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Truth About Reward and Store Credit Cards

On the surface, reward cards are a great way to make a few extra dollars or grab some air miles without increasing your spending or your debt. If you spend a lot of money at a particular shop, store cards will seem like an equally beneficial prospect. But these cards exist for a reason—they’re there to make more money for the providers and the retailers, not you.

Sure, reward/store cards have other benefits if you use them properly, but there are a host of disadvantages and hidden terms that you need to be aware of before signing on the dotted line. 

What are Store Cards?

Store cards are tied to specific stores and offered by chains of retailers. These cards work just like traditional cards and are often branded by networks like Visa and MasterCard. The difference is that they can only be used in the issuing stores and their rewards are tied to those stores.

In essence, they are store loyalty cards that come with a lien of credit attached. 

What are Reward Cards?

Reward cards are also tied to credit card networks, including American Express and Discover, as well as Visa and MasterCard. They award points every time they’re used for qualifying purchases and these points can then be swapped for air travel and other benefits. 

Some reward schemes award a specific amount of cash back, often fixed to 1% or 2% of purchases made on specific items, such as groceries or utility bills.

How Can Providers Offer These Rewards?

If a provider offers you cash back every time you spend money on your credit card, someone has to foot the bill. Many consumers assume that the credit card network covers the cost, and to an extent, they do. But it’s not quite as simple as that.

Every time you use your credit card to make a purchase, the retailer is charged a fee, often between 1% and 3% of the purchase. This is the network’s charge. With reward cards, this fee increases, and the extra money is used to fund the rewards program.

As a result, retailers are not exactly happy with these programs as they drive their costs up and reduce their profits. The only way around this, is to increase the cost of the product or, more likely, to reward customers who pay with cash/debit. Retailers are not allowed to add a surcharge for credit card use, but there’s nothing stopping them from choosing which cards they do and don’t accept.

Your local Mom & Pop enterprise isn’t being antiquated and old-fashioned by refusing credit cards. They just can’t cover the costs. 5% may not sound like a big deal, but for retailers with minimal buying power and the massive overheads of running a brick-and-mortar store, 5% can be a deal breaker.

Smaller retailers are fighting back against reward cards while bigger ones are embracing them by adopting their own store cards. With a store card, they have more say, more control, and they know that those small losses will be offset by the increased purchases.

Issues with Store Credit Cards

Store cards carry a big risk and have far few benefits than reward cards. The advantages of these cards are obvious: If you shop a lot in a particular place, you can save money via the cash back schemes. 

They can also help with emergency purchases, providing you clear the balance in full. But, while the benefits are obvious, the same can’t be said about the disadvantages.

Con 1: They Have High Interest Rates

The average credit card interest rate in the United States is around 16%. The average rate for store cards is over 20%. That 4% may not seem like much, but if you don’t repay your balance every month that interest will compound, grow, and cost you a small fortune. 

At 16% with a $10,000 balance and a 60-month repayment term, you’ll pay $243 a month and over $4,000 in total interest.

Increase that rate to 20% and your monthly payment grows by $20 while your total interest increases by nearly $1,500. The longer you leave it and the smaller your monthly payments are, the greater that difference will be.

For example, if you repay just $200 a month on that balance, the difference between 16% and 20% is 26 extra months and close to $5,000. Of course, store cards rarely offer such high limits, but this is just as example to show you how much of a difference even the slightest percentage increase can cause.

It’s worth keeping this in mind if you ever apply for a traditional rewards card. Getting rewards in return for a higher APR is great if you repay your balance in full every month and terrible if you don’t.

Con 2: They Have High Penalty Rates

If you miss a payment on your store credit card you could be hit with a penalty APR as high as 29.99%, as well as a late payment fee of $39. The rates are high to begin with, but these penalty rates are astronomical and will make a bad situation worse.

That’s not all, as some providers are known to be very unforgiven when it comes to missed and late payments. In some cases, your account will default even if you underpay just once and just by a few dollars. 

Con 3: They Have Low Credit Limits

Retailers are not lenders. They don’t have the time, funds or patience to chase debts and deal with collection agencies. As a result, they don’t offer high credit limits and generally you’ll get a fraction of what an unsecured credit card might provide you with.

This might not seem like much of an issue. After all, a smaller credit limit means you’re less likely to accumulate large amounts of debts. However, this has a massively negative impact on your credit score that few borrowers consider.

30% of your credit score is based on something known as a credit utilization ratio. This looks at the total available credit and compares it to the debt that you have accumulated. If you have several cards with a combined credit limit of $10,000 and a balance of $5,000, then your ratio is 50%, which is considered to be quite high.

If a store card is your only account and you spend $450 on a $500 limit, then you have a credit utilization ratio of 90%, which will reduce your score. Your credit report is also negatively affected by maxed-out credit cards, a feat that’s much easier to achieve when you have a low credit limit.

Con 4: There Are Better Options

It’s better to have one good reward card than multiple store cards. The former will provide you with far better interest rates and terms, while the latter will hit your credit report with several hard inquiries and new accounts. 

A rewards card will still benefit you when shopping at those stores and will also provide you with a wealth of other benefits.

Con 5: You May Spend More

Store cards are not designed to make your life easier and give you a few freebies. Regardless of what the store tells you, they’re not made to reward loyalty, they’re made to encourage spending. 

This doesn’t always work, and research suggests that many individuals use reward cards just like they would normal cards. But for a small minority, the idea of acquiring points is enough to convince them to spend more than they usually would.

Some good can be good debt, such as when it’s used to acquire an asset or something that won’t depreciate. But very rarely do we use credit cards for this purpose and generally, if you’re spending more on a store card it means you’re wasting more money on things you don’t need.

Con 6: You Can’t Use Them Anywhere Else

A store card can only be used in that particular store. This renders it redundant as an emergency card and also means you’re encouraged to shop in that one place. You don’t have a chance to shop around and find the cheapest price; you may spend more just to use your card and get the benefits, with those benefits rarely covering the additional money you spend.

What About Reward Cards?

Some reward cards have very high rates as these rates are used to offset the rewards program. However, this isn’t always the case, because, as discussed above, networks often charge retailers more to offset these purchases and therefore don’t always need to cover the costs themselves.

Some credit cards, such as the Discover It, offer solid reward schemes and would also be included on any list of the best non-reward credit cards. It’s a solid all-rounder and it’s not alone. However, many reward cards charge high annual fees and penalty rates, just like you’ll find with a store card.

It’s important to study the small print and make sure the card is viable. If you’re going to clear the balance every month, a slightly higher interest rate won’t hurt, especially if it comes with some generous rewards. But if there is any doubt and even the slightest chance that you won’t clear the balance, it’s always best to focus on a low-interest rate first.

Even the most generous 5% cash back reward card will not offset the losses occurred by paying a few more percentage points of interest.

Will Reward/Store Cards Affect my Credit Score?

Credit cards trigger hard inquiries, which can reduce your credit score by up to 5 points. This is true for every credit card that you apply for. Rate shopping can combine multiple inquiries into one if they are for the same type of credit, but this doesn’t apply to credit cards.

A new account will also impact your score. This impact is often minimal and if you keep up with your repayments then it will vanish in time. However, if you miss a payment, max-out your card or increase your credit utilization score, it could have a detrimental effect on your score and your finances.

Keep store cards to a minimum and only sign up if you’re 100% sure you’re getting a good deal that will benefit you in the short-term and the long-term.

Truth About Reward and Store Credit Cards is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

How to Protect Your Credit Score During COVID-19

A young Black woman sits outside on her laptop, drinking a coffee and looking up how to protect her credit score from COVID.

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has affected everyone all around the world. Extended isolation and sudden job losses have everyone thinking about their futures. Lots of people are concerned about losing a reliable income source during this time of crisis. Some have even been forced to shut their businesses. The global pandemic has turned many people’s financial lives upside down.

As you work on keeping your bills in good standing and your finances going strong, you should also pay attention to your credit score. Even if you’re delaying some major purchases like buying a car or a home or going on a trip, you still need to maintain good credit. You’ll eventually start spending again, and you’ll need a good credit score.

But how can you protect your credit score during COVID-19? Keep in mind that your credit scores and reports play a crucial role in your future financial opportunities. The following steps will be your handy guide in managing and protecting your credit score during this global pandemic.

Stay on Top of Your Credit
Reports

Even on good days, make sure you regularly review your credit reports from the three credit bureaus. You can get free annual credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com. Through April 2021, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion are allowing consumers to access their credit reports for free weekly. Take advantage of this offer to make sure that any accommodations you request from lenders are appropriately reported and that your identity is safe and secure.

You can also sign up for the free Credit Report Card from Credit.com. With our report card, you’ll see your VantageScore 3.0 from Experian, as well as personalized information on what is affecting your credit score and how you can improve. If you want to dive deeper, sign up for ExtraCredit to see 28 of your FICO scores from all three credit bureaus.

Get ExtraCredit

Keep Up with Your Payments

Late payments can affect your credit history and credit reports for up to seven years. Prioritize paying your bills on time when you can, even during financially difficult times. You can do this by setting up reminders to alert you of payment deadlines. Also, you should make it a habit to make at least the minimum payment each month. Doing so will help you in keeping a good payment history record and prevents you from paying late fees.

Contact your lender whenever you can’t
make payments on time. Lots of lenders have announced proactive measures to aid
their borrowers affected by the global pandemic. Some are willing to provide
loan extensions, interest rates reduction, forbearance, or repayment
flexibilities. The best thing to do is to get in touch with your lender and
explain your current situation. Don’t forget to ask for written confirmation if
any agreements were made. 

Be Aware of Your Protections

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) has protections to help your credit score remain unaffected during the pandemic. This Act puts special requirements on some agencies and companies reporting your payment information to the credit reporting companies. The requirements are applicable if you’re affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and specifically covered by the Act.

If you request an accommodation under the CARES Act, your creditors will report your account to the credit reporting agencies based on the current standing of your credit when the agreement is made. The requirements set by the CARES Act are only applicable to agreements made between 31st of January 2020 and 120 days after the COVID-19 national emergency officially ends.

Get to Know What Impacts Your
Score

If you’re currently unemployed and wondering if it will affect your credit score, the answer is no. Unemployment itself will not impact your score. Making late payments and missing payments are the things that most significantly affect your credit score. This is why we recommend getting in touch with your lender as soon as you suspect you may not be able to make a payment in full on time. Inform them of your current situation. This can also help you cope with your anxiety.

Hard inquiries, account mix, and credit age also impact your credit score, but to a lesser degree. Your major concern should be keeping your credit utilization low and paying bills on time.

Keep Yourself and Your
identity Protected

Securing your personal information and identity is also crucial in protecting your credit score. Identity theft and scams are rampant during this coronavirus pandemic. Your personal information can unlock different financial resources. Hackers and cybercriminals can utilize all your personal information to impersonate you and open credit card accounts, make purchases, transfer funds, and borrow money. If left undetected, this activity can significantly damage your credit score.

Though the damage is reversible, the entire process will be costly. That’s precisely why prevention is always the best option. ExtraCredit from Credit.com, for example, offers $1 million in identity theft protection and dark web monitoring, among other features.

Make Budgeting and Planning a Habit

During this crisis, budgeting is essential for keeping your credit card debt low and your credit score high. Pay attention to how much money you make and the amount of money you spend. Identify expenses where you can cut the usual costs, at least temporarily.

Reworking your budget is necessary, especially if you’re currently unemployed or earning less money. You can consider the following money-saving ideas to maximize your savings:

  • Put nonessential purchases such as online shopping and clothes on hold
  • Temporarily suspend nonessential services such as cleaning and lawn care
  • Cancel subscriptions on cable, music streaming, video streaming, etc.
  • Search for affordable meal planning solutions
  • Cancel fitness and gym memberships
  • Cut back child-related extracurriculars such as tutoring, lessons, and sports
  • Spend less on takeout

Although reducing costs is not fun, the
result will reduce your financial stress and will allow you to better protect
your credit.

You Can Protect Your Credit Score from COVID-19

All the things mentioned above have one thing in common: All require taking a proactive approach to your finances and credit. Follow the six credit-protection strategies mentioned above to maintain and protect your good credit even if you are facing a financial crisis.

About the Author

Lidia S. Hovhan is a part of Content and Marketing team at OmnicoreAgency. She contributes articles about how to integrate digital marketing strategy with traditional marketing to help business owners to meet their online goals. You can find really professional insights in her writings.


The post How to Protect Your Credit Score During COVID-19 appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

Amazon Prime Card offering new Whole Foods card art, limited-time bonus

On Jan. 20, Chase announced a new card design option for the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature card featuring Whole Foods Market art and added a limited-time sign-up bonus offer for those who prefer to shop at Whole Foods in-store.

Amazon has become a leader in grocery shopping during the pandemic, with consumers avoiding grocery stores due to health safety concerns – not to mention the convenience of shopping from a web browser. Amazon Prime members can enjoy speedy free delivery, as well as get access to online shopping at Whole Foods Market and special member deals when shopping in-store.

They can also count on extra savings if they carry the Amazon Prime Rewards card from Chase – or if they’re looking to apply in the next few weeks.

Here’s what you need to know.

Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature card

Amazon Prime Card Whole Foods

Our rating: 3.8 out of 5
Score required: Good to excellent
Type of card: Cash back
Spending categories: Amazon, Whole Foods, restaurants, gas stations, drug stores

  • 5% back on Amazon.com and Whole Foods purchases
  • 2% back on restaurant, gas station and drug store purchases
  • 1% back on other purchases
  • $70 Amazon.com gift card upon approval or $100 statement credit after spending $100 at Whole Foods in first 2 months
  • No annual fee

Our take: While the Amazon Prime Rewards card offers excellent cash back on Amazon and Whole Foods purchases, it might not be the best choice for customers who don’t currently have a Prime membership and aren’t looking to subscribe.

A new Whole Foods card design and limited-time offer

Chase introduced a new card design option for new Amazon Prime Rewards cardholders, featuring Whole Foods Market art. New cardmembers with an eligible Prime membership can choose the new design when they apply for the card. If you’re an existing cardholder and would like to switch to the new design option, you can call in to request a new card after Jan. 22.

If you frequently shop at Whole Foods in-store, the new limited-time introductory offer can also be exciting news for you. Through March 3, new Amazon Prime Rewards Visa cardholders can earn a $100 statement credit after spending $100 in Whole Foods Market stores in the first two months from account opening. Alternatively, they can still choose the standard $70 Amazon gift card offer as a sign-up bonus.

Considering the standard bonus is lower, the new temporary offer might be a better deal. On the other hand, if you avoid shopping in-store or normally use Amazon Fresh for buying groceries, the gift card might make more sense for you.

Should I start shopping at Whole Foods if I have an Amazon credit card?

If you already shop at Whole Foods, the 5% back with the Amazon Prime Rewards Signature Visa and 10% off specially marked items is a good deal. The discounts, though, don’t make Whole Foods cheaper than other grocery stores.

In fact, according to a study from 2019, Whole Foods remains the most expensive grocery store with its prices at 34% above Walmart, which was reported to have the lowest prices overall. If your goal is to save on groceries, Whole Foods is evidently not the best option – even if you carry the Amazon Prime card.

Other cards to consider

The Amazon Prime Card isn’t the only option you should consider if you often shop on Amazon or at Whole Foods.

See related: Which is the best card to use on Amazon.com purchases?

For instance, with the Chase Amazon.com Rewards Visa card, you can get a $50 Amazon gift card upon approval and earn 3% on Amazon and Whole Foods purchases, 2% percent at restaurants, gas stations and drugstores and 1% on all else. If you don’t have a Prime membership and aren’t looking to subscribe, this is a good option, since the card doesn’t require a cardholder to be a member.

If you do have a membership and shop on Amazon a lot, the Amazon Prime card is a better deal. With 5% for purchases made at Whole Foods and on Amazon, 2% at restaurants, gas stations and drugstores and 1% on all else, this card is hard to beat for Amazon and Whole Foods lovers.

If you’re looking for a card to buy groceries, consider the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, which could save you more than the Amazon Prime Visa at Whole Foods. Why? Blue Cash Preferred cardholders earn 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in purchases per year, then 1%).

See related: Best credit cards for grocery shopping

Bottom line

You can now stack your rewards at Whole Foods, earning cash back and the limited-time bonus with the Amazon Prime Card, and you can get extra savings from the loyalty program. Whether it makes sense to shop at Whole Foods, even with rewards cards and the loyalty program, is up to you.

Source: creditcards.com

Should I Cash Out My 401k to Pay Off Debt?

Paying off debt may feel like a never-ending process. With so many potential solutions, you may not know where to start. One of your options may be withdrawing money from your retirement fund. This may make you wonder, “should I cash out my 401k to pay off debt?” Cashing out your 401k early may cost you in penalties, taxes, and your financial future so it’s usually wise to avoid doing this if possible. When in doubt, consult your financial advisor to help determine what’s best for you.

Before cashing out your 401k, we suggest weighing the pros and cons, plus the financial habits you could change to reduce debt. The right move may be adjusting your budget to ensure each dollar is being put to good use. Keep reading to determine if and when it makes sense to cash out your 401k.

How to Determine If You Want to Cash Out Your Retirement

How to Determine If You Want to Cash Out Your Retirement

Deciding to cash out your 401k depends on your financial position. If debt is causing daily stress, you may consider serious debt payoff plans. Early withdrawal from your 401k could cost you in

Deciding to cash out your 401k depends on your financial position. If debt is causing daily stress, you may consider serious debt payoff plans. Early withdrawal from your 401k could cost you in taxes and fees as your 401k has yet to be taxed. Meaning, the gross amount you withdraw from your 401k will be taxed in full, so assess your financial situation before making a decision.

Check Your Eligibility

Depending on your 401k account, you may not be able to withdraw money without a valid reason. Hefty medical bills and outstanding debts may be valuable reasons, but going on a shopping spree isn’t. Below are a few requirements to consider for an early withdrawal:

  • Financial hardships may include medical expenses, educational fees, bills to prevent foreclosure or eviction, funeral expenses, or home repairs.
  • Your withdrawal is lower or exactly the amount of financial assistance you need.

To see what you may be eligible for, look up your 401k documentation or reach out to a trusted professional.

Assess Your Current Financial Situation

Sit down and create a list of your savings, assets, and debts. How much debt do you have? Are you able to allocate different funds towards debts? If you have $2,500 in credit card debt and a steady source of income, you may be able to pay off debt by adjusting your existing habits. Cutting the cord with your TV, cable, or streaming services could be a great money saver.

However, if you’re on the verge of foreclosure or bankruptcy, living with a strict budget may not be enough. When looking into more serious debt payoff options, your 401k may be the best route.

Calculate How Much of Your Retirement Is at Risk

Having a 401k is crucial for your financial future, and the government tries to reinforce that for your best interest. To encourage people to save, anyone who withdraws their 401k early pays a 10 percent penalty fee. When, or if, you go to withdraw your earnings early, you may have to pay taxes on the amount you withdraw. Your tax rates will depend on federal income and state taxes where you reside.

Say you’re in your early twenties and you have 40 years until you’d like to retire. You decide to take out $10,000 to put towards your student loans. Your federal tax rate is 10 percent and your state tax is four percent. With the 10 percent penalty fee, federal tax, and state tax, you would receive $7,600 of your $10,000 withdrawal. The extra $2,400 expense would be paid in taxes and penalties.

The bottom line: No matter how much you withdraw early from your 401k, you will face significant fees. These fees include federal taxes, state taxes, and penalty fees.

What Are the Pros and Cons?

What Are the Pros and Cons?

Before withdrawing from your 401k, there are some pros and cons to consider before cashing out early.

Pros:

  • Pay off debt sooner: In some cases, you may pay off debt earlier than expected. By putting your 401k withdrawal toward debt, you may be able to pay off your account in full. Doing so could help you save on monthly interest payments.
  • Put more towards savings: If you’re able to pay off your debt with your early withdrawal, you may free up your budget. If you have extra money each month, you could contribute more to your savings. Adding to your savings could earn you interest when placed in a proper account.
  • Less financial stress: Debt may cause you daily stress. By increasing your debt payments with a 401k withdrawal, you may save yourself energy. After paying off debt, you may consider building your emergency funds.
  • Higher disposable income: If you’re able to pay off your debts, you may have more financial freedom. With this freedom, you could save for a house or invest in side hustles.

Cons:

  • Higher tax bill: You may have to pay a hefty tax payment for your withdrawal. Your 401k is considered gross income that’s taxed when paid out. Your federal and state taxes are determined by where you reside and your yearly income.
  • Pay a penalty fee: To discourage people from cashing out their 401k, there’s a 10 percent penalty. You may be charged this penalty in full.
  • Cut your investment earnings: You gain interest on money you have stored in your 401k. When you withdraw money, you may earn a lower amount of interest.
  • Push your retirement date: You may be robbing your future self. With less money in your retirement fund, you’ll lower your retirement income. Doing so could push back your desired retirement date.

6 Ways to Pay Off Debt Without Cashing Out Your 401k

6 Ways to Pay Off Debt Without Cashing Out Your 401k

There are a few ways to become debt-free without cutting into your 401k. Paying off debt may not be easy, but it could benefit your future self and your current state of mind. Work towards financial freedom with these six tips.

1. Negotiate Your Credit Card Interest Rates

Call your credit card customer service center and ask to lower your rates on high-interest accounts. Look at your current interest rate, account history, and competitor rates. After researching, call your credit card company and share your customer loyalty. Follow up by asking for lower interest rates to match their competitors. Earning lower interest rates may save you interest payments.

2. Halt Your Credit Card Spending

Consider restricting your credit card spending. If credit card debt is your biggest stressor, cut up or hide your cards to avoid shopping temptations. Check in on your financial goals by downloading our app for quick updates on the fly. We send out weekly updates to see where you are with your financial goals.

3. Put Bonuses Towards Your Debt

Any time you get a monetary bonus, consider putting it towards debts. This could be a raise, yearly bonus, tax refund, or monetary gifts from your loved ones. You may have a set budget without this supplemental income, so act as if you never received it. Without budgeting for the extra income, you may feel less tempted to spend it.

4. Evaluate All Your Options for Paying Down Debt

If you’re in dire need to pay off your debts, look into other accounts like your savings or emergency fund. While money saved can help in times of need, your financial situation may be an emergency. To save on early withdrawal taxes and fees, you can borrow from savings accounts. To cover future emergency expenses, avoid draining your savings accounts entirely.

5. Transfer Balances to a Low-Interest Credit Card

If high-interest payments are diminishing your budget, transfer them to a low-interest account. Compare your current debt interest rates to other competitors. Sift through their fine print to spot any red flags. Credit card companies may hide variable interest rates or fees that drive up the cost. Find a transfer card that works for you, contact the company to apply, and transfer over your balances.

6. Consider Taking Out a 401k Loan Rather than Withdrawing

To avoid early withdrawal fees, consider taking out a 401k loan. A 401k loan is money borrowed from your retirement fund. This loan charges interest payments that are essentially paid back to your future self. While some interest payments are put back in your account, your opportunity for compounding interest may slightly decrease. Compounding interest is interest earned on your principal balance and accumulated interest from past periods. While you may pay a small amount in interest fees, this option may help you avoid the 10 percent penalty fee.

As your retirement account grows, so does your interest earned — that’s why time is so valuable. While taking out a 401k loan may be a better option than withdrawing from your 401k, you may lose out on a small portion of compounding interest. When, or if, you choose to take out a 401k loan, you may start making monthly payments right away. This allows your payments to grow interest and work for you sooner than withdrawing from your 401k.

This type of loan may vary on principle balance, interest rate, term length, and other conditions. In most cases, you’re allowed to borrow up to $50,000 or half of your account balance. Some accounts may also have a minimum loan balance. This means you’ll have to take out a certain amount to qualify. Interest rates on these loans generally charge market value rates, similar to commercial banks.

Pulling funds from your retirement account may look appealing when debt is looming over you. While withdrawing money from your 401k to pay off debt may help you now, it could hurt you in taxes and fees. Before withdrawing your retirement savings, see the effect it could have on your future budget. As part of your strategy, determine where you’re able to cut out unnecessary expenses with our app. Still on the fence about whether withdrawing funds is the right move for you? Consult your financial advisor to determine a debt payoff plan that works best for your budgeting goals.

The post Should I Cash Out My 401k to Pay Off Debt? appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Fed reports credit card balances continued to dip in November

Credit card balances slightly dipped in November, as the COVID pandemic fallouts continued, and with the government continuing to wrangle about a second round of fiscal stimulus measures.

Consumer revolving debt – which is mostly based on credit card balances – was down $700 million on a seasonally adjusted basis in November to $978.8 billion, according to the Fed’s G. 19 consumer credit report released Jan. 8.

In November, credit card balances were off 1% on an annualized basis, after October’s 6.7% drop, which came on the heels of September’s 3.2% annualized gain.

Total consumer debt outstanding – which includes student loans and auto loans, as well as revolving debt – continued to grow and rose $15.3 billion to $4.176 trillion in November, a 4.4% annualized gain.

Card balances had touched an all-time high in February 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic started impacting consumer spending and bank lending. They dipped below the $1 trillion mark in May, for the first time since September 2017.

The Fed also reports that interest rates on credit cards were at 14.65% in November, with the rates on cards that are assessed interest (since they carry a balance) at 16.28%.

See related: Paying with credit is getting more expensive in the pandemic

Consumers expect household spending to rise

Consumers expect their household spending at the median to grow 3.7% in the year ahead, the highest in more than four years – even though they don’t anticipate much growth in their income (2.1%) or earnings (2%) – according to the New York Fed’s survey of consumer expectations for November.

Moreover, they are less optimistic about their household financial situation in the year ahead, with more of them expecting it to decline, and fewer consumers expecting an improvement.

Even then, more respondents are optimistic about their ability to access credit in the coming year, expecting it will be easier. However, the mean probability of missing a minimum debt payment in the next three months rose by 1.6 percentage points to 10.9%. Even then, this is still below its 11.5% average for 2019.

Less cheer on labor market front

On the labor market front, more consumers expect that the U.S. unemployment rate will be higher in the year ahead, with the average probability of this outcome rising to 40.1% in November, from October’s 35.4%.

However, they were less pessimistic about the prospects of losing their jobs, with this probability down to 14.6% on average, from October’s 15.5% (but still above the 2019 average of 14.3%).  Those above the age of 60 and those without a college degree were more optimistic about holding on to their jobs.

The respondents were less likely to voluntarily leave their jobs, with the mean probability of this down 1.3 percentage points to 16.6% (a low for the survey). Those 60 and older were at the forefront of this decline. However, respondents on average were more optimistic about the prospects for landing a new job if they lost their current ones.

In the meantime, the government reported that the economy shed 140,000 jobs in December, and the unemployment rate remained at 6.7%. The jobs lost were mostly in the sectors hard hit from the pandemic, with closures impacting the leisure and hospitality sector, as well as private education jobs.

The retail sector added jobs to aid holiday shopping, mostly in warehouses (which benefit from e-commerce) and superstores.

Although average hourly earnings for private sector employees rose $0.23, this is mostly because of the loss of lower-paying jobs in the leisure and hospitality sector, which tilted the average wage for the employed workers to the upside.

In online commentary, Diane Swonk, chief economist at GrantThornton, noted, “The silver lining to a bad overall jobs report is that the losses were concentrated in sectors that are most sensitive to COVID. Many of those jobs will come back once we get to herd immunity. The challenge is getting there, given the slow rollout of vaccines and poor uptake in some areas.”

Given that it will take a while to more fully open the economy, she is in favor of “aid today and another tranche once the new administration takes office.”

See related: Second stimulus deal provides $600 per individual

Application rates for credit cards plunged on pandemic impact

The New York Fed also reported in its credit access survey, which is conducted every four months as part of its survey of consumer expectations, that most credit applications and acceptance rates fell sharply after last February. Mortgage credit was the exception to this.

For credit cards, the application rate was off a steep 10.6 percentage points since February to touch a survey low of 15.7%. This decline impacted all age groups and credit score categories. Applications for credit card limit increases dropped 6.6 percentage points to 7.1% between February and October, another series low since the survey began in October 2013. The decline was spread across all ages and credit score categories.

Consumers applying for credit cards were also subject to steep rejection rates, with this rate rising 11.6 percentage points from February to touch 21.3% in October. Those looking for higher credit limits also were rejected about 37% of the time, from about 25% of the time in February.

No wonder consumers said they were less likely to apply for a credit card or credit limit increase in the next 12 months, with these figures falling 36% and 34% on average since February 2020. Those with credit scores above 680 led this decline.

Source: creditcards.com

Ways to Earn Extra Money for Paying Off Debt

Debt traps you in a seemingly endless cycle. More debt means more interest and less disposable income, which means you’re constantly fighting against the tide and are always one issue away from complete financial disaster. 

Once you start making repayments on this debt, there will be less interest to compound, which means the grip will loosen, you’ll have more breathing space, and you can look forward to a debt-free future.

In this guide, we’ll look at some of the ways you can earn extra cash to start clearing your debt, from acquiring additional work and responsibilities to making money-saving sacrifices.

Stop Wasting Money

The average American household wastes over $10,000 a year on unnecessary purchases. These purchases all fuel the economy and keep you and your family happy. But if you’re losing sleep because you have so much debt, it’s worth making these sacrifices to give you some peace of mind and build towards a better future.

Save on Grocery Bills

The average family spends between $300 and $500 a month on groceries and as much as 40% of this food goes to waste. The majority is fresh food past its expiration date but we also have a tendency to cook monster-sized meals that end up being thrown away.

To save money on your grocery bill, try the following:

  • Plan your shop carefully. Only buy fresh when you’re confident that the food will be eaten in the next day or two.
  • Reduce your portion sizes when cooking. It’s okay to err on the side of caution and make more than needed, but to cook double or triple what will be eaten is just wasteful.
  • Don’t worry too much about best-before dates. It doesn’t mean the food should be thrown away, just that it’s not at its best. The same applies to lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. In this case, you can rely more on the squeeze and sniff test.
  • Cook food that is about to expire and would otherwise be thrown out. You can freeze the meals for later. You can also try picking, preserving or juicing to reduce waste.

Eating Out

On average, American families spend close to $3,000 a year eating out. It’s a great way to spend time with the family or have a date night with your partner. However, if you have a lot of debt then $3,000 worth of restaurant visits is a little excessive. 

Stop spending so much money eating out and focus on some cheaper alternatives. A picnic is a great alternative. You can use some of that uneaten food and spend time with the family without paying a small fortune for the pleasure.

Stop the Vacations

Big families take one vacation a year on average and this costs them between $4,000 and $5,000. The more children you have, the more expensive it becomes. What’s more, around a third of these families will take as many as three additional, smaller vacations every year, potentially spending over $7,000.

Don’t sacrifice spending some time with your family but look for cheaper options instead. Choose a small cabin instead of a plush hotel. You can go for walks, play games, swim, hike—all free activities that could bring you even closer and cost even less.

Hold the Vices

Thousands are spent on cigarettes and gambling, and much more is spent on shopping sprees. If you have any of these habits, it’s time to put a stop to them. We don’t need to tell you about the benefits of stopping smoking or giving up those shopping sprees, but if you’re still not convinced about the gambling, then spend a few months recording every single dollar that you bet.

Most gamblers think they are breaking even or only losing a little, but when they monitor their activity, they discover they are actually losing a lot.

Check Your Subscriptions

According to a recent survey, most Americans underestimate how much money they spend on subscriptions. We’ve turned into a nation of subscribers, spending hundreds of dollars a month on dozens of services we barely use.

We pay for cable, streaming services, gyms—we convince ourselves that it won’t matter as it’s only a few dollars, but those costs can add up to a lot of wasted cash at the end of the year.

Sell Your Stuff

Many sites can help you offload your unwanted items. There’s a home for all the things you no longer need, from electronics and video games sold on eBay or Amazon, to clothes and furniture sold through sites like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and Swappa. 

It’s time to let go, stop hoarding, and earn some cash from the things you don’t need. Be honest with yourself and get rid before the value of those items depreciates more and you end up with worthless, dust-covered junk that just takes up space.

As an example, let’s imagine that you have a dozen old video games worth just $5 each on average, 10 old school textbooks worth just $2 each, a couple of furniture pieces worth $10, an unwanted guitar worth $50, and a couple of handbags worth $25 each.

Individually, those items aren’t worth much and you might think they’re not even worth your time trying to sell them, But combined, you’ll get $200 and if you put that towards a high-interest credit card debt, it could save you twice that in interest over the term. You will also free up some space in the process.

Get Another Job

You know you can make more money by asking for a pay rise. It goes without saying. The problem is, life isn’t quite that easy and, in most cases, asking for a pay rise will elicit little more than a short, sharp laugh from your employer. 

However, there are many ways you can earn money from a side hustle, taking advantage of the gig economy and swapping a little talent, a little time, and a lot of hard work for some cash.

Get a Part-Time Job

There is a multitude of ways you can earn some extra cash these days. The pay isn’t always great, but if you’re working towards clearing your debts and have some free time, every dollar helps.

Uber and Lyft are always looking for new drivers; retailers need shelf-stackers and greeters, and there is no shortage of delivery jobs. Review your free time, calculate when you can work, and see what’s available. 

Teach a Skill

Can you play a musical instrument or speak a second language? Do you have some other teachable skill? It has never been easier to make money as a part-time teacher, as sites like Preply.com, Udemy.com, Tutor.com, Noodle.com, TakeLessons.com, and many more bring all of these opportunities to you. 

You can visit the student’s house, invite them to yours or simply conduct the lessons via Skype or the site’s built-in conferencing software.

Freelance

Upwork.com, Guru.com, Fiverr.com—these sites and more have created a world of possibilities for skilled writers, designers, coders, and other experts. But they offer so much more than that. 

You don’t need to be particularly skilled to work on these sites as the pay is scaled based on ability and experience. If you have a little free time and some competent language skills, you can hire yourself as a virtual assistant to do basic admin work.

There are countless entrepreneurs seeking individuals to complete basic tasks such as transferring data, reviewing images, and answering emails. The pay isn’t great if your skills are limited, but you get to work from home on your own time. 

Cover the Basics

Freelancing and teaching may be out of the question if you don’t have any skills and are not computer literate. But there are still a few other options, including dog walker, lawn mower, babysitter, and general handyman. 

Ask your neighbors, friends, and family if they need any work; check Craigslist and local classifieds. Everyone can do something and there are always odd jobs available if you’re willing to work.

Try Some Other Methods

When the ordinary fails, it’s time for the extraordinary. There are some weird and wonderful ways you can make extra cash when needed.

Sell Your Hair

If your hair is long and untreated, you could make a tidy sum by selling it. Good quality human hair is used to make premium wigs and some companies are willing to pay thousands for the right locks. However, there are some strict conditions, such as the fact that it must be untreated and very well looked after.

House Sit

Sites like Thumbtack can connect you to homeowners looking for skilled workers, as well as people willing to look after their homes and belongings. They will pay you to stay in their homes and perform some basic chores while they’re away, such as watering plants, feeding pets, and mowing the lawn.

Make Something

If your skills are practical and not creative, turn your hand to making things and sell them through sites like Etsy, Facebook or your own online store. The world has been obsessed with single-use plastics for many years and it’s now waking up to the damage that has been done. Many consumers are willing to pay extra for something that has been handmade and is unique, especially if the money supports an independent creator.

Grow Your Own

If you have a yard and some free time, start growing some produce. Crops like potatoes, carrots, greens, and even some fruits are easy to grow and can give you a bumper crop every year. You’ll pay a few cents for the seeds and simply need to devote some time to digging, watering, and harvesting.

Think about how much money you’ll save if you have your own supply of vegetables and fruits and can just pick fresh from the yard whenever you’re cooking. If your family eats a lot of cheese or drinks a lot of wine or beer, you can also start producing your own supply. 

Cheese can be made with a lot of milk, a little rennet, and a few simple steps. Beer can be made using some do-it-yourself kits. 

As for wine, it’s one of the easiest things you can make yourself. You don’t even need grape juice as wine can be made from a multitude of fruit juices, vegetable juices, and more. You can even make a strong, fragrant white wine with a handful of fruit teabags. The only expense is the sugar, which means you can make several dozen bottles worth of wine for less than $10.

Join a Clinical Trial

Although it’s not a method we would recommend, it’s one that’s worth including. If you join a clinical trial, you’ll be paid to act as a guinea pig. The good news is that the majority of these trials run without incident and most subjects are as healthy at the end as they were at the beginning. The bad news is that there is always a risk and there’s no telling what will happen.

You can search for available trials on the Clinical Trials website run by the US National Library of Medicine. 

Summary: Paying Off Your Debt with Extra Money

Your first priority is to meet your minimum payment obligations and avoid any missed payments. Once you meet this obligation every month, you can put any extra cash you have towards clearing those debts. Every little helps, even if it’s just $50 or $100 here and there.

As an example, if you have a credit card debt of $10,000 with an APR of 25% and a minimum payment of $300, you’ll repay $17,251 in total over 58 months. Add just $100 a month and you’ll reduce the term by a whole 12 months and the balance by a massive $3,000. Take a look at our guides to the Debt Snowball Method and the Debt Avalanche Method to find the right payoff strategy for you. Both methods rely on you earning some extra cash and now that you’ve made it to the end of this article, you’ll know just how to do that!

Ways to Earn Extra Money for Paying Off Debt is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

Should You Refinance Your Student Loans?

Due to financial consequences of COVID-19 — and the broader impact on our economy — now is an excellent time to consider refinancing most loans you have. This can include mortgage debt you have that may be converted to a new loan with a lower interest rate, as well as auto loans, personal loans, and more.

Refinancing student loans can also make sense if you’re willing to transition student loans you currently have into a new loan with a private lender. Make sure to take time to compare rates to see how you could save money on interest, potentially pay down student loans faster, or even both if you took the steps to refinance.

Get Started and Compare Rates Now

Still, it’s important to keep a close eye on policies and changes from the federal government that have already taken place, as well as changes that might come to fruition in the next weeks or months. Currently, all federal student loans are locked in at a 0% APR and payments are suspended during that time. This change started on March 13, 2020 and lasts for 60 days, so borrowers with federal loans can skip payments and avoid interest charges until the middle of May 2020.

It’s hard to say what will happen after that, but it’s smart to start figuring out your next steps and determining if student loan refinancing makes sense for your situation. Note that, in addition to lower interest rates than you can get with federal student loans, many private student lenders offer signup bonuses as well. With the help of a lower rate and an initial bonus, you could end up far “ahead” by refinancing in a financial sense.

Still, there are definitely some negatives to consider when it comes to refinancing your student loans, and we’ll go over those disadvantages below.

Should You Refinance Now?

Do you have student loan debt at a higher APR than you want to pay?

  • If no: You shouldn’t refinance.
  • If yes: Go to next question.

Do you have good credit or a cosigner? 

  • If no: You shouldn’t refinance.
  • If yes:  Go to next question.

Do you have federal student loans?

  • If no: You can consider refinancing
  • If yes: Go to next question

Are you willing to give up federal protections like deferment, forbearance, and income-driven repayment plans?

  • If no: You shouldn’t refinance
  • If yes: Consider refinancing your loans.

Reasons to Refinance

There are many reasons student borrowers ultimately refinance their student loans, although they can vary from person to person. Here are the main situations where it can make sense to refinance along with the benefits you can expect to receive:

  • Secure a lower monthly payment on your student loans.
    You may want to consider refinancing your student loans if your ultimate goal is reducing your monthly payment so it fits in better with your budget and your goals. A lower interest rate could help you lower your payment each month, but so could extending your repayment timeline.
  • Save money on interest over the long haul.
    If you plan to refinance your loans into a similar repayment timeline with a lower APR, you will definitely save money on interest over the life of your loan.
  • Change up your repayment timeline.
    Most private lenders let you refinance your student loans into a new loan product that lasts 5 to 20 years. If you want to expedite your loan repayment or extend your repayment timeline, private lenders offer that option.
  • Pay down debt faster.
    Also, keep in mind that reducing your interest rate or repayment timeline can help you get out of student loan debt considerably faster. If you’re someone who wants to get out of debt as soon as you can, this is one of the best reasons to refinance with a private lender.

Why You Might Not Want to Refinance Right Now

While the reasons to refinance above are good ones, there are plenty of reasons you may want to pause on your refinancing plans. Here are the most common:

  • You want to wait and see if the federal government will offer 0% APR or forbearance beyond May 2020 due to COVID-19.
    The federal government has only extended forbearance through the middle of May right now, but they might lengthen the timeline of this benefit if you wait it out. Since this perk only applies to federal student loans, you would likely want to keep those loans at 0% APR for as long as the federal government allows.
  • You may want to take advantage of income-driven repayment plans.
    Income-driven repayment plans like Pay As You Earn (PAYE) and Income-Based Repayment let you pay a percentage of your discretionary income each month then have your loans forgiven after 20 to 25 years. These plans only apply to federal student loans, so you shouldn’t refinance with a private lender if you are hoping to sign up.
  • You’re worried you won’t be able to keep up with your student loan payments due to your job or economic conditions.
    Federal student loans come with deferment and forbearance that can buy you time if you’re struggling to make the payments on your student loans. With that in mind, you may not want to give up these protections if you’re unsure about your future and how your finances might be.
  • Your credit score is low and you don’t have a cosigner.
    Finally, you should probably stick with federal student loans if your credit score is poor and you don’t have a cosigner. Federal student loans come with fairly low rates and most don’t require a credit check, so they’re a great deal if your credit is imperfect.

Important Things to Note

Before you move forward with student loan refinancing, there are some details you should know and understand. Here are our top tips and some important factors to keep in mind.

Compare Rates and Loan Terms

Because student loan refinancing is such a competitive industry, shopping around for loans based on their rates and terms can help you find out which lenders are offering the most lucrative refinancing options for someone with your credit profile and income.

We suggest using Credible to shop for student loan refinancing since this loan platform lets you compare offers from multiple lenders in one place. You can even get prequalified for student loan refinancing and “check your rate” without a hard inquiry on your credit score.

Check for Signup Bonuses

Some student loan refinancing companies let you score a bonus of $100 to $750 just for clicking through a specific link to start the process. This money is free money if you’re able to take advantage, and you can still qualify for low rates and fair loan terms that can help you get ahead.

We definitely suggest checking with lenders that offer bonuses provided you can also score the most competitive rates and terms.

Consider Your Personal Eligibility

Also keep your personal eligibility in mind, including factors beyond your credit score. Most applicants who are turned down for student loan refinancing are turned away based on their debt-to-income ratio and not their credit score. Generally speaking, this means they owe too much money on all their debts when you compare their liabilities to their income.

Credible also notes that adding a creditworthy cosigner can improve your chances of prequalifying for a loan. They also state that “many lenders offer cosigner release once borrowers have made a minimum number of on-time payments and can demonstrate they are ready to assume full responsibility for repayment of the loan on their own.”

It’s Not “All or Nothing”

Also, remember that you don’t have to refinance all of your student loans. You can just refinance the loans at the highest interest rates, or any particular loans you believe could benefit from a different repayment term.

4 Steps to Refinance Your Student Loans

Once you’re ready to pull the trigger, there are four simple steps involved in refinancing your student loans.

Step 1: Gather all your loan information.

Before you start the refinancing process, it helps to have all your loan information, including your student loan pay stubs, in one place. This can help you determine the total amount you want to refinance as well as the interest rates and payments you currently have on your loans.

Step 2: Compare lenders and the rates they offer.

From there, take the time to compare lenders in terms of the rates they can offer. You can use this tool to get the process started.

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Step 3: Choose the best loan offer you can qualify for.

Once you’ve filled out basic information, you can choose among multiple loan offers. Make sure to check for signup bonus offers as well as interest rates, loan repayment terms, and interest rates you can qualify for.

Step 4: Complete your loan application.

Once you decide on a lender that offers the best rates and terms, you can move forward with your full student loan refinancing application. Your student loan company will ask for more personal information and details on your existing student loans, which they will combine into your new loan with a new repayment term and monthly payment.

The Bottom Line

Whether it makes sense to refinance your student loans is a huge question that only you can answer after careful thought and consideration. Make sure you weigh all the pros and cons, including what you may be giving up if you’re refinancing federal loans with a private lender.

Refinancing your student loans can make sense if you have a plan to pay them off, but this strategy works best if you create a debt repayment plan you can stick with for the long-term.

The post Should You Refinance Your Student Loans? appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

Source: goodfinancialcents.com

The Best Time to Buy a TV, Mattress and More: Here’s Your Guide

Some purchases are tough to plan: car repairs, patches for a leaky roof, a working furnace right before the big snowstorm hits.

But more often than not, you can plan ahead for life’s necessities — and some non-necessities, too.

Before you let an impulse buy drain your bank account, consult our handy calendar of the best time to buy absolutely everything. You might be surprised at the deals each new season brings!

Our Guide to the Best Time to Buy Everything

Be a smart shopper and plan your purchases according to this calendar, which plots the best deals, month by month.

What to Buy in January

Kick off the new year with big savings.

TVs

Retailers know that the newest TVs and other electronics are revealed at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in January. This makes January the best time to buy a TV, thanks to major discounts — as long as you don’t covet the new, fancy models too much.

Calendars

No need to rush to the bookstore in December to get a new wall or desk calendar. Buy one in January to get a discount.

Gym Memberships and Home Fitness Equipment

The pandemic may have kept you out of the gym, and you might still be hesitant to return. But gyms are known to offer big incentives to sign up and get fit in the New Year. Home gym equipment also goes on sale in January, as do scales, according to Consumer Reports. Here’s some guidance on what equipment you need for a good, affordable home gym.

Linens

The yearly tradition of hosting a white sale dates back to the 1870s, when linens were only available in white. But modern white sales include linens and home goods in every color of the rainbow.

Don’t be swayed by sheets with super-high thread counts — you probably don’t know what different thread counts feel like.

Christmas Gear

I know, you have an entire 11 months until you get invited to your next ugly sweater party. But my Goodwill intel reports that January is the best time to find a truly hideous sweater for way cheap. Other Christmas supplies are also on sale in January, including holiday cards and decorations.

What to Buy in February

Fall in love with these deals during February.

Mattresses

Presidents Day is a good time to buy a mattress because it gives you a long weekend to shop with your partner for an item you should both agree on before buying.

That’s why retailers use the holiday to post sales on pricy items many people have put off buying or replacing for a while. Take advantage.

Jewelry

One of the best times to buy jewelry is in February — but only after Valentine’s Day.

Look for deep discounts after retailers remove their rose-colored glasses. It’s not worth paying the “love tax” to celebrate with your sweetheart, anyway.

Also look for discounts on other Valentine’s Day goods, such as cards and chocolate after the holiday itself.

Winter Coats

Winter coats take up a ton of room in your closet and just as much room in stores. Help retailers clear ’em out this month, and you’ll get a big discount.

What to Buy in March

Spring forward by making these smart purchases in March.

A woman carries her luggage down an alleyway in Europe.

Luggage

Don’t wait until a week before your big family vacation to get a new suitcase. March is the best time to buy luggage, as it’s on sale to entice shoppers who are desperate to be done with their snowy, dreary winters and who crave a little spring break.

Just don’t forget where you put it when it’s time to pack.

What to Buy in April

The smart shopper always plans ahead.

Tools

You don’t have to wait until Father’s Day to find excellent prices on tools and home improvement gear.

If you’re eager to start your home DIY projects in the spring, go ahead and shop now.

Sneakers

Everyone’s finally going outside again. Let sporting goods stores make it easier for you to keep up with your New Year’s resolution (remember that?) by discounting those new kicks.

What to Buy in May

Is your refrigerator running? If not, May is a great time to get a new one.

Baby Gear

I understand you’re not going to time your baby’s birth to get the best deal on all their accoutrements.

But if your kiddo needs a new stroller or high chair, May is a good time to shop, according to Consumer Reports — especially if you can grab the Memorial Day deals.

Refrigerators

New refrigerator models debut in the summer. Shop in May to get last year’s model at a better price.

You can’t tell the difference between last year’s refrigerator models and this year’s, right? Didn’t think so.

Also look for deals on other necessities like freezers, oven ranges and air conditioners, according to Consumer Reports.

What to Buy in June

Here come the… deals?

A young girl watches a movie on her iPhone on a plane.

Vacation Tickets

Hopefully 2021 proves to be a better year for travel. Planning a summer vacation? Travel early or late in the summer instead of during peak times. And you’ll pay less for airfare if you can travel midweek.

Outdoor Gear

Now that summer is in full swing, outdoor gear — like tents, backpacks, lanterns and even fitness gear — is marked down.

Cookware and China

June is typically peak wedding season, and stores hope you’ve planned ahead to buy wedding registry gifts.

Now is when those items are discounted, and it’s the perfect time to replace or upgrade what’s in your own cabinets.

What to Buy in July

Don’t sweat these savings.

Furniture

New styles hit stores in February and August, so retailers spend much of July clearing out old stock, especially over Fourth of July weekend — making this the best time to buy furniture.

Dehumidifiers

July means humidity. Pick up an older version of a much-needed dehumidifier in July or August, according to Consumer Reports.

What to Buy in August

The dog days of summer offer some amazing bargains.

Computers (Except Apple Products)

Computer manufacturers typically release their new models in the summer, so back-to-school sales are a great time to buy last season’s model. The specs probably won’t be different enough for you to notice, unless you’re a hardcore gamer or designer.

Apple products, however, typically get announced in the fall, so hold off to get that new MacBook.

Grills

Grilling season doesn’t stop at the stroke of Labor Day. Buy at the tail end of summer to enjoy your grill until almost Thanksgiving (OK, depending on where you live).

What to Buy in September

Back to school? More like back to the checkout lane.

Thanksgiving Flights

Generally, September is the best month to buy Thanksgiving flights.

Swimsuits

Even though your local pool might be closed for the season, you should think about stocking up on swimsuits for next year.

A House

This might not be a frequent purchase, but if you’re in the market for a new home, it can help to hold off past the busy spring and summer buying seasons.

Your costs typically drop a few percentage points at the end of September (after the kids have gone back to school), making this the best time to buy a house.

What to Buy in October

There’s a joke about spooky deals in here, but I won’t make it.

Denim

Jeans typically get discounted in October, after back-to-school sales have ended and families are stocked up on fall attire.

Patio Furniture

Goodbye summer, hello savings.

It’s worth checking out the patio furniture if you don’t mind storing it over the winter. When that first warm spring day hits, you’ll be ready to bask in the sunshine.

Leaf Blowers

October means fall leaves — and they are likely covering your yard. Pick up a leaf blower, and while you’re at it, get ready for the snowy days ahead with a snow blower, according to Consumer Reports.

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What to Buy in November

The days get shorter, but the deals get bigger.

Small Appliances

This time of year is ripe with rock-bottom prices on giftable small appliances.

If you’re looking for a blender, food processor, coffee maker or anything else that’ll proudly take up space on your kitchen counter, it’s worth waiting until Black Friday sales begin in stores and online.

A woman gets her wedding gown fastened in the back.

Wedding Gowns

Bridal shops are slow before the proposal rush during the holiday season, so the few weeks before Thanksgiving is a good time to start trying on gowns.

Ask about sample sales and last year’s styles that may be priced to move.

What to Buy in December

Celebrate the season… by shopping smart, obviously.

Swimming Pools

If your family’s been begging for a backyard pool, December is the best time to have one installed. It might be chilly, but pool pros would rather avoid working on 90-degree days!

Plus, when their workload slows in the winter, many contractors are willing to lower their prices.

Toys

Toy deals stick around after those Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales in November.

Even if you’re done with holiday shopping for your little ones, consider picking up their favorite character and activity toys while they’re still discounted to stash away for birthdays.

Lisa Rowan is a former staff writer and producer at The Penny Hoarder.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

What is a Foreign Transaction Fee and How Can You Avoid It?

Foreign transaction fees are irritating little charges that every traveler has faced, and most credit card users have questioned. They are the bane of a frequent flyer’s life and if not managed carefully, could result in some serious charges. But what are these charges, why do they exist, what’s the average fee, and how can you avoid them?

What is a Foreign Transaction Fee?

A foreign transaction fee is a surcharge levied every time you make a payment in a foreign currency or transfer money through a foreign bank. These fees are charged by credit card networks and issuers, often totaling around 3%.

For example, imagine that you’re on holiday in the United Kingdom, where all transactions occur in Pound Sterling. You go out for a meal and use your credit card to pay a bill of £150. Your credit card issuer first converts this sum into US Dollars and then charges a foreign transaction fee, after which the network (Visa, MasterCard, American Express) will do the same.

If we assume that £150 equates to exactly $200, this will show on your credit card statement first followed by a separate foreign transaction fee of $6.

When Will You Pay Foreign Transaction Fees?

If you’re moving money from a US bank account to an international account in a different currency, there’s a good chance you will be hit with foreign transaction fees and may also be charged additional transfer fees. More commonly, these fees are charged every time you make a payment in a foreign currency.

Many years ago, foreign transaction fees were limited to purchases made in other currencies, but they are now charged for online purchases as well. If the site you’re using is based in another country, there’s a good chance you’ll face these charges.

It isn’t always easy to know in advance whether these fees will be charged or not. Many foreign based sites use software that automatically detects your location and changes the currency as soon as you visit. To you, it seems like everything is listed in dollars, but you may actually be paying in a foreign currency.

Other Issues that American Travelers Face 

Foreign transaction fees aren’t the only issue you will encounter when trying to use American reward credit cards abroad. If we return to the previous example of a holiday in the UK, you may discover that the restaurant doesn’t accept your credit card at all.

In the UK, as in the US, Visa and MasterCard are the two most common credit card networks and are accepted anywhere you can use a credit or debit card. However, while Discover is the third most common network in the US, it’s all but non-existent in the UK. 

Discover has claimed that the card has “moderate” acceptance in the UK, but this is a generous description and unless you’re shopping in locations that tailor for many tourists and American tourists in particular, it likely won’t be accepted.

There are similar issues with American Express, albeit to a lesser extent. AMEX is the third most common provider in the UK, but finding a retailer that actually accepts this card is very hit and miss.

Do Foreign Transaction Fees Count Towards Credit Card Rewards?

Foreign transaction fees, and all other bank and credit card fees, do not count towards your rewards total but the initial charge does. If we return to the previous example of a $200 restaurant payment, you will earn reward points on that $200 but not on the additional $6 that you pay in fees.

How to Avoid Foreign Transaction Fees

The easiest way to avoid foreign transaction fees is to use a credit card that doesn’t charge them. Some premium cards and reward cards will absorb the fee charged for these transactions, which means you can take your credit card with you when you travel and don’t have to worry about extra charges.

This is key, because simply converting your dollars to your target currency isn’t the best way to avoid foreign transaction fees. A currency conversion will come with its own fees and it’s also very risky to carry large sums of cash with you when you’re on vacation. 

Credit Cards Without Foreign Transaction Fees

All credit card offers are required to clearly state a host of basic features, including interest rates, reward schemes, and annual fees. However, you may need to do a little digging to learn about foreign transaction fees. These fees can be found in the credit card’s terms and conditions, which should be listed in full on the provider’s website.

To get you started, here are a few credit cards that don’t charge foreign transaction fees:

  1. Bank of America Travel Rewards Card: A high-reward and low-fee credit card backed by the Bank of America.
  2. Capital One: All Capital One cards are free of foreign transaction fees, including their reward cards, such as the Venture card.
  3. Chase Sapphire Preferred: A premium rewards card aimed at big spenders. There is an annual fee, but not foreign transaction fees.
  4. Citi Prestige: One of several Citi cards that don’t charge foreign transaction fees, and the best one in terms of rewards. 
  5. Discover It: A solid all-round credit card with no foreign transaction fees. However, as noted above, the Discover network is rare outside of the United States.
  6. Wells Fargo Propel World: An American Express credit card with good rewards and low fees, including no foreign transaction fees.

Summary: One of Many Fees

Foreign transaction fees are just some of the many fees you could be paying every month. Credit cards work on a system of rewards and penalties; you’re rewarded when you make qualifying purchases and penalized when you make payments in foreign currencies and in casinos, and when you use your card to withdraw cash.

Many of these fees are fixed as a percentage of your total spend, but some also charge interest and you will pay this even if you clear your balance in full every month. To avoid being hit with these fees, pay attention to the terms and conditions and look for cards that won’t punish you for the things you do regularly.

What is a Foreign Transaction Fee and How Can You Avoid It? is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

Using Credit Cards During COVID-19

Since we’re in the middle of a pandemic, we’re all trying to figure out the new normal. Whether you’re working from home, have a houseful of kids to keep busy or find yourself facing financial uncertainty, everyone has at least a little adjusting to do. While you’re taking stock of your life and what you need to adjust, it’s probably a good idea to take a look at your finances and credit card use, too.

Wondering how you should use your credit card? We’ve got some ideas for you on how you can use your credit card in the middle of a global emergency. 

How to Use Your Credit Card During a Pandemic

But before we get started, remember to take a hard look at your personal finances before following any financial information. Everyone’s situation is different—so what might work for you might not work for someone else, and vice versa.

1. Keep Online Shopping to a Minimum

If you’re working from home, the temptation to online shop can be all too real. But when you’re in the middle of a pandemic, you might need to put your money towards unexpected expenses. 

David Lord, General Manager of Credit.com, has some advice on preventing frivolous spending. “Try browsing, putting things in your cart and leaving them for the day,” Lord suggests. “If you take a look at your cart the next day, you’ll most likely find that 90% of the time you won’t remember the things you placed in your cart in the first place.”

If the temptation to online shop is too strong, Lord suggests buying something that’ll keep you occupied for a while, like a puzzle, a paint set or a yoga mat. That way, you’ll be too distracted to buy something else.

2. Try to Keep Your Credit in Good Shape

During a global emergency, it feels like everything’s up in the air. Because of that, it’s important to stay as on top of things as you can and prepare for the worst-case scenario. Having good credit is important in the best of times, but it can be even more so in the worst. 

Let’s say you find yourself with a bill that you can’t pay on your hands. If you need to take out a loan, you’d probably want a loan with the best interest rates possible. In order to qualify for those types of loans, you’ll need a good credit score. 

If you’re in a position to do so, try to keep your credit score healthy. Here’s some quick things you can do today:

  • Keep an eye on your credit score and credit report
  • Pay your bills on time—at least the minimum payment
  • Keep your credit utilization ratio at 30%

But if you find yourself in a financial situation where you can’t keep up with everything, you can prioritize. For example, going above 30% of your credit utilization ratio won’t impact your score as much as missing a payment. That’s because credit utilization makes up 30% of your credit score, while your payment history makes up 35% of your score. 

3. Utilize Cashback Rewards

Do you have a great rewards credit card on your hands? Now’s a great time to use them. While some credit cards might not be handy right now, like travel rewards cards, there are others that could be useful. If your card offers cashback on categories such as groceries, gas and everyday purchases, take advantage. You could use those rewards to help you cover essential purchases. 

4. Use Your Balance Transfer Credit Cards

If you already have significant debt or if you’ve recently taken on new debt, you might want to consider using a balance transfer credit card. A balance transfer credit card allows you to move your debt from one card to your balance transfer card, which typically has a lower promotional interest rate. These promotional interest rates can last from six to 18 months, and sometimes longer.

These are great options if you’re faced with new debt. If you’re struggling to pay the rent, groceries or medical bills, and your stimulus check can’t cover it all, you can use your balance transfer credit card. Just make sure to be careful. You still have to pay off your debt, so make sure to do so before the promotional balance transfer offer ends. If you can, try to make regular payments on your card, so you’re not faced with an overwhelming amount of debt when the promotional offer ends.

Be Mindful of Your Situation

Above all else, be mindful of your situation. What urgent bills do you have to pay? Do you have a loved one in the hospital? Have you or your significant other lost their job? Make goals based off of your situation, and use your credit card accordingly.

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If you’re looking for more information on coronavirus and your finances, check out our COVID-19 Financial Resource Guide. We update it frequently, to make the most up-to-date and useful information available to you. 

The post Using Credit Cards During COVID-19 appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com