Shopping Has Never Been Better

The days of coupon clicking aren’t over yet – they’ve just changed. Companies big and small are all competing for your dollars. It’s a global market, too, thanks to the Internet. So how do all these companies stand out? By offering you discounts and other perks. Here are three great ideas to save money and get more from your shopping experience today.

How to Take Advantage of Online Discounts

Going to a store to look, touch and smell a product certainly has its advantages. But when is the last time you looked at those stores’ website? Most of these stores offer online discounts, mainly because they don’t want to lose out on sales to their competition. A consumer can easily get 10-30% off using a Kohls promo code, for example. Some stores have computer kiosks so that you can use any promo code you want online or off.Many companies have turned to social media, too, as another way to spread the word. These sites also often discounts or promotions. It adds up after a while, especially at stores you frequently visit.

Old School Still Works

Being a savvy shopper is not limited to those who shop online. Clipping out coupons can also save you a bundle. The Sunday paper typically still has the most coupons. These days, though, you can find online coupon sites, too. Some businesses offer printable coupons on their website, too, in addition to other discounts. Some companies, particularly grocery stores, will honor other stores’ coupons. And if you’re looking for deals, consider the seasonal savings. The best time to buy a swim suit, for example, is near the end of summer, when stores are clearing out inventory to make room for fall and winter apparel.

They Will Go the Extra Mile

Big name merchandisers have shown they will go the extra mile to entice you to spend money on their products. Discounts and coupons are just the tip of the iceberg. Many retailers, for example, offer store credit cards or shopper clubs that come with discounts and savings. Other stores offer discounts or rewards the more times you buy their products. You can sometimes get cheap, or in rare cases, free shipping. However, that might mean receiving a few promotional emails or even texts. But read through those messages carefully, because odds are good that you’ll find even more savings and discounts.

Shopping has definitely changed in recent years. The Internet has made competition for your hard-earned money fierce. That’s why the companies that manage to thrive have come up with a variety of ways to take advantage to today’s sophisticated, cost-conscious shopper. Taking advantage of all these opportunities, whether online or at a physical store, will help you save big, both in the short- and long-term.

 

Tips on Minimizing Exposure to 2013 Tax Hikes Part 1

Congress reached a deal on the ‘fiscal cliff’ at the last minute (as usual) and the resulting American Taxpayer Relief Program (ATRA) is a deal that will impact not only the wealthiest among us but also the middle income folks who make up the majority of this great nation.

With that in mind we’ve put together a 2-Part Blog series on how to Minimize your Exposure to the new tax laws so that you can keep more of your hard-earned money where it belongs, which is in your bank account.  So, if you’re ready to find out how to keep Uncle Sam away from your hard-earned cash in 2013 let’s get started.

The payroll tax cut expired in 2012, reducing your paycheck by 2% and increasing the amount of taxes that you’re going to owe this year.  Keep that in mind if you pay your taxes quarterly, especially if you’re used to getting a big return.  Estimating your updated tax withholding payments accurately will keep you from getting a big surprise next year. The IRS offers a tax calculator here.

Keep a close eye on your medical spending in 2013.  If you want to take a deduction for medical expenses in 2013 they will need to exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income.  If you’re over 65 you can use a threshold of 7.5 however.  If you want to be able to maximize your deduction it would be a good idea to group your medical expenditures so that they all happen in the same year. Also, if there is a flexible spending account where you work the limit is $2500.00 in 2013 so use as much of it as you can to pay for medical costs that are not reimbursed under your plan.

If you think you can’t put more money towards your retirement think again. The fact is, if you don’t put it away for later it’s going to go to pay taxes now.  For those of us in the upper tax brackets one of the best ways to hold onto more money is to use employer sponsored retirement plans which will cut your tax exposure to the net investment income tax. The more you put towards any retirement plan the more you reduce your AGI and your taxes.

Hopefully these Tips have been a help. Please come back soon for Part 2 and some more excellent Tips for keeping more of your money in 2013 by minimizing your 2013 tax hike exposure.  See you soon!

 

 

 

Your Rights as a Consumer

Not too many years ago, before credit reform laws were put into effect by the Federal government, credit agencies like Equifax used what they called a ‘closed system’ of reporting your credit info. What that meant was that we, as consumers, had no idea what their reports had in them and no way to change what they said.  There was also no ‘positive’ info listed, only negative, and they were also allowed to include information about a person’s lifestyle including sexual orientation and even past drug problems. (Hard to imagine isn’t it?)

That all changed in 1971 when the Fair Credit Reporting Act was passed into law by the US Congress, a significant piece of legislation and the 1st of its kind to protect the rights of the consumer (you and me) from credit agencies and their sometimes racist and immoral policies.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act gives all consumers certain rights, including;

  • A complete copy of your credit report (for a fee).
  • The knowledge of who has requested your report.
  • The right to have errors removed within 30 days.
  • The right to add your own comments to the report.
  • Statutes of limitations for bad credit that have to be abided.
  • The right to not have your credit information sold or have your access restricted.

Following this legislation another act was passed called the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 (FACTA) that gave every US Citizen the right to request 1 FREE copy of their credit report every year from the ‘Big 3’ companies including Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. They also passed several other provisions protecting people from identity theft.

Your credit report is free but if you want your credit score you’ll need to pay $6.00 to each of the Big 3.  You can purchase as many reports as you want after the 1st freebie for less than $10.00. In order to get your report or credit score you can go online to www.annualcreditreport.com or call them at (877) 322-8228.  You can also print, fill out and send this form to: Annual Credit Report Request Service P.O. Box 105281 Atlanta, GA 30348-5281

If you go online to annualcreditreport.com you simply select the State that you live in and hit ‘request report’. You’ll be taken to a new page where you enter your personal info and then be asked which of the 3 agencies you’d like to send you your report.  You can request only 1 or all 3 but remember that you only get 1 freebie every 12 months.

Who Are the Big Three Credit Agencies

The biggest credit reporting agencies in the United States (and the world in fact) are Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. They aren’t the only ones out there by far and in fact there are literally dozens of smaller credit agencies that provide their clients (banks, lenders, etc.) with risk management services. But, in terms of how strong they are and how powerful their reach, Experian, TransUnion and Equifax are hands down the biggest and most powerful on the planet.

These 3 are the most powerful because they have the largest database of credit info in the entire country.  Experian for example maintains the records of over 2/3 of the American population, over 215 million Americans, and the other 2 have similarly huge databases literally brimming with credit info on you, me and all of our neighbors and friends.

As credit agencies these 3 super agencies basically do 2 things; they collect credit info on Americans far and wide and they report this information to any lender who requests it. They do this for a fee of course and thus are 3 of the most profitable businesses in the United States.

They do this, for the most part, using three different methods of collecting information.

  1. Lenders and creditors send them updated info on all of their customers every month, depending on who they use. This includes a lot of info but the most important is what a person owes and what their payment history looks like.
  2. Any time you fill out a credit application for anything (car, credit card, home, etc.) ALL the info you give is sent to the big 3.
  3. They also have literally buildings full of people that do nothing more than scour public records for financial info on everyone.

The very lenders that send the big 3 your info are the same that request info when you fill out an application for a loan. You too can request this and in fact they must provide you 1 free copy every year. They share this info in a number of ways.

  • When a request or inquiry is made.
  • When positive events are reported. (Ex. You paid off your mortgage.)
  • When negative events are reported. (Ex. You are late on your Macy’s CC payment.)

An inquiry can also be hard as when a bank asks for info or soft as when you or an employer asks for info. Also remember that not every lender reports to all 3 and that the info from 1 to the other 2 can be different. There are also instances when mistakes or discrepancies arise.  (Hey, they’re only human.)

 

Top 5 Ways to Make Money Online

One of the most explosive trends in the last 20 years is making money online. There are, to be sure, many different ways to do it.  Websites, landing pages, blogging, affiliate sales, making and selling stuff and the list goes on. We have compiled a list of what we believe are the Top 5 ways to make money online although your actual mileage may vary.  Remember that there are internet millionaires being born practically every week and, even if you don’t make a mint, working online does have its perks.  Enjoy!

Affiliate marketing is one of the best ways to make a living online and indeed many people are affiliate marketers today.  Basically an affiliate marketer woks independently promoting products or services for other companies and, when these companies make a sale due to their work, they get a cut of the profit.  Amazon is a great example of this and maybe one of the best.  Literally millions of people are affiliate marketers for Amazon and promote their products through websites, blogs and landing pages.

Blogging is a very popular way to make money online today and requires nothing more than a Blog website (WordPress and Blogger are 2 of the best) and the expertise and knowledge to be able to attract people to what you have to say.  Of course that’s the key too; if you have that knowledge and expertise it’s easier to Blog than if you don’t.  Also, you may have the expertise but can’t write worth a darn. But if you do have something that you can share with people (a LOT of people would be good) then Blogging can be an excellent way to make an online living.

Then of course there’s eBay, still one of the best ways to sell just about anything you can think of online.  If you make your own widgets you can sell them on eBay, or you can buy stuff and then sell it.  Many people go to garage sales and estate sales and buy things cheaply and then turn around and sell them on eBay, and some make quite a good living doing it.  There are also ways to sell new stuff on eBay and have a drop-shipping company do all the leg-work for you.

Freelance writing online is a great way to earn money and in fact is what this writer does.  You of course would need experience in something (I have experience in about a dozen topics and fields) and would need to be able to write well. If you can do that freelance writing work may be the way to go.

Finally there’s designing and selling your own T-Shirt designs.  Many people love T-Shirts and there’s a huge market for interesting, funny and intelligent designs (as well as crass, crude and just plain stupid).  If you are a bit of an artist or have a knack for witty sayings and slogans this may be a great way for you to make a living.  Check out CafePress and SpreadShirt to get ideas of what’s out there and go sell your shirts.

 

The Value of a Savings Account

Savings accounts are often bashed for their low interest rates, but they in reality they provide a save haven for your hard earned money.  The economy has been in turmoil for the past several years, and despite signs of improvement most people are still unsure if the improvements are here to stay.  Inflation is always a concern, but the past couple years have been nearly inflation free, and that could very well continue into the next few years as well.  While interest rates on savings account aren’t exactly at peak levels, they do provide a return that is virtually risk free.

I still remember my very first savings account.  The bank offered a free piggy bank with signing up, which was perfect consider I wasn’t even a teenager yet.  The bank is long gone, but my pension for saving is not.  I learned at a young age about saving saving money responsibly and it has served me well throughout life.  I know the benefits between a savings and money market account, the features I want included with my savings account, and the financial benefits received.  That being said, finding the right bank now a days can be a bit more difficult than it used to be.

If you are looking for a safe haven for your money then a BM savings account would help you.  The benefits of their accounts go on and on.  They offer accounts that provide tax free havens.  Also, they provide easy access to your money without penalty, a feature that is becoming increasingly more difficult to find at other banks.  They tie their rates to fixed rate bonds, so you know exactly how much interest you will earn in advance, which takes the guesswork out savings.

You can no longer rely on your respective government to take care of you in retirement.  Pensions, social security, these are becoming a safety net of the past.  Medical expenses are rising at an alarming rate, and insurance premiums seem to be going up every year and covering less to boot.  Mortgages  might always be available, but the term years and low rates won’t always be as favorable as they are now, nor will the low amounts of money that the buyer needs to be put in.  If you want to thrive financially you need take responsbility for your own finances and start putting away your financial security into a savings account today!

Getting an Auto Loan with Poor Credit

Everyone really needs a car if they live outside of a big city and have to make a living.  The problem that a lot of people have is that, when they have bad credit, getting a car loan is about as easy as getting to the moon. The good news is that there are some finance companies that specialize in car loans to people with less than excellent credit. You may have to pay a bit more in interest rate if you do but it’s still possible.

Before you do this however you’ll want to clean up your credit report as much as humanly possible and make sure that any debts that have been paid have been taken off and any mistakes that were made have been cleaned up and taken off too. By doing this you’ll get a better interest rate which could save you literally hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars over the life of the loan.

In order to do this first you need to go to the 3 credit reporting agencies and get a copy of your credit report from them.  All 3 are required by law to give you a free copy once a year.  TransUnion, Equifax and Experian are all together on AnnualCreditReport.com and will get you your free reports with very little hassle. (The federal government sees to that, in one of the few instances of the federal government actually helping us out.) Remember to order directly from the designated website of all 3 found on AnnualCreditReport.com because if you order on their commercial site they will charge you.

Once you have your reports you need to look them over carefully and slowly to check and see if there are any mistakes or bad debts that should have been take off. (If you paid something and/or if the statute of limitations has expired they shouldn’t be there.) Federal law allows you to dispute practically ANYTHING if it’s not correct so look for dates, numbers, addresses, names or whatever that is wrong in any way. If you find any go back to the web and fill out the dispute forms that are there for all three credit agencies, depending of course on the one where you found the mistake(s).

Once that has been done and the mistakes have been fixed it’s time to go and get that car loan. Selling your old car online to reputable companies like We Buy Cars is a great way to reduce your loan amount. If there were a lot of mistakes and your new credit score is higher you will have a much better chance of scoring a loan.  If your score didn’t change too much you may still want to go to your credit union or local bank first to try. Good luck!

Editions TV Presents Three Simple Steps to Building Excellent Credit

If you are considering getting a mortgage any time soon, you probably know that having good credit just isn’t good enough anymore.  You need to have excellent credit.  In fact, many lenders aren’t even lending to borrowers who have traditionally had excellent credit because they are so scared about losing any more money like they did on loans during the financial crisis.

 

However, if you have good credit, there are some simple steps that you can take to boost that to excellent credit.  Editions TV with Terry Bradshaw highlights some of the easy ways that you can get your credit to that top tier. 

 

Editions TV Highlights The Difference Between Good and Excellent

 

Having good credit is having a credit score between 650 and 750, while having excellent credit is usually having a credit score over 750.  The Editions television series shows that the difference between good and excellent can result in thousands of dollars in savings on a loan.  However, the difference on your credit report to get from good to excellent is very small.  It takes a few small tweaks and tricks to get you to the next level. 

 

Look at Your Loans

 

The first thing you should do is look at your loans.  The credit bureaus like to see a mix of credit types on your credit report.  You should have revolving lines of credit like credit cards, as well as fixed lines of credit cards like loans (mortgage, car loan, student loan).

 

If you don’t think you have a good mix of loans, you should take out a loan even if you don’t need it.  For example, if you were planning to purchase a car with cash, you may take out a loan, and then pay it in full.  On your credit report, this will look really good because it looks like you had a loan and paid it off (even though you never really needed it).

 

Since interest rates are relatively low, you could get a loan and pay it off in a few months without paying too much in interest.  This will let you have multiple types of loans on your credit report. 

 

Payment Tricks

 

There are also a variety of payment tricks that can help you boost your credit score.  Editions TV reminds viewers that the credit card companies only report the balance due on your credit card statement on the Due Date.  So, if you pay off your credit card in full before the due date, the credit card companies will report $0 owed, which looks great on your report and can boost your score dramatically. 

 

The problem is, that even if you don’t ever pay interest on your cards, you are usually paying during the “grace period”, not when the balance is due.  That is why credit card companies report your balance. 

 

This is really crucial right before you’re applying for a big loan, like a mortgage.  Say you put all your bills on one card – you monthly balance could easily be $5,000.  When applying for a loan, it looks like you have $5,000 in credit card debt, which looks bad even though you pay it off in full each month.  That is why it is so important to pay off your balance before the credit card is due, or even better use debit cards instead while applying for a loan so that you balance doesn’t look bad. 

 

Other Factors You Control

 

Finally, there are a lot of little factors that you can control as well.  Your credit report is also based on length of credit history, so the longer you’ve had credit, the better.  This is why you should never close a credit card, even if you no longer use the credit card.  It still will show up on your report and boost your score.

Second, you are also graded on your debt to credit limit ratio.  The goal is to have this as low as possible.  One way to rig this score is to call your credit card company and ask them to increase your credit limit.  This will boost your score overnight. 

How to Get a Loan with Bad Credit

Having poor credit is like having bad in-laws; every time you try to do something it’s there trying to make your life miserable. The good news, however, is that more and more lenders are starting to give loans to people with poor FICO scores. In fact the increase in lending to subprime consumers (i.e. people with bad credit scores) rose by 41% in the last year.  Experts predict that this trend will continue to increase as banks ease up on their lending restrictions. Considering that millions of people also have less than stellar credit it’s really no surprise that the banks are starting to cozy up to them again.

No matter who you go to you’ll want to get your credit report in order before you do. If you have mistakes that are dragging your score down you should fix these problems first by getting a copy of your credit report and going over it with a fine toothed comb to make sure everything is correct and in order. The 3 main credit reporting agencies are required to give you 1 free report per year.

One of the first places that you’ll want to try and get a loan is of course your own bank.  They know you and may be able to lower their restrictions for you, especially if you have a good relationship with them over a long period of time.  Of course if you overdraw your account all the time and have a history of rubber checks you might not want to start there.

Your local Credit Union may be able to help if none of the banks will.  They are non-profit organizations that are in place to help their members in the community (that would be you) and may just be able to give you a loan at a competitive rate even if your credit score isn’t a shining beacon of purity.  Most towns have a credit union and you can find yours by visiting them online at the NCUA website.

Not that we highly recommend this but one final option is to ask a trusted relative with good credit to co-sign for your loan. This is risky for not only you but your relative as, if you stop paying or start paying late, their credit will suffer as well as yours.  That would be a real bummer during the Holidays so make sure you can pay back what you’re borrowing with no problems before you decide on this option.

 

Why Your Credit History is so Important

 

To the average person a ‘lender’ is a bank or other large institution that is faceless, nameless and all powerful.  While it may seem that banks and other lenders are heartless (and indeed some are) it helps if you know a little about credit institutions and how they work before you go off all half-cocked trying to figure out why you can’t get a car loan with a credit score of 163.

The simple fact is, lending money is a tricky business. Let’s look at in for a moment on a much smaller scale.  Say your friend Jim asks to borrow $100.00 and you say yes but as long as he pays you back by next week Friday.  Now let’s say that Jim never actually pays you back because, unknown to you, Jim borrows from friends all the time and has a nasty habit of never paying them back. If you would have known that simple fact you might not have lent him the money, am I right?

It’s exactly the same for a large bank or lender.  If you go to them asking for a loan they want to be sure that you’re going to pay them back.  It is, after all, only fair that you do.  If they were to not check your history they’d be pretty stupid, don’t you agree? If you have a clean bill of health (meaning your credit report is in good shape) they will certainly lend you some money, but if you don’t you can appreciate why if your credit history is riddled with more holes than a piece of Swiss cheese.

That’s why your credit history is so important. If you have ever owned a credit card or gotten a loan for anything (home, boat, motorcycle, lemonade stand) you have a credit history and the banks would be crazy not to use that history to see if you will pay back the money they are thinking about lending you.  It only makes good business sense, and that’s why you should protect your history by always making sure you pay bills on time.

Credit reporting agencies were formed for this very reason, to give lenders the knowledge that they need to make important business decisions like lending you money for a home or car. If they see that you credit report is strong they will lend to you.  If it’s not great (but not a complete mess) they may still lend to you but at higher interest rates.  Again it only makes good business sense for them to do this because there’s a risk that you might not pay them back.

So make sure to take care of you credit your entire life.  It can and will affect you in many ways even if you don’t like it. If you do take care of your credit history you’ll also find that banks are very happy to lend to you for whatever reason you give them

 

 

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