Should You Take Money Advice From Reddit?

Should you take money advice from a stranger on the internet? In Reddit’s r/personalfinance channel, anonymous users exchange tips on buying homes, choosing insurance plans and managing very personal, nuanced money situations. (Think: “How do I handle my dying dad’s debts?”)

“It’s like crowdsourcing financial advice,” says Dana Eble, a public relations specialist based in Detroit who regularly browses r/personalfinance.

If you’re not a “Redditor” like Eble, think of the site like an old-school online forum. After signing up for free, you can share text, links and photos with an anonymous username. You can also upvote, downvote or reply to other people’s content. Posts and replies with the most upvotes rise to the top.

Reddit is organized by communities, called subreddits, based on interest. The r/personalfinance subreddit is home to 14.6 million members. Here’s what to consider if you’re one of those millions.

How Reddit can motivate and encourage

Being active and intentional with money helps you make the most of it. But for many, money is confusing to manage and uncomfortable to discuss.

Scrolling through other people’s questions, problems and advice can make the topic feel more normal and less scary.

The subreddit can even be motivating, particularly for those just starting to think about financial decisions, says Logan Murray, a Tempe, Arizona-based certified financial planner.

“Seeing peers move on with their finances may encourage you to do the same,” he says. “It can get the wheels turning.”

Murray also likes r/personalfinance for exchanging ideas, like brainstorming passive-income opportunities. With this strategy, he says, “people can choose what resonates with them.”

Millions of people sharing their money experiences may also help you feel less alone. After all, Eble says, the r/personalfinance subreddit is a positive community with “no shaming.”

She remembers the post of a distraught and embarrassed 20-something who had accumulated tons of debt and had to file for bankruptcy. The top reply was from someone saying how they had to do the same in their 20s and that it will be OK.

As for the advice — it’s a ‘mixed bag’

The r/personalfinance “Wiki” page is on Reddit but separate from the forum. It’s stuffed with useful, sound guidance on topics like how to budget and much more. Eble consulted it as she began building her emergency fund and learning about 401(k)s.

As for the posts and replies, the quality of advice is a “mixed bag,” says Jeff Ledford of Arlington, Virginia. He frequently browses and replies to r/personalfinance posts and is also a certified government financial manager.

Ledford says some posters must be professionals because their tips are “spot on.” But “there’s also a lot of advice out there that’s better off ignored.”

Curtis Bailey, a Cincinnati-based CFP, has also seen solid advice on the r/personalfinance subreddit, particularly when it comes to basics like managing debt and cash flow. But he’s also seen misinformation, about taxes, for example.

So it’s hard to tell which advice is worth following, and which is, well, garbage. In fact, Preston Cherry, a Green Bay, Wisconsin-based CFP,  describes Reddit’s r/personalfinance as an unfiltered “data dump” with “a lot of unverified information.”

Cherry points out that the country has a low financial literacy rate, which is likely reflected in a community-based platform. So the community aspect of Reddit “lowers the quality of information,” he says.

So should you follow advice from r/personalfinance?

Aim to use r/personalfinance more as a source of motivation than concrete advice. In addition to the fact that much of the channel’s advice is unverified, Cherry points out that “personal finances are in fact personal.”

What works for one Redditor won’t necessarily work for you, given that your circumstances and experiences are different.

As Murray concludes: “You’re responsible for your own decisions and to do your own research.”

If you’re considering taking advice from Reddit, first try to verify it elsewhere. Start with a Google search and look for web pages that cite the source of the information or advice, Bailey says. For example, the page may describe a study supporting the advice, show a calculation, or quote an expert or organization.

Try other sources of help

If you’re struggling with covering bills or managing debt, these websites may be more helpful than Reddit:

  • Get connected with resources and programs designed to help you cover basic needs.
  • (The National Foundation for Credit Counseling): Find more than a dozen financial calculators and other tools, like a monthly budget planner.
  • (The Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education): Register for free virtual financial counseling and coaching sessions.

To simply learn more about personal finance, Bailey recommends taking your reading offline. Rather than skimming one-off bits of advice, read personal finance books, which Bailey says may help you get “much more nuance and depth of understanding.” (Try “The Geometry of Wealth,” Bailey says.)

With a deeper understanding, you may feel more comfortable with money and better equipped to spot shoddy advice — on Reddit or elsewhere.

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

Laura McMullen writes for NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @lauraemcmullen.

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4 Ways to Pay for College If Your Financial Aid Isn’t Enough

For 61% of students, college costs more than they expected, according to a recent survey from College Ave Student Loans conducted by Barnes & Noble College Insights.

Yoselin Guzman, an 18-year-old UCLA freshman from Compton, California, can see why.

“There’s like little costs you don’t even see,” says Guzman, noting how expensive dorm items, books and student orientation are.

When those unexpected costs arise — and your existing financial aid won’t cut it — here are four options to get more money for school.

1. Crowdfund the shortfall

When Guzman realized her savings and scholarships wouldn’t cover her college expenses, she started a GoFundMe campaign to crowdfund $5,000.

“I was a little embarrassed to show people I’m struggling financially,” Guzman says.

Getting over those fears helped cover her funding gap. Now, she says the donations have “given me that confidence that I’m not alone in this world.”

She’s certainly not alone on GoFundMe: The website hosts over 100,000 education-related campaigns each year, though not all are for college tuition and success varies.

“We’ve seen an increase in crowdsourcing as an option for covering college costs,” says Brad Lindberg, assistant vice president for enrollment at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa.

But Lindberg cautions students to work with their school’s financial aid office before starting a campaign. The additional funding might affect future aid eligibility, he says.

2. Increase your work schedule

GoFundMe allows students to keep any funds they receive, even if they fall short of their overall goal. But there’s no guarantee you’ll get any money. Working, though, is a surefire way to do that.

If you’re eligible for a work-study job, that’s typically the best option.

“Your supervisor is a built-in mentor; they understand you are a student first [and there’s] flexibility in scheduling,” says Ashley Bianchi, director of financial aid at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

If you already have a job, consider working more hours. That may be tricky with work-study positions, since earnings are capped at a specific amount, so look off campus or on a college student-focused job board.

Just be careful not to overextend yourself. Bianchi says her college recommends students work six to seven hours a week; Lindberg puts 10 hours as a reasonable amount. But some students may be able to handle more based on their schedules and activities.

3. Check emergency aid programs

Many schools offer emergency financial assistance. For example, the University of California, Davis, has emergency grants that don’t require repayment. It also offers short-term loans that range from $500 to $1,500.

Always opt for grants first, and know the costs of any loan before borrowing. Leslie Kemp, director of the Aggie Compass Basic Needs Center at UC Davis, also encourages students facing financial shortfalls to think long-term.

“What’s your plan when the $500 runs out?” she says.

One solution is to use free resources that make other expenses, like groceries, more manageable. Kemp says there’s a line out the door when her school’s food pantry opens.

If you can’t find similar services on your campus, Kemp says to look for help at religious organizations, food banks and other nonprofit groups.

4. Borrow student loans

Money you don’t repay — like donations, wages and emergency grants — is the best way to address unexpected college costs.

But student loans may be a necessity for some: Among the 61% of students surprised by the cost of college, 30% underestimated what they needed by $10,000 or more.

“If you’re short by enough that there’s a comma in the number, you might need to borrow,” says Joe DePaulo, CEO and co-founder of College Ave Student Loans.

That assumes you haven’t already reached your borrowing maximum.

The government limits the amount of federal loans you can receive. Most first-year students can take out up to $5,500 in their name, and no one can borrow more than their school’s cost of attendance, the total needed for tuition, fees, room and board and other expenses.

Visit your school’s financial aid office to discuss your options — especially if your financial situation has changed since you started school.

“It’s important to work through why the student is experiencing a shortfall in order to determine the best course of action,” Lindberg says.

That action may be borrowing, or it could be something else like starting a tuition payment plan or earning an outside scholarship. Ultimately, the financial aid office should be your first stop if you run into trouble.

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

The article 4 Ways to Pay for College If Your Financial Aid Isn’t Enough originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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Stocking Up for School Can Be Eco-friendly — and Economical

Earth-friendly school supplies can be expensive, but going green doesn’t mean asking your kid to open a lemonade stand to help pay. You can be gentle with the planet and respectful of your wallet.

Start by widening your idea of what’s “green.”

Look for freebies first

Using what you already have is the ultimate environmentally friendly move and fits with a frugal lifestyle. Look for pens, pencils, unused journals picked up at a convention, binders no longer in use, and unused or lightly used supplies from last year.

You may not have to buy at all. Chelsea Brennan, who blogs at Smart Money Mamas, says she sees posts on her hyperlocal Buy Nothing Facebook group every fall requesting notebooks and other school supplies. “And then someone may comment, ‘We have those, plus three composition books that have never been written in. Do you need those?’” Brennan says she borrows, donates and receives items through the group.

Save on backpacks and office supplies

For backpacks, Mary Hunt, founder of the website Cheapskate Monthly, recommends JanSport or Eastpak for durability. If you are shopping resale, those are labels to look for because they’ll last longer. And JanSport backpacks have a lifetime warranty. Or, you could choose a backpack made from recycled materials. Whether you choose new, used or recycled, look for sturdy zippers, pockets and supportive, padded straps. You don’t want this year’s backpack to be in a landfill next year.

Many stores now carry office-supply lines that are Earth-friendly, but check the price. Several companies offer pens made from recycled plastic. Pencils can be made from recycled newspaper, but they’re more expensive than pedestrian wooden pencils. A mechanical, refillable pencil might be the more economical green choice.

Notebooks and loose-leaf paper made from recycled paper can be fairly pricey. For example, a set of four college ruled “decomposition books” at Target costs more than $25. If recycled paper products don’t fit your budget, you can still be green by making sure your student recycles used paper instead of throwing it in the trash.

Derek B. Davis, a spokesman for, said that some schools now bundle required items and offer them to parents. You may not save money but you’ll save gas and time.

Cut costs on food and drink containers

Davis says he thinks the item likely to have the biggest impact on the planet is your student’s reusable water bottle — hardly a budget breaker. Reusable packaging for lunches and snacks also saves you money and lets you contribute less to the already enormous problem of plastic in oceans and landfills.

To estimate the impact of a water bottle, know this: Americans use an average of 13 single-use plastic bottles per month, according to the nonprofit Earth Day Network. One reusable bottle, over a nine-month school year, could keep 117 single-use bottles out of circulation. Tap water is vastly cheaper than bottled and eliminates plastic waste and the carbon emissions needed to distribute bottled water for sale.

There are also reusable — and dishwasher-safe — containers or bags for sandwiches and snacks. You can put those reusable bags inside a reusable lunch container. Bento boxes, which have compartments for various types of food, are another alternative. Reusable lunch bags and boxes can be purchased fairly inexpensively new — or you can keep an eye out for used ones.

Davis, the father of a rising second-grader, suggests taking into consideration that kids lose things. You might consider buying backups of water bottles or lunch containers if you see an especially good price.

Shop secondhand for clothes

For back-to-school clothes, you can shop resale stores — you may find clothes that are practically new for pennies on the dollar. You save money and extend the life of the clothes, keeping them out of landfills. You can shop online with ThredUP and similar sites.

Finally, no matter where you’re shopping, bring a reusable bag, Davis says. Keep one handy in the car.

What will ultimately be most effective in cleaning up the Earth, he says, is kids seeing parents who weave green living into everyday life: for instance, making coffee at home, drinking from reusable cups and making their own seltzer.

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The article Stocking Up for School Can Be Eco-friendly — and Economical originally appeared on NerdWallet.

Relax — Your Credit Score May Be High Enough

Easy access to free credit scores has helped many Americans improve their credit. But at a certain point, chasing every possible point gets you nothing except bragging rights.

How do you know when your credit score is high enough for you to relax?

Checking your credit score is a bit like checking your weight. You don’t need to obsess over every fraction of a pound, and an occasional indulgence (or high credit card balance) won’t do lasting damage if your habits are generally healthy.

What’s your goal?

Most credit scores are on a scale of 300 to 850. Nationally, the average credit score is just above 700 for FICO and 680 for its competitor, VantageScore. So that’s one way of comparing your number.

But being about average doesn’t necessarily put you in the best position to qualify for the credit product you want at decent interest rates.

Atlanta-based credit expert John Ulzheimer, who has worked for FICO and credit bureau Equifax, says a healthy range depends on what your goals are. If you want to buy a car, you probably need a score of at least 720 to get the lowest interest rates, he says.

If you want to qualify for a mortgage with the best terms or a top-tier rewards card, Ulzheimer suggests you aim for at least a 760 — and higher is safer.

Morris Armstrong of Connecticut, founder of Armstrong Financial Strategies, likes having a score cushion. “I think that if your numbers are above 780 that you are fine and should not worry. That is still an excellent number, but if you are competitive — and I understand that it is now trendy — then you will want to achieve a higher bragging-right number.”

A “perfect” score — an 850 on the most commonly used scale — requires a credit history spanning many years and having few or no credit missteps. And, as far as lenders are concerned, someone with a 780 or so is every bit as likely to repay borrowed money as someone with an 850.

Ultimately, your score is a tool to get approved for credit products that help you achieve your goals. Reaching those goals is more important than obsessing about a couple of points on your score.

Check your credit health

If you’re not sure where your credit score stands, there are plenty of ways to check it. Many personal finance websites and some credit card issuers offer scores to consumers for free.

If you have years of on-time payments and use your credit cards fairly lightly, you probably have a decent score. If you are younger, it may take a little time to build a great score, and learning about how credit works is a good way to do that.

If there’s a certain product you want, say a mortgage or a travel rewards card, you can often get a general idea of the minimum score needed for approval. It’s best to be comfortably above that because your scores fluctuate a bit depending on your recent financial activity.

Habits that help

Healthy credit habits, practiced consistently, build high scores. For best results:

  • Pay on time, every time. Payment history is the largest of the factors that affect your credit score, so pay attention to it.
  • Use only a small portion of your credit limit. The next biggest influence on scores is “credit utilization,” your balance relative to your credit limit on each card.
  • Keep cards open unless you have a compelling reason — such as fees you think are not worth it or poor customer service — to close them. You want to show a long history of using credit responsibly.
  • Space credit applications at least six months apart.
  • Check your credit score at least monthly to see how your spending and payment behaviors affect your score.

And if you make a mistake? Expect to see it reflected in your score. But you can speed recovery by getting back in the routine of the healthy habits above.

Some mistakes fade more quickly than others. A late payment can damage your score for some years. High credit utilization, on the other hand, stops hurting your score once your lender reports you’ve paid down the high balance.

You can try to squeeze out every possible point, but if your score is comfortably high, it’s unlikely to boost your borrowing power. Once you’re well into the worry-free zone, you can cruise if you want to.

The article Relax — Your Credit Score May Be High Enough originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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Are You Picking the Wrong Money Goals?

Setting smart, achievable goals is important if you want to take charge of your financial life. But many of us are surprisingly bad at choosing the goals that actually matter most to us.

Investment research firm Morningstar had 318 people write down their top three financial priorities, then showed them a master list of goals prepared by the researchers. Three out of four investors changed at least one goal after seeing the master list, and one out of four switched their top priority.

“We were like, ‘Wow. People don’t really know what they want,’” says lead researcher Ray Sin, behavioral scientist at Morningstar.

Other behavioral research has shown that even when people think explicitly about what matters to them when making decisions, they overlook many of their most important goals. That interferes with their ability to evaluate their choices and consider alternatives.

Among the problems: We’re better at thinking short term than long term, Sin says. Plus, we may overvalue goals that are currently on our mind.

A renter who just attended a housewarming, for example, might say her top priority is saving to buy a home. She may forget that she really wants to be able to quit her job and travel the world for a year. She probably has other goals as well, such as retiring someday and perhaps starting her own business.

Of course, all those goals may matter to her, but “resources are finite,” Sin says. That’s why prioritizing is so important. Someone determined to retire early, for instance, may not be able to fully fund a child’s college education or leave an inheritance.

If you want to check for your own blind spots, quickly write down your three most important financial goals. Then look at Morningstar’s master goal list and see if you want to change what you wrote:

  • Be better off than my peers.
  • Pay for personal self-improvement (e.g., go back to school, learn a skill).
  • Experience the excitement of investing.
  • Start a new business.
  • Buy a house.
  • Help pay for my kids’ college education.
  • Stop working and do something I love.
  • Go on a dream vacation.
  • Relocate in retirement.
  • Care for my aging parents.
  • Give to charity or other causes I care about.
  • Feel secure about my finances in retirement.
  • Feel secure about my finances now.
  • Leave an inheritance to my loved ones.
  • Retire early.
  • Pay for future medical expenses.
  • Avoid becoming a financial burden to my family as I grow older.
  • Manage my debt.

Something you may notice about this list: Many of the goals involve feelings. Goals that resonate on an emotional level can help people maintain the discipline they need to stick with a financial plan, says Ryan O. Murphy, head of decision sciences at Morningstar Investment Management.

“When it starts to become more emotional, it becomes more personal,” Murphy says. “This abstract thing of ‘save more money for later’ may not be a goal that really gets people to move now, today.”

Even the goals that don’t seem emotional, like managing debt, can be transformed into something more powerful if you consider the feelings around them. Paying down debt can make you feel more comfortable and secure and less stressed, for example.

Morningstar researcher Samantha Lamas, a recent college graduate who just started paying her student loans, has firsthand experience with goal blind spots. Lamas initially thought paying off her debt was her top priority, but during the study realized that saving for retirement was important as well. Accelerating her student loan payments might have meant missing years of company matches, tax breaks and tax-deferred compounding she can get from contributing to her retirement accounts.

“I no longer think of my financial goals as a zero-sum game where I’m forced to either save for retirement or pay down debt,” says Lamas. “I can achieve both, simultaneously, if I’m thoughtful about it.”

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

The article Are You Picking the Wrong Money Goals? originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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Will Travel Insurance Cover Winter Weather Woes?

When major winter storms pass overhead, it usually means trouble for travelers.

Airlines can be forced to cancel thousands of flights that affect travelers throughout the country, hotels may abruptly sell out, and cruise ships have to change departure times to get to safe waters.

The good news in the midst of bad weather is that many travelers have some protection from the moment they purchase their trips. Many travel credit cards offer insurance benefits to cover weather-related incidents, including trip cancellation and trip delays.

But that insurance won’t necessarily cover every situation in which you have to cancel or change plans due to winter weather. Experts suggest considering purchasing additional travel insurance to cover the gaps left by a credit card on long trips, trips where medical insurance is required, or trips that cost $10,000 or more.

Before buying any travel insurance policy, be sure to understand what coverage is included from your credit card. Here’s what to look for.

Are you covered?: Coverage depends on how travelers purchase their trip. If it is purchased with a credit card, some travel insurance benefits may already apply. But if they pay by debit card or check, they may not have any coverage without purchasing a travel insurance policy.

And note: “For third-party travel insurance policies, you have to collect receipts and credit card statements to submit with a claim,” says Steven Benna, marketing specialist at travel insurance website

Winter weather: If airplanes are still flying, trip cancellation and trip delay benefits usually don’t apply. But flights changed by an airline may count toward trip cancellation. If a flight or tour is canceled by an airline, train, or bus line because of severe weather, travelers could file a claim to recover nonrefundable costs lost as a result of the storm.

Named storms: A traditional travel insurance plan may not cover claims resulting from a named storm, unless the plan was purchased before it was named.

Travel insurance from credit cards may not have the same restrictions, but often only covers incidents directly resulting from weather. Read the explanation of benefits to see what may be covered.

Trip cancellation: Despite the name, not all reasons for canceling a trip are covered. Travelers can’t file a travel insurance claim because they anticipate bad weather. But if the weather forces them to miss a trip or return home early, credit card travel insurance could help recover costs.

“For something weather-related, a credit card can provide up to $10,000 in trip cancellation,” Benna says. “But if travelers want something more comprehensive, they can purchase a third-party insurance.”

Trip delay insurance: Those who get stuck at the airport for an hour or two may not be covered by trip delay insurance; travelers often have to be stranded for six to 12 hours before they can request reimbursement.

Before spending for a hotel or meals during a trip delay, be sure to check benefit explanations.

Lost or delayed baggage: Airplanes aren’t the only things to get delayed during winter storms. Luggage can also be left behind. Depending on the plan or policy, travelers can file a claim to get reimbursed for incidentals if their luggage is missing between six and 12 hours. And in some situations, credit card insurance may offer better coverage, Benna says.

If bags are permanently lost, credit card travel insurance can also provide some reimbursement. Travelers can file an insurance claim for lost or damaged items if they were in the care of the airline or common carrier at the time. However, time is of the essence: After a report is created with the carrier, some insurance providers will only accept claims filed within 20 days.

The article Will Travel Insurance Cover Winter Weather Woes? originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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Why You Should Hit the Store on the Day After Christmas

Customer service desks will be packed on the day after Christmas with consumers requesting refunds and exchanges, but store aisles will be packed with something else — deals.

Here’s why you should venture out on Dec. 26, and how to emerge with a bargain instead of a headache.

Seasonal staples will be on sale

After-Christmas shopping used to be mostly about returns and exchanges, according to Howard Forman, a marketing professor at California State University, Fullerton. Now, he says, good deals are driving people to the stores as well.

There are certain items that are discounted on the day after Christmas, and that includes anything seasonal, Forman says. Expect to save money on Christmas decorations, winter clothing, accessories like slippers and anything else that didn’t sell during the holiday season.

Gift cards are like free money

Shoppers also come out on Dec. 26 to cash in the gift cards they received. “They get the gift card or gift certificate on Christmas, so the day after, they get to take advantage of it by going to the retailers who are having these great sales,” Forman says.

It’s actually in your best interest to spend your gift card immediately after Christmas, for at least two reasons, says Shelley Hunter, the gift card expert for First, you’ll be less likely to forget about it or neglect to redeem it.

Second, you can get more mileage out of your gift card during after-Christmas sales, thanks to the deals we mentioned earlier. Gift cards are stackable with sales and coupons. If you use your gift card during a sale, you can get more items for the same amount of money.

“If you are a savvy shopper, you can extend the value of that gift card from whatever the person gave you to get a little bit more with it,” Hunter says.

And they’ll be on sale, too

The day after Christmas is a good time to spend gift cards, but Hunter says it’s also an ideal time to buy them, especially at restaurants. Many chains are offering a free coupon with purchase of a gift card, and most promotions last through the end of the year.

For instance, Red Lobster is hosting a Give a Gift, Get a Gift promotion through Dec. 31. You’ll get a bonus card (good for a free appetizer or $10 coupon) when you buy a $50 gift card. Bonus cards can be redeemed Jan. 1 through Jan. 28.

Technology makes returns easier

And if your main reason for venturing out on the day after Christmas is to make a return, lean on technology to get most of the work done at home before you get to the store. For instance, with Walmart’s Mobile Express returns, you can initiate a return on the store’s app for items shipped and sold by (some restrictions apply). Then, fast-track through the line when you arrive at the store.

Another helpful tool is Slice, a free app that tracks all of your online purchases. It captures receipts from your email inbox and organizes them so you can quickly access the one you need when you want to make a return.



The article Why You Should Hit the Store on the Day After Christmas originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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

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4 Ways to Get a Sale Price When There Isn’t a Sale

If you don’t see a sale sign, it doesn’t mean you can’t get a deal. Here are four ways you could save money the next time you shop online or in person.

1. Sign up

If you’re willing to supply a retailer with some of your personal information — such as your name, address or birth date — you could get deals in return.

“Consumers can visit the retailers’ website to sign up for coupons, or even download an app to receive alerts on discounts,” Maura L. Scott, an associate professor of marketing at Florida State University, said in an email.

“Online deals can be a great way to save money, provided consumers understand that they are providing something of value when they share their data with a company,” Scott said. Companies can use this information to track consumers’ shopping behaviors, for example.

Many retailers offer a one-time discount just for joining a mailing list or rewards program, or for agreeing to receive text alerts. (Though note that you might have to wait a bit to receive your coupon before you can get a discount.) Two recent examples we spotted: coupons for 12% or 15% off at online seller for signing up an email address, and 15% off one online order at makeup company Estee Lauder for joining its loyalty program.

2. Negotiate

Contrary to what you may think, the price you see on the sticker isn’t always the price you have to pay, according to Emily Hunter, an associate professor of management at Baylor University.

“I find that people in general don’t consider negotiating an option when they’re at a store,” Hunter says. “They think about it as an option at a garage sale, but not like a big-box retailer.”

One possible tactic: Shoppers can use a defect as leverage for a discount. (Think fruit that is bruised or a shirt that has a small tear or stain.) Additionally, if there’s any question of how much an item costs — such as if it’s not clearly marked on the shelf — try requesting the lower of the potential prices.

Even if there’s nothing wrong with a product, you can still ask for a lower price, Hunter says. Particularly on big-ticket items, retailers may want to work with you to win your business. To get the best outcome, be sure to clearly state what you want — such as 30% off — instead of starting with “what’s the best price you can give me?”

3. Just ask

If you saw a coupon for an item but forgot to bring it with you to the store, all is not lost: You can try asking for one at the register.

“They literally have them right next to the terminal,” Hunter says. “It’s just a matter of whether they’re willing to let you use it. This is where being really kind and polite really helps.”

If you’re shopping online, try messaging or calling the retailer’s customer service department to see if there are any coupon codes available that you could apply to your order.

Don’t forget to ask about other deductions, too. Stores sometimes offer senior, military, student or other specialty discounts.

4. Earn cash back

Sign up with cash-back websites and apps such as Ebates and BeFrugal to earn money back on your qualifying purchases. You won’t pay less for an item at the time of purchase, but you can potentially get money back after the fact — almost like a refund.

If you have memberships at several cash-back sites, check out Cashback Monitor. It’s a site that aggregates cash-back rates from multiple cash-back websites. You can quickly see which site is offering the best discount at the store where you’re shopping and choose the cash-back site you use accordingly.

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

The article 4 Ways to Get a Sale Price When There Isn’t a Sale originally appeared on NerdWallet.


Banking Has Changed, but Criminals Haven’t — Here’s How to Protect Your Money

This year marks a decade since the global financial crisis. Although the biggest financial institutions still dominate the landscape, banking has undergone some changes. The proliferation of smartphones means mobile banking now plays a significant role in how we manage our money. A 2016 Fed survey found that over half of smartphone users with bank accounts used their devices to access their money.

What hasn’t changed since 2008? Con artists.

Ten years ago, identity theft was the No. 1 complaint logged by the Federal Trade Commission. Today, the number of complaints is 20% higher than in 2008. The research-based advisory firm Javelin Strategy & Research identified a record high of nearly 17 million victims of identity fraud last year. And many of today’s fraud and identity theft breaches involve mobile devices. The rise of mobile banking in the past decade means it’s easier and more convenient to keep up with your bank accounts, but it could also make it easier to be scammed.

Financial institutions invest in technology and cybersecurity expertise to fight back, but your bank or credit union needs your help. Here are ways hackers try to access your bank information and how you can avoid swiping your money into a criminal’s trap.

How hackers work

Phishing. This happens when hackers use websites, emails or other means of contact to trick customers into submitting personal information. The practice isn’t new, but it has gotten more sophisticated.

“Ten years ago, phishing was rudimentary. Fake sites were not authentic looking. There were a lot of typos,” says Adam Levin, founder of Cyberscout, a Scottsdale, Arizona-based cybersecurity company. “Now, the criminals have gotten much more sophisticated and the sites look real.”

According to the not-for-profit Anti-Phishing Working Group, phishing attacks increased by a whopping 5,700% over the 12 years ended in 2016, and the latest data suggest attacks continue to increase.

Keylogger software. These programs may install on phones via apps that aren’t secure, such as one that’s not from your device’s approved app store. The software records keystrokes, such as when you enter a bank username or password on a website, then sends a record of what was typed to the hacker.

How to protect your accounts

Ask your bank or credit union about security. The safest banks for consumers use the latest cybersecurity protocols to protect your accounts from breaches and large-scale identity theft. “You’ll want to make sure your bank is up to par,” Levin says. If not, it may be time to switch to another institution. Make sure your bank provides the following — and use these services:

  • Two-factor authentication. When you attempt to log on to your bank’s secure online webpage, the bank or credit union will contact you through some other means — by sending a text, for example — to ask you to confirm the login request. Not every bank has two-factor authentication. But if you choose one that does, your accounts have an extra layer of protection, says Neal Stern, CPA and member of the American Institute of CPAs’ National Financial Literacy Commission.
  • Transaction alerts. Sign up for these alerts, which are generally text or email messages your bank sends to your mobile device when large purchases are made on your account or if your balance drops below a certain amount. (For a deeper look at transaction alerts, here are five mobile banking alerts that help fight fraud.)
  • Fraud monitoring. Many banks monitor transactions to detect unusual spending patterns. The bank might send you a confirmation text if it detects an odd purchase attempt, such as an online purchase worth thousands of dollars from a vendor you’ve never used before. You would have to reply before approval of the transaction.

Keep mobile device software up to date. Your device provider likely sends periodic updates. Some of them may help stop the latest hacker attempts, so it’s important to install updates.

Have a rock solid sign-on. When it comes to logging on to your bank’s website, use “long and strong passwords” that are hard to guess, Levin says. That way, even if you lose your phone, the next person who picks it up won’t be able to figure out how to log in to your bank accounts. In addition, lock your mobile device screen and use a different password to unlock it. (Read more about how to create passwords that are hard on others but easy on you.)

Be careful with other contacts. Fraudsters may try to trick a customer by calling and saying an account has been compromised, then asking for sensitive information, such as a password or Social Security number, to confirm their identity.

“Why would you need to authenticate yourself to someone who contacts you?” Levin says. If you’re unsure about whether a call is legit, hang up and try to reach the bank or credit union at a number you’re familiar with.

Today, customers can deposit checks, transfer money between accounts and pay bills from the convenience of their smartphones. But with convenience comes risk. Take steps to eliminate the risk of identity theft by partnering with your financial institution to protect your hard-earned money.


Budget Before Black Friday to Prevent Costly Regrets After

Budget Before Black Friday to Prevent Costly Regrets After

If your wallet could talk, would it blacklist you from Black Friday shopping?

Before you get swept up in the dizzying deal frenzy this Nov. 23, here are three tips from financial experts about how to stay on budget — and stop yourself from buying things you don’t need.

Be honest

First, be realistic about how much you can afford to spend and any tendencies to overspend you may have, recommends Neal Frankle, a certified financial planner and founder of Wealth Resources Group.

“Spending is fun,” Frankle says. “Saving and investing is less fun.”

“If you’re just spending money to enjoy yourself and if you end up spending money that you cannot afford to spend, it’s going to be a very expensive joyride.”

At least a week before Black Friday, create a budget, Frankle says. Then, make a plan to hold yourself accountable so you won’t exceed that amount. Take someone with you to the store or hang on to receipts to show them after you get home.

Have a goal in mind

Next, shop for a reason, says Shane Sullivan, a CFP with

Otherwise, it’s easy to purchase things you don’t need. “The lighting, the music, the pricing — everything in that store has been designed and bundled to get you to spend more money or take you off course,” Sullivan says.

Sullivan recalls falling victim to Black Friday temptation. He once researched prices and fought the crowds to get a great deal on two large, flat-screen TVs. While at the store, he saw midsize screens for $100 each and bought two of those as well, even though he didn’t need them. They both went unused.

To prevent this from happening to you, Sullivan recommends keeping your “wishlist” in mind when you shop. That might include appliances for a new house, baby furniture for a new child or travel for a future vacation.

“Have a list of what you want,” he says. If that’s travel, for example, there’s likely no need for you to ever set foot in the big electronics or department stores.

Skip it altogether

Finally, if you feel susceptible to overspending on Black Friday, remember the shopping event is totally optional.

Consider not going, even if you pay a little bit more on a different day, Frankle says.

While you may spend more on a specific item, you likely won’t make as many extra purchases simply because things are super cheap.

“You will probably end up spending less overall,” he says.

If you absolutely can’t miss Black Friday, consider implementing safeguards, such as paying with cash instead of a card. Physically parting with cash adds a psychological element to shopping, according to Sullivan.

He says the “pain” of giving the cashier your money will help you focus on buying the things that matter most.

The article Budget Before Black Friday to Prevent Costly Regrets After originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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