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Why Shouldn’t You Withdraw from a 401k Early?

It can be difficult to look at the money in your 401(k) account and realise that you can’t touch it for many years to come. Whether you want to buy a new toy, or you’ve hit some financial strife having money that’s yours but not yours is a frustrating feeling. As much as it seems like a great idea to pull some of the money out early, there are reasons why you should leave it alone as long as possible.

Early Withdrawal Penalties

If you attempt to withdraw from your 401(k) prior to age 59 and six months, you’re subject to federal taxes and in many cases a 10% penalty. If you’re under 60 and withdraw $100,000 from your 401(k) account, you will only get to keep $75,000 of that if you are in the 15% federal tax bracket. In one transaction you’ve lost 25% of your money.

Cheating Yourself Out of a Cushier Retirement

If you pull money out of your 401(k) early, you might be cheating yourself out of a cushy retirement. $100,000 left alone for 10 years with a 7% return will be worth over $200,000. Once you reach an age where you can withdraw this without penalties the required minimum distribution for $200,000 is $8,000 a year, though you can take more.

While you might be the type of person to withdraw from your 401(k) and invest it elsewhere, studies of human psychology show us that once people have money in their hands they spend it. The best choice is to leave your retirement accounts alone for as long as possible and allow compound interest to work on them to ensure you have a comfortable nest egg when you retire.

Rolling Over to Other Accounts

Many people withdraw from their 401(k)s because they change employers, or want to access the money at a younger age.

If you switch employers you can roll your current 401(k) balance over to your new employers plan with a few forms. As long as this is done within 60days of changing employers, you won’t pay any fees.

Another option is to roll your 401(k) account over to an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). An IRA account is not tied to an employer and stays with you regardless of who you work for, but check the fees and charges before making the switch. A 401(k) might still be the better choice for you.

If you really desperately want to pull money out of an IRA or 401(k) early there are ways you can do it without paying a penalty, but it requires a lot of pre-planning. Any amount converted from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA can be withdrawn penalty and tax free five years later. It won’t help you today to buy a new car, or fund a down payment for a house, but might make all the difference in your long term plans.

 

Knowing What a Student Loan Consolidation Scam Is and How to Spot One

If you’ve got student loan debt, you might want to look for a way to consolidate your loans. If you attended school for at least two years or more, there’s a good chance you have two or more loans under your belt. You also might have more student debt than usual, and you may want to look for a way to restructure your loan repayment schedule to find relief. Both of these are valid reasons to consolidate your loans.

There are a few different ways to consolidate your student loans legitimately. You could go through the federal direct consolidation loan program, or you could find a reputable private lender to do it for you. However, for every reputable lender, there are probably a few scammer companies out there looking to take advantage of you. How do you consolidate your loans without getting scammed?

In this article, you’ll find out how to find reputable student loan consolidators, so you can avoid scams. If you’re in debt, and you need information on how to consolidate your loans with the best company, keep reading.

How to Spot a Student Loan Consolidation Scam

Opportunists are waiting to take advantage of your high-debt situation, and are eager to “help”. Many of them pose as government programs offering loan consolidation and debt forgiveness in order to prey on unsuspecting borrowers who need a way to solve their personal economic crisis. Sometimes, they’ll say they are a third-party company, which they are, and they’ll try to act as a middle man between you and the government. While it might sound legit, it just isn’t. The government consolidation program requires you to sign up by yourself, and it’s perfectly free to do so.

Typically, scammers ask for upfront money for assisting with your consolidation. And when you follow through and sign the loan documents, they may apply your first payments to bogus fees, like service and administrative costs.

Possibly the most frightening threat is from scammers asking for your name, birthdate, banking information, and social security number. Handing out this information to strangers puts you at a high-risk for identity theft which is a big problem, needless to say.

Here is a list of warning signs when speaking to a consolidation company:

  • They ask for money upfront. Assistance with loan consolidation is free, so no one should ever ask you to pay for it. Asking for upfront money is a bad sign, and it is illegal.
  • A company offers to reduce or cancel your debt immediately. While Public Service Loan Forgiveness is legitimate, the only entity that can reduce debt is the government. Contact the student loan center directly.
  • They ask you for your secret pin code to access your Student Aid information online. This information is not to be shared with anyone, so you should never give it out.
  • Scammers ask you to sign a 3rd party authorization form. This signature will give them permission to access your information, which they can then use for identity theft.

If any of this sounds familiar, this is a scam artist working to enterprise from your debt situation, or even to steal your identity entirely.

How to Get a Legitimate Student Loan Consolidation Loan

Loan consolidation assistance should cost nothing. It will help you:

  • Simplify your payments. Instead of paying 2-10 loans every month, you’ll make one payment to the lender.
  • Get longer to pay off loans. Consolidating will offer you as much as 25 years to pay off your loans, whereas a standard program issued to most borrowers only gives you ten The caveat to this longer repay period is that you usually end up paying more interest, but you can always shorten the time length by making extra payments to the lender. 
  • Secure a fixed rate. Consolidation makes it easier to budget, because you’ll have one payment at a fixed interest rate. Knowing exact payments will make it possible to plan well for your financial future.

The key to consolidation is getting a legitimate agency to help you. The best places to go for assistance are Federal Student Aid and Student Loans.

There, you can get personalized assistance from the government directly, and a wealth of information about consolidating.

If you’re trying to consolidate private school loans, you’ll probably need to go to an outside company because private loans won’t be listed on the national sites.

You should never be charged any upfront fees when going with a private consolidator. The best way to check on a consolidation company’s reputation is by visiting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

There, you can browse complaints about companies, get answers to common questions, and read their compiled research and information about student loan consolidation.

Final Thoughts

One of the best ways to avoid scams is to not take unsolicited help from people you don’t know. It’s easy to fall into a scam from someone who speaks well and tells you things you like to hear.

Paying off student debt takes discipline, determination, and years of constant effort. Nothing will happen overnight, so you should ignore anyone making fantastic claims or those who go overboard in their marketing to get you to sign on the dotted line.

Stick with government agencies for government loans, and always double-check any private loan consolidators with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Have you had any interesting experiences with consolidating student loans?

Understanding What a Payday Loan is and When to Avoid One

If you’re facing financial difficulties, you might feel desperate, scared, or traumatized. One of the first things you might look for is a loan. If your credit cards are maxed out or your credit score is no good, then you may be tempted to look for a payday loan.

We’ve all been there. You’ve spent too much money either on useless items, or significant expenses like medical emergencies or car repair.

But getting started on these loans is an addictive, dangerous path to take because it almost guarantees you’ll have financial problems down the road. When you get a quick high-interest loan, you are not fixing a problem. Rather, you are setting your future self up for pain. Your short-term solution will cost much more money than you borrowed, and could have an adverse impact on your finances for years to come.

In this post, we’ll discuss payday loans and how to avoid using them. They are much different than other loans and financial products – like mortgages and student loans – so make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into.

What are Payday Loans?

Payday Loans are essentially cash advances that exist both online and offline, and they are offered by payday lenders at super high-interest rates. They are typically two-week loans where you guarantee payment by writing a check in advance or allowing them access to withdraw funds from your bank account. Before you sign up for one though, there are many things you need to know first.

These lenders offer extraordinarily high-interest rates, ranging from 129% to 651% or more, depending on what state you live in. You don’t have to have regular employment, but you do need to prove you have a steady stream of income and a bank account. However, some companies will still send the loan regardless. The whole point is to rope someone in for future payments.

Companies like these like to leech on the poor and disadvantaged. Not having to prove employment makes a quick loan appealing to someone on welfare or disability. On that note, most payday lenders do not require credit checks.

Besides the interest fees, you’ll need to pay loan fees, ranging from $15 to $45 per loan. So, if you live in a state like Nevada, you could borrow $500 and need to repay $3,285 in two weeks.

Nevada has one of the highest payday loan rates in the country, but you get the idea. Payday companies in all states have unreasonable prices, so it’s a good idea to avoid these unethical businesses.

Another concern is the growing trend of online scamming within the payday loan industry. Google does not always identify scammers, and it can be hard for them to control which company turns up on page one of a search. Giving unknown companies your personal information over the internet can lead to identity theft.

 How to Avoid a Payday Loan

Avoiding them is easy. Just don’t take out a loan. But this is easier said when you’re not facing financial turmoil, of course.

Payday loans are a vicious cycle that can send you spiraling down a path of destruction. A better way to find fast cash is to look for quick ways to earn money. Finding a side gig where you do lawn work or another home service to make cash is an ideal solution.

Another way to find extra money is by holding a garage sale or Craigslisting some of your unneeded items. Making a few phone calls to friends or relatives to see if you have something they might need might give you some spare cash. Often, friends are willing to take what you have if you offer a discount, especially if they know you are hurting financially.

You can also try examining your budget. What are some expenses you could cut, or creditors you could call to arrange a late payment or installments? Often, companies will work with you on payment terms if you call and chat with them about your problem.

If you must borrow money, the last option would be to ask friends and family or take out a personal loan. Personal loans and credit cards may not have fantastic rates, but they will be much better than a payday loan.

Final Thoughts

Being in debt can lead to depression, despair, and isolation. But taking a payday loan is almost a guarantee to give yourself future problems. Getting hooked on these types of loans will lead to a chain of money issues that could cripple your financial future.

The best way to avoid a payday loan is simply not to take one. Then, when you get past this struggle, consider saving money into an emergency fund so that you’ll never be tempted to take one of these loans again.

What’s your story? Do you have any interesting experiences with payday loans?

What is a Secured Credit Card?

You might be wondering what a secured credit card is, and how they’re different from the norm. Maybe you’re getting ready to buy a house or car, but you’ve been denied, based on poor or no credit history. Even just getting utilities or cell phone service can be depressing if you don’t have good credit. Having poor credit can be emotionally painful and can lower your self-confidence.

Whether you’re starting out from scratch, or you’re making a comeback from bankruptcy, getting a secured credit card can be extremely useful in building your credit.

In this article, we’ll examine secured credit cards and how they work. By the time you finish reading this post, you’ll know all about secured credit cards and whether they’re right for you.

Why Get a Secured Credit Card?

Maybe you’re shopping for your first apartment, or you’re a new immigrant to the U.S., and you need to prove credit worthiness, but you have no credit history. Or perhaps you’ve had a divorce or bankruptcy, and you need to rebuild your credit. Either way, a secured credit line will help.

When you open a secured credit card, the bank will ask you for a deposit as collateral. Are you worried about whether you’ll be approved? Fortunately, many banks won’t check your credit when you apply because there’s much less risk when you’re borrowing your own money.

The biggest reason to get a secured credit card is to improve your credit score. After you show that you can borrow money responsibly, you’ll eventually be trusted with an unsecured line of credit. You might even score a better interest rate too.

One great thing about secured lines of credit is that they force you to limit spending. You’ll only spend what you have, which is good training for anyone who is new at borrowing money.

How to Choose a Secured Credit Card

Your credit line is whatever amount you give the bank for collateral. It could be as little as $300 or as much as several thousand. It all depends on the amount of the deposit you make, minus bank fees.

The key to finding a secured credit card is finding a bank that will report to all three credit bureaus: Equifax, Transunion, and Experian. This is crucial because a lender you want to borrow money from in the future may only use one bureau to check your credit. So, it is essential that each credit bureau has your new secured credit information.

Other things to check are fees and interest rates. Most cards will have an annual fee, but you may be able to find one that doesn’t, or one that has a lower cost than the others.

Your local credit union might have a reasonable deal, or you can try asking a big bank. Another option is to go online.

How to Use Your Secured Credit Card

Secured credit cards aren’t to be used forever. You’d use it only until you raise your credit score, and that could happen in as little as 45 days. You’ll want to get rid of your secured credit card as soon as you are eligible to get an unsecured card because they tend to have high-interest rates and annual fees. Plus, you’re being charged to use your own money, so it will not get you far in the long run.

The best way to raise your credit score quickly is to spend less than one-third of the credit limit and pay it when the monthly bill arrives. Leaving 70% of your credit untouched will help boost your Fico score because you’re using less of your available credit.

However, it’s a good idea not to pay the card off completely. For example, if you have a $300 secured credit line, consider leaving a balance of $2-10 to show that you’re actively using the card. Then do the same next month. You’ll see an improvement in your credit score after a month or two if you continue using this method.

Final Thoughts

Getting a secured credit card is an excellent way to build credit and pave your financial future. You’ll be more able to get an apartment, car, or house, and possibly at a better interest rate.

If you’re trying to raise your credit score quickly, remember never to pay late, not to use more than 30% of the limit, and to always leave a small balance on the card.

Are you considering using a secured credit card to establish your credit or raise your score? What has been your experience with using secured credit cards?

What is a Second Chance Bank Account?

Have you ever tried to open a bank account and found you’ve been turned down? Not for a credit card, but a simple deposit and transaction account. If you have a poor credit history, you’ve had a lot of overdraft fees in the past, maybe bounced some checks, this can lead to banks rejecting your application for a bank account.

Just like trying to open a credit card when you have a poor credit history, you need a product that will help you rebuild your reputation, as well as to allow you to continue with your day to day banking. This is where Second Chance bank accounts come in.

Downsides to Second Chance Bank Accounts

Before looking at the positives, it’s important to know there are some downsides to Second Chance bank accounts. They generally have a minimum opening balance, though nothing particularly large, $25 – $50 is average. They also have much higher fees than many accounts, ranging from $10 set up fees, to $10 – $20 monthly maintenance fees, an early account closing fee and even ‘dormant’ account fees if you forget to close the account after it has served its purpose.

Purpose of a Second Chance Bank Account

While Second Chance bank accounts may come with higher fees and stricter conditions, they do not do any background checks before allowing you to open the account. While most accounts use ChexSystems to screen applicants, Second Chance accounts don’t. This means if you’ve recently been turned down for a regular account, Second Chance accounts give you a chance to rebuild your banking reputation, just like Secured Credit Cards give you a chance to rebuild your credit score.

It’s important when using these accounts to avoid any overdraft fees, excess withdrawal fees or stop payment fees. If you do incur these fees, make sure you pay them promptly. The better your financial ‘behaviour’ is while using a Second Chance bank account, the quicker you will be able to switch to a fee free account and keep your money in your pocket, not in the banks.

Finding a Second Chance Bank Account

Finding a Second Chance bank account that suits your needs can be tricky, because they are not often offered by the major banks. While these accounts come with extra fees compared to the usual accounts, banks typically make less money from them because they have smaller account balances. The major retail banks are often unwilling to deal with this kind of account because the risks outweigh the benefits.

Instead, you can usually find a second chance account with your local bank, or a credit union. Because these are smaller business they are more willing to take risks to get your business, and have greater flexibility when dealing with unusual circumstances.

While a Second Chance account may not be the best deal, it is a useful product for rebuilding your banking reputation and getting you back on your feet. Most people who use a Second Chance account are about to ‘graduate’ to a regular bank account within a couple of years even if they still have a black mark in ChexSystems. While you might not be able to open a regular account with a different bank, many banks and credit unions will ‘upgrade’ your account to a regular one. If you’ve been using a Second Chance account for a couple of years, it can’t hurt to ask.

How to Choose the Right Car Insurance

You want the best car insurance that fits your budget. However, some of the terms are confusing which might keep you from saving the most money possible.  You don’t want to end up stranded after an accident, but you also don’t want to pay an arm and a leg for coverage you don’t need.

In this post, we’ll discuss some ways to get the right coverage that can save money instead of costing you big.

Choosing the Coverage that Fits Your Needs

You want to pick a policy that will cover you in an accident, but you don’t want to pay for coverage you’ll never use.

Here are the three main types of coverage:

Liability. This type of insurance covers damages to another person and their property when you’re responsible for the accident.

It’s divided into two parts: Bodily injury and property damage. The bodily injury portion covers the other person’s medical expenses and any pain and suffering, and the property damage covers the other party’s property.

Every state except for New Hampshire requires this type of insurance, and you must purchase the minimum amount for your state. Each state has a different minimum amount, so you’ll need to examine your state’s insurance requirements.

Collision. This type of insurance covers your car when it collides with another object or when it rolls over. It doesn’t include theft, vandalism, hitting an animal, weather, or fire-related incidents.

It’s a good idea to have this coverage if your car is new, but if you have an older car, it might not be worth it. For instance, if your vehicle is worth $3,000 and  coverage costs you $600 per year, it could be worth it to save emergency money in a bank account instead. The insurance company’s total loss settlement probably wouldn’t give you the full $3,000 anyway. Plus, you’d have to pay a deductible of $250, $500, or even $1,000 to fix the car.

Examine your vehicle’s value at Kelley Blue Book to decide whether to buy collision insurance. You might find that you can save money for repairs or even buy another car rather than fork over your hard-earned cash to an insurance company.

Comprehensive. This insurance covers theft, vandalism, hitting an animal, weather, and fire-related incidents. It doesn’t cover collisions, injuries, or fatalities.

Comprehensive may be another optional insurance if your car isn’t worth much, or if you have enough money to cover incidents. However, you might decide you need comprehensive insurance if you live in a climate where weather frequently causes damage.

Check your car’s value and your circumstances to determine whether you need this insurance. You may be able to save money by electing not to have it.

Note: If you’re making auto payments to a bank or finance company, they’ll probably require you to have all three coverages. They are referred to as the lien-holder for car insurance purposes. You’ll most likely need to fulfill their insurance requirements until you own the car and your name is on the title.

Which Deductible is Best?

After you select the type of coverage, the insurance company will ask you to choose a deductible. The deductible is the amount they’ll ask you to pay when you file a claim. Your insurer will ask for this payment over the telephone before beginning any work on your case after an accident.

Insurance companies offer deductibles at $250, $500, or $1000. The lower your deductible, the higher your monthly payment, and vice versa. A high deductible will lower your monthly payment, but you’ll be expected to pay the larger sum if you have a claim.

You could save money on your insurance by selecting the larger deductible and stashing away the amount in a bank account.

Another way you can save money on insurance is by bundling insurances like auto and homeowner’s coverage with the same company. You could also save by placing multiple cars on the same policy, paying the six-month or annual fee instead of monthly installments, or by installing an anti-theft system.

Final Thoughts

Be sure to go with a reputable insurance company. Investigate their reputation through user reviews and your state’s insurance department.

Have you been looking for the right car insurance? What kind of insurance coverage do you think you’ll purchase for your vehicle?

Budgeting Apps that Will Make Your Life Easier

Have you ever tried to keep a budget? It starts out with the best of intentions, but then you lose track of your notebook for a couple of days and you can’t for the life of you remember if breakfast was $8 or $9. Or maybe you do a great job of recording everything but at the end of the month you can’t work out where your money went, your tallies are a mess and you can’t figure out if you remembered to pay rent or not.

There’s an app for that. A few in fact.

You Need a Budget

You Need a Budget (YNAB) has an annual subscription fee of $50. It might sounds counterintuitive to spend when you are trying to save, but YNAB brags that on average most users save $200 in their first month of use and go on to save over $3,000 in nine months. If your money is completely out of control this might be the one for you.

YNAB doesn’t do anything super fancy, it tracks your income and expenses just like any budget should. However it runs some nice maths in the background for you, so you can see at a glance what your monthly utility bills are, even if you pay quarterly. YNAB tells you to set aside money each month so when the bills come, you’re ready to go. Of course, it can’t force you to save – that part is still on you.

Personal Capital

If YNAB is the basics that you need to get started with your finances, then Personal Capital is the master class that will last you from now till you’re raking in your third million. Personal Capital is free to use, and not only does it show you your spending category by category, track your income and give you regular spending reports, it tracks you debts and investments as well.

Personal Capital can hook into all your banking systems, track your investment returns, uncover any hidden fees and even help you plan for retirement. From your first pay check to your last bill, Personal Capital has your back the whole way.

Mint

Mint is another free all in one tool that helps you make a budget you can stick to, track your upcoming bills and will even keep you on top of your credit score. Mint will also track down fees that are eating away at your investments, throw out warnings when you’re going over budget and will even let you pay bills direct from the app.

Next to the budgeting and investing assistance, Mint also offers credit card analysis tools, a selection of brokerage accounts to review and tips on new savings accounts to try. They are hitting every side of the personal finance world and they’re doing it well.

While you might feel wary about handing out your bank details to a third party, they are all well known, well established companies with super stringent security protocols. You’re probably safer giving these guys your details than logging into your bank directly, that’s how serious they are. If you’re looking to get ahead on your finances, pick up a budgeting app and see what difference it makes to you.

5 Lucrative Side Jobs to Work During College

Getting a side job during college is one of the best ways to get extra money. The cost of tuition is on the rise, with students paying an average of $19,548 in education, room, and board each year, according to Discover. And there are other costs like having a car and buying books. Even if you’re not in deep student debt, having income from a side job will make life easier.

Ideally, you’d work in something relating to your degree. If you’re majoring in Chemical Engineering, you could work in the lab helping other students. If you’re getting a degree in Kinesiology, you might try working at a gym.

However, it’s not always possible to get something closely related to your major. The important thing is that you have the cash flow to make the road ahead easier. Here is a list of five lucrative jobs that you can do during college:

1. Social Media Manager

How would you like to make social media posts and get paid for it? Being a social media manager might be a job you haven’t thought of, but it makes total sense if you like to hang out online on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Companies across the globe need social media marketing in a big way. It’s a must-have, but not every company is willing to hire an in-house employee to sit in an office and write posts. They hire freelancers to write posts, manage Facebook groups, and build followers.

Pay is $20-$30 per hour, and will probably require at least 10 hours per week. The best thing about this work is that it is ongoing and you can do it from your laptop before or after study time.

2. Bartender or Server

If you’re over 21, you can work as a bartender. You can make an average of $16.71 per night serving drinks, according to Payscale. Making drinks for people builds fantastic experience in customer service and solving needs. You’ll have to think on your feet, and it is tough work, but you can make significant money on nights and weekends.

If you haven’t reached the legal age, try making your tips by serving tables. Bringing food to people is another excellent resume-builder because employers love to see that you’ve worked in customer service. Waiting tables is hard work, but you’ll love having the quick cash that tips provide.

3. Tutor

Being an on-campus or online tutor is a fantastic way to practice your skills while earning cash on the side. Campuses will pay as much as $15-20 per hour for tutoring subjects like Algebra or English.

Working as a tutor online may give a lower hourly wage than in-person tutoring, but you’d also have the freedom of working from your laptop. Two of the best online tutor sites are Skooli and Tutor.com.

A third option is to make and post flyers offering private tutoring to college and high school students. Many students have trouble keeping up in certain subjects in which you might excel. Math, engineering, English as a second language, and foreign languages are all subjects that people frequently need help learning.

4. Sell Clothing on eBay and Other Online Sites

This job is bound to be a favorite for anyone who loves shopping and fashion. It’s not a job where you’re clocking in anywhere, but your results are based on your performance, just like any business.

Selling on online retailers like Amazon and eBay is one of the most lucrative online side hustles you could have if you’re knowledgeable about high-end fashion brands.

Do research on which brands sell well online. Then go to your local thrift stores and upper-end second-hand shops like Plato’s Closet.

You’ll need to take pictures and write some creative product descriptions, but your items can pay off. Your total expenses will include the cost of the product, shipping fee, eBay fee, and usually a PayPal fee. You can score a nice profit if you calculate your sale price and profit correctly.

Don’t like fashion? Try buying and selling textbooks or graphing calculators instead.

5. Brand Ambassador

Brand ambassador is an exciting job that will pay you a good wage to represent a brand on or off campus. Companies are in constant need of temporary labor to be on site to promote their products, create awareness, or to hand out freebies.

The jobs are usually easy, but will usually require you to drive to a location unless it’s on campus. Most of these jobs require little or no experience and the hours are typically evenings and weekends.

The best sites to find brand ambassador jobs is Indeed or Snagajob.

Conclusion

Finding a lucrative side job during college is one of the smartest things you can do to minimize debt and make your college experience more comfortable. Are you looking for a job to do during college? What side jobs have you worked?

How to Set Up a Family Budget

If you’ve been living without a budget for a while, you might be experiencing dread when it comes to looking at finances, especially if you need to plan for your family. You should already know that you need a budget regardless, but it’s a bit different when kids are thrown into the mix.

Making a family budget doesn’t have to be painful, and it could even be fun once you get the hang of it. Budgeting is not about making your family’s lives harder. Rather, it’s about planning so that you have money for all the things you want to spend on. In this post, we’ll look at some different ways to budget, talk about how to set it up, and give you some good ideas on how to bring your family into the financial planning.

Budgeting Tools

There are many ways to budget in 2017, and you can find one that suits your personality. Finding the best one for you means you’ll be more likely to stick to it. Here are some choices of family budgeting tools:

Software Budgeting. Software has been around for years and can be a very comprehensive way to budget. Two of the best budgeting softwares are You Need a Budget and MoneySpire. They contain perks such as bill pay and customer invoicing if you run a home-based business.

The only drawback to software budgeting is that it costs money, so you might want to choose another method if you have limited funds.

Excel. Do you love creating and analyzing through spreadsheets? Then, this is the tool for you. There are hundreds of ways to create a personalized Excel spreadsheet, but here’s a good one to begin with: Excel Family Budgeting Planner.

Mobile App. There are many budgeting apps to choose from, and they could be effective for you if you want an easy way to write down planned and occurring expenses wherever you are. It’s a great way to not only budget but to track what you spend. Some useful mobile apps include Mint, Mvelopes, and Wallaby.

Pen and Paper. Sometimes you just need a low-tech, simple way to plan your finances. Writing down expenses on a blank page or on a PDF like the Quick-Start Budget PDF, might be the easiest solution you find, especially if you’re starting out for the first time.

How to Set Up a Family Budget

Your budget should consist of three main components:

Goals. Looking at goals helps you determine what you’d like to do with money. It helps to look at these first, and then see how to achieve them after you calculate the rest of your budget. This way you can focus on what matters most before diving into the raw numbers.

Financial goals could be a family vacation or putting money away for a child’s education. It could be as short term as buying a new refrigerator in three months, or as long-term as planning for a retirement in 20 years. It’s whatever you want to do with your money and a roadmap to get there. You won’t have all the details figured out quite yet, but it’s a good start.

Income. This part is simple if you work a 9 to 5, but can be more complicated if you’re self-employed and don’t have a regular check. Either way, examine your bank statements to see what comes into the account each month, then write all income down on a notepad.

Expenses. For this section, write down all expenses you can think of. You’ll probably want to go through credit card and bank statements to make sure you haven’t missed anything.

After you write down expenses, go through your list and place a checkmark next to the items that are must-have. For most people, these items are housing, utilities, and transportation.

Food is a necessity too, but the dollar amount can change if you budget your meals well and don’t eat out. Be willing to shift your food dollar amount and eat inexpensively if your goals and financial planning call for it.

After you figure out the necessary expenses, focus on everything else. You know if you need to cut if your expenses are greater than your income.

Be sure to set aside some money for fun. It’s okay if it’s a frugal or practically free activity, but make a category for this, and call it “entertainment”.

Bringing in the Family

Now that you have the budget figured out, you can discuss what you want to do for fun as a family. Kids don’t need to know every number on your budget. They only need to know what will involve them, and for most families, it’s entertainment and vacations.

This is the best time to let everyone know how much money you’re setting aside for entertainment and to ask for suggestions. Involving kids in the fun part of budgeting helps to expose them early on to financial planning in an exciting way. Be honest, realistic, and creative as you consider things you’d like to experience as a family.

Conclusion

Setting up a family budget may be a hard at first, but it is rewarding because you get to decide what to do with your money. Involving the kids in the final plan is an excellent way to include them in the decision-making process and teach them about budgeting.

Now it’s your turn. How do you budget for your family, and what are some ways you involve your family members in the process?

Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Apply for Too Many Credit Cards

Credit cards are a wonderful tool. When used properly you can delay paying for a purchase for over a month, leaving money in your bank account earning interest. However when cards are used incorrectly they can lead to overspending, damage your credit rating and lead to a massive interest bills that cancels out any gains you may have made by delaying a payment, or through rewards programs.

Credit cards and credit ratings

Each time you apply for a credit card the banks will check your credit rating. Your credit rating helps the banks determine how much of a risk you are, and how likely you are to get in over your head and be unable to make payments on your card. While this sounds like an innocent check on your records, it also leaves a mark. Some lenders may do a ‘soft pull’ to check your credit score but these are few and far between. Most do a ‘hard pull’ which means not only do they check your credit score, but your credit report is updated with a note saying that you have applied for finance and their response. A hard pull against your credit that is approved will have a minor negative effect, but if you are denied credit, either through a credit card or a loan, it puts a big black mark against your name.

Before applying for a card consider running a check yourself to look at the health of your credit report. There are multiple companies online that will offer a free once off check.

How banks view open credit cards

If you are applying for a credit card, mortgage or personal loan banks will assess your existing debts and any open credit cards. When considering your borrowing capacity banks will calculate those credit cards as if you have spent the full limit, even if you only ever use a small amount and pay it in full each month.

While it might seem like a good idea to open multiple credit cards to receive sign up bonuses, keep in mind how this may affect your borrowing capacity. If you have plans to take out a business or personal loan in the next few months, now is not the time to be applying for a new credit card.

What to do with all this available credit

The final big risk with too many cards is temptation. My bank account currently tells me I have over $10,000 available, but the vast majority of this is available spending on my credit card, and isn’t truly my money. Having those funds available can be extremely tempting. If you let your spending get even a little out of control you could find yourself paying hundreds in interest costs. With multiple cards the problem is expanded because not only do you have a large amount of ‘money’ available, but you have to track your spend across multiple locations and keep track of varying repayment dates.

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