Category: Budgets & Savings

How Brexit could hit an ordinary UK citizen

How Brexit could hit an ordinary UK citizen

The UK has voted to quit the European Union – a decision that will bring change for currencies, trade rules, and the status of UK markets and regulations. It’s a transition that could take several years to play out in full, so what does it mean for the items on your average UK shopping list or household budget?

The value of the pound versus the euro, dollar and other currencies sank following the results and the outcome will likely mean a rise in inflation, albeit from a very low level.

BBC Capital wanted to find out if and how a vote for the UK to quit the EU might impact the cost of the things we love, use and rely on every day – some might feature in your shopping basket, while others might be something your family spends on annually. This is an informed view of what could happen, but not a conclusive or definitive view as many drivers of prices currently remain unclear.
We have gone to multiple expert sources for the information contained in this infographic – trade bodies, unions, government organisations, think tanks, financial institutions and research organisations – some of whom have expressed publicly whether they believe the UK should vote in or out.

The Healthy Option

Nearly 90% of UK tomato imports come from the EU, mostly the Netherlands (40%) and Spain (35%). Higher import tariffs could raise prices. UK tomato production may step up to fill the import gap.

Wardrobe Essentials

The price of clothes and footwear might fall if Brexit allowed the UK circumvent import tariffs. Foreign retails would still be welcome on our high streets, local authorities are committed to free competition.

How Brexit could hit an ordinary UK citizen

Phoning Home

If the UK is no longer bound by an EU rule banning rooming charges from April 2017 consumers could continue to pay a premium to use their phone abroad. Phone companies may well be unwilling to put charges back up just for UK consumers.

Your Daily Vitamin C Shot

Citrus fruit is not grown commercially in the UK, 770.000 tonnes of fruit was imported in 2015, over 40% from Spain. Rising import costs could affect prices.

Booze Cruise

Current customs rules allow virtually unlimited amount of duty paid alcohol and cigarettes to be brought to the UK from the EU. ıf the allowance tightens, expect fewer booze cruises between Britain and France.

Bottoms Up…

French, Spanish and Italian wines could become more expensive if import costs rise. The EU currently charges a 32% tariff on its wine exports to non EU countries.

The UK is likely to negotiate a a better deal than this and would be free to remove existing import tariffs on ‘New World’ from countries such as New Zealand and California.

EU Budget Contribution

Likely to fall by around 25%, according to HM Treassury. Norway and Switzerland contribute to the UK budget, but a lower level than EU members. The UK would also be able to decide how to spend the money transferred back to it from the EU.

The Dinner Party Must-Have

Harvesting asparagus is highly seasonal, labour intensive work often performed by EU migrants, who made up 6% of UK agricultural workers in 2014. Labour shortages could hit UK production.

Half of UK farming income comes from EU subsidies. While a Brexit could could give back more control over spending, many are worried a lot of farmers would quickly go out of business without the support of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

Your Fromagerie Habit

The UK import 62% of of its cheese, and 98% of this comes from the EU. If prices rise, consumers may be tempted to swap Gouda and Roquefort for Cheddar and Stilton.

The UK has its thriving cheese industry and higher initial prices may provide an incentive to increase domestic production, driving down prices in the long run.

Out-of-Office

If the pound falls, then foreign currency will become more expensive, according to the Association of British Travel Agents. For budget airfares to remain, the UK will have to negotiate access to the European Common Aviation Area (ECAA), which includes several non-EU mombers. Alternatively , the UK could try to reach a bilateral aviation agreement with the EU.

Changing Gear

Importing cars from Europe could take longer and cost more. Cutting EU red tape could affect pricing either up or down. The Euro could also fall, which would cancel out changes in the value of the pound for travellers to Europe.

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Why you shouldn’t borrow money from friends

Why you shouldn't borrow money from friends

Need some money? Don’t ask your friends or family. Find out why.

For many people, there comes a time when it becomes absolutely essential to borrow money to pay important expenses or make bills. If you are late with a lot of bills, you could end up facing huge costs for late fees, utility shut-offs and other penalties. You could damage your credit and you could end up facing eviction or the repossession of your car.

Unfortunately, many people go through these kind of financial problems at some point in their lives and they need to find somewhere to turn for help.

If you are facing any kind of financial problem, from unexpected home or car repairs to being unable to pay bills, you may be tempted to turn to your friends or family members in order to get the money that you need for your bills. The reality, however, is that this is almost always a terrible idea.

Borrowing money from friends and family should be an absolute last resort only after you have exhausted other possible loan options that may be available to you. There are myriad reasons why you should never even borrow money from friends or from family members unless or until you have exhausted all possible other resources and are in a truly emergency situation.

Why you shouldn't borrow money from friends

Some of the many reasons why you don’t want to borrow from family and friends include the following:

You could put your family or friends in an uncomfortable position

Many people in the United States today are living paycheck to paycheck and your friend or family member that you ask for money may not actually have any cash to spare to give you, even in a temporary basis.

When you ask them for money, you’ve thus put them in a very uncomfortable position. They might have to admit to you that they are also facing financial struggles, which could be something that they don’t really want to say to you.

If they are a close friend or a close family member, they may also feel too badly to say no to your request especially if they know that you really need the money.

The result could be that your friend or family member lends you money that he or she doesn’t really have to give and thus you could drag someone you love into a bad money situation.

You could ruin the relationship and be uncomfortable whenever you spend time together

Owing someone money can make you feel very beholden to that person, even if they don’t say anything and are gracious about giving you the loan. You could feel uncomfortable and no longer like the equal of the person that you borrowed money from. This can undermine your relationship and make it less fun for you to be around a person who is important in your life.

The person who you borrowed money from could also become resentful of the fact that you took the loan, especially if they see you spending cash on something else or if they feel that you are taking too long or not trying hard enough to pay them back. You do not want to take a chance on alienating the people in your life who you care about because of a financial transaction.

You could end up being unable to pay the loan back

People generally do not borrow money with the intention of defaulting on the loan and not paying it back (especially when they borrow from a family member or a friend).

Unfortunately, sometimes life gets in the way of your best intentions. Even though you have every intention of paying back the person that you borrow from, you could end up simply being unable to do so.

This is likely to make you feel a tremendous amount of guilt and it is likely to make your friend or loved one feel resentful and possibly feel financial pressure as a result of the bad loan.

These are just a few of the many reasons why you do not want to take a chance of borrowing from a family member or from a friend. Instead, consider all other possible sources of loans available to you.

Even people who have bad credit may be able to obtain a car title loan from a trusted provider like TitleMax.com or a loan through a bank or other lender. Apply for loans and exhaust all options available before you ever even consider asking someone you love or care about for money.

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What a President Trump might mean for your personal finances

What a President Trump might mean for your personal finances

Donald Trump became the presumptive Republican presidential nominee this week, casting a more serious light on the policy proposals he has put forth during the GOP contest. Here’s a quick look at how some of Trump’s economic ideas could broadly affect your finances should he prevail with both voters and Congress (keeping in mind that his plans are likely to evolve as he prepares further policy speeches and chooses his running mate).

Your purchasing power

The hefty tariffs on imports Trump has proposed include many goods we take for granted and don’t have the capacity to produce within our own borders, said Mark Hamrick, Washington bureau chief and senior economic analyst at Bankrate.com. “Certainly agricultural sources in Mexico, they either become more expensive or unavailable,” Hamrick said. “Good luck eating dandelion greens for four months of the year.”

The threat of a 35 percent tax on auto imports from Mexico troubles Sam Stovall, U.S. equity strategist for S&P Global Market Intelligence. “That’s certainly going to hurt, because basically everything is imported, either in U.S. or foreign-made cars,” he said. And tariffs often spark retaliation, affecting U.S. exports as well.

On the other hand, if the tough talk succeeds in wresting concessions from partners, it could improve our trading position, Stovall said.

Your job

If Trump’s tariffs were enacted, including a 45 percent levy on Chinese goods, it would badly damage the economy and cost a lot of jobs, said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. And if his tough immigration stance were put in place, Zandi warned, “it would be, to steal a phrase from him, a disaster.”

“If Trump could deport even a fraction of the 11 million immigrants, it would be very disruptive to business,” he said, creating a hole in an important sector of the labor force and removing a lot of consumers from the economy. “If he deported all 11 million, it could lead to a recession. It would be a mess.”

Your investments

Repatriating foreign earnings and possibly enacting some corporate tax reform, as Trump has discussed, could bolster stocks and benefit investors. Companies have twice as much cash on their books as they did 10 years ago, Stovall noted, and a lot of it is overseas. If they get more favorable tax treatment in the U.S. and bring that money back, they “will have additional money with which to do dividends, do share buybacks, and it could help companies looking to build new plants and equipment.” That, he said, could bring “better performance of the shares of the companies that we’re invested in in our 401(k)s.”

But a repeal of the Affordable Care Act “would do nothing but throw the health-care industry into a tailspin,” Stovall said.
A recent change in the candidate’s views on the minimum wage would affect such industries as retail and restaurants. Trump said earlier that he would not raise the wage but now says he is “open to doing something” with it, though Stovall doesn’t think he would go as far as $15 an hour.

There really is something to the maxim that Wall Street dislikes uncertainty, said Hamrick. It weighs on financial markets and the performance of the economy. “That Trump is unpredictable is quite distasteful for many people trying to price in risk and opportunity,” he said. “Certain businesses are going to be cautious about making investments until they have a bit more clarity, and that includes clarity on how the leadership of the Congress is determined. There’s a lot of cash sloshing around in the system, but it’s not being put to work.”

If a business is booming, the uncertainly is less of a factor, he said. “If you’re a business on the margin, however, and wondering if you should take a risk, you might be more risk-averse.”

Your taxes

The Tax Policy Center, which analyzed Trump’s proposal to reduce marginal rates for individuals and businesses while boosting standard deductions, says the plan would provide an average tax cut of $1.3 million to the top 0.1 percent of earners. It could also mean $9.5 trillion less in federal revenue over its first decade, the Center figures. If huge spending cuts don’t come with it, the group said, it “could increase the national debt by nearly 80% of gross domestic product by 2036, offsetting some or all of the incentive effects of the tax cuts.”

The proposal is in flux, however. Trump told CBNC this week that “when you put out a tax plan, you are going to start negotiating.”

Your plan

The smartest move you could make right now, amid the election year’s sound and fury, is simply to focus on building your financial future, said Kate Warne, investment strategist at Edward Jones. With so much uncertainty on both the domestic and foreign fronts, that means owning both bonds and stocks, especially international stocks while the dollar is strong, and diversifying both across and within asset classes.

And no matter what the candidates say, remember that the U.S. is running a budget deficit, so you need to prepare for the possibility of higher taxes, Warne said. Investing in tax-free municipal bonds and taking advantage of any tax-deferred accounts, such as IRAs and 401(k)s, is a great way to start.

In short, she advises, pay less attention to the political discourse and more to what you need to do now. Certainly don’t sit on the sidelines, she said. “Stocks don’t wait,” Warne said. “So you shouldn’t wait either.”

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3 Social Security myths debunked

3 Social Security myths debunked

Social Security is a complicated program, so it’s not surprising that there’s a lot of confusion among the millions of Americans who rely on the program for their retirement income. In particular, several myths have arisen about Social Security, and many people still erroneously believe them to be true. Let’s take a look at three of them and work at debunking these misunderstandings.

Myth 1: Social Security benefits will disappear in the future.

Many Americans are aware of the financial challenges that Social Security faces. The program’s trust fund is expected to run out of money in 2034, according to the latest projections from the trustees who manage that fund. Many people believe that once the trust fund is exhausted, then Social Security will stop paying benefits to all recipients.

In reality, Social Security doesn’t work that way. Every year, the Social Security Administration collects revenue to help pay benefits. Most of the revenue comes from payroll taxes on wages and salaries, but there are some other sources, including interest on trust fund balances and the income taxes that some Social Security recipients pay on their benefits. The SSA then figures out how much it needs to pay in benefits. If payments exceed revenue, then the SSA taps into the trust fund.

After the trust fund runs out, the SSA projects that revenue will be enough to pay about three-quarters of all benefits owed to retirees and other eligible beneficiaries. That means that even in a worst-case scenario, Social Security recipients can still expect to get about 75 cents on the dollar after 2034.

Myth 2: You should always take Social Security benefits as soon as you qualify.

Due in part to this misconception about the future of Social Security, many people believe that claiming Social Security as early as possible is the best solution in all cases. More people still claim Social Security at age 62, the first year of eligibility for retirees, than at any other age, despite a trend that has seen an increasing proportion wait before claiming benefits.

For some people, claiming early is the best option. However, for many, it’s not. If you would prefer to get larger monthly payments later in life even if it comes at the expense of not getting any benefits in your early or mid-60s, then putting off Social Security until as late as age 70 can give you the best fit with your financial goals. Waiting until you stop working to take benefits can keep you from dealing with Social Security’s forfeiture rules, which can cause you to lose benefits if you earn more than certain threshold amounts. Between life expectancy, quality of life, and other financial and nonfinancial factors, making a smart Social Security choice involves much more than just grabbing benefits at your first opportunity.

Myth 3: What you do with your Social Security has no effect on your family.

In making decisions about Social Security, single retirees with no eligible family members to claim related benefits have the least to consider. They can look solely at their own needs in making a smart choice about their Social Security benefits.

Others, however, have to consider impacts on family members. For instance, survivor benefits for your spouse and eligible children are based on the retirement benefits you receive. In particular, if you claim retirement benefits early, then your survivors’ benefits will also suffer the same reduction after your death that yours did during your lifetime. Similarly, career decisions that you make that will increase or decrease your average earnings in calculating your eventual Social Security benefit will affect not just retirement benefits but also spousal and children’s benefits, along with any survivor benefits that apply.

Sometimes, taking your family members’ needs into account won’t change your decision. But in other cases, it will, and it’s important to ask the question.

Social Security is complicated enough that numerous myths about the program have become part of the collective consciousness. By knowing why these myths aren’t true, you’ll be in a better position to assess your Social Security rationally to make the best choices possible.

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Disastrous myths about your credit score

Disastrous myths about your credit score

Contrary to popular belief, paying bills on time is an overrated part of your financial reputation.

People are obsessed with getting and keeping an excellent credit score. We hear these statements regularly on our financial helpline:

A caller who can’t pay their monthly bills because their debt payments are so high says, “I can’t go to credit counseling because I heard it will damage my credit score.”

A caller who is not saving in their 401(k) and missing out on the company match says, “I don’t want to pay off my credit cards. I am keeping a balance to help my credit score.”

This makes no financial sense. People aren’t going to seek help getting out of debt — lowering the interest rate and possibly the balance owed — because it will hurt their credit score? How is this helpful? If people don’t get their debt under control, they may never retire. We’ll have a nation of people working into their 80’s with no savings but they can all come together and brag about their credit scores.

Let’s examine some of the biggest credit myths that can lead to disaster:

Assuming if you pay your bills on time, you don’t have to do anything else. Paying your bills on time accounts for about 35% of your credit score but there is another 65% which includes amount owed (30%), length of credit history (15%), new credit (10%) and type of credit (10%). Consider all of the other factors.

Also remember that there may be errors on your credit report so if you don’t check it, you’ll never know and your score will be affected. According to Deborah McNaughton, author of The Get Out of Debt Kit, 80% of credit reports have errors (as cited by Bankrate.com). Many of the erroneous reports had missing information that may boost a score, such as missing a revolving account in good standing, or miscellaneous incorrect information such as an incorrect birthday.

Check your credit report. Credit reports are unique to Social Security numbers, so if you are married, you may want to stagger your requests with your spouse every six months. You can also request your actual score for a onetime fee (which is less than $15 through most credit bureaus). Most credit monitoring services will provide your score for free when you sign up for their service.

Assuming when you divorce, your accounts automatically divorce with you. They don’t. If you have a joint account and one of the parties on the account is late, you are both late. With some types of loans, such as a mortgage or a car loan, the lender may not accept a letter asking you to be removed from the account after a divorce even if that property is going to your ex-spouse. They will need to qualify for the loan on their own before you will be removed from the account.

Take this into consideration because if they don’t refinance, and then have late payments, you may find yourself with some credit issues. When possible, close all joint accounts and refinance any debt separately. If it is not possible, maintain some type of control, whether it is an escrow account or at least access to information to make sure the accounts are paid in a timely manner. Don’t assume. Also see the last point about closing accounts.

Avoiding consumer credit counseling because it will hurt your credit score. For someone with serious debt, working with a not-for-profit credit counseling agency to develop a debt reduction plan and get out of debt permanently should take priority over credit scores. Credit counselors will work with your creditors to try and reduce your monthly payments, or settle your debt altogether. Debt settlement doesn’t affect scores as badly as you would think. In fact, many people don’t realize that late payments affect scores more than a debt settlement. Here is an example of how a debt settlement can affect credit scores, and how that compares to late payments.

A late payment hurts your score more than a debt settlement if your score is in the 680 range; it only significantly pulls it down if you are in the 780 range. Let’s be honest here, people ready for credit counseling probably don’t have the highest scores anyways, and the bottom line is credit scores are fluid — they can be rebuilt. According to Credit.com, a debt write off can stay on your credit report from seven to ten years, but as the information ages, so does its negative impact.

Making late payments aren’t that big a deal. According to FICO, a 30-day late payment can affect your score by as much as 110 points. Late payments can have a huge impact on your credit score causing it to drop like a stone. This is one disaster that is relatively easy to avoid. Simply set up all of your accounts with an automated minimum payment schedule from your checking account. This way you’ll never miss a payment. You can always pay additional amounts through online banking. Set yourself up for success with this one because it can be an easy one to miss and makes a significant impact.

Closing accounts to clean up your credit. Closing an account may be a good idea if you only opened the account to get a discount on merchandise or have too many credit cards which is causing confusion, but it won’t clean up your credit or help your score. In fact, it can hurt your score when the account you close has a long credit history — especially a good one. Your credit history accounts for 15% of your score, so in making decisions which cards to keep and which ones to close, keep in mind how long you’ve had the account open and close the most recent ones first.

Are credit scores important? Yes, but they are not the “be all and end all.” Now that we’ve dispelled some of the biggest myths, consider what the “be all and end all” is for you. What are your biggest financial challenges and concerns? Our latest research shows that less than 18% of employees feel they are on track for retirement.

Are you part of the 82% that isn’t? Do you have a personal net worth statement and is it going in the right direction? The point is when you focus on the important financial issues, you have a chance to meet your financial goals. Clean up your credit if you have to, and do your best to keep a good credit score, but let’s not go overboard and lose sight of everything for just one number.

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How to lower your monthly cellphone costs

How to lower your monthly cellphone costs

Here are some ways to trim your cellphone costs and save hundreds per year.

You’ve heard the iPhone users of their referral mammoth monthly fee – but it’s not just those with the most stylish smartphones paying a fee.

“The average consumer spends over $ 300 per year,” said Schwark Satyavolu, which helps consumers save on costs. Knocking that many of your tab is not difficult, experts say: You can do this by changing your plan, your operator or how to use your phone.

Change your plan

Setting your current plan is the easiest way to save. You even have to extend or terminate your contract.

Service demotion

“Eight of 10 people do not use what they pay for,” said Satyavolu BillShrink’s. Ask your carrier for a summary of the use that goes back 12 months to see if you could get a better plan.

Go to the Data

Although many people voice plans of the family and less to enjoy the family messaging and data plans – which can save you a lot. AT & T, for example, offers unlimited text for a family of $ 30 per month, against $ 20 per person.

Ask for discounts membership

If you work for a large company, government agency, or university, you probably qualify for a discount – up to about 25% – on your personal phone. Get details of HR.

Cancel Coverage

Unless you have a teenager prone to disasters, the insurance covers your phone for loss or damage is usually a waste. You pay $ 4 to $ 6 per month, and ranges from free to $ 50 $ 125. You can get a new phone for less, should you need it.

Say you’re leaving

“Carriers do not want to lose customers, so if you tell them that you have found a better plan, you may get a break,” said Sascha Segan, an analyst at PCMag.com cell phone.

Change your door

You may be able to do better by switching to another carrier, but wait until your contract is in place to avoid a cancellation fee.

Out of competition

The four major carriers – AT, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile – have about 220 shots combined.

Looking beyond the “Big Four”

Regional carriers such as U.S. Cellular, MetroPCS, and Cricket Wireless offers savings of $ 20 per month plus the four major plans. You will not get a signal at the national level, if you travel to a place where there is no coverage, you will have to pay roaming charges. “But you can save a lot of money if you’re a homebody,” says Segan.

Prepay Piper

It is easy to see why prepaid phone plans are rapidly gaining in popularity: They offer calls, texts and web access from $ 40 per month – no contract or cancellation fees. If you use less than 300 minutes per month, they can be an economical choice. LetsTalk.com helps you compare plans. In addition, AARP members can get a phone without a contract for 250 minutes, and a consumer service cell, from $ 19 per month.

Change your behavior

How will you use your phone may have much to do with how much you will pay. These behavioral changes can easily save a lot of money.

Track Your Minutes

For those who do not have unlimited calling plans, the cost to go on the monthly allocation of minutes on average $ 36 per line. If you tend to approach the danger zone, check your weekly use – online or by code from your service provider – and limit your calls accordingly. Also, the habit of using your phone or work phone during business hours, when minutes moving in general will be charged to your monthly maximum.

Get the 411 for Free

I do not know the number you need to achieve? Composition 411 will cost at least $ 1.49 a pop. Use Google’s free option instead: Just call 800-GOOG-411.

Dialing internationally on Wi-Fi

If you often make international calls and have a phone capable app-chip, download the Skype application. Because it operates over Wi-Fi, Skype lets you call landlines abroad at discounted rates. (Some Verizon phones, the Skype application is running on the mobile cellular vs. Wi-Fi, but not yet billed to your normal minutes.) Also, you can call other Skype users. Anyway, you say goodbye to a large portion of your bill.

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Tips for smart shopping from the Internet

Tips for smart shopping from the Internet

People are surfing the Internet in growing numbers. Internet offers a wide range of exciting opportunities. But you should remember to take the same type of precautions as you do when you shop and communicate in the offline world. Before you decide to enter personal information on a website, or make a purchase online, here are a few tips to remember:

Deal with companies you know by reputation or experience. If you aren’t familiar with the company, do your research. Find out where they are based, and what their policies are on issues such as privacy and security. Do not do business with a company that doesn’t list a physical address or telephone number on its website. When dealing with international vendors the risk is higher. Different laws and standards apply and it may be difficult to get local authorities to act on your complaint if you feel a vendor has dealt you with unfairly.

Know exactly what you are buying. When shopping in a retail store you have the added benefit of handling the product and seeing the person who is providing the service – benefits that are not available when shopping online. Look for a vendor that provides enough information for you to properly evaluate what you are buying, including details such as the size, colour, weight and texture of the product.

Tips for smart shopping from the Internet

Know what you are paying. The final price for online items is often considerably different from the listed price. Any reputable vendor’s website will calculate the shipping and handling costs for you before you make a final decision to purchase an item. Before agreeing to a purchase, do the math and figure out what the price will be in Canadian dollars. Most people fail to accurately convert the value of currencies and they end up paying more than they hoped as a result.

Additionally, Canada Customs will calculate and add GST to the cost of most purchases made outside Canada. The agency will also charge you an inspection fee for doing so that may be more than the actual GST on small purchases, such as books and compact discs.

Look for a privacy policy. Be sure that you are comfortable with how the company collects, protects and uses your personal information before submitting any details. Responsible marketers have an “opt-out” policy, which allows you to choose whether your information is shared with third parties. Also look for the opportunity to decline to receive any communication by email.

Make sure transactions are secure. Do not enter any financial information if you see a broken-key or open padlock symbol on your Internet browser. This means that the transaction is not secure and could be intercepted by a third party. When the key is complete or the padlock is locked, your browser is indicating a secure transaction. Remember, unlike secure order forms on a website, email messages are not private. Do not send confidential information by email.

Check for endorsement by an association or a quality assurance program. There are several “seals of approval” for websites that confirm the credibility of the company and the website. For example, the Canadian Marketing Association member logo signifies a company that abides by a Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice, which includes a comprehensive privacy policy and a section on responsible Internet marketing.

Read the fine print before you buy. Make sure you understand all contractual information presented online before agreeing to purchase, including the policy on fulfillment, returns, warranties, etc.

Avoid spam (unsolicited commercial email) by being careful about disclosing your email address both on and offline. Check a company’s privacy policy to find out whether your email address could be shared with other companies. CMA members will not send you marketing email without your permission and will give you the option to decline to receive further emails at any time.

Talk to your children about online activities. Instruct them to keep their personal information private unless you say it’s ok.

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Four ways to save $100 every month

Four ways to save $100 every month

Two frugal experts reveal how to shave 15 percent off your monthly utility bills.

Imagine spending just $20 a year — or less — for yearly telephone service. Or, perhaps you’d be interested in shaving 15 percent off your monthly utility bills. Two frugal experts say you can do it.

Everyone looks for simple ways to save, especially in today’s tumultuous economy. Bankrate asked two frugal bloggers to share their thoughts on some nearly effortless ways to hang on to your hard-earned green.

If you take their advice to heart, you’ll likely save at least $100 a month around the house.

Rethink Your Phone Service

Fed up with expensive telephone bills? Jonni McCoy, author of the Miserly Moms website, recommends switching to an alternative phone service like magicJack or Skype.

Such services allow you to make local and long-distance calls for a fraction of the price of traditional phone service. For instance, magicJack customers can get phone service for as little as $19.95 a year, while Skype calls are free to other Skype users.

“These are good alternatives to (traditional) phone service, and they include long distance, so no extra card is needed,” McCoy says.

Customers nervous about dropping their traditional phone carrier have other options for saving money.

For example, consider canceling long-distance service from your phone carrier and using calling cards instead, says Susan Palmquist, creator of money blog The Budget Smart Girl’s Guide to the Universe.

Need a second phone line? In this case, a service like magicJack works well, because it’s “much cheaper than adding a second line to your existing phone account,” Palmquist says.

When it comes to your monthly cell phone bill, save money by cutting down on your minutes and switching to a more basic plan. Palmquist recommends switching to a pay-as-you-go cell phone.

Cut Down on Electricity

Each month, utility bills silently drain a little more cash from your wallet, preventing you from building a sizable emergency fund or retirement nest egg.

There are several ways to trim these bills. Three quick and painless ways to save include: switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs (which are more energy-efficient than standard light bulbs) lowering the temperature on your hot water heater (130 degrees Fahrenheit is enough to kill germs) and drying your clothing on a clothesline or rack whenever possible.

McCoy and Palmquist also recommend signing up for any incentive or rebate programs offered by the local utility company.

With these programs, you typically agree to allow the power company to briefly shut off certain appliances when energy demand is particularly high. In return, you get a credit on your monthly bill.

For example, customers who participate in Florida Power & Light’s On Call Savings Program allow FPL to install a small device on their water heater and air conditioner compressor. This allows the utility company to periodically borrow electricity for 15 minutes or so.

Palmquist — who lives in Minneapolis and gets her power from Xcel Energy — does this and gets a 15 percent discount on her bills.

Conserve Water

Are you drowning in monthly water bills? Palmquist and McCoy recommend money-saving options such as washing all clothing in cold water.

“I use cold water to wash clothes, and recently read that using the delicate cycle also saves water, too,” Palmquist says.

In some cases, saving cash actually goes hand in hand with superior performance, Palmquist says.

“We installed a low-flow shower head in the main bathroom and find it not only saves water, but the flow is better than the old one,” she says.

Of course, another “no-brainer” way to save is simply to use appliances less frequently. Wait until you have a full load before running the washing machine, dryer or dishwasher.

Don’t overlook water-saving tips for outside the home. Palmquist plans to invest in a rain barrel for outside watering next year. Meanwhile, McCoy recommends making changes to landscaping “so there is less lawn to water.”

Bundle or Drop Cable and Internet

McCoy suggests saving money by bundling cable and Internet services. Palmquist agrees, and recently switched to an “economy package” for her TV service.

However, Palmquist says it’s important to look before you leap into bundling.

“Sometimes it’s more expensive and they can lock you into a two-year contract, so check out everything first,” she says.

If you’re really gung-ho about saving, simply drop cable altogether. Perhaps you can watch your favorite TV shows for free on an Internet site.

Or, maybe it’s time to simply give up those expensive TV habits and think about the priorities that really matter to you.

“My main advice is to think about wants and needs,” Palmquist says. “Many of us think something’s a necessity when really it’s just a want.”

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10 smart ideas for reducing credit card debt

10 smart ideas for reducing credit card debt

A $10 purchase can help you save more than $40 a month — and get you started on paring down what you owe.

If you find yourself falling deeper into credit card trouble, it’s time to take a hard look at what’s coming in, what’s going out and see where you can free up some cash quickly to start hacking away at your debt.

Some trims may seem small, but if you package several of them together, you can soon get started on a respectable payment plan. Here are some ideas for places to turn first.

1. Cell Phones

“For $9.88, you can buy a TracFone (prepaid cell phone) with pretty decent coverage and pay by the minute,” says Mike Sullivan, director of education at Take Charge America in Phoenix. “And if you’re careful, you can end up saving $40 to $50 a month off a typical $80 cell phone bill.” He also recommends canceling your land line unless you have medical issues that may require emergency calls.

2. Cable / Satellite

Most people can save money just by getting rid of the extra pay packages they have — such as premium movie channels and extra services. “If you’re really in trouble, cancel the whole package,” Sullivan says. Check out the library for free movies, DVDs and CDs to bridge the entertainment gap.

3. Homeowners Insurance and Car Insurance

By increasing the deductible of your policy from $500 to $1,000, you can see big decreases on your premium, says Michael Barry, vice president of media relations for Insurance Information Institute in New York. “People pay about $880 a year, so if I can knock $88 off, it’s a start.” Regarding auto insurance, take a look at your collision insurance if you have an older car. If you have even a fender-bender, sometimes the cost to repair the car would be more than it’s worth, so perhaps you could cancel the collision insurance altogether.

First, look up the value of the car at Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds.com or the National Automobile Dealers Association, then check the collision line on your auto insurance bill and see what it’s worth to you to keep that insurance. Also, if you don’t drive that car much, look for a discount. “If you drive from 7,000 to 7,500 miles a year, you can often qualify for low-mileage discounts,” Barry says.
4. Transportation

Americans are increasingly finding alternatives here. In fact, consumers spent 11 percent less last year in this category, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2009 Consumer Expenditures Survey released in October. If you have more than one car, this may be the time to look at downsizing to just one car and getting around with better planning, carpooling, bike riding, public transportation or car sharing. Car-sharing companies such as Zipcar operate in a growing number of cities and on many university campuses. You can rent a car by the hour when you have to have one without the expense of insuring and maintaining your own car.

5. Utilities

“People often overlook programmable thermostats,” says Edward Tonini, director of education of Alliance Credit Counseling in Charlotte, N.C. “You can spend $20 to get a programmable thermostat and if you set it right, it can save you $100 over the course of a year easily.”

6. Food

Households spent an average of just more than $300 a month on food eaten at home and about $215 per month on food outside the home in 2009, the BLS survey reported. “Maybe eating out isn’t necessary for you,” Tonini says. “Packing lunches and eating at home will lower your discretionary spending.”

7. Gym Membership

Are you really using it multiple times a week? Divide your monthly dues by the number of times you go in a month and get a realistic picture of what you’re spending on a one-hour workout. Park districts or community centers often have low-cost or free programs. Also check into exercise videos or a piece of home exercise equipment that you would use regularly. If you decide to keep the membership, check to see whether the facility offers discounts for coming at off-peak times.

8. Movies

A family of four can quickly rack up nearly $100 on one movie with popcorn, drinks and maybe even parking fees. “Instead of going to the movies, have a game night at home. It sounds kind of corny, but it will be more meaningful than sitting in the dark when you can’t talk to each other,” says Dave Gilbreath, a regional director with Apprisen Financial Advocates in Yakima, Wash.

9. Tax Relief

Wendy Burkholder, executive director of Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Hawaii in Honolulu, says, “Many of the families we work with are struggling with credit card debt because of loss of income. One of the first things to do is re-evaluate your tax withholding on your paycheck (if your spouse or partner has lost a job). If you don’t make the change, you end up with a whopping refund. You don’t need the money a year from now, you need it now.” If you’re overpaying taxes, you’re also giving the government a free loan and are likely putting off paying for your own bills, which can lead to fees and penalties, she says.

10. Health Insurance for Dependents

“If you’re struggling with loss of income, you may no longer be able to afford $600 being deducted from a paycheck to cover your dependents,” Burkholder says. She suggests checking to see whether you now qualify for a state or federal coverage plan for dependents, such as the Children’s Health Insurance Plan, or coverage by health care providers that may offer reduced prices for basic health care for children.

Deciding what to cut first will be different for every consumer, but whatever the choice, it should be sustainable, rather than a one-time quick fix, Tonini says. Sometimes it’s cutting out the daily $4 coffee, but “they need to figure out what their ‘latte factor’ is.”

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