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Banking

Save Money on Debt & Banking

We show you how to lower your monthly payments, cut banking costs and keep more of your money.

Credit cards, student loans, mortgages -- no matter your sources of debt, we show you how to lower your interest rates and monthly payments.

Plus, cut costs and keep more of your money by avoiding sneaky bank fees and more.

1. ERASE DEBT

The number-one way to spend less money on debt: Get rid of it! You'll erase those costly interest charges and put that cash back in your wallet where it belongs.

Here's how to start attacking debts: Focus on the debt with the highest interest rate first. Pay the most you can afford above the minimum required each month. Once it's paid off, get in the habit of paying your new balance in full each month to avoid rebuilding the debt.


2. GET ORGANIZED

Using software to piece together your financial info from banks, credit cards and other financial institutions is a smart way to budget. It can help you identify where you can save money to put toward paying down your debt.

But you don't need to shell out the $60 to $90 for Quicken. Instead, manage your money for free at Mint.com (which is owned by Quicken's parent Intuit) or Wesabe.com.

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3. TAILOR YOUR STUDENT LOAN TO FIT

Feeling pinched by student-loan payments? Ask your lender if you qualify for a graduated payment schedule (your payments start out small and increase as, presumably, your income increases). Or ask for an extended payment period, with smaller monthly payments spread over 15 or 20 years.

If you're in the Federal Direct Loan program, look into the income-contingent plan, which sets monthly payments according to your income, family size and the total amount of your loans. You get up to 25 years to repay the debt, after which the feds forgive the remainder.


4. ASK FOR A LOWER RATE

Want a lower credit-card rate? Ask for one. Studies have shown that more than half of such requests get results. You'll boost your odds of success if you have good credit and if you can provide examples of offers you've gotten from other companies.

This goes for your mortgage, too. If your interest rate is high, some banks are willing to reset the rate on your existing mortgage for a fee -- but without the cost and hassle of a full-blown refinance.


5. TAKE A HIKE

Don't stick with your bank or credit card just because it's there. Smart consumers always keep an eye out for bargains and are willing to make a move when the right deal comes along.

Finding a card with a lower interest rate could save you hundreds.


6. NEVER PAY AT THE ATM

A couple bucks here and there may not seem like a big deal. But if you're frequenting ATMs outside your bank's network, the surcharges add up quickly.

How to save: Withdraw money from an ATM that belongs to a surcharge-free network, such as Allpoint or Money Pass.

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7. EARN MORE INTEREST

Parking your savings in a traditional bank savings account -- earning next-to-nothing in interest -- is as good as wasting it.

How to save: Move your savings to a reputable online bank offering high interest rates, recently between 1% and 2%.

And check out free interest-bearing online checking accounts, such as Everbank and ING Direct. They recently paid between 0.25% and 1.46%.


8. SHRINK YOUR HOME PAYMENTS

Your biggest monthly bill -- and therefore your opportunity for the biggest savings -- is your mortgage.

How to save: Consider refinancing, but crunch the numbers carefully. Take into account the bank's fees, the cost of a home appraisal and the amount of time you plan to stay in the home. Our calculator can help.

If you can demonstrate financial hardship, you may qualify for refinancing or loan modification under the federal Making Home Affordable Act.


9. RETHINK YOUR HOUSING

Owning a home -- and paying its mortgage -- may not make the best financial sense for you.

How to save: Renting eliminates your property taxes and maintenance costs, plus your utility and insurance bills are often lower. Use our calculator to see if you should rent or buy.

Get help paying your mortgage or rent by finding a roommate. Or consider house-sitting, apartment management or home-sharing with a senior citizen in need.


10. DON'T FORGET TAX BREAKS

You may not be able to reduce student-loan or mortgage payments, but Uncle Sam can alleviate some of your debt burden.

How to save: You may be able to deduct your student-loan and mortgage interest on your taxes.

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And if you get a tax refund, consider using it to pay down those debts further.


11. GET A FREE CREDIT CHECKUP

A bad credit history means you'll pay hundreds of dollars in higher interest rates, plus it can influence your auto insurance rates and even your rent.

How to save: Learn what lenders see about you with the free annual credit report that you're entitled to by law. Check for errors, and then take steps to improve your credit score.

You'll have to pay to get your actual credit score, or you can go to CreditKarma.com to get TransUnion's TransRisk score for free. It isn't quite the same as the one lenders use, but it has a 97% to 98% correlation and can give you an idea of where you stand.


12. MIND THE FINE PRINT

Banks are notorious for sneaky fees. Think you've got a free checking account, for instance? Your bank may charge a fee if your balance drops below a certain level or if you download your info into a personal-finance software program. Overdraw your checking account, and you'll pay $20 to $30 a pop. That's not free.

How to save: Make sure you know your bank's rules, and keep close tabs on your spending habits to avoid getting nickel-and-dimed.

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13. GET HELP

If you still can't scrape up the money to make debt payments, don't wait until you've already skipped a payment or two. Get help now to set up a strategy.

How to save: Go to aiccca.org or nfcc.org to find nonprofit credit counselors in your area. They can set up reasonable repayment plans with creditors, as well as help you create a budget that works.

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