Monthly Archives: October 2016

Should Know About Debunking 10 Budget Myths

The closest many people get to budgeting is depositing their paychecks into their checking accounts and buying everything with an ATM card until the money’s gone.

While there are certain advantages to this method, such as not incurring credit card debt, there are also major disadvantages, such as not quite knowing where all that money is going and not contributing enough to your savings because there’s never anything left over.

Even though budgeting is a wonderful tool for managing your finances, many people think it’s not for them. The logic they use, however, is often flawed. Below is a list of 10 budget myths that stop people from saving as much as they could – and should. Do any of these budgeting myths apply to you?

I Don’t Need to Budget
The truth is, almost everyone, even those with large paychecks and plenty of money in the bank, can benefit from budgeting. Keeping track of your monthly income and expenses allows you to make sure your hard-earned money is being put to its highest and best purpose. For example, if you knew how much money you were spending on restaurant meals every month, you might decide that you’d rather be putting that money toward something else, like a nicer vacation.

I’m Not Good at Math so I Can’t Manage My Money
Thanks to budgeting software, you don’t have to be good at math, you simply have to be able to follow instructions. Many of these programs are free and can be safely downloaded without fear of viruses or spyware from CNET’s download.com. If you know how to use spreadsheet software, you can even make your own budget. It’s as simple as creating one column for your income, another column for your expenses and keeping a running tab on the difference between the two.

My Job is Secure
No one’s job is truly secure. If you work for a corporation, downsizing or losing your job is always a looming possibility. If you work for a small company, these concerns may not apply, but if the owner died suddenly, the company might die with the owner. You should always be prepared for a job loss by having at least three months’ worth of living expenses in the bank. It’s a lot easier to accumulate this money if you know how much money you’re bringing in and laying out each month.

Government-Sponsored Unemployment Pay Will Tide Me Over
Unemployment benefits are not a sure thing. Let’s say a bad situation at work leaves you with no choice but to quit your job. Because you weren’t laid off, leaving your job will be considered voluntary and it’s very unlikely you’ll receive any benefits. It won’t help if you decide to remedy this problem by getting yourself fired, as those who are let go for bad behavior are also very unlikely to receive unemployment assistance. On top of that, getting fired will make it harder for you to get a new job.

It Won’t Happen to Me
We all think that unexpected high bills and tragedies won’t happen to us. With the number of things that can possibly go wrong in life, hoping for the best is the most logical emotional survival tactic. However, you might lose your job, be in a car accident, get cancer or need to help a friend or family member who falls on hard times. It’s best to be prepared and hope that you’ll get to use the money for something fun one day instead.

I Don’t Want to Deprive Myself
Budgeting is not synonymous with spending as little money as possible or making yourself feel guilty about every purchase. The crux of budgeting is to make sure you’re able to save a little each month, ideally at least 10% of your income, or at the very least, to make sure that you aren’t spending more than you earn. Unless you’re on a very tight budget (and we all are sometimes), you’ll still be able to buy baseball tickets and go out to eat. Tracking your expenses doesn’t change the amount of money you have available to spend every month, it just tells you where that money is going.

I Don’t Want Anything Big so I Don’t Need to Save
This one is tricky. If you don’t have any major savings goals to buy a house, a new car or to save enough money to quit your day job and take a stab at starting your own business, it’s hard to drum up the motivation to stash away extra cash each month. However, your situation and your attitudes are likely to change over time. Perhaps you don’t want to save up for a house because you live in New York City and expect that renting will be the most affordable option for the rest of your life. But in five years, you might be sick of the Big Apple and decide to move to rural Vermont. Suddenly, buying a home becomes more affordable and you might wish you had five years’ worth of savings in the bank for a down payment.

As another example, many people thought home ownership would be forever out of reach when the housing bubble was pushing prices ever higher, so they gave up on the idea of owning a home. After the bubble burst and prices sank, however, those who previously couldn’t even afford condos sometimes had the income to afford houses. Even FHA loans require a down payment, though, so those who saved their extra money when prices were high put themselves in a great position to buy when prices dropped.

Any Money I Save Would Just be Used for Education
Yes, the catch-22 of student financial aid is that the more money you have, the less financial aid you’ll be eligible for. That’s enough to make anyone wonder if it isn’t better to just spend it all and have nothing in the bank in order to qualify for the maximum amount of grants and loans.

When you apply for federal student aid such as the Stafford Loan, Perkins Loan or Pell Grant, you will fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Whether you are an adult student going back to school or the parent of a student headed to college, this form does not require you to report the value of your primary residence (if you own a home) or the value of your retirement accounts. This means that if you want to save money without compromising your financial aid eligibility, you can do so by using your savings to buy a house, prepay your mortgage or contribute more money to your retirement accounts. The savings you put into these assets can still be accessed in the event of an emergency, but you won’t be penalized for them. Paying down credit card debt and auto loans can also serve as a form of saving that won’t detract from your financial aid eligibility. Just think of all that interest you won’t have to pay when your balances go down or are even paid off completely.

Another issue is that even if you employ all the legal strategies available to you to maximize your financial aid eligibility, you still won’t always qualify for as much aid as you need, so it’s not a bad idea to have your own source of funds to make up for any shortfall in the aid you’re offered.

I’m Debt-Free
While being debt-free is unusual and commendable, it won’t pay your bills in an emergency. A zero balance is better than a negative balance, but that zero can quickly become negative if you don’t have a safety net.

I Always Get a Raise or Tax Refund
It’s never a good idea to count on unpredictable sources of income. Your company may not have enough money to give you a raise, or as much of a raise as you’d hoped for, even if you’ve earned it. The same is true of bonus money. Tax refunds are more reliable, but this depends in part on how good you are at calculating your own tax liability. Some people know how to figure to the penny how much of a refund they will get (or how much they will owe) as well as how to adjust this figure through changes in payroll withholding throughout the year. Others find W-4 forms, 1040s and tax tables incomprehensible and April is always a surprise. You might be expecting a $1,000 refund only to find that you’re getting $300 – or worse, that you owe.

Solutions
If you’re still not convinced that budgeting is for you, here’s a way to protect yourself from your own spending habits. Set up an automatic transfer from your checking account to a savings account you won’t see (i.e., a savings account at a different bank from your checking account) that is scheduled to happen right after you get paid. If you are saving for retirement, you may have the option of contributing a regular, set amount to a 401(k) or other retirement savings plan. This way, you’ll always pay yourself first, you’ll always have enough money for the transfer and you’ll always pay yourself the same predetermined amount that you know will help you meet your goals. If you don’t think you have the discipline for budgeting, this is your best bet.

However, a better solution is to make this automatic contribution in conjunction with starting a budgeting spreadsheet or using budgeting software. This way, you won’t run into any unpleasant surprises, like your checking account balance reaching zero when your car insurance is due and you don’t get paid for another week.

Some Ways To Prepare For A Personal Financial Crisis

he thought of being hit with a major negative event that could affect your finances, like a job loss, illness or car accident, can keep anyone awake at night. But the prospect of something expensive, and beyond your control, happening becomes less threatening if you’re properly prepared. This article will describe 10 steps you can take to minimize the impact of a personal financial crisis.
TUTORIAL: Budgeting Basics

1. Maximize Your Liquid Savings
Cash accounts like checking, savings and money market accounts, as well as certificates of deposit (CD) and short-term government investments, will help you the most in a crisis. You’ll want to turn to these resources first, because their value doesn’t fluctuate with market conditions (unlike stocks, index funds, exchange traded funds (ETFs) and other financial instruments you might have invested in). This means you can take your money out at any time without incurring a financial loss. Also, unlike retirement accounts, you won’t face early withdrawal penalties or incur tax penalties when you withdraw your money – one exception is CDs, which usually require you to forfeit some of the interest you’ve earned if you close them early.

Don’t invest in stocks or other higher-risk investments until you have several months’ worth of cash in liquid accounts. How many months’ worth of cash do you need? It depends on your financial obligations and your risk tolerance. If you have a major obligation, like a mortgage or a child’s ongoing tuition payments, you might want to have more months’ worth of expenses saved up than if you’re single and renting an apartment. A three-month expense cushion is considered a bare minimum, but some folks like to keep six months or even up to two years’ worth of expenses in liquid savings to guard against a long bout of unemployment.

2. Make a Budget
If you don’t know exactly how much money you have coming in and going out each month, you won’t know how much money you need for your emergency fund. And if you aren’t keeping a budget, you also have no idea whether you’re currently living below your means or overextending yourself. A budget is not a parent – it can’t and won’t force you to change your behavior – but it is a useful tool that can help you decide if you’re happy with where your money is going and with where you stand financially.

3. Prepare to Minimize Your Monthly Bills
You might not have to do it now, but be ready to start cutting out anything that is not a necessity. If you can quickly get your recurring monthly expenses as low as they can be, you’ll have less difficulty paying your bills when money is tight. Start by looking at your budget and see where you might currently be wasting money. For example, are you paying a monthly fee for your checking account? Explore how to switch to a bank that offers free checking. Are you paying $40 a month for a landline you never use? Learn how you might cancel it, or switch to a lower rate emergency-only plan if you needed to. You might find ways you can start cutting your costs now just to save money.

For example, are you in the habit of letting the heater or air conditioner run when you’re not home, or leaving lights on in rooms you aren’t using? You may be able to trim your utility bills. Now might also be a good time to shop around for lower insurance rates and find out if you can cancel certain types of insurance (like car insurance) in the event of an emergency. Some insurance companies might give you extension, so look for the steps involved and be prepared.

4. Closely Manage Your Bills
There’s no reason to waste any money on late fees or finance charges, yet families do it all the time. During a crisis of a job loss, you should be extra studious in this area. Simply being organized can save you a lot of money when it comes to your monthly bills – one late credit card payment per month could set you back $300 over the course of a year. Or worse, get your card canceled in a time when you might need it as a last resort.

Set a date twice a month to review all your accounts so you don’t miss any due dates. Schedule electronic payments or mail checks so your payment arrives several days before it is due. This way, if a delay occurs, your payment will probably still arrive on time. If you’re having trouble keeping track of all your accounts, start compiling a list. When your list is complete, you can use it to make sure you’re on top of all your accounts and to see if there are any accounts you can combine or close. (Involuntary unemployment credit card insurance may help if you’re laid off, but it may just help your credit card company, check out Insuring A Credit Card Against Job Loss.)

5. Take Stock of Your Non-Cash Assets and Maximize Their Value
Being prepared might include identifying all of your options. Do you have frequent flyer miles you can use if you need to travel? Do you have extra food in your house that you can plan meals around to lower your grocery bills? Do you have any gift cards you can put toward fun and entertainment, or that you can sell for cash? Do you have rewards from a credit card that you can convert to gift cards? All of these assets can help you lower your monthly expenses, but only if you know what you have and use it wisely. Knowing what you have can also prevent you from buying things you don’t need.

6. Pay Down Your Credit Card Debt
If you have credit card debt, the interest charges you’re paying every month probably take up a significant portion of your monthly budget. If you make it a point to pay down your credit card debt, you will reduce your monthly financial obligations and put yourself in a position to start building a nest egg, or be able to build one more quickly. Getting rid of interest payments frees you to put your money toward more important things.

7. Get a Better Credit Card Deal
If you’re currently carrying a balance, it could really help you to transfer that balance to another card with a lower rate. Paying less interest means you can pay off your total debt faster and/or gain some breathing room in your monthly budget. Just make sure that the savings from the lower interest rate are greater than the balance transfer fee. If you’re transferring your balance to a new card with a low introductory APR, aim to pay off your balance during the introductory period, before your rate goes up.

8. Look for Ways to Earn Extra Cash
Everyone has something they can do to earn extra money, whether it’s selling possessions you no longer use online or in a garage sale, babysitting, chasing credit card and bank account opening bonuses, freelancing or even getting a second job. The money you earn from these activities may seem insignificant compared to what you earn at your primary job, but even small amounts of money can add up to something meaningful over time. Besides, many of these activities have side benefits – you might end up with a less cluttered house or discover that you enjoy your side job enough to make it your career.

9. Check Your Insurance Coverage
In step three, we recommended shopping around for lower insurance rates. If you’re carrying too much insurance or if you could be getting the exact same coverage from another provider for the same price, these are obvious changes you can make to lower your monthly bills. That being said, having excellent insurance coverage can prevent one crisis from piling on top of another. It’s also worth making sure that you have the coverage you really need, and not just a bare minimum. This applies to policies you already have as well as to policies you may need to purchase. A disability insurance policy can be indispensable if you sustain a significant illness or injury that prevents you from working, and an umbrella policy can provide coverage where your other policies fall short.

10. Keep Up with Routine Maintenance
If you keep the components of your car, home and physical health in top condition, you can catch and problems while they’re small, and avoid expensive repairs and medical bills later. It’s cheaper to have a cavity filled than to get a root canal, easier to replace a couple of pieces of wood than to have your house tented for termites and better to eat healthy and exercise than end up needing expensive treatments for diabetes or heart disease. You might think that you don’t have the time or money to deal with these things on a regular basis, but they can create much larger disruptions of your time and your finances if you ignore them.

Conclusion
Life is unpredictable, but if there’s anything you can do to stave off disaster, it’s to be prepared and be careful. With the right preparation, you can prevent a financial crisis from ever becoming a crisis and only have to deal with a temporary setback.

Simple Financial Tips For Young Adults

Unfortunately, personal finance has not yet become a required subject in high school or college, so you might be fairly clueless about how to manage your money when you’re out in the real world for the first time.

To help you get started, we’ll take a look at eight of the most important things to understand about money if you want to live a comfortable and prosperous life.

Learn Self-Control

If you’re lucky, your parents taught you this skill when you were a kid. If not, keep in mind that the sooner you learn the fine art of delaying gratification, the sooner you’ll find it easy to keep your finances in order. Although you can effortlessly purchase an item on credit the minute you want it, it’s better to wait until you’ve actually saved up the money. Do you really want to pay interest on a pair of jeans or a box of cereal?

If you make a habit of putting all your purchases on credit cards, regardless of whether you can pay your bill in full at the end of the month, you might still be paying for those items in 10 years. If you want to keep your credit cards for the convenience factor or the rewards they offer, make sure to always pay your balance in full when the bill arrives, and don’t carry more cards than you can keep track of.

Take Control of Your Own Financial Future

If you don’t learn to manage your own money, other people will find ways to (mis)manage it for you. Some of these people may be ill-intentioned, like unscrupulous commission-based financial planners. Others may be well-meaning, but may not know what they’re doing, like Grandma Betty who really wants you to buy a house even though you can only afford a treacherous adjustable-rate mortgage.

Instead of relying on others for advice, take charge and read a few basic books on personal finance. Once you’re armed with personal finance knowledge, don’t let anyone catch you off guard – whether it’s a significant other that slowly siphons your bank account or friends who want you to go out and blow tons of money with them every weekend. Understanding how money works is the first step toward making your money work for you.

Know Where Your Money Goes

Once you’ve gone through a few personal finance books, you’ll realize how important it is to make sure your expenses aren’t exceeding your income. The best way to do this is by budgeting. Once you see how your morning java adds up over the course of a month, you’ll realize that making small, manageable changes in your everyday expenses can have just as big of an impact on your financial situation as getting a raise.

In addition, keeping your recurring monthly expenses as low as possible will also save you big bucks over time. If you don’t waste your money on a posh apartment now, you might be able to afford a nice condo or a house before you know it.

Start an Emergency Fund

One of personal finance’s oft-repeated mantras is “pay yourself first.” No matter how much you owe in student loans or credit card debt, and no matter how low your salary may seem, it’s wise to find some amount – any amount – of money in your budget to save in an emergency fund every month.

Having money in savings to use for emergencies can really keep you out of trouble financially and help you sleep better at night. Also, if you get into the habit of saving money and treating it as a non-negotiable monthly “expense,” pretty soon you’ll have more than just emergency money saved up: you’ll have retirement money, vacation money and even money for a home down payment.

Don’t just sock away this money under your mattress; put it in a high-interest online savings account, a certificate of deposit or a money market account. Otherwise, inflation will erode the value of your savings.

Start Saving for Retirement Now

Just as you headed off to kindergarten with your parents’ hope to prepare you for success in a world that seemed eons away, you need to prepare for your retirement well in advance. Because of the way compound interest works, the sooner you start saving, the less principal you’ll have to invest to end up with the amount you need to retire and the sooner you’ll be able to call working an “option” rather than a “necessity.”

Company-sponsored retirement plans are a particularly great choice because you get to put in pre-tax dollars and the contribution limits tend to be high (much more than you can contribute to an individual retirement plan). Also, companies will often match part of your contribution, which is like getting free money.

Get a Grip on Taxes

It’s important to understand how income taxes work even before you get your first paycheck. When a company offers you a starting salary, you need to know how to calculate whether that salary will give you enough money after taxes to meet your financial goals and obligations. Fortunately, there are plenty of online calculators that have taken the dirty work out of determining your own payroll taxes, such as Paycheck City. These calculators will show you your gross pay, how much goes to taxes and how much you’ll be left with, which is also known as net, or take-home pay.

For example, $35,000 a year in New York will leave you with around $26,399 after taxes without exemptions in 2016, or about $2,200 a month. By the same token, if you’re considering leaving one job for another in search of a salary increase, you’ll need to understand how your marginal tax rate will affect your raise and that a salary increase from $35,000 a year to $41,000 a year won’t give you an extra $6,000, or $500 per month – it will only give you an extra $4,144, or $345 per month (again, the amount will vary depending on your state of residence). Also, you’ll be better off in the long run if you learn to prepare your annual tax return yourself, as there is plenty of bad tax advice and misinformation floating around out there.

Guard Your Health

If meeting monthly health insurance premiums seems impossible, what will you do if you have to go to the emergency room, where a single visit for a minor injury like a broken bone can cost thousands of dollars? If you’re uninsured, don’t wait another day to apply for health insurance; it’s easier than you think to wind up in a car accident or trip down the stairs.

You can save money by getting quotes from different insurance providers to find the lowest rates. Also, by taking daily steps now to keep yourself healthy, like eating fruits and vegetables, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, not smoking, not consuming alcohol in excess, and even driving defensively, you’ll thank yourself down the road when you aren’t paying exorbitant medical bills.

Guard Your Wealth

If you want to make sure that all of your hard-earned money doesn’t vanish, you’ll need to take steps to protect it. If you rent, get renter’s insurance to protect the contents of your place from events like burglary or fire. Disability-income insurance protects your greatest asset – the ability to earn an income – by providing you with a steady income if you ever become unable to work for an extended period of time due to illness or injury.

If you want help managing your money, find a fee-only financial planner to provide unbiased advice that’s in your best interest, rather than a commission-based financial advisor, who earns money when you sign up with the investments his or her company backs. You’ll also want to protect your money from taxes, which is easy to do with a retirement account, and inflation, which you can do by making sure that all of your money is earning interest through vehicles like high-interest savings accounts, money market funds, CDs, stocks, bonds and mutual funds.