Biden Acts to Ease Gas Prices, But You Can Save Money Now

President Joe Biden is taking steps to wrestle down gas prices, which were nearly 60% higher in October 2021 than they were the same month a year ago.

This week, he announced that the Energy Department would release 50 million barrels of oil from the country’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve to increase supply.

Last month, the nationwide gas price average hit a seven-year high, according to AAA, and prices this week averaged $1.29 more than they were this time a year ago.

“The fact is, right now, that energy prices at the pump and at home are too high,” Energy Secretary Jennifer M. Granholm said during a press briefing this week. “Low-income families already spend up to 30% of their monthly income on fuel, on energy. And so, any price increase — for them, in particular — causes an undue strain, but it causes a strain on everyone.”

But don’t expect that to change gas prices immediately, Biden warned.

In the meantime, you can cut how much you pay at the pump. Here’s how.

Know how to find cheaper gas stations

Apps like GasBuddy track local gas prices, which can show if it’s better to fill up at the station near your home or by your workplace. And while warehouse clubs like Costco typically require membership fees, many have their own gas stations that offer lower prices, which may alone justify the dues.

Change how you drive to increase fuel economy

Believe it or not, adjusting how you speed up, brake or use cruise control can impact how much gas is used on your trip.

For starters, slow down. According to a study from car-shopping website Edmunds, slowing down from 75 to 65 mph increased fuel economy up to 14%.

Embrace cruise control. Edmunds found that driving at a constant speed can save up to 14% versus constantly changing lanes, accelerating and decelerating.

And idling eats up a significant amount of gas, even though you’re not moving. If you’re waiting outside school to pick up your kids, or you’ve pulled over at the end of your block to chat with a neighbor, turn off the engine. Edmunds found that avoiding excessive idling can cut fuel use up to 19%.

Use the right gas credit card

Ultimately, it’s likely you’re paying more for gas this year than last, no matter how prudent you are about saving. If so, at least maximize rewards earned from your purchases. The best gas credit cards typically net at least 3% back in rewards for your gas station purchases.

Go electric

You could also ditch gas completely and consider an electric car.  They can be expensive, and they can be a hassle when you consider how often you’ll need to charge it and figure out where you’ll be able to do so.

But they come with benefits too — no oil changes needed, access to carpool lanes in some regions, and reduced environmental guilt. Then there’s the tax benefit, too. All-electric and plug-in hybrid cars purchased new in or after 2010 may be eligible for a federal income tax credit of up to $7,500.

And these days, not paying for gas might feel like the biggest benefit of them all.

Sally French writes for NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @SAFmedia.

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Care About Your Credit Score? Get Strategic With Card Limits

If you have credit cards in your wallet, you might track your balances to keep your budget in check, but knowing each card’s credit limit off the top of your head is another story. However, actively managing how much of your credit limits you are using — also known as your credit utilization ratio — can make a big impact on your credit score.

Your credit score is a mix of many factors, including your credit usage. If you want to build your credit score, focusing on using less of your credit limits is a powerful way to do it. People with excellent credit tend to have low credit utilization ratios.

According to credit expert John Ulzheimer, utilization is one of the more actionable ways to improve your credit: “To the extent you have the ability to pay down your credit card debt, then your ratios are going to go down. That’s just a fact.”

Even if you can’t reduce your balances, a few other strategies can help reduce credit utilization.

What is a credit limit and who determines it?

Your credit limit is the maximum amount you’ve been approved to spend by a creditor, based on factors like your payment history, income and credit score. A credit limit is not set in stone and is likely to change over the life of the account: Your card issuer can increase or decrease your limit without warning, and you can also ask for a credit limit increase (more on that later).

The way you use your credit limits can help your score

Make sure you know your credit limits. Try checking your latest bill or banking app to find the limit for each card. With your limits in mind, you can focus on keeping your balances low.

Ideally, you want to use no more than 30% of the credit limit on any card. The lower that credit utilization ratio, the less risky you seem as a potential borrower. People with the highest scores tend to use less than 10% of their limits. You can calculate your credit utilization ratio by dividing your balance by your credit limit. Multiply that number by 100 to get a percentage. Or you can use an online credit utilization calculator.

Keeping tabs on your credit usage is as simple as setting an alert once you’ve reached a certain spending threshold. Most cards will let you do that. Many personal finance websites and apps also have a dashboard that shows your utilization.

Other strategies can help you keep credit utilization low. “Pay an amount before you get your statement,” says Chi Chi Wu, an attorney at the National Consumer Law Center. “Because utilization is calculated from what the balance is at the end of the billing cycle, if you pay it beforehand you now actually reduce that utilization.”

Ulzheimer suggests two additional ways to keep your usage low: Start by trying to reduce your credit card balances if you’re carrying debt from month to month. Or you can ask to increase your credit limit, which not only offers you more flexibility to make bigger purchases but also helps lower your credit utilization ratio.

“If you can do both at the same time — lower balances and more credit limits — then again, you have lowered your ratio,” Ulzheimer says.

This works only if you can keep your balance low and resist any temptation to increase your spending. Also note that applying for a higher limit can temporarily ding your credit score.

The COVID connection

For a real-life example of how credit utilization and credit score are connected, look no further than the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent data from credit scoring company FICO shows that in 2020, many Americans took advantage of reduced spending and government stimulus checks to pay down their consumer debt. According to FICO, average credit card balances decreased by 10.9%, and the average FICO score rose 8 points between April 2020 and April 2021.

Doing something simple — like using extra cash to pay down existing credit card balances or making several payments throughout the billing cycle — can improve your credit, even during trying financial times.

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

Amanda Barroso writes for NerdWallet. Email:

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5 Mistakes That Can Lead to a Bad Car Loan

5 Mistakes That Can Lead to a Bad Car Loan

As if we need more bad news about car buying, an analysis by Consumer Reports shows that many Americans are drastically overpaying for their car loans. And we can’t place all the blame on the pandemic or supply chain problems.

In one case, Consumer Reports found that a Maryland resident with “sterling credit” who bought a new 2018 Toyota Camry two years ago will end up paying $59,000 by the end of the loan. The reason: Their interest rate was bumped up to 19% when they actually qualified for a rate of 4.5%.

The Consumer Reports study, which looked at 858,000 car loans, concluded that bad car loans, the rising cost of cars and other factors have pushed the average monthly car payment to about $600 — an increase of almost 25% over the last 10 years.

With a little education and free online tools, such as a car payment calculator, you can set up a loan that works for your budget and avoid some common car loan pitfalls.

1. Extending the loan’s term

The term is how many months it takes to pay off the loan. The longer the term, the lower the monthly payments. However, the longer you take to pay off a loan, the more interest you will pay.

For example, if a person with a credit score of about 600 buys a $30,000 car and finances it for 60 months at the rate of 6.61%, they’ll pay $5,311 in interest. But if that loan is extended to 80 months, they’ll pay $7,175 in interest. That’s an extra $1,864 up in smoke.

And here’s another reason for not extending the loan: 80 months is almost seven years, and a seven-year-old car will likely need more repairs and maintenance. You’ll have to cover those expenses in addition to your car payments.

2. Not shopping for your loan

Before you shop for a car, you really should shop for a loan. I know that doesn’t sound like fun, but it saves you money and might even stop your car from being repossessed down the line.

Start by checking your credit and resolving any issues you discover. Then, apply for a preapproved car loan from a credit union or online lender. By doing this ahead of time, you can choose the down payment and loan term to fit your budget.

Getting preapproval also simplifies the negotiation process because it gets you focused on the out-the-door price. You can always take the dealer’s financing if the interest rate is lower. But your preapproved loan will serve as a bargaining chip to get its best rate.

3. Being ‘upside-down’ on a car loan

You’re upside-down on a car loan when you owe more than the car is worth. Why is this a problem? Well, if you experience an unexpected life change — a divorce, death or sickness in the family — and you have to sell the car, you’ll have to pay off the loan, plus the negative equity.

On the other hand, if you have equity in your car, you can use that as a down payment on your next car. Or just sell it, pay off the loan and pocket the difference.

4. Rolling negative equity into the new loan

If someone is upside-down on a car loan, but they just have to buy that new car, the dealer will be happy to roll the negative equity into the next loan. In that way, a person who is $10,000 upside-down on a car loan can buy a $30,000 car and wind up with a $40,000 loan.

There’s no good reason to roll negative equity into a new loan. Doing so can lead to a spiral of debt as you try to keep up with the payments. Instead, keep driving your current car and try to make extra payments until you’re right-side up.

5. Buying extras

Sometimes, that car you agreed to buy has dealer-installed options that aren’t listed on the sticker. Those might be mudguards, running boards, fancy wheels, door protectors or anti-theft devices. If that’s not enough, the finance manager might give you the hard sell on an extended warranty, a wheel and tire warranty or a prepaid maintenance plan.

All of these extras go into your balance on the sales contract and result in a much higher loan to pay off. The best strategy is to flush out those extras early in the negotiation process. I like to ask for an out-the-door price with a breakdown of all the costs and fees.

Car loan best practices

Here are several ways to keep control of your car loan:

  • Use a car loan payment calculator to estimate your monthly payment. Try using different terms and down payment amounts to see what works best for your budget.
  • Be realistic about what monthly payment you can afford, and shop for a loan that meets that criteria.
  • Getting preapproved for a car loan is perhaps the single best way to keep control of your car-buying transaction.
  • Carry as little debt as possible by saving for a down payment of at least 20% of the purchase price. This will keep you from being upside-down.
  • If you can’t afford to buy the new car you want, consider buying used, or look into leasing.

Philip Reed writes for NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @AutoReed.

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From Cryptocurrency to Cash: How to Bank Your Digital Coin

This article provides information for educational purposes. NerdWallet does not offer advisory or brokerage services, nor does it recommend specific investments, including stocks, securities or cryptocurrencies.

Cryptocurrency, the blockchain-based digital currency that has captured the interest of investors and financial service firms alike, has a challenging problem. It can be hard to actually spend this currency like you would regular money. But there are new services on the horizon that could help people use bitcoin and other digital coins in more mainstream ways for their day-to-day finances.

Here’s a look at how to use these banking-style services for cryptocurrency, as well as their benefits and barriers.

What is cryptocurrency banking?

The term crypto banking could be considered a misnomer, since the exchange companies and firms that offer these services aren’t technically banks, but it generally refers to the ways in which consumers can manage their cryptocurrency balances. At this stage, this kind of banking mostly just allows people to hold their funds in a digital wallet or spend it like they would spend traditional money.

Benefits of cryptocurrency banking

At this time, the main benefit of this kind of banking is cryptocurrency debit cards. They allow you to use your digital coin balance like any other currency to make everyday purchases or withdraw it as cash instead of keeping it as an investment.

Before these debit cards were available, you could spend your cryptocurrency only at retailers that chose to accept it directly or sell it in exchange for dollars. Now, financial technology firms are partnering with chartered banks and/or debit card issuers to offer these cards, using their partner’s logistical and regulatory framework to automatically sell your cryptocurrency behind the scenes, converting it into dollars and allowing retailers to accept it. This means that your digital funds are accepted wherever many regular debit cards are.

Barriers of cryptocurrency banking

Perhaps the biggest barrier to lending and spending cryptocurrency is how volatile it is. It’s the same barrier to investing in it: To hold cryptocurrency, you have to accept that “if your coin falls, you could lose a lot of money,” says Francisco Alvarez-Evangelista, a research associate at the Aite-Novarica Group, a financial services analysis firm.

Many banks rely on the stable value of currency in order to lend, borrow or earn interest on money, but it’s not possible, at this time, to do those things with cryptocurrency in a way that’s as stable or safe as with traditional currency.

And to spend your digital coin, you have to accept the risk that its value could go up after you spend it, since your transactions are based on the real-world value of your coin as it exists at that moment. For example, if the value of your cryptocurrency doubled after you bought a $5 sandwich, that means it effectively cost you $10. But the value could also go down, making previous purchases a good deal.

Another barrier to consider is that regulators are still evaluating cryptocurrency fintechs. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission recently announced that it was going to potentially sue Coinbase, one of the most well-known exchange firms, for offering a new lending product, and Coinbase has since canceled the product launch.

Consumers should also know that using a cryptocurrency debit card is considered a taxable event by the Internal Revenue Service, since the cardholder is technically selling cryptocurrency as they make transactions with their debit card. Some card issuers may automatically generate 1099 forms for their customers to use when filing taxes, but the consumer is still responsible for keeping track of their tax liability.

How to try cryptocurrency banking

To start using these kinds of banking services, you must first purchase cryptocurrency, such as bitcoin, litecoin, ether or any other currency that you would like to invest in. Cash App, Coinbase and PayPal are just a few companies with apps that have made it easier to purchase and sell cryptocurrency, even in small amounts, and store it in a digital wallet.

If you want to spend your balance easily, you’ll need to open an account with a firm that offers cryptocurrency debit cards and uses the kind of digital currency you own. Coinbase, for one, has a special debit card that lets customers spend any Coinbase assets they own and earn cryptocurrency rewards, but there’s currently a waitlist for new customers. BitPay, another firm, offers a prepaid Mastercard debit card that customers can use to spend their digital currency. There are others, but it’s not a widespread bank offering.

In the future, cryptocurrency could have the potential to be a source of peer-to-peer loans, where individuals can quickly and securely process loans to each other, according to research from CB Insights. It’s a huge area of untapped potential but for right now, the world of cryptocurrency banking is limited to a small pool of players with some very new products and services.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press. The author held no positions in the aforementioned securities at the original time of publication.

Chanelle Bessette writes for NerdWallet. Email:

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5 Steps to Weed Out Instagram Ad Scams

Holiday shoppers, prepare to be bombarded with social media ads — and scams.

Highly targeted advertising on social media sites like Instagram and Facebook makes it easier than ever for brands to get in front of their target market. But these ads also make it easier for shady brands to dupe eager scrollers and shoppers with glossy images, only to deliver low-quality goods or nothing at all.

Scams originating on social media have skyrocketed in recent years. According to data from the Federal Trade Commission, complaints of fraud that started on social media jumped from nearly 28,900 in 2019 to more than 71,500 in 2020. And that figure is on pace to double again in 2021, with nearly 76,000 reports of social media fraud filed in the first half of this year, resulting in $292 million lost by consumers.

“While these advertising platforms try to weed out obvious bad actors via their automated algorithms, it is literally impossible for them to fully protect end consumers from sketchy companies,” says Oleg Donets, co-founder and chief marketing officer for Real Estate Bees, a marketing platform for the real estate industry. “Most of the time, the responsibility of vetting advertisers falls on the shoulders of end customers.”

But how do you know which brands to trust? These five steps will help you separate the gems from the fakes.

1. Search for independent reviews, complaints

Reviews on a company’s website can be cherry-picked, or worse, completely fabricated. So look for customer feedback on independent sites, like Trustpilot and Google My Business, and search for complaints on the Better Business Bureau’s scam tracker.

You can also tap friends, family and your broader social network for insight. They’ve likely been served the same ads as you, and odds are good that someone pulled the trigger and can tell you if the product is as advertised.

“I have friends who have had success ordering clothing via [Instagram] ads, so I go to them for recommendations on which brands they trust,” says Andrea Woroch, a consumer savings expert based in Bakersfield, California.

Not finding any reviews? Consider that a red flag.

2. Research the domain history

One clue to a business’s legitimacy is how long its website has been around. To find out when a website was created, simply plug the URL into the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers’ lookup tool.

Sketchy companies pop up and disappear faster than the moles in the arcade game, creating a new domain name every time they resurface, so be wary of any sites created in the past year. Companies with an established web presence are more likely to be legitimate, but you’ll still want to check reviews and return policies.

3. Test out customer support

Take the brand’s customer service on a test drive before buying. Reach out to the company through its official channels, such as a support email or phone number, as well as by direct message on the social media platform.

Donets suggests doing this multiple times to get a true sense of the company’s responsiveness.

“In my experience, this strategy works 90% of the time,” Donets says. “In most cases, a shady company will answer one or maximum two questions, and then they would stop replying.”

4. Triple-check the return policy

Make sure you’re crystal clear on the return policy before tapping the “buy” button. If you’re unhappy with the item, how many days do you have to return it? Does the site allow for a full refund or will you be issued a credit? Does the company even allow returns?

“I fell into this trap and bought a ring with my daughters’ names on it,” Woroch says. “It did not look like the picture in the ad, and unfortunately I overlooked the no-return policy. So basically I threw away $40.”

5. Pay with a credit card

You can do all the research in the world and still fall victim to a glossy Instagram ad. And if you paid from a checking account or with cryptocurrency, you have little recourse to get your money back.

But credit cards have an extra layer of protection. If an item isn’t as advertised and the brand’s customer service doesn’t come through and resolve the issue, you can initiate a chargeback through your credit card company and have the charge reversed.

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

Kelsey Sheehy writes for NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @KelseyLSheehy.

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What to Know About Bitcoin as It Approaches $70,000

What to Know About Bitcoin as It Approaches $70,000

This article provides information for educational purposes. NerdWallet does not offer advisory or brokerage services, nor does it recommend specific investments, including stocks, securities or cryptocurrencies.

Bitcoin is trading near all-time highs: The cryptocurrency crossed a record $68,000 this week before dropping slightly lower. It was the latest record high in what can now be considered a tear — the currency also crossed the $60,000 threshold in October, a figure it also hit in spring 2021.

Money is pouring into bitcoin as of late, according to data released Monday by digital asset manager CoinShares. Inflows into bitcoin hit a record $6.4 billion so far for 2021, CoinShares data shows, and $2.8 billion has flowed into bitcoin during the cryptocurrency’s latest eight-week bull run.

It’s not entirely clear what’s driving this latest rally, although volatile price swings are relatively common among bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Bitcoin is up about 130% year-to-date.

Investing in cryptocurrencies is somewhat controversial among big-name investors and business leaders. For example, JPMorgan Chase chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon is not a fan. “I personally think that bitcoin is worthless,” he said during an Institute of International Finance event in October.

Conversely, Tim Cook, Apple chief executive, said during the New York Times DealBook Online Summit on Tuesday that he has bought cryptocurrencies. “I think it’s reasonable to own it as part of a diversified portfolio.”

What is bitcoin, and should you invest now?

Bitcoin is a decentralized form of payment intended to eliminate the need for intermediaries like banks and governments. Unlike fiat money (like the U.S. dollars in your bank account) that is government-backed and regulated, bitcoin is powered by a combination of peer-to-peer technology and software-driven cryptography to create a currency backed by code.

Bitcoin is just one of many cryptocurrencies, though it’s by far the largest. Other prominent cryptocurrencies include ethereum and solana. There are also dog-themed cryptocurrencies, including dogecoin and shiba inu, the latter of which saw a massive surge in October 2021, which many attributed to tweets from Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Shiba inu coin is up about 72,000,000% in value over the past year as of press time.

Cryptocurrencies can be purchased from online crypto exchanges, such as Coinbase and Gemini, or through select online brokers, like SoFi and Robinhood. In addition, some cash and payment apps, including Venmo and CashApp, also offer access to a limited selection of cryptocurrencies.

Whether you should invest in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies depends on your financial situation. One rule of thumb when it comes to alternative investments like this is to ensure they comprise only a small percentage of your overall portfolio, with the bulk of your investments diversified through more traditional assets, like mutual funds.

The author owned bitcoin at the time of publication. NerdWallet is not recommending or advising readers to buy or sell bitcoin or any other cryptocurrency.

Sally French writes for NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @SAFmedia.

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6 Gift Categories Unaffected by Supply Chain Delays

This year, the excitement around what to give people for the holidays is clouded with a question: Will gifts arrive on time? According to NerdWallet’s annual Holiday Shopping Report, 68% of holiday shoppers anticipate that supply issues could cause the big-ticket items they’re looking for to be unavailable this year.

The good news for consumers is that there are still a handful of categories that are easy to buy, which means you can still shop, wrap and gift presents without worrying that they’ll get stuck on a container ship thousands of miles away.

“This is a year to be more creative in your gift-giving,” says Kerri Camp, associate professor of marketing at The University of Texas at Tyler. “Money is tight for many people, and the cost of goods has gone up, but you can give things that aren’t as reliant on the supply chain.”

Here are six categories of gifts that aren’t directly impacted by international supply chain delays:

1. Products and services from local small businesses

“My first tip to consumers is to shop local. Now is the time to go visit your local, small retailers, because they will have everything in stock and will want to sell them,” says Jane Boyd Thomas, professor of marketing at Winthrop University in South Carolina. “You can also get additional perks like gift wrapping and in-house personalization.”

It’s also a way to support the community. “We all did a lot of Amazon this last year and are feeling like we want to support local businesses so they don’t disappear,” says Michelle Madhok, online shopping expert and founder of deals site SheFinds. Indeed, 35% of holiday shoppers say they will shop more for holiday gifts at local and small businesses this year to support their community, according to the NerdWallet survey.

Thomas includes experiences in this category, too, and recommends giving gifts such as tickets to your local museum or theater, or gift certificates to restaurants or a local spa. “People are more interested in experiences than things,” she says.

2. Edible and perishable goods

“Perishable food items can’t stay in shipping containers so go by other methods, like air. We aren’t seeing supply chain disruptions on airplanes, so it’s much easier to get those items in stock,” Camp says. Shoppers can also shop online for monthly subscriptions for items like food, flowers and coffee, so gift recipients continue to receive boxes all year long.

At, which includes brands like Harry & David and Wolferman’s Bakery, spokesperson Kathleen Waugh said that many items — including baked goods, candy and pears — originate from the United States, so they don’t face international delays.

In an email, Waugh explained that the company expects strong demand this season and has worked to prepare for it. Last-minute shoppers can also send gift notifications electronically, and the recipient can accept or exchange it before it is sent.

3. Handmade arts and crafts

At Etsy, the online marketplace for handmade goods, many sellers make items from home with supplies they already have on hand or that are locally sourced. Shoppers can also message sellers to confirm the items are available for timely shipping.

Brandi Ann Garcia Salinas, who runs the WhimsyTreeLane shop at Etsy along with her husband Rodrigo, makes wooden toys, including peg dolls and nesting dolls. “International stocks don’t affect us because we are selling what is already available,” she says. If some supplies are slightly delayed, as they can be sometimes, then she just shifts what she sells, such as selling a different size doll that she can make based on the supplies she already has in stock.

“A handmade business can adjust,” she says. Garcia Salinas, who is based in Fort Myers, Florida, says she expects demand for handmade items like hers to be high this season, so she encourages shoppers to place their orders by the first week of December.

4. Products that are made in America

At the Made In America Store, hundreds of toys, games, cookware, paper supplies and more are ready to ship, and all of the items are made in the United States. “We don’t need anything off a shipping container,” says Mark Andol, owner and founder of the store, which has a flagship location in Elma, New York. “My advice for shoppers is to think about buying U.S.-made things this year.”

The toys at Andol’s store include yo-yos, trucks and puzzles, but not electronics, which Camp says is especially beneficial for kids this year. “Kids have been inundated with electronics over the last year and a half, and it’s a good time to get back into arts and crafts, games, books, science experiments — things that enhance their creativity without electronics,” she says. Since many electronic items come from overseas, you can also avoid shipping delays by skipping them and focusing on more traditional toys instead.

5. Digital gifts

“This is the year of the downloadable gift,” Madhok says. While it might be hard to find a particular video game cartridge for sale, for example, you can download the digital version directly to your gaming system. Or, give a digital gift card, online subscription or digital custom artwork. Madhok recommends pairing digital gifts with something tangible to wrap, such as an iTunes gift certificate along with a nice bowl and popcorn.

6. Donations in people’s names

Donating to charity in someone’s name is especially appreciated if it lines up with the recipient’s interests, Thomas says. “We’ve seen a shift away from mass consumerism since 2019, and the end of the year is always a great time financially to give,” she says.

Whatever category you choose to shop, Camp offers one more tip: “Be patient with your shopping list, have a backup plan and shop early.”

Kimberly Palmer writes for NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @kimberlypalmer.

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How to Prepare for Holiday Crowds at Airports This Year

Over a quarter of Americans (26%) say they specifically did not travel during the 2020 winter holiday season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new NerdWallet survey. Of those who did travel, many skipped out on air travel in favor of other means of transportation, like road trips.

In fact, according to the September 2021 NerdWallet survey conducted by The Harris Poll of more than 2,000 U.S. adults, just 19% of Americans say they spent money on flights or hotel stays during the 2020 holiday travel season.

That measly figure is set to more than double, as 43% of Americans say they intend to spend money on flights or hotel stays for the 2021 holiday season. With a huge uptick in demand, expect long security lines and more competition for booking flights. Thankfully, you can mitigate travel chaos without forgoing the airport completely.

Here are four ways to help avoid potential air travel fiascos this year.

1. Apply for TSA PreCheck now

TSA PreCheck is a type of Trusted Traveler program offered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security ​​that allows members to use expedited lanes at more than 200 U.S. airports. Anyone who is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident is eligible to apply.

Once approved, you’ll go through a designated security line that won’t force you to remove your shoes, laptop, belt or jacket, which helps cut down on wait times. In fact, 96% of TSA PreCheck passengers waited less than five minutes in line in September 2021, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

There are two major steps to applying for TSA PreCheck:

  1. Complete a roughly 10-minute, in-person appointment.
  2. Pay an $85 application fee for membership, which is good for five years.

But given the crowds expected this year (and in subsequent years), it’s worth putting in the effort to apply now — when you’re less frazzled — rather than be annoyed by airport security lines the day before Thanksgiving.

You might be able to get the application fee refunded entirely. Many travel credit cards provide a statement credit for the application fee if you pay for it with the card.

2. Escape to an airport lounge

You’ve prepared yourself not to get into a fight over politics at the family dinner table. You’ve overcome the stress of buying gifts. And you finally made it through airport security.

Don’t let a fight over the last remaining power outlet in the terminal be what sets you over the edge.

Instead, escape the blaring loudspeakers paging passengers and find yourself a chair that’s actually designed to be comfortable for the human body. There, you can drink as much coffee as you want — while avoiding the crowded cafe line entirely.

This wonderland that awaits you is an airport lounge, which often offers all-you-can-eat food, comfortable seating, better Wi-Fi and sometimes even fancy amenities, like showers and nap rooms.

The easiest and lowest-cost way to gain admission is by holding a credit card with complimentary membership to Priority Pass, a network of more than 1,300 airport lounges worldwide.

3. Be thoughtful about your luggage

Whether carry-on versus checked baggage is a better choice for navigating airport crowds depends on your situation, as there are pros and cons to each.

By flying with only carry-on luggage, you’re more easily able to change plans. Should you need to reschedule a flight once you’re past security, you have the flexibility to change routes without panicking that you’ll be separated from your stuff. You’ll also likely be able to check in online and completely avoid the check-in counter upon arrival.

But by checking bags, you’re more free to roam the airport. You can use the bathroom without cramming your rolling suitcase behind the stall door. There’s no rush to board as soon as possible just to secure overhead bin space. While checked bag fees are certainly annoying, many airline credit cards offer free checked bags. Or fly with Southwest, which lets your first two checked bags fly free.

4. Skip the rental car counter (even if you’re renting a car)

You waited in security, survived the mobs of people at the boarding gate and made it through the flight. The last thing you probably want to do is stand in another line at the rental car counter.

Thankfully, many car rental companies allow renters with elite status to skip it entirely. With status in National Car Rental’s Emerald Club, you can choose any vehicle in its Emerald Aisle area and drive off, as the keys are already in the car. Avis offers a similar benefit to even the lowest-tiered members of its Avis Preferred loyalty program.

Even better, you can get rental car elite status (even if you’ve never rented with that company before) simply by holding certain credit cards or leveraging any existing status you have with certain hotel and airline loyalty programs. See if your credit card offers automatic car rental elite status, or consider applying for one that does.

If you’re going to travel this holiday season

As travelers feel more comfortable boarding planes, workers try to burn their accumulated vacation days and revelers make up for last year’s missed celebrations, airports are going to be packed with rusty vacationers.

Don’t let your holiday start on a sour note by subjecting yourself to a stressful airport experience. Get your memberships, documentation and luggage in order now to escape the brunt of airport chaos.

Sally French writes for NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @SAFmedia.

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4 Ways to Sustain Savings Habits From the Pandemic

Whether out of choice or necessity, many people spent less money in the last year and a half on things like entertainment, clothes and furniture. For some, that meant holding on to more of their income. If you were able to save some cash, you’ve set yourself up to withstand future financial crises, especially if you can continue saving.

Keep growing your bank balance with these four pandemic-driven saving habits.

1. Reevaluate spending

Consider whether some of the purchases you may have gone months without are necessary going forward. Or rethink how often you want to make them compared to before. For example, if you started to work from home, you might have saved money by making your lunch instead of eating out. If you return to the office, you could continue saving by bringing lunch from home at least a few times a week.

“Since we were all stuck at home, I didn’t have many opportunities to go shopping or dine out. So I saved the money,” says Vida DeOliver, a jewelry designer and owner of Vidart & Life Boutique, an online store based in Union, New Jersey. “I saved more during the pandemic than I had prior.”

DeOliver says these days, she has more in-person spending opportunities, but she’s keeping the saving habit. “When I go shopping, I ask myself if a purchase is really necessary, or if I could hold on to the money and save it for something I’d really like later,” she says.

2. Delay big-ticket purchases

Make yourself wait before committing to expensive purchases. At the beginning of the pandemic, out-of-stock inventory and supply challenges meant that some people didn’t have a choice about waiting before ordering big-ticket items such as kitchen appliances, furniture and electronics. But learning to wait before spending money can be a smart choice anytime, helping you avoid the kind of impulse that can upend savings plans.

“I always try to delay purchases for a few days to see if I really want something before I buy, but the pandemic shortages really helped me figure out what I needed and what could wait,” says Eric Chow, a podcaster and public relations professional in Union City, California. Today, he makes a point of waiting a few days before pressing the “buy” button on items large and small, from electronics to wallets. And then? “If I really want it, I’ll know it’s worth the wait, and if I don’t, I can forget about it and move on,” he says.

3. Keep saving easy with automation

If you were able to save during the early part of the pandemic, one reason may be that it didn’t require much effort. You stayed home. Voila — savings. You can keep saving a low-effort endeavor by using automatic transfers to move money into a savings account at regular intervals.

“Set up an automatic transfer so your savings funnels to a separate account each pay period. This way, your savings is the automatic priority. And it gets you accustomed to relying only on the remaining amount,” says Regan Ervin, an investment advisor and founder of Capital E Advisors in Leawood, Kansas.

4. Set clear emergency savings goals

The pandemic turned emergency savings from a hypothetical nice-to-have into a must-have. If you haven’t already, take a moment to seriously evaluate your essential expenses and set a clear emergency fund goal. Make it a habit to review your essential expenses regularly to see if you need to adjust your savings target.

A common guideline is to have three to six months’ worth of expenses saved for emergencies. If that seems daunting, start with a smaller goal — say, $500. Chip away at that goal as best you can, even if it’s in $5 increments.

You can grow your money in a high-yield savings account

You can grow your money with no extra effort if you put it in a high-yield savings account. The annual percentage yield on these accounts can be more than eight times higher than the national average of just 0.06% for savings accounts. At the low national rate, a deposit of $10,000 earns just $6 in interest after one year. But in a high-yield savings account that has a 0.50% APY rate, a deposit of $10,000 would grow by more than $50 in the same time period.

If you are fortunate enough to save money, adopting these habits can help you hold on to your funds and save even more, preparing you for whatever the future holds.

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

Margarette Burnette writes for NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @Margarette.

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