4 Ways to Minimize Your Student Loan Debt

Higher education is, for most people, a stepping stone to better career and financial success. That said, the steep tuition fees prevent many Americans from obtaining their degrees, or lead to them taking on large student debts. In fact, CNBC estimated that the average debt load of student loan borrowers of all ages is a staggering $39,351.

Erasing student loans is another discussion altogether, but there are ways you yourself can minimize your debt before you even step into the hallowed halls of academia. Here are our top four tips:

Apply for Scholarships and Grants

If there are scholarship and grant programs available, every student should, needless to say, take their chances. There is no harm in applying for one even if you weren’t able to maintain a 4.0 GPA in high school.

Students with exceptional transcripts and high standardized test scores do get priority in most universities and colleges. For instance, the Ohio State University-Columbus offers academic scholarships like the Eminence Fellows program, similar to Indiana University-Bloomington’s merit-based Wells scholarship. However, there are also scholarship opportunities for community service, like the Equitable Excellence Scholarship or the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards offered in various educational institutions. Finally, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund is available for STEM students with a Hispanic heritage, while incoming African American freshmen can apply for the Ron Brown Scholarship.

Explore Remote Learning Opportunities

Remote education has risen in popularity due to the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing a wide range of students to benefit from the flexibility and accessibility of online learning. Online schools have taken huge steps in creating collaborative learning environments for their students, so there’s no need to worry about the quality of education you’re receiving. Kristina Coleman, a student from Maryville University’s online business administration degree, pointed out that she’s able to have “great interactions” with her peers and support from the faculty, despite her program being completed remotely. This support network is crucial for online universities, and Maryville’s 96% success rate of graduates forging careers in their chosen field is proof of the value of remote education.

These degree programs are also more cost-effective compared to traditional schools because you can cut costs on school supplies, housing fees, and application fees. By obtaining your degree online, you can also keep a day job while having access to a wider range of courses. This allows you to invest in your education while you’re solidifying your financial security through work at the same time.

Consider Schools that Offer Various Financial Options

Though public universities are funded by taxes, many of them remain unaffordable for students who come from low-income families. If you’re facing the same dilemma, consider universities that offer more affordable and flexible options for students.

NPR promotes need-based programs offered by The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Wisconsin-Madison for students with great financial need. Aspiring students can apply for UNC’s Carolina Covenant, which offers grants, scholarships, and even work-study options! On the other hand, the University of Wisconsin-Madison offers the same benefits through the FASTrack program. Finally, do not overlook community colleges, which allow students to learn relevant skills and earn credits so that they can transfer to a university for a lower fee.

Create Strategies for Your Loans

Before you sign on the dotted line and make things final, consider how much you really need. Student loans can be avoidable, but you have to carefully calculate all the expenses first. Maybe there are cheaper housing options off-campus or second-hand bookstores that provide what you need. Or, maybe, there is a more affordable university offering the program you want. You can minimize your debt by only taking out the amount that you can pay off at the moment.

Afterwards, study and implement our 6 Steps to Ditching Your Debt. For example, you can utilize the snowball method by paying off the smallest to the largest amount, or the avalanche method where you pay off the debts with higher interest rates first. Furthermore, look into various repayment plans offered by your university or the Department of Education.

Your education is an important investment. Consider these various financial opportunities and learning options so that you can propel yourself forward and achieve success.

Article made only for iapda.org

By Jona Simmons

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5 Ways Large Families Can Cut Expenses

Fewer and fewer young people are dreaming about having large families, and one of the main reasons for it is financial – raising children is expensive, and most people fear they won’t be able to afford the expense. But what if you could make it more affordable? There are several highly effective ways large families can cut expenses that will help you live your dream without going into debt. So don’t give up: financial stability is not just for people who prioritize their jobs. You can both have a large family and save money if you’re smart about it.

The best ways large families can cut expenses

Large families come with significant expenses. So you’re probably looking for just about any way to spare a few dollars. But with so many money-saving tips online, how will you know which tactics work best? The answer is simple – these are the 5 most effective ways for your large family to cut living costs:

#1: Plan your budget (and stick to your plans)

When you have a large family, saving a couple of bucks every few weeks is simply not going to cut it. You need to be more systematic in your efforts – that’s the only way to cut costs consistently and considerably. This means that you need a plan, so your first step should be to create a household budget. Don’t be vague about it either; putting hard numbers on paper is the only way to honestly assess the situation. How much money are you (and your partner) bringing in every month? How much are you spending on necessary expenses like housing and utilities? What about groceries, clothes, hobbies?

It’s important to be realistic about your finances when planning a budget. If you’re not sure about the exact numbers, always estimate your earnings low and your expenses high – this prepares you for the absolute worst-case scenario. Finally, remember to set aside a bit of money for things you and your family enjoy doing. Denying yourself fun will only make it more tempting, and you’ll end up splurging on something eventually. Planning how you’ll spend every dollar in advance will prevent this.

#2: Change your mindset

Here’s something you already know: things cost money. New clothes, school supplies, birthday gifts – all of these things will inevitably put a dent in your budget. Some of them are unavoidable expenses, but some you can replace with something even better than material things – experiences and memories. There are tons of ways to have fun without spending much money. So next holiday season, skip buying gifts; plan a family hike in the local national park, or a visit to the grandparents’ house. You may still need to pay for something, but it’ll be less of an expense than buying expensive gifts, and the memories will last forever. Furthermore, focusing on experiences will teach your children an important lesson – that material belongings aren’t the most important thing in the world.

#3: Look for deals and discounts

It seems very obvious, but when it comes to unavoidable expenses, you should always try to get the best possible price. To achieve this, you may need to learn some creative ways to shop – shopping later in the day can get you discounts on baked goods, and bins for products close to expiration date can be a veritable treasure trove, for example. Other things you may want to consider are shopping in bulk, subscribing to store newsletters to learn about sales, thrifting, and couponing.

#4: Give up on some luxuries

When you’re planning your budget, one of the things you should pay attention to are expenses that you can cut out entirely. You may be spending money on things that make your life easier, things you’re used to, and things you enjoy which are not strictly speaking necessary. Smoking, drinking, eating out, or getting food delivered ate good examples – you can give up bad habits and start preparing meals at home to cut down on your living costs.

There are other, seemingly more important expenses that fit this bill too. For example, if you own two cars, you can sell one or switch to public transportation entirely. If you were planning on repainting, redecorating, or remodeling an old home, ask yourself if that’s really necessary; adding a personal touch is not complicated, so you can personalize your home for free and postpone major changes until you have more solid finances. Even buying new clothes for yourself and your children is not always necessary – you can alter or sew instead to spare a bit more money.

#5: Focus on the largest expenses – housing, transportation, loans

If you’re serious about saving money, cutting down on minor expenses is secondary. While giving up Starbucks and not taking your kids to McDonald’s will add to your budget, it’s not as impactful as getting rid of the real money-drainers like housing costs or debt payments. So try to find ways to lower your biggest expenses. Consider downsizing to lower your rent or mortgage rate. Walk, bike, or take the metro instead of driving to save on transportation expenses. Finally, pay off your debts and loans so you’ll have more cash coming in.

Other easy ways large families can cut expenses

These five tactics will help any big family save quite a bit of money, but they’ll work even better if you supplement them with everyday habits for saving money:

  • always make a list before grocery shopping – you’ll avoid unexpected and unnecessary expenses
  • get the most out of everything you buy – don’t waste food, don’t throw away clothes just because they’re out of style, and use everything you own for as long and as much as you can
  • use cash, not card – it’ll be easier to keep track of your spending when it’s material
  • avoid loans and credit when possible – you’ll end up paying more in the long run

The benefits of finding ways large families can cut expenses

Some of the ways large families can cut expenses may feel like a downgrade. After all, you’ll need to invest time and effort for an often less convenient life than before. But remember: this doesn’t have to be forever. If you can save enough money for enough time, you’ll eventually have more to splurge on things you enjoy. Besides, you may find that some of these things are a lot easier than they seem. And who knows, maybe you’ll even get some enjoyment out of learning to sew or planning free activities for your kids. It’s really all about the attitude you approach the situation with.

Submitted By – Dorothy Carter – Arizona Moving Professionals

 

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The 3 Smartest Ways to Use Your Stimulus Money

More stimulus checks were sent out in early June: 2.3 million of them, some of which were “plus-up” payments to people who were due more money once their tax returns were processed. In July, Child Tax Credit payments for people with children are scheduled to begin and will continue monthly. Plus, there’s talk of a fourth stimulus check in Congress, though that’s still an iffy proposition.

We’re still feeling some of the fallout from the pandemic, and the stimulus checks have had an impact, both on our pocketbook and our stress levels: Between December and late April, rates of food insufficiency fell by 40%, financial instability was down by 45%, and depression and anxiety dipped by 20%.

How have people used their stimulus checks so far — and more importantly, how should you use yours? Here are some things you should consider.

So far…

It turns out, the three different stimulus checks have been used slightly differently.

  • Nearly three-quarters (74%) of the money dispersed during the first round, or CARES Act, was spent, while 14% of it was saved and 11% of it used mostly to pay off debt.
  • During the second round, more than half of recipients (51%) used most of their money to pay off debt, while 26% saved most of it, and 22% spent most of it.
  • That ratio held up pretty well for the third disbursement: 49% used it mostly to pay down debt, 32% mostly saved it, and 19% mostly spent it.

Check recipients were also grouped into three income categories: under $75,000, $75,000 to $150,000 a year, and $150,000 or more a year. For all three disbursements, those with higher incomes were more likely to save their money than those who made less.

Moving forward…

Of course, none of this means that’s how you should use your money if you happen to fall into a particular group. Your situation is unique to you, and your financial needs should help dictate what you do with the money. Here are three of the smartest ways to spend your stimulus money.

  • Pay Off Debt

A stimulus check is a lot like an IRS refund: It’s a one-time windfall that you can’t count on to come around again, regardless of what chatter you might hear in Congress.

That’s probably why so many people used it for the one-time purpose of paying down debt in the second and third go-rounds. It’s not a bad idea. If you’ve got your regular monthly expenses under control, but you have significant debt — especially debt with high interest rates — you can save a good deal of money by paying off a big chunk of it.

It’s possible that more people spent the first stimulus check because they needed it to cover immediate expenses like food and utilities. Then, as their financial situation improved (either because of the first check, because they got more income, or both), they were free to use more of the second and third checks to pay down debt.

  • Rebuild Your Credit

Did you take a big hit financially during the pandemic? Maybe your credit suffered; if so, it would be wise to pay any overdue or delinquent bills and clear your books of any problems that could affect your credit history. Then, check your credit report to find out where to go from here.

If your credit score has suffered, you can take steps to rebuild it by setting aside some money to open a secured credit card account. These types of credit cards require a deposit, making it easier for people with low or no credit to qualify. Otherwise, you use it like a regular credit card and make minimum (or larger) payments every month.

That will get your credit score headed in the right direction in case you want to apply for a mortgage, car loan, or personal loan down the road.

If, on the other hand, you have good credit and you’re able to handle all your bills without stimulus money, think about investing it or putting it away for retirement or some other future goal: a vacation, your kids’ education, etc. Or maybe invest it in your business or education to acquire more skills and increase your marketability.

  • Be Prepared

The pandemic blindsided most of us, but it also reminded us of how important it is to be prepared. Of course, we can’t be ready for everything, but we can do our best to head off the crises we can foresee.

Do an inventory of your health, car, and home insurance coverage and see whether it’s adequate for your situation. Consider risk factors, deductibles, what you can afford to pay monthly, and what costs you could absorb if the worst occurred.

Think about problems that could occur at home if your house were damaged by a severe storm, for example, or if your plumbing sprang a leak or your air conditioner stopped working in the middle of summer. Savings for emergencies such as these, and the kind of maintenance that can prevent some of them, is always a good idea.

Along those same lines, take care of vehicle maintenance you have been putting off. Changing your oil, replacing your tires, and getting new brake pads regularly will help your vehicle last longer and help you avoid more costly problems, saving you a lot of money in the long run. It’s also a good idea to invest in an emergency repair kit for your car, truck, SUV, or RV. Include things like a jack and tire iron, road flares, flashlight, jumper cables, a tire gauge, and any items you might need to deal with cold weather, like a foldable shovel, ice scraper, and extra antifreeze.

In the end, the smartest way to use your stimulus money depends a lot on your personal situation. So take stock of where you stand, see where it would be best put to use, and go from there.

Jessica Larson, SolopreneurJournal.com

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Creative Ways to Shop on a Budget

blue and brown tote bag

A survey by Gallup in 2019 found that only 32% of Americans maintain a household budget. Roughly half of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, meaning many of us have to get creative in how we shop for things like groceries, clothes, and entertainment. 

Living on a shoestring budget can be stressful, but it is possible with some of these creative tips to shop and make the most of what you have.

Grocery shopping on a budget

Food tends to be one of the biggest spending categories in anyone’s budget. The USDA estimates that Americans spend an average of 6% of their budget on food; 5% of income also goes to dining out. How can you stretch that grocery shopping budget to go even further?

First, time your shopping trip to capitalize on sales and promos:

Wednesdays: The middle of the week is often when grocers release their weekly circular. “You’ll have first dibs on sale items for the week ahead and, if you’re lucky, the store may still honor price reductions on items you forgot to pick up from the previous week’s sale,” says one expert.

Avoid Tuesday and weekends: Weekends tend to be busier as people shop on non-workdays. Tuesdays can also be crowded as other shoppers try to take advantage of last week’s expiring deals, and therefore sale items go quickly. 

Shop late or early: The hour before closing is when some grocers reduce prices on bakery items or produce items that won’t last until the next day. Early in the morning is also when there is less competition for sale items. 

Next, before you head to the store, download an app. Not just any app, but one that gives you discounts: try Food on the Table, an app that lets you type in your food preferences and then generates a list of recipe options based on current promotions at your go-to grocery store. Or, try Ibotta, an app that lets you retroactively apply coupons to items you purchased by scanning your receipt and claiming deals.  Many grocery stores also have apps that deliver exclusive offers and digital coupons. 

Finally, put your dining out budget into your grocery shopping budget. A meal at a fast-food restaurant costs around $8; if you stop eating an $8 lunch every day during the workweek, you can save $40 a week ($160 a month!). 

How to budget for an apartment

Rent is a big budget item for most people, and there are lots of hidden costs in budgeting for an apartment. Whether you’re on the hunt for a new lease or looking to reduce your utility costs and other apartment expenses, there are a few key things to consider when budgeting for your apartment. 

First, if you’re looking to sign a new lease, try to find an apartment that’s close to public transportation. Longer-term leases (a year or more) tend to be cheaper, as the landlord doesn’t have to search for a new tenant or spend on renovations as often. If there are fixes that need to be made, offer to do them yourself in exchange for a discount on the security deposit. 

If you’re in an apartment and hoping to save on utility costs, go beyond basic steps like turning off lights and turning down the heat. Think about turning off the devices that consume energy in a passive way, like your microwave and water heater that you aren’t using constantly. Winterize your apartment to cut your cooling and heating bills (winterize is a bit of a misnomer, as many of these steps can also keep your apartment cool in the summer). And, avoid running your energy-intensive appliances – washing machine, dishwasher, or dryer – during “peak hours”. Electricity companies tend to discount rates during the night when fewer people are using their grid.

Thrifting and other shopping ideas

What about other expenses: clothes, gifts, and entertainment? There are creative ways to shop on a budget for these items too. 

Thrifting is an obvious choice for saving your clothing budget. Many shoppers also turn to fast-casual brands like H&M and Forever 21 – but be aware that those retailers may be more expensive in the long-term. Spending $10 on a t-shirt that lasts fewer than 10 wears is worse than spending $50 on a shirt you’ll own forever. “Unless it’s practically free, you’re better off buying clothing items from good brands with a reputation for well-made items,” wrote The Simple Dollar.

Look to see if clothes are well made by checking the seams and material. Seams on a good quality item will be perfectly straight, with no dangling strings; any patterns should match up well. The material should be higher-quality. Look for natural fibers and blends like wool, and avoid synthetics like polyester. 

For gifts, go for something thoughtful rather than expensive. Find gifts that are unique to the recipient and require time, rather than cash. For instance, give someone the gift of time by babysitting or hiring a house cleaner. Give your family member a recipe book of meals from your childhood. Or, start a new tradition – holiday cookie-baking, for instance – that leads to memories rather than things. 

Shopping on a budget isn’t always easy. Sometimes, what you really need is a little Lift to cover a shortfall or meet a financial emergency. 

This article is contributed by LiftRocket.

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