Choose one of these best bank accounts to handle your finances like an adult.

If you don’t have a bank account yet, you should open one. (Continue reading for some suggestions.) Anyone who earns money from a job or any other source — even if there isn’t a lot of money to spare — should be using a checking account at the very least.

My bank tells me I’ve been a customer since the year I turned 13, so whether it was from an allowance, from taking care of my neighbor’s cat while they were on vacation, or from my first job in retail, I was at least trying to have a positive money attitude, inspired by my parents.

It’s possible to be successful without a bank account, but without one, you’ll have obstacles in today’s society. You can work at a job where you’re paid cash, or you can use check-cashing services at Walmart or storefronts. Prepaid debit cards can help you buy things in an increasingly cashless environment. But all these workarounds are expensive and limit your financial possibilities.

Bank accounts can be expensive, too, and many of these financial corporations will try to fleece you at any opportunity with overdraft fees, minimum balance requirements, maintenance fees, and ATM fees. The list of hidden fees seems to go on forever. Avoiding fees sometimes requires some attention, but when you can, checking and savings accounts are much better than “alternative banking products.”

You don’t need to go crazy. You can do everything you need with one checking account, but to make the most out of benefits banks have to offer, you’d need one savings account as well. That will help you earn interest on the money of yours you let the bank use — yes, when you deposit money in a bank account, you’re letting the bank use your money, so they should be giving you something in return (in addition to your ability to withdraw any amount of your money at any time).

I prefer the KISS strategy when it comes to bank accounts: Keep It Simple, Stupid. (No offense.)

Choose one of these best bank accounts to open.

Best Overall Bank Account for an Adult.

Fidelity Cash Management Account. This is the best example of the KISS method of banking. It’s a checking and a savings account in one, though the amount of interest you earn is minimal. But for a primary bank account, that’s just fine. Everything is free. Let me repeat: Everything is free. There’s no minimum balance. When you want to use an ATM, the owners will charge a fee, but Fidelity pays you to cover that fee.

You receive free checks to use. (You should learn how to use a checkbook and how to write checks if you don’t already know.) You can deposit any checks you receive using an app on your phone. Of course, you receive a debit card to access your money using an ATM or for purchases. Open a Fidelity Cash Management account.

Best Bank Account for an Adult Who Doesn’t Trust Banks.

Your local credit union. Not a fan of the financial industry? Credit unions don’t answer to Wall Street, so they’re not always trying to profit from their customers. Credit unions are owned by their members (who are also their customers), so it’s a system that makes the needs of the customers their priority.

Many community credit unions are open to anyone, but some have restricted membership. Navy Federal Credit Union is one of the best-reviewed credit unions out there, but you need to be affiliated with the military or the Department of Defense (or have an immediate family member who is) in order to join.

The Navy Federal Credit Union e-Checking is that organization’s best option taking all the facets of banking into account.

An independent credit union may also be the best option for Socially Conscious Adults. (Trump fans should head to CitiBank or Wells Fargo; the president owns stock in these companies.) Search for a credit union.

Best Bank Account for an Adult With Limited Mobility.

The branch that’s local to you. For a while in my adult life, I didn’t own a car. That really limited my ability to get around to a distant branch. This might apply to someone who lives in a walk-able city, too, like New York City.

Convenience is an important factor in choosing a bank account, sometimes more than a tiny bit of interest you might earn. So if you have a bank within a walking distance of 60 seconds, no one would ever judge you for choosing that bank’s free checking option over another bank.

Almost every bank account in existence today can be managed online, so there should be very few things you need to actually travel to a branch for. But sometimes, something comes up. But any online account should also be good for someone without access to transportation. Ally Bank is a strongly-reviewed online bank with a standard checking account. Simple is another interesting choice.

Best Bank Account for Adults Who Earn Interest.

Synchrony High Yield Savings. If you want just one bank account, choosing a checking account like one of the above. If you’re ready to have both a checking account and a savings account, and you’re moderately good at managing your money, a high yield savings account is a good choice for a second bank account.

And in recent years, Synchrony has offered one of the highest interest rates around. As of right now, that’s 1.05% APY (annual percentage yield). What does that mean? If you deposit $1,000 on day one and do nothing else, on day 366, your balance will be $1,010.50.

Not a huge increase, but it’s better than ending up with less. And we’ve been at a low point in interest rates. They will rise in the future — we just don’t know when. Open a Synchrony High Yield Savings account.

Best Bank Account for Adult Entrepreneurs.

Citizens Bank Clearly Better Business Checking. It’s important to separate your business finances from your personal life. If you develop a business, or you start earning money from your hobby in a serious way, you’ll want a business checking account. Make your business official with the state and federal governments, then open this account.

There are no maintenance fees and no minimum balance requirement, so it’s perfect for your side hustle. The bank offers 200 free check transactions, which should be sufficient for most small businesses. Open a Clearly Better Business Checking account.

If you have a bank account, which account do you have?

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Does the thought of investing scare you because you need a lot of money to get started?

That’s one of the biggest reasons people are missing out on the best way to build wealth over the course of their lives. It’s hard to just take that first step when you’re also concerned about feeding yourself or your family, covering your rent or mortgage, and affording every other necessity in life.

But you don’t need a lot of money to start investing. For example, $10 a week can turn into $75,000 if you give it some time. Here are a few ways to make that happen for you.

WealthSimple. WealthSimple arrived in the United States after its success in Canada, and its strength is its cost. When you’re starting out with investing, you don’t want fees digging into into your profits.

There’s no charge to transfer money from a bank account into your WealthSimple account. I started out with a $10 weekly investment, but you could start with $5 a month if you want, or if that’s all you can afford right now.

And there’s a special deal right now. If you open an account, you will receive a $50 bonus. Open an account today and get that $50.

When you sign up, you fill out a short questionnaire to determine how your money should be invested with a mix of exchange-traded funds — one of the most frugal ways to invest in stocks and bonds. You can accept their suggestions — and if you’re new to investing, that’s what we would suggest you do — or change them to suit your tastes if you have a little more experience with investing.

If your account stays under $5,000, you will not be charged any fee for the first year. Above or after that, the management fee is a small 0.5% — though, if you find yourself with more than $100,000 invested, they’ll reduce your fee to 0.4%. This is a great deal when it comes to investing, especially if you’re starting out with just a little bit of cash to invest.

LendingClub. If you’re open to a different kind of approach to investing, take a look at LendingClub. Rather than investing in stocks and bonds, you’re investing in loans. The returns are similar to stocks, and the risk is managed. The only drawback is that your investment is a little less liquid. That means if you need the money you’ve invested in an emergency situation, it might be hard to withdraw immediately. (That’s why it’s always best to have an emergency fund.)

LendingClub helps you pick out the best investments and gives you a good idea of what you can expect to return. You can use your investment to create an income stream. There’s a higher minimum investment of $1,000, but you can save up in a savings account until you are ready to start. After that, you can increase your investment with only $25.

Open an account with LendingClub today.

Ally Invest. Ally Invest is a discount brokerage with truly low prices. Yes, the $4.95 fee per trade will cut into your profits if you invest small amounts in stocks or ETFs. If you want to invest frequently, WealhSimple mentioned above might be a better option, though your investment selection is limited. On the other hand, Ally Invest really lets you take control of your investments. There’s less guidance, but more flexibility.

Ally Invest used to be known as TradeKing, which made its name as one of the most popular discount online brokerages.

Open an account with Ally Invest today.

There are three great options above for getting started with your investment portfolio. This is something every adult should have, and every adult should invest for their future, regardless of how difficult it might feel to let go of even $1 of cash today. Your future-you will thank your today-you if you just take one simple step forward today, even if it’s not a huge step. Thankfully, these resources are here to help you out.

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What is it like to be financially independent? Doug Nordman from The Military Guide shares his story.

Once in a while, we present Adulting.tv LIVE! Subscribe on YouTube to hear about future events, and share your questions about or suggestions for our next discussions!

Show Notes

Harlan and Miranda talk to Doug Nordman from The Military Guide about his lifestyle of financial independence. What is it like to live as an adult without having to worry about money? Is this a dream for everyone? We’ll talk about how to make financial independence an attainable goal.

Watch the video above or listen to the audio podcast below.

Hosted byHarlan L. Landes and Miranda Marquit
Produced byadulting.tv
Edited and mixed bySteve Stewart
Music bybensound.com

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If you can handle a credit card like an adult, you might as well maximize the benefits! These best credit cards offer bonuses and other perks.

Updated for October 2017! Handling your finances like an adult includes knowing how to deal with credit cards. We all make mistakes sometimes. For me, it was taking a cash advance from a credit card when I hit my personal rock bottom. I felt like I didn’t have any other choice.

But years later, I’ve turned the tables on the credit card industry and now use credit cards to earn cash back and collect points for free travel, which I do often.

Here are my picks for the best credit cards across the different types of credit card offers that are available today. Note: all credit card deals are only worthwhile if you pay your balance off in full each month, like a proper adult. If you have to pay interest or a late payment fee, forget about maximizing credit card offers. Focus on getting your finances in shape first.

Best credit card bonus (for the not-so-typical adult).

Chase Sapphire Reserve 50,000 Bonus Points. Unfortunately, Chase has ended its 100,000 bonus points offer that was available when applying from within a Chase branch. What Chase offers now is the reduced bonus point offer of 50,000 points, for which you can still apply online. That’s still pretty substantial. There’s a $450 annual fee for this card, not waived the first year, but you will receive a reimbursement of up to $300 for certain travel expenses like checked-bag fees.

The rest of the benefits may be worth the $150 difference between the reimbursement maximum and the fee. You’ll need to spend $4,000 on the card within the first three months to receive the bonus. Get the 50,000 bonus points and you’re straight fire.

Best cash back credit card offer (for adults who like money).

Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express. The keys to a good cash back card are avoiding the annual fee, eliminating any hassle to retrieving the cash you earn, and finding a cash-back rate that’s above the average offer. 1% cash back is easy to find, but Blue Cash Everyday beats that with 3% cash back on groceries (limited), 2% at gas stations and certain department stores, and 1% on everything else.

There is currently a bonus offer, too. Apply now to earn $200 in cash back after spending $1,000 within the first three months.

Best travel rewards credit card offer (for adults who have places to be).

BankAmericard Travel Rewards Credit Card. If you’re looking for a travel rewards credit card, you should expect to find features that make travel easy. The biggest benefit, especially for the world traveler, is having no foreign transaction fee. Bank of America’s offer makes that happen, and does not charge an annual fee, either.

You earn 1.5 points for every dollar you spend, unlimited, and those points are redeemed for a statement credit that covers flights, hotels, vacation packages, cruises, rental cars, or baggage fees. There’s no need to convert points to miles or points with a specific airline or hotel chain. Because you use the card normally to pay for your travel expenses, there are no black-out dates.

Right now, this card is offering 20,000 bonus points which can be used to book airfare or hotel stays without restrictions.

Best balance transfer credit card (for adults who need to simplify).

Bank AmeriCard. If there’s one thing you want from a credit card you wish to use to transfer a balance, it’s the lack of a fee. If there’s another thing you want, it’s a low interest rate so you can pay off that balance transfer without any extra costs. BankAmericard has the perfect offer. For the first 60 days, you can transfer balances from your other cards for free, and you’ll have 15 months to pay off that balance without paying a cent in interest (0% APR) as long as you pay at least the minimum due each month.

This is the perfect opportunity to consolidate your balances across several cards and create one manageable, monthly payment. But pay the balance in full within the 15-month period! As a bonus, your purchases during the first 60 days will also be treated to the same 0% APR for the first 15 months.

Best credit card offer for students (for adults who are trying to adult).

Citi ThankYou Preferred for College Students. I got my first credit card in college. I signed up and got a free tee-shirt. You get more when you are approved for Citi’s card for college students, probably the credit card offer with the most chill. There’s 2,500 bonus points available for those who sign up, and you have to spend only $500 in the first three months to qualify.

The purpose of a student card is to help you build credit, so don’t expect too many frills besides the basic rewards and introductory 0% APR for 7 months.

Best small business credit card (for adults who think they’re important).

Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express. This is the standard, and if you’re building your business beyond yourself, this is a great choice. Watch out for the $175 annual fee (waived for the first year) with the AmEx Business Gold Rewards Card. But, there’s currently a 50,000 bonus points offer, requiring only $5,000 in purchases over the first three months.

This is a charge card, not a credit card, so you pay your bill in full every month.

Best credit card for building credit (for adults who are just starting to adult).

Discover it Secured Credit Card. Building credit can be difficult if you didn’t have certain advantages growing up, like parents who had their own solid credit and a desire to ensure you were starting your adult life with good credit. Without those benefits, creating a solid financial future for yourself and your family will have more obstacles.

Secured credit cards help establish credit, which allows you to qualify for better mortgage rates (or a mortgage at all) when the time comes, better interest rates for other loans, better prices on insurance, and even better apartments. While you’ll be approved for the Discover it Secured Credit Card without a credit history, this is more than just a basic card. You earn cash back on every purchase (limited) and receive your FICO credit score for free.

What’s in your wallet?

Tell us what kind of card (or cards) you have. And what’s the best feature or you? Cash back, travel rewards, or something else?

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From money to relationships and everything in between, here’s the best advice from a panel of expert adults.

I know you won’t follow every piece of advice you’re about to read. Some of this won’t have anything to do with you, anyway. But bear with me.

That’s because I and the rest of the Adulting.tv team asked hundreds of people — some of them adults and others… “adults” — what advice they’d give their younger self. Some answered with very specific advice about opportunities they had at the age of 21. Some offered tidbits of wisdom they gained from making mistakes. Most didn’t answer at all.

Don’t worry — even if you take some advice to heart, you’ll still make mistakes in life. Mistakes are the best way to learn about yourself and how you can grow as a person.

But if you have the opportunity to avoid a few, you might as well take it. So let these certified adult experts help you.

Something in this fantastic round-up of advice will apply to you, at any age.

“21 wasn’t that long ago for me but I would say this: Choose a place to live that is inexpensive and allows you to save. Spending too much in rent can really hurt your ability to pay off your student loans, invest, and even travel the way you want to in the future.” Kevin Matthews II

“Don’t be afraid to try new jobs and careers. Like your actual life, your working productive life is a very long period of time and you’ll have many opportunities to switch and try new things. Don’t be afraid to do so, especially when you’re early and have less to risk!” Jim Wang

“Take the time to explore your priorities and hobbies, but make sure you have some buffer in your account. I ran out of money in my early 20s and found myself scrambling and unfulfilled. There is a way to be YOLO yet at the same time be responsible with your spending. Think about money as buying you time and choices instead of cool things, which was what I was most concerned about when I first graduated college.” Sarah Li-Cain

“Don’t always look to see what others are doing with money or what the current trend says you should be doing. Figure out what works for you… This also applies to starting a family, your career and pretty much anything else.”

“Don’t listen to people telling you that starting a business is the ultimate thing to do. Not everyone is built for it mentally or emotionally and it takes more than passion or an interest to make it a success. It’s more than acceptable to be an employee of someone else and plenty of people have lived great lives that way.” Eric Nisall

“Alcohol and sugar are overrated. Try sobriety and protein for a couple weeks.” Doug Nordman

“21 was just a few years ago for me, but the best thing I did and therefore the best advice I have is to start paying off debt ASAP, especially if you are single and don’t have children. I wasn’t dating anyone then, so I lived at home with family, worked 2 jobs and debt snowballed like crazy to pay off as much as I could so that someday when I got married I would be in a little less debt. It really helped, because when I got married at 23 a lot of the financial pressure was off since I had paid off about $17,000 worth of debt on my own. Also– be careful what major you pick in college! I graduated with a degree that I can’t do anything with, that I picked solely because the classes were fun and interesting. Unfortunately, I’m going to have to go back to college for a second degree to actually get a decent job.” Bailey Kay Cummins

“Trust your gut. It will never steer you wrong with jobs (if you are getting a stomachache thinking about the promotion you feel like you have to take, you’ll probably quit 6 months later), with dating (if you feel leery about a guy, he’ll probably be the sort of guy who gets mad at you for being sad), with money (if it feels like a bad use of your money, it probably is). Don’t railroad over those gut feelings.” Emily Guy Birken

“At 21 years of age I was living in a dumpy apartment in a Philadelphia slum with a year-old baby. I had a permanent part-time job and no child support or government aid. As a result, I was so broke I did all our laundry (including the diapers) on a scrub-board. Here’s what I would tell my 21-year-old self. Tough times show us what we’re really made of and what we’re capable of accomplishing. Often, we later realize that what we perceived as misfortune was actually crucial to making us the people we have become. (And in fact, that’s happened.)” Donna Freedman

“At the start of your career, move into a cheap apartment that you hate (ideally with roommates). Why? You won’t want to spend any time there. That makes it easy to skip out on luxury utilities (tv, internet, etc) and expensive furniture. Lower expenses means more cash to put towards investments. You’ll also be able (and willing) to put in more hours at work, creating clear differentiation between you and your peer group. Hustling hard early on should produce a steeper compensation trajectory. Before you know it, you’ll be on a clear path to financial independence.” Eppie Vojt

“This fall you’re going to go through the Student Union at college. There will be a Citibank representative there soliciting students to apply for a credit card. Do not stop. Flip him both birds, yell, “F YOU!” at the top of your lungs and keep walking.” Travis Pizel

Start contributing to a Roth IRA and take advantage of all the tax benefits in retirement investing. Even if you can only afford $50 a month, those early contributions really add up over the years. Just one $50 investment can grow to $749 over 40 years on a 7% annual return. Now imagine you were able to make that $50 a month!”

“When you’re young and don’t pay much in taxes, you might not be getting such a benefit from the instant deductions of a 401k or a traditional IRA. This is when a Roth IRA makes the most sense. You don’t get an instant deduction but get to withdraw the money totally tax-free in retirement, that’s contributions and all earnings tax-free.” Joseph Hogue

“Find what makes you happy and then organize your life around that. Quit comparing yourself to others. Everyone moves at a different pace and has a different focus. What’s important is that you do what’s best for you. Not what’s best for your friends or others around you. Life is much more enjoyable when you do that.” Andrew Daniels

“I know you’ve spent the last 16 years of your life in school, but don’t stop learning now. Keep learning and mastering new skills whether they’re related to your work or not.” Julie Starnes Rains

“Don’t build a life that requires a financial partner. Make your own money and make sure you can support yourself if the shit hits the fan. It’s great to HAVE a financial partner, but it’s another thing to NEED one.” Morgan Marie Quinn

“My biggest revelation after wasting four years of college and working a dead end job was learning that the market doesn’t care about my passions (which were fickle anyway); the market rewarded professions that were IN DEMAND. So my job was to find a niche in the job market that married my skills and interests with jobs that were HIGHLY needed, and that small realization changed everything for me. I no longer felt guilty for “selling out” to make money, because by choosing a career that society valued it was a win-win for everyone.” Curtis Hearn

Negotiate everything! Your salary, purchases, and business deals. It’s a muscle that needs to be built and there is always an opportunity to build it.” Alanna Jackson Anthony

“Don’t underestimate yourself. You might not think you qualify for those scholarships, but you’d be wrong. You’ll be kicking yourself to find out later only five people applied for that $5,000 scholarship and you thought 1,000 people would apply! This goes for graduate school scholarships and TA positions. Just apply.” Melissa Hoffman

“Youth is time to experiment and have new experiences. Manage your money so you can do that. It’s a better investment than grad school for most people. Be bold. But always be able to support yourself.” Teresa Mears

“I’d tell my 21-year-old self to party less. I was a neo in my fraternity at the time and basically wasted a year in school partying. My priorities were not in order.” Jason Butler

“No one cares more about your finances, your career, or your health than you do. Learn about each and pay equal attention to each one so that you have a secure and balanced life for years to come. Don’t let the fear of the unknown stop you. Life happens. Let it.” Amy Savage Blacklock

Exercise. Find a workout routine that makes you feel great and make movement part of your life every single day. I don’t care what you do, whether it’s running or yoga or lifting or walking for miles or playing rec league sports, just find something that gets you physically active most days. Physical exercise benefits your bod, but it’s also an investment in your mental and emotional well-being (and staying healthy = less in healthcare costs). Getting into a workout routine only gets harder as you get older, so start now while it’s easier to work it into your day so it becomes a part of your long-term lifestyle.” Kali Hawlk

“Take a deep breath and understand career success doesn’t happen overnight. Every day when you get to work, it is a new opportunity to impress your team and keep up the momentum. But don’t stop side hustling. Don’t be afraid to invest a few bucks in your projects and stay focused!” Eric Rosenberg

“(1) Work for experience, not income, because eventually the experience will command a far higher income. (2) Buy rental real estate instead of renting and begin as early as possible. Beg or borrow the down payment if necessary. As long as the property is positive cash flow and financed with a fully amortizing, fixed rate mortgage your financial security is just a question of time, and time is why you want to start as early as possible. Rental real estate provides inflation adjusting income you can never outlive, and there’s not many investments you can say that about.” Todd R. Tresidder

“Invest in defense industries. They seem to be doing better and better.” Mason Handke

“Jump on Bitcoin and Ford stocks. In other words, when you see a good financial deal, take time to learn enough to invest in it and do it quickly. Also, skip that whole finishing college thing. You guys know what you want to do; just get your certs and get out. The lost earning potential will eat you up later. Don’t let anyone else tell you what God wants from you. You’re smart enough to figure it out yourself. You’re going to have a lot of ‘I wish…’ moments down the road when you realize you’re letting someone else control your moral compass. Lastly, take that trip to Costa Rica. Just do it. Once you have kids and a real job, it’s going to be so much harder to do. The money’s there. Take the opportunity.” Lacey Keller Smith

Save up so that you can travel and see the world. Don’t worry about a new pair of pants or about going out every weekend. Explore this planet.” Martin Dasko

“Ironically, my 21-year-old self had more money to save and invest than my 37-year-old self. I would have told him to do that. But more than that, start a business. The barrier to entry for many businesses like insurance companies, online companies, etc. is so low, starting it young means great rewards while you’re still young instead of when you’re older like most people. But even more than THAT, be creatively productive with free time. Back then I had GOBS of free time and I did a fair amount of writing, but nothing else I did really created. I was focused mostly on entertainment. Nowadays I have all kinds of desires to continue to be creative, but no time. But if I had started something back then it would have been easier to *continue* working on my passion instead of trying to add time in my day for things I’m passionate about.” Greg Hamblin

“If you make $N per hour and can pay someone to clean your house (or other tasks) for $M per hour, and N>M, pay someone to clean your house while you work more. Now don’t forget to work the extra hours.” Brad Cole

“Open a Roth IRA.” Rhiannon Fox

“Don’t be so serious. Let things roll and have some fun. Explore more. Don’t be so afraid of life.” Joe Saul-Sehy

“Don’t get married!” Arantza Zabala

“You have another half-dozen major failures and reboots in front of you. Don’t take them so hard. Don’t bother getting complexes. Be more focused on what you can and can’t control and fight the one in spite of the other.” Rodney Staton

“Don’t be afraid. Although life can be scary, it is also worth it to face that fear. Don’t give up on your self. What most other people think if you doesn’t matter, especially those who dont like you. Don’t let those people decide your future. That have no investment in you! Work hard! Nothing is easy.” Laurie Clark-Jacobson

“If it is important, financially, it will still be there a week later. Be happy. Don’t take life too seriously.” Morgan Dayna McKinnon

“Do not look for someone else to make you feel good or happy. Try if you can to be secure in yourself. If you are looking, look for someone with same morals, values, and expectations. If your future is to be together your values will allow you to work together on any obstructions that come up. Values discussed before a close relationship, married or not, is key to enjoyment of one another.” Lenorah DeAngelis

“Jäger is NEVER a good idea. Neither is tequila. That petty thing or person you’re overly stressed about now? Let it go. It most likely won’t be there in one year and it doesn’t deserve your energy. See also: people who make you cry for stupid reasons. No one else’s opinion of you matters more than your own. Plan for all the things but don’t plan so much you can’t handle whatever is thrown at you. All those things people in their 30s and 40s tell you? It’s solid advice. Don’t dismiss it. They know their shit (or pretend like they do).” Jana Lynch

“Start early and always save a portion of your paycheck. Try to make it be the same each week.” George Morrison

“Figure out the monies. Know how much your life costs, how to minimize, save, and spend wisely. Never be without at least a month’s expenses in savings. Avoid student loans at all costs.” Lindsay Johnson Nuesca

“Find something you are really good at and make a business.” Kade Marquez

“Invest your money instead of wasting it on all the crap you’re about to buy. Oh yeah, and start a blog — the internet is not a fad.” Tom Drake

“Life is not going to turn out the way you think sweetie, but don’t worry, you are gonna make it and it’s gonna be GOOD.” Charlotte McLendon Baker

“When I spoke to a group of middle-schoolers earlier today I took them on a journey. I told them that I’ve been at my job for 10 years. And I showed them the importance of being picky with how they spend their money. I said 10 years ago, when I started my fancy pants engineering job I could have spent $5 per day on Starbucks coffee. Instead I bought Starbucks stock and now it has tripled in value! And I showed them different examples showing how those small choices made a huge impact! Crystal Hammond

“When you meet people always ask how you can help them achieve their goals, or how you can be helpful in general, and then help them. Never expect anything directly in return but forming those early bonds, and staying in touch will serve you well for your entire life.” Bobbi Rebell

“Get an IUD. ” Elyssa Jean Kirkham

“Make self development a habit. It will take you from good to great.” Felix A. Montelara

“Travel while you can! I didn’t have the travel bug back then. Once you get kids, the game changes. Both time and money are in very short supply. At 21, travel. David Leonhardt

“If you truly believe in your stance, hold firm. People will try to intimidate you, but that doesn’t mean you’re wrong. Applies to just about every part of life.” Kay Bell

“So strange. My nonlinear, unplanned, dirt poor youth doesn’t look at all troubling to me. Maybe just… invest in Microsoft.” Dean Ferguson

“Never marry someone who makes you cry.” Sherri Bible

“Travel. Leave your bubble and visit somewhere where you don’t speak the language; it’s even better if you can live in another country for a while. When you come home, start planning the next trip. Don’t let having kids deter you from traveling; it involves a bit more planning, but they only make it better. Pay off your student loans ASAP then save; you really don’t need a lot of material items. Spend your money on experiences (see first paragraph) and save your money.” Leslie Smith

“No matter your culture, it is okay to be single in your 20s. Discover yourself rather than discovering others, as this will be the one opportunity you have to do so.” Brynne Conroy

“Research is the key to everything related to finances. From renting a place to live and the utility payments required when you move in, to car knowledge when you go shopping for a car. Building credit and how to do it right. Relationships? Be smart, don’t just jump in. Know what matters to you and make those things important in your relationships. Oh, and credit is IMPORTANT. Don’t fuck that up.” Nik Thurnbeck

“Plan well for your retirement. Put away more than you think you can. Stretch! The time sneaks up on you – enjoy yourself some now, enjoy yourself a LOT later – you’ll deserve it! Also, be as good as you can to others — don’t leave anything to regret (oh there will always be regrets — so try to keep them to a minimum) I really think that’s the most important piece of advice. Be kind, be good. Be honest. Especially with yourself. Please keep your promises — every one. If you don’t think you can keep it, don’t make it. Sounds hokey, huh? But its true. Live the very best life you possibly can every day. Respect nature. Look to nature for lessons on life. The more you look at animals, birds, and just nature around us, the more you can understand about human nature. Seek simple affirmations and actualization. The more actualized and complete you feel, the easier it is to be satisfied by the little things. Now to take my own advice – early to bed and early to rise – huh, I wish! Oh one more — Polonious – Act I Scene III – Hamlet: ‘Neither a borrower or a lender be.’ Oh boy, I really mean that one!” Shari Berman Landes

“Always be nice. And don’t sweat the small stuff.” Wendie Berman Biegel

“People will show you who they are.” Jenna Carpenter Smith

“Spend time alone. You don’t have to be in a relationship all the time, and certainly don’t judge your worth based on whether you’re single or in a relationship. Learn to love yourself first.” Chris Kilian

“Don’t pour yourself into a man who doesn’t care enough to do the same for you.” Magdalen Sheffield

“All these responsible things but also make sure you have fun and travel in your 20s. Don’t be so work focused because your 30s, if you have kids, could be very very very boring.” Christina Marie

“Never be afraid to be who you truly are. Do all the things!” Aaron Sheffield

“Don’t worry about how successful other people are. It’s not a contest, and if it were, it would be a marathon, not a sprint.” Francesca Pellegrino

“Go to Vanguard and take the spot at Mystique. You’re gonna change jobs anyway.” Sean McReady

“Life isn’t a race. There’s no rush to finish college in 4 years. It’s OK to be the last of your friends to get married, have kids, buy a house, have a career. Life is a journey to be enjoyed. You will accomplish your goals when the timing is right.” Elizabeth Buono

“Travel as much as you can and don’t be in a hurry to settle down.” Nakki A. Price

“Follow your instinct. It’s usually right. Don’t be afraid to say no.” Danielle Marone

Wait for a job that you will LOVE!! Travel a lot! And never settle!!” Lauri Kane

“First you need to know the most important investment to make is in yourself. Strengthen your weaknesses. Fortify your strengths. Sometimes maybe go out of your comfort zone. Find yourself at a job. It may pay the bills and take care of your family but something that you don’t hate going to do everyday. Start at Step 1. Investments, credit, all of that stuff comes later. If you can’t manage yourself you can’t manage the rest of that stuff. Be successful at managing yourself and that’s when those other options start opening up. That’s when you start considering them.” Colin R Gelles

“If it’s working, it’s working. A messy, backwards, or unconventional approach to something doesn’t mean it’s wrong. I’ve finally learned to accept the way I live, create, and give, and it doesn’t look like anyone else’s. All kinds of people are needed to make this world work, so ignore what you’ve heard in the management, productivity, and success books. If you are working at your best and comfortable with the process, that is what matters. I wish I wouldn’t have fought against convention for all these years and just accepted my way. What a waste of time!” Linsey Knerl

“Make — and especially keep — more social connections. Your friends can become your support network (emotional and business) as you all gain more experience and responsibility.” Virginia Rich Diaz

“Listen to yourself and learn to trust what you hear.” Alan Steinborn

“And carpe diem!” Sally Dikowitz

“Try to prepare for things like illness, accidents, etc. and the possibility you may not be able to work at some time, you never know!” Pamela A. Parker

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Once you’re on your own, responsible for yourself, there’s no rule that says you have to figure everything about money out for yourself. Maybe you didn’t get into any good habits when you were growing up; maybe your parents didn’t guide you to making the best money choices.

Today, you start moving on the better path. Being an adult with your money boils down to five important steps you must take.

1. Open an investing account.

Think you need a lot of money to invest? You don’t. Without investing, it’s going to be really difficult to make the dreams you have for your life come true. If you want to work every day into old age and worry about how you’re paying the bills, you can get by without investing. But if you want something better for yourself, you need to get started today.

Start with an account at Betterment. Open an account today with as little as $30. You can save up first if you need to, but make this a goal for the end of the month. Betterment will guide you through your choices and help you pick the best investment for you. There’s no need to learn everything about stocks and bonds first. There will be time for that later — but by investing as soon as possible, you don’t miss out on the best aspects of the stock market: the gains.

2. Open a high-yield savings account.

Here’s what goes in your savings account: any money you don’t invest and don’t need to use to pay bills for the next month. Don’t just walk into your bank and open an account. Look at this list of the best savings accounts. The highest interest is important because a bank is just a place to store your money. You might as well make it work the hardest it can for YOU.

The interest you earn in a savings account will compound, so this is a key to being able to smooth out the rough patches of life that you’re guaranteed to have.

3. Have the conversation.

Talking about money with a partner is stressful! Make it easier with this free cheat sheet. This index card will help you talk about money without feeling nervous or anxious. Maybe you’re afraid to admit something, or maybe you’re concerned about what your partner will think. You can get through this, and your relationship will be stronger for it. Download the free cheat sheet by entering your email address below.

4. Increase your income.

Nothing is more satisfying when you create something and are paid for it. But there are many ways to get paid. And even if you have a day job, you should be exploring all the different ways to make some money on the side. At the same time, you need to focus on getting raises and promotions early in your career, because that has a huge effect on your lifetime earnings.

Even while increasing your job income, consider taking steps to make more money elsewhere. The latest hot tip is becoming an Uber driver. If you like spending time in your car, get paid to drive people around. It beats selling your body parts.

5. Get in those good habits.

While you want to focus on your money and the progress you’re making, the more you can automate some of the more helpful tasks, the better off you’ll be. Use direct deposit so you don’t have to worry about depositing your pay check. Here are some ideas:

  • Set up an automatic transfer from your checking account to your investment account.
  • Use your bank to set up automatic online bill payment.
  • Configure your credit card to pay your bill in full every month.

Creating these habits gives you less to worry about, reduces your stress, and increases the money in your wallet when you need it.

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Financial stability is a requirement for successful adulting. Here’s how you achieve stability and recognize it when you are stable.

If financial independence is the dream, financial stability is the first adult step along the path towards that vision.

On the final day of the year, fifteen years ago, I returned home from a weekend away to find my belongings on the lawn in front of the house I was renting. (I used the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine to fact-check myself using my old, anonymous personal blog, my first time reading those entries in over a decade.)

My roommate thought I was moving out at the end of December, and when I wasn’t around, she moved two people into the room I had been occupying for several months. I had been planning to move out at the end of January, and the roommate knew this. But my name wasn’t on the lease, so perhaps she thought she could do whatever she wanted.

A later entry brought back the memory of a related event: I visited that apartment again ten days later to pick up a few remaining items, and the new occupants were moving out because that roommate committed some kind of check fraud. But I digress…

Being forced out of my living space with no notice on New Year’s Eve was the end of a particularly bad year. I lost a job, lost my car, and lost my girlfriend. I had moved to northern New Jersey for a job I no longer had. I was in my mid-twenties, but I wasn’t financially an adult. I survived by spending on credit cards, avoiding student loan bills, and accepting help from parents.

With the necessity of moving in with family as 2001 became 2002, I vowed to turn things around for myself.

I wasn’t necessarily aware of the idea of financial independence, but thankfully, that is how I can describe my situation today. In early 2002, I just wanted financial stability. And I had to figure out how to get there.

How I became financially stable.

After college, I chose a career somewhere between education and nonprofit. The organization I was working for was meant to be a stop-gap while looking for a teaching position, but I did enjoy it, and I didn’t put enough effort into moving forward. It cost me more to work as a nonprofit employee than I was earning — and I wasn’t even spending a significant amount of money.

1. I found a new job.

Instead of looking for my ideal career, my priority was earning money and getting back on my feet, taking control of my situation. Nothing is permanent. I could work on my loftier life goals while at least working somewhere during the day that would allow me the flexibility to plan for the future.

Without a car, I was limited to jobs that were accessible by walking or by traveling on the train. I turned to a technical temp agency. That’s how I earned money over breaks during college, and I knew I had many skills that would serve me well in corporate settings. I found something right away — an executive administrative assistant at a major financial firm.

This had no relation to my degree, but it was a job. And it paid 50 percent more than what I was earning at the nonprofit organization. Theoretically, I could even stay involved with the activity I was passionate about on weekends while working a “regular” job.

2. I designed a budget.

My dad helped me brainstorm a basic budget on the back of an envelope. That’s how I remember the situation. This budget had to take into account paying off a cash advance from my credit card, consumer spending on my credit card, and my student loans. I intended to move out and be less of a burden on family as soon as possible, so I budgeted for rent, as well. And savings for the future.

Partly because I wanted to stick to my budget and partly because I needed some self-reflection time to recover from bad choices, I also saved money in the first few months of my new job by staying in a fortress of solitude.

The budget was essential for setting myself up for financial stability.

3. I tracked every penny.

I used free software to meticulously track my spending, making sure I was staying within my budget and paying my bills on time.

You can only have a clear picture of where you’re going financially if you know where you are. It is incredibly easy today to get a full snapshot of your finances at any time thanks to technology. Apps communicate directly and securely with banks, so you all you need to do is check your phone to see where you stand. The app adds your bank balances and subtracts your debt, and the result is your financial net worth.

And beyond your net worth, you need to know how that changes over time, so you track your income and expenses, too. Today, I use Personal Capital and Quicken.

4. I started saving for the future.

It wasn’t enough to have a bank account whose balance was increasing every month. My new job offered a retirement plan with a matching contribution. Always say yes to a matching contribution. It’s free money.

How do you know when you’re financially stable?

To be considered financially stable — a true sign of adulting — you must meet these criteria.

  • You must be spending less than you’re earning. It doesn’t matter which side of the equation you try to improve, but it helps to focus on both your expenses and your income. You can only cut your expenses back so far — but income potential is unlimited. When you spend less than you earn, you have a surplus. The surplus allows you to have some control.
    • Living paycheck-to-paycheck — spending every penny you earn — means you have no surplus and you are not moving towards flexibility or control.
  • You don’t have to be debt-free, but you must be paying down your debt and not accumulating any more. If you’re able to make your minimum payments on your debt and then some, you’re in good shape.
  • You’re not relying on loans or gifts from family. This is the cornerstone of stability. You can make it on your own, just with your income and your expenses. It’s true that you may be in financial trouble if your income disappears, especially if you’re only beginning to establish savings, but for now, you are making it on your own.
  • You are building your future through savings and investment. Your nest egg might not be too big just yet, but it’s growing. You’re putting aside extra money to create an emergency fund and you have a systematic transfer to an investment account, preferably a low-cost index mutual fund.
  • Your friends support your goals. Don’t waste time around people who give you a hard time for being responsible. Often, when one starts acting more grown-up, the friends still wading through adolescence grow bitter. Or maybe you’re the last one to cross the threshold into actual adulthood.
    • People reach this point at different times in their lives. I wasn’t financially adulting until I was in my late twenties. Some start when they’re 40. And I’ve seen some sixteen-year-olds who are taking control of their future I never would have considered.
  • You’re moving forward steadily in your career. How you progress is often up to you, even when are faced with resistance was you’re trying to gain more responsibility, authority, and compensation at your job. You do know that often you have to accept more responsibilities before being granted more authority and increases in compensation. This type of success proceeds at different speeds, but you should always be aware of where you stand, and you make decisions that move you forward.
  • You have health insurance and you take care of yourself. Your health and well-being affect your ability to have a life of any sort in the future, so you watch your health and have an appropriate health insurance plan. You see a doctor once every one or two years, at least, if you’re otherwise healthy, and you see a dentist and dental hygienist every six months. If you need work, you get it done.
  • You pay your credit card balance in full every month. Credit cards can be great tools for people who are financially stable. They allow you to time-shift your spending, just like the DVR time-shifts The Walking Dead. They allow you to collect cash back and points that can be used for travel. But only if you avoid interest charges, late payments, and pay your balance in full every month.
    • This could be considered an “advanced technique,” and many people start messing with credit cards before they are prepared to handle the responsibilities. So watch out.

Financial independence is the next step after financial stability, but it could take a lifetime to achieve. Imagine if you no longer had to rely on your job. Imagine if you could live the life that you wanted to live, go where in the world that you wanted to go, and do anything that you wanted to do — without any concern about what the financial consequences would be.

That is financial independence. And you can’t get there without financial stability first.

Are you financially stable? If so, when did you finally achieve it?

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With a real savings or checking account, you can handle emergencies and think about the future.

I understand the objections to owning a bank account, and I share many of the concerns. But proper adulting is nearly impossible without one of these best bank accounts, like it or not.

There may be some people in modern society who live a cash-only life, but that’s going to continue to get more difficult as time goes on unless they make many other sacrifices as well.

Why you absolutely need a bank account.

A bank account may be the only thing that gets you thinking about the future. When all of your mental energy is spent worrying about how you’ll make it through the week, you have no capacity for any kind of higher-order thinking. But that concern for the future is what is going to sustain you and your family over the long term.

Are any of these goals important to you?

  • Retiring from work and enjoying life all day instead of working until you die.
  • Buying a house.
  • Being able to support your children and eliminate unnecessary barriers for them.
  • Remaining calm when an emergency means you have to spend more money than you planned, sooner than you planned.

If at least one of these sounds appealing, start considering your future needs and saving for them.

Putting money aside is the gateway to flexibility. When you have access to cash, you have more choices. You have more freedom. It is the first step. It’s not enough to just save cash in your home. While it’s not a bad idea to stash some in case of emergencies, it’s dangerous to keep too much in your home or in your hand. It’s unprotected. It’s vulnerable. It could disappear, either by somebody finding it who shouldn’t, or by spending it when it would better for it to remain untouched for later.

Money in a bank account is safe. It will not disappear. In the many years of bank accounts being insured by FDIC, no one has ever lost money in a bank account. Even when banks fail — and some did during the latest recession — every customer had access to their money. The same cannot be said for cash hiding under the mattress or sitting on the shelf in a pickle jar.

Savings means the bank is working for you. When you deposit money, you are giving the bank the right to invest even more, and they often do by granting loans to community businesses and organizations. Banks earn money on these loans, and in general, some of that is passed onto you in the form of interest. Interest rates have been low lately, but those rates will eventually improve.

In the past, banks offered savings and checking accounts for free because they were making enough money from loans. As the depositor, your money is helping the bank earn a profit. But low interest rates have changed the situation, so now customers often have to shop around to find the best deals for bank accounts, but a free account shouldn’t be too hard to find.

There’s the ugly side of banking…

7 percent of households in the United States were unbanked in 2015, and that means that more than 15 million adults and more than 7 million children do not have access to a savings or checking account.

So how are these households, plus the more than 50 million adults and 16 million children who do own savings or checking accounts but are still considered underbanked, manage their money?

They use alternative services: check cashing at special storefronts or inside other retail stores like Wal-Mart, payday loans, pawn shop loans, and auto title loans. These services are expensive and tend to take advantage of individuals who feel they have no other alternatives.

… And there’s the uglier side of banking.

Why You Need a Bank Account Right Now

Why does it seem like the traditional banking route is no longer the best way to handle finances?

There never seems to be enough money. 76 percent of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck. After taxes, every cent is spent on things that seem necessary. Often, this means rent (or mortgage payment), food for the family, and basic utilities. That’s if a paycheck is coming in at all. Living on disability, Social Security, or unemployment results in even thinner income available for necessities — if any.

This is a difficult situation, and the lack of cash flow makes a bank account seem unnecessary, even if that’s not true.

The banks don’t behave well. Every week, there’s another news story about a major financial institution taking advantage of its customers. Wells Fargo just happens to be the latest bank to be caught in a scandal, opening accounts for customers without their knowledge.

The financial industry has a powerful lobby, and they will continue to make things difficult for customers for the benefit of their shareholders, and even the shareholders lose out in the end.

Credit unions don’t run into as many problems because there are fewer conflicts of interest. Credit unions don’t have shareholders, so any profit they may have finds its way back to customers — who are members — in some form.

You may not be able to open a traditional account. I look at my debit card, and it says I’ve been a customer since 1989. That means that an account has been open in my name since I was thirteen years old. My parents opened an account for me and showed me how to use a checkbook. (Neither debit cards nor ATM cards were widely available when big hair and pastels informed the zeitgeist.)

Not everyone has the benefit of financial role models. Those lacking are slower to build credit history and positive financial skills. Without a history in the banking system it’s difficult to get approved for that first account on your own, but it’s never too late or too early to take some steps forward.

Here’s what you can do right now.

Online bank accounts are the best options. If you’re comfortable buying items from Amazon.com online, you should be comfortable banking online. It’s more safe and secure than banking in person. Unfortunately, opening a bank account online often requires that you have an existing account to transfer money. There are ways to get around this, but it’s not easy.

Let’s go right to a bank or credit union first.

Find a credit union in your town. There are seven within five miles of my apartment, and that’s a fact I discovered by using the credit union finder at A Smarter Choice. An urban neighborhood nearby has more than 14. Take any cash you’ve collected recently and bring it in. Talk to a banker about your free options for checking and savings accounts.

When you have a real bank account, you break the cycle of paycheck-to-paycheck living. You begin thinking about the future. You stop wasting money on services like check cashing and short-term loans. You set yourself up for success. You set a good example for your family, now and for future generations.

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You could embarrass yourself and cause money problems if you screw up writing a check.

Checkbooks are almost obsolete. But the old form of transferring money from one person to another is not quite ready to give up the ghost. Venmo might be fine for working out how to split the dinner check when you’re out with friends, and online bill pay definitely reduces headaches, but sometimes you have to pay a bill or put an initial payment down on a car, and you need to use a personal check.

File this under Essential Financial Skills for now. Having this skill makes you a financial bad-ass, or at least a budding financial bad-ass.

Checks come in books from companies that partner with your bank. Or you can order them separately for any checking account from independent checkbook companies. You can get fancy designs, which always cost money, or you can get a basic, traditional check design like the one I’ll use as an example here.

The fancy designs cost more. But whenever I open a new checking account, I make sure the bank will provide at least the first box of checks for free, if not free boxes of checks for the entire time I own the account.

Personal checkbooks usually have two options: single or duplicate. Duplicate checks just have special paper underneath each check that duplicates what you write so you have a record of it. That makes is easier to balance your checkbook and watch your finances.

The single checks assume you will remember what you paid, and they usually come with a check register. I always choose the duplicate checks because I find them more convenient when writing out a number of checks at a time, which I often do when I pay my bills.

Here’s an important piece of advice: Don’t write a check for money that you do not have in your checking account. Always track your finances so you know how much is available to pay. If you have $1,000 in your account and you know your $500 rent is about to be deducted from that account, you can’t write a check for $600 until you get more money.

Don’t try to beat the system thinking you’ll deposit more by the time someone cashes your check. Many checks are cashed electronically now and the money will disappear fast. It isn’t worth the overdraft fees or returned check fees.

Here’s what a typical check will look like once you’ve written it out. Take a look at this sample and the explanations below. (Someone seems to have a sizable power service bill from the Pulsar Quasar Electric & Gas company.)

Cash me at da bank, how bow dah?

Naturally, your check won’t have “VOID” and “NOT A REAL CHECK” written on it. That’s just so no one’s inclined to try to use this graphic for any other purpose than as an example.

Here are the parts of the check as labeled above, and what you need to know about each section.

  1. Your address. If you ordered checks from the bank, this should be the address on your account. If you purchased checks separately, this will be whatever address you provided when you bought them. Make sure it’s accurate. But it will not hold up your money if it is incorrect. Some companies prefer you to also include your phone number, which you can write below your address or on the memo line (area 7) if you are so inclined.
  2. The check number. You should write your checks out in numerical order as much as possible. That makes it so much easier to tell, when looking at your bank statement or activity, if someone still hasn’t cashed your check.
  3. The date. When you write a check, put that day’s date here, and spell the month name out so there’s no chance of confusion. Pre-dating a check is when you write an earlier date. That’s completely unnecessary. If the company receives the check late, it’s still late, regardless of the date that’s written on the check. Post-dating is the opposite: writing a date that’s later than the current date. Some will do this when they know a deposit is coming and they don’t have money they need to cover the check in the bank account yet. Here’s the problem: any recipient can cash a check before the date that’s written on this line. Post-dating does not protect you. You could ask nicely and maybe the recipient won’t cash or deposit the check until the date you specify, but no one is required to wait. Big companies won’t. They’ll just ignore your post-dating attempt.
  4. The name of the recipient. This will either be a person’s name or a business name. Double-check the name, including the spelling. If the name is not correct, it can cause problems for the recipient when he or she (or the business) attempts to deposit it. Fill any blank space on this line with a line. This slightly helps prevent fraud, and I like to put a line wherever there is empty space.
  5. The dollar amount of the check. Write out the amount in Arabic numerals. If there are no cents, I like drawing a line as pictured above instead of writing the double-zero in 5,722.00. This is a personal preference.
  6. The amount of the check written out. Spell out the amount of the check. If you run out of space for the cents, you can draw a horizontal line and put the amount of cents all the way to the right above the line. Put two cross marks (exes) underneath the line. (See the second example below.) You don’t need to write the word “dollars” because that is already printed on the check. The word “and” should only be used in place of the decimal point in the amount.
  7. The memo line. Write something on this line that helps the recipient identify what that payment is for — or if you use duplicate checks, you can also use the memo line for a reminder for yourself. Some companies instruct you to use this for your account number or phone number.
  8. Your signature. Paper checks are not valid without your signature. Don’t forget to sign your check before you send it away or hand it to the person or company you’re trying to pay.
  9. Bank information. The number on the left is your bank’s routing (ABA) number. The next number on the bottom line of the check is your account number. Together, these two numbers identify your account and allow a bank to process your check. You should keep these numbers private, between you and the recipient only. The third set of digits is your check number. It should match the number at the top (indicated with a “2” in the example).

Here’s an alternative example without a round dollar amount, so you can see how the cents are written both in area 5 and area 6.

You have a number of options when writing amounts, and it doesn’t really make a difference exactly how you do it, as long as the amounts are absolutely clear, and the amounts in area 5 and area 6 match exactly.

If you don’t get checks for free through your bank account, you can order blank checks from any number of companies. Some of the most recognizable are Harland Clarke, Deluxe, and Checks Unlimited, but you can find more options on Vistaprint, Costco, and any number of other services and professional printers. You can even print your own.

Someday, paper checks will likely be eliminated from the banking system completely, but that’s a long way down the road. For now, even though they’re not as necessary in everyday life, you may still need to write occasional paper checks. Now you know what you need to know.

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The controversial Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator may not be perfect, but it’s fun. What’s your type?

You’ve seen the quizzes online. You may have even completed a personality assessment. I’ve taken this test many times since I was a teenager, and I’ve always received the same result. Consistency is just as good as accuracy, right?

This test is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), or one of many adaptations. It’s designed to provide some insight to your personality type — a definition of how you tend to react in certain situations and possibly how you view the world.

Why do we care?

The test results are an effective icebreaker. When you know your type, as indicated by four letters representing four dimensions of personality traits, you have a shortcut to providing people you meet with a quick understanding of yourself. When an “INFP” meets an “ENFJ,” they each know a little bit more about each other. A little.

But it there any scientific proof that people fall into on of sixteen categories? It’s sketchy.

Does it matter? As long as you’re not using the results to guide decisions that affect people’s lives, there’s nothing wrong with a little entertainment.

This is huge in the corporate world.

The full Myers-Briggs evaluation goes into significant detail, well beyond the four assigned letters.

My work group, while I was working at an insurance company, spent two days taking the full evaluation, including “Step II,” and meeting with expert consultants to review how our personality types related to our interactions with co-workers and affected our ability to be productive for the company.

The consultants proctor a test that is supposedly more complete than the free online quizzes. They offer results that go into much deeper detail, primed for discussion about how we can all get along better in the office. Step II goes on to show how far on each dimension’s spectrum you happen to fall. For example, while I classify as “introverted,” it’s not an extreme identifier. I fall very close to the border between extraversion and introversion.

This is a lucrative industry for the Myers-Briggs Foundation, named after the two researchers who saw Carl Jung’s ideas about psychology almost a hundred years ago and dived deep into the subject (without any training in psychology — which was not as widespread a field of study as it is today).

For me the tests have been reliable, providing the same result (INFP, if you’re keeping track) time and time again, but I may have “learned” how to answer the questions in the test in such a way to produce that particular result. It’s not that hard to figure out.

Psychology Today points out that many self-evaluations like this produce unpredictable results. Its popularity endures because people like insight about themselves and others, and the MBTI conveniently categorizes (and generalizes) everyone into what appear to be sixteen distinct buckets.

The sorting hat has spoken.

Reviewing the category descriptions is like reading a horoscope or going to a fortune-teller. You’re bound to connect and resonate with some comments within your evaluation and say, “Wow! This totally sounds like me!” Here’s what one popular quiz has to say about my personality type, INFP, also known as “The Mediator” sometimes and “The Idealist” other times. “The Healer” shows up for INFP, as well.

INFP personalities are true idealists, always looking for the hint of good in even the worst of people and events, searching for ways to make things better. While they may be perceived as calm, reserved, or even shy, INFPs have an inner flame and passion that can truly shine. Comprising just 4% of the population, the risk of feeling misunderstood is unfortunately high for the INFP personality type – but when they find like-minded people to spend their time with, the harmony they feel will be a fountain of joy and inspiration.

Wow! This totally sounds like me! I have passion! I’m often calm and reserved! I always look for the good in people! I’m special and part of a select group! There’s a good chance it sounds like you, too.

INFPs like me would probably be sorted into Hufflepuff.

Here’s another:

INFPs struggle with the issue of their own ethical perfection, e.g., performance of duty for the greater cause. An INFP friend describes the inner conflict as not good versus bad, but on a grand scale, Good vs. Evil. Luke Skywalker in Star Wars depicts this conflict in his struggle between the two sides of “The Force.” Although the dark side must be reckoned with, the INFP believes that good ultimately triumphs.

Wow! This totally sounds like me! I identify with Luke Skywalker!

Of course people are going to like and share the Myers-Briggs evaluation and results. Every single one of the 16 possible personality types focuses on positive traits and makes the tester feel good!

There is not one negative comment in any of the evaluations — and in real life, there are certainly negative personality traits that get in the way of collaboration and success.

The official MBTI experts call these definitions tendencies or preferences, not hard rules, so even if the descriptions don’t exactly represent one’s personality, they can still claim accuracy. If the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is armchair psychology or even junk science, asking about someone’s type is still slightly better than asking about someone’s astrological sign. And learning anything about someone’s personality allows you to relate better to them. This is beneficial at work and helpful in your personal life.

Let’s break it down.

What's Your Myers-Briggs Personality Type?

The first letter in the MBTI can be an I or E, and this represents extraversion. Like any of the dimensions in the evaluation, you can fall anywhere on the spectrum from “totally introverted,” through “something in the middle,” to “totally extraverted.” But these words don’t mean what you think they mean. To be extraverted means you draw your energy from socialization and being around and interacting with other people. Introverted people tend to be able to interact and socialize just as well, but need time alone afterwards to recharge.

The next dimension has “intuitive” on one side of the scale and “sensing” on the other side, represented by N or S. Those who tend towards sensing rely on information provided to them through their five senses to discover truth. Intuitive people go beyond sensory stimuli, finding patterns that reveal truth when interpreted.

In the third slot, the T stands for thinking and the F stands for feeling. You might as well ask someone if they’re “left-brained” or “right-brained,” because this is the same type of categorization. How do you make decisions? If you try to rely on logic most of the time, you’re a “thinker,” but if you go with your gut, you may be a “feeler.”

Finally, subjects are categorized into buckets that depend on whether they’re evaluated as “judging” or “perceiving” (J or P). Judging does not mean judgmental, but it does represent a preference for to-do lists, schedules, and closure. People with a perceiving preference are spontaneous and like having many possibilities open.

The result is sixteen unique combinations, and each has been given “names.”

16 Myers-Briggs Personality Types

Take the test.

Keeping the limitations in mind, you can still use a test to learn a little bit about your personality and get a morale boost if you’re feeling down. Understanding yourself is one of the keys to being a successful adult. Maybe it’ll be a good conversation starter. It probably won’t fully define you.

Try this test at Psych Central. It won’t take very long.

Return here and share your personality type!

You never know when you’ll connect with someone over their personality type.

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