How to Pay Off Credit Card Debt Faster

I've received several questions from Money Girl podcast listeners about paying off credit card debt. It's a fundamental goal because carrying card balances come with high interest, a waste of your financial resources. Instead of paying money to card companies, it's time to use it to build wealth for yourself.

7 Strategies to Pay Off Credit Card Debt Faster

1. Stop making new card charges

If you're carrying card balances from month-to-month, it's essential to understand what it costs you. As interest accrues, it can double or triple the original cost of a charged item, depending on how long it takes you to pay off.

The first step to improving any area of your life is to acknowledge your mistakes, and financing a lifestyle you can't afford using a credit card is a biggie. So, stop making new charges until you take control of your cards and can pay them off in full each month.

As interest accrues, it can double or triple the original cost of a charged item, depending on how long it takes you to pay off.

Yes, reining in your card spending will probably require sacrifices. Consider ways to earn extra income, such as starting a side gig, finding a better-paying job, or selling your unused stuff. Also, look for ways to cut costs by downsizing your home, vehicle, memberships, or unnecessary expenses.

2. Consider your big financial picture

Before you decide to pay off credit card debt aggressively, look at the "big picture" of your financial life. Consider any other debts or obligations you should prioritize, such as a tax delinquency, legal judgment, or unpaid child support. The next debts to pay off are those already in default or turned over to a collection agency.

In many cases, not having a cash reserve is why people get into credit card debt in the first place.

Assuming you don't have any debts in default, focus your attention on your emergency fund … or lack of one! I recommend maintaining a minimum of six months' worth of your living expenses on hand. In many cases, not having a cash reserve is why people get into credit card debt in the first place.

3. Make more than the minimum payment

Many people who can pay more than their monthly minimum card payment don't do it. The problem is that minimums go mostly toward interest and don't reduce your balance significantly.

For example, let's assume your card charges 15% APR, you have a $5,000 balance, and you never make another purchase on the card. If your minimum payment is 4% of your card balance, it will take you 10½ years to pay off. And here's the worst part—you'd have paid almost $2,400 in interest!

4. Target debts with the highest interest rates first

Make a list of all your debts, including credit cards, lines of credit, and loans. Include your balances owed and interest rates charged. Then rank your liabilities in order of highest to lowest interest rate.

Getting rid of the highest interest debts first saves you the most.

Remember that the higher a debt's interest rate, the more it costs you in interest per dollar of debt. So, getting rid of the highest interest debts first saves you the most. Then you can use the savings to pay more on your next highest interest debt and so on.

If you have several credit cards, evaluate them the same way—tackle them in order of highest to lowest interest rate to get the most bang for your buck. And if a credit card isn't the most expensive debt you have, make it a lower priority.

In general, debts that come with a tax deduction such as mortgages, home equity lines of credit, and student loans, should be paid off last. Not only do those types of debt have relatively low interest rates, but when some or all of the interest is tax-deductible, they cost you even less on an after-tax basis.

5. Use your assets to pay off cards

If you have assets such as savings and non-retirement investments that you could use to pay down high-interest credit cards, it may make sense. Just remember that you still need a healthy cash reserve, such as six months' worth of living expenses.

If you don't have any or enough emergency money saved, don't dip into your savings to pay off credit card debt. Also, consider what you could sell—such as unused sporting goods, jewelry, or a vehicle—to raise cash and increase your financial cushion.

6. Consider using a balance transfer card

If you can’t pay off credit card debt using existing assets, consider optimizing it by moving it from higher- to lower-interest options. That won’t make your debt disappear, but it will reduce the amount of interest you pay.

Balance transfers won’t make your debt disappear, but they will reduce the amount of interest you pay.

Using a balance transfer credit card is a common way to optimize debt temporarily. You receive a promotional offer during a set period if you move debt to the account. By transferring higher-interest debt to a lower- or zero-interest card, you save money and use it to pay down the balance faster.

7. Consolidate your high-rate balances

I received a question from Sarah F., who says, “I love your podcast and turn to it for a lot of my financial questions. I have credit card debt and am wondering if it’s a good idea to get a personal loan to pay it down, or is that a scam?”

And Rachel K. says, "I love listening to your podcasts and am focused on becoming more financially fit this year. I have a couple of credit cards with high interest rates. Would it be wise for me to consolidate them to a lower interest rate? If so, will it hurt my credit?" 

Depending on the terms you’re offered, using a personal loan can be an excellent way to reduce interest and get out of debt faster.

Thanks to Sarah and Rachel for your questions. Consolidating credit card debt using a personal loan is not a scam but a legitimate way to shift debt to a lower interest rate.

Having an additional loan added to your credit history helps you build credit if you make payments on time. It also works in your favor by reducing your credit utilization ratio when you reduce your credit card debt.

If you qualify for a low-rate personal loan, here are some benefits you get from debt consolidation:

  • Cutting your interest expense
  • Getting a fixed rate and term (such as 6% APR for 60 months with monthly payments of $600)
  • Having one monthly debt payment
  • Building credit

A couple of downsides of using a personal loan to consolidate debt include:

  • Being tempted to continue making credit card charges
  • Having potentially higher monthly loan payments (compared to minimum credit card payments)

While it may seem counterintuitive to use new debt to get out of old debt, it all comes down to the interest rate. Depending on the terms you’re offered, using a personal loan can be an excellent way to reduce interest and get out of debt faster.

What should you do after paying off a credit card?

Credit cards come with many benefits, such as purchase protection, convenience, and rewards. Don't forget that they're also powerful tools for building credit when used responsibly. If maintaining good credit is one of your goals, I recommend that you keep a paid-off card open instead of canceling it.

You don't need to carry a balance from month to month or pay interest on a credit card to build excellent credit.

To maintain or improve your credit, you must have credit accounts open in your name, and you must use them regularly. Making small purchases charges from time to time that you pay off in full and on time is enough to add positive data to your credit reports. You don't need to carry a balance from month to month or pay interest on a credit card to build excellent credit.

To learn more about building credit and getting out of debt, check out Laura’s best-selling online classes:

  • Build Better Credit—The Ultimate Credit Score Repair Guide
  • Get Out of Debt Fast—A Proven Plan to Stay Debt-Free Forever

Source: quickanddirtytips.com

How Much Money Do You Need to Buy a House?

A blue and white house sits on a green lawn, surrounded by trees.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median sales price of new homes in May 2020 was around $317,000. Even if you’re purchasing a home that falls well below that average, chances are it’s one of the most expensive things you’ll ever buy. With such a big expense, you might be wondering—how much do you need to save for a house?

The good news? You don’t have to save for the entire purchase price. But the amount you might need on hand to buy a home can be significant. Get some idea of how much money you might need to buy a house below.

How Much Should You Save for a House Down Payment?

It all depends on the price of the home you want to buy and what type of loan program you qualify for. Down payments are usually a percentage of the home cost.

You might have heard that you need 20% down to buy a home. That’s actually not entirely true. Although the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau makes a case for the benefits of 20% down, it also notes that this number doesn’t work for everyone.

So, where does the 20% figure come from? It’s part of the guidelines set by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, government sponsored, mortgage guarantee companies. You either have to pay 20% down or pay private mortgage insurance, because analysis indicates that loans without 20% down are riskier for the lenders.

Here’s a look at some common mortgage options and how much you might need to have for a down payment:

  • The CFPB notes that conventional loans with PMI can require 5 to 15% down on average. If the home price is $300,000, that’s $15,000 to $45,000.
  • Loans through the Federal Housing Administration require down payments of at least 3.5%. That’s $10,500 on a $300,000 home.
  • Some loan programs, such as those for rural borrowers through the USDA, or those who qualify for loans through the VA, don’t require a down payment at all.

Other Expenses to Save for

Down payments aren’t the only thing you need to save for when buying a home. Closing costs can be thousands of dollars, and you may need to foot the bill for inspections, home repairs or even fun things, like new furniture. To make the home-buying process less stressful, it’s a good idea to save more than you expect to need for closing costs.

How Long Will It Take to Save for a House?

Saving 20% of your income could catapult you into purchasing a home in the next one to three years, depending on your market. For example, if you’re earning $96,000 per year, that’s $19,200 saved after one year. It’s $38,400 after two years and $57,600 after three. Even if you need 20% down, these amounts are roughly enough to help you buy homes worth between $100,000 and $300,000 within three years.

How Much of Your Savings Should You Spend on a House?

It’s tempting to empty out your savings or cash in your 401(k) to buy your dream home. Even if the house is just your first step into home ownership and isn’t perfect, it’s tempting to do what it takes to get those keys.

But spending 100% of your savings leaves no safety net if something happens. What if something breaks in your new home or there’s a medical emergency? Having some savings on hand to cover these issues helps protect your home, because you’re more likely to be able to continue to pay the mortgage.

Planning to Purchase a Home

If you’re planning on buying a home in the future, it’s important to start saving today. Every little bit you can do to save for a home helps make it happen.

If you want to buy a home for around $300,000 and you can’t qualify for a loan program that requires no down payment, you’ll need at least $10,500 to $15,000. You’ll also need closing costs and other fees, which typically run between 2 and 5% of the purchase price. Assuming $10,000 in closing costs, you need $25,000 minimum to position yourself for home ownership.

A Short-Term Plan

If you’re looking to buy a home within the next year or two, you’d need to save $12,500 to $25,000 a year. Saving 20% of your income can help you save the bulk of that in one or two years if you make more than $50,000 annually. To do that, though, you’ll need to set an aggressive personal budget and be willing to cut out some extras, such as cable or eating out.

A Long-Term Plan

By starting your journey to home ownership as early as possible, you can stretch your plan to five years or more. If you save over the course of five years, that’s only $5,000 a year. That’s $416 a month or just under $100 a week. You really could save for a house this way simply by cutting out a few expensive coffees, pizza nights, dinners, etc.

Start Saving Today

How much should you save before you try to buy a home? It depends on so many factors that there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer. So, do your research early, make a plan and stick with it. And, as you get close to being ready to buy a home, don’t forget to shop around to find the best mortgage rates. Because those mortgage rates, along with your home price, determine how much you’ll pay for your home.

The post How Much Money Do You Need to Buy a House? appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

Skipping Renters Insurance? Why That’s a Bigger Risk Than You’d Think

As a finance writer, I am surrounded by people who know a lot about managing money. But even those with the most money know-how can still miss financial must-haves.

For instance, in a recent conversation, a few of my coworkers stated they didn’t have renters insurance. This puts them among the 59% of renters who don’t have renters insurance, according to a poll from the Insurance Information Institute. On the other hand, 95% of homeowners carry homeowners insurance.

Granted, renting comes with fewer property responsibilities than owning. But don’t assume you can skip insurance for your home simply because you’re leasing it. Go without it and you’ll expose yourself to some major risks.

See why opting for a policy is protection you can’t live without, and learn how renters insurance can help smooth over the following five major renting crises.

1. Damaged Belongings

If you’re asking yourself whether you need insurance as a renter, a better question might be, Can you afford not to have it?

If the relatively small cost of a renters insurance premium—typically between $15 and $25 per month—seems too expensive, consider the alternative, suggests John Espenschied, agency principal of Insurance Brokers Group.

“Imagine replacing all your clothes, furniture, electronics, food, personal items, and priceless personal memorabilia,” he says. With renters insurance, the insurer will cover most or part of the value of damaged items. Without this coverage, you’re completely on the hook for all those costs.

Espenschied tells a story of one of his clients, a young woman to whom he recommended rental insurance multiple times. She declined the coverage.

Months later, there was an electrical surge in the building. “It took out everything she owned that was plugged in, including the TV, computer, and several other items,” Espenschied explains. These items were permanently damaged and unusable.

Had she opted for renters insurance, Espenschied could have helped her submit a claim and get the money to replace those belongings. Unfortunately, without the policy there was nothing he could do.

Don’t put yourself in the same position—get a renters insurance policy. On top of that, take steps to document all belongings and valuables so you can prove ownership in a renters insurance claim.

2. The Temporary Loss of a Habitable Home

Some disasters—such as fires, flooding, and electrical issues—can require extensive repairs and render your rental uninhabitable. Your landlord will usually handle these repairs, but if you lose the use of your home, your landlord might only be required to refund a prorated rent for the days you can’t live in your rental.

But if you’re out of a place to live, your daily rent rate might not cover any decent hotels or other temporary housing options.

But there’s good news: “Most renters insurance policies can help you in the event something happens to your apartment or house and you have to live elsewhere while it’s repaired,” says Jennifer Fitzgerald, CEO and cofounder of insurance comparison site PolicyGenius.

Typically, you can find a hotel nearby and your renters insurance will cover the costs of your stay until you can resume habitation of your home.

3. Stolen Belongings

Renters insurance typically includes coverage for theft and burglary too. If your home is broken into or burglarized, you can file a claim with your renters insurance provider to replace any stolen or damaged items.

“It even covers your belongings when they’re not physically in your home,” Fitzgerald says. “So if you take your laptop with you to the local coffee shop or on vacation and it’s stolen, your policy could help cover the costs of getting it repaired or replaced.” Renters insurance will usually be the policy that covers theft of personal items from your car too.

If your home is broken into or your purse is stolen from your car, promptly notifying authorities is an important step—filing a renters insurance loss claim will usually require a police report of the theft.

4. Personal Liability for Legal Damages

The most important protection your renters insurance provides, however, might be personal liability protection.

“If your dog bites someone or a food delivery person slips and falls, you’re covered,” says Stacey A. Giulianti, chief legal officer for Florida Peninsula Insurance. Instead of being held personally responsible for those damages, your insurer will step in and help. “The carrier will even hire and pay for an attorney to defend any resulting lawsuit.”

This can be especially important if you are found responsible for damage to adjacent properties as well, Espenschied says. For example, renters insurance will cover you if your toilet or tub “overflows and leaks into the neighbor’s unit below, causing damage to their personal property and cost to repair the building.” You may also be covered if a kitchen fire in your apartment causes damage to the unit above you.

The damage and loss can easily add up to tens of thousands of dollars. In cases like these, renters insurance can be the difference between smooth recovery and huge financial loss or even bankruptcy.

Make sure you understand your coverage. “Every policy is different, so talk to an agent and read your policy terms,” Giulianti warns.

5. An Eviction for Violating Your Lease Agreement

Many lease agreements include a clause in which the tenant agrees to purchase a renters insurance policy. These common clauses usually clarify that the landlord’s property insurance coverage does not extend to your personal belongings.

If you sign a lease with such a clause, you are agreeing to maintain this insurance coverage throughout your residency there. If you fail to get a policy or allow it to lapse, your landlord is within their rights to serve you with a “comply or quit” notice and possibly begin eviction proceedings.

If you don’t currently have a policy, reconsider getting renters insurance. Alongside a healthy emergency fund, having the right insurance can bring vital financial security to your life. For the cost, renters insurance provides protection and peace of mind.

“Most renters can get a policy for around $20 per month,” Fitzgerald says. “That’s a small price to pay when you think about the fact that if you don’t have renters insurance, you’ll be forced to cover the cost of replacing any and all items damaged.”

Procuring a renters insurance policy is a smart step toward financial security. With the right policy, you can avoid debt in an emergency and protect your possessions and your home. If you’re ready to buy a home, learn more about the ins and outs of home mortgages in Credit.com’s Mortgage Loan Learning Center. And to be financially prepared for anything, it’s also a good idea to build your credit score so you can qualify for loans and other credit when necessary. See where you stand with a free credit score from Credit.com.

Image: istock 

The post Skipping Renters Insurance? Why That’s a Bigger Risk Than You’d Think appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

What’s a Good Credit Score?

Whats a good credit score?

Your credit score is incredibly important. In fact, this number is so influential on various financial aspects of life that it can determine your eligibility to be approved for credit cards, car loans, home mortgages, apartment rentals, and even certain jobs. Knowing what your credit score is, and what range it falls under, is important so you can decide what loans you can to apply for, and if necessary, if steps need to be taken to improve your score.

So what constitutes a good credit score?

The Credit Score Range Scale

The most common credit score used by lenders and other business entities is the FICO score, which ranges from 300 to 850. The bigger the number, the better. To create credit scores, FICO uses information from one of the three major credit bureau agencies – Equifax, Experian or TransUnion. Knowing this range is important because it will help you understand where your specific number fits in.

Know what factors influence a good credit score to help improve your own credit health.

As far as lenders are concerned, the lower a consumer’s number on this scale, the higher the risk. Lenders will often deny a loan application for those with a lower credit score because of this risk. If they do approve a loan application, they’ll make consumers pay for such risk by means of a much higher interest rate.

Understand Your Credit Score

Within the credit score range are different categories, ranging from bad to excellent. Here is how credit score ranges are broken down:

Bad credit: 630 or Lower

Lenders generally consider a credit score of 630 or lower as bad credit. A number of past activities could have landed you in this category, including a string of late or missed credit card payments, maxed out credit cards, or even bankruptcy. Younger people who have no credit history will probably find themselves in this category until they have had time to develop their credit. If you’re in this bracket, you’ll be faced with higher interest rates and fees, and your selection of credit cards will be restricted.

Whats a good credit score?

Fair Credit: 630-689

This is considered an average score. Lingering within this range is most likely the result of having too much “bad” debt, such as high credit card debt that’s grazing the limit. Within this bracket, lenders will have a harder time trusting you with their loan.

Good Credit: 690-719

Having a credit score within this range will afford you more choices when it comes to credit cards, an easier time getting approved for various loans, and being charged much lower interest rates on such loans.

Excellent Credit: 720-850

Consider your credit score excellent if your number falls within this bracket. You’ll be able to take advantage of all the fringe benefits that come with credit cards, and will almost certainly be approved for loans at the lowest interest rates possible.

Understand the factors that make up a good credit score.

Whats a good credit score?

What’s Your Credit Score?

Federal law allows consumers to check their credit score for free once every 12 months. But if you want to check more often than this, a fee is typically charged. Luckily, there are other avenues to take to check your credit score.

Mint has recently launched an online tool that allows you to check your credit score for free without the need for a credit card. Here you’ll be able to learn the different components that affect your score, and how you can improve it.

You’ll be able to see your score with your other accounts to give you a complete picture of your finances. Knowing what your credit score is can help determine if you need to improve it to help you get the things you need or want. Visit Mint.com to find out more about how you can access your credit score – for free.

Lisa Simonelli Rennie is a freelance web content creator who enjoys writing on all sorts of topics, including personal finance, investing in stocks, mortgages, real estate investments, and anything else to do with the world of economics.

The post What’s a Good Credit Score? appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

What Is a No-Fee Mortgage?

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When you apply for a mortgage or refinance an existing mortgage, you want to secure the lowest interest rate possible. Any opportunity a borrower can exploit to shave dollars off the cost is a big win.

This explains the allure of no-fee mortgages. These home loans and their promise of doing away with pesky fees always sound appealing—a lack of lender fees or closing costs is sweet music to a borrower’s ears.

However, they come with their own set of pros and cons.

No-fee mortgages have experienced a renaissance given the current economic climate, according to Ralph DiBugnara, president of Home Qualified. “No-fee programs are popular among those looking to refinance … [and] first-time home buyers [have] also increased as far as interest” goes.

Be prepared for a higher interest rate

But nothing is truly free, and this maxim applies to no-fee mortgages as well. They almost always carry a higher interest rate.

“Over time, paying more interest will be significantly more expensive than paying fees upfront,” says DiBugnara. “If no-cost is the offer, the first question that should be asked is, ‘What is my rate if I pay the fees?’”

Randall Yates, CEO of The Lenders Network, breaks down the math.

“Closing costs are typically 2% to 5% of the loan amount,” he explains. “On a $200,000 loan, you can expect to pay approximately $7,500 in lender fees. Let’s say the interest rate is 4%, and a no-fee mortgage has a rate of 4.5%. [By securing a regular loan], you will save over $13,000 over the course of the loan.”

So while you’ll have saved $7,500 in the short term, over the long term you’ll wind up paying more due to a higher interest rate. Weigh it out with your financial situation.

Consider the life of the loan

And before you start calculating the money that you think you might save with a no-fee mortgage, consider your long-term financial strategy.

“No-fee mortgage options should only be used when a short-term loan is absolutely necessary. I don’t think it’s a good strategy for coping with COVID-19-related issues,” says Jack Choros of CPI Inflation Calculator.

A no-fee mortgage may be a smart tactic if you don’t plan to stay in one place for a long time or plan to refinance quickly.

“If I am looking to move in a year or two, or think rates might be lower and I might refinance again, then I want to minimize my costs,” says Matt Hackett, operations manager at EquityNow. But “if I think I am going to be in the loan for 10 years, then I want to pay more upfront for a lower rate.”

What additional fees should you be prepared to pay?

As with any large purchase, whether it’s a car or computer, there’s no flat “this is it” price. Hidden costs always lurk in the fine print.

“Most of the time, the cost for credit reports, recording fees, and flood-service fee are not included in a no-fee promise, but they are minimal,” says DiBugnara. “Also, the appraisal will always be paid by the consumer. They are considered a third-party vendor, and they have to be paid separately.”

“All other costs such as property taxes, home appraisal, homeowners insurance, and private mortgage insurance will all still be paid by the borrower,” adds Yates.

It’s important to ask what additional fees are required, as it varies from lender to lender, and state to state. The last thing you want is a huge surprise.

“Deposits that are required to set up your escrow account, such as flood insurance, homeowners insurance, and property taxes, are normally paid at closing,” says Jerry Elinger, mortgage production manager at Silverton Mortgage in Atlanta. “Most fees, however, will be able to be covered by rolling them into the cost of the loan or paying a higher interest rate.”

When does a no-fee mortgage make sense?

For borrowers who want to save cash right now, but don’t mind paying more over a long time frame, a no-fee mortgage could be the right fit.

“If your plan is long-term, it will almost always make more sense to pay the closing costs and take a lower rate,” says DiBugnara. “If your plan is short-term, then no closing costs and paying more interest over a short period of time will be more cost-effective.”

The post What Is a No-Fee Mortgage? appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com