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Switching to Simple for My Personal Checking

One thing I’ve written about quite a few times is how important it is to find a bank that works for you and your needs. We discovered this firsthand with our joint accounts when we were having problems with the service at our previous bank. Fed up, we made the switch to ING Direct, now Capital One 360 and have been extremely happy with their service.

I took my own advice and finally closed my personal checking account with Wells Fargo. Every time I visited a branch, either inside or using their drive-thru, I felt as if I was being pushed into a new product. Beside the personal savings and check, I already use Wells Fargo for my business.

Apparently that wasn’t enough as I was constantly told about credit cards, mortgage, kids’ savings account, and more. I wasn’t upset with the tellers per se, 9 out of 10 times they were extremely polite and did their best to include the offers without being obnoxious, but I got the sense that they were being pushed to meet some kind of quota.

Finally, I just didn’t really feel like the checking account was a good deal for either myself or the bank. They gave minimal service for the free checking (which is their right) so I searched for another option and found out about Simple.

Making the Leap to Simple for My Checking Account

One highlight of being a personal finance blogger is finding services and products that can streamline our finances. My online buddy Jesse sent me an invite (currently the only way to open an account with them)  and I signed up a couple of months ago.

Like any change I was a bit nervous with changing banks, but I figured I could go back if it didn’t work out. Simple is completely online and as the name suggests, it is designed to remove many hassles of traditional checking (like fees) and give customers more control with managing their money.

When I was looking over reviews, I noticed that many commented on how wonderfully integrated Simple’s smartphone app was with the rest of their system. Besides making mobile check deposits a cinch, Simple also let’s customers tag their transactions as they are made (a huge help when you want to track your spending).

As I opened my account, I found an easy to use interface guiding me through the process – such as linking external accounts. I received my Visa check card in the mail shortly after signing up. I’ve been using it ever since and I have to say I really enjoy. It’s not perfect, but there is a lot of things I love about Simple.

Simple Banking, Lots of Features

Ever though the interface is very streamlined and simplified, Simple offers a great amount of benefits to customers.

  • Automatic Saving: By far, the Goals portion is my favorite feature of Simple. With a few swipes, you can set and track your savings. That’s right, you can make saving up for a vacation painless and automatic. Forgot what you spent money on last month? You can use hashtags and photos with your notes, making it easier to search and sort through later.
  • Safe to Spend: When you log in to check on your balance, the amount you see highlighted is how much you can safely spend without dipping into your savings or hurting your balance for upcoming goal. It may not sound special, but for those who have been burned by banks that don’t show pending charges and charged overdraft fees, it’s useful. With a click you can get the total amount in your checking account, but it’s usually not necessary.
  • No Overdraft, Minimums, or Monthly Fees: The few fees listed are for services like expedited delivery and a paper copy fee (it’s free to view and print yourself). The one fee I’m not crazy about is the inactivity fee if you haven’t used your account in 180 days (~6 months).  However if you’re using this for your personal checking account, it shouldn’t be a problem.
  • Fee-Free ATMs: Simple uses Allpoint’s network of ATMs, which currently boats over 55,000 locations nationwide so finding a machine nearby is pretty easy.
  • Mobile Check Deposit: Depositing checks with their app is straightforward – snap a picture of the front and back.

Now that I covered what I love about Simple, I want to mention some drawbacks. One annoying problem I had with the deposit is the delay for my new account. For any checking account that is less than 30 days hold, there is a fairly long hold (I believe it’s 5 business days), so make sure you keep your old checking account for a bit longer if you need quick access to checks. Otherwise it’s not really a big deal once you’re no longer a new customer since the timeline shrinks down to a day after you deposited. Since Simple is offering only individual checking accounts, if you’re looking for a replacement for your joint checking or savings, I’m going to suggest Capital 360 and Ally Bank.

Thoughts on Better Banking

All in all, I’m a fan of Simple and will continue using it for my personal checking needs.  Do you want to sign up for Simple? I’ve got a link to help you skip their waitlist!

State of the Student Loan

Last month, I shared our goal for 2014 – getting rid of the student loan by the end of the year. I explained why we wanted to do it and mentioned that I’d be doing monthly updates, so here I am sharing our progress for last month. Funny thing about monthly updates is that when things go well, monthly updates are fun and you’re just excited to share the news, but when it doesn’t go as planned or intended it isn’t nearly as enjoyable.

Guess which happened in January? Yeah…..*coughs* ..last month wasn’t so great.

Hiccups on the Road to Being Debt Free

When I mentioned the plan last month, I said that we’d need to throw a little more than $1,100/month at the student loan to get rid of it in time. Even then I knew that was a huge number and it meant making big changes. The numbers are in and this is what we did:

  • Current Balance: $13, 674.43
  • Amount Paid in January: $198.18

Hmm, seems like we missed a number (like the one in the front). To make this easier to track, I’m using Mint to review our transactions:

  • Family Emergency: A loved one had a financial/medical emergency and I offered to help. Not a huge amount, but something to merely note since I’m looking at all the numbers.
  • Vet Visit: Two problems this month with our cats – blood in the urine and some diagnostic testing for a heart murmur they discovered. While both cats seem to be on the mend, our wallet is certainly lighter to get them there.
  • Business Income Slowed: While work kept me busy last month, payments have been a little slower. While I should see some income come in this week for last month, it still isn’t enough to get us to our target. There’s some cause for hope as I have some meetings scheduled this week that I hope will lead to more income. However there is no guarantee, so until it is in our bank account, I can’t count on it.
  • Utilities: Big surprise, the heating bill went up, albeit slightly.

So basically a few problems and mini – emergencies added up to a chunk of money (the cats alone set us back around $300) being redirected. I’m hoping next month will be much less stressful.

Taxes to the Rescue?

We may be able to get some relief from our taxes (though not by much). We’ll have to wait until everything is filed to get a closer approximation, but right now we’re looking at getting a refund.  Just off the top, though, a chunk of our refund will be directed towards finishing off our financial cushion. We had depleted it when we had to replace my husband’s car this summer so we want to get it back up in one swoop with the refund. With that out of the way, we hope to be able to tackle the student loan.

Your Progress

I shared my progress; I’d love to hear about yours – good or bad? Has 2014 started off well for your family?

Photo Credit: 401k

TurboTax Online Review (and Giveaway)

With tax season upon a us, I wanted to go ahead and share how we take care of our own. We’ve been using TurboTax to handle our family’s tax needs for the last couple of years and we’ve been very happy with them.

When we started our taxes this year, I noticed that there have been quite a few upgrades and updates with the system. It’s made the process much easier and the Home Base is a handy way to have a snapshot of everything. For those who are still confused about The Affordable Care Act, TurboTax has created a guide to help them see their numbers.

Getting Started with TurboTax

Since we’ve used TurboTax before, when we logged into our account to get started, the program already had much of our basic information (such as name, address, and jobs) entered, savings us time. As part of their update, when we logged in TurboTax checked to make sure our browser was compatible, even providing links to give us the latest installation.

Between my husband’s work, my business, and our savings and investments, we usually accumulate a small stack of paperwork. To keep things manageable, I enter into the system as we get them through the mail, including:

  • W-2s from your job(s)
  • 1099-DIV: Dividends
  • 1099-INT: Interest Income
  • 1099-MISC: Miscellaneous Income

Once we complete our federal, TurboTax can easily transfer our information from the federal tax return to our state’s return.

Finding Tax Deductions and Credits with TurboTax

Tax deductions and credits are the most wonderful things. Tax deductions help lower your taxable income while credits lower your actual bill. TurboTax really combs through the all the possible deductions and credits for your return including your house, family, cars, charitable donations, medical expenses, college and education, and more.
TurboTax - Choose Easy

Which Turbo Tax Edition Fits You?

While Home & Business is the best fit for us, it isn’t the only online edition TurboTax has available. There are several different editions that you can choose from based on your family’s particular needs.

  • Free Edition: If you’re one of the almost 60 million Americans who qualify for a 1040EZ/A, TurboTax’s free edition is a wonderful options as they’ve made the filing process even easier.
  • Deluxe: Many people will find this a suitable option to take care of their tax deductions and credits for families and homeowners.
  • Premier: This edition is designed for those who have numerous investments or if you own rental properties.
  • Home & Business: Entrepreneurs with either sole proprietor, consultant, contractor or single-owner LLC business will find this edition more than capable of handling their business.
  • Business: If you have a corporation, partnership or multi-member LLC, TurboTax can help you optimize your tax return.

We’ve been happy with TurboTax and how easy it is for us to file using their services. Find out which edition of TurboTax is right for you.

TurboTax Giveaway- File Your Federally Taxes for Free!

Now to the best part – Couple Money, My Financial Reviews, and TurboTax would like you to file your federal taxes for free. I am giving away codes for TurboTax’s premier edition for interested readers. To enter, it’s simple – just let me know what you plan to do with either your tax refund if you’re expecting one or how you plan on saving on your taxes this upcoming year.

You can either leave a comment below, tweet me, or share your plans on Facebook.  I’ll compile the entries and pick winners this upcoming Monday (February 3, 2014) so you can get your taxes filed and done as soon as possible. If you know someone who would love a chance to get their federal taxes filed for free, please send them a link to the giveaway through email or share this on Facebook and Twitter. Thank you again for being a part of the Couple Money Community!

Since TurboTax has been kind enough to sponsor the prizes, please feel free to send them a tweet if you win ;)

Thoughts on Filing Taxes Online

How are you filing your taxes this year? Are you expecting a refund or do you owe taxes?

Disclaimer: I’m also a contributing blogger at TurboTax, so please check them out to see if they can help you with your taxes this year.

Photo Credit: 401K

Raising a Toddler – 2013 Costs

Becoming parents has been the biggest change we’ve experienced as a couple. When we found out we were going to having a baby, one of the first things we sat down and talked about -after celebrating about the news!- was making sure we had a financial cushion.

How Much Does It Cost to Raise a Child?

We had heard and read about how expensive it could be, so we started tracking our baby expenses. We wanted to see for ourselves and to hopefully help others.

One of the most referenced sources about the costs of having a child is the USDA’s site where currently it’s estimated that it would cost $241,080 to raise a child to 18 years of age. Based on how many kids you have and how old they are, you can get national and regional averages for the costs associated with children.

Like last year, I decided to go ahead and review our expenses to see how we compare to the USDA’s estimates. It’s a fun exercise and gives us an opportunity to see where we did well and where we could improve.

I’m using the USDA’s categories and descriptions as a guide so it can be closer comparison. As always, please feel free to share your family’s own numbers below along with your region. I hope this information cane be useful for couples considering having children who want to get an idea of what expect in terms of their finances.

Housing Costs

According to the USDA,  housing includes mortgage, property taxes, utilities, furniture, and appliances, with the national average at $4,988 with the Southeast around $4,513. That means that on average having a child adds about $415.67/month to your housing bills.

Here is where I have a few questions. There are definitely costs to having a roof over your family’s head, whether it’s mortgage or rent. How much of that is that, though, directly tied to having children? Going from a one bed room apartment to a two bedroom is a change that is easy to quantify and track, but what if you already have a house?

We bought our home before we had our daughter, so there was no real change with the mortgage. We converted the guest room into her nursery before she arrived, but otherwise the general housing costs have been the same. To be fair, we have seen an increase with our utilities (electricity and gas), but not by much – in 2013 we spent $1,090. [For the purpose of this comparison I'm using this amount for housing costs.]

Food

toddler food costs

“Feed me!”

Besides groceries, the USDA includes eating out at restaurants, fast food joints, and school meals.  They estimated that nationally parents spent about $1,788 and this region matching that amount.

We love to eat. Looking back at 2013, we spent a total of $5,343.90 on groceries for the whole family. How much is this devoted for our baby girl? That’s hard to say in exact numbers, so I went back to our spending before we had a baby and found that we had spent $4626 in 2010, giving us an increase of $717.90.

Transportation

The USDA includes car loan, gas, insurance, and maintenance in transportation costs. The national average is $2,163 with the Southeast keeping pace with $2,113. We do not have a car loan as we bought the Accord with cash.

Reviewing all of transportation expenses in 2013 for both our car’s gasoline, insurance, and maintenance expenses came out to $3,431.28. My husband’s car is practically just for commuting to work so I could lower this number, but I’d hate to pour through and see which fill-ups were his and which were mine for the entire year.

Clothing

The USDA includes diapers, clothing, shoes, and dry cleaning under ‘clothing’. National average for clothing was $980 and the Southeast was $950 which mean parents are spending about $80/month. We spent $385.01 on our daughter in 2013.

Big savings here as we have enjoyed the wonderful combination of hand me downs and a lovely consignment boutique. We also buy new clothes to fill in gaps and growth spurts. The money saved is redirected towards other family financial goals and to build our daughter’s savings.

Health Care

The national average for health care insurance, co-pays, and deductibles) is $1,100 and the Southeast is just a smidge under with $1,038.

We have insurance through my husband’s job and the cost for the three of us in 2013 came out to be $6,932.16. Should we have another child the monthly premium cost remains the same.

As far as figuring out how much our daughter’s portion is we’re estimating about $180/month or $2,160.

Childcare/Education

Besides daycare, this also includes baby sitting. Looking at the national level, the average is $3,725 and the region is $3,525. For us we paid practically nothing as I watch our daughter and we’ve had friends and family generously offering to baby sit.

While I was pregnant my husband and I talked about what would work best for us . We decided that I would continue to work from home (with reduced hours) and watch her during the day and evaluate the situation every so often. I have to say it has been better than I expected, but of course some adjustments had to be made. I take on few projects and the ones I accept have to be flexible such as having weekly or monthly deadlines.

Misc

Ah, my favorite category, the one where (almost) everything else gets swept under. For USDA this nondescript label goes for expenses like personal care (toothbrushes, haircuts), entertainment, and reading material. For the country the average is $1,138 and the Southeast is $975.

As far as kids’ activities, we spent $236.57 for trips to the museums, bowling alley, baseball games, and more. Some of the expenses were because we paid for some friends to join us, which enhanced the experiences even more.

Thoughts on the Costs of Raising a Toddler

As you can see, even though the USDA’s study reflects some families’ annual expenses with raising their children, it can vary wildly from your own. For us we’re estimating that $5,827.85 was spent taking care of our daughter.

We shared our story and numbers, I’d love to hear from you about your expenses. What has been the biggest expense the past year with your toddler? Where have you managed to save money without sacrificing quality?

Alex von Tobel Wants You to Be Financially Fearless

We’re already halfway through January and as some people are reevaluating the money goals they’ve set for themselves this year (such as saving more and getting out of debt) I want to share a book that may keep you on target in 2014 and beyond – Financially Fearless by Alexa von Tobel.

In case you’re unfamiliar with her, Alexa is the CEO and founder of LearnVest, a personal finance site that seeks to make financial planning affordable and practical for many in the middle class. I ‘ve had the pleasure to chat with her last week over the phone while she was in Washington D.C., getting ready to launch her book tour.

While the book covers the foundation of managing money, it highlights the psychology behind how and why we use money in a way that is motivating and challenging. It’s another piece to the puzzle as she and her company are trying to empower others to get their finances under control and working for them.

Becoming Financially Fearless financially fearless

One of the first things I asked von Tobel was about the purpose and timing of the book. With so many personal finance books, services, and blogs, what did she hope to accomplish with releasing Financially Fearless? Her thoughtful response was that she had a few objectives for the book:

  • Spread awareness about personal finances and how manageable it can be for practically everybody.
  • Give actionable advice that allows readers to get a handle on their finances fairly quickly.

She was clear that while this book goes hand in hand with LearnVest’s Planning Services, readers can use Financially Fearless to work on their own too. Alexa came across as genuinely interested in helping others to get started with mastering their money.

LearnVest’s Mission of Affordable Financial Planning

Just what is LearnVest’s program? The company discusses openly how they lead clients step by step with getting their finances under control. It is based on what a client is hoping to achieve – some want help with their budgets, some want to create a five year plan, and others are hoping to kick start their portfolio. The main steps are outline on LearnVest’s site.

  1. Organize: LearnVest’s site can pull your financial data into one spot so you have a clear picture of where you stand on your finances.
  2. Focus: A certified financial planner works with you to create a budget that fits your goals and your current circumstances.
  3. Plan:  Work out step by step how to get out of debt, build your savings, and invest for your retirement.
  4. Protect:  LearnVest guides you so your family has the proper insurance and the right documents to protect your money against some of life’s unexpected expenses.
  5. Build: You work with your planner on how you can make the big purchases like a home.
  6. Maximize: With the foundation laid, you optimize your portfolio.
  7. Achieve: Following the plan you have devised with your planner, you check-in to make sure you’re achieving the goals you had set for yourself and add new ones.

Financially Fearless uses that step by step framework within its pages, giving readers a foundation.

Protecting Your Money

One huge point that von Tobel discussed on out call was making sure that people protected themselves and their money. In Financially Fearless she devotes an entire section to this topic, acknowledging that unexpected expenses and events happen to all of us. We may have control over the car breaking down or a storm damaging our house, but there are things most people can do to manage the problems.

For instance she mentioned Hurricane Sandy as an example – there were homeowners who either didn’t have the right type of insurance coverage or they underestimated the amount of coverage they needed. For those families, it was a financial disaster on top of a natural and emotional one.

Alexa goes into the essential insurances like health and renter’s/homeowner’s insurance. Our health and our homes are two things we can’t afford to lose so having the proper insurance can alleviate some of the stress when bad things come up. If someone depends on your income, then having life insurance to keep them afloat should the unexpected happen is the responsible thing.

Like I’ve mentioned quite a few times, shopping for insurance can pay off in a huge way when you keep in an eye out for value rather than simply looking for the cheapest plans. You want to feel confident that should you need to use it, your insurance company won’t give you a hassle.

Win a Copy of Financially Fearless

Not only did I enjoy how easy it was to read the book, but I appreciated the worksheets included – it made it a more interactive guide. I think it’s a wonderful book to either own or give as a gift to a loved one. If you’re looking to grab a copy, you can find it at many retailers, but Alexa has been kind enough to offer a free book for one Couple Money reader!  All you have to do is share your money goal for 2014 with me.

You can:

I’ll round up all the entries and choose a winner next Monday (January 20, 2014) during my lunch break (1pm ET). I can’t wait to hear from you and see what big plans you have for this year!

In addition to the book giveaway, if any of you are interested in getting a certified financial planner through LearnVest please use the promo code “couplemoney50″ and get a $50 credit good towards a 5 year plan with certified financial planner. Please check LearnVest’s site to find out more about their program to see if would be a good fit for your family.