March 29, 2017

How to Refinance Your Student Loans

This guest post is from Amanda Ellison, a financial advisor from San Diego specializing in working with Millennials.

Student loan debt is at an all-time high, and it continues to rise. In 2016, the average graduate had over $37,000 in debt, a six percent increase from 2105.  With a large number of college graduates facing mounting debt, it is little wonder that many are struggling to make their monthly student loan payments.

Much like a mortgage, student loans can be refinanced with a lower interest rate; in fact, student loan refinancing has become a hot topic among borrowers as a way to potentially lower payments and reduce interest rates.

Refinancing student loans is a form of consolidation for borrowers with private student loans.  It works by replacing multiple student loans — which can be private loans, federal loans, or both — with one new private loan.  The primary benefit of refinancing your student loans is that you may be able to obtain a lower interest rate, and save money over the life of your loan. In some cases, student loan refinancing can result in lower monthly payments.  You may also be able to extend or shorten the repayment time period, but as a general rule, you should pick the shortest possible time that you can to repay your loan. It may also be beneficial to make a single monthly payment rather than multiple payments each month to various loan servicing companies.

In December 2016, the Federal Reserve announced a rate increase for the interest rate. This will likely have an impact on the interest rate for student loans, which are tied to rates that tend to follow the Fed.  This increase — and several additional proposed increases over the course of 2017 — may be another reason to refinance your student loans. This is particularly true if you have a variable rate private student loan.  A variable rate student loan has the potential to rise as the interest rate rises.  A refinanced loan with a lower fixed interest rate may give you stability and ultimately lower your monthly payments and the total cost of your student loans.

Before making the decision to refinance your student loans, you first need to understand what kind of loans you have and what their terms are. If you do not have a copy of your loan documents, you can view them via the government’s online database for federal loans, the Federal Student Aid portal or the National Student Loan Data System.  For private student loans, you can obtain a copy of your credit report to determine if you have any private student loans.  You can then contact your loan servicing company to obtain a copy of the loan terms and conditions.

If you have federal student loans, carefully consider whether you want to refinance these loans along with your private loans.  Federal student loans have certain protections that private student loans do not, such as loan forgiveness and income-based repayment plans. You should also look at your current interest rate on your private student loans.  If the interest rate on your current loans is low and fixed, refinancing your student loans may not save you money.  There are a number of online refinance calculators that will allow you to input information from your current loans to determine if you will save money by refinancing your private student loans.

If you decide to refinance your student loans, you can compare lenders through a number of online marketplaces, such as LendEDU, Student Loan Hero, and Credible.  Each site will offer rates from a number of different banks, student loan companies and other lenders, along with information about each lender.  You can then determine which rate and lender would be the best choice for your student loans.  The rate that you ultimately receive will be based on a number of factors, including your credit score, job history, educational background, and income.  As a general rule, your credit score must be no lower than the mid-600’s in order to qualify for a student loan refinance. Rates for student loan refinancing range from as low as 2 percent to as high as 9 percent.

Refinancing student loans does not cost money, and there are typically not any fees associated with refinancing private student loans.  Be wary of calls, emails or letters that you may receive offering deals on refinancing or consolidating your student loans.  These are often scams, or they may charge you money for something that you can do yourself for free or for very low cost.

Once you have been approved for a student loan refinancing, your new loan servicing company will pay off all of your old loans.  You will then start to receive statements from the new lender each month.  If you have automatic payments set up, remember to change the payments to reflect the lender, and work towards paying off your student loans with one easy monthly payment.

Refinancing student loans isn’t the best choice for everyone, but if your student loans have a high interest rate, a variable interest rate, or if you have many different student loans, it may be a good choice for you.  With some advance planning and preparation, the process of applying for refinancing is relatively simple, allowing you to make a substantial step towards paying down your debt in a few simple steps.

February 9, 2017

Swagbucks: Valentine’s Day Shop

If you’re still planning to get someone a Valentine’s Day gift, take a quick look at Swagbucks Shopping first to see if you can get double cash back – sometimes their special double cash back is better than the usual over at Mr. Rebates and ebates.

If you’re not on Swagbucks yet, sign up using my link, spend at least $25 in shop, and you’ll get a 200 SB bonus!

Here’s a handy tutorial if you’d like to join Swagbucks and earn. I track my earnings here.

 

November 30, 2016

Currencies Direct – A review for the private investor

This post has been provided by a guest.

Currencies Direct is a UK-based currency transfer company that provides private and corporate clients with access to a variety of foreign currency. In contrast to high-street banks, Currencies Direct’s rates are favourable for their clients as a result of lower spreads.

The firm, which is rated 93.2% on MoneyTransferComparison.com review site, has level 1 credit from D&B, and has won multiple industry awards, is mostly focused on the following audiences: expatriates, overseas property investors and small businesses. Currencies also caters to additional audiences like foreign stock traders and investors.

The process is rather simple for UK-based individuals. A prospective client inputs his or her details on the signup form, and the system will automatically approve the account in most instances (unlike global clients who may be required to send scanned documents as bank account and address proofs). After a client application is approved, he or she can get full access to today’s rates through an online system.

As an additional value to the service, each client who is transferring more than £5,000 can speak directly to a certified FX trader. This enables the client to do two important things:

  1. Negotiate the rates with his dealer. In some cases, Currencies Direct will be able to offer better rates than the ones the client sees on CurrenciesDirect.com. This information is quite unique to this Currencies Direct review, as the company doesn’t admit that openly (the fact prices are negotiable is not highlighted on the company’s website).
  2. A dealer would be able to offer market commentary and guide each client on the best timing to conduct the necessary transactions. As the foreign exchange markets are volatile, this service can potentially save more money than the currency rates which are offered. Also, you can buy hedging derivatives through the dealer.

The derivatives offered are Forward Contract, Put Option, Call Option and Time Option. They prove to be an extremely useful array of tools for investors, as they can help investors who are interested in tapping into foreign markets to neutralise the impact of currency fluctuations.

An example of how it works – Gentleman Joe from London is interested in investing his savings into the booming USA market, and he is looking to cherry pick several particular stocks he fancies. He needs to buy these stocks in US dollars, so he uses Currencies Direct to move the money to his trading brokerage. Then, he wants to mitigate the inherited risk of currency exchange. His best option to hedge and even possibly gain is through buying put options. He doesn’t have to run sophisticated calculations on which option, which strike price and date – the dealer does all of that on his behalf, and all he needs is to sign it off. This way, if the stocks that were picked gained, but the dollar depreciated against the pound, the put option will come into place and compensate the investor for the GBPUSD increase. If the stocks gained, and the dollar also gained against the pound, the investor will earn money on both counts (while, of course, losing on the premium paid for the options that were not executed).

In summary, private investors can benefit from dealing with a currency exchange company like Currencies Direct, both to minimize the spreads paid on foreign currency buying, and as an affordable, easy way to access the fx derivatives market, without having to personally master this complex area.

October 24, 2016

Side money experiment: mTurk

Background: 2 years ago November, J. Money and I had a quick chat that spawned this post on earning side money and then I started tracking our earnings publicly because it’s always more fun that way. PiC is our resident Craigslister and I’m the resident Try Anything Once-er.

As previously mentioned in the May and June monthly reports, I gave mTurk a little test run.

My time was particularly tight in those months so it wasn’t a smart time to be trying new things but I wanted to dip my toes in and give it a wiggle. I think because it was so time-crunchy, my brain really needed to know that it wouldn’t last and the way to give myself hope for that is to do something new that feels purposeful and makes a bit of money.

After a couple months, spending nibbles of time when I was taking a mental break from work, I haven’t cracked any secret codes. Tasks are most available during business hours, and you do better when you spend time on skill-based tasks, I think. The tasks I’ve been qualified for are things like surveys which don’t earn much.

Total earned: $50.95

Whether it’s bad timing or lack of effort, mTurk isn’t for me right now. I’ll put this experiment on hold until I have a bit more time to play with it.

:: Have you tried mTurk or anything like it? Would you use your spare 5-15 minutes a day on something like this?

August 29, 2016

Side money experiment: selling on Poshmark

Side Money Experiment 1: Selling clothes with PoshmarkBackground: 2 years ago November, J. Money and I had a quick chat that spawned this post on earning side money and then I started tracking our earnings publicly because it’s always more fun that way. PiC is our resident Craigslister and I’m the resident Try Anything Once-er.

One of my challenges in the Great Wardrobe Curation has been getting rid of clothes that need to exit stage left. They normally still have plenty of wear in them, don’t fit quite right but aren’t worth the cost of tailoring, or that I can’t tolerate wearing any longer, like heels. It doesn’t make sense to keep them and getting both space and money back would be double the fun.

With plenty of encouragement from Penny to give it a try, even with my decidedly unfancy wardrobe, and armed with her quick tutorial, I quickly made up an account on Poshmark and listed a handful of shoes. One pair of heels I’ll hold on to, for faking professionalism until I get better flats, but most of them can go.

At first it didn’t seem like it was meant to be. It took 4 hours to download the app. First, I never remember my Apple ID so downloading isn’t the breeze that it was from my Android. I mean, sure, security but sometimes you just want to be able to get your darn free app! Then it wanted 3 hours to think about downloading. Awesome.

Once the app was running, it was pretty simple to start listing things. They encourage you to list 10-12 items to start but in reality there was no requirement to do that so it seemed like the perfect way to tiptoe into selling a few things at a time. I just can’t commit to a huge overhaul in one go.

I created an account (I loathe creating usernames) and started snapping pictures. It only took 20 minutes to list four items, and most of that time was spent looking up the information and coming up with useful descriptions.

It was easiest to start with shoes since I hadn’t a clue what I was doing. There was immediate beginner’s luck with a rash of sales, and three sales and three weeks later, I’m still waiting for more real nibbles.

What I learned

Most people want to negotiate so set your prices a little higher than you’re willing to sell for. That way you can compromise more.

You don’t need to bargain in the comments, your potential buyers have the ability to make an offer which you can ignore (it expires in 24 hours), counteroffer, or decline. If you decline outright, Poshmark will send you an email suggesting that you counteroffer so that there’s dialogue. Declining the offer means that attempt at a sale is over.

USPS ships you free shipping envelopes and boxes, as Penny had pointed out in her very helpful post. They’re really slow, though, and only ship in packages of 10 items each, so if you’re not dropping by the post office to pick up a box or two, it’s a bit of a commitment.

I’m incredibly impatient. I sold three items in the first 4 days of selling using existing packaging and then it’s been all quiet. After the first sales, I ordered a few basic shipping supplies from USPS and now I have STUFF sitting around the house, waiting to be used. I knew I should have waited!

You’re encouraged to package your sold items nicely. This means wrapping things in tissue paper, and adding a note for your buyer. As an inveterate recycler, I dug into my abundant stash of used tissue paper, sealed them up with thank you labels from one of my last labeling projects, and shipped in repurposed Amazon boxes while waiting for the USPS shipping materials. All were accepted by the buyers quickly and happily.

Speaking of acceptance, the buyers have 3 days after the package delivery to officially accept your shipped product or to file a report if they feel it didn’t match the selling description. You should be really specific about your items to make sure that your buyers know what they’re getting. I take pictures of any possible flaws for the item profile to be sure.

As a seller, you’re given a week to ship, but they like you to ship sooner. I didn’t have a problem with shipping within 2 days since I’m selling such low volume.

Total earned: $37

I won’t say this is a flop, it’s only been a few weeks, even if it feels longer. The early success certainly raised my expectations unrealistically – I always knew that I didn’t have a ton of saleable items but it was worth the try. Other than the Poshmark fee which I wouldn’t have paid if I didn’t make money myself, and some time obsessing over pictures and listings, I didn’t lose anything.

:: Are any of you successful Poshers? What am I (likely) doing wrong? How long would you list items for before giving up and donating?

This website and its content are copyright of A Gai Shan Life  | © A Gai Shan Life 2017. All rights reserved.

Site design by 801red