Tag: Credit Card Debt

How to Start Investing in the Stock Market

Although investing in the stock market can feel intimidating at first, it could be the key to achieving your financial goals. Short of hitting the lottery or building a thriving business that you can sell, buying securities that increase in value over time is usually the easiest path to wealth. 

After all, the average savings account pays out a paltry 0.05% APY according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, yet the average stock market return is around 10% per year before accounting for inflation. 

Unless you want your money to languish in a savings account where it’s worth less with each passing year, learning to invest should be at the top of your to-do list.

6 Steps to Start Investing in the Stock Market

But, how do you start down a path that is notoriously complicated and has the potential to leave you with less money than you started? Here are a few top steps you should take to get started.

1. List Your Goals

Ask yourself what you hope to accomplish by investing in the stock market. A few examples of investment goals might include: 

  • Making a quick profit by investing in the short-term, and reselling stocks at a higher price,
  • Creating a source of passive income you can use later on,
  • Growing investment earnings so it can cover your retirement, or
  • Saving money for a specific goal.

As you list out your goals, make sure you have the extra money to invest on a regular basis, while also having cash set aside for emergencies. If you have a lot of credit card debt or other high-interest debt, you might even consider paying it off before you begin investing. After all, the average credit card interest rate is currently over 16% —  and you might not get an investment return anywhere close to that.

2. Start With Retirement Savings Accounts

There are advantages that come with investing in a retirement account. Accounts, like a workplace 401(k), a SEP IRA, or a Solo 401(k) are tax-advantaged, giving you the chance to reduce your taxable income (and thus, pay less in taxes) when you contribute. 

With a 401(k) plan from your job, for example, you can contribute up to $19,500 in 2020 and again in 2021. If you’re age 50 or older, you can also contribute another $6,500 each year which is called, a “catch-up contribution”. The amount you contribute is taken off of your taxable income, so your tax liability is lower.

You might also qualify for an “employer match” on contributions to your employer-sponsored retirement account. Check with your company’s human resource department to learn if your employer offers this benefit. 

Other retirement accounts to consider include a traditional or Roth IRA. You can deduct your full traditional IRA contribution from your taxable income, if you don’t have a retirement plan at work. Another option is funding a Roth IRA which lets you contribute using after-tax dollars instead. This means you won’t get a tax deduction for contributing, but Roth IRA funds grow tax-free and you can take distributions at retirement age without paying any taxes. 

In 2021, contribution limits for IRAs stay the same as 2020. You can contribute up to $6,000 to an IRA, or $7,000 if you’re age 50 and older. 

3. Open a Brokerage Account

In addition to investing for retirement, you can also open a taxable brokerage account. You won’t get any upfront tax advantages for opening a brokerage account, but you get the chance to buy and sell stocks and other securities, or buy and hold them for the long-term.

There are excellent brokerage account options for beginners or experienced investors, many of which let you invest in some capacity without any fees. Some of the top firms to consider include: 

  • Betterment: Best for Beginners
  • Robinhood: Best for No Minimum Balance Requirement
  • M1 Finance: Best for Free Trades

4. Compare Costs and Fees

You might not have a lot of options if you’re investing in your workplace retirement plan at first. If you have the option to select a brokerage firm, you’ll need to compare the fees and costs involved in investing. Fees and costs to watch out for include:

  • Investment management fees. These fees can be nonexistent or as high as 1% of your account balance (or more).
  • Expense ratios. Specific funds, like index funds or mutual funds, might carry this fee.
  • Transaction fees. You might pay transaction fees when buying or selling a stock or another security.
  • Front-end loads. This fee can be charged on some investments upfront.
  • Annual account fees. A charge that’s tacked on just for using your brokerage account.

These are just some of the main fees to watch out for, but there are plenty of others. If you want to figure out how much you’re paying in fees on your investment accounts, the free retirement fee analyzer tool from Personal Capital is a good place to start.

5. Start Off With Simple Investments

You’ve probably heard plenty about the “hot stocks” of the last few years, and how investors who got in early have gotten rich by being in the right place, at the right time. Unfortunately, most “regular” investors don’t hear about hot stocks until it’s too late.

As a beginning investor, it’s usually best to keep your stock market strategy simple by investing in what you understand. Some beginning investments to consider include exchange-traded funds (ETFs), which are made up of various investments that track an index or focus on a specific industry sector. You could even stick to index funds, which are another type of investment that tracks an index and are mostly “hands-off” for the investor.

Target-date funds are another type of simple investment to consider. These funds include a selection of stocks and bonds that adjust for less risk over time. If you purchase a target-date fund that’s meant to last until 2050, for example, your risk would be high at first but slowly taper down as you approached 2050 or whatever “target date” you choose for retirement.

6. Research Before Jumping on Complex Strategies

If you’re curious about more complex investing options, you’ll need to learn more about how and when to invest. Some resources to turn to include investing books, like:

  • The Little Book of Common Sense Investing by John C. Bogle
  • Investing All-In-One for Dummies by Eric Tyson

You could also check out top investing forums like Seeking Alpha or the Bogleheads forum, taking the time to read through questions and answers from investors at the top of their game.

Blog posts that can help you get started with some investing basics include: 

  • How to Invest Essentials for Beginners & Intermediates
  • How the Stock Market Works
  • How to Buy Stock Online

The Bottom Line

Investing in the stock market can be nerve-racking, but starting with common-sense investments in place (e.g. employer-sponsored retirement account) and uncomplicated investments (like index funds), lets you ease into the process slowly.

Over time and with more experience, you’ll have a better sense of when — and when not to — shy away from the risks of the stock market.  

The post How to Start Investing in the Stock Market appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

Source: goodfinancialcents.com

The Worst Ways to Deal With a Bill Collector

The Worst Ways to Deal With a Bill Collector

Dealing with a bill collector is never fun and it can be particularly stressful when you’re sitting on a mountain of debt. Sometimes debt collectors fail to follow the rules outlined in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. If that’s the issue you’re facing, it might be a good idea to file a complaint. But if you’re personally making any of these mistakes, your debt problem could go from bad to worse.

Check out our credit card calculator.

1. Ignoring Debt Collectors

Screening calls and avoiding bill collectors won’t help you get your debt under control. Debts generally have a statute of limitations that varies depending on the state you live in. Once it expires, the collector might not be able to sue you anymore. But you could still be responsible for paying back what you owe in addition to any interest that has accumulated.

In addition to the potential legal consequences of unpaid bills, letting old debt pile up can destroy your credit score. Unpaid debts can remain on a credit report for as many as seven years. So if your debt collector is getting on your last nerves, it might be best to stop hiding and face him head on.

2. Saying Too Much Over the Phone

The Worst Ways to Deal With a Bill Collector

If you decide to stop dodging your bill collectors, it’s important to avoid sharing certain details over the phone. You never want to say that you’ll pay a specific amount of money by a deadline or give someone access to your bank accounts. Anything you say can be used against you and agreeing to make a payment can actually extend a statute of limitations that has already run out.

A debt collector’s No. 1 goal is to collect their missing funds. They can’t curse at you or make empty threats, but they can say other things to try and scare you into paying up. Staying calm, keeping the call short and keeping your comments to a minimum are the best ways to deal with persistent bill collectors.

Related Article: Dealing With Debt Collectors? Know Your Rights

3. Failing to Verify That the Debt Is Yours

When you’re talking to a bill collector, it’s also wise to avoid accepting their claims without making sure they’re legitimate. Debt collection scams are common. So before you send over a single dime, you’ll need to confirm that the debt belongs to you and not someone else.

Reviewing your credit report is a great place to start. If you haven’t received any written documentation from the collection agency, it’s a good idea to request that they mail you a letter stating that you owe them a specific amount of money.

If you need to dispute an error you found on your credit report, you have 30 days from the date that you received formal documentation from the collection agency to notify them (in writing) that a mistake was made. You’ll also need to reach out to each of the credit reporting agencies to get the error removed. They’ll expect you to mail them paperwork as proof of your claim.

4. Failing to Negotiate the Payments

The Worst Ways to Deal With a Bill Collector

No matter how big your debts, there’s usually room for negotiation when it comes to making payments. If the payment plan your bill collector offers doesn’t work for you, it’s okay to throw out a number you’re more comfortable with.

Sometimes, it’s possible to get away with paying less than what you owe. Instead of agreeing to pay back everything, you can suggest that you’re willing to pay back a percentage of the debt and see what happens. A non-profit credit counselor can help you come up with a debt management plan if you need assistance. Whatever you agree to, keep in mind that the deal needs to be put in writing.

Related Article: All About the Statute of Limitations on Debt

5. Failing to Keep Proper Documentation

Whenever you communicate with a bill collector, it’s a good idea to take notes. Jotting down details about when you spoke with a collector and what you discussed can help you if you’re forced to appear in court or report a collector who has broken the law. Collecting written notices from bill collectors and saving them in a folder can also help your case.

Bottom Line

Dealing with bill collectors can be a real pain. By knowing how to interact with them, you’ll be in the best position to get rid of your unpaid loans and credit card debt (that is, if you actually owe anything) on your own terms.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Steve Debenport, ©iStock.com/RapidEye, ©iStock.com/JJRD

The post The Worst Ways to Deal With a Bill Collector appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com

By: Kylee Dennis

I took out a credit card 4 years ago. At the time I had a job. A few months later I ended up getting pregnant and my morning sickness was so bad 24/7 I had lost my job, then was put on bed rest for my last 4 months of my pregnancy. After my daughter was born I could not afford daycare and my significant other made to much to get state assistance. I wasn’t able to pay back my credit card debt.it went into collections in 2013. I have not received any paperwork on the credit card or collection agency since early 2014. Now I received a paper in the mail for a summons to appear in court. I am still not working and have no income to pay for this and my boyfriend doesn’t make enough to help pay. I also have no family to help me. What should I do?

Source: credit.com

Truth About Reward and Store Credit Cards

On the surface, reward cards are a great way to make a few extra dollars or grab some air miles without increasing your spending or your debt. If you spend a lot of money at a particular shop, store cards will seem like an equally beneficial prospect. But these cards exist for a reason—they’re there to make more money for the providers and the retailers, not you.

Sure, reward/store cards have other benefits if you use them properly, but there are a host of disadvantages and hidden terms that you need to be aware of before signing on the dotted line. 

What are Store Cards?

Store cards are tied to specific stores and offered by chains of retailers. These cards work just like traditional cards and are often branded by networks like Visa and MasterCard. The difference is that they can only be used in the issuing stores and their rewards are tied to those stores.

In essence, they are store loyalty cards that come with a lien of credit attached. 

What are Reward Cards?

Reward cards are also tied to credit card networks, including American Express and Discover, as well as Visa and MasterCard. They award points every time they’re used for qualifying purchases and these points can then be swapped for air travel and other benefits. 

Some reward schemes award a specific amount of cash back, often fixed to 1% or 2% of purchases made on specific items, such as groceries or utility bills.

How Can Providers Offer These Rewards?

If a provider offers you cash back every time you spend money on your credit card, someone has to foot the bill. Many consumers assume that the credit card network covers the cost, and to an extent, they do. But it’s not quite as simple as that.

Every time you use your credit card to make a purchase, the retailer is charged a fee, often between 1% and 3% of the purchase. This is the network’s charge. With reward cards, this fee increases, and the extra money is used to fund the rewards program.

As a result, retailers are not exactly happy with these programs as they drive their costs up and reduce their profits. The only way around this, is to increase the cost of the product or, more likely, to reward customers who pay with cash/debit. Retailers are not allowed to add a surcharge for credit card use, but there’s nothing stopping them from choosing which cards they do and don’t accept.

Your local Mom & Pop enterprise isn’t being antiquated and old-fashioned by refusing credit cards. They just can’t cover the costs. 5% may not sound like a big deal, but for retailers with minimal buying power and the massive overheads of running a brick-and-mortar store, 5% can be a deal breaker.

Smaller retailers are fighting back against reward cards while bigger ones are embracing them by adopting their own store cards. With a store card, they have more say, more control, and they know that those small losses will be offset by the increased purchases.

Issues with Store Credit Cards

Store cards carry a big risk and have far few benefits than reward cards. The advantages of these cards are obvious: If you shop a lot in a particular place, you can save money via the cash back schemes. 

They can also help with emergency purchases, providing you clear the balance in full. But, while the benefits are obvious, the same can’t be said about the disadvantages.

Con 1: They Have High Interest Rates

The average credit card interest rate in the United States is around 16%. The average rate for store cards is over 20%. That 4% may not seem like much, but if you don’t repay your balance every month that interest will compound, grow, and cost you a small fortune. 

At 16% with a $10,000 balance and a 60-month repayment term, you’ll pay $243 a month and over $4,000 in total interest.

Increase that rate to 20% and your monthly payment grows by $20 while your total interest increases by nearly $1,500. The longer you leave it and the smaller your monthly payments are, the greater that difference will be.

For example, if you repay just $200 a month on that balance, the difference between 16% and 20% is 26 extra months and close to $5,000. Of course, store cards rarely offer such high limits, but this is just as example to show you how much of a difference even the slightest percentage increase can cause.

It’s worth keeping this in mind if you ever apply for a traditional rewards card. Getting rewards in return for a higher APR is great if you repay your balance in full every month and terrible if you don’t.

Con 2: They Have High Penalty Rates

If you miss a payment on your store credit card you could be hit with a penalty APR as high as 29.99%, as well as a late payment fee of $39. The rates are high to begin with, but these penalty rates are astronomical and will make a bad situation worse.

That’s not all, as some providers are known to be very unforgiven when it comes to missed and late payments. In some cases, your account will default even if you underpay just once and just by a few dollars. 

Con 3: They Have Low Credit Limits

Retailers are not lenders. They don’t have the time, funds or patience to chase debts and deal with collection agencies. As a result, they don’t offer high credit limits and generally you’ll get a fraction of what an unsecured credit card might provide you with.

This might not seem like much of an issue. After all, a smaller credit limit means you’re less likely to accumulate large amounts of debts. However, this has a massively negative impact on your credit score that few borrowers consider.

30% of your credit score is based on something known as a credit utilization ratio. This looks at the total available credit and compares it to the debt that you have accumulated. If you have several cards with a combined credit limit of $10,000 and a balance of $5,000, then your ratio is 50%, which is considered to be quite high.

If a store card is your only account and you spend $450 on a $500 limit, then you have a credit utilization ratio of 90%, which will reduce your score. Your credit report is also negatively affected by maxed-out credit cards, a feat that’s much easier to achieve when you have a low credit limit.

Con 4: There Are Better Options

It’s better to have one good reward card than multiple store cards. The former will provide you with far better interest rates and terms, while the latter will hit your credit report with several hard inquiries and new accounts. 

A rewards card will still benefit you when shopping at those stores and will also provide you with a wealth of other benefits.

Con 5: You May Spend More

Store cards are not designed to make your life easier and give you a few freebies. Regardless of what the store tells you, they’re not made to reward loyalty, they’re made to encourage spending. 

This doesn’t always work, and research suggests that many individuals use reward cards just like they would normal cards. But for a small minority, the idea of acquiring points is enough to convince them to spend more than they usually would.

Some good can be good debt, such as when it’s used to acquire an asset or something that won’t depreciate. But very rarely do we use credit cards for this purpose and generally, if you’re spending more on a store card it means you’re wasting more money on things you don’t need.

Con 6: You Can’t Use Them Anywhere Else

A store card can only be used in that particular store. This renders it redundant as an emergency card and also means you’re encouraged to shop in that one place. You don’t have a chance to shop around and find the cheapest price; you may spend more just to use your card and get the benefits, with those benefits rarely covering the additional money you spend.

What About Reward Cards?

Some reward cards have very high rates as these rates are used to offset the rewards program. However, this isn’t always the case, because, as discussed above, networks often charge retailers more to offset these purchases and therefore don’t always need to cover the costs themselves.

Some credit cards, such as the Discover It, offer solid reward schemes and would also be included on any list of the best non-reward credit cards. It’s a solid all-rounder and it’s not alone. However, many reward cards charge high annual fees and penalty rates, just like you’ll find with a store card.

It’s important to study the small print and make sure the card is viable. If you’re going to clear the balance every month, a slightly higher interest rate won’t hurt, especially if it comes with some generous rewards. But if there is any doubt and even the slightest chance that you won’t clear the balance, it’s always best to focus on a low-interest rate first.

Even the most generous 5% cash back reward card will not offset the losses occurred by paying a few more percentage points of interest.

Will Reward/Store Cards Affect my Credit Score?

Credit cards trigger hard inquiries, which can reduce your credit score by up to 5 points. This is true for every credit card that you apply for. Rate shopping can combine multiple inquiries into one if they are for the same type of credit, but this doesn’t apply to credit cards.

A new account will also impact your score. This impact is often minimal and if you keep up with your repayments then it will vanish in time. However, if you miss a payment, max-out your card or increase your credit utilization score, it could have a detrimental effect on your score and your finances.

Keep store cards to a minimum and only sign up if you’re 100% sure you’re getting a good deal that will benefit you in the short-term and the long-term.

Truth About Reward and Store Credit Cards is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com