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Is it Common for Married Couples to have Separate Bank Accounts?

marriage - joint bank accounts question

Congratulations! You’ve made the leap into a lifetime together, and now you’ve joined your families, your friends and … your back accounts? Financials are an important topic in any relationship and become even more important as you make big steps towards building a life together. But, how do you do that? Is one joint account the answer, or should your keep your own accounts?

marriage - joint bank accounts question

Some newly-weds are concerned that separate bank accounts make it easier to keep your lives separate and to split up in the case of a rough-spot in your marriage. However, it is not uncommon to have married couples having separate accounts. A 2014 TD Bank Survey of people married or in long-term relationships who have joint bank accounts also have separate bank accounts. So, there’s no right or wrong answer for your banking set-up. What works for the couple next store doesn’t necessarily work for you. There are a few important steps to make sure that you’re your love and money both have a happily ever after.

Talk it Out

Before heading down the aisle, talking about the future is important. Amongst the discussions of career and family, the important though less exciting financial talks should happen. If you have yet to have The Money Talk, then make a date and get started. Everyone manages their money differently. Some people save every penny, while others splurge at every opportunity, and there’s every style in between. In The Money Talk, you both need to define and describe how you deal with money. And you have to do it honestly. Of course, we would all like to be that person who only spends responsibly and has healthy savings accounts. However, you can’t plan your financial future for yourself and for your new life partner without a clear understanding of your monetary ways.

When you both have an honest picture of your finances, share them with each other. How do you like to spend your money? Do you have credit card debt? What’s your credit history like? What are your savings goals? When would you like to retire? What is your current bank and what kinds of accounts do you have? Do you want to rent or buy a home? If you want to buy, when and how much do you want to have saved before buying? Do you have student loans? Do you want to go back to school? Do you want to travel the world? These kinds of questions are important to ask. You won’t have answers to them all, but the asking them is an important step. Be patient and don’t worry if you find some answers surprising. It’s normal. Finances can be a stressful topic. Some people are happy to review every penny and others freak out at the thought their accounts. The talk might be simple or complicated, but either way, the hardest part will be over with: starting The Money Talk.

Once you have an understanding of your financial situation along with your personal and couple goals, then you should talk to your banker. The first meeting with your banker (or bankers, if your accounts are at different institutions) is an informational one. No papers should be signed and no accounts opened or closed. Simply ask what your options are for both joint and separate accounts. Understand the logistics and costs. With this information, you’ll know a bit more of what to expect from the accounts aspect.

Decision Time

Based on your discussions and the information provided by your bankers, you can now make a decision about what kind of accounts you would like set-up. There are a range of options, though the three most basics ones are: one joint account, one joint account with two separate accounts, or two separate accounts. Any of these choices are great so long as you and your partner are comfortable with it. Pick the best option for the two of you, based on your needs and financial styles, not based on what you think you should have.

Set-up Your Accounts

When your decision is made, you can then start planning your accounts. Perhaps nothing will change. Perhaps you’ll combine your spending accounts for bills and monthly expenses, but keep separate savings ones. Perhaps you’ll merge everything, including some of your investments. Whatever the combination, you need to set-up certain check-ins. Responsibilities of who pays which monthly bill need to be decided. For large purchases, like a shopping trip or new computer, some couples will want to have a check-in before the purchase. For joint savings efforts, like vacations or a home down payment, some couples will want to discuss contributions, or even set up automatic ones. With these roles defined, you can move forward with your new financially joined lives.

Keep On Talking

Of course, finances change as life does. With promotions and layoffs, holidays and vacations, births and deaths, different situations require emotional and pragmatic consideration. When these changes arise, you’ll need to address how that will affect your spending. For good or for bad, these conversations need to happen. No one likes surprises (unless it’s the surprise of winning the lottery!), so it’s essential to have an open dialogue about money matters. Be prepared to share your concerns and expectations, and to change your earning and spending based on what’s needed for your relationship.

Conclusion

There is no one correct way to set up your financial systems as a married couple. With a range of options, you need to figure out the best one for you two. And there’s nothing to say that you might change your account set-up in the future. As your marriage evolves, your finances will, too. It’s important to stay honest, to be clear and direct. Your banking style can be wildly different from your partner’s, but with good communication and planning, that difference will not only not be a problem, but could provide valuable new perspective. Building a happy marriage takes lots of love and hard work. Put some of that hard work towards your collective finances and it will certainly pay off.

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Comparing the Discover it and Chase Freedom 5x Categories

There’s nothing like getting paid to pay. It some ways, the now popular cash back cards feel like they’re providing free money. As folks say, ‘if it seems too good to be true, it probably is’. Yes, cash-back cards are not the gravy train. As with any credit card balance, the 5% cash-back is quickly outweighed by the much more significant Annual Percentage Rate. However, a well-chosen cash-back card can be a valuable tool to keep in your wallet.

Two of the favorited cash-back cards are the Discover It and the Chase Freedom cards. They have reached this popularity because of their appealing 5% cash-back feature. In both cases, this attractive percentage is accessible to purchases that fall within certain categories. In order to choose one card over the other, the long-term factor that will affect your cash-back are these categories.

Discover ItChase Freedom

The Similarities

For both cards, the categories that earn 5% change quarterly. Every three months, you need to shift your mental spending to take advantage of the increased percentage. If you purchase outside of the categories, you’ll receive 1% cash-back. The price is right for this card, as neither one has an annual fee. Both cards have the same spending limit on which you can earn the prized 5%. You can spend up to $1500 in the quarterly categories and therefore receive up to $75 in cash-back.

Category Authorization

Both cards also use a category activation system that requires the cardholder to activate their access to these categories. This activation means that you have to log in to your account online or call to confirm that you will be purchasing in these categories and want to earn 5% instead of that measly 1%. This extra step is seemingly unnecessary and a pitfall for those who forget to activate. You’d think that it’s straightforward that people who are using the card would want to access the better cash-back rate.

For the category authentication, both cards have their strengths within this system. Discover It has no end date for when you can authorize your card to access these categories. The Chase Freedom card authorization period ends about two weeks before the quarter closes, which could leave some people out in the cold. The Chase Freedom card , however, has a clear email and text reminder system to make sure that you don’t miss your window (and have the widest window possible). And once you activate it, it provides the 5% on all combined purchases made within the quarter.

Current Quarter

To begin, let’s look at this quarter: July to September 2016. The Discover It card will give you 5% back for purchases at home improvement stores and on Amazon.com. If you’re planning some small home renovations, this category could provide a big benefit. You could easily earn 5% ‘off’ of your reno, as the category is quite open as to the range of business it allows. Instead of providing a list of authorized establishments, Discover provides a description of the type of business. However, if you’re not planning renovations, the category isn’t that useful. Some Amazon.com purchases could provide certain cash-back opportunities, but likely you won’t near the same benefit.

The Chase Freedom card offers the 5% for restaurant tabs and purchases at wholesale clubs. Chase provides a lengthy list of the eligible restaurants, which they describe as places where their primary business is eat-in or sit-down dining. For example, almost every fast-food restaurant you can imagine is listed. However, hotel and casino restaurants, as well as grocery store cafes and bakeries are not eligible. However, you can earn 5% back at the grocery section of wholesale clubs, like Costco. This category is more useful to the average consumer, as food purchases, whether at restaurants or bulk groceries, are a common expense.

In the current quarter, you could be a big winner with Discover It’s home renovation plans and the more significant purchases that come along with that. However, most consumers will have better luck earning 5% back within the Chase Freedom restaurant and wholesale club category. You may not max out your $1500 allowance, but the category is still more accessible.

Next Quarter

Looking forward, we head to the last quarter of the year: October to December. Of course, this quarter holds the holiday shopping season. Both cards are holding out on the final category details. Perhaps the suspense adds to the end of year cheer, but it can make it difficult to pick the better holiday shopping companion.

We do know that the Discover It card will provide you with 5% on all your Amazon.com purchases. For those who don’t want to leave their home for the mall, this cash-back category could be a boon. The Chase Freedom card will continue to offer the 5% on wholesale club purchases. Looking towards the hearty eating season that it is, you could get all your holiday groceries at a great cash-back rate. However, the biggest winners of the quarter are yet to be announced.

Past Categories

Looking back to the fourth quarter of 2015, we can see what kinds of categories could appear. Of course, the categories change and are rarely the same year to year, but it provides some context. The Discover It card provided 5% at Amazon.com, department stores, and clothing stores. The Chase Freedom card provided the great rate at Amazon.com, zappos.com, audible.com and diapers.com. Here, the Discover It card seems to come out the better option based on the wide range of store types, rather than specific websites. However, the preference really depends on whether you like to shop online or in person.

Conclusion

For this year, the Chase Freedom cash-back card is the best card to earn higher cash-back on everyday purchases. Everyone needs to eat, and you could earn on food bills or restaurant tabs. Home renovation and online shopping at Amazon.com is more niche, though highly useful for those consumers who fall into that niche. However, the release of the fourth quarter categories will be a key comparison point. Keep an eye out for the announcement, as it will likely come out in mid-September.

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Review of American Express Blue Cash Everyday rewards Card with Tina Fey

Haven’t you always wanted to be shrimp-rich? How about high-end doggie toys? Or have enough cheesies to ride out any storm? Well, all of these desires can come true while you can earn between 1 and 3 percent cash-back on them, just likely the hilarious Tina Fey. Fey is featured in a series of ads for American Express Blue Cash Everyday® Rewards card showing how you can earn cash-back in some delightfully funny everyday ways.

AMEX Blue Cash with Tina Fey

Earning Cash Back

Although you may not be as indulgent or as quick-witted as Fey, this American Express card will also allow you to enjoy earning money back on your regular purchases. The biggest winner is at the supermarkets. You can earn 3% cash back at certain U.S. supermarkets such as Stop and Shop, Foodtown and Whole Foods. Just like Fey, you can earn 3% on your food bill up to $6,000 annually, after $6000, your earning goes down to 1%. Next up are the gas stations. Earn 2% on your gas station purchases. There’s no limit, but the stations must be on an approved list, such as Gulf and Shell. Purchases at at grocery store gas stations, like Costco don’t make the 2% cut though. The 2% also applies to certain department stores, like J.C. Penny, Sears and Saks Fifth Avenue. For anything else you put on your card, you’ll receive 1% cash-back. With these categories and the range of eligible stores, you’ll easily be able to quickly earn cash-back. Plus, all of these earnings are available for a $0 annual fee.

Spending Your Cash-Back

Once you earn $25 in cash-back, you can start spending it. You put any special item or travel you’re interested in on your Amex card, and you can pay it off using your Cash-Back account. You can apply the cash in increments of 25. There are a couple downsides of the Blue Cash Everyday Cash Back. Unlike some other cash-back systems, you cannot get cash in hand. Cash back is only applicable to purchases on your card. There’s no way to retrieve the money from your account except as credit. In addition, you can’t use this Cash-Back for your Minimum Due payment.

Sign-Up Bonus and Annual Percentage Rate

If you’re signing up for this card for the first time, you can take advantage of their welcome bonus. If you spend $1000 in the first three months of your account approval, you’ll receive 10% back in cash. And you can earn cash-back on purchases made on your card and any additional cards associated with your account. That $100 can be spent on any purchase you make. Perhaps an even better introductory offer is the 0% Annual Percentage Rate (APR) for new purchases. This intro APR is also charged on balance transfers requested within 30 days of opening your account. You could move a balance and pay it off over those first 12 months, which saves you the interest that you would pay elsewhere. The first 12 months are a very inexpensive time to borrow money. After that, the APR will go up to somewhere between 13.24% and 23.24%, depending on your creditworthiness.

Travel Perks

American Express is generally a great travel card. The insurances that come with the card are handy, though, with the Blue Cash Everyday card you receive cash-back for everyday purchases, not for those when you’re traveling. Though you may encounter lots of points for shopping at the approved list of retailers during domestic travels, you won’t be earning 2 to 3% cash back on those purchases.

You can use your cash-back for booking trips and cruises through American Express Travel and its partners. You also receive the range of travel benefits and insurances that come along with the card. When renting a vehicle, your AMEX card covers your Loss and Damage insurance. Heaven forbid something happens on the road, but if it does, your card provides a roadside assistance hotline. Call them to organize a boost or a tow, and they’ll coordinate it. If you’re near home, it’s likely not that useful of a service, but when traveling, it can be a huge relief to let someone else take care of all those calls. But remember, you’re responsible for all charges. Worse, imagine if you’re abroad and your passport gets stolen. Or you catch a severe flu and you need to find an English-speaking doctor. The Global Assist Hotline will direct you in your emergency if you’re traveling more than 100 miles from home. You are also responsible for any fees for the services arranged. The card also includes a travel accident insurance, which I hope you will never use.

Shopping with Protection

You can do your shopping with a bit more peace of mind because of the extended warranties and purchase protection. Purchases made on your card with between 1 and 5 year warranties get an automatic additional year of coverage. If that new shiny item gets stolen or damaged within the first three months, you’re also covered. If those new kicks that arrived in the mail don’t fit and the shop wouldn’t allow you to return them, you can get up to $300 back for that mis-sized set under the Return Protection coverage. With the Blue Cash Everyday card, you also get access to ShopRunner, an online store similar to Amazon Prime, but with specific member deals and high-end brands.

Conclusion

The American Express Blue Cash Everyday card is a great option to earn cash-back on those everyday purchases. Since you’ll be buying groceries, gas and clothing anyway, it might as well provide a nice cash-back return to you. Although the cash-back is only eligible for card credit, you card can be used to buy almost anything, so it’s not a huge hindrance. Plus, these earnings are available for no annual fee. The travel and shopping perks are not unique to this particular American Express, but they are nice. The real benefit of this card is the cash-back for no fees and for a great introductory APR. If you use it right, this card will simply pay you back for your everyday spending. As Fey notes with her twenty bags of cheesies, you could be “Living the Dream”.

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How Much Credit Card Debt is Too Much?

Credit Card Debt

According to the 2015 Federal Reserve study, the average US household credit card debt is $15,863, based on a NerdWallet analysis. That amount seems fairly significant to some, not so surprising to others. To a creditor, that looks like a lot of profit! Your interpretation of the average level of household debt is similar to the answer to the question of credit card debt. There is a range of answers that we’ll dive into, but the simplest one is: any.

To clarify, any balance you carry into a new month where you are charged interest is too much. Think of it in the inverse: if someone offered you a 17.93% (or whatever percentage your credit card interest rate happens to be today) return on an investment each year. That would seem too good to be true – that’s the kind of return only stock market legends can make. You’re right to be skeptical because it’s a serious amount of money. Somehow with credit cards, we let the severity of that amount slide for the convenience of the card.

Some people love the thrill of playing with other people’s money. This is can be a great plan, if you play it well. For example, you could make a small renovation to your home to improve its value all completed on a 12 month 0% interest credit card. You could very well come out ahead with an improved home value and an essentially free loan if you pay the balance off within the 12-month period. If you start paying interest on the balance, your future financial gains from the home improvement could soon be lost with the cost of your credit card interest payments.

Credit Card Debt

The notion that any balance is too much credit card debt comes from the idea that you start paying for your loan. Credit cards are useful tools, but are the most expensive types of loans. Normally, credit cards provide very convenient small loans. You charge something to your credit card, and then you have a month grace period to pay it off before interest is charged. When you carry a balance on your credit card, though, this grace period can disappear. During the first month, you can have a balance for free. During the second month with a balance remaining, instead of being charged interest on your second month’s purchases at the end of the second month, you’re being charged interest on the entire balance you’re carrying. If you carry over $1 from the previous month, you may loose your grace period. This means that you pay interest on the last months and on any new charge from the moment it hits your account. And with the power of compound interest, your debt will increase exponentially. Though a small balance can be manageable, what’s small for some people could turn into debilitating debt for others. Therefore, the best guideline to follow is any debt it too much debt.

Unfortunately, many people carry a balance on their credit card. This reality is clear from the Federal Reserve statistic and is likely familiar if you’ve click on this link. So, while the above rule is an important goal, it may not always be realistic. If you are carrying a balance above zero, there are a few indicators of what is a reasonable level of credit card debt.

When it exceeds 10 to 20 % of your Take-Home Income

To provide a guideline, bankruptcy expert Elizabeth Warren provides the 50/30/20 concept. Fifty percent of your income should first be spent on essentials of housing, food, transportation and utilities. The next 20 percent goes to financial obligations of savings and debt. Thirty percent goes to your lifestyle and your ‘wants’. This general financial rule helps build a healthy budget by covering your needs, your future and your wants. By this rule, if your credit card debt is taking up more than 20% of your monthly take-home income, then it’s too much. Twenty percent is high, as it assume that you’re not saving or investing any of that amount. However, to provide a personal limit and red flag, keep 20% as your rule of thumb. A lower level and of course, zero, is the goal, but 10% being half of your allotted amount for financial obligations is a reasonable level and 20% is the high-end.

When it’s Stressful

Holding debt can be stressful. It can weigh on your mind, put pressure on your time, your finances and your relationships with your family or significant other. Beyond any numerical amount, if your credit card debt is causing you emotional stress or keeps you up at night wondering about how you’ll make your next payment, then that amount is too much.

When the Credit Card Company Passes the Buck

Be wary of debt advice provided by credit card companies. These companies make money on your debt, so they are happy for you to hold a balance, so long as you eventually pay it off, and line their pockets with interest while doing so. However, there comes a point when even they say ‘enough.’ Your card limit is a standard cap for the amount of debt you can hold. However, that is as much as you can spend. Your accumulated balance and interest can be much higher than the limit. If you continue to pay the minimum, you can continue to hold build the interest and pay it off in the long, long terms. However, if you stop making payments, after about 150 days or 6 months, the credit card company will stop trying to collect from you and sell your debt to a collection agency. At this point, it is a huge, waving red flag that your debt is too much. Thankfully, there are laws in place to protect you from the severe collections harassment, but it’s not a pleasant experience once you owe to a collections agency.

Credit card debt is different for different people. Spending levels, stress levels, and income levels all weigh into your debt and your credit strategy. A rule of thumb is any balance carried to a new month is too much. However, if you’re seeking a more-than-zero limit, consider keeping 10 to 20% of your net income as the high-end amount of your credit card debt.

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How to Pay Off my Student Loans Faster

how to pay off my student loan faster

Student loans are a great investment in your future. By improving your level of education, you can increase your personal skills as well as your earning power. However, education doesn’t come cheap. Some sort of degree or diploma is now viewed as the new high school degree with regards to the educational entry level requirement for many jobs. More and more, a Master’s degree or further education is also required to differentiate yourself in your field. Having these degrees under your belt are valuable, but unless you’ve had the top-end of scholarship opportunities, you’re likely coming away from your graduation day with school debt.

The Realization

If you’re anything like me, you didn’t realize the full weight of your school debt until after you graduated. Your realization may have come when your bank or lender sent you a nice letter outlining what kind of payment they were expecting since you’ve graduated from school into the real world. That letter usually contains some surprisingly large monthly number for an even more surprisingly large number of years. Sure, we all understand that you’ll need to pay the money back eventually. But that first statement letter is a big wake-up call for adult realities.

Next Steps

First off, don’t panic. Although your student loans can be a big debt to carry, it has been a good investment. Compare it to credit card debt: instead of buying things that devalue very quickly, you bought an education that increases your personal value. Sure, perhaps you could have limited some of the loans, but overall, the investment in education is a good one. Now that you’re out in the real world, you can focus on how to pay down that loan as quickly as possible.

Read the Fine Print

It may have been a while since you reviewed your loan documents, so it’s time to put those college smarts to use and review them. What are the terms of your loan? Is there a penalty for paying it off too quickly? (I know it seems ridiculous to have that as a term, as well as an actual payment option, but it’s still very common.) When you understand the terms of your loan, you’ll have a better idea of how best to pay off your loan. Any particular terms or issues should be included in your pay-back plan.

how to pay off my student loan faster

Prioritize the Student Loan Payment

If you are serious about paying off your student loan quickly, you need to put its payments first. The most cost effective way to do so is to cut down your other monthly spending. Most people’s biggest monthly expenditure is rent. Imagine if you took 30 to 50 percent of your take-home income and instead of passing it on to your landlord, you put it on your student loan. That’s a lot of dollars that will make a significant dent in your loan, especially after one to three years. If you have family with whom you can stay for free or nearly-free, it is a highly recommended option. If you don’t have access to rent-free life, seek out your cheapest option. While you don’t want to live somewhere that requires new debt for a vehicle, a smaller, less HGTV-style apartment will cut your rent and increase the amount you put on your loan. If you’ve recently been a student, shared spaces with ‘character’ may be very familiar. Stick with this lifestyle and you’ll be in a much better place to afford a proper grown-up place of your own down the road.

Start Earning

Yep, it’s a simple task that’s more difficult to put into practice. If you’ve just graduated, it’s important to dig into your employment search. Put your skills to work and pull in that paycheque. If you have a job lined up, then you’re in a great spot. For a lot of people, though, graduating means hitting up those HR hotspots. Good job markets are competitive so don’t waste time getting started. With lots of applications, cover letters, LinkedIn connections, interviews, you’ll soon be bringing in cash to feed your hungry, hungry loan.

And Then Earn More to Pay More Than the Minimum

You read it right. To have the biggest impact on your debt, you need to pay as much as you reasonably can each month. Thankfully, there are so many ways to earn extra cash in-person and online. You can pick-up odd jobs on CraigsList, use your education to tutor local students or online, or freelance and get paid for your skills through sites like UpWork. Take that additional income and put it right on your monthly payment. This will help pay down the principal, which will save you money in the long-run by saving interest and will speed up your debt payment timeline.

Do Your Taxes

Yep, taxes can be helpful when you’re repaying your loan. You may be eligible for a tax deduction for the interest you pay on your student loan. If you meet the requirements, each year you can deduct $2,500 off your taxes. This deduction could put more cash in your pocket at tax time, which can be transferred, as always, to your loan payments.

Consider at Refinancing and Consolidating

Depending on the loan or loans you used to pay for school, you may want to consider refinancing and/or consolidating them. This means you re-work your loans to get a reduced interest rate, and one common way is to combine or consolidate multiple loans into a single larger loan. By paying less interest, you can focus on the principal and pay your loans off faster. An additional bonus is that it simplifies multiple loans, even a maxed out credit card debt, into one loan with one payment. All that fine print that you read on your loan will help you determine what is the best route for you. For many people, though, refinancing for lower interest rate and a simpler loan organization can make your life a lot easier.

Conclusion

Student loans are a good investment in your future. They can be a real-world wake-up call after graduation, but you can reduce the headache by taking a few key steps. Prioritizing your debt, reducing your spending, increasing your earning and reviewing your loan are all important steps. Use your new education to be strategic and smart to get ahead of your student debt.

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Review of the Virgin America Visa Signature and Premium Visa Signature Cards

Virgin America Visa Signature Cards

Credit cards and air travel go hand-in-hand. This pair works together well given the security of booking, the price point of flight tickets and the assurance of access to money anywhere you go. It’s natural that many airlines and hotel chains are interested in connecting with the credit card industry directly. Virgin America is no stranger to this connection with their pair of credit cards: the Virgin America Visa Signature and Virgin America Premium Visa Signature.

Virgin America Visa Signature Cards

Earning points

Purchases from Virgin Airlines will obviously be the big point-winner. For every dollar spent with Virgin America, you’ll receive 8 points. These points are coming from two point systems: five points for being a member of Elevate, their frequent flyer program, and three more points for using the Visa Signature card. For any other purchase on the card, you earn 1 point per dollar. The point value is $0.02 per point, which is a fairly high rate in comparison to other airline point systems. It’s worth noting that these points never expire while you use your card. This is a bit of a perk as under the Elevate program, points expire after 18 months if there’s no activity on your account. However, with the Virgin America card, by paying your annual fee and keeping your account in good standing, your points will remain available to you as long as you keep the card.

Annual Fee & APR

The Virgin America Visa Signature card will run you $49 annually while the Virgin America Premium Visa Signature card costs $149 per year. The Annual Percentage Rate ranges from 16.23 to 25.24 depending on your creditworthiness.

Sign-Up Bonus

If you’re looking to book a flight in the near future, the sign-up bonuses could provide you with a nice opportunity to fly for ‘free.’ With your annual fee and $1000 in spending on your new account within the first three months, you’ll earn 10,000 bonus points. These bonus points convert into $200 towards a flight. If you were planning on spending $1000 over three months anyway, you basically got a $200 flight for $49. Not to mention the future points earning that can convert into free flights. The Premium card will send you 15,000 points for the annual fee along with the $1000 in spending, which converts to $300 towards flights. The sign-up deal works out to the same cash savings of about $150 off either a $200 or $300 flight.

As an airline card, the perks are found at on your ticket and at the airport.

On Your Ticket

If you’re booking your travel with a companion, you get benefit from one voucher for $150 off their ticket each year you have the card. The $150 is eligible for the base fare (no fees or taxes) on round-trip flights. Make it count, because if you spend less than $150 on the ticket, the remainder of the voucher is lost. However, there are plenty of chances to maximize the voucher, as Virgin will email you the coupon code once your account is activated and you can use it anytime in the following year. Another benefit of using the card (though it’s a cross-benefit of the Elevate frequent flyer program) is that there are no black-out dates, so you can book at will! If you’re the type who enjoys the flexibility of changing or canceling your booking once its made, the Premium version of this card should be appealing. If you change or cancel your non-refundable booking, all fees will be waived. For any Virgin flights, you can change your ticket and simply pay the difference in fare.

At the Airport

Once you’re at the airport, your card gets you some nice benefits. On any Virgin flight booked on the card, you and your companion on the flight get one free checked bag. This perk can save you $25 per piece in fees. Once you’re checked in and your baggage is taking its free ride to the plane, your card lets you enjoy being the first on the flight with included priority boarding. Then, once you’ve settled into your seat ahead of the rest, you can enjoy discounted in-flight purchases. You receive 20% off of the in-flight entertainment system. There’s nothing better to pass the time in the air than an in-flight movie. Or, if you’d like to get some work done or snoop around the internet, you can use also use the wifi provided as a cardholder.

Premium’s Status Points Potential

If you’re an Elevate status member, the Premium card offers you some additional ways to collect Status Points. For every $10,000 you put on your card, you earn 5000 Status Points to a maximum of 15,000 points annually. Those 15,000 points will get you just shy of the 20,000 points needed for the Elevate Silver level. The basic Visa Signature card already gets you a lot of the perks that the Silver status gets you (such as a free first checked bag and priority boarding). However, if you reach the Silver level, you will enjoy 2 additional bonus points for each dollar spent on Virgin America flights. This could total very nice 10 points per dollar spent. With Silver, you also have 25% off a Main Cabin ticket once per year and complimentary upgrades to Main Cabin Select within 12 hours of your flight.

Conclusion

If you fly with Virgin America often, the Virgin America Visa Signature and Virgin America Premium Visa Signature cards are valuable assets. Their points are high-value for their ability to purchase tickets. The perks associated with the cards are also big money savers. Potentially two free checked bags for each flight and the annual companion coupon for $150 will pay off the annual fee quickly for either card.

Regarding the basic versus Premium card, most people will use the basic card’s benefits more often. The Premium card has some nice advantages, especially if you are looking to attain or increase your Status in the Elevate program. However, the Status points aren’t redeemable for flights, only for status levels, and they are much more difficult to attain. Unless you’re seeking Status, the basic card is the way to go.

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Review of Credit Ladder

Credit Ladder Review

Your credit report is an important part of your financial identity. A good credit report gets crunched by crediting scoring companies to produce a numerical score to relay your creditworthiness. This credit score will influence your ability to secure loans and credit cards, as well as what kind of interest rates you will be charged from the lenders.

Credit is built up over time. A major factor in your credit score is the length of your credit history. If you’re a young adult with only a credit card to your name, it will be difficult to get a loan, and if you do, you’ll likely have expensive terms because your young and therefore lower credit score.

Every month, you make a significant payment, reliably and on time. However, your rent paid is not counted towards your credit report or credit score. If you have a mortgage and pay that monthly payment reliably and on time, those payments will improve your score. Doesn’t seem fair, right? Well, thankfully, there are some innovative partnerships happening to fix this credit information gap. One company doing this out of the United Kingdom is Credit Ladder.

Credit Ladder Review

How it Works

Credit Ladder acts as an intermediary between you, your landlord and the credit history company. Once your account information is registered and confirmed, you pay Credit Ladder your rent each month using recurring online payments and Credit Ladder automatically sends it to your landlord. With this online record of payment, Credit Ladder submits it to their credit scoring partner, Experian, who will include in their credit report. Credit Ladder will even accommodate roommates and parental payment assistance.

The effect is similar to the positive effect of regular mortgage payments made by homeowners. Homeowners have taken a loan out and so their payments are directly connected to their credit, and they are also a clear, long-term payment history. For renters, the money paid is not paying back a debt, so there has not been a similar record available, until now. By paying through Credit Ladder, Experian has a secondary source verifying the provided data, which can then be added to its own credit history.

Credit Benefits

If you have a long history of car loans, credit cards and lines of credit, then the Credit Ladder service is not a necessity for you. However, for new creditors seeking their first or second loans or credit cards, Credit Ladder could make an important difference.

When your credit history is compressed into a three-digit credit score, data is needed. Without any credit history, it’s very difficult to produce a credit score that reflects a creditworthy person. The limited data doesn’t provide much information and so that person is seen as a high-risk lender. In addition to data needed, credit history length also makes up a significant proportion of the credit score’s algorithms, so your history’s length takes up significant weight in that calculation. Though a decade of good credit history will give better loan terms than a couple years, those couple years of a good, reliable credit history will improve your ability to receive the desired loans.

The concept of including rent within credit history and credit scoring is a new one. Experian is the first company to offer this kind of service, using Rental Exchange, however, rental reporting will only grow in popularity as credit companies seek to most accurately reflect creditworthiness.

Service Cost

Perhaps it’s unbelievable, but this program has no cost to the tenant or the landlord. Credit Ladder is a company under Makeurmovelimited. This company, even for the awkward spelling of their name, is a reputable online real estate agent company that works a lot with rental properties. This experience obviously led them to see this gap in the marketplace.

There are reports that Credit Ladder has plans to monetize the company, though it is currently at too early of a stage. However, it should be a noted that within the Privacy Policy, the company states that the may use the personal information collected about you to “provide third parties with statistical information about our users – but this information will not be used to identify any individual user.” It’s not clear if this is the intended monetization of the company, it is a consideration to the user that this information may be sold.

Conclusion

Credit Ladder is a great option for young adults or others with little credit history and who consistently pay their rent on time. However, if you have any worries about not meeting your rental payments, it will be recorded on your credit history and it will have the opposite of the desired effect. For most people, though, rent payments are made consistently and they take up a significant proportion of your income. Therefore, you might as well reap some benefit of the payment by improving your availability to receive credit and to improve the terms of those loans. In the long run, having these payments recorded online for free could save you money.

American Equivalents

If you’re located in the UK, Credit Ladder is a great option and they may expand to other markets in the future. However, for now, the options available in the United States are RENTTRACK and eCredible. RENTTRACK is not only partnered with Experian, with all three major credit-reporting companies to include your rental payments. They offer a wide range of services to both the tenant and landlord. Through their service, you can pay online and they also provide a sleek dashboard to monitor your credit score. However, there is a technology fee charged for this service. With eCredible, they provide a score based on your rent as well as a whole range of other regular bill payments. However, they aggregate this data into their own credit score system, AMP (All My Payments), of 0 to 100. This score could be worth the fee they charge for it if the lender you’re meeting with will accept the score, but as it’s not a nationally recognized score, that acceptance may be difficult.

Rent payment inclusion in credit history is an important step to better reflect the creditworthiness of tenants. Homeowners have seen the benefit of an improved credit score with mortgage payments, and this benefit is slowly being shared to everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

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10 Ways to Make Extra Money Online

Saving up for something special? Feeling strapped for cash? There are many reasons to seek some extra cash in your bank account. We work hard for our money, as the song says, but sometimes the paycheck doesn’t quite stretch as far as we’d like. Thankfully, in the internet age, there is a whole economy online that is accessible like never before. There are thoughtful, creative and sometimes wacky ways to earn money online.

work online

  1. Freelance

Getting paid for freelance work has never been easier. You can now access contacts and projects not only from your own network, but from across the world. Whether you like to write blog posts, transcribe interviews, do accounting design websites or build apps, there is a client out there for you. One of the biggest freelancing websites, UpWork, is used by over one million businesses to get work done. You charge your own rate, and the freelancing platform takes a certain percentage. However, the platform helps provide a guarantee to make sure you’re compensated for work completed. Though there are hundreds of different task types, it’s best to narrow in on your specialty and build a portfolio in that vein. Your work will look stronger, and it will become easier and easier to win contracts.

  1. Sell Your Stuff

People in North America spend a lot of money on storage. Whether it be a bigger home to store your stuff or a storage service. What if you saved money on storage and received money for that stuff. Open up your own ‘storefront’ and sell those items that are hanging around and you likely won’t use again. Great books, nice clothing, handy tools could all make you money. Create an account with e-bay, Amazon or even your local online classifieds, take nice photos of your stuff, be honest and reasonable and you could easily turn your stuff into cash.

  1. Rent Your Stuff

If you’re attached to your things, you can consider renting your stuff instead of selling it. Want to rent your clothes, try DateMyWardrobe. You can rent your camera equipment or your parking spot if you’re in certain cities. And of course, there’s the classic rent your spare room or whole apartment with Airbnb. If you want a platform where you can rent out a range of items, try Rentything, where you can rent truly anything and everything.

  1. Shop Online

If you like to shop online, why not get paid for it, too? Through SwagBucks, your regular internet activities could earn you cash or gift cards. For every dollar spent, you earn SwagBucks, and 1 SwagBuck is equivalent to about 1% cash back. If you’re shopping online anyway, why not check and see if that item is available through the SwagBucks portal and earn SwagBucks. If you want to maximize your shopping, you can also sign up and search through the similar Inbox Dollars website. Just your sign-up there will earn you a $5 bonus to start off right.

  1. Search the Internet

SwagBucks and Inbox Dollars conveniently also pay you for a whole range of activities, including watching videos and taking surveys. However, one of the most cost-effective ways to earn on these websites, especially SwagBucks, is to use their search engine. It’s a still useful alternative to your normal search engine, but you’ll earn points as you search.

  1. Test Websites

There are a lot of bad websites out there. Ones where you get lost, requests are incorrect and other annoyances. Thankfully, there are developers who are looking to make better websites, and will pay you for your feedback. The job is to use and review a website while you narrate your experience. All of your experience and thoughts are recorded. For each 20-minute review, you can earn $10. Plus, you’re improving the internet experience!

  1. Rate Search Engine Algorithms

Search engines are continuously updating their algorithms to better meet your search criteria with results on the internet. Perhaps surprisingly, they get real humans to help with this work. Big search engines contract out this work to companies, like LeapForce, who hire independent contractors to rate search engine results tasks. The training for this job is not insignificant and is unpaid, however, once you’re approved, you could be making up to $12 an hour.

  1. Sell Your Photographs

If you’ve got an eye for lighting and capturing moments, even as an amateur photographer, you could earn cash by selling your photos to advertising companies. Well, not directly – Foap will take care of that for you. Post your best photos on the Foap app, and if yours is purchased, you’ll receive $5.

  1. Tutor

You may have always wanted to share your classroom knowledge. Now to earn some dough, you can become an online tutor and teach students across the continent. Websites like Tutor.com will connect you with students who need extra help in their studies. If you’re an expert in anything from algebra to Spanish to microbiology and have a knack for explaining that knowledge, you could help a struggling student better understand a subject  and earn money.

  1. Start a Blog

It’s now an almost classic way to earn money online. A blog is a long-term investment of time and effort, so it should be a blog on a topic that is interesting to you. Once you build a community around your blog, you can monetize various parts of it to earn income. If you’re connected with certain products, say a travel website, you could earn money by having affiliate links. These links are directed to product sales pages, and click-throughs will earn you money. You can also make money by producing e-books on your topic of blogging expertise and selling them on your website. Or you could create a special paid part of your website with exclusive content for members only. However, to be able to sell anything from your blog, you have to build your voice and community first. No fast cash here, but bigger long-term gains.

Making money online is not much different than making money offline. If you have a specific skillset, you can earn more money per hour because of your expertise. If you’re looking to make quick cash, you can do a range of tasks that are accessible to anyone for a lesser amount. However, the options and combinations of online earnings are vast, with new options, websites and apps coming out all the time. If you are conscious of your time spent and combine a few different strategies, you could have a nice addition to your income to save or enjoy!

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Is it Safe to Set Up a PayPal Account?

Looking to purchase tickets to a concert? Buy a great coat online? Download an album from an independent artist? In each of these instances, you’ve probably had the option to pay using PayPal.

 

paypal online

PayPal is used to exchange $288 billion in 26 currencies, making it one of the largest payment services in the world. With this much money flowing and little heard about security issues, PayPal appears to be a safe and valuable service. Beyond appearances, what is the safety level to you as a consumer to set up a PayPal account?

PayPal’s Security

Part of PayPal’s security system is based on verification. The seller should be verified. To be verified is fairly straightforward. The seller connects their personal bank account to their PayPal account. This verification provides an additional level of identification confirmation. Verification isn’t required, but of course, it’s a big waving red flag if you’re looking to purchase something from an unverified vendor.

In addition, PayPal has round the clock monitoring of every transaction to detect fraudulent activity. If a transaction occurs that seems connected to phishing or other suspicious activity, their security team may contact you, impose spending limits or restrict activity on your account while the activity in question is being resolved.

Personal Best Practices

As safe as PayPal can be, the danger of someone hacking into your account often comes from human error or, in some cases, human laziness. For starters, your password should be characterized as very strong. I know it can be a pain to keep highly complex passwords unique to each website you use straight, but you should take extra care with your PayPal password. You can also take advantage of PayPal’s security key option. The key is free for mobile and $5 for shipping and handling for a hardware version. The key produces a digital code that is provided on demand via text from PayPal for mobile or every 30 seconds for the hardware. The security key is a great option to up your PayPal security game.

Hackers often access PayPal accounts through phishing emails. One type of email has an infected attachment that downloads keylogger software. The keylogger records your keystrokes, including the passwords you type in and sends the information back to the hacker. The hacker can then login to your PayPal account and reset your password. The second type of phishing email is one where you’re redirected to a fake PayPal website, and once you login with your email and password, that information is recorded and sent to the hacker.

For phishing attachments, never download any attachment from an email that you don’t trust. Before clicking on any PayPal email link, hover over the link with your cursor. Your browser will show the link on the bottom of the browser, so you can verify your destination. Anything besides a secure paypal.com link variation should never be clicked on. You can even forward the email to a specific PayPal address and they will confirm whether or not it’s legitimate. To be safer still, never click links through your email. Type in the secure PayPal link in your browser directly.

For the bank account that you connect to your PayPal account, your main account is fine to use, though an extra security precaution is to set up a secondary chequing account that you use only for PayPal. This arrangement will provide a clear record of all your PayPal activity that can be matched to your PayPal account, and also keep your main banking disconnected from your online activities. The same goes with your credit card. A secondary credit card used for PayPal purchases can limit the risk and will be easy to monitor. Your PayPal account is just like a bank account, so it should be watched in the same way.

By keeping your password very strong, being aware of potential phishing scams, and using separate banking information, you can greatly minimize the human error risk of a PayPal account.

What If There’s an Issue?

If your account is suspected by PayPal to have fraudulent activity, they may limit spending or limit the activity allowed on your account. If you discover charges that you did not allow, report it immediately to PayPal. If you report it within 60 days of the transaction, you are eligible for $0 liability for unauthorized transactions. Yep, the reported fraud, if eligible, will be fully refunded to you. There are some limitations, as the Protection does not cover things like real estate or custom-made items, but the vast majority of purchases will be covered.

Then there’s the kind of issues that could arise not from your account, but from the actual purchases you made. If you purchase something through PayPal and it’s not as expected, you are protected under the Purchase Protection. The unexpected purchase could be a knock-off version when you purchased a brand name product, two books instead of the three you ordered, a new gadget that arrives damaged or with missing pieces, or something never arrived at all. The first step is to open a dispute with the seller. Most times, issues can be easily resolved. However, if not, you can escalate the claim after 20 days and PayPal will make a decision, either for you or the seller based on the claim. You can easily file a report through the PayPal website, snail mail or via phone. It’s best to make a claim it immediately, but be sure to do so within 180 days so that if the decision is made in your favor, you will be eligible for the protection.

Conclusion

PayPal is and will continue to be a big player in the way that we pay online. As more of our money is transferred via sites like PayPal, as good consumers, we have to know what is their security policy and protection for its users. It is equally important to have solid personal practices. Unfortunately, as PayPal is a major monetary player, it will be the subject of phishing emails and other fraud efforts. While they can only do so much, your own security practices will ensure you continually minimize your risk, making PayPal safe to use.

 

 

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US Bank Club Carlson Hotel Card Review

US Bank Club Carlson Hotel Card Review

What’s your favorite hotel? Where do you feel at home even you’re away from home? If you answered the Radisson, Park Plaza, Country Inn & Suites or any other Club Carlson chain hotel, then you should consider the Club Carlson ™ Premier Rewards Visa Signature ® Card and the Rewards Visa Signature Card from US Bank. As hotel rewards cards go, the Premier Rewards card has a fantastic sign-up bonus and a cost-effective points-earning system. If you’re willing to stay brand loyal, this card will prove quite rewarding.

 

US Bank Club Carlson Hotel Card Review

 

Annual Fees

The two cards are very similar, one simply having a higher annual fee and therefore great rewards returns. The Premier Rewards card will run you $75 per year while the Rewards card is $50 annually. The fee is not waived like other travel rewards card, but the fee is much less than hotel rewards similar cards, so if you are keeping the card for multiple years, overall the annual fee is quite reasonable.

Earning Points

The Club Carlson Premier Rewards card earns 10 Gold Points for every dollar spent on hotel purchases within the chain. For everything else, you’ll earn 5 points per dollar. The more economical fee card, the Club Carlson Rewards card earns 6 points for eligible purchases, such as a night at a Radisson, and 3 points for other purchases. You also earn points every year for renewing your card. Though that annual fee may hurt a little bit, that pain is eased with a nice 40,000 point bonus for the Premier Rewards and 25,000 bonus for the Rewards card. This is enough four nights free with the Premier Rewards and two nights free with the Rewards card. Not a bad return on your annual fee.

 

Beginner’s Luck

If you’re new to the US Bank Club Carlson cards, the sign-up bonus is a solid one. For the Premier Rewards, if you spend $2,500 on the card in the first three months, you’ll receive 85,000 Bonus Gold Points. What does that many points earn? It’s enough for up to nine free nights at any Category 1 Carlson around the world. If you’d like to splurge, you can also spend 70,000 of those points on one night at a Category 7 hotel, like the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge in London, England. If you opt for the more economical Rewards card, you need to spend $1,500 on your card in the first 90 days. Your sign up bonus is still a nice 60,000 points, earning you up to six free nights. As far as sign-up bonuses go, the immediate rewards within the hotel chain are well worth it. You’ll have your annual fee returned to you within your free first night, and then you can settle into to enjoy five or seven more.

Flaunting your status

If you’re a Club Carlson hotel fan, you’ll be familiar with the status levels and perks within the program. With this US Bank card, your status will be automatically increased as soon as you activate your card. With the Premier Rewards card, your Club membership will become Gold Elite status. At this level, you’ll receive 15% off of food and drink at hotel restaurants, complimentary room upgrades, roll-over nights and an in-room gift. If you already enjoy all these benefits with your current Gold status, then your card activation will get you 15 qualifying nights towards obtaining or maintaining the Concierge status (75 nights). If you make it to the Concierge status, you’ll enjoy a huge range of perks, including all those listed above as well as free continental breakfast and 48 hour room availability guarantee. If you go for the Rewards card, your card activation will automatically upgrade you from Red to Silver status. At this level, you’ll receive 10% off of food and drink at hotel restaurants, complimentary room upgrades, and roll-over nights. If you’re already a Silver member, you’ll receive 10 qualifying nights towards Gold status (35 nights) and its perks.

Beyond the Hotel Doors Benefits

Both the Premier Rewards and Rewards cards come with the same additional benefits. To make sure you’re safe on the road, the card comes with travel and emergency assistance services, travel accident insurance and auto rental collision damage waiver. In the case of suspicious activity on your card, it offers zero fraud liability. Of course, it comes with online banking and in case you’re forgetful, you can set up automatic bill payment to ensure you don’t unnecessarily pay interest.

However, be careful if you’re staying at a Radisson abroad, as this card does not waive international payment fees. You’ll be paying to pay at international destinations, so be sure to use it only at Club Carlson hotels where the points you earn will offset the fees you pay.

Conclusion

The US Bank Club Carlson ™ Premier Rewards Visa Signature ® Card and the Rewards Visa Signature Cards are a very cost effective option for earning points and free stays at the Carlson Rezidor brand hotels. If you’re already a fan of these hotels, these cards will earn lots of points towards free nights. The sign-up bonus already sets you up to enjoy the perks of the hotel chain. In addition, the upgraded membership status provides another set of benefits that would be appreciated by someone who spends a lot of time in hotel rooms in the run of a year. However, if you can’t remember the last time you stayed at a Radisson or Park Plaza, this card is not for you. While the earning and using the rewards is very favorable, the places where you can do either is very limited. If you like to shop around for hotels or spend your points on flights, this card won’t be much help. However, the inexpensive annual fee and the great sign-up bonus might be worth a try. You just may come to love Club Carlson and enjoy reveling in free nights from the card.