Tag Archive Main

ByCurtis Watts

2020 Business and Life Review

Welcome to my 2020 Business and Life Review!

Usually, I separate my travel and business annual review content into two separate blog posts, but this year I’ve decided to combine it into one.

2020 was a different kind of year, and I’m sure nearly everyone would agree with that statement.

It was a tough year for a lot of people, and I completely understand.

I feel very grateful for the life that I get to live, but it was a hard year for me as well. I lost two important family members in my life, my grandma as well as my dog who was my best friend for almost 14 years.

 

Family

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to include this section in this life update, as I’m also talking about travel and business, and honestly, it just seems odd to have it all in one.

I went back and forth so many times, and I’m still unsure of it.

But, it just doesn’t seem right to me to not include it, as this is all a part of my life.

Good and bad things happen, and will happen throughout a person’s lifetime.

I do feel guilty writing about the passings of two of my favorites, and at the same time also writing about business and travel. Anyways…

Me and my grandma around 4 years ago.

My grandma passed away in the summer of 2020. She passed away at the age of 97.

I spent a lot of time growing up with my grandma, as she watched us everyday after school when we were kids and lived in Chicago.

She lived in the building just behind us, so I saw her all the time.

She didn’t speak much English (and I don’t speak Korean), although she took daily/weekly English classes even in her old age so that she could at least make hand gestures and talk to us as best as she could.

I remember as a kid, she would make me plain ramen (with no seasoning!) and I was always so confused as to why she would throw the seasoning packet away and make it taste bland. But I couldn’t tell her easily because I didn’t know how to tell her in Korean. After months of eating noodles in plain water, I figured out how to tell her. She thought it was weird that I liked watery noodles but she made it because she thought I liked it, haha. That is a story that always makes me laugh.

She was also a world traveler, and went to so many amazing places.

Also the kindest woman ever, and she was so great to us. I will forever miss her.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

 

This picture was taken about one week before she passed away.

My favorite girl passed away – Sailor. My best friend, the sweetest sweetie pie, the best adventure buddy, passed away in December of 2020.

We adopted Sailor when she was just two months old. I had just turned 18 about a week earlier, and just graduated from high school. Wes and I were moving in together (we were crazy kids), and decided to adopt a puppy that a friend was trying to find a home for.

Shortly after, I found out that my dad had brain and lung cancer, and that he did not have much time left. Sailor was there through all of the tears and sadness (I leaned heavily on her), and always brought me joy.

She has climbed some of the tallest mountains in the U.S., sailed to many islands, and been to some of the most scenic spots around.

It was very sudden, and before she could get to a vet (the vet was actually on her way to the boat). The vet thinks it may have been a fast moving cancer, as she didn’t show signs of it when she was just at the vet shortly before.

I’m still processing what this means as she was such a huge and beautiful part of my life for the past almost 14 years.

I am heartbroken and miss her so much. I was dreading this time for awhile, as I knew she was getting older, and it’s been much harder than I could have ever imagined.

Now, I’m not really sure how to transition to the next section, but below I will be switching to my travel and business review for 2020.

Like it was for nearly everyone – 2020 was a weird year, full of highs and lows.

 

Hanging out during lockdown on the boat in Puerto Rico.

Travel in 2020

2020 started with us in the Exumas in the Bahamas. We have spent a decent amount of time in the Bahamas the past couple of years on our boat, and it’s an amazing place to be, especially on a boat!

We then sailed to the Dominican Republic in February and spent around a month. We saw whales, went up the only cable car in the Caribbean (and it goes up around 2,500 feet!), rented a car and drove around the country, and more.

Then, we sailed to Puerto Rico in March. Shortly after we arrived, the lockdown started, and it was very strict. It has loosened since, but the first several months they had some of the strictest rules in the world. You could only grocery shop on certain days according to your license plate, you weren’t allowed to go outside (not even to let your dog use the bathroom), and more.

We had planned on hopping down the island chain and spending hurricane season in Grenada, but everything changed.

We stayed in Puerto Rico for around 3 months, pondering our next move.

Since we live on a boat, we had to figure something out, as hurricane season was approaching and we are not allowed to stay in the “Hurricane Box” during hurricane season because of our boat insurance policy.

So, we had two options, sail to Grenada or sail to the U.S. The sail to Grenada would have been about 3 days.

We decided to sail to the U.S. as we weren’t sure what the state of the world would be like, especially after being in such a strict lockdown for 3 months in Puerto Rico. Plus, we wanted to be outside of the Hurricane Box, and if you’re going north then that means heading all the way back to the U.S. Also, we had a lot of boat work that we needed to get done, so going to Annapolis seemed like an easy choice.

It was a 1,300 nautical mile sail and took us 9 days. It was our longest passage, and it was just me, Wes, and our two dogs. Our highest speed was 14.5 knots, and we hit 12 and 13 quite often. We caught fish, saw a submarine, dealt with Tropical Storm Bertha, and more. Our dogs did amazingly well on the passage, and it was a wonderful time.

We spent several months in Annapolis, Maryland for hurricane season and got a ton of work done on SV Paradise, including a major electrical refit. We can now run everything off of our lithium batteries and our solar, including running the watermaker, our washer/dryer, water heater, and more. Since I know I’ll be asked, the company we used for our electrical refit was Marine Electric Systems in Annapolis, and I highly recommend them.

Hurricane season ended in November, and then we’re required by insurance to head south to avoid winter weather on our boat. We did some offshore hops and we’re now in sunny Florida!

We’re not sure what we’ll be doing in 2021, but decisions have to be made eventually because hurricane season comes every year. We have a few ideas but I won’t be sharing anything just yet – you’ll just have to wait and see! 🙂

Fortunately, we’re fairly off-grid and self-sufficient on SV Paradise, so we can safely live on our boat, even in a time like this.

Note: If you want to follow my travels and life more, please follow me on Instagram. 

 

2020 Business Year In Review

2020 was definitely a weird year for businesses.

Many businesses failed, while many others thrived. Working from home and/or starting your own small business is now at an all-time high as well.

I am very grateful for the business that I get to run, and I am excited to grow it well into the future.

While I no longer disclose exact income numbers due to privacy reasons (and so that I, as well as others, don’t feel the need to “keep up” with others), income was at a good level in 2020.

Here’s what my income has looked like in the past:

  • In 2013, my business income totaled $116,519. This was the year that I quit my job to blog full-time.
  • In 2014, it totaled $163,929. This was my first full year of being self-employed with no day job.
  • In 2015, I made $320,888. I think this was the year where I fired all of my freelance clients and started just working on my blog. This helped me to grow my income significantly because I was FOCUSED!
  • In 2016, I made $979,321. This is the year where I created my first product (Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing).
  • In 2017, I earned $1,536,732.
  • In 2018, I earned over $1,500,000 (I stopped disclosing exact numbers in 2018).

It’s crazy to think that I have now been blogging for over nine years. What started as a fun little blog with no goals (I was even anonymous!), has turned into a great business for me.

If you want to start a blog of your own, I have a free How To Start a Blog Course.

2020 was a weird year, as we all know.

Even though I had a ton more free time due to lockdowns, I didn’t get as much work done as I had hoped. My mind was all over the place a lot of the time, which led to me wasting a lot of time.

But, I have heard that was normal for a lot of people for 2020. So, if you experienced the same – do not feel bad about yourself!

I didn’t take part in many interviews, didn’t release any new projects, and I was barely on social media. I really don’t know what I spent so much of my time on, to be honest.

Luckily, around 2019, I slowed down significantly when it came to working, and it helped tremendously. I wasn’t feeling burned out or anything with Making Sense of Cents. But, I knew that I needed to be more mindful of how I use my time online. I no longer want to be hooked to my laptop and phone for both personal and business social media browsing/blogging.

And, after several years of blogging full-time and spending 100+ hour weeks on my blog, it’s been nice to relax and focus on other areas of my life.

I will be completely honest – income did not grow in 2020 over 2019 – but it was still a great amount.

Thankfully, all of the hard work that I’ve put in over the past several years has paid off.

In case you are new to this blog, the main areas I earn a living from include:

  • Affiliate Marketing – This is the largest chunk of my income.
  • Sponsored Partnerships
  • Courses – Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing Course and Making Sense of Sponsored Posts
  • Display Advertising – I use Adthrive. Another great option is Mediavine.

Three articles that I recommend reading:

  • How I Successfully Built A $1,000,000+ Blog
  • How I’ve Made Over $1,000,000 From My First Course Without a Big Launch
  • 10+ Of The Best Free Blogging Resources

Thank you to all of my readers for being here with me on this journey! I’m so glad that I can share everything with you.

 

Anchored in Puerto Rico.

Affiliate marketing results in 2020.

Affiliate income was at a great level this past year.

Not much changed from the previous year, and everything is fairly passive when it comes to affiliate marketing income on Making Sense of Cents.

I am hoping to start ranking for more blog posts through SEO, which will hopefully increase my affiliate income further and grow my audience on Making Sense of Cents.

The areas that I am working on to improve my affiliate income include:

  • Planning out 2021 for affiliate offers. I’m not really much of a big planner, so this is something I’m always working on. This will help to keep me organized and better prepared.
  • Learning about SEO and applying techniques to my blog. This past guest post has made me super interested in taking SEO seriously – The exact template that helped my site earn $95,000 in affiliate income last year.
  • Continuing to improve and build a high-quality funnel. I want to have a high-quality funnel where I continue to give valuable information to my readers, and keep them happy for the times when I may not have the greatest wifi.
  • Continuing to grow the reach of Making Sense of Cents. Traffic has been a little stuck lately, and I want to change that! I want to see what I can do to grow the traffic, as that will help me to reach new readers.
  • Analyzing popular blog posts to see how they can be improved for the future.
  • Seeking out new affiliate products to promote, and seeing what else my audience is interested in.

If you want to learn more about affiliate marketing, I recommend getting the free guide 10 Easy Tips To Increase Your Affiliate Income. With this time-saving cheat sheet, you’ll learn how to make affiliate income from your blog. These tips will help you to rapidly improve your results and increase your blogging income in no time.

 

Sponsored partnership results in 2020.

Sponsored partnerships were great in the first few months of 2020. But, when the world’s events hit in March, things slowed down drastically. This is because companies were waiting to see how everything would play out.

But, in the summer of 2020, it all picked up like crazy.

I had so many offers in my email inbox that I actually had to turn good offers down.

I believe that 2021 will be a great year for sponsored partnerships, and I already have many lined up for the year.

Plus, the first few months of each year are usually the best for me, as that’s when advertisers tend to be looking for a lot of bloggers.

You can learn more about sponsored partnerships in my free guide 8 Easy Tips To Make Money From Sponsored Posts On Your Blog.

 

Hiking in Puerto Rico (before the lockdown).

Goals for 2021.

I’m hoping that 2021 will be the year of growth for both myself and Making Sense of Cents.

After taking much of 2019 off, and a lot of 2020, I’m ready to get back to it for 2021.

My goals for 2021:

  1. Grow Making Sense of Cents. I’d like to grow in terms of readers and income, and there are two main things that I plan on doing in order to help with that (see #2 and #3 below)
  2. Get featured in the media more. I’m currently taking a course on this subject and I’ll be sharing more information on it soon! In the meantime, you can sign up for the freebie –  2021 Publicity Calendar – This contains 179 story ideas, dates, and hooks to help you create endless media attention and buzz! If you want to get featured in magazines and popular websites, this is something that you will definitely want to sign up for.
  3. See growth from SEO. I took an SEO course that I really enjoyed, and ever since then I have been soaking up all of the SEO knowledge that I can. I am hoping that 2021 is the year of explosive growth from SEO for Making Sense of Cents. The free course I recommend taking is The SEO Starter Pack (FREE Video Training).
  4. Get at least three months ahead on Making Sense of Cents posts. I’m currently around 3 months ahead in content, and I’d like to continue the streak that I am on.
  5. Be more present. My main goal in 2021 (just like with previous years) is to be more present.
  6. Read 5 books. I have only read one book lately that wasn’t work or sailing/boat-educational related. I would like to get back to reading books that have nothing to do with trying to learn something, haha.
  7. Start learning a new language. I know I won’t be fluent, but I’d love to learn a new language. I took 3-4 years of French in high school, and that’s the one I’m trying to learn right now through Duolingo. It’s a good language to learn when sailing about the world, so wish me luck!
  8. Learn how to dive. We would possibly like to add scuba equipment to our sailboat so that we can explore the water further as we sail about the world. So, that means I actually have to learn how to do it. This is definitely a huge goal of mine for this year!

I hope you enjoyed this 2020 year in review blog post. It’s always interesting putting these types of blog posts together so that I can reflect on the previous year.

And, it’s nice to take a look at it once this next coming year is over as well.

How was 2020 for you? What questions do you have for me? Share in the comments below!

The post 2020 Business and Life Review appeared first on Making Sense Of Cents.

Source: makingsenseofcents.com

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

What to Know Before Taking Out a Subsidized Loan

Attending college or university is a dream for a ton of people. Yet higher education can be expensive, seemingly putting that dream out of reach for many students and families.

Tuition at American schools has steadily increased for decades, so it can be hard for your average student to afford it. But it’s not only tuition costs that you need to consider: fees, room and board, off-campus living, meal plans, textbooks, living essentials and other supplies all cost money.

Fortunately, there are many different types of financial aid available to help you meet the total costs of attending school.

Grants, scholarships and government programs can all be used to aid your pursuit of higher education. Student loans, including private and federal loans, are also commonly used to fund college. But taking on debt requires more financial planning than other types of aid.

If you’re ready to find the right loan for you and your unique financial situation, we’ve got you covered. We’ll go over everything and anything we think you need to know about subsidized student loans—the basics, how they’re different from unsubsidized loans and much more. 

Student Loans and Rising Education Costs

Having a plan for how you’ll pay for college is pretty important. That’s mostly because the tuition continues rise: 

  • According to The College Board, tuition and fees for a public four-year institution in the academic year of 1989–90 were $3,510, in 2019 dollars. 
  • For the academic year 2019–2020, those costs exceeded $10,000. In the same time span, tuition and fees for a private four-year institution rose from $17,860 to nearly $37,000. 
  • In the last 10 years alone, tuition and fees for four-year public schools have increased $2,020, while costs for four-year private schools have grown $6,210. 

But as we mentioned, total costs include a lot more than tuition, and these other cost items have shown the same upward trend:

  • Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows college textbooks costs increased 88% from 2006 to 2016.
  • Average dorm costs at all postsecondary institutions were $6,106 in 2017, per data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Boarding costs, including meal plans, were $4,765. A decade earlier those costs, respectively, were $4,777 and $4,009.
  • Costs rose 24% for students living off-campus at public four-year universities between 2000 and 2017, according to The Hechinger Report.

The growth in college costs has occurred rapidly, outpacing wagegrowth. This has made a degree unaffordable for many. That’s where student loans come in.

The biggest source of these loans is the federal government. According to Sallie Mae, more than 90% of student loan debt today is tied to federal student loans. While the government offers several loan types, often based on financial need, private lenders such as banks and credit unions also make student loans available.

Find the right student loan for you today!

What is a Subsidized Loan?

To better understand your loan options, let’s explore the specifics of one of the government’s most popular offers: the subsidized student loan.

Officially, a subsidized loan is a type of federal loan offered through the U.S. Department of Education’s Direct Loan Program and referred to as a Direct Subsidized Loan. They are made exclusively to undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need and can be used to pay for college, university or a career school.

Subsidized loans work like most other student loans. They allow college goers to borrow money as they learn, paying the principal and interest back later. Most loans don’t require repayment while you attend school, and provide a grace period of six months after graduation for you to find a job. 

The most notable feature of subsidized loans is that the government pays the interest while you attend school at least part time. This is a quality that’s pretty much unique to federal subsidized loans. 

The government will also pay the interest during the grace period and during periods of loan deferment. You eventually assume responsibility for paying the interest, and principal, once you enter the repayment plan. 

The bottom line for subsidized loans is they carry a lower lifetime cost, because the government pays interest while you’re at school.

Who’s Eligible to Take Out a Subsidized Loan?

Subsidized loans aren’t available to everyone, however. In addition to meeting basic requirements for getting a loan from the federal Direct Loan Program, applicants for subsidized loans must:

  • Demonstrate financial need.
  • Be an undergraduate student.
  • Be enrolled at least half time.

Anyone considering a subsidized loan must fill out and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. This is how the government will establish whether you demonstrate financial need that is sufficient for taking out a subsidized loan.

What Else Should You Know?

There are two other main points to discuss about subsidized loans—loan limits and time limits. Ultimately, your school will decide how much you can borrow. But there are annual limits to what you can borrow through subsidized loans, as well as a maximum for the entirety of your college career.

  • In your first undergrad year you can borrow up to $5,500 through federal loan, no more than $3,500 of that amount can be through subsidized loans.
  • In your second year you can borrow up to $6,500, no more than $4,500 through subsidized loans.
  • In your third year you can borrow up to $7,500, no more than $5,500 through subsidized loans.
  • The limits for your third year apply to your fourth year, and any year after that for which you are eligible to borrow through federal subsidized loans.

Factors influencing what you can borrow include what year you are in school and whether you are a dependent or independent student. 

Importantly, you can only receive subsidized loans for 150% of the published time of your degree program. That means if you attend a four-year bachelor’s program, you can only receive a subsidized loan for six years.

What’s the Difference Between Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans?

Unsubsidized loans are the other type of loan the government offers. While unsubsidized loans and subsidized have some similarities, unsubsidized loans have some major differences.  

Interest rates for both subsidized and unsubsidized loans are controlled and set by Congress. This makes the interest rates for government student loans among the lowest you will be able to find.

While the federal government pays interest on subsidized loans, you’ll be solely responsible for paying interest on unsubsidized loans. You’ll have to pay interest while you’re in school and during the grace/deferment period.  Here are some other key differences:

  • Unsubsidized loans are available to undergraduate students, as well as graduate and professional students.
  • Students don’t need to demonstrate financial need to apply for an unsubsidized loan.
  • There is no maximum time limit for how long you can receive unsubsidized loans (compared to the 150% rule for subsidized loans).
  • Annual and aggregate loan limits are generally higher for unsubsidized loans.

Private Loans vs. Federal Student Loans

Interested in how private loans stack up to government loans? In a nutshell:

  • Private loans can have variable interest rates, which may make them lower in some cases than even fixed interest rates on government loans.
  • Annual loan limits don’t apply to private loans, as you and your lender will work out a package that is best for you.
  • Being approved for a private loan means submitting to a credit check, or having a parent as a consigner.
  • Often, private loans require payment while you attend school, and may not have the allowance for forbearance and forgiveness as government loans do.

Taking the Next Steps Toward Taking Out a Student Loan

If you or your child is nearing college age, it’s time to start thinking about how you’ll pay for higher education. It’s a good idea to look into a few options, including student loans, scholarships, grants and other sources. 

If you want to get started on applying for a subsidized loan, get started on your FAFSA form. And if you’re taking a closer look at private student loans, you can find help here.

Infographic outlining what to know about subsidized loans, including their structure, requirements, and qualifications.

The post What to Know Before Taking Out a Subsidized Loan appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

ByCurtis Watts

The 10 Best Vanguard Index Funds to Buy

If you don’t have the time, the money or the expertise to buy individual stocks or bonds to build your investment portfolio, then consider the best Vanguard index funds.

Index funds are a good way to start saving and investing for retirement.

One reason is because the chance of making more money investing in index funds is far higher than it is investing in individual stocks, especially if you are a beginner investor.

*TOP CIT BANK PROMOTIONS*
PROMOTIONAL LINK OFFER REVIEW
CIT Bank Money Market 1.00% APY Review
CIT Bank Savings Builder 0.95% APY Review
CIT Bank CDs 0.75% APY 1 Year CD Term Review
CIT Bank No Penalty CD 0.75% APY Review

As the master of value investing, Warren Buffett, once said “a low-cost index fund is the most sensible equity investment for the great majority of investors.” “By periodically investing in an index fund, the know-nothing investor can actually out-perform most investment professionals.”

But how do you find and choose among the best Vanguard index funds? Don’t worry, GrowthRapidly can help make your choice easier.

On this page:

Index funds vs mutual funds

Index funds are one of the easiest and cheapest ways to invest in the stock market. As opposed to a mutual fund, which is actively managed by a fund manager, index funds are passive.

This means that index funds attempt to track the performance of a particular index, such as the Standard & Poor’s 500 index of 500 large U.S. company stocks or the CRSP US Small Cap Index.

So, when you invest in the Vanguard S&P 500 Index fund (which we’ll discuss in more detail below), you’re essentially buying a piece of the 500 largest publicly traded US companies.

Index funds don’t jump around; they stayed invested in the market. Again, they simply track the performance of the stock index.

Related: What is a mutual fund?

Whereas with a mutual fund, fund managers might make mistake by not being invested when the market goes up or by being too aggressive when the market goes down.

That doesn’t mean mutual funds are not good investments. In fact, they are great investment vehicles. But when it comes to long term investments, index funds are the best. However, these 8 mutual funds are great for long term investing.

Like a mutual fund, you can buy an index fund through a fund company like Vanguard.

The main advantage of a Vanguard index fund is its low-cost, which is usually less than 1% annually. Another benefit of Vanguard index funds is that they are diversified. Like mutual funds, they invest to multiple companies, thus spreading out the risk.

One of the downside with index funds, however, is that they won’t outperform the market they track.

Get Matched With 3 Fiduciary Financial Advisors
Investing in the stock market can be intimidating and overwhelming. We recommend speaking with a financial advisor. The SmartAsset’s free matching tool will pair you with up to 3 financial advisors in your area.

Here’s how it works:

1. Answer these few easy questions about your current financial situation

2. In just under one minute, the tool will match you with up to three financial advisors based on your need.

3. Review the financial advisors profiles, interview them either by phone or in person, and choose the one that suits your’ needs.

Get Started Now>>>

Why choosing the best Vanguard index funds to invest your money?

There are thousands of fund companies (such as Fidelity, Schwab, JP Morgan) where you can buy index funds. Different companies have different experiences and expertise with different type of funds. So, it can be difficult to know which one is the best. 

Here are four main factors to consider when looking to buy the best index funds for long term investments: 

  • The company: Is it a reputable and well-known company with a great track record?
  • Fees: Another major factor to consider in picking a fund company is its cost. Excessive fees have a negative effect on your investment return. These fees are deducted from your index fund’s balance every year. Other fees can apply as well. So always find a company with a low fee. 
  • Reasonable minimum investment: Will you be able to invest with as little as $1000?
  • Performance: Although past performance does not guarantee future performance, look for a fund company with a strong record of performing well against its competitors over the short and long term as well.

If you are an intelligent investor who has done his or her research, you will conclude that among the various fund companies out there, Vanguard comes out on top.

Jack Bogle, who recently died and who founded the firm Vanguard Group, invented the index fund in 1976.

Today, Vanguard is one of the World’s biggest and the best investment funds with approximately $5.6 trillion in assets.

Moreover, Vanguard has the best index funds because of their ability to keep their operating fees so low. Vanguard has all types of stock and bond index funds and their fees are the lowest.

SAVINGS ACCOUNTCIT Savings Builder – Earn 0.85% APY. Here’s how it works: Make at least a $100 minimum deposit every month. Or Maintain a minimum balance of $25k. Member FDIC. Click Here to Learn More.

The advantages and disadvantages of Vanguard Index funds. 

Pros of the best vanguard index funds

By now, you know that an index fund is well diversified. But you might know these two other pros that make Vanguard index funds the best:

  • Good return: Vanguard index funds generally delivers a good return because their expenses are relatively low. The average Vanguard Index fund has an expense ratio of 0.2% per year (compare that to the average index fund operating expenses of 1.4% per year.) A 1.2% difference can be a significant difference on your return. Operating expenses are also lower because ongoing research is not needed to identify companies to invest in.
  • Tax-friendly: not only Vanguard index funds have lower operating expenses, which help increase your returns, they are also tax-friendlier when you invest outside of retirement accounts. Because a mutual fund is actively managed, they tend to jump around by selling and buying stocks more frequently. By doing that, it increases a fund’s taxable capital gains distribution. Whereas an index fund stays invested and not trying to jump around.

Cons of the best Vanguard index funds

Despite their low costs and tax-friendliness, their minimum investment while seem reasonable, might not be for the beginner investor with little money to invest.

Most Vanguard index funds requires a $3,000 minimum initial investment. Retirement account investors who plan on starting with less might be at a disadvantage.

Moreover, Vanguard has an overwhelming number of index funds to choose from. That can make it tedious for an investor to decide which ones are the best. But that’s why we have compiled the top Vanguard index funds for you.

The 10 Best Vanguard Index Funds to Buy in August 2020: 

Now that you know what an index fund is and why investing Vanguard index funds makes good sense, in no particular order, below are 10 of the best Vanguard index funds to add to your investment portfolio.

Vanguard S&P 500 Index Admiral (VFIAX)

Of all the Vanguard index funds in this list, the Vanguard S&P index fund, which tracks the Standard & Poor’s 500, is perhaps the best Vanguard index fund. One reason is that the fund invest in 500 of largest U.S. companies with a few a midsize stocks.

Some of the big name stocks in this index fund includes Apple (AAPL), Microsoft (MSFT), and Google/Alphabet (GOOGL). Another reason to select this fund is that the cost is pretty low, (0.04%) if not the lowest of all the index funds.

Index fund cost is an important factor in choosing an index fund to invest in, because fees are deducted from your balance and thus reduced your rate of returns. The last reason to invest in the VFIAX is because the initial minimum investment is also low ($3,000).

So if you’re looking for an index fund that maintains low operating expenses while enjoying a good rate of return, the Vanguard S&P 500 Index Admiral is for you.

Vanguard Developed Market Stock Index Admiral

For diversification, you should consider in your investment portfolio some index funds that invests in foreign countries. International funds are diversified because they invest in countries around the world. If so, the Vanguard Developed Market Stock Index Admiral fund (VTMGX) is a fine choice.

This Vanguard index fund tracks the performance of the FTSE Developed All Cap ex US Index. It invests in large cap stocks in 24 developed countries. Some of its several blue-chip multinational companies include the Toyota Motor Corp (7203), Royal Dutch Shell (RDS.A.), Nestle SA (NESN), making it one of the best Vanguard index funds.

This index fund has a minimum investment of $3,000 and an expense ratio of 0.07%.

Vanguard Emerging Markets Stock Index Admiral 

While Vanguard index funds invested in U.S. stocks tend to perform better than Vanguard index funds invested in emerging markets, emerging markets in Latin America, Asia, and Eastern Europe should not be overlooked.

If you don’t mind investing in emerging economies, consider checking out the Vanguard Emerging Markets Stock Index Admiral (VEMAX), which is currently one of the best Vanguard index funds to buy now.

In fact, some of the big name foreign companies included in this index fund are Alibaba Group Holding Ltd ADR (BABA), Tencent Holdings Ltd (TCEHY), Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd (2330.TW), and China Construction Bank Corp Class H (00939).

This investment attempts to track the performance of the FTSE Emerging Markets All Cap China Inclusion Index.

One of the downside of this index fund is that it has an expense ratio of 0.14%, but it still has a low minimum initial investment of $3,000.

Vanguard Total Stock Market Index (VTSAX)

The Vanguard Total Stock Market Index (VTSAX) is one of the best Vanguard index funds. It captures the total market.

That means it gives investors broad exposure to the entire U.S. equity market including large cap, mid cap and small cap growth and value stocks.

Some of the big name companies included in this Vanguard fund are: Facebook, Alphabet, JPMorgan Chase, Apple, and Microsoft.

This Vanguard index fund has an expense ratio of 0.04% and a minimum initial investment of $3,000.

So, if you’re looking for a well diversified Vanguard fund and don’t mind a little volatility, this index fund is for you.

Note that you can purchase this index fund as an ETF as well. It start at the price of one share.

Vanguard Mid-Cap Index Admiral

The Vanguard Mid-Cap Index Admiral fund (VIMAX), which tracks the CRSP U.S. Midcap Index, may be appropriate for you if you have a long term perspective.

That is because the index fund, which consists of midsize and smaller stocks, performs better in the long term rather than the short term, making it one of the best Vanguard index funds to include in your investment portfolio.

The fund targets midsize companies. The minimum investment is $3,000 with an operating expense of 0.05%.

So if you’re looking for a Vanguard index fund to use for retirement investing and you don’t expect to tap into your investment money for 10 years or more, the Vanguard Mid-Cap Index Admiral fund is for you.

Vanguard Small-Cap Index Admiral

The Vanguard Small-Cap Index Admiral (VSMAX), as the name suggests invests in stocks of smaller companies.

This index fund tracks the CRSP U.S. Small Cap Index. Some of its holdings include DocuSign, Inc (DOCU), Leidos Holdings Inc (LDOS), Tyler Technologies, Inc (TDY), Equity Lifestyle Properties, Inc (ELS), etc…

This index fund, just like the Vanguard Mid-Cap Index Admiral fund, tends to perform better in the long term. Therefore, invest in this Vanguard fund if you don’t plan to use your money within the next five years.

So if you’re looking for a broadly diversified index of stocks of small U.S. companies, the Vanguard Small-Cap Index Admiral is a good choice. This index fund has a minimum initial investment of $3,000 and an expense ratio of 0.05%. 

Vanguard Short-Term Corporate Index Admiral

If you want to invest in short term bonds to use your money in the next five years to buy a house, or if you plan to withdraw the money from your retirement account, then the Vanguard Short-Term Corporate Index Admiral fund (VSCSX) is for you.

This bond index fund tracks the performance of the Bloomberg Barclays U.S. 1-5 Year Corporate Bond Index.

While you shouldn’t expect a return of no more than 2 to 3% annually on this bond index fund, corporate bonds in general are safe, and this fund is pretty stable.

Because of this stability, this short-term bond index fund makes it an appropriate investment. The Vanguard Short-Term Corporate Index Admiral has an expense ratio of 0.07% expense and a minimum initial investment of $3000, making it one of the best Vanguard index funds around.

Vanguard High Dividend Yield ETF

The Vanguard High Dividend Yield ETF (VYM), as the name suggests, is a “dividend” fund. It attempts to track the performance of the FTSE High Dividend Yield Index.

This index ETF allows investors to earn dividend through growth companies. Some of the big companies with a strong record of paying dividends are AT&T, Intel, and Exxon Mobil.

As of 2/27/2020, this ETF has an expense ratio of 0.06%, making it one of the best Vanguard index funds for income. It starts at the price of one share.

So, if you’re looking for an index fund with the best long term investments growth potential, and you don’t mind the stock market volatility, this income-focused fund is appropriate for you.

Note that the Vanguard High Dividend Yield is also available as an Admiral share with a minimum investment of $3,000.

Vanguard Information Technology

Vanguard Information Technology Index Fund Admiral Shares (VITAX) is a sector fund. This investment attempts to track the performance of the MSCI US Investable Market/Information Technology 25/50.

Sector funds invest in stocks and/or bonds in specific industries. And the Vanguard Information Technology Index Fund, as the name suggests, focuses only on technology.

Generally, you should avoid sector funds mainly because they lack diversification. However, there is an exception with this Vanguard index fund. It focuses on technology, which makes it one of the best Vanguard funds.

In addition, this index is made up of stocks of large, mid-size, and small U.S. companies within the technology sector.

Nowadays, technology has shaped our daily lives. From computers, TVs, tablets, etc, everything is connected to the internet. Therefore, this means that there is and there will be continued growth in the years ahead.

The top companies included in this Vanguard fund are Apple, Microsoft, Visa, Adobe, PayPal, etc.

This index fund has an expense ratio of 0.10 %, but a minimum investment of $100,000. This can be high for the beginner investor.

However, this Vanguard index fund is available as an ETF, starting at the price of one share. 

Vanguard Real Estate

The Vanguard Real Estate Index Fund Admiral Shares (VGSLX) is another sector fund. It focuses on real estate investment trusts (REITs), which are companies that buy office buildings, hotels and other real estate properties.

This Vanguard fund seeks to track the performance of the MSCI US Investable Market Real Estate 25/50 index.

Just as any other sector funds, this Vanguard real estate index fund may lack diversification. So, it makes sense to have this index fund in conjunction with another a more broadly diversified Vanguard fund.

Despite the lack of diversification, however, this fund distributes higher dividend income than other funds, allowing it to be among the best Vanguard index funds for income.

This Vanguard fund has an expense ratio of 0.12%. It has a minimum initial investment of $3,000.

Note that this Vanguard fund is also available as an ETF, starting at the price of one share.

Final tips for buying the best Vanguard index funds

In general, index funds are a good investment vehicle to use. So whether you’re looking to invest money for retirement, or you’re looking to add diversification to your investment portfolio, these Vanguard index funds are a great choice for you. They are great quality funds. They produce superior returns comparing to other similar funds.

Indeed, the best Vanguard Index funds will not only save you money in fees throughout the years. But also, these low-cost index mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) will give you a wide exposure to different asset classes.

Speak with the Right Financial Advisor

  • If you have questions beyond knowing which of the best Vanguard index funds to invest, you can talk to a financial advisor who can review your finances and help you reach your goals (whether it is making more money, paying off debt, investing, buying a house, planning for retirement, saving, etc).
  • Find one who meets your needs with SmartAsset’s free financial advisor matching service. You answer a few questions and they match you with up to three financial advisors in your area. So, if you want help developing a plan to reach your financial goals, get started now.
*TOP CIT BANK PROMOTIONS*
PROMOTIONAL LINK OFFER REVIEW
CIT Bank Money Market 1.00% APY Review
CIT Bank Savings Builder 0.95% APY Review
CIT Bank CDs 0.75% APY 1 Year CD Term Review
CIT Bank No Penalty CD 0.75% APY Review

The post The 10 Best Vanguard Index Funds to Buy appeared first on GrowthRapidly.

Source: growthrapidly.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.
FROM THE MAKE MONEY FORUM
Passive Income Strategies
10/17/19 @ 9:00 PM
Theodora
Help
12/31/20 @ 1:55 PM
Losing everything
Need Help: Prices for Personized Poems
12/29/18 @ 8:07 PM
N
Mobile Apps
12/21/20 @ 4:02 PM
Jerry Young
See more in Make Money or ask a money question

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

Should You Refinance Your Student Loans?

Due to financial consequences of COVID-19 — and the broader impact on our economy — now is an excellent time to consider refinancing most loans you have. This can include mortgage debt you have that may be converted to a new loan with a lower interest rate, as well as auto loans, personal loans, and more.

Refinancing student loans can also make sense if you’re willing to transition student loans you currently have into a new loan with a private lender. Make sure to take time to compare rates to see how you could save money on interest, potentially pay down student loans faster, or even both if you took the steps to refinance.

Get Started and Compare Rates Now

Still, it’s important to keep a close eye on policies and changes from the federal government that have already taken place, as well as changes that might come to fruition in the next weeks or months. Currently, all federal student loans are locked in at a 0% APR and payments are suspended during that time. This change started on March 13, 2020 and lasts for 60 days, so borrowers with federal loans can skip payments and avoid interest charges until the middle of May 2020.

It’s hard to say what will happen after that, but it’s smart to start figuring out your next steps and determining if student loan refinancing makes sense for your situation. Note that, in addition to lower interest rates than you can get with federal student loans, many private student lenders offer signup bonuses as well. With the help of a lower rate and an initial bonus, you could end up far “ahead” by refinancing in a financial sense.

Still, there are definitely some negatives to consider when it comes to refinancing your student loans, and we’ll go over those disadvantages below.

Should You Refinance Now?

Do you have student loan debt at a higher APR than you want to pay?

  • If no: You shouldn’t refinance.
  • If yes: Go to next question.

Do you have good credit or a cosigner? 

  • If no: You shouldn’t refinance.
  • If yes:  Go to next question.

Do you have federal student loans?

  • If no: You can consider refinancing
  • If yes: Go to next question

Are you willing to give up federal protections like deferment, forbearance, and income-driven repayment plans?

  • If no: You shouldn’t refinance
  • If yes: Consider refinancing your loans.

Reasons to Refinance

There are many reasons student borrowers ultimately refinance their student loans, although they can vary from person to person. Here are the main situations where it can make sense to refinance along with the benefits you can expect to receive:

  • Secure a lower monthly payment on your student loans.
    You may want to consider refinancing your student loans if your ultimate goal is reducing your monthly payment so it fits in better with your budget and your goals. A lower interest rate could help you lower your payment each month, but so could extending your repayment timeline.
  • Save money on interest over the long haul.
    If you plan to refinance your loans into a similar repayment timeline with a lower APR, you will definitely save money on interest over the life of your loan.
  • Change up your repayment timeline.
    Most private lenders let you refinance your student loans into a new loan product that lasts 5 to 20 years. If you want to expedite your loan repayment or extend your repayment timeline, private lenders offer that option.
  • Pay down debt faster.
    Also, keep in mind that reducing your interest rate or repayment timeline can help you get out of student loan debt considerably faster. If you’re someone who wants to get out of debt as soon as you can, this is one of the best reasons to refinance with a private lender.

Why You Might Not Want to Refinance Right Now

While the reasons to refinance above are good ones, there are plenty of reasons you may want to pause on your refinancing plans. Here are the most common:

  • You want to wait and see if the federal government will offer 0% APR or forbearance beyond May 2020 due to COVID-19.
    The federal government has only extended forbearance through the middle of May right now, but they might lengthen the timeline of this benefit if you wait it out. Since this perk only applies to federal student loans, you would likely want to keep those loans at 0% APR for as long as the federal government allows.
  • You may want to take advantage of income-driven repayment plans.
    Income-driven repayment plans like Pay As You Earn (PAYE) and Income-Based Repayment let you pay a percentage of your discretionary income each month then have your loans forgiven after 20 to 25 years. These plans only apply to federal student loans, so you shouldn’t refinance with a private lender if you are hoping to sign up.
  • You’re worried you won’t be able to keep up with your student loan payments due to your job or economic conditions.
    Federal student loans come with deferment and forbearance that can buy you time if you’re struggling to make the payments on your student loans. With that in mind, you may not want to give up these protections if you’re unsure about your future and how your finances might be.
  • Your credit score is low and you don’t have a cosigner.
    Finally, you should probably stick with federal student loans if your credit score is poor and you don’t have a cosigner. Federal student loans come with fairly low rates and most don’t require a credit check, so they’re a great deal if your credit is imperfect.

Important Things to Note

Before you move forward with student loan refinancing, there are some details you should know and understand. Here are our top tips and some important factors to keep in mind.

Compare Rates and Loan Terms

Because student loan refinancing is such a competitive industry, shopping around for loans based on their rates and terms can help you find out which lenders are offering the most lucrative refinancing options for someone with your credit profile and income.

We suggest using Credible to shop for student loan refinancing since this loan platform lets you compare offers from multiple lenders in one place. You can even get prequalified for student loan refinancing and “check your rate” without a hard inquiry on your credit score.

Check for Signup Bonuses

Some student loan refinancing companies let you score a bonus of $100 to $750 just for clicking through a specific link to start the process. This money is free money if you’re able to take advantage, and you can still qualify for low rates and fair loan terms that can help you get ahead.

We definitely suggest checking with lenders that offer bonuses provided you can also score the most competitive rates and terms.

Consider Your Personal Eligibility

Also keep your personal eligibility in mind, including factors beyond your credit score. Most applicants who are turned down for student loan refinancing are turned away based on their debt-to-income ratio and not their credit score. Generally speaking, this means they owe too much money on all their debts when you compare their liabilities to their income.

Credible also notes that adding a creditworthy cosigner can improve your chances of prequalifying for a loan. They also state that “many lenders offer cosigner release once borrowers have made a minimum number of on-time payments and can demonstrate they are ready to assume full responsibility for repayment of the loan on their own.”

It’s Not “All or Nothing”

Also, remember that you don’t have to refinance all of your student loans. You can just refinance the loans at the highest interest rates, or any particular loans you believe could benefit from a different repayment term.

4 Steps to Refinance Your Student Loans

Once you’re ready to pull the trigger, there are four simple steps involved in refinancing your student loans.

Step 1: Gather all your loan information.

Before you start the refinancing process, it helps to have all your loan information, including your student loan pay stubs, in one place. This can help you determine the total amount you want to refinance as well as the interest rates and payments you currently have on your loans.

Step 2: Compare lenders and the rates they offer.

From there, take the time to compare lenders in terms of the rates they can offer. You can use this tool to get the process started.

#ap26878-ww{padding-top:20px;position:relative;text-align:center;font-size:12px;font-family:Lato,Arial,sans-serif}#ap26878-ww #ap26878-ww-indicator{text-align:right}#ap26878-ww #ap26878-ww-indicator-wrapper{display:inline-flex;align-items:center;justify-content:flex-end}#ap26878-ww #ap26878-ww-indicator-wrapper:hover #ap26878-ww-text{display:block}#ap26878-ww #ap26878-ww-indicator-wrapper:hover #ap26878-ww-label{display:none}#ap26878-ww #ap26878-ww-text{margin:auto 3px auto auto}#ap26878-ww #ap26878-ww-label{margin-left:4px;margin-right:3px}#ap26878-ww #ap26878-ww-icon{margin:auto;padding:1px;display:inline-block;width:15px;cursor:pointer}#ap26878-ww #ap26878-ww-icon img{vertical-align:middle;width:15px}#ap26878-ww #ap26878-ww-text-bottom{margin:5px}#ap26878-ww #ap26878-ww-text{display:none}

Ads by Money. We may be compensated if you click this ad.Ad

#ap26878-w-map{max-width:600px;margin:20px auto;text-align:center;font-family:”Lato”, Arial, Roboto, sans-serif}#ap26878-w-map #ap26878-w-map-title{color:#212529;font-size:18px;font-weight:700;line-height:27px}#ap26878-w-map #ap26878-w-map-subtitle{color:#9b9b9b;font-size:16px;font-style:italic;line-height:24px}#ap26878-w-map #ap26878-w-map-map{max-width:98%;width:100%;height:0;padding-bottom:65%;margin-bottom:20px;position:relative}#ap26878-w-map #ap26878-w-map-map svg{position:absolute;left:0;top:0}#ap26878-w-map #ap26878-w-map-map svg path{fill:#e3efff;stroke:#9b9b9b;pointer-events:all;transition:fill 0.6s ease-in, stroke 0.6s ease-in, stroke-width 0.6s ease-in}#ap26878-w-map #ap26878-w-map-map svg path:hover{stroke:#1261C9;stroke-width:2px;stroke-linejoin:round;fill:#1261C9;cursor:pointer}#ap26878-w-map #ap26878-w-map-map svg g rect{fill:#e3efff;stroke:#9b9b9b;pointer-events:all;transition:fill 0.6s ease-in, stroke 0.6s ease-in, stroke-width 0.6s ease-in}#ap26878-w-map #ap26878-w-map-map svg g text{fill:#000;text-anchor:middle;font:10px Arial;transition:fill 0.6s ease-in}#ap26878-w-map #ap26878-w-map-map svg g .ap00646-w-map-state{display:none}#ap26878-w-map #ap26878-w-map-map svg g .ap00646-w-map-state rect{stroke:#1261C9;stroke-width:2px;stroke-linejoin:round;fill:#1261C9}#ap26878-w-map #ap26878-w-map-map svg g .ap00646-w-map-state text{fill:#fff;font:19px Arial;font-weight:bold}#ap26878-w-map #ap26878-w-map-map svg g:hover{cursor:pointer}#ap26878-w-map #ap26878-w-map-map svg g:hover rect{stroke:#1261C9;stroke-width:2px;stroke-linejoin:round;fill:#1261C9}#ap26878-w-map #ap26878-w-map-map svg g:hover text{fill:#fff}#ap26878-w-map #ap26878-w-map-map svg g:hover .ap00646-w-map-state{display:initial}#ap26878-w-map #ap26878-w-map-btn{padding:9px 41px;display:inline-block;color:#fff;font-size:16px;line-height:1.25;text-decoration:none;background-color:#1261c9;border-radius:2px}#ap26878-w-map #ap26878-w-map-btn:hover{color:#fff;background-color:#508fc9}

Where will you be attending college?
Select your state to get started
HawaiiAlaskaFloridaSouth CarolinaGeorgiaAlabamaNorth CarolinaTennesseeRIRhode IslandCTConnecticutMAMassachusettsMaineNHNew HampshireVTVermontNew YorkNJNew JerseyDEDelawareMDMarylandWest VirginiaOhioMichiganArizonaNevadaUtahColoradoNew MexicoSouth DakotaIowaIndianaIllinoisMinnesotaWisconsinMissouriLouisianaVirginiaDCWashington DCIdahoCaliforniaNorth DakotaWashingtonOregonMontanaWyomingNebraskaKansasOklahomaPennsylvaniaKentuckyMississippiArkansasTexas

View Results

Step 3: Choose the best loan offer you can qualify for.

Once you’ve filled out basic information, you can choose among multiple loan offers. Make sure to check for signup bonus offers as well as interest rates, loan repayment terms, and interest rates you can qualify for.

Step 4: Complete your loan application.

Once you decide on a lender that offers the best rates and terms, you can move forward with your full student loan refinancing application. Your student loan company will ask for more personal information and details on your existing student loans, which they will combine into your new loan with a new repayment term and monthly payment.

The Bottom Line

Whether it makes sense to refinance your student loans is a huge question that only you can answer after careful thought and consideration. Make sure you weigh all the pros and cons, including what you may be giving up if you’re refinancing federal loans with a private lender.

Refinancing your student loans can make sense if you have a plan to pay them off, but this strategy works best if you create a debt repayment plan you can stick with for the long-term.

The post Should You Refinance Your Student Loans? appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

Source: goodfinancialcents.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

5 Online Learning Platforms to Help Bolster your Resume

Being a lifelong learner is one of the best ways to stay engaged in your job, whatever field you’re in.

There are a lot of ways to exemplify curiosity and a penchant for learning new skills: meeting regularly with your boss, attending professional development days and taking classes to hone a professional skill.

It has become more accessible and easier than ever to take courses to elevate your professional expertise. There are endless online resources to peruse, so it helps to be deliberate before diving in.

Julia Quirk, SPHR, a 10-year veteran of the HR industry and senior HR manager for TriSalus, recommends being practical and strategic about honing your professional talents.

“Look at the skills needed for your industry and the jobs you’re interested in,” said Quirk. “I recommend starting by first doing some research about what will actually be impressive to people in your career field, and then seeking out professional education opportunities from there.”

Quirk noted that digital classes and certifications are some of the best ways to boost your resume and grow in your current position. Here are some of her topic picks for online learning platforms.

1. Coursera

Coursera works with over 200 leading institutions and companies worldwide to provide courses on topics ranging from data science to personal improvement. Partners like Yale University, IBM and Google provide outlines for more than 3,900 courses.

Coursera is free to join and nearly all of its courses can be accessed at no cost. The catch here is that to take a course for free, you’ll be using the “audit” function, which means no grade and sometimes no official certificate is offered — but all the knowledge and coursework is. Some classes on Coursera are paid-only and will generally set you back about $50 per month.

Coursera also gives you the opportunity to see how a particular course benefited other students, breaking down what percentage of past students either started a new career after taking a course or got a tangible career benefit from it.

2. Google Skillshop

Google Skillshop is one of the classic online learning platforms. The technology behind Google Ads, Google Analytics and more is powerful, and mastering it can benefit nearly any line of work.

Google Skillshop provides learn-at-your-own-pace courses to help you become an expert in Google Ads, Google Analytics, Google Marketing Platform, Google My Business, Google Ad Manager, Google AdMob, Authorized Buyers, and Waze. All courses in the skillshop are free.

Most options are videos, slides and quick quizzes that build into a final assessment. A certificate is awarded to passing students and is usually valid for 12 months.

3. LinkedIn Learning

LinkedIn Learning (formerly Lynda.com) offers a free one-month trial before charging $30 a month as part of a larger LinkedIn Premium subscription.

LinkedIn Learning provides thousands of programs covering topics such as marketing tactics, mobile app development and how to use Photoshop. The courses are generally self-paced, with a LinkedIn Learning certificate awarded on completion that you can display on your LinkedIn profile.

And, with LinkedIn Learning, the classes are taught by top leaders from diverse backgrounds: Guy Kawasaki, Ben Long and David Rivers are just some of the highlights.

4. Online College Courses

One of the good things to come out of 2020 was the abundance of college courses made available for free online. While some universities have always offered a select few classes for no-cost online access, institutions like Yale and MIT expanded their libraries last year.

MIT offers free online programming not just on computer science, but also biology, race and ethics, accounting and more.

Yale also makes numerous introductory classes accessible to anyone with an internet connection. Last year, Yale made one of its most famous courses, the Science of Well-Being, available for free on Coursera. This class dives into the meaning of happiness.

Stanford is another university offering public access to many of its courses for free. The university breaks down its offerings into four main categories: Health and Medicine, Education, Engineering and Arts and Humanities.

It’s important to note that very few of these courses offer an official completion certificate or degree, but they’re still impressive to complete and are a strong addition to a resume. Other prestigious institutions like Harvard and Dartmouth also offer free online classes.

FROM THE MAKE MONEY FORUM
Passive Income Strategies
10/17/19 @ 9:00 PM
Theodora
Help
12/31/20 @ 1:55 PM
Losing everything
Need Help: Prices for Personized Poems
12/29/18 @ 8:07 PM
N
Mobile Apps
12/21/20 @ 4:02 PM
Jerry Young
See more in Make Money or ask a money question

5. Udemy

Udemy is an online learning platform specifically designed to help you bolster your professional skills. Although Udemy courses can range from $10 to $200, one resourceful way to access these classes is through your public library.

Hundreds of public libraries across the nation offer Udemy courses for no cost with just a library card. And if your public library doesn’t have a connection with Udemy, you may be able to get a digital library card elsewhere and still take part in all that Udemy has to offer.

Udemy offers more than 130,000 classes (boasting the world’s largest selection of courses) on topics like Python coding, piano playing and digital marketing.

When a course is complete, the student receives a digital badge and certificate they can affix to their LinkedIn profile (and that should be included on their hardcopy resume, too).

Shine a Spotlight on Your New Skills

Quirk offered some final advice about positioning these certificates and course completions on your resume: “Recruiters skim really fast,” she said. “Make it as easy as possible for recruiters to see the skills you have so they can line them up with the job description.”

Be sure to use keywords on your resume so screening software doesn’t pass you over.

Quirk advised putting the skills you gain from a course in the top part of your resume, but putting the actual course certifications lower down along with any other educational achievements.

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

How to Still Pay Your Bills During a Layoff or When You Miss A Check

The post How to Still Pay Your Bills During a Layoff or When You Miss A Check appeared first on Penny Pinchin' Mom.

More than 800,000 Americans are currently affected by the government shut down. And, while it would make sense to force our congressmen and senators to also not get paid during that time, it just won’t happen.

survive a layoff

Even though you may not be working and getting a paycheck, it doesn’t mean the bills stop.  You still need to feed your family and take care of yourself.

The truth is that a layoff or furlough can happen to anyone at any time. And, if you already struggle to live paycheck to paycheck, not getting paid will certainly increase your stress level.

WHAT DO DO IF YOU MISS A PAYCHECK

First off, if you aren’t getting paid, you need to take a deep breath. I know it is stressful and you are struggling, but it is all going to be OK.

Your first instinct may be to go take out a second mortgage or unsecured loan.  You might be tempted to get some additional credit cards.  And, that retirement account may be calling your name.

Don’t do that.

All you are doing is adding more stress by increasing your debt or tax liability.  Then, when you do start having paychecks again, you end up with more bills to pay.

It may be a short term fix, with long-term consequences.  Just don’t do it.

Go ahead and have a good cry.  Then, wipe your tears and create a plan.

 

1. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A BUDGET

If you don’t have a budget, there is no time like the present to make one.  A budget is not going to restrict you from spending money.  In fact, it is the opposite.

Your budget shows you where you spend your money.  And, more importantly, where you might be able to cut back. It could mean stopping your gym membership and not dining out.  It could even mean canceling your cable service.

A traditional budget will show the income you bring in.  But, if you don’t have any regular paychecks, how do you do this?  You make your budget with the money you do have.

Don’t include the amount you normally make, but rather, just the amount currently coming in.  If there is no money at all, then create your budget with the money you have on hand.  You need to get everything out of every penny you make.

Your budget is crucial to surviving a layoff, furlough or government shut down.

 

2. COVER YOUR NEEDS

If you look at your budget, there are wants and needs.  A want is cable.  A need is housing.  When there is no money coming in (or less than usual), you must cover your needs.   This means making sure you pay for:

Housing
Food
Clothing
Transportation

Look at your budget and cover these expenses first.  Don’t pay your cable bill if you can’t put food on the table.  Cable is not important right now, but you must feed your family.

Once you cover your basic needs pay other bills in order of importance.  Don’t worry about the credit card bills right now – but pay your utilities.

You can’t pay everyone.  There is no getting around that.  Pay those you need to in order to protect your family.

 

3. SELL THINGS

A simple way to generate some quick cash is to find things you do not need and sell them.  The added bonus is that you get a chance to clean out the basement or the garage.

Use sites such as LetGo or Craigslist to sell big items.  If you have clothing check out ThredUp or Poshmark.  There is always someone who needs something.

 

4. STOP PAYING OFF DEBT

If you are in the midst of getting out of debt, you’ll have to stop — for now.  Getting out of debt can’t be your priority at this time.  You have to make sure you are taking care of your family.

Once your income returns to normal levels, you can pick up your debt snowball right where you left off.  And, if that means the balance had to increase in the short term, so be it.

 

5.  CUT BACK

When you struggle financially, it’s time for some big changes.  The first thing to do is look at your food bill.  See what you can cut from your spending.  Do some searches on Pinterest for very cheap family meals that you can make.

You may also want to check out different grocery stores.  For example, if you live near an ALDI, make a trip there to shop.  You’ll find almost everything you need, at very low prices.  You aren’t sacrificing quality.  You are just making the most of every dollar you spend.

Take a deep look at your budget and get rid of things such as monthly subscriptions like Hulu, gyms, etc.  You can always start these up again when you increase your income.  Once your income returns, you get to add these back in.  These are temporary cut backs just to help you survive this time.

 

6.  MAKE SOME CALLS

It is important to reach out to all of your providers and lenders to let them know you are part of the government shut down, or in the midst of a layoff.  You don’t want to risk getting service shut down due to lack of payment.

While many of them may not be able to make any concessions, they might be able to give you an additional month to pay or not charge a late fee.  But, you will never know unless you ask.  What’s the worst thing that will happen?

Note that during the winter months, utility companies are not allowed to discontinue services, but they can during other times of the year.

 

7. GET A SIDE HUSTLE OR TEMPORARY JOB

When there is no money coming in, you’ve got to find a way to change that.  It may be time to add a side-hustle. It could mean working fast food or getting a job at Walmart.  You just have to find a way to bring in money during this short period of time.

If your layoff or furlough is temporary, you may not be able to get another job. It could be part of the terms of your employment, so it is not an option.  That means you need to try a side-hustle.  It might mean you are an Uber driver or even tutor kids.

 

8.  ASK FOR HELP

Check your local food pantry or church to ask for help.  These organization can provide food and even money to help cover your bills.   You may also have family members who are willing to help by paying for your groceries or covering your electric bill.  But, you have to ask.

You have a family to provide for, so you can’t let your pride get in the way of getting them what they need.

 

WHAT DO WHEN YOU START GETTING PAID AGAIN

Once you are back at work and your income is back to what it was previously, don’t just go back to your spending like before.  You don’t want to struggle again should you find yourself in this same situation.

The most important thing to do is to work on building your emergency fund.  The idea is to build it up to have at least 3 – 6 months worth of living expenses covered.  I know it sounds like a lot.  And, it probably is.

You won’t build it up all at once.  It will take time.  But, you can do things such as sell more items or get a second job.  Even if you start saving just $10 a week, you’ll have saved more than $500 in a year.

surviving a layoff

The post How to Still Pay Your Bills During a Layoff or When You Miss A Check appeared first on Penny Pinchin' Mom.

Source: pennypinchinmom.com