Useful Apps for Managing Your Expenses

Using your smartphone to be smarter about budgeting
Creating and sticking to a budget is essential if you want to get out of debt and achieve financial security, but it’s easier said than done. The proper amount of money to spend on various expenses can be difficult to calculate, and summoning the willpower required to stay true to those set amounts can prove even harder. Fortunately, there are many apps designed to keep you honest—and in the black. Here are some of the best apps available for managing your finances.

Mint
The most popular app for managing your money is Mint, a free app from Intuit, the company behind TurboTax and QuickBooks. Mint allows users to connect all of their bank and credit card accounts, as well as their monthly bill statements, into one convenient, all-in-one application for managing spending. Bill payment reminders, specific advice based on your unique spending habits and free credit scores are among the other services that Mint has to offer.

YNAB
You Need a Budget, or YNAB for short, doesn’t just document your spending—it seeks to actively improve your purchasing habits and behaviors. For $5 a month or $50 per year, this app is best for those struggling to escape from the burden of debt. In addition to designing a budget that will help you achieve solvency, YNAB also provides helpful advice and community support in the form of an online forum made up of others suffering from the constraints of living paycheck to paycheck.

Level Money
Many consumers get into the bad habit of checking their bank account, seeing a healthy balance and then spending with carefree abandon. But there’s a difference between how much you can spend and how much you should spend, and Level Money is designed to illustrate that divide. This free app factors in essential monthly costs like rent, utilities and grocery bills to show the “spendable” amount of money in your bank account. You can also program it to take into account your saving goals, which helps you better prepare for the future.

Digit
When managing your expenses, it can be hard to remember to save money; fortunately, Digit does it for you. This free app makes an analysis of your spending and income and then automatically takes small amounts from your checking account, often anywhere from $5 to $50, and banks them in an account managed by the company. The app is fee-free and comes with a no-overdraft guarantee, so there is little risk involved. No interest is earned on your savings, since Digit is not a bank, but there is a “Savings Bonus” of five cents for every $100 saved over a three-month period.

Whether you are racked by debt and searching for a way out or simply looking for a convenient way to keep track of expenses and improve your saving habits, there are many free and affordable apps that can have a positive impact on your finances.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

Four Mistakes People Make With Student Loans

Stay smart with a student loan strategy
Going to college is a life-changing experience that can open doors to new careers and increase your lifetime earning potential. If you are looking for a new student loan or are trying to make the best out of the repayment period, make sure you are avoiding these common student loan mistakes.

Not considering private loans
Many would-be-students shy away from private loans because they have heard that they lack the protections and benefits that come with federal loans. While it’s true that federal loans offer a fixed interest rate in contrast to most private loans, it is often possible for a student to get a lower interest rate with a private loan, particularly if a parent cosigns. If you are able to obtain a much lower rate with a private loan, then it’s worth seriously considering whether the security of a fixed rate with a federal loan is worth it.

Ignoring retirement savings
It is understandable, and even laudable, to want to repay student loans as quickly as possible, but undertaking an ambitious repayment plan at the expense of completely ignoring retirement savings isn’t wise.

“A recent report from Morningstar Inc. subsidiary HelloWallet found that someone with a starting salary of $50,000 who pays off a $20,000 student loan ahead of schedule but skimps on retirement savings—by contributing only enough to an employer-sponsored 401(k) plan to receive half the employer’s 3% matching contribution—will wind up with a net worth at age 65 that’s $150,000 below where it would have been had he or she contributed enough to receive the full match and repaid the loan over a longer period, by making the minimum required payment,” states The Wall Street Journal Reporter Anne Tergesen in an article from Sep. 2016.

Not making automatic payments
One of the best steps you can take to make sure the student loan repayment process goes as smoothly as possible is to set up automatic payments. Some people delay setting up automatic payments because they have ambitious goals of paying more than the minimum each month, and want to wait to see what their bank account balance is before determining the payment amount. While it’s great to pay more when you can (as long as you aren’t sacrificing retirement savings), it’s not worth the risk of making a late payment or missing a payment all together. Setting up automatic payments that you can afford each month is the safest bet, and if you find you have extra money after the payment is made, you can always make a supplemental payment.

Paying for assistance
If you are having trouble affording your payments, you may have been tempted by ads that offer to help you figure out your options for paying on a different schedule or seeking loan forgiveness on your federal loan.

“If someone asks you to pay for these services, you are not dealing with the U.S. Department of Education or our loan servicers,” according to Nicole Callahan, a Digital Engagement Strategist at Federal Student Aid in an article for HomeRoom, the official blog of the U.S. Department of Education. “We don’t charge application or maintenance fees. If you’re asked to pay, walk away (or hang up).”

The cost of an education that can help you start a profitable career or get a better job in your current field is money well spent, and you can make sure you are getting the best return on your investment by avoiding these four common student loan mistakes.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

Mobile Wallets: Moving Shopping Into the Future

A more secure and convenient way to make payments
These days, most transactions don’t involve physical money, so why should they involve physical wallets? Thanks to new technologies like Samsung Pay, Android Pay (formerly Google Wallet) and Apple Pay, you can now use your smartphone to securely make transactions without ever having to take out your credit card.

According to the latest survey data from market research firm CMB, only about 15 percent of smartphone users actually utilize these technologies to pay for purchases, but usage nearly doubled from 2013 to 2015 and will likely continue to rise over the next few years as the benefits of mobile wallets are better understood.

If you are not sold on the idea of joining the new trend, here’s why you may want to reconsider:

Ease of use
A mobile wallet is an app that can be installed on a smartphone, or may even come pre-installed. Investopedia explains how they work: “Once the app is installed and the user inputs his payment information, the wallet stores this information by linking a personal identification format like a number or key, QR code or an image of the owner to each card that is stored.”

You may also have to contact your financial institution to allow the mobile wallet app to use the payment card. Once everything is set up, the mobile app uses a radio-based technology called Near-Field Communication (NFC) that communicates with the merchant’s point-of-service terminal. In other words, you only need to wave or hold your device over a store’s reader to make a payment.

Security
Because mobile wallets use encrypted payment codes and never actually transmit your account number, they are much safer to use than credit cards. In addition, paying with a mobile wallet requires your fingerprint or personal identification number, so even if a thief managed to get their hands on your smartphone, they would have a much harder time spending your money than if they had stolen your credit card.

“Even if a thief bypassed all the security, the risk to you is low,” Jeff Blyskal writes in an October 2016 article for Consumer Reports. “Mobile wallets usually require an underlying credit or debit card to fund transactions, and those cards limit your liability for erroneous or fraudulent charges to little or nothing.”

Convenience and incentives
Mobile wallets can be used for more than just emulating credit and debit cards. “In addition to payment cards, the mobile wallet can also be used as a storage device for driver’s license, Social Security Number, health information cards, loyalty cards, hotel key cards and bus or train tickets,” Investopedia explains.

Thanks to mobile wallets, you can carry hundreds of rewards cards virtually, making it easier to keep track of the ones you own and to remember to use them. You can even use mobile wallets to make online payments, removing the need to tediously enter dozens of digits for each transaction.

You can also save money with various reward programs. For example, Android Pay offers rewards for using the app at selected partners, while Samsung Pay offers a tiered rewards system based on how many monthly purchases you make with it.

Widespread adoption
So far, the main obstacles faced by mobile wallets are the different payment methods. While almost all modern smartphones will support Samsung Pay, Android Pay, Apple Pay or a combination of these, all three of these apps may not necessarily work at all retailers.

“Samsung Pay can be used at more than 10 million U.S. stores, Apple Pay at more than 3 million stores, and Android Pay at more than 1 million stores,” Blyskal says. “The numbers will grow as retailers upgrade their payment card readers.”

Being able to use Samsung Pay at more than 10 million stores easily makes it the most attractive of all the mobile wallets, but you have to own a Samsung smartphone to use it. The upside is that it works everywhere: according to Ethan Wolff-Mann in an October 2015 article for the Time’s Money, “[Samsung Pay] works everywhere, since it can mimic a magnetic strip if NFC technology is unavailable; retailers don’t get your credit card info.”

This doesn’t mean that Samsung will continue to be the best option for smartphone owners interested in mobile wallets, as both Google and Apple are strongly invested in using this technology to sell smartphones and will continue to implement rewards for using them. Furthermore, using a mobile wallet speeds up transaction times, which gives retailers extra incentive to adopt NFC-capable card readers.

For the time being, mobile wallet adoption across retailers may still not be good enough to leave your credit card at home. In the future, however, it’s very likely you’ll never need to go out shopping with more than just your smartphone.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

Vehicle Details: Best Cars for Summer

Get ready to hit the road in style
With the warmer months finally here, it’s time to start planning that summer vacation you’ve been dreaming of. Here are a few vehicles that are ideal travel companions whether you’re heading out alone or with the family.

Kia Soul
For the money, you can’t get much better than the newest Kia Soul. Currently residing as the No. 1 ranked Compact by U.S. News & World Report, the Soul was also named to the Best Cars for the Money and Best Cars for Families list. The Soul (MSRP $16,100) is available in Base, + and ! trim levels, and is now also available with a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that makes over 200 hp. You can haul over 60 cubic feet of stuff, and the Soul can also be equipped with leather upholstery, ventilated front seats and a Harman/Kardon® audio system, making it a great choice for road trips.

Ford Mustang
There are few vehicles as iconic as the Ford Mustang, and whether you choose the Coupe (also referred to as Fastback) or Convertible, summer is always better with a sports car. Starting with the 2017 Mustang Fastback (MSRP $25,185), you get a 300 hp V6 with the Shelby GT350 cranking out a tremendous 526 hp. There are four engine choices. For those who want the open-air feeling of a convertible, the Mustang gives you the best of both worlds. “For the money, in the segment, nothing can touch it. Not even excuses,” says Autoblog about the Mustang. Available features include the SYNC infotainment system, Shaker Pro audio system and a navigation system.

Honda Ridgeline
A pickup may normally be associated with winter driving, but the 2017 Ridgeline (MSRP $29,475) isn’t your typical compact pickup. Currently sitting atop the U.S. News & World Report’s list of the best Compact Pickups, the Ridgeline has many features that set it apart from the competition and make it a great summer vehicle. A lockable in-bed trunk with drain plug can be used as a 7.3 cubic foot cooler, while the truck bed audio system and available 150-watt/400-watt trunk-bed outlets allow you to plug in a TV or other electronics, making it the ultimate party vehicle. “No matter how it’s outfitted, the Ridgeline is a no-brainer of a truck: unmatched in smoothness and comfort, and full of innovation well beyond its unibody construction,” Car and Driver writes. “It deserved far more sales than it netted in its inaugural generation. Here’s hoping this one realizes its full potential.”

Chrysler Pacifica
A minivan is a great vehicle for any family road trip and the new Pacifica ensures everyone will be comfortable and happy. It was recently named the Best New Family Car for 2017 by Cars.com. Some of the family-friendly features you’ll find are the available Uconnect Theater with 10.1-inch touchscreens and integrated games, and a 20-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio system. The Pacifica benefits from the convenience of Stow ’n Go and a class-exclusive Easy Tilt Seating that gives third-row passengers easier access to their seats. The Stow ’n Vac integrated vacuum helps clean up any messes that may happen along the way too. All Pacifica models are efficient, but you can also get a hybrid model—the only one in the segment—with a remarkable 84 MPGe rating.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

Why You Should Avoid Personal Lending

A loan from a financial institution is best
Avoiding paperwork and getting low or no interest makes a loan from a friend or family member seem like a great idea, but the complications that arise in personal lending situations make them seldom worth the trouble.

Firstly, if the money is lent interest-free, that can create problems with below-market interest legislation. This is a big deal because avoiding interest is one of the main reasons people seek loans between family members. This is an issue because the IRS wants to ensure that people don’t try to get out of paying taxes on financial gifts by disguising them as loans. In order to remain in compliance with the IRS and make it clear that the transfer of money is a loan and not a gift, it may be necessary to calculate the interest that would hypothetically be paid on the sum at the current applicable federal rate (AFR), even if that interest is never actually paid. This is known as imputed interest.

“Then you get to pay real, live income taxes on the imaginary interest,” states Bill Bischoff of MarketWatch. “The imaginary interest payments can also trigger imaginary gifts from you to the borrower, which may eat into your valuable federal gift and estate tax exemption.”

There are differences in the ways that loans between family members are treated depending on whether the repayment is achieved through a set term schedule or it is considered a demand loan, which means that the lender may demand the money back at any time. The need to calculate imputed interest and make income tax payments on the interest is dependent upon the amount of the loan. Those interested in making a loan between family members should therefore talk to their tax professional to determine if below-interest tax rules may be an issue and if interest needs to be charged or imputed interest calculated.

While these legal and financial issues can definitely create their share of problems, the main reason to avoid lending between family members is the personal and emotional impact it can cause. Money owed between family members can cause tension in the relationships and even tempt people to avoid social interactions and family gatherings. If the borrower is not able to repay on a timely schedule, the relationship can be seriously compromised.

Furthermore, if the loan is for a new business or home, it may be especially problematic to get the money from a family member. When a family member lends money to cover a down payment or business startup costs, he or she may feel entitled to become part of the decision-making process, giving you input on how to run the business or which type of home is the best deal. People may do this because they feel their advice can make it more likely you will succeed in repayment, or because they feel their investment has bought them a stake in the home or business venture.

“One of the disadvantages of owing money to loved ones is that it may open up unwanted dialogue about your spending habits,” states April Maguire, writer for the QuickBooks Resource Center. “Whereas a bank won’t tell you to stop going out to dinner or discourage you from buying a new car, lenders who are also friends or family may criticize you for spending money on extravagances when you have yet to repay your debt.”

It can be hard to set up and maintain a clear separation between the financial agreement and the relationship when dealing with a personal lending situation. On the other hand, once a financial institution deems you worthy of a loan, it gives you autonomy to make your own business, home-buying and budgeting decisions.

Sticking with your financial institution helps you avoid all the hassles associated with personal lending and ensures that your relationships are never put at risk. Furthermore, it allows you to build a solid credit history with your timely repayments.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

The Benefits of Going to a Community College

Why you should consider starting small
Though they tend to have a subpar reputation, community colleges give prospective students a lot of options and offer a ton of advantages. When deciding on higher education, consider what benefits a community college can give you.

Save money
Tuition is traditionally much cheaper at community colleges, and you’ll also save on room and board since, according to The Princeton Review, there is a community college within commuting distance of 90 percent of the U.S. population.

“Community college tuition is usually thousands of dollars cheaper than tuition for private and public four-year universities. This total cost is only a fraction of the cost of a private college, and still thousands of dollars less than a four-year program at a state college,” the Princeton Review noted. “Plus, even with the relatively low rates, nearly a third of community college students receive financial aid.”

Flexibility
While four-year schools typically require you to be a full-time student, U.S. News & World Report found that about 60 percent of community college students attend school part time, thus gaining flexibility to pursue other interests or handle responsibilities. Additionally, community colleges usually have multiple campus locations and offer courses both day and night, as well as online.

“This makes community college a good option for nontraditional students like parents and older students who wish to balance school with family or career obligations,” says U.S. News & World Report’s Travis Mitchell.

Give yourself a boost
At a community college, you have the opportunity to improve your academic record or to get ahead, which will also give your confidence a boost. This can be crucial to your future since, as Jeffery King writes in U.S. News & World Report, a large number of students do poorly their first two years, which can impact their educational and professional future.

Personalized attention
Students can also get a boost from the smaller class sizes offered at community colleges. More one-on-one time with instructors and opportunity to learn at a personalized pace can be a great support to young college students.

Ease of transfer
Many community colleges have convenient admissions agreements with select larger schools in the area, which make the entire transfer process nearly seamless.

Transition from high school
Community colleges are a great stepping stone to make hesitant students more comfortable.

“Attending a community college can be a good way for students to ease into the world of higher education and learn at their own pace,” Mitchell writes. “This is especially true for students who struggled in high school or anyone who’s unsure if they want to make the significant time investment in college.”

More time to think about career path
The first two years of college are typically a period of exploring career paths and passions. Though most students declare majors right out of high school, many will end up changing directions once they get more experience in that particular area. If you don’t feel strongly about any area of study right away, know that community colleges are a great tool for undecided students to fulfill general education requirements, saving you from taking unnecessary classes and wasting time and money.

Make an informed, conscious decision about your college experience, and get the best possible start to your future.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

Safe Practices for Mobile Banking

How to bank safely on your smartphone
Technology has made the everyday hassles of life easier, whether it be ordering groceries online and having them delivered to your doorstep or navigating to a destination you have never visited before.

One of the biggest areas where technology has bred convenience is in terms of banking and budgeting. Mobile banking apps make it easy to check balances, monitor activity and make transfers without ever having to step foot in the lobby of your local bank or credit union. But with public concerns over cyber security and identity theft on the rise, the expediency of mobile banking also inspires questions with regard to safety.

According to Niles Howard, editor at Bankrate.com, a study from Javelin Strategy & Research found that the fear of lackluster security remains the most prevalent concern of potential mobile banking users. But as Howard notes, there is less cause for concern than you might think.

“The good news is that the fear [of a lack of security in mobile banking] is so far worse than the reality, thanks in part to the financial industry’s heavy investment in security technology,” Howard writes, noting that several institutions cover 100 percent of a customer’s mobile fraud losses.

To keep your money extra secure, there are measures that can be taken to reduce your risk of becoming a victim of fraud, starting with ensuring that your phone itself is inaccessible to someone who might try to physically unlock it. Some of the steps that you can take to protect your phone from being opened by an unwanted party include setting your phone to automatically lock or time out after going unused for a period of time, setting up touch identification where applicable and maintaining a strong unlock password or PIN.

Mobile banking security is also dependent on the security of your online account. Nerdwallet.com contributor Margarette Burnette recommends that your online banking password uses “combinations that are difficult to guess, such as a mix of upper- and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols,” and that you make it a point to change your password in regular intervals. If your mobile banking app provides fingerprint verification, this would also serve the purpose of concealing your password whenever using mobile banking in front of others.

With regards to using mobile banking on the go, financial writer for NerdWallet Steve Nicastro advises against using public Wi-Fi networks to access an app. Nicastro cites the Federal Trade Commission, which notes that mobile apps are less secure because they lack visible indicators of connection privacy. Greg Kraynak, chief executive of Cellhire, indicates that cyber criminals could set up free Wi-Fi hotspots for the express purpose of stealing your information. As such, if you are banking on the go, avoid using any public internet connections or instead use your banking institution’s mobile website.

As long as you take the appropriate level of precaution, mobile banking is a great convenience that can help make your life easier. Be vigilant with your money and smart about the ways that you protect your identity, and you should have little to fear.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.