Freedom —it’s a word we frequently hear, especially when it comes to our finances. For most of us, financial freedom may seem just out of reach. Right when you think you’re close to paying off your debt, life throws you a curveball (unexpected bills or expenses) and sends you back to square one.
So how do you actually achieve financial freedom? For me, it took a magical combination of hard work, determination, and a little bit of tech support.
When I was trying to pay off my debt, at times it felt like I was all alone in the process. But I quickly came to realize that there were many other people in the same situation as me and (bonus!) there are several tools that exist that could help me get on a debt-free path.
We often joke about how technology has significantly altered our lives but seriously: these financial apps and websites I discovered changed mine for the better!
Student Loan Hero
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one-third of Americans have a four-year college degree, which means a lot of us are carrying around student loan debt. While in a way this is a ‘good’ type of debt to have, it can still be a tough burden when you have other bills to pay. And with so many financial deadlines, it can be hard to remember what is due when.
Student Loan Hero is a great resource that can help you set up a customized plan for your student loans and stay on top of what you owe and when you owe it. They also have resources like repayment calculators so you can figure out which strategy is best for your financial situation.
Pro tip: if your loan provider has the option, set up autopayments so you never miss a due date! It’s another easy way to make sure you’re working toward a debt-free path.
Speaking of student loans, one great way to lower your payments is through refinancing. When you refinance, essentially you are replacing your old loan with a new loan that has better terms than your previous one. SoFi offers several great refinancing options that can help you save a bunch of money on your loans and is super easy to use! The process is done entirely online and there are no fees or pre-payment penalties; all you have to do is apply.
I know a few folks who have used SoFi to refinance and they told me that not only was it the simplest process ever, they were able to pay off their loans quicker than they would have with their previous plan. This is one tool that I can’t recommend enough!
Ok, I know what you’re thinking — all of this advice is great, but how do I get to a place where I can actually afford to pay off my debt faster?! I have two words for you: your budget. By setting a realistic budget, you can find areas to cut corners and put that additional money into paying off your outstanding debts. Budgets definitely bring up some stressful feelings, but all it really takes is that first step: deciding to make one. The Mint app helps you develop a personalized budget based on your spending habits. It also lets you adjust your budget as you go, in case you find that you just can’t give up those late night Chinese food runs.
Mint also helps you create savings goals by finding categories in your budget where you can cut back on spending (say hello to extra student loan payment cash!). The app is completely free and can also send you bill reminders, insufficient funds notices, and alert you to unusual spending patterns. Even though I have my debt under control now, I still use Mint daily to track my finances so I don’t end up going backward.
Once you have all of your finances on track, you should start trying to invest any spare change you have. Honest Dollar is a tool from Goldman Sachs that makes it easy to set up a traditional, Roth, or Simplified Employee Pension Individual Retirement Arrangement (SEP IRA) account. Now, this sounds super confusing, right? I hear you, but that’s why Honest Dollar helps you figure out which account is right for you and can show you the projected growth of your savings efforts. You can also schedule your contributions at your own pace or set up automatic payments so you never forget.
Saving for retirement is something that most people put off until later on in life, but this is not something we should be forgetting about. The sooner you start saving for your future, the better!
(Shameless plug, I know – no surprise.) The first step to getting on the path to financial freedom is knowing where you stand. How far away is your debt-free day? A year? Ten years? Unsure altogether? Don’t worry, most of us are at first. It’s one thing to think you know where you stand with your finances, it’s another to actually know where you are.
When I was starting to work on my own finances, I had to figure out where I was at the old-fashioned way (a calculator and my bills!), but now the Turbo app can easily show you a holistic picture of your finances, sans papercuts. Turbo calculates the three key numbers that matter most to your financial health — your credit score, debt-to-income ratio, and verified income. The app then tells you what the numbers mean, why they matter, how you compare to others and provides personalized advice on how to improve your numbers.
If I’m honest, the app really is a game changer because you can quickly identify the areas you need to work on, setting yourself up for success later.
Now you’re probably experiencing financial information overload and that is totally understandable. The path to financial freedom does not need to include all of these resources, but trust me – they definitely can help you along in your journey. Now go forth and financially frolick to your debt-free day!