5 Home Services You Should Not Pay For

Man holding up his hand to stop a home purchase
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Homeownership certainly comes with a lot of unavoidable if sometimes unexpected expenses, from property taxes to insurance and repairs.

But there are many home-related costs we don’t necessarily need to pay for — and other things we’re not sure are worth it.

Following are some costs you might be on the fence about, and why we think you should avoid them.

1. Air duct cleaning

duct cleaning
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Some companies advertise duct cleaning services to supposedly improve your home’s air quality.

Does it work? The Environmental Protection Agency is unconvinced.

It says, “Duct cleaning has never been shown to actually prevent health problems,” and suggests only having ducts cleaned in a few specific situations, such as if mold is visible inside your heating and cooling system or if there are vermin.

2. Custom framing

Selection of custom picture frames
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Simply hanging artwork in your home shouldn’t be an expensive proposition, but it can be if you rely on custom framing jobs. In some cases, a frame can cost more than what it protects.

The reason custom framing gets so expensive, Vox explains, is the number of options available — a dizzying array of hundreds of frames and mats of all sizes, plus options for moldings and glazings.

For standard-sized images, a ready-made frame may suffice at a fraction of the cost. You can buy them new at a home goods store, or if you want a more “distressed” look and even greater savings, bring a tape measure to your local thrift store and size up some gently-used frames. So-called “floater frames” can provide style and flexibility for displaying art of unusual dimensions.

And then there are a growing number of specialty companies online, happy to provide custom-size frames at a lower cost than local frame shops. The New York Times’ Wirecutter recommends Framebridge, which has a flat fee, high-quality builds and the simplest ordering process among the tested companies.

3. Extended product warranties

Excited salesman
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It’s natural to want to get your money’s worth out of every purchase, and therefore to consider extending a warranty. But many experts suggest they’re usually just not worth it, including Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson.

This is doubly true if you use a credit card that automatically extends warranties or have another way to get a warranty. For instance, if you’re a Costco member, you can get a free two-year warranty on items such as TVs, computers and major appliances that you purchase there.

4. Self-storage rentals

storage units
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Buying more stuff than you need is expensive enough. But what’s even worse is when you run out of space for all that stuff in your home and start paying somebody else to hold on to it for you.

Consider self-storage a temporary solution, for situations like moving a household. Otherwise, you’re paying potentially thousands to hide many things you’re probably going to forget about because they’re not important enough to keep handy or remember in your day-to-day life. All that money wasted because you can’t bear the thought of decluttering.

If you really must maintain a unit, check out “10 Ways to Cut the Cost of Self-Storage.”

5. Junk hauling

Upset woman in a cluttered garage
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So you’ve decided to declutter: Great! But don’t pay someone to get rid of your stuff.

Instead, turn to free ways to rid yourself of things you no longer need.

Search for local charities that are willing to pick up your donations. Post listings on websites such as Facebook, Freecycle or the Buy Nothing Project.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Source: moneytalksnews.com

Using In-School Deferment as a Student

Undergraduate and graduate students in school at least half-time can put off making federal student loan payments, and possibly private student loan payments, with in-school deferment. The catch? Interest usually accrues.

Loans are a fact of life for many students. In fact, a majority of them — about 70% — graduate with student loan debt.

While some students choose to start paying off their loans while they’re still in college, many take advantage of in-school deferment.

What Is In-School Deferment?

In-school deferment allows an undergraduate or graduate student, or parent borrower, to postpone making payments on:

•   Direct Loans, which include PLUS loans for graduate and professional students, or parents of dependent undergrads; subsidized and unsubsidized loans; and consolidation loans.

•   Perkins Loans

•   Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program loans.

Parents with PLUS loans may qualify for deferment if their student is enrolled at least half-time at an eligible college or career school.

What about private student loans? Many lenders allow students to defer payments while they’re in school and for six months after graduation. Sallie Mae lets you defer payments for 48 months as long as you are enrolled at least half-time.

But each private lender has its own rules.

Recommended: How Does Student Loan Deferment in Grad School Work?

How In-School Deferment Works

Federal student loan borrowers in school at least half-time are to be automatically placed into in-school deferment. You should receive a notice from your loan servicer.

If your loans don’t go into automatic in-school deferment or you don’t receive a notice, get in touch with the financial aid office at your school. You may need to fill out an In-School Deferment Request .

If you have private student loans, it’s a good idea to reach out to your loan servicer to request in-school deferment. If you’re seeking a new private student loan, you can review the lender’s deferment rules.

Most federal student loans also have a six-month grace period after a student graduates, drops below half-time enrollment, or leaves school before payments must begin. This applies to graduate students with PLUS loans as well.

Parent borrowers who took out a PLUS loan can request a six-month deferment after their student graduates, leaves school, or drops below half-time enrollment.

Requirements for In-School Deferment

Students with federal student loans must be enrolled at least half-time in an eligible school, defined by the Federal Student Aid office as one that has been approved by the Department of Education to participate in federal student aid programs, even if the school does not participate in those programs.

That includes most accredited American colleges and universities and some institutions outside the United States.

In-school deferment is primarily for students with existing loans or those who are returning to school after time away.

The definition of “half-time” can be tricky. Make sure you understand the definition your school uses, as not all schools define half-time status the same way. It’s usually based on a certain number of hours and/or credits.

Do I Need to Pay Interest During In-School Deferment?

For federal student loans and many private student loans, no.

If you have a federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan, interest will accrue during the deferment and be added to the principal loan balance.

If you have a Direct Subsidized Loan or a Perkins Loan, the government pays the interest while you’re in school and during grace periods. That’s also true of the subsidized portion of a Direct Consolidation Loan.

Interest will almost always accrue on deferred private student loans.

Although postponement of payments takes the pressure off, the interest that you’re responsible for that accrues on any loan will be capitalized, or added to your balance, after deferments and grace periods. You’ll then be charged interest on the increased principal balance. Capitalization of the unpaid interest may also increase your monthly payment, depending on your repayment plan.

If you’re able to pay the interest before it capitalizes, that can help keep your total loan cost down.

Alternatives to In-School Deferment

There are different types of deferment aside from in-school deferment.

•   Economic Hardship Deferment. You may receive an economic hardship deferment for up to three years if you receive a means-tested benefit, such as welfare, you are serving in the Peace Corps, or you work full time but your earnings are below 150% of the poverty guideline for your state and family size.

•   Graduate Fellowship Deferment. If you are in an approved graduate fellowship program, you could be eligible for this deferment.

•   Military Service and Post-Active Duty Student Deferment. You could qualify for this deferment if you are on active duty military service in connection with a military operation, war, or a national emergency, or you have completed active duty service and any applicable grace period. The deferment will end once you are enrolled in school at least half-time, or 13 months after completion of active duty service and any grace period, whichever comes first.

•   Rehabilitation Training Deferment. This deferment is for students who are in an approved program that offers drug or alcohol, vocational, or mental health rehabilitation.

•   Unemployment Deferment. You can receive this deferment for up to three years if you receive unemployment benefits or you’re unable to find full-time employment.

For most deferments, you’ll need to provide your student loan servicer with documentation to show that you’re eligible.

Then there’s federal student loan forbearance, which temporarily suspends or reduces your principal monthly payments, but interest always continues to accrue.

Some private student loan lenders offer forbearance as well.

If your federal student loan type does not charge interest during deferment, that’s probably the way to go. If you’ve reached the maximum time for a deferment or your situation doesn’t fit the eligibility criteria, applying for forbearance is an option.

If your ability to afford your federal student loan payments is unlikely to change any time soon, you may want to consider an income-based repayment plan or student loan refinancing.

The goal of refinancing with a private lender is to change your rate or term. If you qualify, all loans can be refinanced into one new private loan. Playing with the numbers can be helpful.

Just know that if you refinance federal student loans, they will no longer be eligible for federal deferment or forbearance, loan forgiveness programs, or income-driven repayment.

Recommended: Student Loan Refinancing Calculator

The Takeaway

What is in-school deferment? It allows undergraduates and graduate students to buy time before student loan payments begin, but interest usually accrues and is added to the balance.

If trying to lower your student loan rates is something that’s of interest, look into refinancing with SoFi.

Students are eligible to refinance a parent’s PLUS loan along with their own student loans.

There are absolutely no fees.

It’s easy to check your rate.


We’ve Got You Covered


SoFi Student Loan Refinance
IF YOU ARE LOOKING TO REFINANCE FEDERAL STUDENT LOANS PLEASE BE AWARE OF RECENT LEGISLATIVE CHANGES THAT HAVE SUSPENDED ALL FEDERAL STUDENT LOAN PAYMENTS AND WAIVED INTEREST CHARGES ON FEDERALLY HELD LOANS UNTIL THE END OF JANUARY 2022 DUE TO COVID-19. PLEASE CAREFULLY CONSIDER THESE CHANGES BEFORE REFINANCING FEDERALLY HELD LOANS WITH SOFI, SINCE IN DOING SO YOU WILL NO LONGER QUALIFY FOR THE FEDERAL LOAN PAYMENT SUSPENSION, INTEREST WAIVER, OR ANY OTHER CURRENT OR FUTURE BENEFITS APPLICABLE TO FEDERAL LOANS. CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including Income-Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
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

23 Ideas for Cheap Christmas Decorations

If you’re dreaming of a white Christmas, but you live in an area that doesn’t get any snow, you can use spray snow to make your winter wonderland dreams come true. You can spray artificial snow on your windows to create a frosted look or spray your front door wreath to make it appear to be covered with snowflakes. A can of spray snow costs less than on Amazon.
Dress up your dining table to bring out the joy of the holiday season. Drape your table with a red, green or white tablecloth and fill a vase or tray with seasonal elements, such as pine cones, holly leaves, cranberries, sprigs of pine needles, jingle bells, candy canes or candles.
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23 Ideas for Cheap Christmas Decorations

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

1. Wall Christmas Trees

Turn empty flower pots into outdoor Christmas decor with just a little paint. You’ll need at least three pots of varying sizes. Paint them white if you want to create a snowman out of your flower pots or green to make a flower pot Christmas tree. Once dried, stack the pots on top of each other upside down and paint additional embellishments, like a face and buttons on your snowman or ornaments and tinsel on your Christmas tree.

2. Get an Artificial Christmas Tree

You can buy boxes of candy canes for cheap at grocery stores or dollar stores around this time of the year. Fill candy dishes full of these red and white striped treats to go on your tablescape, coffee table or end tables. Or hang one or two candy canes on your Christmas tree in place of buying more pricy ornaments.

A woman decorates a tiny Christmas tree.
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3. Get a Tiny Tree

The weather’s getting colder. The days are getting shorter. Before you know it, Christmas will be here.

4. Garland

Transform your doors into the biggest presents ever by covering them in wrapping paper. You can use wrapping paper to decorate your interior doors as well as your front door. Add ribbon or a big bow for extra embellishment.

5. DIY Ornaments

Talk about easy Christmas decorations that make your home merry. You can also stack your wrapped present props in an empty corner, by the base of your staircase or on your front porch.

6. Twinkling Lights

Rather than buying an advent calendar this year, make your own. This post from Country Living has several ideas. Come up with whatever little treat, token or message you want to open each day.

7. Window Stickers

Whether you use a kit or make your own gingerbread from scratch, a gingerbread house is a fun holiday project that can double as Christmas decor. Just know it probably won’t last long — so consider this a temporary decoration!

8. Candles

Bundling up on a snowy day to go to the Christmas tree farm and chop down the perfect tree may be a sweet holiday outing, but you’ll get more bang for your buck by opting for an artificial Christmas tree. Now, artificial trees can get pricy themselves, depending on what size and type you choose. However, you can reuse the tree for years to come, rather than having to put it out to the curb when the new year rolls around.

A front door is wrapped in wrapping paper.
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9. Decorate Your Doors

Candles are a simple and low-cost way to add a bit of Christmas spirit to a room. You can create a tablescape with red, green, white or gold candles — or set them on the mantle or a wide window ledge. Set battery-operated votive candles inside Mason jars painted in holiday colors for a flame-free decor option.

10. Bells Around Door Knobs

This winter craft doubles as a cheap Christmas decoration. You may be able to make it with items you already have at home: white tube socks, rice, buttons, pins and a scrap of fabric. This post from Darkroom and Dearly tells you exactly how to create them.

11. Decorate With Ribbon

Instead of buying an expensive 7-foot tree, you can save money by getting a much smaller tree that’ll fit on your tabletop. In addition to spending less on the tree, you’ll save on the amount of lights and ornaments you’ll need to decorate it.

12. Wrap Empty Boxes

Dress up your windows with seasonal decals. You can find window stickers of snowflakes, ornaments, gingerbread men and more at the dollar store, craft store and major retailers like Walmart or Amazon. If stored properly, you can even reuse them for next year.

13. Holiday Cards Display

An easy way to light up the outside of your house without needing yards of string lights and a ladder is to use a light projector. You can buy one on Amazon, Home Depot, Walmart and similar retailers for under .

14. Make your Own Advent Calendar

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A boy eats a gingerbread house he made.
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15. Gingerbread House

Deck the halls without wrecking your finances. Here are 23 festive ideas for cheap Christmas decorations.

16. Display Your Kids’ Holiday Artwork

A flat Christmas tree hung on the wall is a great space saver and money saver. You can make wall Christmas trees out of a string of lights, garland, a large piece of felt or even Washi tape. Check out this article from Apartment Therapy for ideas. It looks festive with or without a tree topper!

17. Create a Holiday Tablescape

Make your home not only look but sound festive by tying jingle bells to some red or green ribbon and then wrapping them around your door knobs. Whenever someone opens a door, the kiddos in the house will be looking over their shoulders to see if Santa’s coming.

18. Sock Snowmen

While you’re out shopping for gifts, it can be very tempting to add a bunch of holiday decorations to your cart to help get your home looking merry and bright. But the cost of Christmas decorations often gets overlooked when making your holiday budget — and you end up spending way more than you thought you would.

A person decorates their Christmas tree with candy canes.
Getty Images

19. Candy Canes

To avoid that post-holiday regret, consider these low-budget suggestions for decorating for Christmas.

21. Fake Snow in Windows

Forget the store-bought ornaments, and pick up your hot glue gun. Create wonderful holiday memories while crafting ornaments you can hang on your tree or use as decor around the house. See this Good Housekeeping post for over 75 ideas for DIY Christmas ornaments.

22. Flower Pot Decorations

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.

23. Light Projector

A string of lights can really spread holiday cheer. To save money, opt for shorter strings of light to cover smaller areas — such as a window or mantle piece, rather than along your gutters or around a 7 foot tree. You can also use a string of lights on a blank stretch of wall in the shape of a star or to spell out “Merry Christmas” in cursive.
You can use ribbon for more than just wrapping presents. Take some thick ribbon in Christmas colors like red, green or gold and use it to make bows to hang on your Christmas tree, your mantle and even on door knobs or drawer pulls. Tie them around a glass vase with a candle inside for a simple Christmas centerpiece. <!–

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Garland is a low-budget Christmas decoration that instantly adds holiday spirit to a room. In addition to stringing garland around your Christmas tree, you can hang strings of garland above your mantle, over your doorways, around your window frames or wrapped around the banister of your staircase. Instead of buying your garland, you can make your own using natural elements like dried citrus and pine cones, construction paper, popcorn or cheap ball ornaments.

Using Income Share Agreements to Pay for School

Many students end up taking out loans to finance the cost of college. As of the first quarter of 2021, Americans collectively held $1.57 trillion in student debt, up $29 billion from the previous quarter. And a significant share of borrowers were struggling with their debt burdens: Just under 6% of total student debt was 90 days or more past due or in default.

Students looking for alternatives to student loans can apply for grants and scholarships, take on work-study jobs or other part-time work, or find ways to save on expenses.

Recently, another alternative has appeared on the table for students at certain institutions: income share agreements. An income share agreement is a type of college financing in which repayment is a fixed percentage of the borrower’s future income over a specified period of time.

As this financing option grows in popularity, here are some key things to know about how these agreements operate and to help you decide whether they’re the right choice for you.

How Income Share Agreements Work

Unlike student loans, an income share agreement, also known as an income sharing agreement or ISA, doesn’t involve a contract with the government or a private lender. Rather, it’s a contract between the student and their college or university.

In exchange for receiving educational funds from the school, the student promises to pay a share of his or her future earnings to the institution for a fixed amount of time after graduation.

ISAs don’t typically charge interest, and the amount students pay usually fluctuates according to their income. Students don’t necessarily have to pay back the entire amount they borrow, as long as they make the agreed-upon payments over a set period. Though, they also may end up paying more than the amount they received.

Income share agreements only appeared on the scene in the last few years, but they are quickly expanding. Since 2016, ISA programs have launched at places like Purdue University in Indiana, Clarkson University in New York, and Lackawanna College in Pennsylvania. Each school decides on its own terms and eligibility guidelines for the programs. The school itself or outside investors may provide funds for ISAs.

Purdue University was one of the first schools to create a modern ISA program. Sophomores, juniors, and seniors who meet certain criteria, including full-time enrollment and satisfactory academic progress, are eligible to apply.

Students may have a six-month grace period after graduation to start making payments, similar to the six-month grace period for student loans, and the repayment term at Purdue is typically 10 years. For some schools, however, the repayment term ranges from two to 10 years.

The exact amount students can expect to pay depends on the amount they took out and their income. The university estimates that a junior who graduates in 2023 with a marketing major will have a starting salary of $51,000 and will see their income grow an average of 4.7% a year.

If that student borrowed $10,000 in ISA funds, he or she would be required to pay 3.39% of his or her income for a little over eight years. The total amount that student would pay back is $17,971. The repayment cap for the 2021-2022 school year is $23,100.

Again, every ISA is different and may have different requirements, so be sure to check with your college or university for all the details.

The Advantages of Income Share Agreements

ISAs aren’t for everyone, but they can be beneficial for some students. For example, students who don’t qualify for other forms of financial aid, such as undocumented immigrants, may have few other options for funding school.

For students who have already maxed out their federal loans, ISAs can be a more affordable option than Parent PLUS loans or private student loans, both of which sometimes come with relatively high interest rates and fees.

Compared to student loans, many ISAs also protect students by preventing monthly payments from becoming unaffordable. Since the amount paid is always tied to income, students should never end up owing more than a set percentage for a fixed period of time. However, a student’s field of study may impact this. Students who are high earners after college may end up paying more to repay an ISA than they would have under other financing options.

If a student has trouble finding a well-paying job, or finding one at all, payments typically shrink accordingly. For example, Purdue sets a minimum income amount below which students don’t pay anything.

In Purdue’s case, the student won’t owe anything else once the repayment period is over, compared to student loans that can multiply exponentially over time due to accrued interest.

Purdue and several other universities also set the amount and length of repayment based on a student’s major, meaning monthly payments can be more tailored to graduates’ fields and salaries than student loans are. For fortunate students who see their income rise beyond expectations, many schools ensure the student won’t pay beyond a certain cap.

Potential Pitfalls of Income Share Agreements

ISAs come with some risks and drawbacks, as well. Firstly, since the repayment amount is based on income, a student who earns a lot after graduation might end up paying more than they would have with some student loans. This is because if a student earns a high income after graduating, they’d pay more to the fund. Second, the terms of repayment can vary widely, and some programs require graduates to give up a huge chunk of their paychecks.

For example, Lambda School , an online program that trains students to be software engineers, requires alums who earn at least $50,000 to pay 17% of their income for two years (up to $30,000). This can be a burden for recent graduates, especially compared to other options like income-driven repayment, which determines the percentage of income going towards student loans based on discretionary income.

Currently, there is very little regulation of ISAs, so students should read ISA terms carefully to understand what they’re signing up for.

No matter what, income share agreements are still funding that needs to be repaid, often at a higher amount than the principal.

So you’re still paying more overall for your education compared to finding sources of income like scholarships, a part-time job, gifts from family, or reducing expenses through lifestyle changes or going to a less expensive school.

How Do Income Share Agreements Impact You?

Many schools’ ISA programs are designed to fill in gaps in funding when students do not receive enough from other sources, such as financial aid, federal or private student loans, scholarships or savings. Thus, it’s important to understand how an ISA will impact both your long-term finances and other methods to pay for college.

ISAs do not impact need-based aid like grants or scholarships. Students with loans, however, could have a more complicated repayment plan with multiple payments due each month.

With ISAs, there is less clarity as to how much you’ll end up repaying from up to 10 years of income. As your income changes, your payment will remain the same percentage unless it falls below the minimum income threshold ($1,666.67 at Purdue) or reaches a repayment cap.

Whereas students may pay more than the loan principal to reduce interest, ISAs often require reaching a repayment cap of roughly double the borrowed amount to be paid off early.

Depending on your future income and career path, an ISA could cut into potential savings and investments or serve as a safety net for a less stable occupation.

Who Should Consider An ISA?

As previously mentioned, income share agreements are an option for students who have maxed out on federal loans and scholarships. There are other circumstances when an ISA may or may not be worth considering.

Colleges may require a minimum GPA to be eligible for an ISA. For instance, Robert Morris University requires incoming students to have a 3.0 high school GPA and maintain a 2.75 GPA during their studies for continued funding eligibility. Taking stock of how an ISA aligns with your academic performance before accepting funding could reduce stress later on.

Since ISA programs structure repayment as a percentage of income, graduates who secure high-paying jobs can end up paying a significant sum compared to the borrowed amount. An ISA term could be more favorable to students planning to enter sectors with more gradual salary growth, such as civil service.

Repayment plans at income sharing agreement colleges are not uniform. Students at schools with lower payment caps and early repayment options may find ISAs more advantageous.

Considering Private Loans

Students should generally exhaust all their federal options for grants and loans before considering other types of debt. But for some students looking to fill gaps in their educational funding, private student loans may make more sense for their needs than ISAs.

Recommended: Examining the Different Types of Student Loans

In particular, students who expect to have high salaries after graduation may end up paying less based on interest for a private student loan than they would for an ISA. Some private loans can also allow you to reduce what you owe overall by repaying your debt ahead of schedule.

SoFi doesn’t charge any fees, including origination fees or late fees. Nor are there prepayment penalties for paying off your loan early. You can also qualify for a 0.25% reduction on your interest rate when you sign up for automated payments.

The Takeaway

As mentioned, an income share agreement is an alternate financing option for college. An ISA is generally used to fill in gaps in college funding. Generally, it’s an agreement between the borrower and the school that states the borrower will repay the funds based on their future salary for a set amount of time.

One alternative to an ISA could be private student loans. Keep in mind that private loans are generally only considered as an option after all other sources of federal aid, including federal student loans, have been exhausted.

If you’ve exhausted your federal loan options and need help paying for school, consider a SoFi private student loan.


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SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change. SoFi Lending Corp. and its lending products are not endorsed by or directly affiliated with any college or university unless otherwise disclosed.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
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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

4 States Where Mortgage Balances Are Rising Fastest

Woman shocked by her mortgage balance
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As housing values soar into the stratosphere, mortgage balances also are growing fatter in many parts of the country, according to a new report from data analytics company FICO.

Homebuyers who have to dig deep to pay ever-climbing prices are seeing their mortgage balances balloon as a result. And that is especially true in four states and the District of Columbia.

The places that appear on this list should be no surprise, as they have seen their housing markets turn red-hot in recent years. They are:

  • District of Columbia: $467,522 average mortgage balance, up $23,397 from 2020
  • Hawaii: $391,924 average mortgage balance, up $17,884 from 2020
  • California: $387,637 average mortgage balance, up $14,106 from 2020
  • Washington: $300,591 average mortgage balance, up $20,010 from 2020
  • Colorado: $291,257 average mortgage balance, up $18,381 from 2020

The trend nationally is also up, albeit more modestly. The average mortgage balance in the U.S. now stands at $224,477, up $8,939 from 2020.

FICO notes that as a general rule, housing markets on the West Coast tend to have the highest average mortgage balances. For example, average total real estate balances in both the San Francisco Bay Area ($502,826) and Orange County, California, ($454,576) are more than twice the national average.

By contrast, Arkansas ($135,897), Mississippi ($130,022) and West Virginia ($123,785) have the lowest average mortgage balances. Even in these states, though, balances are rising.

One way to significantly lower your mortgage balance is to snag a great mortgage rate. Stop by the Money Talks News Solutions Center and search for a great rate whether you are looking for a new home loan or a refinance.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Source: moneytalksnews.com

Do Part-Time Students Have to Pay Back Student Loans?

An estimated 7.9 million part-time college students are hard at work this year. They may be a part-time student because of financial reasons, caregiver or parental duties, medical issues, or other reasons, but for all scenarios, balancing college with other duties and needs can be a struggle.

One question that can come up for part-time students is whether they need to pay back student loans if they’re not attending classes full time. In short, if a student meets their school’s requirements for half-time enrollment, they are generally not required to make payments on federal student loans. Private student loans have their own terms and depending on the lender, students may be required to make payments on their loan while they are enrolled in school. Read on for some clarification.

What Is a Part-Time College Student?

A part-time college student is someone who is not taking a full course load during any given academic quarter or semester. Individual schools set the standards for what counts as a full- or part-time student, but in general, full-time students may take about 12 credits or four classes at a time.

Part-time students may take anywhere from six to 11 credits or two to three classes per academic period.

Students may choose to attend college part time in order to take care of family obligations, work a day job, or because of other circumstances that don’t allow them to take four classes at one time.

Repaying Student Loans as a Part-Time Student

In general, part-time students may not need to pay back their federal student loans while they are attending school as long as they don’t drop below half-time enrollment — or as long as they haven’t graduated.

What does this mean in practicality? If you’re a part-time student and you are taking at least half of the full-load credit hours, you generally won’t need to start paying off your federal student loans until you graduate.

For example, if a full course load at your school is 12 credits, and you’re taking six credits this semester, you are still enrolled at least half time, and wouldn’t normally be required to start paying back your federal student loans.

If, however, you drop down below half time enrollment by taking only one three-credit class, you would no longer be attending school at least half time and may be required to start paying off your federal student loans.

When Do I Have to Start Paying Back My Student Loans?

If you are a part-time student who graduates or drops below half-time enrollment, you may not need to start paying back your federal student loans right away. Many new grads, or those entering a repayment period for the first time, are given a six-month grace period before they have to start paying federal student loans back.

The exact length of any grace period depends on the type of loan you have and your specific circumstances. For example, Federal Direct Subsidized Loans and Direct Unsubsidized Loans all have a standard six-month grace period before payments are due.

Factors That May Influence The Grace Period

There is good news if you’re a member of the armed forces — and are called to active duty 30 days or more before your grace period ends, you could delay the six month grace period until after you return from active duty.

One important thing to remember is that if you enter a grace period because you dropped below half-time enrollment but then you re-enroll in school at least half time before the end of the grace period, you will receive the full six month grace period on your federal student loans when you stop attending school or drop below half time enrollment (other conditions can apply here).

This is because, in general, once you start attending school at least half-time again, you’re no longer obligated to start making payments on federal student loans. In this situation, you would still get a grace period after you graduate, even though you may have used part of a grace period while you were attending school less than half time. Note that most loan types will still accrue interest during the grace period.

You may lose out on any grace period if you consolidate your federal student loans with the federal government during your grace period. In that scenario, you’ll typically need to start paying back your loan once the consolidation is disbursed (paid out).

Repayments for Federal Student Loans

If you have private student loans, don’t count on getting a grace period before you start paying back your loans. Student loans taken out from private lenders don’t have the same terms and benefits as federal student loans, which means that private student loans may not offer a grace period at all, or it may be a different length than the federal grace period.

Some lenders may require students make payments on private student loans while they are enrolled in school. If you have a private loan, or are considering a private loan, check with the lender directly to understand the terms for repayment and whether or not there is a grace period.

How Do I Pay Back My Student Loans?

There are things you can do to make paying back your loans as painless as possible. When you enter loan repayment on a federal student loan, you’ll be automatically enrolled in the Standard Repayment Plan , which requires you to pay off your loan within 10 years.

However, there are other types of federal student loan repayment plans available, including income-driven repayment plans and loan forgiveness programs for public service, and it is always worth learning about the different plans so you can make an educated choice.

As mentioned, private student loans have different requirements than federal student loans. Individual lenders will determine the repayment plans available to borrowers.

Take a Look at Refinancing

One option you may want to consider is refinancing your student loans with a private lender. Refinancing your student loans allows you to combine all your federal and private student loans into one new, private loan.

This new loan might come with better terms, meaning if you qualify you may end up with a lower monthly payment or a shorter loan repayment term.

It’s important to remember, however, that student loan refinancing isn’t right for everyone. If you refinance your federal loans they will no longer be eligible for any federal repayment assistance, like the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program or income-driven repayment plans.

The Takeaway

Part-time student loans who are enrolled at least half-time, based on the definition at their school, are generally not required to make payments on their federal student loans. Private student loans have terms and conditions that are set by the individual lender, and may require students make payments on their loans while they are enrolled in school.

Graduated or dropped below half-time? Learn more about refinancing your loans with SoFi to help with repayment.


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SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp. or an affiliate (dba SoFi), a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law, license # 6054612; NMLS # 1121636 . For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal.

SoFi Student Loan Refinance
IF YOU ARE LOOKING TO REFINANCE FEDERAL STUDENT LOANS PLEASE BE AWARE OF RECENT LEGISLATIVE CHANGES THAT HAVE SUSPENDED ALL FEDERAL STUDENT LOAN PAYMENTS AND WAIVED INTEREST CHARGES ON FEDERALLY HELD LOANS UNTIL THE END OF JANUARY 2022 DUE TO COVID-19. PLEASE CAREFULLY CONSIDER THESE CHANGES BEFORE REFINANCING FEDERALLY HELD LOANS WITH SOFI, SINCE IN DOING SO YOU WILL NO LONGER QUALIFY FOR THE FEDERAL LOAN PAYMENT SUSPENSION, INTEREST WAIVER, OR ANY OTHER CURRENT OR FUTURE BENEFITS APPLICABLE TO FEDERAL LOANS. CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including Income-Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
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

What Are College Tuition Payment Plans?

According to the 2021 Sallie Mae survey “How America Pays for College,” nearly 80% of students and their families eliminated a college based on cost when determining which school to attend.

If the cost of college tuition is one of the determining factors in your decision process, it could be worth looking into tuition payment plans. College tuition payment plans are offered by colleges and allow tuition to be paid over an extended period of time. Typically, it is not difficult to qualify for a school’s tuition payment plan, but there may be a fee in order to enroll.

These plans are offered by some colleges and could help make tuition payments more manageable for students and parents.

What Is a College Tuition Payment Plan?

Instead of paying for college tuition at the beginning of each year, semester, or quarter, college tuition payment plans — also known as tuition installment plans or deferred payment plans — allow students and their families to spread out the cost of tuition over a period of time.

Depending on the school, the plan may allow payments to be made over the course of the semester or over the full year.

While you’ll generally have to start making payments right away, programs frequently offer the option to spread payments into monthly installments. Some schools also offer programs that break the payment into a few equal payments throughout the semester.

How Do Payment Plans Work?

Some colleges run their own tuition payment plans. Others use an outside service to administer the plan.

Typically these payment plans only cover the direct costs charged by and paid to the college, such as tuition and fees. Sometimes the cost of housing and meal plans will also be included under a tuition fee payment plan. The cost of things like textbooks and school supplies are not usually included in these payment plans.

Many tuition payment plans require an enrollment fee, which may fall around $50 or $100, although it may be lower. These plans don’t usually charge interest, which can potentially make them less expensive than taking out a student loan, as long as you are able to make the monthly payments.

What Types of Colleges Offer Payment Plans?

Many schools offer some sort of tuition payment plan. Qualifying for the plan isn’t generally very difficult. However, some schools do have specific enrollment periods. Check with the school you plan to attend to determine when you need to enroll and what is required to do so.

What if My School Doesn’t Offer a Payment Plan?

For many students and their parents, paying for school upfront isn’t possible. Sometimes even with a payment plan, the burden of tuition is still too high for students and their families.

Consider some of the following options when planning to pay for college tuition. While these ideas might not be enough to help you cover the full cost of tuition on their own, a combination of a few could do the trick.

Federal Aid

Federal aid for college encompasses grants, scholarships, student loans, and work-study. To apply, students must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA® ) each year.

The schools you apply to will use this information to determine how much aid you receive. You’ll typically receive an award letter detailing what types of federal aid you’ve qualified for and the amounts.

Federal Student Loans

Federal student loans can be either subsidized or unsubsidized. Subsidized loans are awarded based on need. The Department of Education covers the interest that accrues on these loans while you are in school at least part-time, during the grace period after leaving school, and during periods of deferment or forbearance.

Unsubsidized federal loans are awarded independent of need. Borrowers are responsible for paying the interest that accrues on these loans while they are in school and during periods of deferment, like the grace period.

Payments are not required on either unsubsidized or subsidized loans while you are actively enrolled more than part-time in school.

There are also PLUS loans available to parents who are interested in borrowing a loan to help their child pay for college.

Work-Study

The federal work-study program provides jobs for undergraduate and graduate students who demonstrate financial need. The amount of work-study you receive will depend on factors like when you applied, your level of determined financial need, and the amount of funding available at your school.

The money earned for work-study won’t count against you when you fill out the FAFSA, so it shouldn’t jeopardize future financial aid awards. Each time you fill out the FAFSA, it’s worth indicating that you’re still interested in receiving work-study as part of your financial aid award (that is, if you are still interested).

And it’s important to remember that your financial aid award may change from year to year, depending on you and your family’s circumstances.

Scholarships and Grants

Scholarships and grants don’t typically have to be repaid, which makes them one of the best options for students trying to pay for school. Some scholarships and grants are awarded by schools based on the information you provided in the FAFSA, but there are scholarships and grants available that aren’t based on financial need.

Taking some time to comb through online databases that catalog available scholarships, like FastWeb or Scholarships.com , could prove helpful. Each scholarship will have different application requirements.

Some might require an essay or additional supplementary materials, but the effort could be worth it if you’re able to fund a portion of your tuition costs.

Private Student Loans

Sometimes federal aid, scholarships, and your savings aren’t enough to cover the full cost of tuition. In those cases, private student loans could be an option. Unlike federal student loans, which are offered by the government, private student loans are offered by banks, credit unions, or other private lenders.

The private student loan application process will vary slightly based on lender policies, but will almost always require a credit check.

Lenders will review your credit score and financial history as they determine how much money they are willing to lend to you.

In some cases, students might need the help of a cosigner to take out a private student loan. This could be the case if they have little to no credit history.

Some parents may also be interested in taking out a loan to help their child pay for their education.

The Takeaway

Tuition payment plans, which extend the payment for college tuition over a fixed period of time, can be helpful for parents and students as they navigate how they’ll pay for the cost of education. Spreading tuition payments over the semester or year can help make them more manageable.

Private student loans could be worth considering after you’ve exhausted your federal aid options, and if things like tuition payment plans aren’t financially feasible. If you decide a private student loan is a good option for you, consider SoFi as your lender.

SoFi offers student loans for undergraduate students and their parents. If you qualify to borrow a private student loan with SoFi, there are no fees. The application process can be completed entirely online. You can also choose one of four flexible repayment plans for undergraduate student loans.

Want to learn more about the private student loans offered by SoFi? See your rates and find out if you pre-qualify right now.


SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp. or an affiliate (dba SoFi), a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law, license # 6054612; NMLS # 1121636 . For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal.

SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs.
SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

Checking Your Rates: To check the rates and terms you may qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. A hard credit pull, which may impact your credit score, is required if you apply for a SoFi product after being pre-qualified.
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
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

25 Ideas on How to Lower Electric Bill

Lastly, poor insulation can be a huge drain on energy efficiency. If you have major cracks in your window frames, walls, baseboards, and more, you are basically watching your hard-earned dollars fall through those gaps. Likewise, if doors are left open (especially the garage door or patio door) haphazardly you are bleeding cold or warm air (depending on the season) through those areas, causing your home heating or cooling to work harder, thus costing you more money on your electric bill.
Most electric bills are tabulated by multiplying the rate you pay per kilowatt of energy by the total hours of device and electricity usage that month. This gives you your total electric usage in kWh — kilowatts per hour. From this formula, we can see that electric bills are based on how many hours of electricity you use each month.
Colorado-based writer Kristin Jenny focuses on lifestyle and wellness. She is a regular contributor to The Penny Hoarder.
According to the DOE, lowering the temp to 120 degrees is perfectly fine for the majority of the population. If you or a member of your household has a chronic respiratory disease or a suppressed immune system, though, it may be best to keep your water heater set to the default temp.
To reduce your electric bill, take stock of how many hours of electricity you use a day (some things like water heaters and refrigerators will always be running, and that’s ok) for things like the dishwasher, washer and dryer, floor lamps, and accessories such as stereo equipment.

25 Ways to Reduce Your Electric Bill

This dreary news is coupled with the prediction that it may be a colder winter in many parts of the country, too.

1. Get a Free Home Energy Assessment

When the heat is high, don’t let any precious warm or cool air escape due to drafty doors and leaky windows. Seal these money-draining spaces with inexpensive draft tape, often ranging from to on popular sites like Amazon.

2. Seal Cracks and Leaks Is How to Lower Electric Bill

When you leave for work or go to sleep, turn down the thermostat. At night you can add a few more blankets to the bed or even turn up the eclectic blanket, and if you’re at work, you won’t know the difference. Turning down the thermostat by 10 degrees can save you 10% on your bill over a year.

3. Upgrade to Efficient Equipment With a Rebate

Layering your clothes is the original way to save money on your winter electric bill and lower your thermostat a few degrees. If your clothes budget is already stretched, websites like ThredUp or heading over to your local Goodwill are excellent ways to get gently used but extremely warm clothing for just a few bucks a piece.

4. If You Have a Smart Thermostat, Use It

Some electric companies charge higher rates during the day (aka peak hours) and lower rates in the evening (aka off-peak hours). It can help save a few bucks here and there to run larger appliances like dishwashers, clothing dryers, and washing means while you’re getting some shut-eye.

5. Take a Timeout on Energy Consumption

Many power providers offer free home energy assessments or home energy optimization kits. Xcel Energy, which serves much of the northern midwest and mountain regions of the U.S., provides a free virtual visit with a Home Energy Squad member, followed by a free kit to optimize your residential electrical usage.

A toddler watches his sibling play out in the snow from the window.
Getty Images

6. Let Mother Nature Do the Work

Then, begin to see where you can limit the amount of time those home furnishings are in use. This will slowly but surely start to reduce your home electric bill.

7. Invest in One-Time Duct Cleaning

How much more? The federal government is saying we could see spikes of 54% in our heating bills compared to last year.

8. Change Your Air Filter

Any item in your house that has pipes behind it (toilets, sinks, etc.) likely is simply sitting in an open hole in the wall with no insulation. This means that in the winter warm air could be leaking out or cold air could be seeping in. Consulting with a professional to learn more about how adding insulation behind toilets and sinks can help make your home more energy efficient by eliminating these air leaks across your house.

9. Run Appliances at Night

Using the aptly named draft stopper on your doors can further prevent air leaks throughout your home. For only , you can keep prized warm air better circulating in your space without losing it to wasteful door leaks. Another painless way to save money.

10. Make the Move to LED

No, not that kind of timeout. To cheaply lower your electric bill, consider adding an outlet timer to window unit heaters. These helpful gadgets cost to and will make your home more energy efficient and limit the amount of “phantom power” (the power your devices leech from outlets even when not turned on) contributing to monthly energy bills. Or, turn down the thermostat and head to the mall or library for a few hours.

11. Replace Window Screens for Home Efficiency

Exhaust fans are those that are generally already built into your home, like the kind above a stove or shower. These fans do an exceptionally good job at circulating air and removing moisture and humidity from that air. Running these fans even when not cooking or in the shower can improve air circulation and decrease the need to crank up the heat and your power usage.

12. Insulate Hidden Areas

Speaking of fans, turn ceiling fan blades so that they rotate clockwise in the winter so that warm air is pulled upward and distributed throughout the room. If you’ve done the rotation change correctly, you should not feel any air if you stand underneath them.

13. Close the Door

While we all want a toasty home to return to after a long day, spending money heating rooms like a basement, garage, attic, or closed-in porch is a major drain on your winter electric bill. Rooms such as those tend to not be insulated with walls instead made from concrete or wood slats. With no insulation to hold in the heat, you’re essentially wasting your money trying to warm them up. Best to bundle up when in those rooms or close them off entirely during colder months.

14. Reduce Phantom Power

Air filters do just that — filter out tiny particles and debris generally undetectable to the human eye. This provides us with clean air circulating in our homes. However, these filters need to be changed about every six months in order to work properly. Clogged filters inhibit effective air flow and can lead to higher energy costs due to forcing your air systems to work harder to pump out air.

15. Add an Energy Efficient Power Strip

Some sneakier money-eaters on your electric bill are incandescent bulbs, hair dryers, and space heaters. A hair dryer consumes about 1,200 watts per hour of usage and costs 12 cents an hour to operate while a fridge generally only consumes 1,000 watts and costs 10 cents an hour to run. While you may not be using a hair dryer for an hour, you can see how daily use of such an accessory could add up.

16. Lower Hot Water Heater Temperature

For those who already have a Nest or other programmable thermostat in your home, take the time to program it. Smart thermostats offer zonal and timed heating and cooling, which on average will save most homeowners 10-12% on their heating bills and up to 15% on their cooling bills.
It’s going to cost more to heat your home this winter, thanks to global price hikes for natural gas, heating oil and other fuels.

17. Decrease Door Drafts With a Draft Stopper

If you live in a multiroom home, closing the doors to unused rooms will consolidate your heating usage to fewer rooms, and it will keep that room much warmer. Pick a room or two to hang out in for the majority of the day, and shut the doors to the others to naturally create zonal heating. A painless way to lower your electric bill.

18. Use Exhaust Fans

A major cause of ineffective or inefficient home cooling may be from clogged ductwork. Over the years, debris like dust, pet hair, and dander can accumulate in vents and make it difficult for air to flow smoothly throughout your space. Cleaner ducts = less need to turn up the heat. Fortunately, HVAC system maintenance is pretty affordable, and a one-time vent cleaning will only take 0-0 out of your home maintenance budget.
When the sun is shining, make sure that you have your blinds and curtains open to let the warmth in. Close them at night as an extra layer of insulation against the cold.

19. Go Through a Checklist

Owning or renting a home comes with all sorts of maintenance. It can be hard to keep track of what to do at what time of year in order to keep your space clean and efficient. Referring to a home checklist like this one can ensure you are ticking off the correct boxes to prepare your home for warmer months, potentially saving you some dough on electric bills throughout the winter and then next summer.

20. Rearrange Your Furniture

As we already mentioned, leveraging Mother Nature when possible to decrease your bill and your energy consumption is a great idea. In this case, replacing snared, ripped window screens with relatively inexpensive new ones can help to better insulate your windows, preventing any unwanted major cracks or gashes from emitting cold air into your home.

A woman wears multiple layers of clothes in her home.
Getty Images

21. Bundle Up

There can be many reasons as to why your electric bill is so high. One major reason could be that you leave all your appliances and furnishings plugged in all the time. This is called “phantom energy costs” or “vampire energy costs,” meaning that even when a device is not directly in use, if it is plugged in it is still using a bit of energy. There may be things that can be unplugged like computers or entertainment systems.

22. Don’t Heat Uninsulated Rooms

Incandescent bulbs release about 90% of their energy as heat. Couple that with the fact that they generally are not energy efficient and it’s enough to make the case to switch to LED bulbs. LED bulbs can save consumers as much as per month and they give off little-to-no heat.

23. Insulate Your Water Heater

We answer some of the most asked questions about electric bills and what makes them so high.

24. Use Your Kitchen

But there are some ways to keep your energy bill in check this winter (and in the summer, too), and much of that has to do with maintenance.

25. Turn Down the Thermostat

Cooking and baking at home naturally warms up the kitchen and then adjacent rooms. You can save money, too, by cooking at home rather than getting take out or going out. After you’re done using the oven and it’s turned off, you can leave the door ajar just a bit to let that dwindling heat escape. Make sure to keep children out of the area if you do this and never use an operating oven as a heat source by leaving the door wide open.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Electric Bills

Go through the house and check to make sure that you don’t have beds, dressers, bookcases or other furniture blocking heating vents. If the vents are blocked and heat isn’t evenly distributed, this may cause you to turn up the thermostat.

How Do I Reduce My Electric Bill?

The most costly items on an electric bill are the culprits you probably already guessed: air conditioning, heating, and large home appliances come in at the top of the list. This is why it makes it all the more important that your home is energy efficient with updated models of each home appliance.
Source: thepennyhoarder.com
Although upgrading heating systems and thermostats can be pricey, many electrical companies offer rebate programs. ConEd, which serves New York City, offers rebates on smart thermostats. So does California. Check with your energy provider to see if rebates are offered in your area. This could mean more than 0 back in your pocket

Why Is My Electric Bill So High?

Another reason could be that your home is not energy efficient. If appliances such as dishwashers are decades old, it’s likely that those models are no longer the most energy or water-efficient on the market. Although no one wants to purchase a brand-new major appliance, this can save you money in the long run.
This is where a free home inspection by your local utility company may come in handy, if such a service is offered. Energy experts can let you know if your appliances are up-to-date from an energy standpoint as well as what other surprising items in your home may be contributing to an overly high electric bill.
The default temperature for water heaters is 140 degrees, which wastes between and a year, according to the Department of Energy.

What Costs the Most on My Electric Bill?

Even if something like a lamp or TV are not turned on, the fact that they remain plugged in means those items could be leeching “phantom power” from your home, and jacking up your electric bill. Phantom power refers to the electricity consumed by objects when they are off or in standby mode. This allows them to quickly turn on, but means your electric bill pays the price. Consider unplugging lamps, appliances, and more when not in use to save on your next energy payment.
Insulating your water heater can save you about 7-16% in water heating costs and eliminate standby heat losses by 25-45%. It’s pretty easy to DIY — order a water heater jacket like this one for from Amazon, or check with your local utility company to see if they offer jackets for free or with a rebate.
That’s a big jump and something that many of us will struggle to afford. For people lucky enough to use electricity for their heating systems, it’s predicted that their bills will only go up about 6%. Still, that’s money that you could use elsewhere.
While you’re unplugging unused objects, think about adding in an energy efficient power strip to cut down on your bill. Some estimate that installing energy efficient power strips (which are only to each) can decrease home power use from 20 to 48%, which translates to more than just a few dollars back in your pocket.
From bundling up to not heating uninsulated rooms to simple maintenance checks and fixes, these two dozen plus one ways to avoid sticker shock from your electric bill are worth your efforts.

8 Services You Didn’t Know Social Security Offers

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What is the Social Security Administration good for? A typical first response would be “helping seniors weather the costs of retirement,” and that’s certainly true. But that’s not all it does.

As with Social Security itself, many Americans don’t understand exactly how the agency running the program works — or how to take full advantage of it.

Following are several services you may not have realized the SSA provides.

1. Benefits for non-retirees

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If you know nothing else about the SSA, you probably know it provides retirement benefits to people of a certain age. That’s what Social Security is all about, right?

But it also provides benefits to many others — widows, parents, children, the disabled and the blind.

Learn about these types of benefits and their eligibility requirements in our story, “7 Social Security Benefits You May Be Overlooking.”

2. Help with Medicare drug costs

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Medicare, the federal health insurance program for seniors, is technically administered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

However, Social Security helps keep things simple by handling enrollment in Medicare Parts A and B. It also handles applications for “Extra Help,” a program that lowers the cost of Medicare Part D for eligible seniors by about $5,000 per year, according to SSA estimates.

3. Replacement Medicare cards

Jigsaw puzzle with the word "Medicare" on one piece.
Lemau Studio / Shutterstock.com

If you lose your Social Security card, it makes sense you’d go to the SSA to request a replacement.

What you might not know is that you can also request a replacement Medicare card from the SSA online. (You can also do this over the phone by calling 1-800-MEDICARE.)

4. Proof of income

Couple meeting with loan officer
megaflopp / Shutterstock.com

In certain situations, such as when applying for government assistance, an apartment, mortgage or some other loan, you might be required to provide proof of income.

One piece of evidence might come from the SSA, in what’s called a Social Security Benefit Verification Letter.

Contrary to what the name suggests, you don’t need to be receiving benefits to get one. In fact, as the SSA website points out, these letters can also be used as proof that you don’t receive benefits or haven’t in the past.

5. Baby name ideas

Tania Kolinko / Shutterstock.com

While it may never have occurred to you, the SSA naturally has a wealth of information about the names of Americans — it has to put them on all the cards, after all.

So if you’re curious about the most popular baby names in the country, the SSA has information going all the way back to 1880. You can find out the most frequently given names in a given year, decade, or over the past century, even broken down by state.

6. Calculators for many common questions

Thinking senior woman
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The prospect of retirement raises lots of questions: How long will I live? When should I stop working? How much money can I get from the government in various scenarios?

The SSA maintains several calculators to help with these questions and more.

7. A blast from the past

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Have you ever had a “back in my day” conversation with someone about your first job?

The SSA can tell you exactly how much you earned in any given year in your online “earnings record.”

Even if you’re not interested in a little trip down memory lane, you should still regularly check your earnings record. As we explain in “9 Social Security Terms Everyone Should Know,” it can get harder to correct any possible errors over time, due to the loss of your tax records and employer information.

8. Representative payees

Senior couple in front of their home
Andy Dean Photography / Shutterstock.com

Sometimes people become unable to manage the money they are receiving from Social Security or Supplemental Security Income. In those cases, Social Security can appoint what are called representative payees to manage money on their behalf.

You can designate a few people you trust to be your payee should the need arise. Or, as necessary, the SSA can choose for you among friends, family or qualified organizations.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Source: moneytalksnews.com