How to Get Free Meals for Kids While School’s Out

A little boy recieves food in a bag from a bus driver.

A student picks up food in Fayette, Miss. With the school year ending soon, there are federal programs to help keep kids fed through the summer. Rogelio V. Solis/AP Photo

Millions of families struggle with food insecurity every summer when school is out. Income loss due to the pandemic has only exasperated the situation.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) up to 12 million children are currently living in households where they may not have enough to eat.

If you’re worried about how to put food on your family’s table, help is out there.

How to Get Free Meals for Kids This Summer: 3 Federal Programs

The American Rescue Plan — the coronavirus relief package President Joe Biden signed into law in March 2021 — provided funding to expand several USDA programs aimed to reduce child hunger.

1. Pandemic EBT

Families with children eligible for free or reduced lunch and those who qualify for SNAP benefits can receive extra money for food via the Pandemic EBT program, which is being extended through the summer to make up for missed school meals.

The USDA standard benefit amount is $375 per eligible child over the course of the summer. Those living in Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam or the U.S. Virgin Islands have a higher standard benefit.

You’ll need to enroll in the Pandemic EBT program through your individual state, as funds are disbursed at the state level. Currently, 40 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have been approved to operate Pandemic EBT programs.

Money is generally distributed in two or three disbursements throughout the summer.

2. USDA Summer Meals

All families with children 18 and under can participate in the USDA’s summer meal programs, which partners with local agencies including libraries, community centers, parks, churches and schools to distribute meals.

Program rules have been loosened so that meals can be distributed in bulk packages to cover multiple days and so parents can pick up the food without having their children present.

This interactive map helps you find local meal distribution sites. You can also locate a nearby site by texting “Summer Meals” to 97779 or calling 1-866-348-6479.

3. USDA National Hunger Hotline

The USDA National Hunger Hotline can help families seeking food assistance. Call 1-866-3-HUNGRY (1-866-348-6479) Monday through Friday between 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. E.T. to reach the hotline. If you need assistance in Spanish, call 1-877-8-HAMBRE (1-877-842-6273).

Free Meals Next School Year

Even after summer comes to an end, families will still be able to get a financial break when it comes to feeding their kids.The USDA is extending its National School Lunch Program Seamless Summer Option so that students can receive universal free lunch throughout the 2021-2022 school year. Waivers will also be given to provide free meals for kids in daycare and preschool programs.

If students are still learning virtually, you’ll be able to pick up meals for children to eat at home. Check with your child’s school or child care provider to see if they are participating in this program.

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

The evolution of the good faith estimate

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice. See Lexington Law’s editorial disclosure for more information.

A good faith estimate (GFE) is a comparison of mortgage offers provided by lenders or brokers to a consumer. It was recently replaced by the loan estimate—a similar concept with a few small differences. 

What Is a Good Faith Estimate Designed to Do?

The GFE’s purpose was to present mortgage shoppers with all the details they need to know about their mortgage options to help them make well-informed decisions. This transparency ensures consumers are aware of all the costs associated with the mortgage—including fees, APR and other expenses.

Borrowers would receive a GFE three business days after submitting their mortgage application, and after thorough review, would then select which mortgage option they would like to move forward with. 

Are Good Faith Estimates Still Used?

The term “good faith estimate” is not used by lenders anymore, but the concept remains prevalent. In 2015, the GFE was replaced by the loan estimate. Anyone who purchased a home after October 3, 2015, received a loan estimate rather than a GFE. 

In October of 2015, the good faith estimate was replaced by the loan estimate.

If you applied for a reverse mortgage, HELOC, a mortgage through an assistance program or a manufactured loan not secured by real estate, you will not receive a loan estimate. Instead, you will receive a Truth-in-Lending disclosure. 

The purposes of a GFE, a loan estimate and a Truth-in-Lending disclosure are largely the same: providing transparency to borrowers. The main difference—and benefit—of a loan estimate is that there’s more regulation by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Since the GFE was not standardized through regulations, they were sometimes difficult to decipher, especially for first-time homebuyers. Conversely, each loan estimate must contain the exact same information in a standardized way, which we’ll cover below. 

What Appears on a Loan Estimate?

According to the CFPB, a complete, compliant loan estimate should include the length of the loan term, the purpose of the loan, the product (fixed versus adjustable interest rate, for example), the loan type (conventional, FHA, VA or other), the loan ID number and indication of an interest rate lock. Additionally, the loan estimate will include the following:

  • Loan terms: A summary of the total loan amount, interest rate, monthly principal and interest and penalties, and whether these amounts can increase after closing.
  • Projected payments: A summary of monthly principal, interest, mortgage insurance, taxes and insurance. Broken down by years 1–7 and 8–30 for a 30-year mortgage.
  • Costs at closing: Estimated closing costs and the total estimated cash needed to close, which includes the down payment and any credits.
  • Loan costs: Origination charges—which is broken down by 0.25% of the loan amount, application fees and underwriting fees—and other fees.
  • Other costs: Taxes, government fees, prepaid homeowners insurance, interest and prepaid property, escrow payment at closing and title policy.
  • Comparisons: Metrics you can use to compare your loan to others. Includes the total principal, interest, mortgage insurance and loan costs you will have paid after five years.
  • Other considerations: Information about appraisal, assumption, homeowner’s insurance, late payment fees, refinancing and servicing.
  • Confirmation of receipt: A line at the end of the statement that confirms you have received the form. This does not legally bind you to accept the loan.

Your loan estimate will also include your personal information, including your full name, income, address and Social Security number. Make sure to double-check all of this information for errors, as they could cause potential problems later in the process.

To better understand your loan estimate, explore the CFPB’s interactive guide.

Closing Disclosure

For first-time homebuyers in particular, it’s important to understand the timeline of events so that you can be prepared for your home buying process and have all the information and necessary documents at hand.

Closing Disclosure Timeline

Lenders are required to send you a loan estimate form no more than three business days after receiving your application. Finally, at least three business days prior to loan consummation—when you are contractually obligated to the loan—you will receive a closing disclosure.

Lenders are required to send you a loan estimate no more than three days after receiving your application and a closing disclosure at least three days prior to loan consummation.

What Is the Purpose of a Closing Disclosure?

The purpose of a closing disclosure is to assign “tolerance levels” to fees listed in the loan estimate form. This means that fees cannot increase over their tolerance level unless a specific triggering event occurs. There are three different tolerance levels:

  • Zero percent tolerance: Fees in this category cannot increase from what is listed on the loan estimate. These fees are typically those paid to a creditor, broker or affiliate, such as origination fees.
  • 10 percent cumulative tolerance: Fees in this category are added together, and the sum of these fees are not to increase by more than 10 percent of the amount listed in the loan estimate. Fees include recording fees and third-party service fees.
  • No tolerance or unlimited tolerance: Fees in this category have no limits at all, and can increase by any amount, as long as they are disclosed “in good faith,” using the best information available. These are usually fees lenders have little to no control over.

Remember not to confuse “zero percent tolerance” with “no tolerance,” as they are quite different. Zero percent tolerance fees cannot increase, while no tolerance fees can increase by any amount as long as it is considered “in good faith.”

Does a Loan Estimate Affect My Credit?

The act of applying for a mortgage may temporarily cause your credit score to dip, as it requires a hard inquiry by lenders. However, you may shop around for different mortgages from different lenders to get multiple preapprovals and loan estimates. As long as you do this all within a 45-day window, these separate credit checks will be recorded on your credit report as one single hard inquiry.

This is because lenders realize that you are only going to buy one home, so they categorize all of the actions you take under one umbrella of applying for a mortgage. Note that you may want to consider the 45-day rule loosely. Prioritize finding the best mortgage deal possible. Even if this means processing a hard inquiry outside of the 45-day window for a better deal, you’ll likely end up saving more money in the long run.

To learn more about what affects your credit and how to work toward improving your credit profile, contact our team at Lexington Law.


Reviewed by Kenton Arbon, an Associate Attorney at Lexington Law Firm. Written by Lexington Law.

Kenton Arbon is an Associate Attorney in the Arizona office. Mr. Arbon was born in Bakersfield, California, and grew up in the Northwest. He earned his B.A. in Business Administration, Human Resources Management, while working as an Oregon State Trooper. His interest in the law lead him to relocate to Arizona, attend law school, and graduate from Arizona State College of Law in 2017. Since graduating from law school, Mr. Arbon has worked in multiple compliance domains including anti-money laundering, Medicare Part D, contracts, and debt negotiation. Mr. Arbon is licensed to practice law in Arizona. He is located in the Phoenix office.

Note: Articles have only been reviewed by the indicated attorney, not written by them. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client or fiduciary relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website owner, authors, reviewers, contributors, contributing firms, or their respective agents or employers.

Source: lexingtonlaw.com

3 Easy Ways to Get Free Meals for Kids While School’s Out

A little boy recieves food in a bag from a bus driver.

A Jefferson County School District student receives several bags with meals, Wednesday, March 3, 2021 in Fayette, Miss. As one of the most food insecure counties in the United States, many families and their children come to depend on the free meals as the only means of daily sustenance. Rogelio V. Solis/AP Photo

Millions of families struggle with food insecurity every summer when school is out. Income loss due to the pandemic has only exasperated the situation.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) up to 12 million children are currently living in households where they may not have enough to eat.

If you’re worried about how to put food on your family’s table, help is out there.

How to Get Free Meals for Kids This Summer: 3 Federal Programs

The American Rescue Plan — the coronavirus relief package President Joe Biden signed into law in March 2021 — provided funding to expand several USDA programs aimed to reduce child hunger.

1. Pandemic EBT

Families with children eligible for free or reduced lunch and those who qualify for SNAP benefits can receive extra money for food via the Pandemic EBT program, which is being extended through the summer to make up for missed school meals.

The USDA standard benefit amount is $375 per eligible child over the course of the summer. Those living in Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam or the U.S. Virgin Islands have a higher standard benefit.

You’ll need to enroll in the Pandemic EBT program through your individual state, as funds are disbursed at the state level. Currently, 40 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have been approved to operate Pandemic EBT programs.

Money is generally distributed in two or three disbursements throughout the summer.

2. USDA Summer Meals

All families with children 18 and under can participate in the USDA’s summer meal programs, which partners with local agencies including libraries, community centers, parks, churches and schools to distribute meals.

Program rules have been loosened so that meals can be distributed in bulk packages to cover multiple days and so parents can pick up the food without having their children present.

This interactive map helps you find local meal distribution sites. You can also locate a nearby site by texting “Summer Meals” to 97779 or calling 1-866-348-6479.

3. USDA National Hunger Hotline

The USDA National Hunger Hotline can help families seeking food assistance. Call 1-866-3-HUNGRY (1-866-348-6479) Monday through Friday between 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. E.T. to reach the hotline. If you need assistance in Spanish, call 1-877-8-HAMBRE (1-877-842-6273).

Free Meals Next School Year

Even after summer comes to an end, families will still be able to get a financial break when it comes to feeding their kids.The USDA is extending its National School Lunch Program Seamless Summer Option so that students can receive universal free lunch throughout the 2021-2022 school year. Waivers will also be given to provide free meals for kids in daycare and preschool programs.

If students are still learning virtually, you’ll be able to pick up meals for children to eat at home. Check with your child’s school or child care provider to see if they are participating in this program.

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

Why Today’s Retirees Need to Pursue Tax-Minimization Strategies

Today’s retirees face many obstacles, from an unpredictable market to a lack of guaranteed income in retirement. While these are important challenges to address, they would be remiss to ignore their future tax burdens. We’ll likely see increased taxes in the future, and this will affect today’s retirees more than tax increases have affected retirees in the past.

Retirement Then vs. Now

Today’s retirees are the first IRA generation: Whereas previous generations could primarily rely on Social Security benefits and pensions to cover their retirement expenses, many of today’s retirees find themselves having to fund a much larger portion of their retirement through their own pre-tax retirement accounts. And while retirement accounts such as 401(k)s and IRAs have significant benefits, they also come with downsides, namely that all of the withdrawals in retirement are taxable as ordinary income at the current tax rates in our country.

This means that if tax rates were to rise, the retiree living off of IRAs will have to pay more in taxes and therefore live off of less after-tax income. Previous generations saved their money in after-tax accounts, meaning if tax rates were to rise, it would not affect them the same way it will for this IRA generation. When we look at the history of taxes and the Biden administration’s tax-increasing proposals, it’s clear that retirees need to have a tax-minimization plan.

Could We See Taxes Increase?

We need to plan for the tax rates of the future, not the present. Previously, tax increases primarily affected wage earners. The Social Security payroll tax and income tax increases had little effect on Social Security beneficiaries and retirees who saved in after-tax accounts. However, those who take distributions from a tax-deferred retirement account and who invest in the market are affected by both income tax increases and new taxes.

These could include:

  • The possible elimination of the favorable long-term capital gains taxes rates for the wealthiest investors. This could mean those with incomes of $1 million or more might pay up to 39.5% on their gains, rather than the current top rate of 20%.
  • Lowering of the current standard deduction. Many retirees don’t itemize their deductions and rely on the standard deduction.  Therefore, if the current standard deduction is lowered, people’s taxes could go up.
  • Imposing the Social Security payroll tax on workers or households earning over $400,000 annually. This tax — in which employers and employees each pay 6.2% and the self-employed pay the full 12.4% — helps pay for Social Security benefits.
  • Lowering the federal estate tax exemption amount, which could affect estates above about $5 million.

Retirees should note that we may be experiencing tax rates at 100-year lows now, and that this could end in light of recent increased government spending. Our already large national debt increased during the pandemic, with the CARES Act of 2020 costing $2.2 trillion and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 costing $1.9 trillion. We will have to pay for this eventually, and retirees with large tax-deferred IRAs could be the ones to do it.

When we look at history, we see that after a period of increased government spending during World War II, income tax rates in the following decades were much higher than they are now. In 1944, the top rate peaked at 94%, and by 1964 it had only gone down to 70%. This doesn’t mean that an individual’s tax bracket will go from 22% to 70%, but there is a lot of room in between where retirees could feel the effects.

When running a financial plan, retirees need to calculate how much taxable income they will have and how much of that will be left after taxes. If tax rates rise, retirees could need to withdraw more from their taxable retirement accounts to be left with the same amount of income, ultimately drawing down their savings faster.

RMDs

Taxes on retirement income can become more burdensome starting at age 72. Most retirees must take RMDs (required minimum distributions) from their traditional retirement accounts starting at age 72, and the amount they must withdraw is based on their age and account balance.

RMDs could force someone to withdraw more than they normally would from their tax-deferred retirement account, causing them to jump into a higher tax bracket. Retirees under the age 72 should look to do careful planning that may minimize this effect by the time they reach this age.  (Keep reading for an idea on how to help do that below.)

Taxes and Your Legacy Goals

RMDs can also potentially increase a beneficiary’s tax burden due to the SECURE Act passed in 2019. It ended the “stretch IRA,” which allowed beneficiaries to stretch out distributions from an inherited retirement account over their lifetimes. Now, most non-spouse beneficiaries must empty traditional accounts within 10 years of the original owner’s death.

Those who want to pass on their retirement accounts should consider tax minimization strategies when creating an estate plan. One possibility is a charitable remainder trust.

What Can Retirees Do Now to Prepare for Higher Taxes Later?

Those who will draw a significant portion of their retirement income from taxable retirement account should take note, and work to minimize their overall tax burden. There are many strategies they can employ, including converting part or all of their traditional 401(k) or IRA to a Roth IRA. This involves paying tax on the amount converted and eventually withdrawing it from the Roth tax-free. If we see taxes increase in the future, a Roth conversion at today’s rates could potentially be a good strategy for those whose tax burden won’t substantially decrease in retirement.

In addition to providing tax-free income, a Roth is also exempt from RMDs. This means that the money in a Roth IRA can continue to grow throughout the owner’s lifetime tax-free. When it’s inherited, the beneficiary will have to drain the account in 10 years, as with a traditional IRA. However, distributions from traditional IRAs, distributions from Roth IRAs are not taxable and will not incur an early withdrawal penalty as long as the account is at least five years old.

The Bottom Line for Retirees

Retirees who have both traditional and Roth IRAs can strategically withdraw from each to avoid going into a higher tax bracket, continue to reap the tax-advantage benefits of a retirement account after age 72, and pass on potentially tax-free wealth to their beneficiaries. Those who think tax hikes are on the horizon and who don’t plan to live on significantly less income in retirement should consider tax-minimization strategies such as a Roth conversion.

Investment Advisory Services offered through Epstein and White Financial LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor.  Epstein & White Retirement Income Solutions, LLC is a licensed insurance agency with the state of California Department of Insurance (#0K53785).  As of March 31, 2021, Epstein and White is now a part of Mercer Global Advisors Inc. Mercer Global Advisors Inc. (“Mercer Advisors”) is registered as an Investment Adviser with the SEC. The firm only transacts business in states where it is properly registered or is excluded or exempted from registration requirements. The information, suggestions and recommendations included in this material is for informational purposes only and cannot be relied upon for any financial, legal, tax, accounting, or insurance purposes.  Epstein and White Financial is not a certified public accounting firm, and no portion of its services should be construed as legal or accounting advice. Please consult with your own accountant and financial planning professional to determine how tax changes affect your unique financial situation. A copy of Epstein & White Financial LLC’s current written disclosure statement discussing advisory services and fees is available for review upon request or at www.adviserinfo.sec.gov.

Founder and CEO, Epstein and White Retirement Income Solutions

Bradley White is founder and CEO of Epstein and White. He’s a Certified Financial Planner™ and has a bachelor’s degree in finance from San Diego State University. He’s an Investment Advisor Representative (IAR) and an insurance professional.

Source: kiplinger.com

5 Tips for Approaching the Open House

In this article:

For decades, sellers and their agents have been using open houses to help generate interest in their listings. Open houses give the general public the chance to view a home without scheduling a private showing. While open houses do get a lot of curious neighbors and casual browsers, they can be a good opportunity for serious buyers to decide if a home is worth pursuing further, or a way to get a better grasp on neighborhood home values. 

In fact, 59% of home buyers attended an open house during their shopping process last year and 43% of buyers said attending the open house was very or extremely important to determining if the home was right for them.* On average, home buyers attended 2.6 open houses before buying.

Whether you’re a sincere buyer or simply curious about the inside of a home, you should know how open houses work and understand how you can be a good open house attendee. 

Note: If open houses are restricted or unavailable due to public health concerns, work with your agent to arrange a private tour or video tour. All Zillow-owned homes include a self-tour option — just use our app to unlock the door and tour at your convenience.

What is an open house?

An open house is an event during which potential buyers can tour a home that’s on the market. It’s usually hosted by the seller’s listing agent, or by the seller themselves, in case of a for-sale-by-owner (FSBO) listing. Open houses usually take place on weekends, during a set range of hours typically midday.

Open house benefits for buyers

No scheduling required: Unlike a private showing, you don’t need to set up a specific appointment to see a home. Simply show up during the open house hours and view the home at your own pace. 

Scope out the competition: If you’re interested in a home, attending the open house can help you gauge interest from other buyers. This can be helpful when determining how quickly you need to submit an offer and how much you should offer. 

Understand current home values: Seeing what homes are selling for in your area and what you can buy at a particular price point can be helpful if you’re just starting your search. 

Redefine your nonnegotiable home features: Checking out homes in person can help you redefine your list of must-haves: Do you really need that extra bedroom? What does a backyard of this size really look like?

How do open houses work?

Not every seller or listing agent will hold one, but here’s the typical process for sellers setting up an open house:

  1. The seller and their agent determine a day and time for the open house.
  2. The agent lists the open house on the local MLS.
  3. The agent advertises the open house on social media, online and with print ads or flyers. 
  4. The agent prepares for the open house — purchasing refreshments, printing flyers, setting up signs and adding little touches to make the home feel welcoming to buyers. (Yes, as a shopper, you can eat the cookies.)
  5. The agent hosts the event, greeting buyers and answering questions about the property and community.
  6. Buyers remove their shoes, tour the home, take pictures and video (if allowed) and jot down important notes. 
  7. Any buyer who liked the house will contact their own agent. They’ll then set up a private showing to see the home again or they’ll submit an offer right away — the latter is common in fast-moving real estate markets.

Who hosts an open house?

The person hosting an open house could be any one of the following: 

  • Listing agent: As the person hired to sell the home, the listing agent should be an expert on the property. 
  • Listing agent’s team member or associate: A busy listing agent may also send another agent in their place — either someone on their team or another agent in their office. They should be experts in the local market, but may not be as familiar with the individual home. 
  • Homeowner: If a home is for sale by owner (FSBO), the homeowner will be hosting their own open house. They’re undoubtedly the expert on the home, but their local market expertise may be limited. 

How to prepare for an open house

There are times when you might just stumble upon an open house while you’re on a walk or running errands. But if you’re intentionally looking for open houses as part of your home-buying strategy, try these tips.

Seek out relevant open houses

If you plan to visit multiple open houses in one day, make sure you’re focusing on listings that fit your criteria for budget and location. It’s not worth wasting time looking at homes outside your budget or those that are too far from your work or school. 

Tip: With Zillow’s home search tool, buyers can filter by homes with upcoming open houses (this filter can be applied in addition to other search filters like price, bedrooms, bathrooms, square footage and location). When you use the open houses filter in conjunction with filters for your other criteria, you can easily find the right open houses for your search.

A map of home listings on Zillow.

You can also tour most Zillow-owned homes any time between 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., any day of the week — just select the tour option on the listing. Although the listing agent will not be present, you can avoid a busy open house and rest assured the property is in move-in ready condition.

Do research on the market beforehand

With help from your agent or on your own, find out how each home you’re planning to visit stacks up against others nearby. Is the price in line with similar listings in the area? Are there any defects? Has it gone under contract recently and then returned to the market? Are there a lot of other interested buyers? Has it been sitting on the market for a long time? (“Days on market” is an indicator of a stale listing, but the standard number of days on market can vary based on where you live.)

Stay open-minded

If you’re searching on a tight budget in a hot neighborhood, there’s a good chance that the home that fits the bill will need some TLC. Fortunately, attending an open house can give you a better idea of the home’s condition and potential, while also giving you the opportunity to ask renovation-related questions — e.g., the location of load bearing walls and the details of local regulations. 

How to attend an open house

Now that you’ve done your research and are prepared to add some open houses to your home search, here’s what you should do once the day arrives. 

Ask questions

An open house is your best opportunity to ask the listing agent (or their associate) your questions — don’t be shy. Ask questions that you wouldn’t be able to answer just by reading a home’s listing description, such as:

  • What are the HOA restrictions?
  • Has the seller done a property tax appeal?
  • Have there been any recent renovations or repairs?

Tip: If you’re not currently working with an agent and you ultimately decide you aren’t interested in a particular home you tour, the open house could help you see if the listing agent might be the right person to represent you — many agents represent both buyers and sellers. 

Be honest

If anyone other than the listing agent or the homeowner is hosting the open house, they’re likely an agent hoping to find potential buyer clients. If you’re already working with an agent (or if you have no real interest in buying), be honest.

Check for damage and disrepair

Professional or edited photos can make a home look a lot better online than it is in person. At an open house, take the opportunity to closely evaluate a home’s condition and take note of any potential defects that would factor into your offer price. 

Assess the windows: Look for flaking paint, misaligned sashes and condensation due to air leaks. These could be signs of windows that need replacement. 

Check for water damage: Look for warped baseboards, ceiling stains and musty smells. 

Make note of cracks: Noticeable cracks in the ceiling or drywall could indicate foundation issues. 

Test functions: Open cabinets, doors and drawers. Run the faucets. Check the water pressure. An open house is a good opportunity to make sure every part of the home is in good working order. 

Gauge potential renovation needs: Home improvements can really add up. As you walk through a home, keep an eye out for urgent renovation needs like floors, fixtures or large repainting projects.

Open house tips for buyers

Whenever you attend an open house, put yourself in the seller’s shoes — you’re letting a bunch of strangers walk through your home while you’re not there. While every seller wants their open house to net a buyer, they also want to keep their home safe and their furnishings free of damage.

Do

  • Take off your shoes or wear booties if requested.
  • Greet the host and provide your name.
  • Sign in if necessary or requested (this is a safety issue for the seller and their agent).
  • Take notes on your phone about your likes, dislikes and follow-up questions.
  • Ask if you can capture a video (if the listing doesn’t already include a video).
  • Respect other buyers and guests. 
  • Wait for others to exit a room before you enter.
  • Provide feedback if requested.
  • Thank the person hosting the event.

Don’t

  • Refuse to comply with an agent or homeowner’s house rules.
  • Criticize the home or the owner’s style.
  • Listen in on other visitors’ conversations.
  • Touch the owner’s belongings.
  • Let kids run around without supervision.
  • Bring food or beverages in (except water).
  • Reveal information that would compromise your negotiating power, like your budget or level of interest in the home.
  • Bring pets.

*Zillow Group Consumer Housing Trends Report 2019 survey data

Source: zillow.com

Apple Card Review – Does It Live Up to the Hype?

Advertiser Disclosure: This post includes references to offers from our partners. We receive compensation when you click on links to those products. However, the opinions expressed here are ours alone and at no time has the editorial content been provided, reviewed, or approved by any issuer.

Apple Card immodestly claims to “completely [rethink] everything about the credit card.” Is it correct? Maybe.

Backed by the Mastercard network, Apple Card certainly has a host of innovative features that old-fashioned credit cards don’t, such as daily cash-back and numberless physical cards. And it’s a harbinger of the cashless, contactless payments landscape to come. No serious observer can dispute that Apple Card is ahead of its time.

But any product that’s truly ahead of its time must also be competitive in the present. And beyond its novel features, Apple Card works pretty much like any other credit card. Indeed, in spite – or perhaps because – of its novel additions, it lacks some consumer-friendly features common to other popular cash-back cards and general-purpose rewards cards.

Here’s a closer look at what sets Apple Card apart, and how it stacks up against other credit cards.

Things to Keep in Mind About Apple Card

Before we dive into Apple Card’s details, two points bear mentioning.

First, though cardholders who don’t pay their statement balances in full each month are subject to interest charges that vary with their creditworthiness and prevailing benchmark rates, Apple Card charges none of the fees typically levied by credit card companies: no annual fee, no late fee, and no over-limit fee.

Second, Apple Card is designed to work with Apple Pay, which runs on Apple (Mac) hardware only. If you’re one of the many millions of iPhone users in the United States, this card is for you. If you’re an Android loyalist, you’re out of luck.

Key Features

Here’s a closer look at Apple Card’s most notable features.

Earning Cash Back

Apple Card has a three-tiered cash-back program:

  • 3% Cash Back. All purchases from Apple earn unlimited 3% cash back. These include, but are not limited to, purchases from Apple.com, physical Apple Stores, the iTunes Store, the App Store, and in-app purchases. Certain non-Apple purchases made using Apple Pay earn 3% cash-back rewards as well.
  • 2% Cash Back. All other purchases made using Apple Pay (including through your Apple phone or Apple Watch) earn unlimited 2% cash back. Hundreds of major retailer chains and brands, encompassing more than 2 million individual merchant locations online and off, accept Apple Pay. These include but aren’t limited to Walgreens, Nike, Uber Eats, Duane Reade, Amazon, and thousands of gas stations. If you’re not familiar with how Apple Pay works, see its site for details.
  • 1% Cash Back. Purchases made with merchants – online, offline, and in-app – that don’t accept Apple Pay earn an unlimited 1% cash back.

Redeeming Cash Back

Cash back earned through Apple Card purchases accrues daily. Each day a purchase posts to your account, you’ll receive the requisite cash back on your Apple Pay Cash card in the Apple Wallet app.

From there, you can use it to pay for purchases within or without the Apple ecosystem or to make payments on your Apple Card balance.

If you don’t have an Apple Pay Cash card and aren’t interested in getting one, you must accept cash back earned to your Apple Card via statement credits, which may not be much of a sacrifice.

Apple Pay Integration

Apple Card is essentially an offshoot of Apple Wallet. It’s designed for use in conjunction with Apple Pay – or, more specifically, as the user’s default Apple Pay payment method. Apple clearly expects most Apple Card transactions to be contactless, executed through a Web portal or with the tap of an iPhone.

Beyond Apple Card’s novelty as the first truly “contactless first” credit card, users benefit from Apple Pay’s stringent security features. These include:

  • Unique Device Number. Your Apple Card is issued with a unique number that’s stored in your iPhone’s Secure Element, the secure microchip that hosts the phone’s most sensitive functions.
  • Two-Factor Purchasing. Every purchase requires your unique device number, plus a unique one-time code generated on the spot.
  • Purchase Authorization Via Face ID or Touch ID. This renders stolen phones all but useless for making purchases.

Apple Card also takes data security seriously. Apple and Goldman Sachs, the card’s issuer, vow never to share customer data with third parties. Only Goldman Sachs has access to users’ transaction histories and personal information.

Physical Credit Card

Apple Card isn’t 100% virtual. The physical Apple Card is a titanium card that looks and feels just like any other premium credit card, except that it’s much sleeker. The card face is a minimalist triumph, with no cardholder name, card number, or CVV and virtually no marks to mar its metallic hue.

Apple and Goldman Sachs tout the security benefits of Apple Card’s featurelessness. Without any information to identify the card, it’s useless in the wrong hands.

Real-Time Fraud Protection

Apple Card’s real-time fraud protection feature notifies you every time your card is used to make a purchase. If something doesn’t seem right about a transaction, or you know for a fact that you didn’t make it, you can immediately initiate the dispute process by tapping the notification.

Purchase Organization and Mapping

Apple Card automatically organizes purchases by purchase category – entertainment, food and drinks, and so on – and merchant. Categories are color-coded for easy visualization and totaled monthly for easy budgeting. With features like that, who needs a paid budgeting app?

Apple Card also automatically maps purchases, showing you where you’ve spent money recently, literally. If a real-time fraud protection notification slips your notice, perhaps seeing a purchase in a city you’ve never visited will jog your memory.

Spending Summaries

Apple Card’s spending summaries, visible in the Wallet app, reveal how much you’re spending, and on what, in any given week or month. You can view spending trends over time here too, which comes in handy for the periodic budget reviews you should be doing.

Payment Due Dates & Frequency

By default, Apple Card statements are due at the end of the month. If you prefer to pay balances more frequently – and reduce interest charges when you can’t pay off your balance in full before the statement due date – you can set weekly or biweekly payments too.

Interest Calculator

Apple Card’s built-in interest calculator automatically tallies expected interest charges when you pay less than the full balance due on your card before the end of the grace period.

Credit card issuers are required to reveal on each statement the true cost of making only the minimum payment due in comparison with at least one larger monthly payment.

However, this is a far more robust and interactive interest calculator that’s significantly more likely to nudge you to boost your monthly payment.

Interest-Reduction Suggestions

If the interest calculator isn’t enough, Apple Card also provides “smart payment suggestions” that encourage cardholders to increase their monthly payments, thereby decreasing their total interest liability.

It’s not clear how Apple Card arrives at these suggestions, but they appear to be based on cardholders’ spending patterns and payment history.

Interest-Free Installment Payments

Apple Card offers interest-free monthly installment payments for select Apple products purchased through the company’s sales channels. You can easily see the size of your installments and how much you have left to pay in the app.

Text-Based Support

Apple Card has a text-based support system that’s available 24/7. If you run into an issue with the card or have a question that doesn’t concern a disputed charge, which you can handle through the real-time fraud protection interface, this is your ticket to a resolution.

Important Fees

Apple Card charges no fees to cardholders: no foreign transaction fees, balance transfer fees, or annual fees.

Advantages

These are among Apple Card’s principal advantages.

1. No Fees

Apple Card doesn’t charge any fees to cardholders. This makes it all but unique, as even avowedly low-fee cards assess fees for less common occurrences such as late and returned payments.

2. Cash Back Accrues Daily

Apple Card is among the only widely available credit cards to accrue cash back on a daily basis, rather than at the end of the statement cycle.

Although the accrual frequency doesn’t affect net cash-back earnings or cash back earning rates, it’s certainly nice to see your spending subsidized in near-real-time.

3. Solid Cash Back Rates on Apple & Apple Pay Purchases

This card earns 3% cash back on virtually all purchases within the Apple ecosystem, excluding purchases with Apple Pay merchants. This 3% category covers, but isn’t limited to, the following:

  • Apple.com purchases
  • Purchases at physical Apple Stores
  • iTunes Store purchases
  • App Store purchases
  • In-app purchases

Apple Card also earns 2% cash back on purchases made with Apple Pay merchants. So if you’re able to limit your spending to the Apple and Apple Pay ecosystems, you’ll net somewhere north of 2% cash back on this no-annual-fee card, depending on your exact spending mix.

4. Above-Average Security Features

Apple Card is more secure than your average credit card. The physical card doesn’t have a card number or CVV, so you won’t have to worry about what could happen between the moment you lose your card and the moment you freeze your account.

The virtual card is denoted by a unique device number locked away in your iPhone’s Secure Element, far from prying eyes.

Perhaps most consequentially, Apple has a strict privacy policy that forbids data sharing with third parties. There’s no need to opt out, which is often easier said than done, and only Goldman Sachs has access to your transaction history.

5. Real-Time Fraud Protection

Apple Card has another security feature worth touting: real-time fraud protection that alerts you whenever your card is used to make a purchase and lets you flag potentially fraudulent transactions with a single tap.

Compared with the traditional dispute resolution process, this is a snap, even when flagged charges turn out to be legitimate.

6. Easy, Flexible Payments

Apple Card’s default payment due date – the last day of the month – is easy to remember, even without the helpful reminders.

If you’re trying to budget on an irregular income and prefer not to wait until the end of the month to pay off your entire balance, Apple Card’s customized weekly and biweekly payment intervals have you covered.

Other credit cards let you pay off balances throughout the month, but few make it as easy as Apple Card.

7. Interest-Reduction Features

Apple Card’s interest calculator and interest-reduction suggestions are classic examples of “nudge” theory in action. By revealing just how much you’ll save over time by paying a little more upfront, these features nudge you to make smart financial decisions.

Of course, it’s always best to pay off your balance in full by the statement due date, but when unexpected expenses make that impossible, it’s nice to feel like your credit card issuer is on your side.

8. Useful Budgeting and Spending Control Features

With so many budgeting and spending control features, Apple Card feels like a personal budgeting suite with a spending aid built in.

Maybe that’s the point. Though most small-business credit cards have basic expense tracking and reporting features, Apple Card’s package is unusually robust for a consumer credit card.

If what’s keeping you from building and sticking to a household budget is the inconvenience inherent in standalone budgeting software, this is a potential game-changer.

9. Text-Based Customer Support

Apple Card’s text-based customer support is a low-friction alternative to menu-laden, over-automated phone support and unpredictable email support.

Whether this feature is as efficient as Apple and Goldman Sachs promise remains to be seen, but it’s difficult to see it being worse than the status quo – for relatively simple issues, at least.

10. No Penalty Interest Charges

Apple Card doesn’t charge penalty interest. While it’s best never to find yourself in a position where penalty interest would apply, the assurance that you won’t be unduly penalized for a lapse beyond your control is certainly welcome.

Disadvantages

Consider these potential disadvantages before applying for Apple Card.

1. Requires Apple Pay and Apple Hardware

Apple Card’s biggest drawback is its exclusivity. The card requires Apple Pay, which runs exclusively on Apple hardware, meaning it’s not appropriate for Android or Windows device users.

If you’re set on applying for Apple Card but don’t have an iPhone or other compatible Apple device, Apple Watch is your most cost-effective option. Apple Pay runs on Apple Watch just fine, and you can pick up refurbished older versions – Series 1, 2, and 3 – for less than $100.

That’s still a significant outlay, though, and no other credit card on the market requires compatible hardware.

2. Only 1% Cash Back on Non-Apple Pay Purchases

Apple Card earns just 1% cash back on non-Apple Pay purchases. If your daily, weekly, and monthly consumption habits involve merchants that mostly accept Apple Pay, you shouldn’t have trouble earning the higher 2% cash-back rate, but not all merchants do.

Square has a non-exhaustive list of major merchants that do accept Apple Pay. Do yourself a favor and review it before applying for this card.

3. Goldman Sachs’ First Credit Card

Apple Card is the first consumer credit card issued by Goldman Sachs Bank. Apple touts this as an advantage, arguing that Goldman Sachs isn’t bound by the constraints of legacy credit card issuers such as Chase and Barclays.

And it’s not as if Goldman Sachs is entirely new to the consumer finance realm. Its Marcus by Goldman Sachs loan and savings products are innovative and well-liked.

That said, it’s not hard to imagine a first-time credit card issuer experiencing some growing pains, especially given Apple Card’s novelty. At a minimum, don’t be surprised to see iterative changes to Apple Card as Goldman Sachs figures out what works and what doesn’t.

Final Word

If you’re a committed Apple Pay user with the hardware to back it up – an iPhone, Apple Watch, or maybe an iPad – then it might make sense for you to ditch your traditional credit cards and going all-in on Apple Card.

Users who restrict their spending to Apple Pay merchants only stand to earn 2% cash back across the board, about as good as it gets on a consistent basis for premium cash-back credit cards. To do better than that, you’ll need to upgrade to a premium travel rewards credit card with a hefty annual fee.

Source: moneycrashers.com

Couponing Do’s & Don’ts — How to Save Money Shopping With Coupons

You’ve probably already used coupons at some point in your life. According to a 2020 survey by Statista, almost 90% of respondents reported having used coupons for shopping. Considering that coupons provide a fast, free way to reduce spending on groceries and essentials, it’s clear why coupons are so popular.

But to make your couponing efforts more successful, it’s crucial to familiarize yourself with the tips and tricks successful couponers use. The last thing you want to do is waste time collecting coupons only to realize none of them is valid when you’re checking out.

If you’re relatively new to couponing, start slowly by bringing a few paper coupons to your next shopping trip. Over time, you can incorporate more of these couponing do’s and don’ts to save more.

Couponing Do’s

Couponing doesn’t have to feel like a marathon or take up hours of your week. By following one or more of these couponing do’s, you can start to trim your monthly spending — and ultimately save more money.

1. Do Know Where to Find Coupons

The most basic step in starting to coupon is to collect them. Ideally, you can gradually build a stash of coupons for the stores and brands you frequently shop so you can always find some savings at the register.

To begin your coupon hunt, plan your weekly meals around sale products if possible. That helps you find discounts without even having to coupon. To find in-store sales, look for digital flyers on grocery store websites.

Another resource is Flipp, a free app that provides weekly flyers, deals, and online coupons for over 2,000 stores. Flipp has weekly flyers for stores like Aldi, Kroger, and Walmart. You can clip deals you find to the in-app shopping list to help you keep track.

Once your virtual or paper shopping list has all the food you need for the week, finish the list with any household essentials you need to restock, like toilet paper or cleaning supplies. You’re now ready to track down coupons for everything on your shopping list.

There are several free websites you can use to print paper coupons. These websites include coupon databases and brand websites like:

Coupons.com, Coupon Sherpa, RetailMeNot, and Valpak also have mobile apps that let you find and redeem digital coupons at the register. If you don’t want to spend time and money printing coupons, apps are your best resource. You can also try other mobile coupon apps like Grocery Pal and The Coupons App, which have digital coupons for grocery stores like Aldi, Albertsons, Kroger, Food Lion, Safeway, and Publix.

Between paper and digital coupons, you should find savings on some of the products on your weekly shopping list. If you can’t track down a specific coupon, searching online for the product name plus “coupon” is another tactic to try.

Finally, if you subscribe to a Sunday paper or get coupons and ad flyers in the mail, take a few minutes to scan for coupons you need. If you spot an incredible coupon for a product you buy regularly, you can scoop up a few extra newspapers on discount at a dollar store the following day or look online for the same coupon.

Also, don’t forget to check out those coupons they print out at the register after checkout (sometimes called Catalina coupons). Those are typically based on your specific purchases, so there may be something in there you can use. Others may be percent-off discounts on your total sale price if you spend over a certain amount.

You don’t have to go overboard and find duplicates of every coupon for your shopping list. Find as many as you can, and remember to check expiration dates so you shop in time to save.

2. Do Combine Coupons With Cash-Back Rewards Apps

Coupons usually provide a percent discount or certain dollar-off amount to let you save. But if you want to save even more on your weekly grocery haul, you can use cash-back rewards apps to earn rebates for buying certain products.

Just like searching for coupons, you can research rebate opportunities before heading to the store to earn cash back for products you were going to buy anyway. Popular rewards apps you can use include:

  • Ibotta. Earn cash back for buying specific products from Ibotta partners and uploading your receipt to the app for proof of purchase. Ibotta works with over 1,000 brands, and there are always offers on groceries and everyday essentials. You can redeem cash back through PayPal, Venmo, or free gift cards when you reach $20. Read our Ibotta review for more information.
  • Fetch Rewards. If you like Ibotta, Fetch Rewards is another must-download app. With Fetch Rewards, you earn points for buying products from dozens of popular brands. An advantage of Fetch Rewards is that you can redeem many free gift cards once you reach $3, which is possible in a single shopping trip. Read our Fetch Rewards review for more information.
  • Checkout 51. Checkout 51 is similar to Ibotta. Download Checkout 51, select offers to shop for, and upload your receipt to earn rewards. Checkout 51 works at stores like Aldi, Albertsons, Costco, Kroger, Meijer, and Walmart. You get a check when you earn $20 in cash back. Read our Checkout 51 review for more information.

There’s still nothing wrong with using paper coupons or mobile coupon apps if that’s all you have time for. But to save even more, it’s worth trying cash-back rewards apps alongside your couponing efforts.

3. Do Sign Up for Store Savings Cards

Sign up for rewards cards at the stores where you shop. Store rewards cards typically provide shoppers with additional savings in the form of reward points or discounts. Plus, some loyalty programs also send additional coupons in the mail.

Reward cards also help you earn more with Ibotta since you can connect cards from retailers like Meijer, Kroger, and Wegmans to your account. Once you connect a card, Ibotta automatically detects whether your purchase qualifies for cash back and pays you.

4. Do Stay Organized to Maximize Savings

Organize coupons to keep them easily accessible when you shop. The last thing you want is to miss a coupon when checking out or — even worse— forget your coupons at home.

Your organizational system doesn’t have to be complex or expensive. For casual couponers, a coupon wallet on Amazon costs around $10 and comes with dividers to group coupons into different sections, like meat or produce.

If you prefer managing everything from your smartphone, you can also use the free SnipSnap app to transform paper coupons into digital ones. Once you snap a picture of a paper coupon, Snip Snap uploads it to its database so you can use it while on the go. The app also tracks expiration dates and sends reminders about expiring coupons.

5. Do Know Your Store’s Coupon Policy

Does your grocer double coupons, price-match, accept competitor coupons, or give rain checks if sale goods are out of stock? If you don’t know, research coupon policies online. Grocery stores and general retailers like Walmart and Target outline coupon rules on their websites. To find a policy, use a browser to search for the name of your store of choice plus “coupon policy” (for example, “Kroger coupon policy”) or look for a frequently asked questions section on the website. These policies help you save even more money, and they aren’t always prominently advertised. Things to stay informed about include:

  • Price Matching. Stores don’t like losing a potential sale because a competitor has a slightly lower price tag, so many are willing to price match. Price matching is when a store adjusts its price to match a sale at another local store.
  • Competitor Coupons. Your store may accept competitors’ coupons, but you should clarify who their competitors are. For example, Publix accepts coupons for competitors’ private-label products, whereas Meijer doesn’t take competitor coupons at all. But some stores are more specific than Publix. Lowes Foods accepts competitor coupons only from select competitors, like Aldi, Food Lion, Target, and Walmart.
  • Rain Checks. When you want to buy an out-of-stock product, some stores issue rain checks, which guarantee the current price when it’s back in stock. But many stores have specific rules for rain checks. For example, Publix only issues one rain check per household per day (in addition to other, sometimes product-specific restrictions).

6. Do Know Local Stores’ Best Deals & Sale Patterns

You can get the most out of any coupon when you shop at the stores with the best deals for that product type, such as canned goods or toiletries.

That requires paying attention as you shop around. Over time, you learn each local store’s pricing quirks and sale patterns. For example, perhaps your local Walmart’s bakery section regularly puts bread and bagels on sale during certain days of the week. Or maybe your town’s Kroger has better prices and more frequent discounts on frozen meals than your local Publix.

As you learn this type of information, you can be more selective about where you shop for individual products. You don’t have to waste time and gas shopping at multiple stores for a single grocery trip, but for specific products, it can make sense to coupon at stores that are more likely to have deals or just better prices on that product category.

7. Do Start Slowly

When you first start couponing, it feels intimidating if you’re redeeming dozens of coupons and have a lot of numbers to crunch.

For your first few shopping trips, focus on the highest-value coupons, the ones you know are worth using. That might look like bringing three 50%-off coupons or your highest-dollar-value-off coupons.

You can even try using coupons on sale products, but don’t get too creative until you’re comfortable calculating whether things are good deals and handing over coupons at the register.

8. Do Try Stacking Coupons

Combining a coupon with a store sale is a simple way to stack savings. But you don’t have to limit yourself to just stacking coupons with sale prices. Stores like Dollar General, Meijer, and Target let you stack a manufacturer’s coupon and store coupons to save even more.

For example, if Target has Planters peanuts on sale for $2, you can use a $1 Target coupon for Planters products and a $1 Planters manufacturer’s coupon to score a free can of peanuts. You can find store coupons online or in your favorite store’s weekly flyers.

If you can’t get something for free, try stacking coupons with store sales and apps like Ibotta to maximize savings.

For example, there’s a 50%-off clearance sale on a $3.99 Red Baron pepperoni pizza, bringing the price down to $2. If you have a $1 manufacturer coupon, the price is just $1. But since Ibotta has a $0.75 rebate on Red Baron pepperoni pizza, you just scored an entire pizza for only $0.25.

To top it all off, shop with a cash-back credit card to earn even more. The goal of couponing is to find deals whenever possible and get creative to stretch the value of every dollar you spend.

9. Do Use the Overage

When your coupons exceed the sale price of a product, it produces an overage. While that doesn’t invalidate the coupons, most often, that means you get the product for $0.

However, certain retailers apply overages toward other products in your shopping cart. For example, say you get an overage of $0.50 on a box of Betty Crocker chocolate cake mix by using a manufacturer coupon and sale price. Overage-allowing retailers apply the $0.50 overage to another product in your cart.

Walmart and Kroger are two major retailers that apply overages to your cart. And Walmart is one of the few retailers that pays cash back for overages (except on purchases made using government benefits, so save coupons for purchases you make when you’re not using your SNAP and WIC benefits). Kroger issues overages on a merchandise return card (essentially, a Kroger gift card). If you’re in doubt, look up your store’s coupon policy online to learn about overage rules.

10. Do Present Coupons in the Right Order

You can maximize your savings by handing the cashier your coupons in a specific order. For example, if you have a store coupon for $5 off a $20 purchase, use that coupon first. Otherwise, your other coupons might negate the $5 coupon by discounting the total amount of the sale to less than $20.

Some stores automatically apply your coupons correctly, so the order doesn’t always matter. But to be safe, give the cashier the price-minimum coupon before you use any other coupons.

11. Do Get in & Get Out

Know what you plan to buy before you go to the store, and stick to your shopping list.

If you stay in the store too long, you become susceptible to their marketing ploys, and you may end up spending more money. Get in, get the deals, and then get out.

If you shop during less busy grocery shopping hours, like during the week or at night, your trips will also be faster than battling weekend shopping crowds.

12. Do Stock Up

If you spot an incredible couponing opportunity on nonperishable goods or products you use frequently, it’s generally a smart move to stock up. It ensures you benefit from the deal as much as possible and lets you use more coupons before they expire. It’s an excellent way to set up long-term emergency food and supply storage.

Stacking coupons and store sales lets you score the lowest price possible when stocking up. For example, if Green Giant canned corn is on sale for $0.99 per can and you have several BOGO coupons or manufacturer coupons for $0.50 off per can, you can stock up on as many cans as possible to build your food storage for less than half the regular price.

Some stores limit the number of sale products you can purchase at once. If a store puts a limit on something and you need more of it, visit other store locations to create your stockpile.

Stocking up also lets you be pickier about when you use coupons. For example, if you run out of toilet paper, shop your emergency pantry first. You can replace your emergency supplies when you’re able to stack a sale and a coupon rather than buying full-price TP without a coupon.

That’s especially important for edible pantry goods. Canned and dried foods last a long time, but even they eventually go bad. This method ensures your emergency supplies are always safe to eat. If you have to throw them away, you won’t save any money (and may be in trouble if you need them during a bona fide emergency).

But before you come home with 30 cans of creamed corn, make sure you have a place to store it. You can convert a small area of your home, like a guest room closet or second bathroom linen closet, into your emergency pantry.

13. Do Donate the Excess

When couponing, you sometimes encounter scenarios where you can get so much of a free or cheap product that you can’t even use it all before it expires. It’s still a better deal than purchasing without a coupon, but the thought of letting all that product go bad doesn’t sit well with most people.

Instead of turning down an incredible deal, look into ways to donate excess couponing successes to people in need. Charities like homeless shelters, food banks, and women’s shelters make excellent candidates for donations. You can also reach out to local churches and community outreach programs to see if they need certain supplies.

You may even be able to take a charitable contribution tax deduction.


Couponing Don’ts

If you ever watched shows like TLC’s “Extreme Couponing,” successful couponing looks like hours of dumpster diving for coupon flyers, endless clipping, and (in some cases) being way too frugal.

But couponing doesn’t have to become your full-time job. You don’t need to make things overly complex either. As long as you follow couponing best practices and avoid some common couponing mistakes, your savings can benefit without transforming your living room into a coupon-clipping factory.

1. Don’t Shop Without a Meal Plan

Shopping with a meal plan is an often overlooked couponing tip, but it’s crucial to saving money. If you don’t have a plan to use the products you’re buying each week, you’re more likely to waste food.

Additionally, shopping without a menu makes you more likely to buy convenience food: frozen pizzas, hot dogs, and other fast meals. While these are delicious, they’re not conducive to eating healthy on a budget.

When building your shopping list, plan dishes that line up with products you have coupons for. For example, you find a $1-off coupon for two bags of Sargento cheese, a $0.25 coupon for Classico pasta sauce, and a coupon for $1 off two boxes of Mueller’s pasta. You can plan to make lasagna for dinner one night that week and macaroni and cheese as a side for another meal.

Or perhaps you find a coupon for an ingredient that’s central to many dishes, like chicken or ground beef, that also happens to be on sale. You can plan to make several recipes that use that ingredient, then stack the sale and coupon for even more savings.

If that sounds intimidating, affordable meal-planning services like $5 Meal Plan provide a month’s worth of dinner recipes and various breakfast and lunch ideas for only $5 per month.

2. Don’t Use a Coupon on a Full-Price Product

If you use a $1-off coupon on a full-price two-pack of SlimFast protein drinks for $5.68, you still pay $2.34 per beverage. But if you wait until SlimFast is on sale, you can save even more money. For example, if SlimFast goes on sale for 20% off, you can buy two drinks for $4.54, use your coupon, and pay $3.54, or $1.77 each, saving nearly 40% on your purchase.

That’s why operating with an emergency pantry is such a good idea. If you need to restock on an ingredient or product that day, you have to use coupons even if you miss a sale (or worse, pay full price without a coupon). But if you can afford to wait, you can save money in the long run by shopping during sale periods and with coupons more often.

3. Don’t Buy Something Just Because It’s on Sale

Don’t let sale prices trick you into buying something you don’t typically use just because it looks like a deal. If you use coupons without thinking, you inevitably buy things that are a waste of money or products that expire before you have a chance to use them.

Jumping on every great deal out there significantly lightens your wallet and defeats the whole purpose of couponing. That said, if you find a fantastic deal on something you can donate, there’s nothing wrong with couponing for charity.

4. Don’t Be Brand-Loyal

Prego or Ragu spaghetti sauce? Skippy peanut butter or Jif? Which brand should you buy? The answer: whichever one you can get the cheapest using your coupons.

Many people start couponing because of a major life event, like job loss, pregnancy, or too much debt. Those aren’t the times to be brand-loyal. You need to save money, and you can’t do that if you pass on deals because you prefer specific brands.

And sometimes, the cheapest bet is to go with the store brand, even if it means passing up on a coupon or sale for another brand.

For example, at Walmart, the Great Value line is extensive, covering a range of affordable grocery products and everyday essentials. If your coupons can’t beat Great Value, it’s probably best to save them for another time.

Plus, many retailers give coupons for their own brands through register coupons and coupon mailers, so you can still find ways to save on already affordable store brands.

5. Don’t Use Every Coupon

Some coupons don’t represent real savings. For example, a coupon for $0.50 off two boxes of brand-name cereal doesn’t result in much savings. That’s only $0.25 off each box. Even during a good sale, the coupon may not take the total price down to a better deal than the store brand. Wait for a better coupon and another sale.

Sometimes, you also have good coupons nearing their expiration dates but no sales on the goods you need. Let them expire. You don’t have to use the coupons, especially if you have to buy a brand name at full price to do so.

Couponing is about saving money, not getting good deals on brand-name products.

If you really need something, buy one or two of them now and wait for a sale to buy in bulk.

6. Don’t Waste Time

It’s easy to fall into the couponing trap of spending so much time searching for deals and preparing to shop that you’re turning couponing into a part-time job (there are better side gigs to make extra money).

Start by asking yourself how much time you want to dedicate to couponing. The answer could be 15 minutes on Sunday to look through coupon apps or a couple of hours every week to do more thorough research.

With a time commitment in mind, you should also work efficiently. Some tips to save time when couponing include:

  • Only clipping paper coupons you know you’re going to use
  • Turning clipping into a family activity (don’t forget safety scissors for the younger ones)
  • Linking store loyalty cards with apps like Ibotta to avoid preselecting rebates before shopping

You can also order groceries online and use coupons to save both time and money. Online grocery shopping gives you plenty of time to scout deals and coupons and do the math without feeling pressured. It also saves you from clever marketing tactics that induce impulse buys. They try to do the same things online, but you have more time to talk yourself out of it. And you can typically use the same or similar coupons online you do in stores.

For example, at Kroger, you can load digital coupons onto your Kroger Plus card and have them automatically apply to your online grocery order. And if you pick up the order, you can also use paper coupons (Kroger only accepts their own digital coupons for delivery). Just make sure you hit any free pickup minimums to ensure you’re really saving.

As long as couponing is enjoyable and effective, you’re on the right track. Plus, as you gain experience, you’ll find certain coupon apps or websites work best for your shopping habits and become even more efficient at growing your coupon supply.

7. Don’t Print Coupons You Don’t Use

Online printable coupons from websites like Coupons.com can save money. But you still use computer paper and ink to print the coupons, which costs money and wastes paper.

Many people print every online coupon available and then throw most of them away. Print online coupons as you need them. Save any you’re interested in but don’t need as a PDF or browser bookmark.


Final Word

In many ways, learning to coupon is a series of stages. At first, you use a few tips that are convenient to save, like buying products you have coupons for. As you become more comfortable, you start to mix in tricks like coupon stacking and simply using more coupons per shopping trip. If you start loving the process, you eventually graduate to extreme couponing, where it’s possible to score entire grocery hauls for almost pennies on the dollar if you get it right.

Whatever stage you’re in, the goal of couponing is to save more of your money. How much time you spend on it is up to you.

Source: moneycrashers.com

Chapter 7 vs. Chapter 13 Bankruptcy – Lexington Law

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice. See Lexington Law’s editorial disclosure for more information.

Bankruptcy is a legal process that lets you restructure your debts or have them discharged. The details of how your bankruptcy plays out depend on your overall financial situation and what type of bankruptcy you file, but the goal of bankruptcy is to help debtors who can’t pay all their debts create a path toward a better financial future while paying as much as they can. To determine how much you pay, consider Chapter 7 vs. Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

It’s important to note that bankruptcy should be a last resort. It has serious consequences for your credit and immediate financial future, which means you may want to consider all other options first. Find out more about Chapter 7 vs. Chapter 13 bankruptcy below and then talk to a lawyer about what might be best for you—many bankruptcy attorneys offer free consultations for this purpose.

What Is Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?

Chapter 7 bankruptcy is sometimes referred to as liquidation bankruptcy or the fresh start bankruptcy.  While every situation is handled according to the details of the case, the basic concept of Chapter 7 is that your non-exempt assets are liquidated to repay creditors and any remaining debt not covered is discharged in the bankruptcy.  It should be noted that many families have no non-exempt assets, or very few non-exempt assets.

How It Works

First, you go through a pre-filing credit counseling course and obtain a certificate that you file when you file a petition with the court for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.  Before filing chapter 7 you must perform the “means test” to determine whether you qualify for chapter 7 at all. 

The means test considers your income for the preceding six months, your family size, and some other factors.  If you qualify for chapter 7 you can prepare and file your chapter 7 papers yourself, but most experts recommend working with a bankruptcy lawyer, as the process is complex.

You must also submit records including lists of all your assets and debts, your current income and expenses, tax returns and other documents related to your financial status, including contracts like leases that might be in play.

You’ll also be required to go through credit counseling after your bankruptcy is filed, and submit a certificate that you did so—if you work with a bankruptcy attorney, they usually help facilitate this.

Most creditor activities against you, such as lawsuits, foreclosures and wage garnishments, must be halted as soon as you file the petition and the creditor finds out about it. This is known as the automatic stay.

Within a few weeks, the bankruptcy trustee holds what is called a meeting of creditors. This is a hearing you must attend. You are placed under oath and the trustee, along with any present creditors, asks you questions. The trustee uses this information to determine whether you have any non-exempt assets or transactions that can be reversed. 

The trustee is looking to see if s/he can obtain any money for your creditors. The trustee is also looking to insure that debtors are truthful and fully disclosing of their situation. 

Once the case proceeds past this point, your debts are discharged as agreed upon after liquidation of non-exempt assets (if any) occurs and funds are disbursed to various creditors by the trustee. Some of your assets are protected by exclusions, including certain personal items and clothing.

You may also be able to keep a vehicle for the purpose of travel to and from work as well as your home, depending on how much equity you have in it.

Eligibility Rules

Eligibility for Chapter 7 bankruptcy depends on income and the application of a means test.

You may be eligible for a Chapter 7 filing if you pass the rigorous requirements of the means test, a test which looks at your income for the last six months, your family size, and other items, and compares you to other persons of the same family size in your area to determine whether you qualify.

Unsecured debt refers to debt that isn’t secured by property. Vehicle and home loans are secured by property, meaning the bank can take that property if you don’t pay to mitigate some of their losses. Credit cards are not usually secured, but may be in some instances. Priority unsecured debt refers to amounts you owe on taxes or child support.

Nonpriority unsecured debts are items such as credit card debt, personal loans and medical debt.

This is a lot of information, and it does sometimes get complex. But the bottom line is that if you have too much income, you may not be able to file Chapter 7. That’s because the court assumes you have enough income to pay at least some of your creditors.

Pros

If you qualify for Chapter 7, it can help you start fresh with debt. In some circumstances, you may leave the bankruptcy with no debt at all. It’s also faster than other forms of bankruptcy because there’s no repayment plan period.

Cons

Chapter 7 is looked at by future creditors as worse than Chapter 13 because it shows no effort to make any payment on debt owned. The Chapter 7 negative listing on your credit report will also show up for 10 years after you file the petition.

What Is Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?

A Chapter 13 bankruptcy is a restructuring plan. You work through the bankruptcy trustee to pay some, but usually not all, of your debts over three to five years. If you meet all the requirements of the plan, your remaining debt may be discharged at the end of the bankruptcy.

How It Works

Many of the processes associated with filing a Chapter 13 bankruptcy are the same as when you file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. You take the pre-filing credit counseling course, file the petition, an automatic stay goes into place, you attend the meeting of creditors and then you work with the trustee via your attorney to make the appropriate payments every month.

You pay the trustee as dictated by your bankruptcy plan.  Once the plan is approved by the court, the trustee then disburses that money to your creditors. If you miss your Chapter 13 bankruptcy payments, the trustee can file a motion to dismiss your case, and you would then owe all the debts and creditors could begin collections actions against you again.

Once you complete the Chapter 13 bankruptcy repayment plan, you are typically entitled to a discharge of all remaining debts under the bankruptcy.

Eligibility Rules

Eligibility for Chapter 13 bankruptcy depends on the amount of your debts as well as your ability to make payments as planned in your repayment plan.

  • Unsecured debts must be less than $ 419,275. (As on October, 2020 –this number increases periodically with inflation.)
  • Secured debts, including any mortgages, must be less than $1,257.850. (As of October, 2020 –this number increases periodically with inflation.)
  • For your repayment plan to be confirmed, the trustee has to deem it possible for you to make the payments. If, for example, you agree to make a payment that totals your monthly income and leaves no room for living expenses, the trustee is likely to reject the plan.

Pros

Chapter 13 bankruptcy stays on your credit for less time than a Chapter 7—up to seven years from the filing date. Future creditors might also look more favorably upon it because it shows that you made some effort to repay debts. In a Chapter 13, you are typically able to keep all your belongings and don’t have to liquidate them.

Cons

You do have to make some payments toward debts, which can mean a hefty monthly payment to the trustee. You also agree to submit certain financial decisions, such as whether you take on new debt, to the court during the repayment plan.

Which Kind of Bankruptcy Is Best for Me?

Chapter 7 may be a good choice if your income is low or if you are struggling to make any payment on debts. Chapter 13 may be the right choice if you do have some ability to pay but you’re simply overwhelmed with your current debt load.

The decision can be complex, so it’s important to consult a bankruptcy attorney to find out what your options are and what might be right for you.

How Do I Apply for Bankruptcy?

You apply for a bankruptcy by filing a bankruptcy petition. You can file on your own or through an attorney.

How Does Bankruptcy Affect My Credit?

Depending on how you file, bankruptcy stays on your credit report for up to seven to 10 years. Bankruptcy appears on your credit report as a negative public record item, and it can bring your score down substantially. How much your score drops depends on what it was before you entered bankruptcy and other factors, but it’s typically enough to drop you down to a different range—such as moving you from good to fair or poor credit.

Typically, by the time someone makes the decision to file for bankruptcy, their credit score is already suffering because of late payments or delinquent accounts in collections. A bankruptcy is a big hit, but it’s not a death knell for your good credit. In fact, if you’re responsible with debt following your bankruptcy, you can work toward a better credit future.

It’s a good idea to keep an eye on your credit as you move through the bankruptcy process. Address inaccurate information as soon as possible to keep your score from dropping any lower. Find out more about Lexington Law credit repair services and how they might help you continue to positively impact your credit as you move past your bankruptcy.


Reviewed by Vince R. Mayr, an Associate Attorney at Lexington Law Firm. Written by Lexington Law.

Vince has considerable expertise in the field of bankruptcy law. He has represented clients in more than 3,000 bankruptcy matters under chapters 7, 11, 12, and 13 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. Vince earned his Bachelor of Science Degree in Government from the University of Maryland. His Masters of Public Administration degree was earned from Golden Gate University School of Public Administration. His Juris Doctor was earned at Golden Gate University School of Law, San Francisco, California. Vince is licensed to practice law in Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado. He is located in the Phoenix office.

Note: Articles have only been reviewed by the indicated attorney, not written by them. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client or fiduciary relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website owner, authors, reviewers, contributors, contributing firms, or their respective agents or employers.

Source: lexingtonlaw.com

Getting a Low Mortgage Rate

Are you planning to buy a new house, and want to save money along the way? Then here are some ways to get a good interest on your home mortgage, as well as minimize the amount of money you’ll shell out throughout the payment period.

Tip #1: Keep Your Job or Get Promoted

If you’ve been gainfully employed for the past two years, you’re in good shape. If you got promoted during that span, that’s even better. Your application may be disapproved if your employment record is spotty, or if you demonstrate declining earnings.

It’s even tougher when you’re self-employed. You’ll be asked to present your income tax returns over the past two years, and may even be required to accomplish IRS Form 4506, which will let them verify whether your ITR’s are the same ones in the IRS’s records.

Tip #2: Save Up Enough to Cover the 20% Down Payment

When you qualify for a mortgage, you have the option to pay a down payment as low as 5%, but this tends to hike the interest rate and increase the amount of money you’ll shell out in the long run. To get the best interest rate for your situation, opt to pay a 20% down payment.

The reasoning behind this is that a loan with a 5% down payment is considered high-risk, and they’ll cover that risk by raising the interest rate accordingly. On the other hand, paying a higher down payment is an indication of stable earnings and money in the bank, so they can afford to give you a lower interest rate.

Another tip: They’ll also expect you to have enough cash reserves to cover your mortgage payments for the next 60 days. These cash reserves can be in the form of savings and checking accounts, certificates of deposit, or money market funds. It does NOT normally include retirement funds – unless you’re willing to pay additional taxes and penalties.

Tip #3: Keep Your Credit Score Up

In most cases, a credit score of 620 is the minimum required to take out a home loan – and it will likely get you a higher interest rate. On the other hand, you’ll get the best interest rates when your credit score is at 760 and up. How well do you score?

Study your credit score right now, correct any errors, and work on bringing it up over the next several months. With professional credit repair help, you could raise your credit score by over 100 points in a matter of months.

Tip #4: Check If You Qualify For Special Programs

There are special programs out there that qualify you for lower interest rates on your home mortgage, or allow you a smaller down payment with no additional interest. If you or your spouse is a war veteran, you can qualify for a Veterans Affairs loan, which offers protection when you fall behind on your payments.

Other programs benefit first-time home buyers, such as those of the Federal Housing Administration and the US. Department of Housing and Urban Development. And if you plan to buy a house in a rural area, the U.S. Department of Agriculture mortgage program will help you.

Do Your Homework Ahead of Time

Ideally, you should study your home mortgage options two years in advance. This gives you enough time to get your finances in order to get the best deal possible.

Source: creditabsolute.com