Living Large in a Small Space

Squeezing your life into a tiny apartment, home, or condo can be a challenge, but you don’t have to sacrifice style or live knee-high in a sea of clutter. No matter how small, a space can be enjoyable and feel spacious with just the right touch. Here are some ways five tips on how to maximize your space, making it feel like home:

Downsize

You don’t have to get rid of everything but going through the process of downsizing can ease the clutter by getting rid of things you don’t really need. You probably did this before moving into your new space, but if you’ve had some time to accumulate more stuff, you may need to revisit it.

Brighten the atmosphere

Choose a crisp, light color scheme for things like curtains, sofa, and throw rugs to make the room feel bigger, brighter and comfy. Avoid darker tones that make a space appear uninviting and small.

Lots of natural light in a space can make it seem larger, too. Changing window treatments, if possible, or simply opening blinds and curtains during the day can make any room more pleasant.

Mirror appeal

Take a page out of restaurant strategy and try hanging up a few mirrors. It gives the illusion of feeling like you’re in a much larger and lighter space, and sometimes the illusion is all you need to feel better.

Style with function

With little space, you can’t give over space to something with just one function. A table with storage underneath or a desk that pulls out from the wall gives you effectively more space to work with. If you’re in a one-bedroom apartment, or even a studio, opting for a sofa bed can be a smart choice if you host guests from out of town. This takes away the need for an extra room and bed, while still being practical for everyday use.

Curtain call

Hang your curtains higher (the higher the better) to give the appearance of higher ceilings. You can also let in more light and make windows look wider by extending a curtain rod by four inches or more on either side of the windows. This will not only give the illusion of more square footage, but allows more light to enter too!

Shelve it

Getting clutter off of the floor can make any space seem bigger. If you’re letting items collect, trying various shelving. For a sleek, modern look, try floating shelves — this helps reduce the mess and keeps things simple. Hang them on your walls for a fashionable look that also leaves you plenty of floor real estate.

Curtain call

Getting clutter off the floor can make any space seem bigger. For a sleek, modern look, try floating shelves — this helps reduce the mess and keeps things simple. Hang them on your walls for a fashionable look that also leaves you plenty of floor real estate. If that’s enough, you might need to get more creative.

Be clever about storage

You still need places to stick your stuff, and a little creativity can get you a lot more space. If your bed frame is off the ground, you can put some boxes and other storage containers underneath it – the same goes for any other furniture with space under it. When you run out of that space, look to hooks and racks that go on the back of your doors. These are especially helpful in closets, where you can get shoe hangers to held more than just shoes, or bathrooms, where you can store what doesn’t fit in your drawers or cabinets. Still not enough space? Some cleverly placed peg boards can convert wall space to storage space, as well as keeping commonly used things in easy reach.

With these tips, take a look around your space and see how you can update! Have more tips to share based on your personal experience? Share in the comments below!

Photo by Stephen Crowley on Unsplash

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Source: apartmentguide.com

FreeWill Review: Pros & Cons

FreeWill Review: Pros & Cons – SmartAsset

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FreeWill is an online estate planning tool that allows you to create or update a legally binding will in as little as 20 minutes. It offers products such as the ability to document funeral wishes, create a durable financial power of attorney, advance healthcare directives (living wills) and give charitable contributions from your retirement or stock brokerage account. As the company’s name implies, FreeWill’s services are completely free. Funding comes from FreeWill’s partnership with more than 100 nonprofit organizations who sponsor these services. You can access the service online, giving users the ability to change or download their will at any time without needing to create a new one.

If you’d rather have a professional personally help you with your entire estate plan, consider working with a local financial advisor.

FreeWill Overview
Pros
  • Fairly robust service for free
  • Online access – Once you create you can update at any time
Cons
  • No live support
  • Relatively smaller range of products
Best For
  • Cost (free)
  • Charitable giving

FreeWill: Services & Features

For a completely no-cost service, FreeWill’s offerings are fairly robust.

First, it can cover an individual’s most important needs for a last will and testament. The website offers a questionnaire via an easy-to-use interface, asking basic information as well as other pertinent details such as current income, family information and whether users have any children or pets that they’d like to cover in their will.

For users who need to create an advance healthcare directive (also known as a living will), filling out the form will involve answering questions about some personal information, selecting a preferred physician and hospital for end-of-life care as well as selecting an agent or healthcare proxy. Then users can share what they need to about the values they wish to be upheld and other specific instructions, before finalizing with signatures and any further instructions specific to their state.

For a durable financial power of attorney, individuals will need to provide some personal information and also select an agent or agents to make financial decisions for them if they become unable to do so. Then users can choose the powers that any agent(s) will be allowed to exercise, list any specific limitations and provide other important details (i.e. compensation, monitors, guardians, revocation and how documents will be executed).

Additionally, in keeping with its commitment to charitable giving, FreeWill offers individuals ways to give a charitable contribution from a retirement account or a stock brokerage account.

FreeWill: Pricing

FreeWill’s Fee Structure
Membership Tiers
  • $0 / Free for individuals
Extra Features

FreeWill’s pricing model is straightforward, as it is free to use for individuals. As an individual user, you can draft your will, durable financial power of attorney or advanced healthcare directive via the website.

Funding comes from FreeWill’s partnership with more than 100 nonprofit organizations who sponsor these services. Nonprofit organizations can learn more about a range of tools that FreeWill offers – like a Bequest Tool, a Qualified Charitable Distributions (QCD Tool) and a Stock Gifts Tool – in order to make gifts easier for both supporters to give and organizations to receive.

FreeWill: User Support

FreeWill’s website offers a streamlined design that’s fairly easy to use. For a last will and testament, its questionnaire form is divided into parts and users can track their progress so that they know how many sections remain to fill out. For services such as advance healthcare directives and durable financial power of attorney, the site outlines the form sections and the information you’ll need to gather before you begin.

If you’re looking for immediate support from customer support representatives, FreeWill unfortunately does not provide this kind of a feature. It does, however, have a contact page as well as a help center page where users can find the answers to some frequently asked questions addressing troubleshooting and technical issues.

Thanks to insight from experts around the country, FreeWill makes sure that a user’s will complies with each state’s specific legal requirements. Of course, FreeWill makes it clear that it is not a law firm and therefore cannot provide legal advice. If you need to enlist the services of a professional attorney or even a professional financial advisor, you should do so separately.

FreeWill: Online Experience

FreeWill does not have any further mobile or online platforms available through its service, as all the final documents will be available to users once they finalize the questionnaire process on the site. There is no app or other software that a user would need to download. Given the company’s no-cost pricing model, this is probably to be expected.

How Does FreeWill Stack Up?

Comparing FreeWill to Other Services
Service Pricing Features Accessibility
FreeWill
  • $0 / Free for individuals
  • Last will & testament, durable financial power of attorney, advance healthcare directive, charitable contributions
  • No legal services or support
TotalLegal
  • $14.95 – $19.95 for legal documents
  • TotalLegal Plan subscription $89/year or $9.95/month
  • Create documents
  • With subscription: Legal services from attorneys
  • With subscription: Document storage vault service
Tomorrow app
  • Mobile app free for families
  • Free for employees covered by employers who buy Tomorrow Plus plans
  • $39.99/year for Tomorrow Plus plan not through employer
  • Mobile creation of estate planning documents, such as will, trust, healthcare directive, power of attorney
  • App allows users to connect with family members and make decisions together
  • No legal services or support
  • Mobile app

The biggest differences FreeWill has over competitors is its emphasis on charitable giving and its free services as a result of that.

Bottom Line

Overall, FreeWill is an easy-to-use website that helps those who are looking to have an official last will and testament the ability to create a simple one using their online forms. The service – including certain other end-of-life planning forms such as a durable financial power of attorney or a living will – is free to use for individuals, with an emphasis on charitable giving driving the company’s ethos and business model. While 24-hour support or live customer representative or legal support is not available with free will, its website allows users to create an account, begin and have their specific forms in just minutes – and also allows them to log in, update and download forms again at any time.

Estate Planning Tips

  • If you’re seeking more detailed advice instead of or in addition to your own estate planning steps, consider reaching out to a financial professional. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool connects you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors, get started now.
  • Estate planning is all about looking ahead and mapping out your plan as best as possible. If you’re going the DIY route, make sure you’re aware of the possible financial consequences. Read more about the dangers of DIY estate planning and five estate planning mistakes you can’t afford to make.

Photo credit: FreeWill

Nadia Ahmad, CEPF® Nadia Ahmad is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®) and a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing (SABEW). Her interest in taxes and grammar makes writing about personal finance a perfect fit! Nadia has spent ten years working as a seasonal income tax assistant, researching federal, state and local tax code and assisting in preparing tax returns. Nadia has a degree in English and American Literature from New York University and has served as an instructor/facilitator for a variety of writing workshops in the NYC area.
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Too Many Toys! How to Declutter

While having a child can add so much joy to a parent’s life, these little loved ones also bring certain challenges – including the spatial needs for a family. Living in a rental with a child can feel cramped and cluttered. If you have a child who loves playing with toys, but you don’t have a lot of space in your home, there are some simple solutions you can employ to keep your kids’ favorite toys organized and accessible. Want to know more about the best toy storage solutions? We’ve compiled a list of 4 helpful tips to keep your kids’ toys easy to access and out of the way.

1. Bookshelves and Baskets

If you have a child who likes to run around your rental, or have play space that is combined with living space, you’ll want to get the toys off the floor when playtime is over. One of the best solutions for storing toys is a bookshelf with baskets. Use a bookshelf that already holds books or purchase a smaller bookcase that is solely dedicated to toys, storing them on the bottom shelves so your child can easily reach them. Then, purchase some attractive baskets made from wicker, plastic, or wood to store the toys. Toys can be removed when it’s time to play and easily gathered into the baskets, then slipped onto a shelf when it’s time to clean up.

2. Under-Bed Storage

Does your child primarily play in his or her room? Consider investing in long, flat bins that can fit under a bed for toy storage. This is a great way to keep toys out of sight and reduce visible clutter. Long, flat bins also work for storing toys under a couch or futon. Under-bed or couch bins are great for storing toys that don’t need to be accessed everyday, but are easy to get to when needed – like puzzles, board games, or stuffed animals.

3. Behind-the-Door Organizers

You’ve probably seen those hanging over-the-door organizers intended for shoes, but these organizers can also be an excellent tool for keeping toys organized and off the floor. Fill the shoe pouches with art and craft supplies, action figures, or even building blocks. Toys will be accessible to the kids when they want them, but can be hidden away when you have guests.

4. Coat Hooks and Tote Bags

Another attractive way to store kids’ toys in a playroom or bedroom is with a set of wall-mounted coat hooks and labeled tote bags, which you can find at most craft stores. Use a permanent marker to note what kind of toys each tote will hold. You can even make this into an art project with the kids. Have them help decorate canvas tote bags that will hold all of their toys. Then, mount the coat hooks to the wall and hang the bags on the hooks. This is a neat and organized way to store toys, and it still allows your little ones easy access to their favorite belongings. You can also swap out labeled totes with clear, plastic bags or pouches so that children can see the contents inside.

Do you live with children in a rental? If so, how do you keep toys organized? Share your toy storage ideas with us (or send a picture!) on Facebook or tweet @AptGuide.

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Source: apartmentguide.com

A Brief History of Cryptography

Who doesn’t love a good secret code? Cryptography is the science of secret codes—of creating a language or code that can’t be cracked unless one knows exactly how to decode it.

Today, cryptography is used for everything from internet cybersecurity to blockchain technology and cryptocurrency investing. It has evolved and advanced over time along with technology, but it got its start in ancient times, with hieroglyphs and cuneiforms.

Let’s look back at the history of cryptography and how it has evolved over the years to serve different functions with the same goal—securing information.

What is Cryptography?

Cryptography is the process of securing information by changing it into a form that people can’t understand unless they know how it was encoded. The original information is known as plaintext, and the encoded version of the information is known as ciphertext. The calculation or code used to change plaintext into ciphertext is called an algorithm and the process is called encryption. The opposite of encryption is decryption—turning ciphertext back into plaintext, or another readable form.

In order for someone to decode the information, they need to know how to read it or change it back into its plaintext form. Usually decryption involves both the algorithm and a key. Generally this key is a number.

Ancient History of Cryptography

The history of encryption dates back thousands of years. The earliest known use of cryptography was over 5600 years ago in Sumeria and Egypt. Cuneiform and hieroglyphics were created to record transactions. These were not necessarily intended to be secret, but were forms of writing down information that someone wouldn’t know how to read unless they understood the language system. It took hundreds of years for these early forms of writing to be deciphered by other societies.

Early forms of encryption all used a key that had to be given to the recipient in order for them to be able to decipher it. This is known as symmetric encryption, because the same key is used for encryption and decryption. The following are several examples of ciphers that use symmetric encryption.

Caesar Box

Julius Caesar used cryptography around 100 BC to send messages to his military generals, encrypted to be protected from opponents who might intercept it. The “Caesar Box,” or “Caesar Cipher,” was easily decrypted by those who knew how, but it protected messages from unintended eyes.

The Caesar Cipher is what is known as a “substitution cipher” or “shift cipher.” It works by changing each letter within a message three letters, to the right. For example, an A in a message would become a D, and a B would be written as an E. The number of letter places that get shifted is called the key. In this case the key is three.

Since there are only 26 letters in the English alphabet, shift ciphers like the Caesar Box are easy to figure out and not very secure forms of cryptography. Once mathematicians figured out that certain letters are more commonly used than others in a language, they understood that people trying to crack the code could start to recognize patterns and figure it out.

Scytale Cipher

The Spartans developed a different type of encryption known as the Scytale Cipher. It was made by wrapping parchment around a pole then writing on the pole length-wise. When the paper is removed from the pole, the message is encrypted. To decipher it, one needs to know the pole’s diameter. The Scytale is less easy to decipher using patterns like the Caesar Box, but it can be possible to read some of the words on the pole.

Vigenère Cipher

The Vigenère Cipher was created by an Italian named Giovan Battista Bellaso in the 16th century. It uses a key as part of the decryption process. The key can be any combination of letters or a word of the message writer’s choosing. The key is matched to the plaintext and used in the process of decrypting the secret message. It’s much more difficult than the Caesar Box because each letter of the message has its own shift value. Therefore, even solving one word in the message won’t reveal the entire message.

Using a key adds an extra layer of security to a cryptographic message. The cipher wasn’t solved until 1863, and became known as le chiffre indechiffrable, or “the indecipherable cipher.”

Vernam Cipher

The only cipher that has been mathematically proven to be unbreakable is the Vernam Cipher, otherwise known as a one-time pad (OTP). It’s similar to a Vigenere Cipher but the key changes with each use. The Vernam Cipher isn’t used widely today due to the challenges of distributing the keys, but it is useful for emergency situations in which there is no electronic option.

Enigma

The Enigma is a type of cryptography using rotary encryption, which was developed by Arthur Scherbius in Germany during WWII. Similar to other cryptography, it was created using disks that were put into a machine in a certain order. If they were inserted in the correct order, the machine would decode the message.

An early computer developed by British cryptanalyst Alan Turing and his colleagues helped to crack the Enigma code. It’s estimated that their work helped save as many as 21 million people.

Asymmetric Encryption and Modern Cryptography

The advent of computers made it essential to develop more advanced forms of cryptography in order to keep data and information safe. This was especially the case as financial transactions began to move to computer networks. Everything from email to ecommerce sites to phone apps use encryption today.

The world of cryptography is also getting more complex due to its use by terrorists and criminals, as well as legal structures which protect individuals’ data. The U.S. Government and tech companies like Apple have been in legal battles for years to determine the ethics around data and privacy.

Most modern cryptography uses asymmetric encryption, or public-key encryption, in which there is a separate lock and key. This allows people to share public keys openly while keeping the private keys secure.

Here are some examples of asymmetric encryption.

Morse Code

Samuel F. Morse developed the Morse Code to transmit messages through telegraph machines in 1835.

The Zimmerman Telegram

The U.S. entered WWII with the decryption of a message solved by the British Intelligence Agency. The Zimmerman Telegram was sent from the German Foreign Office in the U.S. to the German Ambassador to Mexico and proposed a military alliance between Germany and Mexico.

Lucifer/DES

IBM developed a system called Lucifer in the 1960s, which was ultimately adopted by the U.S. National Bureau of Standards and is also known as the Data Encryption Standard (DES).

RSA

The RSA encryption system created in the 1970s was one of the first uses of asymmetric encryption.

Salt

One tactic used in encryption is called salting. This is where a random string of alphanumeric characters gets added to the end of the password before it’s encrypted. Salting adds extra security because even after the password gets decrypted, the “salt” has to be subtracted before it can be used. Even very obvious and common passwords can be difficult to figure out when they are salted.

Advanced Encryption Standard (AES)

Today’s default encryption mechanism used by the U.S. government is the Advanced Encryption Standard, or AES. It uses a 256-bit key and multiple rounds of encryption, known as substitution-permutation networking. AES has mostly replaced the formerly used Data Encryption Standard, or DES, which is now considered to be less secure.

Other Forms of Encryption

There are countless other forms of encryption. Some of the commonly used ones are:

•  Triple DES
•  Blowfish
•  Twofish
•  ElGamal
•  Hash Functions
•  Diffie-Hellman Key Exchange

Cryptocurrency and Cryptography

Cryptography is an integral part of blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies. Transactions and balances are tracked on a ledger and encrypted using complicated algorithms. This helps with security, transparency, and tracking. Crypto wallets also rely on cryptography for security.

Each type of digital asset or cryptocurrency has its own form of cryptography, making some more secure or popular than others and providing different use cases. Before investing in cryptocurrencies, it’s important to have at least a basic understanding of the way the technology works, especially the use of public and private keys. This will help decide which cryptocurrency to invest in and ensure that the transaction and digital asset storage is done securely.

The Future of Cryptography

As time goes on, it gets more and more challenging to maintain secure encryption of information. Computers and hackers get more sophisticated, and even the most impenetrable codes can be cracked using psychological tactics and social engineering.

Two tools that help increase security are two-factor authentication (2FA) and Honeypots. Each of them works slightly differently, though with the same goal.

•  With 2FA, the user must input a code retrieved from a text message or app on their phone in addition to their password. This means that an account can’t be accessed without access to the individual’s phone.
•  Honeypots trick attackers by creating false data that looks real and then alerting organizations when the attackers attempt to do a hack.

A newer form of cryptography is called homomorphic encryption. This attempts to solve one of today’s major cryptographic problems: the fact that data cannot be processed while it’s encrypted. This means that data has to be encrypted before it can be used for anything, making it vulnerable during that processing time. Homomorphic encryption allows users to process data while it’s encrypted, and then simply decrypt the final result.

The next wave of encryption will likely involve the use of quantum computers and post-quantum cryptography. These add layers of encryption beyond today’s capabilities. However, this technology is still in development.

The Takeaway

The history of cryptography is long and fascinating, and the technology has gotten more essential and complex over time. In today’s world, cryptography underpins everything from social media to financial transactions. That’s why it’s so important to make sure you keep your data and information safe using strong passwords, two-factor authentication, and other tools.

If you’re starting to invest in cryptocurrencies, you’ll need a basic understanding of public and private keys. One way to get started investing in cryptocurrencies is with SoFi Invest®. The investing platform allows you to research, trade digital assets right from your phone, and view all of your financial information in one simple dashboard.

Find out how to invest in crypto with SoFi Invest.


SoFi Invest®
The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA / SIPC . SoFi Invest refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.
1) Automated Investing—The Automated Investing platform is owned by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor (“Sofi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC, an affiliated SEC registered broker dealer and member FINRA/SIPC, (“Sofi Securities).

2) Active Investing—The Active Investing platform is owned by SoFi Securities LLC. Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.

3) Cryptocurrency is offered by SoFi Digital Assets, LLC, a FinCEN registered Money Service Business.

For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above, including state licensure of Sofi Digital Assets, LLC, please visit www.sofi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform. Information related to lending products contained herein should not be construed as an offer or pre-qualification for any loan product offered by SoFi Lending Corp and/or its affiliates.
Crypto: Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies aren’t endorsed or guaranteed by any government, are volatile, and involve a high degree of risk. Consumer protection and securities laws don’t regulate cryptocurrencies to the same degree as traditional brokerage and investment products. Research and knowledge are essential prerequisites before engaging with any cryptocurrency. US regulators, including FINRA , the SEC , and the CFPB , have issued public advisories concerning digital asset risk. Cryptocurrency purchases should not be made with funds drawn from financial products including student loans, personal loans, mortgage refinancing, savings, retirement funds or traditional investments.
Third Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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Source: sofi.com

Car Repossession: What to Do Before, During and After

So what can you do if you know you’re in danger of having your car repossessed — or if it’s already been repossessed? Check out this guide to help you before, during and after car repossession to help you and your finances survive this bumpy ride.
If you’ve missed even one payment, here’s why now is the time to dig up the loan agreement you signed when you originally bought or leased the car:
“Act very quickly,” she said. “Because at that point, the loan has not been sent out to collections.”
“Communication is one of the best tools that you have in the earliest stages when you’re late making car payments,” he said. “The fewer unanswered questions that your lender has, the more likely they are to try to cooperate.”

Car Repossession: What Can You Do Before, During and After?

And if you think hiding the car will keep the repo company at bay, you’re likely only adding to the fees you’ll end up having to pay as the company expends resources — including paying someone to follow you — to locate the vehicle.
“I would put it on that scale of somewhere around bankruptcy or foreclosure,” McClary said. “You can climb out of this hole, but it will take some time.”
Ready to stop worrying about money? The effects of the coronavirus pandemic have been especially burdensome on auto loans borrowers. Unlike student loans and mortgages, there are no government-backed relief programs to cover a monthly auto payment.
That’s where you drive the car to your lending institution and hand over the keys. Doing so voluntarily still counts as a type of repossession, but you’ll avoid towing costs and other expenses the repossession company charges to locate your car.

What to Do if You Can’t Make Your Auto Loan Payments

But will a lender really take your car if you’re late on this month’s payment? It’s unlikely, according to Bruce McClary, vice president of communications for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling in Washington, D.C.
The result is most devastating for subprime borrowers — those with credit scores under 600. Serious delinquency levels within that group rose about 22% between the fourth quarters of 2019 and 2020.

Pro Tip
If the deficiency balance is small enough, McClary recommended trying to negotiate with the lender to settle the remaining balance so you aren’t still paying for a car you no longer own.

If you had enough money to pay off your loan in the first place, you probably should have done this before the repo company took your car. But if you pay off the loan and all fees, you get your car back free and clear of any loans.

  • Ask about forbearance programs. Call your lender to explain why you’re unable to make your monthly payment and request a forbearance. Be prepared to share details and documentation if it’s due to a job loss, illness or change in family status. Your lender may offer a delay in your payment or a revised schedule of payments, but you’ll still be responsible for the loan — and oftentimes the accruing interest. But if the situation is temporary, a forbearance could let you delay payments until you’re back on your financial feet.
  • Downsize to a cheaper car. If you can trade in your current set of wheels for a more economical version — think smaller and older — you could roll your old loan into a new, more manageable one. Be sure to get a pre-approved auto loan to give yourself some leverage when negotiating the interest rate.
  • Sell your car. If you don’t need the vehicle, you could potentially sell it for enough money to pay off the loan balance, which would free you from monthly payments entirely.
  • Refinance. This option may be the most difficult to successfully pursue for many borrowers, as lenders have tightened their standards due to the current economic situation. But if you have an excellent credit history and you have stable employment, you could qualify for refinancing your loan at a lower interest rate, thus reducing your monthly payment.

Tiffany Wendeln Connors is a staff writer/editor at The Penny Hoarder. Read her bio and other work here, then catch her on Twitter @TiffanyWendeln.
If you haven’t been paying your auto loan, there’s a good chance you haven’t been paying your auto insurance either, and some lenders require insurance as a condition of your loan. Even if you haven’t missed enough payments to have your car repossessed, the lender could potentially take your vehicle due to inadequate auto insurance.

What to Do if Your Car Is in Danger of Being Repossessed

After taking possession of your car, the lender begins the process for recouping the money you still owe on the car loan, plus any fees incurred — think towing, storage of the vehicle, re-keying the car and legal fees.
Although lenders may have the legal right to start the repossession process the day after a missed payment, most give customers a grace period of at least 10 days when they won’t even charge a late fee. If you’re in this situation, the time to act is now.

  1. Depending on where you are in the car repossession process, you do have options for keeping your car — and more of your money.
  2. Car repossession can remain on your credit report for seven years — making it more difficult to qualify for another loan, increasing the interest rate you’re charged on other loans and even potentially affecting your ability to get a job or a place to live.

And although a voluntary repossession will affect your credit score, your lender will technically report it to the credit reporting agencies as a “voluntary surrender” rather than an involuntary “repossession” — which could help as you recover.
How can your bank, credit union or leasing company possibly have the right to take back your vehicle? Read your loan agreement.
Avoid a Friday evening car repossession if possible: Repo companies are often closed over the weekend, but they’ll charge you storage fees for Saturday and Sunday.

Pro Tip
The lender will sell the car, typically at auction, to get some of its money back. It’s technically possible for you to buy back your car by bidding on it at auction, but you’ll still be responsible for paying your old loan, plus all those fees.

If you don’t have enough money to cover the missing payments, you should explain your situation and offer at least a partial amount — in cash — as a show of good faith, according to Davis.
“The efforts to repossess your car typically start after you’ve missed a couple of consecutive payments,” he said. “If you miss two payments, you should start getting a little bit concerned, and if you miss three payments and your car is still sitting in your driveway, you may not have much more time.”
By contacting your lender early in the process, you’ll not only create a record of your attempts to satisfy the loan, you’ll avoid additional fees that the lender may incur by hiring a third party to collect your vehicle.
The first rule of preventing a vehicle repossession: Communicate early and often.
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If the amount is too large to settle, though, the lender will contact you and, depending on the state where you live, can pursue the deficiency balance through collections.

Pro Tip
The repo company cannot “breach the peace” — aka break the law. If the collector uses physical force or destroys your property, you can potentially file a lawsuit. Keep notes of all interactions.

Related Posts
An auto loan contract states if you fail to make a payment — and the process can legally start after one missed payment — the lender has the right to take back your car.

What to Do if Your Car Has Been Repossessed

“They could take you to court over the money you owe, and try to garnish your wages,” he said. “There are all kinds of ways that they could legally pursue repayment of that debt, beyond the sale of the vehicle.”
“There’s no shame in saying… ‘I have a couple hundred bucks in my budget, can I throw this on the loan so that I don’t get it repoed?’” she said.
If you know that you’re already in danger of having the car repossessed, there is a way to mitigate the financial impact: voluntary repossession.
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  1. Reinstate your loan.

    Your credit score will take a hit — a big one.

  2. Redeem your loan.

    If you can’t reach a deal with your lender, you should prepare to have the car repossessed by removing all personal items from your car, as repo companies can take your car at any time — whether the car is parked in front of your home, at work or at the grocery store.

  3. Give up your car, then buy it back.

    If you’re unable to come up with the money to get your car back, the lender will use the proceeds from the sale to pay off what you owe. If the sale price is less than your loan balance plus any fees, the difference is called the deficiency balance. That’s the amount you’ll be responsible for paying.

Pay the past-due amount, plus any late fees and repossession costs. You get your car back and resume paying your car loan.

Pro Tip
Your loan agreement should state how many payments you can miss before the lender can repossess your car.

But a car repossession isn’t the end of the world, so long as you commit to making smart money-management moves that raise your credit score and help get yourself back on the road to recovery.
Find your contract and contact your lender’s loss mitigation or collections department to explain your situation, advised Jenelle Davis, who worked in the credit union industry for seven years.
Your car has been repossessed. Now how do you get it back?

The Long-term Effects of Car Repossession

If you have the cash, paying off what you owe to make your loan current again may be the ideal solution, but there are other options if you’re struggling to make payments:
If you miss even one payment, and your lender technically can repossess your wheels.
“The difference between the two in terms of impact on your credit score is slight,” McClary said. “But if you’re thinking about trying to restore your good credit and how much effort it’s going to take, every little bit helps.”
You have a few options — some are less costly than others, but none are particularly easy:
Facing bankruptcy? You may be able to hold onto your car. Consult your bankruptcy attorney about whether your filing status allows you to retain property, including your vehicle.
Source: thepennyhoarder.com

Don’t destroy your car to get revenge. Your lender may not take the vehicle if it’s deemed worthless, but then they can’t sell the car to pay off your loan. You’ll end up owing more.

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The best way for the lender to get that money is to sell the car, often through an auction. So you’ll have to act fast if you want your car back.

5 Things to Look for in a Rental Listing

Lackluster listings abound — learn to cut through the clutter and spot the keepers.

Whether you’re looking for an apartment, single-family house or townhome — and whether you’re in a city, the suburbs or a small town — be prepared to spend a lot of time online and even more time driving around to tour the most promising places in person.

If you want to save time and avoid headaches, make sure that every rental listing you consider has all the information you need. High-quality listings help you weed out the places that don’t fit your criteria (wait, Fido’s not welcome?), but they also indicate an organized, communicative and professional landlord — something every renter wants.

As you begin your search, consider these five important things every good rental listing should contain:

1. Detailed details

Front and center should be the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, square footage, storage space and a floor plan to help you visualize the layout.

Avoid listings with vague terms like “junior one bedroom” or “open one bedroom.” According to Zillow research, 65 percent of renters require their preferred number of bedrooms. Landlords know this, so they get creative with descriptions to attract more tenants.

Another need-to-know detail is how safe the property is. Zillow research reports that 75 percent of renters said that a safe neighborhood is a must-have. Most landlords will say that the neighborhood is safe, so do your own research, especially if you’re new to the area.

Speaking of being new — if you’re moving to a new part of town or an entirely new city, look for listings with important facts about the neighborhood, including proximity to transit or major freeways, convenient shopping centers, and nearby recreation and entertainment options.

2. Amenities — all of them

Beyond basics like heating and kitchen appliances, every renter has different amenities that they consider must-haves.

The most popular amenities renters look for include air conditioning, in-unit laundry, ample storage and private outdoor space. Watch for other nice-to-have in-unit amenities, like recent renovations, hardwood floors, plenty of windows and upgraded kitchens.

Shared amenities should be included in the listing too — things like parking, rooftop decks, fitness areas, outdoor space, swimming pools and bike storage.

3. Major (and potentially problematic) policies

The listing should disclose any policies that could be a deal breaker for you. Examples include rules around pets (including specific breeds), the maximum number of people who can live in the unit, smoking, parking, noise and — most importantly — lease terms and length.

Additionally, see if you can tell if the landlord lives on-site or if a local property management company manages things. If the landlord is nearby, they’ll likely handle repair requests quickly, along with general building upkeep and maintenance.

4. Clearly described costs

Make sure the landlord is exceptionally clear about the dollars and cents:

  • What is the monthly rent?
  • How much of a deposit is required, and is any of it refundable?
  • Are there any one-time fees?
  • Is there a pet fee or monthly charge?
  • Does parking cost extra?
  • Who pays for utilities?

These additional charges can quickly move a listing from feasible to fruitless, so make sure you have all the info you need to do the math ahead of time.

5. High-quality photos

Focus on listings that have not only good photos but also recent photos — and lots of them.

Look for listings that include both interior and exterior shots, plus photos of all shared amenities. But renter beware: If the landlord says the photos are of a similar unit — not the one that’s actually for rent — you may find yourself in a bait-and-switch situation.

Once you find a few listings that include these details, you’re off to a great start. You can more easily compare properties side by side, identify deal breakers and find areas where a landlord might be open to compromising.

Related:

Originally published June 2018. Statistics updated January 2019.

Source: zillow.com

How to Downsize: 13 Tips to Help You Declutter

Downsizing can be both freeing and stressful. It’s never easy to pare down a lifetime of memories, and most of us tend to associate our belongings with events and the people we love.

To help you make the transition easier, we have a guide on how to downsize. Read through our downsizing tips to help make sure you don’t make any mistakes while paring down enough to happily move to a smaller home or apartment.

1. Browse beautiful rooms

Begin by getting inspired.

You can thumb through magazines and books, or peruse the beautiful images of Houzz.com. Pay attention to how little clutter you see. Pay attention to the positive feelings you have about those simplified rooms.

Hot Tip: Tape a photo of a beautiful, simplified room into each room of your home. They can inspire you during your purge.

2. Contemplate simplicity

Get yourself mentally prepared — if not excited — that you have the opportunity to live in a simpler space, a space filled with only the things you love.

Think, too, about how many things you own that you haven’t actually used, touched or even seen in over a year. Focus on the joy you will feel by donating, selling or giving those items away. No matter which option you choose, you win.

3. Find a new home for some of your belongings

Ask family members and close friends if they would be interested in any of your belongings before you start to sort. Ask them to list what type of items they might be interested in, or to make any specific requests (in case someone loves a particular painting, memento or piece of furniture). If you don’t get a reply — especially from those under the age of about 30 — make a mental note to save a few things for them anyway. They might be too young to know the value of sentiment.

4. Invest in rubber tubs for items you’ll be gifting

These are your gift tubs, and we recommend rubber tubs with lids that seal tight. Think of them as a lovely gift, because they are. With each piece of jewelry, photo, letter, memento, homemade quilt or old letter jacket, you are filling this box with treasures that are sure to elicit a smile.

Picture future generations of your family enjoying or telling stories about these items. Label your tubs with the name of who they are intended for and put them in one room of the house.

photo of family photos on the wallphoto of family photos on the wall

If you have lots of family pics, consider one gallery wall of favorites. Ask your children to take or digitize the remaining images.

5. Identify items you absolutely love or cherish

Picture having to quickly evacuate your home. What few items would utterly devastate you if they were lost? (We’re not talking about collectibles with value, we’ll get to those in a minute). These are likely photos, letters, artwork, handmade gifts or things you made, jewelry, a small family heirloom, perhaps an item or two from your travels. What sentimental items would you save from a burning house? Gather or identify these items first. Try using sticky notes to mark these items or pack them all in a box.

Keep this selection deliberately small. It’s meant to be a special and meaningful group of items. There’s another level of belongings you can keep which are non-critical. But a personal treasure pile should fit in your backseat.

6. Declutter room by room: Gift, sell, donate or trash

Now you’re ready for the nitty-gritty part of how to downsize. Declutter room by room and learn the extraordinary feeling of lightness that a purge can bring. There are four categories that matter most to you now: Gift, sell, donate, trash. The more items you can identify for each category, the happier you will be (and the lighter your load at moving time). Tackle your home room by room — you’ll have a larger feeling of accomplishment that way.

photo of a donation boxphoto of a donation box

If you have the space to do so, move items you plan to sell or donate into dedicated spaces, like the garage or a spare room. Fill your rubber gift tubs as you go. In addition, think about how you’d like to sell other items. There are selling apps, consignment stores and garage sales you could use to sell your unwanted items. Or, if you amass enough items, an estate sale or auction could be more productive. It won’t be long before you get a rush from filling your trash cans. You can do it!

Hot Tip: Many cities have thrift stores and organizations which will pick up items if scheduled on the day the truck goes to your neighborhood.

7. Consider your new floorplan

It also helps to have a floorplan of your new home, with the dimensions on it.  Measure your favorite furnishings and figure out which pieces will comfortably fit into new spaces, and which should find a new home. There’s fun in acquiring a few pieces for a smaller home, and selling, auctioning or consigning older furnishings and collectibles might well cover those expenses.

8. Consult with others about their belongings

If you aren’t familiar with how to downsize there are a few mistakes you can make. One is getting rid of your children’s items without telling them. Give adult children a deadline by which to claim their left-behind items. Send them pics from your phone if they’re far away. Offer to ship them a box but don’t consider moving their items to your smaller home. The time has come. You are no longer obligated to store their old school yearbooks or letter jackets, cheerleading uniforms or trophies.

photo of a high school letter jacketphoto of a high school letter jacket

9. Be aware of emotions

If you’re downsizing after a tragedy, don’t go overboard. You might consider putting some things in storage for a year or having a friend help you decide what to keep. Emotions run high after unexpected events, and if you’re depressed, you may get rid of things you’ll want later. Don’t, however, use this as an excuse to keep everything.

10. Analyze your collectibles

The last warning: Don’t be sloppy when it comes to collectibles. Set them aside until you can get them evaluated by an expert or at least a friend or relative with a computer. These might include baseball cards, signed memorabilia, vintage toys or artisan-crafted pieces.

photo of collectiblesphoto of collectibles

11. Consolidate the items you only need one of

Here’s a quick list to help you pare down some things of which we all accumulate extras. These are items you likely only need one of:

  • Set of dishes
  • Set of glassware
  • Set of Tupperware
  • Set of mixing bowls
  • Large serving platter
  • Household tools (hammer, screwdriver, tape measure)
  • Extra blankets (keep one heavy and one light, per guest bed)
  • Large winter and summer purse
  • Coat for each type of weather (extra-warm, lighter-weight, rain jacket, windbreaker)
  • Umbrella (one travel size, one oversized)
  • Cooler (you might keep a small one for car trips or picnics with grandkids)
  • Set of small tools, measuring tape

Hot Tip: Remember that donations will be a tax write-off. Always get a receipt.

12. Purge items you won’t need in an apartment or smaller home

Small homes don’t require as many tools or decorations you may have stored in your garage or shed. To help you identify which items you can get rid of, here is a list of items you won’t need in your new home:

  • Ladders larger than a stepstool
  • Garden tools
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Large power tools
  • Excessive outdoor Christmas decorations

Hot Tip: If an item’s been in a box for more than a year, it’s very likely time to let it go.

13. Ask a friend or professional to help

If you have trouble with decision-making, ask someone impartial to help you. Be sure to choose someone who embraces your goal of downsizing and decluttering. A friend won’t have the same emotional attachment to your items and can help you narrow down your belongings, while also helping make sure you keep what you love. If your friends aren’t available, a professional or aspiring home organizer could be a great investment. They will be efficient while also being kind.

Embrace this new chapter

Downsizing to a new apartment may seem daunting, but with these downsizing tips, you’ll be ready to move in no time. By going into this process with an open mind, you will be able to create a home filled with your most important items to start this new chapter of your life.

Are you downsizing after retirement? Be sure to check out senior apartments in your area.

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Source: apartmentguide.com

Back-to-School on a Budget + Printables

The long summer days are coming to an end soon, which means that back-to-school season is almost upon us. While back-to-school shopping might be a source of excitement for the little ones who are looking forward to the year ahead, the cost of these shopping trips can cause stress for the parents. According to a report from Deloitte, parents will spend an average of more than $500 per child on new apparel, supplies, and gadgets during the back-to-school season. If you’re a household with multiple children, that number can be quite staggering. 

Whether your kids are heading into kindergarten or a college classroom, there are lots of ways you can get everything you need for back-to-school without breaking the bank.

Back to School Budgeting Tips

Take an Inventory of What You Already Have

One of the easiest ways to save on school supplies is to take a look at what you already have. Your kids likely have supplies leftover from the previous school year, so empty out their backpacks, desk drawers, and miscellaneous storage bins to see what you have on hand. This way you can determine what they really need to purchase new, and what they can reuse. Items such as backpacks, pencil cases, and lunch boxes often don’t need to be replaced annually. 

This is also an opportune time to clear out closets and dresser drawers and donate clothing that your children have grown out of. Many nonprofits such as Goodwill will provide you with a receipt for your donation, which you can use to claim a tax deduction at the end of the year. Once you’ve cleared out closet space, you’ll have a better idea of what apparel your children actually need to purchase new. 

Make a List of Necessary Items

After taking an inventory of the supplies you already have, create a list for yourself of the items that are “must-haves” and not just “nice-to-haves.” Bringing a shopping list with you can prevent you from making impulse purchases as well. Studies show that people who go shopping without a list end up spending as much as 23 percent more than people who create a shopping list. 

Set a Budget and Stick To It

Once you’ve put together a list of school supplies that are needs and not just wants, set a realistic budget for yourself. Mint can help you set and stick to your budget with a budget calculator, while also giving you a holistic view of your spending. If you’re doing back-to-school shopping for younger kids, this can be a great way to teach them about how to budget for something. You can shop together and let them make decisions about what they want to buy that’s within the specified budget. 

Don’t Buy Everything at Once

It can be tempting to get all of your shopping done in one trip, but this could actually cause you to spend more than necessary. For your big shopping trip, buy the necessary items like pencils and notebooks, but it may be worth holding off on other purchases like binders and art supplies. During the first few weeks of school, your children will get a better sense of what supplies they’ll actually be using and what would just be excess. Plus, you may be able to capitalize on sale prices following peak back-to-school shopping season. 

Rent or Buy Used Equipment

There are some items that are just too expensive and can totally throw off your budget. After school activities and extracurricular activities often require equipment, such as a musical instrument for the school band and miscellaneous sports equipment. By renting these items (or buying second-hand), you can save a lot of money while still letting your kids pursue whatever activity they want to participate in. Rent My Instrument charges low monthly rental payments for a variety of instruments, and stores such as Play It Again Sports offer used sporting goods for a fraction of the price. 

Collect Coupons 

Despite back-to-school season being one of the most profitable sales times for big box stores and retailers, many still offer great coupons for an extra incentive to get you in the door. Signing up for email offers from stores can deliver deals and discounts straight to your inbox. If you’re opting to do your back-to-school shopping online this year, try using apps like Honey that will automatically help you find the best available discount code to make sure you never spend more than you have to. 

Buy in Bulk 

If you have some extra space to store items, buying in bulk is a great way to save money on certain items. Bulk purchases are especially helpful for households with multiple children going back to school — you can buy the essentials and use them throughout the entire year, and possibly into the next year as well. 

Many schools and teachers do not have the budget to afford all the classroom necessities themselves, and often ask parents to lend a helping hand. A recent study even found that teachers spend more than $600 out of their own pockets — approximately $2.2 billion total annually across all U.S. teachers — to ensure their classrooms have the necessary supplies for a productive learning environment. 

If you have the ability to contribute, buying in bulk is a great way not only to get the supplies you need for your family, but also enough to donate supplies to the entire classroom. Items like disinfectant wipes, tissues, pencils, and even non-perishable snacks are great for buying in bulk and will last you many months. 

Visit the Dollar Store 

You can get a great bargain on a majority of your school supplies at the dollar store. These shops often carry basic essentials such as notebooks and writing instruments, and even items like dry erase markers that you can donate to the classroom. 

Printables for Kids  

We’ve created unique printables to help manage your back-to-school shopping budget, and that will help your kids stay organized and on track the entire year. Don’t forget to print copies of our “coupons” to help teach the kids the importance of prioritizing and budgeting.

Shopping “Coupons” 

These printable “coupons” are a helpful tool to help younger children learn about budgeting and prioritizing. They can redeem a coupon for one nice-to-have clothing item, or to help them make decisions about what supplies they really want. We’ve also provided blank coupons so you can create your own exclusive shopping deal for your little ones!

School Subjects Stickers

During your back-to-school shopping, you may notice that the plain colored folders and binders tend to be less expensive than the colorfully branded products from your kids’ favorite TV shows and movies. The good news is that you can save a bit on your back-to-school budget and still give kids a colorful folder with these printable stickers. It allows them to get creative and put their own unique mark on their school supplies! You can print these on a standard sticker/label sheet from home. 

Homework Planner

Rather than buying an annual planner, these printable homework planners can help you and your student keep track of assignments every week. By laminating this weekly planner, you can reuse this week after week using dry erase markers. Not only will this help you save a few bucks, but it’ll also help you stay organized throughout the school year.

Printable for Adults

If you need some extra assistance staying on budget during your back-to-school shopping trips, this printable shopping checklist will help you stick to the task at hand.

Shopping Checklist

Walk into the stores with a plan in hand… literally. Print out this shopping checklist to ensure you only get the items your family needs, and also keep your estimated budget in mind while you shop.

Getting everything your kids need for back-to-school doesn’t need to break the bank. There are plenty of ways to save money and still be prepared for the new year ahead. With a little bit of planning and thrifty shopping, you’ll be able to send your kids off to school with everything they need to be successful.

Sources

Busy Budgeter | CNBC | The Motley Fool | Dave Ramsey | My Money Coach 

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Source: mint.intuit.com