This past year, I officially transitioned from my 20s to my 30s and began working on new goals as a more mature adult. However, as I evaluated my future finances, I realized I still had a lot of money questions that were left unanswered.
Financial literacy is an important part of knowing whether or not you’re on track with your money. The better you understand money management, the easier it’ll be to reach your goals.
So if you’re headed for the big 3-0 (or even if you are well past it), ask yourself if you can answer these 30 money questions.
30 important money questions, answered
1. What is a budget?
The foundation to staying on track with your money is to understand 1) how to create a budget and 2) how stick to it.
A budget is a method of tracking your income and expenses on a weekly or monthly basis. It includes essential expenses such as rent and bills, as well as non-essential spending such as eating out and entertainment. Having a budget will help you keep your spending in check.
2. What is an emergency fund?
An emergency fund, also known as a “rainy day fund,” is usually three to six months’ worth of expenses saved up in a separate savings account. This money is only used in emergency situations, such as an unexpected job loss or car repairs, and prevents you from going into debt to handle surprises like these.
3. What are liabilities and assets?
An asset includes all of the cash in your bank accounts, as well as your investments such as stocks and bonds. Assets contribute to your net worth.
A liability, on the other hand, is any debt or other financial obligation. Liabilities reduce your overall net worth.
4. How do you calculate net worth?
To calculate your net worth, simply add up all your assets and subtract all your liabilities. An asset minus a liability will equal your total net worth and this can be a positive or negative figure.
5. What is amortization?
Amortization is one of those big, fancy words that gets thrown around when talking finance, but the meaning is pretty simple. It refers to the process of dividing up a loan, including principal and interest, into installment payments over a certain period of time.
6. What is a debt-to-income ratio?
Your debt-to-income rate (also known as DTI) is a number financial institutions use to gauge your ability to take on new debt.
DTI is calculated by dividing your total monthly debt payments by your gross income. For example, if you earn a monthly income of $3,000, plus you have a $300 per month car loan and $150 credit card bill, your debt-to-income ratio is 15 percent ($300 + $150 / $3,000 = 0.15).
The lower your debt-to-income ratio, the more likely it is you’ll be approved for future loans, especially a mortgage.
7. What is profit and loss?
Profit is any amount of surplus of cash you have at the end of a specific period by means of producing an income, minus any expenses and other operating costs. A loss is taken when your income is not as much as your monthly overhead. Profit is always a positive figure and a loss is always a negative figure.
8. How do you check your credit report?
Your credit report details all your personal financial information in order for lenders to gauge your behavior as a borrower.
It’s important to monitor your credit report regularly for any errors or suspicious activity. Doing so will help keep your information from being compromised. By law, every individual is allowed to access their credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus every year for free at AnnualCreditReport.com.
9. What is a good credit score?
A credit score is a three-digit figure that allows potential lenders to quickly view your chances of repaying money you borrow. The higher your credit score is, the more appealing you will be to creditors.
There are dozens of credit scoring models, but FICO is a common one used by lenders. An excellent FICO credit score is anything above 750, while a good credit score is between 700-749. A fair credit score is 650-699 and a poor credit is any number below 649.
10. How is a FICO credit score calculated?
In order to build better credit, you need to have a basic understanding of the five main factors that affect your credit score. They are:
- Payment history: 35%
- Total amounts owed: 30%
- Length of credit: 15%
- New credit accounts: 10%
- Types of credit used: 10%
11. What is an APR?
APR stands for “annual percentage rate.” It’s the interest rate charged to any unpaid debt balances.
An APR can vary depending on what type of financial institution and loan you have. It will likely also be based on your credit history, with the best rates reserved for good credit. It’s important to seek loans with low APRs, as the higher the rate, the more money you’ll pay in interest over time.
12. What is diversification?
Diversification often relates to investing – it’s a strategy for spreading your money across many different investments to mitigate risk. For instance, rather than putting your entire investment portfolio into a handful of stocks, you spread it across stocks, mutual funds, index funds, bonds, real estate, and more.
13. What is passive income?
In simple terms, passive income is money earned on a consistent basis with minimal effort to maintain it. This is a way to generate additional income streams, however small or large they might be, so you’re not always exchanging time for money.
14. When will you be debt free?
Do you know your debt-free date? This is an important date to know, as it will allow you to work backwards and create a step-by-step debt repayment plan. The sooner to know your debt-free date, the sooner you’ll be able to plan for future financial goals like saving money or buying a house.
15. What is an IRA?
IRA stands for Individual Retirement Account, which is a type of retirement savings account with several tax advantages. The two most common types of IRAs are the Roth IRA and Traditional IRA. An IRA is a good option for workers who don’t have access to other employer-sponsored retirement options or want additional savings options.
16. What’s the difference between a Roth and Traditional IRA?
Up until 1997, there only the Traditional IRA existed. Now, there are several types of IRAs, including the Roth IRA.
With a Traditional IRA, your contributions are made with pre-tax dollars. Additionally, you can claim a tax credit on your annual tax return. A portion of any distributions you take during retirement must be allocated towards paying taxes.
A Roth IRA is the complete opposite; contributions are made after taxes have been taken out. You won’t receive a tax break, but any funds withdrawn during retirement are completely tax-free.
17. What is a 401(k)?
Like an IRA, a 401(k) is a type of tax-advantaged retirement savings account. A 401(k) is generally offered through an employer and allows you to contribute pre-tax money out of your salary towards retirement.
Often, employers will match a percentage of what you save as a workplace perk. It’s basically like getting paid free money to save for retirement.
18. How much should you save for retirement?
Your exact figure to save for retirement varies based on your personal situation and your desired standard of living later in life. A good goal to aim for is saving 10 to 20 percent of your income every year. To find out exactly how much you should be saving, use this retirement calculator from AARP.
19. What is the difference between an insurance premium and deductible?
It’s easy to confuse insurance premiums and deductibles, but there is a simple difference. A premium is the amount of money you have to pay each month to maintain insurance coverage. A deductible is the difference you have to pay when your insurance covers a claim.
20. What is an HSA?
A Health Savings Account (HSA) allows you to save pre-tax dollars for qualified health care expenses, co-pays, and prescriptions.
To qualify for an HSA, you must participate in a high-deductible health plan (HDHP). In 2016, the minimum annual deductible for a high-deductible health plan was $1,300 for an individual and $2,600 for a family. Any medical costs less than this amount must be paid out of your HSA and allow you to claim a credit on your tax return. Any funds left over at the end of the year will roll over into the next.
21. What is a FSA?
Much like an HSA, a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) is a smart way to use pre-tax dollars for certain qualified health care costs. The biggest difference compared to an HSA is that the funds in a FSA don’t rollover year-to-year – if you don’t use them, you lose them.
22. How much life insurance do you need?
While every person’s situation is different, the rule of thumb for how much life insurance coverage you need is to multiply your annual income by 10.
For instance, if your income is $50,000 a year, you’ll need at least a $500,000 life insurance policy ($50,000 x 10 = $500,000). Adequate life insurance coverage ensures loved ones who depend on you financially will be able to live comfortably if you pass.
23. What is your tax filing status?
Your filing status is used to compute your taxable income and defines the type of tax form you’ll use every year. It’s based on your marital status and number of dependents in your family.
There five main tax filing statuses:
- Married Filing Jointly
- Married Filing Separately
- Head of Household
- Qualifying Widow(er)
To see what your filing status should be, use the Interactive Tax Assistant on the IRS website. If you qualify for two statuses, choose the one that allows you to pay the lowest amount of tax.
24. What is a dependent?
In the simplest terms, a dependent is anyone who relies on you for financial support. This can be a child, parent, sibling, or other close relative. Whether or not this dependent is a qualified dependent for tax purposes is determined by the IRS and your CPA during tax time.
25. What is a personal exemption?
Every person in the United States can claim themselves as a deduction on their taxes. In 2016, personal exemption amount is $4,050. In most cases, you are allowed to claim both a personal exemption and dependent deductions.
26. What is a tax credit?
A credit on your tax return is different than a tax deduction. A credit is applied to the back of your tax return and is considered a below-the-line figure. It reduces the amount of tax you pay, dollar-for-dollar.
27. What is a tax deduction?
Tax deductions and credits are often confused because they both reduce your tax liability. However, a tax deduction is applied to the front of your tax return (an “above-the-line” deduction). It reduces your taxable income, which in turn, helps you pay less in taxes overall.
28. How does compounding interest work?
Compounding interest occurs when interest earned is reinvested and also begins to earn interest. This helps your money grow at a much faster pace than simple interest.
29. What’s the difference between credit, debit, and prepaid cards?
While all plastic, these various types of cards have different functions and can be an advantage or disadvantage depending on how you use them.
A prepaid card is simply cash in plastic form. You pre-load the card with money and use the card to spend the balance until it’s all gone.
A debit card allows you to access the funds in your bank account and draws down that balance every time you swipe.
A credit card comes with a revolving line of credit. You pay using the balance without first having to load the card with funds or withdraw from your bank account. Cardholders usually have 30 days to pay off the balance on a credit card or else be charged interest.
30. How do you build wealth?
“Wealth” means different things to different people, but at its core, wealth allows you to spend and save money according to your priorities with a long-term goal in mind.
This could mean retiring, having multiple passive income streams, investing in the stock market or venturing in the real estate market. The goal is to spend less than you earn and save as much as you can while enjoying your life.
Now that you have a basic understanding of these important money questions, you are better prepared to accomplish your financial goals. But don’t stop here – the more you educate yourself, the more wealth you can enjoy.
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