Getting Out of Debt

We live in a culture where more is better, and spending beyond our means is encouraged. Because of this, the average American household has an average of $15,611 in credit card debt, over $150,000 in mortgage debt, and $32,000 in student loans. These numbers are alarming, and are a reality for many people. There’s nothing worse than feeling suffocated by debt, but the situation is not hopeless. Though it takes dedication and sacrifice, these few simple steps can help you save money, and work your way out of debt.

Stop Borrowing Money

This one may be obvious, but don’t take on any more loans, and don’t borrow money to pay off your loans. If you truly want to get out of debt, you need to stop spending, and concentrate on shrinking down what you have.

Know Your Number & Organize Debt

Pull out all of your loan paperwork, or access it online. Even if it’s cringe worthy, add up your total debt to know exactly what you’re working with.  Organize your loans with the ones accruing the most interest as a priority and the ones with the lowest interest being paid off last. You’ll want to avoid extra interest charges by tackling the high interest ones first.

Make a Budget

Sit down, and really look at the expenses of your family. Be realistic with your expenditures, but realize that you are also going to need to cut back on luxuries in order to tackle your debt.  Make sure to look at things like past credit card statements, utility bills, and car payments to accurately set your budget.  If your numbers just aren’t adding up, consider taking on extra work.  Nobody said getting out of debt was easy, and working after hours just might be what it takes.  Cut out things like eating out and going on expensive outings to movies and concerts.  Instead of shopping at expensive department stores, consider more budget friendly stores like Sears where you can get more for your money.

Start an Emergency Fund

Oftentimes, when families encounter a crisis, they borrow money to stay afloat.  By stocking a small emergency fund, usually about $1000, the money will be available for those unexpected situations.

Stay Committed

Though it’s tempting to spend your tax return on a family vacation, that money should be used to pay off debt. If fully committed to the cause, any extra money should be used to pay down loans.  Use your tax return, birthday money, and rebates to get one step closer towards your goal.
Getting out of debt is possible if you’re willing to work hard, make sacrifices, and stay committed.  Follow these steps, and you’ll experience the financial freedom you’ve always dreamed of.

How to Build the Best Case for a Structured Settlement Sale

You would think that selling a structured settlement would be a relatively simple process. However, if you’re not prepared for the realities of this situation, it can be quite complicated. The most important thing to understand is that you have to go back to court, and the judge MUST approve the sale of your settlement. Without the judge’s approval, your sale is out the window. Of course, you’ll still enjoy your regular scheduled payments, but you will not receive a lump sum. The trick is to make the best case possible for the judge to approve your sale. How do you do that?

Real Financial Need

One of the first things to understand in this process is that you need to have a real financial need. If you’re selling your settlement simply because you want the extra cash on hand, the judge is going to take a dim view of your sale. If you’re selling your settlement to help make ends meet because you’re out of work, but haven’t done any actual job hunting (and are able to work), the judge likely won’t approve your sale. While there’s no way to give a 100% guarantee that a judge will approve the sale of your structured settlement, having a real, verifiable financial need for a lump sum payment goes a long way.

Prove You’ve Gotten the Advice of an Attorney

Let’s get something straight – you do NOT have to consult an attorney concerning the sale of your structured settlement. However, it’s a wise thing to do. If you can prove to the judge that you’ve spoken with an attorney about the sale and been advised that it’s the best move for your situation, he or she will mark that in your favor. Of course, consulting an attorney before selling your settlement really is a good idea in order to get some necessary legal guidance here.

Working with a Reputable Buyer

Not all buyers out there are on the up and up. Some have a long, verifiable history. Some are newcomers. Some are “shady”. The judge is going to investigate the buyer and if he or she finds that the buyer isn’t up to par, your sale is on the skids. Make sure that you’re working with a reputable buyer capable of upholding their responsibilities after the sale is finalized. That can be difficult for most consumers who have never been in this position before. There is a way around this obstacle, though. You’ll find third party service providers available that work in the seller’s best interests. These firms vet and verify the quality of all buyers so you don’t have to stress about it.

If you follow these brief tips, you’ll make your case more palatable for the judge and increase your chances of being approved to sell your structured settlement. The most important consideration of all is to work with a reputable seller services company to streamline the process and protect your interests from unsavory buyers.

How to Get a Job on Wall Street

“Wall Street firms know they can train on the business — they want exciting, interesting, and motivated people,” says Matt Bodnar. In 2009, he landed a job with one of the most prestigious investment firms, Goldman Sachs, right out of college. Surprisingly, he wasn’t even a finance guy.

If you’re pursuing top finance jobs, odds are working on Wall Street is on your bucket list. Often thought of as the brass ring of the industry, a job on Wall Street can seem so elusive it is almost mythical. However, it doesn’t have to be. We spoke with some industry professionals to get their opinions and advice on how to secure a position on New York’s most famous street.

Differentiate yourself

“The single most important factor in getting my job at Goldman Sachs was being DIFFERENT and standing out from the crowd of finance majors with 3.5+ GPAs,” recalls Bodnar. “At the end of the day, those résumés just blend together. I was a political science major and studied abroad in China. I leveraged an internship in China to make my résumé stand out from the crowd by being memorable and unique.”

He points out that while it is crucial to stand out from the pack, you still need the right credentials if you want to get hired straight out of college.

“I still studied my butt off to get the fundamentals down for my interviews,” he explains. “I read about 14 books on everything from economics to accounting. I also poured deeply over the ‘Vault [Career] Guide to Investment Banking,’ which is a great tool to learn the industry lingo.

“Another more playful tip — read the book Liar’s Poker. This is considered mandatory reading for anyone wanting a job on the street,” says Bodnar. Today, he is a serial entrepreneur and angel investor with the Bodnar Investment Group.

Get your foot in the door

Elle Kaplan did not follow the same path that many seeking finance jobs follow. Her college majors were English and chemistry. “Headhunters I contacted said I would never get a job on Wall Street,” she remembers. Yet she was persistent and believed in her dream.

“My entrance into the finance industry was not automatic. I was rejected initially from every bank I applied to,” says Kaplan. “Finally, I accepted an interview for a receptionist position at a private equity firm.”

Once she got her foot in the door, she told her interviewer that she was interested in a more substantial role in the company, particularly that of analyst. “They changed my interview track, and four rounds of intense interviews later, I had the job.”

Kaplan went on to work years on Wall Street, earning her Executive MBA in finance from Columbia University in the process. She attributes her success to persistence, tenacity, and drive. Today she is the CEO and founding partner of one of the only woman-owned asset management firms in the U.S., Lexion Capital Management.

Be an expert in something

The most straightforward path to getting one of the top finance jobs on Wall Street or elsewhere begins, of course, with graduating at the top of your class at an Ivy League school with impressive internships under your belt. However, as GovernmentAuctions.org president and co-founder Ian Aronovich points out, “not everyone is capable of doing that.”

So what can you do? Aronovich says another way is through expertise in a given field. High-growth fields, like healthcare, are attractive, but many others are as well.

“[I]f you are a top-notch securities or corporate finance attorney … you can always go in-house for a Wall Street investment bank, or even [segue] into investment banking, compliance or just about anything else you want to. … [I]f you are computer or math whiz, you can get hired to help out with proprietary [algorithms] and frequency trading.”

Don’t be selfish

When it comes to finance jobs or any jobs, certain universal truths apply. Employment attorney Lori B. Rassas says the key to getting hired is “to make the entire networking process … about the employer and meeting the employer’s needs — not the needs of the applicant.”

Rassas, author of “Employment Law: A Guide to Hiring, Managing and Firing for Employers and Employees” (Wolters Kluwer 2011), reminds jobseekers to keep their focus on the goals of the company for whom they are trying to work. “It is about the employer’s need to bring in clients, maintain clients, and earn revenue,” she shares.“Anything and everything a jobseeker communicates to a prospective employer should be directly linked to those goals.”

Taking the Book out of Small Business Bookkeeping

In an ideal world, we could focus all of our energy on growing and improving our small businesses through strategic initiatives and creative thinking. But in reality, there are logistics and administrative tasks that can get in the way of focusing on what you do best. One such task is bookkeeping. With web-based apps and software packages, bookkeeping is no longer a paper-based, manual process. But with that comes a new challenge: investing in the right technology to support the changing needs of your business. Successfully tackling the burdensome but necessary process of bookkeeping means developing a solid plan and maintaining an approach that’s right for you.

To Outsource or Not to Outsource

The first accounting decision small business owners need to make is whether they want to do their bookkeeping in-house or if they want to outsource this function. There is no right or wrong answer, although some experts advise not outsourcing at the beginning; this gives you an opportunity to gain some foundational knowledge of bookkeeping practices.1

Assuming you decide to manage your bookkeeping in-house, the next decision you’ll need to make is what accounting software or online application you’ll use. Choosing the most frugal option is most likely a priority. But a common mistake is equating “frugal” with price alone.

Devil in the Details

While some accounting software might be free, it can cause disastrous revenue decline and hinder profitability if it’s not the right program for your particular needs. Mike Budiac, who runs FindAccountingSoftware.com (a website designed to help small businesses choose the right accounting packages), knows how important it is to choose the right one. An expert in this area, he has seen how “it can make the difference between businesses that are profitable versus not profitable.”

This is why it’s important to avoid making decisions based on price alone. The most frugal option might be one that’s a higher investment upfront but provides a stronger ROI over time. Keeping that in mind, there are a few overarching categories to choose from: 1) free programs 2) paid accounting packages and 3) web-based applications.

Free Bookkeeping Programs

If your business needs are simple and you don’t need much help as far as tutorials go, there are some credible programs out there that will cost you absolutely nothing to use. Some of the free programs available include:

  1. Zoho Invoice – very simple, basic invoice software meant for small businesses and freelancers
  2. Outright – accounting and bookkeeping application designed for small businesses with no need for payroll or inventory
  3. Wave Accounting – online software for help with invoicing, accounting and payroll

Top 3 Paid Small Business Accounting Packages

  1. Sage 50 (formerly Peachtree): this desktop application includes basic bookkeeping functionality and the expertise and reassurance that Sage offers as a world-leading supplier of accounting and business management software

Price: $369 (1 user)

  1. AccountEdge: available as both a desktop application and a mobile app, AccountEdge lets users manage their small business finances from pretty much anywhere. It is available in both a basic edition and a pro edition, depending on how many features are needed

Price: $99.00 (Basic Edition) / $299 (Pro Edition)

  1. Quickbooks Premier Edition: easily the most recognizable brand name in this category, Quickbooks offers advanced reporting and accounting tools tailored to your business

Price: $399.95

Top 3 Web-Based Applications

Last but not least, here’s how the top web-based applications rank (according to cio.com):

  1. Freshbooks ($19.95/month): a simple, cloud-based application that lets small businesses access their data from virtually anywhere and guides them through various accounting tasks with step-by-step wizards
  2. Quickbooks Online Simple Start ($12.95/month): performs basic accounting functions such as creating invoices, tracking sales/expenses, downloading banking transactions, etc and allows some flexibility through add-ons such as the Quickbooks “Payroll Bundle”
  3. Kashoo ($16/month): another simple accounting application that lets users access their data from multiple places (phone, iPad, web browser). There is also a free version of this available but it limits a user’s transactions to 20 per month

Work Smarter, Not Harder

Just like bookkeeping itself, selecting the right program requires attention to detail and a firm grasp on the unique needs of your business. Few people will tell you bookkeeping is fun but choosing the right accounting method will at least make it easier to work smarter and not harder.

Angie Picardo is a staff writer for NerdWallet. Her mission is to help consumers stay financially savvy, and save some money with the best bank cd rates.

1 http://hubpages.com/hub/10-Dos-And-Donts-On-Small-Business-Accounting-Practice