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Starting a Business With a Friend: 4 Things to Consider

The ultimate question: Could you and your friend make the perfect business duo? The answer may be more complicated than you think. You love spending time with your friend and the idea of becoming entrepreneurs together. Why not fulfill your dreams with each other? Companies like Airbnb and Ben & Jerry’s had success in this area — they all started from friendships.

But much more goes into starting a business with a friend. You may make great business partners, or you could wish you had taken your venture solo. Before making any financial decisions, analyze the pros and cons and ask hard questions. For example, will you equally invest? Who will take on which tasks and responsibilities? Sift through the easy and hard questions to see where your business friendship lies.

To help you and your friend make a confident and informed decision, skip to our flowchart or keep reading.

karen-gordon-quote

Questions to Ask Before Going Into Business With a Friend

Before jumping into your business plan, ask the hard questions. These can be tough to ask and answer, but they could save your friendship from a business relationship gone sour.

Question 1: Do You Share the Same Values?

Depending on your life stage and goals, your values could differ greatly from those of your potential business partner. You may appreciate living a relaxed lifestyle that gives you the financial freedom to do what you love, while others may value a fast-paced lifestyle filled with activities and long workdays. Differences in values could spark tension in your business relationship.

Ask yourself: Do you and your potential business friend have the same values? If so, great! If not, note your differences and if they’re worth working through.

Question 2: Do You Share the Same Business Goal?

To make sure you’re on the same page, schedule a brainstorming session with your friend. Map out your one-month, six-month, one-year, and five-year goals for your startup. Is your goal to make a certain amount of revenue? To hire a certain number of full-time employees? Or to take your business idea global?

If you have the same intentions, move on to question three. If any of your goals contrast, there may be trouble in paradise. See if you can work through your differences before investing your time and money.

Question 3: Do Your Skills Complement Each Other?

You and your friend each have your own strengths For example, you may be good at time management while your friend is better at sales. For skills you’re both lacking, think about how you’ll fill in the gaps. If you and your friend’s startup plan has a budget for hiring freelancers, or one of you has the dedication to learn something new, this may not be a concern. No matter what, especially if you’re bootstrapping your business idea, it’s essential to talk through it.

If you don’t compliment each other’s needed skills, who will step up and learn them?

Question 4: Do Your Career and Lifestyle Habits Align?

Depending on your business goals, this could be a make or break question for a professional partnership. For instance, one friend may be a morning person while the other’s a night owl. One can take over morning meetings and emails while the other’s responsible for evening website development and customer service.

If one friend’s lifestyle habits don’t suit the other, it may be best to opt for other business opportunities. While starting a business could adjust your habits, it’s easy to fall back into old ones from time to time.

baylie-carlson-quote

The Pros and Cons of Doing Business With Friends

Before entering any business arrangement, it’s reassuring to weigh the pros and cons. Could your new business idea benefit or hinder your future relationship and career?

Pros: You Have a Friend Through the Ups and Downs

Starting a business with a friend is similar to marriage — you’re there for each other through the good and bad. Whenever you’re having trouble, you know who you can go to for help. And you’ll be able to do most tasks together. For example, approaching investors as a team vs. going solo could put your nerves at ease.

Cons: You Know the Same People

Instead of getting together for your weekly catch-ups, you could spend all day together! While this can be exciting, it can also be hard to leave work at work. When you both hang out with the same people, there may be little room to disconnect from each other and your business.

Pros: You Understand Each Other’s Strengths and Weaknesses

You likely already know how each other operates and your strengths and weaknesses. Instead of learning the way a new business partner functions, you already have the upper hand. On day one, you and your partner could delegate tasks that fit everyone’s strengths best.

Cons: Your Friendship Could Turn Strictly Business

Your current friendship can be hard to separate from your new work partnership. Taking your work too seriously could stiffen your current relationship. Even after your work’s done, “friend” time may slow down. To have the best of both worlds, over-communicate throughout your entrepreneurial adventures.

mike-falahee-quote

Pros: You Feel Comfortable Communicating

You may have been friends for months, years, or even decades. Having a strong friendship foundation helps bolster your communication in the workplace. Plus, you most likely know how your friend may react to a situation gone wrong. Take note of your friends’ communication habits and foster them throughout your business relationship.

Cons: It’s Easy to Let Emotions Get the Best of You

Be careful not to let your emotions dictate your business decisions. A situation could happen in your friend group that makes its way into the office. To avoid any personal matters in the workplace, come to an agreement — no drama. If situations arise, take some time off to clear your mind, rest, and come back more motivated and inspired.

Pros: You Get to Spend More Time With Each Other

You get to spend countless hours talking and doing business activities together. You could spend all day tackling business tasks and wrap up the workday chit-chatting about your lives. It’s an amazing opportunity to spend more time with your friend without letting other responsibilities slip through the cracks.

Cons: Friendship Failure Could End in Financial and Business Failure

When tension builds in the workplace, it could damage your business outcomes. Not wanting to attend a meeting with your partner could halt business productivity, or worse, end it. To avoid losing profits on your friendship and investments, you should both outline an exit plan if things go wrong.

Tips for Starting a Business With Your Friend

Before toasting to your other half and investing in your passions, properly prepare yourself. Show up to your new business like you would a new job. Have your plan documented before building your business empire.

1. Nit-Pick Your Business Plan

Small issues could grow months or years after starting your business. To avoid future problems, talk through small and large inconsistencies with your partner. Having different lifestyle habits may not be an issue now, but could be difficult after a year of working together.

2. Communicate Often

About one third of projects lack proper communication. Avoid project or business failure by finding a communication method that works for you and your partner. Daily catch-up meetings or weekly email updates are a few examples. Make it enjoyable by sipping your favorite coffee or eating your lunch while playing catch up.

3. Establish and Honor Boundaries

Eliminate tension in the workplace by setting a rubric for working hours. Avoid talking about personal matters until you step away from your work tasks. If you and your partner need to establish additional boundaries, clearly outline them as they come up.

4. Make it Official With Contracts

Once you’ve worked through any complications, put it all in writing. If things were to go wrong, documents and written statements can be referenced in court. To do this, contact a lawyer and draft up a business plan. Any business promises you make should be in writing for any miscommunications. Compensation rates, profit shares, investment contributions, and business accounts are a few things that should be listed on this document.

Before investing your time, energy, or money into your startup dreams, make sure you’re fully prepared. Could you and your friend be great business partners? Take our quiz below to find out. Don’t forget to keep track of your budget and investments throughout the startup process.

Starting a Business With a Friend: 4 Things to Consider appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

The Average Salary of a Pilot

The Average Salary of a Pilot

The job of an airline pilot has a certain glamour to it. However, unconventional working hours and plenty of time away from home can be a recipe for stress and burnout. This could be why airline and commercial pilots are compensated fairly well, earning a median annual salary of $115,670. That one number doesn’t tell the whole story, though, as it varies depending on whom you fly for and where you’re based. 

The Average Salary of a Pilot

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary of the group the BLS calls airline and commercial pilots was $115,670 per year in May 2018. The BLS also tracks the job outlook for the careers it studies, measuring how many jobs the career will add between 2016 and 2026. The BLS job outlook for Airline and Commercial Pilots is 4%, which is about as fast as the average across all careers. According to the BLS, the U.S. will add 4,400 airline and commercial pilots between 2016 and 2026.

Where Pilots Earn the Most

The Average Salary of a Pilot

When it comes to tracking state- and city-level earnings data, the BLS looks at commercial pilots and “airline pilots, copilots and flight engineers” separately. Let’s take a look at where commercial pilots earn the most.

The mean annual wage for commercial pilots is $96,530 per year. According to BLS data, the top-paying state for commercial pilots is Georgia, where commercial pilots earn a mean annual wage of $130,760. Other high-paying states for commercial pilots are Connecticut, New York, Florida and Maryland. The top-paying metro area for commercial pilots is Hilton Head Island-Bluffton-Beaufort, SC, where the annual mean wage for commercial pilots is $128,600. Other high-paying metro areas for commercial pilots are Savannah, GA; Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA; Bakersfield, CA; Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers, AR-MO and Spartanburg, SC.

Now let’s take a look at where airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers earn the most. The top-paying state in this field is Washington, with a mean annual wage of $237,150. Other high-paying states for this profession are Michigan, Nevada, Oregon and California. Of the metro areas for which the BLS has data, the top-paying metro area for airline pilots, copilots and flight engineers is San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA, with a mean annual wage of $247,120. Other high-paying metro areas for this field are Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA; Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV; Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO; Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL and Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI.

Becoming a Pilot

Typically, it’s easier to become a commercial pilot than an airline pilot. Because of this, many airline pilots start their career as commercial pilots. To be a pilot of any kind, you’ll need to have a commercial pilot’s license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).  To be an airline pilot, you’ll need an additional document known as a Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate. This is also issued by the FAA.

In terms of education, you will need a high school diploma and a commercial pilot’s license to become a commercial pilot. To become an airline pilot, you will likely need a bachelor’s degree, although it can be in any subject.

The typical path to becoming a commercial pilot is to complete an FAA-certified flight training program. These are held both at independent flight schools and through colleges and universities. Once you’ve assembled enough flying hours, you can get a job as a commercial pilot.

Regional and major airlines typically require significantly more flight experience for new hires. This is another reason why many people start out as commercial pilots and then move on to working for an airline. According to the BLS, many commercial pilot jobs require a minimum of 500 flying hours, whereas entry-level airline jobs require somewhere around 1,500.

Bottom Line

The Average Salary of a Pilot

Have you ever flown out of an airport and wondered what it would be like to be a pilot? With an average annual salary of $102,520, pilots earn a good living. Not just anyone can become a pilot, however. Commercial pilots must earn a commercial pilot certificate, while airline pilots, copilots and flight engineers must earn the Federal Air Transport certificate and rating for the specific aircraft type they fly. Being a pilot is also a dangerous job, so it’s not surprising that pilots’ compensation is high.

Tips for Saving Responsibly

  • The median pilot salary is enough to live comfortably in most areas of the country, but it’s still important to make sure you’re saving some of that money for emergencies and retirement.
  • A financial advisor can be a big help in managing your money and choosing smart investments that grow your nest egg. Finding the right financial advisor that fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.

Photo credit: Â©iStock.com/xavierarnau, ©iStock.com/Jacob Ammentorp Lund, ©iStock.com/amesy

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Source: smartasset.com

8 401(k) Investing Tips to Maximize Your 401(k)

woman with laptop and clipboard

The best kind of 401(k) plan is one that is used. The employer-sponsored retirement plan is typically easy to open and fund (with pre-tax dollars often deducted straight from your paycheck), and offers tax benefits vs. saving and investing in a brokerage account.

Understanding the nuances of this all-important savings vehicle may help catapult investors into full-blown expert territory, helping them maximize their 401(k) investing.

While everyone’s financial and retirement situation is different, there are some useful 401(k) investing tips that could be helpful to anyone using this popular investment plan to boost their retirement savings. These 401(k) should apply no matter what stage of retirement saving you’re in—as long as you’re participating in a 401(k).

1. Take Advantage of Your Employer Match
2. Consider Your Circumstances Before Contributing the Match
3. Understand Your 401(k) Investment Options
4. Stay the Course
5. Change Your Investments Over Time
6. Find—and Keep—Your Balance
7. Diversify
8. Beware Early Withdrawals

#1 Take Advantage of Your Employer Match

This first 401(k) tip is admittedly basic, but also probably the most important. Understanding your employer match is essential to making the most of your 401(k).

Also called a company match, an employer match is a contribution made to your 401(k) by your employer, but only when you contribute to your account first.

Withdrawing money early from a 401(k) can result in a hefty penalty.

There are some exceptions, depending on what you’ll use the withdrawn funds for. For example, qualified first-time home buyers may be exempt from the early distribution penalty. But for the most part, if you know you need to save for some big pre-retirement expenses, it may be better to do so in a non-qualified account.

Another consideration is whether to put all of your eggs in your 401(k) basket. Of course, these accounts can offer big benefits in terms of tax deferral and may come with a matching contribution from your employer as well. But individuals who are eligible to contribute to a Roth IRA, may consider splitting contributions between the two accounts.

While 401(k) contributions are made with pre-tax dollars and taxes are paid when you make a withdrawal, Roth IRA contributions are the opposite—taxed on the way in, but not on the way out (with some exceptions).

If you’re concerned about being in a higher tax bracket at retirement than you are now, a Roth IRA can make sense as a complement to your 401(k). The caveat is that these accounts are only available to people below a certain income level.

#3 Understand Your 401(k) Investment Options

The first step is contributing to a 401(k); the second is directing that money into particular investments. Typically, plan participants are able to choose from a list of mutual funds to invest in for the long-term. Some 401(k) plans may give participants the option of a lifecycle fund or a retirement target-date fund.

To pick the right mutual funds, you may want to consider what is being held inside those mutual funds. For example, a mutual fund that is invested in stocks means that you are now invested in the stock market.

With each option, ask yourself: Does the underlying investment make sense for your goals and risk tolerance? Are you prepared to stay the course in the event of a stock market correction?

You may also want to consider the fees charged by your mutual fund options, because any management fee will be subtracted from your potential future returns. When analyzing your options, look for what is called the expense ratio—that’s the annual management fee.

#4 Stay the Course

Many investors will have at least a part of their 401(k) money invested in the stock market, whether through mutual funds or by holding individual stocks.

If you’re not used to investing, it can be tempting to panic over small losses. This is also known as a day-trader mentality, and it is one of the worst things you can do—especially with a 401(k). Remember, investing in the stock market is generally considered for the long haul.

Getting spooked by a dip (or even a stock market crash like the one in 2008) and pulling your money out of the market is generally a poor strategy, because you are locking in what could possibly amount to be “paper” or temporary losses. The thinking goes, if you wait long enough, that stock might rebound and your loss will go away. (Though as always, past performance is no predictor of future success.)

It may help to remember that although stock market crashes are disappointing, they are a normal and natural part of the growth cycle. Remember, the goal is to be patient and let the stock market do its thing.

Some investors find it helpful to only check their 401(k) balance occasionally, rather than obsess over day-to-day fluctuations.

#5 Change Your Investments Over Time

Lots of things change as we age, and one of the most important 401(k) tips is to change your investing along with it. While some principles of retirement saving are eternal—use the employer match as much as you can, don’t trade too much, pay attention to fees—some 401(k) advice is specific to where you are relative to retirement.

While everyone’s situation is different and economic conditions can be unique, one rule of thumb is that as you get closer to retirement, it makes sense to shift the composition of your investments away from higher risk but potentially higher growth assets like stocks, and towards lower risk, lower return assets like bonds.

There are types of funds and investments that manage this change over time, like target date funds, that make this strategizing easier. Some investors choose to make these changes themselves as part of a quarterly or annual rebalancing.

#6. Find—And Keep—Your Balance

While you may want your 401(k) investments to change over time, at any given time, you should have a certain goal of how your investments should be allocated: a certain portion in bonds, stocks, international stocks, American stocks, large companies, small companies, and so on.

But these targets and goals for allocation can change over time even if your allocations and investment choices don’t change. That’s because certain investments may grow faster than others and thus, by no explicit choice of your own, they take up a bigger portion of your portfolio over time.

Rebalancing is a process where, every year or every few months, you buy and sell shares in the investments you have in order to keep your asset allocation where it was at the beginning of the year.

For example, if you have 80% of your assets in a diversified stock market fund and 20% of your assets in a diversified bond fund, over the course of a year, those allocations may end up at 83% and 17%.

To address that, you might either sell shares in the stock fund and buy shares in the bond fund in order to return to the original 80/20 mix, or adjust your allocations going forward to hit the target in the next year.

#7 Diversify

In addition to employer matching, diversification is considered one of the few “free lunches” for investors. By diversifying your investments, you can help to lower the risk of your assets tanking while still being exposed to the gains of the market.

difference between stocks and bonds.)

Within stocks, diversification can mean investing in US stocks, international stocks, big companies, and small companies. But rather than, for example, owning shares in one big American company, one big Japanese company, a multi billion-dollar company, and a smaller company, it might make sense instead buy diversified funds in all these categories that are diversified within themselves—thus offering exposure to the whole sector without being at the risk of any given company collapsing.

#8 Beware Early Withdrawals

Perhaps the most important 401(k) tip is to remember that the 401(k) is designed for retirement, with funds withdrawn only after a certain age. The system works by letting you invest income that isn’t taxed until distribution. But if you withdraw from your 401(k) early, much of this advantage disappears.

With few exceptions, the IRS imposes a 10% tax penalty on withdrawals made before age 59½. That 10% tax is on top of any regular income taxes a plan holder would pay on 401(k) withdrawals. While withdrawals are sometimes unavoidable, the steep cost of withdrawing funds should be a strong reason not to, as it wipes away much of the gains that can come from 401(k) investing.

If you would like to buy a car or a house, or pay off debt, there are other options to explore. First consider pulling money from any accounts that don’t have an early withdrawal penalty, such as a Roth IRA (contributions can be withdrawn penalty-free as long as they’ve met the 5-taxable-year rule) or a brokerage account.

The Takeaway

If you have a 401(k) through your employer, you may want to consider taking advantage of it. Not only might you have a company match, but automatic contributions taken directly from your paycheck and deposited into your 401(k) may keep you from forgetting to contribute.

That said, a 401(k) is not the only option for saving and investing money for the long-term. One such option is a Roth IRA. While there are income limitations to who can use a Roth IRA, these accounts also tend to have a bit more flexibility when withdrawing funds than 401(k) plans. (If you don’t qualify for a Roth IRA, ask your tax professional for additional guidance.)

Another option is to open an investment account that is not tied to an employer-sponsored retirement plan. Sometimes called a brokerage or after-tax account, these accounts don’t have the special tax treatment of retirement-specific accounts, but can still be viable ways to save money for people who have maxed out their 401(k) contributions or are looking for an alternative way to invest.

Find out how SoFi Invest® can help you start saving for your future.


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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 . The umbrella term “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.
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For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above, including state licensure of Sofi Digital Assets, LLC, http://www.sofi.com/legal.

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.
Investment Risk: Diversification can help reduce some investment risk. It cannot guarantee profit, or fully protect in a down market.
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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Financial Lessons Learned During the Pandemic

2020 has shaped all of us in some way or another financially. Whether it is being reminded of the importance of living within our means or saving for a rainy day, these positive financial habits and lessons are timeless and ones we can take into the new year. 

While everyone is on a very unique financial journey, we can still learn from each other. As we wrap up this year, it’s important to reflect on some of these positive financial habits and lessons and take the ones we need into 2021. Here are some of the top financial lessons:

Living Within Your Means

It’s been said for years, centuries even, that one should live within one’s means. Well, I think a lot of people were reminded of this financial principle given the year we’ve had. Living within your means is another way of saying don’t spend more than you earn. I would take it one step further to say, set up your financial budget so you pay yourself first. Then only spend what is leftover on all the fun or variable items.

Setting up your budget in the Mint app or updating your budget in Mint to reflect the changes in your income or expenses is a great activity to do before the year ends. Follow the 50/20/30 rule of thumb and ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you spending more than you earn?
  • Are there fixed bills you can reduce so you can save more for your financial goals? 
  • Can you reduce your variable spending and save that money instead?

The idea is to find a balance that allows you to pay for your fixed bills, save automatically every month and then only spend what is left over. If you don’t have the money, then you cannot use debt to buy something. This is a great way to get back in touch with reality and also appreciate your money more. 

Have a Cash Cushion

Having a cash cushion gives you peace of mind since you know that if anything unexpected comes up, which of course always happens in life, you have money that is easy to liquidate to pay for it versus paying it with debt or taking from long-term investments. Having an adequate cash cushion this year offered some people a huge sigh of relief when they lost their job or perhaps had reduced income for a few months. With a cash cushion or rainy day fund, they were still able to cover their bills with their savings.

Many people are making it their 2021 goal to build, replenish, or maintain their cash cushion.  Typically, you want a cash cushion of about 3- 6 months of your core expenses. Your cash cushion is usually held in a high-yield saving account that you can access immediately if needed. However, you want to think of it almost as out of sight out of mind so it’s really there for bigger emergencies or opportunities that come up.

Asset Allocation 

Having the right asset allocation and understanding your risk tolerance and timeframe of your investments is always important. With a lot of uncertainty and volatility in the stock market this year, more and more people are paying attention to their portfolio allocation and learning what that really means when it comes to risk and returns. Learning more about which investments you actually hold within your 401(k) or IRA is always important. I think the lesson this year reminded everybody that it’s your money and it’s up to you to know.

Even if you have an investment manager helping you, you still need to understand how your portfolio is allocated and what that means in terms of risk and what you can expect in portfolio volatility (ups and downs) versus the overall stock market. A lot of people watch the news and hear the stock market is going up or down, but fail to realize that may not be how your portfolio is actually performing. So get clear. Make sure that your portfolio matches your long term goal of retirement and risk tolerance and don’t make any irrational short term decisions with your long-term money based on the stock market volatility or what the news and media are showcasing.

Right Insurance Coverage

We have all been reminded of the importance of health this year. Our own health and the health of our loved ones should be a top priority. It’s also an extremely important part of financial success over time. It is said, insurance is the glue that can hold everything together in your financial life if something catastrophic happens. Insurances such as health, auto, home, disability, life, long-term care, business, etc. are really important but having the right insurance policy and coverage in place for each is the most important part.

Take time and review all the insurance coverage you have and make sure it is up to date and still accurate given your life circumstances and wishes. Sometimes you may have a life insurance policy in place for years but fail to realize there is now a better product in the marketplace with more coverage or better terms. With any insurance, it is wise to never cancel a policy before you a full review and new policy to replace it already in place. The last thing you want is to be uninsured. Make sure you also have an adequate estate plan whether it’s a trust or will that showcases your wishes very clearly. This way, you can communicate that with your trust/will executor’s, beneficiaries, family members, etc. so they are clear on everything as well. 

Financial lessons will always be there. Year after year, life throws us challenges and successes to remind us of what is most important. Take time, reflect, and get a game plan in place for 2021 that takes everything you have learned up until now into account. This will help you set the tone for an abundant and thriving new financial year. 

The post Financial Lessons Learned During the Pandemic appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

What’s a Good Credit Score?

Whats a good credit score?

Your credit score is incredibly important. In fact, this number is so influential on various financial aspects of life that it can determine your eligibility to be approved for credit cards, car loans, home mortgages, apartment rentals, and even certain jobs. Knowing what your credit score is, and what range it falls under, is important so you can decide what loans you can to apply for, and if necessary, if steps need to be taken to improve your score.

So what constitutes a good credit score?

The Credit Score Range Scale

The most common credit score used by lenders and other business entities is the FICO score, which ranges from 300 to 850. The bigger the number, the better. To create credit scores, FICO uses information from one of the three major credit bureau agencies – Equifax, Experian or TransUnion. Knowing this range is important because it will help you understand where your specific number fits in.

Know what factors influence a good credit score to help improve your own credit health.

As far as lenders are concerned, the lower a consumer’s number on this scale, the higher the risk. Lenders will often deny a loan application for those with a lower credit score because of this risk. If they do approve a loan application, they’ll make consumers pay for such risk by means of a much higher interest rate.

Understand Your Credit Score

Within the credit score range are different categories, ranging from bad to excellent. Here is how credit score ranges are broken down:

Bad credit: 630 or Lower

Lenders generally consider a credit score of 630 or lower as bad credit. A number of past activities could have landed you in this category, including a string of late or missed credit card payments, maxed out credit cards, or even bankruptcy. Younger people who have no credit history will probably find themselves in this category until they have had time to develop their credit. If you’re in this bracket, you’ll be faced with higher interest rates and fees, and your selection of credit cards will be restricted.

Whats a good credit score?

Fair Credit: 630-689

This is considered an average score. Lingering within this range is most likely the result of having too much “bad” debt, such as high credit card debt that’s grazing the limit. Within this bracket, lenders will have a harder time trusting you with their loan.

Good Credit: 690-719

Having a credit score within this range will afford you more choices when it comes to credit cards, an easier time getting approved for various loans, and being charged much lower interest rates on such loans.

Excellent Credit: 720-850

Consider your credit score excellent if your number falls within this bracket. You’ll be able to take advantage of all the fringe benefits that come with credit cards, and will almost certainly be approved for loans at the lowest interest rates possible.

Understand the factors that make up a good credit score.

Whats a good credit score?

What’s Your Credit Score?

Federal law allows consumers to check their credit score for free once every 12 months. But if you want to check more often than this, a fee is typically charged. Luckily, there are other avenues to take to check your credit score.

Mint has recently launched an online tool that allows you to check your credit score for free without the need for a credit card. Here you’ll be able to learn the different components that affect your score, and how you can improve it.

You’ll be able to see your score with your other accounts to give you a complete picture of your finances. Knowing what your credit score is can help determine if you need to improve it to help you get the things you need or want. Visit Mint.com to find out more about how you can access your credit score – for free.

Lisa Simonelli Rennie is a freelance web content creator who enjoys writing on all sorts of topics, including personal finance, investing in stocks, mortgages, real estate investments, and anything else to do with the world of economics.

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Source: mint.intuit.com

How I earned more than $2,500 using credit cards in 2020

I racked up $1,732 in cash back from my 2020 credit card spending (a 2.8% return). If you include the $500 introductory bonus I earned on one of those cards, the total increased to $2,232 (a 3.6% return). Using a credit card that offers purchase protection, I also received $299 to repair a broken Apple Watch. Throw that in, and my total was $2,531 (a 4.1% return).

All of this proves why credit cards can be so valuable. I didn’t pay any interest in 2020, which is key to any good credit card rewards strategy, because the average credit card interest currently sits above 16%. I also only paid one annual fee ($95), which I factored into my calculations.

That was for the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, and it was well worth the fee. I used the card mostly for groceries because it offers 6% cash back on up to $6,000 of annual spending at U.S. supermarkets, then 1% after that. I maxed out that limit, which was worth $360 of cash back all by itself.

I also benefited from the card’s 6% cash back on select streaming subscriptions and 3% at U.S. gas stations.  And I nabbed another $43 in cash back via Amex Offers. Even after accounting for the annual fee, I earned a total of 5.6% cash back on this card in 2020.

Read more from our credit card experts.

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The other cards I used

I also earned 5.6% cash back on my spending on the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card. That surprised me, because the COVID-19 pandemic cut substantially into my travel and dining spending (this card gives 3% cash back on both categories). I did take one big trip in early 2020 though.

Later in the year, I took advantage of a few 10% cash back grocery promotions through the Wells Fargo Earn More Mall. The biggest surprise I uncovered while preparing this year-end recap was how much the card-linked offer promotions added up on my Propel and Blue Cash Preferred cards.

My Chase Freedom Flex℠ card yielded a 4.4% total return. I started the year with the Chase Freedom and switched to the Freedom Flex once it debuted in September. I maxed out two of the four quarterly 5% cash back promotions (cardholders need to activate these and they’re capped at $1,500 in spending, then you earn 1% after that). I came close in another quarter and hit roughly half of the limit in the other. This is also the card I have to thank for my $299 purchase protection claim.

For categories that I couldn’t maximize on one of these cards, I started the year putting everything else on the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card (1.5% back on all purchases). In February, I signed up for the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, and that became my primary “everything else” card because it gives 2 miles per dollar on all purchases.

While this is technically a travel card, Capital One expanded the card’s redemption options soon after the pandemic hit to include statement credits (akin to 2% cash back) on eligible takeout, delivery and streaming services. The promotion has been extended through April 30, 2021, and it has worked out very well for me.

got at least some relief in 2020.

I think I’m an especially good candidate because I use this card a lot. If I’m turned down, I’ll have to consider switching to a no annual fee 2% cash back card like the PayPal Cash Back Mastercard the Fidelity Rewards Visa Signature card or the Citi® Double Cash Card, which gives you 1% when you make a purchase and 1% when you pay it off.

My top card suggestions for 2021

Someone who wants even more simplicity might opt for the Alliant Visa Signature Card. It gives 2.5% cash back on all purchases, although there’s a $99 annual fee (waived the first year). The 2.5% rate is capped at $10,000 in monthly spending. Factoring in the annual fee, you need to spend $20,000 or more annually to come out ahead with the Alliant Visa Signature, compared to a 2% cash back card.

In your first year as a cardholder, the Discover it® Miles card is also particularly lucrative. The card offers 1.5 miles on all purchases, but Discover will automatically match any earned cash back in your first year as a cardholder, effectively earning you 3 miles per dollar. After the first year, the rewards rate drops to 1.5 miles per dollar.

If you have at least $100,000 in eligible savings or investments, Bank of America has a couple compelling options through its Preferred Rewards program. At that threshold, cardholders earn a 75% rewards bonus. That means the Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card would offer 5.25% cash back on a monthly category of your choosing, 3.5% on grocery and wholesale club purchases and 1.75% on everything else (the top two categories are capped at $2,500 in combined quarterly spending).

Meanwhile, the Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card would give 3.5% cash back on travel and dining and 2.625% on everything else if you have that six-figure savings or investments balance.

Final thoughts

I’m not ready to sign up for a new card just yet, but I expect 2021 will be an interesting year. If the COVID-19 vaccine rollout progresses well and the economy rebounds, there should be a lot of compelling credit card offers on the market.

Have a question about credit cards? E-mail me at ted.rossman@creditcards.com and I’d be happy to help.

Source: creditcards.com

The Risks of Playing The Stock Market

child's hand playing chess

To the uninitiated, the stock exchange can seem like a casino, with news and social media feeds sharing stories of investors striking it rich by playing the stock market. But while there are winners, there are also losers—those who lose money playing the market, sometimes pulling their money out of the market because they’re afraid of the potential of losing money.

Playing the stock market does come with investment risks. For new investors learning how to play the stock market can be a frustrating, humbling, and in some cases, incredibly rewarding experience.

While investing is a serious business, playing the stock market does have an element of fun to it. Investors who do their research and tune into the news and business cycles can take advantage of trends that might better enable them to earn good returns on investment.

This is what you need to know about how to play the stock market, the risks involved, and what makes the market so alluring.

Playing the Stock Market: What Does it Mean?

Despite the phrase “playing” the stock market, it’s important to make the distinction between investing and gambling up front.

safe investment—in a way each investment can feel like a gamble. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the market is not a casino, and just because there’s risk involved doesn’t mean that “playing the market” is the same as playing roulette.

So what does “playing the stock market” actually mean? In short, it means that someone has gained access to and is actively participating in the markets. That may mean purchasing shares of a hot new IPO, or buying a stock simply because Warren Buffett did. “Playing,” in this sense, means that someone is investing money in stocks.

Playing the Market: Risks and Rewards

Learning how to play the stock market—in other words, become a good investor—takes time and patience. It’s good to know what, exactly, the market could throw at you, and that means knowing the basics of the risks and rewards of playing the market.

Potential Risks

In a broad sense, the most obvious risk of playing the market is that an investor will lose their investment. But on a more granular level, investors face a number of different types of risks, especially when it comes to stocks. These include market risk, liquidity risk, and business risks, which can manifest in a variety of ways in the real world.

A disappointing earnings report can crater a stock’s value, for instance. Or a national emergency, like a viral pandemic, can affect the market at large, causing an investor’s portfolio to deflate. Investors are also at the mercy of inflation—and stagflation, too.

For some investors, there’s also the risk of playing a bit too safe—that is, they’re not taking enough risk with their investing decisions, and as such, miss out on potential gains.

Potential Rewards

Risks reap rewards, as the old trope goes. And generally speaking, the more risk one assumes, the bigger the potential for rewards—though there is no guarantee. But playing the market with a sound strategy and proper risk mitigation tends to earn investors money over time.

Investors can earn returns in a couple of different ways:

•  By seeing the value of their investment increase. The value of individual stocks rise and fall depending on a multitude of factors, but the market overall tends to rise over time, and has fully recovered from every single downturn it’s ever experienced.
•  By earning dividend income. Dividends can also be reinvested, in order to further grow your investments.
•  By leaving their money in the market. It’s worth mentioning that the longer an investor keeps their money in the market, the bigger the potential rewards of investing are.

How to Play the Stock Market Wisely

Nobody wants to start investing only to lose money or otherwise see their portfolio’s value fall right off the bat. Here are a few tips regarding how to play the stock market, that can help reduce risk:

Invest for the Long-term

The market tends to go up with time, and has recovered from every previous dip and drop. For investors, that means that simply keeping their money in the market is a solid strategy to mitigate the risks of short-term market drops. (That’s not to say that the market couldn’t experience a catastrophic fall at some point in the future and never recover. But it is to say: History is on the investors’ side.)

Consider: If an investor buys stocks today, and the market falls tomorrow, they risk losing a portion of their investment by selling it at the decreased price. But if the investor commits to a buy-and-hold strategy—they don’t sell the investment in the short-term, and instead wait for its value to recover—they effectively mitigate the risks of short-term market dips.

Do Your Research

It’s always smart for an investor to do their homework and evaluate a stock before they buy. While a gambler can’t use any data or analysis to predict what a slot machine is going to do on the next pull of the lever, investors can look at a company’s performance and reports to try and get a sense of how strong (or weak) a potential investment could be.

Understanding stock performance can be an intensive process. Some investors can find themselves elbow-deep in technical analysis, poring over charts and graphs to predict a stock’s next moves. But many investors are looking to merely do their due diligence by trying to make sure that a company is profitable, has a plan to remain profitable, and that its shares could increase in value over time.

Diversify

Diversification basically means that an investor isn’t putting all of their eggs into one basket.

For example, they might not want their portfolio to comprise only two airline stocks, because if something were to happen that stalls air travel around the world, their portfolio would likely be heavily affected. But if they instead invested in five different stocks across a number of different industries, their portfolio might still take a hit if air travel plummets, but not nearly as severely as if its holdings were concentrated in the travel sector.

Use Dollar-cost Averaging

Dollar-cost averaging can also be a wise strategy. Essentially, it means making a series of small investments over time, rather than one lump-sum investment. Since an investor is now buying at a number of different price points (some may be high, some low), the average purchase price smooths out potential risks from price swings.

Conversely, an investor that buys at a single price-point will have their performance tied to that single price.

The Takeaway

While playing the market may be thrilling—and potentially lucrative—it is risky. But investors who have done their homework and who are entering the market with a sound strategy can blunt those risks to a degree.

By researching stocks ahead of time, and employing risk-reducing strategies like dollar-cost averaging and diversification when building a portfolio, an investor is more likely to be effective at mitigating risk.

With SoFi Invest®, members can devise their own investing strategy, and play the market how they want, when they want. Whether you’re interested in short-term trading or have your eyes on a longer-term prize, SoFi Invest is a way to dip your toes into the stock market and start investing today.

Find out how to get started playing the stock market 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 . The umbrella term “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.
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For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above, including state licensure of Sofi Digital Assets, LLC, http://www.sofi.com/legal.

Investment Risk: Diversification can help reduce some investment risk. It cannot guarantee profit, or fully protect in a down market.
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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