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How to Pay Off Your Debt

With the economy slowly picking back up, more people are spending their money because they are more confident in the economy and their financial choices. For some people, more spending equals more debt. According to a CardHub study, the average American household now holds about $7,126 in credit card debt.

If your credit card debt has become unsustainable, you may find this information helpful. A recent article on the Equifax Finance Blog, “Four Important Steps Toward Paying Off Credit Card Debt,” presents everyday steps that might help you better control your finances and manage your budget:

1. Access your current situation.

The first step to gaining financial freedom from your debt is to figure out exactly where your finances stand. You can start by collecting financial documents, bills and credit reports. Then, make a list that includes all your debts and balances, your monthly payments and the interest rates for each account. If you have student loans, auto loans or credit cards, these should all be included in your list.

2. Know your savings potential.

After you’ve seen what all your debts are, it’s time to figure out how to get rid of them. First, evaluate your monthly budget and subtract from your income your fixed daily living costs, such as rent, utilities, insurance, childcare, commuting costs and groceries. Once you figure out how much your fixed costs are, you’ll be able to evaluate how much you can put toward paying off your debt quicker.

3. Devise a plan.

There are many ways to approach debt, including these three strategies:

  • The “snowball” strategy. This strategy involves paying the debt with the smallest balance first. Focus all of your allotted debt payment money on this goal until you have paid it off, and then move on to the next largest debt.
  • High-interest debt. With this strategy, start by paying the debts that carry the highest interest rate first. Your highest-interest debts will cost you more the longer that you take to pay them. This strategy is most suitable if you carry debts with interest rates that are above 5 percent.
  • Extra income for a specific debt. You may find that your budget doesn’t allow for a substantial debt payment each month. In this case, you may want to take on a second job or look for other ways of income. However, for this strategy to work, you should commit to dedicating all of your income from the additional job toward your debt.

4. Negotiate fixed costs.

If your biggest debt issue is your credit card spending, you may be able to negotiate with your creditors to get a lower interest or create a more reasonable payment plan. Also, refinancing your mortgage or automating your student loan payments may lower your interest rate.

Getting out of debt won’t happen overnight. It takes hard work and dedication to find your financial freedom. Follow this financial advice, and start eliminating your debt today by making a plan and sticking to it.

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When it’s Time to Expand: Move On or Add On?

home for saleDo you feel like you need more space and are considering either moving up to a bigger house or adding on to your existing home? If you’ve been thinking about your options, the real estate pros at the Equifax Finance blog share some tips for thinking through each scenario, and discuss what to keep in mind when deciding which route to take, in the recent article, “Love it or List it?

Deciding whether or not you even need more space is the first big step. If your children are bunking up together, multiple kids per room, with no privacy; if your home office is your dining room table; if you want to have more children but have nowhere to put them; or if your storage spaces are overflowing, it may indeed be time for a bigger home.

But should you add on to your existing home or move into a larger home? According to the article, it is almost always less expensive to add on to your existing home. If you are happy where you are, you can add on to your home in a way that exactly matches your needs/desires while adding square footage that increases your home’s value. You can often recoup the cost of adding that square footage down the road. The downside to a home addition project is that your home and family may be disrupted for many months while construction is underway, and construction often takes longer and costs more than originally expected. The article’s author recommends doing as much of the work yourself, if you have the skills to do so, to save money.

If you decide to sell your home and buy a new one instead, you have to go about it very carefully, conducting your research on the front end. Study home prices in your area so that you can get a realistic expectation of what you can sell your home for and what you should prepare to pay for a new home. You’ll be both a buyer and a seller, so need to protect yourself on both sides.

If you’re in a buyers’ market, you may have a large pool of homes for sale at reasonable prices, but you might have a hard time selling your own home. You may consider asking a seller to make your purchase contract contingent upon you selling your current home. A seller having a hard time finding a buyer may accept this contingency, even though it means waiting for you to find a buyer. You might not be able to find a seller willing to work with you in this way, though, so you should meet with a mortgage broker early in the process to arrange for financing, should you find a home, and need to act quickly.

In a sellers’ market, selling your house will likely be easier than buying a new one, so in this scenario, you may want to start by looking for a house to buy, and make sure you have enough cash to tide you over during the likely short period when you own two houses at once. Like the above scenario, you can also try to negotiate with the buyer of your house to have the sale contract include a provision that makes the closing contingent on you finding and closing on a new house.

Whichever option you go with, be sure to fully research your market, so you can make the most informed decision. Get more buying and selling real estate tips at the Equifax Finance blog, where you can also find tons of helpful articles on other personal finance topics, like credit, retirement, insurance, saving and more.

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Times When You Should Think Twice About Swiping Your Credit Card

paying with a credit cardSwiping your credit card on minor purchases such as filling your car up at the gas station or buying weekly groceries is a great way to help manage your money and build your credit history. In fact, your credit card payment history makes up 35 percent of your credit score. So, using your card to purchase necessities and then paying it off at the end of the month will help raise your credit score.

However, did you know that there are times when it is best to NOT use your credit card? A recent Equifax Finance Blog article, “Four Times You May Not Want to Use a Credit Card,” explains when you shouldn’t be inclined to swipe your card and why.

For example, one time that you may want to think twice about swiping your credit card is to pay for your mortgage. Yes, large purchases on your credit card will help you rack up rewards. However, some mortgage companies will charge you a convenience fee to use your credit card. So, any points or rewards that you earned by putting that large purchase on your card will essentially be canceled out.

Another instance where you may be charged significant fees is when you use your credit card to pay for college tuition. The average fee for using your credit card to pay for tuition is 2.62 percent. When you’re paying a few thousand dollars a semester for college tuition, that small 2.62 convenience fee can add up. And, those rewards you thought you earned? They’re eaten up by the fee.

These are just some of the times when you may not want to swipe your credit card. For more information, visit the Equifax Finance Blog.

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Tips for Preparing for Retirement from Equifax

Active adult community planningWhether or not retirement is on your immediate radar, if it is within a few years for you, it’s no doubt something that’s on your mind. Preparing to leave the workforce, downsizing into a smaller home (maybe finding a home in a Jacksonville active adult community) and budgeting to live off of savings will all be an adjustment. The retirement experts at the Equifax Finance blog offers three tips for planning for retirement in the recent article, “

Three Retirement Tips for 2014 Retirees.”

First, plan out how you are going to spend your time during retirement. Experts agree that it is important to find fulfilling ways for retirees to spend their time, from volunteering to pursuing a passion.

Second, decide when to claim Social Security. There is no magic time at which each person should do this, but it is something that should be carefully decided upon. Take into consideration your health, your cash flow and your employment during retirement. You can either take the reduced benefit starting in your early 60s or wait a few years to receive the full benefit. Contact your local Social Security office or visit www.socialsecurity.gov to assess your benefits.

Third, look into your current savings and decide if any changes are needed. Revisiting your asset allocation may show that you might want to lower the risk in your investment portfolio. Your portfolio should keep up with inflation without being too risky. Keep in mind, of course that asset allocation does not ensure or guarantee better performance, and it cannot eliminate the risk of investment losses. It can however, help you stay on track with your retirement plan even during fluctuations in the market.

Get more tips on retirement at the

Equifax Finance blog, where you can also get tips on credit, identity theft protection, taxes, insurance and more.

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Outdoor Home Upgrade Tips from Equifax

Upgraded outdoor spaces have bonus valueAre you looking to redecorate your home in Jacksonville? If so, don’t forget about the outside!

Upgrading your home’s exteriors/your outdoor space can make your home more enjoyable and attractive – especially during warmer months, when we can take full advantage of improvements. If you are looking to sell your home, upgrades to the outdoor space can make your home more attractive to buyers. Cost, and return on investment is of course a major consideration, so do your research, budget carefully and get a plan in place for your work. The real estate pros at the Equifax Finance blog just posted an article, “

Increase Your Home’s Value With These Five Outdoor Upgrades,” in which HGTV design expert Jessica Yonker was interviewed and quoted discussing the value that pools, fire pits, patios, outdoor kitchens, landscaping and new paint can add to your home.

Yonker suggests adding in a little extra cushioning into your budget for taxes, service, labor and materials. She also suggests homeowners take into consideration the length of time that they would be able to enjoy an outdoor project and budget accordingly.

Read the full article on the Equifax Finance blog, where you can also get loads of tips for real estate, taxes, retirement, insurance, credit,

identity protection and more.

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Steps for a Smooth Transition into Retirement

Buying an active adult home in JacksonvilleHow many times have you seen someone “waste” their retirement years and you’ve sworn to yourself that you will not do the same and will make the best out of yours?  Transitioning into retirement, even if you have financial security, can be difficult for people who have worked their entire lives. Retirement is an adjustment period and a transition to Jacksonville active adult living. The retirement pros at Equifax have shared four steps to make the transition more manageable with the article “

4 Steps to Planning Your Transition to Retirement.

Step One – Assess your current lifestyle; examining how you spend your time and money. The article suggests making a list of the top three areas in which you spend your money.

Step Two – Identity your future goals. Make a list of what you’d like to accomplish in retirement. Do you want to redecorate your home? Learn a new language? Take an Alaskan cruise? Spend extended amounts of time with your grandchildren? Make a list of the things you want to do most.

Step Three – Come up with a plan for reaching those goals. Figure out what it will cost, how you’ll be able to afford it, what is needed to register for that foreign language class, etc.

Step Four – Things change; and your goals and plans may as well. Re-evaluate your plans every once in a while.

Read the full article for more details on these tips for transitioning into retirement; and get more helpful advice on retirement as well as many other personal finance topics, like credit, insurance, taxes,

credit ratings and more.

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Avoid Common First Time Home Buyer Mistakes

Advice for first time homebuyersBuying a home for the first time can be overwhelming, but the real estate pros at the Equifax Finance blog have put together some tips for first time buyers to avoid common mistakes in the process in the recent article, “

First-Time Homebuyers: The Four Mistakes You Need to Avoid.”

Know Your Credit Score – Unless you have the ability to pay for your home with cash, you’ll need a home mortgage. And if your score is low, you could have a very hard time getting financed, if you get financed at all. Knowing your score early on will tell you whether or not you have the financial standing to get approved for financing. If you don’t know what your credit looks like, check your credit before considering a home purchase. You can check your score for free three times per year with the three major credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax and Transunion).  Even if you’re not considering a home purchase for more than a year, it’s still a good idea to check your credit now. If there are errors, that will give you time to correct them. If your credit is good, keep it that way by paying off your bills on time.

Get prequalified – Getting prequalified will let you know how much home you can afford and will set you apart from other buyers who are only looking or who may not be able to get financing.

Know home prices – Knowing home prices and values in your area will give you the perspective you need to know what you can expect to get for what you can afford. Sales prices on homes in your area can be found online, but it will be helpful to get recent sales figures from your agent, who can also help give you some perspective on prices and values in your area.

Put together the right team – Assemble a team that has your best interest at heart, one that you trust and feel confident with. Buying a home is likely the biggest financial decision you have ever made, so you need an agent that you really feel comfortable working with. The best way to find this person is to get recommendations from friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, etc., for an agent that is knowledgeable about your area, experienced, trustworthy, and one that you relate well to. It’s hard to find someone like that online. Then, meet with him or her in person before selecting him or her as your agent.

Get more real estate tips from the Equifax Finance blog; and get tips on all sorts of financial topics, from retirement to taxes to

credit ratings and more!

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Insurance Tips for Renting a Storage Unit

Insurance for offsite valuables

It’s this time of year when many of us move and/or try to get organized. Whether you’re moving for college, a family looking to get settled into a new home before the start of the new school year, or you’re just looking to do some spring cleaning and decluttering, you may be looking at a storage unit to keep your belongings safe and stowed away.

Storage units can be incredibly useful, but there are a few things you should know before you sign a contract on a unit, and the Experts at Equifax describe them all in the recent article, “

Six Questions to Ask When Shopping for Storage Unit Insurance.”

If an item is worth paying to store, it is worth protecting with insurance. Theft, fire and other disasters can occur at even the best-run storage facilities, so it is very important to find out what types of losses would be covered by the facility, so you can determine if you need any supplemental insurance.

The article suggests you ensure that your insurance needs are met by examining the following:

Find out if you have off-premises protection through other policies – your homeowners or renters insurance could protect your belongings against fire damage, theft, tornadoes, and other disasters listed in the policy. Off-premises coverage varies and there are likely limits, so get all the details on these first.

The article recommends you also find out what kind of insurance is offered for purchase through the facility, keeping in mind that they too will also have limits on the value that they will insure.

If you will be storing very expensive items like artwork or jewelry, you may also want to purchase a floater to extend the protection to cover those items.

Also keep in mind that most policies will not cover does damage caused by flooding, earthquakes, mold, mildew, vermin, or poor maintenance.

Get more tips on insurance, credit ratings,

identity theft information, retirement and real estate at the Equifax Finance blog.

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Rising Prices, Low Inventory – Buy Before the Storm

Housing market predictions for 2013Have you noticed something about local real estate? Perhaps something with how prices have risen about five percent over the past year, but there are less and less homes coming onto the market? While this may be due to the traditional shift of winter to spring, where lots of homes jump onto market as homeowners get ready to shuffle things up in time for the new school year, there may be a bigger problem – inventories have only been shrinking in the past two years.

With national databases of homes like those on Realtor.com having shrunk as much as 40 percent from two years ago, The Equifax Finance Blog gives some helpful hints for searching for homes this year and getting the best deal possible, in the article, “

Low Inventories May Hurt Spring Real Estate Market.” With the market about to heat up for spring and less supply available due to increased demand, the article suggests that now is the time to shop for a home before prices leap any higher.

In addition to shining a light on why inventories are down, the article suggests that buyers who want a new home this year should:

  • Increase your down payment as much as you can, even if your lender doesn’t require it. A larger down payment earns points with sellers, especially if you are competing against investors paying all cash.
  • If you are in the market for a foreclosure or short sale, hire a Realtor certified in distress sales. Look for an agent with the letters “SFR” after his or her name.

The full article has lots more tips, and you can find ways to avoid debt, boost your

credit ratings and more on the Equifax Finance Blog!

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Resolve to Pay Off Holiday Debt Early

Holiday debt and ID theft protectionThe fun-filled holiday season has come and gone, and while the after-effects of so many great times may be priceless, too much holiday spending may have left your wallet a little lighter than you had hoped this New Year. January tends to bring out the best in people, as thousands resolve to get healthier, stop a bad habits, etc. So why not resolve to pay off some of your holiday debt sooner rather than later? After all, you don’t want interest rates to add a ‘ba-hum bug’ theme to the holidays in 2013!

If you are interested in paying off some holiday debt, the experts at the Equifax Finance Blog are here for you! Check out their recent blog called, “

Paying Off Holiday Debt.” This article gives a few steps to start your year off right and pay down your seasonal debt.

One important step is to stop spending money now! It may sound simple, but many people do not realize how much frivolous spending holds them back from paying off debt. So this weekend instead of going out to the movie theater, grab your significant other or friend and have a nice movie night at home. You might find its more fun anyway!

Next, you need to survey the damage. Get your bills together and try to assess how much debt you have accrued. This is the perfect time of year to review your credit report while you’re at it. Then you can make sure you have the whole picture and make a plan for what to do next. Checking your credit report is also great for

identity theft information; you can be sure all of the debt incurred over the holidays was legitimately from you and take action immediately if you find your information has be stolen.

For the remaining steps to clean up your holiday debt, please take a look at the Equifax Finance Blog today! Then be sure to look around the site for other fantastic articles concerning credit scores, ID theft protection, financial tips and much more!