The One Way to Never Fall Into Debt Again

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Debt is literally a four letter word; it just also happens to mean you owe money.

Many Americans have a dream they’ll never realize: living without debt. Yet, the dream is possible for nearly everyone – just be prepared for the sea change of behavior required to make it happen. If you are unprepared, your ship will never make it to the safe harbor of paradise, and you will crash upon the jagged rocks of financial ruin.

Follow these simple steps to make your dreams of a safe financial future come true, and steer clear of financial ruin.

Make Up Your Mind

Many people fall into debt because they grow complacent, spending above and beyond their means, living from paycheck to paycheck with barely enough to make the bills. They don’t have enough to pay for dinner out on Friday, the new clothes that go with it, or the movie after.

Yet they do it anyway, and on the credit card the spending goes. The honest, painful truth is that if you don’t have the money for those things, you shouldn’t be doing them. Learning to be satisfied with your limitations is difficult. You want to be accepted by your personal crowd, but if your crowd’s habits are decaying your account balance one bad habit at a time, you have to ask yourself if the consequences are really worth it.

Once you decide that the lush greens of financial security offer an abundance that the Jones’ can’t match, then the seas gets glassy and the waters are far easier to ease through.

Say Goodbye

Once you’ve made up your mind to live within your means, it’s time to say goodbye to your plastic.

Either cut them or bury them far, far away. You may even want to freeze your credit cards. You can’t open the dam for the credit flood waters if you don’t have access to it. Don’t panic. It’ll be tough at first to say goodbye because you’ll feel like you’re being left without a life preserver, but the truth is you’ll be gaining a lifeboat in exchange.

Pay Off Your Debt First

Cutting up your card was the first step. Now you must be proactive about slashing it to zero. Snowballing is an extremely effective way to quickly demolish your debt. Establish your payoff plan and stick to it. This debt is now a “need” on your financial map.

You have a plan for paying off your credit cards, now lay out your map to help you get from paycheck A to paycheck B.

Lay Out Your Map

What are your needs? What are your wants?

By organizing your finances by needs and wants on a paycheck to paycheck scale, you can pay off the needs first, then have whatever is left for you. When you draw your financial map, classify bills, debts, and savings as needs, don’t forget to calculate things like clothes and the once in a while purchases too. Otherwise, your budget won’t resemble reality. The only rule is to determine needs from wants when you allot your funds.

Track Your Money

The beauty of online bill pay is that using it for everything keeps you from running blind through your budget, while showing you exactly what’s happening with your balance. Without credit or debit cards sucking the life from your account, it’s one way in and two ways out – cash and bill pay.

Use bill pay for everything and withdraw your cash for the extras bill pay can’t handle such as gas and petty expenses. Once your cash is gone. You’re done. No more spending until the next paycheck is securely in your account.

Remember to withdraw enough cash to get you through. Allot the amount of cash required for groceries, fuel, kid’s needs, and anything else you may need for the period. If you know your child needs new clothes, establish a plan for that spending and only use cash you have readily available.

Some people label envelopes so they can distribute the cash they need to the places they need it, without cutting into funds from another category. Do whatever works for your mind and your system. The only unbreakable rule is that you can’t spend beyond the cash you have, so you must manage it well.

Once you have learned to live within your means, and have your debt under control, life will be sweeter and you’ll never return to the choppy waters of too much debt again.

*Original article courtesy of Vincent King of MoneyNing.

Kids Off To College? Here’s How To Get Them Started With Credit

ahmxmt-woman-displaying-credit-cards-in-park-college-student-2How can you build good credit if no one will give you a credit card? This is the predicament many college students face. Generally, banks and credit card companies don’t want to take a risk on someone with no credit history. But, with no credit history, adults face extreme financial limitations that can affect all kinds of situations, including renting an apartment.

Getting one’s first credit card has become an even trickier process in recent years, but fortunately if parents are willing to help get their kids set up, it can be pretty simple.

“Due to the CARD act, it’s now prohibited for credit card companies to give credit cards to anyone under 21 unless they have their own income, or have a co-signer,” said Liran Amrany, the founder and CEO of Debitize. “For parents sending their kids off to college, it’s usually a good idea to offer yourself as a co-signer so your child can start building credit.”

In fact, it’s probably a good idea to take this step before your child is off to college. Vinay Bhaskara, co-founder of CollegeVine, strongly recommends adding kids to your credit card while they’re still at home. Essentially, the earlier one forms credit with a parent’s help, the sooner they can branch out on their own.

“In practice, establishing credit is a process that should actually start in high school, where the parent makes their child an authorized user on one or more of the parent’s cards,” said Bhaskara. “The student should spend a little bit each month to start building some credit history. After a few months, they can set up a student credit card with a small ($500-800) limit. From there, the student is off and running.”

If your child is already starting college in the fall and hasn’t yet forged a line of credit, you can still add them as an authorized user. Also, Bhaskara notes, your child will probably discover a bank on campus that can set them up with student credit accounts.This may also require your co-signature.

The earlier that young adults can form credit with a parent’s help, the sooner they can branch out on their own.

If your credit is decent, you shouldn’t have any issue adding your child to your credit card. The real challenge comes with making sure they understand the responsibility of having a credit card.

“Because the easiest way parents can help their children establish and build credit is to initially co-sign and/or open joint accounts, they must be willing to talk with their children honestly and openly about what they’re comfortable with in terms of spending by the student,” said Bhaskara. “Parents are also probably the most important source of personal finance knowledge for their children, so they must be comfortable with this concept.”

You’ll want to explain that if they’re attached to your credit card, any irresponsible actions can reflect poorly on you and the good credit history you’ve worked years to build. Also, you’ll want to set spending limits, if not through the credit card company, then through a verbal or written contract with your child.

Ideally, your child will be on your card for awhile, and then branch off to get his or her own credit card(s). It’s important to continue educating your kids at this point of independence. If they’ve built up good credit with your help, credit card offers are going to start pouring in, and young adults may be all too tempted by the deceptive promise of money at their fingertips.

“Money is already tight enough for college students, so while the thought of quick and easy money is appealing, the reality of 20 percent interest rates can be crippling, especially if you won’t be able to really start paying down balances until after graduation,” said Kristina Ellis, financial expert and author of How to Graduate Debt Free: The Best Strategies to Pay for College. “Teach them to be wise and very leery of the dangers of credit card debt.”

Ellis also stresses that under no conditions should students turn to credit cards to pay for college, as “in most cases, the benefits of spending on student credit cards don’t come close to the eventual costs.”

First Financial can help your college students build and establish credit!* There are no balance transfer fees, no annual fees, and our cards are also equipped with an EMV chip for maximum security. To apply or for more information, please call 732.312.1500 Option 4, visit our website, or email info@firstffcu.com.

*APR varies from 11.15% to 18% when you open your account based on your credit worthiness. This APR is for purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances and will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Subject to credit approval. Rates quoted assume excellent borrower credit history. Your actual APR may vary based on your state of residence, approved loan amount, applicable discounts and your credit history. No Annual Fee. Other fees that apply: Cash advance fee of 1% of advance ($5 minimum and $25 maximum), Late Payment Fee of up to $25, Foreign Transaction Fee of 1% plus foreign exchange rate of transaction amount, $5 Card Replacement Fee, and Returned Payment Fee of up to $25. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a VISA Platinum Card and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties. Federally insured by NCUA.

Original article source courtesy of Nicole Audrey of NBC News.

5 Things You Should Never Put on a Credit Card

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Credit cards can seem convenient and actually benefit your finances when used correctly. However, there are times when it’s best to avoid using a credit card as it can contribute to debt. And, there are some things you should never put on a credit card.

It’s not uncommon for the average American household to have several thousands of dollars worth of revolving credit card debt to deal with, which can be crippling to overcome. Credit card interest rates are pretty high and are why you should only use your credit card to pay for affordable purchases that you can pay off in full each month.

To avoid the pitfalls of debt, here are 5 things you should never put on a credit card.

1. A Down Payment

If you are financing something and putting money down, it’s best to use your own cash instead of a credit card. Financing a big purchase like a vehicle is already creating debt that you have to pay back plus interest anyway. Financing the actual down payment too with your credit card could just create additional debt after the loan. Plus, it may be a key indicator that you can’t afford the item you are trying to finance.

While a lot of places won’t accept credit card payments due to the high fee the card company charges to process the transaction, some may allow it and there may be the option to utilize a cash advance through your credit card company. Even if the option is available, it’s almost always not worth it in the end. Instead, plan to save up over time to pay for large purchases in cash, or save up at least 20 percent of the total purchase price to put down as a down payment if you choose to finance.

2. Medical Bills

Paying off medical debt with a credit card is not usually a good choice. Credit cards are attached to daily or monthly interest rates while most medical debt is not. If you feel overwhelmed by your medical debt, you can try to consolidate it or work out a payment plan with your health care provider’s accounting department to avoid having your account go to collections.

As long as you are willing to pay back your medical debt, your provider should be flexible with establishing a monthly payment plan that you can afford. This way, you can pay off all your debt interest free without having to use a credit card.

3. College Tuition

Paying for college with credit cards it not a good alternative to taking out student loans. While your credit card may have a 0% intro APR offer for the first 12-14 months, if you don’t pay off the balance in full before that period is up, you will start paying interest on the balance. The interest rates for student loans is often lower than credit card interest rates, so charging the tuition for your college education on a credit card could actually cost you more money than taking out student loans would. Not to mention, maxing out your credit card or spending more than 30 percent of your total utilization could make your credit score decrease.

If you don’t qualify for government grants or federal or private student loans, you can always apply for scholarships, go to a local community college for your first two years of college and pay for tuition in cash with the help of a part-time job, or obtain a job with a company that will offer financial assistance for higher education. Companies like Starbucks and Best Buy offer to pay a portion of employees’ college tuition as long as they meet certain requirements.

4. A Vacation

With so many travel rewards credit cards out there, it’s important to remember that the golden rule of thumb is to only use a credit card to fund your vacation when you can pay the bill off in full at the end of your billing cycle.

Earning cash back and travel discounts and rewards for spending a certain amount of money on your credit card sounds great, but if you can’t afford to spend the money in the first place, the offer can do more harm than good. For example, how great would you feel if your week-long summer vacation left you with $5,000 in credit card debt but allowed you to earn a bonus of $500 for travel? You’d still be in quite a bit of debt which could spoil your entire travel experience.

Try opening up a high-yield savings account to save money for travel each month so you won’t have to go into debt just for a vacation.

First Financial offers a Summer Savings Account where you can put aside money to save for a vacation or general summer expenses. There are no minimum balance requirements and dividends are posted annually on balances of $100 or more. You can also elect to have either 50% transferred in July AND 50% transferred in August OR 100% transferred in July.* Click here to learn more about our Summer Savings Account today!

5. Your Dream Wedding

Again, a wedding is another life changing experience that you shouldn’t charge to your credit card if you know you won’t be able to handle paying the bill. Starting your new marriage off with debt will not feel good and will delay your family’s financial progress.

If you are planning a wedding and your budget is tight, consider lowering your wedding expenses by cutting corners, starting with non-necessities or traditions that aren’t important to you. Some couples have their wedding during the off season and on an unpopular day to save money while others go so far as to cut their guest list down or doing away with extra elements like flowers or a D.J.

Ultimately, when you focus on planning a wedding that reflects your vision, your budget, and what you value, you probably won’t have to pick up your credit card to charge pricey expenses at all.

Use Your Credit Cards Wisely

If you’re going to use a credit card regularly, it’s important to know your limits and use the card wisely. Make sure your spending is not exceeding 30 percent of your utilization each month and you’re making purchases for items you actually need and can pay for, not things that you will regret later.

First Financial’s Visa® Platinum Credit Card comes fully loaded with higher credit lines, lower APR, no annual fee, no balance transfer fees, 10 day grace period, CURewards redeemable for merchandise and travel and so much more!** Click here to apply online today.

*A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any other account. Account-holder will elect to have either 50% of the funds transferred in July and 50% transferred in August OR 100% transferred in July. All Summer Savings funds are deposited into a First Financial Checking or Base Savings Account. All personal memberships are part of the Rewards First program and a $5 per month non-participation fee is charged to the base savings account for memberships not meeting the minimum requirements of the program. Visit rstffcu.com to view full Rewards First program details, and to view the Tier Level Comparison Chart. Accounts for children age 13 and under are excluded from this program.

**APR varies from 11.15% to 18% when you open your account based on your credit worthiness. This APR is for purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances and will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Subject to credit approval. Rates quoted assume excellent borrower credit history. Your actual APR may vary based on your state of residence, approved loan amount, applicable discounts and your credit history. No Annual Fee. Other fees that apply: Cash advance fee of 1% of advance ($5 minimum and $25 maximum), Late Payment Fee of up to $25, Foreign Transaction Fee of 1% plus foreign exchange rate of transaction amount, $5 Card Replacement Fee, and Returned Payment Fee of up to $25. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a VISA Platinum Card and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties.

Original article source courtesy of Chonce Maddox of Lending Tree.

A Simple Financial Checklist You Really Need

bigstock-Young-Businessman-Checking-Mar-72052462When it comes to your fiscal health, things may seem overwhelming. There are so many different responsibilities and goals you have to keep straight to be truly on the right track. If you are struggling with this, just like with other overwhelming aspects and times in life, it is sometimes best to pause and make a list. You can often check in on your progress more effectively when you have everything in a visual format. Check out some items that should be on your list.

1. Evaluate your budget.

Almost as important as creating a budget, evaluating your budget can help you assess whether your money is still going where you want and in the amounts you intended. It also gives you the chance to make any changes based on your dynamic needs and goals. It’s a good idea to continue tracking your spending and adjusting any categories on your budget that are consistently lower or higher than you had estimated. This can help make sure you are on track for monthly and annual goals.

2. Contribute to retirement funds.

One of the ways to make sure you are preparing for your long-term future is calculating how much money you will need in retirement. Then you can focus on a collaboration of employer-sponsored and individual retirement accounts to save toward that goal while still meeting other goals. If possible, it can be a good idea to talk with your company’s human resources department and adjust your retirement account contributions so you can qualify for the maximum match available.

Set up a no-cost consultation with the Investment & Retirement Center located at First Financial Federal Credit Union to discuss your savings and retirement goals – contact us at 866.750.0100 or stop in to see us!*

3. Double down on debt.

Everything from your credit card debt to student loan payments can hang over your head and cause stress. It’s a good idea to create a plan to automate your debt repayments so you avoid late payments and don’t have the choice of paying them or not. It may be stressful, but it’s important to come to peace with your debt and feel comfortable with your debt-repayment plan. This can even include taking on freelance, part-time or odd jobs to make additional payments if necessary.

Check out our free, online debt management tool, Debt in Focus. Once completed, you will receive a thorough analysis of your financial situation, including powerful tips by leading financial experts to help you control your debt, build a budget, and start living the life you want to live.

4. Work on your credit score.

Your credit score affects many financial decisions in your life from what interest rate you pay on a mortgage to whether you can rent an apartment. It’s important to regularly check your credit report, look for any mistakes, and work on some ways to improve your score. These include paying your bills on time, opening credit card accounts only as needed, paying off debts and keeping revolving credit low. You can check your credit scores every month on Credit.com to track your progress.

5. Update your insurance details.

From home, auto, and health all the way to life insurance, it’s a good idea to make sure your personal information is up to date and that you are getting the best deals possible. Some strategies you can employ include simply paying your premiums as due, asking your provider about reducing your rates, and making sure you have the coverage you need even as your life circumstances change.

6. Boost your emergency fund.

You may have heard this one before but it is a good idea to stash of three to nine months’ worth of expenses in an easily accessible place in case of a sudden rough patch. The exact amount you decide to tuck away to cover the emergencies will vary depending on things like job security, living expenses and streams of income.

It is important not only to be financially responsible, but also to make financial goals and work toward reaching them. Writing your goals and responsibilities down can help you be more accountable and make things easier to grasp.

*Representatives are registered, securities are sold, and investment advisory services offered through CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc. (CBSI), member FINRA/SIPC, a registered broker/dealer and investment advisor, 2000 Heritage Way, Waverly, Iowa 50677, toll-free 800-369-2862. Non-deposit investment and insurance products are not federally insured, involve investment risk, may lose value and are not obligations of or guaranteed by the financial institution. CBSI is under contract with the financial institution, through the financial services program, to make securities available to members. CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc., is a registered broker/dealer in all fifty states of the United States of America.

Original article source courtesy of AJ Smith of USA Today.

A Simple Guide to Paying Off Lingering Debt

www.usnewsIf you find yourself collecting more and more debt while struggling to figure out how you will ever pay it all off, it might be time to develop a step-by-step strategy. Paying off debt starts with making a budget and continues with changing your habits and rewarding yourself for progress. A few contributors to the U.S. News My Money blog offer a guide to get rid of the debt that’s been following you around for too long:

1. Create a budget.

“The first step to solving your debt problem is to establish a budget,” says Money Crashers contributor David Bakke. You can use personal finance tools like Mint.com, or make your own Excel spreadsheet that includes your monthly income and expenses. Then scrutinize those budget categories to see where you can cut costs. “If you don’t scale back your spending, you’ll dig yourself into a deeper hole,” Bakke warns.

2. Pay off the most expensive debt first.

Sort your credit card interest rates from highest to lowest, then tackle the card with the highest rate first. “By paying off the balance with the highest interest first, you increase your payment on the credit card with the highest annual percentage rate while continuing to make the minimum payment on the rest of your credit cards,” says retail analyst Hitha Prabhakar.

3. Pay more than the minimum balance.

To make a dent in your debt, you need to pay more than the minimum balance on your credit card statements each month. “Paying the minimum – usually 2 to 3 percent of the outstanding balance – only prolongs a debt payoff strategy,” Prabhakar says. “Strengthen your commitment to pay everything off by making weekly, instead of monthly, payments.” Or if your minimum payment is $100, try doubling it and paying off $200 or more.

4. Take advantage of balance transfers.

If you have a high-interest card with a balance that you’re confident you can pay off in a few months, Trent Hamm, founder of TheSimpleDollar.com, recommends moving the debt to a card that offers a zero-interest balance transfer. “You’ll need to pay off the debt before the balance transfer expires, or else you’re often hit with a much higher interest rate,” he warns. “If you do it carefully, you can save hundreds on interest this way.”

5. Halt your credit card spending.

Want to stop accumulating debt? Remove all credit cards from your wallet, and leave them at home when you go shopping, advises WiseBread contributor Sabah Karimi. “Even if you earn cash back or other rewards with credit card purchases, stop spending with your credit cards until you have your finances under control,” she says.

6. Put work bonuses toward debt.

If you receive a job bonus around the holidays or during the year, allocate that money toward your debt payoff plan. “Avoid the temptation to spend that bonus on a vacation or other luxury purchase,” Karimi says. It’s more important to fix your financial situation than own the latest designer bag.

7. Delete credit card information from online stores.

If you do a lot of online shopping at one retailer, you may have stored your credit card information on the site to make the checkout process easier. But that also makes it easier to charge items you don’t need. So clear that information. “If you’re paying for a recurring service, use a debit card issued from a major credit card service linked to your checking account,” Hamm suggests.

8. Sell unwanted gifts and household items.

Have any birthday gifts or old wedding presents collecting dust in your closet? Search through your home, and look for items you can sell on eBay or Craigslist. “Do some research to make sure you list these items at a fair and reasonable price,” Karimi says. “Take quality photos, and write an attention-grabbing headline and description to sell the item as quickly as possible.” Any profits from sales should go toward your debt.

9. Change your habits.

“Your daily habits and routines are the reason you got into this mess,” Hamm says. “Spend some time thinking about how you spend money each day, each week and each month.” Do you really need your daily latte? Can you bring your lunch to work instead of buying it four times a week? Or perhaps you can start cooking more at home. Ask yourself: What can I change without sacrificing my lifestyle too much?

10. Reward yourself when you reach milestones.

You won’t pay down your debt any faster if you view it as a form of punishment. So reward yourself when you reach debt payoff goals. “The only way to completely pay off your credit card debt is to keep at it, and to do that, you must keep yourself motivated,” Bakke says. Just make sure to reward yourself within reason. For example, instead of a weeklong vacation, plan a weekend camping trip. “If you aim to reduce your credit card debt from $10,000 to $5,000 in two months,” Bakke says, “give yourself more than a pat on the back when you do it.”

Don’t forget about First Financial’s free, online debt management tool, Debt in Focus. In just minutes, you will receive a thorough analysis of your financial situation, including powerful tips by leading financial experts to help you control your debt, build a budget, and start living the life you want to live.

*Article source written by Stephanie Steinburg of US News.

Frequently In Debt? Discover Your Personal Pitfalls

DebtManagement1.jpgYou don’t have to be a reckless spender to find yourself in debt. CNN touts that “one in three American adults have debt in collections.”

An Urban Institute study reported that 77 million people are so severely in debt that their account has gone to collections, while a Detroit Free Press article warns, “Young adults have more credit card debt than savings.”

Regardless of the angle, debt, severe debt – it’s an American epidemic.

So, how do you climb out of debt once and for all? Especially if you notice a recurring theme of continual debt-to-safety-to-debt wheel of fate, it is important to stop and analyze the causes for initial debt and the reasons for apparent insurmountable financial disease.

As with your medical health, financial heath is propelled by lots of hard work, dedication and realistic awareness. Denial will only perpetuate decaying health, physically or financially.

Step One: Take an honest assessment of your financial situation.

Before you can make a plan for diminishing debt once and for all, you have to understand the severity and expanse of the situation. Take into account all loans: student debt, mortgages and car payments. Know exactly how many credit cards you and your family have – make sure to count retail cards and reward cards in addition to traditional credit cards. Any plastic that can hold a debt/requires payment needs to be acknowledged forthright. Finally, collect all bills: anything that requires a payment plan or regular payment must be added into the mix. When you’re in debt, every $100 medical bill, $25 late fee for utilities or billed car repair must be accounted for.

Step Two: Take responsibility.

Playing the blame game or lying to yourself will not change the circumstances. Nobody cares if you don’t think it’s your fault. You owe the money. You have to pay the money. You can’t talk your way out of substantial debt. Take credit for your own shortcomings and accept the situation.

Step Three: Educate yourself and your family.

Money management is not an innate human skill. We are not born knowing how to allot, predict, and plan with 100 percent accuracy. And, sometimes, it is due to sheer ignorance that adults find themselves in debt. Whether or not a lack of financial education or money illiteracy is the root cause, understanding how credit works and how to budget are both beneficial life skills.

Step Four: Set realistic goals, with the end result being permanently digging yourself out of debt.

Each step should be attainable and based on practicality. However, do not fall into the mindset that “it’s going to take too long, so it’s not worth it.” Keep your eyes on the goal, but use baby steps to get there if necessary.

A good thing to do is to create a visual aid for you to help you along, like a financial plan. The important thing to remember is that your plan is a guide, not a crutch. It is a tool to keep you on track. Like any good guide, though, it can be tweaked to meet your needs and adjusted based on what obstacles you encounter on your journey to financial security.

Step Five: Perseverance.

It’s not an easy path. It’s not fun. The journey is oftentimes downright painful. But, avoidance and half-hearted efforts will not grant you the ability to squeak by. Debt can affect marriage, stress levels, relationships, and your future, but people often aren’t motivated enough to make a change. Many times, just climbing out of debt is not the largest challenge, it’s maintaining the healthy financial security that is attained through a debt-free life.

Don’t forget about First Financial’s free, online debt management tool, Debt in Focus. In just minutes, you will receive a thorough analysis of your financial situation, including powerful tips by leading financial experts to help you control your debt, build a budget, and start living the life you want to live.

*Original article source written by Joe Young of Nasdaq.