Wednesday Websites #1: Credit Karma

Last weekend I wrote about credit reports.

But there is another thing that companies use when determining your financial acumen - the credit score. If your credit report is like your credit report card, then your credit score is like your GPA. The credit score is a proprietary number calculated by one of several credit bureaus. They take all of the information covered in your credit report - payment history, amount of outstanding debt, etc - and boil it down into one number that is supposed to predict your credit worthiness.There are several credit scores, but the most common is the FICO (Fair Isaac Corporation) score.

Your income is not considered at all in your credit report or your credit score. You could be making a million dollars a year, but if you are borrowing 2 million dollars and having trouble paying it back, you could still have a very low credit score. Your score simply describes your likelihood of paying back your debt responsibly.

Although you are entitled to one free credit report annually from each of the three credit bureaus, you are not entitled to free credit scores. You can purchase them as an add-on to your credit reports at, or you can purchase them individually. Since each score purchase runs $7-$12, that can add up very quickly.

But luckily there is an awesome website that allows you to get your credit score for "free"! At you can obtain your credit score as frequently as you want, and it will not cost you a dime. They pay the $7-$12 fee for you by posting related ads around the site.

Once you are on Credit Karma's website, please explore! It is chock full of helpful information, and literally breaks your credit score into sections and gives you a grade on each so you can see what parts of your credit activity you need to improve. These sections include:

-- Credit utilization
-- Percentage of on-time payments
-- Average age of open credit lines
-- Total accounts (number and type)
-- Hard credit inquiries
(When you apply for credit, they make a 'hard inquiry', which affects your score. If you check your own credit, it is a 'soft inquiry' and does not affect your score)

The other amazing part of the site is the Credit Score Simulator. Here, you can input potential changes to your credit activity, such as closing a credit card, increasing a credit limit, or making a late payment, and you can see how it will potentially affect your credit score. From my experience it is fairly accurate too! When I increased one of my credit limits by $2000, it showed that my credit score would increase by two points. So I called up my credit card company, asked them to increase my limit by that amount, and sure enough, my score went up two points!

This is a really useful tool to help you wrap your head around the complexities that make up a credit score. Check it out!

Tasty Tuesday #1: Veggie Pizza

We all know that eating out gets expensive in a hurry. But I love delicious food! Tuesdays will be the day where I highlight a tasty, healthy, and inexpensive dish that will help keep your money in the bank where it belongs.

Tasty Tuesday #1: Veggie Pizza 
I love veggie pizza! Also, I wanted something quick, easy, and delicious. So I grabbed some leftover veggies, a Boboli Whole Wheat pizza crust, and it took about 15 minutes start to finish for this tasty meal. Here's how:

1 premade pizza crust ($3.50)
1/4 cup mushrooms ($0.25)
1/4 cup spinach ($0.25)
1/4 cup colored peppers ($0.25)
1/2 cup pizza sauce ($0.25)
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella ($0.50)

Preheat oven based on pizza crust directions. Put everything on the pizza, then bake it for around 8-10 minutes. Enjoy!

click here

Total cost: $5.00 for a pizza, not bad considering ordering one would be less healthy, and cost about twice as much.

So I definitely recommend Boboli pizza crusts. They're much better and healthier than delivery pizza, and you can customize them anyway you want. Not to mention they're cheap, tasty, and can be frozen for when you need it!

Monday Money Saver #1 - Pumpkin Spice Lattes

It's that time of year! Fall is by far one of my favorite seasons -  changing leaves, crisp cool air, pumpkin and cinnamon flavors, apples.. yum!

Along the lines of tasty fall treats, I absolutely love Starbucks' Pumpkin Spice Lattes, and would drink them almost every day if I could. But at around $4 for a cup, those lattes would quickly eat up my eating-out budget. So I found an awesome DIY recipe over at The Kitchn.The best part about it is that if you make it yourself, you can adjust the ingredients to get it exactly how you like it. I find the Starbucks version to be a little too sweet for me, so if I make it myself, I can cut down on the sugar. The ingredient list is super simple too.

-canned pumpkin OR Pumpkin Spice Syrup
-sugar or sugar substitute
-vanilla extract
-pumpkin pie spice
-espresso or strong brewed coffee

Head on over to The Kitchn for directions and ingredient measurements. I figure if you buy enough of these ingredients to make a latte every day for a week, it might cost you about $10 (if you  need to go out and buy milk, canned pumpkin, and pumpkin pie spice specifically for this recipe). That's much, much cheaper than buying a latte every day for a week - plus you get to customize it to your tastes! What's better than that!?

Step 2: Cracking Your Credit Report

Step 2 is still part of the initial step of understanding your finances.

The most critical piece of information when it comes to your credit history is your credit report. The credit report is like your financial report card. This (or the credit score, which is based off your credit report) is the first thing any company will look at when you apply for a loan, for a credit card, for any form of credit.

What's on a credit report?
The information on your credit report contains several key factors that businesses use when determining if you are trustworthy enough to be lent money. Some of these factors include:

Types of accounts
Do you have credit cards? Car loans? Mortgages? Student loans? They will all be on your credit report. Issuers of credit want to see that you've been responsible with similar types of credit in the past - hence, if you have a car loan in good standing on your credit report, you'll be more likely to get a good rate on a car loan in the future. 

Balances on accounts
Yes, your credit report actually shows how much credit you are using. Companies look at how much of your available credit you are currently using when making the decision to issue additional credit. If you are constantly close to your limit on every card, they will probably assume that you would do the same thing if they give you another card.

Payment history
Payment history is critical. If you have been paying your bills on time, with no late payments, for years and years, you are awesome. However, not everyone is in that situation. Most people slip up once in a while and pay a credit card bill a few days late, or the cable payment gets bounced back because of insufficient funds. All of those late payments show up on your credit report. All of those payments for the last SEVEN years. If you are consistently late on all your payments, it looks bad to the banks who might otherwise want you as a customer. They would consider you a risky bet, and might not issue you credit. If they do issue you credit, it may be at a high interest rate to cover their investment in case you forget to pay permanently.

Ok. Now that you know the basics of what is on your credit report, time to go get yours!! Go to (not, or any other version). You are allowed one free copy of your credit report from each of the three issuers per year. That means you don't have to pay if you want your credit report once per year. Remember - make sure it is - that's the free one.

If you go to a website like, you will be automatically enrolled in their program, with a monthly fee, unless you call and opt-out within 30 days. Hey, they need some way to finance those addictive commercials!

So enter your information, get your three credit reports, print them out, and then LOOK CLOSELY at them. Compare the three. Are there any accounts missing? Are there any accounts on it that aren't yours? Double check them very very closely. This is your financial report card - you want the grade to be as high as possible, right?

Go back to the list you made for Day 1. Compare that list to your credit reports. Make sure you have everything on both lists. If you are missing something from your Day 1 list, add it. If you are missing something from the credit report, call them up and add it (unless you know you have a lot of late payments on that account, and then it would help you to just let the credit agencies figure it out on their own time).

If you have fraudulent activity on your credit report, FIX IT! Fix it as soon as possible. It may be a headache to have to call the credit agencies, or your credit card company, or whatever, but it is totally worth it in the long run. You don't want some criminal racking up charges for flat screen TVs and ruining your ability to purchase said TV in the future.

This is something you should do every year. Check your credit reports. Make sure they are accurate.

Step 1: Take a Step Back

So you want to get a handle on your personal finances. Great! It's never too late to start. Whether you are a recent graduate or have been out of school for 20 years, the fundamentals are the same.

Before you can make any changes, you need to understand where you stand.

First: Make a list.
Grab a pencil and paper (or your computer) and start writing. Write down the name of every single account that is linked to your name. Here is a list of common account types to get you started:

-bank accounts (savings/checking)
-credit cards
-student loans
-rental agreements/mortgages
-auto loans
-auto insurance
-investment accounts/retirement savings
-cell phone
-utilities (electric, water, gas, etc)
-connectivity (internet, cable, phone)
-any other financial contracts

Great! Now you have a list of all of your financial obligations and connections. Generally, these accounts will fall under two categories:

Assets - things of value that can readily converted into cash
Liabilities - an obligation to someone else in exchange for services or objects

Next: Label your accounts.
Next to each of your accounts that you listed in Step 1, mark an "L" or an "A". (Hint: Mortgages are Liabilities, not Assets - you owe someone money in exchange for an object) Chances are, you'll have a lot of L's to start with. Don't worry! With time, and careful planning, those L's will eventually disappear, and you'll create many more A's to add to your list.

The goal throughout all your financial planning is to decrease your liabilities (credit card debt, student loans, etc) and increase your assets (cash, investments, etc). This WILL NOT happen overnight. Improving your finances takes time and effort - which is why so many people don't like doing it. You can't stuff your bills under the mattress and hope they disappear. Trust me, they don't.

But this effort pays off! If you can improve your financial situation now, it will pay off in the long run. If you have a solid credit history, you can get better rates on loans and credit cards and save thousands of dollars in interest over the life of the loan. That's thousands of dollars extra in your pocket - if you have a good credit history.

I've spent the last year reading everything I can get my hands on about making the most of my money. Here's the difference between my list last year, and my list this year.

<-- last year's list
<--this year's list

Theory Thursdays

Theory Thursdays #1: Supply and Demand

Wednesday Websites

Wednesday Websites #1:
Wednesday Websites #2:
Wednesday Websites #3:

Tasty Tuesday Tips

Tasty Tuesday Tip #1: Homemade Veggie Pizza
Tasty Tuesday Tip #2: Black Bean Tomato Quinoa Salad
Tasty Tuesday Tip #3: Homemade Chai Tea
Tasty Tuesday Tip #4: Lemon Poppyseed Muffins

Monday Money Savers

Monday Money Saver #1: Pumpkin Spice Latte
Monday Money Saver #2: DIY Popcorn
Monday Money Saver #3: Free Music
Monday Money Saver #4: Open Office

Step by Step

Step 1: Take a step back
            - Make a list of all your accounts
            - Identify whether they are assets or liabilities
Step 2: Get your credit report
            - Check your credit report for accuracy
            - Correct any problems now - don't wait!
Step 3: Make a plan
            - Download the spreadsheet
            - Fill in your information to come up with a budget/spending plan