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How to Get Merit Aid From Colleges

Money for college doesn’t grow on trees. Or does it? Every year, billions of dollars wait to be plucked from the branches by college students seeking merit-based aid.

The National Merit Scholarship Program alone plans to award more than $28 million in spring 2022. Merit aid is awarded to students based on factors outside of just financial need. These awards generally factor in a student’s skill or ability for a certain specialty.

Brainiacs merit recognition, but a student can earn merit aid based on talent in athletics and other interests, including puppetry and vegetarianism, as well as lineage.

So what’s the catch?

Patience, diligence, and timing come into play. This guide can help students who are starting the search for merit-based aid.

What Is Merit Aid?

College aid can generally be broken down into two categories:

Need-based. Eligibility for need-based aid is based solely on the ability to pay for college. Students can look for state, possibly school, and federal aid by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as the FAFSA®, sharing information about income and assets.

Merit-based. Merit-based aid takes factors beyond financial need into account. According to the Department of Education, merit-based “means that something is based on a student’s skill or ability.”

Students can qualify for merit-based aid, often referred to as merit-based scholarships, with a variety of factors.

Scholarship money does not have to be paid back — it’s a gift. Merit aid can be a one-time payment, or it could be renewable year after year, depending on eligibility and terms of the aid.

Depending on a student’s financial needs, merit aid could cover part or all of their education costs. It might be just one component of a larger financial aid package.

Merit aid can be awarded for both undergraduate and graduate programs, and could be anything from a couple of hundred dollars for books and supplies to thousands of dollars to help cover tuition.

Recommended: FAFSA Guide

Strategies to Find Colleges that Offer Merit Aid

Not all schools offer merit aid. However, at schools where merit aid is offered, on average 22% of the student body received a merit award from the university, according to U.S. News & World Report. Here are a few tips on finding colleges that offer merit aid.

First things first, when you are creating your list of colleges you’re going to apply to — find out which of those offer merit aid. Knowing up front what options may be available to you is helpful and can be important as you prepare to pay for college.

Then, review the typical financial aid offer at your target schools. Some schools publish information on the percentage of students that receive merit aid and the average merit aid amount. Consider contacting the financial aid office if you have specific questions.

Another strategy to potentially improve your chance of merit aid — apply to schools where you are likely to get in. Since merit aid can be awarded on factors such as GPA, standardized test scores, or curriculum, being in the upper echelon of applicants could help put you at the front of the pack for earning merit aid.

In some situations, scholarship money may go unclaimed. Check out this guide to unclaimed scholarships for more information.

Which Schools Offer the Most Merit Aid?

Here’s what students can expect when it comes to merit aid from schools:

•   Generally speaking, private colleges award more merit aid than public institutions.

•   Ivy league schools don’t grant merit aid. No Ivy League institutions offer merit aid to their students. Other competitive universities, such as MIT, Stanford, and Caltech, don’t offer merit aid either.

•   Some higher-cost colleges may offer more merit aid than others. The cost of attending some schools can send a student into shock. However, some costlier schools will offer more merit-based scholarships. Oberlin College, for example, recently offered 42% of its student body merit-based aid, about $17,000 on average, to offset tuition and fees that have reached nearly $57,000.

•   Out-of-state students might be awarded more merit aid than in-state students at a public college or university. Because of the higher cost of attendance for out-of-state students, public schools may offer them merit aid to be more competitive.

•   Honors programs may offer more merit aid. State school honors programs can sometimes come with tuition discounts, or academic scholarships for students who get into the prestigious programs.

Keeping these trends in mind could help students think more strategically about where they’ll attend college based on the chances of being awarded merit aid from the schools.

How to Apply for Merit Aid

While merit scholarships are often referred to as “free money” when it comes to funding education, there is some work involved. Each scholarship will likely have its own requirements and application process, which might include personal essays, recommendations, and interviews. It’s important to read through each application carefully so it’s filled out without error.

Merit-based aid does not hinge on the financial need of the student or family, so should you submit the FAFSA first? Some colleges require students to fill out the FAFSA in order to be considered for school-based scholarships, including those awarded based on academic merit.

Plus, filling out the FAFSA could help you qualify for other types of financial aid, such as need-based Pell Grants or Direct Unsubsidized Loans. A quick aside to note that federal loans offer benefits and protections not necessarily afforded to private student loans. Since the FAFSA is free to fill out, it’s generally worth taking the time to see what other types of aid you qualify for. If financial aid and merit awards aren’t enough, private student loans could help.

Recommended: Private Student Loan Guide

Generally, you won’t need to fill out the FAFSA as a prerequisite for applying for a private merit scholarship.

If you’re not sure about the requirements at your school, it can be worthwhile to call the college admissions office to see if a financial aid application is required to apply for any merit scholarships at that school.

When evaluating merit scholarships from other private sources, keep in mind that each one may have different application requirements and deadlines. Some deadlines may be as early as a year before college starts.

Finding Merit Aid Awards for College

Colleges and universities award merit aid, but there are many other ways to find scholarships, including private organizations and state-level scholarship search tools and directories.

You can learn about private merit scholarships by using search engines like CollegeBoard.org, Fastweb.com, and Scholarships.com. In addition, it can be helpful to talk to your school guidance counselor and the leaders of any organizations you participate in to suss out merit scholarships.

Consider exploring a few of the following avenues when seeking merit aid opportunities:

•   Local groups. Local clubs or foundations offer scholarships. Community chapters of the Lions Club or Rotary Club offer aid for students seeking higher education. Because there’s a smaller pool of applicants, local merit scholarships may even be less competitive.

•   Cultural organizations. Students from minority backgrounds have an opportunity for specific merit aid. Students of Native American descent, those who identify as LGBTQ, and women might qualify for scholarships.

•   Foundations and nonprofits. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation offers full scholarships for those who qualify. Local nonprofits or educational foundations might offer small awards to students as well.

•   Businesses. National companies, such as Google , offer generous merit aid.

•   Niche interests and programs. Students who have an interest or hobby can search for merit aid surrounding it. Everything from greeting card creators to puppetry enthusiasts and promoters of vegetarianism have a chance to capitalize on their passions.

Once a student is granted merit aid, the funding might be directly credited to the school to pay for tuition, room, board, or other costs. Or the aid might come directly to the recipient via check. The size of the awards will vary, but seeking out aid in unexpected places can help drive down the cost of education.

Some Cautions About Merit Aid

Merit aid can be incredibly helpful for students paying for college. But, it’s important to understand the full picture of the merit aid awards you receive. Understand the terms of the aid award, and any ongoing eligibility requirements outlined by the scholarship or grant.

For example, is the award for one year? Or is it an annual award over your college education? If it is a merit award to cover each year of college, are there ongoing eligibility requirements such as maintaining a minimum GPA?

Understanding how and when the merit aid awards you earned are paid out can be important to help you avoid financial surprises, like suddenly losing your merit scholarship, down the road. College students will be facing a lot of financial-firsts on their journey. Take a look at SoFi’s Ca$h Course: A Student’s Guide to Money with even more tips and strategies on managing your finances through college.

The Takeaway

A pot brimming with billions of dollars in college merit aid sits waiting every year. Stellar students and athletes come to mind as popular recipients, but merit scholarships are awarded based on other talents, too. To apply, deadlines and details require attention.

Merit aid might just be a piece of the puzzle, depending on the size and terms of the scholarship. Once federal and merit aid options have been exhausted, an undergraduate private student loan may help bridge any gaps.

Private student loans from SoFi offer competitive interest rates for qualifying borrowers, and have no fees, and flexible repayment plans. With an all-online application, SoFi private student loans come with membership benefits and resources.

A SoFi private student loan might merit a look.


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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-criteria 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 Bank, N.A. and its lending products are not endorsed by or directly affiliated with any college or university unless otherwise disclosed.


Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies 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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11 Tips to Prevent Shopping out of Boredom

If you’ve ever spent a lazy Sunday wandering through the mall, not in need of anything in particular, only to emerge with a couple of bags of purchases, you are not alone. Many of us shop as entertainment and wind up having less cash or more credit card debt as a result.

Shopping in-person can be a fun distraction thanks to the music pumping and the eye-catching displays. It’s easy to be transported and suddenly feel that you need that new suit, cell phone, or even sofa. And today, shopping online or on your phone can be equally appealing, as a parade of products and coupons pass before your eyes.

But overspending isn’t good for anyone’s budget or debt ratio. Here, you’ll earn 11 tips to stop shopping out of boredom and protect your hard-earned cash.

What Is Boredom Spending?

Boredom spending, or shopping to fill free time, happens for many reasons. It often occurs when you’re feeling unstimulated or there’s a lack of anything demanding your attention . You might find you’re prone to boredom shopping when you’re procrastinating from work. Going out and buying something can make you feel as if you’ve accomplished something with your time. Or perhaps you do it when you want to escape certain negative emotions such as anxiety, depression, or loneliness.

Some people turn to boredom shopping because it’s easy to do. Technology has allowed us to mindlessly scroll social media, install apps, and instantly link to retailer websites without having to leave the couch. And, if you’ve already stored your payment information online, it’s even more convenient to buy on a whim.

Shopping while bored can be harmless if it’s small-scale and infrequent. But if it’s a habit or your go-to activity the minute you’re freed up, shelling out money on unnecessary purchases can bring on extra debt and bust your budget.

Examples of Boredom Spending

The habit of buying when you’re bored can happen anywhere and anytime. For instance, it can occur when you need to kill time before an appointment and wander into a store to browse and then you wind up purchasing a couple of things because a “buy one, get one” sale was advertised. Or you might suddenly have a free afternoon because a friend canceled plans, so you check Instagram where you see engaging ads for exercise equipment you never knew you needed.

Life offers up many opportunities for boredom shopping. As long as you find yourself with gaps in your schedule, there’s time to potentially give in to impulse buys. And this impulsive buying can lead to overspending and more credit card debt which, thanks to its high interest rates, can be a challenge to pay off.

Recommended: Are You Bad With Money? Here’s How to Get Better

11 Tips to Avoid Boredom Spending

If you need some strategies on how to quit spending money when bored, here are tactics to try. They take a variety of angles to keep you from overspending during your downtime.

1. Reducing Time Spent on Social Media

Changing your spending habits to combat boredom buying likely requires stepping away from your laptop, tablet, or smartphone. According to a poll by Pitney Bowes, bored shoppers are more likely than other consumers to use social media for their online shopping. When it comes to platforms, the survey reports bored shoppers visit Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok most often. Google and Amazon are also popular among the same group of shoppers.

Social media can contribute to “fear of missing out” (or FOMO) spending. Trying to keep up with others’ buying habits so you’re not left out can affect mental health, causing stress, unhappiness, and feelings of low self-esteem. People dealing with FOMO may go into debt because of overspending.

To resist temptation and cut down on social media use, consider deleting specific apps or turning off the app’s notifications. There are also apps designed to increase focus and productivity that might be helpful. Freedom and StayFree are two examples; they can block social media and other websites for specific periods of time.

2. Starting a Side Hustle or a Second Job

There are several benefits of having a side hustle, freelance gig, or part-time job. It can bolster your bank account and fill any additional time you might have for boredom spending. Actively pursuing another stream of income can also ignite a passion for something new, increase your professional skills and introduce you to new people.

Another benefit? Having a side gig provides more money to put towards paying bills, decreasing debt, and increasing your savings account.

3. Allowing Splurges in Your Monthly Budget

Expecting yourself to never make boredom purchases may be unrealistic for many people. In that case, come up with a specific dollar amount to automatically slot into your weekly or monthly budget if you know you can’t quit cold turkey. Making an allowance for this type of shopping spree can help offset going completely overboard and having to skimp elsewhere.

Recommended: Developing Good Financial Habits

4. Taking a Break

Unpack what’s going on when you are feeling as if life is tedious. That way, you’ll likely know how to stop shopping when bored.

Feeling bored may signal it’s time to rest, relax by watching a favorite TV show, or engage in some physical activity. That “high” you tend to feel after buying something? You can thank the release of dopamine , a feel-good brain chemical involved in helping to induce pleasure as part of the brain’s reward system. Dopamine is also released when you’re exercising or doing something you enjoy.

You can experience a dopamine rush by partaking in non-shopping activities, such as gardening, listening to music, and meditating. Relaxing with a book, tackling a jigsaw puzzle, cleaning, or baking your favorite sweet are also ways to reap similar emotional rewards while breaking monotony.

5. Setting Financial Goals

Dig into how boredom buying is impacting your financial health. When you see how it’s making it hard to achieve your aspirations, you’ll have added incentive to stop this behavior.

Creating money goals for yourself is an important step towards gaining control over your finances. It’s also an ideal way to start developing good financial habits. Start by writing down your short-term and long-term goals which could include tracking weekly spending, starting an emergency fund, or saving up for a down payment on a house. Once you’ve got it down on paper or in a spreadsheet, prioritize your objectives, give yourself a reasonable time span to meet those goals, and make a commitment to stick to them. Take note of how unplanned splurges will interfere with your budget.

Recommended reading: 7 Ways to Achieve Financial Discipline

6. Rewarding Yourself When You Achieve Your Financial Goals

If you’ve avoided boredom shopping for a couple of months, paid off a credit card bill, or managed to stow money in your savings account, it’s okay to treat yourself to a low-cost item such as a favorite meal or a movie. These little rewards can keep you from feeling deprived and inspire you to stay on course.

There are lots of rewards that don’t cost anything, such as a nature walk or a hot bath. But if you do want to spend, be sure to set a price limit based on what you can actually afford. The goal here is to reward good behavior and encourage you to stay on target and not let boredom purchases rock the boat.

Recommended: Guide to Practicing Financial Self-Care

7. Utilizing the 30-Day Spending Rule

The 30-day spending rule is a strategy to help reign in spending and control the urge of compulsive or impulsive shopping. Basically, the rule is simple,if you see a non-essential item either online or in a store, do not buy it. Instead, make a note in your calendar for 30 days later with details about where you saw the item and its price. When you reach that date, if you still want to purchase the item, you can potentially do so, knowing it’s no longer an impulse buy. Instead, the purchase constitutes a well-considered financial choice.

There are times the 30 days will pass, and you’ll realize you didn’t really want the purchase as much as you originally thought. You may even have forgotten about it completely.

8. Unsubscribing from Email Lists

Retailer emails or newsletters touting sales, discounts, and deals can clutter your inbox and awaken the boredom spending monster. Remove any temptation by unsubscribing from the company’s mailing list.

Usually when you open their email, there’s an “unsubscribe” button at the bottom of the correspondence. It may be in small print but if you click or tap it, you should be deleted from their email list. Take note it will probably take a day or two for communications to stop.

You can also opt out of text messages that broadcast sales and special deals to your mobile phone. This can help minimize the temptation to shop when bored.

9. Learning New Skills That Interest You

What sparks your interest: learning web design, becoming a real estate professional, or becoming a chef?
Expanding your abilities in an area of interest can keep boredom at bay, whether you choose to study in person or online. Training up can be useful in making you more marketable and increasing your income.

Learning new skills doesn’t have to equal financial earnings, however. Getting involved in anything that stimulates your brain such as learning a new language, taking up knitting, or signing up for that novel writing class can help you feel more fulfilled and increase self-esteem.

10. Making Shopping Harder

As mentioned above, shopping can be super easy, increasing the odds that you might do some boredom buying. Why not fight back with tricks and tools that help you cut back on spending? The first thing you can do to reduce online and in-app shopping is delete your credit card or payment information from your favorite sites and your phone. This will add a few steps to the checkout process which may reduce the likelihood of spontaneous buying. It will give you time to be mindful about your spending and reconsider.

If you’re out and about, try leaving your credit cards at home to avoid boredom-driven buying.

11. Connecting With Others

Shopping can be a way of coping with being alone, and studies have shown loneliness leads to higher levels of boredom. Interacting with other people is key to cutting down on social isolation. Make plans to see friends and loved ones you enjoy. Volunteering for a local organization, political campaign, or charity is another great way to network. You’ll meet like-minded people and hopefully stay away from stores.

Saving Money With SoFi

Building good financial habits can be rewarding. When you open a SoFi Checking and Savings bank account online, you’ll enjoy some of the best features and tools, enabling you to track spending. When you sign up with direct deposit, you’ll earn a competitive APY, too. Plus, you’ll pay no account fees, so you can get the most out of your money.

Better banking is here with SoFi, NerdWallet’s 2024 winner for Best Checking Account Overall.* Enjoy up to 4.60% APY on SoFi Checking and Savings.

FAQ

How do I train myself to stop spending money?

The first thing you’ll want to do is stop and ask, “Do I need this or just want it?” If the answer is want, try waiting 30 days and then deciding whether to purchase. Also, find other, non-shopping ways to use those times you feel bored, such as meeting friends, starting a side hustle, or pursuing a hobby. Put the money you save towards a goal like credit card debt, and congratulate yourself for your hard work.

What can I do instead of spending money?

Life presents many other options and healthier ways you can deal with ennui besides spending money. When you’re bored, engaging in another activity such as reading, cleaning, or decluttering can take your attention away, allowing you to feel productive and have a sense of purpose. Spending time with loved ones is another good use of time. Most likely, when you become engrossed in something else besides shopping, the impulse to buy will subside.

What are some spending triggers?

Shopping can stem from both psychological reasons and outside factors. Some people may be triggered to shop because of fear of missing out on what others have; others may need a mood life when feeling sad, anxious, or lonely. Retailers are also known to use specific sensory stimuli both online and in stores to inspire spending.


Photo credit: iStock/Vadym Pastukh

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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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As an alternative to direct deposit, SoFi members with Qualifying Deposits can earn 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Qualifying Deposits means one or more deposits that, in the aggregate, are equal to or greater than $5,000 to an account holder’s SoFi Checking and Savings account (“Qualifying Deposits”) during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Qualifying Deposits only include those deposits from the following eligible sources: (i) ACH transfers, (ii) inbound wire transfers, (iii) peer-to-peer transfers (i.e., external transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc. and internal peer-to-peer transfers from a SoFi account belonging to another account holder), (iv) check deposits, (v) instant funding to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, (vi) push payments to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, and (vii) cash deposits. Qualifying Deposits do not include: (i) transfers between an account holder’s Checking account, Savings account, and/or Vaults; (ii) interest payments; (iii) bonuses issued by SoFi Bank or its affiliates; or (iv) credits, reversals, and refunds from SoFi Bank, N.A. (“SoFi Bank”) or from a merchant.

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Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies 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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Guide to Practicing Financial Self-Care

As nice as a spa day, vacation, or hot yoga class is, sometimes the best form of self-care doesn’t cost anything at all. In fact, you can practice financial self-care and grow your wealth.

Financial self-care involves taking the steps to avoid financial stress and meet financial goals. Given that 73% of Americans say money is their number-one stressor in life, practicing financial self-care and minimizing money worries can be a very good thing. It might even feel better than a massage.

But what exactly does financial self-care mean and how do you do it? Read on to find out the answer, as well as learn nine money moves to make now.

What Is Financial Self-Care?

Financial self-care is a form of self-care that focuses on financial wellness. Essentially, instead of more traditional self-care activities (like getting massages or enjoying dinners out), you find the best way to manage your finances and improve your financial situation. This may not sound fun, but worrying about debt, paying the bills, and falling short of savings goals can all lead to a lot of stress that can be draining both physically and mentally. Self-care and money can go hand in hand.

Here’s another perk: Once you get your financial life under control, you’ll have more money to put towards the more exciting areas of self-care. Whether that means finally splurging on that cleaning service or a new puppy is up to you.

Recommended: Are you financially healthy? Take this 2 minute quiz.💊

Tips for Practicing Financial Self-Care

Self-care and money can combine in the pursuit of financial self-care. Here are some strategies that make it easy to incorporate this form of self-care into daily life.

Creating Realistic Financial Goals

To make strides in the area of financial self-care, it’s important to set reasonable goals. That way, you can make progress and feel a positive boost when you finally do reach a goal. Here’s an example: Paying off your student debt in a single year would be hard even on a high salary. Instead, having a goal of paying off your highest-interest debt (perhaps a credit card balance) in a year is likely more obtainable. Look at your income versus your monthly necessary expenses (the “musts” in your life), and see if you can begin funneling some of the funds left over after bill-paying towards your debt.

Tracking Your Expenses Daily

Impulse spending can feel good in the moment, but it can do a lot of harm. You can be more mindful about your spending by reviewing your personal finances daily, focusing on where your cash was spent. You may not realize just how much money flows away from you on a typical day. Expense tracking will reveal that. On days that you don’t spend much or anything at all, give yourself a big pat on the back. You’ve just taken care of yourself financially by adding to your wealth.

Checking Your Banking Accounts Frequently

Good cash management is an important part of hitting your financial goals. Alongside tracking your daily spending, it can be helpful to check bank account balances daily or at least a couple of times a week. You’ll see where you stand financially and won’t be caught unaware by a low balance. This process will also give you a deeper look at how any automatic bill payments are impacting your cash flow.

After all, most of us don’t see the money we earn or spend in cold hard cash, so it can feel less tangible. When you know exactly where you stand financially, it can empower you and help better inform your purchasing decisions.

Making Any Needed Changes to Budgets

After keeping an eye on spending habits and account balances, it’s a good idea to review your monthly budget goals and see how you’re doing. Perhaps you put a reminder in your calendar to do a quick check-in on the last day of every month and see how things look. Maybe eating lunch out on weekdays has made it hard to stick to your food budget for the month. Perhaps having too many subscription services left no wiggle room in the entertainment section of the budget.

The end of the month is the perfect time to reevaluate spending habits, to see where you can cut back on spending, and to figure out how to increase savings.

Recommended: Post-Pandemic Money Lessons

Focusing On Getting Rid of Debt

Debt is likely part of your life, but it can also cause a lot of worry. Thanks to interest charges, debt can mount and be hard to pay off. It’s not a fun cycle. So when you have some extra money, sure, you might spend it on a new outfit or a weekend getaway and lift your spirits that way. Or you could pay down your debt instead.

By prioritizing debt, you’d be a step closer to eliminating some money stress from your life. Getting rid of debt can be a key aspect of financial self-care and can boost your peace of mind.

Improving Your Mindset on Money

Self-care has just as much to do with our mental health as our physical health. Feeling negative about money can really drag a person down. That’s why it can be helpful to focus on what you have instead of what you don’t have.

If you are feeling as if you can’t compete with other people’s lifestyles, it may be that your comparison framework is skewed. It may be beneficial to delete social media (or unfollow certain luxury accounts), stop watching reality T.V., or to skip hanging out with that friend who earns and spends big.

Recognizing what your money can do for you rather than feeling deprived is an important step. It can be a very empowering mindset to adopt.

Recommended: Tips for Managing Finances When Facing Depression

Get up to $300 when you bank with SoFi.

Open a SoFi Checking and Savings Account with direct deposit and get up to a $300 cash bonus. Plus, get up to 4.60% APY on your cash!


Improving Financial Literacy

Money can be intimidating in part because most of us lack a basic financial education. While you may not have learned about money management in school, you can teach yourselves the financial basics and beyond. Knowledge is power, after all.

From learning about how credit scores work to the investing basics, take some time to read up on the financial topics that seem confusing. Also look into apps that help you with budgeting, saving, and tracking your spending. These tools can be part of financial self-care, helping to boost your financial literacy and wealth.

Visualizing Retirement and Investing in It

Financial self-care means taking care of today’s and tomorrow’s needs. Retirement can seem like a distant concept, so try picturing your future self at retirement age and how you’d want to live then. That way, you may feel more motivated to save even though retirement is far away. Look at your budget again to see if there is room to improve your retirement savings. Even saving an extra 1% a month can make a major impact.

Respecting Money

Money is a tool and a very valuable one at that. Embracing financial self-care means recognizing that money isn’t just about buying things. That may be the easy and fun part, but saving and investing it is what really makes the most of your cash. Educating yourself on investing or seeking professional advice can help you harness the full power of the money you make. It’s a force to be reckoned with; respecting its importance can help you achieve your financial and lifestyle goals.

Why Financial Self-Care Is Important

Financial self-care is equally important, if not more so, than more traditional forms of self-care like heading to the spa or taking a personal day off of work. When you prioritize financial self-care, you can reduce money stress and move closer to your short- and long-term goals.

Banking With SoFi

Financial self-care can help you reduce money stress and make the most of what you earn. Being smart about your cash and helping it grow can unlock the good things in life today and in the future. Try practicing some financial self-care ideas, and see if you don’t feel more in control of your money and less stressed about it.

The right bank can also help boost your finances. For instance, you can bank smarter with SoFi. When you open an online bank account with direct deposit, you’ll earn a competitive APY and pay no account fees, plus have access to more than 55,000 fee-free Allpoint Network ATMs. Higher interest and no fees mean your money could grow that much faster.

Better banking is here with SoFi, NerdWallet’s 2024 winner for Best Checking Account Overall.* Enjoy up to 4.60% APY on SoFi Checking and Savings.

FAQ

Why is financial self-care important?

Financial self-care can help eliminate financial stress from your life. Specifically, prioritizing financial self-care can make it easier to reach financial goals like paying down debt or saving for retirement.

How do you take care of yourself and your money?

Budgeting, focusing on debt repayment, and setting clear savings goals are all great ways to take care of yourself and your money. Not having to worry about debt or overdue bills are other benefits of financial self-care.

How do I respect my money?

Respecting money involves not wasting it and instead looking for ways to make the most of it. Being mindful about purchases, sticking to savings goals, and not taking on high-interest debt are all ways someone can respect their money.


Photo credit: iStock/hatman12

SoFi® Checking and Savings is offered through SoFi Bank, N.A. ©2023 SoFi Bank, N.A. All rights reserved. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.
The SoFi Bank Debit Mastercard® is issued by SoFi Bank, N.A., pursuant to license by Mastercard International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.


SoFi members with direct deposit activity can earn 4.60% annual percentage yield (APY) on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Direct Deposit means a recurring deposit of regular income to an account holder’s SoFi Checking or Savings account, including payroll, pension, or government benefit payments (e.g., Social Security), made by the account holder’s employer, payroll or benefits provider or government agency (“Direct Deposit”) via the Automated Clearing House (“ACH”) Network during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Deposits that are not from an employer or government agency, including but not limited to check deposits, peer-to-peer transfers (e.g., transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc.), merchant transactions (e.g., transactions from PayPal, Stripe, Square, etc.), and bank ACH funds transfers and wire transfers from external accounts, or are non-recurring in nature (e.g., IRS tax refunds), do not constitute Direct Deposit activity. There is no minimum Direct Deposit amount required to qualify for the stated interest rate.

As an alternative to direct deposit, SoFi members with Qualifying Deposits can earn 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Qualifying Deposits means one or more deposits that, in the aggregate, are equal to or greater than $5,000 to an account holder’s SoFi Checking and Savings account (“Qualifying Deposits”) during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Qualifying Deposits only include those deposits from the following eligible sources: (i) ACH transfers, (ii) inbound wire transfers, (iii) peer-to-peer transfers (i.e., external transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc. and internal peer-to-peer transfers from a SoFi account belonging to another account holder), (iv) check deposits, (v) instant funding to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, (vi) push payments to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, and (vii) cash deposits. Qualifying Deposits do not include: (i) transfers between an account holder’s Checking account, Savings account, and/or Vaults; (ii) interest payments; (iii) bonuses issued by SoFi Bank or its affiliates; or (iv) credits, reversals, and refunds from SoFi Bank, N.A. (“SoFi Bank”) or from a merchant.

SoFi Bank shall, in its sole discretion, assess each account holder’s Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits throughout each 30-Day Evaluation Period to determine the applicability of rates and may request additional documentation for verification of eligibility. The 30-Day Evaluation Period refers to the “Start Date” and “End Date” set forth on the APY Details page of your account, which comprises a period of 30 calendar days (the “30-Day Evaluation Period”). You can access the APY Details page at any time by logging into your SoFi account on the SoFi mobile app or SoFi website and selecting either (i) Banking > Savings > Current APY or (ii) Banking > Checking > Current APY. Upon receiving a Direct Deposit or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits to your account, you will begin earning 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% on checking balances on or before the following calendar day. You will continue to earn these APYs for (i) the remainder of the current 30-Day Evaluation Period and through the end of the subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period and (ii) any following 30-day Evaluation Periods during which SoFi Bank determines you to have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits without interruption.

SoFi Bank reserves the right to grant a grace period to account holders following a change in Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits activity before adjusting rates. If SoFi Bank grants you a grace period, the dates for such grace period will be reflected on the APY Details page of your account. If SoFi Bank determines that you did not have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits during the current 30-day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, then you will begin earning the rates earned by account holders without either Direct Deposit or Qualifying Deposits until you have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits in a subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period. For the avoidance of doubt, an account holder with both Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits will earn the rates earned by account holders with Direct Deposit.

Members without either Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits, as determined by SoFi Bank, during a 30-Day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, will earn 1.20% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances.

Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 10/24/2023. There is no minimum balance requirement. Additional information can be found at https://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet.


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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Guide to Saving Money on Hotels for Your Next Vacation

Along with flights, lodging costs are one of the biggest expenses for many vacationers. As such, savvy travelers are likely on the lookout for how to save money on hotels when planning their vacation.

While hotel prices often rise and fall over time based on supply and demand, there are ways to save money on hotels on vacation. This ranges from being flexible about when and where you travel to getting a hotel credit card and taking advantage of cashback rewards. Read on for a full rundown of the best ways to save on hotels for your next vacation.

Recommended: Can You Buy Crypto With a Credit Card

Tips to Save on Hotels While Traveling

Wondering how to save on hotels when traveling? Here are some tips to try.

Getting a Hotel Credit Card

Using credit card rewards to travel for less is one way to save money on hotels while traveling. Most major hotel chains have a co-branded credit card that allows you to earn points for staying with them as well as on your everyday spending.

Additionally, many of these hotel credit cards offer sign-up bonuses. With these bonuses, you may be able to earn enough credit card points for a few free nights just by meeting a minimum spending amount.

There are different credit card rewards programs, so just make sure to choose the one for the hotel where you’re wanting to stay.

Earning Hotel Cashback

One of the downsides of getting a hotel credit card is that in most cases, you’re limited to using your points to stay with that particular hotel chain. If you have a Marriott credit card that earns Marriott Bonvoy hotel points, for instance, you can’t use them to stay at a Hilton or Hyatt.

One way to get around that is to use a credit card that offers cash back rewards. These cards allow you to redeem cash rewards from your everyday purchases that you can then use to pay for any hotel you want.

Recommended: What is the Average Credit Card Limit

Keeping an Eye Out for Deals

Flexibility is key to saving money on hotels, and the earlier you start planning your vacation, the more luck you’ll have in finding travel deals. Many successful vacationers start planning their trips up to a year before they actually plan to travel. That gives you plenty of time to explore your options, wait for deals to pop up, and keep an eye out for sales.

Checking All the Conditions While Booking the Hotel

When you’re booking a hotel room, you’re generally presented with several different room rates. You might have a different rate if you’re a member of the hotel loyalty program, if you prepay for your stay, or if you belong to a specific organization.

These different rates also usually come with different cancellation policies. Make sure to read the fine print before you book, so you can know what to expect during your stay. The fine print could also detail additional fees that the rate doesn’t clearly include.

Looking Out for Free Breakfast

One way to plan a budget family vacation is to look for hotels that include complimentary breakfast with the room rate. If you’re traveling with a family, getting the breakfast that’s included in your hotel reservation might save you anywhere from $20-$50 per day. This can free up some of your hotel funds for other vacation activities, and can make a difference when comparing rates from different hotels.

Joining a Hotel Points Program

Even if you don’t sign up for a hotel chain’s co-branded credit card, you’ll want to make sure to join their loyalty program. There’s typically no cost to join the hotel’s loyalty program, and you’ll generally get perks like lower nightly rates or complimentary Wi-Fi. This can be a great way to save money for a trip.

Taking Advantage of Falling Rates

One strategy for saving money on hotels is to only book a refundable rate that you can cancel at any time. Then, periodically check back to see if the rate has fallen. If the rate is lower than when you first booked the hotel, cancel your original reservation and book at the new lower rate.

There are also services that you can take advantage of if you don’t want to stay on top of price tracking yourself. For example, websites and apps like Hopper and Rebookey can monitor hotel prices and notify you if the price drops after you’ve booked.

Recommended: How to Avoid Interest On a Credit Card

Making Payments in Advance

Alternatively, you can prepare financially for travel by making your hotel payments in advance. Many hotels offer a lower rate when you prepay as compared to a refundable hotel rate where your credit card isn’t charged until your stay. You could save anywhere from $10 to $20 per night by prepaying in advance.

Plus, if you pay with a credit card that offers credit card travel insurance, you’ll have peace of mind that your prepaid funds aren’t lost if your travel plans change unexpectedly.

Recommended: When Are Credit Card Payments Due

Sticking to Your Budget

Like most financial purchases, one of the best ways to save money is to establish a written budget and then stick to it. If you plan for a trip a year in advance, you can make a budget for your trip and then create a travel fund where you put 1/12 of the cost into your travel fund each month.

Recommended: Tips for Using a Credit Card Responsibly

Being Spontaneous

While hotel prices go up and down — sometimes multiple times per day — based on supply and demand, you can sometimes get great deals by booking at the very last minute. If you have a ton of flexibility, you can sometimes find cheap cruises or outstanding last-minute weekend hotel deals. This strategy is best used if you don’t have concrete plans and don’t have a strong preference for where you go.

Using Discounts You Already Have

If you’re a frugal traveler, you’ll want to also take advantage of any discounts that you already have. This could include saving on gas using grocery fuel points, buying discounted gift cards, or using credit card points to offset some of your travel costs.

This is another reason why planning in advance and being flexible can help — the more time you have to plan, the more time for you to take advantage of some of these deals.

Recommended: Does Applying For a Credit Card Hurt Your Credit Score

Apply for a New Rewards Credit Card With SoFi

Lodging costs can be one of the most expensive parts of any vacation, so it’s a good idea to know how to save money on hotel rooms. Hotel prices fluctuate often based on supply and demand, so plan as far in advance as your schedule allows. The more flexible you can be in terms of when you travel, where you go, and what hotel you want to stay at, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to save money on hotels.

FAQ

What days are the cheapest to stay in hotels?

Determining which days are the cheapest to stay in hotels depends quite a bit on where the hotel is and who their clientele typically is. If you’re looking to stay in a tourist-heavy vacation spot, it’s likely that weekends are most expensive. On the other hand, a hotel that caters to business travelers might be more expensive during the week and cheaper on weekends.

What time of the year do hotel prices drop?

There isn’t a set time of day or year when hotel prices drop. Instead, hotel prices vary according to supply and demand. One strategy to save money on hotels is to book a refundable rate initially. Then, you can monitor prices and if the price goes down, you can just rebook.

Are hotels cheaper last minute?

Hotel prices vary all the time, both up and down. It’s possible for hotel prices to go down if you wait until late in the day on the night you want to stay. This can be an option if you have flexibility in your plans.


Photo credit: iStock/aquaArts studio

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, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

New and existing Checking and Savings members who have not previously enrolled in direct deposit with SoFi are eligible to earn a cash bonus when they set up direct deposits of at least $1,000 over a consecutive 25-day period. Cash bonus will be based on the total amount of direct deposit. The Program will be available through 12/31/23. Full terms at sofi.com/banking. SoFi Checking and Savings is offered through SoFi Bank, N.A. Member FDIC.

SoFi members with direct deposit can earn up to 4.00% annual percentage yield (APY) interest on Savings account balances (including Vaults) and up to 1.20% APY on Checking account balances. There is no minimum direct deposit amount required to qualify for these rates. Members without direct deposit will earn 1.20% APY on all account balances in Checking and Savings (including Vaults). Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 3/17/2023. Additional information can be found at https://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet


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Investing With Credit Card Rewards: Tips for Maximizing Cash Back Earnings

Responsible credit card usage can add hundreds if not thousands of extra dollars to your bottom line each year. Many credit cards offer rewards that you can earn with each and every purchase. You can choose a credit card that helps you earn airline miles, travel rewards, or cash back.

Before applying for or using a credit card, you’ll want to make sure that you have the financial ability and discipline to pay off your credit card statement in full, each and every month. If you don’t, the interest and/or fees will likely exceed any rewards you might earn. But if you do, you might consider investing with credit card rewards to further grow your funds.

Recommended: Tips for Using a Credit Card Responsibly

What Are Credit Card Rewards?

Just like knowing what a credit card is, it’s important to understand what credit card rewards are. Many credit card companies offer credit card rewards as an incentive for you to apply for and regularly use their credit card.

These rewards can be airline miles, other types of travel rewards, bank-specific points, or straight cash back. The credit card you choose determines the kind of credit card rewards that you’ll earn.

Recommended: Does Applying For a Credit Card Hurt Your Credit Score

Types of Credit Card Rewards

If you have a rewards credit card, there are several different kinds of credit card rewards that you can earn.

Cash Back Rewards

If you have a cash back credit card, you’ll earn cash back with every purchase. Some cash back credit cards earn different rates of cash at different types of merchants, while others earn a flat cashback rate no matter where you use the card.

Travel Rewards

Another popular type of credit card rewards are a variety of different kinds of travel rewards. You might get an airline credit card that earns airline miles for a specific airline or hotel points good for stays at a particular chain of hotels. Other travel rewards credit cards offer rewards points that you can use at a flat rate on any type of travel purchase.

Bank Points

Some banks offer credit cards where you earn points that are proprietary to that bank or credit card company. Many times, these points can be used like cash on purchases, or for travel-related purchases.

Guide to Investing Your Credit Card Cash Back Rewards

If you have a credit card that earns cash back rewards, you can often redeem them in many different ways.

Direct Deposit

One way to get your credit card cash back rewards is through direct deposit to a checking or savings account that you own. You might set up your cash back rewards to automatically transfer to your account once they reach a certain threshold, like $25. You might also be able to set up your account to regularly transfer your cash back rewards every month or every quarter.

Paper Checks

If you prefer something that you can tangibly hold, you can also request that your credit card cash back rewards are mailed to you via a paper check. Some credit card companies may charge a fee for mailing paper checks, so make sure you won’t be charged a fee before choosing this option.

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Statement Credits

Another way you might access your cash back rewards is through a statement credit. With a statement credit, your cash back rewards are applied directly to your credit card balance. This will lower the amount that you need to pay in order to completely pay off your balance off in full.

How Do Credit Card Rewards You Can Use for Investing Work?

Before using one, it’s important to understand how credit cards work, and how credit card rewards that you can use toward investing work. An investment credit card is similar to a cash back credit card in that you earn rewards that work like cash. But instead of redeeming your rewards for a statement credit or via direct deposit, you invest your cash back rewards in an investment account.

Tips for Maximizing Your Credit Card Cash Back Reward Earnings

Enjoying credit card bonuses is one way that you can maximize your credit card cash back earnings.
Many credit cards offer an initial welcome offer where you get a bonus amount if you meet certain spending or other criteria in the first few months of having the card. That can really supercharge your credit card cash back reward earnings.

If your cash back credit card earns a higher rate in certain categories or at certain merchants, make sure to use it where it gets the highest value.

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Pros and Cons of Investing Your Credit Card Cash Back Rewards

Here is a look at some of the pros and cons of investing your credit card cash back rewards:

Pros of Investing Your Credit Card Cash Back Rewards Cons of Investing Your Credit Card Cash Back Rewards
Cashback and other rewards are not taxable. If you’re not paying off your balance in full each month, interest and fees can offset any rewards earned.
Investing your rewards can help supplement other investing efforts. It’s hard for small amounts to make a meaningful impact on overall investing goals.
Investing your credit card rewards doesn’t require dipping into your budget. If your brokerage doesn’t support fractional shares, your investment options might be limited.

Recommended: How to Buy Stocks With a Credit Card

Other Investment Options

One of the best things about the cash that you earn from cash back rewards is that it’s actually cash. Cash can be used for just about anything in your budget, and so can cash back rewards.

For example, you can use your cash back rewards in an online trading platform to invest in stocks or index funds. You can also use them to invest in real estate or other types of investments, or even use them to invest in yourself through education or job training classes.

Recommended: Can You Buy Crypto With a Credit Card

The Takeaway

If used wisely, credit cards and credit card rewards can serve as a valuable addition to any financial plan. Cash back credit cards allow you to earn money back on every purchase, as well as possibly a larger initial bonus. It’s a good idea to have a plan for how you want to use your cash back rewards, and always make sure to pay off your credit card statement in full, each and every month.

One way to use credit card rewards to fund your investments is to get a cash-back credit card like the SoFi Credit Card.

FAQ

Should you invest your cash back rewards?

One of the best things about cash back rewards is that they function pretty much the same as cash in any other format. So whether you directly invest your cash back rewards or use them as a statement credit and invest money from your checking account, it works out pretty much the same. The important thing to do with your credit card rewards is to not spend them mindlessly. Be intentional and make a conscious decision on the best way to spend them for your specific financial situation.

Can I buy stocks with my credit card?

Most brokerages will not allow you to directly buy stocks with a credit card. Instead, one way to invest your credit card rewards is by using a cash back credit card like the SoFi credit card. You can earn cash back with each purchase and then directly invest those funds with your SoFi Invest account.

What is the smartest way to use a credit card that has rewards?

The first thing that you’ll want to do when using a credit card is make sure that you have the financial discipline and ability to pay off your credit card in full each month. This ensures that you won’t be charged any interest or fees. Then, decide how your credit card rewards will make the biggest impact in your financial life.


Photo credit: iStock/MStudioImages

SoFi Invest®
INVESTMENTS ARE NOT FDIC INSURED • ARE NOT BANK GUARANTEED • MAY LOSE VALUE
SoFi Invest encompasses two distinct companies, with various products and services offered to investors as described below: Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of these platforms.
1) Automated Investing and advisory services are provided by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC-registered investment adviser (“SoFi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC.
2) Active Investing and brokerage services are provided by SoFi Securities LLC, Member FINRA (www.finra.org)/SIPC(www.sipc.org). Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above please visit 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.

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.



New and existing Checking and Savings members who have not previously enrolled in direct deposit with SoFi are eligible to earn a cash bonus when they set up direct deposits of at least $1,000 over a consecutive 25-day period. Cash bonus will be based on the total amount of direct deposit. The Program will be available through 12/31/23. Full terms at sofi.com/banking. SoFi Checking and Savings is offered through SoFi Bank, N.A. Member FDIC.

SoFi members with direct deposit can earn up to 4.00% annual percentage yield (APY) interest on Savings account balances (including Vaults) and up to 1.20% APY on Checking account balances. There is no minimum direct deposit amount required to qualify for these rates. Members without direct deposit will earn 1.20% APY on all account balances in Checking and Savings (including Vaults). Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 3/17/2023. Additional information can be found at https://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet


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