8 Small Financial Mistakes That Lead to a Mountain of Debt in Your 30s

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No one wants to deal with money problems when they get older. But, unfortunately, many high schools and colleges don’t teach teens and 20-somethings how to manage their finances properly.

In fact, the average person under 35 has around $5,800 in credit card debt alone, according to ValuePenguin*. That’s on top of student loan debt, living costs, and other expenses such as car payments or a mortgage.

And although you might think you’re careful with your money by doing things such as setting a budget, there are many smaller financial mistakes you could be making. We reached out to experts to find out some of the most common missteps made in your 20s that can lead to massive debt in your 30s, and how to avoid them.

1. Paying even one bill late

It can be easy to get caught up in life and miss the occasional bill payment. But that innocent act can put you on a bad path.

“Missing one payment on any bill can not only lead to interest charges, late fees, and debt, but to poor credit profiles and scores,” said Kevin Gallegos, vice president of Phoenix operations for Freedom Debt Relief. “To avoid, open all mail (paper and electronic) as soon as it arrives.”

An easy way to ensure you’re paying all your bills on time is to set up automatic payments. Most companies offer this as an option.

If you’re struggling to pay your bills, look to see where you can cut costs in your lifestyle. Or, if you’re burdened with debt from credit card bills and loans, check out debt consolidation companies and student loan refinancing options.

2. Not thinking about your credit score

A credit score is something that might never cross your mind until it’s time to take out a loan. But that’s when it’s too late. Having a low credit score or no score at all could mean you’re not eligible for the money you need to borrow or that you’ll get stuck with high interest rates you can’t afford.

That’s why it’s important to start building a credit history as soon as possible. “You can easily create a strong credit profile that will save you thousands on home and auto loans and insurance,” said Todd Huettner, president of Huettner Capital. “Start with one credit card and put something small on it each month like gas and pay it off each month.”

3. Signing up for subscription services

From movies to groceries, the internet has made it easy to get everything on demand. But that convenience comes at a cost.

“The biggest mistake I made in my 20s wasn’t big purchases but the little things that added up like subscription services,” said Catherine Agopcan, founder of personal finance website Sisters for Financial Independence. “Spending a few dollars a month on Netflix and other services was a huge hidden money drain.”

Not only should you consider your income and big budget items such as rent, but you should also look at charges you’re putting on your credit or debit card. Spending $10, $20, or $30 here and there can add up to hundreds every month. Cancel or stop spending money on anything that’s not essential.

4. Not contributing to a 401(k)

You might think that retirement is something that’s way too far off to worry about. Incredibly, 69% of millennials aren’t saving for retirement, according to a 2017 survey by Earnest.

“One of the single biggest financial mistakes people make especially in their 20s is not contributing to their company 401(k) plan,” said Scott Salaske, investing expert at Firstmetric.

You have the option to contribute to a Roth or traditional 401(k) on your own, but you can up the ante on your contributions if your employer has a matching program. “Sometimes companies match dollar for dollar on a certain percentage of contributions,” added Salaske. That means if you put $100 into your retirement, your company could match a percentage of that.

5. Carrying a credit card balance

Credit card debt is a slippery slope. Carrying a balance means you’ll have to pay interest on your debt.

“I was carrying some debt on my credit cards, in addition to taking out student loans,” said smart shopping expert Trae Bodge. “My credit score plummeted. To avoid this, a good habit for people in their 20s is to pay off their credit cards in full every month. If you can’t do it, it means that you are overspending.”

To help you avoid credit card debt, try using Dave Ramsey’s envelope system. With this system, you split your cash between envelopes that are assigned to different expenses, such as gas, groceries, and entertainment. Once the money in an envelope runs out, you can’t spend any more on that expense for the rest of the month.

6. Not having an emergency fund

As a naive 20-year-old, it’s easy to overlook the need for an emergency fund. But that money could save you from going into debt when you have an unexpected expense.

“Most people forget about the unforeseeable costs like breaking a bone or needing to replace a piece of furniture,” said Doug Keller of Peak Personal Finance. “Without an emergency fund, you’re forced to rely on things like credit cards and loans. That’s dangerous.”

You should aim to have three to six months’ worth of expenses in an emergency fund at any given time. This chunk of money could get you through an unexpected financial hurdle.

7. Refusing to talk finances in your relationship

When you’re in your 20s, talking about money with your significant other might not be fun or sexy, but it’s necessary.

“One of the most common financial mistakes is avoiding the money talk with your partner,” said Sam Schultz, co-founder of Honeyfi, a free app that helps couples manage money. “But by regularly talking to your partner about money, you give each other a sounding board for important financial decisions and a support system to help you stay on track.”

In fact, Honeyfi recently conducted a survey of 500 millennial couples. It found that couples who discuss their finances regularly are over 50% more likely to say they’re “extremely happy” in their relationship. Further, they’re 14% less likely to argue about money each month and 37% more likely to say they have a “great” sex life.

8. Not reevaluating your student loans

Student loan debt is an epidemic. Millions of people are bogged down with payments well into their 30s, which is why you should consider refinancing.

“Refinancing your student loans provides the best opportunity to pay them off more quickly and cost-efficiently,” said Carla Dearing, CEO of Sum180, an online financial wellness service. “Refinancing provides you with a single loan with a single monthly payment and a lower interest rate. The lower interest rate means more of each payment is going toward repayment of the balance owed.”

If you decide to take this path, be sure to shop around to get rates from different lenders. It’s smart to compare interest rates to see if you can lower yours. Just remember: While extending your repayment term lowers your payments, you’ll end up paying more in interest over time. Also, refinancing a federal loan into a private one means you’ll miss out on federal protections, such as forbearance.

Don’t let small mistakes ruin your future

You could have the best intentions to save your money and budget properly. But you could still fall for common money traps. Those small mistakes could lead to big consequences later on, so it’s best to take inventory of your financial situation every now and then. Seeing where you’re falling short and excelling is key to ensuring a prosperous future.

*ValuePenguin is an affiliate of LendingTree, Student Loan Hero’s parent company.

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1 Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

  1. Rates include 0.25% Auto Pay Discount
     
  2. Explanation of Rates “With Autopay” (APD)
    Rates shown include 0.25% APR discount when client agrees to make monthly principal and interest payments by automatic electronic payment. Use of autopay is not required to receive an Earnest loan.

    Available Terms
    For Cosigned loans – 5, 7, 10, 12, 15 years. 
    Primary Only – 10, 12, 15 years

    In school deferred payment is not available in AL, AZ, CA, FL, MA, MD, MI, ND, NY, PA, and WA).


2 Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.

3 Important Disclosures for College Ave.

CollegeAve Disclosures

College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.

  1. Rates shown are for the College Ave Undergraduate Loan product and include autopay discount. The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.
  2. This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a freshman borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 8.35% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $179.18 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $21,501.54. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary. This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a first year graduate student borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 7.10% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $141.66 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $16,699.21. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.

Information advertised valid as of 9/24/2020. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Lowest advertised rates require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.


4 Important Disclosures for Discover.

Discover Disclosures

  1. Aggregate loan limits apply.
  2. Students who get at least a 3.0 GPA (or equivalent) qualify for a one-time cash reward on each new Discover undergraduate and graduate student loan. Reward redemption period is limited. Please visit DiscoverStudentLoans.com/Reward for any applicable reward terms and conditions.
  3. Lowest APRs shown are available for the most creditworthy applicants and include an interest-only repayment discount and Auto Debit Reward. The interest rate ranges represent the lowest and highest interest rates offered on Discover student loans, including undergraduate and graduate loans. The fixed interest rate is set at the time of application and does not change during the life of the loan. The variable interest rate is calculated based on the 3-Month LIBOR index plus the applicable margin percentage. For variable interest rate loans, the 3-Month LIBOR is 0.375% as of July 1, 2020. Discover Student Loans may adjust the rate quarterly on each January 1, April 1, July 1 and October 1 (the “interest rate change date”), based on the 3-Month LIBOR Index, published in the Money Rates section of the Wall Street Journal 15 days prior to the interest rate change date, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of one percent (0.125% or 0.00125). This may cause the monthly payments to increase, the number of payments to increase or both. Our lowest APR is only available to customers with the best credit and other factors. Your APR will be determined after you apply. It will be based on your credit history, which repayment option you choose and other factors, including your cosigner’s credit history (if applicable). Learn more about Discover Student Loans interest rates.
  4. Lowest APRs shown for Discover Student Loans are available for the most creditworthy applicants for the Discover Private Consolidation Loan and include an Auto Debit Reward. The fixed interest rate is set at the time of application and does not change during the life of the loan. The variable interest rate is calculated based on the 3-Month LIBOR index plus the applicable margin percentage. For variable interest rate loans, the 3-Month LIBOR is 0.375% as of July 1, 2020. Discover Student Loans may adjust the rate quarterly on each January 1, April 1, July 1 and October 1 (the “interest rate change date”), based on the 3-Month LIBOR Index, published in the Money Rates section of the Wall Street Journal 15 days prior to the interest rate change date, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of one percent (0.125% or 0.00125). This may cause the monthly payments to increase, the number of payments to increase or both. Our lowest APR is only available to customers with the best credit and other factors. Your APR will be determined after you apply. It will be based on your credit history, which repayment option you choose and other factors, including your cosigner’s credit history (if applicable). Learn more about Discover Student Loans interest rates.
Lowest APRs shown for Discover Student Loans are available for the most creditworthy applicants for undergraduate loans, and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments.

5 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

sofiDisclosures

UNDERGRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.23% to 11.76% annual percentage rate (“APR”) (with autopay), variable rates from 1.90% to 11.66% APR (with autopay). GRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 11.83% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.80% to 11.73% APR (with autopay). MBA AND LAW SCHOOL LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.30% to 11.98% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.97% to 11.89% APR (with autopay). PARENT LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.60% to 11.26% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.90% to 11.16% APR (with autopay). For variable rate loans, the variable interest rate is derived from the one-month LIBOR rate plus a margin and your APR may increase after origination if the LIBOR increases. Changes in the one-month LIBOR rate may cause your monthly payment to increase or decrease. Interest rates for variable rate loans are capped at 13.95%, unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law. Lowest rates are reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. If approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, the repayment option you select, the term and amount of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. The SoFi 0.25% autopay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. Information current as of 07/10/2020. Enrolling in autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi. SoFi Lending Corp., licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. NMLS #1121636 (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org).


6 Important Disclosures for Ascent.

Ascent Disclosures

Before taking out private student loans, you should explore and compare all financial aid alternatives, including grants, scholarships, and federal student loans and consider your future monthly payments and income. Applying with a cosigner may improve your chance of getting approved and could help you qualify for a lower interest rate. Ascent Student Loans may be funded by Richland State Bank (RSB). Ascent Student Loan products are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application, verification of application information and certification of loan amount by a participating school. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions, and certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. Ascent is a federally registered trademark of Turnstile Capital Management (TCM) and may be used by RSB under limited license. Richland State Bank is a federally registered service mark of Richland State Bank.

  1. Competitive variable rates calculated monthly at the time of loan approval based on a margin plus the 1-Month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) rounded to the nearest 1/100th of a percent. The current LIBOR is 0.176%, which may adjust monthly. Your interest rate may increase or decrease, based on LIBOR monthly changes. Rates are effective as of 09/01/2020 and reflect an Automatic Payment Discount. Automatic Payment Discount is available if the borrower is enrolled in automatic payments from their personal checking account and the amount is successfully withdrawn from the authorized bank account each month. (See Automatic Payment Discount Terms & Conditions.)
    1. Undergraduate Loans: Your variable interest rate may increase or decrease, based on LIBOR monthly changes, resulting in an APR range between 2.71% and 12.99%.  Fixed rate loans will not increase or decrease over the life of the loan and have an APR range between 3.53% and 14.50%. Rates reflect an Automatic Payment Discount of 0.25% on the lowest offered rate and a 2.00% discount on the highest offered rate. The following table shows a 48 month in-school period plus 9 months of grace prior to a full repayment term of either: 60-months (lowest fixed/variable rate), 144-months (highest fixed rate) or 180-months (highest variable rate) with examples of (i) Interest Only payments, (ii) $25 Minimum payments, and (iii) Deferred repayment options. (See Undergraduate Loan repayment examples.)
  2. Payments may be deferred. Subject to lender discretion, forbearance and/or deferment options may be available for borrowers who are encountering financial distress.
  3. Making interest only or partial interest payments while in school will not reduce the principal balance of the loan. There are three (3) flexible in-school repayment options that include fully deferred, interest only and $25 minimum repayment. (See Undergraduate Loan repayment examples.)
  4. Flexible repayment plans may be offered up to a fifteen (15) year repayment term for a variable rate loan and ten (10) year repayment term for a fixed rate loan. Students must be enrolled at least half-time at an eligible school. Minimum loan amount is $2,000.
  5. Interest rate reduction of either 0.25% (for Credit-Based Loans) or 2.00% (for Undergraduate Future Income-Based Loans) applies only when the borrower and/or cosigner sign up for automatic payments and the payment amount is successfully deducted from the designated bank account each month. The amount of the discount is dependent upon the loan product and credit history of the borrower at the time of application. Interest rate reduction(s) will not apply during periods when no payment is due, including periods of in-school, deferment, grace or forbearance, unless a regular payment amount has been arranged with the servicer. If you have two (2) consecutive returned payments for Nonsufficient Funds, we may cancel your automatic debit enrollment and you will lose the interest rate reduction. You will then need to re-qualify and re-enroll in automatic debit payments to receive the interest rate reduction.(See Automatic Payment Discount Terms & Conditions.)
  6. All applicants (individual and cosigner) are required to complete a brief online financial literacy course as part of the application process to be eligible for funding.
  7. Eligibility, loan amount and other loan terms are dependent on several factors, which may include: loan product, other financial aid, creditworthiness, school, program, graduation date, major, cost of attendance and other factors. Aggregate loan limits may apply. The cost of attendance is determined and certified by the educational institution.
  8. The legal age for entering into contracts is eighteen (18) years of age in every state except Alabama where it is nineteen (19) years old, Nebraska where it is nineteen (19) years old (only for wards of the state), and Mississippi and Puerto Rico where it is twenty-one (21) years old.
  9. 1% Cash Back Graduation Reward subject to terms and conditions. Click here for details. In order to be eligible for the 1% Cash Back Graduation Reward, borrower must meet the following criteria after graduation:
    • The student borrower has graduated from the degree program that the loan was used to fund.
    • The student borrower may change majors and/or transfer to a different school, but must obtain the same level of degree (e.g. – undergraduate or graduate)
    • The graduation date is more than 90 days and less than five (5) years after the date of the loan’s first disbursement.
    • Any loan that the student has borrowed under the Ascent loan is not more than 30-days delinquent or in a default status as of the graduation date and until any Graduation Reward is paid.
  10. Students can apply to release their cosigner and continue with the loan in only their name after making the first 24 consecutive regularly scheduled full principal and interest payments on-time and meeting the other eligibility criteria to qualify for the loan without a cosigner.

* Application times vary depending on the applicant’s ability to supply the necessary information for submission.


7 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 0.17% effective Sep 1, 2020 and may increase after consummation.


Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print to help you understand what you are buying. Be sure to consult with a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time.