Fixed Expense vs Variable Expense

Budgeting is the best way to get a better handle on where your money is going — which can help you get a better handle on where you’d like to see your money go.

But before you dive into the nitty-gritty of each individual line item on your ledger, you first need to understand the difference between fixed expenses and variable expenses.

As their name suggests, fixed expenses are those that are fixed, or unchanging, each month, while variable expenses are the ones with which you can expect a little more wiggle room. However, it’s possible to make cuts on items in both the fixed and variable expense category to save money toward bigger financial goals, whether that’s an epic vacation or your eventual retirement.

Let’s take a closer look.

What Is a Fixed Expense?

Fixed expenses are those costs that you pay in the same amount each month — items like your rent or mortgage payment, insurance premiums, and your gym membership. It’s all the stuff whose amounts you know ahead of time, and which don’t change.

Fixed expenses tend to make up a large percentage of a monthly budget since housing costs, typically the largest part of a household budget, are generally fixed expenses. This means that fixed expenses present a great opportunity for saving large amounts of money on a recurring basis if you can find ways to reduce their costs, though cutting costs on fixed expenses may require bigger life changes, like moving to a different apartment — or even a different city.

Keep in mind, too, that not all fixed expenses are necessities — or big budget line items. For example, an online TV streaming service subscription, which is withdrawn in the same amount every month, is a fixed expense, but it’s also a want as opposed to a need. Subscription services can seem affordable until they start accumulating and perhaps become unaffordable.

Recommended: Are Monthly Subscriptions Ruining Your Budget?

What Is a Variable Expense?

Variable expenses, on the other hand, are those whose amounts can vary each month, depending on factors like your personal choices and behaviors as well as external circumstances like the weather.
For example, in areas with cold winters, electricity or gas bills are likely to increase during the winter months because it takes more energy to keep a house comfortably warm. Grocery costs are also variable expenses since the amount you spend on groceries can vary considerably depending on what kind of items you purchase and how much you eat.

You’ll notice, though, that both of these examples of variable costs are still necessary expenses — basic utility costs and food. The amount of money you spend on other nonessential line items, like fashion or restaurant meals, is also a variable expense. In either case, variable simply means that it’s an expense that fluctuates on a month-to-month basis, as opposed to a fixed-cost bill you expect to see in the same amount each month.

To review:

•   Fixed expenses are those that cost the same amount each month, like rent or mortgage payments, insurance premiums, and subscription services.

•   Variable expenses are those that fluctuate on a month-to-month basis, like groceries, utilities, restaurant meals, and movie theater tickets.

•   Both fixed and variable utilities can be either wants or needs — you can have fixed-expense wants, like a gym membership, and variable-expense needs, like groceries.

When budgeting, it’s possible to make cuts on both fixed and variable expenses.

Recommended: Grocery Shopping on a Budget

Benefits of Saving Money on Fixed Expenses

If you’re trying to find ways to stash some cash, finding places in your budget to make cuts is a big key. And while you can make cuts on both fixed and variable expenses, lowering your fixed expenses can pack a hefty punch, since these tend to be big line items — and since the savings automatically replicate themselves each month when that bill comes due again. (Even businesses calculate the ratio of their fixed expenses to their variable expense, for this reason, yielding a measure known as operating leverage.)

Think about it this way: if you quit your morning latte habit (a variable expense), you might save a grand total of $150 over the course of a month — not too shabby, considering its just coffee. But if you recruit a roommate or move to a less trendy neighborhood, you might slash your rent (a fixed expense) in half. Those are big savings, and savings you don’t have to think about once you’ve made the adjustment: they just automatically rack up each month.

Other ways to save money on your fixed expenses include refinancing your car (or other debt) to see if you can qualify for a lower payment… or foregoing a car entirely in favor of a bicycle if your commute allows it. Can you pare down on those multiple streaming subscriptions or hit the road for a run instead of patronizing a gym? Even small savings can add up over time when they’re consistent and effort-free — it’s like automatic savings.

Of course, orchestrating it in the first place does take effort (and sometimes considerable effort, at that — pretty much no one names moving as their favorite activity). The benefits you might reap thereafter can make it all worthwhile, though.

Saving Money on Variable Expenses

Of course, as valuable as it is to make cuts to fixed expenses, saving money on variable expenses is still useful — and depending on your habits, it could be fairly easy to make significant slashes. For example, by adjusting your grocery shopping behaviors and aiming at fresh, bulk ingredients over-packaged convenience foods, you might decrease your monthly food bill. You could even get really serious and spend a few hours each weekend scoping out the weekly flyer for sales.

If you have a spendy habit like eating out regularly or shopping for clothes frequently, it can also be possible to find places to make cuts in your variable expenses. You can also find frugal alternatives for your favorite spendy activities, whether that means DIYing your biweekly manicure to learning to whip up that gourmet pizza at home. (Or maybe you’ll find a way to save enough on fixed expenses that you won’t have to worry as much about these habits!)

The Takeaway

Fixed expenses are those costs that are in the same amount each month, whereas variable expenses can vary. Both can be trimmed if you’re trying to save money in your budget, but cutting from fixed expenses can yield bigger savings for less ongoing effort.

Great budgeting starts with a great money management platform — and a SoFi Money® cash management account can give you a bird’s-eye view that puts everything into perspective. You’ll also have access to the Vaults feature, which helps you set aside money for specific savings purposes, no matter which goals are the most important to you, all in one account.

Check out SoFi Money and how it can help you manage your financial goals.

Photo credit: iStock/LaylaBird

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SoFi Money is a cash management account, which is a brokerage product, offered by SoFi Securities LLC, member FINRA / SIPC .
Neither SoFi nor its affiliates is a bank. SoFi Money Debit Card issued by The Bancorp Bank.
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The SoFi Money® Annual Percentage Yield as of 03/15/2020 is 0.20% (0.20% interest rate). Interest rates are variable subject to change at our discretion, at any time. No minimum balance required. SoFi doesn’t charge any ATM fees and will reimburse ATM fees charged by other institutions when a SoFi Money™ Mastercard® Debit Card is used at any ATM displaying the Mastercard®, Plus®, or NYCE® logo. SoFi reserves the right to limit or revoke ATM reimbursements at any time without notice.


23 Ideas for Cheap Christmas Decorations

If you’re dreaming of a white Christmas, but you live in an area that doesn’t get any snow, you can use spray snow to make your winter wonderland dreams come true. You can spray artificial snow on your windows to create a frosted look or spray your front door wreath to make it appear to be covered with snowflakes. A can of spray snow costs less than on Amazon.
Dress up your dining table to bring out the joy of the holiday season. Drape your table with a red, green or white tablecloth and fill a vase or tray with seasonal elements, such as pine cones, holly leaves, cranberries, sprigs of pine needles, jingle bells, candy canes or candles.
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23 Ideas for Cheap Christmas Decorations


1. Wall Christmas Trees

Turn empty flower pots into outdoor Christmas decor with just a little paint. You’ll need at least three pots of varying sizes. Paint them white if you want to create a snowman out of your flower pots or green to make a flower pot Christmas tree. Once dried, stack the pots on top of each other upside down and paint additional embellishments, like a face and buttons on your snowman or ornaments and tinsel on your Christmas tree.

2. Get an Artificial Christmas Tree

You can buy boxes of candy canes for cheap at grocery stores or dollar stores around this time of the year. Fill candy dishes full of these red and white striped treats to go on your tablescape, coffee table or end tables. Or hang one or two candy canes on your Christmas tree in place of buying more pricy ornaments.

A woman decorates a tiny Christmas tree.
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3. Get a Tiny Tree

The weather’s getting colder. The days are getting shorter. Before you know it, Christmas will be here.

4. Garland

Transform your doors into the biggest presents ever by covering them in wrapping paper. You can use wrapping paper to decorate your interior doors as well as your front door. Add ribbon or a big bow for extra embellishment.

5. DIY Ornaments

Talk about easy Christmas decorations that make your home merry. You can also stack your wrapped present props in an empty corner, by the base of your staircase or on your front porch.

6. Twinkling Lights

Rather than buying an advent calendar this year, make your own. This post from Country Living has several ideas. Come up with whatever little treat, token or message you want to open each day.

7. Window Stickers

Whether you use a kit or make your own gingerbread from scratch, a gingerbread house is a fun holiday project that can double as Christmas decor. Just know it probably won’t last long — so consider this a temporary decoration!

8. Candles

Bundling up on a snowy day to go to the Christmas tree farm and chop down the perfect tree may be a sweet holiday outing, but you’ll get more bang for your buck by opting for an artificial Christmas tree. Now, artificial trees can get pricy themselves, depending on what size and type you choose. However, you can reuse the tree for years to come, rather than having to put it out to the curb when the new year rolls around.

A front door is wrapped in wrapping paper.
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9. Decorate Your Doors

Candles are a simple and low-cost way to add a bit of Christmas spirit to a room. You can create a tablescape with red, green, white or gold candles — or set them on the mantle or a wide window ledge. Set battery-operated votive candles inside Mason jars painted in holiday colors for a flame-free decor option.

10. Bells Around Door Knobs

This winter craft doubles as a cheap Christmas decoration. You may be able to make it with items you already have at home: white tube socks, rice, buttons, pins and a scrap of fabric. This post from Darkroom and Dearly tells you exactly how to create them.

11. Decorate With Ribbon

Instead of buying an expensive 7-foot tree, you can save money by getting a much smaller tree that’ll fit on your tabletop. In addition to spending less on the tree, you’ll save on the amount of lights and ornaments you’ll need to decorate it.

12. Wrap Empty Boxes

Dress up your windows with seasonal decals. You can find window stickers of snowflakes, ornaments, gingerbread men and more at the dollar store, craft store and major retailers like Walmart or Amazon. If stored properly, you can even reuse them for next year.

13. Holiday Cards Display

An easy way to light up the outside of your house without needing yards of string lights and a ladder is to use a light projector. You can buy one on Amazon, Home Depot, Walmart and similar retailers for under .

14. Make your Own Advent Calendar

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A boy eats a gingerbread house he made.
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15. Gingerbread House

Deck the halls without wrecking your finances. Here are 23 festive ideas for cheap Christmas decorations.

16. Display Your Kids’ Holiday Artwork

A flat Christmas tree hung on the wall is a great space saver and money saver. You can make wall Christmas trees out of a string of lights, garland, a large piece of felt or even Washi tape. Check out this article from Apartment Therapy for ideas. It looks festive with or without a tree topper!

17. Create a Holiday Tablescape

Make your home not only look but sound festive by tying jingle bells to some red or green ribbon and then wrapping them around your door knobs. Whenever someone opens a door, the kiddos in the house will be looking over their shoulders to see if Santa’s coming.

18. Sock Snowmen

While you’re out shopping for gifts, it can be very tempting to add a bunch of holiday decorations to your cart to help get your home looking merry and bright. But the cost of Christmas decorations often gets overlooked when making your holiday budget — and you end up spending way more than you thought you would.

A person decorates their Christmas tree with candy canes.
Getty Images

19. Candy Canes

To avoid that post-holiday regret, consider these low-budget suggestions for decorating for Christmas.

21. Fake Snow in Windows

Forget the store-bought ornaments, and pick up your hot glue gun. Create wonderful holiday memories while crafting ornaments you can hang on your tree or use as decor around the house. See this Good Housekeeping post for over 75 ideas for DIY Christmas ornaments.

22. Flower Pot Decorations

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.

23. Light Projector

A string of lights can really spread holiday cheer. To save money, opt for shorter strings of light to cover smaller areas — such as a window or mantle piece, rather than along your gutters or around a 7 foot tree. You can also use a string of lights on a blank stretch of wall in the shape of a star or to spell out “Merry Christmas” in cursive.
You can use ribbon for more than just wrapping presents. Take some thick ribbon in Christmas colors like red, green or gold and use it to make bows to hang on your Christmas tree, your mantle and even on door knobs or drawer pulls. Tie them around a glass vase with a candle inside for a simple Christmas centerpiece. <!–


Garland is a low-budget Christmas decoration that instantly adds holiday spirit to a room. In addition to stringing garland around your Christmas tree, you can hang strings of garland above your mantle, over your doorways, around your window frames or wrapped around the banister of your staircase. Instead of buying your garland, you can make your own using natural elements like dried citrus and pine cones, construction paper, popcorn or cheap ball ornaments.

Cardless Existing Cardholders $100 Bonus With $1,000 Spend

The Offer

Direct Link to offer (holiday footer)

  • Cardless is offering their existing cardholders a bonus 10,000 points when they spend $1,000 between November 24 and December 31, 2021.

The Fine Print

  • * HOLIDAY BONUS POINTS OFFER: To be eligible to receive 10,000 bonus points, you must be an existing cardholder as of 12:00pm PT November 24, 2021 with no other open Cardless credit card accounts and you must complete $1,000 in Eligible Purchases between 12:00pm PT on November 24, 2021 and 11:59pm PT on December 31, 2021.
  • Allow up to 2 statement cycles for the bonus to appear in your rewards account.
  • To receive the bonus, your account must remain current and in good standing for the duration of this offer.
  • Eligible Purchases do not include transactions that are returned, disputed, unauthorized, fraudulent, exceed your credit limit, are made while your account is in default, or any other transaction that First Electronic Bank or Cardless may determine in their discretion is not eligible to earn points. Any bonus points earned through this offer will not be doubled per the Double Points Promotion if a cardholder is simultaneously enrolled in that promotion. This offer is not valid if you violate the terms of this offer, your Cardholder Agreement, or the Rewards Terms.
  • Still working towards your Cardless sign-up offer? We have great news: eligible purchases will count towards your currently enrolled spend bonus offers.

Our Verdict

I’m not positive if this promotion is for all Cardless members, but it seems to be showing on the footer of many/all Cardless cards. Hopefully you got an email about this as well or else you can try contacting customer support to confirm that it applies to you.

Sounds like any $1,000 of spend will count, as stated in the email: “Eligible airfare, hotel stays, restaurant meals, gas, grocery transactions and other eligible purchases will count toward the 10,000-point bonus, which you’ll automatically earn after spending $1,000.”

Hat tip to FearTheZ


Amazon Prime Review – Is it a Good Value for the Cost?

At a glance

Amazon Prime Logo

Our rating

Amazon Prime

  • Plans: One standard plan for $119 per year or $12.99 per month (about $156 per year); discounted Student Prime plan for eligible members
  • Features: Prime Delivery (multiple expedited and discounted delivery options); Prime Video; Prime Reading; exclusive Prime deals; unlimited music streaming; unlimited photo storage; eligibility for Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card subject to credit qualification
  • Advantages: Wide range of shipping options, though variable by customer location; potentially valuable media perks; higher cash-back earnings for qualified Amazon Prime Visa Signature Card users; Prime member discounts at Whole Foods; 30-day free trial period; household memberships; discounted student memberships
  • Disadvantages: Relatively high annual (and even higher monthly) fee; no refunds if you fail to use the service; additional fees for expedited food delivery; music library is weaker than some competitors’

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Dig Deeper

Additional Resources

Amazon Prime is one of the most popular retail loyalty programs in U.S. history. Although Amazon itself doesn’t regularly release membership figures, a study by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners estimated that more than 100 million people had access to Prime in 2019.

Why is Amazon Prime so popular? And is it really a good value for the cost? To decide for yourself, take a closer look at Amazon Prime’s core features and member perks. Then, weigh the facts to determine when and whether it’s worth the annual expense.

Key Features

What’s remarkable about Amazon Prime’s subscriber count is the fact that you must pay to join. Regular Prime members pay $119 per year when billed annually or $12.99 per month (about $156 per year) for the more flexible monthly plan. 

Prime Student members pay $59 per year when billed annually and $6.49 per month (about $78 per year) when billed monthly. To qualify, they must have valid dot-edu email addresses and be able to prove they’re actively enrolled in at least one college course in the United States (including Puerto Rico).

Tens of millions of consumers happily pay comparable annual fees for warehouse store memberships. But most other common retail loyalty programs, such as those run by supermarket and department store chains, cost nothing to join.

But when you look at Amazon Prime’s core features, it’s easy to see why it’s so popular despite the cost.

30-Day Free Trial

All new Prime members are eligible for a 30-day free trial to test-drive the service. During the free trial, you have access to all Prime-exclusive perks and benefits.

You must enter a valid credit card to secure your free trial. Your membership automatically rolls over to paid status at the end of the trial period unless you cancel.

Household Prime Membership

Amazon allows multi-person Prime memberships covering the same household. My wife and I pay a single annual fee for our joint Prime membership. Like merging finances in joint accounts, joint Prime memberships are common practice for spouses and committed domestic partners. 

Household Prime memberships also make sense for long-term roommates.

Prime Delivery

Amazon Prime’s most valuable benefit is Prime Delivery, a collection of Prime-exclusive free and discounted delivery options including:

Free 2-Day Delivery 

Prime’s signature benefit is available on more than 100 million Amazon products for customers in the continental U.S. Members don’t have to worry about a minimum order size or limits on delivery frequency to get free two-day shipping. 

By comparison, free shipping takes anywhere from five to eight business days for non-Prime members, depending on their location and what they order.

Free 1-Day Delivery

Free one-day delivery (next-day delivery) is available across the continental U.S. on more than 10 million Amazon products. Just look for the “Prime FREE One-Day” logo. 

One-day deliveries arrive by 9pm local time the day after you order them. And you’ll never run into minimum order sizes or delivery frequency limits.

Free Same-Day Delivery

Free same-day delivery is more like free 10-business-hour delivery. 

Eligible goods — several million in all — ordered before noon local time arrive by 9pm local time on the same day. Products ordered in the afternoon or evening arrive the following day. 

To qualify, orders must have at least $35 in eligible purchases. Same-day delivery is only available in select cities. Roughly speaking, you can get it in the largest 50 to 100 U.S. metro markets, though Amazon adds new cities regularly.

Free Ultrafast Grocery Delivery 

In select U.S. cities, Amazon offers free ultrafast grocery delivery through Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods Market. In some markets, participating third-party retailers may offer ultrafast grocery delivery through Amazon as well. 

These deliveries typically take no more than two hours during the business day, but they may take longer during off-hours. Look for the “Available Today” icon in the upper left corner of the shopping page.

Secure In-Home Delivery

In select U.S. cities, Amazon offers secure in-home delivery through the Key by Amazon app. 

You can use the app to watch deliveries in real time to ensure the delivery person minds their business inside your home. You must install a special lock and camera and register any frequent guests to limit Amazon’s liability for damage or theft before accepting your first in-home delivery.

Amazon Day Delivery

If you typically place multiple orders per week, you can set a standing Amazon Day to receive everything you ordered during the preceding week. 

It’s a nice perk for Prime members who are frequently absent during the week. For example, setting your Amazon Day for Friday or Saturday reduces the risk of package theft when you’re out of the house on weekdays.

Release-Date Delivery

Amazon Prime members are eligible to shop for preorder products at least two days before their scheduled release dates, then receive free guaranteed delivery the day they’re available to the general public.

Other Amazon Delivery Perks

Amazon’s regular shipping benefits get all the glory. But they’re not the only perks for Amazon Prime members.

Additional perks include:

  • Shopping rewards when you select the no-rush delivery option (either points to use as a credit toward future purchases or instant discounts) 
  • Free delivery on special merchandise that doesn’t typically qualify for free delivery, such as bulky, heavy, or fragile goods
  • Discounted expedited delivery on products that don’t qualify for free one- or same-day shipping

Amazon Prime Video

Amazon Prime Video is Amazon’s Prime-exclusive library of free on-demand TV and movie content. 

Amazon Studios’ top original series and movies (known as Amazon Originals) are available through Prime Video at no additional charge. So are hundreds of popular non-Amazon shows, movies, and live out-of-market sporting events. 

Amazon doesn’t make its entire universe of video content available to Prime members for free. Premium TV series and films may carry one-time rental fees. 

You can stream Prime Video to your TV with a compatible smart TV or external device, such as an Amazon Fire Stick or Apple TV. On the go, you can access content through the Amazon Prime Video app, which is compatible with Android and iOS operating systems.

Amazon Prime Video is the most popular Prime service available on an a la carte basis. If you only want access to Prime Video streaming and don’t care about other Amazon Prime perks like free, fast delivery, you can get it for $8.99 per month. That’s less than competitors like Hulu and Netflix.

Prime Reading

Prime Reading is Amazon’s Prime-exclusive collection of fiction and nonfiction books, magazines, and audio recordings. Prime Reading works are available for download on any compatible device, Amazon-made or otherwise.

Music Streaming

Prime subscribers can stream over 2 million songs, including new hits and old favorites, through Prime Music for free. But it’s worth noting that’s a fraction of what’s available from leading streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music, which have more like 40 million songs in their respective libraries.

Prime Deals & Prime Day Deals

Prime Deals are Prime-exclusive shopping discounts and promotions. They’re subject to change but generally include discounts of 10% to 40% on popular Amazon products, with a focus on home goods, electronics, and kids toys and accessories. Prime-exclusive deals are particularly plentiful on Prime Day.

Prime Add-On Subscriptions

Prime members are under no obligation to add anything to their Prime subscriptions. Before you subscribe to an add-on, check its availability. 

As add-ons, all these subscriptions carry an additional cost — anywhere from $2.99 per month for Amazon Kids+ to $29 per month for NBA League Pass. But they make valuable services for anyone who uses them regularly.

Premium Prime Video Channels

Prime members can watch high-quality video content not included in the regular Prime Video. 

Known as Prime Video Channels, this premium content lineup includes subscription movie and TV channels like HBO and Starz. It also includes a decent lineup of live sports channels and memberships, including NBA League Pass and MLB.TV. 

There are no big channel packages full of content you don’t really watch. You pay only for the channels you want, which helps control your total entertainment cost.

Amazon Kids+

For a small additional monthly fee after a one-month free trial, Prime members can add unlimited kid-friendly content — books, TV shows, movies, and apps — through Amazon Kids+. Kids+ includes built-in parental controls.

Amazon Music Unlimited

Amazon Music Unlimited is an expanded song library with over 60 million songs, which is on par with top standalone subscription streaming services. There’s a decent additional monthly fee associated with this service.

Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card

The Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card is a premium cash-back credit card that’s ideal for Prime members who spend heavily at Amazon and Whole Foods.

It’s a more powerful version of the Amazon Rewards Visa Signature Card. The Prime Visa earns 5% cash back on Amazon-universe purchases and an unlimited 2% cash back on purchases at eligible restaurants, gas stations, and drugstores. 

Credit qualification applies. This card is designed for Prime members with good to excellent credit. Before you apply, check your credit score.


There are many reasons to invest in an Amazon Prime subscription. 

1. Vast Array of Shipping Options

Amazon Prime’s most valuable benefit is a slew of free or discounted shipping options, from two-day free shipping on some 10 million products to ultrafast two-hour shipping in select metro markets. 

If you frequently place last-minute orders, the rush delivery fees could cost as much as or more than many of the products you buy. That makes Prime’s subscription fee seem like a bargain. 

Even if you’re not in a rush, it could still be worth it. Let’s optimistically say you average a delivery fee of $5 per order. Your month-to-month Prime subscription pays for itself if you place just three orders per month. On an annual subscription, it pays for itself with two orders per month.

2. Media Perks Have High Potential Value for Frequent Users

Amazon Prime Video in particular delivers tremendous value for frequent users when compared with competitors like Hulu. 

Unfortunately, it’s not a universal library. For example, Netflix has a trove of original shows and movies, and the newest, choicest flicks carry per-rental fees. But it’s more than enough to keep Prime members occupied on nights in.

3. Free Trial Period

You can cancel your Prime subscription without penalty during the 30-day free trial period. That’s a lifesaver for budget-conscious shoppers looking to dip their toes in without paying anything out of pocket.

4. Household Membership

Joint household memberships are ideal for couples, families, and long-term roommates looking to pool their shopping and media consumption dollars. 

You can only have two adults on a household membership, but its time-saving features give parents peace of mind without paying an extra dime. Teens can shop on their own, pending your approval via text, and you can customize parental controls to limit and monitor kids’ access to media.

5. Membership Discounts for Students

Verified students enjoy 50% off the monthly or annual cost of a Prime membership. That’s excellent news for penny-pinching scholars expecting to rely on Amazon for timely deliveries of textbooks, electronics, school supplies, and basic dorm necessities.

6. Special Discounts at Whole Foods

Prime members enjoy exclusive 10%-off deals on hundreds of products at Whole Foods, subject to change and availability. 

Were it not for this perk, I wouldn’t bother shopping at my local Whole Foods at all, but this discount is deep enough to make Whole Foods’ prices competitive with nearby downscale supermarket chains.

7. Higher Cash-Back Earnings on the Amazon Prime Visa Signature Card

For frequent Amazon and Whole Foods shoppers with above-average credit, the Amazon Prime Visa Signature Card’s 2% cash back bonus subsidizes or entirely offsets Prime’s annual membership fee. 

Earning 2% back on gas and restaurant purchases is nice too, though you don’t need to be a Prime member for that.


As good as it is for so many, there are downsides to the Amazon Prime subscription.

1. Relatively High Annual Fee

Amazon Prime has a relatively high annual fee: $119 per year when billed annually and $12.99 per month (about $156 per year) when billed monthly. For reference, that’s roughly double the cost of a basic Costco membership. 

If you’re not a frequent Amazon or Whole Foods shopper, don’t regularly take advantage of Prime’s non-shipping perks and features, and don’t mind waiting a few extra days for delivery, Prime probably isn’t for you.

2. No Partial Refunds for Unused Benefits on Annual Subscriptions

If you use your Prime benefits at any point during your subscription period, you’re automatically ineligible for a refund of Prime fees paid during that period. 

For instance, say you opt for the two-day free shipping benefit on one order in January, the first month of your Prime membership year. Then, you don’t use your subscription for months, deciding to cancel your annual subscription in May. You’ll pay the full cost for the entire year, despite canceling five months in. 

That’s an incentive to pay for Prime on a month-to-month basis, despite the higher yearly cost. And it’s a disadvantage over warehouse stores like Costco, whose expansive satisfaction guarantees make it fairly easy to cancel for a retroactive refund.

3. Expedited Food Delivery Costs More

An Amazon Prime membership does not entitle you to expedited grocery deliveries. For most folks, the fastest, cheapest way to get edible essentials using your Amazon discount is to stop by the nearest Whole Foods Market, where Prime members enjoy 10% off select goods. 

Amazon Fresh is particularly expensive. Mercifully, shipping is free on Prime Pantry orders over $35.

4. Free Music Library Isn’t Particularly Impressive

To most people, 2 million songs sounds like a lot. But Prime’s free streaming music library isn’t very extensive compared with top-of-the-line streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify. 

Those seeking deep cuts may want to look elsewhere or spring for a paid Amazon Music Unlimited subscription.

Final Word

Amazon Prime has a lot to offer, but it isn’t for everyone. 

My wife and I get our money’s worth and feel it’s a fair value. But we know plenty of occasional Amazon shoppers who can’t justify spending more than $100 per year for Prime benefits. Other shoppers take issue with Amazon’s growing retail dominance and prefer to support independently owned retailers instead.

Whether Amazon Prime makes sense for you depends on how much value you can extract from it. If you’re already selecting one- or two-day shipping on frequent Amazon purchases, shopping at Whole Foods, and regularly streaming Amazon content, it makes sense to join Prime. 

If you shop Amazon infrequently or not at all, don’t watch much TV, and don’t live near a Whole Foods, Prime likely isn’t worth it for you. If you’re living somewhere between those two poles, your choice might be tougher, but you now have what you need to make an informed decision.

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The Verdict

Amazon Prime Logo

Our rating

Amazon Prime

Verdict: Amazon Prime is a wildly successful retail loyalty subscription that more than justifies its high annual cost and even higher monthly cost (a premium for the freedom to cancel anytime).

The ideal Prime user is an individual or household willing to pay upfront for free, expedited shipping and able to take advantage of value-added perks like Prime Video and member-exclusive deals.

If you qualify for the Amazon Prime Visa Signature Card, you’re much more likely to offset the annual Prime membership fee. And you may neutralize the cost through increased cash-back earnings alone if you spend enough at Amazon and Whole Foods.

Prime is not ideal for occasional Amazon shoppers or those willing to pay more to support local or non-Amazon retailers.

Editorial Note:
The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.


32 Las Vegas Secrets That Only Real Locals Know are True

Las Vegas, Nevada. Sin City. Casinos. Gambling. Shows. What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas.

Las Vegas is a fun place to visit, but if you’re wondering if you want to live there, the answer is probably yes. Las Vegas isn’t just for casinos and gambling. Zappos (the online shoe store) has headquarters here, as well as Allegiant Air and the public utility NV Energy. There are also a lot of Las Vegas secrets you didn’t know.

Los Angeles residents often come here for the weekend, and some end up staying in Vegas all year round, choosing instead to commute back to L.A. for work. (Houses, for example, are perhaps as much as three times cheaper in Las Vegas). You can also find many great apartments for rent in Las Vegas, so why not bite the bullet and get a permanent home in this fun and growing city?

32 Las Vegas secrets from beyond the Strip

Some Las Vegas facts aren’t suitable for print. However, here are some Las Vegas secrets to help you learn more about this amazing city in the desert.

1. It goes without saying that Las Vegas is more than “The Strip.” If you’re a local, you’re probably avoiding it like the plague. Unless, of course, you work there or have people visiting.

2. Locals who gamble might be more inclined to visit off-strip casinos or those on the outskirts of Vegas, such as Station Casinos.

3. Las Vegas legalized gambling way back in 1931, the same year construction began on the Hoover Dam.

4. One of the benefits of living in a tourist trap like Las Vegas is that it’s open 24 hours. Locals love the ability to eat whenever they want or find something to do if insomnia strikes.

Las Vegas mountains

Las Vegas mountains

5. For many locals, it’s the outdoors that make Vegas a great place to live, from the stunning sunsets to the beautiful mountains that surround the city.

6. The wildlife you might find around Las Vegas includes bobcats, mountain lions, feral horses, the pig-like collared peccary (javelina), antelope-like pronghorns, desert bighorn sheep, the long-tailed pocket mouse, valley pocket gopher and all sorts of critters big and small.

7. The state of Nevada does have several poisonous snakes, all of them rattlesnakes: the sidewinder, speckled rattlesnake, Western diamondback rattlesnake, Great Basin rattlesnake and Mojave green rattlesnake.

8. Hiking, bouldering, rock climbing and rappelling are popular outdoor sports in Las Vegas. Try Red Rock Canyon, the Black Corridor and Kraft Boulders.

9. Nearby Mount Charleston and the surrounding Spring Mountains are incredibly diverse in terms of ecology, which include desert shrubland, a low conifer zone, a high conifer zone and an alpine zone.

Mount Charleston

Mount Charleston

10. The bristlecone pine trees found on Mount Charleston are some of the oldest trees on Earth. They have a lifespan of more than 1,000 years old.

11. You can hike all year round in Las Vegas due to the mild winters. It can get cold in Nevada, so make sure you dress appropriately in winter months.

12. The highest temperature officially recorded in Las Vegas is 117 degrees, recorded multiple times (most recently on July 10, 2021).

13. An even higher “unofficial” temperature of 118 degrees hit Sin City back in July of 1931, the same year that gambling was legalized. Coincidence? You decide!

14. The temperature in Las Vegas is so uniformly hot in the summer that local news outlets actually report on the “lowest high temperature ever recorded.” Yes, that means it’s news when the high temperature for the day is lower than it is typically. And on July 26, 2021, about two weeks after Vegas hit 117 degrees, the temperature had dropped so much that the high temperature was “only” 90 degrees.

Pools at the Bellagio Hotel, Las Vegas

Pools at the Bellagio Hotel, Las Vegas

15. The “lowest high temperature” on July 26, 2021, broke a 71-year record, beating out 1950 for a low high temperature of 91 degrees for July 26.

16. It goes without saying, when looking for an apartment in Las Vegas, you want to make sure you get one with air conditioning. Actually, the chances of you finding a non-air-conditioned home in Vegas are slim to none. (Check out these great apartments in Las Vegas.)

17. With such high temperatures, make sure you stay hydrated. Las Vegas is in a desert after all. It’s a good idea to keep a water bottle handy (and some extra in your car, although the car is likely to get hot if parked outside).

18. The problem with Las Vegas weather is that during the summer it’s super hot outside and super cold on the inside due to all the air conditioning blasting 24/7. Smart locals bring sweaters and light jackets to wear inside even when the outside is blazing hot.

Man drinking champagne in Las Vegas

Man drinking champagne in Las Vegas

19. Remember, alcohol actually dehydrates you even though it’s a liquid. If you’re going out for a night on the town in Vegas, drink some water along with your booze. There’s much debate over whether drinking water can prevent a hangover (now some scientists are saying it doesn’t do much at all). But we know for sure that water can prevent dehydration in general. So, it’s not going to hurt you to drink water along with your beer or wine.

20. Residents prefer bottled water in Las Vegas. Some locals report that the tap water literally smells. Of course, bottled water is going to be cheaper if you get it at a local grocery store instead of waiting to buy it at a casino.

21. Las Vegas is not a pedestrian-friendly town, so it’s advised to get a car (remember, with cloth seats, not leather seats). If you’re walking in Las Vegas, make sure you pay attention and look both ways before crossing a street because tourists tend to be distracted by all the Vegas sights and sounds.

22. Las Vegas goes through phases. There was the Rat Pack era in the 1960s and, of course, the mobster era, which perhaps hit its peak in the 1950s and didn’t end until the 1980s. The 1970s and the 1980s were not big decades for Las Vegas. And it wasn’t seen as a major destination like it is today. In fact, Vegas was seen as a bit “seedy.”

23. In the 1990s, starting with the development of the Excalibur hotel and casino, themed after King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Las Vegas underwent a transformation and was rebranded as more “family-friendly.”

24. Other 1990s era themed casinos include the Egyptian-themed Luxor, Treasure Island, Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Monte Carlo, New York-New York (with a mini skyline, roller coaster and Statue of Liberty), Mandalay Bay, the Venetian, Paris (with an iconic hot-air balloon) and the new Aladdin.

25. Starting in the 2000s, kitschy themes and ethnic/cultural attractions were on their way out and “upscale” was in,. Previously themed hotels, such as the Imperial Palace were rebranded. The Japanese-themed Imperial Palace was first rebranded as the Quad Resort & Casino and is now the Linq.

Hotels in Las Vegas

Hotels in Las Vegas

26. Aladdin was rethemed away from Disney and an Arabian flavor to reopen in 2007 to the more generic but “modern” Planet Hollywood theme. Sahara first closed in 2011 but was reopened as SLS Las Vegas without its iconic Moroccan theme in 2013. It was finally renamed Sahara (remaining themeless otherwise) in 2019. And in 2018, the Waldorf Astoria Las Vegas replaced the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

27. If you want to enjoy some classic Las Vegas kitsch that’s been around since 1972, check out the Peppermill Las Vegas and Fireside Lounge on the Strip. They’ve been featured in many movies and TV shows. It looks like a Denny’s on the outside. One of the popular items (not on the menu) is the massive Scorpion Bowl. It’s made with grenadine and vanilla ice cream that is best shared.

28. The first resort casino to open in Las Vegas was the Flamingo in 1946, financed in large part by mobster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel. He was killed about six months later in a case that remains unsolved to this day.

Flamingo Road and hotel, Las Vegas

Flamingo Road and hotel, Las Vegas

29. Legend has it that the Flamingo was named after Bugsy’s girlfriend, who had really long legs. Except, the casino had already gotten its name from its originator, Billy Wilkerson, who also founded the Hollywood Reporter.

Experience Las Vegas for yourself with a Las Vegas apartment

One of the biggest Las Vegas secrets is that it’s actually a great place to live all year round! With lots of fabulous outdoor activities, mild winter and many great restaurants (outside the Strip, as well), Las Vegas locals have many things to do and see that don’t involve gambling or mingling with tourists.

If you’re looking for Las Vegas facts about housing, check out’s apartments for rent in Las Vegas. You’ll find many great places to live in this growing city that has much to offer beyond the Strip!


31 Ideas for Doing Thanksgiving Inexpensively

If you’ve ever hosted Thanksgiving dinner, you likely know how easy it is for costs to spiral. Between appetizers, drinks, the turkey, sides, and pies, you can easily rack up (multiple!) large tabs at the grocery store.

Even if you’re just traveling to have Thanksgiving with family or friends, you can end up putting a big dent in your spending account. Airlines and hotels often charge a premium during high-demand times like Thanksgiving weekend.

To avoid overspending just a few weeks before gift-giving season, read on. We’ve got 31 ways to keep your Thanksgiving costs under control.

Thanksgiving on a Budget: How to Save

Here are some simple strategies for doing Thanksgiving inexpensively this year. Bonus: They can also help you save time — and stress.

1. Stocking Up as Stuff Goes on Sale

Throughout November, stores typically have different Thanksgiving dinner items on sale. Grabbing nonperishables whenever you see them on discount can save a bundle, and also help spread out the cost of the meal.

2. Making It a Potluck

Whether you’re celebrating with family or friends, you can make Thanksgiving inexpensive by asking your guests to each contribute a dish. You can coordinate who is bringing what in advance to make sure there are no overlaps or gaps.

3. Checking Coupon Sites

Before heading out to the grocery store, you may want to check out coupon websites like , LOZO , and CouponMom to find deals on the items on your shopping list.

4. Going to Manufacturers’ Websites

A few major brands likely produce many of the items on your Thanksgiving shopping list. It can be worth checking websites like Butterball and General Mills for coupons and seasonal promos.

5. Getting Your Grocery Store’s App

Many supermarkets have apps that offer coupons and deals. Sometimes you can get a reward just for signing up.

6. Hitting More Than One Store

Going to just one supermarket is obviously more convenient. But if you check the circulars, you may see different items on sale at different stores. Going to a few different grocery stores could lead to significant savings.

7. Buying a Store-Brand Frozen Turkey

Typically, a turkey makes up about 40% of the cost of the Thanksgiving meal. Opting for a store-brand frozen bird, rather than a fresh one, can significantly lower your total outlay for the meal.

8. Splitting the Costs

You may want to consider teaming up with a sibling or other family member to co-host this year’s gathering. That way you can spit all of the costs, rather than foot the entire bill.

9. Buying Basics in Bulk

Buying staples like flour, potatoes, eggs, cream, and butter from a warehouse store like Costco or Sam’s Club can help you spend a lot less on food, as long as you’re not buying more than you need or will use up after Thanksgiving.

Recommended: How to Buy in Bulk: Beginners Guide

10. Going Generic

Many times, generic or store-brand products are just as good as the brand name version, and the only real difference is price.

11. Asking Guests to BYOB

Wine, beer, and other alcohol can add up quickly. One easy way to save money is to ask your guests to bring their favorite beverage. That way, everyone will get to sip something they love, and you won’t have to shell out all that extra money.

12. Sticking With Seasonal Produce

Vegetables that are in season in November, such as sweet potatoes, squash, Brussels sprouts, and white potatoes, will typically cost a lot less than out-of-season picks, such as corn, asparagus, and green beans.

13. Going With Frozen Veggies

If you want to use veggies that aren’t in season, you may want to choose the frozen versions, which are generally much cheaper than fresh.

14. Baking Your Own Bread

Baking bread can be fun, and typically involves spending a lot less than buying rolls or loaves at a bakery. You can also make bread ahead of time and stick it in the freezer until the big day.

15. Going Simple with Sides

It can be tempting to try a new gourmet recipe you saw online or in your favorite food magazine, but fancy recipes often require specialty ingredients — and can end up costing a lot to make.

16. Not Going Overboard

You may love the idea of giving your guests a cornucopia of options, especially when it comes to appetizers and sides. But making a lot of different dishes can lead to a much longer and costlier grocery bill. And, much of that food may end up going to waste.

17. Getting a Bigger Turkey Than You Need

Yes, this sounds like a way to increase costs. Going with a larger bird, however, can pay off by giving you several additional meals, like turkey sandwiches and turkey pot pies, you can make later without going back to the store, or spending another dime.

18. Considering Pre-Made Dishes

Sometimes store-made dishes and desserts can actually be cheaper than buying all of the ingredients and making these things yourself. It can be worth doing some quick math at the store. This move can also save you time, as well as stress.

19. Shopping Your Pantry

You may already have quite a few shelf-stable items in your pantry (maybe even from last Thanksgiving) that you need this year. It can be well worth the time and effort to give your cabinets a once-over before you head to the market.

20. Watching a Movie at Home

Though many people have a tradition of going out to the movies on Thanksgiving, theater tickets and concessions can be pricey. Instead, you may want to consider renting a movie from a streaming service (or finding a free one) that everyone can watch together on Thanksgiving night.

21. Not Going to the Mall

The average American dropped about $312 going shopping over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend in 2020, according to the National Retail Federation . If you don’t want to be tempted by Black Friday bargains, your best bet may be to avoid stores and stay off-line.

Recommended: How to Cut Back on Spending

22. Using Up Airline Points

If you need to travel by plane over Thanksgiving, you may want to consider using any points you’ve racked up with the airlines or on your credit card to score a free or discounted ticket.

23. Going on a Staycation

While taking a vacation over the Thanksgiving holiday can be fun, it could add up to thousands of dollars between the flights, hotels, and rental car, depending on where you go. You may want to consider staying home and planning a series of local adventures instead.

24. Staying in an Airbnb

If you normally stay in a hotel when you visit family or friends over Thanksgiving, you may be able to save by going with an Airbnb instead, especially if you can share it with other people who are coming in from out of town.

25. Checking Warehouse Clubs for Travel Deals

Before you book any Thanksgiving travel, you may want to check for deals offered by your local warehouse club. If you are a member, you may be able to access discounts on hotels, rental cars, vacation packages, and more.

26. Asking for Travel Discounts

Whether you’re renting a car or staying in a hotel over Thanksgiving, it can be a good idea to ask if you are eligible for any discounts when you book. You may be able to score a lower price if you’re a AAA member, a student, a resident of the state, a member of the military, or over age 55.

Recommended: 27 Tips For Finding The Top Travel Deals

27. Making a Budget

Whether you’re hosting or heading out of town, it can be a wise idea to come up with a total amount you can afford to spend on Thanksgiving. You can then make a list of expected expenses, and determine how much you can realistically spend on each item.

Recommended: Building a Line Item Budget

28. Going DIY with Decor

A fun way to save money on Thanksgiving is to recruit the kids in the family to create your decorations. They could collect and paint pine cones, create cut-out turkeys (using their hands to trace them), or make a craft paper tablecloth where everyone can write or draw what they are thankful for.

29. Handing the Reins to Someone Else

Hosting can be fun and rewarding, but if you need a reprieve from the work — and expense — you may want to see if someone else wants to step up this year. You can offer to bring your famous balsamic roasted Brussels sprouts and garlic mashed potatoes to make the host’s job easier.

30. Going Out to Eat

Local restaurants may be offering Thanksgiving specials to bring in customers. You could save big if you go out to eat (and split the tab) rather than host everyone at your home.

31. Volunteering for the Holiday

Helping out at a local soup kitchen can be a great way to get into the holiday spirit and have a chance to focus on giving back, rather than spending.


You can enjoy Thanksgiving (and the upcoming December holidays) without running up expensive credit card debt that you may struggle to pay back.

One great way to keep your holiday costs under control is to set up a simple budget and then make sure you stick to it by keeping track of your expenses as you go.

With a SoFi Money® cash management account, you can easily track and categorize your weekly spending right in the dashboard of the SoFi Money app.

Learn how SoFi Money can help you keep tabs on spending this holiday season.

Photo credit: iStock/GMVozd

SoFi Money®
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SoFi has partnered with Allpoint to provide consumers with ATM access at any of the 55,000+ ATMs within the Allpoint network. Consumers will not be charged a fee when using an in-network ATM, however, third party fees incurred when using out-of-network ATMs are not subject to reimbursement. SoFi’s ATM policies are subject to change at our discretion at any time.
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
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Credit score needed for the Citi Double Cash Card

The Citi® Double Cash Card is one of today’s top cash back credit cards – and for good reason. The card offers 1% cash back on every purchase, plus another 1% cash back when you pay off your purchases.

“As a busy dog mom with a job and too many hobbies, I love that I can use my card anywhere without having to stop and plan how to get the best rewards rate,” personal finance writer Meredith Hoffman says, explaining why the Citi Double Cash card is the best card in her wallet. “In my first year with the Double Cash card, I earned $187 in cash back on everything from hair appointments to grocery shopping and gas.”

If you’re thinking about applying for the Citi Double Cash card, you’re probably wondering what credit score is needed for your card application to be successful. In most cases, having a good credit score means taking the time to build good or excellent credit before applying – although even people with excellent credit can have their applications denied, depending on how they’ve used credit in the past and how much new credit they’ve applied for recently.

Want to take advantage of all the benefits the Citi Double Cash Card has to offer? Here’s what you need to know before applying.

What credit score do I need to get the Citi Double Cash?

While there’s no credit score range that guarantees your chances for approval, our research indicates that you’ll be most likely to be approved for the Citi Double Cash card if your credit score is good, very good or excellent.

What does it mean to have good or excellent credit? If you’re using the FICO credit scoring model, you’re going to want a credit score between 670 and 850. If you’re using the VantageScore model, your credit score should be between 700 and 850. Here’s a quick rundown of how each credit scoring model tracks credit ranges:

Credit Score Ranges FICO VantageScore
Credit rating Score range Credit rating Score range
Exceptional 800–850 Excellent 781–850
Very good 740–799 Good 661–780
Good 670–739 Fair 601–660
Fair 580–669 Poor 500–600
Very poor 300–579 Very poor 300–499

How can I improve my score to get this card?

If you don’t have a good enough credit score for the Citi Double Cash card, here are some tips to help you improve your credit score quickly:

Make on-time payments, every time

The single best way to boost your credit score is by making on-time payments – every time – on existing credit lines.

Payment history makes up 35% of your FICO credit score, making it the most important factor in your credit file. If you have missed payments on your record, it’s time to change your bill-paying habits to ensure that all future payments go out on time.

Some people use credit card autopay to keep them from missing payments. Other people set up mobile alerts to remind them when their credit card bill is due.

If you want to improve your credit, you need to build a history of on-time payments. Even if you can only make the minimum payment, make sure it goes out on time.

Pay down old debt

Ready for a second step to help you get the credit score needed for the Citi Double Cash card? Pay off any existing credit card debt.

Under the FICO scoring model, your credit utilization ratio makes up 30% of your credit score, making it the second-most important credit scoring factor after your payment history.

Your credit utilization ratio is determined by comparing your available credit to your current debt. The best way to lower your credit utilization ratio and improve your credit score is by paying off your credit card balances.

However, you can also lower your credit utilization ratio by opening a new credit card and increasing the total amount of credit available to you. Some people use balance transfer credit cards as a way to take advantage of both credit-boosting opportunities at the same time, increasing their available credit and paying off old balances simultaneously.

Check your credit report

Here’s one more way to improve your credit score for the Citi Double Cash card: Check your credit report for errors. Many people don’t realize that mistakes on their credit report can lower their credit score – and that taking a few minutes to review your credit report and dispute any errors is an easy way to improve your credit score quickly.

What can I do if Citi declines my application?

If Citi declines your application for the Citi Double Cash credit card, you have a few options. First, you can build your credit score and re-apply for the Citi Double Cash card once you have established good or excellent credit.

You may also want to consider applying for a different Citi credit card, especially if you want to take advantage of Citi credit card benefits like the ability to earn ThankYou points on every purchase.

If you’re thinking about using a balance transfer credit card to pay off old debt and boost your credit score, the Citi Simplicity® Card offers 12 months of 0% intro APR on purchases and 21 months of 0% intro APR on balance transfers completed within the first four months (after intro period, regular 14.74% to 24.74% variable APR applies). This gives you over a year to pay off transferred balances before they start to accrue interest – and plenty of time to work on building your credit score.

What if you’ve already built the credit score needed for the Citi Double Cash and Citi still declines your application? Believe it or not, you can be denied for a credit card even with excellent credit – and in many cases, it has to do with other application factors such as income level, current credit card balances and the number of credit cards you’ve opened in the past.

Credit card issuers are less likely to approve people who churn new accounts for their sign-up bonuses, for example – and Citi, like many credit issuers, has application restrictions designed to prevent people from taking out too many new credit cards at once. If you’re turned down for these reasons, you may just need to give it some time before successfully applying for a new card.

Final thoughts

What credit score is needed for the Citi Double Cash Card? In most cases, having a good or excellent credit score will make you a prime candidate for approval.

If you want to test your approval odds before applying, try using a service like CardMatch™ to check for prequalified credit card matches and personalized offers. Otherwise, try building your credit until you have a FICO credit score between 670 and 850 – because our research indicates that’s the best credit score range for the Citi Double Cash Card.


How to Find The Best Renters for Your Apartment Community

Following this step-by-step guide will help ensure you find the best tenants for your rental property.

Finding good renters is something many property owners wonder about, especially if they’re new to owning apartments or other rental property. Choosing the best renters is crucial to your success as a property owner, but it can also be challenging. Finding a tenant requires careful screening and due diligence on your part.

What really makes a great renter? Someone who pays their rent on time each month ensures that you have a steady stream of money coming in. But cash flow isn’t everything. You also want someone who will take care of the property, communicate with you, follow all of the lease provisions and stick around for as long as possible.

The average tenant lives in a rental unit for just over two years. So, creating a streamlined process for advertising your rental and finding, screening and selecting tenants will save you time when a tenant moves out and help you rent the unit to someone else more quickly.

These 11 steps for how to find renters for your apartment community will help.

1. Get familiar with local tenant laws

Landlord-tenant laws vary widely by state and even sometimes by city and county. The laws often specify property requirements and the responsibilities of the property owner. Before you start advertising your rental and looking for tenants, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with local rules and regulations.

Additionally, you must follow the federal Fair Housing Act, which protects people from discrimination when renting a home. The law prohibits discrimination in housing based on the following protected classes:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Familial status (for example, people with children or single parents)
  • Disability

2. Consider hiring a property manager

If you’re new to owning rental property, hiring a property manager may be a worthwhile investment. Property managers are experienced in the local real estate market and know how to find renters quickly and effectively. They advertise the property, show it to potential tenants, review applications, screen tenants and get leases signed.

Once a tenant moves in, a property manager will take care of the day-to-day aspects of the rental, including coordinating repairs and answering questions. Property managers typically charge between 5 percent and 10 percent of the monthly rent, according to HomeAdvisor. But it might be worth it if it will save you time and a few headaches.

3. Create a detailed rental ad

Writing a detailed, unique ad for the rental attracts attention and helps find tenants quickly. Make sure your advertisement includes:

  • A description of the property
  • Number of bedrooms and bathrooms
  • Details about property amenities like a pool or playground
  • Rent price
  • The date it is available
  • Your contact information
  • Several accurate, high-quality photos of the home

Be sure that your ad follows all local landlord-tenant laws and the Fair Housing Act. The law prohibits ads that suggest a preference, limitation or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status or national origin.

Determining rental price

Determining rental price

4. Price the rental competitively

Deciding how much to charge for rent can be challenging, especially as the real estate market remains in flux. The average rent for an apartment is up about 20 percent over the past year, according to Apartment Guide.

Just because rent prices are going up doesn’t mean you can or should charge exorbitant prices. Pricing the rental property competitively is the best way to find renters. It’s a good idea to check out similar properties in your area and align your rent prices with them.

5. Advertise your property in multiple ways

Placing a “for rent” sign in front of the property is a great way to let passersby know it’s available. But, when it comes to finding renters, it may not capture everyone who’s looking for a home in the area. The truth is most renters start their search online. Advertising a rental online using these channels will broaden your reach:

  • Use your website: If you own several rental properties, set up a website to advertise the available units. Just update it as soon as you know one of your properties will become vacant.
  • Post on social media: Share your rental listing on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and ask family and friends to share it, too. You can also post ads for the property in local Facebook groups.
  • Create a listing on Whether you have a rental house, condo or apartment community, posting the listing on allows you to reach about 10 million potential renters. The site also enables you to accept applications, screen tenants and take rent payments online.

Other advertising options for how to find renters include placing an ad in a local newspaper or distributing flyers around the neighborhood, such as local grocery stores or libraries.

6. Show the property

When you get calls from your rental ad, be sure to respond promptly and schedule individual showings with anyone interested in seeing the home. Tours allow potential tenants to see the unit in person, ask questions and decide if the place meets their needs.

Showings are also a great time to get a sense of whether the person will be a responsible tenant. Be prepared to openly discuss the rent price (including whether you’ll negotiate the rate), the amount of the security deposits and fees, policies such as whether you allow pets and how you handle repairs and the application and screening process.

Along with individual showings, schedule a couple of open houses that are open to anyone. Open houses will attract a broad group of prospective tenants who can drop by and scope out the property on their own. If they’re interested, they can ask questions about applying to rent the unit.

Professional young woman

Professional young woman

7. Sell yourself as much as the rental

Renters are, of course, looking for a nice place to call home. But they also want to rent from someone who’s respectful and professional. When you meet potential tenants for the first time, it’s your time to shine. Respond to calls or emails promptly, be on time for meetings, behave in a friendly and professional manner and be upfront about the property, rent and the process for screening tenants.

The goal should be to establish a long-term relationship with renters. Following through on any promises and treating renters with respect is a chance to solidify that bond. Once they move in, always respond timely to requests, make repairs when needed, listen to their concerns and generally keep the lines of communication open. Keeping renters happy will likely encourage them to live in the home longer.

8. Take rental applications

Create a standard rental application with the same questions and requirements to use with all potential renters. A standard application ensures you’re treating all applicants equally and complying with state, local and federal housing laws. Applications typically ask for someone’s contact details, proof of income, emergency contact, references, rental history, pet information and a photo ID. Charging an application fee of $20 to $50 covers the cost of processing the applications and conducting background checks.

If more than one person plans to move into the rental, consider having everyone apply separately, especially if they’ll be paying rent separately. One renter can apply and still have a roommate, however. They just need to specify that in their application and the situation must comply with rental property laws.

Once you receive an application, date it and note the time it was received. Then, do a quick review, just to make sure the applicant answered all of the questions and provided the required information. If anything is missing, ask them to submit those items. When you get multiple applications for the same property, create a spreadsheet to help you track each one and decide which renter is most qualified.

9. Screen potential tenants

The application provides all the information you need to screen tenants. There are several types of screenings to conduct to verify that an applicant is qualified to rent the property — just make sure you use the same screening process with everyone:

Check references

Contact previous landlords, employers and personal references to find out about an applicant’s rental history, financial situation and general stability. Ask how the reference knows the applicant (in case they misrepresent friends as employers, for example) and when verifying income, keep in mind some companies have policies against providing details about employees. Ask yes or no questions, like “[Applicant’s name] said she earns $5,000 a month working there. Is that true?”

Do a credit check

Running a credit report will help verify an applicant’s financial history, including whether they pay bills on time, their credit score and past evictions or bankruptcies. Avoid basing everything on credit score alone, however, as people just establishing their credit might have a lower score or someone may have encountered a hefty medical bill.

Run a background check

Criminal conviction information is public and available at local courthouses. You usually just need a person’s birth date and full name to run a background check. But double-check local renter laws to make sure they permit criminal background checks for tenants. For example, some states prohibit property owners from discriminating against tenants with certain types of convictions, but you’re allowed to check sex offender registries.

Review rental history

Try to talk to at least one of an applicant’s previous landlords to find out if they paid rent on time, why they moved, how they maintained the property, whether they caused damage and if they gave notice before moving.

Happy young couple getting keys

Happy young couple getting keys

10. Decide what makes a qualified tenant

Property owners can decide what makes a qualified tenant, as long the qualifications comply with federal, state or local housing laws and avoid discrimination. Set standards for qualifications that you apply to everyone. Here are some examples of what you might require:

  • The renter’s income to be at least three times the monthly rent. Since most renters pay about 30 percent of their income in rent, this ensures they’ll have enough to cover rent each month.
  • A “fair” credit score of at least 600. More importantly, check the individual’s bill payment history and verify employment.
  • Impeccable references from past landlords, showing that the tenant hasn’t been evicted in the past.
  • No past criminal felony convictions, if this is allowed based on your local tenant laws.
  • A tenant may need a co-signer or guarantor if they don’t meet the requirements.

11. Prepare and sign the lease

Never rely on a verbal agreement with a renter. You need a lease that outlines your responsibilities and the tenant’s responsibilities while they’re living in the apartment. The lease should specify who’s responsible for which repairs and maintenance, when rent is due, how rent should be paid, pet policies, roommate policies, how lease renewals are handled and how much notice a renter should give before moving out. The lease protects you and the renter.

After you’ve reviewed applications, screened applicants and decided who meets the qualifications, go over the lease with the prospective tenant to make sure they understand everything. You can also negotiate portions of the lease, such as whether pets are allowed or if certain utilities will be included.

Once the lease is finalized and everyone agrees to its provisions, you and the tenant sign it. You’ll collect the security deposit and pet fees and decide on a move-in date. Be sure to give renters a copy of the signed lease and keep a copy in your records.

How to find renters

Learning how to find the best renters is a critical part of owning a rental property. Tenants that pay on time, communicate effectively and take care of the apartment or house are your best option, and there are several ways to find them. When you find top-notch tenants, you can build lasting relationships that ensure your property generates income and keeps vacancies to a minimum.

The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal or financial advice. Readers are encouraged to seek professional legal or financial advice as they may deem it necessary.