“Everything has been entrusted to our protection,” says Pope Francis. I believe this includes our finances.
We’ve all heard of money-related horror stories. Personally, my dad lost several thousand dollars dabbling in mining stocks. I have friends who lost their house during the financial crisis. Many of us feel the crushing load of student loan debt.
“Do not bury your talents! Set your stakes on great ideals,” says Pope Francis. But money remains a leading cause of stress and often puts a serious strain on relationships. It can prevent us from living our lives to the fullest.
If we are able to take control of our finances and make prudent financial decisions, we can more easily set our hearts on things that matter most to us –our family, our health, our highest aspirations.
How can we be more responsible stewards of God’s monetary gifts?
Manage your student loan burden. Student loan debt is the biggest financial concern for millions of millennials. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. Lower your monthly payments by calling your federal student loan provider and ask if you qualify for either the Pay As You Earn or Income-Based Repayment plan. These will limit your monthly payments to 10-15% of your discretionary income.
If you work for the government or a non-profit, you can get rid of all outstanding federal student loans after 10 years through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.
Lower your monthly payments on your private student loans by refinancing those that have an interest rate of more than 6%. A client of mine refinanced her $65,000 student loan and was able to lower her payments by more than $200 a month.
Use technology to stick to a spending plan. Download a free budgeting app in your phone. I use Mint.com to keep track of all my spending. But when I feel like I’m not hitting my savings goal, I use GoodBudget. It helps me be more in control with my spending habit, since I have to manually enter each transaction (which takes 2 seconds).
Don’t let a $35,000 entry- level job discourage you from saving. I used to work for a non-profit that paid in that range and still managed to build my emergency and retirement fund by following a spending plan.
Build your credit score. The average millennial credit score is 625 – in the subprime category. That’s likely because an estimated two-thirds of millennials do not have credit cards and a quarter have missed paying a bill.
It takes a contrite heart, God’s mercy, and 5 minutes of confession to wash away our sins. But an accidental late payment will remain on our credit report for 7 years and drag our scores down.
Set up payment reminders. If you happen to miss a payment, call your credit card company and request a waiver. Establish a credit history by opening a credit card, but only use up to 10% of your credit limit. Don’t close unused credit cards, especially the older ones. The longer your credit history, the higher your credit score will be. Read more on how to improve your credit score.
If you follow these tips, you can save up to $70,000 when you get your first mortgage (through lower interest payments). Having an excellent credit score can also help you secure a managerial position in the future (a requirement by some employers).
Max out your 401k contribution. You might even get free money from your employer. Place it in a target retirement fund. This will automatically diversify your portfolio across major types of investments (U.S. stocks, international stocks, bonds).
After you switch jobs, roll it over to a low-cost IRA like Vanguard. You’ll save on fees, which can translate to thousands of dollars in investment gains. If you feel strongly about social and environmental justice, look for a socially responsible stock fund. Nowadays, you can even go fossil-fuel free!
Work with a certified financial planner. Multiple studies show that those who use a financial planner build significantly more wealth and are more confident about managing their money.
But not all financial advisors are the same. A White House report released in February 2015 showed that working and middle class families lose $17 billion a year due to hidden fees charged by brokers. Look for those who have passed the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER board exam. In addition to their expertise, they have sworn to act in your best interest.
It’s like having a Spiritual Director. You mostly likely don’t have one, and wouldn’t know where to find a good one. But when you do, he or she can help you be a more responsible steward of your finances and help you focus on living a life of service.
The Bible tells us that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil and Jesus warns against placing mammon above God, but we are also called to be responsible stewards of all that we are given. By making prudent decisions with our finances, we can remove burdens and stresses that make it difficult to flourish as a person—emotionally, physically, and even spiritually. And we can use our resources to benefit the lives of others as God intended.
Alvin Carlos is a Financial Planner and Managing Partner of District Capital Management, a new kind of financial planning and investment management firm for the everyday people.