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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.
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.
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.
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.
Many Cyber Monday sales represent site-wide savings, but often you can save even more by hunting down coupon codes. Head to CouponSherpa.com 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 Cardpool.com. These arrive in your inbox within minutes so you can apply it to your order almost instantly for deeper discounts.
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 CamelCamelCamel.com to track sales and receive price drop notifications.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Published: Wednesday, December 13, 2017 @ 10:32 AM
— 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.
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:
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:
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!).
Published: Wednesday, November 22, 2017 @ 12:01 PM
— With the recent massive security breach of Equifax — one of the three credit bureaus with which many may have thought their private information was safer than most — now many people are dealing with more insecurities, wondering where they can entrust their private information, if anywhere.
Here are some options:
Better and cheaper than credit monitoring, an option for optimal security is freezing your credit through each of the three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion), according to WSB money expert Clark Howard at Clark.com.
The fee is $3 to $10 per person per bureau, depending on your state, to allow you to seal your credit reports — except now it's free with Equifax from here on out due to the recent data breach.
You will be provided with a personal identification number (PIN) that only you know and can be used to temporarily unfreeze (or "thaw") your credit when legitimate applications for credit and services need to be processed such as when you are buying a car.
This added layer of security means thieves can't establish new credit in your name even if they are able to obtain your personal information.
LifeLock vs. CreditKarma.com
While LifeLock advertises it can help consumers secure their information to guard against identity theft, LifeLock charges monthly services that start at $10 a month.
This kind of credit monitoring is not the same or as effective as a credit freeze, said Craig Johnson for Clark.com.
Instead, he recommends CreditKarma.com for free credit monitoring.
If you haven't already frozen your credit, now would be the time since Equifax recently got hacked and the information of possibly 145.5 million people was attained by these hackers.
Information accessed primarily includes names, social security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver's license numbers.
To try to compensate, Equifax is offering free identity theft protection and credit file monitoring (but only through Jan. 31, 2018) with its TrustedID Premier.
Another point of confusion is the unsolicited free Dark Web Email Scan offered by Experian to your email, leading to a monthly fee for further scanning.
Experian IdentityWorks also offers a free 30-day trial membership for identity theft protection and resolution, involving a monthly automatic deduction of $9.99 for the plus plan or $19.99 for the premium plan.
It's free to cancel within the 30-day trial period, but the consequences are not revealed up front for those who decide to cancel their membership once the monthly fees begin.
Published: Friday, November 17, 2017 @ 4:17 PM
— Your house is a large expense with many associated costs like a mortgage payment, insurance, maintenance and more.
It provides a roof over your head, of course, but since it usually costs you money each month, why not put it to work for you and earn some cash in the process?
The following are four ways your house can make you money:
List your home with Airbnb or VRBO.
If you're planning to be out of town for a few days or don't mind bunking with a friend, you may be able to make some money by renting out your home through sites like Airbnb and VRBO.
Before jumping in, you'll need to take time to learn about the market, your expenses and any taxes you may need to pay. And before you list your property, you'll need to understand how to make it stand out with a good listing, including compelling photos and competitive pricing. Airbnb has a series of toolkits to help with this.
Rent it out to the area's growing TV and film industry.
When TV, film and commercial producers want to depict a home on screen, many times they'll rent the real thing, according to Money. It can be inconvenient for owners, however, since their homes may be taken over by a large crew and be completely rearranged.
On the other hand, homeowners often have fun with the experience while making some extra money. And while you're watching TV or a movie, you may be able to spot your home.
Host a foreign exchange student or faculty member.
Temporarily hosting a foreign exchange student or faculty member who's studying or teaching in this country can help you make some extra cash for anywhere from six weeks to six months at a time. You'll also be exposed to a different culture and language, and the experience could help you form a bond that lasts even when your guest returns home.
The Penny Hoarder suggests contacting student housing offices at local community colleges and universities, asking to be placed on their list of host families. After this, you'll have to apply, be interviewed, and allow your home to be toured. You'll also need to pass background and reference checks.
Rent out your driveway or storage space.
If you have extra space in your driveway, you may be able to make some money by letting others park there, according to Men's Health. This is especially true if you live near a commuter rail line or sports stadium, but you'll need to check to make sure you're not violating any local ordinances. Check out websites like JustPark to get started.
Published: Tuesday, November 14, 2017 @ 3:15 PM
— Health insurance has a large impact on your finances, so it pays to get the most out of your plan.
Understanding its ins and outs can be confusing, but it's worth your time to check on benefits you could be losing out on or mistakes that could cost you money.
Choose your plan carefully.
When it's time to renew your health care coverage, consumer adviser Clark Howard recommends not just blindly signing up for your current plan, even if you've been happy with it.
Your plan – as well as other options you may be able to sign up for – may have changed. Take a close look at the co-pays, deductibles, in-network providers and other specifics to make sure you're making the best possible choice.
Take advantage of preventative care benefits.
Almost every plan, according to healthcare.gov, offers preventative care benefits that are free. You won't have to pay a co-pay or meet your deductible to get these services at no charge.
Services for adults include age-appropriate vaccinations and colorectal cancer screenings for patients over 50.
Work within your formulary.
Health care plans typically have a formulary, which is a list of medications that they're willing to pay part of or the entire cost of. It may include a list of preferred medications, for which it will pay the highest percentage of the cost.
It pays to be familiar with your formulary before you get an unpleasant surprise at the pharmacy, according to NerdWallet. Print out a copy of the document from your health insurance company's website, or call up an online copy at your doctor's office. Your doctor can work with you to make sure you get an effective medication that you can afford.
Utilize HSAs and FSAs.
If your health insurance plans allow you to put aside tax-free dollars in a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flexible Spending Account (FSA), you should learn how they can help you. Consumer advisor Clark Howard's website, Clark.com, has a chart that explains the pros and cons of each.
An HSA is usually associated with high-deductible plans, and like an FSA, it helps you save money to pay for health care expenses. These can include everything from prescription eyeglasses to medication.
Watch out for surprise out-of-network charges.
Your insurance plan has a list of network providers, and when you can, you should stay in-network. That's easy enough if you're visiting a single doctor, but if you need to have surgery, things can get more complicated.
For pre-planned surgery, Consumer Reports recommends talking with your doctor's billing department to get a list of everyone who will provide your care, including radiologists and anesthesiologists. Call your health care company to see if they're in-network, and if not, ask your doctor if in-network providers can be used.