Recover From a Holiday Binge With a Spending Freeze

Recover From a Holiday Binge With a Spending Fast

The holiday parties may be over but the financial hangover is just setting in. Holiday sales for 2016 were estimated to top $655 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. If you blew your holiday budget, don’t panic. A January spending freeze may be just what you need to get back on track. If you’ve never done a spending freeze before, here’s what to expect.

See the average budget for someone in your neighborhood.

How Does a Spending Freeze Work?

During a spending freeze, you avoid making nonessential purchases. For example, if you buy fast food two to three times per week or movie tickets once a month, you’d cut those expenses out temporarily. A spending freeze gives you the chance to rein in your spending and evaluate your budget. The money you would’ve spent on fun and entertainment can then go toward paying off the debt you racked up during the holidays.

Getting Started

Recover From a Holiday Binge With a Spending Fast

Before starting your spending freeze, you may need to mentally prepare yourself for what’s to come. Getting rid of bad spending habits can be tricky. But with the right mindset, you may be able to cut costs and achieve some of your financial goals.

The key to making your spending freeze work is being able to separate your needs from your wants. You’ll need to be able to pay for essential costs like rent, mortgage payments and debt payments. But you’ll need to recognize that other expenses – like the cost of a daily latte or a pair of new shoes – can be removed from your budget if necessary.

If you’re having trouble curbing your spending, agreeing to splurge on just one item during the month of January may make sticking with your freeze a bit easier.

Related Article: How to Recover From a Holiday Shopping Spree

Put the Money You’re Saving to Work

Once you begin your spending freeze, you’ll need to figure out what to do with the extra money in your bank account. Paying off your credit card bills should be a top priority since credit card debt tends to have a bigger impact on your credit score than installment debt. Specifically, you may want to focus on paying off your store credit cards since they often carry high interest rates.

Which credit card should you pay off first? You may want to begin by paying off the card with the highest APR since that’ll reduce what you’re paying in interest. Or you could pay off the card with the lowest balance. That may give you the momentum you need to knock out the rest of your credit card debt.

Related Article: How to Stop Spending Money Carelessly

Get a Partner Onboard

Recover From a Holiday Binge With a Spending Fast

Implementing a spending freeze can be difficult if you’ve never done one before. Having someone else along for the ride may help you fight your urge to splurge.

If you’re married, for example, you could ask your spouse to jump on the spending freeze bandwagon with you. Singles can find a friend or family member who’s willing to join in. Just remember that when you’re choosing a partner, it’s best to pick someone who’s going to encourage you to stick with your freeze and make good financial decisions.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Pogonici, ©iStock.com/killerb10, ©iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

The post Recover From a Holiday Binge With a Spending Freeze appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com

How to Protect Yourself From Credit Card Theft

protecting yourself from credit card theft

Last fall, I received an email that appeared to be from my web host. The email claimed that there was a problem with my payment information and asked me to update it. I clicked on the link in the email and entered my credit card number, thinking that a recent change I’d made to my site must have caused a problem.

The next morning, I logged onto my credit card account to find two large unauthorized purchases. A scammer had successfully phished my payment information from me.

This failure of security is pretty embarrassing for a personal finance writer. I know better than to click through an email link claiming to be from my bank, credit card lender, or other financial institution. But because the email came from a source that wasn’t specifically financial (and because I was thinking about the changes I had made to my website just the day before), I let myself get played.

Thankfully, because I check my credit card balance daily, the scammers didn’t get away with it. However, it’s better to be proactive about avoiding credit card theft so you’re not stuck with the cleanup, which took me several months to complete.

Here’s how you can protect yourself from credit card theft. 

Protecting your physical credit card

Stealing your physical credit or debit card is in some respects the easiest way for a scammer to get their hands on your sweet, sweet money. With the actual card in hand, a scammer has all the information they need to make fraudulent purchases: the credit card number, expiration date, and the security code on the back.

That means keeping your physical cards safe is one of the best ways to protect yourself from credit card theft. Don’t carry more cards than you intend to use. Having every card you own in a bulging wallet makes it more likely someone could steal one when you’re not paying attention and you may not realize it’s gone if you have multiple cards.

Another common place where you might be separated from your card is at a restaurant. After you’ve paid your bill, it can be easy to forget if you’ve put away your card (especially if you’ve been enjoying adult beverages). So make it a habit to confirm that you have your card before you leave a restaurant.

If you do find yourself missing a credit or debit card, make sure you call your bank immediately to report it lost or stolen. The faster you move to lock down the card, the less likely the scammers will be able to make fraudulent charges. Make sure you have your bank’s phone number written down somewhere so you’re able to contact them quickly if your card is stolen or lost. (See also: Don’t Panic: Do This If Your Identity Gets Stolen)

Recognizing card skimmers

Credit card thieves also go high-tech to get your information. Credit card skimmers are small devices placed on a legitimate spot for a card scanner, such as on a gas pump or ATM. 

When you scan your card to pay, the skimmer device captures all the information stored in your card’s magnetic stripe. In some cases, when there’s a skimmer placed on an ATM, there’s also a tiny camera set up to record you entering your PIN so the fraudster has all the info they need to access your account.

The good news is that it’s possible to detect a card skimmer in the wild. Gas stations and ATMs are the most common places where you’ll see skimmer devices. Generally, these devices will often stick out past the panel rather than sit flush with it, as the legitimate credit card scanner is supposed to. Other red flags to look for are scanners that seem to jiggle or move slightly instead of being firmly affixed, or a pin pad that appears thicker than normal. All of these can potentially indicate a skimmer is in place. 

If you find something that looks hinky, go to a different gas station or ATM. Better safe than sorry. (See also: 18 Surprising Ways Your Identity Can Be Stolen)

Protecting your credit card numbers at home

Your home is another place thieves will go searching for your sensitive information. To start, you likely receive credit card offers, the cards themselves, and your statements in the mail. While mail theft is relatively rare (it’s a federal crime, after all), it’s still a good idea to make sure you collect your mail daily and put a hold on it when you go out of town.

Once you get your card-related paperwork in the house, however, you still may be vulnerable. Because credit card scammers are not above a little dumpster diving to get their hands on your credit card number. This is why it’s a good idea to shred any paperwork with your credit card number and other identifying information on it before you throw it away.

Finally, protecting your credit cards at home also means being wary about whom you share information with over the phone. Unless you’ve initiated a phone call of your own volition — not because you’re calling someone who left a voicemail — you should never share your credit card numbers over the phone. Scammers will pose as customer service agents from your financial institution or a merchant you frequent to get your payment information. To be sure, you can hang up and call the institution yourself using the main phone number.

Keeping your cards safe online

You should never provide your credit card information via a link in an email purporting to be from your financial institution or a merchant. Scammers are able to make their fake emails and websites look legitimate, which was exactly the reason I fell victim to this fraud.

But even with my momentary lapse in judgment about being asked for my payment information from my "web host," there were other warning signs that I could’ve heeded if I had been paying attention. 

The first is the actual email address. These fake emails will often have a legitimate looking display name, which is the only thing you might see in your email. However, if you hover over or click on the display name, you can see the actual email address that sent you the message. Illegitimate addresses do not follow the same email address format you’ll see from the legitimate company.

In addition to that, looking at the URL that showed up when I clicked the link could’ve told me something weird was going on. Any legitimate site that needs your financial information will have a secure URL to accept your payment. Secure URLs start with https:// (rather than http://) and feature a lock icon in the browser bar. If these elements are missing, then you should not enter your credit card information. (See also: 3 Ways Millennials Can Avoid Financial Fraud)

Daily practices that keep you safe

In addition to these precautions, you can also protect your credit cards with the everyday choices you make. For instance, using strong, unique passwords for all of your online financial services, from shopping to banking, can help you prevent theft. Keeping those strong passwords safe — that is, not written down on a post-it note on your laptop — will also help protect your financial information.

Regularly going over your credit card and banking statements can also help ensure that you’re the only one making purchases with your credit cards. It was this daily habit of mine that made sure my scammers didn’t actually receive the computer they tried to purchase with my credit card. The fact that I check my balance daily meant I was able to shut down the fraudulent sale before they received the goods, even though I fell down on the job of protecting my credit card information. 

Like this article? Pin it!

It’s better to be proactive about avoiding credit card theft so you're not stuck with the cleanup. Here's how you can protect yourself from credit card theft. | #Creditcard #creditcardtheft #personalfinances


Source: wisebread.com

Don’t Get Tricked: Identity Protection Tips You Need

A woman sits on a gray couch with a laptop on her lap, drinking a cup of coffee

The weather is turning, fall is in the air, and Halloween is around the corner—which means it’s National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. How can you ensure October is full of treats while not falling for any scammers’ tricks? By arming yourself with these identity protection tips.

Every American should understand the basics of identity theft protection. According to the most recent report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 10% of people 16 and older have been the victim of identity theft. That’s why we’re encouraging people to educate themselves on identity protection tips this autumn. After all, there’s nothing quite as scary as identity fraud!

Here are some identity theft tricks to watch out for and identity security treats to take advantage of.

Trick: Using Your Data to Open New Accounts

According to the FTC, credit card fraud—including opening new credit card accounts—was the most commonly reported form of identity theft in 2019. Thieves can rack up hundreds of dollars’ worth of bills before you know it happened.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to your cybersecurity to avoid your data being used to open new accounts in your name:

  • Never use the same password across multiple accounts. Switch your passwords up.
  • Never use a password that’s easy to guess. This includes passwords that include your birthday, first or last name, or address.
  • Use passwords that are random combinations of numbers, letters, and symbols.
  • Enable two-factor authentication whenever it’s offered.
  • Don’t share or write down your passwords.
  • Never click on unknown email links or pop-ups on websites.
  • Make sure websites are secure before entering your payment information.
  • Never connect to public Wi-Fi that isn’t secure.
  • Never walk away from your laptop in public places.
  • Enable firewall protection.
  • Monitor your accounts and credit reports for unusual activity.

Treat: Check Your Credit Reports

Identity theft protection starts by being proactive and regularly monitoring your information for suspicious activity. That includes monitoring your credit report.

Did you know that you’re entitled to one free copy of your credit report each year from all three credit reporting agencies? In honor of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, make October the month that you request your reports and go over them with a fine-toothed comb. Make sure you recognize all the open accounts under your name.

[Note: Through April 2021, you can review your credit reports weekly.]

An added bonus of checking your reports early in the month is that you can give your credit a good once-over before the upcoming holiday shopping season. Unexplained dips in your credit score could be a sign that something is wrong.

When you request your free credit report from the credit bureaus, your report does not come with your credit score—you have to request that separately. Sign up for ExtraCredit to get 28 of your FICO® scores and your credit reports from all three credit bureaus. You’ll also get account monitoring and $1 million identity theft insurance.

Protect Your Identity with ExtraCredit

Trick: Charity Fraud

October also happens to be Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and everywhere you look, pink is on display. With so much national attention on breast cancer, it’s easy to fall for scams that claim to be legitimate charities.

Consumers should also be on the lookout for phony COVID-19 related scams this fall and winter. For example, watch out for fake charities that pretend to provide COVID relief to groups or families but are simply stealing money.

Even worse than handing over money to these heartless fraudsters is that you may have handed over your credit card numbers or other personally identifiable information in the process.

Treat: Know Your Worthy Causes

Before donating to a charitable cause, do your homework. You can use websites such as Charity Navigator, CharityWatch, and the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance to check a charity’s reputation. Additionally, consider contacting your state’s charity regulator to confirm the organization is registered to raise money in your state.

After you’ve verified the status of the charity, consider making donations directly through the national organization. Avoid giving money or financial information directly to someone that reaches out to you through email, phone calls, or door-to-door interactions.

It might be a bit of extra work, but at the end of the day, you can feel good knowing your money is going to support a real cause. If you want to support October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, consider donating directly on the national website. An added bonus is that you’ll receive a receipt you can use for tax deduction purposes.

Trick: Tax Refund Fraud

Every year, the Internal Revenue Service announces its “dirty dozen” scams. These are the tax fraud scams the IRS determines to be the most common for the year. The 2020 list includes refund theft. A tax thief gains access to your information, files a fraudulent return in your name before you do, and has the funds paid out them. The only way you find out about it is that your legitimate tax return—the one you submit—is rejected for having already been filed.

Another way individuals fall victim to tax refund fraud is by using an unscrupulous return vendor. Dishonest vendors and ghost preparers steal personal information to file a tax refund and pocket the money or use that information for other types of identity fraud.

It’s unclear what exactly the next round of stimulus legislation will include, but if another stimulus check is included, watch out for attempts to steal your COVID stimulus checks. Remember that the IRS never contacts you via email, social media, or text.

Treat: File Early

It may feel like you just finished filing your 2019 taxes, but it’s never too early to start preparing for next year. While filing your taxes might be the last thing you want to think about this month, it’s crucial to stay on top of your tax return documents so you’re ready to file as early as possible. This is especially true for individuals who have reason to believe that their personal data has already been breached.

Always ensure you work with a reputable tax return vendor. You can look at the vendor’s online reviews before considering them as an option for tax return help.

Additionally, individuals that are paid to assist with or prepare federal tax returns must have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). Paid preparers must sign and include their PTIN on returns. Always ask for this number before you hire an individual and hand over your personal information.

If you file early, you can beat out someone filing before you and receiving your return first. The earliest you can file is January.

Trick: Social Media Scams

Our social media accounts allow us to stay connected with friends and family. Unfortunately, scammers understand this and have started using social media to commit identity fraud.

There are many variations of social media phishing scams, but the basics are generally that a scammer creates an account to gain your trust and gather personal information from you. For example, many people have their name, birthday, and workplace information on their Facebook or other social media account. Those three things alone could be enough for someone to gain everything else they need to create a credit card application under your name or access your existing accounts.

Treat: Be More Exclusive and Private

Consider taking a quiet October morning to comb through your social media accounts. Start with your followers. Consider deleting everyone you don’t know personally.

If a follower base is important to you, consider another approach. Go through each social profile and scrub any personal details. Change the spelling of your last name slightly, delete your birthday, and remove other personal information, such as place of work. Ultimately, this can reduce the risk of being an easy target for identity fraud.

These core identity protection tips should help you stay safer online. With COVID-19 causing people to feel scared, individuals are more vulnerable to being tricked. Remember that identity fraud happens to millions of people every year, and it’s important to remain vigilant.

Stay Vigilant This Fall

Identity theft can have long-lasting consequences. If you’re recovering from identity fraud or simply unhappy with your credit score, consider signing up for ExtraCredit. ExtraCredit is a five-in-one credit product that provides tools to helps you build, guard, track, reward, and restore your credit.

Sign Up Now

The post Don’t Get Tricked: Identity Protection Tips You Need appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

Don’t Let Debt Ruin the Holidays: Proactive Steps

A smiling woman wearing a denim dress and a red headband looks down at her shopping bags

According to numbers for the 2018 holiday shopping season, American shoppers incurred an average debt of just over $1,000. And not everyone could pay that debt off quickly, leading to expensive, long-term credit card debt for some.

But holiday shopping debt isn’t the only financial burden people face. Many enter the season with other debt. If that’s you, don’t let debt ruin the holidays. Instead, consider some of these tips to manage debt before the holidays so you can enjoy the festivities with reduced stress.

1. Find Out Exactly Where You Stand Financially

Before you create a plan to tackle your debt, ensure you’re accounting for all of it. According to a 2019 study, around one in five adult Americans weren’t sure if they had credit card debt when asked.

Even if you think you have a handle on your debt, it’s a good idea to give your reports a once-over. This lets you ensure you didn’t miss something important and that no one has used your identity to run up debt in your name. That could come as a nasty surprise if you try to use or obtain credit for holiday shopping.

You can get a free copy of your credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com. Normally, you can get one per year from each of the three major credit bureaus. But because of assistance measures put in place for COVID-19, you can get a free copy from each bureau every week through April 2021. You can also get a free Credit Report Card from Credit.com, which includes your Experian VantageScore 3.0 and regular updates on what is affecting your scores.

2. Create a Monthly Budget

Once you know everything you owe, sit down and take a look at your monthly budget. List all of your regular expenses and decide where you can cut to help put more money toward your debt.

Use tools such as credit card debt calculators to determine how much you should pay every month on debt to reduce it in a certain amount of time. This helps you understand how much money you should be putting toward debt to pay it off before the holidays arrive.

3. Choose a Method for Paying Down Debt

Every situation is different, so the way you pay down debt depends on what might work best for your situation. Here are a few tips to consider.

Go with a Basic Snowball Method

The Snowball Method means you line up all your debts by total balance. You make a minimum payment on each while throwing anything extra at the debt with the smallest balance. You do so because you’ll be able to pay off that one the fastest.

Once you pay off the first debt, you take everything you were putting on it each month and add it to what you’re paying on the next-smallest balance. As you pay off each debt, you have more money to put toward the next one. By the time you reach the biggest debt, you can pay it off fairly quickly.

Make Use of Balance Transfer Cards

If it’s not realistic to pay down all of your debt before the holidays, you might want to concentrate on getting your finances in order and ensuring your debt costs as little as possible. One way to do that is to make use of a balance transfer card.

These cards let you transfer existing high-interest credit card debt to a card that has 0% APR for a period of time. If you can pay the debt off within that time—which can range from a year to two years on average—you can save a lot in interest.

Consider Taking Out a Personal Loan to Consolidate Debt

If you’re dealing with high-interest debt or payments that simply add up to more than you can handle every month, you might consider a personal loan to consolidate debt. A debt consolidation loan doesn’t get rid of your debt, but it might make it more manageable. You might end up with a single monthly payment that reduces how much you must worry about during the holidays.

4. Set a Holiday Budget and Stick to It

Once you have a plan for dealing with your existing debt, ensure you don’t re-create it with your holiday spending this year. Spend smart during the holidays. Make a list of what you want to do, the meals and treats you want to make, and the gifts you want to buy.

Assign everything on your list a dollar amount, and then take another look. Can you realistically afford all of this? You might need to make some priority decisions and reduce your list to fit a holiday budget you can afford without racking up too much debt this season.

5. Use Credit to Your Advantage

If you don’t let debt ruin the holidays, you might be able to use credit as a financial tool to your advantage as you shop or participate in festivities. The right rewards credit cards help you earn points or miles as you spend—and you can earn even more points for spending in certain categories.

For example, you might have a cash-back credit card that gives you more cash back in the final quarter of the year on travel or grocery shopping. You could use that card to fund expenses as you go visit relatives or prepare a feast when they come to your home.

If you spend on your card only what you were going to spend with cash anyway, you can pay your balances off immediately. That means you get those rewards without any interest cost for doing so. If you don’t have a rewards credit card, you can find options to consider in the Credit.com credit card marketplace. Here are a couple to start with.

Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

Apply Now

on American Express’s secure website

Card Details
Intro Apr:
0% for 12 months on purchases


Ongoing Apr:
13.99%-23.99% Variable


Balance Transfer:
N/A


Annual Fee:
$95


Credit Needed:
Excellent-Good

Rates and Fees

Snapshot of Card Features
  • Earn a $250 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 3 months.
  • 6% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%).
  • 6% Cash Back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions.
  • 3% Cash Back at U.S. gas stations and on transit (including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more).
  • 1% Cash Back on other purchases.
  • Low intro APR: 0% for 12 months on purchases from the date of account opening, then a variable rate, 13.99% to 23.99%.
  • Plan It® gives the option to select purchases of $100 or more to split up into monthly payments with a fixed fee.
  • Cash Back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed as a statement credit.
  • $95 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.

Card Details +

This card gives you 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets, up to $6,000 per year in purchases. You can also get 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and transit, making it a potentially good card to use when you’re traveling. The Blue Cash Preferred® card allows you to earn a $250 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new card within the first 3 months.

Amalgamated Bank of Chicago Platinum Rewards Mastercard

Amalgamated Bank of Chicago Platinum Rewards Mastercard® Credit Card

Apply Now

on Amalgamated Bank of Chicago’s secure website

Card Details
Intro Apr:
0% on Purchases for 12 months


Ongoing Apr:
12.90% – 22.90% Variable APR on purchases


Balance Transfer:
12.90% – 22.90% Variable APR on balance transfers


Annual Fee:
$0


Credit Needed:
Excellent

Rates and Fees

Snapshot of Card Features
  • 0% Intro APR on Purchases for 12 months; after that the variable APR will be 12.90% – 22.90% (V), based on your creditworthiness
  • Earn $150 Statement Credit after you spend $1,200 on purchases within the first 90 days from account opening
  • Earn 5x rewards on up to $1,500 in combined purchases each quarter in popular categories such as dining, groceries, travel, and automotive
  • No upper limit on the points you can accumulate, and since points never expire, you can save up for a big award!
  • Earn Points on Every Purchase! It’s simple: $1 = 1 Point
  • No Annual Fee or Foreign Transaction Fee
  • Select Your Rewards Your Way
  • No Foreign Transaction Fee

Card Details +

The Amalgamated Bank of Chicago Platinum Rewards Mastercard® allows you to earn 5X rewards up to $1,500 in combined purchases each quarter in popular categories. Categories include dining, groceries, fuel, travel, and other popular spending areas. If you’ll be spending in a certain category during the holidays, you could earn extra rewards points to redeem on travel or other purchases.

Reward Yourself

It’s never too early or too late to start planning financially for big seasons such as the holidays. If you’re ready to take a step toward that plan today, consider signing up for ExtraCredit. Reward It from ExtraCredit connects you with personalized offers and offers cashback rewards when you sign up and are approved for them.

Reward Yourself This Holiday Season

The post Don’t Let Debt Ruin the Holidays: Proactive Steps appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

You CAN Reach Retirement! Avoid These Top 5 Retirement Mistakes

retirement mistakes

Wondering what retirement mistakes will ruin your retirement? Here are the biggest retirement mistakes we all make.

Have you ever checked in to see if you are on track for retirement? I know this can feel like a daunting task, but preparing yourself for retirement can help you save more and avoid common retirement mistakes.

For some, retirement means quitting their job after 40+ years, but it can also mean working towards early retirement, in your 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, and so on.

I know that’s not for the “average” American, but by avoiding some of the retirement mistakes I will talk about today, you can start preparing for retirement at any age.

Related: How To Save For Retirement

The thing about retirement is that sadly many out there are not saving enough money. In fact, according to Zacks Investment Research, 72% do not save enough for retirement each month.

Also, according to surveys done by Bankrate, 20% of people aren’t saving any money, and 61% of Americans have no idea what they will need to save for retirement.

These numbers are very alarming.

Saving money in general is an important thing to do, but if you don’t want to work for the rest of your life, saving for retirement should be something that you are thinking about. And, I believe that saving for retirement is possible if you start working towards it and avoid retirement mistakes when it comes to planning and saving.

While many believe the economy ruins their chances for retirement, in reality most retirement mistakes come from specific beliefs people have about retirement. Some of these beliefs come from expectations of what their budget will be during retirement, that they can rely on their pension or social security, and more.

There are many reasons for why a person might not be saving for retirement, and by looking at the various retirement mistakes you might be making, I feel that more people can be aware of and overcome their retirement preparation problems.

Here are five retirement mistakes and how they might be hurting your chances for retirement:

 

1. You ignore saving for retirement altogether.

Many people skip out on saving for retirement for several reasons, including:

  • Believing you don’t have enough money to save for retirement.
  • Thinking that you’re too young to care about retirement or that it’s too late to start.
  • Relying too much on pensions and social security.

No matter how young or how old you are, you should be saving and preparing for retirement. You never know when you will need it, and I am all for a person being in charge of their own retirement plan instead of relying too much on other sources of retirement (such as relying on social security 100%).

Millennials are especially at risk and according to an article by Business Insider, a shocking 40% of millennials have nothing saved for retirement. This is a scary number because these people will all have to retire one day and I’m not sure what they will do when the time comes.

But, it isn’t just young people who aren’t saving for retirement. Bankrate found that only 60% of people aged 45-54 have some type of retirement savings. You can read more crazy retirement statistics here.

It is important to realize that part of the reason for these low savings rates is that many are currently living paycheck to paycheck, which makes it hard to even approach saving for retirement. Fortunately, you can start investing with very little money, and you can learn how to start investing for beginners if you are wanting to start planning for retirement.

There is never a bad time to start saving for retirement, and you can correct this retirement mistake by starting today.

Side note: I highly recommend that you check out Personal Capital if you are interested in gaining control of your financial situation. Personal Capital allows you to aggregate your financial accounts so that you can easily see your financial situation. You can connect your mortgage, bank accounts, credit card accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, and more. And, it’s FREE!

 

2. You take on debt for others and don’t think about your future.

I talked about this topic in the post Should I Ruin My Retirement By Helping My Child Through College? This is a hard thing for a lot of parents especially as student loans are out of control, and I am hearing from parents nearly every week saying that they cannot afford to retire because they are paying for their child to go to college.

If this is your situation, I want you to STOP making this one of your retirement mistakes. Unless you are on track for retirement, I honestly think you need to seriously start prioritizing your future. Your child will be fine without your monetary support.

There are lots of ways to support your child through school that don’t involve leveraging your future for their education. You can help them find a job, find scholarships, be an emotional support, and more.

You can take out loans for college, but you cannot take out loans for retirement.

 

3. You think you’ll never have to retire.

Recently, I read an article about someone who made hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, had a monthly budget of around $30,000 (yes, MONTHLY!), and yet hardly saved anything. This person said they didn’t really feel the need to save for retirement because they enjoyed their job so much. That’s just crazy!

See, even wealthy people make retirement mistakes.

Assuming you will love your job forever can be a huge mistake. While it’s great that you love your job now, it’s hard to judge what you will love decades down the line.

Also, you never know if something will come up in the future that will completely prevent you from working, such as a medical issue or some sort of major life change. Beyond realizing that you will need to prepare for retirement, an emergency fund should be something you already have or are working on – emergency funds are there to protect you from the what-ifs.

Related articles:

  • Everything You Need To Know About Emergency Funds
  • Is A Credit Card Emergency Fund A Smart Idea?

 

4. You miscalculate how much money you’ll spend in retirement.

For some reason, many people just assume they will spend less money in retirement, but that is not always the case.

While you might find some ways to save money on things like commuting expenses, work clothes, lunch if you weren’t bringing it, you will probably experience a very similar budget to the one you had while working.

You are still going to spend money on housing (even if you pay off your home completely, you will still need to pay property taxes, utility bills, etc.), food, clothing, entertainment, and so on.

Many retirees also take up new hobbies or activities. And, some retirees just have more time to pursue things they’ve already been doing, which can add up to a lot of extra expenses.

Plus, medical expenses may come up, you might decide to travel more, and like I said, the truth is that retirement spending is not usually much different than what you are currently spending.

Some make plans to become super frugal after they enter retirement, but life doesn’t always work out so perfectly. To make sure this isn’t one of the retirement mistakes you are making, I recommend starting to cut down your budget now.

By living frugally before you retire, you will be able to save more, will have less expenses going into retirement (the less money you spend, the less you need in the future), and you might even reach retirement sooner. Really, if you cut your spending now and become more frugal, you will be used to living with less. I’ve been living a more frugal and minimalist lifestyle since we moved onto our boat, and it can be a life changing thing.

 

5. You use your retirement funds for expenses other than retirement.

This is one of the worst money mistakes out there, and unfortunately many young people are making it. I’ve actually heard far too many stories about people taking money out of their retirement funds in order to pay for a vacation, a timeshare, pay off low interest debt, and more.

When preparing for retirement, this is a HUGE mistake.

While I don’t know everything about taking money out of retirement funds, I do know that this can usually hurt you more in the long run. Taking funds out of a retirement account can lead to large penalties and paying extra towards taxes.

The other thing about saving for retirement is that the longer you have funds invested, the more you will have for retirement. Compound interest is a powerful thing, and if you are taking money out of your retirement account it means that you don’t get the full benefit of it.

You should always just use your retirement funds purely for retirement. If you are struggling with debt or need help differentiating between wants and needs, it’s time to make a change. Don’t wreck your future by making this huge retirement mistake.

What retirement mistakes have you seen? Do you think you will have enough money to retire and how are you preparing for retirement? What age do you expect to retire?

The post You CAN Reach Retirement! Avoid These Top 5 Retirement Mistakes appeared first on Making Sense Of Cents.

Source: makingsenseofcents.com

Should I Take Money Out of My 401(k) Now?

Is taking money from your 401(k) plan a good idea? Generally speaking, the common advice for raiding your 401(k) is to only take this step if you absolutely have to. After all, your retirement funds are meant to grow and flourish until you reach retirement age and actually need them. If you take money from your 401(k) and don’t replace it, you could be putting your future self at a financial disadvantage.

Still, we all know that times are hard right now, and that there are situations where removing money from a 401(k) plan seems inevitable. In that case, you should know all your options when it comes to withdrawing from a 401(k) plan early or taking out a 401(k) loan.

401(k) Withdrawal Options if You’ve Been Impacted by COVID-19

First off, you should know that you have some new options when it comes to taking money from your 401(k) if you have been negatively impacted by coronavirus. Generally speaking, these new options that arose from the CARES Act include the chance to withdraw money from your 401(k) without the normal 10% penalty, but you also get the chance to take out a 401(k) loan in a larger amount than usual. 

Here are the specifics:

401(k) Withdrawal

The CARES Act will allow you to withdraw money from your 401(k) plan before the age of 59 ½ without the normal 10% penalty for doing so. Note that these same rules apply to other tax-deferred accounts like a traditional IRA or a 403(b). 

To qualify for this early penalty-free withdrawal, you do have to meet some specific criteria. For example, you, a spouse, or a dependent must have been diagnosed with a CDC-approved COVID-19 test. As an alternative, you can qualify if you have “experienced adverse financial consequences as a result of certain COVID-19-related conditions, such as a delayed start date for a job, rescinded job offer, quarantine, lay off, furlough, reduction in pay or hours or self-employment income, the closing or reduction of your business, an inability to work due to lack of childcare, or other factors identified by the Department of Treasury,” notes the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). 

Due to this temporary change, you can withdraw up to $100,000 from your 401(k) plan regardless of your age and without the normal 10% penalty. Also be aware that the CARES Act also removed the 20 percent automatic withholding that is normally set aside to pay taxes on this money. With that in mind, you should save some of your withdrawal since you will owe income taxes on the money you remove from your 401(k).

401(k) Loan

The Cares Act also made it possible for consumers to take out a 401(k) loan for twice the amount as usual, or $100,000 instead of $50,000. According to Fidelity, you may be able to take out as much as 50% of the amount you have saved for retirement. However, not all employers offer 401(k) loan options through their plans and they may not have adopted the new CARES Act provisions at all, so you should check with your current employer to find out. 

A 401(k) loan is unique from a 401(k) withdrawal since you’ll be required to pay the money back (plus interest) over the course of 5 years in most cases. However, the interest you pay actually goes back into your retirement account. Further, you won’t owe income taxes on money you take out in the form of a 401(k) loan. 

Taking Money out of Your 401(k): What You Should Know

Only you can decide whether taking money from your 401(k) is a good idea, but you should know all the pros and cons ahead of time. You should also be aware that the advantages and disadvantages can vary based on whether you borrow from your 401(k) or take a withdrawal without the intention of paying it back. 

If You Qualify Through the CARES Act

With a 401(k) withdrawal of up to $100,000 and no 10% penalty thanks to the CARES Act, the major disadvantage is the fact that you’re removing money from retirement that you will most certainly need later on. Not only that, but you are stunting the growth of your retirement account and limiting the potential benefits of compound interest. After all, money you have in your 401(k) account is normally left to grow over the decades you have until retirement. When you remove a big chunk, your account balance will grow at a slower pace.

As an example, let’s say you have $300,000 in a 401(k) plan and you leave it alone to grow for 20 years. If you achieved a return of 7 percent and never added another dime, you would have $1,160,905.34 after that time. If you removed $100,00 from your account and left the remaining $200,000 to grow for 20 years, on the other hand, you would only have $773,936.89. 

Money you have in your 401(k) account is normally left to grow over the decades you have until retirement. When you remove a big chunk, your account balance will grow at a slower pace.

Also be aware that, while you don’t have to pay the 10% penalty for an early 401(k) withdrawal if you qualify through the CARES Act, you do have to pay income taxes on amounts you take out. 

When you borrow money with a 401(k) loan using new rules from the CARES Act, on the other hand, the pros and cons can be slightly different. One major disadvantage is the fact that you’ll need to repay the money you borrow, usually over a five-year span. You will pay interest back into your retirement account during this time, but this amount may be less than what you would have earned through compound growth if you left the money alone.

Also be aware that, if you leave your current job, you may be required to pay back your 401(k) loan in a short amount of time. If you can’t repay your loan because you are still experiencing hardship, then you could wind up owing income taxes on the amounts you borrow as well as a 10% penalty.

Note: The same rules will generally apply if you quit your job and move out of the United States as well, so don’t think that moving away can get you off the hook from repaying your 401(k) loan. If you’re planning to leave the U.S. and you’re unsure how to handle your 401(k) or 401(k) loan, speaking with a tax expert is your best move. 

Keep in mind that, with both explanations of a 401(k) loan and a 401(k) early withdrawal above, these pros and cons are predicated on the idea you can qualify for the special benefits included in the CARES Act. While the IRS rules for qualifying for a coronavirus withdrawal are fairly broad, you do have to be facing financial hardship or lack of childcare due to coronavirus. You can read all the potential qualification categories on this PDF from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). 

If You Don’t Qualify Through the CARES Act

If you don’t qualify for special accommodation through the CARES Act, then you will have to pay a 10% penalty on withdrawals from your 401(k) as well as income taxes on amounts you take out. With a traditional 401(k) loan, on the other hand, you may be limited to borrowing just 50% of your vested funds or $50,000, whichever is less.

However, you should note that the IRS extends other hardship distribution categories you may qualify for if you’re struggling financially . You can read about all applicable hardship distribution requirements on the IRS website.

Taking Money Out of Your 401(k): Main Pros and Cons

The situations where you might take money out of your 401(k) can be complicated, but there are some general advantages and disadvantages to be aware of. Before you take money from your 401(k), consider the following:

Pros of taking money out of your 401(k):

  • You are able to access your money, which could be important if you’re suffering from financial hardship. 
  • If you qualify for special accommodations through the CARES Act, you can avoid the 10% penalty for taking money from your 401(k) before retirement age. 
  • You can take out more money (up to $100,000) than usual from your 401(k) with a 401(k) withdrawal or a 401(k) loan thanks to CARES Act rules. 

Cons of taking money out of your 401(k):

  • If you take money out of your 401(k), you’ll have to pay income taxes on those funds.
  • Removing money from your 401(k) means you are reducing your current retirement savings.
  • Not only are you removing retirement savings from your account, but you’re limiting the growth on the money you take out.
  • If you take out a 401(k) loan, you’ll have to pay the money back. 

Alternatives to Taking Money from your 401(k)

There may be some situations where taking money out of your 401(k) makes sense, including instances where you have no other option but to access this money to keep the lights on and food on the table. If you cash out your 401(k) and the market tanks afterward, you could even wind up feeling like a genius. Then again, the chances of optimally timing your 401(k) withdrawal are extremely slim. 

With that being said, if you don’t have to take money out of your 401(k) plan or a similar retirement plan, you shouldn’t do it. You will absolutely want to retire one day, so leaving the money you’ve already saved to grow and compound is always going to leave you ahead in the long run.

With that in mind, you should consider some of the alternatives of taking money from a 401(k) plan:

  • See if you qualify for unemployment benefits. If you were laid off or furloughed from your job, you may qualify for unemployment benefits you don’t even know about. To find out, you should contact your state’s unemployment insurance program. 
  • Apply for temporary cash assistance. If you are facing a complete loss in income, consider applying for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which lets you receive cash payments. To see if you qualify, call your state TANF office. 
  • Take out a short-term personal loan. You can also consider a personal loan that does not use funding from your 401(k). Personal loans tend to come with competitive interest rates for consumers with good or excellent credit, and you can typically choose your repayment term. 
  • Tap into your home equity. If you have more than 20% equity in your home, consider borrowing against that equity with a home equity loan or home equity line of credit (HELOC). Both options let you use the value of your home as collateral, and they tend to offer low interest rates as a result. 
  • Consider a 0% APR credit card. Also look into 0% APR credit cards that allow you to make purchases without any interest charged for up to 15 months or potentially longer. Just remember that you’ll have to repay all the purchases you charge to your card, and that your interest rate will reset to a much higher variable rate after the introductory offer ends. 

The Bottom Line

In times of financial turmoil, it may be tempting to pull money out of your 401(k). After all, it is your money. But the ramifications to your future financial wellbeing may be substantial. The CARES Act has introduced new options to leverage your 401(k), without the normal penalties. Find out if you qualify and take time to understand the details behind the options. We recommend speaking to a tax expert if you have any questions or concerns regarding possible tax penalties.

The traditional wisdom is to leave your retirement untouched, and we agree with that. If you’re in a financial bind, consider other options to get you through the rough patch. Tapping into your 401(k) should really be your last resort.

The post Should I Take Money Out of My 401(k) Now? appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

Source: goodfinancialcents.com

3 reasons I loved my Marriott Platinum status last year — get yours now with a credit card

Having elite status levels in the various airline and hotel programs may not mean as much for most travelers right this second as it usually does. It’s been understandably hard to care about that triple-diamond-platinum-zinc-oxide level elite status card when you haven’t used it in almost a year. But, I trust that travel will return …

Source: thepointsguy.com

TPG reader credit card question: Is it time to switch cards?

Editor’s note: This article is part of our weekly column to answer your credit card questions. If you would like to ask us a question, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at info@thepointsguy.com.  New year, new credit card strategy? Now that we’re starting a new year, many people are taking …

Source: thepointsguy.com

Moving Stressing You Out? Here Are 5 Move-Planning Apps to Make Your Life Easier

PeopleImages/iStock

What can eclipse the excitement of moving to a new home? The headache of packing and unpacking, deciding what to toss, and actually transporting all of your prized possessions, that’s what. It’s a big job, and someone has to do it—but that doesn’t make the impending stress of moving any less overwhelming.

What will help take the pain out of preparing to relocate are move-planning apps. Like other productivity apps that can be downloaded on your smartphone, move-planning apps will help you keep everything organized.

“Move-planning apps work great for preparation and organization, because they help you break up your move into small, actionable steps, so you can be prepared on your move day,” says Jason Burroughs, founder and CEO at Able Body Moving and Delivery in Birmingham, AL. “This can greatly save you on the cost of your move, because the less the movers do, the more money you keep in your pocket.”

Below are five of the best move-planning apps to help make moving day as hassle-free as possible.

1. Sortly

move-planning apps
Sortly is an app that helps you keep inventory for your move.

Sortly

The beauty of this app is its attention to detail; it allows you to compartmentalize every inch of your house. You can create a moving checklist (which can be exported for movers), photograph items and categorize them by location (room, closet, box, etc.), and you can add value and condition for specific items (i.e. your prized dolphin painting).

For $3.99 a month, one user can catalogue an unlimited number of items on three devices. The $25-a-month plan allows three users to catalog unlimited items, with the option of adding users $3 a month per user. The app also has a two-week free trial and a free version that allows one user to catalogue 100 items on one device.

Sortly is available on the App Store for iPhones and iPads, and the Google Play Store for Androids.

2. Unpakt

move-planning apps
Find a moving company with Unpakt

Unpakt

This app helps you find a moving company. Enter basic details—when, where, and what you’re moving—and you’ll see real prices (not estimates) from verified firms. Unpakt offers a price guarantee that only changes if you add or remove an item or service.

Booking a service is simple: Just select a mover, enter your billing information, and your move is reserved. Your credit card will be charged two business days before the day of the move. Unpakt guarantees that moving companies are screened to ensure that they’re reputable; you can also read reviews from other consumers on the app.

Unpakt is free and is available on the App Store for iPhones and iPads and the Google Play Store for Androids.

3. MakeSpace

move-planning apps
MakeSpace is a great storage solution.

MakeSpace

If you’re downsizing or moving to a home short on storage space, MakeSpace will come in handy. “We take care of the hauling and heavy lifting, at a price that’s comparable to traditional, DIY self-storage,” says Amory Wooden, VP of brand at MakeSpace.

The app makes the process as simple as possible: Just book an appointment, and its team of professional movers will come to pick up your stuff and haul it off to storage. When you want your items back, schedule a delivery, and the team will return your goods.

As an added bonus, Wooden says MakeSpace will bring complimentary supplies, like bubble wrap and free MakeSpace bins.

When the items arrive at the storage facility, the company sends photos of everything—and the photos can be used to request specific items that you want to get out of storage.

The storage plans range from $69 per month for a 2-foot by 2-foot unit, to $469 per month for a 10-foot by 20-foot unit.

The MakeSpace app is free and is available for download on the App Store for iPhones and iPads.

4. Flying Ruler

move-planning apps
Flying Ruler will help you measure anything in your home.

Flying Ruler

Not sure if that sofa will fit in your new living room? Is it too large to come through the front door? Flying Ruler can help you be sure. This app is a tape measure, ruler, protractor, and a goniometer (otherwise known as an angle-measurer).

After you calibrate your phone—a simple process that the app walks you through—you can take measurements merely by moving your phone from one point to the next. The measurement is then displayed on the interface in either inches or centimeters. You can also take a photo of the measurements. The Flying Ruler app has a high accuracy rate, but the company recommends that you measure more than once.

FlyingRuler costs $1.99 and is available for download on the App Store for iPhones and iPads.

5. Dolly

move-planning apps
Hire someone to help you move with Dolly.

Dolly

Dolly helps you find vetted and insured pick-up truck owners to help you with moving, furniture pick-up, and even hauling off your trash. Found your perfect sofa at a store that doesn’t deliver? Dolly can help you hire someone to transport your purchase home.

In addition, Dolly can match you with someone for a “labor-only move,” if you need some extra muscle to move stuff around your home.

The app is extremely simple to navigate: Enter your details (what/where/when you need something picked up and delivered) and receive a quote for the service. If you agree to the price, simply book the Dolly. You can book a same-day delivery, or schedule the delivery for the next day, or even the next month.

You can ask for almost anything to be moved, with the exception of a few items, such as gun safes, pianos, and alcohol.

Dolly is free. It is available for download on the App Store for iPhones and iPads, and the Google Play Store for Androids.

The post Moving Stressing You Out? Here Are 5 Move-Planning Apps to Make Your Life Easier appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com