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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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.


Advantages

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.


Disadvantages

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.

Source: moneycrashers.com

Feel Like Home: Making the Most of a Small Rental Space – Apartment Life

Written by: Grace Huxley

As the age-old saying goes “home is where the heart is.” It holds true to this day. Even if you have a rental space, it does not mean that you cannot call it home. After all, it ‘is’ your home. Here are a few steps that can help you make your small rental space become the home you had always dreamt of having all your life:

Position your furniture strategically

If your room is small and seems over-furnished, no need to fret, not when you can position your stuff in such a way that it becomes unobtrusive. The thing is, even if you have a really large space, it would still look stuffy if your clothes and furniture are scattered all over the place. You can create a small reading nook that can perform double duty as a means of camouflaging some of the extension cords coming out of the TV and the Wi-Fi box. You can also hide other wiring and light consoles behind a faux olive tree and other odds and ends standing discreetly in different parts of your home.

Hang your kitchen accessories

If you feel that there isn’t enough space in your kitchen for all the pots and pans and other cooking implements in your small studio kitchen, just install some hooks and place them there. This way, you can clear up both kitchen counters as well as shelf space. Moreover, if you don’t love the spiky metal, industrial-looking hooks in your hall or outside your bedroom closet, you can always cover them with a bit of creative artwork. An otherwise ugly wall festooned with hooks can become a highly fashionable display of your art and photographs. If you hang a collage of your favorite and most memorable photographs on these walls, you will be able to conserve space and create a morale booster, every time you look at the walls.

Cover the ungainly electrical box

Unfortunately, these ugly but extremely useful boxes are found in every household. However, they can become eyesores in a small rental space. You can choose to hide yours with a favorite portrait or picture. Alternatively, if you have an artistic bent, you can simply paint them with vivid colors so that they become the centerpiece of your home, instead of a place you would want to hide.

Add some live plants to the mix 

Plants and flowers are a surefire method of making any place feel warm, cozy, and welcoming. Not only do they look good they also smell good too. Who would not want to come home to a sweet-smelling home full of fresh flowers? And if your small home is particularly stuffy, plants can offer an additional benefit. They might help clean up all the toxins and CO2 from your home. While most plants look good in any setting, you can plant them in brilliant white pots or even neon colors if you want to make your place particularly bright and cheery. You can also place them in your bathroom and kitchen. In fact, why not go the whole way and grow your own vegetables in your kitchen and on the windowsills?

Call in the professionals

If you feel that your rental space needs a complete makeover, it might be a really great idea to contact a property management company near where you live. For example, if you live in New York City, you can simply get in touch with an NYC property management company to help you make the most of your rental space. These people are absolute experts in making your rental space become a perfect home. They can decorate the place and even provide the necessities that can help turn a house into a home.

If you have recently shifted from your own home in the suburbs (for instance) to a small rental space, you might be feeling a bit homesick. Under the circumstances, it would be a great idea to try and make your rental space as homelike as possible. You can buy plants and flowers, decorate the walls, and remove the clutter so that your rental accommodation becomes your home sweet home.

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Source: blog.apartmentsearch.com

Guide to Setting Up an Ethereum Wallet in 2021

Anyone with basic computer knowledge can learn how to set up an Ethereum wallet. Doing so will be necessary to interact with the Ethereum ecosystem or send/receive ETH transactions.

There are many different types of Ethereum wallets, and different developers or manufacturers for each type. Setting up an Ethereum wallet is one small part of the answer to the question “what is Ethereum and how it works.”

What Is an Ethereum Wallet?

An Ethereum wallet is a collection of addresses that can be used to send and receive Ether (ETH), the native token of the Ethereum network.

Ethereum wallets, like all crypto wallets, fall into two broad categories: hot wallets and cold wallets. The term “hot” refers to the fact that the private keys to a wallet are held online at all times, making them potentially vulnerable. The term “cold” means that keys are held offline where they are safe from hackers or thieves — in either hardware wallets and paper wallets.

From a user perspective, the main difference between a hot and cold wallet is that hot wallets are more readily available for sending transactions.

What Is an Ethereum Account?

An Ethereum account holds a balance of ETH and can broadcast transactions over the Ethereum network. These accounts can be user-controlled (like wallets) or function as automated smart contracts.

There are two types of Ethereum accounts:

1.    Those that are externally owned and controlled by whoever holds the private keys

2.    Smart contract accounts that are deployed to the network and controlled by code

Both accounts can send and receive ETH and interact with smart contracts.

Recommended: How to Buy Ethereum

What Is an Ethereum Address?

There are two types of Ethereum addresses: externally-owned addresses and contract addresses.

An externally-owned address is an account consisting of a public and private key pair that holds user funds.

An Ethereum address is a 42 character hexadecimal string derived from the last 20 bytes of the public key of the account. 0x is appended in front of this string of characters.

For example:

0x8ba1f109551bd432803012645ac136ddd64dba72

Types of Ethereum Wallets

There are many different kinds of Ethereum wallets, each of which falls under the category of software wallet or hardware wallet.

This chart outlines the pros and cons of different types of Ethereum wallets. Below, we’ll dive into the details of each.

Web wallets Desktop wallets Mobile wallets Hardware wallets Paper wallets
Pros Easy to set up and use Easy to use Convenient for transacting on mobile devices High degree of security, relatively easy to use High degree of security
Cons Very insecure More secure than web wallets but still vulnerable Not suitable for storing large amounts of crypto Can be expensive, typically around $100 Vulnerable to fire or water damage, user error could result in total loss of funds

Software ETH Wallet

Hot wallets are by definition software wallets. There are several different types of software wallets.

Web Wallet

Web-based wallets might be the least secure of all wallets. The keys to these crypto wallets are either held in your browser itself (in the case of non-hosted wallets) or on the servers of a crypto exchange (in the case of hosted wallets).

Some popular non-hosted Ethereum web wallets include MetaMask and MyEtherWallet. Some popular hosted wallets include those provided by crypto exchanges like Binance or Kraken.

Desktop Wallet

Desktop wallets involve simple desktop programs that allow users to send and receive transactions.

Desktop wallets are a type of hot wallet hosted on a desktop or laptop computer. A desktop wallet comes with a simple user interface that enables the sending, receiving, and storing of ETH.

Mobile Wallet

Mobile wallets are stored on mobile devices like smartphones. They can be among the easiest crypto wallets to use.

A useful feature of some mobile wallets is that they allow you to import a private key balance by scanning a QR code. If you have funds stored on a paper wallet, for example, you might be able to “sweep” the balance into a mobile wallet by scanning the QR code associated with the private key of the paper wallet.

Hardware ETH Wallet

Of all the different types of ETH wallets, many crypto wallet users find that hardware wallets provide the best mix of security and usability.

A hardware wallet can store private keys offline in cold storage and quickly be brought back online to make transactions. Most popular hardware wallets support Ethereum as well as multiple ERC-20 tokens that run atop the Ethereum network.

Paper ETH Wallet

Paper wallets are a somewhat outmoded method of wallet creation. Before hardware wallets were created, allowing users to take possession of their private keys in a secure fashion, paper wallets were one of the only ways to put crypto into cold storage.

A paper wallet simply involves printing out the private and public keys to a new wallet on a piece of paper. Users can still use paper wallets, but doing so exposes them to greater risk of user error than most other methods of crypto storage.

5 Steps to Create an Ethereum Wallet

How to set up an Ethereum wallet will differ depending on the type of wallet and the manufacturer or software developer who designed the wallet.

Here we’ll cover the steps to creating an online Ethereum wallet with MetaMask. MetaMask is a popular web-based wallet and can be convenient for some online applications that require ETH transactions, like games, DeFi, or NFTs. This kind of wallet can be great for transactions but is not well-suited to holding large amounts of crypto or long-term storage.

MetaMask can be used on both desktop and mobile devices. Here we’ll cover how to install Metamask on a desktop browser.

1.    Install MetaMask. It’s widely recommended to do so on Google Chrome, as problems are less likely to result than with other browsers. In Chrome, visit the URL metamask.io. Click the “Install MetaMask for Chrome” button and add the extension to your browser.

2.    Create a wallet. Once the extension has been installed, an image of a fox should appear above a button that says “get started.” Click the button. It will ask if you’re new to MetaMask. Select “create a wallet.”

   After creating a wallet, MetaMask will ask you to share your information to improve the service. You can choose to either agree or not. Either way, you can still use the wallet.

3.    Create a password. The next step the software will take you to is password creation. Passwords should be long, unique, and contain a mix of letters, numbers, and special characters. Create a password, agree to the terms of use, and select Create.

4.    Write down your seed phrase. Now MetaMask will reveal your 12-word backup seed phrase, or the Secret Backup Phrase, as they call it. This will serve as a backup to your keys in case you forget your password. Write this phrase on paper and keep it somewhere safe.

5.    Add Ether to your wallet. ETH can be bought on exchanges like those offered by Kraken, Coinbase, or SoFi, then transferred to your own wallet.

Tips for Keeping Your Ethereum Wallet Safe

Keeping your wallet safe depends on the type of wallet you have. Here are a few quick tips for different types of wallets.

•   Web and desktop wallets: Make sure to back up your wallet regularly. If something were to happen to your browser or hard drive, the private keys could be lost, resulting in total loss of funds.

•   Mobile wallets: Backups are also important. Don’t use a mobile wallet on a wireless network you don’t know and trust. There have been cases of people having their wallet hacked while on public Wi-Fi networks like those found in coffee shops and airports.

•   Hardware wallets: Your funds will already be secure — it’s more a matter of keeping the physical wallet and backup seed phrase in a secure location. Don’t store the seed phrase on any computer and don’t share it with anyone.

•   Paper wallets: The wallet needs to be in a secure location and protected from water or fire damage. Consider laminating the wallet and keeping it inside a fire-proof lockbox.

The Takeaway

When setting up an Ethereum wallet, the correct wallet type will depend on what you intend to use your ETH for. There are different types of hot and cold wallets, each of which offers different benefits and drawbacks.

Curious about how to buy Ethereum and other crypto? When you use the secure crypto exchange at SoFi Invest®, you don’t need to figure out how to set up an Ethereum wallet. We handle the details so you can focus on trading crypto like Ethereum, Bitcoin, Litecoin, Cardano, Dogecoin, Solana, Enjin Coin, and more.

Find out how to get started with SoFi Invest.

Photo credit: iStock/tsingha25


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Source: sofi.com

11 Best Browser Extensions to Save Money While Shopping Online

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Dig Deeper

Additional Resources

Americans are shopping online more than ever before. According to the United States Census Bureau, online retailers in the U.S. took in about $759 billion in 2020. That’s more than 13% of all retail sales in the country.

As we spend more online, we’ve become more interested in finding ways to save online. We use sites to compare prices across multiple sites and search for coupon codes that provide deals like discounts or free shipping. Tricks like that can save you money, but they take extra time — sometimes more than it’s worth to save a dollar or two.

Fortunately, there’s an easier way to save when you shop online. All you have to do is install a browser extension, a plug-in that extends the capabilities of a Web browser such as Chrome, Firefox, or Safari. But to leverage the online savings, you need to choose the best browser extension for your shopping needs. 

Several money-saving browser extensions can do the work of online bargain-hunting for you. Some compare prices, some find and apply coupon codes, and some help you cash in on cash-back deals. And the best of the bunch can do all three.

1. Capital One Shopping

The Capital One Shopping add-on is an online shopping assistant that uses real-time data from its millions of users to find you better deals. As more people use Capital One Shopping, it gets better at finding low prices and coupon codes that work.

Capital One Shopping combines several of the features of other browser add-ons in one. These include:

  • Price Checking. When you search for a product online or scan a bar code in a store, Capital One Shopping searches for better prices elsewhere. It displays all the prices it finds from Amazon sellers and other top retailers on a single page. 
  • Coupon Checking. When you add something to your online shopping cart, Capital One Shopping goes into coupon-checking mode. It checks multiple coupon codes to see which ones have worked for other Capital One Shopping users and automatically applies the one that gives you the bigger discount. 
  • Price Tracking. If you decide not to make a purchase, Capital One Shopping continues to track prices for the product. If it goes on sale, the app notifies you so you can jump on the bargain.
  • Shopping Rewards. Capital One Shopping also functions as a rewards app. When you shop through the extension, you earn rewards credits at its partner stores, including eBay and Walmart. You can cash in your credits for gift cards at these same stores at Capital One Shopping’s website.

Capital One Shopping is available for Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge, and Safari. There’s also a Capital One Shopping mobile app for iOS and Android.

Read our Capital One Shopping review for more information.

Add Capital One Shopping Extention

Capital One Shopping compensates us when you sign up for Capital One Shopping using the links we provided.


2. Honey

Of all the money-saving extensions you can add to your browser, none get more rave reviews than Honey by PayPal. This free add-on saves you money in various ways:

  • Coupon Codes. Honey automatically seeks out promo codes for over 30,000 online retailers, including Amazon, Macy’s, Target, and even eateries such as Pizza Hut. The extension compares all the available codes for the site you’re shopping and automatically applies the one that gives you the biggest discount.
  • Amazon Price Comparison. When you shop on Amazon, Honey tells you which of the site’s many sellers offers the best final price on a product, including sales tax and shipping. If you’re an Amazon Prime member, Honey factors that in when calculating shipping costs.
  • Price History. Honey also tracks price changes on Amazon. It can show you how a product’s price has changed over the last 30, 60, 90, or 120 days. If you don’t like the current price, you can add the product to your Droplist and have Honey notify you when the price drops.
  • Cash Back. Shopping with Honey earns you cash back, or Honey Gold, at over 4,500 participating sites, including Macy’s, Groupon, and Walmart. Just click a browser button to activate your rewards, and Honey applies them while searching for coupons at checkout. You can cash in Honey Gold for gift cards from participating stores.
  • Referral Bonuses. You can also earn bonuses for referring your friends to Honey. You send them a link, and when they sign up and make their first purchase, you earn 500 Honey Gold — the equivalent of $5.

Honey works with Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Opera, and Safari browsers.

Honey also offers a rewards app for iOS versions 13 and up called the Honey Smart Shopping Assistant. Like the browser add-on, it can automatically find and apply coupon codes and deals, but it has an extra perk: You can access all your favorite stores at once through the app. That allows you to find the best deal and cash in without having to visit multiple sites.

Read our Honey review for more information.

Add Honey Extension


3. Rakuten Cash Back Button

The rewards site Rakuten (formerly known as Ebates) offers a browser extension called the Cash Back Button. It gives you access to both cash back and coupon codes at over 2,500 stores. 

The extension displays a pop-up message to tell you when there’s cash back available at a store you’re shopping. If there is, you can just click to activate it. Rakuten can even show you which sites have cash-back offers directly in your search results on Google, Yahoo, or Bing. You can compare cash-back offers across multiple stores and choose the best deal. 

The money you earn goes into your Rakuten account, and you can cash it in once per quarter for a check or PayPal credit. You can also choose to use the Cash Back for Change feature to donate some of your credit to charity. Rakuten rounds your check or credit down to the nearest dollar and divides the change among three worthy charities.

The Cash Back Button also seeks out coupon codes when you shop. Just click “Apply Coupon” at checkout, and the extension automatically applies the coupon or promo code that gives you the best discount. It can even let you know when there’s a Groupon offer available at a local business you search for on Yelp or Google Maps.

The Rakuten Cash Back Button is free to install. It’s available for Google Chrome, Safari, Firefox, and Microsoft Edge.

Read our Rakuten review for more information.

Add Rakuten Extension


4. CouponCabin Sidekick

CouponCabin Sidekick is a free browser extension from the rewards site CouponCabin. It has two primary features: coupon codes and cash-back offers.

To get cash back from CouponCabin Sidekick, you must log in to your CouponCabin account before shopping (you can’t receive cash back if you added a product to your cart before logging in). Click through from your account to one of CouponCabin’s 3,500 partner stores to see how much cash back you can earn there. 

There are a few limitations when shopping with Sidekick. You can’t earn cash back on orders through a store’s mobile app or those placed online and picked up in-store. You can’t use the extension with a firewall or ad-blocking software. And you can’t combine cash-back offers from Sidekick with any coupon that’s not from CouponCabin, even one from the store itself.

On the plus side, CouponCabin Sidekick lists the available offers both when you shop and when you search on Google. For instance, let’s say you’re searching for a DVD set. Right in your search results above the name of each store that offers the DVD set, the extension displays a little cabin icon showing what discounts and cash-back offers are available at that particular store.

CouponCabin Sidekick is available for Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and Safari.

Add CouponCabin Sidekick Extension


5. Ibotta

Ibotta, a popular mobile coupon app, is also now available as a Firefox or Chrome extension. To use the Ibotta extension, you must first set up an Ibotta account if you don’t already have one. The Ibotta extension requires you to log in to your account before shopping to earn rewards. 

It works with over 1,000 online retailers, including Overstock, Petco, and Bed Bath & Beyond. When you purchase through one of these sites, the app displays a button showing how much cash back you can earn. Click it to activate rewards, then shop and pay as usual.

This browser add-on also works with online grocery delivery services like Instacart. When you shop through these services, the extension highlights cash-back offers with a pink box around the cash-back-eligible product. Click to buy, and the cash shows up in your Ibotta account within 24 hours. 

As soon as you have at least $20 in your account, you can log into the Ibotta app on your mobile device to cash in your earnings. You can opt for a bank transfer, PayPal deposit, or gift card.

Reach out Ibotta review for more information.

Add Ibotta Extension


6. Earny

If you like lotteries and sweepstakes, Earny is for you. This Chrome extension earns you cash back on your online purchases and enters you into a prize drawing with every action you take on the app. The more tickets you earn, the higher your chances of winning prizes such as cash, prepaid Visa cards, and free Amazon gift cards.

Other features of Earny include:

  • Cash back on up to 5,000 brands
  • Extra cash back when you share links with friends
  • Price tracking and price drop alerts for goods on your Amazon wish lists
  • Up to 90 days of price protection on purchases at more than 15 major retailers
  • Notifications when an Amazon package arrives late so you can request compensation

Add Earny Extension


7. The Camelizer

Frequent Amazon shoppers already know about the website CamelCamelCamel, which tracks the prices of millions of Amazon products over time. Since prices on Amazon change daily (sometimes even minute by minute), being able to see a product’s price history helps you figure out whether the current price is a good deal or not. 

CamelCamelCamel also offers a free browser extension called The Camelizer for Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Opera, and Safari. This add-on lets you see a product’s price history directly from Amazon without having to visit a separate page. And like the website, it can also import your Amazon wish list and alert you when the price of any product on it drops.

Currently, The Camelizer only tracks Amazon prices. But it has covered a couple of other retailers in the past and could do so again in the future.

Add The Camelizer Extension


The free PriceBlink extension for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari helps you find the best price for a product. But instead of tracking prices over time on just one site like The Camelizer does, PriceBlink compares prices across thousands of sites and lets you know when there’s a better deal elsewhere.

For instance, let’s say you’re looking at a pair of boots Amazon sells for $100. PriceBlink recognizes the brand and style and instantly searches more than 4,000 other sites to see if any other retailer carries the same boots for less. If it finds one, the lower price pops up on the PriceBlink toolbar, and you can simply click to view the listing.

PriceBlink can also help you find coupon codes. When you visit a retail site, the PriceBlink toolbar shows you a list of the best coupons available on that site. Click on an offer to copy the coupon code to your clipboard. Then, paste it into the appropriate field at checkout. 

If you’re not sure what product you want to buy, PriceBlink can help you there too. When looking at a product on a retail site, you can click “Ratings” in the PriceBlink toolbar to see how users rated the product on other sites. That gives you a better overall picture of users’ opinions than the ratings on just one site.

If that sounds like a lot of information to have cluttering up your screen, don’t worry. The PriceBlink toolbar stays hidden most of the time and only pops up when it finds you a deal on a particular product you’re viewing.

Add PriceBlink Extension


9. Fakespot

Comparing online product reviews through PriceBlink is handy, but there’s one problem: You can’t be sure those reviews are authentic. Sometimes, sellers on Amazon and other sites hire people to post good reviews for their products. You can’t always tell if a product has a 5-star overall rating because it’s a fantastic product or because the company paid lots of people to say it is.

That’s where Fakespot comes in. This free plug-in for Firefox or Chrome (also available as an iOS or Android app) analyzes reviews on Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, TripAdvisor, Sephora, Steam, or Yelp. It looks for suspicious patterns that suggest the reviews are fake. It then gives the product a grade from A to F to indicate how trustworthy the reviews are. 

If you want, you can click on this grade to see a more detailed analysis showing which phrases reviewers are using most often and what percentage of the reviews appear to be legit. It also highlights the most important points made in the legitimate reviews. 

Fakespot also checks ratings for eBay and third-party sellers on Amazon. If the reviews suggest a seller is unreliable, the extension recommends an alternative seller for the same product. 

Fakespot has several options to make it easier to use. For example, it can show Fakespot grades on Amazon product pages and listing pages so you can simply skip over products with a bunch of bogus reviews. It can also sort and filter Google search results based on Fakespot grades. But you can turn these features off if you don’t want to use them.

To use Fakespot, you must either have a Google account or create a Fakespot account. If you choose the latter option, Fakespot tracks your product searches and sends you product updates and offers from its partners.

Add PriceBlink Extension


10. InvisibleHand

InvisibleHand compares prices when you shop and links to the lowest price on a product you’re viewing. But InvisibleHand works with fewer retailers than PriceBlink: Sears, Lowe’s, Best Buy, and Newegg.

The primary use of InvisibleHand is for finding travel deals. When you search for flights on an airline’s website, InvisibleHand lets you know if there’s a cheaper flight available to the same destination and gives you a link directly to the lowest price. It can also find deals on hotels and rental cars.

Another unique feature of InvisibleHand is that it can find hidden prices on retail sites. Some retailers don’t reveal the price of merchandise until you put it in your shopping cart. Typically, they do that because they’re not allowed to advertise the product for less than a certain minimum price. InvisibleHand gets around that limitation, ferreting out and showing you the real price of the product.

InvisibleHand is available for Chrome, Firefox, and Edge.

Add InvisibleHand Extension


11. Piggy

The Piggy extension for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari is primarily a coupon finder. It works with thousands of online stores, including major retailers like Macy’s and Walmart, hotel chains like Hilton, car rental services like Hertz, and deal sites like Groupon. When you shop on these sites, Piggy seeks out and tests every coupon code available for that site and applies the one that gives you the most savings.

However, Piggy has a perk other coupon apps don’t have: It can find you special deals at hotels, including rates hotels haven’t officially published online. That makes Piggy an excellent choice for frequent travelers.

Piggy also has a cash-back feature. In addition to looking for coupons when you check out, it lets you earn cash back at more than 6,000 stores. When the earnings in your Piggy account reach $25, it automatically sends you a check.

Add Piggy Extension


Final Word

Each of these browser extensions can save you money on its own. However, there’s no need to limit yourself to just one. 

For instance, if you’re shopping on Amazon, you can use Fakespot to see if the reviews are legit. If it looks good, you can consult The Camelizer to see how Amazon’s price for the product looks today and whether you should wait for a better deal. And finally, you can check PriceBlink to see if there’s a better price available on another site.

Even when two different add-ons have similar benefits — for instance, finding coupon codes and cash-back offers — it can’t hurt to have both installed. The list of retail sites that work with Honey isn’t necessarily identical to the list for Rakuten or CouponCabin Sidekick, so installing all three increases your chances of finding a deal. 

You can’t earn cash back from more than one extension for the same purchase. However, you can sometimes use a coupon code from one and earn cash back from another. By having an assortment of browser add-ons to choose from, you can ensure you always get the best possible combination of deals.

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Source: moneycrashers.com

​18 Deal Sites and Tools for Finding Online Shopping Bargains

Those deep discounts you’re seeking while shopping online could be eluding you if you’re not comparison shopping. But racing around the internet looking for the lowest price could be a dive down a rabbit hole, a time suck, especially when time isn’t on your side. You need that bargain right now.

We surveyed smart shopping experts and evaluated a variety of deal sites and online shopping tools ourselves to identify these 18 sure-fire ways to save money every time you shop online.

If shopping for discounts is as exciting to you as shopping for clothes or gadgets themselves, consider visiting some of our favorite deal sites to search for special offers yourself.

Or let a browser extension do the work for you. They can speed through the web hunting for deals on laptops, clothing, household items, jewelry and more in a matter of seconds. (All the recommended browser extensions here are free and available on Chrome, Firefox and Safari.)

Take a look.

Best Site to Find Free Shipping Deals

When shopping online, finding a great deal gets even sweeter when you can score free shipping, too, a perk Amazon Prime forged into a mainstay of internet shopping. But trying to track down promo codes that actually work, as well as retailers that offer the perk, can be frustrating if you don’t know where to look. Skip hopping from site to site and check out FreeShipping org. It’s a web site that aggregates all of the retailers — big and small — that offer free shipping and other discounts to customers. The site includes the terms and conditions of the free shipping deal and the promo code, where applicable. For example, a recent promotion we found on the site for Lands’ End included 40% off full-price styles plus free shipping when using the discount code BRIGHT.

Best Sites and Browser Extensions for Price Comparisons

Save yourself the hassle of digging into multiple websites to find the best price on items you’re buying online. Consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch recommends the browser extension Popcart, which sends a pop-up notification any time a product you’re looking at is cheaper on a competitor site. In addition to retail price comparisons, the browser extension also compares unit prices on items (check out this video to see how).

Woroch also digs deal aggregator site CouponFollow.com. It organize coupons by store name to help shoppers pinpoint the best deal quickly. 

You probably already buy a lot at Amazon.com. Should it be even more? Install the Amazon Assistant browser extension, says smart shopping expert Trae Bodge of TrueTrae.com, to see how Amazon’s prices stack up as you shop products on competing sites. See how it works here.

Best Deal Sites and Browser Extensions for Coupons and Promo Codes

Our sources recommend CouponCabin.com for its vast collection of online promo codes and printable coupons that can be used in-store. Consumers can find deals from online and brick-and-mortar retailers such as Nike, Overstock.com and Target. The site also maintains a list of retailers’ active cashback offers. Savvy shoppers might even be able to combine coupon codes and cashback offers to maximize savings, says TrueTrae.com’s Trae Bodge.

The Honey browser extension helps save shoppers time and money by doing all the work, says Kyle James, founder of Rather-Be-Shopping.com. After registering for the site and downloading the extension, you’ll see a Honey widget appear when you check out at any participating retailer. The widget searches the web for all relevant promo codes and applies the one with the biggest savings to your order. A note to Amazon loyalists: If you’re searching for a specific product, this browser extension will track down the lowest price among Amazon sellers offering the same item and notify you. It even factors in shipping costs before selecting the best seller. Watch this YouTube clip for a tutorial on how to install and use Honey.

Next time you go on an online spending spree, consider using Cently, recommends consumer savings expert Woroch. It’s a browser extension that automatically searches for coupon codes while you shop, tests them and applies the one with the biggest savings to your order. You can even score cashback on your purchases when using Cently. Unlike similar extensions, you don’t have to divulge your personal information by becoming a registered user. Watch this video to see how it works.

Best Site for Daily Deals

DealNews.com is a go-to resource for the retail experts here at Kiplinger. The site offers a curated selection of product deals — ranging from electronics to home goods — that gets updated daily. Bargain hunters can also find smart shopping tips on the site’s blog. Some recent topics include a list of the retailers with the best customer rewards programs, as well as determining when is the best time of year to buy a smart phone. Also, we often call on DealNews experts during the holiday shopping season for advice on where to find the best Black Friday sales.

Best Sites for Deals on Travel

If you’re planning to travel during the pandemic, you can still take advantage of historically low prices on airfare and hotel packages. To find the best travel deals, we often recommend these three sites to help get the most value for your money:

Best Sites for Deals on Gift Cards

No matter if you’re buying a gift card as a present or purchasing one for yourself (to prevent overspending), you can always find them at a lower price through an online gift card exchange site compared to buying direct from the retailer or at retail displays of gift cards in supermarkets. Try these two:

  • GiftDeals (formerly CardPool) offers discounted gift cards from the likes of Best Buy, Nordstrom and Patagonia for up to 35% off face-value. For example, we spotted a $25 Fandango gift card selling for $18.76 — that’s 25% off. The cards available on GiftDeals have no expiration date, no fees and come with a 60-day purchase guarantee of validity. The site says it does this to encourage buyers to use the cards sooner rather than later.
  • GiftCardGranny is another gift card exchange site worth a look thanks to its vast selection and cashback rewards, says TrueTrae.com’s Bodge. You can earn cashback by purchasing select gift cards (think: Lowe’s, Uber Eats and Apple’s App Store) and then redeem the rewards for a direct payout or free gift cards once you’ve earned at least $5 in rewards. In addition to big name retailers, you can also find gift cards for local businesses based on the zip code you enter into the search field.

Also, if you’re a warehouse club member (think Costco), you may be able to pick up gift cards at a discount price in-store or online.

Best Apps and Browser Extensions for Cash-Back Rebates

We’ve previously written about browser extension Rakuten (formerly known as Ebates) and why you should take advantage of its rebate offers while shopping online. Once you’ve downloaded the browser extension, sign up for a Rakuten account. After you’ve registered, you’ll gain access to 2,500 online retailers where you can earn up to 40% in cashback rewards. Participating stores include Nordstrom, Kohl’s and Best Buy. You can also find travel and vacation deals from Expedia, Priceline, Orbitz and VRBO where you can earn as much as 5% cashback after booking your travel arrangements. Rakuten even has a blog with helpful tips on how to get the most bang for your buck (and maximize cashback rewards) when shopping on partner sites. 

If you frequently shop using a smart phone, consider downloading a mobile app such as Ibotta that lets you earn cashback on everyday purchases, suggests Rather-Be-Shopping.com’s James. You can score money back on everything from grocery items to pet supplies purchased through the app, which requires linking a credit or debit card to your Ibotta account.

“You can even supercharge your cash back earnings by using your cash back card with a cash back payment app — you will earn 4% cash back every time you pay using the Slide with one of their partner stores,” says Woroch. “Since payments are ultimately processed through a linked credit card, you will get double the rewards just like that.”

Best Sites for Deals on Insurance

Don’t limit your comparison-shopping to traditional retail purchases such as clothes, electronics and household goods. You can even use online sites and tools to help score the best rates on insurance policies. One such site we recommend at Kiplinger is Policygenius.com (listen to our Your Money’s Worth podcast episode with the company’s co-founder and CEO), where you can get price quotes for a range of policies including life, homeowners, auto and renters insurance.

If you need life or long-term care insurance, consider using AccuQuote.com. You’ll have to cough up your contact information so an agent can follow-up with you directly at a later date, but you’ll immediately receive a list of insurers that match your profile and estimated monthly premiums for each plan. For help on selecting the right life insurance plan, see our story How to Shop for Life Insurance.

Source: kiplinger.com

Easy Ways to Make Your Patio More Private | ApartmentSearch

Some days, you’re bursting with energy and ready to greet the world with a smile. On other occasions, all you want to do is sit on your patio wearing PJs with your favorite drink in one hand and a good book in the other. It’s called balance, for goodness sake! 

However, enjoying the peace and quiet of your apartment or condo’s outdoor space is difficult without privacy. Protect your outdoor haven from your neighbors’ prying eyes and probing questions with these easy patio privacy ideas.

1. Add plants. 

When it comes to outdoor patio privacy ideas, know that you can get creative! For example, there are several ways to use greenery to shield your outdoor space from passerby’s eyes: two of the most renter-friendly solutions are potted trees or living walls.

Tall potted plants = patio privacy, and potted trees offer the advantage of being relatively easy to move. However, they also mean you’ll often have to clean leaves and sap off your outdoor living space and regularly deal with tree care and pruning. 

In search of fun patio privacy wall ideas? Living walls — which involve growing vines along the surface of screens or trellises — are typically lower maintenance but harder to move with you at the end of your lease. 

A few commonly used potted shrub varieties include bay laurels, weeping figs, and dwarf cypress trees. On the flip side, Boston ivies, bougainvilleas, and royal trumpet vines are among the most popular choices for growing along privacy screens and trellises. 

Consider the pros and cons of each of these plant-based outdoor patio privacy ideas before going all out at the plant nursery. Additionally, make sure to consult with local experts to determine the best type of greenery and surface or pot for your area, space, and needs. 

Don’t want to deal with the hassle of real plants? Use faux plants instead! 

2. Consider curtains. 

Patio shades and curtains are another easy way to add shade and privacy to your patio! There are various types, sizes, and technologies available, so you’re sure to find one that fits your needs. 

When it comes to patio privacy curtains, renter-friendly options include roll-down shades and retractable awnings. Like string lights, they are relatively easy to install and operate. Roll-down shades can easily be mounted across pillars and along doorways or windows. Just make sure to measure the space where you want them carefully before purchasing yours. 

If there are no vertical surfaces to mount roll-down shades on your patio, consider a retractable awning with a built-in privacy screen. These handy gadgets attach to the side of your home. You can quickly crank them open and shut on-demand to transform your space in a snap!

3. Invest in a foldable screen. 

Last but certainly not least, consider a patio divider for privacy. Foldable screens offer the ultimate patio privacy solution for renters! Not only do they come in a range of sizes and styles, but they also range in price to accommodate any budget. They are also easy to install or take down and fold flat for convenient storage. However, portable screens have their downsides. They require frequent cleaning and can present a tipping risk when the weather gets rough. When in doubt, you can also find tutorials to help you create your own DIY patio privacy screen.

Find a More Private Patio

Whether your apartment is in a bustling city or a tranquil suburb, cultivating a private oasis to relax in is sure to elevate your space. While these backyard patio privacy ideas can help, if you’re genuinely looking for an apartment upgrade, ApartmentSearch has your back. Before your next move, use our advanced filtering options to sort apartments by rent price, square footage, and amenities, and find the perfect space, with an ideal patio, to boot!

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Source: blog.apartmentsearch.com

Are Smart Locks Safe? Pros and Cons For Your Apartment

Is anything dumb anymore? Smart locks are one of the latest gadgets to gain some serious IQ points.

Physical keys are just so 2020. Today’s locking mechanisms are often powered by a fob, keypad, wireless app or even biometrics (like a fingerprint). The newest and most advanced smart locks are those that are Wi-fi- or Bluetooth-enabled to lock and unlock doors. That’s a pretty far cry from old-timey keys and tumbler locks.

entering code in smart lock

entering code in smart lock

How do smart locks work?

Smart locks work in different ways, depending on the type of lock. Here’s a breakdown of the various versions out there.

Biometric locks

Although not the best from a germaphobe standpoint, biometric locks are nonetheless very convenient since all you need to make it work is your finger. Since most of us carry those around all the time anyway, there’s no worry over forgetting a key, code or phone. Some versions even store up to 100 fingerprints!

Keypad locks

These locks require a programmed pin number to function. Users can change the pin at any time, and the administrator can dole out multiple pins to different people. Some of these locks have buttons, but the newer ones feature snazzy touch screens.

RFID locks

You’re much more likely to use this type of lock at work, but it still bears mentioning. RFID locks require a keycard or fob to unlock the door.

Bluetooth locks

These utilize Bluetooth technology to sense when you’re approaching, so the lock disables automatically. Pretty convenient, huh?

Wi-Fi locks

You don’t even have to be near the lock to get this type to work! Wifi-enabled locks can lock or unlock from anywhere in the world using an app. Plus, they cultivate all kinds of data, like who is opening and closing the door at a given time.

picking a lock

picking a lock

Are smart locks safe?

There’s risk with any type of lock, so it’s only natural to wonder if smart locks are safe. Even standard tumbler locks are picked pretty easily with a bump key. Smart locks are more physically secure than regular locks because they’re not nearly as easy to pick. Many models will also disable if the wrong code is punched in too many times, so would-be thieves who try to guess your code will be left out in the dark.

Smart locks also eliminate keys floating all around the town. Since they have custom access codes, it’s easy to know exactly who is going into the home at what time (cleaners, kids, dog-walkers, etc.) Many smart locks can also work in tandem with home security systems, letting you know if there’s motion in the area or if someone needs to get let in or out.

However, some smart locks are connected to the Internet, which begs the question — can they be hacked? Some can, unfortunately, so protect your home by choosing a smart lock that features high-security capabilities, like two-factor authentication, 128-bit encryption, long passwords and Z-wave technology.

smart locks eliminate physical keys

smart locks eliminate physical keys

Pros of smart locks

Smart locks have a lot going for them. Here are a few of the most appreciated benefits:

They’re convenient

There’s no need to haul around a key, put one under the mat or leave one with the neighbors.

They’re programmable

If you’re the forgetful type, smart locks are fabulous because they can be programmed to automatically lock at certain times or after they’ve been left unlocked for a particular amount of time.

They’re nice and bright

Many smart locks are illuminated, so they’re delightfully easy to see in the dark.

They’re customizable

If you switch dog walkers or cleaners or whatever, you can simply disable their code. And, you can change the code regularly for added security!

Clearly, smart locks are fancier than the average lock, but is fancy always a good thing?

a dead battery ruin accessing a smart lock

a dead battery ruin accessing a smart lock

Cons of smart locks

Even the best tech has its moments of failure. Here are some potential pitfalls of smart locks.

They rely on other tech

Even basic keypad smart locks use batteries to function, so if they run out, it’s pretty inconvenient. Same goes for dead Bluetooth, downed power, malfunctioning Wi-fi or a lost/dead/stolen phone. So, it’s important to have a backup plan in case something crazy happens.

They’re on the pricey side

Smart locks cost a bit more on the front end to purchase and install. The fancier Wi-fi versions can run into the hundreds of dollars!

They are sometimes tricky to use

If you’re not very tech-savvy a smart lock is sometimes frustrating, especially in the beginning.

installing a smart lock

installing a smart lock

How to convince your landlord to install smart locks

If you’re itching to ditch the physical key, it’s worth it to convince your landlord of the merits of smart locks.

First, call around to other apartment properties (or ask friends what their communities use) to find out if they have them and if so, what model? Next, price a few options of differing grades (basic, mid-range and higher-end). Don’t forget to find out roughly how much time and effort they take to install. If your property doesn’t have an on-site handy-person, get quotes for that, too.

Put it all in an easy-to-read email. Be sure to note that although smart locks have front-end costs, they also take away others, like the need to change locks after a tenant moves out. Instead, they can be easily reprogrammed.

Also, note that smart locks are an additional amenity that the property can put down on listings! In today’s competitive rental industry, every amenity really counts!

Safe, secure and smart

Every home should be safe and secure. If it’s a little smarter due to smart locks, that’s probably a very good thing!

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Source: apartmentguide.com

Solar Panel Financing in 4 Ways

Installing solar panels in your home can be one way to do your part for the planet, but the cost to purchase and have them installed might be a deterrent. Even if you know you’ll save money over the long term, it may be hard to find the funds for solar panels in the interim.

Before you make a decision either way, a couple of things to consider are whether solar panels are worth the cost to you and what methods are available for solar panel financing.

The Cost of Solar Panels

When it comes to the cost of solar panels, there isn’t a fixed number. How much it will cost will depend on how big a system you want to install. In 2021, it’s estimated that the cost is typically around $3 per watt for a complete solar panel system with installation.

Since the average buyer installs a 6,200-watt system, the cost averages $18,600 per system. However, if you decide that you need more watts because you have a bigger family or a bigger home, the cost of solar panels will run higher.

Similarly, if you have a smaller family or a smaller home, solar panels might cost you less. Either way, buying solar panels can be expensive, and it may require some kind of solar power financing to purchase panels.

Potential Benefits of Solar Panels

One of the main benefits of solar panels is the potential to reduce or completely eliminate your energy bills. Depending on how much sunlight there is where you live, how many panels you install, and your energy use, you could potentially receive enough power through solar panels to completely meet your needs.

Installing solar panels could result in significant savings, especially if you live in an area where power is expensive. Given that the average monthly U.S. household energy costs are about $122, that easily could translate into significant savings.

Even with the cost of solar panel installation, the expense of the purchase can be recouped in an average of eight to 11 years, depending on your installation costs, how much electricity your panels produce, how much electricity costs in your area, and how your local electric company regulates solar power. After recouping installation costs, the amount you’ll potentially save over the life of your panels can also add up.

Another benefit of solar panels is the potential to increase the resale value of your home. Research has shown that, on average, the resale value of a home with solar panels increases by about $15,000.

Solar panels are also known to extend the life of a roof since they shelter the roof and protect it from damage in storms and everyday wear and tear. If a homeowner plans to replace their home’s entire roof at the same time as a solar panel installation, it’s less likely that they’ll need to re-roof during the solar panel lifetime.

For some people, one of the biggest benefits of installing solar panels, however, is knowing that they’re using renewable energy and helping to reduce greenhouse gasses. This could especially be important for those living in a state where the majority of the energy generated is through non-renewables power sources.

Potential Drawbacks of Solar Panels

Solar panels have the potential to save homeowners money and do a lot of good for the planet, but not everyone buys them because they do tend to have a large upfront cost. And while solar power financing can help make solar energy possible for more people, not everyone qualifies.

Another drawback to solar energy is that how much you can save on energy costs depends entirely on the weather. If there is a long stretch of overcast weather or if you live in an area that doesn’t get a lot of sun, for example, you might not be able to generate enough solar energy to take care of your energy needs. Battery storage systems have vastly improved in the last decade, however, and can improve the overall solar setup.

Solar energy also uses a lot of space, so make sure your roof is large enough to have enough panels to power your entire home. If you choose not to put them on your roof, they will take up space in your yard.

Saving Money by Installing Solar Panels

More than 2.5 million homeowners in America currently have solar panels—and the savings can quickly add up. Not only can solar panels last for 25 years or longer, but a homeowner who might spend an average of $150 a month on an electric bill would save more than $65,000 in that same amount of time.

Of course, the cost of solar panel installation upfront can be prohibitive, so it’s best to examine your solar panel financing options before you proceed with a purchase.

Four Options for Solar Panel Financing

How many years can you finance solar panels? The average loan duration for solar panel financing is 10 to 20 years, though you may find loans with maturity periods ranging anywhere from three years to 30.

If you’re looking into solar panel financing, here are a few things you should consider:

1. Tax Credits and Rebates

Smart solar power financing strategy includes the use of all available tax credits and rebates. The federal government currently offers tax benefits on solar panels installed through Dec. 31, 2023, and many states offer rebates that further reduce the cost. To find out more about what’s offered in your area, check out the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency®.

On top of that, many states also offer Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) . Homeowners who own their solar power systems can sell these credits to utility companies throughout the year.

If you generate excess energy, you can also potentially sell this back to the utility company, which is also a key part of any solar panel financing strategy. While that won’t pay for your system upfront, it could help you cover part of the costs of solar financing. Check with a tax professional to see if you are eligible for any of these benefits.

2. Solar Panel Leases

One unique strategy for solar panel financing is to lease your solar panel. With a lease, a company typically pays to install the panels on your roof and charges you a monthly fee over the term of the lease. The company owns the panels and remains responsible for any maintenance required on them.

While you will not be eligible for federal tax credits if you go this route, solar panel leasing may be a good option for those who struggle to find solar panel financing or don’t qualify for a solar panel loan.

3. Secured Solar Panel Loans

Since you are adding to your home, you may opt to use a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) to finance solar panels. This is a type of revolving credit line that is secured by your home equity. Because it is a secured loan, you may qualify for a relatively low interest rate. However, if you fail to pay it back, the lender can take your home as repayment for the loan. Also, you need to have equity in your home to qualify for a HELOC.

4. Unsecured Solar Panel Loans

An unsecured solar panel loan is an unsecured personal loan that you can use to purchase solar panels without requiring that you have home equity. To qualify, the lender considers your income and your credit rating (among other financial factors that vary from lender to lender). As unsecured loans are installment loans, you may seek out a loan term that fits your budget.

The Tax Benefits of Solar Panels

Installing solar panels can help reduce a homeowner’s federal income tax due in the year the installation is complete. There is a 26% tax credit in place for systems installed in 2020-2022, and 22% for systems installed in 2023. The solar panel tax credit expires starting in 2024 unless Congress renews it before then.

To qualify for the solar panel tax credit, your solar panels must be installed at your primary or secondary U.S. residence between Jan. 1, 2006, and Dec. 31, 2023. You also must own the solar panel system, i.e. you purchased it with cash or solar panel financing but you are neither leasing nor are in an arrangement to purchase electricity generated by a system you do not own—and it must be new or being used for the first time. The credit can only be claimed on the original installation of the solar equipment.

You might be able to take advantage of state and city incentives, including rebates, as well. To see what’s available in your area, refer to the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency .

The Takeaway

There’s no question that solar panels are environmentally friendly. Over time they can also be economically friendly, saving homeowners money on their electricity bill. Doing some research about residential solar panels and financing available for this home improvement are good steps to take to see if it’s the right choice for your home.

SoFi Personal Loans have competitive rates and loan terms that may fit your budget. Since they’re unsecured, there is no need to have home equity to be eligible.

Are you interested in solar panel financing? See if you pre-qualify for a personal loan from SoFi in just two minutes.


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Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.
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Source: sofi.com

What Is a Paper Wallet? How Paper Wallets Work

A paper wallet is just what it sounds like – a crypto wallet made from a piece of paper. It contains a private and public key pair for making crypto transactions. Typically, a key generator program creates the key and prints it on paper in the form of two QR codes and two strings of alphanumeric characters.

A paper wallet is among the oldest kinds of noncustodial, cold crypto wallets, but it is an outdated method that has security flaws.

History of Paper Wallets

In the early days of Bitcoin, paper wallets may have been the most secure form of Bitcoin storage. There was no other mechanism to take coins offline and put them into cold crypto storage.

Still, investors realized that having a safe method of holding onto their crypto was a necessity for crypto investing. Over time, as crypto exchanges, institutional-grade custody solutions, hardware wallets, multi-signature wallets, and other secure forms of storing crypto became more commonplace, crypto paper wallets became less popular.

How Does a Paper Wallet Work?

When created correctly, a paper wallet is immune to hacking. There’s no way to access a piece of paper via the Internet. But certain parts of the process could still make users vulnerable.

The problem is that users have to be very careful when creating paper wallets. The process requires using a computer, and there could be traces of evidence left behind that a sophisticated attacker might be able to access.

How to Keep a Paper Wallet Secure

There are several steps that investors can take to protect their paper wallet. For starters, create the wallet entirely offline, but following these steps:

• Download the wallet generator software to a USB drive

• Plug the USB drive into a new device that has never been connected to the internet

• Create the wallet keys and print them out using a wired connection to a printer

What about when you want to take funds off of a paper wallet and spend them? Things can get a little tricky here, and users who don’t know exactly what they’re doing could lose most or all of their funds.

Recommended: 6 Crypto Debit Cards to Consider in 2021

Taking coins out of a cryptocurrency paper wallet requires either sweeping or importing the private keys into a software wallet. Sweeping keys and importing keys don’t result in the same outcome, however.

Importing Keys

Users who import their crypto private keys, essentially creating a copy of them, could lose funds if they fail to first set up something called a “change output.”

A change output, or change address, is the destination where the remaining funds on a paper wallet will go when a user only spends a portion of the wallet’s balance. If this address hasn’t been set up beforehand, the unspent portion of a paper wallet will disappear forever after the first transaction from that wallet.

For example, if a user has 0.1 BTC on a paper wallet and decides to spend just 0.01 BTC, the remaining 0.09 BTC would automatically go to a change address. If no change address has been established before the transaction, the Bitcoins would simply be lost.

Sweeping Keys

“Sweeping” the private keys from a paper wallet into a software or mobile wallet avoids this problem, as the keys are transferred to a new location in their entirety.

How Do You Use Paper Wallets?

Using a paper wallet doesn’t involve a lot of hassle. Users simply have to:

• Create the wallet addresses

• Print out the paper wallet

• Deposit coins to the public key address

Paper wallets typically include addresses in both QR code and alphanumeric format.

When a user wants to spend the funds stored on a paper wallet, they import or sweep the private key. To do this, a user must install a digital wallet on their desktop or mobile device that allows private keys to be imported (Electrum would be one example).

Crypto exchanges generally do not support this function.

Pros and Cons of Paper Wallets

Paper wallets represent a simple and inexpensive way to put small amounts of crypto into cold storage. But the cons outweigh the pros.

A paper wallet is, of course, made of paper, which means that water, fire, or the family pet could damage or destroy it. This could result in total loss of funds.

Pros of paper wallets Cons of paper wallets
Inexpensive Not suitable for holding large amounts of coin
Easy to create User error can result in total loss of funds
Secure cold storage If someone gets hold of the wallet, they will have the private keys and can steal the coins
It can be difficult to bring the funds back online
Vulnerable to water or fire damage

Alternatives to Paper Wallets

In addition to paper wallets, there are several other, more common types of virtual vaults to store different types of crypto.

Web Wallets

Web wallets are hosted online in a web browser. These wallets can be convenient but are among the least secure types of hot wallets. They can be easily hacked and if something goes wrong with the web browser, the wallet could be lost.

Wallets like these have great utility value in that they are easy to use and can enable users to participate in different crypto applications.

Software Wallets

Software wallets are basically desktop applications that come with a simple graphic user interface for sending and receiving transactions. While somewhat more secure than web wallets, software wallets are generally not considered good options for long-term storage of large amounts of crypto.

Funds held in a software wallet on someone’s personal computer can be vulnerable to hacking, a user could lose their password, or the device could be stolen or damaged.

Hardware wallets

Hardware wallets have been growing in popularity ever since a company called Trezor created the first one back in summer 2014. Later that same year, Ledger also created a hardware wallet. Both companies are still leaders in this space today.

Hardware wallets keep a user’s private keys securely stored offline in cold storage, like paper wallets. The big difference is that a user can easily bring a hardware wallet online and use it to make transactions. Hardware wallets are also much more durable than paper wallets.

Most users will find all of the wallet types listed above much easier to use than paper wallets with Bitcoin.

Exchange Wallets

Some crypto exchanges also have integrated wallets, which allow users to store their crypto on the exchange. Exchange wallets are easy to use, but their security depends on the overall security of the exchange. Ideally, an exchange will offer users the option to use cold storage or multi-signature wallets.

The Takeaway

A Bitcoin paper wallet isn’t recommended in the modern age of hardware wallets and other secure forms of cold storage. Paper wallets with Bitcoin are too vulnerable to human error and other factors to make them risky, especially for investors who want to use them over the long term and HODL their crypto investments.

These types of wallets represent a bygone relic of crypto’s earliest days. Unless someone is on a strict budget with only a small amount of coin to store, it’s hard to justify using a paper wallet to store your private keys.

An easy way to get started trading crypto is by downloading the SoFi Invest® brokerage platform. You can use it to buy several forms of crypto, including Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, Dogecoin, and Cardano.

Photo credit: iStock/Vladimir Sukhachev


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Source: sofi.com