The Case for Shopping on Black Friday in 2020

Like most things in 2020, Black Friday won’t be the same this year.

But at least in the case of holiday shopping, change might not necessarily be a bad thing.

If you’re thinking about shopping on the day after Thanksgiving, here’s why you should — and at least one reason you shouldn’t.

The day still holds meaning

Retailers kicked off Black Friday sales back in mid-October to coincide with Amazon’s Prime Day. There’s been an onslaught of discounts ever since.

But no matter how many sales retailers label throughout the year as “Black Friday” discounts, there’s still something special about the day itself. This year, it falls on Nov. 27.

The day after Thanksgiving is a “designated consumer shopping day,” says Tom Arnold, professor of finance at the University of Richmond in Virginia.

That’s why retailers continue to market it and offer savings. Based on prior years, there will still be something special left, even after all of the early deals.

Retailers typically hold on to some fresh deals to release over Thanksgiving weekend, according to Katherine Cullen, senior director for industry and consumer insights at the National Retail Federation. She recommends acting on early deals this holiday season if you see a price you like though.

Official Black Friday deals often start on Thanksgiving Day and last into the weekend. They’ll be followed by Cyber Monday sales on Nov. 30.

You can save money

These sales make Black Friday shopping a fun family tradition. But it’s also a great way to save cold, hard cash.

In fact, that could make the discount bonanza even more attractive this year, according to Christopher Newman, associate professor of marketing at the University of Mississippi.

“It may be especially popular this year since many consumers are feeling financial strain due to economic and employment problems caused by COVID-19,” Newman said in an email. “Many consumers will likely not be in the financial position to pass up the price savings afforded by Black Friday.”

Cullen says wellness, personal care and comfort items as well as those for the home have been “popping” during the pandemic as consumer demand has increased. Hobbies like baking and holiday traditions like wearing matching pajamas are also popular.

You can likely expect retailers to discount products that appeal to pandemic conditions. Best Buy’s early Black Friday deals included markdowns on laptops and wireless headphones. Target slashed prices on things like video games and toys.

In-store shopping is so 2019

In an effort to promote safety in the pandemic, most stores are closing on Thanksgiving this year. They’re also bringing sales online — a move that’s both convenient and cost-effective for Black Friday shoppers.

“We’ve heard retailers saying, ‘We’re probably going to offer the same deals both online and in store on Black Friday so that people can shop in the way that’s most comfortable and safest for them,’” Cullen says.

That means many retailers won’t be enticing customers to brave the crowds for in-store-only doorbusters, she adds. That’s welcome news for consumers.

“Many shoppers will still feel uncomfortable going to brick-and-mortar retail stores, and many state and local governments are still imposing reduced capacity limits inside stores,” Newman said.

Aside from the safety and convenience of not having to leave home, Arnold suspects this head-to-head online competition will also be a monetary win for shoppers.

“I think the consumer is going to benefit because now it’s going to be a lot easier to compare prices with the competition online,” Arnold says.

In the past, he says, retailers could lure shoppers into stores, and consumers would often buy the products, even if they were listed online for a slightly better price. That’s because at a physical store, you have the item with you and don’t have to worry about shipping delays — even if you pay a little more for it.

But exercise restraint

As in the past, for every impressive Black Friday deal you see, there’s likely another deal that’s less worthwhile. Set a budget ahead of time so you know exactly what you’re looking to purchase and how much you’re comfortable spending.

Be cautious about your health, too. Look into a store’s safety protocols to see if you’ll feel safe being in a physical store. If you won’t, many retailers allow you to buy online and pick up curbside, Cullen points out.

And if you’ve already shopped more than enough this holiday season during the impressive early sales, it’s fair to say you can sit out Black Friday to avoid overspending.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press. 

Courtney Jespersen is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @CourtneyNerd.

The article The Case for Shopping on Black Friday in 2020 originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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How to Protect Your Credit When Shopping for the Holidays

The rules for protecting credit during the holidays usually don’t vary much from year to year, but in 2020, COVID-19 has changed where and how we shop. And money’s tight for a lot of people. About 40% of Americans said they plan to spend less on holidays this year due to the pandemic, according to a recent NerdWallet survey.

On the other hand, some may be tempted to overspend if mortgage forbearance, loan deferrals or credit card concessions have helped them build savings. But if holiday purchases leave shoppers unable to cover even minimum payments when those other bills resume, their credit will be badly damaged, says Jeff Richardson, senior vice president for marketing and communications at VantageScore, a credit scoring company.

Whether you’re being more generous or watching every penny, chances are you’re shopping online. Tom Quinn, vice president of FICO Scores, a credit scoring and data company, warns that consumers may be at higher risk of identity theft this year. It’s all too easy to go for deals we hope are real or fall victim to increasingly sophisticated phishing messages.

Here’s how experts recommend guarding your credit.

Check your credit score

Many credit cards and personal finance websites offer free credit scores, Quinn says. Choose one that offers a clear explainer of why your score is what it is. Understanding the factors that hold you back — for example, too many cards with high balances — can help you make spending decisions.

How to do it: Pick a source you like and stick with it. Free scores vary in the credit bureau data and scoring model used.

And look ahead, Richardson suggests. If you’re planning to shop for a car or home loan next year, start thinking about your credit health now, he says.

Track how much of your credit limits you use

One of the things that matter most to your score is how much of your credit limits you’re using. That’s called “credit utilization,” and it’s best to stay under 30%. If you can, aiming even lower is better.

How to do it: Many credit cards offer account alerts to help you keep track. Sign up for those, and use your free credit score source to track credit utilization as well.

When you make a list, set a spending limit

According to NerdWallet’s holiday shopping survey, about a third of those who used credit cards to buy gifts were still paying for the 2019 holidays when surveyed in September 2020. Adding to existing balances means higher credit utilization, which can hurt credit scores. Richardson cautions against taking out a loan to “make room” on cards for holiday spending.

How to do it: Find gift ideas that will bring joy without costing much — purchases made using credit card points, framed original art from your child, sharing skills you have. The internet is full of good suggestions. And if money’s tight all around; a suggestion to skip exchanging gifts this year could be welcome.

Think twice about applying for retailer-specific credit

Retailers may offer a discount if you open a credit card with them at checkout. But applying for new credit can ding your score in a few ways. You could lose a few points when the application triggers a credit check called a “hard inquiry.” If you’re approved, a new account will lower the average age of your credit. And cards tied to a specific retailer can hurt your credit utilization because they often have low limits. So make sure it’s worth it.

Quinn says a credit card tied to a specific retailer can be a good idea if it offers a meaningful discount on a big purchase. “That can be enticing,” he says. Beverly Anderson, president of Global Consumer Solutions at the credit bureau Equifax, says a card at a retailer where you frequently shop may also get you early access to sales.

How to do it: Plan ahead; don’t decide at checkout. That gives you time to investigate your odds of being approved. You don’t want to potentially lose credit score points for applying only to be denied. If you’re approved, make a plan to avoid carrying a balance because paying interest will cut into your savings.

Be skeptical, and freeze your credit

Being suspicious can keep you from becoming a victim of identity theft or fraud. Consumers may get phone calls, texts or emails requesting personal data from scammers pretending to be card issuers or retailers. Quinn says when he got a recent email with a subject line “re: your recent Amazon purchase,” his first instinct was to try to recall what he had bought. Then, he looked closer and noticed the sender’s email address wasn’t the official address for the company.

How to do it: Be leery of any communication that asks for sensitive data, such as a card or account number. Don’t click on attachments. If you think a message may be legit, independently verify contact information and initiate a call or email yourself.

Check statements carefully for purchases you didn’t make and report them to your card issuer promptly.

Freeze your credit. It’s free and you can do it by phone or online at the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You can still use your credit cards, but criminals should be unable to use your personal data to open an account. Unfreezing is easy when you want to apply for credit.

Don’t let up after the holidays

When holiday bills start to arrive, pay at least the minimum on time. A payment that’s 30 days or more past due can devastate your credit score and linger on your credit report for seven years.

Consider setting up autopay to cover at least the minimum payment, Anderson says. That ensures you don’t overlook a bill, and you can always make an additional payment to wipe out more than the minimum.

Bev O’Shea is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @BeverlyOShea.

The article How to Protect Your Credit When Shopping for the Holidays originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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What to Buy (and Skip) on Black Friday 2020

Amid all of the retail chaos and change of 2020, at least one thing remains the same: the biggest sale day of the year.

Black Friday — the day after Thanksgiving — has a reputation as the best time of the year to buy just about anything.

But even though Black Friday still exists in 2020, it won’t be the same experience as before. Our guide can help you get the best bargains this Nov. 27.

Buy: Televisions

Low-priced electronics deals are a given on Black Friday. That won’t change this year.

Last year, Target sold a 65-inch TV in stores for only $279.99. Walmart, too, had a 65-inch TV for just $278. This Black Friday, you’re guaranteed to find discounts on TVs, as well as tablets and laptops.

As for some stocking stuffers to go along with your new TV, you’ll find video games, CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays deeply discounted from their original prices. In 2019, Walmart had over 50 movie titles for $1.96 apiece.

Skip: Toys

Historically, it’s best to wait until closer to Christmas to purchase dolls, action figures, play sets and other toys. You run the risk that certain items will sell out, but you may also be able to find bigger savings on what’s left.

In past years, select toys have been on sale for as much as 50% off in the final days before Christmas.

Buy: Apple products

There’s a specific electronic brand that’s popular on Black Friday: Apple. Major retail stores such as Best Buy, Target and Walmart discount Apple products each year, and previous-generation models usually see dramatic deals. These offers may include price cuts, free gift cards with purchase (up to $400 with a qualifying phone purchase on an installment plan), or a combination of both.

Target devoted an entire page of its 2019 Black Friday ad to Apple. The Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS) started at $169.99 (regularly $199.99), and select App Store and iTunes gift cards were buy one, get one 30% off.

Apple discounts likely won’t disappear this Black Friday. In fact, Apple items have already been on sale in pre-Black Friday sales. Keep an eye out for deals on MacBooks, iMacs, iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches and Apple TVs.

Skip: Bedding

You’ve got the entertainment center covered, but hesitate before stocking up on supplies to refresh the look of your bedroom this Black Friday.

Every January, retailers such as Overstock, Pottery Barn and Sears host “white sales.” During these seasonal promotions, discounts on bedding, pillows, towels and linens can hit up to 70%. Expect these to come around after Jan. 1.

Buy: Gaming systems

Black Friday is big for gamers. This year, look for savings on video game systems from retailers such as Best Buy, Walmart and GameStop. Expect deals on products from Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo.

You’ll also find particularly great offers on gaming bundles. These include the game console plus a combination of accessories or games.

Skip: Winter clothing

Winter clothing generally isn’t the best value on Black Friday. Retailers frequently offer big clearance sales on jackets when winter gives way to spring.

But if you need something to keep you warm before then, you’ll be able to find some bargains this Black Friday. Year after year, department stores like to offer doorbuster deals on women’s boots with select pairs for just $19.99 each.

If you miss Black Friday, don’t worry. Department stores and clothing retailers have been rolling out new sales almost daily.

Buy: Christmas decor

Blowout post-Christmas clearance sales happen every year on Dec. 26 as shoppers make their way to the store to return gifts. Christmas decorations, wrapping paper, tinsel and other seasonal trimmings reach super low prices (for obvious reasons). Prices also drop in the final weeks before Christmas.

For those reasons, Christmas decorations used to be on our list of items to skip on Black Friday. But this year, it’s less likely you’ll be at the mall shortly before Christmas. And waiting to order online could spell shipping delays.

So if you need decorations, consider scooping up deals on artificial trees and rolls of wrapping paper from home and craft stores on Black Friday. That way you’ll have your essentials in time for Christmas.

Skip: Outdoor items

Outdoor products, grills and patio furniture were already deeply discounted immediately after summer ended.

If you didn’t pick up these products at the close of this summer, wait until Memorial Day and Labor Day sales roll around next year. Another viable option is the Spring Black Friday Sale that home improvement store Lowe’s usually holds each year.

Buy: Appliances

Black Friday brings big savings on washers, dryers, refrigerators and other kitchen appliances. Retailers typically mark down home appliances by 40%. Look for similar deep discounts again this year.

You’ll find smaller appliances such as coffee makers, mixers, blenders or vacuum cleaners on sale, too. Expect deals from department stores such as Kohl’s, Macy’s and JCPenney.

Shop: Online

For the ultimate combination of convenience, safety and savings, spring for online shopping. With so many stores closed on Thanksgiving, big-box retailers are bringing their doorbusters online this Thanksgiving and Black Friday.

Online shoppers will usually enjoy free shipping. Or, you can choose to make your purchases online and pick them up at the store.

Courtney Jespersen is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @CourtneyNerd.

The article What to Buy (and Skip) on Black Friday 2020 originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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5 Minimalist Tips to Make the Holidays More Affordable

After spending nearly $2,000 in gifts for her daughter’s first Christmas in 2017, Meg Nordmann knew her holiday strategy had to change.

“I totally blew it that first Christmas with her,” says the Florida-based author of “Have Yourself a Minimalist Christmas.” “I bought everything this child needed through the first five years of her life.”

Today, she is more intentional with holiday spending — a staple of the minimalist lifestyle she adopted. Minimalism eliminates distractions to free up room, time or money to do what you value. In Nordmann’s case, she avoids unnecessary spending to stay on course toward reaching early retirement with her husband.

You can use minimalist tips to keep your own financial goals on track, and still have a meaningful holiday season.

1. Review your holiday budget

This year, consumers plan to spend $998 on average on items such as gifts, food, decorations and other holiday-related purchases for themselves and their families, according to a National Retail Federation holiday survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics.

Your budget may differ, but it’s worth considering that $1,000 could cover a month’s rent, an unexpected car repair or vet bill. Even one-fifth of that would make a decent start on an emergency fund, ideal in an uncertain economy roiled by a pandemic.

You don’t need to sacrifice gift-giving entirely. But before you start your holiday shopping, prioritize your own financial goals before determining what to spend on others.

2. Set expectations

Let family members know ahead of time if you’re changing your holiday approach. Last year, Nordmann and her family decided months in advance that they were only exchanging books.

Joshua Becker, Arizona resident and founder of the Becoming Minimalist blog, has an understanding with his family.

“I have a brother and a sister, and we’ve stopped exchanging gifts,” he says. “We just pool our money together and get one nice gift for our parents.”

They also trade off on buying gifts for each other’s kids. Becker’s teens have learned to expect gifts that include one thing they need, one thing they want and a shared family experience.

Marion Haberman, a YouTuber at the channel My Jewish Mommy Life, and her extended family have a strategy that doesn’t require a multiperson gift exchange with several people over eight nights of Hanukkah.

“We only do gifts for the kids — nieces, nephews, grandchildren — for their birthdays,” she says. “In our home, we do one present for each kid for each night.”

3. Craft your gift-giving strategy

For Haberman’s family, presents aren’t necessarily wrapped. A present can be a voucher for a jelly donut or a night of building a fort and watching movies.

Nordmann’s children usually get a gift they want, a gift they need, clothes and a book. For other family members, Nordmann and her husband are making gifts.

“We had a really good harvest for our garden this year,” she says. “We’re going to make hot sauces and papaya jelly.”

By giving thoughtful gifts that don’t hurt their budget, they can continue replenishing the income they lost during the pandemic. The setback has delayed the couple’s early retirement goals. Her husband, an auto mechanic, was unemployed for two months, and their vacation rental properties were forced to close at the same time.

4. Improvise on your holiday feast

Whether you’re planning a socially distanced holiday meal or a celebration with those in your household, look for opportunities to save.

See whether your credit card’s features have temporarily changed. For instance, to accommodate shifts in household spending, some credit card issuers have made it easier to earn or redeem rewards for groceries.

Nordmann saves on her grocery budget by visiting a local nonprofit that eliminates food waste. Some of these organizations in different cities give away soon-to-expire or dented items that are otherwise discarded.

She signs up in advance and waits in a long line, but she might find a free soon-to-expire holiday ham to freeze for later. “The savings are so worth it,” she says.

For Kim Lee, an Arizona-based minimalist and content creator at the lifestyle website Free to Family, a potluck saves money and stress. “It makes it a lot easier on the host,” she says.

5. Save on decorations and wrapping paper

Lee and her family enjoy the experience of crafting their own decorations. They make a banner out of popcorn and cranberries as they sip hot chocolate and listen to Christmas tunes or watch holiday movies.

“I’d rather have a small amount of decorations and make it a big activity, than a large amount of decorations and make it a dreadful experience,” Lee says. “It also makes it easier to clean up.”

Nordmann also makes her own decorations. Plus, she uses large rolls of general-purpose masking paper from home improvement stores to save money on gift wrapping. A branch of cedar or some evergreen adds a holiday touch.

“It looks beautiful and classic and everyone loves it, but it’s going to be drastically cheaper,” she says.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press. 

Melissa Lambarena is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @LissaLambarena.

The article 5 Minimalist Tips to Make the Holidays More Affordable originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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How to Build a Home Office Without Breaking the Bank

For about six months beginning in January, James Hulett’s garage became his home office. His company sent him home earlier than most workplaces in an effort to keep the coronavirus from spreading.

“I have a 3-year-old son who’s way into tools, so he would be [in the garage] finding tools to take them inside and take apart toys and stuff,” he says. “It was a circus.”

In the summer, he and his wife bought a home west of Salt Lake City that could accommodate an indoor workspace. All that was left was to turn it into an office.

Hulett, like employees at many companies in the U.S., expects to work from home at least through the end of the year. Some companies have announced plans to keep office doors closed well into 2021, and others have offered remote work as a permanent option for employees.

If you’re ready to start building your home office, here are tips for managing the costs, plus financing options for more extensive projects.

Consider your cash on hand

Hulett furnished his office using money he could spend within his weekly budget. His emergency fund is ironclad, he says, so dipping into it wasn’t an option.

Over a third (34%) of homeowners who have done home renovations since March 1 took the same approach, paying for their projects with cash they had on hand, according to a recent NerdWallet survey.

If you aren’t using savings designated for home improvement, it’s OK to use your emergency fund, says New York-based certified financial planner Jeff Wolniewicz. After all, he says, that fund is for unexpected expenses.

Just be mindful of how much you need in your emergency fund to feel secure and make a plan to replenish it right away.

“I think everybody has seen how important it is through COVID to maintain that,” he says. “An emergency fund is a huge peace-of-mind right now, so just have that plan to rebuild it.”

You can also put smaller home office purchases on a rewards credit card that gives cash back. Pay the full balance each month to keep interest charges from outweighing the rewards.

Focus your spending

One spending strategy is to invest in pieces that will make your work time more productive and enjoyable and to spend less where it won’t make as much of a difference.

A key piece that can create an effective office environment is a comfortable, supportive office chair, says interior designer Kerrie Kelly, who is based in Sacramento, California.

She suggests finding one that’s similar to what you have at work.

You can also get your money’s worth out of a fresh coat of paint. She says a new color can help create the feeling you want when you’re working.

“If that light blue changes your mood, go for it, or if you think that crisp white is gonna keep you really organized, then go do that,” Kelly says.

Additionally, find a way to compartmentalize. Especially if your workspace doubles as a dining room, for example, invest in ways to hide your work — from yourself, if nobody else. She suggests something like a rolling storage cart.

For his home office, Hulett wanted a formal, work-like atmosphere — he still puts on a button-down and gets ready for work — and for him, that meant an executive desk and credenza.

“I wanted there to be some kind of stepping out of normal home life into a work situation,” he says.

Shop secondhand

Hulett says his office cost $3,500 to furnish, and almost everything in it is secondhand.

His biggest tip is to use websites like eBay and Facebook Marketplace, where people are reselling office furniture in bulk at low prices.

Hulett says his desk was about $100 on Facebook. A similar desk by the same designer is valued at $3,000 by a vintage furniture store. Hulett drove to Phoenix to buy the matching credenza he saw on Instagram for about $800.

“It’s like a weird secondary economic phenomenon of COVID,” Hulett says. “I don’t think it’s ever been easier to get equipment that’s on par with what people are used to using at work.”

Get financing for bigger upgrades

Homeowners hired professionals for about 63% of home improvement projects between 2017 and 2019, according to the NerdWallet report. And professional help doesn’t always come cheap. If you’re thinking about adding a room or a more extensive workspace renovation, you have a few financing options.

A credit card with a 0% interest promotion could help you pay for your office updates interest-free, Wolniewicz says. The no-interest period on these cards is usually 12 to 18 months, so keep the interest rate in mind in case you can’t pay it off during that period.

You usually need good or excellent credit to qualify, Wolniewicz says, and though he sees some issuers making more zero-interest offers than earlier in the pandemic, they may still be hard to come by.

For building a home office, Wolniewicz recommends a home equity line of credit because of its flexibility. You can take only what you need from a HELOC and leave the rest, unlike a home equity loan, which comes in a lump sum.

If you can’t get your hands on a zero-interest credit card and you don’t want to tap your equity, consider a home improvement loan. You usually get the funds from these loans faster than an equity loan, and they can have annual percentage rates lower than a credit card.

Because they have higher rates than HELOCs and typically shorter repayment periods, your monthly payments could be higher, Wolniewicz says, but you’ll also clear your debt faster.

Annie Millerbernd is a writer at NerdWallet. Email:

The article How to Build a Home Office Without Breaking the Bank originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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Is It Finally Time to Get an Electric Car?

Electric cars now drive farther, charge faster and come in nearly every price range.

But when GMC began promoting its Hummer EV pickup truck to be released this year, it became even clearer that electric cars are primed to go mainstream.

Once the domain of environmentalists, then early adopters, EVs may soon have even truck bros kicking the gasoline habit.

With many models now available or coming soon — including a knockoff of the lovable Volkswagen Microbus — you may be wondering if it’s finally time to buy or lease an EV.

Here are the essential questions to answer before you do.

(Full disclosure: I’m a convert myself after six years and 70,000 gas-free miles.)

1. Can you afford an electric car?

EVs tend to be pricy to buy but can be more affordable to lease. Finding federal, state and local government incentives can also reduce sticker shock. And, even if the monthly payment is higher than a comparable gas car, operating costs are lower.

Gas vehicles cost an average of $3,356 per year to fuel, tax and insure, while electric cost just $2,722, according to a study by Self Financial. Find out how much you can save with the Department of Energy calculator.

2. How far do you need to drive on a single charge?

Although almost 60% of all car trips in America were less than 6 miles in 2017, according to the Department of Energy, the phrase “range anxiety” scared many would-be early adopters.

Teslas became popular in part because they offered 250 miles of range. But the range of many EVs between charges is now over 200 miles; even the modestly priced Chevrolet Bolt can travel 259 miles on a single charge.

Still, EVs have a “road trip problem,” according to Josh Sadlier, director of content strategy for car site “If you like road trips, you almost have to have two cars — one for around town and one for longer trips,” he says.

3. Where will you charge it?

If you live in an apartment without a charging station, this could be a deal breaker.

The number of public chargers increased by 60% worldwide in 2019, according to the International Energy Agency. While these stations — some of which are free — are more available, most EV owners install a home station for faster charging.

EVs can be charged by plugging into a common 120-volt household outlet, but it’s slow. To speed up charging, many EV owners wind up buying a 240-volt charging station and having an electrician install it for a total cost of $1,200, according to the home remodeling website Fixr.

4. What will you use the car for?

While there are a few luxury electric SUVs on the market, most EVs are smaller sedans or hatchbacks with limited cargo capacity. However, the coming wave of electric cars are more versatile, including vans, such as the Microbus, and trucks, such as an electric version of the popular Ford F-150 pickup.

5. Do you enjoy performance?

This is where EVs really shine. According to automotive experts, electric cars beat their gas counterparts in these ways:

  • Immediate response with great low-end acceleration, particularly in the 0-30 mph range.
  • Sure-footed handling due to the heavy battery mounted under the car, giving it a low center of gravity.
  • No “shift shock” from changing gears in a conventional gas car’s transmission.
  • Little noise except from the wind and tires.

Other factors

Once you consider the big questions, here are other reasons to make an electric car your next choice:

Reduced environmental guilt. There is a persistent myth that EVs simply move the emissions from the tailpipe to the power generating station. Yes, producing electricity produces emissions, but many EV owners charge at night when much of the electricity would otherwise be unused. According to research published by the BBC, electric cars reduce emissions by an average of 70%, depending on where people live.

Less time refueling. It takes only seconds to plug in at home, and the EV will recharge while you’re doing other things. No more searching for gas stations and standing by as your tank gulps down gasoline.

No oil changes. Dealers like a constant stream of drivers coming in for oil changes so they can upsell other services. EVs have fewer moving parts and require fewer trips to the dealership for maintenance.

Carpool lanes and other perks. Check your state regulations to see if an EV gets you access to the carpool lane, free parking or other special advantages.

Enjoy the technology. Yes, EVs are more expensive, but they also tend to offer top-of-the-line comfort, safety features and technology compared with their gas counterparts.

Philip Reed is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @AutoReed.

The article Is It Finally Time to Get an Electric Car? originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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Don’t Skip These Steps When Borrowing Parent Student Loans

In more than one-third of U.S. families, parents decide how to pay for college, according to a July 2020 report from private lender Sallie Mae.

Half of those parents don’t inform the child of their decision.

Joe Allen, 51, of Frederick, Maryland, did talk about college costs with his daughter, a freshman at the University of Dayton in Ohio. But he understands why some families avoid the topic.

“As a parent, you want to protect your children,” Allen says. “You want to do what’s best for them.”

But what seems best for children may be bad for mom or dad — especially if it means taking out hefty parent student loans without discussing them. Here’s how to avoid that misstep and others when borrowing parent loans.

Assess your situation

Students should exhaust free money and federal loans in their names to pay for college. Parents can then cover the remaining costs with federal parent PLUS loans or private loans.

But first, review your current financial situation with your child.

“Have a realistic sit-down with yourself and your family in terms of what (your) finances look like and what’s the best decision for you,” says Rick Castellano, spokesperson for Sallie Mae.

Don’t borrow parent student loans if they’ll put your retirement at risk, you’re deep in debt or you can’t afford the payments. For example, the nonprofit Trellis Company surveyed more than 59,000 parents whose children attended school in Texas and found that most said they struggled with loan repayment at some point.

Have a conversation

Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, a wealth psychology expert and host of the Breaking Money Silence podcast, says talking about big expenses like college tuition can make people uncomfortable and emotional.

That doesn’t mean you should avoid the conversation.

“It’s OK if people get upset,” Kingsbury says. “The pitfall is if people get upset and don’t get back to it.”

Instead, use this opportunity to talk about how much you’ll borrow and to teach your child how to analyze the value of a large purchase.

Allen says he went through a sample budget with his daughter to illustrate the cost of her loans and how they might limit her flexibility in the future.

He liked that the exercise made things more concrete than “just saying don’t take out debt.”

Figure out who’s responsible

A conversation is also necessary to determine who’ll repay the parent’s loans.

If your child will — and 45% of families expect the parent and child to at least share this responsibility, according to the Sallie Mae report — that can affect your decisions.

Angela Colatriano, chief marketing officer for College Ave Student Loans, says some families want the child’s name on the loan because he or she will repay it.

“They don’t want a handshake agreement,” she says.

But only the parent is legally responsible for a parent PLUS loan. You’ll need to weigh that when considering borrowing options.

PLUS loans have less stringent credit requirements than private loans and offer everyone the same fixed interest rate. However, PLUS loans also have large origination fees and are available only to parents — guardians and grandparents aren’t eligible, for example.

Your ultimate goal should be getting the least expensive loan you qualify for. If that’s a PLUS loan, make sure everyone is on the same page for repayment.

Kingsbury suggests writing a simple, one-page agreement that “would spell out what the expectation is and what happens if there’s a conflict.”

Consider co-signing

Parents who prefer private loans can borrow in their name or co-sign with their child. Either option means you’ll be responsible for the loan.

“It comes down to a family decision,” Castellano says. “Families should explore both options.”

But he says that co-signing can benefit students in ways that borrowing on your own can’t, such as helping them build credit.

Also, because a co-signed loan has two applicants, you may get a better interest rate. However, lender underwriting policies differ.

For example, Allen initially got a much higher rate on a co-signed loan than he expected. The lender told him that was because it combined his credit score with his daughter’s.

“I didn’t understand that,” Allen says. “I thought if I’m co-signing and bringing good credit to the equation it should be a better rate.”

He applied with a different lender and got what he called a “much better” rate. Allen plans to take out that loan once his family can no longer fund the education on their own.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.

Ryan Lane is a writer at NerdWallet. Email:

The article Don’t Skip These Steps When Borrowing Parent Student Loans originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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Picking a Pandemic Side Gig Takes Hustle

Side gig. Side job. Side hustle. It goes by many names and serves many purposes. For some, it’s a way to keep the lights on. For others, it’s an opportunity to save for a goal or follow a passion.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of Americans have become unemployed. Many are turning to the gig economy to make money. And it’s booming.

“Obviously online shopping has become huge, and so delivery services are packed. You’ve got Amazon Flex trucks practically ramming into each other,” says Kathy Kristof, editor at, a website that reviews hundreds of online moneymaking platforms.

Before you rush into a side gig, scrutinize the risks, the pay and other important details. Here’s how to choose the right pandemic side job for you.

Assess yourself first

As you begin searching for a side hustle, think about your experience, skills and interests. But more importantly, consider what you’re comfortable doing.

Are you willing to be in close contact with other people, or would you prefer a socially distant position? Are you part of a high-risk group for COVID-19? What would happen if you got sick and couldn’t work? The answers to these questions will help you decide what jobs to pursue.

If either your health or financial life could be ravaged by illness, you’re going to have to be more careful than the people without those risks, Kristof says.

“Somebody who doesn’t have that same sort of risk might feel completely comfortable doing contact-free deliveries for Grubhub or Dumpling or any of these other delivery services,” Kristof says. “But somebody who is high risk, you want an online job like online tutoring.”

Expand your definition of ‘side gig’

“Side gig” has become synonymous with a handful of jobs: dog walking, delivering groceries and driving for Uber or Lyft. But these aren’t the only opportunities occupying the space.

You can teach a virtual yoga class, for example, sell clothing online or work as a freelance designer. Through services like TaskRabbit, you can get paid to do odd jobs like yardwork and assembling furniture.

Side and part-time jobs tend to rise during economically uncertain times, according to Brie Weiler Reynolds, career development manager at FlexJobs, a job-search site for remote and flexible jobs. Chances are there’s something up your alley.

Roles outside the gig economy can be worth exploring, too. Features typically associated with side gigs, including flexible schedules and the ability to work from home, are increasingly spilling over into professional roles. Remote jobs posted on FlexJobs in career categories such as marketing, sales and project management have increased over 50% since March, according to a recent analysis from the site.

“Because we’ve never had to do this from home before, there was never as much acceptance. Now you’re getting widespread acceptance from the whole of corporate America,” Kristof says.

Protect yourself and your finances

Once you narrow down your choices, dig into the details. Get a sense for what it’s like to work in a role, what the requirements are and how much you’re likely to earn before you commit.

You can avoid surprises by looking up a company’s Better Business Bureau rating, reading through the fine print on its website and checking out reviews on sites like SideHusl and Indeed.

“Let’s say you’re interested in delivery jobs, and you’ve got DoorDash, Instacart and Postmates. You want to look at each site and see what the fees are,” Weiler Reynolds says.

Many platforms charge registration, listing or commission fees, which can cut into your earnings. Some gigs also require you to pay expenses like gas and insurance for your vehicle. If you’re a rideshare driver, delivery driver or mover, your personal auto insurance policy doesn’t cover you for commercial risk, Kristof says.

“Some online platforms automatically cover you with a commercial policy. Others do not. So you should always look for that if you’re working for an online platform,” Kristof says.

Still, that won’t necessarily cover you in all circumstances, such as when you’re en route to pick up an order. Talk to your insurance company to ensure you get the proper protection.

You’ll also want to find out whether you’ll be classified as an employee or independent contractor. This determines how you’ll pay taxes and whether or not you’ll be entitled to certain benefits. Independent contractors need to set aside a portion of their pay for taxes themselves. Employers automatically withhold income taxes for employees and usually offer health insurance, 401(k) matches or paid time off.

Weiler Reynolds says freelancers or contractors may also have to pay taxes quarterly, which can be a bigger time investment.

Don’t forget to make safety a priority. Find out what protective measures the company or local government requires while you’re on the job. If you’re unable to avoid contact with others, prepare to take appropriate precautions, such as wearing a mask or gloves.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.

Lauren Schwahn is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @lauren_schwahn.

The article Picking a Pandemic Side Gig Takes Hustle originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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