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Lately I have been talking about how we want to buy a new house a lot. I think about it everyday and I find myself looking at houses everyday also. I’ve pretty much looked at all of the houses within a 60 mile radius of where I want to be.

I have seen a lot of houses that I like, but none that are perfect. I have literally browsed through thousands of houses. Right now I feel like I’m at the point that if I find a house that I absolutely love, I don’t know if I can wait until the end of 2013 or the beginning of 2014 to buy it. I mean, how could I wait? I haven’t found the perfect one yet so I definitely do not want to let the perfect house escape from me.

There are many things that we need to do before we buy, but we especially want to make sure that our credit scores are as perfect as they can be. Right now we are in the mid 700s and it would be higher if we wouldn’t have taken out a couple of 0% loans (we took them out just because they were 0%, we just let the cash sit in our bank because we believe that’s a better gain).

So, since we are focused on increasing our credit score and we plan on buying once the perfect house comes along, we need to really buckle down and make our credit score as good as it can be so that we can be ready to officially start the home buying process. Every little thing helps and even a couple of points higher would make us very happy.

How to quickly increase your credit score:

1. Check and fix any errors in your credit report.

When was the last time that you checked your credit report? You should do this at least once a year and make sure that there are no errors and that all of the information listed is correct. A small error might be drastically affecting your credit score, so check now! I recently ordered both of our credit reports from the 3 major agencies (all for free of course) and found that everything is correct now.

Everything being correct on our credit reports is a big deal because a couple of years ago I found out that someone had bought a house under my name when I was only 13! I had just found out about it because it was buried in my credit report and I had never looked hard enough. Definitely a big mistake.

2. Watch your utilization rate.

Pay down those high balances that you have. The balances that you have on your credit cards account for approximately 30% of your credit score. You want your balance to be below 30% of your total available credit. So if you are allowed to put up to $1,000 on your credit card, do not charge more than $300. It is also said to try and keep this amount below 20% in order to have an even better credit score.

This is something that we are really working on. I recently paid off a ton of credit card balances. We never carry a balance over and we always pay it off completely, but even with that, if you do not keep your utilization rate below 30%, it can still hurt your score even if you are paying your FULL balance off every month.

3. Keep all accounts open.

Recently my fiancé, “W,” was fooled into opened up a store credit card in order to save $25 off of his purchase.

Yes, I said $25 and that was all it took to entice him to sign up.  Trust me, he will never do that again! I thought about closing it immediately but I do know that closing it will only hurt his credit score and our ability to get a great interest rate on a mortgage. So, for now, we just plan on keeping it open and using it occasionally just so that it will help our credit score.

Closing a brand new credit card so quickly will most likely not have a positive effect on our credit score.

Are you trying to increase your credit score? What tips do you have?

Pros and Cons of Self Employment

Michelle —  February 11, 2013 — 11 Comments

A question I hear a lot is whether or not I plan on ever becoming self-employed. This is something that I think about often as well. I made over $6,000 in extra income in the month of January of 2013, so it’s hard not to think about self employment.

Plus, I’m starting to run out of time. Working a full-time job as an analyst in the financial services industry and also doing all of my side hustles including keeping up with my blog, takes up a lot of my time.

I’m still not entirely positive that self employment is for me. There are many positives and negatives of being self employed, and there are also many positives and negatives of working for someone else. Today, we will talk about the positives and negatives of self employment.

I think whether you will be comfortable being self employed is different with each individual person. Someone who needs someone constantly there telling them what to do might not be a good fit for self employment. Also, a person who is bursting at the seams with creativity or has the passion to be self employed, is probably not meant to work for someone else.

Positives of being self-employed:

1. You’re working for yourself.

This is the number one positive for me. You can do what you want and it can all be based on your own schedule. Everything can be done your way. I’m going to guess that if you are going the self-employed route, then you at least somewhat enjoy what you’re doing as well. I really, really enjoy all of my side hustles, and they truly make me happy. It’s like I’m not even working since I do enjoy it so much.

You also get to watch your company grow and see where it goes. Everything that you do affects the company, which can be a great feeling. You’re doing something exciting with your life and every move you make has an impact on your overall company.

2. Scheduling freedom.

Depending on what exactly you do for self employment, you can have scheduling freedom. You’re not a morning person? Well, then work at night.  Yes, yes, I do know that if the majority of your customers are awake only in the morning, then you will probably just be forced into being a morning person though.

If you can do the majority of your work on a computer, then travel while you work! You can do whatever you would like. Make your self employment position work around YOUR family and YOUR life, and not the other way around. Have fun with what you do.

3. Lower or no costs of commuting.

If you are able to work from home, then your commuting costs have significantly decreased most likely as well. You are also saving all of that extra time by not having to drive to and from work everyday. No more stress from having to sit in traffic for you!

Negatives of being self-employed:

1. You might get overworked.

When you’re working for yourself, it’s harder to have a good work-life balance. You are almost always bringing work home (especially if your work is at home), and it might be hard to take yourself away from your business. It almost becomes an addiction because you want to see your business go places.

2. You don’t know when you’ll get paid next.

This might not mean much if you’re already commission at your job, but if you make a salary, you might miss that regular and stable paycheck. You will most likely have to actively look for new clients and the amount of money you make may vary from month to month.

3. No benefits.

At your current job, you may get health insurance, a fitness center, discounts on various products and so on. However, if you work for yourself, then you most likely won’t qualify for these items. Luckily, my fiancé would be able to add me on to his plans, but not everyone is this lucky.

Do you want to be self-employed? Why or why not?

We are thinking about buying our next house in 2014. We bought our current house almost 4 years ago, and while it sounds bad, we are ready to move into our forever home. We have been thinking about how the economy has probably tanked the value of our house, and how we would like to see our house with at least somewhat of a gain, or as little of a loss as possible.

There are many things that you can do to increase the value of your home. Looks do mean something, and it can mean that your house will sell for a little higher, and possibly a little quicker. No one wants to pay for a house longer than they need to and incur additional charges.

Ways you can increase the value of your home:

1. Remodeling the bathroom(s)

When we were first looking at houses, we always looked at the bathroom. If the bathroom was severely outdated, then we always thought twice about the house. Both of our bathrooms are pretty well updated, but there are other things that we can do to them to increase the value.

We need to replace the mirror in the bathroom, preferably something with a frame and a bigger mirror. Then we also want to change the lighting as well. I’m guessing that this will cost around $500 if we do this ourselves. I have read that changing things like this will recoup most of the value when you do sell your house. Other things we could do is get rid of the sliding bathroom door and change it into a better glass and something that is more modern.

2. Adding more curb appeal

Right now, everything in our yard is pretty much dead. Last summer there was a heat wave and we were told not to use our water or water lawns because it hardly rained and we had many above 100 degree days. This means that EVERYTHING outside died and is brown.

We need to replant grass seed, plant some flowers, and make everything more green. Who wants to buy a house with spotty grass? We also want to make a nice garden in the backyard as well. We have many ideas and a lot of things that we need to start this year, if we want to put our house on the market next year.

3. Having a nice basement

We currently have a nice basement. It is finished, has a big laundry room, a big storage closet, a bedroom, and a living area. It’s the same size as the upstairs of our house and is a nice addition. We looked at many houses, and the ones without basements we pretty much through out of the picture. We wanted the extra space badly.

If you don’t have a finished basement, then the cost may be substantial if you cannot do it yourself. My friend was able to pay someone she knew $10,000 for her basement to be completely remodeled. It was well worth it for her though. She has a home built in the early 1900’s, and basements back then are not the same as unfinished basements today. Everything had to be gutted. They built a bar, bathroom with a hot tub, and a play area. It is very, very nice and definitely increased the value of their home greatly.

4. Paint

A little paint can go a long way. Painting the walls inside your house, trim, baseboards, and the exterior of your home is always a good idea. Fresh paint nearly always makes a house look a lot better, and is a relatively cheap fix compared to other things you could do to your house.

Have you tried any of these ways to increase the value of your home?

If you’re a novice in spread betting or any other form of trading, one of the biggest anxieties you probably have is losing money.

When you’re making profits, everything seems to be going well, but what would happen if your trades were to go in the other direction? For those who like to trade cautiously, they can make use of a range of tools which can minimise the damage done by a losing trade.

 

Traders of all levels of experience can use stop losses and limits to help put an end to any trades that begin to turn sour, but what exactly are these tools, and how do they work?

wallet

There are opening orders and closing orders that activate when they’re at a level that’s acceptable to you, all of which are worth using if you want to make sure you have enough money to trade with in the near future.

When opening a trade, you could choose from the following options:

  • Limit Order – This automatically opens a trade at a better price than the current price of a market, but only if the market price reaches a certain level.
  • Stop Order – This one instantly opens a trade when the price is worse than the current level a market is at, but only if the price is at a level you specify prior to trading.

As for closing a trade before any losses become too excessive, you could either:

  • Activate a Stop Loss order. This will automatically close a trade at a higher price than the starting one when you’re first activated your trade. This can also be used straight away if your trade heads into negative territory.
  • Use Contingent Orders, which come attached to some limit or stop orders.
  • Consider Guaranteed Stop Loss Orders – they’re useful if trading in a volatile market and you’re more anxious about losing too much money than usual.

If you’re unclear on how to stop a trade when it’s acceptable for your finances, City Index has a range of aids in the form of videos and PDFs that explain them all in greater detail. Each of the above methods of stopping a trade can help to lock-in profits as well as make any losses more manageable.

4 Ways to Save Money in College

Michelle —  January 24, 2013 — 2 Comments

College can be very expensive. Whether you are going to a local community college, local public university, private university, graduate school, getting your doctorates and every other possible thing you can do in order to further your education, it all adds up. I know first hand, I finished my Finance MBA with nearly $40,000 in debt (altogether, two undergraduate degrees and one masters degree).

Even though I did graduate with a decent amount of debt, I could have had a lot more. I worked full-time throughout college and had no help from parents, as my dad (and the sole provider of our family) passed away when I was 18. I moved out right after high school and had to find a place to live, and ended up moving into a house that I rented.

I worked 40 hours a week and took 21 to 24 credit hours a semester. I was super tired, but it was all worth it in the end when I graduated with TWO degrees in only 2.5 years. I then went on (after a 6 month break) to get my Finance MBA. It took one year to get and is the majority of my debt, as the graduate schools around here do not give any scholarships if you decide to work at the same time (yup, not a single one, I called them all).

My undergraduate school was around $30,000 a year I believe. I received around $20,000 in scholarships every year which was definitely a blessing. Without the scholarships I would not have been able to attend. It would have been more but I decided not to live in the dorms, as it was around an extra $10,000 to $15,000 a year to live on campus.

Here are some ways for you to save money while in college:

1. Don’t take out more in student loans than you need.

When you get that letter in the mail that states how much you are approved for in student loans, do you usually take the full amount or just take enough to cover what you actually need for school? Most people just take the full amount and pocket the rest. This is a mistake! You might think you need that TV or those new clothes, but you don’t. Try to reserve your student loans just for your actual schooling costs.

I did fail at this one time. I took out more than I needed. I wasn’t thinking and used it on stupid extra spending. I still regret it and I have nothing to show for it!

2. Apply for scholarships.

Most schools offer scholarships. Make sure you apply to these. Apply for both scholarships directly at your school and also private scholarships as well. Scholarships can add up, and even an extra $100 is something that you did not have before.

Like i said above, I received a little less than $20,000 a year from scholarships. None of it was private scholarships though. All of it was directly from my university. I bet I could have applied for private scholarships and received some of those as well.

Many online universities offer financial aid as well, so remember to apply regardless of where or how you wish to take your classes. You can easily access free additional information on any official college’s website, and from there you will be presented with plenty of useful information about how to apply for FAFSA and other forms of financial aid. They even provide you with a phone number for an admissions representative or financial aid officer just in case you have additional inquiries. Remember, always be on the lookout for additional financial aid.

3. Look for a job that will pay a part of your tuition.

There are many jobs out there that ask that you only work full-time, and then they will pay for your tuition (or at least a part of it). This is something that I did not do while in college, but I still regret it. If a job is willing to pay $2,000 per year for 4 years and all you have to do is do your normal job, then take it!

4. Buy textbooks cheaply.

Textbook prices can add up very quickly. If you go to your university’s book store, I can almost guarantee that the prices are much higher than what you would see online. So rule number 1, try not to buy at your school’s book store. Look online first and compare prices.

Rule #2? Try and buy used textbooks. Most of these are probably in decent condition. I’ve always had good luck with this and the cost is almost always much, much cheaper than buying a brand new textbook.

How did you save money in college?

Last week we talked about various ways that a person’s identity could possibly be stolen. This week we will be talking about what to do if it does end up happening to you. Identity theft is on the rise, and with the economy not at it’s greatest point as it has ever been, then there is an increased possibility that it could happen to you.

It seems as though identity theft is happening left and right, and even the littlest things can be hard to remedy if you don’t try enough. Knowing the correct steps can really help you out!

Whatever happened to you, whether it be someone charged something on your credit card, someone opened a mortgage in your name (like me) or someone stole your whole identity and is living your life, there are basic steps that you must take. Of course with bigger cases, then there are more things that must be done, and the process is usually longer because there is more money involved and banks usually do not cover everything.

Below are some basic things you will want to do:

1. Call your bank or credit card company.

If someone stole your credit card or bank information, be sure to call your bank or credit card company AS SOON AS POSSIBLE so that you can get it all straightened out. I’ve had my credit card information skimmed a couple of times, and my bank luckily always refunds me the full amount. Not all banks do this, so make sure you check your transactions as frequently as possible.

Since my credit card information has been skimmed so many times, now whenever I make a purchase that is over $400, I have to have the cashier call my credit card company to verify that it’s a real purchase. It is a pain, but luckily I don’t spend $400 on one purchase too often :)

2. Call the credit bureaus. 

Call the three major credit bureaus and have them place a flag or fraud alert on yourself. This is so that if anyone tries applying for something that requires credit (such as a new credit card, car loan, mortgage, etc.) then the company will have to go through extra steps in order to issue any credit to yourself. It never hurts to stay extra safe!

You can also place a freeze on your credit as well so that no one can issue your credit to your identity.

3. Watch your information.

Now that your identity and information has been compromised, make sure you keep an eye out of your information. Watch your incoming mailbox and make sure nothing is stolen. Also, check on your bank and credit card accounts often and make sure all transactions are correct.

Also, keep an eye on your credit report as well. Read through them thoroughly to make sure that nothing wrong has been added because of the person who stole your identity. If something is wrong on your credit report, remember to get it fixed as soon as possible so that it does not hurt your credit score or be any further harmful in your life.

4. File a police report.

And last but not least, make sure you file a report at a police station. Tell them everything you know and anything that might happen as a result of your identity being stolen. Remember to not leave any details out. Keep all information related to this as you will most likely need it later if the  person who stole your identity is found.

Has your identity ever been stolen?

What was the first thing you did when it happened to you?

How Your Identity Could Be Stolen

Michelle —  December 31, 2012 — 1 Comment

Identity theft happens to many people every year. Many people are unaware that they have even had their identity stolen. However, when it does actually happen to you, it is a horrible feeling. You will most likely feel like your privacy has been invaded and as though someone has personally gone into your house and taken something.

There are different things that people can do. Someone might steal your actual credit card, they might skim just the numbers (which will be harder for you to catch on), they might open loans in your name, and they might even go as far as to completely take over and live your life.

I have heard of many scary stories of where the thief had started a whole new life with the new identity. They go to school, work, and live as though they are that person.

A couple of years ago I found out that someone had used my social security number and other information to buy themselves a house. They’ve always been on time with their payments, so I assume that is one of the reasons why I didn’t find out until recently (when I ran my credit check and thoroughly went through it) that there was a house in my name.

What to watch out for:

1. Important papers.

If you have important papers, then make sure you keep them safe. Try to stay organized and don’t keep papers everywhere. Also, buying a fire/water-proof safe is never a bad idea either.

Also, when discarding papers, make sure to shred the important ones very well. Papers that might have your social security number, credit card or bank information and other important information should be shredded.

Many thieves will go through trash cans and even if they are torn apart, they can easily put them back together. I once watched a whole television episode where a past thief went through trash and showed how he could piece back together shredded papers.

Identity thieves can also go through your mail. Try collecting your mail as soon as you can and don’t let it sit in your mailbox for too long.

2. Be careful with what you keep on you and in your wallet.

I know of some people who keep both their social security cards and pin numbers on them. Some people even keep a list with their passwords and usernames on them in their wallet. This is such a bad idea and there are so many reasons for this.

Either remember this information or keep it at home. All you have to do is have your wallet stolen or lose it and then everyone has all types of information about your life. There is also most likely no reason to have all of this information on you at all times also.

3. Watch your credit card information.

Many identity thieves are EXTREMELY crafty with ways to steal your credit card information. When paying for your meals, see where your credit card is taken. Most of the time, cashiers can just swipe it right in front of you, but if they take it into the back room or are gone for a good amount of time, it makes sense to be worried.

Also, when using your pin number, make sure no one is watching. It’s very easy for someone to just memorize or take a cell phone picture of your card number when you swipe your card, and then if you make it easy for them to see your pin number, it can be very harmful to your financial life. You’ve just given them everything they need if they see both your credit card number and your pin number.

Have you ever had your identity stolen?