How to Make Summer Camp Fit Your Family’s Budget

Affording summer camp can be a struggle for many working families. Here are a few ways to make camp fit any family budget.

Last summer, the New York Times ran a piece about families who can’t afford summer camp or other programs for their kids. It highlights a problem for many working parents: Summertime care for kids is expensive.

This is especially true if your kids are in public school during the year. You suddenly go from paying nothing to have your kids cared for all day to paying a whole lot of money. Many parents may not have much choice but to find summertime childcare.

If this is the boat you’re in, here are a few ways to find a summer camp for your kid and options that may make it more affordable.

1. Check Online for Summer Camp Options

These days most states and major metropolitan areas have parent blogs or magazines devoted to the local area. In my local Indianapolis, for instance, we have Indy’s Child magazine and IndywithKids.com. Both feature a listing of local summer camp options.

Chances are you can find something similar for your area. If you can’t, there are national resources, too. The American Camp Association has a database for finding day and overnight camps in your area. It leans towards ACA accredited camps, though it will list some not accredited. When I ran it for our area, it turned up some but not all the options I know are available. Still, it could be a place to begin your search for a summer camp.

2. Choose a Less Expensive ‘Base Camp’ Option

One thing that makes summer camp expensive is the specialized options. I’ve seen sports camp, Lego camp, technology camp, horse camp and more. If your kid goes to these specialty camps for the summer, you’ll undoubtedly spend more money.

However, many local YMCAs, schools, daycares, churches and city parks programs offer more traditional summer camps. Our daughter’s daycare, for instance, offers a school-aged summer camp program where they hang out at the daycare for much of the day, but also take trips to local parks, libraries and pools. It’s nothing spectacular, but it’s safe, fun, affordable childcare.

If you can find an option like this, build your summer around it. Then you can splurge on a week or two of more expensive specialty camps for your kid.

Where do you find these less expensive options? Check out the following:

  • YMCA: The Y runs summer camps all over the U.S., and sometimes offers a sliding scale fee to make things more affordable. While they offer more expensive specialty camps, most local Y’s also offer traditional day camp options.
  • Churches and religious centers: Many churches and religious community centers offer summer-long day camp options that are quite affordable.
  • Schools: Local schools with before- and after-care programs may transition those into affordable summer camps with fun activities for kids.
  • Parks and recreation: City and county parks and rec departments also run summer camps, and these tend to be more affordable than other options.
  • Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts: If your child is a scout, look into their summer camp options. These are often overnight options, but they tend to be very affordable.
  • Local businesses: Sometimes local businesses offer summer camp-like programs that are for mentoring older kids who may want to become entrepreneurs. These camps may be based on an application process, so be on the lookout well ahead of time.
  • Local colleges: Often local colleges and universities provide camps as a way to get their own students teaching, leadership and coaching experience.

3. Consider a Nanny Camp

Can’t find any affordable summer camp options in your area? Consider putting together a “nanny camp” with friends or neighbors. This is basically a summer-long nanny sharing program.

You’ll hire a nanny to take care of a reasonable number of kids — say four or five — and the nanny can do some summer-camp activities, like going to local parks and pools. This works best if the kids in the nanny camp are around the same age, and if you can provide the nanny with a safe way to get the kids around town.

4. Ask for Assistance

If you can’t afford even the least expensive camp option on your list, ask for financial assistance. Many summer camps offer scholarships for enrollment fees. Sometimes the information about these options isn’t easy to find, so ask about it. Even if you feel like you make too much money to qualify, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

You should also check for discounts. Some camps offer early registration discounts, and others will give you a reduced rate if you pay for the whole season at once. Tons of summer camps also have sibling discount options, which is why it often makes sense to enroll your kids in the same summer camp.

Making summer camp fit into your family’s budget can be tough, especially if you’re not already used to paying for full-time childcare. But there are plenty of excellent, affordable options out there if you just know where and how to look.

Cards for Camp?

You may be tempted to apply for a credit card to earn rewards for your summer expenses. If you do, be sure to check the terms and conditions so you know what you’re getting into. Also, make sure to check your credit to make sure you’ll qualify. You can check two of your scores on Credit.com.

Image: SolStock

The post How to Make Summer Camp Fit Your Family’s Budget appeared first on Credit.com.

12 Ways to Keep a Big Move From Breaking Your Budget

Moving is annoying, sweaty and expensive. Here are ways to at least make it easier on your budget.

I moved across the hall two summers ago. My girlfriend and I were moving to a larger apartment in the same building, one that could fit two adult human beings better than the tiny Fortress of Solitude I had selected while I was still single.

I hate moving. It’s annoying, sweaty and expensive. The word “moving” vastly undersells the actual act. It’s easy to move. Lift a finger, take a step; you’ve moved. It’s not so easy to account for all of your possessions, pack them in an organized way, transport them safely, then unpack and rearrange them in a new setting, all on a budget.

But I thought moving across a hallway would be easy. While it was certainly easier than having to move to a different building, it was still annoying, still sweaty and still expensive.

I learned a valuable lesson: Moving is terrible, always. Having a plan can make it less so. Here are a few tips that may help you save on your next move and make it less stressful, even if you’re going farther than across the hall.

1. Get Rid of Stuff

There’s no point moving stuff you don’t even want. Try to sell excess furniture, especially larger items, online or to your friends or co-workers, said Ali Wenzke, founder of The Art of Happy Moving blog.

You can list items on sites like Craigslist, NextDoor or Facebook. This way you can get potential buyers to haul away your stuff for you.

Many charitable organizations will take smaller items like clothing, Wenzke said. Keep your receipt so you can write off the donation come tax time.

2. Get Free Boxes

The price of packing supplies can add up. Luckily, you can get free boxes if you just ask.

While many retailers will have spare boxes, furniture stores tend to have a good range of sizes, saidSam Radbil Sr., communications manager for ABODO Apartments, an online apartment marketplace. It’s a good idea to call stores at least a week before you need the boxes, since they may not get rid of boxes every day.

You can also ask friends who have recently moved if you can have their old boxes.

3. Label Everything

If you lose a sock every time you do your laundry, you will likely misplace one or two things when transporting everything you own. Labeling all your boxes appropriately can help keep your valuables from disappearing into the moving ether.

Radbil suggests labeling boxes by room.

“If you want to get really technical about it, even label exactly what objects are contained in the box,” he said. “This will also help you prioritize what boxes to unpack.”

4. Conserve Bubble Wrap (& Other Packing Tips)

A few stray packing tips from Garrett O’Shea, president of PockitShip, an on-demand shipping company: Wrap dishes in your clothing, rather than buying bubble wrap. Put paper or Styrofoam plates in between breakable plates. Put heavy items, like books, in suitcases. Pack essentials last, so they go on top of other items and you can grab them easily.

5. Decide Whether to Hire Movers

This decision boils down to time, ability and cost, said Leigh Meadows-McAlpin, owner of Dwelling, an interior design firm in South Carolina. Meadows-McAlpin frequently discusses the logistics of moving with her clients.

Moving on your own requires time to sort, pack, load and unload, as well as rent and return a truck. You also need the muscle, or friends and family who have the muscle, to pack and load everything. On the other hand, the cost of labor for you and your friends is usually no more than pizza, beers and gratitude.

“As the saying goes, time is money, and if you don’t have the time or ability to move yourself, you should consider spending the money to hire movers,” Meadows-McAlpin said.

6. How to Pick a Mover

The American Moving and Storage Association website is a good place to start, Wenzke of The Art of Happy Moving said. If you can’t find a mover in your area on the site, try searching the sites of their state associations. All the movers listed are vetted by the association and licensed.

“I recommend getting at least three in-person quotes from at least three different moving companies before choosing a mover,” Wenzke said.

An in-person quote should be more reliable and will give you a better feel for the company, Wenzke said. Be sure to ask about equipment, rates, how they handle parking restrictions with their trucks and if they outsource moves to a third party. Also make sure they have proper insurance — stuff happens.

Double-check reviews on Yelp, Angie’s List and other sites before hiring, she added.

Another good place to look is the Move for Hunger website, Wenzke said. The companies there are also vetted and pack up unopened, nonperishable food to donate to a local food bank at no additional cost.

7. Make a Moving Budget

Once you have a few quotes, you can put together a budget of how much the move will cost. Be sure to plan for unexpected expenses and any additional furniture you’ll need if your new place is bigger.

Factor in how much stuff you have and how much time you’ll need since movers usually charge an hourly rate.

“Small moves can start as little as $200 and go all the way into the thousands,” O’Shea said.

Make sure your wallet and your credit can handle the expense. You can get a snapshot of your credit report for free on Credit.com, and see whether you could — or should — get a credit card before your move. (Remember, while credit cards can serve as a great source of liquidity, that available limit isn’t license to overspend.)

8. How to Rent a Truck

If you decide to go it alone, you’ll likely need a bigger set of wheels. Your couch will likely not fit in your hatchback. (Looking for a new car? Follow these steps to save.)

When evaluating a truck rental, be sure to look at mileage costs, the cost of the truck, pickup and drop-off locations and any available discounts, Radbil, of ABODO, said. Remember to reserve a truck in advance as well.

9. Pick a Climate-Controlled Storage Facility

If for some reason you won’t be able to move your stuff to your new place right away, Meadows-McAlpin suggested keeping it in a climate-controlled storage facility. Otherwise heat, moisture and cold can cause mildew, rust and other damage to belongings.

“As a designer, I’ve had to have our workrooms repair or replace furnishings damaged in storage many times, and most of those damages could have been avoided if the clients had simply opted for a client-controlled space,” she said.

10. Report Your Change of Address

Moving is expensive enough, so you don’t want to add to your costs by falling behind on bills because they don’t get delivered to the right place. Luckily, changing your address is as simple as filling out a form on the U.S. Postal Service website.

11. Transfer Utilities

This can be easy to forget in the chaos of a move, but make sure the lights will be on for you when you get to your new home and that you stop paying for utilities once you leave your old home. When I moved into my first apartment after college, I did not plan ahead and had no lights or internet for the first few days. It was a pretty depressing way to start a new chapter of life.

Most utilities have user-friendly websites that allow you to do start and stop service, but otherwise calling ahead of the move can ensure that your new home is fully ready for you. (Once you’re settled, see how to save on your electric bill.)

12. Deduct Moving Expenses

If your move is work-related, you can deduct your moving expenses from your taxes if you meet certain conditions. The move qualifies if your new workplace is 50 miles farther from your old home than your old job location was from your old home, according to the IRS.

If you had no prior workplace, the new job location must be 50 miles from your old home. You must also work at least 39 weeks in the year following the move.

So to make your move pay, be sure to save your receipts for tax time.

Getting ready to move out of the dorm? Here’s 19 mistakes college grads make when finding their first apartment you’ll want to avoid.

Image: monkeybusinessimages

The post 12 Ways to Keep a Big Move From Breaking Your Budget appeared first on Credit.com.

Should You Refinance Your Student Loans with a Credit Card?

Using a balance transfer credit card can be a great way to lower the interest rates on your debt to help you save money and pay your debt off faster. Most people only think about doing a balance transfer with high-interest credit card debt, but recently I’ve been considering a 0% interest balance transfer credit card to help me pay off my student loan.

After making my final credit card payment to be credit card debt free, I started thinking about how I could use a balance transfer offer extended by my creditor to help pay off other types of debt I still have. Since the highest interest debt I have remaining is my student loan, this is what I’m considering refinancing with a 0% interest balance transfer. My student loan only has a remaining balance of about $6,000, which means I could transfer the entire balance to the credit card and pay it off before the promotional rate expires, if I pay it off aggressively.

Of course, there are lots of reasons why you could choose to refinance or consolidate your student loans. I was curious whether or not a balance transfer could be a viable option as well.

Here are some of the pros and cons you should consider before deciding to refinance your student loans with a balance transfer credit card.

Benefits of Refinancing Student Loans with a Balance Transfer Credit Card

There are several benefits you could take advantage of by refinancing your student loans with a balance transfer credit card.

A Lower Interest Rate

One of the main reasons people choose to refinance student loans is to lock in a lower interest rate. For example, my student loans are at 6.8%. If I do a balance transfer to a 0% interest credit card, I could save hundreds of dollars on interest through the end of the 0% interest rate period on the balance transfer.

But keep in mind that not all balance transfers are created equal. You might get all kinds of different balance transfer offers from companies trying to entice you to sign up for a new credit card, or even transfer a balance to a card you already have. Some of these transfer offers will be better than others. You might encounter offers that have a 1% to 3% interest rate for a certain period of time, usually 12, 18, or 24 months. But the best balance transfer offers have a 0% interest rate, obviously saving you more on interest than the others.

Pay Off Student Loans Faster

Transferring student loan debt to a credit card can save money, but only as long as you get the balance transfer paid off before the promotional interest rate expires. This time limit is a big motivation for people to pay extra on their student loans to make sure the balance transfer is paid off before it expires. If you struggle with being motivated to make extra payments, the reality that your interest rate may spike up to 15% or more after a few months may be just the motivation you need to get serious about paying off debt. It’s worked well for me in the past when I’ve transferred high-interest credit card debt to a 0% balance transfer credit card, helping me to pay off $5,284.18 much faster than I would have otherwise.

Drawbacks of Refinancing Student Loans with a Balance Transfer Credit Card

Although using a balance transfer to help pay off your student loans sounds like a great way to save money and pay your debt off faster, there are some potential downsides you should be aware of.

Balance Transfer Fees

A lower interest rate makes balance transfer credit cards an attractive option for those looking to refinance debt, but you need to consider more than just the interest rate before deciding to refinance your student loans with a balance transfer credit card. Make sure you consider the balance transfer fee that many credit cards charge. This can eat away at the amount of money you save on interest. Luckily, some credit cards do have a cap on this fee at $50 or $75, which can be helpful if you plan to transfer a large balance that would otherwise result in a fee higher than that cap. But at that point, it could be difficult to get your student loan transfer paid off before the promotional interest rate on the balance transfer expires.

There are balance transfers without fees, but your options may be limited. If you find a no-fee, 0% interest transfer option you qualify for, it’s almost a no-brainer to use it to pay off other debt.

Potential Loss of Savings on Interest

As mentioned, it’s imperative that you pay off your entire balance transfer before the promotional interest rate expires in 12, 18, or 24 months. If you don’t, the high interest rate after the transfer expires will quickly negate any interest savings you earned by doing the transfer in the first place. In fact, you may end up paying more in interest than if you’d skipped the balance transfer in the first place.

You May Not Qualify

In order to use a balance transfer credit card to refinance your student loans, you first have to qualify for one. In order to qualify for many balance transfer credit cards you must have a credit score of at least 680.

Applying Could Ding Your Credit Score

If you don’t already have a credit card with a balance transfer offer available, you may need to apply for a new card. Anytime you apply for a new line of credit, it will ding your credit score slightly. This may or may not be an important factor depending on what your score is and if you plan to apply for any other credit cards or loans in the near future.

Loss of Federal Student Borrower Protections

A final and very important consideration to think about before you decide to refinance your student loans with a balance transfer credit card is the loss of student loan protections you may have. If you are refinancing federal student loans, you will lose the protections that are offered to you as a borrower, such as:

  • Income-driven repayment plans
  • The opportunity for student loan forgiveness
  • Deferment or forbearance
  • Discharge upon permanent disability or death

Some credit card companies may be willing to work with you in an emergency situation, but chances are high that even in those situations the flexibility offered to federal student loan borrowers is far greater. In some cases, you may be better off not refinancing your student loans in order to maintain your borrower protections.

With most low or 0% interest balance transfer credit cards, you can’t miss a payment or pay late. If you do, your promotional interest rate may be void and you will be subject to the regular interest rate, which could be 15% or more depending on the card and your credit score.

Despite these drawbacks, doing a balance transfer to help pay off your student loans can be a good idea if your goal is to get out of debt quickly while saving money on interest.

The post Should You Refinance Your Student Loans with a Credit Card? appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

How to Remember All the Passwords You Need in Your Life

Passwords need to be complicated to be secure. A password manager can create strong passwords and help you remember them.

It seems like everything you do on any of your digital devices requires a password and the requirements for these security codes are getting more and more extensive. Some sites don’t allow words that can be found in dictionaries, while others don’t want any logical sequences or personal elements like a house number, street name, zip code, birth date, birth year, child’s name or pet’s name. Many accounts require your password to have both uppercase and lowercase letters, as well as numbers, special characters and a specific minimum and maximum length. The list goes on and on.

So while you might still use poodle1234 to log into your old email account, that password may not get approved for more current accounts. (You probably don’t want to be using the same password across multiple accounts, anyway.)

The strongest passwords are typically long and random, as this makes them harder for hackers to guess. Because of this, passwords often end up looking like gibberish, like: (&cR=x?fae~c[R5GAs3AN4?.

Remembering Complex Passwords

It isn’t easy to remember all of these long, random, complex passwords and some websites disable password saving on their login screens, but there are password managers that can help. They’re available from a variety of sources, including anti-virus software providers and standalone password services. If you’re looking to try out a password manager tool, but aren’t sure where to start, we’ve highlighted four common ones below to help you get started researching your options.

It’s important to make sure you feel safe with any of these options, as you don’t want your passwords to fall into the wrong hands. A weak password could help make you a victim of identity theft, which can wreak havoc on your finances. While you’re beefing up your passwords, another good practice is to regularly monitor your credit for signs of identity theft, like a sudden drop in your scores. You can check two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com. (Note: The password managers below all use encryption to protect your data.)

LastPass

LastPass, a free password manager, generates random passwords using a browser toolbar extension. You can access the passwords using your LastPass account menu, stored right in your browser bar. However, once you’ve saved credentials for a particular site, it will show up automatically in a popup when you click the icon. Do you have three different Gmail accounts? No problem. You can save multiple login credentials for any site. You can also edit the credentials and you can share passwords with others if you want someone else to have access to one of your accounts, even if the password changes. (Just make sure you’re selective about who you share personal information with.) You can use LastPass across multiple devices, and your password vault is available even if you’re offline.

Google Smart Lock

Google Smart Lock runs in the Chrome web browser and will automatically log you into the sites you visit if you turn on this feature. Once active, Google will ask you if you want to save the account info when you log into sites.

To get an overview of your saved information, visit myaccount.google.com. Start at “Sign-in & security,” click on “Connected apps & sites” and scroll down to “Saved passwords.” Click on “Manage passwords” to see options. If you turn on Smart Lock, Google will log you into saved websites and bypass the login screen. You don’t want to turn this feature on if you’re uncomfortable being removed from the login process.

Your Google account is the master login for the Smart Lock feature. That makes password management extremely convenient, but it also means that if someone gains access to your Google account, they can also access and control your passwords. Google Smart Lock does not include a password generator and it doesn’t work on iPhones or browsers other than Chrome.

Norton Identity Safe

Norton Identify Safe is a free password manager made by Symantec, the company behind the well-known Norton AntiVirus products. It is installed on your computer and any other device you choose, as well as your browser. You’ll find a link to a random password generator right at the top of the Norton Identity Safe website.

When you set it up, you’ll need two passwords: one for your account and one for your password vault. Both passwords should be complex but memorable because your stored passwords will be inaccessible until you open the vault.

Once you enter your various login credentials in the app, the sites appear in an alphabetical list in your password vault. A colored bar tells you whether your password is weak (red), moderate (yellow) or strong (green).

Norton Identity Safe can also securely store your credit card numbers for easy online payments. (It’s important to be careful when you’re sharing personal information like credit card numbers online, as this can open you up to credit card fraud.)

SecureSafe

SecureSafe is a cloud storage service for sensitive files and passwords. File storage is its standout feature. If you need to store a digital copy of a sensitive file (like one of these seven documents you need to fill out before you die), a SecureSafe free account includes 100 MB of file storage space and can save up to 50 passwords. Paid accounts (starting at $18/year) get unlimited passwords and more file storage space. The app includes a variety of security features for file storage, including a free, secure PDF viewer for smartphones.

When you open the app on desktop or mobile, passwords are listed alphabetically. If you’ve entered the URL, you can click the arrow icon to go straight to the site. The password is copied to your clipboard automatically so you can paste it into the field on the login screen. The clipboard is erased after a short period of time; the time period is customizable.

SecureSafe doesn’t run as a browser extension, so you need to log into your account to access your passwords. This is an advantage for people who don’t want extension clutter or popups, or for people who use shared devices. The extra steps are cumbersome, though, for anyone who wants passwords to automatically populate.

Want to learn more about how to keep your information safe? Here are eight ways to protect your privacy online.

Image: pixelfit

The post How to Remember All the Passwords You Need in Your Life appeared first on Credit.com.

12 Ways to Save at The Container Store

We've got 12 ways fans of bins, baskets and bathroom storage goods can lower their receipt tallies.

The Container Store is the place for organization-lovers to shop for all their bins, baskets and bathroom storage goods. The problem with The Container Store, however, is that once you start shopping there, it can be hard to stop. After all, who’s going to pass up the perfect laundry room drying rack or a garbage odor eliminator? I know I couldn’t.

To help you scale back on what you spend here, try some of these cost-cutting options on for size. Here are 12 ways to save at The Container Store.

1. Shop the Sales

Container Store sales are no joke. Check out the sales section online or in the store (generally at the very front, although that will vary by location) for discounts on hundreds of items.

2. The Elfa Sale Is Worth the Wait

Besides the hundreds of regular items available in the sales section every day, The Container store usually has two big yearly sales on its main brand — elfa — and they’re worth checking out. One usually begins after Christmas and runs through some time in February, and another usually takes place in late summer or early fall (though certain elfa items may be excluded during that one). Be sure to check the site frequently for updates.

3. Search for ‘Spend More, Save More’ Options

Every now and then The Container Store will offer extra savings when you spend a certain amount of money on a particular brand. For example, at the time this article was being written, customers could receive 25% off when they spent between $200 and $349 on InterMetro & Metro shelving, 30% off InterMetro & Metro shelving purchases between $350 and $499, and 35% off InterMetro & Metro shelving purchases of $500 or more. Check online or ask a sales associate for any current deals.

4. Join the POP! Perks Program

Enter your information to become a POP! Perks member and you’ll get $15 in POP! Perks, invitations to exclusive events and sweepstakes, a birthday gift and more.

5. Use a Rewards Credit Card

There is a The Container Store credit card, but it’s big draw is special financing deals (0% interest on purchases for 12 or 24 months if you spend $500 or more and $3000 or more, respectively), but you’ll only skip the interest if you pay any balance off in full by the time that period expires — and the card’s go-to APR is pretty high (a variable 29.99%). Plus, there are no rewards for cardholders so, while in-store financing can certainly be convenient, you’d likely save more by charging purchases you can pay off in full to a rewards credit card and redeeming those points, miles or cash back down the line.

You can find a list of the best credit cards for shopping right here. (Just be sure to check your credit before applying. You can view two free credit scores on Credit.com.)

6. Make the Most of Free Services

Be sure to check your local Container Store for any in-store events they might be offering, and make the most of their free elfa customized design solution offers with trained design experts as well.

7. Read its Blog

While we’re on the subject of free services, it doesn’t hurt to check out The Container Store blog either, which is loaded with craft tips on staying organized. You could spend a ton hiring a personal organizer to help you figure out how to organize that pantry, or you could read one blog post on the topic and do it yourself.

8. Skip the Shipping Fee

Shipping is free on orders of $75 and more on the site, but why not choose the products you want and schedule your own pickup time at one of the store locations for free? Use The Container Store drive up and pickup service and someone will even bring your order out to your car for you.

9. Use Your Teacher Discount

The Container Store currently offers an Organized Teacher program with special discounts throughout the year to help educators organize their classrooms. (Per its website, the program is set to end December 31, 2017.)

10. Search for Coupons Online

Check sites like Groupon, Retail Me Not and Coupons.com for promo codes you can use with your purchase, and do a general Google search to see what you find, as well.

11. Buy Discounted Gift Cards

Use sites like Gift Card Granny and Cardpool.com to purchase gift cards for The Container Store at a discounted price.

12. Follow The Container Store on Social Media

Catch all the latest promotions and sales by following the brand on Facebook and Twitter.

Want more hacks for your favorite brands? We’ve got 17 ways to save at Lowe’s right here. And, if there’s a retailer you’d like to see us tackle, shout it out in the comments section below!

Note: It’s important to remember that prices for products and services frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms cited in this article may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with the company directly.

Image: xavierarnau

The post 12 Ways to Save at The Container Store appeared first on Credit.com.

The 20 Most Profitable Housing Markets This Year

If you own a home in one of these markets, there's a good chance you've had a nice return on your investment.

If you’re looking to buy or sell a home this year, you probably know the housing market is booming in virtually every corner of the country. In fact, homeowners who sold in the first quarter of the year realized an average price gain of $44,000 since purchasing their home, a new ATTOM Data Solutions report shows. That equals an average 24% return on purchase price across the country — the highest average price gain for home sellers in nearly 10 years.

“The first quarter of 2017 was the most profitable time to be a home seller in nearly a decade, and yet homeowners are continuing to stay put in their homes longer before selling,” said Daren Blomquist, senior vice president with ATTOM Data Solutions. The report showed homeowners are staying in their homes just shy of eight years on average. “This counter-intuitive combination is in part the result of the low inventory of move-up homes available for current homeowners, while also perpetuating the scarcity of starter homes available for first-time homebuyers,” Blomquist added.

Of course, there are still some laggards. Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for example, saw average home prices decline by $15,000 from their previous purchase price. The same is true for Huntsville, Alabama, where average home prices declined by $8,100.

Of the 20 metro areas with the highest percent return on the previous purchase price, 10 were located in California and three were in Colorado. Competition among homebuyers, especially in these areas, is fierce, so it’s particularly important to have your finances locked and loaded before you start your search. Regardless of where you’re looking, getting pre-approved for a mortgage is key. You’ll also want to be sure your credit is in good shape so you’ll get the best mortgage terms available. You can check your credit scores for free on Credit.com.

These are the top 20 metro areas where home sellers are making the most money when selling their homes.

20. Port St. Lucie, Florida

Average return on investment: 39%
Average price gain: $53,000

19. Austin-Round Rock, Texas

Average return on investment: 39%
Average price gain: $81,795

18. San Diego-Carlsbad, California

Average return on investment: 41%
Average price gain: $144,000

17. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, California

Average return on investment: 41%
Average price gain: $90,000

16. Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Massachusetts-New Hampshire

Average return on investment: 41%
Average price gain: $111,100

15. Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, California

Average return on investment: 43%
Average price gain: $160,000

14. Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade, California

Average return on investment: 43%
Average price gain: $99,000

13. Fort Collins, Colorado

Average return on investment: 43%
Average price gain: $97,500

12. Greeley, Colorado

Average return on investment: 44%
Average price gain: $85,050

11. Urban Honolulu, Hawaii

Average return on investment: 46%
Average price gain: $161,110

10. Salem, Oregon

Average return on investment: 46%
Average price gain: $70,800

9. Vallejo-Fairfield, California

Average return on investment: 47%
Average price gain: $115,000

8. Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, Colorado

Average return on investment: 50%
Average price gain: $110,000

7. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, California

Average return on investment: 50%
Average price gain: $187,000

6. Stockton-Lodi, California

Average return on investment: 51%
Average price gain: $101,000

5. Modesto, California

Average return on investment: 51%
Average price gain: $87,500

4. Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, Oregon-Washington

Average return on investment: 52%
Average price gain: $110,799

3. Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Washington

Average return on investment: 56%
Average price gain: $139,325

2. San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, California

Average return on investment: 65%
Average price gain: $276,750

1. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California

Average return on investment: 71%
Average price gain: $356,000

Image: Peopleimages

The post The 20 Most Profitable Housing Markets This Year appeared first on Credit.com.

Is It Time to Buy a Biometric Scanner?

Biometrics can provide an additional layer of security — which is why you'll see more and more of them built into your devices.

Identity theft is still out there, keeping pace with the latest innovations and security measures, and snaring new victims every day. With the advent of cheaper, standalone, easy-to-integrate biometric technology for authentication, is it time to buy a fingerprint scanner?

What’s a Biometric Scanner?

Biometric technology uses physical or biological information, like a fingerprint, retinal scan or heartbeat, to authenticate a person’s identity. You can currently purchase the most commonplace biometric scanner — that is, one that uses a fingerprint —starting at around $50. The scanner can be used to protect computers and other devices that support biometric scanning technology.

Do Biometrics Provide Additional Security?

The short answer: Yes.

Authentication can effectively use three things to keep the wrong people out: something you know, something you have and something you are. We’re all familiar with the first line of defense. “What you know” takes the form of security questions, passwords and a security picture, and there are various strategies to keep it all straight. Some choose to use password managers or proprietary systems like Apple’s iCloud Keychain. Others prefer to have an encrypted personal security list (logins, passwords) stored on a cloud server. Still others put “what they know” (but couldn’t possibly remember) on a USB stored on a keychain or in a safe if the information is not encrypted. And, yes, some go a little further, choosing to use a fingerprint-encrypted drive (i.e., biometrics). How you manage what you know comes down to personal preference, but the first line of defense is not fail-safe. In fact, there are hacks and breaches all the time. (If you believe you were the victim of a hack, you can view two of your free credit scores on Credit.com for signs of identity theft.)

The second line of defense, “something you have,” could be access to an email account, a key fob or your mobile phone. You need to have your phone in hand, for instance, to receive the verification code so you can get waved through some digital security checks. This is called two-factor authentication — and, yes, it’s more secure than simply protecting accounts with an alphanumerical password.

The last line of defense, “something you are,” is a really hot topic right now. As I mentioned earlier, in sophisticated systems, this might include a scan of your retina, your finger- or handprints, your body weight (including ups and downs), your height, your face or all of the above. This information is clearly specific to you — and not so easily replicated — so again, it’s miles more secure that the old standard password or, even, two-factor authentication.

Needless to say, were you to implement a security protocol that combined all three of the above protocols of authentication, a.) criminals would have a really hard time making any money, but b.) we would all be frustrated.

Does It Have a Place in the Home?

Biometric authenticators have been the security mode for quite some time in the military and wherever large amounts of money or gold or drugs or weapons are stored, as seen in countless spy and heist movies, but they are slowly making their way into people’s homes.

From smartphones to gun lockers to personal computers, a steady march of devices is offering a biometric element for the user-authentication process. One example comes by way of a new secure credit card being tested by MasterCard in a chain of supermarkets in South Africa. The card is able to store an encrypted copy of the user’s fingerprint, which would make it exceedingly difficult for a scammer to beat.

(Would it be impossible to beat? As with all great capers, only the crooks know for sure. There was a flurry of coverage not too long ago about how photos of people flashing a peace sign could lead to the theft of their fingerprints, thanks to the proliferation of high-definition cameras. But fact-checking website Snopes listed the story as “Unproven,” and for good reason. While it is theoretically possible, no criminals have been caught doing it.)

Should I Run Out & Buy a Fingerprint Scanner?

Here’s the rub: You won’t really need to.

Unless you were born a long time ago, you may not know what an 8-track is. It came before the cassette tape, which preceded the CD, which is the grandfather of the MP3. When you want to make a point about obsolescence, there are few better examples than those clunky old tapes. I bring them up because current standalone biometric scanners are without a doubt the 8-track of digital security devices.

If you accept the similarity between biometric scanning devices and MP3 players, the answer to the question above will be crystal clear. These days, MP3s can be played by all the devices we use most. We’re seeing the same thing happen with biometric scanning.

Whether it’s a smartphone, a computer or Mastercard’s new fingerprint-encrypted cards, all stripes of products you use on a daily basis will eventually feature built-in biometric scanners. And, if you are buying something today and prefer devices with built-in (rather than bolt-on) security, don’t despair. There are already plenty of choices out there. Case in point: Anyone with the latest generation of a particular smartphone likely has the option of locking and unlocking the device with their thumb.

Personally, unless and until all devices that should be secure feature biometric scanners, I would suggest opting for those that do — much in the same way I’d advise you to refrain from using ‘1234’ as your password. You can learn more about biometric technology, how it works (and whether it can be hacked) here.

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.

Image: Michael Krinke 

The post Is It Time to Buy a Biometric Scanner? appeared first on Credit.com.

6 Credit Card Perks You Should Know About

Earning rewards is probably one of the most talked about benefits of using a credit card aside from being able to use it to increase your credit score.

While earning points and cash back that you can redeem for travel, gift cards, and other rewards is nice, that’s not the only benefit involved with choosing to use a credit card.

In many cases, a credit card can actually be safer than cash or a debit card or even provide you with additional savings. Here are six credit card perks you should know about if you want to make the most out of using your credit card(s).

Purchase Protection

If you need to purchase something valuable, you might want to do it on a credit card if the card offers purchase protection. Most credit cards offer purchase protection for items that are lost, damaged, or stolen as long as you paid for the item with the credit card.

Each credit card has different policies and may reimburse you up to different amounts. For example, American Express credit card holders can file a claim to report any theft, accidental damage, or loss of a product they purchased with their card within the past 90 days, and they can be reimbursed for the amount paid for the item up to $10,000.

Price Protection 

With credit card price protection benefits, you could receive a refund if the price drops on an item you purchased with your card. This can happen a lot around the holidays, so it’s a good benefit to have.

With most credit cards, there is a time limit to take advantage of price protection, which is usually anywhere from 30 to 90 days after you make the initial purchase. That being said, you won’t get price protection for an item you purchased last year that suddenly went on sale the other day.

With price protection, you can save quite a bit if you purchase a big item like an appliance or a TV on your credit card and the price suddenly drops. That’s why it’s best to hold onto your receipts for at least 30-90 days depending on your credit card’s price protection terms.

Extended Warranty 

An extended warranty offered by your credit card company can be very similar to a manufacturer’s warranty in that it can add up to a year of additional coverage for certain purchases.

With some purchases, getting an extended warranty is definitely worth it even if it costs a little extra money. However, if your credit card offers an extended warranty, you may not need to purchase one on your own.

All Discover cards have an extended warranty feature for up to one additional year for original warranties that are 36 months or less. Discover’s extended warranty covers most items, but may not protect you from a repair caused by normal wear and tear, a power surge, or if the item is covered by a product recall.

The maximum coverage is $10,000 / $50,000 (per item / per year). You must file your claim within 45 days of the loss or incident, and as long as you send the necessary paperwork, you will receive a reimbursement within 60 days.

Credit Monitoring 

Monitoring your credit is very important because it can help you know where you stand and help you avoid situations like identity theft. Monitoring your credit is a good habit to adopt so you can track your score and see how your spending and payment activity affects it.

Instead of having to pay a monthly fee to have your credit monitored by a third-party service, you can see if your credit card issuer provides this service as a courtesy to cardholders.

Chase Slate allows cardholders to view their FICO score monthly and use their Credit Dashboard for free to monitor their credit.

Select Citi credit cards also provide you with your FICO score for free.

Rental Car Insurance

If you’re traveling and need a rental car, most credit cards offer free rental car insurance coverage as long as you pay for the rental car with your card.

The rental car insurance provided by your credit card can include coverage for collision damage or theft, but there may be some limitations to the coverage so don’t assume certain things are covered like the loss of items during a collision or personal injuries.

Some credit cards with rental insurance options may not even cover cars that aren’t standard, like large trucks or luxury car rentals, so it’s important to thoroughly read your credit cards terms if you’re thinking of taking advantage of this feature.

Airport Lounge Access 

Why pay to access an airline’s lounge when many credit cards provide you with this option for free?

Airport lounges are a great amenity to check out when you’re traveling or have a long layover. They tend to offer exclusive amenities including Wi-Fi, desks, comfortable seating, personal assistance, arrival recovery, and more.

The Citi Prestige card and the American Express Platinum card are just two credit cards that include free airport lounge access.

Final Word

It pays to read the fine print when reviewing your credit card terms because you could learn more about additional free benefits you can take advantage of.

Carefully review the card agreement details for any new or existing credit cards you have. You may not need benefits like rental car insurance or purchase protection all the time, but when you do, you’ll know how to access them for free with your credit card.

The post 6 Credit Card Perks You Should Know About appeared first on MagnifyMoney.