Is it a Good Idea to Open a HELOC Now?

If you’re looking for a large sum of money to use for a home improvement project, or the economic devastation of COVID-19 has left you in desperate need of cash, consider tapping into your home’s equity. One great way to do this is by opening a home equity line of credit, or a HELOC. Let’s take a closer look at HELOCs and why they can be an excellent option for cash-strapped homeowners in today’s financial climate.

What is a HELOC?
A HELOC is a revolving credit line allowing homeowners to borrow money against the equity of their home. The HELOC is like a second mortgage on a home; if the borrower owns the entire home, the HELOC is a primary mortgage.

Given that a HELOC is a line of credit and not a fixed loan, borrowers can withdraw money from the HELOC as needed rather than borrowing one lump sum. This allows for more freedom than a loan and is especially beneficial for borrowers who don’t know exactly how much money they’ll ultimately need to fund their venture.

Borrowers withdraw funds (aka “draws” or “advances”) from the HELOC during a set amount of time that is known as the “draw period,” which generally lasts 10 years. Some lenders place restrictions on HELOCs and require borrowers to withdraw a minimum amount of money each time they make a draw, regardless of need. Other restrictions include the requirements to keep a fixed amount of money outstanding, or to withdraw a specific sum when the HELOC is first established. [At Advantage One Credit Union, we allow borrowers to ….]

How do I repay my HELOC?
Repayment of HELOCs varies, but is usually very flexible.
Many lenders collect interest-only payments during the draw period, with principal payments being strictly optional. Others require ongoing monthly payment toward both principal and interest.

When the draw period ends, some lenders will allow borrowers to renew the credit line and continue withdrawing money. Other lenders require borrowers to pay back the entire balance due, also known as a “balloon payment.” Still others allow borrowers to pay back the loan in monthly installments over another set amount of time, known as the “repayment period.” Repayment periods are generous, lasting as long as 20 years.

How can borrowers spend the money?
While home improvement projects are popular uses for HELOCs, borrowers are free to spend the money however they please. Some other uses for HELOCs include debt consolidation, funding a wedding, adoption, dream vacation or the launch of a new business.

Is everyone eligible for a HELOC?
Like every loan and line of credit, HELOCs have eligibility requirements, which help lenders determine the applicant’s financial wellness and responsibility. Most notably, the borrower must have a minimal amount of equity in the home.

Lender requirements vary, but most homeowners will be eligible for a HELOC with a debt-to-income ratio that is 40% or less, a credit score of 620 or higher and a home assessment that stands at a minimum of 15% more than what is owed.
How much can I borrow with a HELOC?

HELOC amounts vary along with three criteria: the value of your home, the percentage of that value the lender allows you to borrow against and the outstanding amount on an existing mortgage.

To illustrate, if you have a $300,000 home with a mortgage balance of $175,000 and your lender allows you to borrow against 85% of your home’s value, multiply your home’s value by 85%, or 0.85. This will give you $255,000. Subtract the amount you still owe on your mortgage ($175,000), and you’ll have the maximum amount you can borrow using a HELOC, which is $80,000.

What are the disadvantages of a HELOC?
A HELOC is secured by your home’s equity, which places your home at risk of foreclosure if the HELOC is not repaid. Before opening a HELOC, it’s a good idea to run the numbers to get an idea of what your monthly payments will look like and whether you can easily afford to meet them.

Also, many lenders require the full payment of the HELOC after the draw period is over. This can prove to be challenging for many borrowers.
Finally, if you don’t plan to stay in your home for long, a HELOC may not be the right choice for you. When you sell your home, you’ll need to pay off the full balance of the HELOC. You may also need to pay a cancellation fee to the lender.

A HELOC can be a great option now
HELOCs have variable interest rates, which means the interest on the loan can fluctuate over the life of the loan, sometimes dramatically. This variable is based on a publicly available index, such as the U.S. Treasury Bill rate, and will rise or fall along with this index, though lenders will also add a margin of a few percentage points of their own.
The fallout of COVID-19 may impact the economy for months, or years, to come; however, there is a silver lining among the rising unemployment rates and bankrupt businesses: historically low interest rates. The average APR for fixed 30-year mortgages has hovered at the low 3% for months now, and experts predict it will continue falling. The low rates make it an excellent time to take out a HELOC with manageable payback terms.

The economic uncertainty the pandemic has generated also makes it a prime time to have extra cash available for any need that may arise.

Are you looking to tap into your home’s equity with a HELOC? Call or click today to get started. Our favorable rates, generous eligibility requirements, and easy terms, make a Advantage One Credit Union HELOC a great choice.

Your Turn:
How are you using your HELOC? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
www.huffpost.com
nerdwallet.com
thepennyhoarder.com
bankrate.com

7 Apps to Download this Summer

Project Noah logo - patch-like representation of an embroidered leaf over on greenstitched field with gold stitched edging/borderProject Noah
Give your kids a super-fun experience this summer without leaving your backyard. This free app will act like an interactive field guide, coaching kids on the flora and fauna that can be found right outside their homes. Project Noah lets users upload photos of what they’ve found so they can learn even more about local plants and animals.

GetMyBoatget my boat logo - aqua dolphin silhouette over Get My Boat text
Nothing beats a day out on the waves, but if you don’t own your own boat it can get pricey fast. Enter GetMyBoat. The free app works just like Airbnb for boats, with more than 35,000 boats, from kayaks to yachts, available for rent in 135 countries around the world.

Back2SchoolCountdownBack to School Countdown logo corkboard background wiht #2 pencil and title in chalkboard fontforegorund
The back-to-school countdown takes on extra intensity this year with school being out of the classroom for nearly six months in most of the country. When your kids are driving you up the wall and it’s doubtful you’ll make it through the summer with your sanity intact, check out Back2SchoolCountdown. For just 99 cents, you can check how much time is left until the first day of school, down to the second. The app won’t magically get your kids to behave, but it’s the next best thing!

SkyGuideSkyGuide logo - blue gradient background with stylized illustration of Little Dipper constellation
Turn an ordinary night into the extraordinary with this fantastic app. For a one-time fee of $1.99, you’ll have a complete guide to the inky night sky right inside your pocket. Learn how to spot constellations, planets and satellites by pointing your smartphone toward the sky. SkyGuide works well even in weak data signal zones, making it the perfect accessory for your camping trip.

PackPointPackPoint logo - ilustrated white suitcase with stylized sun coming up behind suitcase on teal background.
Nothing kills a vacation like pulling open your suitcase only to find you’ve forgotten your cellphone charger. Or your toothbrush. Try the free PackPoint app and never forget an essential item again. You’ll plug in your trip details, whether it’s a family road trip, a business convention or a romantic beachside getaway. The app will use your itinerary and the forecast weather at your vacation destination to draw up a packing list, chargers and toothbrushes included. PackPoint will even save your packing list to make your next trip that much easier.

GeoZillaGeoZilla logo white location pin in White with large capital G on bright aqua background
If you’ve ever been to a crowded amusement park or music festival and lost sight of your friends, you need to download GeoZilla. The app lets you track your friends or family members, and keep contact with them via group chat or a check-in feature. GeoZilla takes the stress out of a trip — without draining your phone’s battery.

Surflinesurfline logo - stylized white drop with two blue swirls over blue background
If you have plans to hit the waves this summer, you may want to download this free app before grabbing your surfboard. With more than 100 live-streaming HD cameras at breaks all over the U.S., Surfline provides users with the most accurate surf reports and forecasts. Data is available for thousands of surf spots around the world, up to five days in advance. Surf’s up!

Your Turn:
What’s your favorite summertime app? Tell us all about it in the comments!

Learn more:
realsimple.com
lifehack.org
lifewire.com
geozilla.com
surfline.com

All You Need to Know About Student Loan Changes During COVID-19

Female College student with class supplies in arms smiles as she is walking on campusWith unemployment levels rising and many employers cutting work hours, lots of college grads are now struggling to meet their student loan payments. Thankfully, the federal government has passed legislation to ease this burden. Unfortunately, though, many borrowers are confused about the terms and conditions of these changes.

Here’s all you need to know about the changes to student loan debt during the coronavirus pandemic.

All federal student loan payments are automatically suspended for six months
As part of The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (the CARES Act) signed into law on March 27 all federal student loan payments are suspended, interest-free, through Sept. 30, 2020. If borrowers continue making payments, the full amount will be applied to the principal of the loan. The suspension applies to all federal student loans owned by the Department of Education as well as some Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL) and some Perkins loans. Students do not have to take any action or pay any fees for the suspension to take effect.

Additionally, during the suspension period, the CARES Act does not allow student loan servicers to report to the credit bureaus borrower nonpayments as missed payments. Therefore, the suspension should not have a negative effect on borrowers’ credit scores.
If you’re not sure whether your student loan is federally owned, you can look it up on the Federal Student Aid (FSA) website. Be sure to have your FSA ID handy so you can sign in and look up your loans. You can also call your loan servicer directly to clear up any confusion.

Here is the contact information for federal student loan servicers:

Suspended payments count toward Public Service Loan Forgiveness and loan rehabilitation.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) is a federal program allowing borrowers to have their student loans forgiven, tax-free, with the stipulation that they work in the public sector and make 120 qualifying monthly payments. A disruption of these 120 payments can disqualify a borrower from the program.

According to the CARES Act, suspended payments will be treated as regular payments toward PSLF. This ensures that borrowers who have been working toward these programs will not lose the progress they’ve made toward loan forgiveness.

The same rule applies to individuals participating in student loan rehabilitation, during which borrowers with defaulted student loans must make nine out of 10 consecutive monthly payments to pull their loans out of default. The U.S. Department of Education will consider the six-month suspension on payments as if regular payments were made toward rehabilitation.

Some states and private lenders are offering student loan aid for struggling borrowers.
If your student loan is not federally owned and you are struggling to meet your payments, there may still be options available, such as loan deferment or forbearance. If you are in need of such assistance, contact your lender directly to discuss your options. Consider an income-driven repayment plan.

If you have an FFEL that is ineligible for suspension, you can lower your monthly payments by enrolling in an income-based repayment plan, which adjusts your monthly student loan payment amount according to your discretionary income. Other lenders offer similar plans, often referred to as income-driven repayment plans. If your salary was cut as a result of COVID-19, or you are currently unemployed, these plans can provide relief by making your monthly payments more manageable.

Employers can contribute toward employees’ student loan debt for temporary tax relief
The federal government offered temporary tax relief for employers contributing up to $5,350 toward their employees’ student loan payments. This benefit is in effect until Jan. 1, 2021 and it can be used for any kind of student debt, whether federal or private.

If you don’t qualify for the student loan payment suspension, you can try speaking with the human resources department at your workplace to find out how they can help you with your student loan debt at this time.

Your Turn:
Have you taken advantage of student loan debt relief offered during the coronavirus pandemic? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:

Bitcoin Theft

The FBI is warning of a rise in Bitcoin ransom scams in which scammers use scare tactics and extortion to squeeze money out of victims in the form of Bitcoin payments.

“Fraudsters are leveraging increased fear and uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic to steal your money and launder it through the complex cryptocurrency ecosystem,” the FBI warns.

a gold coin etched with the Bitcoin "Capital B with vertical strokes" and circuit traces in the background

Unfortunately, the cryptocurrency payment leaves no room for reclaiming the lost funds. Here’s all you need to know about these scams and how to best protect yourself.

How the scams play out
In some Bitcoin ransom scams, scammers hijack an email address associated with a business website and contact a client of the business. The email informs the victim that a hacker has found a vulnerability in the company’s website and is holding the victim’s data hostage until a Bitcoin payment is made for its release. The victim, fearing monetary loss, may comply with the scammer and make the payment. In reality, though, the scammer has only hacked into the company’s email database. They have no access to the customer’s sensitive information.
While the scammer can hijack any website that has access to clients’ sensitive information, financial institutions like Advantage One Credit Union, are especially vulnerable to this scam. We utilize strict protective measures, like encryption and updated security software to protect our members’ information, but fraudsters may still try to scam members by persuading them that their data is at risk of being exposed.

In another variation of the Bitcoin ransom scam, scammers use “sextortion” to take the victims for money. They’ll claim to have evidence of the victim engaging in questionable internet usage and threaten to share this information with the victim’s contacts unless a ransom payment is made immediately. Some criminals have taken this scam a step further during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the threat of releasing the information they supposedly have on the victim, they’ll also promise to infect the victim and their family with the coronavirus unless a payment is sent to a Bitcoin wallet.

Protect yourself
Fortunately, ransom scams are easy to spot. If you receive an email allegedly sent from a business you use, and it contains a message similar to what’s described above, do not respond. You can contact the company yourself to ask if there has been a data breach. You will likely learn there has not been any sort of breach within the company.

Similarly, if you receive an email threatening to expose your internet usage history and/or to infect you or your family with the coronavirus, do not respond. Mark the email as spam and delete it promptly.

If you’ve been scammed
Unfortunately, cryptocurrency transactions pose an extra risk by being absolutely final. There’s no way to cancel a cryptocurrency payment, back out of a purchase or trace the Bitcoin wallet to its owner.

However, if you believe you’ve been targeted by a Bitcoin ransom scam, you can help prevent others from falling victim by reaching out to the appropriate authorities.

If the scammer posed as representatives of Advantage One Credit Union, be sure to let us know! We’ll send out a warning to all of our members and caution them not to respond to any emails claiming to have hacked our database or to have accessed our members’ sensitive information. If the scammer is posing as a representative of a different company, it’s a good idea to let them know about it, too.

It’s equally important to alert law enforcement agencies about every scam attempt. The FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division has a team that’s dedicated to preventing and fighting cryptocurrency laundering and fraud. If you are the victim of a cryptocurrency scam or you’ve been targeted by one, be sure to contact your local FBI field office or visit the bureau’s Internet Crime Complaint Center . You can also alert the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov.

Many people are struggling with financial hardships due to the economic fallout of COVID-19. Unfortunately, scammers are trying to make a difficult time even harder by extorting victims for money. Stay alert and stay safe!

Your Turn:
Have you been targeted by a Bitcoin ransom scam? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
consumer.ftc.gov
bitcoin.com
fbi.gov

 

Cut Clothing Costs

young asian woman consults phone while shoppingIt’s a brand-new season, but that doesn’t mean you need to break your budget to get your wardrobe ready for spring! Challenge yourself to spend half of what you usually do on a new season’s wardrobe. Make the rounds of consignment shops in your community. They should be bursting with offerings from everyone else’s spring cleaning. Next, look for low-cost options at bargain-priced department stores like Marshalls and TJ Maxx. You can also find a friend to swap clothing with, and give an old outfit new life with some inexpensive accessories instead of springing for a whole new look.

Your challenge:
Cut your clothing costs this month!

Your Turn:
Show us the best of your budget-priced spring wardrobe!

Against All Odds: Barbara Corcoran

Barbara Corcoran in interviewNote: Second in a series
She floundered through her education, earning straight D’s all through high school and college. By the time she turned 23, she’d already had 20 different jobs. Barbara Corcoran was looking at a life of financial struggle and the futile chase of success.

But then, she started her next job and everything changed. This is the story of the small-town girl who turned a $1,000 loan into a real estate company worth $5 billion.
The early years

Corcoran grew up in Edgewater, N.J., the second-oldest of 10 children. Her father worked as a printing-press foreman and her mother was a housewife. She struggled through school, and in 1971, she graduated from St. Thomas Aquinas College before setting out to earn a living.

While working as a server shortly after graduating, Corcoran met New Jersey-based home builder Ray Simone. The two began dating, and soon after, Simone lent Corcoran $1,000 to establish her own business. The couple then founded Corcoran-Simone, an apartment locator service in New York City. The girl from Edgewater who’d struggled through school was now a business owner.

Building a business
The couple worked out a fair agreement, with Simone owning 51 percent of the company and Corcoran acting as the agent dealing directly with clients. One day, Corcoran was showing a rental to an engineer who decided to buy the unit instead of renting it. The $3,000 commission earned from the sale was too great a reward to ignore. The next day, Corcoran decided to shift the firm’s focus to sales. She posted an ad for a sales agent immediately.

The young company was soon on the path to explosive success using a simple business plan: Every time Corcoran earned $180, she used the money to post a 3-line ad in The New York Times for a new sales agent. Each new agent generated more money for the company, and within two years of its founding, Corcoran-Simone had a team of 14 agents while earning more than a half-million dollars in sales annually.

Everything was going smoothly until Simone broke up the relationship between the two owners and asked to divide the company. It took several years to complete the task, but in 1978 the job was done and Corcoran was on her own. As they parted, Simone told Corcoran she’d never be able to succeed without him. Instead of serving to discourage her, his words fueled her ambition. She was going to be a success, no matter what it would take.

At the time, the NYC real estate market was dominated by men, but that did not deter Corcoran. She’s been blessed with a fighting spirit and has never been afraid to fight convention. She wasted no time launching the Corcoran Group, the first female-owned real estate firm in the Big Apple. Within a year, the company was pulling in more than $350,000 in revenue.

A tough leader
Corcoran was a demanding leader. She handed the reins of everyday operations to her employees, and claims she didn’t even know what the firm’s revenue was, placing complete faith in her accountant. The Corcoran Group thrived.
Always the innovator, Corcoran started selling real estate online in 1993, a full two years before most competing agencies in the city. She also cleverly seized web domains that would likely be sought out by her competitors. This way, her rivals were forced to call her when they wanted to start selling on the internet, alerting her each time a competitor was entering the online market.

Selling out
In 1988, Corcoran married her second husband, Bill Higgins. The couple wanted a child, and after eight years of fertility treatments, they welcomed a son, Tommy. It was a dream come true for the couple, but a game-changer for Corcoran.

In 2001, the Corcoran Group reached an impressive level of growth and had more listings in every category than any real estate firm in New York. Corcoran was now the top broker in the entire city. That was when she had her watershed moment. As she says, she realized she needed to be there 150% for her family at the Corcoran Group, while also being there 150% for Tommy. Since it was impossible to divide herself in two, Corcoran decided it was time to sell.

Corcoran continued to push herself forward until 2006, when she actively began seeking out a buyer. With a powerful sales force of 850 agents and annual revenues approaching $100 million, the Corcoran Group generated lots of interest from real estate firms in and around the city. At the time, New Jersey-based NRT, Inc. was aggressively buying up firms in New York, and Corcoran sought them out as her buyer. In a brilliant move, she hired an attorney who was also a member of NRT’s board of directors. The lawyer brought Corcoran an offer from NRT for $20 million, but she refused to sell at that price, saying she wouldn’t take less than $66 million. She claimed 66 is her lucky number and instructed the attorney not to get back to her unless he had found a buyer who agreed to her price. Just a few days later, a contract was signed.

The next stage
Today, Corcoran is a who’s who in business and her self-help books include the bestseller, Shark Tales: How I Turned $1,000 into a Billion Dollar Business!. She has also become a motivational speaker and a popular TV personality, with regular roles on NBC’s Today Show, and on ABC’s hit Shark Tank, through which she has invested in 80 businesses to date. She also hosts her own business podcast, Business Unusual with Barbara Corcoran.
Corcoran openly talks about her academic struggles in school and the fight to get to the top. Her feisty attitude and fiery ambition continue to inspire women and business owners around the world.

Your Turn:
Do you find Corcoran’s story inspiring? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

Learn More:
abc.com
fullinbloom.com
barbaracorcoran.com

How Can I Use a Job Loss as a Stepping Stone for Growth?

Man sitting across desk in business casual attire.Q: I’ve been laid off from my job, and I’m struggling with my next step. I’m trying to remain positive and to see this as an opportunity, but it hasn’t been easy. On a practical level, how can I use these circumstances as a stepping stone for growth?

A: Losing a job, whether due to the economic fallout of COVID-19 or for a different reason, is never easy. Choosing to view this time as an opportunity instead of a crisis is commendable and will likely have positive long-term effects on your career path.

Let’s take a look at some practical steps you can take as you embark on a new direction in your life.

Take a giant step back
Before making any efforts to find a new job, take a moment to look at where you stand career-wise. Did you feel trapped at your old job, or were you truly happy? Where do you want to go next? Would a complete pivot really be in your best interest, or would you do better with just a small career shift, such as a change in position within the same field?

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help you gain clarity on your future career path:

  • What did I love about my old job?
  • What did I really not like about my old job?
  • Which valuable skills and experience that I gained at my old job can help me move forward?
  • What are my unique strengths and talents?
  • Which parts of my old job played to those strengths?
  • What were my long-term career goals 10, 20 or even 30 years ago?
  • Have I achieved those goals? If not, what has stopped me from reaching them?
  • What’s my secret dream job?
  • Have I always wished I could open a business of my own?

If you have trouble answering some questions, you can do this quick thought exercise: Close your eyes, breathe deeply until you are fully relaxed and try to let your mind float freely. Picture yourself waking up in the morning and going off to your dream job. What job is it? Your subconscious might just help you out here.

Narrow down your choices
Once you have some idea of what you’d like to do now, jot down your job options and review them carefully. Which of these choices is really best for you? Narrow down your list until you have less than five options.

Consider these factors as you work through the list:

  • The career should play to your natural strengths. It’s always easier to hone an existing skill than to try building one up from scratch. You’re also more likely to enjoy a job at which you naturally excel.
  • The expected salary should meet your needs. It can be helpful to review your monthly expenses and spending habits to refresh your memory. To find out if a possible career can adequately meet your financial needs, look up salary averages on Payscale.com.
  • The field or career you choose to pursue should align with your personality. Some people do better in strictly administrative positions, some only feel fulfilled in a “helping job,” while others thrive in careers that require creativity. It’s best if your chosen career matches your particular needs.

If you’ve chosen to use this opportunity to realize your dream of opening your own business, stop by to learn about the unique products we have available to help you achieve your goal.

Build a killer resume
Your resume is your passport to that dream job. Make yours stand out from the pack by polishing it until it truly shines.

Creating a brilliant resume is going to take some work, but you don’t have to go it alone. You can download a basic resume template from Resume Gig, My Perfect Resume or Resume Now. You can also hire a professional resume writer. It’s not cheap, but if you’re looking for a managerial job, it can be vital.

As you work on your resume, make sure to include all the basics, including your complete educational background, full career history and a select few references who can vouch for your skills and reliability. It’s also a good idea to highlight accomplishments, such as projects or campaigns you’ve initiated, led and/or successfully completed at your previous place of employment. Triple-check the spelling and grammar and have a friend look it over to provide some feedback before submitting your resume to a potential employer.

Network and job-hunt
The easiest way to land a dream job is to already have a foot in the door of a company. A friend or family member who knows of a perfect position can help you out here, but only if they know you’re looking for a job. Spread the word to everyone you know. Share your resume with anyone you reach out to so they have a better idea of your career choices. Social media can be a big help here, too, giving your messages a wider spread. Tell them about the kind of job you’re seeking and ask if they know of any open positions that might suit you. They can also help out by providing contacts who can lead you in the right direction. Follow up every few weeks to remind people that you’re still job-hunting.
If friends and family can’t help you out, you can also look up available positions in your chosen field and pursue them directly. Online job boards like Indeed.com and Careerbuilder.com can be a great place to start your search.

Finding that dream job can take several weeks or even several months. You may want to use this time to build up your skills by investing in a course or a lecture series given by a professional in your chosen field.

Hopefully, your efforts will soon pay off and you’ll find that dream career. In a few years’ time, you may look back at your present unemployment and begin to truly appreciate it for the blessing that it was.

Your Turn:
Have you used a lost job as an opportunity for growth? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
careerplanner.com
psychologytoday.com
knsfinancial.com

Getting Ahead on Your Student Loan Before You Graduate

young woman working at a laptop in an officeAs you prepare for graduation and begin scouting different employment opportunities, be sure to look at the larger picture before you accept a position.

Hopefully, you’ve chosen a career path that will bring you joy and gratification. Equally important, though, is a job that can support your lifestyle choices. While the positions you consider for your first post-college job will likely offer the opportunity for growth, you’ll still need to pay your bills—and make your student loan payments—as soon as you graduate. A job that brings you satisfaction and a pleasant working environment will not last long if the salary it offers causes you to sink into debt.

How do you determine what kind of salary will be large enough to support your desired lifestyle?

To get this information, you’ll need to create a mock monthly budget for your post-college self.

Using a spreadsheet or paper and pen, create two columns, one for expenses and one for actual dollar amounts. In the expense column, list your typical monthly expenses, including housing costs, transportation costs, health insurance, groceries, entertainment costs, clothing costs, dining out, savings, etc. In the dollar column, list the amount of money you expect to pay every month for each expense.

Your budget should look something like this:

ExpenseMonthly Cost
Housing$1,200
Transportation$300
Health Insurance$250
Groceries$350
Student Loan Payments$350

It will take some research and some hard, honest thinking to come up with these numbers. For housing costs, take a moment to think about where you see yourself settling down after college. You don’t have to know the exact neighborhood you’ll live in, but it’s good to know the city that will work best for you in terms of lifestyle, career path, and family plans. You can narrow this down to a few choices so long as you keep it reasonable. Once you’ve chosen your desired location, research the median rental prices in the area on real estate sites like Zillow and Redfin.

Next, work on transportation costs. If you already own a car, you’ll have an idea of what it costs you each month. Otherwise, spend some time thinking about what kind of car you want to drive. You can find listings on Carfax.com. Include costs like auto insurance, gas, and upkeep, in this category.

Or, if you plan on living somewhere with reliable public transportation, you might choose this route instead. Make a calculation of how much you’ll spend on bus and/or train rides, along with the occasional cab or ride-share ride.

Complete your budget using your best estimates for each category. Once you’ve filled out each expense amount, add up your total and multiply it by 12 to give you the amount of money you’ll need each year for supporting the lifestyle of your choice. (This number will increase with inflation, but since current salaries will likely increase along with the inflation rate, this exercise can still give you an idea of the annual salary you’ll need.)
Now that you have these numbers, you’re ready to go ahead with your job search. When considering possible positions, you don’t have to choose the one that pays the highest salary if there are other things about the job you don’t love. However, it’s best to pursue positions that can actually support you.

Your Turn:
Are you choosing your first job for the salary or for other factors? Share your take with us in the comments.

Learn More:
knsfinancial.com
usnews.com
usnews.com
brazen.com

How’s Your Credit?

Medium credit score displayed on a man's smartphoneGive your credit its annual review by ordering your free annual report from Annualcreditreport.com. Check your score and read through the report carefully to see if there are any suspicious charges, unfamiliar accounts or mistakes of any kind. If you find an error, be sure to dispute it and follow up on the mistake. You’ll want to close any inactive accounts as well, as they can drag down your credit file.

Keep that score climbing!

Your Turn:
How do you monitor your credit? Share your best methods with us in the comments.

Meditation Apps

round corner button with "calm" in script fontCalm
With more than 50 million downloads and 700,000 5-star reviews, Calm is one of most popular meditation apps on the market. Proud to hold the title of Google Play Editor’s Choice of 2018, Calm’s simple approach makes it a favorite among users around the world.

The app offers instructional guides for meditation, sleep stories and tips for a truly restful night’s sleep, exclusive music to help you relax and audio programs teaching users how to engage in complete mindfulness. The app also features Calm Kids, a section designed with kids aged 3-17 in mind.

You can try the app at no cost for a week and then pay the annual subscription price of $69.99, or choose to spend $399.99 upfront for lifetime access.

Pros

    • The introductory weeklong course is comprehensive, engaging and completely free.
    • “Daily Calm,” the 10-minute mindfulness session, is short enough to squeeze into an overcrowded schedule, but long enough to leave you feeling relaxed.
    • Users can customize the timelines of their goals.
    • Provides insightful guidance for overcoming difficulties when learning meditation.
    • The design of the app is very calming, with soothing visuals and sounds.

Cons

    • Free version of the app is very limited.
    • Some users find the app’s constant verbal guidance to be intrusive and annoying.

orange dot on with round corner buttonHeadspace
Headspace is the “dinosaur” in the market of meditation apps, but its high ratings across 300,000 reviews in the App Store place it way up there with newer apps of its kind.
You can try the app at no cost for two weeks, and then you’ll automatically be enrolled in an annual subscription at $69.99 a year. A monthly subscription of $12.99 will give you a week’s free trial. You can always cancel your subscription after trying out the app. The paid version unlocks many features, including mini meditations, sleep training and in-depth coverage and instructional guides on themes, like stress reduction and gaining confidence.

Pros

    • Attractive interface and easy to use.
    • Animations are fun and engaging.
    • Daily meditations are tracked so you can see your progress.

Cons

    • Free version is limited to 10 short sessions.
    • App requires high levels of self-discipline for success.

mindfulnessMindfulness
This app’s name tells it like it is: an app designed to train you in mindfulness. From improving the quality of your sleep to learning to understand your emotions, there’s a module for everyone on The Mindfulness App. It’s free for the first week, but the paid version, at $69.99 a month, gives you access to courses on relationships, focus and calmness, along with more than 250 guided meditations.

Pros

    • Timed sessions allow users to squeeze in a meditation even when they can only spare a few minutes. These sessions are also customizable and can be silent or guided.
    • Allows users to track the progress of their meditation journeys.

Cons

    • App is designed for beginners, and will not provide in-depth tutorials on advanced meditation like other apps.

Your Turn:
What’s your favorite meditation app? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
What is Headspace
calm.com
positivepsychology.com
Best Meditation Apps