A High Score Can Help You: Responsible Credit Decisions Now Can Pay Off Later

By Denise Reinoso Wayman

Do I have credit? Why does credit matter? What is a credit score? Should I apply for as much credit as I can get? You may have asked yourself these questions.

A credit score evaluates a consumer’s creditworthiness. Lenders use credit scores to gauge how likely someone is to repay debts. Someone with a higher score is considered more financially trustworthy.

Lenders generally offer lower interest rates to borrowers with high credit scores. If you have a low credit score, you may not qualify for certain loans or have to pay higher interest rates, which increases your cost of borrowing. If you have no credit score, that usually means you haven’t established credit yet.

Establishing credit usually means borrowing money (using a credit card or getting a loan) and making your payments on time.

Missing payments can lower your credit score, so be realistic about how card or loan payments fit into your overall budget. It takes time to rebuild your credit score after it declines.

Credit_Reporting_AgenciesCredit is not a taboo topic. You may need a loan someday to further your education or buy a car or house. Wouldn’t it be great to be offered the best rate possible? Here are a few tips:

  • Apply for only credit you need – be smart about what you’re doing and why.
  • Be responsible with the credit you have.
  • Make your payments on time.
  • Keep a low credit card balance and pay it in full monthly.

Start by setting up a relationship with your primary financial institution – manage your accounts responsibly, and there’s no better place to start establishing your credit.

You’re entitled to some free information

AnnualCreditReport.com is the official, authorized website to get free credit reports form the three major reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

Visit annualcreditreport.com/index.action for more information. It’s important to know what’s on your credit report.

If you have questions about credit or if you’re wondering about planning for your financial future, we would be happy to talk to you!

About the Author

Denise Reinoso Wayman is Regional Operations Manager for Everence Federal Credit Union. She works from their office in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania.

*The logos of Equifax, Experian, and Transunion belong to their respective companies and do not imply their endorsement of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center or its programs

Hope you have a Debt-Free Christmas!

By Sandy Crozier
box-2953722_1280
Christmas is a time for giving. It is a time for thinking of others. A time for expressing the
joy and hope we have inside because of God’s perfect gift to us.

Gift giving, holiday parties and family gatherings are all good things–but when they become the focus of the season, many people experience stress, guilt, and pressure to spend what they do not have–as well as the debt that follows. With the Canadian Debt-to-Income ratio hitting 150% early this year, many people are still paying off last Christmas (if not the one before too).

Somehow, we have bought into the cultural lie that we have to spend a lot for Christmas gifts to be socially acceptable. There are now guidelines on who and how much to buy for everyone from your boss to your mailman.

Sadly, many feel that even if they are completely broke, they can still spend thousands of dollars on Christmas gifts—and believe it is not only their right to do so, but that they are chain-1027864_1280obligated to do it. For those living on tight budgets, who have been as careful as they know how to be, and have a Budget or Spending Plan–the pressure to overspend at Christmas is still there.

And it is not just money that we overspend. There is also the mounting pressure to attend every event, party, rehearsal, and gathering. Saying yes to these will surely over tax our time and emotions. At the very time of the year when relationships could and should be of highest priority, over-activity and overspending combine to become a toxic potion that effect our relationships with God and each other.

The Christmas story begs us to see it as far more than a peak event in December that is soon followed by the reality filled with bills we cannot pay. We should be celebrating the greatest gift of all–God with us. But it should not come with any more debt–other than the debt of love to God and each other.

Tips to having a Debt-Free Christmas

  1. Make a commitment to NO NEW DEBT at Christmas – Overspending increases stress, not joy, to the season.
  2. Set a budget for your holiday spending and stick to it! Make a list of everyone you are buying a gift for and what you can afford to spend–and don’t go shopping without the list. You will be far less likely to buy on impulse.
  3. Save BEFORE you Shop – Many people find it is necessary to open a completely separate account for this purpose. You can set yourself up to have an automatic transfer of funds to a savings account and come Christmas time you’ll have money ready for shopping.
  4. Pay Cash / Avoid Credit – One of the best ways to stick to a budget is to pay cash for everything. Take out the total dollars you can afford to spend over the holidays. Put the money in an envelope and pay for all your gifts from that single source.
  5. Shop Early – Last minute shopping can be expensive. Stores may be out of the items on your list. When you are tired and frustrated, it is easy to make costly impulse buys just to cross that name off your list.
  6. Be Creative – There are a lot of ways to give without spending any or very little thought-2123970_1280money. Handmade crafts, cookies or jars of preserves are always appreciated. You can give your time/service (babysitting, cleaning, home repair, etc.) Use reward points gift cards (movie pass or restaurant). For those hard to shop relatives who do not need anything – consider giving a gift in their name of a goat or cow through World Vision or Samaritan’s purse or another mission that is important to them.
  7. Get out of the house & enjoy the season. There are lots of lights, community events, carol sings and more that you can enjoy for free with your family that focus on the season and not your wallet.
  8. Model a sane schedule – Avoid overtaxing your health and relationships by limiting how many commitments you make. And when you do feel stressed and pressured to do more – stop and take a deep breath. Do what really needs to be done and then choose to take the second deep breath of God’s Spirit. Take this moment to reflect on your perspective and ask God’s Spirit to guard your heart and renew a right spirit in you. Bill Bright used to call this “Spiritual Breathing.” Remember – Christmas is not about the gifts, it is about “The Gift” to each one of us – one that costs us nothing but cost God everything.


About the Author

Sandy CrozierSandy Crozier is Stewardship Development Director of The Free Methodist Church in Canada.

Image credits: pixabay.com

Steps for Conquering Student Debt

By Matt DeBallaway-1356948_1280

I remember very clearly when God nudged me to pursue ministry as a career. I also
remember the palatable community atmosphere of a Christian college, and knowing that it was God’s next step for me. Though both of these experiences were nearly a decade ago or more, they are memories I have often revisited to recall God’s faithfulness. What has followed both of these events is in line with Paul’s blessing: “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24).

Though your experience may be rather different than mine, all who follow Jesus are faced with opportunities that require counting the cost and taking steps of faith. My 18-year-old self could not have fully understood the endeavor of paying for college, but did understand that college (and, later, seminary) was an investment in my future. Thankfully, I was blessed by the support of my parents, my church, and my schools (via scholarships), which significantly reduced the amount of student loans required to complete my degrees.

Having completed my time in college and seminary, repaying student loans has begun. Here’s what this next step of my journey looks like:

1) Before graduation, chosing a repayment plan that would work best for my wife and me. Depending on which plan you choose, you may be able to change plans later. Typical
board-2084777_1280options include several standard repayment models (the same payment amount every month during the course of your loan, smaller payments leading to larger payments, and vise versa) and income-based repayment plans. There are also options for deferring loans if your current financial situation is difficult and prevents you from repaying with a regular plan.

2) Making small (or significant) lifestyle adjustments to pay for student loans. This includes finding a source of additional or increased income and/or cutting back on leisure expenses in order to faithfully make monthly payments.

3) As often as possible, paying more than the minimum monthly requirement. In addition to cost savings, you can target the lowest valued loan with the highest interest rate, and over time decease the rate of accumulating interest as you pay off each loan (what many call the “snowball method”).

4) Celebrating milestones along the way. celebrate-1835387_1280Regardless of how much you owe or how many loans you have, its important to celebrate when you pay off a student loan or decrease the value of your loans a certain amount (e.g. every $5,000 or $10,000).

5) Having hope that loan payments are purposeful and won’t last forever. Even the loans with the shortest lifespans (10 years) can feel like they will never end. Even though repayment can take (a long) time, it’s important to remember the results of your loans: a quality education, the opportunity to be qualified for desired jobs, and/or being faithful to God’s call for your life.

If you find yourself in the midst of paying back student loans, take heart: God has been faithful in the past and will continue to be faithful in the future.

About the Author

m-deball-9-2016Matt DeBall is the COMPASS Communications Coordinator for the Ecumenical Stewardship Center. He also serves as Coordinator of Donor Communications for the Church of the Brethren. He has an MDiv from Northern Seminary of Lombard, Illinois and a BA in Communication Arts from Judson University of Elgin, Illinois. He loves running, reading, and napping. He and Chelsea live in Northern Illinois with their Welsh Corgi, Watson, and attend the First Baptist Church of Aurora.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you’ve read? Visit the COMPASS web page, follow us on Twitter, and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Image credits: pixabay.com

Straightforward Advice About Student Loan Debt

By Darryl Dahlheimer

Less than ten years ago, Americans faced a soap-bubble-826018_1280 square
“housing bubble” that burst into people
losing their homes mortgage foreclosure and the Great Recession following the collapse in housing values. Here in 2017, the French adage applies again: “Plus ça change, plus ça la même chose.

This time, it’s a student loan debt bubble where total student loan debt now surpasses total credit card debt. And the Federal Reserve has reported that almost one in three of us who have this debt (31%) are 90 days or more late on our payments. This crashes our FICO credit score and leads to court actions like garnishments against our wages (even the number of retired adults over 65 who are finding their Social security checks garnished for old student loan debt has risen from 8000 a decade ago to 63,000 today).

Many borrowers feel overwhelmed by the confusing landscape of many different loan types, each with its own rules, and so they get talked into unfavorable consolidations, or parking the loans in deferment, which has a ticking-clock time limit and keeps the loan debt growing by interest charges.

One bright ray of hope in this debt morass is the Student Loan Repayment Counseling (SLRC) project being piloted by LSS Financial Counseling. Certified student loan repayment counselors help people face their debt and make an action plan that is realistic. Not everyone needs expert SLRC, but whether doing it on your own or using SLRC, here are the steps to get back in control of your debt.

Screen Shot 2017-04-17 at 10.38.18 AMThe first step is loan discovery, where you make a complete list of all the loans owed, and which types – you’ll need to look on the www.nslds.ed.gov site for all your federal loans, and also look on your three credit bureau reports from www.annualcreditreport.com to find any private student loans or collectors.

Then you need to understand all your options for repayment. One of our favorites is to teach people about “public service loan forgiveness” where people working in (not all but many types) of government or nonprofit jobs can pay a reduced amount and have a large portion of their debt forgiven.

It’s also important to dodge the “help” scams that promise to assist you but actually charge large fees to do what you can do for free. Similar to what happened during the mortgage crisis, many student loan “servicers” have been caught giving out bad advice or harvesting fees from borrowers. Especially do your research before any loan consolidations, which can cause your federal loans to lose options.tip-jar-1796480_1280
LSS will present information about its
SLRC and about repayment options at a
free COMPASS Live Chat on
April 20th from 12:30-1:30pm ET
you can join this chat at stewardshipresources.org/compass-live-chats

LSS offers SLRC free to anyone in Minnesota (888-577-2227) and through its partnership with Everence, offers SLRC nationwide via phone counseling for all Everence members (877-809-0039).

About the Author
Darryl-DahlheimerDarryl Dahlhemier
is Program Director for
LSS Financial Counseling.

 

 

Photo credits: pixabay.com, www.nslds.ed.gov

Affording College: Before, During, and After


hand-1840039_1920By Beryl Jantzi

There is an old adage that says, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today.” The same could be said about preparing for the financial realities of paying for college.

Preparation is not a once and done exercise. Preparation is ongoing. One misconception is that preparing for the financial obligations of college is only about saving beforehand or paying off debt once you graduate. In reality, there are several points along the way to redouble your efforts to get as good an education as possible in the most cost-effective way as possible.

There are three stages in Affording College, and each includes proactive steps you can take throughout this journey.

1. Before: for perspective students

  • Know what financing is available. Educate yourself about:
    • Federal loans
    • Private loans
    • Subsidized and unsubsidized loans
  • Shop and Compare:
    • In state vs. out of state costs
    • community college vs. state university vs. private school costs
  • Budget now:lawn-mower-938555_1280
    • Get information on tuition and living expenses for various schools and on campus and off campus costs for various regions of the country
    • Parents: Start 529 plans as early as possible
    • Youth: Consider part-time jobs and summer work to save for college
    • Monitor your debt from year to year
  • Apply, Apply, Apply:
    • Research sources of grants and scholarships, and business scholarships available through parents employers and local civic organizations
  • Do your homework on career interests:
    • Know the first year earning potential of your career of choice to help determine how much you can/should borrow. (Rule of thumb: borrow no more than the entry income of your career of choice)

2. During: for current students

  • Don’t stop looking for scholarships:
    • Scholarships are not just for freshman
    • Return to organizations that may have turned you down for your first year and reapply
  • Don’t take all the loans you qualify for unless you absolutely need to. Borrow as little as necessaryapple-1851464_1280
  • Look for entry level internships for your career and major. Experience will matter
    when it comes to interviewing for work
  • Always know what you owe:
    • Monitor your total debt from year to year
    • Set a limit on what you can borrow based on your career of choice and your first year earning potential

#3 After: for those entering the working world

  • Know the repayment options for all your various loans
    • Prioritize increased payments for highest interest loans and aggressively take on one loan at a time while paying minimum amounts on the others
    • Discuss consolidation of private loans to lower interest payment. Do not consolidate Federal loans which typically have lower interest rates
    • If you are struggling to make payments, do not stop making payments without talking directly with your lender. Forbearance options exist
    • If you can accelerate payments it will reduce total interest paid over the length of the loan

If you find these guidelines helpful, consider viewing three short videos related to these three stages at www.everence.com/college. They are based on the lives of Carol, Erica, and Justin. Each of these students will speak in more detail to the realities of each stage of your college experience.

For more information contact me about additional resources to help you with your college journey at beryl.jantzi@everence.com.

About the Author

Beryl Jantzi and familyBeryl Jantzi serves as the stewardship education director for Everence, a faith-based financial services company of Mennonite Church USA, which serves all who are interested in integrating their faith with their finances.

The Student Debt Challenge

By Marcia ShetlerGraduates with Student LoansIn a month or two, commencement ceremonies will take place at colleges and graduate schools across North America. Can you imagine graduates walking across the stage and receiving another slip of paper besides their diploma? That document would be their student loan bill.

According to US News & World Report, in recent years seventy percent of US students graduated with student loans. So for every ten graduates you see filing past you, seven of them would receive that piece of paper. The Globe and Mail reports similar statistics for Canada, where four students out of ten might have no student debt. What might the numbers on those papers look like? In 2016, the average Canadian graduate had more than $25,000 in debt. In the US, it was more than $37,000.

Student debt creates many challenges:

  • weight-loss-850601_1280The University of Toronto reports that students who took out more student loans were more likely to have poor mental health in early adulthood;
  • Time Magazine says that student debt can delay major life events such as buying a home, getting married, or having children;
  • Time also says that graduates with debt may work more than they wish, including taking a second job;
  • and MarketWatch reports that those who took out loans to pay for higher education but did not complete their degree have the most difficulty repaying their loans.

But student debt doesn’t have to be part of your new normal. There are things you can do to avoid it. And if you’re challenged by student debt, there are ways to make it more manageable.

This month, the COMPASS Initiative will look at these two sides of the student debt challenge:

  • Get great insights every week on this blog and on our Twitter feed and Facebook page.
  • Grab your lunch or a cup of coffee and join us for a Live Chat with Darryl tip-jar-1796480_1280Dahlheimer, Program Director for LSS Financial Counseling—a partner of Everence—on Thursday, April 20, 12:30 p.m. Eastern time, 11:30 a.m. Central time, 10:30 a.m. Mountain time, and 9:30 a.m. Pacific time. Darryl will tell us about new student loan repayment options and share stories of experience and hope about this challenging issue.

Student debt can be a burden that affects our ability to live the life to which God has called us. It impacts how we steward what God has given us to manage and our freedom to be generous. Whether we are considering how to finance education or deal with the financial ramifications afterward, the key is seeking God’s guidance and choosing wisely. I hope the information shared this month will help you conquer your Student Debt Challenge!

About the Author

marcia shetlerMarcia Shetler is Executive Director/CEO of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center. She holds an MA in philanthropy and development from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota, a BS in business administration from Indiana Wesleyan University, and a Bible certificate from Eastern Mennonite University. She formerly served as administrative staff in two middle judicatories of the Church of the Brethren, and as director of communications and public relations for Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Indiana, an administrative faculty position. Marcia’s vocational, spiritual, and family experiences have shaped her vision and passion for faithful stewardship ministry that recognizes and celebrates the diversity of Christ’s church and the common call to all disciples to the sacred practice of stewardship. She enjoys connecting, inspiring, and equipping Christian steward leaders to transform church communities.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS Initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page, follow us on Twitter, and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Photo credits: pixabay.com

How living affordably in college expresses your faith

By Matt DeBall

university-1714975_128-croppedGoing to college is an important decision that establishes independence. As young people branch out on their own and possibly even move away from home, they are able to begin living more directly in line with their own goals. For Christ-followers, this also means learning how to make decisions for oneself and developing habits that put one’s faith into action.

Continuing with this month’s theme, being a frugal college student is not only a decision that is good for a checking account—it is also a means to express your faith. Here are three ways that living affordably through college expresses your faith.

1. It honors God

“Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God”
(1 Corinthians 10:31, NRSV).

Whether it be limiting how many times you eat out each week or purchasing a second-hand kitchen table instead of a new one, every decision to save money honors God. Not only does being a good steward of money honor God, but living within your means also makes way for being generous. Through being frugal and having the capacity to share of your resources, you are able to support the work that God does in the church and the world.

2. It honors those who support youcoins-668748_1280

When a person goes to college, there is often a band of people who support this decision. Parents, siblings, friends, and church-family members may never journey to a college campus, but they still support the student through prayer and other means. Especially when your family is helping you pay for school, how you spend your money honors them. By avoiding unnecessary purchases and saving extra money, it allows for contributing more to your college education.

3. It honors your future self

“The wise man saves for the future, but the foolish man spends whatever he gets”
(Proverbs 21:20, Living Bible).

Any decision you make today could have an effect on your life tomorrow. While you have the choice to spend the extra money that you have, you could also choose to save it or use it wisely. Choosing to avoid or minimize student loans by paying for all or part of school expenses, for example, makes room for your “future self” to focus less on debt accrued through college. It is through making wise money decisions in college that your future self.

About the Author

m-deball-9-2016Matt DeBall is the COMPASS Communications Coordinator for the Ecumenical Stewardship Center. He also serves as Coordinator of Donor Communications for the Church of the Brethren. He has an MDiv from Northern Seminary of Lombard, Illinois and a BA in Communication Arts from Judson University of Elgin, Illinois. He loves running, reading, and napping. He and his wife, Chelsea, live in Northern Illinois with their Welsh Corgi, Watson, and attend the First Baptist Church of Aurora.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page, follow us on Twitter, and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Image credits: pixabay.com