Organizing Your Finances

person holding coins

Everyone needs to have some type of system for their finances. Everyone (almost everyone) has monthly bills to pay, and missing a payment is a bad thing as it can affect your credit rating. The credit rating is very important as it affects the interest rates that you are eligible for when applying for a loan, mortgage or a credit card.

 

Bill Payment Systems.

One system that can be used is to set up automatic payments from your bank to your creditors. You don’t have to keep up with due dates and everything is automated. The problem is that if you have an unexpected payment that you have to make then you may end up with an overdrawn account or the bank may not honor the payment due to insufficient funds. This could also be an issue for a business person, contractor or freelancer who does not get a regular set amount deposited into their bank every month. The system is not good for a person who does not have regular scheduled payments into their bank account.

Another system, preferred by myself, is to receive paper bills/invoices. I organize the paper bills by stacking them on top of each other after sorting them by date, with the closest date to the present on top. Keep the stack in a place that catches the eye regularly and get into the habit of checking the top bill frequently, not a very high tech system, but it is a system, and it works. This system allows a person to either wait for the “due date” to pay the bill or pay it early if sufficient funds are in the bank at the time that the person checks the stack. It may not work for everyone and I suppose that the system relies on habit and a good memory, but it is useful when you have income that is not received on a regular date, the system also aids the cash flow. Cash Flow is not the same as a general lack of cash.

I have noticed that some banks and credit card companies are attempting to charge for paper bills. When that becomes common, I will probably go to a paper stack of printed email reminders.

 

Another option is to have no system and hope for the best. This doesn’t work and usually results in missed payments, late fees and a less than impressive credit score. Many people think that they will not have to borrow money and that the credit score is of no interest to them, but it is always wise to be prepared for the unexpected and ensure that your credit score will allow you to get a good interest rate, just in case you need it.

People qualify for interest rates on loans based on their credit score. It is very unfair, but the bottom line on this is that the people who need credit the most and who have the least amount of wealth, end up being offered loans with the highest interest rates as their only option.  I have seen credit cards offered with a great 6% APR (only with an excellent credit score), but I have also seen credit cards with a crazy 25% APR, these are generally the store charge card types of deals. I would not take that deal, I would rather walk around in worn out clothing (or whatever else they are offering at the store).

 

Should You Use Savings or Credit on an Unexpected Expense.

It would be nice for a person to have enough cash reserves to be confident that they could cover any eventuality, but for most people, this is not reality. The use of cash or credit depends upon the credit deal that is being offered and the cost of the unexpected expense. I have used credit when there has been a 0% deal on offer for the amount that I require, but before I accept the offer, I always check the APR on the loan, in case I don’t finish the payments in time. I always calculate the minimum monthly payments that are required to pay the loan off before the 0% APR expires.  I have sometimes ignored the 0% deals in favor of a low interest rate when the expense is so large that I know that I will not pay it in time. Most of the time I will take a 0% loan offer on an expense even if I have the reserves to pay cash, as long as I can be sure of paying the loan off before the interest takes effect.. Taking a loan helps with cash flow, and I suppose that some of it is psychological, because I still have all my reserves in place for emergencies.

Sometimes the offer is very good, such as an 18 month 0% APR for purchases. The thing is, you must be aware of the “ 0% for 18 months, then 22% (example) APR” statement in the offer.  The interest usually encompasses the whole loan amount after the special rate expires, not just the outstanding balance, which means that you will have to pay all of the interest if you don’t pay off the loan in time. If you are considering a credit card offer, make sure that you start with a zero balance, because your monthly payments are usually applied to your original balance first, until it is paid in full. The original balance will still be subject to your normal APR, so you could end up making purchases under the 0% offer but never actually enjoy that offer because your monthly payments will go to something else. As long as you can be sure of paying off the loan in time, the 0% APR deals are worth taking advantage of and they will also help to build an excellent credit score.

Using loans in this way takes a lot of discipline and a constant awareness of what you are doing. If you lose track of things, you will be worse off in the end. Sometimes people have no reserves and have absolutely no option but to take a loan for an emergency, to buy a car (to get to work), new HVAC system to stay warm or cool , medical bills, help a family member etc.

APR is Annual Percentage Rate of Charge.

Credit is a bankers game, either avoid it or learn to use it to give you as much benefit as you can squeeze out of it. Have you ever wondered why you are offered 1% interest on your savings account, with banks advertising this as a great rate,  but their best offer to you is a loan with 15% interest on the total value of the loan? I sure have, but most of us have to play this game at some time.

 

Achieving a Good Credit Score

Achieving a good credit score is not that hard, and a payment system helps greatly.  Try to keep your outstanding balances on credit cards low. You must pay the monthly bills on time, even if you can only afford the minimum payment, make sure that you pay it somehow. The same goes for all bills. Beware of small medical bills and store charge cards that can easily be overlooked, they will report a person to the credit agencies in the blink of an eye for one missed payment, even if you have been making regular payments for months. Once reported, a late payment could result in a loss of 60 points or more on your credit score. I don’t advocate this credit score system, but play the game, to give you more options and a good interest rate just in case you do need a loan at some stage.

 

Live Within Your Means

The best option for having enough money and avoiding credit is to live within your means. I have read that many wealthy people do this, maybe this approach helped them to become wealthy. Don’t spend money that you don’t have on a flashy new car, be happy with a reliable one (for now). Don’t feel the need to keep up with other people. I have never understood people who feel forced to buy things just to keep up with neighbors, friends etc. If someone thinks less of you because you don’t spend a crazy $200 on a pair of already ripped jeans, so what. The tennis shoe fad is really puzzling. I refuse to pay more than $60 for a pair of tennis shoes, and when I do buy a pair, they need to be well designed running shoes. I also know that a $60 pair of running shoes is overpriced but I have found that this is about the cheapest quality shoe available for running at this time in the U.S.A.

Don’t be influenced by advertisements. This is hard because ads are specifically designed by some very clever people to have a psychological effect, that effect being to get you to buy what you don’t need or sometimes don’t even want.

 

Save Money

This is a good habit to acquire. The act of saving will help you to feel better and it is the starting point for building a cash reserve. Set a figure or percentage for yourself to save every week, pay period or month and don’t break into it except for extreme emergencies. Buying stocks or shares with savings is ok, but one needs to be aware that they can lose value as well as gain value and it is really a long term strategy, unless you have a significant amount of money to invest.

 

Insurance and Pensions

I would suggest that it is wise to get life insurance of some type while you are still young. The younger a person is, the cheaper the rate and the more coverage you can get. Ideally, life insurance should cover 2 people such as a husband and wife  in a mutual agreement. The actual product does not have to be the same one, but the benefit amount should be equal for both parties (to be fair). If the worst happens, the person left here will not have so many financial problems. There are plenty of different products available with various rates and terms.

Pensions are not usually a high priority for young people but this is the best time to begin planning. You don’t know what you will be doing in the future and the work that you do may not offer anything other than a 401k. The longer you invest in your own scheme, the more you will have when it comes time to claim the pension. If you are young and you are reading this, take a few hours over the next few days to investigate this. Normally, the employer contributes a certain amount of cash into a 401k, which makes it more valuable and a 401k is portable from one job to another, but you will have to work for an employer for a certain amount of time to be able to keep the employer’s contribution. This is called vesting and each employer has their own time period for the employee to be fully vested. Once you are fully vested, you can get another job and take 100% of the employer’s contributions with you in the form of the 401k. From the employer’s point of view, the vesting period encourages employee longevity, from the employees point of view, if they want to keep that employer contribution to their 401k, they will have to stay with the company for a set period of time. You could have to spend between 3 to 8 years or more with a company before you are fully vested.

Planning for  pensions too late could result in a person relying on social security alone in retirement. Pensions are seen as an old person’s issue, but early consideration of this topic is advisable.

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