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10 Practical Tips To Lower Your Banking Costs

10 Practical Tips To Lower Your Banking Costs

Recently, I was going over the details of my budget with a friend. When I got to the estimated expenses, he seemed to have a puzzled look on his face and asked me if I had forgotten to include banking costs. I was surprised by this question, but not as surprised as he was by my answer: “I don’t really have any banking expenses.”

“What about service charges, accidental overdrafts, minimum account balances etc.?” he asked. I shrugged. I don’t pay my bank to hold my money, they pay me for the privilege. Here’s how:

1. Set up overdraft protection … now!

Accidents happen. No one usually intends to overdraw their bank account, but sometimes a debit transaction comes through before a check clears and there you are with one or several charges applied to your already hurting bank account.

The first thing you should do after setting up a bank account is inquire about available overdraft protection. Sometimes referred to as cash reserve checking, this is a line of credit that the bank extends to its customers that kicks in when your debits exceed the balance in your account. Basically, you are pre-approved for a loan that is used to cover your negative balance.

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While this protection virtually eliminates overdraft fees, there are two small caveats. Firstly, you must be approved for such a line of credit, which is dependent on several factors including your credit score and history with the bank. Secondly, banks are not in the business of loaning out money for free, you will be charged interest on the overdrawn amount, though this is almost always going to be less than the fees that would be applied without overdraft protection.

2. Establish a good relationship with the tellers at your bank.

We often tend to view banks as large, faceless megacorporations, and save for the local credit unions, most of them are. That said, the people who work at your local branch are just that, people, and they often possess more power to help you out than you may realize. Knowing your teller by name, asking them about their family and what they are doing this weekend are, other than being generally polite things to do, great ways to ensure that you are treated fairly by your bank. I cannot tell you how many times my teller has pushed a deposit through to clear immediately or removed a fee for me: services that I doubt would have ever been extended to someone they didn’t know.

3. Prepare ahead for traveling abroad.

Oftentimes travelers run into additional banking fees and inconveniences, simply because they didn’t plan ahead. Be sure to tell your bank that you are traveling. Will you need to use ATMs while you are abroad? Check to see if your bank has any arrangements with banks in the countries to which you are traveling. If they do, using these banks can significantly cut down on fees and you can be assured that your money will be readily available when away from home. If you travel frequently, consider opening a Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account, which automatically reimburses all foreign ATM fees.

4. Use online banking but don’t rely on it.

Online banking is a godsend for most people. It allows you to keep an eye on your balance, transfer money from one account to another, and more. Many banks allow you configure alerts so that you are notified via email or text message when your balance drops below a certain threshold. Get to know what your online banking offers and leverage these tools to stay in control of your account. While this can be an extremely useful tool, bear in mind that it does not replace the need to balance your checkbook.

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5. Balance your check book.

Every time you swipe your debit card or write out a check, add the transaction to your ledger immediately. For all intents and purposes, view that money as no longer being in your account. If you get into this habit and quit relying on the available balance reported by your online banking, you will save yourself a lot of trouble, fees and embarrassment.

Remember that transactions can often take days to show up on your online ledger. Always know what it really in your account. Maintaining a balanced check book will also enable you to more easily spot potential bank errors, such as double charges. While there are a wide variety of apps available to make this age-old act easier, I personally prefer Toshl, which is available on all the major mobile platforms and can also be used to set up budgets and generate helpful graphs about your spending habits.

6. Shop around for better accounts.

Before looking elsewhere, go into your bank and ask to talk to someone about your account. Let them know that you are concerned about avoiding fees and would like to know what types of accounts are available. Answer any questions they ask you with complete honesty. Do not say that you can maintain a higher minimum balance than you realistically can. Oftentimes, you can forgo interest (which is often quite meager to begin with) for a totally free account with no restrictions. After a simple five-minute conversation with my banker, I was switched into an account that is typically just for college students (which I am not) that offered some built-in overdraft forgiveness with no fees and no minimum balance. While your mileage may vary, it never hurts to see what is available. If it seems that your bank has nothing to offer, look elsewhere.

7. Be careful when writing checks.

Checks can be tricky as you never know when their recipient will cash them and if there isn’t enough money in our account when they do, they will bounce, which is costly and very embarrassing. Bounce enough checks around town and you might even find yourself in jail. If we are following tip #5 and balancing our check book, this should never happen. That said, sometimes we make mistakes. So, if you do bounce a check, and you happen to catch it right away (it shows up in your online banking, but the transaction is still “pending”), then immediately deposit enough funds in your account to cover the check and call your bank. There is a chance that they might be willing to manually approve the transaction and prevent the check from bouncing.

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8. Read every notice that your bank mails you.

Regulations require that your bank notify you of any new fees. Be sure to open and read every piece of mail that your bank sends you. If they are introducing a new fee of some type, contact them immediately and see what can be done to avoid being charged. Often they are just hoping that you won’t notice. Stay on top of things and you could avoid increasing fees.

9. Consider switching to a credit union.

If you are unable to get your banking costs under control with a typical bank, try a credit union. Credit unions are member owned and operated and as such, are service-driven as opposed to profit-driven organizations, and because of this they tend to offer more favorable rates and additional services.

10. Don’t be afraid to mix and match your banks.

If one bank offers a great free checking account and another has really useful features for its business accounts, don’t be afraid to mix and match. Find the accounts that suit your needs, regardless of where they are offered.

 

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With a little effort, it is possible to mitigate most banking costs, even those associated with mistakes made on your own part. For a look into some more money mistakes worth avoiding, check out 11 Money Mistakes You Don’t Realize You’re Making.

Featured photo credit: Money Bills Calculator Save Savings Taxes/jarmoluk via pixabay.com

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Published on May 7, 2019

How to Invest for Retirement (The Smart and Stress-Free Way)

How to Invest for Retirement (The Smart and Stress-Free Way)

When it comes to stocks, I bet you feel like you have no idea what you’re doing.

Everyone who’s not a financial expert has been there. I’ve been there. But, time is passing and you need to be crystal clear with how you’re investing for your retirement.

Otherwise, it’s back to work until you can afford not to. So, how can you invest for retirement when you’re not a financial expert?

You take the time to learn the fundamentals well. If you do, you can grow your wealth and retire happy. The best part is that you don’t need to be a financial expert to make smart investment decisions.

Here’s how to invest for retirement the smart and stress-free way:

1. Know Clearly Why You Invest

Odds are you already know why should invest for retirement.

But, maybe you know the wrong reasons. It’s time you get clear on why you’d like to retire. Here are some questions to help you get started:

  • Will you spend more time with your family?
  • What does retirement mean to you?
  • Are you looking to launch that business you’ve been holding off for years?

Everyone wants to retire but not for the same reasons. Once you’re clear for why retirement is important for you, you’ll focus on making it happen.

Investing in the stock market allows you to take advantage of compound interest.[1] All this means is that your money earns money on top of its interest. A reason why investment in the stock market is one of the best ways to plan for retirement.

2. Figure out When to Invest

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”– Chinese Proverb

It’s true if you’d had started investing when you were 10 years old, you’d have a lot more money than you do today.

The reality is that most people don’t start investing until it’s too late. So, if you’re currently waiting for the perfect time to start an investment, it would be today. Open your calendar and block out 2 to 3 hours to choose how you’ll invest for retirement.

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A quick way to get a snapshot of where you stand is to use Personal Capital. Input all your personal information and spend some time setting your retirement goals. Once completed, you’ll know where you stand with your retirement.

Having a savings account for retirement isn’t planning for retirement. Why? Your money loses value when you factor in US inflation.[2]

3. Evaluate Your Risk Tolerance to Create the Perfect Portfolio

Investing your money well depends on your emotions.

Why?

Because when the market drops most people panic and withdraw their money. On average, the US stock market yields an annual 6% to 7% ROI (return on your investment.) But, this won’t happen if you’re worried about short-term loses.

Before you invest your next dollar, know your risk tolerance.[3] Your risk tolerance determines the number of risky and safe investments you’d have.

Regardless of your investing style, you need to view investing for retirement as a long term game. Know that some years you’ll lose money but recoup this in the long-term.

Avoid watching market-related new. Also, create a double authentication to log in your investment account. This way you’re less likely to withdraw your money.

4. Open a Reliable Retirement Account

Depending on your circumstance, you may need to open a new brokerage account. This is the account is where you’ll invest your money.

If you’re currently working for a company, odds are that they offer a 410K investing account. If so, here’s where you’ll invest most of your money. The only problem with this is that you’re limited to the stock options that are available.

You do have the option to open a separate IRA (individual retirement account.) Here are some of the best brokers:

  1. Vanguard
  2. TD Ameritrade
  3. Charles Schwab

5. Challenge Yourself to Invest Consistently

Committing to invest for retirement is hard, but continuing to do so is harder.

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Once you’ve started investment for your retirement, you run at risk from stopping. Often you’ll want to contribute less, so you’d have more money in your pocket.

That’s why it’s important that you create a budget that allows you to invest each month. If you’re working for a company, you can set a percentage for the amount you’d like to contribute each month. Most people by default contribute 1% but aim to contribute 10% to 15%.

Be the judge for how much you can afford to contribute after covering important expenses. To stay motivated, use Personal Capital to view your net worth.

A benefit to contributing money to your retirement account is not taxed. For example, if you earn $100 and invest 10%, you’d contribute $10, then get taxed on the remaining $90. As of 2019, the most you’re able to contribute towards your 401K is 19K but this can change.

6. Consider Where to Invest Your Money

The most common way to invest your money is in stocks, but it’s not the only way. Here are other ways to invest:

Robo Advisors

Robo-advisors[4] are fancy algorithms that’ll choose the best investments for you. Sites like Wealthfront make it easy for first-time investors to invest their money. You’d input information about yourself and set your risk tolerance.

Then, set your monthly contribution amount and your robo-advisor would do the rest. Robo-advisors charge a fee to manage your money, but less than regular advisors.

Bonds

Think of bonds as “IOUs” to whomever you buy them from.

Essentially, you’re lending money and charging interest. Like stocks, not all bonds are equal. Some will be riskier than others depending on their rating.

Here are the different types of bond categories:[5]

  1. Treasury bonds
  2. Government bonds
  3. Corporate bonds
  4. Foreign bonds
  5. Mortgage-backed bonds
  6. Municipal bonds

Mutual Funds

Picture a group of people dumping all their money in a jar that’s managed by a professional. This is how mutual funds work. The fund manager manages the money looking to earn capital gains (interest.)

One of the best types of mutual funds is index funds. Since these funds don’t try to beat the market and instead follow it, they need less research. Because of this they often charge the lowest fees and yield the best long-term results.

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Real Estate

Yes, buying a home is an investment when done correctly.

Imagine buying a home and using it as a rental property. After repairing it, you receive a monthly surplus check of $100 to $200.

This may not sound like a lot, but repeat this process enough times and you’d earn a large amount of passive income. That’s why real estate is one of the best investments to not only retire but become wealthy.

But, it requires a lot of money to start and you should expect losing money along the way as you learn the process.

Savings Accounts

Your money can still grow in a savings account. Nowadays most online banks offer a 2% annual return. Although the average inflation is higher your money will be available when you need it.

7. Master Disincline to Dodge Short Success

Investing for retirement is a long-term strategy. That’s why you need to master delayed gratification. All this means is delaying short-term pleasure for something bigger in the future. Research shows that those who have delayed gratification are more successful.[6]

So how can you master delayed gratification?

By building your discipline.

Think back to what retirement means to you. A clear purpose will help you avoid withdrawing your money during a market downturn. It’ll help you contribute more towards retirement when you’d want to waste it instead.

Your journey towards retirement will be long, so reward yourself along the way. Choose a reward that’s relevant and meaningful, so that you reinforce positive behavior. For example, after contributing more towards retirement, treat yourself to dinner.

8. Aggressively Invest on This One Investment

I’ve mentioned several types of investments but haven’t covered the most important one.

It sounds cliche but here’s why you’re your best investment towards retirement. The more you know, the more money you’ll be able to make. The more good habits you adopt, the more secure your retirement will be.

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More importantly, investing in yourself is an investment that no one can take away. There’s no market downturn nor tragic circumstance that’ll wipe your knowledge and experience.

But, how can you invest yourself?

Reading books, blogs, and anything that’ll help you learn new topics daily. Listen to podcasts and audiobooks on your commute to/from work.

Save money to buy courses and hire coaches. I used to believe hiring coaches was a waste of money when I could learn the subject alone.

But, coaches see your blind spots and hold you accountable. Hiring the right coach will help you achieve your goals faster than you would’ve alone.

Retire Happy with Excess Money

The key to a secure financial future doesn’t only belong to financial experts.

It’s possible for you and I. What if you were able to retire earlier than most people and weren’t a financial planner? What if you were able to focus on what you enjoy doing the most while your money was working hard for you?

I know this sounds impossible now, but the truth is you’re capable of taking charge of your retirement. I’m not a financial expert but I’ve learned how to invest my money by reading books and learning from others.

Investing your money is scary. So start small and invest a small amount of your money with a robo-advisor. Feel your money drop and rise for a month or two. Then, invest more and keep this up until you’re aggressively saving for retirement.

One day, you’ll wake up with a net worth you’re proud of – confident about your retirement. You now know a few strategies you can use to invest in your retirement. Will you take action to retire happy?

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Featured photo credit: Matthew Bennett via unsplash.com

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