5 Perks of Credit Cards around the Holidays

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The frenzied holiday shopping season has arrived. Amid all the buying and traveling to see family, it’s a good idea to keep your savvy consumer instincts intact. If you’re using credit cards for purchases, remember that credit card benefits and rewards can truly come in handy this time of year.

Whether it’s offering extended warranties on your purchases or giving you free access to cushy airport lounges when you’re traveling to see family, it’s time to brush up on the perks associated with those credit cards in your wallet.

Price Matching

Most major credit cards these days include price-matching policies. Not familiar with how these work?

If you make a purchase and later find the same item for a much cheaper price, the credit card refunds the difference. Discover cards are famous for this perk. The card will refund the difference up to $500 on eligible items if you find a lower price at any store within 90 days of purchase. The item in question however, must have been paid for with the Discover credit card.

“Also known by other monikers, such as price protection or price rewind, price matching is perhaps one of the most underutilized credit card benefits,” says Roman Shteyn, CEO and co-founder of RewardExpert. “Some credit card issuers will even conveniently monitor the price of your purchase for you if you register it, like with the Citi Price Rewind program.”

This is a benefit all consumers should be using, says Shteyn. If your credit card has this program and you don’t use it, you’re essentially throwing money away. Why not get the best price for the item you bought?

Purchase Protection

Many credit cards also offer purchase protection, also known as purchase assurance or damage protection.

This perk helps shoppers insure their goods against damage or theft, says Shteyn. And it can be useful because if your purchases ever get damaged or stolen, you’re usually on your own.

Shteyn explains, “This card benefit frequently goes unused by cardholders as they are unaware of their right to insurance through their card issuer.”

The coverage amount and the duration of time during which a claim can be submitted varies from card to card, typically ranging from 90 through 120 days after purchase. Some cards offer $1,000 coverage per claim while others may go as high as $10,000. You should check the terms and conditions for your credit cards to identify exactly how much coverage you may be eligible for.

Extended Warranties

Consumers are often encouraged by retailers to buy an extended warranty on high-ticket items like electronics and home appliances.

These warranties are usually pretty pricey. And why spend that money when many credit cards offer an automatic extended warranty at no extra cost?

American Express cards, for instance, are known for their extended warranty policy. If an item was purchased with your American Express card, then your card adds up to one extra year to the original US manufacturer’s warranty.

“Depending on the item being bought, it may not be worth purchasing a retailer’s warranty coverage since your credit card will most likely offer protection,” says Shteyn. “However, sometimes the retailer’s policy may offer a much longer coverage period than your credit card would.”

Accumulating Cash Back Rewards

While doing all of this holiday shopping, you might as well reap the rewards in the form of cold hard cash back.

Michael Foguth of Foguth Financial Group suggests using only credit cards that offer cash back while holiday shopping and eliminating the use of debit cards entirely, which offer no rewards.

“Find out which card gives you greatest cash back reward and use that,” he says. “Keep it simple . . . If you spend $10,000 on a card that offers 1% cash back, that’s $100. Some cards offer 1.5%. It’s free money for using your credit card.”

Airport Lounge Access

One last perk to keep in mind for the harried holiday season: some credit cards provide access to airport lounges.

It’s a feature that may come in handy as you travel back and forth to see family this season, and it can provide you a few peaceful, quiet moments away from the crowd and the hustle and bustle.

“When you need to fly during the holiday season, bring your credit card with you,” says Anna Wu, creator of the site FlightDealsHound. “A good variety of credit cards such as Chase Sapphire Reserve, American Express Platinum Card, and Citi Prestige Card, to name a few, offer complimentary Priority Pass lounge access, which means you (and guests for some card holders) can access those exclusive airport lounges that offer free drinks, free gourmet buffet, and fast Wi-Fi connections.”

Not all airport lounges are created equal, but still, this is an added bonus that’s definitely worth keeping in mind as you travel.

Not sure what perks your cards have? Get in touch with a credit card representative and find out. If you want to get a new credit card with travel perks before the holiday season is over, make sure you check your credit first. You can check your credit for free at Credit.com.

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6 Top Details about the New Uber Credit Card

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Uber is expanding in so many new, unique directions these days to better serve their customers.

At a conference in Portugal, the ride-sharing company recently unveiled bold plans for a futuristic air taxi to fly its customers to their destinations. And just before that, it announced a much-buzzed-about Uber credit card.

The new credit card has a variety of perks that financial industry experts say are worth taking note of, particularly if you’re an urban dweller or a globetrotting voyager.

“What’s interesting to me is that you don’t need to be a big time Uber user to benefit from the card,” says personal finance blogger Kyle Burbank, creator of the site Moneyat30. “You can redeem points for cash back or gift cards, in addition to Uber rides.”

Here are the six top details you need to know about the new Uber credit card.

1. No Annual Fee

Rewards cards, particularly the elite ones, often come with a hefty annual membership fees in exchange for access to all of the perks they offer. (Think Chase Sapphire Reserve with its hefty $450 annual fee—or the Citi Prestige Card, which has a similar fee.)

The Uber Card, however, joins a group of rewards cards that help you enjoy a variety of benefits without paying a hefty price each year.

“With no annual fee, it’s a nice little entry into the world of credit cards for folks who are scared about going for more premium cards,” said Kevin Han, founder of personal finance site Financial Panther.

2. 4% Cash Back on Dining

Urban dwellers eat out a lot. That’s no secret. The Uber card is aimed right at this market, offering a generous 4% cash back for dining purchases.

This cash back reward applies to restaurants, bars, takeout, and UberEats.

Because of that higher dining reward, Mark Ranta, head of digital banking solutions for ACI Worldwide, said it’s a card worth keeping at the top of your wallet when you eat out.

“The dining rewards are pretty high. I haven’t seen 4%. You usually see 3% or 2%,” says Ranta, which makes the Uber Card a great source of cash back rewards. 

3. No Foreign Transaction Fees

The lack of a foreign transaction fee is a perk travel-happy millennials have definitely taken notice of. 

“I was not considering another credit card. I would get offers and reject them. But when I saw this card, I started thinking about how I would integrate it with my current credit cards,” says 31-year-old Burbank. “It’s exciting to have a visa that doesn’t have foreign transaction fees.”

And speaking of travel perks, the Uber card also offers 3% cash back on hotels (including vacation rentals such as Airbnb) and airfare. Again, millennials, Uber is looking at you. 

4. Online Shopping Rewards

The card offers 2% back, or two points for every $1 spent online, covering purchases at retailers such as Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, Macy’s and more—far more.

Of course, this category includes rewards for booking Uber rides. But this nice little perk also includes other online shopping, as well as video and music streaming services.

Among the streaming services covered in this category are those offered by Netflix, Pandora, HBO Now, and Apple Music. Even purchases made at online service sites like TaskRabbit and Angie’s List are covered.

5. Phone Protection Plan

Break your phone much?

The Uber card has you covered with a mobile phone protection plan that offers up to $600 for damage, another perk that Kyle Han says he was pleasantly surprised by.

“It’s a big benefit that you don’t often see on no-annual-fee cards like this one,” says Han. “Definitely useful for folks who are worried about breaking their phones.” And let’s be honest, who isn’t?

6. Points Program with Great Deals

Uber’s credit card allows you to accumulate points and then redeem those points for discounts on ridesharing. Most other cards have a $25 minimum for any sort of redemption, but Burbank notes the Uber Card lets customers redeem amounts as low as $5. (All other redemptions on the Uber card start at $25).

So Why Try the Uber Credit Card?

Between the credit for streaming services, the travel rewards that include Airbnb, and the big bonuses for eating out, it’s not hard to see who this card is designed for.

“To me, it seems like the ultimate card for Millennials,” says Burbank. “There’s no annual fee, no foreign transaction fees, and there’s an impressive 4% cash back on dining and 3% on travel, plus a $50 streaming credit and cell phone insurance, all of which speaks to that demographic.”

Credit cards with great rewards programs, like the Uber Card, usually require good to excellent credit. Before you apply, check your credit to make sure you have the best chance of being accepted. You can see your credit score for free at Credit.com.

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Thinking of Freezing Your Credit? Learn How and When to Talk to a Credit Bureau

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Calling a credit bureau can be daunting. First, you have to hunt down the credit bureau’s contact information, then you have to make it through the dreaded automated customer service purgatory to reach an actual person—if it’s even possible to get a live person at all.

“A lot of people are afraid to call credit bureaus because they don’t want to get bogged down in bureaucracy or be on hold for hours,” says Zara Mohidin, co-founder of Fig Loans.

In addition, there’s often confusion about what answers credit bureaus can provide and when it’s important to call a bureau.

To help you wade through all of the uncertainty, we asked finance industry and credit experts to provide some insight on these topics.

Contact Information: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian

To begin with, it’s important to understand that there are three major credit bureaus, and each is required by law to provide consumers with a toll-free number that’s staffed during regular business hours. The phone numbers for each of the credit bureaus are below:

When to Call a Credit Bureau

It’s a good idea to contact a credit bureau whenever you notice any administrative inaccuracies on your credit report, such as misspelled names, incorrect address information, or erroneous employment information.

Further, if there are credit cards, collections, missed payments, or anything else on your report that you don’t recognize, contacting the credit bureaus is critical.

“Always call the bureaus if you notice a sign of fraud on your credit report,” urges Mohidin, who says one in four consumers have an error on their report that could be pulling their credit score down. “And getting your identifying information correct is important so that you are rewarded for on-time credit payments.”

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, credit bureaus must investigate any items you dispute and correct the information if it cannot be verified.

“If you disagree with the results of a credit bureau’s investigation, you can ask the bureau to include a consumer statement (to that effect) in your file and your future reports,” explains Freddie Huynh, vice president of credit risk analytics at Freedom Financial Network. These statements allow you to offer extra explanation, such as why you missed a payment.

Additional Reasons to Call

Keep in mind that correcting inaccuracies with one of the bureaus does not mean it will automatically be corrected by the others. It’s important to review the individual reports of all three credit agencies.

Huynh, who was previously the lead data scientist at FICO, stresses that though information is largely similar across all the credit reporting agencies, there can be variations between the reports.

In addition, when disputing something on your report, the burden of proof is on you, says Greg Oray, president of Oray King Wealth Advisors.

“Gather any documents that may help your case and have them available,” says Oray. “If you’re having trouble working with a representative or the reporting bureau to resolve your case, consider hiring a legal service that specializes in these matters.”

If you’d like to freeze your credit, you’ll have no choice but to speak to a credit bureau.

How to Freeze Your Credit

Understanding what it means to freeze your credit is critical, particularly in light of the recent Equifax security breach that exposed the personal information of millions of consumers. 

A credit freeze, also called a credit lock, is a tool that restricts access to your credit report. Taking this step makes it far more challenging for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name.

“Placing a credit freeze is similar to putting your credit cards in a bowl of water in the freezer—no one can use the credit until you ‘thaw’ it,” explains Andrew Housser, CEO of Freedom Financial Network. “With a credit freeze, creditors cannot see your credit history. If a scammer tries to open credit in your name, the creditor is unlikely to issue credit without knowing the history attached to your name and Social Security number.”

However, it’s important to note that freezing credit requires contacting each of the three credit bureaus separately.

Freezing Credit with Equifax

Equifax provides detailed instructions about how to place, temporarily lift, or entirely remove a freeze on its site.

Consumers may also request a freeze in writing or over the phone. You can request a security freeze by calling 1-800-685-1111 (NY residents call 1-800-349-9960) or submit your request in writing to the following address:

Equifax Security Freeze
PO Box 105788
Atlanta, GA 30348

Putting a freeze on your account, or lifting one, requires some personal information, including your Social Security number, address, and more.

It’s also important to note that as part of initiating an Equifax freeze, you will be provided with a PIN during the process. This PIN will not be emailed to you, so make sure you write it down.

Freezing Credit with TransUnion

You can freeze your credit with TransUnion via its website. TransUnion offers two different services on this front—locking your credit and freezing your credit.

Locking your credit via TransUnion is a process controlled by you, and there is no fee. You have instant, independent control over who accesses your credit information. This approach also means you have online, real-time ability to lock and unlock your account as often as you want.

Freezing your credit file with TransUnion means the credit agency controls who has access to your information. There are fees associated with both freezing and unfreezing your credit with TransUnion. In addition, there is a waiting period for a freeze to be either placed or lifted via this approach.

Freezing Credit with Experian

Experian provides an online form to initiate a credit freeze on its website. You can also freeze your credit by calling Experian at 1-888-397-3742 or sending certified or overnight mail to this address:

Experian Security Freeze
PO Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013

While this bureau doesn’t charge victims of identity theft who’d like to initiate a freeze, there are fees for others seeking to take this step with their credit. The fees vary by state of residence and range from about $3 to $10.

What You Need to Know about Credit Freezes

When initiating a freeze, keep in mind that lenders need credit reports to determine if you’re eligible for credit. After your credit is frozen, no one can pull your credit report. That means it won’t be possible to get approved for a loan or credit card in your name.

Credit freezes, however, do not affect your overall credit score in any way and they will not prevent you from accessing an annual credit report.

While a credit freeze can keep identity thieves from opening new accounts in your name, it does not prevent thieves from using your existing accounts. So it’s important to keep monitoring your credit and accounts.

 The Downsides to Calling Credit Bureaus

Not all experts think calling a credit bureau is the best approach. Don Petersen, an attorney, recommends calling a bureau for only basic administrative questions—such as updating an address or asking if you’re affected by a recent data breach.

For most other issues, Petersen advises his clients to write to credit bureaus or submit disputes online.

“The consumer will not have a record of what was said when they called,” explains Petersen. “Most consumers struggle to understand the system and would be much better served by taking the time to memorialize their dispute in writing and, obviously, save a copy of their letter.”

If you do prefer to call a credit bureau to get to the bottom of a question or concern more quickly, Petersen urges consumers to follow up in writing after the telephone conversation. Include the name of the representative you spoke with in the letter as well as details of what transpired in your conversation.

And finally, send the letter via certified mail with a return receipt requested, Petersen instructs.

“Call with very simple questions,” Petersen says. “But if you’re trying to initiate a dispute, it’s best to do it in writing so that you have a record.”

Keep an Eye on Your Credit

Every now and then, pull your credit report and review it carefully—you can obtain your free credit report at Credit.com. Look for any inaccuracies or other issues in the report, and if you spot something unusual, make a few calls to the credit bureaus. Always investigate suspicious activity on your credit report, and if you’re worried about identity theft, mitigate the issue with a well-placed credit freeze.

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Consolidating Your Debt? Consider These 6 Downsides First

Your next debt collector may never say a harassing thing to you at all. That debt collector might also not be human.

Credit card debt among Americans is at an all-time high.

In June, it increased to $1.02 trillion, according to a report from the Federal Reserve. In other words, Americans now have more credit card debt than just before the 2008 financial crisis.

When facing such massive amounts of debt, it may be tempting to consider consolidation, one of the most popular ways for consumers to cope with mountains of bills. But before making such a move, it’s important to think about the potential downsides and drawbacks—and there are quite a few.

“Debt consolidation is rarely a good option,” says Holly Morphew, a certified financial health counselor. “Those looking to consolidate debt usually don’t understand what it is and are simply stressed about unmanageable debt and looking for a way out of it.”

Among the nuances to understand is how consolidation impacts your credit score, what your new interest rate will be, and what the repayment terms are—particularly when consolidating student loan debt, which can be dangerous, says Morphew.

Here are six of the biggest drawbacks to keep in mind when considering debt consolidation.

1. Transfer Fees

Consolidating credit card debt via a balance transfer to a new card can seem enticing, especially when there are so many 0% APR offers being presented to you at every turn. But Han Chang, cofounder of InvestmentZen.com, warns that nothing is ever free.

“Offers like this usually come with a one-time balance transfer fee ranging from 3% to 10% of the total balance transfer,” says Chang. “That can really add up and, if you’re not careful, completely negate any savings that 0% APR offers.”

2. Government-Backed Program Losses

Another often-overlooked drawback of debt consolidation is the potential loss of government-backed programs, primarily pertaining to student loans. While there can definitely be some advantages to combining all of your student loans, be sure to read the fine print of your new agreement carefully.

In particular, determine whether you’ll still be eligible for common federal government perks.

Morphew says student debt consolidation is actually one of the most risky things to do.

“If you don’t choose the right company, or decide to consolidate federal subsidized loans into a private loan, you can lose those repayment benefits such as deferment, forbearance, and loan forgiveness,” she says.

3. Credit Score Dings

If you are working with a debt consolidation company or a financial institution to combine your bills, the company will likely conduct a hard credit inquiry. While the effects of this inquiry are temporary, says Chang, be prepared to see your credit score drop in the short term.

“If multiple creditors pull reports, your score could drop significantly,” he adds. You can keep an eye on your credit score by reviewing your credit report for free on Credit.com.

4. Unchanged or Increased Interest Rates

Often the goal of debt consolidation is to secure a lower overall interest rate. But that’s not always what happens, says Morphew. You can actually end up paying more because the company giving you the new consolidated loan will average the rates on your debt and round up based on its terms, she says.

In addition, if you have poor credit to begin with, you may not qualify for a lower interest rate, says Amber Westover of BestCompany.com.

“You may end up paying more for your debt over the course of your consolidation loan,” Westover says.

5. Expensive Debt Consolidation Costs

Debt consolidation companies don’t work for free. Many national companies offering this type of service charge a fee of 15% of the total debt, says Richard Symmes, a consumer bankruptcy attorney.

“This leads the consumer to pay much more than if they had negotiated with the creditor on their own. Many of these fees may even be fraudulent under individual state laws, which cap how much a company can charge for debt consolidation services,” he says. He instead suggests conducting such negotiations with the help of an attorney, who simply charges a flat fee.

6. Increased Overall Loan Costs

One last drawback worth noting: just because your monthly payments may go down under a debt consolidation program doesn’t necessarily mean your overall debt is going down.

“If you consolidate high-interest short-term debt for very long-term debt, then you may actually be paying more,” says financial analyst Jeff White. “For instance, paying $500 per month for one year (which translates into $6,000) is less than paying $75 per month for 10 years (which is $9,000).”

Consolidating could be a smart financial move, or it may just sound like it. To find out if consolidation or another debt management strategy is right for you, visit our Managing Debt Learning Center.

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5 Gig Economy Websites That Help You Make More Money

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In the United States, the way people work is dramatically changing.

The proliferation of the gig economy is shifting the American worker’s view of nine-to-five employment and creating endless possibilities for earning extra cash to help pay the bills and make ends meet.

According to a recent analysis of gig economy and workforce data conducted by Nation 1099, about one-third of all US workers did at least some freelance work last year. What’s more, about 11% of all workers are full-time freelancers and about 22% have embraced side hustling or moonlighting.

Giant gig economy platforms such as Fiverr and Upwork may be well known, but there are quite literally hundreds of similar sites, with more popping up every day. A growing number of these sites specialize in offering niche services—ranging from voiceover work to dog walking, engineering, financial consulting, and website development.

“When it comes to freelancing and the gig economy, all signals show it’s growing even larger,” said trends expert and public speaker Daniel Levine, founding director of Avant-Guide Institute. “What’s so great about these sites is they’re bringing together people from around the world. Borders are disappearing. Before you had to be in the same country for an employee and employer to meet.”

Here are five gig economy sites that can help you earn a few extra dollars or provide a springboard to a full-time freelance career.

1. Rover.com

Phoenix resident Melanie Lewis works at home while she pursues a career in writing. About two years ago, she searched for a way to supplement her writing income and a friend helped her find Rover.com.

Through the site, she makes anywhere from $500 to $1,000 extra each month, by either boarding dogs or offering dog-walking and drop-in services.

“One of my favorite things about Rover is that you set your own rates for the services you offer, so you control what you charge and how much you earn,” said Lewis.

The site, which operates in dozens of cities across the US and Canada, connects dog owners with a variety of services—dog walking, doggy day care, dog boarding, drop-in visits, and house sitting. Note that background checks are required for those seeking to work through the site.

2. Fiverr

Launched in 2010, Fiverr has become one of the gig economy giants. The site has tens of thousands of users who generate steady secondary incomes by offering creative and professional services—everything from graphic design to writing, translation, illustration, and marketing.

Fiverr’s global community of freelancers now includes more than 100 service categories and people doing business in 190 countries.

The site is named Fiverr because the starting price for services is a mere $5, but that’s just a starting point. Advanced sellers can augment their services, charging more money for additional tasks. For example, a copyeditor might charge $5 for editing, but add higher fees for formatting, layout, or rush turnaround.

In addition, the site just introduced FiverrPro, a higher-end initiative that matches curated, talented professionals with those seeking services.

3. Upwork

Previously known as Elance-oDesk, Upwork enables businesses and independent professionals from around the globe to connect and collaborate. It’s another giant in the gig economy. The range of work available through the site is mind boggling—everything from web, mobile, and software development to writing, administrative support, customer service, sales and marketing, and accounting and consulting.

Hourly and fixed-price jobs are available through Upwork. And the beauty of the site is that Upwork processes all payments and invoicing, eliminating the hassle of chasing down clients to get paid through a third-party platform. For hourly jobs, Upwork even offers payment protection, ensuring you don’t get stiffed for any work completed.

4. Babierge

If you have piles of baby gear and toddler toys sitting unused around the house, Babierge is made for you.

Babierge (a combination of baby and concierge) is a sharing economy platform for baby gear. Think of it as the Airbnb for baby gear. The site’s baby gear entrepreneurs rent, deliver, and set up baby gear, games, and toys at hotels and vacation rentals, and then return to pick it up on departure day.

Though you may not have heard of Babierge, don’t underestimate it. It has workers in 82 markets, with new locations added each week.

“When you look at the money you can make at Babierge based on the hours you put in, the pay is about $40 per hour,” said Trish McDermott, vice president of community and communications for Babierge. “Not bad for gig work.”

Some of the site’s most active workers make as much as $700 per month.

5. Efynch

One last up-and-coming site worth noting is Efynch, a platform designed to connect professional and freelance contractors and maintenance workers with jobs.

Operating in Washington, DC, Baltimore, and northern Virginia, Efynch currently has about 3,000 users and plans to expand to at least ten more cities on the East Coast by spring.

“In addition to skilled workers, anyone with a truck is basically a valuable commodity and can easily make $50 or more per hour on our site,” said cofounder Teris Pantazes. “I’ve had some people make more than $5,000 per month on my site as full-timers. Freelance or side workers probably average between $500 and $1,000 if they work a few evenings or a couple Saturdays.”

Modeled after Upwork but tailored to the contractor and maintenance crowd, the site offers a range of gigs, from simple manual labor tasks such as mowing a lawn to far more complex jobs such as carpentry.

Anyone can join the freelance movement. It just takes a little paperwork and planning. If the lifestyle speaks to you, you should fill out a 1099 and be ready to navigate the financial ins and outs of self-employment. Start by getting your free credit report and gain insights into how you can build your credit while you freelance. Embrace the hustle while maintaining a handle on your finances, and you’ll be set up for success.

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5 Things to Consider Before Paying Off Your Student Loan Debt

Credit cards are a super convenient financial tool, but they can often be confusing.

Paying off debt is often a top priority. Not only can too much debt hurt your credit score, it can impact your ability to achieve other important milestones in life, such as buying a home.

But when it comes to student loan debt, obsessing over repayment and devoting every spare penny to paying down balances can actually have negative consequences, particularly when you become so focused on repayment that you ignore all other elements of a sound personal financial plan.

“I’ve seen a number of individuals who have devoted unhealthy amounts of time and money towards paying down their student debt, people who are pinching every penny,” says Michael Lux, founder of The Student Loan Sherpa, a website focused on student loan education, strategy, and borrower advocacy. “You can’t just look at your student loan debt in isolation. You need to consider all of the things that paint the complete financial picture.”

As Lux indicated, there’s a variety of reasons why devoting too much of your hard-earned income to repaying student loans can be an unwise approach. Here are the top five.

1. It’s Not Sustainable in the Long Run

Denying yourself all of the day-to-day extras that you enjoy in order to pay off your student loan is not likely to work forever, says Lux.

“The key to success is making it sustainable for years,” he explains. “First, you have to know yourself. When you make a budget, you have to make a realistic budget. If you’re someone who loves the movies, you have to budget money to go to the movies.”

Another tactic that helps create a more balanced and manageable approach is to create milestone repayment goals for yourself and then reward yourself in small ways when attaining those goals, says Lux. For example, when a loan is half paid off, treat yourself to a fancy dinner. Or, when one loan is completely paid off, find another affordable and meaningful way to indulge in some positive reinforcement. 

2. Retirement Savings Should Also Be a Top Priority

Paying off student loan debt should not come at the expense of getting started on a retirement plan. But unfortunately for some, that’s exactly what’s happening.

“Many people put paying off student loans ahead of retirement saving,” says Ryan Farnung of New York–based GPS Financial. “So while they are saving some interest on student loans, and ultimately freeing up some monthly cash flow, they may also be . . . missing out on the potential to tap into the power of compounding interest.”

Carrying some student debt is all right, says Farnung, if it means using your money elsewhere in ways that will provide a greater long-term benefit.

3. Establishing an Emergency Fund Is Also an Important Part of a Healthy Financial Plan

A sound personal financial plan also includes establishing emergency savings accounts, ideally two separate accounts—one with six months of living expenses and a separate liquid emergency fund.

“Student loan rates are so low right now, under 4 or 4.5%,” says Oliver Lee, owner of Michigan-based The Strategic Planning Group. “So I always recommend my clients pay the very bare minimum. Then, create a six-month or one-year living expense shelter so if something goes wrong when you get out of school or you can’t find a job, you have the money you need. And once you have that, you also need a liquid emergency fund—in case the tires go bad on the car or the transmission goes. This account should have $1,000 to $3,000.”

Those who don’t have such emergency funds are likely to rack up costly credit card debt in order to pay for life’s unexpected expenses. And the interest on a credit card is almost always far more than the interest on a student loan.

“You could have your student loans completely paid off and yet have $10,000 to $15,000 in credit card debt because you had no emergency funds,” says Lee. Making savings a priority can help prevent unnecessary credit card debt.

4. Real Estate Is a Better Investment

Devoting too much money to student loan repayment often leads people to put off other investments that come with valuable rewards of their own. Home purchases are a prime example.

Real estate has historically given returns far above the interest rate of student loans, says Lyn Alden, founder of Lyn Alden Investment Strategy. So it’s beneficial to prioritize building these sorts of investment assets, even if it means keeping low-interest student loan debt around for a while. 

5. Missed Life Experiences

There are many variables to consider when deciding how much money to devote to student loan repayment, but according to Farnung, they revolve around one primary question: what are you giving up today in order to improve cash flow tomorrow?

It’s easy to measure how much it costs to carry student loans by determining how much interest you pay annually and what that looks like after taxes. But what’s far more difficult to measure is the experiences you may miss out on or the opportunities for real financial growth you may be overlooking when focusing solely on student loan repayment.

“If you’re postponing funding and maintaining an emergency fund, contributing to your retirement savings, getting married, buying a home, or any number of other life goals and aspirations, you need to take a step back and really think about what the interest on your student loans is costing you,” says Farnung.

To learn more about smart strategies for managing debt, visit our Managing Debt Learning Center.

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How Changing Due Dates on Your Bills Can Help Shore Up Your Monthly Finances

Student loans are a huge burden but they don't necessarily have to be. It's possible to lower your monthly student loan payment with the right tips.

Nearly every financial adviser stresses the importance of creating a household budget, a practice that helps curtail spending and often prevents expenses from spiraling out of control.

If you’ve already taken this step and continue to struggle with the balancing act between monthly income and expenditures, it can start to feel hopeless. But there’s still hope: another approach to consider is changing the due dates of your bills.

It’s a tactic few people think to implement, but one that can help steady the monthly financial rollercoaster.

“Simply lining up bills with your income allows you to have a lot more control over your finances and where your money is going and when,” said Kyle Whipple, of Michigan-based C. Curtis Financial Group.

All you have to do is call up creditors, utility companies, or any other business in question and request a due date change. Most are willing to work with customers on this issue.

Still not convinced? Here are five ways that taking such action can improve your monthly finances.

1. Spread Big Expenses throughout the Month

Having multiple major bills (like mortgage or rent, car payments, daycare costs, and utilities) due at the same time of the month can translate into a serious cash flow problem.

Rather than be tapped out by paying several hefty bills all around the same time, try shifting the due dates for one or two bills to later in the month, after you’ve received another paycheck or two.

“Sometimes pushing one of those bills to the other part of the month allows you to have more cash flow on both sides of the month,” said Whipple.

2. Clarify Exactly How Much Free Cash You Have

Some people spend blindly—and when bills come due have little money left to pay them. To avoid such a scenario, arrange to have your bills due as close as possible to your payday. This also helps make it clear exactly how much free cash you’ll have to use for other things throughout the month.

“Lining up bills with your payday allows you to get that money out of your bank account as soon as possible, so you know how much money you have left for the rest of the month,” said Whipple.

In addition, rearranging your bills this way, especially when you’re living on a tight budget, ensures that the bills are a top priority, says Dawn-Marie Joseph, founder of Estate Planning & Preservation.

“The closer you can pay the bill to when you receive your paycheck, the better chance the bill will get paid,” said Joseph. “It’s just great discipline for yourself.”

3. Avoid Late Fees, Excessive Interest, and Lower Credit Scores

A 2017 study from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling reported that about one in five people (22%) do not pay their bills on time. And it’s no secret that paying a bill past its due date often involves a penalty in one form or another—whether it’s a late payment fee, an increased interest rate, or a lowered credit score. (You can check your credit score for free on Credit.com.)

“When people miss a bill, over time those overage charges or the interest adds up,” said Whipple. “Between that and overdraft fees on your bank account when you don’t have enough money there to cover a bill payment, it can be dangerous.”

Adjusting your bill due dates so that you know exactly when they’re due can help avoid overlooked payments or payments missed due to a lack of sufficient funds.

4. Eliminate Uncertainty about Monthly Due Dates

According to Whipple, most people pay bills when they get a notice that the due date is approaching and have no clue what the actual due dates are each month.

Requesting a specific date that you have decided upon, such as the first or the 15th of the month, eliminates such uncertainty. This helps you remember your due dates and pay those bills on time.

5. Prevent Unnecessary Credit Card Spending

It’s not unusual to reach for a credit card as a stopgap when living on a limited income or when your cash flow has run dry after paying bills. But it’s not a good long-term approach to balancing your monthly budget.

Rearranging due dates can help spread your bills out or align with paydays so that you have adequate cash flow to get by without relying on credit cards.

“If you’re on a single income or a tight budget, making sure you know when you need to pay bills is huge so that you don’t overspend and end up using a credit card,” said Whipple.

How to Request a Due Date Change

Most companies make it fairly simple to change a bill’s due date, even allowing customers to do it online. Many utility companies even call it out as an option on their websites.

“Most people don’t realize you have leverage to call up and ask to change the date,” said Whipple. “It doesn’t hurt to ask. The worst-case scenario is they say no.”

All that’s left now is to implement these tips and take control over your bill payments. Your wallet will thank you.

Image: Jacob Ammentorp Lund

The post How Changing Due Dates on Your Bills Can Help Shore Up Your Monthly Finances appeared first on Credit.com.

5 Sites for Affordable Fashion

Finding affordable and stylish fashions can be easy when you know the right places to look.

There’s a revolution quietly taking place in the fashion industry. In case you haven’t been paying close attention, it’s now easier than ever to look like a well-heeled fashionista without spending like a Kardashian.

We can thank the internet, the booming sharing economy and a growing group of savvy entrepreneurs, for this development. These sites, which range from high-end fashion resellers to rental companies, have dramatically changed the way consumers shop and the way they think about fashion.

“I think both rental and resale sites are speaking to a trend in which people value the experience of wearing something over the experience of owning it,” said Tracy Dinunzio, CEO of Tradesy, one of the largest peer-to-peer marketplaces for women’s fashion. “We no longer have just one option when shopping — going to the mall to buy things. I think it’s liberating.”

The key theme among all the sites is the substantial savings they deliver, sometimes as high as 90% off original prices. Here are five sites that allow you to maintain your style game without dropping serious cash.

1. Tradesy

With about five million users, and investors as well known as Richard Branson, Tradesy is a booming site that any self-respecting fashion maven should know about.

Tradesy showcases new and preowned fashion sold by users — everything from Marc Jacobs shoes to Dior bags and David Yurman jewelry. Items from well-known brands are listed for up to 90 percent off and Tradesy offers an authenticity guarantee.

“One of the reasons I started Tradesy was I wanted better quality fashion but didn’t have the budget,” said Dinunzio, who would frequent consignment stores in pursuit of scoring deals. Tradesy is the one-stop solution for those who don’t have time to hunt through brick and mortar consignment stores. It’s Dinunzio’s attempt to bring all of those consignment shopping possibilities and the unused fashions sitting in women’s closets, to one place.

2. ThredUp.com

ThredUp.com offers another spin on the reused fashions theme. This massive online consignment and thrift store offers items for up to 90% off.

The site has also conveniently broken down offerings into categories such as “Top Designer Labels from $6,” “Summer Must-Haves Under $10” and “Dresses for under $15.” Just in case you’re skeptical of such affordable price-tags, the dresses in the under $15 category include makers such as Bebe, Calvin Klein, BCBG Max Azaria and more.

“ThredUp is my favorite way to get brand name clothes for less,” said personal finance expert and blogger Kayla Sloan. “I’ve gotten work clothes, dress clothes, active wear, and handbags on ThredUp — brands like Kate Spade, Coach, Michael Kors, Lululemon, Under Armour, Jessica Simpson, and some non-designer items.”

In addition, if you’d like to make extra cash (to do more shopping), ThreadUp will send you a “Clean Out Bag,” which you can fill up with your like-new women’s and kids’ clothing and send back to be sold on the site. Sellers earn cash or credit to shop on ThredUp. For even more extra cash, use a solid cash back credit card while shopping. There are a lot of great ones out there — be sure to check your credit score before applying to see if you qualify. You can check two credit scores for free with Credit.com.

3. Bag Borrow or Steal

If investing a chunk of money in a pricey handbag is something you’re loath to do, but you still have serious designer bag envy, then Bag Borrow or Steal may be the solution.

The site allows users to rent some of the most luxurious bags on the planet — Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci, Tory Burch and more. Bags can be borrowed in 30-day increments. If you love the bag, you can continue renting it.

At the time of publishing, rental prices range from as little as $45 per month for a large Michael Kors satchel to $600 for a Chanel Boy Bag.

4. Eleven James

Many people opt to admire expensive watches from afar due to not having the budget to dabble themselves. Thanks to Eleven James, a tight budget won’t hold you back from this accessory.

Luxury watch rental membership program Eleven James allows members to wear designer watches worth thousands of dollars, brands such as Bell & Ross, Cartier, Breitling, Rolex, Tudor, and more.

Those who sign up receive a new watch aligning with their style preferences every few months. Each watch can be worn for three months and then returned.

Membership costs vary based on the category of watches you’d like to have access to, but start between $149 to $169 per month. For that entry-level price, you’re able to sample two to four watches over the course of six to 12 months.

5. 260SampleSale

Ms. Fabulous.com creator Mariana Leung is a big fan of sample sales — events hosted by designers where you can purchase clothes for a significant discount. Long reserved for fashion insiders, these shopping extravaganzas are now being offered to the masses by such sites as 260samplesale.com and clothingline.com, said Leung.

For instance, 260SampleSale specializes in running sample sales for some of the biggest brands in fashion, including Diane Von Furstenberg, J Brand and Fivestory. The key is to sign up to be on the alert lists for these sites in order to score access to the sales.

In terms of the discount, “It’s at least 60 to 65% off.” said Leung. “I’m not even walking in if it isn’t that much. And on the last day of the sale, the prices drop even more.”

Image: Petar Chernaev

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Earn Frequent Flyer Miles for Refinancing Your Student Loans? You Bet

Get a lower rate plus miles and get flying.

It used to be that rewards points and frequent flyer miles were primarily associated with credit cards. But those days went the way of the dinosaur long ago, and one of the most recent examples of that fact comes in the form of the new partnership between JetBlue and SoFi, a direct lender best known for student loan refinancing.

Members of JetBlue’s TrueBlue program can now earn one TrueBlue point for every $2 of student loan debt refinanced with SoFi. The offer, which caps at 50,000 points and is only available to new SoFi customers, was described by JetBlue as a first of its kind in the airline industry.

While airlines have long been creatively partnering with mortgage lenders, online retailers and others, the student loan market has remained largely untapped.

But with record levels of student loan debt, (the average 2016 graduate has about $37,172 in debt) and millennials putting off travel in some cases because of that debt, this partnership addresses a growing market opportunity.

“Members of the global legacy programs like United and American have been able to earn points for mortgages and other loans for decades, but their rosters of partners do not specifically include an education loan specialist like SoFi,” said Kate Hogenson, who designed loyalty programs for United Airlines and now works as a strategic loyalty consultant at Kobie Marketing. “Airlines have flirted with college and young adult programs in years past, but they’ve been shuttered; United closed down their College Plus program in 2010.”

For its part, JetBlue has been dipping its toe in the financial product space more and more over the past year, beginning with offering points for personal loans through Best Egg. And when looking at the demographics of their customers, moving into the student loan arena made sense, said JetBlue’s Director of Loyalty, Scott Resnick.

“We see this as a great opportunity for customers who have student loans to refinance them while doing something that benefits them in another part of their life,” said Resnick. “Any time there’s an opportunity for customers to earn points doing something they would be doing otherwise in life, there’s natural tendency to look for partnerships there.”

The other part of your life that benefits of course, is your travel habit. Here’s what you need to know about the offer.

The Fine Print

The program doesn’t have a lot of hidden details. There are no blackout dates for using the miles earned through the refinancing offer, and no expiration date either.

In addition, there’s no application or origination fee for refinancing through SoFi, officials said.

“You can apply for free in fewer than 20 minutes,” said SoFi’s Catesby Perrin, vice-president of business development. “Our borrowers save an average of $22,000 over the life of their loan.”

SoFi offers various refinancing options, including both fixed and variable rate interest and loan terms of five, seven, 10, 15 and 20 years.

The Drawbacks

There seem to be few downsides to the JetBlue offer. But there are some basic considerations to keep in mind.

“JetBlue’s route system is limited to the U.S., the Caribbean, and select destinations in Latin America,” said Hogenson. “You have to be in a major JetBlue city for this to make sense.”

Hogenson suggested visiting JetBlue’s website and researching the number of points needed to travel to a city you’re interested in visiting, to help determine whether this offer makes sense for you. And while perusing the site, spend some time reviewing the route you may have to travel on JetBlue to get to where you want to go.

“To get from New York to Las Vegas, you might find yourself routed through Fort Lauderdale,” she said.

Should You Refinance Student Loan Debt in Pursuit of Frequent Flyer Miles?

Obviously, you should never make student loan refinancing decisions based solely on earning frequent flyer miles. A serious financial decision like this should still be approached with the same amount of research, caution and common sense you would use otherwise.

“You should make your refinancing decision based on saving the most money, meaning finding the lowest interest rate,” said Brandon Yahn, founder of the website Student Loans Guy. “Additional perks like miles are great, but shouldn’t be the driving factor in which lender you ultimately choose, unless all else is equal.”

Put another way, student borrowers should look beyond the sparkle of free flights and focus on the student loan consolidation product itself, said Hogenson.

Qualifying for Refinancing

One last important point to keep in mind, in order to qualify for any refinancing program, it’s critical that you have a good credit score, have a history of paying your bills on time and have a solid, steady income. If you don’t know where your credit stands, you can get your two free credit scores on Credit.com.

Image: RobertoDavid

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