As featured in The Wall Street Journal, Money Magazine, and more!

Money Management

Getting out of debt is key to financial freedom. Being debt free gives you great financial flexibility. Paying off those debts, however, can be a struggle. Here we provide a comprehensive guide on how to get out of debt for good.

CLIMB DEBT

Along with losing weight, getting out of debt is probably the most popular goal in the United States. It’s almost always one of the top three New Year’s resolutions made each year. In fact, 42% of people vow to make better money choices. With the average American’s credit card debt once again on the rise, debt freedom is surely on many of our minds.

This goal, though — like so many others — tends to be forgotten within weeks of New Year’s Day. We get overwhelmed with managing a bare bones budget. We have to field unexpected expenses. Or we simply lose motivation when it seems like there’s no way out.

It’s time to stop the cycle. If you have resolved to get out of debt this year — whether it was for New Year’s or because you simply got fed up on a random Tuesday– here is how to finally meet that challenge, once and for all. To help, here are some ideas for not losing sight of the goal.

Related: Which Comes First: Paying Down Debt or Building an Emergency Fund?

Financial Freedom > Zero Debt

At worst, debt is slavery. At best, it’s willful indentured servitude.

Say your family takes home $2,500 per month from your job after taxes. Now imagine your credit cards, loans, and rent/mortgage total $2,000 each month. This means that you work only one-fifth of your hours for yourself.

The remaining four-fifths of your time at your job is exclusively for your creditors. You might as well just hand your paycheck over or work off your debt directly for the credit card companies. Depressing, right?

Unlike slavery, though, you are free to leave this arrangement (your job) at any time. You just need to simply quit and look for another job with a pay increase. However, that is not always a simple or practical solution.

Learn More: My Two Best Financial Decisions: Leaving My Jobs

If it motivates you, think about what you would do with your freedom from debt. Without having to pay credit card companies, you would have the freedom to choose where your take-home pay goes. Then, use those dreams to fuel your motivation. For instance, if you want to save up for a vacation, place pictures of your favorite getaway spot around your house.

Replace Bad Habits

Excessive shopping can be a habit. Many compulsive shoppers find shopping helps them deal with difficult emotions like anger, frustration, and stress. The excitement of shopping helps to temporarily improve a person’s mood.

But you can replace this habit with healthier alternatives.

If starting a shopping trip helps you deal with difficult emotions, replace shopping with jogging, running, or another physical activity.

While the act of spending money improves the mood of habitual shoppers, physical activity improves anyone’s mood. This is due to endorphins — natural, mood-altering chemicals the body releases in both situations.

And what about the bad habit of wasting time watching television? This could be costing you actual money if you’re paying a fortune for cable. But you could also be missing major opportunities to make money. Instead of watching TV, spend time working on a side hustle or listening to podcasts to further your career (and make more money).

It may sound crazy, but just try to find a different habit that better serves your goals.

Make Getting Out of Debt Fun

The concept of “fun” is subjective. What one person finds fun, another might find mundane.

For example: when I was in debt, I liked watching the colorful monthly reporting graphs in Microsoft Money get close to crossing the x-axis of $0 net worth. I fully understand that might not motivate everyone the same way.

Related: How and Why to Track Your Net Worth

Rewards can be great motivators, too — just make sure they aren’t big rewards that will impact your finances negatively. Paying off a student loan and then blowing $200 on a steak and lobster dinner, for example, isn’t very smart.

Do something small, yet still enjoyable. You could treat yourself to a movie night every time you pay off a credit card, or plan that weekend hike that you’ve been meaning to do.

Celebrate at every possible milestone to keep up your motivation, but choose reasonable rewards.

Visualize Your Debt Reduction

Losing weight is easy to visualize. Improving finances? Not quite so easy.

I’ve seen videos posted online involving time-lapse photography to illustrate weight loss over time. The person takes a photograph each week in the same location and same position. When the photographs are laid side by side in a video, the change is apparent.

You may not realize it, but you can do the same with your debt.

Here are a few visualization tips:

  • When you pay off a credit card, cut it up using a shredder. Save the plastic confetti in a bag. Watch it expand as you blow through card after card.
  • Look at your credit card statements before you go to sleep each night. Your bad dreams will subside when your statements are small enough that they don’t cause anxiety.
  • Here is an extreme option, for those who REALLY need a motivator: If you’ve paid off 20% of your mortgage, paint 80% of your house in a color you don’t like. Once a year, determine how much more you’ve paid off, and paint the corresponding amount in a color you do like. You’ll be encouraged to pay off your mortgage in full just so you can live in a house painted the way you prefer.

Learn More: Should You Ever Cancel a Credit Card?

Need some other ways to boost your motivation? Try these tips:

Do something positive every day.

The key to making a resolution stick is to keep it in front of you every day. If you can do it without additional fees, make a small payment on your loan or credit card every day before you go to work. Look at your net worth in Mint if that reminds you of your goal. Work an extra hour if it means you’ll get more money for paying off your debt.

Recruit your family and friends.

Having a support system is vital, but many people don’t want to let people know about their financial troubles. It’s important to have at least one person you trust to talk to about financial issues. It helps to share goals like this because goals often don’t seem real until you speak them aloud to someone. Plus, you can add some accountability just by telling someone about your goals

Consider your financial options.

To truly get started, you need to make some financial decisions. It is true that anything you do is better than nothing, but you need to have a plan. First, can you consolidate your debt onto one low-rate card? Call your credit card issuers and ask. Do you qualify for a loan through a peer-to-peer network? If you have a good credit score, you might find favorable loan terms.

Decide how fast you want to get out of debt and how much you want to pay. If you want to pay the least and succeed the fastest, you’ll want to examine the Debt Avalanche method. If you believe that a small success earlier on the path is important to keep you motivated, check out the Debt Snowball. Research your options and give it thorough thought. And if you aren’t sure which approach to take, check out this debt snowball vs debt avalanche calculator.

What tips do you have for keeping a resolution to get out of debt?

{ 12 comments }

It’s a fact: multigenerational households are becoming more common in the United States. In the ’50s, it wasn’t unusual for older adults to live with their grown children and possibly grandchildren. That living arrangement trended downward for several decades, but saw a big upswing between 2000 and 2014. In fact, in 2014, 19% of Americans — 60.6 million people — lived in households that included at least two generations of adults.

The economy explains some of these trends. When retirement funds crashed during the Great Recession, older adults may have suddenly found themselves unable to financially make it on their own. Now, couple that with rising housing costs and a shaky job market. The result is that many middle-aged children caring for elderly parents can’t afford to put mom and dad up in a care facility.

You can’t trace the entirety of this trend to the economy, though. Actually, some of it is due to increasing diversity in America. The Pew research shows that more families with Asian, African American, and Hispanic backgrounds are likely to live in a multigenerational household. This is likely due, at least in part, to upbringing and the cultural expectation that adult children are to support their elderly parents.

Regardless of culture or background, many adults expect to have at least some role in caring for their parents when they’re no longer able to do so themselves. But what this looks like — and the financial and emotional toll it takes — can vary from family to family. If you think you might be in this situation in the coming years, start taking the following steps now:

1. Consult your spouse and siblings

The first step in deciding how to help your aging parents financially isn’t necessarily to talk to your parents. Sure, the conversation might come up. But before you commit to anything or set expectations, consult with your spouse and any siblings who are in the picture.

It’s essential to be on the same page about elderly care with your spouse. Financially and practically supporting one (or more) spouse’s parents can put some serious strain on your marriage. So, talk to your spouse about what you would like to do for your parents. Then, reach an agreement on what you, as a couple, are willing and able to do — financially, but also practically and emotionally. Also, decide ahead of time what boundaries you need to put in place, in order to preserve healthy relationships all around.

You’ll definitely want to pull in your siblings for this. See how much they’re willing and able to contribute to your parents’ care, financially. But again, also consider the practical aspects of caring for them. Who is most able to take on emotional support roles? Who is best at dealing with practical details? Does one of the siblings prefer to have mom or dad live with their family, or do you need to work together to support your parents in a care facility or retirement community?

Having these conversations before approaching your parent(s) can help everyone stay on the same page.

2. Talk with your parents

Next, you’ll want to have a frank conversation with your parents. You don’t have to start by laying out the nitty-gritty details of their budget. Instead, try talking more generally about your parents’ goals and needs as they approach old age. Do they want to live on their own as long as possible? Have they considered a retirement or assisted living facility, depending on their physical and medical needs? Do they expect to be healthy well into old age, based on their ancestry? Or are health problems already cropping up and complicating matters?

Read More: How to Afford Healthcare in Retirement

During this conversation, you might bring up some of the options you’ve already thought out. Whether that’s helping your parents settle into a nearby assisted living facility or adding an in-law suite to your home, present these options as just that… options. Unless your parents are at the point where they are no longer capable of making sound decisions, you should try, wherever possible, to defer to their judgement and preferences.

3. Understand the financial situation

Once you’ve gotten a feel as a whole family — spouse, siblings, and parents — for everyone’s needs, preferences, and boundaries, it may be time to have a more frank conversation about money. By this time, you should already know what you are willing and able to contribute to your parents’ care and well-being. Hopefully, you also have an idea of what, if anything, your siblings can contribute.

Now, it’s time to figure out where your parents are financially. You might even want to consider pulling in a financial planner who can look holistically at your parents’ investments, retirement accounts, and other assets. This can help you get a more objective view of the best way to allocate resources.

Related: Moving Assets Into a Revocable Living Trust

Digging into the financial details may be awkward. But it’s essential in this decision-making process, as the available resources — including government-funded benefits, Social Security, and assets — will tell you what options are available to your family now and in the future.

4. Consider long-term care insurance

If there are potential health issues in the picture — or if mom and dad don’t have enough money to handle potential assisted care — consider long-term care insurance. This is an insurance product specifically for paying for long-term healthcare, often including assisted living and in-home care that isn’t covered by insurance or Medicare. Depending on your parents’ current health status, premiums may be relatively affordable. And you could consider paying for premiums yourself — or with the help of siblings — to reduce the risk of having to pay out loads of money for long-term care in the future.

5. Put a plan in place (and have a backup)

Once your family has worked through all of these issues — probably over the course of several month or even years — it’s time to put a formal plan into place. This might include steps like adding an in-law suite to your own home, or converting some space you already have in order to move your parents into your home. Or it might require you to visit local assisted living and retirement communities, to be ready to move mom or dad there when the time comes.

Whatever you plan, though, make sure you have a backup. This is especially true if your goal is to move your parents into your own home. Often times, this is an excellent fit and winds up benefiting everyone. But if medical or mental health needs become more complex, this arrangement may not work out as well as you’d hoped. Always hope for the best, but plan for the worst. In this case, you may need to plan for an alternative living situation, or figure out how you could afford in-home care to help lighten the load.

6. Make it all legal

After the plan is made, it’s a good idea to ensure that a responsible sibling has medical power of attorney and financial power of attorney for your parents. While you’re helping your parents get these documents drawn up, it’s a good idea to have them go over their will with an attorney, as well.

Planning Your Estate? You Need These 3 Documents NOW

In the end, it’s up to your parents, as long as they are of sound mind, to decide who has power of attorney and how to spell out their own will. And they may prefer to work these documents out directly with an attorney. If that’s the case, simply make sure you know who has power of attorney and where copies of their documents are stored, in case you should ever need them.

7. Start helping out early

As memories start to fade or medical needs get complicated, older adults occasionally have trouble managing their finances. If you notice this happening to your parents, you may want to start helping out with their finances sooner rather than later. Sometimes this is as simple as helping them write a budget and set up automatic bill payments so things don’t get missed. Or it may be more complicated, like managing investment accounts to make the most of the savings.

Related: 7 Free Tools to Help Aging Parents With Their Money

Caring for elderly parents can be stressful — both emotionally and financially. Taking the time now to plan ahead for this eventuality will help take some of the stress out of the situation for everyone.

{ 27 comments }

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard whisperings of the Federal Reserve’s rate hike last month. This is only the third time since the Great Recession that the Fed has increased rates… and, well, it’s both a good thing and a bad thing.

A Fed rate increase means that the economy is on the upswing. The Fed will only raise the benchmark rate when the economy no longer needs stimulus. Janet Yellen, chairwoman of the Fed, said that her organization plans to go slowly with such rate increases. So, it’s best to assume that the Federal Reserve is cautiously optimistic about the economy and where we stand today.

The most recent benchmark increase was only a bump from .75 to 1 percent. It doesn’t seem like much, but even a tiny change in the benchmark rate can spell major changes for your personal financial situation. Let’s take a look at what the latest increase may mean for you.

How the Fed changes interest rates

The Federal Reserve doesn’t directly affect interest rates. Instead, its benchmark rate affects the federal funds rate — the rate that banks charge each other. The banks then pass those costs (or savings) on to consumers by changing the rates of short-term loans. Then, when short-term rates increase, long-term rates increase, as well.

In short, when the Fed increases its benchmark rate, you’ll first feel the pinch with your credit cards and other adjustable-rate or new shorter-term loans. But you’ll eventually feel the pinch if also you try to take out a longer-term loan, like a mortgage.

Here’s how the current rate increase is most likely going to impact your wallet:

If you have adjustable-rate debt

Variable- or adjustable-rate debts — like credit cards, HELOCs, and variable-rate mortgages — will likely be the first place to feel the difference, post-rate hike. A quarter-percentage interest hike doesn’t seem like much, but it can really add up over time. This is especially true if you’re carrying around a lot of credit card debt.

Let’s assume that you’re holding the average American family’s $16,000 worth of credit card debt. Depending on your terms, the rate increase could potentially cost you several hundred dollars per year.

Learn More: How Is the Nation REALLY Doing With Credit Card Debt?

Just how much more can you expect to pay on your variable rate loan? Dig into your statements to ensure you always know your rates, even as they change. Then, use an online calculator to see how much you’re going to pay in interest when your rate increases.

The best way to deal with this particular issue? Just pay off that debt as soon as you can. Right now, you may only be looking at a difference of $100 a year or less. But if the Fed continues to increase their benchmark rates, the interest rates on your already higher-interest debts are only going to increase.

Need a boost to get you started? Consider transferring some of your debt to a card with a 0% APR introductory period. Paying no interest for even 12 or 15 months can make it much easier to get that principal paid down before you end up paying through the nose because of rate increases.

If you have, or are in the market for, a mortgage

Fixed-rate mortgages, which remain the most popular option, may not skyrocket immediately. But the pinch will come.

According to Freddie Mac, the average 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage in January charged 4.15% interest. In March, that increased to 4.2%. That’s a fairly large increase from this time last year, when rates were more like 3.69%. But from February to March, that much of an increase would probably only make a few dollars’ worth of difference in your monthly payments.

With that said, even a point’s difference on a 30-year mortgage can have a big impact on your finances over time. That’s because you’re paying interest on this loan for so long. Even a few bucks a month will add up over the course of 30 years!

Read More: Can This Simple App Get You Out of Debt?

So, what should you do with all of this in mind? Well, if you’re in the market for a mortgage, you might try to buy sooner rather than later. But only if you have a sufficient down payment and good credit. It doesn’t make sense to pay more for a mortgage, simply because you’ve rushed in before you’re financially ready.

With the Fed’s cautious outlook, it doesn’t seem that interest rates are going to skyrocket any time soon. So, it doesn’t make sense to lock in a lower rate if you’re not financially prepared to buy yet.

What about those who already own a home? If you’re still paying pre-Great Recession interest rates of 5% or more, you might want to consider refinancing while the rates are still low. This is especially true if you’re also in a better credit and all-around financial situation now than you were last time you bought or refinanced your mortgage. If nothing else, it’s worth looking into your refinance options now, before rates increase any more.

In the Know: Can You Refinance Your Mortgage With Bad Credit?

If you have savings and investments

Just as interest rates on consumer debt are rising slowly, so will rates on savings products. Chances are you’ll see a slight increase on the rate on your interest-bearing accounts, including savings accounts. Other interest rates — like those on CDs — will also rise, albeit slowly.

Bottom line: now could be a good time to shop around, Make sure that you’re getting the best interest rate on your high-yield savings accounts and, if you’re not, think about switching.

What about your longer-term investments, including those in your retirement account? It’s much harder to predict a rate hike’s impact on savings vehicles like these. When it comes to long-term investing, just stay the course and keep paying attention to the basics, like asset allocation.

Related: The Perfect Asset Allocation Plan

So, what exact impact will the Fed’s rate increase have on you? It really depends on your current financial situation, especially your debt and savings account mix. Just be sure to pay attention to interest rates on both debt products and savings products, so you can take advantage of the best deals around.

{ 0 comments }

Update – This promotion is now EXPIRED

Banks continue to pay bonuses to attract new customers. The latest offer comes in the form of a CIT Bank bonus of up to $400. If you’re looking for a safe place to tuck away your emergency fund or vacation savings,

Everybody needs a safe place to tuck away their emergency fund or vacation savings. A high yield savings account is a great option. Considering that the average savings accounts earn a measly 0.06%, however, you’ll want to make sure to find the absolute highest rate that you can.

This is where CiT Bank comes in. You may not have even heard of them before. The small bank was founded in 2009 and has only 71 branch locations (all clustered in California). However, they are hanging with the likes of GS Bank and Ally by offering an excellent online savings account rate: 1.15%. While one percent doesn’t sound like a whole lot, this is the top of the line right now, folks. But that’s not all.

There’s also a bonus of up to $400.

Why CiT?

CiT Bank’s high-yield online savings accounts offer competitive perks, including the obvious – a great APY – as well as $0 maintenance fees on your account. There aren’t any fees to open the account, either, and there’s only a small $100 opening deposit minimum.

Other banks offering the same impressive rate of 1.15% include GS Bank and Barclays Bank. However, if you’re looking to park your money somewhere with a great rate that will also put a little extra cash in your pocket, CiT Bank’s bonus promotion is an excellent opportunity.

How to Get Your Bonus, Up to $400

All you have to do is open and fully fund an account by June 30, 2017. This need to be new funds, not simply moving those that are already on deposit through CiT or OneWest banks. The bonus itself is tiered, based on the amount you deposit and your average monthly balance for the first three months.

The bonus amounts are $100 (for a monthly average between $15,000 and $99,999), $250 (average balance of $100,000 to $299,999), and an impressive $400 (for balances of $300,000 or more). Again, you have to hold this average monthly balance for three full months after you open the account, or the bonus is forfeited.

cit bank bonus

Is It Right For You?

If you have some savings that you’d like to tuck away in a high yield, online savings account – such as your emergency fund – CiT Bank is worth a look. This is particularly true if your savings is greater than $15,000 and you can take advantage of the bonus being offered through June 30, 2017.

No promo code is needed, simply visit their website (or, if you’re located in central CA, find one of their 75 branches) and sign up.

{ 0 comments }

How is the Country REALLY Doing With Its Credit Card Debt?

by Abby Hayes

National averages for credit card and other consumer debt can be a good barometer of consumers’ financial capacity and goals. For instance, when debt decreases, Americans, as a whole, may be spending less and saving more. Of course, that’s a good thing. So, when SmartAsset released its average credit card debt study recently, we took […]

0 comments Read the full article →

Is Quicken Right for You? Here’s Our Ultimate Review

by Abby Hayes

We’ve always been fans of Quicken here at Consumerism Commentary, and we’ve got a lot of reviews floating around to prove it. But you don’t really need reviews of Quicken from five years ago. You just need to know what to expect from the latest version: Quicken 2017. Here, we’ll give you the highlights, and […]

0 comments Read the full article →

A Free Online Checking Account Earning High Interest: The FNBO Direct Checking With BillPay

by Stephanie Colestock

Have you been looking for a new online checking account? Preferably one with a higher-than-average interest rate? Then the FNBO Direct checking account may be the answer. I’m a bit particular when it comes to my checking accounts. I don’t like paying any monthly fees, regardless of how much money I keep in the account. […]

1 comment Read the full article →

How to Pay a Tax Bill You Can’t Afford

by Luke Landes

It’s a good thing I’ve been saving a good portion of my income for the past year. Even with making estimated tax payments — the last of which was due on January 16 — I still have a significant tax bill this year, thanks to increased income. Many taxpayers dread filing their taxes, even if […]

16 comments Read the full article →

Here Are 4 of the Biggest Risks When You Invest

by Luke Landes

No investment is without risk. You may feel safe when you do what financial advisers consider the “right thing” — invest in a broad stock market index fund with a long-term view — but there is risk there as well. Unfortunately, to build wealth over time, investors need to accept a significant amount of risk. […]

21 comments Read the full article →

The Best Budget Tools for Tracking Your Money

by Aliyyah Camp

Budgeting doesn’t come naturally for everyone. Some of us need a little assistance with tracking our income and spending. That’s where budgeting tools come in. There are several front runners in this space. Many of them offer a wide range of features to help you manage your money better. Here are four of the best […]

0 comments Read the full article →
Page 1 of 612345···Last »