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Back-To-School Savings Tips

It’s that time of year again!

Summertime is winding down. Teachers are prepping to return to their classrooms and start decorating. School supply lists are starting to surface. A new school year is right around the corner.

A new school year means only one thing – back-to-school shopping is almost here! Which means you’ll be sending your students back into the classroom before you know it.

According to the Huntington Backpack Index, in the 2018-2019 school year, the amount parents paid in back-to-school supplies was estimated as follows:

• $637 elementary school kids,
• $941 for middle school children, and
• $1,355 for high school students

There’s no way around it – school shopping is expensive. But, it doesn’t have to be. Much like financial planning, saving on back-to-school shopping requires a plan as well. With the right planning and preparation, back-to-school shopping doesn’t have to break the bank.

Take inventory

Before you go shopping and buy a bunch of supplies, take inventory of your house. Check drawers and cabinets to see what supplies you have that can be used again. Look at backpacks, lunchboxes and even school clothes from last year to see what can be kept and what needs to be replaced. From there, make a list and determine what your child needs and what you have.

Get the school’s supply list

Generally, retailers like Target and Walmart usually have copies of the supply lists divided by grade, school, and district, and those lists are usually available online before they’re in the store. Check the lists, do a little research regarding prices and make a budget accordingly. You can check with your child’s teacher to make sure you’re getting the most important items.

Don’t forget about discount stores and couponing

Do you want to save some real money? Purchase things like notebooks, pencils, and paper at discount stores. If you’re into couponing, you can save some big bucks there as well. Poke around the internet and see where the deals are before you hit the stores.

Take advantage of tax-free weekend

The tax-free weekend is a prime opportunity to save on back-to-school supplies. Depending on the states’ tax rate, shoppers can save anywhere from 4% up to about 9%. Tax-free weekend is held each year to coincide with the back-to-school season. Not sure when your state’s tax-free weekend is? Click here to find out.

If you want to see actual savings, don’t go into back-to-school shopping without a plan. Rather than charging up your high-interest credit card, talk with us about a loan with a plan that works for you. You’d be amazed at the savings you find.

Back-to-school shopping doesn’t have to be overwhelming or expensive. For help or questions about savings, check with any of our experts at Scient Federal Credit Union.

Stop by our branch or call us at 1-877-860-6928.

Is It Time to Declare Your Financial Independence?

 

No matter how much money you have or which life stage you’re in, becoming financially independent starts with a dream. Your dream might be to finally pay off the mountain of debt you’ve accumulated, or to stop relying on someone else for financial support. Or perhaps your dream is to retire early so you can spend more time with your family, travel the world, or open your own business. Financial independence, however you define it, is freedom from the financial obstacles that are keeping you from living life on your own terms.

Envision the future

If you were to become financially independent, what would change? Would you spend your time differently? Live in another place? What would you own? Would you work part-time? Ultimately, you want to define how you choose to live your life. It’s your dream, so there’s no wrong answer.

Work at it

Unless you’re already wealthy, you may have had moments when winning the lottery seemed like the only way to become financially secure. But your path to financial independence isn’t likely to start at your local convenience store’s lottery counter.

Though there are many ways to become financially independent, most of them require hard work. And retaining wealth isn’t necessarily easy, because wealth may not last if spending isn’t kept in check. As income rises, lifestyle inflation is a real concern. Becoming — and remaining — financially independent requires diligently balancing earning, spending, and saving.

Earn more, spend wisely, and save aggressively

Earn more. The bigger the gap between your income and expenses, the quicker it will be to become financially independent, no matter what your goal is. The more you can earn, the more you can potentially save. This might mean finding a job with a higher salary, working an extra job, or working part-time in retirement. And a job is just one source of income. If you’re resourceful and able to put in extra hours, you may also be able to generate regular income in other ways — for example, renting out a garage apartment or starting a side business.

Spend wisely. Look for opportunities to reduce your spending without affecting your quality of life. For the biggest impact, focus on reducing your largest expenses — for example, housing, food, and transportation. Practicing mindful spending can also help you free up more money to save. Before you buy something nonessential, think about how important it is to you and what value it brings to your life so that you don’t end up with a garage or attic filled with regrettable purchases.

Save aggressively. Set a wealth accumulation goal and then prioritize saving. Of course, if you have a substantial amount of debt, saving may be somewhat curtailed until that debt is paid off. Take simple steps such as choosing investments that match your goals and time frame, and paying yourself first by automatically investing as much as possible in a retirement savings plan. Time is an important ally in the quest for financial independence, so start saving as early as possible and build your nest egg over time. (Note that all investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal, and there is no guarantee that any investment strategy will be successful.)

Keep going

Make adjustments. Life changes. Unexpected bills come up. Some years will be tougher financially than others. Expect to make some adjustments to your plan along the way, especially if you have a long-term time frame, but keep going.

Track your progress. Celebrate both small milestones and big victories. Seeing the progress you’re making will help you stay motivated as you pursue your dream of financial independence.

Have you checked your tax withholding lately?

If you were unpleasantly surprised by the amount of tax you owed or the amount of your tax refund when you filed your 2018 tax return, it may be time to check your withholding.

It may also be time if there are changes in your life or financial situation that affect your tax liability. For example, have you recently married, divorced, had a child, purchased a new home, changed jobs, or had a change in the amount of your taxable income not subject to withholding (e.g., capital gains)?

You can generally change the amount of federal tax you have withheld from your paycheck by giving a new Form W-4 to your employer. You can use a number of worksheets for the Form W-4 or the IRS Withholding Calculator (available at irs.gov) to help you plan your tax withholding strategy.

If changes reduce the number of allowances you are permitted to claim or your marital status changes from married to single, you must give your employer a new Form W-4 within 10 days. You can generally submit a new Form W-4 whenever you wish to change your withholding allowances for any other reason.

In general, you can claim various withholding allowances on the Form W-4 based on your tax filing status and the tax credits, itemized deductions (or any additional standard deduction for age or blindness), and adjustments to income that you expect to claim. You might increase the tax withheld or claim fewer allowances if you have a large amount of nonwage income. (If you have a significant amount of nonwage income, you might also consider making estimated tax payments using IRS Form 1040-ES.) The amount withheld can also be adjusted to reflect that you have more than one job at a time and whether you and your spouse both work. You might reduce the amount of tax withheld by increasing the amount of allowances you claim (to the extent permissible) on the Form W-4.

You can claim exemption from withholding for the current year if: (1) for the prior year, you were entitled to a refund of all federal income tax withheld because you had no tax liability; and (2) for the current year, you expect a refund of all federal income tax withheld because you expect to have no tax liability.

Building Blocks to Help Millennials Create a Financially Sound Future

The Great Recession created a perfect storm for millennials.

It was the worst financial crisis the United States had seen since the Great Depression, and it left millennials playing catch-up with their finances in the hopes of someday being able to retire. But even as they fight to break to even, millennials continue to accrue debt.

In February, the New York Federal Reserve released a study showing that millennials have accumulated more than $1 trillion of debt including mortgages, auto loans, credit cards, and student loan debt. Additionally, Schwab’s 2019 Modern Wealth report, a May survey from Charles Schwab, revealed that 62 percent of millennials are living paycheck to paycheck while only 38 percent feel financially stable. Despite that statistic, millennials also say they spend nearly $500 a month in nonessential purchases.

While the statistics above look grim, there is still hope for millennials pursuing the “American Dream.” It is important to remember that paying off cars and credit cards, buying a home and working towards retirement are not impossible feats. Like everything else in life, finances are about balance and finding an approach that works for you.

Create a budget

Budgets are not “one size fits all,” and no two people will have the same budget or goals. First, find a strategy that balances rewarding life experiences and saving for the future. Be realistic when crafting your saving and spending goals. For example, you can’t expect to go immediately from saving nothing each month to saving away $400 a month. Start with a number that is easily attainable and increase the amount when it’s feasible.

Automate your finances

It’s easy for us to spend more than we save. The trick to overcoming that urge is to put our finances on autopilot. If your paycheck is set up on direct deposit, have a portion of it directly deposited into a savings account. Also, set up recurring transfers from your checking account into your savings account. Automatic bill pay is another great way to get ahead. Most credit unions offer bill pay to their members to pay monthly bills straight from their accounts. This ensures that bills are paid on time and you don’t have to remember to pay them!

Track your spending

How much money do you spend at Starbucks each month? How many Amazon boxes arrive at your door each week? Chances are, like most of us, you don’t keep track of a $5 purchase here or a $10 purchase there. Those small amounts begin to add up and they add up quickly. There are a number of apps – Mint, Quicken, and Twine – that aggregate your financial transactions and organize them by category so you can create and monitor a budget.

Avoid impulse purchases

Overspending is a common interference to achieving financial goals. The more we give in to unplanned or excessive purchases, the harder it is to save money or stick to a budget. Rather than caving to those impulse buys, implement new habits to help avoid those traps. Give yourself a waiting period for large purchases. During that waiting period, talk to someone – a friend, partner, or spouse who is financially sound – and get their opinion about the purchase before you pull the trigger.

Consider a side hustle

Part-time work is a great way to make a little extra money that helps trim down debt or pad a savings account. There are multiple ride share apps and food delivery apps that allow you to work when you want and as much as you want. If you have a particular skill set like writing or computer work, you can always look for ways to contract out those skills to make a little extra money.

Trim your monthly expenses

Do you have a gym membership you never use? Are you paying for cable you barely watch? Does GrubHub make regular deliveries to your place? The average millennial spends more than $500 a month in nonessential purchases. Look at your budget and see where you can trim items. Replace cable with a streaming service. Make dinner at home. Get rid of that gym membership you never use. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can build back your account by eliminating those unnecessary bills.

At Scient Federal Credit Union, we offer our members a variety of services including financial planning and credit counseling. We want to help you find a way to save for your future in a way that also meets your immediate needs. Let us help you review your financial situation and find a path that gets you where you want to be.

Give us a call today! 877 860 6928

5 Ways to Travel on a Budget This Summer

5 Ways to Travel on a Budget This Summer

Isn’t it funny how you look forward to summer all year long, yet somehow it still seems to show up earlier than you expected? Between work obligations, family responsibilities, and the valiant attempt to maintain some semblance of a social life, most of our schedules are so full that time flies whether we’re having fun or not. So, here we are—standing at the summertime starting line. Even if you don’t have a fully funded vacation fund, wouldn’t you like to get away for a little rest and relaxation? And wouldn’t it be nice to do it without blowing up your budget or going into debt?

5 Suggestions for Budget-friendly Summer Travel

  1. Score some last-minute deals.
    Remember when your parents and teachers would warn you about the dangers of procrastination? They may have been right about schoolwork and household chores, but it turns out waiting until the last minute can be a good thing when it comes to travel planning. To help travelers just like you, the good folks at SmarterTravel.com managed to identify 18 online resources that specialize in finding last-minute deals on hotels, flights, tours, cruises, and more! You spent years telling your mom that you do your best work under the pressure of a deadline—here’s your chance to prove it.
  2. Stay with friends or family.
    Catching up with friends and family is fun, right? If they just so happen to live somewhere you want to visit and you can save a little money by staying with them, wouldn’t that make your trip even better? Yeah, we thought so too. Financial benefit aside, staying with someone you know is also a fantastic way to get recommendations for the best local restaurants and attractions. And with all the money you save on lodging expenses, you can probably afford to take your hosts out for a nice meal while you’re in town. See? This works out great for everyone!
  3. Bring your own food.
    Next to lodging, dining is often the most expensive part of traveling. You already know dining out can be expensive, but if you’re heading to a popular vacation spot, chances are it will be even pricier. Once you figure out where you’re staying, spend a little time meal planning. By shopping for groceries before you go and preparing most of your own meals during your stay, you can save hundreds of dollars and keep your trip under budget.
  4. Plan a day trip.
    OK, maybe you don’t have room in your budget for a weekend getaway or spending a few days with friends. That doesn’t mean you can’t have any fun. Day trips are an excellent way to break out of your regular routine and save money while doing it. Take a look at a map. You can probably find an interesting destination within a two- or three-hour drive of your home. Do a little research and find a fun activity or two that you can enjoy while you’re there. Head out early in the morning, spend the day creating spontaneous memories, and grab a good meal before heading back home. We bet that when you look back, these day trips will be some of your favorite travel memories.
  5. Collect experiences instead of “stuff.”
    Think back on your favorite childhood vacation. What makes that particular trip stand out from the others? Time with family? Seeing new places? Unexpected adventures? Whatever your answer may be, we’re pretty sure it wasn’t the $10 gift shop keychain you begged your parents to get for you. Sure, trinkets are fun for a little bit, but the joy they provide rarely sticks with you. Experiences, on the other hand, are not only enjoyable in the moment; they often get better with time. If you’re going to plan a last-minute summer getaway (and you definitely should), focus on creating memorable experiences rather than spending too much money on souvenirs you’ll probably lose anyway.

We started this article talking about procrastination and how you can make it work for you. But even though there’s an adrenaline rush that comes from pulling off a last-minute travel miracle, it would be nice to enjoy a stress-free vacation next summer, wouldn’t it?

As soon as you get back from this year’s impromptu summer excursion, why not start putting a little money into a vacation-specific savings account each month? By keeping your vacation fund in a savings account until you need it, you not only reduce the temptation to spend it on something else, you gain the ability to earn interest throughout the year.

To make the most of your savings, speak with a service representative at Scient Federal Credit Union and ask us which account would be the best option for your vacation-saving goal.

How Much Does It Take to Be “Rich”?

The results of a recent YouGov survey show that most Americans think you need to make $100,000 per year to be considered “rich.” Assuming you weren’t one of the people interviewed for that survey, does $100,000 a year sound like wealth to you? What if someone makes less than six figures per year? Can they still be considered wealthy? How can someone with a goal of getting rich know when they’ve finally arrived?

What does “rich” even mean?

Here’s the challenging thing about defining what it means to be rich or wealthy—it’s all relative. In a recent article for CNBC, reporter Kathleen Elkins shared that, according to the 2018 Global Wealth Report, “If you have just $4,210 to your name, you’re better off than half of the people around the globe.” That report went on to show that anyone with a net worth of $93,170 or more ranks in the world’s wealthiest 10 percent. How about that? It turns out wealth has little to do with your income after all.

Yes, earning a lot of money can help you build wealth, but there’s more to it than that. We’ve all heard stories of individuals who made massive amounts of money yet wound up broke and bankrupt. At the same time, there are many examples of ordinary people who earned average salaries and somehow managed to retire with extraordinary wealth and financial stability. When you analyze their stories, you find that those who were successful focused less on their income and more on their net worth. If you want to “get rich,” you’ll need to make your money work for you instead of the other way around.

Net worth is the key to lasting wealth.

Maybe “net worth” is a new concept for you; maybe it’s not. Either way, let’s define the term for the sake of clarity. Credit Suisse, the research institute that compiled the Global Wealth Report mentioned above, defines net worth as “the value of financial assets plus real assets (principally housing) owned by households, minus their debts.” Simply put, your net worth is the difference between what you own and what you owe. By this definition, it’s easy to see why income is only part of the wealth equation. You might earn $250,000 per year, but if your debts and payments outweigh your income and assets, you’re just broke at a higher level.

Do you want to get rich? Start with these simple steps.

  • Follow a budget.
    Whether you make minimum wage or a CEO’s salary, it’s essential to have a plan for how you’ll spend your money. Some experts recommend zero-based budgeting where you designate where every single dollar will go during the month, starting with your basic needs (housing, food, utilities) and financial obligations (credit card payments, loan installments) and placing any remaining funds into savings. Others recommend a broader 50/20/30 guideline, which dedicates 50% of your income to needs, 20% to savings, and 30% to wants. These are only two out of many budgeting approaches. There are pros and cons to each, so take your time and find the right fit for your finances. Remember, the best budget for you is the budget you follow.
  • Minimize your debt.
    To create a substantial net worth, it just makes sense to limit your debt. If you’re starting out on your own and haven’t racked up mountains of debt, do your best to keep it that way. If you’ve made some poor financial decisions that left you saddled with considerable debt—especially high-interest consumer loans and credit card balances, create a plan for paying off those debts as quickly as possible. If you need help formulating a plan, you can find a variety of resources online. You can also see if your credit union offers debt counseling services. Once your money is no longer going to pay off debt, you’ll be able to take significant strides toward building wealth.
  • Invest in assets.
    Speaking of strides toward building wealth, investing in appreciable assets is the best way to build your net worth. The most common assets are real estate, stocks, and bonds. While real estate appreciation varies by location and depends on fluctuating market conditions, it is historically a safe investment that increases over time. Buying individual stocks is also a reliable way to grow your money, but this kind of investing can often be a high risk, high reward proposition. If you’re looking for stable growth over time (which we highly recommend), investment products like 401(k) accounts and mutual funds offer stability through diversification. Since there are so many investment options available, it’s always a good idea to consult a qualified financial advisor before committing your hard-earned money.

So, how much does it take to be rich? That answer is going to be different for everyone. Your situation is unique, which means your road to riches will be as well. Fortunately, you don’t have to plan your route alone if you’re a Scient Federal Credit Union member. Our financial advisors are ready to help you find your starting point, establish your financial goals, and select the best products and tools to accomplish those goals.

5 Ways to Get a Great Car for Less

Premium styling. Flawless paint. Glistening tires. That unmistakable new car smell. Everything about a new vehicle practically begs you to buy it. When you close your eyes and think about driving your brand-new set of wheels off the lot, it quickens your pulse a little, doesn’t it? Shopping for your next vehicle is a uniquely exciting experience. Until you look at the price tag, that is.

If you haven’t priced cars recently, you may be surprised by the figures you find. According to a 2018 report by Edmunds, the average loan amount for a new car jumped to more than $32,000, and the average monthly payment rose to $558. Sure, the latest models may be nice, but facts are facts—that’s a lot of money to pay for a car.

Now, before we go any further, if you’ve been saving up for your dream car and figured out how to buy it without demolishing your budget, then by all means, go for it! But if you find yourself in the market for a new vehicle and you want to avoid overspending, we’ve got five tips to help you hang onto more of your hard-earned money.

5 Ways to Save Money When Buying a New Car

  1. Do your research.
    The last thing you want to do is show up to a car lot with no idea what you’re looking for. Lack of preparation puts you at the mercy of the salesperson. And while they may be genuinely nice people, sales professionals make their living by getting you to buy a product at the highest price possible. So, before you head to a dealership, narrow down your choices by doing your research. Thanks to the Internet, companies like NADA, Car and Driver, and CarsDirect can help you sort thousands of options by everything from location to price to trim packages.
  2. Get pre-approved.
    Once you’ve determined which vehicle fits your preferences and meets your needs, it’s smart to get pre-approved for financing. If you are a credit union member, there’s a good chance you’ll find better financing rates through your credit union than through another lender. Once you’re pre-approved, you’ll know how much you can afford, what interest rate you’ll pay, and how much your monthly payments will be. This information gives you the upper hand in price negotiations and keeps you from getting distracted by dealer tactics that focus strictly on monthly payments. Pre-approval lets you negotiate based on the most important aspect—price.
  3. Shop for incentives.
    When sales are lower than expected, automakers will often extend money-saving incentives to encourage buyers to purchase their vehicles. This is an instance where the manufacturer’s loss can be your gain. If you’re not already loyal to a particular make or model, you may be able to take advantage of dealer incentives such as discounts, rebates, and lower APR on financing. If you are loyal to a specific type of car, that can work in your favor as well, as some car companies will offer customer loyalty incentives to encourage you to keep driving their cars. To learn more about the incentives that may be available near you, click here.
  4. Ask for a lower rate.
    There are plenty of books, websites, and podcasts that offer tips and tricks on negotiating more effectively. While most of their ideas have merit, there’s one suggestion that may seem a little too simple and straightforward—ask for a better deal. In most cases, a dealer or salesperson will start negotiations with an offer that benefits them the most. Asking them to do better is part of the game. To give yourself the best chance of success, be polite and be prepared to walk away. Some dealers will play hardball, but when they have an interested buyer (especially one with pre-approved financing), most would rather sell a car for a little less than let it sit on the lot and hope another buyer comes along.
  5. Choose a used car instead.
    OK, maybe this tip isn’t exactly a way to “get a new car for less,” but it is an excellent way to save money on your next vehicle purchase. Since most new cars depreciate an average of 20% in the first year and nearly 50% after five years, buying a pre-owned vehicle is a smart way to steer clear of that depreciation. It’s also worth mentioning that in addition to their lower up-front prices, used cars usually cost less to insure. Save now. Save later. That’s a pretty convincing sales pitch, isn’t it?

When you’re ready to start shopping for your next car, we’re confident that you can handle the research portion on your own. But when it comes to the financing and pre-approval, do yourself a favor and contact us here at Scient Federal Credit Union. In most cases, we can offer lower rates and more flexible terms than traditional banks or lenders. Thanks to our competitive auto financing programs, a simple phone call can save you thousands of dollars over the life of your loan. Give us a call today. You’ve got nothing to lose—except months of unnecessary interest payments!

10 Tips for Selling Your House Fast—and for Top Dollar!

When you’re trying to sell your house, you want to do it as quickly as possible. But did you realize you only have six seconds? Your house may be on the market longer than that, but that’s not what we’re talking about. Homebuyers generally make their purchase decisions based on first impressions, and real estate experts estimate those impressions are formed within the first six seconds—three from the curb and three from the entryway.

If you’re going to win over a prospective buyer, you’ll have to get their attention quickly to convince them that your house is their next home. Yes, location is key. And yes, price matters. But with a few strategic preparations, you can make your property as attractive and inviting as possible. By doing so, you’ll set it up to sell sooner rather than later.

10 Ways to Prepare Your Home to Sell ASAP

  1. Think like a buyer.

    It can be tempting to present your home in a way that highlights the aspects you like the most. The problem with this approach is that your favorites are just that—your favorites. Potential buyers won’t be looking at your house through the lens of nostalgia. Help them see your home as a blank slate where they can form their own identity.

  2. Focus on curb appeal.

    It’s incredible what a tidy lawn and freshly mulched flower beds can do for a house. Most buyers will drive by your property before deciding whether or not to take a closer look. A house that looks welcoming from the street stands a much better chance of selling quickly.

  3. Freshen up your front door.

    If curb appeal is a friendly invitation, a freshly painted front door is a cheery welcome. Every buyer who looks at your home will most likely enter through the front door, so giving it a new coat of paint can cover up any scuffs and dings that have shown up over time. This small step will help the house look livable—not lived in.

  4. Make basic repairs.

    If you’ve lived in your home for any amount of time, there are probably a few problems you’ve learned to live with. Chipped paint, missing fence boards, leaky kitchen faucets, flickering lightbulbs…these are just a few of the minor inconveniences that you might overlook on a daily basis. They’re also the little details that could make your house less attractive to a buyer. Make the simple fixes. You’ll be glad you did.

  5. Stay neutral.

    If you personalized your house by using vibrant colors in each room, it might be a good idea to repaint. While you might love bold colors, there’s no guarantee the next owner will. Painting the walls in neutral colors will let potential buyers observe the overall house without getting hung up on whether or not they like the colors you chose.

  6. Make it less “you.”

    While we’re focused on the interior, make a special effort to remove decorations and knick-knacks that reflect your personal tastes and identity. No matter how friendly and familiar they may be, family photos will make buyers feel like their visiting someone else’s house. You want them to feel like they’re spending time in their own.

  7. Clean and declutter.

    You don’t have to channel your inner Marie Kondo, but clearing clutter will not only make the house look cleaner, it will make it feel bigger. And when it comes to cleanliness, there’s no such thing as too clean. When you think things are finally clean enough, go over them once more. Buyers will notice.

  8. Use some common scents.

    It goes without saying (or at least it should) that you should do your very best to eliminate offensive smells like pet, laundry, or cooking odors. If you want to increase your chances of selling your house, go a step beyond deodorizing and introduce a pleasant scent. Candles, essential oils, and fresh-baked cookies can do a wonderful job of creating a welcoming environment for house hunters.

  9. Stage strategically.

    If you can’t afford to hire a professional real estate stager, you can still arrange each room to highlight your home’s top features. While each room matters, pay particular attention to the living room, the master bedroom, and the kitchen. These are the three rooms where the new owners will spend most of their time, so staging them well is a small task that can make a big difference.

  10. Hire a real estate agent.

    If you want to sell your home as quickly as possible, enlisting the help of a professional is a smart way to accomplish your goal. Experienced realtors know the local market, and their expertise can help you sell your house faster and for more money. Selling a home on your own might sound like a good idea, but when you consider that a real estate agent can handle the marketing, negotiations, and legal details, their commission can be money that’s well spent.

Potential home buyers want to walk through a house that feels exciting and new. They also want it to feel like home. Following the tips listed above can help you give them exactly what they’re looking for. And the faster you make that happen, the sooner those buyers will give you what you want—a house with a SOLD sign in the yard!

Medical Expenses Have Gone Crazy. You Don’t Have to Do the Same

In the United States, healthcare has grown into a $3 trillion industry. That’s $3,000,000,000,000. That’s a lot of zeros—so many that for most of us, the number doesn’t even seem real. But if we break it down to a personal level, that means the average American spends more than $11,000 per year on healthcare costs. If that doesn’t sound troublesome, consider the fact that the annual cost of healthcare for a family of four tops $28,000. With the median household income coming in at $63,000 per year, that means the average US family can wind up spending more than 40% of their annual income on medical-related expenses. That’s steep.

Even with employer-provided health insurance, which covers roughly 56% of the US population, the employee contribution and out-of-pocket deductibles can leave families buried under an avalanche of medical debt. It’s hard to understand how an industry responsible for personal care can seem so unconcerned when it comes to the financial state of its patients. But with a growing number of hospitals being operated as investor-owned, for-profit businesses, return on investment often seems more important than compassionate patient care.

Difficult Times Call for Creative Approaches

As medical bills continue to climb, the corresponding rise in medical collection agencies only perpetuates the healthcare industry’s callous reputation. In a conversation about the cold, impersonal nature of medical collections, Elizabeth Rosenthal, author of An American Sickness, observed, “…to them [collection agencies], a bill is a bill is a bill. They don’t care if it’s for somebody’s heart transplant…or if someone spent a lot more money on a Rolex watch that they couldn’t afford.”

Over the last few years, medical bills have become the number one cause of bankruptcy in the United States. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that GoFundMe campaigns have become one of the most popular ways for consumers to cover their medical costs. According to GoFundMe statistics, approximately 250,000 fundraising campaigns are established on the platform every year just to pay for medical expenses. The $650,000 generated by those campaigns points to a significant problem in the healthcare system.

If you’re one of the thousands of Americans struggling to keep your head above water as medical bills flood in, you might feel helpless. And while there are no magic solutions that can make legitimate medical debt disappear, there are a few steps you can take to stay afloat. If you haven’t run into medical debt yet, these steps might be able to help you avoid the frustrations so many others have experienced.

3 Ways to Keep Your Medical Expenses in Check

  1. Review Your Bill
  2. When hospital or doctor bills show up, it’s natural to skip right to the “Total Due.” It’s natural, but it’s not necessarily the best way to approach the statement. Glancing at the amount due could leave you feeling helpless, confused, and overwhelmed. Before you send any money, take time to review every line item listed. Due to complex medical billing codes, it’s not uncommon for incorrect or duplicate charges to wind up on the bill. If you notice discrepancies or questionable entries, it is your right as a consumer to ask your insurance company or medical provider for an explanation. The dispute process may be lengthy, but it’s better than paying for medical services you never received.

  3. Consider a High-Deductible HSA
  4. If you and your family are in relatively good health, a Health Savings Account (HSA) can be an excellent way to secure medical coverage while keeping your insurance premium under control. Traditionally available through employers, insurance companies, banks, or credit unions, HSAs allow you to set aside money from your paycheck to be used specifically for medical expenses. These accounts feature higher deductibles than traditional insurance plans, but they make up for that by allowing account holders to deposit funds on a pre-tax basis, which can provide some savings and stress relief.

  5. Create an Emergency Fund
  6. Setting aside $1,000 in a savings account is a smart way to protect yourself against life’s unpredictable twists and turns. Minor illness and occasional doctor’s visits certainly qualify as unexpected expenses, so an emergency fund can help you address sudden medical needs without derailing your budget. If you decide to follow the previous suggestion and secure a high-deductible Health Savings Account, you may want to boost your emergency fund to a level that would cover your deductible. While this adjustment will likely take more work to establish, knowing you’re able to cover your entire deductible in the event of a medical emergency provides enough peace of mind to make it worth the effort.

Current medical expenses are astronomical; that’s a fact. And while it will probably take an industry shake-up to make any lasting changes, it doesn’t make sense to worry about things you can’t control. The steps we’ve outlined may not solve all your problems or eliminate all your medical debt, but they can go a long way toward helping you feel like you have a little more control. That’s a step in the right direction.

Save Money by Taking Your Spring Cleaning to the Next Level!

Now that March has gone out like a lamb (a waterlogged lamb in many parts of the country), Springtime is here, and that means it’s time for that beloved annual tradition—Spring Cleaning.

In surveys conducted by the American Cleaning Institute, responses indicate that as many as 91% of Americans and 96% of Millennials engage in spring cleaning, so it seems safe to say we’re all in this together.

As you open the windows and begin your routine of washing, sweeping, dusting, and decluttering, the goal is to spruce up your home’s interior while eliminating things you no longer need. When done correctly, spring cleaning can actually make you happier and healthier. So, it makes sense to be as thorough as possible. This year, while you’re busy cleaning your fixtures and furniture, it might be a good idea to update some common household items to more energy-efficient options. A more efficient home is an investment that can save you money all year long, and we’re pretty sure lower utility bills will boost your mood as well!

Simple Ways to Make Your Home More Energy Efficient This Spring

  • Energy-Saving Power Switch
    By completely cutting off all power when an electronic device isn’t in use, these plug-in adapters reduce the costly effects of “vampire energy.” While the term sounds scarier than it should, vampire energy refers to the power that still flows to a device even when it is turned off. These handy switches can be purchased online or in your local hardware store for $10 or less. And with prices that low, your return on investment can be quite substantial.
  • Low-Flow Showerhead
    According to a research project conducted by the Alliance for Water Efficiency, the average American shower lasts for just over 8 minutes and uses approximately 17 gallons of water. The average flow rate works out to be roughly 2.1 gallons per minute (gpm). By switching to a low-flow shower head that reduces usage to 1.25 gpm, you can save an average of $32 per year per person. For a couple, that means $64 in savings each year—especially impressive considering that most low-flow showerheads can be purchased for $10-15.
  • Smart Thermostat
    The Internet has revolutionized the way we communicate, shop, and even do our banking. Now, thanks to smart products like the Nest Thermostat, it appears that it has also changed the way we save on energy-related expenses. While the initial price of a Nest will set you back approximately $250, the average annual home energy savings of $150 per year means you’ll recoup your investment in less than two years. After that, the savings just continue to add up.
  • Energy Audits
    Not sure where to begin? An energy audit can help! Depending on your location, energy audits can cost anywhere from $250 to $600. And while that might seem like a lot to pay up front, the potential savings can make it worth the investment. During a professional energy audit, efficiency experts utilize specialized tools to identify areas where your home may be using excessive energy, which, in turn, can help you pinpoint which improvements will make the biggest difference. To find an energy auditor and prepare for an audit, check out these helpful tips.

 

Throughout this article, we’ve talked about a few relatively low-cost ways to improve your home’s energy efficiency. But maybe you’re thinking a little bigger this spring. If you need a little more incentive to make big-ticket improvements like installing new windows, updating your HVAC system, or adding solar panels, federal tax incentives may provide just the push you’re looking for. Usually available in the form of rebates, these incentives are designed to encourage homeowners to update their home systems to be more energy-efficient and sustainable. If you’ve been thinking about making some major energy-saving upgrades around your house, don’t forget to see if they qualify for valuable government incentives. When it comes to saving energy and saving money, every little bit helps!