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Pay Off Your Student Loans Faster With These 7 Tips

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Student loans aren’t just a nuisance plaguing today’s young college grads. More than 44 million Americans collectively owe $1.5 trillion in student loan debt. There’s a good chance that includes you.

Wouldn’t it be nice to finally get rid of that debt and be able to spend money on things you actually care about? The good news: There are a few strategies you can use to pay down those loans faster. Here are seven you can try.

1. Turn windfalls into extra payments.

One of the best ways to pay down your student loan debt fast is by making more than the minimum payments. Of course, “just pay more” isn’t realistic advice for most people. But hear me out on this one: Even a few one-off extra payments can have a significant impact on your student loan balance.

For example, you could apply part of your yearly bonus from work or a tax refund to your debt, said Brian Walsh, a certified financial planner and financial planning manager at SoFi. Or you could participate in a challenge like dry January or a no-spend month to come up with the extra cash. It might feel painful to put something fun like a cash windfall toward your student loan debt, but the results can be dramatic.

Don’t believe it? Say you have a $20,000 loan at 6 percent interest and 10 years left to pay it off. If you made just one extra payment of $100 each year, you’d pay off your loan five months sooner and save $315 in interest.

2. Split your payments in two.

Another trick you can use to pay off your loan faster is dividing your monthly payment into two. For example, if you have $300 due at the end of every month, make one payment of $150 on the 15th and a second payment of $150 on the 30th.

“This little trick could knock off an entire year of payments.”

– Sean Moore, certified financial planner

Not only can this make payments a little easier to manage, since most people get their paychecks every other week, but “paying half every two weeks equals one extra payment made each year without even noticing the difference,” said Sean Moore, a certified financial planner and founder of SMART College Funding.

That’s because, on a monthly schedule, you’d make 12 payments per year. However, splitting payments among 26 weeks (52 weeks in the year, divided by two), you end up with 13 months’ worth of payments over the same time period.

“On a typical 10-year repayment schedule, this little trick could knock off an entire year of payments (and interest)!”

3. Sign up for auto-pay.

Though it won’t have the most dramatic impact on your student loan debt, signing up for automatic payments can knock off a bit of interest and help you put more cash toward the principal balance.

This tactic allows your student loan servicer to automatically deduct your payment from your bank account each month. Besides ensuring that you pay on time and never miss a payment, some lenders may also give you a discount just for enrolling,” said Janet Alvarez, a personal finance expert at Wise Bread. Usually, that discount is 0.25 percent.

4. Refinance.

If you have a steady income and good credit, you might qualify to refinance your student loans. Refinancing involves taking out a new loan and using the funds to pay off the old loan. Usually, people refinance their loans to achieve a new term length, a lower interest rate or both.

For instance, you might refinance a 10-year student loan to a term of seven years. It would result in higher monthly payments, but you’d pay the loan off faster and save money on interest. And if you can refinance to a lower interest rate as well, more of your money will go toward paying down the balance as fast as possible.

Let’s take our $20,000 loan example from above. With 10 years left at 6 percent interest, your monthly payments would be $222.

Now let’s say you refinance to a slightly lower rate of 5 percent. Your bill would drop to $212. Not a huge difference, sure. But what if you kept paying $222 each month despite the new lower bill? You’d knock off six months and $335 in interest from your loan. Now imagine what would happen if the interest rate difference was even bigger.

Travis Hornsby, founder of Student Loan Planner, suggests creating a refinancing ladder to maximize your savings. “The way you do this is start with a payment you can afford pretty easily, say, a 10- or 15-year loan. Pay extra when you have extra, and you’ll cut down the amount that you owe rapidly,” Hornsby explained. “After a couple of years, you can refinance again to a seven-year loan, often with the same payment but with a lower interest rate. Finally, you could refinance one more time to a five-year loan before you finish paying off the entire amount.”

Keep in mind that you should work with a lender that doesn’t charge loan origination fees, which might cancel out interest savings. It’s also a good idea to weigh the risks of refinancing federal student loans, because doing so would change them to private loans and permanently forfeit federal protections such as income-driven repayment and forgiveness options.

5. Join a company that offers repayment assistance.

If you’re looking to change jobs, it’s worth looking into companies that help pay student loans as a benefit.

“These programs will give you money toward your student loans simply for working at the company.”

– Adrian Nazari, CEO and founder of Credit Sesame

“More and more employers are embracing an employee benefit called student loan repayment assistance,” said Adrian Nazari, CEO and founder of Credit Sesame. “Unlike tuition reimbursement, where you get paid for going to school, these programs will give you money toward your student loans simply for working at the company.

Only a small percentage of companies currently offer this perk, but those that do include Fidelity, Aetna and Staples. “The amounts vary from as little as $500 per year to $10,000 per year,” Nazari said.

6. Volunteer.

According to Nazari, there are organizations that offer student loan repayment assistance in exchange for working on nonprofit projects. For example, SponsorChange and similar organizations match volunteers who have sought-after skills with sponsors who fund student loan payments for each project completed.

“You do need to adhere to their guidelines and successfully complete the program according to their requirements in order to qualify for loan repayment assistance,” he said. “But it can be a great way to give back while making a dent in your student debt.”

7. Pay according to your personality.

Finally, if you have more than one loan to tackle, it helps to follow a repayment strategy that aligns with your personality. According to Willie Anderson, who advises clients and writes on various financial topics, there are two main methods for debt repayment: The debt snowball and debt avalanche.

The debt snowball method is ideal for people who need to experience wins right away. “With this strategy, you’ll begin paying the smallest balance off first,” Anderson said. “Continue to make the minimum payments on your other accounts and put as much money as you can towards the smallest balance.” Once the smallest balance is paid off, combine the amount you were paying on that balance with the minimum payment on your next-smallest balance, and so on. “This strategy can help keep you motivated and encouraged since you should start to see some results right away,” Anderson said.

If you’re more about saving as much money as possible, you might want to give the debt avalanche a shot. “With this method, you throw the largest payment you can at your highest-interest-rate debt every month, while paying the minimum payments on your other debts.” By focusing on interest rates rather than the balances, you save more money overall.

A final thought:

Keep in mind that as annoying as student loan debt is, it might not always be the most urgent financial matter to address.

“Before aggressively paying down your student loans, you should make sure you paid off high-interest debt such as credit cards or personal loans,” said Walsh. “You should also make sure you are saving enough for your long-term goals,” he said ― think retirement ― since, over time, the returns from investing have been higher than the interest rate most people pay on student loans.

So if you have most of your financial ducks in a row and your student loans are the last thing holding you back, by all means, pay them off as fast as you can.

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4 things kids need to know about money

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(NC) Responsible spending includes knowing the difference between wants and needs. Back-to-school season, with added expenses and expectations around spending, is the perfect time to not only build your own budget for the year ahead, but also to introduce your own children to the concept of budgeting.

The experts at Capital One break down four basic things that every child should know about money, along with tips for bringing real-life examples into the conversation.

What money is. There’s no need for a full economic lesson,but knowing that money can be exchanged for goods and services, and that the government backs its value, is a great start.
How to earn money. Once your child understands what money is, use this foundational knowledge to connect the concepts of money and work. Start with the simple concept that people go to work in exchange for an income, and explain how it may take time (and work) to save for that new pair of sneakers or backpack. This can help kids develop patience and alleviate the pressure to purchase new items right away that might not be in your budget.
The many ways to pay. While there is a myriad of methods to pay for something in today’s digital age, you can start by explaining the difference between cash, debit and credit. When teaching your kids about credit, real examples help. For instance, if your child insists on a grocery store treat, offer to buy it for them as long as they pay you back from their allowance in a timely manner. If you need a refresher, tools like Capital One’s Credit Keeper can help you better understand your own credit score and the importance of that score to overall financial health.
How to build and follow a budget. This is where earning, spending, saving and sharing all come together. Build a budget that is realistic based on your income and spending needs and take advantage of banking apps to keep tabs on your spending in real-time. Have your kids think about how they might split their allowance into saving, spending and giving back to help them better understand money management.

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20 Percent Of Americans In Relationships Are Committing Financial Infidelity

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Nearly 30 million Americans are hiding a checking, savings, or credit card account from their spouse or live in partner, according to a new survey from CreditCards.com. That’s roughly 1 in 5 that currently have a live in partner or a spouse.

Around 5 million people — or 3 percent — used to commit “financial infidelity,” but no longer do.

Of all the respondents, millennials were more likely than other age groups to hide financial information from their partner. While 15 percent of older generations hid accounts from their partner, 28 percent of millennials were financially dishonest.

Regionally, Americans living in the South and the West were more likely to financially “cheat” than those living in the Northeast and Midwest.

Insecurity about earning and spending could drive some of this infidelity, according to CreditCards.com industry analyst Ted Rossman.

When it comes to millennials, witnessing divorce could have caused those aged 18-37 to try and squirrel away from Rossman calls a “freedom fund”.

“They’ve got this safety net,” Rossman said. They’re asking: “What if this relationship doesn’t work out?”

As bad as physical infidelity

More than half (55 percent) of those surveyed believed that financial infidelity was just as bad as physically cheating. That’s including some 20 percent who believed that financially cheating was worse.

But despite this, most didn’t find this to be a deal breaker.

Over 80 percent surveyed said they would be upset, but wouldn’t end the relationship. Only 2 percent of those asked would end the relationship if they discovered their spouse or partner was hiding $5,000 or more in credit card debt. That number however is highest among those lower middle class households ($30,000-$49,999 income bracket): Nearly 10 percent would break things off as a result.

Roughly 15 percent said they wouldn’t care at all. Studies do show however that money troubles is the leading cause of stress in a relationship.

That’s why, Rossman says, it’s important to share that information with your partner.

“Talking about money with your spouse isn’t always easy, but it has to be done,” he said. “You can still maintain some privacy over your finances, and even keep separate accounts if you and your spouse agree, but you need to get on the same page regarding your general direction, otherwise your financial union is doomed to fail.”

With credit card rates hovering at an average of 19.24 percent APR, hiding financial information from a partner could be financially devastating.

But, Rossman adds, it’s not just about the economic impact but also the erosion of trust.

“More than the dollars and cents is that trust factor,” he said. “I think losing that trust is so hard to regain. That could be a long lasting wedge.”

Kristin Myers is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.

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7 Examples Of Terrible Financial Advice We’ve Heard

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Between television, radio, the internet and well-meaning but presumptuous friends and family, we’re inundated with unsolicited advice on a daily basis. And when it comes to money, there’s a ton of terrible advice out there. Even so-called experts can lead us astray sometimes.

Have you been duped? Here are a few examples of the worst money advice advisers, bloggers and other personal finance pros have heard.

1. Carry a balance to increase your credit score.

Ben Luthi, a money and travel writer, said that a friend once told him that his mortgage loan officer advised him to carry a balance on his credit card in order to improve his credit score. In fact, the loan officer recommended keeping the balance at around 50 percent of his credit limit.

“This is the absolute worst financial advice I’ve ever heard for several reasons,” Luthi said. For one, carrying a credit card balance doesn’t have any effect on your credit at all. “What it does do is ensure that you pay a high interest rate on your balance every month, neutralizing any other benefits you might get from the card,” Luthi explained. “Also, keeping a 50 percent credit utilization is a surefire way to hurt your credit score, not help it.”

Some credit experts recommend keeping your balance below 30 percent of the card limit, but even that’s not a hard-and-fast rule. Keeping your balance as low as possible and paying the bill on time each month is how you improve your score.

2. Avoid credit cards ― period.

Credit cards can be a slippery slope for some people; overspending can lead to a cycle of debt that’s tough to escape.

But avoiding credit cards on principle, something personal finance gurus like Dave Ramsey push hard, robs you of all their potential benefits.

“Credit cards are a good tool for building credit and earning rewards,” explained personal finance writer Kim Porter. “Plus, there are lots of ways to avoid debt, like using the card only for monthly bills, paying off the card every month and tracking your spending.”

If you struggle with debt, a credit card is probably not for you. At least not right now. But if you are on top of your finances and want to leverage debt in a strategic way, a credit card can help you do just that.

3. The mortgage you’re approved for is what you can afford.

“The worst financial advice I hear is to buy as much house as you can afford,” said R.J. Weiss, a certified financial planner who founded the blog The Ways to Wealth. He explained that most lenders use the 28/36 rule to determine how much you can afford to borrow: Up to 28 percent of your monthly gross income can go toward your home, as long as the payments don’t exceed 36 percent of your total monthly debt payments. For example, if you had a credit card, student loan and car loan payment that together totaled $640 a month, your mortgage payment should be no more than $360 (36 percent of $1,000 in total debt payments).

“What homeowners don’t realize is this rule was invented by banks to maximize their bottom line ― not the homeowner’s financial well-being,” Weiss said. “Banks have figured out that this is the largest amount of debt one can take on with a reasonable chance of paying it back, even if that means you have to forego saving for retirement, college or short-term goals.”

4. An expensive house is worth it because of the tax write-off.

Scott Vance, owner of taxvanta.com, said a real estate agent told him when he was younger that it made sense to buy a more expensive house because he had the advantage of writing off the mortgage interest on his taxes.

But let’s stop and think about that for a moment. A deduction simply decreases your taxable income ― it’s not a dollar-for-dollar reduction of your tax bill. So committing to a larger mortgage payment to take a bigger tax deduction still means paying more in the long run. And if that high mortgage payment compromises your ability to keep up on other bills or save money, it’s definitely not worth it.

“Now, as a financial planner focusing on taxes, I see the folly in such advice,” he said, noting that he always advises his client to consider the source of advice before following it. ”Taking tax advice from a Realtor is … like taking medical procedure advice from your hairdresser.”

5. You need a six-month emergency fund.

One thing is true: You need an emergency fund. But when it comes to how much you should save in that fund, it’s different for each person. There’s no cookie-cutter answer that applies to everyone. And yet many experts claim that six months’ worth of expenses is exactly how much you should have socked away in a savings account.

“I work with a lot of Hollywood actors, and six months won’t cut it for these folks,” said Eric D. Matthews, CEO and wealth adviser at EDM Capital. “I also work with executives in the same industry where six months is overkill. You need to strike a balance for your work, industry and craft.”

If you have too little saved, a major financial blow can leave you in debt regardless. And if you set aside too much, you lose returns by leaving the money in a liquid, low-interest savings account. “The generic six months is a nice catch-all, but nowhere near the specific need of the individual’s unique situation… and aren’t we all unique?”

6. You should accept your entire student loan package.

Aside from a house, a college education is often one of the biggest purchases people make in their lifetimes. Often loans are needed to bridge the gap between college savings and that final tuition bill. But just because you’re offered a certain amount doesn’t mean you need to take it all.

“The worst financial advice I received was that I had to accept my entire student loan package and that I had no other options,” said Gina Zakaria, founder of The Frugal Convert. “It cost me a lot in student loan debt. Now I tell everyone that you never have to accept any part of a college financial package that you don’t want to accept.” There are always other options, she said.

7. Only invest in what you know.

Even the great Warren Buffett, considered by many to be the best investor of all time, gets it wrong sometimes. One of his most famous pieces of advice is to only invest in what you know, but that might not be the right guidance for the average investor.

In theory, it makes sense. After all, you don’t want to tie up your money in overly complicated investments you don’t understand. The problem is, most of us are not business experts, and it’s nearly impossible to have deep knowledge of hundreds of securities. “Diversification is key to a good portfolio, and investing in what you know leads to a very un-diversified portfolio,” said Britton Gregory, a certified financial planner and principal of Seaborn Financial. “Instead, invest in a well-diversified portfolio that includes many companies, even ones you’ve never heard of.”

That might mean enlisting the help of a professional, so make sure it’s one who has your best interests at heart.

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