11 Ways to Save on Your Shocking Electric Bill

Cooling your home and powering all your favorite gadgets can add up. Here are some ways to squeeze some savings out of your electric bill.

The cost of powering your home and all your assorted appliances and devices can be significant. The price of everything, from running your air conditioner on hot days to charging your phone as you sleep, can add up.

Getting a handle on your electric bill is important. Failing to make a monthly payment can really drop your credit score. (You can check two of your scores for free every two weeks on Credit.com).

But you can significantly reduce the electrical energy your home consumes by taking a few simple steps. Here are 11 ways you can lower your electric bill.

1. Perform a Home Energy Audit

Home energy auditors are professionals who come to your home to evaluate your power usage, assessing your home and your past power bills. They’ll look for areas where you can increase efficiency. Many electric suppliers provide this service for free, but you can also find a local paid professional.

When the audit is complete, the auditor can recommend energy-saving methods and products.

2. Install Dimmer Switches

The overhead lights in many rooms often provide more illumination than we need. With dimmer switches, you can adjust the amount of light you’re using. Modern dimmers also reduce how much electricity lights use.

3. Install Ceiling Fans

Ceiling fans circulate air through your home and can cool you off. While they use electricity, they may reduce the workload of your air conditioner.

4. Ward off the Sun

Sunlight coming in through windows can heat up your home and make your air conditioner work harder. You should close the curtains or blinds on your windows when you don’t need them open and consider installing tinted window film. (If heating or cooling your home is the main cause of your high electric bills, here’s how you can keep temperatures comfortable without spending too much.)

5. Turn Off Unused Items & Unplug Electronics

Of course, you should shut off all electronics and lights when you leave a room to reduce energy usage. But electronics and appliances can use energy even when they’re turned off.

“Gadgets and appliances like TVs, laptops, coffee makers, printers, space heaters and cable boxes continue to suck energy even when turned off,” said Andrea Woroch, a consumer finance expert. “Get in the habit of unplugging all these electronics and appliances when you aren’t using them. Power strips are an easier and less timely alternative — some even come with a remote control for easier use.”

6. Use LED Light Bulbs

LED light bulbs use significantly less energy than incandescent bulbs. While LED bulbs can cost more, they have a longer lifespan, so you could save money on light bulbs in the long run.

7. Replace Your HVAC Air Filters

Air filters keep dust and debris from circulating through your HVAC system and clogging vents and air registers. Over time, these filters get clogged with dust and debris themselves, and your air conditioning system will have to work harder to cool your home. You should swap your air filters out every few months to reduce the energy needed to regulate your home’s temperature.

8. Install a Programmable Thermostat

Programmable thermostats reduce energy costs by adjusting your home temperature when you’re away, at work or asleep. Your energy usage will be reduced because you won’t be wasting electricity cooling an empty home.

“The HVAC system uses the most energy in your home, and running the air conditioner or heater can blow your budget. However, installing a programmable thermostat takes the guesswork out of fiddling with temperatures and allows you to preset temps when you are home or away at work or school so you don’t waste energy,” said Woroch.

Just be careful. “Smart” thermostats are one of a few household objects that might make you vulnerable to hackers.

9. Solar Panels

If you’re looking for big savings and energy reduction, solar panels may be the way to go. Typically installed on the roof, solar panels harvest the sun’s energy and convert it into electric power.

“Solar panels continue to improve. The prices of solar panels have become cheaper, their ability to capture the sun’s photons and convert them to electricity is becoming more efficient, and the technology is changing as solar shingles emerge as a more mainstream item,” said Sage Singleton, home maintenance specialist at Safewise. “The time before payoff on solar panels is also getting shorter — the average rooftop solar system will pay back a homeowner in seven-and-a-half years. The sooner you install your solar panels, the sooner you will see the average savings on your lowered energy bills.”

Solar panels might also lower your tax bill.

10. Look for Energy Provider Programs

Many electric suppliers have programs you can participate in to reduce the cost of your bill. These include rebates for buying energy-efficient appliances, rewards for reducing energy usage during peak hours and programs that spread the cost of your peak usage for months across the year. Visit your energy provider’s website or call to find out what programs might be available.

11. Shop for an Alternative Provider

If you have alternative energy providers in your area, you can always shop around to see if you can find a cheaper option.

“One common way that consumers reduce their electric bill is to shop for a new electric supplier. Many states in the U.S. are deregulated, meaning the residential customers can shop for electricity,” said Kelly Bedrich, cofounder and president of ElectricityPlans.com. “In these states, homeowners and renters can shop for electricity in the same way you can shop for cable and internet service. By being able to shop for their energy, the homeowners can often save as much as 30% to 40% off of their energy bill simply by switching their supplier.”

Looking for other ways to save? Making your home more energy efficient is one 50 tips we came up with to give your finances a fresh start this year.

Image: asiseeit

The post 11 Ways to Save on Your Shocking Electric Bill appeared first on Credit.com.

11 Ways to Save If Your Heating & Cooling Bills Are Boiling Over

Heating bills can shoot up as the temperature drops. Here are ways to cut costs while keeping warm.

It’s one of the facts of modern life: Keeping your home the right temperature can get expensive, whether you’re in a studio apartment or a spacious house, you may be paying more than you have to in order to heat your home. Fear not! There are several ways you can cut back on how much you’re spending on temperature control in your home. Here are 11 ways to lower your heating or cooling bill. (And if you’re looking for more ways to save on your monthly home expenses, you can check out these seven easy ways to save on your cable bill.)

1. Seal Your Windows

Windows that are improperly sealed can leak air, losing energy and causing your heating system or air conditioner to work harder.

“Gaps around the window frame allow air to leak, so caulk any gaps in the seals to save on your heating bill,” said Richard Ciresi, owner of Louisville Aire Serve, a heat and air conditioning company.

2. Upgrade Your Windows

You can also upgrade your windows to more energy-efficient models.

“New windows are a big investment, but not one without substantial reward,” said Larry Patterson, a Glass Doctor franchisee. “Replacing your old windows with double or triple-pane energy efficient glass can save you up to 30% on your energy bills.”

3. Get a Programmable Thermostat

Programmable thermostats can cut energy costs by automatically adjusting the temperature while you’re away, reducing the energy wasted on heating or cooling an empty home.

“Investing in a programmable thermostat is one of the simplest ways to save money on your heating, as you set your heating to turn on and off at specific times throughout the day,” said Max Robinson of Turnbull and Scott Heating.

You can program your thermostat to turn off while you sleep or while you’re at work and turn back on when you wake up or get home, Robinson added.

4. Change Your Air Filter

Your furnace uses air filters to keep dust from clogging your vents and circulating through your home. When the filters are dirty, your system has to work harder to push air through. Air filters are affordable and easy to switch out, and doing so will help your heating system run more efficiently. You should swap out new air filters every few months.

5. Open Your Vents

Closed vents can waste a lot of energy. When you turn on your heat, make sure your vents are open.

“Blocked or closed vents and registers make furnaces work harder than they should,” Ciresi said. “Blocked vents do not allow for proper airflow. The furnace will continue to run but the rooms won’t heat up. Always unblock and open all vents and registers before running the furnace.”

6. Reduce Hot Water

The energy spent heating your water contributes to your heating bill. You can reduce your hot water usage a few different ways: Take shorter showers, avoid the hottest water settings and wash your clothes in cold water.

Water heaters are often set at a higher temperature than is needed. You can lower your water heater’s base temperature to 120 degrees, which is sufficiently hot for most household needs.

7. Use a Space Heater for Small Rooms

Smaller rooms can be heated by an electric space heater. While this method still uses electricity, it’s far more energy efficient than using gas heat.

“The rest of the house will be cooler, but this shouldn’t be an issue if your entire family is gathered in one room,” Robinson said.

8. Check Your Outlets

Even your outlets can leak air and reduce the energy efficiency of your home. Make sure to check your outlets for drafts.

“Electrical outlets in exterior walls are usually a major source of drafts, as it is rare for insulation to be used in these areas, and when it is it is often incorrectly installed,” Robinson said. “Luckily it’s easy to correct this. Use a simple foam sealant to fill any gaps around the outlet, and place a gasket over the front of the outlet.”

9. Check Your Insulation

Your walls, attic and other home areas must be properly insulated. If not, the temperature will be much harder to control. Make sure to check your insulation, or hire a professional if you’re not sure how.

10. Find an Alternative Payment Plan

Many energy companies provide alternative payment plans. Some will reduce your bill for reducing your energy consumption, while other plans might lower your payments based on income. Check with your energy provider to see what alternative plans they offer.

If you’re doing things yourself, you may want to consider funding these projects with a store credit card that offers you rewards for your purchases. (You can read our review of the Home Depot credit card here.) Before you apply for any new plastic, it’s always a good idea to review your credit so you know what types of cards you may qualify for. You can see two of your scores free, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

11. Change Your Attire

If you’re cold, you can always turn down the temperature a few degrees and bundle up. Don’t neglect your feet and head, areas that can lose a lot of body heat. Fuzzy socks and a knit hat should do the trick. And if you’re looking to escape the heat? Try a bathing suit and a cool body of water — You can see 28 ideas on how to save for your next big adventure here.

Inspired to do some renovations? Before you head out to your local hardware store, you may want to check out our 6 ways to save at Lowe’s and Home Depot.

Image: DGLimages

The post 11 Ways to Save If Your Heating & Cooling Bills Are Boiling Over appeared first on Credit.com.

9 Credit Cards for Cruise Lovers

Want a credit card that helps you navigate the high seas? Here are nine of our favorites.

Cruise lines offer a hassle-free vacation experience for travelers looking to embark on an adventure without worrying about the logistics. Dining, nightlife, luxury amenities and the actual travel are all provided, and often at a lower price than a traditional trip.

To reward loyal cruise customers, many major cruise lines also offer credit cards that can earn cardholders cruise benefits and travel credits. If you’re a frequent cruiser, check out our list of every major cruise credit card (plus two bonus picks for general rewards credit card alternatives).

Remember, before applying for any new credit card, it’s a good idea to check your credit scores to make sure you qualify — particularly for rewards credit cards, which can have higher credit score requirements. You can get your two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, right here on Credit.com. (And here’s a guide to what makes up a good credit score.)

Disney Premier Visa Card

Disney’s Visa credit card earns rewards dollars redeemable for Disney vacations, onboard spending credits and merchandise. Cardholders earn 2% in rewards dollars on gas, groceries, dining and purchases made at Disney locations and 1% rewards on all other purchases. At the time of this writing, Disney also is offering a bonus $200 Disney Gift Card when you spend $500 within three months of opening the card.

Disney customers also can use the card to finance select Disney vacation packages interest-free for six months. On Disney cruises, cardholders will get 10% off photo packages, merchandise and Castaway Cay (Disney’s private island) getaway packages and 20% off massages or facials at an onboard spa.

There’s a $49 annual fee, a 3% foreign transaction fee and a variable APR of 16.49%.

Royal Caribbean Visa Signature Card

Royal Caribbean’s credit card earns points that can be redeemed toward cruises, onboard credits, room upgrades, excursions and discounts. Cardholders earn two points for every dollar spent on qualifying Royal Caribbean purchases and one point for every dollar spent elsewhere. Points have a redemption value of one cent. Royal Caribbean is currently offering 17,500 in bonus points: 10,000 points are earned upon the first transaction, while 7,500 are earned by spending $1,000 in the first 90 days of the card.

There is no annual fee. The APR is a variable 13.49% to 23.49%, and there is a 3% foreign transaction fee.

Carnival Cruise Credit Card

Carnival’s credit card earns points redeemable for statement credits toward Carnival cruises, airfare, hotel stays and merchandise. Cardholders earn two points for every dollar spent with Carnival and one point for every dollar spent elsewhere. Carnival is offering 10,000 bonus points upon your first purchase or balance transfer. Those points can be redeemed for a credit of up to $100 toward your next cruise purchase. You’ll also earn double points on all purchases aboard a Carnival cruise and one point on all other purchases.

There is no annual fee and no foreign transaction fee. The APR is a variable 14.49%, 19.49% or 24.49% based on creditworthiness.

Norwegian’s Worldpoints Rewards Credit Card

The Norwegian credit card earns three points for every dollar spent on cruise purchases and one point for every dollar spent elsewhere. Points can be used for stateroom upgrades, cruise reservations and onboard credits, cash, airfare and hotels, car rentals and gift cards. Most reward redemptions value each point at one cent.

As of this writing, Norwegian is offering 10,000 bonus points when you use your card within the first 90 days. And for a limited time, new cardholders can earn an additional 5,000 bonus points when they make at least $1,000 in purchases within the first 90 days of account opening.

There’s no annual fee. The APR is a variable 13.49% to 23.49%, and there is a 3% foreign transaction fee.

Princess Cruises Rewards Visa Card

Princess Cruise’s credit card points can be used for cruise rewards, onboard credits and amenities and discounted airfare. Cardholders will earn two points for every dollar spent on Princess purchases and one point for every dollar spent elsewhere. They’re currently offering 5,000 bonus points when you make your first purchase on the card.

There’s no annual fee and no foreign transaction fee. There’s a variable APR of 14.49%, 19.49% or 24.49%, based on creditworthiness.

Celebrity Visa Signature Card

The Celebrity Visa Signature Card earns two points for every dollar spent with Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean International cruises and Azamara Club Cruises and one point for every dollar spent elsewhere. Right now, Celebrity is offering 10,000 bonus points when you complete a transaction in the first 65 days and a bonus 7,500 points when you spend $1,000 within the first 90 days.

There’s also a premium card that has no foreign transaction fee, 10,000 annual bonus points when you spend at least $10,000 annually, and 50% off second guests at any onboard specialty restaurant. There are also discounts on select excursions, drink packages and vacation packages.

The basic card has no annual fee and a 3% foreign transaction fee, while the premium card costs $69 a year and has no foreign transaction fee. Both cards have a variable APR of 13.49% to 23.49%.

Holland America Cruise Credit Card

Holland America’s credit card earns two points for every dollar spent on Holland America purchases and one point for every dollar spent elsewhere. They’re currently offering 5,000 points upon your first purchase. Points can be redeemed for cruise discounts, onboard amenities and credits, gift cards, merchandise and airfare.

There are no foreign transaction fees and no annual fee with this card. The variable APR is 14.49%, 19.49% or 24.49% based on creditworthiness.

Alternatives to Branded Cruise Cards

Most cruise-branded credit cards earn average points rewards that are tied to specific cruise lines. While you can use the cards for purchases elsewhere, redemption of those points is limited to the cruise line and related purchases. If you’re looking for a travel card with a little more freedom, there are a few great cards out there that can unlock cruise benefits. You can check out our roundup of the best travel rewards credit cards. Here are two of our favorites:

Chase Sapphire Preferred

The Chase Sapphire Preferred card features two points per dollar on all dining and travel purchases and one point per dollar spent elsewhere. Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be redeemed for cash back, merchandise, gift cards and travel reservations. New applicants receive 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 within the first three months of account opening. Points earn an additional 25% value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards.

There is a $95 annual fee for this card (which is waived the first year) and no foreign transaction fees. The APR is a variable 16.49% to 23.49%

Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus Card earns miles that can be redeemed for most travel expenses, including cruises. Cardholders earn two miles per dollar on all transactions, and each mile is worth one cent. New cardholders receive 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 within 90 days of opening their account. In addition, cardholders receive a 5% rebate on the miles they redeem.

There is an $89 annual fee (waived the first year) and no foreign transaction fees. There is a variable APR of 16.49%, 20.49% or 23.49% based on creditworthiness.

At publishing time, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard is offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for this card. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment. This content is not provided by the card issuer(s). Any opinions expressed are those of Credit.com alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer(s).

Image: michaeljung

The post 9 Credit Cards for Cruise Lovers appeared first on Credit.com.

7 Easy Ways to Lower Your Cable Bill

Watching your favorite shows is the fun part — handing over your money each month to do so, not so much. These 7 ways can help cut down on that expense.

Cable television can be an expensive line item on your monthly budget, especially if you’re looking at giving your finances a fresh start. You may be paying for a long list of channels when you only watch a handful, or maybe your promotional offer just expired and your rates flew up. But you don’t have to be stuck with such a monumental bill. Here are seven ways you can lower your cable TV bill.

1. Renegotiate Your Bill

Cable providers know you have many other TV options. As a result, they may be willing to negotiate a lower rate for services. You can call and ask about any current promotions or specials your cable provider is running. You can even hunt around for deals other providers are offering and ask them to match.

When you call your cable provider to renegotiate, you can suggest that you’re considering alternatives, which may result in a conversation with a customer retention specialist, who will do anything they can to keep you as a customer.

“Cable companies spend a lot of time and money making sure their valued customers stay with their service,” said Zoe Meeken, Technology and Money-Saving Specialist for Reviews.org. “They have special sales representatives who have valid offers that can be shared with customers on the verge of ‘cutting the cord’ for online streaming sites or switching over to another provider.”

2. Cut Premium Channels

Premium channels can add to your bill in a big way. You can cut costs by chopping those channels from your cable package. Of course, this is ideal for channels you don’t watch, but if you’re intent on cutting costs, you may have to make friends with another Game of Thrones lover who doesn’t mind company on Sunday nights.

3. Do Without the DVR

Many cable and network channels offer on-demand programming that lets you watch your favorite shows the day after they air. Switching your DVR cable box for a standard box with on-demand service might help shave a few bucks off your monthly bill.

4. Use Bundle Promotions

Many cable providers also offer internet and phone services and will give you a discount if you sign up for a bundle package.

“If you’re paying separately for your phone, internet and cable, it may be more cost-effective for you to bundle,” said Meeken. “Take some time to shop around for a complete package. There’s a decent chance you’ll end up with more for less.”

If you go this route, make sure you crunch the numbers before signing up for a bundle deal to make sure it really saves you money.

5. Find a Different Provider

You can always search around for a better deal with another cable provider. In many regions, there are more options than ever, from satellite service to more localized providers. Find out what’s available in your area and start comparing prices.

6. Switch to Streaming

Streaming services host a wide selection of original programming, popular TV shows and movies, often at a fraction of what you’ll pay for cable. Signing up for several of these services could result in a comparable cost, but sticking to one or two could dramatically lower your monthly TV bill.

7. Use a Digital Antenna

If all you really need is network television, you can get your local channels free using a digital antenna, which these days can provide HD quality programming. If you still need more options, you could supplement this with a streaming service or two.

Looking for other ideas on way to add funds to your bank account? Consider these nine ways to lower your monthly mortgage payment or even these ideas on how to earn extra income from your car without playing chauffeur.

Image: stocknroll

The post 7 Easy Ways to Lower Your Cable Bill appeared first on Credit.com.

5 Basic Credit Lessons to Teach Your Kids

Your parents may have prepared you as best they could for the financial realities of adulthood, or they could have left you to figure it all out for yourself. But if you were taught the basics of finance and credit before you left the nest, you may have encountered less of a learning curve than your clueless counterparts. No matter your level of understanding, you likely have to do some learning yourself.

But now, if you’re the parent, one of your priorities is to prepare your kids for adulthood. Just as you would teach your children to dress themselves, ride a bike or do their laundry, you may want to impart lessons about credit to them to help them become successful and financially independent.

Here are five credit lessons you may wish to impart.

1. It’s Important to Regularly Check Your Credit Reports & Credit Scores

Credit reports and credit scores may seem like abstract concepts to teach your children. But you can use simple metaphors. School-age children can understand the concepts of grades and report cards, and these concepts apply to credit. The work you put into your credit is reflected in your credit report and credit score, which “grade” your performance. These grades can then be used to help you get “rewarded,” like by getting the best rate on a credit card or a loan, like for a car or home. (You can check out your free credit report summary on Credit.com, which includes grades on how you’re doing in the five key areas that make up your scores.) This brings us to our next lesson …

2. Credit Affects Their Life

Once your child understands the concept of a credit report and credit score, you can demonstrate how credit has affected your lifestyle. Many of your possessions — your home, car or credit card, for instance — were obtained using credit, and are examples of the power of credit. Of course, credit is not just a way to get “things.” It’s a tool that can help provide shelter, comfort and freedom.

3. There Are 5 Main Influencers of Credit

As your kids get older and have a firmer grasp on these concepts, they may be able to better understand how they can make credit work for them. You can show them credit is determined by five main factors:

  • Payment history
  • Debt usage
  • Age of accounts
  • Types of accounts
  • Credit inquires

If you own credit cards, have loans and monitor your credit report, you have teachable moments built into your financial routine. When your children are old enough, you can involve them as you pay a bill or check your credit report, explaining the process as you go.

4. Mistakes Can Cost You

Mistakes can be valuable life lessons for young people. But when it comes to credit, mistakes can be costly and their effects can be long-lasting. One late payment can cause your credit score to drop dramatically. And negative items such as accounts in collections and judgments can stay on your report for at least seven years. To a young person, seven years can be a long time to have difficulty obtaining loans or credit cards. You can also show them how errors on your credit report can be fixed by using this guide.

5. Credit Cards Are Merely Tools

Credit cards are not a magic wand for reckless spending, but they are also not inherently risky items to be avoided. They are tools. They can be invaluable to build credit and financial independence, but they can also be damaging if wielded incorrectly.

It’s no secret that young people can have trouble with impulse control. But you may want to impart that credit cards can be used responsibly or irresponsibly. The results will depend on the user.

Image: Liderina

The post 5 Basic Credit Lessons to Teach Your Kids appeared first on Credit.com.

The Amped-Up Amex Platinum Card: How Does It Compare to the Chase Sapphire Reserve?

American Express just upgraded its already stacked Platinum Card. Does it now top Chase Sapphire Reserve?

For years, the American Express Platinum Card has provided a wide range of travel benefits and luxury perks to its cardholders. But recently, there’s been increased competition from travel-centric credit cards entering the game or increasing their benefits to take some of American Express’ market share.

One of the biggest new players is the Chase Sapphire Reserve (you can read our full review here), which has been popular for its extensive travel perks.

Presumably to compete, American Express is expanding its benefits, offering a wider range of rewards that kick in March 30. So how does it stack up to the Chase Sapphire Reserve? Here we compare each card so you can decide which one is best for jet-setters.

Earning & Redeeming Points

Both cards earn points as they are used. Users can redeem points for gift cards, merchandise or travel.

With the Platinum Card’s newly enhanced features, cardholders earn five points for every dollar spent on airfare and eligible hotels using the American Express Travel platform (they can also book directly with the airline). That’s on top of the existing two points per dollar spent on other eligible travel purchases and one point per dollar spent on everything else. American Express offers a bonus 75,000 points if you spend $5,000 during the first three months after receiving the card.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve card earns three points per dollar spent on travel and restaurants and one point per dollar spent on everything else. Chase offers 50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 in the first three months. On top of that, you get 50% additional value when you redeem your points for travel.

Travel Perks Included

American Express has enhanced its already extensive travel benefits.

The card will now come with $200 in annual Uber credits, earned by linking the card to your Uber account. The Global Lounge Collection has expanded, and cardholders get access to more than 1,000 airport lounges in 120 countries, including the luxury Centurion Lounge. There’s also a new Global Dining Collection, which provides exclusive reserved seating at culinary events hosted by world-renowned chefs. The By Invitation Only program has also grown to include more exclusive experiences like access to the Grand Prix de Monaco and trips to French wine country.

The Platinum Card’s existing benefits were already impressive. American Express offers a $200 annual credit for airline fees such as checked bags or in-flight meals and a $100 credit toward a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application. Cardholders get competitive hotel rates and benefits (according to American Express, worth an average $550 annual value) and a complimentary room upgrade and $75 hotel credit when cardholders book two consecutive nights at a hotel through American Express Travel. Cardholders can also get VIP status with Starwood and Hilton hotels and select rental car agencies.

Chase’s existing travel features include $300 in annual statement credits for travel purchases and $100 for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck applications. Plus, cardholders get access to more than 900 airport lounges and special car rental privileges. Cardholders also receive benefits at The Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection properties.

Both cards come with concierge services that can assist with travel bookings, dining reservations, entertainment and sporting events. Each card also provides many travel perks standard, including car rental protection, trip cancellation protection and no foreign transaction fees.

Heavy Metal Card Design

American Express is upgrading the Platinum Card to a new metal design. The Chase Sapphire Reserve already came in a “hand-crafted embedded metal” design.

The Cost

The new Platinum Card also comes with a new annual fee of $550 — a $100 increase. It’s also not technically a credit card as cardholders are expected to pay their balance in full each month. As a result, there are no interest charges. (We explain the difference between a charge card and a credit card here.)

The Chase Sapphire Reserve’s annual fee is $450, and has an annual percentage rate (APR) of 16.49% to 23.49%.

How They Stack Up

Both cards have strong signup bonuses, and the Platinum Card’s five points policy is tempting, but the Chase Sapphire Reserve likely has the best long-term point value. Cardholders earn triple points on dining, and most cardholders will likely dine out more than they fly. In addition, redeeming points for travel through Chase gets you a bonus 50% value for every point.

As for travel perks, results are mixed. The Platinum Card’s $200 travel credits only apply to airline fees, while Chase’s $300 credit can be applied to any travel cost. The Platinum Card’s Uber credit is nice, but only if you use Uber. However, the Platinum Card gives access to exclusive dining and travel experiences that Chase doesn’t provide.

Another major consideration that you must pay the Platinum Card’s balance in full each month. If you need the ability to carry a balance, the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers that option. (Carrying a balance is, of course, an expensive option, with that APR between 16.49% and 23.49%.)

In the end, the better card depends on how you plan to use it. The Platinum Card may be worth the price if you can pay your balance off each month, if you want access to private exclusive events and travel and if you ride Uber frequently. If you want a simpler, more practical credit card that still provides big travel perks, the Chase Sapphire Reserve may be the way to go.

You’ll need a strong credit score to qualify for either card. Before you apply, you can check two of your scores free, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

Image: Weekend Images Inc. 

At publishing time, the American Express Platinum card is offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for this card. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment. This content is not provided by the card issuer(s). Any opinions expressed are those of Credit.com alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer(s).

The post The Amped-Up Amex Platinum Card: How Does It Compare to the Chase Sapphire Reserve? appeared first on Credit.com.

9 Ways to Lower Your Mortgage Payment

Here are nine ways you can lower your monthly mortgage payment.

If you’re a homeowner, your mortgage payment might be the largest financial obligation you have each month. An unmanageable mortgage payment can sap your monthly income and reduce your ability to save money, pay bills or otherwise meet your financial obligations.

Traditional lender expectations have suggested your housing expenses shouldn’t exceed 28% of your gross income. Here are nine ways you can reduce your monthly mortgage payment and get closer to that figure.

1. Refinance for a Lower Interest Rate

Refinancing your home can help you lower your interest rate, thereby lowering your monthly mortgage payment. Essentially, refinancing means you’re replacing your current mortgage with a new one.

Refinancing can require even more paperwork than you needed to buy your home. There are closing costs and other expenses that go into refinancing, so once you lower your payment, you’ll want to stay in your home at least long enough to break even on those costs. You’ll also need good credit to get beneficial interest rates. (Not sure where your credit stands? You can check two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

2. Refinance for a Longer-Term Loan

You can also refinance to a longer-term loan, spreading the payments out over a longer time frame. If you’re desperate to reduce your payment, this is one viable option. However, you may want to avoid this scenario because you’ll end up paying more in interest over time.

3. Ditch Private Mortgage Insurance

Were you able to provide a down payment of at least 20% of your home’s value when you bought it? If not, you’re likely paying private mortgage insurance (PMI), which could be adding hundreds of dollars to your monthly payment. In many cases, that cost can be removed once you’ve paid off enough of your mortgage.

“Some loans allow borrowers to apply to have mortgage insurance removed from their loan once the loan drops below 80% of the market value of the property,” said Brian Davis, co-founder of SparkRental.com. “Contact your lender to ask about what’s required to remove mortgage insurance from your loan.”

4. Reassess Your Property Tax

Often homeowners are paying property tax on an inflated property valuation. If you can reassess your property’s value, you may be able to lower the amount of property tax you pay.

“Municipalities routinely assess property values on the high side to maximize their property tax revenue,” Davis said. “If your assessment looks high, submit an appeal to your municipality to lower the assessment, and therefore your property tax bill.”

5. Pay Extra Now to Lower Future Payments

Although it may seem counterintuitive, you can actually lower your mortgage payment later by paying extra now. Any extra cash you can put toward the principal will help you pay off the debt sooner and reduce future payments.

Of course, this is a long-term strategy, and you may not see lower payments for years. If you’re anxious to reduce your monthly mortgage payment now, this strategy may not be the best.

6. Rent Out a Room

If you have extra space, renting out a room can help you cover your mortgage.

“Not only will [a housemate] pay rent to cover a large portion of the mortgage, they’ll also pick up a percentage of the utility bills every month,” said Davis. “In some markets, market rent that a homeowner can charge a housemate will cover the vast majority of the mortgage payment.”

7. Put More Toward Your Down Payment

If you’re still searching for a home, you should know that the larger your down payment, the lower your monthly mortgage payment will be. If you can put at least 20% down, you’ll be paying less on interest and avoid the extra cost of PMI.

8. Find a Government Loan Modification Program

If you’re having trouble making your mortgage payments, there are a number of government programs that offer counseling and even refinancing assistance. The Home Affordable Refinance Program can help eligible homeowners with little or no equity refinance their mortgage. You can research the federal, state and local programs that may be available to you.

9. Request Relief From Your Lender

If you believe you are in danger of missing a mortgage payment or even losing your home, you will need to contact your loan provider. Your lender may be willing to negotiate a loan modification, changing the original terms of your loan to lower your monthly payments.

This will require a good deal of paperwork and persistence. It might also lead nowhere. Still, some lenders would rather adjust your monthly mortgage payment than go through the costly and time-consuming foreclosure process.

Image: elenaleonova

The post 9 Ways to Lower Your Mortgage Payment appeared first on Credit.com.

5 Ways Teens Can Start Building Credit Right Now

Here's how you can start establishing credit even before you're 18.

When it comes to building credit, most people start at a disadvantage. It takes credit to build credit, and with no substantial credit history, it’s difficult to qualify for the very credit cards or loans they need to start building credit. And if you’re under 18, you can’t even legally open a credit card in your own name.

Luckily, there are some credit building methods you can use while you’re still in high school — even before you turn 18. Here are a five ways high school students can start building good credit (plus some tips on how to maintain it). 

1. Get a Job 

OK, so getting a job doesn’t directly help you establish credit, but income is a key factor in qualifying for credit, and your job history, just like your credit history usually gets stronger with time. The more experience you have, the better your chances of getting a better, higher-paying job in the future, so get started early (without hurting your academics, of course).

The CARD Act of 2009 requires students and other young adults to demonstrate their ability to repay debt before they can open a credit card account. Having a job will help you do exactly that and strengthens your qualifications for getting a credit card when you’re old enough.

2. Get Added as an Authorized User 

When you’re under 18, one of your options is to get an adult to add you as an authorized user on one of their credit cards. As an authorized user, you can hold and/or use the adult’s credit card, but you won’t be the primary cardholder. The primary card user’s responsible card use can help boost your credit.

“As an authorized user [you] would be able to piggyback off of the more responsible person’s credit,” says Amber Berry, Certified Financial Education Instructor at Feel Good Finances. “Of course, this requires consent from the sponsoring adult because it is the card owner, not the authorized user who is ultimately responsible for making payments.”

This is only a good idea if you and the cardholder both trust each other to use or pay on the card responsibly. You’ll also want to make sure the card in question reports authorized users to the three major credit bureaus. (Still confused about what it means to be an authorized user? We’ve got a full explainer here.)   

3. Get a Secured Credit Card

If you’re already 18, another option for establishing a credit history from scratch is getting a secured credit card. Secured credit cards require a security deposit that dictates your line of credit — for instance, a security deposit of $300 would get you a $300 credit limit. Even though your card is tied to hard cash, you still use it for purchases and make monthly payments just like a normal credit card.

It’s much easier to qualify for a secured credit card, and responsible use will still help you build credit. Card providers may even raise your credit limit or offer you an unsecured credit card after a period of responsible use. You can find some of our picks for the best secured credit cards here 

4. Get a Student Credit Card 

If you’re heading to college soon, another good starter option is the student credit card. Student credit cards have more lenient qualification requirements, have low or nonexistent annual fees and often offer incentives for responsible behavior.  For instance, the Discover it Chrome student credit card offers cash back for good grades, 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in purchases per quarter and a cash back match at the end of the first year.  

5. Use Good Credit Card Habits  

When you do land a credit card, long-term responsible use is necessary to build and maintain your good credit. That includes paying your bills on time, carrying a low balance and paying your balance in full.

“Do your best not to carry a balance on the card. If you carry a balance and pay only the minimum monthly payment, it can take decades or more to pay off the debt,” says David Levy, Editor at Edvisors Network. “Late payments result in late fees, and some credit card issuers will increase your interest rate if you’re late with a payment. Making payments on time will help you build a good credit history.”

As you build your credit, it’s a good idea to monitor your credit reports and credit scores for errors and signs of fraud, which will also help you maintain your hard-earned credit standing. You can get your your two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, at Credit.com.

Image: wundervisuals

The post 5 Ways Teens Can Start Building Credit Right Now appeared first on Credit.com.

7 Ways to Save at Home Depot

Want to do more around your house without spending a ton of money? Here's seven ways to lower your costs when shopping at Home Depot.

If you work in the home improvement field or love do-it-yourself projects, there’s a good chance you’ve spent some significant time and money at Home Depot, one of the country’s largest suppliers of home improvement merchandise. But enthusiastic Home Depot shoppers know that, even after hunting down great deals, the bill can quickly spiral out of control at the register.

Luckily, there are many tricks that can save you a lot at Home Depot. Here are seven ways you can cut costs on your next expedition. 

1. Discounted Gift Cards 

Websites like Cardpool.com and Raise.com provide discounted Home Depot gift cards that save you a percentage of the total gift card value. For instance, as of writing this, Raise.com had gift cards discounted with up to 5.1% off their total value. 

2. Hunt for Coupons & Deal Alerts

You can look out for Home Depot flyers and coupons in your mailbox or in the store, but you can also get alerted to special promotions, deals and offers by signing up for Home Depot’s email or text alerts. Signing up right now will also get you $5 off your next purchase of $50 or more. 

3. Work the Low-Price Guarantee 

Home Depot offers a low-price guarantee for both online and in-store purchases. For online purchases, Home Depot will match any competitor price, including the item price and shipping costs. For in-store purchases, Home Depot will beat competitor prices on identical items by 10%. You’ll have to bring the ad, printout or photo to the cash register when you check out. Several exclusions apply to this policy, including custom products, open-box merchandise and auction pricing. 

4. Rent Equipment 

For equipment you’ll only use once or twice, you might want to evaluate the cost of renting versus buying. Many items can be rented on an hourly, daily or weekly basis at a fraction of the cost. For instance, we found a $188 leaf blower that can be rented for $23 a day. If you only need to blow leaves once a year, this can be a much more cost-effective option. 

5. Visit the Clearance Section

Many Home Depot locations have clearance sections located throughout the store (although they can sometimes be hard to find). Check out the far reaches of the store for deeply discounted items. 

6. Consider a Home Depot Credit Card

Home Depot offers a credit card (we’ve got a full review here) to help their customers finance home improvement projects. Home Depot is currently offering an introductory 0% annual percentage rate (APR) for all purchases of $299 or more if you pay off your balance in six months. They also offer cardholders up to 24 months of interest-free financing for special categories such as roofing supplies or custom kitchen cabinets.

If you were already planning on charging your Home Depot purchases to a credit card, you could avoid interest by taking advantage of these offers (although you can also avoid interest by paying off your balance in full each month).

Remember, before applying for any credit card, it’s a good idea to check your credit scores to see where you stand. You can get your two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, right here on Credit.com.

7. Join the Garden Club 

Avid gardeners should take a look at the Home Depot Garden Club, an email and text alert club that delivers special garden promotions and offers right to your inbox or mobile device. Plus, Home Depot is currently offering $5 off your next purchase of $50 or more when you sign up.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

Image: ferrerivideo

The post 7 Ways to Save at Home Depot appeared first on Credit.com.