Paying Down Student Loans with Smarterbank

There’s little question that student loans can be one of the more difficult debt burdens that a person can have.  The cost of tuition is rising each year, and the rates seem to be following suit.  Many college graduates are finding themselves with a degree that cost as much as their first house is likely to.  It goes to reason, then, that finding any means available to help pay that debt off is probably a good idea.

What is Smarterbank?

I was recently introduced to a product offering called Smarterbank.  It’s an online checking account that’s run by The Bancorp Bank.  It’s fully FDIC insured to $250,000 and, for most purposes, operates just like any other online checking account.  Much like some other online banks, Smarterbank has some perks attached to their accounts.

In the case of Smarterbank, they give a “cashback” that goes directly to your student loans.  For purchases under $100, they apply .5% of the purchase to your Smarterbucks account.  For purchases over $100, the first $100 gets you the same .5%, and everything over $100 gets you 1%.

Smarterbank Fees

One of the nice perks of Smarterbank is that it’s a relatively fee free account.  There’s a monthly “inactivity” fee if you don’t use the account at least once in a month of $4.50, otherwise, if you’re a smart user, you’ll never hit a fee.  And, by smart user, I mean you don’t overdraft, or do something else silly.  They’ve got fees that are associated with things like statement research, etc, but those are pretty standard and you’re pretty unlikely to ever use those services.  You also get access to over 40,000 ATMs in the STAR ATM network.

The Smarterbucks Program

As I mentioned above, the “cashback” goes into your Smarterbucks account.  So, you’re probably wondering what the heck that is.  Smarterbucks is a rewards program.  Not unlike programs like Swagbucks, it rewards you for certain actions.  Things like shopping through their portal (“Smarterbucks Marketplace”) earn you cash back that is credited to your account.  You can also ask others to contribute to your account.  That option could be pretty cool to use as an alternative for people to give to you for birthdays, Christmas, or special events.

Once your Smarterbucks account reaches $15, they send a payment for that amount to your student loan.  At first, that might not seem like much, and, really, it isn’t.  But, every little bit helps.  And every $1 you pay off early is $1 that you aren’t accruing interest on for the life of the loan.  And that can add up in a hurry.

Would you switch to an account like Smarterbank for an offer like this?  Is the offer strong enough to make it worth the time?  What other offers have you seen that help with student loan payback?

See all the details on Smarterbank.

Are You Leading Your Finances?

This last weekend, I attended a young professionals conference.  As you can imagine, a large part of the conference was spent talking about leadership.  One of the speakers was legendary basketball coach Dale Brown.  One of the breakouts was entitled “Visionary Leadership”.  I’ve also just started reading the book “Entreleadership” by Dave Ramsey.  In all of those places, there are lots of buzzwords that describe leadership, and what a leader is.

Of course, this being a personal finance site, my mind couldn’t help but apply as much of it as possible to personal finance.  When we think of our personal lives, we rarely apply the word leader to any aspect of it.  We apply it to ourselves and others in our work and volunteer lives, but not our personal lives.  Why not?

When it really comes down to it, we are the leader of our lives.  We are the ones who apply the same principles that leaders apply to business and volunteer organizations to our lives.  Or don’t.  We try and become better leaders at work.  We expect better leaders to lead us.  But rarely do we try and become better leaders in our personal life.

Leading your Finances

Leading Your FinancesPersonal finance aren’t all that much different from a business and a business’ finances.  We still have income coming in, expenses going out, and the profit left over.  Unfortunately, for many, that’s where the parallels end.  Let’s change that.  Let’s apply some of those leadership principles to our lives.  Specifically, let’s apply them to leading your finances.

Financial Efficiency

Business leaders are always looking for ways to make their business and employees more efficient.  Over the years, businesses have foregone the paper and pen and replaced them with computers.  They’ve replaced old marketing tactics with websites and social media.  Leading your finances means finding, and embracing, new ways to make your finances more efficient.  Forego the old check and envelope method of paying your bills and sign up for bill-pay.  Or automate your bill paying by setting them up for auto-pay.  Find ways to save that also create income.  Look into better rates at better banks.  Learn about dividend investing.  Learn about peer-to-peer lending.

Financial Opportunity Seeking

Many of today’s biggest and brightest businesses wouldn’t even exist today if their leaders hadn’t been continually opportunity seeking.  If all Apple still made was computers, it wouldn’t be the multi-billion dollar company that it is today.  If Steve Jobs hadn’t seen the opportunity in the iPhone, iPod, and iPad, they’d be just another company making computers.  Apply the same to your finances.  Peer-to-peer lending hasn’t always been what it is today.  There was a time where it was still a fledgling opportunity.  A small percentage, relatively, of the population saw the benefit of it as an investing avenue, and, for most, their finances are the better for it.  Be open to services and products that can help you make your finances better.

Continual Financial Improvement

Good enough is never good enough for a business leader.  The only thing that stays the same is their desire for improvement.  Beyond always seeking opportunity, we must also always be finding ways to improve our finances.  We must always be assessing the risk involved with those new opportunities, and making decisions on what will best improve our finances.

Financial Failure

Businesses fail.  If they have good leaders, they only fail momentarily and spring back stronger than ever.  They’ll have set the company up to be diversified so that any one failure shouldn’t be enough to ruin the company.  Investors talk all the time about the importance of diversifying an investment portfolio.  But, it can be applied elsewhere in our finances.  Having all of your money in one online bank is great.  Until your internet goes down and you can’t get to it to bill pay.  Diversifying to have a set amount of cash available in an emergency can help you out there.  Not depending on just stock investments is another great way to diversify for failure.  Prepare your finances so that an opportunity that fails only sets you back, doesn’t bankrupt you.

How can you improve your finances today?  What opportunities can you learn more about and assess for use in your finances?  What efficiencies can you create to make your finances better? What other leadership qualities can you apply in leading your finances?

Compare Those Credit Card Offers

Like many mailboxes around the country, mine seems to overflow on occasion with credit card offers.  I’m not sure what it is, if their marketing departments all work on the same cyclical calendar, or if there are certain market indicators that trigger a flood of offers, but whatever it is, they all seem to come all at once.  Normally, they all find their way to the shredder, to then find their way to the trash can.

One of the things that we still do, because we haven’t paid off all of our credit card debt, is to occasionally transfer the balances to take advantage of those same credit card offers.  One of those offers recently expired, and so I had been keeping my eye out for a new offer to make the move.  That offer came in the form of those little convenience checks that the credit card companies are so fond of sharing.  In this particular case, from a card that we’d already paid off, but had left open.  It had two checks in it.  One that offered 0% interest for about 13 months, and the other that offered 1.99% for about 18 months.

Which Credit Card Offer Will Reign Supreme?

Credit Card Offers

There was plenty of balance on the paid off card to take care of the entire balance of the other card.  It was just a matter of writing the check to transfer the balance, and mail it.  But, which one?  Most people, including myself, if making the decision in a quick manner would likely choose the 0% offer and mail it off.  However, it bears a little more analysis than that.  Especially if, like in our case, you don’t think you’ll have the balance paid off at the end of the 13 months.  When the transfer special expires, the rate bumps back up to the normal 12.24%.

I put a little thought into it, and thought that there might be some advantage to using the 1.99% rate with the longer term.  But, I had to be sure.  I’m no math wiz, especially when it comes to interest rates, so I went looking for a calculator that might help me figure out for sure if there was an advantage to one rate or the other.  I found two that gave me the numbers I was looking for.

Credit Card Offer Calculators

The first was a calculator from my friend Todd Tresidder over at FinancialMentor.  It’s a simple Credit Card Comparison calculator.  I think it’s meant to compare different credit cards, but I just punched in the numbers for the different offers on the same card and hit the button.  What did it tell me?

In both this calculation, and the second one, I used a few assumptions.  These aren’t really true assumptions, but I had to use some baseline to determine the difference.  I assumed that it would take us longer than 18 months to pay off the entire balance.  I used an approximate payment.  I also assumed (since the calculators didn’t allow for different payments) that we’d pay the same payment for the entire life of the credit card.  Here’s what I found.

In Todd’s calculator, the difference between the two offers was about 5 payments to payoff, and about $300 in savings.  Which one won?  The 1.99% offer. My initial thoughts were confirmed.  An interesting note; I played with the payment amount, and the more we pay as a payment, the less difference there is.  In fact, there’s a tipping point, where the 0% offer is better.  As I suspected, the more you pay, the sooner you’ll pay off the balance, and the more advantage you get from using the 0% rate.  But, remember that I made the assumption that we wouldn’t be paying it off in less than 18 months, so that isn’t an issue in our case.

The second calculator that I used is this credit card balance transfer calculator.  This calculator seemed to be set up a little more for this specific calculation.  It adds in calculations for the balance transfer fee which is something that you certainly need to take into account if you are thinking of transferring a balance.  With all the numbers punched in, and the calculator spinning up, my initial thought was once again confirmed.  In fact, this calculator seemed to show even more advantage to going with the 1.99% rate.  Here, I got an answer of about $405 in costs.  Again, massaging the payment gave the same results in that the more you pay, the more advantage there might be in taking the 0% rate.

We Have A Credit Card Offer Winner!

So, all that calculated, we filled out the check for the 1.99% transfer and sent it off.  But, it brought an interesting revelation to me.  You’ve got to compare the offers.  A difference of a few months, or a few interest rate points can make a much larger difference than you think.  Compare them thoroughly, and try and make accurate assumptions about your payoff behavior so that calculators like the ones I used can give you accurate information.

Have you ever found that an offer that, at first glance didn’t seem the best, really was?