Finance, Goals, Money Management, Saving

Rebuilding toward a Brighter Future with Emergency Savings

By: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)

This year, for many Americans who experienced financial challenges as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, preparedness means taking small steps toward rebuilding and resilience.

If you are ready to think about your bigger financial picture for the first time in months, what’s the first step?

Consider – or start – your emergency saving fund. As you build it over time, it will help cover unexpected expenses that may come, whether that be a natural disaster, unexpected illness, car trouble, or other financial downfalls. It can become an important means for avoiding unwanted debt and help you more quickly realize your dreams. In short, it can become a strong foundation for your financial future.

There are different strategies to get your savings started. These strategies cover a range of situations, including if you have a limited ability to save or if your pay tends to fluctuate. It may be that you could use all of these strategies, but if you have a limited ability to save, managing your cash flow or putting away a portion of your tax refund are the easiest ways to get started.

Strategy #1: Create a savings habit

Building savings of any size is easier when you’re able to consistently put money away. It’s one of the fastest ways to see it grow. If you’re not in a regular practice of saving, there are a few key principles to creating and sticking to a savings habit:

  • Set a goal. Having a specific goal for your savings can help you stay motivated. Establishing your emergency fund may be that achievable goal that helps you stay on track, especially when you’re initially getting started. Use our savings planning tool to calculate how long it’ll take you to reach your goal, based on how much and how often you’re able to put money away.
  • Create a system for making consistent contributions. There are a number of different ways to save, and as you’ll read below, setting up automatic recurring transfers is often one of the easiest. It may also be that you put a specific amount of cash aside each day, week, or payday period. Aim to make it a specific amount, and if you can occasionally afford to do more, you’ll watch your savings grow even faster.
  • Regularly monitor your progress. Find a way to regularly check your savings. Whether it’s an automatic notification of your account balance or writing down a running total of your contributions, finding a way to watch your progress can offer gratification and encouragement to keep going.
  • Celebrate your successes. If you’re sticking with your savings habit, don’t miss the opportunity to recognize what you’ve accomplished. Find a few ways that you can treat yourself, and if you’ve reached your goal, set your next one.

Who is this helpful for: Anyone, but particularly those with consistent income. If you know you have a regular paycheck or money consistently coming in, you can create a habit to put some of that money towards an emergency savings fund.

Strategy #2: Manage your cash flow

Your cash flow is essentially the timing of when your money is coming in (your income) and going out (your expenses and spending). If the timing is off, you can find yourself running short at the end of the week or month, but if you’re actively tracking it, you’ll start to see opportunities to adjust your spending and savings.

For example, you may be able to work with your creditors (like your landlord, utility companies, or credit card companies) to adjust the due dates for your bills, or you can use the weeks when you have more money available to move a little extra into savings.

Who is this helpful for: Anyone. This is one important first step in managing your money, regardless of whether you’re living paycheck to paycheck or have a tendency to spend more than your budget allows.

Strategy #3: Take advantage of one-time opportunities to save

There may also be certain times during the year when you get an influx of money. For many Americans, a tax refund can be one of the largest checks they receive all year. There may be other times of the year, like a holiday or birthday, that you receive a cash gift.

While it’s tempting to spend it, saving all or a portion of that money could help you quickly set up your emergency fund.

Who is this helpful for: Anyone but particularly those with irregular income. If you receive a large check from a tax refund or for some other reason, it’s always good to consider putting all or a portion of it away into savings.

Strategy #4: Make your saving automatic

Saving automatically is one of the easiest ways to make your savings consistent so you start to see it build over time. One common way to do this is to set up recurring transfers through your bank or credit union so money is moved automatically from your checking account to your savings account. You get to decide how much and how often, but once you have it set up, you’ll be making consistent contributions to your savings.

It’s a good idea to be mindful of your balances, however, so you don’t incur overdraft fees if there’s not enough money in your checking account at the time of the automatic transaction. To help you stay mindful, consider setting up automatic notifications or calendar reminders to check your balance.

Who is this helpful for: Anyone, but particularly those with consistent income. Again, you can determine how much and how often to have money transferred between accounts, but you want to make sure you have money coming in. If your situation changes or your income changes, you can always adjust it.

Strategy #5: Save through work

Another way to save automatically is through your employer. In addition to employer-based contributions for retirement, you may have an option to split your paycheck between your checking and savings accounts. If you receive your paycheck through direct deposit, check with your employer to see if it’s possible to divide it between two accounts. If you’re tempted to spend your paycheck when you get it, this is an easy way to put money aside without having to think twice.

Who is this helpful for: Those with consistent income. Again, if you’re getting a check from your employer on a regular basis, pay yourself first by putting a portion of it automatically into savings.

It might seem impossible to save enough to get you and your family through something like a furlough, job loss, or reduced hours. But any amount can make a difference and it’s never too late to start. The more you can save, the better you can weather the worst, and the faster you can recover when it is over.

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Budgeting, Finance, Goals, Money Management, Personal Goals

Ask Chuck: 5 Steps to Improve Your Finances This New Year

By: Crown Financial Ministries

Dear Chuck,

Covid set me back financially this year. As a result, we’re having a very frugal Christmas. Can you offer any tips on setting financial goals for next year? I want to be better prepared for what may lie ahead!

Getting Ready for 2021

Dear Getting Ready, 

I am so sorry for the setbacks you have suffered during this pandemic. Millions of people just like you are looking forward to the new year with great anticipation and are hoping to make improvements in our finances. 

New Year, New You

January is typically a time of renewal. For many of us, that includes diets, health and fitness goals, relationships, or financial plans. However, after what we have experienced in 2020, our highest need will be for renewed hope. Watching the news, scrolling through social media, and listening to certain friends or family members will not fulfill that need. Hope gets us through the tough seasons and gives us direction in times of uncertainty. Thankfully, we have the ultimate source of hope: Jesus. We need to learn to rely on Him in order to cultivate that hope. Here is a quick outline of the steps for 2021.

Step One: Make a Vow. Dedicate this year to the Lord and seek his guidance in all decision-making.  

“Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” (Proverbs 16:3 ESV)

Step Two: Make a Plan. Plan and encourage one another daily. 

Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their toil.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9 ESV)

Pray for self-control and the willingness to stay focused throughout the coming year. 

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things, there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV)

Step Three: Make a Target. Defining your financial goals gives you something to aim for. 

  • Write them out and place them where you are reminded daily. 
  • Determine to spend less than you earn. 
  • Have monthly money dates to analyze your progress. 
  • Assign roles to each other for defense and offense. Be “guard dogs” to protect your earnings so that you can steward wisely. I guarantee you that the “thief” is on the prowl. He comes ONLY to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10a ESV). He will rob you of progress unless you are very intentional in implementing your plan.

Step Four: Make a Budget. Gather your financial records, track your expenses, and create a budget. Make giving your first priority. Establish an emergency account. This will enable you to cover unexpected expenses so that you can avoid debt. Start with $1,000 and then aim for an amount that covers 3-6 months of your overhead expenses. Analyze lifestyle decisions. Some short-term ones to consider include replacing a vehicle, repairs, maintenance, vacation, gifts, etc. Long-term decisions may include a downpayment for a home, education, retirement, etc. Keep your tax liability in mind and plan accordingly.

Step Five: Review Your Insurance. This is a good time to review your insurance coverage: Homeowners or Renters/Auto/Liability, Disability, Life, and Long-Term Care. Not only should you determine if you have coverage but also if you are getting the right price for what you have in place.

Don’t Overlook These 

Update your will. Today this includes creating a Living Will or Trust, Health Declarations, Power of Attorney documents, and password files. 

Pick a debt management plan and pay off all credit cards! Christian Credit Counselors are trusted partners of Crown and have helped hundreds of thousands of families eliminate their credit card debt. Once free of consumer debt, you can begin investing

Depending on your age, put a reminder on your calendar to enroll in Medicare before your 65th birthday. Determine when you should begin to draw social security. 

Check your credit reports from Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. This is important with the number of security breaches. Check to make sure information is correct and report any inaccuracies. Contact them to freeze your credit if necessary. This will prevent thieves from applying and obtaining credit in your name. You can unfreeze as needed. 

Know your credit score. A free report is available at www.annualcreditreport.com. Some credit cards update your FICO score for free each month. 

Calculate your net worth (assets minus liabilities). Aim for a positive number! 

Get Wisdom! 

There has never been an easier time to attain a Biblical financial education. Books, online studies, and insights from places like Sound Mind Investing, Generous Giving, and Crown’s online library of courses make it convenient and practical to learn year-round.

Most importantly, read the Word of God. You will gain wisdom, discernment, and hope that is more advantageous than anything the world offers. 

God has called us to himself that we might shine light into the darkness and bring Him glory. At Crown, we provide resources that will renew your hope through Biblical truths about the Father and the gifts He has entrusted to you.  

Merry Frugal Christmas 

It has been our experience that a frugal Christmas is often the best Christmas. The focus shifts away from the number of boxes under the tree or the expense of the season to the awe and wonder of celebrating the incarnation of Christ; Emmanuel, God with us. 

I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year. We are here to help you on your journey in 2021.

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Budgeting, Economy, Finance, Money Management, National Debt, Saving

Ask Chuck: Practical Advice During the COVID-19 Crisis

By: Crown Financial Ministries

Dear Chuck,

Many of the young people in my Bible Study are frightened of the Coronavirus and the threat to their families. I understand their fear. But, as an older American, I’m also concerned about their economic well-being in the aftermath of this crisis. What kind of financial advice can I offer them?

Sheltered in The Storm

Dear Sheltered in the Storm, 

We have two crises happening now and you have properly identified the third one. First, the virus has created a very real health crisis. Second, the shutdown of the economy has created a very present economic crisis and third, the government bailout will put us at risk of a future debt crisis and threat to the global economy. 

As Thomas Sowell said about our current challenges, “We do not have good choices, we simply have trade-offs.” 

Living on the Edge

The Coronavirus has revealed the financial unpreparedness of millions of citizens. Aaron Zitner, at the Wall Street Journal, reports: “Some 15% of Americans have used, or plan to use, either short-term loans or credit cards that they don’t know they can repay in order to buy emergency goods to deal with the outbreak, a survey by NORC at the University of Chicago found.” He says others rely on savings or plan to divert money set aside for other things.

It is my hope that many Americans have been better prepared for this event after making financial adjustments following the Great Recession, which started in 2008, by paying off debt, increasing savings, and living within their means. Either way, here are some practical and spiritual insights for the young people in your Bible study. 

Establish Essentials as Priority

Everyone’s situation is different. Let’s help the young people understand how to deal with the current economic crisis, and we will deal with the long-term consequences of the bailout later. Here’s how I would attempt to help those in your Bible study when meeting one-on-one. 

Regardless of what’s happening in the world, everyone needs food and shelter. Pay the bills that provide food, home, and necessary utilities. This is a time to sacrifice wants to provide for needs.

Most middle-income families will receive some sort of government assistance money. Establish or grow your emergency savings account. Always keep it resupplied as you are able. 

With job cuts right now, childcare and transportation costs may drop significantly. If possible, save that money in an emergency fund for future needs. Even a small amount in a savings account will reduce financial stress and grant margin in your life. Exercising self-control (a fruit of the Spirit) will boost your confidence and grant hope.

Face your bills with courage and hope. Pray over them and ask God to work in miraculous ways knowing He is able to do far more than you can imagine. Avoid fear and anxiety with this verse:

“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” (Romans 12:12 ESV)

Practical Steps 

  • Limit social media to avoid online shopping. Don’t give in to your (or your children’s) wants right now. Lead by example in love.
  • Student loans: this may be the time to refinance.
  • Debt: negotiate with lenders to reduce your interest rate or balance. Seek to eliminate penalties. Demonstrate your intent to pay. Avoid maxing out credit cards. Consider balance transfers but read all the fine print. Set a goal to eliminate the debt and the method to get there (I recommend the snowball or avalanche methods). Contact Christian Credit Counselors if you are falling behind. 
  • Insurance: assess coverage and negotiate the cost. Some coverages may not be a necessity or deductibles may need to be raised to lower premium costs. 
  • Make a will. Don’t procrastinate.
  • Save: deposit something weekly, or every other week, to develop the habit. Get a fireproof, waterproof safe to keep some cash at home at all times. I recommend one month of living expenses. 
  • Wisely use your government check if you have an emergency savings account: give a portion, pay current bills, and pay down debt.
  • Income tax filing has been postponed until July 15th. If you owe money, set that money aside in a separate account.
  • Ask for help. Trade skills: haircuts for food, tutoring for computer help, etc.
  • Sell what you don’t need. Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist make it easy. Do it safely by meeting buyers in a grocery or government parking lot during daylight hours.
  • Look for opportunities. This may be the best time to start a business or take on greater responsibility at your current place of employment. Learn new skills. Take advantage of online classes. Educate yourself by reading, listening to books, watching Ted Talks, and documentaries.
  • Be generous. There are many suffering at this time. Be exceptionally generous while also being wise and discerning.

Hope for Troubling Times 

Those who are frightened, worried, angry, or frustrated must remember they are not alone. God has not left us on our own. In fact, idols are being revealed and priorities analyzed. It’s time to reorient our lives.

We all know we should live one day at a time. That requires taking one step at a time. But, what if fear overwhelms you and you don’t know what steps to take?

Imagine a sailboat drifting in the center of a large lake with no apparent destination in sight. It rocks back and forth, back and forth, unable to move forward. Suddenly, the wind begins to blow. The sails of the boat filled with air. The sailor takes action and strategically directs the boat to the desired destination. The boat glides effortlessly while the sailor works with the wind to safely arrive to shore.

The Holy Spirit is the wind. He fills our sails enabling us to know when and how to move forward. Filled with hope, we develop perspective and work toward our destination.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13 ESV) 

Not Our First Rodeo

Like you, I have lived long enough to have experienced a number of crises in my life. As my friend said, “this is not my first rodeo, but this is the first time I have ever ridden this horse!” We are living through something the world has never experienced. It’s an opportunity to trust God with all our heart. May He fill you and me with all hope so we can proclaim His goodness. 

 “…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5 ESV)

For anyone struggling with credit card debt, get in touch with our partners at Christian Credit Counselors. They can advocate for you, helping lower payments, and organize your debt. Start your free debt analysis today.

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Identity Theft, Saving, Taxes

How to Use Your Tax Refund to Build Your Emergency Funds

By: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)

During tax season, there’s a lot to think about. Do you have the right forms? Where did you put those receipts? Did you do the math right? But there’s one more thing you should be thinking about: how you can use your tax refund to ramp up your emergency funds or reach other savings goals.

In 2019, around 72% of Americans received a refund on their taxes. This extra jolt of cash can be a perfect opportunity to start—or increase—your emergency savings funds.

Why save your tax refund

Your tax refund may be one of the biggest checks you receive all year. If you’re getting a tax refund, consider saving some or all of it. Putting your refund into savings can help you prepare for unforeseen expenses throughout the year, and work toward longer term savings goals such as buying a house or paying for college.

For many people, making ends meet throughout the year is tough, and saving regularly may seem unrealistic. The money you get in your tax refund could help you build or replenish your rainy day fund. Setting aside money for emergencies may help you cover some of the most common unexpected expenses people experience. Without savings, a financial emergency–even minor–could have a lasting impact on your financial well-being.

How to save money fast

Here are four things to do to save your refund as quickly and securely as possible.

1. Plan ahead

It’s likely that you already have plans for what to do with your refund—many people do. But, if you can plan to save part of your refund, even just a small amount, it could help you down the road when an emergency occurs, or you need a little extra cash to meet a financial goal.

Make a plan to save some of your tax refund, and then use this worksheet to help you make the most of your tax refund.

2. File electronically

The fastest way to receive your tax refund is to file your taxes electronically. If you file your tax returns electronically using e-file, you will likely receive your tax refund within 21 days. However, if you file your taxes by mail, it can take about six weeks to receive your tax refund. Filing your taxes electronically will also help protect you from tax fraud since you aren’t sending sensitive information through the mail.

If you need assistance filing your taxes, and meet the qualifications, you can get free tax preparation assistance from IRS-certified volunteers at a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) or a Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) location. The IRS locator tool will help you find a VITA site near you.

Learn more about filing your tax returns.

3. Use direct deposit

Receiving your tax return as a direct deposit is faster than getting a paper check in the mail, and it ensures that the money is saved safely and automatically.

4. Deposit some, or all, of your refund into your savings account

The IRS allows you to deposit your refund into up to three different accounts. You can automatically deposit portions of your tax refund into checking accounts, savings accounts, retirement accounts, mutual funds, or U.S. Savings Bonds. If you are filing electronically you can even purchase a savings bond while you are filing your tax return.

Other special accounts where you can automatically save some or all of your refund include:

Check with the IRS for more information on direct deposit and splitting your refund.

Affordable ways to file your taxes

Before you have your refund, you need to file your taxes. Be mindful that unemployment benefits may be taxable.

See if you qualify for free tax filing

You can receive free tax preparation assistance at a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) location if you meet any of the following criteria:

  • You have an income of $56,000 or less
  • You are 60 years old or older
  • You have a disability
  • You speak limited English

If your income is $69,000 or less, you can use most major tax preparation software to file your taxes for free through the IRS Free File Alliance.

Members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families can use the free online tax prep and e-filing program MilTax.

If you don’t qualify for free filing assistance

If your income is more than $69,000, you can still download free tax filing forms from the IRS.

While paying someone to file your taxes for you is convenient, there are plenty of affordable tax preparation software products that can walk you through the process of filing your taxes. Consider using one of these if you are uncomfortable filling out the forms on your own, but don’t want to pay a tax preparer to do it for you.

Protect yourself from tax fraud

Scammers like to take advantage of tax time to go after unsuspecting Americans. Follow these tips to protect yourself from tax fraud.

Be aware of scam phone calls. The IRS will never:

  • Call or email you to ask for personal information.
  • Demand immediate payment without first sending you a bill in the mail and giving you an opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
  • Require you to use a specific payment method for taxes, like a prepaid debit card.
  • Ask for credit card information over the phone.
  • Threaten to have you arrested for not paying.

If any of these things happen to you, report it to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1.800.366.4484 or at treasury.gov/tigta.

File electronically and request that your refund be deposited directly into your account.

Use ID theft prevention measures. Don’t carry your social security card with you and don’t give it out just because a business or professional asks for it. Also, don’t carry your Medicare card unless you’re going to a doctor for the first time.

Check your credit report. You can review your credit report for free every 12 months at AnnualCreditReport.com, or by calling 877-322-8228.

If you suspect you’ve been a victim of identity theft and it involves your income tax return, the IRS has more information and help on suspected fraud.

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Budgeting, Debt, Money Management, Saving

4 Steps to Spend Your Stimulus Check and Tax Refund Wisely

By: America Saves

Most Americans don’t have an emergency fund. While we’re all experiencing this pandemic very differently — some having only minor inconveniences and others finding themselves without a job or having to close their business — those without a savings cushion are vulnerable to feeling the ramifications of COVID-19 for a very long time.

With stimulus checks and tax refunds on the way, there will be tough financial decisions to make once received. Here are active steps you can take, along with things to consider to help you develop a solid spending plan.

  1. Make a list of all expenses

Write out every single expense that you have, including essentials like food and utilities. Be sure to go through your checking and savings account history to make sure you don’t have any “vampire” expenses, like monthly subscriptions that you may have forgotten about and no longer need.

  1. Talk to all creditors and lenders

The CARES Act puts into effect two mortgage relief provisions: protection from foreclosure, and a right to forbearance (pausing or making partial payments) for those experiencing loss of income due to COVID-19. However, the provisions are not automatic and are only for federal loans, so you MUST talk to your lender.

If a creditor/lender offers you a payment plan or other relief, make sure you get it in writing and take note of the names and dates of the customer service representatives with whom you speak.

Thankfully, some utility companies have announced they won’t cut off services if they aren’t being paid. Be sure you know all of your utility and service providers’ stance on this, so there are no surprises. You don’t want to make any assumptions.

If you cannot afford your DMP payments, contact your creditors directly to request for deferment on your credit cards. This will prevent your account from falling (further) past due and help to maintain your credit score. Creditors are making payment exceptions on a case by case basis. If you are granted a deferment from your creditors, please contact your CCC representative so that they can adjust your DMP payments.

  1. Prioritize expenses

Expenses relating to food, shelter, and medicine should come first. This would include mortgage, rent, utilities, groceries, diapers, and medications. It also includes medical insurance premiums and homeowners/renter’s insurance.

If you need childcare to work, that is another essential expense. Next in line are auto-related expenses, including transportation, gas, insurance premiums, and car payments.

Loans that are secured by collateral (for example, mortgages and auto loans) are generally considered more important than those without collateral, like consumer credit card debt. For example, if you don’t pay your mortgage, a bank can foreclose on your property; if you don’t pay your car loan, the bank can seize your car. While not paying your credit card bills will negatively affect your credit score, credit card companies will not come into your house and take your personal possessions.

Federal student loans are currently not accruing interest until September 30, 2020, and can be put into forbearance so that no payments are due. If you have a private or institutional loan, you will have to contact the lender for other options.

If you struggle to make the minimum payment on your credit card, call CCC at 800-557-1985 option 5 to add the account to the program for a total consolidation of your outstanding debts.

Expenses for “elective” items, like gym memberships, streaming services, and other subscriptions, come last. Before simply canceling a contract, make sure to contact the vendor – canceling may come with a hefty penalty, but you may be able to temporarily “pause” the service.

  1. Pay your debts in the order of priority.

Now that you know all your expenses, have prioritized them, and know your payment options with creditors and lenders, it’s time to make the payments in order of priority.

It’s important to note that many are still or will be receiving their tax refunds, too. If you receive a refund, you can apply the same process to that extra income.

Remember, there is no prepayment penalty on your Debt Management Program! Contact your CCC representative to apply your stimulus check and/or tax refund toward your balances and pay off your debts.

If you are still unsure or are overwhelmed with where to start, use our decision tree for guidance on what to do with your stimulus check and/or tax refund.

 
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Budgeting, Money Management, Saving

Money-Saving Tips for the COVID-19 Pandemic

By: Crown Financial Ministries

The Crown team makes it a priority to “practice what we preach”. During this pandemic, as we recommend to cut back your living expenses by 25% for the next 90 days, we’ve made a list for you of the ways we’re doing that ourselves. There are some natural savings that happen when you follow social distancing rules, like spending less on gas, eating out, and entertainment. Below are some additional recommendations from the Crown team for cutting expenses and increasing your savings!

Cut back on any unnecessary or luxury subscriptions

Maybe Spotify free is the way to go for now. Here’s a video with easy ways to do this. Courtney said, “My husband and I both went through the last few statements of our bank accounts looking for subscriptions that we could cancel or downgrade. I didn’t realize I was paying for a few app subscriptions! That has saved us a few extra dollars a month.” Calvin and his wife have cut their gym memberships and are working out at home. They are also saving all discretionary dollars in their budget for a few months.

Negotiate cable and internet rates

You may be able to negotiate a better rate for your cable and/or internet. Businesses are wanting to keep their clients right now, so call to check if there are any special promotions you can take advantage of. “We contacted our internet provider and found that we could save 30% on monthly payment because they could move us to a new promotion package,” Alet said. Another one of our staff members canceled their cable TV altogether. Many streaming services are offering free promotions over the next few months, so be sure to look on Google for coupons before signing up for anything new.

Turn off the lights

Be mindful of your energy usage while you’re home. Do you have a habit of leaving the lights or ceiling fans on? Get up from your home office desk and make sure you’re not paying extra for that electricity!

Defer medical bills

If you need to, call your medical provider and set up a payment or deferment plan. Most will let you do this if you ask and work with them.

Slow down loan payments or stop paying ahead – for now

Several staff members have been paying ahead on their mortgage or student loans. For the next few months, their plan is to pay the required monthly balance as billed and use the extra to increase their savings.

Save on your phone bill

Handre called his mobile provider and moved to a less expensive package saving him each month on his family plan.

Activate the “pantry challenge”

Melinda and her family have challenged themselves to eat out of only their pantry and freezer before going out to eat. Once a week, someone grocery shops for a few fresh essentials for their meals. Other than that, they save money by depleting their stocked food and complying with social distancing rules.

Go meatless

Hannah said her family has moved to 3 meatless dinners a week. It has helped them to mix up their recipes and helped them cut back on their grocery bill!

Save on insurance

One member of the Crown staff said, “I contacted our home insurance company and asked if there were any discounts we could qualify for because of recent improvements we did to our home. A miracle happened – they lowered our yearly insurance amount by $400 and gave me $500 towards this year’s installment because we fixed the roof recently. We had already decided to give to people who were losing their jobs, and now our gifts have been doubled!”

Trusting God’s Promise

We know it’s not fun to take these steps, but we’re trusting in God’s promise that discipline now will pay off later. “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11 (ESV) Here are a few other financial steps you can take to find peace and freedom.

Pay off debt

Now is a good time to work on decreasing or eliminating debt. If you need help making a plan, contact our partners Christian Credit Counselors. They’ll help you consolidate your payments so you can be debt-free sooner!

Increase your savings

If you’re not in the habit of saving, now would be a good time to start. To make it easy, check out the Eli Savings App. It automates your savings for you and only saves what you’re able to afford.

Give generously

It may seem uncomfortable right now to think about giving, but it is in these times where we are able to truly show our faith and trust in the Lord. Share the resources you have with your neighbors and friends. Are you able to give more to your church when others might be holding back? Do you know someone furloughed or out of work that can use some help? Find a way to share.

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Credit, Credit Score

Protecting Your Credit During the Coronavirus Pandemic

By: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)

Your credit reports and scores play an important role in your future financial opportunities. You can use the steps below to manage and protect your credit during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.

Get a copy of your credit report

If you haven’t requested your free annual credit reports, you can get copies at AnnualCreditReport.com. Each of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies (also known as credit reporting companies) – Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian – allows you to get your report for free once every 12 months. You can request additional reports for a small fee if you’ve already received your free report. Be sure to check your reports for errors and dispute any inaccurate information.

In addition to your free annual credit reports, all U.S. consumers are entitled to six free credit reports every 12 months from Equifax through December 2026. All you have to do is get a “myEquifax” account at equifax.com/personal/credit-report-services/free-credit-reports/ or call Equifax at 866-349-5191.

If you can’t make payments, contact your lenders

Many lenders have announced proactive measures to help borrowers impacted by COVID-19. As with other natural disasters and emergencies, they may be willing to provide forbearance, loan extensions, a reduction in interest rates, and/or other flexibilities for repayment. Some lenders are also saying they will not report late payments to credit reporting agencies or waiving late fees for borrowers in forbearance due to this pandemic. If you feel you cannot make payments, contact your lenders to explain your situation and be sure to get confirmation of any agreements in writing.

The CFPB has resources to help you discuss the impact of COVID-19 on your financial situation with your lenders.

Credit reporting under the CARES Act

The recently passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act places special requirements on companies that report your payment information to credit reporting companies. These requirements apply if you are affected by the coronavirus disease pandemic and if your creditor makes an agreement (called an “accommodation” in the Act) with you to defer a payment, make partial payments, forbear a delinquency, modify a loan, or other relief.

How your creditors report your account to credit reporting companies under the CARES Act depends on whether you are current or already delinquent when this agreement is made.

  • If your account is current and you make an agreement to make a partial payment, skip a payment, or other accommodation, then the creditor is to report to credit reporting companies that you are current on your loan or account. This applies only if you are meeting the terms of the agreement.
  • If your account is already delinquent and you make an agreement, then your account will maintain that status during the agreement until you bring the account current.
  • If your account is already delinquent and you make an agreement, and you bring your account current, the creditor must report that you are current on your loan or account.

This CARES Act requirement applies only to agreements made between January 31, 2020 and the later of either:

  • 120 days after March 27, 2020 or
  • 120 days after the national emergency concerning COVID–19 ends.

The CARES Act also applies to certain federal student loans and includes requirements relating to suspending payments and credit reporting. During the period that payments on federal student loans are suspended by the Department of Education, any payment that has been suspended is to be reported as if it were a regularly scheduled payment made by the borrower.

Routinely check your reports

If you’re working with lenders and other creditors on payment assistance programs or forbearance, routinely check your credit reports to make sure they are accurate and reflect your agreements. For example, if your lender agreed to let you skip one month’s payment, make sure they didn’t report it as delinquent or a missed payment.

There are other reports you may want to check too, such as reports that monitor your bank and checking account history, among others. The CFPB has a list of consumer reporting companies where you can learn more about which reports might be important to you, depending on your specific situation.

Report and dispute inaccurate information

If you find inaccurate information on your credit reports, use the CFPB’s step-by-step guide to dispute that information with the credit reporting agency and the company that provided that information to them, also known as a furnisher.

If an investigation doesn’t resolve your dispute with the credit reporting company, you can ask that a brief statement of the dispute be included in your file and included or summarized in future reports. You can also submit a complaint to the CFPB at consumerfinance.gov/complaint.

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Credit Cards, Credit Counseling, Debt, Debt Consolidation, Debt Settlement, Finance, Loans, Money Management, Mortgage, Student Loans

Protect Yourself Financially from the Impact of COVID-19

By: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)

Steps to take if you have trouble paying your bills or meeting other financial obligations

If you have trouble paying your bills/loans or paying on time, there may be a number of options to help, especially if you reach out early to your lenders or creditors.

Contact your lenders, loan servicers, and other creditors

If you’re not able to pay your bills on time check their websites, to see if they have information that can help you.

The CFPB and other financial regulators have encouraged financial institutions to work with their customers to meet their community needs.

If you can’t make a payment now, need more time, or want to discuss payment options, contact your lenders and servicers to let them know about your situation. Being behind on your payments can have a lasting impact on your credit.

Credit card companies and lenders may be able to offer you a number of options to help you. This could include waiving certain fees like ATM, overdrafts, and late fees, as well as allowing you to delay, adjust, or skip some payments.

When contacting your lenders, be prepared to explain:

  • Your financial and employment situation
  • How much you can afford to pay
  • When you’re likely to be able to restart regular payments
  • Be prepared to discuss your income, expenses, and assets

Work with housing and credit counselors to understand your options

These trained professionals provide advice for little or no cost, and they will work with you to discuss your situation, evaluate options, and even help you negotiate with your lenders and servicers.

Warning: If you’re considering working with a debt settlement company to address your debts, be skeptical of any company that promises to do it for an upfront fee.

Trouble paying your mortgage?

If you can’t pay your mortgage, or can only pay a portion, contact your mortgage servicer.

It may take a while to get a loan servicer on the phone. Loan servicers are experiencing a high call volume and may also be impacted by the pandemic.

Visit our blog on mortgage relief options for in-depth content to help you understand your forbearance options and avoid foreclosure in light of the coronavirus and the recently passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

If you are renting from an owner who has a federally backed mortgage, the CARES Act provides for a suspension or moratorium on evictions. Read more in our renter section of the mortgage relief blog.

Trouble paying your student loans?

If you have student loans, you have options.

If your loan is held by the federal government, your loan payments are postponed with no interest until September 30, 2020.

For other kinds of student loans (such as a federal student loan held by a commercial lender or the institution you attend, or a private student loan held by a bank, credit union, school, or other private entity) contact your student loan servicer to find out more about your options.

Read our FAQs to learn more about what you can do.

Trouble paying your credit cards?

If you’re unable to pay your credit cards, talk with your credit card company and let them know that you cannot make a payment. You may get relief.

You may also want to work with a credit counselor. Reputable credit counseling organizations are generally non-profit organizations that can advise you on your money and debts, and help you with a budget. Some may also help you negotiate with creditors. There are specific questions to ask to help you find a credit counseling organization to work with.

Trouble paying your auto loan?

Your lender may have options that will help. Our tips include changing the date of your payment, requesting a payment plan, and asking for a payment extension

How to work with your bank or credit union

With many of us staying home to help flatten the coronavirus curve, online banking allows you to handle your finances from the comfort of home. Here are some tips for people who are new to online or mobile banking.

Generally, all bank deposits up to $250,000 are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Deposits at all federal credit unions, and the vast majority of state-chartered credit unions, are also insured up to $250,000 by the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund (NCUSIF).

How to work with debt collectors

If you currently have a debt in collections, you can work with collectors to identify a realistic repayment plan.

The Bureau offers a number of resources for contacting and negotiating with debt collection companies, especially as we deal with the impact of the coronavirus.

What to do if you lose your income

State and local governments vary in the programs and offerings to help those financially impacted by the coronavirus.

You can look to your state’s unemployment policies to identify current options for benefits. The recently passed CARES Act allows states to extend benefits to self-employed and gig workers, and to provide an extra $600 per week as well as an additional 13 weeks of benefits. Your state’s public health office may also have information.

Older adults may be impacted by the coronavirus and quarantine procedures in different ways than the general public. There may be government benefits available to older adults who need financial help. Visit benefitscheckup.org for more information and to see if you qualify for any state or local assistance.

Be aware of potential scam attempts

Scammers look for opportunities to take advantage of the vulnerable, especially during times of emergencies or natural disasters. Be cautious of emails, texts, or social media posts that may be selling fake products or information about emerging coronavirus cases.

Click here for more information on scams specific to the coronavirus.

The Federal Trade Commission has tips to protect yourself from possible coronavirus-related scams. The FTC and the Food and Drug Administration have also cautioned consumers to be on the look-out for sellers of unapproved and misbranded products, claiming they can treat or prevent coronavirus.

Learn more about how to prevent, recognize, and report fraud and scams.

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Debt, Money Management, National Debt

Ask Chuck: The Bible, Money, and Love

By Chuck Bentley, Crown Financial Ministries

Dear Chuck,

I’m growing weary of our society’s overuse (and misuse) of the word love. I hear and see it in advertising, on social media, and in conversations. If the first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God, it appears we’ve confused our priorities. It appears we love money more than Him or His word.  

Love is in the Air 

Dear Love is in the Air, 

Thank you for the great question. I chose to answer your question so I could talk about love and money on Valentine’s Day. Did you know, Americans will spend an estimated $50 billion dollars on Valentine’s Day gifts and activities to show their love to a special loved one. My wife prefers that I save the money for chocolate or flowers on this day and show love throughout the year. 

Love and Money

You have identified a significant problem. When love becomes misunderstood or misdirected, we all suffer. Staggering debt levels, lack of savings, and rising stress suggest we have a spending problem and a heart problem. Even recently, experts have declared that when consumption turns into consumerism, it becomes a social disease

The enemy has convinced people that things will bring happiness. Yet, throughout Scripture, God warns us not to be led astray. He tells us:

  • Love God and others
  • Pursue love
  • Guard ourselves
  • Don’t love the world
  • Don’t love money
  • Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions

Just this week, the Wall Street Journal released information that hints at Americans’ disobedience and confused priorities. Credit card debt rose to record highs during the last quarter of 2019. Spurred by a seemingly strong economy and job market, spending increased dramatically. Unfortunately, the number of delinquent payments rose too. Consider this statistic cited in the article:

“Total credit card balances increased by $46 billion to $930 billion, well above the previous peak seen before the 2008 financial crisis, according to data released by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York on Tuesday.”

Debt brings stress and bondage. People are unable to live as God designed when they are strapped with debt. In today’s world that includes credit card debt, student loan debt, car loans, mortgages, personal and payday loans. It prevents many from saving money to be used as God directs. Bankrate’s recent poll shows that only 41% of Americans could cover a $1,000 emergency with savings. 

The Apostle Paul wrote: “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.” (2 Corinthians 9:11 ESV)

There’s only one reason God supplies a surplus of wealth to a Christian: so that he or she will have enough to provide for the needs of others. True wealth comes with the responsibility of giving. God promises blessings to all who freely give and His curse on those who hoard, steal, covet, or idolize.

Giving is the foundation of a life lived in selfless devotion to others. It fulfills the second greatest commandment, to love our neighbor as ourselves. Preoccupation with things of this world gets us sidetracked. We lose sight of our final destination and the purpose for which God has us here. 

Billions of dollars dedicated to credit card spending confirm that we have confused our wants and needs. We have forgotten our neighbor and the Lord’s statement: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35 ESV)

When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus answered: “..you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12: 30 ESV)

Divided hearts have divided priorities and those are evident in the way we handle money. That is why He teaches us in Hebrews 13:5 “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’” (NIV) Here is a simple test to know if you love God or money. How do you react when you lose money? Are you in a panic, upset or even angry? Remember, our hope is in God, not the money that he provides. Money will leave us; He will not.

Save Your Way Out of Debt

One way to reduce stress is through automatic saving. The Eli app is a tool that can improve your financial health so you can experience greater levels of freedom in your life. Check out the new Eli app to begin an automatic savings program to reduce your stress and increase your freedom to love God and others as you faithfully pay off your debt. 

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