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A Guide to Ethical Shopping

Ethical shopping is about buying from brands that care about their impact on people, as well as the planet, and not just about profit margins.

It’s also about giving less money to companies associated with unethical practices, such as inhumane treatment of workers or dumping toxins into the environment.

Figuring out which companies are doing the right thing, and which aren’t, however, can sometimes seem like an overwhelming task. Plus, many people worry that ethical consumerism simply isn’t affordable.

But shopping ethically actually isn’t as complicated—or as expensive—as many people assume. In fact, all it takes to get started on the road to good shopping is a little bit of research, knowing what to look for on labels, and making a few shifts in where—and how much—you shop.

Becoming a more conscious consumer may actually save you money.

Also keep in mind that ethical shopping is not an all or nothing proposition. Just making a few small changes in where you put your money (and where you don’t) can have a big impact.

Here, how to start using your purchasing power for positive change.

What Ethical Shopping Really Means

The term “ethical shopping” essentially boils down to people becoming more aware of the goods they are buying.

What’s “ethical” is subjective to each person, but finding out how each product is made, if the company supports fair labor practices, and if the product is environmentally-friendly is a great place to start.

Money has a lot of power, so if people choose ethically-sourced and ethically-produced products more often, more companies may want to jump aboard the ethical and sustainable shopping train.

Since ethical consumerism is all about where our money goes, investing in companies that you believe are doing good in the world can also play an important part in consuming ethically.

Issues You May Want to Consider

Many companies—particularly clothing producers—have been called out for their outsize impact on the environment. According to the United Nations (UN) , the fashion industry is considered to be the second most polluting industry in the world.

Indeed, clothing production is responsible for more carbon emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined, points out the U.N. The garment industry is also one of the top consumers of water in the world: It takes nearly 2,000 gallons of water to make a typical pair of jeans.

But thinking about ethical shopping can also go deeper than figuring out how a product is produced.

It may also be important to you to consider who is making that product and how that worker is being treated. Are the workers at the factories working in safe conditions? Are they being paid fairly? Seeking out companies with fair labor practices, including fair pay and benefits, can be important to many consumers.

You may also want to consider how well a company treats its suppliers. For example, does your favorite coffee shop pay its farmers a fair amount for their beans?

For some consumers, how a company treats animals is also an important consideration.

Ethical Shopping Made Easier

Once you know what to look for, you can research your favorite brands to learn how they measure up on ethics and sustainability.

You can find out a fair amount about what your favorite companies stand for by going to their websites and digging in their About Us, FAQ, and Info pages to judge for yourself—generally, the more detail they provide, the better.

Do you see a step-by-step explanation of their supply chain? Is there a paid sick leave? Or, even better, do they have any ethical certifications (more on that below)?

There are also a number of groups and organizations that are dedicated to making social and environmental data available to consumers who are interested in ethical shopping.

In other words, they’ve done the vetting for you. Here are few to check out.

Better World Shopper

This public research project rates over 2,000 companies based on their track records on human rights, the environment, animal protection, community involvement and social justice.

The Good Shopping Guide

This website ranks the world’s leading brands based on a range of environmental, animal welfare and human rights issues.

The Ethical Fashion Directory

Produced by the organization Dressmember, this database can help you find clothing you can not feel good about but also fits your budget. You use the search bar to sort through the list of ethical brands by price and category.

Understanding Labels and Certifications

To become a more ethical shopper, it helps to understand which terms are meaningful and which terms aren’t worth much.

Companies are increasingly using the word “sustainable” to describe their products or the process of making them. However, that term can mean just about anything the retailer wants it to, since the word’s use is not regulated with any oversight (unlike the word “organic,” which comes with more stringent guidelines for use).

“Natural” can be confusing, too. Many natural fibers tend to have a lower carbon footprint than synthetic fibers because they do not use as many chemicals during the production process.

But just because something is “natural” doesn’t mean it’s more eco-friendly. Remember the aforementioned jeans? Those were likely made, at least in part, of cotton, which takes up a lot more water to produce than other fabrics.

Fortunately, there are labels, or certifications, that do carry weight. You may want to keep an eye out for the common ones below.

•  B-Corp. B Lab’s B-Corporation certification signifies a company’s commitment to upholding high human rights and environmental standards, and is based on a rigorous assessment.

•  GOTS Organic A textile product carrying the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) label must contain a minimum of 70% certified organic fiber. Organic fibers are grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, insecticides, or herbicides and GMOs (Genetic Modified Organisms). Organic agriculture is a production process that sustains the health of ecosystems, soils and people.

•  Made in the USA. To use this label all, or virtually all, of the product has to be made in America. Products produced in the U.S. must comply with U.S. laws for workplace safety, pollution, and health. Also, the carbon footprint of these products is likely to be lower because they don’t have to be shipped from overseas.

•  Fair Trade. When you see a product with the Fair Trade Certified seal , you can be confident it was made according to rigorous social, environmental, and economic standards. Also the farmers, workers, and fisherman behind the product earn additional money from your purchase to help uplift their communities.

Think Globally, Shop Locally

One simple way to shop more ethically is to shop locally. You can often find unique and interesting products by shopping with local, independent retailers.

People can also make a big difference by spending their dollars at mom and pop shops around them. For one reason, independent businesses are more likely to have localized supply chains. So shopping at one local store could potentially help bolster not just that store, but even more of the local economy.

Local shopping also helps reduce carbon emissions, since a consumer may end up driving less. And if a shopper buys food grown near them, the product will not need to be shipped via air or sea, meaning its carbon footprint will be lower. As a bonus, buying local produce could also mean it’s fresher too, making for a tastier (and more ethical) plate.

Although local goods may be slightly more expensive, businesses may offer coupons to entice consumers to buy from them.

Consider Buying Second Hand

It’s nice to think about buying a shiny new thing, but before you pull the trigger, you may want to consider, does this need to be purchased new?

Buying second-hand can be more economical, as well as more environmentally-conscious, since it keeps older items from ending up in landfills and, unlike buying a brand new product, no new item needs to be produced to directly replace it.

If you’re thinking about buying a new bike, for example, you might get just as much pleasure from getting a gently used bike through an online second hand marketplace.

The same holds for clothing. Gently used garments are one of the greenest clothing choices you can make because they require no additional resources to produce and they reduce the amount of textile waste going into landfills.

Plus you can often score some great finds at thrift stores, garage sales and online marketplaces. Another option is to organize a clothing swap with a group of friends.

Second hand pieces typically cost less than new clothes bought on sale, and may feel much more unique, as fewer people around town will likely be sporting the same exact item.

Do You Really Need the Product at All?

Ethical shopping also means thinking about if you really need to shop at all.

Sometimes it’s okay to just say “No” to buying the latest and greatest. Sure, there’s a new phone on the market that’s cool, but do you really need it?

Becoming an ethical shopper means asking yourself this question a lot. It’s easy to give in to society’s pressure to buy new and buy often, but part of becoming a more conscious consumer is to start thinking in a different way.

One way to nip unnecessary buying in the bud is to employ the 30-day purchase rule. If a person finds an item they like but doesn’t need immediately, they agree to walk away for 30 days.

If, after the waiting period, they feel they still really want the product and can afford it, they can then choose to go back and buy it. However, the odds are fairly good that a little bit of time and space will prove that a nonessential item is just that.

Tracking Spending Can Help

One way to become a more conscious and ethical shopper is to start tracking your spending.

Looking over your credit card and checking account statements each month can help people see exactly where they are spending their money (and where they may want to cut back), while also pointing out vendors and shops they may no longer want to patronize (such as an out of the way mega-grocery store).

The Takeaway

Whether it’s clothing, food or tech, many of the products we love to buy are associated with unethical practices, from human rights abuses to environmental harm.

Ethical shopping is about supporting companies that put in the work to make things better for people, as well as the planet. It’s also about choosing not to buy from brands that violate your code of ethics.

While the process may seem intimidating, it’s easy to start buying more ethically with the right tools and information.

One way to become more aware of where you are spending your money is to sign up for SoFi Money®. SoFi Money is a mobile-first cash management account that allows users to see all their cash all in one place.

With the SoFi Money app members can track weekly spending right in the integrated dashboard. SoFi Money also comes with no account fees, which could leave you with more to spend on locally sourced and ethically made products.

Want to become a more conscious consumer? Joining SoFi Money could be a great first step.

Learn more about SoFi Money today.



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 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.
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.
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.
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.

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How College Financial Aid Works

It doesn’t matter whether you’re the student or the parents wading through college application and tuition figures: Going to college is a huge life decision, almost always synonymous with huge sticker shock.

U.S. News & World Report clocks the average tuition cost among public and private institutions as slowly but steadily increasing annually: $36,801 for private schools, $22,577 for public schools as an out-of-state student, and $10,116 for public schools as an in-state student.

Tuition, it should be noted, does not include room and board and other living expenses, so it’s no wonder that as of 2019 there is approximately $1.6 trillion in student loan debt nationwide—it all adds up, quickly.

Fortunately, there are financial aid systems in place for college students to help offset all those accumulating costs. Unless you’re expecting a huge inheritance or some unexpected windfall, going to college will likely mean coming up with a game plan to make it possible.

Here’s a comprehensive guide to help familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of college financial aid.

NOTE: Many colleges and college students are influx due to COVID-19 regarding their upcoming academic calendar, whether classes will be taught face-to-face or online, and how this may or may not impact tuition—which in turn may or may not impact financial aid policies. This article is a general guide to help both students and parents get acquainted with how to get financial aid for college and devising strategies to make college a stronger possibility for those who want to attend and earn degrees.

What Is Financial Aid, Anyway?

Broadly speaking, the term “financial aid” refers to any number of funding channels that are available to assist students to cover the many costs incurred by pursuing a post-secondary school degree.

Financial aid is available from federal and state governments, educational institutions, and private organizations. It can also be awarded in the form of loans, grants, scholarships, and work-study programs.

Schools don’t typically expect enrollees to cover college costs from their savings and income alone. According to the 2019 Sallie Mae/Ipsos survey “How America Pays for College ,” the typical family covered 25% of college costs with scholarships and grants.

This 25% can come in the form of many different potential resources. There isn’t necessarily a “best” option, since selecting the one (hopefully ones) that can help bolster your future college plans comes down to the financial aid’s availability of funds, your goals, and your plans.

Also, the amount of aid a student can potentially receive varies depending on federal, state, and institutional guidelines. Additionally, the type of aid determines whether it will have to be repaid: federal grants don’t need to be repaid, for example, but a loan will.

Should you be fortunate enough to be awarded federal financial aid, you’ll receive a financial aid award letter. These can be confusing to decipher, but this guide to navigating it could come in handy.

In sum: Just because an offer is being made doesn’t mean you have to accept it and there isn’t wiggle room to argue for reconsideration.

This Offer Letter Decoder created by non-profit news site The Hechinger Report could be a helpful tool to help demystify an offer letter. SoFi also has resources with information on financial aid secrets worth reviewing if you’re pursuing college financial aid. And if you are in a position to accept financial aid, here’s a guide on how your financial aid potentially may shift year-to-year as a student.

It is also worth noting that the Sallie Mae/Ipsos survey taps into four strategies that some families may consider to help mediate college costs, even if they aren’t quite ready to apply for financial aid. These include things like enrolling in advanced placement courses, dual-enrolling in community college, or investing in talents to increase the chances of earning a scholarship.

Federal Student Aid

Here’s the first spoonful of alphabet soup: FAFSA®, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is often the first step when exploring federal financial aid for college. It’s an application used by many colleges, universities, and state agencies in deciding who gets aid—and how much. (Private colleges use a supplemental form called the College Scholarship Service Profile, or CSS, which is more detailed and can be more time-consuming to complete.)

The form itself is not overly cumbersome, but the US Department of Education includes a guide on what to do if you’re unsure how to fill in any of the blanks on your FAFSA. The important thing to keep in mind with the FAFSA are its deadlines.

The Federal Student Aid office advises filling out its form as soon as possible if you’re even loosely considering applying for federal financial aid.

There’s a run-down of the deadlines here , but the key ones for the 2020-2021 academic year, for example, is June 30, 2021 to submit your FAFSA, and the window for corrections or updates is by 11:59 p.m. Central Time, September 11, 2021. Note that each state and college may have its own deadlines on top of that.

The general recommendation to fill out the form as soon as possible should not be overlooked: Both the federal government and various states award financial aid that may include grants and scholarships which, if you qualify for, won’t have to be repaid.

Some states award aid on a first come basis, so submitting a FAFSA application early could be helpful. Another wrinkle to keep in mind is FAFSA is not an island unto itself. Many colleges use the FAFSA to in turn determine how much financial aid to award to students, if any.

A FAFSA application is also a pre-requirement to be considered for federal grants like the Pell Grant, which is “usually awarded only to undergraduate students who display exceptional financial need and have not earned a bachelor’s, graduate, or professional degree.”

The grant does not need to be repaid, though eligibility is based on a family’s expected family contribution (which is information that is supplied via the FAFSA).

FAFSA’s website has a comprehensive list of federal grants offered by the U.S. Department of Education, with options for military veterans and teachers. This one-sheeter has a quick overview of various federal grants available, thoughtfully condensed into an at-a-glance rundown.

Finally, federal work-study programs are available to eligible college students, providing part-time jobs to help pay for education expenses. Such programs usually encourage community service work and work related to the expected course of study. Here’s studentaid.gov’s official site tackling the FAQs of these highly variable programs.

State-Based Student Aid

Depending on where your school is, you’ll have many different options when it comes to getting the money you need to pay for school. SoFi has a state-by-state breakdown of grants, scholarships, and other information like average local student loan debt to keep in mind as your search continues.

Because there is so much variability across each state, one good thing to remember is to read the materials you come across when applying for state-level aid carefully, thoroughly, and repeatedly—including the fine print. Some aid opportunities have residency requirements, and some schools may also offer state-based aid or discounts.

Other Sources for College Financial Aid

A two-sided coin that factors into one of many, many ways to approach financial aid for college is need-based federal student aid versus merit-based aid.

Some federal aid is need-based—like the Pell Grant and Direct Subsidized Loans (more on this loan type below)—meaning eligibility is based solely on the assets and income of the prospective student and their family. Factors like test scores or athletic ability, for example, have no bearing here.

The reverse is true for merit-based scholarships, which can include a wide variety of talents and interests: artistic, academic, athletic, etc.

Publishing an exhaustive list of literally every merit- and need-based aid opportunity would be near impossible, so one of the best options to find information on them is to speak to someone in admissions or to your guidance counselor who can point you to ones that might apply or often apply based on their curricula, programs, school, or state.

There are tons of online scholarship search sites out there, and dedicating some time to finding and applying as many as make sense for you can be a valuable way to spend some time—and can hopefully help you pay for some of your education expenses.

Federal Student Loans

Most students’ federal financial aid packages include federal student loans, which are awarded based on financial need and the cost of attending college. These include Direct Subsidized Loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans, and Direct PLUS Loans.

The advantages of federal student loans include low, fixed interest rates, no credit checks required to borrow them, unique borrower protections (like forbearance and deferment), and repayment plans based on income and/or your commitment to eligible public service work post-graduation.

With Direct Subsidized Loans , the government pays the interest while the student is attending school at least half-time. That’s what the “subsidized” means here. These loans are awarded based on financial need.

Direct Unsubsidized Loans are awarded regardless of financial need, but borrowers are responsible for paying the interest on these loans from the moment you get them—or you can defer interest payments and the total that adds up will be added back onto the loan principal (that is, the total base sum you were awarded) for you to repay.

This capitalized interest can lead to you paying substantially more for the money you borrowed, because the total dollar amount of interest you didn’t pay is added onto the total amount of the loan you took out in the first place, and then you have to pay interest on THAT new total.

Direct PLUS Loans are also unsubsidized, and are awarded to either eligible graduate students or parents of undergraduate students and require a credit check to ensure there’s no “adverse credit history.” In short, that means they can be more difficult to qualify for as compared to Direct Unsubsidized Loans.

Private Student Loans

If your federal student aid package and other forms of funding don’t quite cover your cost of attending college, there are also private student loans to consider.

The details on private student loans vary, because the terms and criteria will depend on both the individual lenders and the circumstances of the borrowers.

But if there’s any general way private student loans might be more appealing is because they, unlike some federal loans, can be made up in amounts up to 100% of the cost of college tuition and living expenses. (SoFi offers no-fee private student loans.)

Financial Aid Isn’t Just Loans

There’s a whole rainbow of options available to people who want to go to college and aren’t sure how they’ll ever be able to afford it. There are many more loans and programs that are available than listed here—but a good starting strategy is to see how much financial aid you can receive that does not require repayment, and if you come up short, start weighing your options.

Along with scholarships and state-based grants, start with the FAFSA because federal aid packages will likely have the best terms for students—and because it’s a requirement for many other aid options.

If you wind up coming short even with everything from here, private student loans can help fill in the gap. And, in addition to all these options, SoFi offers competitive, no-fee private student loans for undergrads, grads, and parents.

SoFi can make the process of paying for school and getting aid more stress-free with private student loans.



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.
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.
SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change. SoFi Lending Corp. and its lending products are not endorsed by or directly affiliated with any college or university unless otherwise disclosed.

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SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp (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.

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5 Driveway Improvement Ideas

Consider the put-upon, unsung driveway at most U.S. homes. Is it all it’s cracked up to be? While the primary function of driveways is usually parking, they can also offer recreation space for children and pets, increase property values, and enhance curb appeal.

Both building and maintaining a driveway are costs of owning a home that could benefit from financial planning and weighing options for materials, location, and design. Here’s a breakdown of key driveway ideas to help make your home improvement dream a reality.

1. Choosing a New Surface

Figuring out what material to use is a logical starting point when approaching new driveway ideas.

The chosen surface will affect the project’s cost in terms of the material itself, labor to install it, and how it will be maintained for years to come. The local climate is another factor to consider, as it plays into the durability and drainage of certain surface materials.

Let’s take a closer look at the pros, cons, and considerations for some popular driveway surfaces.

Asphalt

Asphalt is a leading material used for roads and driveways alike for several reasons. The smooth finish to asphalt can present a polished look that is also easy to clean. At the same time, it offers good traction for vehicles, which is a big plus for sloped driveways in particular.

Asphalt comes with some downsides, too. The leading concerns stem from frequency and cost of long-term maintenance, as resurfacing is recommended every two years. Runoff is another potential issue, but adding drainage and landscaping to capture water can help remedy the environmental impact.

The local climate can play a role in picking a material, too. Generally, asphalt is better than other surfaces in colder climates. Specifically, it is advantageous for snow plowing and handling freezing temperatures and ice.

On average, asphalt costs from $7 to $13 per square foot, and much of the price can be attributed to the labor and heavy machinery required.

Concrete

Given its prevalent use in public sidewalks, it may come as no surprise that concrete is also a popular material for driveways.

On the positive side, concrete driveways can be installed quickly, offer good traction, and may last for several decades with proper maintenance, such as annual resealing to prevent cracks. Concrete is also well suited for warmer climates because it doesn’t hold heat as long as asphalt.

Conversely, concrete is not the cheapest material and can be prone to runoff, which is a concern for homeowners in regions with heavy precipitation.

Concrete driveways may range from $4 to $15 per square foot, with an average cost of $6 per square foot, according to HomeAdvisor. Factors that may increase costs include removing an existing driveway or adding reinforcement, which may be necessary if heavy vehicles like RVs are present.

Concrete requires less machinery and is safer to work with than asphalt, so construction-savvy homeowners with smaller driveways may opt to install the component concrete slabs themselves to see further savings.

If concrete doesn’t sound like the ideal aesthetic, there are options to customize a driveway to your liking. Spruce-ups include using stained or tinted concrete, adding a decorative stone border, and integrating a patchwork of unpaved greenery, which can also help with drainage.

Gravel

Gravel may vary in composition and rock type, but generally speaking, it can be thought of as a mixture of loose stone. It is a common material used in pathways and playgrounds but can be applied to driveways as well.

Of all the surface options, gravel is typically the cheapest and most DIY-friendly. The cost varies by the need to clear land and type of stone, but the expected price is roughly $1 to $2 per square foot without serious excavation.

Though gravel driveways can require some topping up and reconfiguration as stones move around, it is incredibly durable and does not need costly maintenance.

Gravel may be well suited for a rustic aesthetic in rural areas, but it may be less appropriate or feasible in more urban areas and housing developments. Furthermore, gravel may not lend itself to shoveling and plowing snow from the driveway without clearing away stone.

To determine the total gravel needed, a general rule of thumb is to have at least 4 inches of coverage, though more may be necessary for extra drainage.

Stone and Brick

Stone and brick have been used for roads and as building materials for centuries.

Using stone and brick for a driveway can create a historic and refined appearance and raise the property value. Also, the ability to integrate patterns, design elements, and colors into the stone or brickwork can complement the design of a home more than other materials might.

Beyond the visual appeal, the materials can endure for decades, and maintenance can be done one stone or brick at a time instead of resealing or paving the entire surface.

The primary drawback of stone or brick driveways is cost of materials and installation. Depending on the quality of stone or brick, expect to pay between $7 and $14 per square foot. Higher-end stones can fetch a significantly heftier price tag.

Permeable Pavement

Recent advances in engineering have made permeable paved surfaces an affordable reality for parking lots, roadways, and driveways.

Permeable pavement can come in several forms, including porous asphalt and pervious concrete. The pores drain water to the stone bed below, helping the water filtrate toxins naturally instead of running off to pollute waterways via storm drains.

The majority of benefits of asphalt and concrete apply, but permeable pavement can be slightly more expensive to install and needs to be vacuumed with professional-grade equipment every one or two years to remove debris and sediment from the pores. Often, permeable-pavement companies offer vacuuming and inspection services after installation.

In addition to the environmental benefits, homeowners may be eligible for tax rebates and other financial incentives from their local government for pursuing the greener option.

For instance, Palo Alto, California, has a rebate of $1.50 per square foot of permeable pavement installed. Until recently, Washington, D.C., offered up to $6,000 for replacing impervious surfaces with vegetation or permeable pavement.

2. Landscaping

Whether building anew or updating, driveway ideas extend beyond the surface itself. Landscaping can be tied in with the project to beautify the space and reduce runoff.

Depending on how ambitious the project is, you may be able to handle part or all of the landscaping yourself. While this is an opportunity to have fun and be creative with the project, maintenance is another important consideration.

For example, choosing perennial plants that regenerate each year and shrubs that will not quickly outgrow the space could add color and greenery without putting hedge trimming and spring planting on your to-do list.

Planting perennial species that develop deep root systems, such as black-eyed Susan and bee balm, can increase the garden’s ability to hold water and prevent flooding. This could also mitigate one of the most common home repair costs—foundation repair. In some cases, those repairs could cost up to $40,000.

3. Adding Lighting

Changing up the lighting in and around the driveway area can create a more stylized setting, as well as enhance safety and functionality for entering and leaving the home.

When choosing the type of lighting, you may want to consider the upfront cost of the unit and operational expenses of electricity and replacement. LED lights are a sustainable and cost-effective driveway idea for the long run, thanks to greater efficiency and a longer lifespan than incandescent and CFL bulbs.

Installing a combination of accent and overhead lighting allows the option to adjust the setting with the flip of a switch. Syncing the lighting with either motion sensors or timers can lower the electric bill and reduce light pollution to keep the neighbors happy.

4. Building a Gate

Topping off a driveway improvement with a gate is another way to highlight a home’s curb appeal and improve safety.

Gates may give peace of mind by giving control of who enters the home. They can also help ensure that children and pets have a safe area to play in without worry of them venturing into the street.

Convenience and safety can also be added by prominently featuring the house number on the gate or pillar structure, which may help visitors and emergency services find the home more easily.

Spatial considerations, such as distance to the road, driveway width, and landscaping, will influence whether a sliding or swinging gate or vertical lift gate makes the most sense.

5. Maintaining the Driveway

A driveway is an investment, and taking proper care can help retain its value and reduce maintenance costs over time.

Depending on the type of driveway, here are some general measures to stay on top of upkeep:

•   Seal the driveway as recommended to prevent cracks.
•   Remove weeds from cracks in the surface. •   Clean and fill cracks.
•   Fill in pothole depressions caused by heavy vehicles.

For colder climates, taking care of ice is important for personal safety and driveway maintenance alike. Removing snow promptly and spreading sand, salt, or a de-icing agent helps with traction and prevents ice from forming in driveway cracks.

Checking Local Permitting and Zoning

Local governments and homeowner associations may have zoning and permitting guidelines that dictate where a driveway can be placed and what it can look like.

A zoning requirement could specify that a driveway must be at least 5 feet from the property line or that an expansion of an existing driveway requires zoning board approval.

HOA rules can be stricter and more specific. They might govern the type of surface material, adjacent landscaping, and ability to install a gate.

Checking that your desired improvements comply with such regulation could save time, money, and frustration.

Paying for Driveway Improvements

Deciding how to pay for driveway improvements is another important step. Like most home repairs, fixing the driveway could become more expensive as the problem gets worse.

Unexpected costs can do a number on a monthly budget. In fact, only 4 in 10 Americans would pay a $1,000 surprise expense from their savings, borrowing that money instead.

If you fall into this category, you still have options. Instead of depleting your savings account or pushing it off for future credit card payments, personal loans could spare you the high interest rates.

For revamping or building a driveway, a home improvement loan is another option to consider.

SoFi offers home improvement loans without hidden fees or requiring home equity as collateral. Additionally, fixed-rate payments can help keep you on track and align with your budget.

Need to give your driveway a facelift? Learn how a home improvement loan from SoFi can make it happen.



SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp (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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Where to Cash a Check Without Paying a Fee

With the popularity of digital payment apps and credit cards, checks are being used less than ever. According to a Federal Reserve study , for the first time ever in 2018, check payments fell below the number of total ACH (automated clearing house) transfers.

But, whether it’s a birthday gift from a grandparent or a medical reimbursement, checks are still kicking around. Checks are often considered a secure form of payment, and they might be the only form of payment some people (like your landlord) accept.

While they might be less popular now, at the end of the day, they’re still money. Don’t make the mistake of cashing a check just anywhere, read further for a few suggestions for where you could be able to deposit a check, fee-free.

How to Cash a Check

Before running off to the bank or ATM around the corner, a person may want to ensure they have what they need to successfully deposit their check. Generally, in order to cash a check, the following information is required:

•  Bank account. You’ll generally need an account to deposit a check. Most banks will allow you to cash a check, but if you don’t have an account with them, they may charge a fee.
•  ID or debit card. Depending on the means used to deposit the check, a person might also need a form of ID or their debit card to successfully complete the transaction.
•  PIN number. Whether banking by ATM or teller, oftentimes a person will be required to enter their PIN number to confirm the transaction.
•  Completed deposit slip. Each bank has a variation in the deposit slip, but most ask for a person’s name, account numbers, and the amount of cash and check the customer is depositing. This typically needs to be completed for the transaction to go through.

Another thing to keep in mind is the timing of the deposit. Personal checks are valid up to six months after they’ve been issued, but it’s generally agreed that they should be deposited as quickly as possible. Otherwise, the issuer might forget about the check, and the person depositing the check could be doing so with insufficient funds in the issuer’s account—leading to high fees on both sides from a bounced check .

The only exception to the above rules is US Treasury checks, traveler’s checks, or USPS money orders. US Treasury checks are valid for a year after issuing. Traveler’s checks and money orders never expire.

Branch Bank

Perhaps the most old-school way to cash a check is going into a bank branch or credit union and depositing the check with a teller in-person. This can be faster because the amount being deposited is confirmed on-site—there’s less likely to be a delay in the funds hitting a person’s account.

To deposit a check at a bank branch, a person will need to complete a deposit slip, and endorse their check. To endorse a check for a teller, a person needs to sign the back of the check, where indicated.

With a deposit slip and endorsed check in hand, customer’s might also be asked for their bank’s corresponding debit card or a photo ID for verification. From there, the check is validated and funds will be available in the account once the check clears, which can take up to two days.

While depositing to a bank branch can be fast, people are limited by the branch’s hours and locality. If a person has an account with an online-only financial institution, visiting a brick and mortar location to deposit a check may not be an option.

Similarly, they might be in an area where there are no nearby retail locations. If that’s the case, there are other methods to cash a check.

ATMs

Depositing a check via ATM has its advantages and disadvantages. Unlike bank branches, many ATMs are open 24-hours and with smaller square footage, they can be more common than brick and mortar ATMs.

Depositing a check by ATM varies by the technology it uses. Older ATM models may ask a customer to fill out a deposit slip envelope before inserting the check into the machine. Other, more modern models simply use on-screen prompts and scanning to verify the deposit amount. Regardless, customers are generally required to endorse the check with their signature before depositing it in an ATM. Using an ATM also typically requires someone to enter their pin number before accessing the account. Reading the on-screen prompts can help clarify the steps at the specific ATM you are using.

On the downside, checks deposited via ATM may take longer to be available in the bank account. This is because ATMs are only serviced at specific times, and while people enter the amount they’re depositing, it often needs to be verified in person by a teller at the bank . Customers are also limited to depositing checks in the ATMs of banks that they are a member of.

Additionally, because the extra step of validation is required, there is a possibility of human error incorrectly validating the correct amount or losing the check altogether . Some ATMs now have scanning capabilities, allowing them to instantly read checks which can alleviate some errors. However, an individual might want to keep a close eye on their bank statements in the days following an ATM deposit.

Mobile Deposit

Using mobile deposit to cash a check is as simple as taking a photo. Some financial institutions, including SoFi, allow the mobile deposit of checks through their app. Customers take an image of the front of the check, then the back so the financial institution can create a “digital copy” of the check. Instead of endorsing the check with only a signature, customers may be required to write “For Mobile Deposit Only” or a similar message on the back of the check.

Once the bank or financial institution accepts the images, the funds can sometimes immediately become available in the customer’s account. However, depositors should keep the check on hand for up to two weeks, or until the amount is cleared. Otherwise, they could end up over-drafting in the event that the funds are pulled.

Mobile deposits come with many advantages. As long as a phone has charge, checks can be deposited. Additionally, money is almost immediately available in a checking account. However, most mobile deposits only allow for one deposit at a time, and some accounts may have daily or monthly deposit limits. And if the handwriting on the check is unclear, the app might not recognize it.

Mail-In

Another option a depositor might choose is to mail the check into their bank. This will likely take the most time to become available in a bank account, but most banks will offer this option.

To mail a check in for deposit, first, check with your bank to confirm its mailing address. Depending on the size of the bank, there may be multiple addresses where the check can be sent.

Before sending the check to the approved address, depositors should generally endorse the back of their check with their signature. Some financial institutions also recommend including a note that says “For deposit only” with the endorsement. Depositors may also be required to fill out a deposit slip to include with the check. Confirm the specific requirements with your bank or financial institution.

To be safe, people might want to take a picture of the check or make a photocopy of it for proof in case it goes missing in the mail. It may also be beneficial to use certified mail so tracking the check is an option. Mailing a check is a relatively safe manner to deposit a check, however, it will likely take longer than the above alternatives.

Fee-Free Deposit with SoFi

Whether it’s a refund, birthday gift, or payment for watching the neighbor’s cat, checks still fall into our hands every once in a while. While you may not get them frequently, there are numerous ways to deposit them, all with their own unique benefits and drawbacks.

SoFi Money® makes accessing your cash easy with fee-free access to 55,000+ ATMs worldwide and online mobile check depositing. SoFi Money makes it easy to manage your finances with a mobile-first experience where members can access their money anytime, anywhere.

Learn more about how SoFi Money® can simplify your money.



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 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.
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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Is it Possible to Take Online Classes While Working?

College can be one of life’s biggest investments. And, earning a degree or certificate is an important step forward down many career paths.

Millions of students work to cover expenses and gain on-the-job experience while furthering their education—with some reports showing eight in 10 students working during their post-secondary programs.

Balancing the competing demands of coursework and a job can be a challenge, especially for students working full time and going to college.

There are more degree holders in the United States than ever before. Approximately 37% of U.S. adults have earned a bachelor’s degree, while over 13% have an advanced degree, such as a master’s or doctorate.

It is certainly possible to work full time while studying. Still, given the inevitable differences between schools and their program offerings, it can be a good idea to research schools (and their existing degree or certificate programs) before deciding where to attend—as tuition, topics taught, work-study options, and types of degrees being offered can vary from university to university, and from school to school.

For some learners, taking online classes while working full time is one way to fit school into an already packed schedule. In 2018, for example, nearly 7 million students were enrolled in online college classes (also known as distance learning).

If a student is figuring out how to work full time and go to school full time (or even part time), online classes are one flexible option. There are some fairly clear pros (like pre-recorded classes watchable on demand and not having to commute to campus) to taking classes online.

But, beyond scheduling flexibility, it’s likely many students still wonder: ‘What types of classes get offered online?,’ Are online courses effective?’, and ‘How to manage time while working and taking classes?’

Here’s an overview of the pros and cons of taking online classes while working full time, including strategies for juggling the demands of schooling alongside holding down a job:

Pros of Taking Online Classes

Given the time and financial investment that earning a degree can demand,
it could be helpful to weigh different schooling options before deciding whether to pursue an in-person education, online classes, or some hybrid of the two. Online classes can have distinct advantages.

Some potential pros of working towards a degree or certificate online include:

Having a Flexible Schedule

Traditionally, college and graduate school courses meet once or multiple times per week throughout a semester, trimester, summer or winter session. The length of class time varies too. For example, large lectures may only span one hour while once-per-week seminars could run for two or three hours.

If a student is taking a full-time course load, which usually constitutes a minimum of twelve credit hours, they’ll have to coordinate these blocked out class hours around their existing work schedule.

So, in-person learning, where students are expected to be in class at a set time each week, is not always the most workable solution for learners who plan to keep working while hitting the books.

For students who work full time, online classes can come with added flexibility. After all, online courses are often facilitated through pre-recorded lectures, streaming video tutorials, self-guided activities, and readings that can be done on a student’s timeframe.

In some cases, online classes do still include a certain number of live lectures or learning activities (typically hosted via streaming video) that enrolled students are expected to attend.

In those scenarios, students might opt to arrange their work schedule so they’re not scheduled on the job during the times when their online classes convene live.

Naturely, most online classes still assign weekly topics. So, students will need to consider when readings and projects are due. But, online degree programs and classes often offer a higher level of scheduling flexibility, allowing students to block out study time or “attending class” around when they’re not working.

Maintaining Location Independence

There are thousands of colleges and universities across the United States, but probably only a handful near most students’ home or place of work. While taking classes as a commuter student might be logistically possible, sticking to programs hosted by local universities might limit a student’s choice of faculty or subject areas.

Additionally, it’s possible that local options aren’t the top-ranked in a given topic—and might not even offer specific degrees or pre-professional certificates.

On the flip side, the only location required for taking online classes while working full time is a reliable internet connection and a comfortable study space. Online classes also can save students a trip to campus, giving some student workers more time to juggle post-secondary studies alongside their regular jobs.

Possibly Lower Living Expenses

Tuition is only part of the equation when calculating the total cost of attending college. Some universities may require students to live on campus for one or more years, which could carry dining hall and other fees (in addition to the base cost of living in a dorm).

Students attending four-year public universities can expect living expenses to account for 50% of the cost of education . Opting for an online degree program can help bypass some of these additional expenses.

Cons of Taking Online Classes

In addition to online learning’s merits, there are some potential cons to think through when evaluating taking online classes while working full time:

Not Every Degree or Major is Available

Colleges across the U.S. offer hundreds of majors and types of degrees. The possibility of taking online classes, as well as the number of options available, will depend on a student’s chosen field of study.

For online bachelor’s degree programs, majors focused on business and health professions are among the most commonly available. Students interested in earning a master’s degree online in business or healthcare are in luck as well. There are also opportunities to study graduate programs in education, engineering, criminal justice, and various social sciences entirely online.

Other majors and degrees, especially those that require in-person lab time or hands-on apprenticeship, such as culinary arts or chemistry, might not translate as well to an online format.

Limited Networking Opportunities

Attending college in person can provide opportunities to make friends and build relationships with professors. Building a deep social and professional network while in school may help some graduates to find internships and jobs after school ends.

Taking online classes may make it more challenging to connect with professors and fellow students, though. That being said, it’s still possible to make a strong impression on professors and peers in course assignments, presentations (whether individual or group), and written correspondences.

If a student is planning on taking online classes while also working full time in the same field (e.g., a nurse or a teacher studying for an extra certification in those professions), this potential networking disadvantage may be less of a concern—since they can still connect with fellow professionals on the job.

Strategies for Taking Online Classes

Whether a student just graduated high school or is returning to the classroom after years of working, being prepared can help adult learners get the most from their online classes—and, ideally, help to create a healthier work-life balance. Here are some key ways to prep for working full time and going to college:

Making a Schedule and Sticking to It

The flexibility of online classes can feel liberating, but those readings, online discussions, and assignments still need to be completed. Keeping one’s work schedule in mind, it can be helpful to block out some non-work hours during the week or weekend just for studying and school assignments.

It may also be helpful to think about when to get school work done. If you’re not a morning person, it’s likely you won’t be cracking the textbooks at sunrise. If you find out that your present work-school schedule is hard to sustain over time, it’s perfectly okay to go back to the drawing board.

The important thing is to find a time-management system that works for the duration of the time you’re both working and studying full time.

Starting Small

Even if students who feel confident and excited about returning to the classroom (virtual ones count, too), taking online classes while working full time may be a big adjustment.

Some online degree programs allow learners to enroll as part-time students, which can be a ‘trial-run’ opportunity—allowing enrolled workers to understand how demanding juggling school and studies can be (before paying full tuition).

Understanding how much time each online class will demand can help student-workers to be realistic about how many classes they can take each semester without burning out.

Setting Goals and Rewarding Progress

Creating achievable goals at the beginning of each class or semester is one way to stay on track, grow as a student, and measure success. Attaching a reward to these periodic goals can help many learners to stay driven and engaged.

Whether you passed your first online class or are graduating summa cum laude, you deserve to celebrate achieving your educational accomplishments—things like, passing a major certification exam or completing a big group project.

Paying for Online Classes

For some students, the cost of online education (after subtracting dorms, dining plans and transportation) can be an additional determining factor. The individual cost of online degrees and certificates will vary significantly from school to school—including price differences between public and private universities’ programs.

In some cases, online-only programs may cost less for enrolled students. In others, online classes are priced similar to their in-person counterparts.

Whether a student opts to work and go to college at the same time, how to pay for college is likely a big question. Making a plan for financing your education is one step in figuring out how to take online classes while working full time.

Completing the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) can help applicants determine how much federal student loans and grants they’re eligible to receive. Students can also explore scholarship opportunities through universities, nonprofit organizations, and private foundations for additional funding.

Many students also borrow money through private loans to pay for advancing their education. SoFi’s no-fee private student loans offer flexible repayment plans, helping students find a loan that fits their budget and financial plan. (It’s worth noting that federal student loans come with baked in benefits, like income-driven repayment or public service loan forgiveness, that are not guaranteed by private lenders).

Applying online with SoFi is free. You can find your student loan interest rates in 3 minutes or less.

Learn how SoFi’s private student loans might help pay for the full cost of attending college.



SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp (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.

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Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

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.
Checking Your Rates: To check the rates and terms you may qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. A hard credit pull, which may impact your credit score, is required if you apply for a SoFi product after being pre-qualified.

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