Tag: DEBT

Balance Transfer

Chase Slate® Review: Is this Legit? An Introductory $0 Fee Balance Transfer?

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The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Chase Slate Review

Updated January 13, 2017

Chase slateDo you have credit card debt that you can’t afford to pay off? Do you feel depressed watching all of your payment going towards interest? Are you afraid that you will be in debt for the next 30 years? Don’t just sit at home and worry: take action by transferring your debt from a high interest rate to a low interest rate with a balance transfer.

Chase Slate® has a very popular introductory balance transfer offer. You can save with a $0 introductory balance transfer fee, 0% introductory APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers, and $0 annual fee. Plus, receive your Monthly FICO® Score for free.

The savings can be astonishingly high, and you can take years off your debt repayment. But some people worry that the offer is too good to be true. So long as you do the following 3 things, it really is a free balance transfer:

  1. Complete the balance transfer within 60 days of opening the account. Otherwise, you lose the offer and standard balance transfer fees and rates would apply.
  2. Always pay on time. If you are just one day late, you will be charged a hefty late fee. And, if you are 60 days late, you will lose the promotional interest rate.
  3. Only transfer debt from another bank. You can not use this offer to transfer debt from another Chase credit card – and that includes co-brands (like United Airlines and Southwest Airlines credit cards).

The application process is easy, and will only take a few minutes.

Learn more

The interest rates on credit cards are shockingly high, especially those store credit cards that you were tempted with during holiday shopping. Most store cards have interest rates higher than 20%, and here are some examples of particularly expensive cards:

  • Macy’s: 24.5%
  • Wal-Mart: 22.9%
  • Target: 22.9%

Store cards are obscenely expensive, but ordinary credit cards also carry a hefty interest rate. Most people who have a balance on a credit card are paying more than 15% on that debt.

If you wake up one morning with a debt hangover, you shouldn’t think of your high interest rate as a life sentence. Your debt does not need to stay on that high interest rate credit card: you can move it to a lower interest rate with an intro balance transfer. And, one of the best balance transfer credit cards out there is the Chase Slate®.

In this article, we will explain:

  • What is a balance transfer
  • How to qualify for a balance transfer credit card
  • Why Chase Slate® is an almost-perfect introductory balance transfer
  • How to complete a balance transfer with Chase
  • What to do once the balance transfer is complete

If you have any questions about this card, you can always send us an email at info@magnifymoney.com, and we would be happy to help answer any questions you might have. We always respond to emails within 24 hours, and are usually quicker than that.

What is a Balance Transfer

You have probably received many of these offers in your mail: a credit card company offers you a 0% interest rate if you transfer your existing credit card debt from another credit card company to the one offering the 0% deal.

A balance transfer is exactly what it sounds like: you can transfer your debt from Bank A to Bank B. Bank B wants your business, so they will “steal” your debt from their competition by offering a great interest rate for a fixed period of time (the promotional period). Often, a bank will charge a fee for the balance transfer. Given how high interest rates are on store cards and credit cards, the fee usually pays for itself within 3-6 months. If you can pay off your debt in fewer than 6 months, a balance transfer is not worthwhile. However, if it will take you longer than 6 months, you will almost always save money.

Banks want to steal your business from other banks: that is why the offers are only available for debt with another credit card issuer. For example, Chase is happy to take over debt from Citibank, Wells Fargo or Target. But, if you just want to transfer debt from one Chase credit card to another, you will be rejected.

Just think of cable/internet/telephone companies. They regularly give you amazing deals for the first year if you sign up for a bundle. After the year is over, the rate goes up. This is exactly the same idea: banks are competing for your debt.

How to Qualify for a Balance Transfer Credit Card

Banks will only offer balance transfers to people with good or excellent credit. That typically means that you will require:

  • A credit score of 680 or higher (700 preferred)
  • A debt burden (explained below) of less than 50% (40% or lower preferred)
  • Very few, if any, accounts that are currently delinquent

A debt burden is calculated by adding up your monthly fixed expenses and dividing that by your monthly income. The expenses should include: monthly rent or mortgage payment, auto payment, student loan payments and the monthly payment on any other credit cards or loans that appear on your credit bureau.

If your total payments are more than 50%, you will likely be declined. If it is less than 50%, you have a chance. However, banks typically want to see debt burdens below 40% (and you will likely get approved at higher debt burdens only if you have a very high credit score).

Banks do not share their underwriting criteria: instead, they keep them as carefully guarded secrets. Life would be a lot easier if they just told us what they wanted! However, at MagnifyMoney, we have done our best to reverse-engineer the underwriting criteria. If you meet the criteria above but are rejected, please let us know!

If you don’t qualify for a balance transfer, you may want to consider a personal loan. The concept is the same: you can take out a loan and use the proceeds to pay off existing credit card debt. But, unlike the credit card balance transfer market, personal loan companies tend to approve much riskier people. Just make sure the interest rate on your new loan is lower than the interest rate on your credit card before proceeding.

If you want to compare the cost of a balance transfer to the cost of a personal loan, you can do that with our balance transfer and personal loan calculator.

Customize your balance transfer offers with Magnifymoney tool

Why Chase Slate® is Almost Perfect

There are two key features of a balance transfer: the balance transfer fee (charged as a percent of the balance that is transferred, and added to your bill upon completion of the transfer), and the duration of the balance transfer (number of months at the promotional rate).

Chase does not charge a balance transfer fee for the intro offer. It is absolutely free to move your debt from another credit card issuer to Chase and it’s 0% intro APR for 15 months.

So, if you move your debt from your store card and pay it off by month 15, you will not pay a dime to Chase. It will have been completely free. If you do have a balance remaining at the end of the 15 month promotional period, you will not be charged interest retroactively. In other words, the interest that would have been charged during the 15 month promotional period has been waived completely. From month 16, interest would be charged on a go forward basis.

The balance transfer offer is almost perfect. Just be careful of the following:

  • You can only transfer debt from a bank other than Chase. That includes Chase co-branded credit cards, like United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Marriott and others. Because Chase is the #1 credit card issuer in the country, it is possible that some or all of your debt is already with Chase.
  • The go-to interest rate (after month 15) will depend upon your credit score. It will be 15.49% – 24.24% Variable.

Chase has invested in one of the best introductory balance transfer offers out there. If you use the intro offer responsibly, you can have no interest and fees for 15 months. You should take advantage of the offer and reduce your debt as much as possible.

Chase slate

Learn more

If all of your debt is with Chase, you can find plenty of other offers on our balance transfer marketplace. Just input how much debt you have and how much you can pay each month, and we will show you the offers (updated daily) and how much you will save with each transfer. There are plenty of options out there, so there is no reason to ever pay a high interest rate on your debt.

How to Complete a Balance Transfer with Chase

Make sure you complete your balance transfer as soon as you receive your card. The introductory offer is from when you opened the card, not the date you transfer the debt. So, every month you wait is a month of a promotional balance interest wasted.

It is incredibly easy to complete the balance transfer once you receive your credit card. You can always call them. The call center employees typically receive incentives to complete balance transfers, so it is highly likely that they will want to help you.

But, you don’t need to call them. You can complete the balance transfer online. We have put together a step-by-step guide. It should take you fewer than 5 minutes. All you need is the credit card number of the account that you want to pay off.

Warning: it can take up to 2 weeks for the payment from Chase to reach your bank. Make sure you continue to make payments on your old card until you receive confirmation that the old balance is paid off.

What to Do Once the Balance Transfer is Complete

Once you complete the balance transfer, your goal is to pay off your debt as quickly as possible. In a best case scenario, you divide the total balance by 15 months, and make sure you pay that amount each month. That way, you know that you will be debt free by the time the promotional period expires.

During the promotional period, make sure you:

  • Try to avoid spending on the credit card. Remember: the purpose of this 0% is to help you pay off your debt faster, not to get into more debt.
  • Make sure you make your payments on time, every month. If you pay late, you will be charged late fees. If you are 30 days late, it will hurt your credit score. And, at 60 days late, you will lose your 0% interest rate – and could be charged the penalty interest rate

At the end of the promotional period, don’t close the credit card. Closing credit cards can hurt your score, and Chase Slate® does not have an annual fee. So, it is a nice card to keep.

If you have debt sitting at a high interest rate, you should move it now. There is no reason to drown in high interest rate debt, and there is no reason to work hard only to pay interest to the bank.

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Featured

These Women Paid Off $262,000 Worth of Debt Using Accountability Groups

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The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Just a few short years ago, Janet Lombardi of Long Island, N.Y., was mired in debt. Her husband of 25 years was recently sent to prison, and she was left to face their $485,000 mortgage and $60,000 of credit card debt alone.

“Once I realized the astounding levels of debt he had accumulated, I resolved to get solvent, and I did,” Lombardi told MagnifyMoney.

Help came from an unexpected source: an accountability group. Lombardi joined a support group for people struggling with debt called Debtors Anonymous (DA), an offshoot of the well-known support group Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

Using a process similar to the 12-step program made famous by AA, the DA process includes making amends to those wronged and becoming aware of compulsive habits and characteristics that can lead to overspending. People can attend meetings at no cost with the options of face-to-face, online, or phone meetings in several languages.

After joining DA, Lombardi made some big strides in her finances: She sold the home she couldn’t afford, negotiated her credit card debt down from $60,000 to $20,000, and paid it all off over the next two years. She says she now lives solely on cash and enjoys the kind of financial stability she’d never experienced before.

Lombardi

“Having a place to openly discuss feelings around money is enormous,” Lombardi says. “And having partners to help you go over your finances and help you with day-to-day management is super helpful.”

If getting out of debt has been difficult for you, joining an accountability group might be a simple way to get the support you need. Whether you are trying to lose weight, overcome addiction, or fix your finances, those who work in a group setting are more likely to reach their goals, research has shown.

Things like stating a goal and having accountability along with action steps make all the difference in reaching that goal.

In this post, we spoke to Lombardi as well as three other women who have paid off a collective $262,000 worth of debt with the help of debt accountability groups.

3 Reasons Accountability Groups Work

The Group Effect

Studies reveal that those who explicitly state a goal or an attempt to solve a problem are 10 times more likely to reach their goal than those who don’t. In a group setting, there’s no negotiating: You’ve got to be up front about your problems along with your resolve to fix them.

Positive Peer Pressure

Dr. Robert Cialdini, a social psychologist who studies the power of social influence, is noted for observing the effects of positive peer pressure: It helps us make difficult decisions and attempt to one-up our peers (in a good way). In other words, you are more likely to strive toward a goal if you see people similar to you achieving (or going toward) the same goal.

Powerful Problem Solving and Inclusion

Group therapy is common in the world of psychotherapy and can be an effective tool for dealing with the behavioral root of money problems. A group approach to problem solving involves talking, reflection, and listening to people with different backgrounds and viewpoints. Groups can also remove the stigma and loneliness of dealing with a problem like money mismanagement.

Jessica Garbarino, 39, of Wellington, Fla., completed a popular course on money management called Financial Peace University (FPU) in 2010. The class isn’t free, with a fee of $109 to $149 to enroll. FPU was created by debt-free guru, Dave Ramsey. FPU’s course is typically taught at churches, community centers, or schools, but people can also complete the course online. For Garbarino, the group approach of tackling debt helped her pay down $8,000 while in the class and gave her the tools to get rid of another $26,000 worth of debt that same year.

Jessica Garbarino

“It made you feel like you were not alone in your financial journey,” Garbarino says. “We were all able to talk openly and honestly about our current financial situation and encourage each other.”

How to Find a Debt Accountability Group

Debt accountability groups and forums exist all over the internet. Many, like Financial Peace University and Debtors Anonymous, mainly operate as in-person meetings. Some of your favorite financial gurus might have groups you can participate in as well. Look for personal finance authors, bloggers, or experts who discuss money regularly. They may have a debt accountability group or be able to direct you to one they can vouch for. These groups can be offered in a variety of formats: in person, online (Facebook groups, Google Hangouts, webinars, website forums, etc.), or even on group conference calls.

Leslie Walsh, 48, of Sparks, Nev., is a government worker who says she paid off over $28,000 with the help of her accountability group. She found support in an unconventional arena: Facebook. Walsh joined a group started by personal finance blogger Jackie Beck of The Debt Myth. Walsh says she received support and encouragement through the Facebook group, via email, and through a debt repayment app the group’s founder created.

Leslie Walsh
Leslie Walsh

When searching for an accountability group, make sure that it’s is a good fit and that you are comfortable with the way it operates. For example, some groups have rules around confidentiality and want participants to check in regularly. Some groups are more relaxed in terms of updates and accountability. Choose a group approach that works for you and will help you reach your goal of paying off debt.

How to Get the Most Out of an Accountability Group

Rachel Gause, 38, of Richlands, N.C., completed Financial Peace University twice and now teaches the class herself. She believes firmly in the power of a group to fix your finances. After paying off $180,000 in debt as a single mom, she believes coming clean and taking responsibility helps you get the most out of a group setting.

Rachel Gause
Rachel Grause

“[Group members] must acknowledge that they have an issue with managing their personal finances,” says Gause. “People with all types of incomes have issues regardless of race, age, and education level.”

There are many ways to participate and get value out of an accountability group, but the more you put in, the more you’ll get out of it.

Here are some tips that should help:

  • Remain committed to check-in times, assignments, and times to share.
  • Be as transparent as you possibly can but avoid sharing personal details like account numbers, passwords, etc. with group members.
  • Have a plan to share with your group, but be realistic (and open) about your progress.
  • Though group advice will be helpful, remember that debt problems can be financial and legal in nature, so engage professional help when necessary.

The evidence is compelling: An accountability group could help you make strides toward eliminating your debt once and for all. But although accountability groups can be good for people who need an extra nudge toward their financial goals, remember to seek professional help when necessary. Done the right way, group accountability could be just the thing you need to make a dent in your debt.

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Credit Cards, Featured, Pay Down My Debt

Guide to Credit Counseling: 7 Key Questions to Ask

Advertiser Disclosure

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

It’s no secret that financial education is sorely lacking in the U.S. However, this does not mean that you can’t seek financial education from reputable sources. If you have little to no knowledge on the topic of personal finance and are struggling with your finances, then you may consider credit counseling.

Credit counseling can involve a variety of services including educational materials and real-world application to your finances. Credit counselors can help you to set a budget and advise you on how to manage debt and your money in general.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), reputable credit counseling organizations have certified counselors who are trained in consumer credit, money and debt management, and budgeting. Credit counselors will work with you to come up with an individualized plan to address the money issues you are facing.

Seeking credit counseling is typically voluntary but can be required when filing for bankruptcy. In this guide, we’ll answer some key questions you might have about credit counseling and whether it’s right for you.

How Do You Find a Credit Counselor?

Before settling on a credit counseling organization, do your homework to make sure they are not only reputable but will also be the most helpful for your particular financial circumstances. Check with your state’s attorney general and the consumer protection agency present in your state to see if there have been any complaints filed.

When looking for a good credit counseling agency, first ask about what information or educational materials they provide for free. Organizations that charge for information are typically more interested in their bottom line than helping you. Also, ask about the types of services they offer. Limited services can be a red flag. The fewer services they offer, the fewer solutions they may provide you.

You do not want to be pushed into a debt management plan simply because that is their top service. And make sure you understand the organization’s fee system, not only how much services will cost but also how employees are paid. If employees make more based on the number of services you receive, look for another credit counseling organization.

MagnifyMoney has come up with a list of some of the best credit counseling options, which are a great place to start. If you are looking for credit counseling as a pre-bankruptcy measure, the U.S. Trustee Program has a list of approved credit counseling agencies that can provide pre-bankruptcy counseling.

How Much Does Credit Counseling Cost?

Credit counseling can involve both start-up and monthly maintenance costs. The Department of Justice has said that $50 per month is a reasonable fee. Further, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) has suggested that a start-up fee should not exceed $75 and monthly maintenance fees should not be more than $50 per month.

Credit counseling agencies may offer fee waivers or fee reductions, depending on your income levels. Where credit counseling is required, the DOJ requires that if the household income is less than 150% of the poverty line, then the client is entitled to a fee waiver or reduction. While the poverty line varies depending on household size, it ranges from $11,880 for a single person family household to $24,300 for a family of four.

Other regulations, such as when fees can be collected and circumstances that would warrant fee reduction or waiver, may also be set forth by your state.

How Long Does Credit Counseling Last?

While the length of your credit counseling session depends on the complexity of your financial problems, sessions typically last 60 minutes. After the initial session, credit counselors will then follow up to ensure you understand the actions you needed to take and that you have been able to get started on the plan they developed. Another session may be necessary if you see a significant change to your financial situation.

What Do You Accomplish with Credit Counseling?

According to the NFCC, reputable counseling involves three things. First, a review of a client’s current financial situation. You cannot move forward unless you know where you are starting. Second, an analysis of the factors that contributed to the financial situation. You don’t want bad habits to undermine your progress. Lastly, a plan to address the situation without incurring negative amortization of debt. This gives you a place to start in improving your financial situation.

What Is the Difference Between Credit Counseling and Debt Management Programs?

A debt management plan is just one solution a credit counselor may recommend based on your financial situation. Having a debt management plan is not the same as credit counseling.

A debt management plan involves the credit counseling organization acting as an intermediary between you and your creditors. Each month you will deposit an agreed upon amount of money to your credit counseling agency, which will, in turn, apply it to your debts. The credit counseling agency works with your creditors to determine how the amount will be applied each month as well as negotiates interest rates and any fee waivers. It’s important to call your creditors directly to check whether they are open to negotiating interest rates or offering waivers for fees. In some cases, a credit counseling firm may promise to negotiate those things for you but be stonewalled when they discover a creditor isn’t even open to the discussion.

Before agreeing to a debt management plan, make sure you understand any fees associated with the debt management plan and any choices you might be giving up. For example, some debt management plans may have you agree to give up opening up new lines of credit for a specified period of time. Remember that a debt management plan is just one of many solutions a credit counselor may advise you to consider.

How Does Credit Counseling Impact Your Credit Score?

Not directly. While the fact you are in credit counseling may show up on a credit report, that fact does not affect your score. The actions you take as a result of credit counseling can impact your score. For example, if you don’t choose a reputable credit counseling agency, the agency may submit the payment on your behalf late to your creditors, which can damage your credit score. So even though you submitted your payment on time to the credit counseling agency, it is possible that the credit counseling agency will issue a late payment on your behalf. This is why it is important to make sure you use a reputable credit counseling agency.

Who Should Consider Credit Counseling and When?

While credit counseling is sometimes required, like in instances of bankruptcy, you always have an ability to seek credit counseling. Bankruptcy attorney Julie Franklin, based in Boston, Mass., explains, “For bankruptcy purposes, there are two course requirements — a debtor must complete the first credit counseling course prior to filing and obtain a certificate that is filed with the court in their initial bankruptcy petition documents. Post bankruptcy filing, the debtor is required to take a second course, and upon completion, the certificate that is issued must be filed with the court in order for the debtor to obtain an order of discharge.”

Anyone struggling with personal finance should consider credit counseling as a viable option so long as they use a reputable credit counseling agency. Franklin also notes that “the first credit counseling course is a tool for debtors as it compels the individual taking the course to closely examine the household assets, income, liabilities, and spending habits to determine if there’s a way to ‘save’ the debtor from having to file bankruptcy.” If you are considering bankruptcy, you will have to attend some credit counseling anyway, but it could also help you to avoid filing for bankruptcy.

Voluntary credit counseling might not help if you are already being sued to have a debt collected. However, you may be able to negotiate terms with the debt collector that result in a withdrawal of the suit if you agree to enroll in credit counseling and possibly a debt management program. Not all creditors will agree to such terms, but it is possible.

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College Students and Recent Grads, Pay Down My Debt

19 Options to Refinance Student Loans in 2017 – Get Your Lowest Rate

Advertiser Disclosure

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

19 Options to Refinance Student Loans - Get Your Lowest Rate

Updated: January 3, 2017

Are you tired of paying a high interest rate on your student loan debt? You may be looking for ways to refinance your student loans at a lower interest rate, but don’t know where to turn. We have created the most complete list of lenders currently willing to refinance student loan debt.

You should always shop around for the best rate. Don’t worry about the impact on your credit score of applying to multiple lenders: so long as you complete all of your applications within 14 days, it will only count as one inquiry on your credit score. You can see the full list of lenders below, but we recommend you start here, and check rates from the top 4 national lenders offering the lowest interest rates. These 4 lenders also allow you to check your rate without impacting your score (using a soft credit pull), and offer the best rates of 2017:

LenderTransparency ScoreMax TermFixed APRVariable APRMax Loan Amount 
SoFiA+

20


Years

3.38% - 6.74%


Fixed Rate

2.35% - 6.27%


Variable Rate

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
apply-now
earnestA+

20


Years

3.38% - 6.74%


Fixed Rate

2.34% - 6.02%


Variable Rate

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
apply-now
commonbondA+

20


Years

3.37% - 7.74%


Fixed Rate

2.18% - 6.04%


Variable Rate

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
apply-now
lendkeyA+

20


Years

3.25% - 7.26%


Fixed Rate

2.09% - 5.72%


Variable Rate

$125k / $175k


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
apply-now

We have also created:

But before you refinance, read on to see if you are ready to refinance your student loans.

Can I Get Approved?

Loan approval rules vary by lender. However, all of the lenders will want:

  • Proof that you can afford your payments. That means you have a job with income that is sufficient to cover your student loans and all of your other expenses.
  • Proof that you are a responsible borrower, with a demonstrated record of on-time payments. For some lenders, that means that they use the traditional FICO, requiring a good score. For other lenders, they may just have some basic rules, like no missed payments, or a certain number of on-time payments required to prove that you are responsible.

If you are in financial difficulty and can’t afford your monthly payments, a refinance is not the solution. Instead, you should look at options to avoid a default on student loan debt.

This is particularly important if you have Federal loans.

Don’t refinance Federal loans unless you are very comfortable with your ability to repay. Think hard about the chances you won’t be able to make payments for a few months. Once you refinance, you may lose flexible Federal payment options that can help you if you genuinely can’t afford the payments you have today. Check the Federal loan repayment estimator to make sure you see all the Federal options you have right now.

If you can afford your monthly payment, but you have been a sloppy payer, then you will likely need to demonstrate responsibility before applying for a refinance.

But, if you can afford your current monthly payment and have been responsible with those payments, then a refinance could be possible and help you pay the debt off sooner.

Is it worth it? 

Like any form of debt, your goal with a student loan should be to pay as low an interest rate as possible. Other than a mortgage, you will likely never have a debt as large as your student loan.

If you are able to reduce the interest rate by re-financing, then you should consider the transaction. However, make sure you include the following in any decision:

Is there an origination fee?

Many lenders have no fee, which is great news. If there is an origination fee, you need to make sure that it is worth paying. If you plan on paying off your loan very quickly, then you may not want to pay a fee. But, if you are going to be paying your loan for a long time, a fee may be worth paying.

Is the interest rate fixed or variable?

Variable interest rates will almost always be lower than fixed interest rates. But there is a reason: you end up taking all of the interest rate risk. We are currently at all-time low interest rates. So, we know that interest rates will go up, we just don’t know when.

This is a judgment call. Just remember, when rates go up, so do your payments. And, in a higher rate environment, you will not be able to refinance to a better option (because all rates will be going up).

We typically recommend fixing the rate as much as possible, unless you know that you can pay off your debt during a short time period. If you think it will take you 20 years to pay off your loan, you don’t want to bet on the next 20 years of interest rates. But, if you think you will pay it off in five years, you may want to take the bet. Some providers with variable rates will cap them, which can help temper some of the risk.

Places to Consider a Refinance

If you go to other sites they may claim to compare several student loan offers in one step. Just beware that they might only show you deals that pay them a referral fee, so you could miss out on lenders ready to give you better terms. Below is what we believe is the most comprehensive list of current student loan refinancing lenders.

You should take the time to shop around. FICO says there is little to no impact on your credit score for rate shopping as many providers as you’d like in a single shopping period (which can be between 14-30 days, depending upon the version of FICO). So set aside a day and apply to as many as you feel comfortable with to get a sense of who is ready to give you the best terms.

Here are more details on the 5 lenders offering the lowest interest rates:

1. SoFi: Variable Rates from 2.35% and Fixed Rates from 3.38% (with AutoPay)

sofiSoFi (read our full SoFi review) was one of the first lenders to start offering student loan refinancing products. More MagnifyMoney readers have chosen SoFi than any other lender. Although SoFi initially targeted a very select group of universities (it started with Stanford), now almost anyone can apply, including if you graduated from a trade school. The only requirement is that you graduated from a Title IV school. You need to have a degree, a good job and good income in order to  qualify. SoFi wants to be more than just a lender. If you lose your job, SoFi will  help you find a new one. If you need a mortgage for a first home, they are there  to help. And, surprisingly, they also want to get you a date. SoFi is famous for  hosting parties for customers across the country, and creating a dating app to  match borrowers with each other.

Go to site

2. Earnest: Variable Rates from 2.18% and Fixed Rates from 3.38% (with AutoPay) 

EarnestEarnest (read our full Earnest review) offers fixed interest rates starting at 3.38% and variable rates starting at 2.14%. Unlike any of the other lenders, you can switch between fixed and variable rates throughout the life of your loan. You can do that one time every six months until the loan is paid off. That means you can take advantage of the low variable interest rates now, and then lock in a higher fixed rate later. You can choose your own monthly payment, based upon what you can afford (to the penny). Earnest also offers bi-weekly payments and “skip a payment” if you run into difficulty.

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3. CommonBond: Variable Rates from 2.32% and Fixed Rates from 3.37% (with AutoPay)

CommonBondCommonBond (read our full CommonBond review) started out lending exclusively to graduate students. They initially targeted doctors with more than $100,000 of debt. Over time, CommonBond has expanded and now offers student loan refinancing options to graduates of almost any university (graduate and undergraduate). In addition (and we think this is pretty cool), CommonBond will fund the education of someone in need in an emerging market for every loan that closes. So not only will you save money, but someone in need will get access to an education.

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4. LendKey: Variable Rates from 2.09% and Fixed Rates from 3.25% (with AutoPay)

lendkeyLendKey (read our full LendKey review) works with community banks and credit unions across the country. Although you apply with LendKey, your loan will be with a community bank. If you like the idea of working with a credit union or community bank, LendKey could be a great option. Over the past year, LendKey has become increasingly competitive on pricing, and frequently has a better rate than some of the more famous marketplace lenders.

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In addition to the Top 4 (ranked by interest rate), there are many more lenders offering to refinance student loans. Below is a listing of all providers we have found so far. This list includes credit unions that may have limited membership. We will continue to update this list as we find more lenders. This list is ordered alphabetically:

  • Alliant Credit Union: Anyone can join this credit union. Interest rates start as low as 3.75% APR. You can borrow up to $100,000 for up to 25 years.
  • Citizens Bank: Variable interest rates range from 2.37% APR – 8.16% APR and fixed rates range from 4.74% – 8.24%. You can borrow for up to 20 years.
  • College Avenue: If you have a medical degree, you can borrow up to $250,000. Otherwise, you can borrow up to $150,000. Fixed rates range from 4.75% – 7.35% APR. Variable rates range from 2.63% – 5.88% APR.
  • Credit Union Student Choice: If you like credit unions and community banks, we recommend that you start with LendKey. However, if you can’t find a good loan from a LendKey partner, this tool could be helpful. Just check to see if you or an immediate family member belong to one of their featured credit union and you can apply to refinance your loan.
  • DRB Student Loan: DRB offers variable rates ranging from 3.89% – 6.54% APR and fixed rates from 4.50% – 7.45% APR.
  • Eastman Credit Union: Credit union membership is restricted (see eligibility here). Fixed rates start at 6.50% and go up to 8% APR.
  • Education Success Loans: This company has a unique pricing structure: your interest rate is fixed and then becomes variable thereafter. You can fix the rate at 4.99% APR for the first year, and it is then becomes variable. The longest you can fix the rate is 10 years at 7.99%, and it is then variable thereafter. Given this pricing, you would probably get a better deal elsewhere.
  • EdVest: This company is the non-profit student loan program of the state of New Hampshire which has become available more broadly. Rates are very competitive, ranging from 3.94% – 7.54% (fixed) and 2.56% – 6.16% APR (variable).
  • First Republic Eagle Gold. The interest rates are great, but this option is not for everyone. Fixed rates range from 2.25% – 4.10% APR. Variable rates range from 2.43% – 4.23%. You need to visit a branch and open a checking account (which has a $3,500 minimum balance to avoid fees). Branches are located in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Newport Beach, San Diego, Portland (Oregon), Boston, Palm Beach (Florida), Greenwich or New York City. Loans must be $60,000 – $300,000. First Republic wants to recruit their future high net worth clients with this product.
  • IHelp: This service will find a community bank. Unfortunately, these community banks don’t have the best interest rates. Fixed rates range from 4.75% to 9% APR (for loans up to 15 years). If you want to get a loan from a community bank or credit union, we recommend trying LendKey instead.
  • Navy Federal Credit Union: This credit union offers limited membership. For men and women who serve, the credit union can offer excellent rates and specialized underwriting. Variable interest rates start at 3.13% and fixed rates start at 4.00%.
  • Purefy: Only fixed interest rates are available, with rates ranging from 3.50% – 7.28% APR. You can borrow up to $150,000 for up to 15 years.
  • RISLA: Just like New Hampshire, the state of Rhode Island wants to help you save. You can get fixed rates starting as low as 3.49%. And you do not need to have lived or studied in Rhode Island to benefit.
  • UW Credit Union: This credit union has limited membership (you can find out who can join here, but you had better be in Wisconsin). You can borrow from $5,000 to $60,000 and rates start as low as 2.49% (variable) and 4.04% APR (fixed).
  • Wells Fargo: As a traditional lender, Wells Fargo will look at credit score and debt burden. They offer both fixed and variable loans, with variable rates starting at 3.99% and fixed rates starting at 6.24%. You would likely get much lower interest rates from some of the new Silicon Valley lenders or the credit unions.

You can also compare all of these loan options in one chart with our comparison tool. It lists the rates, loan amounts, and kinds of loans each lender is willing to refinance. You can also email us with any questions at info@magnifymoney.com.

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1 in 4 Americans Plan on Racking Up Holiday Debt in 2016, Survey Shows

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1 in 4 Americans Plan on Racking Up Holiday Debt in 2016, Survey Shows

In a new survey of 1,147 American adults conducted by MagnifyMoney, more than one in four (26%) Americans said they plan to rack up holiday debt during the 2016 holiday season that will linger more than a month. Among the 26% who will rack up debt, 66% expect they will take three months or more to pay off the debt.

Holiday debt can quickly spiral out of control. MagnifyMoney found the average shopper surveyed who added debt during the 2015 holiday season racked up $1,073.

Using a credit card with average APR of 16% and making monthly minimum payments of around $25, it would take that person more than five years (61 months) to get out of debt, according to MagnifyMoney’s Credit Card Payoff Calculator. Over that time, he or she would pay an additional $496 worth of interest charges.

Nearly one-third (32%) of this year’s survey respondents said they incurred holiday debt during the 2015 shopping season. People who took on holiday debt in the past are much more likely to take on debt this year because they can’t afford to pay cash, our survey found, with 74% saying they will incur debt this year. They are also more likely to feel financially stressed.

Among those respondents who incurred credit debt during the holidays in 2015 , the average shopper added $1,073 of holiday debt. And a staggering 74% said they will likely take on more credit debt again this year.

More debt = more financial stress

More than half (59%) of respondents who took on debt over the holidays in 2015 said they accumulated $500 or more of debt. Among people who said they racked up $500 or more in holiday debt in 2015, MagnifyMoney found greater trends of financial stress and a greater likelihood of incurring additional debt in 2016.

 

Check out our full survey findings below or download a fact sheet here.

Magnifymoney Holiday Debt Survey

Contact:

Kellie Pelletier, Public Relations
kpelletier@magnifymoney.com

Mandi Woodruff, Executive Editor
mandi@magnifymoney.com

MagnifyMoney’s Tips on How to Avoid the Holiday Debt Trap:

1. Steer clear of store credit cards

The holidays are prime time for retailers selling store credit cards to customers. Customers are often wooed by promises of upfront discounts on purchases, helping them save on their holiday shopping in the short term. But store credit cards notoriously have some of the highest interest rates on the market — an average APR of 23.84% versus 16.28% for regular credit cards. People with poor credit may be saddled with store cards with interest rates as high as 27%.

Store credit cards can also come with onerous deferred interest fees — they may offer no-interest promotions for a certain amount of time. But if you fail to pay off the entire balance by that date, you can be slapped with the entire interest balance in one lump sum.

If you want to get a discount on your purchases and signing up for a store credit card is the only way to get there, just be sure you have enough cash on hand to pay your bill right away. With most discounts only 10% to 20% off, you’ll actually wind up losing whatever you saved if you get slapped with a 20% or higher interest rate later.

2. Make a budget and stick to it

The downfall of most holiday shoppers is that it is incredibly easy to get swept up into the excitement of shopping. Before you know it, your budget is blown, and it isn’t until after the giddiness of the holidays winds down that you realize the extent of the damage. Avoid the holiday debt hangover by creating a budget early and sticking to it no matter what.

3. Exchange ‘Secret Santa’ gifts with family and friends

Secret Santa is a fun and smart way to drastically reduce your holiday gift-giving budget. Ask your siblings or friends to draw names from a hat rather than buying gifts for everyone individually. You can all agree on a price limit so no one feels like they over- or underspent.

Can’t draw names in person? Try a Secret Santa online tool like Secret Santa Generator or DrawNames.com.

4. Get rid of last year’s holiday debt first

The average shopper racked up $1,073 worth of credit card debt last year, our survey found. If you have credit debt left over from last year’s shopping, don’t pile on more debt and continue to let interest accrue. Consider signing up for a 0% APR credit card and making a balance transfer (check out the best ones of the year right here). You’ll buy yourself additional time to pay off last year’s debt, and you’ll improve your credit score in the process.

5. Start saving for next year’s holiday shopping today

If you felt unprepared for holiday shopping this year, it might be because you didn’t have enough time to save up. Going into next year, open a savings account and label it “Holiday Shopping.” Then estimate how much you’ll need to save — $500? $1,000? Divide that number by 10 and set up a direct deposit from your paycheck into that savings account for that amount. For example, if your goal is to save $1,000, you’d need to contribute at least $100 per month for 10 months to reach that goal.

Why only 10 months? That way you can start shopping a bit earlier than December, giving you plenty of time to find the perfect gifts for your loved ones.

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6 Lies Debt Collectors Might Tell You

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6 Lies Debt Collectors Might Tell You

Don’t feel guilty for being suspicious if you’ve been contacted by a debt collector. You should be. Debt collection agencies are notorious for using aggressive practices to get debtors to pay up. Sometimes those tactics can be illegal, and consumers may not know when they are not getting a fair shake. That is why you need to stay on your toes when dealing with collectors.

Debt collection agencies are third parties that have bought debt from the original creditor after the debtor is unable to pay for a certain amount of time. The companies buy past-due debt for a fraction of its value, then assign collectors to pester you to pay as much of the original debt as possible to make a profit.

Many debt collectors are legitimate businesses collecting past-due debts that consumers have not paid. But the list of complaints against debt collectors is growing. Since the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) began accepting complaints about debt collection in July 2013, debt collections became the most common source of complaints in 2015, outstripping credit reporting and mortgages.

Debt collectors use illegal practices even though they are illegal “because they can get away with it,” says Christine Hines, a legislative director at National Association of Consumer Advocates. That’s because consumers often don’t know their rights and do not file complaints. “If a consumer is faced with these aggressive tactics, sometimes they will choose trying to pay the debt instead of paying for food,” Hines added.

If you are like 77 million Americans who have a debt in collections today, chances are you’ll come in contact with a collection agency sooner rather than later. If you arm yourself with knowledge of your rights beforehand, you can potentially save yourself from a lot of undue stress, both financially and mentally.

Here are a few common lies that collectors will tell you to get to your money:

6 Lies Debt Collectors Tell

“You owe us X amount of money.”

Admittedly, this statement isn’t always a lie, but you should immediately be skeptical of whatever a debt collector says you owe. Because collection agencies constantly buy and sell debt, there’s no telling if the debt a collector is asking you to pay hasn’t been sold or if the company actually owns that debt at all.

“A big tell [for a scam] is if the person doesn’t even recognize the debt or if the debt collector doesn’t give any information about themselves or the company,” said Hines.

You may potentially owe some part of the debt the collection agency has called you about, but they may have added additional fees. Those fees can include things like commission fees paid to the collector, transaction fees if you use an online service to pay them, fees related to the company’s cost of collection, or interest or other penalties.

Debt collectors have been known not to keep up with paperwork in the purchase and sale of debt, so the collector may have limited or no information about the debt other than your name and the debt balance. But you have a right to know where the debt is from.

Ask for a debt verification letter before you pull out your wallet to pay. Under federal law, consumers are entitled to have a debt validated within 5 days of their first contact with the collector. The notice should have the name of the original creditor and what you should do if you don’t think you owe the money. The CFPB also provides templates of letters to send to a collector if you think you don’t owe the debt or need more information about it here.

“Just make a small payment today, and I’ll get off your back.”

This is a common strategy debt collectors may use if they know that the debt they are pursuing is too old. Each state has a statute of limitations on how long a creditor has to seek legal action against (i.e., sue) a borrower for an unpaid debt. It varies by state but can be from 10 to 20 years. Once that time has passed, you can’t be sued for a debt, and there really isn’t a legal incentive for you to pay the debt off. The damage has been done to your credit already (it may have even already fallen off your report if seven years have passed) and making a payment will not improve your score.

In fact, it could do the opposite. By making even a $1 payment on an old debt, you essentially restart the clock on your statute of limitations. There’s a reason this kind of debt has been nicknamed “zombie debt.” All of the sudden, you have revitalized a dead debt, and you are now vulnerable to lawsuits and other legal actions.

The CFPB is working to crack down on the ability of debt collectors to pursue zombie debts. In a list of proposed rules released this summer, the agency outlined proposals that would require debt collectors to have and provide more details about the debt in the collection process. The rules also require collectors to tell you more specific information about the debt, including if it’s too old for a lawsuit, when applicable.

“I am an investigator.”

Using the title of “investigator” is an intimidation tactic designed to scare you into paying up. Don’t fall for it. In fact, if the collector says they are an investigator or says that they will call the investigator on your case, get out of that call and report them to the CFPB immediately. It’s illegal for collectors to imply or claim outright that they are anyone they aren’t, such as a federal investigator, attorney, or government representative.

It’s easy to see why this is such an effective tactic. Saying that they are an investigator conveys the sentiment that you have committed a crime, or are about to be arrested, both of which are also illegal for a collector to claim.

“Someone is on their way to serve you papers.”

Saying they might sue you could be an empty threat meant to bully you into making a payment.

If you receive any documents that look like a lawsuit, you should check to make sure they are legitimate. That can be as easy as making a quick phone call. The laws vary from state to state, but most debt collection lawsuits are filed in state court. The National Consumer Law Center recommends calling your state clerk’s office to confirm that a case has been filed in that court. In some states, you can go online to see if a case has been filed against you.

It’s against the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) for collection agencies to indicate that papers they send you are legal forms if they are not or vice versa, so be on the lookout for that.

“If you don’t pay, we will have you arrested or garnish your wages.”

Plain and simple, threatening to arrest you, garnish your wages, or seize your property is illegal under the FDCPA. The law prevents trained debt collectors from saying any of those threats or threatening legal action if they don’t actually intend to sue you. Now, the collection agencies certainly can sue you to collect. And if they win, a judge could allow the agency to garnish your wages. Federal law limits wage garnishment based on your income. If you are sued and the complaint is legitimate, don’t ignore it. If you do, you could forfeit your chance to fight a wage garnishment in court.

“We need your payment TODAY.”

If a debt collection agent is speaking with urgency or trying to get you to pay up right that moment, there is a good chance it’s a scam. Real debt collection agents may insist that you pay them, but likely won’t insist that you do it immediately or issue threats if you don’t agree to fork over funds right away.

If this happens, and it’s a real collection agency, any threats that were made could fall under illegal harassment under the FDCPA. The act states collectors “may not harass, oppress, or abuse you or any third parties they contact.” So, if the collector threatens violence, uses obscene language, or calls you constantly after you’ve asked them to stop, you can and should report them. File a complaint with the CFPB or the Federal Trade Commission.

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Debt Snowball Vs Debt Avalanche — Which Strategy Works Best?

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The typical American household carries $15,762 of credit card debt. With the average credit card interest rate hovering around 13.35% today, that means households could easily spend more than $2,000 each year on credit card interest alone.

As more and more interest accrues, paying off what might have once been a relatively small amount of debt can easily start to feel like an impossible feat.

That’s why getting out of debt — especially when you have several different types of debt to deal with — requires a strategy.

Two of the most popular debt payoff strategies out there are the “debt snowball” and the “debt avalanche.” The snowball method has been popularized by personal finance celebrities like Dave Ramsey. By comparison, the debt avalanche is lesser known.

But which method actually works best? We did the math to find out.

Debt Snowball

Senior man playing with snow

First, list your debt from the smallest balance to the largest balance. Your goal is to eliminate the smallest debt first. You accomplish that by making only the minimum payment required on all your other debts. Then, take every extra dollar you have and put it toward the smallest debt. Once it’s paid off, you will throw everything into the next largest debt, plus an additional amount that is equal to whatever the previous debt’s minimum required payment was.

As you move from one debt to the next, you are creating an even bigger “snowball” to tackle your larger debts. That’s because you’re not only paying however much you can afford to set aside each month. You’re also adding to that amount when you add in the minimum required payments for each card that you pay off.

Why it works:

The snowball has two advantages. First, it provides you with a clear plan. Second, you build a lot of positive momentum by achieving wins early on, which will help you keep going.

Debt Avalanche

Debt Avalanche - Man Skiing In Winter

To create a debt avalanche plan, list your credit card debt from the highest interest rate to the lowest. Pay the minimum due on all debt except the card with the highest interest rate. Put all extra money toward the most expensive debt until it is eliminated. Once that debt is paid off, take whatever you were paying on that bill and apply it to the next debt on your list, plus the minimum required payment from the debt you just paid off.

Why it works:

By dealing with debt that has the highest interest rates first, you can get out of debt faster and actually save more money on interest in the long run. It can feel more challenging than the snowball method, because you might be facing larger debt balances to start with. But the payoff is how much you’ll save on interest charges.

MagnifyMoney created a calculator that can easily help you see the difference between the snowball and avalanche methods.

Imagine you have three credit cards and can afford to pay $500 a month toward your debt:

  • $2,000 on a credit union credit card with a 6% interest rate
  • $6,000 on a credit card with a 19% interest rate
  • $8,000 on a store card with a 28% interest rate

Using the MagnifyMoney calculator, you see you could save $1,301 by using the avalanche method instead of the snowball method. And that is not surprising: by eliminating high interest rate debt first, you will end up paying less interest overall. You would also be out of debt faster.

The bottom line:

Both strategies will work, but you should pick the one that best fits your personality. If you easily feel overwhelmed by debt and feel like quitting, you should probably try the snowball method. You’ll get early “wins” and feel lots of motivation to keep going. If you’re more disciplined, the debt avalanche strategy might be your best fit.

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Featured, Pay Down My Debt

What Happens When My Debt Gets Sold?

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Overdue Notice bill debt

When you take out a loan or make a purchase with your credit card, you have a legal obligation to repay the money. However, there are many reasons why you might not be able to make a payment. Perhaps you lost your job, or you have other more pressing debts to pay.

Whatever the cause, if you don’t make a payment, you could be charged a late payment fee in addition to the accruing interest. If you continue not making payments, the original creditor might turn to a debt collection agency that will actively try to contact you and get you to repay the money. The agency could be a department within the creditor’s company, or it might be a third-party agency that is hired to collect your payment on the company’s behalf. Eventually, if the company doesn’t receive any money, it might sell the right to collect your debt to an outside debt collection agency.

You Now Owe the Collection Agency the Money

Once the debt buyer purchases your debt, the firm has a legal right to collect money from you. But why does this happen? Often the original creditor doesn’t feel that it’s worth the time to continue trying to collect the money from you, and they sell the account at a discount — sometimes just pennies on the dollar. The agency that buys the debt, often in large batches along with others’ debts, can make money even if it only collects a small portion of what you owe – although, of course, it will be happy to take the full amount.

You’ll See a New Account on Your Credit Reports

The three major credit-reporting bureaus, Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian, track and record activity related to your loans and credit accounts. When a collection agency buys your debt, the transfer of the debt’s ownership gets reported to bureaus. The bureaus will open a new account with the collection agency’s name and the amount owed on your credit report. The original creditor’s account’s status might change to something similar to “charged off,” “transferred,” or “paid.”

Rod Griffin, director of public education at Experian, says there could be a note on the account saying the debt was “sold to” or “transferred to” and the collection agency’s name. Likewise, the collection agency’s account on your credit report may have a note saying the debt was transferred or bought from the creditor.

In some cases, your debt could be sold from one collection agency to another. “[Experian’s] policy is that you only have one collection agency that can collect on that debt,” says Griffin. While the original creditor’s account remains on your report, the first collection agency might fall off and be replaced by the new collection agency. If it doesn’t, Griffin says you can file a dispute to get the first collection agency removed. Similarly, double-check the original account and report an error if it has an “open” account status.

The Derogatory Marks Fall Off Your Credit Reports at the Same Time

Many derogatory marks, including a collection account, can remain on your credit reports for up to seven years and 180 days from the date your debt is declared delinquent. Some people worry that when their debt is bought and transferred, the clock gets reset, but luckily that’s not the case.

The timeline is determined by the original date of delinquency, and by law, debt collection agencies must report the original delinquency date to the credit-reporting agencies. The date will stick with the debt, even if it transfers hands several times over.

Griffin says you might hear about other dates, the most recent update date or the reported date, for example. While those could change if you’re in contact with the collection agency, that won’t extend the time for a deletion. After seven years and 180 days, sometimes sooner, the original account and related collection accounts will be taken off your credit reports. They will no longer impact your credit score, although you might still be legally obliged to repay the money.

Consider Paying Off a Collection Account to Help Your Credit Score

FICO Score 9 and VantageScore 3.0, the most recent versions of FICO’s and VantageScore’s basic credit-scoring systems, ignore paid collection accounts when calculating a credit score. This is in contrast to previous scoring models that considered a collection account, even a paid one, a negative mark and adjusted your score accordingly. Most lenders rely on the previous credit-scoring models when screening applications, but it’s worth keeping the change in mind if you’re concerned about your credit score.

When you have an account that was sent or sold to a collection agency and is nearing the seven-year mark, it might make sense to wait and let the account drop off your reports. However, if you’re looking for a way to quickly improve your credit score, paying off a collection account could be an option.

Bottom Line

If you fall behind on your debt payments, your creditor might sell your past-due account to a debt collection agency. The transfer gets recorded on your credit reports, and you’ll now owe the agency money. Having an account sent or sold to collections can negatively impact your credit score. Although you might be able to improve your score by repaying the debt, you could need to wait up to seven years and 180 days from your first missed payment for the account and subsequent negative marks to fall off your credit reports.

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What Happened When I Used a Credit Card for the First Time in 7 Years

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Credit card fraud

The following story is an excerpt from “The Recovering Spender: How to Live a Happy, Fulfilled, Debt-Free Life” by Lauren Greutman.

I decided to do a little experiment. I took myself off a budget for three months and made myself start using a credit card again. I’d been successfully budgeting for more than seven years, and had successfully paid off over $40,000 in debt and half of our mortgage.

People around me consider me very good with money, and I agree with them; I am very good with sticking to a budget. I know my boundaries and how to stay within the fence. (Remember, I wasn’t always this way.) But I wanted to see what would happen if I took myself off a budget, stopped using cash, and used a credit card instead. I haven’t owned a single credit card in years, ever since we put ours through a paper shredder. I’ve been using cash for most of the past seven years, so using a credit card again was way outside of my comfort zone.

The first thing I did was to sign up for a card that would give me a certain amount of points if I spent $3,000 in the first three months of using it. I then stopped using cash and decided to only use the credit card for those three months. My goal was to earn enough points for a free stay at a hotel for a fun vacation for my family. I wanted to see how quickly my money rules would go out the window and I would turn back into a Spender.

How bad could it be?

In the first week I did pretty well. I didn’t spend too much unnecessary money. I did try to find different ways to spend money using the credit card so that I could earn extra points. I paid a few of my bills with the card and paid them o right away online. I figured this couldn’t be bad. Two nights that week I had nightmares in which I woke up in a panic attack.

The nightmares were about moving back into our old house in South Carolina, and they were both the same: We decided to return to our old home and found it was back on the market, so we bought it again. I saw my family of six living in the same house where we had lived in during those stressful years. Not only were we back in that house, but we were also again in $40,000 worth of debt. Those dreams felt so real. They were the kind where you wake up and your heart is beating fast and you aren’t sure if you are awake or asleep. I woke up in my current house, thankful that it was only a dream. There was no way I wanted to go back to that old way of life.

Looking back, I see those dreams as a warning. Both times I woke up mid-dream in a panic attack that we were going to go back into debt. I was terrified of using the credit card again. It literally was giving me nightmares, and I found myself hating what I was doing. I could see myself going down the same path again, and I was terrified. I never want to go back to that place of no self-control, transferring balances to zero percent credit cards to stay afloat, and constantly stressed because we didn’t have the money for basic essentials.

Sticking it out

At this point, I wanted to quit my experiment; it was just too hard for me to go back to old habits. Ultimately, I decided to stick it out, because the question of whether I would fall back into my old spending habits had not been answered yet.

One day I was having a rough time with the kids. I looked at my husband, Mark, and said, “Can I just go somewhere by myself for an hour?” Being the great husband that he is, he put the kids to bed and I left the house to find something to do. I live in a small town and there isn’t much open in the evening, so I did what most people do and headed to Walmart (it would have been Target if I had one nearby). I found myself walking around the store, sick to my stomach and anxious, looking around for something to “do” and something to buy.

I picked up a York Peppermint Patty, a new curling iron, and some fake eyelashes (a total impulse purchase). I was sad, depressed, and feeling totally lost. I found myself wandering around the brightly lit store without a plan or goal. It was a very lonely feeling, but I realized that living without a budget made me depressed. I had no idea how much money was in our checking account. It felt horrible! Ironically, that feeling of depression over not knowing what was going on led to more spending because of boredom.

Three months later

At the end of my experiment, three months later, I was a complete mess. I had spent $3,000 on the credit card but paid it off in full every month. Yet I had somehow managed to spend an extra $2,000 on that card and didn’t know where the money had gone or what I had spent it on. I was anxious because I had no idea what we had in our bank account, and I was stressed out to the max. Here I was, seven years later, sitting on that same bed in our much smaller master bedroom. I knew that if I continued to use credit cards this way, I could end up dead broke again.

This was a huge milestone for me in my journey to financial independence. I realized that I will never “arrive” at being good with money. I will forever be in “recovery” as a Spender, and one of the things that I need to continue to do to keep myself in recovery is to stay within my fence.

I know that staying inside the fence works for me. I know that if I use cash and set a budget with Mark, I stick to it and feel safe. I don’t know why I always try to play with fire, but whenever I do, I certainly get burned! As a well-known expert in the field of frugal living, it’s hard to admit that I still have the ability to overspend. But how helpful would I be if I said I was perfect?

A common reason that Spenders continue to spend is that you lie to yourself—you tell yourself that you can stop spending, but the spending continues. You feel out of control, and that feeling leads you to spend more, and you continue to feel out of control.

If I were to tell you that I have it all figured out, I would be defeating the entire purpose and message of this book. I know that I will always be a Spender, but after seven years of successful budgeting and not owning a credit card, I thought I was strong enough to have one.

The reality is that I am not, and I’m not sure I ever will be. But what I do know is that if I set a budget and make sure I am safe within my fence—I do amazingly well! I got us into over $40,000 worth of debt, and I got us out of over $40,000 worth of debt. I got us in debt by using credit cards, and I got us out by not using credit cards.

Life inside the fence

I decided to run this experiment on myself to see if I am strong enough to live outside the fence, to see if so many years of good financial habits had changed me. Unfortunately, the conclusion is that despite my excellent financial habits and new ways, it’s dangerous to reintroduce some of my old temptations, because I fall right back into my old ways.

This is why this book is called The Recovering Spender and not The Recovered Spender. To be in recovery, you must constantly be trying to better yourself. If I were recovered, I would be able to use a credit card and not overspend.

I am in recovery, which means that I am in a constant state of trying to better myself and improve my spending habits. I realize that one bad turn can lead me down a road that I do not want to travel. One bad financial move can turn into a financial disaster for anyone who is a Recovering Spender like I am.

If you find something that works and helps you stay inside your fence, by all means continue doing it! Despite how much time you’ve been inside your fence, there is always danger on the other side. I much prefer to stay within my fence, stay out of debt, be happy and financially fulfilled by keeping a budget, and live the rest of my life as a Spender in recovery.

Lauren

Lauren Greutman is the frugal living expert behind the popular money saving blog laurengreutman.com (formerly iamthatlady.com).

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Pay Down My Debt

The Best Way to Deal with Law School Debt

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The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Statue of justice legal law lawyer

The burden of six-figure debt is the new norm for law school graduates. According to the American Bar Association, the average public law school graduate carries $88,000 in debt, and private law school graduates carry a crushing $127,000 in debt. If you’re a JD struggling to figure out how to start whittling down your debt, here’s what to do:

Step One: Take a Look at the Big Picture

You can’t develop your debt payoff strategy until you understand your financial big picture. Gaining a clear financial picture doesn’t have to be difficult. You can start by reading the free e-book, Richer in 7 Hours, which walks you through how to calculate your net worth, how to eliminate debt, and more. The key is finding out how much you spend and how much money you are bringing in. From there, you can figure out how much you can afford to put toward your loans over time. The book will help you understand your finances so you can create a strategy to eliminate your law school debt.

Step Two: Know Your Options

Once you’ve created a clear picture of your finances, you’ll need to understand the things you can do to manage and eliminate your debt.

For Federal Student Loan Debt

The federal government offers a variety of programs that help you manage your federal student loan debt. These options don’t apply to any of your private loans. If you have federal loans, you may qualify for income-driven repayment plans, loan consolidation, interest-free loan deferment, loan forbearance, repayment assistance, or Public Service Loan Forgiveness. These programs won’t lead you to rapid debt freedom, but they may alleviate some of the burden.

Income-Driven Repayment Plans

The federal government offers four income-based repayment programs:

  • Pay As You Earn (PAYE)
  • Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE)
  • Income-Based Repayment (IBR)
  • Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR)

We’ve outlined the major differences between the programs below.

 income based repayment chart

Under income-driven repayment plans, you will need to “recertify” your income and family size every year to determine your payments. That just means picking up the phone to call your lender and asking to re-enroll in the program. These programs can be helpful as you grow your income, or if you’re seeking Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

Loan Consolidation

If income-driven repayment programs won’t save you any money based on your salary, but you have a high level of debt relative to your income, consider federal loan consolidation. Federal loan consolidations group your loans into a single loan with a single interest rate, and they extend the amount of time you have to pay. Consolidated loans over $60,000 have 30-year payment periods.

If you choose to consolidate your federal loans, you will still be eligible for income-driven repayment programs if you qualify in the future. Direct consolidation loans are eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness as well.

Your new interest rate will be determined by taking the weighted average of the interest rates on all the loans you wish to consolidate. In some cases, a consolidation will result in a longer payoff period, and dragging out the length of the loan could result in your paying more in interest.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) offers relief to those working for the government or eligible nonprofits. In order to be eligible, you will need your loans to be on an income-driven repayment plan or 10-year standard payment plan and make 120 payments (10 years’ worth of service) before the remaining amount is forgiven. The 120 student loan payments do not have to be consecutive.

If your loans are in a grace period, deferment, forbearance, or default, or you are currently in school, you cannot make a payment toward the 120-payment limit. Only federal loans qualify for PSLF, so do not refinance through a private lender if you’re pursuing loan forgiveness.

If you qualify for PSLF, you will not owe taxes on the amount forgiven after 120 payments.

Deferment

During loan deferment, you do not have to make payments on your loans, but you must apply and qualify for loan deferment before you can cease payments. Qualifying situations include being in school (including an approved fellowship), up to three years of unemployment, up to three years of economic hardship, and during active military duty (and the 13 months following active military duty).

If you have subsidized loans including Direct Subsidized Loans, Federal Perkins Loans, or Subsidized Federal Stafford Loans, the government will usually pay interest during deferment.

But if you have other federal loans, interest accrues during deferment, but you do not have to pay interest on the loans during deferment. Instead, the interest will be “capitalized” or added onto your principal loan balance when you resume repayment.

Forbearance

If you do not qualify for loan deferment, you may qualify for loan forbearance. You can request forbearance for illness or financial hardship, but your lender doesn’t have to grant it. On the other hand, your lender must grant forbearance under certain qualifying circumstances. Qualifying situations include when you work in a service position where you’ve received a national service award, work in a low-income school, or are activated as a member of the National Guard, among many situations.

During forbearance, you do not have to make loan payments, but interest continues to accrue. You can either make interest-only payments, or you can allow the interest to be added to your loan balance when the forbearance period ends.

For Private Student Loan Debt

Private student loans don’t come with all the same programs as federal loans, so there are no forgiveness or income-driven repayment options available. Instead, try implementing some of the following strategies. Your best option may be to refinance your private loans at a lower interest rate. But before you go that route, consider these tips:

Loan Repayment Assistance Programs

Many schools want to encourage their alumni to work in public service, and they offer modest assistance to some qualifying individuals. Loan repayment assistance programs can differ from school to school, but you may find valuable help if you choose to go into public service.

Seek Out a Signing Bonus

Some firms will offer to assist you with student loans if you commit to a multiyear contract with them. If you have multiple offers, consider negotiating for a student loan repayment bonus. New lawyers reported repayment bonuses of $2,500-$75,000 when they signed multiyear contracts.

Become a Technical Expert

Lawyers with a science, medical, or engineering background may receive offers to pay off all their student loans if they choose to become patent attorneys or work in the U.S. Patent Office. Lawyers with technical expertise remain rare, so firms and the government compete over these types of lawyers.

Implement an Aggressive Payment Plan

You could take the scrappy way out by just getting aggressive with your payments. You can do this by attacking one loan at a time with the maximum amount you can afford and paying the minimum on your other loans. You can calculate the interest you’ll save and how quickly you can pay off your debt using the Snowball vs. Avalanche Calculator.

Before you start paying down your debts, be sure that you’ve got an emergency fund in place, and that you’re taking advantage of any employer matching on your 401(k) plan.

Do Not Pay Off Private Loans with Credit Cards

Purposely putting your debt on credit cards for the purpose of bankruptcy is fraud, and it could lead to jail time. If you’re facing default on your private loans, do not pay them with credit cards that you think can be bankruptible. Additionally, law school loans that have been transferred to your credit cards cannot be discharged in bankruptcy court.

For Federal and/or Private Loans

Refinance at a Lower Rate

If you’re interested in saving money on interest, the best thing you can do is refinance your student loans at a lower rate. But don’t refinance unless you feel confident that you will not need to use the flexible repayment options for federal loans as outlined above. Once a federal loan is refinanced through a private lender, it will no longer be eligible for programs like forgiveness, income-driven repayment, forbearance, or deferment. Private loans do not qualify for any of the loan repayment help outlined above.

Refinance your loans with a company that can offer you the lowest rates or the most flexible terms. You can use the Compare & Save tool to help you learn about your refinancing options.

Step Three: Implement Your Strategy

Now that you understand your financial picture, and you know your options, you can implement a plan that will help you manage or eliminate your law school debt. Taking the right actions will help you deal with your law school debt.

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