Having health insurance makes it possible to receive medical care while only paying a fraction of that careâs true cost. Insurance doesnât cover everything, however. Some of the cost of your care is still up to you to pay, and that cost comes in two primary forms: copays and coinsurance.
What Is a Copay?
A copay is a flat amount of money that youâre responsible for paying for a health care service. Copays typically apply for things like a doctorâs appointment, prescription drug or medical test. The amount of your copay is dependent on your specific health insurance plan.
You can typically expect to pay your copay when you check in for your service, be it an annual physical, dental cleaning or blood test. Copays are typically lower amounts ranging from $10 for something like a generic drug prescription to around $65 for a visit to a medical specialist.
Depending on your insurance plan, copays may not take effect until after you reach your deductible. Your deductible is the amount of money you must pay out-of-pocket before your insurance provider starts to pitch in. Deductibles reset at the beginning of every year.
When you are reviewing your plan information and you see the phrase âafter deductibleâ or âdeductible appliesâ in reference to your copays, thatâs an indication that the copay is only in place once you meet your deductible. On the other hand, if you see âdeductible waived,â thatâs a sign that your copay is in place from the beginning. It may go without saying, but the latter situation is vastly preferable to you.
What Is Coinsurance?
Coinsurance is another method of splitting the cost of medical coverage with your insurance plan. A coinsurance is a percentage of the cost of services. You pay the percentage, and your insurance company foots the rest of the bill. So, if you have a $8,000 medical bill and a 20% coinsurance, you would be on the hook for $1,600.
Coinsurance typically only comes into play after you hit your deductible. Further, you may have differing coinsurance percentages for the same services depending on your provider network. If you have a preferred provider organization (PPO) plan, your coinsurance could be a higher percentage for providers outside your network than it is for providers in your network.
Similarly, your coinsurance may not apply to providers outside your network if you have a health maintenance organization (HMO) plan or an exclusive provider organization (EPO) plan. Thatâs because these plans typically donât provide any out-of-network coverage.
Copay vs. Coinsurance
Copay and coinsurance are very similar terms. They both have to do with portions of the cost of your health care thatâs under your responsibility. Because of that, and their similar names, itâs easy to confuse the two. There are a couple of important distinctions to keep in mind, however.
The most notable difference between copays and coinsurance is that copays are always a flat amount and coinsurance is always a percentage of the cost of the service. Another difference is that some copays can be in place before you hit your deductible, depending on the specifics of your plan. With coinsurance, you have to hit your deductible first.
If youâre choosing between health insurance plans, make sure to examine the provided copays and coinsurance for each option. While they may not be the most important factor to consider, a high copay can be quite a pain, especially over the course of years of appointments and procedures.
Tips for Staying on Top of Medical Expenses
One of the best ways to stay ahead of surprise medical expenses is to have an emergency fund in place for just such a situation. If you can manage it, have three to six months worth of expenses stashed away in a high-yield savings account. That way, if youâre dealing with medical bills or have to step away from work, youâll have a bit of a cushion.
If youâre not sure how an unexpected medical expenses would fit into your finances, consider working with a financial advisor to develop a financial plan. Finding the right financial advisor that fits your needs doesnât have to be hard. SmartAssetâs free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes. If youâre ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
Itâs pretty hard to argue against having more money in the bank.
But what are you saving for? If you donât have solid financial goals, all those hoarded pennies might end up in limbo when they could be put to good use.
Figuring out where your money should go might seem daunting, but itâs actually a lot of fun.
You get to analyze your own priorities and decide exactly what to do with your hard-earned cash.
But to make the most of your money, follow a few best practices while setting your goals.
After all, even if something seems like exactly what you want right now, it might not be in future-youâs best interest. And youâre playing the long gameâ¦ thatâs why theyâre called goals!
What to Do Before You Start Writing Your Financial Goals
To help keep you from financial goals like âbuy the coolest toys and cars,â which could easily get you deeply into debt while you watch your credit score plummet, weâve compiled this guide.
Itâll help you set goals and create smart priorities for your money. That way, however you decide to spend your truly discretionary income, you wonât leave the 10-years-from-now version of you in the lurch.
First Thingâs First: How Much Money Do You Have?
You canât decide on your short- or long-term financial goals if you donât know how much money you have or where itâs going.
And if youâre operating without a budget, it can be easy to run out of money well before you run out of expenses â even if you know exactly how much is in your paycheck.
So sit down and take a good, hard look at all of your financial info.
A ton of great digital apps can help you do this â here are our favorite budgeting apps â but it can be as simple as a spreadsheet or even a good, old-fashioned piece of paper. It just takes two steps:
Figure out how much money you have. It might be in checking or savings accounts, including long-term accounts like IRAs. Or, it might be wrapped up in investments or physical assets, like your paid-off car.
Assess any debts you have. Do you keep a revolving credit card balance? Do you pay a mortgage each month? Are your student loans still hanging around?
Take the full amount of money you owe and subtract it from the total amount you have, which you discovered in step one. The difference between the two is your net worth. Thatâs the total amount of money you have to your name.
If it seems like a lot, cool. Hang tight and donât let it burn a hole in your pocket. Weâre not done yet.
If it seems likeâ¦ not a lot, well, you can fix that. Keep reading.
Create a Budget
Once youâve learned your net worth, you need to start thinking about a working budget.
This will essentially be a document with your total monthly income at the top and a list of all the expenses you need to pay for every month.
And I do mean all of the expenses â even that $4.99 recurring monthly payment for your student-discounted Spotify account definitely counts.
Your expenses probably include rent, electricity, cable or internet, a cell phone plan, various insurance policies, groceries, gas and transportation. It also includes categories like charitable giving, entertainment and travel.
Print out the last two or three months of statements from your credit and debit cards and categorize every expense. You can often find ways to save by discovering patterns in your spending habits.
Itâll depend on your individual case â for instance, I totally have âwineâ as a budget line item.
See? Itâs all about priorities.
Need to go back to basics? Hereâs our guide on how to budget.
Start by listing how much you actually spent in each category last month. Subtract your total expenses from your total income. The difference should be equal to the amount of money left sitting in your bank account at monthâs end.
Itâs also the money you can use toward your long-term financial goals.
Want the number to be bigger? Go back through your budget and figure out where you can afford to make cuts. Maybe you can ditch the cable bill and decide between Netflix or Hulu, or replace a takeout lunch with a packed one.
You donât need to abandon the idea of having a life (and enjoying it), but there are ways to make budgetary adjustments that work for you.
Set the numbers youâre willing to spend in each category, and stick to them.
Congratulations. Youâre in control of your money.
Now you can figure out exactly what you want to do with it.
Setting Financial Goals
Before you run off to the cool-expensive-stuff store, hold on a second.
Your financial goals should be (mostly) in this order:
Build an emergency fund.
Pay down debt.
Plan for retirement.
Set short-term and long-term financial goals.
We say âmostlyâ because itâs ultimately up to you to decide in which order you want to accomplish them.
Many experts suggest making sure you have an emergency fund in place before aggressively going after your debt.
But if youâre hemorrhaging money on sky-high interest charges, you might not have much expendable cash to put toward savings.
That means youâll pay the interest for a lot longer â and pay a lot more of it â if you wait to pay it down until you have a solid emergency fund saved up.
1. Build an Emergency Fund
Finding money to sock away each month can be tough, but just starting with $10 or $25 of each paycheck can help.
You can make the process a lot easier by automating your savings. Or you can have money from each paycheck automatically sent to a separate account you wonât touch.
You also get to decide the size of your emergency fund, but a good rule of thumb is to accumulate three to six times the total of your monthly living expenses. Good thing your budget is already set up so you know exactly what that number is, right?
You might try to get away with a smaller emergency fund â even $1,000 is a better cushion than nothing. But if you lose your job, you still need to be able to eat and make rent.
2. Pay Down Debt
Now, letâs move on to repaying debt. Whyâs it so important, anyway?
Because youâre wasting money on interest charges you could be applying toward your goals instead.
So even though becoming debt-free seems like a big sacrifice right now, youâre doing yourself a huge financial favor in the long run.
Thereâs lots of great information out there about how to pay off debt, but itâs really a pretty simple operation: You need to put every single penny you can spare toward your debts until they disappear.
One method is known as the debt avalanche method, which involves paying off debt with the highest interest rates first, thereby reducing the overall amount youâll shell out for interest.
For example, if you have a $1,500 revolving balance on a credit card with a 20% APR, it gets priority over your $14,000, 5%-interest car loan â even though the second number is so much bigger.
If youâre motivated by quick wins, the debt snowball method may be a good fit for you. It involves paying off one loan balance at a time, starting with the smallest balance first.
Make a list of your debts and (ideally) donât spend any of your spare money on anything but paying them off until the number after every account reads â$0.â Trust me, the day when you become debt-free will be well worth the effort.
As a bonus, if your credit score could be better, repaying revolving debt will also help you repair it â just in case some of your goals (like buying a home) depend upon your credit report not sucking.
3. Plan for Retirement
All right, youâre all set in case of an emergency and youâre living debt-free.
Congratulations! Weâre almost done with the hard part, I promise.
But thereâs one more very important long-term financial goal you most definitely want to keep in mind: retirement.
Did you know almost half of Americans have absolutely nothing saved so they can one day clock out for the very last time?
And the trouble isnât brand-new: Weâve been bad enough at saving for retirement over the past few decades that millions of todayâs seniors canât afford to retire.
If you ever want to stop working, you need to save up the money youâll use for your living expenses.
And you need to start now, while compound interest is still on your side. The younger you are, the more time you have to watch those pennies grow, but donât fret if you got a late start â hereâs how to save for retirement in your 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s.
If your job offers a 401(k) plan, take advantage of it â especially if your employer will match your contributions! Trust me, the sting of losing a percentage of your paycheck will hurt way less than having to work into your golden years.
Ideally, youâll want to find other ways to save for retirement, too. Look into individual retirement arrangements (IRAs) and figure out how much you need to contribute to meet your retirement goals.
Future you will thank you. Heartily. From a hammock.
FROM THE BUDGETING FORUM
Starting a budget
A reminder NOT to spend.
Grocery Shopping – How far away is your usual store?
See more in Budgeting or ask a money question
4. Set Short-Term and Long-Term Financial Goals (the Fun Part!)
Is everything in order? Amazing!
Youâre in awesome financial shape â and youâve made it to the fun part of this post.
Consider the funds you have left â and those youâll continue to earn â after taking care of all the financial goals above. Now think: What do you want to do with your money?
What experiences or things can your money buy to significantly increase your quality of life and happiness?
You might plan to travel more, take time off work to spend with family or drive the hottest new Porsche.
Maybe you want to have a six-course meal at the finest restaurant in the world or work your way through an extensive list of exotic and expensive wines. (OK, Iâll stop projecting.)
No matter your goals, itâs helpful to categorize them by how long theyâll take to save for.
Make a list of the goals you want to achieve with your money and which category they fall into. Then you can figure out how to prioritize your savings for each objective.
For example, some of my goals have included:
Short-term financial goal: Save spending money for a trip overseas.
Medium-term financial goal: Pay off my car within a year, or sell it â and its onerous loan â and buy an older car I can own free and clear.
Long-term financial goal: Buy a house I can use as a home base and increase my income by renting it out while I travel. This will probably take me through the rest of my 20s.
By writing down my short- and long-term financial goals and approximately how long I expect it will take to achieve each, I can figure out what to research and how aggressively I need to plan for each goal.
It also offers me the opportunity to see what I prioritize â and to revise those priorities if I see fit.
Jamie Cattanach (@jamiecattanach) is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.
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.
When you buy a home, youâre making an investment in yourself and your future. Youâre building financial stability, equity, and experience. You have a place to call your own and you can customize the space just how you want. Yet, you might be wondering how to get to that point â this is why saving up is so important.
There are some upfront costs to owning a home â primarily a down payment. Find out how much you should budget using a home loan affordability calculator and figure out how to save the amount you need. After all, the best way to save for a house is to formulate a budget that helps you work towards your house saving goals step by step. Soon enough, youâll be turning the key and stepping into a home you love.
Step 1: Calculate Your Down Payment and Timeline
When figuring out how to save for a house, you may already have a savings goal and deadline in mind. For instance, you may want to save 20 percent of your home loan cost by the end of the year. If you havenât given this much thought, sit down and crunch the numbers. Ask yourself the following questions:
What is your ideal home cost?
What percentage would you like to contribute as a down payment?
What are your ideal monthly payments?
When would you like to purchase your home?
How long would you like your term mortgage to be?
Asking yourself these questions will reveal a realistic budget, timeline, and savings goal to work towards. For instance, say you want to buy a $250,000 house with a 20 percent down payment at a 30-year loan term length. You would need to save $50,000 as a down payment; at a 3.5 percent interest rate, your monthly payments would come out to be $898.
Step 2: Budget for the Extra Expenses
Just like a new rental, your home will have fees, taxes, and utilities that need to be budgeted for. Homeowners insurance, closing costs, and property taxes are a few examples of cash expenses. Not to mention, the cost of utilities, repairs, renovation work, and furniture. Here are a few more expenses you may have to save for:
Appraisal costs: Appraisals assess the homeâs value and are usually ordered by your mortgage lender. They can cost anywhere from $312 to $405 for a single-family home.
Home inspection: A home inspection typically costs $279 to $399 for a single-family home. Prices vary depending on what you need inspected and how thorough you want the report to be. For instance, if you want an expert to look at your foundation, there will likely be an additional cost.
Realtor fees: In some states, the realtor fee is 5.45 percent of the homeâs purchase price. Depending on the market, the seller might pay for your realtor fee. In other places, it might be more common to contract a lawyer to look over your purchase agreement, which is usually cheaper than a realtor.
Appraisal and closing costs: Appraisals assess the homeâs value and are usually ordered by your mortgage lender. They can cost anywhere between $300 and $400 for a single-family home.
Step 3: Maximize Your Savings Contributions
Saving for a new home is easier said than done. To stay on track, first create a savings account that has a high yield if possible. Then, check in on your monthly savings goal to set up automatic contributions. By setting up automatic savings payments, you may treat this payment as a regular monthly expense.
In addition to saving more, spend less. Evaluate your budget to see what areas you could cut down or live without. For instance, creating your own workout studio at home could save you $200 a month on a gym class membership.
Step 4: Work Hard for a Raise
One of the best ways to boost your savings is to increase your earnings. If you already have a job you love, put in the extra time and effort to earn a raise. Learning new skills by attending in-person or virtual training seminars or learning a new language could increase your earning potential. Not only could you land a raise, but you could add these skills to your resume.
Sometimes, putting in the extra effort doesnât always land you a raise, and thatâs okay! When getting a raise is out of the question, consider looking at other opportunities. Figure out which industry suits you and your skillset and start applying. You may end up finding your dream job, along with your desired pay.
Step 5: Create More Streams of Income
Establishing different income streams could help your house savings budget. If one source of income unexpectedly goes dry, having other sources to cut the slack is helpful. You wonât have to worry about the sudden income change when paying your monthly mortgage.
For example, creating an online course as a passive income project may earn you only $5 this month. As traffic picks up, your monthly earnings could surpass your monthly income. To create an abundant financial portfolio, there are a few different ways to do so:
Create an online course: Write about something youâre passionate about and share your skills online. Sell your digital products on Etsy or Shopify to earn supplemental income.
Grow a YouTube channel: Start a YouTube channel and share your skills to help others within your industry of expertise. For instance, âHow to start a YouTube channelâ could be its own hit.
Invest in low-risk investments: From CDâs to money market funds, there are a few types of investments that could grow your cash with low risk.
Step 6: Pay Off Your Biggest Debts
Before taking on more debt like a mortgage, itâs important to free up your credit usage. Credit utilization is the percentage of available credit you have open compared to what you have used. If you have $200 in debt, but $1,000 available on your credit card, youâre only using 20 percent of your credit utilization. A higher credit utilization could potentially hinder your credit score over time. Not only can paying off debts feel satisfying, but it could also increase your credit score and prepare you for this next big purchase.
To pay off your debts, create an action plan. Write out all your debt accounts, how much you still owe, and their payment due dates. From there, start increasing your payments on your smallest debt. Once you pay off your smallest debt in full, you may feel more motivated to pay off your next debt account. Keep up with these good habits as you take on your mortgage account.
Step 7: Donât Be Afraid to Ask For Help
Whether your touring homes or want help adjusting your budget, donât hesitate to ask for help. If youâre trying to figure out what your budget should look like, research budgeting apps like Mint to build a successful financial plan.
If youâre curious about additional mortgage expenses, your budget, or investment opportunities, reach out to a trusted professional or utilize government resources. Not only are they able to help you prepare for your next big step, but they could also help you and your finances in the long term.
Step 8: Store Your Savings in a High Yield Saving Account
While you may have a perfect budget and a home savings goal, itâs time to make every dollar count. Before you add to your account, research different savings accounts and their monthly yields. The higher the yield, the more your savings could grow as long as your account is open.
In September of 2020, the national average interest rate on savings accounts was capped at 0.8 percent. If you were to deposit only $100 into a high yield savings account with an APY of 0.8 percent, you could earn $80 off your investment over the year. This helps you save extra money by just putting your money into a savings account.
First, set a savings goal to match your estimated down payment and mortgage monthly payments. Then add your contributions to a high yield savings account to grow your money overtime.
Donât forget to budget for extra mortgage expenses like appraisal costs, home inspections, realtor fees, or closing costs. Keep in mind, your monthly utilities and fees may also be more expensive than your current living situation.
Prepare for the additional costs by increasing your earning potential and optimizing additional income stream opportunities.
Free up your credit utilization by paying off as much debt as possible before buying a house. Keep up these good habits throughout the length of your mortgage term.
When you purchase a home, youâre building a piggy bank for your future. Every month you pay your mortgage, you pay part of it to yourself because you own the home. Instead of paying rent to someone else, you reap your own investment when you sell. Most importantly, though, youâll have a place thatâs truly your own.
The post How to Save for a House in 8 Steps appeared first on MintLife Blog.
Setting up a budget is challenging. Doing it forces you to face your spending habits and then work to change them.
But when you decide to make a budget, it means youâre serious about your money. Maybe you even have some financial goals in mind.
The end result will bring you peace of mind. But if youâre creating a budget for the first time, remember that budgets will vary by individual and family. Itâs important to set up a budget thatâs a fit for YOU.
Budgeting for Beginners in 5 Painless Steps
Follow these basic steps and tailor them to your needs to create a monthly budget that will set you up for financial success.
Step 1: Set a Financial Goal
First thingâs first: Why do you want a budget?
Your reason will be your anchor and incentive as you create a budget, and it will help you stick to it.
Set a short-term or long-term goal. It can be to pay off debts like student loans, credit cards or a mortgage, or to save for retirement, an emergency fund, a new car, a home down payment or a vacation.
For example, creating a budget is a must for many people trying to buy their first home. But it shouldnât stop there. Once youâve bought a home, keep sticking to a budget in order to pay off debt and give yourself some wiggle room for unexpected expenses.
Once one goal is complete, you can move on to another and personalize your budget to fit whatever your needs are.
Step 2: Log Your Income, Expenses and Savings
Youâll want to use a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet or another budget template to track all of your monthly expenses and spending. List out each expense line by line. This list is the foundation for your monthly budget.
Tally Your Monthly Income
Review your pay stubs and determine how much money you and anyone else in your household take home every month. Include any passive income, rental income, child support payments or side gigs.
If your income varies, estimate as best as you can, or use the average of your income for the past three months.
Make a List of Your Mandatory Monthly Expenses
Rent or mortgage payment.
Living expenses like utilities (electric, gas and water bills), internet and phone.
Car payment and transportation costs.
Insurance (car, life, health).
Debt repayments for things like credit cards, student loans, medical debt, etc.
Anything that will result in a late fee for not paying goes in this category.
List Non-Essential Monthly and Irregular Expenses
Non-essential expenses include entertainment, coffee, subscription and streaming services, memberships, cable TV, gifts, dining out and miscellaneous items.
Donât forget to account for expenses you donât incur every month, such as annual fees, taxes, car registration, oil changes and one-time charges. Add them to the month in which they usually occur OR tally up all of your irregular expenses for the year and divide by 12 so you can work them into your monthly budget.
Review all of your bank account statements for the past 12 months to make sure you donât miss periodic expenses like quarterly insurance premiums.
Donât Forget Your Savings
Be sure to include a line item for savings in your monthly budget. Use it for those short- or long-term savings goals, building up an emergency fund or investments.
Figure out how much you can afford â no matter how big or small. If you get direct deposit, saving can be simplified with an automated paycheck deduction. Something as little as $10 a week adds up to over $500 in a year.
Step 3: Adjust Your Expenses to Match Your Income
Now, what does your monthly budget look like so far?
Are you living within your income, or spending more money than you make? Either way, itâs time to make some adjustments to meet your goals.
How to Cut Your Expenses
If you are overspending each month, donât panic. This is a great opportunity to evaluate areas to save money now that you have itemized your spending. Truthfully, this is the exact reason you created a budget!
Here are some ways you can save money each month:
Cut optional outings like happy hours and eating out. Even cutting a $4 daily purchase on weekdays will add up to over $1,000 a year.
Consider pulling the plug on cable TV or a subscription service. The average cost of cable is $1,284 a year, so if you cut the cord and switch to a streaming service, you could save at least $50 a month.
Fine-tune your grocery bill and practice meal prepping. Youâll save money by planning and prepping recipes for the week that use many of the same ingredients. Use the circulars to see whatâs on sale, and plan your meals around those sales.
Make homemade gifts for family and friends. Special occasions and holidays happen constantly and can get expensive. Honing in on thoughtful and homemade gifts like framed pictures, magnets and ornaments costs more time and less money.
Consolidate credit cards or transfer high-interest balances. You can consolidate multiple credit card payments into one and lower the amount of interest youâre paying every month by applying for a debt consolidation loan or by taking advantage of a 0% balance-transfer credit card offer. The sooner you pay off that principal balance, the sooner youâll be out of debt.
Refinance loans. Refinancing your mortgage, student loan or car loan can lower your interest rates and cut your monthly payments. You could save significantly if youâve improved your credit since you got the original loan.
Get a new quote for car insurance to lower monthly payments. Use a free online service to shop around for new quotes based on your needs. A $20 savings every month is $20 that can go toward savings or debt repayments.
Start small and see how big of a wave it makes.
Oh, and donât forget to remind yourself of your financial goal when youâre craving Starbucks at 3 p.m. But remember that itâs OK to treat yourself â occasionally.
What to Do With Your Extra Cash
If you have money left over after paying for your monthly expenses, prioritize building an emergency fund if you donât have one.
Having an emergency fund is often what makes it possible to stick to a budget. Because when an unexpected expense crops up, like a broken appliance or a big car repair, you wonât have to borrow money to cover it.
When you do dip into that emergency fund, immediately start building it up again.
Otherwise, you can use any extra money outside your expenses to reach your financial goals.
Here are four questions to ask yourself before dipping into your emergency fund..
Step 4: Choose a Budgeting Method
You have your income, expenses and spending spelled out in a monthly budget, but how do you act on it? Trying out a budgeting method helps manage your money and accommodates your lifestyle.
Living on a budget doesnât mean you canât have fun or splurges, and fortunately many budgeting methods account for those things. Here are a few to consider:
The Envelope System is a cash-based budgeting system that works well for overspenders. It curbs excess spending on debit and credit cards because youâre forced to withdraw cash and place it into pre-labeled envelopes for your variable expenses (like groceries and clothing) instead of pulling out that plastic.Â
The 50/20/30 Method is for those with more financial flexibility and who can pay all their bills with 50% of their income. You apply 50% of your income to living expenses, 20% toward savings and/or debt reduction, and 30% to personal spending (vacations, coffee, entertainment). This way, you can have fun and save at the same time. Because your basic needs can only account for 50% of your income, itâs typically not a good fit for those living paycheck to paycheck.
The 60/20/20 Budget uses the same concept as the 50/20/30, except you apply 60% of your income to living expenses, 20% toward savings and/or debt reduction, and 20% to personal spending. Itâs a good fit for fans of the 50/20/30 Method who need to devote more of their incomes to living costs.
The Zero-Based Budget makes you account for all of your income. You budget for your expenses and bills, and then assign any extra money toward your goals. The strict system is good for people trying to pay off debt as fast as possible. Itâs also beneficial for those living to paycheck to paycheck.
Another money management option is to use a budgeting app. Apps can help you organize and access your personal finances on the go and can alert you of finance charges, late fees and bill payment due dates. Many also offer free credit score monitoring.
FROM THE BUDGETING FORUM
Starting a budget
A reminder NOT to spend.
Grocery Shopping – How far away is your usual store?
See more in Budgeting or ask a money question
Step 5: Follow Through
Budgeting becomes super easy once you get in the groove, but you canât set it and forget it. You should review your budget monthly to monitor your expenses and spending and adjust accordingly. Review checking and savings account statements for any irregularities even if you set bills to autopay.
Even if your income increases, try to prioritize saving the extra money. That will help you avoid lifestyle inflation, which happens when your spending increases as your income rises.
The thrill of being debt-free or finally having enough money to travel might even inspire you to seek out other financial opportunities or advice. For example, if youâre looking for professional help, set up a consultation with a certified financial planner who can assist you with long-term goals like retirement and savings plans.
Related: How to Budget: The Ultimate Guide
Stephanie Bolling is a former staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.
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.
You have all kinds of financial goals you want to achieve, but where should you begin? There are so many different aspects of money management that it can be difficult to find a starting point when trying to achieve financial success. If you’re feeling lost and overwhelmed, take a deep breath. Progress can be made in tiny, manageable steps. Here’s are 16 small things you can do right now to improve your overall financial health. (See also: These 13 Numbers Are Crucial to Understanding Your Finances)
1. Create a household budget
The biggest step toward effective money management is making a household budget. You first need to figure out exactly how much money comes in each month. Once you have that number, organize your budget in order of financial priorities: essential living expenses, contributions to retirement savings, repaying debt, and any entertainment or lifestyle costs. Having a clear picture of exactly how much is coming in and going out every month is key to reaching your financial goals.
2. Calculate your net worth
Simply put, your net worth is the total of your assets minus your debts and liabilities. You’re left with a positive or negative number. If the number is positive, you’re on the up and up. If the number is negative — which is especially common for young people just starting out — you’ll need to keep chipping away at debt.
Remember that certain assets, like your home, count on both sides of the ledger. While you may have mortgage debt, it is secured by the resale value of your home. (See also: 10 Ways to Increase Your Net Worth This Year)
3. Review your credit reports
Your credit history determines your creditworthiness, including the interest rates you pay on loans and credit cards. It can also affect your employment opportunities and living options. Every 12 months, you can check your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) for free at annualcreditreport.com. It may also be a good idea to request one report from one bureau every four months, so you can keep an eye on your credit throughout the year without paying for it.
Regularly checking your credit report will help you stay on top of every account in your name and can alert you to fraudulent activity.
4. Check your credit score
Your FICO score can range from 300-850. The higher the score, the better. Keep in mind that two of the most important factors that go into making up your credit score are your payment history, specifically negative information, and how much debt you’re carrying: the type of debts, and how much available credit you have at any given time. (See also: How to Boost Your Credit Score in Just 30 Days)
5. Set a monthly savings amount
Transferring a set amount of money to a savings account at the same time you pay your other monthly bills helps ensure that you’re regularly and intentionally saving money for the future. Waiting to see if you have any money left over after paying for all your other discretionary lifestyle expenses can lead to uneven amounts or no savings at all.
6. Make minimum payments on all debts
The first step to maintaining a good credit standing is to avoid making late payments. Build your minimum debt reduction payments into your budget. Then, look for any extra money you can put toward paying down debt principal. (See also: The Fastest Way to Pay Off $10,000 in Credit Card Debt)
7. Increase your retirement saving rate by 1 percent
Your retirement savings and saving rate are the most important determinants of your overall financial success. Strive to save 15 percent of your income for most of your career for retirement, and that includes any employer match you may receive. If you’re not saving that amount yet, plan ahead for ways you can reach that goal. For example, increase your saving rate every time you get a bonus or raise.
8. Open an IRA
An IRA is an easy and accessible retirement savings vehicle that anyone with earned income can access (although you can’t contribute to a traditional IRA past age 70½). Unlike an employer-sponsored account, like a 401(k), an IRA gives you access to unlimited investment choices and is not attached to any particular employer. (See also: Stop Believing These 5 Myths About IRAs)
9. Update your account beneficiaries
Certain assets, like retirement accounts and insurance policies, have their own beneficiary designations and will be distributed based on who you have listed on those documents — not necessarily according to your estate planning documents. Review these every year and whenever you have a major life event, like a marriage.
10. Review your employer benefits
The monetary value of your employment includes your salary in addition to any other employer-provided benefits. Consider these extras part of your wealth-building tools and review them on a yearly basis. For example, a Flexible Spending Arrangement (FSA) can help pay for current health care expenses through your employer and a Health Savings Account (HSA) can help you pay for medical expenses now and in retirement. (See also: 8 Myths About Health Savings Accounts — Debunked!)
11. Review your W-4
The W-4 form you filled out when you first started your job dictates how much your employer withholds for taxes — and you can make changes to it. If you get a refund at tax time, adjusting your tax withholdings can be an easy way to increase your take-home pay. Also, remember to review this form when you have a major life event, like a marriage or after the birth of a child. (See also: Are You Withholding the Right Amount of Taxes from Your Paycheck?)
12. Ponder your need for life insurance
In general, if someone is dependent upon your income, then you may need a life insurance policy. When determining how much insurance you need, consider protecting assets and paying off all outstanding debts, as well as retirement and college costs. (See also: 15 Surprising Insurance Policies You Might Need)
13. Check your FDIC insurance coverage
First, make sure that the banking institutions you use are FDIC insured. For credit unions, you’ll want to confirm it’s a National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) federally-covered institution. Federal deposit insurance protects up to $250,000 of your deposits for each type of bank account you have. To determine your account coverage at a single bank or various banks, visit FDIC.gov.
14. Check your Social Security statements
Set up an online account at SSA.gov to confirm your work and income history and to get an idea of what types of benefits, if any, you’re entitled to — including retirement and disability.
15. Set one financial goal to achieve it by the end of the year
An important part of financial success is recognizing where you need to focus your energy in terms of certain financial goals, like having a fully funded emergency account, for example.
If you’re overwhelmed by trying to simultaneously work on reaching all of your goals, pick one that you can focus on and achieve it by the end of the year. Examples include paying off a credit card, contributing to an IRA, or saving $500.
16. Take a one-month spending break
Unfortunately, you can never take a break from paying your bills, but you do have complete control over how you spend your discretionary income. And that may be the only way to make some progress toward some of your savings goals. Try trimming some of your lifestyle expenses for just one month to cushion your checking or savings account. You could start by bringing your own lunch to work every day or meal-planning for the week to keep your grocery bill lower and forgo eating out. (See also: How a Simple "Do Not Buy" List Keeps Money in Your Pocket)
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This article is from Alicia Rose Hudnett of Wise Bread, an award-winning personal finance and credit card comparison website. Read more great articles from Wise Bread:
5 Money Moves to Make Before You Turn 40
7 Important Money Moves to Make in the New Year, According to Financial Advisors
The Pros and Cons of Paying Off Your Debt Early
5 Things Keeping You From a Life of Financial Independence
Nothing says summertime like a BBQ, and getting friends and family together for some food and friends for the Fourth of July is the perfect way to celebrate. Iâm usually the host for these get-togethers, and even though I absolutely love having people over, feeding everyone can take a toll on your budget, especially with a big family like mine.
Now that Iâve been using Mint to keep track of expenses, here are some tips on how to have a cost-conscious Fourth of July spread:
1) Declare the BBQ a Potluck.
Thereâs no secret here: potlucks save money AND time. When you invite your guests to bring dishes to the party, that basically means theyâre not only helping out with the food budget, theyâre also taking the time to shop for the ingredients and deliver it to your house ready to eat! I would suggest setting some guidelines for your guests so that there is a variety of food in your spread and not just 5 versions of chips and salsaâ¦.and thatâs it. To divide up the dishes, you could try a few different methods:
Assign your guests by categories. If thereâs an easy way to divide up your guests, like by their last name, or their birthday month, then you could assign one set of guests appetizers, and another set of guests foods for the grill, for example. For this option, I would suggest asking your guests to confirm their choice with you and even post it on a message board if you are using a website to plan your party, so that you know and your other guests whatâs coming and to avoid too much of one type of food.
Ask guests to bring specific foods. If your best friend makes the most amazing potato salad, and you need potato salad, ask your best friend to bring potato salad. Thereâs no need to do all the work when you can tap into the strengths of your guests. For those who are known to shy away from cooking, ask them to bring something simple like a salad or lemonade.
2) Set a food budgetâ¦.and stick to it!
This tip comes directly from my previous post on Healthy Food on a Budget because itâs also important to serve your guests healthy food and stick to your budget. Just because itâs a party doesnât mean you should let your health and your money slip up! Itâs easy to set up budgets in Mint, like saving for a vacation, but you can also set up smaller budgets like for a summer BBQ celebration. Ideally, since youâre having everyone over for a potluck, this get-together wonât take a huge toll on your wallet, but itâs still important to set limits for what you can spend. I like to make it a fun challenge to see how much money I can save and get the most bang for my buck, while not cutting corners on the quality of food served for my guests.
3) Check out the weekly sales ads.
Donât throw away those ads because right before Fourth of July, the mail will be filled with sales on foods for entertaining. Gather those ads up to look through whatâs on sale for the week and map out your menu from those hot buys. If you have apps for your favorite stores, check those out too because Iâve seen in-app coupons that werenât in the print ads that have saved me some money. Once you cross-reference the sales and build your shopping list, also plan out where you will shop from. If you have to travel from 2 different stores to save $15 dollars, I think itâs worth it to take the time to shop smart. Sure, it may take an extra 15 minutes, but I can bet that youâll feel a lot better to have that extra money in your wallet.
4) Pick a dish that saves you money and time.
As the host of the party, youâll be pretty busy with all the details of the day so your time on the day of the party will be limited. From cleaning up the house to setting up the grill, thereâs plenty to do before guests show up. The last thing you want to do is prep a labor-intensive dish when there is so much more on that to-do list. To save money and time, I like to serve up a dessert dish that brings a wow-factor to the party, my Banana Boat Sâmores. These delicious treats light up the eyes of all my guests, and if they knew how cost-effective they are, theyâd light up even more!
To save money, I like to use fruit for dessert, especially in the summer season, because theyâre more affordable, easier to prepare, and most importantly, theyâre healthier! Bananas are only 19 cents each, so just make sure to have at least one banana per guest. I also know that marshmallows and Graham crackers are always on sale for $1 around this time of year, so already, this is a dish that costs less than 50 cents per serving.
To save time, I like this dish because you can have your guest prep their own Banana Boat. All you have to do is set up a station of the ingredients and let them make their creation as they please. When you get your guests involved in the food preparation, youâre saving some valuable time on your end, but also your guests are having fun! Theyâll leave your party with another recipe under their belt as well, so itâs a win-win for everyone.
5) Buy your food in bulk bins.
Donât pass up those bulk bins on your shopping trip, because buying from these can be 30-40% cheaper than packaged branded items. For the chocolate, I paid per ounce from the bin instead of buying packages. Since Iâm setting up a station for my guests at my own home, I donât need the packaging or extra chocolate so why should I pay extra for it? Half a pound only costs $2, whereas if I were to buy a bag or a bar it would cost me close to $5.
With these tips on how to have a cost-conscious Fourth of July spread, I hope you can spread out your budget and use some of that money you save on other fun activities this summer!
The post How To Create A Budget Friendly Spread For Fourth Of July appeared first on MintLife Blog.
Sound money management is an important part of a solid financial strategy. Youâll want to have some of your money set for retirement in a traditional or Roth IRA. Still, other money might be saved for your kidsâ college, a down payment on a house or other longer-term goals. And then you might have an emergency fund as well as a checking account that you use to pay your monthly bills and expenses. Each of these buckets of money can be in a different kind of account. In this article, weâll look at some of the best checking accounts.
What makes a good checking account
Before we look at some of the best checking accounts, itâs a good idea to talk about what makes for a good checking account. A checking account is an account that you would typically use to pay your ongoing monthly expenses. It is more and more rare to actually write paper checks, and instead, you would typically use a debit card or cashless payment account linked to your checking account.Â
With a checking account, some features to look for include no monthly or maintenance fees, a low minimum amount to open an account, the rate at which they pay interest, and any account opening bonus they might offer. The interest rate that checking and savings accounts pay is tied to the federal funds rate and usually varies over time. As of 2020, the interest rates are quite low, and many checking and savings accounts do not pay any interest at all. Also keep in mind that even if your account pays you 1% interest, youâre still losing money to inflation. So you wouldnât want to keep any long-term investment money in a checking or savings account.
With all that being said, letâs take a look at some of the top checking accounts available.
Discover Cashback Debit
Discoverâs checking account offers 1% cash back on up to $3,000 in debit card purchases each month, which is one of the few debit cards that offer a reward on ongoing purchases. The Discover Cashback Debit account also comes with no monthly maintenance or other fees, no fees to withdraw at over 60,000 ATMs worldwide and no fees for insufficient funds.
CapitalOne 360 Checking
The CapitalOne 360 Checking account has no account minimums or fees. It currently offers a 0.10% APY on balances, though you can also open a no-fee CapitalOne 360 Performance Savings account which offers 0.65% APY as of the time of this writing. CapitalOne also has thousands of branch offices nationwide, so you can do your banking online or in-person. The CapitalOne 360 Checking account offers three different options if you happen to overdraft your account – Auto-Decline, Next Day Grace and Free Savings Transfer.
Fidelity Cash Management Account
Fidelityâs Cash Management Account also offers no account fees or minimum balances. It also reimburses ATM fees nationwide, though only offers 0.01% APY on account balances. Fidelity makes it easy to transfer money between your checking account, savings accounts and any retirement accounts you have with Fidelity. Plus, the Fidelity Rewards Visa offers 2% cash back on all purchases, which you can redeem into your Fidelity Cash Management Account or any other Fidelity account.
Wealthfront Cash Account
Wealthfrontâs Cash Account offers a high-interest checking account (0.35% APY as of this writing) with no fees. And Wealthfrontâs convenient account dashboard lets you easily move money between your checking account and any investment or retirement accounts that you have with them. They also offer a service where you can get access to your paycheck up to two days early if you direct deposit into your Wealthfront Cash Account
HSBC Premier Checking
HSBCâs Premier Checking account also offers no fee on ATMs nationwide or for everyday banking transactions, but does charge a monthly maintenance fee if you donât have at least $75,000 in combined accounts or direct deposits of at least $5,000 monthly. They are currently offering a promotion where you can earn 3% as a welcome bonus, up to $600. Youâll get 3% on qualifying direct deposits, up to $100 per month, for the first six months of having your account.
Chase Total Checking
Chase Total Checking is currently offering a welcome bonus of $200 when you open a new account and have a direct deposit made to your account in the first 90 days. Chase Total Checking is currently paying an interest rate of only 0.01% APY. Also, there is a $12 monthly maintenance fee which can be avoided if you either:
Have direct deposits totaling $500 or more
Have a balance at the beginning of each day of $1,500 or more
Have an average beginning day balance of $5,000 or more in any combination of all of your Chase accounts
The post Best Checking Accounts 2020 appeared first on MintLife Blog.
Mia, 35 and her husband Luke, 36, earn a combined $200,000 per year. But after paying their mortgage and rental property loan, as well as car and student loans, child care, and other living expenses, the Los Angeles couple has a difficult time socking away money in savings.
They do have about $10,000 in a rainy day account, which could cover their expenses for about one month. But adding to the account has been proving difficult.
Luke feels confident that if they ever run into a serious financial bind, they could always take advantage of their low-interest home equity line of credit. But Mia isnât comfortable with that route. Sheâd prefer to have more cash on hand.
A bit more background on the couple and where they stand financially:
Luke recently transitioned to a new job as a government attorney, which he loves, but it also meant taking a 50% pay cut. Thatâs impacted their ability to spend and save as comfortably in recent months. It was an unexpected opportunity for which the couple wasnât financially prepared.
Mia and Luke would like an objective look at their finances to discover ways to reduce spending, increase saving and possibly find new revenue streams. âIâd love to figure out a side-hustle, so that I can eventually leave my job and spend more time with the kiddos,â says Mia, who works in marketing. Other goals including affording a new car in a couple of years and remodeling their primary residence.
Hereâs a closer look at their finances:
Combined salaries: $200,000 per year
Net rental income: $6,000 per year
Car and student loan debt. $13,000 combined at 2%
Mortgage at primary residence $845,000 at 3.625%
Mortgage at rental property $537,000 at 3.5%
HELOC on primary residence: $200,000 (have not used any of this credit)
Mia: contributes about $1,000 total each month, including a company match
Luke: contributes about $1,000 total each month, including a company match
Emergency Savings: $10,000
College Savings: The couple has 529 college savings funds for both of their children. They allocate their cash back rewards from credit cards towards these accounts. Currently they have about $10,000 saved for their 4-year old and $5,000 saved for their 1-year old child.
Top Monthly Spending Categories:
Primary residence mortgage: $4,000
Primary residence property tax: $1,100
Childcare: $1,900 (daycare for both children, 3 days per week. Grandmother watches other 2 days per week)
Food (Groceries/Eating Out): $800
Car and student loan payments: $450
From my point of view, I think the biggest hole in Mia and Lukeâs finances is their rainy day savings bucket. Relying on a HELOC to cover an unexpected cost is not really an ideal plan. In theory, the money can be used to cover expenses and the interest rate would probably be far lower than the rate on a credit card. But in reality, tapping a HELOC means falling further into debt. They do have $10,000 saved, which is good. But itâs not great.
If not for an emergency, the savings can allow them to achieve other goals. The couple mentioned wanting to buy a car in a couple years. This will probably require a down payment. Having cash can also assist with renovating their home.
Here are my top three recommendations:
Transfer Rental Income Towards Savings
Their previous residence is now a rental property. It nets them about $500 per month. The couple is using this money to pad their living expenses. Can they, instead, move this into their savings account for the next few years? The way I see it, they should have a proper six month cushion in savings to tide them over in an emergency and/or if they need money to address their goals. This rental income isnât going to get them to this 6-month reserve too quickly, but itâs a start.
Carve Out Another $500 for Savings
While I donât have a detailed breakdown of all of the familyâs monthly expenses, I can bet that they can pare their expenses to save an additional $300 to $500. A few dinners out, some unplanned purchases at the grocery store (because you took the kids) and a couple monthly subscription plans can easily add up to $500 in one month. Whenever I want to save more, I schedule money to transfer out of my checking and into savings at the top of the month. I do this automatically and only spend whatever money I have left. Iâd suggest doing this for the first month and seeing how it feels. Do you really notice the money is gone? If yes, revisit some of your recurring costs and decide on trade-offs. If Lukeâs salary has decreased by 50% then the couple needs to make some modifications to their spending. The math, otherwise, wonât add up.
Can Mia Adjust Her Work Structure?
Mia is interested in a side hustle, too, to bring in extra income (which I highly recommend). Sites like tutor.com, care.com, taskrabbit.com and others can help you find quick work within her preferred time frame. In the meantime, can she and her husband find ways to adjust their work hours or commute, which saves gas, time and money?
Miaâs commute to work is one hour each way. Thatâs ten hours per week stuck in a car. And my guess is that while Miaâs driving, sheâs paying for daycare, for at least some of those hours. Could she work from home one or two days per week to reduce her time in traffic, as well as her child care costs?
Bottom line: When Lukeâs income dropped by 50%, the couple didnât adjust spending. It may help to take pen to paper and imagine they were building their budget for the first time. Take all of their expenses off the table and rebuild the budget and lifestyle to better align with their adjusted income. Start with the absolute needs first: housing, insurance, food. And really scrutinize all other expenditures. Unless itâs an absolute need that they can easily afford it, consider shutting it off until theyâve reached a 6-month savings pad.
The post We Earn $200,000 and Canât Save. Help! appeared first on MintLife Blog.