue a personal loan, you should try to increase your chances of approval. Here are five tips to get approved for a personal loan for debt consolidation.

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Decide on a Loan Type

There are two main types of personal loans: secured and unsecured.
Secured loans require you to put up collateral, such as your home or car, which can be possessed by the lender if you don’t pay. These loans have looser credit requirements, and you may have lower interest rates and greater borrowing power. However, you’re putting your own property on the line.
Unsecured loans require no collateral, but rely upon your creditworthiness and ability to repay. You will need better credit to get approved, and you may end up with a higher interest rate than a secured loan.

Know How Much You Need to Borrow

Before you apply for a personal loan, know how much you need to borrow. Tally up the existing debts that you wish to consolidate or refinance. You may not need this information immediately, but it will help you determine your requirements and avoid asking for an artificially high amount.

Know Your Credit

Before you apply for a personal loan, you should know the state of your credit. This means you should check both your credit report and your credit score.
Once a year, you can check your credit report with all three credit bureaus for free at AnnualCreditReport.com. Closely examine your report for negative or inaccurate information that could hurt your chances of approval. If you do find errors, you should dispute them and have them removed from your credit report.
It’s also a good idea to check your credit score before you apply. You can get two of your credit scores for free, updated monthly, at Credit.com. Before you apply, you should do everything you can to improve your credit score.
If you’re in dire need of debt relief, you may not have time to wait for your credit to improve. Even so, it will help to know the state of your credit as it stands.

Find the Right Lender

Not all financial institutions are created equal. Shop around at several lenders, including banks and credit unions. You may need to choose your lender based on the bank that’s most likely to approve your loan application, but you shouldn’t jump at the first offer. Review the fine print, interest rates, and terms of all the loans you’re considering.

Create a Checklist

Once you are ready to move forward with your application, create a checklist of all the documentation you will need. You may need to work with creditors, your employer, and others to gather everything, so give yourself enough time. Incomplete applications can result in an immediate rejection, so it’s important to make sure you have your ducks in a row.
Remember, debt consolidation only makes sense in certain scenarios. Depending on the interest rates you can get and the length of the loan, you could end up paying more for a personal loan in the long run, even if the monthly payments are lower. Make sure you understand the total cost of a personal loan compared to the total cost of your current debts. For more information, check out our article on deciding if a personal loan for debt consolidation is right for you.
If you’re curious about your credit, you can check your three credit reports for free once a year. To track your credit more regularly, Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card is an easy-to-understand breakdown of your credit report information that uses letter grades—plus you get two free credit scores updated each month.
You can also carry on the conversation on our social media platforms. Like and follow us on Facebook and leave us a tweet on Twitter.
 
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The post 5 Tips to Get Approved for a Personal Loan for Debt Consolidation appeared first on Credit.com.
Source: Ramsey Debt Relief

It’s SIMPLE – P Stands for Plan for the Future

Creating a savings plan can keep your household finances stable.

Plan to be Financially Stable and Secure

P Stands for Plan

Back in 2017, I began my series of blogs on SIMPLE finances: Spend, Invest, Manage, Plan, Limit and Eliminate. Here we are, almost in mid-2018 already, and I am on P is for Plan. Apparently, you can’t rush quality, right?

If you are keeping score at home, you were probably expecting the S in SIMPLE to stand for Saving for emergencies, right? After all, paying yourself first is the first rule of personal finance, and that is not just in my book. That is pretty much the case in every financially successful and stable household. Save for the expected and save the unexpected. And Save starts with “S,” so how crazy was I to identify S is for Spend? I hope you will forgive my impertinence.

I like to do the unexpected. Many of us enjoy being spontaneous. It can be refreshing and enlivening. However, dealing with unexpected financial challenges is rarely a welcomed thing. In fact, dealing with unexpected expenses is one of the main reasons households get into debt that becomes so overwhelming that it leads to bankruptcy.

Our own surveys of bankruptcy filers over the past decade or so have revealed that job loss and income reduction are by far the main contributors to the financial struggles of bankruptcy filers. Other major unexpected financial hardships come in the form of medical debts, divorce expenses and the loss of an income-earning spouse.

So, how are you supposed to eliminate these financial risks from your household? You can’t. Risks will always exist. Much of life, try as you might, is beyond your control. Still, putting together and putting into action a plan to deal with unexpected events is NEVER a bad idea. If there were a fire in your office building, you had better hope you know the exit plan. When traveling by plane, you may not listen as intently as you should to the flight attendants during their presentation of an emergency plan, but you are likely grateful the airlines have some sort of contingencies for emergencies.

P is for Plan. And by Plan, I mean, preparing for the expected as well as the unexpected.

Identify Your Savings Needs

First, identify your expected savings needs. A savings need is an amount of money you must have for a future expense or purchase that you cannot come up with through a single paycheck. For example, if you are planning to go on vacation this summer, it will likely require more travel money than you can come up with from a single paycheck. Consequently, preparing for a vacation is an expected savings need. From each paycheck between now and then, you can figure out how much you will need to set aside in a savings account so you will be financially prepared for vacation. Examples of other expected savings needs include birthday and Christmas gift giving as well as back-to-school shopping.

What about unexpected savings needs? How do you prepare for them, since they are myriad? Some are unpredictable (accidents, injuries, job loss) while others are inevitable (car breakdowns, home repairs, schooling costs, appliance and furniture replacement). The answer is simple: save. From each paycheck, place 10% to 15% into a savings account in order to build a reserve fund for when you need it.

Plan savings accounts for expected and unexpected savings and how much you'll contribute to each.

Manage your expected and unexpected savings accounts

Too often, when I am counseling individuals or couples about money management, I find that they have either no savings account or just one. If they have one, well, that is a great start. However, if they start contributing gift giving money, vacation savings, and savings for emergencies into the same account, I can guarantee that when summer comes around, it will ALL be used for vacation and travel. Such is human nature.

Instead, consider setting up a separate savings account for each goal: one for emergencies, one for vacations and travel, one for holiday and gift giving, one for your next vehicle, etc. There should be no cost at your bank or credit union for these additional savings accounts. Next, set up automatic transfers to those savings accounts to happen a day or two after payday. You might also check with your employer to see if you are able to set up an additional direct deposit into your savings accounts.

The amount is less important than commitment

Opening multiple savings accounts can seem overwhelming to some. If you want to talk about overwhelming, let’s consider the typical recommendation by “experts” to have 3- to 6-months’ worth of living expenses saved up for emergencies. For the 60% of American households living paycheck-to-paycheck, even one month seems impossible, let alone three to six.

Instead, do not start with an amount in mind but with a commitment. If you have struggled to build an emergency fund in the past, then commit to save something – anything – from EVERY source of income you get. That includes salaries, extra work, birthday or Christmas gifts, and unexpected refunds. Even if it is just a $1 savings contribution, that is something. After all, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Yes, a single dollar can be the start of something monumental in your personal finances. If that seems too easy, start with 1% of everything you get. After a couple months, bump that up to 2%. Then, 3%, and so forth, until you are at 10% to 15% of your total household income.

These recommendations may not be ideal for everybody. If you do not think they will work for you, then make some other plan. Otherwise, try them. Not planning does not mean you do not have a plan. If you fail to plan for your financial future, your plan is to remain financially unstable and insecure.

P is for Plan. You have one, whether you like it or not. Make sure it is a plan you can live with.

Do You Have Questions About Creating a Savings Plan?

Comment Below and We’ll Answer as Fast as We Can!

We routinely check our articles and blog posts for new comments and make it a priority to respond quickly.

If you need more information on planning a savings strategy or have any other questions about improving your personal finances, please feel free to comment below and we’ll answer as right away!

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Is the Debt Snowball the Best You Can Do?

Read the tips in this article to better understand whether the debt snowball repayment method is the best for you.

Does the Debt Snowball Method Promise the Most Benefits?

A thorough study by ValuePenguin showed that 38.1% of households carried credit card debt with total balances averaging $5,700. You, like many others, have realized that something has to change. Whether you choose to manage your own payment plan, or enlist the help of a debt management service, you usually proceed with one of two prominent game plans.

The question whirling around the internet asks which of these two is better: the debt snowball or the debt avalanche repayment method. Our article on beating credit card debt gives more details about how these strategies work.

The Debt Snowball

Dave Ramsey and followers make a strong case for why individuals should use the debt snowball method when paying off debt all on their own. The ability to eliminate small balances fast lends people the motivation needed to see their plan through to the end. The rate of success individuals have in paying off their debt only supports the claim that the debt snowball is highly effective.

So, why do hundreds of personal finance experts (and nonprofit credit counseling agencies) advocate using an avalanche as the smarter option?

The Debt Snowball Method is motivational while the Debt Avalanche has many financial benefits.

The Debt Avalanche

First, it’s important to understand that with the debt snowball plan, the periodic boost of motivation that pushes individuals to accomplish their goal is valued above other benefits a repayment plan might supply. The objective is to successfully pay off your debt and maintaining your motivation is essential to getting you there. We’re in total agreement here.

This is why DIYers have a harder time sticking to the debt avalanche method when attempting to repay debt on their own. It takes great discipline to wait longer to scrub that very first high-interest creditor off your list if by chance they come with a bigger balance, even knowing its for your best. Not everyone can do it.

This is why debt management programs (DMPs) are a great option to get the best of both worlds.

No Need to Maintain Motivation All on Your Own

Once enrolled in a DMP, your debt is turned over to a team for management. They provide the guidance and accountability you would need to supply yourself if you wanted to achieve DIY success. They disburse payments on your behalf to as many creditors as is necessary. They also update your new balances, maintain good relationships with your lenders, and keep you on track to repay your debt according to an agreed upon timeline. Credit counseling agencies do the legwork and you get to set it and forget it (for the most part).

Attacking High-Interest Debt Saves Money

When you remove the need to keep yourself motivated, you can instead pay down debts with the highest interest rate (instead of targeting small balances) which can save you money.

As a nonprofit credit counseling agency, this is a goal for our clients. Many methods and services can get you out of debt. However, unlike them, we realized using the debt avalanche method would be the most beneficial because it helps our clients keep more money in the pocket.

This savings can be used to support other aspects of your financial picture including an emergency savings fund, retirement account, and college savings for children. In a debt snowball strategy, this money can be wasted on ongoing high-interest charges.

The two debt repayment methods, Snowball and Avalanche, each offer their own benefits.

Eliminating High-Interest Rates Shortens Repayment

When interest is charged on credit, it is added to the principal balance. Once this has occurred one time, from then on you are not only paying interest on the balance but on the added interest you were charged the previous month—how cruel!

It’s important to pay down higher interest rates before your balances are bloated or your monthly payments will go more and more toward paying interest than toward reducing the principal amount you borrowed. In that repayment nightmare, you work really hard, sacrifice a big amount of monthly income to debt repayment and see very little progress in reducing account balances.

By knocking out the accounts with high-interest rates first, you spend less time paying interest than you would if you allowed it to build month after month, year after year as you addressed other debts instead. Money rescued from the interest muncher can accumulate and be put to work crushing accounts down your list. Like a true avalanche, you’ll be able to plow through your balances quicker.

Apart from the benefits of these two repayment strategies, Debt Reduction Services can offer an additional advantage to your management plan. We can negotiate with creditors to cut interest rates down. This helps you get ahead and pay off your debt even faster.

Enrolling in a DMP through a nonprofit credit counseling agency is a guarantee to be out of debt in 3-5 years if your debt is serviceable. The best way to find out if this is a good option is to have your debt evaluated by a certified credit counselor. Consultations are free.

We applaud you for working to pay back the money you owe and begin a life free from debt. Believe your goal is achievable.

Whether you could use some free financial resources to help along your journey, or you’d prefer the assistance of our debt management program, know we are here to help when you need it.

Do You Have Questions About the Debt Snowball Repayment Method?

Comment Below and We’ll Respond as Quick as We Can!

We routinely check our articles and blog posts for comments and give quick replies.

If you need more information on choosing between the Debt Snowball and Debt Avalanche repayment methods or have any other questions about your personal finances, please feel free to comment below and we’ll answer right away!

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Top 10 Health Insurance Considerations

Quality health insurance consistently ranks as the most desired employee benefit. According to the Harvard Business Review, 88 percent of employees ranked employee health insurance as a the top employee benefit consideration. Which makes sense considering that you can’t put a price on a clean bill of health.
Whether covered by an employer, or shopping for health insurance on your own, there are many considerations to have on your radar. No two policies are the same — there are degrees of coverage, varying price, various restrictions, and much more to keep in mind when seeking health insurance.
1. In-network doctors
One of the first things you will want to check is which doctors are in-network. Navigating the bureaucracy of health insurance networks can be frustrating, but it is an important part of saving money on care. If you have a doctor you like, or one that is conveniently near your home, you might want to check that they are in-network before settling on a health insurance policy.
2. Benefits
This is one of the most variable considerations to keep in mind. Each plan will offer different benefits, and with the right amount of legwork you can find one that best caters to your particular health needs. Do you need regular physical therapy? Do you have specific medication needs? Ask yourself these questions to guide your selection process.
3. Policy type
You’ll come to find out that not all health insurance policies deliver the same service — there are many different “types” of health insurance. The most popular types include HMO, PPO, EPO, and POS plans. These all have features that make them unique, but rather than get into the weeds listing all the benefits and drawbacks of each, we offer this simple advice: be sure to comparison shop. Look for a summary of benefits (which can be found on an online marketplace) and weigh your options from there.
4. Prescriptions
For many Americans, the cost of prescriptions is one of the most expensive, non-negotiable elements of health care. Americans paid an estimated $457 billion on prescriptions in 2015, which is comprises over 16 percent of all health care expenditures. And, considering over 60 percent of Americans take medications every day, this should be a primary concern when deciding on a health insurance plan.

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5. I’m healthy so why bother?
Many young people choose to forgo health insurance all together, and endure the tax penalty, because they think they will never use it — this is ill-advised. For one, even healthy people require regular care, whether that means annual physicals, x-rays, etc. Plus, in the event of an emergency, you would be left fronting a costly, potentially six-figure bill which could drain your bank account and tank your credit scores. While the individual mandate was repealed in 2017, individuals are still legally required to have health insurance through 2019. But, legality aside, it’s best to pay for health insurance now to protect yourself from costly emergencies in the future.
6. Out-of-pocket expenses
The cost of health insurance is a balance between out-of-pocket costs vs premiums. Basically, low out-of-pocket with result in high premiums and vice versa. This is a good time to evaluate your overall health and determine whether you need a lot of medical services or not. For example, if you’re relatively healthy, it might be worth taking on a high deductible in order to benefit from low monthly premiums.
7. Support options
Let’s face it: the healthcare system is confusing. But, thankfully, many insurance plans offer a variety of customer support options to help bridge the knowledge gap for the everyday policyholder. Whether this is a 24/7 support line, or something more intuitive like telemedicine or a mobile app, be on the lookout for policies that offer the support features you need.
8. Chronic diseases
If you suffer from a chronic disease, your health insurance shopping process will be a little different. Usually people are willing to take on large deductibles in favor of low premiums, but if you expect many doctor visits in a year, you might want to approach your shopping a little differently. If you have any reason to visit the doctor often — whether that’s diabetes, cancer, or any number of maladies — search for the lowest deductible possible to keep your medical bills within reason.
9. Filling gaps
Despite how plans are advertised, there is no such thing as a comprehensive health insurance policy. Inevitably, there will be some gaps that might need to be filled. Whether you have many prescriptions, chiropractic care, massage therapy or any other, less common medical needs, you can expect to pay out-of-pocket or seek out a supplemental plan to cover costs.
10. Family coverage
Last, but certainly not least, one of the most important considerations when picking a health plan will be your family. All of the above considerations are at play, and compounded, with each family member. Plus, you will need to find a plan that accommodates all members of the family. When multiple family members factor into your health insurance decision it will be a balancing act, so plan accordingly.
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Savings Hacks You Need to Try This Week

Money Saving Hacks That Work

“Hello, my name is Todd Christensen, and, although this is a bit embarrassing, I must admit that I am a…, well, the truth is, I, uh. Hmpf, Okay, so I will just say it. I am a savings raider. Whenever I see a balance building in my savings account, I am sorely tempted (and sometimes more than just tempted) to either go out and buy something fun with that money, use it for a trip, or just transfer it back to my checking account to cover regular bills and impulse purchases.

Yup, ‘Savings raider.’ That’s me.

“Whew! It feels good to get that off my chest… again.”

Over the years, teaching personal finance and developing curricula on topics ranging from budgeting to rebuilding credit, from paying down debts to building savings, I have learned a thing or two (or five in the case of today’s topic) about tricking myself into developing better financial behaviors. Knowing what I should be doing with my money is one thing. Actually doing it? That is something altogether different while being simultaneously more difficult and more beneficial.

Thus, when I write about savings hacks, I really am referring to simple ways to trick myself by making it more difficult for me to access my savings for trivial expenses or unplanned purchases. These tricks can truly turn your own good intentions (which pave the road to bankruptcy) into good, long-term financial behaviors.

Let’s get started, in my suggested chronological order:

1. Make it INCONVENIENT

Set up your savings accounts in a financial institution that is separate from your checking account or where your debit card account is held. Do not skip this step. The ease with which we can move money back and forth between our checking and savings accounts with a simple swipe or tap on our phone screen means that we are virtually guaranteed to play the transfer game every month.

If you are a savings raider, you know what the transfer game is. You transfer money from your checking account to your savings account and promptly pat yourself on the back. “Hey, good job for saving money.” Then, five or ten days later, after you have rushed through all of your checking account money, remembering in the back of your mind the whole time that you have a spending cushion in your savings fund, you transfer the money back from your savings to your checking. This is not saving. This is simply deferred spending.

Instead, open a savings account at a separate bank or credit union, and do NOT connect them electronically. You want to do everything you can to make it inconvenient to access your savings fund. You might even consider using an online savings account, since, in a true emergency, you can generally still access your money within 2 to 5 days. Personally, I found a credit union that only has one branch in the valley. I will never request an ATM or debit card connected to that account. It does not have a drive-through lane nor is it open after 5:00 pm or on weekends. If I want my money from that savings account, I have to drive there during normal business hours, which means it is too inconvenient for me to raid my savings account.

2. Make it SPECIFIC

Set up a separate savings account for each of your major savings goals. Contrary to common perceptions, it is possible to have more than one savings account, even at the same institution. “But why would you want more than one?” you ask.

Consider this scenario: you have set savings goals that include paying for Christmas gifts in cash and going on a summer vacation. You started saving aggressively in January, so by May, you have several hundred dollars in savings. Summer is approaching, and so you ask yourself the question, “How much of the savings fund is for summer vacation and how much is for buying Christmas presents?” The answer is simple. Human nature says we want the biggest summer vacation now, so we justify taking all of it for a weeklong trip to the coast, soothing our inner money nerd by saying, “we’ll get caught up on Christmas savings later.” Yeah, right!

If you have opened separate savings accounts for each of your goals, you will know exactly how much money you have available to you, allowing you to stay on task and limit your overspending on the here and now. Your goals might include saving for gift giving, a vacation, your next car, medical or transportation emergencies, your next phone or computer, and back-to-school clothing. Only your priorities and imagination will limit your savings goals.

3. Make it AUTOMATIC

Set up a direct deposit contribution from your paycheck to go into your savings account(s). Most American households already have their paychecks delivered directly to their checking accounts, so why not have your savings fund automatically deposited as well. Not all employers can, but most will allow their employees to set up two or even three direct deposits per paycheck. In combination with trick #1, this will prevent your savings fund from ever being in jeopardy of becoming too accessible for spending on impulse.

If your company only permits one direct deposit per paycheck, have no fear. Most banks and credit unions allow you to set up automatic transfers and payments inside and outside their institution. To transfer to a separate institution, you will need the other bank’s or credit union’s routing number and your account number. Then, set up the transfer to happen automatically a day or two after your planned payday.

Setting up separate accounts is one saving hack that will help achieve your financial goals.

4. Make it PERSONAL

Give a name to each of your savings accounts by editing the account details online. Most banks and credit unions will allow you to give your accounts a nickname online or on your phone. So, instead of contributing money to your “Summer Vacation” account (a little vague), you will be depositing money to your account named, “Oregon Beach House Vacation,” or to “Mickey and Minnie’s Magic Vacation with Abigail.” You will consequently be much less likely to raid your savings. If you can give a descriptive name that evokes a powerful emotional response, that account will become much more secure from your potential invasions.

Similarly, do not name an account, “Next vehicle” account. Give it the name of the type of car you really want, whether it is a “2018 238-mile electric range Chevy Bolt” or a “1966 Oldsmobile Toronado muscle project.” Find a name that stirs your soul for each account. You might even name your emergency account something like, “Less stress” or “Better sleep.”

5. Make yourself ACCOUNTABLE

Finally, make sure you share your savings goals with a trusted friend. There are plenty of Facebook posts and entire blogs devoted to the writer’s efforts to reach a savings or other financial goal. That may work for those who are outgoing on social media, but most of us need to put a human face to our friends. Choosing the right friend is critical, though. Consider which of your friends is most likely to hold you to your commitment. “Firm” and “supportive” are the two most important adjectives for the friend you want in this role. Once you choose this friend, share with him or her your savings goals (purposes, amounts, and timelines) and ask them to follow up with you regularly and to ask you about your progress… just do not hide from your friend if you get off track. Stay in contact and stay friends.

There you have them: the five hacks you can put into place this week that will significantly increase your chances of success in saving money rather than just spending it. If you have not noticed by now, with not a single hack involving a dollar sign, successful savings is much more of an attitude and a commitment than an amount… although 10% to 15% is a great goal to shoot for too. But we’ll save that discussion for another day.

Happy money hacking!

 

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Invitation!

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The Perfect Gift for Your Mother

Make your gift memorable using an idea from this nontraditional Mother's Day gift guide

A Mother’s Day Gift Guide with Meaning

Mothers are pretty awesome. At very least, they carried us for nine months enduring a spectrum of unpleasant symptoms and managed to make it to the finish line: our birth. Their labor didn’t end there though but lasted another 18 years of coaching us into the adults we are today.

If you’ve parented into toddlerhood, you probably have a new appreciation for your mother’s patience and persistent love. Really, how many times can someone sanely scrub toothpaste out of the carpet? And yet your mother did and probably snuggled you forgivingly only moments later.

This is why Mother’s day is such a big deal. It’s the opportunity to try as best as we can to repay our mothers for things we truly never can. They spent how many days trying to do right by us for how many years and in return, they get one day a year of appreciation – that’s a pretty uneven tradeoff. Thankfully, our mothers didn’t put in the work thinking it’d be well worth it every time mother’s day rolls around.

Still, we can make an effort to make this particular day special. This might take analyzing what special means. It certainly doesn’t have to mean expensive or popular.

I have a hard time browsing trendy gift guides without rolling my eyes a time or two. Does my mom really care for another kitchen towel or bedazzled wine cork or the ever-contemporary succulent? I actually find the whole idea that a complete stranger might suggest what would be perfect for MY mom to be rather odd. They don’t know her like I do.

So, I am sorry if I am disappointing you, but this blog wasn’t meant to be your traditional mother’s day gift guide. I’m not going to tell you to go buy a cashmere sweater. That’s a default gift. No, instead I wanted to make suggestions that might inspire the right fit for YOUR mother. You know her best and if you are looking to know her better, well that’s just your first insight into what you could give her this mother’s day.

So…

What do mothers really want (that’s affordable)?

Something Exciting

A day in the life of a mother can be a blur of monotony- and it’s tiring. So, while I’m sure she often craves to try something new, she rarely bothers with following through. This mother’s day, create the opportunity and provide the motivation.

My mother still talks about the time my “crazy” aunt called her from the driveway and “kidnapped” her for a pre-cruise tanning session. She had never been to a tanning salon before. So while a tan seems so basic (and inexpensive with a Groupon), for my mother it was unexpected and different which equated to thrilling!
Start with something new, add some surprise, and go along for the adventure and you’ll have the makings for a memorable gift.

Something Inspiring

Seven years into motherhood myself, I’ve come to understand that who I am as a person exists somewhat separately from the part I play as “Mommy”. I’m sure every mother shares some truth in that realization as well as recognizes the very real need to nourish that person we once were.

If you want to inspire your mother, figure out where her passion lies. If nothing makes her happier than her family, maybe collecting photos for a gallery wall would be a meaningful gift for her. Perhaps she’s spiritual and would appreciate a book or piece of home décor that uplifts her. Maybe she admires art and wouldn’t mind visiting the newest exhibit at the museum.

Whatever the specifics may be, give an inspiring gift and the effects will last far beyond the small price ($30 or less) you pay for it.

Something Quality

Painting your mother's nails is one affordable gift idea for Mother's Day.When I say quality, I’m not talking about designer brands. I’m talking about time. As families grow, children tend to move away from the nest. Even when they remain in town, mothers see their children far less.

If it’s been awhile since you’ve had a good heart to heart with your mother, surprise her by scheduling a time to do so. Plan an activity such as a craft or prepare a meal for two.

There may be a particular service you use to provide to her as a child that helped the two of you bond such as painting her nails or doing her hair. It may seem strange to do these things now, but the little things are what mothers miss the most!

Something Relaxing

As a young mother in the midst of a hectic life, I often look forward to calmer days when my children are older (ha-ha). However, the teenage and adult years of children can be the most stressful of all. What your mother may need most is some time to de-stress. This can come in many forms, none of which need to carry a big price tag. Deals can often be found for manicures, massages, facials, and wine tasting.

My own mother is very caring and because of this has struggled with constant worry. Last mother’s day I realized the best gift I could give her was time to herself and the tools necessary to cope with what at times was overwhelming anxiety. The solution was an affordable package of yoga lessons. The techniques taught in yoga have helped her to calm her mind and fight back against anxiousness. It’s a gift that keeps on giving.

Something Familiar

Few mothers can balance their household responsibilities and maintain hobbies. There just aren’t enough minutes in the day! If you are still searching for the right gift perhaps it should entail reigniting your mother’s hobby. Ideas might include:

  • Building a blog she can use as a writing outlet
  • Setting up an art or culinary class
  • Buying some supplies and creating a space in her home for crafting
  • Getting a gardening starter kit
  • Creating an online selling or social media account to launch a business she’s been considering
  • Gifting an e-reader or gift card for purchasing e-books
  • Filling a basket with travel inspo – think books, magazines, maps, current deals, and exotic foods.

Something Thoughtful

As overdone as it sounds, a letter is a cherished gift. When was the last time you expressed appreciation to your mother? Your letter could detail the traits you admire about her or include a fond memory that illustrates you noticed even her smallest sacrifices.

To go along with or in place of a letter, you could add something small that reminds her of you. It could be a card that captures your spirit or a framed photo of a time you shared together. If you haven’t taken a picture together recently, this could be the perfect occasion to gift a mini portrait session. You can politely invite your father and local siblings. In the end, your mother will have something that fills her heart with joy each time she looks at it.

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Relationships and Money

Is Money Causing Relationship Problems?

We would all have a difficult time finding someone who hasn’t been affected by divorce, either their own or a family member. During the hundreds of classes my fellow financial educators and I do each year, we often hear from individuals who have been struggling with excessive consumer debt or even bankruptcy that can be traced to the actions or inactions of their ex-spouse (or soon-to-be ex-spouse).

Too often, however, money and the stresses related to it are blamed for insurmountable marital problems and challenges. Some of our students share how they argue regularly about money and debt, which ends in anger, frustration, and possibly even the splitting up of their family.

Unfortunately, money and its household management (or lack thereof) can be used as scapegoats for other, more pertinent issues in our relationships.

While I am not a family counselor, I do know that money, in and of itself, is just a financial tool or means of exchange. Without the trust that someone else will accept it for the same value we ourselves place on it, money would simply be a piece of paper (actually, it’s mostly cotton) or an insignificant chunk of metal. And it’s that trust that imbues money with extraordinary worth. It is only when money is used as a means of control or power or security that it becomes divisive.

The views about money that we develop in our formative years generally follow us into our relationships. Dealing with our own one-on-one relationship with money can be very beneficial to our family relationships.

We must learn to see money simply as a tool to achieve meaningful goals, rather than something to flaunt, to fear, to envy, or to covet.

To determine the stability and soundness of your own relationship with money, answer the following questions as honestly as possible.

  • Do I feel that having more money would make others respect me more?
  • Do I ever think that just having more money would solve my financial problems?
  • Do I constantly worry that I don’t have enough money to take care of my financial needs?
  • Do I wish I could live the “millionaire” lifestyle, with mansions, fancy cars, parties, world travel, etc.?
  • Do I believe that the rich are “too rich” and should share more of their wealth with people like me?
  • If I’ve ever received a substantial windfall (e.g. lottery, inheritance, or even a big tax return), was it spent within a month or two?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, might I suggest you to take some time to get to know your own finances better? Perhaps as you grew up, there was constant financial insecurity because a parent was a spendthrift? Maybe you were never trusted with money and still haven’t allowed yourself the confidence required to make a few financial mistakes and learn from them?

Whatever the case, it is likely that you have some work to do. We all do. There is no such thing as a perfect money manager. Financial success is not a destination. If we can just accept that financial success is working on a daily, weekly and monthly basis with our income and expenses in order to reach goals that are truly important to us, we’d all find greater satisfaction in our various relationships.

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