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This Student Loan Tip Saves You Money Year After Year

You don’t usually think of your student loan lender as a source to save you money. But by signing up for automatic payments today, you could land a discount and put money back in your pocket.

If you sign up for auto-debit, which most federal and private student-loan lenders offer, you’ll get a 0.25 percentage point reduction in your interest rate and have your bill amount drawn directly from your bank account every month. This nets you savings and prevents you from missing payments, as long as you ensure your bank account can handle the amount being removed.

And if you choose to invest those savings, you could grow your money even more.

Here’s what those savings might look like: A typical borrower who graduated in 2015 owes $30,100 in student loans, according to the Institute for College Access and Success. If this borrower had a 6% loan APR and that was reduced by 0.25 percentage point to 5.75%, she could save about $45 per year. Over the standard 10-year loan period, that would come to around $450 in savings.

Borrowers with higher loan balances stand to save even more. Graduate students, for example, have a median debt of $57,600, and 1 in 4 have debts of $99,614 or higher, according to New America, a public policy think tank. Those with lower balances won’t gain as much in savings, but they will earn a bit back plus the chance to set their payments and forget them.

Auto vs. manual payments Debt APR (with and without auto-pay) Monthly payment Total payment over 10 years Annual savings Savings over 10 years $10,000 6.00% $111 $13,322 -- -- $10,000 5.75% $110 $13,172 $15 $150 $30,100 6.00% $334 $40,101 -- -- $30,100 5.75% $330 $39,649 $45 $452 $75,000 6.00% $833 $99,918 -- -- $75,000 5.75% $823 $98,792 $113 $1,126 $100,000 6.00% $1,110 $133,225 -- -- $100,000 5.75% $1,098 $131,723 $150 $1,502

Note: The above APR reflects a sample interest rate that could be held by borrowers with federal or private loans; some amounts, such as monthly payment figures, have been rounded for use in this table.

If you’re thinking, “Forty-five bucks a year? Who cares?” consider what you could save — and make — by not paying that extra interest.

With an additional $45 per year you could:

  • Pad your Roth IRA. Say you make an initial deposit of $500, then contribute your $45 savings annually. At a 7% fixed rate of return, you could grow your balance to $1,679 in 10 years.
  • Pay off some high-interest debt faster, such as a credit card or personal loan.
  • Reduce your student loan principal by $45 by instructing your lender to apply the amount this way.
  • Donate to your favorite charity or political action organization and possibly get a tax break.
  • Add to your emergency savings to feel even more prepared for that “rainy day.”
Another interest-saving tactic

If you’re looking to shave even more off your interest rates, consider student loan refinancing, in which your current loans are replaced with a new, private loan that has a lower interest rate. Refinance lenders generally look for candidates with a steady income, good credit and a few years of work experience, or a co-signer with those qualifications. Use a refinancing calculator to see how much you might be able to save.

Private loan borrowers are the best candidates to lower their interest rate through refinancing, as they won’t give up certain protections and programs that federal loan borrowers have, such as income-driven repayment plans or federal student loan forgiveness.

Jennifer Wang, director of the Washington, D.C., office of the Institute for College Access and Success, cautions federal loan borrowers who are looking to lower their interest rate through refinancing. “[If] you don’t have the option of income-driven repayment, which private loans don’t, then anyone could struggle to repay their loans and it would be too late to revert back to a federal loan.”

If you’re looking to save money on your loan payments, enrolling in auto-pay is probably a no-brainer. Refinancing will require more consideration, including how the decision might affect you in the future when you might want those federal protections.

Anna Helhoski is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: anna@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @AnnaHelhoski

5 Overlooked Small-Business Tax Deductions for 2017

Failing to claim all the small-business tax deductions you’re entitled to is like flushing money down the toilet. Deductions are a legal way to reduce the amount of business income that is subject to tax.

Keeping good records is key to backing up the deductions, says Barbara Weltman, author of “J.K. Lasser’s Small Business Taxes 2017.”

“Keep receipts, invoices and other documentation,” she says. “If you don’t have the proof, you could be out of luck.”

You probably know that you can deduct salaries and wages, mortgage interest and taxes, office supplies, the cost of repairs and insurance, and depreciation on property. But here are some commonly overlooked small-business tax deductions.

1. Home office deduction

Do you use a room in your home as your primary place of business, where you deal with patients, clients or customers? You may be able to claim a home office deduction on your personal income taxes, as long as you use part of your home exclusively for conducting business. But using a room as both an office and a place for guests to stay, for example, probably disqualifies you.

If you qualify, decide whether to deduct actual expenses or use the IRS’ simplified method.

If you deduct actual expenses, only amounts spent solely for the business part of your home will be eligible for full deductions (for example, painting or repairs in the area used for business). Indirect expenses — such as insurance, utilities, rent and general repairs — are deductible based on the percentage of your home used for business. Other unrelated expenses, such as lawn maintenance, are not deductible.

If you choose the simplified method, calculate your deduction by multiplying $5 by the square footage of the area of your home used for business. The IRS limits the area deducted under this method to 300 square feet, so the maximum simplified deduction is $1,500.

More information on qualifying for the home office deduction can be found at IRS Publication 587.

» MORE: Best tax software for small businesses

2. Carryovers

Capital losses, home office deductions and net operating losses are all overlooked deductions that can be carried over into future tax years to reduce taxable income, says Weltman.

“If you work out of a home office and your expenses were actually higher than the income you earned in the home office, you can carry over the deduction to a future year,” Weltman says. However, this only works if you use the actual expense method, since there’s no carryover for the simplified method. Your carryover amount can be found on your previous year’s tax return at the bottom of Form 8829.

If your business wasn’t profitable and you had an operating loss, you actually have the option to either carry back the loss for two years (for a tax refund), or carry forward the loss for up to 20 years to offset your future taxable income, with no limit on the amount you can deduct. Doing a carryforward makes sense if the taxpayer was in a low tax bracket in the carry-back years but expects to be in a higher tax bracket going forward, Weltman says.

Whether it reduces the business’s taxable income or the business owner’s personal income depends on the company’s corporate structure. It’s best to consult an accountant or a tax professional for further guidance.

3. Startup expenses

You may be able to deduct the expenses paid to start your business, such as advertising, transportation, consultant fees, travel, employee training and wages, and legal and accounting fees.

You can deduct up to $5,000 in qualifying startup costs and up to $5,000 in organizational costs. Both deductions phase out when your total startup expenses or organizational costs hit $50,000. Each $5,000 deduction is reduced by the amount in startup costs that exceed $50,000.

If you have more than $55,000 in expenses, no first-year deduction is allowed and you’ll need to amortize all your startup and organizational costs over the next 180 months of operation, according to the IRS.

NerdWallet is a free tool to find you the best credit cards, cd rates, savings, checking accounts, scholarships, healthcare and airlines. Start here to maximize your rewards or minimize your interest rates. Steve Nicastro Get Your Free Personal Credit Score Every Week from NerdWallet Open more doors for financing your business.Set your goals and track your progress.Signing up won't affect your score. Get your free credit score 4. Losses on bad debts

Is there any money owed that your business can’t collect, such as unpaid accounts receivable or advance wages to an employee who quit? It may not be a total loss for your business because it may be a deductible expense.

The IRS defines a bad debt as one that was created or acquired in your trade or business, or closely related to your trade or business, when it became partly or totally worthless. Types of bad business debts include loans to clients, suppliers, employees or distributors, and debts of an insolvent partner. They become bad debts only after you’ve tried to collect on them for a reasonable period of time and you’ve taken “reasonable steps to collect the debt but were unable to do so,” according to the IRS.

You can claim a deduction for a bad business debt only if you previously included the amount owed to you in your gross income, according to the IRS.

5. Tax, legal and educational expenses

In general, the fees paid to your accountant, lawyers or business consultants that are “ordinary and necessary expenses directly related to operating your business” are deductible in the tax year they were paid, according to the IRS. However, legal fees that are paid to acquire business assets are not deductible.

Other eligible deductions may include tax-preparation fees paid in the previous year, licenses and regulatory fees paid to state or local governments, and expenses paid for the cost of education and training for your employees.

Insider tips: Sign up for our monthly small-business newsletter.

Steve Nicastro is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Steven.N@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @StevenNicastro.

For steps on how to turn your business idea into reality, read NerdWallet’s Starting a Business guide.

Updated Feb. 21, 2017.

Cashier’s Check: When You Need One and How to Get It

Cashier's check: Summary A cashier’s check is a check guaranteed by a bank, drawn from its own funds and signed by a cashier or teller. It’s one of the safest ways to make large payments on purchases. The most important difference from a regular check is that the bank guarantees its payment, not the purchaser.

 

You’re about to make a big purchase — maybe your first house, or a car — and even though you saved enough money for a down payment, the seller requires a cashier’s check. If you’ve never purchased a cashier’s check, you might be wondering why a personal check isn’t OK, and what kind of fees you’ll have to pay.

Here’s how cashier’s checks are used and how you can get one when you need it.

What are cashier’s checks?

A cashier’s check is a draft guaranteed by a bank, drawn from the bank’s own funds and signed by a cashier or teller. It’s used in place of cash, personal checks, credit cards or money orders.

People also use: • Money orders • Certified checks

The most important difference with a regular check is that the financial institution that issues a cashier’s check covers its face value instead of the purchaser. Sellers ask for this kind of payment because it’s guaranteed, since the funds are drawn against the bank rather than a personal account.

How can you get a cashier’s check?

A teller ensures that the purchaser has the cash to pay for the check or, if the funds being used are in an account at that bank, that there is enough there to pay for it before issuing a cashier’s check. The full amount of the check will be frozen in your account or withdrawn when the check is issued.

Fees and bank policies

Many banks charge a fee of around $10 to cut a cashier’s check, but some offer them for free to customers, depending on the type of account a customer has. At least a few charge a percentage of the check amount. Information about these fees and related policies can usually be found in the checking rates and fees pages that most institutions publish on their websites.

If you’re traveling, or in a pinch, and you can’t find a bank that will issue you a cashier’s check for cash, you may need to open an account. Our checking tool can help you compare the costs and possible charges associated with free or low-fee checking accounts.

Identification required

You’ll need to talk face to face with a teller to get a cashier’s check. You’ll have to show identification, supply the exact amount of the check you need and provide the name of the payee. You can’t get a blank cashier’s check; you must furnish the name of the payee when you purchase the check. Once the teller confirms you have the funds to cover the requested amount, the check will be written for the amount you requested, and the teller or a bank officer will sign it. NerdWallet is a free tool to find you the best credit cards, cd rates, savings, checking accounts, scholarships, healthcare and airlines. Start here to maximize your rewards or minimize your interest rates. Bev O'Shea Get Your Free Credit Score Get your free score every week.Set goals and see your progress.Signing up won't affect your score. Get your credit score

Security protection

Although funds from a cashier’s check deposited into a bank account are usually available the next day, many banks place a hold on amounts over $5,000 until the check has been cleared by the issuing bank. In some cases this can take days, but that helps protect against cashier’s check fraud. Cashier’s checks contain additional security features that make counterfeiting more difficult, and this also helps prevent scams. Try not to take a cashier’s check from someone you don’t know, and if you do receive one, wait to use the funds until several days after the check has been deposited, or check with your bank to make sure it has cleared.

If a cashier’s check is lost, banks may require the purchaser to get an indemnity bond for the amount of the lost check before issuing a replacement, according to the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, a bank regulator. This bond ensures the purchaser is liable for the replacement check.

Cashier’s check vs. certified check vs. money order

A cashier’s check isn’t the same as a certified check, which is a personal check written by a bank customer and drawn on the customer’s account. The bank certifies the signature is genuine and that the customer had sufficient funds to cover the check when it was issued.

Why use a cashier’s check instead of a money order? Money orders are inexpensive, and you can purchase them with cash or a debit card, but there may be limits, such as the U.S. Postal Service’s $1,000 cap on the amount. Also, money orders aren’t considered guaranteed funds, since they aren’t covered by another institution.

The bottom line

Cashier’s checks are one of the safest, most practical and increasingly preferred ways to make large payments on purchases. If you have a big purchase to make and can’t use a debit or credit card, a cashier’s check can be a great way to pay a large amount of money. When you purchase one of these checks from a bank or credit union, all parties can be confident that the transaction is secure and the risk of theft or fraud is minimal.

Updated Feb. 21, 2017.

LendingPoint Personal Loans: 2017 Review

NerdWallet rating: 4.0 / 5.0 Good for: Bad credit, debt consolidation

LendingPoint offers personal loans for people with average to bad credit scores who need a fresh start on paying down and consolidating debt or building credit. LendingPoint may offer cheaper interest rates than other online lenders because it looks at more than just your credit score.

LendingPoint may be a good fit for you if:

  • Your credit score is at least 600
  • Your salary is $20,000 or more
  • You live in one of these 17 states: Ala., Calif., Colo., Del., Ga., Mich., Mo., Mont., N.J., N.M., N.D., Ohio, Ore., S.D., Texas, Utah, Wash.
LendingPoint at a glance Typical APR15.49% – 34.99% Loan amounts$3,500 - $20,000 Time to fundingNext day in some cases Origination feeVaries by state Soft credit check?Yes Apply Now

 

» MORE: Lenders that offer personal loans for bad credit

LendingPoint personal loan review

To review LendingPoint, NerdWallet collected more than 30 data points from the lender, interviewed company executives, completed the online loan application process with sample data, and compared the lender with others that seek the same customer or offer a similar product.

If you have average or bad credit, LendingPoint could be a cheaper place to get a loan compared with other lenders. That’s because LendingPoint looks beyond your basic credit score, grading your creditworthiness on a range of other factors. The grades don’t correspond directly with credit scores, so someone with a low credit score could still earn a high grade and get favorable loan terms, says Tom Burnside, LendingPoint’s CEO.

The other factors include:

  • Credit history and credit card debt.
  • Employment status.
  • Current delinquencies and bankruptcies.
  • Charge offs in the last 12 months.
  • Open tax liens.
  • Debt-to-income ratio.

You can be approved for a loan in as little as 15 minutes, though in some cases it takes several days. Some borrowers receive funds by the next business day.

Customizable repayment options

LendingPoint personal loans come with a lot of flexibility. You can customize some aspects of your repayments, like choosing a payment due date and scheduling your payments every other week, every 28 days or at some other interval. The origination fee can be paid upfront or added to your interest rate. You can request one loan modification during the term of your loan.

How to apply for a LendingPoint loan

You can apply on LendingPoint’s site, or you can apply on NerdWallet using the button below. NerdWallet’s lender marketplace checks multiple lenders and displays all the loans for which you qualify, based on your application. You can compare rates in one place, and applying won’t affect your credit score.

Apply Now More about LendingPoint

LendingPoint loan requirements

  • Minimum credit score: 600
  • Minimum income: $20,000
  • Minimum credit history: None
  • Debt-to-income ratio: 45% or below

LendingPoint terms

  • APR range: 15.49 – 34.99%
  • Loan amount: $3,500 – $20,000
  • Loan duration: 24 – 48 months

LendingPoint fees and penalties

  • Origination fee: Varies by state
  • Prepayment fee: None
  • Late fee: $30 after 15-day grace period
Before you take a personal loan

Consider other debt consolidation options

Check your free credit report

Learn how personal loans work

Calculate payment scenarios

Have a plan for getting out of debt

Amrita Jayakumar and Jeanne Lee are staff writers at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: ajayakumar@nerdwallet.com or jlee@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @ajbombay or @jlee_jeanne.

Updated Feb. 21, 2017.

Personal Loans Ratings Methodology NerdWallet’s ratings for personal loans awards points to lenders that offer consumer-friendly features, including: soft credit checks, no origination fees, payment options, short time to funding, interest rate caps of 36%, and absence of prepayment penalties. Features are considered for their positive impact on consumers’ credit history and financial health. To ensure accuracy and consistency, our ratings are reviewed by multiple people on the NerdWallet Personal Loans team. — Among the very best for consumer-friendly features — Excellent; offers most consumer-friendly features — Very good; offers many consumer-friendly features — Good; may not offer something important to you — Fair; missing important consumer-friendly features — Poor; proceed with great caution

Court rules Snuggies are blankets, not clothing

A federal trade court decision has ended the debate on whether Snuggies are blankets or apparel.

The court ruled that a Snuggie is a blanket for tariff purposes, and should not face the higher apparel duty rate as the Department of Justice contended.

The ruling was handed down Feb. 10, according to Bloomberg.

>> Read more trending stories 

The judge in the case ruled that Snuggies are marketed as “blankets with sleeves” and the purpose of the item is to serve as a blanket, with the addition of sleeves only to support the item staying on the body while the user is engaged in activities.

The judge did not accept the Justice Department’s argument that Snuggies should be compared to priestly or scholarly robes.

Importers of Snuggies will now pay 8.5 percent duties, instead of the higher 14.9 percent duties that apply to apparel. 

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