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How to start an emergency fund
As the coronavirus pandemic continues, 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.
Visit our website to get started on your emergency fund today.
Financial tips to help you survive the pandemic
By: Adam Marlowe
If you’re scared or feeling uncertain about the state of your finances during this pandemic, you are certainly not alone. A recent national poll conducted by NPR’s Marketplace showed 33% of Americans were losing sleep over concerns about their finances and 44% were genuinely concerned about being able to afford groceries and other basic necessities in the coming months. We know many of our members are feeling the same stress and anxiety, so it’s more important than ever to make sure you have accurate and actionable information from financial experts to make the best decisions for you and your family. With that being said, I wanted to share some of the key questions we are getting most frequently from our members, and our best practices to navigate through the choppy waters:
Should I refinance?
While it might seem like a good time to refinance your home or take out a mortgage due to low interest rates, if you don’t have enough liquid funds to pay for the closing costs, you probably shouldn’t focus on it for the time being. If it doesn’t happen now, don’t panic, because this step could certainly make sense down the road.
Is my money safe?
If you feel the need to carry more cash than usual, that’s certainly fine, but there is no need to take out huge sums of money—not only are your deposits federally insured by the NCUA, but your money earns interest while it is with your financial institution, whereas cash in your pocket does not. So not only is your money safer and more secure in a checking or savings account, it’s also more valuable in the long run.
Which bills should I prioritize?
If your bills are piling up and you need to prioritize, make sure to pay your cell phone bill. Between staying connected with your friends and family and having a lifeline to your work remotely, your cell phone is an indispensable tool in our new socially distant world. Many providers are currently offering deferred payment options due to the effects of the pandemic, so be sure to see not only what your cell phone provider is willing to do, but find out what other providers (internet, cable, etc.) are offering to help you manage these challenges.
Can I still afford fun?
Even though disposable income is understandably limited during this time, it’s also important to stay sane and have ways to entertain yourself. In the age of streaming, you can find tons of engaging content on many of these services, so while you might need to cut back on some of your entertainment options, keeping a large streaming service with a deep catalog of content is certainly justifiable.
These are just a handful of topics that we are discussing with our members, but if you have other questions about managing the financial burden presented by this crisis, be sure to reach out to us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. We are here to help!
What to do with your stimulus check
Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, most tax-filing Americans making less than $75,000 per year are receiving a $1,200 stimulus check—as well as a $500 check for every child under the age of 17. Most people are hopeful for this financial relief—but what should you do once you receive your stimulus check? We have a few suggestions to help you use your check wisely.
Use it for expenses
The primary purpose of this check is to help people survive without a source of steady income. Therefore, one of the best things you can do with your stimulus check is to use it for essentials, like groceries, gas, or other expenses you might have. Like a tax refund, it can be tempting to spend your stimulus check on something nice or new—especially because shopping is at your fingertips right now. However, try to avoid spending your check on unnecessary items.
Put it towards your savings
If you have enough money to get by comfortably, saving your stimulus check could be beneficial. Ideally, you should have at least three to six months’ worth of expenses in your savings account for emergencies. Open a savings account if you don’t have one, and hold onto your stimulus check. You don’t need to set aside the entire check, either—even if you save a portion of it, that’s better than nothing.
Pay off debt
Use your stimulus check towards any debt you may have, such as credit cards or student loans. Even though most lenders are offering deferred payments or forbearance, paying off your debt, if you can, is still the most ideal choice. Anything—no matter how big or small—you put towards your debt gets you that much closer to financial freedom.
Donate it to charity
If you can, donate a portion of your stimulus check to a charity. More than ever, it’s important to stick together and support members of the community. Dozens of charities need help—especially organizations like Action Ministries, that are providing meals for children during the extended school break. Or, organizations, like Meals on Wheels, helping high-risk senior citizens that don’t have access to food. Additionally, many groups are collecting money to help people that are out of work in the restaurant industry. This also means that many scams are escalating. Be sure to research and determine that what you’re donating to is legitimate.
Help small businesses
Lastly, if you’re financially stable, consider helping local businesses. Many small businesses are struggling to stay afloat because of the coronavirus. With social distancing measures in place, many local businesses are changing how they operate or shutting their doors altogether. To help local businesses, consider ordering takeout from your favorite restaurant or purchase a gift card from your local beauty salon to use at a later date.
The COVID-19 stimulus package is a tremendous help for many people, and we hope that these tips will help you make the most out of your stimulus check. If you need further financial assistance, please click here to see how Georgia’s Own is helping members during this time of need.
Trimming Down Your Expenses: A Review of Truebill
The kids are home with you, your work hours have been cut in half, and your grocery bill has increased by a rough estimate of a million(ish) dollars. To make the dollars go further, many of us are looking at ways to cut back and spend less. But how? Well, there is good news – 2009 called, and it’s telling you there’s an app for that – Truebill.
Truebill: Tell Me More
The interest in cutting costs has created a buzz around the Truebill app, which is designed to help you consolidate – and hopefully lower – your bills. Everything from your cable to your electricity to your car payment can be entered into the app.
From there, the app looks at your bills and finds ways to save. For instance, if your internet goes out for three days after a storm, Truebill negotiates on your behalf to receive a lower bill that is in accordance with the actual amount of service you received that month.
Sounds too good to be true… how much does it cost?
The app itself, along with the subsequent services, is free – however, it is important to note that Truebill does take 40% of the savings it acquires for you. So if you take our internet service example from above, let’s say Truebill manages to save you 50 bucks. They would then charge you $20 for their services. But if their negotiation did not result in any savings, you would not be charged at all.
Does it do anything else?
Yes. The Truebill app offers what it calls “Premium Services,” through which it gives you additional tips and tools on ways to manage your finances. These services run the gamut of offerings: You can speak to a Truebill team member through a chat feature, or the app will help you balance your checking account. For a full list of these services, head to the Truebill website.
Is Truebill a good idea?
Truebill does require access to your bank, credit cards, and, of course, your accounts with the companies who bill you. Any time an app asks for you that kind of information, you are wise to take a moment to think it through. But Truebill does go the extra mile when it comes to cybersecurity and provides SSL and encryption to protect your account.
Would Truebill work for me?
Most people have a lot of bills. In light of the recent events sparked by the coronavirus, more and more people are trying to find ways to save. This app can help you do that. But when it comes to your finances, you always need to be an active participant.
No app will be successful without your involvement. In other words, don’t put all your bills in the app, sit back, and not check your bank account for six months. Be diligent about your money.
Will I save money?
A recent study showed that 84% of Americans underestimate their monthly spending on subscription services. Using an app that tracks that monthly spending will go a long way in showing you where you can save, and which services you can cut altogether.
If you are paying for Netflix every month when you haven’t even watched one show since the summer of 2019, it’s a good idea to say goodbye – and the Truebill app will show you just how much you can save.
Now, more than ever, people are looking for ways to trim their budget. The Truebill app can’t replace the hours lost at your job, but it can show you what you actually spend, and guide you on the best ways to spend a little less.
How deferred payments can help you through a financial crisis
Right now, many people have been unwillingly thrust into difficult financial situations. It leaves some wondering how they’ll continue making payments on their cars, credit cards, or other loans they may have. As a way to relieve some financial burden, you could apply to temporarily defer your payments. We’ve broken down the ins and outs of suspending a payment to help you weigh your options.
What is a deferred payment?
Deferred payments, sometimes called payment holidays, allow you to temporarily delay or suspend payments on a loan—generally a consumer loan. If you’re experiencing financial hardship, deferring a payment could be beneficial, as it temporarily halts the burden of making repayments. It could impact you in the long run—you may end up with higher monthly payments, and your loan’s term will increase. But, it’s better than accumulating multiple missed payments and late fees.
How does a deferred payment work?
To start, you’ll need to fill out an application with your lender. Once your application is approved, you can suspend your qualifying payment, without worrying about late fees. You must continue making payments until you have verification of your application’s approval. When your deferred payment period ends, you’ll resume your regular payments.
Does a deferred payment affect your credit?
The short answer—no, a deferred payment generally does not affect your credit score. When your application is approved, your lender reports to the credit bureau that your payments are deferred. But, if you stop making payments or miss a payment due date before you’re approved, those missed payments could damage your credit. If you missed payments before you applied for a payment holiday, those won’t be removed from your credit history, either.
Are you still charged interest on deferred payments?
You may be responsible for interest that accrues while your payment is postponed. You could potentially receive a break if your interest rate only applies to your principal balance—which means you won’t be charged interest on the interest that accrues. However, once you restart payments, the interest that accrued during your payment holiday could be added to your principal balance, and your interest rate would then be applied to the new, larger principal balance—meaning even more interest could accumulate once you resume your regular payments. This all depends on your loan type and lender, so it’s best to confirm with them.
What alternatives are there?
If you ultimately decide you don’t want to defer your payments, there are other options available if you need financial support. Depending on the loan type, you could consider refinancing. Your new loan could potentially have a longer term or lower interest rates, leading to lower monthly payments. You may also consider a debt consolidation loan. Check with your lender to discuss potential alternatives.
If you require financial assistance because of COVID-19, click here to see how Georgia’s Own is helping members during this time of need.
How Will the Coronavirus Stimulus Package Help Your Family
Odds are you’ve heard about the Coronavirus Stimulus Package, but what does it mean for you and your family? We have you covered, and in this post we’ll take a look at what was passed and how it will affect you.
What is the Coronvirus Stimulus Package?
With so many people out of work because of businesses closing, and others unable to work due to illness, thousands of people are trying to navigate life without a steady income. Last week, the federal government voted to pass a bill that would allow the government to send checks or direct deposits to every eligible American citizen. There are also other benefits listed in the bill.
How much money do I get?
If you have a social security number, you are likely eligible to receive this payment. However, the amount you get will depend on the income reported on your 2018 taxes, or your 2019 taxes if you have already filed.
For those making up to $75,000 per year, which is the majority of Americans, you will receive $1200 per adult in the household, and an additional $500 per child that you claimed as a dependent. For those who make more than $75,000 annually, your amount will be adjusted – to determine just how much money you can expect, go to this calculator and fill out the information requested.
When will I receive the money?
The government is already working on processing and sending out the funds. If you are receiving a refund on your taxes and have chosen the direct deposit option, you will receive your stimulus funds the same way. Otherwise, you will receive a check in the mail. Either way, you can expect to see the money arrive within three weeks, and likely sooner if you are receiving it via direct deposit.
What if I work part-time, as a contracted employee, or as a gig worker?
Good news – you are still eligible. It’s important to remember that the goal of this stimulus plan is to boost the economy. That means that the more people who receive the checks, the more opportunities to increase the tax base, support local stores, and get the financial atmosphere back on track.
It’s important to note that college students will not receive any funds if they are claimed as a dependent by their parents. Veterans, those who receive Social Security and disability benefits, and Americans living abroad are all eligible.
What if I just lost my job or am unemployed for other reasons?
If you receive unemployment, or plan to apply for it as the result of a lost job, the bill passed by Congress allows you to not only receive a stimulus check, but you will also receive an additional $600 per week to help you replace the income you lost.
The additional $600 is slated to be paid weekly over four months, ending July 31st. The amount of funds provided by your individual state for unemployment will vary from state to state, so contact your local unemployment office for information about those funds.
What else should I know?
This information may seem overwhelming, but it is a good thing – the bill also provides for emergency aid for businesses, additional funds for healthcare and welfare, and provides aid for education and transportation systems. In short, this is not an ideal situation for anyone, but help is on the way.
In the meantime, we encourage everyone to take time to educate themselves on what the bill means for them and how it can change their future for the good. As always, we are here for you. To see how we’re helping members and the community during this time of need, please click here.