Let’s channel our former middle school teachers: There are no dumb questions.
Especially when it comes to personal finance.
Do you remember your financial literacy class? Probably not, because not many states require such a subject.
So it’s not your fault you have to watch a YouTube tutorial to make sure you’re writing a check correctly or that you have to quietly Google, “How much money do I need to retire?”
But you can stop being embarrassed now. We’re here to answer your “dumbest” money questions.
‘Dumb’ Question No. 1: What Do I Do With My 401(k)?
This isn’t a dumb question, because your 401(k), or any investment account for that matter, is an integral part to a happy and financially healthy retirement.
A 401(k) is an employee-sponsored plan, so it’s largely hands off. If you can, we recommend maxing out your contributions.
Then, thanks to the power of compound interest, watch it grow.
Sure, it’s all automated — out of sight, out of mind. But chances are, your 401(k) could be doing a lot better.
Take control with help from Blooom, an SEC-registered investment advisory firm that can optimize and monitor your 401(k) for you and keep it speeding toward retirement.
It just takes a few minutes to get a free 401(k) analysis that will show you whether your investments are allocated properly and whether you’re losing money paying hidden investment fees. It’ll even tell you just how much more money your account could earn by the time you want to retire.
After that, if you sign up, it’s just $10 per month to have Blooom monitor and maximize your 401(k). Bonus: Penny Hoarders get the first month free with the code PNNYHRD.
Now that you have Blooom keeping tabs on your 401(k), you can sit back and max out your contributions (if possible).
‘Dumb’ Question No. 2: How Can I Invest If I’m Broke?
You. Don’t. Need. Thousands. Of. Dollars. To. Invest.
Yes, everyone’s talking about investing in shares of Amazon, Apple or Netflix, but you can start investing with pocket change.
Start small and download Acorns, an investing app that’ll round up your debit and credit card purchases and, once it accumulates $5, it’ll invest the spare change for you.
That means if you spend $10.23 at the grocery store, 77 cents gets dropped into your Acorns account. Then, the app does the whole investing thing for you.
The app is $1 a month for balances under $1 million, and you’ll get a $5 bonus when you sign up.
‘Dumb’ Question No. 3: Does My Credit Score Really Matter?
Um, also, how do I check my credit score?
Some folks argue that credit scores are just three-digit numbers that hold no significance. And that might be true… if you’re living off the grid or never plan to purchase a car, rent or buy a home, or apply for a loan.
Seriously. Credit scores matter. They represent your financial health and allow you to build your future.
If it’s been… a while… since you’ve last checked your credit score, here’s a simple — and free — tool that’ll help: Credit Sesame.
Not only will you be able to peep your credit score, you’ll also tap into your free “credit report card,” which breaks down exactly what’s in your credit report and how it affects your score. The tool even offers tailored tips and tricks that’ll help you get your score up.
Motivational speaker James Cooper, for example, raised his credit score 277 points using Credit Sesame. Now he talks to high school students about the importance of having good credit and uses what he’s learned through Credit Sesame as a blueprint for his lessons.
‘Dumb’ Question No. 4: Do I Need Life Insurance?
This isn’t a dumb question, because there are so many variables you’ll need to consider before purchasing life insurance.
Life insurance financially protects your loved ones in the event of your death, which, sorry to break it to you, is inevitable. However, certain people need life insurance more than others. (If you’re not sure, here are three types of people who need life insurance.)
If you think you (or, really, your family) could benefit from life insurance, buying it doesn’t have to be the uncomfortable experience you might expect. Some newcomers in the industry are updating the old model.
Ethos, for example, can get you term life insurance in less than 10 minutes — with no medical exam — for coverage up to $1 million. Ethos offers a digital application, and customer service is available if you have questions.
It partners with a major life insurance carrier to quickly offer policies as low as $6 a month. It’s helped thousands of folks access term life insurance, including independent contractors who use Uber, Postmates, TaskRabbit and other gig apps.
‘Dumb’ Question No. 5: Why Is My Money Disappearing?
If you’re wondering where your money goes after each paycheck, start tracking your expenses with the Empower app.
Empower helps you organize and track your financial goals. Simply link your accounts, and every time you log in, you’ll see a simple snapshot of where you stand on your monthly budget. Are you above or below the line? In one second you’ll know whether you’re on track or need to dial things back a bit.
Empower even has a cool “find free money” feature. It’ll do things like negotiate your cell phone bill, review your insurance coverage and cancel unwanted subscriptions.
Side note: If your money is truly disappearing, then you might have a little identity theft situation on your hands. You’ll want to dig into this with your bank or credit card company.
‘Dumb’ Question No. 6: Can I Invest Without Supporting Evil Companies?
If you’ve got a $50 bill burning a hole in your wallet, look into Swell Investing, an SEC-registered investment adviser committed to supporting sustainable companies.
Its Impact 400 portfolio features companies whose products and services align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. It considers everything from gender equality to ending poverty to clean energy.
You’ll get a $50 bonus with the code PENNY after making your initial investment of at least $50.
Swell doesn’t have any trading fees, price tiers or expense ratios. It charges a 0.75% annual fee — that’s about the cost of one coffee ($3.75) per year if you invest $500.
Disclosure: We have a financial relationship with Swell Investing LLC and will be compensated if consumers apply for an account and/or fund an account with Swell through links in our content. However, the analysis and opinions expressed here are our own.
‘Dumb’ Question No. 7: Are Credit Cards Bad?
Short answer: If you use credit cards responsibly, they’re not bad.
Credit cards can be detrimental if you treat them like a never-ending stream of money. But if you spend within your means and pay them off each month, they can actually be beneficial. They help build your credit and some also grant you rewards — like cash back or travel points.
Here’s an option we like: It’s the Chase Freedom Unlimited card*. Its claim to fame? You’ll earn an unlimited 1.5% cash back on all your purchases. Plus, if you spend $500 in your first three months of opening the card (hi, groceries), you’ll pocket a $150 bonus.
Get signed up — and 0% intro APR for 15 months — here.
‘Dumb’ Question No. 8: How Does Interest Work?
There are a lot of acronyms in the banking world, so, to save you some time, here’s a rundown of one of the most beneficial: APY.
APY stands for annual percentage yield. It’s the interest you earn on a savings account.
For example, an iOS app called Varo Money combines traditional banking tools with modern technology to help its customers become financially healthy.
Here’s the best part: Pair your bank account with a Varo Savings Account where you’ll earn 1.75% annual percentage yield. That’s nearly 20 times — repeat, 20 times — the average savings account, based on a 0.06% average reported by CNN Money.
Because it’s compounded interest, it’ll get paid out daily, monthly or quarterly, depending on the account’s terms. Basically, the higher the APY and the more frequently it’s compounded, the better.
So yeah, you’re on the right track if you’re asking about APY.
‘Dumb’ Question No. 9: Where Can I Get Money If I Need it?
You’re in a pinch, and you need some money…
Maybe you’re looking to buy a new car, consolidate your debt, pay an unexpected medical bill or make some improvements around the house.
Um, so, where do you find that money?
This feels like a question that has one of those duh answers, but you’ve really got a lot of options.
You can take out a loan through your bank, credit union, peer-to-peer lending platform or a loan company. (We suggest avoiding 401(k) loans and payday loans.)
This money won’t be free; you’ll have to pay it back plus interest. You can easily shop around for the best terms and rates through an online marketplace, like Even Financial, which can help match you with the right personal loan to meet your needs.
Even searches the top online lenders to match you with a personalized loan offer in less than 60 seconds. Its platform can help you borrow up to $100,000 (no collateral needed) with fixed rates starting at 4.99% and terms from 24 to 84 months.
‘Dumb’ Question No. 10: How Can I Make Money Online?
If you’re looking to make some money online, you’re not the only one. Google receives approximately 100,000 “how to make money online” searches a month.
Not to worry. There are plenty of ways to get paid while sitting on the couch — from full-time work-from-home jobs to side gigs.
Some ideas, based on your wants and needs, include:
- If you just want to mindlessly make some money while watching TV, try signing up for a few top-rated survey sites. Swagbucks is definitely a reader favorite, probably because of the wide variety of ways to make money beyond taking surveys. Plus, you get a $5 bonus when you sign up and earn 2,500 SB within your first 60 days.
- If you’re looking to flex your skills with a company, then search our work-from-home job board. You’ll find both part-time and full-time opportunities, though note these are usually a little less flexible
- If you’re looking to set your own schedule, find an online opportunity that allows you to pick and choose when — and how much — you work. Consider signing up for a freelance platform like Fiverr, Mechanical Turk or Upwork.
So, yes, it’s possible to pad your bank account from the comfort of your home — just be watchful of the scammy stuff.
‘Dumb’ Question No. 11: Why Are Groceries So Expensive?
Admittedly, this is a question I recently asked while navigating the grocery store: “Why does it cost $3 for a gallon of milk?” Then, at the checkout counter, “How did I just spend $100 on groceries?”
I get that there are layers upon layers of factors that ultimately determine the price of groceries, but it seems like the weekly tab just keeps on increasing.
If you want to combat the price of groceries, use Ibotta. It sounds strange, but it’ll pay you cash for taking pictures of your grocery store receipts.
Here’s how it works: Before heading to the store, search for items on your shopping list within the Ibotta app. When you get home, snap a photo of your receipt and scan the items’ barcodes and get you cash back.
Ibotta is free to download. Plus, you’ll get a $10 sign-up bonus after uploading your first receipt.
Some cash-back opportunities we’ve seen include:
- 25 cents back on strawberries.
- $1 back on a box of tea.
- $5 back on a case of Shiner Bock beer.
Notice a lot of those aren’t tied to a brand — just shop for the staples on your list and earn cash back!
‘Dumb’ Question No. 12: How Do I Write a Check?
It’s pretty rare these days to have to write a check, so it’s easy to forget how to fill that sucker in.
Just go ahead and bookmark this six-step check-writing guide, so you look like you know what you’re doing the next time the opportunity arises.
Always Raise Your Hand and Ask the Dumb Question
Do you finally believe your middle school teacher? There are no dumb questions! Especially when it comes to personal finance.
If you want to go back to school and get more answers to your “dumb” questions, you can do so for free. We’ve just launched The Penny Hoarder Academy, which will guide you through the ins and outs of personal finance — from building a budget to saving money on groceries to buying your first home.
Never be afraid to just ask.
*Annual Rewards amounts will change based on the amounts you enter. The monthly spending category names and definitions may vary among issuers, and categories may not align one-to-one.
The information for the Chase Freedom Unlimited card has been collected independently by The Penny Hoarder. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. The Penny Hoarder is a partner of Credible.
Carson Kohler ([email protected]) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She was always the one who raised her hand and started with, “Umm… this might be a dumb question, but…”
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