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Best Careers For You Or Your Child

We understand that sometimes people just choose to follow their passion whether it’s studying the nesting habits of the Great Blue Heron or caring for children as a preschool teacher. And we applaud these people for doing what it is they care most about even if it means that they’ll never earn much money. On the other hand there are those of us that would like both a challenging and rewarding career and a decent salary. If you fall into this category here are the careers that are expected to be among the best in terms of job growth and earnings potential.

For those who choose to go to collegeSmiling doctor in front of his team

One of the best sectors by far for people who choose to go to college is in healthcare. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants are the tops in terms of healthcare workers that are most in demand. For example, this year graduate nurse practitioners in the US totaled about 750, which is just a fraction of the estimated 7000 job openings. Other highly in-demand jobs in the healthcare sector include physical therapists, audiologists and dietitians. In addition, there is a big need for people in outpatient services such as kidney dialysis and urgent care.

There will always be a good demand for technology workers but what employers are especially looking for are applications software developers, database analysts, security analysts and network administrators. It’s forecast that there will also be a growing demand for jobs in e-commerce as online shopping continues to expand almost geometrically.

There is also an ongoing demand for engineers of all types. But as of this writing there is a definite shortage of engineers to fill specialty jobs in environmental, industrial, nuclear and aerospace engineering. The recent slump in oil prices has reduced the demand for petroleum related jobs but the demand for engineers in this area is sure to pick up.

Other jobs that are going begging

There are a number of well-paying jobs in the business world. Many businesses are looking for event planners, salespeople, financial analysts and property managers. In the transportation sector there is a high demand for skilled workers ranging from tugboat captains to pilots.

If you have no interest in going to college

Regardless of what some people have said not everybody needs to or should go to college. If philosophy, English literature or psychology is what gets you excited you will need at least a four-year degree. However, if college isn’t for you there are still a number of jobs where the demand is high and the pay is good. In the healthcare area, there is a good demand for less skilled workers such as staff members of doctors’ and dentists’ offices as well as medical transcriptionists and in elderly assisted living. In the building trades contractors are looking for crane and tower operators, brick masons and ironworkers. There is also a very large demand for long-haul truckers and auto mechanics.

Opportunities vary by location

However, be aware of the fact that job needs do vary by location. As an example of this the biggest growth in healthcare employment is forecast to be in the south, California and the Southwest – those areas that are big for retiring baby boomers. In Austin, Texas; Raleigh, North Carolina; Provo, Utah; Nashville, Tennessee; and Madison Wisconsin there is such a demand for software developers that is expected to lead to double digit hiring growth.

Check into apprenticeship programs

The Department of Labor has been increasing grants to firms with apprenticeship programs in order to help our future employment demand. Its program, ApprenticeshipUSA helps employers offer people the opportunity to learn the skills necessary to succeed in high-demand careers while earning a salary. As of this writing there were 73,519 apprenticeship jobs available throughout the US. If you were to choose one of these and completed the program you would be on your way to a great long-term career with a competitive salary and, here’s one of the best parts, little or no student loan debt.

constructionWhat kind of apprenticeships is available? Where we live there are currently apprenticeships available for management training, pipefitting, as an electrician, carpenter, automotive technician, copper splicer, plumber, refrigerator construction worker and many other areas. If you would like to see what apprenticeships are currently available in your area, click on this link and then click on your state. You will see bubbles representing cities where there are apprenticeship opportunities. Click on your city and you will see exactly what apprenticeship programs are available.

On our city there are currently 570 of these apprenticeship jobs looking for people. If you see a program in your area that appeals to you, click on it for a description of the job, its requirements, what it pays and its benefits. For example, one of the jobs available here as an apprentice electrician has a terrific benefits package that includes dental, vision, medical, life and accidental death, life insurance, long- and short-term disability, a 401(k) with employer matching, six paid holidays and five days paid vacation. The apprenticeship program takes four years and includes 1000 hours of on-the-job training and employment that’s supplemented by related technical instruction.

The future can be hard to predict

Do keep in mind that all of these job forecasts are just that – forecasts. While there might be a huge need right now for nurse practitioners, physician assistants and software engineers the same thing may not be true 10 or even five years from now. As an example of what can happen we have a friend who decided to become a PhD in physics because at that time there were five job opportunities for PhD physicists for every one physicist. Unfortunately, by the time he received his PhD five years later there was only one job opening available for every five PhD physicists.

Choose carefully

Don’t choose a career just because it offers great job growth and potential to earn good money. Investigate and evaluate. Before you spend five years becoming a physician’s assistant, an industrial engineer or a database analyst or four years as an apprentice electrician make sure you understand what the job entails and that you would actually enjoy the work. It could be very depressing to spend four, five or more years learning a job only to find that, as many people have, you just hate the work. If possible try to talk with a half dozen or more people in the career are considering to determine what they actually do and how they feel about it. Spending a few hours with those people could save you from many years of frustration.

How To Rebuild Your Credit After Divorce

man jumping with a chart behind himGetting divorced can be one of the most stressful things you’ll ever have to endure. If you have children there’ll be the issues of who has custody and maybe visiting rights. You or your attorneys will need to determine how to split your finances as well as your furniture and personal possessions. And, of course, the more stuff you have and the more you and your spouse earn, the more complicated things will be. But there is one piece that’s easy to overlook and that’s your credit score.

Why your credit score will take a hit

Despite what many people think a divorce per se will not damage your credit score. This is because your credit score and your spouse’s credit score are different. It’s not like you had a joint credit score and getting divorced will cut your score by 50%. However, there are several reasons why a divorce will damage your credit score. First, your expenses will likely go up since you’re no longer splitting them. This will make it more difficult for you to keep up with your bills. Second, it’s likely that you and your spouse had some debts when you divorced. If they are not paid off immediately they will end up being the responsibility of one of you. If that person doesn’t pay them off then both your credit reports and ultimately your credit scores will be damaged. And third, the harsh truth is that there can be identity theft. It’s unfortunately very common for one spouse to “borrow” the ex’s personal information to get new utility services, new credit cards, an auto loan, etc.

Divorce can lead to bankruptcy

It’s also sad but true that a divorce can lead to bankruptcy. If this happens to you it might be because your finances just got stretched over the limit, as you’re now required to pay for new expenses such as alimony or childcare. But some people are actually pushed into filing for bankruptcy by his or her former spouse. As an example of this let’s suppose that you owned a house with your ex spouse but you can’t sell it because it’s upside down. Your ex agrees to pay the mortgage but then doesn’t do so. If you want to keep the house you could end up having to file for bankruptcy in order to save it. Or just to get rid of the responsibility of having to pay on it.

Making your credit score a priority

There are numerous things that need to be taken care of as the result of a divorce. This could make it easy for you to miss paying a bill. And believe it or not just one late or missed payment could cause what would otherwise be your excellent credit score to fall by 50, 75 points or more. After your divorce you will need good credit to get a place to live and to get new utility service without having to make a deposit. Plus, the stain on your credit report of having missed a payment can come back to haunt you as it will stay in your credit reports for seven years.

Get your credit reportsmagnifying glass on credit report

One of the most important things you should do post-divorce is to get your credit reports. They are available free from the three credit reporting bureaus – Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. They are also available free on the website www.annualcreditreport.com. While this site makes it possible to get all three of your credit reports simultaneously most financial experts say it’s better to get them one at a time every four months. This becomes a way to monitor your credit year round without having to pay a credit monitoring service.

There are several reasons why you should be getting your credit reports. First, it’s so you can see all your debts. Any debts that were the joint responsibility of the two of you should be paid off as quickly as possible. This is because you are legally responsible for paying off any joint debts and getting divorced doesn’t change that.

It’s also possible that there are errors in your credit reports that are dragging down your credit score. When you review your credit reports look for purchases you don’t remember making or companies you don’t remember having done business with. If you find errors be sure to dispute them with the appropriate credit bureau. You should do this in writing so that you will have a paper trail. If you are able to get erroneous items removed from your credit reports your credit score should get a nice bounce.

Rebuilding your credit

If your credit was damaged due to the divorce, take heart. While you can’t change the past, you can make sure that you pay all your bills on time going forward. Recent information about how you handle your credit tends to have a greater impact on your score then older information. This means that paying your bills on time should ultimately lead to a significant improvement in your credit score. If you lost your credit cards for some reason or just don’t have one then get a new, secured credit card. This is where you deposit money at a bank or credit union and then can use the card so long as you have a balance. If you do get one of these cards make sure that if you use it sensibly this will be reported to the three credit bureaus, as you need this in order to rebuild your credit score. You might also be able to get a personal line of credit secured by a savings account. This would be yet another step in rebuilding your credit.

If your financial circumstances are really bad

If you have a 401(k) and are in dire financial circumstances you could borrow from it to clear up your debts and get a jump in your credit score. While this is never an ideal solution it’s better than cashing in your retirement account early, which would mean having to pay taxes and penalties. There is also a relatively new way to borrow money that could help. It’s called peer-to-peer lending. Two of the most popular sites that offer these loans are Lending Club and Prosper. The way this works is that you fill out and submit an application with your name, Social Security number, address and the amount of money you need and why you need it. Once your application has been verified, your request will be put online for lenders to review. If you write a good enough “pitch” or reason why you need the money a lender or group of lenders might decide to take a chance on you and fund your loan even though you have a poor credit score.

True Or False – You Should Auto Pay All Your Bills?

If your goal is to simplify your finances one thing the experts tell you to auto pay all your bills. That way you’ll never have to remember your payment due dates, never have to mail a check and never have to remember whether you paid that utility bill or not. If you have online banking then putting your bills on auto pay should be a real snap. You might even be able to have your statements sent to you electronically so you would never again have to worry about filing them or ultimately shredding them. Putting your bills on auto pay would certainly help simplify your finances but should you really put all of them on auto pay?Manager working diligently on the computer

The pros

The biggest pro of putting your bills on auto pay is, of course, convenience. As noted above when your bills are on auto pay you’ll never have to wonder whether or not you’re late on a payment or when your bills are due. When you fully automate your bill paying you’ll had made sure that your bills will be paid when they’re due and in full – assuming, of course, that you have a sufficient amount of money in your checking account to cover them.

You might also earn some nice incentives by signing up for auto pay. This is because there are companies that will reward you for paying them automatically. As an example of this, Nelnet will cut the interest rate on your loans by 0.25% when you agree to pay it automatically. This may not seem like a lot but could actually add up to many thousands of dollars over the life of your loan.

Third, paying your bills automatically can help your credit score because it should mean you never miss a payment. And missed payments can hurt your credit score fairly seriously. In fact, missing a single payment could ding your credit score by 60 points. Miss two and your credit score could be reduced by 120 points, which could drop you from having a good credit score to a poor score. In either event this would ultimately cost you money because you’d end up paying higher interest rates. This might even increase the cost of your auto insurance premiums.

The cons

There’s no question but that automatic bill pay can make your financial life simpler. However, there are times when it might not make good sense.

One of these is if you need tight control over your monthly spending. If you’re living from paycheck to paycheck then paying your bills manually could make better sense as this would give you greater control over how you allocate your funds and keep you from going into overdraft in a tough month. This would also help you keep money available for crucial expenses such as food and rent.

A second type of bill you might not want to put on auto pay is one that varies monthly. An example of this might be your utility bill, which could vary considerably between winter and summer – especially if you have air conditioning. If you were to put it on auto pay and had a very hot June or July this could substantially mess up your monthly finances. On the other hand, if you have bills such as a cell phone bill or your rent that remain the same from month-to-month they would be great candidates for auto pay.

A third consideration is that if you’re not careful you could end up paying for things you didn’t intend to buy. For example, it’s never a good idea to set up auto pay for temporary services or memberships. There are instances where if you were to try to cancel or change the service you could end up in customer service hell. Suppose you were to sign up to try Amazon’s Prime Service free for a month. If you forget to cancel you could find yourself hit with an unpleasant surprise – a $99 yearly fee.

Some other things to consider

When you sign up with a company for auto-pay this tells your bank to automatically approve requests to withdraw money for that company. The Federal Trade Commission says that you should only do this with those companies you trust and know. If not, you could wind up paying for stuff you didn’t want. It’s also possible that automatically paying your bills would make you more susceptible to having your identity stolen. While this may or may not be true it’s always a good idea to carefully read the company’s privacy policy and make sure that it will encrypt all of your transactions digitally.

As we have seen from the data breaches that recently hit Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Target there is no such thing as a totally safe website. However, automatic bill payment is usually much safer than mailing your payments physically. This is due to the fact that the postal system is more vulnerable to tampering and interception.

Video thumbnail for youtube video 6 Tips For Simplifying Your Financial LifeThe net/net

Automatic bill payment may not be for everybody but it is a very convenient way to pay bills for many consumers – making sure their bills are paid in full and on time. It can save money as well as time. But most banks now allow you to set up your bills to be paid online but not automatically. While this puts the burden of paying your bills back on your shoulders it does provide the convenience of paying your bills electronically but allows you to keep control of how much money goes out of your of your account each month. We have a number of bills that vary from month to month. We have it set up with our bank so that we can pay them online. When one of these bills arrives in the mail we note its due date and then immediately go online to our checking account and arrange to pay the bill on that date. This eliminates the need for us to remember to make the payment as well as the annoyances of having to find a stamp and to get the bill in the mail in enough time for it to make its due date. We view this as sort of the best of both worlds.

Automate your saving, too

In addition to putting your bills on auto pay it’s also a good idea to automate your saving. This short video explains how to do this and why it makes really good sense.

Simple Tricks For Cutting Costs And Fattening Up Your Piggy Bank

woman with a full grocery shopping bagWe’ve always find it ironic that when the government reports that the cost of living or Consumer Price Index has increased only +0.4% (Feb 2015) that this does not include the cost of gas or food. And while the cost of gas has dropped recently, the cost of food continues to increase every month. If yours is a typical family you’ve probably also seen increases in the cost of your cable or satellite service and your utilities. It’s tough these days to just stay even let alone save money. Fortunately there are some simple tricks that you could use to cut your everyday costs and fatten up your piggy bank.

Let’s work on that grocery bill

If you grow pale and faint when you see the total amount you’ve just spent on a week’s groceries, take heart. There are some simple things you could do to cut down the cost of your groceries. It begins with making a grocery list. The simple fact is that you should never go to the grocery store without a list. This accomplishes two things. First, it ensures that you’ll get everything you need, which will cut down on those trips you have to make to get the stuff you forgot. Second, having a grocery list will keep you from spending money on all those tempting things you see at those aisle-and displays.

Next, become an avid coupon clipper. You’ll find them in your newspaper – probably on Wednesday — as this is normally food day. If you don’t get a newspaper go online and sign up for your favorite supermarket’s newsletter. There are also tons of websites that offer coupons, many of which are printable. Some of the best include Shopathome.com, Thecrazycouponlady.com and, of course, Coupons.com. Always look for stores that offer double coupons on the stuff you need and for coupons that align with sales that are going on at your supermarket. And, finally, try to buy as many store brand items as you can, as this should save you up to 25% vs. brand name items.

Small changes can mean a lot

As an example of this the stuff that you drink can really add up. If you’re using bottled water, stop it. Those bottles are not only costing you money but they’re not good for the environment. Buy one of those bottles that filters water and then just fill it up with tap water. Believe it or not this can save you hundreds of dollars over the course of a year. Also, stop buying those lattes and brew your coffee at home. This alone could save you more than $700 a year. If you eat out a lot you can save big money by not doing it. Half of the average American’s budget goes to eating meals out of the home. If that’s typical of you just think how much you could do in cutting costs simply by eating at home instead of going to restaurants or getting takeout.

money and measuring tape

Slash your cable bill

Did you know that the average American spends $86 a month on cable or $1032 a year? If you have a digital TV you could buy an antenna for $30 or less which would get you all your local channels free. If your TV is analog all you would need to do is buy a cheap converter. We have a small antenna next to one of our digital TVs and we get more than 30 local channels. Not all of these are ones you would watch on a regular basis but we were surprised at what’s available and you might be, too.

If you do decide to ditch cable or satellite TV you could get movies through a subscription service such as Netflix or at one of those kiosks at your supermarket. You say you just can’t give up cable entirely? Then call your cable company and see if you couldn’t negotiate a better deal. Most of these companies will offer you a nice discount if you bundle, which means getting television, Internet and phone service all together. Or go online and check to see what packages your cable provider has available, as you might be able to save money by downgrading to fewer channels.

You can also save money by changing your movie going habits. Matinees and early shows always cost less than if you were to go to the same film at night. And the same holds true of restaurant meals. When there’s a hot new restaurant in town that you would like to sample, have lunch there instead of dinner.

Chop down that energy bill

If you’re like the average family you spend $1900 a year on energy. You could knock that down a few dollars simply by shutting off the lights in rooms you’re not using. If you don’t have a programmable thermostat you should certainly get one. It shouldn’t cost you more than $60 and will pay for itself in just a few months by automatically turning down the temperature during those times of the day that you’re not there. You might also do a home energy audit. The Environmental Protection Agency has a free calculator that would help you see where you could achieve some savings. It’s available at EnergyStar.gov.

For that matter, this short video show how you could actually cut your electric bill in half and just think how much that could save you …

Do you commute to work?

Another great way to save money if you commute to work is by getting into or forming a carpool or by taking public transportation. This would not only cut your gas costs but also the wear and tear on your car.

The big stuff

There are some changes you could make that would result in some really big savings. If you have a mortgage, think about refinancing your home. Last week we heard that one of our local mortgage brokers was offering fixed rate mortgages at less than 4%. If you have a mortgage at 5% or higher and you were to refinance you could put a couple hundred dollars a month in your pocket. If you rent try negotiating with your landlord for a cheaper rent when you next sign a lease or offer to sign a longer one in return for a discount.

Get creative

If you stop to think about it there are probably dozens of other ways you could cut your spending. Just get creative. And be sure to get your entire family involved. We know of families that have a meeting once a month where everyone contributes their ideas for saving money with a prize to the person that comes up with the best suggestion. Be sure to make a budget so that you can keep track of your spending, as you might be amazed at how little changes along the way have helped fatten up your piggy bank. And when it gets right down to it, what’s better than a fat, happy piggy bank?

Let One Of These Free Personal Finance Software Programs Simplify Your Financial Life

Manager working diligently on the computerAs my father used to say, free is tough to beat. And the following seven personal finance software are not only for either very powerful. Yes, we’re familiar with the old saying that “there is no such thing as a free lunch” but the Internet has amended that to “there can be such a thing as a free lunch.” There is a huge amount of free or open source software available on the Internet and personal finance software is no exception. In fact, when it comes to personal financial software there is almost a banquet table full. However, these are the ones considered to be best by the site Gizmo’s software.

GnuCash

Does a fast education in accounting appeal to you. Then this would be a good choice. It will teach you about how assets equal liabilities plus equity, It will also allow you to manage your budget without having to use all those categories that are usually found in commercially available personal finance programs. GnuCash permits you to easily have as many accounts as you would want under each of your categories. It has the ability to do graphing and reporting into the program that can generate a complete group of customizable and standard reports. The program includes profit and loss, a balance sheet, portfolio valuation and so forth. The one negative of GnuCash is that won’t automatically track the movements stock prices and there are brokers that don’t support file downloads unless they are compatible with Quicken.

HomeBank

HomeBank is very feature-rich and enables you to keep track of detailed expenses including assets, income as well your categories for your budget. It offers many different report generating options plus the capability to import information related to Amiga.

GFP

This program is also very feature rich and offers numerous transaction report categories. It also supports many different edit and settings for all transactions and reports. GFP is simple to use as it has a exhaustive help file that offers clear guidance. The program has a gentle learning curve and is great for both novices and even professionals. GFB is open source and built on the GNU license model.

Money Manager EX

This is also an excellent program. It would allow you to create numerous accounts , reports, transactions and categories. It is described as relatively simple to use as it has a large help file you could use to learn how to use its many features and options. The program can be used with practically all computer OSs (operating systems) and would be a good choice for both beginners and personal finance wizards. Unfortunately, you must do data entries manually as this application seriously lacks real-time download and fiscal tracking capabilities.

Grisbi

This is also a GNU open-source program that also offers numerous features. You can use it to create an endless number of, categories, accounts and reports. Its GUI (graphic user interface) is attractive and easily understandable. However, Grisbi
lacks a built-in help file giving it a steeper learning curve. While Grisbi is an excellent program overall you would make sure that you never forget your password as this would mean you would lose all of your financial data.

Metalogic Finance Explorer

This is a very straightforward but powerful, program for budgeting that offers two big advantages over other similar programs. First, it allows you to automatically upload data from your bank and second it will import financial data in all formats in from all possible sources via the OFE (Open Financial Exchange) protocol. You can also use MetaLogic Finance Explorer to import stock market data and print its financial information. Unfortunately, the program doesn’t have much built in Help. The good news is that there is a more comprehensive help file available online. With this translates into is that you will need to fiddle around with it to learn how to use all its many features.

AceMoney Lite

This is a “light” version of AceMoney in that it allows only two accounts compared with its big brother which will handle an unlimited number of accounts. This program enables you to keep track of all your expenses and provides numerous options to generate reports by various categories, subcategories and even functions. One definite plus of AceMoney Lite is that it offers password protection, which is good for security purposes. It has a currency converter and includes a complete and very detailed local help file. The program is fairly easy to use with a gentle learning curve making it good for both experts and novices.

couple looking at a laptopMint.com

This is not like the other free software programs described in this article because it is available only online. However, Mint.com may just be the most popular way to manage personal finances because it’s sort of the Swiss Army knife of online options. To use this program you will need to make an account and then input information about your credit cards, home loans, banks and brokerage accounts. The people behind Mint say it doesn’t require any information that would be personally identifiable. The account is basically anonymous. All that’s required is that you set it up using an email, a password and your ZIP Code. Mint never knows your name, Social Security number, address, account number or your PINs. It will track your spending and makes it easy to set up budget categories. Once you set up your categories and assigned spending limits to them it will send you an email alert if you are exceeding any of your limits. Mint will also send you an email alert if it finds any financial product better than one you’re currently using.

Money Strands

This is also an online-based service that’s 100% free. It’s set up so that you can import your bank data automatically and it will automatically classify your financial data into meaningful categories based on the information you provide. If you find that your bank does not support Money Strands you can’t provide its name to the site’s owners and it will attempt to get the bank to link with the program.

Rudder

This is also an email-based system but does have some privacy issues. It puts all your accounts together in one place, provides bill reminders, allows you to create a budget and control your cash flow. According to Gizmo’s freeware site it is not possible to know if your personal details would be totally protected. “I need a credible guarantee that if my ID, password, account numbers and credit card numbers are somehow compromised through their service that they will make me whole.” The people behind this site also wonder if they were ever to close their accounts would they be able to know that their data has been securely erased.

5 Financial Loopholes Guaranteed To Make Your A Smarter Money Manager

Happy BusinessmanWe would never suggest that you do anything illegal with your money but there are some financial loopholes you could take advantage of even if you’re not a member of that wealthy 1%. There are tips or “hacks” that could help you get the most out of your money and here are five of them.

#1. Get rid of your debts with a 0% interest credit card

Would you be surprised to learn there are credit cards that have 0% interest? These are generally called 0% interest balance transfer cards and their purpose is to entice you to transfer your balances on other credit cards to that new card. Of course, this loophole is available only to those that have a fairly good credit score. But if you do and you shop carefully you should be able to find a card that offers 18 months interest-free. If you’re carrying a sizable amount of debt on a credit card or multiple credit cards with an interest rate of 15% or higher you should definitely look into a balance transfer. However, you do need to be able to pay off that new balance before the interest-free promotional period ends as once it does your interest rate could jump to 19% or higher – leaving you right back where you began. There will be a balance transfer fee, which is generally around 3% of the amount that you’re transferring. This means if you only have a small balance on one card this may not be right for you. If you’re uncertain as to whether or not you could save enough money to warrant transferring your balances to a new card, you can figure things out by using a credit card balance calculator.

Be aware that when you open a new card your credit score will get dinged because you’ve changed your credit utilization rate, which makes up 30% of your credit score. However, in the big scheme of things this won’t compare to the damage that major credit card debt could do to your life.

#2. Save for your kid’s college with a Roth IRA

If you’re saving for your child’s college with a 529 account you know that it has some limitations. The way to get around this is with a Roth IRA – assuming your adjusted gross income is less than $112,000 if you’re single or $112,000 if you’re filing jointly. As you may already know a 529 plan is generally not federal income tax deductible. In addition, when you fill out the required FAFSA form (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) the money in your 529 account will be considered as part of your family’s assets.

If you have a Roth IRA and are saving for retirement we don’t generally recommend that you withdraw money from it. However, money saved in a retirement account won’t count towards your assets when you fill out the FAFSA. What this means is that you can save money for your child’s college in a Roth IRA and maybe still get financial aid because you won’t have to declare it as an asset. You would then withdraw money from the Roth IRA when it came time to pay for college. If the two of you each contributes $5500 a year or a total of $11,000 then in 15 years you would have $82,500, which you could then withdraw to pay for your child’s college and without any sort of a penalty. Plus, retirement accounts are generally protected from your creditors so they could not be seized in the event you go into a real financial jam.

#3. Use the equity you have in your houseHouse with cash on the roof

If you are not familiar with the term equity it’s the difference between the total amount you owe on your mortgage and your home’s appraised value. If you have some equity in your home you might want to borrow against it instead of getting a bank loan. There are two benefits to this. First, getting a home equity loan will be less complicated since you’ve already been approved for a mortgage. While you will need to get your home appraised, your lender should be able to help you through the process. Second, and equally important, the interest payments you make on a home equity loan are generally tax deductible – unlike the interest you would pay on a personal loan.

Don’t count on lenders loaning you an amount equal to the total amount of equity you have in your house. At the most you’ll probably get 75%. Let’s say you have $100,000 in equity. This means you should be able to borrow up to $75,000. This can be a very good deal if you plan on staying in your home for some time or if your home is worth a good deal more than you paid for it. Of course, if you don’t have much equity in your home or if you think you’ll be moving in just a year or two, this tip is likely not for you. And you will need to be sure you make all the payments on your home equity loan on time as you’re borrowing against your house so if you were to fall behind you could actually lose your home.

#4. Pay your insurance premiums once a year

Do you have an insurance policy that you plan on keeping for at least a year? Then this tip could help you save some money. You’re probably now making payments monthly on your life insurance and auto insurance. However, you don’t have to do this. In fact, insurance companies would rather that you pay in one lump sum annually. That way they know that the policy is paid up for the next year. They allow you to pay monthly as a courtesy but they do charge you for this by multiplying each of your month’ payments by .08 to. 09%. While this may not seem like much let’s say that the total premium on your life insurance is $400 a year. When you pay this monthly, it will cost you $36. If you multiply that by 12 months you’ll see that you’ll be paying $430 for the year. That’s an extra 8% or $32. Of course, to pay in one lump sum means you need to have the money available. One way to do this is by setting up a separate savings account specifically to cover your annual insurance payments and then auto-contribute a little to it each month.

#5. Auto-draft your investing

If you are investing for your retirement, as we hope you are, you’re undoubtedly paying a commission or fee every time you make a trade. However, most brokerages will drop this if you create an auto-draft where you’re automatically contributing an amount to your account every month. The reason they are willing to do this is because it ensures that you’ll be paying them every month instead of just occasionally when you make a trade. Do be sure to ask your broker if it would be willing to waive its commissions before you create that auto-draft.

Watch Out For These Financial Scams

Nobody wants to get scammed but unfortunately it’s almost impossible to avoid it these days. You’ve probably read about the data breaches at Target and Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield and you can bet that there will be more in the future. Scammers can be very smart and no matter how carefulMan in ski maskly we guard our finances they can find ways to steal our money.

Financial scams generally fall into one of two categories – mortgage scams and credit card scams. Here’s information that can help you understand both of them and what steps you can take to protect yourself.

Credit Card scams

It’s hard to keep track of credit card scams because they come in many different forms. Scammers sometimes use spyware or some other way to obtain your credit card information. Or a scammer might trick you into revealing your security code, which is that little three or four digit code on the back of your cards. They then use this information to buy stuff over the Internet or by telephone. If they can find some way to get your PIN number they could actually get cash advances from an ATM using what’s called a “cloned” credit card. This is where they copy the details on your card to another card’s magnetic strip. Then of course it’s possible that someone could use your credit card if you lost it or it was stolen.

The warning signs of a credit card scam

There are things to watch out for that can tell you that you may have been scammed. For example, you may find transactions on your credit card statement that you don’t understand or don’t remember making. Maybe you gave your credit card information to someone that you now believe might not be trustworthy – like over the Internet. Of course, you could have lost your card or you could have kept your security information (your PIN or personal access code) near your card and it went missing.

How to avoid credit card scams

If you follow these tips it’s relatively easy to avoid a credit card scam.

• Do not share your PIN (personal identity number) with anybody. And make sure that you don’t keep a copy of your PIN number with your card.

• Don’t ever send money or give information about your credit card or online account to anyone that you do not know and are not sure you can trust.

• When you get your bank account and credit card statements each month make sure you review them carefully. If you find a transaction that you can’t explain or don’t understand report it to your bank or credit union.

• Don’t do your Internet banking in public places such as Internet cafés or libraries.

• Make up passwords that would be difficult for other people to guess. Research has revealed that many people use passwords such as 123456 or ABCDEF or even the word password. These passwords are simply too easy to guess. If you have a problem thinking up a secure one go online to a password generator for help.

• Don’t provide your credit card, online account details or personal information over the phone unless you are the one that made the call and that the phone number was that of a source you trust.

• Finally, don’t ever send your personal, credit card or online account details in an email.

Report suspicious activity

If you believe your identity has been stolen or that someone else is using your bank account or credit card be sure to report this immediately to your bank. If the scam involved your credit card your liability is probably limited to $50 and it might even be waived. It’s a different story if your debit card was involved as it could take up to 60 days to get your money back.

House and calculator and credit scoreMortgage scams

While most mortgage lenders are honest and ethical every industry has its bad apples and so does this one. Here are the signs that the lender could be a scammer.

Many points

You may want to purchase points to reduce the amount of interest that you will be required to pay on the loan. If you find that points have been built into the loan of more than 3% to 4% of the total loan amount, this is a sign that the lender may be questionable. Your best option would be to go someplace else.

Not taking into consideration your ability to pay

A good rule of thumb is that your mortgage payment should not be more than of 28% of your gross monthly income. While it’s not the lender’s job to help you with your household budget it should ask a lot of questions about your finances especially about your income. In the event the lender doesn’t, this is probably not a company with which you want to do business.

Penalties for prepayment

You should not be charged a penalty if you decide to pay off your loan early. Lenders that are unscrupulous will try to charge a prepayment penalty of 5% or more. This fee could make it very difficult for you to get out of your loan later.

Inflated interest rates

If you’re trying to get your loan through a mortgage broker ask if it will be paid what’s called a “yield spread premium.” If the answer is yes, run do not walk out of the office. This means that the broker is charging you a higher interest rate than the one you would actually qualify for. It’s his or her way to make extra money and it’s entirely unnecessary.

“Bad credit doesn’t matter to us”

If a lender tells you that it doesn’t matter whether you have bad credit this will probably be a predatory loan and will almost certainly have terrible terms. The sad fact is predatory loans are often aimed at lower-income people as they are more likely to have bad credit.

Balloon payments

You may be offered very good terms if you agree to a balloon payment, which is a lump sum that’s due at the end term of the loan. There are cases where this payment can be as high as the amount of money you originally financed. Don’t be sucked in by what seems to be better terms prior to that balloon payment. Do the math and you may find that it won’t work out for you.

Inflation of home value or income

If a lender helps you qualify for a mortgage loan by inflating the value of the home or your income, avoid it. This is not neither legal nor ethical and second, if you can’t afford the loan you’re just headed down a slippery slope towards trouble. Besides, if the lender is willing to lie for you they may be lying to you. This is definitely not a company with which you would want to do business.

There’s not a good a good-faith estimate

By law lenders must provide you with basic information about the loan including its estimated cost. This comes in the form of a good faith estimate on a form called HUD-GFE. If you don’t receive the GFE within three days or it comes on some other form, just don’t use that company.

If it sounds too good to be true

The net/net here is that if you’re being offered a deal on your mortgage that sounds too good to be true it probably is. Make sure you don’t fall for predatory mortgage loan tactics and up with a loan you can’t afford or that has really awful terms. There are numerous websites available designed to help you find a good mortgage loan. Use one of them to make sure you’re not scammed.

Budgeting For People Who Hate Budgeting

When you hear the B word as in budgeting, does it cause cold chills to run up and down your spine? Or maybe it feels as if someone had just run his or her fingernails up and down a blackboard. If you hate budgeting it’s probably because you’ve always tried to do it the hard way, which means tracking every single little thing you spend money on down to that candy bar you purchased at work last week. Then you had to get out all of the receipts you saved so faithfully, your credit card statements and your checking account statement, make a list of everything and then divide it into categories. Ouch!budget on top of money

Then there’s figuring out how much money to allocate to each category, hoping that when you total it all up there will be money left over to save or to pay down your credit card debts. But that’s not even the hardest part. The hardest part is sticking to that budget. This is so much work we can understand why you would hate the B word. Well, take a deep breath and relax. There is a much easier way to budget but that will still get you to where you want to be.

No complicated tracking schemes

If your goal is to get your finances under control without the headache of budgeting the traditional way there are easier answers. It begins with making a simple spreadsheet. List on it your monthly expenses and income. Don’t have a cow over your expenses. Just estimate how much you spend each month by general categories. You can probably do this in about five minutes.

Have just a few categories

There’s a lot of budget software out there where you are required to fill in a zillion different categories and subcategories. If you’re kind of a linear person this can be useful but it’s not required. Use broad categories instead like food, gasoline, entertainment, housing and utilities. You can always make adjustments or add more categories later.

A simple budget

There are many different ways to organize a budget but the easiest is what’s called the “60% solution.” This just means fitting your normal monthly expenses into 60% of your net income so that you will have room left over for savings, retirement and “fun money.” These are the areas that can break you budget if you forget to include them.

What goes in the 60%?

These should be your monthly expenses including housing, insurance, food, Internet, and transportation. And yes, this is the part that is generally thought of as being your budget.

The rest

Of the 40% you should have left then 10% should go towards your retirement. The easiest way to do this is to have the money automatically withdrawn from your checking account and put into your 401(k) or IRA. If your employer offers a 401(k) that’s where the money should go at least for now. Ultimately you will want to have an IRA, too, but that’s the subject for another article.

A second 10% should be allocated towards debt reduction or long-term savings. This is money that you should invest in stocks, a mutual fund or an index fund and can also serve as an emergency fund. If you’re having a problem with debt, you should use this money to pay it off and you might even want to take some money from another of your categories such as retirement so that you could increase this to about 20%. Of course, once you’ve gotten your debts paid off then you can change back to long-term savings. In the event that you are working to reduce your debts, you should also create a small emergency fund out of either this category or the next one.

Short-term savings

A second 10% should go for expenses you can’t exactly anticipate. This would include auto repairs or maintenance, medical expenses, birthday and holiday gifts and home maintenance. Don’t be afraid to spend this money when these expenses crop up.. That’s what it’s for. When you run into these expenses the money will be there to cover them instead of having to take it out of one of your other budget categories or worse yet putting it on a credit card

Fun Money

Here comes the good stuff. As mentioned above, you need to have some fun money and this should be the final 10% of your budget. You can use this money to eat out, go to movies, buy books, go clubbing, camp out overnight or whatever it is that you enjoy. And you can do it guilt free because you’ve covered all your other bases.

Pay all your bills online

You can simplify your financial life considerably just by arranging to pay all of your bills online. This should be most of the stuff in your 60% category such as rent or your mortgage payment, utilities, cell phone, etc. If for some reason you can’t pay these electronically arrange to have your bank mail checks to your vendors. And arrange to have these payments made automatically so that you will never have to worry about missing a payment.

Automate your savings, too

You can also automate your saving, which makes it much easier because it’s harder to miss money you never see. Get a high-yield online savings account such as from ING Direct, or HBSD and have transfers made automatically to it from every one of your paychecks.

Use cash for everything else

Assuming that you’ve set up automatic bill paying and saving you should be able to pay cash for everything else such as your fun money, gas and groceries. You can go to your bank, credit union or a nearby ATM and get the money twice a month. The reason that you want to do this instead of using credit cards or checks is that it’s simpler. When you pay cash for things you never have to worry about overspending. In fact, you shouldn’t use credit cards unless you absolutely have to such as when you’re traveling.

woman with a full grocery shopping bagHave three envelopes

If you decide to use cash for the three categories listed above, get three envelopes and label them accordingly. When you go shopping for groceries, bring the groceries envelope with you. You will know exactly how much is left in that category before you begin shopping. Pay for your groceries out of the envelope and you’ll easily be able to see how much is left. It’s simple and requires no tracking. Of course, when the money is gone, it’s gone. You’ve spent the amount you budgeted. If you’re a few days short of when you will next get cash, you could move the money from one envelope to another with no need to make adjustments to your budget.

Just 20 minutes a week

There, you now have a budget, you’re organized and you have your finances under control. However, you’ll need to do some maintenance and that should require only about 20 minutes weekly. Schedule each week a day and time to review your finances. Spend that time putting your transactions into your financial software or spreadsheet. Assuming you’re using the plan outlined in this article all you’ll have to do is go on the Internet review your bank account and enter the bills you paid, deposits, ATM withdrawals and any fees you were charged. You might want to spend another 5 to 10 minutes reviewing your budget to make sure that all of your bills were paid. If not, pay them. It’s that simple.

The Best Ways To Buy Clothing Cheap You Don’t Know About

If you have a family we don’t need to tell you how much money it costs to clothe them. Keeping your family in clothes can be especially expensive if you have kids – that are always outgrowing their stuff. As of 2012, the most recent year for which this information is available, the average American family was spending more than $600 a year per person. If yours is a family of four that’s $2400 and this was nearly 5 years ago. You can just bet it’s gone up fairly substantially since then.

Thrift stores, yes thrift stores

The best way to buy clothing cheap that you probably don’t know about is thrift stores. Yes, thrift stores. That’s the best place to update your wardrobe regardless of the season for the least amount of money. Spring has just about sprung and summer is on its way. But what could you do to make the most out of your thrift store shopping?

Start with no expectations

The best way to maximize your thrift store shopping is to approach it with no expectations. It’s usually possible to browse aisles of bottoms, tops, dresses and more. So don’t begin with some particular item in mind such as a new blouse, skirt or shirt. Have a flexible attitude so that you can browse through everything. Yes, we know that sounds like a chore. But you really need to go through the entire store to update your wardrobe. The odds are that you’ll find the store is not very well organized. You might find that women’s apparel is mixed in with the men’s or that a blazer made for a man could be a better fit than jackets found in the woman’s section. You just never know. Begin by giving the entire store a quick once-over. The rapper Macklemore doesn’t just sing about thrift stores. He shops them regularly and recently said that of the more than the 3000 purchases he’s made in these stores the best have come from sections that weren’t even meant for him.

First hit the hot spots

There’s something else you probably didn’t know. Thrift stores have hotspots. You can spot newly stocked racks when employees put them out on the sales floor. You should check these out first because the best goods and the items that are most in-season are usually the first to go. Another hot spot is the racks right outside dressing rooms. This can be a virtual gold mine for in-season clothes and items that are in the best condition but are there because they didn’t fit someone else.

Don’t just buy clothes, accessorize

Let’s say that you’re browsing your nearest thrift store but aren’t doing very well. If you’re not having much luck finding an outfit don’t stop there. Go through all the accessories. You might be able to find a cute spring purse, a skinny belt, a light scarf, a gently-worn watch or a few wrist bangles just sitting there waiting to be grabbed up.

Examine everything carefully

Maybe this goes without saying but we’ll say it anyway. Make sure you closely examine whatever it is you’re thinking of buying in a thrift store. If it’s ripped, stained, overly worn or discolored you probably won’t be able to fix it. And you won’t be happy wearing it. On the other hand, if you believe the problem can be fixed, then go for it – assuming the cost to repair it won’t trump your thrift store shopping bargain. For example. If you were to find a great looking pair of pants with a ripped knee this is something that could be patched at a very low cost. On the other hand, a grease stain down the front of a summer dress is likely to stay there forever.

Choose kids clothing, popular labels and maternity clothes

It’s not a closely guarded secret that some brands hold up better than others. If you find something you like check the labels. One of the best ways to freshen up your child’s wardrobe is through thrift store shopping. Kids stuff is typically not worn out because they outgrow them and, of course, pregnancies last only so long. If you’re in the expecting way thrift stores can be a good place to score some great-looking maternity clothes at a fraction of what you would pay for them new.

What to avoid

Just as there are some things it makes sense to buy in thrift stores there are some things to avoid. You should probably never buy used underwear and socks due to health and sanitary reasons. You should also stay away from hats, boots and shoes for the same reason.

When to shop thrift stores

While there is no ideal time to shop thrift stores it’s a good idea to talk with some of the workers there to find out when new inventory arrives and when sales are scheduled. If there’s a thrift shop fairly close to where you live, you might make a habit of visiting it often so you could learn its schedule. And, of course, some of the best bargains surface when items are out of season. You might be looking for some spring or summer clothes but could score some really great buys on winter wardrobe updates, too.

If you just can’t bring yourself to shop thrift storesWoman smiling with monitor in the background

We understand that some people would have a really hard time shopping thrift stores. If you just can’t bring yourself to do this but are not adverse to the idea of wearing gently used clothing you could go to Swap.com and connect
with 500,000 other people looking to trade items such as clothing, books, electronics and jewelry. When we last checked Swap.com had 1.5 million items to choose from.

If you have kids that are outgrowing their clothes check out the website Thredup.com. This site is designed to help you get rid of the old clothes and find used ones that fit.

Finally, the online websites RueLaLa, Gilt.com and ShopItToMe offer designer clothes for women, children and men at 40% to 70% off. If you were to shop these websites as well as a couple of nearby thrift stores you should be able to cut your clothing budget dramatically.

Is It Smart To Use Your Retirement Money For Your Child’s Education?

golden egg with moneyDo you think that it is a smart move if you use your retirement money for your child’s education? After all, no parent would want to see their kid suffering financially. But does that really mean you need to sacrifice your future just so they can start their own future without any debt?

It is very hard to save for retirement when drowning in debt. That is a fact. So before you do the selfless act that comes naturally for parents, you may want to reconsider using up your retirement funds just to save your kid from student loans.

Although it is the noble thing to do, it may not be the smartest. According to an article published on CNBC.com, Boomerang kids are threatening to ruin their parent’s retirement. When they start moving back to the house or passing on the burden of paying off student debt to their parents, they are endangering the retirement of their folks. This report was taken from the market research done by Hearts & Wallets and shared with CNBC. According to this study, a lot of the parents of boomerang kids are postponing retirement just so they can help support their kid. And what is more troubling about this news is that those who are doing it is part of a big group. In fact, more than one-third of baby boomers provide financial support to their kids – that amounts to 15.8 million households. That is said to amount to $8 trillion worth of assets that could have been invested.

If you are seriously thinking about using your retirement money to help you child avoid debt, you may want to rethink your options first.

Should parents use their retirement fund to keep their child from student loans?

There is an article from MoneyNing.com that discusses this topic. According to the author, parents should not endanger their retirement money just so their kids will be spared. In fact, the article suggested that parents should start saving money early on to take advantage of the compound interest of some college savings funds. They can start early, save a little each month, and still have more than enough to help keep their kids from college debt when they are older. At the very least, this move will help put some money on the table to minimize the need to borrow money.

In our opinion, it is really not smart for parents to use their retirement money to fund the education of their child. So the answer to the title of this article is a big NO. There are two important reasons why parents should be encouraged to be a bit selfish when it comes to their retirement funds.

You deserve to give yourself a bright and comfortable future.

First of all, you really have to reward yourself for all the work that you have done and will still be doing in the future. You are not only working for your own needs, you have been supporting your child during the first 18 years of their life too. That is not an easy task considering the financial difficulties that everyone experienced in the past few years. Although parenthood requires sacrifice, there are some things that you also need to do for yourself. It is true that it is your responsibility to ensure that your child is equipped with the education that will help them support themselves financially in the future. But that does not mean you should choose between your future and theirs. If you want to be logical about it, there is more at stake with your future because you only have so much time to turn things around. You child still has a long way to go to pay up their student loans and save up enough retirement money. You do not have that luxury. That is why it is okay to be selfish by putting your retirement needs first before that of your child.

You need to teach your child how to pave their own way.

Another reason why you should not use your retirement savings to fund your child’s education is because you need to teach them to be responsible with their money. Times are hard. It is not like you are in abundance now. You need to let your child experience that reality. An article from QZ.com finds fault in the way baby boomers practiced the concept of helicopter parenting. This means they try to micromanage the routine and behavior of their child. Their intentions are good because they only want to pave the way for their child to experience success. However, the methods used are not really teaching their children to own up to their lives. Too much sheltering will leave you with a child who will always be dependent on you. Do you really want that on your plate while you are retired? More importantly, can you really retire if your child continues to depend on you?

How to help with college finances without compromising your retirement savings

Of course, as a parent, you will not really leave your child without any help. You will assist them to ensure that they will not graduate from college drowning in debt. However, you need to think about how you can do that without compromising your own retirement money.

Here are a couple of tips that we have for you.

  • Guide your child in selecting the right loan. If you are not going to use your retirement funds to finance the education of your child, that means they would have to borrow student loans. There many options to get financial aid. You need to be patient and sit down with your child to discuss with them their options. Make sure that you research not just the type of loans that they can borrow, but the repayment options too. You need to make a decision on the loan based on how easy it will be to pay off in the future. In essence, educating them is more beneficial than using your retirement money.
  • Teach your child how to manage their money wisely. Once you have helped them select the right loan, the next lesson you need to teach them is money management. What they will learn from you will be something that they can carry with them until adulthood. When it comes to teaching your child about proper financial management, you can start with budgeting, saving and smart spending. You should discuss with them credit and how to manage it properly – especially if you will allow them to use credit cards.
  • Let your child work part time. Apart from teaching them how to manage their money, you should also encourage them to work part time. A college student has a lot of time in their hands – even those who have a full load. Help them seek out job opportunities so they can keep the need for loans to a minimum. If they can pay for their board and lodging plus daily needs, they only have to borrow money for their tuition. That will keep the student loan from being too burdensome. Not only that, they will learn how hard it is to earn money – that will teach them how to practice smart spending.
  • Split the expense with your child. Of course, you have the option to split the expense with your child. Choose a comfortable amount based on how much retirement money you have. When we say comfortable, it has to be an amount that you know you can replace before you retire. You can offer to pay for the tuition of your child for the first two years and then let them borrow or work for the money to pay for the rest.

Keeping your child from student debt problems is not really that hard. Sometimes, all you really need to do is to educate them to help them make smart decisions about their loans. It does not really require you to spend anything but you will be giving them something much more valuable – your time.

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