Category Archives: Money Management

April 2021 Money News

Time for another monthly money news update!

Women & Money Management Today at Vanderbilt’s Women’s Center

I have some news for the students and faculty at Vanderbilt!

My colleague Joyce and I will be speaking at an event today at The Women’s Center. This will be a live, online event  at 4p Central today, April 5, 2021. We’ll be reviewing real-life money management tricks, while actually addressing the significant financial obstacles women face at nearly every turn within our society.

We hope to see you there! Here’s where you can join us.

Joyce and I may have more exciting news coming up around the corner, too. Stay tuned!

Taxes in the Pandemic.

There are so many changes to taxes this year. And next year. These changes are highly likely to work in your favor in a big way.

Last month we talked about an important large, refundable credit available to the self-employed.

Here are some other big, important changes you should be aware of since the last time we spoke:

  • Filings for the 2020 tax year are no longer due on April 15, 2021. Instead, they’re due May 17, 2021. Here are some ways to file your taxes for free.
  • The first $10,200 you received in unemployment in 2020 no longer counts as taxable income.
  • There are changes to the Child Tax Credit and Additional Child Tax credit that both make it larger and make a larger portion of it refundable. You may expect to see some of these refunds for the 2021 tax year come early — as early as this summer.
  • The Child and Dependent Care Credit has also become refundable, larger and claimable for an additional year.
  • There are BIG changes to premium credits for those who pay for an ACA health insurance plan. It is extremely likely that these changes work in your favor no matter how much or how little money you make, and can result in a larger tax refund or lower overall tax burden. Learn more here.

You got evicted. Now what?

The best way to avoid an eviction is to stop it before it goes to court.

However, that’s not always possible. The eviction crisis has only gotten worse in the pandemic, and it’s something no one should ever have to go through. If you have, I sat down with an expert to help you figure out how, exactly, you can recover with an eviction on your record.

Side Hustle

Looking for a potentially lucrative side hustle? That you can do remotely?

I talked with Bryson Honjo to learn more about the sneaker reselling industry. You can catch the full interview here.

Send your questions!

Confused by all the big financial changes we’ve seen from our government over the past year? Have a specific question you’d like answered? Shoot me an email and I’ll try to get it answered for you in the next round up!

Until next time, friends.

3 Reasons Money Transfer Apps are Helpful

There have been many moments in my life when I wish I had a better money transfer app, most notably during my travels in Japan. This post, brought to you and contributed by Allen Brown, covers some of the reasons you might want to look at these apps as you handle finances across borders and currencies.

Small globe sitting on a wooden table with American cash, a phone, pen and paper and earphones.

Have you ever had to transfer money to another country? Into another currency? You may sending money to a family member in a different country, or you may be paying bills or debts abroad. Maybe you just have a friend in another country who has a birthday coming up, and you’d like to send them cash as a gift.

Regardless of the reasons why you make transfers, you would do well to find simple solutions to your money exchange needs.

Why Money Transfer Apps Are Helpful

Within the last decade, money transfer apps have become very popular. For a time, PayPal was one of the only methods that a person could use to transfer money. But now, a wide range of money transfer apps have come into full swing.

If you are looking for a good international money transfer app, a good place to start is Western Union or Paypal. By using these international money transfer apps, you are able to easily and seamlessly move money to the person or persons you’d like to send funds.

There are several reasons why these apps are more beneficial than transferring money through your bank or handing money to a person. One of the main reasons is because the apps have lower fees or in some cases are even free, so there is no extra money that has to be involved.

Apart from that, the apps are simple. With a simple click of a button, you are able to transfer money within seconds. The last reason is that the applications are extremely safe. People from all around the world use these applications, and they have been able to transfer and obtain funds safely through them.

Make sure to thoroughly research any money transfer service before use. While the big names are reputable, you’ll want to examine the reputation of each app on your own.

Get Funds When You Are In An Emergency

There is no way to know when you may have a personal emergency. This can be extremely stressful if you are traveling out of your home country. It can be almost impossible to send money to a friend or family member who is traveling in another country without using a money transfer app.

Since that is the case, savvy individuals choose to download at least one or several different money transfer apps in order to be able to benefit from their use if it is needed.

The Way Your Money Moves

You have more control of your money now than ever have before. If you are living in a Western country, then you are largely at an advantage financially as many of these currencies go further in some other parts of the world.

You are also in control of the ways that you move your money. You’d do well to in many cases to use the apps over using the banks when it comes to transferring money. It will simplify your financial life.

 

Cheap and Free Tax Preparation Options

Totally surprised! I qualify for the third option on here and I think most of my friends do, too! So many free tax preparation options...

This year, taxes are due on April 15, 2021. That seems like it’s far away, but it definitely sneaks up on you quicker than you’d think!

Beside avoiding procrastination, filing your taxes earlier helps you reduce the odds that you’ll be a victim of tax identity theft. That’s because the IRS only accepts one return for each social security number, so if an identity thief files a fake return before you get to your real one, you’ll have more than a headache on your hands.

If you’re looking to file and don’t want to do it yourself, but also don’t want to drop a ton of cash, check out these four cheap and/or free tax preparation options.

VITA

VITA is a free tax preparation service for low- and middle-income Americans.

Trained volunteers help you get your information sorted out in person, and then run it by the supervising volunteer, who has even more training. Once you’ve made it through all of your interviews, which can take about one to three hours depending, they e-File your return for you, and you’re good to go.

Anticipate a different experience of operations on the ground during the pandemic, likely to include fewer available time slots, masking and social distancing measures.

You do have to make less than $57,000 to qualify for this program for the 2020 tax year.

Those income limits change based on your geographic location, and specific life circumstances. You’ll have to run all of your family’s specifics by the organization that runs VITA in your area before being granted an appointment.

VITA closures during the pandemic

During the pandemic, many VITA locations have been shut down. You can check to see if yours is operational here. If it’s not, there may be other community organizations filling in the gaps.

In many communities, the United Way facilitates these programs or can direct you on where to find them. They are often the organization on the other end of the line when you dial 2-1-1, depending on which part of the country you live in.

Because of the virus, if it’s at all possible for you to file online, you are encouraged to do so. The United Way offers a free online program, in addition to the Free File program from the federal government.

Free File

Free File is another IRS-sponsored way to get free tax preparation.

The Internal Revenue Service has partnered up with some tax preparation software companies. This partnership allows households with income under $72,000 to use the tax prep software for free.

In many states, you can even file your state return for free using this method. Be sure to check out this wizard tool that will show you which software is best for your specific situation.

Transparent Software Options

If you don’t meet those income requirements, you can still file your taxes affordably with guidance from tax software. There are really expensive options that come with a big price tag and hidden fees, and then there are affordable, transparent options like FreeTaxUSA.

The Federal returns you file with FreeTaxUSA are always free. Even if you’re self-employed or own a small business. Even if you’re a homeowner. State returns are currently marked down to $12.95. Learn more here.

Big Box Tax Preparation

This is my least favorite option. The biggest reason is that in my experience, I haven’t found it to be affordable at all.

One year, I took my taxes into a big box store. I had multiple state returns because of frequent moves. Income tax for one state was supposed to be waived because of military status and state law. But this guy refused to listen, demanding I pay additional taxes erroneously. And then pay him $300+ for doing a bad job.

I walked out the door. That guy in the big box store wasn’t a CPA. He was a seasonal worker who received some seasonal training. I called up my state to make sure I wasn’t totally screwing up, and they confirmed that he was indeed wrong.

In my opinion, this solution can be especially expensive if you’re a contractor and have lot of schedules and forms to attach to your 1040.

Cheap and Free Tax Preparation Exists

If you’ve been putting off filing your taxes because of cost, worry no more. For most people, there are ways to get your return filed at a reasonable rate, or even free.

Oh, and if you think you don’t owe any taxes because you didn’t make enough money, you just might want to file anyways. It’s highly likely that the government owes you a refund.

What to Expect in 2021: Medicare Overview

Today, please welcome Medicare expert Danielle Kunkle Roberts as she updates us on Medicare changes for 2021.

Woman in a yellow shirt with glasses sitting on a couch reading a book.

Medicare is the healthcare coverage provided by the U.S. government. Seniors age 65 and over and those with certain disabilities qualify for coverage. As with private insurance, Medicare often changes its costs and coverage each year. Here is a Medicare overview and what to expect in 2021.

Medicare covers COVID-19

COVID-19 is especially dangerous for seniors. Because of this, Medicare made several changes to its coverage to meet beneficiaries’ healthcare needs and avoid unnecessary risk of exposure.

If you begin to feel any of the COVID-19 symptoms – dry cough, high fever, loss of taste/smell – you can get the COVID-19 nasal swab test to detect if you currently have COVID-19. There is another COVID-19 test, the serology test, which detects COVID-19 antibodies. If you have antibodies, it means you had the virus in the past. If you have either of these tests at a hospital, doctor’s office, or a select drive-thru location, Medicare Part B will cover the test at 100%.

Medicare waived the deductible and coinsurance requirements to ensure senior citizens can get tested for COVID-19 whenever they need to with no out-of-pocket costs.

The FDA authorized two COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use: The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and the Moderna vaccine. If you are administered either of these, Medicare Part B covers 100% of the costs. There are no out-of-pocket costs for either the COVID-19 test or vaccine.

No health questions on Medicare Advantage applications

Many Medicare beneficiaries enroll in a Medicare Advantage as a Medicare alternative. In the past, when you applied for a Medicare Advantage plan, you would be asked if you had end-stage renal disease (ESRD). Those who answered yes were denied coverage unless there was a Special Needs Medicare Advantage plan available.

In 2021, all Medicare beneficiaries, regardless of ESRD status, can purchase a Medicare Advantage plan. As of January 1, insurance companies can no longer ask about your ESRD status when you apply for a Medicare Advantage plan.

Medicare beneficiaries can save on insulin

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2015, about 12 million senior citizens had some form of diabetes. The cost of insulin has steadily increased over the years; the current average cost for a vial of insulin is $250. Some seniors may need more than one vial of insulin each month.

The Part D Senior Savings Model is new for 2021. Seniors who buy one of these plans pay a maximum of $35 out-of- pocket for covered insulin prescriptions. This new low copayment applies at every stage of coverage; you don’t have to meet your plan deductible to take advantage of low insulin copays.

The Part D Senior Savings Model will help ensure that seniors can buy the insulin they need without any financial roadblocks.

Summary

It’s always a good idea to check the Medicare website prior to the new year to see how your coverage will change. If you need help understanding your coverage or exploring your Medicare options, get in touch with a licensed Medicare broker for personalized guidance.

Is this a good time to refinance my student loans?

This post is in collaboration with Juno.

US flag in foreground, two masked people walking in the background out of focus.

You’ve probably seen a lot of talk about student loans lately.

Interest rates are super low at the moment.

The pandemic has put federal student loans into forbearance. But what that means for your long-term student loan game varies based on your repayment plan.

You’ve heard murmurs that Biden has initiatives surrounding student loan forgiveness he’d like to see passed into law.

Student loans are a complex topic even in less overwhelming times. If you’re wondering if it’s smart to refinance your student loans right now due to the low interest rates, the answer can be, ‘Yes.’

But only for a small portion of people.

Why would I refinance my student loans?

The primary reason people consider refinancing is to secure a lower interest rate.

Not everyone will be able to secure a lower interest rate through refinancing. There are also several other criteria to consider before refinancing your student loans.

Should I refinance my federal student loans?

Most people probably shouldn’t refinance their federal student loans. When you refinance, a private bank is taking on the student loan that was previously handled by the Department of Education (ED). Refinancing may qualify some borrowers for a lower interest rate.

But at the same time, those borrowers lose access to advantageous federal programs.

Federal repayment plans

One of the biggest programs you’ll lose access to is income-driven repayment plans. Many borrowers qualify for one of the following three programs, depending on the type of federal student loan:

  • Revised Pay as You Earn (REPAYE) Plan. Caps your monthly payments at 10% of your disposable monthly income. Undergraduate loans considered paid-in-full after 20 years of payments. Graduate loans considered paid-in-full after 25 years of payments.
  • Pay as You Earn (PAYE) Plan. Caps your monthly payments at 10% of your disposable monthly income. You won’t qualify for PAYE if 10% of your disposable monthly income would be more than you would normally pay under a Standard Payment Plan. Loans considered paid-in-full after 20 years of payments.
  • Income-Based Repayment (IBR) Plan. Caps your monthly payments at 10% of your monthly income if you borrowed money on or after July 1, 2014, with loans considered paid-in-full after 20 years. Cap is 15% of your monthly income if you borrowed before July 1, 2014, with loans considered paid-in-full after 25 years.. You won’t qualify if the 10%-15% cap is more than what you’d pay under a Standard Payment Plan.

When you’re on an income-driven repayment plan, you may end up paying less over the course of your loan than what you’d pay over all with a private refinance — even if that refinance has a lower interest rate.

This is more likely to be true if you aren’t high-income.

Federal student loan forgiveness, cancellation & discharge.

You’ve likely heard of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. With this program, you make 120 qualifying payments while working for a qualified governmental or nonprofit employer. Then, you can apply to have any remaining debt forgiven.

While PSLF is the most recognized forgiveness program, there are several other programs for student loan cancellation or discharge, including:

  • Up to $17,500 of student loan forgiveness for eligible teachers.
  • Cancellation for specific Perkins loans.
  • Discharge of loans due to disability, school closure and in rare instances bankruptcy.

Refinancing your loan with a private lender means you’ll no longer have access to such programs.

Should I refinance my private student loans?

Maybe. Your private student loan already doesn’t come with access to advantageous federal repayment or forgiveness programs, so you have less to lose.

If you can qualify for a refinance with a lower interest rate, you’ll want to ensure that you’re still paying less over the course of your loan. Look out for these costs that can make the lower interest rate a moot point.

Application & origination fees.

When a company charges application and/or origination fees, your loan becomes more expensive. Depending on the size of these fees, they can eat into any savings you’re getting from the lower interest rate.

When comparing rates, make sure you’re looking at the APR rather than the interest rate. The APR accounts for the additional costs of origination fees combined with the interest rate.

Prepayment penalties.

Prepayment penalties prevent you from paying off your debt early. There are plenty of lenders that don’t charge prepayment penalties. Seek these lenders out.

Loan terms.

Ideally, when you refinance, you won’t be moving your final payoff date further into the future.

When you extend your loan term, you might secure a lower interest rate — or even a lower monthly payment — but end up paying more over the life of your loan simply because you’re paying that interest over a longer time period.

Fixed rates vs variable rates.

The lowest rates you’re offered on a refinance are likely to be variable. That means as the Fed raises interest rates, the rates on your loan will change, as well.

Fixed rates stay the same throughout the course of your loan.

We are currently in a low-interest environment. While the variable rates may be lower than the fixed rates, they have nowhere to go but up in the future.

Meanwhile, if you secure a fixed rate, it may be a little bit higher than the variable offer, but it will stay consistent throughout the course of your loan. When the Fed raises rates again, your loan interest will stay put.

There are very, very few people who successfully take advantage of variable-rate loans, and they usually have enough money on hand to pay off the loan before the term ends. Even then it can be a risky scenario to put yourself in.

You should almost always seek out a fixed-rate refinance.

Should I wait to refinance until Biden’s in office?

Any new policy will affect federal student loan borrowers more than private student loan borrowers.

The Biden Administration does have a comprehensive wishlist for higher ed, including federal student loan forgiveness. Some of the wishes include:

  • If you’re making $25,000/year or less, you wouldn’t owe any payments or interest on federal student loans.
  • Everyone else would pay 5% of their discretionary income above $25,000/year towards student loans. This is lower than the 10%-15% currently offered by income-driven repayment plans. Any remaining balance after 20 years of payments would be forgiven.
  • You would no longer have to pay taxes on the forgiven portion of your federal student loans.
  • Ten thousand dollars of loan forgiveness per year for public servants for up to five years.

However, turning all of these wishes into laws is going to be an uphill task. Even with Georgia securing the Senate for Biden’s party — even if every last Democrat approves a bill that would turn all the wishes into reality — with such a slim majority the Republicans still have an opportunity to filibuster.

For that reason, some have suggested that Biden should issue an executive order offering $50,000 in forgiveness to all student loan borrowers. On the campaign trail, Biden said he might do something of the sort, but the number he used was $10,000.

Whether or not any of these policies will come to fruition is anyone’s guess. Keep an eye on the news, but as of right now these ideas are not beyond the wishlist stage.

But you should wait out Coronavirus policy.

During the pandemic, federal student loans have been placed in administrative forbearance. That means that you do not have to make any payments until January 31, 2021.

During this period, your loans are not accumulating any interest.

If you are on a Standard Repayment Plan, you will still owe the same amount of money after the forbearance expires. Your payoff date remains the same, which means if you’re not making payments during this time, you could end up with higher monthly payments after the pandemic.

Those best served by this forbearance are those who are on income-driven repayment plans. You don’t have to make payments during this time, but all these pandemic months still count towards your 20 years of repayment even if you pay $0 during this time.

When forbearance expires, you’ll go back to your pre-pandemic payment. Essentially, from March 2020-January 2021, you got credit for payments you didn’t have to make. Zero-dollar payments during this time also count towards PSLF.

When the new administration takes over in a few days, it is possible that the new ED will extend the administrative forbearance. An extension in context of the pandemic would be easier to achieve.

UPDATE: Biden ordered an extension of the administrative forbearance on his first day in office. Once ED approves the order, the forbearance will extend through September 30, 2021.

Who shouldn’t refinance their student loans?

The lowest interest rates are offered to those with the best debt-to-income ratio and the highest credit scores. A high income certainly helps with both of these criteria.

If you’re carrying federal student loans and are not high-income or not working in public service, you may find that lower interest rates are not worth losing access to income-driven repayment plans or forgiveness programs.

Who should consider student loan refinancing?

If you have private student loans, a high income and a good credit score, refinancing may be an option for you.

It may also be an option if you are in the same circumstances with federal student loans — especially if you have loans from grad school. Just make sure you’re secure in your high-income job and that you truly wouldn’t benefit from the advantaged programs that come along with federal loans.

Whether you have federal or private loans, when you refinance you’ll want to make sure that application and/or origination fees are low to non-existent. You’ll also want to ensure that the loan term doesn’t negate the lower interest rates, which are preferably fixed.

How do I find the lowest interest rates on student loan refinancing?

To ensure you’re getting the lowest interest rate on your student loan refinance, you’ll want to do some comparison shopping. Remember to look beyond the interest rate. Make sure the loan is overall less expensive after accounting for loan term extensions and origination fees.

Typically when you apply for a loan, you don’t get an opportunity to negotiate with the lender. They tell you the rates and terms you qualify for, and that’s that.

But there is another option. Companies like Juno negotiate for borrowers en masse, giving them more leverage and allowing you to secure better loan terms. To date, Juno has helped its members save over $26M in interest and fees.

Using Juno to secure lower rates.

Joining Juno is free. You’ll submit some basic personal information, including an estimated credit score and income. These numbers don’t have to be spot on, and Juno will not do a credit check. But you do want them to be relatively accurate.

After you sign up, the company gets to work. They present a large group of student loan borrowers — including you — to several banks and online lenders. Then they have those lenders compete over your collective business. The lender that offers the lowest bid is the one Juno picks.

They then come back to you with the rates and terms they were able to secure for your group in their negotiations. These negotiations happen once-per-year in the Spring.

Juno only works with a handful of lenders. The lowest fixed APR reported by Juno is extremely competitive at 2.25%. Your offered rate could be higher depending on things like income and credit score. Check the APR and terms offered by Juno against other refinance offers from outside lenders to ensure thorough comparison shopping.

You can then choose to take or leave the refinance offer from Juno. If you choose to take it, you’ll use a link sent by Juno to fill out your application directly with the lender.

The lender will do a hard pull on your credit to ensure you qualify for the negotiated rate. This is why it was so important to give an accurate credit score earlier on in the process.

As long as you meet the parameters for the negotiated rate, you’ll be ready to sign your documents directly with the lender. Juno does follow up with you to ensure you’re getting everything the lender promised in negotiations.

Why use Juno?

There are lots of student loan refinancing options. Juno is worth looking at because:

  • They may be able to negotiate a lower interest rate than you’d qualify for on your own.
  • They attempt to secure other benefits you normally wouldn’t qualify for with a private loan, such as loan discharge in case of death or disability.
  • Signing up for Juno is free and risk-free. They don’t run a hard or soft credit pull. And if you aren’t in love with the loan terms they come back with, you are under no obligation to accept.