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How To Make A Budget You Can Stick To

January 13, 2020

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Stephen  Mockler

Stephen Mockler

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How To Make A Budget You Can Stick To

How To Make A Budget You Can Stick To
January 13, 2020

Some people love to live a life of thrift.

It’s a challenge they tackle with gusto. Shaving down expenses with couponing, hunting the best deals with an app on their phones, or simply finding creative ways to reuse a cardboard box, gives them a thrill. For others, budgeting conjures up images of living in tents, foraging for nuts and berries in the woods, and sewing together everyone’s old t-shirts to make a blanket for grandma.

To each their own! But budgeting doesn’t have to be faced like a wilderness survival reality TV competition. Sure, there might be some sacrifice and compromise involved when you first implement your budget (giving up that daily $6 latte might feel like roughing it at first), but rest assured there’s a happy middle to most things, and a way that won’t make you hate adhering to your financial goals.

Simplifying the budgeting process can help ease the transition. Check out the following suggestions to make living on a budget something you can stick to – instead of making a shelter out of sticks.

Use that smartphone. Your parents may have used a system of labeled envelopes to budget for various upcoming expenses. Debit cards have largely replaced cash these days, and all those labeled envelopes were fiddly anyway. Your best budgeting tool is probably in your pocket, your purse, or wherever your smartphone is at the moment.

Budgeting apps can connect to your bank account and keep track of incoming and outgoing cash flow, making it simple to categorize current expenses and create a solid budget. A quick analysis of the data and charts from the app can give you important clues about your spending behavior. Maybe you’ll discover that you spent $100 last week for on-demand movies. $5 here and $10 there can add up quickly. Smartphone apps can help you see (in vivid color) how your money could be evaporating in ways you might not feel on a day-to-day basis.

Some apps give you the ability to set a budget for certain categories of spending (like on-demand movies), and you can keep track of how you’re doing in relation to your defined budget. Some apps even provide alerts to help keep you aware of your spending. And if you’re feeling nostalgic, there are even apps that mimic the envelope systems of old, but with a digital spin.

Plan for unexpected expenses. Even with modern versions of budgeting, one of the biggest risks for losing your momentum is the same as it was in the days of the envelope system: unexpected expenses. Sometimes an unexpected event – like car trouble, an urgent home repair, or medical emergency – can cost more than we expected. A lot more.

A good strategy to help protect your budget from an unexpected expense is an Emergency Fund. It may take a while to build your Emergency Fund, but it will be worth it if the tire blows out, the roof starts leaking, or you throw your back out trying to fix either of those things against your doctor’s orders.

The size of your Emergency Fund will depend on your unique situation, but a goal of at least $1,000 to 3 months of your income is recommended. Three months of income may sound like a lot, but if you experience a sudden loss of income, you’d have at least three full months of breathing room to get back on track.

Go with the flow. As you work with your new budget, you may find that you miss the mark on occasion. Some months you’ll spend more. Some months you’ll spend less. That’s normal. Over time, you’ll have an average for each expense category or expense item that will reveal where you can do better – but also where you may have been more frugal than needed.

With these suggestions in mind, there is no time like the present to get started! Make that new budget, then buy yourself an ice cream or turn on the air conditioning. Once you know where you stand, where you need to tighten up on spending, and where you can let loose a little, budgeting might not seem like a punishment. In fact, you might find that it’s a useful, much-needed strategy that you CAN stick to – all part of the greater journey to your financial independence.

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TAN131526-0919

3 More "I Dos" for Newlyweds

3 More "I Dos" for Newlyweds

Congratulations, newlyweds!

“To have and to hold, from this day forward…”

At a time like this, there are 3 more “I dos” for you to consider:

1. Do you have life insurance?
Any discussion about life insurance is going to start with this question, so let’s get it out of the way! As invigorated as people feel after finding the love of their life…let’s face it – they’re not invincible. The benefits of life insurance include protecting against loss of income and covering funeral expenses. Many of these benefits can depend on what kind of life insurance you have. Bottom line: having life insurance is a great way to show your love for years to come – for better OR worse.

2. Do you have the right type and amount of life insurance?
Life insurance policies are not “one size fits all.” There are different types of policies with different kinds of coverage, benefits, and uses. Having the right policy with adequate coverage is the key to protecting your new spouse in the event of a traumatic event – not just loss of life. Adequate life insurance coverage and optional riders may help keep your spouse afloat in the case of an unexpected disabling injury or if long term care is needed. Your life with your spouse isn’t going to be one size fits all, and your life insurance policy won’t be either – for richer or poorer.

3. Do you have the right beneficiaries listed on your policy?
This question is particularly important if you had an existing policy before marriage. Most newlyweds opt for listing each other as their primary beneficiary, and with good reason: listing the correct beneficiary will help ensure that any insurance payout will get delivered to them – in sickness and in health.

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*Transamerica Agency Network is a marketing group with Transamerica. Insurance products are sold through United Financial Services, Inc. and affiliated Transamerica companies.

Any guarantees associated with a life insurance policy are subject to the claims paying ability of the issuing insurance company.*

TAN13296710-10.19

5 Things to Consider When Starting Your Own Business

5 Things to Consider When Starting Your Own Business
December 30, 2019

Does anything sound better than being your own boss?

Well, maybe a brand new sports car or free ice cream for life. But even a state-of-the-art fully-decked-out sports car will eventually need routine maintenance, and the taste of mint chocolate chip can get old after a while.

The same kinds of things can happen when you start your own business. There are many details to consider and seemingly endless tasks to keep organized after the initial excitement of being your own boss and keeping your own hours has faded. Circumstances are bound to arise that no one ever prepared you for!

Although this list is not exhaustive, here are 5 things to get you started when creating a business of your own:

1. Startup cost

The startup cost of your business depends heavily on the type of business you want to have. To estimate the startup cost, make a list of anything and everything you’ll need to finance in the first 6 months. Then take each expense and ask:

  • Is this cost fixed or variable?
  • Essential or optional?
  • One-time or recurring?

Once you’ve determined the frequency and necessity of each cost for the first 6 months, add it all together. Then you’ll have a ballpark idea of what your startup costs might be.

(Hint: Don’t forget to add a line item for those unplanned, miscellaneous expenses!)

2. Competitors

“Find a need, and fill it” is general advice for starting a successful business. But if the need is apparent, how many other businesses will be going after the same space to fill? And how do you create a business that can compete? After all, keeping your doors open and your business frequented is priority #1.

The simplest and most effective solution? Be great at what you do. Take the time to learn your business and the need you’re trying to fill – inside and out. Take a step back and think like a customer. Try to imagine how your competitors are failing at meeting customers’ needs. What can you do to solve those issues? Overcoming these hurdles can’t guarantee that your doors will stay open, but your knowledge, talent, and work ethic can set you apart from competitors from the start. This is what builds life-long relationships with customers – the kind of customers that will follow you wherever your business goes.

(Hint: The cost of your product or service should not be the main differentiator from your competition.)

3. Customer acquisition

The key to acquiring customers goes back to the need you’re trying to fill by running your business. If the demand for your product is high, customer acquisition may be easier. And there are always methods to bring in more. First and foremost, be aware of your brand and what your business offers. This will make identifying your target audience more accurate. Then market to them with a varied strategy on multiple fronts: content, email, and social media; search engine optimization; effective copywriting; and the use of analytics.

(Hint: The amount of money you spend on marketing – e.g., Google & Facebook ads – is not as important as who you are targeting.)

4. Building product inventory

This step points directly back to your startup cost. At the beginning, do as much research as you can, then stock your literal (or virtual) shelves with a bit of everything feasible you think your target audience may want or need. Track which products (or services) customers are gravitating towards – what items in your inventory disappear the most quickly? What services in your repertoire are the most requested? After a few weeks or months you’ll have real data to analyze. Then always keep the bestsellers on hand, followed closely by seasonal offerings. And don’t forget to consider making a couple of out-of-the-ordinary offerings available, just in case. Don’t underestimate the power of trying new things from time to time; you never know what could turn into a success!

(Hint: Try to let go of what your favorite items or services might be, if customers are not biting.)

5. Compliance with legal standards

Depending on what type of business you’re in, there may be standards and regulations that you must adhere to. For example, hiring employees falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Labor and Federal Employment Laws. There are also State Labor Laws to consider.

(Hint: Be absolutely sure to do your research on the legal matters that can arise when beginning your own business. Not many judges are very accepting of “But, Your Honor, I didn’t know that was illegal!”)

Starting your own business is not an impossible task, especially when you’re prepared.

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TAN132972_1019

Getting Your Reindeer In a Row

Getting Your Reindeer In a Row

Dasher. Dancer. Prancer. Vixen.

Comet. Cupid. Donner. Blitzen. (And Rudolph too, of course.)

This is a holiday roll-call that’s instantly recognizable: the reindeer that pull Santa’s magical sleigh. But what if things got so hectic at the North Pole (not a stretch when you’re in charge of delivering presents to every child on Earth), that when it was time to hitch up the reindeer on Christmas Eve, they were all out of order?

Prancer. Cupid. Dasher. Comet. Dancer. Vixen. Blitzen. Donner.

Hmmm, someone’s missing… what happened to Rudolph? (Looks like he got left behind at the North Pole. In all the hubbub one of Santa’s elves forgot to review the pre-flight checklist.)

Since so much can change during the year from one crazy “Happy Holidays!” to the next, your ducks – or reindeer, that is – may not even be in a row at this point. They could be frolicking unattended in a field somewhere! And who knows where your Rudolph even is.

You know what can help with that? An annual review of your financial strategy. This review is key to keeping you on track for your unique goals. Lots of things can change over the course of a year, and your strategy could need some reorganizing. I mean, did you hear about everything that changed for Prancer? (What do you call a baby reindeer, anyway?)

Here are some important questions to consider at least once each year (or even more often):

1. Are you on track to meet your savings goals? A well-prepared retirement is a worthy goal. An annual review with a financial professional helps you make sure that nothing drove you too far off track this year, and if it did, you two can explore what can be done to get you back on the right path.

2. Do you have the potential for new savings? Did your health improve this year? Did that black mark on your driving record expire? Changes like these have the potential to positively impact your life insurance rate, but digging into your policy is important for discovering what kinds of savings might be in store for you.

3. Have your coverage needs increased? Marriage, having a child, or buying a home are all instances in which your life insurance coverage probably should be increased. Have any of these occurred for you over the last year? Have you added the new family member as a beneficiary?

If you haven’t had a chance to review your strategy this year, you can fit one in before Santa shimmies down the chimney. Which of your reindeer do you need to wrangle back into the ranks before the New Year gets going?

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Transamerica Agency Network is a marketing group with Transamerica. Insurance products are sold through United Financial Services, Inc. and affiliated Transamerica companies.

TAN132969-1019

Boost Your Daily Routine with These 3 Financial Habits

Boost Your Daily Routine with These 3 Financial Habits
December 18, 2019

It’s late Friday afternoon. Your to-do list is a crumpled, coffee-stained memory in the bottom of your wastebasket. Another great week in the books!

But as you head out for a night on the town with friends or maybe cuddle up next to your kids to watch their favorite movie, did you ever consider how you spent your after-work time during the week?

Whether you’re routine-driven, a free spirit, or somewhere in between, setting aside a few minutes every day to spend on your finances has the potential to make a huge difference in the long run. By adding these 3 financial habits to your daily routine, you have the potential to give yourself a little more power over your finances.

1. Check your inbox (or mailbox). Whether you pay your bills via credit card, automatic withdrawal, or a hand-written check that you mail in to the company, a daily look-see will help you stay on top of any alerts you get. Spend a few minutes every day glancing over incoming bills, payment receipts, and new online transactions. Being aware of the exodus (or pending exodus) of your money can help fend off late fees, overdrawing your accounts, or maxing out your credit card.

2. Review your spending. Every evening, take quick stock of any spending you did that day – whether in brick-and-mortar stores or online. This exercise can be eye-opening. For instance, are you in the habit of grabbing a piping hot cup of coffee from the drive-thru on your morning commute? Depending on your coffee preference, that can cost up to $5 a day! Maybe 5 bucks isn’t a huge deal, but consider this:

  • $5 for coffee x 5 days a week = $25
  • $25 a week x 4 weeks/month = $100
  • That’s $100 per month spent on coffee!

Just staying aware of those little daily expenditures may make a huge difference in your financial health; when you know how much you’re paying over time for something you could prepare at home (for far less money), you may decide to scale back on the barista-brewed coffee so you can help boost your financial future – and keep yourself on the path to financial independence.

3. Learn a little more. Knowing how money works is a vital part of achieving and maintaining financial independence. Taking a few moments every day to educate yourself a little more about money can make a huge difference in the long run. It can keep you aware of best practices for money management and all the ways your money can work for you. Try a blog post, YouTube video, or a best-seller on finances to keep yourself informed and up to date.

As you start putting these simple financial habits in place, contact me any time! Together we can assess how these small changes could help strengthen your financial strategy and get you closer to financial independence.

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Transamerica Agency Network is a marketing group with Transamerica. Insurance products are sold through United Financial Services, Inc. and affiliated Transamerica companies.

TAN132970-10.19

The Birds Have Flown the Coop!

The Birds Have Flown the Coop!
December 16, 2019

The kids (finally) moved out!

Now you can plan those vacations for just the two of you, delve into new hobbies you’ve always wanted to explore… and decide whether or not you should keep your life insurance as empty nesters.

The answer is YES!

Why? Even though you and your spouse are empty nesters now, life insurance still has real benefits for both of you. One of the biggest benefits is your life insurance policy’s death benefit. Should either you or your spouse pass away, the death benefit can pay for final expenses and replace the loss of income, both of which can keep you or your spouse on track for retirement in the case of an unexpected tragedy.

What’s another reason to keep your life insurance policy? Some life insurance policies have cash value. Now that the kids have moved out and are financially stable on their own, the cash value of certain life insurance policies can be used for retirement or an emergency fund. If your retirement savings took a hit while you helped your children finance their college educations, your life insurance policy might have you covered. Utilizing the cash value has multiple factors you should be aware of before making any decision.*

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*Loans and withdrawals will reduce the policy value and death benefit dollar for dollar. Withdrawals are subject to partial surrender charges if theyoccur during a surrender charge period. Loans are made at interest. Loans may also result in the need to add additional premium into the policy toavoid a lapse of the policy. In the event that the policy lapses, all policy surrenders and loans are considered distributions and, to the extent that the distributions exceed the premiums paid (cost basis), they are subject to taxation as ordinary income. Lastly, all references to loans assume that the contract remains in force, qualifies as life insurance and is not a modified endowment contract (MEC). Loans from a MEC will generally be taxable and, if taken prior to age 59 1/2, may be subject to a 10% tax penalty. 

TAN132971-10.19

3 Ways to Give Thanks for Loved Ones

3 Ways to Give Thanks for Loved Ones

Just saying “thanks” without giving a little thanks back tends to lose its charm when we start to lose our first teeth.

When we’re young, it seems like our parents and older siblings are just relieved that we’re learning some manners to offset our little legs swinging wildly off the chair under the dinner table, narrowly missing people’s shins. (Hey, it’s hard to sit still at big family meals when you’re that little!) All the grown up talk about far away jobs or how much you’ve grown wasn’t as stimulating as the tooth that had started to wiggle ever so slightly when you bit into some turkey… But at least you remembered to say thank you when someone passed the cranberry sauce!

As we got older, though, those conversations became easier to participate in as we shared our own stories, watched our extended family grow and mature, and then tried to wrangle our own kids into saying “thank you” when they were given a gift by a relative they hadn’t seen in a year.

The biggest lesson we learn about being thankful as we get older? It’s important to show the people we love how thankful we are for them – not just say it. We learn more about the responsibility we have to take care of the people we are thankful for. And at this time of year, we can give our thanks to them by making sure they are financially prepared if we suddenly aren’t around anymore.

Here are 3 ways you can give thanks for your loved ones:

1. Consider getting life insurance. Replacing lost income, covering funeral expenses, gaining potential tax advantages, having early access to money – these benefits of life insurance will give your loved ones a bit of financial stability and let them know how thankful you were for them. However, many of these benefits can depend on what type of life insurance you have, so taking the time to find the right type and amount of insurance for your particular needs and goals is important. Which leads us to the second way to give thanks…

2. Get the right type and amount of life insurance. Life insurance policies are not “one size fits all,” so investing your energy into this step is a key way to give thanks for your loved ones. Different types of policies have different kinds of coverage, benefits, and uses. Having the right policy with adequate coverage is the key to protecting your loved ones in the event of a traumatic event – not just the loss of life. Adequate life insurance coverage can help keep you and your loved ones afloat in the case of an unexpected disabling injury, or if you’re in need of long term care. Your life with your loved ones isn’t going to be one size fits all, and your life insurance policy won’t be either.

3. List the right beneficiaries on your policy. This question is particularly important if you haven’t looked at or updated your beneficiaries in a while. Why? Because listing the correct beneficiary will help ensure that any insurance payout will get delivered to the them. You may need to review your policy’s beneficiaries if you have recently married or divorced, had kids, or maybe even met with a cousin over the holidays who you’d like to leave a little something to!

Now that you know a little bit more about how tailored life insurance can help, how fast did it jump to the top of your “Holiday Gift Ideas” list?

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TAN132968-10.19

The Challenge Of Losing Your Income

The Challenge Of Losing Your Income
November 25, 2019

You’ve already got a lot to deal with. Why buy life insurance at all?

It all comes down to protection. The idea of protecting things like your car or house are pretty common. Even if car insurance weren’t mandatory in most states or provinces, buying it would probably be a good idea. You’d want to make sure you could cover any damages from an accident – especially if you’re at fault. And protecting your investment in your home from the unexpected like an earthquake, fire, flood, theft, etc. is a bit of a no-brainer.

One of the most important things to protect before all others? Your ability to earn an income. Your income enables you to not only buy your car and your house but also the insurance to protect those things. If you were to lose your income, then those things could also be lost if you can’t afford them any longer.

Getting laid off or fired could be a cause of lost income. In that case, you still have the ability to work, which means finding a new job is possible. But in the event of a disability, critical illness, or premature death of a breadwinner? Those situations are a bit tougher to bounce back from – especially that last one.

Before becoming financially independent, a financial situation may typically be less secure, meaning you might have more financial responsibility than wealth. For example, if you don’t have a lump sum of cash to buy a house, you’d need to finance the purchase over a longer period of time via a mortgage. This creates a responsibility to continue making the mortgage payments in full and on time. Losing your income would be devastating since it could affect your payments – and when mortgage payments can’t be made, you might lose your home.

What all of this means: Your ability to earn an income should also be protected. Getting the right type and the right amount of insurance can seem complicated, especially if you’re considering all the different kinds you may need. That’s where speaking with a financial professional might come in handy. If you’re looking to protect the most important aspect of your financial situation (namely, your ability to earn income) and you’d like to see your options, let’s talk. It would be my pleasure to help you get a better understanding of your options.

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TAN132966-10.19

Putting a Wrap On the Sandwich Generation

Putting a Wrap On the Sandwich Generation
November 11, 2019

Ever heard of the “Sandwich Generation”?

Unfortunately, it’s not a group of financially secure, middle-aged foodies whose most important mission is hanging out in the kitchens of their paid-off homes, brainstorming ideas about how to make the perfect sandwich. The Sandwich Generation refers to adults who find themselves in the position of financially supporting their grown children and their own parents, all while trying to save for their futures. They’re “sandwiched” between caring for both the older generation and the younger generation.

Can you relate to this? Do you feel like a PB&J that was forgotten at the bottom of a 2nd grader’s backpack?

If you feel like a sandwich, here are 3 tips to help put a wrap on that:

1. Have a plan. In an airplane, the flight attendants instruct us to put on our own oxygen mask before helping someone else put on theirs – this means before anyone, even your children or your elderly parents. Put your own mask on first. This practice is designed to help keep you and everyone else safe. Imagine if half the plane passed out from lack of oxygen because everyone neglected themselves while trying to help other people. When it comes to potentially having to support your kids and your parents, a tailored financial strategy that includes life insurance and contributing to a retirement fund will help you get your own affairs in order first, so that you can help care for your loved ones next.

2. Increase your income. For that sandwich, does it feel like there’s never enough mayonnaise? You’re always trying to scrape that last little bit from the jar. Increasing your income would help stock your pantry (figuratively, and also literally) with an extra jar or two. Options for a 2nd career are everywhere, and many entrepreneurial opportunities let you set your own hours and pace. Working part-time as your own boss while helping to get out of the proverbial panini press? Go for it!

3. Start dreaming again. You may have been in survival mode for so long that you’ve forgotten you once had dreams. What would you love to do for yourself or your family when you have the time and money? Take that vacation to Europe? Build that addition on to the house? Own that luxury car you’ve always wanted? Maybe you’d like to have enough leftover to help others pursue their goals.

And remember: It’s not too late to start feeling less like baloney and more like a Monte Cristo.

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TAN131528-0919

Big Financial Rocks First

Big Financial Rocks First
November 4, 2019

A teacher walked into her classroom with a clear jar, a bag of rocks, a bucket of sand, and a glass of water.

She placed all the large rocks carefully into the jar. “Who thinks this jar is full?” she asked. Almost half of her students raised their hands. Next, she began to pour sand from the bucket into the jar full of large rocks, emptying the entire bucket into the jar.

“Who thinks this jar is full now?” she asked again. Almost all of her students now had their hands up. To her students’ surprise, she emptied the glass of water into the seemingly full jar of rocks and sand.

“What do you think I’m trying to show you?” She inquired.

One eager student answered: “That things may appear full, but there is always room left to put more stuff in.”

The teacher smiled and shook her head.

“Good try, but the point of this illustration is that if I didn’t put in the large rocks first, I would not be able to fit them in afterwards.”

This concept can be applied to the idea of a constant struggle between priorities that are urgent versus those that are important. When you have limited resources, priorities must be in place since there isn’t enough to go around. Take your money, for example. Unless you have an unlimited amount of funds (we’re still trying to find that source), you can’t have an unlimited amount of important financial goals.

Back to the teacher’s illustration. Let’s say the big rocks are your important goals. Things like buying a home, helping your children pay for college, retirement at 60, etc. They’re all important – but not urgent. These things may happen 10, 20, or 30 years from now.

Urgent things are the sand and water. A monthly payment like your mortgage payment or your monthly utility and internet bills. The urgent things must be paid – and paid on time. If you don’t pay your mortgage on time… Well, you might end up retiring homeless.

Even though these monthly obligations might be in mind more often than your retirement or your toddler’s freshman year in college, if all you focus on are urgent things, then the important goals fall by the wayside. And in some cases, they stay there long after they can realistically be rescued. Saving up for a down payment for a home, funding a college education, or having enough to retire on is nearly impossible to come up with overnight (still looking for that source of unlimited funds!). In most cases, it takes time and discipline to save up and plan well to achieve these important goals.

What are the big rocks in your life? If you’ve never considered them, spend some time thinking about it. When you have a few in mind, place them in the priority queue of your life. Otherwise, if those important goals are ignored for too long, they might become one of the urgent goals – and perhaps ultimately unrealized if they weren’t put in your plan early on.

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TAN131529-0919

3 Ways to Shift from Indulgence into Independence

3 Ways to Shift from Indulgence into Independence
October 28, 2019

On Monday mornings, we’re all faced with a difficult choice.

Get up a few minutes early to brew your own coffee, or sleep a little later and then whip through a drive-thru for your morning pick-me-up?

When that caffeine hits your bloodstream, how you got the coffee may not matter too much. But the next time you go through a drive thru for that cup o’ joe, picture your financial strategy shouting and waving its metaphorical arms to get your attention.

Why? Each and every time you indulge in a “luxury” that has a less expensive alternative, you’re potentially delaying your financial independence. Delay it too long and you might find yourself working when you should be enjoying a comfortable retirement. Sound dramatic? Alarmist? Apocalyptic? But that’s how it happens – one $5 peppermint mocha at a time. This isn’t to say that you can’t enjoy an indulgence every once in a while. You gotta “treat yourself” sometimes, right? Just be sure that you’re sticking with your overall, long-term strategy. Your future self will thank you!

Here are 3 ways to shift from indulgence to independence:

1. Make coffee at home. Reducing your expenses can start as simply as making your morning coffee at home. And you might not even have to get up earlier to do it. Why not invest in a coffee pot with a delay brewing function? It’ll start brewing at the time you preset, and what’s a better alarm clock than the scent of freshly-brewed coffee wafting from the kitchen? Or from your bedside table… (This is a judgment-free zone here – do what you need to do to get up on time in the morning.)

Get started: A quick Google search will yield numerous lists of copycat specialty drinks that you can make at home.

2. Workout at home. A couple of questions to ask yourself:

1) Will an expensive gym membership fit into your monthly budget? 2) How often have you gone to the gym in the last few months?

If your answers are somewhere between “No” and “I’d rather not say,” then maybe it’s time to ditch the membership in favor of working out at home. Or perhaps you’re a certified gym rat who faithfully wrings every dollar out of your gym membership each month. Then ask yourself if you really need all the bells and whistles that an expensive gym might offer. Elliptical, dumbbells, and machines with clearly printed how-tos? Yes, of course. But a hot tub, sauna, and an out-of-pocket juice bar? Maybe not. If you can get in a solid workout without a few of those pricey extras, your body and your wallet will thank you.

Get started: Instead of a using a treadmill inside the gym, take a walk or jog around your local park each day – it’s free! If you prefer to work out at a gym, look into month-to-month membership options instead of paying a hefty price for a year-long membership up front.

3. Ditch cable and use a video streaming service instead. Cable may give you access to more channels and more shows than ever before, but let’s be honest. Who has time to watch 80 hours of the greatest moments in sports every week? Asking yourself if you could cut the cable and wait a little longer for your favorite shows to become available on a streaming service might not be a bad idea. Plus, who doesn’t love using a 3-day weekend to binge-watch an entire series every now and then? There’s also the bonus of how easy it is to cancel/reactivate a streaming service. With cable, you may be locked into a multi-year contract, installation can be a hassle (and they may add an extra installation fee), and you can forget about knowing when the cable guy is actually going to show up.

Get started: Plenty of streaming services offer free trial periods. Go ahead and give them a try, but be careful: You may have to enter your credit card number to access the free trial. Don’t forget to cancel before your trial is over, or you will be charged.

Taking time to address the luxuries you can live without (or enjoy less often) has the potential to make a huge impact on your journey to financial independence. Cutting back here and investing in yourself there – it all adds up.

In what areas do you think you can start indulging less?

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TAN131527-0919

Now’s the Time for Future Planning

Now’s the Time for Future Planning
October 21, 2019

What happened to the days of the $10 lawn mowing job or the $7-an-hour babysitting gig every Saturday night?

Not a penny withheld. No taxes to file. No stress about saving a “million dollars” for retirement. As a kid, doing household chores or helping out your friends and neighbors for a little spending money was vastly different from your grown up reality – writing checks for all those bills, paying your taxes, and buying all the things that children seem to need these days, all while trying to save as much as you can for your retirement. When you were a kid, did those concepts feel so far away that they might as well have been camped out on Easter Island?

What happened to the carefree attitude surrounding our finances? It’s simple: we got older. More opportunities. More responsibilities. More choices. As the years go by, finances get more complicated. So knowing where your money is going and whether or not it’s working for you when it gets there is something you need to determine sooner rather than later – even before your source of income switches from mowing lawns and babysitting to your first internship at that marketing firm downtown.

A great way to get a better idea of where your money is going and what it’s doing when it gets there? A financial strategy.

No message in a bottle sent from a more-prepared version of your future self is going to drift your way from Easter Island. A sound strategy for your money is essential, starting as soon as possible is better than waiting, and talking to a financial professional is a solid way to get going.

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TAN131530-09198

How to save for a big purchase

How to save for a big purchase
September 30, 2019

It’s no secret that life is full of surprises. Surprises that can cost money.

Sometimes, a lot of money. They have the potential to throw a monkey wrench into your savings strategy, especially if you have to resort to using credit to get through an emergency. In many households, a budget covers everyday spending, including clothes, eating out, groceries, utilities, electronics, online games, and a myriad of odds and ends we need.

Sometimes, though, there may be something on the horizon that you want to purchase (like that all-inclusive trip to Cancun for your second honeymoon), or something you may need to purchase (like that 10-years-overdue bathroom remodel).

How do you get there if you have a budget for the everyday things you need, you’re setting aside money in your emergency fund, and you’re saving for retirement?

Make a goal
The way to get there is to make a plan. Let’s say you’ve got a teenager who’s going to be driving soon. Maybe you’d like to purchase a new (to him) car for his 16th birthday. You’ve done the math and decided you can put $3,000 towards the best vehicle you can find for the price (at least it will get him to his job and around town, right?). You have 1 year to save but the planning starts now.

There are 52 weeks in a year, which makes the math simple. As an estimate, you’ll need to put aside about $60 per week. (The actual number is $57.69 – $3,000 divided by 52). If you get paid weekly, put this amount aside before you buy that $6 latte or spend the $10 for extra lives in that new phone game. The last thing you want to do is create debt with small things piling up, while you’re trying to save for something bigger.

Make your savings goal realistic
You might surprise yourself by how much you can save when you have a goal in mind. Saving isn’t a magic trick, however, it’s based on discipline and math. There may be goals that seem out of reach – at least in the short-term – so you may have to adjust your goal. Let’s say you decide you want to spend a little more on the car, maybe $4,000, since your son has been working hard and making good grades. You’ve crunched the numbers but all you can really spare is the original $60 per week. You’d need to find only another $17 per week to make the more expensive car happen. If you don’t want to add to your debt, you might need to put that purchase off unless you can find a way to raise more money, like having a garage sale or picking up some overtime hours.

Hide the money from yourself
It might sound silly but it works. Money “saved” in your regular savings or checking account may be in harm’s way. Unless you’re extremely careful, it’s almost guaranteed to disappear – but not like what happens in a magic show, where the magician can always bring the volunteer back. Instead, find a safe place for your savings – a place where it can’t be spent “accidentally”, whether it’s a cookie jar or a special savings account you open specifically to fund your goal.

Pay yourself first
When you get paid, fund your savings account set up for your goal purchase first. After you’ve put this money aside, go ahead and pay some bills and buy yourself that latte if you really want to, although you may have to get by with a small rather than an extra large.

Saving up instead of piling on more credit card debt may be a much less costly way (by avoiding credit card interest) to enjoy the things you want, even if it means you’ll have to wait a bit.

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TAN108360-1018

Are you sure about this?

Are you sure about this?
September 23, 2019

Nearly every working adult dreams of a comfortable retirement, to finally be free to enjoy life.

If you’re approaching retirement age, it’s important to check on your numbers to be sure you’ve considered all the factors. If you’re younger, it might be difficult to know exactly how much to save. Think of it this way: strive to put away as much as you can.

What age do you want to retire?
Social Security can play a big role in retirement income, and the difference on a monthly basis between taking a benefit at age 62, 65, or waiting until age 70 to begin drawing benefits can be substantial.[i] If you choose to wait until 70 to take benefits, the total amount paid is comparable for all three options. However, from a cash-flow perspective, the bump in pay could be valuable when the monthly bills arrive in the mail.

How long will your money last?
One rule of thumb for knowing how much to take out of your retirement account each year is the “4% rule”.[ii] As its name suggests, you would withdraw 4% of your retirement savings each year. If you have a larger amount saved, your “income” from your retirement savings will be higher. The 4% rule is designed to prepare for 30 years of income after retirement. Of course, if your expenses are higher than your income, the money has to come from somewhere, potentially drawing your savings down faster – and that’s where many people get into trouble. Save as much as you can now.

Are you prepared for your health care needs?
The cost of health care for a couple retiring at age 65 varies, with estimates ranging between $197,000 and $265,000.[iii] This is the expense that often catches retirees by surprise. It’s relatively easy to budget for housing, food, utilities, and other essentials but medical care costs can vary widely and your actual expenses can be much higher or lower than average estimates.

By building a strategy for income from multiple sources, you’ll be much better prepared for retirement. Taking the time to prepare now is essential. Once you leave the workforce there might be less room for mistakes and fewer ways to earn additional income. When it’s time to retire, you’ll find that there’s no such thing as too much when it comes to retirement savings.

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[i] https://www.fool.com/retirement/2018/01/27/whats-the-maximum-social-security-at-age-62-65-or.aspx
[ii] http://www.fourpercentrule.com/
[iii] https://vanguardblog.com/2018/09/19/whos-afraid-of-the-big-bad-health-care-number/

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The top 8 reasons to consider life insurance

The top 8 reasons to consider life insurance
September 16, 2019

Life will often seem to present signals about financial moves to make.

Starting your first job babysitting or mowing lawns? Probably a good idea to begin saving some of those earnings. Need to pay for college? You’ll want to apply for scholarships. Have a friend who’s asking you to invest in his latest business scheme? Maybe you’ll pass.

As for life insurance, there are certain events that herald when it’s an appropriate time to think about purchasing a policy.

Following are a few of those key times…

Tying the knot or taking the plunge
Whatever you call it, if you’re getting ready to walk down the aisle, now is a good time to think about life insurance. A life insurance policy will protect your spouse by helping to replace your income if something were to happen to you. Many couples rely on two incomes to sustain their lifestyle. It’s important to make sure your spouse can continue to pay the bills, make a mortgage payment, and provide for any children you might have, etc.

Buying a home
If you’re in the market for a home, life insurance should also be a consideration. There are particular types of life insurance policies that will pay off the remaining mortgage if something happens to you. This type of life insurance can help provide a safety net for you and your spouse if you are planning on taking on a mortgage.

Someone becomes dependent on you financially
Another life event that signals a need for life insurance is if someone were to become dependent upon you financially. We might think our only dependents would be our children, but there are other situations to consider. Do you have a relative that depends on you for support? It could be a sibling, parent, elderly aunt. It’s prudent to help protect them with a life insurance policy.

You’ve got a business partner
Life insurance can be invaluable if you’re starting a business and have a business partner. A life insurance policy on your partner or the key leaders in your company can help protect the business if something happens to one of the main players. While the payout on a life insurance policy won’t replace the individual, it can help see the company through financial repercussions from the loss.

You have debt that you don’t want to leave behind
If you’re like most Americans – you probably have some debt. There are two problems with carrying debt. One, it costs you money and isn’t good for your financial health. Second, it can be a problem for your loved ones if you pass away unexpectedly. A life insurance policy is helpful to those who are left behind and are taking on the responsibility of your debt and estate.

You have become aware of “the someday”
Sooner or later we all have to consider our last stage of life. A life insurance policy can help you plan for those last days. A life insurance policy can help cover funeral costs and medical bills or other debts you may have at the end of your life. The payout can also help your beneficiary with any final expenses while settling your estate.

You fell in love with a cause
If you are attached to a certain charity or cause, consider a life insurance policy that can offer a payout as a charitable gift when you pass away. If you are unattached or don’t have any children, naming a charity as your life insurance beneficiary is a great way to leave a legacy.

You just got your first “grown-up” job
Cutting your teeth on your first “grown-up” job is a great time to consider your life insurance options. If you have an employer, they may offer you a small life insurance policy as a perk. But you likely will need more coverage than that. Consider purchasing a life insurance policy now. The younger you are, the less you may pay for it.

Life gives us clues about financial moves
If we know what to look for, life seems to give us clues about when to make certain financial moves. If you’re going through any of these times of life, it’s time to consider purchasing a life insurance policy.

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Is a balance transfer worth it?

Is a balance transfer worth it?
September 9, 2019

If you have established credit, you’ve probably received some offers in the mail for a balance transfer with “rates as low as 0%”.

But don’t get too excited yet. That 0% rate won’t last. You’re also likely to find there’s a one-time balance transfer fee of 3% to 5% of the transferred amount.[i] We all know the fine print matters – a lot – but let’s look at some other considerations.

What is a balance transfer?
To attract new customers, credit card companies often send offers inviting credit card holders to transfer a balance to their company. These offers may have teaser or introductory rates, which can help reduce overall interest costs.

Teaser rate vs. the real interest rate
After the teaser rate expires, the real interest rate is going to apply. The first thing to check is if it’s higher or lower than your current interest rate. If it’s higher, you probably don’t need to read the rest of the offer and you can toss it in the shredder. But if you think you can pay the balance off before the introductory rate expires, taking the offer might make sense. However, if your balance is small, a focused approach to paying off your existing card without transferring the balance might serve you better than opening a new credit account. If – after the introductory rate expires – the interest rate is lower than what you’re paying now, it’s worth reading the offer further.

The balance transfer fee
Many balance transfers have a one-time balance transfer fee of up to 5% of the transferred amount. That can add up quickly. On a transfer of $10,000, the transfer fee could be $300 to $500, which may be enough to make you think twice. However, the offer still might have value if what you’re paying in interest currently works out to be more.

Monthly payments
The real savings with balance transfer offers becomes evident if you transfer to a lower rate card but maintain the same payment amount (or even better, a higher amount). If you were paying the minimum or just over the minimum on the old card and continue to pay just the minimum with the new card, the balance might still linger for a long time. However, if you were paying $200 per month on the old card and you continue with a $200 per month payment on the new card at a lower interest rate, the balance will go down faster, which could save you money in interest.

For example, if you transfer a $10,000 balance from a 15% card to a new card with a 0% APR for 12 months and a 12% APR thereafter, while keeping the same monthly payment of $200, you would save nearly $3,800 in interest charges. Even if the new card has a 3% balance transfer fee, the savings would still be $3,500.[ii] Not too bad.

If you’re considering a balance transfer offer, use an online calculator to make the math easier. Also, be aware that you might be able to negotiate the offer, perhaps earning a lower balance transfer fee (or no fee at all) or a lower interest rate. It costs nothing to ask!

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[i] https://creditcards.usnews.com/articles/when-are-balance-transfer-fees-worth-it
[ii] https://www.creditcards.com/calculators/balance-transfer/

TAN109433-1118

Turn your hobby into a side gig

Turn your hobby into a side gig
September 3, 2019

Do you have a hobby that you really love? Could you use a little extra cash?

What if you could get paid for doing something that you already enjoy doing? We’re all good at something. Many people have turned their hobbies into a side business as a way to earn extra money. For nearly everyone, there’s a topic they know well or a skill they have that many other people don’t have. That niche can spell opportunity – and a chance to turn something you enjoy doing anyway into a money-maker.

Depending on the type of hobby you want to monetize, your startup expenses may be quite low. For writing, coding, or graphic design, you might only need a laptop or tablet – something you may already have. If your hobby is fixing up old cars, however, you might need a place to do the work – possibly adding to the expense. For that scenario, you could check out the possibility of putting in a couple of Saturdays per month at a local shop to help save on rent and insurance costs.

With a little ingenuity, you might be able to earn $10 to $40 (or maybe more) per hour doing work you enjoy. Artists can earn extra money by selling arts and crafts items on specialized sites like Etsy.com. Freelance writers, coders, designers, and even teachers can find work on Upwork.com, Fiverr.com, and similar websites that bring clients and service providers together. Have you been on eBay.com lately? Would you bet that many of those successful eBay sellers began as hobbyists? If you have a knack for knowing what’s valuable, you may be able to turn garage sale and estate sale buys into a rewarding business. (Hint: If this is something you’d like to try, start out small. Concentrate on one type of item that might be near and dear to you, like brass musical instruments, or antique mason jars.)

The old saying that asserts “knowledge is power” applies here as well. Let’s say your childhood fascination with dinosaurs never quite went extinct. Maybe there’s a successful educational blog or a YouTube channel in your future. Technology has given us the power to reach a larger audience than ever before and to bring our knowledge to anyone who wants to learn more. Sharing what you know can be monetized in many ways and – if you love doing it – you might not feel like you’re working at all!

Do your research and understand any legal or insurance requirements that may apply to the area you want to get into, but don’t let a little legwork bar the way to your next great endeavor – even if it just starts as a side gig.

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TAN107697-1018

Opportunity cost and your career

Opportunity cost and your career
August 26, 2019

“Opportunity cost” refers to what you can potentially lose by choosing one option over another – even when you aren’t thinking about it.

Nearly every choice you make precludes something else that might have been.

Opportunity cost exists in everything from relationships to finances to career choices, but here we’ll focus on that last one. Over a lifetime, the cost of career decisions can be massive.

The math
For opportunity costs that can be measured, usually in dollars, there’s even a math equation.

What I sacrifice / What I gain = Opportunity cost[i]

Let’s say you have two career choices. One is to work as a mechanic at $50 per hour and the other is to work as a karate instructor at $20 per hour.

Opportunity A / Opportunity B = Opportunity cost

Here it is with numbers: $50 / $20 = $2.50

To translate that, for every $1 you earn as a karate instructor, you could have earned $2.50 as a mechanic. The ratio remains the same whether it’s for one hour worked or 1,000 hours worked because it’s based on earnings per hour.

Adding a time element
We can only work a certain number of hours in a week and we can only work for a certain number of years in a lifetime. Adding time into the discussion doesn’t change the math relationship between the opportunities but it does recognize real-world constraints. Sometimes these limits are by choice. You could be both a full-time mechanic and a full-time karate instructor, but most people don’t want to work 80 hours per week.

Something has to give, and that’s where considering opportunity cost comes in. If you only want to work 40 hours in a week, you’ll have to choose one career over the other or split your time between the two. But even in splitting your time, there is an opportunity cost. Think about it like this: Every hour spent in a lower paying job costs money if you had an opportunity to earn more doing something else.

The bigger picture
In our example using the mechanic vs. the karate instructor, the difference in annual income is over $60,000 per year ($104,000 minus $41,600). Over a 40-year working career, the difference in earnings is nearly $2.5 million, and it all happened one hour at a time.

Life balance
Your career choice shouldn’t just be about money – you should do something you enjoy and that gives you satisfaction. There may be several other considerations as well – like opportunity to travel, the kind of people you work with, and the greater contribution you can make to the world. However, if there are two choices that meet all your criteria but one pays a bit more, just do the math!

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[i] https://blog.udemy.com/opportunity-cost-formula/

TAN108970-1018

The downside of payday loans and cash advances

The downside of payday loans and cash advances
August 19, 2019

In an emergency you might need some extra cash fast.

Having your emergency fund at the ready would be ideal to cover your conundrum, but what if your emergency fund has been depleted, or you can’t or don’t want to use a credit card or line of credit to get through a crisis?

There are two other options out there – a cash advance or a payday loan.

But beware – these options pose some serious caveats. Both carry high interest rates and both are aimed at those who are in desperate need of money on short notice. So before you commit to one of these options, let’s pause and take a close look at why you might be tempted to use them, and how they compare to other credit products, like credit cards or traditional loans.

The Cash Advance
If you already have a credit card, you may have noticed the cash advance rate associated with that card. Many credit cards offer a cash advance option – you would go to an ATM and retrieve cash, and the amount would be added to your credit card’s balance. However, there is usually no grace period for cash advances.[i] Interest would begin to accrue immediately.

Furthermore, the interest rate on a cash advance may often be higher than the interest rate on credit purchases made with the same card. For example, if you buy a $25 dinner on credit, you may pay 15% interest on that purchase (if you don’t pay it off before the grace period has expired). On the other hand, if you take a cash advance of $25 with the same card, you may pay 25% interest, and that interest will start right away, not after a 21-day grace period. Check your own credit card terms so you’re aware of the actual interest you would be charged in each situation.

The Payday Loan
Many people who don’t have a credit history (or who have a poor credit rating) may find it difficult to obtain funds on credit, so they may turn to payday lenders. They usually only have to meet a few certain minimum requirements, like being of legal age, showing proof of steady income, etc.[ii] Unfortunately, the annualized interest rates on payday loans are notoriously high, commonly reaching hundreds of percentage points.[iii]

A single loan at 10% over two weeks may seem minimal. For example, you might take a $300 loan and have to pay back $330 at your next paycheck. Cheap, right? Definitely not! If you annualize that rate, which is helpful to compare rates on different products, you get 250% interest. The same $300 charged to a 20% APR credit card would cost you $2.30 in interest over that same two week period (and that assumes you have no grace period).

Why People Use Payday Loans
Using a cash advance in place of purchasing on credit can be hard to justify in a world where almost every merchant accepts credit cards. However, if a particular merchant only accepts cash, you may be forced to take out a cash advance. Of course, if you can pay off the advance within a day or two and there is a fee for using a credit card (but not cash), you might actually save a little bit by paying in cash with funds from a cash advance.

Taking a payday loan, while extremely expensive, has an obvious reason: the applicant cannot obtain loans in any other way and has an immediate need for funds. The unfortunate reality is that being “credit invisible” can be extremely expensive, and those who are invisible or at risk of becoming invisible should start building their credit profiles, either with traditional credit cards or a secured card[iv], if the circumstances call for it. Then, if an emergency does arise, payday loans can be avoided.

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[i] https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/111414/how-does-interest-work-cash-advance-my-credit-card.asp
[ii] https://www.speedycash.com/faqs/payday-loans/requirements/
[iii] https://www.incharge.org/debt-relief/how-payday-loans-work/
[iv] https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/what-is-a-secured-credit-card/

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Ways to pay off your mortgage faster

Ways to pay off your mortgage faster
August 12, 2019

It’s paradoxical how owning a home might make you feel more secure.

But it may also be a constant source of worry, particularly if you still have a hefty mortgage payment each month. For some, having a mortgage is simply a part of life. But for others, it can be an encumbrance, especially once you realize that your interest expense might cost as much as the home itself over the course of a 30-year loan.

Whether your goal is becoming mortgage-free or you just don’t want to pay interest to your lender for any longer than necessary, there are some effective ways you can pay off your mortgage faster.

Make bi-weekly payments instead of monthly payments
Many of us get paid weekly or bi-weekly (meaning every two weeks). A standard mortgage has twelve monthly payments. While we tend to think of a month as having four weeks, there are actually around 4.25 weeks in a month. This seemingly small discrepancy in time can work to your advantage, if you switch to making bi-weekly mortgage payments instead of monthly mortgage payments. At the end of the year, you’ll find that you’ve made thirteen mortgage payments instead of just twelve.

Over the course of a 30-year mortgage, switching to bi-weekly mortgage payments may shave some time off the length of your mortgage, depending on your mortgage balance and interest rate. You may potentially save thousands of dollars in interest expense as well.[i]

Make an extra payment each year
Some lenders may charge extra fees for customized payment plans or may not provide an easy way to make biweekly payments. In this case, you can simply make one extra payment each year by putting aside money in a dedicated account. If your mortgage payment is $2,000, you could fund your account with $40 per week, or $80 every two weeks, to save for an extra payment each year. If you use this method, your savings won’t be as dramatic as the savings you might see by making bi-weekly payments because the extra payments don’t reach your mortgage balance as frequently. If you have any spare cash, you might consider raising the amount that you save each week.

Round up your payments
Mortgage payments are almost never round numbers. Yours might look like $2,147.63, for example. Consider rounding up your payment to $2,175, $2,200, or even $2.500. Choose an amount that won’t break the bank but can put a dent in the balance over time. Depending on how much you round up your payment, this method may shave some time off your mortgage and potentially save you money in interest expense.

The key is consistency. Making one extra mortgage payment and then never making any extra payments again won’t make much difference, but sending a little extra with every payment may help make you mortgage-free a little faster.

Pro tip: Before you make any drastic moves to pay off your mortgage, first be sure that your emergency fund is well established, that your high-interest credit cards are paid off, and that you’re contributing enough toward your retirement accounts. The average rate of return on some types of accounts may be higher than the savings you might realize on mortgage interest. It’s possible that any extra money is more wisely put away elsewhere.

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[i] https://www.mortgagecalculator.org/calculators/standard-vs-bi-weekly-calculator.php#top

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