2020 Coronavirus Stimulus Package

In the past several months, many people have endured some type of loss due to COVID-19. A situation that many, particularly college students, have found themselves to be in is unemployment. Fortunately, Congress passed the CARES Act to provide relief to those who faced financial difficulties related to the looming uncertainties from the pandemic in the form of an Economic Impact Payment – more commonly known as the Stimulus Check. This payment is a $1,200 credit for the 2020 tax year that does NOT have to be paid back to the government.

Why do credit card companies offer reward programs?

As counterintuitive as it may sound, offering 5% cash back on goods users purchase actually increases a credit card company’s profit margin. The reasoning behind this lies within how credit card companies generate money. (Sometimes a bank or credit union issues the credit card). First, by offering an incentive to use credit cards as a form of payment over cash or checks, it increases the probability that the financial institution will be able to collect interest on any remaining balance left unpaid.

Is it better to pay your monthly credit card balance in full, or just the minimum?

There are pros and cons to both choices, as each can affect your overall finances and credit score.

Advantages of paying the entire balance at once include not paying interest fees, not maxing out on your credit card’s limit and the decrease of your credit utilization ratio. The credit utilization ratio is how much you owe compared to your credit limit. The lower the ratio, the better your credit score.

How can I better plan to apply for graduate programs?

Choosing to continue with education beyond a Bachelor’s degree is a huge investment. Even after researching the tuition and fees of potential programs, there are other hidden costs that can be unexpected and add up quickly. Here are some hidden fees to know about especially when considering applying to graduate programs:

How do I choose the credit card that is right for me?

Credit cards are a helpful tool that can build your credit history, allow you to make purchases that can be paid off over time, and save you from fidgeting around with cash at the register. When applying for a credit card however, it is important to keep in mind that some cards may better suit your needs than others. Here are a few factors to consider and compare before choosing a card:

How do I determine how much of my income to allocate to emergency savings?

Approaching this question first requires you to determine your critical expenses. Everyone’s critical expenses are subject to variability, but some broad categories would include housing, food, health care, utilities, transportation, and any debt you may have. You should not include anything you’d cut from your budget in the event of job loss or major catastrophe.

woman holding $100 bills

Who doesn’t love that feeling when a big chunk of change hits your bank account? You think, “What can I buy with that?” and start fantasizing about all the goodies you’ve had your eye on. But, hold on, before you burn through that cash, let’s think for a minute about what else you can do with your student refund.

Many college students are receiving more money back from their schools this semester due to more courses being held online instead of in-person. With getting more money back in refunds, we have more choices on where that money will go.

How can I save money on textbooks?

When each semester begins, the bookstore is crowded with students. I used to be among these people but later I realized that it was financially unwise to buy all my textbooks from the bookstore. Have you ever had the same feeling? Have you ever spent hundreds of dollars buying textbooks and wanted to find cheaper ways to purchase textbooks? I have some tips for you to save money.

What are the unique challenges student parents face while attending college?

Traditional college students complete their college education during their “emerging adulthood” years, usually between the ages of 18 and 24. During this time, college students are facing assignments, experiencing the residence hall lifestyle, and, ideally, carefree of “adult” responsibilities. Some financial responsibilities a student faces may include a new laptop for class, course textbooks and materials, transportation, and perhaps groceries when the dining halls are closed.

We've been talking about saving for important events this week at Illinois Extension! For more details, click over to the Plan Well, Retire Well blog.

We've been talking about how to avoid financial exploitation this week at Illinois Extension! For more details, click over to the Plan Well, Retire Well blog.

 We've been talking about back to school planning this week at Illinois Extension! For more details, click over to the Plan Well, Retire Well blog.

We've been talking about estate planning this week at Illinois Extension! For more details, click over to the Plan Well, Retire Well blog.

We've been talking about credit management this week at Illinois Extension! For more details, click over to the Plan Well, Retire Well blog.

Financial Wellness Checkup Campaign

Join in the fun! Illinois Extension is hosting a 5-week social media campaign, Financial Wellness Checkup. During Financial Wellness Checkup, enjoy practical tips and personal finance resources.

The campaign will be live July 6 through August 10. There is a new theme each week:

miktea drinks

Milktea drinks taste so good. Just thinking about the creamy milk, the refreshing tea flavor and the chewy Bobas might have already made you want to grab a cup. Or, perhaps it’s the aroma of coffee that tempts you!

However, have you ever thought about how much the daily store-bought drink costs you? Let’s do the math quickly. Let’s say one drink costs $4.50, and you buy it five times a week. Then the total adds up to $90 per month and $1080 a year. I mean $1080 a year! That gives you more than enough money to purchase a great smartphone!

How often should I check my credit score?

Before understanding how often you should check your credit score, it’s important to note the differences between a credit score and a credit report. A credit report refers to a detailed report of your personal information and payment history prepared by the credit bureaus. A credit score is a composite number between 300 to 850 calculated from data on your credit report.

Are your subscription services taking over your budget?

Subscription services are becoming very popular in society and almost everyone has at least one subscription service they use frequently. Subscription services can range from beauty supplies, to television and movie platforms, and food delivery. There is no need to have every subscription service out there, but there is a way to have the services you want, at an affordable price.

How should we prepare for unplanned expenses?

Unplanned expenses often come at times when we'd least expect. Throughout our everyday lives, things are always happening. Cars need maintenance, we get sick, something in the house may need to get fixed, etc. There are so many things that can be encountered when it comes to having to spend money we were not prepared to spend.

What are the different types of credit cards? 

Nowadays, financial institutions offer all kinds of credit cards that have different features. It is important to understand each type of credit card to determine the type of credit card that best suits your needs. There are five major categories of credit cards: balance transfer, low-interest, rewards, secured, and specialty.

Light bulbs

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, energy use for air conditioning has doubled since 1980, and U.S. households currently plug in more appliances and electronics at home than ever before. Natural gas and electricity are the most-consumed energy sources in homes as the home electronics market is constantly innovating new products integrating to our modern lifestyle.

What is the difference between a credit score and a credit report?

Many people use the term credit score and credit report interchangeably. Although mistaking them may seem harmless, credit scores and credit reports are very different. As stated in the name, your credit score is exactly that, a score. This score is a numerical value that is calculated and used by lenders to determine the risk associated with giving a borrower a loan.

Why should I build an emergency fund?

It’s easy to spend all the money in your budget (even if you don’t have one), but what happens when you have an expense you can’t anticipate? Whether you have a flat tire or need to make a surprise purchase, having an emergency fund can be a financial lifesaver.

Of course, some emergencies don’t impact the amount of money that you spend, but the amount that you earn. A common issue people face is losing their job. Suddenly, you have little or no income, but your fixed expenses stay the same. Any surprise that causes you to spend more money than you earn is an emergency.

Make your goals SMART: Specific, Measurable, Agreed upon, Realistic, Timely

Creating a savings goal is commonly confused with creating a dream. For example, when asked to create a savings goal for a vacation trip or a car, their response is “I want to go to [location]” and “I want to have a [car model]”. This only represents what individuals want (a dream) without creating a reasonable process (savings goal) to achieve the end product.

credit cards

Credit Cards are a wonderful financial tool if you’re aware of their pitfalls. The unfortunate problem is that people can get themselves in trouble by excessively using their credit cards beyond their means and being unable to pay their bills.

Piggy bank

When you get your first job, your employer likely will ask you for the direct deposit number or the routing number of your bank account. Indeed, opening a checking account is one of the first steps to getting paid. Before you go to the bank you can use some of my helpful tips to answer some of the questions about opening your checking account.

Plant - Interested in sustainability but worried about the cost?

To some, living sustainably can mean living a more expensive lifestyle. Small increases in costs from eating organic foods, buying clothes made from sustainable and biodegradable fabrics, and paying extra for dairy alternatives can add up. Luckily, stores are making it easier to make more sustainable choices while saving money at the same time.

Here are a few ways to live a more sustainable lifestyle on a budget:

computer with pen and paper on desk

To many college students, budgeting seems like an extremely daunting task... Who needs to budget anyway with those deferred student loans, am I right? However, keeping a budget and tracking your spending not only keeps you conscious of where all your money is going, but it also allows you to be a more prudent spender. Keeping a budget may even help to minimize the huge ball and chain that we call student debt at the end of your four years.

clothing rack

Shopping at thrift stores can be one of the most fun and rewarding ways to go shopping while on a budget.  If you are in need of a new wardrobe, but also want to save money, thrift shopping is just what you need.  Some popular places in the Champaign-Urbana area to go thrift shopping are the Goodwill, Salvation Army, and Salt & Light.  The best way to make thrifting fun is to bring a couple of friends along with you.  An extra perk of bringing friends is having a second opinion when determining what clothing looks best.

Money decision

As a recent graduate from college, you may be excited to embark on your career and gain new experiences. However, as you reach this new chapter in your life you will have to start thinking about paying off your student loans, if you have any, and make life decisions such as deciding how much to contribute towards your retirement. Some people might think that they first need to pay off their student loans before they can start saving for the future. In reality, it may be feasible to contribute to both with careful budgeting.

Grocery cart

College students know that when living on your own, there are a lot of necessities that come along with it. Some add up to be quite a lot of money that students do not have. Grocery shopping every week is something that many students struggle with when fitting things into their budget.

Quick tips on how to save money:


pan with food cooking on a stove

Do you often find yourself eating at a restaurant or buying fast food because you do not have the time or effort to cook a meal yourself? Do you see yourself running out of the food that you had just made to only last for a couple of days? Well, there is a method of preparing food that is both convenient and can save you money too and it is called meal prepping.

Person driving a car

Having a car on campus is convenient, but it also comes with a lot of costs. Parking meters seem cheap, but when you look at how much you’ve spent over the past month, your jaw drops. Gas prices are decent but getting gas once a week builds up as well. And there’s also what seems like the inevitable monthly parking fee that your apartment company charges you. Here are some ideas to help you save some money while enjoying the convenience of driving on campus.

Shopping bags

Do you have experience buying stuff you seldom use, purchasing clothes not suitable for you, and consuming more than you need? Impulsive shopping makes people waste money for temporary joy and sometimes takes people into a personal financial crisis. Reasons for impulsive shopping vary. Understanding the reasons and knowing how to deal with them can help you protect yourselves from ruining your financial wellbeing and go shopping more rationally. The following are the reasons I hear, or I’ve used to justify impulsive spending. Or something like that!

Clothing rack

There comes a time when everyone needs to go shopping for new clothes.  While this can be a fun process, it can usually get really expensive.  Before you go shopping there are some useful tips you should use to make sure you are spending your money wisely.

When preparing to go shopping, it is important to take a look at your closet, so you know what you already have and what you need to look for.  This will keep you from buying something you already have. 

Grocery store

Store brands have evolved over the years in both popularity and appeal. Today, grocery stores known for solely selling store brands, such as Aldi, have boosted in popularity as many consumers have started to purchase store brands weekly.  In fact, several big box stores, like Walmart and Target, even have their own store brand alternatives that they offer on a diverse amount of goods. Not only are store brands cheaper than name brand items, they also are made with essentially the same ingredients and often provide the same nutrition, just for a cheaper price.