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It's the most wonderful time of year — except on your wallet. Thanksgiving is now over and if you didn't buy all your presents on Black Friday, deals are going to be hard to come by now. And if you're young and just starting out, there's even less opportunities to save.

So, since we're officially on that Christmas "creep," here's a definitive guide to greeting 2018 with a few more digits in your bank account.

Make a list

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Although the most basic of traditions, making a list first could end your bad budgeting behavior before it even starts. We often ask ourselves what we can get everyone and how we can make it the best Christmas ever.

However, before jotting down present ideas for your "Nice List," instead ask yourself what you can actually afford this holiday season. Make a maximum price ceiling for each person instead — and cut out the people who are definitely not going to return the gift giving favor.

Establishing a budget for the holidays allows you to control the unbridled giving, protecting you from your own expectations. Build a budget that will let you enjoy the next 364 days after Christmas.

Wait before you buy

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Giving is a great part of the holidays, but buying is the BEST! Living in this capitalistic society, we as humans are conditioned to want to spend money. Being almost as counterintuitive as the last tip, waiting 24 hours before clicking "purchase" on dad's new Kitchen Aid will keep your paycheck from leaving your bank account so soon.

Events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday create anxieties about missing those so-called doorbusters — however, most of these deals are extended days and weeks beyond the time they're allotted.

For instance — Amazon's Cyber Monday event is practically undone by its "Deals Week." In addition, most stores and sites will offer deals right up until the last days before Christmas. E-commerce certainly gives us the instant gratification that comes with shopping online, but convenience allows for us to become click-happy.

By waiting 24 hours before checking out, you give yourself enough time to reflect on your budget and the gift itself, eliminating buyer's remorse as well as poor budgeting.

Give your gift in other ways

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Family and friends make the holidays both worthwhile and expensive — however, the key to any celebration is the family-gathering. If you and your loved ones are truly interested in the spirit of Christmas, expensive presents won't be the only thing ya'll are worried about.

Of course, gift giving is important in demonstrating appreciation and tradition, but it doesn't mean that your second cousin should expect the new Nintendo Switch from you. Instead, why not knit a special sweater for your grandmother or DIY some personal items for your significant other?

This doesn't mean you're copping out as a cheapskate — measuring the value of a gift and what it will mean to you and the person receiving it will bring some perspective to the holidays. Family is much more important than stuff and in this case it truly is the thought that counts.

The key to any budget — and certainly to these three pillars of Christmas survival — is maintaining a realistic understanding of your financial capabilities. While Christmas is a magical time, to navigate it unscathed you will need a few skills that are rather ordinary.

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What do you do when financial hardship hits and you can't make your monthly mortgage payments? This is a question on many homeowner's minds as nearly 17.8 million Americans are reportedly unemployed during the coronavirus pandemic.

When homeowners face financial hardship, such as the loss of a job, they often look to obtain a forbearance agreement from their lender. A forbearance happens when your lender grants you a temporary pause or reduction in monthly payments on your mortgage. Forbearance is not the same as payment forgiveness, in that you still have to pay the entire amount back by an agreed-upon time.

Mortgage lending institutions differ on their mortgage relief policies and qualifications; however, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act were signed into law in late March of this year to protect government-backed mortgages.

Federally backed mortgages include:

  • Fannie Mae
  • Freddie Mac
  • The Federal Housing Administration (FHA)
  • The US Department of Veteran Affairs (VA)
  • The US Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Under the CARES Act, homeowners with a federally backed loan who either directly or indirectly suffer financial hardship due to coronavirus automatically qualify for mortgage forbearance.

Even if your mortgage is not secured by one of these agencies, you still can call and see if you qualify, as many lenders will still offer the option in order to avoid foreclosures.

Under the CARES act, homeowners can claim mortgage forbearance due to financial hardship from COVID-19 for up to 12 months without requiring any documentation or verification. During the forbearance period, mortgage lenders cannot charge late fees or penalties.

Additionally, as long as your mortgage is current at the time you claim forbearance, the lender is required to keep reporting your mortgage as paid current throughout the entire period.

At the end of the forbearance, the CARES act protects consumers from having to make a lump sum payment. Instead, you will be given a repayment plan from your provider. Since repayment options vary, it's important you ask your provider about all of your repayment options.

Possible Repayment Options:

You may be eligible for a loan modification at the end of your forbearance. With modification, the mortgage terms are changed in order to add payments that were missed during the forbearance onto the end of the loan, extending the term.

Another option that may work for some is a reduced payment option. This allows you to keep paying monthly payments at a reduced amount. The amount missed is usually added back into the monthly payments at the end of the forbearance.

For example:

Regular payment: $1000 per month

Reduced payment: $500 per month

Payment after forbearance period: $1500 (until caught up)

Balloon payments, or lump sum payments at the end of the forbearance, are prohibited under the CARES Act. However, mortgage lenders may require homeowners who are not protected under the CARES Act to make a balloon payment at the end, so again it is best to check first with your provider.

Mortgage forbearance should only be considered in true financial hardship. In other words, just because of the pandemic, you should not take a forbearance on your mortgage if you can still afford your payments. Likewise, if you are able to start making payments before the forbearance period is up, it's best to do so as soon as possible.

The Next Steps:

Before you get in touch with your mortgage servicer, save time by gathering as much documentation about the mortgage as you can. Also, be ready to list your income and monthly expenses. Due to an influx in calls, financial institutions are experiencing extremely long wait times right now, and having your information at the ready will help.

Have questions ready to ask. Here are some questions you should be asking:

  • What fees are associated with the forbearance?
  • What are all the repayment options available to you at the end of the forbearance?
  • Will you be charged interest during the forbearance period?

If your forbearance is approved, make sure to keep all documentation pertaining to it. Make sure to cancel any automatic payments to the mortgage during the forbearance period, and keep tabs on your credit report to make sure your lender doesn't report the loan as unpaid.


For more information on forbearance, contact your lender and discuss your options. If you need more assistance with understanding your options, you can contact a local agent for the housing counseling agency, or call their hotline at 1-800-569-4287.