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How to Build Credit: A Beginner’s Guide

September 12, 2016

Building credit is a topic that isn’t always in the forefront of young adults’ minds. Up until a certain point in life, it is just something that they have never really had to worry about (or knew that it actually existed). However, with the transition from student to full-fledged adult comes an abundance of new responsibilities, and one of the most important challenges recent graduates and young professionals will face is establishing good credit. Having a good credit score is crucial for many adult decisions, including purchasing a car, becoming a homeowner, and even getting hired for a job. However, a solid credit score does not just happen. It must be built and maintained over a period of time. That is right — you will have to start from the ground up. Fortunately, there are several tools you can take advantage of as a college student, recent graduate, or young adult to begin the process.

First, we will cover some basics about credit scores. There are different types of scores, but the FICO score is the one most widely used by lenders. These scores are calculated by the three credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — and scores range from 300 to 850. This score takes a variety of factors into account, including how quickly you pay your bills, how long you have maintained accounts over time, the percentage of your monthly credit limit that you spend, and more. The higher the score, the easier it could be to obtain a credit card, take out a loan, and get lower interest rates.

You now know how credit scores work, but how do you actually begin the process of building credit from scratch? There are three major tools you can use to do so: credit cards, loans, and rent payments.

  1. Credit Cards

One of the simplest ways to establish credit is through credit cards. Before taking out a credit card be sure to:

  • Before making large purchases, develop a plan for how you will repay what you owe in a timely manner.
  • Try to keep your balance below 35 percent of your monthly credit limit.
  • You do not have to charge every purchase on your credit card in order to build credit. Using your card sparingly and for smaller purchases, such as groceries, and paying off your balance each month will raise your credit score.
  • Never miss a payment. Failing to make a payment on time could negatively impact your credit score.

In addition to traditional credit cards, there are also a few alternatives you can use to boost your credit. For example, a retail or store card is a type of credit card that can only be used at a certain store. They typically are easier to obtain than a standard credit card, but they often come with higher interest rates. You can also get a gas card (credit card used specifically at certain gas stations), which is a great way to make sure you do not overspend while still boosting credit.

  1. Loans

A slower (but still solid) way to establish credit is by taking out a loan — whether it be an educational loan, a home loan, or some other type of financed purchase. Many young adults have to borrow money at some point to help finance their education or purchase a home, to name a few, and having a moderate amount of loans in good standing can be a great way to build credit. However, because payment history is the most influential factor in calculating a credit score, it is absolutely essential that you pay your loans on time each month. A good way to ensure punctuality is to set up automatic payments (whenever possible), set reminders, or make your monthly payments as affordable as possible. Figure out what amount is feasible for you to pay based on your income, and talk to your lender about the possibility of lowering your monthly rate.

  1. Rent

A third option for establishing credit, and one that is often overlooked, is making timely rent payments. Two of the three credit bureaus, Experian and TransUnion, now give the option to factor monthly rent payments into your credit score. If you are a renter, this is a solid way to build credit history in college, after college, and as a young professional (and without a credit card).

Establishing a good credit history can seem like a daunting process, and getting started can be challenging for young people who are just beginning to achieve financial independence. Just remember, everyone must start somewhere. If you can use one or more of the above tools responsibly, you will be well on your way to building credit and setting yourself up for financial success in the future.

 

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Women walking on college campus.
2019-02-13
Scholarships to Save Money on Student Loans for College

People have all kinds of amazing hopes and dreams for what to do with their lives. From those passionate about teaching and making a difference to talented analysts who want to help steer the ship. There are so many incredible careers to choose from, but once you pick the path it’s time to think about school. How do you make that dream of going to school a reality?   Financing an education can be challenging, but there are options and ways, even if you don’t have a nest egg for tuition. One option that is worth looking into is finding scholarships to save you money on student loans for college. Have you checked out what’s available? Here are some things to consider in your search.  

Look for scholarships based on need.

All types of people from all different backgrounds go to college, but some are at a disadvantage when it comes time to pay for school. For instance, some students can’t get student loans for college if they don’t have co-signers but might qualify for federal loan programs that don’t have the same requirements. Some scholarships aim to help these people specifically—like people who are more likely to need aid because they’re non-traditional students with children or over a certain age, or they are the first generation in their family to attend a university. There are also options for students who have been on other government aid programs as children or teenagers in a low-income family.  

What kind of scholarship fits your abilities?

Lots of people receive scholarships for any number of abilities—either because they are gifted academically or because they excel at a sport or activity. Talk to your school counselor or other college resources about your grades and test scores. It might be worth it to retake something like the SAT if you are pretty close to qualifying for academic scholarships. If you’re just starting to look at scholarships, now probably isn’t the time to become a master volleyball player or flutist, but scholarships for activities like those do exist! So if you are looking for ways to save money on student loans for college by getting a scholarship, don’t forget to search based on your extracurricular. Here are some common scholarship types provided based on extracurricular.  

Community Service Scholarships

Have you been busy volunteering? If so, you’ll want to look into community service scholarships. Many institutions hope to have students who make a powerful impact in the community. This scholarship is a great option as there is no special talent required it just takes time and dedication to complete.   Now we’re not saying to volunteer only for a scholarship, we’re just saying to try it out. Who knows, you may even like volunteering and actually have fun and make new friends!  In addition to making new friends, having fun, and saving money on student loans for college volunteering can expose you to new environments and things that you may have otherwise been unaware of. If you’re volunteering with an organization, be sure to ask them if they offer a scholarship.   Segal Americorps Education Award Do Something Scholarships Youth Changing The World Tylenol® Future Care Scholarship  

Creative Scholarships

Creative scholarships are just what you would think they are. These are scholarships provided to users for unique and creative creations. These scholarships consist of anything from designing a logo to playing a musical instrument. When you’re applying to a creative scholarship be sure to include an impressive portfolio of your additional work.   Doodle for Google Create-A-Greeting-Card Scholarship Stuck at Prom Scholarship Contest Shout It Out Scholarship    

Academic Scholarships

Academic scholarships are the most common. These scholarships are often based on your GPA, leadership, and ACT or SAT scores. Typically academic scholarships are provided by the institution but private academic scholarships can be another great way to pay for college. On your application, you’ll want to be sure to include any additional activities you are involved in. Some private academic-based scholarships will require the student to pursue a specific type of degree.   Shell Incentive Fund Scholarship USRA Scholarship Awards Alpha Chi Omega Foundation Scholarships The AAF-Tenth District Scholarship SouthEast Bank Scholars Program    

Look for fruitful memberships.

If you or your parents are members of a fraternal organization, church/denomination, or if you work in a particular industry you may qualify for a scholarship. Some companies even offer scholarships to employee families. If you were a member of an applicable student group in high school, then you may qualify for a scholarship based on this. There are even scholarships for people who have survived cancer. Talk to your parents and other family members about memberships you may not be aware of!  

You might qualify for employer-sponsored scholarships

In an increasingly competitive market, employers are doing more to find and retain top talent. Do you work for a company that offers scholarships? Check out this list of companies that offer scholarships. Everywhere from fast food restaurants and service jobs to large corporations offer financial aid and scholarships to their employees. If you’re not sure, talk to your HR person and see if you qualify. It’s worth a try!  

Get the scoop on where to search.

School counselors are the first place to check for scholarship opportunities. You might be able to apply for a local scholarship from a company in your region through your high school, or your college or university of choice might have scholarships for attendees. You can also take your search to the Internet and look for ideas, search based on your specific requirements or areas of interest, and get information on how to apply. Check out this scholarship search tool from the Department of Education.   If you’re looking to save money on student loans for college, make sure that you check for scholarship opportunities every semester. Student loans can be a great tool and easily manageable if you’re informed, so don’t be afraid to ask questions and check out all of your options. Do your best to decrease the amount you need to take out in student loans to pay for college.  

FDIC Backed and Why You Should Care

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Creepy campfire outside under the stars.
2019-02-07
Don’t Put Out the F.I.R.E with a Lifestyle Creep

Unless you’re on a desert island somewhere, it’s likely you’ve heard of the F.I.R.E movement. If you haven’t Gilligan, the F.I.R.E movement stands for “Financial Independence, Retire Early.” Basically, it’s a movement started in which many finance savvy people increase their savings in hopes of retiring early and living their best life. Sounds great right? It may sound great but there are really only two ways to participate in F.I.R.E and that is increasing your income level or increasing your savings. So, how does the Financial Independence Retire Early movement relate to lifestyle creep?

What is Lifestyle Creep?

Lifestyle creep might be a term you haven’t heard before, but you’ve probably experienced it or witnessed it. As your discretionary income goes up, your lifestyle becomes more expensive. It’s that train of thought that can really get you in trouble with your bank account. You know the thought, the good ole “I worked really hard this week I deserve a new purse.” That is where lifestyle creep really starts.   If you suffer from lifestyle creep you’ve probably also thought of things like. If you can afford a better car, why not drive a better car? If you can afford an apartment without roommates, why have roommates? So, what’s wrong with these thoughts, because if you can afford it, then you should do it, right?  

Lifestyle Creep and Financial Independence Retire Early Movement

It’s a really delicate balance when income goes up and you feel entitled to nicer things. Suddenly the ability to afford something makes your current situation or current belongings seem like they are not enough, whereas they were just fine yesterday. This is a nightmare for most people involved in the F.I.R.E Movement. So when does it make sense to increase your budget based on higher income and when should you hold off? Here are some things to keep in mind that will keep you away from lifestyle creep and keeping you in the race of Financially Independent Retire Early movement.  

Always “pay yourself” first.

To pay yourself means to invest in yourself—specifically, your future self (oh hey, F.I.R.E). Increase your contributions to your retirement when your income increases. If you get a raise every year, set a reminder or put your retirement contribution on autopilot to also increase by 1% (or whatever amount works for you). If aiming to be in the F.I.R.E movement you may want to contribute over 1%. This is how people end up “maxing out” retirement contributions, without ever feeling like they are taking a hit in the present to save up for the future. Just ask anyone who’s ever done so. They’ll tell you it may have been the hardest thing they have ever done at the time, but their future self was really grateful!  

Look at the big picture.

If you get a job offer and will suddenly make 40% more, but your commute will be long, does it make sense to move closer to work if your residence will also cost more? That depends on the big picture. Maybe the amount of time you’ll lose to commuting is worth more than the higher rent or mortgage? Maybe, you will be able to get a house in a better school district, which fits with your long-term plans?  If the commute is farther with a lower mortgage, and you can pay down debt or increase your savings. You need to run the numbers. Check out our below examples of two different scenarios that we estimated. Please note that these are estimated costs.  

Scenario #1

For example, let’s say that you work in Manhattan, New York… You currently live in Blairstown, NJ and live rent-free thanks to Mom and Dad. Your commute to NY takes 4 hours by bus and costs about $400 a month. If you pay $400 x 12 months = $4,800 a year spent on commuting In 2019 there are about 250 Business days (excluding public holidays and weekends) 250 business days x 4 hours = 1,000 hours a year you spend commuting.  

Scenario #2

Let’s say that you move to Hoboken and have a roommate. You pay $1,000 a month on rent. Your commute is about 1 hour a day. Let’s say it costs about $150 a month to commute. $1,000 a month x 12 months = $12,000 a year on rent $150 x 12months = $1,800 a year on commuting costs $12,000 year rent + $1,800 year commuting = $13,800 a year on commuting and housing 1 hour x 250 business days = 250 hours a year spent commuting   Now, this example really gives insight into that big picture. Yes, it costs more to live in Hoboken and you have a roommate, but look at that time saved! If your time is of high value to you, Scenario #2 is likely the best choice for you. If you are participating in F.I.R.E and want to save money or pay down debt as much as possible, Scenario #1 is likely the right choice for you. Regardless, which option is personally best for you, understand these are the types of numbers to run when looking to make big decisions.  

Do I need this or do I just want it? The treat yo’ self trap.

Let’s say your discretionary income goes up, should you get that household repair or a non-urgent medical procedure? By all means, this is not an example of lifestyle creep and you should use your higher income to make it happen. Now, if you find yourself flush with cash and jealous of your neighbor’s new car, you should pause.  If you believe that you have worked hard enough to deserve a big trip. Planning a vacation just because you can, is an example of lifestyle creep. We aren’t saying you don’t deserve a vacation, but that vacation should be planned on a responsible budget.   When making any purchasing decisions ask yourself, “Are these wants more important than other needs?” We’d recommend thinking long-term when it comes to making purchasing decisions. What’s more responsible, paying off debt and continue reaping the reward of not having high payments or added interest or making a purchase like a car that you don’t “need”? Maybe there is a compromise like paying off your current car and setting a goal to upgrade next year, or maybe you can plan a trip for next year and save for it while you are concurrently paying down debt.   It’s dangerous to deserve better. We are constantly bombarded with flashy advertising, slick marketing, and more choices than ever before. It can be really easy to think that you deserve something better, but in reality, is that new item really going to bring you long term happiness and security? Many participating in the F.I.R.E movement will say items are just items and that real happiness comes from relationships and memories.   The F.I.R.E mindset can get even tougher when many of us have had parents who treated us like the most special people ever who gave us what we wanted. That’s not a bad thing until you start making decisions based on what you think you deserve, instead of what you can practically achieve. Thanks, Mom and Dad, but I don’t mind having roommates for another year, or it’s not a big deal to keep driving a car that’s older but works fine.  

Check those budget boxes.

If your discretionary income has gone up either because you got a raise or other costs went down, you need to do some budgeting. Typical steps that personal finance experts advise working on include getting up-to-date on all of your bills if you aren’t already. Second, have a $1,000 emergency fund. Lastly, experts advise people to focus on high-interest debts before building a savings account with 3–6 months of expenses in it. Then look into things like investing, saving for your children’s college or paying off your house!   Achieving a higher income is great! It’s a wonderful feeling when you see your hard work paying off and making life easier. Don’t end up being someone who makes more than enough to live comfortably but you’re still living paycheck to paycheck. Lifestyle creep is so important to recognize and avoid. Keep your financial goals in order and continue to work towards them. Whether your goal is to be Financially Independent and Retire Early or to pay off your debt, you got this!  

Click for Cards and Accounts That Pay You

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Bride and Groom Figures Separating
2019-01-30
How Does Divorce Affect Student Loan Debt?

Lots of millennials are waiting longer to get married so that they’re more secure before tying the knot. The divorce rate dropped 18% in the last several years. Even so, divorce still happens. It doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Maybe your uncoupling is a fresh start, and separating your finances is the first step to setting up your new life.   As a millennial, many of us have student loan debt that is just part of our everyday reality. That’s true whether we’re married, single, or divorced. This is why so many people often will end up seeking out help and advice about student loans during the divorce process. Answers aren’t always clear, but we can help. There are a few things you should know to prevent any financial surprises.  

Can’t Divorce a Servicer

Student loan responsibilities after a divorce—particularly for Federal Loans—will be dependent on whose name is on the loan. If you and your ex-spouse agree on a payment arrangement that requires one of you to help pay, if it’s not in your name on the loan, that may not be enforced by the servicer. If your name is on the loan, you’re the one they’re going to pursue for payment.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to come to an agreement that works for both of you but stay on top of which of your loans are being paid. Make sure you never miss a payment even if your ex is supposed to be paying it.  

Repayment Amounts and Plans

With divorce, your family size changes, as does your household income. Changes to income and family size can mean changes to your monthly payment. Now it’s likely these changes will only happen if you are on an income-based repayment plan. It doesn’t mean that your monthly payment will go down, but your loan payment could go up or down. The payment amount will depend on what your spouse’s income was when compared to yours, so everyone’s situation is unique. Make sure to update the paperwork and stay current on your loans as you transition to paying your debts on your own.   If you’re having trouble making payments, look at different repayment options like an IBR plan so that you stay current on your loan payments and don’t fall behind. If at all possible, avoid deferment. Deferring your loans ensures that you don’t fall behind on payments, but the interest continues to accrue while you are not paying. This could extend the life of the loan and increase the amount that you owe, so it really should be a last resort.  

Credit Score

Some people think just filing for divorce will negatively affect credit, but that isn’t necessarily true. What can affect your credit is the process of changing your bills around. For example, putting things in solely your name that weren’t previously could affect your credit score. Making big financial changes like selling a house, refinancing, or restructuring debt can also have effects on your credit score. Some of those things could be good and some could lower your score, so it just depends on your situation. For example, adding on more debt without increasing your income could have a negative effect on your credit score.   If you are in the process of reassessing your financial situation on your own, you’ll want to review paperwork. Gather vital documents like your credit report and score. If you haven’t checked your credit report in a while, now is a great time too. Make sure there are no errors on your credit report and ensure that you know what your score is. You may be looking to make some changes that will certainly need a credit review. Changes could include looking for housing on your own, your own mortgage, changing the car you drive, or something else that will require a credit check. Don’t be caught off guard by not knowing what’s on your report right now.  

State Laws

The laws will either determine the debt as separate property or marital property. Now, separate property generally includes things like assists obtained before marriage like that of inheritance. Generally paraphrasing anything obtained by an individual before marriage is considered separate property. Anything that remains outside of separate property typically is marital property. Marital property is where the state laws really play a role.   Your remaining marital property will be divided based on if you are located in “community property” state or an “equitable distribution” state. During a divorce in a “community property” state, any marital property is split down the center at fifty-fifty. Most states tend to fall into the “equitable distribution” state law. The “equitable distribution” law says that each party has a legal claim to the asset or debt. The portion of value that is then divided to each party is determined by a number of different factors according to The Court.    

Cosigners and Private Loans

Private loans can be more complex. For instance, if your ex-spouse is a cosigner, then you are both responsible to pay the debt. If he or she was not your cosigner, the debt is the responsibility or you and your cosigner, if any.  

It might be a good time to refinance loans.

Whether you are just entering the divorce process or have already completed, see if now is the time to refinance. Get in touch to have one of our friendly advisors walk you through the process and give you information on how we can help.   Divorce can be one of the most stressful events a person will face, but empowering yourself with information will make it easier to navigate. Be sure to consult with a lawyer before you start divorce proceedings so that you can prepare. Do your best to work together to come to an agreement that helps you both afford to live on your own so everyone can move forward.  

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  NOTICE: Third Party Web Sites 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.