Graduate school presents the opportunity for many to advance in a particular skill or specialize in a specific area of knowledge. In some cases, a master’s degree is a career move, landing you a better job, or a raise at your current job. Depending on what you want to do, there are situations in which attending graduate school can be worth it. I know my stint at graduate school has more than paid off, even though it got expensive, so today we’ll look at how to pay for graduate school.
The good news is that I had help paying for graduate school. I received a scholarship for a portion of my tuition, and there were subsidized federal loans available for my use. If you are contemplating graduate school, here are some options for helping you pay for it:
One of the best ways to pay for graduate school is through an assistantship. My husband has been on an assistantship since he began his Ph.D. program. This has been quite helpful, since it has resulted in a tuition waiver, and in a modest stipend.
The only costs we have for his graduate schooling are student fees and books. Programs vary, but many assistantships will at at least waive tuition, or pay enough for you to cover a significant portion of your tuition. There are two main types of assistantship:
1. Teaching Assistantship: With this type of assistantship, you teach at least one class a semester. You either follow a curriculum created for you, or create your own.
2) Research Assistantship: If you are interested in research, and not in teaching, one of these assistantships might be a possibility. You assist professors in their research work, gather and analyze data and may even write portions of papers.
Graduate School Scholarships and Fellowships
Even though you won’t find as many scholarships for graduate students as you do for undergraduate students, they are still available. Check with the school to see if there are any scholarships offered, this may be one thing to consider when choosing an MBA program. You can also look online and in your community for graduate scholarships. Many professional organizations offer scholarships, and there are scholarships aimed at specific groups of people, such as different ethnic groups or military personnel.
Fellowships can also help pay for graduate school. These are programs in which you are sponsored to work on your graduate degree. These can be offered by schools, or by outside organizations. Normally, a fellowship will pay for your tuition, as well as provide an income that allows you to cover living expenses. These are often competitive, and you may be required to teach or perform research as one of the requirements.
Special Programs and Loans
There are also a number of special programs that provide funds that can be used toward graduate school. AmeriCorps, PeaceCorp and the military all have programs aimed helping you pay for school after you complete a certain amount of service. Additionally, you might have an employer with a program that will help you pay for your graduate education. Find out the requirements, and take advantage of these opportunities.
Finally, there are loan programs that can help you pay for graduate school. You can get federal student loans to help you pay, as well as private loans. There are private loans through banks, organizations like TERI.org, and using the P2P model, as at TuitionU.com. You can also look on sites like Lending Club and Prosper to see about your peer lending options.
Of course, you can always save up for graduate school. You can work, and you can set aside money to pay for your schooling. You can also use investments to help you pay for your schooling. There is no one way to pay for graduate school, and with some careful planning, you can get your funding from more than one source.
Are you in graduate school? How are you choosing to pay for it? Leave a comment!
This article was originally published November 4th, 2010.
Our retirement plan administator sent us a list of steps to follow to help us save our money. They point out that contributing to our 401(k) should be just one part of a more comprehensive savings plan.
Here are those steps that can also help you save some money!
4 Must-Do Savings Steps
According to them, the first four steps below are a “must-do” and should be done in the order listed.
1. Contribute to employer-sponsored retirement plans at least to the maximum company match. This ensures you’re not leaving free money on the table each year.
2. Pay off non-deductible, high-interest-rate debt, like credit cards. Interest paid on these accounts can easily equal any interest gained in a savings plan.
3. Create and maintain an emergency fund equal to three months of living expenses. In uncertain economic times, almost anything can happen. Having an emergency reserve is critical for those who experience a reduction to their income.
4. Contribute at least to the maximum allowed to tax-advantaged retirement or health savings accounts. This helps you save more for retirement or healthcare expenses while reducing your tax liability each year.
4 More Savings Tasks
Then they list the following four things to be considered based on your household needs. These are to be done in the order that makes the most sense for your family:
5. Establish and contribute to a child’s education savings account. Paying for tuition while the child is young is easier than with loans later. An education savings fund allows you to spread out the costs over a longer period of time while earning interest, enjoying a tax savings, or both.
6. Save for a down payment on a home.
7. Pay down deductible, high-rate debt. Debt payments are funds you could be investing or saving for other purposes or cash purposes.
8. Keep investing. Disciplined, regular investing is the key to ensuring you have enough funds so you can retire. This can easily be done through payroll deduction or automatic withdrawal from salary deposits.
Which do you think is the most important of their last four steps? Which of them are you working on for your family? Leave a comment!
This article was originally published on September 18, 2010.
One of the most difficult things to do is to figure out whether or not you are getting a good deal while on vacation. If you are in another country, it is difficult to tell whether you or not you are getting gouged.
As you travel, pay attention. And do what you can to avoid getting taken advantage of. Here are some tips for avoiding getting ripped off while you are on vacation:
1. Stay away from tourist traps.
One of the best ways to avoid high prices is to stay away from tourist traps. If you go to the easiest locations, or stick with the sight-seeing route, you are likely to fall prey to higher prices. Restaurants, pubs, hotels, and other services and products along well-traveled tourist routes are going to cost more. When I was in Bratislava, I took the tram to a shopping area that was a little off the beaten path. There I found inexpensive trinkets for purchase. The prices were much lower than what was available along the main sight-seeing routes.
2. Book through a reputable travel agent.
Depending on where you go, and what your situation is, it can help to book through a reputable travel agent who can help you stay at a reasonably priced hotel where the staff is unlikely to take advantage of you.
It’s one thing to be on your own, staying at cheap youth hostels, and quite another if you are older and traveling with your family. In some cases, if you try to book on your own, and then use your own currency to pay, the hotel workers will figure the exchange rate for you – to the advantage of the hotel workers.
This is actually a common tactic. Many vendors along tourist routes will accept your currency, and fudge the numbers while giving you change in the local currency.
3. Bring local currency.
If you want to be able to negotiate on fairer terms, and avoid exchange rate scams, you should bring local currency ahead of time. Look for a reputable place to exchange your currency for the local currency. Know the exchange rate, and look for a location that offers the exchange service for a relative low fee (every exchange will cost commission). Then, armed with the local currency, you can negotiate on better terms.
Even if you pay in your own currency, know the exchange rate. Understanding the rate of exchange ahead of time can help you calculate accurate costs so that you aren’t taken advantage of. If you know the exchange rate, you can spot when someone is trying to fudge the numbers a bit, and you can make sure the change you get back in a local currency is accurate.
4. Practice negotiation ahead of time.
One of the best things to do is to be prepared to negotiate. Negotiation is expected in many other countries. As Americans, we tend to get out of the habit of bargaining, and tend to dislike negotiation. However, in other countries, it is often part of the process. Find out ahead of time what is appropriate for bargaining in the country you plan to visit. Then, practice negotiation ahead of time. It can also help you learn a bit of the language so that you are able to understand a little more of what is happening around you.
What do you think? How do you avoid paying high tourist prices while on vacation? Leave a comment!
“Do you owe thousands in credit card debt? We can help you reduce your debt so that you pay just pennies on the dollar!” Chances are that you have heard something similar on the radio (or seen an ad in print or online) with a similar promise. While it may seem too good to be true, many of these ads are actually advertising a legitimate service: debt settlement.
What is Debt Settlement?
Debt settlement is a process by which creditors accept an amount of money from you that is less than you owe. Rather than waiting for you to go through a payment plan where you pay off the entire debt (including interest and other accrued fees), the creditor agrees to let you pay less than you owe over time.
Your debt is considered done and over with when you settle your debt. It is possible to attempt to settle your debt on your own, but many people who go this route work with a debt settlement company that helps them.
Why Would the Creditor Accept Less Than You Owe?
Debt settlement works on the principle that the creditor is convinced that you won’t be paying the whole amount anyway, so some money is better than no money. Rather than risk being left with nothing because you just don’t pay, or even file for bankruptcy, the creditor (usually those who have made unsecured loans to you) agrees to settle with you for a lesser amount paid at once.
Of course, since the point is to convince your creditor that you won’t be able to make payments, you have to, in fact, stop making payments. Most creditors won’t consider settling until you are at least 90 days behind on your payments. When you do this on your own, you can set aside money in an account, allowing it to build up over time, while you stop making payments. When you settle debts with the help of a company, you actually make monthly payments to the service provider. The debt settlement company takes a fee off the top, and then puts your money in an account.
None of the money goes to your creditors. Instead, it grows until the creditor is ready to settle. Then, when the creditor is ready, the settlement company negotiates the amount you will pay, and uses the money from your account to pay the creditor.
Debt Settlement Will Destroy Your Credit Score
The first thing you have to understand about debt settlement is that it can harm your credit score. Obviously, since debt settlement doesn’t work unless you haven’t been making payments, your credit score will plummet because you are behind on your accounts. Next, you will receive a negative entry on your credit report regarding the settlement.
Normally, you want a loan account marked paid as agreed or paid in full. This indicates that you fulfilled the terms of the loan. If you go through debt settlement, your account will be marked as paid but it will be missing that crucial as agreed. In some cases, it might even be noted as settled. This lets future lenders know that you have settled your debts before – and that you might do so again. Some lenders are quite reluctant to let you borrow if they suspect you won’t repay the loan according to the original terms.
If you are already struggling, and already behind on your debts, debt settlement might be an option. Make sure that you are working with a legitimate company with certified debt arbitrators, and that is accredited by The Association of Settlement Companies. Also, shop around for lower fees and look for a service guarantee. If you are current on your accounts, though, you should think twice before ruining your credit with a debt settlement.
Have you used a debt settlement company? How did it go? Leave your thoughts in the comments section!
This article was originally published October 3rd, 2012.
As business owners and managers, one of the main responsibilities is staffing. Trying to find the right mix of people in terms of experience, knowledge, ambition, commitment and loyalty is a never-ending and exhausting task. It’s one of those tasks that never seems to go away, and that is precisely why those personnel changes that would greatly benefit the company or department in the long run, are avoided short-term.
Very few people actually enjoy firing or demoting employees. It is one of those truly unpleasant tasks that come with authority. The decision maker would rather spend their time rationalizing why that employee should stay in that position rather than focusing on the realization that the business is suffering because of their inability to act.
Here are some reasons why the ability to pull the trigger is always difficult:
1. There are costs associated with firing and hiring.
When dealing with employee turnover, the cost can be astronomical. You have recruiting, screening of applicants, the man-hours it takes to interview candidates, training and the lower productivity through the transition with other employees taking on more work to pick up the slack. Studies show that the expense of replacing an employee can cost up to 18 months’ salary of the position being filled. That is a very difficult pill to swallow.
2. The situation could be worse.
This particular employee is not carrying their weight, but they get along with everybody, show up on time and don’t cause any issues. Compared to previous employees, the problem could be much more magnified. It’s not the best situation, but it’s “not that bad.”
3. The boss or company could be afraid of retaliation.
Depending on the employee, there could be a concern that any personnel move could result in anything from physical violence or bad publicity to legal action. Issues of age, race, gender, sexual preference or even physical handicap can come back to bite the owner or manager if there is no perceived reason for disciplinary action or removal.
4. The employee might be a linchpin in the company, but horrible to the staff.
Maybe it’s a salesperson who spends their free time sexually harassing other employees. It could be that the salesperson knows the intricate details of a specific process or software program, but is incredibly nasty to the rest of the staff or has little value elsewhere in the company. It might be too tempting for the boss to keep that person on board since they are important to the company, when they should really be fired for sexual harassment.
5. The employee might be pulling on heartstrings.
This employee is a single mother struggling to get by. That one has health issues and needs the medical benefits. The one that is now caring for their elderly father. These issues are real, they are everywhere, and they are affecting business productivity and revenues in just about every company regardless of industry.
None of us live in a bubble, nor are we heartless. The above listed issues are real and there must be serious thought put into each situation, because they are all different. However, if as a manager or business owner, these are just being used as an excuse to not pull the trigger on something that should have happened long ago, it is time to get going and move forward.
As the decision-maker in a company or department, it is you that is being continuously scrutinized by colleagues, clients, competitors and even the general public. Especially as a business owner, it is your belief system and ideas that have helped you take your company to the level you are at now. Failing to continue with those beliefs or to follow through with them can and will have a direct effect on the company’s bottom line.
Again, nobody lives in a vacuum. We all have outside pressures to deal with. Now is the time to look at the ones affecting you and your company and reevaluate each of them.
Are you thinking of firing or laying off an employee? What kinds of things hold you back? Leave a non-specific, general comment!
Thinking about mortgage refinancing? You’re not alone, with some of the best mortgage rates available in history many people are debating whether they should spend the money and refinance.
The benefit of refinancing comes from borrowing at a lower mortgage rate so you can either lower your payments or reduce your loan term, either way saving thousands of dollars over the life of your home loan.
However, there are some pitfalls to watch out for; here are some of the mortgage refinancing mistakes you will want to avoid:
1. Paying high closing costs.
When you refinance, you are essentially getting a new mortgage to replace your old mortgage. This means fees; origination fees, administrative fees and other closing expenses.
Many people simply pay them, adding them to the cost of the loan and reducing the savings benefit of refinancing your home. Instead, shop around and compare costs between various banks and credit unions. Check out this article on how to lower your home loan closing costs.
2. Not getting a big enough discount on the rate.
Many people refinance because rates have dropped but then find that the difference in the interest rate wasn’t big enough to really save them money. If there is only a small difference, the closing costs can erode the savings you are getting.
If you don’t stay in your house for five to seven years after you refinance, this small difference can actually result in you losing out over all. The generally accepted rule of thumb is that the new rate should be at least a full percent lower than your current rate, and you should be planning to stay in your home for a few years.
3. Waiting too long for a good rate.
It is tricky trying to predict how low mortgage rates will go. In some cases, you might wait too long, and then find that you missed your opportunity. At this point, mortgage rates are unlikely to drop very dramatically again in the near the future. Waiting for even lower rates could mean that you miss out altogether.
Look at the current rates, and then look at your mortgage rate. If you will be saving more than one percent, it might be worth it to just go ahead and refinance now. Rates are not likely to head another full percent lower, but if they head higher, you will have missed out.
4. Taking cash out with a refinance.
One of the biggest mistakes that people make with mortgage refinancing is to get a cash out loan. In this type of refinance, you get a loan for more than you owe. For instance, if you owe $170,000 on your home, but it is worth $205,000, you might refinance for $180,000. You pocket the $10,000 difference between what you actually owe and what you borrowed. (Of course, closing costs can erode what you actually end up with.)
Cash out refinances can be an issue for several reasons. First of all, you are adding to your debt. Another concern is that your cash out refinance could put you above the 80% loan-to-value ratio, and result in the necessity of paying private mortgage insurance, which adds to your costs. Some people like to do a cash out refinance and pay off consumer debt, but if you are not careful, this could land you in even more trouble – especially if you just run up the balances on your newly paid credit cards.
In the end, it’s better to avoid a cash out refinance if you can, and just stick to refinancing what you actually owe on your home mortgage.
What are some other mistakes people make when they refinance? Leave a comment!
This article was originally published September 15th, 2010.
Have you ever half-followed financial advice? What kind of results have you seen?
I remember once having a sinus infection and using doctor-prescribed antibiotics with mixed success. The symptoms got to the point where I actually went to bed early two nights in a row, something that hadn’t happened in a year or two. I finally broke down and tried an unpleasant treatment that my physician recommended but I had been avoiding. This got me thinking about the consequences of only following part of a doctor’s advice. Likewise, there are probably negative consequences to only following part of a financial advisor’s advice.
If you get financial advice from a book, magazine, website, or advisor and only follow some of it, are you really helping to cure your financial illness? The many areas of personal finance such as income, debt, saving money, insurance, taxes, and investments can all influence one another and you aren’t really financially healthy unless you manage every area.
Start investing but don’t pay down debt.
If you’re earning 10% on your investments but paying higher rates on credit card debt you’re losing more than you’re earning.
Start an emergency fund but don’t buy insurance.
Having an emergency fund is great but without insurance an unexpected event could end up costing you far more than you have saved in your backup fund.
Working to increase income but not to reduce taxes.
You’re working so hard to earn more money but the more you make, the more taxes you pay. Taking the time to do some tax planning could help you keep more of what you worked so hard to earn.
Trying to keep track of every part of your financial life is difficult since there are so many things to consider and all the options can be a bit overwhelming. Make sure you don’t get bogged down and take no action since you don’t know where to start; that would be the worst thing to do. Instead choose one area, get it straight, and then move on to the next.
Once you get a plan in place for each part of your financial life you can always go back and make changes as you see fit. Don’t know where to start? Why not checkout a basic personal finance book online or from the library to get you rolling?
Are you implementing financial advice? What areas do you feel you are neglecting? Leave a comment!
This article was originally published October 27, 2007.
Pet insurance costs might be a little high for your budget right now but if you have a dog, cat, or some other beloved animal you should give some thought to what you’d do if your pet was really sick or badly injured.
Would you pay thousands of dollars to your veterinarian to nurse your pet back to health? Would you end up wishing you’d taken the time to research and compare pet insurance plans?
Pet Insurance Costs
I’m not speaking from personal experience about pet insurance, our two little kids keep us busy enough without adding a little puppy into the mix. However, I do come from a family of animal lovers. We always had a dog, cat, or one of each roaming around the house when I was growing up and that fondness for animals stuck with us.
My sister brought home a cute little dog a few years ago, named Peanut, that’s become a major part of her life. As a parent, I can understand why she was pretty upset when her “little kid” suddenly got really sick while back. The vet recommended surgery to save Peanut’s life and being the caring person she is, my sister did whatever she needed to make him better.
The good news was that Peanut pulled through but the bad news was the vet bill that came along with his health. As with any unexpected major expense, this wasn’t money my sister had been planning on spending. Fortunately she didn’t have to go into any high-interest debt to pay the bill but it did set her back quite a bit financially.
So, if you’re a pet lover and think you could have a big expense like this someday, here’s a little more information about pet insurance.
What Does Pet Insurance Cover?
Pet insurance coverage depends on the type of plan you get, and the conditions that the policy covers. There are some pet health insurance plans that will cover everything, from check-up visits to heart worm medication to surgery. Other plans are more specialized, covering only major items such as poison extraction (if your pet swallows something deadly) or broken bones due to being hit by a car.
Also, some pet insurance policies won’t cover pre-existing conditions. The older your pet is, the more likely they are to have a condition that won’t be covered. Make sure you are clear on what you are getting in terms of coverage when you purchase a pet insurance policy.
The cost of pet insurance varies according to policy as well. In a lot of ways, the cost of pet insurance is figured similarly to the cost of insurance for humans. The size of the policy, what is covered, your deductible, co-pays, age and health are all considered when a pet insurance company provides you with a quote. Even your ZIP code can affect pet insurance rates. Some plans are as little as $5 or $10 a month, and others can be as much as $50 or more per month.
Is Pet Insurance Worth It?
As with all personal finance decisions, it is up to you to determine whether pet insurance works for you. Some people consider that they may pay $15 a month for 10 years, and have nothing happen to their pets. That’s a lot of money ($1,800 over the course of 10 years) when you add it up. Some decide that they will wait until their pets are older to get pet insurance, since many young dogs don’t need as much veterinary care. However, if you wait too long, the insurance becomes expensive – or the pre-existing conditions make it pointless.
Others decide to self-insure. You can set aside money in a high-interest savings account each month, waiting for it to grow over the life span of your pet. When something happens, you have the funds available to help pay the costs. If your pet reaches the end of their life without major medical problems, you have all that money, instead of the insurance company. Of course, your savings may not be enough if your pet has an accident while young.
In the end, you have to decide how much you are willing to spend on your pet, and whether the peace of mind associated with pet insurance is worth it. If you are interested in shopping around for pet insurance, you can check with the following sites:
So what do you think? Is pet insurance worth the money for you? Leave a comment!
This article was originally published March 23, 2011.
With the rise of the Internet, bringing with it advanced technology and the ability to interact online – including via video – more students are interested in the opportunities that arise from Internet courses. My husband teaches online courses for the local state university in our town. These classes count toward a degree.
Not only is it possible to take a few online classes to fulfill degree requirements, but some programs even allow you to earn your entire degree online, without the need to step foot inside a classroom. While this might sound like a great idea, the reality is that not all online degrees are created equal – and some aren’t as respected as traditional degrees.
What Makes an Online Degree Legitimate?
Where you get your online degree matters. In fact, Drexel University offers three qualifications to help you determine whether or not your online degree will be competitive with more traditional, offline-earned degrees:
- Accreditation: This is the most important qualification for an online degree. It needs to be from a regionally-accredited school. Before you fork over the cash for an online degree program, make sure the school is properly accredited. That makes a big difference when it comes to credibility.
- Traditional Campus: According to Drexel, 89 percent of academic believers agree that an online degree is just as legitimate as a more traditional degree – as long as that online degree comes from a school that has a traditional campus. This is an advantage for you as well. If you get a degree through North Carolina’s online MBA program, an employer isn’t going to know that you completed the online program. Going to school online doesn’t matter if you get a degree from an accredited university that also has a “regular” campus.
- Established Brand: The rise of online degrees from established, respected schools can be a great help for students who might not have the time or ability to move to a prestigious campus. If you can get your online degree from a respected school with an established education brand, so much the better for you. You can enjoy the prestige without the need to uproot your family and trek hundreds of miles to the campus.
There are plenty of degree mills out there that will grant you a degree or certification in almost anything. Unfortunately, many of these sites are not considered as reputable as others. Getting an online degree from a “school” that pumps them out constantly is not usually a wise path to follow, since you could very well end up with a degree that no employer respects.
When you choose to complete your degree through an online program that meets Drexel’s three requirements, you are far more likely to succeed. Your program of study is likely to be just as rigorous as the offline version (my husband’s courses are all at least as tough as their offline counterparts). Plus, you’ll end up with an online degree that many employers won’t even realize was obtained without you setting foot in a classroom.
What do you think about online degrees? Leave a comment and let us know.
A no-load vs. load mutual fund, which is better? This was a reader question that came in through the contact form a while back.
A “no-load” mutual fund is one in which the investment company sells it directly to the public. A mutual fund with a “load” is one in which the investment company sells the fund through a third party, which adds on a sales charge. That “party” is your financial professional and the charge goes to pay their commission. The difference between the two is this:
No-Load = Choose Mutual Funds Yourself
That’s not exactly a bad thing. If an investor has the time, the knowledge and the ability to choose their own funds, they can save on fees that normally go to the financial professional. Since they’re not paying a fee, they don’t need as high of a return as a load fund would to make the same amount of money.
Load Fund Fees
When you purchase a “load” fund, you are paying that professional for their time, knowledge and discretion in choosing mutual funds for your portfolio. Some investors do not want to pick out their own mutual funds and rely on professionals to do so.
There are different types of fee structures, the share class of the fund signifies how the investor pays their fee and how a financial professional receives their commission. The investments in the underlying mutual fund are exactly the same regardless of share class. It is extremely important that an investor know the differences in these share classes before making any final investment decisions.
Note: All fees or commissions mentioned below refer specifically to the individual investment. You may have other account fees, etc. Also please keep in mind, that placing trades may cause taxable events, those are not being discussed here.
Fund Share Classes
Class A Shares
Class A shares are “front-end” loaded shares. This means the investor pays the commission up front, which is usually 5%. If you purchase $1,000 of a mutual fund, $950 is what actually gets invested. The financial professional usually receives a commission up front and a small “trail” starting at month 13.
Class B Shares
Class B shares are “back-end” loaded shares. The investor does not pay any commissions up front. They pay when they sell. How much they pay is based on how long they held the fund. It usually takes 7 years to clear all back-end fees.
Although the investor pays on the back-end, the financial professional receives their commission up front. This can set up a difficult situation where the investor is locked into a fund that either isn’t performing or suitable, but can not do anything because of the back-end charge. The financial professional has already been paid and may not have the same attention since that investor is basically stuck.
Class C Shares
Class C shares are “level-load” shares. The investor does not pay upfront or on the back-end. Every penny put in is invested. The difference is that the internal expenses of the fund will be slightly higher than the Class A share, so the net performance will be slightly different. The professional receives a smaller commission than the A or B shares, but gets a higher trail. As the fund goes, so does the professional’s income.
Comparing Fund Share Classes
When trying to decide whether to use Class A or Class C shares, the break-even point in terms of fees is somewhere between six and seven years. If you plan on holding for longer than that, then a Class A share might make sense. If you have a shorter timeframe or plan on re-allocating your assets, then “C” shares make more sense. Also keep this in mind. If a fund changes managers, or starts to perform poorly, or your goals and timeframes change, Class C shares make it easier to make adjustments.
So which way should you go? That depends on how you are handling your investments and if you have time to do your own research. One issue you may come up against is the dwindling supply of “no-loads.” Many companies used to make these available, but more and more over the years, they are moving towards the “load” side of things.
With the proper due diligence, a strong portfolio can be built using either, or a combination of the two.
What are your favorite types of mutual funds? Leave a comment!
This article was originally published on June 15th, 2011.