Could logging in to your computer from a deluxe treehouse off the coast of Belize be the future of work? Maybe. For many, the word freelance means flexibility, meaningful tasks and better work-life balance. Who doesn’t want to create their own hours, love what they do and work from wherever they want? Freelancing can provide all of thatâbut that freedom can vanish quickly if you don’t handle your expenses correctly.
“A lot of the time, you don’t know about these expenses until you are in the trenches,” says freelance copywriter Alyssa Goulet, “and that can wreak havoc on your financial situation.”
Nearly 57 million people in the U.S. freelanced, or were self-employed, in 2019, according to Upwork, a global freelancing platform. Freelancing is also increasingly becoming a long-term career choice, with the percentage of freelancers who freelance full-time increasing from 17 percent in 2014 to 28 percent in 2019, according to Upwork. But for all its virtues, the cost of being freelance can carry some serious sticker shock.
“There are many hats you have to wear and expenses you have to take on, but for that you’re gaining a lot of opportunity and flexibility in your life.”
Most people who freelance for the first time don’t realize that everythingâfrom taxes to office supplies to setting up retirement plansâis on them. So, before you can sustain yourself through self-employment, you need to answer a very important question: “Are you financially ready to freelance?”
What you’ll find is that budgeting as a freelancer can be entirely manageable if you plan for the following key costs. Let’s start with one of the most perplexingâtaxes:
1. Taxes: New rules when working on your own
First things first: Don’t try to be a hero. When determining how to budget as a freelancer and how to manage your taxes as a freelancer, you’ll want to consult with a financial adviser or tax professional for guidance. A tax expert can help you figure out what makes sense for your personal and business situation.
For instance, just like a regular employee, you will owe federal income taxes, as well as Social Security and Medicare taxes. When you’re employed at a regular job, you and your employer each pay half of these taxes from your income, according to the IRS. But when you’re self-employed (earning more than $400 a year in net income), you’re expected to file and pay these expenses yourself, the IRS says. And if you think you will owe more than $1,000 in taxes for a given year, you may need to file estimated quarterly taxes, the IRS also says.
That can feel like a heavy hit when you’re not used to planning for these costs. “If you’ve been on a salary, you don’t think about taxes really. You think about the take-home pay. With freelance, everything is take-home pay,” says Susan Lee, CFPÂ®, tax preparer and founder of FreelanceTaxation.com.
When you’re starting to budget as a freelancer and determining how often you will need to file, Lee recommends doing a “dummy return,” which is an estimation of your self-employment income and expenses for the year. You can come up with this number by looking at past assignments, industry standards and future projections for your work, which freelancer Goulet finds valuable.
“Since I don’t have a salary or a fixed number of hours worked per month, I determine the tax bracket I’m most likely to fall into by taking my projected monthly income and multiplying it by 12,” Goulet says. “If I experience a big income jump because of a new contract, I redo that calculation.”
After you estimate your income, learning how to budget as a freelancer means working to determine how much to set aside for your tax payments. Lee, for example, recommends saving about 25 percent of your income for paying your income tax and self-employment tax (which funds your Medicare and Social Security). But once you subtract your business expenses from your freelance income, you may not have to pay that entire amount, according to Lee. Deductible expenses can include the mileage you use to get from one appointment to another, office supplies and maintenance and fees for a coworking space, according to Lee. The income left over will be your taxable income.
To set aside the taxes you will need to pay, adjust your estimates often and always round up. “Let’s say in one month a freelancer determines she would owe $1,400 in tax. I’d put away $1,500,” Goulet says.
2. Business expenses: Get a handle on two big areas
The truth is, the cost of being freelance varies from person to person. Some freelancers are happy to work from their kitchen tables, while others need a dedicated workspace. Your freelance costs also change as you add new tools to your business arsenal. Here are two categories you’ll always need to account for when budgeting as a freelancer:
Joining a coworking space gets you out of the house and allows you to establish the camaraderie you may miss when you work alone. When you’re calculating the cost of being freelance, note that coworking spaces may charge membership dues ranging from $20 for a day pass to hundreds of dollars a month for a dedicated desk or private office. While coworking spaces are all the rage, you can still rent a traditional office for several hundred dollars a month or more, but this fee usually doesn’t include community aspects or other membership perks.
If you want to avoid office rent or dues as costs of being freelance but don’t want the kitchen table to pull double-duty as your workspace, you might convert another room in your home into an office. But you’ll still need to outfit the space with all of your work essentials. Freelance copywriter and content strategist Amy Hardison retrofitted part of her house into a simple office. “I got a standing desk, a keyboard, one of those adjustable stands for my computer and a squishy mat to stand on so my feet don’t hurt,” Hardison says.
Start with the absolute necessities. When Hardison first launched her freelance career, she purchased a laptop for $299. She worked out of a coworking space and used its office supplies before creating her own workspace at home.
There are a range of digital tools, including business and accounting software, that can help with the majority of your business functions. A big benefit is the time they can save you that is better spent marketing to clients or producing great work.
The software can also help you avoid financial lapses as you’re managing the costs of being freelance. Hardison’s freelance business had ramped up to a point where a manual process was costing her money, so using an invoicing software became a no-brainer. “I was sending people attached document invoices for a while and keeping track of them in a spreadsheet,” Hardison says. “And then I lost a few of them and I just thought, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t be losing things. This is my income!’”
Digital business and software tools can help manage scheduling, web hosting, accounting, audio/video conference and other functions. When you’re determining how to budget as a freelancer, note that the costs for these services depend largely on your needs. For instance, several invoicing platforms offer options for as low as $9 per month, though the cost increases the more clients you add to your account. Accounting services also scale up based on the features you want and how many clients you’re tracking, but you can find reputable platforms for as little as $5 a month.
When you sign up for a service, start with the “freemium” version, in which the first tier of service is always free, Hardison says. Once you have enough clients to warrant the expense, upgrade to the paid level with the lowest cost. Gradually adding services will keep your expenses proportionate to your income.
3. Health insurance: Harnessing an inevitable cost
Budgeting for healthcare costs can be one of the biggest hurdles to self-employment and successfully learning how to budget as a freelancer. In the first half of the 2020 open enrollment period, the average monthly premium under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for those who do not receive federal subsidiesâor a reduced premium based on incomeâwas $456 for individuals and $1,134 for families, according to eHealth, a private online marketplace for health insurance.
“Buying insurance is really protecting against that catastrophic event that is not likely to happen. But if it does, it could throw everything else in your plan into a complete tailspin,” says Stephen Gunter, CFPÂ®, at Bridgeworth Financial.
A good place to start when budgeting as a freelancer is knowing what healthcare costs you should budget for. Your premiumâwhich is how much you pay each month to have your insuranceâis a key cost. Note that the plans with the lowest premiums aren’t always the most affordable. For instance, if you choose a high-deductible policy you may pay less in premiums, but if you have a claim, you may pay more at the time you or your covered family member’s health situation arises.
When you are budgeting as a freelancer, the ACA healthcare marketplace is one place to look for a plan. Here are a few other options:
Spouse or domestic partner’s plan: If your spouse or domestic partner has health insurance through his/her employer, you may be able to get coverage under their plan.
COBRA: If you recently left your full-time job for self-employment, you may be able to convert your employer’s group plan into an individual COBRA plan. Note that this type of plan comes with a high expense and coverage limit of 18 months.
Organizations for freelancers: Search online for organizations that promote the interests of independent workers. Depending on your specific situation, you may find options for health insurance plans that fit your needs.
Speak with an insurance adviser who can help you figure out which plans are best for your health needs and your budget. An adviser may be willing to do a free consultation, allowing you to gather important information before making a financial commitment.
4. Retirement savings: Learn to “set it and forget it”
Part of learning how to budget as a freelancer is thinking long term, which includes saving for retirement. That may seem daunting when you’re wrangling new business expenses, but Gunter says saving for the future is a big part of budgeting as a freelancer.
“It’s kind of the miracle of compound interest. The sooner we can get it invested, the sooner we can get it saving,” Gunter says.
He suggests going into autopilot and setting aside whatever you would have contributed to an employer’s 401(k) plan. One way to do this might be setting up an automatic transfer to your savings or retirement account. “So, if you would have put in 3 percent [of your income] each month, commit to saving that 3 percent on your own,” Gunter says. The Discover IRA Certificate of Deposit (IRA CD) could be a good fit for helping you enjoy guaranteed returns in retirement by contributing after-tax (Roth IRA CD) or pre-tax (traditional IRA CD) dollars from your income now.
Prioritize retirement savings every month, not just when you feel flush. “Saying, ‘I’ll save whatever is left over’ isn’t a savings plan, because whatever is left over at the end of the month is usually zero,” Gunter says.
5. Continually update your rates
One of the best things you can do for yourself in learning how to budget as a freelancer is build your costs into what you charge. “As I’ve discovered more business expenses, I definitely take those into account as I’m determining what my rates are,” Goulet says. She notes that freelancers sometimes feel guilty for building business costs into their rates, especially when they’re worried about the fees they charge to begin with. But working the costs of being freelance into your rates is essential to building a thriving freelance career. You should annually evaluate the rates you charge.
Because your expenses will change over time, it’s wise to do quarterly and yearly check-ins to assess your income and costs and see if there are processes you can automate to save time and money.
“A lot of the time, you don’t know about these expenses until you are in the trenches, and that can wreak havoc on your financial situation.”
Have confidence in your freelance career
Accounting for the various costs of being freelance makes for a more successful and sustainable freelance career. It also helps ensure that those who are self-employed achieve financial stability in their personal lives and their businesses.
“There are many hats you have to wear and expenses you have to take on,” Goulet says. “But for that, you’re gaining a lot of opportunity and flexibility in your life.”
The post Everything You Need to Know About Budgeting As a Freelancer appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
Whether you’re cozying up on the couch together with a bottle of wine or headed out to the trendy restaurant everyone’s talking about, date night is an essential part of most relationships.
“Date nights are important because they give new couples a chance to get to know each other and established couples a chance to have fun or blow off some steam after a rough week,” says Holly Shaftel, a relationship expert and certified dating coach. “Penciling in a regular date can ensure that you make time for each other when your jobs and other aspects of your life might keep you busy.”
There’s just one small snag. Or, maybe it’s a big one. Date nights can get expensive. According to financial news website 24/7 Wall St., the cost of an average date consisting of two dinners, a bottle of wine and two movie tickets is about $102.
When you’re focused on improving your finances as a couple, finding ways to spend less on date night is a no-brainer. But you may be wondering: How can we save money on date night and still get that much-needed break from the daily grind?
There are plenty of ways to save money on date night by bringing just a little creativity into the mix. Here are eight suggestions to try:
1. Share common interests on the cheap
When Shaftel and her boyfriend were in the early stages of their relationship, they learned they were both active in sports. They were able to plan their date nights around low-cost (and sometimes free) sports activities, like hitting the driving range or playing tennis at their local park.
If you’re trying to find ways to spend less on date night, you can plan your own free or low-cost date nights around your and your partner’s shared interests. If you’re both avid readers, for example, even a simple afternoon browsing your local library’s shelves or a cool independent bookstore can make for a memorable time. If you’re both adventurous, check into your local sporting goods stores for organized hikes, stargazing outings or mountaineering workshops. They often post a schedule of events that are free, low-cost or discounted for members.
2. Create a low-budget date night bucket list
Dustyn Ferguson, a personal finance blogger at Dime Will Tell, suggests using the “bucket list” approach to find the best ways to save money on date night. To gather ideas, make it a game. At your next group gathering, ask guests to write down a fun, low-budget date night idea. The host then gets to read and keep all of the suggestions. When Ferguson and his girlfriend did this at a friend’s party, they submitted camping on the beach, which didn’t cost a dime.
The cost of an average date consisting of two dinners, a bottle of wine and two movie tickets is about $102.
To make your own date night bucket list with the best ways to save money on date night, sit down with your partner and come up with free or cheap activities that you normally wouldn’t think to do. Spur ideas by making it a challengeâfor instance, who can come up with the most ideas of dates you can do from the couch? According to the blog Marriage Laboratory, these “couch dates” are no-cost, low-energy things you can do together after a busy week (besides watching TV). A few good ones to get your list started: utilize fun apps (apps for lip sync battles are a real thing), grab a pencil or watercolors for an artistic endeavor or work on a puzzle. If you’re looking for even more ways to spend less on date night, take the question to social media and see what turns up.
3. Alternate paid date nights with free ones
If you’re looking for ways to spend less on date night, don’t focus on cutting costs on every single date. Instead, make half of your dates spending-free. “Go out for a nice dinner one week, and the next, go for a drive and bring a picnic,” says Bethany Palmer, a financial advisor who authors the finance blog The Money Couple, along with her husband Scott.
Getting stuff done around the house or yard may not sound all that romantic, but it can be one of the best ways to save money on date night when you’re trying to be budget-conscious. And, tackling your to-do listâlike cleaning out the garage or raking leavesâcan be much more enjoyable when you and your partner take it on together.
5. Search for off-the-wall spots
If dinner and a movie is your status quo, mix it up with some new ideas for low-cost ways to save money on date night. That might include fun things to do without spending money, like heading to your local farmer’s market, checking out free festivals or concerts in your area, geocachingâoutdoor treasure huntingâaround your hometown, heading to a free wine tasting or taking a free DIY class at your neighborhood arts and crafts store.
“Staying creative allows you to remain flexible and not bound to simply doing the same thing over and over,” Ferguson says.
6. Leverage coupons and deals
When researching the best ways to save money on date night, don’t overlook coupon and discount sites, where you can get deals on everything from food, retail and travel. These can be a great resource for finding deep discounts on activities you may not try otherwise. That’s how Palmer and her husband ended up on a date night where they played a game that combined lacrosse and bumper cars.
There are also a ton of apps on the market that can help you find ways to save money on date night. For instance, you can find apps that offer discounts at restaurants, apps that let you purchase movie theater gift cards at a reduced price and apps that help you earn cash rewards when shopping for wine or groceries if you’re planning a date night at home.
7. Join restaurant loyalty programs
If you’re a frugal foodie and have a favorite bar or restaurant where you like to spend date nights, sign up for its rewards program and newsletter as a way to spend less on date night. You could earn points toward free drinks and food through the rewards program and get access to coupons or other discounts through your inbox. Have new restaurants on your bucket list? Sign up for their rewards programs and newsletters, too. If you’re able to score a deal, it might be time to move that date up. Pronto.
8. Make a date night out of budgeting for date night
When the well runs dry, one of the best ways to save money on date night may not be the most excitingâbut it is the easiest: Devote one of your dates to a budgeting session and brainstorm ideas. Make sure to set an overall budget for what you want to spend on your dates, either weekly or monthly. Having a number and concrete plan will help you stick to your date night budget.
“Staying creative allows you to remain flexible and not bound to simply doing the same thing over and over.”
Ferguson says he and his girlfriend use two different numbers to create their date night budget: how much disposable income they have left after paying their monthly expenses and the number of date nights they want to have each month.
“You can decide how much money you can spend per date by dividing the total amount you can allocate to dates by the amount of dates you plan to go on,” Ferguson says. You may also decide you want to allot more to special occasions and less to regular get-togethers.
Put your date night savings toward shared goals
Once you’ve put these creative ways to save money on date night into practice, think about what you want to do with the cash you’re saving. Consider putting the money in a special savings account for a joint purpose you both agree on, such as planning a dream vacation, paying down debt or buying a home. Working as a team toward a common objective can get you excited about the future and make these budget-friendly date nights feel even more rewarding.
The post 8 Ways to Save Money on Date Night appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
Summer camp is a rite of passage. A place where traditions begin and memories are made. A unique venue with a structured opportunity for kids to grow and learn new skills. As enriching as it may seem, embarking on the process each year can be intense: How do I choose a camp? Should it have a philosophy? How do I know my child will have fun? But often the question at the top of the list is, “How do I budget for summer camp?”
Whether you’re scrambling for camp arrangements for this year or getting a jump-start on next summer, you’re in need of a working budget for summer camp. “As a parent who sent several kids to summer camp for many years, I know how expensive it can be,” says Leslie H. Tayne, author and founder of debt solutions law firm Tayne Law Group.
Read on for expert budgeting tips for summer camp and how to save money on summer camp so you can make the best decisions concerning your wallet and your child’s wish list:
1. Get a handle on camp tuition
According to the American Camp Association, sleep-away camp tuition can range from $630 to more than $2,000 per camper per week. Day camp tuition isn’t too far behind, ranging from $199 to more than $800 per week.
One of the best ways to budget for summer camp and prepare for tuition costs is to understand your needs for the summer as well as your child’s interests. This will help you determine ‘how much’ and ‘what type’ of camp you want: Is day-camp coverage important all summer because of work? Does your child want to experience sleep-away camp for a portion of the time? Is a camp with a specific focus (say a sport or hobby) on the list?
Depending on your circumstances and child’s expectations, it’s not unusual to be looking at a combination of campsâand tuition costsâin one season. If you have multiple kids at different ages, with different interests, creating a budget for summer camp and understanding how much you’ll need to dish out in tuition becomes especially important.
Once your camp plan is in place, assess how much you’ll need to pay in tuition for the summer months with school out of session. The sooner you’ve arrived at this figure, the easier it will be to work the expense into your household budget, says Heather Schisler, money-saving expert and founder of deal site Passion for Savings. “It’s much easier to set aside $30 a month than it is to come up with $300 to $400 at one time,” Schisler says.
Sleep-away camp tuition can range from $630 to more than $2,000 per camper per week. Day camp tuition ranges from $199 to more than $800 per week.
2. Plan for expenses beyond tuition
One of the biggest budgeting tips for summer camp is planning for the many costs outside of tuition. Tayne points out that sleep-away camp usually comes with a longer supply list than day campâsuch as specific clothing or gear and toiletries to cover the length of stay. If your child is heading to a sleep-away camp far from home, your budget for summer camp may also need to factor in the cost of transportation or the cost to ship luggage. Day camps can also have fees for extended hours or transportation if your child rides a camp bus each day.
Once you’ve selected a campâday camp or sleep-awayâcheck its website for camper packing lists and guidelines. Most camps offer checklists that you can print out, which can be good for tracking supplies and costs as you go. After you enroll, your camp may provide access to an online portal that can help you manage tuition and track additional expenses, like canteen money, which is cash your child can use for snacks and additional supplies while away.
3. Create a year-round savings strategy
By calculating the necessary expenses ahead of time for the camps you and your campers have chosen, you’ll be able to determine an overall budget for summer camp. A budgeting tip for summer camp is to save money monthly throughout the year. To determine a monthly savings goal, divide your total summer camp costs by the amount of months you have until camp starts. If camp is quickly approaching and you’re feeling the budget crunch, you may want to start saving for next year’s costs once it’s back-to-school time so you can spread out your costs over a longer period of time.
Once you start saving, you’ll need a place to put it, right? When it comes to budgeting tips for summer camp, consider placing your cash in a dedicated account, which will keep it separate from your regular expenses and help you avoid tapping it for other reasons. “Then you can have your bank set up an auto draft [for the summer camp money] so it automatically goes into your account each month and you will have the money you need when summer rolls around,” Schisler says. If you use a Discover Online Savings Account for this purpose, you’ll also earn interest that can be put toward camp expenses.
âIt’s much easier to set aside $30 a month than it is to come up with $300 to $400 at one time.â
4. Find ways to fund your summer camp account
To boost cash in your summer camp savings account, consider asking relatives and family friends to gift your children cash for camp in lieu of birthday and holiday gifts, says Tracie Fobes of budget blog Penny Pinchin’ Mom. “If your child has his or her heart set on sleep-away camp, they may be willing to forgo a gift or two,” Fobes says.
Another budgeting tip for summer camp is to put your cashback rewards toward your budget for summer camp. For example, if you open a checking account with Discoverâcalled Cashback Debitâyou’ll earn 1% cash back on up to $3,000 in debit card purchases each month.1 You can enroll to have that cashback bonus automatically deposited into your Discover Online Savings Account so it remains designated for camp costs (and can grow with interest).
Say hello to cash back on debit card purchases.
No monthly fees. No balance requirements. No, really.
Discover Bank, Member FDIC
Lastly, if you don’t have your tax refund earmarked for another financial goal, you could use the windfall to kick-start your summer camp savings fund. Depending on the refund amount and your total camp costs, it could reduce your monthly summer camp savings goal significantly.
5. Reduce camp-related costs
Despite having your budget for summer camp in full view and planning in advance, camp can still be expensive. Here are some ways to save money on summer camp by cutting down on camp costs:
Ask about scholarships and grants: “Some camps offer scholarships or discounts for children and families,” Fobes says. Research your camp to see if they have anything similar to help offsetâor even pay forâthe cost of tuition.
Use a Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account (DCFSA): A Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account is a pre-tax benefit account that can be used to pay for eligible dependent care services. You can use this type of account to “cover dependent care [costs], and camp may qualify,” Fobes says.
Negotiate price: “Many people don’t think about negotiating the cost of summer camp, but it is possible,” Tayne says, and more and more camps are open to it.
See if there’s an “honor system”: Some camps have what’s known as an honor system, where the camp offers a range of costs, or tiered pricing, and parents can pay what they can comfortably afford. Every child enjoys the same camp experience, regardless of which price point, and billing is kept private.
Take advantage of discounts: Attention early birds and web surfers: “There are sometimes discounts offered when you sign up early or register online,” Fobes says.
Volunteer: If your summer schedule allows, “offer to work at the camp,” Fobes says. If you lend your servicesâperhaps for the camp blog or cleaning the camp house before the season startsâyour child may be able to attend camp for free or a reduced rate.
Don’t let summer camp costs become a family budget-buster. Plan ahead and look for money-saving opportunities and work your budget for summer camp into your annual financial plan.
To save money on summer camp, remember that you only need to focus on camp necessities. “Don’t spend a lot of extra money on new clothing, bedding, trunks or suitcases,” Schisler says. “Remember, summer camp is all about the experience, not the things.”
1 ATM transactions, the purchase of money orders or other cash equivalents, cash over portions of point-of-sale transactions, Peer-to-Peer (P2P) payments (such as Apple Pay Cash), and loan payments or account funding made with your debit card are not eligible for cash back rewards. In addition, purchases made using third-party payment accounts (services such as VenmoÂ® and PayPal, who also provide P2P payments) may not be eligible for cash back rewards. Apple, the Apple logo and Apple Pay are trademarks of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.
The post Your Guide to Budgeting for Summer Camp appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
Prepping for a new baby’s arrival might kick your nesting instinct into high gear, as you make sure everything is just right before the big day. One thing to add to your new-baby to-do list is figuring out how to financially prepare for maternity leave if you’ll be taking time away from work.
Lauren Mochizuki, a nurse and budgeting expert at personal finance blog Casa Mochi, took time off from work for the births of both her children. Because she had only partial paid leave each time, she says a budget was critical in making sure money wasn’t a source of stress.
“The purpose of budgeting for maternity leave is to have enough money saved to replace your income for your desired leave time,” Mochizuki says.
But the question “How do I budget for maternity leave?” is a big one. One thing’s for sureâthe answer will be different for everyone, since not everyone’s leave or financial situation is the same. What matters most is taking action early to get a grip on your finances while there’s still time to plan.
Before you get caught up in the new-baby glow, here’s what you need to do to financially prepare for maternity leave:
1. Estimate how long you’ll need your maternity budget to last
To financially prepare for maternity leave, you need to know how long you plan to be away from work without pay.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows eligible employees up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave from work per year for certain family and medical reasons, including for the birth of a child. Some employers may also offer a period of paid leave for new parents.
When estimating how long you’ll need your maternity budget to last, Mochizuki says to consider how much unpaid leave you plan to take based on your personal needs and budget. For example, you could find you’re not able to take the full period offered by FMLA after reviewing your expenses (more on that below) and how much you have in savings.
Even if your employer does offer paid maternity leave, you may decide to extend your time at home by supplementing your paid leave with unpaid time off, Mochizuki says.
Keep in mind that despite all of your budgeting for maternity leave, your health and the health of your baby may also influence how much unpaid time off you take and how long your maternity leave budget needs to stretch.
As you’re financially preparing for maternity leave, make sure your spouse or partner is also considering what benefits may be available to them through their employer. Together you should know what benefits are available for maternity or paternity leave, either paid or unpaid, and how to apply for them as you jointly navigate the budgeting for maternity leave process. You can then decide how to coordinate the amount of time each of you should take and when that leave should begin.
Contact your HR department to learn about your company’s maternity leave policy, how to apply for leave and whether there are any conditions you need to meet to qualify for leave. Ask if you’re able to leverage sick days, vacation days or short-term disability for paid maternity leave.
2. Babyproof your budget
When budgeting for maternity leave, make sure you review your current monthly budget to assess how budgeting for a new baby fits in.
In Mochizuki’s case, she and her husband added a category to save for maternity leave within their existing budget for household expenses (e.g., mortgage, utilities, groceries).
“We treated it as another emergency fund, meaning we had a goal of how much we wanted to save and we kept working and saving until we reached that goal,” Mochizuki says.
As you financially prepare for maternity leave, consider the following questions:
What new expenses need to be added to your budget? Diapers, for instance, can cost a family around $900 per year, according to the National Diaper Bank Network. You may also be spending money on formula, bottles, wipes, clothes and toys for your new one, all of which can increase your monthly budget. And don’t forget the cost of any new products or items that mom will need along the way. Running the numbers with a first-year baby costs calculator can help you accurately estimate your new expenses and help with financial planning for new parents.
Will any of your current spending be reduced while you’re on leave? As you think about the new expenses you’ll need to add when budgeting for maternity leave, don’t forget the ones you may be able to nix. For example, your budget may dip when it comes to commuting costs if you’re not driving or using public transit to get to work every day. If you have room in your budget for meals out or entertainment expenses, those may naturally be cut if you’re eating at home more often and taking it easy with the little one.
3. Tighten up the budgetâthen tighten some more
Once you’ve evaluated your budget, consider whether you can streamline it further as you financially prepare for maternity leave. This can help ease any loss of income associated with taking time off or counter the new expenses you’ve added to your maternity leave budget.
Becky Beach, founder of Mom Beach, a personal finance blog for moms, says that to make her maternity leave budget workâwhich included three months of unpaid leaveâshe and her husband got serious about reducing unnecessary expenses.
Cut existing costs
As you budget for maternity leave, go through your existing budget by each spending category.
“The best tip is to cut costs on things you don’t need, like subscriptions, movie streaming services, new clothes, eating out, date nights, etc.,” Beach says. “That money should be earmarked for your new baby’s food, clothes and diapers.”
Cutting out those discretionary “wants” is an obvious choice, but look more closely at other ways you could save. For example, could you negotiate a better deal on your car insurance or homeowner’s insurance? Can you better plan and prep for meals to save money on food costs? How about reducing your internet service package or refinancing your debt?
Find ways to earn
Something else to consider as you budget for maternity leave is how you could add income back into your budget if all or part of your leave is unpaid and you want to try and close some of the income gap. For example, before your maternity leave starts, you could turn selling unwanted household items into a side hustle you can do while working full time to bring in some extra cash and declutter before baby arrives.
Reduce new costs
As you save for maternity leave, also think about how you could reduce expenses associated with welcoming a new baby. Rather than buying brand-new furniture or clothing, for example, you could buy those things gently used from consignment shops, friends or relatives and online marketplaces. If someone is planning to throw a baby shower on your behalf, you could create a specific wish list of items you’d prefer to receive as gifts in order to offset costs.
4. Set a savings goal and give every dollar a purpose
When Beach and her husband saved for maternity leave, they set out to save $20,000 prior to their baby’s birth. They cut their spending, used coupons and lived frugally to make it happen.
In Beach’s case, they chose $20,000 since that’s what she would have earned over her three-month maternity leave, had she been working. You might use a similar guideline to choose a savings goal. If you’re receiving paid leave, you may strive to save enough to cover your new expenses.
As you make your plan to save for maternity leave, make sure to account for your loss of income and the new expenses in your maternity leave budget. Don’t forget to factor in any savings you already have set aside and plan to use to help you financially prepare for maternity leave.
Once you’ve come up with your savings target, consider dividing your maternity savings into different buckets, or categories, to help ensure the funds last as long as you need them to. This could also make it harder to overspend in any one category.
For instance, when saving for maternity leave, you may leverage buckets like:
“The purpose of budgeting for maternity leave is to have enough money saved to replace your income for your desired leave time.”
Budgeting for maternity leaveâand beyond
Once maternity leave ends, your budget will evolve again as your income changes and new baby-related expenses are introduced. As you prepare to go back to work, review your budget again and factor in any new costs. For example, in-home childcare or daycare may be something you have to account for, along with ongoing healthcare costs for new-baby checkups.
Then, schedule a regular date going forward to review your budget and expenses as your baby grows. You can do this once at the beginning or end of the month or every payday. Take a look at your income and expenses to see what has increased or decreased and what adjustments, if any, you need to make to keep your budget running smoothly.
Budgeting for maternity leave takes a little time and planning, but it’s well worth the effort. Knowing that your finances are in order lets you relax and enjoy making memoriesâinstead of stressing over money.
The post What You Need to Know About Budgeting for Maternity Leave appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
What if you could pay for your next date night or trip to the grocery storeâwithout having to dip into your budget? If you use cash back to your advantage, these benefits could become a reality.
In the past, you had to swipe a credit card to earn cash back. But with Discover Cashback Debit, you can earn cash back by spending with your debit card (you read that right: debit card), allowing you to reach your financial goals without the risk of going into debt.
To best use this budget bonus, you might be wondering, âWhat should I do with my debit card cash back?” According to Eric Rosenberg, financial consultant and founder of the website Personal Profitability, âYou could put [your cash back] into savings or treat yourself to something from your wish list.”
Read on for things to do with cash back to help you achieve the right balance of responsibility and fun:
1. Save for a rainy day
Sometimes it seems like everything goes wrong all at once: You get a flat tire. The sink starts leaking (ugh, again!). You get a parking ticket. Since life can throw unexpected, costly curveballs your way, it’s important to have an emergency fund. Also known as a rainy day fund, an emergency fund is cash that’s set aside to cover unplanned, yet crucial, expenses.
âSo many people can’t afford the cost of an emergency from their savings,” Rosenberg says. If you don’t have this type of fund to fall back on, starting an emergency fund (or adding to an existing fund) could be a top priority when evaluating what to do with your cash back from a debit card.
When thinking about building an emergency fund as a thing to do with cash back, note that experts typically recommend putting aside at least three to six months of living expenses for this purpose. To maximize your emergency fund, you may want to consider moving these savings (and the cash back you’re putting toward this fund) to a high-yield savings account. That way, your emergency fund can steadily grow with interest until you need it. (P.S. More to come on how to automatically move your cash back into savings.)
2. Pay down your debt
If you owe, it can be tough to climb your way out of debt. Whether it’s from credit cards, student loans or a mortgage, interest is accruing and costing you money. Learning how to use your debit card cash back to offset debt can help you save on those interest payments down the road.
According to consumer money-saving expert Andrea Woroch, when you’re focusing on paying off debt, “It’s natural to cut back where you can. But you may eventually hit a wall where you can’t find ways to tackle expenses any further,” she says. That’s where learning how to use debit card cash back comes into play. Since a debit card with a cash back feature can allow you to earn for your everyday spending, those earnings can become a new source for paying down debt, Woroch adds.
3. Shore up for those special moments
You know you’d like to have more nights out, but they don’t come cheap. What to do with your cash back could include spending on special outings, Woroch says. Is there a restaurant you and your significant other have been dying to try? Is there a concert the whole family is super eager to see? There may also be larger events with family and friends to think aboutâplanning a milestone birthday or anniversary or that getaway with college buds. You can set aside your debit card cash back and earmark it for your relationships to create memories that will last a lifetime.
âYou could put [your cash back] into savings or treat yourself to something from your wish list.”
4. Support your children’s allowance
If you have kids, you’ve probably heard this one before: âMom, Dad, can I have some money?” Sometimes it can feel like you’re a walking ATM. One thing to do with cash back is to set aside an allowance for your kids. You can then use this cash to teach your children good savings habits and how to manage money on a monthly basis for the things they need and want, says Rosenberg of Personal Profitability. The best part: The money isn’t really coming out of your budget since you’re earning it for your everyday expenses and from money you’d be spending anyways. Win-win.
In thinking about what to do with your cash back, spending it on gift-giving and holiday expenses may be a good goal. “Some people go into debt during the holidays. To help avoid that circumstance, use your cash back to get ahead,” Woroch says.
And, really do think ahead if holiday spending is on your list of things to do with your cash back. The earlier you stash your cash back away for the holidays, the longer it will have time to accrue if you put it in a savings account for safekeeping. Season’s greetings may be the last thing on your mind while you’re flipping burgers on the 4th, but planning ahead could really impact your end-of-year festive spending.
How to maximize your cash back
Now that you know what to do with your cash backâwhether it’s going to work for your emergency fund or funding emergency holiday giftsâconsider steps you can take to get the most out of your extra dough. For example, find a rewards program that matches your spending style. With Discover Cashback Debit, you can earn 1% cash back on up to $3,000 in debit card purchases each month.1 That’s up to $360 a year. Not too bad for just going about your daily debit card spending.
Get 1% cashback on Debit from Discover. 1% cashback on up to $3000 in debit card purchases every month. Limitations apply. Excludes Money market accounts.Discover Bank,Member FDIC.Learn More
To make the process of saving that extra cash even easier, consider opening a Discover Online Savings Account. If you sign up for Auto Redemption to Savings, your cash back will be automatically deposited into your savings account every month.
âThe hardest part about saving for many people is remembering to make a transfer or take the cash to the bank,” Rosenberg says. “If you can automate it, you are setting yourself up for success. It’s like saving while you sleep.”
If you’re still considering how to use your debit card cash back to the fullest, Woroch suggests paying for group purchases when you’re out with family or friends. “Whether you’re going to dinner or renting a condo, cover the entire expense on your card and ask friends and family to pay you back with cash or [via mobile payment],” Woroch says. “This way you can benefit from earning more rewards.”
When it comes to how to use your debit card cash back, the key is to make sure you have enough in your account and aren’t spending too much if you offer to temporarily foot the bill. You don’t want to overextend in order to earn, as you could be hit with overdraft fees or not have enough in your account to cover bill payments, Woroch says.
“Whether you’re going to dinner or renting a condo, cover the entire expense on your card and ask friends and family to pay you back with cash or [via mobile payment]. This way you can benefit from earning more rewards.”
Get ahead with a combination of strategies
If you’re looking for things to do with cash back, using these tactics can help you improve your financial foundation and have some fun along the way. Understand your needs and goals to help you create a cash back plan, and then maximize your strategy with tools to help you automatically direct your cash back to savings to limit the temptation to spend the money elsewhere.
“We are all so busy these days, and managing money is often pushed down on the to-do list,” Woroch says. Learning how to use your debit card cash back can help you put money management front and center. Start earning!
1 ATM transactions, the purchase of money orders or other cash equivalents, cash over portions of point-of-sale transactions, Peer-to-Peer (P2P) payments (such as Apple Pay Cash), and loan payments or account funding made with your debit card are not eligible for cash back rewards. In addition, purchases made using third-party payment accounts (services such as VenmoÂ® and PayPal, who also provide P2P payments) may not be eligible for cash back rewards. Apple, the Apple logo and Apple Pay are trademarks of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.
The post How to Use Your Debit Card Cash Back to the Fullest appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
If your career is associated with a variable income, read on for budgeting tips.
If you have an irregular income, you know how great the good times feel—and how difficult the lean times can be. While you can’t always control when you get paid or the size of each paycheck if you’re a freelancer, contractor or work in the gig economy, you can take control of your money by creating a budget that will help you manage these financial extremes.
Antowoine Winters, a financial planner and principal at Next Steps Financial Planning, LLC, says creating a budget with a variable income can require big-picture thinking. You may need to spend time testing out different methods when you first start budgeting, but, “if done correctly, it can really empower you to control your life,” Winters says.
How do you budget on an irregular income? Consider these four strategies to help you budget with a variable income and gain financial confidence:
1. Determine your average income and expenses
If you want to start budgeting on a fluctuating income, you need to know how much money you have coming in and how much you’re spending.
Of course, that’s the basis for any budget. But it can be particularly important if you’re trying to budget on an irregular income because you may have especially high- or low-income periods. You want to start tracking as soon as possible to build up accurate data on your average income and expenses.
For example, once you have six months’ worth of income and expenses documented, you can divide the total by six to determine your average income and expenses by month.
Many financial apps and websites can help with the tracking, including ones that can connect to your online bank and credit card accounts and automatically pull in your transactions. You may even be able to pull in previous months’ or years’ worth of data, which you can use to calculate your averages.
If you’re budgeting on a fluctuating income and apps aren’t your thing, you can use a spreadsheet or even a pen and notebook to track your cash flow. However, without automated tracking, it can be difficult to consistently keep your information up to date.
2. Try a zero-sum budget
“There are several strategies you can use to budget with an irregular income, but one of the easiest ones is the zero-sum budget,” says Holly Johnson. As a full-time freelance writer, she’s been budgeting with a variable income for over seven years and is the coauthor of the book Zero Down Your Debt.
With a zero-sum budget, your income and expenses should even out so there’s nothing left over at the end of the month. The trick is to treat your savings goals as expenses. For example, your “expenses” may include saving for an emergency, vacation or homeownership.
“There are several strategies you can use to budget with an irregular income, but one of the easiest ones is the zero-sum budget.”
Johnson says if you’re budgeting on a fluctuating income, you can adopt the zero-sum budget by creating a “salary” for yourself. Consider your average monthly expenses (shameless plug for tip 1) and use that number as your baseline.
For example, if your monthly household bills, groceries, business expenses, savings goals and other necessities add up to $4,000, that’s your salary for the month. During months when you make over $4,000, put the extra money into a separate savings account. During months when you make less than $4,000, draw from that account to bring your salary up to $4,000.
“We call this fund the ‘boom and bust’ fund,” Johnson says. “By building up an adequate amount of savings, you will create a situation where you can pay yourself the salary you need each month.”
3. Separate your saving and spending money
Physically separating your savings from your everyday spending money may be especially important when you’re creating a budget on an irregular income. You may be tempted to pull funds from your savings goals during low-income months, and stashing your savings in a separate, high-yield savings account can force you to pause and think twice before dipping in.
You earned it. Now earn more with it.
Online savings with no minimum balance.
Discover Bank, Member FDIC
An easy way to put this tip into action when creating a budget with a variable income is to have all of your income deposited into one account, then disburse it into separate savings and spending accounts. “Transfer a set amount on the first of every month to a bill-paying account and a set amount to a spending account,” Winters, the financial planner, says.
“The bill pay account is used to pay for all of the regular expenses, like rent, insurance, car payments, student loans, etc.,” Winters says. These bills generally stay the same each month. The spending account can be used for your variable expenses, such as groceries and gas.
When considering your savings accounts, Winters also suggests funding a retirement account, such as an Individual Retirement Account (IRA).
If you’re budgeting on a fluctuating income as a contract worker or freelancer, you may also want to set money aside for taxes because the income and payroll taxes you’ll owe aren’t automatically taken out of your paychecks.
4. Build up your emergency fund
“The best way to weather low-income periods is to prepare with an adequate emergency fund,” freelancer Johnson says. An emergency fund is money you set aside for necessary expenses during an emergency, such as a medical issue or broken-down vehicle.
Generally, you’ll want to save up enough money to cover three to six months of your regular expenses. Once you build your fund, you can put extra savings toward other financial goals.
When you’re budgeting on a fluctuating income, having the emergency fund can help you feel more at ease knowing that you’ll be able to pay your necessary bills if the unexpected happens or when you’re stuck in a low-income period for longer than anticipated.
A budget can make living with a variable income easier
It can be challenging to budget on an irregular income, especially when you’re first starting. You might have to cut back on expenses for several months to start building up your savings and try multiple budgeting methods before finding the one that works best for you.
“Budgeting requires a mindset change regardless of which type of budget you try,” Johnson explains.
“The best way to weather low-income periods is to prepare with an adequate emergency fund.”
However, once in place, a budget on an irregular income can also help free you from worrying about the boom-and-bust cycle that many variable-income workers deal with throughout the year.
The goal is to get to the point where you can budget with a variable income and don’t have to worry about when you’ll get paid next because you set your budget based on your averages, planned ahead during the high times and have savings ready for your low times.
Have you been spending lots of time at home? Creating a household budget can help you get a handle on where you’re spending—and where you can find ways to save.
Love it or hate it, many Americans are spending more time at home. The coronavirus pandemic not only accelerated the work-from-home trend to warp speed, but it also shuttered schools and summer camps, scratched travel plans and canceled brunch and dinner reservations across the country.
Jen Dawson, a certified financial planner and managing director in Chicago, found that the uncertainty and stay-at-home lifestyle created by the pandemic prompted her clients to look at their financial situations in a new light.
“I think it just gives opportunities for people and families to reflect,” Dawson says. “‘What do we want out of life? What do we want from our money?’ Those conversations are really valuable.”
As Dawson’s clients reflect on their goals, they (and many others) are also wondering, “How should I adjust my household budget if we’re spending more time at home?”
How to optimize your budget for the stay-at-home economy in 4 steps
Ellen Rogin, a former wealth advisor and now a speaker, author and entrepreneur, notes that people across the country were affected by the pandemic in very different ways. While many workers were able to keep their jobs as they transitioned to working from home, many were not.
“There are people who have lost their jobs and are being forced to make difficult decisions,” Rogin says. “And there are people who are still employed and earning the same income they did before, who have more options as they decide how they’re spending their money now.”
Even if you’ve been spared serious financial challenges, you should still consider updating or creating a household budget or spending plan. This will allow you to determine how to save more money in the stay-at-home economy.
Rogin and Dawson encourage you to use this opportunity to ensure you’re at least staying on track to meet your savings goals—and at best, shortening your savings timelines. It’s also a chance to make sure that your spending habits, which have likely changed as you’ve spent more time at home, are maximizing your happiness.
Below, we break down insights from Rogin and Dawson into four actionable steps you can take to save money in quarantine while living the best life possible. It all starts with taking an objective look at how your spending habits changed as you transitioned to a more domestic lifestyle.
Read on to see how to save more money in the stay-at-home economy by creating a new household budget:
1. Compare your spending trends before and during quarantine
As you set about creating a household budget for an at-home lifestyle and determining how to save more money in the stay-at-home economy, start by reviewing your spending.
Dawson encourages you to refer to your debit and credit card statements to analyze the differences between your spending before staying home became the norm, and after. “You can compare it and contrast and have observations and discussions around what changed,” she says. “What do you like that you want to keep going, and what do you not like about it?”
All you need, Dawson says, is a spreadsheet to total up your major expenses, such as housing, utilities, transportation, food and dining, travel, shopping and entertainment. Then, subtract the sum of those costs from the money you earned (aka income) over the same timeframe.
Do this exercise for three months of spending before quarantine and then again for three months of spending during quarantine. You’ll be able to compare the data to see whether you have more or less disposable income as a member of the stay-at-home economy.
Rogin notes that it can be a little scary to examine your finances like this, but there’s no reason to feel anxious.
“Most people don’t really know how much money they’re spending, whether times are good or bad,” she says. “But it can really make you feel calmer to know what it takes to run your lifestyle.”
If you see that your disposable income decreased while in quarantine (or that you no longer have disposable income at all), then you’ll need to find ways to cut back on spending if you want to keep your savings goals on track. If your extra cash increased and you’re actually saving more money in quarantine, then you can start to consider how you might hit some or all of your savings goals more quickly.
Either way, you still have work to do as you consider how to save more money in the stay-at-home economy. Rather than focusing on external factors that are out of your control, Rogin and Dawson recommend that, as a next step, you ask yourself what matters most to you.
2. Ask yourself how your spending habits impact your happiness
Rogin considers the distanced, more remote way of life as a chance to reflect on what’s really important in order to create your household budget. One example she points to is how many people have been cooking at home far more often than they once did.
“Maybe you’re spending more on groceries, but that’s less than you were spending on eating out—and you enjoy it,” she says. “You’re spending more time with your family. You’re eating more healthily. So it gives you the opportunity to really assess your budget in a different way.”
Another example is travel. Rogin says that some people have told her that they really miss it, but others have been surprised to find how happy they are to pump the brakes on their jet-setting ways. In addition to saving money in quarantine from reimbursed travel and no more expensive trips, it’s allowed them to slow down and enjoy their time at home with family.
For her part, Rogin found that she wore the same two pairs of shoes during quarantine because they’re comfortable, and no one can see them when she’s video conferencing during work. As a result, Rogin cut this expense from her stay-at-home budget.
Whether you’re facing a cash shortage or surplus from more time spent at home, Rogin says that extending this line of thinking into a “values-based spending plan” for the stay-at-home economy will allow you to direct your money to what matters most to you, while diverting funds away from what doesn’t.
Once you add up the expenses that are no longer necessary in your stay-at-home budget, it’s time to put that money to work.
Tip: When looking at quarantine spending, don’t get too granular
Dawson underscores that evaluating spending patterns can be an emotional exercise. If you’re reviewing your finances with a family member, partner or spouse, try to resist the urge to nitpick every purchase. The trends should be easy enough to spot from a bird’s-eye view.
3. Put your stay-at-home savings toward your financial goals
Dawson and Rogin recommend having a plan when you’re trying to figure out how to save more money in the stay-at-home economy. That plan should include what you’re saving for, as well as where you’ll keep the funds as they add up.
Rogin recommends framing your financial goals from a positive angle. For example, when you create a household budget, instead of focusing on cutting spending, you can set a goal for how much extra money you want to save.
If you have children or live with a partner or spouse, Dawson notes that this goal-oriented approach can help get them involved. The objective might be to start an emergency fund to ride out unexpected headwinds. Or, the focus could be on saving up for a big vacation to look forward to when travel restrictions ease.
When deciding where to keep your savings, a standard checking account won’t allow your money to grow like a high-yield online savings account will. Rather than pooling the money you’ve saved in quarantine into one account, Dawson suggests opening multiple savings accounts, one for each of your savings goals.
“Be really clear about what each savings account is for,” she says. “Then you’re more likely to fund it.”
Of course, luxury savings goals like a vacation should not take priority over your long-term savings goals, such as retirement or college funds.
4. When saving money in quarantine, remember to support those in need if you can
If you are saving money in quarantine, Rogin suggests considering all the benefits of earmarking extra cash for philanthropic causes. It could go directly to the local small businesses you love that are hurting for revenue. Or it could go to any number of nonprofit organizations that are doing good in the world.
“So many people are in need now,” Rogin says. “There are so many beautiful ways that can help you feel like you’re making a difference for people by reallocating some of that money towards causes and people that you want to support.”
How will you start saving money in quarantine?
The stay-at home lifestyle may not have been in your plans, but you have the opportunity to gain control of your finances inside your home by creating a household budget that works for you in this new reality.
When you analyze, assess and optimize your spending and consider how to save money in quarantine, you’ll be in as strong a financial position as possible when life gets back to normal.
If you’ve been fortunate enough to save money in quarantine, consider starting or adding to your emergency fund. Not sure where to store your savings? Check out the four best places to keep your emergency fund.
Articles may contain information from third-parties. The inclusion of such information does not imply an affiliation with the bank or bank sponsorship, endorsement, or verification regarding the third-party or information.
Do you like to save, have flexibility and skip hidden costs? Then the answer is probably yes.
When personal finance blogger Allan Liwanag was establishing his career and living paycheck to paycheck, he often had just enough money to cover his expenses each month. He ran into an issue with an old checking account that caused him some major grief.
“I forgot to account for the $15 monthly fee that the bank would charge,” Liwanag says. “So I was short covering my rent. It was a stressful situation because I didn’t know at first if the bank would process the payment for the rent or not.” The bank ultimately covered it, but Liwanag got charged $35 for an insufficient funds fee—on top of the original monthly fee.
Liwanag, who now runs a consumer money-saving site called The Practical Saver, learned a lot from that experience. The main point being, checking accounts can rack up fees—even for standard activity. In fact, bank fees, including those for ATM usage and overdrafts, continue to rise year-over-year, according to a 2019 Bankrate survey. As Liwanag learned, fees could eat away at the funds in your checking account, which may become problematic when it’s time to pay bills or take care of other expenses.
What you may not know is that there are no-fee checking account options without the hassle of common fees. Discover®Cashback Debit, a no-fee checking account, for instance, doesn’t charge any account fees.1 It also offers no-fee checking without an opening deposit requirement, which is especially beneficial if you’re starting with a small balance or plan to make big withdrawals or transfers.
So you might be thinking right about now, “What are the benefits of a no-fee checking account?” To answer that question, it’s important to understand what types of fees you may be racking up and how you can make the most of a no-fee account. Let’s get to it.
Bank fees, including those for ATM usage and overdrafts, continue to rise year-over-year.
Your most common checking account fees
Checking account fees can become a trap you may not realize you’ve fallen into until it’s too late. It’s possible to be charged fees just for keeping your account open or for services or features you may have assumed came standard with the account. Being charged a fee doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve done anything wrong, but it’s a hassle you can avoid with the proper research.
Here is a list of some of the common checking account fees you could be paying:
Monthly fees to maintain or service your account
Overdraft or insufficient funds fees
Fees to order books of checks
Online bill pay fees
Stop payment fees
Replacement debit card fees
Not sure which checking account fees you’re dishing out for? Contact your bank or visit its website to get a copy of your deposit account agreement. This document usually has a list of fees related to your checking account that may apply to you.
Another good tipoff: “If you see monthly, quarterly or annual fees broken out on your monthly bank statement, you’ll know whether your account is truly no-fee,” says CPA and financial analyst Riley Adams of Young and the Invested, a site with strategies for financial independence.
It’s important to review your statements regularly to identify which fees you are being charged and to determine how that’s impacting your budget.
3 benefits of a no-fee checking account
Now that you’ve identified the many possible checking account fees you could be charged, you’ll find that the benefits of a no-fee checking account go beyond just freeing up some cash in your budget. In addition to the features you’re used to with a regular checking account, a no-fee checking account gives you a financial edge in the following ways:
More money for your financial goals. “Having a no-fee checking account can help you get ahead financially,” Adams says. “Instead of paying monthly service fees and even overdraft fees, you can apply that money toward your own financial goals.” The money you save on fees could be used to pay down debt, boost a savings account or help fund an education, business venture or vacation.
Flexibility. A benefit of a no-fee checking account is that it allows you to bank on your terms. If you’re just starting out, a no-fee checking account without an opening deposit requirement means you have the flexibility to fund the account with whatever amount makes sense for you. Need to make a big transfer from checking to savings? No problem, since you won’t have to worry about dipping below a minimum balance threshold. You can even go on your merry way using ATMs in your bank’s network without being restricted by fees, and if you accidentally overdraw, your no-fee account’s flexibility may save you the stress of a ding for insufficient funds.
No surprises. “Should I get a no-fee checking account?” was an easy decision for Liwanag because he knows exactly what to expect with one. “A plus of no-fee accounts is that you can rest assured that unaccounted-for or surprise fees will not kick you into overdraft,” Liwanag says. (Or, in other words, less s-t-r-e-s-s.)
Manage your finances with multiple no-fee accounts
There are also ways that no-fee checking accounts can help you better manage your income and expenses, in case you’re still wondering, “Should I get a no-fee checking account?”
Liwanag had no problem answering that question: “I have four,” he says, “which I use for easily tracking specific budget categories or expenses.”
As he explains, it can be easier to track expenses when money for different priorities, such as his emergency fund or that much-needed vacation, is bucketed into different no-fee checking accounts. Because he may be charged fees for excessive withdrawals from a savings account, Liwanag uses his no-fee checking accounts to manage the money he’ll need to access frequently for specific purposes.
The best part: Maintaining multiple checking accounts doesn’t cost him extra since a benefit of no-fee checking accounts means fees aren’t in the equation, he says. Some banks do have limits on how many checking accounts you can open, so be sure to consider this if you’re using a multiple account strategy like Liwanag.
Keeping your expenses organized is a pretty big motivator; so if you’ve answered “yes” to the question, “Should I get a no-fee checking account?”, the next step is knowing how to choose one.
Find the best no-fee checking account for your needs
Although the benefits of a no-fee checking account are key, don’t lose your head too much and forget to consider other checking account features that match your lifestyle. If customer service is your deal breaker, make sure the bank offers it around the clock and that it’s recognized for being top-notch. If you’re always on the go and your phone is right there with you, mobile features and mobile check deposit may be on the top of your list. If you’re regularly withdrawing cash, evaluate the bank’s network of no-fee ATMs and see if an ATM locator is offered to make tracking them down a breeze.
Why should credit cards have all the fun?
Now you can earn cash back with your debit card.
If the benefits of a no-fee checking account are top of mind, you may also want to consider the perks of a rewards checking account. For example, Discover’s Cashback Debit even offers 1% cash back on up to $3,000 in debit card purchases each month.2 So on top of a no-fees savings strategy to meet your goals, you could also earn up to $360 a year. (Vacation, here we come!)
Start on your path to smart checking
Clearly, the benefits of a no-fee checking account and a no-fee checking account without an opening deposit requirement are numerous. Just be sure to do your research, then compare your findings carefully. The no-fee checking account you choose should ultimately help you reach your personal financial goals. You may find that saving on fees and reducing financial stress could be just the edge you need to set your checking account on the best course.
1Outgoing wire transfers are subject to a service charge. You may be charged a fee by a non-Discover ATM if it is not part of the 60,000+ ATMs in our no-fee network.
2ATM transactions, the purchase of money orders or other cash equivalents, cash over portions of point-of-sale transactions, Peer-to-Peer (P2P) payments (such as Apple Pay Cash), and loan payments or account funding made with your debit card are not eligible for cash back rewards. In addition, purchases made using third-party payment accounts (services such as Venmo® and PayPal®, who also provide P2P payments) may not be eligible for cash back rewards. Apple, the Apple logo and Apple Pay are trademarks of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries. Venmo and PayPal are registered trademarks of PayPal, Inc.