Cut These Costs TODAY

Man buying groceriesHave you ever unexpectedly found out you’re quickly going to have less income? It’s enough to throw you into a panic. But the best way to get through hard times is to take a few deep breaths and put a plan together. Check out these common targets for quick and effective expense cuts.

Food
You might find it obvious that evenings dining out at fancy restaurants probably aren’t the best idea when experiencing a budget crunch. But think about your groceries too. Consider avoiding the higher-priced stores and stocking up on the basics at the more reasonably priced spots. You might find that cooking at home and taking your lunch to work saves you lots of money and ends up being healthier too.

Cable/Movies/Rentals
If you’re like most people, your visual entertainment comes from multiple sources. You may watch movies on cable, in the theater, via rental or online. In crisis situations, it’s best to focus on watching movies at home and using one particular way to do it. In other words, if you have both Netflix and premium movie channels, it’s probably time to go with one or the other.

Phone plans
It’s nice to use a smart phone to be able to look up information on the go, but you could probably make do without the data plan if you had to. Did you know that you could also be on a prepaid smart phone plan? Call your service provider to ask them to perform an analysis on which plan is best for you. You might be paying for more than you actually need. Also consider eliminating your house phone if you have one.

Gym
It’s important to get some stress-relieving exercise during this trying time, but there’s no reason why you should have to spend money to do it. Brainstorm ways to be active without having to fork over a big chunk of your paycheck. The main thing is to just get moving!

Shopping as entertainment
One activity that could put you in the trouble zone is shopping for fun or to ease tension. “I won’t buy anything, I’ll just browse” too often can lead you down the path of unnecessary spending. Eliminate leisure shopping or other activities that put you in temptation.

Gas
Is it an option to work from home more? Can you carpool or combine your errands into fewer trips? If your family has multiple vehicles, can you sell one and share the remaining?

Insurance
With the ease of using the Internet to compare rates, the insurance business is much more competitive than it used to be. Shop around for the best deals on any type of insurance you have—auto, home, life, etc. Check into bundling these with one company to save even more. How is your credit score? This might affect the cost of certain insurances. Also be sure to ask about discounts you might apply for, and the option of raising your deductible in exchange for a lower monthly payment.

Utilities
Think of ways to stay warm or cool more efficiently. Put on more layers in the colder months and spend more time outside during the warmer times. Be conscious of turning everything off and even unplugging electrical items when you leave a room.

Habitual items
When you have a comfortable financial situation, it’s easy to buy coffee, cigarettes, alcohol and convenience store snacks without thinking too much about it. But in these tighter times, think about what you are really getting out of these purchases and if there are expenses that are more important.

Taxes
If you have more money taken out of each of your paychecks than is necessary in order to get a large income tax refund check in the spring, you are over-paying the government each month. Cut this expense by using the IRS withholding calculator to determine the appropriate amount to have withheld from each paycheck.

None of these cost-cutting measures alone is guaranteed to immediately solve all cash flow issues, but in concert they can potentially save you hundreds of dollars per month.

Used with Permission. Published by BALANCE Includes copyrighted material of BALANCE.

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.

How Gift Cards Can Help You Save Money

Strategies involving gift cards to save you cash

There are two main ways you can save money with gift cards: One has to do with buying them, and the other has to do with using them. Read on for more information.

Use only gift cards while shopping
Shopping with gift cards can be an extremely effective budgeting tool. Determine your monthly expenses (go beyond rent and utilities) and place them into categories such as groceries, pharmacy, household items, auto maintenance, clothing and more. Next to each, list the stores where you most frequently shop, starting or listing first your top-choice vendor. Buy a gift card and shop for your items at that store using only the gift card. It will save you from overspending on any given category.

Buy discounted gift cards
To take even better advantage of gift cards as a budgeting tool, you can buy those gift cards at a fraction of the normal cost. How? People often utilize online auction sites such as eBay to sell off cards that they know they won’t use. Peruse your options there or visit an online gift card exchange site such as CardHub, CardCash, Cardpool or GiftCards.com.

Herb Weisbaum of CNBC also recommends checking big-box, bulk retailers such as Costco to find gift cards being sold at less than face value. Additionally, don’t forget to check into your loyalty program or credit card reward points — they are also good sources for gift cards on the cheap, and some even offer them at a redeemed-point discount!

“This is a great untapped resource for savings,” said Bankrate.com’s Janna Herron in a CNBC article. “It’s an easy way to stretch your rewards and your…budget, and maybe use up points or miles that are about to expire.”

Finally, keep an eye out at the shops you frequent for any discounts or promotions they may be having — especially during the holiday season, when there is a big push to get people to come back into their stores once the holidays are wrapped.

Both buying discounted gift cards and using them to stay on budget are great ways to cut prices on purchases you are going to have to make anyway — so what are you waiting for?

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

Is It Still Important to Know How to Balance a Checkbook?

Even in the digital age, knowing how to balance your checkbook is still relevant

People used to learn to balance a checkbook with a registrar log of all their daily marchfeatured_balcheckbooktransactions to better keep track of their money. The digital age, and the immediate access we now have to our bank accounts online, has made this skill less necessary. Yet it’s still important for several reasons.

To start, it’s still a tried-and-true method for verifying your financial institution’s statements, reports an October 2016 article on financial resource website The Balance by contributor Deborah Fowles. Although it’s rare, financial institutions can still make mistakes; they typically allow a maximum of 60 days to inform them of an error, so it’s important to stay up to date on your transactions.

Keeping a written record of all your daily transactions, as with balancing your checkbook, is also a helpful way to ensure you don’t overdraw on your account’s funds, reports an article in Investopedia by contributor Amy Fontinelle.

“In the age of electronic banking, checkbook balancing is not as straightforward as it once was – most people have money entering and leaving their accounts through methods other than writing and depositing traditional paper checks, such as direct deposits from an employer and ACH transfers to pay your bills online,” says Fontinelle. Keeping a written log will ensure you don’t forget about any transactions that haven’t yet posted to the account.

An example, adds Fontinelle, is a check you’ve written and sent to someone for his or her birthday. Sometimes, people hold on to checks for a while before depositing them, and if you’ve forgotten about the check you’ve written, you may not have sufficient funds in your account when the check is finally processed. Not only will you incur an overdraft fee from your financial institution, but the person depositing the check could also incur a fee, and may ask you to pay it.

“Because we have the electronic means, we don’t feel compelled to balance our checkbook. But by not looking at what you’re doing on a monthly basis, you’re not keeping good track of what’s going on with your finances,” says owner of Boucher Financial Planning Services Frank Boucher in a January 2013 article on Bankrate.com. And if you’re not keeping track of your finances, you’re bound to overspend and will end up paying fees you could have avoided.

There have also been cases when a financial institution has moved extra money into an individual’s account, reports Fontinelle. Although it is the financial institution’s error, you will be billed a theft fee if you spend this money and can’t maintain funds to cover the extra money. It’s important to monitor your balance so you can notify the institution immediately if such an error occurs.

According to a January 2013 article on Bankrate.com by contributor Marcie Geffner, reconciling or comparing your written checkbook registrar to the financial institution’s monthly statement is also a good way to detect fraud or unauthorized transactions made to your account. In addition, having a written record of your daily transactions can help protect you from identity theft, especially in an age rife with cybercriminals.

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

Financial Skills Everyone Should Have

Basic money management skills every adult should havemarchfeatured_essnfinskills
Basic money management skills are key to a financially successful life. Conversely, if you don’t learn the basics of your finances, you can end up in serious debt and struggle to make ends meet.

Basic management skills
As an adult, you should be able to manage your money, including income coming in and bills and purchases going out. This is not to limit yourself but rather to free yourself, enabling you to spend realistically based on how much money you actually have, so as to avoid going into debt.

According to Jesse Campbell in a May 2015 article in Money Management, a financial counseling and education service provider, one of the foremost skills every person should have is how to maintain a budget. Campbell suggests starting simple and making a plan for your income based on your bills, spending needs and savings. As budgeting tends to become more complicated with age (adding in mortgages, retirement accounts and even college savings plans), it’s crucial to know how to budget and stick to a plan.

A February 2016 article in The Balance written by contributor Miriam Caldwell adds that understanding how to set financial goals, including how to break them down and actually meet them in a realistic amount of time, is essential to planning for long-term savings and spending needs, like emergencies or even retirement. This will further help you budget as you set aside money for different spending goals.

Caldwell also reports that with the digital age and the advent of online banking, many people have forgotten or no longer practice the skill of balancing a checkbook. This basic skill is a must for all adults. Computers can still make mistakes and it’s important to still know how to check your spending each month to ensure your accounts reflect the correct balance. Clerical errors or fraud can go unnoticed and hurt you in the long term if not taken care of immediately.

Understanding credit and financial agreements
Even in the digital age, you should be able to know how to read a bank or credit card statement.

Whether your financial statements are printed out or available online, understanding them and the information provided is imperative to managing your money and maintaining organization. You should also get in the habit of reviewing your statements on a regular basis, whether daily, weekly or monthly, Campbell reports.

When opening a new credit card or debit card, or applying for a loan, you should be able to read through and understand the terms of your loan or line of credit, including interest rates and fees, Campbell adds. An offer that looks great on paper may end up sinking your budget if you overlook or don’t know the conditions and terms of your agreement.

Furthermore, every adult should know how to build good credit and understand the benefits of good credit history. Caldwell notes that it’s especially important to know how to manage your credit cards and pay your bills on time to keep your debt low and help build good credit.

Although it’s tempting to avoid using credit altogether, doing so is essentially the same as creating a bad credit history, Campbell adds. In the long term, it will only hurt your ability to get credit when you need it later, like for a mortgage, a car or another major expense.

Should you have concerns about your financial life, don’t shy away from consulting a financial adviser of other resource.

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