Do you monitor and analyze your credit report? If you don't, you should. Being aware of your credit score is crucial as your credit determines your eligibility for large purchases like a car, home or personal loan.
The Importance of Monitoring and Analyzing Your Credit Report
It's recommended that you check your credit report at least once a year to ensure no errors need to be disputed. However, keeping tabs on it regularly can help spot discrepancies early on. Monitoring and analyzing your credit report helps tremendously with keeping track of your payments and outstanding debt. It can even be exciting to see your credit utilization go down and your scores gradually improve with each payment. Staying on top of your activity makes it easier to stay motivated to meet your financial goals, as well. I personally check my credit report once a month thanks to resources such as Credit Karma, Credit Sesame and Discover.
Credit Karma is one of the free resources that allow you to stay on top of your credit. Recently, they've added in the Credit Report beta feature that allows you to see exactly what financial institutions can see when they view your credit report. Other beneficial features include the credit utilization report, the recommendations available for those seeking loans and the ability to read reviews about different financial institutions. Credit Karma not only allows you to monitor your credit report as often as you need to, for free, but they also have a ton of other resources available to aid you in improving your credit score.
Credit Sesame has a lot of potential. The main drawback is that you have to invest money in the site in order to use it to its fullest potential. Before Credit Karma introduced its free credit report feature, I would often pay to access my credit report through Credit Sesame. However, like Credit Karma, your credit score is always available to you for free. Additionally, the company notifies you when something happens on your credit report, and you can even set goals to see how close you are to getting your credit to where you want it to be.
Credit Card Companies
Some credit cards companies offer users their FICO score each month with their bill. This is one of the easiest ways that you can be sure to stay on top of your credit. Other credit card companies use this feature as a way to entice their users to sign up for paperless statements. Take Walmart for example. Receiving my FICO score each month on my statements is great when life gets busy and I don't want to take the time to use other credit services.
If you want to make sure that you are able to get the things you desire and to clear lingering debt, it's important to monitor and analyze your credit report frequently. Credit scores play a large role in obtaining loans, financing, housing and much more. You'll come to find that through regular monitoring, your financial health and well-being will surely benefit.
Congratulations -- you're engaged! Now you can finally begin planning the wedding you've always dreamed about. As you start looking at venues, interviewing photographers and creating sample menus, you may quickly notice that your magical day can really add up money-wise. Some people grow disillusioned with the outrageous cost of throwing a wedding and opt to take the simple route early on. Others refuse to skimp on details and instead find ways to splurge. According to a recent survey by Brides magazine, about one-third of couples go over their initial wedding budgets.
If you fall into the latter category, don't beat yourself up. After all, your wedding will (hopefully) be that once-in-a-lifetime experience you'll never forget. But do keep in mind that there's a difference between stretching your budget and going overboard. No one wants to find themselves starting their marriage deep in wedding day debt.
Don't Start Off on the Wrong Foot
It's no secret that a large percentage of marriages these days end in divorce and that money is often a major factor. You may not realize it when you're caught up in the details of floral arrangements and seating charts, but taking on debt to pull off your dream wedding can have serious consequences for your marriage.
Think about the short-term: How do you picture yourself spending that newlywed year? Do you want the freedom to travel with your spouse, dine out often and treat yourselves to the things you probably won't be able to do once kids come into the picture? Or do you want to spend that first year penny-pinching and stressing out over the looming balance on your credit cards? What many fail to realize is that splurging on a wedding often means sacrifices during the beginning stages of marriage.
There Could Be Long-Term Consequences Too
But it's not just the short-term you have to worry about. Over time, a huge wad of wedding debt can seriously derail your long-term plans and goals. The average wedding costs about $30,000, not including the honeymoon. Now if you happen to have the money to pull off a fancy wedding (from savings, generous parents or a combination of both) and want to indulge, go for it. But think about the impact of taking on debt in the grand scheme of your marriage. Outstanding wedding debt could make you a less desirable candidate when it comes to applying for a mortgage or car loan. You may be denied completely or get stuck with a less favorable rate, which will affect your finances for many years down the road. Then there's the notion of starting a family. How comfortable would you feel having kids knowing you've still got thousands of dollars in wedding debt to pay off?
Not only can wedding debt spoil your plans, but it can also add layers of stress to your marriage. If one of you ends up convincing the other to overspend on the big day, it could trigger some serious resentment if you're unable to meet your financial goals down the line. So before you eagerly whip out your credit card every time a vendor presents you with a quote, ask yourself whether a single day -- magical as you want it to be -- is worth many years of financial tension and sacrifice.
Some of us dream of shacking up with our spouse, partner, relative or best friend and joining the modest group of homeowners under 35 and having a place to truly call your own. But when it becomes evident that your low credit score is deterring mortgage lenders, that dream may become filled with regret and hopelessness. Perhaps your debt-to-income ratio is not ideal. Or maybe you have maxed out credit cards and unpaid student loans that have scarred your credit report and as a result you're unable to co-sign the mortgage for the home you plan to purchase with your partner. However, there are still some loop-holes in place that will still allow you to become a homeowner.
You Can Still Be on the Property Deed
If your partner's credit and financial history are outstanding, he or she may be able to qualify for the mortgage loan on their own. This effectively shields you from legal financial responsibility for the mortgage. Even though you aren't on the mortgage, it doesn't prohibit you from co-owning the home. Your signature might not be on the mortgage, but you can still sign the deed, making both you and your partner owners of the home.
Can You Legally Be a Co-owner If Your Partner is the One Paying the Mortgage?
If you're on the deed, you're an owner. Although your partner is individually responsible for the mortgage on the house you two are sharing, it doesn't mean that you can't contribute on your own terms. After finalizing the mortgage terms with your loan officer, you and your partner can decide on the best solution for both of you on ways to pay down your mortgage loan.
If You're Not on the Mortgage at First, You Can Still Get on It Later
If you're not on the mortgage at closing that doesn't mean that you can't be added to it at a later time. For example, five years post-closing, you may have had time to rebuild your credit, putting you in a good position to refinance yourself into the mortgage at a lower interest rate. However, if your partner's financial history merited an unbeatable mortgage rate, your improved credit score may not have improved enough for your combined finances to beat your partner's individual rate. You have to weigh your options -- adding yourself to the mortgage may not be the best decision if it doesn't ultimately lead to a lower interest rate. If your combined finances will allow for a lower interest rate but you still can't be added to the existing loan, consider refinancing and taking out a new shared mortgage.
Becoming a homeowner is a feat in itself. Without legal documentation for the shared housing expense, things can get messy. But this agreement doesn't have to be complicated. Having a solid plan of action with your partner can help:
- Know your co-owner's credit history.
- Be transparent regarding your finances.
- Write out a contract. It should detail expectations of shared expenses including any contributions to the mortgage payment from the non-purchasing party and any other terms of ownership, expense-related or otherwise.
With this knowledge, you and your spouse, partner, relative or friend can be well on your way to becoming happy homeowners.
Finding a long-term partner, a boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse can be a long and challenging road. If you've managed to snag that special someone only to discover that his or her credit history is less than stellar, while you may be tempted to overlook it, don't.
Of course, money isn't everything, and it's noble of you to put love ahead of financial security. But do keep in mind that if you're not careful, your partner's bad credit can easily wind up impacting your finances and your relationship.
What Could Go Wrong?
Monetary repercussions: Your partner's poor credit can render your otherwise impressive credit score relatively useless. If you're applying for a joint loan don't assume that your financial standing will automatically compensate for that of your partner. You may still find yourself presented with high interest rates or, in some cases, denied completely -- at which point you'll be forced to re-apply on your own and take on all the responsibility yourself, or put off a major purchase that significantly impacts your lifestyle. This especially holds true if your partner has previously filed for bankruptcy. While bankruptcy is often hailed as a fresh start for the financially impaired, the reality is that after a personal filing it can take anywhere from one to four years to become eligible for a mortgage.
Emotional backlash: When you and your partner come into a relationship with uneven credit histories it can make for some bitterness and conflict. If you're the one who's always been financially responsible, you may quickly grow to resent the fact that your partner's poor habits have now put a damper on everything you've worked for. You may also come to regard your partner as a burden, especially if you're frequently being asked to foot the bill or shell out the cash for things you'd otherwise be splitting equally. Don't forget, even if you're not at that stage where you're ready to live together or think about marriage, you could still wind up on the hook for your partner's bad financial habits if they need you to co-sign an apartment lease or car loan.
Now think about it from your partner's perspective. He or she doesn't want to feel like a drain on your resources. But if your financial position is significantly more secure, the probability of that happening is much higher. Your partner may even come to resent you for being the one in the more powerful position, even if you go out of your way to avoid making your partner feel small.
What to Do
While you can't erase your partner's poor credit history, there are steps you can take to preserve both your finances and your relationship. First, you may want to avoid opening joint bank or credit card accounts until your partner shows some financial improvement. If you're living together or getting married, you can retain your own accounts and devise a system for splitting expenses while paying for them separately. Also, consider waiting to make big purchases -- especially things like vehicles and homes. Finally, be completely open with one another and define your expectations. It's one thing if your partner has made some financial mistakes in the past, but be clear about what you're willing to tolerate going forward. Establish monetary ground rules and goals and do your best to treat your partner with respect. With your support, they may become even more motivated to make better financial decisions.
At some point during college you may have pictured yourself graduating, snagging a job and moving into a fabulous apartment where you'd be free to continue the independent lifestyle to which you've grown accustomed. But if you're now among the scores of recent college grads who find they are moving into their childhood bedroom rather than their dream apartment, take comfort in the fact that you're not alone.
The Cost of College
With jobs these days being tricky to come by and college costs skyrocketing at an unsettling rate, it's not unusual for recent grads to find themselves moving back in with their parents. In fact, it seems like many Millennials are actually embracing this trend rather than running from it. For those who ended their college careers in 2014, the average loan amount upon graduation was a staggering $33,000. It's no wonder then that according to a 2012 recent Pew Research study, 36 percent of young adults aged 18-31 were living at home -- a whopping 21.6 million in total. Additional data indicates that 53 percent of 18-24-year-olds live at home. Back in 1980 only one out of every 10 college grads moved back home. Today, four in 10 take that route.
Clearly, the job market has a lot of catching up to do to support the rising cost of getting a college education. In 2012, only 63 percent of 18-31-year-olds had jobs, whereas five years earlier, despite a shaky economy, 70 percent of adults aged 18-31 were employed. For many, college debt simply isn't a choice as many employers won't even consider candidates without college degrees. Even those who choose vocational schools over universities are often forced to foot the bill.
The Bright Side
But here's the good news: If you do wind up moving back home after college, once you land your first job, you'll be in a great position to start chipping away at that debt. Think about all the things you won't have to pay for on your own from rent and utilities to groceries and household supplies (though you should offer to chip in for food and toiletries, there's a good chance your parents won't take you up on it). All that money can instead go toward your student loans, and the more quickly you pay them off, the less interest you'll end up paying over time.
Of course, living at home can present some challenges, but there are things you can do to make it a pleasant experience for both you and your parents. First, remember that your new living arrangement may be difficult for your folks as well as they'll need to adjust to having you as their roommate. Not only that, but having you live at home is going to cost them money. Sure, their mortgage won't go up and the incremental cost of water and electricity to accommodate another person won't be significant, but they'll most likely be feeding you and springing for extras to make your stay more enjoyable. Make sure to show your appreciation by helping out around the house or at the very least singing their praises frequently. Also, be certain to set boundaries and expectations from the get-go. Establish a protocol for when you'll be staying out late and decide whether your parents should automatically expect you for dinner on weeknights. Finally, make sure all the bedroom doors have locks -- and agree that everyone, your parents included, will use them, consistently, as needed.
Whether you're a recent college grad in pursuit of your first steady paycheck or a disgruntled employee who dreads going to work each day, the idea of working with a career coach may have crossed your mind. The question is: Are career coaches worth it?
Be Prepared to Pay
It would be one thing if career coaching were a free service magically made available to those in need, but the reality is that career coaching doesn't tend to come cheap. On average, career coaches charge over $150 per hour, with executive coaches commanding as much as $300 or more per session. And keep in mind that in most cases, a one-time sit-down probably isn't going to cut it. To get the maximum benefit from a career coach, you should be prepared to spend several hours working with a professional--which means the cost really can add up.
On the other hand, if you're unemployed and in serious need of some guidance, your investment in a career coach can quickly pay for itself. If, thanks to a career coach's assistance and advice, you land a job six weeks earlier than you would've done so on your own, spending $1,000 makes sense. (Plus, you can deduct what you spend on your taxes as part of your job search expenses.) Also, some coaches will offer reduced rates or sliding scale fees to clients based on income or need; so whereas a seasoned professional may be forced to pay the going rate, if you're a recent college grad, you may find a local coach who's willing to cut you a break.
So What Do Career Coaches Do Anyway?
Simply put, a career coach is someone who can help people at all stages of their careers find the right employment opportunities and develop rewarding, attainable career paths. Career coaches work with all types of job seekers, from entry-level hopefuls to experienced executives looking to return to the workforce. More specifically, a career coach can help you:
- assess and highlight your talents
- market yourself to prospective employers
- develop career goals and take strategic steps toward achieving them
- "rebrand" yourself and overcome barriers to employment or upward mobility within your current company
- focus on the roles and industries that suit your personality
- narrow your job search to increase your chances of success and approach the process more efficiently
- Rework your resume or online profile to make you a more desirable candidate
- Improve your networking and interviewing skills
Now you may be tempted to tap other resources before shelling out money for a career coach--namely, your buddy, who's a resume-writing whiz; your parents, whose pep talks are guaranteed confidence boosters; or your colleagues, who know how you operate and understand the challenges you may be facing in your current role. But remember, one of the key advantages of working with a career coach is that he or she can offer solid, unbiased advice based on his or her observations, experience, and focused conversations with you. Or, as Jenny Foss, a career strategist at JobJenny.com, puts it, "A career coach can help pull apart everything that you're doing, figure out what might be going wrong, and then reassemble a game plan that will likely be more effective."
So is career coaching for everyone? Not necessarily. But if you're unemployed, looking to switch fields, or stuck in a dead-end job, a career coach can be a very worthwhile investment. According to Foss, a career coach can especially benefit those who just can't figure out what they want to do and are feeling very directionless. Furthermore, she says, "if you've applied for a bunch of jobs and nobody's responding, and you don't know what you're doing wrong," a career coach can help you break that otherwise frustrating cycle. Ultimately, she adds, a career coach can really be valuable when he or she helps you avoid spinning your wheels, which can save you three very important things: time, money, and stress.
Remember those library books you keep meaning to bring back? Well, they may be costing you, and not just the small fine the library charges. In fact, they may be costing you a shot at a new car, your own house or even some job opportunities. Those overdue library books just may hit you where it hurts -- in your credit score.
Our credit score is more than a joke in commercials with guitar-toting pirates singing about "free credit report dot com" while serving sandwiches to tourists in T-shirts. " Your credit score is your 'permanent transcript,' in many ways more important than your GPA," said Peter J. Nigro, Sarksian Chair at Bryant University College of Business.
"The information stays on record for seven years and is critically important to all Americans," Nigro said. After all, those three little digits are actually the key to getting some of the things we really want out of life -- like a car loan, a cell phone, an apartment or even a good rate on insurance.
We all know we can hurt our credit score by defaulting on a loan, declaring bankruptcy or not paying our credit card bills. But what about those library books? Here's the scoop, along with some other surprising ways you can sabotage your credit score:
- Overdue library books. Any type of late payment can result in a hit on your credit score. Though the library itself may not penalize you, overdue notices that go overlooked may result in the fine being sent to a collection agency, which will notify the credit bureaus. If this happens, that old copy of Moby Dick may end up on your credit report for seven years.
- Closing an account. Paying off an account and closing it is a good thing, right? Not exactly. "Even if you have paid off your credit card, closing the account can harm your credit score," said John Heath, directing attorney at Lexington Law. "Any good credit you may have accumulated with that credit card will be taken out, raising your credit utilization ratio."
- Ignoring traffic tickets. Ignoring traffic tickets won't make them go away. "In the old days, if you got a traffic ticket in a city you were just passing through, you might get away with ignoring it," Howard Dvorkin, CPA and chairman of debt.com, said. "Not today. The city or county that issued the ticket can submit it to a collections agency or one of the three main credit bureaus. Once that happens, your credit score hits the brakes."
- Buying a new cell phone plan. Many major carriers check your credit before handing over that new iPhone -- and for every credit check, a hard inquiry is placed on your file that lowers your credit score. The same goes for every credit card you apply for, even if you don't use it (or get it at all!).
- Never carrying a credit card balance. Surprise! Having nothing at all on an opened credit card may be more harmful to your score than having a high balance. The best strategy for building credit is to make a small purchase each month and carry it into the next cycle.
- Reneging on a gym membership. If you forget your resolutions by February, you better not sign a contract. Most major gyms report missed payments to the major credit bureaus.
One safe resolution? Vow to monitor your own credit rating at least once a year. You have the right to contact each of the "biggies" (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) annually to request a copy of the report -- and check out what's influencing your score.
These days, there's a pretty solid market for artisan baked goods, as opposed to the mass-produced stuff you'll find at national chains or on supermarket shelves. And if you're an avid baker, you've possibly toyed with the idea of selling your own creations--especially if others have consistently affirmed your talent for all things homemade.
It used to be that if you wanted to legally sell your own baked products, you'd need to secure a commercial license or rent out space in an established commercial kitchen--cost-prohibitive options for the average home baker. But these days, with the local food movement in full swing, you may be able to transform your baking wizardry into a decent side gig thanks to the increased presence of cottage food laws, depending on where you live.
What are cottage food laws?
In a nutshell, cottage food laws allow you to legally bake or prepare goods at home and sell them on a limited basis. Not all states have these laws, and for those that do, the terms are more favorable in some than others. But while many don't have official cottage food laws in place, several at least have what are known as home food processing laws, which are similar to cottage food laws but more restrictive. And, there are several states working on getting first-time cottage food laws approved.
If you do live in a state that supports the home-based production of baked goods, these laws will most likely enable you to accept payment the next time your kitchen-phobic friend begs you to cater her upcoming party or your neighbor offers a generous sum in exchange for a hand-crafted birthday cake for her child. You'll also probably have the option of selling your products at street fairs, farmers markets, and other local events.
Rewards and costs
If you manage to secure your staples on the cheap, your home-based venture can serve as a nice supplement to whatever you earn at your day job. And from a social consciousness perspective, by setting up shop from home, you can actually do your part to serve your community by catering to clients with special dietary needs like gluten or nut allergies.
On the other hand, by peddling your home-baked goods, you're technically opening yourself up to a degree of liability: If someone falls ill after consuming one of your products or suffers an allergic reaction despite your best attempt at clear ingredient disclosure and labeling, you could be on the hook financially. (While you do have the option of purchasing liability insurance, your modest yearly profit may not be worth the expense.) Furthermore, some home bakers grow disillusioned with the notion of selling their goods for profit when they realize just how much time and effort goes into each individual batch. In other words, yes, you may be able to sell your lemon chiffon cupcakes for $3 a piece at a profit of $2 per cupcake, but when you consider the time it takes to source your ingredients, market your product, and actually do the baking and cleanup, you may find that your earning potential hovers unsettlingly close to the minimum wage mark. And keep in mind that most cottage food laws set limits on how much you can earn baking from home anyway.
That said, if you genuinely enjoy baking and selling to your community, it pays to see whether your state allows you to do so legally. Here's what the current laws look like by state:
When you're choosing a college major, you want a degree path that leads to a well-paying job, but you also want a profession that you'll finding fulfilling and rewarding. Forget 40 hours a week -- Americans work an average of 47 hours a week, according to a Gallup poll.
So it's important to choose a major that will lead to a profession you also find interesting. Luckily, there are many interesting and unusual degrees to choose from. Some of these majors, however, have a stigma for being "Mickey Mouse degrees," which are majors that offer easy coursework and lead to degrees that are worthless or jobs that don't even require a college degree. However, defenders of these so-called Mickey Mouse degrees claim they are just as valuable as more academic degrees.
Let's examine some of these more unusual degree choices, complements of College Degree Search.
No, you won't be the spokesperson for Tiger Woods or decide if those green jackets should be another color, but there are a lot of other fun activities involved in a professional golf management career. Students who pursue this degree learn how to teach golf and manage tournaments, handle budgets and manage golf facilities. Courses include sports law, player development and turf management.
If you have a passion for studying the 25 island nations that make up the Caribbean states, you can turn this love into a degree. And imagine what type of internship you could have! In addition to studying the history and culture of the major islands surrounding the Caribbean Sea, you'll also learn about Caribbean economics and politics.
Students with a green thumb might be interested in a degree in greenhouse operations. While pursuing this major, you'll learn how to design greenhouses and also learn how these enclosed spaces affect the growth of crops. You'll also learn how to produce and market crops, as well learn about plant nutrition, pest management and heating systems.
Who knew that knowledge needed to be managed? Apparently it does, and a degree in knowledge management can put you in the driver's seat. This major helps students understand the role of technology -- especially data mining, and social media -- and how individuals and companies use technology. Courses include business processes, program/project/process management, ethics and critical thinking.
If you love philosophy, you might want to consider pursuing a degree in logic, which explores the history and application of logic. Along the way, students learn about applied ethics, rational choices and mathematical theories, in addition to proof theory, casual inference and discovery. Courses include philosophy core, formal logic and the theory of computability.
Paper Science and Engineering
Students who pursue this degree learn the science behind paper and its products. Specifically, you'll learn how wood becomes pulp and then paper. Other concentrations include studying the chemical and physical properties of wood, exploring the environmental concerns involved in the manufacturing process and other issues in the pulp, paper and allied industries. This degree relies heavily on chemical engineering, and students should be prepared to take advanced classes in chemistry, physics and math.
These are just a handful of the many unusual degree choices available, which could be a great, unexpected career option. After all, since these are such unusual majors, there won't be a glut in the job market, which just may provide you with the competitive advantage you need -- and have some fun while you're at it.
During my last year in college, I accepted an opportunity to work in web production at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MSLO) in New York City. I couldn't decide what was more exciting: living and working in the Big Apple or meeting Ms. Stewart!
The Martha experience
After I was hired for the summer, at least fifty of us interns got the chance to have a meet and greet with our designated departments, learn the history of MSLO, and meet Martha. I felt nervous because I wanted to make a good impression and do my best in my assignments (who wouldn't)? Everyone got a chance to see what a down-to-earth person she was. During one company meeting, she even had beverages made for us from fruits and veggies grown from her own garden. I still remember sipping that refreshing tropical cooler toward the end of the day. That was just one of the highlights of my time with the company.
Majoring in journalism, I was unsure of what skills I could bring to the product development and production department. However, the web producers I worked with were amazing and made me feel like I was part of the team. I learned new skills and software and took part in multiple projects, including participating in a marketing presentation.
As with any position, there were challenges. I had difficulty completing some tasks. At times, this resulted in feelings of inadequacy. After some words of encouragement and a handful of M&M's, my coworker reminded me I had seven other people I could reach out to by my desk. Constant communication with the staff helped me to progress.
Seize the opportunity
Here are some tips I learned to make any internship valuable:
- Take notes on every new task and skill you learn. Later on in your career, you may be assigned a task from your interning days. Your notes could be your refresher.
- Utilize every resource extended to you. Whether you are watching intently, asking for help from a colleague, or Googling, there are many resources at your disposal. It doesn't hurt to ask who, what, when, where, why, or how.
- Document accomplishments and other happy times. Not only would you be able to sauce up your resume, you can see how you have progressed on your journey to being the awesome intern that you are.
- Take it for what it is. The overall goal of the internship is to gain experience in your desired field, learn new skills, and make connections. The value isn't whether you make money or not (although earning a little cash is a nice bonus)! The value is in the knowledge and progress you make as you prepare for the workforce.
Although it was an unpaid internship, I received a stipend for food and travel as payment. Sure it was a small amount, but I made it work. The work experience itself gave me a chance to learn another facet in digital media, such as HTML encoding, and I also received resources to help me practice my learned skills. For information about landing your own internship, check out internships.com.