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The Basics of Credit Cards and Credit Card Debt

June 5, 2016
Updated December 4, 2019

Credit cards are an important component of building a strong credit history. Having a strong credit history will enable you to get future loans, such as a home mortgage and can lead to improved rates. Your credit history is also essential for other things, like getting an apartment or opening a cell phone plan. Credit cards — if used properly — can be effective in helping you to create a credit history in order to reach your financial goals, including becoming a homeowner.

 

According to Magnify Money, Americans paid banks $113 billion in credit card interest in 2018, up 12% from the $101 billion in interest paid in 2017. Because of this rising category of debt, it is important that you understand the basics of credit cards, how they are meant to be used, and a few tips on how you can get the most out of having them – without falling into debt.

 

What is a Credit Card?

A credit card looks just like a debit card, but instead of taking money out of your account when you make a purchase, it borrows money from your bank. Most credit institutions will give users a twenty-five to thirty day grace period with which to pay back the money they borrowed. If you do not pay the amount back within the allotted time, the bank will add interest to the remaining balance. The amount of interest added will be determined by your credit card’s interest rate and the amount of money that you owe for the remainder of the grace period.

 

Have a Repayment Plan

Users must be careful when making purchases with a credit card. It can be tempting to make a large purchase with a credit card and push the payment off until later. Forbes magazine says, “Credit cards are like DVRs for money,” because like a DVR, a credit card allows you pay now, and then pay it back later. This philosophy is what can lead to bad spending habits. So make sure that you have a plan before you make a purchase on your credit card. Look at your budget, and make sure that you allocate money for the use of paying off your credit card. Credit cards should be used as an extension of your financial accounts, NOT as a supplementary form of income. Making sure that you don’t spend more on your credit cards than you can pay back will ensure that you won’t find yourself in financial trouble.

 

Recommended Usage

Having a credit card is a great way to boost your credit and establish a good credit history. However, if misused, it can have a negative impact on your credit score. According to a recent survey from NerdWallet, most credit card users are unaware of the effects that many common actions have on their credit scores. In the financial industry, there are various opinions about how to best use a credit card. What experts can agree on, however, is that there are several important things you can do to ensure that you stay in good standing with your credit provider.

  1. The first things are to make sure that you never miss a payment. Whether you are paying a large lump sum or making a minimum payment — the minimum you can pay to stay in good standing — you must make sure to always pay on time. A missed payment could result in a reduced credit score.
  2. Another great practice is to keep your balance at or below 35 percent of your credit limit. This is the optimal amount for a healthy credit score, says Lucy Duni of Truecredit.com.

Owning and using a credit card does not have to be a bad thing, and it certainly does not mean that you are going to develop bad spending habits. If you follow these suggestions and make wise purchases, your credit history will be strong, and you will reap the rewards of being in good financial standing.

 

Check Out These Credit Card Myths

 

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.

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2019-11-29
So I’ve Refinanced My Student Loans – Now What?

By Caroline Farhat  

Congratulations! You just made the big step of refinancing your student loans. Your wallet is fatter and you’ve likely shaved off thousands of dollars from what you will have to pay on your student loans. That’s a huge achievement that will positively impact your financial life.

 

You may be tempted to use your new found moolah on brunches and vacations, but don’t start spending lavishly quite yet. While present you may be saying “yes!” to fancy dinners, future you would really benefit from spending this extra cash in a smarter way. If you’re feeling financially empowered, you’ll love these five financial tips for what to do after you refinance to maximize your money.

 

1. Reexamine (or create) your budget

Any time you have a change in your financial situation, such as a raise or a new recurring bill, it’s important to evaluate your current budget. If you don’t already have a budget, getting a little extra money each month can be a great motivator to start one. We’re fans of the zero-based budget system. With zero-based budgeting, you allocate each dollar you make to a specific expense or goal so it can help curb unnecessary expenses you may regret later. For example, say you bring in $4,000 a month after taxes. You spend $3,000 on fixed expenses such as rent, utilities, and food. Your monthly payment for student loans is $600, leaving you with $400 extra each month. Under zero-based budgeting, you would allocate the extra $400 to other goals (such as contributing to a savings account) or wants (such as a travel budget). Once you have figured out exactly where each dollar will go, you should set up an automatic transfer to a savings account so that you never get tempted to spend money that you should be saving.

 

Of course, budgets aren’t one size fits all. If you have a method that works for you, then use that! The important things to know and keep track of are:

  1. How much money you have (after taxes and health insurance payments)
  2. Your essential fixed expenses (such as housing, utilities, food, student loan payments)
  3. Your non-essential fixed expenses (such as gym memberships, Netflix, etc.)
  4. Your long-term financial goals (buying a house, saving for a child, retirement)
  5. Your short-term financial goals (dining out, travel)
 

2. Start or pad your emergency savings account

If you don’t have at least three months of living expenses saved up, you need to start right now. We don’t want to set off alarm bells, but an emergency savings account is the number one thing everyone needs to have on their financial to do list. Depending on your situation, you may benefit from stashing away six to nine months of living expenses, but start with at least three months and build from there. Be sure to have this money easily available, so put it in a savings or checking account that does not incur any fees or penalties for withdrawing money. For example, you do not want to put your emergency savings in a CD, even if it will yield you a higher interest rate, because getting your money out can be a costly and sometimes time-intensive process. That said, find a savings account that will pay you interest so you don’t lose all your earning power on that money.

 

3. Pay down other high-interest debt

After you have a healthy savings account, paying off high-interest debt should be your next priority. Just like how refinancing your student loans helped you save money in the long run, paying off debt with high interest rates such as credit card debt or a personal loan will help you shave off hundreds or possibly even thousands of dollars that you would have to make in interest if you just paid the minimum monthly payment. Even putting an extra hundred dollars a month to this debt can pay off big time in the future. Additionally, lowering your debt load can help bolster your credit score, especially if you are carrying a lot of credit card debt. Your debt-to-income ratio is critical if you want to get a mortgage or other big-ticket items so paying down high-interest debt can only work to your advantage.

 

4. Contribute to your retirement

Say you have a healthy emergency savings, you’ve paid off all of your credit cards, and you have enough to cover your living expenses with a little bit of extra fun money. First, congrats! That’s a big feat and you’re killing it with your finances!

 

Set your future self up for success is by starting or increasing your contribution to a retirement account such as a 401(k) or IRA. Retirement accounts benefit from compounding interest so the sooner you start, the better. Plus, many employers have matching programs that help you pad your retirement account. Remember the free money you can make from a high-interest savings account? This is similar, but your future self will be the one to reap the benefits.

 

5. Treat yourself, responsibly

If you have refinanced your student loans, it’s safe to say that you’re clearly on top of your financial game. Let’s be real -- there will always be a list of things you can and should do with your money. But it shouldn’t all be about the work. You deserve to treat yourself! Just be sure to do it responsibly. Should you suddenly move into a budget-busting luxury penthouse apartment? Probably not. But you absolutely should treat yourself to that nice dinner or new pair of sneakers you’ve been eyeing. The keys to a successful financial life are staying informed and staying balanced. Just like any other goal, providing little rewards along your journey can help you stay motivated. So take this as our encouragement to enjoy yourself! Just do it responsibly with an eye on your financial independence.

   
2019-11-27
3 Things You Should Know About Black Friday

Black Friday used to be just one, crazy day of shopping. Deal seekers would wake up before sunrise, grab a thermos of coffee and a warm jacket, and wait in line for hours to get the best deals on televisions, laptops, and Cabbage Patch Dolls. The desire to shop and save is so popular that Black Friday has spun off nearly a week’s worth of celebrations, including:

 
 

Black Friday itself has even crept into our day of gratitude, with stores opening just after the dishes are cleared on Thanksgiving night. Some brands and shoppers have pushed back against Black Friday, like REI with their #OptOutside campaign that provides an active alternative to malls and box stores. But for many, the excitement of Black Friday is as much a part of Thanksgiving as turkey and pumpkin pie.

 

For those who are on the hunt for the best deals, here are a few tips to help you succeed.

 

Make a List (and Check It Twice)

While this tip is true for nearly every shopping trip, you definitely need a list, plan of attack, and even a budget for Black Friday. What items are your absolute must-haves? Are you more of a big-ticket item shopper or are you in it for smaller deals on everyday items? Just as you need to plan out that Thanksgiving dinner menu, sit down and list where you want to go and in what order to keep yourself from impulse buys and overspending. There’s no worse feeling than getting home and realizing you wasted money on something that wasn’t really a good deal or that you didn’t even want. Consider the following for your list:

 
  • Category
  • Item
  • Store or URL (for online Black Friday deals)
  • Deal or Coupon Code
  • Price
  • Budget Countdown
 

Shop Online

Cyber Monday used to be the online shopping day of the holiday season, but Black Friday is king for a reason and quickly expanded in-store-only deals to the online crowd. Shopping online helps you cover more territory in less time, and there are apps that can help you organize and simplify your shopping efforts.

 

With the BlackFriday.com app, you can easily filter through Black Friday promotional clutter, search by keywords, compare deals at different retailers, share deals with friends, and even set up notifications for when sales start. With the TGI Black Friday app, you can set up alerts if one (or more!) of your big-ticket items go on sale before Black Friday. This app also has a shopping list feature so you can digitize your plan of attack.

 

Shop All Year

For decades, Black Friday has gotten a reputation for being the deal day of the year. The name “Black Friday” even dates back to the 1960s when it was first used to name the kickoff to the holiday shopping season. However, it’s not always the best time of the year to get the best deal on several key items.

 

Televisions frequently go on sale just before the Super Bowl to appeal to fans looking to see the biggest game of the year on a new screen. On the hunt for a smaller electronic device? iPhones are typically discounted in September after the annual Apple event announcing the latest models. What about a new set of skis for the slopes? The best time to shop can be just before the end of the ski season, as retailers look to clear out inventory. And for more of the homebody, home goods are often discounted around holidays like President’s Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day. Finally, if you are ready to kick off the new year in a healthy way, consider waiting until June or July to buy that gym membership. At that time, gyms are eager for sales since clients are outside enjoying the long, sunny days of summer.

 

Find Other Ways to Save

You don’t have to brave the weather and the crowds to save money before the holidays. If you have student loans, you can keep money in your account by refinancing or consolidating. ELFI customers reported saving an average of $309 every month and an average of $20,936 in total savings after refinancing. See what kind of savings you can qualify for at elfi.com/refinance-education-loans.

 
 

1Average savings calculations are based on information provided by SouthEast Bank/Education Loan Finance customers who refinanced their student loans between 8/16/2016 and 10/25/2018. While these amounts represent reported average amounts saved, actual amounts saved will vary depending upon several factors.

 

Notice About Third Party Websites: Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not responsible for and has no control over the subject matter, content, information, or graphics of the websites that have links here. The portal and news features are being provided by an outside source – the bank is not responsible for the content. Please contact us with any concerns or comments.

2019-11-20
5 Ways to Declutter Your Life in 2020

We’re all busy and feel overwhelmed from time to time. Balancing a job, family time, friendships and finances can take a pretty major toll. Taking control of the space around you and getting a grasp of your financial situation can take a burden off and help you feel at ease. Here are some tips for decluttering your life and your finances. 

 

1. Learn to Say No

When it comes to simplifying your life, one of the best tactics is to cut off your clutter at the source – in other words, learning to say “no” to things you don’t need . This also applies to the voice in your head that tells you to hang on to old furniture, keepsakes, family belongings, and everything else that you stuff away or put into storage. The truth is, holding onto everything of monetary or sentimental value just isn’t logical. Knowing when to say no, when to donate, and when to let things go will be a big help in simplifying your life. It’s been found that the average American thinks about decluttering at least six times per year, but only ends up decluttering about three times each year. Holding onto too many things can create a great deal of stress.

 

Try taking photos of your keepsakes and family furniture and file it away. By doing that, you’re able to hold onto the memories without holding onto the items that cause clutter in your home.

 

2. Clean Out Your Closet

Having a surplus of clothing can cause cluttering nightmares. While we like to hold onto novelty t-shirts from every 5k race, or think we’ll be able to squeeze into the jeans we last wore ten years ago, eventually things can get out of hand. If you struggle with overloaded closets and dressers, here’s a trick you might want to try – turn all of your clothes inside-out. After 9-12 months, reassess your clothing inventory and see which clothes are left inside-out. You now have a clear-cut idea of which clothes you wear, and which you don’t. If it’s left inside-out at the end of that time period, consider donating it to a good cause. If this doesn’t work for you, try sorting through them a few times each year and getting rid of the items you know you don’t wear.  

 

3. Cut Down on Food Waste

Our refrigerators get cluttered too. The main reason? We simply don’t eat everything we buy. If you’re the type that ends up with a full cart at the grocery store after going in for one thing, you’re probably dealing with an overloaded fridge as well. A study found that Americans consume only about 50% of the meat, 44% of the vegetables, 40% of the fruit and 42% of the dairy we buy. What doesn’t go to waste takes up precious space in our pantry and refrigerator. After all, who knows how long that bottle of salad dressing has been sitting there? Look into meal planning or even getting an affordable meal subscription (just don’t let it fall into the category mentioned below). What’s great about meal subscriptions is they’re perfectly portioned and will go far in cutting down the amount of food you waste or store away.

 

4. Cut Out Unnecessary Subscriptions

Ever checked your monthly bank statement to find that you’re paying $4.99 for a random app that you no longer use? A new study that surveyed 2,500 U.S. consumers found that they spend an average of $1,900 in subscriptions that are unaccounted for. These can include anything from TV and music streaming services to subscriptions to your local car wash. Getting your subscriptions under control is a great way to simplify your finances and decrease month-to-month spending. 

 

There are a variety of budgeting apps that help you track your finances, but Clarity Money® is great for managing subscription services in particular. After connecting your bank account, it will provide you with a list of your recurring subscriptions, and even allows you to cancel them right from the app. 

   

5. Refinance Your Student Loans

If you’ve graduated from college, you may be paying back student loans. Some people can find themselves paying back several loans that all accrue interest at different rates, and have differing payment due dates. Refinancing your student loans may make repayment more manageable because it consolidates your student loans into one monthly payment with a single interest rate. Not only could you have the flexibility of choosing a repayment term that fits your financial goals, but you could also lower your interest rate or save money over the life of your loan. 

 

We hope these tips help put your mind, your finances, and your life, at ease. By following these tips, 2020 could really be “new year, new you”. Stay tuned for more helpful tips from the ELFI team.

 
  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.