How to Choose the Right Credit Counselor

We all know we’re supposed to pay our bills on time, never spend more than we earn, and overall just be fiscally responsible. That being said, sometimes life just gets in the way. There are some people who watch every penny and stash away money faithfully from each paycheck. Though unexpected circumstances like serious illnesses can eat away at savings awfully quickly. It’s been said that medical bills are the most common type of expense sought by debt collection agencies. Long hospital stays coupled with overly expensive, yet inadequate, health insurance can put you thousands of dollars in debt through no fault of your own. Then we can all remember the economic meltdown back in 2008. Millions of homeowners watched the value of the 401k’s diminish while the value of their homes plunged well into the negative equity range. There are just some matters that are outside of our control, and they can adversely affect our credit for years to come. That’s there’s no shame in seeking out help when you are in dire financial straits. The trick is finding the right type of credit counselor to meet your individual needs.

First and foremost, you want to find someone who is affordable! After all, you are in this situation because you are having financial difficulties. You don’t need to work with an expensive credit counselor who will put you further into debt. After you read this Lexington Law review, you will see the qualifications they have and the benefit of using them for your credit repair needs. They are a one-stop shop that can cover your needs from A to Z. Meaning, they not only have financial experts on staff, but they also employee lawyers and paralegals that can handle your proceedings from beginning to end.

Another important measurement for any credit repair and counseling company is that they are properly licensed to do business in your state or region. The last thing you want to do is sign a contract and hand over all of your personal data only to find out they are legally unable to help you.

Lastly, it’s nice to find a counseling company that can not only help you get out from under your mountain of debt, but they can also help prevent you from finding your way there again. There are reputable agencies out there that offer budget counseling, as well as savings and debt management classes. In fact, some of these agencies require that you attend their classes in order to receive their assistance.

Get Organized, Baby!

We take organization for granted, but did you know organization radically increases your productivity? Imagine the time you can save figuring your next move or where you put the things you need for today’s agenda. When you are organized, there is no wasted time on completing your daily routine. Do not worry, we get your distress. Every professional has fallen prey tedious routines and messy office desks. Papers are piling up and empty coffee cups begin to take space on your workplace.

In line with this, the National Associate of Professional Organizers (NAPO) conducted a survey among more than 1, 000 office workers. A whopping 82 percent said they feel being organized pays in terms of improving productivity and performance, yet 42 percent said they clean up their workplace only once a month. Moreover, 32 percent admitted to keeping a disorganized working desk. Workplace clutters usually includes food containers, papers and even boxes of office shoes. Aside from these things hamper productivity, keeping your desk unorganized leads to missed deadlines and tardiness. To solve this, get storage cabinets can quickly transform a cluttered garage or office desk into an organized space. In addition, here are some tips to increase productivity.

  1. Plan your day the night before. I know you may be sleepy, lazy or even tired to do this but it will save your ass out. No more late/absences just because you wasted so much time figuring your next move, or your OOTD-approved office look.
  2. Write things down. From grocery list, holidays, deadlines, and important dates like birthdays and anniversaries. In this manner, things are more organized and permanent. Also, follow your assigned schedules and deadlines strictly. By living an organized lifestyle, you can track your progress for those deadlines as well.
  3. Know when and where to unload stuff. Less things=less clutter. Donate your old clothes to charity or sell it in a bazaar. Things of your ex still at your apartment? Sell it in eBay or Craiglist. In this manner, you only have what you need to keep.
  4. Learn to delegate properly. Hey, you do not have the superpowers to do everything. Make sure you know the strengths and weaknesses of your colleagues so you can get done things efficiently and effectively. If you keep doing all the things alone, you will not only lose your precious time but it will also be detrimental to your well-being. Lastly, it will also crash down your business or organization.
  5. Create an email-checking schedule. Make sure that you do not constantly refresh your emails from time to time. Before you know it, you already consumed 5 hours of your time answering emails. Do not also ignore emails altogether because it would take a toll on your accountability. Also, delayed communication can create misunderstandings in the workplace. The recommended email schedule is to answer emails four times a day, 20 minutes allocated for each period. You may start handling emails to start your day, before lunch break, mid-afternoon (preferably between 2 and before leaving the workplace.
  6. Utilize automation – If you can set up automatic payments for employees or simply paying your monthly utility bills, do so. Not worrying about paying bills on time will remove stress in your life so you can focus your time and energy to more productive things.
  7. Schedule your personal time. We can’t always unleash our inner Rihanna and work, work, work all the time. Non-stop working leads to stress and over fatigue, thus completely killing your productivity and overall well-being. Dedicate this allotted time to family, beau, friends or hobbies.

10 Tools That Will Help You Keep Your Finances in Check

Financial tools

This is a guest post by Sarah Pass at IdealDS.co.uk.

Managing your finances can often feel like an uphill struggle. When you’ve got bills piling up, and with food and fuel prices rising all the time, keeping your finances in check is more important than ever.

From basic budgeting to making sure you’re not paying too much tax, taking the time to get a firm grip on your finances will always pay dividends – you’ll have more money in your pocket at the end of each month, which you can put into savings and investments for your future.

There are plenty of tools out there that you can use to help make sense of your money. In this article, we look at 10 of the best…

Excel

If you have a Windows PC or laptop, there’s a good chance you’ve got MS Excel (Microsoft’s industry-leading spreadsheet software) installed on your machine already. If you have a Mac, it’s available on that platform too.

Excel is as simple or as complex as you want it to be, but as a tool for monitoring you’re overall income and expenditure, and making forecasts for the future so you can budget effectively, it’s hard to beat. It’s accessible enough to be used at home, but powerful enough that big companies use it every day as well.

Don’t worry if you’re new to Excel – you don’t have to worry about setting up complex formulas and layouts yourself. Simply download a ready-made budget template here.

Quicken

Quicken is one of the best-established personal finance tools around – the first version was released in the 90s, and it’s still going strong today, available on both Windows and Mac, as well as on iPhone and Android. For most people, Quicken Starter will be sufficient – this will help you see where your money’s going, make income and expenditure projections, and set alerts to remind you when bills need to be paid etc. If you want to manage all your finances (current account, savings account, loans, credit cards etc.) in one place, Quicken is a flexible and intuitive tool that doesn’t cost much at all to buy.

Shoeboxed

Shoeboxed is a neat smartphone app that lets you create digital copies of all your receipts, plus business cards and other bills, using your phone’s built-in camera. This is great if you’re on a business trip and need to claim things back on expenses, but it’s also just a useful tool for keeping a visual record of what you’re spending. You can input this data into something like Excel or Quicken.

Yodlee

Yodlee is a powerful system that can automatically pull data from all your different accounts and investments onto one screen, and their aggregation engine is used to power a number of other services. Unlike most other software, Yodlee can process and present your finances in real time, making its reminders and alerts especially useful. Some features are only available in the US, but the free MoneyCenter tools are still well worth a look.

ToshI

ToshI is another tools that lets you track outgoings and income, but the way it visualises this information is far more intuitive and nice to look at than many of the alternatives. You can even produce custom infographics to help you get a quick, visual snapshot of your finances. ToshI offer free and Pro versions, as well as apps for all major mobile operating systems.

Cashbase

Marketed as “personal finance software for people who hate personal finance software,” CashBase is another slick option for anyone who wants to track their expenses, create budgets, project cashflow, and check the state of their finances from any location. Budgets, cashflow projections, weekly reports and 12-hour customer support are only available for paid users – a Pro account costs $5 a month. However, there are still more than enough features bundled into the free version for this to earn a place on our list.

Xero

Xero is aimed more at self-employed users and small businesses, and is billed as “the world’s easiest accounting software.” From payroll and expenses to stock control and asset depreciation, this software allows you to monitor and manage your business finances in one place. A free trial is available, and the most popular price plan costs £19/month.

eBay

eBay is a great tool that can both save and make you money. Download the app, and use it when you’re out shopping to see if you can get the same items or an acceptable alternative cheaper from an eBay seller. You can also use this to sell any unwanted items and make a bit of extra cash.

Amazon Price Check

The Amazon Price Check app lets you scan the barcode of a product in your local store and check whether you can get it for less on Amazon, giving you the best of both worlds. Smaller retailers aren’t exactly delighted with the concept, but it’s great news for price-conscious consumers.

Your Bank’s App

If you only use one tool on this list, make it this one. Most major banks have mobile banking apps now, allowing you to check your balance, make transfers between accounts, and pay other businesses and individuals, wherever you are. With a mobile banking app on your phone, there’s no excuse for not knowing the state of your finances. No more unopened statements and no more unauthorised overdrafts – it’s time to take control and this is a fabulous first step.

Image by Images_of_Money

How to Use Twitter to Improve Your Finances

Twitter and your finances

Have you noticed the way everyone is using twitter as a reliable source for gossip and current events these days?  The news will quote a tweet or two most nights, television shows are encouraging you to use #hashtags to comment about the episode in real time and the number of people tweeting and listening is growing all the time – there are 11 new accounts created every second!

In this post I’m going to show you how to use twitter to get more information, better service and even discounts that will help to improve your personal finances.

How People Use Twitter

The best thing about twitter in my opinion is that it is so available and open to anyone.  You can tweet to your friends, follow famous people and get up to the minute updates for pretty much any service currently available.  The marketing potential of twitter is huge, so just about every business has created a presence and is flogging their wares.  And while it can be a great marketing tool, it is also a good listening post and a way to gauge consumer perception, which is often what businesses are more interested in.

Did you know that twitter is one of the biggest real time search engines on the internet?

If you want to know what is trending around the world right now, or what people are saying about a certain topic, then twitter search is perfect for this.  In fact it is so good that twitter is used as a search engine more often than both Bing and Yahoo combined.

So how does this help our finances?  Easy, it gives you a direct line to just about any service you want.  If you are having a tough time with a business over the phone, try tweeting instead and see what happens.  Most of these businesses are dedicating time to monitoring what is being said about them and they are generally very quick to put out a fire on social sharing networks for fear of bad news going viral.

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Example

Let’s say you have been trying to get some help from your bank, but the staff have been less than responsive.  You decide to try tweeting to the bank instead, knowing that a more public statement might get you a response.  Here is what you do:

  1. If you don’t have one, sign up for a twitter account, it takes no time at all.
  2. Find your bank by searching twitter for them by name.  Once you find them, go to their profile page and click the follow button.
  3. Compose a thoughtful tweet and insert the bank twitter name so that they will see they have been mentioned.
  4. Wait for a response – this shouldn’t take long if you tweet during business hours.[/box]
It is highly likely that the bank will friend you, then tweet back with a generic message asking you to Direct Message (DM) them you phone number.  Before you know it you are talking with someone from their central branch who can provide a lot more help and make a lot more decisions on the spot.

I’ve had some very good success with this in the past, particularly with banks and other large service providers.  I suggest you try experimenting with this technique to see how it can help you.

Here are some things you can try to get better service and improve your financial position:

Tweet to your bank or even better a competitor and ask what their best home loan rate is, or if you can have a discount on other fees.  There is so much competition around at the moment that banks will be unusually helpful in an attempt to either keep you as a customer, or lure you over as a new one by offering some very nice incentives.

Banks on twitter

Tweet to your insurance company to comment about poor service or something you need help with.  Big service providers really don’t want to see people complaining about them online, so they are usually pretty good at following up.  If you can’t get what you want by phone, jump onto twitter instead.

Insurance and twitter

Tweet to your gas, electricity or other service provider to sort out a billing issue.  If you are having problems, go ahead and complain on twitter.  There is really no need to wait on the end of a phone to chase up problems, these days any decent service provider is willing to do the running around for you!

service providers on twitter I’m sure that you can think of lots of other ways to use twitter to get a better service and save your time and money, so go ahead and give it a go.  I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below as well.

How to Follow Through on Your Thoughts, Achieve Goals and Kick Ass

Accountability definition

There are three things that stop most people from looking after their personal finances;

  1. it’s boring
  2. finding the time is hard
  3. it can take a really long time to see any significant result

Even I struggle with applying the effort to work on my personal finances and I write about why you should be doing it every single week.  While it can be easy to lump your personal finances into a ‘too hard‘ pile, it really isn’t any different to the other things you do in life and manage to make time for.

I often don’t feel like staying up all hours of the night writing, but I do it consistently because I want to get better and grow something I feel passionate about.  I don’t generally want to go to the gym, but I do it to stay healthy and feel better as a result.  I especially don’t want to go to work 5 days a week when I could be doing other things, but I do it because I know I am working towards something.

I spend a fair amount of time thinking about the things that I do and don’t like doing, mostly so I can develop ways to do more of what I want and less of what I don’t.  Over time, I’ve realised that the catalyst for taking action, even when I don’t feel like it, has been having someone that holds me accountable.

The Accountability Definition

There are certain things that are generally expected of you in life.  Most people are generally expected to go to school and do the right thing, get a job and do the right thing and go through life doing the right thing.  We do this because there are generally people that hold us accountable along the way.  Most people are quite good at doing the right thing, possibly because they are just good people (which is the way I like to imagine it), but more likely because there are consequences if they don’t.

I think that I probably work harder for someone else than I do for myself, is this really the way it should be?  Perhaps not, but I have a very clear view of who holds me accountable and know that I need to produce results.

Fortunately for most of us the rest of our lives aren’t generally too regulated, the freedom is great, but sometimes it can also be a problem.  Because we spend a lot of our time doing the things we have to do for others, we often don’t do the things that we should for ourselves.  If you are really serious about your personal finances, then it might be worth implementing some whip cracking tactics in order to get more done.

Who is Cracking the Whip?

I’ve spoken about the power of groups before, they can be a really useful way to help you achieve more in any aspect of your life. As far as I’m concerned a group is any number of people above one, so if you can find yourself a buddy, then you are in business.

Many people turn to their partner or family member at this point and expect them to be their personal finance fitness coach, reminding, encouraging, insulting and rewarding all of their efforts (or lack thereof).  These people can be great support and you do need them on your side, but often you are too close to them, so they have far less than the desired effect.

What you really need is a friend and preferably a hard ass that won’t take excuses, even better is if they also share a similar interest to you (this way you get to dish it back up to them and encourage each other).  My gym example demonstrates this perfectly, I go because I have made a commitment to a bunch of friends.  If I don’t turn up, they get on my case (and I feel bad about letting them down), if they don’t turn up then I do the same to them.

Your personal finances are no different. If you can find multiple people to get involved, all the better, but try finding at least one person that will commit to holding you accountable and make sure you are just as committed to them in return.

Do One Thing

Doing one thing at a time is the fastest way to achieve any goal.  Strangely, most people have trouble with this concept and try to multitask as much as possible.

The logic is very basic; the further you spread yourself, the less energy you can put into a task, the harder it is to reach your goal.

It is far better to be super specific and do one thing at a time.  Many people don’t like this approach because they can’t see quick gains or big differences immediately, so they take on too much.  It can be easy to get frustrated with your personal finances because of this, but if you focus on doing one thing at a time, you will be amazed how quickly you can see a change.

Use the single objective approach to your advantage and break down every goal, every process, every step in your personal finance plan.  Picture yourself as a project manager and develop a timeline with events and milestones you want to reach in order to deliver your final objective. Once you have your timeline of single objectives, hand this plan to your boss (the whip cracker) and make them hold you accountable.

Accountability Tools

All of your work up to now is going to be completely useless unless you have a way to set your objectives, schedule timely reminders and be able to track your progress, so I’ve put together a list of tools that will help hold you accountable.

Pen and paper

Remember these guys? they can be especially helpful when the paper is a sticky note or you have some tape as well.  Write down one step, with a delivery date and stick it somewhere you will see it everyday (bathroom, wardrobe, car, office – the more the better).  Action your task, then stick up a new one (make sure you give a copy to your whip cracker as well).

Google Calendar / Spreadsheets / Documents

If you are already using Google docs, this is easy.  If not, then I suggest you give them a go.  As well as being very simple to use (just like your normal computer software), they can be conveniently accessed from anywhere you can get an Internet connection.  Best of all you can share Google Docs with anyone you want.  Step out your plan in a spreadsheet, write up an outline in a document, and most importantly enter critical dates and reminders in the calendar.  Share these with your personal finance buddy and they can track your every move and provide valuable encouragement and feedback.

Tip: if you have a smart phone, sync your google calendar and get reminders everywhere you go.

Skype

I’m sure you know about Skype, but what do you use it for?  Skype can be a great accountability tool if you schedule regular calls with your designated whip cracker (make dates in your Google calendar).  Sure you could do this by phone, but having to look someone in the face and tell them why you didn’t do what you said you were going to do should be a whole lot more effective.

Stickk.com

I stole this idea from Tim Ferriss, but I’m sure he won’t mind.  Stickk is an online tool that helps you draw up a commitment contract that binds you into achieving a personal goal.  Set a goal and (financial) incentive, then choose a referee and some supporters to follow your progress.  If you win, you get your incentive back, if you fail you can choose where it goes (a good cause is always nice).

Facebook and Twitter

Most people spend their time writing updates about the food they just ate or complaining about work, but Facebook and Twitter can be very useful accountability tools too.  Try writing an update on Facebook about a goal you have and ask others to help you out with ideas and tips or to remind you of your goal by leaving regular posts on your wall.  Go follow some interesting people on Twitter that have the same goals as you and interact with them by sharing resources, giving shout-outs and encouraging their achievements (there is a very good chance then will do the same back to you).

Blogging

If you want to connect with more people that are interested in the same thing as you, you may like to try a blog. There are a lot of personal finance bloggers that use this medium to publicly list and track their debt, or personal goals in order to remain motivated.  This kind of transparency is often very refreshing and readers are generally very good at tracking progress, encouraging you and holding you to account.  You can set up a free blog in a matter of minutes with Blogger or pay a few dollars and get a fully hosted website like this one if you plan to do it over the long term.

Forums and Online Groups

There are forums and online groups for just about every topic you can think of, Yakezie is my personal site of choice for all things related to personal finance and blogging.  Whatever it is you are interested in (saving, stocks, property), you can find it by typing this, followed by the word forum or group into Google (simple right?).  If you want to get more specific and find groups near to you, just add your location to the search and see what comes up.

Tip: Be as engaging as you can and give as much (value) as you can.  The more you give to others, the higher the chance they will give back to you.  The online world is very much a 2-way street.

Virtual Assistant

If you are really want to take this to the next level and get very serious about achieving your goals, then why not get your very own PA? It is very easy to find someone through an online site like oDesk, Elance, or post an advert on Craigslist.  Pay them an hourly rate (this can range from $5 to $50) and get them to help with almost anything you like.  Maybe they can do some ground work for you investigating the best deals on insurance, or do online research for your business idea. perhaps you could outsource some writing or design work, or maybe you just want them to keep your calendar and harass you about doing the things that really need to be done on a regular basis.

Whatever you end up doing to improve your accountability, make sure it works for you and that you stick with it.  It may take a little while to pick up the habit, but with someone to help, there is a much better chance of success.

I hope that there is something in here that you find useful.  If you have some other tools and suggestions I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Image by Stéfan