Mutual CU Receives Honor from MS Business Journal on Thursday, June 24, 2021
(Vicksburg, MS): We are thrilled to announce that we were recently selected by the Mississippi Business Journal as a finalist in the “2021 Best Places to Work in Mississippi” annual program. In a ceremony held on Thursday, June 24, 2021, in Jackson, MS members and staff of Mutual Credit Union were on hand to receive the plaque honoring this distinction. Michael Mathews, President of Mutual Credit Union had this to say to staff after receiving the award, “We are a great company because of you and what you do to make us a great company each and every day. Thank you for making Mutual “the” best place to work in Mississippi!”
Mutual Credit Union continues to be a multi-branch financial institution offering world-class products and services in the following counties: Warren, Hinds, Yazoo, Issaquena, Sharkey, Claiborne, and Copiah counties with an expanded presence now in Lowndes County, MS and Pickens County, Alabama. This year, 2021, we celebrate 90 years of serving our members and our communities. Although Mutual CU might look a little different now than it did in 1931, we remain your credit union focused on ‘people helping people.’ We continue to look to the future and to securing the economic prosperity of our members.
For more information about Mutual Credit Union, please follow this link to our webpage. For additional questions, please contact the marketing department at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (601) 636-7523 ext. 1226.
Re-acclimating to normal life as pandemic restrictions are lifted and businesses reopen across the country will mean more than just getting used to wearing real pants again and working without your cat on your lap. You’ll also need to consider your finances. How has your overall money management changed during the pandemic? Have you dipped into your savings? Have you been letting your retirement accounts slide? Or, maybe you’ve been waiting for the chance to hit your favorite retailers again, and you can’t wait to splurge after a 15-month financial fast.
As you prepare to leap back into normal life, proceed with caution. Be sure to consider your full financial picture as well as long-term and short-term goals.
Here are some forward-thinking money moves to make as you adjust to post-pandemic life.
Review and adjust your budget
Pandemic times required their own budget, as people cut down on costs like dining out and updating work wardrobes, but spent more on things like at-home entertainment. Others may have had to adjust their spending to fit a changed income level or to help them coast during a stint of unemployment. The pandemic may have also shifted something in some people’s mental list of needs and wants, as they found they can live with a lot less than they’d believed.
As you adjust to post-pandemic life, take some time out to review and tweak your monthly budget. Be sure to incorporate any changes in income, as well as a readjustment to pre-pandemic spending or changed priorities. You may need to review and adjust your budget, and maybe even your spending behaviors, every few months until you find a working balance.
Rebuild your savings
If you are one of the many Americans who were forced to dip into savings, or even to empty them completely, during the pandemic, create a plan to get your savings back on track. Tighten up your spending in one area until you’ve built up an emergency fund that can keep you going for 3-6 months without an income, or use a windfall, such as a work bonus or tax refund, to get the bulk of your emergency fund in place.
Once your emergency fund is up and running again, continue to practice basic saving habits, such as setting aside 20% of your monthly income for savings, or whichever approach you prefer. If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that it’s always best to be prepared, because you never know what can happen.
Rethink your long-term and short-term financial goals
The pandemic has prompted many people to reevaluate their goals. Retiring before you hit 50 or spending a month in Europe next summer may not be as important to you as you’d originally believed; or it may be even more important now. Similarly, you may realize your family has outgrown its living space and that moving to a new home is your number one financial priority. Or maybe you’ve decided you can live without a second car.
Take some time to rethink your long-term and short-term financial goals and adjust your savings and budget accordingly.
As you move through this step, be sure to consider any long-term goals you may have put on hold during the pandemic. Have you stalled your contributions to your retirement accounts or toward your child’s college tuition fund? Have you been making only the minimum payments on your credit cards? If any of these apply to you, be sure to revert your savings and debt payments back to pre-pandemic levels as soon as you can.
Spend with caution
It’s perfectly fine to enjoy a shopping spree in celebration of a return to pre-pandemic norms, but it’s best to spend with caution.
First, prepare to encounter inflated prices wherever you go. Gas prices have jumped recently, and costs of many consumer goods have spiked as well. If you planned to purchase a big-ticket item like a new car or tickets for a cruise, consider waiting it out a bit until prices cool off.
Also, you may be eager to make up for lost time, but no amount of nights out on the town will bring back the months you spent at home. Similarly, overbuying for this fashion season won’t bring back the seasons you spent at home in a hoodie and sweatpants. To avoid irrational overspending, set up a budget before you hit the shops and only spend what you’ve planned.
The restaurants and movie theaters are open for business again, and mask mandates are dropping all over the country. As life returns to pre-pandemic norms, be sure to consider the state of your finances and to make responsible, forward-thinking money moves like those listed here.
Your Turn: What post-pandemic money moves will you be making now? Tell us about it in the comments.
The Child Tax Credit, a part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 that takes effect in July, is already drawing the attention of scammers. The newly expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC) will provide monthly payments of up to $300 per child for approximately 40 million households across the country. Payments will be issued via direct deposit, paper check, or debit cards, providing a plethora of opportunities for scammers to get in on the action.
Here’s what you need to know about Child Tax Credit scams and how to avoid them.
How the scams play out
There are several variations of the Child Tax Credit scam, each ultimately designed to trick parents and guardians out of their rightful CTC funds.
In one variation of the scam, victims receive phone calls, emails or social media messages appearing to be from the IRS and asking them to authenticate their personal details or share sensitive information in order to receive their CTC funds. In lieu of pretending to represent the IRS, the scammer may also claim to be in the position of “helping” the victim receive their funds. Unfortunately, in either scenario, if the victim follows the instructions of the contact, they will be playing right into the hands of a scammer.
In another variation of the scam, victims land on a spoofed government website where they are prompted to input their personal information. This scam is especially common, as the IRS has announced that it will be launching two web-based portals for families who’d like to update their information for the CTC: one for taxpayers who file annual returns and would like to share their banking details or a change in the number of dependents they have in their household, and one for taxpayers whose income level falls below the threshold for filing returns. While the two separate sites will make the application process smoother for the IRS, they also open the door for more bogus sites to spring up and snag unsuspecting victims in their trap.
What you need to know about the Child Tax Credit
As always, knowledge is your best protection against potential scams. Here’s what you need to know about the CTC and the way the IRS operates:
The IRS does not make unsolicited calls or emails. All official communications from the IRS are sent via standard USPS mail. The IRS will never call, email, text, or DM you asking you to share sensitive information.
You do not need to take any action or share personal information to receive the Child Tax Credit. If you’ve filed taxes in 2020, or even in 2019, and you’re eligible to receive the CTC funds, they will arrive via paper check, debit card or direct deposit without any action on your part. You only need to update information on one of the upcoming IRS portals if you’ve had a change in income, the number of dependents in your household or you’d like to share your banking information with the IRS.
Only the IRS will be issuing the Child Tax Credits. Anyone else claiming to “help” you receive the payments is a scammer.
If you’ve been targeted
As the date of the first advanced CTC approaches, scams are exploding everywhere. If you believe you’ve been targeted by a CTC scam, follow the cardinal rule of personal safety by never sharing sensitive data with an unverified source. Triple-check the URL on any IRS webpage you visit, as these are easily spoofed. Note that all authentic government sites will end in .gov. Finally, report all suspicious activity to the IRS and the FTC immediately.
For additional information on the upcoming Child Tax Credits, to check if you qualify or to update your dependent or banking information, visit the IRS’s CTC webpage directly at IRS.gov.
The advanced Child Tax Credits will help millions of families struggling with the economic fallout of the pandemic, but scammers can ruin it all. Follow the tips outlined above and stay safe!
Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a Child Tax Credit scam? Tell us about it in the comments.
Here are the most important changes to the CTC for 2021:
Families claiming the CTC will receive up to $3,000 per qualifying child between the ages of 6 and 17 at the end of 2021. The credit will include children who turn 17 in 2021.
Families claiming the CTC will receive $3,600 per qualifying child under age 6 at the end of 2021.
The credit for qualifying children is fully refundable. This means taxpayers can benefit from the credit even if they don’t have earned income or don’t owe any income taxes.
Advance payments of up to 50% of the total CTC per family will be distributed once a month, from July 15 through Dec. 15, 2021.
For comparison’s sake, for 2020, the amount of the CTC was up to $2,000 per qualifying child under age 17 at the end of the year. Also, the credit was only refundable by up to $1,400 per child.
Who is eligible for the Child Tax Credits?
Taxpayers who have a primary residence in the U.S., and reside in it for at least half of the year, are eligible to receive the child tax credits.
The payments will begin to be phased out for married taxpayers filing a joint return and earning more than $150,000 a year, for heads of household earning more than $112,500 a year and for all other taxpayers earning more than $75,000 a year. Income eligibility will be based on 2020’s tax return (more on this later).
Do I need to take any action to receive the monthly payments?
Taxpayers need not take any steps to receive the advanced Child Tax Credits. Of course, taxpayers need to file their 2020 taxes, which were due on May 15, 2021. Filing electronically may speed up the receipt of the CTC payments.
How much money will I receive each month through the advanced Child Tax Credits?
The advance payments being sent to qualifying families from July through December will be equal to up to 50% of each family’s total Child Tax Credit. The payments will be based upon the income information found in taxpayers’ 2020 tax returns. If these were not filed yet, the 2019 tax returns will be used to determine each family’s eligibility.
Families eligible for the full CTC will receive half of the total across a six-month time span. This means eligible families will receive a total of $1,800 for children under age 6, or $300 a month per child from July through December, and a total of $1,500 for children ages 6-17, or $250 a month per child from July through December.
How will I receive my monthly payments?
The IRS has announced that payments will be issued in the same way as the three stimulus payments distributed to all eligible taxpayers since the start of the pandemic. If you received your stimulus payments via paper check, you’ll likely receive the CTC payments the same way, and if you received them via direct deposit, expect the same now.
The one caveat here is for those who have not signed up to receive their Economic Impact Payments via direct deposit but have filed their 2020 tax returns electronically. These taxpayers will receive their CTC payments the same way they filed their taxes; either electronically or via direct deposit.
Can I decline the opportunity to receive the advance payments of the 2021 Child Tax Credits?
Eligible taxpayers who do not want advance payments of the 2021 Child Tax Credit can choose not to receive them at this time. The IRS has not yet provided the public with instructions for how to officially decline the advance payments, but has promised to update its website when the instructions become available.
Is it a good idea to decline the advance payments of the 2021 Child Tax Credits?
While it is generally better to receive money owed to you upfront, under certain circumstances it may be better to decline receiving the advanced Child Tax Credits.
If you have reason to believe you will not be eligible for the full CTC amount at the end of 2021, you may end up owing the IRS some or all of the money you received when you file your 2021 taxes. This can happen if your income level rises in 2021, or if you have primary custody of the child(ren) receiving the credit in 2020, but not in 2021. If either of these may apply to you, consider opting out of the advance CTC payments. You won’t miss out on these payments, as you’ll receive whatever is owed to you at the end of 2021.
The advance CTC payments will be a boon for families who are struggling with the financial fallout of the pandemic, but it may not be in every taxpayer’s best interest to accept these payments now. Use our guide to brush up on the details of these payments so you can make an informed decision.
Your Turn: How do you plan to use the advanced Child Tax Credits? Tell us about it in the comments.
Are you constantly dealing with a barrage of junk mail that clogs up your mailbox? Drowning in papers needing sifted through? Are you always afraid to throw out any paper from your financial institution, fearful that you’ll be throwing sensitive material into the trash and making it an easy steal for would-be scammers?
If this sounds familiar, you may benefit from switching to electronic account statements.
Electronic statements (eStatements) or otherwise called Paperless Statements are similar to paper statements, except for the fact that they’re delivered electronically. At the end of each statement period, which is generally monthly for checking accounts and quarterly for basic savings accounts, you’ll receive a notification from the credit union informing you that your statement is ready to view through the online banking portal, app, or by downloading from a secure site. Once you access the eStatement, you’ll find it has all the information you’re used to receiving in your paper statements. You can also access your eStatement by logging into your online banking site or app at any time throughout the month.
Quick, convenient and clutter-free, eStatements are the way of the future. Here are six reasons to consider switching to eStatements.
1. Check your accounts at a glance
With eStatements, there’s no need to wait for your monthly statement to arrive in the mail. Just a few clicks and you get your account statement at any time, from anywhere, using the mobile device of your choice. Some financial institutions also offer members the option of signing up for financial alerts, such as a warning when your account is running low and in danger of being overdrawn. With eStatements, managing your accounts is easy.
2. Clear out the clutter
Why bother with piles of paperwork when you can access your accounts online? It’s neater, cleaner, and helps cut down on the correspondence you have flooding your mailbox. You’ll also save time sorting through papers when you can find your last account cycle balance with just a few quick swipes.
3. Keep your information safer
No matter how careful you are with papers containing sensitive data, there’s always a chance you can miss something and it’ll end up in the wrong hands. It can also be a pain to keep track of every incoming piece of snail mail and to dispose of it properly. With eStatements, you’ll never have to worry about losing a paper that contains confidential banking information, or mistakenly tossing it into the trash where it can be easily accessed by identity thieves.
Some people are wary about sending sensitive information online and are fearful that an eStatement can easily be hacked. However, you can access your account balance online with confidence, knowing that Mutual Credit Union uses several layers of protection to keep your information absolutely safe[, including two-factor authentication, encryption, XXX].
4. Monitor your accounts frequently for fraud
When you have instant access to your accounts throughout the month, it’s a lot easier to check for signs of fraud. Plus, when you spot the fraud sooner, you can take steps to mitigate the damage earlier and have a better chance of a full recovery.
When you choose to receive your monthly account statements electronically, you’ll be doing the environment a favor. Less paper statements means less paper waste and fewer trees getting felled for something that will ultimately be tossed. Go green for the environment with eStatements!
6. Safe and secure storage
Filing cabinets are so last century. With eStatements, you’ll never stress about misplacing your account statements again. Your online banking portal or app acts as a convenient and secure filing cabinet, storing your account statements for you to access as needed.
Ready to make the switch to eStatements? Signing up is easy! Just follow the instructions on our mobile app[, or click on this [link]] to get started. Hello, convenience!
Your Turn: What do you like best about eStatements? Tell us about it in the comments.
Q: All I’m reading and hearing about in financial news lately is about investing in cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin, Ethereum and Dogecoin. Should I invest in cryptocurrency?
A: Investing in cryptocurrency is all the rage, but that doesn’t mean it’s the financially responsible choice for everyone. Let’s take a closer look at cryptocurrency, its volatile nature, and explore the question of whether it’s a good idea to invest in what has been hailed by some as the “money of the future.”
What is cryptocurrency?
Cryptocurrency is digital money people use as investments and for online purchases. The investor exchanges real currency, i.e. dollars, to buy “coins” or “tokens” of a type of cryptocurrency. This digital money can only be used at select retailers and vendors, though that number is constantly growing.
Cryptocurrency is unique because it’s decentralized and is not regulated by any government or institution. Instead, every cryptocurrency transaction is verified through blockchains, a database of complex, unique codes. Cryptocurrency is stored in a digital wallet that can be accessed through a “key” that is another unique code.
What are the most popular cryptocurrencies?
There are approximately 10,000 kinds of cryptocurrencies, but you’ve likely never heard of most of them. Here are the top contenders:
Bitcoin. The first and most valuable cryptocurrency by far, Bitcoin was created in 2009 by an anonymous person who goes by the code name Satoshi Nakamoto. As of this writing on May 24, 2021, one Bitcoin is valued at $37,742, though at its peak in mid-April, it was valued at $63,233.
Ethereum. The second-most popular cryptocurrency is also mineable, which means it allows its users to use computers to solve complicated math problems to verify when other crypto transactions are complete. Miners are paid in Ether coins.
Dogecoin. The crypto that started as a joke back in 2013 has been dominating financial headlines since the start of the year, thanks to its incredible YTD gains (6072.52% at the time of this writing) and frequent tweets by Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, about its future and current value.
Which retailers accept cryptocurrency as payment?
Most people still regard cryptocurrency as an investment in the future, but there are some major retailers that already accept crypto coins as payment. These include Whole Foods, Nordstrom, Etsy, Expedia, PayPal and more. Of course, cryptocurrency can also be used to pay for goods or services provided by any private vendor that values digital money.
Why is cryptocurrency so volatile?
Cryptocurrency’s decentralization also makes it extremely volatile; with no regulation, demand and supply can drive the price of a cryptocurrency through the roof or plummeting to the ground, practically overnight. Recently, viral tweets by billionaire investors, as well as new regulations by the Chinese government, have been dramatically affecting the cryptocurrency market.
Michael Saylor, CEO of MicroStrategy, says that volatility is a good thing. In a recent interview, Saylor told Stansberry Research, “I would much rather have a volatile 300% return than a non-volatile 15% return.”
Saylor explains further: “It’s like a Jedi-mind trick to convince you that you should be afraid of volatility. If volatility is going to return 200% pre-tax a year for 12 years, or for 10 years — and you’re afraid of it — you lost 99.5% of your wealth because you’re afraid of volatility.”
To put this into monetary terms, Bitcoin has increased by 612% from May 2020 to May 2021. A $1,000 investment held for just 12 months would be worth $7,100 if sold in early May 2021. A $1,000 investment made 10 years ago (when each Bitcoin sold for just $3.50) would have bought 285 full Bitcoins, and would have become a whopping $18 million (and then some) if sold at Bitcoin’s peak in mid-April.
Similarly, Dogecoin sold at less than half a cent per share at the end of 2020; a $1,000 investment made in December 2020 and sold at Dogecoin’s peak of $0.69 in the beginning of May, would have netted you $121,052, or a gain of more than 12,000% in just five months. Numbers like these make investors want to get in on the action!
Why did cryptocurrency perform so well this year?
Although the crypto market has recently dipped, the YTD gains are still remarkably high for the following reasons:
The lockdowns of COVID-19 provided investors with time to consider alternative investments, stimulus checks that couldn’t be spent at their favorite retailers and a stock market that showed positive signs after its initial coronavirus crash.
Large corporations, including Tesla, Square, Twitter and MicroStrategy, as well as several billionaires, have shown public interest in cryptocurrencies.
More companies, including PayPal, now accept Bitcoin as a method of payment.
Why you may not want to invest in cryptocurrency
Before you pour your life savings into Bitcoin, Ethereum, Dogecoin or any of the thousands of cryptocurrencies, consider these factors:
Cryptocurrency is inherently unstable. Cryptocurrency has bought major returns for investors over the past year, but it has recently performed bearishly, showing only small pockets of growth over several weeks.
Cryptocurrency is still a big unknown. Though it recently passed its 12th birthday, the crypto market still holds many mysteries. No one even knows who founded Bitcoin!
Cryptocurrency is often targeted by scams. The FTC warns that crypto’s decentralization means the U.S. government has no obligation to step in and help victims of crypto fraud.
Reasons to consider investing in cryptocurrency
With all the risks involved, you may still want to consider investing in Bitcoin, Ethereum, Dogecoin or another digital currency. Here are some reasons that may be driving your decision:
Cryptocurrency provides investors’ portfolios with diversification. A small percentage of your total investments going toward cryptocurrency can be a good idea.
Cryptocurrency has the potential for outstanding long-term performance. The cryptocurrency market has performed incredibly well over the past decade, which makes investors confident that similar gains will be enjoyed by those who put their money in Bitcoin and other digital currencies over the next decade as well.
If you do decide to invest in cryptocurrencies, it’s best not to touch your 401(k) or other long-term saving funds. Invest with caution and only invest what you can afford to lose. It’s also a good idea to wait for one of the frequent dips in the market so you can buy your crypto when they’re at a relatively low price. You can invest through a brokerage platform that sells cryptocurrencies like Robinhood, Coinbase or Binance.
Investing in cryptocurrencies is trending, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for everyone. Consider every factor outlined here carefully, and make an informed decision before putting your money into the digital market.
Your Turn: Have you invested in cryptocurrency? Tell us about it in the comments.
Did you know there were 14.4 million victims of identity theft in 2018? According to Javelin Strategy, each case cost the victim an average of $1,050 – and that’s only the cost in dollars. When an individual’s identity is stolen, the thief wreaks major havoc on the victim’s financial health, which can take months, or even years, to recover from.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent yourself from becoming the next victim. Here is your complete guide to identity theft protection.
1. Monitor your credit
One of the best preventative measures you can take against identity theft is monitoring your credit. You can check your credit score for free on sites like CreditKarma.com and order an annual report once a year from each of the three credit reporting agencies at AnnualCreditreport.com. Check your score for any sudden hits and look through your reports for suspicious activity. It’s also a good idea to review your monthly credit card bills for any charges you don’t remember making.
2. Use multi-factor authentication
When banking online, or using any other service that utilizes sensitive information, always choose multi-factor authentication. If possible, use your thumbprint as one means of identification. Otherwise, use multiple passwords, PINs or personal questions to make it difficult for a hacker to break into your accounts.
3. Use strong unique passwords
Never use identical passwords for multiple accounts. If you do so, you’re making yourself an easier target for identity thieves. Instead, create strong, unique passwords for every account you use. The strongest passwords use a variety of letters, symbols and numbers, and are never mock-ups or replicas of popular phrases or words.
If you find it difficult to remember multiple passwords, consider using a free password service, like LastPass. You’ll only need to remember one master password and the service will safely store the rest.
4. Only use Wi-Fi with a VPN
Did you know you are putting your personal information at risk every time you use the free Wi-Fi at your neighborhood coffee shop (or any other public establishment)? When using public Wi-Fi, always choose a Virtual Private Network (VPN) instead of your default Wi-Fi settings to keep the sensitive information on your device secure.
5. Block robocalls
Lots of identity theft occurs via robocalls in which the scammer impersonates a government official or the representative of a well-known company. Lower the number of robocalls reaching your home by adding your home number to the Federal Trade Commission’s No Call List at donotcall.gov. It’s also a good practice to ignore all calls from unfamiliar numbers, because each engagement encourages the scammers to try again.
6. Upgrade your devices
Whenever possible, upgrade the operating system of your computer, tablet and phone to the latest versions. Upgraded systems will keep you safe from the most recent security breaches and offer you the best protection against viruses and hacks.
7. Shred old documents
While most modern-day identity theft is implemented over the internet or through phone calls, lots of criminals still use old-fashioned means to get the information they need. Dumpster-divers will paw through trashed papers until they hit upon a missive that contains personal information. It’s best to shred all documents containing sensitive information as soon as you don’t need them.
8. Keep personal information personal
Be super-cautious about sharing sensitive data, like your Social Security number and banking PINs, with strangers – and even with friends. It’s also a good idea to use the strongest, most private security settings on your social media accounts to keep hackers out.
9. Invest in identity theft protection
If you’re still nervous about being the next victim of identity theft, you may want to sign up for an identity-theft protection service. They don’t come cheap, but services like LifeLock and IdentityForce will monitor your personal information online and immediately alert you about any suspicious activity.
Identity theft can be an expensive nightmare. Be proactive about protecting your identity and keep your information and your money safe.
Your Turn: Which safety procedures do you follow in order to protect yourself from identity theft? Share them with us in the comments.
(Vicksburg, MS): Mutual Credit Union is excited to announce the successful completion of a merger with Twin States Federal Credit Union located in Columbus, MS, effective February 3, 2021. We are grateful and ecstatic to expand our membership and our Mutual CU team in the Northeast Mississippi area. Michael Mathews, President of Mutual Credit Union stated, “I welcome the members of Twin State FCU, and I am genuinely excited about expanding services in the Columbus, MS market. The Golden Triangle has a reputation for job creation in Mississippi, and we look forward to bringing Mutual CU’s consumer focus to this expansive market.” We’d like to recognize the dedication and commitment of both the Twin States Federal Credit Union team and board of directors, alongside our Mutual Credit Union team and our board of directors, for being instrumental in the successful merger of our two credit unions.
Mutual Credit Union continues to be a multi-branch financial institution offering world-class products and services in the following counties: Warren, Hinds, Yazoo, Issaquena, Sharkey, Claiborne, and Copiah counties with an expanded presence now in Lowndes County, MS and Pickens County, Alabama. Although Mutual might look a little different now than it did in 1931, we remain your credit union focused on ‘people helping people.’ Our continual progress forward will never stop. We will always look to future financial partnerships and to securing the economic prosperity of our members.
For more information about Mutual Credit Union, please follow this link to our webpage. For additional questions, please contact the marketing department at email@example.com or by calling (601) 636-7523 ext. 1226.
Spring is a great time of year to clear your house of accumulated junk and make it sparkle. Why not do the same for your finances? Junk can accumulate there, too. In fact, some of your money matters may need a good wipe down this season. It is especially true this year, when many Americans are still recovering from the financial fallout of COVID-19, or maybe wondering how to use the latest round of stimulus checks. Whatever your current situation, a thorough spring-cleaning for your finances is a responsible move this time of year.
Here are some ways to spring clean your finances:
Sweep out your budget
It’s time to shake out the dust in your budget! Review your monthly spending and find ways to cut back. Have you been overdoing the takeout food this year? Buying up more shoes than you can possibly wear? Pare down your budget until it’s looking neat and trim.
Freshen up your W-4
Tax season is prime time for revisiting the withholdings on your W-4. If you received an especially large refund this year, you may want to adjust the amount you withhold. The IRS’s tax withholding estimator can be a useful tool to help you determine the perfect number.
Deep clean your accounts
If you’ve switched from one bank or credit union to another, you may have dormant accounts that are still open and may be charging you fees. Or, perhaps they’re holding onto money you’ve forgotten you have! And don’t forget about the 401(k) you may have from an old job. Now may be the time to transfer those funds to your current 401(k).
This spring, do a Marie Kondo on your finances and get rid of any accounts you don’t need any longer. A minimalist approach to your finances will make it easier to manage your accounts. It will also give your savings a greater chance at growth, and help you avoid fees for unused accounts.
Toss out your debt
Get ready to kick that debt for good!
If you’ve been stuck on the debt cycle for too long, make this spring the season you create a plan to break free.
First, trim your budget or consider a side hustle for earning some pocket money, designating these extra funds for your debts. Next, choose a popular debt-busting approach, such as the avalanche method, in which you pay off debts in order from highest interest rate to lowest, or the snowball method, where you start with the smallest debt and then move up your list as each is paid off. Once you’ve chosen your approach, maximize payments to the first debt on your list, making sure not to neglect the minimum monthly payments on your other debts. Before you know it, that debt will be gone! Check out our previous article detailing the Avalanche or Snowball method to help you decide which is the best approach for you. Follow this link.
Dust off your saving habits
Have you been remembering to pay yourself first? Get into the habit of maximizing your savings this spring with a tangible financial goal. You can also make savings an itemized line in your budget. This way, you’ll have funds set aside for this purpose, instead of savings only happening if there’s money left over at the end of the month. Finally, automate your savings by setting up a monthly transfer from your checking account to your savings account. Never forget to pay yourself first again!
Make your investments sparkle
Whether you’re an experienced investor or you’re just getting your feet wet, it’s time for a spring cleaning of your investments! Check if your allocation strategy is still serving you well, whether you need to adjust your diversification and if your retirement accounts are on track for your estimated retirement timeline.
Make your stimulus count
Don’t let your stimulus payment and tax refund blow through your checking account. Instead create a spending plan for the funds that includes paying down debt, allocating some of the money for long-term and short-term savings and possibly investing another portion of the payment. Don’t feel guilty about using the rest of your stimulus check to splurge on a purchase or experience you’ve been wanting for a while now. The money is being distributed with the hopes that it will help stimulate the economy, and the best way to do that is to spend — just don’t go overboard.
Spring is the perfect time to give your finances a thorough cleaning. Follow our tips to make your money matters shine!
Your Turn: How are you spring cleaning your finances this season? Share your tips with us in the comments.
Debt is the ultimate killjoy. It can destroy a budget, make long-term financial planning impossible, and shadow every purchase you make with guilt. No one wants to live with that debt burden. But how do you kiss your debt goodbye?
Crawling out from under this mountain won’t be easy, but if you’re ready to realign your priorities and do what it takes, you can shake off debt no matter how large.
Let’s take a look at two popular approaches for paying down debt and explore the pros and cons of each.
The debt snowball method
The snowball approach to getting out of debt was popularized by financial guru Dave Ramsey. It involves focusing on paying off the smallest debt first, and then working on the next-smallest debt until they’re all paid off.
Let’s take a look at how this would work using an example scenario. Say you’ve squeezed an extra $500 out of your budget to channel toward paying down debt and you have the following debts:
$2,500 personal loan at 9.5% interest; minimum payment $50
$10,000 car loan at 3% interest; minimum payment $200
$13,000 credit card debt at 18.99% interest; minimum payment $225
$18,000 student loan at 4.5% interest; minimum payment $300
In this scenario, the snowball method would have you paying just the minimum payment on all debts except for the smallest. On that, you’d put the extra $500 you have toward quickly paying off the personal loan. Once that’s paid off, you’d take the $550 you were paying toward the personal loan and add it to the $200 you’re paying for the car loan. Now you’re paying $750 toward your car loan and you’ll be kicking it in approximately one year. Keep doing this until you’ve kissed all your debts goodbye!
Pros of the debt snowball method
The most significant draw of the debt snowball method is that it works with behavior modification and not with math. The small but quick wins are excellent motivators to keep you going until you’ve worked through all debts.
Like Ramsey says on his site, “Personal finance is 20% head knowledge and 80% behavior.”
It’s not just a nice theory. A study published by Harvard Business Review proved that starting a journey toward a debt-free life with the smallest debt actually does help keep the motivation going until the job is done.
Cons of the debt snowball method
The primary disadvantage of the debt snowball method is its indifference toward interest rates. Paying off the smallest debt first can mean holding onto the debt with the highest interest rate the longest. This translates into paying more in overall interest, sometimes to the tune of several thousands of dollars.
Debt avalanche method
The debt avalanche method takes the opposite approach of the snowball method and advocates for getting rid of the debt with the largest interest rate first and then moving on to the next-highest. This enables the debt-payer to shed heavy interest rates quicker and to put more of their money toward the principal of their loans.
In the scenario above, the debt avalanche method would involve paying down the credit card debt first, followed by the personal loan, student loan and finally the car loan.
Pros of the debt avalanche method
Paying off the debt with the highest interest rate first can save hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of dollars in interest. Some people also like the idea of kicking their most weighty debt sooner. Finally, in most cases, choosing the debt avalanche route will be shorter than the snowball method.
Cons of the debt avalanche method
The debt avalanche requires self-motivation to keep the debt-payer plugging away at the plan despite seeing little progress. It’s harder to feel like you’re getting somewhere when the numbers are barely moving, but for individuals who are sincerely motivated and believe they can stick with the plan until they see results, it can work.
Which method is right for you?
Factors like your personality and lifestyle play a role in determining which of these methods is the best choice for you. If you think you’d need early motivation to keep going, you may want to choose the debt snowball method. Is your chief concern finding an approach that will cost you less time and money? In that case, you might want to go with the avalanche approach.
Before you make your decision, you may want to run your numbers through a debt-paying calculator to see how much interest you’d be paying by using each method and how long each approach will take.
There’s no reason to think you’ll be stuck with one method once you make your choice. You can always switch approaches down the line, or decide early on to get rid of your debt with the largest interest rate first, as per the debt avalanche method, and then work toward paying off the rest in order from smallest to largest, as per the debt snowball method.
Are you ready to tackle your debt? Choose your approach and get started today. A glorious debt-free life awaits!
Your Turn: Have you paid off a large amount of debt? Tell us how you did it in the comments.