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3 Keys to Budgeting as a Freelancer

11 Ways to Save Money on Entertainment

Tickets to concerts, plays, movies: you could live without them, but saving money shouldn’t mean sucking the fun out of life.

Here’s how to curb your entertainment spending without giving up your favorite pastimes.

1. Trim your services

Explore different pricing options for the services you already have. Take steps to lower your internet and cable bills, such as negotiating, downgrading your plans or bundling the two.

2. Seek an alternative to cable

If trimming won’t save you enough, cut the cord completely. Based on the average cable bill cost, this could put upward of $100 back in your pocket each month.

Axing cable doesn’t mean you’ll be starved for content. If you can survive without watching networks like CNN and AMC live, streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video feature movies, TV and original series libraries. If you must have extra channels, consider replacing your traditional cable package with a service like Sling TV, which offers live TV for a fraction of the cost of cable.

Looking to save even more? If you subscribe to multiple streaming services, such as Netflix and Hulu, drop the one you use less often.

3. Share memberships

Split the cost of a paid membership with a friend or relative. For example, Amazon Prime memberships cost $99 per year, but members can share benefits with another adult for no extra charge by creating an Amazon Household. This gives both parties access to free movie and TV streaming, Prime shipping and Kindle books for about $50 each. Or you can cut your Costco membership fee in half by sharing with a spouse or roommate. Members receive a free household card that they can share with another person over 18 years old who lives at the same address.

4. Shop wholesale clubs

Wholesale clubs, such as Costco and Sam’s Club, have an abundance of affordable entertainment. They sell discounted movie and theme park tickets, restaurant gift cards and more in bulk, which is helpful, especially if you’re shopping for multiple people. You’ll also find inexpensive electronics, books, movies and games.

5. Get a library card

With a public library card in hand, the entertainment world is your oyster: You don’t have to buy, or even rent, to get your fix. Use your library card to surf the web or check out movies, books, audiobooks, games and music for free.

6. Attend free events

Take advantage of street fairs, concerts in the park or other free happenings in your community. Some venues that normally charge admission — such as museums, zoos and aquariums — host free-entry days once per month. Next time you plan a dinner out or hit the bars, look for joints that feature live music or comedy shows. Check your local newspaper, coffee shop or university for a list of upcoming events.

7. Volunteer

If the sporting event or concert isn’t free, you still might be able to attend at no cost by volunteering at the venue. Just be aware that you might not fully enjoy the event if you’re busy checking tickets or collecting trash.

8. Ask about discounts

Identification is all some people need to save money. Seniors, students and members of the military — or their families — often qualify for discounts at retailers, movie theaters, theme parks, national parks and restaurants. Kids often receive discounted admissions well.

If who you are doesn’t cut it, your membership status might. For example, AAA and AARP memberships come with savings benefits. Ask if you’re eligible for special rates when making entertainment purchases.

9. Buy used

Save serious money by buying televisions, tablets, computers, movies and video games secondhand. Shop thrift stores and used book stores, and check retailers like Best Buy and Wal-Mart for refurbished tech.

10. Use credit card perks

Under the right circumstances, plastic is more budget-friendly than cash. Your credit card might offer points or cash back on tickets to the theater or sporting events, electronics purchases and other entertainment-related transactions. Certain cards give exclusive discounts on or early access to event tickets through partnerships and promotions.

11. Cut back

An obvious way to save on entertainment without giving up your “wants” entirely is to adjust your budget and set a lower spending limit for entertainment expenses. For instance, rent a movie every other week instead of weekly, or refrain from buying the latest gaming console if your old one still works.

Lauren Schwahn is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Twitter: @lauren_schwahn.

Why Small-Business Owners Should Offer Pension Plans

By Winnie Sun

Learn more about Winnie on NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor

Small-business owners are often so driven to make their companies succeed that they forget to take care of their own retirement. And they sometimes forget to take care of their employees’ retirement, too.

More than one-third of private-sector workers don’t have access to a retirement plan through their workplace, and less than half of businesses with 50 or fewer employees offer such plans. That’s fueling a retirement savings crisis, because many workers don’t save anything outside of employer-sponsored plans.

Small businesses can help by making a fundamental shift in the way they view setting up retirement plans for employees. And they can do it by going old school. It’s time for small-business owners to bring back defined benefit plans, better known as pension plans, in a move that can help both employees and the owners themselves.

Benefits of pension plans

Unlike defined contribution plans such as 401(k)s, in which employees set aside a certain amount or percentage of their salary each month for retirement, defined benefit plans guarantee a certain amount for employees at retirement based on length of service and other factors. This creates more certainty for employees about their retirement funds.

But the percentage of workers in the private sector with these pension plans has declined sharply since the 1990s, driven by employer attempts to reduce costs, regulatory changes and other reasons.

These factors have obscured some of the benefits of pension plans, both for small-business owners and their employees. Here are a few reasons why bringing back pensions can help your small business.

Employee retention and loyalty

Making a pension plan part of your small business benefits package can help you lure more talented employees, increase employee retention and set your business apart from the competition. As employers look for ways to differentiate themselves in the war for talent, a defined benefit plan can be a selling point.

Higher Employee Productivity

One advantage to pension plans is that they can be funded on a profit-sharing basis. If employees know their retirement is tied into results, that can motivate them to increase productivity. Offer profit-sharing pension plans on a gradual vesting basis, resulting in a stable and long-term workforce that never stops trying to help the company achieve its goals.

Higher contribution limits

Pension plans enable owners to contribute much more to their own retirement funds than other plans. Owners can contribute up to $215,000 in 2017 for rapid funding of a retirement plan, compared with a maximum overall contribution limit of $54,000 for 401(k) plans.

The pension’s higher contribution limit is an excellent way for small-business owners who have neglected to save for retirement to catch up and is especially beneficial for small companies with a few younger, low-paid employees.

Much like 401(k) plans and IRAs, self-funded pension plan contributions are tax-deferred for small-business owners, which allows them to pay taxes upon distribution, when their taxable income is likely lower. (Note: Employees can’t defer the contributions their employer makes for them.)

They’re not right for everyone

Before you get started, know that there are costs involved. Pension plans have long-term benefits, but won’t be cheap to set up. Annual administration fees are often higher than those of other retirement plans. You’ll need to pay an actuary to calculate employee funding levels annually. And if your business needs a lot of liquid capital, pension plans may not be the right fit. But for many small-business owners, the retirement-savings benefits of a pension plan make it a good option.

Contact an experienced financial advisory firm or your accountant for more information on defined benefit plans or other small-business retirement programs.

For many successful entrepreneurs, a pension plan will protect their personal wealth and their business, all while maximizing retirement savings and tax benefits.

Now that’s a plan.

Winnie Sun is the founding partner of Sun Group Wealth Partners in Irvine, California.

Credit Scores and Car Loans: What Drives Your Interest Rate?

If you want to finance a new or pre-owned vehicle, you may wonder how your credit will affect the terms of your loan.

Credit matters when it comes to car financing, but it’s possible for someone with no financing history or shaky credit to finance a car. Be prepared to pay a higher interest rate, and be sure to make all of your payments in a timely manner to build credit and an excellent credit score.

We talked to Alex Ghim, a finance manager at a car dealership in Oregon, about the relationship between car financing and credit.

Which scores are pulled?

There are a lot of different types of credit scores, from FICO to proprietary scores, for each of the credit reporting bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Car dealerships typically pull auto-enhanced scores from up to all three reporting bureaus, according to Ghim.

Auto-enhanced scores range from 300 to 900 and put a greater emphasis on how you’ve handled car financing in the past. For instance, it will take into account whether you’ve made any late payments on auto loans, had any car repossessions, and settled or declared bankruptcy on an auto loan. This information is included in your regular FICO score, but auto-enhanced scores give it more weight.

Keep in mind that these scores are different from the credit-specific auto insurance scores that many insurance companies use.

What happens if you have a poor — or an excellent — credit score?

If you have a poor credit score, you may get rejected for a loan or get a loan at less favorable terms (read: high interest rate). Dealerships offer financing through credit unions, banks and manufacturers. People with a low credit score will likely have the hardest time financing through credit unions.

Individuals with low credit scores are also more likely to be asked for a down payment. Those with lower credit scores are generally approved for a smaller loan-to-value allowance and will need a down payment to cover the difference. Loan-to-value is the amount of the loan you’re approved for in relation to the value of the asset you’re purchasing.

Generally, credit unions and banks use a tiered system that dictates your rate in relation to your credit score. Those with excellent credit scores are more likely to get the best rates — depending on other financing qualifications, like income.

Does credit matter that much? What about a stable income?

While credit matters, it isn’t the only thing, according to Ghim. A stable income and a low debt-to-income ratio — the amount of debt you have in relation to how much you make — are also very important. For people with shaky credit, these factors play a larger role in whether or not they get approved for financing.

I have bad credit. Should I buy or lease?

Leasing and purchasing have similar credit qualifications, so getting approved probably shouldn’t be a factor in your lease vs. buy decision.

I’ve never financed a car, will I be able to get approved?

If you’re afraid that the old paradox “You need to have credit to get credit” will keep you from financing a car, you shouldn’t be. It can be harder to get a car loan when you’ve never had one before, but income stability and good credit should be enough to get you approved.

That said, you may have to pay a higher interest rate than those with good credit and a car-financing history. You may also need to provide a down payment.

This article was updated April 20, 2017.

4 Perks of Solo 401(k) for Business Owners and Freelancers

By Dmitriy Fomichenko

“Save your money. You’re going to need twice as much money in your old age as you think.” — Michael Caine

If you’re self-employed and trying to boost your retirement savings, Solo 401(k) plans are a potential option.

Solo 401(k) plans are qualified retirement plans for self-employed professionals and business owners with no employees other than a spouse. These plans have gained popularity because of investor-friendly features and higher contribution limits than traditional retirement accounts.

The biggest limitation on a Solo 401(k) plan is its eligibility criteria. You must have some sort of partial or full-time self-employment, and you can’t have any full-time employees — except your spouse — working in the business. Having such eligibility criteria rules it out for business owners with employees.

For an owner-only business, it presents an option for ensuring your savings are sufficient to fund your retirement years.

Is a Solo 401(k) is right for you? Here are four reasons it’s worth considering.

1. High contribution limits

Unlike individual retirement accounts, which limit contributions to $5,500 (or $6,500 for those age 50 and older), you can contribute up to $54,000 to a Solo 401(k) account in 2017 ($60,000 for 50 and older).

2. More investment options

Relying on the stock market for retirement, as many retirement plans do, may not sit well with investors who prefer to have more flexibility and freedom to choose different types of investments. With a specific kind of Solo 401(k) called a self-directed Solo 401(k), you can invest in alternative assets including real estate, tax deeds, tax liens, mortgage notes, private equity, personal lending, precious metals and even regular stock-bond investments. Make sure to ask your Solo 401(k) provider about the availability of these investment options upfront.

3. Roth, minus the income limits

According to the current IRS regulations, if you’re a single filer earning more than $132,000 in a calendar year, you’re not eligible for Roth IRA contributions. The phasing out starts at $117,000, limiting your options for after-tax contributions. A Roth Solo 401(k), which doesn’t have income limits, allows you to make annual after-tax contributions of up to $18,000, or $24,000 if you’re over 50, giving your money an opportunity to grow tax-free.

4. Ability to borrow

The IRS allows borrowing from a Solo 401(k) plan, just as it allows borrowing from 401(k) plans. This means no one can turn you down and you can spend the money the way you want. Just make sure you follow IRS rules about repayment to avoid taxes and penalties. And loans from a Solo 401(k) hold one advantage over loans from a regular 401(k). With a 401(k), if you leave your current employment, the loan will become due in full. That kind of job change is not a factor with a Solo 401(k) loan.

Dmitriy Fomichenko is president and founder of Sense Financial, a provider of self-directed retirement accounts.

3 Questions to Answer Before Taking out Student Loans

By Brett Tushingham

Learn more about Brett on NerdWallet’s Ask An Advisor

America has a student loan problem. Default rates are more than 11%, and based on recent research those numbers might be understated. Student loans should be the last option when funding an education. However, they appear to be the first option for many people.

The good news is that each family can develop its own strategy to pay for college, one that reduces the reliance on student loans and the overall cost of an education. It starts by answering three questions.

1. Are you being flexible enough in your college selection?

If your child insists on going to one particular school, your chances of finding an affordable way to fund higher education may be limited. The more flexible you are in the selection process, the greater the opportunity to reduce your need for student loans.

>>MORE: How to know if your college choice is affordable

Begin by researching schools to determine where your child will be a good fit and how their academic profile compares with those of current students. College Navigator is a great resource for assessing this. If a school finds your child academically desirable, he or she is more likely to be accepted and awarded financial aid in the form of grants and scholarships.

Community colleges are also an excellent option, as they can offer quality education and flexibility at a fraction of the cost of most other schools.

2. How will your selected schools assess your finances for aid purposes?

After you find schools where your child will likely be accepted, you will need to determine your eligibility for financial aid. Colleges use one of two aid applications, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and CSS Profile.

Each application has its own aid methodology that produces your expected family contribution, or EFC.

Your EFC is the minimum amount that you will be expected to contribute each year toward your child’s education. Two schools might produce a dramatically different EFC, so it’s important to do research and determine beforehand what your EFC will be. The cost of attendance minus your EFC will produce the amount of need-based financial aid, if any, that you qualify for.

3. What financial return can you expect from obtaining your degree?

Not all gains can be measured in dollars, but for now let’s focus on the financial aspect of the return on your investment in your education. We are told that earning a degree will open the door to more career opportunities and greater income. And although I generally agree with this statement, there are a number of caveats.

College is an investment, and like any other investment you have initial costs. Keeping your upfront costs to a minimum should logically help boost that return.

Once you confirm your initial costs, you can then calculate a future salary based on your degree. PayScale offers salary projections for specific majors and offers a return-on-investment calculation based on future income and college costs. Students pursuing advanced degrees might have greater upfront costs, but their starting salaries after graduation generally justify the expense.

Almost anybody can qualify for student loans nowadays, regardless of credit score or future income potential. For this reason, most students neglect to consider their ability to pay them off or the impact they can have on meeting their goals. Be proactive, establish a college planning strategy, start saving early and make education your greatest investment.

Brett Tushingham is a financial advisor and the founder of Tushingham Wealth Strategies in Wilmington, North Carolina.

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