Do you know your credit score?

30 August, 2018

Consumers who check their credit score regularly are more likely to understand how scoring works than those who don’t, according to a new survey released by the Consumer Federation of America and VantageScore. The survey also reveals that, over the past four years, the percentage of consumers who have recently obtained their credit score has risen significantly.

Whether you’re intending to use your credit soon, or simply looking for ways to improve your own credit score, here are things you should know about that magic three digit number.

1. Missed payments can lower your score.

Did you know that if you miss a payment on your credit card, car loan, or student loans your credit score can go down? Payment history is one of the major components of your credit score. It’s 35% of your score to be exact. When you pay your bills on time each month, your credit score will gradually start to increase. If you miss payments or your bill is sent to a collections agency, your score will decrease. Try and elect into auto-pay (when your payment is auto withdrawn from your bank account). This can alleviate any missed payments in the future and you don't have to kick yourself for being forgetful! It's a win-win.

2. Keeping a high credit card balance lowers your score.

Yes, carrying a high credit card balance month to month can harm your credit score. Credit utilization is the percent of your credit limit that you use each month, and your credit utilization ratio is a key component of your credit score. Try and keep your credit card balance under 30 percent of your overall credit card limit. For example, if you have two credit cards that each have a limit of $500, your total available credit is $1,000. In this instance, you will want to keep your balance below $300, or 30 percent.

A large credit card balance can also feel overwhelming to pay down. When you aim for a low balance and pay your bill in full each month, you get a fresh start each billing cycle. And the best part –you won’t have to pay any interest on your purchases!

3. Checking your credit report will not change your score.

Annual check-ups on your credit reports will make sure they are error-free and won’t impact your credit score. This can be done for free each year at They’re going to ask for some pretty personal information, but they do that to ensure it’s truly you who is requesting the report. Be sure to shred the report when you’re done with it, or keep it in a safe place.

Additionally, many financial institutions will let you check your credit score online for free. When you regularly monitor your score, you can see how your financial decisions are impacting your credit potential. If a financial institution is pulling your credit information to make a lending decision, those are hard inquires and can lower your score by a few points. Too many ‘hard’ pulls like this can look concerning to other lenders, so make sure you time the inquiries appropriately. For example, if you’re in the process of applying for a mortgage, it’s probably not a good idea to take out a car loan and apply for a credit card at the same time. 

Credit karma, Credit Sesame, and many of the budgeting apps are free for you to use and will provide your personal credit score and information. You should never pay to view your credit score!

There are many other factors that can impact your score, but these are some of the big ones. If you have any questions about some of the above information, don’t hesitate to shoot us an email or call us at our office 515-294-0677.

Keep on building those credit scores!

6 Things high school grads need to do before coming to college

31 July, 2018

We hope you have been enjoying your last summer before your freshman year starts! Soon, you'll be packing up your belongings and making the road trip to Ames to move into your dorm. Meeting your new roommate and trying to fit everything into a room about the size of a shoebox will be a new experience for sure, and yes, your mom probably will cry. Make sure to tell her not to worry because you got this college thing figured out! (All thanks to reading this blog post too, of course.)

1. Finalize your financial aid
Your first year usually involves the most work when it comes to financial aid. You're signing for your loans for all four years, and authorizing your aid. It's important to follow our financial aid checklist on our website to make sure all the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed. Trust us, you won't want to get notifications from our billing office end of August saying that your Ubill is still unpaid... In the meantime, check your UBill on A+ and look at your financial aid award. Do you have enough aid to cover your bill? If things don't add up, let us know and we can help create a financial plan and make sure you know your options.

2. Find a part time job
If you have work study on your financial aid award -put it to good use! Most students work anywhere from 10-15 hours a week and the employers on campus are more than willing to work around your class schedule. This is a great way to make money, build your resume, and meet new friends! Work study is a need-based program that allows you to work on campus, and the employer doesn't have to pay 100% of your wages (work study picks up the rest). However, not all campus jobs require students to be work study eligible. Check out our student job board on A+ for available positions. There is something for everyone!

3. Prepare for a whole new world of time management
In high school, juggling your grades, sports & extra curricular activities was probably a breeze. College is a little different. Instead of being in class all day, you may have breaks in your class schedule, and you may not be involved in as many activities beginning as a freshman. You also won't have someone to wake you up, make you breakfast, and make sure you get to class on time. Set yourself up for success your first year in college by getting organized with a planner or calendar, (maybe an alarm clock) and find a system that works for you. This is your investment (and a costly one, at that) so manage it well. Our Academic Success Center is great at helping students manage their time better with offering many resources, such as tutoring and supplemental instruction for your classes. Give them a shout if you need it!

4. Embrace coupons and use your meal plan
Scoring deals is a great way to save money, especially when you're on a limited budget. You'll want to attend WelcomeFest, which is Wed. August 22nd from 5:30 - 8:30PM in the Great Hall of the MU. There are a TON of freebies and coupon books for the taking and you'll get to experience Ames local businesses, community organizations and ISU departments. Also, if you're living in the dorms, you're required to have a meal plan. We don't make the rules, we just enforce them. So the bottom line is, make sure you're using your meals! The dining plans cost an average of $4,000 a year, and the meals expire at the end of each semester if you don't use them (aka; money down the drain). For more information of meal plan usage and deadlines, check out ISU Dining's website.

5. Get ready to start applying for scholarships soon, and filing your FASFA
You won't even be finished with semester #1 when you'll start prepping for next year. Many scholarships will open up this fall and are due Feb. 1st, generally. There are applications you'll complete for scholarships offered from your college, and through our financial aid office. Don't forget to file the 2019-20 FAFSA by Dec. 1st, too. Now would be a good time to put these dates in your calendar (hint, hint!)

6. Find one club to get involved with
There are over 850 student organizations at ISU, and that number continues to grow. If you have an interest or hobby that you're passionate for, chance are -we have it! Is underwater basket weaving your thing, but not seeing it on the list? You can even create your own club! This is a great way to meet new people who share your interests, have fun outside of studying, and build that resume. All clubs and student organizations are mandated through our Student Activities Center, or SAC, where you'll also have access to lots of cheap student events, leadership opportunities, and fun hands on workshops.

It's okay if you haven't planned out every little detail before your arrival on campus, we just want you to be prepared! Hopefully these tips will help Iowa State feel more like your new home. We look forward to welcoming you to the Cyclone family very soon!

Help! My parents aren't helping me pay for college. How can I minimize my debt?

04 June, 2018

It’s never too early to start thinking about your financial plan for next year. I know days at the pool, summer vacations, and spending time with your friends seems waaay more fun but trust us, you’ll be glad you have a plan -especially if you’re flying solo when it comes to paying for college. More often than not, students and families who don’t create a financial plan for college are more likely to over borrow –putting themselves at risk for having a high debt burden upon graduation. If you are responsible for funding your own college education, it may seem that loans are the only option but we’re here to debunk that myth! Follow these tips to help minimize your debt :

Create a budget
All great financial plans start with a budget. If you do plan to borrow, this will help keep your borrowing to a minimum. If you already know your housing plans for this coming year, sit down and take a look at how much you will need per month – including rent, utilities, food, books, etc. Don’t forget to factor in the income you’re projecting to take home from your part time job. Are you planning to use your financial aid refund to help cover these costs? Use our Expenses Estimator tool to forecast your Ubill for next year and see what financial aid will cover.

Spend wisely
If your parents are leaving the college experience completely up to you, be sure you’re making wise spending choices. Don’t sign up for an off campus apartment that is $600/month and don’t get a meal plan if you don’t need it. Try and find affordable housing, and grocery shop for your meals. Yes, it’s okay to live off mac and cheese, frozen pizza & ramen if you have to! It may be tempting to use your financial aid refund and buy unnecessary things, but remember that money is intended to help pay your tuition, fees and living expenses only.

Accept your loans on a semesterly basis
Unless you know for sure you need the entire amount for Fall & Spring, you can hold off accepting the loans through your A+ account. If you decide you need the loan later on, we can always add it for you, or charge back the loan if you took out too much. Feel free to call our number at any time if you need help with this -->515-294-0677

Work full time in the summer
If you’re not taking classes this summer, chances are you have plenty of free time (refer to aforementioned “pool” time :) but we challenge you to work full time over the summer to help pay for your living expenses during the school year. If you find your financial aid refund and part time job income won’t be enough to cover your monthly expenses, this is a great alternative. If you’re living at home with your parents rent free this summer, try and save as much of your paycheck as you can so you can use that money to pay your rent. Saving money is key to any college financial plan!

Apply for scholarships
If you’re paying for your college education by yourself, the free money (AKA: scholarships and grants) is the number one way you can reduce your loan indebtedness. Always file your FAFSA every year by December 1st to be considered for priority aid (the automatic awards based on your need like the ISU grant) and fill out the FinAid Scholarship application through OneApp. Your college or department will also have their own separate application for their scholarships. The deadlines can vary, so look here to get an idea on timelines but generally, winter break is an excellent time to sit down and complete the applications. Don’t forget about the outside sources as well, like Fast Web and TFS.

Do you still need help creating your financial plan for next year? Schedule a one-on-one appointment with us! Email or give us a call @ 515-294-0677.

6 Student Loan Tips for Recent College Grads

21 May, 2018

Congrats, Class of 2018! Graduating from college can be exciting, but life after college can be frightening and stressful. You are faced with major decisions such as launching a job search, deciding to begin a career, relocating, or continuing your education. Basically, adulting is hard. When you get your first student loan bill in the mail, don’t panic! This is the part of adulthood we want to make easier for you. Here are some tips that may help you, or someone you know who is about to go through the loan repayment process.

1. Don’t ignore your student loans!
Unfortunately ignoring your student loans won’t make them go away. (We don’t make the rules, we just enforce them.) Student loan default is actually a bad move when it comes down to the consequences of missing student loan payments. You can be sent to a collection agency, and the government can garnish your wages and/or tax refunds. If you cannot afford your payment, contact us for help. No matter your financial situation, your servicer can help you find a more affordable payment option.

2. Set a budget
Even though your payments aren’t due until 6 months after you graduate, start including your student loan payment into your budget NOW. That means planning your after graduation budget around your fixed bills, like rent, utility bills, and your projected student loan payment. If you haven’t done so already, complete exit counseling to work on a post-graduation budget that includes your estimated student loan payment. 

3. Research forgiveness options
A very high percentage of borrowers do not take advantage of the various loan forgiveness options available. If you qualify, you may want to re-consider the payment plan you have elected. These plans are very finicky because you have to have the right type of loan, and be on the right payment plan for it to be effective. 

4. Sign up for automatic payments
I think we can all agree that paying student loans is no fun, but auto pay can make it easier. With auto pay, you don’t have to remember to log in and make your payment every single month! It ensures your payment is always in full and on time –just elect the bank account you want to make payments from. This can all be done via your servicer's website online. As an added bonus, you will also receive 0.25% off the interest when you sign up for auto-pay.

5. Make extra payments
If you can, pay more than the minimum. Even paying as little as $50 a month more can shave years off your repayment term. This is a great concept that applies to any debt management strategy. Want to pay your loan off earlier? Pay more than the minimum! Want to save yourself tons of interest? Pay more than the minimum! Want to get more out of life? Pay more than the minimum! 

6. Don’t postpone payments unless you really need to
During your exit counseling, you probably learned about deferment and forbearance. This can be a helpful solution if you’re experiencing a temporary hardship, but can be costly if used as a long-term solution. In most cases, interest will continue to accrue on your loan while you’re not making payments and it will also capitalize (when interests accrues on interest = baaaaad). And when you go back into repayment, your loan balance will be even higher than it was before. If you need to seek forbearance for financial hardship, be sure to contact your servicer about going into an income based repayment instead.

How to save big on summer travel

07 May, 2018

With spring classes officially in the books, summer break is finally upon us – except for anyone taking summer courses starting next week. (Whomp whomp… but kudos to you for being ambitious and continuing that grind. You go Glen Coco!) Nothing says summer more than planning a relaxing trip or vacation. Whether it’s with family or a few college buddies, start mapping out your warm weather vacation strategy ASAP to save some money. Here are our tips :

When to book a bargain
A general rule of thumb is to purchase plane tickets at least six weeks in advance. That goes for domestic travel around the US, but worldly travelers should be looking as early as six months out. It has been rumored that Tuesdays and Sundays can be the best days of the week to get the lowest fare on plane tickets. Are you traveling during a holiday? Use this site to help plan your holiday travel and utilize the help of Hopper, an app that analyzes flight prices to predict when ticket costs will hit rock bottom. 

Fly the (budget) friendly skies
There are some great sites out there that can help you find low fares, and while the list can seem endless – Kayak and Google Flights are among the most well known services for bargain hunters. Scott’s cheap flights is a site that delivers great results for international travelers. Their team of humans (not computers) search for cheap flights all day every day, and when an airline makes mistakes or offers a great sale, they will email you with instructions on how to book. Sign up for their newsletter to be in the loop of the rarest of rare travel finds. This is a great way to find travel inspiration, too!

Land supercheap lodging
Everyone knows the lodging part of a vacation can turn out to be the most expensive. Turn to to find the absolute cheapest hotel rates. Of course, sites like Airbnb and VRBO are becoming popular because the rates are usually cheaper, AND you’re offered more amenities/room space which = more bang for your buck. Consider contacting the host directly to kindly inquire if there’s room to negotiate on price. You’d be surprised how often there is, especially during off-season times of the year.

App, app and away!
In addition to plane tickets and lodging, we know there are little travel expenses that tend to add up along the way. Baggage rates, rental cars, Uber/Lyft, food, the list goes on! To make the most of your vacation dollar, use these handy budgeting appsTrabee Pocket helps you set a vacation budget in advance so you can plan easier, and even offers a function to use multiple currencies and set exchange rates. When you're all done, you can view and export your travel expense report. (Calling all budget nerds!)

Be a savvy spender
Let's be real. Traveling is fun but it can get expensive if you don't play your cards right. In addition to using these tips, make sure you are not relying on a loan or credit card to fund your vacations. Credit cards should be a no go unless 1) You are taking advantage of the reward/airline points and 2) You have the cash on hand to pay off the credit card purchases in full. The only thing you should be paying for after your trip is a bad sun burn, not the interest on your credit card!

It's Dead Week. How to Financial De-Stress

23 April, 2018

Your projects are nearing their deadlines, you have two more papers to write, a group presentation AND a Biology final that’s 30% of your final grade. Eek! Were they really thinking when they named this week “dead” week? For most students this week feels anything but dead. (Only because a steady supply of coffee and Red Bull is keeping you alive and functioning). If you’re feeling an increased amount of stress this time of the semester, you’re not the only one. In addition to study woes, you might be worrying about paying another months worth of rent, or if you’ll have enough money to move for your first full time job. We don’t want to add financial stress to the mix, so take these precautionary tips to help financial de-stress your life!

Create a Budget – At first, you might think that budgeting your money is only going to add to your financial stress, but it is actually the opposite. Budgeting is the best tool you can use to get control over your spending and make sure you’re not shorted at the end of the month. Start thinking about what expenses you will need to have covered by next month, and take the steps today to implement some saving strategies into your budget. Instead of going out every weekend, or spending your paycheck on a new summer wardrobe, set aside some money for your upcoming summer events.

Get an Emergency Fund – If you set aside some money for an emergency fund, that will create peace of mind for you and will alleviate any feelings of stress if something unexpected happens. We all know flat tires and last minute medical bills pop up out of nowhere and are never at the right time. With having the emergency fund, you will be prepared to cover that bill instead of relying on credit cards or parent’s help – no sweat! Shoot to have at least $500 - $1,000 saved up in your emergency fund to start with. Investigate an option with your bank to have a portion of your paycheck automatically deposit to your savings account. It's easy and stress free!

Make an Appointment with us! If you are struggling with creating a budget or developing a savings plan on your own, we can help make the process stress-free. We can walk you through step by step to help you get a handle on your spending, in addition to providing other resources, such as taking a personal finance class here at Iowa State. (HDFS 183 or 283) If you are feeling overwhelmed by your student loan debt, we will make it easy to understand your loans and your repayment options. Contact us via email or phone below!

Check your Credit Report Regularly Identity theft is no joke. This financial stressor can be prevented by regularly checking your own credit report, and monitoring your statements. If you see erroneous activity on your credit card statement, be sure to dispute the charge with your credit card company. If you see an account on your report that is not yours, contact the bureau and the creditor to get it removed. Also – do not fall victim to the many student loan scammers that are out there. They prey on student loan borrowers by promising loan forgiveness and lower payments. If it sounds too good to be true, just hang up the phone!

Strive for Balance Finally, it is importance to find the balance between work, school, saving and enjoying your life. Take time to relax regularly and know that you cannot conquer all of your financial troubles in one day. It takes time to get the hang of budgeting and choosing to save your money over spending it. One month you might be a savvy spender, but the next you decide to ‘treat yo self.’ It’s all about balance!

If you’d like to make an appointment so you can financial de-stress, email us at or call 515-294-0677.

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