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Mortgage Rates Friday, May 19: Still Near 6-Month Lows

Mortgage rates for 30-year and 15-year fixed home loans, as well as 5/1 ARM rates, moved a notch higher today, according to a NerdWallet survey of mortgage interest rates published by national lenders Friday morning. Fixed mortgages rates are wobbling near six-month lows, according to the NerdWallet Mortgage Rate Index. Wall Street has a short memory. Worries...

How to Make the Most of Your Summer Job

For most of the past decade, my summer jobs have been haunted by screaming children. Don’t think “scary movie,” though — more like “public pool” (and “summer camp,” and “family friendly restaurant”).

Despite the decibel level, I managed to learn a few tricks in those jobs, even when the work itself seemed like an inconvenience on the way to a paycheck, and then to the beach.

If you have to work all summer, you might as well make the most of it.

Focus on evergreen skills

Chances are, you won’t have a 30-year career as a pool snack bar attendant (although if you do, more power to you). So you might be wondering how your skill with the smoothie machine matters in the long run.

Here’s the thing: How the smoothie machine works doesn’t matter in itself. How you work with the smoothie machine is the real question. Are the smoothie ingredients stocked for the lunch rush? If the machine jams, do you know how to fix it? Do you know how to prevent it from jamming in the first place?

You can learn these basic skills and habits at practically any job, and they will serve you well no matter where you end up. You can learn to do things such as follow through on your commitments and responsibilities; solve problems independently and proactively; and work cooperatively with your boss and co-workers.

If these things seem rudimentary, you might want to keep in mind that …

It’s easy to clear a low bar

If you’re an employee who shows up on time and fulfills your responsibilities with minimal supervision, then guess what? You’re likely ahead of the game. Many of your co-workers could be as new to the world of work as you are, and maybe haven’t figured out those basics yet.

So if you’re competent, you can just coast. Or you could leverage that basic competency into startling adequacy — maybe even all the way up to incredible mediocrity. I’m joking, but the point is that when the bar is low, it’s really easy to look like a superstar. (And that involves helping your co-workers look good, too, if they need the assist.)

But why put in even the minimal effort necessary to stand out in an ephemeral job? Because you’ll also want to …

Start networking

Networking is fancy business jargon for a simple concept. You might know it as “talking to people.” Talk to your co-workers, talk to your boss, talk to your customers if you have them. You don’t need to do any of that “personal branding” or “selling yourself” stuff. Just talk to people, help out your team and do your job well.

You never know who will have future opportunities for you, and if that person remembers you as helpful and hardworking, you’ve already got your foot in the door.

Don’t fake it. Just have a good time. It’s summer, after all, and this job (hopefully) isn’t life or death. Just remember to …

Save some money

This might be the first time you get a significant chunk of disposable income, with no strings attached. It’s your money and you can spend it how you like! Except maybe don’t, at least not all of it. That money can carry you through the next school year, or help pay your tuition.

» MORE: How to save money

If you’re a real overachiever, you could even open up a retirement fund and start stashing. The retirement outlook for us millennials isn’t as rosy as it was for our parents, but time is the most important factor for building up retirement savings. Take advantage.

Stephen Layton is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: slayton@nerdwallet.com.

How to Get Your Business Out of Debt in 5 Steps

Debt is a necessary part of running a small business. A business loan, line of credit or a business credit card can help your company hire new employees, purchase equipment and finance growth. But too much debt can stifle cash flow and put your business at risk. And the less you owe, the more you have to reinvest.

The average U.S. small-business owner has $195,000 of debt, according to a 2016 study by Experian.

Here are five steps to digging your business out of debt.

1. Take inventory of your debt

Sort all of your debts by interest rate and monthly payment. This includes payments on business loans, lines of credit and business credit cards as well as outstanding payments due to vendors.

This process can help you prioritize which debts to tackle first. Some experts recommend starting with the highest-interest-rate debt.

New small-business owners should aim to have all of their debt repaid within their companies’ first 12 months to lower the risk of bankruptcy, says Winnie Sun, founding partner of Sun Group Wealth Partners in Irvine, California, which provides financial planning for businesses.

2. Boost sales

Once you have a debt management plan, you can think about ways to boost your sales. Here are a few ideas:

  • Reward loyal customers. A loyalty program can increase customer satisfaction and retention: About 82% of people said they were more likely to shop at a store that offers a loyalty program, according to a 2014 study by Technology Advice, a tech services firm.
  • Get active on social media. Sun advises engaging with customers on social media. Respond quickly to comments, ask for input, and pay attention to your company’s Yelp reviews: 84% of people trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, according to a 2016 survey by marketing company BrightLocal.
  • Consider raising prices. With the right strategy — such as offering a volume discount on large orders — you can do this without losing customers. Volume discounts can help your business stay competitive, according to the Harvard Business Review.
3. Cut costs

Ideally, boosting sales brings in enough revenue to tackle your debt. But if your expenses are running a bit too high, here are three ways to cut them:

  • Sell off equipment, office supplies and other items that you don’t use often. Buy used equipment or lease if necessary.
  • Downsize to a smaller office with lower rent and utility costs, consider a co-working space that doesn’t require a long-term lease, or relocate into a home office.
  • Split costs with other companies. “Look for other people who are running similar businesses and consider sharing resources. Share employees, internet services,” Sun says.
4. Refinance high-cost debt

The Federal Reserve raised interest rates in March and has signaled two more rate hikes in 2017. These increase the cost of variable-rate debt, including credit card balances and lines of credit.

If you can’t afford to repay debts in full anytime soon, consider debt consolidation or refinancing, especially if you have strong credit.

With refinancing, you’d take out a lower-interest loan to repay the original loan. With consolidation, you’d combine several loans into one new loan.

“If you can change the loan from variable to fixed, and then pay it down quickly, then that would be ideal,” Sun says.

Business credit card debt can also be refinanced or consolidated via a balance transfer to a new card with a 0% interest promo period; watch out for fees and aim to pay it off in full before the 0% period is up.

All of these options let you lock in a lower, fixed interest rate and decrease your payments.

5. Shorten payment terms with clients

Maybe your business has clients on a long-term payment plan. Or perhaps they consistently pay late. In either case, it might be time to revise payment terms.

For example, give new clients 30-day — rather than 90-day — payment terms. Offering an early payment discount or charging a late-payment penalty can also be effective strategies for collecting on unpaid invoices.

Insider tips: Sign up for our monthly small-business newsletter.

Need small-business financing?

NerdWallet has created a comparison tool of the best small-business loans to meet your needs and goals. We gauged lender trustworthiness, market scope and user experience, among other factors, and arranged them by categories that include your revenue and how long you’ve been in business.

Compare business loans

Steve Nicastro is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Steven.N@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @StevenNicastro.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by USA Today.

Auto-Paying Bills by Credit Card: Help or Hassle? Yes.

Paying recurring bills by credit card is the easiest thing in the world — until it isn’t. Just ask John McCarron, who pays many of his bills this way to save time and earn rewards.

“It just ruins your day, if not your weekend, when you get that call … that your card’s been hacked,” says McCarron, a contributing columnist for the Chicago Tribune, who wrote a column about his experience. “You have to go one by one to all your auto-payees, to their website, and change your [credit card] number.”

Despite those headaches, McCarron still favors this payment method for recurring expenses. It’s easy to see why, since the benefits usually outweigh the drawbacks. Auto-paying bills by credit card is smooth sailing about 99% of the time; the other 1% of the time, it can be a real doozy. But by centralizing payment information, monitoring fees and canceling unneeded service subscriptions, you can enjoy the best things about this payment method while avoiding the worst.

Paying by credit card has advantages

Automatic payments don’t have to be made by credit card, but often that’s the best option for:

  • Rewards. Some cards offer as much as 5% back for purchases in certain categories. Debit cards and checking accounts don’t offer such perks.
  • More time to pay. Credit cards typically offer about a month to float purchases, interest-free, after the billing cycle ends. Debit cards take money out of your checking account almost immediately.
  • Security. Credit cards give you time to recognize and dispute billing errors and fraudulent charges before they drain your bank account. You’ll also get zero-liability protection from your payment network and protection under federal law. Debit cards are protected to a lesser extent. If a fraudulent charge on a debit card goes unreported for more than 60 days, you likely won’t see that money again.

There are also benefits to paying bills automatically, whatever the method:

  • Discounts. For example, several cell phone plans offer $5 discounts each month if you sign up for automatic payments.
  • Time saved. There’s no need to write a check to every payee each month. Plus, you’ll save on postage.
  • Protection from late payments. You generally won’t have to worry about getting service cut off or incurring a late fee because of a forgotten payment.

But before you “set it and forget it,” make a plan for managing the potential pitfalls.

Updating card information can be tedious

Giving a service provider a credit card number for automatic payments isn’t a one-and-done deal. You’re responsible for updating your card information when it changes.

And, yes, it will change — even if your credit card preferences don’t. The expiration date will arrive. The card might get hacked.

For McCarron, it took a full workday to transfer payments to other cards. Even then, he didn’t remember to update the payment information for his quarterly car insurance bill until the insurance company sent a failed payment notice.

“My insurance didn’t expire, but it would have if I hadn’t caught that,” he says.

Make it work: Today, there’s no perfect, high-tech solution for managing automatic payments for credit cards. But a low-tech fix can help.

First, it helps to manage all your recurring payments in one place. Get a “just for bills” credit card, and keep it for these expenses. Next, make a list of all your recurring credit card payments. When it’s time to update your payment information, this reference could make your job a little easier.

Convenience fees are common

You can pay almost any bill with a credit card these days. But in some cases, it might cost more.

Most utility companies that accept credit card payments also charge convenience fees, according to 2016 data from Chartwell Inc., an information provider for the utilities industry focusing on gas, water and electric service.

“Most of the time, it’s just a flat fee, which averages $1 to $2 and is processed through a third-party such as Western Union, KUBRA or BillMatrix,” says Will Adams, a senior industry analyst at Chartwell. These fees generally apply to debit card payments as well.

It’s also not uncommon to see 2% and 3% convenience fees on private school or university bills or homeowner association fees when paying by credit card.

Make it work: If your utility company allows automatic payments by credit card, consider the cost. Say you owe a $1.50 fee on a $100 bill, and pay with a 2% cash-back card. You’d still come out ahead in rewards, as long as you paid in full every month. If the fee is $5, though, consider automatic withdrawals from a checking account instead.

Quitting can be hard

Not too long ago, discontinuing a subscription was easy: You’d just ignore a company’s entreaties to “Renew today and save!” Nowadays, auto-renewal policies and automatic credit card payments make it easy to hold onto subscriptions long after you need them.

Canceling an unneeded service — and stopping the charges — will take some effort on your part. Sometimes, there’s no way to cancel online, and you have to talk to a salesperson on the phone. (Ugh!)

But when trimming the fat from your budget, eliminating these dead-weight expenses is important.

Make it work: Try an app like Clarity Money or Trim to help you identify and cancel recurring bills automatically. Or do the job yourself, either online or by phone.

Set up your credit card account so it sends you text or email alerts for all your credit card purchases. These notifications can give you a mental nudge to curb spending, even when you’re flying on financial autopilot. After all, automatic payments by credit card should help you save money — not spend more.

Claire Tsosie is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: claire@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @ideclaire7.

 This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by Forbes.

 

5 Advantages of Making a Down Payment on a VA Loan

Mortgages from the Department of Veterans Affairs are known for not requiring a down payment. So why in the world would you make one? Here are five good reasons to put some money down on a VA loan.

1. You’ll pay a lower VA funding fee

First off, VA mortgages require a funding fee, whether you make a down payment or not.

But.

“The funding fee has breakpoints, where it’s reduced at the greater-than-5%-down level or greater-than-10%-down level,” says Mark Connors, VA lender liaison.

For example, a qualified first-time regular military borrower would see the VA funding fee go from 2.15% to 1.50% with a down payment of 5% or more. With a down payment of at least 10%, the fee would be reduced to 1.25%.

Casey Fleming, author of “The Loan Guide: How to Get the Best Possible Mortgage” and a San Jose mortgage broker, breaks down the math on a $250,000 home purchase. The funding fee with zero down is $5,375, he says. But while a 5% down payment requires $12,500, your funding fee is reduced by $1,812.50, he explains.

VA funding fees on a $250,000 home purchase Down payment Required funding fee Cost of the funding fee 0%: $0 2.15% $5,375.00 5%: $12,500 1.50% $3,562.50 10%: $25,000 1.25% $2,812.50 2 and 3. You’ll have a lower monthly payment and pay less in interest

With a down payment, your monthly payment and lifetime costs are lower. Again, Fleming crunches the numbers.

Assuming an interest rate of 3.50% on a 30-year, $250,000 mortgage, the monthly payments and lifetime costs of each loan — ignoring closing costs, which could vary — would be:

Down payment Monthly payment (principal and interest only) Lifetime costs (interest plus upfront funding fee) 0% $1,122.61 $159,515 5% $1,066.48 $149,996 10% $1,010.35 $141,539

With a 10% down payment, not only are your monthly payments more than $100 lower, but you save over $15,000 in interest charges and pay nearly half the upfront funding fee, compared with making no down payment.

“So, paying a down payment can save thousands of dollars over the lifetime of the loan,” Fleming says.

4. You can better navigate a competitive market

Living in a competitive housing market can present challenges to the no-down payer. Places like San Francisco, Dallas, San Diego, Denver, and even Columbus, Ohio, have too many buyers chasing too few sellers.

Having some “skin in the game” by putting in some money upfront shows sellers you’re a serious buyer. Plus, a portion of your down payment might be allocated to earnest money — cash you put in escrow to help seal the deal with a seller.

“Make as large an earnest money deposit as possible with the offer,” says Joe Parsons, a senior loan officer with PFS Funding in Dublin, California. “Even though [you] don’t have to make a down payment and closing costs might be just $5,000, a $10,000 deposit would not be out of line — and the veteran will get a refund of any excess funds at closing. It creates real credibility.”

5. You’ll have instant equity in your home

Without a down payment, you’ll likely have no equity in your home right at the start. If property values sag, you’ll be “upside down.” That’s when the market value of a home is less than what you owe. In that case, you can be in a real bind if you need to move and can’t make enough on the sale of your existing house to buy another.

Having value built into your home gives you some financial options, as well — for instance, a home equity line of credit or home equity loan. Being able to tap your home’s equity can be a real budget-saver when major home repairs or upgrades are called for.

You may not have a choice

In some situations, you may have no choice but to make a down payment:

  • If the home appraises for less than the purchase price, you’ll have to put enough down to make up the difference
  • If the home you want to buy costs more than the county loan limit approved for VA loans, you’ll have to put enough down to make up some of the difference. “VA will guarantee the loan, provided the borrower pays 25% of the amount over the loan limit in cash,” Parsons says.

In either case, you’ll have to cover the gap or back out of the deal.

Hal Bundrick is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: hal@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @halmbundrick.

5 Tips to Find a Cheap Flight

Saving money always feels good. But, for some reason, saving money on flights can feel especially gratifying.

Perhaps it’s the size of the savings, which can be up to $100 or more sometimes. Or the short-lived nature of fare deals, which makes it feel like you’ve won a prize when you nab one. Or maybe it’s simply the satisfaction of paying less to airlines that seemingly upcharge passengers at every turn, while making headlines for customer service gaffes.

Whatever the reason, try these money-saving tips before you book your next flight.

1. Get on Twitter

“I find that Twitter is the best way to learn about limited-time airfare deals,” says Patti Reddi, founder of the travel blog The Savvy Globetrotter.

The frequent flyer recommends the following Twitter handles:

“I frequently see U.S.-to-Europe round-trip flights for under $500 posted on these Twitter accounts,” Reddi says, noting that you can also find the deals on the websites associated with these handles.

>> MORE: The NerdWallet guide to saving money

2. Look at alternative airports

You could save hundreds of dollars when traveling overseas by selecting a different airport — even if that airport is in another country.

Flights from Chicago to Rome might run you $1,400, for example, while flights to Paris could cost less than $850. From Paris, roundtrip flights to Rome on a budget airline like Ryanair often cost less than $100.

This strategy can be applied to domestic flights, too.

Flying into or out of Washington, D.C.? Compare fares on flights through Dulles International Airport, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. In the Bay Area, search for both San Francisco and Oakland airports.

Other cities may have a handful of airports within a few hours’ drive that may offer cheaper flights. Explore all viable options, factoring in the cost of parking, gas and potentially a rental car, to find the most affordable fare.

>> MORE: The cheapest way to rent a car

3. Compare round-trip vs. one-way flights

Booking two one-way tickets, rather than a return flight, might land you a better deal.

“I often search two one-way tickets just to make sure I am not missing a deal,” says Amanda Festa, an editor at Cheapflights.com. It also gives you more flexible route options. “Mixing and matching airlines (and booking sites and airports) sometimes pays off.”

4. Be flexible with dates

Moving the trip by a day or two on either end could save you $100 or more in some cases. A recent search for round-trip flights from Chicago to Houston, flying in on a Friday and out the following Friday, yielded a fare of $303. Departing and returning a day earlier dropped the price to $199.

When possible, delaying your trip by a month or two to avoid peak travel times can net greater savings, especially when venturing overseas. A flight from Chicago to Athens, Greece, for example, will run you at least $1,200 if you fly in July. But fly in September and you can score a round-trip ticket for less than $700.

>> MORE: 7 ways to find a cheap hotel room

5. Track fares and set alerts

You could manually monitor flight prices for weeks and still not be sure if you got the best price. Or you could let an algorithm do the work via apps.

Travel app Hopper continuously analyzes flight prices to recommend when you should book your flight. If you set your route and dates, the app will tell you whether to buy or wait and alert you when fares drop. Hopper is free to use, but you’ll be charged a $5 commission if you book a ticket through the app. Skyscanner, another travel app, also lets you set fare alerts for specific routes and shows you the cheapest flight options, along with a rating based on price, the number of stops and total travel time with layovers. Both apps are available on iOS and Android devices; Skycanner also has a desktop version.

You can also track fares for specific routes and flights using websites such as Yapta and Airfarewatchdog.com.

Kelsey Sheehy is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: ksheehy@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @KelseyLSheehy.

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