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What is a Prepayment Penalty? What’s the Catch?

Imagine finally paying off your loan just to find out you owe the lender more money!  All because you’ve paid your debt off early. Instead of your lender rewarding you for paying the loan off earlier than your contract states, they charge you extra. Here’s what that is, how to avoid it, and what you can do.

 

What is a prepayment penalty?

 

A prepayment penalty is a fee charged to a borrower. If you pay off your loan earlier before the date planned in the contract the lender could charge you a prepayment penalty.

 

A prepayment penalty is charged once you’ve completed paying your debt, if it was paid it off early, or it could be a fee for overpaying the scheduled amount set per year. A prepayment penalty can be a fixed amount or based on what the remaining balance of your loan was set to be. For example, certain loans may allow you to pay off 20% extra each year before facing a fee.

What are prepayment penalties for?

 

When you borrow from an institution, they assume that it will take you a certain amount of time to repay the debt back, with interest. If you pay back your debt sooner, that institution may lose out on the interest that they collect. For this reason, loans like a mortgage might have a prepayment penalty to discourage people from refinancing or selling within the first few years.

 

You can think of a prepayment penalty as a way for the institution to ensure that it makes an adequate return amount for the credit they lent. Additionally, lenders charge prepayment penalties because if they place the loan in security and sell it, they need verification that the loan will be outstanding for a particular period of time. Having the security outstanding for a period of time will provide the buyer of the security a yield.

 

Student Loans

There are so many benefits to paying extra on your student loans each month. One of the main benefits – you’ll pay less interest over the life of the student loan. When it comes to student loans, you may be surprised to find out that there are no prepayment penalties. That’s right no prepayment penalties for both federal and private student loans. According to the Higher Education Opportunity Act of August 2008: “It shall be unlawful for any private educational lender to impose a fee or penalty on a borrower for early repayment or prepayment of any private education loan.”

 

Before you begin making extra payments towards your student loans, you should contact your servicer. Verify that the additional payment is being applied to the principal balance of the loan and not to the interest. If the overpayment is directed to the principal you’ll be able to pay down the debt faster.

 

Mortgage Loans

Mortgages don’t always have prepayment penalties, but some do. If there is a prepayment fee on your mortgage you should be able to review the details in the mortgage contract. It’s vital when signing a contract that you pay attention to the fine print. If you don’t understand something or need further clarity, be sure to ask questions.

 

When dealing with Mortgages, if you chose to refinance your loan there could be a prepayment penalty. Typically if you choose to refinance within the first three or five years of having the loan there may be a prepayment penalty fee that applies.  If you ever have any questions about prepayment fees you should contact your mortgage lender for clarity.

 

Auto Loans

When taking out an auto loan there are two types of interest that may be used in your contract, simple interest or pre-computed interest. Simple interest works similarly to a student loan, it is calculated based on the balance of the loan. Therefore, if you have an auto loan with simple interest, the sooner you can pay your loan off, the less interest you’ll pay.

 

The other type of interest is pre-computed interest. This interest is included in your agreement. It is a fixed amount calculated and added on at the beginning of the contract. Using a pre-computed interest rate is typically when you encounter prepayment penalties. Similar to mortgage loans it isn’t guaranteed that these loans have a prepayment penalty, but if so, it should be in the contract. Be sure to contact your lender or institution that services the loan to find out if there are any prepayment penalties before paying extra towards your debt.

 

Personal Loans

Personal loans can be used for a number of different reasons, from medical expenses to travel or even wedding expenses. When it comes to the prepayment penalty for personal loans, most companies will charge a percentage of the remaining balance. Though it’s likely your personal loan won’t have a prepayment penalty, you could still have one. Check with your lending institution or be sure to closely review your contract to see if there are any penalty fees for paying your debt down earlier.

 

 

Soft Penalty vs. Hard Penalty

 

You may have heard of two different types of prepayment penalties: soft and hard. A soft prepayment penalty would charge you a fee for refinancing, but not for other situations. A hard prepayment penalty would charge you for refinancing, prepayment, or selling (in the case of a mortgage – selling your house).

 

How can prepayment penalties affect you?

 

First, assuming you have multiple bills and debts that you pay each month, knowing whether any of them have a prepayment penalty can change how you pay. Imagine you have a student loan and a mortgage loan, you know the student loan doesn’t have any prepayment penalties, but the mortgage loan does. Let’s say that you’ve received some additional income and you want to put it towards one of the loans, but you aren’t sure which one. You’ll want to pay additional money toward the student loan debt because you won’t get penalized for paying it off early. Knowing a loan you’ve applied for has a prepayment penalty might motivate you to find a different borrower and give you the freedom to pay off that debt sooner without a fee.

 

Does this mean you should never pay off debts early? No way! There are plenty of loans and other types of debts that won’t have a prepayment penalty. The important thing is to know what you’re getting into. Read the fine print and ask questions during the application process. Also, for loans like a mortgage, there is typically a page you sign toward the end of the process that includes disclosures on things like whether there is a prepayment penalty, balloon payment, and so on. Always be aware of those disclosures before you take on new debt.

 

What is lifestyle creep? Is it affecting you?

 

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.

Comparing Salary to the Cost of Living

Recently, CNBC released an article discussing student loan debt in relation to locations throughout the United States. This has many questioning whether they can find a job title in their field where they want to live, that will support their current bills, payments, lifestyle, and student loans. Depending on the location and cost of living, you could be making thousands less in one location when compared to another. To add more insult you could be expected to pay off more than you are capable of based on your location. When searching for a career path, it’s vital to consider where your job title is going to be the most successful and where you can afford your current lifestyle. Here are some important factors to keep in mind when

Location Expenses

Consider the cost of living in a variety of locations.  Everyday costs like food, housing, utilities, and transportation can all vary depending on where you live in the United States. Let’s see how a location can be affected by each of these variables.

Generally, big cities are known to be more costly compared to rural areas.  The Bureau of Economic Analysis tracks price levels for food, housing and education in each state and compares them to the national level. This information can be put into a dollar value scale to simplify which states are more expensive to live in than others. For example, the value of a dollar in New York, Hawaii, and California is less than the national average dollar. Meaning your dollar bill is comparable to some cent values in other locations. In states like Kansas, Kentucky, and Ohio that are not as urbanized the dollar values higher than the national average dollar. Meaning your dollar goes a little further in these areas.

 

Housing Costs

You may be asking, “What makes big cities so pricey?” and there are actually a few different reasons. The main drive for high priced locations is housing. For cities with a high population, there needs to be an abundance of housing. A high population causes overcrowded cities to have a limited amount of space for the number of people wanting to live there.   A high housing demand creates steep prices in the market because everyone is in need of a place to live. If the city life is looking a little out of budget for you, remember living outside the city and commuting is an option, and may be more cost-effective. Aside from the costs of housing, costs like transportation, utilities, and insurance may affect the cost of living.

 

Transportation Costs

We all know how expensive a car, gas, and maintenance can be. When commuting to work or even the supermarket, the distance between point A and point B will affect the amount of money you spend. .Whereas, living in the city you may literally be paying for convenience. You may be spending $200 or more a month on a permanent parking spot for your car, in addition to spending money on transportation fees. For example, in New York you could take a bus to the subway station, costing you around $2.50. Then you commute to work on the subway, costing you another $2.75. If you do this twice a day (at least) the commute will cost $10.50. Spending $10.50 five days a week for a month will get you to a grand total of $210.00 not even considering additional outings.  Please note that these prices may not be the same for all locations. For example, the average bus fare in Los Angeles is $1.75, but in Washington DC the bus fare ranges from $2.00-$5.00 depending on the commute.

 

Utilities

Utilities will also affect the cost of living, the amount depending on where you live. The cost of utilities can vary based on government regulations. Things like how much water, electricity, and gas, you are consuming can be dependent based on the weather where you are located. If you are living in a location where the winter can get very cold, that could be making a dent in your wallet on utility bills. For example, Alaska, Connecticut, and Massachusetts have an average electric rate of $21.62 per Kwh (kilowatt hour) a month.  In a place where it is always warm like Hawaii, the air conditioning may be used more frequently and the average electric rate would be $32.40 per Kwh a month.

 

Additional utility costs may include garbage removal and sewage costs. In the United States, the average cost for garbage removal is from $12.00 -$20.00 a household. Sewage rates are usually included in water rates that can be viewed with the electricity bill and can altogether be around $50.00.  In some cases, if you are living in an apartment, utilities like garbage removal and sewage will be included in your rent, or it can be separate on your electricity bill. Talk to your landlord or call housing management to find out what is included.

 

Insurance

Besides housing, transportation, and utilities, you will have car insurance, renter’s insurance.  The average rate for car insurance in the United States is $118.63 per month but can vary based on the location you are in. For example, the average cost of auto insurance in North Carolina is $865 each year while the average cost of auto insurance in Oklahoma is $1,542 a year. T Auto insurance pricing can depend on the company you have insurance with, your age, and even your gender!  For example, some companies will have a 1% price difference between genders.

 

If you choose to live in the city, it’s likely you may find yourself renting. Renter’s insurance is an additional cost you’ll want to consider.  The average, renter’s insurance in the United State is $187 per year. Renter’s insurance can be more expensive in some areas due to population and crime. If you live in a high populated area, insurance could be priced higher because the crime risk is higher.  The insurance company takes greater measures to cover your belongings in high populated areas. Renter’s insurance in Florida has an average rate of $217 per month, while in South Dakota the average rate is $118 a month.

 

Before completely scaring you back into your parent’s house for life, there are a few resources you can use to find a job and field of your choice, in areas that could be most profitable.

 

Job Search Resources

 

SimplyHired

https://www.simplyhired.com/salaries

SimplyHired will estimate the salary your specific job will be making in different locations. All you have to do is type in the job title you are looking for, and the city and state, into the search engine. Using this tool you can find out things like a nurse can make $50,000 in Dallas, Texas but, in Indianapolis, Indiana is making closer to $40,000. Although this does not calculate the cost of living, this website pulls up jobs from all over the United States. SimplyHired gives users easy access to salary information when starting to compare careers in different regions.

 

Check Out These 3 Steps to Negotiating Salary

 

Expatistan

https://www.expatistan.com/cost-of-living/nashville

Cost of living is an important factor when searching for a location that is right for you and your preferred career. Hence why we created this helpful blog! Expatistan has a feature that pulls up a spreadsheet estimating how lifestyle choices may cost in different cities or even countries. For example, when searching in Nashville, Tennessee, Expatistan created a page that included potential prices for food, housing, clothes, transportation, personal care, and entertainment. Expatistan estimated:

 

Rent 900 Sq Foot Apartment – $1,408/month

Lunchtime Meal – $14

Sports Shoes – $98

Shampoo– $6

 

This website is a great place to find detailed estimates of what you may be spending on everyday items.  A tool like this can be very helpful when trying to manage the salary and lifestyle you are looking for.

 

CNN Money

https://money.cnn.com/calculator/pf/cost-of-living/index.html

After finding an estimated salary and cost of living for a specific location, you can compare it to other areas with CNN Money Cost of Living Calculator.  You’ll need to input

  • where you live now
  • where you are considering living
  • give an estimate of how much your salary is now (or what the salary is in the field you are searching for)

Based on the information provided, the calculator will estimate how much you would be making somewhere else. For example, if you live in Atlanta, Georgia right now and are making $50,000 a year, and you would like to move to Bozeman, Montana, the comparable salary is $50,709, which is around the same amount. Now if you moved, from Atlanta with a $50,000 salary to San Francisco, the comparable salary is $97,470. Once again, the cost of living will factor in what you can afford in each region.

 

Comparing salaries, regions, and the cost of living can help you determine where you’re aspiring jobs can be the most beneficial for your lifestyle. Consider where you will have the most financial wiggle room. Educate yourself on the cost of housing, transportation, utilities, and insurance before jumping into the car moving to a new city. Optimize your options by looking at the cost of convenience versus living outside of a location for less and other opportunities. What city you will feel the most at home in? If you are not satisfied with your options, try a different job title or location, you’re not a tree. Scope out all of your alternatives and find one that betters your lifestyle in the long run.

Top 7 Money Mistakes For Young Professionals

 

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.

 

Resources

https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/economy/2018/05/10/cost-of-living-value-of-dollar-in-every-state/34567549/

https://ask.metafilter.com/37074/Why-is-it-more-expensive-to-live-in-a-city 

https://www.priceoftravel.com/595/public-transportation-prices-in-80-worldwide-cities/

https://www.chooseenergy.com/electricity-rates-by-state/

https://www.thezebra.com/auto-insurance/average-auto-insurance/#state

https://www.valuepenguin.com/average-cost-renters-insurance#nogo

https://www.valuepenguin.com/average-cost-life-insurance#nogo

What you Need to Know About College Scholarships: Part I

Paying for College? Here’s Where to Find College Scholarships

 

So you’re going to college. That’s great! But now you need to find a way to pay for it. Lots of people have a successful college career by borrowing student loans for college, but scholarships for college can help lessen the amount you need to borrow. Here are some things you need to know about college scholarships and how to find them.

 

When should I search for college scholarships?

 

One of the most important things to know about searching for scholarships for college is that you should start early to make sure you’re meeting deadlines. The sooner you start looking for aid, the better. You want to be top of the pile when it comes time to apply, and you don’t want to miss out because you were late on a deadline. If you are late to apply to a scholarship deadline, chances are they won’t accept your submission.

 

If you know what degree you want and where you’ll be going to school, it cuts out the guesswork. Your degree and school will heavily impact how much you’ll pay for college.  Any amount of schooling that can be paid for by a scholarship will be the best option. If you’re earlier in the process, here are some helpful figures on the average cost:

 

What does it cost to go to school?

 

School costs vary widely depending on multiple factors. Factors that impact schools costs include your degree, choice of school, and the type of field you’re going into. You may also be able to work while going to school, which can lower the cost.

 

Degree Type

Average Cost – Public Average Cost – Private
Associate’s Degree – Two Year[1] $3,570 $14,587
Bachelor’s Degree – Four Year[2] $102,352 $250,576–$341,184

(For-profit vs. Not-for-profit)

Master’s Degree[3] From $30,000 to $120,000, depending on the program and school
Doctorate[4] From $15,000 to $50,000, depending on the program and school

 

 

What should I look for in a college scholarship?

 

Scholarship qualifications can vary significantly based on the person or organization that created it. You might have to keep up a religious commitment or affiliation, meet performance requirements, or prove you are completing projects or work. Most commonly scholarships require that you need to maintain a certain grade point average and enrollment status. Don’t be surprised if other stipulations apply to a scholarship. It’s important to know the details when considering if you should apply or accept scholarships for college.

Secondly, you also need to look into how you are allowed to use the funds. Some scholarships cover strictly academic fees. Others scholarships may be used for room and board or general living expenses. Know the restrictions on funds before you accept any financial aid. The last thing you want to do is risk losing the money or having to pay it back.

Finally, be sure to find out what the worst case scenario might be. If you change programs or don’t achieve the grade you needed, what happens? It’s nothing that should scare you away from scholarships, but you need to know. Knowing if you’ll be on the hook later if something goes wrong is important.

 

Federal Scholarships

The U.S. Department of Education has lots of tips on finding federal student aid and federal scholarships. Be sure you start your scholarship search for college at studentaid.ed.gov. In order to avoid taking out student loans for college, checking with government programs is a must. An added bonus is that the details and requirements are pretty clearly laid out. Using the U.S. Department of Education website is usually a quick search that’s easier to do, so we’d recommend starting your scholarship search there.

 

College Scholarship Categories

There are lots of different categories of scholarships. Here are some of the main ones you might qualify for. Narrowing down your search to a category can really help you focus on what applies to you and make your search more effective.

 

Scholarships for Academic Excellence (or even average performance)

As you can imagine, the top academic scholarships are highly competitive and only apply to the tip-top of high-performing students. Very few of us fall into that category. The good news is that whether you’re an ace or have more typical grades, you can still search for scholarships based on the level you’ve achieved in school and see if you qualify.

 

Athletic Scholarships

Are you good at a sport or activity? Search for those scholarships! From chess to volleyball to football and soccer, there are scholarships for lots of different types of athletes.

 

Legacy Scholarships

Your parents might have a connection to a university or organization that offers scholarships. Ask around the family and see if you can make that connection.

 

Military Scholarships

Most people are aware that the military offers money for college. There are lots of options from military reserves up to enlisting for a few years of full-time military membership. Check out this list of military scholarships and aid for active duty service members and veterans.

 

Scholarships for Parents

Single parents, working parents, and young parents are just some of the people who might qualify for this type of scholarship. Lots of organizations and schools want to promote education for all members of the community, and sending parents to school (or back to school) might make you their prime applicant.

 

Scholarships for Minorities

Scholarships for minorities often come from community organizations, colleges, and institutions, or even national and global groups that want to promote education for your ethnic or cultural group. Search this type of scholarships for college to learn more.

 

Scholarships for Women

Similarly to scholarships for minorities and parents, women often face barriers to attending school at higher rates than men. Scholarships for women offer extra help to make sure educating women is a priority.

 

Creative or Writing Scholarships

Essay contests, portfolio reviews, and performance arts-based scholarships exist for students in the arts. They often vary based on the school and focus of study, but there are many available. Don’t pass up searching for scholarships if you’re going into the arts or humanities, or even if you are a good essay writer and want to search for writing opportunities that might help you get a scholarship for college.

 

Community Service Scholarships

Community service covers a huge array of possibilities. If you’re passionate about helping your community, see if you can get involved with some projects, start one of your own, or search community service scholarships now to see what you could be doing that would make you eligible.

 

Unusual Scholarships

From scholarships for tall women to people with red hair to fans of HAM radio, there are all kinds of unusual scholarships for college out there. Check out lists like this one at Scholarships.com to see what you might qualify for that you never would have thought of!

 

Look for Upcoming Parts to This Guide

If you’re looking for scholarships for college because you want to save on your student loans for college, we’ll be posting more information soon to help guide you!

 

Jobs to Reduce Student Loans for College

 

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.

 

 

[1] https://www.studentdebtrelief.us/news/average-cost-of-college-2018/

[2] https://www.campusexplorer.com/college-advice-tips/E66537B4/Costs-Of-A-Bachelor-s-Degree-Program/

[3] https://www.bestmastersdegrees.com/best-masters-degrees-faq/how-much-does-a-masters-degree-cost

[4] https://study.com/articles/How_Much_Does_a_Doctorate_Degree_Cost.html

Medical Match Day Finance Tips

Congratulations you’ve worked hard been through multiple interviews and finally, your hard work has paid off! You’ve been matched and you’re getting ready for residency. It’s so exciting to jump into residency and see what having this career will really be like. You’ll have the ability to learn from experienced professionals in your field of interest. Getting yourself prepared for your residency can feel stressful, but it doesn’t need to be. Here are some financial tips to help you get settled and make good choices for your future.

 

Set Up Loan Payments

Once you are done with school, you should start paying on student loans. Residency can take several years to complete. It’s likely that your residency isn’t paying you what a full-time position in your career will so all the medical school debt that’s accumulated, can be difficult to sort through. If you find yourself with a large amount of federal student loan debt, look into income-based repayment plans. We would recommend this as a temporary solution until you’ve completed your residency program.  This will assure that you’re making student loan payments towards your medical school debt, but that those payments are not impossible to complete. You may eventually qualify for public loan forgiveness on your federal student loans. If you qualify to get on an IBR plan in residency after completing the program you may only have a few years remaining.

 

 

If you also have private student loans there is no need to worry. Most private student loan lenders will work with you to offer some type of payment plan. You may want to consider refinancing your medical student loan debt. In order to qualify for student loan refinancing, you may need to add a cosigner due to income you’ll be making in your residency. Regardless of which route you chose, in the first few months after graduation, you’ll want to have your payment plan set up. Don’t let this task fall off your radar—in-school deferment ends shortly after graduation for most kinds of medical school debt.

 

How to Reduce Medical School Debt

 

 

Make a Budget

The average income for first-year medical residents is about $55,000, according to a recent report. That money may not go very far with your loan payments and other living expenses. It’s crucial to set your budget and stick to it. Many medical professionals suggest living with roommates, carpooling, using public transit, and setting a budget to keep other spending at a minimum.

 

 

Look Into Your Benefits

If you’re starting off pretty frugal until you get accustomed to your new budget, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think about saving for the future. When it comes to saving for retirement, the sooner the better. Employer matches and retirement programs should be on your list of things to do early in your residency. Take advantage of match money for retirement if your employer offers it. Match money from your employer is free money! Don’t miss out on that opportunity, and check out the rest of your benefits while you’re at it. There are usually several perks and programs you can look into that might help make your transition to residency more comfortable.

 

Set Up Housing

Speaking of housing arrangements, there is conflicting advice on whether or not it makes sense to buy a home vs. renting while in residency. Since most residents spend long hours working and don’t have time for household maintenance or upkeep, buying a home can be a difficult choice. Plus knowing that you might not choose to live in the same place long term cause many experts to advise renting. Look at your unique situation and make sure you’re weighing all of these factors when you decide what to do for housing.

 

As far as finding somewhere to live, location will probably be top of your list. After working long hours and several days in a row, having a long commute is the last thing you want. If the area near your work is not cost-effective, look for ways to get connected with a good roommate or two. Research the area before you relocate and stick to your budget for housing costs so that you don’t end up being rent-poor or house-poor.

 

Practice Self-Care and Routine

Residency can be engrossing. You’re so involved in your work role and in living the life of a busy resident, that it’s not uncommon to let self-care fall by the wayside. Remember, you can’t care for others if you haven’t cared for yourself. Make sure you’re doing what you can to stick to healthy habits, even if there are days you’re low on sleep or not making the best food choices. Getting rest on your time off, enjoying your hobbies even in small doses, and exercising or meal planning can help make sure you’re cared for even with a busy schedule.

 

Enjoy your new life adventure!

 

Ways to Save on Student Loan Debt During Residency

 

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.

 

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!

 

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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.

How To Lose Weight On A Budget Starting Today

It’s that time of year when we’re all reflecting on who we are and how far we’ve come in the last year. Some people hate on resolutions because they are so often temporary, but there’s nothing stupid about trying to make positive changes in your life! Two of the most common changes are losing weight and saving money. Why not do both? Here are some of our tips on how to lose weight on a budget.

 

Have you penciled yourself in?

Put yourself on the calendar and stick to it. It’s easy to skip a workout when you already scheduled a meeting or made other plans. Making YOU part of your routine means that self-care becomes a habit. It can even be something you look forward to liking spin class or joining a workout group? Try working out with friends as it will help to hold you accountable.

 

How much does success cost?

Things like a celebratory meal, your weekly social brunch, or getting a gym membership cost money. That doesn’t mean you can’t budget for them. Just set a goal for how much to spend on those meals out. Make sure you track those little extras and cut yourself off when you’ve reached your monthly limit. If you’re faced with an important celebration, see where you can cut something else to keep your budget balanced.

 

If you want to put a gym membership into your budget, look for places like community centers and colleges. They will often sell much cheaper memberships that are just as good as what you’d use as a more expensive fitness club. If you live in a household with multiple people, try looking into fitness family plans. Fitness family plans can come in especially helpful when you have little ones. Facilities will usually offer discounted classes and free daycare for your kids.

 

There are sneaky calories on every menu.

Buying lunch every day at work can be a real drain to your wallet, and you’re less likely to get a balanced meal within your calorie budget. An average meal out contains upwards of 1,400 calories and can cost Use a little time on the weekend to cook and plan ahead. Keep a few healthy snacks in a drawer at work so that you’re not tempted to hit up the vending machine. You’ll save money, never get hangry, and stay on track for weight loss or maintenance.

 

If you’re going out for a special occasion or just plain didn’t manage to get together a meal to bring to work, look up the restaurant menu ahead of time. Make a decision on what to eat when you’re not hungry! That way, you won’t be tempted into getting a gigantic double-bacon burger bomb. Most places have their menu on their website, but you can also check somewhere like

 

We’re a generation of Googlers—use it!

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, there are so many free resources for fitness. From to blogs with the best bodyweight exercises, free exercise plans are everywhere. You don’t need a fancy gym to get in shape, but you do have to be motivated. If you’re on your phone regularly anyway, follow some of your fave fitness Instagram accounts like Ebonny Fowler (@funwithfit) or Marie Purvis (@MariePurvis) to get simple, effective workouts delivered right to your IG feed. Or look for other fitness gurus who focus on how to stay fit without having to sell you something.

 

Make savvy substitutions.

If you know that a big slice of pie (pizza or otherwise) is your weakness, look for ways to enjoy your favorite foods without tanking your calorie budget or emptying your wallet. For instance, you can make inexpensive pita pizzas at home using whole wheat pitas, low-sugar sauce, and all your fave fresh veggies and herbs. If you eat mindlessly in front of the TV while you watch season 4 of The Office for the 200th time, pop some light popcorn to crunch instead of sitting down with a bag of greasy chips.

 

How Hydrated are You?

Staying hydrated can help make you feel less hungry on top of promoting healthy digestion and ample energy levels. You don’t even need a fancy water bottle. Just make sure you’re regularly drinking a glass of water and you’ll reap the benefits.

 

Mom was right about fresh air.

Nobody says you have to become a bodybuilder to lose weight. Going outside to walk or ride your bike can be a great way to keep your weight in check, get the mental health boost, and feel connected to your community. Even better: find someone to go with you! Don’t forget about the benefits of biking or walking to work. Saving money on transportation while getting your heart rate up is an incredible way to tighten your budget and burn some calories. Plus, it’s worked right into your routine, so it won’t feel like exercise.

 

Be kind to yourself and have patience.

Thankfully we millennials are pretty good about self-care. We’re the first generation to really spotlight mental wellness as a really important part of your overall health. Mental wellness can suffer when you decide that you need a big change and try to overhaul all of your habits at once. Have some patience and realize that it’s not easy to change overnight. You’re still going to have some slip-ups, and you’re not going to experience a #TransformationTuesday overnight. Sure, physical health and financial health are important, but so is mental health. Make sure you’re not setting unrealistic expectations, and be sure to take rest days even when you’re hitting things hard at the gym.

 

If losing weight is only part of your goal and you really want to look at how to save money, check out our student loan refinancing options. You can call us any time to talk to a specialist and see how we can help!

 

5 Financial Mistakes to Avoid in Your 20s

 

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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.

 

Stop the Trend Spending

From hoverboards and iPods to boy bands, trends will come, and they will undoubtedly go. Anyone who has experienced and come through the other side of a trend can look back and laugh, but we aren’t sure about their wallets. At Education Loan Finance, we refer to spending on the latest “it” items as “trend spending”. Always following the latest trends can wreak havoc on your personal finances.  We are not saying don’t do anything trendy and live under a rock. What we are saying is that rewarding yourself for making good decisions is important, but evaluate that choice carefully. Let’s take a look at the latest trend spending taking place, how much money is actually being spent and how it could add up over time.

 

Vaping

We’ve all been there, walking or driving along when you see the occasional cloud of vape on the sidewalk. If you’re lucky, that cloud of vape isn’t directly in front of you while you’re walking and you’re able to dodge that second-hand vape cloud. In addition to the envied clouds vaping creates, the flavors can range from cereal flavors to candy flavors.  Just like the flavors, the mods come in a variety of sizes too, from huge mod kits that make tons of vapor to tiny USB chargeable vapes like the JUUL®.

 

Vaping has become one of the biggest trends in the U.S. The more vapor you can produce the “cooler” you are according to the vaping community. According to a CDC report released in October 2018, JUUL Labs® account for nearly one in three e-cigarette sales, nationally. While vaping might be the latest trend, remember that its long-term health effects are still unknown. Couple the possible health effects with the cost and you might just convince yourself to stop.

 

JUUL® Starter Kit – $45

Four pack of pods $16.

Let’s assume those are purchased twice a month, so that is 24 x $16 = $384

Total Cost of Vaping for a Year= $429 

 

Assuming that you bought a JUUL® unit to do your vaping and you bought a new pack of pods every two weeks or twice a month, you’d be spending $429.00 a year. Over the course of four years, that’s about $2,000! We didn’t even include any sales tax in this equation, but many states are rolling out taxes on vaping products.

 

Subscriptions

Subscriptions used to be associated with Highlights® magazine or catalogs your Grandma would receive in the mail, but the 21st century has revitalized the subscription. Now, subscriptions can get us movies, vitamins, clothes, music, even dating sites and all are currently available at our fingertips. The subscription box industry, in particular, is experiencing rapid growth. Since 2014, the subscription box industry has increased by 890% according to a 2018 report by Hitwise. Subscriptions, though convenient, can really end up costing you in the long run.

 

The danger is that once your card is on file, it’s so easy to forget about the service. Here’s a list of the most popular monthly subscription services of 2018. Let’s say, you signed up for the FabFitFun® subscription box for a year. Now, this box is sent only four times a year based on the season. The box comes with full-sized premium products. In addition to the box you receive, you get access to the FabFitFunTV which shares workouts, access to exclusive member sales, and you have access to the entire community online.  Now, that box is $50.00 per season or $200 a year.

 

Fancy “Dranks”

It’s hard for a month to pass without seeing some crazy coffee creation from your local Starbucks®. Recently, the Witch’s Brew Frappuccino outshined the previous favorite, Unicorn Frappuccino and became an Instagram® trend.  Drink trends can really spiral out of control and quickly. If you actively participate in social media by checking your Instagram® or Facebook® every once in a while, you can’t help but notice them. In some weird way, all these Frappuccino drinks and IPAs flooding your news feed put pressure on you to join in and go purchase one of these beverages.

 

This pressure to join in on the cool coffee trend can come down on your wallet like a hammer. The average cost for a latte at Starbucks® as of 2018 was $5.75 for a Grande, and that doesn’t include any fancy cake pops! If you bought yourself a latte, once a week for a year, what are you really spending?

52 weeks a year x 5.75 = $299.00 a Year! You’re paying about $300 on lattes a year. Think of how far that money could go towards your student loan debt.

 

Health Food

The latest trend in the food and beverage industry is likely to come from your favorite online health influencer. It’s also likely that drink ends in a vowel like Kombucha, Matcha, or bubble tea. These drinks have been around for decades, but lately, they are skyrocketing due to a new health movement. Kombucha and other fermented drink sales were up 35.6% in 2017 according to FoodNavigator-USA. This fancy probiotic drink can really end up costing you at $3.75 per bottle. If you’re looking to drink it once a day, it adds up to $1,368 a year in total cost on Kombucha. We aren’t saying to deprive yourself of the latest health trends, but we’re suggesting to think wisely before deciding to purchase it. Really understand how that small amount of money can add up to a lump sum that can easily be applied to debts. Maybe even try making your own Kombucha, there are tons of websites and directions available online.

 

Bubble Tea or as some may know it as pearl milk tea, boba juice, or just boba, has been in the US for years, but it’s recently gaining major trend status in 2018. There have been multiple chains arising that specialize in Bubble Tea. You may know these chains as Kung Fu Tea® or Boba Guys®.  Bubble Tea could make a great date or even a trendy place to stop with friends. It offers a nice alternative to the usual coffee or beer we’ve all grown accustomed to. We wouldn’t recommend making Bubble Tea a daily habit or even a weekly habit because like Kombucha the small amount spent could really end up adding up.  The average cost for a Bubble Tea is $3.50, and if you choose to go every day for a year, it equates to about $1,277. That is some serious money that can be used to get out of debt or start investing in retirement fund money.

 

Quick Food

Food is important because it keeps us alive, but that doesn’t mean we need to spend all of our income on it. Simple changes to your everyday life like packing lunch for work could really help you save in the long run. Eating out can be expensive, time-consuming, and even dissatisfying. Before you pick up your cell and place an online order, let’s take a look at these stats. According to the 2017 Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey, Millennials ages 26-34, spent $3,416 annually on food away from home.

 

Imagine for lunch every day at work you bought a burrito from Chipotle®. Just a burrito is about $8.00. Now, our cost has no fancy drinks because we learned our lesson on trend spending on sparkling water when the office has free and classic H2O available. We’ll assume that you work five days a week and it’s typically Monday through Friday. We aren’t going to account for vacations or days off in our math. Let’s see what your yearly cost for lunch is…

 

$8 Burrito Cost x 5 days in a work week = $40 a week spent

$40 x 52 work weeks per Year = $2,080 spent a year

 

Though it’s so easy to get sucked into the trend of going out to lunch and grabbing something easy, please be cautious. Apps like UberEats®, GrubHub®, and Seamless® may seem convenient, but they can cause unnecessary costs.  Try to cut back on eating out or ordering in food. We know, easier said than done. Especially, when it comes to working all day and having to make yourself dinner when you get home.  Add to it cleaning up any dishes you may have used, and it just gets overwhelming. This doesn’t have to be an all or nothing situation though, try packing your own lunch weekly. If that seems like a lot maybe only purchase lunch on Fridays. These small life changes could have an impact on your finances, and they are just creating good spending habits as you move further on into adulthood. Just remember that the amount of money spent on food could pay off student loans, or be added to the down payment on a house.

 

Give & Take

Whether you are trying to get out of debt or save up money to achieve a financial goal, there is always a little give and take. You deserve to enjoy yourself and treat yourself every once in a while with the latest trend, but don’t get so caught up in the trend spend™ craze that you lose any sense of the amount you’re spending.  Trends may be great – I mean, after all, they did become a trend, but you need to stay focused. If you are finding it difficult to stay focused on your financial goal, try making a compromise of the situation. It will always help to remind you that it’s just that, a trend. Trends will come, and they will go, but your finances will be with you forever. Be the financially responsible you that we know you can be!

 

Avoid These 7 Money Mistakes

 

 

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.

7 Money Mistakes For Young Professionals To Avoid

As a financially aware young adult, you know that not all millennials are working part-time and living in mom and dad’s basement. There are many young professionals today who work hard to bring home the bacon (or tofurkey). A bigger salary doesn’t mean that you’re automatically great at managing money. Adulting is hard, and the answers for how to manage money aren’t always clear. You’re probably going to make some mistakes, but that’s why we’re here to lend a hand!

We’ve already covered these 5 financial mistakes to avoid in your 20s. To help you up your adulting game, here are 7 more money mistakes young professionals commonly make. Also included are how you can avoid making them.

  1. Investing without a plan
  2. Spending over your means
  3. Ignoring your credit report and score
  4. Spending too much on housing
  5. Going into debt for the wrong reasons
  6. Avoiding money conversations with a significant other
  7. Letting fear stop you from checking out your options

Investing without a plan

Investing is easier than ever! Websites allow you to manage your investments with ease, and there are even some great apps that can help in the investing arena. You can invest just a few dollars at a time and watch your few dollars turn into a few dollars more. The problem a lot of young professionals make is investing without a plan. Some people focus only on stocks that have dividends while others try to pick the next big thing. Some people buy an app or pay for a subscription that sounds like it’s investing your money, yet the details are fuzzy. If you’re going to start investing, have a plan. Talk to someone who knows the industry and can walk you through what makes sense for your budget, age, and goals.

Spending over your means

What does it mean to live within your means? Well, in a nice little nutshell it means not spending more than you make. And in an even better nutshell, it means making good decisions for how much to spend on various aspects of your life, while also allocating money to go to your bills, savings, emergencies, retirement, and so on. It might not be a problem to occasionally splurge on brunch or craft whiskey, but if you are eating lunch out every day or spending more than 25% of your income on housing, you might be in trouble. When you spend over your means, you dip into savings or use credit to get you through to the next check or next month, and it’s a big ol’ recipe for disaster. It’s an easy trap to fall into as a young professional because you might start making more money and just assume you’re entitled to eat out or get a better place, but don’t make those upgrades without looking at all of your finances first.

Ignoring your credit report and score

No one has ever claimed that they super love getting their credit report and checking the document for errors or red flags, but ignoring your credit report and not knowing your credit score can really come back to bite you. With how comfortable many of us are sharing our household information—and with the increasing sophistication of hackers—identity theft is all too common.

Put a reminder on your calendar to check your report each quarter, which you can do for free through the main credit bureaus once per year. Just have a glass of wine and read through to make sure that there’s nothing anomalous on there. If there is, figure out the discrepancy and make sure your report is clean. As far as your credit score, this pesky little number comes in very handy when it’s time to get a loan or buy a house. Lots of places let you check or track your number, so there’s no reason not to know. If it’s no good, fix it now! You can do it with a little time, smarts, and persistence. Don’t wait until you’re trying to apply for a loan and then realize that you should have been on top of your credit all this time.

Spending too much on housing

With the outrageous rents in many of America’s top cities, and because the suburbs are a snoozefest, it’s tempting to increase your housing budget even if you can’t really afford it. Being house-poor (or apartment-poor!) is a big mistake. The reason most experts will tell you to only spend about 25% of your income on housing is because that’s a constant line on your budget. You can’t negotiate it down. You can’t skip a month. So if you have a major expense one month or your income changes or you just decide you need to save more, you’ll be up a creek with a big rent or mortgage payment. Know what you can reasonably afford and look into other options like roommates if you can’t get the place you want on your solo income.

Going into debt for the wrong reasons

It may seem like a great idea to borrow money for a trip or rack up some hefty bills for a wedding—#YOLO, right!?—but don’t go into debt for the wrong reasons. Considering the average American wedding is over $35,000, just keeping up with your peers might put you up to your eyeballs in debt, but you’re smarter than that. If you really want the trip of a lifetime, look for inspiration from blogs with the best tips on cheap dream destinations or how to find the best hostels or work while you travel. There are thousands of ways to save money on a wedding if you’re willing to compromise and use your network to put together a great community event. The problem is when you start thinking you deserve something and will get it no matter the cost. That cost might be starting off next year with more debt than you can afford, and no one deserves that.

Avoiding the conversation with a significant other

Thankfully, 73% of millennials in relationships talk about money with their significant other at least once per week. That still leaves a surprising number of couples who rarely talk about money, or don’t have a plan for how they want to manage finances or build credit. Couples, especially young professionals who have many earning years ahead, need to talk about their financial goals, budgets, and spending. In fact, couples who talk about these things rate their relationships as better and happier than their peers. Not sure where to start? We’ve got you covered with some tips on how to talk about finances with your significant other.

Letting fear stop you from checking out your options

Don’t put off financial changes because you’re afraid. Know what options are available to you, and use those trusted sources of information to learn how to improve your situation.

 

What’s the Best Way to Repay Student Loans? 

How to Budget Using the 50/20/30 Rule

One of the first steps to financial success is learning how to budget and sticking with it. Setting up a budget provides visibility and control over personal finances, allowing individuals to track how much they are spending and where and helping them avoid frivolous spending by staying within set limits. However, traditional budgets are not for everyone and for young professionals at the beginning of their financial journeys or business owners and freelancers who might have irregular incomes, sticking to a complex budget may be difficult. Fortunately, there is a different approach to budgeting that is more flexible and easy to use — the 50/20/30 budget.

 

This budgeting system is perfect for people who think they are “bad” at budgeting because it does not require meticulous record-keeping or maintenance. Instead, it is simple and less stringent, and can really work where traditional budgets have failed. The 50/20/30 budget works on a percentage system, with 50 percent of total income going toward paying fixed expenses, 20 percent is allocated to savings or other financial goals, and the remaining 30 percent is flexible spending money. Let us break it down a little further:

 

50% – Fixed Expenses/Essentials

 

Instead of allocating money into dozens of different categories as one would in a traditional budget, a 50/20/30 budget only has three categories. The first, and largest, is fixed expenses or essentials. These expenses are the things that take precedence over all other expenses, as they are the things you cannot live without. These include rent or mortgage payments, insurance, utilities, auto or education loan payments, and anything else you consider essential.

 

Groceries are essential expenses as you cannot live without food, but because buying groceries is a variable and not a fixed expense, it can fall under the essentials category or the 30 percent flexible spending category — this is completely up to you.

 

20% – Savings/Financial Goals

 

Remember the financial goals you set last month? This is where they will go. Money that goes to this category is for saving or investing. Whether you are saving to build an emergency fund, putting back money for retirement, or trying to pay off your student loans or credit card debt faster, 20 percent of your take-home pay should be allocated to this category.

 

30% – Discretionary Spending

 

Here is the fun part — the remaining 30 percent of your income is for flexible or “lifestyle” spending. These are things that are not necessarily needed, including travel, clothing, eating out, entertainment, gifts, and anything else on which you enjoy spending money. This percentage is intended to make life fun; however, if you find yourself needing to cut back on spending, this category should be the first to go.

 

The Perfect Budget for People Who Need Flexibility

 

One of the greatest benefits of the 50/20/30 system is flexibility. If you are at a time in your life when you want to achieve a financial goal, such as buying a home or paying down debt faster, you can adjust the percentages you allocate to each category. For example, if you total the costs of your fixed expenses and they equal 53 percent of your total income, you can adjust your discretionary spending category to equal 27 percent each month. It is all about what works for you and your particular financial situation. If you are notoriously “bad at budgeting,” and you have only tried traditional methods, this may be the right method for you.

 

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How to Write a Monthly Budget

According to Dave Ramsey, a person’s biggest wealth-building tool is their income, and the best way to harness its power is to create a monthly budget.

Writing a budget is the first step — and possibly the most successful way — for a person to take control of their money, their finances, and pay off any outstanding bills (like student loans). In fact, most financial experts recommend that those who wish to save money for the future and any upcoming expenses, as well as pay down outstanding loans and bills, should create some type of a monthly budget. Most who find their way to this budgeted path will agree that writing and sticking to the budgeted plan can be painstaking — at first — but once it is in place, and they see the financial gains, it is well worth the initial trouble.

For those who are uneasy about writing a budget, are unsure where to start, or simply need a little push in the right direction, we are here to help. The following information is dedicated to helping first-time budget writers — with all levels of debt and income — find their ideal monthly budget. We hope it guides every reader toward financial freedom and independence!

How to Create a Simple Monthly Budget

Step 1: Calculate Total Income

Budgeters should begin their monthly budget process by figuring out how much they (and if applicable, a spouse or partner) bring home each month. Start by calculating the total take-home pay (after tax) for the household. This figure should include every ongoing source of income.

Step 2: List and Tally All Expenses

Step two involves calculating all regular bills (mortgage, utilities, student loans, credit cards, insurance, cell phones, etc.) and any irregular bills (quarterly payments like insurance) that are due the following month. The next step involves totaling what is generally spent on all other expenses: groceries, eating out, coffee, gas, entertainment, etc. Every dollar spent should be accounted for.

Step 3: Subtract Expenses from Income to Equal Zero

Subtracting total expenses from the total income will reveal how much each individual or household is (or is not) spending each month. Some financial experts suggest configuring this part of the budget to create something called a “zero-based budget,” where the total income minus all expenses (including any savings, loans, or investments) equals zero. This method ensures that money is told exactly “where” to go — into savings, towards paying down student loans, etc. — and therefore, cannot be spent in any other way. These free accounting forms and programs may help: Dave Ramsey’s Monthly Cash Flow Plan form or Dave Ramsey’s Irregular Income Planning form.

Step 4: Monitor and Track Expenses Each Month

Diligence and commitment are necessary elements of all financial budgets, and staying on track — and minding the original monthly budget — can be a hard task for even the most dedicated budget-master. To help those who are serious about their budget, or simply need a little extra accountability, special tracking tools, and apps exists to help users monitor and maintain their expenses. Here are some free options and community favorites:

  1. Write one down on pen and paper.
  2. Develop a personal Excel spreadsheet.
  3. The Envelope System. This system involves acknowledging and setting up categories in which a person usually overspends (eating out, clothes, groceries, etc.). Each month, money for these categories is cashed out (so money is not in the bank) and carried with the person in dedicated envelopes or clips. This enables each person to visually see how much money is being spent in each category, as well as how much money remains throughout the month.
  4. Dave Ramsey’s Every Dollar software and budget app is a quick and easy way to see what is planned for the budget, what has been spent, and what remains.
  5. Mint by Intuit is a well-known budgeting app that automatically tracks a user’s finances. Users simply enter basic financial information and the program tracks the rest. Other benefits include goal setting options and data that feeds into TurboTax at tax time.
  6. PearBudget is a really simple budgeting and expense tracking service. It contains common and customizable expense categories, is secure, and it is easy-to-use for first-time budgeters. Some may find it less automated than Mint, but users do get some extra goal setting and planning features. PearBudget costs $4.95 a month after a free, 30-day trial.
  7. Clarity Money is a free budgeting app that can also help you manage your finances and track your spending by recommending ways to lower your bills, manage your subscriptions, and get the best credit card deals.
  8. GnuCash is a fairly robust accounting software program that is both free and suitable for most operating systems — as well as home and small business use. Along with its ability to track income and spending, the software also tracks banking, investing, and retirement accounts.

Final Thoughts on the Monthly Budget

Saving money, paying down student loans, and getting out of debt takes time. With a plan and a dedicated budget, the journey can be much shorter and less stressful. When budgeting, it is also important to live reasonably and spend within — and possibly below — your means whenever possible. A generous cut-back on unnecessary and frivolous expenses is a necessary part of creating a budget, but remember that it is ok to live comfortably and have some fun every now and then. Just make sure some “fun money” is written into the budgeted plan so that these expenses do not hinder the main objective — getting out of debt and saving money.

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* Please note that we are not affiliated, getting paid to mention, or specifically endorse any of these budgeting products or programs.