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, Credit Score

Test Your Knowledge: Take the Credit Score Quiz

Credit scores are important! A borrower with a low score could pay thousands more in interest over the life of a typical five-year car loan than a consumer with a high score. Past quiz results have indicated that many Americans could improve their credit score knowledge and ability to manage their scores.

How much do you really know about your credit score? How much is myth vs. fact?

To find out, click to take this anonymous 12-question quiz. It doesn’t take long, but the knowledge you gain could go a long way toward improving your own score.

About the Quiz

The Credit Score Quiz and accompanying website, creditscorequiz.org, are informational tools developed by the Consumer Federation of America and VantageScore. They developed the quiz and website to increase consumer knowledge about credit scores and how to improve them. Earlier this year, this quiz was administered to a representative sample of 1,000 adult Americans. The quiz results indicate that many Americans could improve their credit score knowledge and ability to manage their scores.

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Credit, Credit Score, Money Management

A No-Cost Way to Prepare Your Credit for a Big Purchase

By: CFPB

Thinking about buying a house, car, or other big-ticket items, and know you’ll be using credit? Before making a big purchase, your first step should be to take a look at all of your finances. Check out these five steps to prepare your finances that won’t cost you a penny!

1. Take advantage of your free annual credit reports.

You can visit AnnualCreditReport.com to get a copy of your credit reports for free. The three nationwide credit reporting companies – Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax — each have to provide your free credit reports every 12 months – but only if you request them. You can check the three reports periodically throughout the year or all at once. If you decide to request one report every four months, you can monitor your credit reports more frequently throughout the year.

2. Review your credit reports for inaccurate information.

Take a close look at your credit reports to make sure all the information on your report is correct. According to an FTC study, one in five people have errors on their credit report. Not sure what to look for? Here’s a list of common credit report errors to help you through the process. 

3. Dispute credit report errors with the credit reporting company that sent you the report.

Incorrect information on your credit report may hurt your ability to get new lines of credit or may make the terms of credit more expensive. You can dispute inaccurate information with the credit reporting company. You can use these instructions and template letter as a guide.

4. Dispute credit report errors to the company that provided the information.

The company that provided or “furnished” the information to the credit reporting company is known as the “furnisher.” Furnishers could be your bank, your landlord, or your credit card company. You can dispute inaccurate information directly with the furnisher. Use this template to send a letter to the company that provided the information you’re disputing.

5. Make a plan.

Even if you don’t have errors on your credit report, reviewing your report can help you make a plan for how to improve your credit. For more help putting your plan together, download this guide to Rebuilding Your Credit.

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Budgeting, Credit, Credit Cards, Credit Score, Debt, Money Management, Saving, Student Loans

Top 9 Money Mistakes People Make

By Jim Garnett, The Debt Doctor

After counseling average Americans about their financial problems for many years, I noticed early on that there is a common set of money mistakes people usually make.

Money Mistake #1: Being comfortable with debt.

Why would anyone choose to be a slave if he could choose to be free? One answer is because, over a period of time, one seems to develop a “slave mentality.” They have never known freedom and have gotten used to being slaves.

There is a very real sense that being in debt makes us slaves. The wise King Solomon wrote, “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave of the lender” (Proverbs 22:7 NRSV). Many in our society have been in debt so long, they have cultivated a “debt mentality.” Because they have never known financial freedom, they grow accustomed to being in debt and accept it as “the normal way of life.”

But just imagine what it would be like to be out of debt and not have a mortgage payment or car payment each month? Just think what you could do with all that money. Out of debt, you would not need as much money to live, and you would be free to use this money which was once tied up in debt payments for whatever you wanted.

Just think of being in your 30’s or early 40’s and being able to have discretionary monies of $2,000 to $3,000 a month. You could put a sizable amount away toward car replacement, house repair, or future education needs. And imagine what it would be like to be able to write checks to your church or charities that are sizable in amount.

Being debt-free would allow you the freedom to grow wealth quickly and give substantially.

It is high time we stop treating debt like an old family friend that has moved in to stay with us forever! We need to kick him out and send him on his way! There is no reason to remain enslaved to debt when we can be free.

Money Mistake #2: Not knowing what we spend each month.

The only part of the budget process that many people know is the “what I make” part. Most people are totally in the dark about the “what I spend” part. This money mistake is one of the main reasons why 40% of Americans spend more than they make each month. Sadly, most of that 40% are unaware that they do.

How can this be? Because by using credit cards each month, an illusion is created that makes us think we are doing fine financially. After all, the bills are getting paid on time. This may be true, but if the credit cards were put in a drawer and not used for two months, the bills would not, nor could not, be paid on time. Without the constant use of credit, we would see that we are running out of money before we run out of the month.

Being smart with our money, no matter what amount that might be, includes knowing how much we spend in relation to how much we make. Using credit hides that fact from our eyes. Once we determine what we are spending, we can bring our spending in line with our earnings by either spending less or making more.

To get to a destination, we must know where we presently are. That’s why the first step in money management is always to know what we spend.

Money Mistake #3: Behaving like credit cards are money.

Many people say they know that credit cards are not money, but their actions betray their words.

A college sophomore once told me, “No matter how broke I am, I always have money in my pocket with my two credit cards.” Like many, he was confusing the “buying power” of his cards with money.

But when we use a credit card, we are not spending money but borrowing money in as much the same manner as when we take out a loan at a bank. The buying power of our credit card originates from borrowing money from a creditor – we call that borrowed money “credit.” If that credit is not repaid within a certain amount of time, a high-interest rate is added to the debt.

I am convinced that if we actually viewed our credit cards as the ability to borrow money – money that must be repaid – we would greatly restrain ourselves in their use.

Money Mistake #4: Being satisfied with only making minimum monthly payments.

Interest.com calculates that paying off a $2,000 credit card balance with an 18% interest rate at a minimum payment of 2% would take 288 months or 24 years to pay off. So, if at age 30 you closed the card and just paid on it at monthly minimums, you would be 39 years old when you finally pay it off! But note, you would not have paid just $2,000 but $6,396.40 because of the added interest charges. I don’t know about you, but I work far too hard for my money to spend it like that.

Money Mistake #5: Borrowing to “pay off” debt. 

Borrowing to pay off debt normally backfires! It has similar results to digging a hole in our front yard so we can fill in the hole in our backyard.

This “money mistake” yields some pretty disastrous results:

  • Our borrowing does not actually “pay off” debt – it merely moves the debt to a different location. Now we have a second mortgage on our home or a loan against our 401(k).
  • The debt we pay off by borrowing usually reappears within 3 years. This occurs because our borrowing makes it unnecessary to change our spending habits.
  • Borrowing against our home equity turns an unsecured debt into a secured debt. That’s why the interest rate is now less – the bank would rather loan against our house than loan against our name because it is less risky.
  • Borrowing against our 401(k) often has a 10% penalty if we are not 59.5 years old, plus the monies we borrow are taxed as income. At times, 40% of the monies taken from a 401(k) loan will “disappear” in penalty and taxes.
  • If we move again, our house produces very little profit because we have increased the mortgage balance, plus there is little to put down for a down payment on our new home.
  • When we are old enough to retire, we often cannot because our home is not paid off. We still have house payments to make because we borrowed against it to “pay off” debt.

Borrowing to pay off debt does not decrease our debt, and often we are worse off than we were before.

Money Mistake #6: Co-signing a loan.

It’s great to help somebody get a loan, but it’s critical to understand the risks before doing so. There’s a reason the lender wants a cosigner: The lender isn’t confident that the primary borrower can repay in full and on time. If a professional lender isn’t comfortable with the borrower, you’d better have a good reason for taking the risk. Lenders have access to data and extensive experience working with borrowers.

The co-signer promises to repay the other person’s debt if, for any reason, he does not. The liability assumed is for 100% of the debt, thus, if $5,000 is the total amount borrowed, the co-signer is responsible for the entire $5,000 if the other person defaults.

Also, the co-signer’s credit score can be affected if the primary signer makes late payments or misses payments on the loan. Currently, 75% of student loan co-signers end up making payments on the student loan.

Money Mistake #7: Having no emergency savings.

A recent survey asked people if they could get $2,000 for an emergency. The results revealed that 55% of the respondents said they could get the money within 30 days, but 92% of those people said they would need to borrow the money from family, friends, bank loans, or credit cards.

Another survey revealed that 28% of the 1,000 people surveyed have absolutely nothing in savings. In other words, many people are simply not prepared for emergencies.

Money Mistake #8: Creating debt for tax benefits or to establish credit.

Debt for Tax Benefits. It is good to claim every deduction that you can on your taxes, but it is often not good to spend money in order to get a tax deduction. An example would be the deduction one is allowed to take for interest paid on a mortgage loan. If I paid $10,000 of interest and was in a 25% tax bracket, I would receive a tax deduction of $2,500. If I absolutely had to pay the interest, I would surely deduct it. But if I had the choice of paying my home off and having no interest to pay, that would be my choice by far. I would rather have the $10,000 non-spent money in my hand than receive a $2,500 tax deduction. I may pay more tax, but on the other hand, if I gave monies to charities, I would receive the same deduction. Remember, you often have to spend your money to receive tax deductions. If you are not careful, you can “tax deduct yourself into the poor house.”

Debt for Establishing Credit. One of my clients followed the advice of her financial counselor and bought a house in order to build up her credit score! In order to establish credit, you simply need to pay your bills on time. You do not need to maintain debt to do this. You can establish your credit just as well by paying your credit card balance in full each month.

Money Mistake #9: Thinking that good credit is the most important thing in life.

Good credit is important, but it is not the most important thing in life. The main benefit of having good credit is being able to go into debt with good terms. But what if we decide we are not going to go any further into debt and work out a plan to get out of debt and stay out of debt? Then the benefits of good credit are not nearly as important to us.

To me, the benefits of living debt-free are much more important than the benefits of having good credit. It is true that most people who live debt-free also have good credit, but it was not their good credit that allowed them to become debt-free. It was their living within their means and discontinuing the use of credit to create any further debt.

Mind you, I am certainly not advocating that one should have bad credit. I am simply stating that getting out of debt and staying out of debt is much more important than having good credit.

The benefit of observing and sharing these money mistakes is that they allow us to learn from the mistakes of others.

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Credit, Credit Cards, Credit Counseling, Credit Score, Goals, Money Management, Personal Goals

Turning Financial Resolutions into Regular Routines

By: Brittany Frost

We are now more than a month into 2017 which begs the question: how are your financial New Year’s resolutions coming along? What steps have you taken so far to reduce your debt or save money? Maybe you’ve been so busy that you have yet to make a financial resolution this year. If so, don’t worry! December isn’t the only time for resolutions. It is never too late to resolve to take control of your finances toward a better financial future. According to a NBC News article, the most popular resolution in 2017 was “getting healthy” with specific interests in gyms and fitness (Ref. #1). Don’t forget: financial health is also important! However, if one big financial resolution overwhelms you, it may help to set mini-resolutions that are more achievable and may be easier to keep. Switch them up so they aren’t so daunting. Start now! Trim your debt and get your credit in better shape! Choose at least one of the following tips to create your own mini-resolutions today:

  • If you haven’t done so in a while, go to annualcreditreport.com to pull your 3 free annual credit reports from Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Even if it’s scary, you need to know your credit in order to improve it.
  • Pay cash for gas each month to keep it off your credit card so your balance will be lower on the next statement. 30% of your FICO credit score is calculated based on “amounts owed” so pay with cash to help keep your balances low and do not use a high percentage of your available credit (Ref. #2).
  • Use a free app or paper to record every dime you spend so that the money is earmarked when you pay your credit card bill! 35% of your FICO score is calculated based on “payment history” so record and budget to pay ON TIME and in full if possible (Ref. #2).
  • Go to myfico.com to learn more about how your FICO score is calculated and use that as a guideline to improve your credit.
  • Try not to eat out for one week. “Brown-bag” it to save money.
  • Instead of paying for a baby-sitter, swap out watching kids for free with friends.
  • Negotiate everything; not just houses and cars but hotel rooms and other items. It’s always worth a try.
  • Don’t just take something at face value. Shop around to compare and find the lowest price before purchasing. For example, it may be cheaper not to bundle insurance. Instead, get separate quotes from an independent agent on auto, home, and life insurance to find the best price for each.
  • To keep the cost of holidays/birthdays down, give homemade gifts of baked goods or food instead of pricier, store-bought items.
  • If and when you get a tax refund this year, vow to put it directly toward bills or your debt with the highest interest. Resist the temptation to splurge! It will only hurt you in the long run.

You can make resolutions any time, but the sooner the better! The key to making and keeping resolutions is not to dwell on the past, but to learn from what DIDN’T work and focus on what DOES work. Even if they seem small now, forming healthy financial habits every day can make a big difference in a year. Give your finances the time, attention, and exercise they need to get back in shape in 2017 and, before you know it, your financial resolutions will turn into regular routines!

 

At Christian Credit Counselors, we help consumers battling credit card debt and desiring a more positive financial future. For more tips on how to quickly improve your finances with debt counseling, please contact us.

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References

  1. http://www.nbcnews.com/business/consumer/2017-new-year-s-resolutions-most-popular-how-stick-them-n701891
  2. http://www.myfico.com/credit-education/whats-in-your-credit-score/
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Budgeting, Christian Credit Counselors, College Debt, Consumer, Coupons, Credit, Credit Cards, Credit Counseling, Credit Score, Debit & Your Credit Score, Debt, Debt Consolidation, Debt Settlement, Goals, House, Kids & Money, Money Management, Personal Goals, Saving, Student Loans, Uncategorized

Use the Start of the School Year to Set the Stage for Your Child’s Financial Success

By: Brittany Frost

Where did the summer go? As the school year rapidly approaches, children are preparing for the academic and social journey of the next grade level while parents are bracing their financial situation for the costs of continuing education. Parents can take this golden opportunity to go above and beyond just shopping for school supplies at Wal-Mart and, instead, show their children how to budget, save, and spend their money in order to teach them how to financially prepare for school (which will undoubtedly come in handy for college).

Alarmingly, a study released in July by the FINRA Foundation estimated that almost two-thirds of Americans couldn’t pass a basic financial literacy test, including calculating interest payments correctly (See Ref. 1). When you pair that with the fact that public, in-state college tuition, room, and board has risen 1300% since 1971 (See Ref. 2) and a recent survey showing that 75% of U.S. workers have student loan debt so high that they contribute less to their retirement (See Ref. 3), it is easy to see why parents must take every opportunity to educate themselves and their children so they do not end up in pools of unmanageable student loan debt. It is never too early to avoid the debt cycle and teach your children to financially prepare for school. Think about it: Did you or do you still struggle with enormous student loan debt? Did you avoid college altogether because you couldn’t afford it? Or did you have the financial means or knowledge to keep your student loan debt to a minimum? Either way, think of your financial mistakes, trials, and triumphs and use the start of this school year to teach your children everything you’ve learned about financially preparing for school. Use your experiences along with the following resources and ideas as motivation to set the stage for your child’s financial success or, perhaps, to change your own path.

So how can you do this? Include your child in the financial process of preparing for school. Sit down and discuss with them. Educate them on the difference between a “want” and “need” so they can decide what they need for school. Ask for their opinion and listen. Use free online budgeting tools available on www.christiancreditcounselors.com to set a budget together. Discuss and research ways to stick to that budget by using free resources such as Passionate Penny Pincher’s Free Back-to-School Cheat Sheet for a complete list of back-to-school deals. Record and track your spending. Make back-to-school shopping a learning experience through mathematical games. In “7 Smart Ways to Save on Back-to-School Clothing,” Deacon Hayes also suggests tips like assessing your child’s current school inventory, visiting thrift stores first, and adding in a fun but frugal activity such as stopping for an inexpensive lunch or treat to make back-to-school shopping a happy experience (See Ref. 4). Above all, just enjoy spending time and working toward your financial goals together as a family. By doing this, you will not just be buying more pencils and notebooks, but you will be setting the stage for the financial success of your children AND yourself. Here’s to a successful school year!

References

1.       Farber, Madeline. Fortune. Nearly Two-Thirds of Americans Can’t Pass a Basic Test of Financial Literacy. 12 Jul. 2016. http://fortune.com/2016/07/12/financial-literacy/

2.       Jacoby, Jeff. The Boston Globe. Making college ‘free’ will only make it worse. 13 Jul. 2016. 18-20. http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.ncher.us/resource/collection/6E4F0103-05C8-4F48-844E-BEEAC285C10B/db0714_2016.pdf

3.       O’Connell, Brian. The Street. 75% of U.S. Workers Say High Student Loan Debt is Crippling Their Retirement. 12 Jul. 2016. https://www.thestreet.com/story/13627148/2/75-of-u-s-workers-say-high-student-loan-debt-is-crippling-their-retirement-savings.html

4.       Hayes, Deacon. U.S. News Money. 7 Smart Ways to Save on Back-to-School Clothing. 15 Jul. 2016. http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/my-money/articles/2016-07-15/7-smart-ways-to-save-on-back-to-school-clothing

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Activities, Budgeting, Christian Credit Counselors, College Debt, Community, Consumer, Credit, Credit Cards, Credit Counseling, Credit Score, Debit & Your Credit Score, Debt, Debt Consolidation, Debt Settlement, Economy, Finance, Goals, Holiday Tips, Money Management, National Debt, Personal Goals, Saving, Student Loans, Taxes

Managing Your Student Loans Wisely: A Great and Unique Gift for Mother’s Day

By: Brittany Frost

What greater gift is there than the joy of seeing your child become financially responsible and independent throughout and after their college years? If you are looking for a unique and great gift to give your mother on May 8th for Mother’s Day this year, consider the gift of managing your student loans wisely. Instead of spending money on the gift, you’ll be saving it. Managing your student loans during and after college can help you avoid extra costs and interest as well as reduce your overall debt. Saving money and achieving your financial goals is not only a great gift to the mothers who are able to contribute to their child’s education, but also for the mothers who so desperately want to help but don’t have the means to do so. Here are a few tips to manage your student loans wisely this Mother’s Day:

 

• Before you even take out a student loan, apply for as many scholarships and grants as possible. This alone can save you (and your mom) a lot of money. Visit your school’s website or www.studentaid.ed.gov to view federal grants and scholarships.

• If you still need a loan, research loan types and repayment plans to make an informed decision. In general, federal student loans can have more repayment options and lower interest rates than private student loans. For more information on federal student loans and repayment plans as well as budgeting resources and calculators, visit www.studentaid.ed.gov.

• Budget and plan ahead. For more help budgeting for your student loans, contact Christian Credit Counselors at www.christiancreditcounselors.org.

• Use other free resources. According to the recent article Baylor University Partners with iGrad to Implement Online Financial Literacy Education Initiative by Jo-Carolyn Goode, Baylor will team up with iGrad, a financial literacy leader, to offer interactive workshops about budgets, scholarships, student loans, applying for jobs to help students pay for school, and a seminar for seniors to discuss loan payment options after graduation through iGrad’s financial literacy platform. For more information, visit www.igrad.com.

• When repaying your loan, consider an automatic payment deduction to save money on your payment. Also, put as much money as you can toward your payments. Each extra dollar paid toward your student loan payment each month can help overall.

• Since it is tax season, remember that student loan interest is tax-deductible and there are credits and deductions for parents and students. According to the College Board in Danielle Douglas-Gabriel’s article in the Washington Post entitled Paying for college? Have student loans? Here’s what you need to know before filing your taxes, the average family saved about $1,460 in education credits and deductions in 2013. To research various options of increasing your savings through tax credits and deductions such as the American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Student Loan Interest Deduction, refer to www.irs.gov. See how much you can save!

By using these tips and managing your student loans responsibly, you will not only save money but you will provide valuable peace of mind for you and your mother. That’s something that you won’t be able to buy at the Hallmark store!

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Budgeting, Christian Credit Counselors, Consumer, Credit, Credit Cards, Credit Counseling, Credit Score, Debit & Your Credit Score, Debt, Debt Consolidation, Finance, Goals, Holiday Tips, Money Management, Personal Goals, Saving, Taxes, Uncategorized

Ditching Debt in the New Year

skTo learn Biblical answers to your financial questions, you can #AskChuck @AskCrown your questions by clicking here.

 

[column type=”two-thirds” fade_animation=”in” fade_animation_offset=”45px”]Dear Chuck:

I know that getting out of debt is a great New Year’s resolution (I’m willing to try that one again!) but do you have any advice on something else that I should prioritize?

Looking for a New Idea.

Dear New Idea,

First, Happy New Year! This is a great question since most resolutions involve getting in better shape physically or fiscally (financially — may be a better word here)!

My encouragement is to keep this as your top priority as it is likely the best financial move you can make. You should also work to establish an Emergency Savings account.[/column]

 

[column type=”one-third” fade_animation=”in” fade_animation_offset=”45px”]chuck-bentley[/column]

 

I have an idea that could kill two birds with one proverbial stone — this year get your taxes organized as quickly as possible so that you can file in January and put that money to work for you. The fact is, most of us are giving the government an interest free loan by having our withholding too high. We don’t realize that when we get that refund check, that money — which could have been working for you — has been sitting with Uncle Sam waiting for you to ask him to mail it back to you.

The average tax refund is more than $3,100, a good start on debt reduction in the New Years. You can file your taxes by mid-January, and if you file on-line, a refund won’t be far behind.

To get started, gather your tax records, and look through your finances for potential deductions. You can find some great tax tips from Crown here. One of the first decisions you need to make is whether you are a Do-It-Yourself tax preparers, whether you want to hire an accountant, or, like a good friend of mine in personal finance, do all of the above. You can save a little money by preparing your own taxes first and then having a professional take a look for a smaller fee. Your legwork can lead to savings.

With the help of tax filing software, filing your own taxes is a good idea if you keep good records and don’t have a complicated return. There are a number of good firms that help you to file on-line. We prefer 1040.com since we share the same values. But there are a number of others such as TurboTax, H&R Block or even an easy file process at IRS.gov.

Be aware that you will likely need to file a long form tax return if you’ve experienced a major life event, such as whether you got divorced or married, received an inheritance, came into some unexpected money, adopted a child or moved for work. File the long form if you own a business, have unusual deductions, or need to manage assets, especially if they are in multiple states.

Once you get your taxes filed and your refund is in your hand, if you have not previously tithed on this income, I recommend that you do so off your refund check. Then be sure to fully fund an emergency savings account, if you haven’t already. At Crown, we counsel people to first have an emergency fund of at least $1,000. If you need help in learning how to create a budget that includes tithing, click here, to see how to organize one.

But next, take that refund and get started on your resolution to get out debt. Try the debt snowball method and start by paying off the most expensive debt first. That is usually the credit card charging you the highest interest rate. Then work your way to the next debt using the money you are now saving by paying off the first debt completely. This will allow you to develop a snowball effect! Crown has many free resources to help you on your journey to becoming debt free, but if you need a debt management counselor to help you one-on-one, you can contact our friends at Christian Credit Counselors a non-profit organization that helps individuals consolidate and develop a plan to pay off your debt.

You’ll start your New Year better able to financially handle what comes next. It is certainly a guaranteed method to reduce stress!

 

Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/new-year-money-finances-debt-free-tax-refund-154178/#27TgH38iwppMJpKj.99

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14 Money-Saving Valentine’s Day Ideas!

Debt Free Valentine’s

Want to celebrate Valentine’s Day without going into debt? Think fun.

Some of the best gifts involve sharing time, along with a little thoughtfulness. And the memories last far longer than a dozen roses or a box of chocolates. Here are 14 ways to express your love on the 14th — or any other day for that matter.

For a spouse or significant other:

1. Time in a bottle:

Give your hardworking spouse a full day to do whatever he or she wants — or just to relax — no interruptions allowed. For him, that mean he gets to engage in his hobby, watch the game, play 18 holes or do absolutely nothing. For her, that might mean you feed and entertain the kids while she indulges in a good book, a bubble bath or a manicure. Announce your gift — along with your most heartfelt message of love and appreciation — in your best handwriting or play with various fonts on your home computer. Clean up an old wine bottle and insert the rolled-up message tied with a red bow.

2. Dining out:

Sure, you can take your loved one out to dinner, but that can get expensive. Instead, eat out — as in outdoors. A picnic in a park or at the beach will fill the bill. In frostier climes, set up a picnic blanket and basket at the dining room table, on the living room floor or in the middle of that king-size bed. Add a rose or two (rather than a dozen) for atmosphere.

3. New adventures:

Do something different. Go somewhere you’ve never been before, or “someplace you haven’t been in a while that’s special,” says John Gray, author of “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.” The site of your first date, for example. When you vary your routine, “that’s what creates the memory,” he says.

4. Surprise, surprise:

For guys that don’t normally cook, Gray says, your best attempt at a home-cooked meal can be a huge treat and doesn’t have to cost anything. Or hide a note under her pillow the night before or little notes around the house on the day, telling her what she means to you. Look at the little things. “What men don’t realize about Valentine’s Day is that it doesn’t have to cost a lot,” says Gray. “Little things make the difference. The surprise factor is nice, whenever possible,” Gray says.

5. Culture up:

Does your significant other delight in museums, foreign films or rare books? In most metro areas, you can find high-culture, low-dollar activities if you know where to look. (Start with the local paper, check online and you can even call the local library or cultural organizations for suggestions.) Many museums have free days. Movie houses have special times when tickets are heavily discounted. For the book lover, plan a trip to a rare book shop, and splurge for cappuccino and biscotti at a nearby coffee house.

For the parents:

6. Creature comforts:

For mom or dad it’s always a good idea to focus on the creature comforts. Let her sleep late and bring her coffee or orange juice and a simple breakfast in bed. “Some of the best stuff is free,” says Melina Bellows, author of “The Fun Book for Moms: 102 Ways to Celebrate Family,” and editor in chief of National Geographic Kids. Give dad or mom — especially if you have a single parent — the gift of an hour of “me-time” when they get home from work just to decompress, says Eric Stromer, author of “Do-It-Yourself Family: Fun and Useful Home Projects the Whole Family Can Make Together,” and host of HGTV’s “Over Your Head” and AOL’s “Do-It-Yourself with Eric Stromer.” “Try it Friday or Monday,” he says. If you know dad will retreat to his man-cave, post some kind of thank you note or affirmation there, just to let him know how much you appreciate his hard work.

7. Get techy wid it:

The perfect gift for parents from teens and college kids. “Offer to be mom’s tech concierge,” says Bellows. Teach her to text, or show her how to download music or movies. If she’s wanted to investigate social networking, introduce her to Facebook, and create (with her permission) a page for her, so that she can catch up with her high school and college friends. Or, if you have a few bucks, do the old mixed tape one better and load up her MP3 player with a playlist of music you know she’ll like.

8. Child labor:

Sure, you’re busy, but that doesn’t mean you can’t spend a little time making sure your parents know you love them. Make a book of coupons for your parents filled with jobs you promise to do for the week, month or year: things like shining dad’s shoes, washing mom’s car, watering the plants or even taking out the trash.

For the kids:

9. Cooking up some love:

Kids will remember the Valentine’s Day they baked cookies with mom or dad. With little kids, opt for something simple, like heart-shaped cookies. With older children, consider cupcakes with more elaborate Valentine’s Day decorations. Then turn off the TV one night and have family game time or story time. Get out the old favorites or create a few new ones.

10. Treasure of love:

Kathy Peel, author of “The Busy Mom’s Guide to a Happy, Organized Home,” suggests hosting a treasure hunt. “Post clues (pictures, rhymes or words) to direct family members from one location to another until they find their treasure: a small Valentine’s Day gift,” she says.

11. Get crafty:

Try a family craft project, says Stromer. “Nothing spells love more than a heart made out of balsa wood and hung on the front door,” he says. Balsa is inexpensive, easy to work with (you can often use tools that you already have), and available at local craft stores. Paint it, let it dry and display it prominently, says Stromer.

12. Start the day with love:

Celebrate with a Valentine’s Day breakfast, says Bellows. For a lot of families, the morning routine is hectic. So take some time on Saturday for a leisurely breakfast. Go for something traditional with a twist, like their favorite pancakes in heart shapes. Keep with the Valentine’s theme by using lots of strawberry or cherry syrup and whipped cream. And focus on the foods they really love.

13. Work together:

Take a few hours on Saturday to work together as a family on a project geared to the abilities of the kids. Build — or even just hang — a bird house. You can find kits in craft stores or if you’re not handy, take the children to pick out a seed ball. Then, together, select a spot where it can be seen from indoors and hang it. Not only do you help foster local wildlife (and help creatures during the cold winter months), you and your family get to enjoy a little bit of nature in your own backyard. Another thought: Make your own kite. A little newspaper (or other heavy paper or light cloth), some balsa wood (available at craft stores), string and poster paints can add up to a pretty fantastic kite. (Check Internet sites or children’s craft books at the library if you need examples or instructions.) See who can design the prettiest, fastest, most colorful or most unusual kite. You can display them in the kids’ rooms or around the house. Then on the first sunny, windy day, try them out.

For any situation:

14. Be a friend:

Know someone who’s alone? Set aside some time to share a meal, go on an outing, or swap recipes or gossip. It can cost virtually nothing, and you’ll likely gain a lot more than you give.

By: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/personal-finance/14-loving-but-inexpensive-valentine-gifts-1.aspx#ixzz3ywr2cEQv

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Credit Card – Avoiding the Debt Trap this Holiday Season

Gift Giving on Credit

Staying out of debt can be almost as difficult as paying it off especially when our emotions take over. After all, buying gifts for our loved ones during the holiday season is a very emotional purchase.

Preparing for gifting should begin way before the holiday season. In a survey conducted by The American Research Group, Inc., 2014 Christmas gift spending was up 8% over 2013 with an average of $861 spent per adult consumer. So what is the most efficient and painless way to save money for the holidays each year?

Budgeting for Gift Giving

Creating a management budget at the beginning of each year will ensure you achieve your financial goals, establish a savings, and have funds set aside for gifts and holidays throughout the year. First, calculate how much money you spend on the holidays annually and divide that by 12 months. This is how much money you will need to set aside in your monthly budget for holiday spending. There are many spending trackers and saving tools out there but sometimes its easiest to just create an envelope labeled holidays and put cash in it each month. This might seem like a tedious task, however when the time comes to buy gifts and holiday items throughout the year it will be nice to already have the cash available and not have to worry about denting your budget.

Do you want to know more about debt and how you can make smart financial decisions now that will help you secure a more prosperous financial future? Sign up for our newsletter for monthly money tips.

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