Tag: Banking

 

What Are Money Orders and How Do They Work?

Money orders are a popular option to send money and make payments, but unless you have used them before, money orders may seem like a foreign concept. In practice, money orders are a way to turn cash into a check without a bank account. You can get a money order from a bank, some grocery stores and big-box retailers, and even the post office! Follow along to learn more about money orders, how they work, and when you may consider using them.

What is a money order?

A money order is a financial instrument that works like a check. But unlike a personal check, a money order is considered “guaranteed funds.” This is an important distinction for some businesses. Landlords, for example, don’t want to get stuck with bounced check fees from new tenants. Requiring money orders for a deposit or first months rent, or any rent after a history of bounced checks, is relatively common when renting a home.

Money orders are typically available for amounts up to $500 or $1,000. Over that amount, you’ll need to head to the bank for a cashier’s check, a similar instrument used as a guaranteed check for larger dollar amounts. Because they are guaranteed, you’ll need to fund a money order up-front. That usually means handing over cash or swiping a debit card. Most stores will not sell a money order to someone using a credit card.

Depending on where you grew up, money orders may be unfamiliar. For the most part, this may be because money orders are more common in low-income communities. The sad reality is that low-income or low-credit renters are more likely to hand their landlord a bad check. To compensate, a large portion of the low-income community may be forced to pay extra to use money orders to protect their landlords even if they have no personal history of writing bad checks.

Money orders cost anywhere from around 50 cents to a few dollars each depending on where you buy them.

Why would I use a money order?

In most cases, you shouldn’t need to use a money order. If you already have a bank account, you can do nearly the same thing for free when you use a check. Until my late 20s, I never needed a money order for anything! When a landlord asked for my rent and deposit in money orders when I moved to Portland about five years ago, I had to do a little legwork to figure out where to even get a money order, and I used to be a bank manager! That is how rare money orders are to some people.

Other situations where you may want to use money orders, if you don’t have a checking account, would be to send money to someone in the mail. If you don’t have a bank account, you can’t send money with a free transfer or payments app, so you’ll need a non-electronic payment method. Money orders are more secure than cash, are written to a specific depositor, and don’t include your bank account number if you are looking for a safer alternative to a personal check.

These features also make money orders common for scammers. If you are ever asked for a money order by someone you don’t know in person, don’t send it or hand it over unless it is a verified, reputable business.

Where can I get a money order?

You can usually get a money order at a bank, though banks tend to charge more for money orders than some other providers. If you need a cashier’s check, your only option is a bank. You may have to go to your bank, though some banks are willing to issue money orders to non-customers with cash for a higher fee. At a bank, you should plan on paying around $5 for a money order.

Outside of the bank, the best two places to get a money order are your local Walmart store or a local United States Post Office branch. Both Walmart and the Post Office offer money orders at some of the best rates out there. Walmart charges just 70 cents for a money order up to $1,000. The post office charges $1.60 or less depending on the amount.

You can also go to a money transfer agent like Western Union or MoneyGram. You can find these types of transfer centers at many retail stores, grocery stores, pharmacies, and convenience stores. Plan on spending around $1 per money order at these locations.

A cheap way to send funds

At the end of the day, money orders act as an inexpensive option to send money. Even if you have a bank account, money orders may come in handy on occasion. For $5 or less, you can send a secure, guaranteed check. That’s what these payments are all about.


This article originally appeared on Due.com

 

Make These 3 Money Moves to Protect Your Family in 2019

With a new year comes new goals. A new year is also an ideal time to reevaluate your financial situation. Whether you are looking to pay off debt, increase your savings, or create a new budget, there are plenty of ways to improve your financial situation in 2019.

But here’s an often overlooked financial consideration that you should take into account: insurance. Security is absolutely priceless, and you never know when tragedy can strike. Are you and your family prepared?

As we move toward 2019, take the time to research insurance options to protect you and your family, To get started, here are three essential money moves to position yourself for potential emergencies and life challenges.

1. Get term life insurance

No matter who you are or what your financial situation is, life insurance is important.

According to the Life Happens 2018 Barometer survey, over 35 percent of households would feel financial impact within one month if the primary wage earner passed away. But, according to the same survey, only three in five people have their own life insurance policy or a policy through their job.

And that’s not all. According to the Life Insurance and Market Research Association, it appears that even those who do have life insurance feel insecure with their overall coverage level. Nearly 40 percent of Americans state that they wish their spouse or significant other had more life insurance coverage. In addition, more than half of married millennials would like more life insurance coverage for their spouses or partners, according to the same survey.

Where to start? Think about purchasing term life insurance. This type of insurance is relatively inexpensive for most families. It’s also easy to understand. In a nutshell, term life insurance provides coverage for an agreed-upon period – or term – of time. For example, if you should pass away during your policy period, your insurance company pays out the benefit to your designated beneficiaries. With term life insurance, you choose how long you want your policy to last. Common term lengths are 10, 20, or 30 years. Also important to note: Once the term is over, the policy expires. Yet, for an affordable price, term life insurance provides peace of mind and a financial security blanket for your family.

TIP: Check out Ladder

If you don’t currently have term life insurance, there many ways to purchase it, including through life insurance companies and insurance comparison sites. One option is the term life insurance company Ladder. Ladder makes life insurance easy because you can apply for it directly online without having to deal with insurance brokers. Ladder offers life insurance at affordable rates with a price lock guarantee. And, best of all, it only takes five minutes to apply to get insured!

2. Purchase renters or homeowners insurance

Tragedy can strike home at any time. Are you prepared?

You never know when a pipe could unexpectedly break, or your neighbor sets off the sprinkler system in your apartment building, ruining everything. Be prepared and protect yourself and your loved ones by getting homeowners or renters insurance today.

TIP: Check out Lemonade

For starters, check out Lemonade, a new type of renters and homeowners insurance that prides itself on transparent payment options and quick payment of claims. Renters insurance rates start at just $5 per month, and $25 a month for homeowners insurance. Plus, any money that you pay that doesn’t get funneled into claims will be donated to a charity of your choice. Pretty sweet (no lemonade pun intended!)

Lemonade currently offers renters, condo, and homeowners insurance in New York, California, Illinois, New Jersey, Nevada, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Arizona, Michigan, Connecticut, and Washington D.C. They offer renters and condo insurance in Texas and Rhode Island, and renters insurance only  in Iowa, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, and Arkansas. Additional states and coverages are rolling out every year.

3. Don’t forget auto insurance

Bad things happen to car owners all of the time – and it can cost you an arm and a leg, even if you are not at fault. Even one small accident, like getting rear-ended, can cost you thousands of dollars if you don’t have the appropriate insurance.

Fortunately, car insurance can put your mind at ease during or after an accident. It can also be expensive. In fact, the average annual cost of car insurance paid in the United States was more than $941 in 2018, according to a study by ValuePenguin. And, depending on where you live, your state could be one of the more costly ones. Louisiana takes the medal for the state with the highest car insurance rate, costing insured residents an average of $152 a month. That’s $1,824 a year – ouch!

TIP: Check out Root

Luckily, insurance companies like Root are on a mission to make car insurance more cost-effective. Instead of just basing your rate on your driving record, Root uses an app to track your driving. Your real-time driving habits then determine your rate. If you are a responsible driver, you’ll receive a better quote. Because of this, you can save as much as 52 percent on car insurance with Root.

Give yourself the gift of security

You certainly can’t put a price-tag on security. You also shouldn’t have to spend a ton of dough to feel financially stable. So, this year, save money and protect yourself and your loved ones by making sure you have insurance.

 

If You Love Chime, Check Out These Three Other Fintech Apps

Back in the day, our parents relied on checkbooks and investment advisors to manage their money. Thankfully, these days we’ve got something a lot more convenient: our smartphones. These handy devices are smart enough to put a man on the moon, and that means they’re smart enough to help you reach your financial goals, too.

If you use Chime Bank’s mobile app, you’re already one step ahead of the game. Yet, there are also other apps out there that can help you manage your money and save up for future financial goals. Whether your goals are to save for retirement or take a great vacation, these apps will help you stay on track and sock more money away into your bank account. Check them out:

Metromile

Is your car mainly a grocery-getter? Do you take public transportation to work? If so, you may be overpaying for your car insurance.

That’s because traditional car insurance is typically paid for via monthly premiums that don’t factor in how much you actually drive. And if you don’t drive much, the per-mile cost of your insurance might be quite high.

Metromile gets around this conundrum by only charging you a low base rate (so your car is still covered even if it’s parked for a while), followed by a per-mile charge for each mile you drive per day. It gets sent this amount wirelessly from a small device you plug into your car’s OBD-II port.

The Metromile app is the hub to find out all sorts of other car information as well. For example, it provides useful features like a gas mileage tracker. It also alerts you with street sweeping notifications and when your car’s warning lights come on. Oh, and if you go on a road trip? No worries — Metromile only charges you for the first 250 miles you drive in a day.

Lemonade

Normally, getting any kind of insurance is a painful, expensive process. That’s because a lot of insurance companies are set in their antiquated, bureaucratic ways.

But what if you could purchase your insurance — and file claims — cheaply and easily with a well-designed app? You’re in luck. You can do this with Lemonade. With the Lemonade app, you can get a custom quote for renters and homeowners insurance by answering a few simple questions. If you like the quote, you can purchase the insurance through the app. And if you ever need to place a claim or ask questions, you can also do so right through the app.

Aside from its app-based insurance model, Lemonade is different from traditional insurance companies in that it’s a public benefit corporation. Its business model works like this: It takes out a flat fee from your payments, and pools the rest into a pot for paying out claims. At the end of the year, any of your leftover premiums go towards a charity that you select, rather than back toward Lemonade’s profits.

In this manner, the company hopes that fraudulent claims will be limited, as customers know that any unpaid amounts go towards charity versus the company’s coffers. This limitation of claims fraud — and a drive to help charities rather than focusing solely on profits — means that Lemonade can offer renters and homeowners insurance at a lower price than many old-school insurance companies.

Worthy

You’ve probably heard of Acorns, the app that rounds up your spare change and invests it into the stock market for you. But have you heard of Worthy?

Worthy operates on a similar principal. Each time you spend some money, the app rounds it up to the next dollar amount and calculates the difference. Except instead of investing that difference in the stock market, Worthy instead invests the money in bonds, earning a smokin’ hot 5% interest rate.

So, for example, if you buy a pint of beer at your local brewery for $5.50, that purchase will be rounded up to $6 and the extra $0.50 will be deposited into your Worthy account. When your balance reaches $10, it triggers an automatic purchase of a $10 bond. Then, when you’re ready, you can cash out your balance at any time. The entire process is run through Worthy’s spiffy app.

If investing in the stock market makes you a bit leery, this may be a more ease-inducing option for you since the bonds earn a flat 5% interest rate. Remember, though, bonds aren’t FDIC-insured like a savings account at a bank. At the same time, they are generally considered less risky investments than stocks.

What’s your favorite fintech app?

We’ve been seeing an explosion in fintech apps in the past few years, and frankly, we’re really excited about it. Having an app that can speak your language on your own terms is more likely to keep you engaged and interested in managing your money.

These three fintech apps are some of our favorites, but there are tons more out there. We challenge you: Go forth and find which fintech apps you prefer for your individual situation. Your wallet will thank you down the road!

 

Why You Should Spend With Your Debit Card vs. Credit Card This Holiday Season

The holiday season is approaching and you know what that means — spending money. Whether it’s buying gifts for loved ones or booking flights to travel home, the holiday season typically means a spike in spending for many of us.

And, because you may spend more than at other times of the year, you’re probably going to use credit cards. But, did you know that while credit cards offer some cool rewards like cash back, using your debit card is often a wiser choice? Read on to learn why.

1. You spend only what you have

Everyone wants to think they’re responsible with credit and only buy what they can afford. Well, a lot of people are wrong. According to a 2017 study by Magnify Money, 68 percent of consumers attributed their holiday debt to credit cards.

Of the consumers surveyed, 44 percent racked up more than $1,000 and five percent accumulated more than $5,000 in credit card balances. More disturbing is the fact that half of those consumers noted that it will take more than three months to pay off the debt they accrued during the holidays. That’s more than a quarter of the entire year!

When you use a debit card, however, you spend only what you have in your bank account. And, this helps you become more mindful and realistic about your budget. Using a debit card during the holiday season can also help you avoid fees and that dreaded holiday credit card debt.

2. You don’t have to worry about making another payment

The holiday season can make the most organized person run around like a headless chicken. Everyone’s schedule seems packed to the brim and there’s always something else added to the to-do list (Think: “Buy white elephant gift for the company party.”)

When you’re so busy, some of your normal day-to-day duties can fall to the wayside. And, if you don’t have auto-pay set up, you can potentially miss a credit card payment. Another common problem during the busy holiday season: You say you’ll “do it later” and then when you remember to pay your bill, it’s late.

When you use a debit card, however, you don’t have to add anything else to your to-do list – including making yet another payment. The money comes straight from your bank account and you don’t have to do a thing.

3. A debit card is free to use

One of the biggest perks with using credit cards is the rewards, like cash-back and airline miles. But oftentime the best rewards cards come with an annual fee and the conversion on the rewards isn’t as great as you think. In many cases, miles are literally worth about a penny per mile or less.

So, you may actually be spending your money on an annual fee, high interest rates, late fees, and more – without getting much in return.

Here’s where debit cards take center stage. Debit cards are free and can help you avoid debt.

4. Your debit card can help you save

At Chime, we’re all about helping you save money when you spend money. It’s all about balance. Am I right?

With this in mind, check out Chime’s round-up savings program, where every time you use your debit card, we round-up the purchase to the nearest dollar and put it into your Savings Account. This way you can effortlessly save and know that you’re being financially responsible at the same time.

5. Stop fraud instantly

There are no two ways about it: Fraud can be rampant during the holiday season. A lot of credit card enthusiasts think this is a solid reason to use credit over debit.

But, your debit card can offer protections that are similar to your credit card. For example, if you suspect any fraudulent uses on your Chime card or your card goes missing, you can simply go into the app and immediately put a halt on purchases by disabling transactions. No need to stay on a long customer service line (who wants to talk on the phone?!) and no need for lengthy emails. Just put a stop to it, now.

Not only that, but Chime alerts you any time you use your debit card. So, if your debit card get into the wrong hands, you’ll know right away.

Bottom line

The holiday season should be a time of joy and fun, not stress and debt.

Using debit instead of credit can help you keep your spending in check, plus you’ll have one less thing to worry about. So, this holiday season: Try spending only what you have and enjoy the season with family and friends. It sure beats worrying about money!

 

How to Avoid Black Friday Fails

It’s no surprise that heavy-duty spending over the holidays is a major budget-buster. In fact, in 2017, Americans racked up an average of over $1,000 in holiday debt, according to a survey by MagnifyMoney.

And, perhaps the biggest contributor to this debt hangover is Black Friday. While seemingly innocuous, if you’re not careful, going overboard with end-of-year deals can put a serious dent in your bank account. Plus, you run the risk of spending more than you can afford or buying something you simply don’t need.

Take it from us: Going on a sales-fueled spending spree during Black Friday isn’t the best way to kick off the holidays. Here are some ways to avoid Black Friday fails:

Check the Money in Your Account

I personally avoid Black Friday like the plague. There’s no better sale than not spending money in the first place. But I get it. Let’s say you’ve been holding out for that shiny new laptop or gadget all year long. Black Friday or its equally evil cousin, Cyber Monday, may be the best time to purchase it.

If you must spend on these deal days, start by checking on how much money is sitting in your bank account—and how much you can safely spend. Look for surprise pockets of savings, such as money you have stashed away in your automatic savings account via a mobile banking app, or cash you’ve put into a savings goal bucket on your money saving app.

Stick to a List

Just like sticking to a list while grocery shopping can help you stay within your budget, you’ll want to create a shopping list before Black Friday. Otherwise you’ll be lured by the mountain of promotional emails landing in your inbox.

If it helps, make two separate lists: items you’ll purchase for gifts, as well things you’d like to buy for yourself.

Create a Budget

Next, gauge how much you can reasonably spend on Black Friday. Will you be purchasing stuff just for you, or for holiday gifts?

Figure out how much you have available to spend over the holidays. And don’t forget to factor in your expenses like holiday-related travel, attire for holiday work parties, gift wrap, gift cards, food for gatherings, and presents.

Do Your Research

Before you click “buy” during Black Friday or Cyber Monday, make sure you’re actually getting a good deal.

A lot of retailers may use “anchoring,” which shows the discounted price against the actual price. This gives consumer the illusion that an item is a bargain, when in fact it isn’t. To avoid bogus deals, do a bit of price comparison beforehand. There are a handful of price comparison websites, like PriceGrabber and Cyber Monday, that can help you find the best price for practically any item in existence. You may discover that the “killer mega Black Friday deal” you’re excited about isn’t actually netting you the best price. Bottom line: Shop smart.

Figure Out the Value Add

If you’re buying something for yourself, make sure the item adds value to your life in some way. This way you’re not spending money frivolously.

My partner said it best when he said that commitments are easy to fall into, but hard to get out of. And whether you like it or not, you have a commitment to the stuff you buy. So, let’s say that you buy a guitar at a huge discount. Once you do this, you’re held accountable for playing that thing. Or else you’ll just hear a nagging voice inside your head whispering “you should probably pick up that guitar.” That’s a slight mental anguish you’re probably better off not dealing with in the first place.

Figure Out the Cost-Use Ratio

When I’m quibbling over whether to buy something or not, I figure out how many times I need to use that item for it to be worth the price. For instance, let’s take a $50 pair of shoes purchased last year as an example. In my book, if I wore those shoes at least 10 times, they would have paid for themselves.

While there’s no perfect science to this, it’s important that you place a value on your item and make sure it’s worth purchasing to begin with. For instance, I could care less how many times I use a dish sponge before it goes into the trash. But for high-value items? I care. I spent $300 on a pair of boots last year. While this seems pricey, I wear them practically everyday. I got my money’s worth.

Don’t Waste Your Time

Time is money. And what’s more important, your precious time is a finite resource. You could be spending your time side hustling, with the fam bam, or having a leisurely, “do-nothing” afternoon.

So, if you see an inexpensive item you want to buy, just do it and don’t feel stressed out or guilty about it. Why shop around for a better price on two dollar dish towels? Um, not worth it.

Avoid Major Fallout

To avoid major Black Friday fails, you just need a little forethought and prep work. Sure, spending is a lot of fun, but you need boundaries – otherwise you may suffer from a regrettable case of holiday debt hangover once sale season subsides.

Instead, take a look at the tips here and shop wisely. You’ll be surprised by how much money you’ll save when you just make a few simple changes.

 

How to Save on Utilities (and Still Have Fun) Over the Holidays

How to Save on Utilities (and Still Have Fun) Over the Holidays

The holidays are all about spending quality time with those you care about and spreading good cheer.

There’s just one little snag. Between stringing up lights, baking your favorite holiday treats and turning up the heat to fight off the winter chill, your utility bills can easily skyrocket. This may leave your bank account feeling the pinch, especially when you’re also spending money on things like gifts, entertainment and holiday travel.

In fact, the average person plans to spend $1,250 on holiday-related expenses, according to PwC’s 2018 Holiday Outlook. What to do? As you head into the holidays, try these tips to help you lower your utility costs.

Go LED for Holiday Lighting

Instead of sticking with your traditional outdoor holiday lights, consider making the switch to LED this year. Compared to regular incandescent bulbs, LED lights use at least 75% less energy, which means a lower electric bill for you.

“Set the lights on a timer, that way it’s one less thing on your plate,” says Sara Skirboll, shopping and trend expert at coupon and deal site RetailMeNot.

You can also use LED lights to save money inside your home when you’re hosting holiday get-togethers.

Arthur Smith, editor of LEDwatcher.com, a solar and LED lighting blog, says smart LED bulbs can save you money and set the mood for holiday entertaining.

“Smart LED bulbs are extremely versatile, because you can not only change the color of the light they emit, but also the intensity of the light, and when hosting a holiday party, bright lights aren’t always the best way to go,” he says.

And, here’s another pro tip: Skirboll says you can always skip the lights altogether and use candles for interior lighting.

“You get the same glow but at no additional cost to you, a win-win situation,” she says.

If you plan to do this, just make sure you are familiar with basic candle safety rules so holiday celebrations don’t turn into a fire hazard.

Invest in a Programmable Thermostat

Managing utility costs over the holidays and the winter months can be tough if you’re dealing with fluctuating temperatures or entertaining more often.

Josh Savage, owner of Hero Heating, Plumbing & Cooling in Minneapolis, Minnesota, says installing a programmable thermostat is one of the best ways to save on heating costs. You can set the thermostat to turn the heat down automatically at night or during the day when you’re at work or doing your holiday shopping.

Programmable thermostats can cost between $20 and $150, while smart models that connect to your smartphone can run upwards of $300. If you don’t have the cash in savings to swing it, try to get into the habit of turning the heat down before you go to bed or head out for the day.

Savage has a bonus tip for saving on utility costs during the holidays: “Turn the thermostat down before any holiday gatherings or parties.”

This works particularly well if you have people coming over and you’ll be doing a lot of cooking that generates heat, he says.

“Oftentimes people will end up opening a window to cool things back off, and that can be a waste of heat and money,” says Savage.

Use Smart Power Strips

If you’re plugging your Christmas tree and holiday lights into a power strip, consider upgrading to smart versions to save on utility costs.

“Most electronics use electricity even when they’re turned off,” says Jill Caponera, consumer savings expert at PromoCodes.com.

This creates a “vampire load” effect, which adds up to an average cost of $200 per year.

“Smart power strips turn off the power to electronics when they’re not in use, and can be set to turn off at specific times or during times of inactivity,” Caponera says.

Opt for Potluck When Planning Holiday Meals

Matthias Alleckna, an energy industry analyst and creator of energy cost comparison site Energyrates.ca, says that if you’re planning a holiday dinner, make it a group effort.

“The less time you spend cooking, the more money you save,” since you’re not running your stove, oven or other appliances as often, says Alleckna.

To make coordinating potluck dinners easier, use an app like Perfect Potluck or Meal Train to keep track of who’s bringing what. If you need to reimburse anyone for last-minute purchases, like a couple of bottles of wine or extra napkins, you can use the “Pay Friends” feature through your Chime mobile banking app to pay them back.

Simply log into your Chime app, select the “Move Money” tab, click “Transfers” and select “Pay Friends”. Plug in your friend’s name, phone number or email, the amount you want to send and complete the transfer.

Know Your Peak Energy Hours

Your electric company may rate your energy use differently throughout the day, so check with your utility company to see if they have a time-of-use schedule, says Sophie Kaemmerle, neighborhood expert for background check platform Neighbor Who.

You may be charged more for energy during peak hours so it pays to know when the cheapest times of day are.

“Most utility companies offer discounts if you run major appliances, like washers, dryers and dishwashers at off hours,” Kaemmerle says.

Typically off hours are after 7 p.m. This means that waiting until after dark to turn on holiday lights, do the laundry or bake up a batch of gingerbread cookies can help you save money on your electric bill.

Spread the Energy Savings

While you’re cutting down your own energy use over the holidays, give your friends and family a hand as well by purchasing energy-efficient gifts, says Alleckna. If you’re not sure whether a gift is energy-efficient, check for the Energy Star sticker. You can find it on things like computers, appliances, DVD players, TVs and phones.

“Energy Star-rated products use up to 60% less energy than standard ones, which can represent a lot of money at the end of the day,” says Neighbor Who’s Kaemmerle.

Bank on Lower Utility Costs During the Holidays

High utility bills can lead to a holiday hangover and that’s not how you want to start off the new year.

Using one (or all) of these tips in your daily routine can help you cut down on your energy usage during the holidays and beyond. And remember: The more money you save on energy, the more cash you’ll have to spend on holiday fun.

 

10 Ways To Save Money Now For 2018 Holiday Shopping Season

The holiday shopping season is rapidly approaching and this may leave you feeling just a tad bit stressed about everything you need to buy. With a mounting list of gifts for your partner, your nieces and nephews, and of course, those white elephant presents for the company holiday party – it’s enough to make your head spin.

“How can I afford all this?” you may wonder. One way to ease the stress is to sock money away now for your holiday shopping. Here are 10 ways to start saving money today.

1. Automate your savings

Don’t rely on willpower alone to get you started. Instead, automate your savings and set up automatic withdrawals from your checking account to your savings account. This way you’ll grow your savings account every time you get paid. Even if it’s just $20 a month, this will still help you boost your savings. Plus, if you’re a Chime member you can automatically save 10 percent after every payday, and you can save even more by taking advantage of Chime’s round up program.

2. Create a budget

A lot of overspending and holiday debt happens because consumers haven’t created a budget and adequately prepared for the holiday season. So, come up with a holiday shopping budget and work backwards on meeting that goal. For example, if you need to save $1,000 and have two months to do this, try to save $500 per month.

3. Use coupons

Before you buy anything, you should always check to see if there are any coupons you can use to lower the price. But don’t worry, you don’t need to scour the newspaper and get out the scissors! You can use Honey, a program that automatically applies coupons to your online shopping cart. You can also check out sites like RetailMeNot to find coupons and deals.

4. Look for holiday bargains

During the holiday shopping season, retailers often tout great deals and sales. You can check out sites like UncommonGoods.com, Overstock.com and OrientalTrading.com for some sweet holiday deals, as well as unique gift ideas. For other sites, it can pay to do your research ahead of time to see what holiday bargains you can score. A little research can go a long way to helping you save money!

5. Cut out one thing

One of the best ways to save money is to eliminate something from your budget. If you’re saving money for holiday shopping, you may think you need to take drastic measures. But that’s not realistic and can backfire! Instead, focus on one thing you can cut out until the holidays roll around. For example, can you give up Starbucks from now until the holidays? Can you go on a restaurant ban until Christmas? Find something in your budget that is a “want” and cut it out. It’s only temporary. This will free up some money for you to spend on your gifts.

6. Save on shipping

Shopping online can certainly make your life easier. But shipping costs can add up quickly. Before buying anything online, check out sites like RetailMeNot to see if there are free shipping codes available. Of course, you don’t want to spend extra money just to get free shipping, but if you have a large shopping list, these free shipping codes make sense.

7. Use cash or your debit card

After creating a budget for your holiday shopping, this will give you a sense of how much you can afford to spend. In order to stick to this budget, consider using cash or a debit card when shopping. This way you can avoid holiday debt and spend only what you have available in your bank account.

8. Start early

When you’re rushing and things are last-minute, it’s easy to make mistakes and pay for convenience. Yet, aside from budgeting money, it’s important to budget time too. Going to the mall on December 23rd, for example, can lead to stress and you may end up paying more just so you can quickly get out of the stores. And, if you’re shopping online, you may be forced to pay a lot more for express shipping, instead of paying a fraction of that for standard shipping. So, give yourself the gift of time so you can save money.

9. Put it off the ‘gram

You know all those great group photos you took and put on the ‘gram? Get it off the ‘gram and go to your local Walgreens to print out those photos. You can get an affordable frame and voila: affordable gift. For about $5, I got a photo printed and a frame at the local dollar store and had a cute gift for my family. It was meaningful and a nice keepsake. Remember, sometimes simple is better!

10.  Buy gift cards at a discount

A 2017 survey by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics found that gift cards continue to be popular gifts. The survey found that 59 percent of consumers planned to give a gift card, and gift card spending was projected to be a whopping $27.6 billion dollars. One of the best tips to save money on gift cards is to buy them at a discount. Check out sites like CardPool.com and Raise.com to score gift cards at discounted rates.

Bottom line

Want some of the best ways to save money during the holidays? Use these 10 tips to help you stay on track. These money saving ideas will help you stick to you budget and avoid holiday debt.

And remember: While the holidays can be stressful, starting to save and prepare now can help you get through the season without the added financial stress.

 

7 Simple Ways to Improve Your Credit Score

Unless you possess a magic wand or supernatural powers, improving your credit score isn’t something you can do in the blink of an eye. But here’s the good news: a better credit score is in reach — it just takes a little planning to get there.

What if you don’t have time to monitor your credit and finances every second of the day? No problem. Follow these 7 tips for a better credit score, with minimal hassle.

1. Open a Chime Account

An estimated 62 million Americans have a thin credit file, according to Experian. This means that they don’t have enough credit history to generate a credit score.

If you have no credit history at all, you’ll have to start somewhere. Opening a Chime account can help. You can open a checking and savings account by downloading the Chime mobile app. From there, you can set up an automatic deposit to savings. This will help you grow a cash cushion that you can use as a deposit for a secured credit card. This deposit doubles as your credit limit. You make purchases with your new card and your account activity shows up on your credit report.

According to Jill Caponera, consumer savings expert at PromoCodes.com, this can help you build your credit with one caveat: Make sure “you’re paying more than the minimum balance due and submitting your payments on time.”

2. Automate Your Bill Payments

Payment history accounts for the largest share of your credit score. And, putting bill payments on autopilot can help you avoid late payments, which can cost you major credit score points.

“Automating your bill payments can be super helpful, especially if you’re forgetful, busy or something unexpected happens,” says James Garvey, CEO and co-founder of credit-building app Self Lender.

Garvey knows about this first-hand. He launched the app after several late payments seriously dinged his credit score. “I was surprised such a simple mistake could have such a big impact,” he says.

3. Use Alerts to Manage Due Dates and Balances

If you don’t want to automate, you can stay on top of payment due dates by scheduling payment alerts for your credit cards and loans. When you get an alert, you can then set up a payment.

To schedule bill payments from your Chime spending account, log in to the Chime mobile banking app, navigate to the Move Money section, then choose Pay Bills from the drop down menu. You can schedule Chime Checkbook payments, or set up direct debit payments by providing billers with your Chime deposit account number and bank routing number.

Alerts can help you keep track of your balances and how much of your available credit you’re using. In other words, alerts can help you manage another aspect of your credit score: credit utilization.

“Credit utilization ratio is the amount of available credit you’re using,” says Randall Yates, CEO of mortgage marketplace The Lender’s Network.

“The lower your credit card balances, the higher your score will be,” says Yates.

4. Increase Your Credit Limits

Paying down your balances can free up available credit and improve your utilization ratio. But, debt payoff can take time.

Bumping up your credit card limits may be a faster way to see score improvement. The trick is to avoid charging up to your new credit limit. Garvey says a good rule of thumb is to try to keep your credit usage at 30% of your total limit or less.

“Assuming you have a good payment history, asking for a credit limit increase can be a good way to lower your credit utilization ratio, which can positively impact your credit score,” Garvey says.

5. Sign Up for Free Credit Monitoring

Free credit monitoring services, like those offered by Credit Sesame and Credit Karma, can help you keep tabs on your credit history as you work towards improving your score. You can also get a free credit report every 12 months from the three major credit bureaus at Annual Credit Report.

Monitoring your credit can help inform you of errors or inaccuracies on your credit report. For example, you can spot any changes to your credit report and therefore figure out what’s contributing to up and down movements in your credit score, says Nathalie Noisette, founder of credit counseling service Credit Conversion.

6. Dispute Credit Report Errors If You Find Them

An incorrectly reported balance or inaccurate gaps in your payment history can hurt your score in a big way.

You can, however, do something about errors by disputing them with the credit bureau that’s reporting the information. Noisette says she’s worked with clients that have seen their scores increase by 30 to 50 points after successfully disputing an error. If you’re not sure where to start with a credit report dispute, the Federal Trade Commission has a handy guide you can follow.

7. Pay Off Your Cards but Don’t Close Your Accounts

If you’ve successfully zeroed out the balance on one or more of your credit cards, you’ve definitely earned the right to a victory dance. Just don’t shut your account down completely if you’re trying to improve your credit score.

“Doing so could have a negative impact on your credit, as it will lower your available credit limit and raise your credit utilization ratio,” Caponera says.

And, if you end up needing a credit card down the road, you may have to apply for a new one, which could hurt your score since inquiries for credit shave off a few points each time.

The better option? Keep the card open and use it to make a small purchase every month, then pay off the balance, Yates says. This keeps the account active so your credit card company doesn’t shut it down and it’s an easy way to continue your positive payment history streak.

Improving Your Credit Score Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated

Raising your credit score doesn’t involve any secret formulas or hacks. It’s all about patience and knowledge. It’s key to know which habits have the most impact on your score, such as paying bills on time and keeping your credit card balances low.

By following the tips here, you can put positive habits into regular practice and watch your credit score improve over time.

 

8 Free Apps to Download Before Holiday Shopping Begins

Although you’ve probably just had your first pumpkin spice latte of the year, stores are going to start playing Christmas carols any day now.

That means the holiday shopping season is officially underway. Whether that fills you with excitement or dread, one thing’s certain: Mobile apps can help you prepare for — and maybe even crush — your gift-giving efforts.

“Using tech during holiday shopping is huge for me,” says Collin Morgan, founder of savings blog Hip2Save. “It helps me get the best gifts at the best prices, all while keeping my budget in check.”

Wondering what apps you should download? Here are 8 money-saving apps that will prepare you for a productive and affordable holiday shopping season.

1. Santa’s Bag

Before it comes time to check your gift list twice, use Santa’s Bag to create your shopping list and note all of your gift ideas, as well as your budget.

“I like to start by getting my spending game plan together with budgeting apps,” says Morgan. “It takes the stress out of figuring out my funds last minute.”

Once you’ve completed your purchases for someone, you can use the app to record the gifts and their cost. The app will display who is still on your list and how much you have left to spend.

Download Santa’s List on iOS. If you have an Android device, Christmas Gift List is a similar app.

2. Chime

Writing out your gift list will reveal how much spending money you’ll need — and, in turn, how much you’ll need to save.

To break down your savings goal, divide your total gift budget by the number of weeks until your chosen holiday (or until the applicable credit card bill will be due). The result is how much you should save each week. If your gift budget is $500, for example, and you have seven weeks until Christmas, you’ll need to save $71 per week.

As we all know, however, saving is easier said than done. So we recommend using an automatic savings tool like the one available through Chime’s banking app.

Designate how much you’d like to save each week, and Chime will move that money from your checking account to a separate savings account. Using this strategy, you can be confident you’ll have saved enough money by the time the holidays roll around.

Download on iOS / Android

3. ShopSavvy

Picture this: you’re standing in an electronics store, and you see a laptop that’s 50 percent off. Is it really a good deal? Or just good marketing?

The ShopSavvy app will help you find the answer: Simply scan an item’s barcode, and the app will compare prices online and at nearby brick-and-mortar stores. It will also display information from its parent site TopTenReviews. This will help you determine whether that laptop is worth your hard-earned dough.

Based on app reviews, ShopSavvy sometimes has bugs. If you find glitches while using it on your device, then download the Amazon app instead. Although this route will only compare prices on Amazon.com, it will still glean the most competitive prices. Morgan, who’s a fan of the app, says: “Many stores will match Amazon’s prices, too.”

Just remember that prices shouldn’t be the sole factor when deciding where to make your purchases. Shopping locally, even if prices are slightly higher, is an excellent way to support your community and small business owners.

Download on iOS / Android

4. Google Maps

Google Maps beats Apple Maps every time. And, as it turns out, you can use it for more than navigation.

Sarah Hollenbeck, shopping and retail expert at BlackFriday.com, notes that Google Maps can be a handy holiday shopping assistant.

“If used correctly, it can be your best friend come brick-and-mortar shopping needs,” she says.

“You can easily save your parking location in the app, preventing a long search for your car in the crowded mall parking lot. You can also use it to check crowds in individual stores in real-time.”

Download on iOS / Android

5. Slickdeals

So, your daughter really wants an Xbox for Christmas… but it costs way more than you’re willing to spend.

While deciding whether you’ll just opt for a nice board game instead, why not at least track the Xbox’s price? Using the Slickdeals app, you can create a “Deal Alert” that will notify you if the price decreases.

To track prices on Amazon specifically, you can use the Chrome browser extension camelcamelcamel.

Download on iOS / Android

6. Raise

Raise, which allows you to buy and sell discounted gift cards, is useful for holiday shopping in several ways:

  • You can sell your unused gift cards so you have extra cash to buy gifts
  • You can buy discounted gift cards for stores you know you’ll shop at
  • You can purchase discounted gift cards to give as gifts (before sending, you should reload to create even balances: from $46.39 to $50, for example)

“I use [Raise] every time I’m waiting on a checkout line,” says Adrienne Girard, copy chief at O, The Oprah Magazine, which publishes a range of holiday shopping content.

“It’s so easy — in under a minute I can look up the store I’m in, estimate what my total at the register might be, and buy a discounted gift card worth almost that amount.”

By the time she gets to the cashier, the credit will have loaded, and she can show its barcode to pay for her purchase. She’s used this strategy at stores like Bed Bath & Beyond, Nordstrom, and Sephora.

Though Girard only saves a small percentage using this shopping strategy, every little bit adds up. Since 2016, she has saved $76.

“When waiting in line, I might as well use my phone to save a couple dollars instead of scrolling through social media over and over,” she says.

Download on iOS / Android

7. RetailMeNot

While you’ve hopefully used RetailMeNot to find online coupon codes before, did you know you can use it when shopping in person, too? The mobile app reveals deals and coupons at stores near you, and also offers the opportunity to earn cash back.

Even if RetailMeNot’s app isn’t the right fit for you, alternatives abound.

For in-store shopping, Carson Kohler, a staff writer at personal finance site The Penny Hoarder, says: “I’ve been a long-time fan of Ibotta — whether I’m ordering from Amazon or gifting an experience like flights or hotels. Also, I always check the Target app and JOANN app for coupons and savings.”

For online shopping, you can also try Honey, which automatically finds and applies eligible coupon codes. Another option: Invisible Hand, which works in the background while you’re browsing and alerts you if it finds lower prices elsewhere.

Download on iOS / Android

8. Charity Navigator

If you’d like to opt out of the consumer frenzy this year, or would simply like to include charitable giving in your plans, then this app is a must-download.

Charity Navigator performs in-depth analyses of nonprofit organizations across the United States, rating them based on financial health, transparency and accountability. When you select one of its highly-rated charities, you can feel confident your money is going to a good cause.

Charitable donations also make great gifts. If you’re stumped on what to buy for the person who has everything, contributing to a charity that aligns with their values might be the best gift of all.

Download on iOS / Android

It’s Time to Deck the Halls…With Apps

No matter which apps you choose to download this holiday season, be sure to check out all the available options.

“Using technology while shopping is no longer an option, it’s a necessity,” explains BlackFriday.com’s Hollenbeck.

“To save money, consumers need to be smarter — and that means taking advantage of every possible deal.”

 

Everything You Need to Know About a Secured Credit Card

A credit card can make paying bills or shopping for the holidays super convenient. But getting approved for one isn’t always a lock if you don’t have years of responsible credit use under your belt.

According to Experian, 62 million Americans have a thin credit file. Essentially, this means that they don’t have enough information on their credit report to calculate a credit score. Experian also found that 37 percent of Americans have credit scores that put them in the fair or very poor borrower category. And, a poor credit score can indeed can lower your odds of getting approved for a credit card.

Fortunately, you’re not completely shut out of the credit card game if you have thin or poor credit. Secured credit cards can give you purchasing power, while also helping you build your credit score.

What’s a Secured Credit Card?

It’s simple. A secured credit card is a card that requires you to offer up a cash deposit as collateral. The deposit is an insurance policy for the credit card company in case you default on paying back your balance.

The amount of the deposit varies, depending on the card. Typically, your deposit doubles as your credit limit. So, if you open a secured credit card account with a $500 deposit, your credit limit would be $500.

As you make purchases against that limit, your available credit shrinks. There are some secured credit cards that allow you to put down a smaller initial deposit. Some also let you increase your credit limit by adding to your deposit after opening your account.

But Wait…What Happens to Your Deposit?

After you make your deposit, the credit card company holds onto it. There are two ways you can get it back.

The first way to get your deposit back is to graduate to an unsecured credit card. Your credit card company may review your secured card account periodically. If you’ve established a record of using your card responsibly, it may switch you to an unsecured card. In that case, your deposit is refunded.

The other way to get it back is to close your account. But, you’d have to pay off your balance first. Otherwise, the credit card company could keep part or all of your deposit as payment.

Secured Credit Cards vs. Unsecured Credit Cards

The biggest difference between secured credit cards and unsecured cards is the cash deposit, mentioned earlier. Unsecured credit cards don’t require one.

Secured cards and unsecured cards work the same in terms of how you use them. When you make a purchase with an unsecured card, your credit limit is reduced by that amount. Your available credit increases when you make a payment.

Whether a card is secured or unsecured doesn’t matter to the credit reporting bureaus. Your account activity can still show up on your credit reports.

Building Credit With a Secured Credit Card

Secured credit cards can be a great starter option when you’re trying to establish your credit score. They’re also helpful for rebuilding credit if your score takes a serious hit because of something like bankruptcy or foreclosure.

FICO credit scores, which are most often used by lenders, are based on five factors:

  • Payment history (35%)
  • Amounts owed (30%)
  • Length of credit history (15%)
  • Applications for new credit (10%)
  • Types of credit used (10%)

That’s pretty straightforward. So how do you use a secured credit card to build (or rebuild) your score?

It’s all about your habits. Based on those five factors, the two most important things you can do with your secured card are:

  • Pay your bill on time each month
  • Keep a low balance

Making sure you pay on time is as easy as scheduling payments through the Chime mobile banking app. You just need to give your credit card company your Chime Spending Account number and routing number to set up an ACH payment.

Staying on top of your balance is simple too if your secured card has an alert feature. This lets you set a balance threshold you want to stay under. The alert lets you know when you’re getting close to that amount and this way you can pause any new charges.

Those are two easy peasy ways to give your credit score a boost. Another pro tip: The longer your account stays open, the longer your credit history grows. This can also help your score.

Using other types of credit, like a personal loan, is another way to boost your credit. Just don’t go overboard applying for new credit, since inquiries can take a few points away from your score.

Secured Credit Card APR and Fees

Every secured credit card is different when it comes to the fees and APRs they charge. Here’s a good rule of thumb to remember: lower credit scores usually equate to higher interest rates. If you’re starting from scratch with credit, you may be looking at a higher APR.

Remember, secured cards can come with more than one APR, and you may have different APRs for:

  • Purchases
  • Balance transfers
  • Cash advances

The fees you pay can also vary. Some secured cards charge an annual fee; others don’t. Some may also charge a monthly service fee, or a fee for increasing your deposit.

The takeaway? Read the fine print on secured card fees, rates and terms so you know exactly what you’re paying.

Do Secured Credit Cards Come With Any Extras?

Some secured cards come with perks. Some don’t.

There are some secured credit cards, for example, that let you earn rewards when you spend. Some offer cash back, some offer points and others give you travel miles.

Secured cards can also come with features like free fraud monitoring or monthly credit score access. Some even waive late fees the first time you miss your due date.

Make sure you read all of the fine print and know what the benefits are. This way you’ll be informed.

Do Your Homework on Secured Cards

If you’re ready to improve your credit score, a secured credit card can help you do this. These cards can also potentially help you earn rewards as you spend. But remember, they’re not all the same. Take time to compare different options carefully to make sure you’re choosing the secured card that best fits your needs and spending style.

Banking Services provided by The Bancorp Bank, Member FDIC. The Chime Visa® Debit Card is issued by The Bancorp Bank pursuant to a license from Visa U.S.A. Inc. and may be used everywhere Visa debit cards are accepted. Chime and The Bancorp Bank, neither endorse nor guarantee any of the information, recommendations, optional programs, products, or services advertised, offered by, or made available through the external website ("Products and Services") and disclaim any liability for any failure of the Products and Services.