Thursday, March 5, 2015

Improve Your Health, Wealth - Without Spending a Lot

muscular man exercising by...

You know that staying healthy has plenty of positive benefits -- you feel happier, you have more energy, you may even live longer. But did you know being healthy can also have a positive impact on your wallet?

Here are six ways that taking good care of yourself can also pay off for your finances -- and six ways you can develop strong health without spending a fortune.

One disclaimer before we jump into this list: There are exceptions, of course. You might lead a perfectly healthy lifestyle but suffer from an accident or illness. Unfortunately, there are lots of people eat right, exercise, wear sunblock, don't smoke, floss -- and get diagnosed with cancer. It happens.

The tips in this article don't guarantee good health or low medical bills. They're simply intended to get you thinking about the relationship between your health and your money, and to encourage you to take care of your health so that your wallet can hopefully share the positive effects. Yes, some people will become survivors of bad luck or misfortune, but let's do whatever is within our power to lower the likelihood of needing pricey medical care.

With that said, let's launch into six ways your health impacts your net worth, and six free or cheap ways you can improve your health.

1. Fewer Doctor's Visits

Every time you visit the doctor, you face a deductible and a co-payment (plus plenty of potential additional expenses depending on the course of treatment she recommends). If you need to see a specialist, that co-pay increases, and your co-insurance may also kick in.

But if you keep yourself in good shape and follow your doctor's advice when she recommends a certain lifestyle change or course of action, you'll be less likely to need too many visits. That "apple a day keeps the doctor away" saying has some truth to it –- and apples are cheaper than appointments.

2. Lower Pharmacy Costs

If you eat well, exercise regularly and follow your doctor's orders, you'll increase your likelihood of needing fewer medications for aches, pains and ailments. You could save on everything from pricey prescriptions to over-the-counter meds, which anyone in less-than-perfect shape can tell you could cost hundreds a month.

3. Less Time Missed From Work

Depending on how many days paid sick days your company allows, an extended illness -- or too many minor illnesses -- could wind up costing you several days' pay. Excessive absences also look bad to employers, which can affect things like your performance review, promotion potential and opportunities for raises. In other words, sick days harm your finances all around, both short-term and long-term.

4. Better Work Performance

When you're mentally and physically fit, the days you do spend in the office will be more focused, productive and efficient. When you feel well, your mind is alert and you're better able to deal with problems as they arise. You can rise to challenges and exceed expectations -- which has quite a nice effect on those things like performance reviews, promotion potential and opportunities for raises.

5. Less Money Wasted on Bad Habits

Plenty of things that are bad for your health are also bad for your wallet. Smoking, drinking alcohol, and existing on a diet of fast food and soda areexpensive habits. Cut these out of your life, and you'll find you suddenly have much more money left over at the end of the month.

6. More Energy to Start a Side Hustle

If you've ever though of starting a side business -- whether it's selling crafts on Etsy or launching your own landscaping company -- you'll find you have much more energy to pursue it if you're in good health. A side business can be a great way to bring in some extra money, but it's not the kind of thing you can do for a couple hours when you feel like it. As any shark on "Shark Tank" will tell you, it takes determination and plenty of sweat equity.

How to Improve Your Health -- for Free (or for Not Much)

So how can you maintain your health without spending too much of that money you've just saved by being so healthy? Here are six simple (and inexpensive) strategies.

1. Shop Smarter

You can eat better without spending a fortune by buying in-season produce, stocking up on cheap but healthy staples like brown rice and beans, planning your meals ahead of time and keeping fresh fruits around when you're hungry and running out the door.

2. Cook Smarter

Make meals from scratch rather than paying for convenience foods and packaged meals. Use the same basic staples (such as rice or pasta, some lean protein and veggies) to make multiple meals, such as tacos, enchiladas and quesadillas, Thai curry, vegetable roasts and stir-fries. This will limit your food waste and simplify shopping.

One day per week, cook meals in bulk and freeze or refrigerate leftovers to eat throughout the week. The more easily you can pop something in the microwave during the week, the more likely you are to stick with your meal plan. Brown-bag your work lunches instead of grabbing something on the go.

3. Drink More Water

Carry a water bottle with you to make sure you're staying hydrated; it will keep you fuller longer and help you stave off dehydration symptoms like headaches. Keep a glass of water at your desk and sip it throughout the day; each time you get up to use the bathroom, refill the glass.

4. Exercise for Free

Staying fit doesn't have to cost a fortune. Try exercising to YouTube videos, walking your dog, jogging with a friend or joining a dodgeball league. Download free fitness apps that guide you through exercises, play Frisbee or soccer in the park on the weekends or learn a few yoga poses that you can practice in your living room. Do push-ups, squats, lunges and crunches.

Exercise your imagination: place a circular, uncovered trash can on the top rung of a ladder and use it as a backyard basketball "hoop." Tie some string between two trees and turn it into a tennis "net." Turn a gallon of milk into a "barbell" that can help you practice bicep curls.

5. Meditate

Studies have shown that a regular meditation practice can help with a slew of medical issues, including high blood pressure, insomnia and chronic pain. It can also help reduce your stress levels, and stress brings its own set of medical problems.

Taking 15 minutes a day to practice deep-breathing and relaxation can have a big payoff. If that feels like too much time, start by deep-breathing and meditating for just one minute per day. Develop this habit by repeating it everyday for a week. The following week, increase this to two minutes. The week after, increase it to three minutes.

6. Use an App

There are tons of health and fitness apps available for free or very cheap that can help you to maintain a healthier lifestyle. From step trackers to calorie counters to preloaded workout routines, there's an app for any health resolution you might want to make. Scroll iTunes or Google (GOOG) Play until you find a free app that sparks your interest. Start by downloading just one app, and commit to using it daily for 21 days, until it becomes an ingrained habit.


Monday, March 2, 2015

4 Reasons to Pay Your Credit Card Bill Before It's Due

Senior man shopping online with credit card

Blend Images/Getty Images

There are many good reasons to never pay your credit card bill late, but are there any good reasons to pay it early? It would seem to go against all common sense to send in a payment well before the due date, but the more you understand about how credit cards and credit reports work, it can be smart idea under some circumstances. Here are four reasons why you might consider paying your credit card early.

1. Save Money on Interest Charges

When you carry a balance on your credit card account, you accumulate interest charges each day, based on your daily balance. So when you make a payment before the due date, you are lowering your average daily balance, which can reduce your interest charges significantly. Also, think of it this way: Since you earn very little interest from keeping money in a checking or savings account, but pay much more for that high-interest credit card debt, you stand to save money in the long run by making payments to your credit card as soon as possible. If you want to know how long it will take you to pay off that balance, this calculator can help you.

2. Improve Your Credit Score

When your statement period ends, and a statement is issued, that balance is reported to the major credit reporting agencies as debt, even if you ultimately avoid interest by paying your balance in full by the due date. That reported debt can lower your credit score if your balance is high during a particular month. By paying off all or some of your balance before the statement cycle even closes, you can reduce your debt-to-credit ratio and improve your credit score (you can see how this factor is affecting your credit scores by checking your free credit report data on This can be an especially important factor when you are applying for a home mortgage or another line of credit.

By making an early payment, you are committing your funds to paying off your debt, rather than merely planning on doing so in the future. Without having those funds available for other discretionary expenditures, you are unable to change your mind and spend the money elsewhere.

4. Free Up Your Line of Credit

If you anticipate making a large purchase, you can quickly use up your line of credit before a payment is even due. This is especially true when you consider that the typical statement period is about 30 days long, and your grace period, the time between statement closing and the payment due date, can be 21 to 25 additional days. And if you are traveling and have holds placed on your account by hotels or rental car agencies, then you may have even less of your credit line available by the time the due date arrives. By making early payments, you can free up your line of credit and ensure that all of your charges are approved.

When Not to Pay Your Bill Early

While there may be some very good reasons for cardholders to pay their bills early, it won't make sense for everyone. If you are always avoiding interest by paying your statement in full, and you aren't using a large amount of your credit line, then waiting until just before your due date to make a payment can be ideal. In this situation, you aren't saving any money on interest charges, and your funds will remain available to you in your bank account for as long as possible.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Visa vs. MasterCard: Is There a Difference?

Visa and MasterCard are two of the most widely used credit card brands. But are the differences between the two significant enough to influence consumers?

Most Americans today have at least one credit card, and many, more than likely, have a number of them. As of December 2014, theaverage debt per credit card is over $15,600, and American consumers owe almost $883 billion total in credit card debt. The two primary credit card companies are Visa (V) and MasterCard (MA). While both companies offer credit cards with similar features and usability, there are some differences, though most users won’t notice them as many merchants accept both cards. The companies are publicly traded, with Visa and MasterCard commanding a $153.6 billion and $94.4 billion market capitalization, respectively


Credit card companies like Visa and MasterCard don't actually issue individual credit cards directly; rather, banks, credit unions, and even retailers issue branded cards. The issuing financial institution usually sets the credit card’s terms and conditions, including interest rates, fees, rewards and other features. When a credit card holder pays his or her bill, the financial institution receives the payment—not the credit card company.

Visa, MasterCard, and other credit card companies, such as American Express(AXP) and Discover (DFS), make money by charging merchants and businesses a fee for accepting their card as a method of payment. These firms don't consider themselves financial companies: instead, Visa refers to itself as a payments technology company and MasterCard prefers to be called a technology company in the global payments industry.

Today, not only do businesses accept credit cards, but services such as PayPal and Square let everyday people accept payment via Visa or MasterCard.


While differences in interest rates, credit limits, rewards programs, and perks are controlled by the issuing financial institutions, Visa and MasterCard compete for those financial institutions. The credit card companies will offer certain perks such as identity theft and fraud protection, travel and car rental insurance, or purchase protection as incentives. Business credit card customers may also be entitled to certain discounts at hotels, airlines, and gas stations. Merchants may also be able to negotiate different fees with the credit card companies depending on volume.

Since the only underlying difference between credit cards is the perks, choosing the right card network comes down to what the customer values most. For example, Visa tends to have a better “Loss of Use” coverage on car rental insurance than MasterCard; however, Visa's benefits exclude car rental insurance in certain countries entirely. MasterCard offers “Return Protection” with very few cards, whereas Visa's Signature cards widely carry that service. For gold or other elite card holders, the credit card companies may also offer concierge services to handle certain tasks and save time for the consumer. These services vary and may provide access to event tickets, restaurant reservations, hotel recommendations, or even assist with gift purchases given the recipient’s age, preferences, and the buyer’s spending limit.

Many credit cards that participate in bank-offered rewards programs can be changed from Visa to MasterCard or vice versa upon request, and reissued. It’s also worth noting that among the most common credit card networks, American Express usually offers the greatest perks. However, these cards usually carry an annual fee and are less widely accepted than Visa and MasterCard. Discover often has the lowest degree of perks, having no purchase or return protection, no rental insurance and no concierge services. 


Visa and MasterCard are two of the most popular credit card brands in the world, though these companies don't issue credit cards themselves. Banks and other financial institutions issue the cards, setting interest rates and credit limits and sponsoring rewards programs. Since Visa and MasterCard are usually accepted wherever credit cards are taken, the consumer should focus more on the interest rate and features of the card rather than the brand. The actual differences between the credit card companies are subtle but may impact a consumer when it comes to perks such as fraud protection, travel or car rental insurance and purchase protection.


Monday, February 23, 2015

7 Hidden Perks of Credit Cards

Stack of credit cards. Master Card, American Express, Visa, Visa Electron and Maestro.

From extended warranties to roadside assistance, some credit cards

offer more than just credit

There are so many warnings that come with credit cards – don't abuse them, don't let a thief get his grubby hands on them – that it's easy to forget there can be perks to using them. And these extend beyond the obvious, ultimate perk: being able to pay for merchandise or services when you don't actually have cash in the bank to pay for them.
So if you'd like to better utilize your credit cards, you may want to sniff out any bonuses you're unaware of. "The quickest and easiest way to locate that information is to go directly to your card issuer's website," says Randy Hopper, vice president of credit cards for Navy Federal Credit Union in Vienna, Virginia.
Once there, Hopper says those perks will typically be located in the product program guide and disclosures space.
You may also find them hiding in the benefits and services section or some other out-of-the-way spot on the website. While some credit cards have no special benefits, here are some of the perks you may have been missing out on:
Extended warranties. Say your television went kaput. You might be covered for that. Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express all offer credit cards that extend a manufacturer's warranty for an extra year. Just remember that it isn't good enough to be a customer – you'll need to have purchased the TV with your credit card and not with a debit card, check or a store credit card. That's generally the case with most credit card perks: You need to have bought the product or service with that particular credit card.
Roadside assistance. Some perks require no upfront purchase. If your car breaks down, your credit card may offer roadside assistance. But slow down before canceling your current roadside assistance without looking over the terms first. Often, what your credit card will do – after you’ve called the number on the back of your card – is call a local tow truck driver for you. Then, you'll pay for the costs with your credit card. (But some cardholders with premium cards do get free roadside assistance.) While it may not seem like the flashiest perk in the world, you might think otherwise if you find yourself stranded on a country road at midnight.
Guaranteed returns. You know how it goes in the world of shopping. You buy some merchandise and for whatever reason, you later wish you hadn't. Maybe it didn't fit. Maybe it's something you just aren't using. But the return date is past, and you're stuck with it.
Or maybe not. Some credit cards have a guaranteed return policy – if the store won't give you your money back, the credit card will. But before you start scouring your house for unworn items with the tags still on, know that "there are rules and limitations," says Matt Schulz, a senior industry analyst for "For example, the item should be in good shape, and you should have the original receipt. You should also have the original packaging."
There are also price limits. "Many issuers have limits of around $200 to $500. Still, getting $200 back is a lot better than getting nothing at all," Schulz says.
Special access to airport services. Frequent fliers often relax in posh airport lounges that keep out the riffraff (regular travelers, like this writer). But it doesn't have to be that way. Some high-end credit cards allow free access to exclusive airport and railroad lounges, says Bruce McClary, spokesman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
"Nobody wants to be the person who pays for an expensive public Wi-Fi connection, only to find out afterward that their credit card allows the same access at no charge," McClary says.
Event ticket protection. If you end up missing a concert, Broadway show or some other big event due to weather, a car wreck or perhaps even lost tickets, some credit cards, like Citi Prestige and Citi/AA Advantage Executive cards, will refund your money. (Obviously, restrictions apply, so read the fine print.)
Emergency travel assistance. If you're traveling overseas and you run into trouble, some credit cards will kind of function as your own, personal American embassy, offering you phone-based translation services or helping you find a hospital, for example. And emergency or not, many credit cards, especially the high-end ones, also specialize in assisting with lost luggage.
If you're in Bahrain, but your suitcase is in Boise, your credit card might give you an allowance to buy enough of a wardrobe until you catch up with your suitcase. Every card is different in how it assists you when it comes to missing baggage. Some cards focus on helping you find your luggage, while others offer money to keep you afloat. Still, other cards will replace your luggage if it's stolen.
Replacing stolen and damaged items. Some credit cards will replace stolen merchandise purchased within the last 90 days. But there are exceptions (there are always exceptions). For instance, some Discover credit cards will replace most merchandise, but nothing considered perishable – food and even perfume – is covered. They also won't replace any items stolen from a car.
And if you pay your cellphone bill with your credit card, your credit card may have a policy that replaces your damaged or stolen phone. But not your lost cellphone.
That's why it helps to have a reality check. There are enough restrictions and guidelines surrounding these benefits that you can't rely on your credit card to bail you out of every jam. Nonetheless, many credit card issuers offer reasonable perks designed to help consumers who fall victim to unfortunate circumstances. A police report demonstrating that your iPhone was stolen from you at gunpoint demonstrates to your credit card issuer that what you say happened did. If you left your new iPhone on the front seat of your car, and it was stolen, your credit card probably won't help you out.
In other words, your credit card will often save you from bad luck. Very rarely will it save you from yourself.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

World’s Worst Passwords: Did Yours Make the List?

Linux Login

If you think using the word “password” for your actual password is clever, you’re wrong. Using “123456” is even worse.
That’s according to a list of the top 25 worst passwords from SplashData, a password management service. “123456” and “password” have the dubious distinction of topping the annual list as the two worst passwords since the list was first started in 2011.

SplashData used more than 3.3 million leaked passwords in 2014 to create its “worst of” list.
Although the lack of imagination in selecting “password” or “123456” (or even “qwerty”) for a password is almost laughable, it’s actually a serious issue. Selecting a good password is an important (and easy) way to help protect you from hackers and identity thieves.
“Passwords based on simple patterns on your keyboard remain popular despite how weak they are,” said Morgan Slain, CEO of SplashData. “Any password using numbers alone should be avoided, especially sequences. As more websites require stronger passwords or combinations of letters and numbers, longer keyboard patterns are becoming common passwords, and they are still not secure.”

The top 10 worst passwords, according to SplashData, are:
  1. 123456
  2. password
  3. 12345
  4. 12345678
  5. qwerty
  6. 123456789
  7. 1234
  8. baseball
  9. dragon
  10. football
Click here to see the rest of the top 25 list.
SplashData said there are two simple rules to creating a good password:
  • Use eight characters or more, including numbers and letters, as well as mixed capitalization.
  • Don’t use the same username and password combo for more than one website.
I can usually think of decent passwords. My issue is remembering them. Sigh.


Monday, February 16, 2015

It’s Not All Credit Scores: Other Things Your Lender Might Be Looking At

It’s Not All Credit Scores: Other Things Your Lender Might Be Looking At
When applying for a credit card, it’s relatively easy to get a seal of approval if your  FICO score meets or exceeds the lender’s benchmark.

But that’s not necessarily the case with other types of loans, such as small business loans, personal loans or even some car loans and mortgages. In order to assume the risk you may bring to the table, some lenders might scrutinize a number of factors to determine if you’re a good fit.

The five C’s of credit

Lenders may also weigh another set of factors called the five C’s, or as Investopedia puts it, “five characteristics of the borrower, [that attempt] to gauge the chance of default.”

1. Character

Even if your credit score is through the roof, potential lenders may be interested in you personally as well as your credit profile, particularly for loans made to small businesses. Says the Minority Business Development Agency:
Character is the general impression you make on the prospective lender or investor. The lender will form a subjective opinion as to whether or not you are sufficiently trustworthy to repay the loan …
Subjective opinions will normally be less important to most lenders than the things represented by the other C’s, but depending on the type of loan you’re getting, they could still play a role.
2. Capacity
Will you be able to keep up with the monthly payments that accompany the loan? Is your debt ratio (what you owe vs. what you own) below the lender’s acceptable limit?
To answer this question, potential lenders may evaluate your stream of income, both fixed and variable.
When analyzing your income, creditors will more than likely be interested in the duration of your employment to determine the stability of your income. Is there room for growth? Frequent job changes or extended breaks in employment can be a red flag.
Your outstanding debt to pretax income ratio, also known as the debt-income ratio, can also come up, especially for large loans such as mortgages.
Are you practicing sound debt management habits or cutting it close? Excessive late payments, exorbitant outstanding balances and constant adjustments in credit limits reflect a higher level of risk, and the APR will be assessed accordingly if the loan is approved.

3. Capital

Do you have the funds available to make a down payment and reduce the risk of default?
If you’re making a purchase that requires a down payment, such as a car or a house, having the cash on hand to contribute without completely depleting your reserves is important. The larger your deposit, the lower the loan amount, and the less risk the lender has to assume. In addition, the lender likes to know you have cash reserves. Otherwise you put yourself at risk of default if you have unexpected expenses.
Mark Twain said it best: “A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining, but wants it back the minute it begins to rain.”

4. Collateral

Are large assets available to help secure the loan?
When a lender loans based on collateral you provide, it’s known as a secured loan. Loans like those used to finance cars and houses are common examples.
Obviously, if you’re borrowing for a house or car, that asset will become the collateral. But there can be instances when a lender will look for additional sources of security in the event you should default. One typical example is with business loans.
5. Conditions
What are the current market conditions, and are your finances stable enough to remit timely payments over the term of the loan?
Lenders may want to know how you plan to use the money and will consider the loan’s purpose, such as whether the loan will be used to purchase a vehicle or other property. Other factors, such as environmental and economic conditions, may also be considered.

And one S: Social Media 

If you are seeking credit, be mindful of what you post in social media. As we reported recently, some lenders are mining Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets to reach conclusions about creditworthiness. This factor could be especially weighty for applicants who have little or no credit history, according to CNN.
If you’re financially well-established, you might not have to worry about social media when applying for a loan. On the other hand, it’s never a bad idea to be mindful of what you broadcast to the world.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Does Everyone Need a Credit Card?

payment history

Americans' reliance on credit cards has been declining steadily since the Great Recession, according to an April 2014 Gallup poll. In fact, respondents reported that they are carrying less credit card debt overall and are more likely than to pay their balance in full and on time compared to the early 2000s.

The survey results, based on interviews with over 1,000 adults ages 18 and older nationwide, may notate a positive trend in the financial affairs of Americans who have been increasingly bombarded with bad news about the economy in recent years. And less reliance on credit should be a good thing, right?

Well, it is and it isn't. According to personal finance experts, being debt-free is always a good thing, but there are disadvantages to living without any sort of credit card at all. This begs the question, "Does everyone need a credit card?"

A Matter of Convenience

Whether everyone does or doesn't need a credit card, people who go without one(or several) will certainly face some inconveniences in their lifetime, especially when it comes to travel. Why? Because hotels and rental car agencies almost always require a credit card to secure a reservation, and some even require that you put a card on file in order to cover incidentals. Without a credit card, you may not get the reservation you want, or you may have to jump through additional hoops that are not all that pleasant.

Of course, using a debit card is possible, but doing so might result in several hundred dollars of your actual money being put on hold in your account. If you're flush with cash, this may not be an issue for you. But if money is tight? You may have a problem.

No Credit, No History

While being wary of credit card debt is a good reason to avoid credit cards altogether, that decision could come back to bite those who wind up needing credit at any point in their lives. Opting not to build any kind of credit history could make it difficult to take out a loan for a house or car in the future, especially if your current credit report is virtually blank. How can lenders loan you money when they have no way of knowing if you've ever repaid anyone back?

According to the credit bureau Experian, "having no credit history is almost as bad as having a negative credit history," and everyone should strive to have somecredit history to point to.

Credit Card Perks

But having credit isn't just about avoiding hassle and earning the ability to borrow more money. There are some legitimate perks that come with having a few good credit cards as well. For example, many credit cards offer fraud protection, meaning that they will cover your losses if your card is stolen and used for purchases. Once you report that a credit card has been stolen, the Federal Trade Commission states that the maximum amount of money you could be on the hook for is $50 per card.

That may still sound like a lot, but compare it to what might happen if someone stole your debit card and managed to bleed your account dry. According to the FTC, if you report your debit card stolen more than two days after the loss or theft has taken place, the most you can lose is $500. However, if you report the loss later than 60 days after it occurred -– perhaps because you didn't notice a fraudulent charge -– your bank is not required to help you recover your losses in any way, shape or form.

Other credit card perks include credit card rewards such as cash-back and airline miles, travel protection, price protection for large purchases and even rental car insurance.

These are just a few of the reasons why most people genuinely need a credit card, whether they choose to use it frequently or not. Just remember, having a credit card doesn't mean you have to go into credit card debt. You have the power to live a debt-free life; you just need to commit to it and learn to use your cards in a way that benefits you.

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