Tips and Guidance for Your First Credit Card

AAcreditcardYour first credit card can be both a beautiful and dangerous thing. While it can certainly provide you with the security blanket you need for major life events like your first car, college, graduation, or your first job, it can also lead you down a very dark road into debt if you aren’t careful.

No matter what the reason is for your first credit card, you simply can’t allow yourself to get carried away with the façade of this newfound financial freedom. In reality, even the simplest of overextensions can lead to additional charges, which ultimately leads to even more debt.

Remember, not only do the balances that you accrue remain on your bill until they are paid in full, they also continue to grow due to the act of just keeping that balance; this is called interest, and it can cause incredible financial hardships. Therefore, you should approach your first credit card with cautious excitement; know that you are protected, but continue to respect needs vs. wants and know your limits.

Heed the advice of the experts and follow these three simple tips that can truly assist you in being successful with your first card.

  1. Know Your Interest Rates and Annual/Service Fees!– Most people foolishly ignore “the fine print” when it comes to applying for and eventually opening a credit card account. Well unfortunately for them, that’s where the subsequent fees and financial pitfalls can almost always be found. Be wary of a card that claims no interest, only to see the rate is ridiculous after a certain trial period ends. The same can be said for cards that state that they have no service or annual fee; you can bet anything that while you may get even the whole first year free of charges, that second year can bring upwards of several hundred dollars in annual fees just for having the card in your wallet. Remember, plan big purchases during those initial enrollment time periods where additional expenses are either waved or very low. Always weigh the pros and cons of annual fees for credit cards; the rewards that some companies offer can absolutely justify these charges, but that isn’t always the case.
  2. Make Sure You Are Getting the Right Rewards– One of the most underutilized functions of credit cards are the eventual rewards that smart spending can bring. Other cards can offer a slew of benefits ranging from cool gadgets and household items, all the way up to first class travel to amazing destinations. If you know you are going to be making consistent big purchases, for example with traveling to the city for your first job, make sure you purchase that train or ferry each month on a card that can let you reap serious benefits for your expenses. You aren’t going out of your way for these rewards; it’s really just a nice perk that comes along with being responsible with your card.
  3. Start Off With A Small Credit Limit– We saved the most important tip for last. Let’s face it, sometimes you just have to start things off slowly until you fully understand the ins and outs of a new process in your life; getting a credit card is no different, especially because any lapse in proper usage can lead to such staunch financial repercussions. Save yourself from serious growing pains by starting off with a low credit balance of a thousand dollars or less. This will grant you serious freedom in case you need to make a big purchase, but it will also hold you in check by hard capping the limit that you can overdo it. College years especially can lead to many a night out on the town wielding the plastic with no regard; setting a limit will ensure you things don’t get out of hand. No need to have more than student loans to pay for once you graduate.

Financial Tips for Becoming a Stay-at-Home Parent

asian-parents-kissing-babyWhen a couple confirms the amazing news that they are in fact pregnant, a million thoughts immediately rush through their heads. Questions like, “is this really happening?,” “are we ready for this?,” and of course, “can we afford all of this?,” quickly go from rhetorical for the future to very real gut check moments for expecting parents.

From a social standpoint, today’s parents were much more likely to have grown up in households with a stay at home Mom than the current generation of children is. In the perfect world, every set of parents could still afford this ideal setup, but sadly, most families simply can’t make it work financially.

Let’s face it–kids can be the best thing that can happen to a couple; unfortunately, they’re also one of the most expensive things too. If you are lucky enough to be in a good place in your lives, with some money in the bank, insurance, and a strong career, you may still be able to pull off a stay-at-home parent plan. Please know, however, that this is a decision that should absolutely not be made rashly without either full spousal discussion or economic analysis.

Therefore, before one of you decides that placing your career on hold is manageable, pay close attention to these three tips. Remember, outside of the absolute love that comes natural with a baby, the best thing you can do for your child is to provide them with the most financially secure environment possible growing up.

  1. Come to a conclusion together– This conversation is almost as big as the one about having children in the first place! If you decide to go the stay-at –home route, your lives will certainly change, and both parties need to make all of their questions and concerns known immediately. Whose salary can we afford to lose more? Who has the better benefits we need to keep? Should we maybe start by having one of us simply cut hours first? These questions, and many many more, are the ones that you and your spouse need to discuss. Make sure you do so with complete honesty and before the emotions of the baby’s arrival can possibly cloud the discussion.
  2. Plan a budget and test it!– There’s no way you can go into a stay-at-home situation without making absolutely sure it can work financially first. Sit down and figure out exactly how much money you will be losing each pay period, as well as how you need to adjust your monthly spending to account for it. Next, test your adjustments by only using the paycheck you’ll have moving forward to pay for your monthly expenses. This is an easily identifiable pass/fail scenario that you should tinker with during the months before your spouse goes out on leave to have the child. Please don’t be foolish enough to quit one of your jobs before making yourselves absolutely sure this can work.
  3. Build Respect for each role– Let’s just set one thing straight right off the bat, whether you are the one waking up to go to work every day or the one staying home with the kids, NEITHER of your jobs are going to be easy. Excuse the rhyme, but it is going to be a struggle to juggle all of the responsibilities that come with both roles. Staying home all day accommodating a moody toddler can be just as frustrating as waking up on no sleep to deal with a commute, bosses, etc. The important message here is respect and love what each of you are bringing to the equation that is your successful family; greeting each other with anger and jealousy at the end of your days is not just unhealthy for your relationship, it’s a terrible precedent to set for your children too.

Your Year-End Financial Checklist



It will begin soon enough – all those “beat the rush!” ads for holiday shopping, activities and events. Right now, you have a great opportunity to beat the rush to organize your year-end finances and make some smart moves for the New Year.

Consider the following tasks for your year-end financial to-do list.

Total up your year-to-date spending. Whether you organize by computer or on paper, make sure your tracking system for spending, saving and investment is up to date. This way, you can make sure you are on budget for the year and ready with data for tax time. Once you are finished, determine your net worth – what you own less what you owe – and get an early idea of what you need to change next year.

Check in with your planner or tax professional. Late December is a busy time for financial professionals. Take a minute to see if they can review your numbers and make suggestions on year-end financial activities and new moves you should make in 2016.

Make sure you’ve reviewed all your credit reports for the year. You are entitled to one free copy ( of each of your three major credit reports from TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. It’s generally wise to schedule delivery of each at different points in the year to catch errors or irregularities.

Check and rebalance your portfolio. With the dramatic market swings this past year, be sure to check if your retirement and other investments are still on track with your investment goals. Get qualified help if necessary to see if the assets you own still fit your needs. And if you need to do any tax selling by the end of the year, now is the time to start thinking about it.

Check your insurance coverage. If you buy your own home, auto, life or other insurance policies, contact two or three agents representing highly rated ( insurers to review the adequacy and pricing of your coverage. If you have made any structural changes or improvements to your home, make sure those actions are reflected in your homeowners insurance. Such work may boost your home’s replacement value. Also, if you’ve had a major life or financial event like a new baby or the purchase of a new home it’s time to make sure all your coverage is sufficient.

Update your W-2, benefits and estate plan if necessary. While you’re updating your insurance and investment needs for big life events related to family, property or marital status, see if your tax withholding and employee health coverage and investments need review. Get qualified help to make this assessment if you are not sure.

Empty out your flexible spending accounts. If you have a Flexible Spending Account for health care or other qualifying expenses, it’s time to submit outstanding claims from the doctor, dentist or optometrist. Remember you can only transfer $500 in your remaining balance over to the next year. Make any appointments or medical purchases you need to now and get the paperwork in fast.

Do a last-minute tax review. If you work alone or with a tax professional, review your annual income, investment and spending data to see if there’s anything you can do in the final weeks of the year to save on taxes. If tax-deductible donations to qualified charities and nonprofits are recommended, consult sites such as GuideStar (, CharityWatch ( and Charity Navigator ( to evaluate your choices so you know your contribution is being well spent.

Save time and cut back on waste with online bill pay and deposits. Automatic online bill pay means you won’t have to waste time writing checks or risk late payment fees. Scheduling bill payment through your checking and savings accounts can save time and money, while setting up regular electronic deposits to savings and investment accounts can also help you save money before you are tempted to spend it.

Bottom line: Doing a last-minute review of your finances can potentially save money and help you save, spend and invest smarter in the coming year.


By Nathaniel Sillin

Smart Shopping Pays this Holiday Season

holiday-shopping-flea-markets“Grant me profits only, grant me the joy of profit made, and see to it that I enjoy cheating the buyer”
-Ovid 43 B.C.

The ancient Roman poet Ovid may have celebrated unscrupulous business practices, but most consumers do not. Follow the tips below to help you get the most out of your shopping dollars this holiday season.

Become an advertising critic. Advertisers may use “puffing” to sell a product – a practice that legally allows a certain amount of exaggeration. Therefore, an advertisement for face cream may claim to give your skin a youthful radiance, but it can’t promise to shed 20 years from your appearance overnight, unless it actually can (highly doubtful).

Buy rationally. Compare the prices at multiple places before making a major purchase and avoid impulse buying. Question your need and desire for each item. Avoid shopping when you are hungry, tired, depressed, rushed, or distracted.

Be on-guard when online. Only buy from secure Internet sites (particularly if you are paying with a credit card) and read the privacy policy. Review return, refund, and shipping and handling policies. As with any delivered item, request that the shipper receive a signature before leaving a package on your doorstep, or have it delivered to your office.

Know the warranty. Some are verbal (usually worthless, unfortunately), some implied (that your refrigerator will indeed keep food cold), and some are written. Federal law does not require written warranties, but most come with major purchases. Understand it and save it in a safe place. “Extended warranties” are actually service contracts that you have to pay for (warranties are free). To determine if you really need one, weigh the cost of the service contract against projected maintenance and repair bills.

Nervous about a purchase? Check with the Better Business Bureau for past complaints against a seller or manufacturer before you buy. Happy Shopping!

Copyright© 2005 Balance

Making Holidays Bright – And Affordable


Already dreading what you’ll spend this holiday season? It doesn’t have to be that way.

Gifts aren’t the only budget-busting culprit during the holidays. The weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s are also a peak time for spending on groceries, travel, events, entertainment, energy, clothes and meals out.

Financial advisors recommend you use no more than 1.5 percent of your annual income on holiday spending (, so consider the following suggestions to keep it under control:

Start with a list and make a budget. Begin your planning by listing every possible holiday expense you’ll face – and don’t stop at gifts. Consult the Practical Money Skills for Life comprehensive holiday budget planner ( to help organize your information and track your spending.

Be open about money trouble. If you are facing financial difficulties during the holiday season, don’t spend to hide the problem. Don’t be ashamed to make adjustments and tell friends and family members that you’d like to temporarily downsize your spending until conditions improve. They might actually appreciate a spending reprieve, too.

Build a bargain-hunting strike force. Let friends and family know you’re looking for particular toys, gifts, foods or decorating items and volunteer to do the same for them. Save and share coupons. Encourage your group to find resources, check prices and share requests and ideas via social media. Results can come back in a matter of minutes.

Evaluate all transportation costs. Do you really need to run out of one or two items at a time? Designate certain days of the week for particular items, keep an eye out for free delivery and see if friends and family might want to share errands. Those with large vehicles or trucks can help move, deliver and even install appliances or electronics if they have the skills to do so. Smart transportation choices extend to car pools or public transportation for events and entertainment.

Leverage your creativity. If there’s something you make or do really well that people love, consider making such accomplishments into gifts. From specialty food items your friends enjoy, to clothing or art, anything done well can be a gift. Don’t rule out lessons or skilled labor as potential holiday gifts, particularly for relatives who can’t afford such services at this time. Smart shopping for ingredients or supplies can make such creative gifts a real money saver.

Build a year-round gift stash. If there are gifts or foodstuffs you can buy on sale and keep for a while, you’ll have a ready source of thank-you gifts for hosts, teachers or co-workers year-round. Set aside a similar area for cards, gift tags and wrapping paper. Also keep in mind that many retailers put holiday-themed items on sale before the holidays are finished. If you think you’ll need these items next year, grab your coupons, take advantage and put those items aside for future gift giving.

Late saving for gifts? Do it anyway. If you don’t have a holiday fund set up, don’t let that keep you from starting one. Every little bit helps. Take 5-10 percent of your next paycheck and set it aside, doing it each week throughout the holidays. If you keep it up, your holiday fund can eventually become an emergency fund to be used for other savings goals, including retirement.

Take notes for next holiday season. Create a paper or digital file where you can collect ideas for next year. Check print and online resources like Consumer Reports for items that can be bought at specific times of the year at a discount so you are able to hide them for the holidays – but remember where you hid them.

Bottom line: Keeping holidays affordable isn’t a challenge when you’re willing to do a little planning, idea-sharing and record-keeping. Make it an activity you can do year-round.

By Nathaniel Sillin

Americans Report They Spend an Average of $2,746 on Lunch Yearly

lunchtrackerAccording to the results of a new survey of American consumers* commissioned by Visa, intended to call consumers’ attention to opportunities to save and budget in their discretionary spending, respondents report they spend an average of $53 a week or $2,746 per year on lunch. Overall, the most popular spot to eat lunch was home – 42% of Americans said that they typically eat lunch at home. Full-time employees tended to stick close to the office – 53% said that they typically eat lunch at work, including 26% at their desks.

Visa is also introducing the free Lunch Tracker app for iOS to help consumers become more aware of their spending. The app calculates the monthly and annual amount spent on lunch based off of consumers’ input and seeks to help Americans improve spending habits. Users can take the 30-Day Challenge to start saving money, learn cost-cutting tips and share photos of meals with family and friends to show their progress.

“At home or ordering food, small choices have a big impact. Paying attention to what you are spending is essential to financial wellbeing,” said Nat Sillin, global head of financial literacy at Visa Inc. “Most people may not realize that they are spending over $50 a week on lunch. Visa is excited to offer the new Lunch Tracker app to help consumers form better spending habits.”

Visa’s survey also showed that men both outspent women at the lunch counter and were more likely to eat lunch out. Males outspend females on a weekly basis by an average of 60%. One percent of people reported spending more than $50 per lunch on average or more than $9,000 a year, while 32% respondents said that they didn’t buy lunch out at all.

“Grocery store or gastro pub, don’t bust your budget on your midday meal,” said Sillin. “Clipping a coupon or choosing a less expensive item can save you hundreds over the course of a year. Splurging isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it has to fit within your budget. Raiding your savings for a fancy lunch isn’t worth it.”

Additionally findings include:

  • For meals out, Americans surveyed reported spending an average of $20 per week or $1,043 per year.
  • Americans surveyed said they purchase lunch from a restaurant an average of nearly twice a week and spend more than $11 on average per outing compared with only $6.30 on average a day preparing their own.
  • Homemakers reported going out for lunch the least compared to other segments, but splurged more when they did go out. They reported spending an average of $17.60 when they went out for lunch.
  • Students reported eating out more often than any other segment and spent the most on a weekly average at $27.47 while retirees averaged spending the least per week at $13.92.
  • Unemployed Americans reported purchasing lunch out more than once a week on average, spending over $15 on average weekly.
  • Southerners lead the country in both frequency of lunches out and in amount spent. Respondents from the Southern states reported eating out twice per week, spending an average of $1,240 a year eating lunch out and an overall combined average of $2,953 on lunch.
  • Northeasterners reported spending the second most per year eating lunch out at $1,001 on average, trailed by the Midwest respondents at $896 on average and finally the West respondents at $866 on average per year eating out. While Northeasterners reported spending the most making lunch at home, they came in second in overall combined yearly lunch spending at $2,893 on average, once again trailed by the Midwest at $2,519 on average and the West at $2,489 on average.

The calculator and survey are part of Visa’s free, award-winning financial education program, Practical Money Skills for Life, which reaches millions of people around the world each year. Launched in 1995, the program is now available in 10 languages in more than 30 countries. At Practical Money Skills for Life, educators, parents and students can access free educational resources including personal finance articles, games, lesson plans and more.

* Survey results are based on 2,033 telephone interviews conducted nationally on July 16-19 & August 6-9, 2015, in cooperation with ORC International’s Omnibus Service “Telephone Caravan.”

Copyright© Visa