Cyber Monday Shopping Guide: How to get a great deal

Published: Monday, November 27, 2017 @ 6:11 AM

For those who want nothing to do with the madness that comes with Black Friday and prefer to spend the day after Thanksgiving digesting with loved ones, Cyber Monday provides the chance to scoop up similar doorbuster savings online. As the Internet continues to grow as a popular destination to buy gifts during the holidays, this e-shopping event is poised to make history again this year. Last year, Cyber Monday generated over $3.45 billion and retail experts predict an increase in overall online purchases this year.

The keys to doing Cyber Monday right

Though shopping online is certainly less chaotic than shopping in store, the recent frenzy of Cyber Monday sales promotions is overwhelming and those who try to tackle it without a plan may end up getting duped out of a deal. To streamline the buying process and make sure you snag savings with less stress, follow these smart cyber shopping tips.

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Keep your payments safe

Cyber Monday is a workday for many of us which means shopping over our lunch hours and from remote locations. Often, this means sharing personal payment information over public networks which puts your financial information at risk. Always use a secure connection to make a purchase and not those available at your local coffee shop. Also, be sure to use a credit card as it offers multiple layers of protection against hackers.


Since you won’t have a lot of time on Monday to scout products and deals, use the time leading up to Cyber Monday to conduct a little pre-shopping. Sign up for newsletters and notifications from the retailers you plan to shop at for sneak peeks into Cyber Monday deals. You should also follow your favorite brands on Facebook and Twitter, as retailers are increasingly active on these channels, posting sale updates and exclusive deals throughout the day.

Prep your browser

Bookmarking the retailers with whom you plan to shop will save you a lot of time on Cyber Monday. You can even start loading up online shopping carts with desired items and save them for checkout. Fill in payment information including shipping and billing addresses to make the process even faster come Monday. Then download such browser add-ons like InvisibleHand to avoid over paying. The tool sends you alerts when something you’re shopping for is priced for less elsewhere.

Stack savings

Many Cyber Monday sales represent site-wide savings, but often you can save even more by hunting down coupon codes. Head to or another trusted deal site for access to hundreds of codes to top retailers. You can also use Honey, an online tool that scours the Internet for available codes and provides them to you before checkout. Lastly, search for discount e-gift card codes from sites like Gift Card Granny or These arrive in your inbox within minutes so you can apply it to your order almost instantly for deeper discounts.

RELATED: 10 ideas to help you save money on the holidays

Track price fluctuations

The sad truth is that shopping online is more perilous from a price perspective than buying in-store. That’s because e-retailers can change their prices multiple times throughout the day and nearly instantly to stay competitive. Such fluctuations can result in a higher online order if you purchase at the product’s peak price. In fact, Forbes recently reported Amazon changed prices on tens of millions of products over 3,000 times during Cyber Monday week last year. To keep price changes in check, use online tools like to track sales and receive price drop notifications.

Read return policies

Returning an online order can be a pain, both from a process and budgetary perspective. Reading online return policies before you make a purchase can save you a lot of headache. In addition to return shipping costs, you may be charged restocking fees on large purchases like electronics and appliances. Some stores pay for return shipping while others allow you to return online orders to their physical stores free of charge. You also want to determine if you’ll receive a refund or get a merchandise credit for your return.

Know what to shop for

Despite retailers’ best intentions to convince you otherwise, not everything is a good buy on Cyber Monday. Knowing what the top offers are beforehand will keep you focused on buying only those items that represent a good deal. Gadgets, shoes and cookware are all typically great buys on Cyber Monday. It’s typically better to hold off on purchases like toys and winter apparel until prices drop further closer to the holiday.

Understand free shipping

Shipping isn’t free if you have to spend more to qualify for it. Many online retailers require a minimum order to get free delivery knowing that shoppers are willing to add more to their online cart in order to dodge this charge. However, you can get around this without buying more. Instead, sign up for free trials of two-day shipping services or look for retailers who offer a local pick-up option instead.

Be on scam alert

The best way to avoid being scammed on Cyber Monday is to know the most popular methods used by the unscrupulous among us. Tech guru Shelly Palmer from Huffington Post does a great job rounding up the top five ways you will be hacked on Cyber Monday. Some of these hacks simply require you to pay attention to things like grammar, spelling and anything that seems “off.” If a deal seems too good to be true it probably is, and you should not proceed until you know the site or promotion is legitimate.

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Financial experts say you should do these things with your tax refund

Published: Thursday, February 22, 2018 @ 6:13 PM

‘Tis the season for taxpayers to get a nice chunk of change back from the IRS.

It’s tempting to spend it all, but financial experts say there are steps you should take to shore up your financial future. 

Some who usually pay off debt will splurge this year.

“I’m going to Japan in April so I’m actually going to add that to my travel fund, so I’m really excited about it,” said Olivia Morris from Centerville.

Those who used to spend their return? 

“I just plan to save it. We are about to start a family, so I plan on saving it for the baby,” said Toska Ivory of Dayton. 

It’s important to have a plan for tax return funds or any financial windfall, said Lisa Roberts, Graceworks certified housing and credit counselor.

Pay urgent bills first then save. 

“If it’s something that is urgent -- a bill that’s going to be a roof over your head, utilities, pay them,” said Roberts, “after that you definitely want to put it into savings.”

WalletHub has these additional tax refund spending recommendations:

  • Invest in an IRS or 529 savings plan for your child’s education
  • Refinance your home loan if you can get a lower rate
  • Increase your home’s value by doing some home improvement projects. 

As for splurging? 

“If you do have the funds to do that once all of your debts and things are paid- and saving- then by all means you’ve earned it,” said Roberts. 

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Getting a tax reform bill bonus? 5 things to think about

Published: Thursday, January 04, 2018 @ 11:05 AM

(AP Photo/Hillery Smith Garrison, File)
(AP Photo/Hillery Smith Garrison, File)

Many companies have announced they will provide first quarter cash bonuses to employees following last month’s passage of the tax reform bill.

» RELATED: What to expect from the new tax legislation

While some may see this as money to spend immediately, PNC offered five things to think about for how to use the funds:

  1. Pay Down Debt—during the holidays, people tend to overspend, with much of those purchases being placed on credit cards. In fact, early reports are that U.S. year-end holiday retail sales rose 4.9% compared to the same period last year. Credit cards can have high interest rates, so to help minimize this, you might consider using the funds to pay down credit card or other debt and start off the New Year in a financially responsible way.
  2. Start an Emergency Fund—a money market account and other appropriate short-term savings vehicles provide easy money management and FDIC protection to help you achieve your savings goals. A money market account may be comprised of short-term securities representing high-quality, liquid debt and monetary instruments.
  3. Increase Your 401(k) Contribution—a 401(k) is an employer-retirement plan that, if your employer offers one and you are eligible to participate, can allow you to invest part of your paycheck before taxes are taken out. Many employers will match a portion of your contribution to this plan, helping your contribution make even more of an impact on your retirement well-being.
  4. Invest in an Individual Retirement Account (IRA)—an IRA can allow you to invest for retirement on a tax-deferred basis and your contributions may be tax-deductible. The deduction may be limited if you or your spouse is covered by a retirement plan at work and your income exceeds certain levels. For 2017 and 2018, your total contributions to all of your traditional and Roth IRAs for the year cannot be more than $5,500 ($6,500 if you are age 50 or older) or your taxable compensation for the year if less. Roth IRA contributions may be limited based on your filing status and income.
  5. Add to Your Child’s 529 Plan—there is no better time than the present to invest in your child’s education and the new tax reform bill expanded the use of 529 plans to cover expenses for grades K—12. A 529 plan is a tax-advantaged investment designed to encourage saving for the future higher education expenses of your child or beneficiary. There are two types of plans: prepaid tuition plans that allow you to pay for tuition and fees at designated institutions in advance; and, savings plans that are tax-advantaged investment vehicles, which allow you to save for future education costs.


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New tax law: What you need to know from local accountants

Published: Thursday, December 28, 2017 @ 9:12 AM

Filers look for tax tips

With the recent tax changes, the usual end-of-year assortment of tax moves is likely more complicated in 2017.

These changes affect everyone from single mothers to millionaires to most sports fans who buy event tickets.

“I’d love to tell you that everyone has a handle on this,” said Mark Bradstreet, founder of the Bradstreet & Co. Inc. accounting firm, which has offices in Centerville and Xenia. “I’m not sure anyone does. I would be suspicious if someone said they did.”

Prominent among the changes: The 1,000-page legislation recently passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump caps at $10,000 the amount of state and municipal taxes that taxpayers can deduct from their federal tax bill.

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Some filers — those with high property tax bills who aren’t using the standard deduction — are scrambling to pre-pay property taxes for the coming year before the cap takes effect, according to national reports. In 2017, that deduction has no ceiling.

Sweeping tax overhaul was signed into law.

While the new tax bill lets local municipalities decide whether to allow taxpayers to pre-pay property taxes, it blocked filers from pre-paying local sales and income taxes.

Bradstreet said it’s OK to pre-pay real estate taxes for most taxpayers. Montgomery, Greene and Warren counties will allow filers to pay property taxes early, he said.

“They’re all more than happy to take your money,” he quipped.

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If you fall under the alternative minimum tax (AMT) — and if you don’t itemize your deductions — paying property property taxes early won’t help, Bradstreet said.

“For most people, though, it’s ‘no harm, no foul’ pre-paying it this year,” he said.

But an IRS announcement was triggering more confusion early Thursday.

In a notice, the IRS said pre-paying property taxes may work, but only under certain conditions. Real estate taxes may be paid in 2017, but the taxes must also be assessed in 2017. 

William Duncan, a certified public accountant with Dayton firm Thorn, Lewis & Duncan, said taxpayers should check with accountants to see if they will fall under the AMT in 2017.

Duncan called the tax changes “wild.” With newly lowered tax brackets and higher standard deductions, he said he has clients with seven-figure incomes who will opt to take the standard deduction this year instead of itemizing.

That’s the first time in his career he has seen that, Duncan said.

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The standard deduction for married individuals filing jointly is $24,000, noted John Venturella, a Dayton shareholder with Clark Schaefer Hackett.

“I think you are just going to see a lot of people using the standard deduction,” Venturella said.

The new law introduces some wrinkles for University of Dayton Flyers or other college and professional sports fans, too.

If you buy University of Dayton basketball tickets in the lower arena and pay for a seat license, current law lets you deduct 80 percent of that as a charitable deduction. That benefit is going away in 2018, Duncan said.

The university is inviting ticket-holders to pre-pay for seat licenses in 2017, Duncan said, which Adam Tschuor, associate athletics director for revenue and partnerships at UD, confirmed.

“It may be to your advantage to pay for next season’s ASP (Arena Seating Program) donation or beyond before Jan. 1, 2018,” the university said in a letter sent to ticket-holders just last week. “These payments would still be tax deductible under existing tax law.”

Tschuor said the university has always allowed fans to prepay their “ASP donation in all the way up to the conclusion of the announced ASP cycle.”

Another change: Your tickets for UD, Wright State, Ohio State or Cincinnati Reds or Bengals games will no longer be tax-deductible as a business entertainment expense.

“If you’re a businessperson and you want to take clients to the UD game next year, you’re not going to be allowed to take a tax deduction for the entertainment value of those tickets,” Duncan said.

For businesses, Duncan said it’s important this year to try to defer whatever income you can, push it to 2018, and pay the expenses you can in 2017.

Most accountants scoff at the notion, pushed by the bill’s proponents, that it has simplified the tax code. For higher-income earners in particular, as well as many small businesses, tax law remains at least as complex as ever. And the bill has injected a new layer of uncertainty because so many changes are temporary and could be reversed in a few years.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Donating to charities

December is a critical fundraising month for charities. Many people make year-end gifts for tax reasons, or to extend the spirit of Thanksgiving and generosity to those less fortunate. Here are a few dos and don’ts when it comes to charitable giving.

DON’T succumb to high-pressure, emotional pitches. Giving on the spot is never necessary, no matter how hard a telemarketer or door-to-door solicitor pushes it. The charity that needs your money today will welcome it just as much tomorrow – after you’ve had time to do your homework.

DO think before you give. If you are solicited at the mall or on the street, take a minute or two to “think.” Ask for the charity’s name and address. Get full identification from the solicitor and review it carefully. If you decide to donate, don’t give cash. Write a check made payable to the charitable organization, not an individual.

DO check out the charity carefully. Make sure you feel comfortable with how your money will be spent. Don’t just take the word of someone else; even good friends may not have fully researched the charities they endorse. Go to to verify that a charity meets BBB Wise Giving Alliance’s 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.

DON’T assume that only “low overhead” matters. How much money a charity spends on the actual cause – as compared to how much goes toward fundraising and administration – is an important factor, but it’s not the whole story. A charity with impressive financial ratios could have other significant problems such as insufficient transparency, inadequate board activity and inaccurate appeals.

SOURCE: Better Business Bureau

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5 fast facts that will help make filling out FAFSA a breeze

Published: Wednesday, December 13, 2017 @ 10:32 AM

The following points are what you need to know, as well as common mistakes to avoid when filling out the FAFSA Fill it out – you have nothing to lose The sooner you submit your FAFSA, the better Gather the information you'll need Watch out for common mistakes like leaving fields blank Keep an eye out for requests for more information

It's that time of year again when parents and college or college-bound students fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

The idea of wading through a form – especially one that requires financial information – is definitely not an appealing idea, but the FAFSA could be a tremendous help in getting your student money to attend college.

RELATED: 20 financial aid terms every college student and parent should understand

The following points are what you need to know, as well as common mistakes to avoid when filling out the FAFSA.

Fill it out – you have nothing to lose.

You may think that you don't need to fill out the FAFSA, especially if you believe you might not qualify for need-based aid. But there's no income cut-off point with federal student aid, according to the U.S. Department of Education. In addition, the FAFSA can help you qualify for all kinds of grants, loans and scholarships, including those offered by your state, school or private organizations.

By investing a few minutes of time, you could reap thousands of dollars in potential rewards.

Submit it ASAP.

The sooner you submit your FAFSA, the better, according to consumer adviser Clark Howard. Although the federal deadline isn't until June 30, 2018, you should check with the financial aid administrator at colleges you're interested in to make sure their deadlines aren't earlier.

Submitting earlier will help you plan how you'll pay for college. You'll also have a better chance of getting as much aid or scholarship money as possible since some colleges distribute their available money on a first-come, first-serve basis, Howard says.

Gather the information you'll need.

The FAFSA asks questions about the student as well as his or her parents if the student is a dependent.

You'll need the following information on hand as you fill out the FAFSA:

  • The student's Social Security number
  • The parents' Social Security numbers
  • Driver's license number (if you have one)
  • Alien registration number (if you're not a U.S. citizen)
  • Federal tax information for the student (and his or her spouse, if applicable) and the parents. This can often be imported online, so you may not need your records.
  • Information on the student's and parents' assets, such as money held in bank accounts and real estate holdings (not your primary residence)
  • Records of the student's or parents' untaxed income, such as veterans benefits and interest income

Watch out for common mistakes.

The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators points out some common mistakes that can delay your form's submission or cause you to not get the aid and scholarships you might qualify for. They include the following:

  • Leaving some fields blank – Instead, put in a "0" or "not applicable."
  • Listing an incorrect Social Security or driver's license number – It pays to recheck these numbers.
  • Failing to use your legal name – Use the name on your Social Security card, not a nickname.
  • Forgetting to list colleges – Even if you're not sure of which college you'll be attending, add any reasonable possibilities to the list of colleges that will receive your information. You're under no obligation to apply to or attend these colleges, and they can't see which other colleges you're interested in.

Keep an eye out for requests for more information.

Your FAFSA may be selected for verification, which means you'll have to provide some additional or supporting information, U.S. News & World Report explains. This process doesn't necessarily mean you've done anything wrong. You may have a discrepancy or mistake on your form, but some FAFSAs are just randomly selected for verification (lucky you!).

These requests will often come to the student's personal email account or university email address, so he or she will have to be diligent about checking it and responding to any requests by the stated deadline.


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