Five Easy Ways to Improve Your Physical AND Financial Health

by Guest on February 1, 2011

financial-healthImproving some aspect of one’s health is a popular resolution. Whether it’s a promise to stop smoking, shed those extra pounds or ditch the remote and stop being such a couch potato, being healthier is often at the top of our To-do lists. Keeping our bodies in optimum condition, however, can be a costly proposition. Nutritional supplements, gym memberships or doctors visits can pack a pretty heavy punch to your wallet. Good thing there are healthy choices you can make that will benefit your bank account just as much as your body.

Here are five things you can do to become more physically and financially fit:

A smarter way to save on stuff you actually buy

by Guest on January 26, 2011

Avoid the savings clutter

[Editor's Note: We recently started using a new service called Offermatic and thought it was great; so we asked the good people at Offermatic.com to write a guest post for Wallet Blog and tell their story]

The deal and offer market is overflowing with group buying companies throwing around offers and deals and coupons and vouchers – you can’t swing a dead cat around the room without hitting a new player in the space. But is anyone really innovating, or are all these companies just different shades of the same? And how much value really exists for the average consumer in daily offers to save on exotic travel, manicures, spa treatments, and cupcakes?

Should You Purchase Long Term Care Insurance?

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on January 25, 2011

InsuranceBefore talking specifically about long term care insurance, let’s remind ourselves of the function that insurance plays in our lives.

Insurance is our financial defense. Anyone who is attempting to build wealth or move forward financially must be sure that nothing devastating or unexpected will undo years of responsible financial planning. Imagine a person who has slowly been building wealth for the last two decades but does not have health insurance. It only takes one major surgery to burn through hundreds of thousands of dollars of savings.

Teach Your Kids to Ride Safely Into Their Financial Futures

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on January 21, 2011

Help for College StudentsParents plan financially for their children’s college educations seemingly from the moment they are born. They set up college funds, save and save some more. However, amidst all of this financial preparation they somehow often forget to ready their children for the financial realities of adult life. Instead, they simply hand them credit cards, pack up their cars and head to school.

It is this lacking financial education that has led, in part, to an adult population that spends beyond its means, engages in unsafe lending practices, and accumulates record amounts of credit card debt . Still, if we decide to instruct our kids how to responsibly manage their money—much as we teach them how to read, tie their shoes, and ride bikes—then perhaps they might avoid a Great Recession-like event in their own adult lives.

Roth IRA

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on January 12, 2011

roth-ira-retirementSometimes when individuals start using ‘financial talk’, some of the rest of us get lost in the dust. Phrases like “401(k), 503(b), Traditional IRA, and Roth IRA” sound like another language. As a result, many people are overwhelmed by the many options, and so they choose a terrible alternative – to do nothing.

This is not a strategy I recommend. Instead, slowly wade through all the options and make an informed choice. When it comes to saving for retirement, any choice is better than doing nothing.

Carnival of Personal Finance: 2011 New Year's Resolution Edition

by John Kiernan on January 10, 2011

new-year-resolutionsWe’ve counted down.  We’ve toasted the champagne.  We’ve kissed our sweethearts.  The New Year is upon us, and with this turn of the calendar comes a chance for a fresh start, a cleaning of the slate.  While your goals for making 2011 better than its predecessor most likely pervade all aspects of your life, financial New Year’s Resolutions are particularly popular, especially considering the current financial climate.  Perhaps you want to finally get out of debt.  Maybe all of the ads on TV have psyched you up to improve your credit score.  Or you might want to increase small business profitability or invest more wisely.  Hopefully, whatever your goal may be, this financial resolution will fare better than previous pledges that have fallen by the wayside.  Commit to making this year different, to helping your personal finance objectives outlast the “honeymoon period” after which so many New Years Resolutions die.  The first step in doing so?  Reading the New Year’s Resolution Edition of the Carnival of Personal Finance.  Look, you’re already on your way!

Editor’s Picks

5 Ways to Save on Auto Insurance

by Guest on December 21, 2010

DilemmaEveryone likes to save money; however, the ways to save aren’t always obvious. Auto insurance can be costly, but you don’t have to sacrifice an arm and a leg to stay insured. Follow these five tips to save some serious money on your car insurance.

We’re Not Out of the Woods Yet; Credit Card Debt is Actually Still Rising

by John Kiernan on December 10, 2010

debtComing out of the Great Recession, the last thing anyone wants is for financial history to repeat itself. However, when it comes to consumer debt, that is exactly what’s happening. Many people think that overall credit card debt is decreasing just because consumers paid down over $43 billion in debt during the first quarter of 2010. However, this is merely a reflection of what occurred in the same quarter last year. Numbers from the second and third quarters of 2010 show that—like in 2009—consumer debt is actually rising and is on track to wipe out most of the reduction observed in Q1.

According to the Q3 2010 Credit Card Debt Study conducted by CardHub.com, consumer credit card debt increased by almost $6.5 billion in the third quarter of 2010 alone.

Mutual Fund Advantages Over Single Stock Purchases

by Guest on December 6, 2010

DilemmaWe probably all know someone who was just learning how to start investing, and in the process he bought a hot stock.  That stock skyrocketed through the roof, and now everyone you know is trying to get a share in that stock.

However, for every stock investing success story, you’re likely to find a hundred who lost BIG TIME.  For most new investors, mutual fund investing is a much better route than single stock investing.

Caution: No Preset Spending Limit Credit Cards!

by John Kiernan on December 2, 2010

slow

Throughout the Great Recession and its aftermath, much has been made about predatory credit card practices. We have all heard about the unscrupulous issuers, devoid of social responsibility, who misled their customers for profit and helped lead the American economy into a valley. The majority of the time, it seems that it’s people with damaged credit or those new to credit who fall prey to such practices. Consumers with excellent credit generally believe themselves to be immune. However, No Preset Spending Limit (NPSL) credit cards represent a contradiction to that belief as well as a credit option that can both mislead consumers and damage their credit standing, all because of lacking industry uniformity and transparency.

There are three notable types of NPSL cards currently on the market: an American Express charge card, a World MasterCard credit card and a Visa Signature credit card. The American Express NPSL card is a charge card that has a maximum spending amount, though it is not relayed to consumers. The MasterCard and Visa options are credit / charge card hybrids that have a revolving credit limit which consumers are encouraged to exceed as long as they bring their balance below it by the end of each month. They cannot, however, surpass it by an unlimited amount, though the excess allowed is also not made known to consumers. Thus, it is obvious that users are somewhat in the dark with NPSL cards simply because they do not know how much they can truly spend using such cards. Ultimately, this issuer-bred ignorance creates the potential for one’s card to be unexpectedly declined.

Credit Card Applications: After Three, Think Security

by John Kiernan on November 23, 2010

New Credit CardsI recently got a call from a college friend who wanted advice on how to get approved for the best credit card possible . He said he had applied and applied but for some reason had still not been given use of a single card. What should he do differently, he wondered, when applying for cards in the future?

My advice to him: immediately stop applying and open a secured credit card because it provides both guaranteed approval and a safe way to rebuild credit.

Five Ways You Can Turn Your Debt-inspired Frown Upside Down

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on November 19, 2010

5 waysOften, the holiday season—with its emphasis on gift giving—serves as an unwelcome reminder of any financial problems people may have. While this notion might seem depressing, it should actually be viewed as an opportunity. Instead of getting bummed about your situation, simply take the reminder as impetus to remedy your financial woes. The lowering of credit card debt, for one, can be approached and ultimately achieved through the consideration of five simple steps.

Step 1 – Evaluate your necessities
Approach your lifestyle with an exceedingly critical eye, and you will most likely discover that you spend money on things that you can certainly live without, though you might initially believe this to be impossible. You shouldn’t waste money on things like cable TV packages, cell phone data plans, dinners out or fancy vacations. Instead, fund only your means of subsistence—things like food, housing and health insurance—and use your savings to pay down your debt. While this step is the most obvious way to lower your debt, it is also by far the hardest to execute because it is often difficult to part with luxuries you have grown accustomed to.

Gas Credit Cards Provide a Little Slice of Jersey

by John Kiernan on November 12, 2010

gas-credit-cardsI recently took a trip to New Jersey, and for all the flack the state gets for things like MTV’s Jersey Shore, it does have a few things going for it, such as  produce, beautiful beach towns and, oddly enough, gas.  If you haven’t hit the pump in the Garden State you might not know this, but it’s a state law that gas station attendants must fill up your tank for you, free of charge.  You simply pull up to the pump, request a fuel type, sit back and wait.  It’s a gas luxury which most other states do not provide.  However, there are other ways that people from any state can make their gas purchases work for them, so no one gets completely shut out from the world of gas station luxury.

Last year, I decided to get an ExxonMobil MasterCard, and it was a great decision for both practical and financial reasons.  I typically spend $300 a month on gas, which is fairly average.  I simply go through that much gas each month and there’s nothing I can do about it because my work and the location of my home dictate the need for car travel.  I also cannot conveniently bargain hunt for gas prices because the only stations located on my usual routes of travel are ExxonMobil stations that have little cost disparity amongst them.

How to Buy and Sell ETF’s Without Paying Trading Fees

by John Kiernan on November 10, 2010

free-etfWhat is an ETF?

ETF stands for Exchange Traded Fund.  The closest relative of the ETF is a mutual fund or the index fund.  Each mutual fund, index fund, and ETF includes a sum of funds contributed by different investors.

There are different categories and types of ETF’s.  There are actively managed ETF’s (like mutual funds) where people buy and sell stocks in order to get the best returns according to the goals of the specific ETF.  There are also passive ETF’s (like index funds) where many shares are purchased in line with a market index so you will get the average return of the index.  Actively managed ETF’s seek to beat the market (with the possibility of lagging the market returns).  Passive funds are satisfied simply to mirror the market returns.  In addition, there are sector ETF’s that track a certain sector of the market.  Let’s assume you think that gold will perform well.  You could buy an ETF that focuses on the gold market or even other precious metals.

The Most Common Credit Card Mistakes

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on November 5, 2010

wallet-blog-top-10No matter what type of credit card you use, you are susceptible to the same pervasive credit card missteps as any other consumer. While it’s a fact of life that people make mistakes, simply being aware of the most common credit card missteps and how to avoid making them—both of which are explained below—will significantly decrease the likelihood of error and will, in turn, save you money.

1.  Misunderstand how balance transfers work
Credit card companies often stress their 0% balance transfers but less readily advertise that they also charge fees of 3-5% of the amount transferred for the service. Therefore, it is important to check your credit card application’s fine print before making a balance transfer in order to see how much it will actually cost. Additionally, make sure that you minimize the overall costs you incur by paying off your debt before any 0% interest offer expires.

The Best Rewards Credit Cards For You

by John Kiernan on October 28, 2010

RewardsRewards credit cards are a success in marketing. I mean, who wouldn’t want rewards? They sound fun, beneficial and as if you are automatically getting more bang for your buck. Thus, simply revolving a credit card genre around the word “reward” raises segmental demand. However, this surface attractiveness also belies the fact that these cards are not for everyone.

Indeed, depending on your primary objective for credit card use, a rewards card may not be the cheapest or simplest option available to you. When you are shopping for a credit card you should have in mind one of three primary objectives—lowering the cost of debt, building credit and accumulating rewards. It is important to identify which is your particular aim because different types of credit cards, when used responsibly, are best suited for accomplishing each. Similarly, in most cases there is not a single credit card that serves two purposes in combination more effectively than do two distinct cards designed specifically for each requisite function.

Store Credit Cards and Bad Credit

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on October 23, 2010

store-credit-cards-for-bad-creditYou’d think that Best Buy and Target would be some of the last places you should go if you are trying to improve your credit, especially for you shopaholics who cannot be in a store without going on a shopping spree. Oddly enough, however, store-affiliated credit cards can be a very valuable tool for building or rebuilding your credit.

Before going in depth into the reasons why store cards are useful you must first understand the basic concept behind improving credit with a credit card. No matter if you have bad, damaged, limited or no credit, you need to infuse your credit report with a pattern of positive information to either dilute the impact of past credit negatives like bankruptcy and delinquency or to build from scratch. Though the extent of positive information needed depends on your specific credit situation, this concept is the general basis of credit improvement. Likewise, depending on your circumstances secured credit cards and general-purpose unsecured credit cards (VISA/MasterCard) for bad credit are the usual suspects when it comes to credit improvement credit cards. Undoubtedly secured cards are the cheapest and most disciplined way to rebuild your credit, but if you want to begin adding positive information to your credit report immediately and do not have the cash for a secured card’s security deposit, your options lie in the realm of unsecured credit cards. It is in this context that store-affiliated credit cards—like the Best Buy Credit Card—play the role of the proverbial dark horse.

Overview of High-Yield Reward Checking Accounts

by Guest on October 22, 2010

rewards-checking-account

You have probably heard about reward credit cards, but how about reward checking accounts? If not, to give you an idea they are similar to reward credit cards. With reward credit cards, your purchases are rewarded with cash back, miles, or points. With reward checking accounts, your debit card purchases are rewarded with a high interest rate on your checking account balance. There are other requirements and features with these reward checking accounts, but the high interest rate and the debit card usage requirement are the fundamental features. If you are a saver who doesn’t spend a lot, you may find that a reward checking account will be a very good deal.

Reward checking accounts are offered by hundreds of community banks and credit unions around the United States and have been growing in popularity since 2006. There are a few dozen banks which allow you to open a reward checking account online from any state. However, the majority of banks and credit unions only open reward checking accounts for local residents.

Links Roundup: Financially Fit - The List Edition

by Kimberly Cole on October 15, 2010

financial-tipsHere at Wallet Blog we strive to give you the best financial tips and suggestions possible. While we like to think we do a pretty good job of it ourselves, we are constantly inspired by our colleagues in the financial blogging world. So, in the spirit of camaraderie, today is the first of our links roundup, where we will periodically feature some of the best from our blogging buddies.

For our first roundup we’ve focused on the short and sweet – perfect for the financially curious seeking advice without the long-winded explanation. We’ve rounded up some great articles with tips for your financial future, all nicely packaged into pretty little lists. Now, if only finances were as easy as 1,2,3…

Your Kids and Money

by Kimberly Cole on October 13, 2010

kids-moneyThe recent financial collapse was enough for us to know that we never want it to happen again. But how can we ensure that future generations will learn from our mistakes? A sensible place to start is with our kids.

In an interview with personal finance expert Jean Chatzky, the author of Not Your Parents’ Money Book, she suggested that when it comes to talking to your kids about money, the sooner the better.

Recovering Your Credit After the Great Recession

by Kimberly Cole on September 24, 2010

improve-bad-creditAs we all know, the Great Recession has deeply affected consumers credit scores, and therefore, their access to credit. A recent study from FICO, the largest credit scoring company, shows that an increasing number of consumers fall into the bad credit category. The most recent count shows that a whopping 25.5 percent of consumers have FICO credit scores below 599 – that’s nearly 43.4 million people who are considered high-risk customers for lenders.

What makes these numbers worse is that they are likely to grow in coming months, as financial missteps may not be reflected in credit scores for several months. With 26 million people out of work or underemployed according to the Department of Labor, there are a lot of people struggling to make payments without an income.

Think You’re Immune From Identity Theft? You’re Not!

by Guest on September 13, 2010

swiping-credit-cardNo one in America today is immune from identity theft – thieves continue to come up with new ways to steal the information they want.

Stealing your purse or wallet is, of course, the simplest method, but since you’ll notice that and cancel your credit cards, it’s also the least lucrative. Therefore, they prefer methods that you won’t catch unless you’re keeping a close eye on both your credit accounts and your credit report.

American Express Communicates 'Erroneous' Past Due Status

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on September 7, 2010

misleadingCardHub.com released a late payment study today that revealed a flaw in the way American Express communicates late payment status. We found that American Express is communicating to its customers that they are 25 days more past due than they really are. While this is undisputable and proved by a screen shot of my own past due account, many calls and e-mails to American Express’s customer service team, and even admission from the Public Relations team that this is a ‘nomenclature’ issue, an American Express spokeswoman characterized our study as ‘erroneous’.

The spokeswoman said, “We are not out of sync with the industry and you are providing an erroneous report to your readers.” However, it is difficult to understand how she could come to this conclusion when American Express has come up with a unique definition for ‘past due’ – a term that is otherwise clearly defined and universally understood to mean the number of days past the due date (this was the case for all other issuers in the study). At American Express, however, the spokeswoman explained that ‘past due’ refers to the aging of the account and is counted from the time the bill is generated, not the due date for the bill. The last thing that we need right now is for American Express, or any other bank, to come up with their own self-serving definitions for well defined and widely used industry terms.

‘Money is Not Easy, but It’s Simple’

by Kimberly Cole on September 2, 2010

financial-happinessIn an uncertain economy, securing your financial future may seem harder and more important than ever. As anyone who has struggled with their finances knows, there is no magic formula to solving your financial woes. I recently spoke to Laura Rowley, Yahoo! Finance personal finance expert, who says that everything to do with money ultimately comes down to trade-offs.

“If you’re trying to get a handle on your finances, keep in mind that you’re paying for the things you buy with your life’s energy,” Rowley said. If you want a $500 Prada handbag, for example, how long and how hard do you have to work in order to get it?

How Upfront is Your Credit Card Company?

by Kimberly Cole on August 11, 2010

fine-printIt’s no secret that credit card companies aren’t always up front with their customers. There’s no way to truly know what you’re getting into when applying for a credit card unless you meticulously read the fine print (something few people have the time or patience for).

In case your one of these people who have better things to do than read your credit card agreement all weekend, here is a quick checklist of the absolutely essential information you should look for on your credit card application before you apply:

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