I messed up! Despite trying to make this article as fact-based as possible, I botched it. I’ve made corrections but if you read the comments, early responses may be confusing in light of my changes.
For the most part, the world of personal finance is calm and collected. There’s not a lot of bickering. Writers (and readers) agree on most concepts and most solutions. And when we do disagree, it’s generally because we’re coming from different places.
Take getting out of debt, for instance. This is one of those topics where people do disagree — but they disagree politely.
Hardcore numbers nerds insist that if you’re in debt, you ought to repay high-interest obligations first. The math says this is the smartest path. Other folks, including me, argue that other approaches are valid. You might pay off debts with emotional baggage first. And many people would benefit from repaying debt from smallest balance to highest balance — the Dave Ramsey approach — rather than focusing on interest rates.
That said, some money topics can be very, very contentious.
Any time I write about money and relationships (especially divorce), I know the debate will get lively. Should you rent a home or should you buy? That question gets people fired up too. What’s the definition of retirement? Should you give up your car and find another way to get around?
But out of all the topics I’ve ever covered at Get Rich Slowly, perhaps the most incendiary has been taxes. People have a lot of deeply-held beliefs about taxes, and they don’t appreciate when they read info that contradicts these beliefs. Chaos ensues.
When I do write about taxes — which isn’t often — I try to stick to facts and steer clear of opinions. Examples:
The U.S. tax burden is relatively low when compared to other countries.
The U.S. tax burden is relatively low when compared to U.S. tax burdens in the past.
Overall, the U.S. has a progressive tax system. People who earn more pay more. That said, certain taxes are regressive (meaning that, as a percentage of income, low earners pay more).
A large number of Americans (roughly one-third) pay no federal income tax at all.
Despite fiery rhetoric, no one political party is better with taxing and spending than the other. The only period during the past fifty years in which the U.S. government had a budget surplus was 1998-2001 under President Bill Clinton and a Republican-controlled Congress.
Even when I state these facts, there are people who disagree with me. They don’t agree that these are facts. Or they don’t agree these facts are relevant.
Also, I sometimes read complaints that the wealthy are taxed too much. To make their argument, writers make statements like, “The top 50% of taxpayers pay 97% of all federal income taxes.” While this statement is true, I don’t feel like it’s a true measure of where tax burdens fall.
I believe there’s a better, more accurate way to analyze tax burdens.
Effective Tax Burden
To me, what matters more than nominal tax dollars paid is each individual’s effective tax burden.
Your effective tax burden is usually defined as your total tax paid as a percentage of your income. If you take every tax dollar you pay — federal income tax, state income tax, property tax, sales tax, and so on — then divide this total by how much you’ve earned, what is that percentage?
This morning, while curating links for Apex Money — my second personal-finance site, which is devoted to sharing top money stories from around the web — I found an interesting infographic from Visual Capitalist. (VC is a great site, by the way. Love it.) They’ve created a graphic that visualizes effective tax rates by state.
Here’s a summary graph (not the main visualization):
As you can see, on average the top 1% of income earners in the U.S. have a state effective tax rate of 7.4%. The middle 60% of U.S. workers have a state effective tax rate of around 10%. And the bottom 20% of income earners (which Visual Capitalist incorrectly labels “poorest Americans” — wealth and income are not the same thing) have a state effective tax rate of 11.4%.
Tangent: This conflation of wealth with income continues to grate on my nerves. I’ll grant that there’s probably a correlation between the two, but they are not the same thing. For the past few years, I’ve had a low income. I’m in the bottom 20% of income earners. But I am not poor. I have a net worth of $1.5 million. And I know plenty of people — hey, brother! — with high incomes and low net worths.
It’s important to note — and this caused me confusion, which meant I had to revise this article — that the Visual Capital numbers are for state and local taxes only. They don’t include federal income taxes. (Coincidentally, I made a similar mistake a decade ago when writing about marginal tax rates. I had to make corrections to that article too. Sigh.)
GRS readers quickly helped me remedy my mistake, pointing to the nonprofit Tax Foundation’s summary of federal income tax data. With a bit of detective work, I uncovered this graph of federal effective tax rates by income from the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. (Come on. What parent names their kid Peter Peterson? That’s mean.)
Let’s put this all together! According to the Institute on Taxation on Economic Policy, this graph represents total effective tax rates for folks of various income levels. Note that this graph is explicitly comparing projected numbers in 2018 for a) the existing tax laws (in blue) and b) the previous tax laws (in grey).
Total Tax Burden vs. Total Income
Here’s one final graph, also from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. This is the graph that I personally find the most interesting. It compares the share of total taxes paid by each income group to their share of the country’s total income.
Collectively, the bottom 20% of income earners in the United States earned 3.5% of total income. They paid 1.9% of the total tax bill. The top 1% of income earners in the U.S. earned one-fifth of the nation’s total personal income. They paid 22.9% of total taxes.
Is the U.S. tax system fair? Should people with high incomes pay more? Do they pay more than their fair share? Should low-income workers pay more? Are we talking about numbers that are so close together that it doesn’t matter? I don’t know and, truthfully, I don’t care. I’m concerned with personal finance not politics. But I do care about facts. And civility.
The problem with discussions about taxation is that people talk about different things. When some folks argue, they’re talking about marginal tax rates. Others are talking about effective tax rates. Still others are talking about actual, nominal numbers. When some people talk about wealth, they mean income. Others — correctly — mean net worth. It’s all very confusing, even to smart people who mean well.
Under the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014, the U.S. Department of the Treasury was required to establish a website â USASpending.gov â to provide the American public with info on how the federal government spends its money. While the usability of the site could use some work, it does provide a lot of information, and I’m sure it’ll become one of my go-to tools when writing about taxes. (I intend to update a couple of my older articles this year.)
The USA Spending site has a Data Lab that’s currently in public beta-testing. This subsite provides even more ways to explore how the government spends your money. (I also found another simple budget-visualization tool from Brad Flyon at Learn Forever Learn.)
Okay, that’s all I have for today. Let the bickering begin!
A payday loan is a short-term loan with a high annual percentage rate. Also known as cash advance and check advance loans, payday loans are designed to cover you until payday and there are very few issues if you repay the loan in full before the payment date. Fail to do so, however, and you could be hit with severe penalties.
Lenders may ask the borrower to write a postdated check for the date of their next paycheck, only to hit them with rollover fees if that check bounces or they request an extension. Itâs this rollover that causes so many issues for borrowers and itâs the reason there have been some huge changes in this industry over the last decade or so.Â
How Do Payday Loans Work?
Payday lending seems like a simple, easy, and problem free process, but thatâs what the payday lender relies on.Â
The idea is quite simple. Imagine, for instance, that your car suddenly breaks down, payday is 10 days away, and you donât have a single cent to your name. The mechanic quotes you $300 for the fix, and because youâre already drowning in debt and have already sold everything valuable, your only option is payday lending.
The payday lender offers you the $300 for a small fee. They remind you that if you repay this small short-term cash sum on payday, you wonât incur many fees or any real issues. But a lot can happen in 10 days.Â
More bills can land in your mailbox, more expenses can arrive out of nowhere, and before you know it, all of your paycheck has been allocated for other expenses. The payday lender offers to rollover your loan for another month (another âpaydayâ) and because you donât have much choice, you agree.
But in doing so, youâve just been hit with more high fees, more compounding interest, and a sum that just seems to keep on growing. By the time your next payday arrives, youâre only able to afford a small repayment, and from that moment on youâre locked into a debt that doesnât seem to go anywhere.
Payday loans have been criticized for being predatory and itâs easy to see why. Banks and credit unions profit more from high-income individuals as they borrow and invest more money. A single high-income consumer can be worth more than a dozen consumers straddling the poverty line.
Payday lenders, however, target their services at low-income individuals. They offer small-dollar loans and seem to profit the most when payment dates are missed and interest rates compound, something that is infinitely more probable with low-income consumers.
Low-income consumers are also more likely to need a small cash boost every now and then and less likely to have the collateral needed for a low-interest title loan. According to official statistics, during the heyday of payday loans, most lenders were divorced renters struggling to make ends meet.
Nearly a tenth of consumers earning less than $15.000 have used payday loans, compared to fewer than 1% for those earning more than $100,000. Close to 70% of all payday loans are used for recurring expenses, such as utility bills and other debts, while 16% are used for emergency purchases.
Pros and Cons of Taking Out a Payday Loan
Regardless of what the lender or the commercial tells you, all forms of credit carry risk, and payday loans are no exception. In fact, it is one of the riskiest forms of credit available, dragging you into a cycle of debt that you may struggle to escape from. Issues aside, however, there are some benefits to these loans, and we need to look at the cons as well as the pros.
Pros: You Donât Need Good Credit
Payday loans donât require impeccable credit scores and many lenders wonât even check an applicantâs credit report. They can afford to do this because they charge high interest and fees, and this allows them to offset many of the costs associated with the increased liability and risk.
If youâre struggling to cover your bills and have just been hit with an unexpected expense, this can be a godsendâitâs a last resort option that could buy you some time until payday.
Pros: Itâs Quick
Payday loans give you money when you need it, something that many other loans and credit offers simply canât provide. If you need money right now, a payday lender can help; whereas another lender may require a few days to transfer that money or provide you with a suitable line of credit.
Some lenders provide 24/7 access to money, with online applications offering instant decisions and promising a money transfer within 24 hours.
Pro: They Require Very Little
A payday loan lender has a very short list of criteria for its applicants to meet. A traditional lender may request your Social Security Number, proof of ID, and a credit check, but the average payday lender will ask for none of these things.
Generally, you will be asked to prove that you are in employment, have a bank account, and are at least 18 years oldâthatâs it. You may also be required to submit proof that you are a US citizen.
Cons: High Risk of Defaulting
A study by the Center for Responsible Lending found that nearly half of all payday loans go into default within just 2 years. Thatâs a staggering statistic when you consider that the average default rate for personal loans and credit cards is between 1% and 4%.
It proves the point that many payday lender critics have been making for years: Payday loans are predatory and high-risk. The average credit or loan account is only provided after the applicant has undergone a strict underwriting process. The lender takes its time to check that the applicant is suitable, looking at their credit history, credit score, and more, and only giving them the credit/loan when they are confident it will be repaid.
This may seem like an unnecessary and frustrating process, but as the above statistics prove, itâs not just for the benefit of the lender as it also protects the consumer from a disastrous default.
Con: High Fees
High interest rates arenât the only reason payday lenders are considered predatory. Like all lenders, they charge fees for late payments. But unlike other lenders, these fees are astronomical and if youâre late by several weeks or months, those fees can be worth more than the initial balance.
A few years ago, a survey on payday lending discovered that the average borrower had accumulated $458 worth of fees, even though the median loan was nearly half that amount.
Cons: There are Better Options
If you have a respectable credit history or any kind of collateral, there are better options available. A bank or credit union can provide you with small short-term loans you can repay over many months without accumulating astronomical sums of interest.Â
The interest rates are much lower, the fees are more manageable, and unless your credit score is really poor, you should be offered more favorable terms than what you can get from a payday lender.
Even a credit card can offer you better terms. Generally speaking, a credit card has some of the highest interest rates of any unsecured debt, but it canât compare to a payday loan. It also has very little impact on your credit score and many credit card providers offer 0% on purchases for the first-few months.
Whatâs more, if things go wrong with a credit card, you have more options than you have with a payday loan, including a balance transfer credit card or a debt settlement program.
Why Do Payday Loans Charge So Much Interest?
If we were to take a cynical view, we could say that payday loans charge a lot simply because the lender can get away with charging a lot. After all, a payday loan lender targets the lowest-income individuals, the ones who need money the most and find themselves in desperate situations.
However, this doesnât paint a complete picture. In actual fact, it all comes down to risk and reward. A lender increases its interest rate when an applicant is at a greater risk of default.Â
The reason you can get low rates when you have a great credit score and high rates when you donât, is because the former group is more likely to pay on time and in full, whereas the latter group is more likely to default.
Lending is all about balancing the probabilities, and because a short-term loan is at serious risk of defaulting, the costs are very high.
Payday Loans and Your Credit Score
Your credit will only be affected if the lender reports to the credit bureaus. This is something that many consumers overlook, incorrectly assuming that every payment will result in a positive report and every missed payment in a negative one.Â
If the lender doesnât report to the main credit bureaus, there will be no changes to your report and the account will not even show. This is how many payday lenders operate. They rarely run credit checks, so your report wonât be hit with an inquiry, and they tend not to report on-time payments.
However, itâs a different story if you miss those payments. A lender can report missed payments and defaults and may also sell your account to a debt collector, at which point your credit score will take a hit.Â
If youâre concerned about how an application will impact your credit score, speak with the lender or read the terms and conditions before applying. And remember to always meet your payments on time to avoid any negative marks on your credit report and, more importantly, to ensure youâre not hit with additional fees.
Payday Loans vs Personal Loans
A personal loan is generally a much better option than a payday loan. These loans are designed to help you cover emergency expenses, pay for home improvements, launch businesses, and, in the case of debt consolidation loans, to clear your debt.Â
The interest rates are around 6% to 10% for lenders with respectable credit scores, and while they often charge an origination fee and late fees, they are generally much cheaper options. You can repay the loan at a time that suits you and tailor the payments to fit your monthly expenses, ensuring that they donât leave you short at the end of the month.
You can get a personal loan from a bank or a credit union; whenever you need the money, just compare, apply, and then wait for it to hit your account. The money paid by these loans is generally much higher than that offered by payday loans and you can stretch it out over a few years if needed.
What is an Unsecured Loan?
Personal and payday loans are both classed as unsecured loans, as the lender doesnât secure them against money or assets. Secured loans are typically secured against your home (mortgage, home equity loan) or your car (auto loan, title loan). They can also be secured against a cash deposit, as is the case with secured credit cards.
Although this may seem like a negative, considering a lender can repossess your asset if you fail to meet the payment terms, it actually provides many positives. For instance, a secured loan gives the lender more recourse if anything goes wrong, which means the underwriters donât need to account for a lot of risk. As a result, the lender is more likely to offer you a low interest rate.Â
Where cash advance loans and other small loans are concerned, there is generally no option for securing the loan. The lender wonât be interested, and neither should youâwhatâs the point of securing a $30,000 car against a $1,000 loan!?
New Payday Loan Regulations
Payday lenders are subject to very strict rules and regulations and this industry has undergone some serious changes in recent years. In some states, limits are imposed to prevent high interest rates; in others, payday lenders are banned from operating altogether.Â
The golden age of payday lending has passed, thereâs no doubt about that. In fact, many lenders left the US markets and took their business to countries like the UK, only for the UK authorities to impose many of the same restrictions after a few years of pandemonium. In the US, the industry thrived during the end of the 2000s and the beginning of the 2010s, but it has since been losing ground and the practice is illegal or highly restricted in many states.
Are Payday Loans Still Legal?
Payday loans are legal in 27 states, but many states have imposed strict rules and regulations governing everything from loan amounts to fees. The states where payday lenders are not allowed to operate are:
It is still possible to apply for personal loans and title loans in these states, but high-interest, cash advance loans are out of the question, for the time being at least.
Debt Rollover Rules for Payday Lenders
One of the things that regulations cover is something known as Debt Rollover, whereby a consumer rolls their debt over into the next billing period, accruing fees and continuing to pay interest. The more rollovers there are, the greater the risk and the higher the detriment to the borrower.
Debt rollovers are at fault for many of the issues concerning payday loans. They create a cycle of persistent debt, as the borrower is forced to acquire additional debt to repay the payday loan debt.Â
In the following states, payday loans are legal but restricted to between 0 and 1 rollovers:
Other states tend to limit debt rollovers to 2, but there are some notable exceptions. In South Dakota and Delaware, as many as 4 are allowed, while the state of Missouri allows for 6. However, the borrower must reduce the principal of the loan by at least 5% during each successive rollover.
Are These Changes for the Best?
If youâre a payday lender, the aforementioned rules and regulations are definitely not a good thing. Payday lenders rely on persistent debt. They make money from the poorest percentage of the population as they are the ones most likely to get trapped in that cycle.
For responsible borrowers, however, they turn something potentially disastrous into something that could serve a purpose. Payday loans still carry a huge risk, especially if there is any chance that you wonât repay the loan in time, but the limits imposed on interest rates and rollovers reduces the astronomical costs.
In that sense, they are definitely for the best, but there are still risks and potential pitfalls, so be sure to keep these in mind before you apply for any short-term loans.
What is a Payday Loan? is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.
I love making things automatic. Whether it is bill-paying, direct deposit, prescription renewals, or investing, making things automatic makes life easier, and that is where our Betterment investing review comes in.
When it comes to retirement planning, an overwhelming number of online tools and websites promise to help you create a dynamic and profitable portfolio while minimizing fees.
This growing list of services includes robo-advisors, a class of financial websites that offer to manage your portfolio with minimal in-person interaction and a heavy reliance on the latest investing tools and software.
One of the most popular robo-advisors by far is Betterment. Conceptualized by its founders in 2008, Betterment has since grown to help its customers invest billions of dollars of their hard-earned dollars. This is an investment platform that puts your investing on cruise control, and even allows you to make money watching TV! You can open an account with no money at all, and get the benefit of professional, low-cost investment management that enables you to invest in thousands of securities with as little as a few hundred dollars.
It hasnât been easy. With other competitors like Wealthfront and Personal Capital always a few steps behind them, Betterment has struggled to find a way to stand out. Even with the competition, Betterment has emerged as one of the top online brokerage accounts and continues to grow its market share.
Open an account
0.25% to 0.40% annual management fee, depending on the plan
No trade, transfer or rebalancing fees
No minimum balance
Hands-off investing tailored to your goals and risk preference
Betterment is an online, automated investment manager that uses advanced algorithms and software to find the perfect investment strategy for your portfolio and individual needs.
The main difference between investing your money with a traditional financial advisor and Betterment is that there is minimal human interaction. Unless you email or call in, your communication with an individual advisor will be very minimal.
But, there is some good news to counteract the lack of individual service. Because of lower operating costs, Betterment is able to charge lower fees than traditional financial advisors. This can be huge for individuals who want to take a hands-off approach to their retirement accounts, yet donât want to pay top dollar for access to a top-tier financial advisor in their area.
Using complex investment software, Betterment allocates your investment portfolio based on your individual circumstances, investment time horizon, and thirst for risk.
In the meantime, they keep fees at a minimum by using ETFs (exchange-traded fund) that let you have a diversified portfolio, like mutual funds, but are tradeable much like stocks.
Since ETFs come with very low expense ratios, Betterment is able to pass those savings along to the consumer. Although the program already manages over $16 billion for their clients, they are still growing at a rapid pace.
Because the service is able and willing to deal with investors at all stages of wealth accumulation, it has become a go-to for both experienced and novice investors with various investing goals.
Further, Bettermentâs portfolio strategy isnât geared just for retirement savings; the service can also improve your returns on dollars you invest for short-term and medium-term goals like saving for college, taking an annual vacation, or building up a cash reserve.
How Betterment Works
Like post other robo-advisors, Betterment provides complete, automated investment management of your portfolio. When you sign up for the service, youâll complete a questionnaire that will determine your risk tolerance, investment goals, and time horizon. From that information, Betterment determines your portfolio will be designed as conservatives, aggressive, or some level in between.
Over time however, Betterment may adjust your portfolio to become gradually more conservative. For example, as you move closer to retirement, your asset allocation will be gradually shifted more heavily in favor of safe investments, like bonds.
Your portfolio will be constructed of exchange traded funds (ETFs), which are low-cost investment funds designed to track the performance of an underlying index. In this way, Betterment attempts to match the performance of the underlying indexes, rather than to outperform them. For this reason, investing with Betterment â and most other robo-advisors â is considered to be passive investing. (Active investing involves frequent trading of stocks and other securities in an attempt to outperform the market.)
Betterment also uses allocations based on broad investment categories. There are three in total:
Safety Net â These are funds allocated for near-term needs, such as an emergency fund.
Retirement â This will naturally be your long-term investment account and held in tax-sheltered IRAs.
General Investing â This allocation is dedicated to intermediate goals, maybe saving for the down payment on a house or even for your childrenâs education.
Given that each of the three broad goals has a different time horizon, the specific portfolio allocation in each will be a little bit different. For example, the Safety Net will be invested in cash type accounts for safety and liquidity.
Betterment Advantages And Disadvantages
Thereâs no minimum investment required.
The low annual fee of 0.25% on the Digital plan can allow you to have a $20,000 account managed for just $50 per year, or a $100,000 account for just $250.
Tax-loss harvesting is available at all taxable accounts.
Betterment Premium provides unlimited access to certified financial planners, providing a service similar to traditional investment advisors, but at a fraction of the cost.
The No-fee Checking and Cash Reserve give you cash management options to go with your investing activities.
Betterment offers several portfolio options, including Smart Beta, Socially Responsible Investing, and the BlackRock Targeted Income Portfolio.
The use of value funds also adds the potential for your investment accounts to outperform the general market, since value stocks tend to be underpriced relative to their competitors.
Flexible Portfolio will give you some control over your investment allocations, which is a feature absent from most robo-advisors.
Bettermentâs annual advisory fee is on the low end of the robo-advisor range. But there are some robo-advisors charging no fees at all.
Betterment doesnât offer alternative investments. These include natural resources and real estate, which are offered by some of their competitors.
External account syncing is available only with Betterment Premium.
The Betterment Investment Methodology
Like most other robo-advisors, Betterment manages your investment account using Modern Portfolio Theory, or MPT. The theory emphasizes proper allocations into various asset classes over individual security selection.
Your portfolio is divided between six stock asset allocations and eight bond asset allocations. Each allocation is represented by a single ETF thatâs tied to an index specific to that asset class. The single ETF will provide exposure to scores or even hundreds of securities in each asset class. That means collectively your investment will be spread across thousands of securities in the US and internationally.
The six stock asset allocations are as follows:
US Total Stock Market
US Value Stocks â Large Cap
US Value Stocks â Mid Cap
US Value Stocks â Small Cap
International Developed Market Stocks
International Emerging Markets Stocks
The eight bond asset allocations are as follows:
US High Quality Bonds
US Municipal Bonds (will be held in taxable investment accounts only)
US Inflation-Protected Bonds
US High-Yield Corporate Bonds
US Short-Term Treasury Bonds
US Short-Term Investment Grade Bonds
International Developed Market Bonds
International Emerging Markets Bonds
Since Betterment offers tax-loss harvesting with taxable investment accounts, most asset classes will have two or three very similar ETFs. This will enable Betterment to sell a losing position in one ETF to reduce capital gains in winning asset classes. Alternative ETFs are then purchased to replace the sold funds to maintain the target asset allocations in your account.
Tax-loss harvesting is becoming an increasingly popular investment strategy because it effectively defers capital gains taxes into future years. Itâs available only for taxable accounts, since tax-sheltered accounts have no immediate tax consequences.
How Betterment Compares
Here’s how Betterment compares to the previously mentioned companies, Wealthfront and Personal Capital.
Minimum Initial Investment
0.25% on Digital; 0.40% on Premium (account balance over $100k)
0.25% on all account balances
0.89% on most account balances; reduced fee on balances > $1 million
On Premium Plan only
Yes, on all taxable accounts
Yes, on all taxable accounts
Yes, on all taxable accounts
Yes, on Premium Plan only
Betterment Accounts and Options
For the first few years of Bettermentâs existence they offered a single investment account serving as a one-size-fits-all plan. But thatâs all changed. They still offer basic investment accounts, but they now give you a choice of multiple investment options.
This is Bettermentâs basic investment plan. There is no minimum initial investment required, nor is there a minimum ongoing balance requirement. Betterment charges a single fee of 0.25% on all account balances.
You can also add any other portfolio variations, except the Goldman Sachs Smart Beta portfolio, which has a $100,000 minimum account balance requirement.
Betterment Premium works similar to the Digital plan, but it delivers a higher level of service. The plan provides external account synching, giving Betterment a high altitude view of you your entire financial situation. External investment accounts can help in enabling Betterment to better coordinate your portfolio allocations with assets held in outside accounts. They can also make recommendations out to better manage those external accounts.
And perhaps the biggest advantage of the Premium plan is that it comes with unlimited access to Bettermentâs certified financial planners. In this way, Betterment is competing more directly with traditional investment advisors, but doing it with a robo-advisor component.
Youâll need a minimum of $100,000 to invest in the Premium plan, and the annual advisory fee is 0.40%. Thatâs just a fraction of the usual 1% to 2% typically charged by traditional investment advisory services.
Betterment Cash Reserve
The account pays a variable interest rate, currently set at 0.40% APY. Betterment doesnât actually hold these funds directly, but rather invest them through participating program banks.
Thereâs no fee for this account, and you can move money as often as you want. And for those with very high cash balances, the account is FDIC insured for up to $1 million through the program banks.
Betterment Socially Responsible Investing (SRI)
SRI portfolios are becoming increasingly popular in the robo-advisor space. It involves investing in companies that meet certain standards for social, environmental, and governance guidelines. Betterment indicates that the ETFs they use in their SRI portfolio have produced a 42% increase in their social responsibility scores.
SRI portfolios work with both the Digital and Premium plans, using a similar investment methodology. But they make certain modifications, holding ETFs based on SRI in place of the ETFs used in non-SRI portfolios.
SRI portfolios do not require a minimum balance and charge no additional fees. And like their Digital and Premium plans, taxable SRI investment accounts take advantage of tax-loss harvesting.
Betterment Flexible Portfolios
The key word in the name is âflexibleâ because the main feature is adding personal options to your portfolio allocations.
This is done by adjusting the individual asset class weights in your portfolio. For example, if you have a 7% allocation in emerging markets, you may choose to increase it to 10% if you believe that sector is likely to outperform others. But you can also decrease the allocation if it makes you feel uncomfortable.
Betterment Tax-Coordinated Portfolio
This is less of a formal portfolio and more of an investment strategy. It must be used in combination with a taxable investment account and a tax-sheltered retirement account. Betterment will then allocate investments based on their tax impact.
For example, income generating assets â that produce high dividend and interest income â are held in a tax-sheltered account. Investments likely to generate long-term capital gains are held in a taxable investment account, since you will be able to take advantage of lower long-term capital gains tax rates.
Goldman Sachs Smart Beta
This option is for more sophisticated investors, and requires a minimum account balance of $100,000. And since it is a high risk/high reward type of investing, it also requires a higher risk tolerance.
Betterment uses the same basic investment strategy as they do in other portfolios. But itâs an actively managed portfolio that will be adjusted in an attempt to outperform the general market. Securities will be bought and sold within the portfolio and can include either individual securities or Smart Beta ETFs.
The portfolio has many variations, including a wide range of allocations. Stocks are chosen based on four qualities: good value, strong momentum, high quality, and low volatility.
And like other portfolio variations Betterment offers, there is no additional fee for this option.
BlackRock Target Income Portfolio
Betterment recognizes that some investors are more interested in income than growth. This will particularly apply to retirees. The BlackRock Target Income Portfolio invests in portfolios based on your risk tolerance. This can mean low, moderate, high, or even aggressive.
Those categories may seem unusual for an income generating portfolio. But while the portfolio attempts to minimize risk of principal, it also recognizes that some investors are willing to add risk to their portfolio in exchange for higher returns.
A low-risk portfolio may have a higher allocation in US Treasury securities. An aggressive portfolio may center primarily on high-yield corporate bonds or even emerging-market bonds that have higher interest rates due to greater risk.
Betterment No-fee Checking
Provided by Betterment Financial LLC in partnership with NBKC Bank, this is a true no-fee checking account. Not only are there no monthly maintenance fees, but there are also no overdraft or other fees. Theyâll even reimburse all ATM fees and foreign transaction fees you incur. And thereâs not even a minimum balance requirement.
Youâll be provided with a Betterment Visa Debit Card with tap-to-pay technology, that you can use anywhere Visa is accepted. All account balances are FDIC insured for up to $250,000. And as you might expect from a company on the technological cutting edge, you can deposit checks into the account using your smartphone.
Check out our full Betterment checking review.
Betterment Key Features
Minimum initial investment: Betterment requires no funds to open an account. But you can begin funding your account with monthly deposits, like $100 per month. This method will make it easier to use dollar-cost averaging to gradually move into your portfolio positions.
Available account types: Joint and individual taxable investment accounts, as well as traditional, Roth, rollover and SEP IRAs. Betterment can also accommodate trusts and nonprofit accounts.
Portfolio rebalancing: Comes with all account types. Your portfolio will be rebalanced when your asset allocations significantly depart from their targets.
Automatic dividend reinvestment: Betterment will reinvest dividends received in your portfolio according to your target asset allocations.
Betterment Mobile App: You can access your Betterment account on your smartphone. The app is available for both iOS and Android devices.
Customer contact: Available by phone and email, Monday through Friday, from 9:00 am to 8:00 pm, Eastern time.
Account protection: All Betterment accounts are protected by SIPC insurance for up to $500,000 in cash and securities, including up to $250,000 in cash. SIPC covers losses due to broker failure, not those caused by market value declines.
Financial Advice packages: Betterment offers one-hour phone conferences with live financial advisors on various personal financial topics. Five topics are covered:
Getting Started package: This package gives new users the professional vote of confidence they need as a professional will assess their account setup. $199
Financial Checkup package: This package takes it a step further, providing the customer with a professional opinion on their portfolio and financial circumstances. $299
College Planning package: As its name implies, this package helps parents who are investing with the goal of paying for their childrenâs college education in the next 5-18 years. $299
Marriage Planning package: Merging finances can be tricky, so Betterment created this plan to help engaged couples and newlyweds to succeed as they unite their lives and assets. $299
Retirement Planning package: Your investment goals and strategies change as you near retirement. This particular package helps keep you on target to meet them. $299
Retirement Savings Calculator: Robo-advisors are popular choices for retirement accounts. For this reason, Betterment offers the Calculator to help you project your retirement needs. By entering basic information in the calculator (it will sync external accounts if you have a Premium account â including employer-sponsored retirement plans) it will let you know if you are on track to meet your goals or if you need to make adjustments.
How To Sign Up For A Betterment Account
The Betterment sign up process is one of the most user-friendly out there for any brokerage. It comes with easy-to-follow instructions and as streamlined registration process which users can navigate through in a matter of minutes.
First get the process started by clicking the button below.
Sign up for a Betterment Account
After the initial sign up process, users can expect a simple transaction as they transfer funds into the account, much like moving money from a checking to savings account.
When you begin the sign-up process, youâll be given a choice of four different investment goals:
I chose âInvest for retirementâ. It will ask your current age, your annual income, then give you a choice of accounts to use. That includes a traditional, Roth, or SEP IRA, or even an individual taxable account. I selected a traditional IRA.
Based on a 30-year-old with a $100,000 income, Betterment return the following recommendation:
You even have the option to have the specific asset allocations listed. After clicking âContinueâ, youâll be asked to provide your email address and create a password. Youâll then be taken to the application, which will ask for general information, including your name, address, phone number, and how you heard about Betterment.
Once your account has been set up, you can fund it immediately, by connecting your bank account, or by setting up recurring deposits.
You can also set up other accounts, such as âManage spending with Checkingâ or âInvest for a long-term goalâ.
Why You Should Open An Account With Betterment
While nearly anyone who invests could benefit from the online portfolio management and advising, this service is definitely geared to certain types of investors. In most cases, Betterment will work best for:
Hands-off investors who have some investing knowledge â Since it takes care of the heavy lifting for you, it works best for investors who want to take a hands-off approach to their investment portfolio. Passive investors can let Betterment handle the logistics while using online account management to keep a close eye on their accounts.
Novice investors who need help â Beginning investors who are just learning the ropes can turn to Betterment for online portfolio management with low fees. The many online tools and user-friendly interface make it easy for beginners to get a grasp on basic financial concepts and investing strategies.
Robo-advisors are growing in popularity and could easily replace in-person advisors in the near future. With lower fees and advanced software that can maximize results, online investing is certainly gaining an edge.
Whether Betterment is right for you depends on your individual needs and investing goals. If youâre a hands-off investor who wants to grow your retirement funds without paying a lot of fees, then Betterment might be ideal. Additionally, beginning investors can benefit handsomely from the online tools and investing education offered through the Betterment website.
If you think Betterment investing might be exactly what your portfolio needs, sign up for a new account today.
However, if you determine that you would be better served by a more hands-on approach, check out the other online brokerage account options. Being a certified financial planner, I have had a chance to work with several of these platforms and have done the following reviews:
Motif Investing Review
Lending Club Review
Ally Invest Review
The post Betterment Investing Review: Make Investing Automatic appeared first on Good Financial CentsÂ®.
When you're ready to buy a home, choosing the best lender and type of mortgage can seem daunting because there are many choices. Since no two real estate transactions or home buyers are alike, it's essential to get familiar with different mortgage products and programs.
Let's take a look at the two main types of mortgages and several popular home loan programs. Choosing the right one for your situation is the key to buying a home you can afford.
What is a mortgage?
First, here's a quick mortgage explainer. A mortgage is a loan used to buy real estate, such as a new or existing primary residence or vacation home. It states that your property is collateral for the debt, and if you don't make timely payments, the lender can take back the property to recover their losses.
In general, a mortgage doesn't pay for 100% of a home's purchase price.
In general, a mortgage doesn't pay for 100% of a home's purchase price. You typically must make a down payment, which could range from 3% to 10% or more, depending on the type of loan you qualify for.
For example, if you agree to pay $300,000 for a home and have $15,000 to put down, you need a mortgage for the difference, or $285,000 ($300,000 – $15,000). In addition to a down payment, lenders charge a variety of processing fees that you either pay upfront or roll into your loan, which increases your debt.
At your real estate closing, the lender wires funds to the closing agent or attorney. After you sign a stack of mortgage and closing documents, your down payment and mortgage money go to the seller and various parties, such as a real estate broker, title company, inspector, surveyor, and insurance company. You leave the closing as a proud new homeowner and begin making mortgage payments the next month.
What is a fixed-rate mortgage?
The structure of your loan and payments depends on whether your interest rate is fixed or adjustable. So, understanding how these two main types of mortgage products work is essential.
A fixed-rate mortgage has an interest rate that never changes, no matter what happens in the economy.
A fixed-rate mortgage has an interest rate that never changes, no matter what happens in the economy. The most common fixed-rate mortgage terms are 15- and 30-years. But you can also find 10-, 20-, 40-, and even 50-year fixed-rate mortgages.
Getting a shorter mortgage means you pay it off faster and at a lower interest rate than with a longer-term option. For example, as of December 2020, the going rate for a 15-year fixed mortgage is 2.4%, and a 30-year is 2.8% APR.
The downside is that shorter loans come with higher monthly payments. Many people opt for longer mortgages to pay as little as possible each month and make their home more affordable.
Here are some situations when getting a fixed-rate mortgage makes sense:
You see low or rising interest rates. Locking in a low rate for the life of your mortgage protects you against inflation.
You want financial stability. Having the same mortgage payment for decades allows you to easily budget and avoid financial surprises.
You don't plan to move for a while. Keeping a fixed-rate mortgage over the long term gives you the potential to save the most in interest, especially if interest rates go up.
What is an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM)?
The second primary type of home loan is an adjustable-rate mortgage or ARM. Your interest rate and monthly payment can go up or down according to predetermined terms based on a financial index, such as the T-bill rate or LIBOR.
Most ARMs are a hybrid of a fixed and adjustable product. They begin with a fixed-rate period and convert to an adjustable rate later on. The first number in the name of an ARM product is how many years are fixed for the introductory rate, and the second number is how often the rate could change after that.
For instance, a 5/1 ARM gives you five years with a fixed rate and then can adjust, or reset, every year starting in the sixth year. A 3/1 ARM has a fixed rate for three years with a potential rate adjustment every year, beginning in the fourth year.
When shopping for an ARM, be sure you understand how often the rate could change and how high your payments could go.
ARMs are typically 30-year products, but they can be shorter. With a 5/6 ARM, you pay the same rate for the first five years. Then the rate could change every six months for the remaining 25 years.
ARMs come with built-in caps for how much the interest rate can climb from one adjustment period to the next and the potential increase over the loan's life. When shopping for an ARM, be sure you understand how often the rate could change and how high your payments could go. In other words, you should be comfortable with the worst-case ARM scenario before getting one.
In general, the introductory interest rate for a 30-year ARM is lower than a 30-year fixed mortgage. But that hasn't been the case recently because rates are at historic lows. The idea is that rates are so low they likely have nowhere to go but up, making an ARM less attractive.
I mentioned that the going rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage is 2.8%. Compare that to a 30-year 5/6 ARM, which is also 2.8% APR. When ARM rates are the same or higher than fixed rates, they don't give borrowers any upsides for taking a risk that their payment could increase.
ARM lenders aren't making them attractive because they know once your introductory rate ends, you could refinance to a lower-rate fixed mortgage and they'd lose your business after just a few years. They could end up losing money if you haven't paid enough in fees and interest to offset their cost of issuing the loan.
Unless you believe that rates can drop further (or until ARM rates are low enough to offer borrowers significant savings), they aren't a wise choice in the near term.
So, unless you believe that rates can drop further or until ARM rates are low enough to offer borrowers significant savings, they aren't a wise choice in the near term. However, always discuss your mortgage options with potential lenders, so you evaluate them in light of current economic conditions.
RELATED: How to Prepare Your Credit for a Mortgage Approval
5 types of home loan programs
Now that you understand the fundamental differences between fixed- and adjustable-rate mortgages, here are five loan programs you may qualify for.
1. Conventional loans
Conventional loans are the most common type of mortgage. They're also known as a "conforming loan" when they conform to standards set by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These federally-backed companies buy and guarantee mortgages issued through lenders in the secondary mortgage market. Lenders sell mortgages to Fannie and Freddie so they can continuously supply new borrowers with mortgage funds.
Conventional loans are popular because most lenders—including mortgage companies, banks, and credit unions—offer them. Borrowers can pay as little as 3% down; however, paying 20% eliminates the requirement to pay an additional monthly private mortgage insurance (PMI) premium.
2. FHA loans
FHA or Federal Housing Administration loans come with lenient underwriting standards, making homeownership a reality for more Americans. Borrowers need a 3.5% down payment and can have lower credit scores and income than with a conventional loan.
3. VA loans
VA or Veterans Administration loans give those with eligible military service a zero-down loan with no monthly private mortgage insurance required.
4. USDA loans
The USDA or U.S. Department of Agriculture gives loans to buyers who plan to live in rural and suburban areas. Borrowers who meet certain income limits can get zero-down payments and low-rate mortgage insurance premiums.
5. Jumbo loans
Jumbo loans are higher mortgage amounts than what's allowed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, so they're also known as non-conforming loans. In general, they exceed approximately $500,000 in most areas.
Always compare multiple loan products and get quotes from several lenders before committing to your next home loan.
This isn't a complete list of all the loan programs you may qualify for, so be sure to ask potential lenders for recommendations. Remember that just because you're eligible for a program, such as a VA loan, that doesn't necessarily mean it's the best option. Always compare multiple loan products and get quotes from several lenders before committing to your next home loan.
Once you decide to become a homeowner, itâs likely that you will need to take out a mortgage to purchase your new home. While the conclusion that you need a mortgage to finance your home is usually easy to arrive at, deciding which one is right for you can be overwhelming. One of the many decisions a prospective homebuyer must make is choosing between a 15-year versus 30-year mortgage.
From the names alone, itâs hard to tell which one is the better option. Under ideal circumstances, a 15-year mortgage mathematically makes sense as the better option. However, the path to homeownership is often far from ideal (and who are we kidding, under ideal circumstances weâd all have large sums of money to purchase a house in cash). So the better question for homebuyers to ask is which one is best for you?
To help you make the most informed financial decisions, we detail the differences between the 15-year and 30-year mortgage, the pros and cons of each, and options for which one is better based on your financial priorities.
The Difference Between 15-Year Vs. 30-Year Mortgages
The main difference between a 15-year and 30-year mortgage is the amount of time in which you promise to repay your loan, also known as the loan term.
The loan term of a mortgage has the ability to affect other aspects of your mortgage like interest rates and monthly payments. Loan terms come in a variety of lengths such as 10, 15, 20, and 30 years, but weâre discussing the two most common options here.
What Is a 15-Year Mortgage?
A 15-year mortgage is a mortgage thatâs meant to be paid in 15 years. This shorter loan term means that amortization, otherwise known as the gradual repayment of your loan, happens more quickly than other loan terms.
What Is a 30-Year Mortgage?
On the other hand, a 30-year mortgage is repaid in 30 years. This longer loan term means that amortization happens more slowly.
Pros and Cons of a 15-Year Mortgage
The shorter loan term of a 15-year mortgage means more money saved over time, but sacrifices affordability with higher monthly payments.
Lower interest rates (often by a full percentage point!)
Less money paid in interest over time
Higher monthly payments
Less affordability and flexibility
Pros and Cons of a 30-Year Mortgage
As the mortgage term chosen by the majority of American homebuyers, the longer 30-year loan term has the advantage of affordable monthly payments, but comes at the cost of more money paid over time in interest.
Lower monthly payments
More affordable and flexible
Higher interest rates
More money paid in interest over time
â¢ Lower interest rates
â¢ Less money paid in interest over time
â¢ Lower monthly payments
â¢ More affordable and flexible
â¢ Higher monthly payments
â¢ Less affordability and flexibility
â¢ Higher interest rates
â¢ More money paid in interest over time
Which Is Better For You?
Now with what you know about the pros and cons of each loan term, use that knowledge to match your financial priorities with the mortgage that is best for you.
Best to Save Money Over Time: 15-Year Mortgage
The 15-year mortgage may be best for those who wish to spend less on interest, have a generous income, and also have a reliable amount in savings. With a 15-year mortgage, your income would need to be enough to cover higher monthly mortgage payments among other living expenses, and ample savings are important to serve as a buffer in case of emergency.
Best for Monthly Affordability: 30-Year Mortgage
A 30-year mortgage may be best if youâre seeking stable and affordable monthly payments or wish for more flexibility in saving and spending your money over time. The longer loan term may also be the better option if you plan on purchasing property you couldnât normally afford to repay in just 15 years.
Best of Both: 30-Year Mortgage with Extra Payments
Want the best of both worlds? A good option to save on interest and have affordable monthly payments is to opt for a 30-year mortgage but make extra payments. You can still have the goal of paying off your mortgage in 15 or 20 years time on a 30-year mortgage, but this option can be more forgiving if life happens and you donât meet that goal. Before going this route, make sure to ask your lender about any prepayment penalties that may make interest savings from early payments obsolete.
As a prospective homebuyer, itâs important that you set yourself up for financial success. Fine-tuning your personal budget and diligently saving and paying off debtÂ help prepare you to take the next steps toward buying a new home. Doing your research and learning about mortgages also helps you make decisions in your best interest.
When picking a mortgage, always keep in mind what is financially realistic for you. If that means forgoing better savings on interest in the name of affordability, then remember that path still leads to homeownership. Try out these budget templates for your home or monthly expenses to help keep you on a good path to achieving your goals.
Sources: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
The post 15-Year vs. 30-Year Mortgages: Which is Better? appeared first on MintLife Blog.
If you’re looking to buy a HUD home, the Hudhomestore website is the best place to do it. It can be found here at hudhomestore.com. HUD homes are listed for sale at the site.
While anyone can buy a HUD home, you will need to get approved for a loan first.
Just like buying a house through the conventional route, all financing options are available for HUD homes. That includes conventional loans, FHA loans, VA loans, etc.
However, most people used an FHA loan to buy a HUD home due to its low down payment and credit score requirements.
If you have questions beyond buying a HUD home at the hudhomestore website, consult a financial advisor.
What is the Hudhomestore?
The hudhomestore is a website operated by the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The website can be found here at hudhomestore.com.
Homes are listed there for sale after they have gone through foreclosures. Real estate agents and/or brokers can place bids on your behalf to buy a house.
What is a HUD home?
A HUD home (usually a 1 to 4 unit) is a property owned by HUD. Before a home became a HUD home, it was owned by a homebuyer who had purchased the home with an FHA loan.
Once the borrower stopped paying his or her FHA loan, the home went to foreclosures. Then the home goes to HUD and becomes a HUD home.
Why you should buy a HUD home at the Hudhomestore?
The benefits of buying a HUD home are huge. The main benefit is that most of these homes are priced below market value.
In addition, if you’re an EMS personnel, police officer, firefighter, or teachers, and live in revitalized areas and plan to live there for at least 36 months, HUD’s Good Neighbor Program offers HUD homes at a 50% discount.
This program is listed at the hudhomestore website.
In addition, HUD offers other perks such as low down payment and sales allowances you can use to pay for moving, repair and closing costs. The low down payment, that is on top of the FHA financing that you may be qualified for.
Another huge benefit of buying a HUD home is that HUD gives preferences to buyers who intend to live in the home for at least one year. So this puts you ahead of investors.
Are you qualified to finance a HUD Home?
All financing options, including conventional loans, VA, and FHA loans, are available when it comes to buying a HUD home.
But FHA loans are very popular among first time home buyers, due to its low requirements. But before you start searching for HUD homes through the Hudhomestore website, you should compare multiple loan offers so you can the best mortgage rates.
FHA loan requirements:
580 Minimum score
3.5% down payment
If your credit score is below 580, you can still be qualified but you’ll have to pay at least 10% down. Or, you can always take time to raise your credit score.
Don’t know what your credit score is, visit CreditSesame.
Our Review of Credit Sesame.
Steps to buy a HUD Home at the HUDhomestore website:
HUD homes can be hard to find if you don’t know where to look. In other words, they are not listed on conventional real estate websites such as Zillow or Redfin.
Instead, they are listed at the HUDhomestore webiste, which can be found at hudhomestore.com. They also have HUD Homestore Mobile Apps.
Knowing these steps is important to mastering one of the best strategies to buy a house at below market or wholesale prices.
Step 1: Shop and compare home loans
Before you start searching your house through the hudhomestore site, it’s a good idea to
The worst thing that can happen is to find a house that you like to then realize that you cannot secure a home loan.
To get the best mortgage rates, you need toÂ compare multiple loan offers. Buying a home is major expense, and getting the best rates could save you a lot of money. I can spend a lot of time talking about why it is a bad idea to only speak with one mortgage lender.
But when it comes to having multiple loan offers, I highly suggestÂ LendingTree.
LendingTree is an online platform that connects you to several mortgage lenders without visiting a dozen bank branches.
LendingTree will provide youÂ up to 5 loan offers from multiple lenders for free, so you can compare and make sure you get the best deal.
So if youâre at this step right now, go andÂ compare current mortgage rates for free at LendingTree, and come back to this article.
Our LendingTree Review.
Step 2: Finding a HUD Home at the HUDhomestore website.
To find a HUD home, simply go to the hudhomestore website. It can be found at hudhomestore.com.
There are three ways to find HUD homes on the hudhomestore website. The first way is through a map.
Once you on the website, you will see a map to the right with all of the states listed there. You simply look for your state and click on it to see all of the available HUD homes.
The hudhomestore site will show you a list of all of the HUD homes available for that particular state. It will include the photo of the HUD home, the address, the asking price, etc.
If you click on the photo of the house, you will be able to see more information of the property, including more photos, street views and information of the property.
Another way to find a house through the hudhomestore website is by clicking on the HUD Special program links.
The hudhomestore site specifically lists three HUD Special Programs: Good Neighbor Next Door; Nonprofits; $1 Homes-Government Sales. It specifically states on the hudhomestore website that if you click on any of these special programs, you will see available properties.
The third way to find a HUD home via the hudhomestore site is through the Search Properties. At the middle of the homepage, you will see a Search Properties where you can enter more detailed criteria.
Step 3: Buy your HUD home
Once you have found your desired HUD Home at the hudhomestore, it’s time to buy your HUD home.
But note that HUD homes are sold through an auction process. When you’re searching for the property through the hudhomestore site, it will tell you a deadline by which to submit your offer.
So if the deadline has not passed, submit your bid. Once it has passed, HUD reviews all offers. Just like any auction, the highest bid wins. If all of the offers are too low, HUD will extend the offer period and/or lower the asking price.
Note that you will not be able to place the bid yourself. Only real estate agents need to register to place bids on the hudhomestore website. You will need to find a real estate agent or you can specifically search for HUD registered agents at hudhomestore.com.
For more information on buying a home through the hudhomestore website, visit www.hudhomestore.com.
More on Buying a Home:
How to Buy a House: A Complete Guide
How Long Does It Take To Buy A House?
Buying a Home for the First Time? Avoid These Mistakes.
10 First Time Home Buyer Mistakes to Avoid.
Work with the Right Financial Advisor
If you have additional questions beyond buying a HUD home at the Hudhomestore, you can talk to aÂ financial advisorÂ who can review your finances and help you reach your goals (whether it is making more money, paying off debt, investing, buying a house, planning for retirement, saving, etc).
So, find one who meets your needs withÂ SmartAssetâs free financial advisor matching service. You answer a few questions and they match you with up to three financial advisors in your area. So, if you want help developing a plan to reach your financial goals,Â get started now.
The post How to Buy a HUD Home at the Hudhomestore Website? appeared first on GrowthRapidly.
I still remember the month I started my blog. I don’t really remember the exact first day, but I remember the first month and how excited I was.
In August of 2011, I started Making Sense of Cents.
That was exactly 9 years ago!
Back then, I had no idea what I was doing, and I also had no goals for my blog.
I didn’t even really know what a blog was, or that they could make money.
I also didn’t even like to write at that time!
In the past 9 years, so much has changed for me.
It’s crazy to think that I started my blog nine years ago, especially when I consider all of the amazing things it has done for my life.
It was something I started and worked on in addition to my full-time day job as a financial analyst, and around two years after I started this blog, I quit my day job to blog full-time.
Some numbers on Making Sense of Cents:
My first blog post was published on August 10, 2011. You can read it here.
I have published 1,878 articles here on Making Sense of Cents. That number was higher about a month ago, but I recently deleted several hundred articles that I thought weren’t good enough.
I have 70,816 comments on my blog posts.
I’ve personally replied to 21,080 comments.
It took me 6 months to earn my first $100 from Making Sense of Cents.
First, a little backstory on how I began.
You may have heard this from me before, but the funny thing is that I created my blog on a whim after reading about a personal finance website in a magazine. It started as a hobby to track my own personal finance progress, and I honestly didn’t even know that people could make money blogging!
I knew NOTHING about running a website.
At that time, I was working as an analyst at an investment banking and valuation firm. I chugged along working the 8-5, Monday through Friday grind and didn’t see myself having an enjoyable future there. I had a stressful job filled with lots of deadlines and responsibilities that just didn’t interest me. Yes, I know this is the norm for some people, but I just couldn’t imagine myself living like that for 40+ years.
Blogging was an outlet for my stressful day job, and my interest quickly grew, even though it was just a hobby. It gave me space to write about my personal finance situation, have a support group, to keep track of how I was doing, and more. I did not create Making Sense of Cents with the intention of earning an income, but after only six months, I began to make money blogging.
A friend I met through the blogging community connected me with an advertiser, and I earned $100 from that advertisement deal.
That one deal sparked my interest in taking my blog more seriously and learning how to make even more money blogging.
I now earn a great living from my blog, and it all started on a whim, not even knowing that blogs could make money.
Blogging completely changed my life for the better, and I urge anyone who is interested to learn how to start a blog as well.
Blogging has allowed me to take control of my finances and earn more money. It means I can work from home, travel whenever I want, have a flexible schedule, and more!
How I Successfully Built A $1,000,000+ Blog
Welcome To Paradise – We’re Living On A Sailboat!
How To Start a Blog Free Course
Should I Start A Blog? Here Are The Top Reasons You Will Love Blogging
What is a blog post?
And, all of this happened because I started some random blog nine years ago.
I made so many mistakes, and I still make mistakes today. But, I continue to learn and improve, which has shaped this blog into what it is today.
I was so afraid to quit my job when I did, especially for a blog.
So many people thought I was absolutely crazy and making the worst decision of my life. Especially since my husband quit his job at the same time!
Today, I want to talk about the the 9 things that I love and have learned about blogging over the years. I feel like what I enjoy about blogging as well as what I’ve learned go hand in hand.
Oh yeah, if you haven’t yet – please follow me on Instagram.
Here’s what I love and have learned about blogging.
1. I love being my own boss.
When I first started my blog and realized I could make an income from it, I quickly learned how much I love being my own boss.
I love being in complete control of what I do, and becoming self-employed may allow you to feel that way as well. I enjoy deciding what I will do each day, creating my own schedule, determining my business goals, handling everything behind the scenes, and more.
I actually have a rule in my life/business where I don’t do anything unless I want to. While I still say yes to many amazing opportunities, I’m not doing anything that feels like a total drag or is against my beliefs. This has really helped improve my work-life balance, which is great because being able to choose how you earn a living amounts to making sure you love everything you do.
I honestly love each and every service I provide – writing online, promoting, networking, interacting with readers, and more.
Running an online business (and being your own boss) may not be for everyone, but it’s something I enjoy.
2. A flexible schedule is one of my most favorite things.
One of the best things about working for yourself and being a blogger is that you can have a flexible schedule.
I can work as far ahead as I want to, I can create my own work schedule, and more.
I love being able to work for a few hours in the morning, do something fun during the day (such as a hike), and then work later at night when I have nothing planned. I can also schedule appointments during the day and it’s really no big deal.
I can work at night, in the morning, on the weekends – I can work whenever.
But, this can also be something to be careful with as well, as it can be difficult to have a good work-life balance.
3. Location independence is AMAZING.
Being location independent for so many years has been great.
I love being able to work from wherever I am, and it’s allowed me some of the best experiences I’ve had, like living in an RV and now on a sailboat. All I need is an internet connection and my laptop.
The only problem with being location independent is that it can be hard to separate work from the rest of your life. You may find yourself working all the time, no matter where you are, and while that may seem great, being able to take a true vacation can be a hard task.
However, I’m not going to complain because the work-life balance I’m rocking right now is great.
4. Remember, success takes time!
Many bloggers quit just a few months in.
In fact, the statistic that I’ve always heard is that the average blogger quits just 6 months in.
I completely understand – starting a blog can be super overwhelming!
But, good things don’t come easy. If blogging was easy, then everyone would be doing it.
It took me 6 months for me to earn my first $100 from Making Sense of Cents. If I would have quit at that time, I would have missed out on so many great things!
Remember, success takes time!
5. Don’t write when you feel forced.
One thing I have definitely learned about myself over the years is that I write best when I’m not forced – i.e. when I’m on a deadline.
Instead, I always try to write content ahead of time.
I used to write content for Monday on the night before (Sunday!), and I found that to be super stressful. Even a week in advance was too stressful for me.
I like to be at least a month ahead, as then I can truly write when I feel inspired and happy to write.
6. Get ready to learn.
Pretty much everything about having a blog is a learning process.
Blogging is not a get rich quick scheme, and anyone who tells you that it is (or acts like it is) is lying.
Blogging is not easy.
And, you won’t make $100,000 your first month blogging.
Blogging can be a lot of work, and there is always something to learn. Something is always changing in the blogging world, which means you will need to continue to learn and adapt to the technology around you. This includes learning about social media platforms, running a website, growing your platform, writing high-quality content, and more.
This is something that I love about blogging – it’s never stale and there’s always a new challenge.
7. Stop seeing other bloggers as competition.
Okay, so this isn’t exactly something that I’ve learned, but I want everyone else to learn!
I have always had this mindset – that there is plenty of room for everyone in the blogging world. However, not everyone feels the same.
So many bloggers see other bloggers as enemies or competition, and this is a huge mistake.
I mostly see this in newer bloggers, and this can really hold them back.
Networking is very important if you want to create a successful blog. Bloggers should be open to making blogging friends, attending blog conferences, sharing other blogs’ content with their readers, and more.
Networking can help you enjoy blogging more, learn new things about blogging, learn how to make money blogging, make great connections, and more. If you want to make money blogging, then you will want to network with others! After all, networking is the reason why I learned how to make money blogging in the first place!
The key is to be genuine and to give more than you take, which are the two main things I always tell people when it comes to networking. I receive so many emails every day from people who clearly aren’t genuine, and it’s very easy to see.
I’ve made great friends who are bloggers and influencers, and it’s truly a great community to be in.
8. You don’t need previous experience to be successful.
To become a blogger, you don’t need any previous experience. You don’t need to be a computer wizard, understand social media, or anything else.
These are all things that you can learn as you go.
Nearly every single blogger was brand new at some point, and they had no idea what they were doing.
I’m proof of that because I didn’t even know that blogs existed when I started Making Sense of Cents, and I definitely didn’t know that bloggers could make money. I learned how to create a blog from the bottom up and have worked my way to where I am today. It’s not always easy, but it’s been rewarding!
With blogging, you’ll have a lot to learn, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. It’s challenging, but in a good way.
9. You can make a living blogging.
This is probably one of the best things that I’ve learned since I first started my blog.
You can actually make a living blogging!
No, not every single person will become a successful blogger (it’s NOT a get-rich-quick scheme), but I know many successful bloggers who started in a similar way as I did – blogging as a hobby and it just grew from there.
For me, I have earned a high income with my blog, and I have enough saved to retire whenever I would like. I am still working on my blog, though, as I enjoy what I do.
I’ve never really been much of a planner, so I don’t want to commit to anything HUGE haha.
But, for Making Sense of Cents, I do have some plans. I am working towards improving traffic and readership, and coming up with more and more high-quality content.
I am so grateful to all of you readers, and I want to continue to help you all out by writing high-quality content.
That is really my only goal for now!
If there’s anything you’d like me to write about on Making Sense of Cents, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below.
Thank you for being a reader!
There’s a ton of valuable free resources.
I know I’ll be asked this, so I am going to include this here.
One of the great things about starting a blog is that there are a ton of FREE blogging resources out there that can help you get started.
In fact, I didn’t spend any money in the beginning in order to learn how to blog – instead, I signed up for a ton of free webinars, free email courses, and more.
First, if you don’t have a blog, then I recommend starting off with my free blogging course How To Start A Blog FREE Course.
Affiliate Marketing Cheat Sheet – With this time-saving cheat sheet, you’ll learn how to make affiliate income from your blog. These tips will help you to rapidly improve your results and increase your blogging income in no time.
The SEO Starter Pack (FREE Video Training)– Improve your SEO knowledge in just 60 minutes with this FREE 6-day video training.
The Free Blogging Planner – The Blogging Planner is a free workbook that I created just for you! In this free workbook, you’ll receive printables for starting your blog, creating a blog post, a daily/weekly blog planner, goals, and more.
Do you have any questions for me? Are you interested in starting your own business?
The post 9 Things I Love and Have Learned After 9 Years Of Blogging appeared first on Making Sense Of Cents.
Due to financial consequences of COVID-19 â and the broader impact on our economy â now is an excellent time to consider refinancing most loans you have. This can include mortgage debt you have that may be converted to a new loan with a lower interest rate, as well as auto loans, personal loans, and more.
Refinancing student loans can also make sense if youâre willing to transition student loans you currently have into a new loan with a private lender. Make sure to take time to compare rates toÂ see how you could save money on interest, potentially pay down student loans faster, or even both if you took the steps to refinance.
Get Started and Compare Rates Now
Still, itâs important to keep a close eye on policies and changes from the federal government that have already taken place, as well as changes that might come to fruition in the next weeks or months. Currently, all federal student loans are locked in at a 0% APR and payments are suspended during that time. This change started on March 13, 2020 and lasts for 60 days, so borrowers with federal loans can skip payments and avoid interest charges until the middle of May 2020.
Itâs hard to say what will happen after that, but itâs smart to start figuring out your next steps and determining if student loan refinancing makes sense for your situation. Note that, in addition to lower interest rates than you can get with federal student loans, many private student lenders offer signup bonuses as well. With the help of a lower rate and an initial bonus, you could end up far âaheadâ by refinancing in a financial sense.
Still, there are definitely some negatives to consider when it comes to refinancing your student loans, and weâll go over those disadvantages below.
Should You Refinance Now?
Do you have student loan debt at a higher APR than you want to pay?
If no: You shouldnât refinance.
If yes: Go to next question.
Do you have good credit or a cosigner?Â
If no: You shouldnât refinance.
If yes:Â Go to next question.
Do you have federal student loans?
If no: You can consider refinancing
If yes: Go to next question
Are you willing to give up federal protections like deferment, forbearance, and income-driven repayment plans?
If no: You shouldnât refinance
If yes: Consider refinancing your loans.
Reasons to Refinance
There are many reasons student borrowers ultimately refinance their student loans, although they can vary from person to person. Here are the main situations where it can make sense to refinance along with the benefits you can expect to receive:
Secure a lower monthly payment on your student loans. You may want to consider refinancing your student loans if your ultimate goal is reducing your monthly payment so it fits in better with your budget and your goals. A lower interest rate could help you lower your payment each month, but so could extending your repayment timeline.
Save money on interest over the long haul. If you plan to refinance your loans into a similar repayment timeline with a lower APR, you will definitely save money on interest over the life of your loan.
Change up your repayment timeline. Most private lenders let you refinance your student loans into a new loan product that lasts 5 to 20 years. If you want to expedite your loan repayment or extend your repayment timeline, private lenders offer that option.
Pay down debt faster. Also, keep in mind that reducing your interest rate or repayment timeline can help you get out of student loan debt considerably faster. If youâre someone who wants to get out of debt as soon as you can, this is one of the best reasons to refinance with a private lender.
Why You Might Not Want to Refinance Right Now
While the reasons to refinance above are good ones, there are plenty of reasons you may want to pause on your refinancing plans. Here are the most common:
You want to wait and see if the federal government will offer 0% APR or forbearance beyond May 2020 due to COVID-19. The federal government has only extended forbearance through the middle of May right now, but they might lengthen the timeline of this benefit if you wait it out. Since this perk only applies to federal student loans, you would likely want to keep those loans at 0% APR for as long as the federal government allows.
You may want to take advantage of income-driven repayment plans. Income-driven repayment plans like Pay As You Earn (PAYE) and Income-Based Repayment let you pay a percentage of your discretionary income each month then have your loans forgiven after 20 to 25 years. These plans only apply to federal student loans, so you shouldnât refinance with a private lender if you are hoping to sign up.
Youâre worried you wonât be able to keep up with your student loan payments due to your job or economic conditions. Federal student loans come with deferment and forbearance that can buy you time if youâre struggling to make the payments on your student loans. With that in mind, you may not want to give up these protections if youâre unsure about your future and how your finances might be.
Your credit score is low and you donât have a cosigner. Finally, you should probably stick with federal student loans if your credit score is poor and you donât have a cosigner. Federal student loans come with fairly low rates and most donât require a credit check, so theyâre a great deal if your credit is imperfect.
Important Things to Note
Before you move forward with student loan refinancing, there are some details you should know and understand. Here are our top tips and some important factors to keep in mind.
Compare Rates and Loan Terms
Because student loan refinancing is such a competitive industry, shopping around for loans based on their rates and terms can help you find out which lenders are offering the most lucrative refinancing options for someone with your credit profile and income.
We suggest using Credible to shop for student loan refinancing since this loan platform lets you compare offers from multiple lenders in one place. You can even get prequalified for student loan refinancing and âcheck your rateâ without a hard inquiry on your credit score.
Check for Signup Bonuses
Some student loan refinancing companies let you score a bonus of $100 to $750 just for clicking through a specific link to start the process. This money is free money if youâre able to take advantage, and you can still qualify for low rates and fair loan terms that can help you get ahead.
We definitely suggest checking with lenders that offer bonuses provided you can also score the most competitive rates and terms.
Consider Your Personal Eligibility
Also keep your personal eligibility in mind, including factors beyond your credit score. Most applicants who are turned down for student loan refinancing are turned away based on their debt-to-income ratio and not their credit score. Generally speaking, this means they owe too much money on all their debts when you compare their liabilities to their income.
Credible also notes that adding a creditworthy cosigner can improve your chances of prequalifying for a loan. They also state that âmany lenders offer cosigner release once borrowers have made a minimum number of on-time payments and can demonstrate they are ready to assume full responsibility for repayment of the loan on their own.â
Itâs Not âAll or Nothingâ
Also, remember that you donât have to refinance all of your student loans. You can just refinance the loans at the highest interest rates, or any particular loans you believe could benefit from a different repayment term.
4 Steps to Refinance Your Student Loans
Once youâre ready to pull the trigger, there are four simple steps involved in refinancing your student loans.
Step 1: Gather all your loan information.
Before you start the refinancing process, it helps to have all your loan information, including your student loan pay stubs, in one place. This can help you determine the total amount you want to refinance as well as the interest rates and payments you currently have on your loans.
Step 2: Compare lenders and the rates they offer.
From there, take the time to compare lenders in terms of the rates they can offer. You can use this tool to get the process started.
Ads by Money. We may be compensated if you click this ad.Ad
Where will you be attending college?
Select your state to get started
Step 3: Choose the best loan offer you can qualify for.
Once youâve filled out basic information, you can choose among multiple loan offers. Make sure to check for signup bonus offers as well as interest rates, loan repayment terms, and interest rates you can qualify for.
Step 4: Complete your loan application.
Once you decide on a lender that offers the best rates and terms, you can move forward with your full student loan refinancing application. Your student loan company will ask for more personal information and details on your existing student loans, which they will combine into your new loan with a new repayment term and monthly payment.
The Bottom Line
Whether it makes sense to refinance your student loans is a huge question that only you can answer after careful thought and consideration. Make sure you weigh all the pros and cons, including what you may be giving up if youâre refinancing federal loans with a private lender.
Refinancing your student loans can make sense if you have a plan to pay them off, but this strategy works best if you create a debt repayment plan you can stick with for the long-term.
The post Should You Refinance Your Student Loans? appeared first on Good Financial CentsÂ®.
The post Smart Moves to Make with Your Tax Refund appeared first on Penny Pinchin' Mom.
It is tax season!
You know the goal is not to get much of a refund.
However, a refund is always better than paying in!
But when that money shows in your account donât go and blow it on what you want!Â Make some smart moves with your refund.
Pay off debt
If you have debt then that means you should not have fun with any extra money. Nope. Every penny that you earn (beyond your regular income) should be used to pay off your debt.
While some experts will claim to pay the bill with the highest interest rate, I recommend paying the lowest balances first.Â The reason is you see results.
If you are getting $2,000 back and owe $500, $1500 and $2500, pay off two of your bills. Now,Â youâve got one payment and can roll all three monthly payments into one and pay that largest bill off more quickly.
You see progress in moving from three debts to one and that alone can be enough to keep you motivated.
Build your emergency fund
Experts used to say that your emergency fund should be three months of income for a family.Â After watching many struggle through the last recession, I recommend it be six-nine months instead!
I get that is a LOT of money to save up, but your tax refund can be the perfect way to build up your savings.Â But donât put it in your regular savings account. You donât want to be tempted to spend it.
Set up a new account at your bank. Deposit your refund into the account that is for emergencies only. Donât touch it.
Now youâve got money earmarked for your emergencies and should never touch it unless absolutely necessary.
Invest in your future
It is fun to spend money now but if your retirement accounts have taken a beating (or if they are non-existent) it is time to make that investment.
Visit with a financial expert and set up an IRA or other type of retirement savings account and invest that money.Â That $1,000 you fund today will be worth much more when it is time to cash it in.
Look around your house for appliances or vehicles that may need to soon be replaced. When you catch a sale, make the investment now. Donât wait for it to break down completely.
If you do wait, you may be forced to pay full price and your money wonât go as far. Being proactive and replacing what needs to be when the price is right is a smart money move.
Make home improvements
Look around the house to see what needs to be repaired or updated. Is the paint starting to peel on the trim? Is the carpet wearing out?
Your house is an investment youâve made so you need to take care of it. Peeling paint can lead to dry rot. Old carpet could lead to more stains, odors or even damage to the subfloor (which could cost you even more).
Take care of your house so when the time comes to sell, it is in great shape so you can get top dollar.
Do something for yourself
There is nothing wrong with making an investment in your well-being. In fact, it could be a very smart move.
When you feel better about yourself and give yourself the opportunity to get or do things you donât normally, it changes your perspective.Â You get the chance to focus on you and that is a GOOD thing.
Splurge on that handbag. Go out to dinner. Set up that spa day. Just donât go too overboard.
Spend it as a family
You can also get the family to weigh in what you can do with your refund. You may have no debt; an emergency fund and retirement looks great. That means you can do something fun!
Talk with the kids about what to do with the refund.Â It may be a vacation or adventure.Â It may mean buying a basketball hoop or bikes for everyone.
Work together to determine the best way to use the money.
A tax refund is your money. Use it wisely.
The post Smart Moves to Make with Your Tax Refund appeared first on Penny Pinchin' Mom.
If youâve made a purchase online or over the phone, youâre probably familiar with the three sets of credit card numbers you have to hand over. These numbers include the credit card number, the expiration date and the CVV. If youâre an online shopping pro, youâll know where to find the CVV. But what exactly is the CVV on a credit card?
What Is the CVV on a Credit Card?
A credit cardâs CVV acts as another line of security against fraud. The CVV, or card verification value, can also be referred to as the CSC, or card security code. These numbers serve as one of the most important anti-fraud measures for a credit (or debit) card, especially with the rise of virtual transactions. So when you make a purchase online or over the phone, giving the CVV assures a merchant that the purchase is legitimate and authorized.
When you use your card in person, retailers can check your ID to make sure youâre the cardholder. But merchants canât do the same when you make an online purchase. Instead, the CVV serves a substitute for personal identification. Plus, your card carrier can verify your cardâs unique CVV in the event verification is needed.
Not all merchants require you to enter your CVV when making a purchase. This doesnât make a merchant illegitimate, however. In any case, you always want to make sure youâre handing over your credit card information to a merchant you trust.
Where to Find Your Cardâs CVV
Card carriers print their CVVs in different places on their cards, so itâs important to know where the CVV is on your card(s). If you have a Visa, Mastercard or Discover card, you can find the three-digit CVV on the back of your card to the right of the signature strip. The number may also be adjacent to either your full credit card number, or just the last four digits of it.
However, if you have an American Express card, you can find the CVV on the front, right side of your card. Also note that Amex calls this number a card identification number (CID). An Amex CID is also four digits instead of three.
How a CVV Protects You
A cardâs CVV comes in handy mostly for online purchases. Again, it acts as another line of defense against fraud. So even if a hacker gains access to your credit card number, expiration date and full name, they still need your CVV to complete the transaction. Luckily, CVVs arenât as easily obtainable as your other credit card information.
This is due to the Payment Card Industryâs Data Security Standard (PCI DDS). This was created by Amex, Discover, Mastercard, Visa and other credit card leaders to establish standard rules for credit card information storage. One of its main stipulations states that merchants cannot store your CVV after you make a purchase. However, thereâs nothing preventing merchants from storing the rest of your cardâs information, like the credit card number. This makes it harder for criminals to find the CVV attached to your credit card number.
The CVV also works in tandem with a credit cardâs magnetic strip and the newer EMV chip technology. The printed CVV on your card is embedded in the cardâs magnetic strip. The chip has a digital CVV equivalent called the Integrated Chip Card Card Verification Value (iCVV). So when you use your card in person, whether you swipe or insert the chip, your CVV will still be confirmed.
Limitations of a CVV
Typically, the issues that arise with CVVs are often self-inflicted by the cardholder. Since itâs hard for fraudsters to obtain your CVV through a credit card database, they turn to other illegal means. This includes phishing and physically stealing your cards.
These scams occur as the occasional email or pop-up on your computer, enticing you to make an online purchase. Some scams are easy to spot, due to misspelling or other obvious errors. However, because online merchants so often ask you to enter your CVV, hackers can also include that requirement on their fraudulent page. If you enter your credit card information, including the CVV, the hackers have easily gained access to your account.
Of course, there is always the possibility of getting your credit card physically stolen. In this case, the thieves donât need to hack anything since all your information is there on the card. Your best bet is to cancel your card as soon as possible, request a new card from your issuer and dispute any unauthorized charges made to the account.
While in-person purchases arenât entirely foolproof, online transactions put you and your information more at risk of fraud. To combat this, credit card providers created CVVs and their associated regulations to help keep your personal credit information safe. You can help protect yourself, too, by only entering your card information on websites you trust.
Tips for Keeping Your Cardâs Info Safe
Itâs important to research and find the right credit card for you. When youâre looking through a cardâs features, you should look at its security features. Make sure youâre comfortable with its limits.
Never engage with any emails, ads or websites that you donât immediately recognize as legitimate. This includes not clicking on suspicious links and not entering your credit cardâs account number, expiration date and especially the CVV.
Be sure to look for a âSecureâ tag to the left of the web address of any site youâre making an online purchase through. Only encrypted sites feature these tags, so you can feel confident your cardâs information will be safe in these transactions.
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