Don’t Let a Surprise Pet-Related Expense Drive You into Debt

If you end up relying on a high-interest payday cash advance to cover your pet’s vet bill, neither of you will benefit in the long run.

Fur parents love their fur babies; in fact, 95 percent of pet owners consider their pets to be a part of the family. And while pets aren’t quite as expensive as kids, they can still run up some pretty sizeable bills—especially if they get sick.

Pets are expensive.

The cost of owning a pet can put a lot of financial stress on low-income families. According to ASPCA estimates, the first-year cost of owning a pet exceeds $1,000, and most people spend more than $500 a year after that.

Even if you took these costs into account when you first welcomed your pet into your home, you may have experienced a change in income or other unexpected costs.  And a single pet healthcare emergency can cost several hundred dollars—an expense 40 percent of Americans would not be able to cover.

Some people might be tempted to take out short-term bad credit loans or predatory no credit check loans (like payday loans, cash advances, or even title loans) to pay for the cost of their pet’s care. But these small-dollar loans come with significant risks.

With short terms and average annual interest rates reaching almost 400 percent, short-term bad credit and no credit check loans can trap borrowers in a cycle of debt that can be difficult to overcome.

Instead of relying on expensive predatory loans to cover the cost of your pet’s care, consider the following strategies.

Budget and save.

First, consider whether you might be able to cut costs. Find ways to save money on groceries, cut out any unnecessary services, buy items used, and sell items you don’t need.

You should also compare prices for pet food and buy in bulk when you can.

If you’re a budgeting newbie, we have a helpful beginner’s guide that comes with a free downloadable budgeting spreadsheet to get you started. Even if your pet is in perfect health—or you don’t have any pets at all—you should have a monthly budget.

Visit a pet food bank.

If you’re struggling to afford pet food, check to see if there is a pet food bank in your area.

You can also contact local nonprofit organizations aimed at keeping pets with their owners. Some will be able to provide assistance with buying pet food.

Consider visiting a food bank for your own food as well. Meals on Wheels delivers both pet food and human food to families in need.

Seek help from a nonprofit.

When your pet is in need of expensive medical treatment, it can be difficult for the whole family. But before you take out a payday loan, get in touch with nonprofit organizations aimed at providing emergency medical assistance to pets in need.

The following organizations may be able to help:

The Humane Society also keeps a list of local and national resources, and the ASPCA can help you find local, low-cost spay and neuter programs.

Seek help from the community.

You should always ask friends or family members directly to begin with, but if that option isn’t available to you, you may be able to utilize crowdfunding.

When creating a campaign, be honest and detailed about your pet’s needs, and include pictures. The following sites allow you to raise money from the community:

Take out a lower-cost loan.

If you’re still in need of cash and can’t bear the thought of finding a new home for your pet, you may need to borrow money.

But short-term online loans and storefront cash advances should always be considered a last resort, and you should only borrow what you will reasonably be able to pay back.

Start by asking friends and family for financial assistance. Sure, this conversation will probably be uncomfortable, but they’re probably going to give you a much better deal than your average payday lender.

Next, visit local banks or credit unions, which offer lower-cost loans. If you have bad credit and are found ineligible for mainstream financial services, consider taking out a bad credit installment loan.

These personal loans often come with longer terms and lower interest rates than your typical payday loan. And with some bad credit installment lenders making your payments on time could even improve your credit history.

Find a new home for your pet.

It might be heartbreaking to say goodbye to your pet, but sometimes it’s in their best interest. If you can’t secure additional income, a loan won’t help you afford your pet in the long run.

You can list your pet on Craigslist, Petfinder, or Get Your Pet and personally ensure you find a loving home that meets your pet’s needs. You can also surrender your pet to The Humane Society.

Build your savings and your credit score.

If you’re in an immediate bind, this advice won’t be much good to you. But if you’re trying to plan ahead before a financial emergency strikes, you should focus on two things: building your emergency fund and improving your credit score.

Unlike money that you’re saving for retirement, an emergency fund should be easily accessible during times of financial duress. Start with the goal of building a $1,000 fund, but don’t stop there. The more money you have saved up for emergencies, the more secure you’ll be.

When it comes to your credit score, better credit means more access to low-cost loans and credit cards to help cover unforeseen expenses. Paying down your existing debt and paying your bills on time are the two best actions you can take to improve your score long-term.

Your pet has no idea how emergency funds or credit scores work, but if you’re financially prepared to weather a pricey veterinarian’s bill, we’re sure they’ll find a way to thank you for it—probably one that involves lots of licking and snuggles.

To learn more about how you can build your savings and your credit, check out these other posts and articles from OppLoans:

Do you have a personal finance question you’d like us to answer? Let us know! You can find us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Should You Get Life Insurance?

Life insurance can help protect the ones you love when you’re gone—but you want to make sure that you do your research before committing to a plan.

On this blog, we often write about ways that people can protect their financial futures. Oftentimes, this advice boils down to one simple maxim: Be prepared for the worst. And is there anything worse than a person’s death leaving their loved ones in dire financial straits?

Luckily, that’s where life insurance comes in.

“Everyone who has someone who depends on them, and would be placed in a worse off financial situation were they to die, almost always needs some form of life insurance,” said Certified Financial Planner Joel Ohman (@JoelOhman), founder of

But even once you decide to purchase a life insurance policy, there are still many more decisions ahead of you. Don’t worry. That’s why we’re here. When it comes to life insurance, here’s what you need to know.

How does life insurance work?

“A life insurance policy is a contract between you and an insurance company to provide you with coverage based upon your timely payment of premiums,” explained Chris Mason, senior vice president of sales distribution for independent health insurance agency HealthMarkets (@HealthMarkets).

“It provides a death benefit to your named beneficiary (generally a spouse) upon your deaths. When you pass away, your beneficiary files a claim with the insurance company to submit proof (a death certificate) of your passing.”

“The death benefits from life insurance are often used to pay for burial and final expenses, replace the income of the individual who has passed, and/or to pay off a mortgage,” he continued. “If you leave behind a spouse, children or other loved ones, life insurance policies can help alleviate any financial burdens when coping with the loss of a loved one.

“Losing a parent, partner or spouse can be one of the most emotionally challenging experiences any one of us can face. If you add the financial aspects of this loss, it can seem unbearable. Having life insurance helps mitigate some aspects of financial stress.”

While some life insurance policies can be used for purposes beyond a straightforward death benefit payout, Ohman warned that consumers should be cautious with plans like these.

“Unless there are complex estate planning requirements or the insured has exhausted all other investment options, then typically the idea to use life insurance outside of a straightforward death benefit payout is a fool’s errand that will only result in a fancier car for your insurance agent,” he said.

Term life insurance.

When considering a life insurance policy, you’ll have to choose between two basic types: term life insurance and permanent (or universal) life insurance.

“Term life insurance generally offers the highest death benefit for the lowest cost, ” said Mason. “It covers a specific period of time, generally ten, fifteen, twenty or thirty years. Policyholders pay an annual or monthly fixed premium that is renewable every year. If you are young, premiums for this type of life insurance are low but as you get older, the premiums increase.”

Nelson Lee, managing partner of insurtech company Pacific Wealth Solutions laid out some of the pros and cons of both term and permanent life insurance. For term life insurance, his pros were the following:

  • “In the short term, it’s much cheaper to buy the same death benefit compared to a permanent policy.”
  • “Simple to understand, harder to be misrepresented. Die in this term and get this much. Die outside of this term you get zero. Easy to explain, easy to sell, easy to make a decision.”

As for the cons, here’s what Lee had to say:

  • “If you die after the term expiration, you don’t get any death benefit claims. Zero insurance if you live too long.”
  • “If you die after the term expiration, you don’t get any of your premiums back. Zero money back if you end up wasting the policy. There are a few rare policies that partially return the premium many decades after purchase, but they tend to be much more expensive than regular term (defeats purpose of term), and the amount returned would be worth very little due to inflation after 20 years, so it’s not a real return of premium value.”

Additionally, Lee shared some statistics that might lead you away from a term life plan.

“On average, most studies indicate that less than two percent (in some studies less than one percent) of all terms ever pay out,” he said. “In other words, 98-99 percent of all term clients end up wasting their money, gifting it to the insurance carriers in exchange for nothing when they die.”

“This is an average, meaning if you’re a younger person, your odds are even worse, simply due to life expectancy and age relationships.”

Permanent life insurance.

“Permanent life insurance is policies that will cover you until you die as long as the premiums are paid,” explained Mason. “Part of the premium goes toward cash value, allowing you to accumulate tax-deferred savings. Most permanent life insurance policies do not have a significant cash value in the early years, but they can perform very well over time if funded properly.”

If that sounds a lot like an investment account—similar in some ways to a 401(k) —that’s because it is!

“Permanent life insurance carries a “cash value” that is like a bank/investment account, that the client can use as a savings/investments tool, or simply to make sure they can withdraw cash when it’s needed in the future or get some of their money back,” said Lee.

Here are Lee’s pros for permanent life insurance, which came with a warning that these benefits, while great, are still often overstated by proponents of these plans:

  • “As long as you keep the policy in force, you never ‘waste’ your money because insurance is permanent and never expires. Not possible to outlive your benefits.”
  • “You get a ‘cash value’ that gives you the opportunity to make investment gains on the premiums paid, in addition to simply wanting to get your money back at some point.”
  • “You have the opportunity to get all (or even more than) the premiums paid back, and still keep the insurance in force. Keep both, get money back and keep the insurance permanently.”
  • “You can loan against the policy cash value for tax-free or tax-deferred income/gains.”
  • “Death benefit can grow larger with time, as opposed to a fixed amount like term.”
  • “In some products, payment amounts and periods can be fixed and guaranteed.”
  • The top products will provide high rates of guarantees and very competitive risk-adjusted returns that may provide better risk-return tradeoffs than other investment alternatives.”

Similarly, Lee cautioned that his cons for permanent life insurance policies were also often misrepresented by those hoping to sell consumers on term policies instead:

  • “If you pick the wrong permanent policy, you could lapse it, and end up paying more than term, and still get no insurance when you die, if it lapses before death.”
  • “Mathematically and conceptually much more complicated than term, harder to understand, easier to misrepresent, easier for low-quality products (or agents) to disguise as competent ones.”
  • “Some (not all) products have ‘perpetual’ payments built in, meaning you must pay premiums every single year as long as you stay alive, or in some instances require you to pay at least until age 90 or 100, although this type is becoming rarer and less popular, and don’t perform well. This product type pays the highest commissions (of course).”
  • “Much higher premiums initially for the same amount of death benefit compared to term (although long term with proper cash value gains you more than making it back).”
  • “Some product designs have variable returns and variable costs that provide no downside protection or guarantee for clients, making it riskier than the client might perceive.”

Which should you choose?

Sorry to disappoint, but there isn’t really a right or wrong answer here. The right policy for you will depend on your age, means, and other circumstances. Still, one thing you should do no matter what is to dig in deep and understand the policies you’re choosing from before you make your final decision.

In terms of the age factor, Lee offered these thoughts:

“If you are an older person and you don’t expect yourself to outlive the term of your policy (you think you will die in 10 or 20 years), and you don’t mind not getting your money back if you do live longer, and also don’t mind getting zero insurance if you live longer, then term might be a good fit for you.”

“If you are younger (younger than 40), you have likely more than 99.5 percent chance of just wasting your money on nothing. At the benefit of agents and carriers.”

Lee also warned about the dangers of making sweeping assumptions about term policies versus permanent policies:

“Overly broad generalizations in investments/insurance are exactly that—overly broad, almost never true, and almost always misrepresented to exaggerated. The credibility and bias of people making such oversimplified claims must and should be examined.

“Term and permanent life insurance are both very broad terms that each cover thousands of different products. It is simply not possible to say which is better in a cookie-cutter manner, and each has a place in the insurance industry.

“Which is better depends on the desired outcome, age of the client, investment requirements, acceptance of worst outcomes, expectations, carrier selection, product design, tax situation, etc.

“How much the pros and cons out-weigh each other really just depend, and that first assumes you were accurately informed of the pros and cons in the first place (unlikely),” he concluded.

Ohlman, however, has a different assessment. “It’s very rare that you need any type of fancy life insurance policy other than a plain vanilla term life policy. Term life is simple, straightforward, and likely much cheaper than you think,” he said.

He cautioned that the worst thing you could do was make a decision—any decision—unprepared:

“The options for life insurance are vast: From whole life insurance to universal life insurance to many variations and permutations of the above, some with market participation and investment exposure and others with a dizzying array of riders and features that will make your head spin. Be very wary about purchasing something that you don’t fully understand.”

How can you save money on life insurance?

No matter what plan you end up choosing, you should try and find the most cost-effective solution possible. That doesn’t always mean finding the deal with the lowest price tag. Far from it. Paying slightly higher premiums and getting a lot more from your plan can be better than paying less and getting less.

When you’re starting out, Ohlman recommends using an online calculator to help you determine how what level of coverage you’ll need.

“There are many different life insurance calculators online that will give you a good ballpark estimate of how much life insurance you may need,” he said. “Be sure to do a little homework and at least understand some of the different variables that go into determining how much you need before speaking with your insurance agent or another financial professional.”

“The nice thing about using a life insurance calculator online is that you don’t have to do any math (unless you like doing math, of course!). Just plug in the numbers and press the button!”

“If you find yourself getting bogged down with all of the various calculators and different formulas used,” he added, “then take a step back and just ask yourself this question: ‘What is the absolute minimum amount of money that my loved ones would need if I passed away to not have to worry about money, not have to change their lifestyle or dreams, and not have to get a new job?’ Now double it.”

Mason also had three great pieces of advice to help you save money and find the most cost-effective plan:

  • “One of the most impactful ways to save on life insurance is to complete a needs analysis, as sometimes there is an overstatement or understatement. Doing the analysis with a licensed agent helps ensure you are buying the right amount of coverage and not buying too much, which could drive up the cost.”
  • “Buy life insurance while you are young! It only gets more expensive as you get older. I always advise people to not procrastinate because every year you age, the cost almost always goes up.”
  • “Work with an agent who can represent multiple carriers so they can see what might be the most competitively priced product for your needs. Different insurers have different stances on various health concerns, so having an array to review and choose from can help with costs.”

In the end, shopping for life insurance is a lot like shopping for any other large purchase. Do your research, carefully weigh the pros and cons, work with a professional when necessary, and then choose the plan that you feel works best for you!

Take care of your money—and your loved ones.

Taking out a life insurance policy is one of many things you can do to protect your family members and loved ones from financial disaster. In that way, it’s not all that different from building your savings, paying down your debt, and maintaining a good credit score.

When people don’t take care of those things, that’s how they end up needing substantial help when an unexpected bill or other financial shortfall takes them by surprise. It’s also how people end up relying on no credit check loans and short-term bad credit loans (like payday loans, title loans, and cash advances) to make ends meet, driving them into a cycle of debt.

There are steps you can take to protect your financial future—not to mention the futures of those you love. To learn more, check out these other posts and articles from OppLoans:

Do you have a  personal finance question you’d like us to answer? Let us know! You can find us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Nelson Lee began his career in Finance as an Investment Banking Intern at J.P Morgan, before spending 7 years at Northwestern Mutual (one of the largest mutual life insurers in the US), and Pacific Advisor, a 156-year old financial consulting firm, where he became its youngest ever Advisor of the Year in 2016, specializing in quantitative mathematics analysis of insurance transactions. Nelson founded Pacific Wealth Solutions in 2017 in pursuit to solve the most prevalent epidemics in the life insurance industry.
Chris Mason is the senior vice president of sales distribution for HealthMarkets (@HealthMarkets), one of the largest independent health insurance agencies in the US that distributes health, Medicare, life and supplemental insurance products from more than 200 companies.
Joel Ohman (@JoelOhman) is a Certified Financial Planner™ and the founder of and has been mentioned in many different publications including,,,,,,,, Reader’s Digest, USA Today,,, Yahoo Finance, etc.

So You’re Considering Bankruptcy … Now What?

Filing for bankruptcy isn’t fun, but it can also mean a fresh start. People who are drowning in debt and unable to make their payments should strongly consider it.

Your financial life is bound to be full of ups and downs. One day you’ll be celebrating a raise with a lovely dinner at a fancy restaurant only to have your car break down on the way home. The cost of the repairs wipes out the raise and then some, and now you’re worse off than when you started.

Sometimes you end up with multiple downturns in a row. And if those downturns don’t have any upturns in between them, well, this is how people end up relying on predatory no credit check loans and short-term bad credit loans (like title loans, payday loans, and cash advances) to make ends meet—but only succeed in driving themselves even further into debt.

As your debt grows, eventually it will get so big that you can no longer afford your payments. Forget paying that personal loan off ahead of schedule, you can’t pay it off on-schedule! Once your money situation gets bad enough, you’ll find yourself without many options.

One of your few remaining options, however, could be filing for bankruptcy.

And while bankruptcy sounds scary, the option exists to help you. So when should you consider bankruptcy? And what comes next you if you do decide to declare it?

What is bankruptcy?

Before we get into whether you should consider declaring bankruptcy, let’s just make sure we understand what it is. We’ll only address personal bankruptcy in this article, of which there are two primary kinds.

The two main types of personal bankruptcy are Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. Chapter 7 allows you to discharge almost all of your debts, but you’ll have to pass a means test first to show your income is too low to actually pay those debts. You’ll also have to hand over whatever liquid assets you have to pay off as much debt as possible before it’s discharged.

If your means are too great to pass the means test, you could still declare Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Chapter 13 bankruptcy will require you to submit a payment plan to a bankruptcy court, and if it’s approved, you’ll be able to pay off those debts over the next three to five years.

So how do you know if it’s time for you to declare bankruptcy?

How to know it’s time to declare bankruptcy.

Declaring bankruptcy isn’t as easy as the television would have you believe. Every situation is different, so it’s important to examine whether bankruptcy is the best option in your personal situation. Ideally, you’ll want to consult a bankruptcy attorney to give you guidance.

“In general, bankruptcy is a legal action in federal court meant to protect the consumer from his or her creditors,” explained Todd Christensen, education manager for Money Fit by DRS, Inc. (@MoneyFitbyDRS). “Most commonly, filers are trying to protect their home from foreclosure, but they may also be attempting to protect their vehicle (which is often a bad financial move) and, more importantly, their wages from garnishment.

“If a consumer cannot pay their bills on their own, cannot negotiate better repayment terms with their creditors, and cannot work out a debt management plan with a nonprofit credit counseling agency (like those found at, bankruptcy is usually the next—and last—step.”

If you do think bankruptcy could be right for you, there are a few steps you’ll have to go through.

“Meet with a credit counseling agency approved by the US Department of Justice’s Executive Office of the US Trustee to complete a budget briefing and obtain the required certificate of credit counseling,” outlined Christensen. “The thought back in 2005 when Congress added this and other requirements to the bankruptcy filing process was that meeting with a credit counselor might hopefully steer some consumers away from bankruptcy if it was not necessary, and have them instead pay off 100 percent of their debts through a credit counselor.

“If bankruptcy is still the most logical step, the consumer either meets with a bankruptcy attorney or completes the court paperwork (each district court has its own fees required to pay with the petition, as well as its own fee waiver policies).

“After the case is filed, the consumer must attend the 341 meeting of the creditors. Before the case is discharged and the consumer is relieved of his or her responsibility to pay the debts, he or she must complete a 2-hour debtor education course approved by the same US Department of Justice office.”

And then you’ll have declared bankruptcy.

So now what?

You’ve successfully declared bankruptcy. What comes next?

Leslie H. Tayne Esq. (@LeslieHTayneEsq), Founder and Head Attorney at Tayne Law Group (@taynelawgroup), offered some actions to take and suggestions for living that  post-bankruptcy life:

“Bankruptcy stays on your credit report for up to 10 years, which could make getting new credit difficult for that period of time. Your credit score will definitely take a hit from filing bankruptcy, but how much it drops will depend on your individual situation. If you had good credit before filing, bankruptcy will likely have a more profound impact on your credit than if you had poor credit. It will take time for your credit to recover from bankruptcy. You may consider opening a secured credit card to start rebuilding.

“If you have accounts discharged during bankruptcy, they will now have a zero balance but will show up as discharged on your credit report, which may be frowned upon by lenders and creditors. However, ‘discharged’ will likely be looked upon more favorably than an account that’s marked as unpaid or past due.

“After you’ve filed for bankruptcy, you’ll need to get back on track and adjust to your new financial situation. The first step will be to sit down and rewrite your budget. Your budget may have been the root of the problem that led to bankruptcy in the first place, so you’ll want to think critically and carefully when reviewing it. Take time to identify where the issues may have been and what you may be able to do to improve in those areas now that you have a chance for a fresh start.

“Because you may have had trouble managing your finances previously, you may want to enlist some help after bankruptcy from a financial attorney or a financial expert to help you avoid falling back into the same habits.”

You still have rights.

Aside from the more general advice, there’s also a specific law you may want to familiarize yourself with.

“Much of my practice consists of suing creditors and debt collectors for violating bankruptcy discharge orders or consumer protection laws, including the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), and state consumer collection practices laws,” explained consumer protection attorney Donald E. Petersen.

“Consumers who have discharged a debt in bankruptcy and surrendered any collateral securing the debt should not be receiving calls or letters from the creditor (or debt collector) about the discharged accounts.

“The TCPA requires that companies using an Automated Telephone Dialing System (ATDS) or prerecorded or artificial voice when calling a cell phone must have the cell phone user’s prior express consent. Consumers who file bankruptcy typically provided the caller (or the caller’s principal or predecessor in interest) express consent by furnishing their cell phone number to the creditor.

“If a creditor (or debt collector) continues to call about a debt that the consumer discharged, the consumer should tell them ‘stop calling me’ rather than ‘call my bankruptcy attorney.’  Here is why.

“Many, if not most, bankruptcy courts will require the discharged creditors to pay the consumer very little compensation for the aggravation that the creditor’s constant calls and letters continue to cause. The TCPA, however, provides that once the borrower revokes consent (i.e, tells the caller ‘stop calling’) the caller is liable for $500 per call and, if the violation is willful, an additional amount of up to $1,000 or, equivalently, $ 1,500 per call.”

Going into bankruptcy is never going to be fun. But if you’ve exhausted every other option, it can be the beginning of a brand new start. To learn more about how you can improve your financial situation moving forward, check out these other posts and articles from OppLoans:

Do you have a  personal finance question you’d like us to answer? Let us know! You can find us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Author and Accredited Financial Counselor®, Todd R. Christensen, MIM, MA, is Education Manager at Money Fit by DRS, Inc. (@MoneyFitbyDRS), a nationwide nonprofit financial wellness and credit counseling agency. Todd develops educational programs and produces materials that teach personal financial skills and responsibilities to all ages. Having facilitated nearly two thousand workshops since 2004 on the fundamentals of effective money management, he based his first book, Everyday Money for Everyday People (2014), on the discussions, tips, stories and ideas shared by the tens of thousands of individuals and couples in attendance.
Donald E. Petersen is an Orlando, Florida trial lawyer who represents consumers against companies who violate their rights under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, Fair Credit Reporting Act and other consumer protection laws.
Leslie H. Tayne, Esq. (@LeslieHTayneEsq) has nearly 20 years’ experience in the practice area of consumer and business financial debt-related services. Leslie is the founder and head attorney at Tayne Law Group (@taynelawgroup), which specializes in debt relief.

Is Community College Right for You?

With the costs of a four-year college education spiraling out of control, community colleges offer a much more affordable alternative for students.

For a long time now, there’s been a pretty specific idea of what the American Dream looks like. You immigrate to America, you work hard, you save enough money to send your kids to college, and then they land themselves squarely in the upper middle class.

But dreams change. Or maybe it’s reality that’s changing instead. For one, the traditional four-year college is more expensive than ever and it’s not getting any cheaper. And while graduates will often be stuck with loads of student debt, the sorts of salaries that might allow prompt payment of that debt are getting harder and harder to find.

That’s why it’s more important than ever to consider different options when it comes to transitioning from high school to the general workforce. One good option to consider? Community college.

Why it’s a good choice.

The experts we spoke to were all pretty enthusiastic about at least considering community college.

“Community college is a great — and overlooked — option for students who want to save on college tuition,” explained Dr. Sean Carton, Chief Strategist at idfive (@idfive). “According to the American Association of Community Colleges, the average yearly tuition at a community college is $3,660 as opposed to the average cost of a year at a state university at in-state rates ($10,230).

“While you can pursue a two-year associate’s degree at a community college and then transfer to a four-year school to get your bachelor’s degree, you don’t have to: many people attend community college in order to knock out a substantial chunk of their required general education classes.

“But you don’t have to be working towards an (eventual) bachelor’s degree to attend community college. Many community colleges offer two-year vocational programs that lead to employment in medicine (dental hygienist, registered nurse, MRI technician, etc.), aviation (air traffic controller, avionics technician), the law (paralegal), science (lab technician, geological/petroleum field technician), and other professions that often pay over $50,000 per year.”

Dr. Carton wasn’t the only one to suggest community colleges as an option for either eventually transferring to a four-year school or as an end to itself.

“If high school graduates seek up-to-date occupational/technical certifications, diplomas or degrees, then a nearby, affordable community college is often the best choice they could make,” advised Timothy G. Wiedman. Wiedman is a retired professor of Management & Human Resources at Doane University (@DoaneUniversity) and taught at a large community college for fifteen years before that.

“For example, for folks who have mechanical skills and enjoy working with their hands, HVAC training can lead to jobs that pay well and are in demand in many parts of the country. But training for interesting ‘indoor’ jobs (e.g., pharmacy technicians, veterinary assistants, and many others) is also available. The range of possibilities at larger community colleges would surprise a great many people.

“On the other hand, even if folks are interested in a four-year bachelor’s degree, investigating one of these two-year colleges can still make sense, since the majority of college-bound students live within commuting distance of a relatively inexpensive community college.

“Completing a two-year transfer program locally while living at home — and then transferring to a more expensive four-year school to complete a baccalaureate degree — will often save a great deal of money. In most cases, the content of the completed ‘transfer’ coursework will be nearly identical.

“Further, the individual attention available to freshmen at a community college is often superior to the attention that students receive in large, 200-student sections of introductory courses taught at many major universities.

“In addition, lower-level courses at universities are often taught by young graduate students (i.e., teaching assistants) who may have limited teaching experience and are often carrying heavy graduate course-loads that might well be their primary concerns.”

But we hear what you’re saying from the other side of the screen. You want to hear from someone with personal experience with community college. We’ve got you covered!

“Brittany and I both choose to go to community college first so I think I can offer some great insight,” recounted Kelan Kline of The Savvy Couple (@TheSavvyCouple). “When we were applying to colleges we knew we wanted to save money and understand the actual value of what we were paying for. We both decided to go to community college first to knock out most of our general freshmen prerequisites.

“The biggest driving factor was being able to save money. We both continued to live at home with our parents and commute to school. We picked a college close by with a great reputation for transferring credits to a four-year school. Brittany was able to get through her first two years of college for free with financial aid and I walked away with around $3,000 of student loans.”

Full disclosure.

If there were no advantages to a four-year college, they probably wouldn’t exist. Everyone would just go to community colleges. So what are the hypothetical downsides to community college?

Dr. Carton offered some community college cons to consider:

“Little to no ‘college experience.’ People often go part time and there’s usually no campus housing.

“Risk of credits not transferring. If you have a school in mind you want to transfer into once you’ve finished community college, check with their admissions office first to see what will transfer.

“You’ll enter a four-year school as an ‘outsider’ when others in your class are already established and have made friends.

“Technical school credits usually aren’t transferable to a 4-year school.”

OK, now it’s decision time.

Decision time.

Now you have a sense of the pros and cons to community college. That means it’s time to make your decision. Well, not necessarily right now. But before you go to college.

“Visit the school and see what the programs are like at each school,” advised College Counseling Tutor Joann Elliott (@JoannCCTSTL). “Community college and trade school may have a shorter time commitment than the four-year, but you might find trade school has less traditional coursework and is more hands-on. The traditional four-year is well suited for those who like school and can dedicate themselves to the rigor and self-discipline that it takes to commit to a four (or more!) year time frame.

“Every school is different so start early. We started working with my nephew on trying to figure this out at the end of his sophomore year. We visited all types of schools and now as a junior he has a good idea of which option might fit his learning style and goals the best.”

But there are choices to consider beyond whether you go to a community college or four-year university. One other possibility is trade school, as Elliot referenced.

“Technical or trade schools are usually private institutions that train students for jobs in what are known as ‘The Skilled Trades,’ such as plumbing, auto mechanics, electrical, carpentry, etc.,” explained Dr. Carton.

“Many technical schools also train students for jobs such as commercial driving, welding, and heavy equipment operation. Trade schools vary in price, but a degree usually will run you around $20-$30,000. This is obviously more expensive than a community college degree but many of the jobs these schools train students for are in high demand.”

Consider taking a gap year.

You might also find a reason to delay the start of your college career, regardless of which college you’re heading to.

“A relatively new concept after high school is that of a gap year,” offered Elliot. “A gap year gives a student the opportunity to ‘figure it out’. They might achieve knowing themselves better by a variety of activities including travel abroad, volunteering, taking courses part-time, working, job shadowing, or a mix of all of the above.

“A couple of tips I’d give people is to consider having a well-defined plan and structure to your gap year. Don’t just say ‘I’ll volunteer’ and then waste your year binging on Netflix and stuffing your face and letting time get away.

“I also recommend students apply to college when the time is right (in the fall) if they are a high school senior and then defer their enrollment if they decide on a gap year. This way if they decide the gap year isn’t for them, they still can attend college with the rest of their peers.

“Regardless, if you do take a gap year you can bet the college admissions office will ask you how you spent your gap year.  Your gap year should be moving you forward, not wasting time. There are plenty of colleges that have structured gap year programs and there are websites to assist people looking for gap year options.”

And then there’s another straightforward option.

College isn’t mandatory.

“There is also always the option to start working,” explained Leslie H. Tayne Esq.(@LeslieHTayneEsq), Founder and Head Attorney at Tayne Law Group (@taynelawgroup). “While the number of jobs requiring a college degree continues to grow, there can still be a benefit to taking a job out of high school. You can also use this time to figure out what you enjoy doing and what you are good at doing and then decide to go to school. This can also give you time to save money to go to college.”

At the end of the day, it’s going to be up to you to figure out what option is best for your specific situation. Hopefully, this input will help you choose that option. To learn more about how you can increase your future earning potential, check out these other posts and articles from OppLoans:

Do you have a  personal finance question you’d like us to answer? Let us know! You can find us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Dr. Sean Carton is the Chief Strategist of idfive (@idfive) where he helps clients understand the constantly changing intersections between design, marketing, communication, and technology through creative ideas and beautiful solutions. As the founder of one of Baltimore’s first web development firms in 1995, Sean is also the founding Dean of Design and Media at Philadelphia University. He has published articles in publications such as Wired, Revolution, Stim, and POV. Sean’s work for clients has been recognized with numerous awards, including a Webby, One Show, Gold ADDY and the New York Art Director’s Club.
Joann Elliott (@JoannCCTSTL) is a licensed professional counselor (LPC) in the state of Missouri. She has over 25 years of experience working with high school and college students as well as young adults. She currently has a private practice, College Counseling Tutoring, LLC, located in St. Louis. You can learn more about her practice and how to make appointments at Joann is also the author of When to Do What: A Step-by-Step Guide to the College Process available on Amazon.
Kelan and Brittany Kline aka The Savvy Couple are two thriving millennials that are daring to live differently. They started their personal finance blog in September 2016 to help others get money $avvy so they can live a frugal and free lifestyle. Brittany is a full-time 4th-grade teacher and Kelan runs The Savvy Couple full-time and works as a digital marketer. You can follow them here: FacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram.
Leslie H. Tayne, Esq. (@LeslieHTayneEsq) has nearly 20 years’ experience in the practice area of consumer and business financial debt-related services. Leslie is the founder and head attorney at Tayne Law Group (@taynelawgroup), which specializes in debt relief.
After 13 years as a successful operations manager working at two different ‘Fortune 1000’ companies, Dr. Timothy G. Wiedman spent the next 28 years in academia teaching college courses in business, management, human resources, and retirement planning.  Dr. Wiedman recently took an early retirement from Doane University (@DoaneUniversity), is a member of the Human Resources Group of West Michigan and continues to do annual volunteer work for the SHRM Foundation. He holds two graduate degrees in business and has completed multiple professional certifications.

How to Save Money on Plane Tickets and Air Travel

Shopping around for cheap plane tickets is only step one as many discount flights have extra hidden costs that can jack up your total bill.

When you’re going on a vacation, the last thing you want is for that trip to drive you into debt—possibly forcing you to take out a bad credit loan (especially a short-term payday loan or cash advance) to cover future costs.

While that means planning ahead and budgeting for your trip, it also means saving as much money as you can on travel costs. And if you’re flying, that means finding the cheapest tickets possible.

On that front, we’ve got some good news and some bad news.

“Today’s travelers expect to score low-cost plane tickets whenever and wherever they fly. Budget carriers willingly offer more routes around the world with the lowest prices,” said former travel agent and child passenger safety expert Grainne Kelly. “We can also compare the prices of flights with the many different websites available to travelers. With a discounted flight, we assume there will be fewer perks and passenger services, and we’re typically fine with that for the reduced fare.”

But all is not peachy keen in the world of budget traveling. As Kelly went on to explain, hidden fees and added costs can easily erase many of the hard-won savings that one has earned by shopping around.

Finding inexpensive tickets is the first step—and we’ve included many tips in this article to help you sniff them out. But once you’ve booked your flight, you’ll have to keep an eye out for additional ways to save. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself back at square one.

Book early.

“When should people book tickets for travel? Don’t wait!” said Scott Wainner (@scottwww), founder & CEO the travel search engine (and app) (@fareness). “In general, the longer you wait to book, the more expensive the airfare will be. Try to plan in advance and snag plane tickets as soon as you can.”

Be flexible.

“Try to be open-minded when booking travel and don’t get attached to one specific travel date and location,” said Wainner. “Look around at prices, and then determine when and where you might want to travel to.”

In this regard, sites like Fareness can be a useful tool for consumers, as they provide an easy way to compare ticket prices across different airlines and travel days.

The more flexible you are on your dates, your connections, and your departure times, the better able you’ll be to find your cheapest option.

Try to get a bag checked for free.

Checking bags is going to cost you extra, especially on a discounted flight. But Kelly disclosed this helpful tip to try and get around paying that additional (often hefty) fee.

“If you have a larger carry-on and later decide after you go through security that you would rather check it, try to get it checked for free at the gate,” she advised.

“Wait until everyone else boards the flight with their carry-ons, as the plane will likely run out of room for bags and the attendant will then check your carry-on suitcase for free for you.”

“Always ask at the gate if there is room or if they should check your bag, as they are usually happy to check it. It makes it easier for them to ensure everything else fits in-cabin storage.”

Watch out for hidden taxes.

Whenever you’re making any large purchase, you should doublecheck that the price stated doesn’t include any hidden costs—including taxes. The same holds true for airline tickets.

“It’s never fun to realize the quoted online price does not include taxes until after you hit the purchase button,” said Kelly. “Taxes can tack on several hundred dollars, resulting in your ‘discounted’ ticket not being as discounted as you assumed.”

Are some days better than others?

This is one of the areas where there was a bit of a disagreement between Kelly and Wainner.

“The best time to buy domestic airfare is on Tuesdays around lunchtime,” said Kelly, citing the fact that airline sales typically only last three days or less and tend to publish on Tuesdays. “Also,” she added, “the best days to travel are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday.”

While Tuesday has a reputation for being the best (aka, the cheapest) day to fly, Wainner disagreed with this assumption. “There really isn’t one day that is best to book,” he said. “Prices tend to fluctuate so it’s important to search with enough time to get the best deal.”

Wainner went on to describe how Fareness was designed to make comparing dates easier:

“We are the first and only site that enables consumers to select a specific city or an entire destination category along with a wide range of dates for travel to see the lowest prices trip options with a single and quick search,” he said.

Travel in the off-season.

If you’re flying at a time of year when everyone else is looking to travel, you’re probably going to end up paying more. Luckily, the reverse is also true.

“Travel in the off-season, as you can get better deals for flights and hotels. Excursions and local sites also offer cheaper prices,” said Kelly. “Another perk is that you don’t have to fight as many tourists and can experience a private beach or more entertainment options.”

As for flying on a holiday, Wainner said that this wouldn’t always mean snagging a cheaper flight, but that it was certainly worth checking. And even when you’re open to flying on a holiday, he stressed the importance of checking the surrounding dates to ensure you find the cheapest fare.

Prepare for a longer route.

If you’re trying to save money on a flight, you might find yourself faced with a choice between picking the cheaper flight or the shorter one.

“Many discounted flights include at least one layover, sometimes two, depending on the destination,” said Kelly. “So it will take longer to get to your endpoint and may include layovers that are lengthy.

But for those travelers looking to save money, a layover might be well worth it! And if they’re willing to get up in the dead of night to make it to the airport, even better! According to Kelly, many discounted flights are offered at off-peak times, which means that they depart early in the morning or very late at night—sometimes both.

Always read the fine print.  

Similar to keeping an eye out for added taxes, savers should carefully read the fine print and the terms and conditions to sniff out additional fees or costs.

“There could be charges for baggage, carry-ons, dimensions/weight of your baggage, snacks/meals, and more,” said Kelly. “Be prepared ahead of time so you’re not hit with sticker shock at the airport. This is how the airlines make up for missing revenue.”

She went on to cite a rather innovative new way that airlines are starting to smuggle in extra costs. Luckily, this is one fee that’s easy to avoid.

“Some airlines now charge to print boarding passes at the airport,” she said. “Save yourself the fees and print them at home.”

“Confirm every letter is correct and reconfirm the travel dates,” she continued. “Changing even the smallest item can result in an additional charge.”

Lay the groundwork for upgrades.

Wouldn’t you love to fly in first class without having to pay first-class prices? If there are available first-class upgrades offered at the gate, you might well be able to!

There are a couple of things you can do to maximize your chances at scoring one. The first is a long-term bet, while the second is something you can do the day of.

“What’s your best advice for scoring a free upgrade on a flight? Be loyal,” advised Wanner. “Try to pick an airline and stick with it. The best way to score upgrades is to be a loyal flier and one with a lot of miles. So if you stick with one airline as much as possible, you have a better shot at the upgrade.”

Kelly, meanwhile, suggested that you’ll better your chance of moving to first-class by dressing the part. “Poise yourself for an upgrade by dressing in business casual,” she said. “If your flight is oversold, you could potentially get upgraded to first-class, but your attire will play a part in the airline’s decision.”

She also mentioned one thing that you definitely shouldn’t do: “Avoid asking for an upgrade at the ticket counter, as service staff are bombarded with upgrade requests and this might actually hurt your chances.”

Seat assignments not guaranteed.

If you’re not particular about where you sit, you’ll have an easier time finding cheap fares.

“Most discount carriers do not offer seat assignments, but rather operate on a first come, first serve basis,” explained Kelly. “So plan to be at the gate early to queue up for a decent seat next to your family or travel companion.”

Keep an open mind.

“Check nearby airports, ones that you might not normally fly out of, as prices might be cheaper,” advised Wainner. “I’ve been known to save $500 just by flying into a different airport!”

$500 in exchange driving an extra hour or two to another airport? Worth it!

Bring some snacks.  

“Most discounted carriers no longer include meals in their flights and expect you to pay for them onboard. The standard soft drink and bag of pretzels will most likely not be included either,” said Kelly.

“Plan ahead and pack yourself plenty of snacks and other food to tide you over until you reach your destination. Remember that you can’t bring liquids through security, so you’ll need to purchase them near your gate or onboard the flight.”

Remember: Saving money on air travel starts with finding cheap tickets, but it doesn’t end until you walk off that final flight. To learn more about saving money on travel-related costs, check out these other posts and articles from OppLoans:

Do you have a  personal finance question you’d like us to answer? Let us know! You can find us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Grainne Kelly is a former travel agent and mom of two who revolutionized the child travel industry by inventing BubbleBum: The world’s first portable, inflatable car booster seat that weighs less than one pound and can deflate in seconds, making it simple to throw in a backpack or tote bag. It’s ideal for everyday rides and carpooling as well as road trips, fly-ins with car rental, taxis, Uber/Lyft rides. Its compact design allows for three across the back. BubbleBum is the 8x winner of the IIHS Best Bet for Car Booster Safety award.
Scott Wainner (@scottwww) is a serial entrepreneur with a 20-year track record of creating successful companies. At age 16, he built a hardware reviews site called SysOpt, and later sold it for $4M at age 21. He then created a business called ResellerRatings to help consumers shop safely online, which reached $6M/year in revenue and had 2,000 online retail customers. Wainner sold ResellerRatings to in 2012 for $34M as the sole shareholder with no debt. Passionate about travel from an early age, Wainner conceived the idea for his next venture based on his own personal frustration to find the best fares.  In planning all of that travel, he became frustrated with just how hard it is to find and compare airfares, and how many hours and days it takes to search for the many destination and date combinations needed to find the best fares. (@fareness) was launched in September 2016 as a solution to this problem, revealing fares across hundreds of dates and global destinations at a glance.

Funding and Grant Opportunities for Personal Finance Teachers

12 grants to help educators level-up their financial literacy instruction.

Everyone knows that money speaks. When it comes to education, money speaks tenfold. Let’s face it, school supplies and field trips are expensive. Not every classroom has dedicated resources to devote to supplementary curriculum, which oftentimes is what personal finance falls under.

What can teachers do to make sure their students are well-prepared to handle their finances before exiting K-12 schooling? That’s where grants come in. The additional funding that grants provide can drastically improve educators’ quality of teaching and students’ experiences. Thankfully, there is ample opportunity for teachers to receive a little extra help to implement personal finance education.

What would you do with extra funding? At the top of our list is professional development, classroom resources, and school-wide programming.

Professional Development

We understand that you can’t become a master of finances overnight. Educators looking to teach personal finance should start with training or other professional development opportunities. This will allow you to deliver accurate, standards-aligned information to students.

Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship Program

This fellowship program awards a $6,000 monthly stipend and up to $1,000 for living expenses for K-12 teachers to participate in a 10- or 11-month position in federal agencies or U.S. congressional offices. Teachers bring their STEM experiences back to the classroom with a deeper understanding that will benefit students.

Fund for Teachers

Awarding $5,000 to $10,000, this grant allows teachers to design their own professional development opportunity. Through the application process teachers will plan out objectives, motivations, and the impact that their continued learning will have on their students.

McCarthey Dressman Teacher Development Grants

The McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation awards up to $10,000 for three years to individuals or teams in K-12 education. The grant allows educators to implement new teaching methods and strategies in the classroom in order to foster professional training and growth.

NEA Foundation for the Improvement of Education

The NEA Foundation for the Improvement of Education awards grants ranging from $2,000 to $5,000 to support the professional development of public school teachers and faculty. This grant can be put toward funding summer institutes, research, mentoring, and lesson study experiences. The goal is to improve practice, curriculum, and student achievement.

Classroom Resources

Whether it’s classroom materials or a field trip, finding the funding for interactive, creative learning methods can be difficult. With the help of these grants, teachers can expand on their students’ money knowledge. Suggestions: a hands-on art project to illustrate the power of currency with play money, a class trip to a local credit union with guest presentations, or a team economics competition with varying prize levels.

Beacon Technology Teacher Grant

The Beacon Grant awards up to $1,000 twice a year for teachers in need of extra funding for classroom supplies, subscriptions, apps, and more. For 2019, the grant provides virtual reality equipment in the classroom.

Elmer’s Teacher Tool Kit Grant

The Tool Kit Grant is a partnership between the Kids in Need Foundation and Elmer’s to bring K-12 teachers in high-needs schools funding to tackle classroom projects. By awarding $100 to $500 for school supplies, the foundation hopes to foster creativity and critical thinking skills in students.

NEA Foundation Student Achievement Grants

Another NEA Foundation grant, this one allows public school teachers to apply for the funding of a 12-month program to improve student achievement. Teachers must submit a plan to expand students’ knowledge of various subjects and we think personal finance should top the list! The grant of $2,000 to $5,000 will fund resource materials, supplies, equipment, transportation, and technology.

Target Field Trip Grants

Each Target store in the U.S. awards three Target Field Trip Grants worth $700 every year. This enables one in 25 schools across the country to send a classroom on a field trip by covering transportation, registration, admission, and other trip expenses. We suggest visiting a local bank or credit union with your funding.

Financial Education Grants

Finally, there are several general grant opportunities to provide individuals or educational institutions with funding that can be directed toward personal finance initiatives.

Financial Inclusion Grant

The Citi Foundation supports the economic empowerment and improvement of low-income communities by investing in various grants, one of which is the Financial Inclusion Grant. Educational institutions may apply for the grant which funds either direct services (programs that build personal financial knowledge), capacity building and planning (programs that increase professional training), or systems change (programs that research to improve larger systems).

General Grant Program

The General Grant Program is funded by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation. Educators may apply for research and educational project funding of approximately $50,000 to $100,000. The project must advance understanding of the relationship between financial literacy, capabality, and well-being with a lasting impact beyond the two-year grant duration.

Small Grants

Provided by the Bemis Company Foundation, the Small Grants That Enrich Communities Program can be applied to by an educational institution for the purpose of K-12 educational enrichment programs. An extra $1,000 is a great starting point for developing a school-wide personal finance program.

Voya Unsung Heroes

The Voya Unsung Heroes grant is well-suited for K-12 personal finance educators short on funding. Each year, 100 finalists receive a $2,000 grant. Historically, 45 percent of programs that received funding were STEM and about 12 percent included economics. This means that chances are high for personal finance programs!

Bottom Line

Grants are free money that can create opportunities in low-funded schools and classrooms. Educators should take advantage of them to make financial education more accessible to students who may otherwise go without. Once you’ve found the perfect funding opportunity, make sure to read up on how to write a grant proposal and score the money you need.

Do you know of a funding opportunity for personal finance educators? Don’t keep that knowledge to yourself! Spread the wealth with us on Twitter at @OppUniversity.

Need Money for Groceries? Here Are 5 Tips to Help You Out

If you’re considering a short-term no credit check loan to help cover a grocery bill, make sure you check out all your other options first.

If you’re thinking of taking out short-term no credit check loans (like payday loans, cash advances, or title loans) to cover your grocery bill, we ask that you pause for a moment and reconsider.

Sure, those last couple days before your next paycheck drops can be really rough—especially when you need to put food on the table. But there are other steps you can take before resorting to a no credit check loan.

At the very least, make sure that you’ve considered every possible option before resorting to a high-interest loan and large lump-sum payments that you might well struggle to repay.

Hunger is a problem. So are predatory no credit check loans.

40 million people, including 12 million children, struggle with hunger in the United States, and not all are eligible for government assistance.

While food is a basic need, it can be difficult to secure enough food for your family on a limited income. And when gaps in income or other financial emergencies arise, many people turn to short-term no credit check loans like payday loans or cash advances to put food on the table.

But these risky, high-interest loans can drive borrowers into a debt spiral, making it even more difficult to afford food later on. Once you’re caught in a debt trap, extra money goes towards interest payments, not towards healthier food.

Speaks of healthy food, here’s an interesting fact: Did you know there are more payday lending storefronts in the U.S. than McDonald’s restaurants? If you’ve ever run out of money for food, you might have considered visiting either of these establishments—maybe both!

But just like subsisting solely on fast food will negatively impact your health, relying on costly no credit checks loans will cause undue harm to your financial health. McDonald’s is best as a “sometimes” food, and payday loans are best as an absolute last resort.

If you or your family are hungry, there are better options available.

1. Budget and buy strategically.

Setting a budget for food is one of the best ways to ensure you’ll have enough to go around. Compare what you spend with the official USDA Food Plans to see if you might be able to cut costs.

Buy house brands, shop for sale items, and buy in bulk when you can. You should also be strategic about what you buy; get foods that are whole grain or high in protein, which will fill you up without breaking the bank.

Check out this list of 35 foods to eat when you’re broke or these 5 home-cooked meals that are cheaper than McDonald’s. For more information, see our guide saving money on your grocery bill.

2. Apply for assistance.

If you’re struggling to cover the cost of food, you should check to see if you’re eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in your state. For states without online applications, you’ll need to visit your local SNAP office.

If you qualify, you’ll get a card that can be used at authorized food retailers to help you purchase groceries. You can use this pre-screening tool to check your eligibility.

It can take up to 30 days to receive your benefits, so if hunger is a problem for your family right now, you might also consider another option in the meantime. You should also look into other programs that may defray other costs, such as rent assistance.

3. Visit a local food pantry or soup kitchen.

Charities, nonprofits, and faith-based organizations can help families who are struggling to buy food. 4.3 billion meals each year are distributed each year through the Feeding America network of food banks.

You can also find other local food pantries through this resource. Hours vary by location, but you’ll likely find a place to get a meal soon.

4. Take out a lower-cost loan.

If you’re not eligible for assistance and you need to borrow money in an emergency, consider all other options before taking out a payday loan. personal loans from banks and credit unions will have lower interest rates, as will credit cards and online loans from traditional lenders.

But those who lack an established credit history or have bad credit may have difficulty accessing these options. If you need a bad credit loan, consider taking out an installment loan.

The combination of longer terms and lower interest rates makes these loans easier to manage for most people. Plus, many installment lenders report payment information to the credit bureaus. If you make your payments on time with one of these loans it could help you build your credit!

5. Start building an emergency fund.

In the long-term, the best thing you can do is start setting money aside for an emergency fund. Unlike retirement savings—which you generally shouldn’t touch—emergency funds are designed to be easily accessible for whenever a financial shortfall or unexpected bill rears its ugly head.

A well-stocked emergency fund will set you on the path towards a healthier financial future. Aim for $1,000 dollars to start, but don’t stop there! The more money you have tucked away, the greater your ability to weather any financial storm.

It doesn’t have to be much, even setting donating $5 from every paycheck or just throwing your loose change in a jar is a good start. To learn more about saving money and taking care of your money long-term, check out these other articles from OppLoans:

Do you have a personal finance question you’d like us to answer? Let us know! You can find us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Have You Heard About the Free Personal Finance Classes We’re Offering Through OppU?

Whether you’re a student in need of financial education or a teacher looking for standards-aligned financial literacy curriculum, OppU is here to help.

Hey there, did you know that April is National Financial Literacy Month? Well, around here, it’s one of our favorite times of the year, because helping people understand the ins and outs of sound financial behaviors is a huge part of our mission as a socially responsible finance platform!

That’s why we wanted to let you know a little bit more about the free (repeat: free!) financial literacy classes we’re offering through OppU. If you’re someone looking to learn how to build your first budget—or a teacher searching for a smart, engaging curriculum to use with your students—OppU is just the thing for you!

Money is complex. OppU brings it back to basics.

Money seems simple at first. You get a paycheck and you use that money to pay your bills, buy groceries, and do some fun stuff like go to the movies. But it’s actually way more complicated than that!

Responsible financial behavior means building up savings to protect you when an unexpected bill or financial emergency strikes; it means using loans and credit cards wisely to avoid taking on excess debt, and it means maintaining a good credit score so that future financial opportunities remain open.

Doing all of that isn’t easy! Building and sticking to a budget requires discipline and shopping around for the best credit cards means learning a little bit of patience. But before you can do any of that, you first need to grasp the basics of how using money actually works.

That’s a key cornerstone of OppU: Breaking down personal finance into its basic building blocks. That way, we can give you the tools you need to start building a better financial future.

Charting your OppU journey.

Just like a university, OppU is broken down into four different levels: freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior.

OppU utilizes instruction videos and quizzes to not only engage learners but to make sure that the information they’re gathering is being retained. Once you create an account, your progress and course completions are tracked.

Freshman level starts with spending, where you’ll learn how to take control of your income and manage your expenses. The first video covers how to track income versus expenses, while the second covers the importance of living below your means.

Sophomore level covers budgeting and saving. In these courses, you learn the basics of building a budget to keep track of your money and how to put money aside to stop living paycheck to paycheck.

Junior level concerns all things credit, which is why it’s the longest unit. Courses in this unit cover how credit scores and credit reports work, ways to maintain and improve your credit, as well as an intro to credit cards and how they differ from debit cards.

Senior level finishes off the OppU curriculum by talking about debt and loans. The first course walks students through the basics of how debt works, while the second course provides helpful tools and financial advice to help students reduce their outstanding debt loads.

OppU is aligned with national standards.

From the very beginning, OppU has been about providing both students and educators with courses that weren’t simply engaging and easy to follow, but that were teaching the skills and lessons students need to know.

That’s why the OppU curriculum was developed in accordance with the national standards for financial literacy published by the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy (@NatlJumpStart). Each course not only teaches concrete skills, but they also align with Jump$tart’s financial education guidelines.

Two educators were instrumental in the development of OppU’s curriculum: Beth Tallman, MBA, and Ann Logue, MBA, CFA. Ms. Tallman taught “Personal Finance for Millennials” at Oberlin College, while Ms. Logue teaches finance at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

If you’re a teacher and you want to use OppU in your classroom, our educator’s guide is available to download and print.

Have questions? We’ve got OppU Answers!

Looking for material? Well, OppU has got you covered. Beyond its core curriculum, OppU also features the OppU Answers personal finance blog, which covers financial literacy and other related financial topics.

Here are some of our favorite posts:

Are you not quite sure what financial literacy actually entails? Then check out Financial Literacy: A Definition, which includes insight from seven different financial literacy experts and program leaders.

If you want to get your young children started on the road to fiscal responsibility, then head on over to Financial Literacy for Kids. This post covers six core financial concepts to teach your children and a helpful list of outside educational resources.

Cash-strapped millennials (are there any other kind?) should check out Financial Literacy for Millennials, a post that’s full of helpful tips and advice to help Generation Y get their financial houses in order.

And finally, recent and soon-to-be college grads should be on the lookout for future behavior that could tank their score. According to a recent OppU survey, seven in ten college students damage their credit soon after graduation.

Apply for the OppU Achiever’s Scholarship!

If you’re a current or soon-to-be student who needs help paying for school, we want to let you know about the OppU Achievers Scholarship.

Awarded four times a year, this scholarship grants $2,500 for current or future education costs. On an annual basis, the scholarship awards a total of $10,000 to students who have demonstrated outstanding achievement.

Applying is easy! Aside from some basic information, all you need to do is submit a short essay responding to the following prompt:

In 500 words or fewer, please tell us why you’re an achiever. How have you created opportunity for yourself? How have you created opportunity for others? Did you start a small business? Are you the founder of a community program? How did you overcome the odds and make your dreams—or the dreams of others—come true? Please include links to any relevant material that demonstrates your accomplishments.

Decisions are based solely on the applicant’s essay. For an idea of what our review committee is looking for, take a look at these scholarship essay examples from past recipients.

Applicants must be enrolled full time in high school or at least part-time in college, graduate, professional, or trade school and possess a cumulative GPA of at least 3.0/4.0.

Winners are selected four times a year. The deadlines for submission are March 31, June 30, September 30, and December 31. If you want to apply for the OppU Achievers Scholarship, click here!

Did we mention that OppU is free?

If you have money questions and you aren’t sure where to turn, give OppU’s standards-aligned courses a try. It won’t cost you anything, and it could be the first step you take on the long road to a brighter financial future.

Stay up to date with all things OppU by following them on Twitter at @OppUniversity. And to learn more about financial best practices, check out these other posts and articles from OppLoans:

Do you have a personal finance question you’d like us to answer? Let us know! You can find us on Facebook and Twitter.

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7 Ways to Avoid Overdraft Fees

While there aren’t any ways to escape overdraft fees altogether (even if you opt out of overdraft protection) there are still many ways to keep them at bay.

There are a lot of things you can do that will hurt your long-term financial outlook, like making weekly visits to the casino or investing in your cousin’s new business idea. (Uber for hot air balloons? Sure, Darryl.)

But while racking up overdraft fees on your checking account is a bit more on the mundane side, it could end up doing just as much financial damage as any ill-timed family investment.

“Overdraft fees are most commonly created when people forget how much a bunch of ‘small’ purchases can really add up,” said Shane Walker, Shane Walker, executive VP and CMO at ProActive FinTech LLC. “A zip through the drive-thru, a stop for milk and bread, some gas in the tank—and suddenly, the bank account is hovering just above zero. And you might not even realize it.”

With an average overdraft fee of $30, overspending your available funds is not a mistake you want to make.

How a $15 meal can cost you $120.

One of the dangerous things about overdraft fees is that they aren’t a one-time thing. Once you’ve overdrawn your account—and been hit with that initial fee—every subsequent withdrawal or debit card purchase will result in a brand new charge.

As a result, the bill can add up really fast.

Licensed CPA Riley Adams (@TheRiles89) shared this story from his college of how overdraft fees took a few small financial mistakes and very nearly turned them into a major money headache:

“I recall an unfortunate event with my brother going to McDonald’s after class. My brother didn’t want food when we got there so I ordered myself some food and incurred (without my knowing) an overdraft fee. That $5 combo meal turned into $40.

“After my brother saw my food, he got hungry and wanted to order something as well. His $5 meal also cost me $40 when the fee was included. And if it wasn’t bad enough, when we both finished, we ordered dessert.

“You can guess what happened. Three overdraft fees plus $15 worth of food was outrageous.”

That’s awful! Luckily, Adams’ tale of overdraft fee-induced woe has a happy ending.

“Fortunately, we contacted the bank explaining we didn’t know we were overdrafting because my direct deposit paycheck was delayed that week. After clearing this up, thankfully, they waived the fees,” he explained.

While calling your financial institution post-mistake is always a good idea, you shouldn’t make that your go-to overdraft avoidance strategy. In order to kiss these ridiculously expensive fees goodbye. we recommend you try one (or more!) of the following seven methods.

1. Use an overdraft line of credit.

Adams went on to say that he rectified the situation by adding an overdraft line of credit to his account to ward off future overdraft fees. This is a product that, in essence, loans your account to cover the overdrawn funds until you can deposit more money in your account.

While you’ll owe interest on any funds that are drawn from this line of credit, the rates you’ll pay will be much lower than the corresponding rates for an overdraft fee. Adams’ $120 meal, for instance, carried an interest rate of 700 percent.

“It turned out to be a much less costly way to bank than hoping not to get hit with overdraft fees. Many banks have begun to offer this service and I know I’m glad I have mine,” he said.

2. Link an emergency fund savings account.

If you can save up a little bit of money, it’s a good idea to link up a savings account as a form of overdraft protection. While you’ll still incur a small charge for the transfer, you won’t have to pay any interest on the transferred funds.

“Setup an emergency funds savings account,” said Pete Longo, VP of Digital Banking at Axiom Bank, N.A. (@axiombank). “Do not make this your main long-term savings account but instead an account where you set aside some emergency funds each payday. Even a small amount such as $5 can build up with proper budgeting over time.

“From here you can choose to link this account to your checking account for overdraft protection if your bank offers it.  This will minimize or eliminate fees in the event of a mistake where overspending occurs.”

You’ll still want to take additional steps to avoid overdrawing your account, but this is a much better emergency fallback option than an overdraft fee. You’ll also want to make sure you keep that emergency fund well-stocked, otherwise, you’ll find yourself right back where you started.

3. Make a budget.

Of course, the best way to avoid overdrawing your account and incurring all those extra fees is to keep track of your money! And to do that, you’re first going to need a budget.

“Create a budget at the beginning of the month,” advised money blogger Yaz Purnell of The Wallet Moth (@thewalletmoth). “Set aside money for your rent/mortgage, bills, transport, groceries, leisure/hobbies, and any other monthly costs you incur. Simply having an idea of what money needs to go where is your first step to avoiding accidentally overdrawing your account.”

Not sure how to go about building a budget? No worries! Just check this OppLoans Guide for first-time budgeters, complete with a free budgeting spreadsheet to help you get started!

4. Get a money tracker.

Creating your first budget is a huge step in the right direction. But once you’ve got that in place, you’ll still need a way to keep track of your spending. That’s why Purnell recommends using a money tracking app.

“There are so many free money trackers out there, from Mint to Yolt, that can be easily installed as an app on your phone to track your income and outgoings,” she said. “Download a money tracker and get into the habit of checking your outgoings on a daily basis so that you always have a good idea of how much you can afford.”

You might even have a money tracker right there in your checking account!

“Many banks offer this to customers in their online or mobile banking,” said Longo. “If your bank does not offer it and you do not want to switch banks than look into a free alternative by searching online for personal financial management.”

5. Set up bank notifications.

Sometimes, folks will knowingly overdraw their account because they feel that they have no other choice but accept the fee. But many others simply don’t keep track of their checking account balance and incur overdraft fees on accident!

A great way to avoid the latter is to set up notifications on that checking account that will alert you when your balance is getting low.

“Utilize your bank’s real-time notification system in your online/mobile banking,” advised Longo. “Setup notifications to be sent to your smartphone or email when your checking account balance falls below a set balance (i.e $25).

“This will give you a friendly warning when your funds might be a little too close for comfort and potentially stop you from accidentally ‘overspending’.”

6. Use multiple bank accounts.

If you’re like a lot of people, then you probably only have one checking account that you use for everything. But have you ever considered using multiple checking accounts for different expenses? Doing so could be the key to avoiding overdrafts.

“For larger monthly bills, like your rent and electric, set up a separate bank account and regularly add money to it. Enough to cover those bills, on time, every month” said Walker. “The key is to only pay your larger bills from that account, like your utilities and mortgage.

“By keeping a separate account from your everyday spending, you aren’t dwindling down your balance with daily expenses. The money for those large bills is safe and ready when needed. The average household should have less than 10 payments going out of that account per month, making the math easy.”

In a similar fashion, Walker also recommended purchasing gift cards to use on your weekly in place of a debit card.

“Gift cards have a hard limit that cannot be exceeded and you cannot incur overdrafts on them,” he said. “You can get gift cards for gas, groceries, restaurants and more. They even have them for most major cell phone providers.”

7. Don’t opt-in. (And if you have, then opt-out.)

In the end, there is only one way to avoid overdraft fees altogether … and even that option won’t work in certain circumstances!

“If you are already at a bank that you are comfortable with visiting a branch and discussing “opting-out” of overdraft privileges on your checking account’s debit card. This will make it so your debit card will simply be declined if at the point of sale and there are not enough funds available,” said Longo.

But even opting out won’t work all the time.

“One thing many people do not understand is that even if you do not opt-in for overdraft, you can still get an overdraft fee,” said Adam Rust, Director of the consumer rights non-profit (@WiseWage).

“The bank only allows you to opt-out of transactions where they can verify good funds prior to approval. If you write a check, they will charge you an overdraft fee and pay the bill or decline to pay and charge an insufficient funds fee.”

And make sure you keep track of your automatic bill and subscriptions!

“Important reminder that your account can still be overdrawn in this scenario if you have recurring bills setups such as Netflix or a gym membership as ‘opting out’ cannot prevent these preauthorized charges from coming through” warned Longo.

Overdraft fees vs. bad credit loans.

Bad credit loans are way more expensive than regular personal loans. And while the rates for some bad credit installment loans can be fairly reasonable, the annual rates for no credit check loans and short-term bad credit loans like payday loans, title loans, and cash advances can be beyond ridiculous.

Even so, when compared to overdraft fees, the cost of those no credit check loans can seem downright reasonable.

According to a 2014 Consumer Financial Protection Bureau study on overdraft fees, the average overdraft transaction was $24, the median overdraft fee was $34, and most of those fees were paid back within three days.

To compare: If someone borrowed paid $34 to borrow $24 over three days with a no credit check loan, that would add up to an APR of 17,000 percent!

While bad credit loans pale in comparison to the overdraft alternatives listed above, you might actually be better off using a bad credit installment loan to cover an unexpected bill or financial shortfall than you would be using overdraft fees.

If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, there simply isn’t a way to completely escape overdraft fees. That’s why your best solution is to stop living one pay period at a time. And that means building a budget and increasing your savings. To learn more about how you can take control of your financial future, check out these other posts and articles from OppLoans:

Do you have a  personal finance question you’d like us to answer? Let us know! You can find us on Facebook and Twitter.

Visit OppLoans on YouTube | Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIN | Instagram


Riley Adams (@TheRiles89) is a licensed CPA in the state of Louisiana working as a Senior Financial Analyst for a Fortune 500 company in New Orleans. He has a personal finance blog dedicated to helping young professionals find financial independence at
Pete Longo is the Vice President of Digital Banking at Axiom Bank, N.A. (@axiombank), a Maitland-based, leading community bank. He has more than a decade of experience in banking, business development and financial software vendor management. Pete graduated with a degree in business management and an MBA from Stetson University.
Yaz Purnell (@thewalletmoth) is the founder of The Wallet Moth, a personal finance blog that focuses on sustainable changes anyone can make to create your dream lifestyle.
Adam Rust is the Director of Research at Reinvestment Partners  (@ReinvestPartner) and the Director of (@WiseWage). He advocates for an inclusive financial system. WiseWage has enabled thousands of workers to manage their finances with safe and affordable accounts overdraft-fee-free accounts. At Reinvestment Partners, he has pursued campaigns related to payday lending, basic bank accounts, overdraft fees, high-cost credit insurance, and home mortgage lending. He is an Interim Board Member of the US Faster Payments Council.
Shane Walker is the executive VP & CMO at ProActive FinTech LLC. He gives people better control of their finances by digitizing the successful concept of the envelope system for budgeting. At ProActive Budget, they’ve combined the modern convenience of a debit card with the proven budgeting system of using envelopes. It works because it requires a person to consult their budget before they spend. It changes the behavior of spending money.

Needs and Wants Worksheet

These worksheets will help you learn (or teach) the concept of needs and wants.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of needs and wants, you should be. It’s a core principle of financial literacy.

Needs and wants help you balance your budget. They help you cut expenses without cutting out the things you need. And fortunately, the concept isn’t hard to understand — it just requires a little practice.

Our needs and wants worksheets will guide you through the process of distinguishing between essential and non-essential expenses — needs and wants. They’ll help you identify purchases that drain your wallet and find opportunities to increase your savings. And, for educators, our worksheets tailored specifically to younger learners will give you the resources you need to teach this critical skill to K-12 students.

Ready to get started? Pick the needs and wants worksheet that’s right for you and give it a try.




Needs and wants budget worksheet

Complete the needs and wants budget worksheet in the following steps:

1) Think back to the past month and categorize your major expenses. Add them to the worksheet as either ‘Needs’ or ‘Wants.’ Remember, to distinguish between needs and wants ask yourself this question: “Do I really need this?” Needs are essential expenses like food or housing. Wants are non-essential expenses like entertainment or eating out.

2) Look at each expense category and think about ways to cut costs. Do this for both needs and wants. (Even ‘need’ costs can be reduced. For instance, food is a need, but you can cut costs at the grocery store by staying away from name-brand products.) How much can you cut? Write down the new cost for each expense in the ‘Frugal Cost’ column.

3) Add up your need and want expenses. Write down the total for each in the “Totals” row.

4) Add up your frugal costs for needs and wants. Write down the total for each in the “Totals” row.

5) Reflect on how you spend your money. Do you spend more on needs or wants? How much could you save if you reduced wants? How much could you save if you looked for ways to reduce need expenses too? Use your insights to create a financially healthy budget.

Needs and wants budget worksheet

Needs and wants high school worksheet

The needs and wants high school worksheet allows students to practice identifying needs and wants. Read the scenarios and answer the questions.

Scenario 1

This is a big year for Jasmine — she recently started 9th grade. To celebrate, her parents are giving her a larger allowance of $30 each week.

Jasmine rides her bike to and from school, eats the lunch her dad packs for her (she secretly buys $5 pizza at lunch on Thursdays), and spends most of her free time with friends.

Jasmine’s crew regularly spends Saturday at the mall eating lunch at the food court and catching a movie afterwards. Lunch usually costs Jasmine $12 and the movie is $10 for students. At the end of each week, Jasmine is able to put at least $3 in her savings account.

While biking home from school one day, Jasmine realizes her bike is close to breaking. She needs a new bike to get to work after school and found one on Craigslist for $60. However, she only has $24 in her savings account and will need to buy a replacement bike in the next two weeks. She isn’t sure what she should do.

What are Jasmine’s needs?



What are Jasmine’s wants?



What decision would you make and why?



Scenario 2

As quinceañera gifts, Maria received $900. Her parents said she has to put at least half of her money in a savings account, but the rest she can choose to spend however she wants.

Maria is a future planner and is already thinking about purchasing her own car after she passes her driver’s test in a year. Her parents have generously offered to help her find and purchase a reliable used car once the time comes. Maria still wants to be able to contribute some of her own savings towards half of the total cost of the car, which she estimates will be $3,000.

It’s also sophomore year and Maria has a lot of social activities planned with her cheerleader team. The group wants to do a multi-weekend dance camp that would cost about $275 per person. Plus, the team is debating about whether or not to purchase new uniforms this year for competitions. The school won’t pay for the entire cost, so that means that each cheerleader would have to contribute $120. Maria knows that extracurriculars look good on college applications and hopes that cheerleading, in addition to her good grades and community service, will help her get into her top choice.

Maria is torn about what to do.

What are Maria’s needs?



What are Maria’s wants?



What decision would you make and why?



Scenario 3

Marcus and Chris are best friends who attend high school together. Marcus is a junior who frequently gives Chris, a sophomore, advice on school and finances — for better or worse.

Chris is nervous because he’s taking his first AP class, World History, and the midterm exam is coming up. A large part of his class grade will be determined by this test and he can’t afford to fail. His parents gave him $100 to spend on study aids or a tutor.

Marcus already took AP World History and passed the AP Exam with flying colors, scoring a 5. Marcus assures Chris that he’ll be fine and asks his friend to ditch studying this weekend to go camping. The camping trip would cost $56.

Chris looked online for additional study materials and found an official study guide for $40. An ‘A’ student in the class also offered to tutor him this weekend for $50.

Chris knows he needs all the help he can get, and that doing well in AP courses will help his class standing and look good on his college applications. But Marcus assures him the midterm is easy and the camping trip will be worth it. What should he do this weekend?

What are Chris’ needs?



What are Chris’ wants?



What decision would you make and why?



Scenario 4

During summer break, Scott worked a minimum wage job at an ice cream shop. He made $2,700. After paying for his back-to-school items, he has $2,500 remaining at the start of his senior year.

Scott wants to attend his senior class overnight trip to a nearby amusement park, but his parents say that he has to use his summer earnings to pay for it. He estimates that he’ll spend a total of $650 for the all-inclusive trip.

Between then and now, Scott has a few other expenses coming up. He’d like to purchase airfare ($900) to visit out-of-state colleges before applying to school, a refurbished laptop ($600), and the newest video game console ($400).

What are Scott’s needs?



What are Scott’s wants?



What decision would you make and why?



Scenario 5

Emma just finished her senior year and scored a local PR internship for the summer before college. The PR firm was impressed by her freelance work and has offered her a monthly stipend of $2,100 for three months.

She doesn’t normally have any expenses, but her parents are trying to instill smart financial practices. In addition to receiving a credit card for emergencies only, she’ll be expected to pay for her own transportation, cell phone bill, and contribute to an emergency fund. Her public transportation pass is $105 per month. Her monthly phone bill averages $35 for her share. And she has decided to save $525, or 25% of each stipend.

Her internship is in full swing, and Emma has her first $2,100 stipend. With $1,435 left to spend after paying her bills and contributing to her emergency fund, Emma budgets about 50% (or $718) of her remaining money for everyday expenses and entertainment.

A national one-day PR conference and networking event is coming up. Emma’s internship is offering her free admission, but she’ll have to pay for the train commute herself, which will total $100. Emma wants to make a good impression and decides she wants to buy a new dress ($180), blazer ($300), and heels ($129) for the occasion. She also wants to print business cards ($50), resumes ($20), and one professional portfolio ($70) to carry around. She doesn’t have enough money in her budget to cover all of the personal and professional expenses, so she considers either tapping into her emergency fund or using her credit card to cover the costs.

Emma knows this networking event will be a great place to make valuable connections. This is her time to shine, but she’s not sure how to make a lasting impression.

What are Emma’s needs?



What are Emma’s wants?



What decision would you make and why?



Needs and wants elementary school worksheet

The needs and wants elementary school worksheet helps young learners understand the difference between needs and wants. It presents them with images of different items and asks them to identify them as either a need or a want.

Needs and wants elementary school worksheet

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How has separating needs from wants helped you? Let us know on Twitter at @OppUniversity.