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Celebrate National Financial Awareness Day
August 14th is National Financial Awareness Day—a day dedicated to preparing for your financial future and building financial stability. It’s crucial to take the time to review your finances because sound monetary decisions can make a huge impact in the long run. Try to complete one of the five items below so you can take control of your finances, and celebrate National Financial Awareness Day.
1. Check your savings
Take a look at your savings account—in the event of an emergency, do you have enough funds to get you through? If not, use today to set goals to ensure you’re saving for the future. Calculate your monthly expenses and develop a plan of action to ensure you have the recommended three to six months’ worth of savings. Don’t have a savings account? Georgia’s Own offers various savings accounts to safely store your money.
2. Reevaluate your budget
Have you found yourself not sticking to your budget lately? Take the time to reevaluate your spending and make changes where you see fit. Periodically reviewing your budget is a crucial step that is overlooked. Make it a habit to frequently assess your budget and see what should be adjusted.
3. Brush up on your financial literacy
Financial literacy is key to being confident in the monetary decisions you make, and it can be easy to forget the basics. Take the time today to brush up on your financial literacy. There are dozens of free tools to help, like ACHIEVE, a free financial literacy program from Georgia’s Own. ACHIEVE offers various topics and videos on essentials like owning a home, financial caregiving, planning for retirement, and more.
4. Take steps to improve your credit
Your credit score is a critical representation of your financial past, present, and future. You need good credit for just about anything, like owning a home, applying for an auto loan, or applying for a credit card—your credit score can even determine the price of your auto insurance. Look at your credit score and see where you can improve. If you don’t know your score, visit the federally authorized site annualcreditreport.com to receive a free copy of your credit report.
5. Get a head start on taxes
It’s never too early to get a head start on taxes. Begin gathering necessary documents, like receipts, expense records, and donations, then put them in an organized folder, so you have them prepared for when you’re ready to file. Preparing paperwork beforehand will save you time—and sanity—when tax season begins. If you want to take it a step further, you can even organize your tax records from the past few years, so you have those prepared if the IRS ever needs to conduct an audit.
We hope these tips help you take control over your financial future. Georgia’s Own is always available to help every day of the year—even when it’s not National Financial Awareness Day. Click here to find more resources to help you make smart money-related decisions.
Saving money with cellphones: how to get the best deal
Cellphones: we love them, we hate them, we can’t live without them. Choosing a new phone or carrier is about as fun as a trip to the dentist after you spend time haggling over price points and service levels. But soon that will all be a distant memory, because we have some great ideas on ways you can get the best deal for your cellphone—frustration and screaming are now totally optional.
Purchase an older cellphone model
We’d all love to have the latest iPhone, but have you ever compared the iPhone 11 to the iPhone 13? The truth is, they aren’t all that different. You can certainly expect some small changes from model to model, and even more so when those models are years apart. But since so many companies are churning out new models every year, you can go with an older option that doesn’t sacrifice function. That means you can safely choose the Galaxy 20 without worrying that it will be obsolete in minutes—and that means you can save a little money right up front.
Consider the auto-payment plan
Did you know that a lot of mobile carriers offer auto-payments that are often less money per month? This is a great way to get savings that stay around for a while. Ask your carrier what switching to automatic payments would do for your monthly bill. Of course, it’s important to remember when the payment will hit your bank account so you can budget accordingly. But with just a small amount of extra planning, you can reap the benefits of lower costs without giving up great service.
Don’t just look at big names
While there is nothing wrong with the bigger cellphone competitors of the world, you might consider looking at a smaller company that can meet your needs, like Cricket Wireless or Republic Wireless. These companies are usually able to offer you a better deal, both on your phone and your service costs. It’s important to note that lower costs mean you may not always have the service you want—not all companies have equal coverage. But if you just need the basics for your daily life, these lesser-known providers can be a game-changer.
Split it up
Many cellphone companies offer discounts for multiple lines. If you are single or your kids aren’t old enough for a phone, this may seem like a silly idea. But splitting a plan with even just one or two more people could make a big difference in your monthly bill. Talk to your extended family or some close friends about the types of phones and service you all need—if you can make it work, it’s worth the time and effort of adding multiple lines to one plan and splitting the cost between you.
Switch it up, too
We know; change is the worst. But a lot of cellphone companies offer discounts for switching to their service, which means you can cash-in just by changing your carrier. While hopping back and forth between different providers may seem like a confusing way to live, it may also make a huge difference to your bottom line each month. Be smart about it—you want to ensure that your potential new carrier can still meet all of your needs, like service areas and data streaming. But if you find a good deal that works for you, we recommend making the switch.
Say goodbye to your old cellphone
You can bring that final bill cost down even further by turning in your old phone to the same people who sell you your new one. This is a win-win—cell phone companies can resell your old phone, and you get a better deal on a new phone. Don’t worry about your contacts, photos, and even your messages and apps, because your cell phone provider should be able to port those right over to your new phone. You don’t lose anything but a little bit of time for the transfer, and, of course, your outdated phone.
Much like buying a car, purchasing a new phone or service is all about the negotiation. Often team members of cellphone providers have a little wiggle room on what deals they can offer you, so be sure to ask for the lowest rate they have. This might mean you name an outrageously low rate that they can’t meet but that they can work towards with you. Do be wary of scams—if the deal sounds way too good to be true, it probably is, so read all of the fine print and take your time before signing your contract.
Look for special discounts
While we’re on the negotiation train, this is a great time to mention discounts that may apply to your unique situation. People who serve or who have served in the military, for instance, may be entitled to discounts that others can’t ask for. Your job might also get you some discount points, because first responders, teachers, and others can often find discounts with various providers. If you’re not sure, ask—the worst that happens is you are told no to a discount, but the best that happens is you do qualify and now get to enjoy a lighter cellphone bill each month.
The possibilities for cellphones and service providers may seem endless, but you can find a method that works for the madness. Figure out what you need from your cellphone, look for the best deals and special discounts, and remember that a smartphone that’s only two years old is still pretty smart.
With all that money you saved, it’s important to have a place to store that cash. A savings account with Georgia’s Own is a smart, secure way to store your hard-earned money. From basic savings accounts to CDs and money market accounts, there’s no shortage of ways to make your money grow. Click here to open a savings account today!
5 checking account mistakes you don’t want to make
For most people, their checking account is the heart of their personal finances. It’s where they deposit their paycheck, how they pay their monthly bills, and where they go to withdraw cash for the weekend. And, since their monthly statement details every financial move, it’s an efficient and easy way to keep track of spending and saving.
Although most checking account activity is processed electronically, it’s critical not to employ the out of sight, out of mind mentality. Check out these common checking account mistakes and how to avoid them:
1. You’re loyal to a fault
According to a survey conducted by Bankrate and MONEY, the average adult has had the same primary checking account for about 16 years. Why so long? People stay for convenience and quality customer service, which are important. But what about making sure they’re getting a good deal?
If you’ve been loyal to the same bank since you were a tween or a teen, it’s time to do a little comparison shopping. Checking accounts come in all shapes and sizes, and they’re all not created equal.
They have different features, expenses, and rates of return. In today’s competitive market, many financial institutions are wooing consumers with lower fees, more conveniences, and quality services, all of which are important to consider. Sticking with the same bank out of loyalty sounds honorable, but it doesn’t do much for your account balance.
2. You disregard the minimum balance rule
Many banks or credit unions offer no-fee checking accounts—as long as you maintain a minimum balance. Others require you to use your debit card a specific number of times per month or receive direct deposits into your account. Heck, sometimes you might even earn a tiny bit of interest. But, if you don’t comply with the requirements, BOOM! Your no-fee just jumped to high-fee and you’re out more than a few hard-earned bucks.
These checking accounts can be a smart choice for some consumers, but it’s critical that you keep track of your activity and always meet the requirements. We’re all not detail people, so if that’s too much for you to manage, move to another option. There’s nothing worse than watching your money fly out the window every single month, especially when you can avoid it.
3. You maintain a higher than necessary balance
First it’s not enough money, now it’s too much? Yep, the art of managing your money is all about striking the optimum balance.
Not all checking accounts are interest-bearing, but if they are, they traditionally offer the lowest rates. As such, you should keep enough money in your account to pay your monthly bills and cover your spending, plus a little more that can serve as a buffer. Put the rest in a higher-yielding savings account so you maximize your interest earnings.
Be sure to monitor your balance, and if you’re running low, initiate a transfer. Because most banking is done online, it’s quick and easy to move funds from your savings account to your checking account when needed.
4. You use any nearby ATM
Regardless of which banking institution you use, there are ways to avoid the notorious ATM fees. Some have large networks so an ATM is always nearby. Use your bank’s app to locate other branches or free ATMs so you don’t incur the most dreaded of all account fees. If you’re using an online bank, they’ll likely have a smaller network of ATMs, but many will offer a monthly ATM fee refund.
Using an out of network ATM should be your last resort. You’ll be charged twice—once from each bank. And, with ATM fees at a record high, it could easily cost you between $5 and $10. That’s especially painful when you’re only withdrawing a few bucks at a time.
When you’re in a pinch, you might want to be a little more creative and avoid the ATMs altogether. You can pay for your purchase with your debit card and choose the cash back option, withdraw cash less frequently, but in higher amounts, or even arrange for a friend to pay and use a money-sending app like Venmo to repay them.
5. You don’t fully understand the checking account overdraft protection plan
In 2017, Americans paid more than $34 million in overdraft fees. Today’s average overdraft fee is more than $33 per transaction, and it’s on the rise.
While an overdraft protection plan can be a benefit, it can also be a detriment. Without it, any charge or check that would cause your account balance to fall below $0 would be declined or returned. If you’re enrolled in the plan, you’re home free, right? If you’ve mistakenly swiped your debit card for more than what’s in your account, you’ll be covered and you can breathe a sigh of relief. Until, of course, you see the overdraft fee—or maybe it’s fees.
Once the first transaction crosses the $0 threshold, every transaction that follows also incurs an overdraft fee. It’s especially unfortunate when a large charge hits your account before three smaller transactions, for example. In that case, you would incur four overdraft penalties at roughly $33 each. If the three smaller transactions hit first, you would only incur one fee.
Overdraft protection will help you avoid returned check fees and maybe a little embarrassment when your card is declined, but you can rack up some hefty fees pretty quickly. If you opt for this feature, be sure to read the fine print. Some banks will offer you a grace period that allows you time to make a deposit and avoid the fees, but others may not. Be sure you thoroughly understand the overdraft plan feature before you decide whether or not to opt-in. Otherwise, it could be a costly mistake.
How to budget money on a lower income
We all know managing money wisely is essential to anyone’s financial plan. It’s easier said than done, though—especially if you aren’t making as much money. Most budgeting tips are geared towards people who earn higher salaries or have dozens of options for storing their money. Can you manage money when you feel like you have nothing? The answer is yes, and we’re here to help. Read on for tips on how to budget money on a lower income.
Analyze your current budget
The easiest way to budget money on a lower income is by analyzing your current budget. By looking at your complete financial picture, you can see where you can cut expenses or what you need to prioritize. Ideally, 6-15% of your net income should go towards transportation costs. If you find you’re overspending in that area, see what solutions you can implement, like refinancing your car loan or negotiating your insurance.
If you don’t have a budget, this is your chance to make one. A common budgeting tactic is the 50/30/20 rule. Divide your after-tax income into three categories: needs, wants, and savings. 50% of your budget should go towards needs like rent/mortgage, groceries, transportation, utilities, and insurance. 30% will go towards wants like dining out, entertainment, gym memberships, or shopping. Lastly, 20% will go towards savings like an emergency fund or a down payment on a house.
Set attainable financial goals
Setting reasonable financial goals will help you stay on track. Ensuring they’re SMART—specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based—allows you to reach your goal. For example, if student loan debt is overwhelming you, your intent might be to pay off a $10,000 student loan in 36 months. That qualifies as a SMART goal because it is specific, a measurable amount, achievable within your means, relevant, and has a timestamp.
Strategize paying off debt
If you’re struggling with paying off debt, the snowball method is an excellent tool to get it under control and manage money on a lower income. Start by listing your debts from the smallest to the largest dollar amount (not including your mortgage). Take extra money from your budget, apply it to the smallest debt, and then make the minimum payments on your other debt. Once that smallest debt is paid, you’ll move on to the next and continue the process. Another method is the opposite—the avalanche method. Rather than listing your debts from the smallest to largest dollar amount, you pay off debts with the highest interest rates first. This also reduces your overall debt load faster.
The snowball method is more of a motivational boost—paying off debt seems more manageable when you get rid of your lowest debt first. The biggest con, though, is your high-interest debts accumulate more interest when you make only the minimum payment. The avalanche method is a smarter choice financially because you pay less interest overall. However, your smallest debts may be the ones with the highest interest—like credit card debt. In this case, you’ll be practicing both methods at the same time. But, it’s important to choose the method that works best for you.
Cut unnecessary expenses
Did you know the average American spends $237 per month on subscriptions? That’s nearly $3,000 per year! You can use that money to pay off debt, save for a home, or build an emergency fund. If you’re on a tight budget, cutting unnecessary expenses is your ticket to saving big. Canceling unused or unwanted subscriptions is the perfect beginning step. For example, if you have a Spotify and a Pandora subscription, do you need both? Cancel the one you use less frequently. Or maybe getting fit was your New Year’s resolution—but you never go to the gym. See if you can get out of that costly contract.
Create positive spending habits
Budgeting sometimes has a negative connotation. Creating positive spending habits allows you to look differently at how you spend your hard-earned money. Reducing credit card spending is an easy way to start. Credit cards aren’t evil, but bad spending habits can accumulate in the form of credit card debt. Remove stored credit card information from online sites where you find the urge to splurge. Instead, open a savings account for larger purchases.
Impulse buying is another habit to kick to the curb. You may feel happy during the moment, but impulse purchases rack up quickly and take a toll on your finances. If your impulse purchases aren’t monitored, your account can quickly deplete. Before you make an unplanned purchase, wait a day or two. This will give you time to think about whether you need it or not—it also gives you time to shop for a better deal.
It’s possible to break the cycle of living paycheck-to-paycheck and set yourself up for financial success. Despite how difficult it may seem, you can get in financial shape—with some effort. It’s not easy to live on a tight budget, but by following the above tips, you can improve your financial outlook and achieve your goals.
Ways to pay off your debt faster: a review of Tally
If you are in any type of debt, you will probably jump at the chance to discover new ways to reduce or even pay off your debt in a timely manner. It’s important to recognize these opportunities—and even more to determine if they are legit. Read on for ways you can pay off your debt faster through services like Tally.
What is Tally?
Tally is an app that is designed to help you pay off your credit card debt. After you download the app and provide it with the necessary information, Tally gives you an analysis of your debt and a plan to help you pay it off, specifically through discovering how to maximize payments in such a way that it addresses those debts with greater interest rates first.
This app also takes financial customer service one step further: in order to utilize all the features of the app, you can apply for a line of credit with the Tally. This may seem counter-intuitive, but Tally charges a lower rate of interest than many of the credit card companies you are paying each month. If you decide to open a line of credit with Tally, they will redistribute your monthly payments to your creditors in a manner that minimizes your interest costs as much as possible.
Do I want to do this?
Sure! Okay, you should really do more research first. Tally is specifically marketed to those who want to reduce their credit card debt, especially if you are also paying on a high interest rate. Tally’s website emphasizes that they seek to level the playing field for those in debt by allowing them the opportunity to make smaller payments while still maintaining their credit.
If you are in debt but it runs more along the lines of student loans, medical expenses, etc., that are not on your credit card, this app may not make a difference for you. The website does offer some other financial resources at no additional cost, like a debt calculator, so it may still be worth your time to scroll through the options.
But really—do I want to do this?
Before you decide if Tally is the right fit for you, consider some of the pros and cons this service offers:
Pro: The app is easy to use, even for the most inexperienced money manager. Tally is set up to walk you through the steps you need to begin reducing your debt, and maintains a high user rating on its website and in app stores. This means less stress for you, and, even better, more savings.
Con: While the app itself is very user-friendly, you may have a hard time qualifying for their line of credit, which is how you reap most of the benefits it offers. In order to qualify, you need a FICO score of at least 660. Being a resident of certain states also disqualifies you, though the app is working to be available to every state.
Pro: Using Tally means paying just one bill each month instead of managing multiple payments and bills. This is not only less stressful for you, but also saves you some time each month. Plus, you can rest assured that you have not skipped any bills by mistake, since Tally is the one paying your credit card company each month.
Con: Not all credit cards participate with the app. Tally is working to secure more partnerships, but at least one major credit card, USAA, is not compatible with the app, so you would need to continue to make that payment separately.
Pro: Tally is ideal for those who are looking to build good credit habits, like paying down debt each month and keeping track of expenses you charge on a card. Using Tally can help you practice smart debt management and that experience and knowledge will continue to serve you no matter how long you decide to use the app.
Con: In spite of the app’s lower interest rate, it is still one more financial strain to consider. And while Tally encourages the habit of paying off current debt, they do not address the idea of holding off from going into more debt in the future. So when you use this app, keep in mind that you are still paying them for a service, and that the most important thing is to get out of debt in an efficient and responsible manner.
So what’s the bottom line? If you have credit card debt and you want help managing it, see if Tally works for you! Be sure your credit score is high enough, and check the website to learn if your state currently participates with the app (about 30 states currently do). At the end of the day, no app can replace your ability to be smart with your finances, so take it one step at a time.
How to start an emergency fund
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, people have recognized the value of having an emergency fund. People have lost their jobs, faced unexpected hospital visits, and more, leaving some struggling to pay bills. Regardless, it’s still crucial to have funds saved in the event of unforeseen circumstances—26% of Americans have no emergency savings, and only 23% have enough to cover six months’ worth of expenses. Follow these tips to help you get started on your emergency fund, so you’re better prepared for the future.
Track your expenses and spending
Before planning how much you should have in your emergency savings, it’s essential to know your monthly expenses. Calculate how much you spend on your rent or mortgage, utilities, and other necessary items. Tracking your spending is tedious, but there are dozens of budgeting apps, like EveryDollar and Wally, to help you estimate your regular spending.
Set your emergency savings goal
After you’ve gauged how much you spend per month, set your goal of how much you want to save. According to CNBC, less than 30% of households have less than $1,000 saved. That isn’t nearly enough to cover costs in the event of a setback, like a trip to the hospital or unemployment. It’s recommended to have at least three to six months’ worth of expenses saved.
Develop a plan
Once you set your savings goal, it’s time to form a plan of action. Decide what you’re going to do to reach your goal—that could be anything from setting aside a certain amount of money each week to cutting back on unnecessary spending. You can set goals all day, but it’s crucial to know exactly how you’ll reach them—otherwise, it’s easy to fall off track.
Put funds in an accessible place
How you save is extremely important, but where you save is just as critical—if not more. To make the most of your money, put your funds into a high-yield savings account that allows you to easily make transfers between accounts. High-yield savings accounts have higher interest rates than traditional savings accounts—sometimes 20 to 25 times more. While you earn more money in the long run, it’s important to consider factors such as initial deposit or minimum balance requirements and interest rates.
Now that you’ve set your financial goals, how you’ll achieve them, and where you’re going to put your funds, it’s time to start saving. One way to help increase your savings is by setting up automatic transfers—you can set an amount to transfer to your savings each week, every two weeks, or each month. Even if it’s only $50, you’ll be surprised at how quickly your savings will grow. Another great way to increase your savings is by setting aside your tax refund. You can set aside all of it or even just a portion—either way, any amount will help get you that much closer to your goal.
Consider what constitutes an emergency
Now that you’ve started to set funds aside, it’s imperative to decide what constitutes an emergency, so you’re only using your emergency fund for its intended use. This could be unexpected hospital visits, car repairs, job loss, or other unanticipated situations. Defining what you consider an emergency is important so you know your emergency fund is used properly, rather than being spent on frivolous things. Remember, it’s not fun money—it’s money you’re setting aside so you know you and your family will be okay should something happen in the future.
Georgia’s Own is here to help you be prepared for the unexpected—visit our website to get started on your emergency fund today.