Tips to Use LinkedIn Effectively

September 29, 2015

How-to-Use-LinkedIn-EffectivelyLinkedIn can be an effective tool for job hunting, networking with like-minded professionals and opening doors that may have not opened otherwise. Of all the social media platforms, it ranks third in users, just behind Facebook and Twitter. With nearly 400 million users, it is important to utilize your profile to stand out and showcase your unique abilities and talents to potential employers. With some homework and preparation, you can build a strong LinkedIn presence:

  • Have a professional profile photo. Just by having a photo on your profile, you’re 11 times more likely to be viewed. But save the selfies for Instagram and opt to have a friend snap this photo. Dress professionally and look your best since this will be the first impression recruiters have of you, even before reading your dazzling profile info.
  • Do your research. Before you start filling out all those text boxes on your profile, take some time to research what other users have done in the same career field. Find out which titles and descriptions are used the most and utilize them. Recruiters use key words to wade through piles of profiles, so optimize your profile with those words to grab their attention.
  • Fill out your profile. All of it. While some consider LinkedIn just to be their online resume, it’s better to consider it a chance to take your resume to the next level. With LinkedIn, you aren’t limited to a single page of career history. Expand upon previous job duties, list your skills and strengths, boast your achievements, awards and volunteer work. Entice recruiters with a charming summary that paints a full picture of who you are as a person and a professional.
  • Post examples. Recently, LinkedIn has begun to offer users the opportunity to post pictures, videos and links to samples of their work. If you are a chef, post pictures that’ll make a foodie drool. If you’re a blogger, attach a link to your blog (and you might get even more readers). Post the PowerPoint presentation you spent weeks creating or the rousing speech that took a month to write. Potential employers will gravitate to those who have concrete examples of their craftsmanship.
  • Ask for recommendation from your connections. A recommendation can go a long way to potential employers. Ask previous co-workers and supervisors to write a short blurb praising your work ethic and achievements. If you don’t seem to have luck in asking someone to write a recommendation, try writing a few for others instead; oftentimes they will return the favor.
  • Join a group. Groups are a great opportunity to network outside of your personal social circle and connect with like-minded professionals across the world. If you are looking to break into a new field, this is a chance to ask experts what credentials and skills to pursue. When job hunting, group members may offer new connections or suggestions you wouldn’t have found on your own.

Heart of Florida United Way is dedicated to changing lives for the better by helping families and individuals gain access to resources they need to stay afloat and succeed financially. For more information about Heart of Florida United Way’s efforts to improve employment and financial stability in Central Florida, visit www.HFUW.org.

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Credit 101

September 3, 2015

Credit-Score-101

If you’ve ever applied for a loan or financing, such as when buying a car, you’ve probably been asked about your credit score. However, according to a recent survey, the majority of Americans do not know their score or what a credit report is. Your credit report is an important source of information. By understanding what it is and how to maintain or improve it, you can save money in the long run.

What is a credit report?

A credit report is a biography of your credit use. Your report has a list of all debts you have taken on, from student loans to credit cards. If you’ve ever applied for a credit card, that will show up too. Inquiries others have made into your credit — such as a landlord or car dealer checking your background — will also be listed.

Despite what ads you may see advertising credit reports for a fee, your credit report is completely free for you to access once a year. To get your free credit report, visit AnnualCreditReport.com or call 877-322-8228.

When you get your report, check it over for any discrepancies or issues. You may find a credit card you did not open, a typo affecting your report or even evidence of identity theft. By getting your credit report, you can tackle these issues right away and get them removed from your credit report.

What is a credit score and how is it different from a credit report?

A credit score is a three digit number that is based on your credit report. The score lets lenders know your credit worthiness — that is, how likely you are to repay your debt on time. Scores range from 300 (the worst score) to 850 (the highest). The higher the score, the better off you will be. Individuals with strong credit scores — 750 or above — can get lower interest rates on loans. If you have a poor credit score, you may not be able to get a loan at all, which will limit your options when shopping for big items, like a car or a mortgage.

Several different factors affect your credit score. These include:

  • Credit utilization: This is how much you use your credit cards. The lower your credit card balance, the better.
  • On-time payments: This is how often you make your payments on time. The more on-time payments and fewer late payments, the better a candidate you are to lenders.
  • Derogatory marks: This is the amount of major issues on your report. This can include bankruptcies, accounts sent to collections, or a tax lien against you.
  • Variety of accounts: This is the different types of credit you have. Lenders like to see you can carry debt responsibly, so having a range of credit — such as a credit card and a car loan — is actually beneficial to your score.

Your credit score is not part of your free credit report. To get an actual credit score, you will need to purchase it. Reputable sites include Experian, TransUnion and Equifax.

What if my score isn’t good?

Don’t panic. Your credit score isn’t set in stone and you can take steps to improve your score.

  1. Be on time: Above all, make your payments on each account on time. Even if you can only afford to pay the minimum, it’s better to pay that amount for each account on time every month.
  2. Apply for credit wisely: While credit card reward offers can be tempting, applying for several different cards will raise eyebrows for lenders. Only apply for cards you really need and if you will use it — and most importantly — will pay off it on time.
  3. Minimize your overall debt: Pay down your debt to keep your credit utilization low and your credit score up. Pay a little extra each month to bring your debt down.

Now that you know about credit reports and credit scores, get to work! Use that information to improve your credit health. It will go a long way to help you save money and protect your financial future.

Heart of Florida United Way is focused on addressing the five major building blocks of financial stability in order to provide low-income working families the services and support necessary to succeed. For more information visit www.hfuw.org or if you are in need of assistance, call 2-1-1, our 24-hour Information and Assistance helpline.


Student Loan Repayment 101

June 22, 2015

Student-Loan-101a

With college graduation comes celebration and relief. But after the parties end, reality sets in. For 40 million Americans, student loans are a necessary evil in order to pursue higher education. Facing a large loan balance can be overwhelming and confusing, so it’s important to understand your loans and your repayment options.

When do I start paying the loans back?

For most federal loans, you have a grace period of about six months from the time you graduate until you need to start making payments. During that grace period, if you have an unsubsidized loan your account will still rack up interest charges; you just won’t be responsible for the principle (the amount you borrowed before interest). If you get a job after graduation and can afford to start making payments before the grace period is up, absolutely do so. It will help bring down how much interest you pay over the term of your loan.

Some loans do not have a grace period, so be sure to double check your lender agreement for your payment start date.

What do I actually owe?

It’s not uncommon for loans to change lenders over time. If you can’t find your lender or loan details, this site can be a huge help. This will help you locate your lender, figure out how much you owe and what your monthly payment will be.

I’m supposed to pay that?!

Your student loan payments may be hefty, and your starting salary may be too low for you to handle basic necessities and your full payment. Understand all of your options regarding repayment. Common options include:

  • Standard: You pay a set amount every month for up to 10 years. Under this plan, the payment amount never changes and you pay it off faster and with less interest than other plans.
  • Graduated Repayment: You’ll pay less on your loan every month at first, then it will gradually increase. This can give you some more wiggle room when you’re first starting out but you will pay more on your loan than if you did the standard repayment plan.
  • Extended Repayment: Rather than a 10 year term, your loan can be extended in certain circumstances to as long as 25 years. This can greatly reduce your monthly payment, which can be a huge help if your salary isn’t cutting it, but you will end up paying much more than on a standard or graduated repayment plan in the long run.

What if I can’t afford it?

If even on an alternate repayment schedule you can’t afford payments, it’s imperative to work with your lender. Student loans are one of the few kinds of debt that can’t go away with bankruptcy. If you don’t pay, your credit score can get wrecked and the lender can even garnish your wages. No matter how long it takes you, you have to pay back your loans.

But there are options to help you through a tough time, such as unemployment or a medical issue.  Carefully consider these options and work with your lender to find what works best for you. Call the number listed on your lender account website and explain to the representative that you cannot afford your payments. Make sure to say why that is—temporary job loss, disability, etc—since that will determine what your options are:

  • Deferment: During a deferment, your loan payments are delayed for a set period of time up to 3 years. You can be eligible for deferment if you are unemployed, are deployed in the military or are experiencing significant financial hardship. Deferments are not automatic and you are not guaranteed to be granted one. You’ll need to contact your lender to talk through the application process to have a deferment enacted.
  • Forbearance: If you don’t qualify for a deferment, you may qualify for a forbearance. Your payments can be stopped or reduced for up to 12 months. A temporary financial hardship or illness may get you qualified, but again, the process is not automatic and you have to work directly with your lender.

Completely overwhelmed? Lifehacker has a quick guide to help walk you through the process of talking options over with your lender.

I have a good job and can actually make my payments! Should I pay extra?

Congratulations! Paying even a little more each month can make a huge difference; Extra payments lessen the amount of interest you’ll pay off over the long-term and you’ll have your loans paid off early. The Student Loan Repayment Calculator is a great tool; enter your loan balance, how much longer you have to pay, and your interest rate, and it will show you how making extra payments will impact your loan. Even paying as little as $5 more a month can cut months off your loan terms and can save you hundreds of dollars in interest.

This article is meant as a general overview of the most common student loans, but as always, your situation and your loans may differ. Be sure to check your loan terms with your lender.

Heart of Florida United Way is focused on addressing the five major building blocks of financial stability in order to provide low-income working families the services and support necessary to succeed. For more information, visit www.hfuw.org or if you are in need of assistance, call 2-1-1, our 24-hour information and referral helpline.


Using the Cash Envelope System

April 21, 2015

Cash Envelope System


It’s easy to break out the credit card for routine purchases like groceries, gas, clothes, and fast food. The convenience can’t be beat, but using that credit card can cause you to spend more money that you intended and rack up debt. According to a recent study, people spend up to 18% more when they use a credit card rather than cash.

The envelope system is a great way to get a handle on your spending and help you keep to a budget. It’s easy and requires no special tools or software, just some plain envelopes.

To get started with the envelope system, follow these steps:

  1. Make a budget: Review your spending over the past month and your bills. Bucket your expenses into categories, such as rent, groceries, gas, cable, etc. Then create an envelope for each one and label each envelope with a category.
  2. Fill your envelope: Set aside the amount of money for that week for that category in each envelope. For instance, if your grocery budget is $400 a month, you would put $100 in that envelope for the week.
  3. Spend! The fun part! Spend your envelopes on each category as needed. The important part is not to borrow from one for another category—no raiding the grocery budget to pay for shoes! If you run out of money in any category, spending is over.
  4. Adjust: If at the end of the week you have any money left over, deposit the extra amount into savings or pay down debt. Even an extra $5 each month can make a difference over time.
  5. Refill the envelopes: At the start of the next week, refill the envelopes and start again.

If you’re used to carrying a credit card, it may take some time to get used to the envelope system. But give it time. Adjusting to a cash system will make you more aware of your finances and spending, helping you keep on budget and build your savings.

Heart of Florida United Way is focused on addressing the five major building blocks of financial stability in order to provide low-income working families the services and support necessary to succeed. For more information visit www.hfuw.org or if you are in need of assistance, call 2-1-1, our 24-hour information and referral helpline.


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