Category Archives: Uncategorized

Defending Against Cyber Attacks to Protect Financial Information

Have you ever thought about how much of “you” is on your electronics? If you are like most smartphone, tablet or laptop users, these small devices hold much of your life in the form of emails, texts, credit card numbers, photos, passwords, family names, birthdates, and so forth. Should anyone with malicious intent get hold of this information, they could use it to steal your money or leave you with exorbitant bills in their wake.

How Does Cybercrime Work

There is one prominent reason for the existence of cybercrime; they want to steal money. They will take the money you have in accounts or create loans and credit accounts to run up large balances, leaving you with the bill. The challenge for consumers is that thieves rapidly change methods to stay ahead of legal channels and circumvent apps and programs designed to stop them.

Fraud can occur in simple forms such as an unguarded cell phone that is sold online for a few extra dollars. Advanced forms of theft involve trolling unsecured networks for careless consumers, to sophisticated hacking into corporate computer systems. Whatever form the attack takes, you are vulnerable unless you maintain current protection on all your devices.

What Type of Attacks Are Most Prevalent?

  1. Email Spam: This was the beginning of cyberspace criminality and is still popular today because it works. A spammer sends an unsolicited email to your mailbox. When you open the attachment, it downloads software that can then track your movements online including obtaining passwords to sensitive accounts. Enticements to get a “click” include cheap medicines, illicit invitations, and lottery winnings.


The Solution: raise the settings on your spam filter and never open links from unknown sources. Your email provider frequently updates software designed to recognize spam redirecting it out of your inbox. Delete spam on a regular basis. Don’it unsubscribe to spam email as it confirms the email address as legitimate and may result in more spam.

  1. Phishing: Emails pretending to be from your bank or your email service provider or any unsolicited mail asking for personal information is called phishing. When you click on the link, you arrive at a site looking almost exactly like the bank website, but it is an imposter. Any information provided goes to criminals.

The Solution: Never click on links embedded in the email. Type the web address and go directly to the website to check your messages. Legitimate emails from your financial institution will instruct you to log into your account rather than click on the link.

  1. Social Media Attacks: Cyber criminals also iinvade social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. You might see a post with enticing headline or breaking news, that lead to a link requesting personal information.

The Solution: Increase privacy settings on your social media account and use caution when clicking on or sharing links within the website.

It requires vigilance to keep your private information safe online. The use of the internet is a worldwide phenomenon, which gives those in other countries, as well as our own, opportunities to trick consumers into divulging private information. They add this to data to what they find on line in public records to steal money or create accounts in your name. Take these steps to protect your email and social media accounts from cyber-attacks.

How To Choose A Cloud Servicing Company

As we become more comfortable with working online, electronic storage is a natural next step, as long as data safety is a priority. In some cases like photographs, they are irreplaceable if lost. In other cases, like financial data, loss of information in the wrong hands, can lead to weeks or months dealing with fraud and significant financial losses.

There are two basic storage options: Physical hard drives or online Cloud storage

Physical hard drives, which was the preferred choice a decade ago, can be costly, cumbersome and time-consuming. It requires regular system back-ups and saving data on multiple devices that may become obsolete down the road. The drawbacks to physical storage options have lead to an increasing preference for online storage through the Cloud.

Cloud storage is often free and offers a lot of space to store everything you want to keep over time. You can create a filing system, the same way as physical storage options for easy retrieval of information. Storing information online requires trusting another company to keep your data secure. Before making a decision on where to store sensitive data, here are the top things to consider.

Know the Providers

The popularity of cloud storage has lead to a lot of companies offering to secure your information. Stay with large companies with the resources to maintain a secure system and have a strong online reputation and solid reviews. A few to consider include:

Look at The Provider’s Security:

  • Do they insist on specific requirements for passwords, including special characters, numbers, capitalized letters and length?
  • Do they have Two-factor authentication (2fA) which include a username and password, a user name and PIN, or more complex authentication such as fingerprints?
  • Do they have servers in two or more locations? In the face of a disaster, either natural or manmade, redundancy is necessary. Storage on more than one server at different locations, the reduces the likelihood of an irrevocable loss of data.
  • Do they use Multiple Cloud-Based Providers, which is another redundancy practice which protects data losses?

What is the Encryption Process

When data is encrypted, it cannot be accessed even by the service provider employees. Someone capturing data in transit will not be able to use encrypted data. You want encryption in the data transfer and storage.

Review The Privacy Information and Contract

  • File and Data Deletion – When you delete a file or old data, is it deleted from all servers?
  • Security Breach or Financial Data Loss – What is the iplan of action in the event of a data breach. Exactly what steps are taken to secure your data?
  • Subpoenas issued by the government – How does the company handle requests for private information?


Security is only as good as your password. Develop a system of multifaceted passwords which you change frequently. Never share personal passwords.

Have a Back-Up

Storing your most valuable data on physical hard drives not directly connected with a computer will add an additional layer of protection.

Make a List of Potential Used Cars

Start with features that matter to you and find out which cars meet those needs. Often car models do not change significantly from year to year, giving you similar features to newer cars at a lower cost. The cost of ownership goes well beyond the initial purchase price. Considering items like maintenance, insurance, warranties, and financing costs will help you determine how much it will cost to own a particular year make and model.

Before you begin visiting dealerships or private sellers, explore options that fall within your price range. Understand the price range you want to stay within, as well as a comfortable monthly payment. If you prefer a vehicle less than five years old, consider a certified pre-owned vehicle to reduce upfront costs.

Check Prices

Depending on where you buy your vehicle, prices can range drastically. Private party sales will usually have a lower selling price than a dealer because they don’t have business costs to consider. Private sellers, however, offer no warranties, and you have no recourse if the car fails to perform. Dealers also sell used cars “as is,” but are more likely to provide after sale service.

Web sites such as True Car will help you evaluate what others are paying for the year make and model you want to buy. A company like CarFax offers vehicle reports alerting you to accidents and in some cases vehicle service records. These factors all impact the price of a car.

Contact The Seller

Speaking to the seller before test driving a car will enable you to find out more about the vehicle, check the VIN Number for accidents and compare insurance prices across car models. Important information about condition and mileage largely impact the resale value of the vehicle. Armed with this valuable information you can verify the approximate value of the car you want on websites such as Kelly Blue Book or the NADA, before making an offer, test driving, or falling in love with a particular vehicle.

Negotiate The Deal

Buying a vehicle can be an emotional decision, however, to get the best deal, using financial information will lead to a more objective purchase for the car you love. A few keys to getting the best price include making an opening offer lower than your maximum price, but is within the average price range of the vehicle. Having any required financing in place, (or knowing your credit score), before negotiating, gives you more leverage. Being willing to walk away can be a powerful motivator and lead to paying a lower price.

Being knowledgeable about what you are buying and its current value will put you in the driver’s seat and lead to financial savings.

Everything You Need to Know About Debt Elimination Through Balance Transfers

Today is a new day; you are bound and determined to get heavy debt loads under control and gone for good!

Resolutions such as this one, are made on a consistent basis when you feel overwhelmed. Noticeable progress can be an entirely different matter.

You have tried the snowball method to no avail. Every time you get balances to inch downward a new expense springs forward claiming your progress. You need something new. A different way of dealing with mounting credit card debt, before late payments, cause you to fall behind and ruin your credit.

Debt reduction is not a short term problem. The $40,000 or more in credit card balances you are carrying did not emerge overnight and they won’t go away overnight either. It can be difficult to work consistently on the most well thought out plan when you do not see progress right away. All the while you are paying credit card companies thousands of dollars in interest payments, preventing you from reducing actual balances.

One of the biggest issues with credit card debt is the minimum balance due barely pays the interest. When only minimum payments are made it can take nearly 30 years to pay it off, even if the card goes unused. Speeding up the process will not only save you thousands of dollars but will also increase your success and motivation.

Transferring balances to a lower rate is one way to shorten the payoff time without increasing payments. This strategy will immediately reduce monthly payments due to the decrease in the interest rate. While debt reduction is not immediate, interest rate relief is.

Mechanics of A Balance Transfer

Credit card companies frequently offer discounts for transferring an existing balance to the new credit card. Offers range from single digits to zero percent, for up to 18 months. While the rate reduction is temporary, it can provide immediate relief while you chip away at outstanding balances. During the promotional period, all or most of each payment will reduce debt balances, instead of paying the interest.

While relief is temporary, and the process does not directly pay off debt, it sets the stage for fast debt reduction over a short period of time.

The actual process is simple: Find an offer with zero or a low introductory rate, apply for the card, and transfer existing balances within the time frame required. It is not necessary to list the balance transfer on the application because most offers allow up to 90 days to take advantage of the promotional rate.

Qualifying for Offers

Credit card companies rely on stated income and your credit score as the primary qualifications for approval. They typically do not require paperwork and decisions are auto-generated within seconds of application submission. When credit is in good shape, qualifying for a new credit card is one of the easiest debt transfer options.

Those with the highest credit scores receive the best offers. The biggest challenge to a balance transfer strategy is if you are overextended and struggling to make payments, you may not be offered high enough credit limits on the new card to make a significant impact on the debt.

Balance transfers are available on all credit cards at any time, but promotional interest rate offers are limited to new customers. However, most companies have multiple card offers and programs allowing you to get an additional card with the same lender, to capitalize on the promotional rate.

Important Factors to Understand When Choosing a Balance Transfer

Key factors which determine the value the offer include fees charged for the transfer, the promotional period, the promotional rate offered, interest rate after the promotion ends, and other account fees.

Transfer fees are typical for balance transfer offers and based on the dollar amount transferred. Fees range from zero to 5%. The charge may not sound like a lot, but a 5% transfer fee on $10,000 adds up to $500. Caps or minimum charges can impact the total cost and fee waivers may be negotiated. Even with a fee, you may still save enough to make a transfer worthwhile. Consider the interest savings each month and the length of the promotional rate, compared to any associated costs. If you are paying over $200 in interest each month and the company is offering 0% for 12 months, even a $500 fee, will save you money.

The length of the promotional period is a key factor in determining overall savings. Short promotions make it harder to justify the transfer fee. Promotions can run between 6 and 24 months. Converting a balance of $10,000, which may be charging around $150 a month in interest, to zero percent for 12 months, can see a balance reduction of around $3,000 if you maintain current payments levels.

The permanent interest rate charged, once the promotion ends, will establish the long-term costs. If the permanent rate is higher than your current rate, you may be better off only transferring what you can pay off during the promotional period.

Annual fees are becoming more frequent among new credit card offers. First-year fee waivers are common, but ongoing costs can eat up savings if carrying balances beyond the promotional period. You may cancel the card to avoid the annual fee, even if you have an outstanding balance. This strategy may damage your credit score because it will impact your utilization ratio. The account would then report a current balance but a zero credit limit.

Strategy for Using Balance Transfers to Eliminate Debt

Those with good to excellent credit may be able to qualify for balance transfers and pay off more debt over the same period. This strategy can jumpstart your progress. You may choose to eliminate a couple of low balance cards or reduce balances on the highest rate debt.

Given that most promotional offers only cover a short period, when the clock starts, you want a plan in place to reduce balances as quickly as possible.

If you are unable to transfer all debt onto the low-interest rate card, consider whether you are better off paying down the zero percent debt or making minimum payments on that debt and doubling up on higher rate balances. The long-term rate after the promotion will factor into which option will give you the biggest benefit.

Whichever strategy you choose, stop using credit to keep debt accumulation at bay and measure your progress. Adding new debt to the balance sheet will create a bigger hole.

Using a zero percent offer to lower monthly payments will limit the impact the promotion can offer concerning reduction of debt balances.

Locating Balance Transfer Offers

Credit Karma, Credit, and Nerd Wallet each provide card offers and comparison charts to help you find an offer that may be right for your circumstances.


Creative Ways to Save For Your Vacation

Creative Ways to Save For Your Vacation

Taking a vacation is designed to be a relaxing time with family or friends. Yet, often the planning and paying for a vacation is stressful.

Setting aside money throughout the year reduces stress,saves you money, and eliminates debt accumulation that might normally occurwhich gives you the freedom to enjoy your time away from work. Planning ahead allows you to take advantage of sales and discounts.You are also able to secure accommodation, flights, and other elements of your trip when the prices are the lowest. Charging a vacation on a credit card, and not paying the balance in full,is counterproductive because any savings you obtain from sales is lost due to interest payments. With savings, you may also be able to pay cash for parts of the trip.

Here are ideas for finding hidden money within your budget that can be earmarked for the family vacation.

Decide where you want to go and set a budget. Knowing how much you need is the first step in funding your vacation. Choose a location that can be realistically funded. Less touristy destinations can be just as enjoyable, while being easier on your wallet. You limit your options if you do not have a clear direction on how much needs to be saved. You don’t want to underestimate costs and end up short for activities once you get where you are going.

Build the costs into the monthly budget. Even if you can only set aside a small amount each pay period,establish an automatic draft into a separate account earmarked specifically your trip. This provides a way to track progress along the way and builds vacation costs into the budget. As sales arise you will have the money to pay cash.

Streamline expenses to reach your goal. Feel like you can’t really afford a vacation? Or want to take an excursion or two that is not in the budget? Cutting back on food costs, entertainment, or other discretionary spending can free up the money needed. Ways you can cut back may include packing your lunch, cut out restaurant meals, or put off non-essential purchases until you have enough to enjoy your trip.

Small Steps Can Add Up to Big Savings

Set up a change jarto build your vacation funds. Have everyone in the family dump all their change at the end of the day into a jar and then add it to the vacation account at the end of the week or month. Another similar option is putting $1, $5, a day or $10 to $20 a week into ajar. These small amounts are easy to give because they seem insignificant, but over the course of time will add up over several months. This is a way to pay for optional excursions or activities. It can also involve children of all ages.

Use your annual spring cleaning to sell things you no longer use or want. Do you have sports equipment the kids have outgrown? Collectables that are better at collecting dust? Appliances, tools and clothes accumulate over time and end up taking up space without adding value. Sell what you do not use or need at a garage sell or online seller.

Suspend the cable or satellite service for a few months.These services can generally be suspended for up to six months with no fee, allowing you to stop and restart the service without reentering a new contract. With streaming services like Amazon and Netflix widely available it may not be a significant sacrifice.

Take a side job. There are the traditional jobs like babysitting, housesitting and pet sitting that come to mind. You can also find work at the local mall or theme park. Today’s global and digital world has also provided new income opportunities for nearly everyone offering greater flexibility than ever before. Sign up to be an Uber or Lyft driver and work a few extra hours a week. Create a profile on a micro job site like Fiverr, and complete ‘mini’ jobs that only take a few minutes to complete. Do you know how to build a website, design a logo or business card?This site can provide one time jobs to earn extra cash. Can you answer emails or schedule appointments for clients looking for a virtual assistant?There are dozens of micro sites that provide work which can be completed quickly without a long term commitment or a boss telling you when to come to work.

Get everyone involved. The more vested everyone is in the holiday, the more likely your planning will be successful:Children will be more understanding when you say no to financial requests and you will be more focused on controlling costs. Have them contribute to the success of the vacation.They can put in a small amount from there allowance or job, help choose activities,and make other decisions based on their age or understanding. When they have a vested interest, they will appreciate the time, effort, and money that goes into planning for a vacation.

Make it a game. Have a friendly competition around who can save the most money in a week?Or who can earn the most extra cash? Who can put the most change in the jar? Having games and competition can eliminate the feeling of sacrifice and drudgery that comes from cutting back. It might be hard for children to keep in mind that they are forgoing certain things for an event 6 months away. Games and competitive activities will help the family stay focused and increase the bank account at the same time. The rewards can be part of the vacation planning, such as choosing the activity the money will pay for, or something more immediate.

Track progress everyone can see. Create a thermometer or some other measurable chart that shows your progress at a glance. Each week or month discuss your progress towards your goal and update the chart. This activity puts a purpose to your savings and helps keep everyone motivated along the way.

Vacation planning can be as fun as the vacation itself. They say, ‘the joy is in the journey,’ and this is particularly true when it comes to trips and family events. Family time can be enjoyed during both the planning and the actual vacation.

Best Saving Strategies for The New Year

Successfully reaching savings goals involves both short term and long term strategies. Everyone is different when it comes to spending and saving priorities and habits. Focusing on strengths helps you create a plan that will work for long term success.

Savings accounts can be used as an emergency fund, for annual goals like vacations and holiday spending, or to pay for intermittent bills like a quarterly insurance payment or annual taxes. Establishing a savings account can prevent or reduce debt accumulation when unexpected or intermittent bills come due. The challenge is often not in the lack of understanding the value of having a savings account, but in the implementation and finding “extra” money to fund a savings account adequately.

Short term saving strategies have the ability to jump start savings goals and increase balances quickly to gain momentum. Ongoing long term daily habits will help change spending patterns, which lead to regular deposits into your savings account. Setting a specific goal that can be tracked and measured will allow you to recognize success as balances grow.

Once you have money earmarked in your budget for savings, immediately put it into a separate account that is not readily accessible. Online accounts and separate banks are a common strategy to separate money and make it harder to get to, while still giving you access when needed. This step reduces the temptation to spend the money on impulse purchases.

Jump Start Savings

Sell unused items. Selling unused items will reduce clutter, give you a sense of moving forward, and put money in your savings account, all at the same time. Go through your closet or garage and sell anything of value that you are not using. Clothes, tools, work out equipment, and small kitchen appliances are among common items that seemed like a good idea at the time, but may be collecting dust. For a more thorough cleaning go through every item in a room and ask yourself if you need it and if it matters if you get rid of it.

Quit or reduce expensive habits. Some habits are so routine you don’t even think about them. Whether it is smoking or a $5 daily Latte, habits that drain your wallet can be bad for both your financial and physical health. Regular gambling or lottery ticket purchases can siphon money from higher priority items to feed an addiction. They can be both expensive and difficult to change but will bring significant savings when eliminated.

Negotiate rates and fees. Look over each bill and statement for one month looking line by line for fees and charges that have little or no value. Can you get cell phone insurance elsewhere for less? Could you raise your deductible on your auto or home insurance to reduce costs? Call credit card companies and request a rate decrease. Eliminate cable channels you don’t watch or downgrade to a plan with fewer channels. Late payments and overdrafts can be prevented through automating your financial payments and deposits.

Evaluate transportation options. Is it necessary to drive to work each day? Own two or more vehicles? Could you walk or bike to work or when running errands? Is a bus or train available that might eliminate a vehicle? Is carpooling an option? Could you work from home a few days a week saving gas and vehicle wear and tear?

Cancel unused memberships and subscriptions. Many companies want to set you up on monthly plans. If you are not using the service, cancel. If magazines or newspapers are piling up because you don’t have time to read them, cancel the subscription. Even if the account is prepaid for the year, many services will prorate the fees at cancellation saving you money each month. When cancelling ongoing memberships and subscriptions weigh cancellation fees, which could negate savings. Sometimes accounts require 30 or 60-day notification for cancellation. If you choose to change service providers request the new service pay any cancellation fees and/or waive start up charges.

Loan consolidation or refinance. Combining debt into a single lower interest rate and lower monthly payment can provide additional funds each month for savings. Consolidating credit card debt and student loans is a popular place to look for savings. Refinancing a home or vehicle may also provide lower rates, lower monthly payments, and more room in the budget for building your savings.

Ongoing Daily Habits That Save You Money

Save money when shopping:

  • Shop with a list and only buy what’s on the list.
  • Don’t wander the aisles, but head directly to items on your list.
  • Use coupons when possible for things that are on sale and that you need.
  • Wait 24 hours or more for unplanned purchases to reduce impulse buying.
  • Avoid the mall or other spending triggers.
  • Do not save credit card information with on line accounts.
  • Use an app and the internet to compare prices and look for discounts and coupons.
  • Sign up for rewards programs at stores and restaurants you frequent.

Save money on food

  • Have pot luck dinners at home instead of eating out with friends.
  • Plan your menu around what’s on sale.
  • Eat a meatless meal at least once a week.
  • Drink more water, especially at restaurants. Filtered water is less expensive than bottled water.
  • Buy in bulk.
  • Cook at home. Premade casseroles and a crock pot can provide delicious meals at a fraction of the cost of eating out.

Save money on entertainment

  • Find free and inexpensive activities around town.
  • Learn what days’ museums are open for free or at a discount.
  • Check discount sites like Groupon or Living Social for entertainment ideas that are generally 50% off or more.
  • Consider an annual membership for places you enjoy the most. Often annual memberships will pay for themselves in two visits, giving you inexpensive entertainment for the year or season.
  • Frequent the library. Instead of buying or renting books, DVDs, or video games, check out the library’s collection.
  • Plan ahead for vacations and consider alternate destinations that will provide a great trip at a much lower cost.

Save money on everyday living

  • Barter for services you want and need.
  • Maintain homes, appliances, vehicles, and tools to increase their life.
  • Combine trips to save on gas.
  • Take advantage of all the company benefits offered.
  • Put a system in place to track spending either manually or with an app.
  • Stick to a set monthly budget.
  • Use cash instead of credit cards to pay for purchases.
  • Automate savings by auto drafting a small amount each paycheck to a savings account.

Setting goals and tracking spending will help you find more money that can be used to build your savings. You will be able to see where money is going to better prioritize spending. Thinking outside the box will allow you to customize a savings plan to fit your lifestyle.

7 Tips for Building an Emergency Fund

When it comes to establishing financial security, emergency funds top the list. Unexpected expenses are common. That’s where an emergency fund can help. Without one, costs tend to go on credit cards, rather than from a savings account, preventing you from building your net worth.

The first question generally asked is “How much should I save?” The experts do not agree on a set amount: Prior to 2008, the standard was 3 to 6 months’ worth of expenses was the standard to cover emergency events like loss of income or medical emergencies. Now that number has been bumped up to a recommended 6 to 8-month surplus of funds that are easily available.

Many consumers struggle with the idea of setting aside thousands of dollars in low interest earning accounts. To combat this, consider creating both a short term and a long term emergency fund that will accommodate the need for growth while also granting you some funds to immediately access when needed.

For the short term account consider how much would be required if the car broke down or you needed to make a home repair. Think about one time emergencies that might arise, that could not wait a week for funding. Set aside that amount into a savings or money market account that you can get to the same day. The remainder of your anticipated emergency fund could be established in an investment account that has higher earning power and can be liquidated in a week or so. This would be reserved for an event like a job loss or a natural disaster that would require funds over a longer period of time.

The question then becomes how do you go about saving enough money to fund an emergency account?

  1. Determine how much you need to save with a focus on expenses and not income. If you lose your job extra expenses like vacations and new clothes will no longer be a part of the budget. Mandatory expenses like paying the mortgage and keeping the lights on will always be there and must be covered whether you are working or not. What is the minimum you would need to survive and keep all payments current? Use that figure to calculate want you need for an emergency fund.
  2. Start Small. Setting a goal of accumulating $20,000 or more is daunting when you don’t even have $1,000 saved. Set small incremental goals with a time limit. For example: set a goal to save $500 in the next 3 months or 6 months, depending on your budget abilities. Even if you have existing credit card debt, set aside a small amount of money each pay period to work towards building your savings. It is nearly impossible to get out of debt without an emergency fund to cover unexpected expenses. You pay off $500 in debt, and then car repairs require you to re-charge that amount. It can feel like two steps forward and three steps back when this happens frequently. Having a savings to tap into will prevent this cycle.
  3. Make it accessible, but not too accessible. Opening a savings account at an online bank or a credit union will both physically and psychologically separate the money from your day to day budget. This step reduces the temptation to tap into it over convenient purchases rather than emergencies. You do not want to be able to get to the money with a few clicks, yet you could get the debit card out of the drawer and access it in a true emergency.
  4. Automate the process. Setting an auto draft into your savings account is an effective way to make this happen. If your goal is $500 in six months and you get paid twice a month, auto draft $38 each paycheck into the account. You will be surprised that you will not even notice it is missing from your account.
  5. Only use for an emergency. An emergency is not your annual property taxes or your quarterly home insurance payment; an emergency is not a great sale at your favorite store. These are anticipated expenses which you should already have a plan in place to pay. Setting aside funds each month to cover anticipated expenses will allow you to have the money to pay the bill when it comes due. Having a separate account for intermittent bills can be an effective way to prepare for these costs as they occur. Vacations and holiday spending should be covered in the working budget. Another option is to stagger the payments so one quarterly bill comes due each month enabling you to work them into the monthly budget. Reserve your emergency fund for true emergencies such as car repairs, a funeral you must attend, or replacing a broken appliance.
  6. Take advantage of windfalls like bonuses and tax refunds to jump start or add to the account. It can take years to build up a 6-month reserve at $50 a paycheck. Adding a percentage of any extra funds will get you to your long term goals faster. For example: Taking 40% for debt reduction, 40% for the emergency fund and 20% for other wants will create a spending plan when extra funds arrive. Knowing ahead of time how the money will be divided will help keep you on track.
  7. Find hidden money. Finding hidden money will speed up the process and help you see results faster, when budgets are tight, or you want to get on the fast track for savings or debt reduction. The easiest way to identify extra money in your budget is to track spending for 30 days and find places where you can cut back. Look over each monthly bill and see if there are extra charges that can be eliminated: Do you pay insurance on your phone? Companies like Square Trade can be half the price of insurance provided by carriers for the same coverage. Do you pay for premium channels on your satellite bill? A Netflix account will offer you the same options for less. Instead of eliminating all your extras, find ways to get the same services cheaper.

Creating an emergency fund is like carrying personal insurance for your needs. You buy health insurance to cover healthcare emergencies. You have car insurance and home insurance in the event of accidents or natural disasters. An emergency fund can cover costs associated with deductibles, repairs, and other life events you cannot anticipate. You hope the account will grow for years without ever being needed, and then it will be available when disaster strikes, providing peace of mind and financial security.


Resolutions to Improve Your Financial Health in The New Year

The New Year is a time to reflect on the past and set resolutions for the upcoming year. January 1st brings a fresh start and the chance to try again. You get a “do over” for the thing you keep telling yourself you want to accomplish. This start date can motivate you to action, when other attempts have failed.

Most New Year Resolutions fall into one of three categories:

  • Health: To live a healthier life. Goals might include losing weight, eating healthier, exercising more, quitting smoking, or drinking less.
  • Personal: Enjoy life more. Goals might include spending more time with family, traveling more, reducing stress, or volunteering.
  • Financial: Have more money and increase financial security. Goals might include saving more, reducing debt, or spending less.

Financial Resolutions

The top three financial goals reported are reducing debt, saving more, and spending less. Joined together, these three goals create greater financial success. When spending is reduced, you have more money to pay down debt or set aside for savings. Reducing debt frees up monthly payments that can be used to fund other long term financial goals, such as retirement or your children’s college.

So while New Year’s resolutions get a lot of bad press, and focus on the high rate of failure, you can learn to make them work for you. When structured properly, resolutions can become a guide for greater and faster financial success. Sort of like a business plan for your personal life.

8 Things You Can Do Today to Reach Your New Year’s Resolutions and Improve Your Financial Health:

  1. Resolutions Provide Motivation. This is the time of year where you are given permission to imagine your life as you want it to be. What would your life look like if you actually accomplished your financial goals? What does freedom from debt feel like? That vacation you have always wanted? Knowing you are on track for retirement? Keeping resolutions front and center will help you stay motivated and focused on long term goals you have set for yourself.
  2. Measure Success. Without a process in place you are less likely to reach your goals because daily habits have not been created that are consistent with your goals. For example: if you want to be debt free, but find yourself with increasing credit balances, you are not moving forward. Without a process in place to reduce debt, it will never magically go away, just because you want to be debt free. One of the challenges with long term goals is seeing progress and movement. To counter this, set goals that are actionable (specific task oriented), measurable (you can see movement), and timely (set a deadline). You will then be able to see progress even when it’s slow, enabling you to celebrate successes and stay motivated for long term changes.
  3. Simplify Long Term Goals by breaking them down into daily or weekly tasks. This step will help you develop habits and behavior patterns that move you, consistently, in the right direction. For example: If you set a goal to pay off $40,000 worth of debt, this will not happen overnight. The resolution is “I want to be debt free.” The goals will be to set aside specific amounts, each pay period, which will bring you closer to the goal. This might mean adding an extra payment to one bill or adding a small additional amount to a debt payment each week. These small steps will lead to big results at the end of the year as long as you are consistent.
  4. Automate The Process. When you have to think about a financial decision it is easy to talk yourself out of it. You tell yourself, “I know I should put money in savings but XYZ has come up.” This demand for your dollar is best combated through automation. When you don’t see it, you don’t consider it for other spending. The more automated your process is, the more likely you are to succeed. If you want to pay down debt, for example, look at the 3-year payoff on your statement and set the bill pay on automates payments for that amount. Then you never have to think about it. There will be no late charges and the debt will pay off on schedule, as long as you don’t re-adjust the payments.
  5. Make Small, Measurable Changes. One key reason for the high failure rate regarding resolutions is that we envision the end of the road. Then we try and make radical changes to get there in lightning speed. The result is that we don’t move at all, because it feels too hard. Starting from exactly where you are and taking small steps will ultimately get you there faster. You don’t go from a couch potato to running a marathon in one week. You start by walking one mile, then running a mile and build up to the end goal. Take this same approach with all your goals and you will reach greater success.
  6. Focus On the Positive. One thing about failure it that it breeds discouragement and leads to quitting. You really can accomplish any goal you set, if you stick with it. Woody Allen famously said, “99 percent of life is showing up.” This principle can be applied to goals. Set small measurable changes and then do it every day, until it becomes part of your routine and way of living.
  7. Adjust as Life Happens. Life is fluid and dynamic and the unexpected always happens. When changes in your circumstances occur adjust your resolutions rather than scrapping them. If you set aside $250 extra for debt reduction, and your spouse suddenly needs a new medicine that adds $100 a month to your costs, don’t’ get rid of the goal, just adjust it.
  8. Work with A Professional. Often the things we want the most are not achieved because they are too overwhelming. If this is the case, get help. There are professional providers in nearly every industry that can help access your current situation and present solutions for success. Find a company you trust and let them help you reach your financial goals.

Let this time of reflection be your opportunity to improve your financial health. Set goals for the new Year that will get you to where you want to be financially, one step at a time.

The Best Way to Eliminate Debt

Credit Card Debt has a nasty way of sneaking up on you. It begins with charging a new jacket on sale or a bargain for the latest Smart TV. The next thing you know you are drowning in $40,000 or $50,000 worth of debt. Maybe job loss or family illness contributed to the debt balances, but somehow it got away from you. Whatever the reason, bills piled up and now those once low monthly minimum payments have ballooned to hundreds or even $1,000.

The concept of low monthly payments can suck you into enrolling for a new credit card. Low interest offers or 0% interest for a few months encourages overspending. In the end you are left with high interest rate payments that can be difficult to manage. Stopping the bleeding and addressing the issue as soon as possible leaves you with the most options.

Late payments and collections limit your opportunities very quickly.

Where to Start

Any effective strategy for debt reduction or debt elimination must start with controlling spending, living within your means, and changing spending habits. The following steps are designed to help you get your financial situation under control, today.

Assess The Situation. Gather all your bills and look at what you are dealing with. To get started, a simple evaluation of who you owe, what interest rate you are paying, your monthly payments, and the total balances due help put things in perspective. Compare this information with your income to see what you have left for a debt reduction strategy.

Create a Budget. Look over your living expenses and see where your money is going. From there create a budget that is based on your current cost of living. If there is not enough money to go around, look for ways to save: Cut back or eliminate cable, trim your cell plan, or reduce eating out and entertainment. Whatever it takes to get your spending in line with your income.

Establish a Payoff Strategy. One strategy might mean making minimum payments on all but one bill and then paying extra on the lowest balance or highest interest rate card. If this is all too discouraging because your debt payments and interest rates are too high, you may qualify for a consolidation loan to get the rate and payments down. Work with a professional financial counselor to review options.

Stop Using Credit Cards. If you are serious about retiring debt, now is the time for cash and debit card usage. Never mind the points and rewards. Put the cards in a drawer or safe deposit box to eliminate access and reduce the temptation to overspend. If you don’t have the money, do without. Living like a college student may not be attractive, but reducing expenses to essentials have great long term rewards.

Get A Second Job. If you are unable to adjust your budget to meet the minimum payments you currently have, a second job may be necessary. A second job will also give you additional income, increasing your chances of qualifying for a consolidation loan, which can offer more immediate relief. Either way it will enable you to reduce debt faster and more effectively.

Put Windfalls Towards Debt. Whether you received an inheritance, end of year bonus, or tax refund, put any extra money towards debt reduction. Consider selling items you own but no longer use: Clothes, sports equipment, appliances, and tools are common things taking up space in your home. Turn these into cash to eliminate debt faster.

Set Goals and Change Behaviors That Sabotage Success. Do you want to be debt free, put more in retirement, fund college accounts for your children, or plan a dream vacation? Whatever your financial goals are, let them be a catalyst for action. You will need motivation to eliminate debt that has accumulated over the years.

Look at Short Term Options

There is more than one way to eradicate debt. Not all options require living on ramen noodles for the next 10 years to ensure you won’t retire broke. A Debt Consolidation Loan can offer immediate relief in the form of lower monthly payments and a lower interest rate. If you want to be aggressive with your debt elimination strategy, continue to make the same payment amounts on the consolidation loan to retire the debt sooner. Either way you could save thousands of dollars in interest, eliminating your debt in a few short years.

Apply today and see how we can help you get your financial house in order.

Tax Considerations for 2015

As the year comes to an end, it is a good time to review taxable deductions and find ways to minimize your tax liability so that you are prepared for tax season. Many expenses, like property taxes, must be paid for by December 31 in order to deduct them for this calendar year. If you pay them in January, they cannot be deducted until the following year.

The Affordable Care Act has instituted mandatory medical insurance be carried by everyone. If you do not carry insurance, or qualify for an exception, you will begin paying an annual tax which increases each year. The 2015 penalty for lack of insurance for each adult is either $325 or 2% of income, whichever is larger. This amount increases in 2016 to $695 for each adult or 2.5% of income.

Along with the new annual tax for the ACA, there are also a range of new forms: those with an exemption must fill out one form, and those receiving a subsidy will complete another form. There is also the subsidy calculation which considers both income and household size. A family of four can gain an insurance subsidy even with income up to $95,000.

At the beginning of each year you must estimate your income for the upcoming year. If you underestimate you could owe more in taxes and possibly have to pay a penalty for underpayment. However, if your income is expected to change in 2016, your insurance agent can adjust your numbers to ensure your subsidy is in line with your income.

Charitable Deductions. Any donations made to charities must be made by December 31 in order to be counted for the current year. Donating an unused vehicle, boat or other personal property for larger deductions could reduce tax liability. Receipts should be maintained for cash donations. With the holidays arriving this is a great time to clean out the closet, increase your tax deductions, and make room for the new things you have purchased for the holidays. Calculators are available for donated items: Goodwill has one that is easy to use and can be found at

Homeowners get a number of valuable deductibles that can reduce tax liability. Interest, from both first and second mortgages, along with property taxes can reduce taxable income by thousands of dollars. Congress has not yet extended the mortgage insurance premium deduction that expired in 2014, but it is anticipated that this write off will be included in the tax bill that will be passed in the next few weeks.

Bad Debt Might Be Taxable. Being prepared is always best. You may receive a 1099K if you settled debt or had a home foreclosed. Not all companies mail such forms, however, if you receive one it must be included on your tax return.

Student Loan Interest may also be tax deductible. Whether the loan is for you or for your child, interest is generally deductible if the loan is in your name. Typically, you can deduct up to $2,500 in interest on these loans. Click on for the specific IRS guidelines.

Credit Card Debt or Interest is typically not deductible for personal debt. Business debt may be deductible if the purchases were considered business expenses.

No one likes to think about taxes, but with a little planning you might be able to reduce your tax liability and eliminate any surprises that can through off your finances in the New Year.