Financial Assistance

Don’t Leave Money on the Table – Pay Yourself First

Before Thanksgiving comes the benefits-enrollment season, and while most of us know we should be saving more, many people feel overwhelmed trying to figure out their options. The Internal Revenue Service recently announced an increase in the contribution limits to retirement savings plans, but only about half of all working Americans contribute regularly, meaning they are missing out on a tax benefit and any potential employer match. The rule of thumb in saving is “pay yourself first”, but that’s hard to do when there are so many demands on your income. How you think about saving – about debt, about your budgeted fixed and variable expenses – can make a big difference in how quickly you reach your financial goals.

If your bank balance dwindles towards the end of every month, leaving your savings jar empty, your first step should be to examine your budget. Fixed expenses are those items that don’t change, month to month, like rent, utilities or a car payment. Variable expenses are those items you maintain some control over, like groceries, entertainment. Then there are those expected AND unexpected items that pop up; periodic expenses are those you can anticipate and budget for, like annual membership dues or tax payments. Nothing in life goes exactly to plan, so everyone needs an emergency fund to help out when it doesn’t.  

Most people can easily find places to trim variable expenses and plan for periodic ones, and your lifestyle should align with your income, but making serious headway on the road to financial security may require a rethink of what you really need – including what you consider a fixed expense today.

HGTV’s tiny houses and Bravo’s frugality reality series are evidence that what might have seemed like extreme lifestyle changes ten years ago are now worth considering. There is no shortage of stories about people who have drastically cut their cost of living to accelerate their financial success. It all starts with a dollar, knowing how many you have, where it is going, and plugging the holes.  

Let’s return to the pay-yourself-first mantra. Debt is the biggest barrier to saving, so paying it down is the essential first step. Stop accumulating it (by reducing your variable expenses), and take a hard look at cutting your fixed (and periodic) expenses. For some that may mean downsizing, holding off on a new car, or setting up a daycare co-op. A certified nonprofit financial advocate can review your income, your expenses and your debt, and help you come up with a budget that meets your goals.

Making big changes to either your fixed or variable expenses is going to affect your lifestyle, but try to keep your eyes focused on the long-term benefits. Dedicate as much as you can to the savings options available to you, like 401k and 403b plans, especially if your employer offers to match it. Contribute automatically each paycheck, and if you can possibly avoid it, never leave free money on the table!

Decisions about your health insurance premiums – a fixed expense – are also on the table during the benefits enrollment season. It is very important to take the time to get a clear picture of your costs – your copays, deductibles and prescription drug coverage as well (the variable expenses associated with health care).

It never hurts to take advantage of a free session with a certified financial advocate during benefits enrollment season. Find more room in your budget, tackle your debt and enjoy the peace of mind that comes with financial stability.

Hosting a Halloween Party that Won’t Haunt your Budget

Budgeting for the holidays

Does Halloween invariably freak out your October budget? Research says it deserves its own line item, with the 175 million consumers expected to spend an average of $86.79 – or $9 billion – on the holiday, according to the National Retail Association.

It is easy to get caught up in the fun and forget to be frugal. Many a costume and decoration has found its way to the graveyard of impulse purchases, haunting you from the place you stored them last year, but can no longer remember. With a little forethought, creativity and DIY elbow grease, you can delight in the fright without saying boo to your budget.

Parties, Pets, Personalities

It’s no surprise Halloween is coming! Decide on a family theme early this year and build around it. Half the fun of the festivities is in the planning!   

One of the biggest expenses are costumes. We’ve all had the experience of searching for a last-minute disguise we know will be destined for the trash heap the next day. Add a child or pet to wardrobe and the cost of store-bought dress up becomes dreadful.

Make-up not masks! Forget sweaty and stinky head coverings made in China. Use cosmetics or cheap face paint, or create a mask you can print and mount on cardboard. Basics like string, cotton balls, glue and markers are back in fashion!

Use your body as a canvas. Mount homemade costumes on a background of neutral clothing. If you are forced to buy a guise, get one that doubles as pajamas.

Fall victim to cuteness! Homemade warms the heart of the maker, the wearer and the admirer. Pinterest is papered with affordable costume ideas for your kids, and maybe even more importantly, your pet! Keep things simple, comfortable and adaptable. And remember, a quirky costume is a talking point!

If you are hosting a get together, carry the theme over to potluck! Send invitations to your friends with creepy party food ideas, like boo-scotti, icky intestines bread, or a skeleton made of fresh vegetables. Tickle your friends’ imaginations and keep people laughing all night!

The truth is a lot of us feel pressure to party, so it isn’t without stress. Stay focused on having the fun you can afford and face your fears! Talk to one of our credit counselors for free advice!

Guidewell Expands Homebuyer Education Programs and Mortgage Solutions Counseling with Big HUD Grant Increase

Guidewell Financial Solutions (CCCSMD) has been awarded $398,200 by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to provide education and counseling in nine states. The sizable increase, up from a mere $27,000 as a subgrantee in 2017, recognizes the Maryland nonprofit agency’s growth as an approved provider.  

“We are incredibly excited to partner directly with HUD on our first national grant, which will enable us to support 1,800 people wherever they are on their homeownership journey,” said Guidewell President and CEO Helene Raynaud. “Everyone faces both challenges and opportunities in the course of their financial lives, particularly when it comes to housing. Our certified counselors are solutions focused and can help people sort through their options and make the best decision for their personal situation.

Guidewell has steadily expanded first-time homeownership programs, adding branch locations in California, Delaware, Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Partnerships with Consumer Education Services, Inc. and TakeCharge America reach consumers in North Carolina and Arizona. The agency’s call center infrastructure has greatly increased its capacity to provide counseling, and the addition of staff with industry experience and expertise has improved service quality.

“Since 2009, Consumer Education Services Inc. (CESI) has been serving individuals and families with an extensive program of homebuyer education, foreclosure prevention, reverse mortgage counseling and credit education through our HUD certified Homeownership Center.” Said Mike Croxson, President and CEO of CESI.

“Our partnership with Guidewell and TakeCharge America is a tremendous opportunity to collaborate and expand our reach as we work together to support these families and help them achieve their dream of homeownership, as well as empower them to build economic security for their future,” said Croxson.

 “As a pioneer in nonprofit financial counseling, we have always worked to offer consumers guidance where it’s needed most. Right now, new homebuyers are in great need of financial education so they start their journeys on solid footing, preempting future financial setbacks,” said Take Charge America CEO David Richardson.

“We are eager to partner with Guidewell Financial Solutions and provide housing counseling in our home state of Arizona. Together, we can greatly impact a wide range of individuals, families and communities,” he said. 

Counseling improves housing outcomes for homebuyers, homeowners, and renters. Last year, HUD published research findings summarizing the impact of housing counseling has on families’ housing options and choices. In addition, recent research from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia and the Urban Institute continue to find housing counselors provide substantial benefits for first time homebuyers and families struggling to prevent foreclosure.

HUD’s $47 million in funding will be distributed among 31 national and regional and six multi-state organizations,19 State Housing Finance Agencies (SHFAs) and 207 local housing counseling agencies and community-based organizations that assist low- and moderate-income families to improve their housing conditions.

For over 50 years, Guidewell Financial Solutions (also known as CCCMD – Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Maryland and Delaware, Inc.) has helped consumers understand where their money is going and empowered them through education to make a realistic budget, pay down debt and achieve their goals. Approved in July 2018 as a HUD National Intermediary, Guidewell Financial Solutions provides housing counseling to include: Pre-purchase/homebuying, home maintenance/post-purchase, foreclosure prevention, rental, reverse mortgage and HECM default counseling, as well as in-person and online homebuyer workshops. Our services are available in English and Spanish.

CESI is a nonprofit provider of personal financial education and solutions headquartered in Raleigh, North Carolina with a mission to enhance economic security for everyone they serve. Since 1998, their Homeownership Center has helped hundreds of thousands of families nationwide  work through their financial challenges to find affordable housing solutions.

Founded in 1987, Take Charge America, Inc. is a national nonprofit agency headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona offering financial education and counseling services with a mission to help people achieve self-reliance and stability. The agency offers foreclosure prevention services as well as pre-purchase, homebuying and reverse mortgage counseling.

Prepare Financially for Emergencies – Make a Disaster-Recovery Plan

It has been a doozy of a year for catastrophes across the United States and globally: From raging forest fires, to hurricanes and tornados, to volcanic eruptions and gas-line explosions. As we witness the devastation in the news and send our donations and prayers to those affected, it is a good time to consider how prepared you are should disaster strike.

Sometimes the forecast is long enough out to get ready for a storm, but they are unpredictable and in many cases hit without warning. You may be forced to evacuate or even relocate with very little notice. Here are some simple steps you can take to ensure if everything around you is disrupted, you stay on solid ground.

Keep important financial documents organized and secure in waterproof packaging. These include driver’s licenses, passports, social security cards, birth certificates, marriage/divorce and other records. You may need copies to apply for aid from FEMA or to make insurance claims.

Cash is king when the power is out. Make sure you have access to funds. Keep enough on hand so you can buy food, water and gas for a few days. Set up direct deposit of your paycheck and other income so you are not dependent on paper checks.

Everyone needs a rainy day fund. Set a goal to put aside enough money to support yourself for three months. If saving is a struggle, talk to a credit counselor for free budgeting and debt repayment advice to increase your financial security.

Communicate with your financial institution and any creditors. Many lenders and credit card companies will work with you to make concessions after such events. Give them a call and explain what is going on, and make sure any bills are forwarded if you are forced to relocate.

Keep an eagle eye out for scammer. Unfortunately, tragedy also brings out the worst in people. Be wary of soliciting, price gouging and looting. Secure your property and don’t share personal information with unauthorized people.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Talk to a CCCSMD certified credit counselor for free financial health check!

three major types of expenses

Three Major Types of Expenses

Three Major Types of Expenses

The next step in setting up a budget is to list your monthly expenses. There are three major types of expenses we all pay: fixed, variable, and periodic. Do you know the difference?

A “fixed expense” is a cost that does not change from time period to time period, or changes only very slightly. Which of these is a fixed expense?

  1. Your grocery bill
  2. Home repairs
  3. Your mortgage or rent

The correct answer is “C.” Car payments, real estate taxes, and life insurance premiums are also fixed expenses.

Guidewell Financial Joins National Network of Financial Services Innovators

Guidewell Financial Solutions , a certified, nonprofit housing and credit counseling provider, has joined the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) – a national network focused on consumer financial health – on Financial Health Matters Day.

 

Financial Health Matters Day is an annual awareness holiday hosted by CFSI. Guidewell Financial Solutions, together with other network members, use this holiday as a platform to continue paving the way for financial health for all consumers.

 

While the membership for Guidewell Financial Solutions primarily includes insight into what the marketplace needs through advanced consumer and industry research, Guidewell Financial Solutions will be able to take these collective learnings and advance financial products and services in Maryland and beyond to promote financial health locally.

 

“This membership offers a tremendous opportunity for our organization to use market intelligence and resources from our peers to further our mission and offerings in our community,” said Guidewell Financial Solutions’ CEO Helene Raynaud.

 

For additional information on Guidewell Financial Solutions’ CFSI Financial Health Network membership, please call 800-642-2227. For general information on Guidewell Financial Solutions, visit http://www.guidewellfs.org/ .

Happy Small Business Week, From Our Small Business to Yours

The national Small Business Week logo may feature a series of storefronts, but as a leading nonprofit financial counselor for small business owners, we know that many of them operate outside of Main Street, USA.

 

Maryland has more than 580,000 small businesses and they all look different. From the farmers hosting the local market you shop at and the person who cuts your hair, to your favorite food truck and the team who plows snow out of your neighborhood – we all rely on small business owners every day. And they rely on us.

 

We teach business owners how to separate their personal and business finances; understand their personal credit’s impact on their business; utilize a customized financial action plan to better manage a small business; and manage personal debt at the same time.

 

As a small business owner, having access to a nonprofit financial counselor like Guidewell Financial Solutions can make a big difference in seeing personal and business financial dreams become a reality. We recognize that money management – including spending, saving, and borrowing – is an important life skill, but it’s also important for small business owners at every stage of the business lifecycle.

 

As we celebrate National Small Business Week this week, we’re offering afree guide to separating personal and business finances – typically the first step for small business owners starting off. The six-page guide explains everything from Employer ID Numbers to financial coaching. We’re committed to supporting small business owners with resources and tools that support their financial wellbeing.

 

With certified credit counselors and financial education experts guiding individuals, families, and small business owners on money management every day, our team is acutely aware of the financial challenges small business owners face. 

 

Every small business owner counseled by Guidewell Financial Solutions walks away with a financial action plan and a full assessment of their financial challenges. Small business owners can arrange financial coaching in person or on the phone.

 

Anyone with an interest in making the most of their personal financial goals while starting or growing a small business can connect with us today by visiting www.guidewellfs.org or calling toll-free 1-800-642-2227. 

 

Small business owners can also download our Open for Business Guide to Separating Personal and Business Finances here.

Celebrate America Saves Week by Saving Cash and Building Credit

What would you do with an extra $300.00? For less than $30.00 per month in savings for the rest of the year, you can find out. Guidewell Financial Solutions, an accredited, nonprofit financial counseling agency is celebrating America Saves Week – starting Monday, February 26 – with access to its Justine Petersen “Save2Build” program. 

America Saves is a weeklong Consumer Federation of America campaign promoting good savings behavior and a chance for individuals to assess their own saving status.

The campaign asks individuals to pledge a monthly savings amount because, they say, people with a plan save more successfully. Guidewell Financial’s Justine Petersen “Save2Build” program offers clients an opportunity to do just and more: save with monthly payments and simultaneously build credit.

Under the “Save2Build” program, clients make monthly payments of about $26.00 over 12 months to a locked savings account, and then receives the $300.00 saved at the end of the term. In the interim, every record of payment is shared with major credit reporting companies to build the client’s credit score over time.

“Consumers with higher credit scores may save up to $250,000 in interest and fees during their lives, so we know that credit score can directly impact how someone is able to build up a savings,” said President and CEO of Guidewell Financial, Helene Raynaud. “America Saves Week helps more communities understand healthy financial behaviors – like monthly automatic or recurring savings – which is the foundation that the ‘Save2Build’ program was built on. Monthly savings open the door to financial opportunity and fiscal well-being.”

Guidewell Financial Solutions works with individuals and families privately to develop a budget, figure out financial options, and even negotiate with creditors to repay debts. Guidewell Financial can help individuals reach their savings goals by reviewing budgets to find room to save, making recommendations on how to supplement income, and more. For more information about Guidewell Financial Solutions or the Justine Petersen “Save2Build” program, please contact Katie Kristensen, creditbuilding@justinepetersen.org.