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Don’t Let Your Entry-Level Salary Stop You From Taking Control of Your Debt

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Now that you’re out of school and ready to start making your own way in the world, it’s time to learn the ins and outs of managing your own money. And if you took out student loans in college, chances are you’re bringing over $29,000 of student debt along for the ride.

Getting a handle on your debt can be a challenge when you’re at the starting line of your career. Entry-level salaries vary greatly depending on where you live, according to ZipRecruiter. While you may be able to rake in over $38,000 in San Francisco, most newbies in North Carolina earn just $25,100. It’s all relative when you account for cost of living, but the point is this: It’s all about stretching your income and taking control of your debt.

How to pay down debt on your entry-level salary

The first step in taking control of your debt is creating a game plan that works for you. Consider these strategies if you’re working with a limited salary.

Prioritize your payments.

Not all debt is the same. When it comes to getting a handle on your accounts, the idea is to put out the biggest fire first. This means prioritizing whichever balance has the highest interest rate. Why? At the end of the day, it’s the account that’s charging you the most money to carry that debt.

Let’s say you have two identical credit cards with a balance of $3,000 and a minimum monthly payment of $150. Let’s assume one is charging you 20% interest, while the other is charging you 12%. If you continue paying only the minimum, you’ll ultimately shell out over $300 more paying off the card that has the higher interest rate.

Your highest-interest accounts deserve to be first in line; a debt-payoff strategy known as the avalanche method. While you’ll save the most money this way, some folks prefer the snowball method. This strategy prioritizes your lowest balance first. The benefit here is that you’ll see your accounts getting to zero faster, which provides a nice motivational boost to continue pushing on.

No matter which approach you choose, be sure to continue making your minimum payments across all your other open accounts to maintain strong credit.

Pick up a side gig.

Fifty-seven million Americans did some amount of freelance work last year, according to a 2019 report from the Freelancers Union and Upwork. That’s a $4 million jump since 2014. What that tells us is that more and more workers are bringing in money outside of their traditional 9-to-5s.

Look beyond your day job and zero in on your natural skill set. Is it possible to do some part-time consulting work within your industry? Or monetize an existing hobby? Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Putting in hours as a rideshare driver or food delivery person, for example, is pretty hands-off work that could create a steady stream of extra cash that you can throw at your debt.

Side hustles like tutoring, petsitting, babysitting or bartending can also be flexible and lucrative. The main takeaway is that rolling up your sleeves and picking up additional work can help accelerate your get-out-of-debt plan.

Cut your expenses.

When working with a smaller salary, every dollar spent is one less dollar you can put toward your debt. In addition to upping your income via side hustles, think about decreasing your expenses. Go through your bank statements and review your spending habits to get a clear snapshot of where your paychecks go.

Seeing the numbers will likely reveal spending patterns you weren’t aware of. Consider axing expenses you could easily live without, like old subscription services you don’t really use. You can also think about negotiating down your bills, from your internet and cable to your credit card interest rates.

Prefer to go big? Renting out a spare room, moving back in with mom and dad or swapping your car for public transit are big moves — but they’ll also unlock more cash to funnel toward your debt.

Consider consolidating your debt.

Debt consolidation is exactly what it sounds like — taking all your existing debt and transferring it onto a new account so that everything’s all in one place. That means having a fresh balance with one minimum payment each month. For many, a personal loan is the way to consolidate debt while also scoring a lower interest rate.

If approved for a personal loan, you’ll receive one lump sum that you can then use to pay off your other balances. It’s an installment loan, meaning that it’s structured differently than a credit card in that you can’t run up new charges. Many personal loans tack on an origination fee, usually between 0% and 8%, but the math may still be in your favor if you’re currently dealing with high-interest accounts that are eating up your take-home pay.

Another perk is that the borrowing limits are generally pretty high. With most personal loans, qualified borrowers are eligible for $1,000 to $35,000; usually with a payoff timeline between 24 and 144 months. The goal with this strategy is to eliminate your credit card balances and avoid racking up new debt while paying off the personal loan. To qualify for a loan with a reasonable interest rate, you’ll most likely need a credit score of at least 640.

Leverage balance transfer cards.

Personal loans aren’t the only way to consolidate debt. Say hello to balance transfer cards. When used the right way, they can help you pay down debt faster while keeping more cash in your pocket.

Here’s how they work. Balance transfers are credit cards that offer a promotional period where the interest is super low — sometimes even 0%. Once you’re approved, you can transfer high-interest balances over to the new card, usually for a fee of between 0% and 3%. Then you’ll enjoy a period of low (or no) interest while you hit that balance hard.

This time period varies but generally lasts anywhere from three to 36 months. No matter what, the goal is to pay it off completely within that promotional period, at which point interest will kick in.

Some parting words.

Having an entry-level salary and getting debt-free don’t have to be two opposing realities. Reworking your budget and strategizing your debt repayment plan can go a long way in knocking down your balances at a reasonable rate. The good news is that as you move through your career, your income will likely go up right along with it.

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How to Save on Summer Superfoods

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Summer is right around the corner, and there’s no shortage of delicious, nutrient-packed superfoods to indulge in. There’s just one catch: We tend to associate clean eating with high price tags.

While this is indeed the case for some foods (fresh raspberries go for about $2.29 per cup), eating healthy doesn’t always have to break the bank. It’s more than possible to weave nutritious, wholesome foods into your diet without destroying your budget.

Here’s an insider look at some of summer’s best and brightest superfoods — and how to save money stocking up on them.

Avocados

Avocados top the list, boasting a ton of health benefits.

“The reason they’re so healthy is that you’re getting a good combination of mono and saturated fatty acids, which are the ones that are good for the heart,” said dietitian Jessica Cording, M.S., R.D., C.D.N. “They’re also a very good source of fiber. In about a half of a medium-sized avocado, you’re going to get about 4 grams of fiber.”

That goes far, since the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends getting 25 to 38 grams of fiber per day. Another kicker: Avocados are a great source of vitamin E, which has been linked to improved cognitive functioning. To cut costs, Cording suggested keeping an eye out for store sales, then storing your avocados in the refrigerator to preserve their freshness.

Berries

Berries are a standout superfood. Blackberries, raspberries and blueberries are especially healthy, thanks to their strong antioxidant properties. Antioxidants help tame dangerous free radicals that can wreak havoc on our cells and potentially leave cancer in their wake.

Cording adds that blueberries have also been shown to promote heart health and cognitive functioning: “A lot of the pigments that give berries those beautiful colors are due to the anthocyanins that are also doing a lot of that awesome work taking care of us and fighting cell damage.”

Just be mindful when purchasing strawberries: while super healthy, they also top the Environmental Working Group’s “dirty dozen” list, meaning they have a higher risk of pesticide contamination. Going organic is your best defense, but it can get pricey. You may be able to curb your costs by opting for frozen berries over the fresh stuff, which also reduces food spoilage.

“For the most part, when you freeze fruits you’re not going to use, it actually preserves the nutrients as they are,” said registered dietitian and nutritionist Emily Dunn, M.S., R.D.L.D. “Freezing is almost like taking a snapshot of the nutrients as they are the day that they’re frozen. They do degrade a tiny bit over time, but nowhere near as fast as fresh.”

Use sales on frozen berries as an opportunity to stock up your freezer. Dunn added that your local big box store, like Sam’s Club or Costco, may also be cheaper than the regular supermarket.

Nuts

Different nuts tout different health benefits, but the bottom line is that nuts are indeed a superfood.

“Brazil nuts have a lot of selenium, which is good for your thyroid,” Dunn said. “Walnuts have some omega-3s in them, which are really good for brain and heart health, and almonds have a lot of vitamin E and some fiber in them, and fiber is good for digestion.”

So which ones should you buy? Dunn said to find ones you like, then go wherever your wallet takes you. Peanuts, for example, may be way more affordable than Brazil nuts, depending on where you live. You can also think about your own individual health needs — for example, if you’re trying to up your antioxidant intake, almonds might be a great choice since vitamin E is an antioxidant.

Bulk shopping is another option. Buying an 10-ounce bag of Mauna Loa dry roasted macadamia nuts will cost you $19.99, plus shipping, if you purchase it through the manufacturer. Meanwhile, BJ’s Wholesale Club is currently selling 10-ounce bags for just $10.99.

Chia seeds

Chia seeds are an often overlooked superfood that pack a big health punch.

“They’re a really good source of the plant form of omega-3 fatty acids,” Cording said. “The main reason I recommend chia seeds, honestly, is that they’re a really good source of fiber. In a tablespoon, you’re going to get 4 grams of fiber.”

Chia seeds are also extremely versatile. Toss them into a smoothie or sprinkle them on your yogurt for an automatic fiber boost. In terms of affordability, Cording says they’re pretty inexpensive at most markets — you can snag a 2-pound bag at Walmart for under $9.

Fatty fish

Fatty fish is brimming with the good stuff — protein, omega-3s and vitamins galore. It’s little wonder the American Heart Association recommends getting at least two servings per week. The downside is that larger, predatory fish, like swordfish and king mackerel, have higher mercury levels; not so for smaller fish.

“I know they’re not everyone’s cup of tea, but I’m a really big fan of sardines,” Cording said. “My favorite way to enjoy them is to take the boneless, skinless ones packed in olive oil, and mash those up and throw them in a salad with some leafy greens, some other veggies and some balsamic vinegar.”

The main reason she recommends sardines, though, is that they’re very budget-friendly, making it a great way to incorporate some seafood into your diet at a more accessible price point than, say, wild salmon.

Extra virgin olive oil

“There are a lot of popular oils out there, from avocado oil to coconut oil to grapeseed oil; and honestly, in my experience, olive oil trumps them all,” said Dunn, adding that it has the most antioxidants of any oil.

What’s more, one 2011 study published by the American Academy of Neurology found that those who regularly used olive oil for cooking and as a dressing had a 41 percent lower stroke risk than those who had no olive oil in their diet.

You can likely save by buying in bulk, but Dunn warned that olive oil usually goes bad after six months. (Translation: only buy what you’ll reasonably consume within that time frame.) Your local big box store isn’t your only option, though. At the time of this writing, organic extra virgin olive oil was cheaper at Walmart than at Costco.

The bottom line

Eating well this summer doesn’t have to be costly. Buying in bulk, looking for sales and opting for frozen fruits and veggies can go a long way. Dunn also suggested being mindful of the cheapest option within a specific category. Take dark, leafy greens, for example.

“Kale is typically more expensive than spinach, but the nutrient profile is pretty similar,” she said.

Meal planning can also help stretch your budget and prevent food waste, which is no small thing when you’re investing in clean eating.

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Pay Down My Debt

Are Balance Transfers the Best Way to Pay Off Debt?

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners. This site may be compensated through a credit card partnership.

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When you’re buried under a pile of debt, you’ll need to go beyond making the minimum payments if you hope to get debt-free as quickly as possible. And with interest rates on an upward swing, it may not be something you can afford to ignore.

This is where balance transfer credit cards come into play. Once you understand how they work, they can be a powerful tool that lets you temporarily pause your interest payments — and chip away at your principal balances faster.

MagnifyMoney tapped the experts to unpack everything you need to know about balance transfers. Here’s how to master the ins and outs of one of the most effective debt repayment options available.

What is a balance transfer?

It’s all in the name. A balance transfer involves taking one or more credit card balances and transferring them to a different card that has a lower interest rate. The ideal situation is to roll everything over to a card that has a 0% APR promotional period. This essentially eliminates the interest for a set period, giving you a chance to catch your breath and, if all goes according to plan, pay off the balance before the interest kicks in.

To pull off a balance transfer, you can either open a new low- or no-interest credit card, or look to your existing cards that you’ve already paid off to see if there are any deals to be had. According to David Metzger, a Chicago-based certified financial planner and founder of Onyx Wealth Management, it isn’t uncommon to find 0% interest rate promotions on your existing cards.

“If you’ve got multiple cards, chances are you get offers like that all the time,” he said.

If not, don’t be afraid to reach out to your credit card companies to see if they have any deals up for grabs. If they don’t, or you don’t have the credit capacity on your existing cards, you can shop online for a balance transfer card.

As for the promotional introductory period, it varies from offer to offer, with the best rates and terms generally going to those who’ve got excellent credit. Those with a minimum credit score of 680 can expect transfer periods that last anywhere from 12 to 21 months. Keep in mind that some offers tack on a balance transfer fee to the tune of 0% to 4%, so it pays to read the fine print.

How balance transfers can save you money

Temporarily eliminating your interest rate can translate to pretty significant savings. Let’s say you have the following open balances, and you pay $100 per month on each:

  • $1,000 with 18.00% APR
  • $2,000 with 16.00% APR
  • $800 with 20.00% APR

If you stay on this path, you’ll shell out $500 in interest and get out of debt in 24 months. But a balance transfer with 0% APR for 15 months will keep that $500 in your pocket. Your monthly payment won’t change, and you’ll also pay off the balance nine months faster. From a numbers-and-sense perspective, it’s a no-brainer.

“You can save a ridiculous amount in interest payments, but the name of the game is to more or less come close to paying the balance off completely before that transition over to that higher interest rate,” Lucas Casarez, a Fort Collins, Colo.-based certified financial planner and founder of Level Up Financial Planning, told MagnifyMoney.

Applying for a balance transfer credit card

As Metzger mentioned, turn first to any existing credit cards that can absorb some new debt. Are there any balance transfer offers available? If not, one of the best places to search and compare balance transfer offers is online. According to Casarez, the following factors play the biggest role in the kinds of deals for which you’ll be eligible:

  • A good credit score: You won’t qualify for much if your credit score is below 680. At the time of this writing, the longest promo periods with 0% interest were reserved for this bunch. Why? A lower credit score is a red flag to credit card companies that you may be a risky borrower.
  • Reliable income: Your credit score doesn’t stand alone. “You could have the best credit score in the world, but lenders still want to know that you have the ability to pay your bill,” Casarez said.

He adds that folks in retirement, for example, may have a tougher time qualifying for a worthwhile balance transfer since their money may come more from retirement accounts rather than Social Security or pensions. Casarez does clarify, however, that credit card companies typically want to approve you.

“These banks make a lot of money the longer that your current balance is at a higher interest rate,” he said.

3 questions to ask before transferring your debt

If you’re looking to save money and get out of debt faster, balance transfers are a powerful weapon to have in your arsenal — if you know how to use them wisely. Here’s what to consider before giving it a go.

1. Do you understand why you’re in debt?

This strategy won’t work if you don’t get to the root of why you’re in debt to begin with. What kinds of purchases make up the bulk of your existing credit card statements? Whether they’re living expenses, splurges or surprise pop-up bills, it’s time to revisit your budget to prevent falling into the same patterns again. After your balance transfer is complete, seeing $0 balances on your old credit cards can create serious temptation.

“If you don’t have a plan, balance transfers may be something that allow you to spend even more money, so it could put you further into the hole,” Casarez said. “It’s like a hot potato you’re passing around, but there’s going to come a day when you have to pay up.”

Having emergency savings on hand provides an additional safety net because you won’t need a credit card to see you through your next unexpected bill. Our insiders recommend building a $1,000 mini-emergency fund while you’re paying off debt.

2. Can you pay off your debt before the introductory period ends?

Once your budget and emergency fund are in shape, it’s time to shop around online for balance transfer offers. Ones with the lowest transfer fees and longest 0% introductory periods are best, but here’s the catch: This strategy only makes sense if you can pay off the balance before that period ends, at which point you’ll be slammed with interest charges on the remaining balance.

Standard interest rates after the introductory promo period ends are generally higher than other credit cards. And if you miss a payment, the credit card company may cancel your promo period.

3. Are you OK with taking a short-term credit hit?

Opening a new balance transfer card requires a hard credit inquiry, which will result in a short-term dip in your credit score. Your score may also take a small hit if the transfer itself uses up more than 30% of your new credit line. (How much you owe accounts for 30% of your FICO score.) But Metzger said it may be worth it if you’re ultimately eliminating high-interest debt faster.

“Your score will improve much faster than it would have had you not engaged in the strategy,” he said. “You take a small step backward for a huge step forward, if you’ve got the discipline to do it.”

Metzger does suggest using caution with balance transfers if you plan on financing a big purchase, such as a mortgage or car, within the next month or two. Depending on your financial health, slight fluctuations in your credit score could prevent you from getting your best interest rates on these purchases.

3 alternatives to a balance transfer

If a balance transfer isn’t in the cards for you right now, there are still plenty of viable ways to get out of debt as quickly as possible. Here are a few tried-and-true debt repayment methods you can put to use today.

1. Debt snowball method

The debt snowball approach prioritizes your lowest balance first, regardless of your interest rates. You make the minimum payments on all your debts while hitting the lowest balance the hardest with any extra income you can spare. Once it’s paid off, you take whatever you were spending there and roll it over to the next lowest balance. Keep on chugging along until all your balances are paid off.

“The nice thing about the debt snowball, and the reason that it tends to be the most effective way, is that you start to have those wins a lot faster when you’re focusing on those smaller balances,” Casarez said.

“You start to build up some momentum and confidence,” he added. “As you do that, you start to get a little bit more swagger and feel like you’re actually making progress and have more control over your financial situation than you thought.”

2. Debt avalanche method

This strategy puts your highest-interest balance above all others. When you compare it to the debt snowball method, it’s the fastest and cheapest way to get the job done, which is why Metzger said it makes the most sense.

“With that being said, people are quirky,” he added. “If paying down the lowest balance and snowballing it that way works for you, then by all means do it. The outcome is far more important than the path you take to get there.”

3. Debt Consolidation loan

Another way to tackle your debt is to consolidate it using a personal loan. Once you receive the loan amount, you use the funds to pay off all your debt, at which point you’ll have one new balance and monthly payment. This strategy is ideal for those who can lock down a lower interest rate. What’s more, personal loans often have fixed rates, monthly payments and repayment timelines, so it makes budgeting a whole lot easier.

And since it’s a lump-sum installment loan — not a revolving credit line in which you can charge and pay off as you go — using it to eliminate credit card debt should boost your credit score because you’re effectively using less available credit. Some personal loans do come with an origination fee, typically between 0% and 6%, so do the math to see if it’s the right debt consolidation method for you.

When shopping for a debt consolidation loan, it’s best to compare your option to make sure you get the one with the lowest interest rate. LendingTree, the parent company to MagnifyMoney, allows you to compare up to five lenders without affecting your credit score. Use our table below to get your best results!



Compare Debt Consolidation Loan Options

Which is the best way to pay off debt for you?

It all depends on your situation. If you’ve got a solid credit score and qualify for attractive balance transfer offers, it’s worth exploring — as long as you don’t charge new debt and you’ve got a plan in place for paying off the balance before the introductory period ends. When done right, balance transfers are great shortcuts that could save you a significant amount of time and money in the long run.

The debt snowball and avalanche methods are worthwhile alternatives for those who prefer to get out of debt the old-fashioned way. Meanwhile, a debt consolidation loan could pave the way for a locked-in lower interest rate. The main takeaway here is that you have multiple debt repayment options at your fingertips. They’re all, as the old saying goes, “Different paths up the same mountain.”

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

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