6 Ways to Save Money on Your Pumpkin Spice Latte

A Starbucks cup sits on a countertop inside the coffee shop.

Photo courtesy of Starbucks

Whether or not the start of fall brings cooler temps to your neck of the woods, the season is marked universally with the annual rollout of Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte. It’s back now for the 18th consecutive year with the ever-so-popular mix of espresso, steamed milk, real pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove.

While “skipping the Starbucks” is often touted as a way to save money, you can still enjoy this fall flavor without blowing your budget. Here’s how to save money on the PSL and other fall drinks all autumn long.

How to Save Money on Pumpkin Spice Lattes

1. Join Starbucks Rewards

Join Starbucks Rewards to start getting free drinks — including PSLs. You earn one star for every dollar you spend if you pay as you go with cash or a debit or credit card. Pay on a preloaded digital Starbucks Card on the app and get two stars per $1 spent.

(You get three stars per $1 if you use the Starbucks Rewards Visa card, but The Penny Hoarder isn’t a fan of too many rewards credit cards.)

Along with getting free brewed coffee and tea refills, Starbucks Rewards members get a free custom drink, such as that Pumpkin Spice Latte, when they earn 150 points.

That means spending $150 or $75 depending on how you pay. Yes, that’s a good chunk of change to spend to get a reward, so remember that it’s pretty easy to rack up a bill at Starbucks without even realizing it.

2. Buy Discounted Starbucks Gift Cards

Use CardCookie, Raise and other discount gift card sites to stretch your coffee dollars further. Buy a gift card for less than its face value, and you’ll get more for your money at Starbucks.

As of this writing, you can save as much as 9% on a Starbucks gift card on CardCookie. A $50 card, for example, costs $45.50.

3. Join My Panera

Starbucks isn’t the only chain offering up a sweet fall latte. Panera Bread just debuted its Cinnamon Crunch Latte. It’s freshly brewed espresso, foamed milk and cinnamon syrup topped with whipped cream and cinnamon sugar. And the popular chain has its own My Panera rewards program that offers discounts and free stuff.

4. Celebrate Your Fall Birthday

If you’re a member of Starbucks Rewards, you’ll enjoy a free drink on your birthday. If your birthday is in the fall, why not make it a pumpkin spice latte?

Dunkin Donuts also offers free birthday drinks through its DD Perks Rewards program and has an extensive pumpkin spice menu.

Many other cafes also offer free birthday drinks, so if you find yourself at a coffee shop with pumpkiny concoctions on your birthday, be sure to ask!

A woman wearing an orange sweater has her hands around a coffee mug with a pumpkin spice latte inside of it.
Getty Images

5. Make a DIY Pumpkin Spice Latte

Indulge in a pumpkin spice latte anytime with this great do-it-yourself recipe from Farmgirl Gourmet. This recipe makes two 10-ounce lattes, so you can share one with a friend.

You’ll need:

  • 2 cups milk
  • 4 tablespoons canned (or homemade) pumpkin puree
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 cup strong coffee or espresso
  • whipped cream

Directions:

Stir the milk, pumpkin puree, sugar, vanilla and pumpkin pie spice together in a pan over medium-high heat. Bring it almost to a boil, but avoid boiling (that will make it too thick). Stir constantly, and it should start to froth in about a minute.

Pour the concoction into two mugs, then slowly add the strong coffee or espresso, pouring it in by the edge of the cup so that the milk stays frothy. Add whipped cream and a dash of pumpkin pie spice on top, and indulge in your homemade creation.

6. Make DIY Pumpkin Spice Coffee Creamer

This simple recipe from Delish requires just five ingredients and produces 1-3/4 cups of pumpkin spice creamer to add to your coffee.

You’ll Need:

  • 1-1/2 cups heavy cream or half-and-half
  • 2 tablespoons pumpkin puree
  • 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 or 2 cinnamon sticks

Directions:

Whisk together the heavy cream or half-and-half, pumpkin puree, maple syrup and pumpkin pie spice in a small pan over medium heat. Add a cinnamon stick or two and turn the heat up a bit until it boils, whisking occasionally.

After a minute, take it off the heat and let it cool for about five minutes before you add it to your coffee.

According to Delish, the leftover creamer will keep in your refrigerator for a week, but be sure to give it a good shake before using.

Kristen Pope is a former contributor to The Penny Hoarder.

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

Dear Penny: Can I Kick My Husband Out if I’m Not on the Mortgage?

Dear Penny,

My husband and I have been married for almost seven years. Two and a half years ago we bought a house. My credit is horrible so it had to be financed by him alone, but I pay the mortgage every month. 

We live in New York. Can I make him leave if things don’t work out? We are having some major issues.

-Credit Challenged

Dear Challenged,

I can’t predict who would get what if you divorced. An advice columnist is no substitute for an attorney. So if you’re seriously considering divorce, you need to talk to an attorney who’s licensed in New York.

It’s not clear to me whether you’re on the deed of the home, or if both the deed and mortgage are in your husband’s name only. Obviously, if you’re listed as a co-owner, that bolsters your case. But even if your husband is the only one listed on the deed, you’d probably get something for this house. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’d get to stay, but at least you wouldn’t walk away with 0% equity.


Had your husband acquired the home before you married, a court would likely consider it separate property, which means he’d get to keep it in divorce. The same goes for if he bought it while you were married using money from a gift or an inheritance. Otherwise, a home purchased during a marriage is typically considered marital property, which gets divided between spouses in divorce court.

Most states, including New York, use equitable distribution in divorce. That means a judge would attempt to divide assets fairly between the two of you. The court will consider a number of factors in dividing the home’s equity. The fact that you’ve made the mortgage payments would likely carry some weight.

We don’t have a crystal ball to predict whether you’ll be able to work out your marital problems. So I think you should prepare for the worst. Rebuilding your credit is essential because if you do stay in the home, you may need to refinance the mortgage in your name. Even if you do stay together, obviously you won’t regret boosting your credit score.

Unfortunately, those mortgage payments you’ve been making aren’t helping your credit since the loan isn’t in your name. If you don’t have any open credit accounts, try opening a secured credit card by putting down a deposit, which will become your line of credit. Focus on making on-time payments and avoid charging more than 10% of the limit. If you do have open accounts, try to pay off as much of the balance as possible, focusing on the credit card with the highest interest rate first.

Now is also a good time to assess your budget. You don’t say why you’re the one who pays the mortgage, so I’m not sure if your husband earns income that goes toward other bills or if you’re the sole breadwinner. If your husband earns income, think about how much you could afford to spend on housing with your income alone.

A lot of people stick around in relationships that aren’t working because they can’t afford to leave. What I hope is that by working on your finances now, you won’t have to make decisions based on money. You can focus on your marriage and whether it’s worth saving.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

12 Smart Ways to Fight Price Inflation

A graphic shows a shopping cart full of items climbing a graphic illustrating rising inflation

Getty Images and Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

If you’ve noticed yourself spending more at the grocery store or to fill up your gas tank lately, chances are it’s not because you’re purchasing more food or doing a lot of extra driving.

Consumer prices rose 5.3% in August compared to the year prior. It’s the greatest spike in inflation since 2008, although experts believe the jump in prices will only be temporary.

If you’re looking to stabilize your rising costs, you’re going to have to think a bit differently about the way you shop. Here are a dozen savings tips to help you fight price inflation on everyday purchases.

12 Savvy Ways to Fight Price Inflation

1. Shop Your Pantry

Before you go grocery shopping, make a habit of checking the shelves of your pantry first. Canned goods, pasta and other pantry staples have a tendency to get forgotten in dark corners.

By taking inventory of what you already have at home, you’ll avoid mistakenly buying multiples of the same item. You might be able to shorten your grocery list (and spend less). You’ll also reduce the chance of food going bad before you remember to eat it.

Try a pantry challenge to use up what you’ve already got at home instead of going out and buying overpriced groceries. Don’t just limit your challenge to pantry items. Check what you’ve got in the freezer and what toiletries you already have before buying more of the same stuff.

2. Do Meal Prep

Planning out your meals and making grocery lists based on a meal plan means you’ll be less likely to waste money on something that looks good in the store but you never get around to eating.

This expert meal prep advice simply lays out how to get started planning your meals in advance.

3. Minimize Food Waste

When you’re paying more for food, the last thing you want is to let it go to waste. It’s like throwing your hard-earned cash in the trash.

Use these tips to reduce food waste so you’ll never have to toss out moldy cheese or stale bread again.

4. Choose Store Brands Over Name Brands

Name brand groceries are already priced higher than their store brand counterparts. And many times, you can barely tell the difference between the two.

With prices going up, switch to generic brands to lower your grocery spending. You may even discover a new favorite.

5. Buy in Bulk

While you’ll pay more money upfront for stuff in larger quantities, it’s actually a smart move to buy in bulk. Typically, you’ll pay less per item.

If you don’t need a three-box bundle of cereal or 10 pounds of macaroni noodles, you could always split your shopping haul with a friend or family member. Or you could just use this as an excuse to do less grocery shopping throughout the month.

6. Cut Back on Meat

Cutting back on meat will have a significant impact on your grocery bill, because beef and pork and chicken tend to be some of the more expensive items in the store — inflation or not.

Going meatless a day or two a week and turning to cheaper alternatives, like beans and lentils, can help you cut costs.

7. Save Money on Produce

Even with prices going up, you can still find ways to save on fruit and vegetables — without growing them in your backyard.

Buying from local farmers, sticking to what’s in season or choosing frozen over fresh are just a few ways to save money on produce.

8. Buy Reusable Instead of Disposable

Which is better: Buying something for $5 that you use once and throw away, or purchasing something similar for $10 but that you can reuse over and over again?

Reusable products cost more upfront than their disposable counterparts, but they’re usually a better deal because they last much longer. Being better for the environment is an added plus.

These nine comparisons show how buying reusable instead of disposable can help you save.

9. Save Money on Gas

The price at the pump keeps going up and up. And with more businesses reopening after Covid closures, there are more places to go and more gas to burn.

Carpooling to the office can help you cut costs. So can signing up for fuel reward programs or using fuel comparison apps to find the lowest gas prices around. This article on how to save on gas has additional advice to lower your spending even as prices rise.

10. Share Tools and Equipment

Splitting the cost of something you’ll only use occasionally is a better deal than paying full price for something that’ll end up collecting dust most of the time.

Consider sharing pricy tools and equipment — like a stand mixer or a leaf blower — with a neighbor or nearby friend or family member.

11. Learn to Barter

You can also fight price inflation by choosing to barter with a friend or family member, rather than paying full price for goods and services.

Perhaps a friend has extra lumber from a home renovation that you can use in exchange for doing free graphic design work for their small business. Or maybe you can dog sit for a family member while they’re out of town in exchange for a few free meals.

12. Get Free Things from a Buy-Nothing Group

Getting free items from a local Buy Nothing Group, means you can bypass high prices at a store — and you don’t even have to offer up anything in exchange. These groups focus on donations rather than trading or bartering.

Join your local Buy Nothing Group or Facebook.

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

SmartAsset Talks to the Couple Behind MarkandLaurenG.com

AJ Smith, CEPF® AJ Smith is an award-winning journalist and personal finance expert with more than a decade of experience in television, radio, newspapers, magazines and online content. She has appeared on CNN, The Weather Channel, Wall Street Journal Radio and ABC News Radio. Her work has appeared on websites including MarketWatch, Huffington Post, Yahoo Finance and Credit.com. She is a contributor for Forbes. The SmartAsset VP of Content and Financial Education has degrees from Princeton University and Mississippi State University. AJ was named an honoree of the 2018 Women in Media awards in the Corporate Champions category. She is a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing and a Certified Educator in Personal Finance® (CEPF®). AJ and her husband also write and illustrate educational children’s books.

Source: smartasset.com

Good Debt vs. Bad Debt: What’s the Difference?

Good debt. There couldn’t possibly be such a thing, right? Well it turns out not all debt is bad, because without debt, nobody knows your creditworthiness, and that actually makes things very, very tricky when it comes time to consider you for a loan or anything else in the financial space.

It’s time to take a look at good debt vs bad debt so we can understand the differences between them, and try to utilize good debt to our advantage as much as possible.

Good Debt vs. Bad Debt

What Are Examples of Good Debt?

Good debt can be beneficial to your creditworthiness and help you in the long run. It can even be used as collateral (depending on what the good debt is), and equity can be drawn off of it. Good debt needs to be well thought-out, properly executed, and with a healthy level of risk assessment involved. This is what good debt looks like.

  • Education: We see this all the time. While there is a student loan debt crisis going on in the United States, it doesn’t mean you’ll be joining that crisis by taking out education loans. Truth be told, a lot of education loans come across as predatory, but if you’re smart about your choices and you know what you want to do, this can actually help you in the long run. Education loans are tricky and you have to make sure you pay them back properly, but they can help your creditworthiness during your early adult years, when building credit matters most.
  • Business Endeavors: Starting up a business is difficult, but when it’s off the ground and running and you know the business model works, small loans to purchase inventory, expand operations when you know it’s going to work (or, as well as you could possibly know), and when other well thought-out, well-executed business strategies come into play, will benefit you in the long run. These loans are seen as good debt because business loans are often paid back relatively quickly (nowhere near as long as a 15-year mortgage), so you’re building long-standing accounts and showing that you can pay them down completely. Just be sure you don’t pay them off early, otherwise you’re not using all the time that you could use to build up your business credit.
  • Personal Property: Personal property can appreciate in value, especially if you plan out your purchase properly. That’s why even though this is often the biggest financial decision that anyone will make in their life, it can still be seen as an investment. Properties are supposed to increase in value over time, so if that’s the case, your investment and continued maintenance of your home will increase its value over time, and be seen as an asset, not a liability. This is good debt.
  • Rental Property: This is listed separately because it’s an entirely different ordeal. This is something you’ll make money off of immediately, and it’s one of the most common ways that individuals begin a real estate empire: they begin renting out one property. This is good debt since there will be income gained from it, so you have more leverage when you negotiate the terms of your loan, and your credit continues to rise when you show that this property and business endeavor hybrid works out. This has a higher level of risk than personal property depending on the size, but rental property or income property debt is good debt.
  • Auto Loans: These can be volatile, because auto loans generally have more complex terms than other loans and can be tricky, but once again, knowing what you’re doing before you sign your name on a loan is completely key. If you’re able to look over the terms properly and understand what you’re getting yourself into, and you don’t take out anything too massive, auto loans can be good debt.

Is Good Debt Really Good?

Yes it is. Good debt is manageable debt that you could completely wash away with liquid assets at a moment’s notice, if you had to. We saw examples of good debt, but we didn’t really talk about why it’s good and how to make sure it isn’t volatile.

If you lost your job tomorrow and had to use your current assets to survive off of while you found a new job, and you quickly realize you’re living paycheck to paycheck and can’t afford anything for even one week with no inbound money coming in, you’re not in a position to take on good debt.

If you were to lose your job tomorrow and had enough money to survive off while you look for a new job, and it’s not contingent on that last paycheck coming in, then you’re most likely in a position to take on good debt. If you can use your assets to wipe away all your good debt and not shaft yourself, you’re in a good position.

Good debt is helpful to your situation and doesn’t hurt you. Good debt is manageable by your current assets without a second thought, so if you did lose your job or you were put in a position where your income was interrupted, you could use your capital to wipe away these debts and not go into bad debt just because of a little life disturbance.

Good debt doesn’t put a chokehold on your life. All it does is bring up your creditworthiness and help your overall financial situation in the long run. If it’s manageable and won’t sink you, it’s good debt.

How Much is a Good Debt?

A good debt doesn’t have a specific percentage, but suffice to say, that percentage should be relatively low. Your good debt can’t feasibly be wiped away in an instant, even though that’s an ideal situation, so if it is something like your education or your business, you don’t want it to run your life.

Any level of good debt should be an amount of money that won’t completely put you out. Remember that debt can be stressful and frustrating, so your good debt shouldn’t be something that adds to that.

It’s safe to assume that, if you’re talking about personal credit cards and debt for the sake of building your credit history, it should be less than about 10% of your total income. If you bring in $4,000 per month, your good debt shouldn’t be more than $400. It’s a good rule of thumb to live by, because as long as your living expenses aren’t more than 50% of your income, you’ll have free cash floating around to wipe out debt if need be, such as if your situation changes.

Why Exactly Any Debt is a Good Debt?

If you don’t have credit history, you’re losing out on the potential to increase your creditworthiness going forward. That may sound like it doesn’t matter if you pay for everything upfront or in cash, but not having credit can and will hurt you in the long run.

Credit comes up when you go to buy a car or a home, two of the biggest purchases that the average American makes in their lives. Even if you typically have a lot of liquid cash, simply paying for a home and missing out on equity and the ability to build your credit even further is a big mistake. You can use a big down payment to avoid PMI, but apart from that, you should be using credit to your advantage in an intelligent way.

Some debt is good. Investment debt is good (education, property, etc.). In today’s market, you can’t afford to not have debt, as silly as that sounds. You need to build your credit history.

Speaking of which, there are a lot of factors that go into your credit score, and one of those is history. Having a credit card for one month and paying the bill is less impactful than having a credit card for twelve months and paying the bill on time. Institutions want to see that you can be trusted over an arc of time, not just in the short-term.

Good Debt vs. Bad Debt (Main Difference)

There’s one key difference between good debt and bad debt. We’ve been over good sources of debt, but now it’s time to discuss what makes them good, and what makes a source of debt completely bad.

Good debt can be managed, and used as leverage to increase your creditworthiness. Good debt is seen as an investment because it is low-risk and offers a much more beneficial payout, such as education, property, and business expenses. There’s something monumentally valuable to be gained, and a careful, tactical investment strategy is in place to ensure it works out.

Bad debt doesn’t help you in any way. Bad debt is a personal credit card that was used on frivolous purchases, or debt that you take out but have no idea how you’ll pay it back. Bad debt will hurt your creditworthiness and make it more difficult to be trusted by lenders in the future.

Source: crediful.com

Comparing Online Review Sites for Better Results

We all do a great deal of shopping sight unseen. We love to go to new bars and restaurants. We need home repair work done by a professional and don’t have the slightest idea who to hire.

What do we do?

We go to online review sites.

Whether it is purchasing a new product, hiring a new service, experiencing a new food or visiting a new entertainment venue, most people do not like to put their money down without some idea of what they are getting into. So they turn to online reviews. These typically offer a score on a five-point scale that’s calculated from the average customer rating, along with customer comments.

But how reliable are all those customer reviews and ratings? The answer is different depending on which review website you use.

The fact is that business and product rating sites are not themselves rated by anyone, and there are thousands of stories told about how negative ratings disappear from the view of others.

In this post, we will cover:

What to Consider When You Use Rating Services

If you’re skeptical about review websites, great. That’s the right place to start, because no matter how reputable a ratings service is, there is opportunity for error or abuse. Not to mention the wide range of policies, procedures, and quality controls.

Here are some things to think about when trying to determine how much to trust customer reviews and ratings.

  • Can you see how many total ratings or reviews have been collected? A low number of customer reviews will be a less reliable gauge to go on.
  • How transparent are policies and procedures? Can you easily find information about privacy policies, how ratings are calculated and other quality controls?
  • If the review site or service conducts its own evaluations and doesn’t rely 100% on customer reviews, are their criteria clearly explained?
  • What level of accountability is there, if any, to encourage honest, useful, and accurate customer reviews and ratings? Are there procedures in place to discourage paid reviewers who can tip the scale?
  • What’s done to prevent or minimize fake reviews? Is there any kind of screening process?  Do humans get involved, or is everything based on algorithms? There’s no firm answer about which is better, so you’ll have to judge for yourself. Algorithms can be manipulated, but humans are, well, human.
  • Is there a procedure for disputing a negative review someone thinks is unfair or inaccurate?
  • Can customers comment on posted reviews? Contrary opinions can add context and information – and be somewhat of a check on fake or careless reviews.
  • If the review site accepts advertising from the same businesses it rates, does its FAQ section offer transparency about this? Or are you left to wonder whether advertisers get preferred treatment?

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Assessing the Rating Services: Pros, Cons and What to Know

Here’s a snapshot of eight online review sites and services that stand out because of popularity, traffic, longevity or all three. They’re well-established enough to have a track record and a deep well of information. We’ve checked their policies and practices to help you use them smartly.

  What’s rated? Who’s rating? Good for Good to know
Better Business Bureau (BBB) Home services, lawyers, auto repair, restaurants The BBB and customers Finding a trusted service provider in your area Also accredits and grades businesses
Yelp Almost any kind of business you can think of Customers Insights into a product or service you’re shopping for Offers some consumer services, too
Amazon Anything purchased via Amazon Customers Choosing among Amazon product options Also reviews from trusted panels called Amazon Vine
Google Participating vendors Customers See ratings, reviews of products you’re considering Customers invited to write reviews after purchase
Facebook Any business with a Facebook Business Page Facebook members Info about a business you want to try Look for the Reviews tab on a business page
Angi Home maintenance and repair services Customers Finding contractors and services in your area Was Angie’s List and is no longer subscription-based
Home Advisor Participating home maintenance and repair services Customers Finding contractors and services in your area Set your price and get a list of leads
Tripadvisor Travel accommodations and services Customers Planning a trip Recommendations are sorted by detailed criteria

Better Business Bureau (BBB)

Long before the invention of the internet, even before the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) provided information about how American companies performed according to the people who bought their products and services. Eventually, the BBB also created an arbitration program to help resolve consumer complaints, to the betterment of both consumers and the companies serving those consumers.

The BBB’s basic purpose is to accredit businesses for an acceptable level of competence and integrity. It has Standards of Trust and BBB Accreditation Standards, making it the most serious of all rating services. Companies can receive a BBB Accredited Business if it meets the standards. The BBB specializes in general contractors, lawyers, auto repair services and restaurants.

What’s rated? Home construction, repair and maintenance services; lawyers; auto repair services; restaurants.

Who’s doing the rating? The BBB and customers who are registered users.

How it works: Look for a specific business or search by the type of service you’re seeking. Listed businesses will have a grade from A+ to F and a BBB accreditation, which requires a background check, compliance with BBB  standards, and an annual fee. Many also have customer ratings and reviews.

How BBB handles negative reviews: The BBB form for filing a complaint asks for details. Does the complainant want to warn others about the bad experience they had? Or are they requesting help resolving a conflict? The BBB then looks into the complaint and determines whether to get involved. The BBB also offers a review process, working on a 5-point scale. The review page offers the number of complaints received in the last three years, which are available to be read. The complaints do need to fit the company standards. The BBB also accepts reviews of accredited companies.

Pros: Goes beyond customer ratings by accrediting and grading businesses. Also a clearinghouse for consumer complaints. Reliable and transparent.

Cons: Some businesses have a low number of customer ratings.

What else to know: As much as any other service, the BBB provides the most clearly stated system for reviewing companies. The BBB offers no guarantee of a company’s service or product, but it serves no other purpose but to protect the consumer from making poor choices.

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Two women look displeased as they have coffee and look at a phone.
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Yelp

Started in 2004, Yelp began as a customer review site but has grown substantially to provide other consumer services. It began publicly trading stock in 2012.

Today, Yelp users rate businesses and can see how those businesses have been rated by past reviewers. Although many different companies can be found on the site, Yelp promotes its reviews for plumbers, restaurants, home services, delivery services and black-owned businesses. Yelp has been involved in dozens of lawsuits alleging the posting of false reviews, both positive by a business reviewed and negative by competitors of businesses, and has fielded complaints that companies paying to advertise on Yelp get favored treatment in the form of deleting negative reviews.

What’s rated? Almost any kind of business you can think of.

Who’s doing the rating? Customers who are registered users.

How it works: Search for a business and find a list of recommendations with star ratings and reviews.

How Yelp handles negative reviews: Yelp allows businesses to contact consumers who post negative reviews, and allows for those reviews to be updated and likely improved as a result of the contact from the business.

Pros: Enough traffic from users to offer a more reliable sampling. Vast selection of businesses.

Cons: Some complaints about fake reviews, despite an algorithm designed to filter them out. Some questions about preferential treatment for advertisers.

What else to know: It is estimated that Yelp gets 142 million visits a month, either from those posting reviews or those reading reviews. There are approximately 487,500 businesses listed on the site.

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Amazon Product Reviews and Ratings

Amazon gives customers the opportunity to rate the items they purchase from its website, and to read reviews of items prior to making a purchase.

Companies sign up to have their products and services listed in a search on amazon.com. Once an item is purchased as a result of an Amazon search, the purchase is asked to rate the product once it is received. However, many people do the initial search on Amazon, then go directly to the company website to make the purchase. The ratings only exist when the consumer goes to Amazon, clicks on the company page from there, and makes a purchase.

What’s rated? Anything purchased via Amazon.

Who’s doing the rating? Registered members who have made a purchase.

How it works: When you shop on Amazon you’ll see a star rating and comments about the products you’re viewing.

How Amazon handles negative reviews: To Amazon’s credit, it provides an extensive list of do’s and don’ts for its customer reviews. Amazon says it will remove any review, either positive or negative, if it is judged to be from an interested party, whether that be someone in the employ of the company whose product is being reviewed, or in the employ of a competitor.

Pros: Massive audience means a more reliable sampling. Has policies to discourage misleading or manipulative reviews. Also offers Amazon Vine reviews from trusted panels.

Cons: Massive audience also means more opportunity for abuse. Despite efforts, fake or paid reviews still slip through.

What else to know: If buyers search on Amazon then purchase from the vendor website, their ratings won’t be counted.

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A woman unboxes things she bought online.
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Google Customer Reviews and Product Ratings

When a business creates a Google Merchant account, it has the option of participating in Google Customer Reviews and Google Product Ratings. The Google customer review appears on the business’s website after a purchase is made.

When you make a purchase through a company that is aligned with the Google review program, you are given the chance to opt-in to the review program. Once you do that, you will receive an email a few days after your order with instructions on how to review the product or service you purchased. The review process is designed to consider the entire purchasing process. If you used your personal Google account information in the process of making your purchase from Google, all your public Google account information will be published. Users can then go into the individual reviews and delete them if you wish.

What’s rated? Products or services from businesses that participate in the program.

Who’s doing the rating? Registered customers who have made a purchase.

How it works: If you shop on the Google Shopping site or on a business site that’s part of the Google Merchant program, you’ll see Google reviews and star ratings there.
How Google handles negative reviews: Google merchants are allowed to interact with reviewers, who can only leave reviews if they provide their email address. Google has a nine-point standard for inappropriate reviews, but depends upon the merchant to find such reviews and report them. Google may choose NOT to remove a review if it does not violate one of its standards, in which case it encourages merchants to respond directly to the consumer to discuss the problem.

Pros: Designed to consider the entire purchasing process. Reviewers are invited to write a review after making a purchase, can’t be anonymous, and are asked to comply with standards.

Cons: Complaints from merchants that they have no recourse when they feel reviews are unfair.
What else to know: Driven by algorithms. Google has a nine-point standard for inappropriate reviews, but depends on merchants to report them.

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Facebook Business Page Recommendations

In 2018, Facebook changed its “business reviews” system to “business recommendations,” hoping to avoid the conflict regarding fake reviews and negative reviews.

Facebook Business Page Recommendations kicks in when someone visits a Facebook business page and clicks on the Reviews sessions, where visitors can click a “do you recommend?” yes/no button. The responses are compiled into a rating score similar to what was offered under the previous system, and ratings are calculated using previous responses.

What’s rated? Any business with a Facebook Business Page.

Who’s doing the rating? Any registered Facebook user who visits a Business Page.

How it works: Find an average star rating along with comments and photos on the “reviews” area of a Business Page.
How Facebook handles negative reviews: It doesn’t. Facebook Reviews cannot be removed. The only way a company can remove a bad review is to turn off the Reviews function on its company page.

Pros: Easy to engage with the business and other reviewers. Not anonymous, which discourages fake reviews.

Cons: Reviews aren’t vetted or managed. No easy way to know if a review is authentic. Not all pages have a high volume of activity.
What else to know: Facebook has 2.89 million monthly users, and Facebook estimates that one of three Facebook users visit company pages to find products and services.  

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Angi

Angi, formerly known as Angie’s List, was created in 1995 to provide ratings and recommendations for home and lawn maintenance and repair professionals. Originally designed as a subscription service, it is now free to the public.

Plumbing, handyman, lawn care, roofing, electrical and remodeling are the topics Angi offers on its website front page, but you can search for other home service topics as well. Any work done around the home that you are willing to pay someone to do is covered here. Contractors can get listed on Angi for free, but they pay a fee for every job lead they receive. Consumers can input information about the job they want to hire someone for and get a list of businesses; when they click on a business, those businesses get information to contact them and offer a quote.

What’s rated? Home maintenance and repair services.

Who’s doing the rating? Customers who are registered users.

How it works: Enter info about the job you want done and get a list of businesses, with star ratings and reviews. Businesses get info about how to contact you.

How Angi handles negative reviews: According to the Angi website, no customer reviews are posted until they are reviewed either through an algorithm or by human eyes. Companies listed on Angi cannot remove negative reviews that get posted, although they can contact customers who post negative reviews in order to correct conflicts.

Pros: Detailed ratings based on criteria such as price, responsiveness, and professionalism. Customer reviews are vetted. One of the first nationwide home service recommendation sites.

Cons: Because you must provide contact information, you could get lots of calls, texts and emails from businesses replying to your query.
What else to know: As Angie’s List, Angi was one of the first nationwide home service recommendation websites.

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HomeAdvisor

Formerly known as ServiceMagic, HomeAdvisor was created in 1998, but eventually was purchased by the same company that owns Angi.

HomeAdvisor provides consumers with recommendations for home maintenance and repair services. Contractors pay a fee (approximately $300 per year) to be listed and pay a fee for every job lead that’s generated. For consumers, HomeAdvisor offers a fixed-price tool: You set the price for your job at the outset. That offer is shared with its group of professionals, and anyone willing to do the job for that price will contact you. HomeAdvisor also provides video tutorials on certain jobs as well as a True Cost Guide, which estimates how much a project should cost.

What’s rated? Home maintenance and repair services.

Who’s doing the rating? Customers who are registered users.

How it works: Set a price for the job you want done and get a list of interested companies, each with star ratings and reviews.

How HomeAdvisor handles negative reviews: Here is where Home Advisor stands out. It posts an email address — [email protected] — for customer complaints. Those complaints are read by humans and a resolution is between customer and the company before that negative review is posted. HomeAdvisor says a company receiving frequent complaints can and will be removed from its list of capable professionals.

Pros: Cost estimator and how-to home-repair videos. Good policy for handling customer complaints. Companies with frequent complaints are removed.

Cons: Includes only businesses that pay to be listed, which could limit your selection.

What else to know: The Better Business Bureau gives HomeAdvisor a rating of 2.95 stars out of five, but complaints come mainly from businesses who sign up with HomeAdvisor saying that leads don’t pan out enough to pay for the service. There are few complaints from consumers.

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Tripadvisor

Tripadvisor, created in 2000, is a travel accommodations ratings and booking service.

Tripadvisor offers reviews of hotels, vacation rentals, and restaurants and ratings for airlines, car rental companies, cruise lines and other travel-related businesses. It also suggests activities at your destination.Tripadvisor does not solicit businesses to appear on its site, nor does it charge for appearing on the site. Tripadvisor also offers booking services to all of the travel accommodations it has listed on its site.

What’s rated? Travel accommodations and services: hotels, vacation rentals, restaurants, airlines, car rental companies, cruise lines and more.

Who’s doing the rating? Customers who are registered users.

How it works: Enter your destination and search criteria to get recommendations with star ratings and reviews.

How Tripadvisor handles negative review:  Tripadvisor encourages businesses to contact customers who are unhappy with their travel experience.  

Pros: Detailed ratings and recommendations based on criteria such as cleanliness, best value, price and more. Transparency about policies and practices. A system for discouraging fake reviews. At 860 million reviews, an extensive database.

Cons: Not many. Most complaints involve the booking services it offers, not the rating services.

What else to know: Tripadvisor has 860 million reviews of 8.7 million travel accommodations. It claims 463 million visitors per month.

Kent McDill is a veteran journalist who has specialized in personal finance topics since 2013. He is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

What is the Best Method for Paying Off Debt?

What is the Best Way to Pay Off Debt? Snowball Method vs Avalanche Method – SmartAsset Close thin Facebook Twitter Google plus Linked in Reddit Email

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When you are in debt on multiple credit cards or from multiple sources, like a mix of student loans, credit cards, personal loans, etc. it can be difficult to decide where to start with paying off your debt. Of course, the first thing you should do is calculate and record the balances, minimum payments and interest rates on all of your debts. But after you do this, your numbers might seem overwhelming. Luckily, there are several debt payoff methods to choose from and each has its own set of pros and cons.

Find out now: How much do I need to save for retirement?

The Avalanche Method

Paying off debt with the avalanche method is a great choice if your debts have lots varying interest rates. When you use the debt avalanche method, you basically ignore your debt balances and minimum payments and focus solely on their interest rates. You focus on paying off your highest interest debt first (while still meeting the minimum payments for all debt).

The avalanche method is usually touted as being the fastest and cheapest way to pay off debt because you’ll get rid of your highest interest rate debt first. This will indeed save you some money on interest, and also some time because you’re highest interest rate debt won’t continue racking up compound interest.

But if you are new to paying off debt with intensity, it might be intimidating to you to try and tackle a debt that may not have the lowest balance.

Related Article: Debt Settlement

The Snowball Method

The debt snowball method focuses only on the size of your debt balances. You’ll rank your debts in order from smallest balance to highest balance, ignoring their interest rates and minimum payments. Then you’ll pay them off in that order.

This method is a good one to choose if you feel that having small successes more frequently will keep you motivated to continue paying off debt. These psychological wins can help you avoid debt payoff fatigue if you have many debts to eliminate.

As you pay off your smallest debts, you wont’t see your disposable income rise. Instead, you’ll roll the payment you were making each month from the first one you payoff into the payment for your next debt. For example, if you were putting $100 each month toward a debt, once it is paid off you will earmark that $100 each month to more quickly paying off your next debt. This is when your snowball will begin to roll faster and gain momentum.

A Hybrid

Some people may choose to do a hybrid debt payoff method by combining the avalanche and snowball methods. For instance, I chose to pay off my smallest balance first, which would follow the snowball method. I also rolled my minimum payment toward my next debt, but instead of tackling my next smallest balance, I decided to move to a debt with a higher balance and my highest interest rate. This may not make sense to everyone, but in a hybrid situation you can use emotional and logical thinking to help you make a decision that fits with the best of both worlds.

6 Ways to Pay Off Debt Faster

Bottom Line

In the end, there’s no right or wrong way to pay off debt. Everyone’s situation is different, so what works for one person may not work so well for someone else. What really matters is that you continue to make progress toward your goal of becoming debt free.

Which debt payoff method are you using? Why?

Photo credit: flickr, ©iStock.com/fotoVoyager, ©iStock.com/SeaHorseTwo

Kayla Sloan Kayla Sloan is a writer with an expertise in debt, budgeting and saving money. She is focused on paying off her consumer and student loans, while simplifying her life and closet. Kayla’s work has been featured across the web, including on The Huffington Post, Time, credit.com and AOL. You can follow her as she blogs about her journey out of debt at www.kaylasloan.com.

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Source: smartasset.com

How to Protect Your Finances Using Phone Apps

A crisis is no time to wonder if your car payment is due.

But whether it’s a medical emergency, a job loss, a natural disaster or… let’s face it, some crisis we haven’t even imagined yet, it’s easy enough to lose track of the other priorities in our life — and that can add to our financial woes.

Staying in control of your finances is essential, particularly during a crisis. An overdraft fee here, a late payment there and suddenly your initial problem is compounded by a financial hit that can haunt you for years.

If knowledge is power, then setting yourself up to have all your financial information on hand could be the difference between a one-time disaster and a lasting financial catastrophe.

One way to start protecting your money: Use the digital apps for your banks and lenders.

How to Use Phone Apps to Protect Your Finances

Downloading apps from your various financial institutions can help you during a crisis, but only if you have access to everything you need. Here’s how to make it happen in 15 minutes.

1. Create a Comprehensive List

Start by compiling a list of monthly, quarterly and annual bills — and the companies to which you send payments. Don’t trust your analog brain to remember all of them.

Instead, take a few minutes to review your budget or your bank and credit card statements from the previous year to jog your memory on regular but non-monthly expenses, like your vehicle registration renewal or credit card membership fees.

Also list your banks and all of your credit cards — even the ones you don’t regularly use. In a crisis, you may need access to a credit line you don’t typically tap, and you’ll want to have that account information handy.

2. Download the Official Apps

Whether it’s your student loan servicer or your mortgage lender, using the company’s official app offers the benefit of providing you more immediate access to your information and to assistance during a crisis.

Most lenders have added easy-access buttons that let you apply for relief plans if you’re struggling to pay your bills. That small convenience saves you the step of searching the company’s website for a customer service number.

Pro Tip

Create logins and new passwords when you download the apps, keeping the info in a secure place. And don’t reuse passwords to mitigate the damage if a thief gains access to one of your accounts.

By downloading the app, you’ll also have easy access to your account information. That can be helpful if a crisis puts you in the hospital unexpectedly or forces you to evacuate suddenly and you need to contact a lender.

Saving those few minutes of stress by keeping the information handy could mean the difference between connecting with financial hardship assistance and letting bills go unpaid. Doing the latter could wreck your finances for long after the disaster passes.

3. Use App Features to Protect Your Money

If you haven’t set up automatic payments for monthly expenses like your mortgage and cell phone bill, do it before the next catastrophe hits. During an emergency, you don’t want the electricity turned off just because you forgot what day it is.

Additionally, you can set up spending alerts and limits for your bank accounts and credit cards, helping you avoid those nasty overdraft fees.

Pro Tip

If you’re trying to maintain social distancing guidelines, use the check deposit feature available on most bank and credit union apps to avoid visiting a physical location.

Review the apps for other features that you may not have considered, like the ability to check your credit score. If you check your score on a regular basis and it suddenly drops unexpectedly, you can track down the problem quickly.

Most major credit card apps also allow you to lock the account and replace your card if it’s lost or stolen amid the chaos of your current situation.

You may not be able to prevent a crisis, but you can control how you prepare for one so you and your money can survive intact.

Tiffany Wendeln Connors is a staff writer/editor at The Penny Hoarder. Read her bio and other work here, then catch her on Twitter @TiffanyWendeln.

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

Putting Off Bestow Life Insurance Could Stick Your Family w/$200K in Debt

So you’re apparently a grown-up now. You’re successfully adulting. Congratulations!

That means it’s time to stop procrastinating and ask yourself this “adulting” question — one you’ve been putting off. If you were gone, how would your family ever pay off the house?

The unfortunate truth is, most of us die in debt, and studies have found that nearly 85% of people between the ages of 46 and 49 have an average mortgage debt of over $200,000. The last thing you want to do is leave your family with that debt.

Luckily, in just five minutes, you could make sure your family is financially taken care of with a life insurance policy. A company called Bestow makes it easy to apply for coverage right from your phone. Yep. You don’t even need to leave your house.

Spend Five Minutes to Make Sure Your Family Can Pay the Bills When You Die

As long as you’re between the ages of 18 and 60, you can apply and get a quote in minutes — and if you’re approved, you could have coverage by the end of today. There’s no medical exam required.

Even better — life insurance may be cheaper than you think. Bestow’s premiums start at just $10 a month, and Bestow helps you choose the right amount of coverage for your family. How big is your mortgage? You can choose coverage ranging from $50,000 to $1.5 million, and policies can run from 10 to 30 years. Bestow can help you figure it out.

For example, you could get $250,000 of coverage for just under $13 a month.*

So, if you’ve been putting this off, now’s the time to stop. In just five minutes, you could make sure you don’t leave your family with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. It takes just a few minutes to get started, and you’ll know your family is taken care of.

Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. You better believe he has a mortgage.

*Rates are based on a healthy, non-smoking, 25-year-old woman.

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

Dear Penny: I’m a Single Stay-at-Home Mom, so Men Assume I’m Broke

Dear Penny,

I’m a 30-year-old woman. Sixteen months ago, just a few weeks into the pandemic, I lost my husband. As a result, my two young children and I each started receiving monthly Social Security benefits. Our checks combined are enough that I was able to quit my job and become a stay-at-home-mom to my girls, ages 5 and almost 2. 

I also purchased a new, nicer home in a beautiful upper-middle-class neighborhood, and this is my only existing debt. I manage money well. My credit score is great. I have a security cushion, savings accounts for my kids, and even a special account for vacations and fun money. I will receive this money until my children turn 18, so I have some time to re-establish a career down the road. For all intents and purposes, I’m financially stable for the foreseeable future. 

I’m interested in dating again, and I’ve tried a little, but one of the first questions I’m asked by a potential partner is, “So, what do you do?” And when I respond that I’m a single, stay-at-home-mom, most men seem to assume that my life must be a dumpster fire. Or they immediately follow up with, “How do you stay afloat if you don’t work?” And then I’m forced to jump into saying I’m a widow perhaps sooner than I’d like, and it scares men off. Emotional baggage is scary, I get it…

What can I say to make myself sound as stable as I am? Is there a way to divert the “what do you do?” question without seeming like I’m withholding something sketchy? Or a way to make it sound better so men won’t turn and run for the hills? 

Sincerely,

Single, Stable and Stereotyped 

Dear Single,

If only dating didn’t seem so much like a job hunt. Too often, it feels more like an exchange of resumes than getting to know a person.

Your letter is a good reminder about why we shouldn’t make assumptions about one another’s finances. There are plenty of people with good jobs whose finances truly are a dumpster fire because they spend beyond their means or they’re buried under a mound of student loans. Likewise, there are people like you who are in great financial shape without working a traditional job.

I think you can keep your message straightforward. When someone asks you what you do, try something like: “I worked in X industry for a number of years, but I’m in such a solid position that I decided to quit my job to focus on my daughters for now.”


Someone who respects your boundaries will accept that this is what you’re comfortable sharing in the moment. You don’t owe anyone more than that. If they pressure you for more specifics, treat it as a big red flag. It’s pretty invasive to ask someone you barely know or haven’t met how they pay their bills.

If you’re using dating apps, try taking the lead when you match with someone. Ask him about one of his pictures, or mention something the two of you have in common. Often, we default to work talk when we don’t have anything else to talk about. The same applies if you meet a guy IRL who you’d be interested in going on a date with. Try to establish rapport before you exchange “What do you dos?”

If you’re on the apps, you could also mention a few things on your profile that convey financial stability without directly saying, “My life is not a dumpster fire.” For example, you could say that you just bought a home or ask for travel tips for a vacation you have planned.

I understand why you wouldn’t want to bring up the fact that you’re a widow during an initial conversation with someone. You’ve endured a heartbreaking loss. But it’s inevitable that this will come up relatively soon. That may not be such a bad thing. If a guy can’t handle the emotional baggage, it’s best to find out soon, before you’ve invested significant time and energy.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com