Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to save on your healthcare costs. Also in the news: Planning a successful retirement, how to handle new found wealth, and nine surprising stats on Social Security.

4 Ways to Save on Healthcare Costs
Preparing for January’s change in health care costs.

3 Phases of Successful Retirement Planning
Customizing your retirement planning based on your age.

Inheriting a Windfall: How to Handle Sudden Wealth
What to do once the shock wears off.

Nine surprising Social Security statistics
In 2012, 20% of the United States received Social Security.

Don’t Fall for these Credit, Gift Card Pitfalls and Gotchas
The importance difference between gift cards and pre-paid cards.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Help at financial crisisToday’s top story: How to work towards a debt free 2014. Also in the news: PayPal and credit ratings, finding the cheapest holiday gifts, and how to avoid financial pitfalls this Thanksgiving.

Tips for Paying Off Debt in 2014
Starting the new year off on the right foot.

Can PayPal Hurt Your Credit?
Conversely, could bad credit prevent you from getting a PayPal account?

Where to Find the Cheapest Holiday Gifts
Presents that won’t lead you to the poor house.

Have a Happier Thanksgiving by Dodging These Spending Pitfalls
The bourbon in the pecan pie doesn’t have to be top shelf.

The greatest, most underused credit card perk
Two words: price match.

Holiday triage: How to get ready when you’re not

Christmas shopping woman holding giftsThanksgiving is so late this year that I’ve been drifting along in a lovely bubble of denial. Even my Jewish friends’ preparations for Hanukkah haven’t been enough to alert me that Christmas isn’t far off.

Today a TV crew from a local Chinese-language stopped by to record some tips for enjoying the holidays without creating debt. The key, I said, is planning. So now’s the time to take my own advice.

Holiday season is a busy and expensive time, one that for us includes entertaining, travel, several family birthdays and a bucketload of presents. So here’s what I’ll be doing this weekend to prepare:

Finishing the spreadsheet. I use an Excel spreadsheet to list who will be getting presents and a target spending amount for each person. The spreadsheet also includes an estimate of what we’ll spend on travel (airfare, hotel, gas, food), entertaining (drinks, food, centerpieces), decorations (tree and lights) and holiday tips for the people who make our lives easier (cleaning lady, gardeners, hair stylist and so on). I total everything up, gasp, and start making adjustments so that our spending won’t leave us with huge bills in January.

Going on a treasure hunt. I buy gifts throughout the year and stash them in convenient hidey-holes throughout the house. I’ll dig them out and add them in the appropriate cells on the spreadsheet so I don’t wind up buying duplicate gifts.

Cashing in. I’m not a huge fan of gift cards as gifts, but I love using them to buy real gifts. I also have a rewards credit card program that allows me to use points to get Visa gift cards that, again, can be used to buy gifts or given in lieu of cash as a holiday tip. My daughter and I will also take our coin jar down to the nearest Coinstar to get a fee-free Amazon.com gift card. (Coinstar also offers gift certificates to iTunes, Starbucks and a bunch of other retailers.)

Stocking up. I like to take advantage of holiday sales to buy an extra turkey (to freeze and use later), stock up on baking supplies and lay in a fresh supply of crackers, dips and other nibblies for drop-in guests. This is also a great time of year to double dinner recipes and freeze half for those days that are just too frantic to cook.

I plan to finish this weekend in much better shape for the holidays. How about you? What needs to get done now for you to be ready?

Protect yourself from holiday credit card fraud

GiftHoliday shopping means more opportunities to whip out your plastic—and more opportunities for thieves to try to steal your identity. Here’s what you should do.

Be vigilant. If you haven’t already, sign up for online access to your bank and credit card accounts. You should be reviewing your transactions at least weekly.

Be reachable. Update your contact information so your issuer can reach you quickly in case they spot fraud.

Be alerted. While you’re at it, sign up for alerts. Most issuers allow you to get a text or email alert for large or overseas transactions.

Beware fraudulent deal sites. Their eye-popping bargains may just be a way to get your credit card numbers. Stick with the real deal, like DealNews.

Be diligent. Install and update anti-malware software.

Be smart. Use your credit card rather than your debit card in high-risk situations, as I wrote in “Debit cards can be riskier than credit cards.” If you must use a debit card, sign for it rather than using your PIN since that typically offers you better protection against fraud.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to get the credit reports you’re entitled to. Also in the news: Demystifying credit scores, how to master your holiday shopping list, and what kind of credit you’ll need to get a student loan.

I Want My Free Credit Reports
How to get what you’re entitled to.

What to Do When Your Partner Commits Financial Infidelity
What do you do when your partner goes rogue?

Do I Need a Good Credit Score to Get Student Loans?
Is this the one loan where credit history doesn’t matter?

10 Things Consumers Don’t Understand About Credit Scores
Demystifying your scores.

How To Master Your Holiday Shopping List
The sooner you start shopping, the better.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

creditPreparing your holiday checklist, why checking your credit report is a must, and what you need to know about a possible national debt default.

Pre-Holiday Guide: What To Mark On Your Financial Checklist
Santa isn’t the only one with a list for the holidays.

Why Some People Choose Work Over Retirement
What happens when retirement doesn’t live up to the hype?

Ways to Cut Heating Costs, Beat Rising Fuel Prices
Winter is just around the corner.

How to Make Sure Your Credit Report Is Accurate
Mistakes can wreak havoc with credit limits and interest rates.

Why Many Americans Aren’t Concerned About a National Debt Default
Ignorance may be bliss, but a national debt default could hurt everyone.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

College studentSaving on back-to-school purchases, a new way to pay for holiday expenses, and how being bad tenant can cause an array of problems.

Financial caution pays off in stocking up for school
Don’t let the back-to-school rush drain your bank account.

Your Ticket to Extra Cash for the Holidays
The holidays (and their expenses) are right around the corner.

Are you a lousy tenant? 7 ways it can cost you
Being late with your rent can cost you in more ways than one.

4 Tips to Help 30-Somethings Make Ends Meet
How to survive the present while planning for the future.

Refinancing Your Mortgage? When to Lock In
Fluctuating mortgage rates make a strategy plan a necessity.