All You Need to Know About Credit Card Fraud and How to Protect Yourself

With the advent of online commerce, credit and debit card fraud has exploded. In fact, according to data collected by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), there have been 230,937 reports of credit card fraud filed in the first two quarters of 2022.

Unfortunately, credit card fraud can go unnoticed until it causes serious damage. Here, we’ve outlined what you need to know about credit and debit card fraud, how to protect yourself and what to do if you’re targeted. 

What is credit card fraud?

Credit and debit card fraud occurs when a scammer gains access to a victim’s card information and goes on to empty their accounts, commit identity theft and more. 

Card fraud can be pulled off in several ways:

  • Card skimming involves a scammer tampering with an ATM or payment terminal. The machine reads the victim’s card information and transmits this information to the scammer.
  • Brute force attacks occur when a scammer employs an auto-dialer to access the card numbers issued within the target’s bank identification number (BIN). The scammer can perform an infinite amount of guesses until they land on the card’s expiration date, security code and other numbers.
  • Online phishing is implemented through insecure links embedded in emails or online ads, or through bogus surveys, solicitations, job offers, dating profiles and the like. The scammer uses these means to gain access to the victim’s credit or debit card information.

Protect yourself

Fortunately, there are measures you can take to protect yourself from credit or debit card fraud. Follow these tips to stay safe:  

  • Monitor your accounts. Check your checking account and credit card statements frequently so you can spot the first signs of fraud.
  • Sign up for alerts. Many issuers will send you texts or emails when new charges post to your account or card-not-present transactions take place. These alerts can help you spot credit card fraud more easily.
  • Use strong, unique passwords across all your accounts. It’s also a good idea to change your passwords approximately every six months.
  • Choose zero liability. If possible, choose a card with zero liability protection so you won’t be held accountable for any fraudulent charges made on your card.
  • Shop with caution. Only shop reputable sites and avoid clicking on pop-up ads or links in emails from unverified senders. To confirm a site’s security, look for the padlock icon and the “s” after the “http” in the URL. Avoid storing your credit card information in online shopping accounts. Finally, make sure the security settings on your devices are updated and choose a VPN (virtual private network) when using public Wi-Fi.
  • Keep your cards close. Keep your card tucked into your wallet or purse. If you use a cardholder on your phone case, keep your phone in a safe place and make sure the card numbers are not easily visible. It’s also a good idea to put your card away right after completing a purchase. 

If you’re targeted

If you believe your credit or debit card has been frauded, take immediate steps to mitigate the damage. First, let the credit card company know about the fraud. Similarly, if your debit card has been frauded, let Advantage One Credit Union know as soon as possible. Your old card will be canceled and you’ll be issued a replacement card immediately. You may also want to consider placing a credit freeze on your accounts as well to prevent the scammer from taking out a loan or opening another account in your name. 

Will I be liable for the fraud?

Taking immediate action upon the event of fraud is critical to your recovery. Under federal law, credit card holders are only liable for up to $50 in fraudulent charges. Debit card holders, on the other hand, only enjoy the same cap on their liability if they report the fraud within two days. Upon failure to do so, they may be held accountable for up to $500 if the fraud is reported within 60 days of occurrence. If they miss this deadline as well, they will be liable to cover the entire fraudulent charge to their account.

The good news is most credit and debit cards issued through major payment networks, like Visa and MasterCard, offer zero liability policies and other consumer protections. Read the fine print in your card agreement carefully to familiarize yourself with your responsibilities.

Credit and debit card fraud can devastate a victim’s financial health and leave them with huge bills to pay. Follow the tips outlined here to stay safe.

Your Turn: How do you protect yourself from debit and credit card fraud? Share your tips with us in the comments. 

Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life Together

Title: Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life Together 

Author: Erin Lowry

Paperback: 288 pages

Publisher: TarcherPerigee

Publishing date: May 2, 2017

Who is this book for? 

  • Cash-strapped 20- and 30-somethings who are always stressing about money.
  • Anyone looking to take control of their financial health.

What’s inside this book?

  • A step-by-step guide to take you from broke to financial master.
  • Tips and tricks for tackling every kind of money situation, in addition to basics, like investing, credit card debt and budgeting.
  • Anecdotes from Erin’s own journey from a debt-crushed millennial to a money master who successfully negotiated a 40% raise.

 4 lessons you’ll learn from this book:  

  1. How to understand your personal relationship with money.
  2. How to manage student loan debt without falling into a panic.
  3. How to successfully navigate social outings in which you’re the only broke one among your friends.
  4. How to find out about your partner’s true financial health.

4 questions this book will answer for you:  

  1. Should I treat money more like a Tinder date or a marriage?
  2. Is it possible to conquer a mountain of debt without getting a massive windfall?
  3. How can I learn about money on millennial terms?
  4. How can I get on the same money page as my partner?

What people are saying about this book: 

“Broke Millennial takes the typical preaching and finger-wagging out of money lessons and replaces them with humor, empathy and a fun, pick-your-financial-path twist, while offering helpful and practical advice to successfully navigate all the financial questions you’ll face in the real world.”— Farnoosh Torabi

“Rich with specific advice to guide readers on the path to financial wellness. Millennials who may be overspending because of #FOMO need to read this book stat!”— Bobbi Rebell

“Thinking about money, especially when you don’t have much, can be painful. But Erin Lowry shows that you don’t need to be a mathematical genius to get on the right track. She makes it easy for people to build a financially healthy plan for life. Spend some time with this book, and your financial decisions and confidence will improve, no doubt.”— Nicholas Clements

“If you’re looking for a book to give to a recent grad, your friend who has no idea what a budget is, or just want to read a personal finance book from someone like you who’s been there…you absolutely need to grab a copy of Broke Millennial.” — Jessica Moorhouse

Your Turn: What did you think of Broke Millennial? Share your opinion in the comments. 

Cash, Credit or Debit–How Should I Pay?

Q: With inflation soaring, I want to spend my money in the best way possible. When paying for various everyday and occasional purchases, should I be using cash, credit or debit?

A: There’s a time and place for everything. Some purchases should be paid for with cash, some with a credit card, and others with a debit card. Your lifestyle and personality may influence this choice as well. Let’s take a closer look at each payment method and when they should be used.

When should I use cash?

Between P2P payment platforms, mobile payment wallets and the growth of cryptocurrency, the world of commerce is becoming increasingly cashless. In fact, some consumers barely touch cash at all. 

However, there can be times when you’d be better off using cash. First, some gas stations charge less per gallon when the driver pays in cash. The difference is usually modest, up to 10 cents a gallon, but with gas prices soaring, it can add up to substantial savings over the course of a month. Next, if you have trouble sticking to your budget when you shop, it can be helpful to take only the amount of cash you need and leave your cards at home. This way, you’ll be forced to stick to your budget. Finally, some small businesses, like food trucks or independently owned stores, only accept cash payments or offer discounts for paying cash.

On the flip side, there are many disadvantages to using cash. First, cash provides no purchase protection. Consequently, it’s best not to use cash for very large purchases. Next, cash leaves no paper trail and it can make tracking expenses difficult. It’s best not to use cash if you’re trying to get a clear picture of where your money is going. Finally, cash always carries the risk of being lost or stolen. 

When should I use my credit card?

Credit cards are the double-edged sword of personal finance. On the one hand, credit card debt is one of the leading causes of consumer debt in the country. On the other hand, owning credit cards and using them responsibly is a crucial part of one’s financial health. 

In addition to the impact to your credit score, responsibly used credit cards offer two primary advantages: rewards and purchase protection. Using a rewards card for purchases you’d need to make anyway, such as paying utility bills or subscription fees for a service, can help you earn cash back, airline miles or another reward. The second big advantage to using a credit card – the purchase protection it offers – makes it the ideal choice for paying for large purchases or when buying something from a newer retailer. Knowing you can always dispute the charge or even cancel it if the product turns out to be different than expected, can help you shop with confidence. In addition to these advantages, paying with a credit card and making on-time payments can help boost your credit score while making expense tracking easy. 

Ideally, credit cards should only be used to cover fixed or steady payments, such as monthly bills, and for purchases you know you can pay for in full when the bill becomes due. It’s never a good idea to swipe your card for a purchase you cannot pay for today or within the next few weeks. Use your cards responsibly to ensure a healthy credit score and to stay out of debt. 

When should I use my debit card?

In many ways, debit cards offer the best of both worlds. You can always track your spending by reviewing your checking account statement, and you generally can only spend what you have. This helps minimize the risk of falling into debt. In addition, if your card is lost or stolen, you can cancel it and/or close the associated account. 

Debit cards can be a great choice for everyday purchases of any kind. However, since they  typically don’t offer rewards or the same level of purchase protection as credit cards, they may not be the best choice for large purchases, or for paying for products from a new retailer. 

Life is expensive, and you want your money to go as far as possible. Use this guide to help you choose the right payment method in every situation. 

Your Turn: When do you use cash, credit and debit? Tell us about it in the comments. 

Should I Use a Credit Card at the Pump?

Q: Is it a good idea to pay for gas with a credit card? 

A: On average, Americans pump close to 392 million gallons of gasoline a day. That’s more than a gallon for every American! Each day! With fuel prices spiking, you want to make sure you’re paying for that gas in the best manner possible. Many people reach for a debit card or cash when filling up on fuel, but there are several key advantages to using a credit card to pay for gas. Here are four reasons you may want to use your credit card at the pump. 

  1. Paying with plastic makes it easy to track your spending

Cash leaves no paper trail. Once you’ve spent it, you have no way of knowing where that money went unless you actively record the expenditure at the time of the purchase. When you pay with plastic, though, there’s always a record of the transaction. You can review your spending habits, or calculate how much you are spending in one budget category (transportation) to help you stay on top of your finances as best as possible. Just check out the credit card statement at the end of the month or billing period to see how much you’ve spent on fuel costs. 

  1. Earn rewards for every gallon

If you own a credit card that offers rewards or miles for every purchase you make, you can earn a lot of rewards by using your credit card to purchase the gas you’d buy anyways. In just one year, you may have enough rewards or miles to fund a full vacation! Just make sure to choose the card that offers the most bang for your buck.

  1. Fraud and theft protection

When it comes to protecting your funds from fraud, credit cards are the number-one choice of payment methods. Unlike payments made in cash or with a debit card, a credit card purchase can always be disputed if found to be faulty. Many cards offer a zero-liability plan in cases of fraud as long as the credit card company is notified within a predetermined amount of time. Finally, paying with cash always carries the risk of theft, but a stolen or hacked credit card account can easily be closed. 

  1. Free up your money

When you choose to pay with a debit card at the pump, you’re choosing to put your money on hold. Gas stations present a unique risk to their owners, as the consumer can fill up and drive away without paying. To avoid this form of theft, gas stations will immediately authorize cards by placing a hold on the debit card account as soon as the consumer initiates the transaction, which is before they’ve even begun to pump fuel into their car. The hold is generally between $50 and $150. After the consumer has finished pumping gas, the card will be charged for the appropriate amount. However, the hold on the card may not clear for several days. If you need every dollar in your account immediately after paying for gas, you may want to use a credit card rather than a debit card at the pump. 

Many drivers choose to pay for gas with cash to save on surcharges that some stations issue for payments made via credit card. However, if you use a rewards card and get cash back on every credit card purchase, the small surcharge can be more than offset by the rewards. In addition, some stations will waive the surcharge upon request. 

It’s important to note that, as always, credit cards should only be used responsibly, even when paying at the pump. Only use a credit card if you know you will be able to pay the bill in full before it’s due. Otherwise, the interest charges you’ll accumulate mean you’ll be paying for far more than the actual price of gas.

Using a credit card to pay for fuel can have unique advantages over other payment methods. The next time you’re at the pump, consider pulling out your credit card instead of paying with a debit card or cash. 

Your Turn: Do you use a credit card at the pump? Why or why not? Tell us about it in the comments. 

Step 5 of 12 to Financial Wellness: Practice Mindful Spending

Creating a budget and deciding to stick to it is easy; it’s actually carrying through on your plan that’s the hard part. For too many people, financial responsibility ends at having good intentions and real life gets in the way of all well-laid plans. A large part of the discrepancy between what they want to do and what they actually do is caused by their failure to spend mindfully. When every indulgence and impulse buy is just a swipe away, it can be super-challenging to rein in that spending instinct – but it is possible. Here’s how to learn the art of mindful spending. 

Find alternative ways to de-stress

Too often, people claim they need “retail therapy” and use it as an excuse to practice mindless spending. But choosing to turn to shopping for alleviating stress, dealing with a challenging situation or just to escape real life for a bit makes it very difficult to make smart, responsible choices. In addition, the bills, or debt that will likely accumulate as a result will increase stress levels considerably. Instead, it’s best to find another way to lift a heavy mood. Find someone to talk to, take a long, hot bath, go for a jog while listening to your favorite pick-me-up playlist or take up a forgotten hobby again. 

Consider disabling the one-click feature for online shopping

If you’re big into online shopping and often end up buying more than you’d planned, you may want to disable the one-click feature on sites like Amazon. You can also choose not to have your device “remember” your payment information so you have to input it whenever you shop. The more resistance or friction required to complete a purchase, the greater the chances of that purchase being a mindful choice and not a decision you’ll soon regret. 

Leave your cards and cash at home

When you don’t plan on spending any money, don’t take any with you. For safety reasons, you may choose to carry a card with you, but it’s a good idea to keep it as out-of-reach as possible. If you make all your payments with your phone, keep it tucked away, too. Similarly, if you’re hitting the shops to pick up a specific item, bring just the amount you’ll need for the purchase and nothing more. 

Put large purchases on hold

One of the best ways to avoid buyer’s remorse is to put all large purchases on hold. Set your own dollar amount for what you consider to be a large purchase and resolve to wait a while before completing any purchase in that amount or more. For example, you can decide to wait two weeks for every purchase of $50 or more. Delaying a large purchase will give you time to think it over and consider whether you really want to spend this money now. Of course, if you’ve been saving up for a large purchase for a while, you’ve already thought about the purchase and decided it’s worthwhile. 

Avoid temptation

It’s hard to keep telling yourself no when temptation is constantly flashing across your screen. Opt out of social media accounts that get you to spend more than you should, and unsubscribe from email lists. Avoid browsing on brand sites that often trigger overspending and only visit when you need to make a purchase. You can do this in real life as well, being careful to avoid shops that provoke mindless spending. Similarly, when shopping for groceries, keep away from aisles and checkout counters that cause you to overspend and purchase more than you have on your list. 

Mindless spending can be the undoing of the most carefully-crafted budget. Follow these tips to learn how to spend mindfully. 

Your Turn: How do you practice mindful spending? Share your best tips and tricks in the comments. 

Should I Pay my Utility Bills with a Credit Card?

Q: Is it a good idea to pay my utility bills with a credit card?

A: Like taxes and rush-hour traffic, paying bills is a necessary, albeit painful, part of life. The bills will show up in your mailbox or inbox month after month after month. As you pay those bills, it’s a good idea to choose a payment method that works best for you and might provide a little giveback, such as paying via credit card. Paying your monthly bills this way can have several significant advantages.  

Here are 5 reasons to consider using your credit card to pay your utility bills. 

  1. Automate your payments

When you pay utility bills with a credit card, you can set up your bills to be paid automatically when they’re due. This is a lot more convenient than remembering to pay each bill before it’s due by phone, via mailed paper check or by calling and having the amount charged to a debit or credit card. When your bills are paid automatically, you’ll have just one payment to make – your credit card balance. Take one task of money management off your list and never miss a payment!

  1. Earn rewards

You need to pay your bills; why not earn rewards when you do? A high-rewards card, or one that pays in points or miles, can help you earn loads of bonus points or miles in a year’s worth of bills. You can also pay your bills through a credit card to help you reach a spending minimum to earn your new card sign-up bonus.

  1. Track your spending

Budgeting is easier when your payments are digital and happen within one channel. You’ll see all of your bill payments on your credit card statement each month, and you can easily track your expenses for utility bills that fluctuate with use. Having your spending tracked through your credit card account makes budgeting simple. 

  1. Protect your purchases 

Many credit cards offer outstanding consumer protection on purchases made by cardholders. This can include zero liability in cases of fraud. When you pay your bills via credit card, you can keep an eye on your account to ensure all payments are proceeding properly. If you see any errors, such as your card  being charged twice for the same payment or being charged the wrong amount, you can dispute the charges. On the flip side, if you pay your bills via paper check or cash, you have zero protection if the money is lost in transit

  1. Keep your cards active

If you’re looking to improve your credit score or to grow your credit file, it’s a good idea to have multiple open and active cards. Paying your utility bills via credit card will help to ensure your card(s) is/are getting used each month. This can help your score improve within a few months.

Before using your credit card for bill payments

While there are significant advantages to paying your utility bills, there are several pitfalls to note before you go this route:

  • Extra fees. Some service providers charge a convenience fee for paying a bill via credit card to help them cover the processing fee for each transaction.
  • Interest. Only pay your bills via credit card if you can pay the credit card bill in full when it is due. Otherwise, you can rack up interest on your credit card balance and ultimately pay a lot more for your utility bills than you’d originally been charged.
  • Debt accumulation. If you’re already struggling to pay off a large amount of debt, it’s best not to charge more payments to your credit cards.  
  • Increased credit utilization ratio. For consumers who constantly use their credit cards, paying monthly utility bills with a credit card can push their credit utilization ratio over the recommended 30% limit and adversely affect their credit score.

Paying your utility bills with a credit card can have several advantages. Before going this route, though, ensure that it is the right option for you and your money management style.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Your Turn: Do you pay your utility bills, or other bills, with a credit card? Tell us about it in the comments.

The Beginner’s Guide to Credit Cards

Credit cards! Can’t live with them, can’t live without them. According to the latest report by the Federal Reserve, there’s a whopping $790 billion in credit card debt in the U.S. On the flip side, though, opening credit cards and managing them responsibly is crucial to establishing your credit history, which impacts your eligibility and rates for large, low-interest loans.

Here’s all you need to know about credit cards.

How credit cards work

When you use a credit card to pay for a purchase, you’re borrowing money from the financial institution that issues the credit card. You’ll repay the loan, in part or in full, at the end of the month when the bill is due. The credit card company charges interest, or a percentage of your balance, which you’ll pay if you don’t pay off your bill by its due date. This number is determined by your annual percentage rate (APR), which refers to the annual cost of borrowing money with your credit card. The longer you carry a balance, the more the amount interest will accrue. 

Now, let’s take a deeper look at each step in responsible credit card management. 

Applying for a credit card

First, you’ll need to apply for a credit card. If this is your first card, you’re probably best off applying for a secured credit card. These starter cards require you to make a deposit before you can open the line of credit that establishes the loan that’s attached to the card. The deposit will serve as a form of collateral in case of a missed payment or default. Usually, secured credit cards will only offer a modest line of credit. If you make your payments on time, you’ll get the deposit back after a predetermined amount of time, usually eight to 12 months, at which point you can close the account and open an unsecured credit card (which does not require the deposit to serve as collateral). 

As you consider your credit card options, look no further than your local credit union. As member-owned cooperatives, credit unions consistently offer credit cards with lower interest rates than credit cards issued by big banks, with the most recent data showing the average credit union credit card offering interest rates at 11.22%APR compared to the average bank’s credit card offering interest rates at 12.41%APR. You can also expect more personalized member service when working with a credit union.

It’s important to note that many credit unions include clauses in their credit card terms allowing them to withdraw funds from the cardholder’s checking or savings account if the cardholder defaults on the credit card payments. When applying for a credit card through a credit union, look for this disclosure in the terms so you are aware of this arrangement if it’s in place. 

Using your card

You can use your card to pay for a purchase at any vendor that accepts your card brand (such as MasterCard or Visa). You can charge up to the available credit line that’s associated with your card. However, to keep your credit score high, it’s best to keep your credit utilization below 30% of the available credit. So, for example, if you have a $1,000 limit, you would want to keep your balance at or below $300. 

Statements

You’ll receive a credit card statement from your credit card issuer each month. The statement will include the following information:

  • Summary of all transactions made on the card since the last billing cycle. This includes all purchases, payments, balance transfers, cash advances, fees, interest payments and more.
  • The balance from the previous billing cycle.
  • The minimum payment due.
  • The payment due date.
  • The number of days in your billing period.
  • Your credit limit and available credit. 
  • Any available or redeemed awards.

It’s important to review your statement for accuracy and to take note of the bill’s due date so you don’t miss a payment. 

Payments

Once you’ve received your statement, you can choose how much to pay. If you pay your entire bill in full by its due date, you’ll avoid paying interest on the charges you made this past month and only pay the cost of the actual purchases. On the other hand, if you only make the minimum payment, interest will continue to accrue on the balance you still carry on the card. If you can’t pay the full balance, you can also choose to pay an amount that falls between the minimum payment and the outstanding balance.

[You might also want to consider automatic payment with us if your card is issued by Advantage One Credit Union to ensure you are never late on your payments.]

Building and maintaining a high credit score

Follow these tips to build your credit score and keep it high:

  • Pay your bills on time.
  • Pay more than just the minimum payment due. 
  • Keep your credit utilization low; ideally, at less than 30% of your available credit. 
  • Ask for a credit limit increase after nine months of responsible credit card use.
  • Keep your cards active.

Responsible credit card usage is an important part of financial health. Follow the tips outlined above to keep your score high and enjoy the benefits for years to come. 

Your Turn: Have you recently opened your first credit card? Tell us about it in the comments.

6 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score

An excellent credit score is the ultimate goal of the financially responsible consumer. Those three magic digits tell a story of accountability, good financial sense, and the ability to spend mindfully. A great credit score also unlocks doors for large, affordable loans; employment opportunities, and more.

Its significance notwithstanding, achieving and maintaining an excellent credit score is easier said than done. There is no quick and easy way to dramatically boost your score over a short amount of time, but you can take steps to increase your credit score gradually. Below, we’ve listed six ways you can start amping up your credit score today.

1. Pay your bills on time

Your payment history is the single most important factor in determining your score. A missed credit card payment can significantly impact your score and it can take months to recover the loss. Set a reminder a few days before your bill is due to ensure you never miss a payment.

2. Reduce your credit utilization ratio

Another crucial factor in your score, your credit utilization ratio refers to the amount of available credit you use. It’s best to keep your utilization under 30%, or even 10% if you can swing it. This means, if you have $50,000 of available credit, try to keep your usage below $15,000 at most and, ideally, below $5,000.

It can also be a good idea to accept offers of increased credit or to request an increase on your own, which can instantly bring down your credit utilization ratio. However, only go this route if you know you are not at risk of overspending as soon as you have more credit at your disposal.

3. Use your cards

Taking a pair of scissors to credit cards can seem like the perfect way to increase your credit score, but you need to use your cards to keep your score high. A great way to make sure you use your cards on occasion but don’t overspend is to charge fixed expenses, like monthly subscriptions, to your card. Just be sure to pay the balance in full before the credit card bill is due.

4. Work to pay down outstanding debt

If any of your cards are carrying a balance from month to month, showing that you are working to get rid of this debt can do wonders for your credit score. Maximize your monthly payment by trimming an expense category in your budget and channeling that extra money toward your credit card bill. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your credit card company to ask for a lower interest rate as you work to pay off debt. Finally, consider consolidating credit card debt with a personal loan from Advantage One Credit Union, which will help you get rid of your credit card debts and leave you with one low-interest payment to make each month.

5. Look for errors on your bill and credit history

A fraudulent charge on your credit card can bring down your score without your knowledge. That’s why it’s important to check your statements each month and to look for charges you don’t remember making. If you see anything suspicious, contact the credit card issuer immediately to dispute the charge. It’s also a good idea to get your free credit report once a year from annualcreditreport.com for a more comprehensive look at your credit usage and signs of possible fraud. 

6. Become an authorized user on another cardholder’s account

If you’re new to the world of credit, and you’re looking to thicken your credit file to build your score, becoming an authorized user on another cardholder’s account can be a great way to get results quickly. Team up with someone who has excellent credit and never misses a payment. Your partner’s responsibility will reflect well on you and help build your credit history and boost your score. 

Credit scores are a crucial component of financial wellness, but achieving and maintaining a high score can be challenging. Use the tips outlined above to start boosting your score today. 

Your Turn: Have you taken steps to boost your credit score? Tell us about it in the comments. 

6 Steps to Crushing Debt

You and debt are so over. You’ve just about had it with those endless piles of credit card bills and those hideous numbers that never seem to get any lower. It’s time to kiss that debt goodbye!

Getting rid of high debt will take hard work, willpower and the determination to see it through until the end, but it is doable. Here, we’ve outlined six steps to help you start crushing debt today. 

Step 1: Choose your debt-crushing method

There are two approaches toward getting rid of debt: 

  • The snowball method, popularized by financial guru Dave Ramsey, involves paying off your debt with the smallest balance first and then moving to the next-smallest, until all debts have been paid off. 
  • The avalanche method involves getting rid of the debt that has the highest interest rate first and then moving on to the debt with the second-highest rate until all debts have been paid off. 

Each method has its advantages, with the snowball method placing a heavier emphasis on achieving results at a faster pace, which then motivates the debt-crusher to keep going, and the avalanche method, focusing more on actual numbers and generally saving the borrower money in overall interest paid on their debts. There’s no right approach, and you can choose whichever method appeals to you more.

Step 2: Maximize your payments

Credit card companies are out to make money, and they do this by making it easy to pay just the minimum payment each month, thus really paying only the interest without making progress on the actual principal, thereby trapping millions of consumers in a cycle of endless debt. Beat them at their game by maximizing your monthly payments. Free up some cash each month by trimming your spending in one budget category or consider freelancing for hire and channel those freed-up or newly earned funds toward the first debt on the list you created in Step 1. Don’t forget to continue making minimum payments toward your other debts each month!

Step 3: Consider a debt consolidation loan

If you’re bogged down by several high-interest debts and you find it difficult to manage them all, you may want to consider consolidating your debts into one low-interest loan. A personal loan from Advantage One Credit Union can provide you with the funds you need to pay off your credit card bills and leave you with a single, low-interest payment to make each month. Or, you can transfer your credit card balances to a single card with a low-interest or no-interest introductory period. Be aware, though, that you will likely get hit with high interest rates when the introductory period ends. 

Step 4: Build an emergency fund

As you work toward pulling yourself out of debt, it’s important to take preventative measures to ensure it won’t happen again. One of the best ways you can do this is by building an emergency fund. Ideally, this should hold enough funds to cover your living expenses for three to six months. Start small, squirrelling away whatever you can in a special savings account each month, and adding the occasional windfall, like a work bonus or tax return, to beef up your fund. 

Step 5: Reframe your money mindset

Sometimes, like when there’s a medical emergency or another unexpected and expensive life event, a consumer can get caught under a mountain of debt through no fault of their own. More often, though, there is a wrongful money mindset at play  leading the consumer directly into the debt trap. 

As you work on paying off your debts, take some time to determine what got you into this mess in the first place. Are you consistently spending above your means? Is there a way you can boost your salary or significantly cut down on expenses? Lifestyle changes won’t be easy, but living debt-free makes it all worthwhile. 

Step 6: Put away the plastic

Credit cards are an important component of financial health and the gateway to large, low-interest loans. However, when you’re working to free yourself from debt, it’s best to keep your cards out of sight and out of mind. You can set up a fixed monthly bill to charge one or more of your cards to keep them active, but only do this if you know you will pay off the charge in full before it’s due. Learning to pay your way using only cash and debit cards will also force you to be a more mindful spender. 

Kicking a pile of debt can take months, or even years, but there’s no life like a debt-free life. Best of luck on your journey toward financial freedom!

Your Turn: Have you kicked a significant amount of debt? Tell us how you did it in the comments. 

5 Steps to Take Before Making a Large Purchase

Have you been bitten by the gotta-have-it bug? It could be a Peloton bike that’s caught your eye, or maybe you want to spring for a new entertainment system, no matter the cost. Before you go ahead with the purchase, though, it’s a good idea to take a step back and follow the steps outlined here to be sure you’re making a decision you won’t ultimately regret.

Step 1: Wait it out

Often, a want can seem like a must-have, but that urgency fades when you wait it out. Take a break for a few days before finalizing a large purchase to see if you really want it that badly. For an extra-large purchase, you can wait a full week, or even a month. After some time has passed, you may find that you don’t want the must-have item after all.

Step 2: Consider your emotions

A bit of retail therapy every now and then is fine for most people, but draining your wallet every month to feed negative emotions is not. Before going ahead with your purchase, take a moment to identify the emotions driving the desire. Is this purchase being used as a means to fix a troubled relationship? Or to help gain acceptance among a group of friends, neighbors or workmates? Or maybe you’re going through a hard time and you’re using this purchase to help numb the pain or to fill a void in your life. Be honest with yourself and take note of what’s really driving you to make this purchase. Is it really in your best interest?

Step 3: Review your upcoming expenses 

What large expenses are you anticipating in the near future? Even if you have the cash in your account to cover this purchase, you may soon need that money for an upcoming expense. Will you need to make a costly car repair? Do you have a major household appliance that will need to be replaced within the next few months? By taking your future financial needs into account, you’ll avoid spending money today that you’ll need tomorrow.

Step 4: Find the cheapest source 

If you’ve decided you do want to go ahead with the purchase, there are still ways to save money. In today’s online world of commerce, comparison shopping is as easy as a few clicks. You can use apps like ShopSavvy and BuyVia to help you find the retailer selling the item at the best price.

Step 5: Choose your payment method carefully

Once you’ve chosen your retailer and the item you’d like to purchase, you’re ready to go ahead and make it yours! Before taking this final step, though, you’ll need to decide on a method of payment.

If you’ve saved up for this item and you have the funds on-hand for it now, you can pay up in cash or by using a debit card. This payment method is generally the easiest, and if it’s pre-planned, it will have little effect on your overall budget.

If you can’t pay for the item in full right now, consider using a credit card with a low interest rate. Most credit card payments have the added benefit of purchase protection, which can be beneficial when buying large items that don’t turn out to be as expected. Before swiping your credit card, though, be sure you can meet your monthly payments or you’ll risk damaging your credit score.

Another option to consider is paying for your purchase through a buy now, pay later program. Apps, like Afterpay, allow you to pay 25% of your purchase today, and the rest in fixed installments over the next few months. This approach, too, should only be chosen if you are certain you can meet the future payments.

Large purchases are a part of life, but they’re not always necessary or in the buyer’s best interest. Follow these steps before you finalize an expensive purchase.

Your Turn: What steps do you take before finalizing a large purchase? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
thesimpledollar.com
thebalance.com
fool.com
moneywise.com