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The No. 1 Rule of Balance Transfer Credit Cards

Having a mountain of debt is both stressful and draining. In order to pay off credit card debt, some people turn to a balance transfer credit card.

While it may seem like a strange idea to move your credit card debt from one credit card to another, doing so can be a good option. This new piece of plastic may come with a 0% APR for a given period of time, so you can focus on paying off your debt without adding interest charges on top of what you already owe.

That being said, if you’re not careful and diligent about paying off this new card, you could end up right back in the same situation you were in before transferring the balance.

But don’t worry; we’re here to help. We’re going to tell you the most important rule to follow with a balance transfer credit card: Make sure you pay off your debt during the interest-free period ends.

Why Is This So Important?

As we mentioned, balance transfer credit cards typically come with a promotional APR period, during which you won’t accrue more interest charges each month. Paying off your card during this time is imperative because, once that promotional period ends, you’ll likely end up with a higher interest rate, which could mean even more debt if you can’t pay the balance.

Because of this, it’s important to remember that just transferring your balance isn’t the answer to getting out of debt — the process actually starts before getting the new plastic.

Considerations to Make Before Getting a Balance Transfer Credit Card

Before you sign up for a new card, you’ll want to look at your budget and see how long you think you’ll need, realistically, to pay off your debt. Once you know that, it’s a good idea to look at all your different card options. Some cards offer this benefit for 18 months, while others offer it for 12, so you’ll want to look for a card that will offer the 0% APR timeframe that will work best for you.

As you’re doing your research, make sure you also read the fine print and take note of the terms and any fees — for example, some cards charge a balance transfer fee, while others have different interest rates for the transferred balance and new purchases.

As you continue to work on paying off your debts, it’s a good idea to monitor the effects it’s having on your credit. You can view two of your credit scores for free, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

10 Ways to Lower Your Utility Bill

Last year, most of us in the colder states got lucky with one of the warmest winters on record. We didn’t have to crank the heat and cheaper fuel prices staved off high utility bills. But we might not be so lucky this year.

Although no one can never truly predict the exact weather months in advance, The Farmer’s Almanac is predicting “exceptionally cold” weather for most areas of the U.S. and some pundits are predicting increased utility costs as a result. If you’re hoping heating bills don’t bite into your holiday budget or new year savings plan, read on. We reached out to energy savings experts in some of the coldest states in the U.S. to find ways to lower your utility bill.

1. Insulate Walls, Attic & Floors

In Alaska, the coldest state in the U.S., surviving the cold is a matter of life or death. Temperatures routinely plummet far below zero, and have set the country’s low temperature record of -80 degrees. (Alaska’s winters get so cold that a steaming cup of water will freeze before it hits the ground.) “Since fall is so short in Alaska, many people start thinking about their winter energy use near the end of summer,” said Michael Rovito, spokesman for Alaska Power Association/ARECA Insurance Exchange. They make insulating their homes a priority. “The first task many Alaskans think about is to make sure their insulation and weather stripping is in top condition. This helps to prevent against heat loss from the home during the long Alaska winters,” Rovito said.

According to the laws of physics, if it’s colder outside, heat will always leave your house without a proper barrier to block its departure, and “experts estimate that 40 million single-family homes in the U.S. need more insulation,” according to Black Hills Energy, which provides gas and utilities to some of the colder states, such as Wyoming, where January temperatures can hover around -5 degrees.

Insulate just about everywhere. Things like improperly installed ceiling fans, chimneys and improperly insulated ducts can whisk heat away and cost you up to 30% of your house’s heating (or cooling) energy, and a whopping 30% of your energy costs could be saved by better insulating your attic or top floor, according to Black Hills Energy. Another 20% of energy can be contained by insulating your exterior walls. And insulating the floor areas over crawl spaces, basements and garages can save another 8% if you insulate properly, according to Black Hills Energy.

2. When You’re Hiring, Get Specific

Some insulation jobs might need a professional, and if you’re choosing an insulation contractor, get a few estimates. Once you decide, make sure the contract includes the job specification, cost, method of payment and warranty information provided by the insulation material manufacturer, according to the Insulator Contractors of America. Keep in mind that some types of insulation are better for different areas of the house, and make sure that your contract lists the type of insulation to be used and where it will be used, and that each type of insulation is listed by R-value (which indicates resistance to the passage of heat).

3. Cover Windows

Heat escapes through a single pane of glass almost 14 times faster than through a well-insulated wall, according to Black Hills Energy. Other penny-pinching options if you can’t afford new windows or storm windows are plastic sheeting, a thick curtain made of thermal material and double glazing (i.e. installing another window or door to reduce the heat transfer between the windows or doors).

4. Apply for Help

If boosting your home’s energy efficiency seems like too much of a financial hurdle, the Department of Energy has a Weatherization Assistance Program which, according to its website, “provides funding to states, territories and tribal governments to improve the energy efficiency of the homes of low-income families, persons with disabilities and senior citizens.” It’s also wise to check with your utility provider since programs are also offered through many utility companies and there may be state programs to assist you as well.

5. Look for Energy-Efficient Appliances

“A furnace that is over 10 or 15 years old, may not be as efficient,” said Roger Morgenstern, spokesman for Consumers Energy of Michigan, which has several months of below-freezing temperatures. Furnaces now are 96 to 97% efficient, which means they burn fuel more effectively, he said. Also, have it inspected once per year by a licensed heating and cooling professionals. When buying appliances, seek Energy Star labels that indicate lower energy usage, and make sure your lint trap and exhaust trap are cleaned to prevent fire hazards and keep the dryer from working so hard, said Morgenstern. Also keep the dryer only 75% full so that the clothes have room to dry.

6. Consider a Programmable Furnace (or Thermostat)

Wouldn’t it be nice if your house could be toasty warm just in time for your arrival but stay cool during the day? This is another tool Alaskans use to cut their heating usage. “Many Alaskans invest in programmable furnaces so they can adjust the temperature of their home and control costs. This is helpful since it remains cold for so long that it’s important to regulate how long a household’s furnace runs,” Rovito said. Installing one before the winter could save as much as 20% on your heating costs and recover your investment in the first year, according to Consumers Energy.

7. Limit the Energy Vampires

Reducing your water heater down to 120 degrees, or turning it off when it’s not needed, can save you more than 20% on energy, according the U.S. Department of Energy. And some appliances and electronics still draw electricity when they’re not in use. Unplugging them or confining them to a power strip that you can flip on and off can help you to lower your utility bill. Also turn off lights when leaving a room, use timers on holiday lights and switch out old, fluorescent bulbs, recommended Rovito.

8. Put Weather Stripping Around Doors

If you can see daylight around your doorframe, or can feel a draft around a gap, get some weather stripping from the hardware store. “A half-inch gap around your door would be the same as a softball-sized hole in your door to let that cold air in,” Morgenstern said.

9. Know Average Local Utility Costs

Residents in some states spend more on their utilities than others, and, if you’re new to an area, or considering a new house and mortgage, it helps to know what an average utility bill will be for your source of fuel so that you can budget ahead. (You can check out our housing cost tool here for more budget planning.) It also helps to know your credit history, because some utility companies will charge you a larger down payment if your credit isn’t stellar. (You can get a snapshot of your credit report for free every 14 days on Credit.com.) People spent an average of $1,121 on their residential utility bills in frigid Alaska in 2012, according to a chart from the Department of Energy, and $918 in New York, while Hawaii spent $814 and Utah spent an average of $518.

10. Get a Budget Plan

This is a free option from your utility company that levels out your bills so that you don’t have to go into debt, overburden your credit card or become a holiday spending scrooge when you face a large utility bill. It works by mashing up your utility bills over the last year and averaging them into one consistent amount for each month. “That way, you’re not paying significantly more over the winter months and less over the summer,” said Morgenstern. If it’s a new home to you or your first year at your apartment, the average is taken from past bills at that address, but it’s reconciled and adjusted every year, said Morgenstern. 

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

Online Hacks for Snagging the Best Black Friday 2016 Deals

Snatching up a doorbuster deal on Black Friday is a little bit like winning the lottery: You’ll feel pretty lucky if it happens.

But unlike the random drawing of the lottery, picking Black Friday deals requires careful planning. Here are some tips, tricks and hacks that could increase your odds of getting the best deals while shopping online on the day after Thanksgiving.

Know when and where to shop

Inventory can sell out online just like at a physical location, especially if the rise in online shopping continues. In 2015, online sales rose 16% on Thanksgiving Day compared to the same day in 2014 and increased 7% year-over-year on Black Friday, according to analytics firm Slice Intelligence.

To get the best deals, prepare early by following the sale advertisements from your favorite stores before Black Friday. They likely will indicate which deals will be available online. Last year, Kohl’s offered its doorbusters exclusively in stores, while Best Buy made almost all deals available online and in stores.

The ads also will tell you what time the sales begin online. This year, Dell will debut its online sale on Nov. 23, while Office Depot kicks things off at 12:01 a.m. Nov. 24 (Thanksgiving Day).

» MORE: Full list of Black Friday 2016 store hours

Make an online account beforehand

Once you pick your desired stores and online sites, create an online profile ahead of time. Most retailers let you save information such as your shipping and billing address on their websites. This will expedite the purchase process and may help you get doorbusters before they run out.

Log on early

Punctuality is key. Make sure your computer or phone is ready for action a few minutes before the sale begins. Sign into your profile, scope out the products you want by size, color and other options, and then bookmark those webpages so that you can find them easily when the big event launches.

Review membership perks

If you’re a member of a retailer’s loyalty program or have a store credit card, you may receive Black Friday perks. Some companies lower prices or grant early access to sales for loyal customers. Year after year, Victoria’s Secret has given its Angel cardholders the first shot at Black Friday deals before other buyers.

Use multiple devices

If have a tablet and a laptop, why not use both of them? If a website is lagging when a sale starts, utilize as many devices as possible to see which one will load the site faster. That could help you snag a deal faster.

» MORE: Follow these tips to ensure the best deal when you shop online

Seek stackable discounts

Black Friday prices typically are low, so retailers may not offer additional discounts. But there may be coupon codes or free shipping offers that can be applied to your order. Look for these on a retailer’s website or its Black Friday ad, or on coupon aggregator sites. And, as always, compare prices between retailers to see which one has the best deal.

Maximize savings

Shopping online can provide additional savings. If you’re a member of a cash-back website such as Ebates or BeFrugal, for instance, activate your cash back by logging into the sites and then clicking over to your retailer of choice. If there’s a cash-back offer at the time, you’ll get a percentage of your purchase back. If you don’t have such an account, create one before the sales start.

If you have a rewards credit card, you may be able to get relevant cash back on your Black Friday purchases, depending on the bonus purchase categories offered by the card issuer.

Keep your personal information safe

Always be cautious about transmitting your personal information and credit card number over the internet. Make transactions only on websites your know and trust. Submit your financial information only over a secure connection (and not on public Wi-Fi).

Courtney Jespersen is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: courtney@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @courtneynerd.

Shopping Dealfinder Newsletter Get the best deals of the day and more!

Mortgage Rates Today, Friday, Oct. 21: Small Dip; Mortgage Refinancing Cooling Down

Thirty-year and 15-year fixed mortgage rates notched down a bit, while 5/1 ARM loan rates rose just a hair on Friday, according to a NerdWallet survey of mortgage rates published by national lenders this morning.

Mortgage Rates Today, Friday, Oct. 21 (Change from 10/20) 30-year fixed: 3.67% APR (-0.03) 15-year fixed: 3.09% APR (-0.01) 5/1 ARM: 3.60% APR (+0.01) Possibly higher rates may mean fewer mortgage refinances in 2017

In its monthly outlook report released on Thursday, Freddie Mac said that housing is still part of a slowly improving economy but that refinancing won’t pitch in as much money next year as it did this year.

“The economy and labor markets are looking better,” said Sean Becketti, chief economist of Freddie Mac. “We’re even seeing modest wage gains. And Fed watchers are increasingly predicting a December rate hike as things improve. However, worldwide economic growth is weak, and its prospects have gotten worse.”

Whether mortgage rates increase depends more on global growth and worldwide bond yields than Federal Open Market Committee policy, according to the report.

If worldwide bond yields return to pre-Brexit levels, mortgage interest rates will probably stay low for a while, the report said. A continued slow rise in rates is expected for the rest of this year and into the next, with 30-year fixed-rate mortgages averaging 3.9 percent a year from now. Since refinance activity is dependent on rates, a small increase in rates naturally shrinks the number of mortgage refinances.

Mortgage application data shows that in comparison to this summer, mortgage refinance activity is indeed slowing, but compared to last year at this time, applications are up by around 30 percent.  

Freddie Mac expects $1 trillion in refinance mortgage originations for this year, but 2017 volume may be under $600 billion. “Home purchase and home improvement mortgage activity will somewhat offset this, rising from $1 trillion in 2016 to $1.15 trillion in 2017,” the report said. “Total mortgage originations will fall about 18 percent from 2016 to 2017 in our forecast.”

Homeowners looking to lower their mortgage rate can shop for refinance lenders here.

NerdWallet daily mortgage rates are an average of the published APR with the lowest points for each loan term offered by a sampling of major national lenders. Annual percentage rate quotes reflect an interest rate plus points, fees and other expenses, providing the most accurate view of the costs a borrower might pay.

Michael Burge is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: mburge@nerdwallet.com.

What to Buy, and Skip, on Black Friday 2016

With huge sales and steep savings at nearly every retailer, Black Friday — the day after Thanksgiving — has long been touted as one of the best times of the year for buying just about anything.

But it’s not all discounts and deals on the 2016 post-Turkey Day shopping bonanza. Use this guide to determine what you should purchase and what you should skip on Nov. 25 to ensure you’re getting only the best bargains.

Buy: Previous models of Apple products

Traditionally, major retail stores such as Best Buy, Target and Wal-Mart discount Apple products each year on Black Friday, and previous-generation models usually see the most dramatic deals. These offers may include price cuts, free gift cards with purchase or a combination of both. This year, look for deals on MacBooks, iMacs, iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches and Apple TVs.

Last year, for instance, Target devoted almost an entire page of the bull’s-eye retailer’s 2015 Black Friday ad to Apple. Shoppers scored a free Target gift card when they bought any iPad Mini, iPad Air or Apple Watch. There was also a 20% discount on all iPods.

Skip: Toys

Toys are one of the seasonal purchase staples, but you might want to think twice before picking them up on Black Friday. Historically, it’s best to wait until closer to Christmas to purchase dolls, action figures and the like. You may run the risk that certain items will sell out, but you may also be able to find bigger savings on what’s left.

Last year, in the final days before Christmas, toys were on sale at Kmart, Wal-Mart and Big Lots, to name a few. Shoppers bought one toy and got a second toy at 50% off on Monster High dolls and accessories, Fisher-Price preschool toys and Block Tech playsets, as well as activity and science sets.

» MORE: Full list of 2016 Black Friday store hours

Buy: Gaming system bundles

Black Friday is for gamers just as much as it is for shoppers. This year, look for savings on video games and video game systems from retailers such as Best Buy, Target, Wal-Mart and GameStop. You’ll find particularly great offers on gaming bundles. Traditionally, these include the game console plus a combination of games and accessories.

Last year, video game retailer GameStop took $50 off both the Xbox One 500GB Gears of War Ultimate Bundle and the PlayStation 4 500GB Uncharted Collection Bundle.

Skip: Christmas decorations

You’ve likely seen the blowout post-Christmas clearance sales every year on Dec. 26 as you made your way to the store to return that gift that missed the mark. The absolute best time to buy Christmas decorations, wrapping paper, tinsel and other seasonal trimmings is right after Christmas (for obvious reasons).

But if you need these items before the holiday, don’t buy them on Black Friday. Sure, you’ll see plenty of deals on artificial trees and rolls of wrapping paper, especially at home and craft stores, but retailers are more eager to slash prices the closer it gets to Christmas.

Buy: Electronics (TVs, tablets and smartphones)

Electronics deals are a Black Friday staple, and for many consumers, that means shopping for a new TV, tablet or smartphone. In 2015, Target offered an impressive $249.99 deal on a 55-inch Westinghouse LED TV.

Over at Staples, tablets were all the rage. Shoppers could save up to 25% on select iPad models. Staples also dropped the price of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Lite 7-inch down to $79.99 (regularly $139.99).

No matter where you choose to spend your Black Friday (or your Thanksgiving), you’re almost guaranteed to find TV and tablet doorbusters. Another electronics deal to keep an eye out for: smartphones. Verizon offered $100 off the retail price of select Android smartphones last year.

» MORE: Black Friday 2016 ad leaks

Skip: Bedding

You’ve got the entertainment center covered, but you should hesitate before stocking up on supplies to refresh the look of your bedroom this Black Friday. The lowest prices on bedding and linens have been known to appear in January during what are called “white sales,” so hold off until then if you can. January 2016 white sales took place at Macy’s, Pottery Barn, Nordstrom and more.

Buy: Video games, CDs, DVDs

If you’re in need of some affordable stocking stuffers, look no further than the video game, CD, DVD and Blu-ray department at most major retailers this Black Friday. You’ll find films and gaming titles deeply discounted from their original prices.

In 2015, for example, Best Buy offered select Blu-ray titles for $9.99 each and up to 70 CD titles for $6.99 each. Wal-Mart had certain video games for $25 each and a selection of special-buy DVD titles for just $1.96 apiece.

Skip: Outdoor essentials

You won’t see too many grills or patio furniture sets plastered on the front pages of Black Friday ads this year. That’s because, not surprisingly, outdoor products and patio furniture are deeply discounted immediately after summer ends.

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

Buy: Home appliances

No secret here. Black Friday is well-known for its offers of huge savings on washers, dryers, refrigerators and kitchen appliances. Look for similar deep discounts again this year.

Last year at Sears, the Kenmore 4.3-cubic-foot washer and 7.3-cubic-foot dryer were on sale for $799.98 for the pair. That’s a 57% discount. Best Buy took $1,500 off the price of a Samsung 28.2-cubic-foot 4-Door French Door Smart Refrigerator, bringing it down to $2,099.99.

If you’re in the market for smaller appliances such as coffee makers, mixers, blenders or vacuum cleaners, expect deals this year from department stores such as Kohl’s, J.C. Penney and Macy’s.

Skip: Winter clothing

Fall and winter clothing generally isn’t the best value on Black Friday. Jeans, for instance, see better sales in October, and retailers frequently offer big clearance sales on jackets when winter gives way to spring.

Of course, if you need something to keep you warm before then, you’ll be able to find some bargains this Black Friday. Year after year, Macy’s and J.C. Penney have offered doorbuster deals on women’s boots. In the past, select pairs have been just $19.99 each.

Buy: Travel deals

Whether it’s hotel rooms, ski lift tickets or airfare, you can expect big deals on travel this Black Friday and Cyber Monday (Nov. 28). Check for deals from online travel sites like Expedia and major airlines alike. Note: In the past, most of these promotions were available for a very limited time.

Skip: Mail-in rebates

If you want to avoid some of the hassle related to Black Friday shopping, resist deals that require a mail-in rebate. Unless you’re disciplined enough to fill out the form and wait to receive the rebate, you could end up paying more than you intended. And even if you do follow through with rebate, you’ll have to shell out a higher price at the register before getting some of your money back.

Always read the fine print; some kitchen appliances, electronics and other popular items may require you to fill out a mail-in rebate to achieve the advertised price. At Kohl’s, for example, some small kitchen appliances were available for $7.99 last year — but that was after a $12 mail-in rebate.

Buy: Online doorbusters

Finally, for the ultimate combination of convenience and savings, spring for online doorbusters this year. Plenty of big box retailers are bringing their doorbusters online this Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Office Depot and OfficeMax, for instance, will be closed on Thanksgiving Day 2016, but deals will be available online starting at 12:01 a.m. Eastern time on the holiday.

Courtney Jespersen is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: courtney@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @courtneynerd.

Shopping Dealfinder Newsletter Get the best deals on Black Friday and beyond!                        

5 Credit Score Myths You Can't Afford to Believe

It’s no surprise there are misconceptions surrounding credit reports and credit scores. It can be easy to have these misunderstandings, whether because of social media, friends and family, or simply your own interpretations.

But believing myths about credit could ultimately damage your credit scores, resulting in lost opportunities and possibly even higher interest rates. But you can do something to help prevent that from happening to you. These are five credit score myths that you just simply can’t afford to believe.

1. Credit Card Debt Is Harmful

Simply having credit card debt does not do direct damage to your credit scores — it’s how you handle that debt that is impactful. For example, if you aren’t paying your statements on time, your credit scores will take a hit. And, if you’re carrying too much credit card debt in relation to your full credit limit — this is known as your credit utilization ratio — your scores can be dinged. Experts typically recommend having a 30% (or less) credit utilization ratio, ideally 10%. (You can check out your credit utilization ratio by viewing two of your credit scores for free, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.)

2. Closing Credit Cards Is Helpful

Paying down credit card debt can be very beneficial for your credit scores — and something you should definitely be proud of. But, once a credit card reaches a zero balance, you’ll want to think twice before closing that account entirely. Doing so can actually hurt your credit scores. This is another result of the credit utilization ratio. By closing your account, you’re actually reducing your available credit and any balances you still have now take up a larger chunk of your available credit limit. It may also impact the age of your credit if you’re closing one of the older cards in your credit profile and the age of your credit makes up roughly 15% of your credit scores.

3. Paying Off a Collections Account Makes It Disappear

Once an account is in collections, it can appear on your credit reports and have an effect on your credit scores for at least seven years. Paying off the debt can make the debt collectors stop calling and can result in the account updating to a paid status, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone away. You’ll still see it on there until the seven years has passed. Once the item has reached the time where it should “age off” your report, it’s a good idea to review copies of your credit reports from the three major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — to ensure it’s removed. You can get your free copies once each year by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com.

4. All Credit Reports Contain the Same Information

The three major credit bureaus provide credit reports and credit scores to lenders, creditors and consumers. But the information contained in those credit reports can vary, as the bureaus don’t all communicate with each other, nor does every outlet report to each bureau. It can be beneficial to check all three to know what information is appearing, as well as to review the reports for any errors. If you do find a problem, this guide can tell you how to dispute an error on your credit reports.

5. Co-Signing a Loan Is Not Risky

If you’re considering co-signing a loan to help a friend or loved one, just know this: you can be held accountable for repaying this loan. The loan can appear on your credit reports, along with any missed payments or even collections activity. If the loan becomes delinquent, collections agencies could come after you for the debt. Your credit scores can be directly affected by these co-signed loans. If you’re considering co-signing a loan, you may want to think very hard about the decision and the responsibility of the person for whom you’re co-signing.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

Ask Brianna: How Can I Cut Costs as a Wedding Guest?

“Ask Brianna” is a Q&A column from NerdWallet for 20-somethings or anyone else starting out. I’m here to help you manage your money, find a job and pay off student loans — all the real-world stuff no one taught us how to do in college. Send your questions about postgrad life to askbrianna@nerdwallet.com.

Q: I’ve been invited to a bunch of weddings, and I have no idea how I’m going to afford travel and gifts for all of them. How can I cut costs as a wedding guest?

A: Each week brings a new engagement announcement on Facebook, and every save-the-date card makes your long-held dream to backpack across Europe seem even more remote. I’ve been there.

During your 20s or 30s, back-to-back weddings can turn a joyful occasion into one breathless swipe of a credit card after another. These festivities come right when most of us are trying desperately to pay off our student loans, save for a house or move to a new apartment that’s more “Frasier” and less “Girls.”

As much as you want to celebrate your friend or family member’s love, you shouldn’t blow your savings on their wedding. Just as importantly, you shouldn’t feel guilty about turning down an invitation occasionally, even if that seems soul-crushingly awkward.

Follow these tips to emerge from your next string of weddings without credit card debt haunting you — unlike the groomsman who gave that embarrassing toast at the reception; his speech will follow him forever.

Set your own wedding budget

No rules state you need to shell out $100 on every wedding gift, no matter how close you are to the bride or groom. Only you can determine how much you’ll spend on each wedding, says Lizzie Post, etiquette expert and president of the Emily Post Institute. Set your own spending limit and prioritize the people most important to you. You’ll avoid arriving at the destination wedding for co-worker No. 3 with a maxed-out credit card and a thick aura of resentment.

To start, choose a maximum wedding budget for the upcoming year or for the next several ceremonies you’ve been invited to. Include the total amount you plan to spend on travel, lodging, attire, gifts and additional pre-wedding events if you’re a member of the bridal party.

As you plan your budget, make sure to keep at least a few hundred dollars in an emergency fund, and try not to carry a balance on your credit cards.

If you can’t afford it, politely decline

Say you decide $500 is a reasonable amount to allocate to wedding costs for the year. You’ll now be able to accept invitations only to those events that fit your budget. That could mean attending your close friend’s wedding in a different city but not your acquaintance’s local one.

When you break the news, no need to explain that your budget is the culprit. A simple “no” RSVP and “I’m really sorry, but I won’t be able to make it” is fine, Post says. If you’re closer with the couple, say, “Between budget and schedule, I just really can’t make it work.” You should still send a gift, but use the tips below to save some cash.

Weddings also include many other events, such as engagement parties and bridal showers, and you have even more obligations if you’re a bridesmaid or groomsman. Ask the best man or maid of honor how much the bachelor or bachelorette party will likely cost before committing. If you can’t afford to go, you are hereby permitted to decline any pre-wedding events, even as a member of the bridal party.

“It’s more important for you to be present with them on the big day,” says Jennifer Spector, spokeswoman and director of brand strategy at Zola, a wedding registry website.

Keep gifts minimal

A “yes” RSVP means you’ll attend the event and bring a gift unless the invitation explicitly says otherwise, Post says. This tradition holds true even for destination weddings. If you have to fly to the event and pay for a hotel, you’re still on the hook for a present.

When you’re on a budget, consider contributing to a group gift, Spector says, which might be an option through the couple’s registry: Put $30 toward your friend’s coveted KitchenAid stand mixer, for instance, instead of buying the whole thing.

Cookbooks and small household items are also solid lower-cost options, Post says. Handmade gifts can be cheaper and more personal, but they work best when you have a particular talent or craft that you’re known for.

“If you’re going to go the homemade route, it needs to really be special,” Post says.

Brianna McGurran is a staff writer at NerdWallet. Email: bmcgurran@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @briannamcscribe.

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


6 Ways to Prepare Your Credit Cards for the Holidays

The leaves are changing color and Halloween is almost here, which means the holidays are approaching fast. Now is the time to get your credit cards in order and avoid holiday overspending. Here are six ways to help you get started.

1. Check Your Credit Score

Your credit score is one of the greatest indicators of the overall health of your finances, so it pays to know where you stand. You can view two of your free credit scores, updated every 14 days, by signing up for an account on Credit.com, and by checking your score, you can see what areas you need to improve. For example, you may find out that you need to do a better job making loan payments on time or lowering your credit card balances. And if you have problems with your credit, then you can adjust your holiday shopping plans accordingly, so you don’t do any more damage.

2. Take Stock of Your Cards

Before your holiday shopping begins, you’ll want to know which cards you have at home, in your wallet and elsewhere. Perhaps you have some credit cards that you keep in your car, or at work. Or you might have signed up for store credit cards in last year that you forgot about. In any case, make sure that you can find all of your cards, and double check that the accounts are still open (and, ideally, in good standing).

3. Check Your Available Credit

One reason that you should take inventory of your credit cards is to see each card’s line of credit and how much of it is still available. That’s because your debt-utilization ratio — how much credit you’ve used versus how much is offered to you — is one of the biggest factors that determine your credit score. If you’re bumping up against your available credit limit, that’s a sign that you may have taken on too much debt and need to adjust your spending habits.

4. See Which Cards Offer the Most Rewards

If you are in the habit of avoiding credit card interest charges by paying your statement balances in full, then you may be the type of credit card user who could benefit from a rewards credit card. You may be able to find credit cards that reward you for the kind of shopping you do over the holidays. For example, the Chase Freedom card offers 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in spending each quarter on select categories of merchants. From October through December, that category is department stores, wholesale clubs and drug stores, and you can check Chase’s website for specific stores that fall into those categories. That’s just one example — you can see our roundup of the best cash back rewards cards here.

5. Examine Your Cardholder Benefits

While most people focus on credit card rewards, your card’s purchase protection benefits could offer you tremendous value during the holidays. For example, a price protection policy could refund you the difference when an eligible purchase experiences a price drop. A return protection policy could come in handy if a merchant is unable to accept or offer a refund for an unwanted item. Damage and theft protection policies are commonly found on many credit cards, while extended warranty coverage can add a year to your manufacturer’s warranty. By knowing which policies your cards have, you can choose to use the ones that offer you the most valuable benefits.

6. Create a Budget

The final, and perhaps most important, way to prepare for using your credit cards during the holidays is to examine your budget. It’s very easy to get carried away with your holiday spending, so it’s vital to create a budget before its too late. After all, you don’t want to bump up against your credit limit, as we mentioned earlier, or take on so much debt that it drags down your credit score.

By deciding in advance how much is prudent to spend during the holidays, and by closely tracking how your actual charges compare to your budget, you can keep your spending under control. When you prepare your credit cards well in advance of the holidays, then you can start the new year off in a good financial situation, rather than making up for last year’s missteps.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.


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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

6 Free (or Cheap) Tools We Used to Make More Money & Get Out of Debt

Employment gives us a lot — a sense of security, a regular paycheck, health and life insurance and other perks, but what about our dreams? How much do we give up to be employed by someone else and work on their dreams? How do we change so that we’re both financially free and personally happy?

We paid off $51,000 in credit card debt and became financially free. When we started our dream business three years ago, our goal was to build a business so that — from anywhere in the world — we could help others become financially free. We decided we wanted geographic freedom along with financial freedom. We’ve achieved this through our writing, speaking, videos and podcast.

The same tools that keep us digitally connected to grade school friends and celebrities are also a source for information and a platform to grow a business.

The barriers of entry to start a business today are lower than ever. With a tablet, a website and a few social media accounts, a few hundred dollars spent on moderately sophisticated recording equipment and basic editing knowledge gleaned online, you may be able to turn your hobby into a successful blog, podcast or video show.

The trick is learning how to monetize these mediums. This can be done with affiliate marketing, sponsorships and branding that provide multiple (horizontal) income streams, eliminating the risk of the single (vertical) income stream. But the first step comes in learning about your given industry and what the leaders of a platform or marketplace are doing.

Below are the six tools we still use today to help grow our business.

1. YouTube

YouTube isn’t just for music videos and beauty video bloggers. YouTube is for ME: motivation and education.

Whether we’re paying full or partial attention, motivational videos keep us positive. Starting your own business isn’t easy and there are times we get negative. Negativity must be remedied. As Willie Nelson once said, “Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you’ll start having positive results.” And we’re always looking for positive results.

We’ve used YouTube as a teacher. It’s taught us about creating tags and categories for our website, how to manage lists in Twitter and video editing. We’ve spent hours studying public speakers on their style, tempo and delivery.

If you want videos that both motivate and teach you the art of public speaking, you can’t lose by YouTubing anything with Lisa Nichols.

2. Podcasts

Podcasts supplement YouTube and offer access to today’s leading minds for free and on your own time. Listening while we work, drive or exercise allows us to challenge ourselves to new ways of thinking, which helps us in our personal and professional lives.

Want to know what Mark Zuckerberg is planning next for Facebook? Want to learn what Tim Gunn thinks of today’s fashion? Want to hear what world leaders think of today’s current affairs? Podcasts can be your answer. Two of our favorites are Sean Croxton’s “The Sessions” and Stephen Christopher’s “Business Revolution.”

3. Apps

Can’t afford a personal coach? Neither could we, so we turned to apps. Apps are a great alternative and can be the tools that help get you to where you want your career to go. With just your phone or tablet and the right level of engagement, some business and life coaching apps can be as helpful as some business and life coaching humans.

4. Books

Nothing beats books. Though certainly not new, the accessibility of books is new. On Amazon alone, an average of 1.064 million digital books were downloaded each day, as of January 2016. There are many free books available on Amazon or at your local library. Here’s another secret: Don’t only source your books from the bestseller’s lists. There are great books being published independently. Give someone lesser known a try. Two such books are “True to Your Core” and “Discover. Act. Engage.” These are both powerful books that haven’t been picked up by a major publisher yet.

5. Facebook Groups

Facebook is more than cat videos and memes about the drudgery of the 9-to-5 grind. Facebook groups offer valuable information and support. Whatever your specialty or niche, you can likely find a Facebook group for it. Within these groups, people share their successes and failures, ask questions and throw out ideas. These are motivating and inspiring discussions that can have a much wider reach than they did before the days of social media.

6. LinkedIn Groups

You can do more with LinkedIn than create a digital resume. Like Facebook, but on a more professional level, are LinkedIn groups. LinkedIn groups are especially good for career guidance and networking.

To be fair, you may already be aware of some or all the tools we mentioned. What we hope we’ve demonstrated here are our ways to help you embrace what’s available to you and get you closer to financial freedom.

[Editor’s Note: Saving money and paying off debt can be an important part of any financial plan and can even benefit your credit. You can see how your spending behaviors are affecting your credit by viewing two of your free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.]

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

18 Data-Based Tips for Saving on Car Insurance

The complexities of car insurance pricing, made even more complex by varying state coverage requirements, can make finding the right policy for you an incredibly frustrating ordeal for countless consumers. Oh yeah, and coverage can be pretty expensive.

As a licensed insurance agent, I know a few more tricks than the average consumer to help lower that auto insurance premium. So, in an attempt to help bring transparency to the world of car insurance, here are some data-verified savings tips, culled from The Zebra’s State of Auto Insurance Report.

1. Avoid Letting Your Insurance Coverage Lapse

Even after being insured for just one year, rates drop 7.7%. The discount for maintaining continuous insurance offered by most companies is also affected by the amount of liability coverage on your policy. The higher your limit of liability, the better your prior insurance discount will be.

2. Consider Bundling

Bundle your auto policy with homeowner’s insurance and you could save an average of $110 per year or bundle renter’s with auto to possibly save $72 per year.

3. Do Some Research

Take a few minutes to learn about which companies, minimum coverage requirements and other factors apply to your state.

4. Get Ahead of the Game

Purchase your policy at least 10 days before you need it activated for a better rate. This is especially helpful if you know your policy is coming up for renewal and you want to switch to a new company.

5. Pay in Full Up Front for Your Policy

Drivers save an average of $62 per year by paying in full rather than an installment plan.

6. Shop When You Move

If moving to a new state — or even a new ZIP code — make sure to shop for a new policy. The most expensive state for insurance (Michigan) is almost three times as expensive as the least (Ohio), so you could be in for huge savings depending on the state you’re leaving (or increases, so make sure you’re informed).

7. Boost Your Credit

Drivers who increase their credit score by one tier save an average of 17% off their annual premium. (You can see two of your credit scores for free, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com to find out where you stand.)

8. Buy an Older Car

A 5-year-old version of a certain model is nearly 13% less expensive to insure than its current model year version.

9. Provide Your VIN When Getting Quotes 

Most new vehicles come with factory alarms so giving your VIN might help you qualify for an anti-theft device discount.

10. Drive Safely

While this is a good idea for your own well-being and that of others around you, of course, you’ll also save yourself from a potential rate increase.

11. Remember: Not All Car Insurance Companies Are Created Equal

They have unique business models designed to serve certain types of drivers who pose different levels of risk. Make sure to find the right fit for your needs and behaviors.

12. Don’t Stop Looking

It’s a good idea to shop around every six months to see if a new insurance company or policy fits you better and compare car insurance quotes to make sure you’re considering all rating factors and companies applicable to your unique needs.

13. Go Paperless

Agreeing to go paperless and signing your policy documents electronically can lead to discounts with some providers, so consider opting in and providing your email address when buying a new policy.

14. Tout Your Education

Listing your highest level of education can lead to a lower rate because many companies use it as a rating factor and may even offer discounts for college grads. Check the answer to that question on your policy; you could be leaving money on the table.

15. Consider Usage-Based Insurance

If you live close to work and are a safe, low-mileage driver, you may want to consider adding a telematics device in your vehicle to share your driving behavior with your insurance company. Having this device on your car may be able to save you up to 30% on your coverage, based on your driving habits and other regulations.

16. Study Up On Insurance Lingo 

Spend some time researching and reading to help you understand what you’re buying and make sure it actually fits your needs. There is no one-size-fits-all car insurance policy.

17. Make it Automatic

Consider signing up for auto pay or electronic funds transfer (EFT) instead of receiving a bill. Many providers offer a discount for doing this, which can certainly add up over time.

18. Venture Out on Your Own

Have you been listed as a driver on someone else’s policy for at least six months? Most insurance companies will offer a discount on your own separate policy.

You can see the full list of data-based tips for saving on car insurance on Credit.com

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

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