10 Hacks Everyone Should Know Before Hitting the Beach

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While I’ve never been in the ocean, I’ve spent time almost every summer of my life at the beach, enjoying the long sandy shoreline along Lake Michigan.

Over the years, I’ve developed an arsenal of strategies to maximize the fun of these trips, while minimizing potential inconvenience. However, even I found some new tips and tricks while writing this article.

Whether you’re heading to the ocean, the Great Lakes or a local watering hole, here are 12 beach hacks to consider trying this year.

1. Use a Fitted Sheet Instead of a Beach Towel

You need to have a couple of things to increase your odds that this will work correctly. The first is four heavy objects to act as anchors. The second is no kids.

Lay the fitted sheet upside down on the sand. Put your four anchors in the corners and pull the sheet up and taut. When you’re done, you should have four short walls around you to prevent blowing sand from invading your space.

Kids will quickly turn this area into a sandbox, so I would skip the aggravation and save this hack for when they’re older or you’re on an adult-only outing.

2. Put Your Key on a Cork

I wish we had known about this hack before we had to search the bottom of a lake for the keys that fell out of my husband’s swim trunks pocket.

Make an extra key to your vehicle, attach it to a wine cork and then you can lock your other keys in the car or leave them at home. If the car key falls out in the water, the cork will help prevent it from sinking and also make it easier to find.

Yes, there’s a chance it could float away if you don’t notice it right away — but hey, no hack is perfect.

3. Let Baby Powder Whisk the Sand Away

Nothing is more challenging than wiping off wet sand, right? Apparently, if you sprinkle on some baby powder, it will absorb the moisture and make it easier to leave the sand at the beach rather than hauling it home with you.

I can’t vouch for this one personally, but if you’ve tried it, tell us how it works by leaving a comment below.

4. Store Your Phone in a Plastic Baggie

If you feel like you need to bring your phone to the beach, keep it sealed in a plastic baggie to protect it from the sand and water. You may find you’re able to use the touchscreen without even taking it out of the bag.

5. Keep a Balloon Handy to Clear Your Ears

When my ears need to be cleared at the beach, I typically hold my nose while trying to blow out of it. I’m sure that would look strange to anyone who didn’t know what I was doing, so if you’d rather use a different way to clear your ears, bring along a couple of balloons.

Trying to blow up a balloon is an easy — and possibly not-so-goofy looking — way to clear your ears. It might also be an easier concept for little ones to grasp.

6. Put on Your Cheap Sunglasses

It’s not unlikely that you may leave something behind on a beach trip or that someone will step on or sit on something and break it. You certainly don’t want that something to be your expensive sunglasses.

If you don’t need a prescription, you can head to the dollar store and buy a cheap pair. It’ll get the job done and won’t break your heart if the sunglasses get lost or stolen.

7. Hit the Dollar Store For All Your Beach Needs

Actually, get whatever you can from the dollar store.

Kids’ beach toys are particularly prone to getting lost or lifted by another kid at the beach. Sure, a dollar store bucket is cheap and flimsy, but it only needs to last a few hours at the beach for a day trip. If you have to buy another one for the next trip, don’t worry: It won’t break your budget.

8. Eat a Big Breakfast to Avoid Sandy Snacks

Every time I take a cooler to the beach, I regret it. It’s a pain to drag or carry over the sand. Then the food gets sandy.

Nowadays, I make sure we eat a big meal before heading out for the day. I might pack some drinks and a light snack — granola bars or packets of fruit snacks — but I never bother with sandwiches or something more substantial.

If you’ll be at the beach all day, consider leaving your cooler in the car and heading to the parking lot for a midday meal. No need to be eating at the water’s edge, in my opinion.

9. Flip Your Steering Wheel When Parking

A hot steering wheel can make the first few miles of the drive home painful. Minimize the problem by turning your steering wheel all the way around when you park. Then, the bottom of the wheel will take the brunt of the heat, and the top will be cooler when you flip it around to leave.

10. Make Your Own Cooler Ice Packs

If you do decide to bring a cooler with drinks or snacks, consider making your own ice packs. To do this, simply fill sealable gallon plastic bags with water and freeze them. When the ice melts, or when you’re ready to go, dump out the water and remaining ice and use the bags to store suits or other damp items until you get home.

Do you have secrets for savoring the beach? Share them by commenting below.

[Editor’s Note: If you find yourself in credit card debt as a result of your beach getaways, you may want to consider using a tool that can help you figure out how long it may take you to pay it off, like this credit card payoff calculator. You may also want to check your credit scores regularly to see how your debts could be affecting you. You can get two of your credit scores for free, updated each month, on Credit.com.]

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Need to Register to Vote? Just Google It

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Thursday’s crowning of Donald Trump as the Republican presidential candidate has ushered in the beginning of the real battle for the White House. Regardless of whether you support Trump, his presumptive Democratic rival Hillary Clinton or neither, you won’t be able to voice your opinion in the November election if you aren’t registered to vote.

If you haven’t registered — whether you think it’s just too much of a pain, you haven’t had the time, or you just don’t know where to start — you’re in luck. Google is here to help with a new widget that makes the process a lot easier.

The widget, launched earlier this month, appears in the results for search terms like “how do I register to vote?”

The widget provides links to registration forms, your state’s county voter registrar offices, plus requirements and deadlines for registration.

Google said in an announcement that the widget helps serve user needs.

“With states’ varied deadlines and methods, the voter registration process can be tricky,” Jacob Schonberg, Google product manager, wrote on the company’s blog. “So … we’re introducing a new tool in Search to simplify the voter registration process to make it easier for you to have your voice heard.”

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The Election & Your Finances

Whether you believe your vote counts or not, voicing your opinion can have a direct impact on your personal finances. The candidates’ economic proposals are very different this year, on everything from student loan payments to tax breaks, all of which are sure to affect voters’ bottom lines.

While your vote will only go so far in addressing how the economy operates, you can still take charge of your own personal finances by maintaining a good credit score, paying your bills on time, ensuring you have sufficient income and putting some of your money into savings. If any of these are a struggle for you, you can start down the road to a better financial life by checking your credit scores to see where you stand. You can get two free credit scores, updated monthly, on Credit.com.

[Offer: If you need help fixing your credit, Lexington Law can help you meet your goals. Learn more about them here or call them at (844) 346-3296 for a free consultation.]

More on Credit Reports & Credit Scores:

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14 Ways to Never Pay Full Price for Anything

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A decade ago, retailers sold 15% to 20% of their merchandise at a discount.

Today, they sell 40% to 45% at a discount, according to professional bargain hunter Mark Ellwood.

“Never pay full price for anything — ever,” the journalist and author of “Bargain Fever: How to Shop in a Discounted World” tells USA Today. “If something is less than 30% off, put it back on the table.”

For Ellwood, a good deal is at least 30% off, and hopefully 50% off. To help you get there, we’ve compiled the following tips.

1. Ask for a Lower Price

You may get a deal simply by asking if a better price is available.

One of Ellwood’s cardinal rules is that you should interact with employees in stores. He tells USA Today that staff members are “your secret weapon” because they often alert customers to promotions.

Or they might offer you a better deal than the advertised price.

If you’re shopping online, use chat applications now available on some retailers’ websites. When the chat window opens, ask about a discount. Last year, I used this technique to save an additional $42 off a laptop that was already $350 off.

2. Comparison Shop Online

Even if you’re shopping in a brick-and-mortar store, use a smartphone or tablet and price-comparison website to confirm you’re getting the lowest price.

3. Keep the Receipt

What if the price drops on something you recently purchased? Consumer Reports suggests getting evidence of the competing lower price to compare against your receipt. Then, ask the retailer to match the lower price by refunding the difference.

Alternatively, return the item and then purchase it from the other retailer with the cheaper price.

4. Use Cash-Back Portals

Cash-back websites pay you to shop through them by giving you a percentage of your purchase cost back — for example, via a check or PayPal deposit.

5. Pay With Cash-Back Credit Cards

If you pay off your bill in full each month, it can pay to use a rewards credit card.

6. Tap the Power of Social Media

Following or friending your favorite retailers and brands on social media networks helps you keep current on sales, coupons and other discounts.

You may even uncover some bargains that companies have not advertised elsewhere.

7. Get on Email Lists

Check the websites of your favorite retailers and brands for an email sign-up option. Once you subscribe, they will email you about exclusive promotions.

I once saved 50% on sunscreen — a rare deal for that particular cosmetics company that I probably would have missed out on if I hadn’t signed up for emails.

To avoid an overload of retail email, create a filter. I use Gmail’s filters, for example, to direct all retailer emails to automatically bypass my inbox and go into one folder that I check daily.

8. Look Through Weekly Ads

Check your local newspaper or sites for the latest ads from retailers with brick-and-mortar stores in your area. It takes five to 10 minutes once a week to stay up to date.

Visit retailer websites for brick-and-mortar stores that don’t publish weekly ads, and for online-only retailers.

9. Temporarily Abandon Your e-Shopping Cart

If you have an account with a company, try temporarily abandoning your e-shopping cart when you shop.

Here is how it works: Browse the company’s site while logged in and add items to your shopping cart. Then, rather than make a purchase, leave the site.

The company might email you a discount to encourage you to return. There’s no guarantee, but it only costs a couple of minutes to try.

10. Swap Items With Friends

Looking for a new book or an outfit? Ask a friend if he or she will trade such an item for something you own. Or, invite a bunch of friends over for a swap party.

If you are new to this notion, there is plenty of information online.

11. Buy Secondhand

Whether you call them thrift stores or consignment shops, the internet can help you find places selling secondhand items.

Check sites like TheThriftShopper.com, which you can search by ZIP code. Or try the online store locators of national organizations such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army, and national chains like Play It Again Sports and Plato’s Closet.

For yard sales, try a directory like Garage Sale Finder or Garage Sales Tracker.

There are also lots of online-only secondhand marketplaces — just do a web search for whatever category of item you’re looking to buy (or sell) and a word like “secondhand.”

12. Buy In or Out of Season

Items like clothing, outdoor accessories and furniture, and gardening supplies are often cheaper out of season. For example, you probably will get a better deal on sandals or outdoor grills in the fall or winter.

Items like produce are often cheaper when in season. The following guides can help you determine when various types of produce are in-season:

  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s seasonal produce guide helps you discover when specific fruits and vegetables are at their peak availability.
  • The nonprofit Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture’s seasonality charts for fruits and nuts and for vegetables categorize the availability of foods by the month.
  • The Sustainable Table food program’s seasonal food guide can tell you what’s in season in your state.

13. Use Coupons & Promo Codes

Newspapers remain the largest source of traditional coupons, with about 92% of coupons distributed via newspaper advertising inserts in 2014, according to an industry report.

Still, plenty of printable coupons and online-only promo codes can be found online.

14. Check Out Discount Retailers

Find deals daily, even on brand names, at discount chain stores. Other types of discount retailers include dollar stores, wholesale clubs and outlets.

Remember, having low credit scores can end up costing you money on interest rates and more. It’s important to know where your credit stands and how you can improve it. You can start by viewing your two free credit scores, updated monthly, on Credit.com. You can also check your free credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com. If you find errors, you can take steps to correct them and improve your scores.

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Blispay Credit Card Review: 2% Cash Back Card, if You’re Careful

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When it comes to cash back cards, the competition is fierce. Blispay is a new Visa credit card that offers 2% cash back with no restrictions and a financing option for large purchases. Although 2% cash back with no cap is decent, the special financing promotion incentive could easily do more harm than good. In this post, we’ll help you determine if the Blispay credit card should be in your wallet.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • The Blispay credit card offer
  • How cash back works
  • The fine print details
  • The pros and cons

The Offer  

1. All purchases earn 2% cash back

There’s no revolving categories or spending limits. The Blispay credit card gives you unlimited 2% cash back on all purchases, no spending caps and no strings attached.

2. Special financing for 6 months

Beyond the 2% cash back deal, Blispay offers a financing option for big spending. Whenever you make a purchase of $199 or more, you get 6 months to pay it off interest free. However, if the balance of that purchase is not paid off within 6 months, retroactive interest will be charged at 19.99% APR from the day the transaction posted to your account. That’s a big catch: you’re interested isn’t waived, it’s retroactive. Failing to pay off the purchase in 6 months means the 19.99% APR that’s been accumulating will all get tacked onto your balance.

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A Closer Look at Blispay 2% Cash Back

How to earn cash back

Cash back can be earned at any merchant where Visa is accepted. Purchases made through Apple Pay, PayPal or a digital wallet with a Blispay credit card will count for 2% cash back as well. Occasionally, Blispay may offer special cash back promotions where you can earn even more from your spending. For an example, if you spend $5,000 on your card for the year, you have the potential to earn $100 in cash back, which is a 0.02% cash back value.

How to redeem cash back

The draw of the Blispay cash back program is you won’t need to do anything beyond pay for a purchase to earn and redeem cash back. Each month, the cash back tallies up and automatically applies as a credit to your statement balance when the billing period ends. The application process is also quick. You can apply online and start using your account right away.

The Fine Print

Simple way to earn rewards: The 2% cash back on all purchases with no cap is an uncomplicated way to earn a reward from using the Blispay card. However, the fine print comes in with the special financing. The “no payment, no interest” promotion seems like a deal upfront, but it can really be a trap if you’re not careful.

Understand the consequences of deferred interest: This special financing is really just deferred interest and means interest accruing on your balance will be charged at a later time. If you rely on the promotion to avoid making payments right away on many purchases, you can easily run into trouble when 6 months expires on each one. The way Blispay includes the interest-free period as a promotion alongside the 2% cash back deal could be a way to lure you into spending more money than you can pay off before interest hits.

Cash back is worthless if you don’t pay off your bill in full: If you choose to use this card, understand that earning 2% cash back is worthless if you keep getting charged 19.99% APR later on. You want to avoid interest entirely to get the most benefit from a cash back card. Otherwise, you may pay more in interest than you even earn in cash back.

The Blispay Fee Structure

The Blispay credit card has no annual fee. So, if you choose this card and pay off your balances diligently, it is possible to earn cash back for free. But, you will have to pay more for purchases made internationally since there’s an international fee of 3%. Lastly, there’s a minimum interest charge of $2.00 and the late payment fee is $25 to $35.

Pros and Cons

Pro: No restrictions on the 2%. You can earn 2% cash back without adjusting your spending habits or paying attention to categories. There’s also no cap. You’ll earn 2% cash back no matter how much you purchase.

Con: Special financing is retroactive interest. If you rely on the financing for many large purchases, you can fall behind on payments and get charged retroactive interest. When that happens you won’t see much, if any, return from 2% cash back. The no-interest financing option could be a trap, so be cautious.

Pro: No annual fee. You won’t need to earn a certain amount of cash back to compensate for an annual cost of this card because there is none.

Con: High fees. Although there’s no annual fee, the interest rate and other fees such as the 3% foreign transaction fee are ones that need your attention. If your credit score is good to excellent, you may be able to get a lower interest rate with another card that doesn’t have the special financing element. For instance, the starting interest rate on the Citi Double Cash card is just 13.24% APR as opposed to 19.99% APR.

(No matter what cash back card you decide on, it’s best to pay off your balances entirely to skip interest altogether. But a lower interest rate is ideal in case you do need to revolve a balance.)

Pro: Automatic statement credit. Each statement period your cash back will appear as a credit on your account. You won’t have to initiate the redemption of cash back. This card requires hardly any maintenance.

Alternative Cash Back Option

Another simple double rewards card you want to consider is the Citi Double Cash. You earn 1% cash back for making purchases and your rewards double when you pay off those purchases. In this case, you’re incentivized for paying off your bills right away which is the best method of using a cash back card.

Who Will Benefit Most from the Blispay Credit Card

The Blispay credit card gets a low score from us because of the financing angle included in the promotion. Reeling you in with deferred interest can hurt you more than 2% cash back can help if you fall off track. But, if you plan to avoid the 6 month special financing trap, you may be able to reap the benefits of cash back while steering clear of the pitfall.

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13 Things Grocery Stores Will Do for You for Free

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Your grocery store has a lot more to offer than just groceries and household necessities, and if you aren’t taking advantage of these offerings, you could be spending more money than you need to.

Fortunately, we’re here to help you find those cost savings so you can put that money to better use by adding it to your retirement fund, taking that vacation you so desperately need, paying off your credit card debts, or any one of dozens of other things you could better spend it on. (You can see how much your current debts will cost you over your lifetime with this calculator and how they may be affecting your credit by viewing two of your credit scores, updated each month, for free on Credit.com.)

Here are 13 things you might not know most grocery stores will give to you for free.

1. Sharpen Your Knives

Did you know the butcher at your local grocery store will very likely sharpen your knife for you? For free? It’s true. All you have to do is ask. It’s best to do this early in the morning right after the store opens and the meat counter isn’t terribly busy. You can just drop off your knives, do your shopping and pick the knives up on your way out.

Pro tip: Buy some inexpensive plastic knife sheaths to protect your blade edges and yourself during transport.

2. Provide Wi-Fi

A lot of grocery stores these days have free Wi-Fi available, particularly those with cafés, coffee bars or beer and wine service. So, if you’re going to be checking online recipes or comparing prices on your phone while shopping, reduce your data usage by asking for a password (if needed) and connecting to the Wi-Fi.

3. Trim Your Meat

Back to the meat counter we go. If you want that beautiful chuck roast cut into pieces for a stew, you’d like that rack of lamb Frenched, or you want that whole chicken quartered, the butchers are happy to do it for you, though it might take a bit of time (and be sure to check out these butcher secrets for saving money on meat).

4. Chill Your Wine

A lot of higher-end grocery store wine sections now have rapid chillers that can get your bottle of bubbly or rosé chilled to perfection in about 10 minutes. Just make your selection, drop it in the chiller, pick up any other items you’re in need of and bam. Your wine is cold and ready to take to your party, on a picnic or wherever your day takes you.

5. Provide Boxes

If you’re moving and you’ve priced boxes at your nearest packing and moving store, you know those cardboard cubes add up quickly. Check with your store for when they receive shipments of products like toilet paper, paper towels, baby diapers, cereal and other dry goods and ask them to hold some of the boxes for you.

6. Clean Your Fish

If you like buying whole fish but hate scales flying around your kitchen during the cleaning process, ask the grocery store fish monger to hook you up (Get it? Hook? OK, I’ll stop). They’ll even filet the fish for you if that’s your preference, and freshly cut filets are always better than those sitting in the cold case.

7. Provide Doggy Poop Bags

So, this isn’t really a free item or service provided by the store, but if you keep your produce bags after you’ve unloaded your fresh vegetables, you can use those to pick up your dog’s daily business instead of paying for fancy dog-branded bags. Of course, the produce bags don’t decompose the way most of the fancy poop bags do, but at least you’re giving them a second life before tossing them.

8. Arrange Flowers

If your favorite grocer has a flower counter, they also likely have a florist on staff who can prepare arrangements for you. So instead of just grabbing a bunch of flowers, next time you can have the florist arrange a lovely bouquet for you.

9. Provide Free Samples

Ah, weekends at the grocery store. In some places, it’s a veritable buffet as you comb the aisles for provisions. It’s a great opportunity to try new products and also save money, because there’s no way you’re needing lunch after this.

10. Ice Your Cold Items

If you’re buying a lot of cold and refrigerated items, your store might provide ice to keep your purchases from getting too warm, particularly in the summer months. More stores are making this service available, so it could be worth your while to check.

11. Provide Entertainment

In their ongoing effort to improve profit margins, grocery stores, especially higher-end chains, are doing everything everything they can to keep customers in stores longer so they can spend more money. Whole Foods, for example, serves beer, wine and even food in some select stores (not for free) and even offer free live music performances in some locations.

12. Deliver Groceries

Competition has grown fierce in the grocery sector, with more and more people ordering grocery items online or having them delivered through companies like Burpee and Fresh Direct. It’s no wonder more grocery stores are offering delivery, sometimes even for free. Check with your local grocer to see what options they might offer.

13. Special Order Products

Not seeing the item you want? A lot of grocery stores will special order a product for you if their vendors carry it. And if it’s something you plan to buy on a regular basis, they might even consider stocking it as a standard item. It never hurts to ask.

More Money-Saving Reads:

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I Don’t Need a Credit Card But Want to Build Credit. What Can I Do?

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Good credit is essential if you hope to borrow money one day for things like a new car or home. But good credit can also be important for smaller things like renting an apartment or even landing a new job. And one of the easiest ways to build the credit necessary for these things is by getting a credit card.

If you have no credit, or even bad credit, and you’re averse to getting a secured credit card to help improve your credit, there are other ways to go about establishing and building good credit.

Here are three other options for building credit and improving your credit scores.

1. Get a Credit-Builder Loan

A credit builder loan is a loan with a set amount you pay back over a set period of time (referred to as an installment loan). Most have repayment terms ranging from six months to 18 months, and because these loans are reported to one or more of the three national credit reporting agencies, on-time payments will help build up your credit.

Here’s how it works: A lender places your loan into a savings account, which you can’t touch until you’ve paid it off in full, allowing you to build credit and savings at the same time. And because loan amounts for credit builder loans can be quite small (just $500) it can be much easier to make monthly loan payments.

Credit-builder loans are best for people with no credit or bad credit. But, if you have good credit but don’t have any installment accounts on your credit report, a credit-builder loan could potentially raise your score since account mix is another major credit-scoring factor.

2. Pay Your Rent 

If you’re in the process of moving or need to do so in the near future, it’s a good idea to find a landlord who reports your rent payments to the major credit bureaus. Depending on what credit report or credit score is being used, these on-time monthly rent payments can give you a quick and easy credit reference and help you qualify for a loan (or at least another apartment down the road).

3. Become an Authorized User

Asking your spouse, partner or even your parent to add you onto one of their accounts as an authorized user could give your credit a boost. If the account they put you on has a perfect payment history and low balances, you’ll likely get “credit” when that account starts appearing on your credit reports. You won’t necessarily need to use the card to benefit from this strategy. It is a good idea to have your friend or family member check with their issuer to be sure that it reports authorized users to the three major credit reporting agencies (not all do).

Remember, one of the most important things in building good credit is making timely loan and bill payments. Bills like rent or utilities may not be universally reported to the credit bureaus, but if they go unpaid long enough, they can hurt your credit, especially if they go into collection. (You can see how any collections accounts may be affecting your credit by viewing your two free credit scores, updated each month, on Credit.com.)

If your credit is in rough shape, due to a collection account or other payment history troubles, you may be able to improve your scores by paying delinquent accounts, addressing high credit card balances and disputing any errors that may be weighing them down. And remember, you can build good credit in the long term by keeping debt levels low, making timely payments and adding to the mix of accounts you have as your score and wallet can handle it.

[Offer: If you need help fixing your credit, Lexington Law can help you meet your goals. Learn more about them here or call them at (844) 346-3296 for a free consultation.]

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12 Ways Student Loan Debt Is Holding People Back

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Student loan debt has increased significantly over the last 20 years, from an average among new graduates in 1996 of $12,850 to more than $35,000 in 2016. This debt is having a lasting impact on the financial, personal and emotional lives of graduates, a recent survey by the Student Loan Report found.

The survey of 1,220 college graduates carrying student loan debt, conducted online between July 2 and July 19, 2016, revealed that the debt is preventing them from pursuing their dreams. Whether it’s buying a home or starting a family to not working in their field of study because they can make more money elsewhere, the impacts of all this debt are very real.

Here are 12 ways student loan debt is holding borrowers back.

1. Saving for Retirement

Nearly three-quarters of respondents (73%) said their student debt was affecting their decision or ability to save for retirement.

2. Taking a Vacation

More than two-thirds of respondents (68%) said their student debt restricted their ability to take a vacation.

3. Buying a Home

A majority of survey respondents (63%) said their student debt was affecting their decision or ability to buy a home.

4. Being Embarrassed

More than half of respondents (57%) said they were embarrassed when talking about student debt with friends, family or significant others.

5. Eating Out

Nearly half of those surveyed (49%) said their student debt has restricted their ability to eat out.

6. Buying a Car

Forty-seven percent of respondents said their student debt was affecting their decision or ability to purchase a car.

7. Paying Daily Expenses

Keeping up with daily expenses was an issue for 41% of respondents.

8. Choosing a Job

Student loan debt even impacts the job choices of 41% of respondents.

9. Starting a Family

More than a third of respondents (34%) said student debt has forced them to put off or delay starting a family.

10. Socializing

Student debt has hindered 32% of respondents’ abilities to go to social events.

11. Getting Married

Nearly a third of respondents (28%) said student debt has forced them to put off or delay marriage.

12. Starting a Business

Almost a quarter of respondents (23%) said their student debt is affecting their decision or ability to start a business.

Of course, student loan debt doesn’t have to be all bad. If you make on-time payments and are able to do the same with your other bills, you can build your credit and watch your credit scores improve significantly as you pay down the debt.

If you want to see how your student loans may be impacting your credit, you can get a free copy of your credit reports from each of the major credit bureaus annually. Also, you can look at your free credit scores, updated monthly on Credit.com, which will also show you how you’re doing in major credit scoring categories, like payment history.

If you’re already behind on payments, there are some options that can help you get back on track, even if student loan forgiveness isn’t on the table. To get out of default, you can combine eligible loans with a federal Direct Consolidation Loan or you can go through the government’s default rehabilitation program. Under the rehab program, if you make nine consecutive on-time payments (they can be extremely low), your account goes back into good standing, and the default gets removed from your credit report.

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7 Things You Need to Know Before You Get a Charge Card

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“Paper or plastic?”

“Cash or credit?”

“Credit or charge?”

When it comes to how you spend your money, the first two questions may seem like no-brainers. Debit cards and cash can be great budgeting tools for those dealing with debt woes, while credit may appeal to disciplined spenders looking to build credit or earn rewards on their purchases. The last one, however, may give a more than a few folks pause:

What’s the difference between a credit card and a charge card, anyway?

Here’s what to know if you’re thinking about applying for a charge card.

1. You’ve Got to Pay That Balance Off in Full

The major difference between a credit card and a charge card is that the latter requires you to pay your balance off in full each month. Credit cards, on the other hand, let cardholders revolve a balance; so long as you make the minimum payment each month, your account will be considered in good standing, and you won’t be charged a late fee or slapped with a penalty annual percentage rate (APR).

Now, depending on your spending habits, the “pay in full” facet of charge cards can be a blessing — there’s more incentive to keep your spending in check, given the monetary and credit score consequences of having an account in default. Or it can be a curse, because …   

2. You Probably Won’t Have a Pre-Set Spending Limit

That’s not to say you’ll be able to charge up a storm right off the bat. A charge card’s purchasing power generally adjusts to your card use and credit history. But the lack of a definitive credit limit is something to keep in mind if you are concerned with overspending — or having the card unceremoniously denied because your issuer has decided you’ve hit your limit.

3. You May Have Options If You Run Into Trouble

If you do run up a balance you can’t afford to pay in full, it’s a good idea to call your issuer. Some charge cards have extended payment programs in place that can help you avoid default. (Note: You should expect to pay interest on the charges you are allowed to revolve.)

4. They Likely Carry an Annual Fee

Seeing as you don’t intend to carry a balance, charge cards typically have an annual fee. (The issuer essentially isn’t banking on you paying interest.) And that fee may or may not be worth paying, depending on your spending habits and whether the card has a rewards program. Having said that …

5. Some Charge Cards Have Perks

Some charge cards do let cardholders earn points on their purchases and even tout ancillary benefits, like roadside assistance, car rental insurance, extended warranty or purchase protection.

6. They Can Affect Your Credit Scores Differently

Both credit cards and charge cards will appear on your credit report and count toward your payment history and credit age (two major components of credit scores). But many scoring models do not include charge cards when calculating your credit utilization — how much debt you owe versus your total available credit limits. This is essentially because charge cards are an open line of credit — remember, they typically require payment in full within 30 days after the statement date and have no established credit limit.

Now, that doesn’t mean a credit card is necessarily better for your credit scores. It would all depend on whether or not you were carrying balances on that card and any other cards in your wallet. (Experts generally recommend keeping the amount of debt you’re carrying, collectively and on individual cards, below at least 10% of your total limit, and ideally 30%, for better credit scoring results.) In any event, it’s important to note …

7. A Charge Card Will Help You Build Credit

So long as, of course, you use them responsibly. As mentioned previously, your charge card will factor into your payment history and the age of your credit accounts, so if that account is in good standing, it should help your credit scores over time.

Remember, it’s important to read the terms and conditions carefully to make sure any piece of plastic you’re considering is right for you. And, whether you’re opting for a “charge” or “credit” card, you’ll want to check your scores ahead of time because your credit will determine whether or not you qualify for a specific product. (You can see where your credit currently stands by viewing two of your credit scores, updated each month, for free on Credit.com.)

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Image: Georgijevic

The post 7 Things You Need to Know Before You Get a Charge Card appeared first on Credit.com.

10 States Where You Can Definitely Put Your Chip Card to Use

chip-card-to-use

You’re probably familiar with this situation: You’re at the register, get your plastic out to pay, and then wait for the store clerk to tell you whether you’re supposed to insert your chip-enabled credit card in the terminal or swipe the card.

Given new network fraud liability rules went into effect in October 2015, magnetic strip credit cards have been steadily replaced with EMV-enabled chip cards, so many Americans carry them now. However, that doesn’t mean we are using them every time we make a purchase, as not every retailer has flipped the switch on the updated technology yet.

But, according to the Visa U.S. Chip Update report for June 2016, the U.S. added more than 100,000 chip-enabled merchant locations in June of this year. With this increase, an estimated 28% of merchants now use this technology, making the U.S. the largest chip market in the world, the report notes.

And, even though Visa reports that our country is now chip-laden, all states are not equal when it comes to adapting to this technology. It is slowly rolling out nationwide, and cards can still be used in all states, but New Jersey is noted as having the largest percentage of chip-ready merchants followed by Pennsylvania, California, Connecticut and Florida, where one in three merchants are chip-enabled.

These are the 10 states with the most merchants who are chip-ready.

  1. New Jersey
  2. Pennsylvania
  3. California
  4. Connecticut
  5. Florida
  6. Michigan
  7. New York
  8. Delaware
  9. Ohio
  10. West Virginia

Methodology

Information about U.S. merchant locations is based on VisaNet data as of the end of June 2016. Visa reviewed operating certificate data from client financial institutions at the end of March 2016 to evaluate global card usage. Visa also compared chip-enabled merchants’ data from March 2016 to March 2015, using both U.S.-issued credit and debit cards, to review counterfeit fraud data.

The Visa report noted that chip technology may have played a role in decreasing credit card fraud, with chip-enabled merchants seeing a 35% drop in counterfeit fraud in March 2016 compared to the same month previous year.

Protecting Your Credit Card Information

Still, no matter whether your local merchants have upgraded to chip technology or not, nothing is fool-proof. EMV chips may provide extra security in-store, for instance, but they don’t guard against theft online. This is why it’s a good idea to check your credit card statements every month for fraudulent charges.

And, if you have reason to believe your personal data has been compromised, you can review your credit reports as well. When reviewing your reports you want to look for signs your identity has been stolen, like a sudden drop in your credit scores or new accounts showing up that you don’t recognize. You can get a copy of your annual credit reports for free at Annual CreditReport.com and you can see your free credit report summary, updated each month, on Credit.com.

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Image: Petar Chernaev

The post 10 States Where You Can Definitely Put Your Chip Card to Use appeared first on Credit.com.