Resource Spotlight: Magnify Money Review

Magnify Money Review

Sometimes when you’re starting out, it can be more helpful to take a laser-focused approached to the basic building blocks of money management. That’s what Magnify Money does well, and we wanted to review this resource for you if you’re just beginning your financial education.

Covering the Basics

At Magnify Money, the goal is to connect people with the right financial products. The founders of the company are former bankers with a passion for educating as many people as possible about effective money management.

They aim to serve as consumer watchdogs with their blog, promoting transparency within the financial industry and educating consumers on their choices and supporting their financial empowerment.

Four Prongs to Start Your Savings

The emphasis at Magnify Money is on the basic decisions that will maximize your savings every day and, as they say, magnify your money. Their approach is four-pronged, teaching consumers how to reduce their credit card interest, eliminating unnecessary fees, maximizing cash back, and earning interest on all your savings.

By tackling each of these four aspects of your personal finance, you can reduce debt and stretch your dollars. It’s small changes like these, their website says, that can make a big difference in your financial situation.
Magnify Money also offers a variety of resources, including videos and tips, step-by-step guides on key topics like debt, credit scores, and identity theft, and handy calculators to help you decide the best debt repayment approach for you.

Comparing Financial Services and Providing Education

One of the main aspects of Magnify Money’s site is the financial product comparison. Choose the product you’d like to optimize, with options that include credit cards, bank accounts, loans, and other products.

Enter some info around your finances and habits, and the site will give you recommendations based on what you need, comparing features of each product. The information you enter isn’t personal — there’s nothing that would risk your personal identity.

In addition, their blog has a highly targeted focus that serves its main audience well. There are a wealth of in-depth reviews of various financial products and services with detailed information on benefits, pricing, and alternatives for the subject of the review.

And there are also “warning” posts that shine a spotlight on common and specific practices that aren’t always in the consumer’s best interest. It’s this “watchdog” stance that truly sets the Magnify Money blog apart.

Final Thoughts

If you’re looking for a site that will help you specifically target day-to-day financial decisions like credit cards and savings accounts, check out Magnify Money. They provide a systematic approach to financial literacy and taking control of your money and is especially suited for those who are beginning their journey to understanding their finances.

By offering small steps, detailed guides on key topics, blog content targeted at transparency in the financial industry, and in-depth reviews of various financial products and services, the company works hard to put money back in your pocket.

 

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About the Author: Ashley Gainer is a freelance writer specializing in money and entrepreneurship. You can find her online at ashleygainer.com or on Twitter @ageditorial.

Defaulting on Student Loans: What It Means and How to Avoid It

Defaulting on Student Loans

If you’ve ever been in a tough spot and thought that your student loan payment would be an easy bill to skip, think again. Defaulting on your student loan can bring disastrous financial consequences — but there are often mechanisms in place to help you out when making payments becomes difficult.

When you might not be able to make your loan payments, the worst thing you can do is ignore the situation. Here’s what you need to know about defaulting on student loans, and how to prevent it from happening.

What Does Defaulting Mean?

The default period is defined differently by each loaning institution, but ultimately defaulting comes down to missing many payments in a row. Most federal student loans go into default after 270 days (about 9 months) of no payments.

Are There Alternatives to Defaulting?

The instant you think you might not be able to make your student loan payments, it’s time to work on an alternative. The earlier you act, the more solutions will be available to you.

Don’t wait until it’s too late. You aren’t the first one to go through this situation, and there are policies and procedures to help.

These are the most common alternatives when it becomes too difficult to make your student loan payments:

  • Get a different payment plan. Call your lender and find out if there are other payment plans you can get on, like an income-based one. There may be a plan that offers lower payments.
  • Change your payment date. Ask your lender if you can shift the date your payments are due. Start paying your student loans right after your paycheck comes in, or have your lender set the due date to one that lands when you’re more likely to have money to cover it.
  • Consolidate your loans. If you’ve got multiple loans, it may be easier to consolidate them into one payment, which you can then structure using one of the other options on this list. This option isn’t for everyone, but it’s worth looking into if you have multiple loans with high-interest rates.
  • Request a deferment or forbearance. If you qualify for a deferment or forbearance, you’ll be able to stop or significantly reduce your loan payments for a limited period of time (e.g. 12 months).

Once you’ve actually defaulted, the vast majority of these alternatives disappear. That’s why it’s absolutely critical to get help as soon as you think there might be an issue.

What Are the Consequences of Defaulting on Student Loans?

You’ll face some significant financial and even legal consequences for defaulting on your student loans. Once it’s 90 days past due, your loan will be sent to a collection agency and your credit score will go down.

If your loans are federal, you may be subject to tax refunds being withheld, wages being garnished, and/or federal benefits being cut.

As if that weren’t enough, it’s possible that you won’t be able to renew your professional licenses when you’ve defaulted on a student loan. And the threat of being sued by any lender won’t ever go away — the ability to sue for unpaid student loans never expires.

How Can You Get Out of Default?

There are a few options for getting your student loan out of default, and they’ll need to be discussed with your lender. You may be able to consolidate your loans and start making payments that way, or set up a new payment plan based on your current income.

Federal loans in default may be eligible for a rehabilitation program. Paying the total of the loan in full is always an option, too.

The important thing is to catch yourself as far upstream as possible when you’re having trouble with your loan payments. The earlier you ask for help, the more options you’ll have — and the better your financial future will be.

 

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About the Author: Ashley Gainer is a freelance writer specializing in money and entrepreneurship. You can find her online at ashleygainer.com or on Twitter @ageditorial.

What Snowballs and Avalanches Have to Do with Debt

Debt snowball

If you have debt, you’re not alone. 43 million Americans carry student loan debt. And the average person between 18 and 65 has nearly $5,000 in credit card debt.

There’s no doubt that debt is a part of financial life for many of us. But it doesn’t have to be this way. The road to debt freedom starts with creating a plan of attack so you can get organized and strategically attack and repay every last cent.

Two effective ways to do this are the debt snowball and the debt avalanche.

Roll Away Debt with the Debt Snowball

The “debt snowball” is a method of debt repayment popularized by personal finance guru Dave Ramsey. Ramsey promotes several books, products, and systems, but you don’t need to buy anything to use this idea.

Here’s how it works: you tally up all of your debts by their balances. For example, if you had a student loan with a $10,000 balance, a car loan with a $2,000 balance, and a credit card with a $5,000 balance, you would order your debts like this:

  1. Car loan, $2,000
  2. Credit card, $5,000
  3. Student loan, $10,000

This is the order in which you repay all your debt. You start with the debt with the lowest balance, and once it’s paid off you move to the debt with the second-lowest balance. In this way, you “snowball” — you slowly build momentum as you knock out debt after debt.

You want to make sure you make the minimum payments on all your loans, but beyond that, all the money you have available for debt repayment goes to one debt at a time. Once you pay off the first loan, take all the money you used to make those payments and put it toward payments on the second loan, and so on.

Benefits and Drawbacks of the Debt Snowball

This method works well because of the momentum you build as you go. Many people find it really motivating to quickly wipe out an entire balance and be done with it. Because you start with debts with the lowest balances and work your way up, you get faster “wins” when you begin since it takes less time to pay off the first and second balances.

This is all about your behavior and how you feel about your debt, but it works. So much of personal finance doesn’t have anything to do with the numbers and everything to do with how we behave. The debt snowball method may make sense for you if you need to see faster progress in order to stay motivated and stick to the plan.

But you can’t ignore the financial reality: using this method may cost you more money in the long run. That’s because the debt snowball doesn’t take into account the interest rates on your balances.

If you pay off your debt in order of lowest balance to highest, you may end up getting rid of low-interest rate debts first instead of debts with high-interest rates. And the higher the interest rate, the more money you pay over the time you hold the balance.

If you’re more motivated by the numbers than the quick wins you get when you knock out small loans right away, consider a different debt repayment method.

Crush Your Debt with the Debt Avalanche

One of the most cost-efficient ways to repay your debts is to use the debt avalanche method. If you want to use this strategy, it’s not the balances of your debts that are important: it’s the interest rates.

Order all your debts from highest interest rate to lowest. You’ll start by working to repay the debt with the highest interest rate first. That’s because it’s costing you the most money each and every month thanks to the money you pay in interest.

Again, make sure you’re making the minimum payment on all your debts. But focus any additional funds you can allocate toward debts with the highest interest rates first.

The benefit here is obvious: over the entire time you repay your debt, you’ll save the most money if you get rid of balances with high rates first. But the debt avalanche isn’t for everyone because it can feel overwhelming. You may need to start with a loan with a really big balance, and you don’t get the quick hit of motivation that comes with wiping out a smaller loan sooner.

Should You Snowball or Avalanche?

There’s really no wrong way to repay your debt if you create a plan and stick to it. The key is determining which method works best for you.

If you struggle to stay motivated and feel easily overwhelmed by your debt, consider the debt snowball. You get to focus on your smallest debt first and knock it out as quickly as you can. Doing so may provide you with the motivation you need to keep going since you can see you can do this.

And if you’re more concerned with the long-term outcome and want to do what’s financially best by the numbers, use the debt avalanche. You’ll knock out debts by interest rate, and over time, you’ll spend less money.

The Perks of Hiring a Young Financial Advisor

Younger Advisor

The decision to hire a professional to help navigate the uncertain terrain of your financial future is not a choice to take lightly. Do you go with the industry veteran that has seen the ups and downs of the market and has a slew of letters behind their name to prove it?

Or do you look for someone who can better relate to the current state of your finances — someone your own age, who understands how best to repay your student loan debt and gets your desire to prioritize spending on travel?

Over the past several years, the financial planning industry has seen an increase in the hiring and development of young talent to keep up with the growing needs of people looking for more than just retirement planning. And there are serious benefits that come with hiring a young financial advisor if you’re ready to take this step.

Here’s why finding a younger financial advisor — someone who is in the same generation as you are — can help you reach financial success.

They Can Better Relate to Where You Are in Life

When choosing a financial advisor, one of the primary factors you need to consider is experience.

Not experience in the traditional sense of choosing someone based simply because they have worked in the industry for decades. Experience that comes from a person who has faced similar financial challenges and milestones to what you’re currently facing. Experience that cannot be taught by webinars or continuing education courses.

Finding a financial advisor that is close in age and shares a similar financial perspective to yours provides a unique opportunity to work with someone who ‘gets it’. They are familiar with the ins and outs of student loans. They understand the desire of working toward financial independence over retirement planning. And as a result, their recommendations are designed for you to live a life you love — instead of a life based on societal expectations.

They Aren’t Dismissive of Your Challenges

The traditional financial planning model places a high emphasis on accumulating investable assets and preparing for retirement.

But if you’re younger and facing issues like underemployment, economic uncertainty, or crippling debt, cash-flow planning and budgeting are far more important than running a Social Security analysis or planning for a retirement that is more than thirty years away.

For millennials especially, living expenses and debt repayment are high atop the list of financial priorities. Couple that with a lack of disposable income for investing and there is very little that is “traditional” about the state of most young adults financial affairs.

A financial planner your own age understands the issues you’re facing and knows that you need a comprehensive plan of action to get your financial life in order before worrying about a retirement that’s decades away.

These planners are less likely to dismiss those challenges as independent variables that only affect a small group. Instead, because they share a similar sentiment, they can better guide you through the planning process and prepare a strategy that addresses your specific needs.

That’s not to say you’ll never talk about saving for the future — but these conversations look far different with someone who helps Baby Boomers plan for retirement and someone who understands your desire to enjoy your life now while also saving what you need to have a secure future.

They Appreciate and Respect Your Goals

For many, the financial freedom to do what you want, such as pursue higher education, travel, or start a family is a higher priority than retirement planning or home ownership.

And while societal expectations may try to imply that there is one tried-and-true path toward attaining wealth, you probably aren’t buying it — and neither are your peers in financial planning.

Life just looks different today than it did 30 years ago. The idea of working at one company for an entire career, just to receive a gold watch and sail off into the sunset, is not even on the radar for most people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s.

The same goes for homeownership. You may prefer the flexibility of renting over the responsibilities of buying. Older advisors on the verge of their own retirements were part of the generation who believed owning your home was the cornerstone of the American Dream, who may preach that “renting is throwing money away.”

Young advisors are usually more open to exploring alternatives and understand that attitudes have changed. We simply don’t look at things the same way anymore, and communicating these mindsets and beliefs to someone very much stuck in an old way of thinking can be a challenge.

Your goals are just that — your goals. And working with an advisor who understands your unique perspective and respects those goals goes a long way in creating a long-lasting relationship of mutual trust and support.

They Add the Right Kind of Value

Hiring a young advisor provides the opportunity to engage with a professional that specializes in working with people just like you. Rather than try to convince you to conform to an antiquated traditional planning model that is not applicable to your financial needs, a young advisor can add value to the areas of your financial life that need the most attention like cash-flow analysis or career management advice.

You deserve comprehensive financial planning, and that doesn’t come from a few modifications to an existing service model designed for an older clientele. It comes from an advisor workforce of your peers that is personally familiar with the financial challenges that you face.

Receiving sound advice is critical to your ability to build wealth over time. So, if you haven’t already, start now and seek out a qualified financial advisor that understands your concerns and challenges, and can help guide you through them both now and for years to come. Your financial future is counting on it!

 

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About the Author: Kelby Green is a freelance writer and ‘Chief Frugality Officer’ behind millennial personal finance blog: The Frugalennial. Connect with Kelby via Twitter @TheFrugalennial

How Much House Can I Afford?

How Much House Can I Afford

You have a steady job, a good credit score, and you’re on track with your retirement savings. You don’t have consumer debt, you’ve knocked out your student loans (or have them on a manageable payment plan), and you have a little cash savings, too.

With these financial bases covered, you may feel that you’re in a good position to afford your first home.

But according to the a recent survey conducted by Realtor.org, buying a home is still an expensive proposition for first-time buyers despite lower mortgage interest rates and a rising household median income.

Before diving into the home ownership pool, consider the following points to help you make a financial decision that you can live with — and understand how much house you can afford.

Lifestyle: Today and Beyond

It’s important to not only look at your current lifestyle but the one you envision for yourself in a few years as well. If you’re currently single or engaged but are planning to get married and/or have children in the near future, then you may want to buy a home that can accommodate those plans.

This can save you money as you’d avoid the transactional costs tied with selling in order to buy a bigger home down the line. It can also help you prepare for increased costs of living. For example, you may be able to afford a $2000 per month mortgage payment now. But when you have kids and need to pay $1800 per month for daycare, will your budget be able to handle it?

And bigger is not always better regardless of whether or not you’re looking to expand your family. You may not want to maintain a larger property and prefer the convenience of condo living.

Take a moment to consider what your personal life goals are and decide on a property that will support your lifestyle for years to come. Homes aren’t easy to unload, so give yourself — and your budget — room for flexibility.

Location, Location, Location

You may have heard the adage “location is everything” and in real estate, it’s largely true. After you’ve determined what style and size of home you’ll need, the next step is to partner with a reputable realtor.

Finding a realtor who is knowledgeable not only about real estate in general but has experience with the neighborhoods you are looking at is crucial. They will be able to locate desirable homes in neighborhoods where the resale values are consistently strong.

Take the time to meet with several real estate professionals and obtain references. Buying a home is a major financial purchase so the preliminary research is worth the effort.

Can You Really Afford It?

Determining whether you can afford the home you want is truly the crux of the home buying process. You should first review your current expenses in relation to your household income.

Go over the following questions — or seek the assistance of a financial advisor.

Your responses will help clarify if you are ready for homeownership:

  • Are your debts significant enough that they could impact your ability to obtain a mortgage?
  • Would a mortgage plus related housing expenses exceed 30% of your net household income?
  • Do you have enough savings in addition to your down payment to contend with emergency expenses?
  • Is buying a home in your best interest and a financial decision that you are comfortable with?

Saving 20% percent of the home purchase amount in order to avoid PMI (private mortgage insurance) is ideally what you should aim for. If you have your heart set on a home that is $350,000, then you’d need to save $70,000 for a 20% downpayment on a conventional mortgage.

If you’re short on a 20% down payment then you can choose to wait until you reach your savings goal, put a smaller down payment, consider a less expensive home or explore alternative options such as government funded loan programs.

Don’t Forget the Extras

Avoid being blindsided by the additional expenses related to a home purchase. You’ll have to pay property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, new furnishings, and closing costs such as title and mortgage lender fees — just to name a few.

Another consideration that many new homeowners don’t factor is ongoing home maintenance. It’s suggested that you save 1-3% of the property value annually towards maintenance costs. Appliances will eventually need replacing, structural issues may surface and you’ll want to ensure that curb appeal remains high for resale purposes.

Above everything, don’t rush into buying a home before doing your homework. You can determine how much home you can afford by asking questions and working with a professional who can help you see the full picture — including factors that you may not even know to take into account.

The time you’ll invest will lead you to an enjoyable homeownership experience that your financial situation will thank you for, today and for years to come.

 

About the Author: Kassandra Dasent is a freelance writer, business consultant and advocates K Dasent Headshotfinancial wellness as a certified financial educational instructor. Her work has been featured in several online publications including Yahoo Finance, MSN.com and US News & World Report. Connect with Kassandra via Twitter @KassandraDasent

Stop Overspending! Inexpensive Alternatives to Common Costs

Stop Overspending

It’s not fun to set a budget for yourself when you go into it expecting to cut out things that are important to you. Looking good, feeling good, and having fun can take up a big portion of each paycheck.

But these things don’t have to be all-or-nothing. You can still have what you want if you’re willing to be just a little bit creative. You can stop overspending and still enjoy some discretionary buys.

Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

Gym Membership

Exercise is certainly important, but if you’re carrying a gym membership that you hardly use and definitely don’t enjoy, it’s time to try something else out. Start jogging in your favorite park, pick up a workout DVD to do at home, or ask your yogi friend to show you how to do some yoga sequences.

You can also go online to websites like FitnessBlender.com or even YouTube to find all kinds of free workouts, from cardio and HIIT to yoga and strength training.

And you don’t even have to drop your gym membership in its entirety if it provides value for you. Just consider switching to a different, cheaper gym or look for a new membership tier at your current workout spot.

Bonus: Interested in the latest fitness tracker but don’t want to shell out that much money? Here’s a roundup of alternatives to the FitBit.

Expensive Nights Out

There’s nothing wrong with going out for a night of fun, but doing it every week or even multiple times a week can really chip away at your financial situation. A great alternative? Go out for happy hour and then head home, kick off your work shoes, and cook your own fabulous meal. Or consider taking a mixology class and hosting your friends for drinks!

If the idea of cooking is really intimidating, once again, turn to the Internet for help. There are countless resources available that will help you get started in the kitchen. Try running a Google search for some specific meals, like “how to cook vegan dinners” or “paleo recipes.”

Plus, if you cook at home, you can enjoy the leftovers for lunch the next day and save even more money by eliminating another meal you might usually buy on the go.

Books, Newspapers, and Magazine Subscriptions

If you love books but the cost of buying new reads all the time is killing your budget, the library is your friend. A library card won’t cost you anything, and these days most libraries have an ebook catalog you can access through your tablet, smartphone, Kindle, or other e-reader.

When it comes to magazines, if you aren’t reading them, cancel them now or just don’t renew them when you get the renewal notice. Or, switch to online subscriptions, which are often less expensive.

A lot of content that’s in newspapers and magazine is also available online for free.

Insurance Policies

Many of us think insurance is a “set it and forget it” thing — it’s definitely mandatory and for good reason. But that doesn’t mean once you choose a policy, you can’t periodically check for better rates or options for your needs.

Review your insurance coverage each year and make sure you’re not paying for anything you don’t actually need. You may also be paying too much for coverage, so evaluate how much protection you need and what your tolerance for risk is.

Salon Services

Getting a haircut every 6 weeks really adds up, especially if you’re adding color services or other treatments. Same goes for manicures, pedicures, and other salon services.

Many cities have beauty schools (think Aveda Institute) that offer student services for free or at a steep discount. Most schools will have an experienced stylist check each student’s work during and after the cut to make sure nothing’s going wrong — and these are students with a level of experience, not total newbies who have never handled scissors before.

You can also go the DIY route and do your own mani-pedis. Cutting your own hair may be harder, but a family member could realistically help. Financial bloggers and self-proclaimed “frugal weirdos” The Frugalwoods Family does this to save on haircuts!

Dry Cleaning

While most clothing that says “dry clean only” on the label really shouldn’t go through a regular washing machine cycle, there are ways you can cut down on your dry cleaning expenses. The obvious first line of defense is to try to avoid buying clothes you can’t wash yourself.

For everything else, look into at-home dry cleaning kits or go online for washing instructions. Many natural fibers (like silk and wool) can be washed at home by hand even if the label says to dry clean them.

Do a little digging online and research what’s on your clothing labels. And of course, you can always stretch out the time between cleanings. Most of us tend to overlaunder our clothes, which not only costs more but also wears our clothing out faster.

Transportation

It seems like a no-brainer to have your own car, but having a car is expensive and there are usually much less expensive alternatives. Rather than leasing or buying a new car every couple of years, keep the one you have until it bites the dust. (Imagine going years without a car payment!)

Look at public transportation options, rideshares, or carpooling options. Biking to work is also becoming much more common.

Keep Hacking It!

No matter what part of your budget you need to trim, there’s an online community of “hacking” for that. Groceries, travel, insurance, technology…. you can find all kinds of information about saving big on any expense.

Try running a Google search for what you’re most interested in saving on, and check out the blogs, videos, and social media accounts that come up in the results.

All it takes is a little bit of time and a touch of creativity to get a healthier budget without missing out on the things that are important to you!

 

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About the Author: Ashley Gainer is a writer and coach who makes great content for entrepreneurs and small businesses and teaches other writers how to do the same. You can find her online at ashleygainer.com or on Twitter @ageditorial.

The Financial Argument for Renting Over Buying

The Financial Argument for Renting over Buying

Deciding whether you want to buy a home or continue to rent can be a huge decision that relies heavily on your finances and your preferences. While owning a home has almost always been associated with the American Dream, some people are finding that renting is the cheaper, better option for their situation.

There are quite a few reasons why renting may seem more appealing — and there’s a strong financial argument for renting over buying.

Here’s what you can consider when trying to decide for your own living situation.

Renting Provides More Freedom

If you want to buy a home, staying put for 5 to 7 years is the general rule of thumb to break even once you sell. This accounts for things like your monthly mortgage payment, your initial closing costs, and the cost associated with the selling process.

Homes appreciate slowly — if at all — so it takes time to recoup what you put into it.

But many homeowners may lose money in the long run, even if they meet that minimum standard of 5 years in the home before selling. If you’d like to have the option to pick up and move if you don’t like the area, find a new job, or pursue other opportunities, you may want to choose renting an apartment or house instead of buying.

While you can’t necessarily pick up and move any time you want when renting because you likely have a lease, it’s easier to get out of that kind of agreement than put a property up for sale, market it, negotiate with buyers, and close the deal.

Renting and obtaining a short lease is a much more flexible option that will allow you to feel less tied down if your circumstances ever change and you need to move or travel long-term.

Buying Isn’t Always Cheaper

Most people’s reason for buying a house is because it’s ultimately cheaper. If your monthly mortgage adds up to be less than market rent in your area, this is a reasonable motivation to want to buy a house.

Plus, there’s always the urge to avoid “throwing money away.” When you buy, you still have the monthly payment — but that goes toward equity in your home. You get that money back one day, right?

Maybe. That assumes the market goes up over the time you own your home and that the market is great when you eventually sell.

And depending on where you live, renting could actually be cheaper. Much cheaper, if you consider options like living with roommates.

The best thing to do to settle this side of the argument? Run the numbers for your specific situation. This rent versus buy calculator for the New York Times is really helpful.

Save Money on Upkeep

Home repairs and maintenance are some of the most fluctuating and unexpected expenses homeowners have to deal with. An estimated $2,000 repair or remodel can easily turn out to be double or triple that amount.

As a renter, you don’t have to worry about repairs for your home at all since the landlord will usually take care of everything from installations and upgrades, to painting and landscaping. Letting someone else handle these sometimes erratic and extremely high costs can give your monthly budget a big break.

Yes, There’s More Than Just Money in Renting Over Buying

Some people believe that buying a home is much cheaper than renting while others will argue that renting is cheaper because it excludes a lot of added living expenses that homeowners have to deal with.

Ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer because everyone’s situation is different. You can start by running your own numbers and understanding the specifics that apply to your situation — not someone else’s, and certainly not hypotheticals.

It just helps to understand some of the arguments for renting over buying (and vice versa!) so you know you’re thinking about the situation from all angles.

And yes, there is more to this argument than the numbers. What you care about and your preferences are important here.

How much space do you need? (Be honest!) Are you okay with having neighbors close by or do you want some space? Do you have a lot of debt, or a small emergency fund — or both? How are rent rates in your area compared to the price of homes? Where do you want to be in 5 years?

All of these factors — and more — will play a large role in your ultimate decision.

It’s best to remember that you don’t have to rent or buy forever. Both are options, and in both situations you can change your mind over time. There can be a financial argument for renting over buying, and there’s no rush to make a big purchase.

Rent as long as you need to consider the decision. As with all things in personal finance, at the end of the day the choice is largely a personal one.

 

Chonce MaddoxAbout the Author: Chonce is a freelance writer who’s passionate about helping others get out of debt and work toward financial stability. You can connect with her on her blog, MyDebtEpiphany.com.

Goodbudget Review: How to Do a Cash Budget, Without the Cash

GOODBUDGET REVIEW

There are tremendous benefits to putting yourself on a cash budget when you’re dedicated to taking control of your cash flow, savings, and debt repayment. The trick to being on a cash budget, though, is that — well, it requires you to carry around a bunch of cash.

Not anymore! The Goodbudget app (formerly EEBA, the Easy Envelope Budget Aid) makes it possible to sync your accounts and track your spending using the envelope system, while allowing you to leave those envelopes at home.

When you’re on a cash budget, the boundaries are easy: there’s a dedicated amount of money to be spent in any one category in any one month, and when the money is gone, it’s gone.

No more hoping you can afford something, no more trying to remember your expenses in your head, no more wondering if you’re going to be on track at the end of the month. It’s all right there in your hand.

But is Goodbudget really as great as it sounds? Does it keep your financial information safe? Should you use it if you’re considering the envelope budget?

Our Goodbudget Review

We tapped a self-described cash budget enthusiast XYPNer to try Goodbudget and report her results so you can know what to expect. She used the old-fashioned envelope budget when she was single, and now that she’s married she’s looking for a way to make a cash budget work for two spenders with no clearly defined spending roles. Here’s what she found.

Getting Started with Goodbudget

Signing up for Goodbudget is straightforward. The only thing to decide before you sign up is whether you want the free or the paid version.

The free version gives you 10 “regular” envelopes, 10 “more” envelopes, 1 financial account, 2 devices, a year of history, and community support.

For $5/month or $45/year, you can have unlimited “regular” and “more” envelopes, unlimited accounts, 5 devices, 5 years of history, and email support. The only time you’ll enter any private financial information on Goodbudget is when you purchase a paid plan.

Once you click on that Get Started button, you’re taken to a page that asks for an email address, password, and plan selection. There’s also a phone number you can call or an email address where you can send any questions you have, as well as a side-by-side comparison of the two plans.

After I register, I’m taken to the dashboard. On the left, there’s a column with two tabs: envelopes, and accounts. On the right, there’s a section that lists all my transactions. From there, I can search transactions, import transactions from a file I’d get from my bank account, or export everything in a CSV. I also see an option to generate helpful reports on spending, balances, income, etc.

Getting My Budget Set Up

I click on the Envelopes tab and click on Add/Edit. I’ve already planned what my envelopes will be, so setting them up is easy. I can even decide which envelopes will roll over their remaining cash to next month and which ones will return their leftovers to the pot.

In addition to the regular monthly envelopes, there are Goal/Annual Envelopes, which allow me to save up a certain amount each month toward an annual expense, like holiday gifts or car insurance, as well as one-time big expenses like a car or a wedding.

I also need to set up my accounts. There’s a section for checking/savings/cash accounts and a section for credit cards. They’re called credit cards, but really you can use them to track the balances of any debts you have.

It’s also possible to turn off the accounts and use Goodbudget just to track your spending and income without tracking which account(s) the money funnels through.

Adding Income and Transaction Information

Goodbudget lets you track both income and spending, and you input both of these in the Add Transaction section. You can also transfer money from one envelope to another or from the pot of unallocated funds to an envelope, and that’s done in the transaction feature.

You can schedule any kind of transaction in advance, and you can also set up recurring transactions — for example, your paycheck or your health insurance premiums. There’s an option to get an email notification anytime a scheduled or recurring transaction occurs.

As you spend or receive money through the month, you can enter each transaction manually on the website or in the mobile app. There’s a neat feature in Goodbudget that allows the app to remember your location when you enter a transaction and suggest the same information next time you enter a transaction in that spot.

Transactions can be imported in bulk from Quicken (QFX), MS Money (OFX) or CSV files, and your financial institutions will provide at least one of these file types for you to export. Once you’ve uploaded the file, Goodbudget will match up the imported transactions with any transactions you’ve already inputted.

You can then assign any new transactions to their envelopes by dragging each one to the corresponding envelope.

I found the website easy to use, and the help documents are easy to access and excellent. Once I was able to get everything set up, I downloaded the app onto my smartphone. When I logged in the first time, everything was ready to go.

Making any major changes or doing anything in bulk would be much easier to do on the web, but the main feature — transactions — is easy to do on either interface.

Deleting Device Access and/or Your Account

Managing access to your Goodbudget account is straightforward. If you want to keep track of the devices connected to your account, click on My Household and then on Manage Devices. You’ll see a list of all the devices used to connect to your account. From there, you can revoke access if you want.

To delete your account, click on My Household, click on Close Household, and hit the red confirmation button. It’s that simple.

Pros and Cons of Goodbudget for Cash Budgeting

Overall, I’m really happy with what Goodbudget delivers. I’m able to set up a cash budgeting system that two people can use. We’re able to keep using our credit cards, which we like, and we don’t have to carry around envelopes of cash. This will make staying on track with our budget a lot easier.

The web-based interface is robust and easy to use, and connecting multiple devices is seamless. This is the part I’m most excited about, since two people are spending from this one budget.

That said, there’s one main thing about Goodbudget that might make it less than ideal for some people. There’s no way to connect to your accounts with financial institutions; any transaction information has to be entered or imported. Bulk importing makes the task much easier, but it’s still an inconvenience if you want something that does everything for you.

Ultimately, I found Goodbudget to be a great tool for setting up and living by a cash budget without having to deal with trips to the bank and keeping track of envelopes of cash. I’m really happy to have found it.

 

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About the Author: Ashley Gainer is a writer and coach who makes great content for entrepreneurs and small businesses and teaches other writers how to do the same. You can find her online at ashleygainer.com or on Twitter @ageditorial.

Budgeting for Student Loan Payments Once You’ve Left the Nest for Good

Budgeting for Student Loan Payments

The average college student graduates with some form of student loan debt. As statistics show, most students carry around a student loan balance of $30,000 that they need to repay.

During and right after your grace period are the perfect times to evaluate your loans and your financial situation to determine how you’ll make student loan payments each month.

You can choose from a variety of payment plans and options before you get started as well. When you owe a lot of debt, some people may tell you to drastically cut your expenses so you can focus on your debt or move back in with family so you won’t have to worry about the financial burden of paying for housing.

While moving back in with your parents is a great option to jumpstart your student loan repayment process as it could save you thousands of dollars, not everyone has that option as some graduates are older or have simply left the nest for good.

Here are a few ways to budget for student loan payments when you are committed to living on your own.

Budget the Easy Way By Paying Yourself First

This is one of the easiest ways to make sure you pay on your student loan debt on-time and regularly each month. Instead of fearing that you won’t have enough money left at the end of the month to contribute to your loan payment, try to pay yourself first instead.

When you get paid, make at least the minimum payment on your student loans, then transfer a set amount to a savings account. After that, take care of all your other bills. You can use what’s left on discretionary spending last.

You may have to cut some unnecessary expenses or adopt some frugal hobbies with this method, but it will give you peace-of-mind when it comes to developing a realistic budget and paying off debt.

Lower Your Housing Expenses

If you rent an apartment and can’t or prefer not to move back in with your parents in order to put money toward your student loans, you can still cut your living expenses. The trick is knowing how to keep your living expenses moderate and simple.

A spacious condo downtown will clearly cost you more than a smaller basic apartment on the outskirts of town or in a small suburb. Living in luxury is not a must — and it’s a goal you can work toward over time as your income goes up and you pay down your debt. For now, repaying your loans should be a financial priority.

There are a lot of hidden costs involved with renting an apartment or house and owning a property, too. Be aware of these when choosing a living space, and look to eliminate what you can.

Some landlords provide extra amenities for tenants like a pool, computer lab, fitness center, concierge service, and so on. While these amenities might be nice, the extra cost you have to pay for them will be reflected in your rent amount.

You can lower your housing expenses by choosing to rent in an area that has a lower cost of living and leasing housing that doesn’t have extra maintenance and storage fees or benefits attached.

And don’t forget — you can make living on your own a little easier by finding a roommate (or roommates) to split expenses with. You may not be flying solo, but it’s a good compromise to have your own roof instead of staying under your parents’ and be able to repay your loans.

Consider a Side Gig

If adding student loan payments into the mix gives you a budget deficit, try finding extra ways to earn money on the side to increase your income. Depending on how much your student loan payments are, you may only need to bring in a couple hundred dollars per month.

You can do this by babysitting, walking dogs, cleaning houses, running errands, consulting businesses or individuals, or freelancing your skills. Don’t forget the fact that you will have to pay taxes on the extra income you earn so talk to a financial advisor or accountant who can offer insight on that aspect.

Commit to Making Payments

Budgeting for student loan payments when you have other financial responsibilities like your housing, bills, or even a family can require a lot of focus and determination along with a clear plan. The key is to prioritize the debt and commit to making payments each and every month so you can eliminate it.

 

Chonce MaddoxAbout the Author: Chonce is a freelance writer who’s passionate about helping others get out of debt and work toward financial stability. You can connect with her on her blog, MyDebtEpiphany.com.

Where to Go for Financial Education

When it’s time to take charge of your personal finances, one of the most important things to do is to educate yourself. This is actually something you can do fairly easily these days, both at home and with the help of educational institutions and financial advisors.

Here are 7 ways you can start developing a financial education for yourself:

1. Money Tools

The biggest name in web-based money tools is Mint. Mint bills itself as an all-in-one money hub for your personal finances, from checking account balances and budgeting to credit scores and bill payments.

2. Apps

Smartphone apps are go-to money management tools because they’re easy to use, “live” on your phone for great accessibility, and can integrate with your financial accounts when appropriate.

Some good apps to check out? Try Level Money and Good Budget, which help you track your spending and saving. To dip a toe into investing waters, check out Acorns, which rounds up every purchase you make and puts that spare change into an investment.

3. Websites and Blogs

There are countless websites and blogs to help you learn about managing your money. If you’d like to see some suggestions, check out the list of our favorite personal financial blogs here.

In addition, many of the financial advisors who are members of XYPN maintain their own blogs designed to help provide education on a number of important topics. Each week, we round up a few of our favorites and publish them here on our own blog.

4. Podcasts

If you’re into learning about money on the go, you might prefer podcasts over blogs. Some podcasts we enjoy include Stacking Benjamins, The Money-Guy Show, and So Money with Farnoosh Torabi.

5. Nonprofit Programs and Organizations

Financial literacy strengthens communities, and many nonprofits work to that end. You can look into some of these groups and make the most of the resources they offer.

Operation HOPE has a wide array of programs for youth, and their Hope Inside program also offers critical financial literacy services for adults in cities across the U.S.

Other nonprofits with programs and events that can teach you about money include the Institute for Financial Literacy and the Society for Financial Awareness.

6. Local Events

Sometimes an in-person event is the best way to learn. CFP Board’s Financial Planning Days is a nationwide event that features classroom-style workshops on important financial topics as well as one-on-one slots with financial advisors to address your specific questions.

7. Financial Planners

While financial education is something you can certainly do on your own, sometimes it’s better to work one-on-one with a professional. If you’d like to start a relationships with a financial advisor, there’s no better place to look than our Find an Advisor portal.

All financial planners in our organization are fee-only who offer advice on a monthly subscription basis — which means you pay one flat, transparent fee for professional services, and you pay monthly just like you would your cell phone or gym membership bill.

They can can meet in person or virtually so you’re not limited by physical location, and our portal includes search terms to help you find the right person for your situation.

Financial literacy isn’t a once-and-done thing, and there’s no limit to the many ways you can learn about your finances. Research on your own, connect with others online and in your community, and turn to an advisor when you’re ready for targeted expert advice. No matter what, don’t hesitate to take action!

 

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About the Author: Ashley Gainer is a writer and coach who makes great content for entrepreneurs and small businesses and teaches other writers how to do the same. You can find her online at ashleygainer.com or on Twitter @ageditorial.