Step 4 of 12 Toward A Debt-Free Life: Create An Emergency Fund

Young caucasian woman working at modern deskYou may be feeling impatient to start more aggressively paying down debt, but it’s important to first create an emergency fund. If you don’t have money socked away for unexpected expenses, you’ll be tempted to use the money that’s already earmarked for your debt payments to fund this expense.

Experts recommend keeping three months’ worth of living expenses in an emergency fund, but you can start with a modest $1,000. Set up an automatic monthly or weekly transfer from your [credit union] Checking Account to your Savings Account until you have a fully padded emergency fund. This may take several months, but no worries, you can continue following the next few steps towards a debt-free life as your emergency fund grows.

Your Turn:
Why do you think it’s so important to have an emergency fund? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

5 Ways To Spring Clean Your Finances

Young black man sits at computer desk planning his budget on a computer.Q: Spring is here! I’ve cleaned out my house and now I’m ready to take on my finances. I’d love to give them a thorough cleaning, too. Where do I start?

A: It’s wonderful that you’ve decided to clean up your finances. Springtime is months after the holiday squeeze and still a while away from the pricey summer season, making it a prime time for whipping your finances into shape.

So, let’s get cleaning!

1. Dust Off Your New Year’s Resolutions
We get it: New Year’s resolutions get stale as soon as the calendar hits February. But this was the year you were really fired up and ready to conquer the world. Why sell yourself short when your goals are actually within reach?

Use the fresh energy and renewal of spring to revisit the list of resolutions you penned back at the end of 2018. What were your budgeting goals? What were your savings dreams? Have you achieved any of those goals? If not, what’s holding you back?

Take stock of where you are financially and get back on track, moving forward and toward those goals. It’s not too late to make it happen this year!

Do it today: Dig out that paper with your New Year’s resolutions and go through your financial goals one at a time. Did you overreach? Were you irresponsible? Tweak and adjust as necessary, create a new tracking system if the existing one isn’t working, and then get out there and own those goals!

2. Sweep Out Your Monthly Budget
Now that you’ve taken stock of your resolutions, take a good look at your monthly budget.

Review your spending habits of the last few months. What are your weak spots? Where can you cut back? Have you been alotting too much money for one category and not enough for another? It’s time to take stock!

Do it today: Review your monthly budget and choose one area to trim. Create concrete and realistic steps to make that happen. For instance, try the money envelope system to keep you on track, or stick to cash-only so you don’t slip up. Your budget will thank you!

3. Freshen Up Your W-4
You might be celebrating a generous tax return this year, but that only means the government has been handling some of your money all year long instead of it earning more for you. It’s almost like giving the government an interest-free loan! You could have used those funds to start investing, add to an existing emergency fund, launch a business or to save for your dream summer getaway.

Take a closer look at your W-4 so you don’t overpay in taxes again this year.

Do it today: Spend some time researching your best withholding options or ask your accountant to help you work out the numbers. Adjust your W-4 accordingly and submit it to the payroll specialists at your workplace.

4. Pile Up Your Savings
Once you’re cutting down on your spending habits and taking home a larger check each payday, why not use the extra money to bump up your savings? You can add to an existing fund, build a new one, open a Savings Certificate or start investing. You have many great options!

Speak to an Advantage One employee today to find out about our fantastic savings options.

Do it today: After choosing a savings option, stop by [credit union] to set up a direct deposit. Each month, your money will be automatically transferred from your checking account to your new account. It’s the ultimate in set-it-and-forget-it!

5. Toss Your Debt
This spring, while you try on old, scratchy sweaters and make piles of junk to toss in the trash or sell for cash, why not get rid of your debt, too?

Debt is ugly on you. It holds you back from moving forward, keeps you in a spending trap that only gets stronger with time and clings to you like caked-on mud. Wash it all off this spring with an actionable plan to get rid of that debt for good!

Do it today: We know that paying down debt is easier said than done. But, you can do it! All you need is a plan. Review your debts and pick one to pay off first. It can be the debt with the smallest amount of total owed or the one with the steepest interest rate. Find a way to double down on your payments toward that debt. You can do it by taking on a side hustle, seeking a promotion at work or trimming existing expenses. After you’ve paid down this debt, move onto the next one. Accelerate its payoff by applying the total payment amount from your first debt to the new one – in addition to the regular payment you were making on it. Keep going until they’re all gone. It might take until next spring, but eventually, you’ll kick all of your debt to the curb!

Spring is here—it’s time to freshen up your finances so they’ll be in tip-top shape for summer!

Your Turn:
How do you clean out your finances in the spring? Share your best tips with us in the comments.

SOURCES:
https://www.thebalance.com/spring-clean-your-finances-2385567

https://www.moneytalksnews.com/13-tips-for-spring-cleaning-your-finances/

https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.kiplinger.com/article/retirement/T065-C032-S014-3-ways-to-spring-clean-your-finances.html

Step 3 of 12 Toward A Debt-Free Life

Middle-aged black gentleman talking to a femal in the forgroundNegotiate a Lower APR

If the majority of your outstanding debt is credit card debt, you may be spending hundreds of dollars just on interest alone. Aside from wasting money, this keeps you from moving forward and paying down your debt.

Most people don’t know you can call up a credit card company and negotiate for a lower APR. Take the time this month to do that. Explain that you are working on paying down your debt and that the interest payments are impeding your progress. You can even research competing cards and cite their interest rates in a bid for a lower APR from your current credit card company.

Lowering your interest rates will allow you to make another real step toward getting rid of debt.

Your Turn:
Have you ever negotiated for a lower APR on your credit cards? Share your success stories with us in the comments!

7 Signs You’re Living Beyond Your Means And How To Fix Them

Young black couple counting money and comparing to bills due with looks of concern1. You’re carrying a credit card balance from month-to-month

If you have a high credit card balance and you’re paying just the minimum each month, you can end up carrying this balance for years while paying a lot in interest. You might also be tempted to make more purchases on this card since it already has a balance.

The fix: Try to make double payments and stop using the card until the debt is paid off.

2. You stress about bills

Monthly bills should be fixed into your budget. You should be able to pay them easily without any stress.

The fix: Take a look at your monthly budget and find ways to cut back.

3. You can’t save 5% of your monthly income

If you can’t put away at least 5% of your monthly income into savings, you’re living beyond your means.

The fix: Again, trim your expenses and restructure your budget to include at least 5% for savings.

4. You don’t have emergency and rainy-day funds

Ideally, you should have an emergency fund to cover major unexpected expenses, and a rainy-day fund for small expenses you can anticipate.

The fix: Start building your funds now by putting away as much as you possibly can each month.

5. Your mortgage payment eats up more than 30% of your monthly income

Most financial experts agree that your monthly mortgage payment should not exceed 30% of your take-home pay.

The fix: You have two choices here:

1.) Find ways to boost income. Seek a raise at your current job, freelance for hire or find another side hustle for extra cash.

2.) Scale back your mortgage payments. Consider a refinance. Speak to a mortgage expert at Advantage One to see if this is right for you. If your mortgage is crippling your budget, consider downsizing to a smaller and cheaper place.

6. You lease a car you can’t afford to buy or finance

Can you afford to pay for or finance your car? If the answer is no, you’re in financial trouble.

The fix: Downgrade your vehicle to one you can actually afford.

7. Your financial decisions are influenced by your friends’ spending habits

Thanks to the hyper-sharing culture of social media, the pressure to keep up with the Joneses is stronger than ever. If you find yourself making financial decisions based on your friends’ choices, you’re likely spending more than you can afford.

The fix: Stop looking over your shoulder and keep your eyes on your own life and your own wallet.

If you’re in over your head, Advantage One wants to help! Stop by today and our financial services partners will be happy to guide you out of any financial mess.

Your Turn:
What’s your personal red flag that your spending has gotten out of control? Share it with us in the comments.

SOURCES:
https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.hermoney.com/invest/financial-planning/warning-signs-of-living-beyond-your-means/amp/

https://www.investopedia.com/articles/pf/08/in-over-your-head.asp

https://rockstarfinance.com/7-signs-that-you-might-be-living-well-beyond-your-means/

Step 2 of 12 Toward A Debt-Free Life: Don’t Dig Yourself Deeper

Young businessman eating his brown bag lunch in front of his computer screenWhen you’ve dug yourself deep into a pit, the only way to get out is to stop digging. This month, focus on not racking up more debt. Stop using your credit cards. Skip your weekly trips that usually have you buying too many non-essentials.

Instead, start brown-bagging your work lunch and brewing your own coffee. Get into the habit of spending only on essentials so you can make real progress toward paying down that debt.

Don’t forget to make the minimum payments on every line of credit and loan you have open. Neglecting your debt will only pull you deeper into the pit.

Your Turn: Did you spend only on essential things this month? What was the hardest expense to cut back on? Tell us about it in the comments.

5 Ways To Pay Off A Loan Early

Young couple plans out payments at kitchen tableIf you’re like most Americans, you owe money toward a large loan. Whether that means carrying thousands of dollars in credit card debt, having a hefty mortgage in your name or making car loan payments each month, loan debt is part of your life. This means you’re looking at hundreds of dollars in interest payments over the life of the loan(s). There’s also the mental load of knowing you owe perhaps tens of thousands of dollars and that you’ll be paying back the loan for years to come.

It can all get kind of depressing—but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Did you know there are simple, but brilliant, tricks you can employ to lighten the load? With a carefully applied technique, you can pay off your mortgage, auto loan, credit card debt and any other debt you’re carrying quicker than you thought possible. These tricks won’t hurt your finances in any dramatic way, but they can make a big difference to the total interest you’ll pay over the life of the loan and help you become debt-free faster.

You can free up more of your money each month, use your hard-earned cash for the things you want instead of forking it over in interest and live completely debt-free sooner than you’d dreamed. It’s all possible!

A note of caution before we explore these tricks: Check with your lender before employing any approach, as some loan types have penalties for making extra or early payments.

1. Make bi-weekly payments
Instead of making monthly payments toward your loan, submit half-payments every two weeks.

The benefits to this approach are two-fold:

  • Your payments will be applied more often, so less interest can accrue.
  • You’ll make 26 half-payments each year, which translates into an extra full payment on the year, thereby shortening the life of the loan by several months or even years. If you choose this method with a 30-year mortgage, you can shorten it to 26 years!

2. Round up your monthly payments
Round up your monthly payments to the nearest $50 for an effortless way to shorten your loan. For example, if your auto loan costs you $220 each month, bring that number up to $250. The difference is too small to make a tangible dent in your budget, but large enough to knock a few months off the life of your loan and save you a significant amount in interest.

For a potentially even bigger impact, consider bumping up your payments to the nearest $100.

3. Make one extra payment each year
If the thought of bi-weekly payments seems daunting but you like the idea of making an additional payment each year, you can accomplish the same goal by committing to just one extra payment a year. This way, you’ll only feel the squeeze once a year and you’ll still shorten the life of your loan by several months, or even years. Use a work bonus, tax refund, or another windfall to make that once-a-year payment.

Another easy way to make that extra payment is to spread it out throughout the year. Divide your monthly payment by 12 and then add that cost to your monthly payments all year long. You’ll be making a full extra payment over the course of the year while hardly feeling the pinch.

4. Refinance
One of the best ways to pay off your loan early is to refinance. If interest rates have dropped since you took out your loan or your credit has improved dramatically, this can be a smart choice for you. Contact [credit union] to ask about refinancing. We can help even if your loan is currently with us.

It’s important to note that refinancing makes the most sense if it can help you pay down the loan sooner. You can accomplish this by shortening the life of the loan, an option you may be able to afford easily with your lower interest rate. Another means to the same goal is keeping the life of your loan unchanged and with your lower monthly payments, employing one of the methods mentioned above to shorten the overall life of your loan.

5. Boost your income and put all extra money toward the loan
A great way to cut the life of your loan is to work on earning more money with the intention of making extra payments on your loan. Consider selling stuff on Amazon or eBay, cutting your impulse purchases and putting saved money toward your loan, or taking on a side hustle on weekends or holidays for extra cash. Even a job that nets you an extra $200 a month can make a big difference in your loan.

Triumph over your loans by using one or more of these tricks to make them shorter and pay less interest. You deserve to keep more of your money!

Your Turn:
Have you used any of these methods or a different approach for paying off a loan early? Tell us about it in the comments.

SOURCES:
https://www.thebalance.com/how-to-pay-off-debt-early-315571

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.huffpost.com/entry/top-6-ways-to-pay-off-any-loan-faster_b_1624242/amp

https://www.payoff.com/life/money/6-ways-to-pay-off-your-car-loan-early/

Step 1 Of 12 Toward A Debt-Free Life: Take Stock Of Your Debt

Young black woman working on her budget on a laptopYou’re determined that this will be the year you finally pay down (or pay off) that debt. Get ready, because every month, our Do It Today plan will have you taking another step on your journey toward living a debt-free life.

First, sit down and take stock of all your debts. Don’t let the numbers scare you; you need to do this to move forward. Get out every single credit card bill, personal loan, student loan, and any other debt you’re carrying (except your car and mortgage payments). Tally up the numbers to give yourself an idea of what you’re dealing with.

Next, organize your debt into different categories, such as credit card debt, student debt, personal loans etc. Use a spreadsheet to list your debt, the remaining term of each loan (if applicable), the minimum payment and the interest rate.

Finally, designate one hour each week for working on your finances.

Your Turn:
Did you take stock of all your debt? Did the numbers surprise you?