Debt, Economy, Money Management, Personal Goals

Ask Chuck: Coping With Economic Anxiety

By: Crown Financial Ministries

Dear Chuck,

I don’t think I have ever felt more uncertain about America’s economic future than I do now. Do you see any light at the end of the tunnel? My anxiety levels are growing! 

Anxious American

Dear Anxious American, 

Your question prompted me to see if there was some measurement of the sense of uncertainty that so many of us are feeling and I found one! The International Monetary Fund published a graphic of the “World Uncertainty Index” in context over the past 25 years. The interesting takeaway for me is that the index peaked with news of the Coronavirus but has decreased by about 60% since the middle of last year. Take a look:

The point is, you are not alone. The world is in a history-making shift right now and most of us are experiencing greater levels of concern and anxiety.

Dealing with Our Unknown Future 

If we focus our minds on all of the uncertainty we are truly in right now, it will no doubt breed anxiety. Financial anxiety begins when we start projecting how our future will be impacted by current events. Not knowing if our needs or expectations will be met creates worry. Dwelling on the unknown can propel us into a vortex of hopelessness. Doubt, disbelief, and negativity will eat away the peace and confidence that God wants us to experience. 

In July of 2020, AnxietyCentre.com released an article with data and facts worth reading to get an idea of how serious this issue is. It states:

According to The Economic Burden of Anxiety Disorders, a study commissioned by the ADAA and based on data gathered by the association and published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, anxiety disorders cost the U.S. more than $42 billion a year, almost 1/3 of the $148 billion total mental health bill for the U.S.

Anxiety can raise its ugly head concerning health, money, education, careers, family, on and on. However, this is not new to humanity. An idiom came into use in North America during the mid-1800s. You’ve probably heard some form of it: “don’t borrow trouble.”  Worrying solves nothing. It wastes time and energy and distracts us from more important things. Most of what we worry about never happens and reveals our lack of trust.

That idiom is nothing new. The Bible addressed the issue centuries ago:

  •  “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.” (Proverbs 12:25 ESV)
  •  “When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.” (Psalm 94:19 ESV)
  • “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34 ESV)
  • “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7 ESV)

Because we cannot know the future, we will always be prone to experience financial anxiety if we dwell on all the “what if” scenarios that race through our minds. Here is a simple framework that may help. When financial anxiety is rising, remember S.O.S. Stop. Organize. Start. 

Stop!

If you are overspending, accumulating debt, and living with financial stress to make it to the end of the month, declare that you will stop repeating those mistakes now. This is the first step in gaining financial wisdom that will reduce your anxiety. Stopping is progress! 

Humble yourself and recognize your need to place full confidence in the Lord. Repent of mishandling the money He entrusted to you. Don’t blame others or beat yourself up. Simply agree that you want to discontinue old bad habits with your finances. 

Organize!

Make a plan to repair the problems you have created. They will not disappear by winning the lottery or ignoring them. Get help and seek training to address your issues and establish goals. 

Begin a process to right the wrongs. Ask the Lord to help you persevere through this step with discipline, self-control, and hope. This will reduce your anxiety even more. God promised that we will experience tribulations and storms but He will never leave us or forsake us.

Start!

Once you have stopped and organized, you are 2/3 of the way there. God wants you to start doing what is good and faithful with money. His goal is not that we simply have freedom, but that we use money for His purposes, not our own. 

It can be helpful to find wise mentors and gain knowledge from others who can guide and encourage you. Prioritize your life around the basic principles of giving first, saving second, and living on the rest. Restructure your lifestyle within a defined budget and renew your mind daily. 

Light at the End of the Tunnel

I truly do not know what lies ahead, although I enjoy watching trends and keeping up with events that threaten our financial future. I just released a new book called 7 Gray Swans where I discuss many of these trends. I also know that there is always a reason for hope. Most of what we worry about will never happen. If it does, God will work it together for our good. We can find His Light shining brightly, no matter how dark our circumstances may seem. 

We offer a variety of online courses and other resources to ground you in Biblical financial principles and fortify you for the days ahead. Christian Credit Counselors can help you eliminate credit card debt. Their Christ-centered values and experienced team of professional counselors can help you overhaul your finances. That step alone will reduce your anxiety.  

Pray for our nation. We are in a turbulent time. We need you and all believers to be the salt and light that Jesus created us to be for such a time as this.

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Home & Mortgage, Loans, Mortgage, Student Loans

COVID-19 Financial Relief and Protections Extended

By: CFPB

Are you struggling during the pandemic? The federal government is extending relief and protections for many student loan borrowers, renters, and homeowners who are having trouble making payments during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Keep reading to learn more about these important updates that may help you. But, remember the COVID-19 pandemic and relief efforts continue to change and develop. Check our COVID-19 webpage for more information.

Payments suspended for federally-owned student loans

Principal and interest payments on federally-held student loans are automatically suspended through September 30, 2021.

If you have federally owned student loans, you don’t need to contact your student loan servicer or take any action. However, make sure your servicer has your up-to-date contact information and continue to check your mail or email for updates or information about your loans.

Suspended payments through September 30, 2021, will count towards any student loan forgiveness programs, as long as all other requirements are met.

Learn more about protections for student loan borrowers.

Protection from evictions for renters

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced an extension to their current order that halts certain residential evictions. The extension stops evictions until at least March 31, 2021.

If you already get rental help from HUD, and your income has changed, ask for income recertification.

Learn about help for renters and what you can do.

Mortgage relief protections and options

There are two primary federal protections: forbearance and a foreclosure moratorium.

Forbearance

If you have a mortgage-backed by VA, USDA, FHA, Fannie Mae, or Freddie Mac, you have the right to request an initial forbearance of up to 180 days on your mortgage and a forbearance extension for up to 180 days if you have a COVID-related financial hardship.

  • For mortgages backed by the FHA, USDA or, VA, the deadline to request an initial forbearance is June 30, 2021.
  • Mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac do not currently have a deadline for requesting an initial forbearance.

If you are already in forbearance and need more time:

  • If your mortgage is backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac: You may request one additional three-month extension, up to a maximum of 15 months of total forbearance. But to qualify, you must be in a COVID forbearance plan as of February 28, 2021, so don’t delay contacting your servicer if you’re having trouble paying your mortgage and are not in a forbearance plan.
  • If your mortgage is backed by FHA, USDA, or VA, you may request two additional three-month extensions, up to a maximum of 18 months of total forbearance. But to qualify, you must have received your initial forbearance on or before June 30, 2020. Check with your servicer about the options available.

Foreclosure

  • If your mortgage is backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, your lender or loan servicer cannot foreclose on your home until after March 31, 2021.
  • If your mortgage is backed by FHA, USDA, or VA, your lender or loan servicer cannot foreclose on your home until after June 30, 2021.

Learn about mortgage relief and options you may have.

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Taxes

Get the Most Out of Your Tax Refund in 2021

By: CFPB

The coronavirus pandemic continues to put a huge strain on household finances. Even in a normal year, a tax refund may be the biggest check you receive all year.

This year, if you qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or the Child Tax Credit (CTC), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is allowing you to choose whether to use your 2019 or 2020 income to receive the most credits for which you are eligible. By filing your taxes, you can also make sure you get any stimulus money you may not have received.

We encourage you to file your taxes as soon as you can to take advantage of this money.

Benefits of filing a federal tax return in 2021

Even if you are not required to file federal taxes, doing so this year may be the only way to get back any money that was withheld from your wages (a refund), plus cash in on key benefits and stimulus payments, also known as Economic Impact Payments (EIP).

Benefit 1: Income Tax Refund

If you worked at any time during 2020 or received unemployment, you may have had income taxes taken out of your paycheck, and you might be able to get a tax refund.

Benefit 2: Tax Credits

You may be able to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit or Child Tax Credit when you file your taxes this year. If you are eligible for one of these tax credits, it could reduce the amount of tax you owe and may even earn you a refund.

Because the coronavirus impacted many people’s incomes in 2020, the IRS’s “lookback rule” allows you to choose between your 2019 or 2020 income to determine which will get you the most money back on your EITC or CTC.

Make sure to have your 2019 tax return on hand when you file this year’s taxes so that you have all the information you need.

Earned Income Tax Credit

The EITC or EIC is a benefit for working people with low-to-moderate income. Claiming the credit can reduce the tax you owe and may also give you a larger refund. Use the IRS’s Earned Income Tax Credit Assistant to help you figure out how much you qualify for this year, or ask your tax preparer if you qualify.

Child Tax Credit

The CTC is available if you claim any children younger than 17 (at the end of 2020) as dependents on your taxes. The CTC is worth a maximum of $2,000 per qualifying child. Up to $1,400 is refundable. To get a CTC refund, you must earn more than $2,500.

Benefit 3: Economic Impact Payments

In 2020, the federal government authorized direct payments to Americans called Economic Impact Payments, to help them weather the financial strain from the coronavirus pandemic. Most people who qualified already received these payments.

However, if you don’t normally file taxes and you didn’t receive one or both of the EIPs to help with coronavirus relief in 2020, you may still be eligible.

SECOND ROUND OF FINANCIAL RELIEF THROUGH ECONOMIC IMPACT PAYMENTS

In December 2020, the federal government extended additional financial relief to millions of Americans through a second round of stimulus payments, also called Economic Impact Payments (EIPs). The IRS began issuing payments of $600 a person in December to eligible individuals.

If you did receive an EIP but did not get the right amount, you can also claim the difference when you file. On your 2020 tax return, the EIP is called the Recovery Rebate Credit (RRC). When you do your taxes and fill out a 1040 or a 1040SR form, there will be a place to fill in how much RRC you already received, and then you can calculate whether more money is owed to you.

How to file your federal tax return in 2021

There are several ways to file a tax return, including free tax preparation services for low- to moderate-income individuals, persons with disabilities, the elderly, and limited English speakers. Learn more about affordable ways to file a tax return.

Get help if you need it

You don’t have to be an expert to file your taxes. If you meet certain income requirements, there may be free tax preparation options to help you get your refund and all the credits you’ve earned.

Because of the pandemic, many Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) programs are offering a variety of tax preparation options in 2021 including virtual tax preparation, drop-off services, and facilitated self-preparation. See if there is a VITA program near you. You can also go to MyFreeTaxes and choose to prepare your own return using free software or to seek free tax preparation assistance.

If you do seek the help of a professional, remember to ask them about choosing your 2019 or 2020 income for the purpose of calculating your EITC and CTC.

Direct deposit your refund

Direct deposit is the safest and fastest way to receive a tax refund. Setting up direct deposit is not just quicker and more secure, it’s also a particularly good solution if you don’t have an address where you can reliably receive mail. If you do not have a bank or credit union account, you can explore account options that are safe, affordable, insured, and can be opened remotely.

The money you get in this year’s tax refund could help cover necessities like food, bills, rent, or mortgage payments. If you do have the ability to save this year, learn more about using your tax refund to start an emergency fund.

​Read More
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.

​Read More
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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