4 Things You Must Know About Money & the Military

Money might not seem like a priority when it comes to the military, but it plays a much bigger role than you might think.

A lot goes into managing your military career. Whether it’s meeting physical fitness standards or testing to make rank, you’re responsible for keeping everything on track. One area that’s necessary for a successful military career but doesn’t receive as much attention are your finances. When your finances are running smoothly, they don’t play a part in your military career, but when they’re not, then it is a problem for your job.

Knowing these four things about money and the military can keep your military career on track and help you avoid future financial problems.

1. Security Clearances & Your Finances

Many service members are required to have a security clearance for their job in the military. The Department of Defense uses a set of guidelines to determine a person’s eligibility for clearance. One of the 13 guidelines covers finances. It’s Guideline F, and it says, “An individual who is financially overextended is at risk of having to engage in illegal acts to generate funds. Unexplained affluence is often linked to proceeds from financially profitable criminal acts.”

The guideline is saying when you’re in debt, you may be tempted to compromise information or technology you have access to in exchange for money. Guideline F doesn’t just apply to an initial application for clearance. It also applies to individuals being reinvestigated. This is where people serving can run into problems with their military career.

Reinvestigation can be at 5, 10 or 15 years after your initial clearance is obtained depending on if it’s top secret, secret or confidential. Losing your clearance can mean losing your job or being separated from the military if your job requires a security clearance. The F guideline says “a history of not meeting financial obligations” may be a disqualifying factor in obtaining a security clearance. If you’re in the habit of not paying your bills and have debt in collections you may be putting your military career in jeopardy. It’s important to pay your bills on time to keep your credit report and therefore your security clearance in good standing.

2. Government Travel Credit Card (GTCC)

In the course of your military service, you may be required to use a GTCC during a temporary duty for official expenses you incur for travel. The credit card is provided through the Government Travel Charge Card Program and has detailed regulations on its use. (To qualify you must have a qualifying credit score of at least 660. You can check two of your credit scores for free with Credit.com.) Making a poor choice with this credit card can lead to serious problems in your military career.

Service members are required to sign a Statement of Understanding to ensure they know all directions from the DOD for the use of the credit card. One direction that gets military members in the most trouble is the requirement to file a travel voucher within five business days after completing their trip. By not submitting a travel voucher on time, your reimbursement will be late, and you will not have the funds you need to make the payment on your GTCC. If there are any unauthorized charges, they’ll be the cardholder’s responsibility, which will increase the amount of money you personally owe. It may be a credit card you can only use for official expenses, but it’s still in your name. The repercussions of a late payment start with notification to your leadership that you have not paid your bill. Once nonpayment hits 61 days, the card will be suspended. Not paying your GTCC can affect your personal credit or worse could cause you to be separated from the military. Use your GTCC for official expenses and pay the bill on time to avoid the GTCC affecting your credit or military career negatively.

3. The Thrift Savings Plan (TSP)

The TSP is similar to an employer 401K but for military personnel and government employees. It’s available to help them save money for retirement at a relatively low cost. One common mistake that can become a financial problem is if a person signed up for the TSP before Sept. 5, 2015, the money they contributed to the TSP was automatically invested into the Government Securities Investment Fund (G Fund), unless they selected otherwise. Many people never go back into their TSP account and change their investments.

The problem with that is, over a person’s 20-year military career the G Fund is at risk to earn less than inflation.To have a TSP account balance with low or no return comes as a shock to many nearing retirement. To avoid this mistake, review your TSP investment allocation to ensure you have investments selected that align with your risk tolerance.

4. The Savings Deposit Program (SDP)

Being in the military has its financial perks, and one of them is the SDP. This program allows members of the armed forces serving in a combat zone to save up to $10,000 on each deployment. The SDP earns up to 10% annually. It’s not a requirement to use, but it’s a great resource to help service members get ahead on their savings and improve their finances.

Once you’re in the combat zone 30 days, you can start the SDP with your finance office via cash, check or direct deposit. The limit you can deposit at one time is equivalent to the amount you earn in basic pay. For example, if you make $1,000 per month in basic pay, that is the max you can deposit at on time. If you earn $7,000 basic pay in a month, you can write a check to begin your SDP with $7,000 and then set up allotments each month to continuing saving until you return or reach $10,000. Building a surplus in savings prepares you for financial problems that may pop up in the future.

Image: Catherine Lane

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

The post 4 Things You Must Know About Money & the Military appeared first on Credit.com.

18 Cheap Social Activities That Don’t Involve Spending Money on Food

Your social life doesn't need to revolve around food. See friends without spending on food with these cheap hangouts.

Grabbing dinner, meeting for lunch or even visiting a hot new dessert place are often at the heart of anyone’s social calendar. Food and friends are a winning combination, but it can certainly add up. Next time you want to hang out with friends, propose something new. There are plenty of cheap things to do with friends that aren’t focused on food. Here are some affordable ideas for your next hangout.

1. Take a Hike

Experience nature, exercise and spend time with friends by going on a hike. You can find local trails with websites like Trail Finder. Money doesn’t need to be spent on food. If you’d still like something to nosh on, bring a protein bar and water bottle from home.

2. Go for a Bike Ride

Go for a ride around your neighborhood or in a local park. Even if you don’t own a bike, you can borrow one or even rent one for an affordable price. Although, a bicycle can actually make you wealthier if you use it enough, so it might be worth investing in.

3. Attend an Outdoor Movie or Concert

These are almost always free, just check your local community event calendars. You can even opt to bring your own drinks and snacks if you’d like to add some budget-friendly pizzazz to your night.

4. Visit the Zoo or Aquarium

Many zoos and aquariums have days where you can donate the amount of your choosing instead of buying full-price tickets. Keep in mind that these pay-what-you-can days are often crowded — if a crowd doesn’t bother you, taking advantage of these days is a great way to stay on budget. Most places also offer picnic areas for you to eat lunches you’ve brought from home. (And we have a lot of great tips for having a picnic on a budget!)

5. Head to the Beach

This is a perfect summer activity and it doesn’t have to cost a thing. Remember to stick to public beaches unless you’re willing to pay the fee to access private ones. You could even just opt for a walk on the beach or nearby boardwalk, which is simpler and still free.The only food a trip to the beach involves are optional snacks.

6. Host a Craft Night 

Buying craft supplies and a bottle of wine can result in a fun night in. There are a lot of ways to save at Michaels and other craft stores, making supplies fairly affordable. Plus, there are plenty of free craft tutorials and projects on Pinterest and YouTube that can help you create anything.

7. Go Camping

Enjoy a taste of the outdoors at no cost. No state or national parks nearby? Or maybe you’re not much of an outdoors person. No worries — you can also camp in your own backyard. You’ll experience the great outdoors without being too far from running water and electricity.

8.Try a Fitness Class

Classes like barre, yoga or even kickboxing will help you and your friends get into shape while having fun. Often you can find great deals on your first few classes when you use sites like Groupon. Also, check your local community center or parks — often they offer yoga classes for free.

9. Watch the Sunset or Sunrise

This is free to enjoy and you can choose the location. Look up the sunrise and sunset times online, spread out a blanket at a great lookout spot or enjoy from your porch.

10. Visit a Museum

There’s a museum for everyone and everything — from modern art to sex. A lot of museums offer free admissions or pay-what-you-can entry fees. Not only can this be an educational experience, but also you’ll save by not needing to purchase food.

11. Host a Bonfire

Bonfires are the perfect way to warm up and get together with friends on a chilly autumn or summer night. Just be sure to follow local fire ordinances to avoid a fine.

12. Tour a Brewery or Vineyard

These tours often provide samples or you can purchase drinks at the end. Some breweries and wineries even offer tours for free. This is a nice way to combine a fun experience with the classic hangout of grabbing drinks.

13. Host A Video Game Tournament

Indulge in a childhood favorite pastime with a fun night in with friends. Dust off your old GameCube or bring out the newest gaming system and challenge friends to a tournament.

14. Visit a Botanical Garden or Wildflower Field

This, of course, depends on your location. Enjoying flowers is perfect for the nice weather and is sure to result in beautiful photos. Visiting is free, though some gardens might charge a small entry fee. Always check calendars for times or dates when the garden might be open for free or have a discounted rate.

15. Check out a Comedy Club

Save by visiting new talent showcases and day time shows. You also generally get better deals when you visit a show during a weeknight rather than the weekend.

16. See a Matinee Movie

These are a lot more affordable than evening films and food is not required. If you do wish to spend a bit on snacks there are a lot of ways to save on movie concessions.

17. Volunteer

Chances are there’s an animal shelter or soup kitchen in your town that could use some help. There are plenty of opportunities to volunteer and it’s more fun when doing so with friends.

18. Have a Board Game Night

Indulge in some nostalgia with a good old-fashioned game night with friends. Play some old school games like Monopoly and Uno or play new ones, like Cards Against Humanity or Catch Phrase. By staying in, you can enjoy affordable snacks, home-cooked food or even a potluck style meal, meaning you spend little to no money on food.

Remember to stay budget conscious while doing these activities. Saving by not spending on food could make you feel extra frivolous in other ways. For example, since you’re not buying food at the zoo you might decide to buy extra souvenirs. This defeats the purpose of saving on food in the first place. Swipe your card with caution and use rewards cards when possible. Most rewards cards require a decent credit score, so before applying see where you stand. You can check two of your credit scores for free at Credit.com.

Image: hobo_018

The post 18 Cheap Social Activities That Don’t Involve Spending Money on Food appeared first on Credit.com.

5 No-Heat Meals That Will Save You Money This Summer

It’s hard to justify using heat to cook when it only makes you lose money, and time, so read on for some great no-heat meals to make now.

This summer, try preparing no-heat meals to save money on air conditioning and expensive foods that require heat. Using your stove and oven in the summer can release extra heat into your home — the last thing you want during the warmest months. This extra heat means turning up your air conditioning, resulting in extra expenses. Even when grilling, the cost of coals or fuel can quickly add up.

If you want to avoid using heat to cook because it cuts into your comfort or your budget, read on for some great no-heat meals to make now.

1. Barbecue Chicken Sandwich

If you can’t stay away from meat, opt for a previously cooked option like rotisserie chicken because it’s easy to pick up from your local store. You can slice, pull or shred it to add protein to any no-heat dish. Additionally, a rotisserie chicken can serve four to five people for only $5. You can make a barbecue chicken sandwich using rotisserie chicken, store-bought barbecue sauce and pickled vegetables, like cucumbers, to create a hearty meal perfect for a quick dinner or lunch in the summer. Even if barbecue isn’t your thing, food website Delish has plenty of sandwich recipes that use rotisserie chicken. Bonus: All the components can be prepared ahead of time, making them perfect for picnics or travel.

2. Tomato Gazpacho

Summer is tomato harvesting season, so take advantage of the cheaper produce offerings with a refreshing tomato gazpacho. This cold soup is perfect because it’s vegetarian, low-calorie and has 10 or fewer ingredients. RealSimple.com has a version of gazpacho that features corn and cucumbers, two more staple summer vegetables. If you like, you can serve the gazpacho with garlic-rubbed crostini to add an element with contrasting texture.

3. Vegetable Salad With Peanut Butter Dressing

Salads are a great healthy option and the slightly decadent peanut butter dressing adds just the right amount of sweetness and richness to the dish. The Kitchn has a recipe for tofu and broccoli salad that also uses peanut butter dressing. The salad is so fun and colorful it might help persuade your kids to eat their vegetables. Some recipes call for baked tofu, but for a no-heat version of this dish you can use raw tofu. Opting for vegetarian meals will also help you cut costs, as tofu is cheaper than meat and just as versatile.

4. Unicorn Summer Rolls

One of the hottest trends right now is rainbow, or unicorn, food. From bagels to sushi to cake, people are making all their favorite foods colorful. No-heat unicorn summer rolls are perfect to make to keep up with trends while maintaining a budget. Today.com has a great version of this easy recipe. Fresh, seasonal produce can be inexpensive, and it’s easy to chop and shred everything on your own. Plus, a key ingredient, rice paper wrappers, are only 10 cents each. With their color and veggies, these rolls are fun for everyone and filling enough for an affordable summer lunch.

5. Picnic in a Glass

One of the greatest summer pastimes is having a picnic. Nothing beats heading to the beach or park with friends to enjoy fresh air and a flavorful meal. A “Picnic in a Glass” is an ideal no-heat dish to bring to a real picnic, or enjoy from the comfort of your own home. Made in a mason jar, this dish is convenient and pre-portioned, which makes serving and cleanup a breeze. If you’re looking for a recipe, MyRecipes.com has an easy one. A tangy yogurt dressing adds dimension to leftover or store-bought shredded chicken. Load the jar up with vegetables to complete your no-heat meal.

While shopping for ingredients for these no-bake summer meals, consider using rewards cards for extra value. There are plenty of great grocery store rewards cards but they often require decent credit. Before applying, see where you stand. You can check two credit scores for free at Credit.com.

Image: Geber86

The post 5 No-Heat Meals That Will Save You Money This Summer appeared first on Credit.com.

14 Ways to Save at World Market

It's easy to overspend at World Market but with these ways to save, you can breathe a sigh of relief when checking your receipt.

[DISCLOSURE: Cards from our partners are mentioned below.]

Brightly colored throw pillows, exquisite area rugs, rugged outdoor furniture, international foods and eclectic jewelry are just a few of the options awaiting shoppers at World Market. While a trip here could rack up debt due to the sheer volume of goods you’re likely to come away with, save yourself some sticker shock by using these cost-cutting tricks.

1. Sign up for Emails

Visit the site and sign up for Cost Plus World Market emails to receive 10% off your next purchase. This deal only works for new customers.

2. Shop the Sales

Check the sales section for discounts on everything from furniture and décor to wine and beer.

3. View Your Local Ad

Insert your zip code on the website for access to discounts at the store closest to you through the local ad.

4. Join the World Market Explorer Rewards Program

Sign up for the World Market Explorer Rewards Program and get 15% off your next purchase just for completing your profile. After that, you’ll get a $10 reward for every $200 you spend, plus exclusive access to coupons and deals, special member pricing on wine, beer and other products and a special surprise on your birthday.

5. Have Rewards Sent to Your Phone

Never be without access to your member discounts when you get them sent to your phone. Check the website for registration details.

6. Apply for the World Market MasterCard

Customers who use the World Market MasterCard receive perks like no interest if paid in full within 6 months or 12 months, 5% back in rewards for every $1 spent at select partner stores, 2% back in rewards for every $1 spent on gas and groceries and 1% back for every $1 spent anywhere else MasterCard is accepted.

Plus, you’ll receive a $10 reward certificate for every $10 in rewards you earn automatically. Rewards you earn with the Cost Plus World Market MasterCard are separate from the World Market Explorer Rewards Program. (APR will be variable 24.74%, 18.74% or 14.74% based on your credit, so pay your card off in full each time you use it.)

Remember, opening a new credit card can impact your credit. Check your credit score to see where you stand before applying. You can check two credit scores for free on Credit.com.

7. Use Your Cost Plus World Market MasterCard at Affiliate Stores

Besides earning 5% back in rewards for every $1 you spend at Cost Plus World Market, you’ll earn those same rewards when you use it at Bed Bath & Beyond, buybuy BABY, Christmas Tree Shops, andThat! and Harmon Face Values.

8. Use Your Cost Plus World Market MasterCard for Big Purchases at Other Stores

You’ll earn 1% back for every $1 spent anywhere MasterCard is accepted at all times, but spend $1,000 in the first six months on your card outside of the affiliate stores and you’ll earn a $25 gift certificate, or $75 when you spend $6,000 in the first six months.

9. Get a Designer Discount

Professional designers receive a 10% discount at World Market Stores. Just show your proof of occupation (business card or state business license and photo ID) to a store manager to start using your World Market Designer Discount Card today.

10. Check out World Market Coupon Offers on the Website

The website offers World Market coupons, offers & promotions page, filled with deals to help save you money.

11. Search Sites for Additional Coupon Offers

Check out places like Offers.com for other potential coupon or promo codes.

12. Follow Them on Social Media

Add World Market as connections on both Facebook and Twitter to never miss another sale opportunity.

13. Don’t Forget Free Shipping

Ordering furniture online at World Market pays off, since orders of $150 and over receive free shipping. Just don’t forget to put in the code.

14. Buy Discounted Gift Cards

Check out the World Market section on sites like Gift Card Granny to purchase gift cards at discounted prices.

Want more helpful brand hacks? Check out these 15 Ways to Save at Crate & Barrel.

Image: Eva-Katalin

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.

The post 14 Ways to Save at World Market appeared first on Credit.com.

Mochi, Poke, Burgers, and More! How to Take Advantage of the New Options at Whole Foods

If you haven't been inside of Whole Foods lately, you'll be amazed by the new options they're offering — from mochi to fresh juice, they've got everything.

If you haven’t been to a Whole Foods recently, you may be surprised by the changes happening in some of their larger stores. Many stores have changed their look and moved toward a business model that keeps customers in the store longer whether they’re eating, hanging out or shopping. Several of the new changes have gotten some attention online, like their mochi station and wine bar. (These updated Whole Foods features aren’t in every store, so check your local Whole Foods store to see which perks are available.) Here’s a look at some of these new features.

Do-It-Yourself Food Stations

Mochi Bar

This newest addition to Whole Foods has gone viral on Instagram and Facebook. People are obsessed with mochi, a delectable handheld Japanese ice cream. Some Whole Foods stores now have a mochi bar where you can mix and match your favorite flavors of mochi, and take them home in a to-go container.

Trail Mix Station

The bulk section of a grocery store is anything but novel, but Whole Foods takes the personalization factor to the next level. Their new “Make Your Own Trail Mix” station features every trail mix staple imaginable. It’s easy to grab a container and create the trail mix of your dreams.

Bakery

Instead of waiting in line for a busy bakery assistant to help you at a counter, you can now grab a variety of Whole Foods baked goods yourself. From brownies to cookies to doughnuts, you can pick up whatever you want.

Gelato Counter

At Whole Foods, an employee can serve you smooth, rich gelato made in-house daily. This creamy treat will keep you happy as you peruse the rest of the store’s pickings. Gelato flavors include banana pudding, double dutch chocolate, pomegranate, and more. They also have vegan options such as berry sorbets.

In-Store Restaurants

Custom Poke Bowls

Poke, raw fish salad hailing from Hawaii, is a big food craze right now. The salad can be light and healthy depending on which toppings you add. Whole Foods sells custom Poke bowls, so essentially you choose your fish, sauce and toppings and an employee prepares it for you. A bowl costs $9 to $14 depending on the ingredients.

Diner

You don’t need to leave Whole Foods to find a diner with a classic, old-timey feel. With the exception of booth seating with red upholstery, this diner has much of the fare you’d expect. They have milkshakes and any type of burger you could want — including a vegan option. Some locations also offer poutine, a Canadian staple made of french fries, cheese curds and gravy.

Smokehouse

If you’re a meat lover, you’ll appreciate the new Smokehouse addition to Whole Foods stores. They have classic barbecue picks as well as rotisserie options, so there’s something for everyone. Their almost life-changing brisket burnt ends are must-tries. (While you’re at it, check out 50 things you must eat before you die!)

Taqueria

If you live in or near El Segundo, California you’re lucky enough to have the Korean-Mexican fusion spot, Kogi Taqueria, inside your Whole Foods Store store. Their specialties include short rib tacos, kimchi quesadillas, and classic burritos. They also have Korean hot wings. Outside of El Segundo, several stores have traditional taquerias with classic rice, beans, and other authentic Mexican picks.

Pizzeria

The smell of fresh pizza is always enticing, so the Whole Foods pizzeria definitely wins with their pies featuring delicious toppings. You can order your favorite pizza by the slice or a whole pizza to go. The pizza is made fresh.

Juice Bar

Whole Foods focuses on promoting a healthy lifestyle, so the addition of a juice bar aligns with their brand. You can choose a juice from their menu that’s made to order, or buy premade options for a cleansing experience or quick snack.

Wine Bar

If you want the advice of a sommelier without having to fly to France or Napa, look no further than your neighborhood Whole Foods. After scouring the wine selection, you can pick a wine and pour a few glasses to enjoy in the store before bringing the rest of the bottle home. Don’t want the whole bottle? You can also order a glass or two per recommendation of the staff. They also have charcuterie boards and cheese plates to accompany your wine choices.

And More!

Some of the larger Whole Foods stores also have Allegro Coffee Bars, cocktail bars, ramen stations, and more. If you live near one of these deluxe Whole Foods stores, be sure to explore those options even we haven’t tried yet. (And, while you’re there, remember to stick to your budget!)

Natural Skin Care

Whole Foods is primarily a grocery store, but they sell more than food. Some stores offer clothing and bags made of natural materials. Whole Foods holds its skin care products to high standards. On the Whole Foods website there’s a list of more than 75 ingredients that aren’t allowed in the skin care products they sell. Most of what they sell is plant-based and natural, which appealing to anyone trying to lead a more organic lifestyle. Whole Foods doesn’t support products tested on animals and they even feature numerous vegan product lines. The products they sell vary from makeup to hair care to facial and body soaps.

Cooking Classes

While some Whole Foods stores have had cooking classes for a while, several stores have recently started hosting classes. Their classes are aimed at beginner or intermediate home cooks, and some are even open to teenagers. If you love shopping at Whole Foods but don’t know how to cook many dishes, these classes are perfect, as they feature ingredients from the store and focus on easy-to-replicate dishes. You can also save on the ingredients by using our tips for saving money at Whole Foods. Good luck becoming a master of local, organic cuisine!

When shopping at Whole Foods and indulging in all of these fun perks, remember to stay on budget! There are a lot of great rewards credit cards that give you cash back when spending on groceries. These cards often require decent credit, so before applying check your credit score to see if you qualify. You can get two credit scores for free at Credit.com.

Image: krblokhin

The post Mochi, Poke, Burgers, and More! How to Take Advantage of the New Options at Whole Foods appeared first on Credit.com.

15 Restaurant Mobile Apps That Can Save You Money

Going out to eat can be rewarding in more ways than one.

Food is best served with a side of savings and restaurants with apps (that’s applications, not appetizers) that make it even easier to spend less. If you’re planning to order in, eat out or grab a quick bite, you might as well be rewarded for it.

Even if you’re on a budget, there are a lot of ways to save at restaurants, but one of the most convenient is by using an app. Below are 15 you can get for popular restaurants. All these apps are free to download on both iOS and Android and are full of coupons, loyalty programs and rewards.

1. Buffalo Wild Wings

The Blazin’ Rewards app makes it easy to earn points. Earn 100 points for signing up and filling out a profile. For every $10 spent earn 100 more. Check in five times during lunch time and earn 300 more points. Also earn points by checking in at the restaurant and having friends check in. Like in many college classes, earn points just for showing up. The rewards include bottles of sauce, beverages, appetizers, desserts and entrees.

2. Chili’s

With the Chili’s app, you can rack up Plenti Points by dining at the restaurant. These can be redeemed at Chili’s for appetizers, desserts and more. As a member, you’ll also receive a free dessert on your birthday (here are 10 other places with birthday freebies). These Plenti points can also be earned or spent at other Plenti partners like Macy’s, Mobil and Rite Aid. The app also has bonus perks, like allowing you to add your name to a wait list or order to go.

3. Steak ‘n Shake

Earn a free milkshake with your first purchase using the Steak ‘n Shake Rewards app. The app requires setting up a payment method to redeem the milkshake. If you don’t want to add a credit or debit card, earn rewards by adding a gift card. For every $50 spent you earn $5 back to be spent on food of your choice at any Steak ‘n Shake location.

4. Moe’s Southwest Grill

The Moe’s Rockin’ Rewards app has plenty of perks. Receive a free cup of queso when you sign up and a free burrito on your birthday every year. Log in through Facebook to earn an additional 50 points. Earn 10 reward points per $1 spent and for every 1,000 points receive $10 credit to spend at any Moe’s location.

5. Chick-fil-A

The Chick-fil-A One app allows you to earn treats the more you spend. To earn treats, you must place your order using the mobile device or scan your personalized QR code within the app during each visit. This app also allows you to skip the line by ordering on your phone.

6. Burger King

While there is no point system, the BK app offers mobile-only coupons that are in constant rotation. This app is worth checking for deals before placing your order.

7. Cici’s

The MyCici’s app has a loyalty based rewards program. The app requires you to scan your receipts. After five visits with $7 (before tax) or more spent, you earn a free adult buffet or a free one topping pizza to go.

8. Whataburger

The Whataburger app encourages you to load a mobile payment like a debit card, PayPal, Apple Pay, or a Whataburger gift card. This isn’t required, however. All that’s required is for rewards is having the app. To track your visits, have the cashier scan the bar code on your phone. Every five visits are rewarded with free food and for a visit to count you only need to spend one cent.

9. Outback Steakhouse

The Outback app allows you to earn rewards and keep track of all Outback coupons in one place. It also gives 50% off of your fourth visit (up to $20). The app has additional perks, like allowing you to check in as soon as you’re close to the restaurant so you’re seated faster. You can also pay with your phone to avoid waiting for the bill and, for big groups, the app allows you to split the bill.

10. Duffy’s MVP Sports Grill

The Duffy’s MVP app allows those who use it to earn 20% to 50% off of their bill when they eat between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Tuesdays are double point days. Members also earn free birthday rewards. MVP app users earn one point per $1 spent and 100 points automatically becomes a $10 reward credit to be spent at any Duffy’s MVP Sports Grill location.

11. fresh&co

This app requires you to link a credit card to it, so unless you frequent fresh&co it may not be worth it. (You might want to check your credit score for free with Credit.com before doing so to see where your credit stands). You earn $3 for creating an account. By paying with your mobile app and the card connected to it, you earn $9 for every $100 spent with $1 is donated to a charity dedicated to ending childhood hunger. Plus, you earn a free meal on your birthday.

12. Schnippers

The Schnippers app allows you to earn $8 in rewards for every 10 visits. Scan your QR code and spend at least $8 at each visit for it to count toward your reward.

13. Hale & Hearty

The Hale & Hearty app gives you a $2 credit for downloading and $2 per friend you refer. You’ll also earn $5 for every $50 spent.

14. Krispy Kreme

Earn a free doughnut for signing up and downloading the Krispy Kreme app. Scan the bar code with every purchase to rack up points toward free drinks and doughnuts. Plus, earn a free gift on your birthday. Bonus perk? Be notified when doughnuts are hot and fresh out of the oven at nearby locations. Yes, please!

15. Panera Bread

While the app itself isn’t necessary for rewards, it works well with the MyPanera rewards system. Create a MyPanera account or log in using an existing one and use the app to easily keep track of rewards. You can also turn on push notifications to tell you when you have rewards expiring soon so you’ll never miss out on freebies.

Image: monkeybusinessimages

The post 15 Restaurant Mobile Apps That Can Save You Money appeared first on Credit.com.

8 Ways to Avoid Early IRA Withdrawal Penalties

An early distribution penalty isn't always inevitable. These exceptions might just apply to you.

Qualified retirement plans are designed to be used solely for retirement income. Taxable withdrawals from these plans before age 59.5 are generally assessed an additional 10% “early distribution tax” by the IRS. (The additional tax for SIMPLE IRA plans is 25% in the first two years of participation, and 10% thereafter). However, there are exceptions to this tax. Most of the exceptions apply to both individual retirement accounts and employer sponsored qualified plans, while a few only apply to IRAs. It may be possible, however, to roll a portion of your company’s retirement plan to an IRA in order to take advantage of those exceptions that only apply to IRA plans.

1. Disability

If you become disabled you can access your retirement funds without penalty, but there’s a catch. To claim the exemption, the IRS requires a “total and permanent” disability. You are only considered disabled if “you cannot engage in any substantial gainful activity because of your physical or mental condition. Additionally, “a physician must certify that the condition has lasted or can be expected to last continuously for 12 months or more, or that the condition can be expected to result in death.”

2. Education (IRAs only)

Distributions to pay qualified expenses for higher education qualify for the exemption if the student is enrolled in at least half of a full-time academic work load at an eligible academic institution. Qualified expenses include tuition, fees, books, supplies and equipment required for the education. These expenses can be for you, your spouse, you or your spouse’s child or grandchild. It is important to note that any expenses paid for with other government program funds or tax benefits are generally not eligible for this exemption. To qualify, the education expenses must be paid in the same year as the withdrawal.

3. First-Time Homebuyers (IRAs only)

Qualified first-time homebuyers can exclude up to $10,000 of penalty-free distributions from the early withdrawal tax if the proceeds are used to buy or build a primary residence within 120 days. The home can be for you, your spouse or either of your descendants. The term “first-time homebuyer” is a little misleading. According to the IRS, you are a first-time home buyer if you or your spouse did not have any ownership in a primary residence during the previous two years. So even if you have owned a home in the past, you can be considered a “first-time” homebuyer if it has been at least two years since you sold it. While this exemption can only be used once in a lifetime, both you and your spouse could each withdraw $10,000 and apply it to the same residence.

4. Unreimbursed Medical Expenses

Any unreimbursed medical expenses that exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income (Line 37 of the Form 1040) can be paid with funds from your IRA or company retirement plan without incurring the early distribution tax. The medical expenses must be paid in the same calendar year as the withdrawal to qualify.

5. Medical Insurance During Unemployment (IRAs Only)

If you lose your job and receive unemployment compensation for at least 12 consecutive weeks you may qualify to pay your medical insurance premiums with amounts withdrawn from your IRA without the early distribution tax. IRA withdrawals can be used to pay medical insurance premiums for yourself, your spouse, or your dependents without the 10% penalty. The distributions must be received in either the year you received unemployment compensation or the next year and must be withdrawn no later than 60 days after you start a new job.

6. Active Duty Military Reservist

If you are a member of the military reserves and are called to active duty for at least 180 days (or for an indefinite period) you will not have to pay the excess tax on any withdrawals made during your period of active duty.

7. IRS Levy

If the IRS places a levy on your retirement plan and you withdraw funds to satisfy the levy, you will not be charged the excess tax. If, however, you withdraw funds to pay taxes owed in anticipation of a levy, the exemption does not apply.

8. Substantially Equal Periodic Payments

If you do not meet any of the aforementioned exceptions, but still want to access your retirement plan without penalty, you can take “Substantially Equal Periodic Payments” over a period that is the longer of five years or until you reach age 59.5. The “Substantially Equal Periodic Payment” must be calculated according to complicated IRS actuarial rules. (You should consult a certified public accountant to perform the calculations.) These payments cannot be stopped or changed once they start or the 10% early distribution tax will be applied retroactively applied and you will also be charged interest.

It is important to weigh the consequences of taking distributions from plans designed to provide retirement income for non-retirement expenses. You should try to find another means to pay these pre-retirement expenses when possible. (If you plan to take out a loan, a good credit score will lead to a better rate. See where you stand before applying. You can check two credit scores for free at Credit.com.) Otherwise, make certain that you seek the advice of a competent tax adviser before making this critical decision. Mistakes can be costly.

Image: Squaredpixels

The post 8 Ways to Avoid Early IRA Withdrawal Penalties appeared first on Credit.com.

10 States Facing the Most Foreclosures Right Now

foreclosure

This summer there’s some good news. June foreclosure activity has dropped to its lowest level since November 2015. In June 2017, there were a total of 73,828 U.S. properties with a foreclosure filing, down 22% from a year ago and even more from previous years.

This is all according to ATTOM Data Solutions, curator of the nation’s largest multi-sourced property database, which released its Midyear 2017 U.S. Foreclosure Market Report, showing a total of 428,400 U.S. properties with foreclosure filings. This includes default notices, scheduled auctions or bank repossessions that occurred in the first six months of 2017. Data has been collected from more than 2,200 counties nationwide, with those counties accounting for more than 90% of the U.S. population.

Although the study is full of foreclosures, they’ve become fairly rare in the housing market.

“With a few local market exceptions, foreclosures have become the unicorns of the housing market: hard to find but highly sought after,” said Daren Blomquist, senior vice president with ATTOM Data Solutions.

As homeowners stay on top of their mortgages and housing payments, fewer foreclosures have been occurring. (If you’ve been faced with foreclosure, you’ll likely see the damage to your credit score. Not sure? You can see two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com).

Here are the ten states with the highest foreclosure rates as of June 2017.

10. New Mexico

June 2017 Foreclosure Rate: 1 in every 272 housing units

Change from January to June 2016: Down 10.57%

Change from January to June 2015: Up 1.77%

9. Ohio

June 2017 Foreclosure Rate: 1 in every 229 housing units

Change from January to June 2016: Down 18.49%

Change from January to June 2015: Down 24.33%

8. South Carolina

June 2017 Foreclosure Rate: 1 in every 221 housing units

Change from January to June 2016: Down 15.05%

Change from January to June 2015: Down 14.31%

7. Florida

June 2017 Foreclosure Rate: 1 in every 217 housing units

Change from January to June 2016: Down 33.60%

Change from January to June 2015: Down 56%

6. Nevada

June 2017 Foreclosure Rate: 1 in every 215 housing units

Change from January to June 2016: Down 30.59%

Change from January to June 2015: Down 40.45%

5. Connecticut

June 2017 Foreclosure Rate: 1 in every 200 housing units

Change from January to June 2016: Up 3.19%

Change from January to June 2015: Up 44.75%

4. Illinois

June 2017 Foreclosure Rate: 1 in every 183 housing units

Change from January to June 2016: Down 10.19%

Change from January to June 2015: Down 25.78%

3. Maryland

June 2017 Foreclosure Rate: 1 in every 161 housing units

Change from January to June 2016: Down 30.62%

Change from January to June 2015: Down 31.55%

2. Delaware

June 2017 Foreclosure Rate: 1 in every 137 housing units

Change from January to June 2016: Down 6.48%

Change from January to June 2015: Up 20.42%

1. New Jersey

June 2017 Foreclosure Rate: 1 in every 101 housing units

Change from January to June 2016: Up 1.8%

Change from January to June 2015: Up 8.53%

Image: fstop123

The post 10 States Facing the Most Foreclosures Right Now appeared first on Credit.com.

9 State Parks Perfect for Camping on a Budget This Summer

Enjoy s'mores and beautiful scenery without worrying about your budget by camping in these gorgeous state parks.

A warm bonfire, toasty s’mores, a starry sky. Isn’t it time you went camping? With student loan and credit card debt weighing many of us down, it might seem like a vacation is out of reach. But camping is the perfect way to adventure on a budget. Instead of sticking to national parks, though, consider camping in state parks. There are more than 10,000, and they are often cheaper and less crowded than national parks.

Yellowstone, for example, costs $30 for a seven-day pass. But Sinks Canyon State Park, just a few hours away from Yellowstone, is free. Here are nine incredible state parks where the camping won’t disappoint — or hurt your wallet.

1. Fall Creek Falls State Park in Tennessee

Fall Creek Falls, the largest and most-visited state park in Tennessee, sprawls over more than 26,000 acres. Its eponymous falls tumble down from 256 feet above — certainly a sight to see! It offers a plethora of activities including hiking, swimming, golfing and boating. You can even try your hand at a treetop obstacle park that includes bridges, swings and zip lines high in the forest’s canopy.

Entrance Fee: Free
Tent Camping Cost: $13.75 to $31.25 per night

2. Sinks Canyon State Park in Wyoming

Get close to Yellowstone without the costs or crowds at Sinks Canyon in Wyoming. According to the website, it gets its name from “a large cavern where the rushing river flows into cracks and crevices in the cavern floor and disappears underground.” Whether you enjoy hiking to waterfalls, swimming in the river or fishing for trout, you’ll find it here at an affordable nightly rate.

Entrance Fee: Free
Tent Camping Cost: $6 per night for residents; $11 per night for nonresidents

3. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park in California

Located along the pristine Big Sur River and surrounded by redwoods, this state park on California’s central coast is a great place to escape the hustle and bustle. If you’re looking to completely unplug, you’re in luck — your phone probably won’t work here. You’ll have to settle for swimming, hiking and relaxing. Keep in mind, there’s no beach access at this park. For that, you’ll have to travel down the road.

Entrance Fee: $10 per car
Tent Camping Cost: $35 per night

4. Boston Harbor Islands State Park in Massachusetts

Have only a short time to get away? As the name suggests, this state park is composed of a series of islands between 20 and 70 minutes by ferry from Boston. Enjoy hiking, birding and great views of the city’s skyline. With only 33 campsites spread across three islands, making a reservation is crucial. (Before booking any reservation on your card, it’s always wise to check your credit score. You can check your credit score for free at Credit.com)

Entrance Fee: Free, but it’s $17 per adult for round-trip ferry transportation
Tent Camping Cost: $8 per night for residents; $10 for nonresidents

5. Tettegouche State Park in Minnesota

Want to go hiking to a waterfall, fishing or rock climbing? You’ll find an abundance of outdoor activities at Tettegouche, about an hour north of Duluth. Prefer water sports? It has five kayak-in camping sites, which are accessible only by paddling. How cool is that?

Entrance Fee: $5 per car
Tent Camping Cost: $15 to $23 per night

6. Harris Beach State Park in Oregon

Oregon’s rocky coast is one of the most beautiful places in the world. At this state park, you’ll be able to see the beauty up close. Plus, from the sandy beaches and rocky cliffs, you might spot a sea lion, a puffin or a whale. If you prefer not to camp in a tent, the park also offers six yurts at $43 per night.

Entrance Fee: Free
Tent Camping Cost: $20 per night

7. Rainbow Springs State Park in Florida

Florida’s natural springs should be on everyone’s bucket list. These cold, crystal-clear bodies of water make camping in Florida’s heat bearable. When picking a campsite, you should probably make sure you’re near one of them. At Rainbow Springs, you can swim in the refreshing water or enjoy it via kayak, canoe or inner tube.

Entrance Fee: $2 per person
Tent Camping Cost: $30 per night

8. Baxter State Park in Maine

Mount Katahdin is not only the tallest peak in Maine but also the northernmost point of the famed Appalachian Trail. It’s located at the southern end of this 200,000-acre state park. In addition to hiking the mountain and its environs, you can fish, bike, climb, paddle and hunt. This park is understandably popular, so if you’re going during the summer months, be sure to make a reservation.

Entrance Fee: $15 per car
Tent Camping Cost: $21 to $32 per night

9. City of Rocks State Park in New Mexico

If you’re looking for an otherworldly state park to explore, check out City of Rocks in New Mexico. Here, you’ll find a “city” of volcanic formations scattered in the desert. Don’t worry — it’s not just rocks. You also can enjoy camping, mountain biking, wildlife viewing and excellent stargazing.

Entrance Fee: $5 per car
Tent Camping Cost: $10 per night

Traveling on the cheap is no easy feat, but by comparison shopping for plane tickets, rental cars and, yes, even campsites you’ll be able to cut costs and still have a wonderful time. If you’re ready to explore the great outdoors, there’s no better time than the months that lie ahead. So grab your friends and some marshmallows and get going! Plus, continue the outdoor journey by checking off some of the 37 national parks to see before you die.

Image: pixdeluxe

The post 9 State Parks Perfect for Camping on a Budget This Summer appeared first on Credit.com.

4 Ways to Have Your Dream Honeymoon Without Paying a Dime

The party won't end when the wedding ceremony does when you can go on your dream honeymoon for free.

You don’t need a ring on your finger to know that weddings are expensive. In fact, according to The Knot, the average wedding costs around $32,641. Honeymoons can often be put on the back burner when it comes to wedding expenses, because most dreamy tropical islands and European cities aren’t cheap. But with some careful planning and smart strategies, it’s totally possible to go on your honeymoon for free. Here’s are some ideas as to how.

1. Try an Online Honeymoon Registry 

Websites like Honeyfund, Honeymoon Wishes and Traveler’s Joy allow you to raise funds for your honeymoon rather than registering for wedding gifts. In lieu of creating an online gift registry, you could encourage guests to make a monetary gift of their choice to your honeymoon registry website. While some deem it tacky to do so, it has perks for your guests, too. It removes the stress of gift giving and allows your guests to help you afford a wonderful experience with your new husband or wife. Plus, most of these websites allow guests to choose what their gift is going toward, whether it be a tour of Santorini or a wine tasting in Italy.

Be wary of the fees these websites charge to either the givers or receivers of the funds. Oftentimes it’s a small percentage, but if you have a lot of gifts, the fees can quickly add up. Also, check that the websites are legitimate — there are a lot of wedding scams out there that can ruin your special day.

2. Use Credit Card Rewards

Whether you have a rewards credit card already, or you’re considering getting one, using the perks that come with it could really help you save on your romantic getaway.

If you have a travel card, you could use your rewards to cover the hotel stay or airfare, depending on what the card offers. Or, if you have a cash back card, you can use that to pay for any of the honeymoon expenses you incur. You may also opt to mix and match travel rewards — some cards offer great airline miles while others can reward you with free hotel nights. For example, combining hotel rewards earned by using the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express with airline miles earned by using the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card can get you a flight and a few nights in a hotel.

A lot of cards offer sizable signup bonuses that can also be put toward your trip. Be sure to read the fine print — most signup bonuses require a certain spending threshold in a set time period to earn perks or bonuses.

If you’re getting a new card, it’s important to take the time to explore all of your options before signing up. And remember, a good credit score is necessary to qualify for many rewards cards. See where your credit currently stands by viewing two free scores on Credit.com.

3. Enter Giveaways & Sweepstakes

Many giveaways and sweepstakes out there can reward you with your dream honeymoon for free. Plus, winning any trip or cruise in general can make for a fabulously free honeymoon. Trip giveaways are often a hot spot for scammers, so be careful and ensure make sure you’re not being ripped off with hidden fees and taxes.

4. Ask for Monetary Gifts

This is a smart option for the less tech-savvy couples who still wish to receive honeymoon funds instead of gifts. Alongside a registry, express that monetary gifts for your honeymoon would be appreciated.

Image: tsenphoto

The post 4 Ways to Have Your Dream Honeymoon Without Paying a Dime appeared first on Credit.com.