Guide to Small Business Startup Loans

Man working on a puzzle

It takes money to make money and virtually any small business will require some startup capital to get up and running. While the personal savings of the founders is likely the most common source of startup funding, many startups also employ loans to provide seed capital. New enterprises with no established credit cannot get loans as easily from many sources, but startup loans are available for entrepreneurs who know where to look. Here are some of those places to look, plus ways to supplement loans. For help with loans and any other financial questions you have, consider working with a financial advisor.

Startup Loans: Preparing to Borrow

Before starting to look for a startup loan, the primary question for the entrepreneur is how much he or she needs to borrow. The size of the loan is a key factor in determining where funding is likely to be available. Some sources will only fund very small loans, for example, while others will only deal with borrowers seeking sizable amounts.

The founder’s personal credit history is another important element. Because the business has no previous history of operating, paying bills or borrowing money and paying it back, the likelihood of any loan is likely to hinge on the founder’s credit score. The founder is also likely to have to personally guarantee the loan, so the amount and size of personal financial resources is another factor.

Business documents that may be needed to apply include a business plan, financial projections and a description of how funds will be used.

Startup Loan Types

There are a number of ways to obtain startup loans. Here are several of them.

Personal loan – A personal loan is another way to get seed money. Using a personal loan to fund a startup could be a good idea for business owners who have good credit and don’t require a lot of money to bootstrap their operation. However, personal loans tend to carry a higher interest rate than business loans and the amount banks are willing to lend may not be enough.

Loans from friends and family – This can work for an entrepreneur who has access to well-heeled relatives and comrades. Friends and family are not likely to be as demanding as other sources of loans when it comes to credit scores. However, if a startup is unable to repay a loan from a friend or relative, the result can be a damaged relationship as well as a failed business.

Venture capitalists – While these people typically take equity positions in startups their investments are often structured as loans. Venture capitalists can provide more money than friends and family. However, they often take an active hand in managing their investments so founders may need to be ready to surrender considerable control.

SBA loan applicationGovernment-backed startup loans – These are available through programs administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Small Business Administration (SBA) as well as, to a lesser degree, the Interior, Agriculture and Treasury departments. Borrowers apply for these through affiliated private financial institutions, including banks. LenderMatch is a tool startup businesses use to find these affiliated private financial institutions. Government-guaranteed loans charge lower interest rates and are easier to qualify for than non-guaranteed bank loans.

Bank loans – These are the most popular form of business funding, and they offer attractive interest rates and bankers don’t try to take control as venture investors might. However, banks are reluctant to lend to new businesses without a track record. Using a bank to finance a startup generally means taking out a personal loan, which means the owner will need a good personal credit score and be ready to put up collateral to secure approval.

Credit cards – Using credit cards to fund a new business is easy, quick and requires little paperwork. However, interest rates and penalties are high and the amount of money that can be raised is limited.

Self-funding – Rather than simply putting money into the business that he or she owns, the founder can structure the cash infusion as a loan that the business will pay back. One potential benefit of this is that interest paid to the owner for the loan can be deducted from future profits, reducing the business’s tax burden.

Alternatives to Startup Loans

Crowdfunding – This lets entrepreneurs use social media to reach large numbers of private individuals, borrowing small amounts from each to reach the critical mass required to get a new business up and running. As with friends and family, credit history isn’t likely to be a big concern. However, crowdfunding works best with businesses that have a new product that requires funding to complete design and begin production.

Nonprofits and community organizations – These groups engage in microfinancing. Getting a grant from one of these groups an option for a startup that requires a small amount, from a few hundred to a few tens of thousands of dollars. If you need more, one of the other channels is likely to be a better bet.

The Bottom Line

Green plant growing out of a jar of coinsStartup businesses seeking financing have a number of options for getting a loan. While it is often difficult for a brand-new company to get a conventional business bank loan, friends and family, venture investors, government-backed loan programs, crowdfunding, microloans and credit cards may provide solutions. The size of the loan amount and the personal credit history and financial assets of the founder are likely to be important in determining which financing channel is most appropriate.

Tips on Funding a Startup

  • If you are searching for a way to fund a business startup, consider working with an experienced financial advisor. Finding the right financial advisor who fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors who will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • One way to minimize the challenge of getting startup funding is to take a “lean startup” approach. That approach could be especially helpful to baby boomers, who are “aging out” of their careers and living longer than earlier generations but still need (or want) an income. Learn how many of them are turning their retirement into business opportunities.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Andrii Yalanskyi, ©iStock.com/teekid, ©iStock.com/Thithawat_s

The post Guide to Small Business Startup Loans appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com

How to Write a Check (Step by Step Guide to Filling Out a Check)

Writing a check. It’s one of those things you always wanted to know how to do right but were probably too afraid to ask. Well, fear no longer: in this guide, we’ll walk you through the basics of check-writing, from how to fill out the lines you need, to knowing when it’s best to use a check — and when it’s not. We’ve also included a printable practice check at the bottom of the article so you can give it a shot before filling out a real one.

In this article, we’ll cover everything from how to write a check to the best situations to use one. Read through if you want to know everything you need to about writing a check, or click on a link below to jump straight to the section you’re most interested in.

  • What Is a Check?
    • Where Can I Get a Checkbook?
  • How Do You Fill Out a Check?
    • What Do I Do After Writing a Check?
  • Check Writing Security Tips
  • Alternatives to Writing a Check
  • Wrapping up

Before we get into the details of learning how to fill out a check, let’s start with the basics.

What Is a Check?

A check is basically a statement in writing that you agree to pay some amount of money to whomever you’re making the check out to. It lets the bank know that they can withdraw those funds from your financial accounts and direct deposit it into the payee’s account (that’s the person who you’re paying). If you’re unsure about how much to keep in checking for checks you may be writing, check out our post on that for a brief explanation.

When to use a check

Checks are useful in a variety of situations. You can use a check to:

  • Pay your monthly rent
  • Make a large purchase without a card
  • Send money as a gift
  • Pay for groceries
  • Pay for hired work like a housekeeper or gardener

Basically, they’re good for situations where you’re paying large sums of money that wouldn’t be convenient to pay for in cash, and where you’d rather not use a credit or debit card.

Where can I get a checkbook?

You can usually get a checkbook straight from your bank for free or a small fee, and they’re also available from retailers like Costco and Walmart. Custom checks are also available online from sites like Checks.com, but be careful where you order from, as some sites may not be secure — or could even be a scam.

Before you get started making payments with checks, however, you’ll need to know how to fill one out.

How Do You Fill Out a Check?

Knowing how to write a check is pretty easy once you get the hang of it. First, take a look at this graphic that shows the way that all the necessary fields of a check should be filled out.

filling in a check

Next, we’ll walk through each step to make sure you know what goes into filling out each line. We get it — it’s a little nerve racking signing over money to someone on a little piece of paper. Knowing how to fill it out correctly will give you more confidence the next time you have to send a check.

  1. Start with the payee, the person who you’re sending money to. There’s usually text that reads “pay to the order of” beside a line that you’ll fill in. On that line, simply write the first and last name of the person who you’re paying, or the name of the company you’re paying if it’s not an individual person. Be sure that you spell everything correctly, as misspelling a name could result in the check not going through.
  2. Fill in the amount in words that you are paying your payee. This part is a little weird, since you usually write numbers out in numerals, but it’s an important security step. The dollar amount should be written in words, and any cents can be written as a fraction out of 100. For example, if you were paying your landlord $925.50 for rent and utilities, you’d write out “Nine hundred twenty five dollars and 50/100.”
  3. Fill in the amount in numbers in the box on the top right of the check. This is a bit easier. In the case of the example above, you’d just write out $925.50. Often, the dollar sign is already written on the check, so you just have to make sure that the numerals are written out correctly. Important note: be sure that you double-check that the amount you wrote in words matches the amount you wrote in numerals.
  4. The optional memo line is located on the bottom left of the check. Though leaving this blank won’t invalidate the check, it’s usually smart to include a brief description so that your payee knows what the money is for. For example, in the rent check example, including “September rent” on the memo line is a good way for you and your landlord to keep track of your rent payments.
  5. The date is on the top right of the check. Fill in the date of the day you fill out the check — this ensures that you and your recipient can keep track of when the payment occurred.
  6. Sign your check on the line on the bottom right. This line shows that you have officially agreed to pay the listed amount. Be sure that the name you sign matches the one on file with your bank or the check may not be valid. It’s also a good idea to have a consistent signature, that way there’s little doubt you’ve authorized the check.

That’s it! That’s all it takes to know how to fill out a check. If you need a little practice filling out a check before you’re ready to send one, try out our printable practice check.

Note: In addition to the parts that you’ll fill in, a check includes the routing number and account number for the bank account that it’s withdrawing from. You don’t need to worry about those when you learn how to write a check, but when you receive your checkbook, be sure to double check that the number match your bank. You want to know which bank account your check will be drawing from when it’s cashed.

What Do I Do After Writing a Check?

Once you’ve written the check, make sure to note in a check register the amount that you’ve paid. Check registers are often included in the backs of checkbooks, but you can also keep a separate one if that is more convenient for you.

Whether you use a paper register or a digital one, it’s important to record how much you’ve paid because, until your payee cashes the check and it’s processed at your bank, your account will still list those funds as available. Recording the amount that you’ve paid gives you a more accurate picture of the amount that is in your checking account, and will be necessary when it’s time to balance your checkbook.

Note: Making sure to track cash and checks is always an important way to stay on your budget. While you will likely be able to see your credit card purchases online as soon as they happen, checks and cash don’t leave as easy a trail. Maintaining a written log and using an app like Mint are helpful ways to keep an eye on the full picture of your spending as you wait for checks to clear.

Check Writing Security Tips

Because checks are physical pieces of paper, they aren’t password protected and aren’t as easy to track as electronic payments (more on that in the next section). So, there are some security risks that you should keep in mind if you plan on using your checkbook.

Check writing security basics

That said, checks are generally a secure way of paying for things if they’re filled out carefully and properly. Check out these tips before filling out your check to ensure that you aren’t scammed or defrauded.

  • Never leave a check blank. There’s a reason signing your check was the last step listed above. If you sign a check and hand it over without a dollar amount specified, your payee can simply enter whatever quantity they wish and withdraw that from your bank account. The same goes for the payee line. If you had a signed check made out for $500 without a payee, and it slipped out of your bag, anyone could pick it up, enter their name, and pay themselves. Be sure that you always wait until you know the dollar amount and payee before you sign your check.
  • Use a pen. For the same reasons you wouldn’t want to hand anyone a blank check, it’s a good idea to use pen when filling it out. A check written in pencil could be easily tampered with, so be sure your writing is clear and permanent to avoid check fraud.
  • Try out the line method. Following the same reasoning, you wouldn’t want someone to turn your check for $500 into a check for $5500. You can prevent this by drawing a line from the edge of the space where you’ve written the amount to the start of your first letter. Follow this up by filling the entire numerical quantity box with the numerals for your amount.
  • Keep a record. Whether you opt for a checkbook that makes carbon copies of every check you write, or simply record all your transactions in a check register, keeping a handy list of all your paid checks is a good way to make sure you notice if something goes wrong. It’s also just helpful when you’re trying to sort out how much money you’ve spent and what you’ve spent it on.

Checks are generally a secure way to pay for things, but they might not be your best option for every situation.

Alternatives to writing a check

Alternatives to Writing a Check

Writing a check might be a useful way to make a payment in some situations, but in today’s world of tech, card payments and online banking, there’s often an easier and more secure alternative to pay or transfer funds.

Check alternatives

Here are some situations where you might use a check along with some alternatives that could be a better option.

  • Paying rent. There are plenty of landlords who keep things old school and only accept checks. However, many contemporary apartment complexes or apartments owned by property management companies will invest in an online payment portal for their residents. If you have the option to set up a payment portal, this is a much safer way of paying rent — plus, it eliminates the cost and hassle of mailing a check.
  • Making a large purchase. Credit cards are scary, but they often are a much better way of making large purchases. This is because many credit cards offer perks like cash back or airline miles, and consistently paying off your balance can seriously boost your credit. Plus, credit cards have stronger fraud protection than checks.
  • Buying groceries. Credit cards are also a great option here. Many grocery stores, or retailers that also sell groceries, offer credit cards themselves. These can be used to gain points or discounts, lowering your grocery bill monthly.

Wrapping up

Knowing how to write a check can be a handy and secure way to pay for something if you do it correctly. The guidelines in this post should help you start writing checks safely and carefully, and if you need a little extra practice, try out our printable practice check below. It’s a good way to feel confident before you put your pen (never pencil!) on the next check you write.

Blank check

 

The post How to Write a Check (Step by Step Guide to Filling Out a Check) appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

How to Pay Off Credit Card Debt Faster

I've received several questions from Money Girl podcast listeners about paying off credit card debt. It's a fundamental goal because carrying card balances come with high interest, a waste of your financial resources. Instead of paying money to card companies, it's time to use it to build wealth for yourself.

7 Strategies to Pay Off Credit Card Debt Faster

1. Stop making new card charges

If you're carrying card balances from month-to-month, it's essential to understand what it costs you. As interest accrues, it can double or triple the original cost of a charged item, depending on how long it takes you to pay off.

The first step to improving any area of your life is to acknowledge your mistakes, and financing a lifestyle you can't afford using a credit card is a biggie. So, stop making new charges until you take control of your cards and can pay them off in full each month.

As interest accrues, it can double or triple the original cost of a charged item, depending on how long it takes you to pay off.

Yes, reining in your card spending will probably require sacrifices. Consider ways to earn extra income, such as starting a side gig, finding a better-paying job, or selling your unused stuff. Also, look for ways to cut costs by downsizing your home, vehicle, memberships, or unnecessary expenses.

2. Consider your big financial picture

Before you decide to pay off credit card debt aggressively, look at the "big picture" of your financial life. Consider any other debts or obligations you should prioritize, such as a tax delinquency, legal judgment, or unpaid child support. The next debts to pay off are those already in default or turned over to a collection agency.

In many cases, not having a cash reserve is why people get into credit card debt in the first place.

Assuming you don't have any debts in default, focus your attention on your emergency fund … or lack of one! I recommend maintaining a minimum of six months' worth of your living expenses on hand. In many cases, not having a cash reserve is why people get into credit card debt in the first place.

3. Make more than the minimum payment

Many people who can pay more than their monthly minimum card payment don't do it. The problem is that minimums go mostly toward interest and don't reduce your balance significantly.

For example, let's assume your card charges 15% APR, you have a $5,000 balance, and you never make another purchase on the card. If your minimum payment is 4% of your card balance, it will take you 10½ years to pay off. And here's the worst part—you'd have paid almost $2,400 in interest!

4. Target debts with the highest interest rates first

Make a list of all your debts, including credit cards, lines of credit, and loans. Include your balances owed and interest rates charged. Then rank your liabilities in order of highest to lowest interest rate.

Getting rid of the highest interest debts first saves you the most.

Remember that the higher a debt's interest rate, the more it costs you in interest per dollar of debt. So, getting rid of the highest interest debts first saves you the most. Then you can use the savings to pay more on your next highest interest debt and so on.

If you have several credit cards, evaluate them the same way—tackle them in order of highest to lowest interest rate to get the most bang for your buck. And if a credit card isn't the most expensive debt you have, make it a lower priority.

In general, debts that come with a tax deduction such as mortgages, home equity lines of credit, and student loans, should be paid off last. Not only do those types of debt have relatively low interest rates, but when some or all of the interest is tax-deductible, they cost you even less on an after-tax basis.

5. Use your assets to pay off cards

If you have assets such as savings and non-retirement investments that you could use to pay down high-interest credit cards, it may make sense. Just remember that you still need a healthy cash reserve, such as six months' worth of living expenses.

If you don't have any or enough emergency money saved, don't dip into your savings to pay off credit card debt. Also, consider what you could sell—such as unused sporting goods, jewelry, or a vehicle—to raise cash and increase your financial cushion.

6. Consider using a balance transfer card

If you can’t pay off credit card debt using existing assets, consider optimizing it by moving it from higher- to lower-interest options. That won’t make your debt disappear, but it will reduce the amount of interest you pay.

Balance transfers won’t make your debt disappear, but they will reduce the amount of interest you pay.

Using a balance transfer credit card is a common way to optimize debt temporarily. You receive a promotional offer during a set period if you move debt to the account. By transferring higher-interest debt to a lower- or zero-interest card, you save money and use it to pay down the balance faster.

7. Consolidate your high-rate balances

I received a question from Sarah F., who says, “I love your podcast and turn to it for a lot of my financial questions. I have credit card debt and am wondering if it’s a good idea to get a personal loan to pay it down, or is that a scam?”

And Rachel K. says, "I love listening to your podcasts and am focused on becoming more financially fit this year. I have a couple of credit cards with high interest rates. Would it be wise for me to consolidate them to a lower interest rate? If so, will it hurt my credit?" 

Depending on the terms you’re offered, using a personal loan can be an excellent way to reduce interest and get out of debt faster.

Thanks to Sarah and Rachel for your questions. Consolidating credit card debt using a personal loan is not a scam but a legitimate way to shift debt to a lower interest rate.

Having an additional loan added to your credit history helps you build credit if you make payments on time. It also works in your favor by reducing your credit utilization ratio when you reduce your credit card debt.

If you qualify for a low-rate personal loan, here are some benefits you get from debt consolidation:

  • Cutting your interest expense
  • Getting a fixed rate and term (such as 6% APR for 60 months with monthly payments of $600)
  • Having one monthly debt payment
  • Building credit

A couple of downsides of using a personal loan to consolidate debt include:

  • Being tempted to continue making credit card charges
  • Having potentially higher monthly loan payments (compared to minimum credit card payments)

While it may seem counterintuitive to use new debt to get out of old debt, it all comes down to the interest rate. Depending on the terms you’re offered, using a personal loan can be an excellent way to reduce interest and get out of debt faster.

What should you do after paying off a credit card?

Credit cards come with many benefits, such as purchase protection, convenience, and rewards. Don't forget that they're also powerful tools for building credit when used responsibly. If maintaining good credit is one of your goals, I recommend that you keep a paid-off card open instead of canceling it.

You don't need to carry a balance from month to month or pay interest on a credit card to build excellent credit.

To maintain or improve your credit, you must have credit accounts open in your name, and you must use them regularly. Making small purchases charges from time to time that you pay off in full and on time is enough to add positive data to your credit reports. You don't need to carry a balance from month to month or pay interest on a credit card to build excellent credit.

To learn more about building credit and getting out of debt, check out Laura’s best-selling online classes:

  • Build Better Credit—The Ultimate Credit Score Repair Guide
  • Get Out of Debt Fast—A Proven Plan to Stay Debt-Free Forever

Source: quickanddirtytips.com

Things Break. How to Make Sure Your Emergency Fund Can Cover Them

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Your washing machine. Your car. Your front tooth.

If any of those broke right now, would you be able to get it fixed immediately? Or would you have to walk around with a gap in your smile for months until you could get the money together?

If you can’t afford to pay to fix it today, you’re not alone. Most people don’t have $400 saved in case of an emergency either. So before your car breaks down on the side of the road on your way to an interview, make sure you have a solid emergency fund of at least $500.

Don’t know how to get there? Having a budget (that you actually stick to) can help you get there. Here’s one budgeting strategy we recommend, and four other tips that can help you keep your expenses in line.

1. The 50/30/20 Budgeting Rule

The 50/30/20 rule is one of the simplest budgeting methods out there, which is why you’ve probably heard us talk about it before if you’re a regular TPH reader. There are no fancy spreadsheets or pricy apps to download (unless you want to), and it’s very straightforward.

Here’s how it shakes out: 50% of your monthly take home income goes to your essentials — your rent, your groceries, your minimum debt payments, and other necessities. 30% of your cash goes to the fun stuff, and 20% is dedicated to your financial goals. That could be paying more than the minimum on your debts or adding to your investments. And it definitely includes building up your emergency fund!

If you take a look at your budget and realized you don’t have enough leftover to contribute to your emergency fund, here are a few ways to help balance your budget:

2. Cut More Than $500 From One Of Your Must-Have Bills

You’re probably overpaying the bills you have to pay each month. But you can cut those expenses down, without sacrificing anything. Maybe even enough to cover that window your kid just smashed with a ball. Definitely enough to grow your emergency fund a meaningful amount.

So, when’s the last time you checked car insurance prices?

You should shop your options every six months or so — it could save you some serious money. Let’s be real, though. It’s probably not the first thing you think about when you wake up. But it doesn’t have to be.

A website called Insure.com makes it super easy to compare car insurance prices. All you have to do is enter your ZIP code and your age, and it’ll show you your options.

Using Insure.com, people have saved an average of $540 a year.

Yup. That could be $500 back in your pocket just for taking a few minutes to look at your options.

3. Earn Up to $225 in Easy, Extra Cash

If we told you you could get free money just for watching videos on your computer, you’d probably laugh. It’s too good to be true, right? But we’re serious. You can really add up to a few hundred bucks to your emergency savings with some mindless entertainment.

A website called InboxDollars will pay you to watch short video clips online. One minute you might watch someone bake brownies and the next you might get the latest updates on Kardashian drama.

All you have to do is choose which videos you want to watch and answer a few quick questions about them afterward. Brands pay InboxDollars to get these videos in front of viewers, and it passes a cut onto you.

InboxDollars won’t make you rich, but it’s possible to get up to $225 per month watching these videos. It’s already paid its users more than $56 million.

It takes about one minute to sign up, and you’ll immediately earn a $5 bonus to get you started.

4. Ask This Website to Pay Your Credit Card Bill This Month

Just by paying the minimum amount on your credit cards, you are extending the life of your debt exponentially — not to mention the hundreds (or thousands) of dollars you’re wasting on interest payments. You could be using that money to beef up your emergency savings, instead.

The truth is, your credit card company is happy to let you pay just the minimum every month. It’s getting rich by ripping you off with high interest rates — some up to nearly 30%. But a website called AmOne wants to help.

If you owe your credit card companies $50,000 or less, AmOne will match you with a low-interest loan you can use to pay off every single one of your balances.

The benefit? You’ll be left with one bill to pay each month. And because personal loans have lower interest rates (AmOne rates start at 3.49% APR), you’ll get out of debt that much faster. Plus: No credit card payment this month.

AmOne keeps your information confidential and secure, which is probably why after 20 years in business, it still has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau.

It takes two minutes to see if you qualify for up to $50,000 online. You do need to give AmOne a real phone number in order to qualify, but don’t worry — they won’t spam you with phone calls.

5. Get a Side Gig And Make More Money

Let’s face it — if your monthly income is less than what your monthly expenses are (and you’ve run out of things to cut), you need more money.

Well, we all could use more money. And by earning a little bit extra each month, we could make sure we’re never taken by surprise when an ER visit tries to drain our savings.

Luckily, earning money has never been easier with the rise of the “Gig Economy”. Here are 31 simple ways to make money online. Which one could you do to pad your emergency savings?

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

Should You Transfer Balances to No-Interest Credit Cards Multiple Times?

Karen, our editor at Quick and Dirty Tips, has a friend named Heather who listens to the Money Girl podcast and has a money question. She thought it would be a great podcast topic and sent it to me. 

Heather says:

I had a financial crisis and ended up with a $2,500 balance on my new credit card, which had a no-interest promotion for 18 months when I got it. That promotional rate is going to expire in a couple of months. I have good credit, and I keep getting offers from other card companies for zero-interest balance transfer promotions. Would it be a good idea to apply for another card and transfer my balance so I don't have to pay any interest? Are there any downsides that I should watch out for?

Thanks, Karen and Heather! That's a terrific question. I'm sure many podcast listeners and readers also wonder if it's a good idea to transfer a balance multiple times. 

This article will explain balance transfer credit cards, how they make paying off high-interest debt easier, and tips to handle them the right way. You'll learn some pros and cons of doing multiple balance transfers and mistakes to avoid.

What is a balance transfer credit card or offer?

A balance transfer credit card is also known as a no-interest or zero-interest credit card. It's a card feature that includes an offer for you to transfer balances from other accounts and save money for a limited period.

You typically pay an annual percentage rate (APR) of 0% during a promotional period ranging from 6 to 18 months. In general, you'll need good credit to qualify for the best transfer deals.

Every transfer offer is different because it depends on the issuer and your financial situation; however, the longer the promotional period, the better. You don't accrue one penny of interest until the promotion expires.

However, you typically must pay a one-time transfer fee in the range of 2% to 5%. For example, if you transfer $1,000 to a card with a 2% transfer fee, you'll be charged $20, which increases your debt to $1,020. So, choose a transfer card with the lowest transfer fee and no annual fee, when possible.

When you get approved for a new balance transfer card, you get a credit limit, just like you do with other credit cards. You can only transfer amounts up to that limit. 

Missing a payment means your sweet 0% APR could end and that you could get charged a default APR as high as 29.99%!

You can use a transfer card for just about any type of debt, such as credit cards, auto loans, and personal loans. The issuer may give you the option to have funds deposited into your bank account so that you can send it to the creditor of your choice. Or you might be asked to complete an online form indicating who to pay, the account number, and the amount so that the transfer card company can pay it on your behalf.

Once the transfer is complete, the debt balance moves over to your transfer card account, and any transfer fee gets added. But even though no interest accrues to your account, you must still make monthly minimum payments throughout the promotional period.

Missing a payment means your sweet 0% APR could end and that you could get charged a default APR as high as 29.99%! That could easily wipe out any benefits you hoped to gain by doing a balance transfer in the first place.

How does a balance transfer affect your credit?

A common question about balance transfers is how they affect your credit. One of the most significant factors in your credit scores is your credit utilization ratio. It's the amount of debt you owe on revolving accounts (such as credit cards and lines of credit) compared to your available credit limits. 

For example, if you have $2,000 on a credit card and $8,000 in available credit, you're using one-quarter of your limit and have a 25% credit utilization ratio. This ratio gets calculated for each of your revolving accounts and as a total on all of them.  

Getting a new balance transfer credit card (or an additional limit on an existing card) instantly raises your available credit, while your debt level remains the same. That causes your credit utilization ratio to plummet, boosting your scores.

I recommend using no more than 20% of your available credit to build or maintain optimal credit scores. Having a low utilization shows that you can use credit responsibly without maxing out your accounts.

Getting a new balance transfer credit card (or an additional limit on an existing card) instantly raises your available credit, while your debt level remains the same. That causes your credit utilization ratio to plummet, boosting your scores.

Likewise, the opposite is true when you close a credit card or a line of credit. So, if you transfer a card balance and close the old account, it reduces your available credit, which spikes your utilization ratio and causes your credit scores to drop. 

Only cancel a paid-off card if you're prepared to see your credit scores take a dip.

So, only cancel a paid-off card if you're prepared to see your scores take a dip. A better decision may be to file away a card or use it sparingly for purchases you pay off in full each month.

Another factor that plays a small role in your credit scores is the number of recent inquiries for new credit. Applying for a new transfer card typically causes a slight, short-term dip in your credit. Having a temporary ding on your credit usually isn't a problem, unless you have plans to finance a big purchase, such as a house or car, within the next six months.

The takeaway is that if you don't close a credit card after transferring a balance to a new account, and you don't apply for other new credit accounts around the same time, the net effect should raise your credit scores, not hurt them.

RELATED: When to Cancel a Credit Card? 10 Dos and Don’ts to Follow

When is using a balance transfer credit card a good idea?

I've done many zero-interest balance transfers because they save money when used correctly. It's a good strategy if you can pay off the balance before the offer's expiration date. 

Let's say you're having a good year and expect to receive a bonus within a few months that you can use to pay off a credit card balance. Instead of waiting for the bonus to hit your bank account, you could use a no-interest transfer card. That will cut the amount of interest you must pay during the card's promotional period.

When should you do multiple balance transfers?

But what if you're like Heather and won't pay off a no-interest promotional offer before it ends? Carrying a balance after the promotion means your interest rate goes back up to the standard rate, which could be higher than what you paid before the transfer. So, doing another transfer to defer interest for an additional promotional period can make sense. 

If you make a second or third balance transfer but aren't making any progress toward paying down your debt, it can become a shell game.

However, it may only be possible if you're like Heather and have good credit to qualify. Balance transfer cards and promotions are typically only offered to consumers with good or excellent credit.

If you make a second or third balance transfer but aren't making any progress toward paying down your debt, it can become a shell game. And don't forget about the transfer fee you typically must pay that gets added to your outstanding balance. While avoiding interest is a good move, creating a solid plan to pay down your debt is even better.

If you have a goal to pay off your card balance and find reasonable transfer offers, there's no harm in using a balance transfer to cut interest while you regroup. 

Advantages of doing a balance transfer

Here are several advantages of using a balance transfer credit card.

  • Reducing your interest. That's the point of transferring debt, so you save money for a limited period, even after paying a transfer fee.
  • Paying off debt faster. If you put the extra savings from doing a transfer toward your balance, you can eliminate it more quickly.
  • Boosting your credit. This is a nice side effect if you open a new balance transfer card and instantly have more available credit in your name, which lowers your credit utilization ratio.

Disadvantages of doing a balance transfer

Here are some cons for doing a balance transfer. 

  • Paying a fee. It's standard with most cards, which charge in the range of 2% to 5% per transfer.
  • Paying higher interest. When the promotion ends, your rate will vary by issuer and your financial situation, but it could spike dramatically. 
  • Giving up student loan benefits. This is a downside if you're considering using a transfer card to pay off federal student loans that come with repayment or forgiveness options. Once the debt gets transferred to a credit card, the loan benefits, including a tax deduction on interest, no longer apply. 

Tips for using a balance transfer credit card wisely

The best way to use a balance transfer is to have a realistic plan to pay off the balance before the promotion expires.

The best way to use a balance transfer is to have a realistic plan to pay off the balance before the promotion expires. Or be sure that the interest rate will be reasonable after the promotion ends.

Shifting a high-interest debt to a no-interest transfer account is a smart way to save money. It doesn't make your debt disappear, but it does make it less expensive for a period.

If you can save money during the promotional period, despite any balance transfer fees, you'll come out ahead. And if you plow your savings back into your balance, instead of spending it, you'll get out of debt faster than you thought possible.

Source: quickanddirtytips.com

Escape your home for a safe holiday staycation

With the 2020 holidays upon us, it’s likely you’ve spent some time considering how you’ll have a COVID-safe celebration. Should you stay? Should you go? Is travel to your family even an option this year as some states impose new travel restrictions and mandatory quarantine periods?

Perhaps for safety’s sake, you’ve decided to stay put. But you also recognize that being “home for the holidays” doesn’t have the same cozy appeal as it used to when you’ve already been home working from home for months on end. What you might need is a staycation – the getaway for when you can’t get away.

Check out all the answers from our credit card experts.

Ask Stephanie a question.

Get away for the holidays without going away

Traditionally, when we think about holiday travel, we’re most likely planning how to get ourselves to a faraway destination – whether that’s to see family across the country, or to flee from some combination of family, holiday hustles and winter weather.

This year, I’ve personally decided I won’t be among the holiday crowds attempting to fly on the busiest travel days of the year. Instead, I’ll be sticking closer to home, celebrating in my own city with a staycation – and testing a theory that there is no place like a Hyatt for the holidays.

If you’re planning to stay close to home like me, here’s some good news: Your credit card points work just as well for living it up in luxury in your hometown as they do when you’re on the road.

Some more good news: You’ll save lots of points and dollars by not flying anywhere this holiday – so go ahead and book the suite!

How to use your credit card points to book a staycation

If you live in or near a city, finding a hotel to tuck into for a few days over the holiday period should be pretty straightforward.

To plan a staycation, I normally start by checking what’s available near me by searching the website for each of the hotel groups in whose loyalty programs I participate.

Here in my hometown of Portland, Oregon, I found plenty of options at varying price points when I looked up Marriott, IHG, Hilton and Hyatt – the four hotel programs in which I currently have points.

For example, a few weeks ago, I decided to take an early holiday staycation at the Hyatt Centric Downtown Portland. I chose the hotel because of its location right in the middle of the city, and because Hyatt has a 25% points-back offer on award stays and free parking for The World of Hyatt Credit Card holders through the end of the year.

I paid 30,000 World of Hyatt points for a two-night stay, got 7,500 points back, and got upgraded to a suite thanks to my World of Hyatt elite status. Without points, the suite would have cost $355 dollars a night – plus the free valet parking saved me another $47 a day. I was able to get a $804 value for 22,500 rewards points. Even though I was less than two miles from my actual house, I felt a world away.

How to use travel rewards to book a staycation

If you don’t already have a hotel-branded rewards credit card for earning points in a specific hotel program like World of Hyatt, or if you live in a location where there aren’t many chain hotels, you’ll likely have more luck booking a staycation using travel rewards points.

You can book directly through the respective program’s travel planning portal. Flexible bank programs include Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou points.

Once you find a hotel you want to visit, and before you make the booking, you’ll want to check to make sure the hotel amenities that excite you for your staycation are going to be open and accessible.

Other than being snuggled up in a warm bed that I didn’t make myself, the best part of my staycation weekend at the Hyatt Centric Portland was the food.

Masia, the hotel’s signature restaurant designed by Portland’s award-winning Spanish chef Jose Chesa, was finally open and serving after a long COVID closure. Since I live in a city where indoor dining still hasn’t made a full comeback (and is now taking a pause for the holiday season), it was a rather delightful experience to spend two mornings lingering over a long breakfast.

If you’re booking more than a week in advance, you should also make sure your reservation is flexible or cancelable should your own plans change, or the COVID regulations in your state or county change and require the hotel to amend their offerings.

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9 Apps That Will Help You Manage Your Debt

A hand holds an iphone, open to the home screen with debt management app icons.

Debt can feel like a terrible thing, but paying off your debts is how you demonstrate that you can successfully manage your finances. Whether you make your debt payments on time makes up 35% of your credit score. Making on-time payments is one of the smartest ways to use your debt to your advantage.

If you need a little help, debt management apps can help you organize and manage all of your debts in one place. Just input all debt data into your phone and manage them there. Here are a few options to consider.

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App Best Used For Price Platform
Tally Credit card management Free to download iOS and Android
Debt Book Borrow/lender communication Free Android
Debt Manager Snowball Method, debt summary and tracking, progress bar $0.99 iOS
Pay Off Debt Motivation to make your debt payments $4.99 iOS and Android
Mint Budgeting for debt payments   Web, iOS, and Android
ChangEd Student loan repayments $1/month iOS and Android
Unbury.me Quick payoff calculator Free Web only
Digit Savings to apply to debt $5/month iOS and Android
Credit Report Card All-around financial wellness and credit score tracking free Web, iOS and Android

Tally

Tally is a debt management app that makes it easy to save money by automating your credit card payments to help you reduce your debt faster. The app is free to download, but the real value of Tally comes if you are approved for a Tally Line of Credit that consolidates your credit card debt with a lower APR. You’ll owe interest on that loan, but Tally will automate your credit card payments and determine the best way to save you money based on your credit card rates.  

>> See our full review

Debt Book 

Debt Book is an app for borrowers as well as lenders. It allows you to track and update your debt in a “Master Book,” which shows your borrowed/lent amount, how much has been paid/collected, and how much remains. The app also gives you options to view this data in a statistical chart for a visual representation of your current debt situation. And if the borrower and lender are both on the app, they can communicate and send payments through the app. This makes it easier to stay in contact with one another and to stay on top of existing debt.

Debt Manager 

Debt Manager uses your debt information to create progress bar graphs to help you see how far along you are in paying off each debt, how much debt is remaining, and your interest rate. The application specifically focuses on the Snowball Method to track and pay off all debts quickly and efficiently. The interactive app gives hints and tips based on your debt situation. You can also track monthly payments within the app manually or automatically and test out different “What If?” scenarios.

Pay Off Debt

Pay Off Debt helps you choose the payoff method and order that works best for you. You can use the debt snowball method, debt avalanche method, or something else. Track your payoff progress and the interest you’ve saved. Pay Off Debt also prioritizes keeping you motivated during your debt payment journey: the app provides a burst of motivation with a PAID icon each time you pay off a debt, and you can add pictures to symbolize your “Why.”

Mint

You’ll need to budget in order to efficiently pay off your bills. Mint helps you do just that. It’s one of the best-known budgeting apps for good reason. It’s easy to use and is packed with extra features. Mint gathers everything in one place—your cash, credit cards, loans, investments, credit score, and more. Track your bill payments, budget for future payments, and get alerts when you overspend or a bill is due.

ChangEd

A round up app like Acorns, ChangEd is an easy way to automate regular extra payments to pay off your student loans early. Connect your loans and bank accounts and create an FDIC-insured ChangEd savings account. As you spend, ChangEd will roundup your purchases and transfer those roundups to your ChangEd savings account. Once you reach $100, they’ll send that money to the student loan you want to pay off first.

Unbury.me

If you want a quick and easy way to visualize your debts and how long it will take you to pay them off, Unbury.me is a great tool. You don’t need an account to use it—just start entering your information—but you can sign up for a free account to save your information. Enter the principal remaining, interest rate, and monthly payment and see how long it will take to pay off those loans based on the payment methods you choose.

Digit

In order to pay off your debts, you need money. That’s where an app like Digit comes in. It’s not a traditional debt management app, but it’s definitely a debt management tool. For $5 per month, it helps you save automatically without even thinking about it. You won’t miss the money it puts in savings for you, but you will benefit from it when it’s time to pay your bills.

Credit.com’s Free Credit Report Card

If you want to see how your debt management is improving your credit, sign up for Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card. Our Credit report Card is an easy-to-understand breakdown of your credit report information that uses letter grades so you can track —plus you get a free credit score updated every 14 days. 

Sign Up Now

Get Your Debt Under Control

Regardless of what approach you prefer to manage your debt, these apps have options for everyone. We suggest taking a look at which app works best for you and personalizing it to fit your needs.

Ready to take your finances to the next level? Sign up for ExtraCredit. This five-in-one financial tool will help you build, track, protect, and restore your credit profile—and reward you while you’re at it! Learn more about all the amazing benefits of an ExtraCredit account at Credit.com/Extracredit.


The post 9 Apps That Will Help You Manage Your Debt appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

Got Cash? What to Do with Extra Money

I received a great email from Magen L., who says:

I no longer have any retirement savings because I cashed it all out to pay my debt. We also sold our home and moved into an apartment just as the pandemic was hitting. With the sale of our house, the fact that my husband is working overtime, and the stimulus money, we've saved nearly $10,000 and should have more by the end of the year. My primary question is, what should we do with it?

Right now, I have our extra money in a low-interest bank savings [account], and I'm considering moving it to a high-yield savings [account] as our emergency fund. Is that a good idea? For additional money we save, I intend to use it as a down payment on a new house. However, should I be investing in Roth IRAs instead? What is the best option?

Another question comes from Bianca G., who says:

I have zero credit card debt, but I have a car loan and a student loan. I will be receiving a large amount of money sometime next year. If my fiancé and I want to buy a home, is it better to pay off my car first and then my student loan, or should I just pay down a big portion of my student loan?

Thanks Megan and Bianca for your questions. I'll answer them and give you a three-step plan to prioritize your extra money and make your finances more secure. No matter if you're a good saver or you get a cash windfall from a tax refund, an inheritance, or the sale of a home, extra money should never be squandered.

What to do with extra cash

Maybe you're like Magen and have extra cash that could be working harder for you, but you're not sure what to do with it. You may even be paralyzed and do nothing because you have a deep-seated fear of making a big mistake with your cash.

In some cases, having your money sit idle is precisely the right financial move. But it depends on whether or not you've accomplished three fundamental financial goals, which we'll cover.

To know the right way to manage extra cash, you need to step back and take a holistic view of your entire financial life.

To know the right way to manage extra cash, you need to step back and take a holistic view of your entire financial life. Consider what you're doing right and where you're vulnerable.

Try using a three-pronged approach that I call the PIP plan, which stands for:

  1. Prepare for the unexpected
  2. Invest for the future
  3. Pay off high-interest debt

Let's examine each one to understand how to use the PIP (prepare, invest, and pay off) approach for your situation.

How to prepare for the unexpected

The first fundamental goal you should have is to prepare for the unexpected. As you know, life is full of surprises. Some of them bring happiness, but there's an infinite number of devastating events that could hurt you financially.

In an instant, you could get fired from your job, experience a natural disaster, get a severe illness, or lose a spouse. If 2020 has taught us anything, it's that we have to be as mentally, physically, and financially prepared as possible for what may be around the corner. 

While no amount of money can reverse a tragedy, having safety nets can protect your finances. That makes coping with a tragedy easier.

Getting equipped for the unexpected is an ongoing challenge. Your approach should change over time because it depends on your income, debt, number of dependents, and breadwinners in a family.

While no amount of money can reverse a tragedy, having safety nets—such as an emergency fund and various types of insurance—can protect your finances. That makes coping with a tragedy easier.

Everyone should accumulate an emergency fund equal to at least three to six months' worth of their living expenses. For instance, if you spend $3,000 a month on essentials—such as housing, utilities, food, and debt payments—make a goal to keep at least $9,000 in an FDIC-insured bank savings account.

While keeping that much in savings may sound boring, the goal for an emergency fund is safety, not growth. The idea is to have immediate access to your cash when you need it. That's why I don't recommend investing your emergency money unless you have more than a six-month reserve.

The goal for an emergency fund is safety, not growth.

If you don't have enough saved, aim to bridge the gap over a reasonable period. For instance, you could save one half of your target over two years or one third over three years. You can put your goal on autopilot by creating an automatic monthly transfer from your checking into your savings account.

Megan mentioned using high-yield savings, which can be a good option because it pays a bit more interest for large balances. However, the higher rate typically comes with limitations, such as applying only to a threshold balance, so be sure to understand the account terms.

Insurance protects your finances

Another critical aspect of preparing for the unexpected is having enough of the right kinds of insurance. Here are some policies you may need:

  • Auto insurance if you drive your own or someone else's vehicle
  • Homeowners insurance, which is typically required when you have a mortgage
  • Renters insurance if you rent a home or apartment
  • Health insurance, which pays a portion of your medical bills
  • Disability insurance replaces a percentage of income if you get sick or injured and can no longer work
  • Life insurance if you have dependents or debt co-signers who would suffer financial hardship if you died

RELATED: How to Create Foolproof Safety Nets

How to invest for your future

Once you get as prepared as possible for the unexpected by building an emergency fund and getting the right kinds of insurance, the next goal I mentioned is investing for retirement. That’s the “I” in PIP, right behind prepare for the unexpected.

Investments can go down in value—you should never invest money you can’t live without.

While many people use the terms saving and investing interchangeably, they’re not the same. Let’s clarify the difference between investing and saving so you can think strategically about them:

Saving is for the money you expect to spend within the next few years and don’t want to risk losing it. In other words, you save money that you want to keep 100% safe because you know you’ll need it or because you could need it. While it won’t earn much interest, you’ll be able to tap it in an instant.

Investing is for the money you expect to spend in the future, such as in five or more years. Purchasing an investment means you’re exposing money to some amount of risk to make it grow. Investments can go down in value; therefore, you should never invest money you can’t live without.

In general, I recommend that you invest through a qualified retirement account, such as a workplace plan or an IRA, which come with tax benefits to boost your growth. My recommendation is to contribute no less than 10% to 15% of your pre-tax income for retirement.

Magen mentioned Roth IRAs, and it may be a good option for her to rebuild her retirement savings. For 2020, you can contribute up to $6,000, or $7,000 if you’re over age 50, to a traditional or a Roth IRA. You typically must have income to qualify for an IRA. However, if you’re married and file taxes jointly, a non-working spouse can max out an IRA based on household income.

For workplace retirement plans, such as a 401(k), you can contribute up to $19,500, or $26,000 if you’re over 50 for 2020. Some employers match a certain percent of contributions, which turbocharges your account. That’s why it’s wise to invest enough to max out any free retirement matching at work. If your employer kicks in matching funds, you can exceed the annual contribution limits that I mentioned.

RELATED: A 5-Point Checklist for How to Invest Money Wisely

How to pay off high-interest debt

Once you're working on the first two parts of my PIP plan by preparing for the unexpected and investing for the future, you're in a perfect position also to pay off high-interest debt, the final "P."

Always tackle your high-interest debts before any other debts because they cost you the most. They usually include credit cards, car loans, personal loans, and payday loans with double-digit interest rates. Remember that when you pay off a credit card that charges 18%, that's just like earning 18% on an investment after taxes—pretty impressive!

Remember that when you pay off a credit card that charges 18%, that's just like earning 18% on an investment after taxes—pretty impressive!

Typical low-interest loans include student loans, mortgages, and home equity lines of credit. These types of debt also come with tax breaks for some of the interest you pay, making them cost even less. So, don't even think about paying them down before implementing your PIP plan.

Getting back to Bianca's situation, she didn't mention having emergency savings or regularly investing for retirement. I recommend using her upcoming cash windfall to set these up before paying off a low-rate student loan.

Let's say Bianca sets aside enough for her emergency fund, purchases any missing insurance, and still has cash left over. She could use some or all of it to pay down her auto loan. Since the auto loan probably has a higher interest rate than her student loan and doesn't come with any tax advantages, it's wise to pay it down first. 

Once you've put your PIP plan into motion, you can work on other goals, such as saving for a house, vacation, college, or any other dream you have. 

Questions to ask when you have extra money

Here are five questions to ask yourself when you have a cash windfall or accumulate savings and aren’t sure what to do with it.

1. Do I have emergency savings?

Having some emergency money is critical for a healthy financial life because no one can predict the future. You might have a considerable unexpected expense or lose income.  

Without emergency money to fall back on, you're living on the edge, financially speaking. So never turn down the opportunity to build a cash reserve before spending money on anything else.

2. Do I contribute to a retirement account at work?

Getting a windfall could be the ticket to getting started with a retirement plan or increasing contributions. It's wise to invest at least 10% to 15% of your gross income for retirement.

Investing in a workplace retirement plan is an excellent way to set aside small amounts of money regularly. You'll build wealth for the future, cut your taxes, and maybe even get some employer matching.

3. Do I have an IRA?

Don't have a job with a retirement plan? Not a problem. If you (or a spouse when you file taxes jointly) have some amount of earned income, you can contribute to a traditional or a Roth IRA. Even if you contribute to a retirement plan at work, you can still max out an IRA in the same year—which is a great way to use a cash windfall.

4. Do I have high-interest debt?

If you have expensive debt, such as credit cards or payday loans, paying them down is the next best way to spend extra money. Take the opportunity to use a windfall to get rid of high-interest debt and stay out of debt in the future. 

5. Do I have other financial goals?

After you’ve built up your emergency fund, have money flowing into tax-advantaged retirement accounts, and are whittling down high-interest debt, start thinking about other financial goals. Do you want to buy a house? Go to graduate school? Send your kids to college?

How to manage a cash windfall

Review your financial situation at least once a year to make sure you’re still on track.

When it comes to managing extra money, always consider the big picture of your financial life and choose strategies that follow my PIP plan in order: prepare for the unexpected, invest for the future, and pay off high-interest debt.

Review your situation at least once a year to make sure you’re still on track. As your life changes, you may need more or less emergency money or insurance coverage.

When your income increases, take the opportunity to bump up your retirement contribution—even increasing it one percent per year can make a huge difference.

And here's another important quick and dirty tip: when you make more money, don't let your cost of living increase as well. If you earn more but maintain or even decrease your expenses, you'll be able to reach your financial goals faster.

Source: quickanddirtytips.com