How to Make a Side Income Running a Vending Machine Business

As we continue to make our way through COVID-19, many people are still looking for ways to get items they need without physical contact with another person.

Vending machines serve that purpose — and make money for the machine’s owner.

Owning and operating vending machines is big business, providing passive income without any specialized skills. It’s also called automatic merchandising.

Basically, all you need to get started is some startup money to buy a machine, a good location and the right products.

The Vending Machine Business During COVID-19

Revenue for the vending machine industry was $24.2 billion in 2019, up 3% from the year before.

That data came from the Automatic Merchandiser’s Annual State of the Industry Survey — before the full impact of COVID-19 hit.

There were 2,175,756 vending machines in service in 2019 in a variety of locations including:

  • Manufacturing areas
  • Offices
  • Retail spaces
  • Hotels/motels
  • Schools
  • Hospitals and nursing homes
  • Universities/colleges
  • Correctional facilities
  • Military bases
  • Restaurants, bars and clubs

Cold beverages were the top-selling product category. A majority of vending machines involve food and beverage products including sodas, coffee, snacks and candy.

There are also machines for bulk vending like gumballs, stickers, toys, novelties and more. During COVID-19, machines popped up selling masks and hand sanitizer.

At places like airports, vending machines often sell tech accessories and travel essentials like neck pillows, blankets and eye masks. Laundry rooms in residential buildings often have machines with detergent and fabric softener.

With many offices, businesses and other public spaces closed or restricted due to the coronavirus pandemic, the vending industry is certainly taking a hit.

“We’re in a tough, tough industry right now with COVID-19. A lot of stores don’t want the machines there, they don’t want the kids congregating, they don’t want people touching them,” said Scott Ausmus, director of manufacturing for National Entertainment Network, Inc. and president of the National Bulk Vendors Association.

He grew up in the vending business. The machines he sells and operates are the novelty kind, offering things like stuffed animals, toys and gumballs. Many are in restaurants and entertainment venues like bowling centers.

Many factors make owning a vending machine an attractive business venture.

The startup costs are relatively low, sometimes around $2,000. The work is flexible and often doesn’t require much day-to-day involvement. The risk is comparatively low and there is growth potential.

“There’s a higher profit in the gumball then there is anything else,” Ausmus said. “The cost of goods is low on the gumballs and everybody likes gum, so everybody still purchases a gumball and so that is a winner for a lot of people.”

Starting a Vending Machine Business

While the startup costs are low and the income is often passive, owning vending machines is not without risk. You must be able to understand your own financial situation and how much you can afford to invest.

There is the cost of the machine, the cost of inventory, personnel to keep it stocked, maintenance and more.

The more perishable the product and the busier the area, the more of your time the machine will take.

“If (your machine location has) a big break room and a lot of employees, you would have to be there once a day to fill your machines up because that’s how busy they are,” Ausmus said. Other machines like toys and candy don’t require as much restocking.

One of the first steps in starting a vending machine business is finding your niche and deciding what to sell. That takes a bit of research and knowing who your customer is.

“You gotta buy the right product. If you buy the wrong product, it won’t move and you won’t make any money and you certainly don’t want to throw [product] away,” Ausmus said. “You’ve got to have the variety for people and find out which ones they want and that’s what you restock with, what sells.”

Vending machine businesses are scalable, meaning it’s possible to start small and expand. You don’t have to wait for payments because customers pay when they purchase an item.

Location, Location, Location

To put yourself in the best position to be profitable means finding the right location.

Places with lots of foot traffic are good. Before COVID-19, that meant schools and universities, malls, office parks, etc.

Think about where people need to wait. While waiting, they may get hungry or thirsty. Ausmus’ novelty machines need kids around.

“One of the hardest things to do is to locate a location,” he said.

Location can be about trial and error.

“It’s really not a bad risk to put it in a location and find out that it’s not making enough money. … You can remove it and move it to the next one until you find that right location,” Ausmus said.

When looking for locations, be prepared to approach the owner or landlord with a business plan for the machine.

Also be prepared to:

  • Pay a percentage of sales or other fee for having your machine in their location.
  • Pay for the electricity the machine uses.
  • Ensure the security of the machine. There is money inside a machine as well as inventory. Theft and vandalism are always possible.
  • Research state and local laws and regulations.
  • Pay sales tax on the revenue the machine generates.

Key Purchase: Your Vending Machine

Then you will need an actual vending machine. There are several types, and prices vary depending on what is in the machine, whether it needs refrigeration or heating, and the interactivity.

Buying directly from a manufacturer or supplier is one option, as is purchasing on a secondary market. Some companies also rent machines. Ausmus cautioned to make sure there are spare parts and support available for what you buy.

Machines range from about $1,500 for a used or refurbished machine to several thousands for a new, high-end machine with many technical features.

Some machines have:

  • Remote monitoring software: This helps keep track of how the machine is working and notifies the operator if something is wrong.
  • Low stock alerts: Notify the operator when items needs replacing.
  • Vending management systems (VMS): Tracks sales and other data to help owners make better business decisions.
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Running a Vending Machine Business

While owning vending machines does not require any special skills, it is a business.

You will need inventory and someone to keep the machine stocked and maintained. This may require a van or truck.

Perishables need to be stocked more often than other items. Learning some basic maintenance skills could keep you from having to hire someone if there is a problem with the machine.

Different types of machines have different capabilities. Some take only cash while others will process credit or debit cards. Some models have touch screens or voice capabilities.

“Make sure that you have your phone number on the machine, and that the store location knows your phone number,” said Ausmus. “If somebody didn’t get what they wanted, make sure the store can give them a refund and you pay the refund back to that store. Then get out there as soon as you can to fix the machine so that you can continue to make money.”

Automatic merchandising isn’t for everyone, but owning and operating a vending machine can be a good business. Being able to retrieve the money you make and restock your machines easily is the key.

“Then you only work probably three days a month, basically on the whole gig,” said Ausmus. “Three four days a month can make somebody a good little extra income.”

Tiffani Sherman is a Florida-based freelance reporter with more than 25 years of experience writing about finance, health, travel and other topics.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

COVID-19 Scams

A man and woman chat in an office

As if fearing the health-related consequences of the COVID-19 coronavirus wasn’t enough, there’s also a fair amount of financial uncertainty related to recession and an unstable economy. People all across the United States are wondering how they’ll pay their bills and make ends meet as they file for unemployment and wait for a one-time stimulus check that may not cover the bills.

Go to Guide

Privacy Policy

It’s unfortunate, but some bad actors will always take advantage of situations like coronavirus. In addition to everything else, individuals also need to be on the lookout for COVID-19 scams that are cropping up. In fact, there are so many coronavirus scams out there right now that the FTC created an FTC Scam Bingo game to try and spread the word.

Read up on what COVID-19 scams to look out for and how you can protect yourself and your finances.

COVID-19 Stimulus Check Scams

Some scammers are tricking people into thinking they need to provide personal information to obtain their government relief check. Consumers do not need to sign up for the federal stimulus checks. The government plans to distribute them based on consumers’ 2018 or 2019 federal tax returns starting April 2020. Keep in mind that the IRS does not initiate contact by email, text, or social media.

How to Protect Yourself

Do not respond to any correspondence claiming to be the IRS or other branch of the government requesting personal information in exchange for access to your stimulus check. For accurate information about the federal relief checks and when you can expect yours, visit the IRS’s coronavirus resource.

Student Loan Scams

Americans owe over $1.64 trillion in student loan debt, so it’s no wonder that scammers are preying on this financially vulnerable population. Watch out for offers to forgive your student loan debt in its entirety or change your repayment plan for a fee, or requests for other personal information in order to suspend your payments in response to coronavirus. There is no such thing as instant student loan relief, and you should not need to pay a fee for help from your loan servicer. All federally backed loans have automatically suspended payments and set interest to 0%.

How to Protect Yourself

Do not accept unsolicited offers to help you with your
student loan payments and never give out your personal information. If you are
having trouble making payments because you’ve lost your job, reach out to your
loan servicer for options.

Social Security Scams

Social Security scams are common, but coronavirus has put a new twist on the scam. Now, in addition to watching out for scammers claiming that your Social Security number is about to be suspended, you also need to watch out for calls or letters claiming that your benefits will be canceled due to coronavirus-related office closures. Social Security offices are closed, but officers are still working, and your benefits will not be suspended. And your Social Security number will never be suspended.

How to Protect Yourself

If you are unsure if a call or email is from the Social Security Administration, reach out to them yourself for confirmation before sharing any personal information. If you have already given you Social Security number to a scammer, visit IdentityTheft.gov/SSA for steps on how to protect your credit and identity.

Medicare Scams

Because older individuals are particularly susceptible to COVID-19, scammers have been targeting them with Medicare scams. Be on the lookout for fraudulent Medicare representatives asking you to verify personal information, like your bank account, Social Security, or Medicare numbers. Medicare representatives will never call you to verify your account number, offer you free equipment or services, or try to sell you anything.

How to Protect Yourself

If you’re
not sure if a phone call is legitimate, hang up and call Medicare yourself.
That way you can confirm that you are talking to an actual Medicare
representative. To reach the Medicare office, call 1-800-633-4227.

Fraudulent Charities

Whether it’s a natural disaster or worldwide pandemic
like the coronavirus, legitimate charities work hard to aid people in need.
This can include providing food, funds, housing or other forms of assistance. Unfortunately,
fake charities can crop up too. They might use names that sound similar to real
charities and may even have emails, websites and phone numbers that seem
legitimate but aren’t.

How to Protect Yourself

Donate to charities that you are already familiar with. If you’re questioning the legitimacy of a charity, you can use third-party websites to check credentials. Options include Charity Navigator and Give.org, which is maintained by the Better Business Bureau.

Protect Yourself from COVID-19 Scams

As you continue to navigate the uncharted waters of a
worldwide pandemic, be on the lookout for COVID-19 scams. If you’re ever unsure
about something, you can consult trustworthy government resources or well-known
news outlets to verify information. Share this information about scams with
others so they know what to be on the lookout for as well.

More resources on scams:

  • Senior’s Guide to Avoiding Scams
  • Tax Season Scams
  • Student Loan Scams
  • Common Scams

The post COVID-19 Scams appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

5 Steps to Take When Budgeting for a Career Break

Not everyone’s career path is a 40+ year marathon working full time until you can finally come up for air in your golden years.

Sometimes you need a little break along the way.

Taking time away from the workforce — whether it’s to travel, take care of loved ones, learn a new skill or whatever — can be a beneficial thing. But money — or the lack thereof — is what stops many people from even considering it.

With some significant planning and budgeting, however, it’s possible to make your career break dreams a reality. Here are five steps you should take when budgeting for a career break.

5 Steps for Career Break Budgeting

1. Think About What Your Career Break Will Look Like

People take career breaks for a number of reasons. Take some time to reflect on why you are planning time away from the workforce and what you intend to do.

When thinking about what your new day-to-day will look like, try to get as detailed as possible. Hone in on aspects that will affect you financially.

How long will your break last? When would you like it to start? Will you be staying at home or traveling the world? What adventures would you like to experience?

While it’s nice to dream about your best life ever, you’ve got to be practical too. Ranking what you want to do with your newfound free time will be helpful if you have to cut your list down to fit what you can afford.

2. Explore What Your Costs Will Be During Your Break

After you’ve fantasized what your work break will look like, it’s time to focus on the numbers. You’ve got to know what your expenses will be in order to determine whether your plans are realistic.

If you don’t already budget your income and track your expenses, now’s the time to start. Your budget will give you a good idea of how much you spend on essentials and where you can cut costs as you save up for leave.

Research all the additional costs you expect to incur during your break. If you’re taking extended parental leave after the birth of a child, you’ll be dealing with a ton of new baby-related expenses. If you’re taking time off to travel, you’ve got to pay for transportation and lodging.

The length of your break will also be a big factor here. Obviously, the longer you’re away from the workforce, the more money you’ll need saved up.

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3. Set Up a Sinking Fund to Cover Expenses on Your Break

If you haven’t heard the term “sinking fund,” that’s just personal-finance speak for a stash of savings that you regularly contribute to over time to break up a big expense.

Once you’ve estimated the overall expenses for your leave, divide that by how many months you have left to come up with your target monthly savings goal.

Pro Tip

Switch to a bare-bones budget or try these other ways to save money fast so you can free up cash to add to your sinking fund.

If you already have existing savings you want to use to fund your career break, that will cut down on how much you’ll need to put aside each month — just make sure you don’t touch your emergency fund!

Your emergency savings should only be used on an actual emergency — like if you get into a car accident or Fido needs to be rushed to the pet hospital. Being away from work won’t make you immune to emergencies, so do not plan to use your emergency fund to tide you through your break.

In fact, before you focus on building up your sinking fund, you ought to have adequate savings in an emergency fund first.

A woman helps her mother up from a chair outside in their garden.

4. Explore Opportunities to Make Money On Your Break

If you’re able to make money while you’re away from work, you’ll be less financially burdened. You won’t have to save up as much or worry about burning through your entire savings.

The first income stream you should explore is your current job. Taking a career break doesn’t necessarily mean calling it quits where you work now.

Depending on what type of leave you’re taking, your job may be protected and you might be able to continue collecting your salary — or a percentage of your current pay.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides eligible workers with up to 12 weeks of leave after the birth or adoption of a child, to deal with a serious health condition or to care for an ill or injured family member. While this type of leave is unpaid, you’ll continue to be covered under their workplace health insurance plan and there may be the possibility of coupling this leave with short-term disability pay.

Pro Tip

President Joe Biden’s proposed coronavirus stimulus package includes extending the expired paid time off policies for sick workers and those needing to care for family members due to COVID-19.

Find out if your employer offers any other paid leave programs — whether that’s parental leave, unlimited PTO or sabbaticals. According to the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2019 Employee Benefits Survey, 27% of employers offered paid parental leave, 6% offered unlimited paid leave and 5% offered a paid sabbatical program.

Another 11% of employers surveyed offered an unpaid sabbatical program. While unpaid leave isn’t as ideal as paid leave, it gives you peace of mind that you’ll have a job to come back to after your break.

Other options to make money during your leave include picking up a side gig, bringing in passive income, renting out rooms (or your entire place) on Airbnb or selling your belongings.

If you need to pick up a little work while you’re on a career break, just make sure it doesn’t conflict with the reason you needed to take leave in the first place.

5. Develop a Re-Entry Plan

You need to plan for all aspects of your career break — including your transition back to the workforce.

Your budget needs to not only cover your expenses while you’re backpacking through Europe or nursing your elderly mother back to health. You’ve got to add a cushion for that period at the end where you’re actively seeking your next gig.

While data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the average length of unemployment is about 23 weeks, how long it’ll take you to find new work will vary depending on your industry and the position you’re seeking.

Plan to keep up with contacts in your field and engage in relevant volunteer work or continued education while you’re away to improve your chances of quickly finding a new job.

If your savings run low toward the end of your leave, don’t brush off finding a bridge job — a temporary role to help you pay the bills while you search for better opportunities.

Pro Tip

A resume gap isn’t the kiss of death it used to be. You can even craft a way to include side gigs on your resume.

A career break should provide you with freedom to pursue something outside of your typical work life. You don’t want that freedom to drag you deeper into debt or put you in a worse financial position if you can avoid it.

Do your best to budget for more time than you’ll need so you can enjoy your career break stress free.

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

How to Contact a Real Person at a Credit Bureau

How to Talk to a Credit Bureau

The information that credit bureaus collect affects just about every aspect of your life. Whether you’re approved for a credit card, get a good mortgage rate, can rent an apartment or even get a job – they all can hinge to varying degrees on your credit score. So when a credit bureau has something wrong, it’s imperative that you tell them. The three major bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – offer online services and prefer that you use their online forms instead of calling. But sometimes you need to talk to a live person. Here’s how to make contact.

Why Would I Need to Contact a Credit Bureau?

The three big credit bureaus or credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – create credit reports that reflect consumers’ creditworthiness. The reporting agencies are for-profit businesses and sell their reports to other businesses, such as insurers, credit card companies, banks and employers.

These businesses in turn factor in these credit reports when making decisions such as whether to offer you a credit card and at what interest rate. So it’s  important to monitor your credit reports and make sure the information on them is correct. If you ever find a mistake, you should contact the credit bureau to correct the information. You may also need to contact to a credit bureau if you think that you’re a victim of credit fraud. That could mean placing a fraud alert on your account or freezing your credit so that no one can open a new line of credit in your name.

Talk to a Real Person at Equifax

talk to a credit bureau

Equifax has multiple phone numbers that you can use to speak with a real person. The number that you use will depend on what you need help with. We recommend trying to contact the correct number. If you call the wrong number, they will simply say they cannot help you and then direct you to call another number. You can find all of Equifax’s contact information on its website, Equifax.com.

If you want to contact Equifax with a general inquiry, you can reach the company via phone at the number 800-525-6285. Just make sure to call between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday.

Equifax has also been in the news recently because it suffered a large data breach in 2017. If you have questions about whether your information was compromised in the breach, Equifax has a dedicated phone line at 888-548-7878. Again, be sure to call between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday.

The table below has some common reasons why you might want to call Equifax and the number that you should call in order to speak with a representative.

How to Speak With a Real Person at Equifax Reason for Calling Phone Number General inquiries 800-525-6285 Canceling a product or service (Equifax customers) 866-640-2273 Request a copy of your credit report* 866-349-5191 Place a fraud alert on your credit card 800-525-6285 Dispute information in your credit report 866-349-5191 Place, lift or remove a freeze on your credit 888-298-0045 Dedicated phone line for information on the 2017 data breach 888-548-7878

*Don’t forget: You can get a free copy of your credit report three times per year.

Talk to a Real Person at Experian

Experian makes it relatively hard to talk to a real person on the phone. The company encourages people to use its website for most things. However, there are three main phone numbers that you should know if you want to talk to someone at Experian.

Call 888-397-3742 if you want to order a credit report or if you have any questions related to fraud and identity theft. The number 888-397-3742-6 (1-888-EXPERIAN) will also work. You can place an immediate fraud/security alert on your credit with this number.

If you have a question about something on a recent credit report (such as incorrect information), you will need to have a copy of the credit report. On the report you will find a 10-digit number. This number is different for each credit report and you will need it for the representative to help with any issues related to your specific report. Once you have that number ready, you can call 714-830-7000 with questions about your report.

If you need help with anything related to your membership account with Experian, you should call the company’s customer service at 479-343-6239. You will need to call while the Experian office is open in order to speak with someone. The hours are 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. ET, Monday to Friday, and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET, Saturday and Sunday.

How to Speak With a Real Person at Experian Reason for Calling Phone Number Buying a credit report,

Placing a fraud alert on your credit file 888-397-3742 or

888-397-37426 (888-EXPERIAN) Question about a recent credit report 714-830-7000 Question about Experian membership account 479-343-6239 Talk to a Real Person at TransUnion

TransUnion has one general support number that you can use to talk to a human for help with your credit report (such as to dispute information, freeze your account, or report fraud), your credit score or any general questions. That number is 833-395-693800.

Note that a human representative is only available Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. ET,  Monday through Friday.

You will hear an automated service when you first call this number. Press 4 in order to speak with a representative. Then you will need to press 1 if you have a TransUnion File Number or 2 if you do not have a number.

A TransUnion File Number is a unique identification number that you can find in the top right of your TransUnion credit report. You do not need a number to speak with a representative, but you will need it to do anything related specifically to your credit report. For example, the file number is necessary for disputing incorrect information.

The Takeaway

How to Talk to a Credit Bureau

If you ever need to buy a credit report or address an issue on your report, you will need to contact a credit bureau. Each of the three national credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, has a website where you can do most things you may need to do. In fact, they prefer that you use online forms instead of calling. But sometimes it’s comforting to speak with a real person who can answer your specific questions.

The first step is figure out what phone number you need. The credit bureaus all have multiple numbers. Not all of the numbers will allow you to solve your specific issue. Of course once you have the right number, you will also need some patience. Hold times can be long, particularly during the coronavirus slow-down. The credit bureaus have also experienced higher phone traffic since the Equifax breach in 2017.

Tips for Using a Credit Card Responsibly

  • Correcting inaccuracies on your credit report by contacting a credit bureau can help to improve your credit score. Another potential way to improve your score is to get another credit card. It will increase your available credit and improve your credit utilization ratio. You can find the best card for you with our credit card tool. Of course, you should only get another card if you can responsibly handle the credit you already have.
  • One good piece of credit card advice is always to avoid as many fees as possible. Fees can make it harder for you to keep your spending down. Higher bills, in turn, could be harder for you to pay back in full. Here are 15 credit card fees that you should avoid.
  • It can be tempting to keep swiping your credit card, but make a budget and stick to it. A financial advisor can help you create a road map to make sure you’re hitting your goals and not getting into debt. SmartAsset’s free matching tool can help you find a person to work with. It will connect you with up to three advisors in your area.

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Source: smartasset.com

6 Things Your Mortgage Lender Wants You To Know About Getting a Home Loan During COVID-19

mortgage during coronavirusGetty Images

Getting a mortgage, paying your mortgage, refinancing your mortgage: These are all major undertakings, but during a pandemic, all of it becomes more complicated. Sometimes a lot more complicated.

But make no mistake, home buyers are still taking out and paying down mortgages during the current global health crisis. There have, in fact, been some silver linings amid the economic uncertainty—hello, record-low interest rates—but also plenty of changes to keep up with. Mortgage lending looks much different now than at the start of the year.

Whether you’re applying for a new mortgage, struggling to pay your current mortgage, or curious about refinancing, here’s what mortgage lenders from around the country want you to know.

1. Rates have dropped, but getting a mortgage has gotten more complicated

First, the good news about mortgage interest rates: “Rates have been very low in recent weeks, and have come back down to their absolute lowest levels in a long time,” says Yuri Umanski, senior mortgage consultant at Premia Relocation Mortgage in Troy, MI.

That means this could be a great time to take out a mortgage and lock in a low rate. But getting a mortgage is more difficult during a pandemic.

“Across the industry, underwriting a mortgage has become an even more complex process,” says Steve Kaminski, head of U.S. residential lending at TD Bank. “Many of the third-party partners that lenders rely on—county offices, appraisal firms, and title companies—have closed or taken steps to mitigate their exposure to COVID-19.”

Even if you can file your mortgage application online, Kaminski says many steps in the process traditionally happen in person, like getting notarization, conducting a home appraisal, and signing closing documents.

As social distancing makes these steps more difficult, you might have to settle for a “drive-by appraisal” instead of a thorough, more traditional appraisal inside the home.

“And curbside closings with masks and gloves started to pop up all over the country,” Umanski adds.

2. Be ready to prove (many times) that you can pay a mortgage

If you’ve lost your job or been furloughed, you might not be able to buy your dream house (or any house) right now.

“Whether you are buying a home or refinancing your current mortgage, you must be employed and on the job,” says Tim Ross, CEO of Ross Mortgage Corp. in Troy, MI. “If someone has a loan in process and becomes unemployed, their mortgage closing would have to wait until they have returned to work and received their first paycheck.”

Lenders are also taking extra steps to verify each borrower’s employment status, which means more red tape before you can get a loan.

Normally, lenders run two or three employment verifications before approving a new loan or refinancing, but “I am now seeing employment verification needed seven to 10 times—sometimes even every three days,” says Tiffany Wolf, regional director and senior loan officer at Cabrillo Mortgage in Palm Springs, CA. “Today’s borrowers need to be patient and readily available with additional documents during this difficult and uncharted time in history.”

3. Your credit score might not make the cut anymore

Economic uncertainty means lenders are just as nervous as borrowers, and some lenders are raising their requirements for borrowers’ credit scores.

“Many lenders who were previously able to approve FHA loans with credit scores as low as 580 are now requiring at least a 620 score to qualify,” says Randall Yates, founder and CEO of The Lenders Network.

Even if you aren’t in the market for a new home today, now is a good time to work on improving your credit score if you plan to buy in the future.

“These changes are temporary, but I would expect them to stay in place until the entire country is opened back up and the unemployment numbers drop considerably,” Yates says.

4. Forbearance isn’t forgiveness—you’ll eventually need to pay up

The CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act requires loan servicers to provide forbearance (aka deferment) to homeowners with federally backed mortgages. That means if you’ve lost your job and are struggling to make your mortgage payments, you could go months without owing a payment. But forbearance isn’t a given, and it isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.

“The CARES Act is not designed to create a freedom from the obligation, and the forbearance is not forgiveness,” Ross says. “Missed payments will have to be made up.”

You’ll still be on the hook for the payments you missed after your forbearance period ends, so if you can afford to keep paying your mortgage now, you should.

To determine if you’re eligible for forbearance, call your loan servicer—don’t just stop making payments.

If your deferment period is ending and you’re still unable to make payments, you can request delaying payments for additional months, says Mark O’ Donovan, CEO of Chase Home Lending at JPMorgan Chase.

After you resume making your payments, you may be able to defer your missed payments to the end of your mortgage, O’Donovan says. Check with your loan servicer to be sure.

5. Don’t be too fast to refinance

Current homeowners might be eager to refinance and score a lower interest rate. It’s not a bad idea, but it’s not the best move for everyone.

“Homeowners should consider how long they expect to reside in their home,” Kaminski says. “They should also account for closing costs such as appraisal and title insurance policy fees, which vary by lender and market.”

If you plan to stay in your house for only the next two years, for example, refinancing might not be worth it—hefty closing costs could offset the savings you would gain from a lower interest rate.

“It’s also important to remember that refinancing is essentially underwriting a brand-new mortgage, so lenders will conduct income verification and may require the similar documentation as the first time around,” Kaminski adds.

6. Now could be a good time to take out a home equity loan

Right now, homeowners can also score low rates on a home equity line of credit, or HELOC, to finance major home improvements like a new roof or addition.

“This may be a great time to take out a home equity line to consolidate debt,” Umanski says. “This process will help reduce the total obligations on a monthly basis and allow for the balance to be refinanced into a much lower rate.”

Just be careful not to overimprove your home at a time when the economy and the housing market are both in flux.

The post 6 Things Your Mortgage Lender Wants You To Know About Getting a Home Loan During COVID-19 appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

Fed: Credit card balances dipped by $3 billion in December

Credit card balances edged down in December, even as consumers engaged in holiday shopping, as uncertainty about a second round of stimulus checks extended to the latter part of the month.

Consumer revolving debt – which is mostly based on credit card balances – was down $3 billion on a seasonally adjusted basis in December to $975.9 billion, according to the Fed’s G. 19 consumer credit report released Feb. 5.

In December, credit card balances were off 3.6% on an annualized basis, following November’s revised 0.8% dip and October’s 6.7% drop, which came on the heels of September’s 3.2% annualized gain.

The Fed also reported that student loan debt outstanding for the fourth quarter rose to $1.707 trillion, from the third quarter’s $1.704 trillion. And auto loan debt outstanding gained to $1.228 trillion, from the third quarter’s $1.219 trillion.

Total consumer debt outstanding – which includes student loans and auto loans, as well as revolving debt – continued to grow and rose $9.7 billion to $4.184 trillion in December, a 2.8% annualized gain.

For the entire year, credit card balances were down 11.2%.

Card balances had been growing before the coronavirus impacted consumer spending and bank lending in 2020. They dipped below the $1 trillion mark last May, for the first time since September 2017.

See related: 51% of consumers accrued more debt during the pandemic

ABA sees brighter days ahead for credit availability

The American Bankers Association reports, based on input provided by chief economists of large North American banks to its credit conditions index for the first quarter of 2021, that credit conditions (both credit quality and availability) have rebounded from their lows of last summer.

However, all three components of the index (the headline credit index, the consumer credit index and the business credit index) remain below 50, which is not a robust index reading. It indicates that while bank economists expect credit conditions to remain “soft” in the coming six months, they are less pessimistic than they were in September 2020 when the ABA  conducted its last credit conditions survey.

The consumer credit index component of the survey gained to 45.3, its highest level since mid-2019. Economists are optimistic about both the availability and quality of consumer credit compared to September. They expect credit to be more available to consumers in the coming six months, although a small majority expects credit quality to decline.

“Although credit quality is still expected to worsen over the first half of the year for both consumers and businesses, the overall outlook for credit markets has improved significantly since the summer and fall,” said Rob Strand, ABA senior economist. “As widespread inoculations against the virus and new fiscal stimulus measures help heal the economy, banks will continue to work closely with policymakers, consumers and businesses to ensure that affordable credit remains available and recovery strengthens.”

Fed reports easing of credit card lending standards in fourth quarter

According to the Fed’s senior loan officer opinion survey on bank lending practices for January 2021 (which is based on input related to the fourth quarter of 2020), a “moderate net share of banks” reported that they had eased up on credit card loans.

As a result, a “modest net share of banks” also hiked up their credit limits on credit card accounts. And a “moderate net share of banks” reported that there was higher demand for credit card loans during the fourth quarter.

As for the outlook, a “significant net share of banks” is expected to ease up on their standards for credit card loans. They are doing so in anticipation of an improvement in their loan portfolios’ credit quality, as well as a hike in their tolerance for risk.

Also, the New York Fed’s survey of consumer expectations for December 2020 finds that consumers are less concerned about the possibility of missing a minimum debt payment in the coming three months. The average perceived probability of this occurrence dipped to 10.5% for December, from November’s 10.9%.

See related: What happens when you miss a credit card payment?

Jobs edge up in January

The New York Fed survey also finds that on average fewer consumers expect the unemployment rate to be higher a year from now, with this probability declining to 38.9%, from November’s 40.1%.

While the average perceived probability of losing a job in the coming 12 months rose up a bit to 15% (mainly on account of those without a college degree), respondents were also more likely to leave their job voluntarily. However, they were less optimistic about landing a new job if they lost their current ones.

The U.S employment situation was about stable in January, with the economy adding 49,000 jobs, the government reported Feb. 5. “The labor market continued to reflect the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and efforts to contain it,” according to the Department of Labor’s employment report media release. The unemployment rate dipped 0.4 percentage points to 6.3% and average hourly earnings were up $0.06 to $29.96. Also, the job numbers for both November and December were revised down, with November down 77,000 jobs (to 264,000) and December losing an additional 87,000 jobs (to minus 227,000).

In his daily email commentary, Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, noted, “Coupled with the -159K net revision, this is a significantly softer report than expected, at least in terms of payrolls. Bulls will cite the large and unexpected drop in the unemployment rate, but two-third(s) of the decline was due to a 405K drop in the size of the labor force – a sign of discouragement – while household employment rose 201K.”

He added that “the labor market was frozen at the start of the year, and is completely dependent on the pace of reopening, which in turn is contingent on the speed and sustainability of the fall in hospitalizations.”

Source: creditcards.com

How to Qualify for the Coronavirus Economic Relief Package

The coronavirus economic relief package for workers and small businesses can be confusing. Who qualifies for what programs? How do you apply successfully?

If you’ve been laid off or had your work hours cut due to the pandemic, you're eligible for both state and federal unemployment compensation. That’s a pretty straightforward situation.

If you run a business that’s been hurt by the economic downturn and you have employees, you qualify for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). It’s a loan backed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) that offers relief if you want to continue paying your employees, even if they can’t do their jobs during the health crisis. If you use PPP funds for approved business expenses, such as payroll, rent, and utilities, you don’t have to repay the loan.

Additionally, there are other types of loans you can get through the SBA, such as the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL). It comes with potentially higher loan amounts than the PPP but must be repaid. You may also qualify for an Economic Injury Disaster Grant (EIDG), which pays businesses $1,000 per employee, up to a $10,000 maximum, and doesn’t have to be repaid.

Whether you call yourself a full or part-time freelancer, gig worker, or an independent contractor, you’re still a small business. If you’ve suffered financially due to the pandemic, you have several options to get relief.

But what’s been unclear are the options for the self-employed who have no employees except themselves. Whether you call yourself a full or part-time freelancer, gig worker, or an independent contractor, you’re still a small business. If you’ve suffered financially due to the pandemic, you have several options to get relief.

I interviewed Gerri Detweiler, a nationally recognized financing and credit expert with more than 20 years of experience. She’s the Education Director for Nav, a trusted financing partner for more than 1.2 million businesses. Gerri gives Nav’s customers certainty in an uncertain world through expertise and actionable advice. 

On the Money Girl podcast, Gerri and I cut through the confusion to help businesses of any size, including solopreneurs, understand how to get economic relief during the coronavirus crisis. We cover a variety of topics, including:

  • Understanding the coronavirus relief options for businesses, the self-employed, and the unemployed
  • Whether a solopreneur should file for unemployment or the PPP
  • Documents you need to prepare before applying for an SBA-backed loan
  • How business credit is different from consumer credit
  • Common mistakes that keep businesses and the self-employed from qualifying for economic relief
  • Tips to make sure a PPP loan you receive will be forgiven
  • How consumers who are struggling to pay bills can protect themselves from debt collectors

Listen to the interview using the embedded audio player or on Apple PodcastsSoundCloudStitcher, and Spotify.

If you’re a struggling entrepreneur, check out these resources to understand your options:

11 Options If Your Small Business Can’t Pay Its Bills Due to Coronavirus

Applying for a Business Loan Is Changing Due to COVID-19: Here’s What It Means

How to Apply for a Payroll Protection Program (PPP) Loan

Source: quickanddirtytips.com

Turkey, Money, COVID, and More

I’m thankful for you, reading this article. But I’m also thankful for turkey and potatoes and pecan pie. And in the spirit of Thanksgiving dinner, I’d like to serve you with a smorgasbord today. The appetizer comes from the engineering world. The main course brings in investing. And for dessert, I added a quick calculator to consider the risk of COVID at your Thanksgiving dinner.

Low and Slow

I’m a mechanical engineer. In the engineering sub-field of heat transfer, there’s an important quantity called the Biot number. The Biot (bee-yo) number compares the way heat enters a body at its surface against the way that heat travels through the body.

That might not make sense to you. That’s why the Biot number needs to be explained using food!

Why do we cook pizzas at 900ºF for 3 minutes? Great question, especially when compared against cooking turkeys at 350ºF for multiple hours.

Pizza has a small Biot number. It has a large surface area compared to its volume—it’s very thin. Any energy added to the pizza at its surface will quickly propagate to the center of the pie.

But turkey has a large Biot number. It’s roughly spherical, so its ratio of volume to surface area is vastly larger than a pizza’s. It takes time for energy added at the surface of the turkey to propagate to the center of the turkey.

Food pizza cooking GIF on GIFER - by Aragami

And then there’s the matter of mass. This is separate from the Biot number, but equally important. Cooking a 20-pound turkey will take longer than cooking a 1-pound pizza. That’s easily understood. Heavy stuff takes longer to warm up.

Potatoes and Pumpkin Bread

Why do I have to bake pumpkin bread at 325ºF for an hour? Why can’t I bake it for 450ºF for 40 minutes? Or in a pizza oven, at 900ºF for a few minutes?

I don’t recommend it, but it’s an experiment you could conduct yourself. You’d find that you’d overload the exterior of the loaf with heat before giving that heat enough time to propagate to the center of the loaf. The outside burns. The inside remains raw. And everyone’s sad at the lack of pumpkin bread.

Pumpkin bread GIFs - Get the best gif on GIFER

The more cubic or round or dense a food is, the more low-and-slow the cooking or baking will be. This applies to loaves of bread, cakes and pies, or dense cuts of meat. A meat smoker might run at 225ºF all day.

If a food is flat or thin or narrow, it can probably be cooked high and fast. Pizzas, bacon, stir fries all apply. Lots of surface area and lightweight.

But what about mashed potatoes? We only boil potatoes at 212ºF degrees for 15 minutes. That’s way colder and shorter than a turkey or pie. And potatoes are reasonably dense. What gives?

The answer is that water transfers heat more effectively than air. That’s why 60ºF air feels temperate to your skin, but 60ºF degree water is frigid. That’s why you can stick you bare hand in a 400ºF oven (for a few seconds), but sticking your hand in boiling water (212ºF) will scald you. Water moves heat better than air.

Snoop Dogg Adds Mayonnaise To His Mashed Potatoes And I'm Actually OK With It

And moving or flowing fluid transfers heat better than stagnant fluid. This is why cold winter air has a “wind chill” factor—the blowing cold air removes more heat from your skin that stagnant cold air. And those Thanksgiving potatoes are surrounded by boiling and roiling water. They cook quickly.

Invest Like a Turkey

Enough engineering. Let’s bring it back to money.

You can approach investing like baking a pizza. Or you can invest like you would cook a turkey. I recommend the turkey version.

Turkey Cooking GIFs | Tenor

You can (try to) pick stocks that will double overnight. Or you could explore exotic asset classes with promises of “going to the moon.” You can even borrow money—or leverage—to further extend your investments. This is investing like a pizzamaker. It’ll be hot and fast and potentially over in five minutes.

But sadly, historical context provides ample data suggesting that pizza investing is not effective. Hand-picking stocks has more risk than reward. Short-term flips are closer to gambling than to investing.

That’s why you should invest like a turkey. Low and slow and long-term. Check on your progress occasionally. Adjust your timeline if needed. A half-cooked turkey does not resemble your final product, just like a half-funded portfolio can’t support your retirement. But mostly, stay on plan and trust the process. Plan for the long-term and let time take care of the rest.

Use last week’s retirement calculator to plan for the long-term…starting with your savings goal for 2021.

A Plate Full of Stuffing

And speaking of Thanksgiving, ensure that your investing portfolio resembles a Thanksgiving plate: diverse and well-balanced.

Could you imagine eating 1500 calories worth of gravy? Well, maybe. But it would be accompanied by plenty of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and potatoes, too. You can even fit in a slice of something exotic, like pecan pie.

Thanksgiving Dinner GIFs | Tenor

Similarly, a well-balanced investment portfolio reduces your risk from being over-exposed to any single asset type. I described my personal choices in my “How I Invest” article. But there are many ways to skin a turkey, and many ways to diversify a portfolio.

Will Your Turkey Get COVID?

Everyone seems to be all huffy about gathering for Thanksgiving. So-called “experts” are saying the holiday will act as a super-spreading event for COVID. First, Starbucks cancelled Christmas. And now China is cancelling Thanksgiving? What’s up with that?!

Don’t be an ignoramus. For most of the United States, a gathering of 10 or more people has a higher than 50% chance to contain at least person who is positive for COVID. Re-read that sentence.

If you’re going to gather for Thanksgiving, it’s helpful to understand the risk involved. For some, the risk is small and reasonable. For others, the probability of COVID being at your gathering will easily surpass a coin flip.

The following calculator is a simple, first-order estimate. It provides an example of how probabilities work. There’s more explanation after the calculator.

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I’m not an epidemiologist or virologist. Please take this math at face value. If an area has a positive infection rate P, then then odds of a person being negative is 1-P. The odds that all N people at your gathering are negative is (1-P)^N. Therefore, the odds of at least one positive case at your Thanksgiving gathering is 1-(1-P)^N.

I recommend looking up your area’s positive case rate here—COVID ActNow. Now, a large positive test rate is just as indicative of insufficient testing as it is of high infection rates. If you only have enough test supplies to test the sickest people, then you’re likely to have a higher rate of positive infections. More reading here from a guy named Johns Hopkins.

So feel free to play around with the infection rate. The true infection rate of an area is likely lower than what’s reported on COVID ActNow.

Keep Grandma healthy!

Thanks Again

Thanks a ton for reading the Best Interest. I try to stuff this blog full of fun and helpful information, and having wonderful readers is the gravy on top.

I wish you a happy and healthy Thanksgiving. And don’t burn the pumpkin bread!

If you enjoyed this article and want to read more, I’d suggest checking out my Archive or Subscribing to get future articles emailed to your inbox.

This article—just like every other—is supported by readers like you.

Source: bestinterest.blog

Is Investing During Coronavirus a Good Idea?

A man in a suit and tie works on his cellphone and laptop at the same time.

The coronavirus bear market might look appealing to some. But for many, the economic changes that come with COVID-19 cause anxiety and uncertainty. Investing during coronavirus, when you can buy stock or other assets for lower prices, might sound like mathematical sense, but is it right for you?

Go to Guide
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Start with the information below—and the advice of your
financial planner—to make an educated decision for yourself.

A Look at the COVID-19 Stock Market

The stock market took a beating as the coronavirus
began to sweep across the US. On Feb. 20, 2020, the Dow Jones Industrial
Average was 29,219.98 points. By March 23, 2020, it had dropped to
18,591.93 in an extreme slide downward related to the pandemic.

But even as the Dow continued to drop, economic experts were warning people not to panic with their money. Peter Mallouk, a chief investment officer, said he was worried people would make irrecoverable mistakes by using emotion- and fear-based decisions in managing their portfolios.

And in fact, the Dow did start to climb again, reaching as high as 23,949.76 on April 14, 2020. While it’s likely to rise and fall throughout the pandemic, economic experts predict the stock market will eventually rally.

Some Reasons a Rally Is Likely

Nothing falls forever. Eventually, the economy will
begin to rise again. Consumers are eventually going to hit the market with enormous
demand.

According to MarketWatch, the economy in the US is about 70% driven by consumer culture—the buying and selling of goods and services. During the coronavirus quarantine, many people have been stuck in their homes or limited in how they can shop, dine or recreate. Once stay-at-home orders are lifted and people start to get back to a new normal, there’s likely to be a huge spike in spending.

MarketWatch also predicts that changes in supply chains
and money from various economic stimulus efforts will continue to stimulate the
stock market. While no economic future can be 100% predicted, historical trends
support some of these predictions.

Should I Invest During Coronavirus?

But an eventual rise in the stock market isn’t a free pass to go all in. Investment adviser Ric Edelman says knowing how to proceed according to your own situation and needs is important. Regardless of what the economy might be doing right now or in the future, understanding your own financial goals is the place to start.

First, consider how long you have to regain lost wealth or build new wealth. Someone who is on the verge of retirement or already retired may not have the time it takes to wait for bear market investments to increase in value. Older adults might want to stick with low-risk investments or savings accounts that maintain what wealth they already have.

Next, consider your current financial status. “Buy low, sell high” might be the prevailing wisdom among investors, but it only works if you have the money to buy with. Many families are facing loss of income or jobs right now, and it might not be the time for investing. Instead, it might be time to work on your personal budget and negotiate with creditors to reduce expenses, at least temporarily.

Finally, consider how risk adverse you are. No investment is a sure thing, but some
do come with more risk than others. Understanding what you can afford to lose
helps you determine which types of investments might be right for you.

Investing During Coronavirus: Where and How?

Ultimately, only you can decide if investing during
coronavirus is the right move for you. Once you make that decision, though, you
have many options to choose from. Here are just a few possible investments that
might be right for you.

  • Buy stocks that have dropped enough to make them affordable but are for companies that you feel will weather the storm and come out swinging after the pandemic.
  • Invest in companies that have enough cash. Most expert-level investors are still looking for opportunities, but they’re being picky and opting for companies that have strong cash flow and stable balance sheets. Now isn’t the time to make big gambles, especially if you’re not young enough to recover before retirement.
  • Consider investing in real estate, which historically has weathered recessions and global economic crisis better than many other options.

If and how you invest is a very personal decision—and
always a big one. It’s a good idea to seek help from personal financial
advisers or other wealth management professionals even in good times. Consult
professionals for help understanding the best ways to support your
wealth-building goals if you decide to invest during coronavirus.

Other Coronavirus Support

Coronavirus has impacted more than just our investment opportunities. If you’re worried about other money or credit questions at this time, check out our COVID-19 finances guide. From keeping eyes on your credit to what to expect from stimulus packages, Credit.com has information to help you plan and manage your money during this time.

The post Is Investing During Coronavirus a Good Idea? appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

8 Essential Rules for Surviving Financial Hardship

At some point, most people experience an unexpected crisis that shakes their financial world. It could be losing a job, receiving a huge medical bill, or having a car break down at the worst possible time. But surviving a pandemic is a situation you probably never thought you would face.

No matter what challenge you’re facing, you’re not the first.

Along with the public health toll, the COVID crisis has put millions of people out of work. For those struggling financially, here are eight critical rules to help you manage money wisely, stretch your resources, and bounce back from this unprecedented health and economic disaster.

8 rules for managing a financial hardship

Here are the details about each rule to manage a financial setback during the coronavirus crisis.

Rule #1: Accept your situation and use your resources to seek help

The key to successfully navigating a financial setback is to be realistic. If you’re in denial and don’t face money troubles head-on, you can quickly compound the damage.

Instead of focusing on the problem, getting angry, or letting stress overwhelm you, channel your emotions into finding solutions. Start talking about your challenges with people and professionals you trust, such as a money-savvy family member, financial advisor, legitimate credit counselor, or an attorney.

Instead of focusing on the problem, getting angry, or letting stress overwhelm you, channel your emotions into finding solutions.

The following financial associations have certified volunteers who can offer free help and advice:

  • National Association of Personal Financial Advisors
  • The Financial Planning Association
  • Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education

Rule #2: Get a bird’s eye view of your finances

To fully understand your situation, create a list of what you own and owe; this is called a net worth statement. Compiling your data in one place helps you evaluate your financial resources, make decisions more efficiently, and have essential information at your fingertips if creditors or advisors ask for it.

First, list your assets: 

  • Cash
  • Investments
  • Retirement accounts
  • Real estate
  • Vehicles 

Then list your liabilities:

  • Mortgage
  • Car loans
  • Student loans
  • Credit card debt

Include the estimated values of your assets, the balances on your debts, and the interest rates you pay for each liability. You could jot down this information on paper, enter it in a computer spreadsheet, or create a report using money management software.

When you subtract your total liabilities from your total assets, you’ve calculated your net worth, which is an indicator of your financial health. It’s not uncommon to have a low or negative net worth when you’re in financial trouble.

RELATED: 10 Things Student Loan Borrowers Should Know About Coronavirus Relief  

Rule #3: Understand your cash flow

An essential part of bouncing back from a financial crisis is keeping an eye on your monthly income and expenses. Create a cash flow statement that lists your expected income and typical expenses, such as rent, utilities, food, prescriptions, transportation, and insurance. Again, you can create this report manually or by using budgeting features in a financial program.

Understanding where your money goes is the only way to prioritize expenses and cut all non-essential spending.

Understanding where your money goes is the only way to prioritize expenses and cut all non-essential spending. Making temporary sacrifices will help you recover as quickly as possible with less long-term damage to your finances.

Rule #4: Shop your essential expenses

As you review your spending, it’s an excellent time to comparison-shop your essential expenses. Evaluate your highest costs first, such as housing, vehicles, and insurance, since they offer the most significant potential savings.

For instance, you may be able to move into a less expensive home, purchase or lease a cheaper vehicle, and shop your auto insurance to find better deals. Ask your utility provider about assistance programs that offer energy-saving improvements at no charge.

Rule #5: Communicate with your creditors

If you haven’t been in contact with your creditors, start a dialog with each one immediately. You’ll come out ahead and get favorable treatment from creditors if you are proactive and honest about your financial troubles. Ask them for solutions, such as deferring payments for several months, setting up a reduced payment plan, or refinancing a loan to reduce your financial burden.

You’ll come out ahead and get favorable treatment from creditors if you are proactive and honest about your financial troubles.

Creditors are likely to ask about details regarding your financial situation, so have your net worth and cash flow statements on hand when you speak to them. Be ready to complete any required assistance applications quickly.

Rule #6: Prioritize your debts carefully

Based on guidance from creditors and finance professionals, prioritize your bills and debts carefully. Your goal should be to conserve as much cash as possible without skipping essential payments. Always pay for necessities first: food, prescription drugs, and auto insurance.

Debts related to child support and legal judgments have severe consequences and should be prioritized

Use your net worth statement to rank your liabilities from highest to lowest priority. For instance, debts related to child support and legal judgments have severe consequences and should be prioritized. Keeping up with an auto loan is a high priority if you rely on your vehicle for transportation. Federal student loans are in automatic forbearance through September 30, and the relief may get extended through 2020.

Your unsecured debts—medical bills, credit cards, and private student loans—are lower priorities. Never pay these debts ahead of rent, a mortgage, or utilities when you have a cash shortage.

Rule #7: Don’t let collectors force you to make bad decisions

Prioritizing your debts means some may be paid late or not at all. If a debt collector contacts you about a low-priority debt, such as a medical bill or credit card, don’t allow them to persuade you to pay it before your highest priority bills.

Collectors may try various aggressive tactics, such as threatening to sue you or ruin your credit. A lawsuit could take years, and a creditor is more likely to negotiate a settlement with you. Remember that a creditor or collector can’t send you to jail for civil debts.

If you are behind on bills, that fact is likely already reflected on your credit reports. By the time a collector contacts you, the damage is already done, and paying the bill won’t improve your credit in the short-term.

Rule #8: Take advantage of local and federal benefits

If your income and savings have entirely dried up, use these resources to learn more about local and federal benefits.

  • FeedingAmerica.org has a map showing local food banks
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the federal food program you may qualify for based on where you live, your income, and family size
  • MakingHomeAffordable.gov can help you find a housing counselor or see if your mortgage is backed by the federal government and qualifies for forbearance
  • Benefits.gov has a questionnaire that helps you discover the benefits you’re eligible for
  • Medicaid.gov is the federal health insurance program you may qualify for based on where you live, your income, and family size
  • Healthcare.gov is the federal health insurance marketplace where you may find plans with substantial subsidies if you earn too much to qualify for Medicaid

Financial challenges can cause you and your family to experience a flood of emotions, including anger, fear, and embarrassment. As difficult as it might be to put a financial crisis into perspective, it’s critical. No matter what challenge you’re facing, you’re not the first. There are millions of people who are dealing with COVID-related financial hardships.

Face the fact that your recovery could take a while. Do everything in your power to manage your budget wisely by getting organized, seeking ways to earn more, and spending less. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from creditors, seek free advice from professionals, and take advantage of every local and federal benefit possible.

Source: quickanddirtytips.com