6 Money Moves to Make Before 2017

Here are six money moves to make before 2017.

Did 2016 not go as planned? Did you spend too much and save less than you wanted? Perhaps your bad habits left you in debt. Or maybe you just had too many big expenses this year.

No matter why your financial performance was less than stellar, there’s no reason to despair. A single year won’t make or break your future wealth. Over time, the little moves you make every year are the ones that really matter.

That’s right; one bad year could be nothing more than a blip on the radar in the long run. And let’s not forget, this year isn’t over. With several weeks left, you still have time to salvage the rest of the year, maximize its potential and leave your 2017 self better off.

To find out which money moves most people should make before this year is over, I reached out to several financial advisers who help clients recover from bad years all the time. Here’s what they said.

1. Look for Last-Minute Ways to Save on Your Tax Bill

Few things are certain in life outside of death and taxes. While you can’t do anything about the former, some last-minute moves can definitely shake up your tax bill.

Kansas City, Missouri-based financial planner Clint Haynes recommends meeting with your accountant prior to the end of the year. That way, you can figure out where you stand — and whether you will owe money or receive a tax refund.

Advice will vary depending on your financial situation, but a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) can guide you on what to do. If it looks like you’ll owe the tax man come April, for example, your CPA may suggest making tax-deductible contributions to an IRA or your favorite charity.

Your accountant may also suggest contributing to a donor-advised fund (DAF),” says San Diego financial planner Taylor Schulte.

DAF contributions provide a federal income tax deduction up to 50% of adjusted gross income for cash contributions and up to 30% of adjusted gross income for appreciated securities, making it possible to reduce your tax liability significantly.

2. Revise Your Spending Habits & Revisit Your Budget

If you earned plenty this year but have little to show for it, now is the perfect time to figure out why.

“Revisit your monthly budget,” says financial adviser David Niggel of Key Wealth Partners in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

When was the last time you looked at your budget? Do you even have a budget in place? Are you living paycheck to paycheck with very little left over for savings?

“This is a great time to create or rework your budget so you can get yourself ahead as the new year unfolds,” says Niggel. “There are plenty of tools that you can use to create a basic budget so that you can track income and expenses. These tools will show you places where you may be spending too much money, such as eating out and shopping.”

3. Take Advantage of Tax-Loss Harvesting

Before the year is over, take a look at all the positions in your taxable accounts, says Oregon financial adviser and president of Three Oaks Capital Management Grant Bledsoe.

“If any of [your investments] have fallen in value, you might consider liquidating some to harvest the tax loss,” he says.

The way this works is simple. Basically, any realized losses work to offset your realized capital gains. If you have realized gains that you took earlier in the year, you can harvest losses to reduce some of the tax consequences. Plus, you can even use up to $3,000 per year of short-term capital losses to offset your income.

“When doing so, make sure that you adhere to the 30-day wash sale rule,” says Bledsoe. “This means that you can’t buy a substantially identical security for up to 30 days without forfeiting the tax loss from a sale. You can, however, replace the security with something similar.”

While tax-loss harvesting may sound complex, it’s possible your financial adviser or online advisory firm offers this service for free. If you use online financial services, for example, your account may already offer tax-loss harvesting at no additional cost.

4. Rebalance Your Portfolio

Imagine your portfolio as a pie — a circular object or graphic where each section of your diversified portfolio represents a slice. Over the course of a year, those pieces of the pie perform differently, potentially causing one piece of the pie to become larger while others shrink.

“The end of the year marks a great time to rebalance your portfolio back to your desired allocation,” says Minnesota financial adviser Jamie Pomeroy. In other words, you would remake your pie so it’s back to your preferred level of risk.

“Consider rebalancing your investment portfolio before the end of the year, not only as a risk-management technique, but [also to] create opportunities for other important end of the year investment management strategies as well — like tax-loss harvesting, gifting and scheduled distributions,” says Pomeroy.

This is also a great time to reassess your appetite for risk, says Halifax wealth adviser Ariz David.

“Headlines throughout 2016 have overwhelmingly been dominated by global political and economic issues,” says David. “If you had a few sleepless nights in 2016 due to market volatility, then you may want to take some steps to reduce risk in your portfolio in 2017.”

5. Review Your Health Insurance Needs

While it’s easy to assume your health insurance plan won’t change from one year to the next, uncertainty in the healthcare exchanges and group plans could mean your plan will cease to exist — or change its details dramatically.

Since open enrollment for plans purchased on state and federal exchanges extends through January 31, 2017, you’ve got time to shop if you purchase insurance yourself. If you enjoy employer coverage, make sure to check with your Human Resources department to see what changes are being made to your plan, if any.

“It is also important to review your contributions to health savings accounts (HSA) in 2016 and make sure you are saving enough in 2017 to cover your anticipated health-related expenses,” says North Carolina wealth adviser Peter Huminski.

The 2016 HSA contribution limits are $3,350 for an individual and $6,750 for a family, and the limits will be higher for individuals next year.

6. Consider Refinancing (Everything) at Today’s Low Rates

With the elections over and a new crew heading into the White House, it’s hard to say how the economy or interest rates might change next year. Now may be your last chance to refinance your mortgage and other loans at today’s low rates.

“Mortgage rates have been at historical lows for several years now, and they aren’t going to stay here forever,” says financial adviser Andrew McFadden. “The good news, though, for anyone who hasn’t refinanced yet is that there is still time to take advantage of these super-cheap interest rates.”

If you’ve been putting it off and telling yourself that you’ll “get to it someday,” consider using the end of 2016 to make good on the smart financial decision to refinance your mortgage to a lower rate. (Just make sure you know where your credit stands, as this may affect whether you qualify. You can view two of your free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.)

By filling out some paperwork and jumping through a few hoops, you could save thousands of dollars in interest and/or pay off your home and other large loans faster.

Image: BraunS

The post 6 Money Moves to Make Before 2017 appeared first on Credit.com.

6 Money Moves to Make Before 2017

Here are six money moves to make before 2017.

Did 2016 not go as planned? Did you spend too much and save less than you wanted? Perhaps your bad habits left you in debt. Or maybe you just had too many big expenses this year.

No matter why your financial performance was less than stellar, there’s no reason to despair. A single year won’t make or break your future wealth. Over time, the little moves you make every year are the ones that really matter.

That’s right; one bad year could be nothing more than a blip on the radar in the long run. And let’s not forget, this year isn’t over. With several weeks left, you still have time to salvage the rest of the year, maximize its potential and leave your 2017 self better off.

To find out which money moves most people should make before this year is over, I reached out to several financial advisers who help clients recover from bad years all the time. Here’s what they said.

1. Look for Last-Minute Ways to Save on Your Tax Bill

Few things are certain in life outside of death and taxes. While you can’t do anything about the former, some last-minute moves can definitely shake up your tax bill.

Kansas City, Missouri-based financial planner Clint Haynes recommends meeting with your accountant prior to the end of the year. That way, you can figure out where you stand — and whether you will owe money or receive a tax refund.

Advice will vary depending on your financial situation, but a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) can guide you on what to do. If it looks like you’ll owe the tax man come April, for example, your CPA may suggest making tax-deductible contributions to an IRA or your favorite charity.

Your accountant may also suggest contributing to a donor-advised fund (DAF),” says San Diego financial planner Taylor Schulte.

DAF contributions provide a federal income tax deduction up to 50% of adjusted gross income for cash contributions and up to 30% of adjusted gross income for appreciated securities, making it possible to reduce your tax liability significantly.

2. Revise Your Spending Habits & Revisit Your Budget

If you earned plenty this year but have little to show for it, now is the perfect time to figure out why.

“Revisit your monthly budget,” says financial adviser David Niggel of Key Wealth Partners in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

When was the last time you looked at your budget? Do you even have a budget in place? Are you living paycheck to paycheck with very little left over for savings?

“This is a great time to create or rework your budget so you can get yourself ahead as the new year unfolds,” says Niggel. “There are plenty of tools that you can use to create a basic budget so that you can track income and expenses. These tools will show you places where you may be spending too much money, such as eating out and shopping.”

3. Take Advantage of Tax-Loss Harvesting

Before the year is over, take a look at all the positions in your taxable accounts, says Oregon financial adviser and president of Three Oaks Capital Management Grant Bledsoe.

“If any of [your investments] have fallen in value, you might consider liquidating some to harvest the tax loss,” he says.

The way this works is simple. Basically, any realized losses work to offset your realized capital gains. If you have realized gains that you took earlier in the year, you can harvest losses to reduce some of the tax consequences. Plus, you can even use up to $3,000 per year of short-term capital losses to offset your income.

“When doing so, make sure that you adhere to the 30-day wash sale rule,” says Bledsoe. “This means that you can’t buy a substantially identical security for up to 30 days without forfeiting the tax loss from a sale. You can, however, replace the security with something similar.”

While tax-loss harvesting may sound complex, it’s possible your financial adviser or online advisory firm offers this service for free. If you use online financial services, for example, your account may already offer tax-loss harvesting at no additional cost.

4. Rebalance Your Portfolio

Imagine your portfolio as a pie — a circular object or graphic where each section of your diversified portfolio represents a slice. Over the course of a year, those pieces of the pie perform differently, potentially causing one piece of the pie to become larger while others shrink.

“The end of the year marks a great time to rebalance your portfolio back to your desired allocation,” says Minnesota financial adviser Jamie Pomeroy. In other words, you would remake your pie so it’s back to your preferred level of risk.

“Consider rebalancing your investment portfolio before the end of the year, not only as a risk-management technique, but [also to] create opportunities for other important end of the year investment management strategies as well — like tax-loss harvesting, gifting and scheduled distributions,” says Pomeroy.

This is also a great time to reassess your appetite for risk, says Halifax wealth adviser Ariz David.

“Headlines throughout 2016 have overwhelmingly been dominated by global political and economic issues,” says David. “If you had a few sleepless nights in 2016 due to market volatility, then you may want to take some steps to reduce risk in your portfolio in 2017.”

5. Review Your Health Insurance Needs

While it’s easy to assume your health insurance plan won’t change from one year to the next, uncertainty in the healthcare exchanges and group plans could mean your plan will cease to exist — or change its details dramatically.

Since open enrollment for plans purchased on state and federal exchanges extends through January 31, 2017, you’ve got time to shop if you purchase insurance yourself. If you enjoy employer coverage, make sure to check with your Human Resources department to see what changes are being made to your plan, if any.

“It is also important to review your contributions to health savings accounts (HSA) in 2016 and make sure you are saving enough in 2017 to cover your anticipated health-related expenses,” says North Carolina wealth adviser Peter Huminski.

The 2016 HSA contribution limits are $3,350 for an individual and $6,750 for a family, and the limits will be higher for individuals next year.

6. Consider Refinancing (Everything) at Today’s Low Rates

With the elections over and a new crew heading into the White House, it’s hard to say how the economy or interest rates might change next year. Now may be your last chance to refinance your mortgage and other loans at today’s low rates.

“Mortgage rates have been at historical lows for several years now, and they aren’t going to stay here forever,” says financial adviser Andrew McFadden. “The good news, though, for anyone who hasn’t refinanced yet is that there is still time to take advantage of these super-cheap interest rates.”

If you’ve been putting it off and telling yourself that you’ll “get to it someday,” consider using the end of 2016 to make good on the smart financial decision to refinance your mortgage to a lower rate. (Just make sure you know where your credit stands, as this may affect whether you qualify. You can view two of your free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.)

By filling out some paperwork and jumping through a few hoops, you could save thousands of dollars in interest and/or pay off your home and other large loans faster.

Image: BraunS

The post 6 Money Moves to Make Before 2017 appeared first on Credit.com.

Gifting a ‘Smart’ Device? Here’s How to Keep its Recipient From Getting Hacked

Here's how to avoid identity theft this season.

In October 2016, there was a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack that caused serious traffic issues at major internet destinations like Amazon, PayPal and a host of other heavily trafficked sites. You may be giving a gift this holiday season that could make a similar attack possible.

Spot check: Does the gift you plan to give connect to the internet? If you answered “Yes,” keep reading.

A DDoS attack makes an online site or service unavailable by swamping it with enough fake requests to crash the targeted system. The DDoS attacks that happened in October were made possible by devices (largely webcams) that are equipped to connect to the internet — and the available fix is a lot simpler than the looming problem. If you read “webcams,” and decided to stop reading, I encourage you to read a bit further.

‘Tis the Season for the Internet of Things

Any device that connects to the internet poses certain risks to your household and potentially (via DDoS attacks) to the rest of the world, because there are vulnerabilities that allow hackers to use that connectivity to stage attacks such as the above DDoS events. While the October attacks were largely carried out by hijacking webcams, other devices, such as a Smart TV or appliance, could be targeted in the future, and what too many of these items have in common is default user names and passwords. Users don’t change them because they don’t see the threats. Meanwhile, they are easy to look up. More than 60 default user name and password combinations were identified (and published) following the October attacks.

Think of an IoT device as something like all those gifts that require batteries. But if you’re giving a smart device to a friend or family member this holiday season, you might want to consider providing the recipient with a prompt to change the user name and password to something unique as well as long and strong.

Unlike the batteries-not-included gift, an IoT device will still work with the default settings in place, but for the purposes of your security and that of the recipient of your gift, act like it won’t and advise them to always change their user name and password before use.

An Old Threat That Has Come of Age

If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that identity thieves, fraudsters and scammers are on the prowl, going after any information they can use to make a buck. The other big lesson is that they think way outside the box. That’s their job: to case a target and figure out how to nail it. When an architect builds a bank, he or she thinks about structural integrity, function, aesthetic considerations, and security. It’s all tied together. When a thief looks at the same structure, he or she looks for vulnerabilities. The thief has the easier job. A wrecking ball doesn’t need good ideas.

When it comes to IoT, the bad guys are looking at a bank that is still under construction. The walls are incomplete; we may not even agree yet on where the walls are supposed to be. But the money’s already in there.

If you need more reason to change your default passwords — or to encourage your loved ones to do the same — over the holidays, consider that long before the most recent DDoS attack more than 73,000 unsecured webcams and surveillance cameras were made available on Russian websites to voyeurs from around the globe, effectively turning their owners into the unwitting stars of their own reality shows. The site listed the cameras by country. The spreadsheet was impressive. The United States was well represented. In every case, victims ignored safety protocols and installed the cameras with their default login and password — admin/admin or another easy-to-guess combination findable on any number of public-facing websites.

What to Do

In a perfect world, IoT would be … well, perfect. In the real world, IoT is still in the early years of its evolution, with all the lawlessness and chaos that implies. Indeed, smaller companies are rushing IoT products to market in a mad dash to beat bigger brands that have more at stake when it comes to security. As a result, you can’t always be so sure that your data is going to be safe.

Over the past few years, we’ve learned the hard way that there is no such thing as too safe or secure when it comes to cybercrime, and there is a whole host of organizations out there — both big and small — that are doing a miserable job of protecting you. And even if they do everything right, as things stand now in the world of information security, you may still be vulnerable.

Define Vulnerable

The added convenience provided by the IoT is obvious, but the security issues may not be. Are your fitness records hackable by a third party? Are they linked to social media? How much information is required to access them? A login? A password? And what’s to stop a hacker from locking or unlocking your front door, disabling your alarm system, or turning off your heat during a blizzard or your lights during a home invasion — all with an app? The answer is, not very much.

Other common devices that are password protected should immediately come to mind here. Whether it is your household printer, your wireless router or your DVR, there are folks out there who are very curious about you, not because they value you as a human being, but because they can create value from any plugged-in human — whether by fraud or extortion or (in a more old-fashioned mode) getting the information they need to rob you blind when you’re not home. And even if they don’t want to know about you, they may want to enlist your devices in a spam-distribution effort or a DDoS attack.

The number of people who don’t change default passwords is staggering, as evidenced by the 73,000 wide-open webcams on that Russian website. There’s a major disconnect here, and it’s specific to the IoT. On the internet proper, it seems the message has finally sunk in and people are beginning to make themselves harder targets — making sure their privacy settings are tight and their passwords are both strong and changed frequently. But when it comes to the IoT, there is still more learning to be done — hopefully not the hard way.

If you’re concerned you’ve become the victim of a hack, don’t shrug it off. You can check for signs of identity theft, including mysterious addresses and unexplained accounts, by viewing two of your credit scores for free, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

Excerpted from Swiped: How to Protect Yourself in a World Full of Scammers, Phishers, and Identity Thieves by Adam Levin. Copyright © 2016. Available from PublicAffairs, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc. 

Image: hobo_018

The post Gifting a ‘Smart’ Device? Here’s How to Keep its Recipient From Getting Hacked appeared first on Credit.com.

Gifting a ‘Smart’ Device? Here’s How to Keep its Recipient From Getting Hacked

Here's how to avoid identity theft this season.

In October 2016, there was a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack that caused serious traffic issues at major internet destinations like Amazon, PayPal and a host of other heavily trafficked sites. You may be giving a gift this holiday season that could make a similar attack possible.

Spot check: Does the gift you plan to give connect to the internet? If you answered “Yes,” keep reading.

A DDoS attack makes an online site or service unavailable by swamping it with enough fake requests to crash the targeted system. The DDoS attacks that happened in October were made possible by devices (largely webcams) that are equipped to connect to the internet — and the available fix is a lot simpler than the looming problem. If you read “webcams,” and decided to stop reading, I encourage you to read a bit further.

‘Tis the Season for the Internet of Things

Any device that connects to the internet poses certain risks to your household and potentially (via DDoS attacks) to the rest of the world, because there are vulnerabilities that allow hackers to use that connectivity to stage attacks such as the above DDoS events. While the October attacks were largely carried out by hijacking webcams, other devices, such as a Smart TV or appliance, could be targeted in the future, and what too many of these items have in common is default user names and passwords. Users don’t change them because they don’t see the threats. Meanwhile, they are easy to look up. More than 60 default user name and password combinations were identified (and published) following the October attacks.

Think of an IoT device as something like all those gifts that require batteries. But if you’re giving a smart device to a friend or family member this holiday season, you might want to consider providing the recipient with a prompt to change the user name and password to something unique as well as long and strong.

Unlike the batteries-not-included gift, an IoT device will still work with the default settings in place, but for the purposes of your security and that of the recipient of your gift, act like it won’t and advise them to always change their user name and password before use.

An Old Threat That Has Come of Age

If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that identity thieves, fraudsters and scammers are on the prowl, going after any information they can use to make a buck. The other big lesson is that they think way outside the box. That’s their job: to case a target and figure out how to nail it. When an architect builds a bank, he or she thinks about structural integrity, function, aesthetic considerations, and security. It’s all tied together. When a thief looks at the same structure, he or she looks for vulnerabilities. The thief has the easier job. A wrecking ball doesn’t need good ideas.

When it comes to IoT, the bad guys are looking at a bank that is still under construction. The walls are incomplete; we may not even agree yet on where the walls are supposed to be. But the money’s already in there.

If you need more reason to change your default passwords — or to encourage your loved ones to do the same — over the holidays, consider that long before the most recent DDoS attack more than 73,000 unsecured webcams and surveillance cameras were made available on Russian websites to voyeurs from around the globe, effectively turning their owners into the unwitting stars of their own reality shows. The site listed the cameras by country. The spreadsheet was impressive. The United States was well represented. In every case, victims ignored safety protocols and installed the cameras with their default login and password — admin/admin or another easy-to-guess combination findable on any number of public-facing websites.

What to Do

In a perfect world, IoT would be … well, perfect. In the real world, IoT is still in the early years of its evolution, with all the lawlessness and chaos that implies. Indeed, smaller companies are rushing IoT products to market in a mad dash to beat bigger brands that have more at stake when it comes to security. As a result, you can’t always be so sure that your data is going to be safe.

Over the past few years, we’ve learned the hard way that there is no such thing as too safe or secure when it comes to cybercrime, and there is a whole host of organizations out there — both big and small — that are doing a miserable job of protecting you. And even if they do everything right, as things stand now in the world of information security, you may still be vulnerable.

Define Vulnerable

The added convenience provided by the IoT is obvious, but the security issues may not be. Are your fitness records hackable by a third party? Are they linked to social media? How much information is required to access them? A login? A password? And what’s to stop a hacker from locking or unlocking your front door, disabling your alarm system, or turning off your heat during a blizzard or your lights during a home invasion — all with an app? The answer is, not very much.

Other common devices that are password protected should immediately come to mind here. Whether it is your household printer, your wireless router or your DVR, there are folks out there who are very curious about you, not because they value you as a human being, but because they can create value from any plugged-in human — whether by fraud or extortion or (in a more old-fashioned mode) getting the information they need to rob you blind when you’re not home. And even if they don’t want to know about you, they may want to enlist your devices in a spam-distribution effort or a DDoS attack.

The number of people who don’t change default passwords is staggering, as evidenced by the 73,000 wide-open webcams on that Russian website. There’s a major disconnect here, and it’s specific to the IoT. On the internet proper, it seems the message has finally sunk in and people are beginning to make themselves harder targets — making sure their privacy settings are tight and their passwords are both strong and changed frequently. But when it comes to the IoT, there is still more learning to be done — hopefully not the hard way.

If you’re concerned you’ve become the victim of a hack, don’t shrug it off. You can check for signs of identity theft, including mysterious addresses and unexplained accounts, by viewing two of your credit scores for free, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

Excerpted from Swiped: How to Protect Yourself in a World Full of Scammers, Phishers, and Identity Thieves by Adam Levin. Copyright © 2016. Available from PublicAffairs, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc. 

Image: hobo_018

The post Gifting a ‘Smart’ Device? Here’s How to Keep its Recipient From Getting Hacked appeared first on Credit.com.

10 Cities Americans Are Leaving the Fastest

These 10 cities are losing population faster than any other large American cities.

Image: kali9

The post 10 Cities Americans Are Leaving the Fastest appeared first on Credit.com.

Chase’s Hot New Credit Card Could Cost Them up to $300 Million

Chase's new credit card is so wildly popular, and offers such great perks, it's costing the bank money.

Back in September, Chase ran out of the metal versions of their new Sapphire Reserve credit card because of such high demand. And, while it seems the card is still drawing a lot of attention (and applicants), it’s costing Chase money — as much as $300 million, in fact.

At least that’s according to a recent Bloomberg report, which says the card is expected to hurt profits by $200 million to $300 million in the fourth quarter. (Don’t feel too bad, they’re still anticipating a $5 billion profit this quarter.) And, according to the report, the bank won’t break even on the investment they’ve made into this card for almost six years. Despite all this, the JPMorgan Chase Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon said “the card has been doing great” when he spoke at an investor conference in New York on Tuesday.

Wondering what all the fuss is about with this Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card? Well…

What Makes This Card So Popular

There’s a lot to be said about this credit card — to start, after you spend $4,000 in the first three months of having the card, you’ll get 100,000 bonus points. Yes, you read that right: 100,000 points, which is equal to $1,500 in travel redeemed through the Chase Ultimate Rewards platform. And, if you have wanderlust, you’ll also like that this card gives you an annual statement credit of up to $300 to reimburse you for travel purchases. (Starting to understand why this card is so popular and costing Chase some money?)

All this from a credit card is pretty amazing, right? There’s more. While you’ve still got jet setting on the brain, it’s worth mentioning that this card will reimburse you up to $100 for your Global Entry or TSA Pre✓ application, as well as give you access to airport lounges and special benefits at certain hotels and when renting cars.

And let’s talk about spending rewards: You get three points per dollar on travel and dining and one point per dollar for all other purchases. When you redeem through the Chase rewards platform, your points will go further, as you’ll get 50% more in travel redemption.

As many rewards credit cards do, the Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with an annual fee, and it isn’t a subtle one: $450. You also have to pay the annual fee upfront. And if you can’t pay your statement in full (a best practice with rewards credit cards so you don’t lose your perks to interest fees), you’re looking at a variable APR of 16.24% to 23.24%, depending on your creditworthiness.

Adding Plastic to Your Wallet

Yes, these rewards are amazing and can be exceptionally tempting. But, not so fast: You want to think about if adding this card, or any other card, to your collection is really right for you before you hit “Submit” on that application. Are you going to be able to make that $450 annual fee worthwhile or would a credit card with a lower yearly fee (or not one at all) be better? And if it’s that signup bonus that sounds most appealing to you, is it an amount you’d be able to afford to spend? After all, added spending just to get a bonus (and ultimately ending up in debt) certainly isn’t worth it.

Part of considering which credit card may be right for you is also knowing what cards you’re likely to qualify for. Cards that offer rewards tend to require a good credit score, so it’s good to know if you’re even eligible before applying. After all, you don’t want that hard inquiry on your credit just to be rejected for the new card. (You can find out where your credit currently stands by viewing two of your credit scores for free, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.) If you discover your scores aren’t at the level you’d like them to be, all is not lost: Consider paying down debts, repairing any report damage you may discover and limiting inquiries on your credit until your scores rebound.

Image: EXTREME-PHOTOGRAPHER

The post Chase’s Hot New Credit Card Could Cost Them up to $300 Million appeared first on Credit.com.

Chase’s Hot New Credit Card Could Cost Them up to $300 Million

Chase's new credit card is so wildly popular, and offers such great perks, it's costing the bank money.

Back in September, Chase ran out of the metal versions of their new Sapphire Reserve credit card because of such high demand. And, while it seems the card is still drawing a lot of attention (and applicants), it’s costing Chase money — as much as $300 million, in fact.

At least that’s according to a recent Bloomberg report, which says the card is expected to hurt profits by $200 million to $300 million in the fourth quarter. (Don’t feel too bad, they’re still anticipating a $5 billion profit this quarter.) And, according to the report, the bank won’t break even on the investment they’ve made into this card for almost six years. Despite all this, the JPMorgan Chase Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon said “the card has been doing great” when he spoke at an investor conference in New York on Tuesday.

Wondering what all the fuss is about with this Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card? Well…

What Makes This Card So Popular

There’s a lot to be said about this credit card — to start, after you spend $4,000 in the first three months of having the card, you’ll get 100,000 bonus points. Yes, you read that right: 100,000 points, which is equal to $1,500 in travel redeemed through the Chase Ultimate Rewards platform. And, if you have wanderlust, you’ll also like that this card gives you an annual statement credit of up to $300 to reimburse you for travel purchases. (Starting to understand why this card is so popular and costing Chase some money?)

All this from a credit card is pretty amazing, right? There’s more. While you’ve still got jet setting on the brain, it’s worth mentioning that this card will reimburse you up to $100 for your Global Entry or TSA Pre✓ application, as well as give you access to airport lounges and special benefits at certain hotels and when renting cars.

And let’s talk about spending rewards: You get three points per dollar on travel and dining and one point per dollar for all other purchases. When you redeem through the Chase rewards platform, your points will go further, as you’ll get 50% more in travel redemption.

As many rewards credit cards do, the Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with an annual fee, and it isn’t a subtle one: $450. You also have to pay the annual fee upfront. And if you can’t pay your statement in full (a best practice with rewards credit cards so you don’t lose your perks to interest fees), you’re looking at a variable APR of 16.24% to 23.24%, depending on your creditworthiness.

Adding Plastic to Your Wallet

Yes, these rewards are amazing and can be exceptionally tempting. But, not so fast: You want to think about if adding this card, or any other card, to your collection is really right for you before you hit “Submit” on that application. Are you going to be able to make that $450 annual fee worthwhile or would a credit card with a lower yearly fee (or not one at all) be better? And if it’s that signup bonus that sounds most appealing to you, is it an amount you’d be able to afford to spend? After all, added spending just to get a bonus (and ultimately ending up in debt) certainly isn’t worth it.

Part of considering which credit card may be right for you is also knowing what cards you’re likely to qualify for. Cards that offer rewards tend to require a good credit score, so it’s good to know if you’re even eligible before applying. After all, you don’t want that hard inquiry on your credit just to be rejected for the new card. (You can find out where your credit currently stands by viewing two of your credit scores for free, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.) If you discover your scores aren’t at the level you’d like them to be, all is not lost: Consider paying down debts, repairing any report damage you may discover and limiting inquiries on your credit until your scores rebound.

Image: EXTREME-PHOTOGRAPHER

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What to Do When Your Co-Worker Throws You Under the Bus

Have you ever been in a situation where your co-worker throws you under the bus? If so, here's what you can do.

You will encounter many different types of conflict in the workplace throughout your career. At any moment, you could become the victim of a co-worker waiting to stab you in the back, steal your award-winning idea, and then when you least expect it, throw you under the bus. Some employees will go to great lengths to sacrifice a co-worker so they can look good in front of management. It’s a dirty game and it’s often played by the very team members you thought had your back. When it comes down to possibly getting fired or reprimanded, office alliances are quickly forgotten.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to stop an underhanded co-worker, according to Brian de Haff, CEO of Aha! Labs Inc. “No matter who you are, you will get steamrolled by a bus or two in your career. It’s an inevitable part of working with groups of people,” de Haff wrote in a LinkedIn article.

No matter how talented or nice you are, you can’t stop the bus. The good news is you can do something about how you respond when you find yourself underneath it. How can you protect yourself? Here’s what to do if you find yourself in any of the following three situations.

1. You Weren’t There 

You can’t be in every place at once, so your name may come up when you aren’t there — and it may not always be done in the best light. Career expert and therapist Brandon Smith said it’s a good idea to be proactive and make a habit of documenting everything. This is because you never know when you’ll find yourself in a situation where you’ll need to defend yourself. All it takes is one desperate co-worker to put you in a situation where you’re unfairly forced to fight for your job. “A critical way to protect yourself is to have a paper trail regarding your exchanges with untrustworthy or suspicious co-workers. Save those emails,” Smith wrote.

2. You’re Blamed During a Meeting

It’s never fun to be accused of incompetence in front of an audience. Your first instinct might be to take your co-worker down with you, but that will just make you look even worse. Do your best to stay calm and not make a scene during the meeting. “Yelling and screaming will not get your point across or finally get them to understand you,” Smith said. “All it will do is make you appear as though you are a part of the problem.”

Taking the emotion out of the situation will help you see the situation clearly. Letting the anger fester will just make you bitter, and this bitterness will sour your attitude. “Sometimes it helps to view a problem from a new perspective. Your co-worker is providing you with feedback. Be willing to try it on,” Forbes columnist David K. Williams wrote. “It’s like trying on a pair of pants. If they don’t fit, don’t get emotional (that is throwing yourself under the bus). Just take them off and return them properly folded with no added emotion to the original owner.”

3. Your Boss Used You as a Scapegoat

This is a tricky situation, particularly because not only is your boss involved but potentially so is your boss’s supervisor. Greg Baker, president and CEO of Advance Consulting Inc., suggested seeing what you can learn from the situation. Whether or not you had some responsibility in what happened, take steps to understand what went wrong, address the problem and do what you can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

“The better you understand why your boss threw you under the bus, the more informed your decisions will be regarding what to do about it. What problem or responsibility is your boss avoiding? How credible does your boss’s story sound to others? Why did you become the target? Why now?,” Baker wrote on the Advance Consulting website.

Baker said you can attempt to make sure you don’t run into a similar issue by anticipating and recognizing circumstances that breed conflict. “I have never seen someone get thrown under the bus when everything was going well. So as you develop your radar for potential conflict, let this be your guidepost. When things go wrong, some people tend to blame in order to protect themselves,” Baker said.

[Editor’s Note: Many employers review a version of your credit report as part of the application process, so it’s a good idea to know where your credit currently stands. You can see your free credit report snapshot, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.]

This article originally appeared on The Cheat Sheet.

Image: xavierarnau

The post What to Do When Your Co-Worker Throws You Under the Bus appeared first on Credit.com.

Nordstrom Is Selling an $85 Rock

Nordstrom is selling an $85 rock — it's wrapped in leather, but still, it's an $85 rock.

There is such a thing as an $85 rock, and you can buy it at Nordstrom.

This is not the stone of 1975 Pet Rock fame (which, for the record, you can get for less than $20 online). Back then the Pet Rock had a clear purpose: It was a joke. The Medium Leather Wrapped Stone, on the other hand, is somewhat of a mystery. Not even the writers at Nordstrom knew what to say about it, so they left it open to interpretation: “A paperweight? A conversation piece? A work of art? It’s up to you.”

To be fair, it seems like the focus of this thing is the leather pouch in which it sits, rather than the rock itself. Made Solid — the company behind the Medium Leather Wrapped Stone and its more affordable counterpart, Small Leather Wrapped Stone ($65) — sells handmade leather products.

But what is a leather-wrapped stone without the stone? An empty container that probably won’t hold much of anything. So, really, it’s about the rock. Considering its crucial role, you’d think they’d tell you a little more about the geological superstar, beyond the fact that it comes from the San Bernardino Mountains. But maybe that’s part of the mystery.


Screenshot: Nordstrom.com

And a mystery it is, because if the existence of an $85 rock doesn’t bewilder you, consider this: It’s a hot commodity. Two of the four versions of the Leather Wrapped Stones for sale on Made Solid are sold out. Who knows how long Nordstrom will have them in stock.

For all of you who’ve been wondering what hot holiday gift you should get for your loved ones, you have an answer: A one-of-a-kind, made-in-the-USA rock. (Made Solid did not immediately respond to a request for comment on what makes its Leather Wrapped Stone worth spending $85 on.)

Sure, it might seem a tad expensive. But by all means, if you have $85 to spend and know the Leather Wrapped Stone would add a level of class to your sister’s desk that her one-a-day calendar just doesn’t deliver, go for it. But as tempted as you might be to put it on the old credit card and worry about it later, be careful: It’d be a shame to resent that fancy desk rock come January when it’s the reason you have to cut corners to stay on budget or pay off your credit card bill. (You can see how your credit card balances may be affecting your credit by viewing two of your credit scores, updated every 14 days, for free on Credit.com)

Oh, the things we have to do without to stay out of debt.

Image: efcarlos

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Do Some Toys Threaten Your Child’s Privacy?

Consumer advocates are urging the Federal Trade Commission to look into 'smart' toys, alleging they pose a risk to children's privacy rights.

Is Santa spying on your kids?

A set of consumer groups think so and are petitioning the Federal Trade Commission to step in on Tuesday.

In a broader report accompanying the complaint, consumer groups are warning that a coming “Internet of Toys” could have long-term implications for child safety.

“Product safety is no longer just about a small toy that you are afraid your kid will choke on,” said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. “It’s about how the products are designed and what they might be doing with your children’s information.”

Two hot new internet-connected toys “subject young children to ongoing surveillance … and pose an imminent and immediate threat to the safety and security of children,” the complaint alleges.

The two toys — one doll named My Friend Cayla, marketed to girls, and i-Que, which targets boys — are made by a Chinese company, Genesis Toys, which has a Los Angeles-based affiliate named Genesis.

iQue and Cayla engage in simulated conversations with children. They use Bluetooth to connect to smartphones and gain access to the internet.

“A child’s statements are converted into text, which is then used by the application to retrieve answers using Google Search, Wikipedia and Weather Underground,” the complaint says.

The toys are available from many U.S. retailers. On one product page, they are described as being appropriate for children ages 3 to 12.

“Via speech-recognition technology, Cayla can understand and respond to your child in real time about almost anything,” the page says. “She can tell stories, play games, share photos from her photo album, and can sing too. She can even help your child with their homework questions.”

The consumer groups — including the Electronic Privacy Information Center, The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood and Consumers Union — claim that the devices record children’s conversations “without any limitations on collection, use or disclosure” of personal information. They say the Genesis toys violate the Child Online Protection Act, and that the Federal Trade Commission should step in immediately.

Genesis Toys claims that My Friend Cayla has amassed over 1 million fans worldwide, according to the complaint.

Attempts to reach Genesis for comment were unsuccessful.

Massachusetts-based Nuance Communications, which provides voice-recognition services for the toys, according to the complaint, was also named. Emails and phone calls to the firm were not immediately returned.

Too Much Personal Information? 

The complaint alleges that the toys ask for personal information, such as parents’ names, favorite TV show, school name and home city. The Genesis privacy policy — only available as a pop-up when downloading an app — says all data can be stored and shared with certain third parties, according to the complaint.

The consumer groups also say the toys don’t employ basic Bluetooth security, such as requiring a pairing code.

“As a result, when the Cayla and i-Que dolls are powered on and not already paired with another device, any smartphone or tablet within a 50-foot range can establish a Bluetooth connection with the dolls,” it says. That opens the door to strangers in close proximity being able to use the doll to connect with the child who’s using it, the groups allege.

Last year, Mattel’s release of the Hello Barbie talking toy raised similar concerns, particularly after researchers were able to hack it. Mattel addressed that concern by offering a bug bounty program with its voice-processing partner, ToyTalk.

In a report named Toyfail by European consumer group Norwegian Consumer Council timed to coincide with the U.S. FTC complaint, Mattel scored well in terms of privacy policy disclosures and minimization of data collection. Hello Barbie doesn’t connect to the internet to supply conversation; it relies on pre-programmed dialogue. But recordings of conversations are sent to ToyTalk.

ToyTalk’s privacy policy says those recordings are used to refine its voice-processing service and are not used to contact or market to children.

Still, Josh Golin of Commercial Free Childhood told Credit.com that parents need to be aware of these new kinds of toys.

“These are becoming must-have toys,” he said. “And these problems are ongoing. Sure, there was a splash made when someone hacked the toy, but then it goes away. This issue needs to be front and center for parents.”

The report from the EU group noted that while Hello Barbie’s terms and conditions were written in clear language and are available online — in contrast to Genesis toys — it was critical of Mattel for not explaining how changes to the privacy policy would be announced and for not being clear about what third parties might receive collected data.

“Hello Barbie and ToyTalk only state that they can share data with ‘vendors, consultants and other service providers’ without specifying or giving examples of what this entails,” the report says.

Marissa Beck, a spokeswoman for Mattel, objected to the European group’s criticism of its third-party data sharing notice.

“We have an entire section (in our privacy policy) that details this, called “What Information Do We Share With Third Parties?,” she said, pointing to the Hello Barbie policy on ToyTalk.com’s website. She also said the firm is clear about updates to the policy.

In an email, Jade McNorton, a spokesperson for ToyTalk maker, San Francisco-based Pullstring Inc., said “we feel this is clearly communicated” when asked about updates to the firm’s privacy policy, and pointed to this section of it:

If we make changes, we will notify you by revising the date at the top of the Privacy Policy and, in some cases (such as for material changes), we will provide you with additional notice (such as adding a statement to our web site’s homepage or sending you a notification) and/or obtain your prior verifiable consent.

She added that third-party firms which might receive data are detailed in the privacy policy also.

Should Parents Be Concerned?

Fundamentally, these types of toys are “not great to begin with,” Golin said. (Real friends are superior to talking dolls that can mimic friendly conversations). But parents should be concerned that while kids are being trained to “connect with toys, and really confide in them,” there are longer-term concerns, Golin said.

“I think what happens is there is a rush to get things into the marketplace before the technology and policy and ethical considerations have all been worked out …There’s this misguided idea that connecting anything to the Internet makes it better. With toys, there’s all sorts of reasons you don’t want to do that,” Golin said. “The issues are really sensitive. The recordings of children’s conversations are really sensitive. And the fact that these companies can’t explicitly say, ‘This is exactly what we are doing with these recordings,’ should be very concerning to parents.”

“These discoveries are another sign that emerging IoT-technologies may not be well suited for children’s products,” the Norwegian Consumer Council concludes. “Unless the manufacturers and service providers are willing to take these issues seriously, the NCC are concerned that the area of connected toys is rife with potential risks for children’s safety and well-being, as they play and interact with these products.”

Remember, you can keep an eye out for identity theft by monitoring your credit. (You can pull your credit reports for free each year at AnnualCreditReport.com and view two of your scores, updated every 14 weeks, for free on Credit.com.) Parents can request a credit history for their minor children from the three credit reporting agencies with documentation proving they are the parent or legal guardian to keep an eye out for child identity theft as well.

Image: FatCamera

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