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How to Get out of Debt in the New Year  Using Equity Loans to Winterize Your Home 

Best Ways to Save at Thanksgiving 

 

How to Get out of Debt in the New Year


A brand new year often inspires positive life changes such as breaking free of debt. If collections calls have been interrupting your dinner or you're just stressed out from heavy-duty debt, here's how to eliminate the burden.

Determine where you stand


In order to solve a problem, you need to fully understand it. Assess your situation by listing all your debts, including balance owed, interest rate and minimum payment required for each. Next, order your free credit reports to make sure you haven't forgotten any debt or overlooked errors. Finally, compare your income and expenses and calculate how much you can realistically use toward debt reduction each month.

Don't make things worse


The last thing you need is anything that increases your debt. Commit to not taking out any new loans or credit lines and, if possible, avoid incurring and charging additional expenses on existing accounts.

Take time for triage


You'll save more in the long run by paying off debts with the highest interest rates first. This category usually includes consumer debt such as credit cards, personal or payday loans, and medical bills. Other types of debt, such as mortgages, car loans and student loans, typically have lower rates, making it more affordable to pay them off over a longer period. Throw as much money as you can each month at your highest-interest debt while still making timely, smaller payments on everything else. Then focus on paying down the next higher-interest loan.

Consider consolidation


When multiple debts are out of control, debt consolidation can be a lifeline. This refinancing process streamlines debts into a single monthly bill, often with lower interest and a smaller overall monthly outlay. This may help eliminate debt faster and less expensively. Home equity financing, personal loans and zero-interest balance transfer credit cards may provide effective options.

Improve cash flow


Even the best debt-reduction plans are useless without having enough money. Do the following to improve your cash flow:

  • Bring bag lunches to work and eat fewer restaurant meals.
  • Try free and inexpensive entertainment including parks, beaches and hiking trails, as well as local theater, concerts and sporting events.
  • Sell unwanted items online or at yard sales.
  • Take on additional part-time employment, ask for extra hours at work or turn hobbies into income.
  • Make sure you're getting the lowest prices for phone, internet, insurance and other consumer goods/services.

Set the odds in your favor


Why work hard to pay off debt just to end up in the same boat next year? These approaches can help ensure lasting success in curbing expenses and avoid building up debt:

  • Create a budget to keep future spending within your means.
  • Continue to reduce unnecessary expenses.
  • Commit to saving regularly, even if you can spare only a small amount each month, to protect against being thrown back into debt by unexpected events.
  • Once credit cards are paid off, keep future balances low and try to pay them in full each month.
  • Treat yourself to inexpensive rewards such as a new CD or ice cream to celebrate each important debt-reduction milestone.

Eliminating debt can bring dramatic changes over the coming year. In return, you'll enjoy improved financial health, stress relief and the freedom to spend your paycheck on what really matters instead of having it siphoned away by past obligations.

 

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

 

Using Equity Loans to Winterize Your Home


There are all sorts of ways to guard your home from the winter elements. Some are cheap and may even fall in the do-it-yourself category, like adding weather stripping and caulking.

Other endeavors, such as swapping out single-pane windows for energy-efficient double panes, or replacing a furnace, are beyond the skill set of most homeowners — and often beyond the balances in many savings accounts as well.

In that case, taking out a home equity loan or line of credit may be the answer. Here's what you should know before you do.

Take stock


If you know your home needs winterizing, it makes sense to get going on those projects in summer, or sometime before it gets really cold. It's a lot easier to work a caulking gun when your teeth aren't chattering or to have your furnace serviced when demand is down.

What's on your list? Many utility companies offer free energy audits and tips on improvements you can make so that your home doesn't lose heat so quickly, saving you money on your heating bill.

Drafty doors and windows may be something you or a handy friend can handle. For many homeowners, though, installing storm windows or storm doors and adding insulation to an attic — particularly if access is tricky — might start to push the envelope.

Hire a contractor


If you know your heater is reaching the end of its run, or your gas furnace's flame is burning yellow instead of blue, it's probably time to hire a contractor.

You can avoid headaches that come from dealing with unscrupulous or second-rate contractors by researching their backgrounds and reputations before seeking bids. Check government websites that compile licensing and business records, as well as consumer-oriented sites such as Angie's List, your local Better Business Bureau or, if you live in one of the many metro areas it serves, the Consumers' Checkbook.

It's usually a good idea to get at least three bids, and to ask for client references.

Decide how to pay for it


If you don't have enough savings to afford winterizing your home, look into taking out a home equity loan or home equity line of credit. Typically, both loans and HELOCs:

Carry lower interest rates, compared with, say, a credit card.
Are secured by the equity in your home; this means you can qualify for a bigger loan but also that you are using your home as collateral.
Allow you to deduct interest come tax time, under the IRS' home mortgage interest deduction.
And when evaluating whether to grant either type of loan, and when setting an interest rate, lenders are likely to weigh the value of your home, how much you still owe and your creditworthiness.

But there are significant differences. With a home equity loan, you receive your money in one lump sum, and the terms call for a fixed interest rate and repayment over a specific period of time.

By contrast, a HELOC is a revolving line of credit, similar to a credit card. You pull from it as needed, up to a specified amount. HELOCs also come with variable interest rates. You pay only on what you draw, but the rate may rise or fall from what it was when you took out the line of credit. Many HELOCs also come with specified draw periods, followed by a repayment period to pay back the outstanding balance plus interest.

Keeping warm in the winter is certainly a good reason to tackle a home improvement project. And because your home is probably your single most valuable asset, it makes good sense to keep it in top condition — to maintain or boost its value for resale, or to pass it along to your kids. For important big-ticket items, home equity loans are a reasonable route.

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

 

Best Ways to Save at Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a time to gather with loved ones for a satisfying meal and kick off the holiday season. If you pay current prices for your menu items, though, you could blow a chunk of your holiday budget before you even get to the pumpkin pie.

Use these tips to keep your Thanksgiving festive and thrifty.

Get a free turkey

The turkey, which cost an average of about $23 in 2015, is easily the most expensive item on a traditional Thanksgiving table — but you can often get one for free. Many supermarkets offer them as loyalty rewards, and even allow shoppers to select the turkey.

If your local supermarket doesn't participate in this type of rewards program, opt for a frozen bird. It can be significantly cheaper, and odds are your guests won't know the difference.

Choose reusable dinnerware

Disposable cutlery, tablecloths and dinnerware simplify holiday cleanup, but the costs really add up, especially if you spring for higher end items. Save money, reduce waste and create a warm, elegant atmosphere by using cloth napkins and tablecloths as well as real flatware, glassware and dishes.

Make your own sides with store brands

Purchasing prepared gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce and desserts is convenient, but it's also an  unnecessary expense. Making your own sides, condiments and desserts is cheaper and often a lot tastier, too.

When cooking for a large Thanksgiving crowd, avoid brand name ingredients. You should be able to find substitutes that keep costs down without sacrificing flavor.

Simplify the menu

It's tempting to get ambitious and create a Thanksgiving menu with more courses than your guests could possibly eat in a sitting. But to prevent spending your whole holiday budget on the Thanksgiving meal, skip the saffron, truffles and endless appetizers. Instead, plan a simple menu with a few hearty sides and stick with seasonal produce, such as apples, sweet potatoes, pumpkins and Brussels sprouts. These will be much more reasonably priced than imported fruits and vegetables.

Make smart Black Friday shopping decisions

Thanksgiving has also become a time to start shopping for the ensuing holidays. But Black Friday, Cyber Monday and other Thanksgiving weekend sales tend to inspire a shopping frenzy that doesn't always result in the wisest choices. To keep your cool:

  • Make a list — and a budget — to head off impulse buys.
  • Compare prices online before making purchases.
  • Avoid opening multiple store credit cards at once. This can lower your credit scores and make it easier to overspend.
  • Hold off on buying toys, which tend to be cheaper during December's first two weeks.

Making smarter Thanksgiving spending choices keeps dinner and shopping costs under control without putting a damper on family fun. And when the weekend is over, you'll still have enough cash to make your winter holidays sparkle.

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved