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9 Things to Do to Spring Clean Your Budget

Many of you probably have a spring-cleaning ritual. It is the time of the year when you wash the windows, air out the bedding and declutter. However, have you ever thought about sprucing up your budget?

That may sound strange, but it is the perfect time of year to take a good look at your finances. We’ve got some ideas of what to do to spring clean your budget.

1. Check Your Envelopes

Now would be a good time to make sure your cash envelopes (see how they work here) have the right amount in them. Take a look at your spending and determine if you need to make adjustments (up or down). Even if you don’t use cash, you should do this with your virtual envelope system as well.

You also need to make sure you don’t need to add new envelopes. Perhaps you find that you always go to your dining out envelope to get money for family fun. Why not make a separate envelope just for family fun? Now you have envelopes with a designated task and don’t need to take from one to fund another.

2. Clean Up Your Bills

Take a look at your spending. Are you paying for things you don’t need? Sometimes, we get so used to paying regular expenses that we ignore them.

For instance, you might not be ready to cut cable completely. However, are you paying for channels you really don’t watch? Go through your bills and make sure you aren’t wasting money on things you don’t use. (You can see seven easy ways to lower your cable bill here.)

3. Looking for Discounts

One of the goals of a budget is to help you keep as much money in your pocket as you can. Look back on your spending and you may discover you have items that could offer you a discount.

Believe it or not, there are many utilities that offer discounts to customers. You just have to know how to get them. You can take the time to research what others pay and call each company and try to negotiate your rates.

Once you make the phone calls, take additional steps to lower your utility costs. Your budget will thank you.

4. Establish New Goals

Goals are a tool we use in many areas of life, but what about budgeting? The truth is, you might already be setting goals and without realizing.

A goal could be as simple as paying down one credit card. It might be going on a dream vacation. Perhaps it is buying a car without a loan or paying for the first year of college tuition.

Whatever your goal, make sure you write it down. That instantly solidifies the goal. Then, you can place it somewhere you see it, every single day.

The more you see the goal, the more you remember what you want to achieve and hopefully avoid impulse purchases.

5. Lower Your Grocery Bill

This may seem like a strange one, but it can make a huge difference. It might mean shopping at a somewhere else.

For example, I slashed my grocery budget by switching to a difference store. By using this store to get most of our food, I dropped our grocery spending by more than $200 a month.

6. Transfer Your Credit Card Balance

This is the perfect time to look into getting a card with a 0% interest rate And transfer your balance to the new card. This will help eliminate interest on your balance, which might help you pay it down more quickly.

Just watch the introductory period. You need to pay the balance in full or transfer it again before the period lapses. Otherwise, you could end up paying even more in interest. (Interest rates are often based on creditworthiness — See two of your scores free on Credit.com.)

7. Lower Your Cellphone Bill

Most people think they are stuck paying whatever their wireless provider charges. That is true, for the most part.

However, you might be able to negotiate a lower rate. You may want to consider changing providers completely. Just call and see what happens.

8. Automate Your Savings

If saving money is difficult for you, you are not alone. Many people don’t have the discipline needed to save money every month. That is where automation helps.

You can see if your employer allows for your check to be directly deposited into multiple accounts. If so, have them deposit some of your paycheck directly into a savings account. If that is not an option, set up an automated transfer from your checking account into your savings account each month.

Once you do that, you will need to adjust the spending in your budget. Even saving just $25 a paycheck is better than nothing. You’ll be surprised at how much you do not miss the money.

9. Review Your Insurance

Take a look at not only your auto insurance but also your homeowners and life insurance.

Do some comparison shopping to make sure you are getting a good rate. If you get insurance from different providers, check to see if any of them offer any type of bundle discount. That might be reason enough to move all your coverage under one company.

If you’ve built up your emergency fund, you might be able to raise the deductible and lower your monthly out-of-pocket cost and save more than the deductible costs. Increasing your deductible from $500 to $1,000 could save you a lot of money in your monthly costs.

In addition, if you do not yet have life insurance, now is the time to consider purchasing it. It isn’t for you. It’s for your family. Read more about why you need life insurance.

Taking the time to review your budget is wise, but we don’t always take a close look. Plan to do this each year along with your spring-cleaning schedule and you’ll never forget again.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

Credit Card Interest 101

MoneyTips

You know that it's desirable to have a high credit score in order to get a low credit card interest rate, but do you know why your credit score is important — or how the interest on balances is calculated? Tiffany Aliche, Financial Educator and Author also known as "The Budgetnista", explains the thinking of credit card issuers: "If you have a higher credit score, that means you are more likely to pay back. And if you are more likely to pay back, they are more likely to lower your interest rate...if you are not likely to pay back, people want their money upfront." If you're not sure what your credit score is, you can check it and read your credit report for free within minutes using Credit Manager by MoneyTips. When a credit card company considers ...

15 Ways to Save at ShopRite

Whether you hate grocery shopping or find it incredibly relaxing (seriously, some people do), one thing you’re bound to appreciate is saving at the store. If ShopRite is your go-to grocer, try using some of these tips to cut back on what you spend there.

Here are 15 ways to save at ShopRite.

1. Create an Account Online

Sign in to your ShopRite account online to load coupons from their Digital Coupon Center directly onto your Price Plus Club Card (more on that below). You’ll also get access to your past purchases and shopping lists, recipes, a tally of your Price Plus points and more.

2. Join the Price Plus Club

Members of ShopRite’s Price Plus Club get instant cash discounts on hundreds of items throughout the store at checkout, as well as special offers and promotions (like free items around the holidays) and exclusive mailings and offers.

3. Shop the Circulars

Set your home ShopRite location online and gain access to weekly circulars with tons of coupons and savings deals happening right now at your nearest store.

4. Check Out Their Offers & Promotions Page

Every now and then (especially around the holidays), ShopRite will offer additional ways for customers to save through sweepstakes and other contests that often offer gift card prizes. Visit their Offers & Promotions page frequently to see what’s happening.

5. Take Advantage of the SavingStar Program

Join the SavingStar program by setting up an account, then check out the offers page to see what’s available for a discounted price. Click on the offers you like and they’ll get linked directly to your store loyalty card. Use your card at checkout and the savings will be added to your SavingStar account. When you reach $5, you can select which method of payout you’d like.

6. Use a Rewards Credit Card

Some credit cards reward you handsomely for grocery shopping. See American Express’ Blue Cash EveryDay Preferred, which offers a whopping 6% back on up to $6,000 per year at U.S. supermarkets (1% after that), 3% at U.S. gas stations and 1% everywhere else. (Full card review right here.)

Just be sure to pay any balance you put on a cash back credit card off in full — otherwise, you’ll lose those dollars to interest. (You can see how your credit card balances are affecting your credit score by viewing your free credit report summary on Credit.com.)

7. Use ShopRite From Home for Additional Coupon Codes

If it’s available in your area, customers who sign up to use ShopRite from Home can check out the Shop Rite from Home promotions page for access to even more deals, like discounts on delivery, savings on health and wellness products, baby and pet items, etc.

8. Load Up on Manufacturer Coupons

ShopRite will accept these! (You can find its coupon policy here.)

9. Know Your Store’s Double Coupon Policy

While double coupon policies vary by store — you should check your specific store for more details — most Shop Rite stores will double up to four identical coupons per household per day on manufacturer coupons up to $0.99. (Use a nifty little Double Coupon App that you download to your smartphone to determine if your coupons will be doubled or not.)

10. Find the Catalina Machine

Catalina machines are usually located on the side of the register (ask the customer service rep if you aren’t sure if your local ShopRite has one). Most of these deals require you to purchase a certain dollar amount or quantity of product before you can use it on your next purchase, but once you do so the savings can really add up.

11. Stock Up During the ShopRite Can Can Sale

Though this sale only happens once a year (usually in January), it’s worth the wait to stock up on grocery goods, especially non-perishable items, throughout the store when it does.

12. Seek Out the Wall of Values

When you’re in your local ShopRite, make a beeline for the Wall of Values — usually right by the front door near the produce section — for dry goods on discount.

13. Make Use of $10 Deals

If you have the room, $10 Deals help customers save by allowing them to stock up on bulk items for just $10. Be on the lookout for $10 Deal signs.

14. Search Online for More Coupons 

Use sites like Retail Me Not and Coupons.com to find promo codes and coupons for the grocery store.

15. Follow ShopRite on Social Media

The grocery superstore shares all their biggest sale and coupon deals on their Facebook and Twitter sites, so be sure to follow them for the latest offers.

Want more brand hacks? You’re in luck — we’ve got 19 ways to save at Target right here

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This Dating Site Questions Your Credit to Help You Find Romance

More often than not, dating begins with the exchange of a number. But perhaps it’s the wrong one.

Instead of trading digits with someone you’re interested in, maybe the first information you offer up should be your credit score. (You can view two of your scores for free on Credit.com.)

It’s certainly a unique spin on the dating game, and one being championed by Niem Green, founder of the site Creditscoredating.com and author of a recently released book about dating and money called “Credit Score Dating: The Sexiness of Credit.” Yes, good credit is sexy, Green said. And bad credit doesn’t have to be a deal breaker, it should just be discussed upfront.

“One of the biggest causes of divorce is finances,” Green said. “The problem is that often people don’t talk about finances. So when I started this site, I figured at the very least I’m creating the icebreaker to have this conversation.”

Green may be on to something. Many surveys show money is one of the primary things couples squabble about. A 2016 study from the American Institute of CPAs found that money issues are a source of weekly and daily stress in relationships. In particular, 88% of adults 25 to 34 who are married or living with a partner said financial decisions are a source of tension in their relationship. Only 42% have discussed their long-term financial goals as a couple.

If the thought of discussing finances with a stranger, let alone on a dating website, makes you uneasy, here’s what you need to know.

How it Works

Green’s site is based on the honor system. Users are asked to provide their credit score as part of creating a profile, but the site does not check the accuracy of the scores. (You can learn how credit scores are calculated here.)

Green said he’s created an algorithm that uses a series of questions to suss out financial habits and whether they’re being honest about their score. The questions cover topics such as delinquent accounts in the past and what they would do with a sudden cash windfall. The answers are included on each user’s profile, alongside other pertinent dating information like age and hobbies. In addition, the information gleaned by the algorithm, which Green said has a 92% accuracy rate, is used to match compatible site users.

“I’ve trained my algorithm to think like me, a former underwriter, and based on the answers to your profile questions, the algorithm is able to asses what your credit score likely is,” Green said. “But it’s not about matching people who have the exact same credit score. It’s more about matching people who are financially compatible. It’s about how people handle their finances.”

As an underwriter, Green often found that couples sitting on the other side of the table had no idea of their partner’s credit score and had not had important conversations about each other’s financial history. Green’s dating site was an attempt to fix this. People need to know their potential partner’s weaknesses upfront so they can make informed decisions, Green said.

In addition, the answers to the algorithm’s questions indicate how well someone handles commitment and deals with pressure and more, Green said.

The site is free to use and has about 500,000 members, of which 60,000 to 80,000 are active on a monthly basis.

Beyond the Algorithm

No matter how you meet, Green and other financial experts said discussing your partner’s approach to money, credit and finances in general is critical. Green suggests financial role playing if you’re getting serious.

“If you’re thinking of having a baby with this person, then go through the role playing of ‘Let’s take a look at how much it would cost’ and how we would handle the costs,” he said. “You could do the same thing to determine how someone would handle an unexpected financial emergency if something really bad happens. You talk about how are we prepared for it and see how that person is really built.”

Ronit Rogoszinski, a certified financial planner, devoted a chapter in her book, “Money Talks: 100 Strategies to Master Tricky Conversations about Money,” to the topic as well. She said credit scores and attitudes about money will have a variety of impacts throughout the life of a relationship and like Green suggests establishing an open dialogue about finances from day one.

“If someone is coming into a relationship with, let’s say a huge student loan, that burden may in fact delay the purchase of that first home the couple may want to own down the road,” Rogoszinski said. “Knowing the numbers upfront and putting together a joint effort to address these individual debts is crucial and helps establish realistic expectations.”

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

The Average Student Loan Debt in Every State

It was big news when outstanding student loan debt surpassed credit card debt and then later exceeded $1 trillion for the first time. That shocking statistic keeps climbing, with no sign of slowing down: Americans now have more than $1.4 trillion in unpaid education debt, according to the Federal Reserve.

Meanwhile, college-bound kids and their families try to avoid going into debt by heeding advice like “save more,” “apply for scholarships” or “go to a cheaper school.” Of course, none of those address the major issue of rising costs that have far outpaced wage growth.

It’s smart to avoid student loan debt if you can, because those loans affect your credit and your financial future. (You can see how much by checking your free credit scores on Credit.com.) However, strategically choosing a school isn’t quite as straightforward as comparing tuition and fees.

One thing you can do is check out an institution’s net price calculator, which should be on its website, to see how much a student like you would pay after grants and scholarships. Another thing you can do is look at how much student loan debt recent grads ended up with. (You can read more about options for repaying your student loans here.)

Where Is Student Loan Debt the Lowest?

The response to that question is a little trickier to figure out, but organizations like The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS) have compiled such data to help. According to their Project on Student Debt, 68% of 2015 bachelor’s degree recipients graduated with student loan debt. The average was $30,100 per borrower.

TICAS put together their project based on student loan debt figures from the “Common Data Set,” a survey of colleges used by college-guide publishers. The colleges voluntarily self report their data, which presents problems.

“Colleges that accurately calculate and report each year’s debt figures rightfully complain that other colleges may have students with higher average debt but fail to update their figures, under-report actual debt levels, or never report figures at all,” reads the methodology for the Project on Student Debt. “Additionally, very few for-profit colleges report debt data through CDS, and national data show that borrowing levels at for-profit colleges are, on average, much higher than borrowing levels at other types of colleges.”

Student Loan Debt by State

For students who earned bachelor’s degrees in 2015, the most recent year for which data were available, TICAS determined the average student loan debt in each state by using data from 1,116 colleges. For comparison, there are more than 3,000 four-year institutions in the U.S.

Beyond that, the data were limited to bachelor’s degree recipients, meaning those who had debt but lacked a degree weren’t included, and if a student acquired debt at a different school before transferring to the one where they graduated, those numbers weren’t included in the totals. Still, as TICAS notes in the methodology for the Project on Student Debt, “CDS data are still useful for illustrating the variations in student debt across states and colleges.”

Here’s a state-by-state breakdown of the average student loan debt, from lowest to highest, for the class of 2015. The Project on Student Debt also lists student-loan-debt data by school. (Note: North Dakota is not included in this list, as TICAS did not include states where useable data reflected less than 30% of the state’s bachelor’s degree recipients in 2015.)

Utah

2015 graduates with student loan debt: 41% Average debt: $18,873

New Mexico

2015 graduates with student loan debt: 58% Average debt: $20,193

Wyoming

2015 graduates with student loan debt: 46% Average debt: $22,683

Florida

2015 graduates with student loan debt: 53% Average debt: $23,379

Hawaii

2015 graduates with student loan debt: 50% Average debt: $23,456

Nevada

2015 graduates with student loan debt: 47% Average debt: $23,462

Arizona

2015 graduates with student loan debt: 56% Average debt: $23,780

Washington

2015 graduates with student loan debt: 57% Average debt: $24,600

Oklahoma

2015 graduates with student loan debt: 52% Average debt: $24,849

North Carolina

2015 graduates with student loan debt: 61% Average debt: $25,645

Colorado

2015 graduates with student loan debt: 56% Average debt: $25,840

Arkansas

2015 graduates with student loan debt: 57% Average debt: $26,082

Tennessee

2015 graduates with student loan debt: 60% Average debt: $26,083

Alaska

2015 graduates with student loan debt: 55% Average debt: $26,171

Nebraska

2015 graduates with student loan debt: 60% Average debt: $26,235

Montana

2015 graduates with student loan debt: 60% Average debt: $26,280

Louisiana

2015 graduates with student loan debt: 51% Average debt: $26,865

Kentucky

2015 graduates with student loan debt: 64% Average debt: $27,225

Texas

2015 graduates with student loan debt: 56% Average debt: $27,324

Missouri

2015 graduates with student loan debt: 61% Average debt: $27,480

Idaho

2015 graduates with student loan debt: 71% Average debt: $27,639

Maryland

2015 graduates with student loan debt: 56% Average debt: $27,672

Oregon

2015 graduates with student loan debt: 63% Average debt: $27,697

West Virginia

2015 graduates with student loan debt: 68% Average debt: $27,713

Virginia

2015 graduates with student loan debt: 59% Average debt: $27,717

 

You can see the average debt in the rest of the states on Credit.com.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

5 Top Myths And 5 Top Facts About Tax Refunds

MoneyTips

It can be difficult to tell myth from fact when it comes to tax refunds. The IRS would like to help you by clarifying some tax return myths, and we are happy to help the IRS achieve their goal. Let's start by clearing up the 5 top myths about tax returns as listed by the IRS. Myth 1. Everyone's Refund Will Be Delayed – Some refunds will indeed be delayed because of the IRS crackdown on fraud related to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC). Others will be delayed for typical reasons, including incorrect information, failure to sign forms, forgetting IRS ID PINs, or other submission errors. However, there is no blan...

19 Mistakes College Grads Make When Finding Their First Apartments

Finding your first apartment after college is a big undertaking — it can be hard to know where to start when you’re staring at a stack of listings and the money from your new job is burning a hole in your pocket. And you’re new to all this, so you’re bound to make some mistakes along the way.

But we can help. Take a look at some of these common slip-ups so you can do your best to avoid them as you search for a new place to hang your cap (and gown … see what we did there?).

1. Starting Your Search Too Early

“Generally, the best time to start looking for an apartment is no more than three weeks before your move-in date,” said Margaret Fanney, a licensed real estate agent at Triplemint in New York City. But once it’s time to start your search, you want to make you aren’t …

2. … Underestimating How Much Everything Costs

Whether you lived in student housing and paid on a semester basis, or you are moving to a different state (or even different city) post-graduation, getting your first apartment can be a big financial adjustment.

You can use the time before graduation to research how much apartments are in the areas you’re considering and what costs you might pay for additional amenities.

3. Not Planning for Expenses Beyond Rent

Most people think about the monthly rent check (or charge, if your landlord lets you pay rent by credit card), but that’s not the only expense you’ll face living on your own. Think about other necessities like laundry detergent, toilet paper and groceries. And remember, there are ways to save on your daily expenses — like making this delicious 16-cent breakfast.

4. Leaving Student Loan Payments Out of Your Budget

“Monthly payments for student loans are often overlooked … because student loans come with a six-month grace period before you have to start making payments,” said Brandon Yahn, founder of Student Loans Guy.

5. Forgetting About Credit

Most landlords look at a version of your credit report as part of the application process. Things like credit cards or loans (ahem … student loans) are impacting your credit. Depending on how far into the world of credit you’ve ventured, your credit file may be pretty thin. Not sure? Now’s the time to find out — take a look at a free summary of your credit report on Credit.com.

6. Not Gathering What You’ll Need

“Graduates usually rush to find an apartment without contemplating on the requirements for renting an apartment,” Kobi Lahav, managing director of Mdrn. Residential in New York City, said. “They don’t have any offer letters ready, pay stubs or bank statements.”

7. Not Talking With Your Guarantors About Their Essential Paperwork

Once you’ve gathered all your paperwork, it’s important to also remind any guarantors of what they’ll need, as “springing it all on [them] at the last minute is guaranteed to cause delays and frustrations,” Fanney said.

8. Not Brushing Up on Terminology

“[Recent graduates] don’t typically know the difference in rental versus condo versus co-op building,” Greg Moers, a licensed real estate agent at Triplemint, said. “They tend to just shop for what looks awesome and do not take into consideration the process involved with putting together a board package and the cost.”

To get you started, check out this guide that deciphers 16 confusing mortgage terms.

9. Choosing the Wrong Roommates

Fanney suggests comparing schedules and lifestyles to see if living with a particular person is really a good idea.

“You should already be thinking about things like each person’s tolerance for mess and budget, but now that you have your first full-time jobs, you’ll have to make sure the lifestyles can coexist peacefully.”

10. Not Getting Roommate Agreements in Writing

Even if you’re living with your best friend, it’s important to write out responsibilities and agreements you’ve made about the living situation. You’ll also want to outline how bills will be paid and who is responsible for what. Hopefully you’ll never need to reference this for any reason, but you’ll be glad to have it all in writing if things go bad.

11. Not Considering Apartments With Fees

We know, all those fees are the worst. But some of these upfront costs, while painful at the time you see the money coming out of your account, may mean paying less over time.

According to Chelsea Werner, a Bold New York real estate expert, many of the no-fee apartments just add fees to your monthly rent. And, if that’s the case, “although you will pay less upfront, over time it will even out, as you will be paying more per month.”

12. Forgetting to Meet Potential Neighbors

“In college, your neighbors were probably other college students, but that probably won’t be the case now,” Fanney said. “Don’t let that stop you from getting to know your neighbors and finding ones you can trust.”

13. Not Factoring in the Landlord

“It’s sometimes better to pay a premium to be with a better landlord than to pay less and be with a bad landlord that doesn’t fix anything and is hard to reach,” Lahav said.

14. Skimming Over the Lease

In a time when we all just click “next” anytime we install an update on one of our devices, it’s easy to flip to the end of the agreement and sign on the dotted line. But it’s essential you know what you’re agreeing to and negotiate things that you’re not quite on board with.

15. Not Knowing Your Tenant Rights

Tenants (and even applicants) have federal laws protecting them. And, in many cases, there are state laws that help protect you too, so you’ll want to do your research and find out what legal rights you have ahead of time.

16. Passing on Renters Insurance

Renters insurance may seem like one more expense, but just like car insurance, having it may ultimately save you money in the event of a problem. You can read about the little-known ways renters insurance could save you money here.

17. Only Looking at the Bottom Line

“Graduates are very price-sensitive, so they will usually go with the cheaper apartment as their rule of thumb,” Lahav said. “However … they don’t realize that sometimes a cheap deal is not the best deal for them.”

18. Holding Out for Perfection

Apartment hunting can be a lot like a relationship — you start out with a list of ideal qualities, but the odds of finding someone (or some place) that meets all these may not be realistic.

“Regardless of your budget, there is no perfect apartment,” Werner said. “Renting is all about tradeoffs.”

19. Forgetting About What Comes Next

“When looking for an apartment, people have a tendency to not think about a rental as more than a one-year commitment,” Werner said. But, unless you have reason to move, you probably won’t want to go through the hassle. So, that’s why Werner said it’s a good idea to “think about how that unit will fit your life in the next few years.”

Related Articles

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

Your Financial Ignorance Could End Up Costing You Thousands

None of us like to make mistakes, even though they’re frequently part of the learning process. Still, if you could avoid making mistakes, especially with your money, you’d probably prefer to do so rather than wasting your hard-earned dollars on bad decision making.

If that’s you, take heed. Here’s your chance to learn from others and avoid their mistakes.

A recent study by the National Financial Educators Council (NFEC) found that 28.8% of Americans aged 65 or older said their personal lack of knowledge about personal finances caused them to lose $30,000 or more in their lifetimes.

NFEC asked participants across age groups, “Across your entire lifetime, about how much money do you think you have lost because you lacked knowledge about personal finances?” Across all age groups, respondents said their lack of financial knowledge had cost an average of $9,724.83, with nearly a quarter of respondents reporting a loss of $30,000 or more.

The survey didn’t ask participants how they lost their money, or what bad decisions they made that led them to part with their cash, but the problem frequently boils down to one thing — people thinking they know more than they actually do. Case in point: Another recent study by Sallie Mae, “Majoring in Money: How American College Students Are Managing Their Finances,” looked at the financial habits of college students between the ages of 18 and 24, including the methods they use to pay for purchases, their knowledge and use of credit, and their money management skills.

Of those surveyed, 65% thought their money management skills were good or excellent. In reality, only 31% of these respondents answered three basic financial questions correctly. The questions were on how interest accumulates, how repayment behavior affects the cost of credit over time and how credit terms affect the cost of credit over time. (You can take a financial capability survey on the NFEC site to see how you compare nationally.)

Whatever your age, making financial decisions on assumptions or only part of the facts can lead to frustration and economic loss. But if you’re in your teens or 20s, chances are you haven’t made any major financial missteps, and can potentially avoid them altogether.

Let’s take a look at some of the key areas of the study and address how you can avoid making mistakes that could end up costing you thousands over your lifetime.

Paying Bills On Time

A large majority of respondents to the Sallie Mae survey said they pay their bills on time — a whopping 77%. Not paying bills on time can result in late payment fees. If they go unpaid long enough, there can be a snowball effect when they end up in collections. Suddenly, that unpaid phone bill is hurting your credit scores, which means it will cost you more in interest when you apply for things like credit cards, auto loans or a mortgage.

If you struggle to pay your bills on time, you’ll want to look at exactly why. Is it because you don’t have enough money to make the payments when they come due? You’ll be well served by reviewing your spending habits, creating a monthly budget and sticking to it. Are you just forgetful? Automating your bill payments can help tremendously.

Setting Aside Savings

A surprising 55% of college students reported setting aside savings every month. Having a financial safety net is important in the event of an emergency — your car breaks down, you break your leg and can’t work, you lose your job. Having an emergency fund or savings account is an important first step when it comes to financial security, so take a look at your budget and figure out how you can start saving small, eventually setting aside enough income to live on for three to six months if needed.

Tracking Your Spending

We’ve already mentioned it twice, but we’ll say it again: Having a budget is important if you want to stay in control of your finances, and tracking your spending is an important part of the budgeting process. More than half of college students surveyed (56%) said they track their spending, and you should too. There are lots of helpful apps available to help make it easier.

Having a Paying Job

If you’re in college and aren’t working, you may want to reconsider that choice. 65% of students surveyed said they had a paying job, and there are numerous studies that show students who work tend to manage their time better. Working also gives you the opportunity to manage your money better. Think of the nest egg you could put away if you don’t need the extra spending money.

Getting a Credit Card …

The majority of students surveyed (59%) said their No. 1 reason for getting a credit card was to begin building credit, and that makes a lot of sense. A credit card, wisely used, is one of the best ways to establish credit. There are lots of good credit cards for students that offer added incentives for making good grades and paying bills on time. There are also secured credit cards if you can’t qualify for a standard card, or you can ask a parent or guardian to become an authorized user on one of their cards to help you establish credit.

… & Managing It Well

According to the survey, 36% of respondents said they never charge a purchase without having the money to pay the bill when it arrives, while 23% said they have rarely done so. On the flip side, 25% said they sometimes do this, and another 15% said they do it frequently.

If you’re charging too much on your credit cards because you just need that latest gadget, keep in mind you’re only making life harder for your future self by racking up debt. If you’re charging too much because you’re using your credit card as an emergency fund for unexpected bills, you may want to consider the additional costs you’re incurring to pay off that debt. Putting a little money aside and earning interest on it is a much better alternative financially.

… By Paying Off Balances Every Month

The absolute best way to ensure you don’t get into credit card debt (and to boost your credit scores as much as possible) is to pay off your credit card balances every month. The survey found that 63% of the students surveyed pay off their balances in full each month. These students also tend to have lower average monthly balances — $825 compared to $1,635 among those who pay only the minimum amount due.

Carrying $1,500 in debt every month on a credit card with an APR of 15.99% can cost you more than $200 a year in interest. You can use this handy credit card payoff calculator tool to see how long it will take you to pay down your debt.

Paying Your Student Loans on Time

Just like making credit card payments on time (and in full, if you can) making student loan payments on time can have a significant positive impact on your credit scores, meaning you’ll qualify for better interest rates on better products with better perks. If you’re already behind on your student loan payments, it’s a good idea to contact your servicer right away and sort out how you can get back in good standing. Don’t let your student loans go into default because you’re afraid to admit you need help.

Being Aware of Your Credit Standing

Of the college students surveyed, 67% said they were aware of credit reports, and about half had viewed theirs (you can get two of your credit scores, absolutely free, on Credit.com).

The survey also found that those who had experience with credit were far more likely to have viewed their credit report than those without credit experience. For example, 66% of students with credit cards reported having viewed their credit report, compared with 27% of those who did not have a credit card.

Seeking Professional Help

Making financial decisions isn’t always easy, particularly when you’ve run into trouble. That’s why it’s always a good idea to consider professional help, whether for tax preparation, investing decisions or getting debt under control. Paying a reputable person for expertise and assistance can end up saving money in the long run.

Reading the Fine Print

Life is full of agreements, and many of those include legally binding contracts. Most are on the up-and-up, but it’s still a good idea to fully read any agreement you sign and understand the terms completely. If you don’t, this is another case in which you may want to seek professional help to save yourself frustration and possibly money further down the road.

These are the basics to setting yourself up to succeed financially. Of course, there will be hiccups along the way, but by staying on top of your finances and asking lots of questions, you’ll be able to avoid some of the common mistakes many people make.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

Got the Worst Credit? These Cards Can Help You Rebuild It

Chances are, your credit isn’t actually the worst. According to data furnished to Credit.com by TransUnion, only a very tiny portion of the U.S.’s scoreable population has the lowest VantageScore possible. Of course, escaping the dreaded 300 won’t get your credit out of the woods. Any score below 600 is considered, well, bad, and even a score in the 650 to 699 range will cost you in interest.

Still, there’s no need to despair: Nothing lasts forever, including a terrible credit score. You’ve just got to take steps to rebuild it. Paying down high balances, shoring up delinquencies, paying collection accounts and disputing errors on your credit report are great places to start. (The further you get from 300, the better. You can track your progress using Credit.com’s free credit report summary.)

After that, consider getting a new credit card. It sounds counterintuitive, we know, but that plastic can be instrumental when it comes to reestablishing a solid payment history. Just be sure to pay all your bills on time and keep balances as low as possible.

Here are five cards designed to help people with bad credit rebuild their scores. (See card agreements for full terms and conditions.)

1. OpenSky Secured Visa Credit Card

Annual Fee: $35

Purchase Annual Percentage Rate (APR): Variable 18.14%

Why It’s a Good Option: Yes, secured credit cards are designed for people with bad credit, but most still require a credit check, and there’s no guarantee you’ll be approved. The OpenSky Secured Visa Credit Card foregoes pulling your credit and doesn’t require a checking account either, so if your finances are really damaged, you may want to take up their offer. OpenSky reports to all three credit bureaus, so you’re covered there. And there’s a wide range for a security deposit: You can put down as little as $200 and up to $3,000.

Beyond that, the terms of the card are decent, especially given that there’s no credit check. (There are certainly secured credit cards out there touting higher APRs and annual fees.) One drawback worth mentioning: There’s no built-in way to upgrade to an unsecured credit card, so you’ll have to improve your scores and apply elsewhere.

2. Discover it Secured

Annual Fee: $0

Purchase APR: Variable 23.74%

Why It’s a Good Option: Back in Dec. 2016, Discover announced that Chapter 7 bankruptcy would no longer automatically disqualify Discover it Secured applicants, so someone with that big blemish on their credit report could conceivably get approved. That’s great news for people with bad credit, because this card is pretty tops, as far as secured credit cards go.

There’s no annual fee, account reviews begin at seven months to determine whether to refund your deposit (a minimum of $200 is required to open an account), and there’s even a rewards program. Cardholders earn 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, and 1% cash back on everything else. Plus, Discover is currently matching all the cash back you earn at the end of your first year.

Other Big Perks: Discover reports to all three credit bureaus, waives the late fee on your first missed payment and won’t impose a penalty APR if you miss a bill. Just be sure to pay your balances off in full: That APR is on the high side and will quickly negate any rewards you do earn.

3. First Progress Platinum Select MasterCard Secured Credit Card

Annual Fee: $39

Purchase APR: Variable 14.99%

Why it’s a Good Option: There’s no credit history or minimum credit score required for approval — so long as you don’t have a pending bankruptcy. First Progress reports to all three major credit bureaus, offers a flexible deposit range ($200 to $3,000) and features a reasonable annual fee and low APR. Again, the potential drawbacks are that you don’t have a built-in option to upgrade and the card isn’t currently available in Arkansas, Iowa, New York or Wisconsin.

4. primor Secured Visa Gold Card

Annual Fee: $49

Purchase APR: Fixed 9.99%

Why It’s a Good Option: This card touts guaranteed approval so long as your monthly income exceeds your monthly expenses by $100 or more. Plus, while that $49 annual fee can be bested, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a secured credit card with an APR lower than primor’s. There’s no penalty APR either, though you’ll still want to pay your bills on time and ideally in full. Your card use will be reported to all three credit bureaus, and you can put down a deposit of $200 to $5,000. There are no built-in upgrades with an unsecured credit card, however.

5. CreditOne Bank Visa

Annual Fee: $0 to $75, the first year; $0 to $99 thereafter, based on your credit

Purchase APR: Variable 15.90% to 24.40%

Why It’s a Good Option: OK, if you’ve got really bad credit, you’re probably going to pay a high annual fee and receive a high APR with the CreditOne Bank Visa. But it’s an unsecured credit card, meaning you won’t have to put down a deposit that serves as your credit limit. Plus, it’ll let you pre-qualify without incurring an inquiry (which would damage your already-hurt credit score), so it’s worth considering if you don’t want to go the secured-credit-card route. There are also rewards — 1% cash back on eligible purchases, including gas, groceries, mobile phone, internet, cable and satellite TV services. Just be extra careful about paying your balances off in full, and prepare for a fee when looking to get a higher credit limit, as one may apply.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

Why Tax Collection Scams Are Getting Harder to Stop

I’ve written about tax-related crime for years, and have always offered this fail-safe rule to avoid tax scams: If you ever receive a call from the IRS about back taxes or any other money you supposedly owe the government, hang up because it’s a scam.

There was something comforting about that advice — maybe even a little satisfying. I mean, who secretly doesn’t want to hang up on the taxman? But it seemed no amount of repetition was enough to stem the tide of tax-related scams, and no matter how many times I wrote about that simple, satisfying tactic, the message never reached the people most vulnerable to such shenanigans.

Taxpayers still got taken in by scam artists dialing for dollars every day. It didn’t matter if the crook posed as an IRS employee, or if he ventured into the truly absurd with a claim that he worked for a collection agency that bought back tax debt from the agency. It was wacky stuff, the IRS selling debt. But it was wackier than that …

All you had to know was this: The IRS did all its own collecting, and it conducted all its business via snail mail. It never called. The advice was solid: Let your spirit fly! Do or say whatever you want when the IRS called about back taxes or an audit because it wasn’t them!

You know where I’m going with this, right? Yep, leave it to our friends in Washington to take a bad situation and make it worse.

Earlier this month, IRS chief John Koskinen announced that the IRS would be immediately outsourcing certain debt collection activities to one of four debt collection companies: CBE Group of Cedar Falls, Iowa; Conserve of Fairport, New York; Performant of Livermore, California; and Pioneer of Horseheads, New York.

You read that right. The IRS is outsourcing debt to collection agencies.

When this was initially announced last September, I was convinced that it was a joke—and a pretty good one. Extra points for coming up with something more or less unthinkable— since truly, debt collection agencies could not be a more problematic solution to the IRS’s back tax problem — but it turns out it wasn’t their joke.

You can thank Congress for this epic face palm. Although it didn’t get much attention when it passed in 2015, one of the provisions of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act required the IRS to hire private-sector debt collectors to pay for it.

Since consumers are going to have to handle this year’s post-tax season a little different as a result, here are some telltale giveaways that you’re getting scammed and should hang up:

  1. You get a call from a collection agency not listed above. Only those four agencies are approved for these collections.
  2. You do not owe back taxes.
  3. The person calling you has asked you to send money somewhere other than the IRS. Even though the four collection agencies are making the call, the check goes to the Fed.
  4. The caller asks you to pay in the form of gift cards, prepaid cards or asks you to wire funds.
  5. The caller is aggressive or rude — a violation of your debt-collection rights.
  6. You are asked for any information that can be used to conduct a financial transaction: Social Security number, bank account, credit or debit card number. (If you do turn over personal information, keep an eye on your credit for signs of identity theft. You can view your free credit report summary on Credit.com.)
  7. If you are low-income, there may be other options for you. Contact the IRS to find out what they may be before discussing your debt with a collection agency.

By now we’ve gotten pretty good at surviving the ridiculous decisions made on Capitol Hill, but this latest one is a doozy. Happily, my old advice still stands. If you get a call from a debt collector, don’t engage until you verify the debt. If it was a legit collector, they’ll furnish written verification within five days of calling you, and here’s what to do when that happens.

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

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