Income puts seed money in your hands that can help you achieve growth

Focus on securing the income you need to balance your expenses.

Income is the foundation of financial stability. When cost of living outstrips what you’re able to bring in, it creates budget gaps that lead to debt. Balancing your expenses against your what you earn is essential if you ever want to get ahead. But how can you overcome lack of income in today’s challenging job market?

The articles in this section all focus on helping you understand current pay trends in the U.S. You can learn how to overcome salary challenges and how some Americans boost their cash flow with side jobs. With the right strategy, you can achieve budgetary balance that helps you avoid debt and save effectively.

Man and woman sit on the couch looking at a bill and dealing with money fears

Men And Women Have Different Money Fears

September 21, 2017 | Joe Pye

Guess who’s afraid of never being able to retire? And who fears living paycheck to paycheck?

This woman knows how to live richer which is why she's smiling

The Best Places to Live Richer Aren’t the Most Expensive

September 20, 2017 | Dori Zinn

Average household income, home prices, and childcare costs are the best in New Hampshire, making it the best state to live a rich life.

A baby boomer man stands at a sunny window contemplating his retirement plans

Baby Boomers Fear 2007 Financial Crisis Ruined Their Retirement Plans

September 19, 2017 | Ryan Lynch

Over three-fourths of the generation feel they will have no savings for their post-work life

A man on his latop is learning how to make money on Craigslist

How To Make Money On Craigslist — Safely

September 19, 2017 | Deb Hipp

There’s easy money to be made if you’re willing to wade through the junk to find it.

A woman drawing with markers shows how to work side hustles

A Portrait Of America’s Side Hustlers

September 15, 2017 | Michelle Bryan

Surprisingly, income level doesn’t determine who has a side gig

A millennial who is broke shows off his empty pockets

Stuck in a Rut: Some Millennials Will Always Be Broke

September 12, 2017 | Joe Pye

Millennials with lower credit scores struggle to make ends meet.

A man charts job growth numbers with a magic marker

Job Growth Looks Good For the Next 5 Years

September 11, 2017 | Gregory Cox

Just not for the middle class.

A man trying to crawl out of the financial hole he's gotten himself into

Americans Are Crawling out of Their Financial Hole

September 7, 2017 | Gregory Cox

Job market gains and a decrease in inflation are playing a huge role in growth

an LGBTQ couple hiking gives each other a high five

If You’re LGBTQ, Financial Struggles Are Old News

September 7, 2017 | Brittany Ferrendi

Almost half of all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer middle-income earners suffer from financial insecurity.

Mortgage loan officer calculates costs on a residential home loan during the underwriting and approval process

Is Mortgage Really Considered “Good Debt”?

August 30, 2017 | Howard Dvorkin, CPA

A reader wants to know when too much of a good thing is bad.

Millennials are working side jobs.

Millennials Most Likely to Have Side Jobs

August 24, 2017 | Joe Pye

But even with those, they can’t keep up with older generations

Woman asking for direct business payment.

Pay Me and Don’t Ask Questions

August 22, 2017 | Gregory Cox

People don’t want to negotiate salary based on their previous pay

Howard Dvorkin’s next recession prediction starts with an auto loan bubble, but it originates from used car lots.

One More Reason Why I Still Fear An Auto-matic Recession

August 21, 2017 | Howard Dvorkin, CPA

It has to do with cars, but not really auto loans.

Hand borrowing money from other hand

Borrowing Money Now Hurts Your Retirement Later

August 17, 2017 | Dori Zinn

Employee-sponsored retirement plans are dying because workers are taking out loans without paying them back or leave a job without taking their retirement with them.

Americans paying for college

Americans Are Getting Better at Paying For College

August 14, 2017 | Joe Pye

For the first time in a decade, scholarships and grants cover a third of college costs.

Miami sunshine's on new cars

Need a New Car? Hope You Don’t Live in Miami

August 14, 2017 | Dori Zinn

Most American households can’t afford new cars in all but one of the largest metro areas in the country.

Nontraditional employees don't get benefits like health insurance, but they get to work from home.

Nontraditional Employees Don’t Have Benefits

August 11, 2017 | Dori Zinn

One in four Americans are part-time workers or independent contractors, yet don’t have the same benefits — like health insurance or a retirement plan — like their traditional-working peers.

Portraits of James Duren, Jennifer Asiaka, and Tina Willis, who shared their debt stories with Debt.com

Part 2: What’s Your Dumbest Debt Mistake?

August 11, 2017 | Thomas Chiles

What not to do: Join a pyramid scheme

Dollar sign with life saver in ocean

Americans Are Finally Saving For Emergencies

August 9, 2017 | Joe Pye

The number of Americans without an emergency fund is at a six-year low.

A private stash of hundreds of dollars hidden under the floor boards

How Do I Hide Money From My Girlfriend So I Can Hide It From My Wife?

August 9, 2017 | Howard Dvorkin, CPA

A reader wants to start deceiving his girlfriend before he gets married.

Illustration of three Americans who made financial mistakes because of spending habits and budgeting

What’s Your Dumbest Debt Mistake?

August 4, 2017 | Michael Koretzky

Our favorite answer: Marrying the wrong person.

40-hour work week? Try 60

Financial Woes Are Literally Killing Us

August 2, 2017 | Dori Zinn

Almost half of Americans worry about their finances at least once a week, and almost one-quarter of us are probably thinking about our money problems at least once a day.

Portrait of Zina from Debt Free After Three, Debt.com’s Financial Profiling featured personal finance blogger

Zina Paid Off $28,000 of Debt in Three Years

August 2, 2017 | Brian Bienkowski

She put every extra penny toward her student loans and carefully tracked her spending.

Man walks along a political fork in the road (illustration)

3 Financial Ideas Democrats Hope Will Win Back Congress

July 27, 2017 | Brandon Ballenger

Democrats want to offer “A Better Deal,” but they’ll have to win a lot of seats first.

Freedom is Groovy personal finance blog logo with beatnik cat

Moving Saved The Groovy Family a Ton

July 26, 2017 | Brian Bienkowski

Once they relocated, they set their sights on their retirement goals.

Young clever woman during her job and money conversation

Looking For Work? Now’s A Good Time

July 25, 2017 | Gregory Cox

More money and more jobs are on the horizon for those in and out of the market

Debt.com Illustration by Ivan Benavides: 5 Male penny-pinching characters from movies and TV around broken piggy bank

5 Penny-Pinching TV And Movie Characters

July 25, 2017 | Zina Kumok

A rundown of some of the most frugal TV and movie characters who know when to put their wallet down

Facts about money management illustration shows man thinking about saving money

3 Profitable Facts About Your Workplace

July 24, 2017 | Howard Dvorkin, CPA

Learn how to make more money from these new studies.

Couple on a sailboat are well off but also may not connect American wealth with having a lot of money

Americans Define Wealth in Very Different Ways

July 18, 2017 | Gregory Cox

Think it means being rich? Think again.

The Financial Panther

The Financial Panther Avoided Lifestyle Inflation

July 5, 2017 | Brian Bienkowski

And he embraced the personal finance community as he paid down debt.

millionaires and the middle class

Middle-Class Misery Isn’t Trump’s Fault

July 4, 2017 | Joe Pye

What exactly does it mean to be “middle class”? An intriguing new study didn’t bother to find out. It simply asked people if they think they’re middle class. Almost half (49 percent) did. Yet middle class doesn’t mean content. According to marketing firm Mintel, less than a third of these self-proclaimed middle-classers “are satisfied with […]

Person buried by bills and debt holds up a sign asking for help

Plot Twist: Millennials Want to Pay Their Own Bills

June 30, 2017 | Joe Pye

They believe they should cover their expenses at an earlier age – despite the fact that they still live at home.

Golden Gate Bridge located in San Francisco, one of the worst places to save money

15 Best and Worst Places to Live If You’re Trying to Save Money

June 30, 2017 | Gregory Cox

Hint: Avoid the west coast and head to middle America.

A geographical color-coded depiction of the U.S. ranking states by consumer credit

Why Do Trump Voters Have Worse Credit Than Democrats?

June 29, 2017 | Brandon Ballenger

States that voted for Trump have fewer credit cards, lower balances, and a worse understanding of money.

irs flexible on tax payments

How Friendly Is The IRS? Will They Work With Us?

June 21, 2017 | Howard Dvorkin, CPA

This week: A reader needs to rely on the kindness of the IRS. Believe it or not, that can work.

Stained glass window of Moses carrying the 10 Commandments. Which Commandment can predict your debt?

How One Of the 10 Commandments Can Predict Your Debt

June 19, 2017 | Howard Dvorkin, CPA

If you break this Commandment, you’re probably broke.

A young hipster man sits at his apartment kitchen table, pouring over his budget and finances with calculator in hand

Millennials Out-Save Older Generations

June 16, 2017 | Joe Pye

They are more conservative with their money at younger ages than previous generations

working mom retirement

Women Struggling Hard with Retirement Savings

June 15, 2017 | Dori Zinn

Women are still primary caregivers, still earn less than their male counterparts, and still don’t believe they are financially ready for retirement.

A business person standing in an office, checking off business personnel on a clear digital whiteboard

Job Recruiters Are Making Great Money

June 14, 2017 | Dori Zinn

Job recruiters are seeing faster-than-average wage growth compared to other jobs around the country.

What if I stopped paying my credit cards?

Middle Class Millennials Struggle With Employment

June 13, 2017 | Joe Pye

Having a credit score under 700 is related to difficulties holding onto jobs and living on your own.

prioritize debts

Are You Paying the Wrong Debt First?

June 6, 2017 | Dori Zinn

We’re paying off unsecured personal loans faster than auto loans, mortgages, and credit cards and we probably shouldn’t be.

biggest regrets of college students

College Seniors Struggle To Pick Careers

June 2, 2017 | Joe Pye

One reason: They focus too much on class and not enough on what else colleges offer.

Graduates stare at a tsunami of student loan debt (illustrated)

Student Loans: Too Big to Fail? Or Too Much to Succeed?

June 1, 2017 | Brandon Ballenger

The “student loan crisis” is so massive, we can’t even comprehend it anymore.

Save the children and moms

Money Woes Make Moms Stressed

May 31, 2017 | Dori Zinn

Moms claim that financial stress affects their relationships with their kids and husbands.

Woman shaking hands with man at a meeting possibly made her career choice based on a movie or TV show

Competing For College Grads

May 26, 2017 | Joe Pye

Job growth is up, and companies are hiring recent college graduates for higher pay this year.

Portrait of Kayla from KaylaSloan.com, Debt.com’s Financial Profiling featured personal finance blogger

Kayla’s Debt Changed Her Life

May 24, 2017 | Brian Bienkowski

Her financial mess gave her new hope.

Work excuses you can use

Just Being Poor Can Make You Sick

May 23, 2017 | Dori Zinn

The more debt you have, the more likely you are to have higher stress levels, more weight gain, and increased sleep loss.

Banking apps may be better than you think.

Baby Boomers Really Love Smartphones

May 23, 2017 | Joe Pye

They are more willing to give up financial stability for smartphones, than younger generations.

Financial stress upsets business man traveling home by train

How to Prepare for and Deal With an Income Emergency

May 19, 2017 | Money Talks News

How quickly could you come up with $400? Many of us would need to borrow it.

Be careful when dealing with the IRS

What REALLY Happens If You Don’t Pay Your Taxes?

May 17, 2017 | Howard Dvorkin, CPA

A reader fears for her boyfriend’s future — and her own.

5 tips for balancing income versus expenses in your budget

#1: Know your income-to-expense ratio

In order to maintain a balanced budget, you should keep track of your income-to-expense ratio. As the name suggest, this measures your income versus cash outflow. It’s easy to figure out:

Total monthly income ÷ total monthly expenses x 100

If your ratio is less than one, it means you spend more than you bring in – that’s bad. This usually means you rely on credit cards, payday loans or other high-interest types of credit to get by. You slowly amass debt that seems insurmountable to pay back. If you’re in this situation, you either have to reduce your expenses or increase your income.

Ideally, you want your ratio to be 1.25 or greater. That means you spend 75% of what you make, leaving free cash flow in your budget and money to save. You can use free cash flow to cover unexpected expenses and set aside money to build your emergency savings fund.

#2: The fine art of the side hustle

One of the easiest ways to increase your income is to take on a secondary or side job. This can be anything from becoming a ride hailing driver to working freelance in your career field. Your goal with a side job – besides boosting cash flow – is to balance it with your life. You don’t want something that interferes with your primary paycheck. If you freelance, make sure to check your employment agreement to ensure you don’t violate any non-compete clause; the same is true with consulting work.

Here are a few ideas for good side hustle jobs:

  1. Freelance in your chosen career field
  2. Consulting work within your profession
  3. Flexible be-you-own-boss jobs, like working for a ride hailing company (Uber/Lyft)
  4. Work-from-home data entry
  5. Service jobs, such as waitressing or bartending
  6. Seasonal employment, like working as a mall Santa to boost your income for the holidays

#3:  Be aware of how the economy can affect your income

Loss of income is common in a down economy. Even if you don’t lose your job, your employer may cut your hours or limit allowed overtime.  If you work a job based on commission or one that relies on tips, it’s hard to keep income steady. When people don’t spend, and stop dining out, you can take a big hit.

Any loss in income should immediately lead to a reassessment if your budget. You need to cut back on your expenses as quickly as possible so you can avoid taking on debt. Another way to balance you budget is to consolidate existing debt. Many consolidation solutions decrease your monthly debt payments, sometimes by as much as 50 percent. That can go a long way to helping you overcome loss of income.

#4: Where you put income when you earn it matters

If you’re one of the estimated 106 million Americans who are “unbanked” or “underbanked” you’re probably losing money to fees. Checking cashing stores are not a smart substitute for a regular checking account. You lose money about $3-$10 out of every paycheck (or more depending on the size of your paychecks). You also often incur bill payment fees if you pay bills through money orders.

Some people assume this is more cost effective than traditional banking, because bank fees are just as bad. But if your bank fees are high, that means you have the wrong account. Look for a checking account that fits your lifestyle. If you’ve struggled with maintaining a checking account in the past, look for one that offers:

  1. No minimum balance requirement
  2. Overdraft protection
  3. Free online or mobile bill pay
  4. No monthly maintenance fees

For that last feature, you may need to meet certain requirements in order for your bank to waive those fees. Some banks will waive fees on certain accounts if you are a student. In other cases, you can avoid fees if you sign up for online banking or set up Direct Deposit.

Research banks and other financial institutions carefully. If you don’t trust major national big banks, look for local banks or credit unions. These tend to be more focused on customer service, so you can worry less about your bank screwing over customers. Then, once you find a bank you like, understand how your checking account works and do what you need to do to minimize fees.

When used correctly, the right traditional checking account will always have lower fees than nontraditional banking through check cashing stores. If you pay too much to bank, the solution is not to stop banking. It’s to find a better bank with a checking account that fits your needs!

#5: The best income is unearned income

Earned income is what you get from your paychecks. You work, they pay you for that work. But there’s another kind of income that everyone should aim to achieve. It’s called unearned income.

The IRS defines unearned income as any money you receive from not doing actual work. It includes earned interest, dividends and yields on investments. It also includes things like gifts, prizes and inheritance. However, those are not sources of income that are in your control. What is in your control is the ability to put your money where it can work for you.

Unearned income is typically subject to different taxes. You don’t pay payroll taxes or Social Security on it. But you often face unearned income tax. When it comes to things like retirement accounts, you can pay taxes before you contribute or when you make withdrawals. It depends on which types of retirement accounts that you have.

The earlier you can start making your money work for you, the less you have to work. Even if you’re not ready to start investing, take small steps to achieve better growth. For example, check your savings account interest rate. If it’s less than 1 percent, look for a better savings accounts. You can also consider investments like Money Market Accounts and Certificates of Deposit (CDs). These tend to have better rates, too. By incrementally building your saving strategy, you can gradually increase unearned income.