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Should You Save Money or Pay Off Debt First?

February 9, 2017

One of the most challenging things about setting financial goals is managing two short-term goals at once. What should you do if one of your goals is to pay down debt as quickly as possible, but you want to build an emergency fund or save for a down payment on a home as well? If you are currently in this situation, you know that deciding what to do with that extra chunk of cash in your bank account each month is difficult. The longer you wait to pay off debt, the more you may end up paying in interest — but having solid savings is essential, should emergencies arise. If you are trying to juggle saving and paying off debt at the same time, here are some questions to ask to help you decide which to prioritize.

How Much Do You Have in Savings Right Now?

Do you have money set aside in case of an emergency? Ensuring that you are prepared for anything life throws your way is a fundamental step toward financial health. Experts recommend having an emergency fund of three to six months of living expenses set up to protect against unexpected events. Without it, you could risk falling into more debt. If you do not have an emergency fund set up, that should be your first priority. Pay down what you owe each month on your education loans and credit card balance(s), then allocate extra cash to your rainy day fund.

How Much Does Your Debt Cost You?

Examine the interest rates of your debts in comparison to how much your savings earn you. For example, if you have credit card debt with an interest rate of 10 percent, and a savings account earning you 1 percent, it may be more beneficial to tackle that credit card debt before saving for a down payment or putting more money in a retirement fund.

If you have multiple loans and credit card balances, it could help to list all of them and include the corresponding interest rate beside each. Multiply the interest rate by the debt amount to see how much each debt or loan is costing you per year. Then, write out the total amount of cash you have in savings and multiply it by the interest rate of the account. What is the rate of return on your savings? How does that compare to what your debts are costing you per year? This could help put everything in perspective, not only to help you decide to start focusing on paying off your debts faster, but to know which debt to tackle first.

Remember, the earlier you pay off debt, the less you may end up paying in interest. Therefore, after establishing a solid emergency fund, your next priority is working toward paying off your debt.

Can You Potentially Lower the Cost of Your Debts?

Whether you have credit card debt, student loan debt, or both, there are a few tactics you can look into that could potentially lower the cost of your debts.

If it is credit card debt that is weighing you down, you could transfer your balance onto a new card. On her blog, Suze Orman recommends looking for cards that charge no interest for at least a year, allowing you to have a longer amount of time to pay off your debt without incurring interest. For transferring the balance, she recommends searching online for transfer deals that do not charge a fee for the amount of the transfer. From there, the goal is to use an online calculator to calculate the amount you will need to pay per month to knock out your credit card debt by the time the zero percent interest rate expires.

For education loans, find out if you qualify for student loan refinancing or consolidation through a private lender. People who possess a strong credit history and a reliable source of income may be able to take advantage of one single payment with potentially lower interest rates or lower monthly payments. With the possibility of lower interest rates or lower monthly payments, refinancing or consolidation could take you one step closer to achieving your financial goals.

To Save or to Pay Off Debt? That Is the Question.

You might think the answer is simple — but the truth is, it is a little more complicated. Both options are great financial moves, but the answer varies depending on where you are in your saving and repayment journey. A typical rule of thumb is to focus on establishing an emergency fund first, then shift to paying off your debts as quickly as possible so that you can move on to your other (more fun) goals like purchasing a home or a car. If you already have that fund set up, assess your debts to decide which ones to begin paying off first. Look at what your options are for minimizing the interest on your debts, and put those plans into action. While it might require determination and sacrifice, the feeling of being debt free with a secure savings account is worth it in the end.

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2020-02-25
7 Great Things to Spend Your Tax Refund On

By Kat Tretina   While tax season fills most people with dread, there’s one thing everyone looks forward to — tax refunds. According to the IRS, approximately 71% of American tax filers receive a tax refund. In 2019, the average tax refund was a whopping $2,869. If you’re like many people, that may be the biggest lump sum you’ll see all year – so it’s important to use it wisely.   

7 Best things to spend your tax refund on

During tax season, retailers compete for your business. You’re bombarded with advertisements and sales trying to get you to spend your newfound money. But before parting with your hard-earned funds – it is money you worked for, after all – focus on using your tax refund on things that will improve your finances, your future financial prospects, and overall well-being.    Need inspiration? Here are seven smart ways to use your tax refund.   

1. Student loan lump sum payments

Student loan debt can be a substantial burden, causing you to put off other goals like saving for retirement, relocating to a new city, buying a home, or even getting married.    Using your tax refund to make a lump sum payment on your debt could allow you to save money on interest fees and help you pay off your loans ahead of schedule.    For example, let’s say you had $30,000 in student loan debt at 6% APR. With a minimum monthly payment, it would take you 10 years to repay your loans. And, you’d repay a total of $39,970; interest charges would cost you $9,970.    But let’s say you received $2,869 as a tax refund. If you applied the entire amount to your student loans as a lump sum payment, you’d pay off your loans 15 months early and you would repay just $37,801. By using your tax refund to make an extra payment on your debt, you would save $2,169 in interest charges.    You can make your tax refund work even harder for you by refinancing your student loans to possibly lower your interest rate. Use our Student Loan Refinance Calculator to see what you could save by refinancing your student loans.*   

2. Medical procedures

If you’re like many people, you may have put off going to the doctor or visiting a dentist because you simply couldn’t afford it. In fact, 25% of Americans reported putting off necessary medical procedures due to cost. However, skipping routine medical and dental care can cause more expensive issues later on, so it’s important to stick to a preventative care routine.    If you haven’t been to the doctor or dentist because you were short on cash, using your tax refund to take care of your health is a wise investment.   

3. Car repairs

Cars are often money pits, causing many people to skimp on routine repairs because of the expense. AAA reported that the average car repair is $500 to $600, but can often cost much more. Keeping up with your car’s maintenance and making necessary repairs can improve your car’s lifespan and fuel efficiency, helping you avoid more costly issues later on.    If you’ve been putting off any repairs or need to replace your tires, use your tax refund to finance that purchase so you can get to and from work safely.   

4. Professional development

With technology changing so quickly, it’s essential that you keep on top of the latest trends in your field so that you remain competitive in the job market. If you want to take your career to the next level, consider using your tax refund to invest in your professional development. You can attend a conference, take a class, or hire a career coach.   

5. Investments

If your finances are in otherwise good shape – meaning you don’t have high-interest debt or a pressing immediate expense – you can use your tax refund to build long-term wealth. Consider using your refund to invest your money by making contributions to your retirement accounts or an individual taxable account.    Don’t think your tax refund can make that much of a difference? Think again. Over time, your money can grow significantly.    For example, let’s say you’re 30 years old and deposit your $2,869 into an individual taxable account. If you don’t deposit another cent and your money earns an average annual return of 8%, that account will have grown to $31,374 by the time you’re 60.    If you’re not sure where to start, check out robo advisors like Betterment® or WealthFront®. They automatically invest your money based on your goals and risk tolerance, so you don’t have to be an investment expert to reap the rewards.   

6. Exercise equipment

Investing in your health and wellness is a good use for your money. Over time, it can help you save on health insurance and medical bills, too.    Consider using some or all of your tax refund to purchase exercise equipment you’ll actually use. Or, sign up for a gym membership or take a few sessions with a personal trainer to ensure you’re using the equipment correctly.   

7. A new computer

If you freelance or are thinking of starting a new side hustle, you may want to use your tax refund to purchase a new computer or software so that you can work more efficiently. With better tools, you may be able to improve your earning potential. And, you may be able to deduct the cost of a new computer or software on next year’s taxes (talk to a tax professional about your unique situation).   

How not to spend your refund

There are a lot of bad ways to spend a tax refund. But one of the worst is using it to purchase a car you can’t really afford. Unfortunately, using a tax refund to buy a new car is incredibly common.    Using your tax refund as a down payment can help you qualify for a car loan. But car values depreciate rapidly, and you could end up with a car that is too costly for your budget, or you could end up owing more than the car is worth. That issue can put you in a precarious financial position, and it’s hard to dig yourself out of debt.    If you need reliable transportation, use your tax refund to purchase an inexpensive, used car that you can comfortably afford. If you need to take out a loan, financial experts recommend that you choose a loan term no longer than 36 months; if you need a longer loan term than that to manage the loan payments, the car is likely more than you can truly afford.    There’s seven things that you should spend your tax refund on, along with one that you shouldn’t! Regardless of your situation, focus on spending your refund responsibly.    For more information, learn how to create a monthly budget.  
  *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.
2020-02-21
This Week in Student Loans: February 21

Please note: Education Loan Finance does not endorse or take positions on any political matters that are mentioned. Our weekly summary is for informational purposes only and is solely intended to bring relevant news to our readers.

  This week in student loans:

30,000 borrowers are being charged for student loans that were already discharged

30,000 borrowers of student loans from a private lender thought their loans would be discharged when they declared bankruptcy years ago – however the lender disagreed, and they are continuing to be charged. The borrowers are now suing the U.S. Bankruptcy court for the Eastern District of New York.  

Source: Yahoo Finance

 

USC announces new tuition-free plan

The University of Southern California (USC) recently announced two major changes to its financial aid plan, one of which makes attendance tuition-free for applicants whose family's household income falls at or below $80,000. Owning a home will also not be counted in the calculation to determine a student's financial need.  

Source: Forbes

 

Younger employees want help paying down student debt

A recent report from consumer research firm Hearts and Wallets revealed that younger workers would rather have employers assist them with repaying student loans than help them save for retirement. Two-thirds of workers of ages 21 to 27 said companies should help them pay down student debt, while just 27% said companies should help them save for retirement.  

Source: Investment News

 

49% of Americans expect to live paycheck to paycheck this year

A new survey revealed that a whopping 49% of Americans expect to live paycheck to paycheck through each month of this year. It also revealed that 53% don't have an emergency fund that covers at least three months of expenses. Despite the negative sentiment, 91% did say they wanted to develop better money habits in 2020.  

Source: Forbes

    That wraps things up for this week! Follow us on FacebookInstagramTwitter, or LinkedIn for more news about student loans, refinancing, and achieving financial freedom.  
 

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.

2020-02-21
5 Great Investing Apps for Beginners

This blog has been prepared for informational purposes only and does not constitute financial or investing advice. You should always use caution when making investing decisions. Rates and fees for the apps listed were obtained as of February 21, 2020 and are subject to change.   There are several ways to go about building wealth – some focus on building their career and earning more, putting their money into traditional savings accounts, 401ks, and IRAs, while others may focus on putting their money to work for them through investing in stocks, bonds, and ETFs. While many young adults have previously shied away from the stock market and investing in the past, a recent study showed that seven in ten millennials are financially investing in some way, and that 85% of millennials do not feel too young to invest.    Why the change? From national student loan debt reaching record highs, to the housing market being generally more expensive for buyers, there are certainly enough reasons for millennials to focus on finding new ways to build their wealth, rather than just using traditional savings.    If you’re a believer that history repeats itself, you may find the stock market to be a good opportunity to grow your wealth. Since its inception in 1896, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has delivered an average return of 5.42% per year, and the S&P 500 index has delivered an average return of 7.96% from 1957 to 2018.    For the new investor, however, getting started can be a bit overwhelming. Some questions beginners might ask: What should I invest in? Should I invest in stocks, bonds, or ETFs? Should I manage my portfolio or allow a robo-investor to manage it? What about cryptocurrency? Which is going to get me the best return? Which strategy is the safest? Should I be thinking long-term or short term?   Luckily, there are a variety of applications that serve well for individuals that are just getting started on their investment journey. Here are five great apps that all have unique benefits for individuals looking to start investing.  

Robinhood®

Robinhood ® launched in 2013 and took the digital investing world by storm by offering commission-free trading along with a free trading account and providing users with a free stock for just signing up. Its simplified user experience may not suit the seasoned investor, however it’s a great starting point for individuals interested in investing in stocks, ETFs, and even select cryptocurrencies. You can search for stocks, add them to your watchlist, get some general information about the company, such as analyst ratings on the stock (buy, sell, hold), their earnings data from previous quarters, their dividend yield, among other useful numbers to guide your investing decisions. Upgrading to Robinhood Gold for $5 a month gives you access to extending trading hours, real-time market data on order volume, among other features.   Robinhood recently released fractional shares allowing you to invest in any company with as little as $1. Overall, Robinhood is a user-friendly app for those who want to be in full control of their investment strategy.   

Acorns®

If managing your portfolio isn’t for you, Acorns ® may be a more suitable option. Acorns is an app primarily focused on helping you save and grow wealth by investing your spare change. Once you link your bank account, Acorns will track your purchases and round them up to the nearest dollar, depositing $5 worth of spare change at a time. You can set the round up to double, multiply by five, or multiply by ten if you’re interested in stepping up the amount you invest. When you first begin, the app provides you with a questionnaire that helps determine your investment goals and strategy, allowing you to choose a more moderate or aggressive strategy.    In addition, the app gives you small rewards for making purchases with specific companies, like Walmart, Chevron, Uber, and more. Acorns is a great way to passively invest your spare change.  

Stash®

Allowing you to invest with as little as $5, Stash ® is a great app for learning how to invest effectively. Like Robinhood, it allows you to be in control of your investments, however it provides a bit more guidance as you move along by helping you pick your investments based on your goals. The app is filled with articles and tips that help strengthen your investment decisions, also providing themed categories of investments, such as innovation or environment.   

Betterment®

Betterment ® is a leader among robo-advisors, providing value to hands-off investors. The app charges just 0.25% for asset management annually, with no minimum amount to start investing. Betterment takes a traditional approach to investing by diversifying your portfolio based on your decided level of risk tolerance and your goals. They offer more portfolio options than some of the simpler applications, making it a strong tool for individuals who know what they want out of a robo-advisor. It’s generally less expensive than other robo-advisors and uses strong algorithms to manage assets effectively and provide strong returns.   

TD Ameritrade®

If you’re interested in doing more than getting your feet wet, TD Ameritrade ® is an app that borders between being suited for the beginner and intermediate-level investor. The app, offered by one of top US brokerage firms, offers a powerful trading experience, allowing you to customize dashboards and screens, access research and advice, receive market news and alerts, and watch educational videos on investing. It’s definitely more suited for the active investor who wants to make adjustments to their portfolio on a daily or weekly basis. While they previously charged $6.95 per online equity trade, they recently released commission-free trading as well. While it may not be the best place for everyone to start, it’s a great place to consider moving to once you’ve established your investment strategy and are working with a larger portfolio.    With these apps, investing doesn’t have to be overwhelming. You can invest passively, schedule deposits, invest spare change, or dive in and control your investing destiny – whichever feels right for you. You should always use caution when investing your hard-earned money, however, getting started with a few dollars now and learning the ropes could be worth something to you in the future. We hope that at least one of these apps provides you with value and helps you get started in your investment journey.  
  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.