5 Reasons We Overspend (and How to Overcome Them)

We’ve all been there. Maybe it’s that I-gotta-have-it urge that overtakes us when we see a pair of designer jeans. Maybe it’s that shrug as we reach for the $6 cup of overrated coffee that says “I deserve this.” Or maybe it’s that helpless feeling as the end of the month draws near and we realize we’ve outspent our budget — again.

What makes us overspend? Let’s take a look at five common reasons and how we can overcome them.

1. To keep up with the Jones’s

Humans are naturally social creatures who want to blend in with their surroundings. When people who seem to be in the same financial bracket as we are can seemingly afford another pair of designer shoes for each outfit, we should be able to afford them, too, right?

The obvious flaw in this line of thinking is that nobody knows what’s really going on at the Jones’s’ house. Maybe Mrs. Jones’ expensive taste in shoes has landed the family deeply in debt and they are in danger of losing their home. Maybe her Great Aunt Bertha passed and left her a six-digit inheritance. Maybe all of her Louboutin’s are cheap knockoffs she bought online for $23 each.

Break the cycle: Learn to keep your eyes on your own wallet and to ignore how your friends or peers choose to spend their money. Develop a self-image that is independent of material possessions. Adapt this meme as your tagline when you feel that urge to overspend as a means to fit in: Let the Jones’s keep up with me!

2. We don’t have a budget

A recent survey shows that 65% of Americans don’t know how they spent their money last month.

When all of our spending is just a guessing game, it can be challenging not to overspend. We can easily assure ourselves that we can afford another dinner out, a new top and a new pair of boots — until the truth hits and we realize we’ve overspent again.

Break the cycle: Create a monthly budget covering all your needs and some of your wants. If you’d rather not track every dollar, you can give yourself a general budget for all non-fixed expenses and then spend it as you please.

3. To get a high

Retail therapy is a real thing. Research shows that shopping and spending money releases feel-good dopamine in the brain, just like recreational drugs. David Sulzer, professor of neuro-biology at Columbia, explains that the neurotransmitter surges when people anticipate a reward — like a shopper anticipating a new purchase. And when we encounter an unforeseen benefit, like a discount, the dopamine really spikes!

“This chemical response is commonly called ‘shopper’s high,’” Sulzer says, likening it to the rush that can come with drinking or gambling.

This explains the addictive quality of shopping that can be hard to fight. When life gets stressful, or we just want to feel good, we hit the shops or start adding items to our virtual carts.

Break the cycle: There’s nothing wrong with spending money to feel good, so long as you don’t go overboard. It’s best to put some “just for fun” money into your budget so you can make that feel-good purchase when you need to without letting it put you into debt.

4. Misuse of credit

Credit cards offer incredible convenience and an easy way to track spending. But they also offer a gateway into deep debt. Research shows that consumers spend up to 18% more when they pay with plastic over cash.

Break the cycle: When shopping in places where you tend to overspend, use cash and you’ll be forced to stick to your budget. You can also use a debit card with a careful budget so you know how much you want to spend.

5. Lack of self-discipline

Sometimes, there’s no deep reason or poor money management behind our spending. Sometimes, we just can’t tell ourselves — or our children — “no.”

Scott Butler, a retirement income planner at the wealth management firm Klauenberg Retirement Solutions in Laurel, MD, explains that it takes tremendous willpower to say no to something we want now.

“One of the big reasons people overspend is that they don’t think ahead,” Butler says.

Too often, we allow our immediate needs to take precedence over more important needs that won’t be relevant for years — such as a retirement fund or our children’s college education. We simply lack the discipline to not exchange immediate gratification for long-term benefit.

Break the cycle: Define your long-term financial goals. Create a plan for reaching these goals with small and measurable steps. While working through your plan, assign an amount to save each month. Before giving in to an impulse purchase or an indulgence you can’t really afford, remind yourself of your long-term goals and how much longer your time-frame will need to be if you spend this money now.

Your Turn: What makes you overspend? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
thebalance.com
thedollarstretcher.com
hermoney.com
money.usnews.com
elle.com

Rewire for Wealth: Three Steps Any Woman Can Take to Program Her Brain for Financial Success

Title: Rewire for Wealth: Three Steps Any Woman Can Take to Program Her Brain for Financial Success

Author: Barbara Huson

Hardcover: 256 pages

Publisher: McGraw-Hill Education

Publishing date:  Jan. 12, 2021

Who is this book for? 

  • Women who’ve gotten a harsh financial wake-up call.
  • Women who want to learn about money management to be financially independent.
  • Women who have always been intimidated by money.
  • Women who think they’re just not “wired” to handle money well.

 What’s inside this book?

  • Huson’s story of how the men in her life handled her money and then hung her out to dry when things got tough.
  • A physiological explanation for why men and women often have very different approaches toward money management and wealth growth.
  • Huson’s revolutionary approach toward changing financial habits.

Five lessons you’ll learn from this book: 

  • How to apply a proven three-step formula ― recognize, reframe and respond differently ― to rewire the brain for a more confident approach to wealth building.
  • Why women often process financial information in a detrimental way.
  • Why every woman needs to know about financial planning.
  • How to eliminate damaging financial behavior.
  • How women can empower themselves to build wealth.

Four questions this book will answer for you: 

  • Why do all the men in my life have such a vastly different approach toward money than I do?
  • Is there a way for me to rewire my brain to process information differently?
  • Will I be stuck in a financial rut forever?
  • Which obstacles are standing between me and financial empowerment?

What people are saying about this book:

  • “If mastering your money feels daunting, you need this book. Barbara expertly exposes what could be holding you back with simple, practical solutions to finally rewire your thinking and truly build a wealthy life.” — David Bach
  • “Barbara Huson is the unequivocal leader in helping women rewire themselves for wealth. This book will go down in history as a total game changer for us.” — Ali Brown
  • “This book will change your life, if you let it.”— Marci Shimoff
  • “Barbara Huson has done it again. By digging into the ways women think about money differently than men do, she is able to chart a path toward lifelong security — and wealth.” — Jean Chatzky

Your Turn: What did you think about Rewire for Wealth? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

The Benefits of Using Mobile Payments

Why fumble for your wallet at checkout when you can just pay by using your phone?

With more than 81% of Americans owning smartphones, contactless payments by digital wallet and mobile payment apps are now more popular than ever. Contactless payment is also becoming increasingly available at checkout counters across the country, with six in every 10 retailers accepting digital payments, according to research by the National Retail Federation.

Switching over to paying for your daily purchases with a digital wallet is simple. You’ll need to choose between popular mobile payment apps, like Google Pay, Apple Pay and Samsung Pay. All of these apps are similar, but Google Pay is your app of choice for all Android phones, Apple Pay works with recent Apple devices, and Samsung Pay offers the widest acceptance of all digital wallet apps. Once you’ve downloaded the app, you’ll need to load your credit union credit and debit card information and then finish setting up the app with your personal authentication process. When this step is complete, your app is ready for use.

Here are some of the benefits of using mobile payments.

Convenience

The biggest and most obvious draw of mobile payments is their incredible convenience. No more pawing through cards at the checkout counter while the people standing in line behind you are growing impatient. No more hesitating over a stack of cash. Just pull out your phone, open your digital wallet app and tap or wave your phone near the payment-enabled terminal. It’s that easy.

Security

Using a mobile payment app to complete a purchase has several security advantages over traditional payment methods.

First, it eliminates the need to carry around cash or credit cards, which always has the risk of being stolen or lost. Misplaced credit cards in particular can be a nightmare for consumers, making them vulnerable to full-blown identity theft.

Second, mobile-payment apps use extra security measures to protect the user’s data, such as encrypting all personal information and utilizing bio-metric authentication features, like fingerprint scans and facial recognition.

Finally, each transaction that takes place over a mobile payment app is tokenized. This involves a one-time code generated by the payment terminal, or a “token.”  The token is used to complete the transaction in place of the buyer’s actual payment information. The token cannot be used for any other transaction and is effectively useless if hacked. The buyer is thus protected from fraud.

Speed

Mobile payments are super-fast. Instead of counting out cash or inserting a card into a payment terminal and waiting for the transaction to clear, it’s just a one-two-three tap to pay. With mobile payments, checking out in any store can take just seconds from start to finish.

Budgeting and expense-tracking

Digital wallets can be easily integrated with money-management apps, making budgeting easy. Every transaction will be instantly recorded for future reference and review. Additionally, retailers generally offer electronic receipts with mobile payments, as opposed to paper receipts which are easily misplaced.

Safety

Ever since the world entered the alternate reality of COVID-19, mobile-payment apps have enjoyed an enormous boost in popularity. In fact, retailers have seen a 69% rise in contactless payments since the beginning of 2020, according to a study done by the National Retail Federation. This is likely due to the fact that consumers are wary of shopping in brick-and-mortar locations and are hesitant to handle germ-infested cash. Inserting a debit card or credit card into a public payment terminal that processes payments for hundreds of cards a day is not much of a better option. All of this has made digital wallets the chosen method of payment now more than ever, with 67% of shoppers choosing self-checkout options from their own mobile devices over in-person payment.

Mobile payment apps enable consumers to complete a purchase without making physical contact at germ-laden terminals. There’s no need to use a wallet, cash or credit card at all. Just pull out your phone and your transaction is a quick wave or tap away. It’s the perfect way to pay for purchases without compromising your safety.

Mobile payments are the way of the future. There are so many reasons to love mobile payments. They’re convenient, secure, quick and safe.

Your Turn: Why do you use mobile payment apps? Share your favorite benefit of using digital wallets in the comments.

Learn More:
thefinancialbrand.com
mobilepaymentstoday.com
alacriti.com

What Do I Need to Know About Today’s Real Estate Market?

Q: The news from the real estate market can be confusing. What do I need to know as a buyer, a seller, or just an American citizen, about today’s real estate market?

A: Trends and stats in real estate are constantly changing, especially during the unstable economy of COVID-19. Here’s all you need to know about the real estate market today.

Is it a buyer’s market right now? 

Actually, pickings are slim for home-buyers right now, giving sellers the upper hand and driving up prices for buyers. According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), inventory was down nearly 20% in October 2020 compared to October 2019.

Low supply also means homes are on the market for a shorter period of time than what would be likely in other years. According to the NAR, in October 2020, more than seven out of every 10 homes sold were on the market for less than a month. This means buyers don’t have the leisure of lingering over their decisions and may find themselves getting caught in heated bidding wars.

If you’re currently in the market for a new home, it’s best to be prepared to change some of the items on your list of must-haves into nice-to-haves. You may also want to expand your search to include other neighborhoods or home types than you originally planned. And of course, don’t forget to have your mortgage pre-approval in hand before beginning your search. This will give you a leg up on bidding wars and show sellers you’re serious about buying.

What does low inventory mean for sellers?

An uneven balance of supply and demand that favors sellers means homeowners who are looking to sell will have more offers than anticipated. They may be able to choose the best offer for their home — perhaps even at a price that is higher than expected as well.

If you’re selling your home right now and have plans to purchase another, remember that the things making it easier for you to sell your home in this market will also work against you when you purchase a new one. Prepare for prices that may be above market value and a pressured buying environment.

Is home equity up? 

According to the NAR, home prices have swelled to a national median of over $300,000, with October 2020 marking 100 consecutive months of year-over-year price gains. CoreLogic’s 2020 3rd Quarter Homeowner Equity Insights report shows that the average U.S. household with a mortgage now has $194,000 in home equity. These factors make it a great time to sell a home.

If you’re selling your home, it’s a good idea to work with an experienced agent to ensure you get the best possible offer for your home.

If you’re planning to buy a home in this market of increasing home prices, make sure to work out the numbers and to determine how much house you can afford before starting your search.

If possible, consider choosing a 15-year fixed-rate conventional mortgage, which will give you the lowest overall price on your home.

Are interest rates still low? 

Interest rates reached record lows in 2020 and economists are predicting low rates continuing through 2021.

For buyers, this helps make homes more affordable. However, it’s important not to let a low interest rate make you think you can afford a home containing a price tag that is really out of your affordability. As mentioned, be sure to run through the numbers and determine how much house you can really afford before you start looking at houses.

How is the home-buying process different right now? 

Many parts of the home-buying process are now being done virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions. Some sellers are only offering virtual tours to only very serious buyers. Other parts of the process, like the attorney review and the actual closing, may be done completely virtually using remote online notarization and electronic signature apps.

What do I need to know about the real estate market if I don’t plan to buy or sell a home this year?

According to Freddie Mac, equity will likely continue to rise in 2021. But it will be at a more controlled pace. You may want to monitor how much your home is worth this year since you may change your mind about selling before the year is up.

Similarly, if you’re a homeowner with no plans to move, this can be a great time to tap into your home’s equity with a home equity loan or line of credit from Advantage One Credit Union. Contact us at 734-676-7000 or shoot us a line at news@myaocu.com to find out more.

Your Turn: Have you bought or sold a home recently? Share your best tips with us in the comments.

Learn More:
daveramsey.com
rockethomes.com
keepingcurrentmatters.com

All You Need to Know About Checking Accounts

The most obvious things in life are often overlooked, and your checking account is just one of them. Most people hardly give a thought to this important account and how to best manage it effectively. We’re here to change that.

Here’s all you need to know about checking accounts:

What is a checking account? 

Your checking account at Advantage One Credit Union offers easy and convenient access to your funds. The minimum balance required for opening a checking account can be as low as $25. Like most financial institutions, we also allow an unlimited number of monthly withdrawals and deposits.

Checking accounts are designed to be used for everyday expenses. You can access the funds in your account via debit card, paper check, ATM or in-branch withdrawals, online transfer or through online bill payment.

Making transactions using the connected debit card, or through a linked online account, will automatically use the available balance in your account and lower the balance appropriately.

A paper check is also linked directly to your account, but will generally take up to two business days to clear. It’s important to ensure there are enough funds in your account to cover a purchase before paying with a check.

Maintenance fees 

Many banks charge a monthly maintenance fee for checking accounts.

According to Bankrate’s most recent survey on checking accounts, only 38% of banks now offer free checking, compared with 79% in 2009. Monthly fees can be as high as $25 a month.

Interest rates

Most checking accounts offer a very low Annual Percentage Yield (APY) on deposited funds, or none at all. Institutions that offer checking accounts with interest or dividends will generally charge a monthly fee, with the fee being higher for accounts that have higher rates. They also generally require a minimum balance in the account at all times or a minimum number of monthly debit card transactions. According to Bankrate’s survey, you’ll need to keep an average of $7,550 in an interest-yielding checking account at a bank to avoid a steep maintenance fee.

Security

Funds that are kept in a checking account at a bank are federally insured by the FDIC for up to $250,000. Credit unions feature similar protection for your funds, with all federal credit unions offering government protection through the National Credit Union Association. State and private credit unions may be insured by the NCUA as well, or through their own state or private insurance. Advantage One Credit Union is insured by the NCUA to offer you full and complete protection for your funds.

Managing your checking account 

Managing a checking account is as simple as 1-2-3:

1 – Know your balance

It’s important to know how much is in your account at all times. This way, you can avoid an overdrawn account, or having insufficient funds to cover your purchases. Being aware of how much money you have will also help you stick to a budget and spend within your means. You can generally check your balance by phone [or via online checking or a synced budgeting app].

2 – Automate your finances

Make life a little easier by setting up automatic bill payment through your checking account. You won’t miss the hassle of paying your monthly bills, and you’ll never be late for a payment again. As a bonus, you’ll save on the processing fee that is often charged on bill payments made via credit card.

You can also set up direct deposit to have your paycheck land right in your account.

Finally, ask us about automatic monthly transfers from your checking account to savings so you never forget to put money into savings.

[You may also want to consider signing up for overdraft protection, or to have funds transfer from your linked savings account to checking when your balance is getting low.]

3 – Keep your account well-funded, but not over-funded

Financial experts recommend keeping one to two months’ worth of living expenses in your checking account at all times. This way, you’ll always have enough funds to cover your transactions without fear of your account being overdrawn. You’ll also be able to cover the occasional pre-authorization hold that a merchant may place on your debit card transaction until it clears.

It’s equally important not to keep too much money in your checking account. Once you’ve reached that sweet spot of two months of living expenses, it’s best to keep your savings in an account or an investment that offers a higher APY, such as a money market account or a share certificate.

Checking accounts offer the ultimate in convenience and accessibility. Now that you’ve learned all about these often overlooked accounts, let this financial tool help you manage your finances in the most effective way possible.

Your Turn: How do you manage your checking account effectively? Share your best tips with us in the comments.

Learn More:
investopedia.com
discover.com
bankrate.com
thebalance.com
kiplinger.com

Five Steps to Take After a Financial Disaster

As we sail into 2021, many Americans are struggling with the aftershocks of financial disaster. Whether it’s due to a layoff, a smaller workload, medical expenses or a change in family circumstances, the financial fallout of COVID-19 has been devastating for people in every sector of the economy.

Recovering from a financial disaster, due to a pandemic or any other reason, is never easy; however, with hard work and the ability to look forward, it can be done. Here’s how.

Step 1: Assess the damage

Take a step back to evaluate exactly how much financial recovery you need to do. Are you thousands of dollars in debt? Do you need to find a new job? Do you have new ongoing costs you will have to cover each month? Are there any other long-term financial implications of the recent disaster, including alimony and IRS liens?

It’s also a good idea to review your overall financial picture at this point, including your current income and ongoing expenses.

Crunching the numbers and putting it all on paper will make it easier to take concrete steps toward recovery.

Step 2: Accept your new reality and stay calm

Shock and denial are valid stages of grief for any major loss or disaster, but in order for recovery to be possible, it’s important to reach a place of acceptance about your new reality. You can vent to a close friend or your life partner, express your feelings in an online journal or a paper-and-pen version, de-stress with your favorite low-cost hobby and then let go. Revisiting the past and constantly harping on what could have been will only drain you of the energy you need to move on.

Tim Essman, a financial professional with West Coast Wealth Strategies and Insurance Solutions in San Diego, also stresses the importance of remaining calm during an economic downturn. Don’t make any rash moves out of panic and fear, he cautions, as the best move in a financial crisis is to keep things stable until you can evaluate the situation and make rational decisions.

Step 3: Outline your goals

Before you get started on the actual recovery steps, define your primary objectives. Are you looking to rebuild a depleted emergency fund? Find gainful employment that will help bring your income back to its previous level? Pay down your medical bills?  Outlining your goals will make it easier to move ahead.

As you work through this step, remember to choose goals that are SMART:

Specific — The goal should be clearly defined.

Measureable — It’s best if there’s a way for you to measure the goal, such as dollar amounts, credit score numbers, etc.

Attainable — Set a goal that challenges you, but is possible to achieve.

Realistic — Your goal should not be completely out of reach.

Timely — A goal without a deadline is just a wish.

Step 4: Create a Plan

You’re now ready to create a full-blown plan to help you reach your goal. Your plan should consist of consecutive steps that lead to a life of complete financial wellness.

Here are some steps you may want to include in your plan:

  • Trim your spending until you can consistently spend less than you earn.
  • Build a small emergency fund to help get you through an unexpected expense.
  • Seek new employment or new income streams, as necessary. Consider moonlighting, blogging or selling stuff online for extra cash.
  • Start paying down debts. You may want to consolidate your debts with an unsecured loan to make this step easier.
  • Save more aggressively, with an eye toward your retirement and another toward a large emergency fund with up to six months’ of living expenses.

Step 5: Make it Happen

It’s time to put your plan into action. If you were careful to set goals that are SMART, you should be able to take the first steps in your plan immediately.

Be sure to review your plan occasionally and adjust it if any changes are needed.

Times are hard, but with a forward-thinking attitude and the willingness to work hard, we can all recover.

Your Turn: What steps have you taken toward financial recovery after COVID-19? Share them with us in the comments.

Learn More:
www.thesimpledollar.com
financialmentor.com
blog.massmutual.com

Products for Managing and Tracking Business Expenses

Running a flourishing business means overseeing a constant flow of money. There’s revenue, payroll, suppliers, lease payments, taxes and so much more. It’s a lot to keep track of!  Luckily, though, there are lots of products on the market that can help you cover, manage and track your business expenses effectively and smoothly. Let’s take a look at some of these products and share some tips for choosing those that are the best fit for your business.

Business checking accounts

A designated business checking account makes a company look credible and professional while enabling it to manage and track expenses, taxes and revenue. Separate accounts also protect business owners from losing their personal assets if legal action is taken against the company. Business owners can use their checking accounts to deposit checks made out to their company and to cover business expenses, such as payroll or payments to suppliers.

Here’s what to look for in a business checking account:

  • Generous cash-deposit limit per transaction
  • Generous monthly transaction limit
  • Low or no maintenance fee and other costs
  • Online and mobile banking
  • Possible dividend rate

[If you’re looking to open a business checking account, a Advantage One Credit Union Business Checking Account can be a great choice. Our business checking account has [a low maintenance fee of $xx/month/ no maintenance fees] and convenient features like [XXX]. Call, click, or stop by Advantage One Credit Union to learn more.]

Business savings account

A business savings account is an account designated for funds to be used in cases of emergency or for future business expenses. The money in this account will grow at a greater rate, but access to these funds will be more limited.

Business owners can use a savings account to build a cash cushion for slower seasons, prepare for unexpected expenses or to save up for new equipment, tax payments or an expansion.  Many financial institutions also offer rewards and incentives for businesses opening a business savings account, such as cash-back programs, increased dividend rates for larger deposits and reduced fees.

Here’s what to look for in a business savings account: 

  • High dividend rates
  • Low fees and a transparent fee structure
  • Rewards and perks
  • Online and mobile banking

[Opening a Advantage One Credit Union Business Savings Account will provide you with a favorable rate of [x.x%], generous terms, and convenient features like [XXX]. If you’re ready to open a business savings account, call, click, or stop by Advantage One Credit Union today.]

Business credit card

A business credit card provides small business owners with easy and unsecured access to a revolving line of credit. Business owners can use the credit to withdraw cash as necessary, cover large expenses, make purchases, fund an expansion or meet their monthly bill payments.

In comparison to a business loan, a business credit card is easier to qualify for, but it will nearly always come with a higher interest rate. If business owners are careful only to use the credit card when it is absolutely necessary and pays the bill before it’s due, interest will not accrue. A generous line of credit can be a convenient way to increase a business owner’s purchasing power without risking any assets. Credit debt that is managed well will also build the company’s credit score and may provide the business with rewards and incentives.

Here’s what to look for in a business credit card: 

  • A low interest rate
  • Generous perks and rewards
  • A low or no annual fee
  • Interest-free introductory period
  • Purchase protection and insurance

[If you’re looking to open a business credit card, look no further than Advantage One Credit Union. Our Business Credit Cards feature a generous credit limit, easy qualifying terms, and great perks. Call, click, or stop by Advantage One Credit Union today to learn more.]

Tax software

Tracking business expenses and marking which of them can be deducted from a company’s tax liability can be super-challenging. Tax software designed for businesses makes this task easy. Business tax software, like H&R Block, TaxAct and TaxSlayer, can track all the expenses of a business and help owners file taxes efficiently and easily. The software allows businesses to upload all relevant tax documents, provides online support from tax specialists and helps the business calculate federal — and sometimes also state — tax liability. Businesses will need to pay a fee to download most tax software programs, but the cost is more than offset by the time and money the software can save a business.

Here’s what to look for in tax software for businesses:

  • Online tax filing
  • Low monthly cost
  • Assistance with filing federal and state taxes
  • Compatibility with your devices
  • Money-management apps

Managing expenses for a small business isn’t easy. There’s payroll, suppliers, monthly bills and so many other ongoing expenses that need to be covered. Fortunately, there’s an app for that! Money management apps like Mint, Truebill and ZohoBooks allow businesses to track and review all their expenses in one convenient location. Chart expenses on colorful graphs to visualize cash flow, see where the business money is going, categorize expenses for easier tax-filing and link accounts for automatic syncing of expenditures and income. Tracking business expenses on an app also makes for easy monitoring the business via mobile device.

Here’s what to look for in a money-management app: 

  • Manageable monthly cost
  • Easy-to-use interface
  • Synchronization across multiple devices

Your Turn: How do you manage your business expenses? Tell us about the products you use in the comments.

Learn More:
entrepreneur.com
investopedia.com
nerdwallet.com
patriotsoftware.com
brex.com

Paychecks & Balances

Rich Jones and Marcus Garrett are a dynamic duo on a mission to help struggling millennials learn to manage their money and pay off debt. Together, the pair launched Paychecks & Balances, a podcast with more than 5K followers where they share insightful tips and advice on all things financial.

Jones brings his background in human resources to the P&B community, but it’s his journey toward a debt-free life that enables him to really connect with his audience. Likewise, Garrett has paid down $30,000 in debt and understands the financial challenges facing millennials.

The finfluencers’ interview-based podcast is super popular with millennials looking to learn more about money and/or seeking actionable tips on improving their finances.

Here are the core beliefs of Paychecks & Balances:

  • Money does not have to be complicated — or boring. When Jones wanted to broaden his financial knowledge, he found the podcasts and blogs available online to be incredibly boring. He’s therefore determined to keep his own podcast jargon-free and entertaining while still providing the audience with valuable information.
  • Freedom looks different to everybody. We each have our own version of freedom. To some, it can mean being excited to go to work. To others, it can mean having the ability to travel anywhere on a whim. At P&B, no one is shamed for having a day job and answering to a boss, so long as it brings them personal fulfillment.
  • Mental health matters. Jones and Garrett are big believers in mental wellness. They freely sprinkle conversations about mental health throughout their content.
  • Diversity isn’t just a buzzword. The duo believe that diversity is key to financial inspiration and education. The P&B podcasts feature a range of guest speakers from all kinds of backgrounds and demographics.
  • Good career decisions lead to good financial outcomes. You’ll find lots of advice on acing interviews, negotiating salary and choosing the best career path on P&B.

You can tune into the P&B podcast episodes on a broad range of financial topics, check out their blog  for easy-to-read articles that pack a real punch and follow the duo on Twitter , Instagram and/or Facebook.

Your Turn: Are you a P&B follower? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
paychecksandbalances.com
izea.com

Beware of Debt-Collection Scams

With the pandemic still wreaking havoc on the economy, many people are struggling to pay their monthly bills and meet their debt payments. Unfortunately, scammers are exploiting the financial downturn by tricking unsuspecting victims into paying for debts that don’t actually exist, or by using abusive tactics to collect legitimate debts.

Don’t be the next victim of a debt-collection scam. Here’s all you need to know about these scams:

How the scams play out

In a debt-collection scam, a caller claiming to represent a creditor or a debt-collection agency demands immediate payment for an alleged outstanding debt. The caller insists on specific means of payment and may even threaten to tell the victim’s family and friends about the outstanding debt. The alleged debt may be completely fabricated, or the scammer has hacked the victim’s accounts to learn of its existence. In either scenario, the caller does not represent the creditor and will pocket any “collected” money.

These scams can also take the form of abusive debt collection. In this variation of the scam, a caller collects money for a legitimate debt, but uses abusive and illegal practices to complete this task.

How to spot a debt-collection scam

You might be looking at a scam if an alleged debt collector does any of the following:

  • Withholds information — a legitimate debt collector is able and willing to tell you the name of the creditor as well as the exact amount owed.
  • Threatens the debtor with jail time — barring criminal fines or restitution, there’s no jail time for an overdue debt.
  • Insists on specific means of payment, such as prepaid debit card or money transfer.
  • Asks you to share personal financial information — a legitimate debt collector will not ask you to provide your Social Security number or account numbers.

Know your rights

When outstanding debts go unpaid, a lender is legally allowed to sell the debt to a collection agency. The agency can then attempt to collect the debt through letters and phone calls. The agency is not allowed to employ abusive practices or harassment when attempting to collect the debt.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act  (FDCPA) is an amendment to the Consumer Credit Protection Act, which protects consumers from abusive debt-collection practices.

According to the FDCPA, debt collectors cannot:

  • Contact borrowers at unreasonable hours, generally before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.
  • Call borrowers at their workplace if the borrower said they cannot accept phone calls at work.
  • Harass borrowers about a debt, including using threats of violence and obscene language, publishing the debtor’s name and calling the debtor multiple times each day.
  • Engage in unfair collection practices, such as collecting more than is owed, depositing post-dated checks early, or seizing property when it is not legally allowed.
  • Lie about the money owed.
  • Falsely represent themselves as an attorney, government official or another party.
  • Threaten the debtor with jail time or other unwarranted legal action.
  • Falsify the name of the agency they represent.

Protect yourself

If you are unsure of whether you are being targeted by a debt-collection scam, there are steps you can take to protect yourself.

Ask the caller for a callback number. A legitimate collector will not hesitate to share this information. You can also ask for the caller’s name, as well as the name and street address of the company they represent. Be sure to try the number the caller shares, as they may have rattled off a nonfunctioning number in the hopes that you wouldn’t actually dial it.

Ask the caller to confirm basic information about the debt. The collector should know the exact amount owed and be able to tell you the name of the company behind the debt.

If you still believe you are being scammed, contact the creditor the collector is claiming to represent and ask if the debt collection has been outsourced to another company.

If you’ve been targeted

If you believe you’ve been targeted by an illegitimate debt collector, let the FTC know. Report the scam at ftc.gov/complaint. You can also block the scammer’s phone number on your phone and let your friends know about the circulating scam. If a falsified debt appears on your credit report, you will need to dispute the charge as well.

If you’ve confirmed that a collection agency has been legitimately hired by a lender, but you believe the agency is employing abusive tactics, or you’d like them to stop contacting you, there are additional steps you can take. According to the FTC, under these circumstances, it’s best to send the collection agency a written letter asking it to cease all contact. Once the agency has received the letter, it can only reach out to the debtor to let them know there will be no further contact, or to inform the debtor of a specific action being taken against them.

If the debt collector continues to contact you for any other purpose after receiving your written request to desist, you may want to consider filing a lawsuit against the agency in state court.

[If you are having trouble meeting your financial obligations, we can help! Call, click, or stop by Advantage One Credit Union to speak to a member service representative today.]

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a debt-collection scam? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
consumer.ftc.gov
nerdwallet.com
ftc.gov
aarp.org
consumerfinance.gov

When Does it Make Sense to Pay a Bill with a Credit Card?

Credit cards and debit cards both offer incredible convenience. With just a quick swipe or a linked account, a payment can be instantly processed. It seems like a no-brainer to use that convenience for taking the hassle out of paying bills. But, is it a smart idea to pay monthly bills with a credit card or debit card?

Choosing to pay a bill with a card can have a significant impact on your general financial wellness — for better or for worse. That’s why it’s important to consider the many variables of this decision before going ahead with it.

Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of paying monthly bills with a credit card or debit card.

The advantages of paying bills with a credit card or debit card

There are many reasons you may want to pay your monthly bills with a credit or debit card when possible. Here are just a few of the advantages of paying with plastic:

  • Automate monthly payments. Setting up automatic payments for monthly bills through a credit card or debit card will help ensure payments are always on time.
  • Build credit with a consistent monthly payment. Using a credit card for a monthly bill is a great way to amp up a credit score without running the risk of overspending. Just be sure to pay the bill in full and on time every time.
  • Earn rewards for money that needs to be spent anyway. Using a credit card that offers rewards for a bill that needs to be paid anyway will help to pile on those rewards points without overspending. Many debit and/or credit card issuers, [including Advantage One Credit Union’s [debit/credit] card], also offer attractive rewards for using the card to pay for specific expenses, including some monthly bills.
  • Enjoy consumer protection. Paying with plastic offers the consumer the advantages of purchase protection, zero or minimal liability in case of fraud, guaranteed returns and more.
  • Pay your bills quickly without the hassle of writing out checks and using snail mail. With a credit or debit card, paying a bill only takes a few clicks or phone prompts.
  • Budget easily. Paying with a credit or debit card makes for easy tracking of monthly spending.
  • Payments post promptly. Bill payments made via credit or debit card will generally post within one or two business days. Contrast that with a check that needs to be mailed out, delivered to the correct party and then deposited and cleared until the payment is finally processed.

The disadvantages of paying bills with credit or debit cards

Here’s the flip side of paying bills with plastic:

  • There may be fees for paying the bill with a credit card. Pay close attention to the payment options on every bill; some service providers charge a processing fee for paying with a debit or credit card.
  • It can make a difficult financial situation worse. For consumers who are already carrying a sizable amount of debt, it may not be the best idea to charge a monthly bill to a credit card. Similarly, it isn’t responsible to set up an automatic monthly payment through a debit card that is linked to an account that may not have enough money to cover the charge each month.
  • Credit utilization may cross the threshold to an undesirable rate. One of the key components of an excellent credit score is a low credit utilization rate. For consumers with a minimal amount of available credit, charging too many bills to a credit card can cause their score to plunge.
  • Interest may accrue. Consumers who cannot pay their entire credit card bill each month would be saddled with more accrued interest than they can afford if they choose to pay their monthly bills with a credit card.

Which of my bills can I pay with a credit or debit card?

You will likely not be able to pay the following monthly bills with a credit or debit card:

  • Mortgage
  • Rent
  • Car payments

These monthly bills can usually be paid with a credit card, but you may need to pay a fee to do so:

  • Car insurance
  • Home insurance
  • Health insurance
  • Taxes

The following monthly bills usually allow you to pay with a credit card or debit card, and without a fee:

  • Subscription services
  • Phone bills
  • Utility bills
  • Internet providers
  • Cable providers

Before deciding whether to pay a specific bill with a credit or debit card, it’s best to check with your provider to find out if this is a viable option and if there will be a fee attached for paying with plastic.

The bottom line

Sometimes, paying bills with a credit card or debit card makes perfect financial sense, but it sometimes does not. Before deciding which way to go on any particular bill, consider all the relevant factors detailed above to be sure you’re making the responsible choice.

Your Turn: Do you pay any of your monthly bills with a credit card or debit card? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
thesimpledollar.com
thebalance.com
creditkarma.com