Tag Archive Student Loans

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

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

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

Mint Money Audit: Making the Most of a Side Hustle

This week’s Mint audit introduces us to Selena, 48, a mom of two living in San Antonio, Texas. She is a community college director and her husband, 51, is a full-time graphic designer who also manages a booming side hustle in the same industry.

Selena and her husband have already achieved some impressive financial accomplishments, thanks to tracking their finances on Mint, leveraging coupons and shopping at thrift stores. They’ve paid off $52,000 in student loans and invested in a piece of land next door for $26,000, which they believe has appreciated by nearly 40% since purchasing it a few years ago.

But with retirement looming and two children (currently ages 9 and 12) to possibly put through college, Selena wants to learn about additional money moves that could better prepare them for future expenses. She would also love to pay off the family’s 30-year mortgage before she retires in the next 10 to 12 years. Currently they’re on track to pay it down by 2030.

First, a breakdown of their finances:

NET INCOME

  • Hers: $56,000
  • His: $40,000 plus an additional $40,000 in freelance work
  • Total: $136,000 per year

DEBT

  • Just paid off student loans and a property loan (for the lot next door)
  • Credit Card Debt: $0
  • Mortgage: $163,000 (Monthly payment, including real estate tax, is $1,985)
  • Car note: $5,300 (should be paid off within the year)

RETIREMENT SAVINGS

  • Selena’s teacher pension: Roughly $5,000 per month at retirement if she retires in 12 years ($3,800 if she retires in 6 years).
  • Various IRAs between the two of them: $65,000
  • Estimated social security payments: $2,500 to $3,000 (combined)
  • Husband does not have a 401(k)

RAINY DAY SAVINGS

In an emergency, the family has at least six months of expenses saved up or roughly $35,000.

COLLEGE SAVINGS

Selena and her husband haven’t specifically saved for their children’s college education. They’re concerned that a 529-college savings plan might limit their children’s options, if they didn’t choose to attend a traditional college program.

Recommendations

Leverage the Side Hustle

All in all, I think the family’s finances are in solid shape. But if they’re interested in further securing their future, I would suggest investing the annual side hustle income (which currently sits in a bank account earning no interest) to advance retirement savings and carve out an account for their two children.

Starting that side hustle was a very smart money move because it effectively boosted the family’s net income by 40%. And according to Selena, the business, which they operate out of their living room, is only growing, with profits expected to grow another 30% in the future.

Income from side hustles is how I managed to pay off debt in my 20’s and boost savings. Today, it’s more prevalent among working Americans. More than 44 million Americans have a side revenue stream, according to a recent survey by Bankrate. “Having a side hustle is fiscally responsible,” says Susie Moore, founder of the program Side Hustle Made Simple and the new book, “What If It Does Work Out: How a Side Hustle Can Change Your Life.” “It’s an economic hedge that mitigates disruption to wealth building and future planning. There is no such thing as a fixed income,” she says.

So, let’s do some math and see how far this $40,000 per year side revenue stream can go using a compound interest calculator.

Retirement

The couple’s retirement nest egg is not too shabby. Not including their existing IRAs, the couple has about $8,000 a month coming to them in retirement between social security and Selena’s pension. That amount, alone, basically replaces their current full-time income. (And I do recommend Selena wait 12 years before retiring so that she can take advantage of the maximum pension payment.)

But with all the uncertainty around social security and future health care costs, it can’t hurt to save a little more, right? By placing $6,500 in a Roth IRA each year for the next, say, 15 years (Selena’s husband can qualify for the catch-up contribution since he is 5- years old), they’ll have an additional $142,000 for retirement that won’t be subject to taxes. This assumes an average annual return of 4%. They can open a Roth IRA at any bank.

Future Savings for Children

While a 529 plan may not be the best fit for this family, Selena still would like to carve out savings for her kids’ future endeavors, be it to start a business or attend an alternative school. For this, I’d recommend opening a 5-year certificate of deposit or CD and placing $25,000 in it this year. The going yield right now for a 5-year CD at that deposit level is averaging a little more than 2%.

Then, every year, as income rolls in from the side hustle, create a new 5-year CD and deposit $25,000 in it. Do this for the next four or five years. All CDs will have matured by the time her youngest is starting college (or pursuing something else). And they’ll have at least $100,000 plus interest reserved for their kids. If they do choose to go to college, the family’s prepared to help pay for in-state tuition at one of the fine Texas universities.

Mortgage Payoff

After funding the Roth IRA each year ($6,500) and the annual CD contribution ($25,000), the family’s left with $8,500. They could choose to put this toward the mortgage principal to knock a few years off their payoff schedule. Or, they may want to just hold onto it for that annual family vacation. And if I’m being honest, I’d say, go for the vacation! They deserve it!

The post Mint Money Audit: Making the Most of a Side Hustle appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

ByCurtis Watts

3 Ways to Change Your Relationship with Money

Most people have a love-hate relationship with money. When you’ve got cash to spend, you feel fantastic. You can do whatever you want, go wherever you like, and there’s no worries in your mind. However, when your cash flow starts to dwindle, your entire outlook suddenly goes sour. The high of having cash can mean that you even end up spending it too quickly, so you end up putting yourself in a more difficult situation long-term. Changing your relationship with cash can be one of the first steps to ensuring that you have more of it in your future. If you can take a more positive approach to the way you handle your finances, you’ll be less likely to end up in debt. So, how can you change your relationship with money?

Do Your Research

Most people struggle with their financial freedom because they don’t actively pay attention to the way that they’re spending money. You sign up for essential things like gas and electric and continue paying the same bill for months without checking whether you could be getting a better deal elsewhere. Actually doing your research and making sure that you’re not missing out on opportunities to save will ensure that you can discover some quick wins for your cash flow. You could even find that you can get out of debt a lot faster and make a huge difference to your savings account by refinancing your existing student loans and similar debts into a loan with a private lender. One small change can make a big difference. 

Automate Your Savings

Do you find it hard to stop yourself from spending every penny you earn each month? You’re not alone. A lot of people who have a difficult relationship with money discover that it’s difficult for them to just have cash sitting in their bank accounts. That’s why it’s so important to find an easier way to convince yourself to save. One good option is to open a separate savings account where you can transfer a portion of your earnings every month. You can automate this process by setting up a direct debit to ensure that the cash leaves your account at the same time that you get your wages each month. This means that the next time you check your bank balance, you won’t be tempted to save the cash that should be going to savings. 

Educate Yourself

Finally, stop avoiding the opportunity to learn more about money and how it works. Most of us feel so uncomfortable talking about cash that we barely even look at our bank statements. However, only by examining your spending habits can you determine where the best options are for you to make some significant changes. Be willing to develop a better knowledge of how money works, and how you’re using it. It’s also helpful to learn everything you can about things that can make you more money long-term, like investing in stocks and shares, or setting up savings accounts with extra interest.

3 Ways to Change Your Relationship with Money is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.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.

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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

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

ByCurtis Watts

How I Paid Off $38,000 In Student Loan Debt In 7 Months

How I Paid Off $38,000 In Student Loan Debt In 7 MonthsLately, I have received many questions asking how I was able to pay off my student loans so quickly. I haven’t talked much about my student loans since I paid them off in July of 2013, but I know many struggle with their student loan repayment plan each and every day.

Due to this, it is a topic I am always happy to cover. Paying off your student loans is a wonderful feeling and I want to help everyone else experience the same.

 

Background on my student loans.

To start off, I am going to provide a quick background on my student loans.

I worked full-time all throughout college. I worked as a retail manager from when I was a teenager until I graduated with my two undergraduate degrees (I was a double major). Then, I was lucky and found a financial analyst position right when I graduated. I took around six months off from college, then I went back to get my Finance MBA, all while still working full-time and building my business.

Even though I worked full-time, I didn’t really put any money towards my student loan debt while I was in college.

Instead, I spent money on ridiculous things like going to my favorite Mexican restaurant WAY too many times each week and spending money on clothing that I didn’t need.

I didn’t have a realistic budget back then, at least not a good one. I didn’t think about my student loan repayment plan at all either!

So, when I finished my Finance MBA, I finally came to terms with the fact that I needed to start getting real about my student loans. I had six months after the day I graduated with my Finance MBA until my student loans would come out of deferment.

I knew I had to create an action plan to get rid of my student loans.

And that’s when I took a HUGE gulp and decided to add up the total of what I owed.

After adding all of my student loans together, I realized I had $38,000 in student loan debt. No, this might not be as much as some of the crazy stories you hear out there where others have hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of student loan debt, but I wasn’t exactly near the average of what others owed either. I also wasn’t happy because I kept thinking about how I had been working full-time for many years, yet I didn’t even put a dent on my student loans.

After totaling what I owed, I decided to buckle down and start my debt payoff near the end of 2012.

I ended up finishing paying off my student loans in early July of 2013, which means it took right around seven months for me to pay them off completely.

It’s still something I cannot believe is true. I always thought I would have student loans hanging over my head for years, so I am extremely grateful that I was able to eliminate them so quickly.

Now, you may be wondering “Well, how do I do the same?” Or you might even be thinking that it’s not possible for you.

However, I believe you CAN do the same and that it IS possible for you.

For some, it might take longer to pay off your student loans or it might even take less. It depends on how much you owe, how much time you can spend on making more money, and honestly, it also depends on how bad you want it.

Related tip: I highly recommend SoFi for student loan refinancing. You can lower the interest rate on your student loans significantly by using SoFi which may help you shave thousands off your student loan bill over time.

Related content: How Do Student Loans Work?

Here are my tips to pay off your student loans quickly:

 

Do you know how much student loan debt you have?

Like I said above, the first thing that made me jumpstart my student loan repayment plan was the fact that I took the time to add up how much student loan debt I had.

It shocked me so much that I probably wanted to throw up. That’s good though because it can be a good source of motivation for most people. I know it was for me!

When you add up your student loans, do not just take a guess. Actually pull up each student loan and tally everything down to the exact penny.

I highly recommend that you check out Personal Capital (a free service) if you are interested in gaining control of your financial situation. Personal Capital is very similar to Mint.com, but 100 times better as it allows you to gain control of your investment and retirement accounts, whereas Mint.com does not. Personal Capital allows you to aggregate your financial accounts so that you can easily see your financial situation, your cash flow, detailed graphs, and more. You can connect accounts such as your mortgage, bank accounts, credit card accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, and more, and it is FREE.

 

Understand your student loans.

There are many people out there who do not fully understand their student loans. There are many things you should do your research on so that you can create the best student loan repayment plan.

This mainly includes:

  • Your interest rate. Some student loans have fixed interest rates, whereas others might have variable rates. You’ll want to figure out what the interest rate on your loans are because that may impact the student loan repayment plan you decide on. For example, you might choose to pay off your student loans that have the highest interest rates first so that you can pay less money over time.
  • Student loan reimbursements. Some employers will give you money to put towards your student loans, but you should always do your research when it comes to this area. Some employers will require that you work for them for a certain amount of time, you have great grades, good attendance, and they might have other requirements as well. There are many employers out there who will pay your student loans back (fully or partially), so definitely look into this option.
  • Auto-payments. For most student loans, you can probably auto-pay them and receive a discount. Always look into this as you may be able to lower your interest rate by 0.25% on each of your student loans.

 

Create a budget.

If you don’t have one already, then you should create a budget immediately.

First, include your actual income and expenses for each month. This will help show you how much money you have left over each month and how much money should be going towards your student loan debt each month.

 

Cut your budget to create a quicker student loan repayment plan.

The next step is to cut your budget so that you can have a better student loan repayment plan. Even though you may have just created a budget, you should go through it line by line and see what you really do not need to be spending money on.

There’s probably SOMETHING that can be cut.

You might not have even realized it until after you wrote down exactly how much money you were shoveling towards nonsense until now. However, now is better than never!

We worked towards cutting our budget as much as we could. I can’t remember exactly how much we cut it by, but I know that it was enough to where I felt like I was putting a dent in my student loans.

Even if all you can cut is $100 each month, that is much better than nothing. That’s $1,200 a year right there!

Side note: If you are still in college, I highly recommend that you check out Campus Book Rentals. It allows you to get your text books for cheap. I almost ALWAYS rented my text books and it saved me a ton of money!

 

Earn more money as a part of your student loan repayment plan.

The month I paid off my student loans was a month where I earned over $11,000 in extra income. While this does sound crazy, I did start off by making just $0 in extra income. Everyone has to start somewhere.

Even if $11,000 a month isn’t possible for you, I’m sure something is. If you can make an extra $1,000 a month in extra income, that can help you knock out your student loans in no time.

Related articles:

  • 75+ Ways To Make Extra Money
  • 10 Ways To Make Money Online From The Comfort of Your Home
  • 10 Things I’ve Done To Make Extra Money
  • Ways To Make An Extra $1,000 A Month
  • How to Earn Extra Income Part 1

 

Pay more than the minimum payment each month.

The point of all of the above is to help you pay off your student loans. However, you can always go a little bit further and pay off your student loans more quickly. The key to this is that you will need to pay more than the minimum each month for you to speed up your student loan repayment plan process.

It may sound hard, but it really doesn’t have to be. Whatever extra you can afford, you should think about putting it towards your student loans. You may be able to shave years of your student loans!

How much student loan debt do you have? What’s your student loan repayment plan?

The post How I Paid Off $38,000 In Student Loan Debt In 7 Months appeared first on Making Sense Of Cents.

Source: makingsenseofcents.com