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DIY Investing – Do you Need a Financial Advisor to Start Investing?

January 8, 2019

Are you thinking about investing to turn your dollars into even more wealth? If you are looking into ways to invest your funds, there are a few ways to do it. One way is to hire a financial advisor to provide financial services, but some people like to try investing on their own with some DIY investing strategies. Either way, here are some things you should know.

 

Types of financial advisors

There are several different options for financial advisors. Each type of financial advisor has strengths and various fees for service. You’ll want to pick the right financial advisor based on what you’re looking to do with your money, may want to pick a specific type of financial advisor. Let’s review what each type of financial advisor does.

 

Accountant

An accountant or CPA can help with several different situations and types of knowledge. For instance, an accountant could help you hire and pay a nanny or do your taxes. They might specialize in certain things like being an entrepreneur or freelancing. Make sure you meet and vet your potential accountant to ensure they can do the type of advising or planning you need.

 

Investment Adviser

This type of financial adviser is someone who can advise you on various types of securities either as a single consultant or as part of a larger firm. They are registered professionals through the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or other applicable state agencies and have to have a securities license to actually sell securities products. This might require a licensed securities representative, like a stockbroker, to make the transaction happen.

 

Stockbroker

A stockbroker is someone who is typically licensed by a state to sell stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and other types of securities. These financial professionals usually earn a commission on their transactions, which is how they make money. There’s quite a bit of regulation for the profession including organizations like the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).

 

Financial Planner

Financial Planners or Certified Financial Planners (CFPs) are often employed or certified through larger agencies or even global companies that offer their own types of accounts and services. They can help you work toward a number of different financial goals based on a large spectrum of products. They might advise you about retirement, short or long term investing, saving for education, or managing other financial assets. They make money either based on fees or on commissions from the products you buy through them.

 

There are other options like Estate Planners, Attorney, and Insurance Agents, but they tend to deal with more specific financial situations and less with broad investing knowledge.

 

A really important factor in picking a trusted financial advisor is looking at their expertise, reputation, and how well they fit with your personality and service needs. Don’t pick an advisor who is only available 9am-5pm if you work long hours and prefer to visit in person, for instance. For example, if you’d rather talk via email or use online tools, old-school professionals with a smaller operation might not have the digital infrastructure you’re looking for. Similarly, you want to work with someone you trust, so make sure their demeanor is a good fit for you.

 

If you decide that a financial advisor is not for you and instead you want to do your own investing, you also have several options for how you can approach investing.

 

DIY Investment Strategies

Brokerage Accounts

Brokerage accounts are a way that people can try their hand at DIY investing.  You’ll need to set up an online brokerage account first. Once your online account is set up, you can do research and look into what experts are saying about different companies. Look for advice as to what to buy or avoid, keep or sell.

 

Apps

There are lots of different types of investing apps. You can try something simple that rounds up your debit card purchases and automatically invests very small dollar amounts called micro-investing, for instance. You might want to try your hand at an app that allows you to trade stocks. Some apps have higher fees than others or are paid apps while a few offer free trades. A different type of investing app that you can try would be one that focuses on your retirement, allowing you to move money around for your retirement funds. There are lots of options! Just be sure you look at the fine print and read reviews to see what kinds of experiences other people are having and what the legal details are.

 

Other Online Tools

Various websites and types of software exist to both help you research investing and to facilitate online transactions. Just like apps, there are lots of options based on the type of investing you want to do and how you want to do it. Just do your homework and look for reputable tools before you get signed up.

 

Pros and Cons

With something like an app, you avoid the fees that come with some types of financial advisors. On the other hand, you don’t get the personalized attention that financial investor can offer you. If you invest for yourself, you have a lot of control and can potentially save money on fees again, but you also run the risk of making some expensive financial mistakes if you don’t know what you’re doing. Make sure you know the pros and cons of any of these DIY investing strategies before you start so you don’t end up between a rock and a financial hard place.

 

Tips for How to Invest Smart

Investing successfully can be really challenging, which is why people should start small. Don’t invest a bunch of money in risky stocks hoping to make a quick fortune. Instead, set aside a small fund to use for investing and start watching and learning before you do anything. If you can’t afford to lose money, go with more stable investments that will earn less but also likely won’t lose much if anything. Logic is a far better guide than emotion when it comes to investing. Sure, a hunch might make someone rich, but plenty of people have lost fortunes to their hunches. The math works out in your favor if you look at logical options and stick to a smart plan.

 

Avoid These 7 Money Mistakes

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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.