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.

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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.

Three Things You Need to Do to Your Student Loans Right Now

Stay ahead of this big expense

Recent college graduates already have enough on their plates worrying about getting a job and supporting themselves — the last thing they want to do is stress over student loan repayment. For most, paying off student loans takes a long time, so no matter where you are in that process, there are three things you should stop and do right now.

1. Get organized
Take an inventory of your student loans. You can get a list by signing up at http://www.nslds.ed.gov/. After a short enrollment process, you will have a handy list of all guaranteed loans that were issued to you by the government, as well as those made by private lenders through June 2010. If you have a private nonguaranteed loan, those should all be present and detailed on your credit report, which you can find for free online.

Create a spreadsheet chronicling the name of each lender, the web address, your username and password (ensure your device is locked or encrypted), the loan balance, and the interest rate. The latter will be helpful if you opt to consolidate or pay off any interest early down the road. But be sure to keep your list up to date, as interest rates on student loans can be fixed or variable.

2. Know your repayment options
“The standard repayment schedule extends your loan payments over ten years, or 120 payments,” explained Maggie McGrath of Forbes. “However, if the standard monthly payments aren’t manageable on your budget — or if you’re unemployed or otherwise unable to repay your loans — the federal government has some alternative repayment plans for you, as well as some deferral options.”

Income-based repayment (IBR) and income-contingent repayment (ICR) extend your payment period to 25 years, capping your monthly payments at a fixed percentage of your income. The income on which payments are based and the actual percentage differ between the two plans. Pay-as-you-earn is a 20-year repayment period, with yet another varying percentage of your discretionary income.

You can read about other repayment options from the government here: https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/understand/plans. Be wary, as these types of programs can cause your interest costs to increase over time, so always pay as close to your original amount due as you can.

3. Be aware of loan forgiveness opportunities
There are three primary programs that forgive the balance of your loan: Public service loan forgiveness, teacher loan forgiveness and Perkins loan cancellation.

“To qualify for forgiveness, your loans can’t be in default, meaning they’ve gone unpaid for more than nine months,” noted higher education expert Brianna McGurran of Nerdwallet. “Also, private student loans don’t offer forgiveness, though some lenders will let you make interest-only payments or take a temporary interest rate reduction if you’re having trouble affording your bill.”

Public service loan forgiveness requires you to have been working for a nonprofit or the government for at least 10 years in roles including, but not limited to, firefighting, teaching, the military and nursing. In the teacher-specific program, you must work full time as an educator for five consecutive years. The Perkins loan forgiveness also cancels the balance of that loan if you’ve worked as a teacher, firefighter, nurse, police officer, school librarian or public defender for about five years or more. For a complete description of eligibility requirements, visit https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/forgiveness-cancellation.

If you take the time to do your homework and gather yourself before — or even while — you are repaying your student loans, the process will seem a lot less scary, and a lot more manageable.

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

Tips for Making Safe Credit Card Purchases Online

In today’s digital age, you need to be especially careful when making online purchases

With online shopping becoming the norm, people have also become more susceptible to identity theft. It’s imperative that you be careful and mindful of how you shop online.

A November 2016 article in The Balance by contributor LaToya Irby outlines seven tips for safe online shopping:

Conduct your online shopping only on websites you trust
It may sound obvious, but using your credit card to make online purchases only on those websites you know and trust could save you from becoming a victim of fraud. Never click on links provided via email; instead, type the entire URL of the website into your browser to open the site.

Never shop from a public place
Public computers are susceptible to hacker technology, such as software that captures your keystrokes and retains your personal and credit card information. Additionally, public Wi-Fi is unsecured and, as such, could redirect your device to a fake internet connection that an identity thief can monitor and use to intercept your personal information.

Keep your devices protected from viruses
Always stay up to date with virus and spyware protection software, and make sure you are using antivirus software that is reputable, not the type for which you receive an ad via email or in a pop-up window.

Check with the BBB first
The Better Business Bureau marks websites with poor customer service records, so make sure to check out the credibility of the site in question using the BBB before making a purchase.

Use credit cards, not debit cards
Credit cards have better protection services against fraud than debit cards, so you’re liable for fewer fraudulent charges if they occur. Additionally, you could lose access to your account and your funds while the financial institution sorts out a debit card that has been compromised, whereas with a credit card the only access that’s affected is that line of credit.

Make sure the website you use is secured
Always look for the green lock symbol at the start of your URL browser, and make sure you type in the website using “https” to ensure the site is secured to encrypt your information when making online purchases.

Keep track of your purchases with receipts
Just as with in-store purchases, printing a copy of the receipt of your online transaction will help you track your credit card activity. Use the printed copy to compare against your monthly credit card statement and watch for fraud.

In a November 2016 article in the Better Business Bureau by APR, CFEE Janet C. Hart recommends checking both your credit card activity and your bank account activity once a week, rather than waiting for the monthly statement. This ensures you catch fraudulent activity shortly after it’s occurred instead of finding out weeks later.

Hart also advises that we be wary of phishing scams—emails seemingly from a business claiming an error with your order or your account and asking you to confirm personal and identifying information. Legitimate businesses do not send these types of emails.

“Beware of ‘GREAT’ deals — if you find a website offering deals that seem too good to be true, they probably are. You may get a knock-off product, a product that is not the brand you ordered, or you may get nothing at all,” adds Hart.

Lastly, Hart recommends always checking the website’s privacy policy before making purchases online, so you know exactly how your personal information will be used.

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

How online banking can keep you from overdrawing your account

Seeing red? Prevent a negative balance in your account by following these simple tips, many of which can be achieved with a simple enrollment in online banking.

TRADITIONAL BANKING SOLUTIONS
Opt out of overdraft coverage.
Debit card transactions cause more overdrafts than any other transaction type, according to a 2014 report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently published by NerdWallet staff writer Spencer Tierney. Luckily, since 2010, consumers have had the option of opting out of overdraft coverage, a service that declines debit card or ATM transactions when your account contains insufficient funds. The alternative would be incurring an overdraft fee from your financial institution for the insufficient funds, as well as a returned item fee from the entity receiving your money. Opting out eliminates the additional fee or stops you from making a purchase that would send your account into the red.

Maintain a buffer balance.
Most overdrafts occur due to relatively small sums, often $20 or less. That means you can avoid a lot of overdraft fees by keeping a cushion in your checking account at all times just in case a deposit is delayed or you make a mistake in your register,” says Marcie Geffner of Bankrate.com. U.S. News contributor Simon Zhen recommends a buffer amount equal to the sum of one month’s recurring expenses (rent, utilities, fuel and groceries).

Link an account or line of credit.
Your financial institution may offer the option of linking a savings account, credit card or specified line of credit to your account that would cover an overdraft if needed. “When a transaction causes a negative balance, a [financial institution] will automatically perform an overdraft protection transfer from the linked account to cover the overdrawn amount,” Zhen explains. “Note that [financial institutions] may charge an overdraft protection transfer fee. With a line of credit, you’re simply borrowing from this credit line and you’ll be subject to interest charges, just like any other loan.”

ONLINE BANKING SOLUTIONS
Use online bill pay rather than auto pay.

Automatic bill pay is a great service as far as convenience goes, but it can wreak havoc on maintaining a budget. Instead of setting up auto pay with billers, utilize online bill pay through your financial institution’s online banking. Making the payments manually gives you control over the transaction, so you won’t have to worry about any forgotten expenses pulling your account balance below zero. It’s also a better option than mailing in a physical check, which could take weeks to clear.

Dutifully monitor spending.
Another benefit of online banking is the mobile aspect. Today you can check your account balance anywhere, anytime—sometimes without even manually signing in. Taking full advantage of that increased potential for vigilance can save you big.

Create account alerts.
If you find manually checking your balance to be a bit tedious, automate the process instead. Sign up for alerts through your online banking, which will notify you via email or text message anytime a certain event occurs, such as unusual account activity, an overdraft or falling below a certain amount. Some platforms will even allow you to do this in real time. “When you’re alerted to an overdraft, you may be able to deposit money in time to avoid the overdraft fees,” Zhen says.

By simply being observant and taking advantage of the tools and resources provided to you by your financial institution, you should be able to circumvent overdrafts and their corresponding fees.

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

Direct Subsidized and Direct Unsubsidized Loans for Students

The difference between these two types of student loans

If you or a family member is in the process of applying to schools and seeking information about the various ways to cover tuition and the associated costs, you may have already learned that you can choose between applying for loans that are either subsidized or unsubsidized.

There are key differences between these two types of loans that you should learn to make sure you choose the type that better suits your financial needs.

One of the things that make the loan application process slightly more confusing is that different people or organizations may use different names when referring to the same loan. Direct Subsidized Loans and Direct Unsubsidized Loans are sometimes called Stafford Loans or Direct Stafford Loans, respectively, so if you’ve heard those terms, you should be aware that they are the same and not two additional loans out of four different types being discussed. Regardless of what these loans are called, when trying to figure out which type of loan is which, the most important criterion to look at is whether the loan is subsidized or unsubsidized.

Both loan types are offered by the U.S. Department of Education to eligible students who attend participating schools. They can be used at four-year colleges and universities, community colleges, and trade, technical and career schools.

Qualifying for either type of loan requires the student to be enrolled at least half time at a school participating in the Direct Loan Program. Typically, the student’s chosen program must be one leading to a degree or certificate.

Direct Subsidized Loans offer students slightly better terms. This is because they are intended to go to students with financial need.

The website run by Federal Student Aid, an office of the Department of Education, defines financial need as “[t]he difference between the cost of attendance [COA] at a school and your Expected Family Contribution [EFC],” and states, “While COA varies from school to school, your EFC does not change based on the school you attend.”

Although your EFC will not change depending on your chosen school, your school will be responsible for determining the amount that you can borrow. That amount may never exceed your financial need, however.

The biggest advantage of a Direct Subsidized Loan is that the Department of Education pays the interest on the loan while the student is still in school at least half time. The federal government will also pay the interest on the loan if the student has postponed his or her loan payments with an authorized loan deferral. Furthermore, the six months following the student’s graduation are considered a “grace period,” during which time the federal government continues to pay the loan interest. This is intended to make it easier for students to make payments while searching for a job.

Although the party responsible for paying the loan interest differs, the interest rate itself does not depend on the loan type.

“As of 2013, interest rates charged for Federal Direct Loans began to be tied to the 10-year Treasury note, with an additional margin added on to cover expenses,” states Mark P. Cussen, CFP, CMFC, AFC, in an article for Investopedia. “They do not depend on the borrower’s credit score.”

In order to qualify for a Direct Subsidized Loan, the income level of the student’s family must not be above certain levels. The exact criteria that define low family income and sufficient financial need are detailed in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). More information about the regulations and processes of applying for student aid with FAFSA can be found at https://fafsa.ed.gov.

While Direct Unsubsidized Loans don’t have an income requirement, the student is responsible for the interest accrued during all periods. One advantage of Direct Unsubsidized Loans is that they are available to graduate students, which isn’t the case with Direct Subsidized Loans. A further advantage is that it is possible to take out more money with a Direct Unsubsidized Loan, so students with very large educational costs to cover may find it necessary to use a loan that is unsubsidized.

The cost of education is rising at an alarming pace, but thankfully there are many financial tools, including Direct Subsidized and Direct Unsubsidized loans, to help students and their families cover it. To delve more deeply into the details of these loans and explore the wealth of information available online for students and their families in the application process, visit https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/.

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