Tuesday, November 22, 2016

5 ways to find extra money during the holidays

(BPT) - The holidays are here again. It's that time of year when you get together with family and friends, take some time away from work and live out the definition of "it's better to give than receive." And, if you're like many Americans, this is also the season when you give a little too much and find yourself over budget on your holiday spending.
Research from MagnifyMoney shows Americans incur $986 in additional debt throughout the holiday season, money they are then forced to pay off during the new year. If you've had problems with holiday-induced debt in the past and you've tried - and failed - to stem your holiday spending, take a different route this year and see if you can generate extra money to cover those increased holiday expenses. You can do it in a short period of time, so here are a few tips to get you started.
Clean house. As you're picking up your house and getting ready for guests to come over, take a good look under the couch cushions for spare change, and don't forget all those things you're moving to the basement. Add up that spare change to put toward your holiday budget. And, could you move some of your possessions out the door instead? Craigslist, eBay and Facebook all make selling your old possessions easier than ever. And don't forgo the traditional garage sale - one successful Saturday could give you the money you need to enjoy the holidays without debt concerns.
More money than you think. The money beneath your couch cushions may be worth more than you think. Research from Coinstar shows Americans, on average, believe they have $41 in spare change on hand. However, Coinstar's own nationwide kiosk data indicates the amount of spare change consumers have on hand is even more than that. Bring your spare coins to a Coinstar kiosk today and trade them for cash or no-fee eGift cards to retailers such as Amazon, Nike and Best Buy. On average, people cash in $68 when they convert their coins to no-fee eGift cards. Whether you keep the cards for yourself or give them as gifts is up to you.
Take a seasonal job. If you want a little extra money and a short time commitment, seasonal employment during the holidays is a great idea. Retailers across the country are looking to bolster their staff for the holiday season and you can enter this environment with minimal training and hit the ground running - especially if you have prior retail experience. Choose a product you're passionate about and it's a win-win, just make sure you don't spend all of your earnings before you leave the store.
Cash in those unwanted gift cards. Nearly three in four consumers have unwanted gift cards lying around because they are for stores that are too far away, or places they've never shopped before. If you're one of them, turn those cards into cash you can use. Coinstar Exchange allows you to exchange those unwanted gift cards for cash so you can tackle that holiday shopping list without debt concerns.
Cash in your credit card points. When you're shopping for a new credit card, reward points are a big deal in your consideration. But how often do you use them? Research shows that Americans rake in $48 billion worth of credit card points each year, yet only $32 billion are redeemed. The holidays are the perfect time to redeem those points, so don't forget to use them and find that extra cash you've been missing.
The holiday season is a wonderful time of year and it's more enjoyable if it doesn't leave you with lingering debt. So start preparing your extra revenue streams today and give yourself the gift of a happy, debt-free holiday. To learn more about how Coinstar can provide you the extra income you need this holiday season, visit www.coinstar.com.

5 affordable ways to connect with family without breaking the bank

(BPT) - Ready or not, the holidays are fast approaching. While it’s a season known for celebrating family and friends, the stress of gift-giving and holiday planning can make people lose sight of what’s really important.
Here are five ways you can easily connect with your family without breaking the bank.
Take a family "staycation"
Making time for your family during the holidays doesn’t have to mean splurging on a trip across the world. Instead, opt for a cheaper alternative and spend time in your area. Take time to explore neighborhoods or attractions nearby. You never know — you might find a new favorite place right in your own hometown.
Simplify communication
Not everyone can celebrate with family in-person over the holidays. Not to worry: a simple and affordable way to stay in touch with loved ones is just what you need. TracFone has you covered with amazing Black Friday deals like the Samsung Galaxy J1 smartphone available for just $49.99, to help you connect for moments that matter this season. TracFone now offers a 30-day smartphone-only plan with talk, text and data for just $15 on America’s largest and most dependable networks with 4G LTE nationwide coverage — so you can easily share photos, videos and more. For more great deals and information on affordable, no-contract plans, visit www.TracFoneSwitch.com.
Repurpose a recipe
The holiday season means lots of meals and entertaining — and one of the best parts of this time of year is also leftovers! Rather than simply re-heating, look up some recipes you and your family can make to spice up extras from your holiday meal. This way, you can not only spend time in the kitchen together, but enjoy the meal you made around the table.
DIY decorate
This year, instead of buying generic (and expensive) decorations, get creative by making your own! Get the entire family involved and create decorations that will forever have a special meaning in your home. You can also get help thinking outside the box by turning to Pinterest, craft bloggers or YouTube tutorials for inspiration.
Give back
It can be easy to forget that the holidays are a time to remember to give to those in need. Take some time with your family to volunteer for an organization you feel strongly about. Volunteering is a great way to not only remind your family of what the holidays are all about, but a way for you to bond over an unforgettable experience.

College and credit cards: How parents can play professor

(BPT) - Last year, college campuses across the country had 2.1 million recent high school graduates walk through their doors — a number that will likely be matched in 2016. But a freshly printed campus ID isn’t the only plastic eager students will carry this fall. A recent survey commissioned by USAA found that as parents send their children to college, most make sure their kids pack at least one credit card in their wallets.
Parents cite a number of reasons why their child has a credit card. Most overwhelmingly, the primary reasons are the ability to build credit history and convenience.
However, one-third of parents surveyed say their children will not have a credit card in college. JJ Montanaro, a certified financial planner with USAA, encourages parents to reconsider if they feel credit cards might be unnecessary.
“College is a place to learn — whether it’s academics or life lessons,” he says. “Building a credit history and understanding of how to manage credit should be a part of the overall college experience.”
Montanaro offers parents this syllabus for helping their college students make the grade in Credit Cards 101:
Communicate expectations.
Surprisingly, parents say they are just as likely to discuss budget management as they are academic priorities with their college-bound child (both 82 percent). This is great news, but Montanaro encourages parents to lay a good financial foundation well before their kids are headed off for higher education. Before college, parents should teach their children the basics of setting a budget and following it.
Select the right card.
Since the 2009 CARD Act, it is more challenging for students to get a credit card without mom and dad’s help. Parents report that nearly 50 percent of college credit card holders are authorized users on their account or using a card they have co-signed for.
“It’s a great idea for the student to have a card to which the parent has access and visibility,” says Montanaro. “Keeping a clear line of sight into how the card is used and paid each month allows parents to help young adults learn from their mistakes and create successful money and credit management habits.”
For students who still need training wheels, a secured credit card can be a good option. When they apply for one of USAA’s secured cards, they’ll also open a USAA Bank two-year variable rate Certificate of Deposit (CD), which allows them to earn interest while helping to build a positive credit history.
Master the fundamentals.
While there are many benefits of having a credit card in college, irresponsible use can have lasting consequences. Montanaro suggests using a credit card for recurring charges, like cell phone or internet service, as a safe way for students to build credit. Once they are ready to charge a wider array of expenses, both parents and children must abide by the most important rule: Pay off the card in full each month.
Learning to responsibly use credit cards while in college can have many benefits. In the short term, it allows students to build a positive credit history in order to purchase a car or rent an apartment once out of school. Longer term, they can carry positive credit management habits with them throughout their lifetimes. Montanaro sums it all up, “Allowing your kids to dip their toes into the world of credit cards while you’re able to closely monitor the situation provides an opportunity to learn and the freedom to fail without big stakes."

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Election update: Americans want action on housing and credit

(BPT) - Decisions made by the next President and Congress could change the way Americans buy and sell homes for generations to come. Rising prices are making it more difficult for working families and young adults to become homeowners. Government control over the vast majority of mortgages through Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae unnecessarily exposes taxpayers to risk and continue to stifle the innovation of new lending products that responsible borrowers need and want.
More business as usual?
Depending on who is elected this year’s presidential election could either deliver a mandate for Washington to act on far-reaching reforms integral to our system of housing finance or bring more business as usual.
Here are the priorities Americans want the next President and Congress to address, according to a new research conducted for loanDepot, the nation’s second largest nonbank consumer lender:
* Make homeownership more affordable for middle- and lower-income families (37 percent).
* Keep interest rates low, especially during the first 100 days of the new presidency (34 percent).
* Make more credit available to small businesses (11 percent).
Few see the election improving their pocketbooks
Most Americans expect their personal financial situation to either stay the same or get worse when new leaders take over the White House and Congress. Only 6 percent think that they will be better off as a result of the election.
Each vote counts
One out of every five Americans said the candidates’ housing and finance policies will influence their vote. Another 40 percent have not yet made up their minds. That is because only 9 percent think the candidates have done a good job articulating their positions on the economic issues that affect peoples’ daily lives.
Perception doesn’t match reality
Some 77 percent think it is just as hard or even harder to get a loan today than during the Great Recession eight years ago. Young adults may be more discouraged than most; they worry about not making enough money and  nearly half (46 percent) fear the election outcome will make it even harder to get a loan.
In fact, while guidelines have tightened since 2008, applications for purchase mortgages were more likely to be denied in 2008 than in 2014, the most recent year for which Federal Reserve data is available. Denial rates for home purchase loan applications hit 18 percent in 2008, while denials in 2014 topped out at 13 percent. Denial rates for home refinance applications in 2008 were 38 percent and dropped to 31 percent in 2014.
Find out if you qualify for a home loan
Getting into the home of your dreams may be easier than you think, and qualifying for a purchase or refinance loan today can be done from the comfort of your home. Visit www.loanDepot.com today. Moreover, for more information about loanDepot’s 2016 Presidential Election Survey, watch the video on YouTube.

Summer travel: 3 common credit card myths busted

(BPT) - As temperatures rise, so do the number of Americans planning to get away. In fact, three-fourths of consumers plan to pack their bags this summer and head out on vacation, according to recent surveys.
If you are like most, you plan to fund at least a portion of your summer travel on a credit card. According to Experian, credits cards are used more often than cash or debit cards across all types of vacation purchases.
“When used responsibly, a credit card can be a great way to help keep your wallet secure, reduce fees and make the most out of rewards while traveling,” says Mikel Van Cleve, director of personal financial planning with USAA Bank. “However, there are some common myths about credit cards and travel that may keep some consumers from maximizing their card’s benefits.”
Van Cleve sets the record straight about three common travel-related credit card myths:
Myth No. 1: Don’t notify your credit card company
When it comes to whether you should tell your credit card company you’re embarking on a trip, some banks say yes, others say no. Van Cleve recommends always taking the extra precaution to let your bank know where you will be traveling if it’s for more than just a quick trip, especially if you’re traveling somewhere new or overseas.
Adding travel notifications can help minimize the chances of your account being blocked or flagged for unusual activity. It will also allow your bank to better monitor your account and notify you if there is any suspicious activity while you are away.
Van Cleve explains that several banks, such as USAA Bank, allow you to skip the phone call and alert them of your travel plans through their mobile app or online account.
Myth No. 2: Foreign transaction fees are unavoidable
Most credit cards charge a fee for foreign transactions when traveling abroad, but Van Cleve says that you do not have to settle for this added expense. Banks, like USAA, and some credit card companies have eliminated foreign transaction fees for some of their cardholders.
Van Cleve recommends checking with your card provider to see if your credit cards offer no foreign transaction fees. While it may seem like a small cost to pay, he notes that these fees — which range from 1-3 percent of your purchase — can quickly add-up during a week-long trip away.
Myth No. 3: Last minute travel changes will always cost you
Nervous that your trip may get canceled last minute? In addition to zero-liability protection in the event your card is lost or stolen, Van Cleve explains that booking travel with a credit card is a smart way to protect yourself from other unpredictable events.
Some credit cards offer trip insurance and will refund you for the cancellation. For example, USAA’s VISA Signature card offers cardholders trip cancellation and interruption insurance that will reimburse you up to $1,500 for purchases made on the card.
Before booking your trip, Van Cleve recommends familiarizing yourself with your credit card’s full range of perks. You might even be eligible for hotel upgrades, delayed baggage insurance, price protection, priority boarding, rental car discounts and more.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

5 tips to avoid hidden credit card fees

(BPT) - Many consumers are trying to be wiser with their credit cards. They avoid splurging on gifts during the holiday season. They don’t apply for a store credit card every time they’re offered 10 percent off their purchase. Yet hidden charges and overlooked terms and conditions might be covertly padding some consumer credit card balances.
Annual fees are rising. On average, Americans paid more than $17 for these fees last year, up 70 percent from $10 in 2010, according to CardHub.com. Average maximum late fees also have risen to more than $35 over the same period.
“Many people are using credit responsibly — they’re working hard to keep balances down, but they may be undermining that effort over time by overlooking the fine print,” says Mikel Van Cleve, USAA personal finance advice director.
When evaluating cards for unnecessary fees, he says to first make sure it doesn’t charge a fee for something you do often.  
“For example, USAA Bank recently eliminated foreign transaction fees on all of our credit cards. If you frequently travel abroad, a card with no foreign transaction fees could provide significant savings,” Van Cleve says.
In addition to foreign transaction fees, Van Cleve also recommends keeping an eye on sneaky fee fine print:
Changes in APR. Many cards offer an attractive “introductory” interest rate but may hike the rate up significantly after the promotion expires. If you plan on keeping a balance on the card, make sure you look for a card with a low A PR after the introductory rate expires.
Penalties on late payments. Credit cards often have a penalty APR when you pay late. Check out the terms of your account to ensure you aren’t getting an interest rate hike due to a late payment.
Balance transfer fees. Credit cards usually come with a fee to move a balance from another card. Make sure you know the cost of transferring the balance. Often people move a balance to another card with a lower interest only to learn that they’ve lost the savings to a balance transfer fee.
Reward terms. Understand the terms of your credit card so you don't lose points or cash rewards because of a late payment or expiration date. It's also smart to know what incentives and special offers are available with your card. Focused on airline miles? See if booking hotel rooms and rental cars with your card earns you more miles, for instance.
Hidden costs for cash advances. Some cards have higher interest rates for cash advances than regular purchases. Before withdrawing cash, make sure you know the true cost of getting that extra cash.
This kind of fine print is commonplace, so it’s important to understand what fees are on your card and how your spending habits impact the additional fees you can pay. Choose your cards wisely, and you should be able to find a card that fits your needs without paying a fortune in fees.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Are you prepared if the IRS comes knocking?

(BPT) - There are few things in life more feared than a tax audit. Just the thought of being summoned to appear before the IRS and going through tax returns and old receipts is enough to throw most people into a panic.
A 2016 survey conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of Hyatt Legal Plans, “Improving Employee Wellness through Legal Benefits,” found that 46 percent of respondents that were audited in the last five years said that they needed legal support. Navigating through an IRS audit can be a stressful experience and, with recent research finding the hourly rate to use an attorney averaging $290 an hour, it can very expensive too, according to the National Law Journal and ALM Legal Intelligence, Survey of Law Firm Economics from 2013. Fortunately, many Americans may already have access to affordable help for IRS audits.
Here are some things that can make the process of an IRS audit easier:
* Good records
If you do end up being audited, you will likely have to produce receipts for the things you took as deductions, such as charitable donations or self-employment expenses, for example. As long as you’ve kept all important receipts over the years, you can feel safe knowing that you can show proof for any deductions. As a general rule, you should hold on to any receipts or important documents related to your taxes for up to seven years.
* Representation
Whether or not you used an accountant to prepare your taxes, you may want to bring along someone to represent you before the IRS. Many accountants will do it if they prepared your return, but if you’re going on your own, an attorney can step in and provide representation. Many attorneys specialize in tax matters and can provide guidance and expertise during an IRS audit.
* Have a legal plan
If the cost of using an attorney is intimidating, you can breathe easier if you are one of the many individuals with a prepaid legal plan through their employer that gives them access to attorneys for a low monthly fee. Legal plan members can contact attorneys for assistance with every step of an IRS audit, helping them to gather the necessary documents, discussing the audit process and appearing before the IRS if needed.
“Legal plan members can feel safe during tax time knowing that if the IRS ever comes calling, they have someone to turn to,” says Ingrid Tolentino, CEO of Hyatt Legal Plans. “For as little as $20 a month, group legal plans provided through an employer cover using an attorney for nearly any tax issue that comes up, from tax collection issues to tax audits.”
For more information about how legal plans work, visit www.legalplans.com.