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DailyFinance.com

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    Line Graph and Financial Data
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    By Teresa Mears

    A new year is approaching, and with it comes the desire to do better. We make New Year's resolutions for all aspects of our life, and our money should be part of that.

    If you're spending too much and saving too little, or if you don't even know where your money is going, this is a good time to give yourself a financial checkup. Even if you're doing well financially, you should take a look at your savings, your spending and your processes to see what can be improved.

    "That's a good place to start the year, the 'Where am I?' question," says Mari Adam, a financial planner in Boca Raton, Florida.

    Do you have life insurance, disability insurance, health insurance and a college fund for your kids? Are you paying off your student loans? Is your portfolio allocated the way it should be for today's market? Are you making enough money to cover your living expenses? All of those are questions you should ask as part of your year-end financial inventory.

    Keeping your financial house in order is a continual process - much like keeping the home you live in clean. But some organization on the front end makes it more likely you'll be able to accomplish your financial objectives.

    "To me, it's all about a long-term process," says Todd Tresidder, a financial coach and author who publishes the Financial Mentor website. He suggests this resolution: "This year, I'm going to take my finances seriously and actually develop a process that's going to take me to my goals."

    Here are nine things you can do to improve your financial picture in the new year:

    Max out your 401(k) contributions. You obviously want to contribute what it takes to get the maximum employer match (where else can you get that kind of return on investment?), but that is unlikely to be all that you can contribute. In 2016, employees can contribute $18,000 (plus $6,000 more if they're 50 or older). The self-employed should be contributing as much as they can toward retirement through avenues such as IRAs and SEPs. "If you're not maxing out, add a percentage," says Liz Weston, personal finance columnist and author. "Just set it up and get it going."

    Make a will and review your estate planning. No one wants to think about death, but you don't want to leave your family in the lurch if something happens. Make sure you've designated who will take custody of your children, who will inherit your property and who will make decisions for you if you become incapacitated. And then make sure your family knows where to find this information as well as your other financial information, including passwords for online accounts. You also need to plan for your digital estate, from your Facebook account to your intellectual property. New online tools make it easier to gather your information all in one place.

    Increase your savings. If you're putting $50 of each paycheck into savings, move it up to $55 or $60. Change your IRA contribution from 10 percent to 11 percent. By making modest adjustments, you won't miss the money, and you can build up your emergency fund, retirement savings or children's college funds. Weston advocates setting up savings buckets for specific expenses, such as a new car, vacation, home renovations or emergency fund. Some banks will allow you to create subaccounts to make this easier. "It's so nice to know that these expenses are covered," she says.

    Automate your savings. We all think we should save more money, but the truth is few of us do. One of the easiest and most effective ways to increase savings is to automate the process. That could be having money withheld from your paycheck and deposited in a savings account or scheduling regular transfers from checking to savings or retirement accounts.

    Organize your finances. If you're still doing tax planning by throwing receipts in a shoebox, maybe it's time to improve your process. That could include using online or computer bookkeeping software, automating bill payments or creating a process that enables you to see your income and spending more clearly, such as using a program like Quicken or an online tool like Mint.com. If you can't see where you're money's going, you don't know if you're using it well.

    Ask for discounts. Call your cable company, cellphone service provider, car insurance provider and other services for which you pay a monthly fee and ask if they can give you a better deal. Cellphone and cable packages changes all the time, and the companies won't offer you a better plan if you don't ask. If you're paying private mortgage insurance on your home and you think you now have more than 20 percent equity, ask to have it removed, suggests Carrie Rocha, founder of Pocket Your Dollars.

    Pay off debt. If you've got debt with a variable interest rate, expect that rate to rise this year. "The tide has just turned right now," Adam says, referring to the Federal Reserve's decision to raise interest rates. "Things are moving in a way that's not favorable to you." That makes it even more prudent to pay off that debt as soon as possible. Also take a hard look at how you got into debt. "Credit card debt is expensive," Weston says. "It's a sign you're living beyond your means."

    Make your charitable deductions automatic. This is helpful to the charities, which need money all year, and also helps you be more deliberate in your giving, Weston says. Plus, it makes it easier to remember your deductions at tax time.

    Pay your bills on time. Any money that goes to late fees is money wasted, and late payments can also hurt your credit score. If you're missing bills, set up a system that enables you to pay them when they're due. That could include putting automated reminders in your calendar, signing up for alerts or setting up autopay options using bank accounts or credit cards.

     

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    By Lisa Greene-Lewis

    Each year, many of us celebrate the season of giving by donating time, money or much-needed items to those less fortunate. What most people don't realize is that these donations can come in handy come tax-filing time. Charitable donations of money and noncash items to qualified organizations may be claimed as deductions and turned into savings for you down the round.

    Claiming donations may seem tricky at first, so here are answers to some of the top questions I get every year.

    Are there any rules for which donations I can claim? The IRS has a few rules for claiming donations on your tax return. Timing is everything, so make sure to get those donations in before the end of 2015 if you want to claim them on this year's tax return. The gift must be received by Dec. 31, meaning anything you promise to donate in 2016 doesn't qualify, but a check postmarked Dec. 31 will.

    For your donation to be tax deductible, it must go to a qualified organization (more on that later), and you must have documentation of your contributions. Besides the obvious monetary donation, you can claim the value of noncash items such as clothing, furniture, cars and household goods, in addition to mileage driven on behalf of a qualified charity.

    You mentioned "qualified" organizations. Which organizations fall under that category? The IRS sets specific rules for the types of organizations you can donate to and qualify for a tax deduction. Your charitable donations may qualify if you donate to a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization such as:
    • War veteran groups like a local VFW
    • Public charities such as Goodwill, The Salvation Army, American Red Cross, United Way and Boys & Girls Clubs of America
    • Religious organizations, such as a church, synagogue or mosque
    • Public parks and recreation facilities
    • Nonprofit hospitals, schools and fire departments
    • Local, state and federal governments, but only if the contribution is for public purposes

    Not all nonprofits qualify as beneficiaries for tax-lowering gifts, and not all gifts to eligible charities qualify. If you're not sure whether an organization qualifies, check the IRS exempt organization search tool.

    What counts as documentation? To claim any donations on your tax return, you'll want to itemize your deductions, and to do that, you'll need documentation.

    You'll want to hold on to anything that keeps track of items of value or monetary donations. These can be bank statements, canceled checks or credit card receipts that show the amount of the donation. For cash or noncash items worth more than $250, you'll need to get written acknowledgement from the charitable organization that documents the date and value of the donation.

    If you donate property, such as a car, jewelry or furniture worth more than $5,000, you'll need an independent appraisal. The IRS requires the appraisal in order to deduct such a large donation when you file.

    Do all the clothes I donated to Goodwill qualify? Now is the time to clean out your closet! Any clothes or household items that are in good shape are fair game. You can deduct the fair market value of the items, so secondhand clothes and other used goods must be in at least good used condition. The blouse and trousers with the tags still on that you never wear? Go ahead and deduct that donation. The old T-shirt you got for free in college? Feel free to pass on that.

    What about my out-of-pocket expenses? Any money you spend while volunteering counts, too. Any expenses you incur to do good work, including materials, supplies, uniforms, stationery, stamps, parking, tolls and public transit fare, qualify for deductions. As long as the costs are directly related to volunteering for a charitable organization, keep the documentation and add on to your list of charitable donations when you file your return.

    This seems like a lot to keep track of. Is there an easier way? If keeping your receipts stowed away until tax time seems like a monumental task, you can use tools like the free ItsDeductible iOS app or online version to track and calculate the IRS-approved value of your donations. Use ItsDeductible to add items as soon as you complete the donation. You'd be surprised at how quickly these gifts add up.

     

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    A Home Improvement That Pays for Itself
    Did you know your water heater may be draining your savings dry? Here's why.

    A poorly insulated water heater can cost you up to 10 percent more on your energy bill, which for some could be up to $10 a month. However, if you invest in a water heater blanket, you can keep the heat, and your savings, from escaping.

    To test if you would benefit from a water heater blanket, simply put your hand on the heater. If it's warm to the touch, it's time to insulate.

    A water heater blanket can cost as little as $20 and, depending on your bill, it could start paying for itself in just two months. So remember, using a water heater blanket can keep the heat up while bringing your costs down.

    View Poll

     

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    Are We Hitting a Flatlined Market?

    The risk of a US recession over a two- to three-year horizon has "increased materially," according to JPMorgan strategists led by Bruce Kasman.

    In a note titled "Is it safe?" published in late December, the strategists said that 2016 is likely to see "pockets of stress," and that the US economic expansion is becoming "more vulnerable."

    The JPMorgan strategists are not the first to highlight the increasing risks of a recession.

    Some of the biggest names on Wall Street, including Leon Cooperman, Jeff Gundlach, and Fed Chair Janet Yellen, have discussed the topic in the past couple of weeks.

    Meanwhile, Kasman's colleagues, JPMorgan economists Michael Feroli, Daniel Silver, Jesse Edgerton, and Robert Mellman,think there is a three-in-four chance that there will be a recession in the next three years.

    But the JPMorgan note serves as a nice end-of-year roundup for the team's views, spanning global growth, emerging-market conditions, and the US economy.

    Here is the key bit of the note (emphasis ours):

    Our models suggest that US recession risks over a two- to three-year horizon have increased materially as a result of weak supply-side performance. US expansions don't die of old age, but an environment of tight labor markets amid weak productivity gains and limited global pricing power signals that the expansion is becoming more vulnerable.

    The general tone from the rest of the note is to expect increased volatility through 2016, as central banks head in different directions.

    One of the team's core views is that the growth gap between emerging markets and developed markets will close, with advanced economies benefiting from accommodative monetary policy and emerging markets suffering from a deleveraging cycle. That, they say, has the potential to be "disruptive."

    The note said (emphasis ours):

    Persistent wide business cycle divergences threaten financial instability in the global economy's weak links that could prove disruptive. However, we believe the most likely 2016 outcome is one where the global expansion moves forward in the face of pockets of stress. EM weakness will weigh on the global expansion, but the resilience of the US and Western Europe, combined with policy support in China, makes it likely that growth will remain bounded close to our 2.6% estimate of global potential growth in 2016.

    The strategists add that they expect growth in China to stabilize, but that emerging-market economies in Latin America, Russia, and South Africa will still suffer from the slowdown. The note said (emphasis ours):

    A significant credit tightening is expected in these EM economies, and risks are high that there will be a disruptive but localized credit event next year. We downplay the threat that a localized event broadens, partly because the US Fed is likely to remain highly sensitive to global financial market developments and also reflecting our assumptions about the course of policy in China. While our forecast incorporates four US rate hikes next year, the risk that global financial market volatility slows the Fed's path is high.

     

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    By Kathleen Elkins

    Getting rich is a long-term game.

    The good news is that starting to accumulate wealth is almost entirely under your control - all it takes is patience, the right mentality, and smart habits.

    If you want to master your money and build wealth, start by ditching these 13 costly habits as you head into 2016:

    Using out-of-network ATMs.

    Whether it be out of laziness or ignorance, many people continue to pay ATM fees - and the seemingly insignificant charges can add up over time. In fact, consumers these days are paying an average of $4.35 each time they use an out-of-network ATM.

    A good rule of thumb for 2016: If it's not your bank's logo, don't use it.

    If you live in a major city and use one of the traditional, bigger banks, there should be various ATM options nearby, which you can find ahead of time online. If your bank doesn't have convenient ATM options - or if you live in a smaller town with fewer ATMs - you may want to consider opening a checking account with a more accessible or online bank.

    Buying coffee ... and lunch ... and snacks every day.

    There's no getting around it - money is irresistibly easy to spend, especially on the small stuff.

    It's hard to walk far in any city or town and not pass an enticing coffee shop, juice bar, or fast-food joint. A small mental lapse could easily leave you $5 short every day, and giving into two cravings could mean $10 out the window within minutes. That's money that could be directed toward your savings goals or be growing substantially in a retirement account.

    There's nothing wrong with buying the occasional lunch or coffee to go, but if you're aiming to achieve major financial goals in 2016, this is one of the simplest ways to cut back without making dramatic sacrifices.

    Tapping into your retirement funds for extra money.

    Once you contribute money to a 401(k), IRA, or other retirement account, keep your hands off of it. Besides facing fees - most traditional IRA withdrawals made before age 59 1/2 incur taxes, as well as a 10% penalty - you're putting your financial future at risk by preventing your retirement savings from growing over time.

    Not tracking your spending.

    Everyday purchases and unexpected expenses have a way of adding up, and trying to keep track of them in your head simply won't cut it.

    Particularly if you're prone to overspending or making impulse purchases, it's time to start actively recording and analyzing your spending habits. You'll most likely find something that either you didn't know you were spending your money on, or you felt was unnecessary.

    If you don't want to keep a spreadsheet on your computer or write your purchases in a notebook, consider an app that will automatically track your expenses for you like Mint, You Need a Budget, or LearnVest.

    Once you've pinpointed an unnecessary daily expense, don't stop there. Do something with that extra cash - contribute it to a retirement account or other savings account so it can accumulate and grow into thousands of dollars over time.

    Putting off insurance.

    Lose the invincibility complex and plan for the worst, as an unanticipated emergency could turn your life upside down instantaneously. Do you have renters insurance? Disability insurance? Homeowners insurance?

    Start by looking at the types of insurance you should buy at every age. Next, put in time to research insurance plans, or talk to a trusted adviser.

    Only paying the minimum on your credit-card balance.

    Most credit cards only require you to pay 1% to 3% of your balance each month, which can be an alluring prospect if your budget is tight. That's why the option is there - if you can't afford to pay your balance, you can at least keep a record of consistent and timely payments to the credit-card company.

    Taking that route will cost you a fortune in the long run. Interest rates vary depending on the card, but credit cards charge an average of 15% on unpaid balances.

    Make a habit out of paying more than you need to each month - or, preferably, making payments in full right off the bat. It will save you thousands of unnecessary dollars spent on interest.

    Not prioritizing high-interest debt.

    All debt is not equal. While you'll always want to pay the minimum on your various debts, an effective strategy is "racking and stacking": Simply rank your debt in order of highest to lowest interest rates and then prioritize paying off the debt with the highest interest rate first. Once it's paid off, move down your list and tackle the next debt with the highest interest rate.

    Note that the alternative strategy is what financial expert Dave Ramsey named "the Debt Snowball": paying the smallest debt first, regardless of interest, then rolling that money into paying off the next-biggest debt and so on, so you completely pay debts as you go. The advantage here is more emotional than monetary - it feels good to cross a debt off the list, and for many people, that emotional boost keeps them going.

    If the snowball works for you, go for it, but do keep in mind that paying high-interest debt first is cheaper in the long run.

    Treating unexpected or irregular expenses as one-time costs.

    Unexpected expenses - the wedding gift you forgot to buy, the unlucky parking ticket, or the emergency flight home you had to book - have a way of surfacing when you least expect them and can easily send you over budget.

    While it can be tempting to brush these expenses off as too infrequent to account for, it only takes one overdraft fee on your checking account to realize why it's so important to be prepared.

    Start preparing for both known, irregular expenses (vehicle-registration fees, Christmas gifts, or vacations) and unknown, surprise expenses (wedding or baby-shower gifts, late fees, and unpredictable medical expenses) by working them into your savings plan.

    Making late payments.

    There's more to late bill payments than late fees - repeatedly missing payments can also lower your credit score, which will affect your ability to borrow money in the future when bigger purchases - a home or car - come along.

    Never miss a bill again by setting up automatic payments online for fixed costs such as cable, internet, Netflix, and insurance. For payments that can't be made online or that vary, such as rent and credit-card bills, set up calendar reminders and get in the habit of paying them around the same time each month so that it becomes an ingrained routine.

    Settling for a sub-par rate.

    Paying your bills on time is a good habit - but paying more than you should is a bad one. Negotiating just $10 off your monthly bills means an extra $120 a year, and you may be surprised at how easy it is to get a lower cable, internet, or cellphone price by simply picking up the phone - at the end of the day, companies are often willing to make allowances to keep their customers.

    If you want to take it a step further, cancel your cable all together and look into more economical replacements.

    Buying cheap to "save" in the moment.
    It's tempting to try to "save money" by buying inexpensive, low-quality things, but oftentimes those cheap products will cost you in the long run. Dedicate 2016 to shopping for value, which may mean cutting back on your trips to the dollar store or the cheapest place on the block.

    Spending everything you earn.

    Paychecks and bonuses - especially your first ones - are incredibly liberating. What's more, retirement seems too far off to start considering, making it even easier to overspend in the moment and put your future savings on hold.

    Stick to the age-old advice of paying yourself first: Set aside at least 10% for your future as you would any other cost, make sure your present is secure, and then spend whatever is left over.

    Operating without a savings goal.

    That 10% (or more) you're setting aside feels a lot more pressing if you're saving for "a three-bedroom center-hall Colonial" instead of "the future." Setting savings goals for major expenses that you hope will be in your future, like a home, car, graduate school, or vacation, is an important part of staying motivated to save.

    Determine what big purchases are in your future, and calculate how much you need to save for them and for how long. You don't have to set aside a massive chunk of money each week. Start small - a little bit of savings each day or week can go a long way over time. For instance, taking a $1,000 vacation to Palm Springs a year from today means you need to set aside a little under $3 a day until then. Tweak your budget to accommodate that $90-ish a month by spending a little less, and you'll be well on your way to the desert.

     

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    By Matt Schulz

    Here's the simple truth: Your low credit score is costing you a fortune.

    Folks with the best credit get the best terms when it comes to mortgages, car loans and credit cards. They get the lowest interest rates and the lowest fees. They get the biggest sign-up bonuses. They're more likely to get the benefit of the doubt when asking to get a fee waived or a credit line increased. Add it all up and you get an awful lot of reasons to make 2016 the year you get your credit in shape.


    How exactly do you that, though? Well, it won't always be easy and it won't always be quick, but the good news is that it can be done. The truth is that you have more control over your credit than you think. You just have to put in the work.
    Here are some ways that you can boost your credit score in 2016.

    1. Get your credit report, and report any errors you find.

    Any move to boost your credit score must begin with checking your credit report. Get a free copy of your report from all three credit bureaus - Experian, Equifax and TransUnion - once a year from AnnualCreditReport.com, and go over them thoroughly. Make sure everything you see is accurate, and if something isn't, report it immediately. Some things to look for:
    • Accounts you don't recognize.
    • Late payments you didn't make.
    • Closed accounts listed as open.
    • Credit limits that are too high or too low.

    If you see any inaccuracies, gather up any evidence you have and notify the credit bureau in writing. The bureau then has up to 45 days to investigate, and if the piece of information cannot be verified in that time, it must be removed.

    2. Get a new credit card, and use it sparingly.

    A new credit card helps reduce your utilization rate, which is the second-most important factor in credit scoring formulas. Here's how: Say you have a card with a $5,000 limit and a balance of $2,500. That makes your utilization rate 50 percent, well above the recommended total of 30 percent or less. However, add another $5,000 limit card and suddenly your utilization is slashed. Now you have $10,000 in credit and a $2,500 balance for a utilization rate of 25 percent. That decrease will likely help your score creep higher; It will also likely offset any temporary drop that can come when you sign up for a new card.

    Don't add too many cards at a time, though. Ten percent of the credit scoring formula focuses on new credit. Applying for too many cards at once or applying too often can make it look like you are experiencing some financial problems and make you appear riskier to a lender. Even though it could reduce your utilization even more dramatically, applying for too many cards in too short a time can actually hurt you.

    Also, be careful about getting a new card if you're planning to get a new mortgage or car loan in the near future. You don't want that small temporary credit hit that comes with a new card to drag your score lower when you apply for another loan.

    3. Make payments more frequently.

    Consider paying your credit card bill twice a month. Even if you don't increase the total amount you pay in a month, paying multiple times in a month can help your score. Here's how: A credit report is a snapshot of your finances at a moment in time. If you have a balance on your card at that moment the snapshot is taken, it can drag your score down, even if you intend to pay that balance in full at the end of the month and never pay any interest. However, if you make multiple payments each month - say on the 1st and 15th of the month - you improve the odds that your balance will be low when that next snapshot is taken.

    Lower balances bring lower utilization rates. Lower utilization rates bring higher credit scores.

    4. Make larger payments.

    This one goes without saying. Those with the best credit scores tend to pay their balances off at the end of every month. If you can't do that, you absolutely must pay more than the minimum. Once again, lower balances bring lower utilization rates, lower utilization rates bring higher credit scores and higher credit scores save you money.

    5. Pay off the card that is closest to being maxed out.

    Your utilization rate isn't just about comparing your total balance to your total available credit. Individual card rates have an impact, too. If you have multiple cards, try paying down the one with the highest utilization rate. If you can get a good deal, you can also consider moving part of that card's balance to a new 0 percent balance transfer card. That way, you're reducing your utilization and reducing the interest you'll pay at the same time.

    6. Become an authorized user.

    Countless parents have done this to help jump-start a child's credit, but it can work with all ages. Here's how: The account holder makes another person an authorized user on the account. The other person then receives a card with his or her name on it, which can be used to make purchases on the account. Most important, the entire payment history of that card is then included on the authorized user's credit report - potentially taking a credit novice from zero to solid credit in a flash.

    Be careful, however. Different issuers and credit bureaus view authorized users differently. Also, account holders should know that authorized users are not legally responsible for paying off the balances they accrue. In addition, an account holder's mistakes - late payments, maxed-out cards, etc. - can bring down an authorized user's score and vice versa.

    7. Commit to keeping it simple.

    The bottom line when it comes to credit is this: If you pay your bills on time, every time for many years, keep your balances low and don't apply for new credit too often, your credit score is going to be just fine. Many of us tend to overthink credit, but it really is that simple.

    Of course, there are things you can do to boost your credit in the short term - there'd be no need for this column otherwise - but the absolute best thing you can do for your credit in 2016 is to commit to doing the following in the long term:
    • I will pay my bills on time, every time.
    • I will keep my balances low by paying off what I currently have and not adding to them.
    • I will be cautious in how often I apply for new credit.

    If you do those three things, not only will you boost your credit score for 2016, you'll lay the groundwork for continued growth for a lifetime.

     

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    By Tierna Unruh-Enos

    A city will pay me to live there? How is that possible, you may ask. Well, it's true. There are cities in the U.S. that will actually pay you to live there. Might they always be your first choice for where you would live? Maybe, and maybe not. But getting paid to move and live in a community, if even for a short while, can be quite an adventure, save you a ton of money and might even surprise you with how much you enjoy living in that city.

    Find out now: How much house can I afford?

    Here are 3 U.S. cities that will pay you just for living there:

    Detroit, Michigan

    Detroit, Michigan has seen its fair share of rough times over the past few decades. Abandoned neighborhoods are scattered throughout the city. While this may seem like a depressing prospect for some, it can be seen as a great challenge for others. Challenge Detroit is a program managed by the City of Detroit to encourage new career seekers and entrepreneurs to move into the city. The program pays the chosen applicants to move to the city to work with businesses and non-profits while making connections with the community. The hope is that the fresh new talent will stay within the city and help bring it back to life.

    Are You Ready to Be an Entrepreneur?

    Alaska

    It's not just certain cities in Alaska that will pay you to live there, it's the whole state. The state of Alaska developed the Permanent Fund Dividend which essentially pays residents of Alaska to permanently live there. Investment earnings on Alaskan mineral royalties are paid to Alaska residents. It is an annual payment, and the state feels that it is an investment in their current population as well investing in future generations in hopes that they stay in Alaska. To be eligible for the dividend, you need to have lived in Alaska for one year, not be a convicted felon and be present in Alaska for at least 190 days in a calendar year.

    Chattanooga, TN

    Chattanooga, Tennessee is quickly becoming a hub for young 'geeks' who are willing to relocate. The city was recently named a GigCity, which means that Chattanooga is the first city in the Western Hemisphere to have gigabit per second fiber Internet accessible to the entire city grid. With this designation, Chattanooga has created GeekMove, which is an incentive program designed to financially assist computer developers who are interested in relocating to newly revitalized communities.
    3 Places to Live If You're a Tech Guru (Besides Silicon Valley)

    Niagara Falls, NY

    Well known for its majestic waterfalls, Niagara Falls is trying to attract a younger population. Niagara's Community Development program is offering a limited number of newly graduated college students the incentive of student loan repayment up to $7,000 with a program called Live NF. The city is aiming at developing its downtown area into a more attractive place for young transplants to live.

    Find out now: What neighborhood is right for me?

     

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    By Erik Sherman

    Look at the most popular New Year's resolutions. In addition to spending time with family, living life to the fullest, and getting healthy, people want to stop being broke. It's understandable -- and also one of
    the most frequently broken resolutions.

    Don't get discouraged. You really can make more money, lower your debts, and improve your financial future. There are no easy and magic solutions and many of these may seem obvious, but there's a difference between hearing about a solution to a problem and actually taking action. With some regular effort you can improve your lot in a lot of ways.

    1. Ask for a raise.

    Whether you're an employee or have a business, there are people who pay you. When's the last time you asked for more? It may be that you ultimately aren't successful, but if you don't ask, you can't get.

    2. Research your field.

    As part of looking for improved salary or wages or setting better pricing, you need to know what your occupation and industry typically pay. Do the research to see how you fit into the bigger picture so you know how much room there might be for someone to offer more.

    3. Improve your negotiation.

    You negotiate much more than a raise or higher prices for your work. Practically everything in life has an element of negotiation. The better you are at the science and art, the more effectively you move through the world, and that includes making money.

    4. Sharpen your skills.

    Another aspect of getting paid more is boosting what you bring to the table. No matter how long you've done what you do, there are possible improvements in how you do it. Improve your skills and make yourself more valuable.

    5. Brag (though action).

    If you've been improving your capabilities, that's great. But you have to let people know. Do so by showing the improvement and not talking about it. Become the expert people rely on and build your value in their eyes.

    6. Change careers or jobs.

    Sometimes you get to the end of what's possible doing what you do where you currently are. You might need a significant shift in the type of work you do, or to find someplace that will value you more highly. As the job market has been picking up, that should become easier.

    7. Start a business.

    The real way people get rich is by creating businesses that build value. Start doing that part time (if you aren't already running a business).

    8. Teach.

    There are many occupations that people want to learn, whether through evening classes, workshops, or direct tutelage. Get out there and start teaching what you know.

    9. Get more sleep.

    Economics have found a connection between lack of sleep and diminished income. If you're short on rest, you'll also suffer from muddy thinking and poorer health, which affects your ability to make money.

    10. Spend less.

    Here's one of those obvious points, but one that's within your control to address now: Keep more of what you make to have the capital you'll need.

    11. Create intellectual property.

    Whether in the form of writing, inventions, images, know-how, or other forms of intangibles, intellectual property is the driving force behind many business successes. Create something you can own that can make money over and over again.

    12. Be helpful.

    I'm not one for complex metaphysical speculation about everyday occurrences, but I have noticed that the more you help people, the more comes back to you. In perhaps the most bottom-line practical interpretation, if you help people make money, you can generally earn a portion. But the bigger idea of not always looking for how some generosity will benefit you is the bigger one.

    13. Start investing.

    If you're not investing, start today. Compound interest has power.

    14. Study the habits of people who make money.

    If you want to know how to play basketball, you want good basketball players. To learn to paint, you study the work of great artists. To make more money, observe what rich people tend to do.

    15. Do something on the side.

    Early in my life, I remember being shocked by the simple idea that if you do additional work on the side, you made more money. Take time you'd otherwise waste and build your bank account.

    16. Advance your education.

    Higher levels of education generally correlate with higher incomes. Go back to school for a first degree or an advanced one.

    17. Get all your tax deductions.

    Talk to accountants and CPAs and you'll be surprised at the number of commonly available tax deductions and credits that people fail to take. That effectively means people send money off that could be in their pocket instead. Make sure you keep what you can.


     

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    By Zoë Henry

    Attention, employers and Baby Boomers: Younger workers might not be the spendthrifts you thought they were--at least when it comes to their 401(k)s.

    According to new data from the Retirement Saving & Spending Study, Millennials (those between the ages of 18 and 33) actually have better financial habits than Baby Boomers (ages 51 to 69).

    The data found that 72 percent of young workers surveyed were better off financially than their parents were when they were the same age. The report surveyed more than 3,000 working adults contributing to 401(k) plans--roughly half were Millennials--to learn how Americans spend and save up for retirement.

    They also surveyed 255 Millennials who were eligible for, but not contributing to, a 401(k), as well as more than 1,000 retirees with a rollover IRA or remaining 401(k) account balance. The findings were divided up by demographic to determine how Millennials are faring compared with their (traditionally more robust) older counterparts.

    There's some truth to the popular belief that Millennials aren't the most financially savvy generation. Millennials save an average of 8 percent of their annual salary for retirement, compared with an average of 9 percent for Baby Boomers. However, Millennials are increasing their 401(k) savings by more overall.

    The percentage of Millennials saving a greater portion in retirement funds is in fact roughly double that of Baby Boomers.

    With new access to trending technology, and an increased desire to reach out for fiscal help, Millennials are more likely than Baby Boomers to be tracking their expenses and budget, the report finds.
    It's worth noting that the younger workers surveyed were all employed, so the sample is simply a general reflection of Millennial habits. It's easier to penny pinch with a sizeable income, or at least in theory.

    The median personal income for Millennials surveyed is $57,000 annually, and the average job tenure is five years, says Anne Coveney, senior manager of Retirement Thought Leadership at T. Rowe Price. The overall median salary for the average Millennial is estimated at around $35,000 for men, $30,000 for women.

    "Their circumstances are probably a big part of what's driving their behaviors," explained Coveney. "They know to save. It may be because they've had the benefit of reading a lot on the internet, and getting information from their employers. They also do use [financial] advice," she adds.

    Millennials estimate that financial professionals would want them to save as much as 9 percent of their annual income, for instance, and although that's not as much as the 15 percent that T. Rowe Price advises, Coveney notes that it's still a significant amount.

    That said, if you're a small-business owner with young employees, it's beneficial to factor in their preferences when it comes to the types of retirement plans you offer. Consider auto-enrollment features with higher contribution rates (i.e., 6 or 7 percent), and be sure your employees have good access to the right financial resources to help them make decisions.

     

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    By Susan Johnston Taylor

    Traveling internationally?

    Unless you're meticulous at forecasting travel costs and only withdraw the precise amount of cash you'll need, it's likely you'll return stateside with a pocket full of euros or yen. Most foreign exchange servicesdon't accept smaller denominations, so you could blow your change on an airport latte or keep foreign coins in a drawer awaiting your next overseas adventure (if it's a common currency like the euro, that may not be a bad idea).

    Here's a look at some savvy alternatives.

    1. Apply it to your hotel bill. Before you leave for the airport, "apply whatever currency you have remaining to your hotel bill, and then cover the rest with your credit card," suggests Patti Reddi, the founder and writer behind TheSavvyGlobetrotter.com.

    2. Exchange for gift cards. If you're in California, you can exchange Canadian dollars, Swiss francs, Japanese yen, euros and British pounds for gift cards in U.S. dollars to retailers including Shutterfly, Staples and Overstock at the Leftovercash kiosk at the South Bay Galleria mall in Los Angeles (the company plans to expand into other locations in the future). There's a flat transaction fee of $3.99. "We're trying to make it economical and feasible to do the conversion," says Leftovercash founder Ferdinand Poon. "We're able to take five different currencies at once, and it's really unique in this business to be able to deal with coins."

    3. Load it on a Starbucks card. If you don't live near the Leftovercash kiosk, but you're a coffee lover, you can stop at a Starbucks toward the end of your trip and load your leftover currency onto a Starbucks card. "Once you get home, the money converts back to the currency you normally use, and you don't pay any additional fees," says David Bakke, an expert at the financial blog MoneyCrashers.com. Note that Starbucks cards can be used interchangeably at most stores in North America, Australia, Hong Kong, Ireland, Mexico and the U.K., but stores in some European and Asian countries only accept cards issued in that country. (If you're in one of those countries, you could leave extra coins in the tip jar.)

    4. Share with kids. Giving foreign coins to kids (either as a souvenir or a gift from the tooth fairy - no more comparisons to schoolmates who get $5 per tooth!) can help open their eyes to the wider world. "I bring foreign coins and small bills home to my children," says Holly Johnson, a U.S. News travel contributor and founder of the blog TravelBlueBook.com. "It helps them learn about other cultures and piques their curiosity about governments and lifestyles abroad."

    5. Give to local teachers. If you don't have kids or your kids aren't the right age to appreciate foreign currency, consider giving small amounts to a local teacher. "With globalization and the current political situation ... it seems really critical to foster understanding and appreciation of foreign cultures," says Sally Elizabeth, a mother of two who works for online dispute resolution company PeopleClaim.com and receives unusual foreign coins when the company's CEO travels for business. "It's particularly great when you have currency from an uncommon destination like Oman [or] Mongolia or the Seychelles. And teachers are always happy if you'll accompany the money into the classroom and give a quick talk. Personal experiences trump everything."

    6. Donate at the airport or in-flight. Many airlines and airports collect currency as donations. About a dozen airlines participate in the Change for Good program, which raises funds for UNICEF.

    7. Make magnets. Glue a magnet to the back of a coin to remind yourself of all the exotic places you've been - or give as gifts for that hard-to-shop-for jetsetter on your list. "Our favorite thing to do with leftover foreign coins is to make magnets out of them for the refrigerator," says Karilyn Owen, who founded the family travel blog NoBackHome.com. "In the past 15 years of travel, we now have many coins from countries [that] no longer have their own currency and coins that have since been updated. It's a beautiful collection!"

    8. Find someone traveling to that destination. You could give a small amount of pesos to a friend planning a trip to Mexico or sell larger amounts if you have them. "I work at a large corporation and have a standing offer that I'll buy leftover euro notes and coins from anyone who is coming back from Europe," says Lance Longwell, who writes the TravelAddicts.net blog with his wife, Laura. "My wife and I travel frequently to Europe, so we're always using them. It's really a win-win: colleagues can get rid of excess currency, and we buy it off them at very favorable exchange rates." Online travel forums are another way to connect with travelers looking to buy or sell excess currency, and coin shops may be interested in unusual foreign coins as well.

    9. Save for crafts. When Monica Williams, who now works in digital marketing in Philadelphia, returned from a two-year around-the-world trip, she amassed quite a collection of foreign currency. She used some of it make wine charms and jewelry which she sold on Etsy.com and sold some to other crafters. "After friends of mine started using some to make more elaborate art projects than I'm able, I started selling my currency on online sites to others who might want to do the same," she says, "so I wound up making a few dollars."

    The best use for you depends on how much currency you have and whether you're likely to return to that country. But having options beyond throwing coins and bills in a drawer for later means you can get more value out of money that might otherwise go to waste.

     

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  • 01/08/16--08:55: 5 Surprising Sources of Debt
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    By Maryalene LaPonsie

    Unemployment, medical bills, a shopping addiction - these may all be obvious causes of debt, but they certainly aren't the only ways people end up in the red.

    Other forms of debt are more insidious. They arrive looking like a big break or a money-saving option. But instead of getting you out of your financial hole, they actually dig you in deeper.

    Don't let these five hidden sources of debt say "Gotcha!"

    Your New Job

    The problem: Your new job is supposed to be your ticket out of paycheck-to-paycheck living, but a big boost in income is often accompanied by a big boost in spending.

    "When people get a new job, it looks like a limitless amount of money so they splurge on a new car or a buy a lot of clothes," says Joe Heider, founder of Cirrus Wealth Management in Cleveland.

    Cecilia Beach Brown, a certified financial planner at Lincoln Financial Securities in Annapolis, Maryland, says it's a common trap. "When the money's there, it's hard to say 'no.'" Then people lose their job or are otherwise unable to maintain their new lifestyle.

    The solution: Rather than increase your spending, continue to budget based on the amount you previously earned. Then, bank the extra for retirement, travel or a big spending goal, whether that be paying cash for a car or a 20 percent down payment on a house.

    A Financial Windfall

    The problem: Like a new job, a windfall can be your financial undoing. Whether it's an inheritance, divorce settlement or lottery winnings, Brown says people notoriously mishandle large sums of money that fall into their laps.

    "People tend to spend money more than once in their head," Brown says. "It's the mental accounting that gets them in trouble."

    By spending without a plan, people blow through their money and end up financing big purchases they can't afford that push them into debt.

    The solution: Brown advocates that everyone use the one-third rule when dealing with an inflow of cash of any kind. One-third of the money should be set aside for taxes, the second third should be put in savings for the future and the final third can be used for fun.

    Leasing a Car

    The problem: Leasing seems like a good way to get more car for your money, but contracts can include expensive provisions that make it difficult to simply turn in a vehicle without owing cash.
    "When people lease a car, they're excited and don't pay attention to what happens when they turn it in,"
    Heider says.

    Leased cars have strict mileage limits, and people who go over could get hit with fees that run from 10 to 20 cents per mile driven over the limit. In addition, there may be acquisition fees, disposition fees and early termination fees. In many cases, Heider says drivers roll one lease into another to avoid paying fees out of pocket. Then, they never get out from under their monthly vehicle payment. The solution: Think twice before leasing a vehicle, or at least read the fine print more carefully. Be realistic about how many miles you drive, and add up the total cost, including taxes and fees, to determine whether buying a reliable used car is a better deal.

    A New Cellphone

    The problem: You want that shiny new smartphone, and the cellphone company is happy to give it to you - provided you sign up for a two-year contract. The phone seems like a freebie, but you have, in fact, just signed up for more debt.

    "Really what you're doing is taking a loan out to pay for the phone," says Phil Jacobson, managing director at United Capital in Rockford, Illinois. You're not getting the phone for free; you're financing it with your cellphone contract.

    Your new phone could also cause further problems if you have an expensive data plan you can't afford. There's no way to cancel most cellphone contracts without paying a sizable fee.

    The solution: Reconsider contracts. Many wireless providers now offer non-contract service options, and those may be a better choice. While it costs more to buy a new phone out of pocket, you might save money on a monthly plan. If you still want a new phone, look for a cheaper, refurbished one or get a used one from a trusted source.

    Buying a House

    The problem: Obviously, buying or building a house typically comes with the debt of a mortgage. However, some people compound that debt by insisting on new furnishings or expensive renovations before moving in.

    "What's a couple hundred here? What's $500 there?" Heider says of many people's mindset when constructing a new home. "Then they realize they're $20,000 to $30,000 over budget."

    Buying or building a house can feel like permission to replace appliances, furniture and electronics. However, it's a trap that can create a vacuum of debt and turn a dream home into a nightmare.

    The solution: Having a written budget for building or renovating a house is the first step to avoiding this debt trap. The second step is to stick to the budget. Also, consider whether an existing home will have expensive maintenance issues in the near future and look for a house that is move-in ready. If you don't start a renovation project, you can't overspend on it.

     

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    For many the holidays have an unpleasant side effect--debt. It's estimated that the average consumer spent $805 on gifts this past holiday season. It was fun passing out presents in December, but in January the credit card bills start rolling in. For others, the start of the new year brings extra motivation to finally tackle their debt. In either case, consumers flock to 0% balance transfer credit cards at the start of every year.

    Transferring high interest credit card debt to a 0% card is appealing. The savings in interest can be substantial and it accelerates getting out of debt. It's nice when the entire credit card payment goes to principal, not interest.

    Transferring balances to a 0% card is not rocket science. There are, however, some traps to avoid. Further, not all balance transfer cards are created equal. Some are notably better than others. To get the most out of a balance transfer credit card this season, here are 7 tips to keep in mind.

    1. Type of Debt: It's most common to transfer high interest credit card debt to a 0% balance transfer offer. In some cases, however, some want to transfer other types of debt, including school loans, car loans, and medical debt. Not all credit cards, however, allow consumers to transfer non-credit card debt. You can find a breakdown of what type of debt can be transferred for the major card issuers in this guide to balance transfer credit cards.

    2. Length of 0% Offer: The longest 0% balance transfer offered today is from Citibank and it lasts for 21 months. After that, the rate on any remaining debt is subject to Citi's regular APR. The offer can be found on the Citi Simplicity card. So if you've been looking for a longer 0% offer, you can stop. They don't exist.

    3. Balance Transfer Fee: With one exception, every balance transfer card charges a transfer fee. The fee is typically a percentage of the amount transferred. The most common fee is 3%, which results in a $30 fee for every $1,000 transferred. The one exception is the Chase Slate card. For transfers initiated within the first 60 days there is no transfer fee. The 0% introductory APR lasts for 15 months.

    4. 0% on Purchases: Don't confuse balance transfers with offers of 0% APR on purchases. Many cards offer both. With 0% on purchases, the card issuer waives interest charges on revolving balances from purchases for a set period of time, often the same length as the balance transfer offer (but not always). If you need to transfer a balance, make sure the 0% offer applies to balance transfers.

    5. Credit Score: Most of the top 0% offers require good to excellent credit. As a rule of thumb, a FICO score of at least 700 or higher should be expected, although many factors go into underwriting and lower scores have been approved.

    6. Regular APR: Even the longest balance transfer offers eventually expire. When they do, any remaining balance will be subject to the card's regular APR. As a result, it's important to plan now for how you'll handle this debt when the 0% interest is gone.

    7. Think Beyond 0%: While paying no interest for an extended period of time is an attractive offer, many balance transfer cards offer significant benefits. For example, the Chase Freedom card offers a $150 bonus if you spend $500 on the card in the first three months. It also offers cash back of up to 5% and comes with no annual fee. Those benefits are in addition to a 0% APR introductory rate on balance transfers and purchases for 15 months.

    No interest credit cards can be an excellent tool to help get out of debt. The key is to avoid any new debt after transferring existing balances to no interest cards. Once transferred, work hard to pay off the card by the time the 0% introductory rate expires. Alternatively, you could transfer the debt again to a new balance transfer card until the debt is paid, a strategy I deployed years ago to pay off my credit card debt.

     

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    By Frank Addessi

    My late grandfather used to say he would retire when he was dead. True to his word he worked until the day he passed away at 84. Like my grandfather before me I have no intention of stopping work and will probably die at my keyboard with emails from editors about missed deadlines piling up.

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

    Retirement Myth 1 - Retirement is Like Vacation

    The fact of the matter is retirement can be a lot more like work than vacation. Many people put a lot of effort into trying not to be bored. Sure sitting on a beautiful beach or fishing or whatever you like doing on vacation is a great while you're on vacation but when it's all you do every day, it can start to get tired.

    Related Article: How Prepared Are You For Retirement?

    Vacations are something we look forward to and have a choice about. Retirement has no such choices. One day rolls endlessly, mindlessly into the next. Don't take my word for it. Think about your last great long vacation and how by the end of it you wanted to go back to work, to your life.

    The Solution can be as simple as retiring from one job or career and starting a new one. One way to look at it is to think of your work-life before retirement as working for someone else and your work-life after retirement as working for you. Working at something you are passionate about is great way to slow the aging process and stay active. Because you're "retired" you can do it on your own terms.

    Retirement Myth 2 - No Money Problems

    This retirement myth comes about from the misconception that life magically becomes less expensive when you retire. It doesn't. Food, fuel, clothing all cost as much as before you retired and what you save on commuting you're likely going to want to spend on keeping busy.

    Related Article: The Hidden Costs of Downsizing Your Home

    Retirement also means increased medical expenses not because retirement is physically taxing or otherwise hazardous to your health but because you are older and body parts start wearing out faster. Older bodies are like classic cars, in order to keep moving down the road they need a little more TLC.

    The Solution starts with not counting on social security alone as your primary means of support. The older you are now, the more you should be putting aside for retirement every year. There are two retirement savings traps people fall into. The first is when they are young and believe retirement is too far in the future to concern themselves with right now so they save little to nothing.

    Related Article: 5 Ways Your Cost of Living Will Decrease in Retirement

    The second retirement trap occurs when the kids are grown and finished with school and before retirement when you put off saving for later so you can start treating yourself now. Striking a balance in your 50s between enjoying your relative youth with increasing savings for the not so distant future is the key.

    Retirement Myth 3 - Medicare!

    This retirement myth is that starting Medicare will cut my health care costs dramatically. While Medicare is a wonderful program, it is not the be all and end all of personal health care coverage. You will need a Medicare supplement policy to help round out your protection and even with a good supplement you will still have out of pocket expenses.

    Related Article: 5 Ways You Could Be Sabotaging Your Retirement

    I'm sure there is some direct mathematical corollary between our age in years and the number of prescription drugs we take. Even if there is no such thing as a fixed relationship, the amount and frequency of medications and their associated cost (deductibles and co-pays) does increase with age.

    The Solution is to stay active and get plenty of exercise and eat and sleep well. We could all get away with staying out late and neglecting our bodies when we are in our twenties but we don't retire in our twenties. The best way to control increased health care cost is to need less healthcare in the first place. That means taking better care of yourself now and as you get older.

    Related Article: Why You Shouldn't County on Your Home Equity for Retirement

     

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    By Cathie Ericson

    "You don't get what you don't ask for."

    Many of us have heard the phrase, but most of us never think to ask for a price break while shopping.

    According to a 2013 Consumer Reports study, only 48% of people even attempt to bargain for a better deal on the products and services they buy every day-even though a whopping 89% of those who said they did haggle were able to nab a discount at least once.

    So why are we so hesitant to even ask? For starters, "many people think that negotiation is reserved for the big boardroom-type deals and don't realize how many day-to-day things, such as retail [items], groceries and medical bills, they could negotiate," says Eldonna Lewis Fernandez, a corporate trainer and author of "Think Like a Negotiator: 50 Ways to Create Win-Win Results by Understanding the Pitfalls to Avoid."

    Additionally, the mere thought of haggling can feel intimidating to many people, notes Ed Brodow, a negotiation-skills trainer and author of "Negotiation Boot Camp: How to Resolve Conflict, Satisfy Customers, and Make Better Deals."

    "People are either afraid to ask for a better deal or are convinced it can't happen," he says. "They become their own worst enemy if they don't try. You have to have the 'negotiation consciousness': [the willingness] to challenge everything, be assertive and say, 'This is too much,' or 'This is not reasonable,' or 'Can you help me out?' "

    Of course, your chances of success will be helped if you know what surprising products or services are actually negotiable. So we rounded up five things you may not have realized you could haggle over, along with some insider tips that could help you move from too-scared-to-ask to negotiating-ninja status.

    1. Haggling Hints for ... Appliances and Electronics

    Missed the big-box sale on that washer-dryer set, or need a new big-screen TV for the rec room but don't want to pay an arm and a leg? One smart tactic is to ask about floor models, returns and overstocks, says Kyle James, owner and founder of coupon and bargain-hunting site Rather-Be-Shopping.com.

    "Store managers typically want them sold immediately so they don't take up valuable real estate," he says. "These items will typically be marked with a special tag. Start the negotiating at 20% off the asking price and be prepared to meet in the middle." While you're at it, it doesn't hurt to ask if they can throw in an extended warranty or delivery for free.

    And if you're in the market for more than one big-ticket item, bundling those purchases may help you gain even more leverage.

    James discovered the lure of the bundled sale when he was in the market for a new HDTV and DVD player a few years ago. He walked into a major electronics chain and asked the salesperson to knock off $100 if he bought both right then and there.

    "He went and asked his manager, and within a minute, he came back and said they could reduce the overall price by $75," James says.

    RELATED: 7 Tricks to Help You Save Cash on Your Utility Bills This Winter

    2. Haggling Hints for ... Interest Rates

    We've all felt the pinch of interest rates, whether on our credit cards, auto loans, mortgages or student debt-but how much leeway do you actually have to negotiate for a lower one?

    One of the biggest factors, of course, is your credit rating and history. "If you've made late payments or have a bad credit score, you're more of a credit risk, so the lender may not lower the rate," says Priyanka Prakash, a finance specialist for FitBiz Loans, an online platform that helps business owners find financing. On the flip side, having a high credit score and a positive payment history only works in your favor.

    Additionally, the kind of borrowing you're dealing with is important; the more regulated a particular type of loan or line of credit tends to be, the less likely you'll be able to negotiate the interest rate. "Credit card rates are relatively easy to negotiate compared to rates on other [types of] debt," Prakash says. "Student loans are difficult to negotiate because the rates are set at the federal level." Business loans, home loans and auto loans probably fall somewhere in between, she adds.

    Showing that you've been shopping around also helps prove how serious you are about finding a lower interest rate. For instance, you could tell your credit card issuer that you're thinking of taking advantage of another company's 0% balance-transfer offer. Or perhaps you have a quote from a lender for a personal loan that you're hoping another bank matches. "Having the quote in writing shows you're serious," Prakash says. Additionally, if there's a timely reason why you're trying to lower your interest rate-maybe a job loss or medical crisis means finances are tight-she recommends having that documentation on hand.

    Still unsuccessful? Then try your hand at getting loan fees reduced. Prakash says you'll have more leeway with fees that are charged directly by the lender, such as origination fees, application fees and closing costs, rather than those charged by a third party, such as appraisal fees or credit-report fees.
    RELATED: Your Financial Frenemy: Compound Interest

    3. Haggling Hints for ... Groceries

    Maybe you're already a master coupon clipper-but it's always a win when you can pay even less at checkout, right?

    James highlights the deli and meat counters as great places to haggle. "In particular, look for hams and roasts that are less than a pound in size and politely ask for a discount," he says. That's because they may be too small to slice and sell, so the store may be willing to sell them for much less. "Start by asking for 50% off and negotiate from there."

    James adds that meats nearing their sell-by date are potentially another good bet, since the store will lose money on them once they expire. "This works best if you're buying more than one cut, so stock up and take it all off their hands for a discount," he says. "Then you can freeze what you can't use in the next day or two."

    If your neighborhood has a local farmers' market, you're in luck: They're ripe for heavy discounts if you buy toward the end of the day, says John Vespasian, the author of "The 10 Principles of Rational Living."

    "Farmers much prefer to get rid of any remaining vegetables or fruit at a low price, rather than having to haul them back," he says. "This is the perfect opportunity not only to save money by negotiating but also to purchase healthy food."

    4. Haggling Hints for ... Moving Services

    When you start seeking quotes for movers, the shock can often be enough to make you think twice about relocating. But most people don't realize how much negotiating power they have, regardless of whether they're dealing with big or small moving companies, says Jacob Beckstead, marketing manager at Bailey's Moving & Storage in the Denver area.

    Moving companies use different variables to come up with their quotes, but often this is more of an art than a science, says Beckstead. "Moving and storage services can often be negotiated in order to fit your particular budget-especially on such a major purchase," he says. "Even the major carriers with more scientific approaches wouldn't want to lose a sale over 5%."

    The services most likely to be negotiable? When a salesperson comes to visit, Beckstead suggests haggling on the packing rates, box rates or hourly loading rates.

    5. Haggling Hints for ... Medical Costs

    You've gotten over an ailment, and just as you're feeling better, you get your doctor's bill-and it nearly sends you back to the emergency room. Often, consumers feel obligated to pay the bill as is, without realizing that the cost for many types of medical services or procedures isn't set in stone.

    First, check that bill carefully-were you billed twice for the same procedure? Were your medical services improperly coded? Ferreting out billing errors could help lower your bill quickly. But if you're sure there are no mistakes, asking your doctor or hospital nicely for a discount could go a long way.

    There are a "certain number of patients who never pay their bill, so they'd rather get something than nothing," Brodow says. When he was recently billed $1,800 for a minor lab test, he explained that his insurance wouldn't cover it and that he was older and semi-retired, and then asked if they could adjust the cost. Sure enough, he was able to lower it to $500.

    Fernandez says that the billing department can be your ally since they routinely deal with hostile customers. "You will stand out if you leave emotion out and you are kind and cooperative," she says. Fernandez also suggests starting your request with, "Is there any reason you can't ... ?" For example: "Is there any reason you can't delay sending this to collections for a month so I can work on getting it paid?"

    "You're not asking, 'Why can't you?' or 'Will you?' You're changing the language of the question to invoke a positive response," Fernandez says. The billing specialists likely won't have a good reason why they can't help fulfill your request. "That interruption [from a typical 'no' response] may be just enough to get the person on the other end to feel a little of the human element, versus the mentality of you just being another cog in the wheel of their job."

    RELATED: Your Medical Debt Rx: 7 Ways to Manage High Medical Bills



     

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    By Krystal Steinmetz

    They might be better educated and more technologically savvy than previous generations, but that doesn't mean millennials are making smart financial decisions.

    Millennials are heavy users of the alternative financial system - which includes payday loans, pawnshops and tax refund advances - and reluctant to seek professional financial help.

    That's according to a recent report from tax and consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers and the George Washington University's Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center. The report is based on survey results of more than 5,500 millennials (ages 23 to 35).

    Cash-strapped, saddled with student loan debt and struggling to navigate a changing job market, millennials are risk-averse and wary of the stock market. That's really no surprise, considering they came of age during the Great Recession.

    From our Solutions Center: Help with student loan debt

    "Millennials owe a lot. They know too little," said Annamaria Lusardi, academic director at the George Washington University center.

    When compared with other Americans, the millennial generation - those born between the early 1980s and mid-1990s - has the "lowest level of financial literacy," the report said. Unfortunately, despite a lack of financial know-how, a mere 27 percent of millennials seek help from a financial professional.

    A lack of financial literacy may explain why 42 percent of millennials took out a payday loan or auto title loan, used a pawnshop, got a tax refund advance or purchased a rent-to-own product in the past five years.

    "There's an appetite for faster money quicker without thinking of the longer-term ramifications," Shannon Schuyler, head of corporate responsibility and chief purpose officer at PwC, told Moneywatch. "They don't want to ask for help, they are embarrassed, they feel they are in this by themselves, and they are using interesting ways, like taking cash advances on their credit cards" to try to deal with their plight, she added.

    (Before you seek out a payday loan to deal with short-term debt, check out "More Proof That Payday Loans Suck" and "Payday Loans Might Be Even Worse Than You Thought.")

    These are some highlights from the report:
    • Lack financial know-how: Only 24 percent of millennials demonstrate basic financial knowledge and just 8 percent show high financial literacy.
    • Discontent over financial situation: Thirty-four percent of millennials report being "very unsatisfied" with their current financial situation.
    • Fret over student loans: More than half of millennials (54 percent) said they're worried about their ability to pay back their student loans.
    • Financially fragile: Nearly 1 in 3 millennials (30 percent) are overdrawing their checking accounts. (Read more about millennials' financial habits at "Millennials Have No Savings; Here's Why")
    • Retirement account woes: Just 36 percent of millennials have a retirement account. Of those, 17 percent took a loan and 14 percent took a hardship withdrawal from those accounts in the past year. "This trend is especially worrying because it can compromise millennials' future financial security," the report said.

    If you are a millennial or you know a millennial who needs to brush up on his or her money skills, check out "Report: 'Clueless Generation' Urgently Needs These 5 Money Lessons."

     

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    Thoughts drive our behavior.

    When you think about doing something, you're obviously more likely to do it. Additionally, what you think about your life, your friends, your family, and your circumstances has a tremendous impact on your financial success.

    What you tell yourself matters. Believe me, I know.

    When I came back from serving overseas, things weren't easy. I was telling myself things that I shouldn't have been telling myself. These thoughts weighed on me, and they could have affected my financial success.

    Thankfully, I soon learned the power of stepping back and looking at the thoughts that were running through my mind. Doing this allowed me to critically examine my thoughts, and replace them with better ones.

    I'm sure you understand what I'm talking about. If not, you're probably not human - no offense.

    Today I'd like to share with you a few daily thoughts that can help you boost your financial success. Write them down on sticky notes and attach them to your computer monitor, your refrigerator, or anywhere else you visit frequently.

    Ready for a mental boost? Let's do this.

    1. "My financial situation can change for the better."

    If you're under the weight of crushing debt, have just gone through a nasty divorce in which you owe alimony, or lost your house to a fire without the support of insurance, it can be difficult to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

    But remember, just because your financial situation looks bleak, that doesn't mean it will always look like armageddon. Time and effort can change things.

    If you sincerely believe that you'll always be in debt, you'll always never be able to afford the alimony, or you'll always be renting and never own a house again, you'll probably always be right.

    Think about it. If you don't believe your financial situation can change for the better, why would you take the steps necessary to change your financial situation? Boom. Mind blown.

    Remember: If you feel fate will keep you muddy in the ditch, then muddy in the ditch you will remain.

    Your financial situation can change for the better. You have to believe you can make a change in your life. If you struggle with the idea of making a change for yourself, grab onto the fact that your family and friends need your support. They are counting on you.

    Join the Money Uprising Movement[TM] and find hope. It's all about believing you can improve your financial situation and taking action. You can do this.

    2. "I can have little and still be content."

    Materialism is spreading through our country like a virus. America, I feel, is thoroughly infected by it.

    When will we ever learn to be content with our belongings? If you have just one flat screen television, that makes you a rich person, my friend.

    But what if you don't even have that? What if you have a few books on the shelf, clothes on your back, and a roof over your head? I'd argue you can still learn to be content. And if you do learn the art of contentment, you'll find that all that extra stuff you've been wanting really doesn't matter much anyway.

    By saving money through contentment, you'll be able to boost your financial situation in ways you never thought possible. You'll be able to put more money into retirement savings, help your children attend college, or give to a good cause.

    3. "It's okay to take reasonable risks."

    A long time ago I knew a woman who decided to take what her mother considered to be an unreasonable risk. Helen took out a personal loan to launch a brand new business.

    She was making a decent living selling cosmetics, so her mother just couldn't understand why she'd take such a risk when she could have just kept on selling cosmetics to make a stable income.

    I can understand her mother's concerns. But you know what? Helen's mother isn't Helen. Helen is Helen. Helen knows herself and her intentions better than her mother. And you know what? Helen was right.

    Today, Helen has made millions with her business - and it all started because Helen took a reasonable risk, not a foolish one.

    Granted, sometimes it is difficult for us to determine what's a reasonable risk and what's an unreasonable risk. Sometimes, it's best to get the advice of our friends and family. However, it might be better for us to get the advice of an unbiased third party - like a financial advisor. Generally speaking, a reasonable risk is one that won't bankrupt us if our idea falls apart. Risk a fraction of your finances, not the whole of them.

    If you're not used to taking risks, it's going to be scary when you first try. Overcome your fears and push the boundaries of what you thought possible. It's a good daily thought that can boost your financial success. In fact, it's one of the ways you can think like a millionaire.

    4. "I can learn new skills through discipline."

    No doubt, you've heard of a stay-at-home mom going back to college to earn her degree. Perhaps you've heard of a man who changed his career as he was nearing retirement age. Maybe you know of someone who read books for hours and learned how to start a new online business.

    You know what all of these people have in common? They believed they could learn new skills through discipline. The key word here is discipline.

    In order to learn new skills, you have to dedicate yourself to learning them and fight hard to lock them into memory. It's no easy task, and that's why so few people try to learn new skills - especially if they have something already that's "working" for them.

    Now, you don't have to dive head first into BASE jumping - that's just plain stupid. Take time to learn. Take the steps necessary. Ease into it. And perhaps try something new other than BASE jumping - for me.

    New skills often translate into more money-making opportunities. This, my friend, boosts your financial success. Go learn something new!

    5. "If someone's holding me back it's likely to be myself."

    It's easy to blame our lack of financial success on others or our circumstances. Here are some common excuses:

    • "I didn't go to college and can't afford it - I'll never amount to anything."
    • "The man is holding me down. I just can't beat the system, bro."
    • "Government is a business killer. Who can afford the taxes?"

    While life's circumstances do present obstacles, they can typically be overcome. If that's the case, then what's really holding you back from financial success? Dare I say it's you?

    When you dwell on all the reasons your goals are difficult, you're disabling yourself from taking action. It's like the elephant who has had a chain on his leg for years. While he couldn't move with the chain, eventually it was replaced with a string. The string was easily breakable, but the elephant didn't have the insight to see that now was his opportunity to escape his captivity. He thought the string was as strong as the chain - and he was wrong.

    How about you? Are you looking to escape your circumstances? Are you sure that the things that held you back in the past are holding you back now? Are you certain that you were ever held back by anything other than your own negative thinking?

    If you're starting to see that the wall you're trying to break through is the one you've built, don't worry, you're not alone. Countless people build their own walls and blame the brick-maker.

    My goal is to show you that you don't have to hold yourself back. The future is a blank slate. You just have to write the story.

    I challenge you to keep these thoughts in your mind as you go throughout your day. Don't forget them. Do what I said and write them down. Meditate on them. Your thoughts have a tremendous impact on the degree of your financial success. Train yourself to think positively and transform your mind. You'll be better off for it.

     

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    Critics of American work culture have long complained that the 9 to 5 is no way to be alive. This lifestyle model was most culturally visible in the 50's, when men with hats and briefcases became iconic symbols of hard work, the virtue which fueled family, freedom, and the American Dream! These values made war with America's burgeoning Counter-Culture over the coming decades, and the cultural pendulum, for many, swung away from hard work as an ethos to be respected.

    Today, the pendulum seems to be hanging somewhere between these two extremes. Even as we hear of reports of all-or-nothing work requirements at places like Amazon, many Americans want a more humane way to make a living. This is what we mean when we talk about a Work-Life Balance. It's a way to make real money, without having to sacrifice health and happiness to do so. It's a way to be able to raise a family, without having to be destitute. It's a way to prepare for retirement, without giving into some of the nastier aspects of 21st century capitalism. Basically, it's the new American Dream, and people want to achieve it.

    Various studies paint the Millennial generation as a group of people who want to find fulfillment, at least in part, outside of the workplace. Nonetheless, Millennials tend to be freaked out about money. You know all about the challenges that today's 20- and 30-somethings endured as they entered adulthood. Work hasn't been the bedrock institution that it was for some previous generations. Despite being difficult to corral into cubicles, Millennials tend to hope for financial security, and even independence. Is it possible to achieve one or both of these goals, all while maintaining a healthy life of experience outside of a normal job?

    Cracking the Work-Life Balance Code: Real Life Methods

    A healthy work-life balance is by no means limited to the young, but it's easier to lay the foundation for this lifestyle if you have personal freedom and plenty of years to implement your strategy. Still, many of the following methods are available to all.

    1. Move. Millennials are a mobile generation. One of the biggest factors is cost of living. The past couple of decades may have been hard for American cities like Buffalo, Baltimore, and Detroit, but this has only made them very attractive for young people, for whom homeownership, startup jobs, and entrepreneurial efforts would be more inaccessible in thriving cities. If you want the money you make to go farther, or to be able to work less to make ends meet, why not move to a place where it doesn't cost so much to do what you do? This goal even leads some people out of the country on a permanent or semi-permanent basis.

    2. Educate Yourself. Unless you have marketable skills, it may be hard for you to make money very quickly. We're not talking 6 figure earnings, here. But unless you're able to earn enough to support a simple lifestyle without working 60 hours a week, this whole work-life thing isn't going to happen for you. This knowledge has led thousands of Americans into growing sectors like nursing, and this option (with its 4-day workweeks and job mobility) may be an option for you.

    3. Practice a Well Rounded Lifestyle. Even if you haven't "arrived" yet, start making time for meaningful life outside of the workplace, even if that's challenging. Some people recommend the Hobby Approach, where people cultivate three main hobbies in their lives: one to stay fit, one to make money, and one to exercise their creativity. By living a meaningful life, even when it's easier to punch the clock until you come home and fall asleep to Netflix, are essential to building a life that's enjoyable within and without the workplace.

    4. Save and Invest. Live beneath your means and save/invest for the future. You don't have to be a professional investor or a high earner to do these well. But without them, even the best-lived life will be difficult to sustain as the years go by.

    5. Have Relationships. Many people enter adulthood only to realize they no longer have any friends. Don't let this happen to you. Make time for relationships, for your family, for your kids. Go out for drinks, go for a hike, get together even if you're tired. Without meaningful relationships, none of the rest of this will do much to scratch the work-life balance itch.

    You'll have to pioneer your own methods to make this work for you. Everyone is different, and will have different expectations for what a good work-life balance is. Making this happen is hard work, but don't stop. It's possible to be happy and fulfilled, even if you have to work for money.

     

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    Our Best Winterizing Tips Ever
    Winter is here, and that cold weather can affect your home and your savings. Luckily, there are a few things that can help you make it through the season and save a few bucks, too.

    First, you shouldn't have to blow through your savings to stop cold drafts from blowing through your house. Many retailers sell draft blockers for $15, but at your local hardware store you can get the same result for a tenth of the price with a roll of pipe insulation. Simply measure and cut a piece to fit your door. Then just slide the foam in and you're done.

    As for those drafty windows, a window insulation kit should do the trick -- plus, they're easy to install. Just line your window frame with the double stick tape, put on the plastic covering and then trim the excess to fit the window.

    You can also use a blow dryer to eliminate wrinkles in the film, making it nearly invisible. These kits cost about $5 (to cover two windows) and can save you up to $17 per window on your energy bills this season. How's that for winter savings?

    Finally, your house isn't the only thing susceptible to the elements. When it comes to your car, a foggy windshield can be a real pain. Store-bought defogger spray can cost you up to $7 per bottle, but it turns out shaving cream works just as well. Simply spread a thin coat onto the inside of your windshield, and wipe it down with a clean cloth. This will keep your windshield clear and shave a few dollars off your winter spending.

    This winter, don't let a cold home freeze over your savings. Give these tips a try, so you and y our budget stay warm this season.

     

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    Protestors Rally Across US On National Day Of Action For $15 Minimum Wage
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    By Karla Bowsher

    One could argue that 2015 was the year of the $15 minimum hourly wage. But 2016 could provide another big boost to efforts to hike pay.

    Fourteen cities, counties and states approved $15 minimum wage laws this year, according to newly released data from the National Employment Law Project (NELP), a nonprofit that advocates for low-wage workers.

    Christine Owens, executive director of NELP, says in a recent news release that the past year has seen "incredible momentum" to raise wages. The press release adds that 2016 shows more promise:

    The Fight for $15 is expected to make further inroads in the New Year. There are 16 pending legislative or ballot proposals in 15 jurisdictions that will likely gain traction in 2016.


    The New York City-based nonprofit notes that action on federal legislation - which would more than double the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 - is "unlikely in the current Congress." Details on the pending initiatives are as follows:
    • Federal: Proposal for a $15 minimum wage that would be phased in by 2020
    • New York: $15 by 2018 (for New York City) or 2021 (for New York state)
    • California: $15 in two proposals - one by 2021; another by 2020 for businesses with 25-plus workers, 2021 for businesses with fewer workers
    • Washington, D.C.: $15 by 2020
    • Massachusetts (fast food and big retail): $15 by 2018
    • Oregon: $15 by 2019
    • Missouri: $15 by 2023
    • Olympia, Washington: $15 (no date given)
    • Sacramento, California: $15 by 2020
    • Pasadena, California: $15 (no date given)
    • Palo Alto, California: $15 by 2018
    • Sunnyvale, California: $15 by 2018
    • Berkeley, California: $15 by 2018 for businesses with at least 55 workers; or 2020 for businesses with fewer than 55 workers
    • Long Beach, California: $16
    • Davis, California: $15

     

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    Hand placing coin in piggy bank
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    By Cathleen D. Phelps

    Investing and planning for the future can be a daunting task. There are so many factors to consider in creating and managing your portfolio, and you may find it difficult to find a financial professional you trust for unbiased advice.

    That's why Monument Wealth Management, as an independent registered investment advisor, has prepared this list of seven considerations to help prepare you to make investment decisions and facilitate a conversation with a financial advisor.

    What's your goal? There are lots of reasons to sock money away for growth: emergencies, home down payment, education and retirement are only a few examples. Understanding your liquidity needs and investing goals help you decide which investments will provide the funds you need at the right time.

    What do your finances look like right now? Do you have three to six months in savings for living expenses? How much debt can you eliminate? Prioritize what you are saving for according to your current financial situation. You want to be able to invest consistently over time, even if the amount is small, but without putting yourself at risk of not having cash when you need it or having to liquidate investments early. Managing your household's cash flow is key.

    When do you need money? Some investments are more easily liquidated than others. There are tax implications whenever you sell an asset. High-risk assets are more appropriate for longer time frames. Plan for your cash needs 12 to 18 months in advance so you will be able to make thoughtful, rather than emotional, decisions for any changes to your investment strategy. Market fluctuations are the primary reason investors make bad decisions. Eliminate this by predetermining your liquidity needs.

    How do you feel about risk? Every investment decision has an upside and a downside. How certain and how large does the upside have to be to make you comfortable with the downside? Not only does risk tolerance vary for each person, it can vary for the same person over time depending on age, changes in life circumstances, what is happening in the market or in other news. Assess your comfort with risk periodically. We have a unique way to determine your risk by answering questions about your behavior.

    Is your investment portfolio diversified? Investing 101 says not to put all your eggs in one basket. But what does that really mean? There are lots of ways to diversify - by investing in different companies, industry sectors, geographical markets, asset classes (because having all your money in stocks isn't really a diverse portfolio), and different investment time frames. Diversification on many levels provides some insulation from market fluctuations, because what is bad for some markets is good for others, and short-term investments provide opportunities to rebalance. Diversification is much like the pistons of an engine moving up and down, driving a car forward. The more pistons in the engine, the more powerful and smooth the car runs.

    How involved do you want to be in managing your investments? You can be super-involved, daily if you want; there are many tools and resources available for active and sophisticated investors. We don't recommend this approach because it is risky and too easy to make emotional decisions that compromise long-term performance. Many people do not have the time or inclination to be quite so involved and may choose more traditional investments or delegate portfolio management to a financial advisor. There are many ways to invest and levels of involvement, but the most important factor is to make sure your investments are in sync with your long-term financial plan.

    There is only one sure thing. The market is going to go up! Then it's going to go down. Then it's going to go up! Then down ... up ... down ... and so on. Knowing this, keep your eyes on your plan rather than "panic selling" your assets. It is easy to see the market dropping and want to jump out of your investments; as long as you have a long-term plan, investments aligned with that plan and enough cash set aside for emergencies, you should be just fine even in a market downturn.

    Our advice to you is to know your goals, know yourself and have a plan. We would be happy to help with any of your investment planning questions and help you develop a plan to meet your life goals.

     

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