How to Adjust Your Savings When Your Income Changes

Have you ever heard the phrase “The more you make, the more you spend” If you have and live by this mantra then you are doing it wrong!

An increase in your income does not mean you need to up your shopping list, it means you need to increase your savings.

Basically, if you have been making living on $45,000-a-year and you have been paying rent/or mortgage and paying your bills on time, there is no need to increase your spending. We are not saying you cannot treat yourself once in a while. However, you do have to make smart decisions and be conscious of the fact that a big emergency fund matters and can help you when you need it most.

Keep the following tips in mind if you are getting a raise soon:

  1. Do not spend more

If you earn a raise or bonus, congratulations you deserve it!
Just be careful, most people become trapped in a spending circle with no money saved up for the future. Take a look at the goals you are trying to reach, be ready for unexpected expenses that may come up and be comfortable without exceeding your means.

  1. Grow or Create an emergency fund.

Your emergency fund should cover a minimum of 3-months expenses. A good emergency fund covers 6 months of expenses easily. Make this one of your goals! Do not use these funds for a vacation, a wedding or leisure time. An emergency fund, as the name suggests, it’s only for emergencies. For example, an emergency fund can be used for an unexpected hospital bill, car issues or job loss.

  1. Create a separate savings account and make the funds transfer automatically

If you don’t see it, then you don’t need to spend it. Additionally, if your income shirks, the savings you have should help you carry you thru. A BrightStar Savings Account is completely FREE and it does not require a minimum when it’s coupled with a FREE Checking Account. What better way than to save money in a reliable credit union?

Do not forget the essentials of saving, living in moderate means, and to plan accordingly.


3 Ways to Help Your Teens Build Good Credit

When your teen finally takes the big leap and moves out of the house, they’re going to need a solid credit score for a lot of life steps: renting an apartment, getting a loan or finding a good deal on insurance.

For that reason, it’s important that teens build up their credit scores before they move out. There are a few ways you can prepare them for this in the years leading up to graduation.

  1. Make sure they have a checking account and debit card to go along with it
    Getting your teen started with their own bank account is a significant step in building their credit score without ditching their safety net. A teenager under 18 years old can still sign up for a debit card; they just need a co-signer. Since you are co-signing on the card, your personal account will be linked to your teen’s in case of an overdraft. With this checking account and debit card, you should also teach your teens the importance of managing money well.
  1. Teach them the credit card basics
    Credit cards are a bit more complex than debit cards, so it’s important to sit down your teen and help them understand the basics. Signing them up for their own credit card is a bigger step than signing up for a debit card, but it’s an additional step that will help boost their credit score — assuming they pay the bills on time and in full. U.S. News & World Report contributor Amelia Granger says that the most critical skill a teen can learn is to pay their bills in full, even if that means starting with a smaller credit limit. Make sure you are monitoring your teen’s bills to confirm they’re not damaging their credit score rather than building a good foundation for the years ahead.

 

  1. Help them open a Secured Credit Card
    A Secured Credit Card is the perfect card to teach your teen how to properly manage money. It does this by not allowing them to use the money they don’t have, instead locking in a minimum amount of $500 they must use as if it were borrowed money from the bank. This card will help them improve their credit score and after a year they will be able to apply to a regular credit card.

Responsible money management is tough to practice if you learn it late in life. Your kids will be much better off by teaching them good financial practices.


Shopping Online Vs. In-Person

With the advent and spread of smartphone technology, entrusting your money to an online bank has become an increasingly popular alternative to the traditional experience. Traditional banks, however, still offer several distinct advantages that the online experience cannot provide, including in-person customer service when you have questions or concerns.

How do you decide which type of bank to use? Here are a few things to consider about your transactions.

Getting cash

If you use cash on a regular basis, make sure to consider the locations and accessibility of in-network ATMs before choosing your bank. Choosing a local bank or credit union means you should have good access to multiple ATMs, and many banks will reimburse you for fees incurred by using other ATMs.

Online banks don’t typically have ATMs of their own, which means you are more likely to pay a fee to withdraw your cash. These fees usually run a few dollars per withdrawal, but can often be frustrating since you are paying to take out your own money. This isn’t always the case, though. According to Business Insider’s Megan Durisin, some online banks will provide you with compensation for your fees. However, there is usually a cap on how much they will reimburse you per month.

Making deposits

When choosing your bank, you also want to consider how you will deposit money into your account. While both online and traditional banks usually allow direct deposits from your employer, online banks have several restrictions when it comes to other deposits.

At a traditional bank, you can deposit cash, checks, money orders and more. Simply walk into your bank and speak with a representative about your deposit. If you make a significant number of deposits, especially with checks or cash, traditional banking is a convenient option.

With online banking, your deposit options are a bit limited. Depending on your bank, you might be able to digitally deposit a check, but there are usually limitations on how much you can digitally deposit in one day. If your check exceeds that limit, you’ll have to mail it in. To deposit cash to an online bank account, you may have to purchase a money order and mail that in, as well. “You might have to pay a small fee for the money order,” explains Spencer Tierney, a contributor at NerdWallet. “For amounts larger than $1,000, you may have to spring for a cashier’s check at a bank.”

Customer service

Many online banks provide great customer service, including online live chats and call centers. But for some, speaking face to face is an important part of creating a trusting relationship with your financial institution, and it is a service that Durisin notes can only be offered by a traditional brick-and-mortar bank.

Choosing your bank is a personal decision that should be based on services that are most important to you and your lifestyle. Speak with a representative at either a traditional or an online bank to learn more.

 


Help Your Parents with Their Financials

How Can You Help Your Parents Manage Their Finances?

As the years pass responsibilities shift. One day you may wake up and realize you have become the caretaker of the family.  Your parents may no longer have the ability to make reasonable financial decisions and you have to step up to the plate.

Research shows that your ability to make financial decisions peaks at the age of 50 and can rapidly decline after the age of 70. However, it can be rather difficult to convince your parents you  (the person they raised) can teach them a thing or two.

Instead of changing their mind, try to encourage them to consolidate and simplify their finances. How?

Lower the amount of opened accounts

Help them bring their money to one financial institution and one brokerage firm. Then help them reduce the number of credit cards they hold. Ideally, you want them to keep 2 credit cards; one for groceries and one for automatic payments.

 

Pick a Power of Attorney

Having power of attorney allows you to have decision over your parents’ financial matters. It is normal for an elderly parent to neglect your recommendations. They see you as the small person they raised and forget you are a grown adult. A power of attorney will make your life a little easier in case something happens to them. You need to have the time to go over all of their accounts, insurance policies and balance sheets if necessary. It takes great responsibility to have power of attorney. All decisions must benefit your parents and you must be involved in their lives entirely. It is also important to be transparent about the decisions you make with your siblings, parents, and all parties concerned.

 

Analyze their Investment Accounts

You have to make sure only 30 percent of your parents’ money is in stock. The rest of their money should be in corporate and government bonds. The reason behind this statement is that your parents need to have immediate access to their money and do not have the time to make up for any losses.

Lastly, if your parents have plenty of money to care for their needs and want to leave some assets behind to benefit grandkids, consult a money manager. It is better to get seek professional help in order to avoid any future issues.


Don't let your medical bills be a burden!

4 Ways to Manage Medical Debt

Unfortunately, when you get sick or injured, getting better is often not the only concern. Even if you have health insurance, hefty medical bills can hang over your head like an ominous raincloud. Many people feel that they have no choice but to ignore the bills or eventually file for bankruptcy. However, these are not the only options. There are many ways you can make paying your medical bills more manageable.

1. Check the bills
Often people are so shocked over how much they owe when they first open their bills that they forget to look at them in detail. However, since medical bills are frequently inflated, looking over them carefully could save you money. Maybe you were billed for a four-day stay in the hospital when you only stayed two or charged twice for the same medication. If you see that you were billed in error, contact the medical provider to have the charge removed.

If you have health insurance, it is also a good idea to make sure your insurance company paid for everything covered in your plan. If an insurance company denies a claim, the medical provider will just bill you, even if the treatment is covered under your plan. How easy is it to get an insurance company to pay a denied claim? If it was merely a clerical error, it should be simple. If you are dealing with a stereotypical penny-pinching insurance company trying to wiggle out of a commitment, it could be harder—but not impossible. Most insurance companies allow you to appeal decisions, and if you submit evidence to support why the treatment should be covered, like a letter from your doctor, you may be able to have the denial overturned.

2. Ask for a repayment plan
Even after billing errors are corrected, the amount you owe may still seem frighteningly large. However, there is no need to panic if you cannot pay a bill in full. Most medical providers will allow you to make smaller payments until the bill is paid off and, in many cases, won’t even charge interest. Think about how much you can afford to send each month, and let the medical provider know.

If the medical provider does not accept your proposal, should you not send any money? Not necessarily. Few people will actually refuse money, regardless of how small the amount is. That does not mean you are immune from being sued or having the account be sold to a collection agency, but all you can do is send what you can afford to pay. Not paying your mortgage or other important expenses to get more cash for your medical bills is usually not a good idea.

3. Look for assistance
If you have medical bills from a hospital, you are probably well aware of how high hospital bills can be. Luckily, many hospitals get government funds and donations to cover the bills for patients who cannot pay them themselves. (Other types of medical providers typically do not get such funds but may give you a discount if you describe your hardship.) Talk to your hospital’s billing department or financial counselor about its programs. Remember to find out what the application procedure and qualifications are; often assistance programs are restricted to people who owe above a certain amount, have income below a certain limit, and/or have no medical insurance. Even if you ultimately do not qualify, it does not hurt to ask.

Hospitals are not the only places where you can get financial assistance with your medical debt. Many nonprofits provide the same service. Like with hospitals, nonprofit programs are often restricted to limited income and/or uninsured individuals. To find out what programs are available in your area, contact your local United Way or dial 211 (an information referral service available in most communities). You may also be able to get information from relevant disease support groups.

4. Create a plan for the future 
While your current concern may be the bills you need to pay now, chances are, you will have more medical bills to pay in the future. Getting sick is just a part of life. However, if you start saving today, it will be easier to pay whatever bills come your way tomorrow. While you can put your savings in a savings account, you may also want to make use of one of the tax-advantaged accounts available for medical expenses.

If your employer offers it, one option is to set up a flexible spending account. At the beginning of the enrollment period (which if often, but not always, January 1), you tell you employer how much you want withheld from each paycheck and sent to your account. You typically must pay for the costs out of pocket first and then get reimbursed after submitting a claim form. While the money sent to a flexible spending account is not taxed, there is one drawback: you lose any money that is not spent by the end of the year. Thus, you should not contribute more to a flexible spending account than you reasonably expect to spend.

Another option is a health savings account. Like with a flexible spending account, the money contributed to a health savings account is not taxed. However, you do not lose the money that is left over in the account at the end of the year. So, why would anyone choose a flexible spending account over a health savings account? Health savings accounts are not available to everyone. In order to qualify, you must be enrolled in a high-deductible health plan (a plan with higher deductibles and lower premiums than traditional plans). If you have a traditional plan, you are out of luck.

Medical bills can linger long after an injury or illness has been treated. While the amounts owed can seem unbelievably large, remember, there are many things you can do ease the pain of bill paying.


Maintain and Save

6 Ways to Maintain and Save

When we’re looking to save money, the first thing most of us do is scrutinize our every purchase to see where we can squeeze out unnecessary spending. After all, a nip and a tuck here and there can add up to a bundle of savings over time! What many forget, though, is the cost savings that can result from proper maintenance of the things we already own – especially the really high-ticket items, like a home and car, which can be costly to repair and even more expensive to replace.

R. L. Polk reports the average person holds on to a new vehicle for just under six years. That’s longer than it was before the Great Recession, but with the average new car price topping $33,000, it makes good budget sense to find ways to extend the ownership period as long as possible. Just think of the boost it would be to your retirement savings if you bought just one fewer car in your lifetime, and instead directed that cash to an IRA or 401k account!

Here are some simple things you can do to keep your car and other stuff in good shape for the long haul.

  1. Get Regular Oil Changes
    Be sure to read your vehicle’s owner’s manual to find out how often oil changes and other preventive maintenance is recommended. Nobody knows more than the manufacturer about what your car needs to continue running properly. Plus, not following the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule could affect your warranty.
  2. Check Tires Regularly
    A flat tire’s not just inconvenient and expensive to replace. If not fixed promptly, a flat tire can lead to costly wheel damage. In addition to checking tire pressure monthly, have tires rotated, balanced and alignment checked regularly. Oftentimes, this regular maintenance is included in the warranty for new sets of tires.
  3. Following Cleaning Instructions
    If the tag says “dry clean only” believe it! Professional cleaning can add up, so you may be tempted to try laundering at home, but it’s a false economy if it means you ruin an expensive item of clothing. Instead, look at care instructions before you buy and decide then whether or not it’s a smart purchase.
  4. Rotate Your Mattress
    Some super-premium beds have different maintenance instructions, but if you have a standard mattress and box springs set-up, you’ll get longer life out of it by rotating it at least twice a year. If you notice sagging sooner, go with a three-month rotation schedule.
  5. Replace AC Filters Regularly
    A home’s air conditioning system is one of the most expensive items to replace if it goes bad. Twice-yearly maintenance is a prudent investment, and replacing filters regularly is really important since clogged filters can cause the system to burn-out prematurely.
  6. Maintain Exterior Paint
    Shabby and peeling paint doesn’t just make the outside of a home look unkempt. A proper paint job protects surfaces from the sun and weather, and helps ensure that cracks are repaired, preventing leaks and helping to keep destructive pests like termites at bay.

Buying Vs. Leasing

Buying Vs. Leasing a Car

Buying Vs. Leasing

 

There are big differences between buying and leasing. Typically, if you were to purchase a new car, you would make a down payment and finance the remaining cost. At the end of the term, the car would be yours. Leasing is essentially renting, with your payment going towards the car’s depreciation. If the lease includes a purchase option, you may buy it at the end of a specific time period.

So which is better? That depends on your individual situation and needs. You will have to decide for yourself by analyzing the advantages and disadvantages of each:

Leasing Advantages 
There are short-term cost advantages to leasing. The monthly payments on a leased car are usually far less than on a loan – even for a luxury model. The down payment usually works out to be less than what you would pay for a bought car as well. Because the typical lease is for three years, most repairs are covered by factory warranty. Sales tax is cheaper too, as you only pay it on the financed portion.

An attractive feature of leasing is the ability to drive a new car every few years. You never have to go through the hassle of selling it; you just turn it in at the end of the term.

Leasing Disadvantages 
While the payments are often reasonable, you never gain equity in the car. If you were to buy it at the end of your contract, it would cost you a lot more than if you had just bought it in the first place.

Leases are restrictive. If you exceed the yearly mileage limit you can be assessed an extra charge. You must take good care of the car as well, as any nicks or dings can be considered “wear and tear” and could cost you.

Comparing lease offers can be very confusing, making it hard to know if you got a good deal. And you will find it difficult to get out of your lease early if you want to – a problem if your driving needs or financial circumstances change.

Buying Advantages 
When you buy a car, it’s yours. You can customize it and drive it as hard and far as you want, penalty-free. Rather than having infinite payments, buying means you will eventually pay the car off. Once paid off, if you want to sell it you can do so at any time, as Erik Fortier you are not locked into a contract.

Buying Disadvantages 
Down payments on bought cars can be substantial. Monthly payments are usually higher than a leased car, and once your warranty expires, you will be responsible for the maintenance costs. When you want to sell it (or trade it in) you will have to go through the hassle of doing so. And, as an investment, new cars depreciate rather than appreciate.


Avoid Shopping

8 Amazing Ways to Avoid Binge-Shopping

Avoid Shopping
Avoid binge spending

 

It would great if we all made only rational, well-analyzed spending decisions. But none of us are robots. We’ve all made emotional buys at one point or another. Think back on things you bought because you had a rough day at work. Or maybe it was an argument that got you agitated. No matter the cause, purchases made on feelings instead of frugality can be rough on your bottom line. Here are a few ways to soothe yourself without draining your funds

1. Create “me” time

A In a lot of cases overspending happens because it gives you a sense of control over your surroundings. Instead of trying to grab control with money, take control of your time and your surroundings. Whether that means gifting yourself with a nice hot bath or time to work on that tinkering project in the garage, commit to unwinding on your own terms.

2. Connect with a loved one

Loneliness is another emotion that can turn you into a frenzied consumer. A call to a relative you haven’t spoken to in a while or even a spontaneous get-together with a friend can remind you of the wonderful bonds in your life.

3. Volunteer

It may sound strange, but in many cases the best way to help yourself is to work at making someone else’s life better.

4. Exercise

Scientists believe that for certain people splurge shopping releases the same amount of endorphins in the brain as skydiving. So if you are one of those people who gets a real charge out of filling a shopping cart, consider alternatives like going to the gym, walking or riding a bike to get your endorphin rush (if the plane and parachute are not available).

5. Enjoy nature

One of the best ways to get away from your problems is to, well…get away from them! Leave your connectivity behind and get back in touch with a favorite out-of-the-way spot.

6. Read

A little healthy escapism is always good for taking your mind off your day-to-day worries. Whereas passive media like television usually serves more as just a casual distraction, diving into a good book forces you to actively engage in the story.

7. Play

Be it with children or a pet, having some silly fun can shed a lot of stored up tension you might otherwise look to purge with shopping.

8. De-clutter

Because coming home to a place full of stuff can add to your stress level, give yourself a present and a future of increased serenity by hunting for items that can be donated or sold online or at a garage sale.


The 50/30/20 rule

What is the 50/30/20 Rule?

The 50/30/20 Rule is the simplest way to create a budget. It helps you keep your spending aligned with your savings goals. This very convenient, especially if this is the first time you try to organize your finances. Once you know how to achieve a balanced budget, you can further customize this rule around your unique expenses and goals.

50% of Your Income Goes to Essentials

Start by setting 50% of your income to pay essential items such as rent, utilities, car transportation and housing. This might be a little high in the beginning but once you get the hang of it you will be able to customize your budget to your needs. For instance, some people live in high-rent areas, yet can walk to work, while others enjoy much lower housing costs, but transportation is far more expensive.

30% of Your Income Goes to Your Lifestyle

Your lifestyle is important and although you may need to sacrifice some luxuries, you need to splurge once in a while. Therefore, 30% of your income goes to personal expenses like travel, dining out, cable, and even expensive coffee. If you travel extensively or work on-the-go, your cell phone plan is probably more of a necessity more than a luxury. It is up to you to decide which items are consider personal and which you should cut-off.

20% of Your Income Goes to Savings

The last step is to designate 20% of your income to savings. This is for your future, for everything unexpected that may come your way. This is the category you should think about after your essentials and before feeding your lifestyle expenses. It is your “get ahead” section and you must give it importance.

You don’t need to make a lot of money to budget properly. The 50/30/20 rule is only the beginning, you will customized this rule when you become an expert at budgeting.


Reduce Home Ownership Cost!

How Can You Reduce Your Home Ownership Cost?

Reduce Home Ownership Cost!
Reduce Home Ownership Cost!

Owning a home is rewarding but it can also be costly at times. You have to be able to keep up with air conditioner repairs, appliances breaking down, and pipes that can sometimes burst. The Bureau of Labor Statistic reported that an average homeowner paid $4,808 in mortgage principal and interest in 2013.

The good news is that home ownership costs aren’t fixed and we have a few tips that might help you.

  1. Buy a Smart Thermostat

    In Florida AC is not a luxury, is a necessity. Sometimes it gets so warm outside it is easy to feel discomfort when all you think of is cooling off. In order to help you reduce your AC cost, try a smart thermostat. It can adjust to your household routines, temperature preferences, external weather conditions, and can even track your location.

    Why is this useful? 
    With a thermostat this sophisticated you can divide your days into blocks and set desire temperatures for each. For example, you can adjust your settings to a higher temperature while you’re at work and lower them when you return from work automatically. A smart thermostat can trim cooling cost by 15%.

 

  1. Switch to low flow fixtures

    Although water is not as expensive as electricity, saving water can save you money. Low-flow faucets reduce tap water usage by up to 30%. Low-flow toilets can save a family of four around $110 a year depending on home size.

 

  1. Insulate Hot Water Pipes

    According to the Department of Energy, insulating your hot water pipes can reduce your electricity or gas bill by $12 annually. Insulating your hot water pipes is inexpensive—especially if you have duct tape at home.

 

  1. Unplug Idle Electronics

    Every time you leave your TV, cable boxes, computers and other small electronics plugged you drain power and drive up your electricity bill. There are devices that can help you power off devices without having to unplug them. Such as the Bits Energy Smart Strip, this can cost up to $40 and help you reduce your light bill on a monthly basis.

These tips will not save you thousands of dollars in home ownership cost. However, it can save you a few hundreds and every little bit helps.