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Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: The Income vs. Savings Approach to Building Wealth

December 26, 2019

By Caroline Farhat

 

We all remember that infamous Australian millionaire who declared that millennials can’t afford to buy homes because they’re wasting all of their money buying avocado toast. Similarly, we’ve probably all lost count of the number of times we’ve heard that we need to cut back on our Starbucks® habit in order to be more financially successful. 

 

While buying avocado toast every morning might not be the wisest choice for your food budget, it’s most likely not going to hold you back from having a healthy bank account either. In fact, if you’re so busy pinching pennies on your daily cappuccino and not looking at how you can save and increase your earnings in bigger areas, you’re probably wasting both your time and money. 

 

Stop Skipping Your Cappuccino and Refinance Instead

 

1. How refinancing can save you money on your mortgage

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, housing is the largest expense for Americans, taking up about 33% of income and $20,091 per year. For homeowners, these figures include the cost of the mortgage, mortgage interest, property taxes and insurance, and expenses for maintenance and repairs. 

 

When you apply and pay for a mortgage, you get an interest rate based on your creditworthiness, the size of your down payment, loan term and type, and economic factors. For example, in 2000, the average mortgage rate was 8.05%. In 2018, the average mortgage rate was 4.54%. As you can see, market conditions can make a big difference in the interest rate you lock-in. The good news is that you have the ability to lower your mortgage rate through refinancing, well after you sign on the dotted line. 

 

Mortgage interest, and its effect on your monthly housing bill, can be easily forgotten — until you start crunching the numbers. Let’s walk through two scenarios — one in which you don’t refinance and one in which you do refinance.

 

Scenario 1: No refinancing

You buy a $300,000 home and put down 20% ($60,000). You get a mortgage for $240,000 with a 4.5% interest rate. Over the first year, you will have spent $10,720.79 on interest payments alone. Over the entire 30-year mortgage term, you will have spent $197,776.11 in total on interest payments. 

 

Now, let’s see what happens if you refinance your mortgage.

 

Scenario 2: Refinancing

You buy a $300,000 home and put down 20% ($60,000). While you started with a 4.5% interest rate, shifts in the economy have caused interest rates to drop and you’re now able to refinance to a 3.7% mortgage rate. By doing so, you will save over $12,000 over the life of the loan. To put this in perspective, you’d have to cut back on approximately 3,000 drinks at your favorite coffee joint to save that kind of money. 

 

If you currently have a mortgage, put your numbers into this refinance calculator and see just how much you could save. 

 

2. How to save by refinancing student loans

The Bureau of Labor Statistics also reports that the average American spent $1,417 on education in 2018. If you’re currently reading this blog, you are likely dealing with a much larger number than that. If you have at least $5,000 in student loan debt, student loan refinancing could be extremely beneficial for you. 

 

Similar to mortgages, you can refinance student loans and potentially save thousands of dollars over the lifetime of the loan. ELFI customers reported saving an average of $272 every month and an average of $13,940 in total savings1.

 

The first step to saving money on your student loans is to determine whether student loan refinancing* is the best option for you. In a small number of cases, refinancing is not the optimal option. But for most student loan debt holders, it is an excellent way to save money both in the short term and long term. Our student loan refinance calculator allows you to see what you could save in your particular situation. Let’s walk through an example.

 

Scenario 1: No refinancing

You have $60,000 in student loans with an interest rate of 6.8% and are on a standard repayment plan of 10 years. You pay $690 per month and never consider refinancing. In total, you will pay $82,857 for your initial loan of $60,000. Over $22,000 of that amount will be to interest payments alone.

 

Scenario 2: Refinance your student loans

You have $60,000 in student loan debt with an interest rate of 6.8% and a monthly payment of $690. You’re eager to optimize your finances and decide to refinance your student loans to a lower interest rate, saving up to $18,000 over the life of the loan. If you refinance into a shorter loan term (such as a 5 or 7-year term), you will save more on interest over the life of the loan. Alternately, you may consider stretching out your terms to lower your monthly payment. This will likely still save you money over the long term, but be sure to crunch the numbers before you make a final decision on your refinancing terms.

 

Side Hustle or Climb Your Way to Success

Saving on big-ticket items like your housing costs or student loan debt is just one approach to building wealth. After you have taken advantage of all the saving opportunities available to you, it’s time to turn your attention to increasing your earnings. Here are a few ways you can bolster your bank account:

  • Ask your current employer. If you’re gainfully employed and a top-performer, speak with your boss about the potential for a promotion, raise, or bonus. It’s best to come into these types of conversations with a concrete strategy and multiple examples of positive ways you have impacted the company. Glassdoor has a good guide on how to prepare for this conversation. 
  • Find a new job. Long gone are the days people spend decades at the same company. While “job hopping” may have had a negative connotation in the past, many career experts actually encourage people to switch jobs more frequently in order to get a larger salary and more advanced job title. According to this Fast Company article, “workers who stay with a company longer than two years are said to get paid 50% less.” Money, of course, isn’t everything. But if you’re feeling stagnant both in learning and money, it’s probably time to brush off your resume and start looking for a new position.
  •  Start a side hustle. It’s reported that more than 1 in 4 Americans currently have a side hustle. Beyond the monetary benefits of having a gig outside of your normal 9-to-5, side hustles are also a great way to hone or discover a new passion. Side Hustle Nation has an extensive list of ideas that you can start quickly. 

 

Bottom Line

It pays (literally) to keep your eye on the big stuff. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t ever watch your pennies. Smart spending habits still reign supreme. Just don’t sweat the small stuff so much that you miss out on potentially huge savings.

 


 

*Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply.

 

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.

 

1Average savings calculations are based on information provided by SouthEast Bank/ Education Loan Finance customers who refinanced their student loans between 2/7/2020 and 2/21/2020. While these amounts represent reported average amounts saved, actual amounts saved will vary depending upon a number of factors.

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paying down student loans with a credit card
2020-10-27
Should I Pay Down Credit Card or Student Loan Debt?

Dealing with student loans can be incredibly challenging for many college graduates. According to Experian, Americans carry an average student loan balance of $35,359. On top of that, the average credit card debt is nearly $6,200, says the credit reporting agency.    In most cases, targeting one debt at a time can help you pay off your balances faster and save you more money on interest. So should you pay down credit card or student loan debt first?   Here’s how to develop your strategy:  

Should You Pay Off a Credit Card or Student Loan First?

In the vast majority of cases, it’s better to prioritize your credit card debt before your student loan debt. This is primarily because credit cards charge higher interest rates than student loans.    Additionally, credit cards don’t have set repayment schedules, so it’s easy to add to your balance even while you’re paying them off. As a result, credit cards may keep you in debt for longer than student loans with firm repayment terms.   For example, let’s say you have the following debts:  
  • A credit card balance of $7,000 on an account with a 20% annual percentage rate (APR) and a $120 monthly payment.
  • Combined student loans worth $30,000 with a weighted-average rate of 6.5% and a $341 monthly payment. 
  In total, your minimum monthly payment would be $461, and if you were to pay just that amount and add no new debt to your credit card, you’d pay off the student loans in 10 years and the credit card in a little more than 11 years. You’d also pay a total of $24,739 in interest over that time.   Now, let’s say you could afford to put $510 toward your debt every month. If you were to add the extra payment toward your credit card debt until it was paid down, your balance would be paid off in a little under six years. Then if you use the total amount you were putting toward your card toward your student loans, you’d pay those off about a year and a half early. You’d also save $9,643 in interest.   If you were to do the opposite and focus on your student loans first, you’d pay those off sooner, but the higher interest rate on your credit cards will result in more total interest charges.    You can use a debt avalanche calculator to find out what you could save with your specific situation.  

Can You Pay Off Student Loans with a Credit Card?

Another thing you may be wondering is, can you transfer student loans to a credit card? The U.S. Department of the Treasury doesn’t allow federal student loan servicers to accept credit cards as a payment method, and it’s unlikely you’ll find a private lender that offers it as an option.   But you still can technically use a credit card to pay off a student loan by using the balance transfer feature. 

Many credit card issuers send out blank balance transfer checks that you can use to pay off other credit card accounts or other types of debt. These checks often include an introductory 0% APR promotion, which could potentially save you money as you pay down your balance.   To use one to pay off student loans, you’d write the check out to your loan servicer and submit it as payment or write the check to yourself and deposit it into your checking account, then make a payment.   But just because it’s possible to do this doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. In fact, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a scenario where using a credit card balance transfer to pay off a student loan is the right move. Here’s why:  
  • Balance transfers come with fees, which can range up to 5% of the transfer amount.
  • If you don’t pay off the balance before the promotional period ends, you’ll be stuck paying a higher interest rate, which can be in the mid teens or even upwards of 20%, on the remaining balance. 
  • The lack of a set repayment term on a credit card can make it more difficult to stick to your repayment plan and keep you in debt longer. 
  In other words, if you have credit card debt, using a balance transfer credit card to pay it off interest-free is generally a good idea. But it’s not worth doing the same thing with your student loan balance.   If you have a cash-back rewards credit card, you can also opt to use your rewards to help pay down your student loans.   

Using Your Credit Cards Wisely While You Have Student Loan Debt

In an ideal world, you’d never carry a balance on a credit card because when you pay your bill in full every month, you’ll avoid interest charges. But if your financial situation is tight because of student loan debt and other obligations, it can be difficult to avoid.    Whether or not you can afford to avoid credit card debt right now, here are some tips to help you limit your exposure to the risks they present:  

Always pay on time

Even if you can just make the minimum monthly payment, paying on time will ensure that you don’t get slapped with late fees and a ding to your credit score. If you do miss a payment, make sure to get caught up quickly — you won’t avoid a late fee but late payments aren’t reported to the credit bureaus until they’re past due by 30 days.  

Try to avoid a high balance

Your credit utilization rate is the percentage of available credit you’re using at a given time. So if you have a $1,000 balance on a card with a $2,000 credit limit, your utilization rate is 50%. There’s no hard-and-fast rule for what your rate should be, but the higher it is, the more damage it will do to your credit score. So if you can, try to keep your balance as low as possible relative to your credit limit.  

Seek lower interest rates

As you work to pay down credit card debt, a balance transfer card with a 0% APR promotion can be a great way to save money on interest charges, even if you can’t pay the balance in full before the promotional period ends. If you can’t qualify for a balance transfer card, you may try to call your card issuer and see if you can get a reduced interest rate. There’s no guarantee your request will be granted, but credit card companies will sometimes offer a lower rate for at least a short period.  

Avoid using your card as you pay it off

If you keep adding charges to your credit card while you’re paying down the balance, it can feel like you’re taking two steps forward and one step back. If you can, try to stick to using cash or your debit card while you pay down your debt — at least for most of your expenses — to make it easier to achieve your goal.   As you take these steps, you’ll be able to avoid some of the drawbacks that come with using credit cards regularly. They’ll not only help preserve your credit score but also make it easier to pay off your balance, so you can turn your focus to your student loans.  
  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.
2020-10-23
Ace Your Interview: Job Interview Tips

Life after graduation is full of responsibilities, like taxes, groceries and full-time jobs, but also full of opportunities. To capture these opportunities, you need to be prepared, and the best way to do that is to make sure you give the best job interviews possible. Here are a few job interview tips to help:  

Write a Top-Notch Resume

First step: get your
resume into shape. Make sure you fill it with your valuable work experience and qualifications. Your goal is to showcase the most successful and productive version of yourself possible.   Volunteer work, certifications, awards, and other accomplishments can all have a place on your resume. Many people like to build from resume templates you can find online, but if you use a resume template, just be sure you’ve thoroughly checked the verbiage to make sure it doesn’t sound scripted.   Your resume should show off your unique talents and skill set, as well as any numbers or figures that back up your work.  

Do the Research

One of the most important job interview tips is doing research beforehand. You want to be knowledgeable about both the job and the employer when you are being interviewed. Look at the company website to learn about company history, accomplishments, and other information. Also, take some time to read recent news about the company.   When you know what the company is looking for, you’ll be able to easily answer questions about how you will fit into the work environment.  

Know the Common Questions

Many interviewers ask the same, basic questions to better understand their candidates. While some may ask curveball questions, as well, you’ll be a step ahead if you come prepared with answers to common questions.   Examples include “Tell me about yourself” and “What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?” Even though these sound like very basic questions, it’s important to give a thoughtful answer. Take your time thinking through responses prior to the interview. Indeed has a fantastic list of 125 such questions to ensure you are never at a loss for words.   Don’t stress about knowing all the answers; just practice the ones you think are most important. Then, if they ask you something unexpected, you’ll have a few ideas to pull from.  

Practice

Once your research is done, it’s time to practice. Ask a friend, parent, sibling or roommate to run through interview questions with you. Focus on answering smoothly and confidently.   In a similar vein, treat any job interview you go to as practice. If you don’t get the job, you’ve still gained valuable interview experience.  

Ask Questions

One job interview tip some people don't think about is to prepare your own questions.   A job interview isn’t just an opportunity for a prospective employer to learn about you. It’s also a chance for you to learn about them. Ask questions you really want answers to, not just questions you think will impress the interviewer. Honest questions demonstrate interest and can help you decide whether you’d like to work for the company.   Ideally, you should prepare your questions in advance. That way, you’ll be ready when the interviewer asks, “Do you have any questions for me?” If you’re at a loss for words, questions about corporate culture and growth opportunities are always good options.  

Dress the Part

When dressing for a job interview, you should think about the first impression you’d like to make on your potential employer. If you aren’t sure about an outfit, err on the side of caution. It’s better to be overdressed than underdressed. When in doubt, it’s hard to go wrong with simple, business-professional clothing.   Of course, this is by no means an all-purpose interview cheat code. Different employers will expect their employees to wear different things. An interview at a bank will require far more formal dress than an interview at quick-service restaurant.   Again, though, err on the side of caution. You likely won’t be passed over for a job because you were too well dressed. To top it all off, research has shown that dressing up can significantly boost your confidence.  

Follow Up

After the interview, consider sending a thank-you email to the hiring manager. Express your gratitude for the interview and impress upon them your interest in the position. Be enthusiastic. You’ve got one more chance to make a positive impression.   If you get the job, congratulations. That’s fantastic. If you don’t, don’t stress. You’ve done the best you could do, and you’ve gained valuable interview experience to boot. Sometimes it takes time to find the perfect job. With your interview experience, you’ll be all the more likely to get it. If you’re looking for a job in the medical field, check out this article on common resume mistakes for medical professionals.  
  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.
Happy couple admiring their home
2020-10-22
Should I Build Home Equity or Pay Down Student Loans?

Owning a home is a goal for many people. In fact, 40% of young millennials are saving to buy a home. If you already own a home, congratulations on achieving your goal! If you are now faced with a mortgage and student loans, you may wonder which debt you should prioritize. Should you build home equity or pay down your student loans?    Here we will explain what home equity is, how to build it and when it’s better to focus on home equity or paying down student loans.   

What is Home Equity?

When you pay on a mortgage, even if you haven’t yet paid it off completely, you’re building equity in your home. Home equity is the difference between the market value of the house and what you owe. Here’s an example of how to calculate it:  

How to Calculate Home Equity

  You can calculate your home equity by subtracting the balance of your mortgage from the current value of your home. The value of your home is determined by the fair market value of your house or the appraised value. This number is the true value of your asset (your house) since it takes into account the amount you owe on the loan.    Your home equity is calculated in your net worth. You may have heard that home equity can be “tapped into.” This means you can borrow against the equity of your home and use the money in a variety of ways. A home equity loan can cover home renovations or pay off higher-interest debt.    Your home is valued at $375,000 and your mortgage balance is $275,000. You determine the equity by taking the value of $375,000 and subtracting the mortgage balance of $275,000. The equity in your home is $100,000.   

Home Equity and the Housing Market

  Your home’s equity often increases when you make mortgage payments, especially when paying down the principal on your loan. Your home’s equity can also increase when its value rises. Although the value is determined primarily by the housing market, you can raise the value through home improvements.   Just as the value of your home can increase based on the market, however, it can also decrease based on the market. The only sure way to increase your home equity is by paying down your mortgage loan. The more of the loan you pay off, the more your equity increases.  

Building Home Equity vs. Paying Down Student Loans

  If you follow the normal payment schedule, you’ll increase your home equity slowly. If you make extra payments towards your mortgage, you can build equity faster. However, if you also have student loans, should you build home equity or pay down your student loans instead? Let’s take a look at some factors that can help determine the best course of action:   

Interest Rates

If either your mortgage or any student loan has a variable interest rate, you may want to focus on that loan first, because you are at risk that the rate can rise and leave you with a higher payment to make. In addition, if one of your loans has a much higher interest rate than the other, you may choose to focus on it first.  

Security

With student loans, in certain instances, if you are facing financial hardships you can temporarily suspend payments. Mortgages offer less flexibility with payments, therefore missing payments can result in foreclosure and losing your home.  

Loan Balances

If you have student loans with lower balances than your mortgage, you may be able to pay them off more quickly. Then, you can continue to build equity after paying down your student loan debt.   

Tax Implications

You may get a bigger tax break by building equity versus paying off student loans. However, this doesn’t apply to everyone. Interest paid on student loans is deductible, however, there is a cap on how much. As of 2020 the cap is $2,500. Your income must meet the requirements to be able to deduct this amount.    Interest paid on mortgages is also deductible, but only if you itemize your deductions. The mortgage interest deduction can be much higher than $2,500. To learn more about either of these options, consult with your tax advisor.  

Refinancing Your Student Loans With ELFI

If you don’t want to choose between building equity or paying off your student loans, then consider refinancing your student loans with ELFI. Use our student loan refinance calculator* to see how much you may be able to save.   

The Bottom Line 

Each person’s financial goals and situation are unique, so you have to make the best decision for you. Hopefully, however, knowing more about both options and which is better in certain circumstances will help you make an informed decision.  
  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.   *Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply.