Personal Finance

  • Reasons To Use Credit Cards

    I used to hate credit cards. Hate. Hate. HATE.

    When I was paying off credit card debt right after college I hated those cards so much that I couldn’t bring myself to use them at all. I didn’t understand how anyone could say they actually liked using their credit cards… it just didn’t make sense!

    Credit card debt can be one of the worst types of debt because the high interest rates make it very hard to get out. When you are paying 24% interest on your debt you have to work much harder than if you are paying 2%.

    When I was paying back credit card debt I was very much in alignment with Dave Ramsey – I hated credit cards and planned to never use them again. Cancel them! Cut them up! Never again!

    Obviously, after I moved past the trauma of paying off credit card debt I eventually changed my mind and saw credit cards for what they can be: a tool to help you financially when used responsibly.

    using credit cards responsibly

    Why I Love Credit Cards Now

    Now that I’m free of credit card debt I love credit cards and credit cards are the main reason why I have an 800 credit score.

    I’ve been using my credit cards responsibly for several years now and haven’t missed a payment or paid interest again. During that time I’ve also gotten thousands of dollars in free travel and cash back rewards. Thanks to responsible credit card use I’ve benefitted far more than I was hurt by credit cards.

    The credit cards are paying me now instead of me paying them. It’s a huge lesson – if you are smart with your money you get rewarded, but if you are dumb you are penalized.

    If you are smart with your money you get rewarded, but if you are dumb you get penalized. 

    That basically sums up credit cards in a nutshell even if there is more behind the psychology of it where credit card companies work to make you spend. If you can be responsible you will be rewarded, and if you can’t then you will be penalized.

    That means you need to stick to some very important but sometimes hard too follow truths:

    • If you don’t have the actual money to pay for something then don’t use a credit card.
    • If you don’t trust yourself then don’t use a credit card. If you know you will overspend then don’t carry a card.
    • Use your credit cards for increasing your score and other benefits, not to spend more on a lifestyle you can not afford.

    Credit cards can be good. You just have to be smart.

    I’m under no illusion that I’ll get rich off using credit cards. That is often the thing mocked by certain financial gurus who are anti-credit card. I know I won’t get rich from using them and there are potential downfalls, but if you use credit cards wisely then you can be rewarded in small ways and also increase your credit score too.

    Reasons To Use Credit Cards

    There are actually more reasons to use credit cards than to not use them. If you’ve been wondering why anyone would use a credit card over a debit card, check out all of these reasons to use credit cards:

    • One time sign up bonuses (often hundreds of dollars)
    • Cash back rewards for spending
    • Reward points for travel for spending
    • Frequent flyer miles with your favorite airline
    • Safety protections from fraud
    • Protection from bad or dishonest vendors
    • Grace period before money leaves your bank account
    • Insurance and consumer protections from the company
    • Builds your credit history and raises your credit score
    • Easy spending tracking with less effort
    • Free credit score monitoring

    There are even more rewards and benefits that cards may offer but these are some of the biggest ones that are reasons why you might want to use credit cards!

    When Credit Cards Can Help You

    In order to use credit cards responsibly you have to be aware of when and how you are using them. Swiping a credit card without thinking is a slippery slope that might start off ok but can end in a credit card debt disaster.

    Credit cards can help you, but only when these things are true:

    • When you know your credit score.
    • When you use them responsibly.
    • When you pay off balances at the end of each month.
    • When you use credit cards for expenses you can afford.
    • When you use credit cards that offer rewards.
    • When you use credit cards to slowly build your credit score.
    • When you use credit cards to get extra protection.
    • When you don’t buy more than you can afford.
    • When you save more or get a store discount.
    • When you sign up for a credit card to get a killer bonus.
    • When you tae advantage of special offers from credit cards.
    • When you get a good balance transfer deal to save money.
    • When you use credit cards to reach a goal.
    • When you use them to better keep track of spending via Mint.

    I might have hated credit cards in the past, but I love them now! There are lots of situations where using credit cards can be a good thing and I’ll forever advocate for wise credit card use.

    If you feel like you can’t handle credit cards and always overspend, then that’s ok! Don’t use them. Don’t even tempt yourself with the possibilities of overspending. Either cut up the cards so you can’t use them or cancel them entirely. You don’t have to use credit cards and should never use them if you know it will lead you to a bad space financially or mentally.

    Learn More About Credit

    If you are using credit cards then you should also make sure you learn about and understand credit scores. Here are a few posts to help with that:

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  • How To Save Money On Food

    In the past, each month I would check my monthly spending and realize I’d spent a lot of money on food. A lot. Way too much. Between groceries and eating out I overspent my food budget every month.

    It was something that continually frustrated me because I overspent on food constantly. It wasn’t until I was forced to cut back that I finally took control of the situation and stopped spending a ridiculous amount of my income on food.

    Eating on the cheap is totally possible but it does take some effort, just like eating healthy does. I was spending so much money on food each month because I wasn’t thinking about it. I was making healthy choices for food but I wasn’t making great financial choices. I spent a lot of extra money on convenience foods that were healthier but more expensive. Spending money on convenient foods and eating out really does add up quickly. It might not seem like much when you are spending a few dollars at a time but it’s something that snowballs quickly.

    Now my budget is about half of what it used to be for food and I actually stick to it! It’s pretty amazing that I once spent so much on food when it was entirely unnecessary.

    how to save money on food

    Below I’ve collected some of my personal favorite ways to save money on food. Hopefully they can help you reduce your food budget too!

    Tips to Save Money On Grocery Food

    • Commit to cooking more. Learning how to cook and preparing food at home is a great way to save money on food. If you know how to cook and do it often the savings will add up. Choosing to cook at home rather than get a meal at a restaurant saves me $5 – 15 dollars per meal in most cases.
    • Check out what you have in your pantry. Using what you have already will keep your grocery shopping list smaller. It’s also fun to create meals from scratch using what is available. I like to have “Chopped” nights where we pick pantry ingredients and make something using them. It’s not as weird as the show and usually turns out well!
    • Plan your meals around your cheap staples. Planning your meals helps you keep food costs down. Planning around cheap staples that you can buy in bulk like rice or pasta will make your costs substantially lower. There are many ways to prepare these staples so it’s not something you will get bored of eating.
    • Go grocery shopping once a week or less. The more you pop in the more you will buy the little add on items that add up. Every time you step foot in a grocery store you will have more opportunities to overspend. Stop that from happening by buying everything you need in one trip and sticking with what you bought. You can still have veggies and fruit that is good for your last day with proper meal planning.
    • Make a grocery shopping list. Stick to what you planned to buy and don’t deviate. Impulse buys at the grocery store used to cost me a ton of money every month. By making a list and forcing myself to stick to it I save $10-$25 per grocery store trip since I’m not grabbing whatever looks good. Having a plan and a list also means nothing goes to waste which will save you money and frustration!
    • Clip coupons and shop the sales. This isn’t as hard as it sounds and once you’ve done it a few times it gets even easier. When you meal plan and know what something regularly costs you will be able to take advantage of the sales and save money by buying items at their lowest price. Using coupons as well will just add to your savings.
    • Adjust how you think about food. For some people food is the ultimate pleasure and they live to eat. This can be an expensive way to live since you will spend more on food that you enjoy. Adjusting how you think about food and recognizing it as just fuel for most of your meals will help you spend less overall. You can still cook or go out for decadent meals but they should be an occasional occurrence instead of every meal.
    • Take advantage of free food. While I don’t do this in the extreme, I definitely take advantage of free food where I can. I attend several networking events and meetups that are sponsored in the form of free food. Several days a month I get a free meal by attending these events. Chances are there are some days where you can attend an event or get a meal at work for free. If you have the opportunity, take it!
    • Eat with others at home. Host and attend potlucks and dinners at friend’s houses. Spreading the cost and time of cooking between multiple people helps save money. Just remember that you don’t have to serve the best food ever – spaghetti or hamburgers works just fine when you are spending time with people you love!

    Those are just a few of the the ways I now save money on food and keep my budget under control.

    It’s great to spend less money on food because it gives you more money to work with in other areas of your life. I’d much rather feel secure in paying my bills and having extra money to save than eating my way through my paycheck!

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  • Why & How We Refinanced Our Home in 2020

    I’ve shared a lot about our first home purchase from the starter home purchase price to the easy ways we were paying it off faster to drop PMI.

    Now I’m sharing the next phase in our home ownership journey: our mortgage refinance.

    Our Home Refinance Trigger

    When mortgage rates dropped to low levels in the middle of the pandemic during 2020 we decided it was finally time to start a refinance of our loan.

    We bought our home in 2016 and had been paying $99 a month in mortgage insurance premiums every single month since then. We had not found an opportunity that made since to refinance previously because we had a decent rate at 3.625%. The few times I looked into refinancing the interest rate was not low enough to give us any financial benefit.

    Once interest rates started dipping below 3% I knew it would be a good time to refinance for us because we might finally be able to get a deal good enough to break even from closing costs within a reasonable time frame.

    While the pandemic of 2020 is tragic in many ways it was a great financial opportunity as far as interest rates on mortgages went.

    Shopping Mortgage Refinance Offers

    Once I wanted to refinance I knew it was time to shop around and find the best mortgage refinance offer.

    To compare the offers I made sure to look at several things:

    • the new interest rate compared to my rate
    • the new payment compared to my payment
    • the total amount of closing costs
    • when I would break even based on closing costs

    Those were the most important factors. It makes no sense to refinance your mortgage if you aren’t getting a better deal that will start saving you money within a reasonable time frame, especially if the home is not your “forever” home.

    I decided that I wanted the interest rate to be 2.75% and less than $2,500 in closing costs, and preferably a 15 year loan. I set out to find just what I wanted!

    I began with Rocket Mortgage / Quicken Loans because they were constantly advertising to me and I’d previously reached out and their loan officer straight up told me it wouldn’t make sense for us (I valued the honesty instead of trying to make a sale). However this time I got a different person and it was not a pleasant experience. They were the first I checked with but the rate was higher than I wanted (I wasn’t refinancing who was pushy and would not get the rate below 2.99% with over $4,000 in closing costs. When I explained their costs were higher than I wanted the sales person got pushy and tried to explain interest rates to me like I didn’t understand how much money I could be saving. I already knew I wasn’t going with them based on having the worst quote but that experience was rude but unfortunately likely works on people who aren’t as savvy who then end up paying more.

    Because that first check on my credit had opened my mortgage shopping period I then checked with every single bank I could in my city as well as local credit unions. I figured if the larger national mortgage companies weren’t providing great service then I should turn to banks that were known for doing a better job.

    I got about 10 different quotes and some got close to what I wanted but not quite. I went ahead and checked with the bank I already used for business checking because it’s a regional bank who’s been great to deal with so far. They ended up giving me the best closing cost quote: just $2,000. They also agreed to lock me in at 2.75% and wouldn’t go forward with the paperwork unless that was a sure deal. At the time I contacted them rates were bouncing back up to 3% but they assured me that they were there to get me what I wanted … and they did!

    Our Mortgage Refinance Experience

    Because of the low closing costs and great rate I went with Iberia Bank for my mortgage refinance. I figured they would likely sell my loan to a larger servicer but the deal for my mortgage was just too good to pass up.

    Because I banked with Iberia already they allowed me to waive the appraisal of our home for the refinance. I’m not sure if that is 100% the reason or if it was also because of the pandemic or that they could look at real estate websites and conservatively estimate our house at an amount that would have us past 80% loan to value ratio.

    We didn’t have to do an appraisal but we did have to still provide a lot of paperwork.

    The video above shows the things you have to provide in order to refinance out of your FHA loan to a conventional mortgage during a refinance. Here are the things we had to provide during our refinance:

    • two years of tax returns
    • two years of W-2s
    • last two paycheck stubs
    • current mortgage statement
    • current insurance information
    • credit checks
    • credit check explanation (for mortgage shopping)
    • approval for no appraisal (you might have to do an appraisal)
    • explanations for anything confusing (my work had to provide one)
    • proof of identity

    Even though you already “own” the home you are creating a new mortgage so it’s very much like the first time you buy a home. You have to provide a lot of paperwork and “prove” yourself in order to qualify. They want to know that you have the income and stability to pay this new loan.

    Our refinance experience was interesting because they were so bogged down and busy during this period because many, many people were refinancing. We actually would go long stretches without hearing anything back from the bank. At points it felt like they had forgotten us but I knew they were overwhelmed and were working on it.

    In the end the underwriting and everything went smoothly and we closed on our refinance in April 2020.

    Our New Mortgage Details

    Our new refinanced mortgage is pretty great in my opinion and it’s set up to let us pay our home off even faster than we had originally planned.

    Here are the details for our new mortgage loan:

    • New loan amount: $142,000
    • Interest rate: 2.75%
    • Loan term: 15 years
    • Monthly principal & interest: $963.64
    • Monthly payment: $1,292.96
    • NO PMI

    This fit all of the requirements I wanted when I set out to refinance our mortgage.

    The break even for us was just under two years and we knew we planned to stay at least that long and potentially keep this house forever as a rental. With that in mind it was very exciting to be saving so much money in the long run and paying off this home much faster.

    As you can see from the most recent mortgage payoff video in July 2020 we are already paying off the mortgage at a much faster rate.

    Our new mortgage payment is $93 per month more than we were paying with our original loan each month yet we are more than doubling the amount we are paying toward our principal balance each month.

    With this new refinanced mortgage loan we are starting off with our first payment sending $638.22 to reducing the principal of the loan and that number will only increase over time. In just 9 months we will be sending over $650 per month to reduce the loan balance.

    This mortgage refinance has drastically increase how fast we will pay off this loan and reduced the amount of interest we will pay. Even if this is not our home forever I’m thrilled to see my money being used for equity instead of PMI and interest!

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  • What Makes Up Your Credit Score

    Your credit score is incredibly important for many reasons from buying a home to paying less on debt you do owe. People often use good credit to leverage their money and achieve more than those who have bad credit.

    If you are wanting to improve your credit and reach a good credit score so. you can have more opportunities then you first need to know what makes up your credit score.

    How To Get Your Credit Score

    You can get your free credit score from Credit Karma here via my affiliate link. You can also get free scores from major credit card providers.

    One thing to note is that Credit Karma and other free services offer your Vantage Score, not your FICO score. Most lenders use the FICO score as your credit score which means your free score you are tracking may be off. Based on what I’ve seen from hundreds of people it can be off anywhere from 2 points to 100 points depending on your credit profile.

    If you want your accurate credit score that lenders will see then you have to pay for it. You can purchase your score from the consumer facing side of the FICO brand at My FICO. This is the only option to see your FICO score unless you are working with a lender who will let you see it in their portal.

    You can get your FICO score at My FICO with plans starting at $19 a month, via this affiliate link and cancel when you don’t need it any longer.

    What Makes Up Your Credit Score

    The information in this post and video about what makes up your credit score is from Credit Karma. I chose to use Credit Karma as an example because it lays out the information well and makes it easy to understand. It’s also a FREE platform that has helped hundreds of thousands of people improve their credit.

    According to their platform (and from what I’ve seen in improving my own credit score), your credit score is made up of these 6 factors:

    1. Payment history
    2. Credit card use (credit utilization)
    3. Derogatory marks
    4. Credit age
    5. Total accounts
    6. Hard Inquiries

    As you will see, these factors also differ in how much they affect your score. Some will make more of an impact like payment history and others will make less of an impact like hard inquires.

    Seeing 6 factors makes credit seem less overwhelming since you only have 6 things to work on improving.

    Payment History

    Payment history makes a huge impact on your credit score. It’s well known it contributes almost a third of your score so making sure you pay bills on time is incredibly important.

    Even one late payment can injure your credit score and drop it by many points. It’s important that you always pay your bills on time and if you are late on any payments you make sure you try to correct or dispute it.

    Remember that a single 30 or 60 day missed payment is easy to recover from in the long run but will initially hurt your score a lot. A 90 day missed payment can be so damaging it leads certain loans and lenders to disqualify you automatically. This is all calculated via a formula that includes all possible payments on all accounts so the more missed payments you have the worse it will be and the harder it will be to recover.

    Lenders want to know that you will pay your bill on time so make this your highest priority when thinking about credit.

    • Action steps: Set up auto pay for as many bills as possible and set calendar reminders for due dates to make sure things get paid on time.

    Credit Card Use

    Credit card use or credit utilization is the calculation of how much of your credit you are actually using. Credit card use is a good way to measure this because credit cards are a line of credit where you have access to a lot of credit and can use it – or not.

    Credit card utilization matters most for each individual card but your score also takes into account the average use across all cards and lines of credit.

    The goal is to stay under 30% of your credit used and 10% is ideal. You don’t have to carry credit card debt or pay interest in order to build credit. You can open a couple cards and charge just a small amount and pay it off every month.

    • Action tip: Calculate your utilization rate for each credit card and then work on a plan to pay down balances to 10%.

    Derogatory Marks

    Derogatory marks like collections, bankruptcies, civil judgements and tax liens are all things that are negative and can negatively affect your credit score for a long time. These can stay on your credit report for 7-10 years so it’s best to avoid or remove them if possible.

    Debt collections have to have proof that you own the debt and everything is accurate so you can work through the process of verifying, disputing, and settling your debt.

    If it’s over a couple years old you may also just decide to let it fall off your credit report. The older a collections account is the less it will affect your credit score.

    • Action steps: Make a list of all the derogatory marks on your credit report. Start working on improving them by using the “pay for delete” method for collections.

    Credit Age

    Credit age is another important factor because creditors like to know that you are going to be using credit wisely for a long period of time before they lend to you.

    Experience handling credit is important and to show this you should always keep your oldest accounts open. I cringe when people pay off their credit cards then close the accounts because they hurts you so much in the long run.

    Make sure you keep your oldest credit card open and use it for 1 small thing every since month so it is active and not auto closed.

    • Action step: There isn’t much you can do here other than make sure you take out credit early and keep it active!

    Total Accounts

    The total number of accounts you have is another factor in your credit score but this one has a low impact on your actual score.

    Having different type of accounts like credit cards and installment loans is a factor in your score. This is something people generally build over time as they open more accounts with different types of credit.

    Personally I’ve seen that you generally want at least 2 credit cards in use and one installment loan in order to have the best credit.

    • Action step: Make a plan to strategically increase your accounts by opening a new line, but don’t just rush out and open multiple at once!

    Hard Inquiries

    Hard inquiries are a factor in your credit score and while they have a low impact, having too many can drop your credit score.

    Luckily unlike the other factors this is usually a temporary drop and will even back out after about three months.

    As you can see from my credit score slide above, we recently applied for a new refinanced mortgage which is why we had more inquiries and our score dropped temporarily.

    • Action step: Only apply for credit when you absolutely need it and try to plan ahead to minimize these inquiries in the year before you get a mortgage.

    Building Your Credit

    If you are struggling to build or repair credit then this should give you a good start to work on improving your credit. By focusing in on 6 different elements you are able to eliminate things that don’t matter but could waste your time.

    I recommend you start from the top of the list and then work your way down. You will get the most improvement from your efforts if you focus on what affects your score the most. This means getting organized and making a plan to strategically pay off debts and increase your credit score!

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  • New Mortgage Details & Refinance Closing Costs

    We recently refinanced our mortgage and this video is sharing our new mortgage details and how we are now paying much more to our mortgage principal balance each month thanks to the refinance.

    Our mortgage payoff journey is having a “restart” with this new mortgage amortization schedule but we’ve gone from 25 years left on our loan to 15 years!

    Why I Share Real Mortgage Numbers

    People get very strange about money and sharing personal details including what they paid for their home. That has always been strange to me because home purchase prices are public record.

    I know what most people paid for their homes because I love to look it up. Your neighbors likely know what you paid for your home because they are invested in property values of your neighborhood. Purchase prices are not a secret.

    Despite this, many people still don’t want to share personal information which leaves many to be under prepared when they are buying their first home.

    Our Home Mortgage Journey

    Related videos on our mortgage payoff journey from where we started with our home loan to our last mortgage payoff update before we refinanced.

    Our House Price & Mortgage Details | First Time Home Buyers FHA Loan With Low Downpayment:

    2 EASY Ways To Pay Your Mortgage Faster | Our Mortgage Payoff Balance & Monthly Statement:

    Refinancing Our FHA Mortgage Loan To Drop PMI:

    Last Big Mortgage Payoff Update Before Refinancing| Paying Off Our Mortgage:

    That’s a pretty good summary of our first 3.5 years of home ownership! We bought our first home with an FHA loan with very low 3.5% down payment. While we did pay $99 in PMI for those years I think it was worth it to get us to this point where we were able to refinance.

    Our new mortgage loan is fantastic and even with that great rate I’d love to pay off our home. There is something very appealing about owning your home in full where no one can take it away from you.

    Our New Mortgage Loan Details

    If you didn’t watch the video, here are the details of our original mortgage loan.

    • 30 year loan
    • FHA
    • 3.625% rate
    • PMI – $99 per montht

    An here are our new mortgage loan details!

    • 15 year loan
    • Conventional
    • 2.75% rate
    • NO PMI

    Those numbers are so awesome to me! I’m thrilled that I was able to find a refinance offer that made sense for us finally.

    I actually spent 3 years trying to get a refinance to make sense numbers wise for our situation. Every time the closing costs were too high or the rate wasn’t low enough to make the refinance worth doing even if we were no longer paying PMI. Holding out for an offer during a different time was a great move and I’m very happy with our new mortgage loan.

    How To Know When To Refinance

    We refinanced our loan finally in 2020 for a few reasons:

    • drop our monthly PMI payment
    • get a lower interest rate
    • drop from a 30 year to a 15 year loan
    • pay off our home faster
    • we would break even within a reasonable time frame

    Those were the main reasons why we decided to refinance.

    If you are considering refinancing your home you need to consider a few different things to decide if it’s worth it in your situation or not.

    Here are some things you should consider when refinancing:

    • What are your goals with refinancing?
    • Can you get a lower interest rate?
    • How much money will you save?
    • How much are closing costs?
    • When will you break even from the cost of refinancing?

    Here are some reasons people decide to refinance:

    • Switch from an adjustable-rate mortgage to a fixed-rate mortgage
    • Drop PMI payment when you hit 20 percent equity in your home
    • Switching from a 30 year loan to 15 year loan
    • Saving money over time with lower interest rates

    As always you should check with professionals you trust who can help you figure out if refinancing would be a good fit for you.

    Mortgage Payoff Journey

    As I mentioned in my video, I want to pay off our home. We are now scheduled to do it in 15 years but I would like to do it sooner if possible.

    I’m planning to do the two similar techniques that I previously used since they really are the easiest ways to pay off your mortgage. It’s paying off your mortgage with zero extra effort or pain thanks to a couple small decisions.

    Here are the two easy ways we will be paying off our mortgage:

    1. Rounding up our payment.

    Our mortgage payment will be rounded up to the nearest even number for our payment. This means each month a certain amount is going directly to pay down the principal of the mortgage. Rounding up doesn’t hurt our budget overall because it is a small amount but it guarantees each month we are sending extra money to pay off our mortgage.

    We did this with our original mortgage loan and that allowed us to pay it down faster so we could refinance away from PMI.

    It will definitely speed up the payoff process! Rounding up your mortgage payment to the nearest $100 dollar amount makes it an easy and painless way to quickly pay off your mortgage faster.

    2. Biweekly mortgage payments.

    Next we will also set up our mortgage with biweekly payments to pay off our mortgage faster. This pays off the mortgage faster because you are actually making 26 payments a year but you only need to make 24 to cover the 12 months of mortgage payments. That means the extra 2 biweekly payments are applied to the principal as one FULL PAYMENT extra per year.

    On our biweekly schedule we will have a “half payment” go fully toward principal around May and then again later in the year. This adds up to one full payment going straight to paying the mortgage down faster.

    Most mortgage servicing companies allow you to set up a biweekly payment plan where you have an extra payment per year which drastically speeds up your repayment of your mortgage. Some will make you pay to do so which often is not worth it but you should check with your mortgage service provider/

    Those are a couple of the ways we are paying off our mortgage faster and how much we’ve paid so far!

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