How to Maximize Your FSA and Transit Benefit Before You Lose It

By Brittney Laryea & Shen Lu

 

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The end of the calendar year is generally an important time to pay attention to your workplace benefits accounts. You may already have gotten an email from the head of your workplace’s HR department about making your elections for the coming year and maybe even made them already. While you’re at it, take a look at the balances in your flexible spending accounts and transportation benefits accounts — they may need your attention.

Workplace benefit accounts like your health flexible spending account (FSA) and transportation benefits accounts help you save money on the important line items in your budget like your healthcare bills and getting yourself to and from work. Since the accounts are funded with pre-tax dollars, you could help your dollars go up to 40% further on common expenses — like getting a checkup or a bus pass — that help you keep and maintain your job. However, if you don’t quite know how to best use these accounts, you could actually end up losing the money you have socked away in your benefits accounts.

Read on or click ahead to learn the ins and outs of using these benefits accounts and what you can do, if anything, to save your money when you’re in danger of losing it.

Flexible spending accounts

What is a flexible spending account?

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A flexible spending account (FSA) is an employer sponsored reimbursement plan. It allows you to set aside pre-tax money and spend it on eligible medical expenses.

For 2018, you can contribute up to $2,650 to your health FSAs, up from the 2017’s limit of $2,600.

In an ideal world, you’ll avoid losing income by using up all your funds for eligible medical expenses by deadline. But the reality is that it’s tricky to budget for medical expenses for the next year (generally you can only adjust your contribution from each paycheck during open enrollment or during a qualifying life event, such as marriage or birth of a child). Many find themselves with excessive balance in their medical FSA at the end of the year.

It’s actually not that flexible given its “use it or lose it” rule — you have to use all the funds by the deadline, otherwise you lose the money. Several plan advisers confirmed to MagnifyMoney that many people underutilize their medical benefits. FSAStore.com, a one-stop-shop website stocked with FSA-eligible products, reported that each year, hundreds of millions of dollars was forfeited back to employers simply because consumers do not deplete the funds in their accounts.

So how can you make the best use of your medical FSA and avoid wasting money? We have done research and asked experts for you.

How can I use my health FSA funds?

First off, the medical FSA reimburses you for you or your dependent’s expenses that are not paid by your health insurance.

The eligible expenses include copayments, coinsurance and deductibles, prescription costs, vision and dental expenses and many over-the-counter (OTC) items — prescribed or unprescribed. But note that you cannot pay your monthly insurance premiums with the FSA.

If you have money left over in your FSA, you may want to consider getting new prescription glasses, prescription sunglasses and contact lenses. Those are some of the most common big-ticket items you can purchase with your FSA.

You can also stock up on things like first aid kits, contact solution, bandages and sunscreen that you may use year-round.

Your FSA plan provider will have a list of eligible over-the-counter items you can purchase at the pharmacy with your FSA, such as this one. Many of the pharmacy sites have sections of their sites that list all the FSA eligible items.

Another possible way to use the money would be scheduling check-ups with all your physicians. Your annual physicals and other preventative care are covered by your health plan, but if you need special medical treatment, you can use the remaining funds for copays, coinsurance or prescriptions.

Many FSA providers recommend you visit FSAStore.com.

How much should I contribute to my health FSA?

Becky Seefeldt, director of marketing at Benefit Resource, a benefits programs provider, said the average 2017 contribution was $1,250, based on the company’s 300,000 participants. That’s roughly half of the maximum amount one could contribute for the year. For those who over-contribute to their FSAs, by the end of the year, Seefeldt said, they usually have less than $100 left in their account.

Experts suggest you contribute conservatively because there is a chance that the unspent money might be forfeited. But everyone has a different situation; it’s hard to give a single guideline that fits all.

You really need to do the math when budgeting your contribution for the next plan year during open enrollment.

Nicole Wruck, a national health practice leader at Alight Solutions, told MagnifyMoney that most of the company’s clients over-contribute every year. She suggests consumers keep track of their health care expenses they had over the last year and plan accordingly for the coming year.

You will need to do the math based on the factors below:

  • What did you spend on prescription drugs?
  • What did you spend at the doctor, or the dentist, or the eye doctor?
  • Do you have any upcoming things planned in the next year that might make you experience some additional costs? For example, are you or your dependent expecting a baby? Will you need new glasses?

To help yourself run the numbers, you will want to study your health care plans. Know your deductibles — the amount you pay for health care services before your health insurance begins to kick in — as well as your copays and coinsurance. Learn what your out-of-pocket maximum is — the most you have to pay for health care services in a plan year. After you hit your out-of-pocket max, your insurance company covers your healthcare costs for the rest of the year.

Visiting your doctors can also help. Sometimes your year-end doctor visits can help you estimate your next year’s out-of-pocket medical expense. For instance, if your dentist tells you that you will need orthodontic treatment in the near future, then consider maxing out your FSA for the next plan year to cover the big dentist bills your insurance company won’t pay.

What happens to leftover funds at the end of the plan year?

Traditionally, you would have to use up all your remaining funds by Dec. 31. But there are two options employers can adopt to make the rules more lenient now.

The roll-over option. It allows up to $500 in your FSA per year to roll over into the next plan year, so participants don’t have to rush to use the remaining funds. Seefeldt said about 40 percent of employers now adopt the roll-over option.

An extended grace period. This gives participants an additional two and half months — through March 15 — to use up the money from the previous year. At the end of the grace period, all unspent funds will be forfeited to the employer.

Depending on how your company decides to do with the FSAs, you may have a little bit more leeway to use your funds by the year end. Check with your human resource department and your FSA plan provider to find out which option is available to you.

What happens if I leave the company before I use all my FSA funds?

If your eligible expenses incurred before you left the company, you may be able to request reimbursement through your company’s claim submission deadline.

If you leave the company in the middle of the year but you have used more funds in your flexible spending account than contributed. You may not be required to pay back your company.

You have access to the total amount you have allocated for the year after your first medical FSA deposit, regardless of the balance in your flexible spending account. You are reimbursed based on your company’s pay schedule as you submit claims.

For example, if you elected to put $2,000 into your FSA throughout the year, and you have a $2,000 dental expense in May, your FSA would reimburse you for the whole $2,000, even though you’ve only contributed about $833 by then.

If you jump ship in August, you may not have to pay back the rest of your contribution. Your company will cover it: It agrees to take the potential financial risk when it signs up for the FSA program. Don’t feel too guilty just yet — your company may be able to offset the financial loss with the unspent funds forfeited from other employees.

Now, if you have money left unused in your FSA, first, try to use it as much as you can before you part ways. But If you can’t use it up by your last day, you may have a chance to extend your FSA benefits if you choose to enroll in COBRA.

COBRA allows former employees, retirees, spouses and dependents to get temporary continuation of health benefits at group rates. FSA is one of the COBRA-eligible benefits.

Generally, you have until the end of plan year to use up money left in your FSA through your prior employer, but it’s most common for someone to take their FSA COBRA for one or two months and use the funds quickly, Seefeldt said. Under COBRA, you can continue to make your health plan contributions (but pay an additional 2 percent administrative fee) before the new plan kicks in, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

Say you leave your company in August but there is $400 left in your FSA, and you plan to continue your health insurance coverage through your previous employer for two months before your new insurance plan kicks in, you can keep submitting expenses up to $400 in that period of time but pay an administrative fee that’s 2 percent of your monthly premium. But you are not required to purchase the health coverage in order to use your FSA balance.

Again, money in your FSA cannot be used to pay your premiums. But you can use it to cover eligible medical costs.

If you’re not eligible to continue your FSA through COBRA, try to use up the money before your job ends so that you won’t leave it on the table.

Transportation benefit accounts

What are commuter benefits?

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Transportation benefit accounts, also known as commuter benefits accounts, let employees use pre-tax dollars to pay for the costs of commuting. The accounts are meant to act as an incentive for employees to use eco-friendly transportation options like carpools, mass transit or bikes on their commute to the workplace.

Commuter benefits help many workers save on their transportation costs. But, it’s possible just as many workers aren’t completely sure how their transit benefit account works, or how to make the most of it.

How can I use my commuter benefits?

If you drive to a park-and-ride, catch mass transit or ride a bike to get to work, you may be able to use pre-tax dollars contributed to a commuter benefits account to cover some or all of the cost of your commute. However, if you ride solo to work or don’t use a bike or mass transit options available to you, you won’t be able to use commuter benefits to, let’s say, pay for the gas your personal vehicle burns during your bumper-to-bumper commute each morning.

However, you may be able to take advantage of parking benefits, which we’ll explain below.

You can use the money in a transportation benefits account to pay for any of the following eligible expenses:

  • A ride in a “commuter highway vehicle” to or from home and work.
    • This is another way of saying carpooling. Riding to work in a commuter highway vehicle counts if the vehicle can seat at least 6 passengers, according to the IRS. You might not have to go through the hassle of organizing a carpool with your coworkers or neighbors to use your transportation funds this way. Some commuter benefits programs allow you to carpool using rideshare apps like Lyft or Uber, too. All you’d need to do is use your commuter benefits card to pay for UberPOOL or Lyft Line rides and join the carpool when it arrives to pick you up.
  • A transit pass.
    • A transit pass is any pass, token or other tool that permits you to ride mass transit — like a train, ferry or bus — to work.
  • Qualified parking.
    • If you need to pay to park on or near your workplace, or you have to pay for parking in order to catch a ride on public transit for work or you pay for parking for any other work-related reason, you can use your transportation benefits to cover the charge.
  • Qualified bicycle commuting reimbursement.
    • You can use up to $20 per month in transportation benefits to purchase a bicycle, make improvements or repairs to the bike, and pay for bike storage as long as you use the bicycle for regular travel between home and your workplace. Be warned: If you use your transportation benefit to be reimbursed for commuting via bicycle at some point during the month, per IRS rule, you won’t be able to use the transportation funds for any of the three aforementioned eligible expenses in that particular month.

How much should I contribute to my transit benefit?

How much you contribute to your commuter benefits account will depend on how much you spend on transportation to and from work each month. Look at your monthly commuting expenses. Do the math to figure out what you would need to contribute from each paycheck to cover the cost of your commute to work. To avoid over-contributing to your transportation benefits account, be sure to to pull out a calculator.

Step 1: Estimate how much you spend on transportation expenses — monthly parking pass, bus pass, etc. — each pay period.

Estimating your commuter benefits should be easier than, say, trying to guess how many doctor’s visits or prescriptions you’ll need to cover in the coming year. “With a commuter benefit you are making an estimate,” says Joseph Priselac, Jr., CEO P&A Group, a Buffalo, N.Y.-based employee benefits administration company. “As long as you have a job and you know you’re going to keep going to it, you know how much you will spend.”

Step 2: Elect to contribute that amount for the year. The amount you elect will be divided by the total number of remaining pay periods for the year. The benefit will be deducted from each paycheck and placed in your transportation account for your use when you need it. If you change your annual contribution, the remaining number of deductions will be adjusted accordingly to reflect the change. If, for example, you elect $1,200 for the year and are paid monthly, $100 pre-tax will be deducted from your paycheck to your transportation account.

Beware of contribution limits

Commuter benefits: In 2017, the maximum monthly pre-tax contribution limit for commuter benefits is $255, or $3,060 in a year. Moving forward, the IRS may decide to change that limit. The federal agency reviews and sets the limit annually. If you bike to work, you max out at $20 per month.

Parking benefits: An additional $255 per month. If you’ve got to ride mass transit to get to work and pay for parking, Priselac says that limit is technically doubled, since you can max out $255 for parking and another $255 for mass transit passes each month.

Unless you are certain sure you will use up the maximum in transportation spending for the year, don’t simply contribute the maximum amount you can to your transportation benefits account.

What if I want to reduce my contribution?

If, for whatever reason, you decide you don’t need to contribute as much or you want to contribute more to your transit benefit fund during the year, that’s not a problem.

Unlike an FSA, for which your contribution election can’t be changed during the year, “you can change your election anytime you want,” says Priselac.

To clarify, you can change your commuter benefits election as often as your company allows. For some, that may be once per pay period, for others, it may be once per quarter. It’s one of the few benefits you can change mid-year. Consult with your employer’s human resources department to find out how often you are able to change your election.

“If you’re not sure how much you will be spending, start by contributing a small amount,” says Caspar Yen, Senior Director of Product Management at Zenefits, a human resources software company. “There’s no need to over contribute to play it safe.”

That said, if you feel you’ve contributed too much to your commuter benefits account to use up within the period, you can stop the deductions and use up the balance you’ve accumulated until it runs out, then restart your contributions. Just be sure to keep an eye on your transportation benefits balance so you know when to restart your contributions.

What happens to leftover funds at the end of the year?

Transit benefits rollover each year so long as you are still with the company and the company still offers the benefit. That means you don’t have to rush to use leftover funds at the end of the year.

This is in contrast to a flexible spending account, which has a ‘use it or lose it’ rule, which we covered above.

In a sense, there is no ‘plan year’ for transportation benefits, although your company may ask that you confirm you’d like to stay enrolled in the program each year when you elect your annual benefit contributions. Transportation benefits accounts roll over each pay period and should roll over into the coming period at the end of the year. That means there’s no danger of losing any of the money you’ve contributed so far, as long as you remain employed with that particular employer.

What if I quit my job or get laid off?

“As long as you are still working there and you have work related transit expenses the money stays,” says Priselac.

But if you quit your job or are laid off you could lose some or all of the money remaining in your transportation benefits account. If you’ve been over-contributing, any money you don’t use up will be lost to you, and returned to your employer.

The good news is that some benefit programs will give employees a grace period to submit reimbursements requests for any transportation expenses incurred during their employment — even if they quit.

If you know you may no longer be with the company or the company is planning to terminate its program, there’s one thing you can do to save your money.

“Before leaving a company, employees can make a large eligible purchase,” says Yen.

In the Bay Area, for example, an employee can purchase a clipper card with up to $300 in credits. If the transit method you take offers individual tickets, you could purchase a large number. Or, if you are able to load your transit pass with cash, you could place a large amount on your pass.

For example, those in the New York City metro area might load a large amount of money onto their MetroCard and use it up until it’s depleted.

Whenever you’re making a decision about benefits, it helps to talk to your HR department or the benefit provider, just to be sure you understand the rules. Mistakes you make when choosing benefits can end up costing you a lot of money, so ask questions and avoid leaving your decisions to the last minute of open enrollment.

The post How to Maximize Your FSA and Transit Benefit Before You Lose It appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

The 2017 MagnifyMoney Mobile Banking Ratings

It’s difficult to remember how frustrating mobile banking was for users just five years ago. Some mobile banking apps would struggle to find the nearest ATM. Depositing checks by capturing an image was considered cutting edge. It was even quite possible your bank didn’t have a smartphone app.

Fast forward to today. Now, alerts from banking apps are a feature we take for granted. Most apps, if the bank offers a credit card account, will show you your current credit score. Some banks are even allowing you to make ATM withdrawals through the app, without a bank card.

The data in MagnifyMoney’s 2017 mobile banking ratings indicates that, as a class, banking apps have matured. Overall, apps haven’t appreciably improved, with users on the Apple App Store and Google Play rating banking apps an average of 3.7 stars (out of 5), as they did in 2016. But this year, none of the mobile banking apps can be considered especially awful anymore.

How we reviewed the apps

Summary of key findings:

  • Best Overall App: Discover with a score of 4.8, up from 4.2 in 2016.
  • Best Apps Among the 10 Largest Banks: Chase and Capital One both scored 4.6.
  • Worst App Among the 10 Largest Banks: BB&T with a score of 3.0, improving from 2.8 in 2016.
  • Best Apps Among the 10 Largest Credit Unions: SchoolsFirst, PenFed, Alliant, BECU and America First all scored 4.3, well above the average of 3.7 for all credit union apps.
  • Worst App Among the 10 Largest Credit Unions: Star One with a score of 3.2, down from 3.3 in 2016.
  • Best Online Direct Bank App: Discover Bank with a score of 4.8, up from 4.2 in 2016.
  • Worst Online Direct Bank App: Ally Bank, with a score of 3.4, improving from 3.1 in 2016.
  • Overall Most Improved App: First Tech Federal Credit Union, with a score increase of 122% year over year, from 1.9 to 4.2.
  • Most Improved Traditional Bank: Umpqua Bank, with a 30% ratings increase year over year, from 2.3 to 2.9.
  • Overall Most Deteriorated App: First Tennessee, whose score dropped 40%, from 3.5 to 2.1 year over year.

Overall Best and Worst Bank Apps

Discover tops them all

Discover has managed to keep the more than 1 million people who have used its mobile app relatively content. Part of its success may lie in serving more credit card-only users than mobile apps from other large banks, which tend to have customers primarily using mobile apps for more traditional checking and savings accounts. Nonetheless, its score of 4.8 is the highest of any institution in our rankings this year.

Sample Discover feedback from Android app users:

Excellent mobile app with TU FicoScore 8 to know your creditworthiness. Also, allow the manage of authorized user to freeze their credit cards awesome feature. The only secured credit card with rewards. Overall perfect, Thanks Discover. – December 3, 2017

Does pretty much everything you could ever need. Slick UI. Reliable. The only thing I’d change which is minor is being able to manage my bank and my card in the same tab. – November 18, 2017

Credit unions still among those highly rated, but traditional banks are catching up

Last year, credit unions monopolized the highest rated app list, when all but one name was a credit union. But this year, credit unions share the stage with two traditional banks and an online direct bank. Capital One and BBVA Compass were also ranked highly by app users this year, each garnering a 4.6 overall rating by mobile app users.

Sample Capital One feedback from iOS app users:

App is super simple and fast. Doesn’t crash. Quick two-factor security. All normal features promised and delivered like auto-pay, one click to see my credit score, simple rewards features, etc. – November 2017

Sample BBVA Compass feedback from Android app users:

Love this app. Makes it so easy to do banking without the hassle of going to the ?!!! I can do everything right from my phone. With the new updates it’s gotten even better!!! – November 7, 2017

10 Best and Worst Bank Apps

(Among the 10 largest banks and credit unions)

Bigger is getting better

Apart from laggard BB&T, the apps of the 10 largest banks were rated better than average by users, which is quite a feat when you consider that many of these apps, like Wells Fargo Mobile and Citi Mobile, not only offer savings, checking and credit card accounts, but also more complicated products like brokerage accounts and holistic personal finance management programs similar to websites like Mint.com.

Sample Chase feedback from iOS app users:

I use this app every day. It’s pretty simply laid out, intuitive. It combines my multiple personal accounts and business accounts in one app. – August 5, 2017

Online banking still a mixed bag

Among the 10 online direct apps we found more dispersion in app user satisfaction. While Discover tops the list with a weighted overall rating of 4.8, four of the banks had apps with a rating of less than 4. Still, nearly all the apps in this category saw a modest improvement in user satisfaction versus last year.

Credit unions hold steady

Credit union customers (shareholders, in Credit Union’s language) tend to be happier than those who use traditional banks, and that trend continues for mobile apps.

5 of the 10 largest credit unions have the same overall score of 4.3, which is unsurprising as the interface of many credit union apps are from the same software developer.

Methodology

App ratings were recorded the week of Nov. 15, 2017 in the Google Play and Apple App Stores, and include ratings for all app versions. Overall ratings are a weighted average, rounded to the nearest tenth, of iOS and Android ratings based on the number of reviews for each platform. Institutions with no mobile apps were excluded from ranking summaries.

The 50 largest banks, defined as those with the largest deposits per FDIC data June 2017, were examined. Those not offering consumer checking accounts were excluded. The 50 largest credit unions by assets according to the CUNA in September 2017 were examined. For online direct banks, and 10 of the largest online direct banks were chosen by number of app ratings.

The post The 2017 MagnifyMoney Mobile Banking Ratings appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

Best Secured Credit Cards with Low Deposit Requirements – December 2017

secured credit cards
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Secured credit cards are used as a tool to build credit history from scratch or put positive information on a credit report after negative incidents such as bankruptcy, missed debt payments or accounts in collections. By feeding positive information into a credit report, you can improve a credit score, which is essential for getting the best financial products on the market.

In order to be eligible for a secured credit card, you must provide a minimum deposit. This deposit typically serves as your line of available credit, but in same cases your line of credit may be higher. Plenty of secured cards require rather hefty minimum deposits of $300 or more, which may be prohibitive for many Americans living paycheck-to-paycheck.

Fortunately, alternatives to the high deposits exist. We’ve pulled together a list of the best secured cards that require a deposit and/or credit union membership fee of $200 or less.

$200 minimum deposit – Discover it® Secured Card - No Annual Fee

Discover it® Secured Card - No Annual Fee Discover offers a secured credit card with a minimum deposit of $200. This is our favorite secured credit card for a number of reasons. There is no annual fee. You can earn cash back. And our favorite feature is the automated monthly review that starts at month eight. Discover will start automatic monthly reviews at month 8. If you qualify, you could be transitioned to an account with no security deposit. Even better, you could potentially be eligible for a bigger credit limit. This feature really sets Discover apart from the competition – and your goal should be to get back your deposit as quickly as possible through responsible credit behavior.

No annual fee: There is no annual fee on this card.

Bankruptcy? No problem: If you have filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy in the past, you can still qualify for this card. It is a great way for people to rehabilitate their credit.

Earn cash back: Most secured credit cards do not offer any rewards. With the Discover it Secured Card, you have the opportunity to earn cash back while earning rewards. You can earn 2% at restaurants and gas stations (on up to $1,000 of spend each quarter). Plus, get 1% cash back on all your other purchases. Earning cash back is not the primary reason to select a secured credit card, but it is a nice option to have available.

Free FICO Credit Score: Discover will provide you with a copy of your official FICO credit score.

APPLY NOW Secured

on Discover’s secure website

$49, $99, or $200 – Capital One® Secured Mastercard®

Capital One® Secured Mastercard® CapitalOne offers a Secured MasterCard with a minimum deposit under $200. Our preferred credit card is from Discover. However, if you don’t have $200, you might want to consider this offer from Capital One.

  • $49 minimum deposit for a $200 line of credit, based on creditworthiness
  • No annual fee
  • 24.99% variable APR

Fine Print of the Capital One Secured MasterCard

The minimum required deposit can be as high as $200 based on your creditworthiness. So while this card could be only $49 for some, others might be asked to fork over $200.

Ensure that you don’t carry a balance as the secured card comes with a 24.99% variable APR, in the event Capital One raises its prime rate.

APPLY NOW Secured

on Capital One’s secure website

$100 minimum deposit – Visa Classic Secured by Justice FCU

Visa Classic Secured Card from Justice FCU You can join Justice FCU if you are an employee or retiree of the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, or of another qualifying group, or an eligible family member. If that doesn’t apply, don’t fret. Anyone can join JFCU by first becoming a member of an eligible JFCU association like the National Sheriff’s Association, charges a $38 membership fee. It only costs $5 for eligible individuals to join JFCU, so that would raise the total cost of membership to $43.

  • Minimum deposit of $100
  • No annual fee
  • Credit limits range from $100 to 110% of pledged shares.
  • 16.90% non-variable APR.

APPLY NOW Secured

on Justice Federal’s secure website

$200 – Rate Advantage Secured Visa by Coastal FCU

Rate Advantage Secured Visa by Coastal FCU Anyone can join Coastal Federal Credit Union. You can either work for an eligible business partner, have a family connection to a current member or be a member of North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association or The North Carolina Consumers Council. Anyone can join NCSEA or NCCC with an $18 membership fee deducted from your initial deposit to a savings account opened with CFCU.

The minimum deposit required to join is $100 in a primary savings account.

  • $100 minimum deposit
  • No annual fee
  • 16.25% APR variable

Total Cost:

  • Non-member: $200
  • Member: $100

APPLY NOW Secured

on Coastal Federal Credit Union’s secure website

Best Strategy for Rebuilding Credit

The strategy for building a strong credit score with a secured card is simple. Make one small purchase each month ($10 or less), wait for your statement to come in, pay your bill on time and in full and then repeat the next month. By making just small purchases, you’ll be using a very low amount of your overall credit limit (also called utilization), which helps drive your credit score up faster because it shows you’re responsible.

Keep an Eye on Your Credit Score and Credit Report

Once you’re in the process of building or rebuilding your credit, it helps to have a benchmark. The easiest way will be to establish a profile with one of the free credit score websites: Credit Sesame, Quizzle, Credit Karma. Do a monthly check in with your credit score to see how it’s improving.

In addition, you should also keep tabs on your credit report by downloading the report from each of the three bureaus. By law, you’re entitled to one free report from each bureau per year. You can download them all at once or space them out throughout the year. Go to annualcreditreport.com to download your free reports. Monitoring your reports will ensure all the information there is accurate and alert you about anything that may be damaging to your score, like an item in collections or reported missed payments.

A Word to the Wise

Never carry a balance on your secured card. The point of a secured card is to be building (or rebuilding) your credit history. Make one small purchase a month and pay it off on time and in full. Follow those two steps and you’ll see your credit score start to raise quickly.

Find other secured card options on our secured card comparison table.

The post Best Secured Credit Cards with Low Deposit Requirements – December 2017 appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

Where Americans Cashed In the Most Wealth

These are the places where the most capital gains have been realized

Just a few years ago, in the aftermath of the Great Recession, Americans were constantly reading about how home ownership had let Americans down.  There was red ink everywhere: Not only had stocks lost nearly half of their value between 2007 and 2009, but home prices had declined in virtually every real estate market in the country.

That trend has long since been reversed. Last year, incomes grew an average of 4.7 percent. When adjusted for inflation, they have finally fully recovered to levels seen before the 2007-08 financial crisis. But even better, their investments have been paying off.  Stocks, as based on broad market indexes, have more than tripled in value from their 2009 lows. And in most local markets, home prices have also since recovered.

So, who’s cashing in?

MagnifyMoney analyzed five years’ worth of Internal Revenue Service (IRS) data — from 2012 to 2016 — to see where American taxpayers are getting the most return on their investments. In particular, we focused on capital gains: a tax on the sale of appreciated assets like real estate and stocks.

For the 100 largest American metros, we looked at two facets of capital gains: How much in gains, per resident, were realized; and, to get a sense of the breadth of wealth being realized and taxed, the percentage of individuals who filed federal taxes that cited a capital gain.

We ranked each metro on these metrics and weighted them evenly to create a Cashing In Score, from 0 to 100 (with 100 representing a metro that would rank first in both capital gains per resident and the percentage of returns with capital gains).

Topping the list were Fort Myers, Fla.; San Francisco; and Sarasota, also in Florida. Others in the top 10 include tech-heavy places like Seattle and Austin, Texas.

#1 Fort Myers, Fla.
Cashing In score: 98 (Scores are rounded in this list.)

By far, the place with the most cashing-in was Fort Myers, on Florida’s west coast. With a relatively small population of well-off retirees, the city and surrounding area realized nearly $103,000 in capital gains per resident, easily eclipsing other American cities. Moreover, with a capital gain appearing on nearly one in four returns over the past five years, there’s been significant activity in the region.

#2 San Francisco

Cashing In score: 94

The City by the Bay is famous for both its tight real estate market as well as Silicon Valley, and the data bear this out. Even with a significantly large population, San Francisco realized more than $76,000 in capital gains per resident, many of the realized gains likely the result of selling stocks which have greatly appreciated in value.

#3  Sarasota, Fla.

Cashing In score: 75

Sarasota has the distinction of having a higher proportion of federal tax returns with a capital gain than any other metro in the nation, including its Fort Myers neighbor to the south. The capital gains per resident, at more than $56,000, are less than those realized in Fort Myers (as well as No. 9 Miami).

#4 New York

Cashing In score: 70

The nation’s largest metro also sports large gains: more than $60,000 in capital gains per resident over the five-year period we examined. One in five returns included some sort of capital gain. And where the average price of a home in Manhattan has now exceeded $1 million, a healthy percentage of the gains realized were from real estate sales.

#5 Boston

Cashing In score: 63

Another metro with a hot real estate market, Boston realized more than $48,000 of capital gains per resident from 2012-2016, while, as in New York, 20 percent of federal filings from the Boston area included some sort of capital gain.

What is a capital gain?

According to the IRS, a capital gain can arise from a sale of stock, a private business, real estate or art. In other words, it’s the money that you earn on an investment after you sell it, less the cost of the initial investment. And while these assets are taxed at differing rates, all may be subject to federal taxes, if they are sold for more than the original purchase price.

Homes are still how most Americans typically accumulate wealth. Overall, 64 percent of American households are homeowner households, according to the most recent Census data . The median value of the primary residence of Americans still exceeds the median value of the stocks and bonds they hold outside of retirement accounts and other managed assets like annuities. And homeowners have a net worth of nearly $230,000, versus an average of about $5,000 for renters.

But housing markets are still local, which may in part explain the variance among the 100 largest metropolitan areas we examined for the most capital gains realized from 2012 to 2016.

The second-home factor

Not all home sales will result in a capital gains tax.  Currently homeowners only pay a capital gains tax on gains that exceed $250,000 ($500,000 for couples filing jointly), if it’s their primary residence.

But other property – such as vacation homes and rental properties – aren’t afforded the same protections from capital gains as a primary residence.

Thus, all the gains from these sales may be subject to capital gains tax, which may explain why we found that many of the cities that top our list s are in vacation spots like Florida and Lake Tahoe (considered part of Reno, Nev., by the Census Bureau).

Stocks still likely result in some significant realization.

It’s probably not a surprise that both New York and San Francisco are near the top of the list. Not only do both have tight residential real estate markets, but both Wall Street and Silicon Valley are homes of dozens of public corporations with thousands of employees. Stocks, whether in the form of compensation given to employees or simply bought and sold on the open market, may also result in significant capital gains.

Local economies still a factor.  

Finally, local economies may also be a factor in how much in capital gains are realized. Consider two major cities in Texas: Houston and Austin. Despite being fewer than 200 miles apart, Austin ranks significantly higher than Houston on our scale. One explanation: Austin’s tech-heavy economy continues to flourish, while the energy centric economy of Houston is slogging through a period of depressed energy prices, weighing on the residential real estate market there

Methodology

MagnifyMoney analyzed IRS Statistics of Income data for tax returns filed January 1, 2012 – December 31, 2016, covering five years of tax filings, along with U.S. Census Bureau 2016 population data to create a ‘Cashing in score.’

The 100 largest metros in the U.S. were ranked by the % of returns that declared capital gains, as well as the total capital gains reported per resident over the five year period. These rankings were weighted evenly to create the score for each metro, with 100 the highest possible score for a metro that ranks #1 for both metrics.

The post Where Americans Cashed In the Most Wealth appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

This Place Sure Has Changed: Which Cities Have Changed the Most?

A MagnifyMoney analysis looks at a decade of data to determine which communities are undergoing dynamic transformations, and which are standing still.

The cities that have changed the most in 10 years

“This place has changed” is a refrain you often hear from a city’s longtime residents. But change is a curious, inconstant thing; as some communities undergo great transformations, others seem frozen in time.

MagnifyMoney looked at nine elements of local change from 2006-2016 among the 50 largest metros in the United States, creating a Change Score (0-100) for each. The score factors in such measures as the changes in commute times, income, house prices, crime rates, building permits and more.

Change isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing. Big growth in commute times and rents can be negative, but they can also be a function of positive developments like job and income growth. Similarly, places without as much change could be more attractive to people working their way up the salary ladder or those retirees on fixed incomes, offering more affordable housing and less congestion.

But change often brings underlying challenges to the forefront, prompting communities to make tough calls on things that could hamper positive transformations going forward, like diversification of industries, infrastructure investment and tax policy.

MagnifyMoney is highlighting these places to encourage discussion in communities dealing with rapid change.

  1. Austin, Texas (90.4). Austin is a magnet for change, with the fastest job growth in the nation (+40% since 2006), 60% of residents moving since 2010, and a 54% rise in house prices since 2006, the most of the 50 metros ranked. Relatively lower living costs than tech centers like the San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle, along with a combination of satellite offices of larger tech companies, a burgeoning startup scene and no state income tax all contribute to Austin’s change leadership. The lowest-ranked element of Austin growth, building permits (No. 25 of 50), explains some of the outsize housing price appreciation.
  2. Dallas-Fort Worth (89.7). Dallas isn’t tops for change in any of the nine categories we looked at, but it ranks high because it’s in the top 10 for five categories, and ranks no lower than No. 19 (growth in rent, at 31% since 2006) for any single category. Dallas-Fort Worth’s top rank is for the decline in its crime rate, No. 4 (and down 43% from 2006).
  3. Houston (86.2). Houston rounds out the trio of big Texas cities at the top of the change list, led by housing factors. It ranks No. 2 for house price appreciation, at 38% from 2006, and No. 3 for building permit expansion. It lags on crime rate change (-27% from 2006), on which it ranked  No. 23 of 50 metros.
  4. Nashville, Tenn. (84.8). Ranking fifth in the nation for employment growth (24%) and building permit expansion, Nashville is the most changed city outside Texas in our ranking. In all, 53% of Nashville residents report moving since 2010, and median nominal income is up 26% from 2006. More challenging, median rent growth has far outpaced income growth, up 38% since 2006.
  5. Tie: Portland, Ore., and Denver (83.9).  Income, rent and commute times are where Portland ranks highest for change. Portland’s median rent of $1,158 a month is up 52% from 2006, while median income is up 31%, an impressive figure, but one that leaves many stretched in the face of rapidly rising rents. Commute times are up 12% on average from 10 years ago. As for Denver, its story is one of rising housing costs outpacing big job growth.  It ranks No. 2 for rent increases of 60% and No. 3 for house price increases of 35% in 10 years. Employment growth of 23% ranked No. 6, while income growth of 31% also ranked No. 6 of the 50 metros examined.

Places that changed the least

  1. Birmingham, Ala. (61.1) Birmingham ranks in the bottom half of change for all nine metrics we analyzed, and notably lags in employment growth, at 3% in the 10 years between 2006 and 2016. House prices, a double-edged sword, are down 2% from their 2006 level as of 2016, while commute times are identical to levels seen at the start of the 10-year period.
  1. Milwaukee (61.7) Milwaukee also lags in employment growth, at 4% in 10 years, but it’s one of the few areas where rent growth hasn’t significantly outpaced income growth, with median rent up 19% in 10 years (while incomes rose 15% over the same period).
  1. New Orleans (63.4) While New Orleans is third from the bottom in terms of change, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it has made big progress in one key metric; employment is up 30% since 2006, giving this city a No. 3 ranking among the 50 largest metros for growth. Where it lags is in metrics where too much change is a negative: rent growth and commute-time growth. Median rent in the New Orleans area is up 17% in 10 years, ranking No. 48 out of 50, while commute times are up just 1%, ranking No. 47.

What about the tech-heavy Bay Area?

With the rapid growth of tech companies in the last decade or so, there is some expectation that San Francisco and San Jose, the two metros that comprise the greater Bay Area, would rank higher on change than Nos. 24 and 10, respectively.

They are ranked Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, on income, Nos. 2 and 1 on commute-time growth, and Nos. 5 and 1 on rent growth, indicating significant shifts. The median income in San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and East Bay is up 37% in 10 years, while in the South Bay (San Jose) it’s up 36%, both leading the metros in our ranking.

Meanwhile, commute times increased 18% across both the San Francisco and San Jose metros, also ranked No. 1 of 50 metros, on top of already high levels of congestion from the peak of the last business cycle.

But house prices, while setting records and sitting among the most expensive in the country, have not grown as much over 10 years as other metros like Dallas, Houston, and Austin, which had less of a run-up during the housing boom of the mid-2000s.

San Jose ranked No. 20 for house price growth since 2006, while San Francisco ranked No. 47, using an index that accounts for all communities in the metro, not just desirable suburbs and neighborhoods that have seen outsize appreciation.  And crime rates have not declined as rapidly in the Bay Area as in other parts of the country, further limiting change rankings, with San Francisco ranking No. 44 for change in its crime rate.

Ranking Highlights

Commute times

% change in commute times, 2006 – 2016

  1. San Francisco +18%
  2. San Jose + 18%
  3. Los Angeles +12%
  4. Boston +12%
  5. Portland +12%

Employment

Employment change, 2006 – 2016

  1. Austin +40%
  2. Raleigh +32%
  3. New Orleans +30%
  4. San Antonio +29%
  5. Nashville +24%

Income

Median income change, 2006 – 2016

  1. San Francisco +37%
  2. San Jose +36%
  3. Austin +34%
  4. Oklahoma City +31%
  5. Portland +31%

House prices

House price index change, 2006 – 2016

  1. Austin +54%
  2. Houston +38%
  3. Denver +35%
  4. Las Vegas -34%
  5. Dallas +32%

Rent

% change in median rent, 2006-2016

  1. San Jose +68%
  2. Denver +60%
  3. Seattle +55%
  4. Portland +52%
  5. San Francisco +49%

Recent moves

% of residents who moved into their residence in 2010 or later

  1. Las Vegas 66%
  2. Phoenix 61%
  3. Austin 60%
  4. Orlando 58%
  5. Denver 56%

Median age

Change in median age of residents, 2006 – 2016

  1. Riverside, Calif. +3.4 years
  2. Phoenix +2.8 years
  3. Sacramento, Calif. +2.6 years
  4. Detroit +2.4 years
  5. Los Angeles +2.3 years

Methodology

We looked at nine factors to assess change, including:

  • Commute times — the percentage change in average commute times reported for each metro area in the U.S. Census American Community Survey, released in September 2017 and covering 2006-2016.
  • Building permits — The number of residential building permits issued, 2007-2016, as a percentage of the 2006 base of households, using data from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
  • Median age — The change in median age of residents, 2006-2016, via the American Community Survey.
  • Employment — The percentage change in people employed from 2006-2016, via the American Community Survey.
  • Income — The percentage change in nominal median household income, 2006-2016, via the American Community Survey.
  • House prices — The percentage change in the nominal house price index, 2006-2016, via the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
  • Rent  — The percentage change in median rent from 2006 – 2016, via the American Community Survey.
  • Crime rate — The percentage change in the crime rate from 2006-2016, via the Federal Bureau of Investigation  Uniform Crime Reporting program.
  • Recent moves — The percentage of residents who moved into their current residence in 2010 or later, via the American Community Survey.

Ranks for each of the nine factors were evenly weighted to create a Change Score for each metro, from 0-100, with 100 representing the top score.

 

The post This Place Sure Has Changed: Which Cities Have Changed the Most? appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

1 in 5 Americans Will Go into Debt to Pay for Summer Vacation

With summertime right around the corner, millions of Americans will pile into cars, planes, and trains and head off for summer vacation.

In the 2017 MagnifyMoney Vacation Debt survey, we asked 500 U.S. adults how they are planning to pay for their summer getaways.

Alarmingly, we found a significant number of vacationers are willing to drive themselves into debt for some fun in the sun.

Key findings:

  • The average American will spend $2,936 on their summer vacation in 2017

  • 1 in 5 vacationers (21%) will go into debt to pay for their summer getaways

  • People who already have debt are twice as likely to use debt to cover some vacation expenses as people who are debt-free: 30% vs. 13%

  • Vacationers who plan to use debt to pay for their vacation will also spend nearly twice as much as the average vacationer: $4,351 vs. $2,936

  • Summer vacation FOMO is real: 31% of people say they feel pressured to go on vacation even though they’d rather pay off debt.

—————————————

Summer Vacation: The Ultimate Debt Trap?

Summer vacation will set the average American back nearly $3,000 this year, according to the survey.

But an alarming number of travelers will be going into debt to finance their getaways.

One in five (21%) of respondents said they plan to go into debt to pay for vacation, according to the survey.

Among those who said they plan go into debt to pay for vacation, a whopping 71% admitted to already carrying some credit card debt.

People who already have debt are more likely to turn to debt to pay for vacation (30%) than those who are debt-free (13%).

 

Using debt to pay for a big trip may not seem like a big deal. But our survey shows using debt can lead people to spend more than they might spend otherwise.

When we looked at respondents who said they are planning to take on debt to pay for their vacation, we found that they were likely to spend significantly more on vacation than their peers.

On average, survey respondents said their vacations will cost $2,936 this year. And they plan to cover 20% of that expense ($595) with some form of debt.

On the other hand, people planning to go into debt said they will spend nearly twice that amount on their vacation — $4,351. And they’ll use debt to cover an even larger share of their total vacation expenses — 38% vs. 20%.

On the flip side, vacationers who have no debt will spend the least on vacation and plan to cover just 14% of their total vacation costs with new debt.

Vacation debt can easily stick around for months or even years to come, depending on how much debt a consumer already has to contend with.

Let’s say a person pays for their vacation expenses on a credit card with an average APR of 16%. They spend $1,670. If they make only minimum payments each month, it would take them over five years to pay off the debt, and they would pay $822 in interest charges.

When it comes to vacation, credit cards are king

The vast majority of respondents who said they will use debt to pay for some of their vacation expenses will use credit cards.

 

FOMO + Vacation Debt

It’s evident from our survey that outside societal pressure to take a big summer vacation can push someone to spend outside of their means.

Nearly one-third (31%) of people who already have debt say they felt pressure to go on vacation anyway.

The pressure is even worse for people who said they are planning to go into debt for vacation. Nearly half (46%) said they felt pressure to go on vacation even though they’d like to pay down some of their existing debt.

People who planned on taking on debt to pay for their summer vacation were also less likely to say they would be willing to skip a summer vacation to pay off their debt.

More than half (53%) of people planning to go into debt for vacation would be willing to skip vacation to pay off debt.

Meanwhile, 60% of people who have no debt said they’d be willing to skip a vacation to pay off debt.

Millennials Rack Up the Most Vacation Debt

Millennials may spend more on vacations than older generations, but it’s Gen Xers and Boomers who are more likely to fund their vacation expenses with plastic.

On average, 18-35 year olds said they will spend $3,163 on vacation and take on $725 of debt in the process. By comparison, respondents age 35 and older will spend $2,761 on vacation and cover $495 of it with debt.

Millennials were slightly more susceptible to peer pressure as well. Just under half (49%) of 18-35 year olds who plan to go into debt for vacation said they feel pressured to vacation rather than pay off debt. Comparatively, 44% of those age 35 years and older who said they plan to go into debt for vacation also said they felt pressure to do so.

Methodology: MagnifyMoney commissioned Pollfish to conduct an online survey of 500 U.S. adults who plan to take a vacation this summer and are responsible for most of the cost of the vacation. Responses were collected April 15 – 26, 2017.

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Ultimate Guide to Teacher Student Loan Forgiveness

With reporting by Hannah Rounds and Brittney Laryea

Becoming a schoolteacher is heralded as a rewarding profession but not one that often comes with a large paycheck. Starting salaries for public school teachers range from $27,000 to $48,000, according to the National Education Association. And yet, teachers who graduate with a Master in Education carry an average of $50,000 in student loan debt.

With salaries like these, it’s no wonder teachers can struggle to afford their student loan payments. Thankfully, classroom teachers qualify for many debt forgiveness programs. These programs can help give teachers an extra boost to help them pay down debt while working.

These are the most important student loan forgiveness programs for teachers, which we’ll review in detail in this guide.

To skip ahead to the program you’re interested in, just click the links below.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Public Service Loan Forgiveness is a 2007 program that originally promised to forgive federal student loans for any employees of nonprofit or public sector companies. That, of course, includes teachers.  Under the program, borrowers who made 120 on-time payments would ultimately qualify for loan forgiveness.

However, the program’s future is now uncertain. A proposed education budget from the White House appears to eliminate the program, and it is not yet clear whether or not enrolled workers will have their loans forgiven as promised. Any budget will have to receive Congressional approval, which means we may not have a certain answer for months to come.

How do l know if I’m eligible?

Teachers at nonprofit schools are eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. This includes public and private nonprofit schools. To qualify, teachers must make 120 on-time payments while working full time in a public service role.

The 120 payments do not have to be consecutive. However, you must pay the full amount listed on your bill. Additionally, your loans must be in good standing when you make the payment.

IMPORTANT: You can only qualify for loan forgiveness if you are enrolled in a qualified income-driven repayment option.  Learn more about income-driven repayment plans here.

Also, payments only count toward forgiveness if your loan is in active status. That means any payments made while loans are in the six-month grace period, deferment, forbearance, or default do not count toward forgiveness.

How can I be sure my employer is covered by PSLF?

There has been a lot of confusion about which employers are considered nonprofit or public service organizations. To be sure your employer is eligible, you should submit an employment certification form to FedLoan Servicing.

Although the future of the loan forgiveness program remains uncertain, borrowers may still want to prepare for a positive outcome and enroll in hopes that the program will continue.

How much of my loan will be forgiven?

After 120 payments, the government will cancel 100% of the remaining balance and interest on your Direct Federal Loans.

Direct Federal Loans include: Direct Loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans, Direct PLUS Loans, and Direct Consolidation Loans.

Will I have to pay taxes?

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) is completely tax-free. You will not see an increased tax bill the year your loans are forgiven.

How to claim Public Student Loan Forgiveness

As the program launched in 2007 and requires 10 years of on-time payments, the first group of graduates who could be eligible for PSLF will begin submitting their applications in 2017.

But don’t expect it to happen automatically. Even if you qualify for loan forgiveness, the government will not automatically discharge your loans. You need to submit the PSLF application to receive loan forgiveness.

The applications for loan forgiveness are not yet available. The U.S. Department of Education will make them available before October 2017.

What if I have a Parent Plus, Perkins or FFEL loan?

As it stands, some types of federal student loans — such as Parent PLUS, Perkins and Federal Family Education Loans — are not included under the PSLF program. One way to get around this is by consolidating those loans through the federal direct consolidation program. If you take this route, the entire consolidation loan will be forgiven.

PSLF works best in conjunction with an income-based repayment plan. These plans lower your monthly payments.

Since you will qualify for loan forgiveness, this means more money in your pocket. Just remember, you must keep your loans in good standing — making 120 on-time consecutive payments — to qualify for forgiveness.

Federal Teacher Loan Forgiveness

The Federal Teacher Loan Forgiveness program encourages teachers to work in the neediest areas of the country. Teachers who qualify can have up to $17,500 in federal loans forgiven after five years.

How do I know if I’m eligible for Federal Teacher Loan Forgiveness?

Teachers must complete five consecutive years of teaching at a low-income (Title I) school. If your school transitions off the list after your first year of teaching, your work in that school still counts toward forgiveness.

Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans and Subsidized and Unsubsidized Stafford Loans can be forgiven. Loans must have originated after October 1, 1998. This is important for anyone who hasn’t paid off loans and wants to consider teaching as a second career.

Your loans may not be in default at the end of your five years of teaching. The only exception includes loans that are set up in a repayment arrangement.

You qualify for teacher loan forgiveness as long as you are on a qualified repayment option. These include the standard 10 year repayment plans or the payments required by an income-based repayment plan. If your loan goes into a default, a repayment arrangement works with this program.

How much of my loan will be forgiven?

To receive the full $17,500 in forgiveness, you must meet one of two criteria: either work as a highly qualified math or science teacher in a secondary school, or work as a qualified special education teacher for children with disabilities.

Other highly qualified teachers can have up to $5,000 of loans forgiven if they work in Title I schools.

You’ll notice that all teachers must be “highly qualified.” To meet the highly qualified standard, you must be licensed in the state you work, hold a bachelor’s degree, and demonstrate competence in the subject(s) you teach. Do you need to check whether you’re highly qualified? The U.S. Department of Education explains qualification in detail.

Will I have to pay taxes?

The Federal Teacher Loan Forgiveness program forgives your loans and does not result in a taxable event.

How to apply

Qualified teachers must submit this application with administrative certification. Be sure you work with your school’s administration in advance.

Tips and tricks

Consider teaching at a Title I school directly after graduation. The loan forgiveness may help you achieve debt freedom within five years. Consider an income-based repayment program to lower your payments while you’re teaching.

Teacher Cancellation for Federal Perkins Loans

If you’re a teacher who took out a Federal Perkins Loan from your school, you may qualify for loan cancellation. Teachers can cancel up to 100% of their Perkins Loans after five years.

How do loans become eligible?

The teacher cancellation program for Perkins Loans is one the most lenient programs for loan forgiveness.

You will qualify to have loans forgiven if you meet any one of these three requirements:

  • You work full time in a low-income (Title I) school.
  • You work full time as a special education teacher.
  • You work full time in a designated shortage area (such as math, science, foreign language, bilingual education, or any shortage area declared by your state).

If you work part time at multiple qualifying schools, you may qualify for loan cancellation.

Your loans may be in a grace period, deferment, or any qualified repayment plan at the time of discharge. They may not be in default.

Also, you must be enrolled in a qualified repayment option. Your payment plan could be the standard 10 year repayment plans or an income-based repayment plan. If you qualify fordeferment, your loans may still be eligible for cancellation.

How much of my loan will be forgiven?

Over the course of five years, 100% of your Federal Perkins Loan will be forgiven. The discharge occurs at the end of each academic year. In years 1 and 2, the government discharges 15% of the principal balance of the loan. It cancels 20% of the loan in years 3 and 4 of service. The final year, the remaining 30% of your loan will be canceled.

In most cases, the five years of service do not have to be consecutive. However, this isn’t always the case. The university that issued your Perkins Loan administers the loan cancellation program. That means you need to check with your alma mater for complete details.

Will I have to pay taxes?

This program forgives your loans and does not result in a taxable event.

How to apply

You must request the appropriate forms from the university that holds the loans. If you don’t know the office that administers Perkins Loans, contact your university’s financial aid office.

Tips and tricks

If your Federal Perkins Loan qualifies for deferment, take advantage of this option. Under deferment, you don’t have to make any payments on the loan. At the same time, the government pays any accruing interest. Teachers who qualify for deferment can have 100% of their Perkins Loan forgiven without ever paying a dime.

TEACH Grant

The Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant isn’t like other loan cancellation programs. Under the terms of the program, you accept the money during your college years. Eligible students can receive a grant of up to $4,000 per year of education. After you graduate, you agree to work as a teacher for four years in a high-need field in schools that serve low-income families.

As long as you keep your end of the bargain, you don’t have to pay the money back. Otherwise, the grant transforms into a loan. If you’re planning to become a teacher, this can be a great opportunity. But you need to understand the details before you accept the grant.

How do I qualify for a TEACH Grant?

To qualify for a TEACH Grant, you must enroll in a teacher education program, complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, maintain a certain GPA (usually 3.25), and agree to a work requirement.

When you accept a TEACH Grant you agree to work as a teacher in a high-need field serving low-income families. You must complete four years of full-time teaching within eight years of graduation.

In this instance, you take the money first and agree to do the work later. That means that you’re taking on a risk.

You must complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid form, and you must complete a training and counseling module from StudentAid.gov. Pay attention to the training; it will help you understand the risks of the TEACH Grant.

What happens if I change my mind?

If you don’t keep up your end of the bargain and meet all of the work requirements, the funds get converted into a Direct Unsubsidized Loan. What’s worse? The interest begins accruing from the point you received the grant. That means you’ll have the principal and interest to pay.

Don’t take a TEACH Grant unless you plan to meet the work requirements.

Will I have to pay taxes?

TEACH Grants are nontaxable education grants. However, you cannot claim a tax credit for education expenses paid by the grant.

Tips and tricks

The TEACH Grant offers a great way to graduate debt free, but you must commit to follow through. Don’t take the grant money unless you know that you can work as a teacher for at least four years.

Teacher Loan Forgiveness Programs by State

Several states offer generous loan forgiveness opportunities. You can use these programs in conjunction with the federal programs above. Qualified applicants might achieve debt freedom in a few years with these programs. These are some of the highlights of state loan forgiveness programs.

If your state isn’t listed, check out the database at the American Federation of Teachers. They keep track of most major scholarship and loan forgiveness opportunities for teachers.

Arkansas State Teachers Education Program

The Arkansas State Teachers Education Program (STEP) helps teachers with federal student loans pay back their loans. Teachers must work in geographical or subject areas with critical shortages.

Arkansas teachers with federal student loans can receive loan repayment assistance if they serve geographical areas with teacher shortages. They can also receive repayment assistance if they have licensure or endorsements in designated subject areas.

Eligible teachers can receive up to $3,000 per year that they teach in critical shortage areas. There is no lifetime maximum of loan forgiveness. Licensed minority teachers can receive an additional $1,000 for every year that they qualify for STEP.

Arkansas Teacher Opportunity Program (TOP)

The Teacher Opportunity Program, or TOP, awards tuition reimbursement grants up to $3000 of out-of-pocket expenses to licensed Arkansas classroom teachers and administrators with the Arkansas Department of Education.

Arkansas classroom teachers and administrators who declare an intention to continue employment as a classroom teacher or administrator in Arkansas after completing their program are eligible for TOP. Applicants must also have at least a 2.5 cumulative GPA in the courses funded by the TOP grant when they apply.

Applicants who meet all requirements can receive reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses up to $3000 for courses related to employment. The grant reimburses educators up to 6 college credit hours each academic year.

Arkansas administrators and educators can find more information about TOP on the Arkansas Department of Higher Education website. Applicants must complete and submit an application to The Arkansas Department of Higher Education by June 1 each year.

Delaware Critical Need Scholarships

The Critical Need Scholarship program reimburses Delaware teachers for all or part of tuition and registration fees paid for courses that contribute toward the completion of a Standard Certification.

Full-time employees of a Delaware school district or charter school who teach on an Emergency Certificate in a critical need area as defined by the Delaware Department of Education. Applicants must also have a minimum 2.0 GPA.

The scholarship forgives all or part of tuition and registration fees paid up to $1,443 for undergraduate coursework or up to the cost of three credits per term for graduate coursework, not to exceed the cost of three credits at the University of Delaware.Courses must contribute toward the completion of a Standard Certification.

Teachers can find more information and application instructions here. You must apply through the school district or charter school where you are employed. The application cycles twice each year; one deadline is in January and the other is in June.

Illinois Teacher Loan Repayment Program

The Illinois Teacher Loan Repayment Program offers up to $5,000 to Illinois teachers who teach in low-income schools in Illinois. This award is meant to encourage the best teachers to serve students in high-need areas.

The Illinois Teacher Loan Repayment Program is a unique loan forgiveness matching program. Teachers must meet every qualification to receive Federal Teacher Loan Forgiveness. In addition, teachers must have served all five years in a low-income Illinois school.

Teachers who meet all requirements can receive federal loan forgiveness up to $5,000. You must apply for Illinois loan repayment funds within six months of receiving federal loan forgiveness.

Iowa Teacher Shortage Forgivable Loan Program

Iowa offers student loan repayment assistance to state-certified teachers as an incentive for educators to teach in subjects with a shortage of instructors through the state’s Teacher Shortage Forgivable Loan Program.

Current Iowa teachers who began their first teaching position in Iowa after July 1, 2007 and are completing studies in a designated shortage subject area are eligible for the Teacher Shortage Forgivable Loan Program.

Teachers must have a balance on either a Direct Stafford Loan or Direct Consolidation Loan and agree to teach in the shortage subject area upon graduation. For 2016 graduates, the maximum award is $6,858.

Recipients are awarded up to 20% of their remaining loan balance annually, up to the average resident tuition rate for students attending Iowa’s Regent Universities the year following graduation.

Teachers can find more information on the Iowa College Student Aid Commission website. The 2016-17 application window is between January 1 and March 31, 2017, for the academic year. Recipients must reapply each year.

Maryland Janet L. Hoffman Loan Assistance Repayment Program

Maryland offers loan repayment assistance to excellent teachers who teach STEM subjects or in low-income schools.

Only teachers who earned a degree from a college in Maryland or a resident teacher certificate from the Maryland State Department of Education qualify for this award. Additionally, qualified Maryland teachers must serve in low-income (Title I) schools or other schools designated for improvement. Alternatively, licensed teachers who work in designated subject areas such as STEM, foreign languages, or special education can qualify.

To qualify, you must earn less than $60,000 per year or $130,000 if married filing jointly.

Qualified teachers can have up to $30,000 repaid over the course of three years. The repayment assistance you receive depends on your overall debt load.

Total Debt Overall Award Limit Yearly Payment
$75,001 – Over $30,000 $10,000
$40,001 – $75,000 $18,000 $6,000
$15,001 – $40,000 $9,000 $3,000
$15,000 – Below $4,500 $1,500

The Janet L. Hoffman Loan Assistance Repayment Program offers some of the most generous loan repayment terms. However, the program has stringent eligibility requirements. To find out more about your eligibility, visit the Maryland Higher Education Commission website.

Mississippi Graduate Teacher Forgivable Loan Program (GTS)

The Graduate Teacher and the Counseling and School Administration Forgivable Loan Program (GTS/CSA) was established to encourage classroom teachers at Mississippi’s public schools to pursue advanced education degrees.

Current full-time Mississippi public school teachers earning their first master’s degree and Class ‘AA’ educator’s license in an approved full-time program of study at a Mississippi college or university are eligible for the GTS program.

Selected applicants are awarded $125 per credit hour for up to 12 credit hours of eligible coursework.

Teachers can find more information about GTS program on the Rise Up Mississippi website. Complete and submit the online application with all supporting documentation by the year’s stated deadline. The application must be completed each year to remain eligible.

Mississippi Teacher Loan Repayment Program (MTLR)

The Mississippi Teacher Loan Repayment Program, or MTLR program, helps teachers pay back undergraduate student loans for up to four years or $12,000.

Mississippi teachers who currently hold an Alternate Route Teaching License and teach in a Mississippi teacher critical shortage area or in any Mississippi public or charter school if teaching in a critical subject shortage area are eligible for the MTLR program. Perkins and Graduate-level loans are not eligible for repayment.

Recipients can receive a maximum $3000 annually toward their undergraduate loans for up to four years or $12,000.

Teachers can find more information on the Rise Up Mississippi website. Complete and submit the online application by the year’s stated deadline. The application must be completed each year to remain eligible.

Montana Quality Educator Loan Assistance Program

The Montana Quality Educator Loan Assistance Program encourages Montana teachers to serve in high-needs communities or in subject areas with critical shortages. The program provides direct loan repayment for teachers who meet the requirements.

Licensed Montana teachers who work in “impacted schools” in an academic area that has critical educator shortages. Impacted schools are more rural, have more economically disadvantaged students, or have trouble closing achievement gaps.

Montana will repay up to $3,000 a year for up to four years.

New York City Teach NYC

Teachers hired by the New York City Department of Education who work in specified shortage positions can receive up to $24,000 in loan forgiveness over the course of six consecutive years.

Teachers must work in a New York City school in one of the following designated shortage areas:

  • Bilingual special education
  • Bilingual school counselor
  • Bilingual school psychology
  • Bilingual school social worker
  • Blind and visually impaired (monolingual and bilingual)
  • Deaf and hard of hearing
  • Speech and language disabilities (monolingual and bilingual)

The NYC Department of Education will forgive one-sixth of your total debt load, each year for up to six consecutive years. The maximum award in one year is $4,000. The maximum lifetime award is $24,000.

North Dakota Teacher Shortage Loan Forgiveness Program

The North Dakota Teacher Shortage Loan Forgiveness Program encourages North Dakota teachers to teach in grades or content levels that have teacher shortages.

The North Dakota Department of Public Instruction identifies grades and content areas with teacher shortages. Teachers who work full time as instructors in those grades and content areas in North Dakota can receive loan forgiveness.

Teachers can receive up to $1,000 per year that they teach in a shortage area. The maximum lifetime award is $3,000.

This program is administered by the North Dakota University System. To get more information, teachers should visit the North Dakota University System website, call 701-328-2906, or email NDFinAid@ndus.edu.

Oklahoma Teacher Shortage Employment Incentive Program

Oklahoma’s Teacher Shortage Employment Incentive Program, or TSEIP, is a legislative program carried out by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education to help attract and keep mathematics and science teachers in the state.

Oklahoma state-certified classroom teachers who are not yet certified to teach math or science are eligible for TSEIP. Teachers must also agree to teach in an Oklahoma public secondary school for at least five years.

TSEIP reimburses eligible student loan expenses or a cash equivalent. The amount reimbursed varies from year to year.

Teachers can find more information on about the TSEIP on the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education website. Fill out and submit the Participation Agreement Form to your institution’s TSEIP coordinator no later than the date of your graduation from a four-year college or university in Oklahoma.

South Carolina: Teachers Loan Program

The South Carolina Teachers Loan awards forgivable student loans to students studying to become public school teachers. The program was created as an incentive for state residents to pursue teaching careers.

South Carolina school teachers and residents enrolled at least half-time at an accredited institution. Students must already be enrolled in a teacher education program or express an intent to enroll in a teacher education program. If already certified, you must seek an initial certification in a different critical subject area.

Freshmen and sophomore recipients can borrow $2,500 for each year, all other recipients can borrow $5,000 each year, up to $20,000. Loans are forgiven only if teachers work in an area of critical need.

Teachers can find more information on about the Teachers Loan Program on the South Carolina Student Loan website.Download and complete the application and submit it to South Carolina Student Loan.

South Carolina Career Changers Loan

The South Carolina Career Changers Loan awards forgivable student loans state residents who wish to change careers to become public school teachers. The program was created as an incentive for state residents to pursue teaching careers.

South Carolina residents who meet all requirements for the Teachers Loan, and have had a baccalaureate degree for at least three years. In addition, you must have been employed full-time for at least three years.

Recipients can borrow up to $15,000 per year up to $60,000.

South Carolina residents can find more information on about the Teachers Loan Program on the South Carolina Student Loan website.Download and submit a completed application to South Carolina Student Loan.

South Carolina PACE Loan

The South Carolina Program of Alternative Certification for Educators (PACE) loan reimburses individuals who have completed a PACE program. Those who are interested in teaching who have not completed a teacher education program may qualify to participate in the PACE program.

Teachers must be enrolled in the South Carolina Program of Alternative Certification for Educators (PACE) program and have received an Educator’s Certificate for the current year. You must be teaching full-time in a South Carolina public school.

Participants can borrow up to $750 per year, capped at $5,000.

Teachers can find more information on about the PACE Loan program on the South Carolina Student Loan website.Download and submit a completed application to South Carolina Student Loan.

Tennessee Math & Science Teachers Loan Forgiveness

The Tennessee Math & Science Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program is offered through the Tennessee Student Assistance Coalition. The program awards up to $10,000 of forgivable loans to public school teachers working toward an advanced degree in math or science or earning a certification to teach math or science.

Tenured Tennessee schoolteachers working toward an advanced degree in math or science or earning a certification to teach math or science at an eligible institution. Recipients Must work in a Tennessee public school system for two years per each year of loan funding received.

Recipients are awarded $2,000 per academic year up to $10,000.

Teachers can find more information on the Tennessee Student Assistance Coalition website. Teachers must reapply for the program each academic year. The application has two cycles; one deadline is in February, the other is in September.

Teach for Texas Loan Repayment Assistance Program

The Teach for Texas Loan Repayment Assistance Program encourages Texas teachers to serve high-needs areas. Qualified teachers can receive up to $2,500 in loan repayment per year with no lifetime maximum.

Any Texas-based teacher with outstanding loans can apply for loan repayment assistance. However, funds are given out with priority to teachers who work in shortage subjects in schools with at least 75% economically disadvantaged students. Shortage subjects include ESL, math, special education, science, career education, and computer science.

If funds remain, they are given out in the following order:

  1. Teachers who work in areas with 75% or more economically disadvantaged students in nonshortage subjects.
  2. Teachers who work in shortage subjects in schools with 48.8%-75% economically disadvantaged students.
  3. Teachers who demonstrate financial need.

Eligible teachers can receive up to $2,500 in loan forgiveness each year with no lifetime maximum.

West Virginia Underwood-Smith Teacher Scholarship Loan Assistance Program

West Virginia teachers who work in critical need positions may qualify for the Underwood-Smith Teacher Scholarship Loan Assistance Program. This scholarship helps qualified teachers pay back student loans.

Teachers and school professionals who work in a designated critical position can qualify for the Underwood-Smith scholarship. Critical positions include all teachers in underserved districts and certain teachers who teach subjects with designated shortages.

Qualified teachers can receive up to $3,000 per year in federal loan forgiveness and up to $15,000 over their lifetime.

West Virginia teachers can learn more about the scholarship on the College Foundation of West Virginia website. The most recent list of critical needs can be found here.

Pros & Cons of Student Loan Forgiveness

While some or all of a student loan balance magically disappearing is a dream for many Americans, student loan forgiveness programs aren’t always a walk in the park. Here are the pros and cons.

Pro: Poof! Your debt is gone.

A huge upside of student loan forgiveness is obvious: borrowers can get rid of a significant amount of student loan debt. Beware of caps on the total amount of debt that can be forgiven with some programs. For example, the federal government’s Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program caps loan forgiveness at $17,500.

Con: Eligibility

It’s tough to first qualify and then remain eligible for student loan forgiveness. For example, teachers are eligible for the federal Teacher Loan Forgiveness program, but those who got teaching degrees before 2004, only qualify to have $5,000 worth of loans forgiven. To top that, borrowers must also remember to update their repayment plans each year or risk losing eligibility for the program.

Pro: No tax…sometimes.

The federal repayment plans don’t tax the forgiven amount as income, so you won’t need to pay taxes on the forgiven balance there. However, other programs may not grant the same pardon. If your loans are repaid through a different program, you might be required to count the money received towards your income and pay taxes on it. Look at the program carefully and prepare to set aside funds in case you do need to pay up.

Con: Limited job prospects

Loan forgiveness is give and take. You might be limited to teaching in a particular subject or geographic location for a period of time in order to get your loans forgiven. This could mean relocating your family or a long commute if you unable to live near the location. If you fall out of love with teaching, you might be stuck with the job, just to get your loans paid off.

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5 Lies Your Car Mechanic Might Tell You

 

By Kelsey Green

Whether you’re getting an oil change, having your tires rotated, or facing a more complicated repair, like replacing the alternator, it’s possible your visit to the auto repair shop will end up being more expensive than you anticipated.

Automobile maintenance costs an average $792 per year, according to the AAA’s 2016 “Your Driving Costs” study, and you don’t need mechanics padding their bills with unnecessary repairs and charges.

Most technicians genuinely want to help, says Lauren Fix, who is known as “The Car Coach” and is the spokesperson for the nonprofit Car Care Council. But there are times when you should question what the mechanic tells you.

Here are five common lies and ways to combat them.

1. “You can use any kind of oil in your car.”

Technicians often say you can use any oil in your car despite what your service schedule or car manual states.

“Run the oil that your service schedule tells you,” Fix says. “Running the wrong oil in your engine can void your warranty.”

If your car needs synthetic oil, which is for turbocharged, supercharged engines, or high-performance vehicles, make sure your technician uses that kind.

2. “You need to fix this now before it’s a problem.”

Sometimes a technician may exaggerate a problem because he wants to talk you into paying for a repair you may not need at that time.

Check your service schedule before saying yes, because it’s the “Bible for your car,” Fix says. If you’ve lost your service schedule or you bought a used car, check out carcare.org for a customizable service schedule specifically for your vehicle. This will act as your guide.

You can save more than $1,200 a year in repairs if you follow your service schedule and are proactive with any problems, the Car Care Council states.

Fix also warns that sometimes a technician will exaggerate to make you understand that there is actually a problem with your car. Ask for a second opinion if you’re unsure.

“Even if he finds a new problem with your car while working on a problem you have already discussed, you have to assume that it is possible,” Fix says.

3. “That damage didn’t happen here.”

Sometimes it’s just a small scratch or ding. Accidents happen, even by people who are paid to repair your car.

A California shop tried to cover up severe damage to Michelle and Albert Delao’s automobile after it fell several feet from a lift in 2015, the couple says. Employees didn’t tell the Delaos what happened to their car, instead saying that the shop was waiting on a part. The store offered to pay for a rental car while their vehicle was being worked on.

When they finally got their car, Michelle says she immediately knew something was wrong.

“I could tell from little things about the way the car was driving,” she says. “It was wobbly, and we could hear glass in the passenger window, which was weird, because we never had a glass or window problem before.”

To try to resolve the problems, they purchased a new set of tires to stop the wobbling. But they got a call a month later from a technician at the shop, they say. The couple learned that the car fell several feet onto its side, piercing the bottom and shattering the front passenger window, along with other damage to the car’s body. When the technicians could not get the car off the lift, a tow truck was called to pull the vehicle down, causing more damage, they say.

When she called the manager and store to ask about the incident, Michelle says both denied anything happened until she showed the owner the pictures from the technician.

After finding out the true extent of the damage, the Delaos took their car to the dealership, which confirmed all the damage at over $20,000, totaling their car. The couple has filed a lawsuit against the auto repair shop.

The incident has given the couple a severe distrust of technicians, Michelle says.

“It’s just sad, really,” Albert says. “It’s like when people need to go to the doctor. We have to have our car. We don’t know anything about it. We’re not mechanics.”

4. “This part cost more than we anticipated.”

An easy way for technicians to make more money is by overcharging for a part or repair. If you’re not sure how much a repair will cost, get multiple quotes in writing.

“Never do anything without getting a quote in writing,” Fix says. “That is how you know someone knows what they’re talking about and will uphold that when you get it in writing.”

If you don’t like to go in blind, you can get a general idea of what a repair or part will cost with research.

“Education and information are power,” Fix says.

Fix suggests RepairPal.com, which helps people not well versed in car mechanics be more prepared for when someone gives them a quote. You can type in your car’s mechanical issue to research the problem and the reliable cost for the part and labor for your area.

5. “The cheap tires will be just fine.”

When it comes time for new tires, technicians may try to talk you into buying the cheapest brands. Don’t listen, Fix says.

“When people come in saying they need to replace tires, they need to use the same tire brand and size,” she says. “The size and brands of the tires impacts your handling, traction, and safety for your car.”

Tires recommended by Consumer Reports, for example, range from $64 to $121.

Tips for finding a reliable car mechanic

  • Go to a certified technician. Look for signs that state the shops are certified by the Automotive Service Association (ASA) or the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). “Find a master technician when you can,” Fix says. “They are the best in the business.”
  • Ask your friends and family. Personal experience is the best way to find a reliable technician, so ask the people you trust.
  • Check with a dealer. Along with specializing in your car, they can also help with recalls or possibly help find you a new technician if your warranty has expired.
  • If your vehicle is safe to drive, take it to another mechanic for a second opinion.
  • If your check engine light comes on, head to your local auto parts store, not a mechanic. Their equipment will find the issue, which empowers you with information before you schedule your car for service.

The post 5 Lies Your Car Mechanic Might Tell You appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

MagnifyMoney 2017 Survey of Recent College Graduates

An estimated 1.8 million college students will make up the U.S. class of 2017. The first few years — even the first few months — after college can feel like a financial land mine as graduates figure out how to manage their finances independently.

To give this graduating class a leg up, MagnifyMoney asked 1,000 recent college graduates to tell us what they wish they had done differently in those crucial years after graduation.

Among the most popular regrets were not being careful about debt/missing debt payments (48%) and not building their credit score up sooner (40%). One in five graduates also said they wished they had been better about saving money.

Missing a credit card or student loan payment even once can result in lasting credit score damage, and a lower credit score can make it difficult to get approved for new credit down the road.

Looking closely at the results of our survey, we can understand why so many college graduates may be struggling to stay on top of their bills — especially those who graduated with student loan debt.

Student Debt: A gateway to credit card debt

The vast majority of our survey respondents (61%) said they left school with student loan debt. On average, graduates with student loan debt said they carried $35,073.

We found some troubling trends among those with student loan debt. Not only are they more likely to say that they did not feel like they were better off their parents at their age, but they are also more likely to carry large loads of credit card debt.

More than half (58%) of graduates without student loan debt say they believe they are better off now than their parents were at their age. Graduates with student loans were less likely to agree with that statement. Half (52%) of college graduates with student loans say they are better off than their parents were at their age.

According to our survey, college graduates who left school with student loan debt were more likely to wind up in credit card debt down the road, as well.

  • 59% of all college graduates reported having credit card debt.
  • But 67% of recent grads with student loan debt report having credit card debt, versus 44% of those without student loans.
  • 20% of recent grads with student loans report credit card debt of $10,000 or more, almost twice the rate of those without student loans (11%).
  • And 24% of recent grads with $50,000 or more in student loans report having $10,000 or more of credit card debt.

2 in 5 will need longer than 10 years to pay off their student loans

A significant percentage of student loan borrowers expect to take longer than the standard 10 year repayment timeframe to pay off their loans.

  • 40% of recent grads with student loans anticipate that they’ll need more than 10 years to repay their student loans. For context, the standard repayment period for federal student loans is 10 years.
  • Among the grads who report more than $50,000 in debt, just 26% say they will pay off loans within 10 years. And 41% believe they will take more than 20 years, or never pay off their student loan debt.
  • Among all student loan borrowers, 7% said they will ‘never’ be able to pay off all the debt.

Optimism for the future

One thing graduates seem to have in common — whether they carried student debt or not — is a shared sense of optimism for their futures.

  • 65% of grads without student loans feel they will be better off than their parents in the future.
  • 64% of those with student loan debt also feel they will be better off than their parents.

Even among recent graduates with the burden of $50,000 or more in debt, 60% believe they will be better off financially than their parents in the future.

Those with Master’s degrees are most confident, with 68% saying they will be better off than their parents, versus 64% of Associate’s and Bachelor’s degree recipients.

Top 3 tips to manage debt after college

Know your options. If you are struggling to pay down your student loan debt, find out if you qualify for flexible repayment options like income-driven repayment plans. Students with high-interest student loan debt can consider refinancing to lock in a lower interest rate.  Here are the top 19 places to refinance student debt in 2017.

Stay on top of your payments. Student loans will be reported on your credit report after you graduate. By making on-time student loan payments, you are already taking one of the most powerful steps toward building a solid credit score. If you fear you will miss a payment, contact your loan servicer right away. Even one missed payment can derail your credit score.

Build your credit score strategically. A 2014 study by MagnifyMoney found that the average college student will face credit card APRs of 21.4%. Carrying a balance with an APR that high can quickly lead down a long road of unmanageable credit debt. A simple way to build credit is to take out a credit card, charge small amounts each month and pay it off in full. To avoid relying on credit card debt, set money aside from your paycheck for emergencies.

Methodology

MagnifyMoney conducted a national online survey of 1,000 U.S. residents with college degrees who reported completing their most recent degree within the last 5 years via Pollfish from April 26 – 30, 2017.

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Credit Card Rewards More Than Doubled Since the Recession, New Study Shows

Credit card rewards have become increasingly lucrative, as credit card issuers battle for customers. From 100,000 point sign-on bonuses to 6% cash back offers, it has never been a better time to be a credit card customer.

These rewards come at a steep price for banks. To find out just how much the top banks are spending on lucrative credit card rewards, MagnifyMoney reviewed data from the six largest credit card issuers representing 67.6% of the market.

The rapid growth in credit card rewards are dramatic:

Rewards spending doubles

  • Since 2010, credit card rewards spending has more than doubled, from $10.6 billion to $22.6 billion.
    • In 2016, the largest credit card issuers spent $22.6 billion on rewards, compared to $10.6 billion in 2010.
    • In Q1 2017, credit card issuers spent $6.2 billion on rewards, compared to $5.1 billion in Q1 2016 — a 22% year-over-year growth rate.

The New King of Rewards Spend: Chase

  • Chase leads the pack. Beginning in 2016, Chase has led the pack in total rewards spending. Spending on credit card rewards at Chase grew 123% since 2010, and Chase now spends more money on rewards than longtime American Express. Although the headlines have focused on the success of the Chase Sapphire Reserve launch in mid-2016, Chase has been enhancing its entire rewards perks section since the Great Recession.
  • American Express fades. American Express, long the leader in rewards, had the smallest increase in rewards spending with a 36% growth during the period of 2010-2017. With the loss of their deal with wholesale retailer Costco, American Express is offering more lucrative rewards on all its other cards.
  • Citibank triples rewards spending. Citibank has the highest percentage increase in spending since 2010 (333%). Citi won the Costco deal and has also been busy launching its own rewards products, including Citi Double Cash (which can pay up to 2% cash back) and its suite of Thank You products.

Great News for Consumers — But What About Credit Card Issuers?

The best rewards credit cards have lucrative sign-on bonuses and rich ongoing rewards structures. But is this sustainable? And can the credit card companies make money?

MagnifyMoney conducted a national survey of people who opened credit cards in the last year. The results demonstrate that there is a method to the strategies being deployed by the largest issuers: it is a great way to create a loyal customer base.

  • 44.5% of the people surveyed said they opened their accounts because of a sign-on bonus.
  • But 85.4% of the people surveyed said that the ongoing features and benefits of the product were most important in their decision.
  • Only 6.7% of the people surveyed said that they planned to cancel or close a card that they opened in the last year.
  • Only 3.7% of people go from credit card offer to credit card offer for sign-up bonuses.

The results might seem counterintuitive.

However, former credit card executive and MagnifyMoney co-founder Nick Clements explains:

The purpose of a sign-on bonus is to encourage people to act. Most people do not wake up in the morning wanting to open a credit card — and a sign-on bonus is a way for a credit card company to encourage people to reconsider their options. It is no different from a sale in a traditional department store. But what really matters to consumers, as these results reveal, is the ongoing value proposition. People don’t particularly enjoy shopping for credit cards, and they tend to stay put once they do shift. The smartest credit card issuers are luring consumers with a big incentive (the sign-on bonus), and they are keeping them with strong ongoing value propositions.

Chase Sapphire Reserve was probably the most successful product launch in credit card history. And it worked because it hit every button. The massive sign-on bonus gave people a reason to apply for a card. But the ongoing reward proposition was perfectly designed for its target audience. Those customers are going to stick around and become long-term customers.

As our survey found, there are people who like to go from credit card offer to credit card offer. However, this is a small group (only 3.7%, according to the survey). And credit card companies are becoming much better at identifying and rejecting these consumers.

Methodology

Cost of Rewards

Cost of rewards is publicly disclosed by American Express, Discover, and Capital One. For the remaining issuers, MagnifyMoney estimated the cost of rewards. For the estimate:

  • Credit purchase volume is disclosed by the credit card companies. A simplifying 1.75% credit interchange rate was assumed to determine gross credit interchange.
  • Debit purchase volume was provided by the Nilson Report. Actual debit interchange rates were pulled from the Federal Reserve.
  • FDIC Call Reports for each institution were used to determine the net interchange rate across debit and credit.
  • The difference between gross interchange and net interchange was assumed to be the rewards spend.

Credit Card Usage Survey

MagnifyMoney hired Survata to perform a national online survey of 1,000 adults who opened a credit card in the last year (the screening question).

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