Tag: bills

The Shame of Debt

Money doesn’t make you happy. That’s how the saying goes, and you can’t deny that there’s some truth to it. However, while having lots of money won’t make you happy, having very little is more likely to make you stressed and depressed. 

The less you have, the more likely you are to stress over the smallest of things, and if debt is forcing that poverty on you, hanging a dark cloud of uncertainty over your head, that stress and that depression will increase.

Psychological Cost of Debt

Debt has a massive psychological cost and a lot of that boils down to shame. Debt stress and debt shame are more common than ever in the United States, as debtors seek to hide their troubles from their families and loved ones. There is an unmistakable link between debt and an increased suicide risk.

A student conducted several years ago looked at the finances of people who had committed suicide and found they were significantly more likely to have massive debts (student loan debt, credit card debt). Similar studies have been conducted on mental health, noting that people are more likely to suffer from debilitating depression, stress, and anxiety when they have problems with debt.

And it’s easy to see why. Not only do many debtors choose to keep their problems to themselves, feeling an immense shame that stops them from telling even their closest friends and family, but debt can also lead to anxieties about debt collectors, foreclosures, repossessions, bankruptcy, and more. 

How to Overcome the Shame of Debt

To improve your mental health, you need to fight debt stress and shame. That’s easier said than done, but there are a few things that you can do:

Understand Where the Shame Comes From

The first step is to understand why you feel the way that you feel. This might not fix your debt shame, but it will help you to understand it more.

There is no single, overriding cause of debt shame. Some debtors feel shame because they see themselves as the breadwinner, the provider, and if they have debt it means they have failed. Others feel shame because they come from frugal backgrounds and have been wasteful or because their debt is the result of a drug, alcohol or gambling problem.

Whatever the reason, you need to find it, address it, and fix it. Get help for that gambling or drug addiction, get advice from that frugal family.

Admit Your Fault

Debt doesn’t mean that you’re a bad or useless person. It doesn’t mean that you don’t care about your family. It’s not a character flaw tied to your personality, it’s a behavioral issue tied to impulsivity and even mental health issues. It’s still your fault, but it’s easily fixed and doesn’t make you a bad person.

Understanding this can help you to get rid of that shame and deal with your stress and mental health issues.

Improve Your Financial Knowledge

Researchers have found a direct correlation between debt and financial knowledge; the more you have of the former, the less likely you are to be competent in the latter.

Fortunately, it has never been easier to educate yourself. Take a look at the many guides here on Pocket your Dollars, spanning everything from pay off strategies for credit card debt to money-making ideas, recommendations for loans and credit cards, and more.

Get Credit Counseling

Credit counseling exists for a reason and can help you in your time of need. They’re not mental health counselors, they can’t prescribe you medication and they can’t help with your insomnia and anxiety. However, they have worked with countless debtors, many of which have anxiety and depression, and they understand what it’s like to be in your shoes.

They can help you to assess and manage your debts before advising on the right course of action. A financial therapist can also provide assistance with any relationship issues, counseling you on who you should tell, how you should tell them, and what sort of reaction to expect.

The problem that many debtors have is that they think they know everything. They won’t speak to a counsellor because they’re convinced they know what the counsellor will say. But let’s be honest, if you’re struggling with debt, there’s a good chance you’re not a financial wizard and even if you are, it always helps to speak with an expert, voicing your concerns out loud and bouncing some ideas around.

Stop Spending

We spend when we’re depressed, get depressed because we’re in debt and are in debt because we spend too much. It’s a cycle that’s keeping your favorite retailer in profit and doing untold damage to your finances. To get out of debt, you need to accept that this cycle exists and that the only way to escape is to stop that spending immediately.

Anything that isn’t an absolute necessity can be left for another day, preferably one when you actually have money to spend. Limit your spending to clothes, food, rent, utility bills, medical bills, and everything else that allows you to continue living comfortably from day to day, but give the alcohol, cigarettes, vacations, and other luxuries a miss.

How to Take Control of Your Debt

The best way to avoid the shame and stress of debt is to get rid of it. Studies on debtors have found that at least 9 out of 10 believe they will be much happier if they didn’t have debt. These beliefs have been confirmed by individuals who successfully pay off debt, claiming = they are much happier than they ever were.

There are many ways you can pay off debt and we’ll look at a few of these options below, but generally speaking, you need to:

  • Assess your financial situation
  • Check your credit report and credit score
  • Get help from a credit counselor or financial therapist
  • If your debt-to-income ratio is low, budget better and pay off more with a debt payoff strategy
  • If your debt-to-income ratio is high, try debt relief
  • Create an emergency fund to prevent future issues

Best Ways to Get out of Debt

There is no debt shame if there is no debt. As discussed above, debt is not something you should be ashamed of, but it’s also not something you should cling onto. It can cause you a great deal of stress, placing strain on your relationships and generally making life very difficult for you.

So, while it’s important to face the truth of the situation and dispel those feelings of shame, it’s just as important to fight your debt and get your head above water. Here are a few debt relief options and debt payoff strategies that can help. For more information, including expensive guides and recommendations on each of these options, take a look at the relevant sections on Pocket Your Dollars.

Snowball and Avalanche Methods

The debt snowball and debt avalanche methods are two of the most popular debt payoff strategies, and ones that we have discussed at great length before (see debt snowball vs debt avalanche). They can make the process more systematic, which, in turn, may provide you with the support and the structure you need to get your debts in order. 

In both cases, you need to make a list of all your debts, covering things such as Balance, Monthly Payment, and Interest Rate. For debt snowball, sort the list by balance and go from the smallest to the largest. For debt avalanche, focus on the debts that have the highest interest rate and get those out of the way first. With both methods, you need to keep meeting your monthly payment obligations, before putting any extra money you have towards your chosen debt.

Debt avalanche provides the most practical benefits as it clears the problematic debts first, thus reducing the total interest. Debt snowball provides more of a psychological boost, giving you motivation as you steadily clear your debts.

Major Sacrifices

The biggest issue with any debt payoff strategy is that it isn’t easy to get the extra money you need to make those additional payments and clear your debts early. However, many debtors are trapped in a cycle of debt not because they can’t scrape the cents together no matter how hard they try, but because they struggle to budget properly and make the necessary sacrifices.

The average American debtor spends thousands of dollars every year on uneaten groceries, lottery tickets, and media subscriptions. They drop hundreds of dollars on luxuries they don’t really need and spend over $3,500 a year eating out. If debt is dragging you down then it’s imperative that you clear it, which means making some sacrifices and getting your priorities in check.

If you genuinely can’t spare a dime and don’t waste money on unnecessary expenses, then look into some of the options below.

Debt Settlement

Debt settlement is tailor-made for unsecured debt and works especially well for clearing credit card debt, as well as private students. Debt settlement companies often request that you stop meeting your monthly payment obligations, which puts the accounts into doubt and means your creditors are more likely to accept a settlement.

This settlement will clear the entirety of the debt for a fraction of the price, often around 50%. This means that a credit card debt of $10,000 would be cleared for $5,000, providing you with some big savings even after the settlement fees have been taken into account.

Debt Consolidation

A consolidation loan is a large loan that pays off all of your debt at a reduced interest rate and for a reduced monthly payment. The loan is often extended by several years, which means you pay more in the long-term, but the reduced monthly payments alleviate some of the burden and make the debt more manageable.

Debt Management

Debt management provides debtors with a debt repayment strategy, with all funds funneled through the debt management plan and then distributed to creditors. This service is often provided by credit counseling agencies and credit unions, who begin the process by negotiating with creditors and then assuming control of all debts.

These companies often ask that the debtors cancel all but one credit card, which can reduce the debtor’s credit score by impacting their credit utilization ratio.

Balance Transfer

A balance transfer credit card lets you move all your credit card balances onto a single card, one that offers a 0% APR for the first 6, 12 or 18 months, allowing you to pay down debt without interest, thus reducing compounded interest and clearing the debt quickly.

This method works with all credit card debt and you can typically move between 1 and 5 balances onto a new credit card, providing that card isn’t offered by the same company.

The Shame of Debt is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

The No-Cash Envelope System That Works

The post The No-Cash Envelope System That Works appeared first on Penny Pinchin' Mom.

I am a strong believer in the cash envelope system. It works great for our family. But I also know that is not the case for everyone.  You may not want to use cash but love the envelope system concept.  Fortunately, there is a program you can use that marries your desire to use plastic with the discipline of a cash envelope budget.

When it comes to managing your money, spending and trying to get out of debt, there are many programs and apps out there. But, not all of them can do everything.  That means one app for your budget, another for trying to get out of debt and then yet another for managing your spending.

ProActive does it all.  You can manage your money, spending, budgeting, and debt payoff – all from one simple to manage app! But, before you jump in and download it, make sure you read this honest review.  That way, you’ll know what to expect!

What is ProActive?

ProActive combines the beauty of shopping with plastic and the discipline of cash envelopes.  The system ensures that you never overspend – ever!  Just like with cash, when the envelope is empty, you are done shopping!

 

What is the cash envelope budget?

A cash envelope budget is what it sounds like. Rather than using plastic to shop you get cash and place the budgeted amounts into envelopes.  For example, if your budget for food is $200 a paycheck, then you get cash and place $200 in an envelope earmarked for groceries.

When you grocery shop, you use only the cash in the envelope. That is all you have available to spend. It is impossible to overspend.  If there is only $20 left then that means you can’t spend $22.  There is not enough money there.

It is a system that works very well for people who want to better manage and control spending.

 

How does it work?

Once you sign up and create your account, you will get a ProActive branded debit card.  When you are ready to spend, you use the ProActive card.  But, before you can swipe, you have to let the app know which envelope the money needs to come from.  That way, you always stay on budget and don’t spend more than you should.

 

Add funds to your account

When you get paid, review your budget.  Pay the bills that are due.  What you have left over is what you have left to spend on everything else on your budget.  It will include items such as clothing, household items, personal care and beauty, groceries, entertainment, dues, etc.

You will go into the app and click the “+” icon.  That starts the transfer from your bank account to your ProActive debit card.

 

Allocate the money to your virtual envelopes

Once the funds are deposited, you have to assign an amount to each category (a.k.a. envelope).  Review the budget to see what you have available to spend.

 

Shop as usual (but pay with the ProActive card)

You can’t swipe your card until you have told the card which category (or envelope) the money should come from.  Simply open the app and click the spend category.  Then you can swipe.

If there is not enough money left in the category to cover your purchase, it will be declined.  That makes it impossible to overspend.

 

The smart way to use ProActive

As parents, we teach our kids.  They need to know how to take care of themselves, cook, clean and do other things around the house.  But, it seems that financial responsibility is one that gets overlooked.

One thing that ProActive allows is for you to add your kids and teach them how to manage their own money.  You can put funds on their account and they too can set up categories.  And, just like mom and dad, they have to select the category before they spend so they are not spending more than they should either.

ProActive not only teaches your kids how to use a debit card, but also the financial responsibilities that go along with it.  And, it is in an environment that both mom and dad can see (and control).

 

Who is ProActive a fit for?

Just like with every other app or budget system there is never a one-size-fits-all system. That means this may not work for you.  If you love your credit card for the rewards then this will not work for you.  You can’t attach a credit card and use this program.

But, if you struggle to try to manage your money and spending then you really need to get this app. It makes it impossible to overspend and helps you learn how to think about every purchase you make.  You may not need to use it forever as you will become disciplined.

 

What does it cost?

When you sign up, ProActive will give you a 15-day trial.  They want to make sure it is a fit for you before they make you pay.  Then, if you love it, you continue at $5.75 a month (paid annually, so $69).  You can add a second user for $29 a year and even add your kids for just $24 each.

 

What happens if I forget my phone?

It happens.  We leave our phones behind. In that case, it is important that you always have an alternative payment method handy, such as your bank debit card, credit card or cash.

If your goal is to get out of debt, you have to first start with your budget and spending. If you don’t do that, you will never achieve your goals.  ProActive is one tool that helps you every step of the way.

The post The No-Cash Envelope System That Works appeared first on Penny Pinchin' Mom.

Source: pennypinchinmom.com

Truth About Reward and Store Credit Cards

On the surface, reward cards are a great way to make a few extra dollars or grab some air miles without increasing your spending or your debt. If you spend a lot of money at a particular shop, store cards will seem like an equally beneficial prospect. But these cards exist for a reason—they’re there to make more money for the providers and the retailers, not you.

Sure, reward/store cards have other benefits if you use them properly, but there are a host of disadvantages and hidden terms that you need to be aware of before signing on the dotted line. 

What are Store Cards?

Store cards are tied to specific stores and offered by chains of retailers. These cards work just like traditional cards and are often branded by networks like Visa and MasterCard. The difference is that they can only be used in the issuing stores and their rewards are tied to those stores.

In essence, they are store loyalty cards that come with a lien of credit attached. 

What are Reward Cards?

Reward cards are also tied to credit card networks, including American Express and Discover, as well as Visa and MasterCard. They award points every time they’re used for qualifying purchases and these points can then be swapped for air travel and other benefits. 

Some reward schemes award a specific amount of cash back, often fixed to 1% or 2% of purchases made on specific items, such as groceries or utility bills.

How Can Providers Offer These Rewards?

If a provider offers you cash back every time you spend money on your credit card, someone has to foot the bill. Many consumers assume that the credit card network covers the cost, and to an extent, they do. But it’s not quite as simple as that.

Every time you use your credit card to make a purchase, the retailer is charged a fee, often between 1% and 3% of the purchase. This is the network’s charge. With reward cards, this fee increases, and the extra money is used to fund the rewards program.

As a result, retailers are not exactly happy with these programs as they drive their costs up and reduce their profits. The only way around this, is to increase the cost of the product or, more likely, to reward customers who pay with cash/debit. Retailers are not allowed to add a surcharge for credit card use, but there’s nothing stopping them from choosing which cards they do and don’t accept.

Your local Mom & Pop enterprise isn’t being antiquated and old-fashioned by refusing credit cards. They just can’t cover the costs. 5% may not sound like a big deal, but for retailers with minimal buying power and the massive overheads of running a brick-and-mortar store, 5% can be a deal breaker.

Smaller retailers are fighting back against reward cards while bigger ones are embracing them by adopting their own store cards. With a store card, they have more say, more control, and they know that those small losses will be offset by the increased purchases.

Issues with Store Credit Cards

Store cards carry a big risk and have far few benefits than reward cards. The advantages of these cards are obvious: If you shop a lot in a particular place, you can save money via the cash back schemes. 

They can also help with emergency purchases, providing you clear the balance in full. But, while the benefits are obvious, the same can’t be said about the disadvantages.

Con 1: They Have High Interest Rates

The average credit card interest rate in the United States is around 16%. The average rate for store cards is over 20%. That 4% may not seem like much, but if you don’t repay your balance every month that interest will compound, grow, and cost you a small fortune. 

At 16% with a $10,000 balance and a 60-month repayment term, you’ll pay $243 a month and over $4,000 in total interest.

Increase that rate to 20% and your monthly payment grows by $20 while your total interest increases by nearly $1,500. The longer you leave it and the smaller your monthly payments are, the greater that difference will be.

For example, if you repay just $200 a month on that balance, the difference between 16% and 20% is 26 extra months and close to $5,000. Of course, store cards rarely offer such high limits, but this is just as example to show you how much of a difference even the slightest percentage increase can cause.

It’s worth keeping this in mind if you ever apply for a traditional rewards card. Getting rewards in return for a higher APR is great if you repay your balance in full every month and terrible if you don’t.

Con 2: They Have High Penalty Rates

If you miss a payment on your store credit card you could be hit with a penalty APR as high as 29.99%, as well as a late payment fee of $39. The rates are high to begin with, but these penalty rates are astronomical and will make a bad situation worse.

That’s not all, as some providers are known to be very unforgiven when it comes to missed and late payments. In some cases, your account will default even if you underpay just once and just by a few dollars. 

Con 3: They Have Low Credit Limits

Retailers are not lenders. They don’t have the time, funds or patience to chase debts and deal with collection agencies. As a result, they don’t offer high credit limits and generally you’ll get a fraction of what an unsecured credit card might provide you with.

This might not seem like much of an issue. After all, a smaller credit limit means you’re less likely to accumulate large amounts of debts. However, this has a massively negative impact on your credit score that few borrowers consider.

30% of your credit score is based on something known as a credit utilization ratio. This looks at the total available credit and compares it to the debt that you have accumulated. If you have several cards with a combined credit limit of $10,000 and a balance of $5,000, then your ratio is 50%, which is considered to be quite high.

If a store card is your only account and you spend $450 on a $500 limit, then you have a credit utilization ratio of 90%, which will reduce your score. Your credit report is also negatively affected by maxed-out credit cards, a feat that’s much easier to achieve when you have a low credit limit.

Con 4: There Are Better Options

It’s better to have one good reward card than multiple store cards. The former will provide you with far better interest rates and terms, while the latter will hit your credit report with several hard inquiries and new accounts. 

A rewards card will still benefit you when shopping at those stores and will also provide you with a wealth of other benefits.

Con 5: You May Spend More

Store cards are not designed to make your life easier and give you a few freebies. Regardless of what the store tells you, they’re not made to reward loyalty, they’re made to encourage spending. 

This doesn’t always work, and research suggests that many individuals use reward cards just like they would normal cards. But for a small minority, the idea of acquiring points is enough to convince them to spend more than they usually would.

Some good can be good debt, such as when it’s used to acquire an asset or something that won’t depreciate. But very rarely do we use credit cards for this purpose and generally, if you’re spending more on a store card it means you’re wasting more money on things you don’t need.

Con 6: You Can’t Use Them Anywhere Else

A store card can only be used in that particular store. This renders it redundant as an emergency card and also means you’re encouraged to shop in that one place. You don’t have a chance to shop around and find the cheapest price; you may spend more just to use your card and get the benefits, with those benefits rarely covering the additional money you spend.

What About Reward Cards?

Some reward cards have very high rates as these rates are used to offset the rewards program. However, this isn’t always the case, because, as discussed above, networks often charge retailers more to offset these purchases and therefore don’t always need to cover the costs themselves.

Some credit cards, such as the Discover It, offer solid reward schemes and would also be included on any list of the best non-reward credit cards. It’s a solid all-rounder and it’s not alone. However, many reward cards charge high annual fees and penalty rates, just like you’ll find with a store card.

It’s important to study the small print and make sure the card is viable. If you’re going to clear the balance every month, a slightly higher interest rate won’t hurt, especially if it comes with some generous rewards. But if there is any doubt and even the slightest chance that you won’t clear the balance, it’s always best to focus on a low-interest rate first.

Even the most generous 5% cash back reward card will not offset the losses occurred by paying a few more percentage points of interest.

Will Reward/Store Cards Affect my Credit Score?

Credit cards trigger hard inquiries, which can reduce your credit score by up to 5 points. This is true for every credit card that you apply for. Rate shopping can combine multiple inquiries into one if they are for the same type of credit, but this doesn’t apply to credit cards.

A new account will also impact your score. This impact is often minimal and if you keep up with your repayments then it will vanish in time. However, if you miss a payment, max-out your card or increase your credit utilization score, it could have a detrimental effect on your score and your finances.

Keep store cards to a minimum and only sign up if you’re 100% sure you’re getting a good deal that will benefit you in the short-term and the long-term.

Truth About Reward and Store Credit Cards is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

5 Savvy Money Moves to Make This Year

A young couple sits in bed on a laptop discussing savvy money moves.

The following is a guest post from The Savvy Couple.

As much as we don’t like to admit it, money is a very important tool that can be used to better our lives.

So why don’t we take better care of managing it?

Luckily, there are some savvy money moves that you can make this year to improve your finances and feel more financial peace. This year can be a great one, and you can use your money to help make it happen.

We have narrowed down our top five money moves that you can make this year that will have a huge impact on your overall finance. The best part is they are not complicated and they won’t take a lot of time to implement. In fact, you can start to put them in place right after reading to the end of this article.

1. Create a Money Plan and Stick to it

It’s really important to create a plan, or budget, for your money. If you don’t, then you could find your money just escaping and not having a clue where it’s gone.

A lot of people think that a budget is strict, and something that you use for just your bills. But a good budget will be a plan for your money for the month and how it is going to be spent. Your budget should reflect the direction that you want your life to take.

It should enable you to spend more money on the things you love and cut wasteful spending on the things you don’t.

It doesn’t have to be super strict either—we advise “paying yourself first.” Meaning put your money where it’s most important first (investing, savings, fun money), and then using the rest of the money to pay your bills.

Think about what your goals are for your life and base your budget around that. You have a set amount of income, and you can decide where you want that money to go.

2. Cut Your Monthly Expenses

One step toward creating the money plan that you want can be cutting your monthly expenses. This doesn’t mean that you need to be drastic with the expenses that you are cutting out.

When it comes to creating your money plan, it’s important to look at what you are currently spending money on.

If you have never tracked your expenses before, you will likely be surprised to see where your money is going. We like to think that we have a good idea of what we are spending, but if you are not tracking your spending then you are most likely vastly underestimating your spending.

Go back through your spending and highlight any problem areas. The important thing here is to not beat yourself up for anything that you’ve spent.

When you have created the plan for your money, you may find that you have been spending on things that don’t fit in with that plan. These could be the ones that you choose to cut down on.

Cut down on your expenses slowly. Otherwise, you could find that it’s too much of a change and you want to go back to how you were spending before. Try picking one thing to cut down on, and do a bit of trial and error.

3. Stay Away from Debt

We’ve been talking about creating a money plan for your life, but there are some things that can throw your plan off track—debt being one of them.

Sometimes, debt is unavoidable. There are situations that we find ourselves in such as medical emergencies, car repairs, or any kind of emergency really!

The best thing to do is to prepare for these kinds of situations. We can’t fully plan, of course, but we can set aside some money to prepare. These are usually referred to as emergency funds. We recommend saving a $1,000 emergency fund as soon as possible, then slowing building that up to 3–6 months of living expenses after your debt is paid off.

Debt is so normalized in society, but debt doesn’t have to be! Making savvy money moves and trying to prepare for future emergencies will help tremendously in the long run.

4. Understand How Your Credit Score Works

Let’s be honest—a lot of us don’t pay much attention to our credit score. It’s one of those boring things that we don’t think about until we need it.

The last thing that you want to happen is to find that you need to take out credit but you can’t because of your credit score. Therefore, it’s a savvy money move to understand how your credit score works.

Credit scores are generally used by lenders when you want to take out a line of credit with them—for example, when you are getting a mortgage or car loan. If you have a high credit score then you will have access to better rates and terms for your loans.

Your credit score is largely determined by whether you pay your bills on time, as any missed payments will go against you. Your score is also determined by how much credit you have used compared to the amount that you have been lent.

It’s essential that you check your credit report as there can be errors on there which you can rectify—the sooner the better. The longer you wait to repair your credit, the harder it can become.

You can get your Experian VantageScore 3.0 for free from Credit.com when you sign up for the free Credit Report Card. And if you want more details on your credit score, sign up for ExtraCredit. You’ll get 28 FICO® scores and your credit reports from all three major credit bureaus.

Try ExtraCredit Today

5. Start an Online Side Hustle

We are huge fans of starting side hustles because at the end of the day you can only cut your expenses so much. But your income has unlimited potential.

Side hustles are great because you can create an income stream for your goals, or even use it to leave your day job.

The benefit of starting an online side hustle is that there are so many possibilities, you pretty much only need to have access to the internet.

It’s worth brainstorming some side hustle ideas that you have an interest in doing. It’s also worth thinking about ideas that will be free or have a very low cost to start up. The last thing that you want to do is spend a lot of money on something that’s not going to take off.

You can determine how much time and effort you want to put into your side hustle—it doesn’t have to be a brand-new business, but can be getting an extra job or something small.

Some of our favorite side hustle ideas include:

  • Starting a blog
  • Proofreading
  • Facebook advertising for businesses
  • Teaching English online
  • Freelance writing

Savvy Money Moves throughout the Year

If you want to make some good money moves this year, this is a good place to start. These are some simple things that anyone can do to improve their finances greatly.

What are your best savvy money moves? Let us know in the comments!


Kelan and Brittany Kline are the creators and co-founders of The Savvy Couple. They write about personal finance, budgeting, making money online, entrepreneurship, and more.

The post 5 Savvy Money Moves to Make This Year appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

‘I Lost My Job—and My Dream House’: How This First-Time Home Buyer Bounced Back

houseKaterina Rieckel

Imagine finding your dream home, then, a week before closing the deal, losing your job—and the house. House hunting during the coronavirus pandemic is no picnic.

COVID-19 has caused seismic changes not only to real estate markets, but also to the lives of home buyers hit with layoffs, furloughs, and other financial challenges. Just ask Katerina Rieckel, a digital strategist, knitwear designer, and first-time home buyer who, with her husband, was set to close on a glorious farmhouse in upstate New York in March.

But about a week before sealing the deal, Rieckel was laid off, which meant that she and her husband, a claims adjuster, could no longer afford the place.

As a part of our new series, “First-Time Home Buyer Confessions,” we asked Rieckel to share her story, and the hard-won lessons she wants to share with other first-timers.

Let her experiences show that even unemployment doesn’t need to spell the end of a house hunt—although it may require you to dust yourself off after a loss and try, try again.

home
Katerina Rieckel’s farmhouse in upstate New York

Katerina Rieckel

Location: Troy, NY
House specs: 1,544 square feet, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms
List price: $249,900
Price paid: $245,500

2020 has been a wild one. How did you end up buying a home in the middle of a pandemic?

We started looking for a house a year ago, about halfway through the summer. At the time, both my husband and I had recently got new jobs, so the first issue we ran into was getting pre-qualified for the mortgage without a long track record at those companies. We also both felt pressure, as our jobs were very new.

What were you looking for in a house, and what was your budget?

We were looking for a house in the country that was move-in ready, private with at least 5 acres. We started off with a small budget, max $200,000, which made our choices more narrow.

Our search continued well into the winter, and around January 2020, we finally saw a house that was all we ever dreamed of and more. It was over our budget, at $229,000, but it had been listed for over a year, so we felt there was a good chance we could get it for less than the asking price.

What did you love about this house?

It was a beautiful, slate-blue farmhouse sitting on top of a hill, surrounded by woods. The house was warm and inviting, with chickens running around, as well as a big diving pool, and a workshop in the basement connected with a two-car garage. We got along with the owners really well, and we were going to keep the chickens. Everything went very smoothly, until just over a week before closing.

house
Rieckel and her husband almost bought this house, but it wasn’t in the cards.

Global MLS

So what went wrong?

It was March, and COVID-19 hit hard. The digital marketing agency I worked for had clients pause their work for unknown time. I was laid off, which meant we couldn’t afford the house anymore, and had to back out of the deal.

I was crushed. We didn’t know what was going to happen, and the country was under a lockdown. We had plans for my parents to come visit us in our new house, but instead, I ended up with no job, no house, and I couldn’t see my family, since they live in Europe.

In the summer, I was very fortunate to get my job back. So we resumed our house hunt and began to search for a new contender.

When you started the search again, how had COVID-19 changed the market?

The housing market in upstate New York got totally crazy. I heard there were houses being sold within hours. The market was just incredibly competitive, and not many houses were being listed, as a lot of people didn’t want to let strangers in their house during the pandemic.

We saw about seven to 10 houses in person, but they usually ended up disappointing us, with some strange arrangements. For example, one house had around 25 acres, but half of that acreage was on the other side of the road, behind other people’s houses, which made it almost impossible to use.

home
The couple’s pet cat has settled into their new digs, too.

Katerina Rieckel

With such a competitive market, how did you end up finding the right house?

Finally, around halfway through the summer, I saw a house listed that I hadn’t noticed before. I called on it right away and set up a showing that evening.

The real estate agent told me we were really fast, as he had just relisted this house. Someone had been buying it, but backed out of the process because of personal reasons.

porch
Their house has tons of privacy and a great view.

Katarina Rieckel

How did you know this house was the one?

The house had over 10 acres, it was in the country, and about 35 minutes to Troy. It was move-in ready, but definitely needed upgrades, as it looked like it got stuck in the ’80s.

Even though we didn’t like the style that much, we felt instantly comfortable and decided to put in an offer that same evening. It was partly due to the pressure of the market, but in the end, we are really happy we made this decision.

house
This house was totally 1980s, but Rieckel has been slowly updating it.

Katerina Rieckel

What surprised you most about the home-buying process?

Nothing prepares you for the amount of aggravation you have to go through. Buying a house is like getting a second job for about three months.

living room
After a little work, Rieckel’s home looks lovely.

Katerina Rieckel

What’s your advice for aspiring first-time home buyers?

Don’t trust the photos! The photos got me a few times. For example, a lot of times, the photos of the house are taken so that you can’t see the neighboring houses.

You think, “Wow, that looks so private!” Then you drive there, and you realize there’s a house sitting right next to it. Since privacy was very important to us, we got disappointed a few times by this. We started doing drive-bys first, before going in with a real estate agent, whenever possible.

Christmas decorations
Rieckel moved in in time to enjoy her new home for the holidays.

Katerina Rieckel

Anything else home buyers should look out for?

Call the real estate agent and ask a lot of questions before you even go see the house, like what the property and school taxes are—very important around here.

You also want to know what kind of heating the house has, as electric bills can really add up over the winter.

The driveway can also be a huge issue, which is why I think the first house we were buying was for sale for such a long time. It had a pretty steep driveway, which was definitely an all-wheel drive kind of thing in the winter.

We also changed who we were financing with while we were going through closing. We needed someone well-informed about the economy, who knew what they were doing and was ready to act fast.

Our first mortgage broker didn’t tell us as soon as interest rates started to go up—and basically sat on the information for a while. This is when we stopped trusting this person and went to work with a bank instead.

Maybe the best advice is not to fall in love with a house too quickly, since there can be so many setbacks that you will not see coming.

Katerina Rieckel
It took a little longer than expected, but this family is finally happy in their new home.

Katerina Rieckel

The post ‘I Lost My Job—and My Dream House’: How This First-Time Home Buyer Bounced Back appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

How to Use Your Cable Bill to Build Credit

Cable companies aren’t in the habit of reporting your payments to the credit bureaus, at least when it comes to your traditional credit reports. But if that’s something you want, there is a way to get those monthly bills to help your credit score.

Simply put, consider paying for cable with your credit card.

Unlike cable providers, credit card issuers do generally report to the major credit reporting agencies, so using your plastic to pay for a bill that you’re already in the habit of covering from month to month can help you build a payment history, the single biggest factor in establishing credit scores.

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Of course, for this strategy to work, you have to pay that credit card off on time and, ideally, in full. Otherwise, it will have the opposite effect on your score and you’ll wind up paying interest just to watch your favorite television shows.

To make sure you don’t miss a payment, sign up for alerts or, even, set your credit card bill to auto-pay. You could also pay the charge off via a linked debit card account as soon as it’s processed if you’re worried about winding up with a big balance (which could affect your credit utilization, another major factor of credit scores) at the end of the month.

A Few More Tips & Tricks

There’s a chance that your provider will charge a fee for paying by credit card, so be sure to check that there’s no extra charge before using this method. And, if you do set that credit card to auto-pay, monitor your monthly cable statements. You don’t want to miss a new fee or billing error and wind up paying more than you owe or intended.

Rewards credit cards can earn you some points, miles or cash back, so if you have one in your wallet, you might want to use that particular piece of plastic to pay your cable bill. If your credit is on the brink and you don’t have any credit cards, you can consider applying for (and then using) a secured credit card, which is designed specifically to help people build credit. (You can learn more about the best secured credit cards in America here.)

A Quick Reminder

Unpaid cable bills can damage your credit, even when they’re not being covered by a credit card. Accounts that go unpaid long enough can wind up in collections, which will hurt your scores. (You can see how any collections accounts may be affecting your credit by viewing your free credit score, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.)

If your credit is in rough shape, due to an collection account or other payment history troubles, you may be able to improve your scores by paying delinquent accounts, addressing high credit card balances and disputing any errors that may be weighing them down. And remember, you can build good credit in the long term by making all loan payments on time, keeping debt levels low and adding to the mix of accounts you have, as your score and wallet can handle it.

More on Credit Reports & Credit Scores:

  • The Credit.com Credit Reports Learning Center
  • How to Get Your Free Annual Credit Report
  • How Credit Impacts Your Day-to-Day Life

Image: Ivanko_Brnjakovic

The post How to Use Your Cable Bill to Build Credit appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

Average credit card interest rates: Week of February 3, 2021

The average credit card interest rate is 16.12%

The national average credit card APR rose again this week, according to the CreditCards.com Weekly Credit Card Rate Report.

The average APR for brand-new cards ticked up to 16.12% after the retailer L.L. Bean increased the minimum APR on its co-branded card, the L.L. Bean Mastercard, by a full percentage point. The lowest rate that outdoor recreation enthusiasts can get on L.L. Bean’s retail rewards card is now 14.99%.

L.L. Bean also increased the card’s maximum APR by four percentage points, causing the range of possible APRs that L.L. Bean fans can expect to substantially expand. For example, qualifying applicants with the lowest credit scores may be assigned an APR as high as 23.99%, which is nine points higher than the card’s minimum rate. Previously, the difference between the L.L. Bean card’s lowest possible rate and its highest rate was just six percentage points.

L.L. Bean’s rate hike also caused the average maximum card APR to rise this week. According to CreditCards.com’s latest rate calculation, for example, the average U.S. credit card now advertises a maximum APR of 23.62%, up from an average of 23.58% last week.

Every week, CreditCards.com tracks APR advertisements for a representative sample of 100 U.S. credit cards.

To calculate the national average credit card APR, we only consider a card’s lowest possible interest rate. However, most U.S. credit cards advertise a wide range of possible rates, including maximum interest rates that are often 5 to 10 points higher than a card’s minimum rate.

Credit card lenders don’t typically advertise how many of their applicants qualify for a card’s lowest rate. But generally, lenders typically reserve their lowest rates for just a small fraction of applicants. Meanwhile, others are assigned APRs that are far higher than the advertised minimum.

For example, credit card applicants may be assigned a card’s lowest advertised rate or its highest. Or they may be assigned an APR that falls somewhere in the middle of a card’s lowest and highest interest rates. As a result, even cardholders with good to excellent credit may be assigned an APR that is several points higher than the national average.

According to CreditCards.com’s data, for example, the average median card APR – which is the middle rate that many new cardholders are assigned – is currently 19.87%. That’s nearly four points higher than the average minimum credit card APR.

Despite rate hikes, average card APRs are still near a three-year low

Average rates on new card offers are higher now than they have been in months. However, compared to a year ago, average card APRs are still unusually low – particularly compared to the past three years.

The average minimum credit card APR, for example, is currently down by 1.19 percentage points compared to a year ago when the average new card offer advertised a 17.31% interest rate. In February 2018, the average new card APR advertised a 16.41% interest rate.

The last time average minimum card APRs hovered closer to 16% was in 2017.

This year’s lower interest rates are largely due to rate cuts by the Federal Reserve. When the Federal Reserve revises its benchmark interest rate, the federal funds rate, most credit card issuers eventually match the Fed’s rate change by revising new card APRs by the same amount.

In March 2020, the Fed slashed its benchmark interest rate, the federal funds rate, to near zero effectively erasing several years of gradual rate increases that the Fed had implemented between 2015 and 2016. As a result, the national average card APR tumbled dramatically last spring as the majority of lenders tracked by CreditCards.com matched the Fed’s rate cuts.

Since then, average card APRs have remained near a three-year low, staying within rounding distance of 16% for 10 straight months.

See related: How do credit card APRs work?

CreditCards.com’s Weekly Rate Report

Avg. APR Last week 6 months ago
National average 16.12% 16.11% 16.03%
Low interest 12.90% 12.88% 12.83%
Cash back 15.94% 15.91% 16.09%
Balance transfer 13.93% 13.93% 13.93%
Business 14.22% 14.22% 13.91%
Student 16.12% 16.12% 16.12%
Airline 15.56% 15.56% 15.48%
Rewards 15.81% 15.80% 15.82%
Instant approval 18.47% 18.47% 18.65%
Bad credit 25.30% 25.30% 24.43%
Methodology: The national average credit card APR is comprised of 100 of the most popular credit cards in the country, including cards from dozens of leading U.S. issuers and representing every card category listed above. (Introductory, or teaser, rates are not included in the calculation.)
Source: CreditCards.com
Updated: February 3, 2021

Historic interest rates by card type

Some credit cards charge even higher rates, on average. The type of rate you get will depend in part on the category of credit card you own. For example, even the best travel credit cards often charge higher rates than basic, low interest credit cards.

CreditCards.com has been calculating average rates for a wide variety of credit card categories, including student cards, balance transfer cards, cash back cards and more, since 2007.

How to get a low credit card interest rate

Your odds of getting approved for a card’s lowest rate will increase the more you improve your credit score. Some factors that influence your credit card APR will be out of your control, such as the length of time you’ve been handling credit.

However, even if you’re new to credit or are rebuilding your score, there are steps you can take to ensure a lower APR. For example:

  1. Pay your bills on time. The single most important factor influencing your credit score – and your ability to win a lower rate – is your track record of making on-time payments. Lenders are more likely to trust you with a competitive APR – and other positive terms, such as a big credit limit – if you have a lengthy history of paying your bills on time.
  2. Keep your balances low. Lenders also want to see that you are responsible with your credit and don’t overcharge. As a result, credit scores take into account the amount of credit you’re using, compared to how much credit you’ve been given. This is known as your credit utilization ratio. Typically, the lower your ratio, the better. For example, personal finance experts often recommend that you keep your balances well below 30% of your total credit limit.
  3. Build a lengthy and diverse credit history. Lenders also like to see that you’ve been successfully using credit for a long time and have experience with different types of credit, including revolving credit and installment loans. As a result, credit scores, such as the FICO score and VantageScore, factor in the average length of your credit history and the types of loans you’ve handled (which is known as your credit mix). To keep your credit history as long as possible, continue to use your oldest credit card so your lender doesn’t close it.
  4. Call your lender. If you’ve successfully owned a credit card for a long time, you may be able to convince your lender to lower your interest rate – especially if you have excellent credit. Reach out to your lender and ask if they’d be willing to negotiate a lower APR.
  5. Monitor your credit report. Check your credit reports regularly to make sure you’re being accurately scored. The last thing you want is for a mistake or unauthorized account to drag down your credit score. You have the right to check your credit reports from each major credit bureau (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) once per year for free through AnnualCreditReport.com.

Source: creditcards.com