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A blog dedicated to providing readers information for all of life's financial decisions

4 Ways to Maximize Your Tax Refund

Maximize your tax refund

Expecting a tax refund? How will you make the most it?

If 2016 repeats taxpayers will likely park most of their refund in a savings account this year. The National Retail Federation or NRF found that nearly 50% of Americans planned to set aside their IRS checks in 2016.

It marked the highest percentage of savers in the survey’s history and possibly speaks to the fact that many Americans would not be able to cover a sudden rainy day expense. The Federal Reserve’s latest Economic Well Being study found that close to half (or 46%) of Americans would not be able to produce $400 in cash in an emergency.

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4 Awesome Alternatives to Pet Ownership

Last week was National Puppy Day, so no doubt your Instagram feed was filled with picture after picture of oversized-paws, pink tongues and floppy ears… all tagged #furbaby – amiright?

I can imagine if you want a pet, but don’t have one, it may tug at the heart strings a bit. But having a pet requires a big commitment and since we’re a financial blog, we’ll just go ahead and break the news: pet ownership is not cheap.

If you are currently not in a state to take on the unexpected expenses that come with #furbaby, this does not mean you and your family can’t have the experience of bonding with and caring for a furry (or scaly!) friend.

Here are 4 awesome, feel-good ways you can create the experience of having a pet without taking on the cost of it. [Hint: #2 can even double as your side hustle!]

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Volunteer at a shelter

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This one shouldn’t come as a surprise, but here’s the extra kick-in-the-boot to get you to check it out! Your local shelter is looking for people just like you to help out with exercising the pets and giving positive attention to animals waiting for their forever home.

Pro tip: If you are reallllly wishing you could have a pet but know it’s just not the right time financially, this could be a risky option (they don’t call them “puppy dog eyes” for nothing).

But if you are resolved you can’t have a pet and still want to be around animals, this is a wonderful way to not only get in the fur-baby time, but also give back to your community. Bottom line: all that attention and trust-building you provide is making that animal a better candidate for a good home with its own family. Pat yourself on the back – if you pick this option, you’re killing it in the Make the World a Better Place category.

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Pet Sit

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Taking a pet into your own home (or staying at someone else’s home to watch their pet) is like having an Auntie/Uncle weekend. It’s the best. You get to pretend for whatever period of time that you have a pet of your very own – but no financial responsibilities (not to be mistaken for no responsibilities). Not to mention, providing a home environment will likely help ease any kind of separation anxiety the pet may generally experience when their person is away.

Pro tip: if it’s a cat, might be better to house sit in addition to pet sit, it’s likely they’d be more distressed by moving homes for a period of time than having their owner gone.

Super pro tip: Before offering up your home, make sure it is properly secured to have a pet roam around. Holes in fences, ajar windows, etc could tempt the little dude to find his way back to his parent’s house.

To find opportunities to pet sit – become familiar with the pets in your neighborhood and let their owners know of your interest. If you have a friend with a beloved pet, be sure to let them know you would love to watch them when they go out of town. Many pet owners are hesitant to ask for this kind of help, but it’s a relief to know someone you trust is willing to watch them.

If you want to make money doing this and actually make a side hustle out of it, check out sites like Rover or DogVacay. These are awesome resources for pet owners to find vacation homes for their pups.

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Fostering a pet

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Many shelters and animal rescues have special programs to find homes for their animals due to overflow of pets in need or to get them used to living in a home environment. Reach out to a local animal rescue and ask about their programs. Many will help financially with the cost for the pet (i.e. food, medical bills, etc) – but not all. Be sure to get the full details ahead of time. Also, be prepared that eventually you will part with the animal. Maybe pre-plan how you will celebrate when the pet does find a home to help with the transition.

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Service Dog Training

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You’ve likely seen a service dog and are familiar with the incredible benefit they offer people with disabilities. But did you know, for many of these programs, the dogs start their initial training in a prison? Sounds scary, but it’s a great way for inmates to take on a positive responsibility and the bond they develop is often so beneficial, it’s actually a rehabilitation method. In between the pup’s time learning basic training and then going on to the hard-core service training, they need time to adapt to the outside world. This is where you could come in! Many programs, such as ICAN in Indiana, need temporary homes for these dogs before they go on to become the heroes they’re destined to be. Look in your state for similar programs!



Using Your 401k to Reduce Taxable Income

TurboTax 401K

As you file your taxes, you’re probably thinking about ways to reduce your taxable income. Did you know that there are a lot of strategies you can use with your retirement funds, like your IRA and 401(k), to reduce your taxable income? Save for the future and save in taxes today – that’s a win-win situation.

We’re early in 2017, and there’s still time to make some retirement maneuvers to lower your 2016 tax liability (as well as steps you can take to reduce your tax liability next year):

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UPDATE: Current Borrowers to Remain Eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness Under Trump's Budget Proposal

Last week, the Washington Post reported that the Trump administration plans to include a potentially big blow to student loan borrowers in its education budget proposal: an end to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program.

Unveiled in 2007, PSLF is currently slated to begin awarding federal student loan forgiveness to eligible public sector and nonprofit works later this year. At first, the report suggested those plans may be in jeopardy. however, more details have emerged that indicate current federal student loan borrowers will still be able to receive forgiveness through PSLF. The proposal would only impact new borrowers on or after July 1, 2018.

According to the latest Public Service Loan Forgiveness statistics, 552, 931 borrowers have been approved and are potentially slated to receive forgiveness through PSLF.

Here’s what we know now:

Is this the end of the PSLF?

Not yet, at least. Currently, this is merely a proposal put forth by the Trump administration. While this certainly isn’t encouraging for the PSLF program, the president does not make the budget. That’s up to Congress.

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5 Summer Job Ideas for Teachers

If you’re a teacher, you know summer vacation isn’t the life of luxury many people assume it is. In fact, it can be extremely stressful to not receive a regular paycheck during those months off. While many teachers plan and save for summer during the school year, it is still challenging to stretch approximately nine months of pay into covering bills and living expenses for a full year. To help you pad that budget, here are five summer jobs that are just right for teachers. They’ll bring in some extra money and leave time for rest and relaxation. Perfect.

Tutoring and Test Preparation- Your knowledge and teaching experience will service you well as a tutor or test preparation instructor. Whether you offer your services independently or sign with a local learning center, you’ll be doing what you love most- helping kids learn.

Cater Waiter/ Bartender- If you waited tables or tended bar during college, it’s time to brush up on those skills and use them to make some extra money. But rather than getting tied into regular shifts at a restaurant or bar, sign up with a few local catering companies. They will call you when they have work available for parties and other events and it’s up to you to accept or decline, so it’s easy to fit into your schedule.

Special Event Worker- Many of the year’s most anticipated events, concerts and festivals happen during the summertime. And if you get a job as an usher, ticket taker or concession worker at a local venue, you’ll have the chance to see (or at least hear) them for free, and get paid to do so. It’s a great way to stretch your entertainment budget while pocketing some extra cash.

House and Pet Sitting- Want to take a mini vacation and get paid to do it? Offer your services as a house and/ or pet sitter. Staying in someone else’s home for a few days (or longer) while they’re away is a fun way to enjoy a change of scenery without traveling too far. You’re basically getting paid to relax and stream Netflix in air conditioned comfort. What’s better than that?

Online Entrepreneur- Do you have a great sense of style and an eye for bargains? Buying clothing, shoes, handbags and accessories at yard sales, thrift stores or on clearance, then reselling them on eBay or an app like Poshmark or Tuesday can be highly lucrative and doesn’t take much work beyond writing good descriptions and timely mailing of packages.

 

 

5 Financial Tips for New College Graduates

Graduating from college is one of life’s major milestones. It’s time to stop and celebrate your achievements, while looking toward an exciting future. You’re about to start making more decisions for yourself than ever before, and many of those decisions will involve how you’re going to spend and save your money. Here are five financial tips to help you start out on solid financial ground.

Have a Strategy for Student Loans- Student loan borrowers get a 6-month grace period before starting to make payments. While that may sound like a lot, it’s going to fly by fast, especially with all you’ve got going on. Do the groundwork now so you’re ready to start making payments when they’re due. Sign up for your student loan PIN, find our who your loan servicer(s) is and to get in touch with them, then, calculate what your monthly payment will be. Learn your options, so that you;re not locked in to a payment you can’t afford. If it all seems a little overwhelming, Student Loan Counseling can help you make sense of your options.

Be Careful with that Cash- Chances are- you scored some serious cash as graduation gifts. Rather than going on a spending spree, use it to help launch your into the next phase of life. Get yourself a professional-looking interview outfit, have a pro help you prepare a killer resume or even use it as seed money for your new emergency savings account.

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Here's the Difference Between Federal and Private Student Loan Consolidation

Most graduates leave school with a number of different student loans, racked up throughout their years in college. Each of these loans likely comes with different terms, payments, servicers, and statements. The sheer amount of information and numbers can be difficult to track.

If you feel overwhelmed with managing your student loan debt, don’t panic. You do have options. One way to make student loans more manageable is through consolidation.

When you consolidate your debt, you combine all those loans into one. You do this by taking out a new loan for the amount of the balances of the existing loans, use thie newly borrowed money to repay all the older loans, and then focus on repaying your one new loan. This simplifies your financial situation and makes it easier to keep track of loan terms, payments, and other information you need to know. Other benefits of consolidation could include securing more favorable interest rates (if you also refinance) and lower monthly payments (by extending the repayment term).

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DeVos Announces Huge Overhaul of Federal Student Loan System

 

The federal student loan service industry has seen numerous complaints from borrowers in recent years. Loan servicers such as Navient are even facing lawsuits from those who say their loans were mishandled, and that borrowers were deceived about their repayment options.

Recently, the Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, announced that the Trump administration is looking to change the federal student loan servicing system dramatically.

Issues with the current federal student loan servicing system:

Right now, there is $1.4 trillion in student loan debt spread across 44 million borrowers in the United States. Of that amount, the vast majority of student debt is comprised of federal student loans.

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6 Tips to Manage Money as a New Couple

No matter if you’re in a serious relationship or have already tied the not managing money as a new couple can be tricky. Everyone’s situation and preferences are different, so there isn’t a one-size-fits-all- system.

However, there are critical do’s and dont’s that will help you avoid potential disagreements and create a great financial life. Keep reading for six money management tips that every new couple should follow.

Tip #1: Know Where Your Relationship Stands

Since every relationship is different, my first tip is to be realistic about the status of yours. If you’re close to getting married, or are 100% committed and feel certain that your union will stand the test of time, my advice for managing money as a couple is very different than if you’re really not sure if you have a solid future.

If you’re a committed couple, then your money should follow. Leap in and merge every aspect of your finances.

Uniting money with joint accounts is the best way to work and succeed as a team. Steer your future as a couple by deciding how to budget, how much to save, whether to buy a home, and so on.

When you’re in a committed relationship all financial decisions should be discussed and shared equally - otherwise you’re just living two separate lives under one roof. It doesn’t matter if only one person works, one earns much more than the other, or one brings more debt into the relationship. Love doesn’t keep score when it comes to money.

Tip #2: Decide What’s Fair

You will always earn more or less than your partner or spouse, and you’ll also have different amounts of expenses and debt at different times. The financial give and take in a relationship is never even.

There has been years where my husband earned double or triple my income, while I also incurred big expenses like graduate school. Likewise, there have been years when I was the breadwinner.

When you’re in a relationship for the long haul, both of your incomes, expenses, debts, and savings are yours to manage as a couple. So all income and expenses should flow through the same joint account.

Yes, that’s a lot of transparency. That’s the point. When each of you knows the truth about your finances it builds trust, fosters communication, and allows you to accomplish more together than you ever could alone.

However, I must repeat that if you’re not 100% committed, there’s no rush to merge money. You might choose to split household expenses - like rent, groceries, and utilities- down the middle, or to contribute proportionally based on your income usage.

Tip #3: Use Good Financial Tools

No matter if you decided to merge your finances or not, there are some great financial tools that make managing money a breeze.

Try a free app like Mint that imports all your bank and credit card transactions into dashboard. It’s perfect for when you want to keep track of spending and simple goal setting on the go.

If you want a more robust product, I’m a big fan of Quicken desktop software. There are different versions, but the starter edition is just $40. It links to your financial accounts, imports transactions, and give you much more functionality and reporting compared to Mint.

Expenses you need to split up can be assigned to a special account like “joint household expenses,” so they’re separated from your personal expenses. At the end of the month you can easily see the total and settle up.

If you need to reimburse your partner, Pay

5 Uncomfortable Money Moments (and hot to Handle Them)

We’ve all been there. Someone asks a highly personal question about your finances in front of a group of people. Or you get stuck paying way more than your portion of a bill on a group dinner. There are a number of uncomfortable money moments that inevitably pop up from time to time. But when handled correctly, you can breeze by them gracefully. Here are five of the most common uncomfortable money moments and how to handle them.

Someone asks a public question about your personal finances. Sometimes people just don’t think before they speak and sometimes they’re being downright nosey. Either way, when someone asks an invasive question about your personal finances in front of a group, it can leave you trying to fill an awkward silence without sharing personal information you’re not comfortable discussing. Rather than discussing. Rather than disclosing the answer, try saying something along the lines of “You know what, there are far more interesting things we could be talking about like…” then finish that sentence by steering the conversation to current events.

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