How To Change Your Life And Live Your Dream Today

How To Change Your Life And Live Your Dream TodayWhether we are talking about changing your financial situation or changing your lifestyle, there are many ways to start making changes in your life so that you can start living the life you want to live.

Learning how to change your life doesn’t have to be hard.

You can start off small and gradually move onto bigger changes. Or you can make one big change and start living your dream life even sooner.

Everyone has some sort of change they want to make in their life.

Maybe you want to travel more, learn another language, start your own business, get out of debt, be in shape, retire, or something else. Whatever the words “dream life” mean to you, there are ways for you to eventually get there.

Below are my tips on how to change your life today.

1. Think about your dream life.

The first step to improving your life is to think about what exactly your dream life is.

You should think about different things such as:

  • What does it take to reach your dream life? Do you need to go to school? Pay off debt? Learn something new?
  • What will your action plan be?
  • Why is what you’re currently doing no longer working for you?
  • What excuses are you currently making?
  • What are the risks? What will you have to overcome to reach your dream life?
  • How will you stay motivated? Related article: 8 Ways To Get Motivated And Reach Your Goals.
  • What are the positives of reaching your dream life? What is success to you?

2. Take control of your finances.

Currently, you may feel stuck with your current life because of some sort of financial reason. We all do it.

Some don’t want to travel the world because they are too afraid of what they will do for money. Some are too afraid to seek out their dream job because that may mean their debt would be unpaid. The list can go on and on.

Taking control of your finances can help you reach your dream life in many ways.

By paying off your debt, making more money, not living paycheck to paycheck, budgeting better, and more, you may feel more free to reach for your dream life because you most likely won’t feel as tied down to your finances.

You will feel more free to take risks when your finances are in control and it can really mean a world of difference.

Related article: 10 Great Ways To Gain Control Of Your Finances and Reach Financial Freedom.

3. Do something outside of your comfort zone.

Being comfortable with life is an odd thing. While you might feel satisfied with life, you might always wonder what you are missing out on.

The best way to see what else is out there for you is to step outside of your comfort zone.

Without the occasional risk in life, it would be hard to grow. Stepping outside of your comfort zone may lead to motivation, feeling refreshed, and it may also lead you to your dream life.

Here are my tips for stepping outside of your comfort zone:

  • Start saying yes more. Before you think too hard about all the reasons for why you should say no, start thinking about all of the reasons you should say yes.
  • Think about your fears. What are you afraid of? Create an action plan to overcome your fear!
  • Start doing small things differently. If you don’t want to make a huge change at once, then try just changing up little things in your life in the beginning. This may mean just being more spontaneous. Go out to eat by yourself, go to a movie by yourself, just show up somewhere fun without plans, and so on.
  • Think about how awesome it will be afterwards. Can you imagine what it would be like when you finally overcome your fear? I bet it would feel amazing!

4. Get active.

I’ve been super active ever since moving to Colorado and I can already tell that it has changed my life for the better.

I am feeling more healthy, more energized, more happy, and I’m also feeling like I have a clearer mind.

Even if your goal isn’t to get more healthy, being more active can help you reach any of your goals in that it can actually help you receive better sleep, it can give you a more positive attitude, and it can give you energy to reach your dream life.

Even if you believe you don’t have enough time to exercise, I’m sure you do. With just 20 to 30 minutes a day, you can get a great workout in. Borrow some workout DVDs from your local library, do some yoga in your living room, or go for a run around your block if you are limited on time.

5. Start waking up a little earlier.

If you are wanting to learn how to change your life, then waking up earlier is something that many people who want to reach their dreams eventually have to do.

It may mean sacrificing some of your beauty sleep, being a little more tired, etc., but it is well worth it in the end.

In many cases, waking up earlier is very possible without sacrificing any of your sleep anyway. Instead, start managing your time better by cutting out any time sucks (such as TV) so that you can go to sleep earlier.

Back when I was unhappy at my day job, I pretty much made sure to wake up early every single work day. While I was tired, I knew that waking up early allowed me to have just a little bit more time so that I could work on reaching my goals.

Just waking up an extra 30 minutes or an hour earlier can mean enough time to fit in a workout, to work a little on building your business, to eat a healthy meal, to practice a skill, and so on.

6. Be positive.

I know, I know. I mention how being positive can change everything ALL THE TIME.

There’s a reason for this. It’s because it’s the truth!

If you are interested in learning how to change your life, then you need to have a more positive outlook on life.

There are many benefits of having a more positive outlook on life. Being positive can help bring you motivation, it can help you move on in life so that you stop dwelling on the past, and more.

Related article: Why I Believe Being Positive Can Change Your Financial Situation And Your Life.

What are you currently trying to improve or change in your life? What dream are you trying to reach?

This article by Michelle Schroeder first appeared on Making Sense of Cents and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Why I’ll Never Buy A Timeshare

Are Timeshares Worth It Why Are Timeshares BadLately, I’ve been hearing about more and more people buying timeshares.

Someone I know recently dropped $15,000 on a timeshare. I know of another person who has bought multiple timeshares with their student loans. I recently read on Facebook that another person is trying to sell their timeshare for $1, and there aren’t any takers yet.

Sure, I have an open mind and perhaps sometimes timeshares are an okay idea, so I won’t completely discredit them. However, I’ve never met someone who bought a timeshare and was happy with their purchase years down the line.

I’ve only heard horror stories about timeshares.

Due to this, I’ve never really understood the appeal of timeshares.

And I’m not sure I ever will.

I’m not writing this post to offend anyone. Like I said, I’m sure there are cases out there where you a person found a great deal on a timeshare and they know they’re going to actually use it. I won’t ignore the possibility of that. However, I know that each and every year many people buy timeshares thinking they are a great deal when in reality most of the time they are not.

According to, there are more than 9,000,000 timeshare owners across the world and approximately $10 BILLION in timeshares are sold each year. Also, according to that same website, approximately 7% of U.S. families own a timeshare.

I had no idea that the timeshare business was this large. Maybe I’m missing something, but the negatives seem to significantly outweigh the positives so I am shocked that there are that many timeshare owners out there.

Below are 5 reasons not to buy a timeshare.

1. The upfront cost is high.

Timeshares are expensive.

According to the American Resort Development Association, the average price for a one week timeshare is approximately $19,000, with an average annual maintenance fee of $660 on top of that.

That is a TON of money.

On top of the expensive costs, many people end up taking loans out for their timeshares. This means that your timeshare might end up costing two or even three times the cost over the duration of the loan due to interest.

If you are asking the question “are timeshares worth it” or “why are timeshares bad,” this section right here should help you find your answer.

2. There are maintenance fees.

As I said earlier, the average annual maintenance fee on a timeshare is $660, and in many cases it can be upwards of $1,000 a year. I did some research and I found some timeshares that had annual maintenance fees of over $2,000 a year.

Maintenance fees need to be paid year after year, regardless if you use the property or not.

Also, the annual maintenance fee tends to increase over time as well, and you have no control over that.

Are timeshares worth it in this case? Nope!

3. Timeshares are hard to sell.

If you decide to sell your timeshare because of the high annual cost and/or because you are tired of paying monthly payments on your loan, you will have a hard time selling it.

Timeshares do not appreciate like a normal property would.

If you do a quick search on eBay, you will find hundreds of timeshares going for just $1.00, which is another reason I am unsure of them. If they are such a great deal, why are people trying so hard to get rid of them?

Are timeshares worth it in this case? Nope!

4. You have to pay for the timeshare regardless if you use it or not.

Like I said earlier, maintenance fees need to be paid year after year, regardless if you use the property or not.

Also, with a timeshare, if you have a bad income year and don’t have the money to take a vacation, you still have to pay the maintenance fees.

A lot of your money is tied up in the timeshare, and could probably be invested in other better ways.

Are timeshares worth it in this case? Nope!

5. There are cheaper ways to go on a vacation.

Timeshare salespeople try to find buyers by claiming that timeshares are a great way to save money on a vacation.

I just do not understand that.

Spending $19,000 on a timeshare where you only get around one week annually seems very expensive.

There are PLENTY of ways to go on a more affordable vacation. You could shop around for the best prices, use credit card rewards, visit during the off season, bundle your trip, and more. I’m sure you could spend less on an annual vacation than what it would cost to own a timeshare.

Plus, if you are still wanting the “timeshare feel,” you can rent timeshares from other owners for a FRACTION of what they have paid. You can usually find them for a couple hundred dollars per week, whereas the owner is still paying the maintenance fees each year that are most likely twice or three times as much.

Are timeshares worth it in this case? Nope!

Related articles: 

Do you have a timeshare? Why or why not? Would you ever buy a timeshare?

If you have a timeshare, I would love to hear from you. Why do you own one? Do you find it worthwhile?


This article by Michelle Schroeder-Gardner first appeared on Making Sense of Cents and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Ways to Relax In Any Situation

Have you ever caught yourself in a situation where you needed to just chill out and relax, but you weren’t sure how? Maybe you were waiting for a job interview or in the dentist’s chair. We wanted to find ways to relax in any situation, so we reached out to Jeanie Jones, Licensed Behavioral Practitioner, Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor and a Certified Employee Assistance Professional. Here’s what she had to say about ways to de-stress and relax anytime, anywhere:

Q. Are there quick techniques that you could recommend for relieving tension in stressful situations?

Jeanie: Practice relaxation breathing anytime you feel stressed and upset and before you react. Use it when you cannot fall asleep, whenever you are aware of internal tension.

– Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.

– Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.

– Hold your breath for a count of seven.

– Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.

– This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.

Q. What are some longer-term strategies for dealing with stress?

Keep your life clear. Deal with situations as they come up. Don’t let things “build up.” Talk things over with a trusted friend, clergy, or therapist.

Change your routines so you don’t expose yourself to stressful situations, such as shopping at a time when the stores aren’t as busy, do online banking to avoid long lines, leave for work 15 minutes early to avoid traffic problems, lay out your clothes, prepare lunches the night before, plan meals in advance, budget your money, and live within your means.

Take care of your body and mind. Get regular massages to relieve tension.

Q. How much does stress really affect our health?

Jeanie: When we don’t deal with stress, we can become distressed. This can lead to headaches, upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, and trouble sleeping, which can cause memory and concentration problems and can lead to lowered immune system and can cause or exacerbate other diseases and illnesses.

Q. Should stress management be an important part of a daily routine?

Jeanie: Absolutely! Yoga, deep breathing, journaling, practicing mindfulness, meditation, and prayer are all on-going ways to manage stress that can be done in 10 to 60 minutes.

Q. What are some things that people forget to do if they are trying to deal with a stressful situation?

Jeanie: BREATHE! Sometimes we actually “hold our breath” when under stress or threat. By practicing deep breathing during these moments of stress, we can think more clearly, slow down our thoughts, and respond more appropriately. When we do this, we have more of an opportunity to resolve the situation, thus not letting stress build up.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help, from a friend or a professional, if it is a chronic situation or one we cannot manage on our own.

Say “NO” when you are out of time or resources, especially if you are a “care-taker” by profession or personality. You can’t take care of anyone else if you haven’t taken care of yourself.

No one likes being worried or stressed out. If you’ve ever needed some relaxation ideas for a stressful situation, hopefully these tips can provide some guidance.

Jeanie Jones provides individual counseling, business training and other counseling services. She is a Licensed Behavioral Practitioner, (LBP), Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor (LADC) and a Certified Employee Assistance Professional (CEAP). You can visit her website at Find her on or on

Paige Estigarribia is a writer for The Dollar Stretcher who enjoys writing about food, frugal living, and money-saving tips. Visit The Dollar website for more low-cost ways to reduce stress.

This article by Paige Estigarribia first appeared on The Dollar Stretcher and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Millennial Entrepreneurship: The Dream vs. The Reality

I’m what you might call a wannabe serial entrepreneur. Rarely does a week go by without some version of a million dollar idea exciting me with possibilities of solving the world’s problems while simultaneously becoming rich myself. Clearly dreaming big isn’t my problem.

But there’s a big difference between the entrepreneurial spirit and entrepreneurial reality. I can come up with million dollar dreams till the cows come home, but executing my entrepreneurial musings successfully has proven far more challenging. This dichotomy between entrepreneurial mindset and reality is one that seems to be manifesting itself now more than ever in Millennials.

Millennial Entrepreneurship

The Desire for Millennial Entrepreneurship

According to a 2013 study from Rasmussen College, of Millennials working a typical 9-to-5 job, 71 percent have the desire to quit and go work for themselves. A 2014 study from Bentley University revealed similar stats with 67 percent of Millennials wanting to opt out of the traditional “corporate climb” and start their own businesses. In fact, only 13 percent of respondents said their career goals involved climbing the corporate ladder to become a CEO or president.

Why Millennials Prefer to Be CEOs of Themselves

Having worked as a personal assistant, tradeshow hostess, and babysitter I’ve experienced the luxury of the corporate career path from the sidelines. Perks like free health insurance and business class travel aren’t exactly part of my self-employed reality. Despite my occasional envy however, I, like my Millennial counterparts, am happy to give up the stability of corporate benefits for the opportunity to create success on my own terms.

Having seen both of my parents laid off after 20 plus years in their respective corporate positions, left with limited career prospects- overqualified, unemployed fifty-somethings – the idea of self-employment became attractive early on. Couple that exposure with a borderline unhealthy obsession of documentary watching (so much corporate greed), and the old-school traditional career path becomes even less desirable.

Finally, like most Millennials, I subscribe to the “radical idea” of a career providing fulfillment, and a work environment that provides flexibility and happiness. Rather than compromising those core ideals while I toil away at unpaid internships or sit in a cubicle for the sake of insurance, I work to create my own career reality that encompasses all of my ideals. If the sacrifice is a little less pay and a little more risk- so be it- as long as it’s on my terms.

Millennial Entrepreneurship Reality

Despite strong entrepreneurial ideals and seemingly endless optimism from myself and my generational counterparts, the number of young entrepreneurs is actually declining. According to the Kauffman Foundation, start-up rates among Americans ages 20 to 34 peaked at 35 percent in 1996 and have since dropped to 23 percent in 2013. That’s about 40,000 fewer new businesses per month being launched by young adults in 2013 as compared to 1996.

Why this disconnect between the spirit of Millennial entrepreneurship and the reality of declining young entrepreneurial endeavors? Some experts cite student loans as a possible cause. Saddled with record student debt loads, Millennials may feel that they simply can’t afford to pursue entrepreneurship. 

Those young, indebted years however, can be the best time to take risks and turn dreams of self-employment and business ownership into actuality. Without major financial obligations like a mortgage or a family to support, young adults have less to lose from a failed business attempt than they likely ever will again.

Even so, nobody wants to lose- so how can Millennials succeed?

Millennial Entrepreneurship Success

The good news is Millennials already have many of the traits indispensable to entrepreneurial success – passion and enthusiasm chief among them. What they don’t always have though is the courage to take that next step of turning their passion-fueled ideas into working realities.

An aversion to risk isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if it cripples the growth of new business and prevents a generation of innovative thinkers from materializing their ideas, then we have a problem. So what can Millennials do to mitigate some of those risks while still taking a chance on their own million dollar ideas?

Side hustle! Millennials can lay down the foundation for their future entrepreneurial enterprises while still working their traditional nine to fives – earning the income necessary need to meet their financial obligations while saving up for an eventual departure from the workplace.

Technology has also helped to remove many of the barriers to entry that once accompanied the launch of self-driven enterprises. The flexibility to start a business from home, the opportunity to raise capital through simple web-based platforms, the resources to reach and connect with potential users and business partners around the world- it’s a wonderful time to be an entrepreneur.

To find their own entrepreneurial success, Millennials need to pour their passion for million dollar dreaming into maximizing the resources available to execute those dreams.

My Own Millennial Entrepreneurship Saga 

After several years of failed self-starting, I finally took one of my million dollar ideas and turned it into a hundred dollar reality. It soon became a thousand dollar reality and now it’s on the way to a reality in the tens of thousands. Still shooting for the million… it’s a work in progress.

With a strong focus and commitment to following through, I was able bridge my own disconnect between entrepreneurial dream and reality. My hope is that my Millennial peers will find that winning combination of side hustle, resources, resilience, and unwavering passion to do the same with one of their own.

This article by Stefanie O’Connell first appeared on The Broke and Beautiful Life and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

When Can Employers Check Your Credit?

Your credit history can have a significant impact on things that have nothing to do with loans and credit cards. Companies often request to see your credit history when you set up utilities for your home, apply for an apartment, request an insurance quote or apply for a job.

That last one makes a lot of people nervous — what does someone’s credit history have to do with whether or not they’d make a good employee? In many cases, it has nothing to do with it, which is part of the reason most hiring mangers don’t do employee credit checks, according to a survey from the Society for Human Resource Management. In 2012, when the group most recently surveyed hiring managers on the topic, 53% of organizations didn’t conduct credit checks for any applicants, up from 40% in 2010 and 39% in 2004. The data is based on a survey of 544 randomly selected SHRM members and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

There’s a misconception among the public that employer credit checks happen frequently, said Elizabeth Bille, vice president and associate general counsel of SHRM. When credit checks occur, they tend to be for specific positions related to finance and data security. In the 2012 survey, only 13% of hiring managers said they conducted credit checks for all employees.

“What employers are really looking for — again, if they look — are patterns of money mismanagement that could put the employee in a position where they may not be the appropriate person to manage the money on behalf of the company or might make them a little bit more susceptible to compromise their ability to handle sensitive financial information,” Bille said.

What’s an Employer Credit Check?

When a hiring manager wants to review an applicant’s credit history, he or she requests that person’s credit report. Credit scores are not part of employer checks — the number isn’t that useful, Bille said — and on that report, the manager will look for things like debts in collection or judgments.

“Typically what they’re looking for are patterns of money mismanagement and debt that the employee has not attempted to resolve,” Bille said. Things like education debt and medical debt aren’t part of such patterns, she said.

How to Prepare for an Employer Credit Check

First of all, a company cannot request your credit report without your written consent, so if it’s going to happen, you’ll know about it. Before you apply for a job, it’s a smart move to request your credit reports for two reasons: If there are errors on the reports, you can get them fixed (here’s a guide to disputing credit report errors) before there’s a chance they’ll harm your chances at a job. You want to regularly check your credit anyway, because inaccurate information can cause serious financial damage. You can get free annual credit reports at and you can check your credit scores for free every month on Second, if your reports have negative information that’s accurate, you’ll want to see if you can get it fixed before an employer sees it. If you can’t, address it upfront with the potential employer.

“It looks a lot better to be proactive and mention it on your own and explain what you’ve done to address the situation, rather than have the employer discover it on their own later down the road,” Bille said. “Hiring mangers say they appreciate the honesty.”

If a credit check is going to happen, it’s almost certainly going to be later in the interview process, usually as part of a contingent offer (some states have laws about when an employer can review an applicant’s credit history). Even if there’s negative information on your report, the odds look good: 80% of HR professionals surveyed said they’ve hired candidates whose credit reports contained negative information.

In the event a company is considering not hiring you because of what’s on your credit report, they have to give you notice of how that is influencing their decision and allow you to respond.

For job-searching consumers, reviewing your credit history should be part of your pre-interview preparation, but keep in mind that your credit standing isn’t likely to decide your fate. When it comes to the most important things hiring managers look for in candidates, a clean credit history doesn’t make the list: HR managers are focusing on previous work experience, company fit and expertise needed for the job.

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This article by Christine DiGangi was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

The Game of Thrones-Inspired Malware That Will Massacre Your Bank Account

A cyber gang specializing in ripping off online banking accounts has been successfully executing a multistep campaign to pull off six- and seven-figure heists from the accounts of small- and mid-size businesses, as well as large enterprises.

This intel comes from IBM Security in a report disclosing details of a gang using the Dyre family of malware, which has been widely used for routine man-in-the-middle attacks, by which the attacker manipulates online transactions.

This particular campaign, dubbed Dyre Wolf by IBM, has been conducted at a modest scale compared to the Carbanak cyber gang that has pilfered an estimated $1 billion from more than 100 banks globally, according to Kaspersky Lab. The Carbanak gang infiltrated bank networks, reprogrammed servers, and remotely triggered ATM machines to spit out cash.

The Dyre Wolf gang, by comparison, has been taking aim at small and mid-size businesses, doing intel to figure out who they bank with and what kind of transactions they do online, and then using a combination of techniques to trigger wire transfers of $500,000 to $1 million.

IBM did not estimate a total take for the Dyre Wolf gang, nor how many were hit. But the damage to the businesses, especially small and mid-size companies, obviously has been material, if not crippling.

dyre wolf malwareStarting last year, these criminals began targeting people working in certain companies and sending them phishing emails crafted to get them to click on an attachment carrying a variant of the Dyre malware.

Dyre stays dormant until the victim navigates to a bank website. It then loads a spoofed page with a faked alert that the bank’s site is having problems. The victim is then instructed to call the displayed phone number.

An English-speaking operator—part of the criminal gang—is standing by with a script to talk the victim into divulging account details needed to quickly trigger a large wire transfer.

“One of the many interesting things with this campaign is that the attackers are bold enough to use the same phone number for each website and know when victims will call and which bank to answer as,” says IBM researcher John Kuhn. “This all results in successfully duping their victims into providing their organizations’ banking credentials.”

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This article by Byron Acohido was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Broke With Privilege

My mother grew up in poverty, raised by a single-mother in a non-English speaking household in New York City. Without the slightest hint of today’s buzzword – “privilege”- in her upbringing, she worked and earned herself a scholarship to Barnard College and later, Columbia Business School, paving the way for her unprecedented career successes.

I, on the other hand, grew up drowning in privilege. Every night my parents would sit down with me and review my homework. If I wasn’t doing well, I would be sent to tutoring after school. If I was struggling in a class, they’d help me with extra credit projects. I was signed up for so many extracurriculars it was like my parents were challenging colleges to reject me.

I had just about every resource at my disposal to develop my skill sets, learn to problem solve, and learn to learn. That privilege is what afforded me the opportunity to pursue something as impractical as theater and end up broke. It’s also the privilege that allowed me to apply my critical thinking and problem solving skills to eventually break free of broke.

Broke with Privilege

When it comes to poverty, despite my financial expertise and very real experience of limited income, I still feel at a loss for giving advice. Knowing my privilege also makes me very cognizant of the fact that I have no idea what it means not to have privilege.

Not to have income is not the same as not having privilege.

I’ve been without income, but never for a moment have I lacked privilege. Never for a moment have I not been equipped every skill I needed to find appropriate information, resources, and connections to solve whatever challenge I was facing. Never for a moment have I had to face the risk of sleeping on the street or going hungry or having nowhere and no one to turn to. My network of support – not necessarily monetary, but human- is so vast and valuable that I can afford to take big risks – like pursuing theater, traveling the world, and starting my own business. If I fail miserably, I know there’ll always be a couch to crash on.

When I think about the value of my privilege, I find it comes down to learned skills and a network of support more than anything else. By redefining privilege in this way, I also start to understand how my mom became such a raging success.

Broke with Privilege

Yes, my mother grew up without the benefit of high- or even subsistence-level income, but she grew up with a remarkable model of work, my grandmother (though low earning, hard working), and high expectations of achievement. She also had a vast community network comprised of fellow immigrants that, despite severely limited resources, had an insatiable appetite for “something better”.

While she may have faced great hardships, my mother had extraordinary models of what was expected and what was possible in her life that made her very connected to the potential for opportunity and success. In fact, that entire community she grew up with “lifted itself” from poverty in one generation.

So what’s the barrier for those in poverty now to do the same?


It’s not a monetary construct, it’s an opportunity construct.

Models for success have segregated themselves from the people who need those models most. My mom doesn’t live in poverty anymore. She moved to Connecticut to send her kids to better public schools, an understandable decision for which I am grateful, but one that according to research by Robert Putnam, has lead to the growing opportunity gap between rich and poor.

Upper-middle-class families separate themselves into affluent suburbs with separate public schools, and as a result, poorer children don’t get the necessary access to the same amenities and exposure to the same models of achievement. The end result according to further research by Rebecca Diamond – an ever-growing income gap between high-skilled and low-skilled workers, which no doubt perpetuates privilege (and lack thereof) even further.

Lack of privilege is isolation from opportunity.

No matter how many times I cry broke or fear the threat of unemployment or dwindling bank account balances, I will always know my privilege.

This article by Stefanie O’Connell first appeared on The Broke and Beautiful Life and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Can I Get a Last-Minute Tax Extension?

If you’re not ready to file your taxes by April 15, don’t worry: You can ask to extend your filing deadline by up to six months. But that’s just a filing extension — you still have to pay by April 18 to avoid a late-payment penalty and interest charges on the unpaid tax debt.

What to Do If Your Paperwork Is a Mess

Failing to file by April 15 results in a late-filing penalty, which is why it’s important to file on time or request an extension. Getting the extension is fairly straightforward, according to P.J. Wallin, a certified public accountant and certified financial planner at Atlas Financial in Richmond, Va. Taxpayers can submit form 4868 to extend their filing deadline for up to six months (or up to four months if you’re out of the country), but that doesn’t give you more time to pay.

“What’s best is to round up a bit, file the extension and then you’ll get any refund back once you do file,” Wallin wrote in an email to

What to Do If You Can’t Afford to Pay

Perhaps you haven’t filed yet because you know you don’t have the cash to cover your taxes — you should still file on time or request an extension. Otherwise, in addition to paying interest and late-payment fees on the unpaid taxes, you’ll also have to pay a late-filing fee.

When it comes to paying the IRS, one of your options is to ask for an installment agreement, so you can pay what you owe in smaller amounts over time. When you enter into the payment plan, the fees and interest will be assessed to the end of your agreement, so if you plan to pay off the debt before the end of your agreement, contact the IRS to adjust your installment amount.

It’s a good idea to pay as much as you can by the April 18 payment deadline, because you’ll save money in interest and potential late-payment penalties. Consider all your options: Using a personal loan or credit card to pay your taxes may be cheaper than what you’d owe the IRS by the time you factor in all the penalties. Here’s a breakdown of the penalties and fees you may owe the IRS for filing or paying late.

The worst thing you can do when dealing with unaffordable taxes is ignore them. The IRS may send a debt collector to retrieve the funds you owe, or you could end up with a tax lien on your credit report, which will severely damage your credit standing and your finances for years to come. If you’re concerned about how tax liens are affecting your credit, you can see your credit scores for free on

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This article by Christine DiGangi was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

How to Monitor Your Kids’ Credit When They’re in College

Parents spend years guarding their children from scrapes and cuts. However, some of the biggest damage done to their children’s well-being could come from identity theft. As parents send their children off to college, they should continue to protect their kids by monitoring their credit scores.

Once thieves have young people’s sensitive information, including their dates of birth and Social Security numbers, they could open new lines of credit that could lower their creditworthiness and cause problems down the line as they try to obtain a loan or apartment.

Here are ways to properly monitor your college student’s credit and identity.

1. Know Where They Stand

To make sure their children’s information is safe, parents should encourage their children to request their credit reports while in college. They can check their credit reports for free on every 12 months. They can get one free annual credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You can also get your credit scores for free every month on Keep in mind that the student may not have much on their credit report since they likely don’t have many open credit accounts.

2. Inspect the Report for Strange Credit Activity

Parents can also make sure their children are aware of suspicious activity that could indicate identity theft. College students should look for signs that someone else opened a new account, such as unrecognizable accounts, collection notices and hard inquiries. When there is a hard inquiry on a credit report, it usually means that someone else has applied for new credit and a creditor has permission to check a credit score in order to grant new credit.

3. Correct the Credit Report

In case there is inaccurate information on their child’s credit report, parents can also take steps to correct these credit details. After checking their credit, college students should submit a letter or fill out an online form to the credit reporting firm describing the parts of their credit report they think is wrong. Students should also provide proof of their claim and provide as much information as they can to support their credit dispute. If you believe your child has become a victim of identity theft, it’s important to report the fraud to the authorities as well.

4. Provide Tips to Help Reduce the Risk of Identity Theft

Parents can also offer their children information on protecting themselves from identity theft. These tips include never giving their personal information out by unknown callers and not carrying around sensitive information like their Social Security card.

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This article by Kelly Santos was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

How Much Cash Do You Really Need to Buy a Home?

Demand for housing remains strong as we enter the spring season, and renters are finding that it may cost them less to buy a home than to rent. But if you don’t have a lot of cash and are looking to purchase your first home this year, you may find that you need less cash than you think.

It was standard to have 20% down to purchase a home 20 years ago. Today, putting down 20% does still give you the lowest possible payment in relationship to the cost of the house, but it is by no means a requirement, nor should it be thought of as the be-all and end-all for purchasing your first home.

The magic down payment amount you can have to purchase a home is — drumroll, please — 0%, no money down. You do not need a down payment to purchase a house.  Alternatively, a 3%, or more common a 5%, down payment can help strengthen your offer. Also, a loan insured by the Federal Housing Administration requires a 3.5% minimum down payment. There are programs that can help get a first-time buyer in the door all with a 30-year fixed-rate payment containing no banking prepayment penalties or hidden terms. (Keep in mind that you’re considered a first-time homebuyer if you’ve not owned a home in the past three years.)

Let’s look at what other loan types require a low (or no) down payment.

1. USDA Mortgage

The U.S. Department of Agriculture allows people in less industrialized areas to purchase a home without putting any money down. You’ll need the cash for closing costs or you can ask the seller for the credit for closing costs. The loan allows a buyer to purchase a home up to the conforming loan limit working with the standard $417,000 conforming loan size. As long as you can qualify, the program does not require a down payment.

2. Conventional Mortgage

The more traditional mortgage loan program recently announced it will accept as little as 3% of the purchase price for a down payment. Similar to USDA, the qualifying standards with the 3% down option are more stringent than if you were working with the more common 5% down payment option. Investing 5% down will cast a wider net for you in the marketplace because of how much stronger you look on paper. And the 5% down option is available all the way up to a maximum conforming loan size of $417,000. If your loan amount exceeds $417,000 for single family home, you’ll need at least 10% down with conventional financing as your loan considered to be conforming high balance, aka a “jumbo” loan.

3. FHA Mortgage

The FHA insures mortgage loans with as little as 3.5% down payment all the way up to the maximum conforming loan limit. The conforming loan limit does surpass $417,000 in several markets — for example, in Sonoma County, Calif., it’s up to $520,950. The FHA has risen in popularity as the ability to qualify for such financing is incredibly lenient. The FHA routinely signs off on previous unfortunate circumstances including short sale, foreclosure or even bankruptcy in the last few years.

Don’t Forget the Cash You’ll Need for Closing

While it’s true you don’t need money for a down payment to purchase a house, the transactions that are actually closing in strong real estate markets are the transactions supported with strong homebuyers coming in with at least a 3.5% or 5% down payment. Closing costs are another factor to take into consideration that go beyond your down payment funds in procuring a mortgage to buy a home. If you can come up with the down payment, you can always ask for a seller credit for closing costs or even obtain gift money from family if cash is still tight. Total closing costs on average can be about 2.5% of the purchase price. (You can use this calculator to see how much house you can afford.)

Here’s a range of closing costs when buying with less than 20% down:

  • For a home purchase between $500,000-$600,000, you’ll need at least $10,000 for closing costs
  • Between $300,000-$500,000, at least $8,000-$10,000 for closing costs
  • Between $150,000 $300,000, at least $7,200 for closing costs

These numbers should give you an idea of how much cash you’ll need for a home purchase. Acceptable sources for procuring cash to close on a house can be one or any of the following:

  • Stocks
  • Bonds
  • IRA
  • 401(k)
  • Checking/ savings
  • A money market account
  • Retirement account
  • Gift money

The key here is that the money needs to be documentable.

Don’t have cash available from any of the above-mentioned sources? Even these sources are still considered acceptable because they can be paper-trailed:

  • Security deposit refund on your current home rental
  • Tax refund
  • Any money you might have sitting in a safe at home can actually be used for the transaction as long as the money is deposited in a bank account and sits for 60 days to meet banking “seasoning” requirements.
  • Selling of personal property such as a car or motorcycle. This cash can be used but will need to be documented with a bill of sale and a bank account matching the funds deposit.
  • A loan against a retirement account to come up with the down payment is also OK, but the lender will need to be provided with the borrowing terms of the 401(k) loan.

Homebuying tip: Line up the cash before you go house hunting. Have a statement showing proof of funds to close that you can submit with your pre-approval letter when you identify a house you want make an offer on, especially if cash is tight. At the same time, it’s a good idea to check your credit to see where you stand, and to look for any errors that you may need to correct. You can get a free summary of your credit report on, plus two truly free credit scores.

Being a first-time homebuyer today does not carry additional tax benefits or incentives like it did a few years ago when the federal government was trying to bolster homeownership in leaner economic times. The ability to purchase a home as a first-time buyer in today’s real estate market means working with a traditional mortgage loan program and having money in the bank to best position yourself for not only being a responsible borrower, but also demonstrating you have the merit and capacity to purchase a home.

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This article originally appeared on

This article by Scott Sheldon was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.