11 Ways to Lower Your Cell Phone Bill

11 Ways to Lower Your Cell Phone Bill

Cell phone bills can be expensive, on par with the monthly costs of powering your home or keeping your car gassed up. Of course, your cell phone can help you build your credit, but only if you aren’t strapping yourself with too large a bill every month.

So if you’re sick of shelling out a small ransom to call, text and watch YouTube cat videos on your smartphone, you should know there are ways to cut your bill. Here are 11 options:

1. Choose the Right Plan

If you’re signing up for a new cell phone plan, make sure you’re only paying for the plan you need. Unlimited texting, calling and data plans are nice, but you may use your phone less than you think.

Take a look at your phone usage over the past few months to determine if average usage is way under the allowances you’re paying for. If so, you can save some money by switching to a downgraded plan.

2. Keep Your Phone Longer

Many wireless carriers like Verizon and AT&T dangle the carrot of a new phone upgrade every year or so. Of course, you like new devices, but you might end up shelling out hundreds for a new phone or rolling the cost into your wireless bill, which sounds tempting in the store but will add to your monthly cost.

If your current phone works, hold onto it to save money.

3. Skip the Insurance

Device insurance sounds appealing when you’re about to drop hundreds on a new phone. But in many cases, it isn’t worth the cost.

“At $11 per month from Verizon, you’d still need to cough up an additional $50 to $200 for the deductible, depending on your device. It’s more cost-effective to invest in a sturdy, protective case and screen cover and treat your device with care,” said Kendal Perez, Savings Expert at CouponSherpa.com.

It’s also worth checking with your credit card issuer to see what, if any, kind of extended warranty options they offer on new purchases made with your card, or if you pay your cellular bill with your credit card. Learn more about your options with this handy guide to getting your money back when you break or lose your phone.

4. Use Family Plans

If you need more than one phone line on your plan, you may want to check if your wireless carrier offers family plans. Family plans offer savings for additional phone lines, decreasing the average cost of each line. In some instances you may be able to split the costs with a friend or family member you trust.

5. Don’t Surpass Your Data Limit

Seriously, don’t do it. Wireless carriers often impose steep fees when you surpass your data limit, so if you’re regularly bumping up against your limit, you may want to comparison shop for an unlimited plan. It could end up being cheaper than going over your limit several times.

6. Reduce Data Usage

If that’s not an option, consider reducing your data usage. Use secure Wi-Fi wherever available, especially when you’re engaging in data-heavy activity like downloading podcasts or watching videos. If you can reduce your data, you can potentially switch to a plan that charges less.

“Unlimited data plans are making a comeback…however, it’s better to track your usage and pay for the data you actually use. Compare plans between carriers and read the fine print,” said Perez.

7. Do a Bill Audit

Many providers charge for things you’ll never use or already have, such as emergency roadside assistance or 411. Next time you get your bill, go through every fee and charge to make sure you know what you’re paying for. Some unused services could be removed from your bill.

8. Look for Employee Discounts

Many employers and jobs have discounts available with major wireless carriers. Examples may include active-duty military members or state government employees. Find out if your employer or wireless carrier participate in such plans.

“If your employer has a business plan with a carrier, employees are typically eligible for a discount,” says Perez. “Ask your supervisor or HR department about this benefit and the amount of the discount.”

9. Make It Tax Deductible

If you have a home business and use your phone to conduct business calls and emails, you can deduct some or all of the cost of your wireless plan at tax time. This will indirectly reduce the cost of your cell phone bill.

10. Cost Share with An Employer

You also may conduct business on your personal phone for your employer. This could include phone calls, email and any other work activity. Ask your employer if they participate in phone reimbursement or cost-sharing policies.

11. Negotiate With Your Provider

Like many other service providers, wireless carriers face stiff competition from other wireless giants and smaller providers. As a result, they may be willing to negotiate to keep your business. Call your wireless carrier, tell them your bill is too high and that you’re thinking of switching to another provider. You may want to be ready with offers from other wireless carriers, and you’ll have some negotiation power if you’re a long-time customer and always pay your bill on time.

Also, keep in mind, the better your payment history, the better chance you have of negotiating, so don’t wait until you’re making late payments to begin talking. If you’ve already made some late payments, for your phone or other bills, you can see how they’re affecting your credit scores by reviewing your free credit report summary on Credit.com.

Switch Wireless Carriers

Competing wireless carriers are constantly trying to lure customers away from each other. If you can find a better offer from another carrier that provides the service you need, you have a compelling reason to switch. You can even look for budget alternatives, such as prepaid plans.

“Prepaid, no-contract plans from Boost, Virgin Mobile, Ting and Page Plus are all cheap alternatives to big-carrier plans… compare costs between big carriers and no-contract providers before you buy.”

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A Monthly Guide to Setting and Reaching Your Financial Goals

A Monthly Guide to Setting and Reaching Your Financial Goals

New Year’s resolutions are fundamentally flawed.

The idea of doing something for an entire year is both daunting, unpractical and, frankly, a little boring.

So let’s try something new this year. We’re going to take a single resolution – getting your finances in order – and break it up into 12 easy-to-accomplish, month-long goals.

By setting up a series of manageable tasks, you’ll be able to make real month-by-month progress while staying motivated and mindful of the big picture. Because, really, what good is starting something if you can’t finish it?

1. January: Create Long-Term & Short-Term Financial Objectives

The beginning of the year is the perfect time to take stock of your financial past, present and future. Start by looking back at the previous. Was last year a success from a financial goals standpoint? Next, talk to your partner about where you want to be financially both today and tomorrow. Make sure your short-term plans are nested directly within your long-term view and both are leading to the same endpoint.

You should consider creating SMART goals for your finances. Your goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-based (SMART). You could make a goal this year to finally get out of debt or build a fully-funded emergency fund. Or, you could save for a down payment on a house.

A short-term goal could be paying for all of your Christmas gifts next year with cash. If that’s actually one of your short-term goals, now is the time to start. Look at how much you spent last year on Christmas gifts. Set a budget now of what you’ll spend in December and start saving each month for that goal.

Short-Term Goal — Pay for Christmas 2017 With Cash!

  • Specific. Set a specific dollar amount to save. The average American spends about $460 on gifts for family members.
  • Measurable. Look at what you spent in 2016 and use that figure to budget this year.
  • Achievable. If your budget is $600, you need to save $50 each paycheck.
  • Realistic. Yes, you can get it done in a year if you start now.
  • Time-based. You have 12 months to save for next Christmas.

2. February: Increase That Emergency Fund

It’s important to have at least three to six months of living expenses saved for the unexpected. Maybe even more if you have a large family to provide for. An emergency fund helps keep you out of debt or prevents you from increasing debt in the event of something unforeseen like the loss of a job or an unexpected home or car repair.

It’s usually best for an emergency fund to be liquid, which means it’s easily accessible from your regular old savings account. An emergency fund shouldn’t be used for any investing.

3. March: Get Serious About Paying off your Debt

Facing off with debt (credit card or otherwise) can be daunting. But not dealing with it can be crippling when trying to achieve your financial goals

Debt affects your credit and that, in turn, affects other aspects of your financial life, such as life insurance premiums, car insurance rates, job prospects, and more. (You can see how your debts are affecting your credit, for instance, by viewing your free credit report snapshot, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.)

Take March and start a debt snowball There are two philosophies when it comes to paying off debt. You can either start your debt snowball by tackling your smallest debt first. Or, many financial experts recommend starting with the debt that has the highest interest rate first.

Starting with the smallest debt and paying that one off first (while making all of your minimum payments on your other cards) instead of the one with the largest interest rate has a psychological effect. It’s a quick win that will build momentum. It’s amazing to see yourself pay off debts. It’ll keep you motivated and hungry to pay off more.

Paying off your debts with the highest annual percentage rate (APR) is more cost-effective, since it can save you on interest.

4. April: Time for a Last Will & Testament

It’s not a pleasant topic to think about, but you don’t want to die without a will. It can often lead to your final wishes not being followed and put additional stress on your loved ones when they’re already suffering.

Having a last will and testament ensures that your desires are known and carried out correctly. Who will take care of your children if you die while they are still minors? Who will take care of them if you and your spouse die at the same time?

Children are just one of the many reasons that you should have a will. Whether you’re single, married, or have children, you don’t want the probate courts deciding important manners about your belongings and wishes.

If you don’t want to spend money on an estate attorney just yet, there are numerous online wills or forms that you can use. These resources can provide a solid starting-off point, and then you can hire an estate lawyer on an hourly basis to ensure you’ve considered everything.

Whichever route you choose for creating a will, just make sure you have a witness present and that you sign in front of a notary.

5. May: Assess Your Life Insurance Needs

Life insurance helps ensure that your family will be financially protected if you die. (Full disclosure: Haven Life, the company I work for, sells life insurance.)

If you have loved ones who depend on you for financial support and you don’t have a policy outside of work, then you’re probably not adequately covered.

Most employer-sponsored life insurance coverage only provides one or two years salary for a death benefit. That may seem like a lot to some, but the recommended amount of coverage is usually five to 10 times your annual income. And it’s important to remember that employer-sponsored coverage usually doesn’t go where you go, which means coverage usually ends when you get a new job.

Life insurance should help cover:

  • Day-to-day living expenses
  • A mortgage and other debts
  • College costs for children
  • Childcare costs
  • Future healthcare costs
  • Funeral and final expenses
  • Charitable giving
  • Any legacy you want to leave

6. June: Consolidate Your 401K Accounts

Young workers move around and take a lot of jobs. According to the Harvard Business Review, more than 20% of Millennials have job hopped within the last year. But, with all of this moving, what happens to your retirement plans? Many workers simply leave their 401K retirement plans spread across their many former employers. If you’ve changed jobs recently, March is a good time to turn your attention to consolidating your 401K retirement plans. Roll over the old accounts into your new employer’s 401K or a Traditional IRA.

By keeping all of your retirement savings in single place, you’ll have better control and more investment options at your disposal. Consolidation will also help you maintain the right asset allocation based on your current risk tolerance.

7. July: Increase Your Retirement Contributions (But Not at Your Budget’s Expense)

You can boost your retirement savings without killing your budget if you increase your contribution with every pay raise earned.

If you get a pay raise of 2%, consider increasing your monthly contributions to your 401K or Roth IRA by 1%. It’s a sneaky way to trick yourself into saving more for your retirement without feeling the pain. Especially if you can time this increase in retirement savings before you even see the larger paycheck.

8. August: Open a 529 Account

A 529 College Savings Plan is a great tool to help you save for your children’s college education. As soon as your newborn receives his or her Social Security number, consider opening a 529.

Parents (and grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other family members) can contribute after-tax dollars to the plan, which typically offers a number of different investment options. Your contributions can grow over time, and earnings are tax-free as long as you use them for qualified higher education expenses when withdrawn. You can also receive a deduction on your state income taxes in many states for 529 contributions.

9. September: September Is for Shredding

Financial statements are like weeds. If left unattended, they can grow, multiply and before you know it, take over your desk completely.

Knowing which financial documents to keep and which to shred is key.

You can shred receipts for items you aren’t going to return as soon as the purchase has posted to your account. You can destroy credit card monthly statements after you’ve received them and reconciled your purchases.

Better yet: Consider switching to digital statements. Start going through your bank, credit card and investment accounts and opt for digital statements instead of paper copies. This way, you’ll help save the environment and keep desk clutter to a minimum.

Remember, it’s important to keep monthly investment statements until you receive your year-end statement. You should keep year-end statements for at least seven years in case you get audited. The same is also true for all tax documents. You should keep supporting tax documentation for at least seven years.

Shredding your financial documents or having a digital safe haven is one of your best defenses against identity theft.

And, hey, shredding a stack of papers never stops being gratifying.

10. October: Build Your Financial Team

We all need some help in our corner and trusted advisers we can turn to.

A financial team can be a sounding board for ideas and can help you stay on track with your financial goals. You may want to consider working with a financial planner, a tax professional, insurance agent, mortgage broker and/or real estate agent. If your financial life is an enterprise, this is your personal board of directors to assist you.

Get your team in place now and then turn to them throughout the year when you need help with things like filing your taxes, adjusting your investments or even insight on if it’s a good time to put your house on the market.

11. November: Stop Giving the Government an Interest-Free Loan

Your goal should be having little-to-no income tax refund each year. Having a small refund means that you’re getting the right amount of taxes withheld from your paycheck each month.

A large income tax refund is equivalent to an interest-free loan to the government. According to IRS records, the average income tax refund in America is $3,120. That equals $260 each month that you could add back to your monthly paycheck.

Too many Americans look at an income tax refund as a year-end bonus, but it’s an overpayment of your taxes every month. What could you do with an extra $260 each month?

Take some time in November to check in with your HR department about changing your withholding and updating your W2.

12. December: Rebalance Your Investment Portfolios

Many investors do not get a higher rate of return on their investment portfolio because their allocations get out of whack. December is the perfect time to rebalance your investments.

Investors should rebalance once a year to optimize their desired investing mix based on their investing timeframe, objectives and tolerance for risk. Rebalancing helps you stick to your investment plan and avoid potential anxieties as the market fluctuates. Many financial experts recommend rebalancing once a year either during the new year or in the investor’s birthday month.

Mix, Match & Reorder to Suit Your Needs

So, there you have it. Not all to-do lists need to be a mile long. The point is, where possible, divide your financial goals so that you feel like you’re making progress during the entire year versus a mad dash to accomplish everything this month.

Feel free to mix, match and reorder these tips to best suit your family’s needs. If you’re like me, while working on this, I decided to increase my retirement contribution by 1% now versus waiting longer into the year.

Ultimately, what matters most is that you’re working toward tackling your financial goals and setting yourself up for long-term success. A month-to-month to-do list could be the best way to keep yourself on track.

(Note: While we hope this information is useful, it’s only intended to provide general education. It’s not legal, tax, or investment advice, and may not apply or be useful to your specific financial situation.)

Hank Coleman contributed to the reporting of this article.

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

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

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

1. The Debt Snowball

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

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

2. The Debt Avalanche

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

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

3. The Debt Snowflake

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

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

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

4. The Credit Card Transfer

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

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

5. The Half Payment Method

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

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

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

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5 Helpful Apps for Families on a Tight Budget

5 Helpful Apps for Families on a Tight Budget

It’s hard enough to keep a budget for one, let alone get your entire family on track with their finances. Fortunately, there are plenty of apps out there that can help keep you, your spouse, son, daughter and 11-year-old pug (OK, maybe not that last one) from spending beyond your family’s means.

Here are some choice apps that can help with your household budgeting.

1. Goodbudget

Platforms: iOS and Android

Essentially a digital version of the envelope system — you know, where you put money allotted for a particular spending category in one and then don’t use any dollars beyond that — this app syncs up across household devices. That way, everyone in the family can know exactly what’s left to spend on groceries, entertainment and other categories each month. The free version lets you set up 10 regular envelopes and 10 annual envelopes across two devices. A subscription service with unlimited envelopes and device syncs costs $5 a month or $45 a year.

2. You Need a Budget

Platforms: iOS and Android

You Need a Budget (YNAB) is another app that lets folks sharing finances sync their devices and work together. This app pairs with web software of the same name to help users implement the YNAB four big rules: give every dollar a job, embrace your true expenses, roll with the punches and age your money. You can try the latest version, launched in late 2015 and dubbed “The New YNAB,” for free for 34 days. After that, a subscription costs $5 a month or $50 a year.

3. Home Budget

Platforms: iOS and Android

This digital expense tracker from Anishu includes a feature called Family Sync, which — you guessed it — enables household devices to exchange income and spending information within a single, shared budget. There’s a free version (Home Budget with Sync Lite) which limits your expense and income entries, and a paid version (just plain ol’ Home Budget with Sync) that costs $5.99.

4. Wallet by BudgetBakers

Platforms: iOS and Android

This budgeting app lets your share selected accounts with family members so everyone knows what’s going on with the household budget. You can also choose to connect your bank accounts to the app to get automatic updates about their standing. Wallet has a free version with limited features and several paid subscription versions that vary in cost. Its top tier, called Master plan, allows up to 10 users, unlimited bank connections and customized financial analysis. It costs $5.49 a month or $44.30 a year.

5. EveryDollar

Platforms: iOS and Android

This budgeting app helps people apply the money management principles of budgeting guru Dave Ramsey. It syncs across devices so you can budget from your smartphone or your household desktop. There’s a free version and a Plus subscription, which lets you connect your bank accounts to the app and call for support. It costs $9.99 a month.

Balancing the Family Budget

Remember, you’ll want to read the terms and conditions of any app you’re looking to use so you know what it costs, how your data is protected and whether any information will be shared with third-parties. You can find more information for vetting mobile apps on the Federal Trade Commission’s website.

And, when it comes to maintaining a household budget, it’s also important to keep track of your credit because a bad or even fair credit score can really cost you on everything from mortgage interest to your family’s cell phone plan.

If your credit isn’t in great shape, you can improve your scores by disputing errors on your credit reports, paying down high credit card balances and getting delinquent accounts back in good standing. And, as always, you can maintain good credit by paying all your bills on time, keeping debt levels low and adding a mix of new credit accounts over time. 

 https://youtu.be/_jh_PWEVEDU

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50 Ways to Give Your Finances a Fresh Start in 2017

50 Ways to Give Your Finances a Fresh Start in 2017

We get it: Money resolutions can feel like a lost cause, especially if you’re already drowning in debt or saddled with uber-bad credit. But if the fear of falling short is stopping you from even attempting to reach any financial goals, well, it may be time to think smaller. There are lots of little steps you can take over the course of 2017 that, in tandem, can lead to ultimate financial balance.

Here are 50 ways to give your finances a fresh start this year.

1. Do Your Taxes ASAP

You’ll want to avoid taxpayer identity theft, which can delay a much-needed refund. Plus, an early refund can bolster your financial situation.

2. Auto-Save

Jumpstart your emergency fund by setting up an automatic deposit or transfer into a savings account each month.

3. Give Cash a Try

If you’re prone to overspending on credit or debit, spend a week or two keeping only cash in your wallet. You can’t overspend cash — once it’s gone, it’s gone.

4. Ask for a Raise

If you have a performance review coming up, or the opportunity to ask for a raise, now’s the time to take stock of your professional value and put together a pitch for better compensation.

5. Check Your Credit Scores

You can’t know what to improve if you don’t know where you stand. You can get two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

6. Spring-Clean Your Credit Report

Do a major audit by pulling your free annual credit reports via AnnualCreditReport.com and dispute any errors you find with the credit bureau(s) in question. (You can go here to learn how.)

7. Reevaluate Your Savings Strategy

See if you can maximize your savings by opening an account with a higher annual percentage yield (APY) than your current one or consider a savings vehicle, like a money market fund or a Certificate of Deposit (CD).

8. Move

While it can cost a lot at first, moving can be a long-term money-saving strategy. A good rule of thumb is to keep your housing expenses below 30% (or, ideally, less than 25%) of your income. Do the math and a little research to see if you can do better than your current rent payment. Make sure you factor any the expense of any increase in commuting to make sure it really would be a financially beneficial move. 

9. Ask for a Lower Credit Card APR

If you’re paying high interest on your credit card, see if you can’t talk it down. By negotiating down your annual percentage rate (APR), you could save serious money.

10. Get a Balance Transfer Credit Card

Look into moving high-interest credit card debt onto a new card touting a low-to-no introductory APR for the rest of the year (or longer). Note: Most issuers charge a balance-transfer fee.

11. Prioritize Payments

Our favorite way to pay down multiple credit cards? Put as much money as you can toward the balance with the highest APR, while paying the minimum on your other plastic. That way, you’ll save on interest charges.

12. Consider a Credit-Builder Loan …

If your credit is shot, which would increase your APRs, one way you can start to rebuild your payment history is with a credit-builder loan. You can look into credit-builder loans at your local bank or credit union.

13. … or a Secured Credit Card

Secured credit cards, which require an upfront deposit that serves as your credit limit, are designed specifically for people who need to build or fix their credit. You can find our picks for the best secured credit cards here.

14. Figure Out Where the ‘Right’ ATMs Are

Every time you use an out-of-network ATM, you’re paying money to use your own money. Cutting back on those fees can really help you save in the long run.

15. Simply Review Your Budget

How often do you look over your budget? If it’s been a while, start the year off fresh with a budget more customized to where you (and your finances) are today.

16. Scour Your Credit Card Statements

You could spot areas where you’re overspending. Plus, you’ll want to be on the lookout for fraud or billing errors.

17. Try a Budgeting App

There are a lot of free ones out there that can track your spending, point out what expenses are really draining your bank account and alert you when you’re about to go overboard.

18. Eat at home

Dining out too often can put a serious strain on your wallet. Try cooking at home just a few times a week, and you’re sure to free up some money you can use to pay down debts or put into a savings account.

19. Plan Your Meals

Better yet, try planning out your meals several days or a week in advance, and set aside time to shop for and prepare them. This minimizes the chance you’ll dine out, which is generally more expensive than home-cooked food.

20. Cancel Memberships

If you’re not using your streaming account, or don’t use it that often, go ahead and cancel it. You can always renew later if you decide you miss it, and you’ll free up money each month.

21. Review Your Transportation Situation

Can you begin biking to work or ride with a friend to cut gas expenses? Perhaps walking to work a few times a week could help you save on bus fare.

22. Invest

If you haven’t already started putting money aside for retirement, this may be the year to start doing so. Added bonus: If your company matches any investments you make, it’s like getting free money for those golden years.

23.  Look into a Rewards Credit Card 

If you charge a lot and pay those balances off in full, but only have a standard credit card, you may be losing out on rewards for your spending. Check your credit scores and see what types of cards you’d qualify for. You may even be able to get a rewards card that doesn’t have an annual fee.

24. Evaluate Your Rewards Credit Card

Already have a rewards credit card? Now may be the time to look at it and see what perks it’s offering you. Does your credit card reward you most for money you spend at the gas station? That’s great if you drive a lot, but if you’re taking public transportation or walking, there may be a better rewards credit card out there for you.

25. Negotiate With Your Creditors

If you’ve got outstanding debts, see if the creditor or collector will agree to a payment plan. (You can find tips for negotiating with creditors here.)

26. Clip Coupons

Yes, it’s old fashioned, but those weekly circulars from your local grocery store, and coupons from newspapers, mailers and sites like Coupon.com can really add up, especially if you hit double- or triple-coupon days. 

27. Pay Off a Loan

If you’re nearing the end of your loan term, whether it’s for a car, student loan or something else, consider paying it off if you have the cash. You’ll cut out the interest you would’ve paid and, chances are, you’re paying more in interest for the loans than you’re making on the money if you leave it in your savings account until the bill comes due.

28. Review Your Insurance Policies

It’s a good idea to review your insurance policies — whether it’s your home insurance, car insurance or any other type — to see if you’re still getting the coverage you need. Then, take that information and shop around to make sure you’re getting the best price available.  

29. Ask More Questions

Personal finance can be really confusing, so don’t be embarrassed if you don’t understand some of the concepts — even the seemingly basic ones. Commit to learning more about things like how credit works, your options for retirement planning or smart ways to use your credit card.

30. Set Calendar Reminders

Putting bill due dates in a digital calendar and setting up notifications will help you remember to pay things on time and save you the hassle of late-payment fees or damaged credit.

31. Set a Savings Goal

Think back on what you wanted to do last year but couldn’t afford. Was it a vacation? Buying holiday gifts? Build an emergency savings? Figure out how much you want to save, when you want to save it by and how much you have to set aside each month to reach that goal. Then do it.

32. Give up Your Vices or Guilty Pleasures

Do you put too many dollars toward dining out? Perhaps you spent too much on alcohol or cigarettes? Consider giving up these things (or at least cutting back on them) and using the excess cash to pay down debts, build up an emergency fund or save for a big ticket item.

33. Sell Stuff You Don’t Need

Take a look around the house and see if there’s anything you’re not using. By selling your unwanted items, you can free up money to put toward your savings or paying down credit card debt.

34. Change Your Passwords

Protect financial accounts by changing up those access digits, especially if you’re using any of the worst passwords from 2015.  

35. Comparison Shop

Want to score a great deal? Search online and shop around to find the best deals on products. You don’t have to settle for the first deal you see.

36. Consult a Professional

If your money situation is complex, a visit with a certified financial planner, credit counselor or certified public accountant may be worthwhile.

37. Turn Your Hobby into Cash

Websites like Etsy have made it possible for thousands of people to sell their wares with little or no investment beyond the craft itself. So, if you make your own candles, scented soaps or other artisanal wares, consider setting up a shop. 

38. Fill a Piggy Bank

At the end of every day, drop your loose change into a jar or other vessel — it doesn’t have to be a piggy bank per se — and do it every day. One of our editors tried this last year and had $285 in change by the end of it. That’s a nice dinner out, and then some.

39. Cut Water Costs

If you don’t already have low-flow shower heads and toilets, consider getting them. New toilets can be expensive, but you can cheat by filling a liter bottle with water and then dropping it in the tank so you don’t use as much water each time you flush.

40. Buy Generic Brands

Why pay full price for name brands when generics work just as well? Get in the habit of buying these, at least some of the time, and your wallet is sure to get fatter.

41. Make Shopping Lists

An easy way to save money is by making a shopping list before you hit the stores. Stick to it, especially if you’re shopping when you’re hungry, and you’ll avoid buying items you just don’t need. 

42. Refinance

If your credit has improved, see if you can qualify for a lower rate on a mortgage, auto loan or private student loan, for instance. Just be sure to account for any fees associated with refinancing before you go ahead and do so.

43. Make Your Home Energy Efficient

It may cost more upfront, but little upgrades like installing a programmable thermostat can help you cut down your energy costs. You can find more ideas for making your home energy-efficient on EnergyStar.gov

44. Use the Library

If you buy a lot of books or music, try borrowing it from the library instead. As long as you avoid late return fees, you’ll end up saving a considerable amount of money.

45. Consolidate Your Credit Card Debt 

Look into getting a personal loan, or debt consolidation loan, to consolidate debts you’re carrying on multiple credit cards. Depending on your credit, you may be able to secure a lower rate.

46. Live Below Your Means

Spending less than you earn on a regular basis is one way to ensure you always have an emergency fund on hand. Borrowing less than you need — or at least not over-borrowing — will save you big on interest.

47. Reevaluate Your Tax Withholding

Sure, a big tax refund is nice, but it indicates you were paying the government too much all year. Consider changing your withholding specification on your W-4 to get more money back on each paycheck.

48. Wait a Day Before Buying

If you’re prone to impulse-shopping, institute a one-day waiting period before buying. That’ll give you time to evaluate if the purchase is a want or a need.

49. Pay Your Credit Card More Than Once a Month

Link your debit card account to your credit card account and then make a habit of paying down your balances once a week — or at least twice a month. That’ll help you avoid spending more than what’s in your bank account.

50. Skip the Trip

Sure, an expensive vacation seems like a necessity, but, if finances are tight this year, opt for a staycation or an affordable road trip instead.

The post 50 Ways to Give Your Finances a Fresh Start in 2017 appeared first on Credit.com.

6 Ways to Prepare Your Credit Cards for the Holidays

6 Ways to Prepare Your Credit Cards for the Holidays

The leaves are changing color and Halloween is almost here, which means the holidays are approaching fast. Now is the time to get your credit cards in order and avoid holiday overspending. Here are six ways to prepare your credit cards for the holidays.

1. Check Your Credit Score

Your credit score is one of the greatest indicators of the overall health of your finances, so it pays to know where you stand. You can view two of your free credit scores, updated every 14 days, by signing up for an account on Credit.com, and by checking your score, you can see what areas you need to improve. For example, you may find out that you need to do a better job making loan payments on time or lowering your credit card balances. And if you have problems with your credit, then you can adjust your holiday shopping plans accordingly, so you don’t do any more damage.

2. Take Stock of Your Cards

Before your holiday shopping begins, you’ll want to know which cards you have at home, in your wallet and elsewhere. Perhaps you have some credit cards that you keep in your car, or at work. Or you might have signed up for store credit cards in last year that you forgot about. In any case, make sure that you can find all of your cards, and double check that the accounts are still open (and, ideally, in good standing).

3. Check Your Available Credit

One reason that you should take inventory of your credit cards is to see each card’s line of credit and how much of it is still available. That’s because your debt-utilization ratio — how much credit you’ve used versus how much is offered to you — is one of the biggest factors that determine your credit score. If you’re bumping up against your available credit limit, that’s a sign that you may have taken on too much debt and need to adjust your spending habits.

4. See Which Cards Offer the Most Rewards

If you are in the habit of avoiding credit card interest charges by paying your statement balances in full, then you may be the type of credit card user who could benefit from a rewards credit card. You may be able to find credit cards that reward you for the kind of shopping you do over the holidays. For example, the Chase Freedom card offers 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in spending each quarter on select categories of merchants. From October through December, that category is department stores, wholesale clubs and drug stores, and you can check Chase’s website for specific stores that fall into those categories. That’s just one example — you can see our roundup of the best cash back rewards cards here.

5. Examine Your Cardholder Benefits

While most people focus on credit card rewards, your card’s purchase protection benefits could offer you tremendous value during the holidays. For example, a price protection policy could refund you the difference when an eligible purchase experiences a price drop. A return protection policy could come in handy if a merchant is unable to accept or offer a refund for an unwanted item. Damage and theft protection policies are commonly found on many credit cards, while extended warranty coverage can add a year to your manufacturer’s warranty. By knowing which policies your cards have, you can choose to use the ones that offer you the most valuable benefits.

6. Create a Budget

The final, and perhaps most important, way to prepare for using your credit cards during the holidays is to examine your budget. It’s very easy to get carried away with your holiday spending, so it’s vital to create a budget before its too late. After all, you don’t want to bump up against your credit limit, as we mentioned earlier, or take on so much debt that it drags down your credit score.

By deciding in advance how much is prudent to spend during the holidays, and by closely tracking how your actual charges compare to your budget, you can keep your spending under control. When you prepare your credit cards well in advance of the holidays, then you can start the new year off in a good financial situation, rather than making up for last year’s missteps.

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 6 Ways to Prepare Your Credit Cards for the Holidays appeared first on Credit.com.

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