Category: Personal Finance

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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Smart boots warms up using a mobile app

Smart boots warms up using a mobile app

A new “smart boot” can warm up cold feet, thanks to a built-in heating system controlled by a smartphone app.

Called the “world’s first luxury heated smart boots,” the footwear will work with both iOS and and Android headsets, connecting over Bluetooth. Wearers of the Lundí boots can adjust the temperature of the smart footwear by using a temperature slider on the mobile app.

According to the maker, the boots will warm up in less than a minute, depending on how cold it is outside. The warmth comes from a heating element embedded within flexible cushions in the boots.

The battery is said to last for seven to eight hours, and can be wirelessly charged using a special boot shaper that is similar to the cardboard inserts supplied with most new boots. It takes around 1.5 hours to fully charge the battery, makers say.

Crafted from leather, the boots include a covered wedge heel and are water-resistant, while the heating system is entirely waterproof.

The makers of the Lundí smart boots are seeking funding on Kickstarter, with boots available for $649.

Once the high-tech boots go into production, the full price will be $775. If the funding target is reached, the first boots are due to ship in November 2016.

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Understanding Forex Trading

Understanding Forex Trading

Forex refers to the biggest, freest marketplace in the world: the global trading of different nation’s currencies or money. Dollars, euros, pounds and yen are all examples of currencies. If you live in a country that counts money in dollars, then euros are foreign currency to you. If you want to pay dollars to someone who uses euros, the two you will have to engage in foreign exchange, or forex.

It’s elementary supply and demand. If I have lots of dollars and few euros, your dollar is worth only a small number of euros to me; perhaps only a fraction of a euro. On the other hand, if I have a shortage of dollars (and need them to pay someone else), then I will give you more euros for your dollar. If we can negotiate a mutually agreeable exchange rate – X dollars for Y euros – then we can do business.

Our dollars and euros are said to be “liquid” if each currency can be exchanged for another readily. Liquidity is vital to international trade, obviously. Fortunately, the forex market is extremely liquid. There is always someone willing to buy your dollars with whatever foreign currency you need, and enough players in the market that you can almost always find an acceptable exchange rate.

The more information you have about exchange rates, the better the deal you can negotiate and the better your profit on foreign exchange. The rub for small traders is that they don’t get much market information. The forex market is a clique-ish one. The more currency you trade, the more information other large traders will share with you. If you trade a small amount of currency, you do so in nearly total ignorance of what a “fair” exchange rate should be. Small players in forex make money accidentally; most of the time, they lose.

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Sorry, your card was declined

Sorry, your card was declined

You never want to hear your waiter say, “Sorry, your card was declined.” For people with bad credit, hard times are inevitable. When they occur, you can dig a deep hole and crawl in, but there are better ways to respond. Here are the most common scenarios involving embarrassing credit and answers most worthy.

1. “I’m sorry sir, but your card was declined.”

When a boy says these terrifying words, you are bound to flush crimson dining companions as speculate on the state of your finances.

Squelch panic, “said John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education. Explain calmly that the tape may have been damaged, and make another card for the purchase. If she was denied because you are maxed out, however, and you have no plastic or other cash, excuse yourself and call the creditor to request an “opt-in for overlimit fees.“” This will allow operations overlimit to fill, “says Ulzheimer. You will be assessed a fee, but your reputation will be saved.

2. “Er, Jane, we need to discuss this issue before you pay.”

It’s awful to be sued for a debt, but it is horrible when your employer receives an order for garnishment of wages, a part of your salary should be given to your creditor.

Do not wait until the sheriff to serve hits the paper, said the trust expert Delores Pressley. Be proactive and request a meeting with your boss, saying: “I am terribly sorry that a personal question has extended to the workplace. I’ll find a solution as quickly as possible. “This straightforward approach may compensate for a negative opinion of your supervisor. Also, you can not be fired for garnishment (unless there was more than one in a period of 12 months), which may inspire some confidence.

3. “Rent to you with your bad credit? Ha!”

Ready to sign a lease? If your credit is terrible, you could be in the same humiliation that Matthew and Fiona Peters, Madison, Wisconsin, experienced. As newlyweds, Peters thought they had found the perfect apartment. Yet in the rental office crowded, the agent announced loudly: “There is no way that we can rent with your credit. It is bad… very bad. “Every parent called and asked for help in vain.” After the second call, we sat there red-faced, wondering what we were supposed to do or say next, “said Matthew Peters.” It was emasculating! ”

Today, Peters offers advice to others in similar situations, “Keep your cool and do not take it personally seen a high level for all residents not only protects the property owner’s investment, but people living there as well.. “Focus on your finer points.” You could say: “My credit is bad, but I’m busy and make it a point to always pay for my first home,” said Peters. You may need to sweeten the deal by offering a co-signer, doubling the deposit or to pay rent in advance.

4. “Great, once we see your credit file, we can complete your job application.”

credit checks pre-employment are the norm today – and you’ll want to hide if yours is full of big balances, late payments and accounts written off.

Sure, you can deny access to your reports, but it could encourage the hiring manager to build your resume. So stand tall and to disclose past problems at the front. Honesty can not increase your chances. And relax on shamefully low credit rating. “The credit bureaus and their professional organization (the consumption data Industry Association) have publicly stated countless times stating that they do not provide credit ratings and audit reports of the working credit” says Ulzheimer.

5. “Darling, I can not wait to start a life with you – buy a house, have children …”

Have terrible credit, but in the beginning of a long term relationship? Assuming it can be scary. Like it or not, you must reveal the horrible truth. Then, commit to open communication and make amends, “said Joe Rubino, author of” Self-esteem book.”

“Contact all debtors, make arrangements to clean the debts, start a savings plan, cut credit cards and take full responsibility for the management of future purchases responsibly.” Strengthen your skills and your faith life partner through financial counseling, therapy or life coaching.

6. “I need to talk with Mary about a bill pending.”

Whether calls or messages collection go to your workplace, roommate or relative, your private situation will become public. First, the end of the phone calls. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits collectors third discuss your debt with anyone but you. And while they may contact you at work if you ask them to stop, they should.

Tell them you know the law and that you will file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, if they persist. Then, “said Rubino, act with integrity and clean up your mess of money. “This done, he is afraid of anyone except your own. If you feel the need to explain calls to anyone, just say you made financial arrangements to settle debts and the case is supported “.

7. “OK, Phil, go ahead and charge those costs and we will reimburse you.”

A business trip is imminent and you are supposed to book a hotel room, flight or rental car. Uh oh, you have no credit. Do not worry, you’re not the only one not charging fees. About 29 percent of Americans live without credit. Suffice it to say that you only use cash, and ask to be paid with corporate funds or corporate card. Few employers balk at such a reasonable request.

Is it easy to deal with these credit problems mortifying gracefully? Of course not. But keep in mind that even a show of assurance from the air – and feel – better than avoidance.

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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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Funding your own small business without a loan

Funding your own small business without a loan

You may be one of the many people who choose to start a small business each year. You might just want to be able to work from home, be more available to your family, or just be able to get away from a boss peering over your shoulder everyday. Whatever your reason is, you most likely need some money to get you started.

If your business idea is small enough, it is possible to get it off the ground without having to get a loan. This is a much better, and easier, route to go in the long run. Funding your own business without a loan rids you of the need to pay this money back when your business gets off the ground. You will most likely agree that it’s much nicer when you get to actually KEEP your profit.

A lot of small businesses can be started by simply saving the money you need for supplies. For example, if you are interested in beginning a gift basket business, the first thing you are going to need is baskets, and lots of them. You can find these in many places, but if you happen to live near a basket factory, you can buy a lot of them for a bulk price. As these will be an ongoing need for your business, it is impossible to buy too many of them.

Decide what sort of baskets you will specialize in, and buy enough supplies to make a reasonable number of those baskets. Use your printer to make flyers for advertising in shops and anywhere else that allows flyers to be posted. At first, you can simply use your existing telephone for business calls, so you don’t have to pay for a second line. Take the money you start receiving for the baskets you sell and reinvest into the business. Branch out and start making custom baskets.

While that is only one example of how this can be done, there are many other small businesses that do not require a loan to start. If you are more eager to get your business up and running, it is possible to take on a partner, or an investor. Either of these options should be entered into only with people who share your dream or vision, or it will simply not work because your business will never be truly yours.

Think seriously about what you want to accomplish with your business and go from there. Plan for your venture and make a list of everything you need in order to begin it. It might just be easier than you think to keep banks out of the picture.

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15-minute fixes to raise a credit score

15-minute fixes to raise a credit score

Setting up automatic bill payments can boost your number by as much as 50 points.

Improving your credit score can feel like a gargantuan task. But by spending just 15 minutes, you can give your credit score anywhere from a small bump to a major boost. Here are some tips from credit experts on quick — and sometimes easy — ways to raise your score.

1. Set up automatic bill payment or alerts.

“The one thing you need to do is pay bills on time — that has the biggest impact on your score,” says Carrie Coghill, director of consumer education for FreeScore.com. One way to do that is to set up automatic bill payment through your bank or credit union, at least for the typical minimum amounts of your bills, says Lita Epstein, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Improving Your Credit Score.” Or, if you’re not comfortable with automatic bill payment, Coghill recommends setting up regular email or text message alerts to remind you of bill due dates. On-time payments over a period of about six months can increase your score by as much as 50 points, says Epstein. “It shows you are getting responsible about your bills.”

2. Pay down revolving debt.

If your credit card debt is more than 35 percent of your credit limit, it’s probably dragging your score down, but paying balances down can provide a quick boost. Experts recommend setting up regular automatic payments to make a dent in your debt or making one big extra payment if you can sell something on Craigslist or eBay or if you get a windfall. “People sometimes get a sizeable tax refund. I recommend using that to pay off debt,” says Doug Borkowski, director of the nonprofit Iowa State University Financial Counseling Clinic. A good rule to follow is this: For every $1,000 of available credit, try to use less than $350, says Clifton O’Neal, a spokesman for TransUnion. “Say you have three cards, each with a $1,000 limit,” O’Neal says. “One has a $500 balance, one has a $350 balance and one has a $250 balance. Pay on all of them, but pay more on the first one to bring it down under 35 percent.”

3. Pay your credit card bill early.

If you use your card for everything from groceries to utilities to a pack of gum to get rewards — but pay in full each month — pay early. Because if you charge, say, $2,000 each month, but pay your bill after you get your statement, it looks as though you’re carrying a large balance when you’re not, Epstein says. “Check when the statement closing date is,” Epstein says. “Making the payment before the statement closing date — just five or six days early — can make a big difference over time. It will be reported to the credit bureaus as a $0 balance and will look like you’re holding less credit.”

4. Ask your credit card company to raise your limit.

If you carry a credit card balance but have been making payments on time and make enough money to support a higher credit limit, a quick phone call to your credit card company could raise your score. A higher credit limit will lower your credit utilization ratio (the amount of available credit you’re using), experts say. However, experts also say it’s important to be honest about whether that step would tempt you to rack up more debt. “It’s about knowing yourself, asking, ‘Am I going to be responsible using that credit card?'” Borkowski says. “Because what if your limit is $4,000 and it gets raised to $8,000 and all you end up with is more credit card debt? But, for those who can handle it, yes, call and try to get your limit raised so you’re at a one-third or less [credit utilization ratio].”

5. Go online to dispute an item on your credit report.

Some experts advise consumers to dispute a possible credit report error by registered mail, and to include evidence. But, let’s face it, many never get around to making copies, hunting down a stamp and heading to the post office. All three major credit bureaus offer the option of filing a dispute online — and it can be faster and easier, experts say. “The first thing to do is pull a copy of your credit report from all three bureaus. You can do it free once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com,” says O’Neal. “Look at each one and see if there’s anything you don’t recognize. If you have any questions about information on your reports, you can file a dispute online. You can track it online, too, so it’s a lot quicker.”

6. Just say no to too many inquiries.

When you’re buying those cool new sunglasses and the cashier asks if you’d like to get a 10 percent discount by signing up for a store credit card, just say no. “Whenever you take new credit, you get a ding on your credit score, so don’t apply for new credit cards all the time,” Epstein says. In fact, she recommends applying for new credit, at most, twice a year.

7. Get a late payment removed from your credit report.

In the “it-can’t-hurt-to-ask” category, it sometimes pays to call a creditor and ask to have a late payment removed from your credit report. “I always say, ‘just ask,'” says Borkowski, who recommends asking for the hardship department whenever you call a credit card company to make such a request. “A lot of times, general customer service might say they can’t help you, but the hardship department — or its equivalent — might,” Borkowski says. “They make a lot of money from the person who misses a payment every now and then but carries a big balance. They like to keep those customers.”

It is often repeated that, when it comes to credit scores, there are no quick fixes. However, if you follow these tips, you could see a big improvement in your credit score — with just a small investment of time.

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