Tag: Personal Finance (page 1 of 4)

The Best Holiday Shopping Budget Tips

Holidays are a time for giving, but giving too much can also put you in a huge financial hole. If you don’t want to end up having to dig yourself out of a shopping deficit at the end of December, follow these holiday shopping budget tips.

1. Set an overall budget.

Think about what you’re really able to spend overall and stick to that amount. What you’ll spend on each individual can fluctuate within that amount, but the overall budget should remain the same to avoid overspending.

2. Make a list of gift recipients, then trim it down.

Your second cousin whom you haven’t seen in 10 years probably doesn’t need a new set of dinner plates. Stick to the closest family members and friends for gift giving. If you still want to send something to long-lost relatives and acquaintances, a holiday photo card is a nice, inexpensive idea.

3. Use cash for purchases.

Credit cards can make it much easier to overspend. Instead, put cash aside at the beginning of the holiday shopping season and use that money to make purchases. If you prefer online shopping, create a separate account for your holiday shopping money, or be extremely disciplined in sticking to your budget.

4. Take advantage of free shipping.

Online shopping is convenient, but the shipping costs can really add up. Take advantage of free shipping days by making several gift purchases at once. Most retailers offer free shipping if you spend a certain amount.

5. Start shopping early.

Waiting until the last minute can cause you to overspend. Starting your holiday shopping as early as September or October is a good idea because you can shop a little bit at a time. Everyday deals are often better than Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals anyway, and you’ll be more likely to score the big-ticket items that might sell out on these busy shopping days.

6. Think quality, not quantity.

One thoughtful gift is more appreciated than several random items. Homemade gifts are also a good idea as they come from the heart. The best part is, they’re also less expensive.

Stay on budget with these holiday shopping tips and enjoy the season!

Estate Planning Simplified

Nobody likes thinking about dying, but, if you die without a plan in place, you’ll be leaving your assets and your family in a difficult position. In that case, you’ll be taking the chance that the state’s probate laws will work in your family’s favor. It’s much more advantageous to develop a simple estate plan.

Start With a Will

Above all, you need a will to ensure certain arrangements will meet with your approval. Even if you don’t have many assets, you should use your will to identify your heirs and determine how assets will be divided up among them. More importantly, a will is the only way you can choose guardians for your minor children and make arrangements for their care.

Add a Living Trust

Your estate plan should also include a living trust. If you have significant assets, or if you want to make sure a loved one receives a specific piece of property, a living trust will serve this purpose better than a will. Since a trust is a private document, it typically won’t be included in the probate process. This means any property transferred via the trust will also be kept out of the probate process.

Care for Yourself With Powers of Attorney

An estate plan can also help you take care of yourself in the future by helping you choose people to make medical care and financial decisions for you. A healthcare proxy allows you to choose someone you trust to make decisions regarding your healthcare if you’re ever in a situation in which you can’t communicate your wishes. Under those same circumstances, a financial power of attorney will appoint someone of your choosing to take care of your finances until you’re able to act on your own behalf.

While you could probably create a simple will that’s legally binding, it’s a smarter move to consult an estate planning attorney. An experienced lawyer can help you draft the other documents you’ll need for your estate plan, and they can explain how the laws in your state will affect your final wishes. Creating a simple plan for the future may seem bothersome, but you’ll be surprised by the peace of mind it provides once it’s done.

Four Questions Prospective Homebuyers Should Ask

It could be argued that owning a home is the American dream. But that dream can rapidly become a nightmare if you buy before you’re ready. Are you prepared to buy a home? These four questions will help you decide.

How’s Your Credit Score?

If it’s below the mid-750s, you have some work to do before you’re ready to buy a home. One of the first things lenders research is a prospective homebuyer’s credit score. They like numbers in the mid-750s or higher.

While you can get a loan if your score is lower, you won’t be allowed to borrow as much money, and your interest rate will be higher. That will make your monthly payments higher; over the life of your loan, you may spend thousands of dollars in extra interest.

Before you apply for a mortgage, bring your credit score up, even if that takes a couple of years.

Can you afford the down payment?

Take a look at your savings account. Do you have enough money for a down payment, closing costs, and insurance? Will there be enough money left for repairs and renovations you want to do right away? If there’s not, amp up your savings practices before you start looking for a house.

Can you afford the monthly obligations?

Predictions are difficult in these uncertain times. But you’ll be ready to buy a home when you’re confident you can make the monthly mortgage and interest payments and pay for homeowners’ insurance, property taxes, homeowner association fees, utilities, trash pickup, and water and sewer charges. Your car payments and insurance need to enter into these calculations, too.

Also, think about your lifestyle. If you love traveling, dining at pricey restaurants, or have an expensive hobby, make sure there’s room in your monthly budget for those, too.

Are you ready to stay put?

Experts suggest living in a home for at least four years before selling it. It can take that long to recoup the upfront costs of buying the house. Of course, you could rent it. But being a landlord isn’t easy. And if your tenant can’t pay the rent, you’re stuck with two mortgages.

If you’re thinking about changing jobs or leaving the area where you live now within a few years, you’re not ready to buy a home just yet.

The Benefits and Drawbacks of Certificates of Deposit For Investing

Certificates of deposit are a less exciting investment than the stock market or other investing methods that gain more attention, but they’re also a durable option that many investors appreciate. Like any investment, CDs have pros and cons worth considering before deciding what’s best for your financial needs.

The Benefits of Certificates of Deposit

They offer better returns than a savings account. Even with a high-yield savings account, you can often find certificates of deposit (CDs) with higher return rates for your money.

Your returns are predictable. One of the comforting advantages of a CD is that you will be locked into the term’s interest rate. When you invest in the CD, you will know exactly how much money you’ll be getting back at the end of the terms.

You have a lot of options. There are certificates of deposit available at financial institutions everywhere so that you can shop around for the best deal. This means looking at the highest interest rates for your return. It also means that you can find the timeline that works best for your needs.

It’s a safe option. Investing in the stock market comes with all kinds of risks. A certificate of deposit is done at a federally insured institution and is a predictable and safe way to invest your money.

The Drawbacks of a CD

Your money will be temporarily inaccessible. When investing with CDs, you are locking your money into the certificate of deposit until an agreed-upon date. While you could cash out in an emergency, this takes time and loses your returns. With a high-yield savings account, you can still have access to your money at any time.

Returns are low compared to other investment methods. The risk is also lower, but CDs are not the best option if you’re looking for significant returns.

There is a risk of inflation. If you put money into a five-year CD, it is possible that the low interest rate on your returns could be less than the inflation rate. Ideally, this won’t be true, but it happens.

When is a Financial Risk Worth Taking?

Every single day, there are many risks that we must face. Each risk poses a reward, and usually, the higher the risk, the greater that reward. Financial risks are among the most common risks that we face in our day-to-day lives. Everyone can make a risky financial decision, even if that means losing a bit of value in your investment.

While financial risk may lead to bankruptcy, it is not worth taking it. While leaving savings in a bank account may seem overly cautious, there are times when losing that money can be devastating. When is it appropriate to pursue a monetary risk? Which risks pose the most significant rewards without sacrificing your financial security?

Starting Your Own Business

Some people don’t consider entrepreneurship to be the best venture, but in reality, it is the best opportunity to utilize the resources you have. Such resources include work experience, education, unique skills, and the desire and ability to be your own boss. In fact, successful entrepreneurship can lead to incredible gains—if you own a business, you may see higher earnings throughout your life! 

Going Back to School

Some opportunities, whether those be professional or financial, require finely-tuned skills. And, some of those skills can only be learned from field or industry experts. Going back to school will help you gain more knowledge, thus allowing you to acquire new skills and improve upon existing ones. Whether you want to finally earn your undergraduate degree, or have always dreamed of pursuing a Ph.D., going back to school can reap incredible rewards.

Professional certificates are an alternative to higher education. For instance, accountants can enroll for management skills and human resource training to expand their job opportunities and build upon their current skills.

Buying a House

Purchasing a home for your family is another great investment. It may not seem like an investment, but being a homeowner means investing in a neighborhood and the future of your spouse and children. In urban areas, monthly rent for apartments is the standard. However, if you move out to the suburbs, you’ll want to look into pursuing a mortgage. Once the mortgage is paid off, you can rent or sell the home. If you’ve kept up with the home through repairs and additions, you may be able to sell at an increased price!

Be persistent and think less about failure

While some of the above financial risks might bring short-term losses, be patient and have faith that temporary losses will lead to future returns. When you put more effort and focus on succeeding, success will follow. At the end of the day, persistence is what matters—not failure.

Debunking Common Myths about Personal Finance

It’s possible that the only obstacle to reaching your financial dream is your lack of financial knowledge. Having a job and paying taxes and rent doesn’t qualify you as financially literate. Like many of us in the United States, you’re bound to encounter repeated mistakes with money—many of which are based on false preconceived notions. It’s time to debunk some common financial myths.

That Finance is Corrupt

Start building your financial literacy by accepting the fact that money, itself, isn’t reserved for the corrupt. You need to stay true to yourself as you build your wealth, and if you find yourself in trouble due to money, a closer look will reveal that you got yourself into that trouble. At the same time, though, you can always get yourself out!

That Budgeting Alone is What Saves Money

You can’t save money just by organizing your fixed and variable costs. Your discipline, as you live according to your budget, means nothing if the influences of spending later deter you. One of the largest expenses that people fail to account for is the fact that sellers invest time and money into convincing you to casually give your money away. You won’t save money “if you keep falling into spending sprees.”

That Your Savings Equals Wealth

Money is what you earn, but wealth is only obtained from assets that create an income. Savings won’t make you wealthy, since cash is exposed to inflation, taxes, and spending. Building wealth is about positioning your money to duplicate itself without your direct effort. Your savings, though valuable and necessary, are only useful if used to acquire assets that generate more income for you.

That Retirement is the Goal

Another mistake that promising Americans make with their finances is in organizing them solely for retirement.

Retirement is paradoxical since wealth, which is money that doesn’t deplete, must come from multiple assets that produce an income. If you, at this very moment, hope to reach a point in life where you do nothing, then this mindset will reflect in and limit your personal finances. You should expect to retire, but shouldn’t sacrifice your potential for financial improvement. 

Basic Budgeting Tips

Many Americans have trouble with their finances. For some, it’s due to a lack of income. For others, it’s difficult to figure out how to divvy up money each month. That’s why it’s so important to maintain a budget. Budgets give households permission to spend a specific amount of money during a given month. A budget is a good way to track spending, and many millionaires claim that this step was an important key to their financial success.

Start With A Zero Balance

A family should account for every dollar when setting up a budget. Having a zero-based budget simply means that every dollar is accounted for at the beginning of the month. It does not mean that every dollar gets spent. Some of the money should go toward savings, but it should not be left without a home in the savings portion of the budget.

Save Automatically

That money that gets saved should get automatically deducted at the beginning of the month. Ideally, this will be the result of an automatic draw from a direct deposit. By saving automatically, there will be less of a temptation to spend the money on frivolities. Any cash that gets saved should be put toward an emergency fund, a long-term savings goal like a mortgage down payment or investments.

Prioritize Debt Repayment

Any money that’s left over after accounting for all necessary expenses should go toward paying off debt. One of the biggest drains on the average family’s finances is interest expense. By cutting out interest expenses and debt payments, many people who have financial stress could breathe much easier. Making more money and cutting expenses are the best way to accelerate debt repayment. Fewer payments going to debtors leaves more money for more enjoyable purposes.

Allow for Miscellaneous Spending

Setting aside some petty cash for small and unexpected expenses is a good way to avoid going into debt or dipping into an emergency fund. Few months are alike when it comes to expenses, so having a little cash on hand to deal with unusual expenses is a great step to take.

Budgeting is an important key to financial success. Rather than constraining a family, a budget can actually be a very freeing process. A budget allows for an easy assessment of where a family’s money is going. By gaining an understanding of where a household’s income is going, it’s possible to make adjustments to provide for more efficient use of that money.

Tips for Starting a College Fund

For many industries, a decent college education is a requirement. However, college isn’t exactly easy; from picking a major and career path to writing detailed term papers and theses, plenty of challenges stand in a student’s way. One of the greatest obstacles is the cost. Similar to buying a house or car, investing in a college education is one of the biggest financial moves that anyone will make.

College may be rewarding in terms of education, but it can destroy someone financially. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. If you establish a college fund, you can get the ball rolling and enjoy less debt.

Here are a few tips to start a college fund.

Determine the Best Way to Save

Starting a college fund isn’t as simple as it may seem. Most people can’t just throw over $60,000 in a bank account and call it a day. They need to have a savings plan in place if they want to keep things simple.

There are multiple types of saving plans to choose from including:

  • 529 Plans
  • Uniform Gift to Minors Act (UGMA) Accounts
  • IRA Accounts
  • Coverdell Education Savings Accounts

It’s important to remember that not every savings plan is for everyone. For instance, one might have an easier time having a 529 plan than an IRA. Do your research before investing in any of these plans. 

Apply for a Scholarship

Because college can be so financially demanding, scholarships are the way to go. Scholarships are essentially how people can pay for college without going into debt. Furthermore, a scholarship can range from anything such as math and gymnastics.

For parents, it’s crucial to encourage a child to apply for a scholarship, so they don’t have to worry about the hardships that come with debt. With all the options out there, you’ll be hard-pressed to not find a scholarship that fits your interests.

Put in Time for Work

Getting a job is a surefire way to make money to put towards college. Aside from paying for tuition, a job also gives a person experience in a specific field that they can put on a resume later on. This is a great starting point for those looking to get hands-on experience for their dream job as well.

Being able to afford a college education isn’t always easy, but it is possible with a little advanced planning and strategic thinking.

How to Correct Tax Return Errors

No matter how many times you check or how accurate you believe your information to be, mistakes happen. When mistakes happen, it is not the end of the world, but mistakes on tax forms can become headaches.

You may use a tax professional, some form of tax software, or complete taxes the old fashioned way; however you do your taxes, you should check them thoroughly before filing. While there are ways to make corrections once you’ve submitted, most of them do entail waiting additional time for a refund and increased time and paperwork. Here are some of the ways to amend those mistakes as quickly as possible.

Let the IRS Fix It

Sometimes, calculations are off by just a few dollars. If you’ve made a small error that does not greatly impact your return, the IRS may fix it for you. If this is the case, the IRS will send a letter explaining the adjustments and offering advice on next steps, should there be any. This is the easiest solution and is actually commonplace for simple and easily-corrected mistakes. 

Send an Amended Return

If the IRS does not fix the mistake that you know you made, an amended return can be used for correcting the large majority of mistakes. Simply download and fill out a 1040x form from the IRS website. This is the best blanket solution on the list, as it covers errors great and small.

Have a Copy of the Initial Return Handy

If you are correcting a mistake, you must have a copy of the initial return that you filed. This return will be used to spot the mistake and any subsequent issue that would need to be changed.

Check Your Math While Making Corrections

When filing your taxes, one incorrect line on your return can affect the outcome of everything else. You cannot just go in and change the error that you made and move on. You must also go through the rest of the return and make necessary corrections based on the initial error. 

Avoid e-Filing Amended Returns

The ability to electronically file your taxes is one of the best things to come from the Internet age. Refunds come more quickly, and there is a lot less paperwork to be mailed. This, however, is not an option for an amended return, so have envelopes and stamps ready. It may help to gauge the estimated time period between your mailing of the return and the IRS’s receipt of it.

How To Plan For Student Loan Payments

Many students get out of college and realize that they need to pay off their loans. With colleges sticker prices on the rise each year, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by student debt. However, if by applying these tips, students can plan for debt and pay off their loans as quickly as possible. 

Consider Refinancing Your Student Loans

Some people may not know where to start, especially if their student debt is going to be quite high. If you fall into that camp, you could look into refinancing your loans. Refinancing your loans means that you use another loan to pay off your student loans.

If you have a stable job and you can find loans with lower interest, then you may want to refinance. This way, you pay off the student loans and then don’t have to pay as much money over time when you work on the other loan.

Set Money Aside Each Paycheck For Your Loans

You should focus on budgeting your money so that you can set aside some of that income from each paycheck. This way, you can always pay off that set amount with each paycheck. Such a consistent system will go a long way in helping you pay off those loans.

Some people may worry that it would take too long to use this approach, but consistent payments do offer a tremendous benefit. Yes, it may take some time, but this method helps you calculate when you’ll have that debt paid off by. As your financial situation changes, you can accurately pivot and recalculate to get a clear picture of your debt payment schedule.

Prioritize Your Student Loan Payments

People tend to push their loans to the side, but you need to prioritize your loan payments. Sure, you can buy a new phone or gourmet coffee, but you should consider putting that extra money towards your loans. If you prioritize your payments, then you can put all your extra money towards your loans. This will help you to pay them off sooner and reduce interest.

Conclusion

While student loans are scary to think about, keep in mind that you can pay them off with careful planning. Look at how much money you make, set aside specific amounts and continue to prioritize your loans until you pay them off. This way, you can overcome your loans and start saving money for life’s next big adventure.