Category Archives: Paying Down Debt

Super simple plan to save $63 this month

Super simple plan to save $63.54 this monthAccording to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), nearly 60 percent of Kansans do not have a rainy day fund. That’s a whole lot of umbrellas we’re going to need in a downpour.

And 21 percent of us spent more than we earned last year!

This is probably why 30 percent of Americans are in debt collections.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Here’s a super simple plan to save $63 this month.

Just save.
Set a savings goal of $1.25 per week: $5 per month.

Generic vs. name brand.
Buy generic spaghetti sauce: $1.98 per month.
By switching from Classico spaghetti sauce to Wal-Mart’s Great Value spaghetti sauce, you can save $3.78 per month (based on using 66 oz of spaghetti sauce per month).

How we came up with $1.98 per month:
Classico: $3.82 for 44 oz, 0.08 per oz
Great Value: $3.50 for 66 oz, 0.05 per oz
If you use 66 oz per month, you’ll spend $5.28 per month using Classico or $3.30 per month using Great Value. Using a generic brand will save you almost $2 per month just on one item!

On-time payments.
Make your payments on time: $34.18 per month.
This one should be a no-brainer. The typical bank in Kansas charges $34.18 in late fees.

Lunch.
Twice a month, swap eating out lunches with brown bag lunches: $11.38 per month.
This is based on the Big Mac meal at McDonald’s which is $5.69 per meal. Here’s another example: If you ate out twice for lunch at Applebee’s, you’ll spend $16.98 (based on the cost of the classic + signature option lunch combo).

Dinner.
Order water instead of a soft drink twice during your dinners out this month: $4 per month.

Use a credit union.
Use a credit union instead of a traditional financial institution: $7 per month.
On average, a consumer can save $84 per year simply by using a Kansas credit union (or $159 per household). Divide $84 by 12, and you’ve saved $7 a month. And those late fees? If you bank at a credit union, you’ll reduce your late fee from $34.18 to $24.56, a savings of $9.62.

  • Total savings per month: $63.54.
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Seven Debt Warning Signs

7 Debt Warning SignsCNNMoney reports “Americans have a debt problem.”

Yeah, well, we could have told you that.

Every third person in America  owes so much in payments, that their account is considered “in collections.”

The good news is the debt might only be $25. The bad news is the average amount owed is just over $5,000, with some debts as high as $125,000. The super duper bad news is delinquent debt can put your credit score in the toilet…for years…even if you’ve paid off the debt. And a wrecked credit score can hurt many things from employment opportunities to securing loans.

While it may seem that your debt crept up on you, there are warning signs…here are just seven of them:

  1. You hide bills from others.
  2. You use a credit card for most purchases, and only pay the minimal balance.
  3. You have little or no savings.
  4. You believe that checking account overdrafts are a normal part of everyone’s financial life.
  5. You don’t know what your living expenses are because you have never tracked your spending.
  6. The loss of a job in the household would cause an immediate financial crisis.
  7. You borrow money from payday loan offices, pawnshops, or title loan companies.

More debt warning signs included in the Money Possible workbook. (pdf, page 13)

Need help getting your debt under control? Consider a credit union, where some offer financial education programs and have financial counselors on staff, or contact your local non-profit credit counseling agency like Kansas Consumer Credit Counseling Service.

Money Possible Produces Debt Destroyers

Debt Destroyers photo all participants-no logoRaquel, Fredica and Lisa and Bryan made it. Sixteen weeks of rigorous budgeting and saving and heavy financial lifting.

OK, maybe not that intense…but our three families did make a commitment, met with a financial counselor and made major changes in their financial life. And lived to tell about it.

Here’s what they learned:

“Say no to frivolous spending.”
“Live within your means.”
“Don’t overwhelm yourself with credit.”

Each participant started out with a different financial issue. Lisa and Bryan wanted to bulk up their retirement savings. Fredica needed to control her spending. Raquel’s payday loans were spiraling out of control.

But the outcome for the three was the same: a lighter debt load, and more importantly, less stress in their lives.

The takeaway is that financial stress can cause problems in your daily life…which is in line with this recent survey that says employee financial problems or stress can reduce worker productivity.

What did our participants accomplish in 16 weeks? Here’s the skinny:

Financial Literacy is a family affairLisa and Bryan

  • paid off four of their credit cards
  • learned the difference between needs and wants
  • involved their children and developed a family budget

credit cardsFredica

  • stopped using credit cards
  • is paying down her existing credit card debt
  • learned to live within her means, and work with what money she does have

emergency money jar - compressedRaquel

  • paid down 30 percent of her debt
  • is current on all her bills and has stopped using payday loans
  • started an emergency fund

If you only remember one thing from this post, remember this: Your household budgets and finances are up to you. It’s a life-long process, not just something you can do once and be done.

But don’t feel like you need to do it alone. Get help from the Consumer Credit Counseling Service or a credit union. Financial education is a primary focus of Kansas credit unions, and credit unions nationwide. Credit unions promote financial fitness, and their goal is to make your financial life easier. Get started on your own by downloading the Money Possible Workbook.

Thank you to Lisa and Bryan, Fredica and Raquel for sharing their stories for the world to hear. Using a public venue to air your dirty laundry can be intimidating. These three credit union members took it in stride to promote the importance of financial literacy, and learned a little something along the way.

Quick Tip: Wasteful Spending

Destroying your debt doesn’t have to take hours. Watch our 15 second tips and then be on your merry way. These tips also air on KAKE-TV’s (ABC, Wichita, KS) regularly.

View all our quick tips.  Follow along on social media at #moneypossible.

Wasteful Spending

Wasteful spending is something that most people don’t think about. Things like buying name brand instead of a “just as good” generic brand or missing bill payments and paying late fees can add up.

The Good (Debt), The Bad (Debt) and The Ugly

Good debt vs. bad debtWe’ve been saying that “debt” is a four-letter word.

We’ve been preaching about paying down your debt. We’ve been scolding you for being IN debt. And we’ve been teaching our students they don’t WANT debt.

We lied. Only SOME debt is bad.

Like an episode from Ripley’s Believe It or Not, some debt actually helps your credit score.

But first, the 15 second rundown: What’s a credit score/credit report?

  • A credit report includes your credit score and states when and where you applied for credit, who you borrowed money from, and who you owe money to.
  • Creditors and employers use credit reports to evaluate your applications for credit, insurance and employment.
  • Good credit is essential for things like qualifying for a loan.
  • Bad credit can hinder your ability to borrow money.

(There’s more about credit reports on page 20 of the Money Possible workbook.)

Got it? On to our favorite four-letter word.

Bad debt.
Equifax said it best: Bad debt funds a lifestyle you can’t afford.

In other words, live within in your means. (Fredica has learned to do this…Go Fredica!)

Bad debt is using a high interest credit card and failing to pay it off IN FULL each month. Bad debt is owning store credit cards because you just can’t help yourself in Pottery Barn or Restoration Hardware. Bad debt is falling behind in your payments.

Good debt.
Good debt is investments that create value for you, like school loans and mortgages. Your home’s value will probably increase over time, and your education will likely land you a better job.

(Think your Pottery Barn apothecary cabinet “creates value” for you? It doesn’t, and you need to read “Needs vs. Wants.”)

Since most people can’t pay for hefty tuitions or buy a house with cash, they borrow money, and make monthly payments to pay off the loan. Good debt is debt you pay back ON TIME each month.

One thing to remember: Good debt comes after you have enough cushion in your savings.

The ugly: How does good debt and bad debt affect your credit report?
Your borrowing history, including the type of debt and pay back history, is listed in your credit report and impacts your credit score. In fact, 35 percent of your score is based on your payment history alone.

What does this mean?

  • Pay your bills on time and borrow wisely. Period.
  • Missing just one payment or paying late can turn your credit score ugly real fast.
  • Don’t add a bunch of new debt before paying down old debt. That’s making a mountain out of a molehill.
  • Be responsible and show creditors “I got this” by applying for credit only when necessary.

Long story short…not all debt can get you into trouble. Think about why you have debt and use your borrowing power wisely. And just like everything else…it takes time to improve your credit if it’s bad, but it’s doable. Budgeting, saving and living within your means are the keys to a great credit score.

Quick Tip: On Time Payments

Destroying your debt doesn’t have to take hours. Watch our 15 second tips and then be on your merry way. These tips also air on KAKE-TV’s (ABC, Wichita, KS) regularly.

View all our quick tips.  Follow along on social media at #moneypossible.

On Time Payments

By making credit card payments on time, you can save $30-35 per month in late fees which could free up an extra $500 a year.

The Freshman $30,000

We took an informal poll last month regarding your grade in financial literacy. The majority of US adults give themselves a C or lower in money smarts. Either smart people took our poll or you think you manage your money better than you do, because the majority of the respondents gave themselves a B. See the poll results.

Education SavingsIn light of this being the graduation season, and the fact that we ran across a survey that said students wished they learned more financial management in school, this post will be about how kids (or their parents) can become be money smart at school.

Forget the “Freshman 15.” We need to worry about the “Freshman $30,000.” The average student graduates with close to $30,000 in debt. That’s a lot of financial weight.

Students are screaming for education in how to manage their money. Some states require a class in financial education to graduate, but many do not. And just ONE class? We all know it takes more than that to get through to a teenager!

This is where parents need to step up and teach their kids. Or find somewhere that can…like a credit union or consumer credit counseling service.

Here’s why: First-year college students required to take a financial literacy course in high school are more financially responsible than those students who didn’t take the class, a recent study found. This means they were more likely to pay credit card bills on time and less likely to go over their credit limit. Both of those add up to less debt. But just 17 states require a course. And ongoing education is critical.

Our friends at A Smarter Choice have some good tips to get students started on the right foot. Here is a scaled down version of their blog post Get Started on the Right Financial Footing.

Stay frugal. Be mindful of what you’re spending. Check with your gym, and cellphone and cable providers, to make sure you’re getting the best rates. Pack lunches from home. Have friends over for dinner and movies instead of going out.

Negotiate your pay. Starting out with a higher salary will mean higher earnings over the course of your career.

Build an emergency fund. Prepare for the unexpected by setting up an emergency savings account and have your paycheck directly deposited into that account. You should have three to six months of living expenses saved. For real.

Start saving for retirement now. If your job offers a 401(k) or similar retirement savings accounts, put money into it! Even better is if your employer offers to match a percentage of your contributions. Your 50 year-old-self will think you were super smart for doing that.

Pay down student loan debt. Know what you owe and contact your lender immediately–before the due date–if you’re going to miss a payment. Pay extra if you can.

Use credit appropriately. A strong credit history will pay off when you want to buy a house or purchase other big-ticket items (the new iPhone 6 doesn’t count). Here’s the biggest piece of advice that you don’t really want to hear: Don’t charge more than you can afford to pay off monthly! And please, pay your bill on time. Spending too much and having late payments can get you in a heap of trouble…and fast.

College students are smarter, but have more on their plate than in years past. Make financial education a requirement for them, and maybe as an adult, they’ll be shedding that $30,000 before swimsuit season.