7 Money Steps to Take Before 2021

With the end of the year rapidly approaching, it’s a good time to take stock of your financial situation as you head into 2021. 2020 has been a strange year, and a difficult year for many people. With many people’s health and/or economic livelihoods affected by COVID-19, many people’s situation looks very different than it did back in January. As we head into a new year, here are a few things that you can do to improve your finances before the end of 2020.

#1 Put at least $1000 into an emergency fund

If you don’t have an emergency fund set up to handle unexpected expenses, that is a good first step to putting yourself on a solid financial footing. $1000 may not be enough to handle every possible thing that could go wrong, but it can be enough to handle your car breaking down or an unexpected home expense. If you don’t have at least a minimal emergency fund in place, make a plan for how you can start one before the end of the year.

#2 Fully fund your retirement accounts

401k, IRAs, and other retirement accounts have an annual contribution limit that caps the amount that you’re able to contribute each year. Before the end of the year, set aside some time to go through each of your accounts that have an annual contribution limit. Decide for which of those accounts it makes sense to fund before the end of the year.

#3 Consider donating to charity

With the increased standard deduction available in recent tax years, not as many people itemize their deductions. But if you do itemize your deductions, then remember that your charitable contribution may be tax-deductible. If you make that charitable contribution before the end of the year, you may be able to deduct it in this tax year — otherwise, you’ll have to wait an entire year before you’re able to deduct it.

READ MORE: 5 Best Credit Cards When You Make Charitable Donations

If you’ve already made charitable contributions in 2020, make sure that you have them documented and ready to include on your tax return.

#4 Make sure you have a financial security plan in place

Still, using the same username and password on every internet site? It may be time to get a financial security plan in place. With data breaches always a possibility now’s as good a time as any to take some steps to minimize your risk in case of a data breach or a hacker accessing your financial information. One thing that you can do before the end of the year is to set up a password manager to put some variety into your passwords. Another thing is to set up two-factor authentication (2FA) on your important financial accounts.

#5 Review your credit report

Each year you are entitled to a free three-bureau credit report once a year from annualcreditreport.com, and the end of the year can be a good time to do that. If you already have a Mint account, you have access to your credit score at any time, but reviewing your actual credit report can make a big difference to your credit report. Between 10 and 21 percent of people have errors on their credit report, and clearing up incorrect or inaccurate information can raise your credit score.

#6 Use up any money in your FSA

Flexible spending accounts can be a great way to save money on health expenses. An FSA is typically set up through your employer and allows you to make pre-tax contributions. Any money that you contribute to your FSA is not subject to tax, and you can use that money to get reimbursed for many different types of health expenses. The only downside is that most FSA plans are use-it or lose-it plans. So any money that is left in the FSA at the end of the year is forfeited. Check the details of your plan, and make sure that you use all the money in your FSA before the end of the year.

#7 Set your financial goals for 2021

Finally, the end of the year can be a great time to set up your financial goals for 2021. You don’t have to wait until January to start up a new resolution. Meet and talk with your spouse, family, or trusted friends and advisors. Decide where you want to be in one year, in five years and beyond, and start taking the steps to get yourself there.

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Source: mint.intuit.com

Financial Lessons Learned During the Pandemic

2020 has shaped all of us in some way or another financially. Whether it is being reminded of the importance of living within our means or saving for a rainy day, these positive financial habits and lessons are timeless and ones we can take into the new year. 

While everyone is on a very unique financial journey, we can still learn from each other. As we wrap up this year, it’s important to reflect on some of these positive financial habits and lessons and take the ones we need into 2021. Here are some of the top financial lessons:

Living Within Your Means

It’s been said for years, centuries even, that one should live within one’s means. Well, I think a lot of people were reminded of this financial principle given the year we’ve had. Living within your means is another way of saying don’t spend more than you earn. I would take it one step further to say, set up your financial budget so you pay yourself first. Then only spend what is leftover on all the fun or variable items.

Setting up your budget in the Mint app or updating your budget in Mint to reflect the changes in your income or expenses is a great activity to do before the year ends. Follow the 50/20/30 rule of thumb and ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you spending more than you earn?
  • Are there fixed bills you can reduce so you can save more for your financial goals? 
  • Can you reduce your variable spending and save that money instead?

The idea is to find a balance that allows you to pay for your fixed bills, save automatically every month and then only spend what is left over. If you don’t have the money, then you cannot use debt to buy something. This is a great way to get back in touch with reality and also appreciate your money more. 

Have a Cash Cushion

Having a cash cushion gives you peace of mind since you know that if anything unexpected comes up, which of course always happens in life, you have money that is easy to liquidate to pay for it versus paying it with debt or taking from long-term investments. Having an adequate cash cushion this year offered some people a huge sigh of relief when they lost their job or perhaps had reduced income for a few months. With a cash cushion or rainy day fund, they were still able to cover their bills with their savings.

Many people are making it their 2021 goal to build, replenish, or maintain their cash cushion.  Typically, you want a cash cushion of about 3- 6 months of your core expenses. Your cash cushion is usually held in a high-yield saving account that you can access immediately if needed. However, you want to think of it almost as out of sight out of mind so it’s really there for bigger emergencies or opportunities that come up.

Asset Allocation 

Having the right asset allocation and understanding your risk tolerance and timeframe of your investments is always important. With a lot of uncertainty and volatility in the stock market this year, more and more people are paying attention to their portfolio allocation and learning what that really means when it comes to risk and returns. Learning more about which investments you actually hold within your 401(k) or IRA is always important. I think the lesson this year reminded everybody that it’s your money and it’s up to you to know.

Even if you have an investment manager helping you, you still need to understand how your portfolio is allocated and what that means in terms of risk and what you can expect in portfolio volatility (ups and downs) versus the overall stock market. A lot of people watch the news and hear the stock market is going up or down, but fail to realize that may not be how your portfolio is actually performing. So get clear. Make sure that your portfolio matches your long term goal of retirement and risk tolerance and don’t make any irrational short term decisions with your long-term money based on the stock market volatility or what the news and media are showcasing.

Right Insurance Coverage

We have all been reminded of the importance of health this year. Our own health and the health of our loved ones should be a top priority. It’s also an extremely important part of financial success over time. It is said, insurance is the glue that can hold everything together in your financial life if something catastrophic happens. Insurances such as health, auto, home, disability, life, long-term care, business, etc. are really important but having the right insurance policy and coverage in place for each is the most important part.

Take time and review all the insurance coverage you have and make sure it is up to date and still accurate given your life circumstances and wishes. Sometimes you may have a life insurance policy in place for years but fail to realize there is now a better product in the marketplace with more coverage or better terms. With any insurance, it is wise to never cancel a policy before you a full review and new policy to replace it already in place. The last thing you want is to be uninsured. Make sure you also have an adequate estate plan whether it’s a trust or will that showcases your wishes very clearly. This way, you can communicate that with your trust/will executor’s, beneficiaries, family members, etc. so they are clear on everything as well. 

Financial lessons will always be there. Year after year, life throws us challenges and successes to remind us of what is most important. Take time, reflect, and get a game plan in place for 2021 that takes everything you have learned up until now into account. This will help you set the tone for an abundant and thriving new financial year. 

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Source: mint.intuit.com

How a CFP Celebrates Her Money Wins

People may often imagine that when they reach their milestones, there will be fireworks and party buses along with a huge celebration. And while sometimes there are, most wins are simply small steps you take every day until one day you wake up where you visualized you would be. That is why it is important to celebrate it all — the ups, the downs, the wins, the steps forward, and sometimes even backward. Without awareness and reflection, you might miss out on celebrating how much progress you have made in your financial life. By acknowledging even the so-called small things, you can keep the momentum alive and feel good about yourself.

Here are some ways I celebrate my money wins, no matter how big or small:

Tell my family and friends.

By sharing my money wins and even challenges with my closest friends and family, it opens me up to receive the love and support that is needed to sustain the financial journey. I think because money is still a topic most do not feel comfortable talking about, getting vulnerable with close family and friends allows them to do so with me in return. That kind of give and receive is part of living an open, abundant life. If you’re comfortable, you can even share on social media about your wins, which could inspire others. Sharing your money goals and personal finance journey also helps you stay out of the “I am all alone” mindset, which is not true and can actually hold you back from receiving more in your financial life.

Pause and feel proud of myself.

There are so many specific times in my life where I felt my money wins viscerally and just paused to take a moment to feel proud of myself for doing it. Whether it was saving a certain amount of money, negotiating a specific compensation package, or changing a mindset pattern holding me back from living abundantly, I can recall the memories specifically and feel great about them and myself. I remember years ago when I sold my first business and received the payment in my bank account, I felt amazing to know that I actually did it. I had finally reached my financial goal. It was just a regular workday and I was alone doing my weekly money date. And I distinctly remember feeling all the excitement and joy knowing I had accomplished something I worked on for years. The irony is when we reach our financial goals such as buying a home, paying off our student debts, or reaching our cash cushion goal, there aren’t actually big fireworks. Instead, you feel a deep understanding within yourself that you finally reached a goal you may have been striving toward for years.

Remember I can keep doing what it takes.

When celebrating my money wins, it also reminds me that I have the power to do and create what I want in life. By using my real-life experiences of achieving something I have worked for, I am reminded that I can continue doing so to achieve whatever next financial goal I have. When I reached my cash cushion goal years ago, I remembered that I have the power to keep creating my financial life as I desire and have the discipline to save for my goals. These reminders are key because no matter where we start financially, we all have the power to create our lives as we want, and choose how we show up, behave, think and act with our money. We are not victims. When I feel that and know that in my being, I feel anything is possible and am able to stay in the positive, “I can,” mindset.

Buy something memorable to acknowledge my hard work and effort.

This does not always have to be something major but can even be something that you have been wanting for a significant amount of time. When I reached my own financial goal last year of making a certain amount of business revenue for the year, I decided with one of my larger incoming checks to my business, I would take a portion and buy myself a designer handbag I had wanted for a few years. It was a gift to myself that I could enjoy and remember my hard work to achieve it. But you don’t always have to spend a lot. I also treat myself to smaller things like a massage or treating my family or friends out to a nice dinner. I just try to take time to celebrate by enjoying something nice whether it is a material item or a nice experience with my loved ones.

Journaling my accomplishments.

Every year, I take time to reflect on my total accomplishments for the year by journaling them out. This activity is solely for me to remember all I have achieved and to feel good about my accomplishments. By reflecting, I am able to connect to the positive aspects and blessings in my life to acknowledge how incredible I am. We tend to focus on what we are lacking or what we are not. By doing this activity, you are shifting your mindset and balancing the scales in a sense.

It’s common to look internally and criticize ourselves. Our mind jumps to comparing, thinking, “I don’t have this or that or I didn’t do this or that” or even feeling like a failure. With that mindset, you can get stuck only focusing on what you are not and have not, instead of embracing all that you are and all that you have. Having an attitude of gratitude goes a long way, especially with money. So take time to celebrate and feel grateful for what you have and all that you have accomplished. I truly believe this will also help you continue to attract more in your life.

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Source: mint.intuit.com

Secured vs. Unsecured Loans: Here’s the Difference

Whether you’re trying to buy a home or looking to get a college degree, you may need to take out a loan to finance your goals. If you’re seeking out your first loan, know that borrowing money is a common practice and you don’t need a degree in economics to understand it! Learning more about loans and the different types can help you make informed decisions and take control of your finances.

Loans take many forms but they all fall within two common categories: secured vs. unsecured loans. Whether you’re approved for either type of loan depends on your creditworthiness. Creditworthiness refers to how responsible you are at repaying debt and if it’s worthwhile or risky to grant you new credit. It’s helpful to be aware of your credit prior to seeking out a loan so you know where you stand.

Now that you’re familiar with the role creditworthiness plays in getting a loan, let’s discuss the differences between secured and unsecured loans, the advantages and disadvantages of each, and which one may be right for you.

What’s the Difference Between Secured vs. Unsecured Loans?

What’s the Difference Between Secured vs. Unsecured Loans?

The main difference between secured and unsecured loans is how they use collateral. Collateral is when something of economic value is used as security for a debt, in the event that the debt is not repaid. Usually collateral comes in the form of material property, such as a car, house, or other real estate. If the debt is not repaid, the collateral is seized and sold to repay all or a portion of the debt.

Key Difference: A secured loan requires collateral, while an unsecured loan doesn’t require collateral.

What Is a Secured Loan?

A secured loan requires collateral as security in case you fail to repay your debt. If secured debt is not repaid, the collateral is taken. In addition to seizing collateral, lenders can start debt collection, file negative credit information on your report, and sue you for outstanding debt. This generally makes secured loans more risky for the borrower.

Conversely, collateral decreases the risk for lenders, especially when loaning money to those with little to no credit history or low creditworthiness. Less risk means that lenders may offer some leeway regarding interest rates and borrowing limits. See the list below to review other typical secured loan characteristics.

Characteristics of a Secured Loan:

For borrowers:

  • Presence of collateral
  • Typically more risky
  • May require a down payment
  • May sell property to repay loan
  • Generally lower interest rates
  • Longer repayment period
  • Higher borrowing limits
  • Easier to obtain for those with poor or little credit history

For lenders:

  • Typically less risky
  • Lender can take your collateral
  • Lender can hold the title to your property until loan is repaid

Secured Loan Examples

The most common uses of a secured loan are to finance large purchases such as a mortgage. Usually, these loans can only be used for a specific, intended purchase like a house, car, or boat. A home equity loan is another example of a secure loan. Some loans like business loans or debt consolidation can be secured or unsecured.

Secured Loan Examples

What Is an Unsecured Loan?

An unsecured loan doesn’t require collateral to secure the amount borrowed. This type of loan is granted based on creditworthiness and income. High creditworthiness makes an unsecured loan more accessible.

The absence of collateral makes this type of loan less risky for borrowers and much riskier for lenders. If unsecured debt is not repaid, the lender cannot seize property automatically. They must engage in debt collection, report negative credit information, or sue. As a result of the increased risk, unsecured loans have characteristics that attempt to reduce the risk. These may include higher interest rates or lower borrowing limits, and you can see more in the list below.

Characteristics of an Unsecured Loan:

For borrower:

  • No collateral required
  • Typically less risky
  • Qualify based on credit and income
  • Stricter conditions to qualify
  • Generally higher interest rates
  • Lower borrowing limits

For lender:

  • Typically more risky
  • Lender can’t take property right away if you default

Unsecured Loan Examples

Common unsecured loans include credit cards, personal loans, student loans, and medical debt. Debt consolidation and business loans can also be unsecured. In each of these instances, collateral is not required and you are trusted to repay your unsecured debt.

Unsecured Loan Examples

Advantages and Disadvantages to Consider

When it comes to deciding on the type of loan you need, it’s important to consider the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Secured Loans

Secured loans present advantages for repayment, interest, and borrowing amount, but have disadvantages regarding a borrower’s risk and limitations of use.

Advantages

  1. Bigger borrowing limits
  2. Less risk for lenders usually means lower interest rates for borrowers
  3. Longer repayment period
  4. Available tax deductions for interest paid on certain loans (e.g., a mortgage)

Disadvantages

  1. Risky for borrower (potential for loss of collateral like home, car, stocks, or bonds)
  2. Specifically for intended purpose (e.g., a home, but home equity loans are an exception)

Unsecured Loans

Unsecured loans can be advantageous for borrowers regarding risk and time, but they pose a disadvantage when it comes to interest rates and stricter qualifications.

Advantages

  1. Less risky for borrower
  2. Useful loan if you don’t own property to use as collateral
  3. Quicker application process than for a secured loan (e.g., a credit card)

Disadvantages

  1. More risky for lenders usually means higher interest rates for borrowers
  2. Hard to qualify for if you have low creditworthiness or inconsistent income (can qualify with a cosigner)

Take a look at the chart below to compare the key advantages and disadvantages between secured and unsecured loans.

Secured Loans

Unsecured Loans

Advantages

• Lower interest rates
• Higher borrowing limits
• Easier to qualify
• No risk of losing collateral
• Less risky for borrower

Disadvantages

• Risk losing collateral
• More risky for borrower
• Higher interest rates
• Lower borrowing limits
• Harder to qualify

Which Loan Type Is Best for You?

After considering the advantages and disadvantages of both loan types, it’s helpful to know which one is the best for certain circumstances. Here are some common contexts in which one may be better than the other.

  • A secured loan may be best if you’re trying to make a large property purchase or don’t have the best credit. The piece of property that you are purchasing can be used as collateral if you don’t already own other property. Additionally, this loan is more accessible for you if you have low creditworthiness and may be more advantageous with lower interest rates.
  • An unsecured loan may be best if you have high creditworthiness and a steady income. High creditworthiness helps you meet strict qualification criteria and can also help you obtain better interest rates (given that this type is characterized by higher interest).

Overall, secured and unsecured loans are each useful in different situations. Remember that the key difference is that unsecured loans don’t need collateral, while secured loans do. Secured loans are less risky for the lender and may allow for some advantageous repayment conditions. On the other hand, unsecured loans are risky for the lender, and they often come with stricter conditions that try to lessen that risk.

It is important to make smart financial decisions such as repaying debt on time and maintaining a good credit history. High creditworthiness is the key to getting the best conditions on any loan. No matter your circumstances, identifying which loan type is best for you depends on your specific credit and goals. Visit our loan center for help in deciding which loan is right for you.

Sources: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

 

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Source: mint.intuit.com