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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Economy, Finance, Money Management, Personal Goals

Ask Chuck: The Secret to a Secure Future

By: Chuck Bentley, Crown Financial Ministries

Dear Chuck, 

I am burdened with the terrible things I hear in the news. I’ve become anxious and wake up worried in the middle of the night. I’m especially struggling with the fear of not having enough money in the future. I grew up in poverty and have worked hard to avoid that for my family. How can I feel more secure about the future in times like these? 

Fearful

Dear Fearful,

Thank you for your honest confession. Many live in fear of their financial future but deny it and continue to silently struggle. My father grew up in poverty as well. Like you, he worked hard to provide for his family. We lived in a government housing project early in my life. But Dad worked long hours, went to college in the evenings, became a CPA, and made many sacrifices in an attempt to give us a secure future.

Statistics are grim and that breeds fear. Since nearly 40 million households have no retirement savings, The Employee Benefit Research Institute estimates a nationwide retirement savings deficit of $4.3 trillion. Society has instilled in us the idea that we need to make a financial plan before it’s “too late.”

People worry about job security and whether they can pay the bills. As Larry Burkett used to say, “the ‘what if’s’ will rob us of all joy.” What if I can’t afford the cost of medical services, assisted living, or help my children with a college education? What if negative interest rates happen and hurt my portfolios? What if the stock market crashes? These types of negative scenarios are endless.

Refocus your Security

Many Christians literally rob God and sometimes their families as they live in the cycle of fear and worry. The growing mania for buffering ourselves against any possible future event is straight from the deceiver. Jesus told us to build our house on rock (Himself) and not sand (the world).  

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.  And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it. (Matthew 7:24-27 ESV)

This parable points out the futility of placing our confidence in money. When our sandcastle of affluence comes tumbling down – and it will – our faith had better be founded in the person of Jesus Christ – not in material security. 

Symptoms of Fear of the Future

  • Self-preoccupation
  • Anxiety and sleep issues
  • Unhealthy frugality
  • Financial infidelity
  • Hoarding
  • Marital stress
  • Bitterness
  • Separation from God
  • Lack of Contentment 

 If you suffer any of these symptoms, I must ask a simple question: Do you really trust God? Circumstances are uncertain for all of us. God designed it this way so we would learn to become dependent upon Him. 

Breaking the Fear and Worry Cycle

Our thoughts impact emotions. We must choose to surrender our fear of the future each day. Otherwise, unrealistic expectations or “what-if” scenarios will cause you (or me) chronic anxiety. God is trustworthy and loves us beyond comprehension. He promises to work all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes. (Romans 8:28)

  • List every resource you have and transfer ownership to God, recognizing you are simply a steward.
  • Align your mind and heart with God, the owner of everything.
  • Embrace God’s counsel from His Word for each decision.
  • Use His instead of my to bring Christ’s Lordship into the details of your life.

In Hebrews, we read of those who surrendered their will and acted on faith in God. They were rewarded by Him – but not the world. 

  • Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation.  (Hebrews 11:1-2 ESV)
  • And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.  (Hebrews 11:6 ESV)
  •  And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:39-40 ESV)

So, regardless of how well you’ve planned for the future, you must trust God with it all one day at a time.  

How to Trust God

  • Seek God’s direction for your life – not someone else’s.
  • Make a conscious act of trusting God. Make a material commitment to express your faith by becoming more generous.
  • Be patient and develop an eternal perspective.
  • Pray diligently for faith to trust Him more.

Practical Steps

  • Set realistic goals
  • Release the past
  • Give to God first and increase your generosity
  • Save more, spend less
  • Establish an emergency fund – but cap it to avoid hoarding
  • Pay off debt
  • Write a will
  • Plug into a church
  • Seek Godly mentors

I pray that these simple steps are helpful to you and that they help to put your worries at ease. But most of all, I pray that as you grow to trust God more and more every day, you become deeply assured of the security that you have in Him. Trust Him to be your provider and protector through life’s uncertainties.  God is faithful even if all the money is lost. Ultimately, your faith (confident trust in Him) will prove of greater worth than silver or gold.

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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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Activities, Budgeting, Car, Christian Credit Counselors, Consumer, Coupons, Credit, Credit Cards, Credit Counseling, Credit Score, Debit & Your Credit Score, Debt, Debt Consolidation, Economy, Finance, Gas, Gas, Holiday Tips, Kids & Money, Money Management, Repairs, Saving, Technology

Fall Money Saving Tips

Cutting Costs at Home

There are many ways you can save money and have fun doing it this holiday season. Falling leaves and decomposing Jack-o-Lanterns are the perfect way to start a compost pile this fall. Starting now means you’ll be one step ahead when spring arrives.

Make sure your roof is free of holes, destruction and critters; if it isn’t, repair the damage or shoo the animals away. Assess the gutters as well as the chimney. Nothing is worse than a cold, rainy winter inside the home without a fireplace. Repairing now helps ensure you don’t have any last minute problems during the winter.

It’s also very important to weatherproof your home. Chances are, you’ll be using your heater this winter. Rather than lose all of that precious heat, weatherproof your windows, doors and anything else you can think of.

Restock on winter essentials before they’re all snatched up. Coats, food, gloves and boots are some important winter items that disappear as it gets closer to December.

Shopping on a Budget

The holidays are almost upon us, and that means holiday shopping is close at hand. If you start shopping around in October and November, it will be a lot easier to pick up the perfect present than if you were to wait closer to Christmas time.

So many fruits and vegetables come into season in the fall, so don’t forget to stock up. Not only will you get cheaper produce, but it will be nice and fresh. And as always, use coupons to save even more.

Look out for fall and holiday deals and coupons. There’s something about the festive, fall season that puts stores in such a great mood. So many places are offering seasonal items for super cheap; it’d be a shame if you didn’t partake.

Lowering Travel Expenses

If you’ll be flying at some point during fall, purchase tickets in the middle of the week. Most sales occur Tuesday through Thursday, so when planning a trip buy on the less busy days.

Compare round-trip flights to one-way flights. Sometimes flying round-trip isn’t necessarily the best deal. If you can save more on two tickets, take that deal.

Luggage and travel accessories are going on sale during this time of the year. If you’re in need of a new suitcase, now’s the time to buy one for that vacation coming up.

Your Entertainment Costs

Bike riding is a great way to let off steam in the cool air, while also getting where you want to go! Exercising and saving money never felt so good.

Take a walk with the family. Play board games with your kids and significant other by the fireplace instead of sitting in front of the TV. Find new and fun ways to spend time with those you love. Parks are also a great place to go; they’re usually free and offer many great family-friendly amusements.

Harvest festivals, farmers markets, and city events are a super fun and cheap way to get outside as well. Pumpkin patches offer a great time for you and your kids, and spending time together is always a beautiful fall activity.

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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    Christian Credit Counselors, College Debt, Consumer, Credit, Credit Cards, Credit Counseling, Debit & Your Credit Score, Debt, Debt Consolidation, Economy, Finance, Money Management, Student Loans

    Student Loan Info You Need to Know

    Learning Student Loans: Understand and Prepare for the Cost of Your Education

    Looking for more information about student loans, their features, and repayment options? Christian Credit Counselors, a nonprofit 501 (c)(3) with a mission to provide free financial education to individuals and families both locally and nationwide, is now offering a free, online webinar entitled Learning Student Loans: Understand and Prepare for the Cost of Your Education. Christian Credit Counselors is committed not just to helping people get out of debt, but providing them with free resources and education to STAY out of debt and live a life of financial freedom.

    The Learning Student Loans webinar is designed to give you an overview of the types and features of student loans so that you can make the best, most informed decision on your journey to obtain the education you need for your career and life. The webinar will discuss free financial aid options, loan types, repayment plans, loan consolidation, forbearance, deferment, loan forgiveness, what to do if your loan is in default, and useful resources that will help you stay in control of your loan and payments. Whether you already have a student loan or you are thinking about getting one in the near or distant future, this webinar will help inform you of your loan and repayment options so that you are best prepared to pay back your loan successfully.

    Click on the video below to view the webinar.

     

    Click here to download the free handout:

    When you are done with the webinar video you can also take a quick survey by using the button below:

    If you have questions or would like more information, email education@christiancreditcounselors.org or call 1-800-557-1985 ext. 131.

    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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      Budgeting, Economy, Uncategorized

      Are Tax Return Advances a Good Thing

      Unfortunately, this year tax returns may be delayed due to budget cuts and overloaded workers who won’t be able to process refunds as quickly as they have in previous years. According to the IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, some refund checks could be delayed a week or more especially for those who filed paper versus those who filed electronically.

      This may drive people to look for private alternatives like refund anticipation checks through their tax preparation company. Before jumping onto this train it’s important to know the facts so you can make an informed financial decision. Instant cash comes with a hefty price.

      This year H&R Block, Jackson Hewitt, and many more tax preparation services are offering an advance on your tax refund. What your grandparents used to say is true, nothing in life is free, and you could be spending more than 20% of your refund to receive your cash early.

      If you are still considering these services, we urge you to ask the following questions and obtain the facts in writing:

      • What is the interest rate?
      • What fees are you being charged?
      • What happens if your tax refund is less than what you thought it would be?
      • Are you paying a higher tax preparation rate because you are having them take it out of your refund?
      • What are the bank and processing fees?

      The best thing you can do is find a way to live within your means and wait for your refund to be mailed or electronically deposited into your bank account from the IRS. Here are some ways to help keep your refund wait time to a minimum.

      Electronic Filing

      Forget the paper return that has to be sent via the U.S. postal service and file electronically from your computer. When you do this you will receive your money almost as fast as you would with a refund anticipation loan, without the fees. Those filing paper returns can expect to wait up to eight weeks for their tax refund whereas those who file electronically will receive their checks in half time.

      Direct Deposit Deposit

      This year the IRS has projected that they will issue 9 out of 10 tax refunds within 21 days of filing. For 2015, the fastest way to receive your refund is to file electronically and choose direct deposit. If you do choose to file your return using good old-fashioned paper you will still save time if you have your refund deposited directly into your bank account.

      Whatever you decide to do, make sure you are informed. Be sure to check out the 2015 tax refund schedule below.

       

      2015 Tax Refund Schedule:

      IRS Return Processed Direct Deposit Sent Before Paper Check Mailed
      Jan. 21-Jan. 27 Feb. 3 Feb. 4
      Jan. 28-Feb. 3 Feb. 10 Feb. 11
      Feb. 4-Feb. 10 Feb. 17 Feb. 18
      Feb. 11-Feb. 17 Feb. 24 Feb. 25
      Feb. 18-Feb. 24 March 3 March 4
      Feb. 25-March 3 March 10 March 11
      March 4-March 10 March 17 March 18
      March 11-March 17 March 24 March 25
      March 18-March 24 March 31 April 1
      March 25-March 31 April 7 April 8
      April 1-April 7 April 15 April 16
      April 8-April 15 April 22 April 23
      April 16-April 22 April 30 May 1

      Source: IRS, author estimates.

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        Economy

        The Failing Economy and Slow Job Growth

        Economists and Economic Predictions

        A panel of economists on Tuesday predicted several more years of pain for the United States, agreeing unemployment will remain high far longer than 2014, when White House and congressional economists have predicted a jobs improvement.

        The panel — including Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman, Harvard’s Martin Feldstein and Goldman Sachs chief economist Jan Hatzius — agreed that policymakers have failed to adequately stimulate the economy, and that more needs to be done.

        “It’s going to take many years before you get back to anything approaching full unemployment, and 2014 is probably too early,” said Hatzius, speaking at a conference held at the Newseum in Washington. The conference was sponsored by the left-leaning think tank and advocacy group Demos.

        Some on the panel predicted unemployment will tick upward before it heads lower. And Feldstein predicted that housing prices could fall even further, especially as more underwater homeowners give the banks the keys to their homes, increasing the supply of available ones.

        “When that happens, it hurts consumer confidence and it makes it much harder for people to move where the jobs are,” Feldstein said. “Then, I think (consumers) have to stay and suffer it out, and can’t move where they have a better chance of getting a job.”

        They talked about how the sputtering U.S. recovery compared with the long recession that Japan suffered through in the 1990s.

        “In fact, we’re not doing what the Japanese did, we’re doing it worse,” Krugman said, pointing out that the United States has a larger trade gap, a bigger surge in unemployment and is more quickly facing an exhaustion of the political will to act. “In the long run, we’re going to look at Japan’s lost decade as a success story compared to what we’re going through.”

        Federal Reserve Board

        The economists also suggested that the Federal Reserve Board could do more by buying government debt or other investments. The Federal Open Market Committee meets on Nov. 3 to discuss potential actions that could help the economy.

        But the panel predicted the Fed won’t have the will to take “risks” and buy enough Treasurys to make much of an impact on the economy.

        “The numbers needed to really move the needle a lot are very, very large, and there will be a natural bias toward caution,” predicted Hatzius.

        The group also debated tax policy as a means of fiscal stimulus. Feldstein talked about the importance for Congress to extend tax cuts before the end of the year, when 2001 and 2003 era tax cuts are slated to expire.

        “This is not the time for a tax increase,” said Feldstein, who said that doing nothing to extend tax cuts “seems like a disaster scenario.”

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