How to Get the Most Out of Amazon’s ‘Subscribe & Save’ Program

You can save both time and money by automating the purchases of things you buy the most. Here's how to do it right.

The Amazon Subscribe & Save program can be a great way for Prime members to save money while automating a bit of life. For my family, Subscribe & Save is a way to buy items like toilet paper that we never seem to realize we’re running low on until the last minute. Here’s how the program works and how you can make the most out of it.

How ‘Subscribe & Save’ Works

Tens of thousands of items on Amazon are Subscribe & Save eligible. Basically, when you buy these items you can either buy them normally to ship with your next manual Amazon order, or you can add them to your Subscribe & Save list. This list sets up regular delivery dates — from monthly to every six months — whatever fits your needs.

One of my favorite parts about Subscribe & Save is that you can set different items to different schedules. For instance, you could have toilet paper arrive magically at your doorstep each month, but get toothpaste shipped to you every other month. The trick is to make sure you’re getting the items you need without ordering more than you need.

What Are the Benefits of ‘Subscribe & Save?’

Besides just making life easier by automating the shipment of certain items you need on a regular basis, Subscribe & Save has a few other benefits, including:

  • Discounted prices. The basic Subscribe & Save price for nearly all items is a little lower than the normal sticker price. But you can stack those savings up even more by adding five or more eligible items to your subscriptions. For some items, the savings is 15%, and for diaper subscriptions, it’s 20%.
  • Coupon options. You can add even more savings by clipping Amazon coupons when you check out. These coupons often apply to the first time an item ships as part of your Subscribe & Save cart.
  • Free shipping. Even if you’re not an Amazon Prime member, you get free shipping when you use Subscribe & Save. This also applies to small items Amazon calls Add-On items, which even Prime members have to add to a cart with at least $25 worth of goods to ship for free.
  • Flexible delivery schedules. Like I noted above, you can set items to a delivery schedule that fits your needs. And you can always update your delivery schedule if you find you’re receiving too many or too few shipments for your personal use.
  • Changeable delivery date. On top of that, if you need to bump your delivery date a few days — say you’re running low on toilet paper and need a delivery a week early, it’s no problem. Just log into your Amazon account, and change your delivery date.

How To Get the Most Out of It

Now that you know what Amazon’s Subscribe & Save program is and how it works, let’s talk tips for making the most of the program:

  • Do some price checking. Obviously it’s in your best interest to get familiar with Amazon’s prices versus prices at your local grocery store, discount store or warehouse store. Sometimes the convenience of a Subscribe & Save option will be worth a slight premium, but you should aim to save as much as possible on individual units of each item that you order. And don’t just price check once. Take note of the prices of your favorite Subscribe & Save items each time you’re in the store, just to make sure you’re still getting a good deal. Note that Subscribe & Save offers almost all name-brand items. If you have a more-affordable, off-brand counterpart that you like, you’ll probably save money by going with that item, instead. But if you have certain preferred name brands for personal care, household, baby care or even food items, you may find them on the Subscribe & Save list.
  • Check your cart’s prices every month. One of the worst parts about Subscribe & Save is that prices on these items change with their Amazon list prices. This can be a little tricky, especially if the prices go up. Make a habit to log into your Subscribe & Save account each month to make sure you’re not paying way more for a particular item than you should. Amazon will tell you when you can last edit a Subscribe & Save item, which is typically several days before your scheduled delivery.
  • Add additional items just before your ship date. Loads of deal and coupon websites give lists of the best Subscribe & Save deals for that particular month (or you can download an app like Honey that will automatically check to see if any coupons are available for the item you’re considering). Check these deals out before your order’s last day to edit.
  • Always have at least five items in your Susbscribe & Save account. The best way to net 5% to 15% savings on Subscribe & Save is to schedule at least five items for regular delivery. With all the available Subscribe & Save items, it’s pretty easy to find some household basics to help you meet this savings threshold.
  • Look for coupons. Amazon offers the option to clip virtual coupons as they’re available. Again, you can often find lists of coupon-eligible items on deal sites around the web or with savings apps. These coupons typically only apply to your first Subscribe & Save order, but they can be a great way to net some initial savings.
  • Skip shipments when necessary. Perhaps the hardest part about making Subscribe & Save work for you is figuring out when to order certain items. I know, for instance, about how much toilet paper and how many diapers my family will go through in a week. But how often do I buy a new tube of toothpaste? I’m not really sure. Make your best guess when setting up your shipment times. Then if you’re not running low on an item when it’s scheduled to deliver, hit the “skip” button. This will push the item back a month, and reset its whole delivery schedule based on that shipment.
  • Edit items as you go. If you find yourself consistently “skipping” one or two items, make your life a little easier: edit the shipment times. Again, you can have your Subscribe & Save items shipped as often as once month or as infrequently as every six months. Tweak your shipment times as you go, and you’ll put less time into managing your Subscribe & Save list each month.

You can save even more by applying for one of Amazon’s credit cards. You can read here about whether an Amazon credit card is right for you. You’ll need good credit to qualify, so if you don’t know where your credit stands, you can check your credit scores for free right here on Credit.com.

Like all Amazon tools and programs, Subscribe & Save won’t always save you money. Sometimes there’s a premium to be paid for convenience. But if you use these tips, you can probably get great discounts on items you would have purchased to begin with.

Image: AdrianHancu

The post How to Get the Most Out of Amazon’s ‘Subscribe & Save’ Program appeared first on Credit.com.

10 Tips for Doing Whole30 on a Budget

With proper planning, you can try the Whole30 diet and stick to your grocery budget.

If you’re just now starting on your New Year’s resolution to get healthy, you might find yourself considering the Whole30 program. The latest diet craze, which is meant to be a sort of physical reset button, requires you to cut out grains, sugars, alcohol, processed foods, legumes and dairy for a full 30 days. So basically you feast on meats, veggies, fruits, nuts and eggs.

Lots of people are jumping on the bandwagon, and not without reason. Changing your eating habits in this way can help you find trigger foods that cause you problems. And this kind of structured diet can set you on your way to a true long-term lifestyle change. (Of course, every person’s different and, if you have concerns about changing your diet, you might want to consult a professional before getting started.)

But there’s a big financial catch: The Whole30 diet can be expensive!

My husband and I have been doing a Whole30, and it’s definitely increased our grocery budget. On the one hand, this is fine. I’m OK with paying a little more for food that I know is better for my body. But I don’t want to pay a lot more, especially since we plan to stick with this style of eating for much longer than 30 days.

Doing a Whole30 may increase your grocery budget, but it doesn’t have to blow it out of the water. (That would seriously damage your wallet  —and your credit. You can keep an eye on how your scores are doing for free on Credit.com.) If you decide to try this way of eating, use these tips to keep from spending way too much.

1. Don’t Worry About Going Organic

The Whole30 guide suggests going organic. After all, you want to cut out all the nastiness from the food you put into your body. But if you can’t afford organic meat, fruits and veggies, don’t sweat it. Consider just purchasing organic if your produce is on the “dirty dozen” list of foods most impacted by pesticides. The bottom line: Even conventional fruits and veggies are much better than processed foods. So go with what you can afford.

2. Get Familiar With the Best Prices

Now is a great time to get familiar with different grocery stores in your area. We personally try not to make more than two stops on our Saturday morning shopping trips. You may find it’s worth your while to make three or more stops. Consider shopping outside of the big box stores. Try your local Trader Joe’s for Whole30-approved snacks like plantain chips. We love Aldi for scoring most of our meat and produce at great prices, and local farmer’s markets may have in-season produce for a steal.

3. Keep Emergency Snacks on Hand

The first couple of weeks of Whole30 can be rough, I won’t lie. I was hungry basically all the time and really craved carbs. This is totally normal, but you can push through it. It’s a good idea to keep emergency snacks on hand so you can stick to your eating plan. Some options include nuts (buy in bulk and portion them into small packages), fruit (apples and bananas keep well in the car or a purse), and, in a pinch, certain Larabars (when on sale!). Emergency food can also keep you from dining out, which is confusing, frustrating and even more expensive when you’re on a Whole30.

4. Plan Your Meals

I’ve always been a meal planner, but I’ve gotten even more serious about it since starting the Whole30. Now I know each day what we’ll have for dinner. I plan everything on Saturday before we grocery shop. When you plan your meals, you don’t buy extra food that ends up spoiling. And if you really want to be cheap, you can make just enough extra food to have leftovers for lunch the next day.

5. Don’t Be Afraid of the Freezer Aisle

You might think eating Whole30 would mean all-raw fruits and veggies. But that’s not the case. In fact, oven-roasted veggies drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar are our favorites right now. And those can be made with frozen veggies as easily as fresh ones. You can also save on meats, fish and berries when you buy frozen rather than fresh.

6. Try Some Canned Items

Cheap canned goods aren’t off limits. You’ll want to read labels to make sure nothing weird has been added to your canned veggies or tuna. (Some canned tuna has added sugar.) Once you find brands and types you know are compliant, you can work them into loads of different meals to stretch those savings.

7. Choose Conventional Lean Meats

Organic grass-fed meats are the best option, but they’re also super-expensive. If you can’t afford this type of meat, don’t sweat it. However, you’ll probably want to steer clear of fattier cuts of conventional meats. The worst of the toxins stored in a cut of meat will be in the fat. So just go with leaner cuts while you’re doing your detox.

8. Get Used to Making Eggs

The Whole30 relies heavily on protein and fat to keep you feeling full and satiated without a constant intake of carbohydrates. One way to get both of these macronutrients without spending a load of money is with eggs. Keep hardboiled eggs on hand for an easy snack. Make a sweet potato hash with eggs for breakfast. Serve a frittata for dinner. Just generally get comfortable with making eggs every which way, and they’ll save you money while keeping you on track.

9. Skip Expensive Whole30-fied Products

Yes, you can buy Whole30-fied beef jerky, mayonnaise and salad dressing. But these products can be hard to find and very pricey. If you need to stick to a budget, make them yourself or cut them out of your diet altogether. I discovered in this journey that making mayo is incredibly simple and cost-effective. And homemade mayo makes a delicious chicken salad!

10. Keep it Simple

There are loads of great Whole30 recipes online. Pinterest is chock full of them. Many include a variety of delicious spices, veggies you’ve never heard of and interesting cooking techniques. And this is definitely a good time to expand your palate with some new tastes. However, don’t go crazy with the brand-new recipes, especially those that will require you to buy a bunch of new spices or cooking equipment. Instead, keep things simple. A piece of grilled meat and some roasted veggies will do.

Following this popular eating plan can be tough, but it doesn’t have to be too hard on your wallet. With the proper planning, you can succeed at the Whole30 and stick to your grocery budget, too.

Still looking for ways to chop down your food costs? Check out these tips for how to eat for less than $6 a day

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

Image: asiseeit

The post 10 Tips for Doing Whole30 on a Budget appeared first on Credit.com.

Renting Out Your Home? 9 Expenses You Can Write Off

Here are some tax deductions home renters should know about.

Home sharing through sites like Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway are becoming more and more popular. My family jumped on the Airbnb hosting train recently, and we made a tidy little side income in January renting out our spare room. I won’t have to pay taxes on that income until next tax season, but I’m already wondering what expenses I can write off.

It turns out that lots of Airbnb host expenses are deductible, and those deductions work for other home-sharing services as well.

The Basics of Taxes & Home Sharing

Renting out a part of your home is similar to becoming a landlord for an entire property, and it’s a lot like running a small business. The general IRS rule is that you can deduct expenses that are “both ordinary and necessary” for your business. But you’ll pay taxes on any income that you earn over and above those deductions.

There’s one caveat: the 14-day rule. If you rent part or all of your primary residence to others for less than 15 days out of the year, you don’t have to report that rental income, but you can’t deduct any expenses.

If you really like being a host, though, and rent all or part of your home for 15 days or more, you’ll have to report the income. So you’ll want to take all the deductions you possibly can. When it comes to deductions for rentals, you need to be careful, though. You can only deduct expenses that were spent on your business.

So if you buy new bath towels that your renters just happen to use in your shared bathroom, you can’t deduct the full cost of the bath towels. But if you buy linens just for your Airbnb renters, you can deduct the full cost.

With that in mind, below are some expenses you might deduct.

9 Expenses You Could Deduct

1. Service Fees: Most short-term rental services charge hosts a fee that comes off the top of the rent paid by the guest. Even if this fee comes out of the guest payment before it hits your bank account, you can deduct it as a business expense.

2. Advertising Fees: If you pay for any advertising outside of that offered by the rental company (and, therefore, covered with your service fees), deduct those expenses.

3. Cleaning & Maintenance Fees: If you buy cleaning supplies for your rental room, deduct those. If you pay a professional for cleaning, deduct that expense, too. Any maintenance costs related to the rental property are also deductible. If you pay for whole-house maintenance, such as a furnace tune-up or a roof replacement, a part of that cost will be deductible.

4. Utilities: If you’re only renting part of your home part of the time, you’ll split the utilities — part as a personal expense and part as a business expense that can be deducted.

5. Property Insurance: If you need to pay more insurance on your home because of having renters present, you can deduct the extra cost. Even if your property insurance fees haven’t increased, you can write off part of the expense as a business expense.

6. Property Taxes: The same goes for property taxes: You can write off the portion of your property taxes equal to the portion of your home being rented.

7. Trash Removal Services: Services that you pay the municipality for can be deducted, because they’re both reasonable and necessary.

8. Property Improvements: You can deduct the cost — or the interest paid on a loan, if you don’t pay cash — of improvements made to the property if those apply to the rented area.

9. Furniture, Linens & Food: You presumably provide guests with at least a couch, if not a bed. If you buy new furniture for your guest room, you can deduct that. You can also deduct the cost of linens, curtains, shower supplies, or food that you provide to your guests.

Splitting the Expenses

Unless you’re renting your whole home for the full year, you’ll need to prorate these deductions. In short, you can only deduct these expenses when they actually apply to the rental space while it’s being rented.

As you can see, things can get hairy! If you decide to host through Airbnb or another similar service this year, here’s what you need to do:

  • Keep detailed records. Know exactly when you had renters and for how much. Keep all your receipts related to expenses for the rental, or for improvements or utilities for your whole house.
  • Know your local laws. In some cases, you may have to pay additional local taxes when you do a short-term rental. Get familiar with those laws, which vary by state and locality.
  • Get a professional to help. Because these issues are so complex, it’s best to consult with a tax professional about your rental income, especially if you made a decent amount of money through the year. You want to take all the deductions you can to lower your tax bill. But you also want to make sure you’re doing it legally.

Image: vgajic

The post Renting Out Your Home? 9 Expenses You Can Write Off appeared first on Credit.com.

5 Ever-So-Simple Strategies for Paying Off Debt in 2017

Here are some tips for paying off debt in 2017.

Want to pay off your debt and save more money in 2017? You’re not alone! According to one survey of Google search data, searches for “Spend Less/Save More” were up 17.47% from 2016. Want to achieve your get-out-of-debt goal? If so, we recommend trying one of the five strategies here.

1. The Debt Snowball

This debt-payoff method, made famous by financial guru Dave Ramsey, has you pay off your smallest debts first. The idea behind the debt snowball is that you get a quick psychological boost from paying off some small debts from the get-go. This gives you the mental momentum to keep going when paying off debt.

To start a debt snowball, list your debts in order from smallest to largest. Use any extra money to pay off the smallest balance while you make minimum payments on your other debts. When your smallest debt is paid off, snowball that debt’s minimum payment, plus your extra cash towards paying off the next debt. By the time you get to the largest debt, you’ll be throwing a lot of money at it each month. (You can see how your debt is affecting your credit by viewing two of your credit scores, with updates every 14 days, on Credit.com.)

2. The Debt Avalanche

This is similar to the debt snowball in that you pay off one debt at a time. But it’s actually the more economical method of paying off debt. Instead of paying off smaller balances first, the debt avalanche has you start by paying off the debts with the largest interest rate.

The debt avalanche is a smart method if you already have the determination to make it through a long debt payoff process without the boost of paying off a few smaller debts early on. It can get you out of debt faster since you’ll stop accumulating interest on high-interest debts much more quickly.

3. The Debt Snowflake

This is a method that can be combined with one of the above options or used to pay off debt in any order you choose. The idea here is that you find small ways to save a few bucks, and then transfer that money saved toward debt payments.

With the debt snowflake method, you’ll need to be exceptionally aware of your spending patterns. For instance, if you normally spend $10 on a lunch out at work, but pack your lunch one day, you could save $5. That $5 is a snowflake that can then go toward paying off debt.

The key to debt snowflakes is to make sure they don’t “melt.” Get into the habit of transferring “snowflake” money to debt accounts immediately, or at least on a weekly basis. Otherwise, you run the risk of that hard-saved cash being used for other purposes.

4. The Credit Card Transfer

If much of your debt is in the form of high-interest credit card balances, consider using balance transfer offers to pay off that debt more quickly. Since credit cards often have interest exceeding 15%, it’s not unusual for most of your minimum payment to go toward interest, even on a relatively small balance. If you can transfer that balance to a card with a 0% introductory annual percentage rate, you can put more money toward the principal balance each month, paying off your debts more quickly.

Be careful, though, to read all the terms of a credit card balance transfer. Most cards charge a fee for the balance transfer. If you’ll pay off the card’s balance quickly, the transfer may actually cost more than it saves. You can find more info on some of the better balance transfer credit cards here.

5. The Half Payment Method

What if you’re on such a tight budget that you can’t even squeak out some extra dollars to start on a debt snowball or avalanche? One option is to start making half of your minimum payment every two weeks. Bi-weekly payments, which may fall when you get a paycheck, can save you money over time on debts that are compounded daily or monthly based on the average balance.

The reasoning behind biweekly payments is somewhat complex. But, essentially, paying more often allows less interest to accrue between payments, which means more of your payment goes toward the principal. Plus, if you make a half payment every two weeks, you’ll actually have made a whole extra minimum payment by the end of the year!

Half payments can help even out your bank account balance and can help bring down your debt balances more quickly. Combining the bi-weekly payment method with another method for applying any extra cash you scrape together toward one debt at a time could be a powerful option for meeting your financial resolution this year.

Image: FatCamera

The post 5 Ever-So-Simple Strategies for Paying Off Debt in 2017 appeared first on Credit.com.

5 Ever-So-Simple Strategies for Paying Off Debt in 2017

Here are some tips for paying off debt in 2017.

Want to pay off your debt and save more money in 2017? You’re not alone! According to one survey of Google search data, searches for “Spend Less/Save More” were up 17.47% from 2016. Want to achieve your get-out-of-debt goal? If so, we recommend trying one of the five strategies here.

1. The Debt Snowball

This debt-payoff method, made famous by financial guru Dave Ramsey, has you pay off your smallest debts first. The idea behind the debt snowball is that you get a quick psychological boost from paying off some small debts from the get-go. This gives you the mental momentum to keep going when paying off debt.

To start a debt snowball, list your debts in order from smallest to largest. Use any extra money to pay off the smallest balance while you make minimum payments on your other debts. When your smallest debt is paid off, snowball that debt’s minimum payment, plus your extra cash towards paying off the next debt. By the time you get to the largest debt, you’ll be throwing a lot of money at it each month. (You can see how your debt is affecting your credit by viewing two of your credit scores, with updates every 14 days, on Credit.com.)

2. The Debt Avalanche

This is similar to the debt snowball in that you pay off one debt at a time. But it’s actually the more economical method of paying off debt. Instead of paying off smaller balances first, the debt avalanche has you start by paying off the debts with the largest interest rate.

The debt avalanche is a smart method if you already have the determination to make it through a long debt payoff process without the boost of paying off a few smaller debts early on. It can get you out of debt faster since you’ll stop accumulating interest on high-interest debts much more quickly.

3. The Debt Snowflake

This is a method that can be combined with one of the above options or used to pay off debt in any order you choose. The idea here is that you find small ways to save a few bucks, and then transfer that money saved toward debt payments.

With the debt snowflake method, you’ll need to be exceptionally aware of your spending patterns. For instance, if you normally spend $10 on a lunch out at work, but pack your lunch one day, you could save $5. That $5 is a snowflake that can then go toward paying off debt.

The key to debt snowflakes is to make sure they don’t “melt.” Get into the habit of transferring “snowflake” money to debt accounts immediately, or at least on a weekly basis. Otherwise, you run the risk of that hard-saved cash being used for other purposes.

4. The Credit Card Transfer

If much of your debt is in the form of high-interest credit card balances, consider using balance transfer offers to pay off that debt more quickly. Since credit cards often have interest exceeding 15%, it’s not unusual for most of your minimum payment to go toward interest, even on a relatively small balance. If you can transfer that balance to a card with a 0% introductory annual percentage rate, you can put more money toward the principal balance each month, paying off your debts more quickly.

Be careful, though, to read all the terms of a credit card balance transfer. Most cards charge a fee for the balance transfer. If you’ll pay off the card’s balance quickly, the transfer may actually cost more than it saves. You can find more info on some of the better balance transfer credit cards here.

5. The Half Payment Method

What if you’re on such a tight budget that you can’t even squeak out some extra dollars to start on a debt snowball or avalanche? One option is to start making half of your minimum payment every two weeks. Bi-weekly payments, which may fall when you get a paycheck, can save you money over time on debts that are compounded daily or monthly based on the average balance.

The reasoning behind biweekly payments is somewhat complex. But, essentially, paying more often allows less interest to accrue between payments, which means more of your payment goes toward the principal. Plus, if you make a half payment every two weeks, you’ll actually have made a whole extra minimum payment by the end of the year!

Half payments can help even out your bank account balance and can help bring down your debt balances more quickly. Combining the bi-weekly payment method with another method for applying any extra cash you scrape together toward one debt at a time could be a powerful option for meeting your financial resolution this year.

Image: FatCamera

The post 5 Ever-So-Simple Strategies for Paying Off Debt in 2017 appeared first on Credit.com.

This Trick Will Help You Finally Pay Off Your Credit Card Debt

Here's the best way to leverage those flashy 0% APR offers from credit card issuers.

In 2017, one-in-four Americans say they’re thinking about money more than just about anything else. Does that sound like you? One of the best ways to clear some of your head space may be to pay down credit card debt. Less debt means fewer minimum payments, which means an easier time managing your day-to-day cash flow.

That’s not the only benefit of paying off credit card debt early either. With annual percentage rates (APRs) in excess of 15%, credit cards can cost you a big chunk of change in interest. Plus, high credit card balances can do big damage to your credit. (You can see the effect of your current balances by viewing two of your free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.)

A Big Trick for Paying Off Credit Card Debt

Paying off credit cards takes planning and discipline. But you can also use a few tricks to make the process easier.

One big trick to make paying off credit card debt both easier and faster is using 0% APR balance transfer offers. It’s a simple strategy that can save you hundreds, or even thousands, in interest, not to mention allows you to potentially pay off your debt sooner.

You’ve got to leverage the offer correctly, however. Here are the basic steps to using this strategy.

  1. Apply for a card with a 0% introductory APR offer on balance transfers.
  2. Move some or all of your balance from an interest-bearing card to the card with the 0% APR. (Wondering what card to use? You can view our picks for the best balance transfer cards here.)
  3. Pay down that card as quickly as you can.
  4. If the card still has a balance when the introductory offer is up, consider applying for another 0% introductory APR card, and transfer the balance again. (More on this in a minute.)

That’s the gist of the strategy. It’s a great option for those with credit high enough to qualify for 0% introductory APR offers. Before you dive in, though, read through these additional tips and tricks.

1. Watch the Balance Transfer Fees

First off, it’s essential that you look at and understand balance transfer fees. Most balance transfer deals come with an upfront fee that gets tacked onto your balance once you make the transfer. This is how credit card companies come out on top with balance transfer deals.

Many times, transferring the balance to the 0% interest card will still save you money. But that may not be the case if you’re transferring a relatively small balance or if you’ll pay off the debt quickly either way.

To know whether or not a balance transfer will save you money, you’ll need to calculate your break-even point. First, estimate how many months it will take you to pay off the transferrable balance. Then, figure out how much interest you’d pay in that period of time if you did not transfer the balance. Finally, calculate the total fee you’d pay on the balance transfer.

If the balance transfer fee is more than the interest you’d pay in your current situation, it’s not worth your while.

2. Keep Track of Timing

Because balance transfer deals typically last between six and 18 months, you’ll need to keep careful track of when each introductory offer ends. If you’re running multiple balance transfer offers to pay off a lot of debt, keep a spreadsheet of offer end dates, current APRs, and future APRs once the offer is up.

Have a look at your spreadsheet each month. When a card’s offer period is about to end, decide whether to roll the remaining balance to a new balance transfer deal, or to leave it where it’s at.

Remember, it’s in your best interest to pay your transferred debt off in full by the time the 0% introductory offers expires. While you could potentially move the debt to another balance-transfer credit card, you’ll likely have to pay another fee. Plus, you’ll incur another hard inquiry on your credit report, which could ding your credit score. That’s why the next step is particularly important.

3. Know Your Credit Situation

This debt payoff strategy won’t work for everyone. You’ll likely only qualify for good balance transfer deals if you have good credit in the first place. And it’s difficult to say for sure how this scheme will affect your score.

On one hand, the hard inquiries generated by additional credit card applications will ding your score. But having a higher overall credit limit will improve it. These two may balance one another out over time.

The key is to keep track of your credit score throughout this process. If your score isn’t currently high enough to qualify for a 0% introductory APR deal, you may want to take time to polish up your credit before you apply.

4. Don’t Add New Debt

The number one key to making this strategy work for you is to not add any new debt. If you can’t avoid temptation to spend because you now have more available credit, you’ll just add to your mountain of credit card debt. One option is to shred your cards, even if you don’t close your accounts. This makes it harder to impulse spend on those cards that now have no balance once you’ve completed the transfer.

As long as you keep from adding new debt and follow the steps outlined here, 2017 could be a great year for getting free from debt.

Image: laflor

The post This Trick Will Help You Finally Pay Off Your Credit Card Debt appeared first on Credit.com.

Should You Refinance Your Home in 2017?

Should you refinance your mortgage in 2017? Here's how to tell.

Deciding whether or not to refinance your mortgage is complicated in the best of times. But with the unknown looming in 2017, the question is even messier than usual.

Many experts and economists are predicting rising interest rates this year. Kiplinger, for instance, predicts that the average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage will rise to 4.6% this year. That’s still a fairly low rate compared with other points in history. But rising rates may have homeowners like you wondering if they should refinance sooner rather than later.

If you’re currently paying higher-than-average interest on your mortgage, you may want to consider refinancing this year before the interest rates rise. Of course, you’ll also need to factor in your credit since that’ll determine the rate you’re offered when you go to re-fi (more on this in a minute). You can view two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com. They’re updated every two weeks, and checking your scores won’t harm them in any way.

Here are some questions to ask to determine whether or not to refinance your mortgage this year:

1. What Interest Rate Will I Qualify For?

It’s important to figure out what interest rate you’re likely to qualify for. One way to do this is to check out a mortgage rate calculator, which will take some basic information and give you a likely APR for your mortgage.

The only way to find out for sure how much a mortgage will cost you, though, is to shop around. Check out different online mortgage lenders, as well as traditional bricks-and-mortar options. Remember, if you apply to refinance your mortgage with several lenders within a few days’ time, it’ll only count as one hard inquiry on your credit report.

What should you do if your credit score is on the low side? Consider taking some time to boost your credit score, especially if you can do it relatively quickly by paying down credit card debt. However, you’ll need to weigh the benefit of having a better credit score when you refinance against the possibility that interest rates will balloon before you can refinance.

2. How Much Will Refinancing Cost?

As with buying a home, there are usually closing costs involved when you refinance. Some lenders offer no closing cost refinances, which can save you a bundle up front. However, loans without closing costs may charge a higher interest rate. And even so-called “no closing cost” refinances may have some fees due at closing.

Generally, though, closing costs on a refinance will be similar to closing costs when buying a home. You’ll need to pay credit fees, appraisal fees, escrow and title fees, and other fees imposed by your lender. Overall, you can estimate closing costs to be about 1.5% of the total loan principal.

If you’ve got enough equity in your home, you may be able to roll closing costs into the overall principal amount. But you’ll still wind up paying these fees one way or another.

3. When Will I Break Even?

Calculating when you’ll break even is the essential piece to deciding whether or not you’ll refinance. Since you have to either pay up front or roll refinancing costs into your loan, you need to know how long it’ll take to get that money back.

To calculate your break-even point, you need to first find out how much money per month the refinance will save you. Then, calculate how much it will cost. Divide the total cost by the savings per month, and you’ll see how many months it will take to break even.

For example, say you expect to pay $3,000 to refinance your $200,000 mortgage. You’ll save $175 per month when you refinance. So your break-even point is about 17 months. Once you’ve paid on the refinanced mortgage for 18 months, you’ll be saving money overall.

4. How Long Do I Plan to Stay in My Home?

Generally, refinancing your home is a winning proposition any time you stay in your home longer than your break-even period. In the above example, you’ll come out on top if you own your home for at least 18 months after you refinance.

Of course, the longer you own the home after your break-even month, the more money you’ll save because of your refinance.

If you’re not reasonably sure you’ll own your home through your break-even month, refinancing won’t be worth your while. But if you think you’ll stay in your home, refinancing could save you a lot of money over the long haul.

Image: myfault1

The post Should You Refinance Your Home in 2017? appeared first on Credit.com.

6 Ways Student Loans Could Impact Your Credit Score

ways-student-loans-could-impact-credit

When most 18-year-old college freshmen sign on the dotted line to take out federal student loans, they’re not thinking about credit scores. They’re thinking about class schedules, life goals and avoiding the infamous “freshman fifteen.”

But the truth is that student loans can (and do) impact your credit scores from the very moment you take them out. Whether you’re a brand new college student who hasn’t even started repaying student loans yet or a 30-something still struggling to pay back that debt, you need to understand how student loans can impact your credit scores and your ability to borrow. (You can see how your student loans may be affecting your credit by viewing two of your credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.)

1. They’ll Likely Open Your Credit File

Most straight-from-high-school college freshmen don’t have a credit file to speak of before taking out student loans. But because the federal government doesn’t require good credit for most types of student loans, that doesn’t matter. As soon as you take out a loan, you’ll have a credit file opened, likely with all three major credit reporting bureaus. This is the start of your credit history and subsequent numerical credit scores.

2. They Can Help Establish a Longer Credit History

One portion of your credit scores comes from the length of your credit history. The longer you’ve had credit, the higher your score will be. For many students, student loans are their first piece of credit. And because they’re likely to stick around on your credit reports for ten years or more while you’re in repayment, student loans can give your score an automatic lift.

3. On-Time Payments Can Keep Your Score Growing

On-time payments are the most heavily-weighted portion of the credit score algorithm. After all, lenders want to be sure you’ll repay your loans on time each month. Paying your student loans on time from the time you enter into repayment can keep your credit scores growing, slowly but steadily.

One thing to note here is that if you have to put your loans into deferment or forbearance due to financial hardship, this shouldn’t harm your credit scores. Call the lender as soon as you know you’ll be unable to keep making payments. They can put the loan into forbearance, which will stop payments for a while. This doesn’t get you out of repaying the loan, of course, but it will save you from late payment reports on your credit scores.

4. Missed Payments Can Quickly Tank It

Steadily repaying your loan with on-time payments will increase your scores, but slowly. On the flip side, missing payments can tank it, and quickly. However, most federal student loan servicers won’t report a payment as late until it’s been 60 days late by the end of the month. So you often have more grace with these loans than other types. Still, it’s best to get into the habit early on of making on-time payments each and every month.

5. They Can Help You Add Variety to the Mix

A few high school and college students have other debt coming into the student loan process. For instance, you might have a low-limit credit card on your report already. If this is the case, adding student loans as an installment loan can add variety to your credit file. Because variety is one thing lenders look for, this can also help boost your credit scores.

6. Resolving Delinquency Can Immediately Increase Your Score

Resolving delinquency on other types of loans isn’t always easy, and the delinquency reports may take months or even years to recover from. This isn’t always the case with student loans. If you lose your job, for instance, and miss three months’ worth of payments, your score will quickly fall. But if you later work out with your lender to back-date the deferment of your loan, they can forgive those late payments, effectively erasing them from your credit scores.

It’s better to never become delinquent on your student loans, of course. But if you do, resolving the problem as quickly as possible can help you increase your credit scores almost immediately.

Bonus: Your Debt-to-Income Ratio Can Be Important

It’s a common misconception that a person’s debt-to-income ratio — the amount of your minimum payments each month versus the amount of income you make— is a part of your credit scores. It’s actually not. Credit bureaus don’t know how much money you make, and they don’t really care. As long as you’re meeting your obligations each month and your credit utilization rate is in good shape, your credit scores should stay intact. (Note: Your credit utilization rate, also referred to as your credit-to-debt ratio, is essentially how much debt you’re carrying versus the amount of credit extended to you. For best credit scoring results, it’s generally recommended you keep the amount of debt you owe below at least 30% and ideally 10% of your total available credit limit.)

Lenders, on the other hand, care about debt-to-income ratio very much. If 50% of your monthly income is eaten up by minimum debt payments, you’ll likely have trouble obtaining a mortgage.

So even though your minimum student loan payments in comparison to your monthly income don’t affect your credit scores, they can affect your ability to borrow. This is why it’s so important when taking out student loans to examine how much your chosen career is likely to earn you. Then, compare that to what you’re likely to pay in minimum student loan payments before you sign on the dotted line for that loan.

Image: sturti

The post 6 Ways Student Loans Could Impact Your Credit Score appeared first on Credit.com.

What Happens to Your Credit Score When You Buy a House?

credit-score-after-purchasing-a-home

If you’ve just bought a new home, chances are you spent quite some time worrying about your credit score. After all, your credit score affects your ability to get a mortgage, and the interest rate you’ll pay on that mortgage.

But what happens to your credit score after you’ve purchased a home? That’s a complicated question with a complicated answer.

Credit Inquiries Cost Some Points

You’ll likely start seeing minor dings in your credit score as soon as you begin applying for mortgages. When you apply for pre-approval, lenders will pull your credit score. When the lenders do perform a hard credit pull, it tells the credit scoring algorithm you’re looking for new credit, which will cause a small drop in your credit score.

You can limit this effect while mortgage shopping by applying for pre-approval with several companies within a two-week period. Some credit scoring models will give you a longer period than this, but keep it to two weeks to be safe. When you limit your mortgage shopping to a short time period, you’ll still get a ding on your credit score, but it will be smaller. (You can view two of your credit scores for free by signing up for an account on Credit.com.)

New Credit Costs Even More

Applying for mortgages will ding your credit a bit, but actually opening a mortgage will cost even more points, especially if this is your first home loanmortgage. The large increase in overall debt will definitely cause a drop in your credit score.

Luckily, installment debts like a mortgage cause less of a score decrease than high-balance revolving debts like credit cards. Still, though, you’ll likely find that your score drops by a few points once the credit bureaus pick up your new mortgage account.

But Adding to Your Credit Mix Is Good

If you’ve never had a mortgage before, adding one to your credit profile can ultimately be a good thing. Approximately 10% of your credit score is made up of your overall credit mix. The more variety, the better!

Once your credit score gets past the temporary ding from the inquiries and taking out a new account, it may actually increase because you’ve expanded your credit mix.

And Making On-Time Payments Is Even Better

Ultimately, if you make your mortgage payments on time, you should see a fairly quick increase in your credit score. In fact, within a few months, barring any other issues, your credit score will likely be higher than it was before you first applied for a mortgage.

When you buy a home, it’s important to be prepared for your credit score to temporarily drop. This happens any time you pick up a new credit account. But once you get past the initial drop, financially responsible homeownership will likely increase your credit score more than ever before.

Image: Justin Horrocks

The post What Happens to Your Credit Score When You Buy a House? appeared first on Credit.com.

9 Ways to Save on College Textbooks

Heading back to college this fall? One of your biggest expenses (outside of tuition, of course) is likely to be textbooks. The College Board estimates that college students will spend anywhere from $1,200 to $1,300 on books and supplies. That’s a big chunk of change, but there are plenty of ways you can save on textbooks.

1. Avoid the Bookstore, Except for Essentials

While the college bookstore is tempting in all its shiny, fully stocked glory, it’s also generally the last place you want to go to buy textbooks. Even used textbooks at the bookstore typically will be sold at a higher markup than you’ll see online. And the new books often are more expensive there than anywhere else.

One exception to this rule: custom-printed packets assigned by particular professors. Some professors will require custom-printed anthologies or companion books for their classes. These are printed and bound ahead of time, and you won’t be able to get them anywhere but the bookstore.

2. Wait Until After the First Class to Buy

Some college professors are just as fed up with the rising cost of textbooks as their students. Unfortunately, academic departments will sometimes strongarm professors into choosing more expensive books.

Still, some professors will work with students who simply can’t afford to pay $180 for a single textbook. While the expense may be unavoidable in some classes, in others, professors will tell you straight up that you’ll only use a few sections of the textbook over the course. Or they’ll offer supplementary options that are free or really cheap.

While not bringing books to class on the first day may seem like a huge risk, it’s typically not a big deal. That first class day is typically spent discussing the syllabus and course expectations. And you can use that information to gauge which of the following options you want to use to buy, rent, or borrow textbooks for each class.

3. Buy Used Whenever Possible

The market for used college textbooks is huge, since many students buy these books only to use them for a single semester. Chances are there are multiple used book stores near any major college campus, and you can also buy used online from bookselling marketplaces. New books are worth the investment only in limited circumstances, which we’ll discuss later. Otherwise, go for used versions of physical textbooks.

4. Check Out the Price of E-Books

More and more publishers are offering their textbooks in e-book format. This can make sense for most of your classes. Plus, purchasing a slim e-reader and most of your textbooks in e-book format can save you from having to haul loads of heavy textbooks all over campus.

E-books may not always be appropriate, especially if you’re an in-book highlighter or note-taker. But with today’s e-book technology, most books can be “highlighted” and bookmarked virtually, so you can still reference certain passages or sections as needed.

5. Split Costs With a Friend

If you and a friend are taking the same class at different times or between semesters, consider splitting the costs of a used book. This can be tricky to work out, as you need to be sure you each have access to the books when working on homework and going to class. But if you’re taking the same introductory course on different days, textbook sharing can be a viable option.

6. Buy Older Editions

One reason textbooks are so expensive is that they’re constantly “updated,” even when the update involves only very minor edits. For classes with course content that’s stable from year to year, you probably don’t really need the latest edition. And used versions of out-of-date editions can be even cheaper.

Just be aware that page numbers and figures don’t always line up from one edition to the next, so you’ll need to be extra careful that you’re completing the correct coursework. Also, older editions may not work as well for classes like math and science if the professor relies on homework from the book, as questions can change from edition to edition.

7. Try the Library

The campus library or the local public library are both great options for finding copies of more-common books. Libraries may not have a copy of a $175 quantum physics textbook. But they are likely to have copies of many texts used in liberal arts courses. English majors and the like are at a particular advantage here. Many literature classes are built around easy-to-rent classics that are simple to pick up from the library.

One potential caveat to this strategy: availability. If others in your course also borrow their texts from the library, you may be unable to find a copy when you need it. Your best bet is to look well ahead on the syllabus, and to reserve copies of the books you need at least two or three weeks ahead of time.

8. Rent Your Textbooks Online

Textbook rental services are becoming more common these days, and they’re another good option for saving on your overall costs. You can sometimes even rent e-book versions of your textbooks, which are cheaper since you’re not purchasing a lifetime license.

Just be careful if you decide to rent physical textbooks, as they’ll have to be in excellent condition when you return them, or you’ll pay extra fees.

9. Buy Certain New Books Online

Sometimes it does make sense to buy books new. For instance, if your math professor will use the specific homework questions in the latest edition of a book that just released, you’ll have to spring for the new version. Or if you need to purchase workbooks, which some lower-level math courses still use, you’ll need new versions of those.

Also, if you’re an upperclassman, you might consider purchasing new, or used that are in excellent condition, versions of books from some of your senior-level courses. These could be texts that you’ll reference after college once you’re in career-related courses, so having nice versions that will hold up over time can make sense.

[Editor’s Note: While you’re in college, you might not be thinking too much about your credit, but bad credit can be even more costly than your textbooks. That’s why it’s a good idea to check it every now and then so you can make sure your financial future is on track. You can get two free credit scores, updated monthly, at Credit.com. You also can get your free credit reports ever year at AnnualCreditReport.com.]

Image: skynesher

The post 9 Ways to Save on College Textbooks appeared first on Credit.com.