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My Parents Can’t Afford College Anymore – What Should I Do?

When most parents offer to fund their child’s tuition, it’s with the expectation that their financial circumstances will remain relatively unchanged. Even with minor dips in income or temporary periods of unemployment, a solid plan will likely see the child through to graduation.

Unfortunately, what these plans don’t tend to account for is a global pandemic wreaking havoc on the economy and job market.

Now, many parents of college-age children are finding themselves struggling to stay afloat – much less afford college tuition. This leaves their children who were previously planning to graduate college with little or no debt in an uncomfortable position.

So if you’re a student suddenly stuck with the bill for your college expenses, what can you do? Read below for some strategies to help you stay on track.

Contact the University

Your first step is to contact the university and let them know that your financial situation has changed. You may have to write something that explains how your parent’s income has decreased.

Many students think the federal government is responsible for doling out aid to students, but federal aid is actually distributed directly by the schools themselves. In other words, your university is the only institution with the authority to provide additional help. If they decide not to extend any more loans or grants, you’re out of luck.

Ask your advisor if there are any scholarships you can apply for. Make sure to ask both about general university scholarships and department-specific scholarships if you’ve already declared a major. If you have a good relationship with a professor, contact them for suggestions on where to find more scholarship opportunities.

Some colleges also have emergency grants they provide to students. Contact the financial aid office and ask how to apply for these.

Try to Graduate Early

Graduating early can save you thousands or even tens of thousands in tuition and room and board expenses. Plus, the sooner you graduate, the sooner you can get a job and start repaying your student loans.

Ask your advisor if graduating early is possible for you. It may require taking more classes per semester than you planned on and being strategic about the courses you sign up for.

Fill out the FAFSA

If your parents have never filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) because they paid for your college in full, now is the time for them to complete it. The FAFSA is what colleges use to determine eligibility for both need-based and merit-based aid. Most schools require the FAFSA to hand out scholarships and work-study assignments.

Because the FAFSA uses income information from a previous tax return, it won’t show if your parents have recently lost their jobs or been furloughed. However, once you file the FAFSA, you can send a note to your university explaining your current situation.

Make sure to explain this to your parents if they think filing the FAFSA is a waste of time. Some schools won’t even provide merit-based scholarships to students who haven’t filled out the FAFSA.

Get a Job

If you don’t already have a job, now is the time to get one. Look at online bulletin boards to see what opportunities are available around campus. Check on job listing sites like Monster, Indeed and LinkedIn. Make sure you have a well-crafted resume and cover letter.

Try to think outside the box. If you’re a talented graphic designer, start a freelance business and look for clients on sites like Upwork or Fiverr. If you’re a fluent Spanish speaker, start tutoring other students. Look for jobs where you can study when things are slow or that provide food while you’re working.

Ask anyone you know for suggestions, including former and current professors, older students and advisors. If you had a job back home, contact your old boss. Because so many people are working remotely these days, they may be willing to hire you even if you’re in a different city.

It may be too late to apply for a Resident Advisor (RA) position now but consider it as an option for next year. An RA lives in the dorms and receives free or discounted room and board in exchange for monitoring the students, answering their questions, conducting regular inspections and other duties.

Take Out Private Loans

If you still need more money after you’ve maxed out your federal student loans and applied for more scholarships, private student loans may be the next best option.

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Private student loans usually have higher interest rates and fewer repayment and forgiveness options than federal loans. In 2020, the interest rate for federal undergraduate student loans was 2.75% while the rate for private student loans varied from 3.53% to 14.50%.

Private lenders have higher loan limits than the federal government and will usually lend the cost of tuition minus any financial aid. For example, if your tuition costs $35,000 a year and federal loans and scholarships cover $10,000 a year, a private lender will offer you $25,000 annually.

Taking out private loans should be a last resort because the rates are so high, and there’s little recourse if you graduate and can’t find a job. Using private loans may be fine if you only have a semester or two left before you graduate, but freshmen should be hesitant about using this strategy.

Consider Transferring to a Less Expensive School

Before resorting to private student loans to fund your education, consider transferring to a less expensive university. The average tuition cost at a public in-state university was $10,440 for the 2019-2020 school year. The cost at an out-of-state public university was $26,820, and the cost at a private college was $36,880.

If you can transfer to a public college and move back home, you can save on both tuition and housing.

Switching to a different college may sound like a drastic step, but it might be necessary if the alternative is borrowing $100,000 in student loans. Remember, no one knows how long this pandemic and recession will last, so it’s better to be conservative.

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How to Get a Virtual Internship

This is not a great time to be looking for career experience. Industries are suffering, opportunities are scarce and most people are working from home. But if you’re in need of an internship, there are still plenty of options to work virtually – if you know how to sniff them out.
Here’s what you need to know in order to find a virtual internship: where to look, who to talk to, and how to make sure your application stands out from the competition.

Tips for Getting a Virtual Internship

Before you start applying for internships, you need to have the appropriate documents. Here are the most important.

Draft a Resume

Students who don’t already have a resume can find free resume templates through Google Docs and Microsoft Word. These templates have clean designs and are easy to edit.

If you want something more unique, you can buy a template on Etsy. Choose a template that you can easily edit in Microsoft Word or Google Docs. If you’re applying for internships in a creative field like graphic design or advertising, pick a template that has more flair and shows your personality.

When writing your resume, focus on the skills you’ve learned and your accomplishments. If you were a waitress at Waffle House (like I was for a summer), mention how it taught you multitasking and organizational skills.

Create a LinkedIn profile and start connecting with people you know. Ask past employers for recommendations and to endorse you for specific skills like Photoshop or Excel.

Work on a Cover Letter

Some internships will require a cover letter. A cover letter should express the value you’ll bring to the company, like how your interests and skills fit with the organization and why you would be a good addition.

If you’re submitting a cover letter for an online application, make sure to use any keywords mentioned in the job description. Some companies use software that filters out cover letters missing these keywords.

Have a parent or adult mentor look over both your resume and cover letter. They can offer you advice on how to phrase specific ideas and remind you of jobs, awards, and other accomplishments you’ve forgotten about.

Where to Find a Virtual Internship

Once you’ve created a resume and basic cover letter, you can start applying. Here are the best places to find a virtual internship.

Talk to Your College

The first place to look is your college career center. Many large companies have direct relationships with universities and accept a certain number of interns from there every year.

Contact the university career center and ask them about internship opportunities. If you already have a declared major, your department may also have its own career counselor who can help. They may have more personal relationships with hiring managers and internship recruiters.

Sometimes colleges have their own internship and job boards, but it still helps to talk to a counselor directly. They may have more resources and can answer your specific questions.

Even though the pandemic has changed how colleges operate, some are still holding virtual career fairs. You’ll likely have to register in advance and choose a specific time slot, so look into these options as soon as possible.

Make sure to follow up regularly if you don’t hear back from the career counselor. They may be busy, and your emails can get lost in the shuffle. Don’t feel bad about reaching out multiple times- this is part of what you pay for as a student and you’re entitled to their help.

Contact People You Already Know

If you’ve had internships before, contact people from those companies and ask if they need help. It’s much easier to get an internship when you already know the people in charge – especially if you made a good impression during your tenure.

It doesn’t matter if the people you worked with have different jobs now. They may still work in a similar industry and need an intern. Make a list of where you’ve worked and all the people you remember. If you’re having trouble remembering names, go to the company’s LinkedIn page to jog your memory and find their contact information.

After you’ve contacted them, reach out to any professors you know who still have direct ties to the industry. They can forward your information or send you links to opportunities they’ve seen.

Don’t be afraid to contact people at companies where you turned down an internship position. Most people don’t take that personally and may still have positive memories of you – plus, getting a previous internship offer from a company indicates that you’re probably a good fit.

If you’re reaching out to professors you haven’t talked to in a while, remind them what class of theirs you took and include a copy of your resume. This will make it easier for them to forward the email to any prospects.

Take your time when crafting emails to industry contacts. If you write an email with typos and grammar mistakes, your email may be deleted immediately. This is especially true if you’re contacting someone you don’t know. They may receive dozens of emails from students like you and not have time to respond to them all.

Look at Job Sites

If you’ve reached out to your networking contacts with no luck, it’s time to look for a virtual internship on a job site. Job sites should be the last place you look for a virtual internship because it’s harder to stand out among a sea of candidates.

Here are some of the best sites and apps to use:

Remember not to discount an internship if there’s no mention that the job will be remote. Some listings may be outdated and not reflect the current situation.

When you apply, check the company’s website and LinkedIn profile to see if you have any personal connections. Having someone in common can help get your application into the right hands.

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How to Build Credit with Fingerhut

  • Raise Credit Score

If you’ve been wanting to make a big purchase, but your credit is less than spectacular, you might have looked into Fingerhut as an option. 

Fingerhut is an online catalog and retailer that showcases a multitude of products. On this website, customers can shop for anything from electronics to home décor to auto parts. Fingerhut offers financing through their own line of credit, making it appealing to shoppers with poor credit or a nonexistent credit history. Many consumers have a better chance of getting approved by Fingerhut, than they might have of getting approved through most other credit card companies. It’s an option worth looking into if you want to improve your credit score through credit utilization.  

The major difference between Fingerhut and credit cards that cater to low credit scores is that Fingerhut credit is exclusively available for use with its own company’s products and authorized partners. You’ll also find that the company’s products are pricier than they would be through most other retailers, while also bearing the weight of higher interest rates. While it might seem like a good idea if you don’t have good credit, it’s best to familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of the company beforehand so that you know what you’re signing up for. 

How Fingerhut credit works

When you apply for a Fingerhut credit account, you can get approved by one of two accounts:

  • WebBank/Fingerhut Advantage Credit Account.
  • Fingerhut FreshStart Installment Loan issued by WebBank.

As it happens, by submitting your application, you are applying for both credit accounts. Applicants will be considered for the Fingerhut FreshStart Installment Loan issued by WebBank as a direct result of being denied for the WebBank/Fingerhut Advantage Credit Account. In other words, you won’t have a way of knowing which one you will be approved for prior to applying. Both credit accounts are issued by WebBank and are set up so that customers can purchase merchandise by paying for them on an installment plan with a 29.99% Annual Percentage Rate (APR). These are the only things that the different Fingerhut credit accounts have in common.

The WebBank/Fingerhut Advantage Credit Account

The WebBank/Fingerhut Advantage Credit Account works very much like an unsecured credit card, except that it’s an account that you can only use it to shop on Fingerhut or through its authorized partners. 

This credit account features:

  •  No annual fee.
  • A 29.99% interest rate.
  • A $38 fee on late or returned payments.
  • A possible down payment; it may or may not be required. You won’t know prior to applying. 

If you get denied for this line of credit, your application will automatically be reviewed for the Fingerhut FreshStart Credit Account issued by WebBank, which is both structured and conditioned differently.

Fingerhut FreshStart Installment Loan issued by WebBank

If you get approved for the Fingerhut FreshStart Installment Loan, you must follow these three steps to activate it:

  • Make a one-time purchase of no less than $50.
  • Put a minimum payment of $30 down on your purchase, and your order will be shipped to you upon receipt of your payment. You may not use a credit card to make down payments, but you can use a debit card, check, or a money order. 
  • Make monthly payments on your balance within a span of six to eight months.

You can become eligible to upgrade to the Fingerhut Advantage Credit Account so long as you are able to pay off your balance during that time frame or sooner without having made any late payments. Keep in mind that paying for the entire balance in full at the time you make your down payment will result in you not qualifying for the loan as well as being ineligible for upgrade. 

How a Fingerhut credit account helps raise your credit score

The fact that it can help you improve your credit is one of the biggest advantages of using a Fingerhut credit account. 

When you make your payments to Fingerhut in full and on-time, the company will report that activity to the three major credit bureaus. This means that your good credit utilization won’t go unnoticed nor unrewarded. If you use Fingerhut to improve your credit score, you will eventually be able to apply for a credit card through a traditional credit card company—one where you can make purchases anywhere, not just at Fingerhut. 

Additional benefits of a Fingerhut credit account

Besides using it as a tool to repair your bad credit, there are a few other benefits to using a WebBank Fingerhut Advantage Credit Account such as:

  • No annual fee.
  • Fingerhut has partnerships with a handful of other retailers, which means you can use your Fingerhut credit line to make purchases through a variety of companies. Fingerhut is partnered with companies that specialize in everything from floral arrangements to insurance plans.
  • There are no penalties on the WebBank Fingerhut Advantage Credit Account when you pay off your balance early.

How to build credit with Fingerhut

Fingerhut credit works the same way as the loans from credit card companies work: in the form of a revolving loan. 

A revolving loan is when you are designated a maximum credit limit by your lender, in which you are allowed to spend. Whatever you spend, you are expected to pay back in full and on-time through a series of monthly payments. This act of borrowing money and paying off bills using your Fingerhut account causes your balances to revolve and fluctuate, hence, its name. 

Your credit activity, good or bad, gets reported to the three major credit bureaus and in turn, will have an effect on your credit report. Revolving loans play a large role in your credit score, affecting approximately 30% of your score through your credit utilization ratio. If your credit utilization ratio, the amount of available revolving credit divided by your amount owed, is too high then your credit score will plummet. 

When using a Fingerhut account, the goal is to try to keep your amounts owed as low as you possibly can so that you can maintain a low utilization ratio, and as a result, have a higher credit score.

Alternatives to Fingerhut

If you’ve done all your research and decided that Fingerhut isn’t the right choice for you, there are other options that might serve you better, even if you have bad credit. There are a variety of secured credit cards that you can apply for such as:

  • The OpenSky Secured Visa Credit Card: You will need a $200 security deposit to qualify for this secured credit card, but you can most likely get approved without a credit check or even a bank account. It can also be used to improve your credit, as this card does report to the three major credit bureaus. While this card does come with an annual $35 fee, you can use it to shop anywhere that will accept a Visa. 
  • Discover it Secured:  For all those opposed to paying an annual fee of any sort, this card might just be the one for you. With a $0 annual fee and the ability to earn rewards through purchases, there’s not much to frown about with this secured credit card. One of the best perks, is that it allows you the chance to upgrade to an unsecured card after only eight months. 
  • Deserve Pro Mastercard: This card is a desirable option for those with a short credit history. There is no annual fee and no security deposit required and, if your credit history isn’t very long-winded, that’s okay. The issuers for this card may use their own process to decide whether or not you qualify for credit, by evaluating other factors such as income and employment. This card is especially nifty because you can get cash-back rewards such as 3% back on every dollar that you spend on travel and entertainment, 2% back on every dollar spent at restaurants, and 1% cash back on every dollar spent on anything else. 

Final Thoughts 

Fingerhut is an option worth looking into for those with bad credit or a short credit history. If you want to use a Fingerhunt credit account to improve your credit score, be sure to use it wisely and make all of your payments on time, just as you would with any other credit card.

Even though it might be easy to get approved, the prices and interest rates on items sold through Fingerhut are set higher than they would be at most other retailers, so it’s important to consider this before applying. 

There are a ton of options available, regardless of what your credit report looks like, if you are trying to improve your credit. If the prices of Fingerhut’s merchandise are enough to scare you away, you might want to consider applying for a secured credit card. 

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

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Budgeting for Beginners: These 5 Steps Will Help You Get Started

Setting up a budget is challenging. Doing it forces you to face your spending habits and then work to change them.

But when you decide to make a budget, it means you’re serious about your money. Maybe you even have some financial goals in mind.

The end result will bring you peace of mind. But if you’re creating a budget for the first time, remember that budgets will vary by individual and family. It’s important to set up a budget that’s a fit for YOU.

Budgeting for Beginners in 5 Painless Steps

Follow these basic steps and tailor them to your needs to create a monthly budget that will set you up for financial success.

Step 1: Set a Financial Goal

First thing’s first: Why do you want a budget?

Your reason will be your anchor and incentive as you create a budget, and it will help you stick to it.

Set a short-term or long-term goal. It can be to pay off debts like student loans, credit cards or a mortgage, or to save for retirement, an emergency fund, a new car, a home down payment or a vacation.

For example, creating a budget is a must for many people trying to buy their first home. But it shouldn’t stop there. Once you’ve bought a home, keep sticking to a budget in order to pay off debt and give yourself some wiggle room for unexpected expenses.

Once one goal is complete, you can move on to another and personalize your budget to fit whatever your needs are.

Step 2: Log Your Income, Expenses and Savings

You’ll want to use a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet or another budget template to track all of your monthly expenses and spending. List out each expense line by line. This list is the foundation for your monthly budget.

Tally Your Monthly Income

Review your pay stubs and determine how much money you and anyone else in your household take home every month. Include any passive income, rental income, child support payments or side gigs.

If your income varies, estimate as best as you can, or use the average of your income for the past three months.

Make a List of Your Mandatory Monthly Expenses

Start with:

  1. Rent or mortgage payment.

  2. Living expenses like utilities (electric, gas and water bills), internet and phone.

  3. Car payment and transportation costs.

  4. Insurance (car, life, health).

  5. Child care.

  6. Groceries.

  7. Debt repayments for things like credit cards, student loans, medical debt, etc.

Anything that will result in a late fee for not paying goes in this category.

List Non-Essential Monthly and Irregular Expenses

Non-essential expenses include entertainment, coffee, subscription and streaming services, memberships, cable TV, gifts, dining out and miscellaneous items.

Don’t forget to account for expenses you don’t incur every month, such as annual fees, taxes, car registration, oil changes and one-time charges. Add them to the month in which they usually occur OR tally up all of your irregular expenses for the year and divide by 12 so you can work them into your monthly budget.

Pro Tip

Review all of your bank account statements for the past 12 months to make sure you don’t miss periodic expenses like quarterly insurance premiums.

A woman with a dog reviews financial docements spread out on the floor.
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Don’t Forget Your Savings

Be sure to include a line item for savings in your monthly budget. Use it for those short- or long-term savings goals, building up an emergency fund or investments.

Figure out how much you can afford — no matter how big or small. If you get direct deposit, saving can be simplified with an automated paycheck deduction. Something as little as $10 a week adds up to over $500 in a year.

Step 3: Adjust Your Expenses to Match Your Income

Now, what does your monthly budget look like so far?

Are you living within your income, or spending more money than you make? Either way, it’s time to make some adjustments to meet your goals.

How to Cut Your Expenses

If you are overspending each month, don’t panic. This is a great opportunity to evaluate areas to save money now that you have itemized your spending. Truthfully, this is the exact reason you created a budget!

Here are some ways you can save money each month:

Cut optional outings like happy hours and eating out. Even cutting a $4 daily purchase on weekdays will add up to over $1,000 a year.

Consider pulling the plug on cable TV or a subscription service. The average cost of cable is $1,284 a year, so if you cut the cord and switch to a streaming service, you could save at least $50 a month.

Fine-tune your grocery bill and practice meal prepping. You’ll save money by planning and prepping recipes for the week that use many of the same ingredients. Use the circulars to see what’s on sale, and plan your meals around those sales.

Make homemade gifts for family and friends. Special occasions and holidays happen constantly and can get expensive. Honing in on thoughtful and homemade gifts like framed pictures, magnets and ornaments costs more time and less money.

Consolidate credit cards or transfer high-interest balances. You can consolidate multiple credit card payments into one and lower the amount of interest you’re paying every month by applying for a debt consolidation loan or by taking advantage of a 0% balance-transfer credit card offer. The sooner you pay off that principal balance, the sooner you’ll be out of debt.

Refinance loans. Refinancing your mortgage, student loan or car loan can lower your interest rates and cut your monthly payments. You could save significantly if you’ve improved your credit since you got the original loan.

Get a new quote for car insurance to lower monthly payments. Use a free online service to shop around for new quotes based on your needs. A $20 savings every month is $20 that can go toward savings or debt repayments.

Start small and see how big of a wave it makes.

Oh, and don’t forget to remind yourself of your financial goal when you’re craving Starbucks at 3 p.m. But remember that it’s OK to treat yourself — occasionally.

A couple organize tax-related paperwork.
Lindsey Cox and Jonathan Tuttle dig into income- and expense-related paperwork as they prepare to file their taxes at their home in Temple Terrace, Fla. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

What to Do With Your Extra Cash

If you have money left over after paying for your monthly expenses, prioritize building an emergency fund if you don’t have one.

Having an emergency fund is often what makes it possible to stick to a budget. Because when an unexpected expense crops up, like a broken appliance or a big car repair, you won’t have to borrow money to cover it.

When you do dip into that emergency fund, immediately start building it up again.

Otherwise, you can use any extra money outside your expenses to reach your financial goals.

Here are four questions to ask yourself before dipping into your emergency fund..

Step 4: Choose a Budgeting Method

You have your income, expenses and spending spelled out in a monthly budget, but how do you act on it? Trying out a budgeting method helps manage your money and accommodates your lifestyle.

Living on a budget doesn’t mean you can’t have fun or splurges, and fortunately many budgeting methods account for those things. Here are a few to consider:

  • The Envelope System is a cash-based budgeting system that works well for overspenders. It curbs excess spending on debit and credit cards because you’re forced to withdraw cash and place it into pre-labeled envelopes for your variable expenses (like groceries and clothing) instead of pulling out that plastic. 
  • The 50/20/30 Method is for those with more financial flexibility and who can pay all their bills with 50% of their income. You apply 50% of your income to living expenses, 20% toward savings and/or debt reduction, and 30% to personal spending (vacations, coffee, entertainment). This way, you can have fun and save at the same time. Because your basic needs can only account for 50% of your income, it’s typically not a good fit for those living paycheck to paycheck.
  • The 60/20/20 Budget uses the same concept as the 50/20/30, except you apply 60% of your income to living expenses, 20% toward savings and/or debt reduction, and 20% to personal spending. It’s a good fit for fans of the 50/20/30 Method who need to devote more of their incomes to living costs.
  • The Zero-Based Budget makes you account for all of your income. You budget for your expenses and bills, and then assign any extra money toward your goals. The strict system is good for people trying to pay off debt as fast as possible. It’s also beneficial for those living to paycheck to paycheck.
A hand writes financial-related labels on envelopes.
Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Budgeting Apps

Another money management option is to use a budgeting app. Apps can help you organize and access your personal finances on the go and can alert you of finance charges, late fees and bill payment due dates. Many also offer free credit score monitoring.

Step 5: Follow Through

Budgeting becomes super easy once you get in the groove, but you can’t set it and forget it. You should review your budget monthly to monitor your expenses and spending and adjust accordingly. Review checking and savings account statements for any irregularities even if you set bills to autopay.

Even if your income increases, try to prioritize saving the extra money. That will help you avoid lifestyle inflation, which happens when your spending increases as your income rises.

The thrill of being debt-free or finally having enough money to travel might even inspire you to seek out other financial opportunities or advice. For example, if you’re looking for professional help, set up a consultation with a certified financial planner who can assist you with long-term goals like retirement and savings plans.

Stephanie Bolling is a former staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.



Source: thepennyhoarder.com

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Tips For Getting The Most Out Of Your Credit Cards

I‘ve always been a proponent of using credit cards sparingly on this site. I believe when you depend on credit too much, it can quickly become a crutch and an excuse for poor planning.

With that said, I do believe there is a place for the responsible use of credit cards, especially if you’re paying them off with cash on hand every month.

If you do your research, make a plan for your credit card spending and play the game responsibly, credit cards can be a useful tool.

So what are some things that you can do in order to get the most of out of your credit cards?

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credit cards to sign up for, it pays to take the time to first sit down and think about how you’ll primarily be using the card.

Is the card going to be mainly used for everyday expenses like groceries and gas?  Is it a business card to be used for business expenses?  Do you plan on doing a lot of travel?

Think about how you’re going to be spending, and what type of a card – and card benefits – will be the best for you.

tips for getting the most out of your credit card

tips for getting the most out of your credit cardIf you’re going to be doing a lot of travel, you may want to consider signing up for a travel rewards card with mileage signup bonuses or other travel perks.

If you just want to get cash back, do your best to find the card with the best cash back percentage.

Don’t Just Dismiss Cards With An Annual Fee

When shopping for cash back cards some experts will often tell you to eschew signing up for credit cards with an annual fee. But according to David Rubenstein of CreditShout.com, that may be short sighted.

On a recent episode of the Money Mastermind Show (above) he gave a good example, of when this might be the case.

The American Express Blue Cash Everyday card is a good card for those looking to save money on their groceries.  You can get 3% cash back at grocery stores.  The American Express Blue Cash Preferred card, however, gives 6% cash back at grocery stores, but carries with it a $75 annual fee. At first glance many people would avoid the Preferred card because of the annual fee, but if you spend just $2500 at the grocery store in the year (versus 3% cash back version), you’ll make back the annual fee and be in the black after that. Most people, even singles, would likely reach that threshold.  Add to that the cash back you would earn in other categories and it seems the annual fee may be worth it if you spend enough at grocery stores.

Try Negotiating Out Of An Annual Fee

If you want the benefits of a card with an annual fee, but don’t want to pay the fees, there is another option that some have suggested. Negotiate your way out of the fee.

Many cards will waive the annual fee in the first year, but in the second year you’ll have to pay unless you do something about it.   Here are some ideas for how to get the fee waived:

  • Call customer service: Just call and ask nicely for the fee to be waived.  Be firm, but polite, and be willing to cancel the card if they won’t credit the fee. Sometimes the first or second customer service rep may not be able to waive it, you may need to talk with the cancellation department.  Sometimes if the fee can’t be waived, they can offer extra points or rewards which will offset the fee. Sometimes they will offer to downgrade you to a lesser card without a fee.  If you can’t get the fee waived this way, try the next tip.
  • Reach out on social media: If calling doesn’t work, another trick to try is to try talking with the company on social media. Often their social media teams are able to help give customer service and positive PR on social channels. Follow the company’s social media accounts first, and then tweet to them mentioning how disappointed you are in the fee. Often they’ll offer to help you out with the fee that year, or even suppress it moving forward as one colleague told me they did for her.  I’ve found that the more followers you have, the more receptive they are to helping you out.
  • Use un-redeemed rewards to pay the fee: If you have more rewards than you’re using, some cards will allow you to redeem those points to offset the cost of the annual fee.

Credit card issuers often spend hundreds of dollars to acquire new customer, and it’s usually in their best interest to keep you around if they can.  If all else fails, be willing to cancel the card, and sign up for another one that won’t charge a fee (at least in that first year).

Make Sure To Make The Most Of Your Rewards

When signing up for your card, it’s important to make sure you’re getting the most out of your rewards.

Experts at Consumer reports found that cash back cards tend to offer better rewards in general.  They also found that with cards that give points, often end up not using the points. In most instances, getting a cash back card will help you to optimize your returns.

Here are some other tips to make sure you’re getting the most out of your credit cards:

  • Find the best bonuses: Take your time to research which cards have the best bonuses.
  • Find the best fit: Sign up for cards with bonuses that fit your needs.
  • Find extra bonuses: Add authorized user if it will give additional bonus.
  • Find your card’s shopping portal: Shop at credit card reward portals to get extra savings.
  • Find bonus rewards: Take advantage of bonus rewards deals that will give you extra cash back during certain months or rewards periods. For example, 5% bonus cash back categories at chase freedom.
  • Find cards and programs that work together: A strategy some folks will use is to couple up credit cards with one issuer, or with compatible cards to maximize their rewards. For example, if you have the Chase Freedom and Chase Sapphire Preferred cards, you can use the 5% bonus categories and the Chase Ultimate Rewards site for redeeming the rewards to maximize your points. You could use your Chase Freedom to get 5% cash back rewards and then transfer those points to your Chase Sapphire Preferred card through which you could redeem at a rate of 1.25 cents per point for travel on the Chase Ultimate Rewards site. Or if you’re a travel hacker, transfer those points to a frequent flier program to get better deals.

Maximizing Your Spending To Reach Bonus Spending Goals

Often when you sign up for a credit card with an attractive bonus, you have to reach a spending goal within a certain time frame, like $3000 in the first 90 days, or something along those lines. Sometimes that can be tough unless you get creative.  One way to reach those goals is to use credit card rewards to pay for things you’re buying now anyway.

  • Pay medical bills: This is one I hadn’t thought of before because we use our HSA card to pay medical bills. Instead, use the credit card for rewards, then ask for a HSA reimbursement later via your HSA online account.
  • Buy groceries & gas: Most people are paying for groceries and gas anyway, why not put it on the credit card and then pay it off?
  • Pay for recurring bills: Use your credit card to pay Netflix subscriptions, cell phone bills, life insurance payments and any other recurring bill if you can.
  • Part of a car purchase: In buying a car recently I found that you can put a portion of a car purchase on your credit card.  Most dealerships will not allow you to put the whole purchase price on the card because of transaction fees they have to pay, cutting into their margins, but in many cases they’ll allow you to put $2000-5000 or so on a credit card. Just make sure you have the cash to pay it off!
  • Buy gift cards:  One creative trick some people will use to get around spending goals is to buy high dollar gift cards to reach their spending goal – that they can use later on.  To double up they’ll often buy those gift cards at places like grocery stores where they get extra cash back since sometimes those purchases will show up as “grocery” spending.

Don’t Forget To Take Advantage of Perks

Most credit cards these days have some pretty awesome perks that you can take advantage of. So what are a few?

  • Price protection: Many credit cards now have some sort of price protection built in that allows you to submit a request for a refund if an item you buy with the card drops in price, during a certain time-frame.
  • $0 liability for fraudulent purchases: Having experienced credit card fraud recently I don’t take this one for granted anymore. Having that fraud backstop there is a lifesaver.
  • Extended warranties: Many cards will offer an extended warranty on items that you buy, usually doubling the original warranty of an item.
  • Trip cancellation insurance coverage: If you booked a trip using your card, you can often be reimbursed if your trip has to be cancelled for some reason.
  • Lost luggage coverage: One of my cards gives $3,000 in lost luggage coverage for me and my dependents when the fare was charged to my card.
  • Roadside assistance: Broken down on the side of the road. Many cards offer roadside assistance at no charge, which means you can leave that coverage off your insurance.
  • Car rental insurance: Decline the car rental company’s collision, loss/damage waiver insurance if your card already has this type of coverage.  Why double up?

These are just a few of the benefits that some cards will have. Just make sure you check what perks your card has – and don’t forget to take advantage of them!

A Credit Card Should Fit Your Needs

When it comes down to it, credit cards are a tool. As long as you’re finding the right card for your situation, taking advantage of the rewards and not allowing yourself to carry a balance month to month, using a credit card can be a great benefit.

If, however, you find that you’re becoming lost and unorganized in a maze of points, restrictions, spending goals and so forth, it may not be the right thing for you.

Make sure that the credit cards you sign up for are working for you, and not against  you.

Have any of your own tips for making the most of your credit cards? Tell us in the comments!

Source: biblemoneymatters.com

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How to Get Approved for Credit in a Financial Downturn

Source: goodfinancialcents.com

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What Do New FICO Changes Mean for Me?

Have you ever applied for a credit card, car loan or mortgage? If so, then one of the first things the lender looked at was your FICO score. It has a major impact not only on getting approved in the first place, but also on the interest rate you will receive after approval.

On August 7, FICO announced some pretty major changes in how they will be calculating that ever-important number. Before you can understand how the changes will or won’t impact you, you need to have a firm grasp of the basics.

What is my FICO score?

Your FICO score, or credit score, is a number ranging from 300-850 that shows lenders how reliable you will be in repaying your debts. A bad score is anything below 560, not very good is 560-659, good is 660-724, very good is 725-759, and anything above 760 is classified as great. While it is best to be in the great range, you can sometimes qualify for the best available interest rates with 720 or above.

In order to calculate your credit score, FICO pulls information from your credit reports from the three major reporting agencies: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. When banks and other lending institutions consider your application, they look at several factors. The first is usually your FICO score, which will either get you in the door or get it slammed in your face, but after that they consider other aspects of your finances, such as income and the detailed history on the credit report itself.

What are the changes, and how will they affect me?

There will be four notable changes to how FICO evaluates your credit score once the announced new model is released. Some of them will be very good for some people, some of them will be bad for others, and some of them may prove to show negligible changes.

The first, and biggest, is that medical debts will no longer be considered when calculating your score. This is a huge relief. Many otherwise fiscally responsible people go into massive debt when a medical emergency happens. Others don’t even know they owe money on medical bills in the first place, as they thought their insurance was going to cover their costs. When they realize they owe money, the responsible consumers pay it back, but it still leaves a scar on their credit report and, therefore, their FICO score.

With this new change, your FICO score will not be impacted. In fact, if you have no other negatives on your credit report (which would mean you most likely have a halfway decent score), you can expect to see your FICO score increase by up to 25 points.

Changes will also be made in considering debts that you have paid off. Currently, after you’ve paid off a debt, it stays on your credit report for seven years. That will continue to be the case after FICO’s updates go into effect, but FICO will no longer look at those debts, even though they show up on your credit report. If you have consumer debts that you have paid off, and they’re the only thing holding you back, you may see your score improve, as well.

There will also be an update to consider the creditworthiness of people who do not have an extensive report, taking into consideration things beyond just paying your month-to-month bills on time. (A lot of times, the people you are paying those bills to don’t even report that anyways.) Depending on how this is done, it could be a boon for those who are unable to get credit not because they are irresponsible, but simply because they have never chosen to borrow money before.

The final update is not good news for those who hold consumer debt. If you owe money and it isn’t paid in full, you can expect to see your credit score take a hit.

Hold your horses – and your enthusiasm.

While FICO has announced that it will make these changes, the new model has not gone into effect. It will not be ready to release to lenders until late 2014 or early 2015. Even then, banks have to choose to adopt it. Thismodel will be FICO 9. FICO 8 was introduced in 2009, and some lending institutions still have not updated since FICO 7. Just because they are releasing a new model doesn’t mean that your lending institution will apply it to their evaluation process.

Another thing to remember is that while your FICO score gets you in the door, banks will look at your credit report. All of those things FICO ignores will still show up. If your medical debts are deemed too oppressive for you to possibly be able to pay for a mortgage on top of them, you may still be denied. And while FICO will ignore debt that has been paid off and closed, it will still stay on that pesky credit report for seven years for all of your potential lenders to see.

While these changes could be a great way to get your foot in the door with lenders, they’re not a holy grail to your credit problems. The same tried and true wisdom will still apply: Spend responsibly, make sure the information on your credit report is accurate and pay off any debts as quickly as possible.

Femme Frugality is a personal finance blogger and freelance writer. You can find more of her writing on her blog, where she shares both factual articles and esoteric ruminations on money.

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Source: mint.intuit.com

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Parking Options When Your Community Doesn’t Have a Parking Lot

Parking is an amenity that some people don’t even think about when looking to rent an apartment. But if you want the convenience of a covered garage or a guaranteed spot for your vehicle, it has to be part of your must-haves.

When a space is not included, then it becomes a much bigger deal. Do you live in an apartment complex that doesn’t have a parking lot? No worries, we’ve got a few options for you to consider.

1. Street parking

street parking

Depending on where you live, street parking may be an available option at no cost to you. While it may be free, it’s often on a first-come, first-serve basis. This means you’ll have to try your luck and find an open parking spot.

Know ahead of time that some street parking will cost you. Think metered spaces or a permit for a block or specific neighborhood. More often than not, time restrictions on parking will be part of the deal.

Keep an eye out for signs posted with instructions. Pay attention to avoid getting a ticket, having your car booted or towed.

2. Garage or lot parking

garage parking

If your complex or apartment building doesn’t have its own garage, then paid parking in a nearby garage is an option. Or, a parking lot within walking distance of your home. Parking lots are most common near shops, bars and restaurants, according to the Parking Network.

There are parking lots that are open throughout the year, but some are also improvised. Think of when you’ve gone to an event. Where do people park for a music festival that only happens once a year? There might be an open nearby meadow for parking, for example.

Paid parking lots and garages sometimes include a parking attendant. Gated entries require a ticket to enter and leave, or a machine to pay the parking fee. For this type of parking, you’re usually charged for the amount of time that you park. If your car is there for more than a few hours, you may incur a flat fee for daily parking.

When parking in an area that requires you to take a ticket, be sure to hold onto the ticket to leave. If you lose the ticket, you may pay a flat fee, which could be more than the cost of the time you actually parked in the space.

It’s a good idea to shop around for the best rate since costs vary from garage to lot. While comparing rates, look at whether it is cheaper to pay for daily vs. hourly parking.

3. Parking apps

parking app

Source: Parknay

Parking apps are one answer, especially in a lot of urban locales. Searching for and paying for parking has become easier because of parking apps. Some apps even let you make a reservation and will provide instructions on how to redeem parking at the garage.

Parknav is an app that offers real-time predictive street parking in more than 200 cities. Search the app for an address. Parknav displays a map with nearby streets. These streets are color-coded according to the likelihood of finding parking there.

That’s only one app out of many that help you find parking. Some apps are city-specific and there are even a few that help you save money. A quick search on your phone’s app store will give you a list of useful parking apps.

4. Ditch the car for public transportation

public transportation

Although it may not be ideal for everyone, public transportation is an option. Do you live in a transit-rich city? If you live in an area that’s easily accessible by mass transit or has everything you need within a short distance, you can always sell your car and use the bus, subway, train, bike or walk.

This option may save you money and will remove the stress of having to find parking. There’s a huge variation among different cities in the price of parking.

Park wisely

Parking is a problem when you live in an apartment without dedicated spaces. It’s also an issue when you’re a two-car family and you’ve only got one reserved space. Street parking could be lacking where you live. Especially in urban areas.

Some cities want to require the unbundling of parking space rentals from housing lease agreements, reports the Seattle Transit blog, which could lead to lower rents! Whatever the case, try to avoid parking in areas that are not well lit at night, block driveways or are in prohibited areas.

If you find that parking is important to you, keep this in mind for future apartment searches. But even if your apartment complex doesn’t have a parking lot, don’t stress. Just look around and know that you have options.

The post Parking Options When Your Community Doesn’t Have a Parking Lot appeared first on Apartment Living Tips – Apartment Tips from ApartmentGuide.com.

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