The fastest and best way to pay off big credit card debt

credit-card-cut-upWhat’s the best way to pay down a large credit card balance as quickly as possible? All while paying the least amount of interest and not hurting your credit? Glad you asked.

First, understand that the sooner you pay down the principal, the sooner you erase debt. For example, if you owe $10,000 on a credit card and pay $200 a month, $150 of your payment goes toward paying interest. Only $50 goes toward paying down the $10,000 principal (based on an annual APR of 18%).

At this rate, it would take 94 months to pay off your debt, while costing you a whopping $8,622 in interest! That’s an uphill battle everyone should avoid.

Luckily, credit card companies, competing with one another, actually make it easy for consumers. By simply leveraging their special introductory rate programs, you can be on your way to paying down that 10K in no time.

Find a new credit card offer with a zero percent introductory balance transfer – one of the best deals in personal finance. Many banks offer these cards, which today are the strongest promos and longest zero percent APR intro periods since before the 2008 financial crisis. So, apply for one of these cards. Once you’re approved, immediately transfer all your credit card debt to the new card.

Need help finding an offer? Here’s a list of zero percent APR credit cards (with terms).

Once you’ve transferred your balances, it’s time to capitalize on the interest-free period to really break free of debt. And it’s so simple. Just keep paying the same amount you were paying your old high-interest card, only now to the new no-interest card. Now you’re paying off principal at 100 percent.

Pay attention to the terms because once the introductory period is over (typically 12-18 months) the interest rate could actually be higher than your original card. Use this period to pay down as much of your debt as possible.

Stop getting crushed on interest. And start planning that going-away party for your debt. Move your high-interest balances to a zero percent interest card now.

Your wedding can be beautiful on a smaller budget

Planning a wedding can be equal parts maddening and intoxicating. The possibilities are endless – and gorgeous, when you start looking at décor and dresses and flowers …

It’s easy to see how things can get out of hand. But it’s just not a good idea to go deep into debt for one weekend’s worth of celebration. After those initial conversations about who’s going to pay and how much, you can set a budget and start figuring out what’s truly important to you and what your guests will really remember.

Just a few areas where you might encounter sticker shock (and how to prevent it):

The venue: Can you believe that some places charge up to $30,000 to get married there? That’s a down payment on a house. Or a car. Or two cars.eric-alves-145943.jpg

There’s no rule that says you have to get married in a church and have your reception in an event hall. Think outside the box a little. Make a list of places that have significance for you as a couple.

People get hitched on the porches of family homes, in parks and at lakes, in underground caves, at wildlife refuges and theme parks, in museum sculpture gardens, on covered bridges, at railway depots and botanical gardens. Just make sure you get a permit to keep your nontraditional venue legal.

The dress: There is no law stating that brides have to gather an entourage, try on white dresses and twirl around until their credit cards are maxed out.

You don’t even have to go to a bridal salon if you don’t want to. Stores like White House, Black Market carry lovely formal pieces. Look for white dresses during prom season at department stores. Online retailer BHLDN is disrupting the market by offering couture design for around a grand.

You can also stalk trunk shows and end-of-season sample sales, and comb through sites like OnceWed.com to take advantage of other brides’ rejected or lightly used dresses. If you fall in love with a dress that fits you well in a bridal salon, see if you can buy the sample.

If you do order a dress, keep alterations to a minimum by buying the right silhouette for your body type and ordering your real size. Corset-backed dresses are great for keeping alteration costs down.

The flowers: If you come up with something else to put in the middle of your tables, you could save yourself thousands. Spend your flower money on the bride bouquet, and think of something creative for the rest of the wedding party to carry, like feathered fans, beaded purses or a beautifully wrapped book that is meaningful to you.

The photography: Wedding photographers earn their money, but you have other options. Photojournalists frequently make extra money on the weekends shooting weddings, as do college students in art and photo programs. Some couples book ceremony-only packages and let their guests crowdsource the reception photography with disposable cameras.

Music: Unless you’re really committed to the chicken dance, you can save money by not hiring a DJ. A playlist of your favorite tunes and a friend with a laptop will do just as well, without entrusting the personality of your reception to a stranger.

Wedding planners who share wisdom online point to sit-down dinners, programs and favors as the most overlooked and unappreciated extras that couples waste money on. Your guests will remember your vows and remember the personal touches you bring to make your reception a great gathering, whether it’s a more toned-down family affair or a raucous party with an open bar.

Once you sit down and figure out your priorities, you’ll determine where to best spend your money – even if it’s on the honeymoon.

 

Eight great ways parents pass along financial success

Tommy Jr. has his dad’s home run swing and your love of gardening. Lorelei got your love of baking, but also your less-than-ideal kitchen cleanup tendencies.

On their road to becoming full-fledged individuals, kids start off by taking parts of you. It shows in the things you pass down, whether you mean to or not. Hopefully, all your kids will get your savvy saving habits. Money: You can’t be an adult without it.

Families pass down financial habits, just like football Sundays and rib recipes. If you ask parents what they most wish to bequeath to their children, a responsible attitude about money is usually at the top of the list.

But all families are different, so those “inherent inheritances” take different forms. Some of the most common:

Aim for the 80/20 split.

Live on 80 percent of what you make and save the remaining 20 percent. A less specific form of this philosophy goes by the title “Spend Less Than You Earn.” As long as you follow this philosophy, major financial disasters can be avoided.

Credit card debt is poison.

Don’t put more on cards than you can pay off every month, or you’re letting Borgia-strength financial toxins into your life. Think of interest payments as flushing fistfuls of cash down the toilet. Until it clogs, and you have to pay the plumber with a credit card, too.

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Keep an ace in the hole.

The people hit hardest by recessions or job losses are those who were already living paycheck to paycheck. Those who keep six months’ worth of bill-paying emergency funds stashed away in a savings account sleep better at night, even if they never have to use it.

It’s not about stuff.

Life is about experiences, not the pursuit of material goods. If you’ve got good friends and a blanket in the sun, you’re richer than everyone standing in line for the latest gaming console or smartphone.

Except when it’s about stuff.

If there’s something you really want, it will be there tomorrow. Sleep on it. Sometimes, 24 hours of perspective takes the shine off impulse purchases. If you still want something after saving the money for it, go ahead. Just try not to assume debt for luxuries.

Have a plan for any and all stuff.

When it’s time to make a big purchase – or even a weekly grocery store trip – don’t put yourself in danger of making impulsive decisions. Research cars thoroughly before wandering through a lot filled with temptation. Try on leather jackets at several different stores. Above all, make lists.

Don’t pass up free money.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, but employer matching funds to retirement savings come pretty close. As soon as you get a full-time job that allows you to contribute to a 401(k), put in enough to maximize your company’s matching funds. Even if it hurts. It’s like picking up $100 bills on the sidewalk that never belonged to anyone.

Productivity is its own reward.

Happy people attack their jobs with gusto. Even the superrich keep themselves busy with creative pursuits or charity work. The more you think of your job as a chance to be rewarded for true accomplishments, the more successful your career will be.

If these sound similar to adult-focused money-management tips you’ve heard, that’s no coincidence. After all, kiddos absorb most of their values through example. That’s why your admonitions about eating healthy ring hollow if you’re clumsily stashing Oreos all over the house.

Want to pass on good habits? Just make sure you’re following your own advice.

Making the Down Payment

Buying a house is part of the American dream. But for most, the biggest roadblock to that dream is coming up with a down payment. Many lenders require five percent down. If you can put that together, you’ll have a much easier time getting approved.

The problem is, that kind of money is hard to come by for first-time buyers. The average price for a house in Boone County is $152,500 according to Zillow. Buyers would need $7,625 for the average Boone County household. And that doesn’t even include added homebuying expenses like closing costs and pre-paid items such as taxes and insurance.

Saving that much can take years. And for renters facing rising rent, health costs and more, it can be hard to save anything at all.

The good news is, there are several programs designed to help you become a homeowner with as little as 3 percent down. The Federal Housing Administration, for example, helps homebuyers, especially first-time buyers, get approved. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, government-sponsored companies that drive the residential mortgage credit market, also offer low down payments. And if you’re an active or retired service member, or live in a rural area, you may have access to zero down payment programs through the Department of Veterans Affairs or the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development Program.

Sounds like an easy decision, right? Sure, but don’t skip the fine print. A lower down payment makes you a bigger risk in the eyes of some lenders. So you’ll have to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI) and you’ll likely pay a higher interest rate for the life of the loan, in addition to other fees.

Shop around and find an experienced mortgage lender that can provide good advice on your down payment options. Lenders are required to disclose all fees so you can compare easily. Plus, the more you explore your options, the more you’ll learn about the process.

2017 Tax Breaks That Will Impact Your 2018 Return

Fortunately your taxes aren’t due. Not yet. You have until April 18 to file your 2016 tax return if you haven’t done so. For most of us (4 out of 5 of us, according to the IRS), a refund is waiting. This is largely because the IRS offers a variety of tax deductions, exceptions and credits to lower your tax bill. Many of these are adjusted for inflation, so they often change from year to year.

Tax year 2017 has several annual inflationary adjustments to consider. Here’s a breakdown of some key changes to help you plan for your taxes. Keep in mind that these are for the 2017 tax year – they’re not rates you’ll use to prepare your 2016 returns.

The big change for everyone is in the individual income tax brackets, which have been adjusted for inflation. They’re typically adjusted so you can earn more without moving into a higher tax bracket. Inflation has been nominal, so there wasn’t a significant shift upwards in the tax schedule. Still, if you were on the cusp, it’s good to be aware of where you might be now. You can see 2017 tax bracket tables here.

More good news is that your standard deduction will go up a smidge in 2017. Individual filers and heads of households will receive a standard deduction of $6,350 and $9,350, respectively, up $50 from 2016. Couples filing jointly get a $100 year-over-year bump to $12,700 in 2017. This may not seem like much but anything that will reduce your tax liability without you having to do a thing is money in the bank.

There are several other important changes that may also affect your taxes, including that traditional and Roth IRA phaseouts will be adjusted higher and health saving accounts (HSA) contributions have increased for individuals. You can find more detailed information about those and other changes here. Please see your tax advisor to determine how this information may apply to you.

20 Valentine’s Day Gifts Under $20

Ahhh, Valentine’s Day. The pressure-filled holiday of over-priced flowers and chocolates. Alas, never fear. We’ve scoured the internet to find 20 gifts under $20 for your honey.

Love Icon Gummy Candies – $9.

Kate Spade Thermos – $18

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Heart Shaped Twinkle Lights – $12

Men’s I heart you socks – $10

Keeper Trinket Tray – $6

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Snuggle is Real Shirt – $6

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What I Love About You Journal – $12

Heart Print Trunks – 8 fancy Euros

Tie pins – $13

Onward Vegan Key Ring – $18

ColourPop Lip Matte – $6

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Yoda One For Me Mug – $13

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Love You To the Moon Wood Décor – $16

I Pick You, Personalized Guitar Pick -$9

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Compliment Card Set – $13

Honest Love, Customizable V-Day Card – $0

Tub of Now & Laters – $14

Heart Throw Pillow – $15

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Love Struck Candle – $10

Trusty coupon book of favors – $0

Digital Nomads. What you need to know.

Are you interested in becoming a digital nomad?

Digital nomads use modern technology to earn a living and conduct their lives in a nomadic lifestyle, whether from their homes or across the globe. Wireless internet, smartphones, VOIP and cloud-based applications are allowing more and more people to work remotely, untethered to a workplace.

While the lifestyle is growing in popularity, it is not without challenges. Here are some tips to help you decide if it’s for you and some skills to help you make a successful transition.

There are no off days

The good news is that you’re essentially the boss of your own company – You Inc. The bad news is that your company never really closes. The work hours will greatly depend upon what time zone you’re doing business with, so be prepared for early mornings and late nights. But that also means you can leave days open for other things, like visiting a new city.

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Learn to juggle

Most likely, you won’t be working with only one source of income, or client. So you will have to learn to juggle competing projects, each with its own rules, guidelines and topics. Some days you will love the variety and other days will tax you to no end.

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Procrastination is a constant temptation

It’s not like there aren’t already enough things that tempt you to waste time.

However, when you are your own boss, nobody will be there to tell you to get to work, so you need to have plenty of self-discipline. Find the work rhythm that works for you and stick to it.

Work on skills that you can leverage

You’ll need to work on the skills you can leverage to build the life you want; you can’t simply declare yourself a digital nomad and expect everything to fall into place. So sit down and figure out the skills you have. Then, sharpen those skills and find the people who are looking for what you have to offer.

Most importantly, network, network, network. There are many communities built around the digital nomad lifestyle with plenty of great advice for building a successful career away from a traditional daily workplace. Meet other digital nomads and take advantage of their experience.

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Seize 2017

Money shouldn’t hold you back from real change in 2017

New Year’s resolutions are a time-honored tradition. As in, the ancient Babylonians were setting self-improvement goals 4,000 years ago. And just like us, they were soon breaking them. If you’ve made promises to yourself about some major lifestyle changes in 2017, chances are good you’ll start to see some slippage sooner rather than later.

This year, I will…

Lose weight.

Stop smoking.

Get in shape.

Save money.

Sound familiar?

Bumming a smoke – or just a Coke – from a co-worker. Those leftover Christmas cookies. Ordering a little more than your holiday gift card could cover. It happens.

The reason New Year’s resolutions usually fail is twofold: They’re overly ambitious, and they don’t come with tangible plans attached.

You can, of course, sign up for a weight loss program or gym membership – those places are swarming with motivated newbies this time of year. And that kind of support and commitment is one way to tip the odds in your favor. But you’ll do even better by stepping back and taking a breath before you make any promises to yourself.

Say you want to get in shape. Well, what does that even look like? If you’ve been lounging for years, you won’t be running marathons this June. Just not going to happen. You’re more likely to overextend, burn out and even hurt yourself if you go all-in with twice-daily workouts. Then, disappointed with yourself, you’re back on the couch.

So start small. Make a list of things you can realistically do. Then incorporate them into your life one at a time. Take the stairs at work for a month before you join that yoga class. Keep up the yoga for a month, then start meeting friends for walks.

The “transform by baby steps” principle isn’t new, but people who’ve made real change happen in their lives swear by it. If your goals are tied to money, the psychology becomes a little more complicated. It probably involves you telling yourself things like this:

“I don’t have enough money to do that.”

“More money would solve most of my problems.”

“Making less money would be irresponsible and selfish.”

“I have a secure career path and I’m sticking with it.”

When you take the time to really dream about that thing you’ve always wanted to do, you probably hear some of those self-defeating justifications. That’s because most people make terrible life coaches for themselves. Money is an easy thing to hang your insecurities on when the thing you’re really afraid of is taking a shot at your ultimate goal and failing.

Adam Savage of “MythBusters” fame is fond of saying, “Failure is always an option.” That’s because truly successful people have a string of failures in their pasts. Nothing worth doing is achieved without risk. Not opening your own bakery, writing that screenplay or traveling around the world. If you’re not chasing your dream, don’t blame it on money.

The Great Recession ripped the mask off money myths for millions. Here are some things the latest financial crash reminded us of:

You don’t need a lot of money to start a business.

Money in the bank doesn’t make you happier.

You can live on much less money than you do now.

No job is secure.

You’ll have more than one career before retirement – if retirement is even the ultimate goal.

Scary? Yes. But freeing, too. Yes, you might have family responsibilities – but those don’t have to include PlayStations and cable. Your true legacy could be one of ambition and excitement for those around you.

A new year doesn’t mean you should quit your job and buy a food truck if you can’t make a bologna sandwich. But 2017 can be the year you finally restore that muscle car in your dad’s shed, the year you actually enroll in a small business class, the year you get on a plane with nothing but a backpack and a map.

It’s easy to forget that money is just a tool to help us shape our lives according to our dreams. We’re not supposed to shape our dreams around accumulating more of it. Money isn’t the goal. A great life is.

Festive Decor For Less

Create a festive holiday feel in your home for less

Hosting any kind of holiday gathering means putting up a few decorations to set the mood. If you’ve put off the job until the last minute, or you just have no desire to spend hundreds on an elaborate tree dripping with ornaments, here are some ideas to get you started without emptying your wallet.

Decorate the greenery you already own. Who says your ficus isn’t festive? A strand of LED lights won’t hurt it, and you might not want to take them down. The same goes for any sturdy houseplants – even cactus. Arrange them in a row against a wall for a nontraditional backdrop.

Put your leftover wrapping paper to use. Brightly wrapped books stand in for stacks of presents. You can also line serving trays or even fill empty photo frames with holiday paper. If you’re really crafty, you can create bows, place mats, streamers and even paper trees.

Shine lights through glass. The new strands of affordable, battery-powered LED lights are perfect for coiling inside mason jars, glass vases glass building block cubes or even glass serving bowls. Because the LED strands don’t get too hot, you can incorporate ribbons or other ornamentation.

Raid the yard for supplies. Pinecones and freshly cut sprigs of coniferous trees make an easy mantel drape, table runner decoration or even a tiny tree stand-in. Pinecones are perfect for dipping in metallic paint or dusting with glitter – a great art project for little ones if you have some around.

Make Christmas cards into something special. With nothing but a hole punch, some thumbtacks and a few yards of yarn, you can fashion a meaningful wall or fireplace display from all the pretty cards you’ve gotten. If you don’t have enough cards, fill out your presentation by alternating cards with construction paper snowflakes.

Set a memorable table with kraft paper. Unfurling a roll of this basic brown paper over your dining room table is just the beginning. Kraft paper can be decorated with everything from Sharpies and stamps to glitter and glued-on pages from old books or sheet music. You can even set out piles of crayons for the party. And when you’re all done, just roll up and throw away.

Leave no ornament behind. If you’ve got basic tree decorations that didn’t make the cut this year, dress them up with a little metallic spray paint or glitter. Pile them on a cake stand or inside a glass vase, and voila! Instant centerpiece.

Don’t forget the pillows. You can wrap old Christmas sweaters around pillows and make them look like presents without sewing a stitch, or just tie decorative bows around solid bright throw pillows.

Break out the fancy glassware. Even if you don’t drink from your martini or wineglasses, you can dust the rims with sugar and fill them with colorful holiday candies, then stash them around the house for party wanderers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last-minute gifts don’t have to be lame. Unless that’s the idea.

Some people are just hard to buy for. So you wait and wait, until suddenly it’s crunch time. Here are some not-so-lame gift ideas if you find yourself stuck.

Buying for someone who lives to laugh? Raise the everyday humor ante with these titles.

  • You’ll Grow Out of It, by Jessi Klein. The memoir of a tomboy and a late bloomer, from one of Amy Schumer’s head writers.
  • American Housewife, by Helen Ellis. Twelve short stories of women under pressure range from the acerbic to the surreal.
  • I’m Just a Person, by Tig Notaro. The comedian’s personal tale of four months of tragedy has been known to cause laughter through tears.

Need something for that coworker who thinks they’re Wolfgang Puck?

  • Les Moulins Mahjoub Natural Preserved Lemons. Offer to be a taster for new recipes.
  • Nielsen-Massey Vanilla Bean Paste. Made with Madagascar bourbon. For intense flavor and those telltale “real vanilla” specks.
  • An apron with a measuring cheat sheet on it. Because the metric system is for people with funny accents.

Know an old guy who needs nothing? Maybe you call him your boss. Or “Dad.”

  • A wilderness fire starter. He’s not outdoorsy, you say? Doesn’t matter. Males love fire.
  • A scratch-off map of the world. He’ll be able to tell young’uns all his travel stories with a visual aid for a change.
  • Night Vision Driving Glasses. He’ll feel like a Navy SEAL when he’s going out to get milk after dark.

Passive-aggressive gifts for that woman in your life who gives out backhanded compliments, as in: “That outfit really creates the illusion of a waistline.”

  • A cellulite massager. That is all.
  • An illuminated makeup mirror. Tell her, “I think better lighting will just make all the difference.” Practice saying it with a straight face.
  • A succulent garden containing cacti. Because it’s prickly.

For the children in your life, or just people who live their lives as such.

  • Hatchimals. New for 2016, these spotted “eggs” eventually reveal magical creatures inside.
  • Kinetic Sand. Hours of fun and less messy than it sounds, too.
  • A Buddha Board. It uses water as vanishing paint, like Snapchat for doodlers.

Oh, someone fancies themselves an artist, do they?

  • Twistables Slick Stix: Hard to find in stores, these Crayola twist-ups are a dream combo of crayons, pastels and markers.
  • Dylusions Ink Spray: You could spray them, but most people stencil, stamp and paint to create dynamic transparencies with these waterproof acrylics.
  • Washi Tape: It’s like beauty you can unroll. Washi is an obsession on Pinterest, where crafters use it to mark up calendars, wrap presents and take scrapbooking to the next level.

When you’re last-minute shopping, Amazon Prime and other free-shipping sites can be your best friends, but don’t count out locally owned brick-and-mortar stores for inspiration and unique finds. Just make sure you go in with a list and a plan.

You also might be tempted into grabbing a few things for yourself – just admit it now – but make sure that’s built into your holiday budget, too.