Financial Tips for Recently Graduated College Students

Remember the “broke college student” life you used to live when you were in college? It doesn’t have to be the same when you’ve graduated. Of course, some students don’t leave college and walk right into a full-time job in their field after graduation, so money may still be pretty tight.

However, there are several financial tips and tricks that can work for you if you need to stretch your money a little while longer or if you already have a job and just need a refresher on money smarts.

  1. Look for places where utilities are included in rent costs.
    • Rent by itself is expensive already (especially when you live in a big city). Save yourself the money and stress by looking for apartments that offer utility costs included in the rent.
  2. Using public transportation to get to and from work? Buy a monthly pass.
    • This is especially useful if you don’t have a car. If you use public transportation for the majority of how you get around town, you’ll save yourself some money in the end by investing in a monthly pass.
  3. Break down the entertainment category into subcategories to get a more detailed look at your expenses and spending habits.
    • Allocate your money to movies, festivals, theme parks, concerts, and any other entertainment things you enjoy so you can see exactly where your money is going.
  4. Don’t forget those one-time expenses.
    • Forgetting a friend’s birthday is even worse when you don’t have the money to buy them a gift or even a card. Allocate a part of your budget to holidays and gifts so the money is there when you need it.
  5. Keep your savings goal specific.
    • Saving “whatever money you have left” may not always work and may not always be consistent. If you want to save $10 a week or $100 a month, those goals are specific enough to where you know exactly how much and how often you want to contribute to your savings.
  6. Modified 50-30-20 rule.
    • 50% for expenses, 20% for savings and debt, 20% for wants, 10% for generosity. If you still have the luxury of living at home when you’ve graduated, you may not have that many expenses. So, allocate some of your paycheck to paying off your student loans or any other debt you may have.
  7. Cut your spending habits
    • This is an obvious one if you don’t have money coming in everyday. However, this tip is often overlooked or given up on within a short period of time. Cutting your spending habits on things you KNOW you don’t need and things that don’t contribute to making you feel good or satisfied can definitely help in the long run. It’s better to discipline yourself now than drown in debt later.
  8. Aim for paying off your student loans in 10 years or less with the standard payment plan.
    • Some graduates go into teaching or into the Peace Corps, so their loans are forgiven within a certain period of time. If you are not going into either of these fields, stick with the default payment plan that is given to you, which is the standard plan. And if you can, try to pay more than the minimum payment. You’ll be able to knock out those loans quicker.
  9. Monitor and check your credit score regularly.
    • Maintaining a good credit score can help save you thousands of dollars over time. People with lower credit scores often pay more for car loans and have higher interest rates on large purchases. Using your credit card for purchases you can afford to pay off right then and paying off your credit card will help boost your credit score.
  10. Live within (honestly, under is best) your means.
    • You know that person who is always going out or traveling or buying the latest technology everytime something new comes out? Don’t try to keep up or compete with them! You know how much you earn and how many expenses you have. Keep that in mind when you see them on social media, posting about their latest purchase. It’ll save you money in the long run.

Brad Botes has been practicing as a bankruptcy lawyer at Bond & Botes, P.C. for 30 years. He is licensed to practice law in Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Illinois.

July 14, 2017 at 12:47 PM Leave a comment

3 Simple But Effective Tips for Dealing with Student Loans

College education costs a great deal of money – whether college is worth the cost is another debate entirely. You’ll most likely have some amount of student loan debts unless you have rich parents (willing to foot the bill), rich (like Zuckerberg who recently graduated from Harvard), or you win a scholarship covering your tuition. Student loans can be a huge burden on your finances especially if you don’t land your dream job.

In fact, if you don’t make smart financial decisions, student loan debt can weigh down your credit score and the pool of loans that you can access will be greatly reduced. However, you don’t need to bury your head in the sand because you have student loan debt. This piece provides three insights on how you can take proactive steps to reduce your student loan burden.

  1. Refinancing your student loans is a great idea

Student loan repayments tend to be one of the biggest monthly expenses and you’ll struggle financially if your expenses are more than your income. However, you can reduce the strain that student loans place on your finances by reducing your student loan interest rate and monthly payments. Student loan refinancing is the smartest way to reduce the interest rate and monthly payment you make on your student loans.

Most of the firms who offer refinancing programs on student loans often have interest rates between 2.50% to 3.00% so your interest payments won’t be as much as the expected interest on federal government loans. You can also choose a variable or fixed interest rate and you have the liberty to choose the term of your loan for up to 20 years. However, the Federal government doesn’t offer an official refinancing offer but private lenders will be happy to help you refinance your student loans.

  1. Federal repayment plans MAY lead to loan forgiveness

The federal government understands that many Americans are struggling with student loans. In fact, about 44 million Americans are indebted up to $1.4 trillion in student loans. Some repayment programs being offered by the federal government won’t necessarily help you help get out of debt faster but they can help you secure loan forgiveness if you make consistent effort to repay your loan. You may also be eligible for public service student loan forgiveness if you are teacher or work as a public servant.

The Pay As You Earn (PAYE) program ties your monthly loan payments to the total amount borrowed, family size, and your income. Payment is capped at 10% of your income and you can get loan forgiveness after 20 years. The Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE) program can help you cap your monthly payments at 10% of your discretionary income and you’ll be eligible for loan forgiveness after 20 years. You may also want to consider the Income-Based Repayment (IBR) plan in which your monthly payment tied to your income, family size, and total loan burden. Under IBR, you won’t be eligible for loan forgiveness until after 25 years.

  1. Extra payments are good if you can make the stretch

If you want to get out of student loan faster, your best bet is to make extra payments as much as possible. You can make extra payments in terms of extra monthly payments and you can make extra payments in terms of lump sums. The fact that student loans do not attract prepayment penalties means that you can may more each more without incurring fees. Of course, you’ll need to tell the loan servicer to apply the extras toward paying down your principal.

July 9, 2017 at 10:09 AM Leave a comment

This One Investment Saved Us Money on Family Vacations

My family and I love taking family vacations every year, but the costs are really starting to add up. With a quick look over my budget, I could see that we were spending close to $1,000 per person for hotel, flight, rental car, food, and entertainment. Although I would never put a price tag on my family’s happiness, I realized that we had to find a way to vacation without spending so much money.

I’d heard of things like booking in advance, traveling during the off season, booking package deals, and other basic tips on how to save on vacation, but even with these tips, we were spending a lot more money than we wanted to.

Ways Recreational Vehicles Save Money

Talking to some friends of mine who seem to always be on the road, we found out that renting or RV financing could save us quite a bit.

Cheaper Than Flying

In 2016, the average cost of an airline ticket was $340 per person (this is not including fees). A small recreational vehicle, however, would cost an average of $0.96 per mile. With these numbers, our family could travel 500 miles and still save more than the cost of airline travel for a family of four.

 No Need for a Hotel

A recreational vehicle is like a house on wheels. Depending on the size of the camper you invest in, your family could sleep while on the road. The average cost of a hotel stay in the US is $121 per night while the average cost of a campground fee is only $25 per night. This allowed us to save about $96 per night on sleeping accommodations.

Cook-in Instead of Eating Out

Of course, there are condos and hotel rooms with kitchenettes; however, they cost even more to book per night. With a recreational vehicle, however, the kitchen is wherever you are at no additional cost. Instead of going out to eat every night, which for a family of four could be an upwards of $60 per night, we went grocery shopping and spent about $150 for the week. This saved another $150 on a five-day vacation.

Factors to Consider When Investing in an RV to Save Money

As you can see, renting or financing a recreational vehicle can save a family of four on a five-day vacation approximately 30-40%. The money you save on basic expenditures like transportation, hotel stays, and dining out can go towards having more fun with the kids. If you’re thinking of investing in a recreational vehicle for your next family vacation, you’ll want to keep a few factors in mind:

  • Size – You want something big enough to accommodate your family.
  • Fuel-efficiency – Choose an RV that is good on fuel or else you could end up spending your savings in the gas tank.
  • New vs. Used – You don’t have to gut out on a new RV. You can buy a used RV with few miles on it for increased savings.

Don’t let the high cost of traveling keep you and your family from enjoying your down time. If you’ve tried traditional methods for planning a family vacation on a budget to no avail, you might consider invest in a recreational vehicle. As a “house on wheels” you’ve literally got everything you need on the road with you. You’ll have so much fun meeting other families on the road, charting new territory, and of course creating fun-filled family memories.

June 29, 2017 at 8:02 PM Leave a comment

Manage Your Debts and Improve Your Credit with These Financial Tips

Whether you have accounts past due or pay all your bills on time, most of us have some level of debt. The key to keeping debt from becoming your enemy and ruining your credit is to learn how to manage it. Learn to manage debts of any size and it will become easier to keep up with payments, get rid of negative marks, and most importantly improve or maintain your credit score (for those who already have a good credit rating).  Not to mention the amount of unnecessary stress it lifts from your shoulders.

Get a Grand Total

It can be scary to imagine how much debt you may have accumulated. A mortgage, student loans, credit card bills, and even medical bills can add up leaving an unfavorable impression on your credit report. The only way to effectively manage your debt and improve your credit score is to know exactly what you owe and to whom. Tally up all of your debts and don’t be afraid to look at that grand total. Sure, it may be scary, but knowledge is power.

Get a Look at Your Credit History

You now know how much money you owe your creditors, but what’s your current credit health? Is your credit score declining, increasing, or has it remained the same? Look at your credit report to see what’s going on. Many consumers aren’t even aware of how much is reported on their credit history – and verify the facts because some of it may not be accurate.

If you find negative line items that don’t belong or old accounts that should have been erased from your history it may be necessary to contact a credit lawyer. They can help you resolve inaccuracies and clean your credit report which will most likely improve your credit score.

Create Repayment Plans

You are making progress. Now you know how much you owe, you know who you owe it to, and you know how these debts are positively or negatively impacting your credit rating. The next step is to reduce your debt to income ratio by setting up repayment plans. If you’re in good standing with your debts then start by paying off more than the minimum each month.

On the other hand if you have a lot of accounts and large amounts of debt it is most likely time to get serious about tackling them. Start by contacting your creditors and arranging a payment plan that works within your budget. Be sure that you can stick to the payment plan, as creditors may not be willing to work with you in the future if you break an arrangement. As you pay off the debt your credit score will improve.

Create a Budget

You’ve likely heard this a million times, and yes, the term budget does sound a lot like restriction. Be that as it may, when you properly budget you can improve your credit and your finances. A budget helps to ensure that you have enough income to pay the monthly bills. It also helps to minimize unnecessary spending which can free up cash. To eliminate your debt you will use that excess cash to pay off your bills.

Go Back to Cash

If your credit history is in dire straights your credit card may be to blame. If credit cards have gotten you into trouble with debt stop using them and revert to a cash based system that will keep you accountable. Using cash helps to curb those impulse buys. You will no longer need to worry about charging something that you cannot pay back later. Your credit rating cannot fall any farther and you will prevent yourself from further destroying your credit score. Using cash will help you gain a better understanding of your credit card debt and help improve your credit rating.

No one said that managing your debt and improving your credit would be easy, but, once you get over the learning curve, managing your finances becomes second nature. Simply watch what you spend, keep track of income and expenses, and maintain or build a positive credit rating. If you’ve tried these tips with no such luck, consider talking with a credit counselor who can help you get your finances back on track.

June 22, 2017 at 8:33 PM Leave a comment

4 Tips for a DIY Wedding on a Budget

Are you a couple on a tight wedding budget? Do you feel as if you’ll never have enough money to pay for the wedding of your dreams? Luckily, DIY is in this year and has been for quite awhile now. The two things you don’t want to skimp on, of course, are the rings and the wedding dress. However, once you have chosen the perfect custom engagement ring like those at Diamonds Forever in San Diego, there are quite a few tips to help you through the perfect wedding DIY style on the budget you have set for yourselves. Read on below for a few of those tips to help you get started.

Do Your Own Wedding Day Hair

If you are the type of girl who has played around with different hairstyles since she was old enough to hold a brush, then doing your own hair the day of the wedding isn’t that much of a stretch. Skipping a stylist and even a makeup artist on your wedding day is a great way to save a ton of money. If you are a whiz at makeup and hair, then you might not need to pay someone to do the job for you. If you aren’t that comfortable doing it yourself, see if you have a friend or bridesmaid that can help. Every girl has a friend that is a whiz in the hair and makeup department. Have them do it for you and save your money for the wedding flowers and food.

Food and Drinks for the Reception

Having a wedding reception catered can be very expensive. The best way to ensure that you stay within budget is to prepare your own food and drinks. Make sure to enlist the help of friends and family and don’t overwhelm yourself making complicated food. Remember, the most expensive part of the reception is usually the alcohol. Try finding a wedding venue that will let you bring your own refreshments to lower the amount you spend on food and drinks to a manageable level.

Provide Your Own Decorations

The best thing about a DIY wedding is being able to get creative with the decorations you use for the wedding and reception. Once you choose a theme for the wedding and reception, everything else should fall into place pretty quickly. There are so many DIY wedding themes out there, from rustic barn to fairy tale weddings that it may be hard to choose the one that’s right for you. Go with your heart, but make sure to stay within your budget.

Provide Your Own Music

Rather than paying expensive DJs and bands consider hiring a new band that is just starting out, a student musician, or even getting a friend to DJ the reception. This will save you quite a bit of money so that you won’t be stressed when the big day rolls around.

These are just a few of the top tips to help you save some money. Throw a DIY wedding and cut back on unnecessary expenses. The majority of your budget can then be spent on the perfect custom engagement ring and wedding dress. Provide your own music, style your own hair and prepare your own food and you’ll quickly throw the DIY wedding of your dreams, without an astronomical price tag.

June 21, 2017 at 7:32 PM Leave a comment

Why Using a Payday Loan is Not a Wise Decision at All

Payday loans have garnered wide recognition for helping borrowers get money fast. Life throws lots of lemons our way and you simply never know when a terrible phase of life will leave you looking for money. Unfortunately, payday loans can lead to a never-ending cycle of debt.

These loans may temporarily solve your problem, but without caution they may introduce new and larger financial hurdles for you. Be cautious before applying for a payday loan. Look for other sources of money before signing on the dotted line and consider payday loans alternative to meet your instant cash demands.

Here Are Some of the Top Reasons to Avoid Payday Loans

  • Too Expensive

Payday loans often carry high payback costs. The lending companies typically offer money easily, but charge a hefty interest rate. Interest rates can reach as high as 400%. When an emergency financial situation arises you don’t have much time to think about sources of income and money, but tread carefully so you don’t spend a ridiculous amount of time and effort trying to pay the loan back.

  • Creates Dependency

Payday loan cycles are just like any other bad habit that can get a hold of you. You start with the intention of using a payday loan “for the first and last time” but you suddenly find yourself depending on the money and unable to break free from the cycle of it. When the money comes so easily you may be tempted to sign up for payday loans more frequently. Payday loans can lure you into risky behavior as you begin to think of them as your back up plan to financial messes. Instead, opt for payday loans alternative to get money in an uncomplicated and stress free way.

  • Too Easy/ No Time to Review Agreement

Most payday loans provide money quite quickly, but to get the money so fast you may compromise on reading over the paperwork and signing agreements you don’t fully understand. Many times representatives ask you to sign papers even when you may be unsure or unready to sign them. If you are hesitant do not proceed. There may be a lot of hidden charges that you are unaware of. Payday loan representatives know you need money quickly. They also know that those in dire need will quickly sign paperwork without reading it.

  • Less Time for Repayment

Payday loans typically require fast repayment. In fact, this may be the biggest disadvantage of all. Will you be able to pay back the loan within a month’s time? If not, you may want to look for alternatives. If you don’t have money right now are you certain that you will have money within such a short period of time? The vicious cycle of payday loans occurs when the total becomes due but you cannot pay it. Keep yourself out of this loop by searching for payday loan alternatives instead.

June 21, 2017 at 11:33 AM Leave a comment

Tips For Curbing Those Unexpected Moving Costs

You might already know that you are going to have to spend a tad bit of money in order to completely relocate yourself and your family. However, it is important to know that there are often unexpected costs associated with moving that many people do not know about until they are in the middle of it all. By being prepared for those costs, if at all possible, you are sure to have a much easier time moving and it might turn out to not be as stressful as you thought it was going to be.

Hire Professional Movers

When you hire professional movers, one such example is Allied Movers, you will find that you are able to save yourself from many potentially expensive situations. Sure, it costs money to hire them, but considering that they are going to absorb the liability for the move, it is money well spent. For example, your personal belongings are protected under their insurance. They are also responsible for driving the extra-large truck, maintaining it, and keeping plenty of fuel in it.

Packing Supplies

Most people are fine with the idea of paying for all of the packing supplies that they need. However, the cost of those supplies tends to be much more than they expected. After all, it’s just cardboard and plastic, right? Well, it can add up to be a lot of money and once you are in the packing stage, you really cannot stop. You have to keep going. But, instead of paying an arm and a leg for all of your packing supplies, you might be able to get them for free or for a cheaper price than what you would pay in the standard packing supply store.

Start by talking with the manager at your local grocery, hardware, home improvement, department, and dollar stores. Ask them if you can have their empty boxes after they are done unpacking them from their weekly shipments. You might even be able to score some bubble wrap or foam blocks or peanuts to help secure your valuable belongings. Of course, you might also want to consider using this as a time to sort through some of your things and donate the things you do not want or need anymore. That can reduce the amount of stuff you have to move.

You Won’t Injure Yourself

By allowing the professional movers to move your heavy furniture, appliances, and boxes you will not be at risk for major injury that would require surgery or chiropractic care. This is important because not only will such injury cause you pain and discomfort, it can cost you money to be seen by professionals for treatment. The skilled movers will have plenty of experience, which means they know how to properly move things that could otherwise hurt them. They will also have the proper equipment and back braces. They will also be able to get the stuff moved in and out of the truck much quicker than you might be able to do on your own, which means you will be able to start unpacking and enjoying your new place much sooner.

The more you think about it, the more likely it is that you are going to find the true value that you receive and the money you can save by making use of the moving tips you are given. Remember, just because moving is going to cost you some money, it does not have to cost you all of your money!

June 16, 2017 at 8:42 PM Leave a comment

Creating User Stories to Ensure Successful Software

There may be times when a software development team finds it difficult to plan out the list of tasks required to meet technical requirements. The life cycle of software requires a lot of up front planning and it is important to understand all functional requirements and needs long before coding begins. It is often helpful to create user stories that explain the technical needs. If you spend the time upfront on these stories and their associated tasks you can better ensure a successful project that addresses the requirements in a timely manner.

Value of User Stories

User stories are written by the business and technical teams. It is a way to ensure that everyone is on the same page and that everyone understands the problem at hand and the best way to solve it. If you want to change functionality you will need to write a user story that addresses that change. The development team will be responsible for making the required software alterations. It is also their responsibility to track down defects, find proper ways to fix those errors and make all changes as quickly as possible.

User Stories And Technical Tasks

There is an established relationship between user stories and technical task. User stories must talk about the requirements from the system. They are often told from the standpoint of an end user who is attempt to accomplish a particular task using the software being implemented. User stories must be read and understood before being implemented. It is up to the development team to look for the best technical solution to accomplish the task at hand. they will determine how long it will take to complete a story and will provide an estimation to the project manager.

Understanding the Task

In order for software to be built correctly the first time it is important for all stake holders to sign off on the user stories and for all those involved to understand the necessity of this change and/or feature. Sometimes the business and development teams do not agree on priorities. Ranking and estimating user stories ensures that everyone is on the same page with technical changes. Through the use of user stories product owners and developers can discuss the upcoming changes, understand the need for the those changes and evaluate the cost and value of it.

Long Term Benefits

User stories help everyone understand the priorities of your software project. Technical tasks are made visible to the business owners and both technical and business teams become aware of the efforts required to make changes and fix bugs. It is important to make certain that everyone on the team is on the same page. If you don’t pay attention along the way your software can fall into disrepair. Paying attention throughout the process ensures that you don’t end up over your head with bugs and errors. In that regard software and financial states are similar. When it comes to money you want to keep a watchful eye on your income and expenses. You want to make certain that everyone in a family understands how to use credit cards and how not to dig a hole that they cannot climb out of. If you do get in over your head you’ll need to figure out how to get out of credit card debt. Keep a watchful eye on your progress and figure out ways that everyone can prioritize their wants and desires while still being mindful of their expenses.

June 13, 2017 at 4:09 PM Leave a comment

Simple Ways To Manage Your Personal Debts

These days you can find a lot of information on the Internet about the negative aspects of debt, but the truth is that some things cannot be purchased outright. Perhaps you want to buy a home or attend college. While some of us receive inheritances for these purchases most of us have to secure a loan to pay for them. Before signing any loan documentation you should make certain that you understand the terms and conditions associated with it.

Understanding Your Debt

All debts must be repaid. That means you will eventually be responsible for paying back the entire loan amount plus the interest stipulated in your contract terms. Apart from that there can be a wide variety of terms and conditions depending on the type of debt you incur. When it comes to a home mortgage, the most important thing is the rate of interest, whether it is fixed or variable. If you see that the rate of interest is variable then you should understand when such changes occur. Ideally, the tenure for any standard mortgage loan will go up to 30 years with some variability.

The Monthly Payment

Apart from the tenure, you should also understand the monthly repayment schedule. Make sure you understand which part of your payment will go towards the principal, which portion pays the interest on the loan and which portion is kept aside for escrow. If you want to pay off your mortgage early then you should understand how to pay off excess principal. Do you need to include extra documentation with your loan payments or will all excess automatically be used to pay down the loan?

Terms For Credit Cards

These days most of us have a credit card or two. It’s a whole lot easier to carry a card in your wallet then it is to carry a wad of cash. If you have credit cards you should understand how to pay them off each month. If you do not pay them off in a timely manner you can quickly find yourself in debt. If your credit card debts are mounting you will need to know how to consolidate credit card debt. If you plan to consolidate your debts make certain that you understand the terms and penalties as well as the benefits of it. When you use credit cards and don’t pay off the minimum balance then high interest rates can compound over time. Eventually you end up paying much more than the original price of the item you coveted. If you cannot pay your credit card debt in full then you should limit its usage.

Use Some Caution

Be vary wary of the checks offered with credit cards. Sometimes these will arrive in your mail unexpectedly. These typically come with very high interest rates and should not be treated like checks from your checking account. When it comes to debt and your finances you can never be too cautious. Make certain you always understand the terms of any long term or short term loan you sign up for and do not sign any documentation until you are certain you understand the conditions being offered.

June 13, 2017 at 3:50 PM Leave a comment

Continually Assess Your Software to Minimize Future Problems

If you own a software development company then you know how important it is to continually review the code before it goes into production. It is important to keep an eye on quality standards and to ensure that problematic and bug ridden code does not make its way into functional software used by your clients. As with anything in life it is important to review software and processes throughout the life cycle on your system. You do not want to wait for a problem. Once the problem is in production you will have big problems on your hands.

Timely Reviews

Proper and timely assessments help you find errors in logic and reasoning well before they hit the production servers. The goal is to place clean, bug-free code into production. In the development phase you have plenty of time to fix issues and add new functionality. Once the bugs make their way into production you will find yourself racing against the clock to identify the problems and fix them. The goal is to put in work up front to ensure that each iteration of the code improves and that faulty code does not make its way into the hands of users and clients.

Prioritization Of Value

When you take the time to watch over your software practices and procedures you can ensure that problems do not arise unnecessarily. It is always important to keep an eye on the things in front of you and not to lose sight of the issues right under your nose. Sometimes you need to set priorities for what needs to be done and when you need to accomplish the tasks at hand. Prioritizing debts is similar. Look over your statements and consolidate credit card debt when necessary. Figure out which debts must be paid and the minimum balance on each account.  Learning about debt consolidation loans for bad credit is also very important. Even those with bad credit have repayment solutions. Check online and you will find the best way to correct your errors. Software is a repetitive process. You must review your code and often change functionality along the way. Keep an eye on your finances just as you keep an eye on your software.

Reduce The Risks

Refactoring code to fix defects can cost you a lot in terms of money, time and effort. This adversely affects your business and the implementation of future releases. Spend the time addressing issues up front. Taking the time to fix things during development will reduce the risks that bugs make their way into production.

Refactoring Is The Key

As you write software be aware that code will be modified time and time again. Newer libraries will be added and new functionality will be required. You must review and retest your software to ensure that larger problems do not arise in the future. Refactoring is a staple of the software development life cycle. Be prepared to write and rewrite functionality multiple times as your software completes various releases for bug fixes and new features.

June 13, 2017 at 2:33 PM Leave a comment

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