Scammers Impersonate Celebrities on Social Media

Did your favorite celebrity reach out to you on social media?

Before you get too excited, are you sure it’s that person? Really sure? We’ve heard reports that scammers, who will try just about anything to separate you from your money, are now posing as celebrities on social media. They’re asking fans to send money for all kinds of supposed reasons – like claiming a prize, donating to a charity, or giving help of some kind. Some celebs do raise money for legitimate causes. But you want to be sure the cause—and the person asking you to support it—are real.

Imposter scams come in many varieties, but they all work the same way: a scammer pretends to be someone you trust to convince you to send them money. And that’s exactly what these celebrity imposters are trying to do.

So what should you do if a celebrity contacts you on social media and asks for money?

  • Slow down. Before you send money, talk with someone you trust.
  • Do some research: search online for the celebrity’s name plus “scam.” Do the same with any charity or cause they’re asking you to support—and learn more about charity scams here.
  • Never send money, gift cards or prepaid debit cards to someone you don’t know or haven’t met – even celebrities you meet on social media.
  • If you sent money to a scammer, contact the company you used to send the money (your bank, wire transfer service, gift card company, or prepaid debit card company). Tell them the transaction was a fraud. Ask the company to reverse the transaction, if it’s possible.
  • Report your experience to the social media site and to the FTC.

This article by the FTC was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

5 Unfair Debt Collection Practices to Watch Out For

5 Unfair Debt Collection Practices to Watch Out For, by Financial Rescue, LLC.

When you stop making payments on your outstanding debts, your creditor will either assign your debt to a collection agency or sell it to debt buyers who try to collect the money you owe.

They do this because your creditor has already exhausted all the means available to them to collect on the debt themselves. Since nothing worked, they sell the account at a price that allows the debt buyer to make a profit if they can successfully collect on the debt.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is a statute that governs third-party debt collectors. It was created to protect consumers from abusive debt collections practices.

That being said, there are a number of ways debt collectors can cross the line in their attempts to get you to pay your debt. Here are five unfair debt collection practices you should watch out for:

1. Excessive contact

Have you ever felt like debt collectors are contacting you 24/7, almost to the point where it could be considered harassment? If you are receiving an excessive number of phone calls from the same agency, this could be a violation of the FDCPA.

The best way to handle this is to begin tracking and documenting these phone calls. Keep detailed accounts of the days, times, and who is calling you. If they leave voicemails, make sure to save them.

You can present this information to a consumer attorney to see if you have a case of harassment.

2. Using threats and scare tactics

Many debt collectors will resort to threats in an attempt to scare you into paying up. But here is the truth: no one can be jailed because of unpaid debt.

There may be legal consequences but there must be due process first.

This can be hard to ignore but do your best to stay calm and don’t let this kind of talk scare you. Instead, ask the debt collector for proof that the debt is actually yours in the form of a debt validation letter. In fact, it’s the debt collector’s responsibility to send you a written validation of your debt within five days of contacting you.

Verify that the debt is actually yours rather than panicking over meaningless threats. And remember, abusive, violent threats are a clear violation of the FDCPA and you have the right to sue over these types of practices.

3. Misrepresenting their authority

Debt collectors cannot misrepresent their authority or claim to be anyone they are not. They can’t pretend to be a police officer, attorney, or even a credit reporting agency.

And they are not allowed to show up at your front door and pretend to be the police. These unfair and deceptive tactics are designed to scare you into paying your debt. Stay calm and grounded in the knowledge that you have rights as a consumer.

4. Disclosing your debt to other people

Your outstanding debts are your private information and debt collectors are prohibited from disclosing that information to any unauthorized individuals. And they are not allowed to disclose in any way that they are debt collectors in their written correspondence.

To do so puts unfair pressure on the consumer, especially when a third party becomes aware of the debt.

5. Violating the statute of limitations

Many consumers are unaware that there is a statute of limitations on most kinds of debt. A statute of limitations is the length of time when your creditors are allowed to take legal action on your debt.

The statute of limitations varies by state and it is your responsibility to prove that the debt has surpassed the statute of limitations. It will vary based on the type of loan and in some states, the statue of limitations can be as high as 15 years.

If you are suddenly contacted by a debt collector about a very old debt (more than five years), contact an attorney who can help you discern whether or not that debt has surpassed the statute of limitations.

Know Your Rights

It’s important to keep in mind that debt collectors have a job to do. They earn a commission based off of what they are able to collect from you. So it is in their best interest to take any means possible to try to get you to pay up.

But unpaid debt doesn’t give anyone the right to harass or threaten you. They aren’t allowed to expose your debt to any unauthorized third parties. And you will not be hauled off to jail because of unpaid debts.

That’s why it’s important to understand your rights as a consumer. Do your best to stay calm, remember your rights as a consumer, and take any necessary action to protect yourself, such as seeking debt relief.

This article by Editorial Staff first appeared on Financial Rescue, LLC and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


What You Need to Know About a 401k Force Out

One of the benefits of writing about personal finance is that, when I find myself in frustrating financial situations, I at least enjoy the silver lining of getting an article out of it. This is what I had to remind myself of yesterday as I spent a nice chunk of my morning on the phone with Wells Fargo. Why? Well, just as I’m constantly learning about new aspects of personal finance, yesterday I was introduced to the concept of a 401(k) “force out” in the rudest of ways.

My 401(k) Force Out Experience

Logging onto my Wells Fargo account yesterday, I was intending to see if a direct deposit I was expecting had completed. Instead I noticed that my 401(k) — which is the result of a part-time job I left a few years back — had suddenly dropped from north of $500 to $0. To ensure this wasn’t some sort of glitch, I dove into the transaction history only find a distribution had been issued on August 1st.

My first thought was that someone had managed to log into my account and send my money off elsewhere (something that happened to me with my Starbucks Gold Card). However it seemed odd that they would go through the trouble of emptying my dormant 401(k) and not my regular checking account. So after a quick Twitter search to see if anyone else was experiencing such an issue, I decided to call and see what I could learn. (Sidenote: I double checked the number multiple times after getting spooked about entering my social security number into the automated service.)

Once I finally got through to a representative, she broke the bad news to me. Apparently, since my account had remained under $1,o00, I had been forced out of my account and a check had been issued to me. Adding to the issue, I learned that the mailing address for my 401(k) account was outdated despite my regular Wells Fargo account bearing the correct info. In other words, they mailed the check to the wrong place. I will say I’m also unsure if this address error meant they did try mailing me warnings about an impending force out as well, but there were no alerts on my online account nor did they e-mail me.

In the end, this part of the mishap may have been for the best as it gave them a reason to stop the previous check and reissue one. As a result (and after some back and forth), I was able to request that the distribution be made as a direct rollover to my — ahem — Wells Fargo IRA. Although it seems that everything will now be resolved, I wanted to take a closer look at what went wrong and how bad it could have been.

What is a 401(k) Force Out?

Following this debacle, I decided to get a better understanding of what exactly had transpired. That’s when I came across a U.S. News article explaining the concept of a 401(k) force out and what your former employer is allowed to do.

According to them, your plan can elect to close your account without your permission if you are no longer active with the company and have less than $5,000 in it. If you have between $1,000 and $5,000 in your account, they may rollover your balance to an IRA of their choosing. Meanwhile, if you have less than $1,000, they can choose to distribute your balance in cash (which is clearly what happened to me).

This could be a major problem for part-time employees who may not be contributing large amounts to their account (I actually think the majority of my balance was profit sharing). Similarly those with multiple jobs and, thus, multiple 401(k)s all sporting smaller balances could also be negatively affected by these rules. That’s because the implications of these force outs could be money down the drain.

Why You Need to Watch Out for Force Outs

On the one hand, getting a check for a few hundred dollars you weren’t expecting may seem like a blessing — until you realize what it actually costs you.

First of all, Wells Fargo charged me a $40 distribution fee as the result of my force out. Next, had the cash distribution remained in effect, federal and state taxes would have been deducted from the amount. In my case, this meant my balance went from a total of $530 to $490 after the distribution fee and down to $380 after taxes.

But wait — there’s more. Not included in the withheld taxes was the 10% early distribution penalty I’d be subjected to since I’m under 59 1/2. When I inquired about whether this was also factored into my distribution, the operator informed me that I’d be responsible for paying this fee come tax time. This would take my net total less than $350.

Thankfully, by rolling the money over to my IRA, I’ll get to keep the $490 (no getting around the distribution fee, sadly). Moreover this amount will hopefully continue to grow along with my other retirement savings, making it by far a better option than taking my cash out now. After all, even if it is only a few hundred dollars now, who knows how much it could turn into by the time I reach retirement age?

As for those with higher balances but are still under that $5,000 threshold, U.S News also notes that, since plans get to choose what kind of IRA balances may be transferred to, these accounts may include high fees and low returns. Because of this, forced rollover balances tend to actually decrease instead of increase with time. The site even reports that the average $1,000 account transferred to one of these IRAs is likely to decrease by about 25% over 5 years. Clearly this is hardly any better than taking the cash out and paying the penalties.

What You Can to Do Instead

When I left my last job that offered a 401(k) and resulted in that few hundred dollar balance, I decided to keep it where it was because I was happy with the returns I was getting. Knowing what I know now, it probably would have been better to transfer that balance to an IRA (that I selected, not the plan) and skip this hassle. In fact, that’s what I’d now recommend to other workers with low 401(k) balances who are departing their jobs. Also keep in mind that your balance only includes your vested amount, so be sure to take this into consideration when exploring your options.

As for those with more than $5,000 in their accounts, it seems that keeping your money where it is may still be a viable option. That said, it’s probably a good idea to check up on it regularly — and update your contact information — just in case.


In the grand scheme of things, I was quite lucky to have been keeping tabs on my old 401(k) and to take notice when the force out occurred. Had I not been paying attention, it’s likely that I would have let $500 disappear — and then been assessed a $50 penalty on money I never received. Unfortunately I presume most workers aren’t as fortunate as I am and may be letting their earned savings be underutilized at best or completely pilfered at worst. Hopefully my recent experience with the concept of a force out can be a reminder to exiting employees to consider their 401(k) rollover options more carefully.

This article by Kyle Burbank first appeared on Dyer News and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


U.S. Department of Education Proposes Overhaul of Gainful Employment Regulations

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Department of Education today announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that proposes to rescind Gainful Employment (GE) regulations in order to provide useful, transparent higher education data to students and treat all institutions of higher education fairly.

“Students deserve useful and relevant data when making important decisions about their education post-high school,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. “That’s why instead of targeting schools simply by their tax status, this administration is working to ensure students have transparent, meaningful information about all colleges and all programs. Our new approach will aid students across all sectors of higher education and improve accountability.”

The Department continues to believe that data such as debt levels, expected earnings after graduation, completion rates, program cost, accreditation, and consistency with licensure requirements are important to consumers, but not just those students who are considering enrolling in a gainful employment program. Therefore, in the NPRM the Department invites public comment concerning whether or not the Department should require institutions to disclose, on the program webpage, information about the program size, its completion rate, its cost, whether or not it is accredited, and whether the program meets the requirements for licensure in the State in which the institution is located.

In addition, to provide prospective students with important, actionable, and accurate information that could be used in college enrollment and borrowing decisions, the Department plans to update the College Scorecard or a similar web-based tool to provide program-level outcomes including, at a minimum, median debt and median earnings for all higher education programs, at all title IV participating institutions. The Department believes that this will improve transparency by providing comparable information for all programs and helping students understand what earnings they might expect based on those of prior graduates. This would also increase accountability of institutions by making it more difficult for institutions to misrepresent program outcomes, such as the earnings of prior graduates, since prospective students would have access to accurate data provided by the Secretary of Education.

The 30-day public comment period for these proposed regulations will begin once published in the Federal Register. In the interim, an unofficial version of the proposed rule can be found here.

This article was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Jobs vs. Careers

It took me a long time in the employment market to realize that a job wasn’t the same thing as a career. People have jobs, and this changes every day as people are let go or move on to other jobs by choice. However, people build careers that last for decades and often transcend more across more than one employer in a lifetime. Here’s the difference between a job and career, and how one will help you reach the other.

Jobs first

Most people set out to find a job first, and they do this because they have to. Things like bills and rent have to be paid, but jobs often have nothing to do with what people wanted to do as their careers. Before she became an actress, Whoopi Goldberg spent time working at a funeral home, but she didn’t stay there forever. Your job is a means to an end, but should never be your end-destination if you want a career instead.

A job versus a career

People have jobs, but they build careers. Would you rather have a job at the new law firm or a career with the new law firm? They even sound different when you say them. That’s because they are. Careers are built on years of experience in a chosen field. Careers mean that you have spent years refining your experience in this field and have also spent the same amount of time building up contacts and industry tricks. This means that you have more to offer the next employer than someone who was, for the same amount of time, simply doing their jobs.

Careers can span across employers

Employees can hold a “job” with the same company for decades, but once you have built a career (and a reputation), your career can span across several employers. A career means that you have a useful skill-set that could be useful to the next employer if you lose or leave your job. That’s one more reason why it’s important to build a career, not just have a job.

Never too late to start a career

Do you feel like you’ve chosen a job instead of career? It’s not too late to change things. First, look at your job now. Are you happy doing this? Could you find work in the relevant field using the experience you have built up over the past couple of months, years, or decades? If you said yes, you have already built a career. Congratulations! However, if you didn’t, you should grab a piece of paper and write down what you think should have been your career and what you think you can do to change that.

Careers end, too, but they move on

When a job ends, people are often left out of work, panicked, and desperate. The same can be true when a career ends, but having a career means that you have skill sets that will be valuable to another employer in the same direction. Having a career can also mean that this skill set could allow you to start your own business. Thousands of career professionals have taken their experience and contacts to the freelance market when necessary.

From a job to a career

Here’s what you can do to make the switch from doing a job to building a career.

  • You don’t have to change your job to make it into a career. Sometimes you just have to apply yourself differently in the job you have now. Find out if you can apply for any promotions or positions in-house. The right job to start your career might already be waiting at your current workplace, and you won’t know if you don’t ask.
  • Are you happy with your chosen direction, but unhappy with the company? That’s a good reason to stick with the same career line, but consider switching to a different company. This is where you should start sending out your resume in your free time to see what comes back.
  • Keep your resume at the ready. Speaking of resumes, make sure that yours is up to date if you want to submit or upload it to job search websites, and if you’re chasing a career, it should reflect any relevant experience in the field. Hire a professional resume writer to look it over if you aren’t sure how to make yourself look good in writing.
  • Study and expand. Did you pick a job that had nothing to do with your chosen career and now you want to switch? There are ways to make this work. Intern in your chosen career or find out what courses there are that you can take to refresh your skills in the career you want to do. Enrichment is always a plus on your resume.
  • Keep on building. Jobs are about getting by. Careers are about gaining experience, building contacts, meeting people, being an asset to your employer, being happy at what you do, and being able to do far more than just getting by.
  • This article by Alex J. Coyne first appeared on The Dollar Stretcher and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


Promoter pitches “secrets” to big bucks on Amazon

Online ads and in-person workshops for Sellers Playbook claim to offer “secrets” to making big money on Amazon. But like a lot of namedroppers, the truth doesn’t live up to the hype. That’s what the FTC and the Minnesota Attorney General allege in a lawsuit they filed.

According to the complaint, Sellers Playbook lures consumers in with promises like “Potential Net Profit: $1,287,463.38” and “Starting with $1000…1 year later over $210,000,” but the FTC and AG say few people – if anybody – make that kind of money, despite shelling out thousands to learn the company’s so-called secrets. What’s more, Sellers Playbook has no affiliation with Amazon other than dropping the online giant’s name in its ads.

If the tactics sound familiar, that’s because some of the defendants behind Sellers Playbook were affiliated with Amazing Wealth Systems, a venture whose bogus big-money claims were the subject of an FTC lawsuit earlier this year.

The FTC and the Minnesota AG have charged Sellers Playbook with making misleading earnings claims. The FTC also says the defendants have violated the Business Opportunity Rule, a consumer protection provision that requires sellers of money-making ventures to disclose certain facts up front to people thinking about signing up. In addition, the lawsuit alleges the defendants violated the Consumer Review Fairness Act – a new law that bans contract provisions that try to silence consumers from posting their honest opinions about a company’s products or customer service.

Thinking about sinking your savings into a business opportunity? Don’t make a move without consulting a person you trust in your community and considering these suggestions from the FTC. And here’s a tip from in-the-know entrepreneurs: If the promoter of a business opportunity doesn’t give you the disclosure document required by the FTC’s Business Opportunity Rule, that alone should sound an alarm. If they’re not honoring those basic legal requirements, can you trust their money-making promises? Probably not.

This article by the FTC was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Budgeting 101

Budgeting is a way of prioritizing your spending through careful planning and organizing. This planning process lays out where all of your money goes. There are several reasons why tracking and budgeting funds are vital to financial intelligence, all of which we will discuss here.

Before we get started, though, it’s always good to have an idea what you spend and what you can save. We build a quick budgeting calculator to hep you out.

What is Budgeting & Why is it Important?
At its core, budgeting is extremely important as it determines whether or not you have enough money to do the things you want and pay for the things that are necessary. It is a careful balance between your income and your expenses.

Keeping all of your finances in line has several benefits. For one, you’ll never find yourself not having enough—for bills, groceries, taxes, mortgage, etc. A good budget will incorporate some kind of savings and will be able to manage any debt you may have, as well as prevent future debt from occurring.

An organized budget plan could mean the difference between living comfortably and securely or barely getting by. Read on to learn more about budgeting and how you can achieve a balanced budget.

A General Theory of Budgeting

According to a lengthy and descriptive post found on Reddit by a financial virtuoso, budgeting can be accomplished by this general framework of three parts: money for expenses, money for saving, and money for everything else (sometimes called flex money).

Expenses

The first and possibly most important division of your paycheck revolves around your expenses, namely your monthly expense and your irregular expenses.

Your monthly expenses are bills and payments you make on a monthly basis. These are the most common expenses and include things like rent, car payments, Internet, cable, cell phone, etc. Also included in your monthly expenses are your debts and loans, which are sometimes things that are pushed to the side. It’s important you don’t forget to factor in payments for these two categories because these are things that build interest and can get you in a lot of trouble if you don’t pay them off.

Irregular expenses are those “other things” that don’t get paid monthly, but at other intervals like once a year or twice a year. These things are easily forgotten since they don’t reoccur every month. Expenses that seem to pop up unexpectedly in this category can be your car registration, which is once a year, or oil changes, which usually happen every three to four months.

If you forget to factor in these irregular expenses, there may be times of the year when you get slammed with another bill you weren’t expecting, and it could hurt your finances. If you didn’t factor in the new tires you’ll eventually need, it’s going to hurt when the time comes to replace the old ones.

In order to avoid any surprise bills, take some time to calculate all your monthly and irregular expenses per paycheck. When you get paid, set this money aside to make sure your bills are covered.

Savings

A savings account can be used for a couple of reasons. They can be treated as emergency funds in case something really unexpected comes up, like a car accident totaling your vehicle or an emergency room bill. These things happen; sometimes life throws unexpected crises at us. A savings account helps us be prepared for the unknown.

Savings accounts are also good if you are saving for something specific and want to keep that money tucked away. Maybe you are planning a family vacation a year from now, so you open a savings account and set money aside every month.

Whatever the reason, the general rule of thumb for everyone is to have at least $1,000 in your savings at all times. If you haven’t started a savings account yet, it’s a good idea to do that right away.

While $1,000 is ideal, this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re finished. Lots of people like to split up their savings into different accounts based on percentages or dollar amounts. Some ways to split up your savings are an emergency fund, personal fund, and investing.

Like your expenses, you should total up your savings goals and factor this into each of your paychecks.

Everything Else

Once you’ve set aside your money for the bills, the mortgage, all your savings accounts, and necessary expenses, take a look at what you have left over. This money is often referred to as your flex money. This money is for everything else that wasn’t already covered. There are no restrictions on what you can use this money for.

This money can go towards groceries, clothing, eating out, fun activities, cosmetics, etc. Basically, all the little things you buy here and there that aren’t considered bills. You can use this money for whatever you want, but it’s important to remember that this is the last of your paycheck, so once it’s gone, you’re stuck until you get paid again.

Some people like to micro-budget, meaning they set specific spending limits for things like groceries, restaurants, clothing, etc. This is definitely an option, but it’s also not as easy as it seems. Some months you may find yourself eating out a lot, and others you may find yourself grocery shopping and cooking.

One month could go buy where you don’t step foot in a department store, and the next month you need to buy a new fancy outfit for a wedding. These expenditures fluctuate a lot, so sometimes it’s easier to just have a set budget, develop good habits, and keep a close eye on it.

Also, keep in mind that just because you have the extra money doesn’t mean you have to spend it. It’s okay to have a little extra money in your account at the end of the month!

There are lots of ways and formulas that make up a good budget, but if you’re looking for a good place to start, this is it.

Budgeting Software

Creating a budget on your own can be a bit overwhelming and intimidating. Luckily, there are several budgeting software apps and programs available to make this task a little easier and less daunting. We’ve listed five below for you to review and consider for your personal budget planning.

Mint

The Mint app is a free web-based personal finance program. You can access your account through Mint.com or through apps available on Apple phones, Apple Watch, Android, and SMS. Its top features included are budgeting, investment tracking, credit score monitoring, bill management, and tax reporting.

The app and site make it very easy to set up all your budgeting. Once you’ve created an account, you can add all of your transactions and the app will auto-categorize them for you. You can even create your own subcategories.

Within the Mint app, users can create and manage all of their goals. This can include things like paying off debt, loans, credit cards, etc. The app will track your progress and reflect it on your monthly budget plan.

While you can’t pay your bills from this app, it’s a very useful tool for keeping an eye on all your spending. Since it auto-syncs, your transactions will always be up to date.

YNAB

YNAB, which stands for You Need A Budget, is one of the more popular budgeting apps. This app offers online services that synchronize with your bank accounts. YNAB offers budget planning, bill management, and online sync for $6.99 per month. Users can access these services through the YNAB website, Apple phones, Apple Watch, and Android systems.

This app is very simple, and so it does not offer other features like bill payments, investment tracking, credit score monitoring, retirement planning, or tax reporting.

While it may seem disappointing that YNAB does not include the above extra features, it runs great and is perfect for someone who just wants a simple, easy to use budgeting app. Additionally, YNAB users have access to the YNAB Blog for advice and trends, as well as the YNAB Forum for support and questions.

YNAB is also well known for its excellence in security. The only one who has access to your account is you unless requested otherwise for customer service. And once you’ve deleted your account, all the information is gone for good. It’s extremely difficult for hackers to break into these accounts due to their security system.

Personal Capital

Personal Capital is a free personal finance software that is easy to use and super helpful. Personal Capital is cool because while you are free to use it as just a free financial tracking tool, you can also pay to use it as a financial advisory service as well.

The app offers access through its website, Apple devices, and Android devices. The free features available are budgeting, investment tracking, retirement planning, custom categories, and online sync with all of your transactions and accounts.

Within these features are specific offers such as education planning, 401k fee analyzing, asset allocation, and notifications through email of upcoming bills and summaries.

Personal Capital allows you to have a complete view of your finances in a service that they call “360 Degree View of Your Financial Life.” All of your information is in one place, which adds to the app’s convenience. This combines with an interface that is extremely user-friendly.

To use the paid Wealth Management System, you have to start with at least $100,000. If you use this portion of the app (which is totally up to you-you don’t have to use it), you will start paying fees. These fees are based on how much you have in your account and are figured by percentages. The more money you have in your account, the less your yearly fee will be.

The Wealth Management section offers services in indexing, direct investing, rebalancing, and a few other options.

Mvelopes

If you’re a fan of the traditional envelope system—which we’ll talk more about later, for those who are wondering what that is—then Mvelopes is a good budgeting app for you. Mvelopes takes the idea of the envelope system and integrates it into today’s technology.

This web-based personal finance software allows you to manage your budget and cash flow by letting you control finances, recover hidden spending, actively view your accounts in real time, and eliminate debt. This app is steered towards individuals struggling with debt or who tend to be over-spenders.

Mvelopes enables you to choose what goals are most important to you right from the start. When you sign up, you’ll be able to choose the things you want to focus on, like debt, savings, financial stress, and future planning. With the free account, you can add up to four accounts and use 25 envelopes to organize your spending.

Mvelopes has three different account types. There is a free version that offers standard features in budgeting. The next two tiers offer more advanced features that are good for those in debt and those who have more than four accounts and a lot to manage. For $10 a month, you can upgrade your account to premium.

Quicken

Quicken is one of the most well-known programs used for personal finance and budgeting. While the software seems to have called to attention issues in customer service, syncing your bank, and lack of new features, Quicken has other features to offer that make it popular.

Quicken is not free—it can cost anywhere from $34.99 to $99.99 per year. However, it offers features that other apps and websites don’t offer on their free programs. With Quicken, you can make your budget plan, pay bills, track investments, monitor your credit, plan for retirement, report taxes, and still more. Very few budgeting apps let you pay your bills, and only a handful offer retirement planning and investment tracking. Everything syncs online, and you can customize your categories.

You can access Quicken through Windows, Apple, and Android devices, and the software support multiple currencies.

Quicken has been around for a long time and has made several changes over the years, including a change in ownership. While it seems to cost more, if you break down the price by month, it’s really not different from apps like YNAB in price. Plus, it has more to offer.

Paying Off Debt

Paying off debt can be a scary task to approach, depending on how much you owe. Everyone wants to wish it away or pay it all off, so it’s just gone, but it seems like it’s taking forever to even see a significant dent in the amount we owe.

There are a few ways you can approach debt. The way you handle it and organize your payments can make a huge difference. Read on to learn about the Debt Snowball and the Debt Avalanche.

Method 1: Debt Snowball

The Debt Snowball Method gets it name from exactly what you think: a snowball. When you make a snowball, you start with a small amount of snow. Then, you take that small snowball and roll it through the snow, and it gains momentum and gathers more and more snow. As it does this, the snowball grows and grows.

The Debt Snowball acts the same way as a debt reduction strategy. Using this method, you will pay off each of your debts in order of smallest to largest, and the idea is to gain momentum with each balance that is paid off.

To start, list each of your debts from the smallest to the largest. You’re going to be making the minimum payments on all of your debt except for the smallest one. While you’re making these minimum payments, you’ll be paying as much as possible on your smallest debt. When that debt is paid off, rather than sticking to the minimum payment on your next debt, you’ll add what you were paying on the first debt.

To demonstrate, it’s best to use an example. Let’s say you have these debts:

$300 credit card, minimum payment of $25

$5,000 car loan, minimum payment of $125

$15,000 student loan, minimum payment of $100

Each of these payments is being made every month. Let’s say after paying all of your bills and taking care of your monthly necessities; you have an extra $300 in your account. Take that $300 and add it to your $25 monthly credit card payment. In one month, you’ve gotten rid of one of your debt items.

Next month, take that same leftover $300, plus what you would have paid for your credit card, plus the minimum payment for your car loan. You’ll be putting $450 a month towards your car loan now, while your student loan stays the same. This should have you paying off your car in about 11 months.

Once your car is paid off, take all the money you put towards it (the $450) and add it to your monthly student loan payment. You’re now paying $550 per month towards your student loan, which should eliminate it in just 27 months instead of the 10-year plan your loaner probably had you on.

Basically, the Debt Snowball has you allocating the money you would have still been spending on previous loans after they are paid off. In the end, you’re still paying the same amount you were from the beginning!

Method 2: Debt Avalanche

The Debt Avalanche is another method uses to pay off debt quickly. This method is similar to the Debt Snowball except it works by targeting the debt with the highest interest rates first instead of the smallest first. Debt with high-interest rates can be difficult to get rid of, so if you’re concerned with your high-interest debt, then the Avalanche is a good choice for you.

Start by listing all of your debts in order of highest interest rate to the lowest interest rate. Let’s say it looks something like this:

Credit card: $2,000 with a 22.9% interest rate

Student loan: $10,000 with a 19% interest rate

Hospital bill: $500 with 0% interest

In the Debt Avalanche, your goal would be to tackle that credit card first, since it has the highest interest rate. If you find you are ending the month with an extra $200 in your bank account, start putting that money towards your credit card in addition to its minimum payment.

Once you have paid off the credit card in full, move on to the next highest interest rate. In this case, that would be the student loan. Take the total amount you were paying towards the credit card (the extra $200 plus the minimum payment) and add that to the minimum payments you’ve been making towards your student loan.

After the student loan is paid off, finish off your debt by paying your last total in addition to your last minimum payment.

Pro Tip: Use the Envelope Method

The envelope method is a system that’s been around forever and is widely used by people to keep their budget and expenses in order. It should come as no surprise that the envelope method uses just that: envelopes. In this system, individuals keep cash tucked away in envelopes.

The envelope method works best for items that come from your flex budget (you’ll know what this means as we discussed it earlier!). These items include things like groceries, restaurants, entertainment, gas, clothing, etc. Start by making an envelope for each of these categories, or whatever categories suit your needs. Set a budget for each item monthly.

For example, say you decide to put aside $200 each month for groceries. When you get paid, put the $200 in the envelope. If you get paid biweekly, put $100 in from the first paycheck and $100 in for the second paycheck.

For this system to work, it’s important to discipline yourself. The money in the groceries envelope is for groceries only. Stick to your budget and only use what you’ve put aside. Let’s be real—what’s the point of setting a budget if you aren’t strict about going above it?

If you find you’ve reached the end of the month and still have money in your envelope, that’s excellent; you’ve stayed under your budget. You can do a couple of things here. You can leave the money in the envelope to roll over to the next month’s budget, or you can reward yourself (within reason!). Maybe that extra money can be put towards any debt you may have.

Make sure you stick to the system. It can be tempting to move money around and take money from the clothing envelope and use it to go out to dinner. Stay committed and watch how easy it can be to manage expenses.

This article by Eric Richards first appeared on Moneymunk and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.


7 Affordable Alternatives to Expensive Extracurricular Activities

Extracurricular activities boost confidence, build self-esteem, and allow children to discover hidden talents and connect with kids who have similar interests. However, the most in-demand extracurriculars are often the most expensive. Fortunately, lower-cost sports offer the same benefits, and you can reduce the strain on your bank account if you know how to cut costs on coveted activities.

1. Cheerleading

All-star cheer is one of the most expensive extracurricular activities for kids with uniforms ranging from $150 to nearly $1,000. Plus, private cheer and tumbling lessons, travel, and competition-related expenses can reach into the thousands each season. Many parents like the benefits of this sport like building teamwork, flexibility, strength, and coordination.

Ways to Save

If your child really loves cheer but you can’t afford all-star level, recreational and school cheerleading are cheaper options. You can save big by joining a uniform swap (groups where families donate or sell outgrown uniforms) and by ordering shoes, practice bows, and other accessories online instead of through your gym.

2. Music Lessons

Learning to play a musical instrument improves academic achievement and self-discipline, increases self-esteem, and decreases rates of mental health problems. Even if you don’t mind paying $30 to $75 per lesson, consider the instrument price and any expenses related to books, recitals, and travel. These add up quickly.

Ways to Save

Renting an instrument is a wise choice, especially if you think your child may lose interest in a year. Also, barter for music lessons; chances are good that someone you know plays piano or another instrument. Offer babysitting services or something else in exchange for free or discounted lessons.

3. Gymnastics

Gymnastics increases fitness, endurance, and stamina, but this sport can become very costly. Professional coaching, clothing, traveling expenditures, registration fees, and gym memberships may reach thousands each year.

Ways to Save

You may potentially save hundreds just by switching gyms, but if you’re really looking for a deal, check your local YMCA. Many offer year-round gymnastics programs for a fraction of what private gyms charge. Also, skip private lessons unless your child is determined to compete; group lessons are more affordable.

4. Martial Arts

The discipline, confidence, and self-defense skills provided by martial arts draw families to this difficult sport, but the costs can be staggering. Once you factor in lessons, uniforms, testing and registration fees, and sparring gear, you’re looking at $2,000 or so per year. If you travel for tournaments, you’ll pay even more.

Ways to Save

If you already pay for child care, look for a martial arts center in your city that picks up from your child’s school. These programs often include daily martial arts lessons in the weekly tuition for no extra cost. Younger kids can benefit from more affordable programs offered through your city or local YMCA, and some gyms offer community fundraising options for tournament expenses. Just ask.

5. Dance

Whether your child is interested in ballet, jazz, tap, or hip hop, he or she will benefit tremendously from dance lessons. Recitals, attire, shoes, registration fees, and lessons run anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 per year, depending on the location, type of dance, and frequency of lessons.

Ways to Save

Community centers often offer discounted dance classes, especially for younger children, and you may be able to find great deals through Groupon. Regardless of where you enroll, don’t feel pressured to buy unnecessary accessories, like expensive backpacks and makeup kits. Also, if your child is interested in singing, try a musical theater class to combine singing, dance, and acting lessons for one fee.

6. Scouting

For younger children, scouting is an affordable alternative to other extracurricular activities. But later, expect to pay higher dues, uniform fees, and travel expenses. And don’t be tricked into thinking your child’s troop will let you off the hook through fundraising activities. You’ll end up buying what they’re selling, emptying your wallet in the process.

Ways to Save

Stay strong when your kid brings home order forms for cookies or other items, and see if any troops in your area offer financial aid to help cover travel expenses. You can also buy used books and gear at a fraction of the normal price through other scouting families. Alternatively, if your child enjoys one aspect of scouting, like cooking or camping, consider focusing solely on that.

7. Football, Baseball, and Soccer

Even if your kid plays for his school team, you’re still talking several hundred dollars per season for uniforms, helmets, cleats, and other needed gear. If your child joins a sport league, expect league fees on top of equipment costs. Travel expenses are another possibility. At best, this runs $200 to $500 per season.

Ways to Save

Cut your bill in half by signing up for seasonal sports at your local YMCA or community center, and find out if you’re eligible to receive free or discounted rates by volunteering as an assistant coach. Many of these programs also offer scholarship opportunities that can save you even more.

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


Student Loan Debt Leads to Divorce

It can come as no surprise the financial problems is a major cause of divorce. A marital split is an understandable outcome from substantial relationship pressure.

CNBC is reporting 1 in 8 divorces are caused by student loan debt, “13 percent of divorcees blame student loans specifically for ending their relationship, the report found. Student Loan Hero surveyed more than 800 divorced adults in June.”

Divorce is just another unfortunate outcome of the business of pushing student loans by schools of all flavors.

You can read the full post, here.

Steve Rhode
Get Out of Debt GuyTwitter, G+, Facebook

If you have a credit or debt question you’d like to ask, just click here and ask away.

This article by Steve Rhode first appeared on Get Out of Debt Guy and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Should We Default on Our Wells Fargo Student Loans So We Can Stop Paying Them?

Question:

Dear Steve,

I co-signed a private student loan for my wife from Wells Fargo for about $19K. We starting paying back on this in Sept 2014. We’ve never missed a payment or been late. We pay $267 a month.

Since that time we have paid almost $13K in payments but our principal is still $17.4K. I have tried reaching out to Wells Fargo to negotiate a settled amount or lower interest rate (it’s between 9-10%) but got back the response “it’s not fair to our other loan holders,” etc. I’m thinking of stopping payments for a few months as they have no reason to do this since they know I’m an on-time payer.

I understand it could hurt my credit. I have a few questions – 1. Should I do this, should I stop making payments to put some pressure on? 2. What type of credit score hit are we looking at?

Keith

Answer:

Dear Keith,

You ask a great question that requires some awareness and a crystal ball.

What you seem to be looking to do is strategically default on your student loans in an effort to get the private student loan into an internal process/department where they may be prepared to settle it.

I get the fact you feel you’ve paid so much on this loan already and feel like you have not made much progress. If your payments had been increased to say $500 a month then you would have paid off about an extra $11,200 of the debt.

The terms of the loan you agreed to are not designed to get you out of debt. Quite the opposite. They are designed to give the lender an acceptable level of risk while maximizing the income generated from the loan. As you noticed, you were not paying back much more than interest only.

There are some advantages to strategically defaulting on a private student loan. Read this for details.

But there are also real consequences. This can involve being sued, winding up with a big tax debt, and bruising your credit score.

You are caught in the middle right now. Wells Fargo has no incentive to settle a loan that is making minimum payments and generating profit with minimal risk. It’s a cash cow.

When you default you are not doing anything more than trying to move your loan from one department to another that has more options for people that are now demonstrating a risk of default. It’s just a game to get your account in front of the niche of collectors that have the authority to offer settlement terms.

When it comes to Wells Fargo private student loans and other private student loans, the bigger issue is if the student loan was for something protected or could it be discharged in bankruptcy?

As the cosigner, any actions and hits the borrower feels can come your way as well. The cosigner guarantees the full repayment of the loan if the borrower defaults.

If you asked me if a Wells Fargo private student loan could be settled for less, the answer is yes. However, there is so much getting to yes that if you do decide to pursue this path I would strongly advise you to work with an experienced debt coach who can evaluate your overall situation and give you specific advice on what Wells Fargo has been doing for people in similar situations.

Settlement offers from creditors like Wells Fargo is not a static event. Settlement policies ebb and flow by the time of the year, internal corporate policy, and state of the economy. There is no hard and fast rule so specific experience is important.

As far as the credit score hit you both will take, that is the least of the predictable issues. That depends on how far your loan will go delinquent and if they will proceed with legal action against you that could result in additional credit reporting items.

If you wanted to get the best possible outcome, without any concern for legal action or a tax liability from forgiven debt, pay the loan off by sending more each month to pay it down quickly. If you wanted to have the loan paid off in about two years, send $1,000 a month and you’ll be done with it sooner than that.

Steve Rhode
Get Out of Debt GuyTwitter, G+, Facebook

If you have a credit or debt question you’d like to ask, just click here and ask away.

This article by Steve Rhode first appeared on Get Out of Debt Guy and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.