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, 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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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, Coupons, Holiday Tips, Saving

How to Save During the Holidays

By: America Saves

Holidays are often an exciting time of the year. Spending time with family, enjoying time off work, and celebrating with family traditions are enjoyable activities. However, the holidays can also represent added stress due to the crunch on your wallet.

It is hard to look forward to a holiday if you are worried about how to pay for it. Have you stressed about how to provide a fun experience for your family without breaking the bank? Decorations, gifts, and food expenses add up quickly.

To avoid this financial strain, it is important to plan for holiday expenses throughout the year. America Saves has compiled some tips to help you plan for a fulfilling holiday season while not drowning in expenses.

Develop a Holiday Budget

One way to reduce impulsive spending is to develop a budget that includes clear expectations for travel, food, entertainment, and gift-giving expenses.

  • Set your spending limit before you start budgeting. And stick to your limit. That might mean making some compromises. Decide what you will spend on each person before going shopping. If possible, talk with family members and friends to set a spending limit that everyone can spend on each gift.
  • Be as comprehensive as you can when you create your budget. Make a list of everyone who will receive a gift as well as all items that will cost money during the holiday season. Some items often forgotten include gasoline, babysitter fees, eating at restaurants more often, and so on.
  • Reduce your spending. Add up the total of your holiday list, and don’t be shy about reducing it some more. Challenge yourself to spend a little less each year. Consider writing handwritten notes expressing thanks or appreciation rather than buying gifts when possible to reduce your spending costs.
  • Divide the list into necessary items (needs) and extra opportunities (wants). For example, gasoline is a needed expense for traveling while eating out at restaurants while on the road is an extra expense that can be avoided if needed. Dividing your list will help you save for all necessary expenses and provide a list of ideas in case extra money is leftover.
  • As part of your budget, determine how you will pay for each item. Paying with cash will help avoid unexpected spending. Paying with a credit card without keeping track of spending may cause you to forget purchases for which you’ll have to pay later. If paying with layaway, look out for hidden fees and be sure to budget for any interest added.
  • Carry a copy of your budget with you, and be sure to follow it while in stores. Once a budget is made, it can still be hard to follow. In-store sales are tempting, but making impulsive purchases, no matter how small, can add up quickly.
  • Plan your shopping trips ahead of time by reviewing store ads for upcoming sales. This step will lower costs while also helping to reduce impulsive decisions while in the store.
  • Remember to save. Continue saving over the holidays so you don’t shortchange your retirement, education, small business, or other goals. Stick to more long-term savings goals and avoid the accumulation of new debt.

Download our Free Holiday Budget Printable for easy budget construction, and check out additional budgeting tips here.

Consider the following tips for the upcoming holidays:

  • Cooking an entire holiday meal on your own can be expensive. Consider having a potluck with friends and family to avoid cooking or paying for the entire meal yourself.
  • Keep the menu simple. Dinner can be special without two different types of meat, four vegetable dishes, and three different desserts. If you plan to serve mashed potatoes and gravy, you can skip the macaroni and cheese casserole. If you plan to make candied carrots, no need to serve candied yams also.
  • Plan for meals ahead of time to take advantage of coupons and grocery deals. Advertisements about upcoming sales can be found online and in local newspapers. Using in-season produce for recipes can often reduce food costs.
  • Reduce travel expenses by visiting out-of-town families for one holiday during the winter season (such as just Thanksgiving or only Christmas, rather than both holidays).
  • Consider setting up new holiday traditions that cost less. For example, some families or friend groups use “Secret Santa,” where each person draws a name randomly so that each person receives a gift and each person only buys a gift for one person.
  • Consider spending time together rather than gift-giving. Other ideas include a nice dinner out or playing games as a group.

When it comes to holiday spending, the important thing is to stick to your budget. We all want holidays to be special, but if you create debt in the process, it will end up being more of a headache than a holiday.

Spending less is just the first part of a successful financial plan. Put away the money you save during the holidays into a savings account for future expenses, both anticipated and unexpected ones. Those with a savings plan are twice as likely to save successfully. Let America Saves help you reach your savings and debt reduction goals. It all starts when you make a commitment to yourself to save. That’s what our pledge is all about. Learn more about how to save money for the future here.

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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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Uncategorized

CFPB: Make a Plan to Save Some of Your Tax Refund

Making a plan to save at tax time

The start of the New Year means its tax season again. As you gather your tax records and prepare to file, why not use this annual responsibility to take another step towards building financial security for yourself or your family? For many Americans, a tax refund is the largest check they will receive all year. Saving all or part of that refund can help you prepare for unforeseen expenses throughout the year or perhaps reach a larger savings goal.

Research has shown that setting aside just $500 can cover a lot of the emergency expenses people often experience. Perhaps, though, you want to catch up on some bills, save for a major purchase, or even treat yourself to something special. Whatever you have in mind, tax time is a great opportunity to put money aside.

Here are some basic steps to take:

  1. Estimate your refund. Think about how much you might get back in a refund, based on what you received last year. Keep in mind, there were several changes to the tax laws in 2018. Find out how these changes could impact your refund this year.
  2. Identify and prioritize your bills. This includes essentials like rent and utilities, as well as bills you would like to pay off or pay down. If you need help, the Bureau has several helpful worksheets to track your spending and get a handle on your debt. Contact your CCC Account Specialist to put your refund toward your Debt Management Program.
  3. Plan for special purchases. Consider if there are any larger purchases you would like to make with part of your refund.
  4. Calculate what remains. Add up your expenses, payments, and purchases to see what you might have left over from your refund.
  5. Make a plan to save. Set a goal to save a portion of what’s left over from your refund. Perhaps it’s $500 or 25% of your refund. Whatever you choose is OK — just make a plan so you have a savings goal. Use our tax time worksheet to help you design your plan.
  6. Finally, decide where you want to put your savings. Do you have a separate account or another way to set money aside? Or perhaps you have a prepaid card with a set-aside feature. If you have an account or a card you want to use for saving, make sure to have both your account and routing numbers available when you file your return. Rather than waiting for a check, the IRS can often directly deposit your refund into this account.

Getting ready to file

Depending on your situation, there may be a number of free or low-cost options for filing your tax return. It’s important to choose a reputable tax preparer that will file an accurate return. Any mistakes could result in additional costs and complications in the future.

You can generally get free tax preparation assistance by IRS-certified volunteers at a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) or a Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) location if:

  • Your income is $54,000 or less
  • You are 60 years old or older
  • You have a disability or speak limited English

The IRS locator tool will help you find a VITA site near you.

If you are not eligible to file at a VITA site or if there is not a VITA site nearby, there are also other free resources available for filing your tax return. Here are some options:

  • If your income is $64,000 or less, you can use a major tax-preparation software product, offered through the IRS Free File Alliance, to prepare and file your return for free.
  • If your income is more than $64,000, you can still download free tax filing forms through the IRS.
  • If you’re a member of the military or a military dependent, you can get free tax help from the military VITA program. On or off base, VITA programs are easy to find — even overseas.

Other things to consider at tax time

  1. Protect your tax data from being stolen. The IRS provides a number of simple steps you can take to protect your data.
  2. Be aware of tax scams. The IRS provides some helpful information on what to watch out for and how the IRS will communicate with you if they have questions about your return.
  3. Know your rights if you live in an area affected by disaster. In some disaster situations, the IRS provides relief from tax filing requirements. Find out whether you qualify.

Putting it all together

Planning ahead can help you to take advantage of tax time to make the most of your tax refund. Take some simple steps to make a savings plan. If you are eligible, save on filing fees by using one of the free or low-cost filing options. Finally, make sure you protect your tax information so that you can feel confident that your return is filed properly and you get the refund you have earned.

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

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.

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    Debt Consolidations
    Debt Consolidation

    Debt Consolidation – Combating Holiday Credit Card Debt

    Setting Financial Goals

    By planning ahead, it’s easy to combat holiday credit card debt that puts you behind with New Year’s resolutions and financial goals. According to an article by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the best approach is to plan ahead to avoid holiday binge buying. By talking to a Christian credit counselor, you learn about debt consolidation. Whether you sign up for a debt management plan before or after the holidays, you will have a strategy in place. Experts say paying off credit card debt is an important step to financial freedom and balance. Depending on your personality, financial habits and goals, the payoff date will differ. Thirty-eight percent of households deal with credit card debt, according to statics by Nerdwallet.com.

    Paying off Credit Card Debt

    One decision to make is whether you want to move around your credit card debt or get it paid off. Balance transfers buy you time if you want to take debt from a high interest credit card and move it to a zero percent card. The downside is the introductory interest rate doesn’t last. Most people get stuck paying an extremely high rate. A better option is debt consolidation through a reputable credit counseling agency such as Christian Credit Counselors. Because holiday shopping occurs typically at the end of the year, you will likely run up an old credit card if you transfer the balance.

    Debt Management and Gift Giving

    When you sign up for a debt management plan before the holidays, you stop using your credit cards. Although it is likely too late in the year to save up a holiday gift fund so you can buy gifts with cash, you can save money by making homemade gifts or providing gift certificates for services such as mowing a loved one’s lawn or back rubs. Your loved ones will likely appreciate a crocheted blanket more than a cash gift because it represents time spent and effort.

    Listening to Financial Experts

    If you accumulated a lot of debt throughout the year, it’s good to step back and evaluate where you have been. Before you get carried away with the holidays, talk to debt consolidation experts. In addition to consolidating debt, you find out how to budget, save, plan, improve your credit score and organize financial matters. Instead of leaning on your own understanding of financial matters, take the bold step to ask for help. A trained credit counselor doesn’t leave it to you to contact your creditors. Instead, the experienced credit counselors contact your creditors and work out a plan so you can pay back your debt. The holiday gift for you is a lower interest rate on what you owe as well as the peace of mind and joy of having a payoff date and realistic monthly payment.

    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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      At Christian Credit Counselors, we help our clients with debt consolidation so they get out of debt 80 percent faster than other strategies. For more information on how to financially plan ahead for the holidays, please contact us.

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      Christian Credit Counselors, Consumer, Credit, Credit Cards, Credit Counseling, Credit Score, Debit & Your Credit Score, Debt, Debt Consolidation, Debt Settlement, Goals, Holiday Tips, Home, Kids & Money, Money Management, Personal Goals, Uncategorized

      Your Spending Habits and Your Holiday Spirit

      The Average American’s Holiday Spending Habits

      Already thinking about everything you have to do for the holiday season? Does the thought of holiday preparation stress you out? According to the National Retail Federation, it was estimated that the average American spent $77.52 on candy, costumes and decorations for Halloween in 2014. According to a CNBC report, the average American planned to spend $765 on Christmas for the holiday season as well. Is this how much you will spend this year? To avoid answering yes to this question, start planning ways to save money now.

      Holiday Money Saving Tips

      Shop with a Gratitude Attitude

      The first, and possibly greatest, thing that you can do to save money this season is to adjust the way you THINK about the holidays. Rather than getting caught up in the commercials, products, and social pressures, concentrate on the things you already have in your life that you can use or recycle and the people you already have in your life to whom you can show love and appreciation. Concentrate more on the FEELING that you can give someone else rather than the MATERIALS you can give them. For Halloween, get creative and make your own costumes during a Family Craft Night. Change your spending habits by making it about the experience rather than shopping. Can’t afford to make or host a big dinner? Plan a family movie night, rent scary movies, and gorge on popcorn and pizza.

      Make Random Acts of Kindness a Holiday Norm

      Instead of buying gifts, clean the car or house for your spouse, make a collage of old photos for a friend or family member, call a distant friend or relative and leave a Christmas Carol voicemail to spread cheer over the phone, make a list of reasons why you love someone or appreciate someone, write a song or poem for them, and make decorations using household items such as a string of popcorn. Use this new mentality to set the tone for your entire family. For any other holiday necessities, you can financially prepare to save money by creating a budget and setting aside a small amount every week or paycheck. Just remember though, gratitude, love, and the right mentality can save you and your family A ton of money this holiday season, especially if you are all on the same page.

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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.

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