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If you’re anything like me, you’re perpetually swinging between vowing to cut all unnecessary spending cold turkey and humming “Treat Yo’self” as you order your third UberEats meal in 12 hours.

Which one you’re doing depends on the day — and how long it’s been since your last paycheck.

The result: a pitiful savings account balance, scrimping to pay the minimum on your credit card and feeling like you’re still living paycheck to paycheck even though your income has come a long way since your first job out of college.

You know there is a way to solve this problem. You know that if you just create a budget — and by some miracle, stick to it — you could finally get the financial freedom everyone else seems to have already figured out.

You also know budgeting is a buzzkill.

But if you give it a genuine shot, we promise that we will, too. We’re in this together.

How to Budget in 4 Easy Steps

Creating a budget doesn’t have to be a grueling process. If you take some time to prepare and learn how to budget in a way that makes the most sense for your lifestyle, you can start on the road toward controlling your personal finances in no time.

We’ve laid out exactly what you need to do in four pretty simple steps.

Step 1: Know How Much You Make and Spend

Before you can make a budget that works, you need to know your numbers. We like to focus on a monthly budget, since most bills are due once a month.

Pro Tip

Exporting your statements to a spreadsheet or using highlighters on printed statements can help you see patterns in your income and spending habits.

Log in to your bank account online, and grab your last couple months’ worth of bank statements. While you’re at it, grab your credit card statements, too.

How to Figure Your Monthly Income

First, write down your monthly income.

This should be your take-home pay for the month. That’s the money you earn minus deductions for taxes, Medicare, Social Security, health insurance contributions and allocations to retirement accounts like your 401(k) or Roth IRA.

This is easy if you have a full-time, salaried job. If you are paid by commission, work hourly or have some other kind of irregular income (like freelancing), use an average of the last six months to get a rough idea.

Self-employed budgeters can benefit by taking a step back each quarter to examine their income. “If you’re paying quarterly taxes anyway, you have this natural stopping point to look,” says Lillian Karabaic, CEO of Oh My Dollar! “It’s a good way to check on the health of your business.”

But don’t just stop there. Add any extra money that comes in from your side hustles. Child support payments. Recurring bonuses or stipends. Financial aid payments. Include it all.

How to Figure Your Monthly Expenses

Your next step is the painful part: It’s time to log your monthly expenses.

Start with the recurring monthly stuff, which may include:

  1. Your rent or mortgage
  2. Car payment
  3. Car insurance
  4. Cell phone bill Internet, cable TV and other monthly subscriptions (think: Netflix and Spotify)
  5. Utilities
  6. Debt payments

Don’t forget to include non-monthly but recurring expenses, like the following:

  1. Vehicle registration fees
  2. Credit card fees
  3. HOA fees
  4. Professional association dues
  5. Annual subscription renewals

To incorporate these non-monthly but regular expenses into your monthly budget, add up the total cost for a year, then divide that number by 12 to find out how much they cost each month, according to Bridget Todd, COO of The Financial Gym.

“You might open a separate bank account for your annual expenses,” Todd said. “Then when the bills come, you don’t have to adjust your spending. It’s similar to saving for Christmas shopping” throughout the year.

From here, you’ll want to start adding up your discretionary expenses. Analyze your spending habits. How much are you spending on shopping, eating out and drinks with friends?

To get a full picture, you can put these things in categories. For example, movies, concerts and museum visits can all go under entertainment. Your gym membership, yoga membership and the drop-in rate on that one CrossFit class can all go under fitness.

Look at a few months of statements to get an average for this part, too. That will give you a more accurate picture of your finances.

Step 2: Set Your Financial Goals

If you’re going to succeed at this budgeting game, you need to have an idea of what you’re hoping to accomplish.

It can be a simple short-term savings goal like funding a vacation with your college besties. Or a long-term one, like learning to budget so your kid can go to college without student loan debt. And don’t forget about funding your retirement savings goal.

Set a goal, and make it a motivating one — your financial plan could be the only thing that stops you from swiping your debit card to buy yet another pair of shoes this weekend.

Next, get your priorities in order — literally. Write them down in order from most to least important to get an idea of where you want your money to go.

You might not get your priorities right the first time, and that’s ok. It’s challenging to choose one option over another, and if the first list doesn’t work well, you can always rework it. Work to find a balance between “fun” and “responsible” spending.

Pro Tip

If you see any areas where your spending is out of line with your goals, now’s the time to fix it by outlining a new budget that directs more of your income to your top priorities.

I take it a step further and mix my financial goals with my personal ones.

For example, I tend to overspend on restaurant meals. But budgeting less for eating out means I cook more healthy meals at home, so I save while staying on track to accomplish my weight loss goals, too. Then, I can use the money I save to build up my emergency fund or pay down debt a bit faster and continue toward my goal of becoming debt-free.

Step 3: Find Your Favorite Budgeting Method

Once you have a complete picture of your finances, it’s time to pick the budgeting method that works best for you. The one you choose will depend on how much time and energy you have to devote to it.

If you feel comfortable creating an old-fashioned budget worksheet in Excel, you can do that. We’ve got a few super simple ideas you can try if charts make your eyes glaze over.

But even after you’ve picked your favorite budgeting method, don’t be afraid to bend it a little to fit your financial situation.

Bare-Bones Budget

You don’t have to spend several hours each month working on a budget. The easiest way to budget is to grab a pen and paper and simply write down how much you make and how much you need to spend on the essentials — like housing, utilities, food and debt repayment. You save the rest.

Pro Tip

When you make a budget, keeping it on a sheet of paper somewhere visible to you will remind you to rein in your spending.

That’s it. You’re done.

Need a little more motivation than a blank sheet of paper? Here are five ideas for creating a bullet journal budget.

Zero-Based Budget

The zero-based budget takes the bare-bones budget one step further. The goal here is to get to zero at the end of each month. It helps you account for each dollar on the way.

Write down how much you make, and divide it to cover all your bills, savings and discretionary spending until you hit $0 at the end of the month.

Although this plan encourages you to get down to nothing, the idea isn’t to spend without regard; it’s to make sure every dollar goes exactly where you intend for it to go every month.

50/20/30 Budget

This takes all the guesswork out of deciding which expenses should stay in your budget and which ones need to go.

With the 50/20/30 plan, 50% of your money goes to essential expenses like housing, utilities and your car payment. From there, 20% will go to financial goals like savings and investments. The final 30% is yours to spend on the fun stuff like restaurants, movies and drinks with friends.

Cash Envelope Budget

The cash envelope system is good for those who have problems overspending on variable expenses like groceries or entertainment.

Review your monthly income and average expenses to determine how much you spend in each category.

Then take out your envelopes, label them by spending category and fill them up with their cash allocations. (You don’t need to use envelopes for fixed costs like rent or car insurance.)

When you’ve spent all the cash in an envelope, you can no longer spend in that category for the rest of the month.  

Step 4: Find the Best Budgeting Tools for You

Remember when I said you’re not alone in this quest to budget your money? Well, there are some tools that can help.

Automate Your Budget

Automating the budgeting process helps you focus on your priorities by sending the money where it needs to go before you have the chance to blow it on an impulse.

On the income side, that can mean setting up the automatic deposit for your paycheck to be divided between your checking and savings account.

Pro Tip

If you have a hard time remembering which bill is due when — or those dates just don’t jibe with your cash-flow situation — you can call a lender or company and ask them to adjust the date.

In the expenses column, you can set up autopay for recurring regular expenses like your car payment or mortgage, helping you avoid those dreaded late fees.

Budgeting Apps

While budgeting by hand works great, your smartphone can streamline it.

Mint: My favorite free app is Mint, which is available on iPhone and Android devices, and is also accessible at Mint.com. You connect your bank account and credit cards, then you set a dollar amount for how much you plan to spend in each category.

Mint will automatically analyze your spending and notify you when you get close to your budget limit or overspend. It’s pretty easy to use and can save you lots of time. The only downside is that the “You’ve exceeded your budget” emails can sometimes feel a little judgmental.

EveryDollar: If you’re a fan of the zero-based budget, EveryDollar is the free app for you. It’s also perfect for side hustlers whose income can fluctuate from month to month. As you manually track your spending with the app, use it to make sure every dollar you make is accounted for.

Prism: This isn’t technically a budgeting tool, but it’s still worth mentioning. Prism is a free app that puts all your bills in one place, so you always know exactly how much money you have and how much you owe.

You can connect everything from rent and car insurance to student loan payments and your Tidal music streaming account, and you can pay your bills right from the app.

You Need a Budget: This started out as an app and then became a book, too. It hinges on four rules:

  1. Give every dollar a job.
  2. Embrace your true expenses, not your ideal ones.
  3. Roll with the punches, and adjust your budget as you spend.
  4. “Age your money,” meaning hold onto it longer, and start to break the habits that leave you living paycheck to paycheck.

You Need a Budget is more hands-on than other apps. It’s also the only option that’s not free. After the 34-day free trial, you’ll pay $6.99 per month for the service.

Don’t Let Setbacks Discourage You

Lillian Karabaic, CEO of Oh My Dollar!, likes to remind her clients that the first month you set up your budget, you’ll forget about things.

“That’s OK. You’re just getting better information” each month as you remember expenses, she said. “The third month is the point at which, if you’re still doing it, you start to feel like you’re in charge of the budget.”

Key words there: If you’re still doing it.

You’re likely to fall off your budget in one of these two ways: You set restrictions for yourself but fail to meet them, or you forget to keep up with your budgeting method and give up. You only really need the parts of a budget method that serve you and your plans for the future.

And remember: making a budget isn’t a one-time event. Keep an eye on your plan as your goals and life change. Earning a raise, losing a job, getting married, having kids, starting a business — each of these life changes requires you to review and recalibrate your budget to stay on track to meet your goals and live your life.

Desiree Stennett (@desi_stennett) is a former staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. Senior writer Nicole Dow, former staff writer Lisa Rowan and freelancer Kevin Mack contributed to this post.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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I lived on Chipotle in college.

Could I afford it? Not really. But that wouldn’t keep me away from that flavorful cilantro-lime rice, the juicy carnitas, those giant dollops of sour cream or the warm tortillas.

I mean, it could’ve been worse (ahem, Taco Bell). But it also could’ve been way better if I’d known how to save money at Chipotle. My only trick? I’d wear my Halloween costume to get a $3 burrito.

Luckily, it’s way easier to save money at Chipotle these days. Just download the free Ibotta app, and start earning cash every time you dine.

How to Earn Cash Back on Chipotle Orders — For Life

You might’ve heard of Ibotta. It’s known for helping savvy shoppers earn cash back on groceries. (We once talked to a woman who earned $432 in cash back in a year!)

But Ibotta can also help you earn cash back on flights, Amazon orders, Uber rides — you name it.

Now, it has another fun perk called “Pay With Ibotta.” It’s an easy way to earn instant cash back from dozens of retailers and restaurants, including Applebee’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, Old Navy, Lowe’s and — yup! — Chipotle.

Here’s what you have to do to start earning cash back:

  1. Download the app, and create your account.
  2. Connect your debit or credit card by tapping “account” then “payments.”
  3. Peruse your cash-back options. When you’re at one of the listed restaurants or retailers, tap its name, and add the checkout amount. Then Ibotta generates a QR code or barcode you’ll hand to the cashier to scan.

You’re done! The cash will be added to your earnings instantly.

I mean, what better excuse do you have to go to Chipotle now?

Carson Kohler (carson@thepennyhoarder.com) has thankfully recovered from her Chipotle obsession.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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Your first credit card just arrived in the mail.

Congratulations! Or my condolences. It all depends on what you do next.

Credit cards can get a bad rep — and deservedly so if you consider that by the end of 2018, Americans had $870 billion in credit card debt, according to the Federal Reserve — but there are also positive aspects of credit cards, including building your credit history — which can help raise your credit score — and earning rewards.

But now that the plastic is yours, how can you avoid the pitfalls of credit cards and enjoy the benefits? You’ve probably already heard about paying your card on time and paying the full balance, but we have a beginner’s guide to using a credit card to build your credit without spiraling into debt.

Oh, and if you’re looking for the basics about what exactly to do with a card — like how to make a purchase in a store or online — we can help with that, too.

Open that envelope and let’s get started.

How to Use a Credit Card

Don’t let your newbie status lead you to believe that everyone else must understand how credit cards work.

“There are myths out there that you have to carry a balance, that you have to make major purchases — absolutely not,” said Todd Christensen, an Accredited Financial Counselor and education manager with MoneyFit.org. “People who suggest that are doing a disservice to the majority of card holders.”

If you’re not sure how credit cards work, you can learn the fundamentals at The Penny Hoarder Academy’s Credit Cards 101.

Once you have the basics, here are five tips for using your credit card responsibly so you don’t get into debt but do build a credit history.

1. Put One Purchase on Your Card Each Month

Rather than rushing to the store or trying out the latest restaurant, pretend you don’t have the card — at least for the first few months (or until you trust yourself). But leaving your card to gather dust in a desk drawer doesn’t help build your credit history.

As an alternative, set up your card for paying a bill.

“Put one purchase on it a month that is going to be the same amount every month and not large — like a Netflix, a cell phone bill, maybe a utility bill that’s on level pay,” Christensen said. “Pay it off every month — you only need one purchase a month and you’re building credit.”

Pro Tip

Credit history accounts for 15% of your credit score, so using a credit card responsibly for years can give your number a boost.

Don’t want to commit to a subscription? Think even smaller.

“You can buy a pack of gum, pay it off, and that’s all the activity you have on your card,” Christensen said. “You’re still building your credit.”

2. Don’t Carry Your Credit Card With You

The power of plastic can lull you into believing you can afford something you can’t. After all, if there’s space on the card, that means you can afford it, right?

But unless you know exactly how you can cover the expense with cash, the credit card bill can creep up before you know it. Credit card creep is particularly dangerous when you’re out with friends or family and thinking more about what a good time you’re having — or how appetizing that pricy entree sounds — rather than where you stand financially.

“It’s really easy to pull out a credit card when you’re out for lunch and you say, ‘Oh, I’ll grab it,’ and then you start overspending,” Christensen said. “Don’t carry it with you into any kind of consumer situation — no store, no restaurants.”

3. Don’t Add Your Credit Card Number to Online Accounts

Having a credit card allows you the freedom to make online purchases. And although shopping in your pajamas may be appealing, Christensen advised that you not store your credit card information on internet shopping sites or apps.

Pro Tip

Try this trick to avoid overspending on impulse buys: Leave an item in your online shopping cart for 24 hours. If you still want it the next day, you’re less likely to regret the purchase.

Yes, it is convenient not having to figure out where you left your purse or wallet every time you want to make a purchase on Amazon. But that lack of convenience can also protect you from making an unfortunate impulse purchase in the middle of the night.

4. Pay as You Go

If you went with a store credit card for your first foray into plastic, you probably did it to enjoy some discounts at your favorite store, right?

But store cards typically come with a lower credit limit, and using too much of it — even if you aren’t maxing it out and paying off the balance at the end of the month — can harm your credit score because you’re using a greater percentage of your credit.

Pro Tip

Credit utilization accounts for 30% of your credit score, which can take a hit if you use more than 30% of your card’s limit. Many experts recommend you keep it under 10% to build your score.

Rather than waiting until the bill arrives to pay the balance, Christensen suggested you bring your debit card, checkbook or cash along to the store and pay off what you charge immediately.

“Before you leave the store, go to the customer service desk and pay it off every time,” he said.

You can follow a similar plan if you have a bank-issued card by going online to pay off each purchase as you make it, then treating it as you would a debit purchase. That way, you’ll always know where you stand with your card and your bank balance.

5. Pay Off Your Credit Card Each Month

Wait a second, you say, we covered this one in the intro.

Sorry, but this one really can’t be emphasized enough.

There is no justification for — and no benefit to — carrying a balance, according to Christensen. People sometimes hear advice about other types of debt — like mortgages, for instance — and misunderstand financial advisers who suggest they should invest the money rather than paying off a debt.

But mortgage interest rates are just below 4%, while credit cards have an average APR of 16.91%, according to the latest Federal Reserve Consumer Credit Report.

You’re better off paying your balance each month and building a solid credit history.

How to Use a Credit Card to Make a Purchase

Now that you know how to use a credit card responsibly, you may be thinking, “Great, but how do I actually use the card in a store or online?”

First, sign your card as soon as you receive it. It’s mostly a technicality, but many major issuers still make you sign the card on the back as an added measure of security. You will also need to contact the issuer to activate the card; typically, there’s a sticker on the card with a phone number or website to direct you.

When you’re ready to buy at most stores, you’ll insert your card into the electronic credit card reader at the checkout. If you have a chip card (identifiable by a metallic square chip about the size of a pencil eraser), you’ll “dip” it — or slide it into the terminal slot. If you have non-chip card, you’ll swipe it through a slot along the side of the machine.

A chip card is like any other credit card except that it has a microchip embedded in it. The microchip encrypts your data, making it harder for thieves to steal your info or create a counterfeit card.

Some retailers now offer tap card readers for “contactless” payments — the checkout clerk should be able to tell you how to make your payment if you have questions at the register.

However the store captures your information, you’ll need to sign either a paper or electronic receipt to complete your purchase.

Buying online requires you to enter your credit card number, card expiration date and security code at the point of checkout. Here’s how to identify each:

  1. Credit card number: The 16- to 19-digit number on the front of your card.
  2. Expiration date: Typically listed on the front of your card in month/year format.
  3. Security code: Usually a three-digit number on the back of your card, to the right of the signature strip.

You’ll also need to add the address of your credit card mailing address to complete the purchase.

Using a credit card can make life more convenient and help to prove your credit worthiness for bigger purchases like a car or home. So long as you do it responsibly, you deserve a lot of credit for taking this next step in your financial journey (pun totally intended).

Tiffany Wendeln Connors is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. Data Journalist Alex Mahadevan contributed to this article.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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I lived on Chipotle in college.

Could I afford it? Not really. But that wouldn’t keep me away from that flavorful cilantro-lime rice, the juicy carnitas, those giant dollops of sour cream or the warm tortillas.

I mean, it could’ve been worse (ahem, Taco Bell). But it also could’ve been way better if I’d known how to save money at Chipotle. My only trick? I’d wear my Halloween costume to get a $3 burrito.

Luckily, it’s way easier to save money at Chipotle these days. Just download the free Ibotta app, and start earning cash every time you dine.

How to Earn Cash Back on Chipotle Orders — For Life

You might’ve heard of Ibotta. It’s known for helping savvy shoppers earn cash back on groceries. (We once talked to a woman who earned $432 in cash back in a year!)

But Ibotta can also help you earn cash back on flights, Amazon orders, Uber rides — you name it.

Now, it has another fun perk called “Pay With Ibotta.” It’s an easy way to earn instant cash back from dozens of retailers and restaurants, including Applebee’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, Old Navy, Lowe’s and — yup! — Chipotle.

Here’s what you have to do to start earning cash back:

  1. Download the app, and create your account.
  2. Connect your debit or credit card by tapping “account” then “payments.”
  3. Peruse your cash-back options. When you’re at one of the listed restaurants or retailers, tap its name, and add the checkout amount. Then Ibotta generates a QR code or barcode you’ll hand to the cashier to scan.

You’re done! The cash will be added to your earnings instantly.

I mean, what better excuse do you have to go to Chipotle now?

Carson Kohler (carson@thepennyhoarder.com) has thankfully recovered from her Chipotle obsession.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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Buying a home can be both an exciting and overwhelming experience, filled with lots of dollar signs and hand cramps from signing endless paperwork.

While it’s tempting to find ways to save during the process, scrimping on home insurance should not be one of them.

Whether you’re buying your first house or insuring your long-held property, home insurance is an important (and sometimes essential — we’ll explain in a minute) purchase.

What Is Home Insurance?

Home insurance is a form of property insurance that covers a private residence. It helps protect your property and belongings against losses and damages, and provides some liability protection for accidents in or around the home.

In the event of something unexpected — say, your residence is burglarized or there’s a fire — home insurance helps you cover the costs of replacing your lost goods or repairing your property. (Hence, why it’s also known as hazard insurance.)

Note that mortgage insurance is NOT the same as home insurance. The former protects the lenders or investors if a borrower defaults on the loan.

It’s important to note that you’ll most likely have to pay a deductible before your home insurance benefits pay out. And, for the most part, you cannot deduct home insurance on your tax return.

Pro Tip

You might be able to qualify for discounts if you bundle policies with the same insurance company or make your house more disaster-proof.

While you don’t legally need a home insurance policy, most mortgage lenders require it before closing. Though once you pay off your mortgage, you can drop it.

But you know what they say: Better safe than sorry.

The average cost of home insurance is $1,083 a year, according to ValuePenguin’s 2018 analysis of each U.S. state.

What’s Actually Covered Under a Home Insurance Policy?

It would be great if home insurance policies universally covered the same things.

If only it were that simple.

Because homeowners in different parts of the country have different needs, policies and their covered hazards — more commonly referred to as “perils” in the insurance world — vary.

And depending on where you live, the cost of home insurance can vary widely. For example, properties that are susceptible to natural disasters (think: Florida and hurricanes) tend to have costlier policies.

What’s Included in a Standard Home Insurance Policy

Here are the main areas home insurance typically helps cover:

  1. Dwelling: One of the basic coverages in a policy. This covers the structure of your home as well as structures attached to it, such as a garage or deck.
  2. Structures on your property: Structures you own that are separate from your home, such as a detached garage, fence or tool shed. (And yes, depending on your policy, your tools might be covered.)
  3. Personal property: If, for example, your electronics are stolen from your home or your furniture is destroyed in a fire, your policy may help pay to repair or replace them. Some policies also offer extended coverage for more valuable items, like jewelry.
  4. Liability: Home insurance typically provides liability coverage when someone who doesn’t live in the home is injured on your property.
  5. Additional living expenses (ALE): Included in most standards plans. If you cannot live at your residence because of damage from an insured disaster, this money will cover hotel bills, meals and other living expenses while it’s being repaired or rebuilt.

You’ll notice a lot of “typically”s and “may”s when researching insurance policies, which is normal; there is no *one* approach that works for everyone. That’s why it’s necessary to shop around and connect with a local agent who can help you tailor a plan specific to your needs.

What Disasters Are Covered by Home Insurance?

The Insurance Information Institute (III) published a comprehensive chart listing 16 perils that home insurance often covers, depending on your policy type.

  1. Fire or lightning
  2. Windstorm or hail
  3. Explosion
  4. Riots
  5. Damage caused by aircraft
  6. Damage caused by vehicles
  7. Smoke
  8. Vandalism
  9. Theft
  10. Volcanic eruption
  11. Falling object
  12. Weight of ice, snow or sleet
  13. Accidental discharge or overflow of water or steam from within a plumbing, heating, air conditioning or automatic fire-protective sprinkler system, or from a household appliance
  14. Sudden and accidental tearing apart, cracking, burning or bulging of a steam or hot water heating system, an air conditioning or automatic fire-protective system
  15. Freezing of a plumbing, heating, air conditioning or automatic, fire-protective sprinkler system, or of a household appliance
  16. Sudden and accidental damage from artificially generated electrical current (does not include loss to a tube, transistor or similar electronic component)

Home insurance policies include a variety of disasters, though, and (say it with me) coverage may vary.

8 Types of Home Insurance Policies

Policies differ by state and insurance company, but there are eight main types of policies.

  1. HO-1: Only covers 10 out of 16 perils. It doesn’t include personal liability or automatically cover your belongings, which are a couple of reasons it isn’t commonly used.
  2. HO-2: Covers all 16 perils and has lower premiums and coverage levels. It’s a “named peril” policy, which means only those listed on your policy will typically be covered.
  3. HO-3: Most popular among homeowners. It protects against all perils — unless they’re included in the exclusions — and covers attached structures, your possessions and personal liability.
  4. HO-4: Covers all 16 perils. It’s a policy for renters that covers your personal items and often provides liability insurance, but doesn’t cover the building itself.
  5. HO-5: Similar to an HO-3, but offers better protection for your personal items and insures your belongings against loss.
  6. HO-6: Covers all 16 perils and usually includes liability insurance. It’s a condominium or co-op policy that insures your particular dwelling.
  7. HO-7: Covers mobile or manufactured homes. Similar to an HO-3.
  8. HO-8: Designed for older, sometimes historical homes. Similar to an HO-3.

Now that you have an understanding of basic coverage, perils and policies, let’s look at the other, sometimes frustrating, side of home insurance.

What’s Not Covered Under a Home Insurance Policy

Here are four common disasters that are typically not covered by home insurance:

  1. Floods: These are excluded from standard policies, but separate coverage is available.
  2. Earthquakes: Likewise, this type of coverage is available as a separate policy.
  3. Maintenance damage: It’s the homeowner’s responsibility to maintain their property, and as such, insurance will not cover damage due to lack of maintenance, mold, or an infestation of termites or pests.
  4. Sewer backup: This is not covered under flood insurance and has its own policy.

Unfortunately, that’s not all. Here are some additional, often surprising things your home insurance won’t cover, including:

  • Certain dog breeds. Commonly, pit bulls, rottweilers and German shepherds. You’ll want to check with your insurer or move to a policy that covers all pets, otherwise your pet might not be covered.
  • Pools. Because of the increased risk associated with swimmers, you’ll need to disclose the pool to your insurance agent.
  • Service line connections. Water, sewer and electrical lines connecting from your house to the street aren’t typically covered. However, you can add on this coverage.
  • Trampolines. Because of the safety risk, some insurance companies will require certain protections or they won’t cover them. (I can personally vouch that this should be included, and 12-year-old me is wincing as I type that out)

Water damage in particular seems to be a tricky issue. Depending on what caused the flood in your basement, for example, you may or may not have a case. If your water heater suddenly bursts, it should be covered. But if you neglected to fix that slow drip from your dishwasher for years, that’s on you.

Same goes for a leaky roof. If the damage is caused by a peril (the wind caused an otherwise healthy tree to fall on it), it should be covered, barring an exclusion in your policy. But if it’s a rotting tree you should have had removed long ago, it most likely won’t be covered. (There’s that “it’s the homeowner’s responsibility to maintain their property” bit again.)

To protect yourself, you need to do regular home maintenance, have a firm understanding of your home insurance policy and speak to a professional about adding any supplemental coverage.

What’s the Ideal Mix of Home Insurance I Should Have?

When putting together your package, you’ll want to determine:

  • How much you need to cover the cost of your home structure. If your dwelling is destroyed due to an insured peril, this will cover rebuilding costs. The age, location and value of your home are three main factors to consider.
  • How much you need for your personal belongings. Many policies cover your belongings at 50-70% of the amount of insurance you have on your home. Conduct a home inventory and take note of expensive items you own to determine if you need additional coverage.
  • How much additional living expenses coverage you need. Typically, this is capped at 20% of the overall coverage on your home.
  • How much liability insurance you need. Most policies provide a minimum of $100,000 worth of liability coverage, though higher limits are available, or you could purchase umbrella or excess liability policies, which offer broader coverages than conventional policies.

Ultimately, your home insurance needs boil down to you and your individual situation. Someone who lives in a new-build in Anytown, Indiana, will have a different policy from the person who lives in a 100-year-old house in Earthquakesville, California.

Talk to a local agent, and shop around for the best deal and coverage for your situation.

Kathleen Garvin (@itskgarvin) is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in U.S. News, Clark.com and Well Kept Wallet.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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Older workers are re-entering or staying in the workforce in the highest numbers in decades. And many of them are giving the gig economy a shot.

According to the latest workforce projections by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the participation rate for seniors age 65 and up has increased nearly 20 percentage points since 1996.

Flexible work arrangements through side-gig apps and work-from-home jobs are making the transition easier. The customer-service and retail industries are also tapping into this burgeoning population of workers with targeted recruiting through AARP and churches.

All this amounts to a lot of competition among employers — and ripe job opportunities for retirees.

8 Jobs For Retirees

From errands to English-teaching or from ride-sharing to renting, these part-time jobs for seniors are tailor-fit for any older worker who wants to make a little extra money.

1. Become an Airbnb Host

Got a spare room, apartment, house ― even a tent in a serene backyard? You can rent it out for extra cash on Airbnb.

Airbnb is an online marketplace that allows folks to list their space for short-term rentals. Airbnb, after all, is short for Air Bed and Breakfast, which refers to the co-founders’ initial idea of charging guests to stay on air mattresses to help pay their San Francisco rent.

In our guide to becoming an Airbnb host, staff writer Carson Kohler outlines all the do’s and don’ts of hosting on Airbnb. The five big tenets to qualify are:

  1. You must be able to provide the essentials, including toilet paper, soap, linens, and at least one towel and pillow per guest.
  2. You must be responsive to your potential guests, answering requests and inquiries within 24 hours.
  3. You should accept reservation requests when you’re available.
  4. You should avoid cancellations. In fact, the Airbnb cancellation policy is pretty strict — you’ll find it outlined in our guide above.
  5. You should be able to keep a high overall rating from guests.

Before listing your home or apartment online, be sure to check with your local government, which may regulate or outright ban short-term rentals.

While there is no cost to register your rental, some things to consider are fees Airbnb charges every time someone books your space, in addition to municipal short-term rental taxes. Depending on your area, taxes and fees could reach as high as 21% of your listing price.

2. Chauffeur With Uber or Lyft

By now, you probably know the gist of driving with ride-sharing services: You use an app to connect with people who need rides. You drive them somewhere in your own car, and they pay automatically through the app.

The two biggest players in the space — Uber and Lyft — have an intense rivalry, but both apps are fair options if you’re just starting out.

Each app is fundamentally the same for drivers: You log in when you want to work, wait for a notification that means someone’s hailed a ride, then pick them up and drop them off at their destination. You earn money based on how many rides you take, and you automatically get paid each week (or more often, if you choose) through direct deposit.

To become a driver, applicants need:

  • To be at least 21 years old.
  • A four-door automobile, 2002 or newer.
  • A valid U.S. driver’s license.
  • At least a year of driving experience.

Beyond that, senior editor Dana Sitar breaks down the nuances in our Lyft vs Uber guide.

3. Rent out Your Car

If you don’t feel like chaufferring others around — or driving at all, for that matter — you can rent out your unused car.

If you try to do that on your own, you’ll probably invalidate your insurance. And you have to find customers.

But companies like GetAround and Turo will find the customers for you and provide the insurance. Even General Motors launched a car-sharing service called Maven for owners of a GM vehicle (Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet or GMC) that’s a 2015 model or newer.

Creating an account with all three companies is free.

Listing your car on GetAround costs $20 a month, plus a one-time $99 installation fee for a remote receiver to unlock your car for customers. Maven and Turo don’t charge monthly fees but take a percentage of earnings from your listing.

According to Maven estimates, renting out your car for a day could earn you between $80 and $225 depending on the model.

Payout is in as little as five days (for Turo) or as much as a month (for Maven).

4. Run Errands for Others

Through side-gig apps like TaskRabbit and Postmates, getting paid to run errands is as easy as it’s ever been. With both apps, users can browse through a list of tasks that locals need help with. Grocery runs, picking up a package from the UPS store, taking someone’s animal to obedience training — all fair game.

Postmates is focused on delivery-related tasks. You can deliver via car, bicycle or foot. Just create a free account, then you’ll receive a welcome kit in the mail within a week (a free delivery bag and a prepaid card to make your purchases). Link the card to the Postmates Fleet app, and you’re off to earning extra money.

TaskRabbit works a little differently. The services are much broader, including home improvement, maintenance, administrative, cleaning, event planning and — of course — delivery and other errand-related tasks. Creating an account is also free.

Income from both apps varies on a task-by-task basis. There aren’t any minimums in the amount of tasks you’re required to complete, either. You’ll be able to see the rates and choose to accept them before embarking on the errand.

While not average earnings, some high-performing users make more than $2,000 a month. See how these Taskers made thousands using TaskRabbit.

5. Teach Your Craft at Michael’s

Can you knit? Do needlepoint? Build a ship in a bottle? These crafts, once thought of a throw-backs, are back in a big way.

The arts-and-crafts retailer Michael’s unveiled its Community Classroom in late 2018. The program offers a way to connect local “Makers,” aka people skilled in hands-on crafts, to teach at the nearest Michael’s. It’s up to the teachers, however, to recruit students for their classes. Michaels splits the profits from student registration, with Michael’s keeping 30% of the course price, and the teachers pocketing 70%.

The program is still in beta as it expands to all U.S. Michael’s locations, but most Michael’s stores currently offer it. No previous teaching experience is required and the program is open to everyone — not just Michael’s employees.

To become a Community Classroom instructor, submit a proposal that includes:

  • A detailed description of what you plan to teach.
  • A personal bio that explains your expertise, including a photo of yourself.
  • Logistics, such as the location, required materials for the lesson, date and time.

Accepted instructors receive Community Classroom ID and a 15% in-store discount.

6. Tutor English Online

English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) teachers are in high demand. To keep up, many international education companies hire virtual teachers and offer bonuses if they refer other teachers to their platform. Overall, requirements to become an ESL teacher are pretty low.

In most cases, teaching English online requires a bachelor’s degree (in any field) but not always. Several companies hire ESL teachers with associate’s degrees, or no degree at all.

To qualify, ESL teachers must:

  • Be 18 years or older.
  • Be fluent in English, usually with citizenship from a native-English-speaking country.
  • Have a smartphone, computer or tablet with high-speed internet access.
  • A high-school diploma.

Teachers who meet the minimum requirements can expect hourly rates between $10 and $16. Top-performing or well-credentialed candidates frequently make more than $25 an hour.

Prefered candidates have a bachelor’s degree, early-morning or late-evening availability, previous teaching or tutoring experience and a certification in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL).

In our guide to teaching English online, we dive deeper into the job requirements plus offer specifics on seven of the top ESL companies.

7. Work at Your Favorite Store

As the labor market remains tight, companies that would normally fill customer service positions with teenagers have flipped the script, instead opting for seniors who have decades of soft skills well-suited for the roles.

In-demand industries include fast-food restaurants, retail stores and call centers. Companies with frequent national hiring events (typically near the holiday season at the end of each year) include Aldi, Amazon, Gap, Inc., Sitel, Target, Taco Bell and UPS.

Pro Tip

Job-hunting trends are always in flux. Don’t know where to start? AARP has loads of resources, including the Back to Work program for people re-entering the workforce after 50.

Never attended a big hiring event? We covered all you need to know to land a job at an in-store hiring event near you. Big things to remember: do your research before the event, come with some questions and dress to impress. A copy of your resume won’t hurt, either.

8. Work From Home

Rather not work in a store? Snag a work-from-home job. Several of the companies mentioned above hire remotely, and overall the remote workforce is booming.

The most popular remote jobs are in customer service. In these gigs, workers typically respond to customers over the phone, via email or through instant messages. Tracking trends in customer complaints and questions are a large part of these roles as well.

Pro Tip

The Penny Hoarder’s Work-From-Home Jobs Portal makes the remote-job hunt easy. Our journalists scour the web for the best gigs, vet the companies and aggregate the latest listings in one place.

Companies that frequently hire remote customer-service jobs include AAA, American Express and Apple — as well as several others that don’t start with the letter A.

There are many other remote job opportunities out there besides customer service, too. Other popular fields include IT, media and marketing.

Basic computing skills are needed for all remote jobs, and your home office could need a little updating to land certain gigs. Before you apply to your online dream job, review what home-office essentials are commonly required by remote employers.

Adam Hardy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. He specializes in ways to make money that don’t involve stuffy corporate offices. Read his ​latest articles here, or say hi on Twitter @hardyjournalism.

Staff Writer Carson Kohler contributed to this article.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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Investment conversations typically focus on stocks, but any financial adviser will tell you a portfolio is strongest when it’s diversified. That means investing in more than just stocks — by investing in bonds as well.

Bonds are inherently low-risk investment options, but they also don’t have the high potential earnings of stocks. Instead, they provide balance against high-risk (but high-yield) stocks.

What Are Bonds?

When you need to buy something you don’t have all the money for, you take out a loan. Sometimes, corporations and federal and local governments need to take out loans to fund projects, so they issue bonds.

They promise to pay back lenders (that’s you!) in a set amount of years on the bond’s maturity date, or when the bond ends. A corporation or government body can issue bonds for anything from funding research for a new product to raising money to build new infrastructure.

The issuer of the bond also makes interest payments along the way, typically twice a year.

One exception: zero-coupon bonds, which don’t pay interest until the maturity date. This makes them popular investments for newborns with the idea that they’ll mature in time for college tuition.

3 Types of Bonds Explained

There are three main types of bonds to know about as a beginner: municipal bonds, treasury bonds and corporate bonds.

Municipal Bonds

Municipal bonds are issued by cities, states and other local municipalities to fund projects like building new roads or renovating parks.

That’s why municipal bonds are a double win: Not only are they an investment for your long-term financial portfolio, but as a citizen, you enjoy the rewards of your investment by using the services of your city and state every day.

An added win: Interest on municipal bonds is exempt from federal taxes. When you purchase municipal bonds in your own state, the interest is also exempt from state and local taxes.

One drawback: Municipal bonds typically pay lower interest rates than other bonds.

Treasury Bonds

Also called T-bonds, treasury bonds are issued by Uncle Sam. They are entirely backed by the federal government, and they typically last at least 10 years. They’re tax-free at the state and local levels, but you’ll still pay federal taxes on them.

The biggest draw of a treasury bond? It’s essentially risk-free unless the U.S. government goes under. And if that happens, we probably have bigger things to worry about.

Treasury bonds typically yield similar interest rates as comparable municipal bonds.

Corporate Bonds

Corporate bonds are the riskiest of the three types of bonds, though again, bonds are low-risk overall.

Unlike the previous two categories of bonds, corporate bonds are issued by companies. Purchasing a bond from a company is different from purchasing stock, which gives you partial ownership in that company, whereas with corporate bonds, you’re lending a company funds for specific projects.

The biggest draw of corporate bonds is that they pay out the highest interest rate of the three main categories of bonds.

4 Benefits of Investing in Bonds

Investing in bonds yields several key benefits:

1. They Are Generally Safe Investments

All investments carry risk, but it is very unlikely that the issuer of a government or high-quality corporate bond will default — but if they do, you lose out on that investment.

Because the stock market can be so volatile, bonds can balance out the high risk of stock investments.

2. They Are a Steady Stream of Income

Bonds offer some regularity to your income stream, because you can typically count on interest payments twice a year. This makes budgeting somewhat easier.

3. They Give You the Chance to Give Back

Municipal bonds in particular are appealing because they give you a sense of bettering your own community. The same can be said of treasury bonds, just on a larger scale.

Even corporate bonds can instill a sense of investing purpose if you are passionate about a specific product or brand.

4. They’re Easy to Manage

If you don’t use a financial adviser, playing the stock market can be tough. When do you buy? When do you sell? And how do you do those things?

With bonds, you can earn income just by buying once and letting the bonds mature — although some investors do sell their bonds before the maturity date at a profit.

3 Drawbacks to Investing in Bonds

Bonds are not without drawbacks. Here are just a few:

1. Bonds Aren’t High Earners for Your Portfolio

Bonds are great in terms of stability in your portfolio and balance out high-risk stocks. However, the lower the risk, the lower the reward. Compared to stocks, bond growth is minimal.

Large stocks have had average annual returns of 10% since 1926, while large government bonds earned average annual returns of 5% to 6% over the same period, CNN Money reports.

2. There Is Still Risk Involved

Keeping your money in a money market or savings account carries no risk, as long as the financial institution is properly insured. Bonds, however, carry some risk, though it is small compared with that of stocks. A bond issuer can potentially default on the bonds, meaning you might not earn interest, might lose your principal investment or both.

Another type of risk with bonds is called interest rate risk. When interest rates rise, bond prices — and thus the value of your bonds — could decrease because investors can earn higher interest rates elsewhere. When interest rates drop, your bonds could be easier to sell if they’re paying interest rates that are higher than the current market rate.

Inflation is also a risk: If the interest you’re earning from a bond doesn’t keep up with inflation, you’re essentially losing money, because the value of your investment is going down.

3. Your Funds Are Tied up

When you purchase bonds, you generally need to be committed to investing for the long haul. With savings accounts, you can access your money when you need it, and stocks can be bought and traded as you see fit. Bonds, however, require you to wait until they mature to get the full rewards of the investment.

How to Invest in Bonds

Unlike stocks, which are traded on the public exchange, bonds must be purchased from brokers — unless you are interested in government bonds, which you buy from the United States directly. Knowing if you are getting a fair interest rate can be challenging, but you can check recent rates via the Financial Industry Regulation Authority.

You can use bond ratings from Moody’s, Fitch and Standard & Poor’s to assess the strength of a bond. In general, you should concern yourself with a bond’s credit quality and its duration.

Individual Bonds vs. Bond Funds

How much money you can invest in bonds depends on several factors. Individual bonds issued by the U.S. Treasury, for example, are sold in $100 increments. Municipal and corporate bonds are usually sold at the $10,000 level or higher, sometimes even reaching $100,000.

Bond mutual funds are an alternative to purchasing individual bonds. They represent a range of investments all poured into a single bucket. If one of the bonds defaults in that fund, you still have the other bonds to protect your investment.

However, when you purchase individual bonds, you will need to thoroughly research the issuers before putting your faith in them.

If you are serious about investing for your future, bonds will typically play an important role in your portfolio — but not the leading role. To figure out the right balance for your portfolio, talking with a financial adviser is a good place to start.

Timothy Moore is a market research editor and freelance writer covering topics on personal finance, careers, education, travel, pet care and the automotive industry. His work has been featured on Debt.com, Ladders, Glassdoor and The News Wheel.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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After dropping out of high school, Freddie Cruz found himself delivering the same milk he drank in the school lunch rooms. It was an inauspicious end to what once appeared to be a bright future in football — college and all.

“I didn’t finish high school because I didn’t have the aspiration to do it anymore,” said the 44-year-old Cruz, who played running back before a brutal career-ending injury. “I gave up.”

Now, eight years into a career as a crane operator, Cruz pulls down six figures doing something he loves all day. That dream job placed on The Penny Hoarder’s Best Jobs of 2019 that Don’t Require a Bachelor’s Degree.

“I wish I would’ve known about this business years ago,” he says. “I probably would’ve been on the verge of retiring now.”

Trade Jobs Offer Endless Opportunities

Cruz always dabbled in the trades. When he was 19, he briefly worked as a carpenter on a job site in Tampa before taking up trucking full-time.

He made plenty of money on the road, but now sees there would have been more opportunity — and less time away from family — if he had stayed in a career in the traditional trades.

Some of the jobs with the lowest wage gap between men and women are in the trades. In fact, analysts look to women to make up for the shortfall of workers in the construction industry.

Of the top 25 jobs that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects to grow the fastest over the next decade, 20% are in the trades. If you look at careers that don’t require a college degree, that number jumps to more than half.

And as Cruz’ experience shows, you can haul in more than $100,000 a year in these types of jobs. In 2017, we spoke to an electrician who also makes six figures.

One of the biggest perks, Cruz says, is that while you’re training to become a full-time, credentialed crane operator (or other similar skilled labor occupation) you can still make more than $60,000 as an apprentice. That’s what he made for the four years he trained under senior crane operators.

“The funny thing is, you’re getting paid to pay your dues, which is awesome,” Cruz says.

Sure beats student loan debt, right?

Despite the pros of working in the trades, they remain an often-overlooked option — and a well-kept secret. Cruz only heard about the sweet life as a crane operator through word of mouth.

“The money’s there. I just don’t think we publicize it enough,” he says. “It’s word of mouth — somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody gets you in.”

Trade Jobs Offer Multiple Entry Points Bypassing College

One of Cruz’s lifelong friends came to him with a tip about 10 years ago: There’s lots of cash to be made as a crane operator. Cruz and another friend (the three were truck drivers at the time) laughed him off.

By the time the friend got an apprentice job through the local union a year later, Cruz was intrigued. But, the only open positions would have required more than an hour commute, so he turned it down.

“A year and a half goes by and the guy finally calls again and says that this is the last time I’m going to offer you the job, take it or leave it,” he says. “I said I’ll take it, and it was the best move I made.”

Checking in at your local crane operators’ union is the best way to get started in this career, as it is with a number of trade careers. From there, it can take up to a year for the organization to secure an apprenticeship with a local company.

Once you land an apprenticeship, you spend four years working your way up to running the full rig. Along the way, you’ll learn the minutiae of crane upkeep, along with basic operation. Don’t expect your supervisor to babysit.

Cruz was told to arrive at his first jobsite eight years ago at 6:30 a.m. He got there on time, but was immediately harangued by the senior crane operator — the machine should’ve been tuned up, cleaned and ready to roll by 6:30… And where was his coffee?

But that tough love is necessary when you plan to run a 150,000-pound machine capable of killing your coworkers.


“When I finally became an operator, he was one of the first guys who came up to me and said ‘congratulations, I knew you could do it,’” Cruz says.

Since Cruz entered the field, crane operating trade schools have popped up around the U.S. Many offer training and certification in six months, but Cruz is adamant about going the apprentice route and getting on-the-job experience.

You will still need a certification through the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators in most states.

Trade Jobs Can Make Every Day a New Adventure

Cruz has helped tear down a water tower, pulled a barge out of the water, replaced nuclear plant turbines and recovered the body of a landscaper who had been crushed by a fallen branch.

The next two times he went out on a job after that, he could barely bring himself to get into a crane. He moved some material with a forklift to avoid getting into the cab again.

Pro Tip

Before diving into a particular trade, reach out to a local construction company or union and ask to see a job site.

Poke around and see which craft looks the most interesting to you and best matches your strengths. Then ask to shadow someone on the job.

“I was trying to figure out a way not to do the job,” Cruz says. “I was afraid to get in (the crane) for some reason.”

But eight years into this career, he has learned to cope with the stresses and gained perspective.

After Cruz dropped out of high school, he was left with no prospects and a pregnant girlfriend. His father, who owned a cleaning company and worked as a truck driver and butcher, said he “wasn’t going to raise a bum.”

Cruz’ father didn’t live long enough to see everything his son achieved, even without a diploma. Cruz can give his kids a life that his father couldn’t afford for him — and he considers that the definition of success.

“I’m sure that he would say his son never graduated from high school, never pursued his dream as a football player, but at the end of the day he’s making a six-figure income,” Cruz says. “I guess he didn’t do too bad for himself.”

Alex Mahadevan is a data journalist at The Penny Hoarder.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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It’s no secret that the cost of education has skyrocketed in America and continues to be a core issue with which politicians, educators, activists and students grapple. The average total tuition and fees plus room-and-board charges in 2018-19 for an in-state, public four-year college was $21,370, according to a College Board report.

How are students paying for that? With student loans. Lots of student loans.

Outstanding student loan debt rose to $1.46 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2018, according to the Federal Reserve.

While we can advocate for change within and outside of the political system, we must play ball in the meantime — that means getting familiar with the types of student loans available to us so that we can make the best financial choices for our current and future situations.

Student loans fall into two major categories — federal and private. Each of those has its own set of subcategories. While federal loans are typically the better option for students (more on that in a bit), it is impossible for many to fund an entire college education with just federal loans. Thus, it is important to take some time to familiarize yourself with the various types of federal student loans while also considering private loans.

Federal Student Loans

For the sake of simplicity, there are two main types of federal student loans to consider: Subsidized Stafford Loans and Unsubsidized Stafford Loans.

You may have heard of another federal student loan option called Perkins Loans. But as of September 30, 2017, the federal government ended that loan program; final disbursements were on June 30, 2018.

You’ll also come across two types of PLUS Loans: Parent PLUS Loans and Grad PLUS Loans. Beyond that, you can consider consolidating your various types of student loans into one: a Direct Consolidation Loan.

Stafford Loans
Stafford Loans typically offer better rates than other loans.
Types: subsidized (government helps with interest payments) and unsubsidized (no help).
Your loan limit depends on your year in school.

If you’re planning to receive federal loan aid, the Stafford Loan (also called a Direct Loan) is the one to know. Funding for this common student loan comes from the Federal Direct Student Loan Program (FDSLP) and can be offered as subsidized or unsubsidized.

Subsidized Stafford Loans afford you the ability to defer any interest payments until after you graduate. Instead, the federal government will pay the interest rates while you are in school at least halftime, as well as during the six-month grace period that follows graduation, (in theory, you would be spending that time looking for a job.)

Subsidized Stafford Loans are great for college students because it means less time spent working to pay for school and more time focusing on studying and writing papers. Interest rates for all subsidized Stafford Loans and all unsubsidized undergraduate Stafford Loans have a fixed interest rate of 5.05% for loans disbursed before July 1, 2019, according to the Federal Student Aid Office. Unsubsidized Stafford Loans for graduate students clock in at a 6.6% interest rate.

Subsidized Stafford Loans are not for everyone, however. According to the Federal Student Aid Office, students must demonstrate a financial need when filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form.

Pro Tip

In addition to the interest, you’ll have to pay fees on all Stafford Loans. Fees are calculated as a percentage of the loan amount and are proportionately deducted from each loan disbursement.

There are limits to the amount of money you can borrow via a subsidized Stafford Loan, and it largely depends on your family’s situation and your current year in school. The Federal Student Aid Office offers a helpful table that breaks down the credit limits for this loan, though please note your school may not actually grant this amount.

There are also Unsubsidized Stafford Loans, which are easier to obtain, as you won’t need to prove any financial need. However, the federal government will not make payments on your interest while you are in school. You can still defer these payments until after graduation, but you will be responsible for the entire interest amount.

PLUS Loans
There are two types of PLUS Loans: Parent and Grad.
Maximum loan amount is the cost of attendance (determined by the school) minus any other financial aid.
PLUS loans have higher interest rates.

The federal government offers PLUS loans to two sets of applicants: parents and grad students.

Though grad students are eligible to apply for the latter without their parents, PLUS stands for Parent Loans for Undergraduate Students. To obtain a Parent PLUS Loan, your parent(s) or guardian(s) must apply. However, you must still fill out the FAFSA form before your parents can apply for a PLUS loan.

PLUS Loans are designed to pay for expenses not covered by other financial aid, but they come with higher interest rates — the current interest rate is 7.6%.

Direct Consolidation Loans
Consolidation loans combine multiple loan payments into one for convenience.
They could lengthen your payback timeframe and cost you more in interest over time.

The final federal student loan type is the Direct Consolidation Loan. This loan, according to the Federal Student Aid Office, is a no-fee option to group your various loans into one single monthly payment — thereby consolidating your student loans into one.

Why would you need to do this? Because the government doesn’t make anything easy — that’s the short answer. The longer answer is that, though you may rely on the Stafford Loan every year, there’s a good chance that each year — or even each semester — that money is coming from a different lender.

Pro Tip

Don’t fall for private companies that contact you, offering to help you consolidate your federal loans — for a fee. There is no application fee to complete a Direct Consolidation Loan application.

For example, assume you are in school for four years at two semesters a year with a different lender for each semester. That means you’ll have eight different payments to make each month, presumably with several different due dates, just for your federal loans.

Direct Consolidation Loans make this less of a headache for you and also make it more difficult for you to miss a payment (since there’s only one to remember) and incur a late fee.

Beware: There are some downsides to consolidating your loan. Consolidating could very easily draw out the payback time on your loans, meaning you may end up paying more over time and you’ll have to deal with the looming fear of student loans for longer than you had planned.

Private Loans
Private loans can help cover costs above and beyond your federal loans.
They require a good credit history and may have high interest rates.

Federal loans should usually be your first line of defense when grants and scholarships are not enough to fund your education. However, given that Stafford Loans have caps and PLUS Loans require parent participation and the rates can be too high, you might need to seek additional funding. That’s where private loans come in.

Pro Tip

Think of private education loans as a necessary evil — they’re not great, but they’re there if you need them.

These loans are more like the personal loans you might take out with your lending institution. Given that most college students are in their late teens or early twenties, however, these can be challenging to get. You’ll need a cosigner and/or good credit to earn a private education loan.

With private education loans, there is a lot more left up to your unique situation. Interest rates could be fixed or variable and will depend on your credit history. You may also have to make payments while still in school.

Health Professions Student Loans
Health Professions Student Loans are options for students studying medicine in specific areas.
They are based on financial need.

Health Professions Student Loans are reserved for those studying in specific areas of medicine, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration. Degree areas that qualify for this type of loan include dentistry, optometry, pharmacy, podiatric and veterinary medicine. These loans are need-based and competitive.

Alternatively, students who are studying allopathic or osteopathic medicine can apply for Primary Care Loans, while students who are working toward their diploma, associate, baccalaureate or graduate degree in nursing can apply for Nursing Student Loans. These two loan types are also need-based and competitive.

Schools must participate in these loan programs for students to be eligible; before enrolling, make sure your school of choice will have these options available.

Given the rising costs of higher education, it’s likely you’ll need to tap into loans to help finance your education, but before you start looking at loans, exhaust these other options for paying for college.

Timothy Moore is a proud graduate of Wright State University and now works as a full-time editor and freelancer in his free time. He lives with his partner and their two dogs in Nashville, Tennessee. Staff writer/editor Tiffany Wendeln Connors contributed to this post.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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Getting engaged is amazing, but the thrill of the engagement can last just a few hours before conversations turn toward the next step: wedding planning.

You might be overjoyed while still feeling a rising gnawing in your stomach. You’re going to plan a wedding, and weddings are expensive: In 2018, the average wedding cost more than $33,900.

I can think of a handful of other worthy investments for such an amount. A down payment on a house. A brand-new car. A hearty portion of a college degree (or student loan). All of those options seem more worthy of this kind of cash than a one-day celebration.

After celebrating the nuptials of many friends and family members, I know there is no “perfect” wedding, and the celebration can be enjoyed on any budget. But managing your wedding budget can be stressful. Do-it-yourself projects offer savings, but require time, some level of skill and patience.

But there are ways to lighten your financial load without having to exert a huge effort on the Pinterest front. You want your wedding celebration to be simple and fun — not complicated and stressful. So here are my tips for cutting wedding costs without compromising.

How to Save Money on a Wedding With 4 Simple Tricks
1. Seek Alternative Venues

When it comes to setting a date and picking a place, some tips are well-known: Some months are priced at a premium; Saturday weddings are usually the most expensive; dinner will cost more than brunch or lunch. One easy tip: Think outside the hotel ballroom.

Consider art galleries, performance spaces, church halls and grounds, parks and other “nontraditional” venues for your ceremony and reception. Locations that don’t host weddings around the clock are likely to have more amenable price tags.

But many of the beautiful venues you’ll see online are merely shells when you write the deposit check. It takes decorations, a caterer, linens, china and sometimes even table and chair rental to turn a beautiful spot into a reception site. Those costs add up.  

So consider a venue that already has what you need for your big day: a restaurant. It may seem prohibitive to rent out an entire eatery, but check out spaces that have separate sections for private or semi-private events. Rental fees for these areas (before food, drinks, fees and gratuity) is often the same as you would pay to host a bridal or baby shower luncheon.

And restaurants usually come with place settings, tablecloths and other items you’ll need. If you’re happy with the restaurant’s decor, your job is so much easier.

2. Arrange Your Own Flowers

Speaking of decor, let’s discuss floral arrangements. The average cost of wedding flowers in 2017 was nearly $2,400, according to a study by The Knot.

Only a few lucky couples will have a neighbor with beautiful flower gardens who offers to contribute bouquets. Instead, turn to a more practical option: a flower wholesaler. Simply search “flower wholesale + [your city or region]” to find one in your area.

Pro Tip

If you’re not set on having identical centerpieces, search for vases at your local thrift store. You’ll pay a lot less for vases you’ll likely only use once, and the variety may be satisfying.

Wholesale warehouses are often open to the public, and staff can advise you on what’s in season or what you could mix and match. By doing a bit of arranging yourself (or with help from friends and family), you can have beautiful bouquets for a fraction of the price.   

3. Cut the Cake

If you enjoy baking reality shows as much as I do, you know that wedding cakes can be extremely expensive. But when’s the last time you thought about a cake you ate at a wedding?

Consider skipping a tiered cake with globs of icing in favor of treats like cookies, doughnuts or maybe even pie. Think about your favorite dessert options, and decide what’s most meaningful for you.

Pro Tip

Crafty types who aren’t afraid to DIY can skip a custom cake altogether and doctor up a grocery store cake. A Practical Wedding shared a few tasty-looking tutorials.

If you’re set on having a cake but want to stick to a reasonable budget, Bridal Guide curated a dessert directory with tricks and tips from professional bakers. Some of my favorite ways to cut costs before you cut the cake: Choose buttercream frosting over fondant; display a small cake while offering unstacked slices from the same recipe to your guests; and choose in-season fruits for garnishes or fillings.

4. Say Yes to a Different Dress

I know, brides, I know — your dress is a big deal. It’s hard to compromise on this item. But wedding gowns can run the price gamut, and if you fall in love with a dress with an unexpectedly high price tag, it could singlehandedly wreck your budget.


Instead, consider doing a bit of research and embracing the idea of wearing “something old.” Beyond eBay, sites like Once Wed, Tradesy, Nearly Newlywed, Wore it Once and Pre-Owned Wedding Dresses have page after page filled with beautiful dresses that have typically already been cleaned after their first big day. If you have a favorite designer in mind, spending a bit of time searching these sites can help you get a great deal. Just remember to also research tailors near you who can make any alterations you may need.

Willing to wear something even older? Many vintage shops sell wedding dresses from yesteryear that could use a little bit of love — a bit of stain removal or seam repair — for as low as $100. If you love the thrill of the hunt, you may find the dress of your dreams.

Pro Tip

Don’t forget to check the formalwear racks as well. Just because a dress wasn’t designed for a wedding doesn’t mean it can’t make you shine on your big day.

But consider that you can skip buying a dress altogether. In that case, try renting your wedding dress instead. If you can’t find a local shop in your area, check out Rent the Runway, an online platform that caters to brides across the country. Other platforms, like Happily Ever Borrowed and Adorn have you covered when it comes to accessories.

Want more tips on saving on your big day? Check out this list of 90 (yes 90!) ways to do just that.

Lisa Rowan is a former senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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