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31 Financial Role Models to Honor This Women’s History Month

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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From the first female millionaire to the only female Nobel Prize winner in economics, this Women’s History Month we’re honoring 31 women who have shaped today’s business world. Read on to learn about building your net worth, thriving in your career and carving your own financial path from the brightest, boldest and most innovative women who have influenced finance, economics and policy.

1. Henrietta “Hetty” Green

1834-1916

Born in 1834, Henrietta “Hetty” Green was one of the nation’s first value investors. Though Green came from a wealthy family that made most of its money in the whaling industry, her financial savvy turned her into an investing powerhouse. Case in point: When her father gave her beautiful dresses to attract a rich suiter, she instead sold the clothing and used the proceeds to invest in government bonds.

When Green died in 1916, she had amassed a fortune of more than $2 billion in today’s dollars and was considered the wealthiest woman in America. Known for her miserly ways and the black mourning clothes she adopted after the death of her husband, Green was commonly referred to as the “Witch of Wall Street.”

2. Janet Yellen

1946-

Janet Yellen was the first woman to be chair of the Board of Governors for the U.S. Federal Reserve, a position she held from 2014 to 2018. By and large, Yellen has been lauded for her performance as the fed chair, overseeing the economy during a period of low unemployment, record stock prices and low inflation. When she left office, 60% of economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal gave her an “A” rating, while 30% gave her a “B.”

Yellen received her bachelor’s degree in economics from Brown University before going on to receive a Ph.D in economics from Yale University. She is a professor emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley.

3. Millicent Garrett Fawcett

1847-1929

A major player in the women’s suffrage movement in the 1800s, Millicent Garrett Fawcett was well-known for her political activism, dedication to promoting women’s rights and keen understanding of economics.

Born in 1847, Fawcett penned many books, including “Political Economy for Beginners,” a short book published in 1870 that broke down economics so it was easy to understand. Numerous iterations of the book were published over the course of 41 years. Academics believe Fawcett’s contribution to today’s understanding of economics has been largely overlooked.

4. Abigail Adams

1744-1818

Although Abigail Adams was primarily known as the wife of founding father John Adams, she was noteworthy in her own right for fighting for financial independence during a time when doing so was largely unheard of for married women.

Not only did Adams manage the family’s household finances, but she also traded bonds and proved to have a sharp acumen for investing. Letters to her husband showed she also spoke out about laws that prohibited women’s rights, including the fact that married women couldn’t own property. Over the course of her life, Adams prudently invested her own “pocket” money and accrued quite the fortune, which she left primarily to women in her will.

5. Harriet Martineau

1802-1876

Often referred to as the first female sociologist, Harriet Martineau wrote many books, including “Illustrations of Political Economy.” This book explored political economic theories (such as labor strikes and overpopulation) through easy-to-digest illustrations that made the concepts accessible to the layperson.

Born in 1802, Martineau was known for her sharp intellect when it came to politics and economics. She wrote extensively over the course of her 74-year life, with 50 books and countless articles and essays to her name.

6. Elinor Ostrom

1933-2012

Elinor Ostrom is well-known for being the only woman to ever receive a Nobel Prize in economics. A political economist, Ostrom received a Ph.D in political science from the University of California, Los Angeles before becoming faculty at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind.

Ostrom received a Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2009 for debunking the long-held idea that natural resources, when used collectively, would be destroyed over time due to the self-interest of each individual. Through research, Ostrom proved that when communities shared natural resources, they often developed rules for caring for these resources, which in turn promoted economic sustainability.

7. Madam C. J. Walker

1867-1919

Madam C. J. Walker — born as Sarah Breedlove — is one of the first self-made African-American female millionaires in the U.S. An entrepreneur, activist and philanthropist, Walker created her own hair care product line in 1904 for black women called Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower. Walker’s business exploded, and at the time of her death in 1919, her net worth was over $1 million.

Over the course of her career, Walker regularly advocated for black women by running sales training programs designed to help them achieve financial independence.

8. Carla Harris

1962-

Carla Harris is the vice chairman of global wealth management and senior client advisor at Morgan Stanley. In 2013, former president Barack Obama appointed Harris to chair the National Women’s Business Council (NWBC). Harris has a bachelor’s degree in economics from Harvard University, as well as an MBA from the Harvard Business School.

In addition, Harris penned two business books, “Expect to Win: 10 Proven Strategies for Thriving in the Workplace” and, “Strategize to Win: The New Way to Start Out, Step Up, or Start Over in Your Career.”

9. Abigail Johnson

1961-

With a net worth of over $16 billion, Abigail Johnson is one of the richest women in the U.S. Johnson is the president and CEO of Fidelity Investments (a company her grandfather founded). She became CEO and president of the company in 2014, and was later named chairwoman in 2016.

Since taking the helm of Fidelity, Johnson has publicly stated that one of her primary goals is to hire more women.

10. Ho Ching

1953-

Regularly included on lists of the most powerful women in the world, Ho Ching is the CEO of Temasek Holdings, an investment company in Singapore. During her 16-year reign there, she has given the company a global reach by shifting its focus beyond Singapore, growing the company’s portfolio to more than $235 billion.

Ching is also active in public service and philanthropy. She was the chairman of the Singapore Institute of Standards & Industrial Research, the deputy chairman of the Productivity Standards Board and the deputy chairman of the Economic Development Board. She is also the founding Chairman of Trailblazer Foundation Limited, a charity dedicated to education, sports, health and community welfare. Her husband is Lee Hsien Loong, the prime minister of Singapore.

11. Stacey Cunningham

Stacey Cunningham is the first female president of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). She rose in the ranks to her current position, beginning as an intern at the NYSE in 1994 and later going on to be a clerk on the trading floor. At this time, she was one of only around 30 women at the NYSE, and was regularly referred to as “the girl” by her mostly male colleagues.

In 2015, Cunningham became the NYSE’s chief operating officer and in 2018, she became the exchange’s 67th president.

12. Adena Friedman

1969-

Adena Friedman is the president and CEO of the Nasdaq, a position she has held since 2017. This position makes her the first woman to ever lead a global exchange company.

Friedman has a long history with the Nasdaq, having been with the company on and off since 1993. Prior to serving as the president and CEO, she served as the president and COO from 2014 to 2016. Friedman also had a stint as the managing director and CFO of The Carlyle Group, a private equity company, and she is credited with helping the company go public.

13. Anne Finucane

1953-

Anne Finucane is the vice chairman at Bank of America and chairman of the board for Bank of America Merrill Lynch Europe. As part of her responsibilities, she oversees £30 billion in assets. Finucane established the Bank of America Institute for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Cornell University, which offers free courses for female entrepreneurs taught by Cornell faculty.

14. Christina Romer

1958-

The former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA), Christina Romer worked closely with former president Barack Obama from 2009 to 2010 to help guide the administration in the wake of the Great Recession. She is the second woman in history to hold this role.

Romer is currently a professor in the Department of Economics at the University of California, Berkeley. In addition, she is the former vice president of the American Economic Association (AEA).

15. Rania Nashar

Rania Nashar is the CEO of Samba Financial Group, the third largest bank in Saudi Arabia. Not only has she been the CEO since 2017, her role also made her the first woman to hold the position at a listed bank in the country. Prior to this position, Nashar had an extensive history at the company and was a board member for Samba Financial Group’s global markets subsidiary.

16. Helena Morrissey

1966-

Helena Morrissey is the head of personal investing for Legal & General Investment Management, an investment management firm in England. Prior to that, she served as the chief executive of Newton Investment Management.

Morrissey is well-regarded for creating the 30% Club a campaign that advocates for more gender balance on company boards and in senior management. She is also the author of, “A Good Time to Be a Girl: Don’t Lean In, Change the System.”

17. Thasunda Brown Duckett

Thasunda Brown Duckett is the CEO of consumer banking at JPMorgan Chase. She is the first African-American to hold this position. Duckett helms the bank’s consumer banking division, which includes wealth management. She oversees 47,000 employees across 5,300 branches. Prior to her current position, Duckett served as the CEO of Chase Auto Finance.

Duckett founded a charity, the Otis & Rosie Brown Foundation, which is named after her parents. The charity recognizes unsung heroes who are making a difference in their communities.

18. Mary Paley Marshall

1850-1944

Economist Mary Paley Marshall was the first female economics lecturer at the University of Cambridge, a role she was given in 1875 at just 25 years old. In addition, she was one of the first women ever admitted to attend college at the University of Cambridge.

Marshall co-authored “The Economics of Industry” in 1879, a text that is widely considered one of the most influential in economics. Marshall spent the last two decades of her life helping create the Marshall Library of Economics in Cambridge.

19. Francine Blau

1946-

Francine Blau is an economist and professor at Cornell University whose formative research on gender wage gaps in the U.S. has informed our country for decades. Blau has published over 100 articles, chapters and conference proceedings, as well as 10 books, including, “The Economics of Men, Women, and Work,” a seminal work that explores gender issues in today’s labor market.

In 2010, Blau was awarded the prestigious IZA Prize for her contributions to the field of labor economics.

20. Edith Abbott

1876-1957

Although primarily known for her pivotal role in establishing the field of social work, Edith Abbott also garnered recognition for her work in economics. In 1905, she received a Ph.D in economics from the University of Chicago and shortly thereafter, she completed a fellowship at the London School of Economics. In 1907, Abbott became a professor of economics at Wellesley College.

In 1935, Abbott helped draft the U.S. Social Security Act with Frances Perkins, the U.S. Secretary of Labor at the time.

21. Anna Schwartz

1915-2012

An American economist, Anna Schwartz was best known for her work co-authoring the 1963 book, “A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960” with Milton Friedman. This influential text on economics dissected the cause of the Great Depression, attributing it to the U.S. Federal Reserve’s policies.

In 1981, Schwartz became executive director for the U.S. Gold Commission. In 1993, the American Economic Association (AEA) named her a distinguished fellow.

22. Deirdre McCloskey

1942-

Deirdre McCloskey is regarded by many as one of today’s most influential economic minds. A distinguished professor of economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago, McCloskey has written more than 15 books and over 300 articles on economic theory and economic history, among other topics. Some of her most notable books include, “The Rhetoric of Economics” and “The Secret Sins of Economics.”

McCloskey holds both undergraduate and graduate degrees in economics from Harvard University.

23. Dambisa Moyo

1969-

Originally from Zambia, Dambisa Moyo is a macroeconomist and author who previously worked as a banker at World Bank and Goldman Sachs. She has authored four New York Times best-selling books, including “Edge of Chaos: Why Democracy is Failing to Deliver Economic Growth — And How to Fix It,” which came out last year.

Moyo originally studied chemistry as an undergraduate student at American University before going on to receive an MPA from Harvard University and a Ph.D in economics from Oxford University.

24. Joan Robinson

1903-1983

Joan Robinson was a British economist recognized for her important contributions to economic theory, in particular Keynesian economic theory. She came up with the theory of monopsony, which describes a market with only one buyer and many sellers, in her 1933 book, “The Economics of Imperfect Competition.”

Robinson earned her degree in economics from the University of Cambridge, where she went on to work as a professor. She was the first female honorary fellow at King’s College in Cambridge.

25. Janice Bryant Howroyd

1952-

Janice Bryant Howroyd is the founder and CEO of ActOne Group employment agency, one of the largest minority- and woman-owned business enterprises (MWBE) in the country. Howroyd is known for being the first black woman to run a business valued close to $1 billion. The staffing agency has over 17,000 clients in 19 countries.

Howroyd started her business in 1978 in a small office in Beverly Hills, Calif. In 2018, she was listed as one of the wealthiest self-made women in the U.S. by Forbes, with a family net worth of over $350 million.

26. Angela Merkel

1954-

Angela Merkel is a powerhouse in the financial world, and no list of women who impacted finance would be complete without her. Merkel is often referred to as the “de facto leader of Europe.”

The first woman to become chancellor of Germany, Merkel is No. 1 on the Forbes 2018 list of “Most Powerful Women in the World.” She is regarded as the primary force that got Germany through a major financial crisis and back on its feet.

In the fall of 2018, Merkel announced that she would be stepping down as the chancellor of Germany in 2021.

27. Marianne Lake

1969-

Marianne Lake is the CFO of JPMorgan Chase, a position she has held since 2012. As CFO of the largest bank in the country, she oversees over $2.5 trillion in assets. Lake is well-known for improving automation technology at the bank. There has been significant speculation that Lake could one day replace Jamie Dimon as the bank’s chairman and CEO.

Lake has shown a commitment to empowering women in finance through her role as a co-founder of the Women on the Move initiative, which aims to help women advance in their careers.

28. Mary L. Schapiro

1955-

Mary L. Schapiro is the first woman to be permanent chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Schapiro served as a financial services regulator for four U.S. presidents: Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

Schapiro also served as the chairman and CEO of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) from 2006 to 2009, as well as the chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). Schapiro is the only person to have been chair of both the SEC and the CFTC. Currently, Schapiro is the vice chair for public policy and special advisor to the founder and chairman at Bloomberg LP.

29. Maggie Lena Walker

1864-1934

Maggie Lena Walker was the first woman in the U.S. to charter a bank. Walker founded St. Luke’s Penny Savings Bank, which later merged with two other banks in the U.S. to become The Consolidated Bank and Trust Company. (The Consolidated Bank and Trust Company was the oldest bank in the U.S. to have black-ownership status until it was acquired in 2005.)

Walker founded the bank in 1903 and served as the bank’s president until her death. Throughout her life, she was well-regarded as an outspoken advocate for both women and members of the black community.

30. Muriel Siebert

1928-2013

In 1967, Muriel Siebert became the first woman to have a seat on the NYSE. She was the only woman among 1,365 men. Often referred to as “The First Woman of Finance,” Siebert founded and served as the president of Siebert Financial Corp., which made her the first woman to run one of the NYSE’s firms. Siebert was also the first woman to hold the role of superintendent of banks for New York state, a position she held for five years.

Siebert was known for helping other women have a place on Wall Street. In fact, she donated millions of dollars to help other women start their own businesses.

31. Claudia Goldin

1946-

In 1990, Claudia Goldin became the first woman to receive tenure at the Department of Economics at Harvard University. Goldin served as the director of development for the American Economy Program at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) from 1989 to 2017. Her economic research spans many topics, including the female labor force, income inequality and the gender gap.

Goldin has written many books, including, “Understanding the Gender Gap: An Economic History of American Women” and, “Women Working Longer: Increased Employment at Older Ages,” which was published in 2018.

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Jamie Friedlander is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Jamie here

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Pay Down My Debt

Debt Management vs. Debt Settlement: Which Is Best for You?

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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In 2018, the average American held $38,000 in debt (excluding mortgages). The sobering truth is that some of these people will never get out of debt — in fact, 13% of respondents in the study said they believe they will be in debt for the rest of their lives. Perhaps you’re in significant debt that’s been mounting for years and you’ve decided it’s finally time to tackle it. You’ve heard about both debt management and debt settlement, but don’t really know what either entails.

Below, we’ve broken down the difference between debt settlement and debt management so you can decide which method is right for you.

Debt management vs. debt settlement

 Debt managementDebt settlement
What is it?A nonprofit credit counseling agency communicates with your creditors and helps you come up with a debt repayment plan.A for-profit company attempts to lower your total debt by negotiating your debts with your creditors on your behalf.
How much does it cost?On average, between $25-$50 per month. (There could be a small enrollment fee, but this should be less than $75.)18% to 25% of the total enrolled debt, plus potential other enrollment and account maintenance fees.
When is it useful?
  • If you want to learn about healthy money habits while repaying your debt.

  • If you want to maintain or potentially improve your credit score while paying off your debt.

  • If you find the simplicity of one monthly payment appealing.

  • If you have significant debt, which likely means $7,500 or more.

  • If you feel you’ve reached the point of no return, but don’t qualify for bankruptcy or don’t want to pursue bankruptcy.

  • If you want to get out of debt as quickly as possible and aren’t deterred by the negative impact this process can have on your credit.

Are there credit requirements?No.No.
How long does it take?It varies, but typically between 3 to 5 years.It varies, but typically between 3+ years.
Are there tax implications?No.Yes. You might have to pay taxes on your forgiven debt.
Will it affect your credit?It could. Enrolling in a program itself does not affect your credit. But if you close credit cards as part of the plan, that could affect your credit. However, consistently making monthly payments will likely improve your credit score.Yes. If you enroll in a debt settlement program, your credit score will likely take a major, lasting hit.
Is it guaranteed to work?If you stay on track with your monthly payments, it will work.No. There is no guarantee that a debt settlement company will be able to negotiate your debts.

What is debt management?

Debt management involves working with a nonprofit credit counseling agency to pay off your debt over the course of a specific time frame — typically three to five years. The process is fairly simple: Once you enroll in a program, you make one monthly payment to your agency, which then gets distributed to your various creditors.

Below, we’ve broken down everything you need to know about debt management so you can decide if it’s the right option for you.

How does it work?

A debt management program helps a consumer manage his or her unsecured debt. You simply make one monthly payment to the agency, and they disperse that payment to your various creditors, according to Katie Ross, Education, Development & Housing Manager at American Consumer Credit Counseling. Typically, credit counseling agencies can negotiate to get lower interest rates on one’s debts.

“The benefit of being in a debt management plan is that agencies like ours help people get back on financial track,” said Ross. “We can help them better their credit card debt by working with their creditors to reduce their interest rate and their payoff time.”

Credit counseling agencies typically offer financial education with their programs, which can help consumers avoid getting into debt again. “You’re getting ongoing counseling and you’re getting financial education to learn how to manage your money and stay on track,” Ross added.

Who is it useful for?

Debt management is typically a good decision for consumers who are ready to tackle their debt but don’t want to take on something as serious as debt settlement or bankruptcy.

Those who meet the following criteria might benefit from debt management:

  • People who don’t want their credit score to suffer. If you have a decent credit score and you’d like to maintain it, you might want to consider debt management instead of debt settlement. Although closing credit cards as part of the program could impact your credit score, enrolling in a program itself has no impact, Ross said. Plus, maintaining your monthly payments will likely increase your score. In addition, many credit counseling agencies have agreements with credit card issuers that if a consumer is enrolled in a debt management program and sticks to it, they will not report negative information to the credit bureaus.
  • People who won’t need any additional credit during this time. If you’re enrolled in a debt management program, you will likely not be able to open any new lines of credit. Ross adds that when someone enrolls in a debt management program, most creditors will typically put a notification that says “CC” on the consumer’s credit card. This tells any lender who might be looking to extend that person credit that they’re working with a credit counseling agency.
  • People who want to learn about sustainable money habits. Debt management is particularly useful for people who want to learn about how they can improve their financial habits and avoid getting into debt again. Most programs come with financial education that can help you stay on track. “For most non-profit credit counseling agencies … a big part of the mission is to educate,” Ross noted. “So we provide lots of different resources — budgeting guides, spending plan information, ongoing phone support and counseling.”

How much does it cost?

The monthly fees associated with a debt management program are typically low. Ross said monthly fees are driven by state regulations (some have licensing requirements and some don’t) and therefore they vary.

Regardless of the state you live in, the fees should be minimal. “Make sure that the fees are reasonable and they’re not exorbitant, and there’s no hidden fees anywhere,” Ross said.

In addition, Ross said many credit counseling agencies will be willing to work with consumers who cannot afford enrollment fees. “If there’s a financial hardship, the agency needs to be willing to waive the fee or reduce a fee,” she said.

ServiceCost
EnrollmentThis fee should not be more than $75.
Monthly maintenanceThis fee is typically between $25 and $50 per month, and should not exceed $50.

How long does it last?

Typically, a debt management program lasts from three to five years, according to Ross.

When should you use it?

There are a handful of scenarios in which pursuing a debt management program makes sense. If the following statements apply to you, you might want to consider it.

  • You’re ready for change. If you’re ready to finally improve your financial habits, debt management could be for you. The educational resources provided can help you make meaningful changes to help you avoid getting into debt again.
  • You’re looking to pay off debt without damaging your credit. Things like bankruptcy and debt settlement will damage your credit for years. But with debt management, you have the chance to maintain or even improve your credit score while repaying your debt.
  • You want a streamlined strategy for paying off your debt. Debt management involves just one monthly payment, making the process simple and straightforward.

What to watch out for

If you’re interested in enrolling in a debt management program, Ross advises checking for the following things when looking for a credit counseling agency to work with:

  • Nonprofit status. Make sure the organization you’re working with is a nonprofit.
  • Time in business. Check to make sure the company has been in business for at least seven to 10 years.
  • Membership status. Ross advises checking to see if the agency is part of a credit counseling association, such as the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) or the Financial Counseling Association of America (FCCA).
  • Third-party accreditation. Make sure the agency is accredited by a third party.
  • Complaints. Check with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to make sure there are no complaints against the business.
  • Other requirements. Ross said you should also check to make sure the agency is licensed or bonded where they need to be.
  • Fees. As noted above, debt management plan fees should be reasonable and shouldn’t exceed $75 for enrollment and $50 per month.

What is debt settlement?

Debt settlement involves working with a for-profit company to have your debts negotiated. The idea is that by working with a debt settlement company, your debts will be negotiated to a lower amount and you’ll have less to pay.

Unfortunately, the debt settlement industry is rife with scams, and there’s no guarantee any of your debts will be settled. If you pursue this route, it’s imperative to do your due diligence. Read on for everything you need to know about debt settlement.

How does it work?

Consumers partner with a debt settlement company — sometimes referred to as a debt relief firm — who will attempt to negotiate the consumer’s unsecured debts to a lower amount. Each month, the consumer puts money in an account that is designed to pay off this negotiated amount once it is reached.

There is no guarantee that your debts will be negotiated, but if they are, it could be by as much as 50%.

You will likely need a minimum amount of debt to enroll in a debt settlement program. It depends on the firm, but minimum requirements are typically between $7,500 and $10,000.

Who is it useful for?

Debt settlement could be right for you if you have significant debt and you don’t anticipate being able to pay this debt off within a few years. It should be thought of as a last resort.

Those who meet any of the following criteria could consider debt settlement:

  • People whose debt is too significant for debt management. Typically speaking, debt management is a much better method for paying off debt. But if your debt is too significant for debt management and bankruptcy isn’t an option, you could consider debt settlement.
  • People whose primary concern isn’t their credit score. Debt settlement will have a major impact on your credit score, because you stop making your minimum monthly payments as part of the program. If your credit score is already poor and you think the benefit of getting out of debt outweighs the potential damage to your credit score, you could consider settlement.

How much does it cost?

Upfront costs vary with debt settlement. Some firms have no upfront costs at all. The primary form of payment is in program participation fees, as the firm will take a percentage of the total debt you’ve enrolled in the program.

ServiceCost
Program participation fees18% to 25% of total enrolled debt.
Miscellaneous feesFirms could charge additional maintenance and setup fees.

How long does it last?

It varies, but typically debt settlement lasts for three years or longer. It depends on the total amount of debt enrolled in the program and how long the negotiation process takes. Some programs will advertise that it could take as little as six months, though this is not typically the case.

When should you use it?

Considering debt settlement? If any of the following statements applies to you, it could be worth considering.

  • You have significant debt and not enough funds to pay it off. If you hold substantial debt (meaning upwards of $7,500) and don’t have the means to pay that debt off in a few years, debt settlement could be for you.
  • Bankruptcy isn’t an option. If you don’t qualify for bankruptcy or don’t want to pursue bankruptcy yet you hold substantial debt, settlement could be worth considering.
  • You want to get out of debt as quickly as possible even if it means your credit score will take a hit. Debt settlement will have a lasting negative impact on your credit score. If your desire to pay off your debt outweighs the potential ramifications to your credit score, then it might be an option worth considering.

What to watch out for

If you decide debt settlement is the right path for you, there are a handful of things you should be aware of:

  • Collection agency calls could intensify. Most debt settlement companies ask participants to stop making their minimum monthly payments as part of the debt settlement process. This means you could be hit with even more collection calls and letters.
  • Your credit score will suffer. If you do a debt settlement, your credit score will take a major hit. “As soon as you stop making your payments to your creditors, it’s going to get reported as a late payment,” Ross said. “Once you default altogether, your credit score is going to tank.”
  • There’s no guarantee your debts will be settled. No debt settlement firm can promise that your debt will be negotiated.
  • There are tax implications. If you enroll in a debt settlement program, you might still have to pay taxes on the full amount of debt before negotiation. Ross said laws vary on this from state to state.
  • You can’t be forced to pay fees on debts that aren’t settled. Be aware that debt settlement companies cannot charge you fees for debt entered into the program that wasn’t settled.

The debt settlement industry is not regulated and therefore it is rife with scams. If you’re interested in partnering with a debt settlement company, it’s important to do your research and vet the company. Check with the BBB to make sure the company has no complaints filed against them. You can also check to see if complaints have been filed with the state’s attorney general’s office.

Should you use debt management or debt settlement?

It depends on your personal situation. If the debt you hold can be paid back in a reasonable time frame, you want to take a safe path, and you’re interested in learning about how to build healthy financial habits, debt management is likely the right decision for you.

However, if you hold an immense amount of debt, but bankruptcy is not in the cards, debt settlement could be worth considering.

Regardless of the path you choose, here are some steps to help get you started:

Next steps: Pursuing debt management

  1. Find a nonprofit credit counseling agency to work with. You can consult the NFFC’s online database to find one in your area.
  2. Vet the agency appropriately. Check how long they’ve been in business, whether they have any complaints filed against them and whether they have nonprofit status. If necessary, consult a handful of agencies to find the right one.
  3. Get organized. Before you have a free consultation with the agency, get your finances in order so you know exactly how much debt you have.

Next steps: Pursuing debt settlement

  1. Shop around. It’s wise to consult multiple debt settlement companies before getting started. Compare things like monthly fees and enrollment requirements.
  2. Vet the company you select carefully. Check with the BBB to see if any complaints have been filed against the company you’re considering partnering with. You should also check to see how long they’ve been in business.
  3. Get everything in writing. If you decide to move forward with a debt settlement company, make sure you have the details of your agreement in writing.

Conclusion

You’ve taken the first step toward becoming debt-free, which is deciding you’re ready to buckle down and get started. From there, the most important thing is to do ample research and figure out which debt repayment strategy is best for you. Before you know it, you’ll be well on your way to becoming debt-free once and for all.

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Jamie Friedlander
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Jamie Friedlander is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Jamie here

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Completing one’s annual tax return can be a fairly straightforward process. You simply get your W-2 or 1099 forms and other necessary documents in the mail or online, then file using one of the many online software tools available.

But for some taxpayers, completing an annual tax return can cause an immense amount of stress. If your employment status and/or financial picture is complex, you might fall into this category. In addition, if you’re unsure about how the recent tax law changes might impact you, it might make sense to consult a professional this year.

Below, you’ll find seven common reasons why you should consider hiring a pro to do your taxes.

1. You had a major financial event in the previous year.

If your financial picture changed significantly in some way in the previous year, you might want to consider hiring a professional to do your taxes.

“If you’re used to doing it yourself, but you have a big tax income year with a lot of complexity, it makes sense,” said Andrew Rosen, a CFP at Diversified, LLC in Wilmington, Del.

Major financial events could include things like taking money out of a retirement account; having a significantly higher earning year; transferring jobs during the year, getting a large bonus, purchasing a home or having children who started college.

2. You’re self-employed, work as a freelancer, own a business or have a side hustle.

Perhaps you’re a freelance graphic designer. Or maybe you’re a self-employed consultant. Whatever your job may be, if you’re self-employed, you should definitely consider meeting with a pro when it’s time to do your taxes.

“If you are self-employed, I think it’s a really good idea to use [an accountant],” Rosen said. “If you’re self-employed, typically you have a lot of write-offs and there’s a lot of gray area. You want to make sure you’re categorizing things.”

One added benefit of consulting a professional if you’re self-employed is that you’ll have added protection from being audited.

“Generally, if the IRS sees that a return was done by a tax preparer, it’s less likely to be audited,” said Gary Schaider, a certified public accountant and manager at Weiss & Company LLP in Glenview, Ill. “And you have the firm’s signature behind your return, so they have some responsibility and stake in making your return correct and helping you with any IRS inquiries.”

Schaider said this protection is often why people consult a professional to do their taxes in the first place. “I think the audit risk for someone is pretty low, unless you’re amazingly wealthy,” he said. “But if you do have that signature of the CPA, that definitely gives you a better score on your tax return.”

3. You have children.

If you have children or claim other dependents, it might be worthwhile to consider hiring a professional to do your taxes. Rosen said that if you have children and everything else in your financial picture is normal, you might not need a pro. But if there’s any level of complexity to your finances, you should consider it.

If you have college savings planned for your children or monthly payments for school, for example, it could be beneficial to hire an accountant. In addition, if you have stepchildren or children from a previous relationship, you should consider hiring an accountant, as this may add a level of complexity to your tax return.

Plus, Rosen jokes, parents often don’t have the bandwidth and energy to complete their taxes.

“[Parents] typically don’t have a lot of time with their children, and taxes are complex,” he said. “I’m a firm believer in figuring out where you want to spend your time. Do you want to spend it doing your taxes and looking for receipts or do you want to dump it on someone else’s plate?”

4. You have many things to itemize.

Most people get everything they need to complete their tax return in the mail: 1099s, W-2s, mortgage interest, etc.

“I think that makes it relatively simple,” Schaider said. “But if you have anything else outside of what generally might come in the mail from the IRS, such as your own business [or] charitable expenses … you might want to consider using a professional to help you make sure they’re presented best on the return.”

Things you might be able to itemize include: mortgage interest, charitable donations, business expenses, interest on investments and medical expenses. If you plan on itemizing any of these deductions come tax season, hiring a professional can make it simpler.

In light of the recent tax law changes in 2018, you may also have questions about your itemized deductions that may not be fully deductible this year. An accountant can help you navigate these changes.

5. You had a major life event in the previous year.

If you had a significant life event in the previous year, consider consulting a tax professional to ensure you complete your tax return efficiently. Some major life events could include a death in the family, marriage, divorce or the birth of a child.

“If there’s anything unusual that sticks out, I think you should consult a professional,” Schaider said.

6. You have multiple investments accounts.

If you have investment accounts, such as college savings funds, stocks, bonds, annuities or individual retirement accounts, your financial picture is likely more complex. Consulting a professional to do your taxes can help ensure you abide by all of the tax rules that accompany these types of accounts.

7. You don’t have the time or energy, or you feel overwhelmed by the process.

If none of the above statements applies to you, that doesn’t mean you have to do your own tax return.

“Why would I tell people to have someone do their taxes? First is if you just don’t have the time or the bandwidth,” Rosen said. “I think there’s a power in outsourcing a lot of things in this world and, quite frankly, getting your taxes done has become a bit of a commodity. You can get it done fairly inexpensively.”

If you decide to consult a professional to do your taxes this year, Rosen advises looking for a certified public accountant, or CPA.

“If you’re going to seek tax help, I would look for a CPA,” he said. “You don’t have to be a CPA to do taxes. For instance, H&R Block and most [tax preparers] aren’t CPAs. If you’re going to pay for [your taxes], you’re not paying very much for a premium with most CPAs anyway. Might as well have someone who has a firm understanding of taxes.”

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Jamie Friedlander
Jamie Friedlander |

Jamie Friedlander is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Jamie here

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