Are Consolidation Loans Worthwhile?

The positives and negatives of consolidation loans
Although there178725372 are an endless variety of reasons why people find themselves in over their heads with debt, the cost of education is frequently to blame. Fortunately, there are many available options for managing multiple sources of debt. One option is consolidating student debt into one loan.

Trying to figure out how to pay down debt is a stressful situation, and it can be even more stressful if you’re dealing with multiple loans. Many people feel that their financial situation would be more manageable if they only had to think about one loan and had one clear monthly payment to save for. This is possible through debt consolidation loans.

Many financial experts advise against seeking loan forbearance — the ability to reduce or even stop payments completely for up to a year — and instead advise that people begin paying down student debt as soon as possible. If you cannot make your current loan payments and do not want to seek forbearance, consolidating may be the best solution.

“Let’s say you have $80k in student loan debt right now and can’t make the monthly payment. What I’m going to do is consolidate my loan and I’m going to put them in a federal direct loan consolidation,” recommends Rick Ross from the financial advisory College Financing Group on Forbes.com.

“Consolidation can save you money,” notes Maggie McGrath, Forbes staff writer. “However, you cannot consolidate private loans with federal loans, and when you do consolidate federal loans, you may lose benefits associated with the original loan, like interest rate discounts, principal rebates or some loan cancellation benefits.”

If you’re consolidating federal loans into a federal Direct Consolidation Loan, your monthly payment could be greatly reduced because the consolidation loan can allow you up to 30 years for repayment.

“You might also have access to alternative repayment plans you would not have had before, and you’ll be able to switch your variable interest rate loans to a fixed interest rate,” states the Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid. “However, if you increase the length of your repayment period, you’ll also make more payments and pay more in interest.”

It’s important to note that consolidation cannot be undone. The original loans are, in essence, paid off by the new loan. Therefore, they no longer exist and cannot be retrieved if you decide you prefer the benefits of the original loans more. This is why it’s important to carefully consider the consolidation process.

If you’re currently in default, you must meet certain criteria before consolidating. Information about that criteria and a list of the types of federal loans can be consolidated into a federal Direct Consolidation Loan can be found at http://studentaid.ed.gov/repay-loans/consolidation.

When applying to consolidate your loans, it’s important to be careful of imposters who attempt to steal personal information or scam people into paying fake fees. There is no fee charged when you apply to consolidate your federal loans.

“If you are contacted by someone offering to consolidate your loans for a fee, you are not dealing with one of the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED’s) consolidation servicers,” cautions the ED’s Office of Federal Student Aid.

If you have private loans, you will not be able to use this federal resource for consolidation. There are other methods of consolidating debt, however, such as through a home equity line of credit or a second mortgage. The obvious risk to this type of consolidation is that using your home as collateral could mean that you lose your home if you cannot make payments or even if your payments are late.

“What’s more, consolidation loans have costs,” according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). “In addition to interest, you may have to pay ‘points,’ with one point equal to one percent of the amount you borrow. Still, these loans may provide certain tax advantages that are not available with other kinds of credit.”

If you would like to discuss your best options for paying down debt, please don’t hesitate to give us a call.


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What is Eco-tourism?

Defining environmentally sound and sustainable travel
The world isEcotourism-2 quickly becoming a smaller place as advances in flight and transportation allow more travelers the opportunities to visit remote areas. The development of the Internet over the last 20 years has provided instant information about exotic and secluded destinations, now available to anyone with the means to get there.

Increased travel can result in additional impact on the environment. In response to the heightened interest in travel and environmental impact, a new consciousness about travel has emerged called eco-tourism.

What is eco-tourism?
The official definition of eco-tourism, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), is “environmentally responsible travel to natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature that promote conservation, have a low visitor impact and provide for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local peoples.”

How is eco-tourism different than nature tourism?
Visiting a natural location does not automatically define it as an eco-tourism destination. While nature tourism simply means visiting places that involve natural surroundings (for example state parks and forests), eco-tourism involves visiting places that have made a conscious effort to abide by a set of environmental principles.

According to the International Eco-tourism Society, eco-tourism destinations are sites that have made a commitment to minimize the impact of visitors to their locations and provide benefits to both visitors and the communities surrounding the site. These locations provide a positive environmental and financial impact to the people who live nearby.

What is an eco-tourist?
An eco-tourist is a traveler who has a deep regard for the environmental and social impact of the world around him or her. In addition to taking steps to travel in the most eco- conscious way (for instance, taking a bus or driving to a destination versus flying), an eco-tourist is committed to the local residents of the places he or she is visiting. Travelers who are conscious of the communities in which they visit, often take the time to volunteer or give back to the community during their stay.

Examples of eco-tourism
One destination that is succeeding at eco-tourism is the Caiman Ecological Refuge in Pantanal Wetlands of Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil. Four eco-lodges, situated over 132,000 acres of land, allow visitors to stay on one of the largest cattle ranches of its kind. Travelers can canoe the rivers running through the Pantanal and see caiman (a small species of crocodile) in their natural environment. Visitors can also choose to volunteer on the ranch for a first-hand glimpse of life in this Brazilian outback. Learn more by visiting http://en.caiman.com.br/. View other examples of eco-tourism at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/adventure/travel/eco-travel/eco-success.html.

World travel offers an opportunity for travelers to experience other cultures. With this opportunity comes a responsibility to leave the planet in sound condition for future generations. Visiting places that make eco-tourism a priority helps reduce the environmental impact of travelers visiting natural and historical destinations, while also protecting those places for years to come.


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Cold or Allergy? Decoding the Symptoms

Learn to decipher your sniffles so you’ll feel better
Your nose is stuffy, Allergies and your throat hurts. You feel terrible. But is the cause a cold or allergies? When you feel this rotten, you might not care, but it’s important to know the difference. Colds and allergies should be treated differently — and while you should stay home from work if you have a cold, you can keep soldiering on through a minor allergy attack.

Both conditions can result in congestion and sore throats, but once you know which other symptoms accompany each, telling the difference between colds and allergies is fairly easy.

Colds vs. allergies
A cold is a virus passed through the air or hand-to-hand contact. You can also catch a cold by touching something that an infected person has touched. In other words, it’s highly contagious. Allergies, on the other hand, aren’t contagious at all and result from exposure to substances such as dust or pollen. The body mistakes these substances for germs and releases chemicals called histamines to fight them, which results in cold-mimicking symptoms such as congestion, a runny nose, sneezing and coughing, as well as itching.

Symptom check
According to the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America, the following questions can help you decide whether you have a cold or are suffering from allergies:

  • What are your symptoms? If you have a runny nose with clear discharge, a stuffy nose, sneezing, a scratchy throat, wheezing, coughing, and watery and itchy eyes, it’s allergies. A cold produces yellow discharge, aches and pains, and a sore throat.
  • Do you have a fever? If you do, more than likely you have a cold.
  • What time of year is it? Allergies can strike anytime. So can colds, but they’re more common in the wintertime.
  • When did your symptoms start? Allergies begin immediately after exposure to an allergen. Cold symptoms develop a few days After exposure to the virus.
  • How long have your symptoms persisted? Allergies last as long as you are exposed to an allergen. A cold should clear up within a week.

Treatment options
Neither condition can be cured, but you can manage the symptoms of colds and allergies. A decongestant is helpful for either condition when congestion is an issue. Colds respond to rest and plenty of fluids, as well as over-the-counter pain relievers to reduce fevers and aches.

With allergies, try an antihistamine. If your allergies are severe, talk to your doctor about prescribing a nasal steroid spray or exploring immunotherapy (allergy shots).

Whether you decide that you’re suffering from allergies or a cold, be sure to address your symptoms. If left untreated, both colds and allergies can lead to sinus infections, which are more serious and often require antibiotics to treat. Call your doctor if you suspect your condition has progressed to a sinus infection.


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Do You Have a Spending Problem?

How to know and how to fix it
If you’ve everbankingon_e_a003004523 checked your bank account and wondered where all your money went, or how you could possibly have such a small sum, you may have an unintentional spending problem. And that’s harmful because overspending can lead to mass amounts of debt and dissatisfaction with yourself.

But how can you know for sure if you have a spending problem? If you’re surmising the thought, ask yourself these questions:

Are you having a hard time following a budget?

  • Do you feel the need to shop every day or more than once a day?
  • Do you buy things when you’re sad, angry or other emotion to justify feeling that way?
  • Are your friends and family commenting about your spending or telling you to stop?
  • Are you going over your credit card limit on a monthly basis?
  • Do you ever wonder, “Where did my last paycheck go?”
  • Do you have a hard time finding a place for all the items you buy?
  • Do you avoid looking at your bills?
  • Do you have a range of items you don’t use?
  • Are collectors and creditors on your case about past-due bills?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may have a spending problem. Follow these tips to take steps toward cutting back on your spending:

Get rid of your credit cards
If you know you use plastic for most of your purchases, it’s advised that you cut them up and only carry cash. Yes, credit cards are convenient, but research shows that you spend less when you only have cash. According to a 2000 study, consumers are willing to spend more for something when they use a credit card rather than cash. So next time you’re out, test this theory by leaving your credit cards behind and only bringing with you a small amount of cash.

Track your spending
This is especially useful for those who can’t fathom where their money is going whenever they check their statement. Simply jotting down what you spend every day will help you identify patterns. Did you grab a coffee before work? Head to the mall on the weekend? Get a car wash? Every penny you spend should be written down and added up to see how much you’re doling out each day. If you’re a techie, you might like keeping an online diary or downloading a journaling app to your smartphone.

Purge
If it’s clothes that you buy a lot of, go through your closet and dresser drawers and make a pile of all the items you haven’t worn in the last year or those that you don’t like anymore.

“Identify the clothes you love, and get rid of everything else,” says author Donna Smallin. “If you haven’t worn something for a year, there’s something wrong — it’s not your style, or it doesn’t fit right — and there’s no point in holding onto it.” You might find that most of your clothing items are in pristine condition, and if that’s the case, head to a local thrift store, who will offer you money for certain items. You’ll feel better and make a little extra cash in the process. If any of the clothes you want to get rid of are slightly ripped or stained, then you may consider donating them to charities.

Purge – the online version
You know all those daily deal e-mails that are clogging up your inbox — Groupon, RetailMeNot, etc.? Unsubscribe to these. These e-mails are marketed to make you want to spend money, and you don’t need that kind of temptation. Doing this may also help you realize how many e-mail lists you’re on, which can be eye-opening to an over-spender who wasn’t sure whether or not they had a spending problem.

Avoid situations that make you spend
If you’re aware of when you spend the most, try to skip those occasions as much as you can. For example, if you tend to overspend when eating out with friends, suggest to the group you’d like to have a potluck dinner party instead. Or, if you dish out money on clothes more than anything else, it’s best to keep away from the mall at all costs.

Seek help
There’s no shame in speaking with a professional about your spending habits. If your spending is too far out of control, then you’ll likely benefit from talking to an expert. Many psychotherapists are trained to help people with compulsive spending. Also, ask your friends, family or spouse for their help as well. After all, it’s hard to change your ways without support from your loved ones.


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Understanding Vehicle Financing

Should you use direct lending or dealership financing for your new vehicle?

Shopping for a new186482025 car is an exciting process, and contrary to popular belief, obtaining financing doesn’t have to ruin the fun. If you take the time to learn about the two basic types of financing, direct lending and dealership financing, before you take your first test drive, you’ll be setting yourself up for a smooth, efficient shopping experience.

After learning about the pros and cons of each type of financing, you will be ready to find the right car with the right financing.

With dealership financing, you make your agreement with the dealership when you want to purchase your vehicle. The dealer works with you to form an agreement on how much you will pay per month and how much you will pay overall, depending on the vehicle you want, your credit history and several other factors. Sometimes the dealer will sell your contract to a financial institution, and that financial institution will collect the payments.

One benefit of dealership financing is it can be convenient. Provided that you are able to find a vehicle you like and financing you like at one dealership, it can be one stop shopping. Furthermore, the fact that dealerships are open long hours and throughout the weekend may be more convenient if your financial institution has limited hours.

The United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) states that another advantage of working with a dealer is that “dealers sometimes offer manufacturer-sponsored, low-rate or incentive programs to buyers.”

The FTC cautions that, “The programs may be limited to certain vehicles or may have special requirements, like a larger down payment or shorter contract length (36 or 48 months). These programs might require a strong credit rating; check to see if you qualify.”

Your other option for financing is direct lending, which means that you apply for and receive a loan directly from your preferred financial institution. This means that you’re able to work with your trusted community financial institution, a place where you know you will be treated well and have an established relationship. When you find a vehicle that you want, you form a contract with the dealership and use the loan to pay for it.

Another advantage to direct financing is that you have the opportunity to secure financing and determine exactly what you can afford before your emotions get involved with the shopping process, which can help you stay within budget. Furthermore, if you apply for financing at a dealership after deciding on a vehicle, the dealer has the upper hand by knowing that you’re already interested in the vehicle and that you most likely want to make a deal instead of walking away empty handed. When working with your financial institution, you have no pressure to make a deal, and the financial institution knows that you can comparison shop at other institutions, so it has incentive to give you a great deal.

“Any time you get preapproved, you help yourself out,” states Justin Pritchard from About.com Banks/Loans. “You learn what lenders are willing to offer, and you gain negotiating power. Preapproved auto loans, like any other loan, allow you to: know how much you can afford, shop like a cash buyer, and understand the costs you’ll pay.”

When you work with a lender directly, there are no surprises. You walk onto the lot knowing exactly what you can afford, so you don’t waste time looking at cars out of your range. That way, you avoid getting lured by deals that are only applicable to car buyers who qualify for a lower rate than you do.

“You may spend hours looking at vehicles and negotiating with dealers, only to find out that you’re in above your head,” states Pritchard. “The auto buying process can be grueling, so focus your attention on what you know will work.”

Not only will there be no surprises about your qualifications, there will also be transparency when it comes to how much you end up paying.

“Dealers are notorious for trying to focus your attention on the monthly payment,” states Pritchard. “That way, they have room to fiddle with other parts of the deal. When you have a preapproved auto loan, the payment is none of the dealer’s business – so there are no games to play.”

Before seeking financing, the FTC recommends that you look up your local state laws and federal laws about financing and leasing. After reviewing applicable laws, you will be able to handle the process with more peace of mind and may even be able to negotiate better.


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Why do Students Borrow so Much?

Trends in student loan lending may explain why

Let’s face it: to afford185694940 attending college in this day and age, many students need to take out a loan (or several). Each year, more and more students are graduating college with thousands in student debt that they need to pay back.

In fact, between 2007 and 2012, student loan amounts increased 75 percent, according to a TransUnion study. It’s one of the biggest causes of debt as in 2010, student loan debt surpassed credit card debt for the first time, rising to more than $800 billion.

Specifically, the amount of undergraduate loan recipients has grown substantially, going from 19 percent in 1989-1990 to 35 percent in 2007-2008. The amount being borrowed per person has also risen. Research shows the amount of postsecondary education students who borrowed using federal student loan programs increased from $24 billion from 1994-1997 to $33.7 billion in 1999-2000. In addition, the amount of debt for those getting their master’s and other advanced degrees more than doubled.

So what’s the deal?
“Increases in federal grant aid have not kept pace with rising costs, and students’ financial needs have increased as educational costs have risen,” explains an excerpt in the Eric Institute of Education Sciences, an online database of education research and information, sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences of the U.S. Department of Education.

While the obvious answer for the increased borrowing is the rise in tuition costs, research says it may also be that loan programs are expanding, allowing those from middle and upper income families to borrow with little difficulty.

“Increases in loan limits and the ease of borrowing have allowed more students to receive loans,” the study states.

“Because students may receive unsubsidized loans regardless of their families’ incomes, a large share of the added loan dollars appear to have gone to students from middle- and upper-income families,” notes an article on http://www.education.com.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the percentage of undergraduate students from families who make an annual income of $60,000-$79,000 who used federal student loans jumped from 56 percent in 1992-1993 to 67 percent in 1995-1996. And since students from middle- and upper-class families who may not have necessarily qualified to receive Stafford Subsidized Loans have become eligible, studies predict some students may be borrowing more than they need in order to attend postsecondary education.

Call us or stop by today to find out how we can help you make college more affordable.