Tag: Guides

 

10 Minutes For 10 Days: Easy Ways to Prep for the New Year Financially

The new year is a great time to get a fresh start. And while you’re making a pact to get back into a morning yoga routine or to cut down on the carbs, don’t forget to also prep your finances for the new year.

It’s not as hard as you think to turn your money situation from a frowny face emoji to a muscle arm emoji. Here are 10 ways you can shape up your finances for the new year in just 10 minutes a day:

Auto Save

I’m a huge fan of the “set it and forget it” approach, and autosaving is my Number 1 favorite money tactic. With minimal effort, you can set it once and you’re golden.

Don’t be discouraged if you can’t save as much as you’d like. Even automatically saving five dollars a week into your emergency fund adds up to $260 in a year. Double that to $10 a week, and you’ll have $570 buckaroos. Not too shabby!

Make a Date With Your Spending Plan

Check yourself before you wreck yourself—with your budget, that is. It’s important to remember that your budget is a living, breathing thing. It changes as your money situation evolves, and what worked last year may not work next year.

Did your income change from switching jobs? Did you have to move? Are you spending more money on quality groceries? You get the picture.

Case in point: This was my year of “forced upgrades.” I moved and bought a new car. In turn, my monthly expenses went up, and I had to make changes to my spending plan.

Time Your Bill Payments With Paydays

If you are member of the gig economy, and get several paychecks at different times of the month from different gigs, staying on top of your bills can be challenging.

To ease the cray, time your payments so they sync up with when you get paid. For instance, if you get paid from a particular gig on the 10th of each month and your cell phone bill is due on the 15th, sync up that payment with your cell phone bill. If you’re a Chime Member, you can get paid early – making it easier to pay bills earlier as well. All you need to do is set up direct deposit with at least one employer.

Turn On Alerts

By setting alerts on your credit cards, you’ll get notified if a transaction exceeds a set amount, or if a payment was made online instead of in-person. This can help you keep your spending in check, as well as keep you informed of any fishy activity on your cards.

Check Your Net Worth

It’s easy to get caught up in the illusion of wealth—flashy cars, designer clothes and McMansions. But true wealth can be boiled down to one thing: your net worth. You can determine your net worth by adding up the amount of money you have in the bank, as well as the value of your car, house and any investments. Subtract your debt from this amount and you now know your net worth.

An easy way to track your net worth is to use a money management app. Just poke around the Apple Store or Google Play and you’ll find no shortage of free apps to help you track how many Benjamins you’re stacking.

Prioritize Your Money Goals

You likely have some of these financial goals—paying off your debt, saving for an emergency fund and saving up to buy a house.

If you’re like me and have a gazillion goals, it’s best to prioritize them. This way you can focus your efforts and yield greater results. For 2019, for example, I’ll prioritize bolstering my retirement, saving for my first home, and socking cash away for my personal projects.

Link Up with a Money Accounta-Buddy

Teaming up with a buddy to help keep you accountable with your money goals is super helpful. This may mean hopping on a Google Hangout with a friend once a month to keep each other in check, or having casual conversations in person.

What works for me is to just chat about money. I am lucky to have a handful of money accounta-buddies, and we talk about everything from paying off debt, to saving for retirement, to any issues that arise. Talking about money with trusted pals is cathartic. And it feels good to know you’re not suffering alone.

Link Up a New Habit to an Old One

The majority of our actions are rooted in habits, so try forming a new habit by linking it to an existing one. For instance, if you meditate for a few minutes every day, commit to checking your recent transactions or net worth right after that.

Figure Out an Easy Win or Big Win

To make progress on your money situation, you can either focus on an easy win or a big win. An easy win is something that will give you a boost in the beginning, while a big win will help you make greater strides.

For instance, if a money goal for 2019 is to cut back on your expenses, an easy win would be to lower your cell phone bill. You only have to negotiate once and then enjoy a lower bill. A big win would be to cut back on your food expenses. While it requires more work to lower your grocery bills, this can help you net greater savings.

Look for Forgotten Money

This is one of my favorite feel-good money tactics. In-between wading through your debt load and coming up with a plan to bolster your emergency fund, finding forgotten money gives you  a psychological lift.

To start, look in places where you may have forgotten money stashed away, like funds in a savings account you once opened but haven’t used, contributions to a retirement account through a former employer, coins in your “spare change” jar, or even cashback credit card rewards.

The Best Time to Start Is Now

There’s no time like the present to begin improving your money sitch. Using the 10 suggestions here, you can spend just 10 minutes a day taking positive actions. Just remember: No matter how many financial mistakes you made in the past, you can make changes for the better starting right now. What are you waiting for?

 

6 Cable Alternatives: The Best Streaming Services to Cut Your Cable Bill

Saving more money is one of the best ways to ensure a lucrative financial future. And, with a new year looming, now is a great time to take actionable steps to reach your money goals.

A good first step is to set up an automatic savings plan and lower some of your monthly expenses to free up money. Where to start? Try cutting out cable. Cutting the cable cord doesn’t mean you have to give up the TV shows and movies you love to watch. In fact, you can still watch your favorite shows – thanks to streaming services.

Here are 6 of the best streaming services to replace your cable service, and help you save money.

1. Netflix

You’ve probably heard of Netflix by now. It’s one of the most popular streaming services for movies, television shows, documentaries and more. Netflix is a monthly subscription service that gives you access to their entire library of content.

The basic plan is $7.99 per month: Watch on one screen at a time in standard definition. Download videos on one phone or tablet.

The standard plan is $10.99: Watch on two screens at a time. HD available. Download videos on two phones or tablets.

The premium plan is $13.99 per month: Watch on four screens at a time. HD and Ultra HD available. Download videos on four phones or tablets.

Netflix doesn’t always feature the most up-to-date episodes for TV shows, but they have an awesome line-up of original shows including Stranger Things, Black Mirror, and House of Cards. You can sign up for a free 30-day trial here.

2. Hulu

Hulu is a streaming service that has an affordable monthly subscription rate. You can watch movies, TV shows and now even live television.

Hulu has a great TV show collection including their own original series. New users can get a free 30-day trial. After that, the cost is just $5.99 per month for the first year. For the second year, the monthly fee goes up to $7.99. Hulu does show ads on streaming shows, but if you want an ad-free experience, you can update your plan to $11.99 per month.

Hulu also allows you to stream 50+ of the top TV channels, and you can add on content from networks like HBO®, SHOWTIME®, CINEMAX® and STARZ®. This membership is $39.99 per month.

3. DIRECTV NOW

DIRECTV NOW is a no-contract streaming service with four service plans, ranging in price from $40/month to $75/month.

This option is great for someone who likes to watch live TV as DIRECTV NOW provides access to over 65 channels for the basic $40 monthly plan and more than 125 channels for the top tier $75 monthly plan.

The best part is that you don’t have to commit to a contract or hidden fees, and you can cancel any time. You can sign up for a free 7-day trial of DIRECTV NOW here.

4. Sling TV

Sling TV is a streaming service that’s similar to DIRECTV in that you can stream live TV channels to your devices instead of paying for cable.

Sling TV is great for sports lovers and there are three main packages: Orange ($25/month), Blue ($25/month) and both ($40/month). Sling TV even offers a $5 kids add-on package with family-friendly networks.

The one downside is that while Sling TV allows you to stream movies from the site, not all of them are free. Yet, you can try out the service for seven days before committing to a paid subscription. Get more details here.

5. Amazon Instant Video

If you’re an Amazon Prime member, you’ll have unlimited access to Prime Video. This allows you to stream TV shows and movies from various devices.

This service makes sense to have if you like to watch movies and Prime originals, like the award-winning The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Since Prime Video comes with a paid Amazon Prime membership, this is a great perk for those already taking advantage of other membership benefits, including fast and free shipping on more than 100 million items. Get a 30-day free trial here.

6. YouTube TV

YouTube is one of the most-used websites to date. Some of the video content can be addicting and it’s great to support up and coming content creators. While I can watch free YouTube content all day, a paid streaming service is also available.

YouTube TV – touting itself as cable-free live TV with no cable box required – is just $40 per month. For that price, you get access to more than 70 different channels covering everything from news and sports to entertainment and scripted shows. You can have up to six different accounts per household and use the personalized DVR service.

This streaming service is only available in select areas right now but you can check to see if your city has it and sign up for a free trial here.

Cut the Cord and Save

Imagine how much money you can save by cutting the cord and getting rid of cable. Better yet, take action and actually cancel your cable subscription. Then start adding up the savings when you switch to one of these more affordable television streaming services.

 

6 Year-End Money Moves: Salary vs. Hourly

It’s that time of year again – the time when everyone focuses on the holidays. This includes buying gifts, planning holiday travel and preparing for all those holiday parties.

Yet, this is also the time of year when you can easily let things fall to the wayside, including your own finances and career. So, before you let yourself get carried away with holiday spending, it’s time to take an inward look at your own money matters.

A good place to start is to answer this question: Are you paid by the hour or are you salaried? The answer to this question is important because how — and when — you earn your money can make a big difference in the year-end financial actions you take. For example, if you are a salaried employee, you may already have company-sponsored insurance and a retirement plan in place. If you are hourly, however, you may have to set up your own retirement account and purchase insurance. On the other hand, if you work an hourly job, you may have the opportunity to earn extra money by working overtime hours.

So, with one month left to go in 2018, take a look at these 6 financial housekeeping moves for salaried versus hourly employees.

Contribute to a Retirement Plan

Regularly saving money in a retirement plan is one of the most important things you can do to prepare yourself for retirement. And one of the best ways to do that is by contributing to a 401(k), a tax-deferred retirement plan offered by many employers.

You’ll often hear about 401(k) plans coming with a “company match.” Matching contributions are when your employer will deposit a dollar amount or certain percentage into your retirement plan. It’s basically free money from your job – which you can get just for contributing to your retirement account.

“Perhaps the worst financial mistake someone can make is turning down free money,” says Robert Johnson, a professor of finance at Creighton University.

“If one doesn’t contribute enough in a 401(k) plan that has a company match, one is basically turning down free money.”

Here’s how you can maximize your investments if you have an hourly or salaried job.

Salary:

  • Max out your allowable retirement account contributions by adjusting your limits through your employer or investment portal.
  • If you’re already spreading yourself too thin financially, aim to contribute as much as you can to your 401(k) to get the maximum company match.

Hourly and self-employed:

Review Your Insurance Policies

“As the year comes to a close, it’s important to review insurance policies to make sure your coverage still fits your life,” says Lingwe Wang, co-founder of life insurance provider Ethos.

Take a look at the suggestions below.

Salary (and hourly, where applicable):

  • Thoroughly review your insurance policies, to include health, auto, homeowners and life – particularly if you anticipate a major life change in the upcoming year, like a marriage, birth or relocation.
  • Open new policies and close old ones. Make this move by determining if you may need more or less coverage, depending on your individual situation.
  • Monitor insurance rates. Keep an eye on insurance rates all year, but make sure you conduct a full scale review at the end of each year.
  • Pay attention to your deductibles. Here’s a good example: “If you have an expensive (medical) procedure coming up, and have reached or nearly reached your deductible, you could consider scheduling the procedure this year, rather than next, to maximize your benefits,” says Kevin Gallegos, senior vice president of client enrollment for Freedom Debt Relief.

Hourly/contract/self-employed:

  • Pick a plan. Now is the time to select the health insurance coverage right for you. Open enrollment for healthcare coverage on the health insurance marketplace lasts from November 1 to December 15. Make sure you don’t miss this window!

Utilize an FSA (if applicable)

A Flexible Spending Account, or FSA for short, is a tax-exempt way to save money to pay for certain qualifying medical expenses that may not be covered by your health insurance. This may include prescription medications, co-payments, or even portions of your deductible.

Salary:

If you’ve been making deposits into an employer-sponsored FSA plan, start using those dollars. According to HealthCare.gov, you’ll generally need to spend your FSA funds within your plan year. So, if you started coverage at the time of open enrollment, this leaves just two short months before the money you’ve socked away goes to waste.

“There is still time to make relevant purchases to use the money,” says Gallegos.

“Many kinds of products and services apply, so if it’s too late for a doctor’s appointment, determine if you need other qualifying items.”

Hourly/contract:

If you don’t have an FSA in place, now is the time to open one for more flexibility within your health insurance coverage. You’re allowed to deposit up to $2,650 per year, per employer, into an account.

Check Your Credit Report

Ensuring your credit is in good standing is important no matter whether you’re salaried or hourly.

With that, make a habit of checking your credit report at least once a year, and now is a great time to start. Your credit report is available for free at annualcreditreport.com and by reviewing your report, you’ll be able to spot signs of identity theft, which can adversely affect your report and credit score.

If you find anything that looks suspicious or errant — such as a loan listed as delinquent that you paid off, an unfamiliar looking credit account, incorrect spellings or dollar amounts, or other information that’s amiss  — you can dispute your findings with the three credit bureaus: TransUnion, Equifax and Experian.

Checking your credit report gives you the security and control you need over your financial situation, regardless of your employment status: full-time, part-time, salaried, hourly or contract.

Prep Your Taxes

Before you know it, the holidays will be over, a new year will have begun, and tax time will be here. April 15, 2019 is the next deadline for filing taxes, so make sure you prepare ahead of time.

Salary and hourly:

  • Check your tax withholdings. “Depending on your preference and your salary, some tax withholdings are better than others,” notes McCall Robison, chief editor of Best Company.

“Look at this year’s finances and tax withholdings, and determine if your current tax withholding is working with your budget. If not, you may want to change your tax withholding choice to better work with your financial situation.”

Hourly only:

  • Calculate any extra pay you earned throughout the year. For example, if you worked overtime or earned tips, include that in your total annual income. To learn more about how to report tips on your tax return, you may want to access IRS Form 4070.

Build Your Budget

Salaried and hourly employees may be paid differently, but making an effort to start a budget or make changes to improve your current budget is a great way for everyone to save money.

“Take into account your budget for the current year and think of where you could improve,” advises Robison.

“Did you eat out too much this year? Are there some bills you could cut down on? Do an expense audit, making a list of all of your bills and other expenses, and see where you can improve next year. This will give you a great start in the new year.”

A Fresh Financial Beginning at the End of the Year

The end of the year is an opportunity to make positive financial changes in the upcoming year. No matter what kind of work you do, how much you’re paid, how you’re paid, or what your unique work situation is, this is the time to make some smart money moves.

 

6 Steps to Enjoying a Debt-Free Holiday Season

The holidays can be an exciting time. ‘Tis the season to enjoy family get-togethers, time off from work, meaningful gift exchanges and more.

Yet, the holiday season can cost money – a lot of money. Indeed, you’re not alone if you worry about overspending. The average American racks up more than $1,000 in holiday debt each year.

Luckily, there are 6 steps you can take to enjoy a debt-free holiday season. Take a look:

1. Develop a Realistic Spending Plan

Your first step should be to develop a spending plan for the holidays, also known as a budget. By knowing how much you can spend, you can then set realistic expectations.

To start, list out all of the expenses you’ll incur over the next few weeks, and figure out how much you’re likely to spend on your holiday gifts. Once you know your limit, it’s time to start saving automatically. I’ll share some of the most creative budgeting methods below.

2. Shop Around for Deals

When doing your holiday shopping, be sure to compare stores and prices to find the best deals. Shopping on Black Friday or Cyber Monday can help you save so long as you don’t go overboard.

You can also use coupons and look for BOGO deals. And, don’t forget to take advantage of stores that offer price matching. Give yourself enough time to comparison shop by starting early. This way, you won’t feel rushed to buy the first thing you see.

If you see items you want to buy but don’t have enough cash, find out if the store offers a layaway service, This way you can pay as you get paid instead of charging your purchases immediately. Pro tip: If you set up direct deposit with Chime, you can get paid earlier, freeing up more immediate cash for you.

3. Pay for Everything with Cash

Forget about credit card reward points or cash back, particularly if you’re afraid you’ll get into holiday debt. In some cases, it’s just not worth it.

Instead of using a credit card for your holiday purchases, use the cash you set aside according to your budget. When you pay for all your holiday expenses in cash, it’s basically impossible to overspend and get into debt.

You can even try using the cash envelope budgeting method by assigning each category in your budget an envelope that you’ll fill with a designated amount of cash. Once an envelope is empty, that’s it. You’ll need to stop spending in that area. This budget does come with some drawbacks as you won’t be able to shop online and you’ll need to be organized so that you don’t misplace your envelopes filled with cash.

In the long-run, however, the envelope budget forces you to slow down when shopping and spend more mindfully.

4. DIY Hidden Costs

It’s easy to overspend on seemingly hidden things like decorations, greeting cards, white elephant gifts and party food. Instead of spending cashola, go the DIY route.

For starters, you can make your own holiday decor with craft supplies or dollar store items. I went to my local dollar store the other day and found everything from wreaths, ornaments, table decor, holiday lights, and more  – all for a buck each.

When it comes to making your own greeting cards, you can design them online using a free program called Canva. Rather than buying baked goods, you can also bake some of your favorite treats for cheap. Lastly, if you’re doing a gift exchange, you can always DIY gifts – whether it involves making homemade candles and bath bombs, or creating custom artwork.

5. Earn Extra Money

Once you’ve created a budget and have limited your holiday spending as much as possible, it may be time to start earning some extra money.

If finances are tight around this time of year, you can find more wiggle room by starting a side hustle or seeing if your can work overtime at your job. If you’re looking for something easy that pays quickly, you can drive for Uber or Lyft, deliver groceries with Instacart, babysit or pet sit, shovel snow, rent a room out in your home, design logos on Fiverr, or clean homes. These are just a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing.

The key is to look for opportunities that you can start ASAP. This way you’ll be more apt to earn enough money to meet your holiday spending needs.

6. Focus on Experiences

The holiday season is not just about having and spending money. It’s also about showing gratitude, spending time with loved ones, and having positive experiences.

When you focus on experiences over money, you’ll be more likely to avoid overspending and going into debt during this time of year. And here’s the best part: Experiences can be free. For example, you can trade in a day of shopping for a day of binge-watching holiday movies while eating Christmas cookies and sipping hot cocoa. Or, you can drive around your neighborhood to look at Christmas lights, go sledding in the snow, or find a free local event to attend.

The Holidays Don’t Have to Be a Debt Sentence

Don’t sentence yourself to debt over the holidays. It’s not worth it and you have plenty of inexpensive ways to have fun, give gifts and enjoy the season. If you need inspiration, just turn to these 6 steps to a debt-free holiday season.

 

5 Money Questions Every 35-Year-Old Should Ask Themselves

Everyone has that magic moment where they decide to double down on their financial health — or risk meeting long-term life and money goals. After all, wealth rarely builds itself. If you’re unsure of how to get or stay financially fit, here are five money questions every 35-year-old should ask themselves.

1. What is my credit score?

Your credit is uber-important to your financial health, as a solid score qualifies you for better rates on home loans, insurance policies, cell phone plans and more. That’s why credit monitoring isn’t one-and-done. In fact, you should check your digits regularly, ideally once a month, not just right before you apply for a loan. Added incentive to stay on stop of your credit standing: Errors on credit reports, along with instances of identity theft, are more common than you may think.

Fortunately, you can check your credit reports from the major bureaus for free every 12 months via AnnualCreditReport.com and you can monitor your credit score sans charge via certain credit card issuers or certain personal finance websites, like Credit Sesame.

2. What is my net worth?

Your net worth is the sum of your assets (investments, savings, home equity), minus your liabilities (mortgage, credit card debt, student loans). It’s also probably the best gauge of your financial health at any given time. If your liabilities outpace your assets, you’ve got some work to do — and you can prioritize what debt or issue to tackle first. If your assets outpace your liabilities, you can explore the best ways to put your money to work.

Your net worth is also a great benchmark when you’re ready to put a financial protection plan in place. Case in point …

3. How much life insurance do I need?

If you have dependents — or plan to have dependents — life insurance is a key component to your family planning … well, plan. A policy allows your loved ones to cover their expenses and liabilities were you to pass away while they are still reliant on you. It can also cover big-ticket items in your family’s future, like college tuition. Life insurance rates increase as you age or develop health conditions so it’s important to get coverage when you are young and healthy.

Most people are best-served by a term life insurance policy, which covers you for a set number of years, then expires, though there are a few instances that call for whole life insurance, which lasts until you die and comes with a forced-savings component. Policygenius can help you compare and buy life insurance, starting with a tailored online recommendation.

4. Am I paying myself first?

That’s a fancy way of asking if you are saving enough for a rainy day? Basic rule of thumb says everyone should bank at least three-to-four months of expenses away in emergency savings.

If your cash-on-hand falls short of that stat, try auto-depositing a small amount of your paycheck into a high-yield online savings account. Those dollars will eventually add up. You can also tap a budgeting app or tool to find places to pare back. This simple budgeting spreadsheet, for instance, has line for “savings contribution” all ready for you.

5. Do I need to save more for retirement?

Most people do. In fact, a recent survey from Northwestern Mutual found one in five Americans (21%) have no retirement savings at all and nearly half (46%) haven’t taken any steps to prepare for the likelihood that they could outlive their savings. That’s unfortunate, because there are a few easy ways to boost your nest egg.

Start by upping your 401(k) contributions, even by as a little as 1%. (A small increase can make a difference, thanks to compound interest.) Where possible, take advantage of other employer-sponsored benefits to lower your taxable income, like flexible spending accounts, commuter benefits and health savings accounts. Bonus: HSAs often double as de facto supplemental retirement account because you can make penalty-free withdrawals for any reason once you turn 65.

Finally, consider opening a Roth individual retirement account. Here’s why.


This article originally appeared on Policygenius.com.

 

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!

 

8 Reasons You Need to Pay Attention to Your Credit Score

Your credit score affects so many important aspects of your life, from your personal finances to your ability to work and live where you want. Having a good credit score can also save you hundreds or thousands of dollars annually in interest, insurance premiums, cell phone plans and more.

It pays to monitor your credit score on a regular basis so you know where you stand. Here are eight reasons you need to pay attention to your credit score.

1. It helps you qualify for a loan

Lenders take a hard look at your finances before they extend you a mortgage, auto loan, personal loan or other form of credit. They may review your income, the information in your credit report and your credit score.

If your credit score is too low, your loan applications could get rejected. It’s a good idea to monitor your credit score, and build your credit when necessary, to make sure it falls within a desirable range. Curious what constitutes a good credit score? Check out our article on credit score ranges.

2. You can get better credit cards

There are credit cards out there for just about every type of credit score. But the better your score, the better the credit cards you can qualify for. If you want a premium credit card — or just a solid cash back rate with low fees — you’ll probably need a credit score in the good-to-excellent rage.

3. The better your score, the lower your interest rates

Your credit score doesn’t just help lenders and creditors decide whether to do business with you. It also helps them determine the interest rates you’ll pay on their financial products. Generally speaking, the better your credit score, the lower your interest rates for loans and credit cards. Low interest rates can save you hundreds or thousands of dollars in the long run.

4. You could net cheaper insurance

Did you know that your credit score actually helps determine how much your insurance costs? Whether it’s car insurance, life insurance, homeowners insurance or health insurance, people with poor credit tend to pay higher monthly premiums.

Insurance providers don’t see the same credit score as traditional lenders. Instead, they see a credit-based insurance score, which looks at a combination of your insurance history and certain items in your credit report. Some states don’t allow certain types of insurers to use your credit score to determine their rates, so check your local laws.

5. Negative items could appear on any credit report

A dip in your credit score is a telltale sign that a negative item has landed on your credit report. This could mean you forgot to pay a bill, you have an account that went to collections or you declared bankruptcy. It could also mean that due to an error or even identity theft, inaccurate information is landing on your credit file. (Here are a few other ways to tell your identity has been stolen.)

If the negative item is legitimate, it’s helpful to know how it’s affecting your credit. If it’s incorrect, you should try to have it removed from your credit report ASAP by disputing the item with the credit bureaus.

6. You’re looking for your dream apartment

To avoid renting to someone who won’t pay their rent, landlords and property management companies often require credit checks for potential renters. While the fairness of this practice is open to debate, the fact remains that a poor credit score can prevent you from getting into your dream apartment. If you know your credit score ahead of time, you can take steps to improve it before you submit a rental application.

7. You’re on a job hunt

Some employers perform credit checks on job candidates before extending a job offer. While they can’t check your credit score, they will pull your credit report (though they won’t see the same information a lender or creditor would).

Not all companies do this, and several states have laws prohibiting the practice or limiting how much information the employer can see. But it’s a good idea to know your credit score and check your credit report before you begin a job hunt so you at least have an idea of how you might look to potential employers.

8. You’ll learn more about credit

Even if your aren’t planning to apply for a loan, take out an insurance policy or find a new job, it’s a good idea to be familiar with your credit score. You can look out for dips or watch it improve over time, and be prepared the next time someone is about to check your credit.

You can pull your credit reports for free every 12 months at AnnualCreditReport.com. Those reports won’t come with your credit score. You can purchase them at the time for a nominal fee. However, you can check your credit score for free each month on credit websites, like Credit Sesame, or via certain credit card issuers.

Looking for more life hacks? We’ve got a roundup of 25 apps or tools that can make life easier.


This article originally appeared on Policygenius.com.

 

Tips to Curb Overspending on Black Friday and Cyber Monday

The deals. The doorbusters. The catchy television commercials and ads that land in your email.

Yup, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are among the biggest shopping events of the year. According to a Coinstar survey released last year, at least 30% of Americans plan to shop on Black Friday or take advantage of holiday deals and 70% expect to go over budget.

So, how can you avoid getting lured in by all these offers? Take a look at our top 5 ways to avoid overspending on these two major spending holidays:

Stick to Your List

Holiday wish lists aren’t just meant for kids to tell Santa what they want. The whole family should be making these lists as this will help you control who you are buying for and how much you’ll spend.

You can also refer to your list when scanning ads for Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals as this will help you resist the urge to make extra impulse purchases. If you stick to your list and plan your shopping trips carefully, you’ll be more likely to spend less overall.

Keep Up with Your Transactions

If you’re using a debit card to shop, it’s a good idea to track your transactions as this will help hold you accountable. It’s easier to blow your budget when you spend freely and don’t really keep up with where your money is going.

If you’ve ever had a busy and expensive weekend, you can probably relate. Say you went out of town and splurged a little. If you didn’t check your bank account to review your transactions, you had zero accountability for your mini spending spree. The same thing can happen with holiday spending. It’s easy to make one too many purchases on Black Friday or Cyber Money.

Here’s a pro tip: Instead of manually logging into your account to check your balance and review your transaction history, Chime can send you instant transaction alerts whenever you use your Chime debit card – attached to your free bank account. This way, you can stay motivated and stick to your spending plan.

In addition, if you have mobile banking with Chime, you can easily see your account balance simply by using the Chime app.

Only Choose One Day to Shop

Is it just me, or does Black Friday and Cyber Monday seem to last for several days? Originally, these events took place on one day. Now, Cyber Monday has turned into Cyber Week and Black Friday often starts the night of Thanksgiving and carries into the weekend.

I’ve seen some retailers offer special deals each day of the week to entice customers to come back and keep shopping. This is a marketing trick and if you play along, you’ll give yourself more opportunities to overspend.

Instead, choose only one day to do the bulk of your Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping. Get what you need, then put your money away. When you’re done shopping, unsubscribe from email lists, skip commercials, and avoid all the buzz for the remainder of day (or week).

Compare Deals

Retailer loyalty may or may not be the most important thing when shopping on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Many stores offer the same products – possibly even from the same brand.

This means you should compare pricing to make sure you get the best deal. As an example, when I bought a PlayStation 4 for my son on Black Friday last year, I saw the same exact item at three different stores. I chose to purchase it at the retailer with the lowest price. If I didn’t shop around first, I would have spent money unnecessarily.

Some stores even price match in an attempt to beat out competitors’ deals. So, make sure you check to see if the store you prefer has a price matching policy.

Aside from prioritizing the best price offer, you can also consider other aspects of the deal that may save you money. For example, some purchases comes with a mail-in rebate, whereas some stores offer gift cards with certain purchases.

Don’t Buy Something Just Because It’s On Sale

It can feel great to score a deal, but you only truly win if you need the item or were specifically looking to buy something in particular. There’s no point in buying something just because it’s on sale.

It’s tempting when you come across deals that seem like they’re unbeatable, but try to shop and spend mindfully while sticking to your values.

Take a page from my book: When you come across a great deal for something not on your list, ask yourself how you’ll feel about that item in 30 to 90 days. Would it end up stuffed in the corner of your house somewhere? In other words, do you really need to spend the money on that item?

If you truly feel like purchasing something, see if you can swap it out with something else on your list so you’re not overspending.

You Can Still Get Great Deals Without Going Over Budget

Holiday spending can be great as long as you have full control over your spending habits. Even with all the Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals, it’s important to get clear on what you want and spend wisely. With this in mind, you won’t move into the new year with added debt – or guilt.

 

5 Shopping Apps That Will Save You More Money Than Black Friday Deals

When it comes to saving money on purchases, Black Friday is like a national holiday. Prices are slashed and some of the best deals around are offered to eager consumers.

But can you save money like this year-round? Since we don’t think you should have to wait for one day a year to get the best deals, we’ve scoured the web to find the top shopping apps to save you money. Check out our 5 favs:

1. Zebit

Looking for the best prices on electronics? Interested in great financing offers to help you pay for your deals? Zebit may be your best money-saving sidekick. Here’s how Zebit works: You sign up and provide information on your employment and income. Once approved, you can access up to $2,500 in interest-free financing to shop at the Zebit marketplace. There is no credit score required and Zebit promises 0% interest on your purchases — forever.

At Zebit you can shop for items like TVs, laptops, headphones, video games, cameras and more. And that’s just their electronic section! Considering the fact that some electronic purchases are expensive, Zebit is a great way to pay over time without added interest costs. So, if an item is $500, you pay $500. Say goodbye to interest and hello to savings!

2. Poshmark

Finding affordable and fashionable clothes can seem like a shot in the dark. But, with Poshmark, this can be your new reality. Poshmark is an e-commerce platform where listers sell their personal used items that may just be hanging around in their closets. In turn, you can score some serious savings. For example, you can shop for a ton of different clothing and accessory brands with prices that are up to 70 percent off. You might score a great deal from a fashion brand like Louis Vuitton, Coach, Michael Kors and more. Think of it as your designer-style-on-a-budget app.

And if you’re like me and need a little fashion help, there are recommendations that are catered to you by stylists. You can download the shopping app and save money, all while also shopping for your next hot outfit. The benefits of using Poshmark include payment protection and fast shipping.

3. Honey

Have you ever shopped online and then hours later you find a discount code for the thing you just bought? Ugh. It’s frustrating to say the least. But you’re in luck: With Honey on your side, you don’t have to leave anything to chance. Honey is a shopping app that shows you automatic coupons to help you save money. Just download the Google Chrome extension and watch the savings come in! It’s free to install and when you’re shopping, Honey instantly applies any coupons and adds them to your cart. There’s literally nothing else you need to do. Honey does all the heavy lifting and saves you money automatically.

4. Ebates

Now you know that using Honey can help you get automatic discounts on your purchases. But, did you also know that using Ebates can earn you cash-back on your purchases? That’s right.

I have used the Ebates Google Chrome extension for a couple of years and every few months, I get a little PayPal payment from Ebates. The way it works is that each store offers a certain amount of cash back. About once a quarter, Ebates sends out a payment. It’s great! Ebates works with companies like Groupon, Macy’s, Amazon and others. The one thing to be aware of is that you do need to press the “activate cash back” button in the right-hand corner of your browser once Ebates alerts you that there’s a cash back opportunity. This way you’ll get the cash back credit!

5. RetailMeNot

RetailMeNot is another shopping app that can help you save money. The great thing about RetailMeNot is that it allows you to save money in different categories. For example, you can save at top stores like Fashion Nova, Old Navy, and more. But you can also check for other online codes, printable coupons and free shipping. In addition, RetailMeNot has an interesting strategy where you can buy retail gift cards at a discount and then use those gift cards through their portal and stack up even more coupons! It’s savings on savings!

We recommend that you use the RetailMeNot Google Chrome extension to make sure you never miss a savings opportunity. With RetailMeNot, you can save on all sorts of purchases, even prescriptions! Because this app offers a little bit of everything, it is considered a powerhouse in the shopping app community.

Bottom line

There’s no excuse not to save money using these 5 shopping apps. These apps make it easier than ever find deals and never miss an opportunity to save some cash. So, are you ready to start saving money right now instead of waiting for Black Friday to roll around? We thought so.

 

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.

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