Creating and following a budget can be tiresome and overwhelming. If you are unsure of where to begin or need to re-start your budget, there are plenty of online resources that can help. Practical Money Skills is a site that provides “financial literacy for everyone.” They have tools for you to understand the basics of budgeting, assess your financial situation and create a budget tailored to you. You Need a Budget offers free online and webinar courses to help you create and stick to your budget. They also have a mobile and desktop app that you can use to create and maintain your budget; however, they do charge a small monthly fee to use their app.
There are several other budgeting apps available for free. The Balance provides a review of 8 different budgeting apps based on different needs (to stop overspending, create a budget with a partner, etc.). With so many different tools available, there is no reason to put off creating your budget any longer!
Having insurance protects us from the possibility of having to pay a considerable sum in case of an accident and/or can help provide for our dependents in case of our death. Thus, it is very important to have insurance and to make sure you have purchased insurance from a reliable company. It is very easy to get confused and overwhelmed when researching what company and which policy you should buy. Luckily, there are some agencies that can help. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners keeps a record of complaints against life insurance companies, provides consumer alerts, and other resources including online education about insurance at http://www.insureuonline.org/ . There are also several agencies that provide insurance company financial ratings such as A.M. Best Co, Fitch Ratings, Moody’s Investor Service, Standard & Poors and Weiss Ratings. You will also want to take into account a company’s quality of customer service and how quickly they respond to claims by talking with the agents at the company and current (or past) customers. Be sure to take your time and research the company thoroughly so that you can choose the right company and obtain coverage in case of an emergency.
One advantage to owning your home is that you can take out a loan or line of credit against it if you have built up enough equity (i.e., you owe less than what the house is worth). However, you should consider all the pros and cons of home equity loans and lines of credit before deciding to get one. Some advantages of home equity loans and lines of credit are: they typically have lower interest rates and longer repayment times than traditional loans, they are easier to obtain if you have flawed credit, and there are no restrictions on what you use the money for.
A disadvantage is that your house serves as collateral for the loan or line of credit–that is why it has better terms than a traditional loan. If you default on your payments, you could lose your house. Additionally, if the market value of your house declines, you could end up owing more on your house than what it is worth. For these reasons, you may only want to obtain a home equity loan or line of credit to do home improvements which increase the value of your home. If you decide to get a home equity loan, be sure to borrow only what you need and be sure that you can afford the monthly payments so you won’t default on the loan and potentially lose your house.
When you get ready to file your taxes this year, it is important to research the best way to do so. If you feel comfortable completing the tax forms yourself, the IRS has a free file program for anyone whose income is $66,000 or less. There are also different companies such as H&R Block, Turbotax, TaxAct, Credit Karma, etc. that offer free e-filing for simple returns or you can pay to use their software for more complicated returns.
If you pay to use a tax company’s software, be aware of upselling and hidden fees. Most companies will offer to file your simple return for free but try to sell you extra services such as audit protection. Depending on your situation, you may want the audit protection but just be sure to read the fine print to know exactly what type of protection you are receiving when purchasing that service. Additionally, these companies will offer to let you pay for services using your refund money, but this usually comes with a hefty service fee. The seemingly “free” tax refund advances can also come with hidden fees such as prepaid card fees, fees for tax preparation, etc. Although these advances are preferable to the once popular high interest tax refund loans, you should be careful when deciding whether to sign up for one.
If you choose to have a professional tax preparer complete your tax forms, be sure to choose someone you trust. Take the time to review the tax preparer’s work, ensure they are licensed, and know how the forms were completed to make sure you are receiving all applicable deductions and credits.
It is the New Year and time to make resolutions for a better year in 2018. There are two financial resolutions that should be on everyone’s list. One is to take time to learn more about personal finance. Everyone (including those with mountains of debt and those with substantial savings) can learn something new about how to manage money. Whether you prefer to learn by watching videos or reading books or articles, there are plenty of opportunities to learn. At FinConExpo.com there is a comprehensive list of YouTube videos about personal finance rated by viewers. While doing a quick Google search for “best personal finance books” will give you lots of recommendations, if you want a shorter list, Forbes.com has reviewed and created a list for the best financial books for all ages.
The second resolution to add to your list is to take at least one personal finance day this year. Look at your calendar and pick a day that you can use to catch up on the financial tasks that you have been meaning to get to but just haven’t. It should be a day where you can really focus on opening that retirement account, researching investment opportunities, analyzing your spending or creating and reviewing your household budget, and checking your credit report.
Everyone knows, including criminals, that now is the busiest time of the year to be out shopping. So, it is especially important to take extra steps to keep yourself and your information safe. Plan ahead before you leave the house and only bring the cash or a credit/debit card that you will be using. Leave all other cards at home. This will not only help limit impulse spending but also protect you from losing all your cards and cash if your wallet is stolen.
Also, make sure your trunk has space in it to store the items that you buy. You should always keep your purchases locked and out of sight in your trunk. Whenever possible, insert your card in a chip reader instead of swiping it. The chip adds an extra level of protection by creating a one-time code that can’t be duplicated or counterfeited (unlike the static data on a magnetic strip).
When shopping in a store, always keep your belongings close (e.g., don’t leave your purse in the cart while you are distracted and deciding which shirt to buy). Be aware of your surroundings and pay attention to other shoppers especially when walking in the parking lot. Have your car keys ready and don’t linger for a long time with your car doors open. And finally, check your bank and credit card statements frequently to check for any fraudulent purchases. If there are any, report them immediately.
As temperatures get lower and lower, most people see their heating bills rise. Fortunately, there are some tricks that you can do to save on heating. To start, get a programmable thermostat. You can save 2% off your bill for every degree that you keep your thermostat below 72 degrees. Program the thermostat to be lower when you are away and when you are asleep. Keeping your thermostat at 68 degrees or lower while home will also save you money. Stay warm by bundling up with socks, sweaters and blankets. Make the most of free heat by opening your curtains to let sunshine in. Use your ceiling fan to help push the warm air down by running it in a clockwise direction (when you are looking up at it) on a low speed. Have your house inspected to ensure your house is properly insulated including around the doors and windows. Finally, contact your electric company. Many states have programs to help low income families pay heating bills.