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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.
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: 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: Thursday, November 09, 2017 @ 5:11 PM
— When you're buying a home, getting the best possible mortgage rate can have a positive effect on your finances for years to come.
Depending on how large your mortgage is and how long you stay in your home, it can save you thousands of dollars over the life of the loan.
Look beyond a 30-year fixed rate.
A 30-year fixed rate is the standard loan, but it's not the only option. If you can handle a higher monthly payment, you can save a significant amount over time by getting a 15-year mortgage.
Although you'll pay more each month, you'll get a lower interest rate and be able to pay off your home much quicker. In addition, more of your early payments go toward paying down the principal, according to The Motley Fool.
Improve your credit score if it's low.
It's important to keep your credit score in good shape because it helps determine how many loan options you'll have as well as the interest rate you'll pay. Check your score with each agency – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – and correct any mistakes. If needed, delay getting a loan until you can improve your score by paying off debt and paying every bill on time.
The Simple Dollar looked at mortgage interest rates based on three different credit rates. The lowest credit score used (620) would cost the borrower more than $99,000 over the life of the loan when compared to a higher score (over 760).
Beef up your down payment.
Most lenders like to see at least a 20 percent down payment in order to get the best mortgage loan rate, according to Forbes. If you pay less, you may have a higher rate since the lender will consider you to be at higher risk of defaulting.
You'll also have to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI), which protects the lender's interests in case you default on the loan.
Get more than one quote.
Most people get just one mortgage quote, consumer adviser Clark Howard says. He recommends shopping around and getting quotes from multiple lenders, including a local bank, a credit union and a few online lenders.
Each inquiry will be recorded on your credit report, so you should get your quotes within a two-week period. That way, it doesn't look like you're applying for multiple loans.
Consider paying points.
Lenders will often give you the option of paying for discount points up front in exchange for lowering your interest rate. These fees are paid directly to the lender, and one point costs 1 percent of your mortgage amount.
Published: Wednesday, November 08, 2017 @ 2:33 PM
— If you're trying to build up your savings, you may be wondering where it's best to stash your cash – in a piggy bank or in a savings account.
The best choice depends on what works for you. Do you need to keep your money harder to access, or does seeing it accumulate give you an incentive to keep saving?
It allows you to save a little at a time.
A piggy bank can help break your goal down into manageable amounts, according to a financial planner writing for USA Today. He says it's a good reminder of the value of saving consistently. When broken down into small daily goals, even a large purchase, trip or other expense seems much more achievable, he says.
It reinforces the idea of saving.
A piggy bank lets you literally see your savings grow. This is not only a good lesson for kids, but it also helps remind adults to "always be saving," according to Great Midwest Bank.
It's painless and simple.
Clark.com's Michael Timmerman touts the "$5 and change savings challenge" that encourages participants to stash their $5 bills and change in a piggy bank. He likes its simplicity and the fact that you can easily customize it, saving $1 bills if you'd prefer.
You can make a game of it.
An editor at Get Rich Slowly started saving coins at home, and soon it became a game to see how much could be accumulated. The editor began altering purchases in order to get more change back, and in seven months, without any deprivation, the coins added up to $723.
You can put your savings on autopilot.
You can pay yourself before you ever see your paycheck if you sign up to have a small percentage of each check diverted to your savings account. Bankrate says this "out of sight, out of mind" strategy works for many people.
Your money is safe.
A stash of money at home could be stolen or destroyed in a fire or other disaster. Money in a member Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation bank is insured, according to Ally.
You'll earn interest on your money.
Savings account interest rates are at historic lows, Forbes says, but online banks tend to offer rates that are a little bit better than their brick-and-mortar counterparts. The site also says that several online banks have raised their rates in recent months.
It's harder to spend.