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ByCurtis Watts

10 COVID-19 Stimulus Benefits for the Self-Employed

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, life and business certainly have changed. If you’re self-employed full-time or earn business income on the side of a day job, you may be wondering what economic relief applies to you.  

Let's review what relief Congress passed to help self-employed Americans cope with financial challenges. I’ll review ten key stimulus benefits that apply to solopreneurs and small businesses.

If you're experiencing economic hardship due to the coronavirus, using some of these new regulations may be the ticket to managing your personal and business finances better.

10 ways the self-employed can get financial relief

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act became law on March 27 as the largest stimulus legislation in American history since the New Deal in the 1930s. Here are ten ways it provides relief for individual solopreneurs and small business owners.

1. Getting lower interest rates

On March 3, the central U.S. bank, also known as the Federal Reserve or Fed, made a surprising emergency interest rate cut of half a percentage point. That’s the largest single rate cut since the financial crisis of 2008. While this move wasn’t part of a coronavirus stimulus package, it was an aggressive cut meant to prepare the economy for problems the pandemic was expected to cause.

An economic recovery could take a few years, which likely means the Fed rate will stay near zero through 2023.

In mid-September, the Fed reiterated its promise to keep interest rates near zero until the economy improves and the unemployment rate declines. They indicated that a recovery could take a few years, which likely means the Fed rate stays near zero through 2023.

While savers never celebrate low interest rates, they're beneficial to borrowers. In general, the financing charge on variable-rate credit cards and lines of credit goes down in lockstep with interest rates. Carrying a balance on your personal and business credit cards may be slightly less expensive, depending on your card issuer and type. For instance, if your card’s annual percentage rate or APR is 20%, your adjusted rate could go down to 19.5%.

If you have a fixed-rate credit card, the APR doesn’t change no matter what happens in the economy or with federal interest rates. Also, note that if you pay off your balance in full each month, a credit card’s APR is irrelevant because you don’t pay interest on purchases.

2. Having more time to file taxes

Earlier this year, the due date for filing and paying 2019 federal taxes was postponed from April 15, 2020, to July 15, 2020. You didn't have to be sick or negatively impacted by COVID-19 to qualify for this federal tax delay. It applied to any person or business entity with taxes due on April 15, 2020.

If you missed the tax filing deadline, be sure to request an extension.

Most businesses make estimated tax payments each quarter. Those payment dates have shifted, too. The 2020 schedule gives you more time as follows:

  • The first quarter was due on July 15, 2020, which changed from April 15, 2020
  • The second quarter was due on July 15, 2020, which changed from April 15, 2020
  • The third quarter was due on September 15, 2020
  • The fourth quarter is due on January 15, 2021

Individuals and businesses can request an automatic extension to delay filing federal taxes. But it doesn’t give you more time to pay what you owe for 2019, only more time to submit your tax form—until October 15, 2020.

If you missed the tax filing deadline, be sure to request an extension. Individuals must file IRS Form 4868, and most incorporated businesses use IRS Form 7004.

However, depending on where you live, you may have to pay state income taxes, which have not been postponed. If you need a state tax filing extension, check with your state’s tax agency to determine what’s possible.

Taxes due on any date other than April 15, 2020—such as sales tax, payroll tax, or estate tax—don’t qualify for relief.

3. Getting more time to contribute to retirement accounts

You typically have until April 15 or the date of a tax extension to make traditional IRA or Roth IRA contributions for the prior year. But since the CARES Act postponed the federal tax filing deadline, you also have until July 15 or October 15, 2020 (if you requested an extension) to make IRA contributions for 2019.

However, this deadline doesn't apply to retirement accounts you may have with an employer, such as a 401(k). Nor does it apply to self-employed accounts, such as a solo 401(k) or SEP-IRA, which correspond to the calendar year.

4. Getting more time to contribute to an HSA

Like with an IRA, you typically have until April 15 or the date of a tax extension to make HSA contributions for the prior year. Under the CARES Act, you now have until July 15 or October 15, 2020, to make HSA contributions for 2019.

To qualify for an HSA, you must be covered by a qualifying high-deductible health plan. In early March, the IRS issued a notice that a high-deductible health plan may cover COVID-19 testing and treatment and telehealth services before meeting your deductible. And just as before the coronavirus, you can pay for medical testing and treatment using funds in your HSA.

5. Delaying tax on retirement withdrawals

While you typically must pay income tax on retirement account withdrawals that weren’t previously taxed, the good news is that for a period, you can delay or avoid tax altogether. The CARES Act gives you two options for withdrawals made in 2020:

  • Repay a hardship distribution within three years to your retirement account. You can replace the funds slowly or all at once, with no change to your annual contribution limit. If you take money out but return it within three years, it’s like you never took a distribution.
  • Pay taxes on a hardship distribution from your retirement account evenly over three years. If you can’t pay back your distribution, you can ease your tax burden by paying one-third of your liability for three years. 

Since withdrawing contributions from a Roth retirement account doesn’t trigger income taxes, it’s a good idea to tap a Roth before a traditional retirement account when you have the option.

6. Skipping early withdrawal penalties

Most retirement accounts impose a 10% early withdrawal penalty if you take make withdrawals before age 59.5. Under the CARES Act, if you have a coronavirus-related hardship, the penalty is waived.

Under the CARES Act, if you have a coronavirus-related hardship, the penalty is waived.

For instance, if you, your spouse, or a child gets diagnosed with COVID-19 or have financial challenges due to being laid off, quarantined, or closing a business, you qualify for this penalty exemption. You can withdraw up to $100,000 of your retirement account balance during 2020 without penalty. However, income taxes would still be due in most cases.

The no-penalty rule applies to workplace retirement plans, such as 401(k)s and 403(b)s. It also applies to IRAs, such as traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, and SEP-IRAs.

Since you make after-tax contributions to Roth accounts, you can withdraw them at any time (which was also the case before the CARES Act). However, the earnings portion of a Roth is subject to income tax if you withdraw it before age 59.5.

7. Getting larger retirement plan loans

Some workplace retirement plans, such as 401(k)s and 403(b)s, permit loans. Typically, you can borrow 50% of your vested account balance up to $50,000 and repay it with interest over five years.

You can delay the repayment period for a retirement plan loan for up to one year.

For retirement plans that allow loans, the CARES Act doubles the limit to 100% of your vested balance in the plan up to $100,000. It applies to loans you take from your account until late September 2020, for coronavirus-related financial needs.

You can delay the repayment period for a retirement plan loan for up to one year. For example, if you have $20,000 vested in your 401(k), you could take a $20,000 loan on September 30, 2020, and delay the repayment term until September 30, 2021. You’d have payments stretched over five years, ending on September 30, 2026. Any amount not repaid by the deadline would be subject to tax and a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty.

Note that individual retirement accounts—such as traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, and SEP-IRAs—don’t allow participants to take loans, only hardship distributions.

8. Suspending student loan payments.

Starting on March 13, 2020, most federal student loans went into automatic forbearance until September 30, 2020, due to the CARES Act. On August 8, the suspension of student loan payments was extended through December 31, 2020.

On August 8, the suspension of student loan payments was extended through December 31, 2020.

The suspension covers the following types of loans:

  • Direct Loans that are unsubsidized or subsidized
  • Direct PLUS Loans
  • Direct Consolidation Loans
  • Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL)
  • Federal Perkins Loans

Note that FFEL loans owned by a private lender or Perkins loans held by your education institution don’t qualify for automatic forbearance. However, you may have the option to consolidate them into a Direct Loan, which would be eligible for forbearance. Just make sure that once the suspension ends, your new consolidated interest rate wouldn’t rise significantly.

During forbearance, qualifying loans don’t accrue additional interest. Even if you have federal student loans in default because you haven’t made payments, zero percent interest applies during the suspension period.

Additionally, missed payments during the suspension don’t get reported to the credit bureaus and can’t hurt your credit. Qualifying payments you skip also count toward any federal loan repayment or forgiveness plan you’re enrolled in.

However, if you want to continue making student loan payments during the suspension period, you can. With zero percent interest, the amount you pay gets applied to your principal student loan balance, enabling you to get out of debt faster.

With zero percent interest, the amount you pay gets applied to your principal student loan balance, enabling you to get out of debt faster.

If you’re not sure what type of student loan you have or the pros and cons of consolidation, contact your loan servicer. Even if your student loans are with private lenders or schools, they may offer relief if you request it.

9. Having Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans forgiven

The PPP is part of the CARES Act, and it supports small businesses, organizations, and solopreneurs facing economic hardship created by the pandemic. The program began providing relief in early April 2020, and the application window ended in early August 2020.

Participating PPP lenders coordinated with the Small Business Administration (SBA) to offer loans to businesses in operation by February 15, 2020, with fewer than 500 employees. Loan amounts could be up to 2.5 times the average monthly payroll up to $10 million; however, annual salaries were capped at $100,000.

For a solopreneur, the maximum PPP loan was $20,833 if your 2019 net profit was at least $100,000. The calculation is: $100,000 / 12 months x 2.5 = $20,833.

When you spend at least 60% on payroll and 40% on rent, mortgage interest, and utilities, you can have those amounts forgiven from repayment. Payroll includes payments to yourself, but you can’t cover benefit costs, such as retirement contributions, or payments to independent contractors.

In other words, a solopreneur could have received a PPP loan for up to $20,833, paid the entire amount to themselves, and not repaid it by having the load forgiven. Using a PPP loan for qualifying expenses turns it into a grant.

The best part about PPP loan forgiveness is that it won’t qualify as federal taxable income. Some states that charge income tax have indicated that they won’t tax forgiven amounts.

However, if you have employees, the PPP forgiveness calculations and requirements are more complex. For example, you must maintain reasonable salaries and wages. If you decrease them by more than 25% for any employee (including yourself) who made less than $100,000 in 2019, your forgiveness amount will be reduced. 

PPP loan forgiveness also depends on keeping any full-time employees on your payroll. But if you had employees who left your company voluntarily, requested a cut in hours, or got fired for cause during the pandemic, your loan forgiveness amount won’t be reduced for those situations.

The best part about PPP loan forgiveness is that it won’t qualify as federal taxable income. Some states that charge income tax have indicated that they won’t tax forgiven amounts.

However, not all states have issued their rules on taxing PPP forgiveness. So be sure to get guidance if you live in a state with income tax.

You must complete a PPP Loan Forgiveness Application and get approved by your lender to qualify for forgiveness. The paperwork should come from your lender, or you can download it from the SBA website at SBA.gov. Most PPP borrowers have from six months after loan disbursement or until the end of 2020 to spend the funds. 

The forgiveness application explains what documents you must include, and they vary depending on whether you have employees. Once you submit your paperwork, your lender has 60 days to decide how much of your PPP loan can be forgiven.

If some or all of a PPP loan isn't forgiven, you typically must repay it within five years at a 1 percent fixed interest rate. You don't have to start making payments for ten months after loan disbursement, but interest will accrue during a deferral period.

10. Getting SBA loans

In addition to PPP loans, the Small Business Administration (SBA) offers several loans for businesses and solopreneurs facing economic hardship caused by a disaster, including the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) can be up to $2 million and repaid over 30 years at an interest rate of 3.75 percent. You can use these funds for payroll and other operating expenses.
  • SBA Express Bridge Loans gives borrowers up to $25,000 for help overcoming a temporary loss of revenue. However, you must have an existing relationship with an SBA Express lender. 
  • SBA Debt Relief is a program that helps you make payments on existing SBA loans for up to six months.

Depending on your state, you may qualify for unemployment assistance, which allows self-employed people, who typically are ineligible for unemployment benefits to get them for a period.

This isn’t a complete list of all the economic relief available for small businesses and solopreneurs. There are federal tax initiatives, funds from local and state governments, and help from private organizations that you may find by doing a search online.

How to manage money in uncertain times

When it comes to surviving uncertainty, such as how COVID-19 will affect the economy, those who have emergency savings will feel much less financial stress than those who don’t. That’s why it’s essential to maintain a cash reserve of at least three to six months’ worth of living expenses in an FDIC-insured bank savings account.

If you don’t need to dip into your emergency fund, continue shoring it up when possible. If you don’t have a cash reserve, accumulate savings by cutting non-essential expenses, and even temporarily pausing contributions to retirement accounts. That’s a better option than succumbing to panic and tapping your retirement funds early.

If you don’t need to dip into your emergency fund, continue shoring it up when possible.

If you find yourself in a cash crunch, contact your creditors before dipping into any retirement accounts you have. Many lenders will be willing to work with you to suspend payments or modify existing loan terms temporarily.

RELATED: How to Reduce Money Anxiety—Compassionate Advice from a Finance Pro

My new book, Money-Smart Solopreneur: A Personal Finance System for Freelancers, Entrepreneurs, and Side-Hustlers, covers many strategies to earn more, manage variable income, and create an automatic money system so you can strengthen your financial future. It’s a great resource if you’re thinking about earning side income or have already started a business.

Many economic factors that affect your personal and business finances aren’t under your control. Instead of worrying, look around, and figure out how you can create more income or cut unnecessary expenses. Working on tasks that you can control gives you more clarity and helps manage stress in uncertain times.

Source: quickanddirtytips.com

ByCurtis Watts

Escape your home for a safe holiday staycation

With the 2020 holidays upon us, it’s likely you’ve spent some time considering how you’ll have a COVID-safe celebration. Should you stay? Should you go? Is travel to your family even an option this year as some states impose new travel restrictions and mandatory quarantine periods?

Perhaps for safety’s sake, you’ve decided to stay put. But you also recognize that being “home for the holidays” doesn’t have the same cozy appeal as it used to when you’ve already been home working from home for months on end. What you might need is a staycation – the getaway for when you can’t get away.

Check out all the answers from our credit card experts.

Ask Stephanie a question.

Get away for the holidays without going away

Traditionally, when we think about holiday travel, we’re most likely planning how to get ourselves to a faraway destination – whether that’s to see family across the country, or to flee from some combination of family, holiday hustles and winter weather.

This year, I’ve personally decided I won’t be among the holiday crowds attempting to fly on the busiest travel days of the year. Instead, I’ll be sticking closer to home, celebrating in my own city with a staycation – and testing a theory that there is no place like a Hyatt for the holidays.

If you’re planning to stay close to home like me, here’s some good news: Your credit card points work just as well for living it up in luxury in your hometown as they do when you’re on the road.

Some more good news: You’ll save lots of points and dollars by not flying anywhere this holiday – so go ahead and book the suite!

How to use your credit card points to book a staycation

If you live in or near a city, finding a hotel to tuck into for a few days over the holiday period should be pretty straightforward.

To plan a staycation, I normally start by checking what’s available near me by searching the website for each of the hotel groups in whose loyalty programs I participate.

Here in my hometown of Portland, Oregon, I found plenty of options at varying price points when I looked up Marriott, IHG, Hilton and Hyatt – the four hotel programs in which I currently have points.

For example, a few weeks ago, I decided to take an early holiday staycation at the Hyatt Centric Downtown Portland. I chose the hotel because of its location right in the middle of the city, and because Hyatt has a 25% points-back offer on award stays and free parking for The World of Hyatt Credit Card holders through the end of the year.

I paid 30,000 World of Hyatt points for a two-night stay, got 7,500 points back, and got upgraded to a suite thanks to my World of Hyatt elite status. Without points, the suite would have cost $355 dollars a night – plus the free valet parking saved me another $47 a day. I was able to get a $804 value for 22,500 rewards points. Even though I was less than two miles from my actual house, I felt a world away.

How to use travel rewards to book a staycation

If you don’t already have a hotel-branded rewards credit card for earning points in a specific hotel program like World of Hyatt, or if you live in a location where there aren’t many chain hotels, you’ll likely have more luck booking a staycation using travel rewards points.

You can book directly through the respective program’s travel planning portal. Flexible bank programs include Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou points.

Once you find a hotel you want to visit, and before you make the booking, you’ll want to check to make sure the hotel amenities that excite you for your staycation are going to be open and accessible.

Other than being snuggled up in a warm bed that I didn’t make myself, the best part of my staycation weekend at the Hyatt Centric Portland was the food.

Masia, the hotel’s signature restaurant designed by Portland’s award-winning Spanish chef Jose Chesa, was finally open and serving after a long COVID closure. Since I live in a city where indoor dining still hasn’t made a full comeback (and is now taking a pause for the holiday season), it was a rather delightful experience to spend two mornings lingering over a long breakfast.

If you’re booking more than a week in advance, you should also make sure your reservation is flexible or cancelable should your own plans change, or the COVID regulations in your state or county change and require the hotel to amend their offerings.

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ByCurtis Watts

Debt Relief & Credit: What You Need to Know

A person stands on the edge of a cliff overlooking greenery and a blue sky, holding their arms aloft and their fingers making peace signs

There’s no single way to get out of debt that’s best for everyone. Each individual case is as unique as you are.

It’s important to consider your situation when deciding which debt relief plan is the best option for you. To help you weigh those options, we have provided an overview of some of the major options here:

  • Debt avalanche and debt snowball
  • Debt consolidation
  • Credit counseling
  • Debt management plan (DMP)
  • Debt settlement and debt negotiation
  • Bankruptcy

How Debt Relief Programs Affect Credit

The debt that you carry (your credit utilization rate) makes up roughly one-third of your overall credit score. When you pay off debt, your credit score typically improves. This is especially true with revolving credit lines—such as credit cards—where your balance is approaching or hovering around the maximum limit. You want to keep your utilization rate below 30% to avoid negative effects to your credit score.

However, reducing your debt can also lower your credit score—even when it’s a good thing! For example, paying off a loan and closing that account may reduce your credit age or mix of accounts, which account for about 15% and 10% of your credit score, respectively.

The type of debt relief program you use can also positively or negatively affect your credit score. Debt settlement, for example, utilizes some tactics that generally have a more negative effect than other types of debt relief programs. Keeping in mind your current credit standing, the program itself and your credit needs will help you make the best choice.

Start by signing up for the free credit report card from Credit.com. This handy tool provides a letter grade for each of the five key areas of your credit for a quick snapshot of where you stand. You can also dig deeper into each factor to monitor what’s happening with your credit and find areas for improvement.

→ Sign up for the free Credit Report Card now.

The Main Approaches to Debt Relief

Once you have a clear picture of your credit history, you can choose one of the six main approaches to debt relief to help you get out of debt. These include the snowball/avalanche option, debt consolidation, credit counseling, debt management plans, debt negotiation/debt settlement and bankruptcy. Each option has its own advantages and drawbacks as well as its own impact on your credit score, both short term and long term.

Debt Relief Option Immediate Credit Impact Long-Term Credit Impact
Debt Snowballs and Avalanches None Reliably Positive
Debt Consolidation Small impact (positive or negative) Minimal
Credit Counseling None expected None expected
Debt Management Plan (DMP) Moderate impact (positive or negative) Minimal
Debt Negotiation or Debt Settlement Severe damange Slow recovery
Bankruptcy Severe damage Slow recovery

Debt Snowball and Debt Avalanche

  • Immediate Credit Impact: None
  • Long-Term Credit Impact: Reliably Positive

The debt snowball and debt avalanche approaches are simply methods of repaying your debts. The choice between snowball or avalanche often comes down to a matter of personal choice.

The debt snowball is when you pay off your debts one at a time, starting with the ones that have the lowest balance. This eliminates those debts from your credit record quickly.

The debt avalanche is when you pay off your debts one at a time, but you start with those that have the highest balances instead. While it takes longer to clear debt from your credit history, the debt you clear takes a larger chunk out of your overall balance owed.

As long as you stick to the minimum payments needed on all of your other credit accounts while you work to pay down your debt, this method has little immediate impact on your credit report and a reliably positive one long term.

Debt Consolidation

  • Immediate Credit Impact: Small (positive or negative)
  • Long-Term Credit Impact: Minimal

Debt consolidation loans and balance transfer credit cards can help you manage your debt by combining multiple lines of credit under one loan or credit card. While this helps by making one payment out of several, it’s not a strategy that actually gets you out of debt. It’s more like a tool to help you get out of debt faster and easier.

Consolidation loans often offer lower interest rates than the original credit lines themselves, which enables you to pay off your debt faster. In addition, having one lower monthly payment makes it easier to avoid late or missed payments.

Balance transfer credit cards let you transfer debt from other cards for a minimal fee. These cards sometimes require that you pay off the balance transfer balance within a certain timeframe to avoid being charged interest. If you choose a balance transfer card, be sure you choose one with terms favorable to your situation and needs.

This form of debt relief has its own set of pros and cons. While it can improve your credit utilization ratio by paying off balances that are close to the credit limit, simply moving balances from one creditor to another doesn’t do a lot for your immediate scores. Transferring multiple debts to one balance transfer card may make your utilization rate higher, which could drop your score as well.

At the same time, opening a new account will require a hard inquiry, which will slightly negatively impact your credit score. A debt consolidation loan adds a new account to your credit report, which most credit scoring models count as a risk factor that may drop your score in the short term as well. On the other hand, adding a loan or credit card to your credit history could improve your credit mix. You’ll need to keep all these factors in mind when determining whether a debt consolidation loan or balance transfer credit card is right for you.

Credit Counseling

  • Immediate Credit Impact: None expected
  • Long-Term Credit Impact: None expected

A credit counselor is a professional adviser that helps you manage and repay your debt. Counselors may offer free or low-cost consultations and educational materials. They often lead their clients to enroll in other debt relief programs such as a debt management plan, which generally require a fee and can affect your credit (see below for more information). Bes ure you fully understand the potential impact of any debt relief program suggested by a credit counselor before you sign up. They’re here to help, so don’t be afraid to ask your counselor how a new plan could affect your credit.

Credit counseling can also help you avoid accumulating debt in the first place. By consulting a credit counselor about whether or not a line of credit is advisable given your current situation, for example, you can avoid taking on debt that will affect you adversely. Choosing a good credit counselor for your situation is essential for positive results.

Debt Management Plan

  • Immediate Credit Impact: Moderate (positive or negative)
  • Long-Term Credit Impact: Minimal

A Debt Management Plan is typically set up by a credit counselor or counseling agency. You make one monthly payment to that agency, and the agency disburses that payment among your creditors. This debt management program can affect your credit in several ways, mostly positive.

While individual lenders may care that a credit counseling agency is repaying your accounts, FICO does not. Since FICO is the leading data analytics company responsible for calculating consumer credit risk, that means a DMP will not adversely affect your credit score. Of course, delinquent payments and high balances will continue to bring your score down even if you’re working with an agency.

When you agree to a DMP, you are required to close your credit cards. This will likely lower your scores, but how much depends on how the rest of your credit report looks. Factors such as whether or not you have other open credit accounts that you pay on time will determine how much closing these lines of credit will hurt your score.

Regardless, the negative effect is temporary. In the end, the impact of making consistent on-time payments to your remaining credit accounts will raise your credit scores.

Debt Negotiation or Settlement

  • Immediate Credit Impact: Severe damage
  • Long-Term Credit Impact: Slow recovery

Some creditors are willing to allow you to settle your debt. Negotiating with creditors allows you to pay less than the full balance owed and close the account.

Creditors only do this for consumers with several delinquent payments on their credit report. However, creditors generally charge off debts once they hit the mark of being 180 days past due. Since charged-off debts are turned over to collection agencies, it is important to try to settle an account before it gets charged off.

Debt settlement companies negotiate with creditors on your behalf, but their tactics often require you to stop paying your bills entirely, which can have a severe negative impact on your credit score. In general, debt settlement is considered a last resort and many professionals recommend bankruptcy before debt settlement.

Bankruptcy

  • Immediate Credit Impact: Severe damage
  • Long-Term Credit Impact: Slow recovery

Filing for bankruptcy will severely damage your credit score and can stay on your credit report for as long as 10 years from the filing date. However, if you are truly in a place of debt from which all other debt relief programs cannot save you, bankruptcy may be the best option.

Moreover, by working diligently to rebuild your credit after bankruptcy you have a good shot at improving your credit scores. Depending upon which type of bankruptcy you file for—Chapter 7, Chapter 11 or Chapter 13—you will pay back different amounts of your debt and it will take varying timelines before your credit can be restored.

Learning the difference between the three main types of bankruptcy can help you choose the right one. A qualified consumer bankruptcy attorney can help you evaluate your options.

Getting Debt Free

Whichever method of debt relief you choose, the ultimate goal is always to pay off your debt. That way, you can save and invest for your future goals. For some, taking a hit to credit temporarily is worth it if it means being able to finally get their balances to zero.

By monitoring your credit with tools like our free Credit Report Card and keeping your financial situation in perspective, complete debt relief is not only possible but within reach.

The post Debt Relief & Credit: What You Need to Know appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

ByCurtis Watts

How to Get Debt Consolidation Loans When You Have Bad Credit

Debt consolidation is one of the most effective ways to effectively manage debt. It can greatly improve your debt-to-income ratio and help you get back on your feet. You will have more money in your pocket and less debt to worry about, and while your options are a little more limited if you have bad credit, you can still get a consolidation loan.

In this guide, we’ll look at the ways that a debt consolidation loan will impact your credit score, while also showing you the best ways to consolidate credit card payments and find a credit card consolidation plan that suits your needs.

What is a Debt Consolidation Loan and How Does it Work?

A debt consolidation loan can help you to manage credit card debt and other unsecured debts by consolidating them into one, manageable monthly payment. You get a large loan and use this to clear all your current debts, swapping several high-interest debts for one low-interest loan.

You’ll consolidate multiple payments into a single monthly payment, and, in most cases, this will be much less than what you’re paying right now.

The problem is, creditors aren’t in the business of helping you during your time of need. They’re there to make money, and in exchange for your reduced monthly payment, you’ll get a loan that extends your debt by several years. So, while you may pay a few hundred dollars less per month, you could pay several thousand dollars more over the lifetime of the loan.

Why Consider Debt Consolidation for Bad Credit?

You can use a debt consolidation loan to consolidate credit card debt, clear your obligations, reduce the risk of penalties and fees, and ultimately improve your credit score. What’s more, you may still be accepted for a debt consolidation loan even if you have a poor credit score and a credit report with several derogatory marks.

It’s an option that was tailormade for borrowers with lots of unsecured debt, and it stands to reason that anyone with a lot of debt will have a reduced credit score. Of course, it still helps if you have a high credit score as that will increase your chances of getting a low-interest debt consolidation loan, but even with bad credit, you can get a loan that will reduce your monthly payment.

How Does Debt Consolidation Affect Your Credit Score?

A debt consolidation loan can impact your credit score in a number of ways, all of which will depend on what option you choose:

  • A balance transfer can reduce your score temporarily due to the maxed-out credit card and a new account.
  • If you use a consolidation loan to clear credit card balances, you will diversify your credit report, which can benefit up to 10% of your credit score.
  • If you continue to use your credit cards after clearing them, your credit utilization will drop, and your credit score will suffer.
  • A new consolidation loan account will reduce your credit score because it’s a new account and because the average age of your accounts has decreased.
  • Debt management will reduce your credit utilization score by requiring you to cancel credit cards. This accounts for 30% of your total credit score. 

The good news is that all of these are minor, and the short-term reductions should offset in the long-term. After all, you’re clearing multiple debts, and that can only be a good thing. 

A debt consolidation loan will not impact your score in the same way as debt settlement or bankruptcy.

Alternatives to a Debt Consolidation Loan 

A debt consolidation loan isn’t your only option for escaping debt. There are numerous options for bad credit and good credit, all of which work in a similar way to a debt consolidation loan.

These may be preferable to working with a consolidation loan company, especially if you have a lot of unpaid credit card balances or you’re suffering from financial hardship.

How Does a Debt Management Program Work?

Debt management is provided by credit unions and credit counseling agencies and offered to individuals suffering financial hardship and struggling to repay their debts. A debt management plan typically lasts three to five years and works with unsecured debt only, which includes medical debt, private student loans, and credit cards, but not mortgages or car loans.

A debt management plan ties you to a credit counseling agency, which acts as the middleman between you and your creditors. The agency will help to find a monthly payment you can afford and then negotiate with your creditors. You make your monthly payment through the debt management program and they distribute this to your creditors.

Debt management specialists are experts in negotiation and know how to get creditors to bend to their ways. They understand that lenders just want their money and are keen to avoid defaults and collections, so they remind them that failing to negotiate may increase the risk of such outcomes.

Debt management programs are not free. You will be charged a small up-front fee in addition to a monthly fee. However, the amount of time and money they save you is often worth the small charge.

The only real downsides to a debt management plan is that you’ll be required to cancel most of your credit cards, which will impact your credit score, and if you miss a single payment then creditors will revert to previous terms and your progression will be lost.

A Balance Transfer

You don’t need a debt consolidation loan to consolidate your debt. You can also use something known as a balance transfer credit card. 

A balance transfer allows you to consolidate credit card debt onto a single card. These cards offer you 0% interest for up to 18 months and allow you to transfer multiple credit card balances.

As an example, let’s assume that you have the following credit card balances:

  • Card 1 = $5,000
  • Card 2 = $2,000
  • Card 3 = $3,000
  • Card 4 = $5,000

That gives you a total credit card balance of $15,000. If we assume an APR of 20% and a minimum payment of $500, you will repay over $20,000 in 42 months, with close to $6,000 covering interest alone.

If you use a balance transfer credit card, you will be charged an initial balance transfer rate of between 3% and 5%, after which you will not be required to pay any interest for up to 18 months. Continue making those same monthly payments, and you’ll repay $9,000 before that introductory period ends, which means your debt will be reduced to just $6,000 and can be cleared in 14 months with less than $800 in total interest.

This is a fantastic option if you have a strong credit score, otherwise, you may struggle to find a credit limit high enough to cover your debts. However, it’s worth noting that:

  • Your credit score may take an initial hit due to the new account and maxed-out credit card.
  • The interest rate may be higher, so it’s important to clear as much of the balance as you can before the introductory period ends.
  • You may be charged high penalty fees for late payments.
  • You can’t move credit card debt from cards owned by the same provider.

What About Debt Settlement?

Debt settlement works in a similar way to debt management, in that other companies work on your behalf to negotiate with your creditors. However, this is pretty much where the similarities end.

A debt settlement specialist will request several things from you:

  • You pay a fee (charged upon settlement).
  • You move money to a secure third-party account.
  • You stop meeting your monthly payments.

They ask you to stop making payments for two reasons. Firstly, it will ensure you have more money to move to the third-party account, which is what they use to negotiate with creditors. They will offer those creditors a lump sum payment in exchange for discharging the debt, potentially saving as much as 90%, on top of which they will charge their fee. 

Secondly, the more payments you miss, the more unlikely it is that your account will be settled in full, at which point the lender will be more inclined to accept a sizable settlement.

Debt settlement is not without its issues. It can reduce your credit score, increase the risk of litigation and take several years to complete. However, it’s the cheapest way to clear your debts without resorting to bankruptcy.

You can do debt settlement yourself by contacting your creditors and negotiating reduced sums, but you will need to have a large sum of cash prepared to pay these settlements and you’ll also need a lot of patience and persistence. There are also companies like National Debt Relief that can help, as well a huge number of lesser-known but equally reputable options. 

Who is Eligible for a Personal Loan for Debt Consolidation?

In theory, you can use a personal loan as a debt consolidation loan. In other words, instead of working with a debt consolidation company and allowing them to set the rates and find suitable terms, you just apply for a personal loan, use it to pay off your debts, and then focus your attention on repaying that loan.

This can work very well if you’re using it to repay credit card debt. The average credit card APR in the US is 16% to 20%, while the average personal loan rate is closer to 6%. A personal loan acquired for this purpose will give you more control over the total interest and repayment term. 

However, while you may pay less over the term, it’s unlikely that you’ll reduce your monthly payments. A debt consolidation loan is designed to provide an extended-term so that the monthly payment will be reduced, and unless you choose a loan with a long term, you won’t get the same benefits.

The biggest issue, however, is that you need a very good credit score to get a loan that is big enough to cover your debts and has interest that is low enough to make it a viable option. This is easier said than done, and if you’re drowning in debt there’s a good chance your credit score will not be high enough to make this feasible. 

Is it Time for Bankruptcy?

If you have mounting credit card debt, personal loan debt, and private student loans, and you’re struggling to make the repayments or clear more than the minimum amount, you may want to consider bankruptcy.

It should always be seen as the last resort, as it can have a seriously negative impact on your credit score and make it difficult to get a home loan, car loan, or low-interest credit card for many years. However, if you’re not confident that debt settlement will work for you and believe you’re too far gone for debt management and consolidation, speak with a credit counselor and discuss whether bankruptcy is the right option.

You can learn more about this process in our guides to Filing for Bankruptcy and Rebuilding your Credit After Bankruptcy.

Debt Consolidation for Bad Credit Homeowners

If you own your home, you have a few more options for debt consolidation. When you use your home as collateral against a loan it’s known as a secured debt. It means the lender can repossess your home if you fail to meet the repayments. This also eliminates some of the risks associated with lending, which means they offer more favorable interest rates and terms.

Home Equity Loan and HELOC

An equity loan is a large personal loan secured against the value tied-up in your home. You can acquire an equity loan when you own a large share of your property, in which case you’re using that share as collateral.

Interest rates are very favorable, and you can receive a consolidation loan that clears all your debts and leaves only a small monthly payment and easily manageable debt in their place.

A home equity line of credit (HELOC), works in much the same way, only this time you’re given a line of credit similar to what you’d get with a credit card. You can use this credit to repay your debts, after which you just need to focus on repaying the HELOC.

An equity loan and a HELOC provide the lowest possible interest rates of any debt consolidation loan. However, failure to meet your monthly payments will damage your credit score and place your home at risk.

Cash-Out Refinancing for Consolidation

Cash-Out refinancing replaces your current mortgage with a new, larger mortgage. The difference between these two home loans is then released to you as a cash sum, allowing you to clear your debts in one fell swoop. 

Cash-Out refinancing is often used to fund a child’s college education or a new business, but it’s becoming increasingly common as a form of debt consolidation, helping American homeowners to clear credit card debt and other unsecured debts.

Reverse Mortgages

Reverse mortgages work in a similar way to home equity loans, but with a few key differences. Firstly, they are only offered to homeowners aged 62 or older. Secondly, there is no monthly payment and no other recurring obligations.

A reverse mortgage is only repaid when you sell the home or die. There are also some obligations with regards to maintaining the home and living in it full time, but you don’t need to pay any fees and can use the money gained from this mortgage to clear your debts.

Summary: Consider Your Options

A debt consolidation loan is a great option if you’re struggling with debt. You can try a debt management plan if you have bad credit, a balance transfer if you have great credit, and debt consolidation companies if you’re somewhere in the middle.

But as discussed already, these are not the only options. The debt relief industry is vast and caters for every type and size of debt. Do your research, take your time, and make sure you understand the pros and cons of each option before you decide.

How to Get Debt Consolidation Loans When You Have Bad Credit is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

ByCurtis Watts

How Many Credit Cards Should You Have for Good Credit?

Have you ever wondered, "How many credit cards should I have? Is it wise to have a wallet full of them? Does having multiple credit cards hurt my credit score?"

If you’ve been following this blog or the Money Girl podcast, you know the fantastic benefits of having excellent credit. The higher your credit scores, the more money you save on various products and services such as credit cards, lines of credit, car loans, mortgages, and insurance (in most states).

Even if you never borrow money, your credit affects other areas of your financial life.

But even if you never borrow money, your credit affects other areas of your financial life. For instance, having poor credit may cause you to get turned down by a prospective employer or a landlord. It could also increase the security deposits you must pay on utilities such as power, cable, and mobile plans.

Credit cards are one of the best financial tools available to build or maintain excellent credit scores. Today, I'll help you understand how cards boost your credit and the how many credit cards you should have to improve your finances.

Before we answer the question of how many credit cards you should have in your wallet, it's important to talk about using them responsibly so you're increasing instead of tanking your credit score.

5 tips for using credit cards to build credit

  1. Make payments on time (even just the minimum)
  2. Don’t rely on being an authorized user
  3. Never max out cards
  4. Use multiple cards
  5. Keep credit cards active

A common misconception about credit is that if you have no debt you must have good credit. That’s utterly false because having no credit is the same as having bad credit. To have good credit, you must have credit accounts and use them responsibly.

Having no credit is the same as having bad credit.

Here are five tips for using credit cards to build and maintain excellent credit scores.

1. Make payments on time (even just the minimum)

Making timely payments on credit accounts is the most critical factor for your credit scores. Your payment history carries the most weight because it’s an excellent indicator of your financial responsibility and ability to pay what you owe.

Having a credit card allows you to demonstrate your creditworthiness by merely making payments on time, even if you can only pay the minimum. If the card company receives your payment by the statement due date, that builds a history of positive data on your credit reports. 

I recommend paying more than your card’s minimum. Ideally, you should pay off your entire balance every month so you don’t accrue interest charges. If you tend to carry a balance from month-to-month, it’s wise to use a low-interest credit card to reduce the financing charge.

2. Don’t rely on being an authorized user

Many people start using a credit card by becoming an authorized user on someone else’s account, such as a parent’s card. That allows you to use a card without being legally responsible for the debt.

Some credit scoring models ignore data that doesn’t belong to a primary card owner.

Some card companies report a card owner’s transactions to an authorized user’s credit report. That could be an excellent first step for establishing credit … if the card owner makes payments on time. Even so, some credit scoring models ignore data that doesn’t belong to a primary card owner.

Therefore, don’t assume that being an authorized user is a rock-solid approach to building credit. I recommend that you get your own credit cards as soon as you earn income and get approved.

3. Never max out cards

A critical factor that affects your credit scores is how much debt you owe on revolving accounts (such as credit cards and lines of credit) compared to your total available credit limits. It's known as your credit utilization ratio, which gets calculated per account and on your accounts' aggregate total.

A good rule of thumb to improve your credit scores is to keep your utilization ratio below 20%.

Having a low utilization ratio shows that you use credit responsibly by not maxing out your account. A high ratio indicates that you use a lot of credit and could even be in danger of missing a payment soon. A good rule of thumb to improve your credit scores is to keep your utilization ratio below 20%. 

For example, if you have a $1,000 card balance and a $5,000 credit limit, you have a 20% credit utilization ratio. The formula is $1,000 balance / $5,000 credit limit = 0.2 = 20%.

There's a common misconception that it's okay to max out a credit card if you pay it off each month. While paying off your card in full is smart to avoid interest charges, it doesn't guarantee a low utilization ratio. The date your credit card account balance is reported to the nationwide credit agencies typically isn't the same as your statement due date. If your outstanding balance happens to be high on the date it's reported, you'll have a high utilization ratio that will drag down your credit scores.

4. Use multiple cards

If you need more available credit to cut your utilization ratio, there are some easy solutions. One is to apply for an additional credit card, so you spread out charges on multiple cards instead of consistently maxing out one card. That reduces your credit utilization and boosts your credit.

Having the same amount of debt compared to more available credit instantly reduces your utilization and improves your credit.

For example, if you have two credit cards with $500 balances and $5,000 credit limits, you have a 10% credit utilization ratio. The formula is $1,000 balance / $10,000 credit limit = 0.1 = 10%. That’s half the ratio of my previous example for one card.

Another strategy to cut your utilization ratio is to request credit limit increases on one or more of your cards. Having the same amount of debt compared to more available credit instantly reduces your utilization and improves your credit.

5. Keep credit cards active

Credit card companies are in business to make a profit. If you don't use a card for an extended period, they can close your account or cut your credit limit. You may not mind having a card canceled if you haven't been using it, but as I mentioned, a reduction in your credit limit means danger for your credit scores.

A reduction in your credit limit means danger for your credit scores.

No matter if you or a card company cancels one of your revolving credit accounts, it causes your total amount of available credit to shrink, which spikes your utilization ratio. When your utilization goes up, your credit scores can plummet.

Anytime your credit card balances become a higher percentage of your total credit limits, you appear riskier to creditors, even if you aren't. So, keep your cards open and active, especially if you're considering a big purchase, such as a home or car, in the next six months.

In general, I recommend that you charge something small and pay it off in full several times a year, such as once a quarter, to stay active and keep your available credit limit in place.

If you have a card that you don't like because it charges an annual fee or a high APR, don't be afraid to cancel it. Just replace it with another card, ideally before you cancel the first one. That allows you to swap out one credit limit for another and avoid a significant increase in your credit utilization ratio.

If you're determined to have fewer cards, space out your cancellations over time, such as six months or more. 

How many credit cards should you have to build good credit?

Now that you understand how credit cards help you build credit, let's consider how many you need. The optimal number for you depends on various factions, such as how much you charge each month, whether you use rewards, and how responsible you are with credit.

There's no limit to the number of cards you can or should have if you manage all of them responsibly.

According to Experian, 61% of Americans have at least one credit card, and the average person owns four. Having more open revolving credit accounts makes you more likely to have higher credit scores, but only when you manage them responsibly. 

As I mentioned, having more available credit compared to your balances on revolving accounts is a crucial factor in your credit scores. If you continually bump up against a 20% utilization ratio, you likely need an additional card.

You can keep an eye on your credit utilization and other important credit factors with free credit reporting tools such as Credit Karma or Experian.

Also, consider how different credit cards can help you achieve financial goals, such as saving money on everyday purchases you're already making. Many retailers, big box stores, and brands have cards that reward your loyalty with discounts, promotions, and additional services.

If you continually bump up against a 20% utilization ratio, you likely need an additional card.

I use multiple cards based on their benefits and rewards. For instance, I only use my Amazon card to get 5% cashback on Amazon purchases. I have a card with no foreign transaction fees that I use when traveling overseas. And I have a low-interest card that I only use if I plan to carry a balance on a large purchase for a short period.

There's no limit to the number of cards you can or should have. Theoretically, you could have 50 credit cards and still have excellent credit if you manage all of them responsibly.

My recommendation is to have a minimum of two cards so you have a backup if something goes wrong with one of them. Beyond that, have as many as you're comfortable managing and that you believe will benefit your financial life.

Source: quickanddirtytips.com

ByCurtis Watts

How to Maximize Credit Card Rewards and Earn Cash and Perks

If you’re looking for ways to put some extra cash in your pocket, make sure to take advantage of credit card rewards programs.

Credit card companies and banks make some of their money from the merchant interchange fees that are charged when you use your card.

As an incentive for you to use their cards, many credit card issuers pass some of those funds on to the consumer in the form of credit card rewards.

If you have good credit and the ability and discipline to pay off your credit cards in full each month, you should try to maximize your credit card rewards. Otherwise you may be leaving a lot of money on the table.

But it can be challenging to navigate the world of credit card rewards. Hundreds, if not thousands, of different credit cards exist, and the type and amount of rewards vary with each card.

There are three main kinds of rewards card offers available:

  • Bank and credit card points: Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, etc.
  • Airline miles and hotel points: Delta SkyMiles, Hilton Honors points, etc.
  • Cash back: Straight cash that can be redeemed either as statement credits or checks mailed to you.

How to Maximize Your Credit Card Rewards

You have three different ways to maximize any credit card rewards program:

  • The sign-up bonus or welcome offer: Many cards offer a large number of miles or points as a welcome bonus for signing up and using the card to make purchases totaling a specific amount within a specified time period.
  • Rewards for spending: Most rewards credit cards offer between one and five points for every dollar you spend on the card. Some cards offer the same rewards on every purchase, while others offer a greater reward for buying certain products.
  • Perks: Simply having certain credit cards can get you perks like free checked bags on certain airlines, hotel elite status or membership with airline lounge clubs and other retail partners.

Usually, the rewards for signing up are much higher than the rewards you get from ongoing spending, so you may want to pursue sign-up bonuses on multiple credit cards as a way of racking up rewards.

Consider a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, where you can get 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points for spending $4,000 in the first three months of having the card. That means that while you’re meeting that minimum spending requirement, you’re earning 15 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar. Compare that to the one or two points you’ll earn with each dollar of spending after meeting the minimum spending. You can see the difference.

Other than getting the welcome bonus offers for signing up for new credit cards, another great way to maximize your rewards is by paying attention to bonus categories on your cards. Some cards offer a flat 1 or 2 points for every dollar you spend.

How Applying for Credit Cards Affects Your Credit Score

It’s important to be aware of how applying for new credit cards affects your credit score.

Your credit score consists of five factors, and one of the largest factors is your credit utilization.

Credit utilization is the percentage of your total available credit that you’re currently using. If you have one credit card with a $10,000 credit limit and you charge $2,000 to that card, then your utilization percentage is 20%. But if you have 10 different cards, each with $10,000 credit limits, then that your credit utilization percentage is only 2%.

Since a lower credit utilization is better, having multiple credit cards can actually help this part of your credit score.

New credit — how recently you’ve applied for new credit cards — accounts for about 10% of your credit score. When you apply for a new credit card, your credit score usually will dip 3-5 points. However, if you’re conscientious with your credit card usage, your score will come back up in a few months.

What to Watch Out for When Using Credit Card Rewards

While it’s true that careful use of credit cards can be a boon, you should watch out for pitfalls.

The first thing is to make sure that you have the financial ability, discipline and organization to manage all of your credit cards. Missing payments and paying credit card interest and fees will quickly sap up any rewards you might earn.

Another thing to be aware of is the psychology of credit card rewards. It can be easy to justify additional spending because you’re getting rewards or cash back, but remember that buying something that you don’t need in order to get 2% cash back is a waste of 98% of your money.

Pro Tip

Credit card rewards are alluring, but what do they really cost? Here’s what you should know about the dark side of credit card rewards.

The Best Credit Cards to Get Started

Before signing up for a new credit card, it’s best to pay off your existing cards first — otherwise the fees and interest will quickly outweigh any rewards you earn.

If you’re ready to start shopping rewards offers, here are five credit cards to consider. Note that these introductory offers are subject to change:

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred – The Sapphire Preferred card earns valuable Chase Ultimate Rewards and currently offers 60,000 Ultimate Rewards if you spend $4,000 in the first three months. It comes with a $95 annual fee.
  • Capital One Venture Rewards – The Capital One Venture Rewards is offering 100,000 Venture miles, which can be used on any airline or at any hotel. It also comes with a $95 annual fee.
  • Barclays American AAdvantage Aviator Red – With the AAdvantage Aviator Red card, you’ll get 50,000 American Airlines miles after paying the $99 annual fee and making only one purchase.
  • American Express Hilton Honors – If you’re looking for a hotel card, consider the no-fee Hilton Honors card, which comes with a signup bonus of 80,000 Hilton Honors points after spending $1,000 in three months. There is no annual fee.
  • Bank of America Premium Rewards – The Bank of America Premium Rewards card comes with a bonus of 50,000 Preferred Rewards points (worth $500) after spending $3,000 in the first three months. The card has a $95 annual fee.
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The Bottom Line

The best credit card is the one that gets you the rewards that help you do what is most important to you.

If you’re looking to maximize travel credit, then pick an upcoming trip and figure out what airline miles and hotel chain points you’ll need. Then pick the credit cards that give those miles and points. If you want to maximize your cash back, look for a card with a good signup bonus that either offers cash back or bank points that can be converted into cash.

Dan Miller is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

ByCurtis Watts

9 Ways to Recover from Overspending During the Holidays

The post 9 Ways to Recover from Overspending During the Holidays appeared first on Penny Pinchin' Mom.

The packages have been opened. The kids are loving their new toys.  You are enjoying your coffee one morning and reading your mail when you see them…

THE BILLS! Yikes!

It seems you went a little over your budget. It was fun and the joy you brought to your kids’ faces was worth it.

However, now you need to find a way to recover from overspending during the holidays. It is not fun, but is necessary. Here are nine steps you can take to recover from any spending mistakes you made during the holiday shopping season.

1. Put the credit cards on ice – literally

The first thing you need to do is stop spending.  You need to put the credit cards away. Take them out of your wallet and put them in the safe.

Or, if you want to make sure you really do not use them – freeze them in a block of ice! That way, if you do feel the pull to shop, it will take time to thaw out and the urge to spend my pass by then.

2. Calculate the damage

You can’t bury your head in the sand when it comes to seeing the damage done to your budget. Face it head-on.

Total every receipt and credit card statement to find how much was spent. While it may be painful to see the balance due, it is necessary.

When you see that figure in writing, it helps you know what you are facing and where you may need to cut back.

3. Review the budget

 Once you know the amount you need to pay off you also need to review (or create) your monthly budget.   That means including those new monthly payments to the credit card companies.

Make sure your budget is balanced, in that you are not spending more than you take in each month.

4. Create a repayment plan

Up next, you have to create an exit strategy – which will be to pay off those credit card bills. Grab the statements for each and then list them by including the balance and the interest rate.

You may be tempted to pay the highest balance first (which is what I recommend when it comess to getting out of debt). However, when it comes to this debt you just incurred, I recommend starting with the highest interest rate first.

By eliminating that bill quickly, you are reducing the amount of interest you will pay to the credit card company. There is no need to pay them any more than you need to!

Once the first card is paid in full, roll the monthly payment amount into the payment for the next card. Repeat until they are all paid in full.

You’ll not only pay them off quickly but also minimize the total interest paid as well!

5. Reduce your spending

When you have bills to pay it means you need look at the budget to find areas where you can cut back.

It may mean cutting cable or eliminating dining out. You may need to cancel the subscription to the gym or find frugal date night options.

Be willing to make short-term sacrifices for long-term gains as the sooner you can eliminate these bills, the better.

6. Use your bonuses

If you are fortunate enough to get a holiday bonus don’t blow it on what you want. Use that to pay off your holiday bills.

If you don’t get a bonus then use any of that Christmas cash you received for your bills! Look ahead to see if any other money will be coming your way such as birthday money or a tax refund. Earmark that to pay off your holiday spending.

7. Get a side-hustle

If you need to tackle your balances then a side-hustle may be the solution – even if temporary. Look around the house for items to sell. If you are a teacher, consider tutoring students.

Every penny earned can be money used to put towards that holiday spending.

8. Build your savings

You don’t want to find yourself in this same situation again next year. It is not a fun cycle of rinse and repeat.

The holidays come at the same time each year. It is not a surprise or an unplanned expense.  You need to plan for it.

Review the total spent this year and divide that by 12. Focus on saving that amount each month, all year long, and you’ll be able to pay CASH next year and not even use the credit cards.

9. Save using the coin challenge

One simple way to save money for holiday shopping is to switch to a cash budget. Then, save the change and any “leftover” money each pay period.

For example, if you budget $300 for groceries and spend only $270, don’t blow that left-over $30…put it back for the holidays!

The same premise works with change. If the total is $7.49, hand over $8 and put $0.51 into your savings jar.

Saving doesn’t have to be hard

Simple tricks can help you quickly build your savings!

It is easy to spend too much during the holidays but with some smart strategies, you can get your budget back on track.

The post 9 Ways to Recover from Overspending During the Holidays appeared first on Penny Pinchin' Mom.

Source: pennypinchinmom.com

ByCurtis Watts

What Happens If You Overpay Your Credit Card?

If you accidentally overpay your credit card balance, your first thought may be that something is wrong—but there’s no need to worry. Read on to learn more.

Source: lexingtonlaw.com

ByCurtis Watts

Credit Card Balance Transfers

Credit card balances are crippling households across the United States, giving them insurmountable debts that just keep on growing and never seem to go away. But there is some good news, as this problem has spawned a multitude of debt relief options, one of which is a credit card balance transfer.

Balance transfers are a similar and widely available option for all debtors to clear their credit card balances, reduce their interest rate, and potentially save thousands of dollars.

How Credit Card Balance Transfers Work

A balance transfer credit card allows you to transfer a balance from one or more cards to another, reducing credit card debt and all its obligations. These cards are offered by most credit card companies and come with a 0% APR on balance transfers for the first 6, 12 or 18 months.

Consumers can use this balance transfer offer to reduce interest payments, and if they continue to pay the same sum every month, all of it will go towards the principal. Without interest to eat into their monthly payment, the balance will clear quickly and cheaply.

There are a few downsides to transferring a balance, including late fees, a transfer fee and, in some cases, an annual fee.

What Happens When You Transfer a Balance on Credit Cards?

When you transfer a balance, your new lender repays your credit card debt and moves the funds onto a new card. You may incur a transfer fee and pay an annual fee, which can increase the total debt, but transferring a balance in this way allows you to take advantage of a 0% introductory APR. While this introductory period lasts, you won’t pay any interest on your debt and can focus on clearing your credit card debt step by step.

Why are Balance Transfers Beneficial?

A little later, we’ll discuss some alternatives to a balance transfer offer, all of which can help you clear your debt. However, the majority of these methods will increase your debt in the short term, prolong the time it takes to repay it or reduce your credit score. 

A balance transfer credit card does none of these things. As soon as you accept the transfer offer, you’ll have a 0% introductory APR that you can use to eliminate your debt. The balance transfer may increase your debt liabilities slightly by adding a transfer fee and an annual fee, but generally speaking, this is one of the best ways to clear your debt.

To understand why this is the case, you need to know how credit card interest works. If you have a debt of $20,000 with a variable APR rate of 20% and a minimum monthly payment of $500, you’ll repay the debt in 67 months at a cost of over $13,000 in interest.

If you move that debt to a card with a balance transfer offer of 0% APR for 12 months, and you continue to meet the $500 minimum payment, you’ll repay $5,000 and reduce the debt to $15,000. From that point on, you’ll have a smaller balance to clear, less interest to worry about, and can clear the debt completely in just a few more years.

Of course, the transfer fee will increase your balance somewhat, but this fee is minimal when compared to the money you can save. The same applies to the annual fee that these cards charge and, in many cases, you can find cards that don’t charge an annual fee at all. 

You can even find no-fee balance transfer cards, although these are rare. The BankAmericard credit card once provided a no fee transfer offer to all applicants, in addition to a $0 annual fee. However, they changed their rules in 2018 and made the card much less appealing to the average user.

Pros and Cons of Credit Card Balance Transfers

From credit score and credit limit issues to a high variable APR, late fees, and cash advance fees, there are numerous issues with these cards. However, there are just as many pros as there are cons, including the fact that they can be one of the cheapest and fastest ways to clear debt.

Pro: 0% Introductory APR

The 0% APR on balance transfers is the best thing about these credit cards and the reason they are so beneficial. However, many cards also offer 0% APR on purchases. This means that if you continue to use your card after the transfer has taken place, you won’t be charged any interest on the new credit.

With most cards, the 0% APR on purchases runs for the same length of time as the balance transfer offer. This ensures that all credit you accumulate upon opening the account will be subject to the same benefits. Of course, accumulating additional credit is not wise as it will prolong the time it takes you to repay the debt.

Pro: Can Still Get Cash Rewards

While cash rewards are rare on balance transfer cards, some of the better cards still offer them. Discover It is a great example of this. You can earn cash back every time you spend, even after initiating a balance transfer. The cash rewards scheme is one of the best in the industry and there is also a 0% APR on balance transfers during an introductory period that lasts up to 18 months.

Pro: High Credit Limit

A balance transfer card may offer you a high credit limit, one that is large enough to cover your credit card debt. You will need a good credit score to get this rate, of course, but once you do your credit card debt will clear, you can repay it, and then you’ll have a card with a high credit limit and no balance.

Throw a rewards scheme into the mix (as with the Discover It rewards card) and you’ll have turned a dire situation into a great one.

Con: Will Reduce Credit Score

A new account opening won’t impact your credit score as heavily as you may have been led to believe. In fact, the impact of a new credit card or loan is minimal at best and any effects usually disappear after just a few months. However, a balance transfer card is a different story and there are a few ways it can impact your score.

Firstly, it could reduce your credit utilization ratio. This is the amount of credit you have compared to the amount of debt you have. If you have four credit cards each with a credit limit of $20,000 and a debt of $10,000 then your score will be 50%. If you close all of these and swap them for a single card where your credit limit matches your debt, your score will be 100%.

Your credit utilization ratio points for 30% of your total FICO score and can, therefore, do some serious damage to your credit score.

Secondly, although FICO has yet to disclose specifics, a maxed-out credit card can also reduce your score. By its very nature, a balance transfer card will be maxed out or close to being maxed out, as it’s a card opened with the sole purpose of covering this debt.

Finally, if you close multiple accounts and open a new one, your account age will decrease, thus reduce your credit score further.

Con: Transfer Free

The transfer fee is a small issue, but one worth mentioning, nonetheless. This is often charged at between 3% and 5% of the total balance, but there are also minimum amounts of between $5 and $10, and you will pay the greater of the two.

This can sound like a lot. After all, for a balance transfer of $10,000, 5% will be $500. However, when you consider how much you can save over the course of the introductory period, that fee begins to look nominal.

There may also be an annual fee to consider, but if your score is high enough and you choose one of the cards listed in this guide, you can avoid this fee.

Con: Late Fees and Other Penalties

In truth, all credit cards will charge you a fee if you’re late and you will also be charged a fee every time you make a cash advance. However, the fees may be higher with balance transfer cards, especially if those cards offer generous benefits and rewards elsewhere. It’s a balancing act for the provider—an advantage here means a disadvantage there.

Con: High APR on Purchases

While many balance transfer cards offer a 0% APR on purchases for a fixed period, this rate may increase when the introductory period ends. The resulting variable APR will often be a lot larger than what you were paying before the transfer, with many credit cards charging over 25% or more on purchases.

Which Credit Cards are Best for Clearing Credit Card Debt?

Many credit card issuers have some kind of balance transfer card, but it’s worth remembering that credit card companies aren’t interested in offering these cards to current customers. You’ll need to find a new provider and if you have multiple cards with multiple providers, that can be tricky. 

Run some comparisons, check the offers against your financial situation, and pay close attention to late fees, APR on purchases, cash rewards, and the length of the 0% introductory APR rate. 

You’ll also need to find a card with a credit limit high enough to cover your current debt, and one that accepts customers with your credit score. This can be tricky, but if you shop around, you should find something. If not, focus on increasing your credit score before seeking to apply again.

Here are a few options to help you begin your search for the most suitable balance transfer card:

Discover It

  • Balance Transfer Offer: 18 Months
  • Transfer Fee: 3% on transfers
  • Purchases APR: 0% for 6 months
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Rate: Up To 24.49% Variable APR
  • Rewards: Yes

Chase Freedom Unlimited

  • Balance Transfer Offer: 15 Months
  • Transfer Fee: 5% on transfers
  • Purchases APR: 0% for 15 months
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Rate: Up To 25.24% Variable APR
  • Rewards: Yes

Citi Simplicity

  • Balance Transfer Offer: 21 Months
  • Transfer Fee: 5% on transfers
  • Purchases APR: 0% for 12 months
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Rate: Up To 26.24% Variable APR
  • Rewards: No

Bank of America Cash Rewards

  • Balance Transfer Offer: 15 Months
  • Transfer Fee: 3% on transfers
  • Purchases APR: 0% for 15 months
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Rate: Up To 25.49% Variable APR
  • Rewards: No

Capital One Quicksilver

  • Balance Transfer Offer: 15 Months
  • Transfer Fee: 3% on transfers
  • Purchases APR: 0% for 15 months
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Rate: Up To 25.49% Variable APR
  • Rewards: No

Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express

  • Balance Transfer Offer: 15 Months
  • Transfer Fee: 3% on transfers
  • Purchases APR: 0% for 15 months
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Rate: Up To 25.49% Variable APR
  • Rewards: No

Capital One SavorOne

  • Balance Transfer Offer: 15 Months
  • Transfer Fee: 3% on transfers
  • Purchases APR: 0% for 15 months
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Rate: Up To 25.49% Variable APR
  • Rewards: Yes

How to Clear Debt with a Balance Transfer Card

From the point of the account opening to the point that the introductory period ends, you need to focus on clearing as much of the balance as possible. Don’t concern yourself with a variable APR rate, annual fee or other issues and avoid additional APR on purchases by not using the card. Just put all extra cash you have towards the debt and reduce it one step at a time.

Here are a few tips to help you clear debt after you transfer a balance:

Meet the Monthly Payment

First things first, always meet your minimum payment obligations. The 0% APR on balance transfers protects you against additional interest, but it doesn’t eliminate your repayments altogether. If you fail to meet these payments, you could find yourself in some serious hot water and may negate the balance transfer offer.

Increase Payment Frequency

It may be easier for you to repay $250 every two weeks as opposed to $500 every month. This will also allow you to use any extra funds when you have them, thus preventing you from wasting cash on luxury purchases and ensuring it goes towards your debt.

Earn More

Ask for a pay rise, take on a part-time job, work as a freelancer—do whatever it takes to earn extra cash during this period. If you commit everything you have for just 12 to 18 months you can get your troublesome debt cleared and start looking forward to a future without debt and complications, one where you have more money and more freedom.

Sell Up

It has never been easier to sell your unwanted belongings. Many apps can help you with this and you can also sell on big platforms like Facebook, eBay, and Amazon. 

Sell clothes, electronics, books, games, music—anything you no longer need that could earn you a few extra dollars. It all goes towards your debt and can help you to clear it while your introductory APR is active.

Don’t Take out a Personal Loan

While you might be tempted to use a loan to cover your debt, this is never a good idea. You should avoid using low-interest debt to replace high-interest debt, even if the latter is currently under a 0% introductory APR. 

It’s easy to get trapped in a cycle of swapping one debt for another, and it’s a cycle that ultimately leads to some high fees and even higher interest rates.

Focus on the Bigger Picture

Debt exists because we focus too much on the short-term. Rather than dismissing the idea of buying a brand-new computer we can’t afford, we fool ourselves into believing we can deal with it later and then pay for it with a credit card. This attitude can lead to persistent debt and trap you in an inescapable cycle and it’s one you need to shed if you’re going to transfer a balance.

Instead of focusing on the short term, take a look at the bigger picture. If you can’t afford it now, you probably can’t afford it later; if you can’t repay $10,000 worth of debt this year, you probably can’t handle $20,000 next year.

Alternatives to Credit Card Balance Transfers

If you have the cash and the commitment to pay your credit card debt, a balance transfer card is perfect. However, if you have a low credit score and use the card just to accumulate additional debt and buy yourself more time, it will do more harm than good. In that case, debt relief may be the better option.

These programs are designed to help you pay your debt through any means possible. There are several options available and all these are offered by specialist companies and providers, including banks and credit unions. As with balance transfer cards, however, you should do your research in advance and consider your options carefully before making a decision.

Pay More Than the Minimum

It’s an obvious and perhaps even redundant solution, but it’s one that needs to be mentioned, nonetheless. We live in a credit hungry society, one built on impulsive purchases and a buy-now-care-later attitude. A balance transfer card, in many ways, is part of this, as it’s a quick and easy solution to a long and difficult problem. And like all quick patches, it can burst at the seams if the problem isn’t controlled.

The best option, therefore, is to try and clear your debts without creating any new accounts. Do everything you can to increase your minimum payment every month. This will ensure that you pay more of the principal, with the minimum payment covering your interest obligations and everything else going towards the actual balance.

Only when this fails, when you genuinely can’t cover more than the minimum, should you look into opening a new card.

Debt Consolidation

Balance transfers are actually a form of debt consolidation, but ones that are specifically tailored to credit card debt. If you have multiple types of debt, including medical bills, student loans, and personal loans, you can use a consolidation loan to clear it.

This loan will pay off all of your debts and then give you a new one with a new provider. The provider will reduce your monthly payment and may even reduce your interest rate, allowing you to pay less and to feel like you’re getting a good deal. However, this is at the expense of a greatly increased loan term, which means you will pay considerably more over the duration of the loan.

As with everything else, a debt consolidation loan is dependent on you having a good credit score and the better your financial situation is, the better the loan rates will be.

Debt Management

Debt management can help if you don’t have the credit history required for debt consolidation. Debt management plans are provided by companies that work with your creditors to repay your debts in a way that suits you and them. You pay the debt management company, they pass your money on, and in return, they request that you abide by many strict terms and conditions, including not using your credit cards.

Many debt management programs will actually request that you close all but one of your credit cards and only use that one card in emergencies. This can greatly reduce your credit score by impacting your credit utilization ratio. What’s more, if you miss any payments your creditors may renege on their promises and revert back to the original monthly payments.

Debt Settlement

The more extreme and cheaper option of the three, but also the riskiest. Debt settlement works well with sizeable credit card debt and is even more effective if you have a history of missed payments, defaults or collections. A debt specialist may request that you stop making payments on your accounts and instead put your money into a secured account run by a third-party provider.

They will then contact your creditors and negotiate a settlement amount. This process can take several years as they’re not always successful on the first attempt but the longer they wait, the more desperate your creditors will become and the more likely they will be to accept a settlement.

Debt settlement is one of the few options that allows you to pay all your debt for much less than the original balance. However, it can harm your credit score while these debts are being repaid and this may impact your chances of getting a mortgage or a car loan for a few years.

Credit Card Balance Transfers is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com