From GreenPath Debt Solutions to GreenPath Financial Wellness

Donna McNeill Casual HeadshotFrom GreenPath Debt Solutions to GreenPath Financial Wellness
By Donna McNeill

GreenPath Chief Operating Officer

GreenPath Debt Solutions is now GreenPath Financial Wellness!  The transition is based on our long-term commitment to guide all consumers through life’s financial challenges, not just those in debt.

We certainly know there is a need as more than 200,000 people, with a variety of different questions and issues, partnered with GreenPath to improve their financial health in 2015 alone.

Our focus on Financial Wellness better represents the full impact we have on individuals and the communities we serve.  For example, we don’t just help people manage debt.  We empower them to reduce stress, stop living paycheck to paycheck, and take control of their financial future.

Our overall goal is to become the financial health partner that consumers turn to through all phases of their lives.

We will provide personalized services and proactive education for people to anticipate their financial needs and prepare accordingly, before a personal finance crisis hits. We will work closely with consumers who want to make informed financial decisions regarding important life events like marriage, birth of a child, retirement and more.

Our expert staff will continue to serve people with credit card debt, housing, bankruptcy and student loan concerns.  We will continue to provide exceptional debt management assistance, for those working on eliminating credit card debt, with a goal of positively impacting their financial health in other ways.

Give us a call at (800) 550-1961, if you have questions around credit or debt. You can read our news release announcement on the name change, here.

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Spring Clean Your Way to Savings

Andrew_Johnson_communications_greenpathSpring Clean Your Way to Savings
By Andrew Johnson
GreenPath Communications

Springtime means opening the windows, sweeping out the dust from over the winter and starting anew. It is also the opportune time to clean out your wallet or purse, that junk drawer full of receipts and those overflowing file cabinets. But where to begin?

Sweep it

Go through your wallet and purse and fish out any receipts you may have accumulated. Review which ones you need to keep and why you kept them. For example, has that gift receipt expired? If so, put it in your shred pile! Do you have receipts related to refunds? If so, sit down today, fill out the form, and either load on-line or put in the mail.

Next, get rid of all the other paper clutter that could be a paper trail for identity thieves. Do you have credit card offers lying around that need to be dealt with? Or, how about passwords scribbled on post-it notes? Do you have other receipts tacked on a bulletin board or shoved in a kitchen junk drawer? How about all the paperwork from filing your taxes? Rake them all together!

Rake it

Once you’ve raked together all your sensitive papers, it’s time to decide what to do with them. For tax documents, in most cases, you should plan on keeping tax returns and any supporting documents (e.g., W-2s, mileage logs if you itemize, etc.) for at least three years after the date you filed or the due date of your tax return, whichever is later. Always consult your tax preparer, if you have questions.

Receipts not related to refunds or extended warranties can be set aside for shredding. Do you have a pile of credit card offers taking up space in a drawer? Get them ready for shredding, too!

Shred it

So, once you decide what you need to shred, how do you handle it all? Tearing the documents in half and throwing them out is not the way to go! A home shredder is a good idea. It is recommended that you buy a shredder that cross-cuts. In other words, you want all that paper ending up looking like confetti, and not in strips. Home machines are not typically heavy-duty, so be careful as to how much you shred at a time. If your shredder is not equipped to take on staples or other metal, be careful to remove them from the paper to avoid damaging the blades.

If you have a lot of sensitive documents, many communities now offer Shred events.  They enable you to drop off your documents for shredding for free, or for a small fee, and even watch it being shredded while you wait.

Secure it

Highly sensitive documents (social security cards, passports, birth certificates, wills) should be locked up in a fireproof file cabinet or lockbox. Gather all other pertinent papers, like insurance forms, tax documents, mortgages, and put them in a secure location. Inform trusted family members where the documents are located and/or location of a key for the secure file cabinet or lockbox.

A little planning this spring, alongside your traditional cleaning, can set you up for a great financial year!

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ATM Fees Can Break the Bank

Donna McNeill Casual HeadshotATM Fees Can Break the Bank
By Donna McNeill

GreenPath Chief Operating Officer

At GreenPath, we remind our clients of some of the obvious ways to save money: Pack your lunch a few days a week, cut back on the gourmet coffee and stick to your budget. Also, we remind them to consider how they use automated teller machines (ATMs).

Recently, there was a story about ATM fees and how consumers were charged more than $6 billion in ATM and overdraft fees in 2015.

While you think spending an extra few dollars here or there for convenience doesn’t add up, the results can be surprising. Here are some reminders, when it comes to using the ATM:

  • Always use an in-network ATM.  It costs nothing to access your own financial institution’s ATM. When you use out-of-network ATM’s there are generally two fees: one from your own institution and one from the ATM you are using.
  • A lot of financial institutions now have a Smartphone app to help members find an in-network ATM, which eliminates the fee.
  • If you are a frequent user of ATMs, then location of ATMs should be a factor you consider, when choosing a bank or credit union.  Make sure there are ATMs near your home, workplace, school, or other frequented locations.
  • You can also shop for a financial institution that does not charge ATM fees.  There are a few out there, but they may require you to keep a higher minimum balance.
  • The fee is always disclosed during the transaction.  Since fees vary from ATM to ATM, pay attention to the amount of the fee each time.
  • Generally fees are higher in places like airports, convenience stores, restaurants and bars.
  • Plan ahead when you are going out: get your cash from your financial institution on the way instead of at your destination, where fees could be much higher.
  • Another trick to avoid ATM fees is to make a purchase with your debit card at check-out and then use the cash-back option.
  • A common mistake that we see consumers make is visiting an out-of-network ATM multiple times in a short period of time and paying fees.  Those fees add up quickly.
  • If you cannot access an ATM in your network, then some pre-planning is helpful.   Think about the total amount of cash you need for the day or week, and make one withdrawal with one fee.  Paying a $3 fee to withdraw $20 equates to a 15% fee, while paying $3 to withdraw $100 is only 3%.
  • Be sure to keep track of all of your withdrawals and your account balance, to avoid compounding the problem with overdraft or transfer fees.

Finally, read the fine print when it comes to using your ATM, whether it’s in-network or out-of-network. Check your monthly statement closely, and remember to use common sense when it comes to using your ATM card.

 

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Whether it’s the lottery or resolutions, money is the name of the game!

On my drive in this morning, I heard two news stories. The first was discussing a multi-state lottery, where the jackpot is up to nearly $300 million. The second story was on New Year’s resolutions.

In the lottery story, the reporter asked someone what they would do with the winnings. The first thing the respondent said was “Pay off my debt.” In the second story on making New Year’s resolutions, another respondent said “Save more money.”

Both responses related to money and how it can be a burden, whether you are trying to pay off a debt or save more money.

As we look towards 2016, if you have concerns about money, here are a few tips that can get you off on the right financial foot in the New Year.

1. Set up a money management system that works for you

Different systems work well for different folks, but here are a few ideas:

• Write down your income and all of your monthly expenses. Look for opportunities to trim expenses, wherever you can.

• Identify the areas where you might overspend, and then decide to use cash for these transactions. Then, limit the amount of cash you put in your wallet each week to the amount you’ve decided to spend. Seeing the amount of money available as a fixed, finite thing can help you control your spending.

• Set up automated budget alerts with a service such as Mint.com.

2. Review your credit report

You can obtain each of the three credit bureau reports one time per year for free by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com.

If you’re having trouble understanding how to improve your credit, a free credit report review through GreenPath can help.

3. Begin to save

Once you’ve got a workable budget, automate the process of saving. Setting up direct-deposit into savings makes it much more likely that you’ll save. Plus, paying yourself first helps the money to be “out of sight and out of mind,” so that you’ll be able to stick more closely to the spending plan you’ve set for yourself.

It’s important to reach a point where you have a balance between short-term savings and long-term (retirement) savings. It should be a priority to adjust your budget to take advantage of any employer-sponsored retirement plan that your job might offer – especially if the employer offers a contribution match.

4. Get serious about reducing debt

One of the first steps in decreasing your debt load is to stop adding to it in the first place. Begin to get out of the habit of using credit cards for purchases.

A safe, frugal and Happy New Year!

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The Fed Raised the Interest Rate – How Will This Affect You?

Andrew_Johnson_communications_greenpathBy Andrew Johnson
GreenPath Communications

As expected, the Federal Reserve raised the benchmark federal funds rate up a quarter point this week, ending a seven year stretch of nearly zero percent rates. So what does that mean to consumers?

Credit cards
Over time, interest rates could start to rise.  It would be wise to start paying some extra attention, and money, towards your credit card balances. By keeping your balances low and payments on time, you will be able to positively affect your credit score.

Auto loans
While car buyers have benefited from zero percent interest rates (usually reserved for those with only the best credit scores), the auto industry might continue on with zero percent to exhaust 2015 models and build incentive for new car purchases in the New Year. If a new or used car is in your future, now is a good time to start shopping around for a good interest rate.

Home buyers
While there won’t be huge increases in interest rates for home loans, they, too, will start to nudge up a bit. If you have considered refinancing your home loan, now would be a good time to start doing some research. Or, if you are considering buying a home in 2016, it would be a good time to start reviewing your credit report and score closely (see below.)

Gain control of your credit report and score
So, what can we do? While we can’t control the interest rates on loans, we can control how we put our money to work.

Shopping around for good interest rates, when it comes to auto loans and home loans, is a good start.  Another way to help save money is taking control of your credit score.

For example, even though you might be approved for a home mortgage with a credit score in the 620-639 range (based on a $150,000 loan example), your monthly principal and interest payment will be $141 higher, than if your credit score was 760.  Over 30 years, you would pay $50,000 more for the same exact home!  That is why it makes sense to review your credit report (download one credit report from each of the three bureuas for free at www.annualcreditreport.com).  Talk to a credit counselor about how to review your credit report and improve your credit score before applying for the loan.

GreenPath offers free credit report reviews and can help you build a personal finance budget that will get 2016 off to a great start.

For more information, call GreenPath at (800) 550-1961 or www.greenpath.org.

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Debt Settlement vs. Debt Management

Debt Settlement Vs. Debt Management
By Kim Sands, Personal Finance Counselor

GreenPath office – Moline, IL

Whether it’s credit cards, medical bills, or financial problemKim Sandss after a divorce, debt is a real problem for American households. The average U.S. household carries $16,000 in credit card debt.

Those ads from debt consolidation companies make it sound easy to eliminate your debt and get back in good financial health. But the reality is, without doing your homework, they could actually get you in even more money trouble.

Let’s break down the claims about debt settlement.

Claim #1 : Your first call is free. There is no obligation.  

While that’s true, that is where the high-pressure sales pitch starts.

It’s so easy to get confused. They are so high pressure. I have people who say, “I called them with a few questions, and now I can’t get them to quit calling me.”

Claim #2: We can cut your bills by thousands, avoid high interest foreclosure, and settle your debt for up to 60 percent of what you owe.

 

With GreenPath’s debt management program, you will repay 100% of what you owe. You’re making on-time, monthly payments and the interest rate is in the lower single digits.

 

While we charge a monthly fee for our debt management service, it’s much different than the fees charged by a debt settlement company.

Debt settlement companies often will charge – Let’s say your payment is $500. They will keep the first three months’ payment as their fee. Then they take a percentage of what they pay out. So if they pay $2,000 on a $4,000 credit card, they may keep 20 percent of that too. So a lot of what you’re sending them is a fee.

Claim #3: Banks and credit card companies have legal representation, and so should you.

No matter who is on their staff, an attorney for a debt consolidation company can’t offer you any legal protection. The only thing that can protect you, legally, is filing bankruptcy. That may be the only choice for you, but the key is knowing your options and your long-term financial goals.

Most importantly, you should never pay a company to do what you can do yourself. You won’t get a better debt settlement just because you have hired one of these companies.

In some cases, debt settlement may be only appropriate for people who have access to a large sum of money, like a tax return or and inheritance, to make a one-time payment.

For more information on GreenPath’s debt management program, click here.

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Top Five Blog Posts (so far!) of 2015

As we are dashing towards the end of 2015, with holiday commercials creeping onto our airwaves, and the same already up in the stores, we’re taking a look back at the top 5 GreenPath blog posts for 2015.

From groceries, to car buying, we covered alot of topics that you showed interest in. Take a look!

Before Hitting the Grocery Store, Learn Some New Money Habits – March 6, 2015
Grocery shopping is a good place to start when trying to keep monthly expenses under control.  Here are a few good habits that you can start to implement right away. Read the blog post here.

Ten Money Tips for Grads, Before they Hit the Interview Office – May 8, 2015
Spring college graduates are currently basking in the glory of wrapping up their degrees this month. However, in many instances, their downtime will be short-lived, as they face even more responsibilities, ranging from landing that first job to preparing to start paying off their student loans. Read the entire blog here.

How To Check Your Annual Credit Report (guest blogger Beverly Harzog) – January 23, 2015
It’s a brand new year! And that makes it a great time to put some credit housekeeping in place for 2015. You should have “Check my annual credit report” near the top of your list. You’re entitled to a free annual credit report from each credit bureau every 12 months. Read the blog here.

Thinking about splurging on a summer vacation with your tax refund? – April 6, 2015
Many who are receiving a tax refund are weighing what to do with it. Plan for a summer getaway? Put it away for the holidays? Splurge? Spend? Save? GreenPath counselor Kathryn Bossler discusses the pros and cons of using your refund for a spring or summer getaway: Read the entire blog here.

The Car Buying Process in Seven Steps – January 9, 2015
The Wall Street Journal recently had an article on car loans stating that “more than 2.6% of car-loan borrowers who took out loans in the first quarter of 2014 had missed at least one monthly payment.” Here’s a few steps consumers should consider if they are shopping for a new or used car. Read the entire blog here.

We’ll take a look at the entire year in December. Stay tuned for posts on keeping your identity safe this holiday shopping season, a discussion on shopping in-store versus online, and the best time to make your charitable contributions.

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