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

Managing Debt

A new part of the COMPASS resources this year are live chats with thought leaders on the month’s theme featured on the blog. During March, COMPASS has focused on “Managing Debt: Loans and Money in March.”

Sandy Crozier, Stewardship Development Director of The Free Methodist Church in Canada

Sandy Crozier, Stewardship Development Director of The Free Methodist Church in Canada

This past week Sandy Crozier presented on Managing Debt offering tips and ideas for how to repay debt, have emergency savings, and to be financially fit. The recording of the chat is available here to watch the discussion and gain Sandy’s wisdom.

Please note, as this was the first COMPASS Live Chat there were a few technical issues in the first 5-10 minutes of the recording, but after that, it worked well.

Enjoy the presentation, and please share any thoughts, questions, or comments on the topic that you may have here in the questions and we’ll continue the faith and finances conversation about managing debt together.

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 and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Faithful Fun with Finances in February

How is that for some alliteration? COMPASS’ focus and mission is on creating conversations related to faith and finances for Millennials and young adults. This month on the COMPASS blog, we will dig deeply into some fresh financial topics such as credit scores, credit cards, taxes, income tax filing, and student debt. In March, we’ll continue a focus on finances with a closer look at debt management.

February is a month with more than just Valentines. We are going to have fun thinking about #faithandfinances.

February is a month with more than just Valentines. We are going to have fun thinking about #faithandfinances.

I am looking forward to sharing posts with you on the blog from persons who have far more expertise on these topics than I do. To start the conversation though, I have a few thoughts about some of our February topics.

Credit Scores

I am no expert when it comes to credit scores, but I have checked my wife’s and mine a few times because of having a credit card and paying student loans. I have learned that paying bills regularly and on time has a positive impact on your credit score. The credit score is one factor that is used when deciding if you will be approved for loans or other credit.

Income Taxes

In the United States, income taxes must be filed by Friday April 15th this year. Because of this, I am guessing that most of you have not yet started preparing your tax forms. I have to admit, I haven’t either. It’s on my agenda for this month, and I will let you know on the blog how that goes. Here are some things you can start doing now before filling out your paper or e-form:

  1. Find your 2015 receipts that you might use for deductions.
  2. Make sure that you have received all W-2s and other such forms (like 1099-Misc.) which you receive.
  3. Do a little research to determine the best way for you to do your tax preparation (e.g., do you need an accountant, tax preparation software, do you do it by hand??). The approach will vary based on your level of patience, time, interest, and expertise.

Student Loan Debt

At the start of each month my wife Allison and I make sure to set up payments for our student loans. Because we try to pay enough to reduce the principal in addition to the interest, it’s always nice to see that the total amount has gone down, thanks to the previous payment! If possible, adjust your payment schedule and/or amount to pay more than just the interest on student loans.

These are just a few observations from my experience. It’s also helpful to remember that in spite of all of the stress that financial matters can create, God is present with you. One of my favorite passages to remember which helps me put things in perspective and gives me patience is Isaiah 43:1-7.

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you… you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you… Do not fear, for I am with you.” ~  from Isaiah 43:1-5, NRSV.

What are some financial questions and topics that you have been wondering about?

About the Author: Timothy blogs regularly and serves as the Communications Associate for the Ecumenical Stewardship Center with a focus on COMPASS. He also serves at Messiah Lutheran as the congregation’s mission developer.

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 and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Image Credit: Hearts

Frugal Fall: A Financial Self-Examination

During October, the COMPASS blog is sharing thoughts, tips, and reflections about having a Frugal Fall. Today, we are happy to welcome back regular contributor Nicole Brennan, a Marketing Assistant at Barnabas Foundation. Nicole shares some important ideas and reflections about a “Financial Self-Examination.”

Nicole and her friends having some fun this fall, on their visit to see Pope Francis while he was visiting the United States.

Nicole and her friends having some fun this fall, on their trip to see Pope Francis in Philadelphia while he was visiting the United States.

There is an underlying pressure to make the most of the hot weather during the summer months. My days and evenings were booked trying to squeeze in bike rides, family outings, church fundraisers, date nights, and road trips. Now that autumn is upon us, it almost seems the slight chill in the air makes everyone slow down a bit. Take advantage of fall inactivity and whatever breathing room you have to assess your financial health!

I am very money-minded while travelling on a budget, but my “big-picture” finances tend to get a bit away from me. I have automatic withdrawal for all my bills and automatic deposit with my paycheck. Since everything is pre-programmed, it is very convenient, but the details (and my overall financial health) are sometimes lost. I recently asked myself these four questions to audit myself and see how I am doing.

Am I Following My Budget?

I use my credit card for everything- gas, groceries, clothes, and all the miscellaneous stuff in between. When the email comes saying “Time to Pay!” I look over the expenses to make sure they are accurate, maybe add them up if I have time, and spend my accrued points. If you haven’t made up a budget, a monthly spreadsheet in Excel only takes a few minutes to set up, and you can see your immediate monetary stats all in one place. If you already have one, now is a great time to update it, and make adjustments as needed.

What Do My Retirement Savings Look Like?

My financial advisor (aka- my dad) has always taught me to save, and it’s a value I hold near and dear. If you have a company retirement plan, take advantage of it! If not, then personally set one up ASAP! Your HR representative will be able to help if you are with a company. However, if you are an entrepreneur and/or don’t have company help, consult a financial advisor. (You can try to “go it alone,” but if you are unfamiliar with the financial world, it will be difficult. To get started, do some research about 401(k), 403(b), Roth and IRA options at IRS.gov.)This is a great calculator to help you understand what your projected retirement saving goals look like and where they need to be. It factors in rate of return, current and future salary, current age, age of retirement, and a few other factors. It’s fairly simple to understand, and there’s a handy glossary of common terms below.

Did I Use All My Benefits?

Most companies are re-upping for their health/dental/vision insurance and their HSA/FSA  (Health/Flex Spending Accounts) about this time of year. If you have these, have you taken full advantage of them? Have you gotten your annual physical and dental check-up, yet? If you have money left in your HSA/FSA, spend it! And speaking of your HSA/FSA, evaluate whether you need to add more or subtract some for next year.

Have I Donated to Charity and My Church?

During your self-audit, it’s very easy to adopt a “broke” mentality. “I’m so broke, I only have this amount in my savings!” “I’m so broke, I can barely stay within my budget!” “I’m so broke, I can only squirrel away a tiny portion towards my retirement!”  It also might be easy to deny tithing or giving to your church and charity, because of this mentality. The truth is we are abundantly blessed by God. We have enough, and the OPPORTUNITY for enough, to pay our bills, visit a doctor, and save what we can. It is an honor to bless those places and people when and where we can. There is a joy that comes from giving. Make room in your budget to experience that joy!

COMPASS resources explore the connection between faith and finances, so looking honestly at your financial health is an important spiritual practice. Deuteronomy 8:18 says, “But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth.” (NRSV). It is essential to be wise with what God has blessed us with here on earth, and that means knowing and improving your financial situation as God gives you the ability to do so.

profileAbout the Author, Nicole Brennan: Hello there! I’m passionate about living a stewardly lifestyle, while being adventurous and frugal. I currently live in community with six other 20-somethings in downtown Chicago and work as a Marketing Assistant at Barnabas Foundation, a partner of ESC and COMPASS. In my off hours, you can find me volunteering at a nearby homeless shelter, enjoying live music with friends, or watching reruns of Parks and Rec. Email me at nicoletbrennan@gmail.com or tweet me at @BarnabasFdn.

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 and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Talking about Faith and Finances- One Couple’s Experience

During September, the COMPASS blog is digging deeper into the topic of conversations about money by sharing different perspectives, questions, and approaches. As we continue the series today, I am excited to welcome my friends Pastors Amanda and Jeremy Ullrich to the blog. They have very recently purchased their first home which led me to want to hear their story. In hearing it, I have decided that our conversation will make for a two-part series. Today’s post will shed light on how they as a couple have grown since getting married and attending seminary, especially related to talking about money together. The next post will be specifically about their experience of buying a new home.

Amanda and Jeremy with my wife Allison and I

Amanda and Jeremy with my wife Allison and I, after Amanda and Jeremy graduated from seminary.

Timothy (T): First of all, Amanda and Jeremy, thank you so much for being willing to share your story with me, reflecting on how you talk about faith and finances, and how those conversations have led you into very recently purchasing your first house.

Jeremy (J): We are excited to share our story, and hope it helps other young adults and young families in having these conversations.

T: Amanda and Jeremy, how do you have conversations about faith and finances? What challenges have you faced in having these conversations?

J: Good question Timothy. Having these conversations has been a growing process for sure. We each grew up with different understandings and familiarities when it comes to talking about and managing money.

Amanda (A): We had no clue what we were doing when we started.

J: I felt like I had some clue, but I admit, I didn’t know much. I think we were both raised with the idea that, ‘if you don’t have it, don’t spend it.’’ Because of this, we were naturally inclined to not want to spend, especially as we were paying for college and seminary. We were, and really are, inclined to want to save, and live frugally as much as we could. But that looked differently for both of us.

A: When we were first married, it was really difficult to have money conversations.

J: My dad and uncle invested for a long time, including investing in me. For example, growing up, I showed heifers (cows) at the county fair, and after showing they would be sold. All the money that was raised from those sales became scholarship money for me. This was an early opportunity for me to earn some income, and to do some good work by caring for the cows, walking and feeding them.

A: My sisters and I had an allowance growing up. At some point, once I became a teenager, my parents helped set up a checking and savings account for me.

A: After getting married, Jeremy and I didn’t have credit card until two years into marriage and seminary. I think the biggest reason why we didn’t get a credit card until then was because we were afraid of having a credit card. We changed our minds in large part because of financial counseling we received which moved us past our fears to the possibilities. We have learned that when intentional and careful with a credit card, and using it as a tool to build credit, and pay it off right away every month, having one can be a good thing. We actually now have two credit cards now- one used for purchases at a single store as well as for gas.

J: While in seminary we received coaching from a financial coach, and that was a very helpful thing which really helped us grow in our ability to talk about money. In fact, one of the things we did early on which was probably most helpful was that Amanda and I both created a financial autobiography. It was so helpful to hear and dig into our financial stories from growing up. That helped us understand each other so much more.

T: In looking at your finances, how often do you have conversations about them?

A: As a couple, we go over our finances, credit cards, checking accounts, etc., at least once a month. In fact, every transaction that we make I enter into a spread sheet, under a certain tabbed area. This helps us, review, make adjustments, and cut back as needed with our budget.

J: Even though we have figured this out, we still have conflict over finances. I am a bit more of a spender than Amanda, and more quick and willing to spend. In seminary, it was really difficult, because when shopping for something, Amanda and I sometimes had differing opinions about whether a purchase was really a need. These moments of conflict sometimes affected our respect and trust for each other. So it was important for us to talk it out and take some time.

A: For example, Jeremy really wants to get a treadmill. He wants to invest in his health. At first I didn’t see the need, but after talking it out with Jeremy, I have come to see the potential benefits.

J: Through our money conversations we have learned to compromise, but also to learn and hear each other’s opinion. Especially in seminary we tried to always avoid impulse buys, and any unplanned big expense. Now, we are slightly more lenient on that, but we definitely have price limits.

Pastors Jeremy and Amanda Ullrich

Pastors Jeremy and Amanda Ullrich

A: Perhaps the best thing that that has come from our conversations is that our communication between each other has definitely increased over the years.

T: What have you two learned in the process of having these money conversations?

J: We have learned that sometimes we aren’t in the right spot to talk about money. Sometimes it might actually be more painful to talk about than helpful. We have had to realize that these conversations also have to deal with conflict management. As finances are both stewardship and ministry, they also reflect one’s core values. What you spend your money on shows where your heart is. To reflect on this takes time and space. Sometimes we may not have the time or mental capacity to have that reflection together, because of stress from work and life. It’s important then to set a time to come back to the conversation with each other.

A: We have also really learned how to address conflict in a healthy way!  By doing so, we don’t let conflict, or any potential conflict, create more distance between us. We have also been reminded over the years of the gifts of our friends, and have collaborated with them to help strategize and have these conversations.

T: Over the years, and with the purchase of your new home recently, what new questions about faith and finances have emerged for you?

A: We want to tithe to our congregations and give beyond that to different groups, causes, and nonprofits. We are still working to figure out the best model for us to have the most impact with our giving.

J: At the same time, we are facing the reality that a huge part of budget in our congregations is for our salaries. As pastors, we have to wrestle with what does it mean to steward the gifts we have as a congregation.

A: Trying to decide how much money to put down on the house was interesting. And I’ve been wondering especially about how to talk about these issues, and stories, in the pulpit more regularly.

J: I think about the story of the rich man, who is told by Jesus that he needs to sell all his possessions. What does it mean to have finances and still follow Jesus? That’s the point at which it becomes a tension. There seems to often be a fear or focus on finances and financial situations in tension with following God. For instance, who are really worshiping when we think about and use our finances?? God? A checkbook? A bank account? It can be a constant tension. I have come to believe that it is important to live into that tension.

T: What hopes and dreams do you two have?

J: I hope to have a growing family someday, and to be able to care for it well.

A: In addition to that, I hope to be able to pay it forward, as we’re both so grateful for all that we have received and do receive.

Pastors Amanda & Jeremy and their dog Lola

Pastors Amanda & Jeremy and their dog Lola

T: We will pick up the conversation in our next post as we turn to Amanda and Jeremy’s decision to buy their first home.

About the Interviewees: Amanda and Jeremy Ullrich are a clergy couple in West Texas, both serving their first congregational calls as ordained pastors. Their family currently includes their wonderful dog, Lola. Together they are tackling the world’s largest puzzle, which includes approximately 33,600 puzzle pieces, because “everything is bigger in Texas,” and “why not go big or go home.” While attending Luther Seminary, they lived next door to Allison and Timothy Siburg, and that was the start of a beautiful friendship.

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 and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Talking About Faith and Finances: Pursue Contentment

During September, the COMPASS blog is digging deeper into the topic of conversations about money by sharing different perspectives, questions, and approaches. Today we welcome Dori Zerbe Cornelsen, from the Mennonite Foundation of Canada, back to the blog. Join Dori in thinking about contentment. As Dori mentions, First Things First and many other resources on the COMPASS website help pursue living with a deeper sense of contentment. See what you think and please join the conversation on Facebook or here on the blog by leaving a comment.

10 Million

“Which would you rather have – 10 kids or $10 Million?”

“Which would you rather have – 10 kids or $10 Million?” 

During a presentation I once asked the group, “Who comes to mind when you think of the word contentment?” Someone said his grandfather used to ask this question. Without much hesitation, I said, “I’d choose the $10M.”

“Wrong answer,” the person said.  “Because if you have $10M you are never completely sure you have enough but if you have 10 kids… you know you have enough!”

Contentment probably does have something to do with having enough.  In studies that test the link between money and happiness, one consistent observation is that the association of happiness-to-money plateaus when people have enough money to meet basic needs, have good health care and safety, etc. – any increase in money above this level does not predict the same increase in happiness.

We live in a culture that promotes being discontent.  Spending on advertising in North America is projected to be more than $200B in 2015 all to remind us that we should be dissatisfied.

So, can we be content?  Way before people did studies on money and happiness, Paul wrote a letter to Timothy in our Bible that includes pretty much the same observation:

“For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” (1 Timothy 6:7-8).

Paul goes on to warn Timothy that unchecked dissatisfaction can lead to pretty grim consequences.

I mentioned the study guide, First Things First in my last blog.  “Contentment is a choice,” writes Edwin Friesen:

“True contentment frees us to enjoy our gifts in the present.  To be content does not mean that we don’t work for better tomorrows or plan for the future.  It does mean that we do not let our dreams and concerns about tomorrow rob us of fully enjoying the gifts we have today.” (p. 35)

How are you choosing contentment?

dori-zerbe-cornelson-220x220About the Author: Dori Zerbe Cornelsen works with Mennonite Foundation of Canada encouraging and inviting generous living.  She and her husband Rick live in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

 

 

Image Credit: Money

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 and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Leveling Up in Financial Conversations

During the month of February, COMPASS is giving space for thought, questions and conversation related to couples, their money, and their money decisions. As part of this series, we are featuring guest posts from different writers. Today, we welcome Margaret Ellsworth and her husband Drew Baker to the blog to share a story about how they engage financial conversations.

margaretanddrew2

Margaret Ellsworth and Drew Baker

This Valentine’s Day is marked by a lot of conversations in our house about finances. Our partnership has to “level up” (can you tell we’re gamers?) in response to new blessings and new challenges. For the past five years, our income has come from a variety of piecemeal sources: adjunct teaching contracts, freelance projects, scholarships, and an assortment of part-time jobs. We’ve been lucky: we’ve had enough to pay our expenses and put some money away for the future. But because our income sources were so sporadic, we didn’t have much of a saving strategy beyond making it to the end of the semester or the end of the contract. We worked hard to live frugally, putting off large purchases and hoarding away as much money as we could to prepare for a future in flux.

That all changed in 2014. We finished our respective graduate programs, and for the first time since we got together, both Drew and I are in long-term, so-called “career track” jobs. Which means we have to figure out what to do now that the paychecks are the same every month. Our new situation is presenting us with some new questions…

With all of the degrees that this couple share, you might expect that they have quite the library now.

With all of the degrees that this couple share, you might expect that they have quite the library now.

What are our new savings goals? We’re realizing that this is a time to think about more long-term goals, whether or not we are ready to achieve them. For us, our most recent decision is that we want to own a home someday. The housing market in Southern California being what it is, we may not be able to afford that for a while. But we’ve started researching the home-buying process now, as well as starting conversations about our priorities in terms of location, price, and type of home. This gives us a concrete goal to look forward to.

How does our spending align with our values? This applies to both big and small purchases. When we recently upgraded our car, we chose a hybrid car so that my commute didn’t put as much pressure on the environment. We’re moving toward using a smaller local bank instead of the big national chains, and as much as possible we’re moving toward making our smaller purchases locally as well. Taking a look at our budget, we realized we can afford paying a few extra dollars for locally grown produce, or buying Christmas gifts at hometown shops rather than Amazon and Best Buy. We want to honor this privilege

How can we give to others in need? Giving to charity or faith communities is something we put off for a long time when we were living paycheck to paycheck, but we always knew we wanted to make it part of our life. As an interfaith couple (Drew is Buddhist and I’m Christian) our charitable giving has to look a little different than the simple monthly check to the church that I remember from my childhood. We can’t just write a check to the church and call it a day! Not that we’d want to anyway. At the moment our giving is a piecemeal combination of pledges to my church, contributions to charities and interfaith organizations. It’s a work in progress, and we are committed to making it a habit.

These are exciting and frightening questions—thank goodness we are tackling them together. Most weeks we take a Sunday afternoon walk down to our favorite frozen yogurt shop, and we often use those walks to check in with each other about where we’re at financially. Maybe I’ll tell Drew about some of the charities I think could use our help, or Drew will describe a potential house and ask me what I think. We’re trying to find a financial picture that works for us right now, while realizing our situation can and almost certainly will change again.

margaretanddrew1About the Authors: Margaret Ellsworth is a writer, communicator, and recent seminary graduate. She currently works at the Chapman University Library in events and marketing. Her husband, Drew Baker, is an acquisitions librarian and Buddhist Studies professor. They live in a book-filled apartment in Claremont, California.

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 and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.