Personal finance: My experiences consolidating credit card debt

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Consolidating debt is kind of a divisive topic. I’ve found that people are usually really against it or really for it.

Some financial experts like Dave Ramsey say you should never consolidate, but instead use the debt snowball method where you pay off the smallest debt to the largest, regardless of interest rate.

And I think that works for some people, but what I have found works best for me and my personality is have a fixed term, fixed rate debt payoff plan.

Seeing those high interest rates on top of already high balances with no payoff date in sight was so discouraging to me, even when I was paying more than the minimum payment to get them paid off sooner.

So, I started researching my options for debt consolidation loans.

I tried going through my regular bank, but was promptly denied because of my debt to income ratio being too high.

I looked up some alternatives to going through a typical bank and found Best Egg and Lending Club. I’ve used both to consolidate debt.

Best Egg and Lending Club are online loan servicers that fund loans through investors. The entire process is done online and the money is direct deposited to your account in just a couple of days.

At first I thought it sounded too good to be true, but I did some more research and looked up reviews and it seemed like it was worth a shot.

I used Best Egg about a year ago. All I did was put in some basic information about me and my income/employment information. I think I had a response within a day and within a few days I had the money in my bank.

I took out a loan for $15,000 with a three-year payoff term at a 16.79% interest rate. There was also an origination fee of $750. My payments are $533 each month.

My payments are deducted each month and I don’t even have to think about it. I’m already almost one year down and then I’ll just have two years left!

I used it to pay off four credit cards. (I know— it makes me want to cry, too).

What makes me want to cry even more is that a few months after getting the loan and paying off those credit cards I had to have $2,000 worth of work done on my car. Because I didn’t have any savings I had to charge it. The spiral started over again.

It didn’t get as bad as the first time, but I found myself in a similar situation this spring. So, that’s when I tried Lending Club.

It was the same as Best Egg—just a entering your info in online, waiting to be approved and then the money was deposited right to my account within days.

I got another loan, this time for $10,000. I paid off those cards and have them hidden in my apartment.

I took out $10,000 with a three-year term at 10.41% interest rate. The origination fee was $500. My payments are $325 each month.

I know using these online loan providers isn’t for everyone, but for me I found them to be a life saver. Obviously, none of this is something anyone wants to do. I wish I would have had more self control and power over my spending, but all I can do is change going forward.

Each of my credit cards had an interest rate of between 25% and 30% because my credit isn’t the best and it seemed that my payments just weren’t making a dent. At least now I know when my debt will be paid off and I can still make extra payments to get them done faster.

Disclaimer: This is in no way sponsored by either company. I just wanted to share my experience in the hopes it can help someone else.

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Feeling the (extended) winter blues

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I’m someone who has always suffered from seasonal depression. It usually starts to hit me hard somewhere toward the end of January. The excitement of the holidays is over and the bleakness of winter really starts to settle in.

I try to stay positive and keep busy while I wait for spring to arrive and clear the dark clouds. Usually by sometime in March we’ve at least had a few of those sunny spring days that remind everyone the sun does, in fact, exist.

This year, though.

Ugh.

Here we are one week into APRIL and we are still getting snow. When it’s not snowing, it’s raining. When it’s not raining, it’s still cold and overcast.

It seems we just can’t get any relief.

I was lucky enough to go to Florida for a few days a couple of weeks ago, but it barely scratched the surface of curing my winter blues.

By the looks of the forecast we shouldn’t hold our breath for any nice days to come.

I’m not sure how much longer I can live in a climate that operates like this. I need sunshine. I need warmer weather. I need to be able to go outside without a coat more than a few months out of the year.

So, all of this to say, if you find yourself wanting to stay in bed a little longer each morning and wanting to eat pasta for dinner every night…just know you are not alone.

Let’s all try to muddle through the next couple of weeks and hopefully we will find ourselves on the other side.

Personal finances: How I found extra money in my budget

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Most people, even those already on a budget, could find a few places here and there to cut expenses. When I got serious about paying off my debt earlier this year I went through my costs and found several things that were being automatically deducted from my account that I was never or rarely using.

The great thing about a budget is that it gives you permission to use your money as you want and know that it is all assigned to something. I’m not an advocate for totally stripping away anything that brings you joy. To me, this whole budget life is about balance and still enjoying things. I still include $25 every pay day to get my eye brows waxed because it makes me feel good about myself. I also decided to spend a little extra money this weekend to get a few new clothes for work. Again, this makes me feel better about myself and makes me more productive. The key for me is not charging things on my credit card. If I can work it into my budget and pay cash then it’s fine by me.

However, these things below didn’t really bring my value to my life and I felt I could cut them to put that money toward debt.

Canceling my Netflix subscription ($10/month): We pay for basic cable plus HBO with our internet, so having Netflix added in just didn’t make sense right now. We watch a lot of HBO and they have a ton of movies and shows on demand, so to me it was worth it to cut the Netflix cord for now.

Lowering my cell phone data plan ($15/month): If given the chance, I will use every last drop of data that is given to me. However, I looked at the difference between the 4 gig plan I had and the 2 gig plan and it was $15 less. I figured I could try to be more diligent about only being connected to wifi. So far it hasn’t been a big deal.

Paying off my phone ($20/month): Like most people, I financed my phone when I bought it two years ago. It was an extra $20 on my bill each month. I finally paid it off and I’m so glad to own my phone free and clear now.

Canceling my gym membership ($10/month): I always have grand plans of how I will magically become the kind of person who goes to the gym. I’ve signed up and then canceled memberships so many times. I’ve accepted it’s just not going to happen. Now that spring is almost here and I can get outside I will just try to make an effort to do that instead. Plus I prefer to work out alone without all of the annoying people at the gym.

Eating out less (~$100/month): I have been eating more meals at home in an attempt to not only save money, but also save calories. Some weeks are better than others, but overall I’d estimate I save about $100 each month by doing this.

So, overall I found about an extra $155 in my budget to put toward my debt. I’m happy to report I have nearly paid off my first credit card. I only have a few hundred dollars left and then I’m on to the next. I’m looking forward to that satisfaction!

Personal finances: My biggest money mistakes

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I’ve made a lot of financial mistakes since I turned 18 and was responsible for my own money. There are a few that really make me cringe and have impacted my financial future more than others and I’d like to talk about them here in case you can identify with them.

Some of these mistakes were made unintentionally, but some of them were truly just bad decisions — putting short term happiness and gratification over having a financially secure future.

Here are my four biggest money mistakes:

Taking out a personal student loan to study abroad: All student loans are awful, but the one that seems to just be salt in the wound is the personal student loan I took out when I took a three-week trip to Thailand the summer after my sophomore year of college. The trip cost about $8,000 and I definitely didn’t have that kind of money lying around to pay for it out of pocket. Of course, the professor played up the importance of taking a trip like this and how I could probably get a student loan to cover it. So, my inexperienced 19-year-old self marched right to the financial aid office and got approved for a $8,000 personal loan through a private bank—not through the government which is what many student loans are through. I wouldn’t learn until after graduation that the loan had been accruing interest for the last two years of college totaling a whopping extra $3,000 to the loan’s total. I JUST NOW am back down to the original principal balance. It’s taken me EIGHT YEARS to pay off $3,000 in interest because the interest still accrues daily. There is also no option for an income-based repayment or any kind of relief or help. Personal student loans have no protections. So, if I could go back in time and not take out that loan I would. I’d really like that $85 I pay on it every month.

Being irresponsible with credit cards: There are some people who can pay off their credit card balance in full every month and never know the anguish of carrying a balance—I am not one of those people. I never have been and I accept that I never will be good with credit cards. I have no self control when it comes to credit cards. Even though I rationally know that I shouldn’t use them for frivolous purchases I have continued to do it all throughout my 20s. It started first with a couple of store credit cards which I racked up and paid off several times before closing them. Then it was a credit card through my bank that I racked up and paid off many times before closing. I actually went about two years with no credit cards and then I opened one when I moved to Pittsburgh…and then another…and then another. I’ve been battling the balances ever since.

Not having a savings account: I know to some people this will be the most shocking mistake of all. I have literally never had a savings account. I just never made it a priority. I always just wanted to spend every dollar I made and honestly never really thought about preparing for a secure financial future. I’m trying to fix that now and start saving more so I don’t depend on credit cards when a big expense comes up.

Not contributing to a 401K or IRA from day one: My first job out of college paid $20,000. My paychecks were about $600 every two weeks. After making all of my bills I barely had enough to survive. I even went without health insurance for the same reason (this was before Obamacare was instituted). I never really had anyone to give me advice or talk with me about how important contributing to a retirement fund is. Now that I’ve explored the topic on my own and have an employer that matches my contributions I have started putting money into a 401K. I feel so behind, but I know I can make it up by contributing a lot more once my debt is paid off.

I’m really enjoying writing about this and I hope you find it helpful in your own money journey!

Personal finances: This is where I begin

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I’ve wanted to write about this for a while because it’s a huge part of my life, but I just haven’t had the courage to put it all down. I really enjoy reading and learning from other people’s personal finance journeys, so I wanted to start sharing my own in the hopes of accountability and inspiration for others in a similar situation.

My personal finances are, let’s say, less than desirable. I’ve always worked two jobs and paid all my bills, but I’ve never been someone who saves and I just now, as in less than a year ago, started to contribute to my 401K. I also have a lot of debt, both student loans and credit cards. I’ve basically spent my 20s living paycheck to paycheck and charging things when I ran out of money.

I know a lot of people my age (I’m nearing the end of my 20s) are in the same boat. Some people are much better off than I am and some are much worse off, but I think a lot of us millenials have found ourselves somewhere in the middle. We aren’t quite destitute, but we definitely aren’t thriving. I think the statistic is something like most Americans don’t even have enough money saved for a $1,000 emergency.

I graduated from college in 2010 with about $30,000 in student loans. I paid diligently on my loans for three years until I decided to go back to graduate school in 2013. Then they went into deferment for the next two years while I was racking up another $30,000 in loans for graduate school.

Clearly, not the best laid out plan, but I was determined to go to graduate school and move to a bigger city. You can read more on my graduate school journey here. I can’t say it was all for nothing because I got a job that literally doubled my salary after going to grad school. I also plan to use my advanced degree to teach down the line.

And as always, hindsight is 20/20. Would’ve, could’ve, should’ve doesn’t really do much for me now, which brings me to this post.

There’s no sense in looking back and wishing things would have been done differently. What’s done is done. Now, I’m just focused on getting out of debt and to financial freedom.

So, this is where I begin. It seems impossible some days, but other days I’m so motivated to just commit to paying it off. I’m following a modified version of Dave Ramsey’s debt snowball method as well as taking some advice from a few other personal finances books.

Thanks for following along!