Category Archives: Cash Back

How Does Cash Back Work?

How Does Cash Back Work?

Editorial Note: This content is not provided by the credit card issuer. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer.

Credit card companies typically offer a plethora of rewards options for their cardholders to take advantage of. But cash back has long been a favorite of many, as it gives you the chance to earn cold, hard money for making everyday purchases. If you’re confused about how cash back works, read on for a full explanation.

How Cash Back Works

At its core, cash back refers to a predetermined percentage of a purchase you make being returned to you as cash rewards. Cash back rates typically range between 1% and 5%, though there are some outliers to be mindful of. Credit card issuers will usually clearly label what types of purchases earn what level of cash back. But like anything in the credit card industry, you must read the fine print.

This is mainly because all purchases and cash back rewards are governed by merchant category codes, or MCCs. Credit card companies ultimately determine these designations, with Mastercard, Visa, American Express and Discover calling the shots. Some common codes are “restaurant,” “department store,” “airline” and “entertainment,” among others. So if you earn 5% bonus cash back at restaurants and you go to Burger King — which has a restaurant MCC — you’ll get that 5% back.

But what these limiting MCCs sometimes don’t take into account are businesses that could fit into more than one category. Included in this group are hotels, superstores like Walmart, tourist attractions like museums and other multi-faceted establishments. In turn, you could lose out on cash back if you’re confused about which category a purchase you made falls into.

As an example, let’s say your family orders room service while on vacation in The Bahamas. You pay with your credit card thinking you’ll get the advertised 3% cash back on dining. When your credit card statement comes in the mail, however, you’ve only received the base 1% earnings. This is because the MCC of your hotel is just that, a hotel, which leaves your credit card issuer blind to what you really bought.

Unfortunately situations like these often offer very little recourse, as your card’s issuer has no ability to change these codes. In fact, only the major credit companies can change their own code selections.

New cardholders will often receive cash back promotions and bonuses. These offers can either be recurring — monthly, quarterly, yearly, etc. — or simply for just one period of time, usually at the beginning of your account’s life. Hypothetically, a recurring bonus might look like this: “Earn 3% cash back at supermarkets and wholesale clubs, up to $1,500 in purchases each quarter.” On the other hand, a one-time promotion might allow for 5% cash back on airfare purchases made during the first three months you’re a cardholder.

Depending on your card, cash back may be capped or it could expire after a period of time. While some cards feature both an earnings limit and expiration dates, others may have no restrictions. All cash back cards have their own, unique system surrounding them. So it’s important to refer to your documentation whenever you have a particular question.

Using Your Cash Back Earnings

How Does Cash Back Work?

The vast majority of cash back credit cards offer variations of the same choices for redeeming rewards. Most often, you’ll see statement credits, checks, bank account deposits, gift cards and charitable donations available to you.

  • Statement credit – Instead of receiving your cash back in-hand, you can apply it to your upcoming monthly bill, saving you money in the process.
  • Check – As one of the more direct ways of redeeming cash back, checks allow you to basically do whatever you want with its value.
  • Bank deposits – Eligible accounts usually include checking accounts, savings accounts or investment accounts.
  • Gift cards – With this option, you can convert cash back into retail credit at a store or website at which you want to shop.
  • Donations – Many card issuers have open relations with charities. These partnerships open the door for you to aid your favorite causes with real money.

It’s by far the easiest to redeem cash back through your card issuer’s website that it provides. Here you’ll not only see your rewards status, you will also know every possible redemption you could make. If you’d rather talk to a real person, most companies still have rewards phone lines you can call, as well.

Those who’d rather not have to worry about where their rewards currently stand will find that a redemption threshold might be helpful. Not all cards offer this feature. But if yours does, set a threshold at which your cash back is automatically redeemed in any manner you desire. Additionally, some cards require you to attain a certain amount of cash back before redeeming is possible.

Cash Back With Each Major Credit Card Company

what is cash back

There are tons of different cash back cards, depending on your credit score you may be eligible for some but not others. While it’s impossible to give universal specifics for each credit card company, below we’ve provided overviews of some of the most popular cash back cards.

Citi Double Cash Card (Mastercard)

Cash Back Rate: 1% at the time of purchase, 1% when you pay them off

Limit or Expiration: No limit; Expires if no eligible purchases are made for 12 months

Redemption Options: As a check, statement credit or gift card

The “double cash” nature of the Citi Double Cash Card means you effectively earn cash back twice: first when you make the initial purchase and again when you pay your credit card bill. The 12-month expiration is fairly standard and the lack of limits on how much cash back you can earn is generous. Statement credits, checks and gift cards are three of the most common redemption choices, so it’s no surprise to see them offered here.

Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card (Mastercard)

Cash Back Rate: 3% in the category of your choice, 2% on purchases at grocery stores and wholesale clubs, 1% on other purchases

Limit or Expiration: Cash back on choice category, grocery stores and wholesale club purchases is limited on up to $2,500 in combined purchases each quarter; No expiration dates

Redemption Options: Once you have $25 or more, you can redeem as a statement credit, a check or a deposit to an eligible Bank of America® or Merrill Lynch® account

Take note of the combined $2,500 quarterly limit on 3% and 2% cash back in category of choice and at grocery stores and wholesale clubs, respectively. The Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card also requires cardholders to have a minimum of $25 in earned cash back before they can redeem.

Blue Cash Everyday American Express Card
(American Express)

Cash Back Rate: 3% on U.S. supermarket purchases, 2% on U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department store purchases, 1% on other purchases

Limit or Expiration: 3% rate at U.S. supermarkets is limited to $6,000 a year in purchases then drops to 1%; No expiration dates

Redemption Options: After earning at least $25, redeem as a statement credit in $25 increments; Gift cards and merchandise redemptions from time to time

Amex offers some of the strongest rewards cards around, and the Blue Cash Everyday American Express Card is no exception. It does come with some limits; namely the 3% cash back rate on U.S. grocery store purchases is capped at $6,000 in purchases a year. At that time, cardholders earn 1% in cash back on groceries.

Discover it® Card
(Discover)

Cash Back Rate: 5% in rotating categories like gas station, supermarket, restaurant, Amazon.com and wholesale club purchases, 1% on other purchases; Full cash back match at the end of your first year

Limit or Expiration: $1,500 cap on purchases that earn the 5% rate each quarter; No expiration dates

Redemption Options: Statement credits, deposits to a bank account, gift cards and eCertificates, pay with cash back at select merchants and charitable donations

Discover cards offer great first-year cash back matches and distinctive cash back categories. These traits are on full display with the Discover it® Card. This includes 5% cash back on purchases ranging from dining to Amazon.com. However, there are limits for this rate and you have to opt in to categories each quarter to qualify. This card also offers five redemption options — the most on this list.

Tips to Maximize Cash Back Potential and Minimize Credit Risk

  • Cash back is one of the most prolific perks that the modern credit card market has to offer. But it’s important that you don’t overspend outside of your means just for the sake of rewards. Because many cash back cards come with higher annual percentage rates (APRs), this could force you into large, unsustainable interest payments.
  • Whenever possible, swipe your card for purchases in bonus categories. Not all cards have these to offer, but most do. So make sure you know which cards in your wallet offer bonuses at places like gas stations and supermarkets.
  • Know what types of redemptions — statement credits, bank account deposits, gift cards etc. — work best for you. This will drastically narrow down your card options, making the decision process much simpler.

Photo Credit: ©iStock.com/4×6, Â©iStock.com/Pgiam, Â©iStock.com/Ridofranz

Editorial Note: This content is not provided by the credit card issuer. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer.

Advertiser Disclosure: The card offers that appear on this site are from companies from which SmartAsset.com receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). SmartAsset.com does not include all card companies or all card offers available in the marketplace.

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10 cash back credit card mistakes you need to avoid

Almost half of American adults (49%) hold a cash back credit card, according to a 2019 survey from CreditCards.com.

But that same research reveals that we don’t always make the most of card rewards.

About 88% of cash back card holders redeemed their rewards over the past year, which suggests some consumers either hoarded their cash or just let it sit unused.

What’s a cash back lover not to do? Here are 10 common cash back mistakes to avoid – along with a few tips for squeezing every dollar from those rewards.

10 common cash back credit card mistakes

  1. Not finding the right card that best suits your real life
  2. Saving rewards for too long or not cashing them in strategically
  3. Neglecting to register for those quarterly bonus categories
  4. Not using rebate coupons and shopping portals to boost cash back
  5. Being dazzled by sign-up bonuses
  6. Ignoring spending caps
  7. Carelessly using cash back cards for ‘autopay‘
  8. You’re not avoiding foreign transaction fees
  9. Carrying a balance on your card
  10. Sticking with the same old card without shopping new options

1. You’re not finding the card that best suits your lifestyle

“With cash back cards, there are so many flavors and options,” said Marc Bellanger, senior director of financial services for Merkle, a marketing firm for the financial services industry.

And depending on your lifestyle and where you spend money, there may be a card where you earn more, he added.

The secret: Tally up how much you’re spending in various categories such as travel, dining, groceries, etc., said Julie Pukas, head of U.S. bankcard and merchant solutions for TD Bank. Her advice: “Really understand what you are really looking for and where you are spending.”

You can also maximize your cash back earnings by shifting (not increasing) some of your everyday spending to the right card.

If you spend a generous amount of your paycheck on groceries, maybe a card that offers an extra bonus for purchases at supermarkets is what you need.

If you don’t eat out much, a card that offers an extra bonus on restaurants might not be worth your attention.

And if you are willing to use your card everywhere. but don’t want to spend time figuring out what card to use on every purchase, perhaps a flat-rate cash back card is the way to go.

The other factor in your equation: annual fees. “Using a no-fee card is a win-win,” said Zach Honig, editor-at-large at The Points Guy. And some of the best cash back cards have no annual fee.Chase Freedom Flex℠ or Chase Freedom Unlimited® card, you accumulate cash back benefits worth about 1% to 1.5%.

But if you bank those rewards and redeem them for travel through one of the Chase Sapphire cards, you can get an extra bonus worth 25% to 50% of your points.
extra bonuses on specific categories year-round, others increase your cash back in rotating categories – which change quarterly – if you register for them online each quarter.

In some cases, such as with some Chase or Discover cards, this can quintuple your cash rewards.

“If you’re not activating those quarterly bonuses, that’s a mistake,” Honig said. It’s also a good time to note the new spending categories, so you’re using the card that gives the most for your purchases.
Ibotta), coupon codes and shopping portals (such as Rakuten and Upromise) to stack extra savings on top of cash back rewards, said Brian Preston, CFP, managing principal for Abound Wealth and host of The Money Guy Show podcast.

If you can pile up cash back bonuses, portal rebates and coupon codes, “that’s the trifecta,” Preston said.

Interested in mastering the art of rewards stacking? See “3 ways to stack your rewards at the gas station” and “How to stack rewards to save big on purchases.”
Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi offers 4% back on up to $7,000 in eligible gas purchases (then it’s 1%) every year.cash back card for bills is a great way to hit spending thresholds and rack up cash rewards.

“Essentially, it’s a 2% off coupon,” said Preston.

But that doesn’t mean you have to put bills on autopilot, said Honig.

After frequently finding small erroneous charges on bills, Honig has learned that “it makes sense to review everything” – and use the cards to pay electronically without putting bills on automatic.

Also, if bills are larger than expected (and too much for your credit line), that autopay could max out your card. Or the payment could even be denied.

Any resulting penalty fees might also cancel any hard-earned cash back on your card.
foreign transaction fees, some cash back cards still have them, said Honig.

Foreign transaction fees generally add 3% to your purchases made abroad, and you don’t have to be a high-flyer to get hit with them.

“If you make purchases [from websites or companies] outside the U.S., it’s something to keep an eye out for,” he added.

Easy hack: If you plan to use your cash back card while traveling outside the U.S. or at foreign websites, consider signing up for a card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.

42% of Americans don’t pay off card bills in full every month, according to the American Bankers Association.

That’s a losing game.

The average APR on cash back cards is about 1.3% monthly, so if your cash back card is paying 1%, you’re leaking money.

And if you’re getting 2%, you’re barely breaking even.

Want to get all the juice from your cash back card? Spend only what you can afford to pay each month.

If you need a card you can occasionally revolve, shop for a card that includes a 0% APR promotional offer.
switching cards doesn’t have to sink your credit as long as you do it correctly.

If you’re looking at switching cash back cards (and closing one), said Daraius Dubash, co-founder of MillionMileSecrets, make sure you’ve cashed out all your rewards before you close the account.

See related:  How cash back credit cards work

Source: creditcards.com

How to Still Pay Your Bills During a Layoff or When You Miss A Check

The post How to Still Pay Your Bills During a Layoff or When You Miss A Check appeared first on Penny Pinchin' Mom.

More than 800,000 Americans are currently affected by the government shut down. And, while it would make sense to force our congressmen and senators to also not get paid during that time, it just won’t happen.

survive a layoff

Even though you may not be working and getting a paycheck, it doesn’t mean the bills stop.  You still need to feed your family and take care of yourself.

The truth is that a layoff or furlough can happen to anyone at any time. And, if you already struggle to live paycheck to paycheck, not getting paid will certainly increase your stress level.

WHAT DO DO IF YOU MISS A PAYCHECK

First off, if you aren’t getting paid, you need to take a deep breath. I know it is stressful and you are struggling, but it is all going to be OK.

Your first instinct may be to go take out a second mortgage or unsecured loan.  You might be tempted to get some additional credit cards.  And, that retirement account may be calling your name.

Don’t do that.

All you are doing is adding more stress by increasing your debt or tax liability.  Then, when you do start having paychecks again, you end up with more bills to pay.

It may be a short term fix, with long-term consequences.  Just don’t do it.

Go ahead and have a good cry.  Then, wipe your tears and create a plan.

 

1. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A BUDGET

If you don’t have a budget, there is no time like the present to make one.  A budget is not going to restrict you from spending money.  In fact, it is the opposite.

Your budget shows you where you spend your money.  And, more importantly, where you might be able to cut back. It could mean stopping your gym membership and not dining out.  It could even mean canceling your cable service.

A traditional budget will show the income you bring in.  But, if you don’t have any regular paychecks, how do you do this?  You make your budget with the money you do have.

Don’t include the amount you normally make, but rather, just the amount currently coming in.  If there is no money at all, then create your budget with the money you have on hand.  You need to get everything out of every penny you make.

Your budget is crucial to surviving a layoff, furlough or government shut down.

 

2. COVER YOUR NEEDS

If you look at your budget, there are wants and needs.  A want is cable.  A need is housing.  When there is no money coming in (or less than usual), you must cover your needs.   This means making sure you pay for:

Housing
Food
Clothing
Transportation

Look at your budget and cover these expenses first.  Don’t pay your cable bill if you can’t put food on the table.  Cable is not important right now, but you must feed your family.

Once you cover your basic needs pay other bills in order of importance.  Don’t worry about the credit card bills right now – but pay your utilities.

You can’t pay everyone.  There is no getting around that.  Pay those you need to in order to protect your family.

 

3. SELL THINGS

A simple way to generate some quick cash is to find things you do not need and sell them.  The added bonus is that you get a chance to clean out the basement or the garage.

Use sites such as LetGo or Craigslist to sell big items.  If you have clothing check out ThredUp or Poshmark.  There is always someone who needs something.

 

4. STOP PAYING OFF DEBT

If you are in the midst of getting out of debt, you’ll have to stop — for now.  Getting out of debt can’t be your priority at this time.  You have to make sure you are taking care of your family.

Once your income returns to normal levels, you can pick up your debt snowball right where you left off.  And, if that means the balance had to increase in the short term, so be it.

 

5.  CUT BACK

When you struggle financially, it’s time for some big changes.  The first thing to do is look at your food bill.  See what you can cut from your spending.  Do some searches on Pinterest for very cheap family meals that you can make.

You may also want to check out different grocery stores.  For example, if you live near an ALDI, make a trip there to shop.  You’ll find almost everything you need, at very low prices.  You aren’t sacrificing quality.  You are just making the most of every dollar you spend.

Take a deep look at your budget and get rid of things such as monthly subscriptions like Hulu, gyms, etc.  You can always start these up again when you increase your income.  Once your income returns, you get to add these back in.  These are temporary cut backs just to help you survive this time.

 

6.  MAKE SOME CALLS

It is important to reach out to all of your providers and lenders to let them know you are part of the government shut down, or in the midst of a layoff.  You don’t want to risk getting service shut down due to lack of payment.

While many of them may not be able to make any concessions, they might be able to give you an additional month to pay or not charge a late fee.  But, you will never know unless you ask.  What’s the worst thing that will happen?

Note that during the winter months, utility companies are not allowed to discontinue services, but they can during other times of the year.

 

7. GET A SIDE HUSTLE OR TEMPORARY JOB

When there is no money coming in, you’ve got to find a way to change that.  It may be time to add a side-hustle. It could mean working fast food or getting a job at Walmart.  You just have to find a way to bring in money during this short period of time.

If your layoff or furlough is temporary, you may not be able to get another job. It could be part of the terms of your employment, so it is not an option.  That means you need to try a side-hustle.  It might mean you are an Uber driver or even tutor kids.

 

8.  ASK FOR HELP

Check your local food pantry or church to ask for help.  These organization can provide food and even money to help cover your bills.   You may also have family members who are willing to help by paying for your groceries or covering your electric bill.  But, you have to ask.

You have a family to provide for, so you can’t let your pride get in the way of getting them what they need.

 

WHAT DO WHEN YOU START GETTING PAID AGAIN

Once you are back at work and your income is back to what it was previously, don’t just go back to your spending like before.  You don’t want to struggle again should you find yourself in this same situation.

The most important thing to do is to work on building your emergency fund.  The idea is to build it up to have at least 3 – 6 months worth of living expenses covered.  I know it sounds like a lot.  And, it probably is.

You won’t build it up all at once.  It will take time.  But, you can do things such as sell more items or get a second job.  Even if you start saving just $10 a week, you’ll have saved more than $500 in a year.

surviving a layoff

The post How to Still Pay Your Bills During a Layoff or When You Miss A Check appeared first on Penny Pinchin' Mom.

Source: pennypinchinmom.com

What Is a Good APR?

woman holding mug on laptop

Sifting through credit card offers can be daunting. There are so many numbers and lengthy explanations that it can be easy to miss the most important details.

Though it’s always a good idea to read over every contract you sign, when it comes to picking a new credit card, there is one detail consumers should try not to miss: the card’s annual percentage rate, or APR.

Taking the time to find out what an APR is and how it might affect the monthly payment is a wise step before comparing credit card offers.

What Is an Annual Percentage Rate?

Is it the same as an interest rate? Not quite. An APR is the total cost of the loan expressed in annual terms—a small, but important, distinction. A credit card’s APR might include the interest rate as well as fees for late payments, foreign transactions, or returned payments.

Federal Reserve, the US national average credit card APR was 15.09% in February 2020. It’s reasonable to assume that an APR at or below the national average is considered “good.” That said, qualifying for a “good” APR may hinge on a consumer’s credit score.

APR and interest rates also change alongside federal interest rates changes, so it’s important for consumers to not only rely on an average that may be out of date, but rather, look at the offer presented to them at the time.

It’s a good idea for consumers to attempt to seek out the lowest rate possible for their financial situation.

Low vs. High APR Cards

Some credit cards tend to have higher APRs than others. For example, rewards credit cards tend to have higher APRs, but provide value via perks, discounts, points, or other benefits.

On the other hand, many low-interest cards come with fewer perks, but again, can save someone money in the long run if they need to carry a balance.

Low-interest cards also tend to be reserved for those with higher than average credit scores, so they may be harder to qualify for with lower credit.

How to Avoid Paying APR

There is one way to avoid paying an APR altogether, at least with credit cards, and that is by paying off the balance each and every month. By paying off the balance a consumer will never have to pay interest or any APR-related fees.

However, it’s still a good idea to seek out a good APR offer just in case a large purchase means carrying a balance for some time.

Tips for Qualifying for a Better APR

The APR a person qualifies for typically depends on his or her individual credit score. This means, those with credit scores on the higher end of the scale might qualify for lower APRs. If a consumer has a lower credit score, that doesn’t mean they are totally out of luck, but might be offered the same card at a higher APR.

improve their credit score.

One step is to check their credit report regularly for accuracy. US federal law allows consumers to get one free credit report annually from each of the three credit reporting agencies.

Consumers can also improve their personal credit scores by making debt payments on time and trying to use only 30% of their available credit at any given time. Payment history accounts for 35% of the total credit score, and credit utilization—how much of a person’s total credit is being used at a given time—accounts for 30% of the total credit score.

Reparing a poor credit score can take some time, but it’s worth the work.

Personal Loans and Credit Card Debt

If you’re currently carrying credit card debt on multiple cards and feel as though you may be paying too much in interest and APR-related fees, it may be time to look into consolidating that debt with a personal loan.

Consolidating credit card debt essentially allows a person to pay off their existing debt with a personal loan. Only one monthly payment instead of several could mean less to worry about.

Consolidating debt may mean qualifying for more favorable terms, such as a lower APR, which could help you pay less over the life of the debt. When considering consolidating debt, it’s a good idea to look at the fine print on any loan application to find out what fees a lender might be charging.

SoFi personal loans come with no hidden fees, such as those pesky origination fees, making it clearer to understand just what you’re paying for with a loan.

Learn more about consolidating credit card debt with a SoFi personal loan.



SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp (dba SoFi), a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law, license # 6054612; NMLS # 1121636 . For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Checking Your Rates: To check the rates and terms you may qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. A hard credit pull, which may impact your credit score, is required if you apply for a SoFi product after being pre-qualified.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

SOPL20021

The post What Is a Good APR? appeared first on SoFi.

Source: sofi.com

Financial Considerations When Getting a Divorce

In a recent episode, I shared that I would be doing a 4-part series on divorce.  I’ve been divorced for 5 years now and wanted to share what has worked for me, my ex-husband, and our 8 kids during this time. While divorce is not easy, time does help heal, and when your focus is putting your kids first, it is absolutely possible to maintain a healthy, happy family relationship.

My first episode in this series was 5 Expert-Approved Ways to Talk to Your Kids About Divorce.  My second episode in this series was 5 Ways to Co-Parent with Your Ex-Spouse. 

There really isn’t anything easy about divorce. Thankfully, as I discussed in the first two episodes, there are strategies and thoughtful ways to navigate through some of divorces issues, especially if the two parents are willing to put their personal differences aside and focus on their kids. In addition to the emotional turmoil that encompasses divorce, there is also another difficult component that couples must deal with and that is the financial aspect. 

After 25 years of marriage and 8 kids, Mighty Mommy had to get her financial house in order and make some significant adjustments going from a two-income household to a single income.

Here are four financial considerations, as backed by the experts, to keep in mind if you are thinking of or getting a divorce.

1. Get Your Financial Documents in Order

The entire divorce process is completely overwhelming, and when you begin to delve into the financial ramifications, the stress is taken to a whole new level. Once we began having our small tribe of kids, we decided I would leave my career to be home with our family. During the last 10 years of our marriage I went back to work part-time as a freelance writer but by no means was I contributing significantly to our income. My ex-husband managed the majority of our financial affairs so when the reality of our divorce settled in, I knew the first thing I had to do was get a handle on every aspect of our financial status. I honestly wasn’t sure where to begin, but my divorce attorney recommended I start by gathering all my financial documents.

Maryalene LaPonsie, contributor to USNews.com writes in 7 Financial Steps to Take When Getting a Divorce that “as soon as you know you’re getting a divorce, collect all the financial documents you can.” She continues, by stating that these include:

  • “Bank statements”
  • “Credit card statements”
  • “Tax returns”
  • “Retirement account balances”
  • “Appraisals for valuable items, if available”

In addition, other documents to consider are:

  • Mortgage Statement, including any Home Equity Loans and purchase information
  • Checkbook Registry for the last year
  • Any other long-term debt account statements you may have, including car loans

2. Know Your Income and Expenses

When we began our divorce proceedings, I admit I was far more focused on my emotional state than my finances. 

When we began our divorce proceedings, I admit I was far more focused on my emotional state than my finances.  Because my ex was the one who paid all the bills and the sole provider for most of our marriage, I never worried much about the details of our 401(K) plan, life insurance policies or what our overall assets and debt totaled.

One piece of advice I received many times over was that I needed to know what our budget was so I could begin to realistically know what my living expenses would be. 

Jason Silverberg, CFP at Financial Advantage Associates, Inc. and author of The Financial Planning Puzzle, told me via email: “If there was one singular, most important piece of financial advice that I could offer someone going through a divorce, that would be to understand where everything is and what everything’s worth. Without knowledge of what you own and who you owe money to, you really are going to have a hard time moving forward. You’ll also want to understand all of your sources for income and all of your monthly expenses as well. This will help you have a good handle on your budget to provide you critical understanding, so you can make smart financial decisions.”

He went on to say, “This exercise should be done both prior to as well as after the divorce. This way you can get a sense for how your household budget will operate on one income.” To help divorcing couples realize these figures, Silverberg has created the Personal Financial Inventory (1 page worksheet) inside the Picking up the Pieces eBook.

This exercise was extremely enlightening as I realized exactly where every penny (and then some) was going on a monthly basis. I was also able to gauge how much income I would need to start making in order to support these bills in addition to the child support and alimony payments I was receiving. One important factor to consider with child support is that it will decrease as your children get older, so I had to continually modify my budget based on this decrease. At first, it was overwhelming to see how much money I would need to keep our household running, but when you are armed with the figures and you pay attention to your monthly cash flow, it becomes easier to make adjustments. The fact of the matter is that some of the extra splurges such as frequent trips to the hair salon or buying my kids their usual top-of-the line items like sneakers or sports equipment had to be adjusted to what I could now afford. My kids have had some disappointments in this department, but they appreciated how we were trying to work together as a family-unit so that their lifestyle wasn't affected as drastically as it could've been which balanced everything out.


3.  Consider What Professionals Will Represent You

There are important considerations to keep in mind when choosing which divorce professionals will represent you. Adrienne Rothstein Grace writes on the Huffington Post, 3 Steps to Prepare for Your Divorce, that you must align yourself with the right professionals.  She explains “First, think about the divorce process you and your spouse will want to undertake and ask yourself the following questions:

  • “Is this going to be an acrimonious divorce? Or will my spouse and I cooperate?”
  • “Do I already know about all of our household and personal finances? Or do I suspect that I may be out of the loop on some assets, debts or income sources?”
  • “Do I trust my spouse to be cooperative and forthright?”
  • “Do I have any reason to believe that I will feel intimidated by my spouse during these proceedings?”
  • “Are we both focused on the wellbeing of our children?”

Grace says that “If you believe that you and your spouse will cooperate and will have joint best interests in mind while negotiating, then you might want to choose a divorce mediator or embrace a collaborative divorce. Those options are less costly, more private, and usually result in a more peaceful settlement process. However, if you’re not certain about finances, or cannot trust your spouse to be completely above-board and cooperative, then you might hire a traditional divorce attorney, who will only have your interests in focus while they help negotiate the complexities of your divorce.”

My ex-spouse and I decided to retain individual divorce attorneys. In addition, we also hired a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, (CDFA) at the recommendation of each of our lawyers, who met with us jointly to give us a complete overview of what our financial future was going to look like. It's a huge wake-up call when you see all the numbers in front of you on paper.  At our first meeting with the CDFA I learned quickly that I was going to have to go back to work, full-time to sustain the home we lived in as well as the upkeep, taxes, insurance, and basics like groceries for our large family. 

It's a huge wake-up call when you see all the numbers in front of you on paper.

If you surround yourself with competent, caring professionals who will guide you through this very delicate journey, you will have made an important investment in your family’s future, financial well-being.

4.  Stay in the Financial Know Throughout Your Divorce

Throughout your divorce, you’re bound to get all kinds of advice from friends, family, co-workers and other concerned individuals that will be looking out for you and have your best interest at heart.  This can be both helpful and draining depending on your relationship with these people.  When I began divorce proceedings, I too received lots of comments and suggestions from well-meaning folks, but I also decided I wanted to be armed with my own facts so I began reading lots of articles and books as well as listened to informative podcasts about divorce, particularly financially-related pieces.

My QDT colleague, Laura Adams, Money Girl, recently did an wrote about divorce in Getting Divorced? Here's How to Protect Your Money. She interviewed Stan Corey, a divorce expert and author of a new book, The Divorce Dance. This podcast had some terrific insight and some of the topics she and Corey cover in this interview include:

  • Different types of divorce proceedings that you can choose
  • The biggest mistakes that can cost you financially in a divorce
  • Why relying on a single family law attorney can be a bad idea
  • Tips for dividing up financial assets the right way—especially when you’re not so financially savvy
  • How to get divorced when you don’t have much money to pay for it

As you continue down the path of your divorce, surround yourself with as much information as you can, so that you will be able to make the best decisions possible for you and your children.

Five years later, I am still watching my financial picture very carefully.  I work full-time and do freelance work on the side in order to maintain my home and other living expenses.  I am extremely grateful that my ex-husband is very supportive of many of our 8 children’s extracurricular expenses, but the reality is I’m responsible for my own financial future so I have learned to be extremely careful with purchases and expenses.

The final topic in this divorce series will revolve around putting your kids first after the divorce.

How have you managed your finances during a separation or divorce?  Please share your thoughts in the comments section at quickanddirtytips.com/mighty-mommy, post your ideas on the Mighty Mommy Facebook page. or email me at mommy@quickanddirtytips.com. Visit my family-friendly boards at Pinterest.com/MightyMommyQDT.

Be sure to sign up for the upcoming Mighty Mommy newsletter chock full of practical advice to make your parenting life easier and more enjoyable. 

Images courtesy of Shutterstock.

Source: quickanddirtytips.com

Zero-Based Budgeting: The Ultimate Guide

When you create a budget that works for you, you gain a sense of peace and freedom that comes with taking ownership of your finances. Although there are many approaches to budgeting, certain systems prove to be more effective than others. Zero-based budgeting is an easy and reliable method to achieve your financial goals. The concept of zero-based budgeting is simple: When you create your budget, you assign a role for every single dollar of your income.

By knowing exactly where your hard-earned cash is going, zero-based budgeting eliminates uncertainty and increases confidence in your financial decisions. Could a zero-sum approach to budgeting be the key to helping you regain your financial freedom? We’ll walk you through the specifics of this detail-oriented budgeting method so you can decide if it’s the right choice for your situation.

What Is Zero-Based Budgeting?

In short, zero-based budgeting is when you allocate every dollar you earn so that your income minus your expenses equals zero. If you earn $3,000 a month, the entirety of that $3,000 is accounted for in a zero-based budget. The goal is to avoid having extra money at the end of the month so you make wise spending choices.

Your budget should allow for spending money on monthly expenses like groceries and utilities, as well as “fun money.” Rather than waiting to see what’s left over after taking care of bills and other essentials, a zero-based budget forces you to make financial decisions in advance. If you truly want to align your actions with your financial goals, you’ll realize that every penny needs a purpose to make the most of it.

zero based budgeting

By forcing you to decide how much of your income will go towards goals like paying off debt or saving for a house before you even receive your check, zero-based budgeting encourages you to stick to your goals.

Is Zero-Based Budgeting Right For You?

Zero-based budgeting can be for everyone. A damaging myth of budgeting is that it’s only for people who lack the discipline to hold themselves accountable. No matter how much you’re struggling or thriving financially, you can benefit from taking control of your money with a zero-based budget. If you’re still skeptical about zero-based budgeting, take a look below at how it compares to the four other most popular budgeting alternatives, including the 50/30/20 method:

  • Zero-Based Budget: Make sure your expenses match your income each month so that your earnings minus your costs equal zero.
  • “Pay Yourself First” Budget: Dedicate money to savings and then the remainder is free to be spent how you choose.
  • Envelope Budget: Divide cash into physical envelopes filled with the exact amount of money you can spend on that category.
  • 50/30/20 Budget: 50% of your income is for essentials, 30% is for personal expenses, and 20% goes towards savings.
  • Value-Based Budget: Calculate the monthly cost of each need based on your values, then choose how to stretch your income to meet those needs.

When you don’t know exactly how you intend to divide your money each month, it’s easy to fall into spending traps. A zero-based budget using a digital budgeting tool is a great way to set yourself up for success and stick to your plan.

How to Create a Zero-Based Budget

Develop a zero-based budgeting plan by making it as simple as possible. Your main objective is ensuring your expenses match your income during the month. Don’t overcomplicate the process by stressing about making the “perfect” plan. The best part about creating a zero-based budget is that it’s easy to adjust month-over-month.

how to create a zero based budget

1. Record Your Monthly Income and Expenses

Write down every single monthly and seasonal expense to set yourself up for success. If you don’t know where to start, you know you’ll always have to factor in the cost of housing, utilities, transportation, and groceries.

Next, consider expenses you’re saving for, like a new car, a birthday or anniversary gift, etc. With a little bit of forethought, there shouldn’t be any surprises. It’s wise to set aside cash for unexpected or one-off expenses so you’re not immediately dipping into your emergency fund.

2. Adjust Your Budget Until Income Minus Expenses Equals Zero

When you’re new to zero-based budgeting, don’t worry if your income and expenses don’t balance each other out at first. It’s likely that you’ll have to reduce recurring costs or increase your earnings to reach a zero-sum. Canceling unnecessary subscriptions, packing your own lunch, skipping Starbucks, and starting a passive income-generating side hustle are all helpful.

Using an app with a budget categorization feature is particularly useful when you’re in the trial and error phase. Otherwise, it can be tedious and discouraging to manually re-adjust your budgeting strategy.

3. Track and Optimize Your Monthly Spending Accordingly

A zero-based budget is rarely flawless the first time around. Thankfully, you can optimize your spending by reallocating your funds as often as you need to during the month. Be sure to set yourself calendar reminders to have budget check-ins on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, especially if you’re working on budgeting as a family.

There are countless ways to increase and decrease your dollar allocations according to what makes the most sense for your circumstances. Oftentimes, three to six months are required to master zero-based budgeting. Once you get the hang of it, chances are that you’ll enjoy reaping the rewards so much that you’ll wonder why you didn’t start sooner.

Pros and Cons of Zero-Based Budgeting

There’s no right or wrong answer to how you choose to manage your finances, but the key is that you need some kind of systematic approach to handling your money. Budgets are essential to help you build an emergency fund, save for retirement, pay off loans, or grow wealth through investing. If you aren’t sure that zero-based budgeting is the best strategy for you, we’ve outlined the pros and cons below.

pros and cons of zero based budgeting

Business management expert Peter Drucker is well-known for saying, “you can’t improve what you can’t measure.” If you want to make progress towards your financial goals, you need a way to define and track where your money will go. If you’re not convinced that a zero-based budget will work for you, don’t force it. You can always give it a try for a month or two and fall back on a different budgeting solution.

In Summary…

Zero-based budgeting is an easy and effective method to help you achieve your financial dreams. Don’t miss the chance to get the most value from your money by budgeting. We’ve summed up our main points below.

  • Zero-based budgeting is when all of your income minus all your expenses equals zero. Every dollar of your hard-earned cash has a specific, purpose-driven role.
  • Having a zero-based budget allows you to make your income go further by proactively allocating your funds to different areas of spending and saving.
  • Using a digital budgeting tool like Mint helps to set yourself up for success and hold you accountable in your zero-based budgeting goals.

 

The post Zero-Based Budgeting: The Ultimate Guide appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Still Waiting on Your Second Stimulus Check? Here’s How to Track It

The second stimulus check started hitting bank accounts last week. That means many people who have direct deposit are waking up to find an extra $600 in their bank accounts if they’re single or $1,200 if they’re married, plus a $600 coronavirus credit for each dependent child 16 or younger. But what if your second […]

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com