Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: What would you give up to be debt free? Also in the news: What to know about alternative investments, what to buy (and skip) in August, and how money can actually buy happiness.

What Would You Give Up to Be Debt-Free?
Making sacrifices.

Alternative Investments: What to Know Before You Buy
Investments beyond stocks.

What to Buy (and Skip) in August
Preparing for back-to-school.

Yes, you can buy happiness … if you spend it to save time
Spending it the right way.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Credit report with score on a desk

Credit report with score on a desk

Today’s top story: Debt collectors continue to defy requests to stop calling. Also in the news: How to map out a year’s worth of shopping, how stuck-in-the-middle parents can afford college, and why your free credit score might not be what you think it is.

3 in 4 Say Debt Collectors Defy Requests to Stop Calling
Consumers are still feeling threatened.

Map Out a Year’s Worth of Shopping Right Now
When to get the best deals.

How Stuck-in-the-Middle Parents Can Afford College
Looking at the options.

Your Free Credit Score Might Not Be What You Think It Is
Understanding the differences.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Student-LoansToday’s top story: What to buy for every month of the year. Also in the news: Why you should think twice before borrowing for your kid’s college, why you need to stop hoarding your credit card rewards, and why banks are starting to look more like cafes.

What to Buy Every Month of the Year in 2017
Shopping smart.

Think Twice Before Borrowing for Your Kid’s College
You could spend decades paying it back.

Credit Card Rewards Are for Spending, Not Hoarding
Use ’em before you lose ’em.

Decaf with your deposit, ma’am? Reinventing the bank branch
Get a latte with your loan.

Holiday debt hangover? Here’s how to fix it

images-2Despite what you often read, credit card debt isn’t typical. One quarter of U.S. households don’t use credit cards at all, and another 35 percent or so regularly pay their balances in full, according to Federal Reserve statistics. Among households that carry credit card balances, the median debt–where half owe more and half owe less–is somewhere around $3,000.

Whopping “average credit card debt” statistics are what grab headlines, though. They’re typically compiled by taking the total amount charged on plastic at the end of the year and dividing it by the number of card-carrying households. Those total charges include amounts that are about to be paid off by us so-called “convenience users,” and often business credit card balances as well. Also, averages can be misleading, since a relatively small number of households carrying a lot of debt can skew the average upward.

If you’re the one with the debt, though, you know it doesn’t feel good. If your balances grew over the holidays, you may be stressing already about how to pay it off. Here are some ideas:

Skip the post-holiday sales. You’ve heard it over and over: You can’t get out of debt if you don’t stop digging. But our brains tells us sales are the exception. We’re saving money! Nope, we’re spending–and adding to our debt stress. Whatever’s on sale likely will be on sale again, so let it go.

Have a no-spend month. I hosted one of these more than a decade ago on MSN, and readers reported saving $300, $400 and more. A no-spend means you spend only on essentials: no eating out, paid entertainment or shopping. You’ll learn frugality skills like planning and making do that can help you save year round.

Check the cushions. You may have money tucked away in various forms–jars of coins, unused gift cards, rewards programs that can be converted to cash back or gift cards. (Sites like Gift Card Granny can help you convert plastic to cash.)

Make weekly credit card payments. Don’t wait until the bill arrives to pay it–start whittling down your balance with regular injections.

Lower your interest rate. If you have good credit, you may be able to qualify for low- or zero-rate balance transfer offers. Use them as a way to speed up your debt repayment.

Let’s be careful out there

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailIt’s going to be a zoo at the stores the next couple of days, the last full weekend before Christmas (next Sunday) and Hanukkah (which starts the night before). Plus, today is the last day for ground delivery from UPS and FedEx deliveries if you want your packages to arrive by Christmas.

If you feel like the shopping season is shorter this year, you’re not alone. The Wall Street Journal says the election kept people distracted and more retailers put off promotions until closer to Thanksgiving.

The crush of stressed, rushing people can lead to all kinds of financial fallout, from overspending inside the stores to fender-benders outside them. Some things to keep in mind if you’re venturing out:

Make that list before you go. So basic and so easy to forget. Specify who you’re buying for, and the budget. Put it on your phone, tattoo it on your forehead, whatever it takes.

Use a credit card (or two). Many credit cards offer protection if your purchases are stolen or damaged. Some double manufacturers’ warranties, and all can serve as a middleman if you have a dispute with a merchant. Just don’t use cards as an excuse to go wild–credit card balances should be paid in full. (One reader treats his credit cards as prepaid cards by sending an extra payment in advance to cover his holiday shopping.)

Maximize your rewards. Using the right card at the right venue can boost your rewards. If you have a card with changing bonus categories, know what those are before you leave home. Chase Freedom, for example, is offering 5 percent cash back on wholesale clubs (including Costco and Sam’s), department stores and drugstores. Discover It has a 5 percent cash bonus on department stores and Amazon. Many cards have ongoing bonuses for certain purchases, such as gas or dining out. NerdWallet has other tips on maximizing your rewards.

Go early. Getting there when the doors open may give you a few moments of less-crowded shopping.

Keep your phone handy. Check prices on the fly. Resist the urge to snap up extra “bargains” that might not be. But:

Watch out for fake shopping apps. Yup, they’re a thing, even in the supposedly-safer Apple App store. These apps can steal your credit card and personal information. Go to the retailer’s site and use the links there to download its mobile app.

Hide it, lock it, keep it. Don’t leave your purchases in plain sight in your car and try to avoid parking in dimly-lit or poorly trafficked areas.

Beware in-store pickup. It sounds great: shop online, pick it up in the store. Except when it doesn’t work, which can be often, since many stores’ inventory tracking isn’t all it could be and they may not have enough staff to get your stuff off the shelf. (Target stores in my area can’t seem to consistently fulfill in-store pickup orders even with normal traffic.) Have a plan B in case your order gets canceled or never fulfilled.

And speaking of Plan Bs:

There’s always Amazon. The online chain is offering one- and two-hour delivery all the way through midnight on Christmas Eve with its Prime Now service.

 

 

 

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: The best credit cards for new homeowners. Also in the news: Determining the right time to retire, what items you should buy in large quantities to save money, and finding a bank that offers the best protection for its customers.

5 Credit Cards for New Homeowners
How to save money on one of the biggest purchases you’ll ever make.

How to Know When Retirement is Right for You and Your Family
Timing is everything.

10 Items to Always Buy in Large Quantities
Buying in bulk can help you stick to a budget.

Top 10 Banks That Offer The Best Customer Protection
Protecting your personal information and your assets.

Black Friday: Fun, hype–or class warfare?

business girl with shopping bagsAmerican 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.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: Five mid-year tax moves you should make right now. Also in the news: Why you should consider signing up later for social security, getting a late start on retirement savings, and why you should open a savings account.

5 Smart Mid-Year Tax Moves for Right Now
Don’t wait until next year.

Why Workers Sign Up for Social Security at Age 62
Waiting could bring you more money.

5 keys to a successful late-start retirement plan
There’s still time to catch up.

5 Reasons to Start a Savings Account Today
The easiest way to start building wealth.

Here’s What You Should (and Shouldn’t) Buy in July
Hold off on that new TV.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Avoiding panic on Black Friday. Also in the news: Shopping strategies for Black Friday, how to earn the most credit card rewards during holiday shopping, and what to consider before applying for a medical credit card. Gift

How to Avoid Panic Buying on Black Friday
Keep Calm and Shop On.

How to Win Black Friday: Shopping Strategies
Getting your gameplan on.

5 Black Friday tricks to avoid
How not to fall for retail tricks.

Earn The Most Credit Card Rewards During Your Holiday Shopping 2013
Stocking up rewards as stuff the stockings.

What to Consider Before Applying for a Medical Credit Card
Pay close attention to interest rates and hidden fees.

Will you shop on Thanksgiving?

Mother and son outdoors at winterI once made a disparaging comment to a friend about people who rush the doors of their local retailers to snag Black Friday deals.

She told me I was being elitist. I had money to buy nice presents for my family. Many of those waiting in the cold, dark night for the Walmart doors to open didn’t, and Black Friday might be their only shot at getting something nice for their kids and spouses and parents.

She had a point. Maybe that characterization doesn’t apply to everybody caught up in the post-Thanksgiving frenzy, but it was true enough back then to make me shut my mouth about it.

Now they’re messing with Thanksgiving itself, which sucks for the employees forced to work and for the shoppers who are letting themselves be tricked into deals that usually aren’t. “The stuff on sale now will be even cheaper in a few weeks,” wrote New York Post columnist Nicole Gelinas who goes on to write:

There’s nothing wrong with marketing ploys. But there is something wrong with preying on people’s impulses to the extent that they are sacrificing time with their families for one day that shouldn’t be commercialized. Time is the real gift.

Because you know what’s next, right? After-Christmas sales…starting on Christmas morning.