The Shame of Debt

Money doesn’t make you happy. That’s how the saying goes, and you can’t deny that there’s some truth to it. However, while having lots of money won’t make you happy, having very little is more likely to make you stressed and depressed. 

The less you have, the more likely you are to stress over the smallest of things, and if debt is forcing that poverty on you, hanging a dark cloud of uncertainty over your head, that stress and that depression will increase.

Psychological Cost of Debt

Debt has a massive psychological cost and a lot of that boils down to shame. Debt stress and debt shame are more common than ever in the United States, as debtors seek to hide their troubles from their families and loved ones. There is an unmistakable link between debt and an increased suicide risk.

A student conducted several years ago looked at the finances of people who had committed suicide and found they were significantly more likely to have massive debts (student loan debt, credit card debt). Similar studies have been conducted on mental health, noting that people are more likely to suffer from debilitating depression, stress, and anxiety when they have problems with debt.

And it’s easy to see why. Not only do many debtors choose to keep their problems to themselves, feeling an immense shame that stops them from telling even their closest friends and family, but debt can also lead to anxieties about debt collectors, foreclosures, repossessions, bankruptcy, and more. 

How to Overcome the Shame of Debt

To improve your mental health, you need to fight debt stress and shame. That’s easier said than done, but there are a few things that you can do:

Understand Where the Shame Comes From

The first step is to understand why you feel the way that you feel. This might not fix your debt shame, but it will help you to understand it more.

There is no single, overriding cause of debt shame. Some debtors feel shame because they see themselves as the breadwinner, the provider, and if they have debt it means they have failed. Others feel shame because they come from frugal backgrounds and have been wasteful or because their debt is the result of a drug, alcohol or gambling problem.

Whatever the reason, you need to find it, address it, and fix it. Get help for that gambling or drug addiction, get advice from that frugal family.

Admit Your Fault

Debt doesn’t mean that you’re a bad or useless person. It doesn’t mean that you don’t care about your family. It’s not a character flaw tied to your personality, it’s a behavioral issue tied to impulsivity and even mental health issues. It’s still your fault, but it’s easily fixed and doesn’t make you a bad person.

Understanding this can help you to get rid of that shame and deal with your stress and mental health issues.

Improve Your Financial Knowledge

Researchers have found a direct correlation between debt and financial knowledge; the more you have of the former, the less likely you are to be competent in the latter.

Fortunately, it has never been easier to educate yourself. Take a look at the many guides here on Pocket your Dollars, spanning everything from pay off strategies for credit card debt to money-making ideas, recommendations for loans and credit cards, and more.

Get Credit Counseling

Credit counseling exists for a reason and can help you in your time of need. They’re not mental health counselors, they can’t prescribe you medication and they can’t help with your insomnia and anxiety. However, they have worked with countless debtors, many of which have anxiety and depression, and they understand what it’s like to be in your shoes.

They can help you to assess and manage your debts before advising on the right course of action. A financial therapist can also provide assistance with any relationship issues, counseling you on who you should tell, how you should tell them, and what sort of reaction to expect.

The problem that many debtors have is that they think they know everything. They won’t speak to a counsellor because they’re convinced they know what the counsellor will say. But let’s be honest, if you’re struggling with debt, there’s a good chance you’re not a financial wizard and even if you are, it always helps to speak with an expert, voicing your concerns out loud and bouncing some ideas around.

Stop Spending

We spend when we’re depressed, get depressed because we’re in debt and are in debt because we spend too much. It’s a cycle that’s keeping your favorite retailer in profit and doing untold damage to your finances. To get out of debt, you need to accept that this cycle exists and that the only way to escape is to stop that spending immediately.

Anything that isn’t an absolute necessity can be left for another day, preferably one when you actually have money to spend. Limit your spending to clothes, food, rent, utility bills, medical bills, and everything else that allows you to continue living comfortably from day to day, but give the alcohol, cigarettes, vacations, and other luxuries a miss.

How to Take Control of Your Debt

The best way to avoid the shame and stress of debt is to get rid of it. Studies on debtors have found that at least 9 out of 10 believe they will be much happier if they didn’t have debt. These beliefs have been confirmed by individuals who successfully pay off debt, claiming = they are much happier than they ever were.

There are many ways you can pay off debt and we’ll look at a few of these options below, but generally speaking, you need to:

  • Assess your financial situation
  • Check your credit report and credit score
  • Get help from a credit counselor or financial therapist
  • If your debt-to-income ratio is low, budget better and pay off more with a debt payoff strategy
  • If your debt-to-income ratio is high, try debt relief
  • Create an emergency fund to prevent future issues

Best Ways to Get out of Debt

There is no debt shame if there is no debt. As discussed above, debt is not something you should be ashamed of, but it’s also not something you should cling onto. It can cause you a great deal of stress, placing strain on your relationships and generally making life very difficult for you.

So, while it’s important to face the truth of the situation and dispel those feelings of shame, it’s just as important to fight your debt and get your head above water. Here are a few debt relief options and debt payoff strategies that can help. For more information, including expensive guides and recommendations on each of these options, take a look at the relevant sections on Pocket Your Dollars.

Snowball and Avalanche Methods

The debt snowball and debt avalanche methods are two of the most popular debt payoff strategies, and ones that we have discussed at great length before (see debt snowball vs debt avalanche). They can make the process more systematic, which, in turn, may provide you with the support and the structure you need to get your debts in order. 

In both cases, you need to make a list of all your debts, covering things such as Balance, Monthly Payment, and Interest Rate. For debt snowball, sort the list by balance and go from the smallest to the largest. For debt avalanche, focus on the debts that have the highest interest rate and get those out of the way first. With both methods, you need to keep meeting your monthly payment obligations, before putting any extra money you have towards your chosen debt.

Debt avalanche provides the most practical benefits as it clears the problematic debts first, thus reducing the total interest. Debt snowball provides more of a psychological boost, giving you motivation as you steadily clear your debts.

Major Sacrifices

The biggest issue with any debt payoff strategy is that it isn’t easy to get the extra money you need to make those additional payments and clear your debts early. However, many debtors are trapped in a cycle of debt not because they can’t scrape the cents together no matter how hard they try, but because they struggle to budget properly and make the necessary sacrifices.

The average American debtor spends thousands of dollars every year on uneaten groceries, lottery tickets, and media subscriptions. They drop hundreds of dollars on luxuries they don’t really need and spend over $3,500 a year eating out. If debt is dragging you down then it’s imperative that you clear it, which means making some sacrifices and getting your priorities in check.

If you genuinely can’t spare a dime and don’t waste money on unnecessary expenses, then look into some of the options below.

Debt Settlement

Debt settlement is tailor-made for unsecured debt and works especially well for clearing credit card debt, as well as private students. Debt settlement companies often request that you stop meeting your monthly payment obligations, which puts the accounts into doubt and means your creditors are more likely to accept a settlement.

This settlement will clear the entirety of the debt for a fraction of the price, often around 50%. This means that a credit card debt of $10,000 would be cleared for $5,000, providing you with some big savings even after the settlement fees have been taken into account.

Debt Consolidation

A consolidation loan is a large loan that pays off all of your debt at a reduced interest rate and for a reduced monthly payment. The loan is often extended by several years, which means you pay more in the long-term, but the reduced monthly payments alleviate some of the burden and make the debt more manageable.

Debt Management

Debt management provides debtors with a debt repayment strategy, with all funds funneled through the debt management plan and then distributed to creditors. This service is often provided by credit counseling agencies and credit unions, who begin the process by negotiating with creditors and then assuming control of all debts.

These companies often ask that the debtors cancel all but one credit card, which can reduce the debtor’s credit score by impacting their credit utilization ratio.

Balance Transfer

A balance transfer credit card lets you move all your credit card balances onto a single card, one that offers a 0% APR for the first 6, 12 or 18 months, allowing you to pay down debt without interest, thus reducing compounded interest and clearing the debt quickly.

This method works with all credit card debt and you can typically move between 1 and 5 balances onto a new credit card, providing that card isn’t offered by the same company.

The Shame of Debt is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

The Best Student Loan Companies For Refinancing

Refinancing your student loans can make good financial sense, and that’s especially true if your current loans are stuck at a high-interest rate. With a new loan at a lower APR, you could save a bundle of money on interest each month and ultimately pay your student debt off faster. Consolidating several loans into one new one can also simplify your financial life and make keeping up with bills a lot easier.

College Ave and Earnest topped our list, but since student loan refinancing is an incredibly competitive space, you’ll also want to spend time comparing student loan companies to see who offers the best deal. Many lenders in this space offer incredibly low APRs, flexible payment options, borrower incentives, and more. This means it’s more important than ever to shop around so you wind up with the best student loan for your needs.

What You Should Know About Refinancing Federal Student Loans with a Private Lender

The lenders on this list can help you consolidate and refinance both federal student loans and private student loans. However, there are a few details to be aware of before you refinance federal loans with a private lender.

Switching federal loans to private means giving up federal protections like deferment and forbearance. You also give up your chance to qualify for income-driven repayment plans like Pay As You Earn (PAYE) or Income Based Repayment (IBR). Income-driven repayment plans let you pay a percentage of your discretionary income for 20 to 25 years before ultimately forgiving your remaining loan balances, so this perk isn’t one you should give up without careful thought and consideration.

Best Student Loan Refinancing Companies of 2021

As you start your search to find the best student loan for your lifestyle, take the time to compare lenders and all they offer their customers. While there are a ton of reputable companies offering high-quality student loan refinancing products on the market today, there are also companies you should probably steer clear of.

To make your search easier, we took the time to compare most of the top lenders in this space in terms of interest rates offered, fees, borrower benefits, and more. The following student loan companies are the cream of the crop, so you should start your search here.

Our Top Picks:

  1. Splash Financial
  2. College Ave
  3. Earnest
  4. SoFi
  5. CommonBond
  6. LendKey
  7. Wells Fargo
  8. PenFed Credit Union

Student Loan Refinancing Company Reviews

1. Splash Financial

Splash Financial may be a newer company in the student loan refinancing space, but their offerings are competitive. This company lets you check your rate online without a hard inquiry on your credit report, and their variable rates currently start at just 2.25% APR.

Not only are interest rates offered by Splash Financial industry-leading, but the company has a 95% customer satisfaction rate so far. Their cutting-edge technology also lets you apply for your loan and complete the loan process online, meaning less hassle and stress for you as the borrower.

Check Out Splash Financial’s Low Rates

2. College Ave

College Ave offers student loan refinancing products that can be tailored to your needs. They offer low fixed and variable interest rates, for example, and you’ll never pay an application fee or an origination fee. You can even qualify for a discount if you set your loan up on autopay, and a wide range of repayment schedules are available.

College Ave also offers a wide range of online calculators and tools that can help you figure out how much student loan refinancing could help you save and whether the move would be worth it in the end. Considering their low variable rates start at just 2.74% APR, there’s a good chance you could save money by refinancing if you have excellent credit or a cosigner with great credit.

Get Started with College Ave

3. Earnest

Earnest is another online lender that focuses most of its efforts on offering high-quality student loans. This company lets you consolidate debt at a lower interest rate than you might find elsewhere, and you get the option to pick a monthly payment and repayment period that works with your budget and your lifestyle.

While you’ll need excellent credit to qualify for the lowest interest rates, loans from Earnest come with variable APRs starting at 1.81% and low fixed rates starting at just 3.45%. To qualify for student loan refinancing with Earnest, you’ll need a minimum credit score of 650 and a strong employment and income history. You also need to be current on all your bills and cannot have a bankruptcy on your credit profile.

Refinance and Save with Earnest

4. SoFi

Also make sure to check out student loan refinancing company SoFi as you continue your search. This online lender offers some of the best student loan refinancing products available today, including loans with no application fee, origination fee, or hidden fees.

SoFi lets you apply for and complete the entire loan process online, and they offer live customer support 7 days a week. You can also check your rate online without a hard inquiry on your credit report, which makes it easier to see how much you could save before you commit.

Get Pre-Approved with SoFi in Less than 2 Minutes

5. Commonbond

Commonbond is another online student lender who lets you check your rate online without a hard inquiry on your credit report. With student loan refinancing from Commonbond, you could easily save thousands of dollars on interest with a new fixed interest rate as low as 3.21%. Repayment terms are offered for 5 to 20 years as well, letting you choose a new monthly payment and repayment timeline that works for your needs.

You can apply for your new loan online and note that these loans don’t come with an origination fee or any prepayment penalties. Your loan could also qualify for forbearance, which means having up to 24 months without payments during times of financial hardship.

Apply Online with Commonbond

6. LendKey

LendKey offers private student loans and flexible student loan refinancing options to serve a variety of needs. You can repay your loan between 5 and 20 years, and their refinance loans don’t charge an origination fee.

You can use this company’s online interface to check your rate without a hard inquiry on your credit report, and variable APRs start at just 2.01% for graduates with excellent credit. LendKey loans also receive 9.3 out of 10 possible stars in recent reviews, meaning their customers are mostly happy with their decision to go with this company.

Save Thousands by Refinancing with LendKey

7. Wells Fargo

While Wells Fargo is mostly popular for their banking products, home mortgage products, and personal loans, this bank also offers student loan refinancing products. These loans let you consolidate student debts into a new loan with a low variable or fixed interest rate, and you can even score a discount for setting your loan up on autopay.

Terms for Wells Fargo loans are available anywhere from 5 to 20 years, meaning you can choose a repayment schedule and monthly payment that suits your needs. Wells Fargo also lets you check your rate online without a hard inquiry on your credit report.

Get Started with Wells Fargo

8. PenFed Credit Union

PenFed Credit Union offers unique student loan products powered by Purefy. You might be able to qualify for a lower interest rate that could lead to enormous interest savings over time, and PenFed lets you choose a repayment term and monthly payment that fits with your budget and lifestyle.

You can apply for student loan refinancing on your own, but PenFed Credit Union also allows cosigners. Low fixed interest rates start at just 3.48% APR, and you can check your rate online without a hard inquiry on your credit report.

Learn More about PenFed Credit Union

What To Look For When Refinancing

If you decide you want to refinance your student loans, you’ll be happy to know the refinancing market is more robust than ever. A variety of lenders offer insanely attractive loan options for those who can qualify, although you should know that student loan companies tend to be very finicky about your credit score. Some also won’t let you refinance if you didn’t graduate from college, or even if you graduated from an “unapproved” school.

While you should be aware of any lender-specific eligibility requirements before you apply with any student loan company, there are plenty of other factors to look out for. Here’s everything you should look for in a student loan refinancing company before you decide to trust them with your loans.

Low Interest Rate

Obviously, the main reason you’re probably thinking of refinancing your loans is the potential to save money on interest. Lenders who offer the lowest rates available today can potentially help you save more, although it’s important to consider that you may not qualify for the lowest rates available if you don’t have excellent credit.

Cosigner Requirements

Also consider that most lenders will offer better rates and loan terms if you have a cosigner with better credit than you have. This is especially true if your credit isn’t great, so make sure to ask family members if they’re willing to cosign on your new student loan if you hope to get the best rate. Just remember that your cosigner will be jointly liable for repayment, meaning you could quickly damage your relationship if you default on your loan and leave them holding the bag.

Low Fees or No Fees

Student loans are like any other loan in the fact that some charge higher fees or more fees than others. Since many student loans come with an application fee or an origination fee, you’ll want to look for lenders that don’t charge these fees. Also check for hidden fees like prepayment penalties.

Discounts Available

Some student loan companies let you qualify for discounts, the most popular of which is a discount for using autopay. If you’re able and willing to set up automatic payments on your credit card, you could save .25% or .50% off your interest rate depending on the lender you go with.

Rate Check Option

Many of the top student loan refinancing companies on this list make it possible to check your interest rate online without a hard inquiry on your credit report. This is a huge benefit since knowing your rate can help you figure out if refinancing is even worth it before you take the time to fill out a full loan application.

Flexible Repayment Plan

Also make sure any lender you go with offers some flexibility in your repayment plan and your monthly payment. You’ll want to make sure refinancing aligns with your long-term financial goals and your monthly budget, and it’s crucial to choose a new loan with a monthly payment you can live with.

Most lenders in this space offer repayment timelines of up to 20 years, which means you could spread your payments over several decades to get a monthly payment that makes sense with your income. Keep in mind, however, that you’ll pay more interest over the life of your loan when you take a long time to pay it off, so you may want to consider prioritizing a faster payment plan.

The Bottom Line

Student loan refinancing may not sound like a lot of fun. However, taking the time to consider all your loan options could easily save you thousands of dollars. This is especially true if you have a lot of debt at a high interest rate. By consolidating all your student loans into a new one with a lower APR, you could make loan repayment easier with a single payment and save a ton of money that would otherwise go to straight to interest without helping you pay off your loans.

The first step of the loan process is the hardest, however, and that’s choosing a student loan refinancing company that you trust. The lenders on this list are highly rated, but they also offer some of the best loan products on the market today.

  • Work with College Ave, our top pick, to refinance your student loan.

Start your search here and you’re bound to wind up with a student loan you can live with. At the very least, you’ll have a better idea of the loans that are available and how much you might save if you decide to refinance later on.

The post The Best Student Loan Companies For Refinancing appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

Source: goodfinancialcents.com

How to Consolidate Credit Card Debt

Credit card debt is on the rise. Millions of Americans are in over their heads. They’re losing sleep, losing control, and worried about what the future will hold. But there are solutions, and consolidation is one of the best.

Consolidation works by “consolidating” multiple debts into one. It’s the perfect solution for mounting debt, one that doesn’t destroy your credit score, liquidate your assets, or make it difficult to acquire mortgages and personal loans in the future.

With that said, let’s look at some of the best ways to consolidate credit card debt.

Option 1: Do It Yourself

The idea of debt consolidation essentially boils down to acquiring a large, low-interest loan and using that to repay multiple high-interest debts. If your credit score is high enough, you can get that loan yourself, clear your credit card debts, and then focus on repaying the loan.

Do It Yourself Consolidation Explained

The average credit card APR is close to 20%. If you have a balance of $10,000 and a monthly payment of $300, this APR will cost you over $4,700 in total interest and your debt will be repaid in just over 4 years. If you were to acquire a $10,000 personal loan at a respectable rate of 8% over the same 4 years, you’ll pay just under $1,800 in interest.

That’s a saving of nearly $3,000 over 4 years, and it’s based on an 8% rate (lower rates are available) and on the assumption that you don’t accumulate any credit card penalty fees or penalty APRs, which are very common on rolling balances.

Pros

  • You Will Save Money: As noted above, this process could save you a lot of money over the long-term and will also free up some additional cash in the short-term.
  • Complete Control: You don’t have to worry about company fees and service charges; you don’t need to concern yourself with hidden terms. With this credit card consolidation option, you are in complete control.
  • Easy on Your Credit Score: While your credit score will take an initial hit because of the loan inquiry and the new account, as soon as you use that loan to clear your credit card debts you should see an improvement. Just remember to keep those cleared cards active, otherwise, your credit utilization ratio will drop.

Cons

  • Good Credit Needed: For this option to be viable, you will need an excellent score. Anything less and you may struggle to be accepted for a low-interest loan. Let’s be honest, if you’re struggling with growing credit card debt, the odds of you having a flawless credit score are pretty slim.
  • On Your Own: While there are benefits to doing everything by yourself, it can also be a little time consuming, and if you don’t know what you’re doing, it can be intimidating.

Option 2: Work with a Debt Management Company

Credit counseling agencies can help you manage your debt by working with your creditors. A new payment structure will be created, and your money will go straight to the agency, after which it will be released to your creditors.

Debt Management Consolidation Explained

To begin the process, search for reputable debt management services in your area. They will assess your situation and determine if you are a good fit for the program. Some charge fees, some don’t, but all will serve as an intermediary between you and your creditors.

Every month you will make a single payment and the money will then go to your creditors. The agency will negotiate reduced payments by bringing the interest rates down and removing fees, therefore making these debts cheaper and more manageable.

Pros 

  • Professional Help: Get quality support from an experienced debt management company, one that will assume control and take the stress away.
  • Cheap: This is one of the cheapest and most cost-effective ways to clear your credit card debt, greatly reducing your total interest repayments.

Cons

  • Fees: Some debt management companies charge fees for their services, although these tend to be nominal and you’ll still save more money in the long-term.
  • Canceled Contract: If you fail to make one of the agreed-upon repayments, your creditors may cancel the improved contract and revert back to the previous terms, erasing all the agency’s hard work.

Option 3: Balance Transfer

A balance transfer is a promotion offered on new credit cards. It invites you to move your balance from your current card to a new one, and in exchange, it offers a period of 0% interest. 

You will need to pay a balance transfer fee, and this is typically charged at between 3 and 5% of the total transfer amount, but it’s often one of the cheapest and easiest ways to consolidate credit card debt.

Balance Transfer Consolidation Explained

As an example of how balance transfers work, let’s imagine that you have three credit cards, each with a maxed-out balance of $10,000 and an APR of 20%. If you’re repaying $300 a month, that’s $900 a month and in 4 years and 2 months, you’ll pay around $14,000 in interest to clear the full $30,000.

Alternatively, you can move all three balances onto a single balance transfer card with a $30,000 limit. Immediately, that balance could grow to $31,500. If you continue paying $900 a month and the balance transfer period lasts for 18 months, the balance will be just $15,300 when interest begins to accrue again. And if you use that 18-month period to initiate a debt repayment strategy, you could clear it in full and avoid paying any interest.

Pros 

  • Multiple Balances Can be Consolidated: You can consolidate multiple credit card balances, providing you’re not moving them to the same creditor.
  • No Interest Repayment: If you plan it properly, you can repay your balance in full before accruing any interest.
  • Available to Everyone: Credit cards are generally easier to acquire than low-interest personal loans and you won’t need an excellent credit score to get a good one.

Cons  

  • Higher Interest: The interest rate and fees may be higher once the 0% balance transfer period ends. If you use the intro period to avoid repayments and not to clear your debt, you could find yourself in serious trouble when interest begins to accumulate again.
  • Large Limits May be Difficult: The bigger your current credit card balances are, the harder it will be to get a balance transfer card with a large enough limit.
  • Fees: Although it’s a great option for consolidating credit card debt, it’s not completely free, as you’ll pay an initial balance transfer fee.

Option 4: Debt Consolidation Loans

Some companies offer specific loans tailored toward debt consolidation. These options work a lot like personal loans, as they are large loans designed with consolidation in mind. However, there are a few key differences, including the fact you don’t need an excellent credit score.

Debt Consolidation Loans Explained

The ultimate goal of debt consolidation loans is not to save you money in the long-term or to reduce the debt period. In fact, it does the opposite. The goal is to reduce your monthly payment and give you a smaller rate of interest, but it does this while increasing the loan period, which means you ultimately pay more money over the term.

Pros

 

  • More Money Every Month: Your monthly payments will be reduced, freeing up some extra cash to use every month.
  • Cleared Debts: Your credit card debts will be cleared in one fell swoop, potentially giving you some financial breathing space.

 

Cons

  • Longer Period: The total length of your debt will be extended, which means you’ll be stuck with the debt for a prolonged period.
  • Cost: While you’ll save some money every month, you’ll do so at the cost of an increased overall balance. Depending on your credit score, you could find yourself paying thousands more in total repayments.

Other Credit Card Debt Consolidation Solutions

If you have a supportive and financially-free family, you can ask them for the money to clear your debts and then promise to repay them in time. 

Of course, this option isn’t without its problems. Firstly, there’s the old adage that you should never lend money to friends or family. It may seem pretty heartless, but it’s a saying steeped in experience. It causes problems, as that debt is right at the bottom of the borrower’s list of priorities and if they’re skipping payments and begging for relief, while at the same time buying new clothes and going out every night, it can anger the borrower.

To avoid these issues, agree to pay them in monthly installments, offer a little interest, and get everything in writing. Make that debt your priority, because by skipping your payments you’ll be hurting your finances and your relationships.

Don’t guilt-trip a friend or family member into lending you money. Don’t ask them unless you have a very close relationship with them, have known them a long time, and know they can easily afford to lend you money. The last thing you want is for them to leave themselves short or to acquire debt just to help you out.

Alternatively, if you own a significant amount of home equity, you can opt for a home equity loan. This will give you a sizeable loan charged at a small rate of interest. It will take longer to repay your mortgage, but by reducing your debt demands you’ll save more money in the long-term.

How to Consolidate Credit Card Debt is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

Prefer the Train? Here Are 4 Credit Cards for Riding the Rails

[UPDATE: Offer(s) below is no longer available through our site. Please visit our credit card marketplace for current offers.DISCLOSURE: Cards from our partners are mentioned below.]

If you prefer traveling by train, you’re already familiar with the advantages of riding the rails. You can avoid the hassles of airports and highways, travel in comfort, and take in the scenery as you go.

Many travel credit cards are singularly focused on flights and hotels. But some offer rewards that are just as valuable for train travelers.

Here are four travel credit cards for riding the rails.

1. Amtrak Guest Rewards World Mastercard

Rewards: Three points per dollar on Amtrak purchases; two points per dollar on eligible travel purchases; one point per dollar on all other purchases.
Sign-Up Bonus: 20,000 bonus points if you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days.
Annual Fee: $79
Annual Percentage Rate (APR): 16.49% to 24.49%, based on your creditworthiness (as of 12/19/2019).
Why We Picked It: This card is designed for regular Amtrak riders.
For Rail Travel: You’ll earn triple points on all Amtrak purchases, double points on qualifying travel purchases, and single points on every other purchase. Points can be redeemed for car rentals, hotels, gift cards, and more. But when you redeem for Amtrak travel, you’ll earn a 5% rebate on points. You’ll also receive a free Amtrak companion pass with a yearly renewal once you open your account.
Drawbacks: If you don’t ride Amtrak, this card isn’t for you.

2. Chase Sapphire Preferred

Rewards: Two points per dollar on dining and travel; one point per dollar on all other purchases.
Sign-Up Bonus:
60,000 bonus points if you spend $4,000 in the first three months from account opening.
Annual Fee:
$95
APR: 15.99% – 22.99% Variable .
Why We Picked It: All travel purchases earn points that are redeemable for future trips.
For Rail Travel: Your travel purchases, including train tickets and public transportation, will earn double points. There are many redemption options, but you’ll get an extra 25% in value when redeeming points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Drawbacks: There is an annual fee. 

3. Citi ThankYou Premier

Rewards: Three points per dollar on travel; two points per dollar on dining and entertainment; one point per dollar on all other purchases.
Sign-Up Bonus: None
Annual Fee: $0 the first year, then $95.
APR: 
17.49 t 25.49%, based on your creditworthiness (as of 12/19/2019).
Why We Picked It: With triple points on travel, you can rack up rewards quickly.
For Rail Travel: You’ll earn three points per dollar on travel, including passenger and commuter railways. Points can be redeemed for travel, gift cards, merchandise, and more.
Drawbacks: There is no sign-up bonus. 

How to Choose a Card for Rail Travel

If you primarily travel by train, you’ll want a card that offers great rewards rates for those expenses. With the exception of Amtrak’s travel credit card, there aren’t many cards on the market that single out trains. However, many cards do count rail travel as part of their overall travel category.

For any card you’re considering, verify that train fare will earn travel rewards and that rail travel is a valid redemption option.

What Credit Is Required for Train Travel Rewards Credit Cards?

The best travel credit cards may require good or excellent credit. Make sure you meet the credit requirements of a card before you submit an application. You can check your credit report card for free at Credit.com.

Image: istock

At publishing time, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Barclay Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard are offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for any of these cards. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment. This content is not provided by the card issuer(s). Any opinions expressed are those of Credit.com alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by the issuer(s).

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees, and terms for credit cards, loans, and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees, and terms for credit cards, loans, and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees, and terms with credit card issuers, banks, or other financial institutions directly.

The post Prefer the Train? Here Are 4 Credit Cards for Riding the Rails appeared first on Credit.com.

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How Late Can You Be on a Car Payment, Mortgage or Other Bill?

A man sits on a chair, looking concerned.

It’s always frustrating to come across a bill and realize it was due yesterday—or last week. If you’re late on a payment or if you miss it completely, you could end up paying late fees and taking a hit on your credit score. It can be especially difficult if you want to apply for a loan or credit and are about to make a big purchase like a house or a vehicle.

If you’re a reliable customer and have only missed this one payment, it likely shouldn’t be a big problem, and you can probably avoid a late fee. But if you wait too long, it might not be possible.

Either way, we’re going to help answer some of your biggest questions:

  • How late can you be on a car payment before it affects your credit?
  • Is there a late car payment grace period?
  • What about for rent?
  • What happens if you miss a payment completely?
  • Who should you notify?
  • How will it impact your credit score?

Read on to learn how late a credit card or car payment can be before it affects your credit score and what to do if it does.

How Late Can a Credit Card Payment Be?

People often wonder how late a payment has to be before their creditors report it to the credit bureaus. A credit card payment is considered late if it’s received after the cutoff time in your credit card agreement or if the payment submitted is less than the minimum amount due.

Missed credit card payments are generally added to your credit report when the payment is more than 30 days late. This same entry is updated if your payment is 60 days late, and then 90 days. It is important to know what your specific credit card issuer’s policies are, so you can know what to expect.

Keep in mind that one late payment among years of on-time payments is far less serious than a late payment and limited credit history.

When Is a Credit Card Payment Considered Late?

As far as credit card companies are concerned, the payment is considered late if it’s submitted after the cutoff period, which varies depending on the lender. Sometimes it’s 5 p.m. on a business day while for others it’s 8 p.m. or 11:59 p.m. Also be aware of when a late fee will be charged. Generally speaking, a late fee is issued if payment is received after the credit card issuer’s cutoff time.

30 Days Past Due

Late credit card payments usually aren’t reported to the credit bureau until after 30 days. In other words, if you make a payment after the due date but within this initial 30-day period, it won’t show up on your credit report, but you may have to pay a late fee.

60 Days Past Due

If your payment is more than 60 days late, the 30-day entry on your credit report is updated and your card’s interest rate could increase. If it increases and by how much depends on your card’s terms.

How Late Can You Be on a Car Payment?

Typically, the grace period on auto loans is 10 days, but this depends on the lender. The grace period your lender allows should be listed under the terms and conditions of your loan. This is where you’ll also find the details of the loan, including your loan balance, your interest rate, the term of the loan and the fees associated with a late or missed payment.

If you can afford to pay but simply forgot, you’ll want to pay it as soon as possible. But if you feel you can’t afford the car payment, you should get in touch with your lender and see if they would be willing to renegotiate the terms of the loan.

Deferring Car Payments

You can also look into deferring your car payment if you don’t have the funds now but you expect to later. A deferment essentially means you’re changing your due date by postponing the date of your next payment. Deferments usually don’t negatively affect your credit score.

What If I’m Late on Paying My Rent or Mortgage?

If you’re a few days late paying your rent, usually you shouldn’t have to worry about this affecting your credit score. If you know your landlord, chances are they’ll say something if you continue to submit late payments. If you’re paying a property management company, they likely won’t be as lenient on late payments. Our best advice is to pay your rent within the week it’s due.

Mortgage lenders typically report late payments to credit bureaus and usually have different grace periods. Paying within seven days should help you avoid decreasing credit scores.

One of the best ways to stay on top of your mortgage or rent payment is to set up a monthly reminder for a few days before the first of the month or, if possible, set up an automatic payment. Because your rent or mortgage payment is the same each month, it should be easy to calculate it into your personal finances.

Can a Late Credit Card Payment Made Under 30 Days Still Affect My Score?

If you make a credit card payment within the 30-day period, it generally should not be reported negatively or have any effect on your credit score. Beyond that time, however, there is a possibility your credit score could be affected. Make sure you know the terms of your credit card however, terms can vary and you don’t want any surprises.

If it turns out your late payment has been reported, know that its impact on your score generally diminishes with time, especially if it’s an isolated event. Other on-time payments can help counter the negative effects of late payments. And, as with almost any other mistake, the sooner you realize you’ve made it and try to fix it, the less likely it is to turn into a big problem.

Late Fees vs. Overdue Payments

Late fees are essentially fees charged by lenders to borrowers if a payment is received after its due date. So, if your payment is sent late—or is not the minimum payment or above—you could be charged a late fee.

Most credit card payments are due within a minimum of 21 days after the billing cycle ends, but remember, the grace period is usually only 30 days, so you’ll want to pay them off as soon as possible. Credit card late fees vary depending on your lender and requirements under the CFPB, but the late fee amount can’t be more than the minimum payment. For example, if your minimum payment is $35, your late fee won’t be higher than that.

An overdue payment, however, is a payment that was not paid by the due date. If you miss a due date, you will see the minimum balance plus the overdue payment on your next billing cycle. The overdue payment may be the full amount or a partial amount, such as if you paid part of your minimum but not all of it.

Removing Late Payments From Your Credit History

If there’s an error on your credit history, such as if a car payment is marked late but it actually wasn’t and you have proof, you can challenge it with the lender. The process involves explaining exactly what happened and asking that the error be fixed. Technically, the lender or servicer has 30 business days to respond to the error. If you don’t hear from them within about 45 days, follow up with them.

If a late payment ding on your credit report is accurate, you can still contact the lender and dispute it, especially if you’ve been diligent about paying your bills on time. The lender can provide what’s called a goodwill adjustment, which is when the lender essentially forgives your late fee.

As part of this process, you may be asked to explain the circumstances surrounding the reasons for your payment being submitted late. For example, maybe you went on vacation and forgot or you had to pay a large unexpected cost, such as medical fees, and you couldn’t afford the payment that month.

The lender may offer you a chance to enroll in automatic payments to lessen the chances of a late payment happening again.

How Long Does It Take for a Missed Payment to Come Off My Credit Report?

Unfortunately, if there’s a missed payment or a negative item on your credit history and you’re not able to have it removed, it can stay on there for seven years.

Keep in mind that if the incident occurred five years ago and you’re applying for a loan, it will have less effect than if it occurred last week. The more time that passes after the missed payment occurs, the better. Why? Because credit scores are based on recent financial behavior, so if you only miss one payment and not multiples, eventually your credit score takes your frequent on-time payments into account.

How to Prevent Late Payments in the Future

It’s hard to keep track of everything—grocery lists, kids’ schedules, work to-do lists and, of course, bill due dates—but there are ways to manage your personal finances better to ensure you never miss a payment.

  • Go paperless. Going paperless may increase the likelihood you notice when a bill comes through each month instead of being lost in piles of other mail.
  • Set up reminders. Banks sometimes offer text and email reminders that tell you when a bill, such as a car payment or credit card payment, is coming up. You can also set these up yourself to recur each month on your personal digital calendar.
  • Enroll in automatic payments. Automatic payments ensure your car payment or other loan payment is made on time. Just make sure the funds are available in your account on the day it’s due to be withdrawn to avoid potential overdraw fees.

Keep an eye on your credit report and past late payments when you sign up for Credit.com’s Credit Report Card. It gives you a letter grade in each of the five key factors of your credit.

The post How Late Can You Be on a Car Payment, Mortgage or Other Bill? appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

A Guide To Everything You Need To Know About Home Ownership Costs [Free Download]

Along with the excitement of purchasing a new home, comes the additional costs that you will be expected to pay as a homeowner. Apart from covering the mortgage of your home, you’ll have additional expenses – such as home insurance – that you will be expected to cover. If you’re looking to budget for a home purchase, it’s important that you consider these costs as they can add up to thousands of dollars each year.

To help you make educated decisions when budgeting, we’ve compiled a list of the major home ownership costs in one free, downloadable guide. Get the Home Ownership Costs to Consider guide here.

Home Insurance

Home insurance policies help protect against serious damage and destruction, like fires, leaks, floods, or break-ins. It also protects a homeowner from personal liability. Some banks may offer home insurance products, although you can typically purchase a home insurance policy through a home insurance agent or broker. 

Tip: You may get better rates if you use a broker or agent. It’s also important to keep in mind that policies typically renew on an annual basis.

Condo Fees

The cost of maintenance fees should be taken into account when you’re buying a condo. This recurring cost is in addition to your mortgage and impacts how much home you can afford. 

Your mandatory monthly fee will vary by your building and square footage. It typically covers:

  • Utilities (such as water and garbage collection)
  • Building insurance
  • Maintenance of common areas (such as the gym, pool, front desk, hallways, landscaping)
  • Building reserve fund (covers emergencies and long-term maintenance projects such as a new roof or elevators repairs)

What Are Status Certificates?

If you’re looking to purchase a condo, you’ll want to look into obtaining a status certificate so that you have as much information about the building and your unit as possible before buying. A status certificate provides valuable information about the condo corporation and its financial

situation. It includes details on the budget, legal issues, the reserve fund, maintenance fees, and any fee increases expected in the future. 

Tip: You’ll want to carefully review your status certificate with your lawyer before making a purchase.

Property Tax

Property taxes are paid annually by homeowners to their municipality. These taxes are ongoing and are separate from your mortgage. Your annual property tax can often be paid in installments.

Tip: It’s important to remember that this cost is not due at closing, but is a recurring cost.

How Are Property Taxes Calculated?

Your property tax rate will vary depending on the value of your property as assessed by your provincial assessment authority. This is then multiplied by a rate that falls between 0.5% to 2.5%.

How Do You Pay Property Taxes?

You can pay your property taxes either through your mortgage provider or directly to your municipality. 

Your Utility Bills

When you purchase a home, you’ll have to set up or transfer your utility bills to your new home. If you live in a condo, these costs may be included in your monthly maintenance fee. Your utility bill will include:

  • Hydro (electricity)
  • Heat
  • Water and Garbage
  • Internet, Phone, Cable

For the full details on the home buyer’s journey including examples, advice, pictures and sample calculations, download a copy of our free Home Ownership Costs to Consider Guide here.

The post A Guide To Everything You Need To Know About Home Ownership Costs [Free Download] appeared first on Zoocasa Blog.

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What Is Expected Family Contribution (EFC)?

student on laptop

Before heading off to college, many students will begin the big search for financial aid. For most, that will mean filling out the FAFSA.® And that involves calculating the expected family contribution.

Though filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid is pretty straightforward, understanding a student’s eligibility and how much financial aid they could receive can be confusing.

Here’s what aspiring college students need to know about EFC and how it affects their potential aid.

Expected Family Contribution as Part of the Picture

The expected family contribution is an estimate of how much money a family can contribute toward a student’s college education.

need-based aid you can get.

Your offer of financial aid may change from year to year.

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SoFi is here to help.

How the EFC Is Calculated?

As the Federal Student Aid office notes, the EFC is calculated according to a formula established by law. It takes into account both a family’s taxed and untaxed income, any assets the family has, and any benefits it receives.

The calculation also considers a family’s size and the number of family members who will attend college or career school during the same year.

Students cannot receive more need-based aid from a school than the amount they need. For example, if the cost of attendance is $20,000 and the student’s EFC is $10,000, the student is then only eligible for up to $10,000 in need-based aid.

Need-based aid can be provided through a number of programs, including federal Pell Grants, Direct Subsidized Loans, and work-study programs.

Fill Out the FAFSA® Early?

A student may qualify for a specific amount of need-based aid but may not receive all of it. That’s because the amount a student receives depends on the available funding at their school.

private student loan part of your package of considerations.



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Should I Cash Out My 401k to Pay Off Debt?

Paying off debt may feel like a never-ending process. With so many potential solutions, you may not know where to start. One of your options may be withdrawing money from your retirement fund. This may make you wonder, “should I cash out my 401k to pay off debt?” Cashing out your 401k early may cost you in penalties, taxes, and your financial future so it’s usually wise to avoid doing this if possible. When in doubt, consult your financial advisor to help determine what’s best for you.

Before cashing out your 401k, we suggest weighing the pros and cons, plus the financial habits you could change to reduce debt. The right move may be adjusting your budget to ensure each dollar is being put to good use. Keep reading to determine if and when it makes sense to cash out your 401k.

How to Determine If You Want to Cash Out Your Retirement

How to Determine If You Want to Cash Out Your Retirement

Deciding to cash out your 401k depends on your financial position. If debt is causing daily stress, you may consider serious debt payoff plans. Early withdrawal from your 401k could cost you in

Deciding to cash out your 401k depends on your financial position. If debt is causing daily stress, you may consider serious debt payoff plans. Early withdrawal from your 401k could cost you in taxes and fees as your 401k has yet to be taxed. Meaning, the gross amount you withdraw from your 401k will be taxed in full, so assess your financial situation before making a decision.

Check Your Eligibility

Depending on your 401k account, you may not be able to withdraw money without a valid reason. Hefty medical bills and outstanding debts may be valuable reasons, but going on a shopping spree isn’t. Below are a few requirements to consider for an early withdrawal:

  • Financial hardships may include medical expenses, educational fees, bills to prevent foreclosure or eviction, funeral expenses, or home repairs.
  • Your withdrawal is lower or exactly the amount of financial assistance you need.

To see what you may be eligible for, look up your 401k documentation or reach out to a trusted professional.

Assess Your Current Financial Situation

Sit down and create a list of your savings, assets, and debts. How much debt do you have? Are you able to allocate different funds towards debts? If you have $2,500 in credit card debt and a steady source of income, you may be able to pay off debt by adjusting your existing habits. Cutting the cord with your TV, cable, or streaming services could be a great money saver.

However, if you’re on the verge of foreclosure or bankruptcy, living with a strict budget may not be enough. When looking into more serious debt payoff options, your 401k may be the best route.

Calculate How Much of Your Retirement Is at Risk

Having a 401k is crucial for your financial future, and the government tries to reinforce that for your best interest. To encourage people to save, anyone who withdraws their 401k early pays a 10 percent penalty fee. When, or if, you go to withdraw your earnings early, you may have to pay taxes on the amount you withdraw. Your tax rates will depend on federal income and state taxes where you reside.

Say you’re in your early twenties and you have 40 years until you’d like to retire. You decide to take out $10,000 to put towards your student loans. Your federal tax rate is 10 percent and your state tax is four percent. With the 10 percent penalty fee, federal tax, and state tax, you would receive $7,600 of your $10,000 withdrawal. The extra $2,400 expense would be paid in taxes and penalties.

The bottom line: No matter how much you withdraw early from your 401k, you will face significant fees. These fees include federal taxes, state taxes, and penalty fees.

What Are the Pros and Cons?

What Are the Pros and Cons?

Before withdrawing from your 401k, there are some pros and cons to consider before cashing out early.

Pros:

  • Pay off debt sooner: In some cases, you may pay off debt earlier than expected. By putting your 401k withdrawal toward debt, you may be able to pay off your account in full. Doing so could help you save on monthly interest payments.
  • Put more towards savings: If you’re able to pay off your debt with your early withdrawal, you may free up your budget. If you have extra money each month, you could contribute more to your savings. Adding to your savings could earn you interest when placed in a proper account.
  • Less financial stress: Debt may cause you daily stress. By increasing your debt payments with a 401k withdrawal, you may save yourself energy. After paying off debt, you may consider building your emergency funds.
  • Higher disposable income: If you’re able to pay off your debts, you may have more financial freedom. With this freedom, you could save for a house or invest in side hustles.

Cons:

  • Higher tax bill: You may have to pay a hefty tax payment for your withdrawal. Your 401k is considered gross income that’s taxed when paid out. Your federal and state taxes are determined by where you reside and your yearly income.
  • Pay a penalty fee: To discourage people from cashing out their 401k, there’s a 10 percent penalty. You may be charged this penalty in full.
  • Cut your investment earnings: You gain interest on money you have stored in your 401k. When you withdraw money, you may earn a lower amount of interest.
  • Push your retirement date: You may be robbing your future self. With less money in your retirement fund, you’ll lower your retirement income. Doing so could push back your desired retirement date.

6 Ways to Pay Off Debt Without Cashing Out Your 401k

6 Ways to Pay Off Debt Without Cashing Out Your 401k

There are a few ways to become debt-free without cutting into your 401k. Paying off debt may not be easy, but it could benefit your future self and your current state of mind. Work towards financial freedom with these six tips.

1. Negotiate Your Credit Card Interest Rates

Call your credit card customer service center and ask to lower your rates on high-interest accounts. Look at your current interest rate, account history, and competitor rates. After researching, call your credit card company and share your customer loyalty. Follow up by asking for lower interest rates to match their competitors. Earning lower interest rates may save you interest payments.

2. Halt Your Credit Card Spending

Consider restricting your credit card spending. If credit card debt is your biggest stressor, cut up or hide your cards to avoid shopping temptations. Check in on your financial goals by downloading our app for quick updates on the fly. We send out weekly updates to see where you are with your financial goals.

3. Put Bonuses Towards Your Debt

Any time you get a monetary bonus, consider putting it towards debts. This could be a raise, yearly bonus, tax refund, or monetary gifts from your loved ones. You may have a set budget without this supplemental income, so act as if you never received it. Without budgeting for the extra income, you may feel less tempted to spend it.

4. Evaluate All Your Options for Paying Down Debt

If you’re in dire need to pay off your debts, look into other accounts like your savings or emergency fund. While money saved can help in times of need, your financial situation may be an emergency. To save on early withdrawal taxes and fees, you can borrow from savings accounts. To cover future emergency expenses, avoid draining your savings accounts entirely.

5. Transfer Balances to a Low-Interest Credit Card

If high-interest payments are diminishing your budget, transfer them to a low-interest account. Compare your current debt interest rates to other competitors. Sift through their fine print to spot any red flags. Credit card companies may hide variable interest rates or fees that drive up the cost. Find a transfer card that works for you, contact the company to apply, and transfer over your balances.

6. Consider Taking Out a 401k Loan Rather than Withdrawing

To avoid early withdrawal fees, consider taking out a 401k loan. A 401k loan is money borrowed from your retirement fund. This loan charges interest payments that are essentially paid back to your future self. While some interest payments are put back in your account, your opportunity for compounding interest may slightly decrease. Compounding interest is interest earned on your principal balance and accumulated interest from past periods. While you may pay a small amount in interest fees, this option may help you avoid the 10 percent penalty fee.

As your retirement account grows, so does your interest earned — that’s why time is so valuable. While taking out a 401k loan may be a better option than withdrawing from your 401k, you may lose out on a small portion of compounding interest. When, or if, you choose to take out a 401k loan, you may start making monthly payments right away. This allows your payments to grow interest and work for you sooner than withdrawing from your 401k.

This type of loan may vary on principle balance, interest rate, term length, and other conditions. In most cases, you’re allowed to borrow up to $50,000 or half of your account balance. Some accounts may also have a minimum loan balance. This means you’ll have to take out a certain amount to qualify. Interest rates on these loans generally charge market value rates, similar to commercial banks.

Pulling funds from your retirement account may look appealing when debt is looming over you. While withdrawing money from your 401k to pay off debt may help you now, it could hurt you in taxes and fees. Before withdrawing your retirement savings, see the effect it could have on your future budget. As part of your strategy, determine where you’re able to cut out unnecessary expenses with our app. Still on the fence about whether withdrawing funds is the right move for you? Consult your financial advisor to determine a debt payoff plan that works best for your budgeting goals.

The post Should I Cash Out My 401k to Pay Off Debt? appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com