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Cards and Accounts That Pay You

December 29, 2018

Unless you’re hardcore off the grid and don’t need a credit score or credit history (not advised), you’re going to need bank accounts and at least one credit card. If you need them anyway, why not find the accounts that pay you back? There are tons of promotions for cards and accounts that will give you perks for signing up. It’s up to you to determine what account fits your needs, but these are the main types of offers we’ve seen.

 

Cards with Cash Back

Some people swear by cards that give them cash back. Cashback rewards tend to work best for people who use their credit card for all or most purchases and then pay it off in full each month. A quick tip is to pay the balance off before the interest accrues each month. If you choose not to pay off the balance each month you could actually be spending that money. Basically, what you pay in interest is going to reduce or even negate your reward. The average individual will not pay off their card’s balance each month this is how it makes sense for the credit card company to offer the reward. If you’re smart about it and don’t charge more than you can pay off each month, you’ll reap the reward.

 

There are multiple options for receiving cash back rewards. How you cash back will be applied will be dependent on what your credit card provider allows. Some cards will allow you to redeem your cash back for gift cards, paper checks, direct deposits, or even putting the cash back you earned back to your credit card balance.

 

If you believe that this type of card is best for you, understand the redemption threshold. Cash back credit cards often have a minimum redemption threshold. A minimum redemption is the amount of rewards that you must achieve before cashing in your cash back rewards. These redemption minimums can often be associated with reward credit cards as well.

 

Cards with Rewards

If rewards like frequent flier miles or points you can redeem for travel expenses are more your speed, check out cards with other types of rewards. Look at the conversion from dollars to points to what your points can be redeemed for. If you have to spend $10,000 for a $100 gift card, then that probably isn’t enough of a reward for you to care. But if you fly often for work or find a card that has good travel rewards and you can pay it off each month, this might be a nice way to add to your travel nest egg or get a good discount on a few trips each year.

 

How the rewards are calculated will be determined based on the credit card that you select and get approved for. Some reward cards will provide the same rewards rate per purchase regardless of balance. Another type is similar to a tiered cash-back credit card. Each purchase you make will fall into a category. Some categories offer a larger return than other categories.

 

A quick word of caution before signing up for a card like this is to know the type of borrower you are. If you typically do not pay your credit cards on time, have a balance, or budgeting is not your strong suit this is probably not the right credit card for you.

 

 

Cash Rewards on Bank Accounts

Bank accounts often offer cash rewards for signing on or setting up an account. You may often times see at your local community bank a large sign in the window with an amount on it for new customers who open up an account. This sign-on bonus is by far the most common type of cash back for a bank account. When considering opening up an account to get the sign-on bonus there may be conditions you have to meet. The small print and terms are so important when opening up any type of account. When opening an account, you have to make a pretty substantial initial deposit, and you might have to maintain it for a period of time as well in order to keep the sign-on bonus. You don’t want to count on a reward and then find out that it requires you to deposit $20,000 if you don’t have that much money.

 

Conditions can include a number of direct deposits or purchases you have to make within a certain period to qualify. This type of offer is fairly common when looking into high-yield checking or savings accounts. You’ll typically be required to have a specified number of transactions per month and have to have a direct deposit. If you’ve read all the terms and small print and feel the account is the right choice you should move forward.

 

Other Things to Consider

 

Know the Interest

If you are looking at a card for the rewards and it has a much higher interest rate than others, this should weigh into your decision. Even if you plan to pay the card off each month, you don’t want to end up using it in an emergency and struggle to make payments with interest later. If you already have other credit cards, have a plan for which card should be used where and how you’re going to pay them.

 

Look at Annual Fees

Some reward and cash-back cards have a pretty hefty annual fee. Don’t sign up for a card until you know what the annual fee is. Make sure if there is a fee, that it makes sense for how you intend to use the card. If saving money is the name of the game for you, look for a card with no annual fee.

 

Know the Requirements

Requirements for different types of accounts vary wildly. There could be a minimum deposit, amount, number of purchases, or balance. Many companies utilize different types of requirements that you may have to meet to get rewarded. Keep an eye out for those requirements and see if you qualify. If it doesn’t match your situation, don’t do it.

 

Check the Terms and Conditions

Always read the fine print and make sure you understand it. This rule should be applied t anything and everything. Make sure you’re reading any documentation fully and that you understand. Reading the terms and conditions will help to prevent any surprises. If there’s something you’re not sure of, read further or talk to customer service for more information. You always want to be sure that you know what you’re getting into before you sign up so that you don’t end up in a bad situation.

 

 

Check Out These Common Credit Card Myths

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2019-12-04
Tips for Starting Your Student Loan Repayment Journey

Once you graduate from college, leave college, or drop below half-time enrollment, it’s time to start thinking about when your student loan repayment period kicks in. Understanding the repayment process for your student loans is very important for a number of reasons – for one, if you don’t pay, your interest will accrue. Second, if you don’t pay, it will affect your credit score, which can hinder your ability to buy a home, buy a car, qualify for credit cards, take out a personal loan, or refinance your student loans.   If you graduated this past spring, your student loan repayment period will likely start around this time of year (if they haven’t kicked in already). Follow these tips to master student loan repayment and get yourself to a strong financial start after college.  

Know How to Access Your Loan Information

A good first step is to acquire your loan information. This can typically be accessed via an online login. Monitoring your loan information will be essential during the course of repayment. If you took out Federal Student Loans, you can likely access your info at https://myfedloan.org/. If you took out private student loans, check with your lender for how to access your information. Tracking your loans will give you a gage on the status of each loan, the balance you owe, as well as interest rates for each loan. By understanding the status of your loans, you can make more informed decisions about how you want to prioritize repayment, what type of repayment plan you want to choose, or even whether you want to consolidate or refinance your student loans.   

Know When Your Payments Start

Immediately following graduation, you’ll likely have a grace period, or a period of time before your first payment is due. This can vary depending on the type of loan you have, and they can be different for each loan. Subsidized and Unsubsidized Federal loans have a six-month grace period. Perkins loans have a nine-month grace period. There is no grace period for PLUS loans; however, if you are a graduate or professional student PLUS borrower, you do not have to make any payments while you are enrolled at least half time and (for Direct PLUS loans first disbursed on or after July 1, 2008) for an additional 6 months after you graduate or drop below half-time enrollment. Private student loans will have differing grace periods so contact your loan servicer for more details. Knowing when your loan will be due is imperative to starting off on the right foot when it comes to your student loans.  

Weigh Repayment Options

When you take out federal student loans and your grace period is complete, you will automatically enter the Standard Repayment Plan. This plan allows you to pay off your debt within 10 years, with the monthly payment remaining the same over the life of the loan. If standard repayment doesn’t work for your budget, you may want to consider some other options, or perhaps even refinance your student loans. The federal student loan program offers the following Income-Based Repayment plans: 
  • Graduated Repayment Plan – Gives you a smaller payment amount in the beginning and gradually increases the payment amount every two years.
  • Extended Repayment Plan – Allows you to pay the least possible amount per month for 10 to 25 years.
  • Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan or REPAYE Plan – Bases the monthly payment on you (and spouse’s) adjusted gross income, family size, and state of residence.
  • Pay As You Earn or PAYE – Monthly payments are based on your adjusted gross income and family size. You must be experiencing a financial hardship to qualify. You must also be considered a “new borrower” as of 10/1/2007 or after, or be someone who received an eligible Direct Loan disbursement on 10/1/2011 or after.
  • Income-Based Repayment or IBR – Monthly payments based on your adjusted gross income and family size. Must be experiencing a financial hardship to qualify.
  • Income-Contingent Repayment or ICR – Based on your monthly adjusted gross income and family size. Typically chosen if an individual can’t qualify for the Pay As You Earn Plan or Income-Based Repayment.Any changes to your income or your spouse’s income will affect your student loan payment. For example, if your salary increases, your student loan payment will as well. If you are married, both your income and your partner’s income are combined. Two combined incomes will increase your total income, likely increasing your monthly payment. 
  Keep in mind that each repayment option will have positives, negatives, as well as eligibility requirements. Research each option before making a decision, and consider contacting your loan servicer if you have questions or need more information.   

Automate Your Payments (If you can)

Setting up automatic payments will make student loan repayment less of a hassle, will avoid late payments, and may even score you an interest rate reduction. Just be sure you have enough money in your account month-to-month to endure the payments without overdrawing.   

Make Extra Payments

When you make your monthly payment, it will first apply to any late fees you have, then it will apply to interest. After these items are covered, the remaining payment will go toward your principal loan balance (the amount you actually borrowed). By paying down the principal, you reduce the amount of interest that you pay over the life of the loan. Applying extra income by making larger payments or double payments will reduce the total amount you’ll end up paying.   

Reach Out for Help if Necessary

If you’re having trouble making your monthly payments, particularly on your federal student loans, contact your loan servicer. They will work with you to find a repayment plan you can manage or help determine your eligibility for deferment or forbearance. If you stop making payments without getting a deferment or forbearance, you risk your loan going into default, which can have serious consequences to your credit.   

Weigh Refinancing & Consolidation Options

If you have multiple student loans that are all accruing interest at different rates, you may want to consider student loan refinancing or consolidation to make repayment more manageable. The federal student loan program offers student loan consolidation, in which they combine your loans into one loan with a weighted average interest rate, rounded up to the nearest 1/8th percent. You can also consolidate your federal and/or private student loan with a private lender through the process of refinancing. Refinancing your student loans is much like consolidation, however it offers the opportunity to start new repayment terms and possibly lower your interest rate. Keep in mind that refinancing with a private lender may cause you to lose access to certain federal student loan repayment options that are listed above.   

Look Into Loan Forgiveness

If you work in a public service position or for a non-profit, you may want to consider the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program or another loan forgiveness program offered by the federal government. Other options exist for volunteers, military recruits, medical personnel, etc. Some state, school, and private programs also offer loan forgiveness. Check with your school or loan servicer to see if you may qualify for student loan forgiveness.  

Earn Your Tax Benefits

If you are paying your student loans, you may be able to deduct the interest you pay on your student loans when filing your taxes. Deductions reduce your tax liability, saving you money and serving as a nice tradeoff for having to pay interest on your student loans.    Repayment of student loans can be a long, difficult journey – but by taking advantage of your resources and staying determined to pay off your debt, it is manageable. If you need more information on paying back your student loans or the options that are available to you, contact your loan servicer.  
  Notice About Third Party Websites: Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not responsible for and has no control over the subject matter, content, information, or graphics of the websites that have links here. The portal and news features are being provided by an outside source – the bank is not responsible for the content. Please contact us with any concerns or comments.
2019-11-29
So I’ve Refinanced My Student Loans – Now What?

By Caroline Farhat  

Congratulations! You just made the big step of refinancing your student loans. Your wallet is fatter and you’ve likely shaved off thousands of dollars from what you will have to pay on your student loans. That’s a huge achievement that will positively impact your financial life.

 

You may be tempted to use your new found moolah on brunches and vacations, but don’t start spending lavishly quite yet. While present you may be saying “yes!” to fancy dinners, future you would really benefit from spending this extra cash in a smarter way. If you’re feeling financially empowered, you’ll love these five financial tips for what to do after you refinance to maximize your money.

 

1. Reexamine (or create) your budget

Any time you have a change in your financial situation, such as a raise or a new recurring bill, it’s important to evaluate your current budget. If you don’t already have a budget, getting a little extra money each month can be a great motivator to start one. We’re fans of the zero-based budget system. With zero-based budgeting, you allocate each dollar you make to a specific expense or goal so it can help curb unnecessary expenses you may regret later. For example, say you bring in $4,000 a month after taxes. You spend $3,000 on fixed expenses such as rent, utilities, and food. Your monthly payment for student loans is $600, leaving you with $400 extra each month. Under zero-based budgeting, you would allocate the extra $400 to other goals (such as contributing to a savings account) or wants (such as a travel budget). Once you have figured out exactly where each dollar will go, you should set up an automatic transfer to a savings account so that you never get tempted to spend money that you should be saving.

 

Of course, budgets aren’t one size fits all. If you have a method that works for you, then use that! The important things to know and keep track of are:

  1. How much money you have (after taxes and health insurance payments)
  2. Your essential fixed expenses (such as housing, utilities, food, student loan payments)
  3. Your non-essential fixed expenses (such as gym memberships, Netflix, etc.)
  4. Your long-term financial goals (buying a house, saving for a child, retirement)
  5. Your short-term financial goals (dining out, travel)
 

2. Start or pad your emergency savings account

If you don’t have at least three months of living expenses saved up, you need to start right now. We don’t want to set off alarm bells, but an emergency savings account is the number one thing everyone needs to have on their financial to do list. Depending on your situation, you may benefit from stashing away six to nine months of living expenses, but start with at least three months and build from there. Be sure to have this money easily available, so put it in a savings or checking account that does not incur any fees or penalties for withdrawing money. For example, you do not want to put your emergency savings in a CD, even if it will yield you a higher interest rate, because getting your money out can be a costly and sometimes time-intensive process. That said, find a savings account that will pay you interest so you don’t lose all your earning power on that money.

 

3. Pay down other high-interest debt

After you have a healthy savings account, paying off high-interest debt should be your next priority. Just like how refinancing your student loans helped you save money in the long run, paying off debt with high interest rates such as credit card debt or a personal loan will help you shave off hundreds or possibly even thousands of dollars that you would have to make in interest if you just paid the minimum monthly payment. Even putting an extra hundred dollars a month to this debt can pay off big time in the future. Additionally, lowering your debt load can help bolster your credit score, especially if you are carrying a lot of credit card debt. Your debt-to-income ratio is critical if you want to get a mortgage or other big-ticket items so paying down high-interest debt can only work to your advantage.

 

4. Contribute to your retirement

Say you have a healthy emergency savings, you’ve paid off all of your credit cards, and you have enough to cover your living expenses with a little bit of extra fun money. First, congrats! That’s a big feat and you’re killing it with your finances!

 

Set your future self up for success is by starting or increasing your contribution to a retirement account such as a 401(k) or IRA. Retirement accounts benefit from compounding interest so the sooner you start, the better. Plus, many employers have matching programs that help you pad your retirement account. Remember the free money you can make from a high-interest savings account? This is similar, but your future self will be the one to reap the benefits.

 

5. Treat yourself, responsibly

If you have refinanced your student loans, it’s safe to say that you’re clearly on top of your financial game. Let’s be real -- there will always be a list of things you can and should do with your money. But it shouldn’t all be about the work. You deserve to treat yourself! Just be sure to do it responsibly. Should you suddenly move into a budget-busting luxury penthouse apartment? Probably not. But you absolutely should treat yourself to that nice dinner or new pair of sneakers you’ve been eyeing. The keys to a successful financial life are staying informed and staying balanced. Just like any other goal, providing little rewards along your journey can help you stay motivated. So take this as our encouragement to enjoy yourself! Just do it responsibly with an eye on your financial independence.

   
2019-11-27
3 Things You Should Know About Black Friday

Black Friday used to be just one, crazy day of shopping. Deal seekers would wake up before sunrise, grab a thermos of coffee and a warm jacket, and wait in line for hours to get the best deals on televisions, laptops, and Cabbage Patch Dolls. The desire to shop and save is so popular that Black Friday has spun off nearly a week’s worth of celebrations, including:

 
 

Black Friday itself has even crept into our day of gratitude, with stores opening just after the dishes are cleared on Thanksgiving night. Some brands and shoppers have pushed back against Black Friday, like REI with their #OptOutside campaign that provides an active alternative to malls and box stores. But for many, the excitement of Black Friday is as much a part of Thanksgiving as turkey and pumpkin pie.

 

For those who are on the hunt for the best deals, here are a few tips to help you succeed.

 

Make a List (and Check It Twice)

While this tip is true for nearly every shopping trip, you definitely need a list, plan of attack, and even a budget for Black Friday. What items are your absolute must-haves? Are you more of a big-ticket item shopper or are you in it for smaller deals on everyday items? Just as you need to plan out that Thanksgiving dinner menu, sit down and list where you want to go and in what order to keep yourself from impulse buys and overspending. There’s no worse feeling than getting home and realizing you wasted money on something that wasn’t really a good deal or that you didn’t even want. Consider the following for your list:

 
  • Category
  • Item
  • Store or URL (for online Black Friday deals)
  • Deal or Coupon Code
  • Price
  • Budget Countdown
 

Shop Online

Cyber Monday used to be the online shopping day of the holiday season, but Black Friday is king for a reason and quickly expanded in-store-only deals to the online crowd. Shopping online helps you cover more territory in less time, and there are apps that can help you organize and simplify your shopping efforts.

 

With the BlackFriday.com app, you can easily filter through Black Friday promotional clutter, search by keywords, compare deals at different retailers, share deals with friends, and even set up notifications for when sales start. With the TGI Black Friday app, you can set up alerts if one (or more!) of your big-ticket items go on sale before Black Friday. This app also has a shopping list feature so you can digitize your plan of attack.

 

Shop All Year

For decades, Black Friday has gotten a reputation for being the deal day of the year. The name “Black Friday” even dates back to the 1960s when it was first used to name the kickoff to the holiday shopping season. However, it’s not always the best time of the year to get the best deal on several key items.

 

Televisions frequently go on sale just before the Super Bowl to appeal to fans looking to see the biggest game of the year on a new screen. On the hunt for a smaller electronic device? iPhones are typically discounted in September after the annual Apple event announcing the latest models. What about a new set of skis for the slopes? The best time to shop can be just before the end of the ski season, as retailers look to clear out inventory. And for more of the homebody, home goods are often discounted around holidays like President’s Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day. Finally, if you are ready to kick off the new year in a healthy way, consider waiting until June or July to buy that gym membership. At that time, gyms are eager for sales since clients are outside enjoying the long, sunny days of summer.

 

Find Other Ways to Save

You don’t have to brave the weather and the crowds to save money before the holidays. If you have student loans, you can keep money in your account by refinancing or consolidating. ELFI customers reported saving an average of $309 every month and an average of $20,936 in total savings after refinancing. See what kind of savings you can qualify for at elfi.com/refinance-education-loans.

 
 

1Average savings calculations are based on information provided by SouthEast Bank/Education Loan Finance customers who refinanced their student loans between 8/16/2016 and 10/25/2018. While these amounts represent reported average amounts saved, actual amounts saved will vary depending upon several factors.

 

Notice About Third Party Websites: Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not responsible for and has no control over the subject matter, content, information, or graphics of the websites that have links here. The portal and news features are being provided by an outside source – the bank is not responsible for the content. Please contact us with any concerns or comments.