MOVED I'd Be in Rome Right Now If My Parents Had Taught Me About Money

Posted by Dana George on Dec 29, 2019 2:00:00 PM


Finances were a hush-hush subject in our home. These are some of the financial lessons I wish my parents had shared. 

I'm not sure why, but my parents refused to discuss money in front of me while I was growing up. Refused. They would rather sit me down and have "the talk" than divulge anything income-related. In fact, the only time I recall my parents ever whispering was when they were making a financial decision and I was nearby.

Once I began to learn, I figured out that finances incorporate all the major courses we studied in school. The way money works for us is like a sexy version of algebra. The fact that we make emotional financial decisions is pure psychology. And the rise and fall of the stock market tells the story of America, helping us understand how politics, war, innovation, and manpower shape history and build or destroy economies.

Dad sitting on couch with his two young kids as they all put coins into a piggy bank.

Kudos to my folks for teaching me about the birds and the bees in a way that didn't leave me traumatized. I offer them nothing but praise for discussing politics so thoroughly that I was too excited to sleep the night before elections. I will always be grateful to them for illustrating the important stuff, like how to care about other people.

The bone I have to pick with them involves treating finances like a weird old aunt they had hidden away in the attic. I knew she existed but was never privy to the details of her captivity.

In no particular order, here are four things I wish they'd shared with me:

1. Start early

I wish my parents had emphasized the importance of investing early. As in, the moment I was able to scrape together an extra $10. I may have thought of myself as broke as a young adult, but I always had money for a movie or ball game. If I had started 25 years ago and invested a mere $10 a week on the stock market and earned 8% interest, it would be worth almost $40,000 today. And that's if I never increased my weekly contribution.

As a kid, I often accompanied my folks to the bank. I loved the fact that they seemed to know everyone and I was frequently offered candy from one of the many candy bowls scattered around the lobby. Any of those visits would have been a great opportunity for my parents to sit me down with a bank employee and have them walk me through a simplified version of investing -- or even teach me about compound interest. 

2. It's not all or nothing

My father was a Marine and never thought he would live to be an old man. As a result, my parents lived far below their means because he wanted to invest every extra penny and make my mother a wealthy widow. They didn't buy new cars, furniture, or splash out on any of the other niceties of life. After my dad retired from the military and my mother left government work, they stopped traveling to exotic places. 

I learned to associate financial responsibility with a spartan existence. It would have been nice if I had learned that it's OK to do nice things for yourself, even as you invest. As with most things in life, being financially responsible involves balance.

3. Count on yourself

This is a sensitive one, but my father hoped that I would "marry well." I'm not saying that my parents didn't have big hopes for me personally, but I know how relieved my dad was that I married a man with ambition. That way, no matter how much I screwed up, I'd have a strong, capable man to take care of me. 

Parents, I'm here to tell you: That's a terrible message to send to your daughters. You don't even have to say it aloud. You can say other things that convey the same message. Telling your daughter that it's OK to give up a career she loves to follow her significant other across the world because "he earns so much more" is not cool. Advising her to take on the role of supporting player is not smart -- 50% of marriages end in divorce. 

What I wish my parents had said instead was, "Be a good partner, but also look out for your own financial interest. That way, if you ever find yourself alone you won't have to worry about money."

4. Bad stuff will happen

I knew about war and famine and other issues going on in the world. What I was shielded from was a truth closer to home: Bad stuff happens. People lose their jobs, interest rates skyrocket and make it darn near impossible to buy anything, gas prices go through the roof, and the stock market goes through peaks and valleys. Because finances were so hush-hush in our home, I was ill-prepared for pretty much every financial difficulty. 

I'm not saying that they should have scared the everloving wits out of me, but I wish I'd learned earlier on about the value of having an emergency fund saved up in my bank account so that I wasn't so inclined to panic when hard times hit.

Time passes quickly (like, really quickly)

Would I have listened if my parents had told me that I would wake up one day and realize I have more years behind me than in front of me? Would that have changed the way I approached finances? Would I have been a better investor in those early years? Honestly, I'm not sure, but it would have been an interesting conversation to have.

I find it interesting that my husband and I made many of the same financial mistakes with our children that I accuse my parents of making. We never wanted them to know when we were in a financial pinch. I suspect it was because, like my parents, we wanted to protect them from the harsh realities of life. Like them, everything we did, we did out of love.

I was lucky to have parents who put braces on my teeth, made sure I enjoyed a biannual trip to JCPenney for school clothes, and made me feel safe. Aside from the fact that I had to learn about finances the hard way and am not currently sipping an espresso in a piazza in Rome, life didn't turn out so bad.

Topics: Banks

MOVED The Cost of 'Guilt Tipping' When You Pay on a Tablet

Posted by Dana George on Dec 29, 2019 10:00:00 AM

Do you feel uncomfortable being prompted to tip through a tablet-based payment system? You're not alone.  

If you frequently shop using a debit or credit card, you've probably completed at least some of those purchases on a tablet-based payment system. It looks like a large iPad and is often mounted near a cash register. What's interesting about these payment systems is that merchants have often set them to ask if you would care to tip. Regardless of the service provided -- pouring a cup of coffee, giving a haircut, or selling a new pair of jeans -- you are asked to tip anywhere from 10% to 30% (or more).

Depending on the person behind the counter or handing you the tablet, you may have a set of eyes on you as you decide whether or not tipping feels appropriate in that specific situation. And if so, how much.

Barista grinning at customer as he swipes her card through an iPad reader.

Guilt tipping

I recently had a manicure. Nothing fancy. I soaked my fingers in a bowl of soapy water and a tech cut cuticles that were worthy of a mountain woman. Before polish was applied, another employee handed me a tablet for payment. The tips on this tablet were not simply suggested percentage rates, but each of the rates was intended to represent a review of her work. It looked like this:

  • 15% -- Service was fine
  • 20% -- It was a good experience
  • 25% -- I will definitely be back
  • 30% -- My tech hit it out of the park

I forget to mention an important fact. The tech still had a port in her chest from a recent battle with breast cancer. Guess how much I tipped her?

The industry

Tablet-based payment systems are a boon to retailers. They're sold by companies like Square, Revel, and ShopKeep, and designed to allow merchants to include or turn off the tipping prompt.

According to industry leaders, the opportunity to tip via a tablet-based payment system is good for cashless customers because it gives them a way to tip. Fair enough. It also makes the socially sensitive among us feel like jerks for not tipping enough (or even knowing what constitutes enough).

ShopKeep breaks down how many of their customers take advantage of the tip prompt option. According to the cloud-based service providers, 49% of "quick serve" clients like bakeries and cafes have the tip option turned on, and 12% of more traditional retailers. 

Figuring it out

Tipping in the U.S. took root shortly after the Civil War. Americans who had the money to travel noticed Europeans were in the habit of tipping and brought the practice back to America. It served to show their friends that they'd been abroad and were genteel enough to tip like Europeans.

But let's face it, we've all received different memos regarding proper tipping etiquette. Some people leave a tip only for top-notch service, while others are too embarrassed to leave an establishment without emptying their pockets. I've been out with friends who were generous tippers and was once with someone so stingy that I snuck back to the table to increase the minuscule tip she slipped under her plate. 

Given the divergent nature of the advice, it's difficult to know how much to tip. The fact that we haven't mastered the art of basic tipping in more than 150 years begs the question of whether we're ready for this new frontier of tipping in establishments in which we did not expect to be asked.

I'm no Emily Post, but…

I'm no etiquette expert, but I am someone who understands the value of a dollar. As tablet-based tipping becomes more commonplace it will also become more expensive to support. Say you tip $3 three times a week for services that used to be free (like buying a shirt in your favorite boutique or picking up a ready-made arrangement for a friend in a floral shop). That's $9 per week in new tips. Invested in an easy-to-sign-up-for investment account earning 7% interest, that tip money would be worth over $6,500 in 10 years, $19,000 in 20 years, and a whopping $44,500 in 30 years.

Coming up with a plan

Rather than be shocked by the tipping prompt on a tablet-based payment system, I have decided to go in with a plan. If someone had to lean slightly to their left to lift a muffin out of case for me, it is not tip worthy. If an employee provides exceptional service, I want to thank them by tipping. It's that simple.

Guilt is a pretty silly reason to part with our money, particularly when those funds can help us plan for a more secure future

Topics: Buying Stocks

MOVED 4 Reasons You Still Have Credit Card Debt

Posted by Kailey Hagen on Dec 29, 2019 8:00:00 AM

You can get out of credit card debt, but you may need to change your approach.

Credit card debt is financial dead weight. It costs you a lot of money without offering any real benefit and can be really hard to get rid of once you get into it. Many people try to break out of the debt cycle but fail to do so, usually for one of the following reasons. If any of these apply to you, consider switching up your strategy to start seeing some real progress.

Young woman anxiously chewing on credit card while looking at phone.

1. You're spending too much

When you're trying to pay down credit card debt, you should reduce your credit card usage to prevent your balance from growing any further. You should also reduce your spending overall to free up more cash for debt repayment. If you're spending indiscriminately without giving any thought to your credit card debt or its long-term impact on your financial security, your debt problems will likely get worse over time instead of better.

Switch to cash instead of credit cards where possible and create a budget for yourself, cutting out unnecessary expenses like dining out. Put all the extra cash you save each month toward your debt repayment until it's paid off.

2. You're only making the minimum payment

It is possible to pay off your credit card debt by making the minimum payment, but only if you don't charge any more to the card and have a decade or two to spare. It can take years to pay off your credit card debt if you're only making minimum payments, and you'll probably cost yourself thousands of dollars in the process. If you want to make real headway, you have to start paying more than just the minimum each month. 

3. You're not using balance transfer cards

Balance transfer cards are one of the best ways to pay down credit card debt because they temporarily halt your interest payments, and so stop the growth of your debt. They give you a 0% APR for six to 21 months, depending on the card. You will pay a fee to complete the transfer, often a percentage of the balance you’re transferring, and if you cannot pay it all back before the introductory period is up, your remaining balance will begin to grow at the standard APR.

Balance transfer cards are a one-time-only opportunity, so you must be serious about paying down your debt if you're going to use them. When the introductory APR period expires on a card, you can never get it back again. If you have poor credit, this option might be off the table because your application may not be approved. In that case, try the next tip instead.

4. You're not targeting one card at a time

Targeting one card at a time is your next-best option if you're unwilling or unable to open a new credit card or take out a personal loan to cover the balance. This strategy involves making the minimum payment on all your cards to avoid late fees and then putting any extra money you have toward the card with the highest interest rate. When this balance is paid off, you throw all your money at the card with the next-highest interest rate, and so on, until you're debt-free.

It takes time, but this approach will minimize the amount you pay in interest overall. You can speed things up by limiting how much you charge to your credit cards so that your balance doesn’t grow any further.

Once you're out of debt, don't go back to the bad habits that got you there in the first place. Understand the causes of your credit card debt and take steps to ensure that they don't happen again -- such as creating an emergency fund to cover unexpected expenses. 

Even if you use the above strategies, it will probably take you several months to a few years to get out of credit card debt depending on how much you’ve taken on, but don't let that discourage you. Getting rid of your credit card debt will reduce your stress, increase your financial security, and probably help your credit score, too, so it's well worth the effort.

Topics: Credit Cards, Balance Transfer

MOVED 3 Budgeting Apps That Work

Posted by Dana George on Dec 29, 2019 6:00:00 AM

Even if you've never budgeted, these apps make it easy. 

This may be the nerdiest of all confessions: I love a good budgeting session. Long before I knew what I was doing with money, there were few things I enjoyed more than sitting down with pen and paper and constructing a personal budget. Having a budget -- whatever budgeting method you choose -- is essential if you want to manage your money and meet your savings goals. 

It was Christmas come early when I realized that there are apps to help with budgeting. I've been doing it the same way for so long I wasn't sure how I would adapt, and yet I was eager to test-drive a few.

Bespectacled middle-aged man looking at phone while sitting at desk covered in papers.

Here are three very different budgeting apps that may take some of the sting out of organizing your finances:


Mint is one of the earliest budgeting apps and has evolved to include just about everything you could possibly want. It comes to us from Intuit, the good folks who brought us TurboTax and Quicken, and so it covers all your financial bases.

While I like the fact that you can connect the app to all your bank accounts, as well as your credit cards and some utility companies, I also understand that some people may be hesitant to do this. I'd recommend at least linking it to the checking account you normally use to pay bills. The process may sound intimidating, but the app walks you through each step and makes it easy.

Creating categories lets you look back at the end of the month and see where the bulk of your money is going. Another neat feature is that you can manually track your spending, so even if you don't connect your accounts, you'll still have a record of what you've paid for. The Mint app allows you to take care of multiple financial chores, including paying your bills. And if you prefer not to pay them through the app, it'll email you a reminder of what's due.

Mint also helps you track your investments, see an updated monthly credit score, and set financial goals. Ultimately, though, what makes Mint famous is its budgeting capability and the fact that you can personalize yours down to the smallest detail.

There is no fee to use the Mint budgeting app. 


If you're a fan of envelope budgeting, you'll like this app. Goodbudget is a sophisticated way to divvy up your monthly income into different envelopes in order to stay on track. For example, one category (or envelope, if you will) allows you to include all things transportation-related, including the monthly payment on your car and maintenance costs. Another may be for groceries or piano lessons. As the month goes by, you take money out of the corresponding virtual envelope for each expense. You can see when the envelope is getting low, and the goal is to stop taking money out before it's empty. 

There's a free plan, or you can spring for the $6 per month (or $50 per year) "plus" plan.  The free plan allots you a total of 20 budgeting envelopes and allows you to use the program on two devices. With the plus plan, you get an unlimited number of envelopes and can use the program on up to five devices. 

Unlike the other two budgeting apps covered here, Goodbudget does not sync with your bank accounts. You must manually enter each transaction as it occurs or import recent banking activity by uploading MS Money or Quicken files. 

Goodbudget is best for those who are dedicated to adjusting their budgets as they go along, visual learners who like to see where their money is going, and folks who are uncomfortable linking their financial accounts to a budgeting app. 


One of the strangest apps I came across also stole a little piece of my budget-loving heart. It's called Albert and it's perfect for anyone who swears there is no way they can save money. 

Here's how it works: Like the Mint app, you link your accounts to Albert. Using a proprietary algorithm, Albert pores over your income, spending, and budget. Based on that information, it figures out how much you can safely save each month. The cool part is that Albert automatically transfers that money into Albert Savings, an FDIC-insured savings account. The transfers range from $5 to $30 (depending on your overall financial health) and take place two or three times each week.

Does the idea of Albert making that decision for you make you nervous? That's OK. You can instead opt to tell Albert how much to put in savings each week and withdraw funds anytime without ever having to pay a fee. The basic Albert app is free to use.

If you want to get really fancy, you can add on Albert Genius. Genius members can find answers to questions like, "Which car manufacturer offers the best warranty?" There's no set price per se, but you're asked to pay what you think is fair. The suggested minimum is $4 per month. 

Albert users with a free plan get a bonus of $0.25 for every $100 in their savings account over the course of a year, and those who've signed up for Albert Genius get $1 for every $100 in savings. Bonuses are paid at the beginning of each month and can amount to 1% annually. 

If you're not sure which budget app is right for you, take one -- or all -- of these for a trial run. Be warned, you may have a tough time deciding on just one because they each have something good to offer. 

Topics: Banks

MOVED How to Read Your Credit Card Statement

Posted by Kailey Hagen on Dec 28, 2019 4:00:00 PM

You might be surprised about what you can learn from a close read.

You probably get at least one in the mail every month, but how well do you really understand your credit card statements? Yes, they tell you how much you owe and when you have to make a payment, but there's a lot more hidden in those pages than that. Here's a closer look at what you'll find in a typical credit card statement and where to look for certain information.

Young man sitting on his couch while on the phone and looking at his laptop screen in total confusion.

Credit card statement example

Every credit card statement is laid out a little differently, so yours might not look exactly like the one below, but you can expect to find more or less the same information in any statement, regardless of your card issuer.



Images source: Kailey Hagen.

Glossary of credit card statement terms

Here's what each of the labeled sections in the images above means.

1. Account summary

Your account summary is an overview of your credit card statement for the month. It tells you all about your monthly credit card usage and how much you owe. Yours may not include all of these things or it may list them in a slightly different order, but usually, an account summary will list:

  • Account Number: This is your credit card number which you can use to identify yourself if you contact your card issuer.
  • Previous Balance: Your credit card statement typically shows your last month's balance for reference.
  • Payment Credits: This is how much you paid toward your credit card balance last month. If you paid the balance in full, this amount should be the same as your Previous Balance.
  • Purchases: This is the total dollar amount of purchases you made with your credit card during the billing cycle.
  • Balance Transfers: This is the total dollar amount of balances transferred to this credit card from another credit card during the billing cycle. Your card may not include any mention of balance transfers if the card does not permit them.
  • Cash Advances: This is the total dollar amount of cash your credit card issuer advanced you during the billing cycle. Your credit card statement might not include this if your card doesn't permit cash advances.
  • Fees Charged: This lists the total amount of fees you've incurred this billing cycle, including things like late fees, balance transfer fees, and cash advance fees.
  • Interest Charged: If you carry a balance, this will tell you how much that balance accrued in interest over the billing cycle.
  • New Balance: This is the new amount that you owe the credit card company based on your purchases, cash advances, and balance transfers from this month plus any balance you have been carrying on the card.
  • Past Due Amount: If you haven't been keeping up on your credit card payments, this will tell you how much you are behind on paying.
  • Credit Access Line: This is a fancy way of saying your credit card limit -- the maximum amount you can charge to your credit card.
  • Available Credit: This is your credit access line minus your new balance. It's how much more you're able to charge to your credit card.
  • Cash Access Line: If your card allows cash advances, this will tell you up to how much you can borrow.
  • Opening/Closing Date: This tells you which dates are included in this billing cycle. Purchases before the opening date or after the closing date will appear on your previous or next credit card statement, respectively.
  • Days in Billing Cycle: This tells you the number of days in your billing cycle. It will usually be around 30.

2. Credit card statement balance and payment information

The payment information section provides you with the most important information about your new balance and your monthly bill, including:

  • New Balance: Though it's listed elsewhere on your credit card statement, the card issuer lists it here, too, so you can't miss it.
  • Minimum Payment Due: This is the minimum amount of money you must pay to the credit card issuer this month to avoid a late payment fee.
  • Payment Due Date: This is the date your payment must reach your credit card issuer by to avoid a late fee.

3. Late payment warning

The late payment warning tells you the maximum dollar amount that you could be required to pay if you don't pay your credit card bill on time. Card issuers usually don't charge you this amount for a first offense. Check your cardholder agreement for more information on late payment penalties for your first and subsequent late payments.

4. Minimum payment warning

The minimum payment warning usually includes a table that helps you understand how long it will take to pay back your balance if you make only the minimum payment. Often, that period is several years -- and that's if you don't charge any more to your card in the meantime. It may also include a comparison section showing how much faster you could pay off your balance if you paid more than the minimum. Some credit card statements also include a phone number that borrowers can call for credit counseling if they are struggling with their credit card debt.

5. Rewards summary

Your credit card statement should have a rewards summary if your card offers rewards. This section contains the following information:

  • Previous Rewards Balance: This is how many rewards you had prior to this billing cycle.
  • Rewards Earned This Month: This tells you how many rewards you earned during this billing cycle.
  • Bonus Rewards: If your card offers bonus categories, it might break out the number of bonus rewards you earned for the month and list them here.
  • Total Rewards Available: This is your new rewards balance, including any rewards you earned this billing cycle.

Visit your online credit card account or contact the card issuer by phone to see how much those rewards are worth and what you can spend them on.

6. Important changes to your account

This section highlights changes your card issuer plans to make to your account in the near future. These might be changes that apply specifically to you, like triggering a penalty APR because you've made a number of late payments, or it could be things that apply across the board to all cardholders, like an increase to the APR

It should tell you which of your transactions these changes will affect and when the changes will take effect. If you have any questions, you can contact your credit card issuer for more information.

7. Payment coupon

If you pay your credit card bill by mail, cut off this payment coupon and include it with your check. You must also list your payment amount on the coupon. This helps speed up the process and ensures that your payment gets applied to the right account. If you pay your credit card bill online or you have the money debited from your bank account every month, you don't have to worry about the payment coupon.

8. Account activity

The account activity section lists all the transactions you made during this billing cycle, including the date of the transaction, the merchant name, and the dollar amount. Some credit card issuers also attach a reference number to each purchase. That way, if you have questions about a purchase or you suspect you might be a victim of identity theft, you can quickly tell the card issuer which purchase you're referring to.

Those who carry a credit card balance from the previous month and those who did a balance transfer or took a cash advance will find a more detailed breakdown of the fees and interest they incurred in this section as well.

9. Fee and interest totals to date

Your credit card statement may include a brief table summarizing how much you've paid in interest and credit card fees for the year to date. Let this serve as motivation to you if you're trying to pay down your credit card debt.

10. Interest charges

The interest charges section gives a more detailed explanation of how the card issuer calculates your interest. It may have separate sections for purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances if they all have different APRs. You'll also find information on promotional APRs here, if they apply to your account, including expiration dates.

You might see symbols, like (v) or (d) after the interest charges in this section. These are a sort of mini glossary. Some of the most common terms and symbols you might see include:

  • Promotional APR: This is a lower APR than the standard APR and it only lasts for a certain number of months after you open the card. It may apply to purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances, or only one or two of these.
  • (v): This stands for variable. It means that the card's interest rate is tied to the prime rate or a similar benchmark that may change over time. If it does change, your interest rate may decrease or increase accordingly. The card issuer does not need to notify you about this in the Account Changes section because this relationship is outlined in your cardholder agreement.
  • (d): This means your card issuer uses the Daily Balance Method to calculate your interest charges. This method totals up your actual daily balance on every day of your billing cycle and multiplies this by the daily rate, which is 1/365 of your APR.
  • (a): This means your card issuer uses the Average Daily Balance Method to calculate your interest charges. This is where it takes the average balance on each day of your billing cycle, adds them up, and multiplies them by the daily rate.

Frequently asked questions about credit card statements 

Here are the answers to a few commonly asked questions about credit card statements.

How can I view my credit card statement online?

You can view your credit card statement online at any time by logging into your online credit card account and navigating to the statement information. If you've opted to receive electronic statements, your card issuer should send you an email every month when your new statement is available. It should contain all of the same information as the paper statements detailed above. 

If you prefer to get your credit card statements by mail, you can choose paper statements instead, though you may have to opt in as more and more companies are transitioning to online statements to save paper.

What happens if I pay my credit card bill before I get the statement?

You can pay your credit card bill at any time during the billing cycle, even before you receive your monthly statement. On your statement closing date, which is usually at least 21 days before your payment due date, your card issuer will calculate your interest charges for the month and your minimum payment. It also reports your payment to the credit bureaus.

If you pay your balance off before this date, your payment will reduce or eliminate your balance and give you more credit to spend in the second half of the month. Making a payment will also lower your credit utilization ratio because credit bureaus only see what the credit card issuers report once per month. When your credit card bill arrives, it should show all of your purchases for the month, plus your first payment. Your New Balance should list your remaining balance for the billing cycle.

If you pay after the statement closing date but before you actually receive your statement, you can calculate what you owe by subtracting what you already paid from the new balance on your credit card statement when it arrives.

Credit card statements admittedly aren't the most exciting reads, but there's a lot of important information packed in them. Hopefully, this guide helps you better understand yours.

Topics: Credit Cards, 0% APR & Low Interest

MOVED 5 Ways to Reduce Your Student Loan Debt Fast

Posted by Kailey Hagen on Dec 28, 2019 2:00:00 PM

Save yourself some money and get rid of your student loans faster by following these tips.

For many young people today, student loan debt is just part of the college experience -- one that often follows them for a decade or more after graduation. The best-case scenario is that it costs you money and forces you to put off some of your other financial goals for a little while. The worst case is it can ruin your credit and your financial security. 

Paying off your student loans quickly can reduce the amount of money they cost you and the amount of time they get in the way of the rest of your life. It's not always the easiest thing to do, but here are a few tips that might help you unshoulder that burden faster.

Young woman beaming while holding an open brochure and sitting across a desk from two older women.

1. Choose the student loan repayment plan with the highest payment you can comfortably afford

The student loan repayment plan with the lowest monthly payment might seem like your best option because it gives you more cash to spend today. That might actually be the right choice if you qualify for student loan forgiveness programs, like Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). But if you're paying back the loan on your own, choosing a lower monthly payment could extend your loan term and end up costing you more in interest in the long run.

When you choose a student loan repayment plan with a higher monthly payment, each payment will make a bigger dent in your balance, enabling you to pay back what you owe more quickly. But make sure you choose a student loan repayment plan that you can afford. Missing monthly payments could cost you in late fees and lower your credit score. 

2. Apply for student loan forgiveness programs

If you believe you qualify for loan forgiveness, don't take any of the other steps listed here to pay your federal student loans off more quickly. This will only cost you money that the government would have forgiven on your behalf. 

However, private student loans are never eligible for forgiveness, so you can use these steps to pay them off faster.

Teachers, members of the military, and those providing a public service, like doctors, may be eligible for federal student loan forgiveness if they work in a qualifying position for a certain number of years and make a certain number of on-time payments on a qualifying repayment plan. PSLF, for example, requires that you work for a qualifying employer for 10 years, make at least 120 on-time payments, and submit an annual employment certification form in order to be eligible. If you're interested in pursuing PSLF, reach out to your loan servicer to check if your employer qualifies for the program and submit your first employer certification form to get the ball rolling.

3. Pay more than the minimum

Whenever possible, pay more than the minimum each month, but do it with care. Some lenders may apply any extra money toward your next month's payment or spread it around among all your loans, which won't have the impact you want it to. Send your extra payment with instructions to your lender telling it that you want any extra funds applied to the principal balance on your loan with the highest interest rate first. Follow up with your loan servicer later to ensure that it applied your payment correctly.

You might have to make some budget changes to free up some extra cash. You could also use year-end bonuses, tax refunds, and other windfalls, though you can't count on these to help you out every month.

4. Refinance when you can find a better interest rate

Keep an eye on student loan interest rates even after you graduate. If they drop, consider refinancing. This will slow the pace at which your balance grows so that each payment shaves more off your principal and you can pay off your loan more easily.

Only private student loan companies offer refinancing. Federal student loans do not allow this, though you can consolidate multiple federal Direct student loans into a single Direct consolidation loan if you choose. 

Private student loan companies usually do not offer the variety of repayment options that federal student loans have, but they may offer you a lower interest rate, especially if you have good or excellent credit.

5. Seek out employers that offer student loan repayment assistance.

An increasing number of employers are offering student loan repayment assistance as a benefit to entice young graduates. Each company has its own system and some may require you to work for the company for a certain number of years before you become eligible. Make sure you understand each company's policies before you apply for the job to understand what you can expect.

Don't choose a company just because it offers student loan repayment assistance. And remember that money they give you for this is still taxable, just like your regular income. Do the math -- if another company will pay you more than the one offering student loan repayment assistance, you might be better off skipping the assistance and getting the larger paychecks instead.

The above tips may require some short-term sacrifices, but remember, you're doing this to save yourself money in the long run so that you can more quickly achieve your other financial goals.

Topics: Student Loans

MOVED Which Generation Has the Best Credit Scores?

Posted by Christy Bieber on Dec 28, 2019 10:00:00 AM

Most Americans have good credit, but some generations do better than others.

According to recent research from The Ascent on average credit scores, most Americans have fair or good credit. In fact, the average VantageScore in America was 694 in the first quarter of 2018 -- which is a score most lenders would view as reasonably good.

But while credit scores have been trending upward and the average American is doing OK when it comes to their credit history, some generations of Americans are definitely doing better than others. 

An older woman and a younger woman looking at a laptop screen together.

So which generation is winning in the credit score game? 

Which generation has the highest credit scores?

According to The Ascent's research, the silent generation has the highest average credit score of any generation. Members of this older demographic group had an average VantageScore of 729 in 2017. This was a full 26 points higher than the generation with the next highest score. 

As the table below shows, scores went down from there, with baby boomers beating Gen Xers, who had a higher average score than members of Gen Y. But Gen Y members beat out the youngest group, members of Gen Z.  


Average 2017 VantageScore

Gen Z


Gen Y


Gen X


Baby boomers


Silent generation


Data source: Experian.

Why does the silent generation have better credit than other generations?

It should come as no surprise that older Americans generally have better scores than younger ones, nor that scores improve with age. 

Older Americans have had more time to pay down debt, which helps to keep their credit utilization ratios low. They've also had a longer period of time to develop a strong credit history, simply by using their credit cards for longer, and to take out different kinds of loans. All of this affects credit scores, which are calculated based on payment history; amount of available credit used; age of credit; mix of different kinds of credit; and amount of new credit applied for.

As people get older, they also often become more financially stable, which makes them more able to be financially responsible. Silent generation members, for example, are very likely to be retired and collecting Social Security and pension or investment income. They're not dependent on a paycheck to pay their bills, so they may be insulated from, say, unemployment or underemployment that could lead to a missed payment or a maxed-out credit card.

Younger generations have also faced unique financial burdens that many of their older counterparts didn't have to deal with. These include high student loan balances and a changing economy that makes it far less likely they'll get a stable long-term job with ample employment benefits. All of these factors can make it harder to engage in the types of borrowing behavior that can lead to great credit. 

So as you can see, there are many explanations for the increase in average credit scores as people get older, and why older generations have higher average scores than younger ones. 

You can improve your credit score

Whether your credit score is on par with others in your generation -- or is a little better or a little worse -- there's likely room for improvement, unless of course you have a perfect score. Practicing good borrowing behavior, including keeping credit balances low and making payments on time, can help you to ensure your credit score is one you can be proud of.  

Topics: Credit Cards, 0% APR & Low Interest

MOVED Most Americans Think They're Disciplined With Money. Here's Why They're Not

Posted by Elizabeth Aldrich on Dec 28, 2019 8:00:00 AM

We might be overconfident when it comes to our money habits.

People often struggle to know whether or not they're on track financially. How do you know if you're saving too much or too little? Are you really ready to take on a mortgage? The answers to these questions are rarely clear-cut.

It's difficult to gauge your financial situation if you don't take the time to lay out all of your finances, develop clear goals, and track your progress regularly. Unfortunately, research by The Ascent on personal financial habits shows that the average American spends little to no time on their finances. When you consider this, along with some other startling statistics, it's not so surprising that most Americans are well behind where they should be -- even though they generally feel positive about their financial discipline.

Woman looking at her much larger and stronger-looking shadow.

Americans are financially overconfident -- but they're still behind on saving

The numbers don't lie. Americans are overconfident when it comes to being financially disciplined. The financial habits study found that 59% of those surveyed felt they were financially disciplined, but their savings accounts told a different story.

Only 21% of Americans are confident they have enough funds to stay afloat beyond three missed paychecks. This means that for the majority of the country, one mishap could send their family into debt.

And although you may have the best intentions when it comes to financial discipline, it's important that your actions reflect your intent. The average American spends less than two minutes each day managing their finances, which is only about one hour per month. 

The secret to managing money well is setting aside time in your weekly routine to check in with your spending, budget, savings, and other financial goals. With so little time spent focusing on finances, it's no wonder that Americans are neglecting their savings accounts.

Why emergency funds are crucial to financial stability

An emergency fund is meant to cover any major unexpected financial blow, which can include anything from car repairs and veterinary bills to the loss of a job or a temporary disability. Its main purpose is to prevent you from having to borrow money during an emergency situation, which could land you in expensive debt.

During a financial emergency, you're likely to already be in an emotional state. Having an emergency fund allows you to make necessary financial decisions without the added stress of trying to produce money out of thin air or having to borrow at high interest rates.

An added benefit is that a well-padded emergency fund can enable you to take advantage of more risky opportunities -- like starting a small business, accepting a better job offer, or investing in a rental property. You can start a new adventure without worrying that one mistake will land you in long-term debt.

How to buckle down and build a healthy emergency fund

We could all benefit from spending more time on our finances. The study shows that the average American spends almost 100 times more time per month watching TV than they do working on their personal finances. But these poor financial habits can be unlearned.

Make a commitment to put your finances first. Set aside a specific time each week to review your finances in detail.

Set clear and attainable financial goals. One of your first major goals should be to save at least six months' worth of basic living expenses. These funds will serve as your emergency fund and should be set aside before you begin saving for any other big purchases.

Create a budget that will help you build your emergency fund. Calculate how much you can afford to save each month and how long it will take to reach your goal. Identify areas in your monthly spending where you can cut back to increase your savings. Write your goal and deadline in your planner and put it in your phone. The more places there are where you can visually see your goal, the more likely you'll be to stick to your plan. 

Set up automatic deposits that move money into your savings account each month. It's best to set the automatic deposit date for right after you'll receive your paycheck. This way you'll pay yourself first and avoid spending that money elsewhere throughout the month.

When you have your plan in place, evaluate your progress weekly and adjust your plan as needed. Look at how you can maximize your savings. For example, you can use a high-yield savings account for better returns on your money. You can also transfer leftover money at the end of the month from other budget categories to build your emergency fund even faster.

Building healthy financial habits takes time and dedicated action. But that upfront effort can give you an important safety net in case your family gets hit with unexpected expenses.

Topics: Banks

MOVED How to Help Your Kids With College Without Footing the Bill

Posted by Dana George on Dec 27, 2019 4:00:00 PM

You may not be able to foot the entire bill for your child to attend college, but you can support them in other meaningful ways. 

If you're a parent, you may find yourself skimming over news regarding the cost of college. After all, who wants to read about something that is likely to make them feel bad? Just 29% of parents plan to pay the full cost of their child's college education, according to a study released by Fidelity.

If you're not in a position to pay in full, give yourself a break. There are plenty of other ways to help your child through college and minimize the amount of student loans they will need.

Young woman in graduation cap beaming as she hugs her mother.

Pay what you can

Maybe you started a college fund but were never able to contribute as much as you hoped. Perhaps you got a late start or simply hit a financial roadblock and have been unable to save. Decide how much you can afford to contribute and have an honest conversation with your soon-to-be-student regarding what they can expect from you. If you can pay for lab fees and books, that's one less expense they'll need to plan for.

Help them apply for scholarships and grants

You're likely to have a good idea of how much you can contribute a year or two before you child begins college. The good news is that gives you and your child the chance to look for alternative funding sources. Here are some of the places your child should check:

  • The U.S. Department of Labor's free scholarship search tool
  • The higher education grant agency for your state
  • A college financial aid office (preferably, the school your child plans to attend)
  • Federal agencies
  • Your employer (some offer tuition assistance for employee's kids)
  • Ethnicity-based organizations
  • Organizations related to your child's field of interest
  • Civic groups

Finally, depending on how proactive they are, the counselor's office at your child's high school may be rich with financial assistance information.  

Help them build a budget

Before they begin college, teach your child how to build a simple budget, including any income they will earn and bills that need paid while they're in school. It will also be a good time to discuss the value of saving the money they earn each summer to put toward the cost of their education The more they contribute, the less they will have to take out in student loans. 

Keep them on your plans

Healthcare costs can wipe out even the best-laid budget, so make sure your child remains on your family healthcare plan. If possible, also keep them on your cell phone and auto insurance plans. Those are three expenses they won't have to worry about as they navigate the deep and muddy financial waters of higher education. 

Offer to let them live at home

No, none of those 1980s movies about college show students still living at home, but the reality is this: During the 2019-20 school year, the average price of room and board is $12,990 at private colleges and $11,510 at public colleges. If your child is willing to attend school close to home, simply staying with you can save them between $46,040 and $51,960 over four years. 

Keep their car running

Unless you're fortunate enough to live in a city with great public transportation, your child is likely to depend on his or her car to get to school (and possibly, a job). You can help by keeping their vehicle up-to-date on maintenance and in good condition. 

A parent's job never ends. One of the most meaningful ways you can contribute to your child's education is to be there as emotional support, to cheer him or her on when things get tough. If your child longs for an education, you're the one who needs to say, "We've got this." 

Topics: Student Loans

MOVED 5 Financial Habits You Should Start in 2020

Posted by Lyle Daly on Dec 27, 2019 10:00:00 AM

These habits can make a big difference to your financial situation.

The start of the year is when many consumers decide that they're going to get better with money, but that's a lot easier said than done. Without a solid game plan for how you'll improve your finances, you could fall back into the same old patterns.

That's why it's important to focus on building positive new habits. And there are several effective financial habits that can help you save more and spend less.

Bird's eye view of an older couple examining a spreadsheet and using a calculator.

1. Set up automatic transfers to your savings after every paycheck

If you keep getting to the end of the month and discovering that you don't have any extra money to save, it could be because you're not making your savings a priority. When saving is the last item on the agenda, it's also the most likely to be pushed to one side.

The solution is to move saving money to the top of the list by making it the first thing you do after you get paid. And by setting up automatic transfers between your bank accounts, there's no risk of forgetting.

You don't need to save a lot if money's tight. Even a small amount is better than nothing, and once you start saving, you'll be more motivated to increase how much you save when you're able.

2. Use a rewards credit card for all your spending

When you have the option to pay by credit card, there's little reason to go with a debit card or cash. Rewards credit cards allow you to earn cash back or travel points on your spending. You won't get anything back by paying cash, and most debit cards don't earn purchase rewards, either.

That's a huge advantage, so it makes sense to use a rewards card on any purchases where credit card payments are accepted without a fee.

3. Set up savings targets for future expenses

You probably plan ahead and make sure you have enough money to pay all your monthly bills, such as rent, gas, and internet service. But what about those expenses that don't arrive on a monthly schedule? If you have a car, it's going to have maintenance and repair costs. If you want to go on a vacation, that's going to cost you some money.

It's important that you have money ready for these future expenses. The best way to do this is to estimate how much you'll need and when you'll need it. That's your savings target, and you can then break down how much you need to save per month to cover that expense.

4. Review your spending monthly

When you don't keep an eye on your expenses, it's easy to lose track of how much you're spending. You could end up spending much more than you realize on shopping, meals at restaurants, and other discretionary expenses. Another common occurrence is paying for all kinds of subscription services that you rarely use.

A monthly review of your credit card bills and banking statements is a good way to keep your spending in check. Here's what you should look for:

  • Have you been doing too much unnecessary spending? Focus on reining that in next month.
  • Are you paying for any services you don't need? Cancel them. Don't wait, because then it's more likely that you'll forget.
  • Have the prices gone up on any monthly services you pay for? Call to see if you can negotiate a better deal or shop around for other providers.

5. Put at least 10% of your income towards your retirement

A large retirement nest egg is a must, and many Americans aren't saving nearly enough. Unless you want to work your entire life, you should set aside at least 10% of your income specifically for retirement. Note that 10% is just a minimum, and it's even better to save more, especially if you don't yet have much of a retirement fund.

Here's a smart way to look at it -- if you save too much for retirement, the worst-case scenario is that you can retire even earlier than expected. If you save too little, you'll need to work past the typical retirement age, go back to work after retiring, or struggle to get by on a limited amount.

Getting on the right track financially

You don't need to do anything complicated or time-consuming to attain financial security. All it takes is making these smart money habits a part of your everyday life.

Topics: Banks