Swamped With Statements? A Five Step Guide for Controlling Credit Card Debt

credit card debtYou can’t deal with another credit card bill, you feel stressed when you check your bank balance, and the word “interest” makes you flinch in any context. Chances are good you’re suffering from credit card debt! Thanks to the ease with which most of us can get credit cards and the temptation of what seems like free money, there are a lot of people in your shoes, but many more have managed to control and eliminate credit card debt, too.

No five-step program can address all situations, so don’t take every step in this program as law, but chances are good some of these steps might help you get to a debt-free life once again.

1. Tally up your debt and your assets.

It seems like both the most boring step and the most frustrating, but before you begin to get out of debt, you need to know exactly how far you are in the hole. Without an idea of what you have and what you owe, you’ll stagnate and you won’t have the motivation to keep making progress on your credit card bills.

First, gather all your bills. If you have debt on multiple credit cards, gather statements so you know exactly how much you owe on each card. Don’t know how much you have in the way of assets? Sign into your online banking account or visit your bank to get a tally of your finances, if you have anything invested or saved up.

Create a neat inventory that lists everything you owe, and to whom. Also, make a note of the interest rate on each credit card, as this will affect the order in which you pay down your debts. Try not to feel intimidated by the final number, whatever it is. You will figure out a way to control it and pay it down.

2. Create a budget.

If tallying it up wasn’t bad enough, you have to create a budget now? Don’t worry! It’s much simpler than it looks, and budgeting will help you get out of this mess much faster. You’ll also be able to avoid getting into debt in the future.

Despite the fact that budgeting seems like it will make you more stressed about your finances and able to relax less, the opposite is actually true. When you know how much you have to spend, you won’t have that nagging worry in the back of your mind that tells you this is a bad idea. You can spend guilt-free and not suffer negative consequences like you’re feeling now.

Create basic categories for each area of spending, including rent, utilities, tuition (if any), transportation (gas and auto maintenance), and so on. Downloading a basic budgeting software application will help you figure out these categories to start with, and you can later create your own based on your spending patterns.

Then, make a list of your regular expenses. If you know you will spend a fixed amount on rent, you can write that down. If you spend about the same amount each month on your electricity, write down a ballpark figure and round it up a bit to cover higher bills. Do the same for your income, averaging your last three to six months’ income if you make an inconsistent income (as a freelancer, for example).

When all is said and done, you should have a rough monthly figure of how much you spend and earn. You’ll already have spotted any problems that exist – more money spent on shopping trips than rent, for example. Again, don’t stress if the numbers are higher or lower than you wanted them to be. Frugal living advice will help you prune your expenses, and you can look at other sources of income.

3. Plan your debt repayments.

If you have more than one source of debt – credit cards, student loans, a mortgage, etc – you will have to prioritize your debt repayments. There are two main methods of doing this: by interest rate or by amount owed. If you are motivated by quick results, the snowball method is best; if you prefer to get the debt paid off more efficiently without wasting money on interest, the interest method is for you.

The snowball method works like this: arrange your debts in order from the smallest amount to largest. You’ll pay off the smallest debt first, then the next largest, and so on until you finally tackle the largest amount. By that time, you’ll have the motivation to really work on your last remaining debt.

The interest method is smarter money-wise, but it takes a lot more persistence and patience. Be honest with yourself – will you stick to it when it seems like you aren’t making much progress? If you choose this method, you’ll arrange your debts by the interest rate you’re currently paying on them and you’ll work on the highest interest rate first. The money you save on interest and payments will then help you pay off the next-highest rate, and so on.

4. Slash your expenses.

In order to pay down your credit card debt, you’re going to be putting aside as much money as you can! This means you should stop using your credit cards and pay only with cash from now until you’re out of the red. Be gentle, yet firm with yourself about it. If it helps, use the envelope system or take out a fixed amount each month, and set up your bank account to automatically withdraw the rest of your paycheck and transfer it to your credit card.

When you created your budget, did you honestly record about how much you spend each month, or did you round down the numbers to attempt to get yourself to improve? If you rounded everything down drastically, it’s going to take a lot more effort to pay off your debt, but you absolutely can do it.

Look at what’s essential – food, utilities, and so on – and what isn’t. Allow yourself one category in which you won’t cut down your spending. It might be going out for movies, restaurant meals, shopping for clothes, or books. This doesn’t mean you’re allowed to spend all the extra money you’ll have on it, but it ensures that you won’t be sacrificing everything fun for the sake of your future financial health. Everything else should be cut by a small amount – try ten percent.

5. Control your spending until your debt disappears.

As you go about your daily shopping, keep a small notebook with you. Write down everything that you buy, and don’t let yourself slack! Alternatively, you can keep your receipts and enter them in your budgeting program later, but don’t let this be an excuse to avoid thinking about your spending. The point is to consciously think about every decision you make to buy something.

If you want to get your credit card debt under control, relentlessly stick to your budget. Each time you exceed your budget, consider whether you were overspending for an impulse buy that you didn’t really need, or whether you need to allocate more money in your budget to this category. You will inevitably find things you can cut way back on, and things that you will have to loosen up a bit on.

Perhaps you find yourself tempted to buy things on a daily basis, and it’s hard for you to keep that long-term goal in mind. That’s true of everyone, and that’s often how we get into credit card debt in the first place! Keep a small Post-It note on your credit card. It doesn’t even have to say anything, but you want to, write on it your main reason for paying down your debt: freedom, your child’s name, etc.

The process of paying down your debt won’t be easy, but it is one of the most satisfying and liberating things you can ever do. You’ll find out more about your interests and what really matters to you, you’ll learn how to set goals and achieve them even when it seems impossible, and you’ll clear your credit record so that you can achieve any financial goals you’re now free to pursue!

Sam Jones, the author, had to use credit card consolidation after failing to manage his credit cards effectively.

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How Will The Flat Rate Pension Affect You?

Pension after retirementAlthough it isn’t due to be introduced until 2016, the flat rate state pension is a major shake up of the retirement benefits system and will have an impact on anyone retiring after that time. It’s therefore important to understand what it means and to carry out a pension review accordingly.

If you’ll be retiring before April 2016 then the changes won’t affect you and you’ll be paid a state pension under the current system. Currently this is £107.45 a week for the basic pension or £142.70 if you get the additional pension based on National Insurance contributions or you get pension credit.

Retirement After April 2016

If you reach state pension age after April 2016 then you’ll receive the flat rate pension rather than the existing one. This involves some major changes as follows:

1. You’ll need to have made National Insurance contributions for at least ten years to qualify for a pension (currently it’s only one year) and this will only get you £41 a week.

2. To get the full state pension you’ll need to make 35 years’ worth of NI contributions (currently you only need 30 years).

3. With 35 years’ NI contributions you’ll receive £144 a week at today’s values. Since state pensions are adjusted for inflation this is likely to be more when the policy comes into effect. The new pension will be adjusted in line with the CPI index or 2.5% each year, whichever is higher.

4. The second state pension, pension credit and other top-up schemes will cease. However, if you’ve already built up an entitlement to a higher pension through second pension or SERPS contributions before 2016 this will be protected but you won’t be able to add to it.

5. You’ll be able to take time out to raise a family and still build up state pension qualifying years, which isn’t currently the case.

6. Eligibility for a pension will be on an individual basis, so married couples will each get their own pension rather than the married couple’s rate that’s paid at present. The other side of this is that a widow without enough qualifying years for a full pension will no longer get a portion of her husband’s pension after he dies.

7. If you’re still in a final salary pension scheme with an employer you’ll end up paying more in NI contributions as the contracting out option will no longer be available.

8. The state pension age will be reviewed every five years starting in 2016. It’s currently planned to increase it to 66 in 2020 and 67 in 2028.

Additional Pensions

Because the changes mean the end of the second state pension if you need to increase your income in retirement you’ll need to look at other means. These changes overlap with the government’s plan to have all employees enrolled in a workplace pension scheme which will give them an additional means of saving for retirement.

Low earners and the self-employed, who may in the past have found it hard to build up enough contributions for a full state pension, will benefit most from these changes.

If you’re on a higher income want to save more for your pension then you’ll need to look at other alternatives outside of National insurance such as starting a private pension plan or a SIPP. If you’re in a pension scheme with an employer you could also look at making additional voluntary contributions (AVCs) to boost the value of your pension pot.

Kay Brown is a writer who has a keen interest in personal finance. With the imminent changes to pensions, she suggests conducting a pension review so that you know the impact that the flat rate pension will have on your retirement.

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5 Things To Know About Working In Sales Before You Apply

Career in sales1. Your Success Is Determined By Your Effort

The sales industry is heavily based on rewarding the salesperson’s effort with success. A salesperson that does not put in a hundred percent of their effort will sometimes make nothing at all if they are on a commission basis. On the other hand, sales staff that put in all of their time and effort can often make far beyond what their peers are making. Sales positions are not traditional positions even when they are salaried because bonuses and promotions are all merit-based. In many industries a person can become successful simply by showing up and doing their job adequately. Sales is not one of these industries.

2. Relationships Are Everything

In sales positions a good sales team member will need to have a good relationship with their boss, co-workers and clients. While this is true in most positions it is more vital in a sales position because everyone is working together as a team. Those who cannot have good relationships with their clients will not be able to sell as much but they also can’t neglect their relationship with their co-workers. Co-workers can make or break a salesperson’s career by sharing leads and generally making their life easier. Because of the high churn of the sales industry it’s also not uncommon to suddenly find a co-worker becoming a boss and this is where previous relationships will often pay off.

3. It’s Demanding

A sales job is usually not an ordinary 40 hour a week position. Most sales jobs require that the sales person work far beyond a regular work day and many skilled sales professionals will be doing their work and their research out of hours and often at home. Because sales positions are so high pressure and because a sales professional makes as much money as they work for it can be necessary for a sales professional to put in an extensive effort to become successful.

4. Determination Is Required

Sales positions offer a lot of room to grow but only for those who are determined and willing to be constantly pushing to move upwards. Sales is extremely competitive and that means that sales people need to be constantly improving their sales techniques and their numbers. Those who allow themselves to slip may find themselves losing a lot of traction in their professional life.

5. Confidence and Leadership Is Key

Sales is all about people skills and those who do not have the confidence to lead will not find themselves going very far. There are many seminars and programs available to help those who need to develop their personal and professional skills and many sales people will find these opportunities very rewarding. While client sales may be based on confidence, leadership is required to grow and advance in a sales career. A successful sales professional needs to be able to inspire those who work under them to be the best salespeople that they can be.

To check out some options, Randstad offer sales jobs for many companies that cover all interests.

Nicole is a recruitment agent and has been for the past 5 years. She aims to help her clients find jobs and guide them in the right direction. She started writing blogs to share her knowledge to others who are looking for general help and ideas to get them started on their career.

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3 Tips To Protect Your Identity

Online securityNow that we have entered the information age, our data is regularly being logged into many different websites through many different devices, all of which is putting our identity at risk. Along with that, with so many more things that can be done online, from loan and mortgage applications, purchasing of items big and small and even booking holidays: the level of risk associated with identity theft and the ease of using another persons details to make purchases makes protecting your identity all the more important. Today we are going to go through three tips to protect your online identity:

1.)  Use strong passwords

If you are logging in to various services with passwords, make those passwords as strong as possible by using capital letters, numbers and symbols to make your password less easy to guess. Identity thieves use programs that can enter a whole dictionary of words into a password box within minutes – which means that any password that is based on a standard word such as “cheese” is a weak password that practically invites people to steal your identity. If you have a poor memory, there are ways to strengthen and secure passwords without making them difficult to remember – and you can do this by pretending your password is a car number plate and adding your favourite symbol at the end, so “cheese” can become “Ch33se?”, “blue” can become “blu3!” and so on and so forth…you get the drift!

2.)  Delete your browsing history and cookies when you have finished

If you are using a smart device or a shared computer then always make sure you delete the stored information in the browsers keychain when you are done. If you are not very web savvy and that all sounds like gobbledygook to you, don’t worry! When you have your browser open, select “history” and find the “delete browsing history” option – remembering to delete cookies and other saved information. The reason for this is that your browser will remember your passwords and automatically log in the next person who visits a website which requires your login information. Once someone has logged into one of your accounts, they not only have access to your credit card details, but also your mothers maiden name, your secret password, your address, paypal details – the whole hog! Better to not give anyone such access by deleting the information stored in the browser you are using.  If you are accessing information via your phone, rather than go through the process of deleting every thing each time you have used it, you can choose to go incognito which means that none of your browsing history is stored: ever. This is easily done through the settings on your phone.

3.)  Do not respond to emails asking you for information

One easy way to steal people’s data, is to redirect them to a fake website that looks and feels like a genuine website: and then making them enter their details for your own person use. This is called “phishing” and will most often come in the form of Facebook or bank information that requires your instant response. Rather than respond to such emails by clicking on the links they provide, visit the website directly to make sure the email is genuine, and without risking a visit to a fake website that is trying to steal your details.

Brendon is an image rights writer based in Guernsey. He loves to help people protect themselves from identity theft.

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Saving Money Through Efficiency

Energy efficiency won’t just help save the environment – it can also aid your business.

Not only can it help change any wasteful attitudes of employees but it can also have tangible benefits on the profit margin of your company.

And it has never been more important to save money. The last few years of economic uncertainty has left countless businesses in Britain and around the world struggling to survive – but the evidence is there that energy efficiency can help achieve this. For example, Volvo’s New River Valley Plant in Virginia, the world’s largest truck manufacturer, invested around £550,000 in saving energy prior to the recession and has now saved £1.31 million on their bills and avoided having to fire any staff.

Whether you are adopting an nPower business plan to reduce costs or are simply looking to do your bit for the environment, read on to find out why investing in energy efficiency is the right choice for your company.

No longer hostage to price rises

Like death and taxes, increases in energy prices are all but guaranteed in the future. However by improving your efficiency and thereby reducing your usage, you will help mitigate the damage of price hikes further down the line.

Eco-market is booming

A company can’t buy the kind of positive publicity green policies can drum up for your business. Taking action to reduce your carbon footprint will not only make your company appear socially responsible but could also attract investment from previously untapped markets.

Additionally, investing in energy efficiency can set you apart from the pack and help foster a sense of economy amongst your workforce.

Safe as houses

Investing in energy efficiency is one of the few times in life when you know roughly what benefits your money will generate for you. Unlike turbulent stock markets or frugal bank accounts, saving money through more effective energy use is simple maths. If you use less energy at the same rate then ultimately you will lower your monthly costs – a winning situation in anyone’s books.

More profits, more investments

Improved energy efficiency can help reduce the weight power costs can have on your company’s finances, ultimately allowing you to invest in growing your business rather than only paying your existing bills. This will not only help your competitiveness but could allow you to further invest in green technology, creating a self-fulfilling reduction in energy costs.

Incentivised

Replacing office equipment can drain valuable resources. Investing in more energy efficient technology, even if it is initially more expensive, will usually be worth it in the long term. Green technology is improving every year, with the Energy Star rating system (http://www.energystar.gov/) the simplest way to find the best equipment for you. Finally, energy efficient equipment is often more durable than existing office items, thereby helping to reduce maintenance and future purchase costs.

What have you done to make your business more energy efficient?

Mikael Johansen is a blogger and freelance writer working with a variety of brands. This post has been written for an energy supplier npower. 

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