Hundreds of flights have already been cancelled on this busy travel day, with more cancellations and delays likely to come as a winter storm rolls through the East Coast. If you used the right credit card to book your trip, though, you may be entitled to some compensation.
Most cards offer some kind of travel protection, but some of the policies are pretty weak, even for high-end cards. Some only offer compensation for lost baggage, while others offer hundreds of dollars in compensation for trip delays–and thousands for trip cancellations.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred card, for example, is justifiably famous among savvy travelers for its generous delay and cancellation protection: If your trip is canceled or cut short by illness, severe weather and “other covered situations,” can can be reimbursed up to $10,000 for prepaid, nonrefundable expenses. You can get up to $500 for trip delays and a whopping $3,000 for lost luggage. (Many other cards limit lost luggage reimbursement to $500.) Other high-end Chase cards, along with The United Explorer Visa Platinum Card, offer similar top-drawer benefits.
Citi recently stepped up its game, and now offers card members refunds for trip expenses if unforeseen events like severe weather, jury duty or even previously unannounced strikes cause trip cancellations. The coverage is limited to $1,500 for most cardholders, though some get up to $5,000. Those with ThankYou Premier or Citi Prestige can get up to $500 to buy clothes and toiletries if their bags are delayed. If a trip is delayed, these travel rewards card members also can get up to $500 for unplanned expenses such as hotel rooms, ground transportation and meals.
Travel cards that you think would have pretty good protection–such as American Express or Capital One Venture–unfortunately don’t. Amex offers travel protection for an extra cost and CapOne covers just lost or stolen luggage (although the limit is $3,000).
If you’re affected this weekend by travel hassles, call and ask the credit card company that you used to book the trip what your options might be. If you don’t like what you hear, start looking for a better alternative for your next trip.
Today’s top story: The best airline miles credit cards. Also in the news: Behind the scenes of a student loan deal, how to prioritize your bills when you’re low on cash, and five items to donate for a charitable tax deduction.
The Best Airline Miles Credit Cards in America
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How a Little Student Loan Deal Could Spell Big Trouble for Borrowers
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Every little bit healps.
“I am Jonathan Knight and I am calling you from the federal investigation department of IRS. My badge number is 46719. The matter at the hand is extremely time sensitive and urgent as after audit we found that there was a fraud and misconduct on your taxes which you are hiding from the federal government. This needs to be rectified immediately so do return the call as soon as you receive the message on my direct line number. And this is Jonathan Knight again federal investigation department of IRS.”
I was really rather bummed that I’d let this particular gem go to voice mail. Oh, the fun I could have had with this idiot! Here’s me, pretending to be all scared and upset…drawing him in, getting him all excited about the money he was going to scam from me…and then Boom! Telling him exactly what I thought of his morals, his conduct, his parentage and what bug he’ll be incarnated into the next go-round.
I did call the number back and got a different gentleman with an Indian accent on the line (with the noise of a call center in the background). He called himself “Chief Ray Parker” and told me that “complete audits” of my tax returns from 2002 to 2012 had turned up “errors and miscalculations” and that the government was going to the courthouse to file a lawsuit against me within two hours. When he demanded to know if I had a lawyer and I said yes, though, he didn’t seem to know what to say next, and hung up on me. So I didn’t get to unleash at all.
The IRS says this a pervasive, aggressive scam that’s hitting taxpayers all over the country. The scammers alter their caller ID to make it look like it’s coming from a Washington D.C. number and may know a lot about the people they’re calling. Unfortunately, too many people take the bait and give up sensitive personal information or even money to these scoundrels.
Just as a refresher: the IRS typically contacts taxpayers by letter, not by phone, particularly if an audit is involved. If the IRS thinks you owe money, it will let you know and give you some time to make payment arrangements. Oh, and by the way, the IRS is one of the few creditors that doesn’t need to go to court to get a wage garnishment.
If you get one of these calls, report it to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1.800.366.4484 or at www.tigta.gov. Even if you don’t, tell your parents and grandparents about this since older people may be more vulnerable to these kinds of scams.
Today’s top story: How to prepare for a credit check. Also in the news: What you should include in your long term care plan, how to avoid holiday shopping scams, and why you should purchase renters insurance before the holidays.
How to Get Ready for a Credit Check
Three steps to help you prepare.
4 Things to Include in Your Long-Term Care Plan
Planning for a long life.
Consider Buying Renters Insurance Before the Holidays
Accidents are more common around the holidays.
Beware of Holiday Shopping Scams, FBI Warns Consumers
Beware of too good to be true deals.
Top 10 Reasons to Give Thanks to Your Financial Advisor
In the spirit of Thanksgiving.
American shoppers seem to fall into two groups: those who are planning their early-morning raids on major retailers (starting as early as Thanksgiving morning!) and those who sneer at people who head out into the cold in search of bargains.
I used to belong to the latter group, until a friend pointed out I was being a snob. Here’s how Los Angeles Times reporter Shan Li puts it in today’s article “Black Friday highlights the contrast between rich and poor.”
“Increasingly, the seasonal shopping surge has become a window into America’s class divide, in which high earners have benefited from a booming stock market and rising home prices as many others still grapple with stagnant incomes and lingering financial anxiety.
“You have people who really need a bargain — they will sit out for two days to get that deal because that may be the only big thing they can afford for the whole family,” said Britt Beemer, founder of America’s Research Group. “Luxury retailers don’t do very well on Black Friday because their customers are not going to fight the crowds.”
Li quotes a PricewaterhouseCoopers report that says the ranks of strapped shoppers who earn less than $50,000 a year are growing from 63 percent of American shoppers two years ago to 67 percent today.
There are alternatives to fighting the crowds, of course. Check out this interesting post at the Nonconsumer Advocate: “10 ways for a zero-dollar Christmas.” Online retailers are offering plenty of good deals as well. Then there’s the whole Shop Small thing, although you need an American Express credit or Bluebird prepaid card to get money back.
If you are planning to venture out in search of deals, consider a good price comparison app such as RedLaser or PriceGrabber on your smart phone, if you have one. They’re good tools to help you figure out which Black Friday bargains are the real deal. A site to track is DealNews, which not only alerts you to deals but which keeps track of previous low prices. If you can’t check prices on the go, at least hang on to your receipts so you can exchange anything for which you find a better buy.
Those of us who will be sitting snug at home shouldn’t feel too self-satisfied, particularly if–like me–you order a lot from a certain online retailer. Read this Motley Fool article about which retailer treats its employees worse: WalMart or Amazon.
Today’s top story: The three things you should do before tackling your student loan debt. Also in the news: Three tax changes for 2015, how to protect your finances during a late-in-life divorce, and how changing the order in which you deduct from your paycheck could save you more money.
3 Things to Do Before Tackling Your Student Loan Debt
There’s a lot to do before you start making payments.
3 Tax Changes for 2015 You Need To Know About
Tax time is right around the corner.
Protect finances in later-in-life divorce
Divorce after 50 can come with a special set of financial issues.
Subtract Savings from Your Salary Before Expenses to Save Better
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7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score This Month
Just in time for the holidays.
Dear Liz: You recently wrote about student loan forgiveness. After 15 years as a public defender, my wife was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and could no longer pursue her career as a lawyer. She applied for forgiveness of the federal student loans she used to attend law school. About three years later, the loans were forgiven. The caveat is that she was required to pay income taxes based on the balance that was erased. The taxes amounted to $63,000. Getting the loan forgiven was easy compared with coughing up the money for the IRS. I thought this should be mentioned.
Answer: The IRS generally considers forgiven or canceled debt as income to the borrower. There are several exceptions, however.
Borrowers don’t have to pay income taxes on student loans forgiven through programs that require them to work for a specific number of years in a certain profession. So public service loan forgiveness, law school repayment assistance, teacher loan forgiveness and the National Health Service Corps’ loan repayment program won’t trigger taxes. Forgiven debt also may be excluded from income if the borrower was insolvent at the time.
Student loan discharges for death, disability, closed schools, false certification and unpaid refunds typically are considered taxable income, however. Forgiveness of remaining balances under income-based repayment programs after 20 or 25 years of payment is also considered taxable.
The taxes owed will be a percentage of the amount forgiven, based on your tax bracket. If you’re in the 25% federal bracket, for example, you’d pay $25,000 for $100,000 of forgiven debt, plus any state and local income taxes. It’s less than the tab you owed, of course, but as you note it can still be a tough bill to pay.
Dear Liz: Someone recently asked you about whether they were responsible for their mother’s credit card debt, and at the end of your answer you suggested she talk to a bankruptcy attorney. How can you promote that kind of irresponsibility?
Answer: Some people are quite firm in their belief that bankruptcy should never be an option — even for elderly widows on fixed incomes with no hope of ever paying off their debts. But if enough things go wrong in their lives, these anti-bankruptcy folks might find themselves grateful that there’s a legal way out of the debtors’ prison that their lives would become.