The following is a guest post by Lisa Bigelow, a content writer for Bold.
When it comes to paying for college, the anxiety about how to leave college debt-free starts early. And for thousands of grads who are buckling under the weight of monthly student loan payments that can cost as much as a mortgage, that worry can last for as long as 25 years.
According to EducationData.org and The College Board, the cost of a private school undergraduate education can exceed $200,000 over four years. Think you can avoid a $100k+ price tag by staying in-state? Think againâmany public flagships can cost over $100,000 for residents seeking an undergraduate degree, including room and board. And with financial aid calculators returning eye-poppingly low awards, youâd better not get a second topping on your pizza.
In fact, youâd better hope that you can graduate on time.
The good news is that you can maintain financial health and get a great education at the same time. You wonât have to enroll as a full-time student and work 40 hours a week, eitherâeach of the methods suggested are attainable for anyone who makes it a priority to leave college debt-free.
Here are four practical ways you can leave college debt-free (and still get that second pizza topping).
1. Cut the upfront sticker price
Donât visit schools until you are certain you can afford them. Instead, prioritize the cost of attendance and how much you can afford to pay. Staying in-state is one easy way to do this. But if you have wanderlust and want to explore colleges outside state lines, an often-overlooked method of cutting the upfront cost is the regional tuition discount. Many US states participate in some form of tuition reciprocity or exchange programs. You can explore the full list of options at the National Association for Student Financial Aid Administrators website.
Letâs explore how this works. As a resident of a New England state, for example, you can study at another New England stateâs public university at a greatly reduced cost if your home stateâs public schools donât offer the degree you want. So, for example, if you live in Maine but want to go to film school, you can attend the University of Rhode Island and major in film using the regional tuition discount.
Some universities offer different types of regional discounts and scholarships that appear somewhat arbitrary. The University of Louisville (in Kentucky) includes Connecticut in its regional scholars program. And at the University of Nebraska, out-of-state admitted applicants are eligible for several thousand dollars in renewable scholarship money if they meet modest academic standards.
If you already have your heart set on an expensive school and youâre not likely to qualify for reciprocity, financial help, or merit aid, live at home and complete your first two years at your local community college.
Hereâs another fun fact: in some places, graduating from community college with a minimum GPA gives you automatic acceptance to the state flagship university.
2. Leverage dual enrollment and âtesting outâ
When you enroll in a four-year college itâs pretty likely that youâll spend the first two years completing general education requirements and taking electives. Why not further reduce the cost of your education by completing some of those credits at your local community college, or by testing out?
Community college per-credit tuition is usually much cheaper than at four-year colleges, so take advantage of the lower rate in high school and over the summer after youâre enrolled in your four-year college.
But beware: youâll probably need at least a C to transfer the credits, so read your institutionâs rules first. Also, plan to take general education and low-level elective classes, because youâll want to take courses in your major at your four-year school.
If youâve been given the opportunity to take Advanced Placement courses, study hard for your year-end exams. Many colleges will accept a score of 3 or higher for credit, although some require at least a 4 (and others none at all). Take four or five AP classes in high school, score well on the exams, and guess what? Youâve just saved yourself a semester of tuition.
3. Take advantage of financial aid opportunities
After taking steps one and two, you probably have a good idea of what the leftover expense will be if you want to leave college debt-free. Your next job is to figure out how to cut that total even more by using financial aid. There are four types to consider.
The first is called need-based aid. This is what youâll apply for when you complete your Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Known as the FAFSA, this is where youâll enter detailed financial information, and youâll need at least an hour the first time you complete this form. Hint: apply for aid as soon as the form opens in the fall. It is not a bottomless pot of money.
There is also medical-based financial aid. If you have a condition that could make employment difficult after graduating from college, you may be eligible, and qualifying is separate and apart from financial need and academic considerations.
The third type of aid relates to merit and is offered directly by colleges. Some schools automatically consider all accepted applicants for merit scholarships, which could relate to academics or community service or, in the case of recruited athletes, athletics. At other universities, youâll need to submit a separate scholarship application after youâve been admitted. Some merit awards are renewable for four years and others are only for one year.
If you didnât get need-based or merit-based aid then you still may qualify for a private scholarship. Some require essays, some donât, and some are offered by local community organizations such as rotary clubs, womenâs organizations, and the like. Donât turn your nose up at small-dollar awards, either, because they add up quickly and can cover budget-busting expenses such as travel and books.
4. Find easy money
Small-dollar awards really add up when you make finding easy money a priority. Consider using the following resources to help leave college debt-free:
Returns from micro-investing apps like Acorns
Tax return refunds
Browser add-ons that give you cashback for shopping online
Rewards credit cards (apply for a travel rewards credit card if youâre studying out of state)
Asking for money at the holidays and on your birthday
Working part-time by capitalizing on a special talent, such as tutoring, photography, or freelance writing
Leave College Debt-Free
Finally, if you have to take out a student loan, you may be able to have it forgiven if you agree to serve your community after graduation. The Peace Corps is one such way to serve, but if you have a specialized degree such as nursing, you can work in an underserved community and reap the rewards of loan forgiveness.
Lisa Bigelow writes for Bold and is an award-winning content creator, personal finance expert, and mom of three fantastic almost-adults. In addition to Credit.com, Lisa has contributed to The Tokenist, OnEntrepreneur, College Money Tips, Finovate, Finance Buzz, Life and Money by Citi, MagnifyMoney, Well + Good, Smarter With Gartner, and Popular Science. She lives with her family in Connecticut.
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The post 4 Practical Ways to Leave College Debt-Free appeared first on Credit.com.
Around 6.1% of employed Americans worked for themselves in 2019, yet the ranks of the self-employed might increase among certain professions more than others. By 2026, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that self-employment will rise by nearly 8%.
Some self-employed professionals experience high pay in addition to increased flexibility. Dentists, for example, are commonly self-employed, yet they earned a median annual wage of $159,200 in 2019. Conversely, appraisers and assessors of real estate, another career where self-employment is common, earned a median annual wage of $57,010 in 2019.
When you work for yourself, you might have to jump through additional hoops to qualify for credit.
Despite high pay and job security in some industries, thereâs one area where self-employed workers can struggle â qualifying for credit. When you work for yourself, you might have to jump through additional hoops and provide a longer work history to get approved for a mortgage, take out a car loan, or qualify for another line of credit you need.
Why Being Self-Employed Matters to Creditors
Hereâs the good news: Being self-employed doesn’t directly affect your credit score. Some lenders, however, might be leery about extending credit to self-employed applicants, particularly if youâve been self-employed for a short time.
When applying for a mortgage or another type of loan, lenders consider the following criteria:
Generally speaking, lenders will confirm your income by looking at pay stubs and tax returns you submit. They can check your credit score with the credit bureaus by placing a hard inquiry on your credit report, and can confirm your debt-to-income ratio by comparing your income to the debt you currently owe. Lenders can also check to see what assets you have, either by receiving copies of your bank statements or other proof of assets.
The final factor â your employment status â can be more difficult for lenders to gauge if youâre self-employed, and managing multiple clients or jobs. After all, bringing in unpredictable streams of income from multiple sources is considerably different than earning a single paycheck from one employer who pays you a salary or a set hourly rate. If your income fluctuates or your self-employment income is seasonal, this might be considered less stable and slightly risky for lenders.
That said, being honest about your employment and other information when you apply for a loan will work out better for you overall. Most lenders will ask the status of your employment in your loan application; however, your self-employed status could already be listed with the credit bureaus. Either way, being dishonest on a credit application is a surefire way to make sure youâre denied.
Extra Steps to Get Approved for Self-Employed Workers
When you apply for a mortgage and youâre self-employed, you typically have to provide more proof of a reliable income source than the average person. Lenders are looking for proof of income stability, the location and nature of your work, the strength of your business, and the long-term viability of your business.
To prove your self-employed status wonât hurt your ability to repay your loan, youâll have to supply the following additional information:
Two years of personal tax returns
Two years of business tax returns
Documentation of your self-employed status, including a client list if asked
Documentation of your business status, including business insurance or a business license
Applying for another line of credit, like a credit card or a car loan, is considerably less intensive than applying for a mortgage â this is true whether youâre self-employed or not.
Most other types of credit require you to fill out a loan application that includes your personal information, your Social Security number, information on other debt you have like a housing payment, and details on your employment status. If your credit score and income is high enough, you might get approved for other types of credit without jumping through any additional hoops.
10 Ways the Self-Employed Can Get Credit
If you work for yourself and want to make sure you qualify for the credit you need, there are plenty of steps you can take to set yourself up for success. Consider making the following moves right away.
1. Know Where Your Credit Stands
You canât work on your credit if you donât even know where you stand. To start the process, you should absolutely check your credit score to see whether it needs work. Fortunately, there are a few ways to check your FICO credit score online and for free.
2. Apply With a Cosigner
If your credit score or income are insufficient to qualify for credit on your own, you can also apply for a loan with a cosigner. With a cosigner, you get the benefit of relying on their strong credit score and positive credit history to boost your chances of approval. If you choose this option, however, keep in mind that your cosigner is jointly responsible for repaying the loan, if you default.
3. Go Straight to Your Local Bank or Credit Union
If you have a long-standing relationship with a credit union or a local bank, it already has a general understanding of how you manage money. With this trust established, it might be willing to extend you a line of credit when other lenders wonât.
This is especially true if youâve had a deposit account relationship with the institution for several years at minimum. Either way, itâs always a good idea to check with your existing bank or credit union when applying for a mortgage, a car loan, or another line of credit.
4. Lower Your Debt-to-Income Ratio
Debt-to-income (DTI) ratio is an important factor lenders consider when you apply for a mortgage or another type of loan. This factor represents the amount of debt you have compared to your income, and itâs represented as a percentage.
If you have a gross income of $6,000 per month and you have fixed expenses of $3,000 per month, for example, then your DTI ratio is 50%.
A DTI ratio thatâs too high might make it difficult to qualify for a mortgage or another line of credit when youâre self-employed. For mortgage qualifications, most lenders prefer to loan money to consumers with a DTI ratio of 43% or lower.
5. Check Your Credit Report for Errors
To keep your credit in the best shape possible, check your credit reports, regularly. You can request your credit reports from all three credit bureaus once every 12 months, for free, at AnnualCreditReport.com.
If you find errors on your credit report, take steps to dispute them right away. Correcting errors on your report can give your score the noticeable boost it needs.
You typically need two years of tax returns as a self-employed person to qualify for a mortgage, and you might not be able to qualify at all until you reach this threshold. For other types of credit, it can definitely help to wait until youâve earned self-employment income for at least six months before you apply.
7. Separate Business and Personal Funds
Keeping personal and business funds separate is helpful when filing your taxes, but it can also help you lessen your liability for certain debt.
For example, letâs say that you have a large amount of personal debt. If your business is structured as a corporation or LLC and you need a business loan, separating your business funds from your personal funds might make your loan application look more favorable to lenders.
Having more liquid assets is a good sign from a lenderâs perspective, so strive to build up your savings account and your investments. For example, open a high-yield savings account and save three to six months of expenses as an emergency fund.
You can also open a brokerage account and start investing on a regular basis. Either strategy will help you build up your assets, which shows lenders you have a better chance of repaying your loan despite an irregular income.
9. Provide a Larger Down Payment
Some lenders have tightened up mortgage qualification requirements, and some are even requiring a 20% down payment for home loans. Youâll also have a better chance to secure an auto loan with the best rates and terms with more money down, especially for new cars that depreciate rapidly.
Aim for 20% down on a home or a car that youâre buying. As a bonus, having a 20% down payment for your home purchase helps you avoid paying private mortgage insurance.
10. Get a Secured Loan or Credit Card
Donât forget the steps you can take to build credit now, if your credit profile is thin or youâve made mistakes in the past. One way to do this is applying for a secured credit card or a secured loan, both of which require collateral for you to get started.
The point of a secured credit card or loan is getting the chance to build your credit score and prove your creditworthiness as a self-employed worker, when you canât get approved for unsecured credit. After making sufficient on-time payments toward the secured card or loan, your credit score will increase, you can upgrade to an unsecured alternative and get your deposit or collateral back.
The Bottom Line
If youâre self-employed and worried that your work status will hurt your chances at qualifying for credit, you shouldnât be. Instead, focus your time and energy on creating a reliable self-employment income stream and building your credit score.
Once your business is established and youâve been self-employed for several years, your work status wonât matter as heavily. Keep your income high, your DTI low, and a positive credit record, youâll have a better chance of getting approved for credit.
Though the COVID-19 crisis has resulted in widespread fitness center closures, many Americans still want to stay as healthy as possible. Depending on the level of services and equipment required, staying active can affect peopleâs budgets in a variety of ways. For now, virtual exercise classes and home gyms are the route most people are taking. Eventually, though, gyms will reopen at full capacity, and everyone will be able to reestablish his or her normal workout routine. When that happens, some places will be more conducive to jumping into a full-on fitness frenzy, and SmartAsset crunched the numbers to find where they are.
To locate the most fitness-friendly places for 2021, we compared 301 metropolitan areas across the following metrics: percentage of residents who walk or bike to work, fitness professionals per 10,000 workers, fitness establishments per 10,000 establishments, the percentage of restaurants that are fast-food establishments and the average wage of personal trainers. For details on our data sources and how we put all the information together to create our final rankings, check out the Data and Methodology section below.
This is SmartAssetâs seventh annual study on the most fitness-friendly places in the U.S. Read the previous version here.
Western and Midwestern metro areas populate the top. For the second straight year, cities in the Midwest and West dominate the top 10 of this list. Six metro areas are in the West and three are in the Midwest. Western metro areas do well in terms of fitness establishments per 10,000 establishments â all rank within the top 8% of study for this metric â and they also rank within the top 14% of the study for the percentage of residents who walk or bike to work. Only one metro area in the top 10 is not in either of these regions â Ithaca, New York.
Fitness-friendly cities are light on the drive-thrus. On average, across the 301 metro areas in our study, fast-food establishments represent 45% of all restaurants. Though fast food is popular, convenient and inexpensive, it tends to be relatively high in calories and low in nutritional value â making it tougher to be healthy if you eat a lot of it, regardless of your exercise levels. In the top 10 of this study, all but three metro areas have fewer than 40% of their restaurants serving fast food, so there is less temptation to go for an easy-but-unhealthy meal that can ruin all your hard work. The metro area with the lowest percentage of restaurants that are fast food is Wenatchee, Washington, where it is just 27%.
1. Missoula, MT
The Missoula, Montana metro area is the most fitness-friendly place in the U.S. for 2021. There are 131 fitness establishments â including places like gyms and sporting goods stores â per 10,000 total establishments in Missoula, the third-highest rate for this metric in the study. There are also plenty of fitness professionals living in Missoula, 59 per 10,000 workers, placing it sixth-best for this metric. Residents in Missoula also get plenty of exercise simply by walking or biking to work: 7.1% of residents choose to do so, the 17th-highest rate for this metric across the 301 areas we studied.
2. La Crosse-Onalaska, WI-MN
The La Crosse, Wisconsin metro area, which also includes parts of Minnesota, has 130 fitness establishments for every 10,000 total establishments, the fourth-highest rate for this metric. The metro area finishes in the top quartile for three other metrics as well, ranking 28th for fitness professionals per 10,000 workers (with 42), 33rd for the percentage of residents who walk or bike to work (at 5.2%) and 64th for the percentage of restaurants that are fast-food establishments (around 39%).
3. Bend, OR
The Bend, Oregon metro area cracks the top 10 for two of our metrics. It places fourth in terms of fitness professionals per 10,000 workers with 61, and seventh for fitness establishments per 10,0000 total establishments, at 116. Bend can be a bit pricey of a place to stay in shape, though. The average hourly wage of personal trainers is $18.72, placing Bend at 176th out of 301 for this metric.
4. Ann Arbor, MI
There are 67 fitness professionals per 10,000 workers in the Ann Arbor, Michigan metro area, the second-highest rate for this metric of the 301 metro areas we analyzed. For their commutes, 7.4% of residents walk or bike to work, the 15th-highest percentage in this study. There are also plenty of fitness establishments in the metro area if you prefer to work out in a dedicated space: At 112 per 10,000 residents, this is the 10th-highest rate of the 301 places we analyzed.
5. Bloomington, IN
Folks in the Bloomington, Indiana metro area might have more of an opportunity to get a workout in during their commute, with 8.0% of residents walking or biking to work, the eighth-highest rate in the study for this metric. Bloomington has two other metrics for which it finishes in the top fifth of the 301 metro areas of the study â fitness establishments per 10,000 total establishments (ranking 48th-highest, with 93) and average wage of personal trainers (ranking 49th-lowest, which makes it cheaper for the consumer, at $14.53).
6. Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA
The metro area around Santa Cruz, California finishes ninth overall for its relatively low percentage of restaurants that specialize in fast food, at 33%. Santa Cruz also comes in 12th for the percentage of residents who walk or bike to work, at 7.5%. If youâre looking for help getting in shape, though, itâll cost you. The average wage of a personal trainer in the area is a steep $20.59, ranking in the bottom third of this study.
7. Flagstaff, AZ
Flagstaff, Arizona has the third highest percentage of residents who walk or bike to work we saw in this study, at 11.5%. There are also 109 fitness establishments per 10,000 total establishments, the 14th-highest rate we observed. Flagstaff is hurt, though, by its price: The average wage of a personal trainer in this metro area is $22.27, in the bottom sixth of this study.
8. Fort Collins, CO
Fort Collins is the first of two metro areas in Colorado to rank in the top 10 of this study, and it gets there on the strength of having 113 fitness establishments per 10,000 total establishments, ranking ninth of 301 metro areas for this metric. It also scores in the top 15% of the study for the percentage of residents who walk or bike to work (5.2%) and fitness professionals per 10,000 workers (46).
9. Boulder, CO
Boulder is the second Colorado metro area in the top 10, and it has two metrics for which it finishes in the top 15 out of 301 in the study overall. It comes in 11th for fitness professionals per 10,000 workers, at 53, and 12th for the percentage of residents who walk or bike to work, at 7.5%. Its final ranking is dragged down a bit due to its bottom-10 finish for the average hourly wage for personal trainers, at a pricey $27.25. However, it still ranks in the top 20 of the study for fitness establishments per 10,000 establishments, at 105.
10. Ithaca, NY
A whopping 14.5% of residents of Ithaca, New York walk or bike to work, the second-highest percentage in this study for this metric. Ithaca finishes eighth in terms of fitness establishments per 10,000 total establishments with 114. It is very expensive to get help with fitness in Ithaca, though. The average hourly wage for a personal trainer is $29.30, finishing third-worst out of 301 metro areas in this study for its high cost.
Data and Methodology
To find the most fitness-friendly places in the country for 2021, we examined data for 301 metro areas across the following five metrics:
Percentage of residents who walk or bike to work. Data comes from the Census Bureauâs 2019 1-year American Community Survey.
Concentration of fitness professionals. This is the number of fitness professionals per 10,000 workers. Our list of fitness professionals includes dietitians and nutritionists, recreational therapists, athletic trainers as well as fitness trainers and aerobics instructors. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Employment Statistics and is for May 2019.
Concentration of fitness establishments. This is the number of fitness establishments per 10,000 establishments. Our list of fitness establishments includes sporting goods stores and fitness and recreational sports centers. Data comes from the Census Bureauâs 2018 Metro Area Business Patterns Survey.
Concentration of fast-food restaurants. This is the percentage of restaurants that are limited-service establishments. Data comes from the Census Bureauâs 2018 Metro Area Business Patterns Survey.
Average hourly wage of personal trainers. Given the limited availability of direct data about the cost to consumers for personal training services, this metric acts as a proxy to indicate the relative affordability of hiring a personal trainer in a given metro area. Data comes from the BLS and is for May 2019.
First, we ranked each metro area in each metric. Then we found each placeâs average ranking, giving all metrics a full weight except for concentration of fast-food restaurants and average hourly wage of personal trainers, each of which received a half weight. Using this average ranking, we created our final score. The metro area with the highest average ranking received a score of 100, and the metro area with the lowest average ranking received a score of 0.
Tips for a Fit and Financially Secure Life
Find the right financial fit. No matter what your fitness goals are, financially you want to make sure you are secure, and a financial advisor can help. Finding the right financial advisor doesnât have to be hard. SmartAssetâs free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If youâre ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
Consider the health of your budget. If you live somewhere where fitness is expensive, make a budget so that you can work the price into your monthly spending.
Making bigger money moves? If youâre considering moving to one of the places we listed above, use SmartAssetâs tool to find out how much house you can afford before you make the big move.
Questions about our study? Contact email@example.com.
Could logging in to your computer from a deluxe treehouse off the coast of Belize be the future of work? Maybe. For many, the word freelance means flexibility, meaningful tasks and better work-life balance. Who doesn’t want to create their own hours, love what they do and work from wherever they want? Freelancing can provide all of thatâbut that freedom can vanish quickly if you don’t handle your expenses correctly.
“A lot of the time, you don’t know about these expenses until you are in the trenches,” says freelance copywriter Alyssa Goulet, “and that can wreak havoc on your financial situation.”
Nearly 57 million people in the U.S. freelanced, or were self-employed, in 2019, according to Upwork, a global freelancing platform. Freelancing is also increasingly becoming a long-term career choice, with the percentage of freelancers who freelance full-time increasing from 17 percent in 2014 to 28 percent in 2019, according to Upwork. But for all its virtues, the cost of being freelance can carry some serious sticker shock.
“There are many hats you have to wear and expenses you have to take on, but for that you’re gaining a lot of opportunity and flexibility in your life.”
Most people who freelance for the first time don’t realize that everythingâfrom taxes to office supplies to setting up retirement plansâis on them. So, before you can sustain yourself through self-employment, you need to answer a very important question: “Are you financially ready to freelance?”
What you’ll find is that budgeting as a freelancer can be entirely manageable if you plan for the following key costs. Let’s start with one of the most perplexingâtaxes:
1. Taxes: New rules when working on your own
First things first: Don’t try to be a hero. When determining how to budget as a freelancer and how to manage your taxes as a freelancer, you’ll want to consult with a financial adviser or tax professional for guidance. A tax expert can help you figure out what makes sense for your personal and business situation.
For instance, just like a regular employee, you will owe federal income taxes, as well as Social Security and Medicare taxes. When you’re employed at a regular job, you and your employer each pay half of these taxes from your income, according to the IRS. But when you’re self-employed (earning more than $400 a year in net income), you’re expected to file and pay these expenses yourself, the IRS says. And if you think you will owe more than $1,000 in taxes for a given year, you may need to file estimated quarterly taxes, the IRS also says.
That can feel like a heavy hit when you’re not used to planning for these costs. “If you’ve been on a salary, you don’t think about taxes really. You think about the take-home pay. With freelance, everything is take-home pay,” says Susan Lee, CFPÂ®, tax preparer and founder of FreelanceTaxation.com.
When you’re starting to budget as a freelancer and determining how often you will need to file, Lee recommends doing a “dummy return,” which is an estimation of your self-employment income and expenses for the year. You can come up with this number by looking at past assignments, industry standards and future projections for your work, which freelancer Goulet finds valuable.
“Since I don’t have a salary or a fixed number of hours worked per month, I determine the tax bracket I’m most likely to fall into by taking my projected monthly income and multiplying it by 12,” Goulet says. “If I experience a big income jump because of a new contract, I redo that calculation.”
After you estimate your income, learning how to budget as a freelancer means working to determine how much to set aside for your tax payments. Lee, for example, recommends saving about 25 percent of your income for paying your income tax and self-employment tax (which funds your Medicare and Social Security). But once you subtract your business expenses from your freelance income, you may not have to pay that entire amount, according to Lee. Deductible expenses can include the mileage you use to get from one appointment to another, office supplies and maintenance and fees for a coworking space, according to Lee. The income left over will be your taxable income.
To set aside the taxes you will need to pay, adjust your estimates often and always round up. “Let’s say in one month a freelancer determines she would owe $1,400 in tax. I’d put away $1,500,” Goulet says.
2. Business expenses: Get a handle on two big areas
The truth is, the cost of being freelance varies from person to person. Some freelancers are happy to work from their kitchen tables, while others need a dedicated workspace. Your freelance costs also change as you add new tools to your business arsenal. Here are two categories you’ll always need to account for when budgeting as a freelancer:
Joining a coworking space gets you out of the house and allows you to establish the camaraderie you may miss when you work alone. When you’re calculating the cost of being freelance, note that coworking spaces may charge membership dues ranging from $20 for a day pass to hundreds of dollars a month for a dedicated desk or private office. While coworking spaces are all the rage, you can still rent a traditional office for several hundred dollars a month or more, but this fee usually doesn’t include community aspects or other membership perks.
If you want to avoid office rent or dues as costs of being freelance but don’t want the kitchen table to pull double-duty as your workspace, you might convert another room in your home into an office. But you’ll still need to outfit the space with all of your work essentials. Freelance copywriter and content strategist Amy Hardison retrofitted part of her house into a simple office. “I got a standing desk, a keyboard, one of those adjustable stands for my computer and a squishy mat to stand on so my feet don’t hurt,” Hardison says.
Start with the absolute necessities. When Hardison first launched her freelance career, she purchased a laptop for $299. She worked out of a coworking space and used its office supplies before creating her own workspace at home.
There are a range of digital tools, including business and accounting software, that can help with the majority of your business functions. A big benefit is the time they can save you that is better spent marketing to clients or producing great work.
The software can also help you avoid financial lapses as you’re managing the costs of being freelance. Hardison’s freelance business had ramped up to a point where a manual process was costing her money, so using an invoicing software became a no-brainer. “I was sending people attached document invoices for a while and keeping track of them in a spreadsheet,” Hardison says. “And then I lost a few of them and I just thought, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t be losing things. This is my income!’”
Digital business and software tools can help manage scheduling, web hosting, accounting, audio/video conference and other functions. When you’re determining how to budget as a freelancer, note that the costs for these services depend largely on your needs. For instance, several invoicing platforms offer options for as low as $9 per month, though the cost increases the more clients you add to your account. Accounting services also scale up based on the features you want and how many clients you’re tracking, but you can find reputable platforms for as little as $5 a month.
When you sign up for a service, start with the “freemium” version, in which the first tier of service is always free, Hardison says. Once you have enough clients to warrant the expense, upgrade to the paid level with the lowest cost. Gradually adding services will keep your expenses proportionate to your income.
3. Health insurance: Harnessing an inevitable cost
Budgeting for healthcare costs can be one of the biggest hurdles to self-employment and successfully learning how to budget as a freelancer. In the first half of the 2020 open enrollment period, the average monthly premium under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for those who do not receive federal subsidiesâor a reduced premium based on incomeâwas $456 for individuals and $1,134 for families, according to eHealth, a private online marketplace for health insurance.
“Buying insurance is really protecting against that catastrophic event that is not likely to happen. But if it does, it could throw everything else in your plan into a complete tailspin,” says Stephen Gunter, CFPÂ®, at Bridgeworth Financial.
A good place to start when budgeting as a freelancer is knowing what healthcare costs you should budget for. Your premiumâwhich is how much you pay each month to have your insuranceâis a key cost. Note that the plans with the lowest premiums aren’t always the most affordable. For instance, if you choose a high-deductible policy you may pay less in premiums, but if you have a claim, you may pay more at the time you or your covered family member’s health situation arises.
When you are budgeting as a freelancer, the ACA healthcare marketplace is one place to look for a plan. Here are a few other options:
Spouse or domestic partner’s plan: If your spouse or domestic partner has health insurance through his/her employer, you may be able to get coverage under their plan.
COBRA: If you recently left your full-time job for self-employment, you may be able to convert your employer’s group plan into an individual COBRA plan. Note that this type of plan comes with a high expense and coverage limit of 18 months.
Organizations for freelancers: Search online for organizations that promote the interests of independent workers. Depending on your specific situation, you may find options for health insurance plans that fit your needs.
Speak with an insurance adviser who can help you figure out which plans are best for your health needs and your budget. An adviser may be willing to do a free consultation, allowing you to gather important information before making a financial commitment.
4. Retirement savings: Learn to “set it and forget it”
Part of learning how to budget as a freelancer is thinking long term, which includes saving for retirement. That may seem daunting when you’re wrangling new business expenses, but Gunter says saving for the future is a big part of budgeting as a freelancer.
“It’s kind of the miracle of compound interest. The sooner we can get it invested, the sooner we can get it saving,” Gunter says.
He suggests going into autopilot and setting aside whatever you would have contributed to an employer’s 401(k) plan. One way to do this might be setting up an automatic transfer to your savings or retirement account. “So, if you would have put in 3 percent [of your income] each month, commit to saving that 3 percent on your own,” Gunter says. The Discover IRA Certificate of Deposit (IRA CD) could be a good fit for helping you enjoy guaranteed returns in retirement by contributing after-tax (Roth IRA CD) or pre-tax (traditional IRA CD) dollars from your income now.
Prioritize retirement savings every month, not just when you feel flush. “Saying, ‘I’ll save whatever is left over’ isn’t a savings plan, because whatever is left over at the end of the month is usually zero,” Gunter says.
5. Continually update your rates
One of the best things you can do for yourself in learning how to budget as a freelancer is build your costs into what you charge. “As I’ve discovered more business expenses, I definitely take those into account as I’m determining what my rates are,” Goulet says. She notes that freelancers sometimes feel guilty for building business costs into their rates, especially when they’re worried about the fees they charge to begin with. But working the costs of being freelance into your rates is essential to building a thriving freelance career. You should annually evaluate the rates you charge.
Because your expenses will change over time, it’s wise to do quarterly and yearly check-ins to assess your income and costs and see if there are processes you can automate to save time and money.
“A lot of the time, you don’t know about these expenses until you are in the trenches, and that can wreak havoc on your financial situation.”
Have confidence in your freelance career
Accounting for the various costs of being freelance makes for a more successful and sustainable freelance career. It also helps ensure that those who are self-employed achieve financial stability in their personal lives and their businesses.
“There are many hats you have to wear and expenses you have to take on,” Goulet says. “But for that, you’re gaining a lot of opportunity and flexibility in your life.”
The post Everything You Need to Know About Budgeting As a Freelancer appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
Have you ever wondered about the uses of a credit card vs. a debit card? It’s likely you have both types of cards in your wallet at this very moment, and you’re given the option to choose one of themâsometimes in a matter of secondsâevery time you make a purchase. Still, you have lingering uncertainty about whether you’re making the best choice… and that same question pops into the back of your mind every time you buy something: “Should I use a credit card or debit card?”
Being uncertain about the difference between a credit card and debit card or the best time to use either is a common dilemma. The better you understand the benefits of eachâbeyond the fact they offer a way to access money without having to carry cash or a checkbook aroundâthe savvier a spender you’ll become.
Managing revolving credit vs. a bank account balance
Credit cards and debit cards both offer a convenient way to pay for things, but they work quite differently behind the scenes. As a result, they each appeal to different types of consumers, says Lou Haverty, financial analyst and founder of Financial Analyst Insider.
A credit card is a form of revolving credit. When you spend with your credit card you are borrowing, and you pay interest if you carry a balance, Haverty says. A debit card, by contrast, is linked to a bank accountâusually a checking accountâand the money is withdrawn as soon as you make the transaction, typically using a PIN.
A difference between credit cards and debit cards is that with a credit card, the exact amount you can spend depends on your credit limit and the balance you are currently carrying on the card, Haverty explains. If you have a $1,000 credit limit and a $600 balance from previous purchases, you can continue to charge an additional $400. If you’ve reached your credit limit, you won’t be able to use the card for more purchases until you pay off at least part of the balance. You owe a minimum payment each month.
When considering credit card vs. debit card, know that most credit cards carry an interest rate, expressed as an annual percentage rate (APR), which is essentially what you pay to borrow. You’ll have to pay interest on that $600 balance mentioned above if you carry the balance from month to month. âCredit cards require a responsible approach to your personal finances because you have the ability to spend beyond what you might have as cash in your bank account,” Haverty says.
A difference between credit cards and debit cards is that with a debit card, funds are pulled directly from the balance you have in the checking account to which the card is linked. In a traditional account setup, you can’t spend more than what you have in the account, which helps reduce the chance of racking up debt. If your account offers overdraft protection, you may be able to spend more than your account balance by leveraging funds from a different, linked bank account.
âCredit cards require a responsible approach to your personal finances because you have the ability to spend beyond what you might have as cash in your bank account.”
Knowing the requirements for each card
Another key difference between a credit card and a debit card is the criteria you’ll need to meet for each. âGetting approved for a credit card is usually dependent on your personal credit score. The higher your credit score, the more likely you are to be approved,” Haverty says. âIf you have a lower credit score, you may still get approved, but you might have a lower credit limit.”
Patricia Stallworth, certified financial planner and money coach, says that in addition to your credit history, factors such as your employment status could play a role in credit card approval.
When analyzing credit cards vs. debit cards, consider that a debit card is typically issued automatically when you open a checking account. This process usually requires some personal information, such as a Social Security number, driver’s license, employment information and valid email address. A deposit may also be needed to fund the account and complete the application. Then stay tuned for your debit card in the mail!
When should I use credit vs. debit?
While it’s easy to have credit card vs. debit card on the mind, there are some scenarios in which using either a debit card or a credit card could fit the bill, depending on your financial needs and goals. Use the outline below as a guide for when the question of “When should I use credit vs. debit?” comes up:
You’re new to using a card to make purchases. Until you know you have the discipline to control your spending with a card, a debit card could be the way to go, as it’s a great tool for ensuring you don’t charge more than you can afford. âDebit cards are great for everyday purchases that you have budgeted for because the money comes directly out of your account,” Stallworth says.
You want cash back without the fees. If your debit card is linked to a checking account that offers rewards, Stallworth says you may have rewards-earning potential without the hassle of fees. âWhile there is generally no cost to participate in debit card rewards programs, the costs and fees may be higher with some credit card programs,” she adds. For instance, Discover Cashback Debit charges no fees1 and allows you to earn 1% cash back on up to $3,000 in debit card purchases each month.2
Why should credit cards have all the fun?
Now you can earn cash back with your debit card.
Discover Bank, Member FDIC
You have debt you can’t pay off. When should I use credit vs. debit? âIf you’re struggling to manage or get out of debt, a debit card should be your ‘go-to card,’” Stallworth says. “You can’t get out of debt if you keep charging.”
You want cash at the register. If you still like to have cash in your wallet, consider this difference between credit cards and debit cards: Most retail stores will allow you to get cash at the register when you pay with your debit card. âA credit card will most likely charge you a cash advance fee if that feature is available,” Haverty says.
“Debit cards are great for everyday purchases that you have budgeted for because the money comes directly out of your account.”
Use your credit card if…
You want product coverage.Â Some credit cards come with purchase protection, which makes them a great option for online and large purchases, Stallworth says. “If I have a dispute with a merchant, I have more leverage with a large credit card company behind me.”
You’re trying to build (or rebuild) your credit. âYou will need a single credit card with a small limit that you pay off in full each month to build a credit history,” Haverty says. A key difference between credit cards and debit cards is that debit card usage can’t help you build a credit history. A debit card can help you build strong budgeting skills so you’re better prepared to transition to a credit card.
You want to earn travel rewards. If you’re debating credit card vs. debit card and are focused on travel, consider that credit card rewards programs may offer robust rewards in a specific category, like travel, Stallworth says. While it’s always important to read the fine print (so you’re not paying more than you intend in fees or interest rate charges just to get rewards), you could find a credit card that offers opportunities to earn free flights and pay less for checked baggageâjust for using the card regularly.
How to use both cards to maximize your finances
Now that you understand which circumstances might be best to use a credit card vs. debit card, you can make the point-of-purchase decision of “When should I use credit vs. debit?” a little easier. It really depends on the goals you have laid out for your personal finances.
Get comfortable using both financial tools for their respective features. But be sure to stick to your budget, and don’t accidentally overspend from your bank account or charge more than you can afford to pay in full by your credit card’s monthly due date. When you learn to confidently use both of these cards to your advantage, you can enjoy all the various perks and protectionsâtimes two!
1 Outgoing wire transfers are subject to a service charge. You may be charged a fee by a non-Discover ATM if it is not part of the 60,000+ ATMs in our no-fee network.
2 ATM transactions, the purchase of money orders or other cash equivalents, cash over portions of point-of-sale transactions, Peer-to-Peer (P2P) payments (such as Apple Pay Cash), and loan payments or account funding made with your debit card are not eligible for cash back rewards. In addition, purchases made using third-party payment accounts (services such as VenmoÂ® and PayPal, who also provide P2P payments) may not be eligible for cash back rewards. Apple, the Apple logo and Apple Pay are trademarks of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.
The post The Difference Between Credit Cards and Debit Cards: Explainedâââ appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
So youâre at the point in your life where buying a home is not a question of if, but when. Youâre scrimping. Youâre saving. Youâre dreaming of walking through the front door of your very own home.
But as the decision draws near, you start questioning everything. Is now a good time to buy a house? Or is this the worst time? Is it more financially responsible to buy a house right now or wait? And what if you mistime the market, buying too soon or too late, and miss out on lower home prices?
Ultimately, the experts say the answer is less about economies, markets and pandemics and more about you.
So, how do you think through this decision? Youâll want to take time to thoroughly review your personal financial situation and life goals. At the same time, youâll need to gain some understanding of the market dynamics that impact home costs.
This process will take some time, but itâs well worth the effort. With a firm grasp on your personal situation and some context on the housing market, youâll be able to confidently go forth knowing youâre making a fiscally informed decision about whether to buy a house right now.
Honestly assess these aspects of your finances
Financial security is always important if youâre trying to determine when youâre ready to buy a home. To decide if now is a good time to buy a house, ask yourself the following questions about your finances:
How secure is your income?
Job or income stability is an important factor if you are buying a home in a rocky economy, such as the one triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, says real estate economist Gay Cororaton. Even in a robust economy, your income security should be top of mind when youâre thinking of buying a house right now.
If you have any inkling that your position may be eliminated or that youâll be making a career change, you may want to delay buying a home. Even a recent break in employment that caused you to draw down some of your savings may raise a red flag with lenders, says Kate Ziegler, a real estate agent with Arborview Realty in the Boston area.
If youâre considering buying a house right now, you should avoid opening any new lines of credit right before purchasing a home.
Do you have enough money saved?
After income stability, savings is the next-most-important financial factor youâll want to consider to determine if now is a good time to buy a house, Ziegler says. The old rule of thumb was to save 20% of the price of the home for your down payment. While that is ideal, itâs not necessaryâfar from it, Ziegler says. In fact, it has become more common for first-time buyers to put down much less than 20%.
How much house can you afford?
The down payment is one side of the affordability coin. Your monthly mortgage payment is the other side. You need to know how much you can spend on both to determine if you can afford to buy a house right now, says Jeff Tucker, a senior economist at Zillow. Aim for a monthly mortgage payment that doesnât stretch you too thinâexperts typically put this at around 28% of your monthly gross income, according to Bankrate.
With those guidelines, you can determine what you can afford. For example, if you make $4,000 a month, you should typically spend no more than $1,120 on your monthly mortgage payment in total.
How much house that buys you depends on multiple factors: mortgage rates, property tax rates, homeowners insurance andâif you donât have the savings to put down 20%âprimary mortgage insurance, or PMI. To get a rough estimate, plug your income details into an online calculator. For a more specific figure, talk to a local lender and get pre-approved for a mortgage, Ziegler says.
Once you know your price range, you can determine how much savings you need in the bank to buy a house right now. Youâll also need to have money saved for closing costs, which vary but typically run 2% to 5% of the loan amount, according to Bankrate.
Again, Ziegler recommends talking to a lender to really understand what your individual down payment and closing costs would be. Finally, be sure to add a line item in your budget for home maintenance that will inevitably pop up after you move in. Whether itâs a dishwasher on the fritz or a leaky roof, you donât want to be caught off guard, so be sure to save money for emergency home repairs.
How is your credit?
Your credit profile is also important to lenders, and it will likely be a factor in what interest rate youâre offered. Given that, you should be checking your credit report and know your credit score before investing in a home. If youâre considering buying a house right now, you should avoid opening any new lines of credit right before purchasing a home, Tucker says.
What is your debt-to-income ratio?
Another factor lenders check is your debt-to-income ratio, or DTI, Tucker says. This is the percentage of your gross monthly income that goes to paying monthly debt payments, plus your new mortgage. Lenders typically require this ratio to be 45% or less but prefer it even lowerâin the 33% to 36% range.
Another financial consideration when deciding if now is a good time to buy a house is the opportunity cost of delaying a home purchase, Ziegler says. If youâre renting in a market where the rent is higher than your would-be monthly mortgage payment, you may be spending a lot more money each month than if you were to purchase a home. And of course, with a mortgage, your monthly payment increases your equity.
After taking a clear-eyed look at your income, savings and these other financial factors, you will have a better sense of when youâre ready to buy a home and whether nowâs the time for you to dip into the market.
Consider key market factors
Next, take a look at factors that are outside of your control, but still influence your purchase: prices, interest rates and national employment trends.
Where are housing prices?
As youâre looking at the market, one of the biggest considerations when you are ready to buy a home will be housing prices and availability. Research your local market by talking to real estate agents who work specifically in the area where you want to buy and asking them about market trends, Ziegler says.
Track current listings and recently sold prices to get a sense of how prices look today. Generally, the tighter the inventoryâmeaning the fewer houses availableâthe higher prices will be, Tucker says.
Whatâs going on with interest rates?
When youâre ready to buy a home could also depend on another major economic factor: interest rates. When interest rates are low, your housing budget is effectively supercharged, Tucker says, and you can afford a more expensive house because youâre spending less on interest. When they are high, the opposite is true.
This is what compels people to buy when interest rates are lowâyou get more for your money. If you get a 30- or 15-year fixed-rate mortgage, you lock in that rate for the entire life of the loan, which could save you money now and into the future, Tucker says.
How does employment look nationally?
Finally, if you want to get a general idea of where the housing market may be headedâif prices will drop or rise soonâcheck out the national employment trends, Cororaton says. Low unemployment means prices will generally trend upward because more people can afford houses, boosting competition and prices, she says.
But if unemployment is inching up, then people are losing jobs and will be more likely to remain in their current homes. As a result, there tends to be less competition for them, lowering prices.
You donât need to be an expert in the market to determine if now is a good time to buy a house, but a baseline understanding of these big-picture forces can give you the confidence you need to embark on your home-buying journey.
Think about your future plans
After reviewing your savings and income and assessing the market conditions, take a step back and think about your life plans over the next few years. Your lifestyle and goals will help determine whether now is a good time to buy a house.
âFor buyers who are not certain whether they will still be living in the same place in three or five years, I would caution against locking themselves into a certain location,â Ziegler says. âIf theyâre just not sure what the future holds, it may be better to have that flexibility.â
Itâs unlikely in many markets that you will see substantial financial gain from homeownership if you move within five years, Ziegler says. Your equity gains will likely be offset by the transaction costs of buying and selling your home.
That goes for remote workers, too. Are you working from a home office these days? While widespread remote work may allow buyers to consider homes farther from their offices, ask yourself: Is my company going to permanently allow employees to work from home? Do I think there will be other remote opportunities in the future?
While youâre thinking about the next three to five years of your career, also consider the next three to five years of your personal life. Will you have a family? Will that family grow?
These can be weighty topics, so be sure to think them through on your own schedule. Buying a house is a big decision, and itâs not one to be rushed. By taking the time to assess your life, from your job security to your financial health to your lifestyle, and considering the impact of market factors, youâll have a clearer sense of when you are ready to buy a home.
If youâve decided that buying a house right now is the best decision for you, itâs time to learn more about how it will impact your budget. Get started by reading up on these eight unexpected expenses when buying a home.
Articles may contain information from third-parties. The inclusion of such information does not imply an affiliation with the bank or bank sponsorship, endorsement, or verification regarding the third-party or information.
The post Is Now a Good Time to Buy a House? appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
The second stimulus package is tightening the rules for millions of gig workers, independent contractors and self-employed workers receiving unemployment aid.
On Dec. 27, the $900 billion stimulus package extended Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a critical benefits program for folks who donât typically qualify for regular unemployment aid. The deal lengthened PUA benefits for at least 11 weeks, but it also created new filing rules that affect current recipients and new applicants alike.
Chief among the new rules: You will need to submit income documentation to your stateâs unemployment agency if you are a gig worker or self-employed worker â or risk losing future benefits and having to return any benefits collected after Dec. 27.
âI think they are a real pain,â said Michele Evermore, an unemployment policy analyst for the National Employment Law Project, regarding the new PUA filing rules. âNot just for recipients, but for state agencies to collect. Every burden we add to state agencies slows benefit processing for everyone.â
The new requirements are intended to combat fraud. According to the Department of Labor, more than 7.4 million people are relying on PUA and are subject to the changes.
New Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Rules and Deadlines
The new deadlines established by the second stimulus package are different for current PUA recipients and new applicants.
As a current PUA recipient, you have until March 27 to submit income-related documents to prove your PUA eligibility. If you apply for PUA before Jan. 31, you also have until March 27.
If you apply for PUA Jan. 31 or later, you will have 21 days from the date of your application to submit income-related documents.
Need to apply? Our 50-state Pandemic Unemployment Assistance filing guide includes an interactive map and the latest information from the second stimulus deal.
The Department of Labor requires each state to notify you of your state-specific rules. Your state may have different deadlines. In that case, refer to your stateâs instructions. The DOL is also leaving it to each state to determine exactly what documents are required to prove your eligibility.
Here are some examples of documents your state may ask you to file:
Tax forms such as 1099s and W-2s.
Ledgers, recent pay stubs and earnings statements from gig apps.
Recent bank statements showing direct deposits.
If youâre self-employed, you may be required to submit:
Federal or state income tax documents.
A business license.
A 1040 tax form along with a Schedule C, F, SE or K.
Additional records that prove youâre self employed, such as utility bills, rental agreements or checks.
If youâre qualifying for PUA because you were about to start a job but the offer was rescinded due to COVID-19 related reasons, you may be asked to submit an offer letter, details about the employer and other information related to the job to verify your claim.
Another new rule is that you will have to self-certify that you meet one or more of the following PUA eligibility requirements on a weekly basis:
You have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or have symptoms and are seeking diagnosis.
A member of your household has COVID-19.
You are taking care of someone with COVID-19.
You are caring for a child or other household member who canât attend school or work because it is closed due to the pandemic.
You are quarantined by order of a doctor or health official.
You were scheduled to start employment and donât have a job or canât reach your workplace as a result of the pandemic.
You have become the breadwinner for a household because the head of household died due to COVID-19.
You had to quit your job as a direct result of COVID-19.
Your workplace is closed as a direct result of COVID-19.
Self-certification means that you swear the reason(s) you are on PUA is or are true at the risk of perjury. Previously, PUA applicants had to self-certify only once at the time of their initial application.
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Evermore says that since current PUA recipients werenât asked to submit all this information when they were first approved, they might no longer have access to the requested documents.
âPeople who were told they donât need documentation may have lost it, and this will create panic resulting in more stress on people who have already had an unimaginably bad year,â she said.
The good news, Evermore says, is that states have leniency to waive some of these requirements if you can demonstrate âgood causeâ for not being able to submit the requested documents. Whatâs considered âgood causeâ is also determined on a state-by-state basis.
âPeople who got approved for benefits in the past wonât necessarily get cut off from benefits simply because they are unable to produce the requested documentation,â Evermore said. âJust follow all of the agencyâs instructions carefully.â
Adam Hardy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. He covers the gig economy, remote work and other unique ways to make money. Read his âlatest articles here, or say hi on Twitter @hardyjournalism.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.
Note: This article has been updated to reflect the new programs and provisions in the second stimulus package.
For the first time nationally, independent contractors and gig workers can receive unemployment benefits â through Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. Millions of Americans have relied on this program since it was created by the first stimulus package in March 2020.
Depending on your state, PUA effectively expired on Dec. 26 or 27. At the 11th hour, lawmakers rallied to pass a second stimulus package, extending the program for 11 weeks. However, some states had to pause making PUA payments as they implemented the new rules.
The Penny Hoarder looked at the application process in all 50 states, plus Washington, D.C. when the program was first created. We compiled the information into an interactive map that shows you how to file in each state, then updated the information based on new provisions laid out in the second stimulus package.
This guide will explain everything you need to know about Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.
What Is Pandemic Unemployment Assistance?
How the Second Stimulus Package Changes PUA
A 50-State Interactive Map to Help You Apply for PUA
Documents Needed to File for PUA
This $300 boost is known as Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC).
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How the Second Stimulus Package Changes PUA
Initially, the CARES Act authorized PUA payments for a maximum of 39 weeks. The second stimulus package extended PUA to 50 weeks total â or 11 extra weeks.
PUA now sunsets on March 14, 2021, unless extended by Congress and the Biden administration. Those who havenât exhausted their PUA benefits as of March 14, 2021, may continue receiving benefits until April 5, 2021.
One new and notable limitation: PUA used to be available retroactively as far back as January 2020. The new stimulus law tightens the window for retroactive PUA payments to Dec. 1, 2020, through March 14, 2021.
All PUA recipients should be expecting to file more paperwork, too. To curb fraud, the second stimulus deal forces current and new PUA recipients to submit documents related to employment or self-employment, according to the DOL.
The exact documents needed will be determined by your state agency, which is required to notify you. The deadline to file those documents is March 27, 2021. Defer to your stateâs deadline if different.
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How to File for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, State by State
Our interactive map includes PUA filing instructions for all 50 states and Washington, D.C.
Based on The Penny Hoarderâs analysis, 35 states and D.C. process PUA applicants using the same application for general unemployment. Only 15 states have separate PUA applications.
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Hereâs how we broke it down on the map.
To determine PUA eligibility, most states funnel applicants through the Unemployment Insurance system first. Those states require you to file two applications: state unemployment first, then PUA.
In such states, you must get denied Unemployment Insurance (UI) before applying for PUA. Only a handful of states have one streamlined, general unemployment application that determines your eligibility for both PUA or regular benefits.
For simplicity â and because in both instances your first step is filing a general unemployment claim â both methods are categorized as âgeneral unemployment (UI)â on the map, in darkÂ blue.
To see if you need to file two applications or one streamlined version, click your state on the map for specific filing instructions.
States marked in light blue have a PUA application separate from the regular Unemployment Insurance system. If you are a resident of one of these states, you can file for PUA directly so long as you meet the eligibility criteria.
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Documents Needed to File for PUA
If youâre ready to file for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, youâll need to gather several types of identification- and income-related documents.
Your state may require a few additional documents, but hereâs an overview:
State-issued ID card.
Social Security Number or Alien Registration Number.
Mailing and residential address (if different).
Bank account information for direct deposit, otherwise your benefits will arrive via a prepaid debit card or check.
Tax return: Form 1040, Schedule C, F and/or SE.
As many income statements as possible: bank receipts with deposit information, 1099 forms, W-2s, paycheck stubs, income summaries and business ledgers.
Income statements and related documents are crucial to proving how and when the coronavirus affected your earnings. For freelancers and independent contractors, it may be difficult to compile everything. Include as much as possible.
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Depending on which gig app you use and how much you earned, you may not have received any 1099 income forms in the mail. In that case, log on to the app and download your income statements.
Due to new rules outlined in the second stimulus package, state labor departments are once again scrambling. Hiccups should be expected while applying for, asking about or submitting documents related to PUA. Many gig workers and independent contractors warn of website crashes, unavailable customer service, confusing questionnaires and more.
Perseverance is key.
Adam Hardy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. He covers the gig economy, entrepreneurship and unique ways to make money. Read his âlatest articles here, or say hi on Twitter @hardyjournalism.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.
If you have bad credit and need a car loan, there are some challenges when compared to obtaining a standard car loan. However, pick your head up because there are a handful of great lenders that specifically tailor their programs to people with bad credit. We researched the landscape of lenders that can help you get a car loan even if you have a below-average credit score.
Based on our study, OneMain Financial and LightStream are two of the top lenders offering bad credit card loans. This is due to factors including loan options, requirements to qualify, and interest rates offered. Of course, we offer in-depth reviews of all the top lenders who offer bad credit car loans further down in this piece.
Apply now with our top pick: OneMain Financial
In this guide we also help you understand the factors that go into selecting the right auto lender, and how to get the best rate you can.
Most Important Factors for Bad Credit Car Loans
If youâre in the market for a bad credit car loan, there are a plethora of factors to consider and compare. Here are the main loan details we looked at in our study, and the ones you should prioritize as you select the best car loan for your needs.
Check your credit score. And understand what is in your credit report.
FICO scores under 579 is considered ‘poor’. But you may need a bad credit loan with a score as high as 669.
Interest rates and fees matter. These can make a huge difference in how much you pay for an auto loan each month.
Compare loan terms. Consider your repayment timeline and compare lenders with this in mind.
Getting prequalified online can help. Some lenders, including ones that made our ranking, let you get prequalified for a loan online without a hard inquiry on your credit report.
Watch out for loan restrictions. Some lenders impose restrictions on what car you can purchase. Keep this in mind to avoid unpleasant surprises later.
The Best Bad Credit Car Loans of 2021
The best bad credit car loans make it easy for consumers to qualify for the financing they need. The following lenders made our list due to their superior loan offerings, excellent customer service, and reputation in this industry.
Car Loan Company
Best for Flexibility
Best Personal Loan Option
Best Loan for Bad Credit and No Credit
Best Loan Comparison Site
Best Big Bank Loan for Bad Credit
Best for Fast Funding
Why Some Lenders Didn’t Make the Cut
While the lenders we are profiling are the best of the best, there are plenty of bad credit car loans that didnât quite make the cut. We didnât include any lenders that only offer auto loan refinancing, for example, since we know many people need a car loan in order to purchase a new or used car or truck. We also stayed away from bad credit car loans that charge outrageous fees for consumers with the lowest credit scores.
Bad Credit Auto Loan Reviews
We listed the top companies we selected in our study above, but we also aim to provide readers with more insights and details on each. The reviews below highlight the highlights of each lender that made our list, plus our take on who they might be best for.
OneMain Financial: Best for Flexibility
OneMain Financial offers personal loans and auto loans with interest rates that range from 18.00% to 35.99%. You can repay your auto loan in 24, 36, 48, or 60 months, and you can use this lender to borrow up to $20,000 for a new or used car. You can apply for your auto loan online and from the comfort of your own home, and itâs possible to get approved within a matter of minutes.
While OneMain Financial doesnât list a minimum credit score requirement, itâs believed they will approve consumers with scores as low as 600. You should also note that auto loans from OneMain Financial come with an origination fee of up to 5% of your loan amount.
Sign Up With OneMain Financial Today
Why This Lender Made Our List: OneMain Financial offers a lot of flexibility in terms of your loan terms, including the option to repay your auto loan over five years. OneMain Financial also has pretty decent reviews from users for a bad credit lender, and they have an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau.
Potential Downsides to Be Aware Of: OneMain Financial charges some pretty high rates for its bad credit loans, and donât forget that you may need to pay an origination fee that is up to 5% of your loan amount. Their loans are also capped at $20,000, which means this lender wonât work for everyone.
Who Itâs Best For: This lender is best for consumers with really poor credit who need auto financing but canât get approved for a better loan.
Upgrade: Best Personal Loan Option
Upgrade is an online lender that offers personal loans with fixed interest rates, fixed monthly payments, and a fixed repayment timeline. You can borrow up to $50,000 in an unsecured loan, which means you wonât actually use the car you purchase as collateral for the loan.
You can repay the money you borrow over 36 to 60 months, which makes it possible for you to tweak your loan offer to secure a monthly payment you can afford. Upgrade has a minimum credit score requirement of 620 to qualify, although theyâll consider additional factors such as your income and employment history.
Sign Up With Upgrade Today
Why This Lender Made Our List: Upgrade lets you âcheck your rateâ online without a hard inquiry on your credit report. This makes it easy to shop around and compare this loan offer to others without having to fill out a full loan application. Also note that Upgrade has an A+ rating with the BBB.
Potential Downsides to Be Aware Of: Upgrade charges APRs as high as 35.89% for consumers with the worst credit, and an origination fee of up to 6% of your loan amount might also apply.
Who Itâs Best For: Upgrade is best for consumers with decent credit who need to borrow a larger loan amount. This loan is also best for anyone who wants an auto loan that isnât secured by their vehicle.
AutoCreditExpress.com: Best Loan for Bad Credit and No Credit
AutoCreditExpress.com is an online platform that lets consumers with bad credit and even no credit get the financing they need. Once you fill out some basic loan information, youâll be connected with a lender who can offer you financing as well as a dealership in your area. From there, youâll head to the local dealership and pull the pieces of your auto loan together, including the purchase price of the car you want.
Sign Up With Autocreditexpress.com Today
Why This Lender Made Our List: AutoCreditExpress.com has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau. This platform also makes it possible for consumers with no credit at all to finance a car, which is a welcome relief for people who are building credit for the first time.
Potential Downsides to Be Aware Of: This website is a loan platform but they donât offer loans directly to consumers. This means you wonât have any idea on rates and terms until you fill out an application and get connected with a lender.
Who Itâs Best For: This loan is best for consumers with no credit or minimal credit history who cannot get approved for a loan elsewhere.
MyAutoLoan.com: Best Loan Comparison Site
MyAutoLoan.com is a loan comparison site that makes it easy to compare up to four auto loan offers in a matter of minutes. You can use this website to apply for a new auto loan, but you can also utilize it to consider refinancing offers for an auto loan you already have. You can also use funds from this platform to purchase a car from a dealer or from a private seller.
Sign Up With MyAutoLoan.com Today
Why This Lender Made Our List: Comparing auto loans in terms of their terms, rates, and fees is the best way to save money and wind up with the best deal. Since MyAutoLoan.com is a loan comparison site, they make it easy to shop around and compare competing offers.
Potential Downsides to Be Aware Of: Loan comparison sites connect you with other lenders who have their own loan terms and minimum requirements for approval. Make sure you know and understand all the details of loans youâre considering before you sign on the dotted line.
Who Itâs Best For: MyAutoLoan.com is best for consumers who want to do all their auto loan shopping with a single website.
Capital One: Best Big Bank Loan for Bad Credit
Capital One offers online auto loan financing in conjunction with a program called Auto NavigatorÂ®. This program lets you get prequalified for an auto loan online, then work with a participating dealer to coordinate a loan for the car you want. Capital One also lets you search available vehicles at participating dealerships before you apply for financing, making it easy to figure out how much you might need to borrow ahead of time.
Sign Up With Capital One Today
Why This Lender Made Our List: Capital One offers the huge benefit of letting you get prequalified online without a hard inquiry to your credit report. Capital One is also a reputable bank with a long history, which should give borrowers some comfort. They have an A+ rating with the BBB and plenty of decent reviews from consumers.
Potential Downsides to Be Aware Of: You should be aware that Capital One auto loans only work at participating dealers, so you may be limited in terms of available cars to choose from.
Who Itâs Best For: Capital One auto loans are best for consumers who find a car they want to buy at one of the participating lenders that works with this program.
LightStream: Best for Fast Funding
LightStream offers online loans for a variety of purposes, including auto financing. Their auto loans for consumers with excellent credit start at just 3.99% with autopay, and even their loans for consumers with lower credit scores only run as high as 16.79% with autopay.
You can apply for your LightStream loan online and get approved in a matter of minutes. This lender can also send your funds as soon as the same business day you apply.
A minimum credit score of 660 is required for loan approval, although other factors like your work history and income are considered.
Sign Up With LightStream Today
Why This Lender Made Our List: LightStream offers auto loans with exceptional terms, and thatâs even true for consumers with less than perfect credit. You can also get your loan funded as soon as the same business day you apply, which is crucial if you need auto financing so you can get back on the road.
Potential Downsides to Be Aware Of: With a minimum credit score requirement of 660, these loans wonât work for consumers with the lowest credit scores.
Who Itâs Best For: LightStream is best for people with decent credit who need to get auto loan financing as quickly as possible.
What You Need To Know When Applying For A Car Loan With Bad Credit
Interest rates and fees matter.
If you think your interest rate and loan fees wonât make a big difference in your monthly payment, think again. The reality is that rates and fees can make a huge difference in how much you pay for an auto loan each month. Consider this: A $10,000 loan with an APR of 35.89% will require you to pay $361 per month for five years. The same loan amount at 21.99% APR will only set you back $276 per month. At 9.99%, you would pay only $212 per month for five years. The bottom line: Make sure to compare auto loans for bad credit so you wind up with the lowest possible APR you can qualify for.
Take steps to improve your credit score before you apply.
Itâs not always possible to wait to apply for a car loan, but you may be able to secure a lower interest rate and better loan terms if you can improve your credit score before you borrow money. The most important steps you can take to improve your score include paying all your bills early or on time, as well as paying down debt in order to decrease your credit utilization. You should also refrain from opening or closing too many credit card accounts in order to avoid new inquiries on your credit report and maintain the longest average length of your credit history possible.
Compare loan terms.
Some lenders let you borrow money for up to 84 months, while others let you repay your loan over 36 or 60 months at most. If you need to repay your loan over a longer timeline in order to secure an affordable monthly payment, make sure to compare lenders based on this factor. If youâre having trouble figuring out how much can you can afford, gauging affordability based on the monthly payments you can handle can also help in that effort.
Getting prequalified online can help.
Some lenders, including ones that made our ranking, let you get prequalified for a loan online without a hard inquiry on your credit report. This makes it considerably easier to compare rates and shop around without formally applying for an auto loan. Getting prequalified with more than one lender can also help you determine which one might offer the lowest rate without having to fill out a full loan application.
Watch out for loan restrictions.
As you compare the lenders on this list, keep in mind that not all lenders extend loans for any car you want. Some only let you finance cars with participating lenders in their network, which can drastically limit your options and make it impossible to purchase a car from a private seller. If you hope to purchase a car from someone you know or a website like craigslist.org, you may want to consider reaching out to your personal bank or a credit union you have a relationship with.
Bad credit car loans donât have to be forever.
Finally, you should know that a car loan for bad credit doesnât have to last forever. You may need to borrow money for a car right now regardless of the interest rate and terms you can qualify for, but it may be possible to refinance your loan into a better loan product later on. This is especially true if you focus on improving your credit score right away, and if you use your auto loan as an opportunity to prove your creditworthiness.
How to Get the Best Rate
1. Check your credit score.
Your credit score is one of the most important defining factors that dictate loan costs. Before you apply for an auto loan, it can help you check your credit score to see where you stand. Your score may not be as bad as you realize, but it could also be worse than you ever imagined. Either way, it helps to know this important information before you start shopping for an auto loan.
2. Improve your credit over time.
If your credit score needs work, youâll want to take steps to start improving it right away. The most important steps you can take to boost your credit score include paying all your bills early or on time and paying down debt to decrease your credit utilization. Also, make sure youâre not opening or closing too many credit accounts within a short amount of time.
3. Check your credit reports.
Use the website AnnualCreditReport.com to get a free copy of your credit reports from all three credit bureaus. Once you have this information, check over your credit reports for errors. If you find false information that might be hurting your score, take the steps to have the incorrect information removed.
4. Compare loan offers from at least three lenders.
A crucial step to get the best rate involves shopping around and comparing loan offers from at least three different lenders. This is important since lenders with different criteria might offer a lower APR or better terms than others.
5. Be flexible with repayment terms.
Also consider a few different loan terms provided you can afford the monthly payment with each. Some auto lenders offer better rates for shorter terms, which can help you save money if you can afford to repay your loan over 24 or 36 months instead of 60+.
How We Chose the Best Auto Loans
The lenders on our list werenât plucked out of thin air. In fact, the team behind this guide spent hours comparing auto lenders based on a wide range of criteria. Hereâs everything we considered when comparing the best bad credit car loans of 2021:
Interest Rates and Loan Terms: Our team looked for loans that offer reasonable rates and terms for consumers with poor credit. While higher APRs are typically charged to consumers with a low credit score, we only considered lenders that offer sensible rates that donât seem out of line for the auto loan market.
Ratings and Reviews: We gave preference to lenders who have decent reviews online, either through Consumer Affairs, Trustpilot, or another third party website. We also gave higher marks to lenders who have a positive rating with the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
Online Availability: Lenders who offer full loan details online were definitely given top priority in our ranking, and lenders who let you get prequalified online without a hard inquiry on your credit report were given the most points in this category. But since not everyone wants to apply for a loan online, we also included some lenders that let you apply over the phone.
Approval Requirements: Finally, we looked for lenders that extend credit to consumers with low credit scores in the first place. Not all lenders offer specific information on approval requirements, but we did our best to sort out lenders that only accept borrowers with good or excellent credit.
Summary: Best Bad Credit Card Loans of 2021
Best for Flexibility: OneMain Financial
Best Personal Loan Option: Upgrade
Best Loan for Bad Credit and No credit: AutoCreditExpress.com
Best Loan Comparison Site: MyAutoLoan.com
Best Big Bank Loan for Bad Credit: CapitalOne
Best for Fast Funding: LightStream
The post What Are the Best Car Loans When You Have Bad Credit? appeared first on Good Financial CentsÂ®.
In a recession itâs common for many people to rely on credit cards and loans to balance their finances. Itâs the ultimate catch-22 since, during a recession, these financial products can be even harder to qualify for.
This holds true, according to historical data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. It found that during the 2007 recession, loan growth at traditional banks decreased and remained deflated over the next four years.Â
Credit can be a powerful tool to help you make ends meet and keep moving forward financially. Hereâs what you can do if youâre struggling to access credit during a weak economy.
Lending becomes riskier in a weak economy. Does this mean youâre completely out of luck if you have bad credit? Not necessarily, but you might need to take the time to understand all of your alternatives.
How Does a Financial Downturn Affect Lending?
Giving someone a loan or approving them for a credit card carries a certain amount of risk for a lender. After all, thereâs a chance you could stop making payments and the lender could lose all the funds you borrowed, especially with unsecured loans.
For lenders, this concept is called, âdelinquencyâ. Theyâre constantly trying to get their delinquency rate lower; in a booming economy, the delinquency rate at commercial banks is usually under 2%.
Lending becomes riskier in a weak economy. There are all sorts of reasons a person might stop paying their loan or credit card bills. You might lose your job, or unexpected medical bills might demand more of your budget. Because lenders know the chances of anyone becoming delinquent are much higher in a weak economy, they tend to restrict their lending criteria so theyâre only serving the lowest-risk borrowers. That can leave people with poor credit in a tough financial position.
Before approving you for a loan, lenders typically look at criteria such as:
Co-signers, if applicable
Down payment size (for loans, like a mortgage)
Does this mean youâre completely out of luck if you have bad credit? Not necessarily, but you might need to take the time to understand all of your alternatives.
5 Ways to Help Get Your Credit Application Approved
Although every lender has different approval criteria, these strategies speak to typical commonalities across most lenders.
1. Pay Off Debt
Paying off some of your debt might feel bold, but it can be helpful when it comes to an application for credit. Repaying your debt reduces your debt-to-income ratio, typically an important metric lenders look at for loans such as a mortgage. Also, paying off debt could help improve your credit utilization ratio, which is a measure of how much available credit youâre currently using right now. If youâre using most of the credit thatâs available to you, that could indicate you donât have enough cash on hand.
Not sure what debt-to-income ratio to aim for? The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau suggests keeping yours no higher than 43%.
For those with poor credit, a trusted cosigner can make the difference between getting approved for credit or starting back at square one.
When someone cosigns for your loan theyâll need to provide information on their income, employment and credit score â as if they were applying for the loan on their own. Ideally, their credit score and income should be higher than yours. This gives your lender enough confidence to write the loan knowing that, if you canât make your payments, your cosigner is liable for the bill.
Since your cosigner is legally responsible for your debt, their credit is negatively impacted if you stop making payments. For this reason, many people are wary of cosigning.
In a recession, it might be difficult to find someone with enough financial stability to cosign for you. If you go this route, have a candid conversation with your prospective cosigner in advance about expectations in the worst-case scenario.
3. Raise Your Credit Score
If your credit score just isnât high enough to qualify for conventional credit you could take some time to focus on improving it. Raising your credit score might sound daunting, but itâs definitely possible.Â
Here are some strategies you can pursue:
Report your rent payments. Rent payments arenât typically included as part of the equation when calculating your credit score, but they can be. Some companies, like Rental Kharma, will report your timely rent payments to credit reporting agencies. Showing a history of positive payment can help improve your credit score.Â
Make sure your credit report is updated. Itâs not uncommon for your credit report to have mistakes in it that can artificially deflate your credit score. Request a free copy of your credit report every year, which you can do online through Experian Free Credit Report. If you find inaccuracies, disputing them could help improve your credit score.Â
Bring all of your payments current. If youâve fallen behind on any payments, bringing everything current is an important part of improving your credit score. If your lender or credit card company is reporting late payments a long history of this can damage your credit score. When possible speak to your creditor to work out a solution, before you anticipate being late on a payment.
Use a credit repair agency. If tackling your credit score is overwhelming you could opt to work with a reputable credit repair agency to help you get back on track. Be sure to compare credit repair agencies before moving forward with one. Companies that offer a free consultation and have a strong track record are ideal to work with.
Raising your credit isnât an immediate solution â itâs not going to help you get a loan or qualify for a credit card tomorrow. However, making these changes now can start to add up over time.
4. Find an Online Lender or Credit Union
Although traditional banks can be strict with their lending policies, some smaller lenders or credit unions offer some flexibility. For example, credit unions are authorized to provide Payday Loan Alternatives (PALs). These are small-dollar, short-term loans available to borrowers whoâve been a member of qualifying credit unions for at least a month.
Some online lenders might also have more relaxed criteria for writing loans in a weak economy. However, you should remember that if you have bad credit youâre likely considered a riskier applicant, which means a higher interest rate. Before signing for a line of credit, compare several lenders on the basis of your quoted APR â which includes any fees like an origination fee, your loanâs term, and any additional fees, such as late fees.
If youâre trying to apply for a mortgage or auto loan, increasing your down payment could help if youâre having a tough time getting approved.
When you increase your down payment, you essentially decrease the size of your loan, and lower the lenderâs risk. If you donât have enough cash on hand to increase your down payment, this might mean opting for a less expensive car or home so that the lump sum down payment that you have covers a greater proportion of the purchase cost.
Loans vs. Credit Cards: Differences in Credit Approval
Not all types of credit are created equal. Personal loans are considered installment credit and are repaid in fixed payments over a set period of time. Credit cards are considered revolving credit, you can keep borrowing to your approved limit as long as you make your minimum payments.
When it comes to credit approvals, one benefit loans have over credit cards is that you might be able to get a secured loan. A secured loan means the lender has some piece of collateral they can recover from you should you stop making payments.
The collateral could be your home, car or other valuable asset, like jewelry or equipment. Having that security might give the lender more flexibility in some situations because they know that, in the worst case scenario, they could sell the collateral item to recover their loss.
The Bottom Line
Borrowing during a financial downturn can be difficult and it might not always be the answer to your situation. Adding to your debt load in a weak economy is a risk. For example, you could unexpectedly lose your job and not be able to pay your bills. Having an added monthly debt payment in your budget can add another challenge to your financial situation.
However, if you can afford to borrow funds during an economic recession, reduced interest rates in these situations can lessen the overall cost of borrowing.
These tips can help tidy your finances so youâre a more attractive borrower to lenders. Thereâs no guarantee your application will be accepted, but improving your finances now gives you a greater borrowing advantage in the future.