How Long Does It Take To Buy A House?

How long does it take to buy a house? The answer is: it depends. You can buy a house in a matter of weeks or it can take you anywhere from 4 to 6 months. The question is how ready are you? It can take a long time, and that’s just learning about various mortgage options or improving your credit score.

So understanding the various factors involved in buying a house can give you an estimate of how long it will take you to buy the house

Check out now: 5 Signs You Are Not Ready To Buy A House

How long does it take to buy a house? A step-by-step guide.

It can take a homebuyer a few weeks to several months to complete the home buying process. But when determining how long it will take you to buy a house, you first have to find out if you will be pre-approved for a mortgage. There is no sense of shopping for a house to then realize you can’t afford it.

If you are interested in comparing the best mortgage rates through LendingTree click here. It’s completely free.

I. How long does it take to get a pre-approved mortgage letter in order to buy a house?

If you’re serious about buying a house, it’s important to get pre-approved for a mortgage. So when it’s time to make an offer, the seller will know you’re serious. If you don’t have one handy, the seller will likely move to the next buyer.

Getting pre-approved for a mortgage in order to buy a house can take longer. That is because you have to make sure your financial situation is in shape. For example, your income-to-debt ratio, your down payment, and your credit score must be good. That’s exactly what a mortgage lender will look at.

Even when these things are in order, shopping and comparing mortgage rates and fees can take several weeks.

Let’s take a look on how long it will take you to get these things in shape before buying a house.

Click here to compare mortgage rates through LendingTree. It’s completely FREE.

A. How good is your credit score?

A low credit score can make buying a house take longer, because it can take months to a year to improve a bad credit score.

A conventional loan will usually require a 640+ credit score.

In fact, your credit score is the number 1 item mortgage lenders look at to decide whether to offer you a mortgage. And if it is not where it’s supposed to be, you might get rejected.

Luckily for you there are other ways to get a loan with much lower credit score: FHA loans.

FHA loans only require a credit score of 580 with 3.5% down payment. You may get qualified with a 500 credit score, but you’ll have to come with a 10% down payment.

So before you get into the fun part of shopping for a mortgage or visiting homes, it’s best to know what your credit score is and take steps to improve it.

You can get a free credit score at Credit Sesame.

B. Fix errors on your credit report.

Fixing errors on your credit report in order to get pre-approved for a loan in order to buy a house can take 30 days.

According to Transunion, “most investigations are completed within 2 weeks, but some may take up 30 days.”

Again, we recommend you get a free credit report at Credit Sesame. A credit report will give you a detail analysis of your credit history, how much debt you owe, and how creditworthy you are, etc. If there are any errors or inaccuracies, fix them immediately so there’s no surprise when you’re actually applying for a mortgage.

The best way to do that is by filing a Transunion dispute or Equifax dispute.

C. Do you have a down payment for the house?

How long it will take you to buy a house will also depend on whether or not you already have money saved up for a down payment.

Unless you’re going to buy the house with outright cash, you’ll need a down payment. And saving for a down payment can take a long time. Depending on your income and expenses, saving for a down payment on a house can take years.

Assuming, for example, you want to buy a house that will cost you $450,000, and you’re using a conventional loan to finance the house. With a 20% down payment, you will need to come up with $90,000.

Let’s say again, because of other monthly expenses, you can only save $1500 a month for the down payment.

You see how long it will take you to save for a down payment to buy the house? 5 years. And that doesn’t even take into account other upfront costs of buying a house, such as closing cost.

While it’s possible to get a mortgage with a down payment as low as 3.5% of the home purchase price, it’s advisable to put at least 20% down. The reason is because you will avoid paying private mortgage insurance (PMI), which protects the lenders in case you default on your mortgage.

Home buyers with a down payment below 20% are usually charged with PMI.

Another reason for a larger down payment is that it reduces the cost of the mortgage, grows equity much faster, and saves you on interest over the life of the loan.

As you can see, it can take you as much as 5 years from the time you’re thinking about buying the house to the time you’re actually ready to start the process.

But once you have taken care the things above, buying a house can go a lot faster.

II. How long does it take to find a real estate agent?

Average time: 1 day to a month

Once you have been pre-approved for a mortgage, the next step is to find an experienced real estate agent. Finding a good real estate agent can take a day to a month. Websites such as Zillow and Redfin list real estate agents you can use.

III. Shopping for a home.

Average time: a few weeks to a few months

With the help of a real estate agent and your own due diligence, finding a home can can go faster or take longer depending on available homes, the season and your desired location.

But experts say on average it can take a minimum of three weeks to a few months.

IV. Making an offer, negotiation, and inspection.

Average time: 1 to 10 days

Once you have found the home of your dream, the next step is to make an offer. You and the seller can go back and forth negotiating the price.

Once your offer has been accepted, you and the seller sign something called a purchase agreement. Then, the next step is to hire a professional to inspect the home for defects. Depending on your state, a home inspection must be completed within 10 days. And if the inspection finds some defects in the house, that could delay the process.

V. How long does it take to close on a house?

Average time: 30 to 45 days.

Once the inspection is done, your lender will need to officially approve you for the loan. And depending on the lender, it can also affect how long it takes to buy a house. You may need to provide additional documents. But the lender will need to assess the home for its value. And depending on the program (whether it’s conventional loan or FHA loan) it can take anywhere from 30 to 45 days to close on a home.

Bottom line

When asking yourself this question: “how long does it take to buy a house?” The answer is : it depends. If you have your credit score, your down payment, your other finances under control, you can buy your house in two months or less. But if you have to save for a down payment, fix errors on your credit report, raise your credit score, the whole home buying process can take years.

Click here to compare mortgage rates through LendingTree. It’s completely FREE

Still wondering how long it takes to buy a house? Read the following articles:

  • 5 Signs You’re Not Ready To Buy A House
  • 10 First Time Home Buyer Mistakes To Avoid
  • 3 Signs You’re Not Ready to Refinance Your Mortgage
  • The Biggest Mistakes Millennials Make When Buying a House
  • 7 Signs You’re Ready To Buy A House

Work with the Right Financial Advisor

You can talk to a financial advisor who can review your finances and help you reach your goals (whether it is making more money, paying off debt, investing, buying a house, planning for retirement, saving, etc). So, find one who meets your needs with SmartAsset’s free financial advisor matching service. You answer a few questions and they match you with up to three financial advisors in your area. So, if you want help developing a plan to reach your financial goals, get started now.

The post How Long Does It Take To Buy A House? appeared first on GrowthRapidly.

Source: growthrapidly.com

How to Buy a Used Car, Step By Step

New cars are sleek, shiny, full of impressive tech and smell amazing — mmm, new car smell. But they also come with price tags that can take your breath away — and not in a good way.

According to Kelley Blue Book, the average price of a new car in November 2020 was more than $39,000. Yowser.

If you’re in the market for a set of wheels that’s more affordable, steer your sights over to the used car lot to save a little money. Or even a lot of money.

Why Buying a Used Car Is a Smart Money Move

If you’ve ever heard someone refer to a car as a depreciating asset, it’s true. The longer you have a car, the less it’s worth. The first year of owning a new vehicle is when depreciation really packs a punch.

Jim Sharifi, formerly a content editor at Carfax, said research shows a new vehicle can lose as much as 10% of its value within the first month.

“In the first year of ownership, depreciation can continue, and that same car could be worth up to 20% less than its original sale price,” he said.

When you buy a used car, the original owner has already taken that initial hit on depreciation and the price you pay accounts for that, so you don’t have to shell out as much cash.

Just because you’re buying a car at a lower price point doesn’t mean you’ll be stuck with a clunker that was manufactured decades ago. Cars that are just two or three years old often hit dealership lots when their previous owners reach the end of their lease.

Those vehicles often have low mileage and are in great condition, having had only one previous owner. Sometimes they even still retain a hint of that new car smell.

So that covers the why. Now let’s get into how to buy a used car.

The Best Time to Buy a Used Car

RobertCorse/Getty Images

Unlike new car releases, used cars come on the market throughout the year. It all depends on when their previous owners end their leases, put them up for sale or decide to trade in their vehicles.

However, there are certain times when you’re more likely to score a better deal.

Matt DeLorenzo, senior managing editor for Kelley Blue Book, said when dealerships host big sales events for new models that can also benefit used car shoppers.

“[Dealerships] will have more used vehicle inventory as a result of those types of promotions,” he said.

Think of the big sales that fall around holidays like Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day.

The end of a model year — around September or October — is another good time to shop, DeLorenzo noted, as salespeople are looking to make deals to clear out their used vehicle stock to make room for new inventory.

It’s best to avoid shopping for a car on the weekend when there’s an influx of customers and sales staff is spread thin, Sharifi said. You’ll get more attention from the sales team by visiting on off hours, specifically on weekdays.

“The end of the month (or the end of a quarter) can also be a good time to strike a deal, since dealerships may need to hit monthly or quarterly sales goals,” he said.

Of course, when you need a car might not align with a particular sale or time of month. Shopping for a vehicle before you’re in critical need of one will allow you time to search for the best deal rather than having to settle for something quick.

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Where to Shop for a Used Car — and Where to Avoid

Where you shop for a used car matters so you can avoid purchasing a lemon.

DeLorenzo recommends shopping at franchised car dealerships that have certified pre-owned cars — used vehicles that have been thoroughly inspected and typically come with some type of warranty coverage. Non-certified cars aren’t bad — and they’ll typically cost less — but they’re more likely to have higher mileage and more maintenance needs.

Be wary of independent car lots that boast they can make you a deal regardless of your credit or circumstance.

“Typically they’ll try to get you in with a low price, but you may not be getting the best quality car,” he said. “The other thing is that if you get your financing through those types of dealers, they typically charge you a much higher interest rate.”

Pro Tip

DeLorenzo recommends pre-qualifying for a loan at a bank or credit union before visiting a dealership. You can compare the offer with the dealer’s financing terms for better negotiating leverage.

For any dealer you visit, do some due diligence and check customer reviews online. If you know others who’ve recently purchased a car, ask for recommendations.

Outside of dealerships, look for cars online at trusted sites like Autotrader, Kelley Blue Book, Carfax or Edmunds — or buy from a private seller.

When you’re buying from a private party, you may be able to get more accurate information about how they’ve driven and maintained the vehicle and what particular issues it might have, said Ron Montoya, senior consumer advice editor at Edmunds.

However, you also need to be OK with buying the vehicle as-is and securing your own financing. And be sure the owner has clear title to the car — in other words, don’t let anyone sell you a car they don’t legitimately own.

If cost is your primary concern, a private seller is likely to offer a lower price. A dealer folds overhead, repairs and marketing into its price.

What to Look for When Buying a Used Car

GreenPimp/Getty Images

Knowing when and where to buy a used car is just half the battle. Figuring out how to vet a used car can be tough, especially if you have little to no car knowledge.

These tips will give you some guidance to make a good choice.

1. Find a Vehicle That Fits Your Needs

It’s easy to focus on the numbers — age of the car, mileage and cost — but you also want to make sure you’re buying a car that’ll fit your needs for however long you expect to have it. If you have a growing family, you might want to rethink that two-door coupe or compact vehicle.

“You want to make sure there’s enough room for you,” Montoya said. “Take a look at the cargo area. Take a look at how easy it is to see out of the vehicle. Test out the entertainment system.”

2. Determine How ‘Used’ You’re Willing to Go

The older a car is, the cheaper it’ll be — but the more it’s likely to have issues requiring repair. Everyone has a different comfort level when it comes to what they’re willing to handle. A general rule of thumb is that a car is driven about 12,000 miles per year. A higher average could mean the car has more wear and tear.

Montoya said used car buyers must strike a balance between the age of the car, the amount of miles and what price they’re willing to pay.

Buying an extended warranty or service plan can give you peace of mind that certain repairs or maintenance jobs will be covered.

Pro Tip

Montoya said plans sold by auto manufacturers or reputable dealerships are better options than those sold by third-party companies. Make sure you understand exactly what your plan covers.

3. Make Sure The Price is Right

Before you accept a sales price, research the value of the car to make sure you’re not overpaying. Carfax, Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds all have price appraisal tools online.

You can also compare similar vehicles on the market to get an estimate of a car’s value, but keep in mind, no two used vehicles will be the same due to how they were driven and maintained. Use all this information when you sit down to negotiate — and don’t be afraid to walk away if you don’t think you’re getting a fair price.

When you’re budgeting for a car purchase, make sure you’re factoring in all the associated costs, like sales tax, insurance and getting the car registered.

4. Check the History of the Car

Sometimes just looking at a car will give you some idea of its history. Rust, worn out pedals and a side panel painted in a different color are red flags.

But don’t just assume a car’s history. Getting the car’s history report, such as through Carfax, is a crucial step when buying a used car.

You’ll have to purchase the report if you’re buying from a private seller, so wait until you’re seriously interested in a particular vehicle. If you’re buying from a dealership, the salesperson should provide a copy of the vehicle history report for free.

Sharifi said to watch out for discrepancies with the odometer reading and if there’s a branded title, which indicates that the car has been significantly compromised in some way.

“Severe accidents and instances where a car has been declared a total loss should signal the buyer to use caution,” he said. “That said, a small fender bender shouldn’t always mean that a buyer should walk away from a great deal.”

5. Go for a Test Drive

Always, always, always take a car for a spin before buying it. If you can bring a mechanic with you, even better.

“Some general things you can do on your own without being super knowledgeable about cars is [to] turn off the radio [and] listen for any strange noises,” Montoya said. “See if the steering wheel stays straight when you drive down the road. Does it pull to one side? Look at the tires to see how old they are.”

Pro Tip

Don’t just look at the tires’ tread. Each tire should include a four-digit number marking the month and year it was manufactured. Tires older than six years can be dried out and need replacing.

For any used car purchase, but especially if you’re buying from a private seller, have your mechanic inspect the vehicle before committing to buy.

Knowing the ins and outs of how to buy a used car will make the whole process less stressful and, most importantly, save you money.

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Former staff writer Carson Kohler contributed to this post.

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

Understanding Long-Term Care Insurance

A lot of us don’t like to think about this, but inevitably there will come a time where we will all need help taking care of ourselves. So how can we start preparing for this financially?

Many people opt to purchase long-term care insurance in advance as a way to prepare for their golden years. Long-term care insurance includes services relating to day-to-day activities such as help with taking baths, getting dressed and getting around the house. Most long-term care insurance policies will front the fees for this type of care if you are suffering from a chronic illness, injury or disability, like Alzheimer’s disease, for example. 

If this is something you think you’ll need later on, it’s crucial that you don’t wait until you’re sick to apply. If you apply for long-term care insurance after becoming ill or disabled, you will not qualify. Most people apply around the ages of 50-60 years old. 

In this article, we will discuss long-term care insurance, how it works and why you might consider getting it.   

How long-term care insurance works

The process of applying for long-term care insurance is pretty straight forward. Generally, you will have to fill out an application and then you’ll have to answer a series of questions about your health. During this point in the process, you may or may not have to submit medical records or other documents proving the status of your health. 

With most long-term care policies, you will get to choose between different plans depending on the amount of coverage you want. 

Many long-term care policies will deem you eligible for benefits once you are unable to do certain activities on your own. These activities are called “activities of daily living” or ADLs:

  • Bathing
  • Incontinence assistance
  • Dressing
  • Eating
  • Getting off and/or on the toilet
  • Getting in and out of a bed or other furniture

In most cases, you must be incapable of performing at least two of these activities on your own in order to qualify for long-term care. When it’s time for you to start receiving care, you will need to file a claim. Your insurer will review your application, records and make contact with your doctor to find out more about your condition. In some cases, the insurer will send a nurse to evaluate you before your claim gets approved. 

It’s very common for insurers to require an “elimination period” before they start reimbursing you for your care. What this means is that after you have been approved for benefits and started receiving regular care, you will need to pay out of pocket for your treatments for a period of anywhere from 30-90 days. After this period, you will get reimbursed for your out-of-pocket expenses and from there.

Who should consider long-term care insurance

Unfortunately, the statistics are against our odds when it comes to whether or not we will eventually need some type of long-term care. Approximately half of people in the U.S. at the age of 65 will eventually acquire a disability where they will need to receive long-term care insurance.  Of course, the problem is, long-term care can be really expensive. Unless you have insurance, you’ll be paying for your long-term care completely out-of-pocket should you ever need it.

Your standard health insurance plan, including Medicare, will not cover your long-term care. The benefits of buying long-term care insurance are that:

  • You can hold on to your savings: Many uninsured seniors have to dip into their savings account in order to pay for their long-term care. Because it’s not cheap, many of them drain their life savings just to be able to pay for it.

 

  • You’ll be able to choose from a larger variety of options: Being insured gives you the benefit of being able to choose the quality of care that you prefer. Just like with anything else, you get what you pay for when it comes to healthcare. Medicaid offers some help with long-term care, but you’ll end up in a government-funded nursing home. 

 

How to buy long-term care insurance

If you’ve recently started thinking about shopping for long term-care insurance, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind:

  • Do you mind being insured on a policy with an elimination period?
  • Can you afford all of the costs including living adjustments?
  • Are you interested in a policy that covers both you and your spouse, otherwise known as “shared care”?

There are a few different ways to go about getting long-term care benefits. You can either buy a policy from an insurance broker, an individual insurance company, or in some cases, your employer. Obtaining long-term care insurance through your employer is probably going to be cheaper than getting it as an individual. Ask your employer if it’s included in your benefits. 

Many people also opt to shop for hybrid benefits insurance policies. This is when a long-term care policy is packaged in with a standard life insurance policy. This is becoming a lot more common in the world of insurance. Keep in mind that the approval process may be slightly different for a hybrid insurance policy than of that of a stand-alone long-term care insurance policy. Make sure to ask about the requirements before you apply. 

Best long-term care insurance packages

There are not very many long-term care insurance companies that exist as there once was. It’s hard to wrap our heads around purchasing something that we don’t yet need. However, here are a few examples of companies that offer competitive long-term care packages:

 

  • Mutual of Omaha: This company offers benefits of anywhere between $1,500 and $10,000. While the main disadvantage of this company’s packages is that they do not cover doctor’s charges, transportation, personal expense, lab charges, or prescriptions, you CAN choose to receive cash benefits instead of reimbursements. This company also offers discounts for things like good health and marital status. This company’s insurance policies offer a wide range of options and add-ons so you can make sure that all your bases are covered.

 

 

  • Transamerica: This company’s long-term policy, TransCare III, is good if you don’t want to hassle with an elimination period. If you live in California, this may not be the best choice for you because California’s rates are a lot higher than the rates in other states. Your maximum daily benefit can be up to $500 with this program, with a total of anywhere between $18,250-$1,095,000. 

 

 

  • MassMutual: Popular for their SignatureCare 500 policy which comes in both base and comprehensive packages, is a long-term care and life insurance hybrid. This is very appealing to many seniors wanting to kill two birds with one stone. This company also has a 6-year period as one of their term options, which is pretty high.

  • Nationwide: This program sets itself apart from many other programs available because it allows you to have informal caregivers like family, friends, or neighbors. You will receive your entire cash benefit every month and it is up to you to disperse the funds as you would like. Currently, this company does not have their pricing available online, so you will need to speak with an agent to discuss prices.

 

Understanding Long-Term Care Insurance is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

Touring Remotely? Questions to Ask During Virtual Apartment Tour

Whether you’re apartment shopping in a different city or doing your own remote research at home, virtual tours can come in handy. These allow possible renters to scope out living spaces with more comfort and convenience than ever. But with all the perks that this virtual advantage brings, it can still present some drawbacks compared […]

The post Touring Remotely? Questions to Ask During Virtual Apartment Tour appeared first on Apartment Life.

Source: blog.apartmentsearch.com

Mint Money Audit: Making the Most of a Side Hustle

This week’s Mint audit introduces us to Selena, 48, a mom of two living in San Antonio, Texas. She is a community college director and her husband, 51, is a full-time graphic designer who also manages a booming side hustle in the same industry.

Selena and her husband have already achieved some impressive financial accomplishments, thanks to tracking their finances on Mint, leveraging coupons and shopping at thrift stores. They’ve paid off $52,000 in student loans and invested in a piece of land next door for $26,000, which they believe has appreciated by nearly 40% since purchasing it a few years ago.

But with retirement looming and two children (currently ages 9 and 12) to possibly put through college, Selena wants to learn about additional money moves that could better prepare them for future expenses. She would also love to pay off the family’s 30-year mortgage before she retires in the next 10 to 12 years. Currently they’re on track to pay it down by 2030.

First, a breakdown of their finances:

NET INCOME

  • Hers: $56,000
  • His: $40,000 plus an additional $40,000 in freelance work
  • Total: $136,000 per year

DEBT

  • Just paid off student loans and a property loan (for the lot next door)
  • Credit Card Debt: $0
  • Mortgage: $163,000 (Monthly payment, including real estate tax, is $1,985)
  • Car note: $5,300 (should be paid off within the year)

RETIREMENT SAVINGS

  • Selena’s teacher pension: Roughly $5,000 per month at retirement if she retires in 12 years ($3,800 if she retires in 6 years).
  • Various IRAs between the two of them: $65,000
  • Estimated social security payments: $2,500 to $3,000 (combined)
  • Husband does not have a 401(k)

RAINY DAY SAVINGS

In an emergency, the family has at least six months of expenses saved up or roughly $35,000.

COLLEGE SAVINGS

Selena and her husband haven’t specifically saved for their children’s college education. They’re concerned that a 529-college savings plan might limit their children’s options, if they didn’t choose to attend a traditional college program.

Recommendations

Leverage the Side Hustle

All in all, I think the family’s finances are in solid shape. But if they’re interested in further securing their future, I would suggest investing the annual side hustle income (which currently sits in a bank account earning no interest) to advance retirement savings and carve out an account for their two children.

Starting that side hustle was a very smart money move because it effectively boosted the family’s net income by 40%. And according to Selena, the business, which they operate out of their living room, is only growing, with profits expected to grow another 30% in the future.

Income from side hustles is how I managed to pay off debt in my 20’s and boost savings. Today, it’s more prevalent among working Americans. More than 44 million Americans have a side revenue stream, according to a recent survey by Bankrate. “Having a side hustle is fiscally responsible,” says Susie Moore, founder of the program Side Hustle Made Simple and the new book, “What If It Does Work Out: How a Side Hustle Can Change Your Life.” “It’s an economic hedge that mitigates disruption to wealth building and future planning. There is no such thing as a fixed income,” she says.

So, let’s do some math and see how far this $40,000 per year side revenue stream can go using a compound interest calculator.

Retirement

The couple’s retirement nest egg is not too shabby. Not including their existing IRAs, the couple has about $8,000 a month coming to them in retirement between social security and Selena’s pension. That amount, alone, basically replaces their current full-time income. (And I do recommend Selena wait 12 years before retiring so that she can take advantage of the maximum pension payment.)

But with all the uncertainty around social security and future health care costs, it can’t hurt to save a little more, right? By placing $6,500 in a Roth IRA each year for the next, say, 15 years (Selena’s husband can qualify for the catch-up contribution since he is 5- years old), they’ll have an additional $142,000 for retirement that won’t be subject to taxes. This assumes an average annual return of 4%. They can open a Roth IRA at any bank.

Future Savings for Children

While a 529 plan may not be the best fit for this family, Selena still would like to carve out savings for her kids’ future endeavors, be it to start a business or attend an alternative school. For this, I’d recommend opening a 5-year certificate of deposit or CD and placing $25,000 in it this year. The going yield right now for a 5-year CD at that deposit level is averaging a little more than 2%.

Then, every year, as income rolls in from the side hustle, create a new 5-year CD and deposit $25,000 in it. Do this for the next four or five years. All CDs will have matured by the time her youngest is starting college (or pursuing something else). And they’ll have at least $100,000 plus interest reserved for their kids. If they do choose to go to college, the family’s prepared to help pay for in-state tuition at one of the fine Texas universities.

Mortgage Payoff

After funding the Roth IRA each year ($6,500) and the annual CD contribution ($25,000), the family’s left with $8,500. They could choose to put this toward the mortgage principal to knock a few years off their payoff schedule. Or, they may want to just hold onto it for that annual family vacation. And if I’m being honest, I’d say, go for the vacation! They deserve it!

The post Mint Money Audit: Making the Most of a Side Hustle appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Ways to Earn Extra Money for Paying Off Debt

Debt traps you in a seemingly endless cycle. More debt means more interest and less disposable income, which means you’re constantly fighting against the tide and are always one issue away from complete financial disaster. 

Once you start making repayments on this debt, there will be less interest to compound, which means the grip will loosen, you’ll have more breathing space, and you can look forward to a debt-free future.

In this guide, we’ll look at some of the ways you can earn extra cash to start clearing your debt, from acquiring additional work and responsibilities to making money-saving sacrifices.

Stop Wasting Money

The average American household wastes over $10,000 a year on unnecessary purchases. These purchases all fuel the economy and keep you and your family happy. But if you’re losing sleep because you have so much debt, it’s worth making these sacrifices to give you some peace of mind and build towards a better future.

Save on Grocery Bills

The average family spends between $300 and $500 a month on groceries and as much as 40% of this food goes to waste. The majority is fresh food past its expiration date but we also have a tendency to cook monster-sized meals that end up being thrown away.

To save money on your grocery bill, try the following:

  • Plan your shop carefully. Only buy fresh when you’re confident that the food will be eaten in the next day or two.
  • Reduce your portion sizes when cooking. It’s okay to err on the side of caution and make more than needed, but to cook double or triple what will be eaten is just wasteful.
  • Don’t worry too much about best-before dates. It doesn’t mean the food should be thrown away, just that it’s not at its best. The same applies to lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. In this case, you can rely more on the squeeze and sniff test.
  • Cook food that is about to expire and would otherwise be thrown out. You can freeze the meals for later. You can also try picking, preserving or juicing to reduce waste.

Eating Out

On average, American families spend close to $3,000 a year eating out. It’s a great way to spend time with the family or have a date night with your partner. However, if you have a lot of debt then $3,000 worth of restaurant visits is a little excessive. 

Stop spending so much money eating out and focus on some cheaper alternatives. A picnic is a great alternative. You can use some of that uneaten food and spend time with the family without paying a small fortune for the pleasure.

Stop the Vacations

Big families take one vacation a year on average and this costs them between $4,000 and $5,000. The more children you have, the more expensive it becomes. What’s more, around a third of these families will take as many as three additional, smaller vacations every year, potentially spending over $7,000.

Don’t sacrifice spending some time with your family but look for cheaper options instead. Choose a small cabin instead of a plush hotel. You can go for walks, play games, swim, hike—all free activities that could bring you even closer and cost even less.

Hold the Vices

Thousands are spent on cigarettes and gambling, and much more is spent on shopping sprees. If you have any of these habits, it’s time to put a stop to them. We don’t need to tell you about the benefits of stopping smoking or giving up those shopping sprees, but if you’re still not convinced about the gambling, then spend a few months recording every single dollar that you bet.

Most gamblers think they are breaking even or only losing a little, but when they monitor their activity, they discover they are actually losing a lot.

Check Your Subscriptions

According to a recent survey, most Americans underestimate how much money they spend on subscriptions. We’ve turned into a nation of subscribers, spending hundreds of dollars a month on dozens of services we barely use.

We pay for cable, streaming services, gyms—we convince ourselves that it won’t matter as it’s only a few dollars, but those costs can add up to a lot of wasted cash at the end of the year.

Sell Your Stuff

Many sites can help you offload your unwanted items. There’s a home for all the things you no longer need, from electronics and video games sold on eBay or Amazon, to clothes and furniture sold through sites like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and Swappa. 

It’s time to let go, stop hoarding, and earn some cash from the things you don’t need. Be honest with yourself and get rid before the value of those items depreciates more and you end up with worthless, dust-covered junk that just takes up space.

As an example, let’s imagine that you have a dozen old video games worth just $5 each on average, 10 old school textbooks worth just $2 each, a couple of furniture pieces worth $10, an unwanted guitar worth $50, and a couple of handbags worth $25 each.

Individually, those items aren’t worth much and you might think they’re not even worth your time trying to sell them, But combined, you’ll get $200 and if you put that towards a high-interest credit card debt, it could save you twice that in interest over the term. You will also free up some space in the process.

Get Another Job

You know you can make more money by asking for a pay rise. It goes without saying. The problem is, life isn’t quite that easy and, in most cases, asking for a pay rise will elicit little more than a short, sharp laugh from your employer. 

However, there are many ways you can earn money from a side hustle, taking advantage of the gig economy and swapping a little talent, a little time, and a lot of hard work for some cash.

Get a Part-Time Job

There is a multitude of ways you can earn some extra cash these days. The pay isn’t always great, but if you’re working towards clearing your debts and have some free time, every dollar helps.

Uber and Lyft are always looking for new drivers; retailers need shelf-stackers and greeters, and there is no shortage of delivery jobs. Review your free time, calculate when you can work, and see what’s available. 

Teach a Skill

Can you play a musical instrument or speak a second language? Do you have some other teachable skill? It has never been easier to make money as a part-time teacher, as sites like Preply.com, Udemy.com, Tutor.com, Noodle.com, TakeLessons.com, and many more bring all of these opportunities to you. 

You can visit the student’s house, invite them to yours or simply conduct the lessons via Skype or the site’s built-in conferencing software.

Freelance

Upwork.com, Guru.com, Fiverr.com—these sites and more have created a world of possibilities for skilled writers, designers, coders, and other experts. But they offer so much more than that. 

You don’t need to be particularly skilled to work on these sites as the pay is scaled based on ability and experience. If you have a little free time and some competent language skills, you can hire yourself as a virtual assistant to do basic admin work.

There are countless entrepreneurs seeking individuals to complete basic tasks such as transferring data, reviewing images, and answering emails. The pay isn’t great if your skills are limited, but you get to work from home on your own time. 

Cover the Basics

Freelancing and teaching may be out of the question if you don’t have any skills and are not computer literate. But there are still a few other options, including dog walker, lawn mower, babysitter, and general handyman. 

Ask your neighbors, friends, and family if they need any work; check Craigslist and local classifieds. Everyone can do something and there are always odd jobs available if you’re willing to work.

Try Some Other Methods

When the ordinary fails, it’s time for the extraordinary. There are some weird and wonderful ways you can make extra cash when needed.

Sell Your Hair

If your hair is long and untreated, you could make a tidy sum by selling it. Good quality human hair is used to make premium wigs and some companies are willing to pay thousands for the right locks. However, there are some strict conditions, such as the fact that it must be untreated and very well looked after.

House Sit

Sites like Thumbtack can connect you to homeowners looking for skilled workers, as well as people willing to look after their homes and belongings. They will pay you to stay in their homes and perform some basic chores while they’re away, such as watering plants, feeding pets, and mowing the lawn.

Make Something

If your skills are practical and not creative, turn your hand to making things and sell them through sites like Etsy, Facebook or your own online store. The world has been obsessed with single-use plastics for many years and it’s now waking up to the damage that has been done. Many consumers are willing to pay extra for something that has been handmade and is unique, especially if the money supports an independent creator.

Grow Your Own

If you have a yard and some free time, start growing some produce. Crops like potatoes, carrots, greens, and even some fruits are easy to grow and can give you a bumper crop every year. You’ll pay a few cents for the seeds and simply need to devote some time to digging, watering, and harvesting.

Think about how much money you’ll save if you have your own supply of vegetables and fruits and can just pick fresh from the yard whenever you’re cooking. If your family eats a lot of cheese or drinks a lot of wine or beer, you can also start producing your own supply. 

Cheese can be made with a lot of milk, a little rennet, and a few simple steps. Beer can be made using some do-it-yourself kits. 

As for wine, it’s one of the easiest things you can make yourself. You don’t even need grape juice as wine can be made from a multitude of fruit juices, vegetable juices, and more. You can even make a strong, fragrant white wine with a handful of fruit teabags. The only expense is the sugar, which means you can make several dozen bottles worth of wine for less than $10.

Join a Clinical Trial

Although it’s not a method we would recommend, it’s one that’s worth including. If you join a clinical trial, you’ll be paid to act as a guinea pig. The good news is that the majority of these trials run without incident and most subjects are as healthy at the end as they were at the beginning. The bad news is that there is always a risk and there’s no telling what will happen.

You can search for available trials on the Clinical Trials website run by the US National Library of Medicine. 

Summary: Paying Off Your Debt with Extra Money

Your first priority is to meet your minimum payment obligations and avoid any missed payments. Once you meet this obligation every month, you can put any extra cash you have towards clearing those debts. Every little helps, even if it’s just $50 or $100 here and there.

As an example, if you have a credit card debt of $10,000 with an APR of 25% and a minimum payment of $300, you’ll repay $17,251 in total over 58 months. Add just $100 a month and you’ll reduce the term by a whole 12 months and the balance by a massive $3,000. Take a look at our guides to the Debt Snowball Method and the Debt Avalanche Method to find the right payoff strategy for you. Both methods rely on you earning some extra cash and now that you’ve made it to the end of this article, you’ll know just how to do that!

Ways to Earn Extra Money for Paying Off Debt is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

Should You Refinance Your Student Loans?

Due to financial consequences of COVID-19 — and the broader impact on our economy — now is an excellent time to consider refinancing most loans you have. This can include mortgage debt you have that may be converted to a new loan with a lower interest rate, as well as auto loans, personal loans, and more.

Refinancing student loans can also make sense if you’re willing to transition student loans you currently have into a new loan with a private lender. Make sure to take time to compare rates to see how you could save money on interest, potentially pay down student loans faster, or even both if you took the steps to refinance.

Get Started and Compare Rates Now

Still, it’s important to keep a close eye on policies and changes from the federal government that have already taken place, as well as changes that might come to fruition in the next weeks or months. Currently, all federal student loans are locked in at a 0% APR and payments are suspended during that time. This change started on March 13, 2020 and lasts for 60 days, so borrowers with federal loans can skip payments and avoid interest charges until the middle of May 2020.

It’s hard to say what will happen after that, but it’s smart to start figuring out your next steps and determining if student loan refinancing makes sense for your situation. Note that, in addition to lower interest rates than you can get with federal student loans, many private student lenders offer signup bonuses as well. With the help of a lower rate and an initial bonus, you could end up far “ahead” by refinancing in a financial sense.

Still, there are definitely some negatives to consider when it comes to refinancing your student loans, and we’ll go over those disadvantages below.

Should You Refinance Now?

Do you have student loan debt at a higher APR than you want to pay?

  • If no: You shouldn’t refinance.
  • If yes: Go to next question.

Do you have good credit or a cosigner? 

  • If no: You shouldn’t refinance.
  • If yes:  Go to next question.

Do you have federal student loans?

  • If no: You can consider refinancing
  • If yes: Go to next question

Are you willing to give up federal protections like deferment, forbearance, and income-driven repayment plans?

  • If no: You shouldn’t refinance
  • If yes: Consider refinancing your loans.

Reasons to Refinance

There are many reasons student borrowers ultimately refinance their student loans, although they can vary from person to person. Here are the main situations where it can make sense to refinance along with the benefits you can expect to receive:

  • Secure a lower monthly payment on your student loans.
    You may want to consider refinancing your student loans if your ultimate goal is reducing your monthly payment so it fits in better with your budget and your goals. A lower interest rate could help you lower your payment each month, but so could extending your repayment timeline.
  • Save money on interest over the long haul.
    If you plan to refinance your loans into a similar repayment timeline with a lower APR, you will definitely save money on interest over the life of your loan.
  • Change up your repayment timeline.
    Most private lenders let you refinance your student loans into a new loan product that lasts 5 to 20 years. If you want to expedite your loan repayment or extend your repayment timeline, private lenders offer that option.
  • Pay down debt faster.
    Also, keep in mind that reducing your interest rate or repayment timeline can help you get out of student loan debt considerably faster. If you’re someone who wants to get out of debt as soon as you can, this is one of the best reasons to refinance with a private lender.

Why You Might Not Want to Refinance Right Now

While the reasons to refinance above are good ones, there are plenty of reasons you may want to pause on your refinancing plans. Here are the most common:

  • You want to wait and see if the federal government will offer 0% APR or forbearance beyond May 2020 due to COVID-19.
    The federal government has only extended forbearance through the middle of May right now, but they might lengthen the timeline of this benefit if you wait it out. Since this perk only applies to federal student loans, you would likely want to keep those loans at 0% APR for as long as the federal government allows.
  • You may want to take advantage of income-driven repayment plans.
    Income-driven repayment plans like Pay As You Earn (PAYE) and Income-Based Repayment let you pay a percentage of your discretionary income each month then have your loans forgiven after 20 to 25 years. These plans only apply to federal student loans, so you shouldn’t refinance with a private lender if you are hoping to sign up.
  • You’re worried you won’t be able to keep up with your student loan payments due to your job or economic conditions.
    Federal student loans come with deferment and forbearance that can buy you time if you’re struggling to make the payments on your student loans. With that in mind, you may not want to give up these protections if you’re unsure about your future and how your finances might be.
  • Your credit score is low and you don’t have a cosigner.
    Finally, you should probably stick with federal student loans if your credit score is poor and you don’t have a cosigner. Federal student loans come with fairly low rates and most don’t require a credit check, so they’re a great deal if your credit is imperfect.

Important Things to Note

Before you move forward with student loan refinancing, there are some details you should know and understand. Here are our top tips and some important factors to keep in mind.

Compare Rates and Loan Terms

Because student loan refinancing is such a competitive industry, shopping around for loans based on their rates and terms can help you find out which lenders are offering the most lucrative refinancing options for someone with your credit profile and income.

We suggest using Credible to shop for student loan refinancing since this loan platform lets you compare offers from multiple lenders in one place. You can even get prequalified for student loan refinancing and “check your rate” without a hard inquiry on your credit score.

Check for Signup Bonuses

Some student loan refinancing companies let you score a bonus of $100 to $750 just for clicking through a specific link to start the process. This money is free money if you’re able to take advantage, and you can still qualify for low rates and fair loan terms that can help you get ahead.

We definitely suggest checking with lenders that offer bonuses provided you can also score the most competitive rates and terms.

Consider Your Personal Eligibility

Also keep your personal eligibility in mind, including factors beyond your credit score. Most applicants who are turned down for student loan refinancing are turned away based on their debt-to-income ratio and not their credit score. Generally speaking, this means they owe too much money on all their debts when you compare their liabilities to their income.

Credible also notes that adding a creditworthy cosigner can improve your chances of prequalifying for a loan. They also state that “many lenders offer cosigner release once borrowers have made a minimum number of on-time payments and can demonstrate they are ready to assume full responsibility for repayment of the loan on their own.”

It’s Not “All or Nothing”

Also, remember that you don’t have to refinance all of your student loans. You can just refinance the loans at the highest interest rates, or any particular loans you believe could benefit from a different repayment term.

4 Steps to Refinance Your Student Loans

Once you’re ready to pull the trigger, there are four simple steps involved in refinancing your student loans.

Step 1: Gather all your loan information.

Before you start the refinancing process, it helps to have all your loan information, including your student loan pay stubs, in one place. This can help you determine the total amount you want to refinance as well as the interest rates and payments you currently have on your loans.

Step 2: Compare lenders and the rates they offer.

From there, take the time to compare lenders in terms of the rates they can offer. You can use this tool to get the process started.

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Step 3: Choose the best loan offer you can qualify for.

Once you’ve filled out basic information, you can choose among multiple loan offers. Make sure to check for signup bonus offers as well as interest rates, loan repayment terms, and interest rates you can qualify for.

Step 4: Complete your loan application.

Once you decide on a lender that offers the best rates and terms, you can move forward with your full student loan refinancing application. Your student loan company will ask for more personal information and details on your existing student loans, which they will combine into your new loan with a new repayment term and monthly payment.

The Bottom Line

Whether it makes sense to refinance your student loans is a huge question that only you can answer after careful thought and consideration. Make sure you weigh all the pros and cons, including what you may be giving up if you’re refinancing federal loans with a private lender.

Refinancing your student loans can make sense if you have a plan to pay them off, but this strategy works best if you create a debt repayment plan you can stick with for the long-term.

The post Should You Refinance Your Student Loans? appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

Source: goodfinancialcents.com

How Much Should You Spend on an Engagement Ring?

How Much Should You Spend on an Engagement Ring?

There’s nothing like falling in love and finding the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. But when it’s time to shop for rings, it’s easy to get discouraged by the price tags. Just how much should you spend on an engagement ring? We’ll dive into the topic and discuss ways to save on the big purchase.

Find out not: How much do I need to save for retirement?

What the Average Engagement Ring Costs

Maybe you can’t buy love. But if you’re in the market for an engagement ring, you’ll quickly realize that it won’t be cheap. According to the Knot’s 2016 Real Weddings Study, Americans spent an average of $6,163 on engagement rings, up from $5,871 in 2015. Wedding bands for the bride and engagement rings combined cost between $5,968 and $6,258.

If you want your wedding to happen sooner rather than later, keep in mind that on average, couples spend more than $30,000 to tie the knot. That’s roughly how much you can expect to pay for everything from your wedding reception and DJ to your cake and your photographer. Location matters when it comes to weddings, however, so you might be able to save some money by choosing a more affordable place to host your ceremony.

How Much Should I Spend?

How Much Should You Spend on an Engagement Ring?

Conventional wisdom says that anyone planning to propose to their partner should prepare to spend at least two or three months of their salary on an engagement ring. But spending too much isn’t a good idea for various reasons.

A recent study conducted by Emory University connected pricey rings to divorce rates. Men who spent more money on rings for their fiancees were more likely to end their marriages. That’s a possible long-term consequence of overspending on an engagement ring. In the short term, using a large percentage of your money to buy a ring might prevent you from using those funds to pay bills or stay on top of your debt, which can hurt your credit score.

If the marriage doesn’t work out and your ex-spouse decides to sell their diamond engagement ring, its value won’t be nearly as high as it was when it was first purchased. That’s why diamond rings can be such bad investments.

So exactly how much should you spend on an engagement ring? It’s a good idea to make sure that the price you pay doesn’t prevent you or your partner from accomplishing whatever you’re planning to achieve in the future, whether that’s buying a house or having a child. Rather than following an old-school societal notion that says you should spend x amount of money on a ring, it’s best to spend an amount that won’t compromise your financial goals or jeopardize the status of your relationship.

How to Save on the Ring

If you don’t want the engagement ring you’re buying to break the bank, it’s a good idea to learn as much as you can about the rings and what makes some more expensive than others. Diamonds are the gems most commonly used in engagement rings, and if you’re buying one for your significant other, it’s important to familiarize yourself with what jewelers refer to as the four C’s: clarity, cut, color and carat weight.

In terms of clarity, the best diamonds are flawless, meaning that they don’t have any blemishes when viewed under a microscope with 10 power magnification. Since no one’s eyesight is that powerful, you can get away with choosing a diamond with a lower clarity grade that costs less. Getting a diamond that has fewer carats (meaning that it weighs less) or getting one that isn’t completely colorless can also lower its overall price.

Or don’t get a diamond at all. Your partner might be just as happy with a simple band, a white sapphire or an emerald ring and it probably won’t cost as much as a diamond engagement ring. Shopping for your ring at a vintage store, looking for one online rather than in-person and getting a ring with a series of smaller stones surrounding the center stone (also known as a halo ring) are a few additional ways to save when buying a ring.

Final Word

How Much Should You Spend on an Engagement Ring?

There’s no need to spend a fortune on an engagement ring. And you don’t have to feel guilty about cutting corners in order to find one that you can afford to buy.

Like any other major purchase, it’s a good idea to take time to save up for a ring. If you have to take on more credit card debt or a personal loan in order to buy an engagement ring, it’s a good idea to find out how long it’ll take to pay off your debt. It isn’t wise to begin a marriage by digging yourself (and your partner) into a deep financial hole.

Tips for Getting Financially Ready for Marriage

  • If you haven’t already, start talking about money. It’s important to establish an open dialogue and make sure you understand and respect each other’s money values.
  • You might also consider sit down with a financial advisor before the big day. A financial advisor can help you identify your financial goals and come up with a financial plan for your life as a married couple. A matching tool (like ours) can help you find a person to work with to meet your needs. First you’ll answer a series of questions about your situation and goals. Then the program will narrow down your options from thousands of advisors to three fiduciaries who suit your needs. You can then read their profiles to learn more about them, interview them on the phone or in person and choose who to work with in the future. This allows you to find a good fit while the program does much of the hard work for you.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/sergey_b_a, ©iStock.com/svetikd, ©iStock.com/adamkaz

The post How Much Should You Spend on an Engagement Ring? appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.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

Truth About Reward and Store Credit Cards

On the surface, reward cards are a great way to make a few extra dollars or grab some air miles without increasing your spending or your debt. If you spend a lot of money at a particular shop, store cards will seem like an equally beneficial prospect. But these cards exist for a reason—they’re there to make more money for the providers and the retailers, not you.

Sure, reward/store cards have other benefits if you use them properly, but there are a host of disadvantages and hidden terms that you need to be aware of before signing on the dotted line. 

What are Store Cards?

Store cards are tied to specific stores and offered by chains of retailers. These cards work just like traditional cards and are often branded by networks like Visa and MasterCard. The difference is that they can only be used in the issuing stores and their rewards are tied to those stores.

In essence, they are store loyalty cards that come with a lien of credit attached. 

What are Reward Cards?

Reward cards are also tied to credit card networks, including American Express and Discover, as well as Visa and MasterCard. They award points every time they’re used for qualifying purchases and these points can then be swapped for air travel and other benefits. 

Some reward schemes award a specific amount of cash back, often fixed to 1% or 2% of purchases made on specific items, such as groceries or utility bills.

How Can Providers Offer These Rewards?

If a provider offers you cash back every time you spend money on your credit card, someone has to foot the bill. Many consumers assume that the credit card network covers the cost, and to an extent, they do. But it’s not quite as simple as that.

Every time you use your credit card to make a purchase, the retailer is charged a fee, often between 1% and 3% of the purchase. This is the network’s charge. With reward cards, this fee increases, and the extra money is used to fund the rewards program.

As a result, retailers are not exactly happy with these programs as they drive their costs up and reduce their profits. The only way around this, is to increase the cost of the product or, more likely, to reward customers who pay with cash/debit. Retailers are not allowed to add a surcharge for credit card use, but there’s nothing stopping them from choosing which cards they do and don’t accept.

Your local Mom & Pop enterprise isn’t being antiquated and old-fashioned by refusing credit cards. They just can’t cover the costs. 5% may not sound like a big deal, but for retailers with minimal buying power and the massive overheads of running a brick-and-mortar store, 5% can be a deal breaker.

Smaller retailers are fighting back against reward cards while bigger ones are embracing them by adopting their own store cards. With a store card, they have more say, more control, and they know that those small losses will be offset by the increased purchases.

Issues with Store Credit Cards

Store cards carry a big risk and have far few benefits than reward cards. The advantages of these cards are obvious: If you shop a lot in a particular place, you can save money via the cash back schemes. 

They can also help with emergency purchases, providing you clear the balance in full. But, while the benefits are obvious, the same can’t be said about the disadvantages.

Con 1: They Have High Interest Rates

The average credit card interest rate in the United States is around 16%. The average rate for store cards is over 20%. That 4% may not seem like much, but if you don’t repay your balance every month that interest will compound, grow, and cost you a small fortune. 

At 16% with a $10,000 balance and a 60-month repayment term, you’ll pay $243 a month and over $4,000 in total interest.

Increase that rate to 20% and your monthly payment grows by $20 while your total interest increases by nearly $1,500. The longer you leave it and the smaller your monthly payments are, the greater that difference will be.

For example, if you repay just $200 a month on that balance, the difference between 16% and 20% is 26 extra months and close to $5,000. Of course, store cards rarely offer such high limits, but this is just as example to show you how much of a difference even the slightest percentage increase can cause.

It’s worth keeping this in mind if you ever apply for a traditional rewards card. Getting rewards in return for a higher APR is great if you repay your balance in full every month and terrible if you don’t.

Con 2: They Have High Penalty Rates

If you miss a payment on your store credit card you could be hit with a penalty APR as high as 29.99%, as well as a late payment fee of $39. The rates are high to begin with, but these penalty rates are astronomical and will make a bad situation worse.

That’s not all, as some providers are known to be very unforgiven when it comes to missed and late payments. In some cases, your account will default even if you underpay just once and just by a few dollars. 

Con 3: They Have Low Credit Limits

Retailers are not lenders. They don’t have the time, funds or patience to chase debts and deal with collection agencies. As a result, they don’t offer high credit limits and generally you’ll get a fraction of what an unsecured credit card might provide you with.

This might not seem like much of an issue. After all, a smaller credit limit means you’re less likely to accumulate large amounts of debts. However, this has a massively negative impact on your credit score that few borrowers consider.

30% of your credit score is based on something known as a credit utilization ratio. This looks at the total available credit and compares it to the debt that you have accumulated. If you have several cards with a combined credit limit of $10,000 and a balance of $5,000, then your ratio is 50%, which is considered to be quite high.

If a store card is your only account and you spend $450 on a $500 limit, then you have a credit utilization ratio of 90%, which will reduce your score. Your credit report is also negatively affected by maxed-out credit cards, a feat that’s much easier to achieve when you have a low credit limit.

Con 4: There Are Better Options

It’s better to have one good reward card than multiple store cards. The former will provide you with far better interest rates and terms, while the latter will hit your credit report with several hard inquiries and new accounts. 

A rewards card will still benefit you when shopping at those stores and will also provide you with a wealth of other benefits.

Con 5: You May Spend More

Store cards are not designed to make your life easier and give you a few freebies. Regardless of what the store tells you, they’re not made to reward loyalty, they’re made to encourage spending. 

This doesn’t always work, and research suggests that many individuals use reward cards just like they would normal cards. But for a small minority, the idea of acquiring points is enough to convince them to spend more than they usually would.

Some good can be good debt, such as when it’s used to acquire an asset or something that won’t depreciate. But very rarely do we use credit cards for this purpose and generally, if you’re spending more on a store card it means you’re wasting more money on things you don’t need.

Con 6: You Can’t Use Them Anywhere Else

A store card can only be used in that particular store. This renders it redundant as an emergency card and also means you’re encouraged to shop in that one place. You don’t have a chance to shop around and find the cheapest price; you may spend more just to use your card and get the benefits, with those benefits rarely covering the additional money you spend.

What About Reward Cards?

Some reward cards have very high rates as these rates are used to offset the rewards program. However, this isn’t always the case, because, as discussed above, networks often charge retailers more to offset these purchases and therefore don’t always need to cover the costs themselves.

Some credit cards, such as the Discover It, offer solid reward schemes and would also be included on any list of the best non-reward credit cards. It’s a solid all-rounder and it’s not alone. However, many reward cards charge high annual fees and penalty rates, just like you’ll find with a store card.

It’s important to study the small print and make sure the card is viable. If you’re going to clear the balance every month, a slightly higher interest rate won’t hurt, especially if it comes with some generous rewards. But if there is any doubt and even the slightest chance that you won’t clear the balance, it’s always best to focus on a low-interest rate first.

Even the most generous 5% cash back reward card will not offset the losses occurred by paying a few more percentage points of interest.

Will Reward/Store Cards Affect my Credit Score?

Credit cards trigger hard inquiries, which can reduce your credit score by up to 5 points. This is true for every credit card that you apply for. Rate shopping can combine multiple inquiries into one if they are for the same type of credit, but this doesn’t apply to credit cards.

A new account will also impact your score. This impact is often minimal and if you keep up with your repayments then it will vanish in time. However, if you miss a payment, max-out your card or increase your credit utilization score, it could have a detrimental effect on your score and your finances.

Keep store cards to a minimum and only sign up if you’re 100% sure you’re getting a good deal that will benefit you in the short-term and the long-term.

Truth About Reward and Store Credit Cards is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com