road in Ireland coast

Pros & Cons of Car Refinancing

For many of us, buying a new or used car means getting an auto loan, which can have a major impact on the monthly budget. Refinancing that loan may make sense if you can get a better interest rate or preferable terms.

The typical auto loan term is 63 months, but loans of 72 and 84 months are becoming more common. The longer the term, the higher the interest rate, in general.

As you think about the cost of driving, chew on this: The average price of a new light vehicle has reached nearly $40,800, dwarfed by the average for a luxury full-size SUV, at $98,000, Kelley Blue Book says. And can you guess what the biggest annual cost of car ownership is, according to AAA? Depreciation.

What Is a Car Refinance?

Drivers who opt for refinancing a car loan use another loan to pay off the balance on an existing auto loan.

The goal is a lower interest rate and/or lower monthly payments. Some people, unable to lower their rate, may be able to extend their repayment term in order to secure lower monthly payments.

Refinancing a car doesn’t automatically mean a lower interest rate or lower monthly payments. The rate you’re offered depends on your current financial situation and the lender.

But if your credit score and debt-to-income ratio have improved since you took out your car loan, refinancing could potentially save you money.

Pros of Refinancing a Car Loan

Here are reasons why you might want to look into an auto refinance loan.

Your credit score has improved since you took out your current loan, making it possible to qualify for a lower interest rate on a new loan. Refinancing might not be for you if your financial history hasn’t improved since you first got your car loan, or if your credit score has decreased.

You’re looking to lower your monthly payments either with a rate reduction or a longer loan term.

You have a balance over $5,000. Many lenders won’t refinance a car loan that has less than $5,000 remaining.

Cons of Refinancing a Car Loan

Here are some reasons why you might not want to refinance your car loan.

A longer term may mean more interest paid. Extending the length of a car loan at the same rate will result in more interest paid over the life of the loan. For example, a $15,000 auto loan with an effective annual percentage rate of 7.5% and with five years remaining would cost $18,034 in total. Extending that loan to a seven-year period would cost $19,326—a difference of $1,292.

A lower rate isn’t guaranteed. Refinancing a car loan doesn’t always mean a lower interest rate. A credit score decrease since you took out the loan could mean you’re only eligible for a higher rate than your current car loan.

A balance under $5,000 often won’t qualify. Most lenders won’t refinance a car loan that has less than $5,000 remaining.

Options to Car Refinancing

Balance-Transfer Credit Card

Many balance transfer credit cards don’t require interest payments for several months, making them a potential alternative.

This move is probably only worthwhile, though, if the auto loan balance can be paid off during the interest-free time, which can range from six to 21 months.

Personal Loan

A personal loan can be used for everything from unexpected medical expenses to home repairs to auto loan payoff.

If your car loan balance is over $5,000 and you’re able to get a lower interest rate or change the term, a personal loan could be worthwhile.

Auto loans are secured: They require you to use the car you’re buying as collateral for the loan. The vehicle could be repossessed if you don’t repay the loan.

Personal loans are not secured by collateral.

The Takeaway

Although a car loan refinance isn’t for everyone, it may be a good choice for drivers looking to lower their interest rate or change the length of the loan.

If a personal loan of $5,000 to $100,000 sounds like it could be a good fit, check out SoFi fixed-rate personal loans. They come with no fees and with terms of up to seven years.

Check your rate within just a few minutes.


SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp. or an affiliate (dba SoFi), a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law, license # 6054612; NMLS # 1121636 . For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
Third Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
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Should I Pay Off Student Loans, Save, or Invest?

You’re a successful college graduate. You made it through all of your classes and secured a job in your chosen field. You’re on your way to building a successful career and establishing your life as an adult.

Now that you’re in full-on adult mode, you’ll have to start making some pretty big decisions. What are your short-term goals? What are your long-term goals? How are your finances stacking up to help you get there?

One of the questions many young adults face is whether it’s better to pay off student loans (or other debt), save, or invest. With rising levels of student debt across the nation, this is a common question. College students who graduated in 2019 with student loans owe an average of nearly $29,000.

You know that paying down debt is good for financial security, but saving and investing are important, too. The best course for many is not to think of it as choosing between one goal and another. With some strategic thinking and careful planning for your financial future, you can do all three.

Making a Budget

A good first step to any financial conundrum is to fully evaluate the situation. Start by gathering all of your financial documents including tax statements, bank statements, credit card statements, and statements on student loans or other debts. Then, list out all of your monthly expenses—fixed expenses, like rent, and variable ones, like dining out.

Now, tally up all sources of income and list out your savings. After you’ve done this, you should have a pretty clear idea of how much money you’re spending, what you’re spending it on, and how that compares with the money you are bringing in every month.

Now that you have a big picture view of your spending habits, look for areas where you might be able to make changes. Take a look at any of your current subscription services with monthly payments, for example. If you’re not actively using them, maybe it’s time to cancel.

If you’re willing to call your internet or cable provider, you could try to negotiate a lower rate. After you’ve made any changes to your spending, make a new budget—one that details how much money you’re going to put toward your student loans, your savings, and your investments.

Making Payments on Your Loans

Regardless of your financial goals, it’s important to prioritize your debt payments. Failing to make payments and allowing your loan to become delinquent or go into default can have serious consequences for your finances and credit score.

By paying at least the monthly minimum payments, you can make sure you stay in good standing with your loan servicer while still making progress toward your loan repayment.

Paying off High-Interest Debt

When it comes to debt, the interest rates on student loans are relatively low. While you are making monthly payments on your student loans, it could be smart to tackle any high-interest debt you may have.

Credit card annual percentage rates (APRs) average more than 16% in July 2021, which means debt can rack up quickly. If you are carrying credit card debt, you might try either the debt snowball or debt avalanche method to pay it down.

The Debt Snowball Method

With the debt snowball method, you’ll pay the minimums on all accounts first and direct any additional funds to the smallest debt first, regardless of the interest rate. The idea is that by paying off your smallest debt first, you’ll stay motivated to continue making payments on your debt. After you pay off your smallest debt, you take all of the money you were putting toward that balance and put it toward the next smallest debt (so the amount you pay gets bigger like a snowball), and so on, until all of your debt is paid off. The accomplishment of repaying your debts provides motivation to continue paying off the money you owe.

The Debt Avalanche Method

With the debt avalanche method you’ll focus on the debt with the highest interest rate first. Make a list of all your debts by order of descending interest rate. While making your minimum monthly payments on all the debts, you would “attack” the loan with the highest interest rate with as many extra payments as you can.

This method can require more discipline, but keeping track of how much you are saving in interest can be a great motivator.

Consolidating Loans

Another option for getting your credit card debt under control is to consolidate it with a personal loan. Personal loans often have lower interest rates than high-interest credit cards and, as a result, you could save money on interest.

Another benefit of consolidating your credit card debt: Streamlined payments. You’ll only be responsible for making one monthly payment to one lender instead of multiple payments to a variety of credit card companies and lenders.

No matter which debt repayment method you use, a common tactic is to keep credit card balances low after paying them off, since running them back up has the potential to make your credit profile less attractive to lenders due to the increased total debt.

Lowering Your Student Loan Payments

If you are having difficulty making monthly payments on your federal student loan due to temporary financial issues, you could consider putting your federal student loans into deferment or forbearance. Just know that while many student loans are in forbearance interest will continue to accrue, making it more expensive to pay off later.

Depending on the type of loan you have, you may be responsible for accrued interest during deferment as well. If your issues with repayment will last more than a couple of months, consider adjusting your student loan repayment plan.

If you have federal student loans, you can change your repayment plan at any time, at no cost to you. The standard repayment plan for federal student loans is a fixed monthly payment over a 10-year term. If this is too much for your current financial situation, you might consider other repayment plans.

The Extended Repayment and Graduated Repayment plans offer repayment terms over 15 or 20 years, which could make your payments more manageable on a monthly basis.

There are also four Income-Driven Repayment plans which allow you to pay a portion of your discretionary income—usually 10%, 15%, or 20%—over 20 or 25 years. These options would lower your monthly payments, meaning you would have more money to save for a rainy day or to invest. But, it’s important to note that by extending your repayment term, you will be paying more in interest over the life of the loan.

Refinancing

Another alternative to consider is refinancing your student loans. Refinancing may allow you to lower your interest rate, adjust your monthly payments, or customize your repayment term. When you refinance, you take out a new loan with a private lender. However, this means you forfeit federal loan benefits, such as access to income-driven repayment plans, deferment, or federal loan forgiveness programs. So, if you’re taking advantage of a federal loan program, refinancing might not be for you.

Whether you’ve freed up some of your monthly budget with an income-driven repayment plan or by refinancing, or simply by better budgeting, you may be able to redirect some of those funds into other financial goals like saving and investing.

Building Your Emergency Fund

Now that you have a handle on your debts, it’s time to turn to your savings. The first order of business you might consider is building an emergency fund. A good goal is to have six months’ worth of expenses in a liquid account, such as a high-yield savings account. You can use this fund to cover any unexpected expenses that might occur due to a medical emergency, sudden layoff, car repairs, etc. Even starting with a small amount can help when emergency expenses pop up.

Saving for Your Retirement

When it comes to investing for your future, one of your biggest assets is time, but it’s important to start saving as soon as possible for retirement. Even a small amount of savings can add up over time, but you may want to aim to save at least 10% to 15% of your income for retirement. To see how your retirement goals stack up, take a look at SoFi’s retirement calculator.

The best place for most investors to start saving for retirement is in a tax-favored investment account, such as a 401(k) or IRA. If you are eligible for an employer-sponsored 401(k) plan, that’s a great place to start. Some employers offer a matching contribution up to a certain percentage when you contribute to a 401(k). Take a look at your employer policy and see if you’re able to contribute enough to get the full employer match.

Another option for retirement savings is setting up an IRA, or Individual Retirement Account. There are two types of IRAs: traditional or Roth IRA.

Roth IRA

First, you can only contribute to a Roth IRA if your income falls below a certain limit. You won’t get an immediate tax benefit for money you put into a Roth, but the money grows tax-free, and you won’t owe taxes on it when you make withdrawals in retirement.

Traditional IRA

Depending on your income and whether you have a 401(k) at work, you may be able to deduct some or all of the money that you put into a Traditional IRA. That money grows tax-free, and you’ll also typically owe taxes on your withdrawals when you retire.

Is It Better to Pay Off Student Loans, Save, or Invest?

As you move through life, retirement will be just one of your many financial goals. You may also want to work toward buying a house, saving for a child’s education, or taking an extravagant vacation. No matter what your financial goals are, investing could help you meet them.

The key to understanding whether it is better to invest or pay off student loans is opportunity cost. Federal student loans often have relatively low-interest rates, and if you’ve refinanced your loans, you may have secured an even lower rate.

For example, say your student loan interest rate is 4%, while the stock market has (hypothetically) yielded average returns of 7% over the last five years. Generally speaking, earning 7% interest makes more financial sense than paying down debt at 4% interest.

Investing comes with risk, but investing can be a great way to grow your money in the long run. On the other hand, paying down debt can free up additional cash flow and improve your credit score, giving you more financial flexibility in the short term.

The Takeaway

Whether it makes sense to direct any extra cash toward debt repayment, savings or investing (or some combination of the three) will depend on your current financial situation, your short- and long-term goals, and your risk tolerance.
If investing is part of your plan, a great way to get started is with SoFi Invest® automated investing platform. You’ll gain access to a team of financial advisors and cutting-edge automated investing technology, and we’ll work with you to determine your financial goals and risk tolerance.

Then, we’ll set up your account to meet those preferences and we’ll auto-balance your investments to keep them in line with your goals as the market changes. And anyone can invest—you can get started with as little as $5.

When you’re ready to take control of your financial future, SoFi Invest is here to help.


SoFi Invest®
The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA / SIPC . SoFi Invest refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.
1) Automated Investing—The Automated Investing platform is owned by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor (“Sofi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC, an affiliated SEC registered broker dealer and member FINRA/SIPC, (“Sofi Securities).
2) Active Investing—The Active Investing platform is owned by SoFi Securities LLC. Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
3) Cryptocurrency is offered by SoFi Digital Assets, LLC, a FinCEN registered Money Service Business.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above, including state licensure of Sofi Digital Assets, LLC, please visit www.sofi.com/legal. Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform. Information related to lending products contained herein should not be construed as an offer or pre-qualification for any loan product offered by SoFi Lending Corp and/or its affiliates.
SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp. or an affiliate (dba SoFi), a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law, license # 6054612; NMLS # 1121636 . For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal.

SoFi Student Loan Refinance
IF YOU ARE LOOKING TO REFINANCE FEDERAL STUDENT LOANS PLEASE BE AWARE OF RECENT LEGISLATIVE CHANGES THAT HAVE SUSPENDED ALL FEDERAL STUDENT LOAN PAYMENTS AND WAIVED INTEREST CHARGES ON FEDERALLY HELD LOANS UNTIL THE END OF SEPTEMBER DUE TO COVID-19. PLEASE CAREFULLY CONSIDER THESE CHANGES BEFORE REFINANCING FEDERALLY HELD LOANS WITH SOFI, SINCE IN DOING SO YOU WILL NO LONGER QUALIFY FOR THE FEDERAL LOAN PAYMENT SUSPENSION, INTEREST WAIVER, OR ANY OTHER CURRENT OR FUTURE BENEFITS APPLICABLE TO FEDERAL LOANS. CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including Income-Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.

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how much are ATM fees

How Much Are ATM Fees?

If seeing a “cash only” sign causes you to roll your eyes and heave a heavy sigh, it could be because you’ve developed a healthy aversion to ATM fees.

Depending on where you bank and what ATMs are nearby, you could end up paying much more than you need to when withdrawing your money. If the ATM is out of network, fees can run anywhere from $2.50 to $5 or more just for one transaction.

Fortunately, you can ​​save money on ATM fees if you plan ahead. Here’s a breakdown of how ATM fees are determined, along with ways to avoid getting stuck giving over cash to access your cash.

What Are ATM Fees?


Bank account holders typically pay no fees for using in-network ATMs. However, these machines may not always be conveniently located.

Indeed, more than half of ATMs today are owned and serviced by independent operators and their affiliates—not banks. If you use an out-of-network ATM, you could end up paying a fee to your bank, as well as a fee to the ATM operator.

The total cost of using an ATM that’s not part of your bank’s network now averages around $4.64, according to a recent Bankrate survey. In some cases, you could pay even more.

Here are some typical fees charged for using an ATM:

Non-Network Fee


This fee can be charged by your bank for using a non-branded or non-partner ATM. It’s kind of like going to a doctor that’s not on your insurance plan—you might be able to do it, but it could be more expensive.

On average, this charge accounts for about $1.50 of the total fee, according to Bankrate. The fee can apply to any type of transaction performed at an ATM, including withdrawals, transfers, and even balance inquiries. Typically, you won’t be told about such fees at any time during your ATM transaction.

ATM Surcharge


This one comes from the ATM owner, and is often labeled as a “convenience charge.” The average U.S. surcharge currently runs just over $3. However, surcharges can vary by state and venue, and you may encounter higher amounts in places where ATMs are in greater demand.

If you’re at an entertainment venue in a popular tourist destination, for instance, you could pay as much as $25.
When using an ATM that isn’t part of your bank’s network of machines, the machine usually notifies you about a fee charged by the bank or company that operates the ATM.

Foreign ATM Fees


Traveling overseas can come with even more watch-outs, such as foreign transaction fees on both purchases and ATM withdrawals.

Taking out money at a foreign ATM can incur a fee of around 1% to 3% of the transaction amount. Some financial institutions, however, have no foreign transaction fees, and can be worth looking at if you frequently travel overseas.

How to Steer Clear of ATM Fees


If having to pay money to access your money grinds your gears, there’s some good news—it is possible to avoid ATM fees or at least encounter them less frequently.

Here are some strategies:

Scouting out ATMs in Advance


Finding out where your financial institution’s in-network ATMs are located in your area, or where you are traveling to, can save you money and hassle. These may be ATMs branded with the institution’s name and logo, or in a network of partner ATMs, such as Allpoint or Star . You can research this on your bank’s website or app.

Getting Extra Cash When You Go


Fees are typically charged per transaction, so one way to avoid charges is to withdraw more cash than you need whenever you go to the ATM, and then keeping it in a safe place. This can yield significant savings when you are traveling overseas, where surcharges can be significantly higher than domestic ATM fees. You may want to keep in mind, however, that there are usually some ATM withdrawal limits.

Asking for Cash Back at the Register


Many retailers and convenience stores offer cash back when you make a purchase using your debit card. This can be a convenient way to get cash without paying an ATM fee. It can be a good idea, however, to make sure that neither the retailer, nor your bank charges a cash-back fee.

Switching to a Different Bank


Not all banks charge out-of-network ATM fees. If you’re getting hit with fees, especially double fees, you may want to consider switching to an institution that has a larger ATM network, doesn’t charge ATM fees, and/or refunds ATM fees charged by machine providers.

Online banks often have generous policies regarding ATM fees. They typically don’t have their own ATM networks, but will partner with large networks, like Allpoint, and may refund some fees charged by out-of-network ATM providers.

Using a Peer-to-Peer Payment App


With a peer-to-peer (P2P) payment app, like Venmo, or a similar service offered by your financial institution, you can easily pay your friends without cash with just a few taps on your phone-–and avoid a trip to the ATM entirely.

The Takeaway


If you need cash and the nearest ATM is not in your bank’s network, you may end up paying a fee to your bank, plus a fee to the ATM provider, which can total around $5.

Fortunately, there are ways to avoid paying ATM fees. One is to always make sure you are taking money out of one of your banks branded ATMs or one of their partner networks.

Other options include asking for cash back when you make a purchase, using a peer-to-peer payment app, or switching to a bank that doesn’t charge ATM fees and even refunds fees charged by ATM providers.

Looking for Something Different?


Another easy way to avoid ATM fees, as well as many other annoying fees, is to open a SoFi Money® cash management account.

SoFi Money offers free ATMs at 55,000+ locations worldwide. Plus, users can make quick and easy (and free) P2P payments right through the SoFi app.

Ready to eliminate fees and earn interest? Get started with a SoFi Money account.


External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
SoFi Money®
SoFi Money is a cash management account, which is a brokerage product, offered by SoFi Securities LLC, member FINRA / SIPC .
Neither SoFi nor its affiliates is a bank. SoFi Money Debit Card issued by The Bancorp Bank. SoFi has partnered with Allpoint to provide consumers with ATM access at any of the 55,000+ ATMs within the Allpoint network. Consumers will not be charged a fee when using an in-network ATM, however, third party fees incurred when using out-of-network ATMs are not subject to reimbursement. SoFi’s ATM policies are subject to change at our discretion at any time.

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How to Have a Baby Shower on a Budget

How to Have a Baby Shower on a Budget

It’s an honor to be asked to throw a friend or family member a baby shower. But along with that honor, often comes a hefty price tag. Between the food, flowers, decor, and favors, the cost of these soirees can add up quickly.

Fortunately, you don’t need to spend a fortune to throw a fun and memorable celebration for soon-to-be parents and their loved ones. From scoring a cheap (or free) venue to DIYing the centerpieces, there are a number of ways to cut baby shower costs without looking like you cut any corners.

Tips for Throwing a Great Baby Shower on a Budget

These inexpensive baby shower ideas can help you throw a memorable celebration for a mom-to-be and help her become better financially prepared for a baby.

Coming up with a Baby Shower Budget

Before you begin the planning process, it can help to determine the total you can spend on the event and then create a budget. You may also want to find out if family members from either side are willing to chip in financially or by offering to help make something for the party. When setting up your baby shower budget, you’ll likely want to include: the venue, invitations, decorations, food and drinks, entertainment and/or games, prizes and party favors.

Finding a Free (or Low-Cost) Venue

A baby shower doesn’t have to be at a fancy restaurant, hotel, or banquet hall to be festive. It could take place at your, or someone else’s, home. If you’re hosting a baby shower in warm weather. You might consider having it outdoors, such as in your backyard. You could even host a more casual shower with an outdoor barbeque or even a poolside party.

Other low-cost locales options include: a nearby park, the clubhouse of your (or someone else’s) apartment complex, or the meeting room at someone’s place of business.

Limiting the Baby Shower Guest List

Generally, the more people you invite to the shower, the more money you will spend. To keep costs in check, you may want to consider limiting the invite list to the parent-to-be’s closest family and friends. A smaller group not only cuts down on costs, but can also help to create a more intimate gathering that allows the guest of honor to spend time with each guest. It can be a good idea, however, to run the invite list by the expectant mom to be sure that you don’t exclude any important people.

Going Digital With Invitations

You can save money on baby shower invitations by using a digital service, such as Evite, MyPunchbowl, or Paperless Post. These sites and apps typically allow you to choose from a range of free baby shower invitation templates or, for a small fee, upgrade to a more elaborate design. These sites also make it easy to keep track of responses. And, guests will likely appreciate the ability to RSVP with the click of a button. You may, however, want to send paper invites to older guests, particularly if they don’t use an email address often.

Ditching the Caterer

Feeding guests typically takes up the biggest portion of a baby shower budget. One way to help keep the cost of food down is to forgo the caterer and head to your local warehouse club (like Costco or Sam’s Club). You’ll likely be able to create a delicious spread of appetizers, finger foods, and desserts for a lot less than ordering trays from a catering company or restaurant.

Timing it Right

You can also cut down on food costs by not holding the shower right at lunch or dinner time. That way, guests won’t arrive expecting a full meal, and you’ll be able to serve a lighter menu that includes simple appetizers and snacks. A late-morning party can be particularly wallet-friendly–you might simply offer coffee, juice, fruit, and pastries. Or, you might opt for an afternoon tea and serve sweets and finger sandwiches.

Keeping the Cake Simple

A gourmet bakery cake can look beautiful, but it could easily bust your budget. According to CostHelper , an average bakery cake runs around $3 to $4 a slice. To cut costs without sacrificing on taste, you might consider ordering a cake at your local grocery store’s bakery or the bakery at a wholesale club, then having it personalized (which the store will often do free of charge).

DIYing Centerpieces

Fresh flowers look lovely, but they can get expensive if you order arrangements from a professional florist. Instead, you may want to head to your local farmers market, grocery store, or warehouse club to find flowers at reasonable prices that fit your color scheme, then make your own centerpieces. A simple way to get great results is to use flowers in the same color family (like shades of pink or all white). You can pick up vases at the dollar store, or go with Mason jars, which look trendy and can be used for other purposes after the shower is over.

Printing Decor and Games for Free

Instead of racking up a big bill at the party store, you may want to comb the web for free baby shower printables. You can likely find food signs, games (like baby shower bingo), decorations, and favor tags that you can simply print right from your computer.

Making Edible Favors

Sweets can make great baby shower favors, and you can easily bake them yourself without spending a lot. You may also find that there is a family member who would be delighted to take on this task. Edible favors can be as simple as iced sugar cookies (in your color scheme) or as elaborate as cake pops that look like baby rattles.

Considering a Virtual Baby Shower

If the guest of honor’s family and friends are spread out all over the country, having a virtual baby shower is one way to include everyone that’s important, and also keep costs down. You can set a celebratory mood by choosing a Zoom background that fits the theme of your shower, and also include a link so guests can download the background as well. Friends and family can watch the mom-to-be open gifts that were sent to her ahead of time. You can also organize games throughout the virtual baby shower and create a digital guest book that attendees can sign and share their words of wisdom for the expecting parents.

The Takeaway

You can plan a memorable baby shower even on a limited budget. And, spending less doesn’t mean the event will be any less special.

Some easy ways to trim the cost of having a baby shower include: hosting the shower in your home or backyard, heading to your local warehouse club (for food, flowers, and even the cake), using free printables for decor and games, and giving homemade sweets as favors.

You can also make a baby shower more affordable by setting a budget and saving up enough money to cover it in advance (so you don’t end up relying on credit cards).

Looking for a good place to build your party fund? A SoFi Money® cash management account can be a good option. With SoFi Money’s “vaults” feature, you can separate your savings from your spending while earning competitive interest on all of your money. You can even set up separate vaults for separate savings goals.

Start saving for your next milestone celebration with SoFi Money.

Photo credit: iStock/vejaa


SoFi Money®
SoFi Money is a cash management account, which is a brokerage product, offered by SoFi Securities LLC, member FINRA / SIPC .
Neither SoFi nor its affiliates is a bank. SoFi Money Debit Card issued by The Bancorp Bank. SoFi has partnered with Allpoint to provide consumers with ATM access at any of the 55,000+ ATMs within the Allpoint network. Consumers will not be charged a fee when using an in-network ATM, however, third party fees incurred when using out-of-network ATMs are not subject to reimbursement. SoFi’s ATM policies are subject to change at our discretion at any time.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
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Can You Use Food Stamps Online?

Can You Use Food Stamps Online?

The food stamp program in the U.S. has made it possible for millions of Americans dealing with economic hardship to feed their families each day.

While food stamps, now officially called SNAP benefits, can help families save money on food, it hasn’t always been the most convenient way to shop for groceries. In the past, food stamp recipients needed to physically go into a store to shop for and pay for their groceries using a special (EBT) payment card.

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, however, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has expanded an online purchasing pilot program that allows SNAP recipients to purchase groceries online then arrange for pickup or delivery. The program is now available at certain retailers in most states.

Read on to learn where and how you can use food stamps to buy groceries online.

What Are Food Stamps?

“Food stamps” is an older, but still commonly used term to describe SNAP or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

SNAP is designed to provide nutritional assistance to low-income families, as well as the elderly, disabled, and people who have filed for unemployment. SNAP is a federal program administered by the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, which has a network of local offices.

While SNAP doesn’t cover all the items you might pick up at the supermarket, it can significantly cut your grocery bill.

You can use food stamps to purchase meat, poultry, and fish; vegetables and fruit; bread and cereal; dairy products; snack food; and seeds and plants that produce food. However, you can’t use them to purchase tobacco, wine, beer, liquor, vitamins, prepared food, and nonfood items like cosmetics, hygiene items, and cleaning supplies.

Everyone on food stamps has a bank card called an EBT card, backed by the government. The program allows for customers to pay in-store–and increasingly, online–using their EBT just like a debit or credit card.

The maximum monthly food-stamp assistance you can get varies by where you live and how many people are in your household. A family of four living in the U.S. can now receive around $780 a month.

Who Qualifies for Food Stamps?

A household is eligible for Food Stamps, or SNAP, when it meets specific criteria. Each state has an income limit that SNAP households must stay under. Additionally, they may factor in your finances and savings to determine your eligibility.

To apply for food stamp benefits, or to get information about the SNAP program in your area, you can contact your local SNAP office. You can find local offices and each State’s application on the USDA national map .

Each state has its own application form. If your state’s form is not on the web yet, you can contact your local SNAP office to request a paper form.

What Stores Accept Food Stamps Online?

Thanks to the expedited expansion of an online purchasing pilot program run by the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, households receiving SNAP benefits in any of the 47 participating states (along with the District of Columbia) can now use EBT to pay for groceries online from select retailers.

Alaska, Louisiana, and Montana are not currently enrolled in the pilot. And, not every retailer in participating states supports EBT payments.

If a retailer is enrolled in SNAP’s online program, people on food stamps can select foods eligible for EBT benefits online and then arrange for in-store or curbside pickup. In some cases, it may be possible to have your groceries delivered. If the retailer charges a delivery fee, however, you cannot use your benefits to cover that fee.

While Amazon and Walmart are among the best known retailers for online EBT shopping, the number of stores accepting EBT card payment online is continuing to expand, and now even includes some “specialty” stores like Trader Joe’s.

FreshDirect, an online grocery delivery service, now delivers for free to SNAP participants in some zip codes in the New York metropolitan area.

And, Instacart, a grocery delivery service, is currently partnering with many local stores in the U.S. to offer SNAP EBT benefits. The latest version of the Instacart app should display whether your local store offers EBT SNAP.

Which retailers (and which specific locations) participate in the online SNAP program will vary from one state to another, so it’s a wise idea to check which options are available in your area.

Here are some of the retailers that are now accepting food stamps for online shopping (for either delivery or pickup):

• Walmart

• Amazon

• Aldi

• Food Lion

• Publix

• FreshDirect

• BJ’S Wholesale Club

• Kroger

• ShopRite

• Fred Meyer

• Safeway

• Albertsons

• Vons

• Hy-Vee

How to Use Food Stamps to Buy Groceries Online

The rules for using food stamps online will vary by retailer. For example, when shopping on Amazon, you can add your SNAP EBT card, shop for groceries, and when you check out, you enter your EBT PIN to pay for eligible purchases.

For Walmart, you can order groceries online or through the store’s grocery mobile app. You first need to sign into your Pickup & Delivery account and then select Payment Methods.

If your local store accepts EBT Online, you’ll see an option to add your EBT card to your account and can then add your card. During checkout, you select EBT as your payment method. You can then enter your PIN and complete your order.

At ShopRite, you can order groceries online at Shoprite.com or via the store’s mobile app. During checkout, you can select Pay Online and then click the Place Order button. You can then choose the EBT Snap Card as the payment method to complete checkout.

At some retailers, you can also include non-SNAP items in the same order, but you’d need to pay for them separately with a debit or credit card. If the store charges a delivery fee, that charge would also need to be paid via a separate payment card since service fees are not included in SNAP benefits.

If you don’t find EBT SNAP as a payment option when attempting to order from your preferred grocery store, you may want to keep checking back — the coverage areas and list of participating stores continue to expand.

The Takeaway

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)–better known as food stamps–provides assistance to low-income people in the form of an EBT card that can be used to purchase certain types of food.

Many national retailers and supermarket chains now allow SNAP recipients to order eligible groceries online and then go into the store to pick them up, either in-store or curbside, or have them delivered.

Ordering groceries online using the SNAP program is usually as simple as selecting EBT SNAP as your payment method and then inputting your PIN. Some retailers may also want to scan your card in person when you pick up your order or at the time of delivery.

Looking to keep better tabs on your grocery (and other) spending? SoFi Money® may be able to help.

With a SoFi Money cash management account, you can track your weekly food spending right in the dashboard of the app. You can also earn competitive interest on your money, and won’t pay any account or monthly fees.

Learn how SoFi Money can help you manage your spending and saving today.

Photo credit: iStock/Yana Tatevosian


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