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DailyFinance.com

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    Female hands get money from a purse

    One of the most liberating feeling is knowing you have your finances in control. I know this from personal experience. We've all come across a point in time where we've either been in debt, wasn't saving enough, or didn't take the initiative to invest wisely. We now have access to online tools that the previous generation didn't have.

    While they were doing monthly reconciliation by paper and pen, we have automated tools to do this legwork. There has always been this argument on whether you should pay off debt or invest first. The theory is that you could make more money investing than the total amount of interest you'd pay on your debt. However, paying off debt can actually help you learn more about your spending pattern which in return can help you save money faster and invest more down the road.%

    Paying Off Debt - The Smart Way

    There are many ways to pay off debt: pay off high interest rate accounts first, balance transfer credit cards, consolidate debt through a personal loan, credit counseling, and even debt settlement. Some of these methods are less optimal than others given that it may affect your credit score. So how do you figure out the best way to approach this? If you have a steady job but can afford to pay extra principal every month towards your debt, try this first.

    There's no need to look for "alternative debt reduction programs" at this point. Millennial's have become obsessed with their credit scores (which isn't necessarily a bad thing) and are finally realizing the importance of their credit score. Ideally, you'll want to try to avoid credit counseling or debt settlement program unless it's your last resort.

    These type of programs will leave a negative remark on your report and may hinder you from getting financing in the future. It may seem like the best way since it represents the most amount of savings, but it still might not be worth it. The best way to pay off debt is to take a close hard look at your monthly expenditures and see where you're wasting money. It's not a fun task, but it's required.

    Saving Money - Cut Costs, But Don't Lose the Fun

    Saving money to fund your dream vacation or a home is a marathon, not a sprint. It's amazing at how many people try to cut costs at every corner just to save money. At the end of the day, it doesn't do you any good to live a sheltered life that prohibits you from having a little fun. This is where people can break and splurge on things they shouldn't.

    Sometimes we all just need to hit the reset button in life. Whether it's traveling, going out with friends, or treating yourself to a relaxing massage, we shouldn't be bound to cutting out the finer things in life. There are a lot of ways to save money and build wealth without having to give up your social life. For example, going on a vacation doesn't mean you have to spend an arm and a leg.

    It's a matter of doing your diligence to find ways to cut costs in every category: transportation, food, airfare, lodging, or activities. Your vacations can be a weekend trip that doesn't require airfare, and your accommodation can be as little as $100/night if you find a nice AirBnb. The possibilities are endless.

    Investing Money - Apps that make it Simple

    For most people, the thought of investing seems scary- especially since the financial fallouts in the 90's and 2008. Technology has changed the way we invest, making it simpler and leveling the playing field. A recent study by CNN shows that 93% of the people don't invest because of their distrust with the market and lack of knowledge.

    So how do you, as a millennial, get started in investing? For starters, you can try out a new app called Acorn. The app works by investing your spare change from your everyday purchase into ETFs. It's a fairly low risk investment given that you don't have to deposit upfront money into a brokerage account.

    If you're ready to invest in the market by picking and choosing your own stocks, the next step is to pick the right type of brokerage account to open up. You can follow the old adage of, "don't put all your eggs in one basket" as a good first step.

    Try to diversify your funds through different sectors. Investing in the stock market isn't intended to hit a grand slam in the first months. It takes years to build up your portfolio- so don't be afraid if you're seeing some losses in your investments.

     

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    During tax season, conversations about how to use that always-anticipated tax return pop up all over the internet. Many who get a refund use it on vacations and other big ticket items. And while this isn't always a bad idea, it may not be the wisest choice you can make for your tax refund.

    One option is to use your refund with an eye toward increasing your credit score. A good score can save thousands of dollars in interest on a new mortgage or enable a homeowner to refinance to a lower rate. A high FICO score also helps consumers qualify for cash back, travel, and other rewards credit cards. It can even lower your car insurance premiums.

    Whatever your financial goals, here are some tips on using your tax refund to increase your credit score:

    1. Catch up on late payments

    Your payment history is the single most significant factor in determine your score. Payment history accounts for 35% of your FICO score, according to the good folks at FICO. This means that a single late payment can have a disproportionately large effect on your credit score. It also means that the best way to maintain good credit is to make your payments on time, every month.

    If you're behind on any of your debt payments, use a portion of your tax refund to catch up as soon as possible. While it will take time for that late payment to fall off of your credit record, the sooner you catch back up, the more quickly you can boost your score.

    2. Pay down maxed out credit cards

    The next most important piece of your credit score is the amount you owe. This makes up about 30% of your overall FICO score. This section looks primarily at your debt-to-credit ratio, or how big a balance you're carrying compared with your overall credit limits on credit cards and other revolving loans.

    So your next most efficient tax refund move is to pay down credit card and revolving loan debt. The starting point is tackle cards that are maxed out. The credit scoring formula views a maxed out card as a sign a consumer is at the end of their rope. Paying this debt down can have a positive effect on a consumer's FICO score.

    3. Pay down other revolving debt

    If you aren't maxed out on a card, or if you've dealt with it already, consider paying down the rest of your revolving debt. This may include not only credit cards, but also lines of credit such as a HELOC. As a general rule, the lower your credit utilization the better. While FICO doesn't publish explicitly guidelines on what makes the ideal credit utilization, Tom Quinn of FICO has suggested that 10% or less is ideal.

    You may be surprised at how quickly paying down revolving debt can boost your credit score. And this strategy comes with another advantage: lower payments. Since your revolving debts likely carry the highest interest rates, paying them off can really reduce your monthly outflow. This makes it easier to continue making all your payments on time, so that your credit score continues to improve.

    4. Save for emergencies

    Saving for emergencies won't by itself improve a credit score. The FICO score is not based on a consumer's assets. In theory even a millionaire could have poor credit if he doesn't pay his debts on time.

    An emergency fund, however, will help you deal with the unexpected. Rather than charging a car repair, for example, those with money in the bank can have their car repaired without incurring more credit card debt. This in turn will help a credit score by keeping the credit utilization down.

    The accepted rule of thumb is to save an emergency fund equal to three to six months of expenses. A high yield savings account is an ideal place to keep your rainy day fund, as is a CD ladder. Whatever approach you take, saving for emergencies can improve your score and offer peace of mind.

    Getting started on building great credit isn't rocket science. It's all about managing your money well, making payments on time, and carrying low balances. If you can use your tax refund to jump-start some of those processes, you'll come out ahead in the long term.

     

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    What to Sell -- and What Not to Sell -- at Consignment Shops
    Did you know? There are places called consignment shops where you can buy and sell your unwanted items. With a few easy tips, you can boost your profits on your next visit.

    First, find a shop that stocks items similar to the ones you're trading in. The easier they can sell it, the more they'll pay.

    Clothing resale shops tend to pay best for things that are in season, so bring in those tank tops in the summer if you want the best deal.

    And don't forget to clean up your items before you bring them in. This can get you up to 25 percent more on your sale. Any stains, scuffs or missing pieces like buttons or laces can not only hurt your profit -- stores may even decline your trade-in entirely.

    So no matter what you're trying to sell, just a little know-how can get you big bucks.

     

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    Airline passengers in the airport

    The complex nature of airline loyalty programs has left many consumers who sign up for their co-branded credit cards wanting for more. Not only have airline miles becoming increasingly harder to use these last few years, but award availability can sometimes be scarce. To add insult to injury, new fees and fuel surcharges are heaped onto what used to be "free travel" all the time.

    Still, the best airline credit cards continue to offer excellent value for those willing to jump through all of the additional hoops and hurdles. The key to getting the most out of them is understanding how to work the system, and of course, picking the right card to begin with.

    If you're tired of stressing over your unused airline miles, it might be time to try a different card - or simply find a better way to work with what you've got. Here are five tips to help you do just that:

    Save your airline miles for off-peak travel.

    If you feel like award redemptions are overpriced and scarce, take a look at off-peak pricing and you'll likely change your mind. Where holiday breaks and summer often come with higher prices for flights - even when you're paying with points - off-peak and off-season travel generally costs a lot less.

    Take the American AAdantage program, for example. Where a round-trip MileSAAver flight to Europe from the contiguous United States costs 60,000 miles during summer, it costs just 45,000 miles during their off-peak season, which is October 15th - May 15th.

    By saving your airline miles for off-peak travel, you can stretch them a whole lot further and perhaps enjoy better award availability, too.

    Consider a flexible travel credit card.

    If you're tired of navigating a single airline loyalty program or want as many options as possible, a flexible travel card might provide the options you want. With a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card, for example, you can earn points that are transferrable to several airlines including Southwest, United, and British Airways to name a few.

    If you don't wind up finding the availability you need or don't feel like messing with airline programs at all, you can also use your points to book travel with any airline through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. Since the portal works a lot like Expedia.com, you just input your dates and choose the flight that works best for you with no regard for blackout dates or capacity controls.

    Sign up for a card with no blackout dates or better availability from your home airport.

    Speaking of blackout dates, some airline loyalty programs don't have them. One that comes to mind specifically is the Southwest Rapid Rewards program.

    If you have Southwest miles and find a seat on a plane, it's yours. This is a huge perk if you need to book several seats on a single flight or don't have a lot of flexibility in the time or date you fly.
    Points earned from the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card transfer to Chase at a 1:1 ratio, but you could sign up for the Southwest Premier credit card instead.

    Pursue signup bonuses, and convince your spouse or partner to do the same.

    While it's easy to earn airline miles if you travel all the time, it's much harder when you rarely fly. The best way to rack up miles quickly in that case is to sign up for new credit cards and earn lucrative signup bonuses when you can.

    While co-branded airline credit cards offer their own juicy signup bonuses to new customers, plenty of flexible cards offer signup bonuses as well. Combine a few signup bonuses together and you could be cruising for free in no time.

    Use shopping portals and dining programs.

    While you can use your co-branded or flexible travel card to rack up airline miles regardless, you can really speed up the process if you maximize shopping portals and dining programs.

    While each card and programs offers a slightly different program, most work similarly. The Chase Ultimate Rewards program, for example, lets you earn additional points when you click through the portal before making purchases with specific retailers online.

    Although participating retailers change in and out all the time, they often include merchants like Best Buy, Macy's, Home Depot, and Sears. Just by clicking through the portal before a purchase, you can usually earn an extra 1-4 points for every dollar you spend.

    The Bottom Line

    Airline loyalty programs are notorious for making their programs so complex that many people just give up. By maximizing the points you earn and avoiding peak travel season, you'll have the best shot at scoring the free and almost-free travel you crave.

     

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    Decoding Your Grocery Store's Sales Cycle Will Save You Bundles
    Grocery shopping is pretty routine. Week after week, we go in and buy the same items without thinking too much about it.

    But you should be wary of shopping on autopilot. Chances are, you're overpaying -- sometimes by as much as 50 percent. The secret lies in the store's sales cycle, and the sooner you learn it, the sooner you save.

    There are two types of sales cycles. The first is seasonal. A lot of seasonal sales are common sense; canned pumpkin is cheaper in October, chocolate sells for less in February. But there are a lot of other seasonal items that go on sale during months you wouldn't expect -- like oatmeal in January, and peanut butter in September.

    The next type is a rotational sales cycle. These sales are typically used to rotate the stock on the shelves every 6 to 12 weeks.

    This may seem complicated, but with some time and practice, you can learn how to keep tabs on the best deals.

    Start by making a list of the top 10 items you most often buy at the store. Then, start tracking those prices week to week. Grab a circular if there's one handy. After 6 to 12 weeks, you'll start to see a point where the price drops noticeably lower than the other weeks. This is when you should shop for this item, and potentially even buy in bulk. Remember, each item will have its own cycle, so track each product individually for the most accuracy.

    So if you want to maximize savings in the long run, start tracking your store's sales cycle. Some codes are definitely worth cracking!

    Related: Stop supermarket overspending

     

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    Deter Pests and Boost Your Garden with This Miracle Ingredient
    Did you know: Epsom salt can be your garden's greatest ally?

    You can easily find this miracle ingredient at your local pharmacy for about $4 for a 3-lb bag.

    While it's typically used for pain and stress relief, it's the magnesium found in Epsom salt that actually works wonders for plant growth.

    To improve seed germination, simply add 1 cup per 100 square feet of tilled soil, or sprinkle 1-2 tablespoons into the hole before dropping in your seeds. This will not only lead to stronger seedlings, it will also encourage blossoming and fruit production, without the need for costly chemical fertilizers.

    And to help deter slugs, snails and other vegetable bugs, try sprinkling some Epsom salt around the garden for natural pest control.

    So give Epsom salt a try, and watch your garden -- and savings -- flourish!

     

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    The federal government has offered student loan forgiveness programs for decades, especially for veterans and individuals who are disabled. However, until recently, these programs have not been easy for borrowers to take advantage of.

    This April, the U.S. Department of Education announced a plan to streamline this program. The new program is part of President Obama's "Student Aid Bill of Rights" plan. This plan will forgive around $7.7 billion in federal student loans held by around 387,000 permanently disabled Americans.

    In reality, there's not much that's changing with this program. It fits into the Higher Education Act, which already allows for loan forgiveness for borrowers who are totally and permanently disabled. But the big change is that the Department of Education will now be proactively finding borrowers who are eligible for this relief, making it easier for these borrowers to take advantage of the program.

    The Department of Education started identifying and reaching out to borrowers on April 18, 2016. They'll be sending a customized letter explaining the steps a borrower needs to follow to complete the discharge process.

    Typically, borrowers need to submit documentation demonstrating that they are totally and permanently disabled and, thus, eligible for the forgiveness program. However, borrowers who are identified through this program will not need to submit this documentation. They'll follow a few simple steps to apply for forgiveness after they receive the letter explaining the program.

    The notification for this program is set to be sent out over the 120-day period after April 18, 2016. Anyone who doesn't respond to the letter will get a second letter notifying them of this information.

    Are you eligible?

    It's not hard to know if you qualify for a total and permanent disability (TBD) discharge. There are three ways to qualify:

    Veterans can submit documentation from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) showing that the VA has determined you are unemployable because of a service-related disability.

    If you're currently receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), you can submit the Social Security Administration's notice of award for your benefits that states that your next disability review will take place in five to seven years from the date of your most recent determination.

    You can also submit a certification from a doctor that you're totally and permanently disabled and unable to engage in gainful activity due to a mental or physical impairment that

    • Can be expected to result in death,
    • Has lasted for at least 60 months, or
    • Can be expected to last for at least 60 months.

    If you can meet one of these requirements, you may be eligible for forgiveness of the following loan types:

    • William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan)
    • Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL)
    • Federal Perkins Loan

    If you received a Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant, you may also be eligible to have your service obligation discharged. These loans are all federal student loans. Private student loans do not qualify, although you may be able to refinance private loans to a lower interest rate.

    What about taxes?

    If you receive a letter from the Department of Education about your eligibility for the TPD program, you'll also get notifications of the tax implications of this discharge. The discharge will likely result in a tax bill at the end of the year, since the government can count the discharged student loan amount as income.

    While President Obama is working to exclude TPD and other loan forgiveness programs from taxable income, this hasn't happened yet. So be sure to ask when you apply for this process what the tax implications will be in your particular situation.

     

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    Genius Money-Saving Home Decorating Ideas
    Did you know: Using tape can be a low-cost way to decorate your home?

    Washi tape is a Japanese masking tape made of rice paper, and comes in all types of patterns and colors. Since the tape can be used and repositioned easily without damage to surfaces, the decorative options are endless.

    Walls, cabinets, window blinds -- even your furniture and shelves can be completely transformed with the colors and patterns you choose. And for only around $4 a roll at most office and art supply stores, it's a small cost with big possibilities.

    So get creative, and break out the tape!

     

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    If you've followed my past posts on cars I've owned, you'll know that I learned the hard way that expensive new cars are a stupid idea unless you've got more than enough money to pay for them. When I bought my first expensive car, I was in no place to afford that kind of luxury. Years later, I sold it for a loss and slummed it in a vehicle much less impressive, but much more affordable. Today, that decision has paid off in lots of ways. I may not have the car I lusted after when I was young and stupid (even though it would have depreciated enormously by now, if I still owned it at all), but I've been able to buy a home, start a family, and build my personal finance blog and other businesses at a rate I would never have before if I'd been weighed down by a big car loan.

    If you need a car, you need a car. Since my fling with the sports car, I've owned several older vehicles, each with strengths and weaknesses all its own. I'm not going to give recommendations for specific makes and models here. Instead, I'm going to explain the techniques I used to find cars that worked really well for my finances and personal needs, all while being incredibly affordable.

    Do Your Frickin' Research. If you need a car that's affordable and reliable, prepare to do some digging. These vehicles exist, but they're diamonds in the rough and you'll have to look around to find one that's right for you. The good news is that there are some car models out there which are remarkably reliable, even after ten years or more. To find out which ones those are, you'll want to talk to friends and family who know cars. Take note of their recommendations. Read online reviews by the hundred. Create a list of contenders, then look for common mechanical failures in these specific models. All older cars will need maintenance. Depending on your skill set and your financial means, you may be willing to take on the responsibility of one over another. The German-designed model might take monthly trips to a specialty mechanic that are expensive, though the effort will pay off in a car that runs forever. The American made vehicle from 2004 may have no issues at all...until the transmission falls out. You can't predict the future, but research will show you if a certain problem is an outlier or a motif.

    Look in Weird Places. You're more likely to find a deal by searching for cars out in the country through sources like Craigslist. Of course, if you're not buying from a traditional dealer, you run the risk of buying a lemon or getting screwed. Nonetheless, I've found that finding a model that works for you, then looking for deals on that model from private sellers is a great method. Just make sure you follow the next step.

    Get It Inspected!!!!! Car inspections aren't expensive. If you find a car you might want to buy, offer to get it inspected at your cost. If problems are revealed, ask that the repair be deducted from the purchase price. If the owner doesn't want to let you get the vehicle inspected, or doesn't want to pay for important repairs, walk away. In addition to this, look for owners who provide inspection and maintenance histories. This will show you not just what's going on with the car now, but problems it may have had in the past.

    At the end of the day, you can find a reliable vehicle for not very much money. It takes research and patience while you find a deal. You might have to travel to get to the used car you're interested in. But if you have actually found a low-mileage, low-wear vehicle in good repair, it's worth the work. If you can buy it with cash, you'll have a great car that you own free and clear. If you have to finance it, the monthly payments will be so much cheaper that you'll have a lot more free dollars to spend on the rest of your life.

     

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    An excellent credit score can unlock low interest rates on mortgages, auto loans and credit cards. In many states, a good score is also the key to lower auto insurance premiums. Although there are hundreds of credit scores out there, FICO remains the industry standard and isn't shy about telling people how to improve their scores. If you want to have an excellent score, you should follow these three steps.

    Always Pay On Time

    The single most important part of your credit score is making payments on time. Even a single missed payment that becomes thirty days late could take 90 points or more from your credit score. Banks use credit scores to predict whether or not you will make payments on time in the future. It should not be surprising that the most important part of a score is how often you have made payments on time in the past.

    To make sure you never run the risk of missing a payment, sign up for automatic payments with your creditors. By automating your monthly payments, you can ensure that you avoid a big, unexpected hit to your score.

    In addition, be particularly careful with your medical bills. If you don't pay your doctor or hospital bill on time, it could quickly end up with a collection agency and on your credit report. Even a small medical bill can have a big negative impact on your score.

    Keep Your Credit Card Balances Low

    The second most important part of your credit score is the total amount of debt that you have. FICO tends to treat some debt as good debt, and other debt as bad debt. Mortgages, auto loans and student loans are considered good debt. Credit card debt is considered bad debt. In particular, you can lose a ton of points if you max out your credit cards.

    FICO uses a measure called "utilization" to determine how risky you are. You calculate utilization by dividing your current statement balances on all of your credit cards by your credit limits. If you have $10,000 of credit limits and a $1,000 balance, your utilization would be 10%.

    In general, people with the best credit scores have a utilization ratio of 10% of lower. To keep your utilization low, you should pay down credit card balances and avoid closing old credit card accounts. If you close an unused credit card, you will be reducing your credit limit and increasing your utilization.

    Feed Your Score With "Good" Activity Every Month

    Do you remember your days in elementary school, when you would get a "gold star" for a job well done? Your goal with your credit score is to accumulate as many "gold stars" as possible. And that means using a credit card each month responsibly. Ideally, you will use less than 10% of your available credit with transactions each month. You will then pay your statement balance on time and in full every month. By doing that, you are showing that you have self-restraint (by not maxing out your credit cards) and responsibility (by making your payment on time). Every payment you make is a "gold star." And your goal is to repeat that behavior every month.

    You Don't Need To Pay Interest To Get A Good Score

    Contrary to a popular credit score myth, you do not need to go into debt and pay steep interest bills in order to get a good credit score. The MagnifyMoney Credit Score Guide explains that "carrying a credit card balance month to month and paying interest will not boost your credit score any more than paying in full each month. Just having one credit card and paying it off on time and in full can lead to an excellent credit score."

    It is very easy to keep a good credit score. Just make your payments on time, keep your balances low and repeat your behavior every month. The best way to ensure you keep your score high is to automate responsible behavior.

     

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    Boost Your Wardrobe with Memorial Day Sales
    The Memorial Day sales frenzy is fast approaching. To separate the legit deals from the spending traps, you have to know what to buy. Here are a few bargains to hit -- and a few to skip.

    First, avoid buying summer items. While it may be tempting, items like BBQ grills and patio furniture don't typically reach their lowest prices until the end of summer, so hold off until then if you can.

    TVs and laptops are also cheaper towards the end of the year. Go for laptops during back-to-school sales in September, and TVs during Black Friday in November if you want to score bigger savings.

    So what do you buy?

    If you're looking for the best deals, spring clothing and accessories is the way to go. You'll see discounts ranging from 40 - 90 percent off at stores like Macy's, H&M, J.C. Penney and Eddie Bauer. Plus, designer brands like Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Steve Madden will also be slashing prices by up to 75 percent off.

    Lastly, don't overlook the stackable coupons and promo codes that typically accompany these sales and can take up to 40 percent off the already discounted price.

    So make the most of your time and money this Memorial Day, because knowing what to buy can make all the difference.

    Related: 6 best things to buy at Memorial Day sales

     

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    The Cheapest Week to Travel this Summer
    Did you know: The last week of August can have the lowest prices for summer air travel?

    Recent studies by Cheap Air and Hopper.com show that the final week before Labor Day is the cheapest time to fly to most destinations. During this time, tickets can be about $40 cheaper per person than in July. For a family of four, that's savings of $160!

    Also, book your flights around two months in advance if you want to get the best summer rates.

    And it gets even better. According to Orbitz, hotel prices are at their lowest the last week of August as well. Rooms average over $15 less per night than in July. For longer stays, those savings could really add up!

    So when it comes to summer travel, remember that the biggest savings come to those who wait!

     

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    International travel can be expensive, but the one cost many people forget about in the midst of scheduling flights and packing luggage is a travel insurance plan. Unless you have phenomenal health care coverage here in the U.S. that also guarantees a decent level of coverage while you're overseas, you may be required to purchase a supplemental travel insurance plan to use during your next trip abroad.

    If you're traveling with a tour company, then they can probably guide you through the ins and outs of travel insurance recommendations and requirements for your destination country. However, if you're planning your own trip and debating whether to buy travel insurance, then this guide is for you:

    What Travel Insurance Do I Need and How Much Will It Cost?

    The type of travel insurance you need depends on where you're traveling and which incidents you want to protection for. When searching for travel insurance online, you'll be asked to provide the following information:
    • Destination country
    • Length of your trip (date to date)
    • The cost of your trip (and whether you've completed payments on it)
    • Your country of citizenship (or residency, in some cases)
    • Your age
    • Additional travelers to be included in your plan and their ages
    All of these factors play a role in deciding what type of travel insurance coverage you will be offered and how much it will cost. Coverage availability and prices vary so widely that instead of providing you a ballpark figure, it's best to visit travel insurance comparison websites such as Insure My Trip or SquareMouth to personalize your options.

    Types of Coverage Available

    The most basic form of travel insurance is medical coverage, which will financially protect you against any costly health care costs incurred while you're overseas. There are both single trip and multi-trip options available.

    If you are traveling internationally more than once this year, the multi-trip option can help you save money instead of buying separate, single-trip plans for each trip. The single trip plans can cover you for up to 12 months, and coverage usually includes medical evacuation, trip cancellation, and accidental death expenses.

    Although there are now federal laws protecting folks with pre-existing conditions in the domestic health care industry, it's important to check for pre-existing condition waivers with your international travel insurance provider before purchasing a plan.

    Comprehensive travel insurance is also pretty popular. This type of coverage includes medical, dental, emergency evacuation, trip cancellation, baggage loss, 24-hour travel assistance, and accidental death coverage.

    Some plans are offered exclusively to business travelers, but there are several comprehensive travel plans offered to leisure travelers and families as well. Sometimes, a comprehensive family travel plan will include free coverage for children!

    Comprehensive is preferable to just medical coverage because it will cover some or all of the costs incurred by baggage loss or flight cancelations, in addition to trip cancelations for a number of reasons (e.g., you become seriously ill before departure, a family member passes away, etc.).

    Other forms of travel insurance coverage include major medical (better for long-term travelers seeking coverage for medical emergencies and regular wellness; not available online), medical evacuation (protects you in the event of serious illness or injury during your trip), and accidental death/dismemberment (covers the cost of getting you home safely).

    Which Countries Require Proof of Health Insurance?

    Before you finalize the details of your trip in hopes of relying solely on your domestic health care plan to cover you abroad, it's important to research which countries require insurance and ask your health insurance company if they cover you overseas. Even if you're one of the lucky few whose American health insurance provider offers some modicum of coverage in other countries, you likely won't have access to benefits such as emergency medical evacuation.

    This alone makes travel insurance an important consideration, and if your destination country requires proof of coverage, then you won't really have a choice but to acquire travel insurance before arriving.

    Some countries - such as Cuba - will make you buy health insurance right away if you arrive without proof of coverage. In rare cases, you could be denied entry for not having appropriate insurance coverage, though this usually correlates with other factors, such as having insufficient funds and/or visa problems upon arrival.

    According to Visitors Coverage, more and more countries are starting to require travel insurance for incoming foreigners. The current list includes: Schengen visa countries (don't confuse this with the European Union), Cuba, Russia, and United Arab Emirates.

    Countries generally require their foreign visitors to have travel insurance in order to protect themselves against tourists coming in, accruing medical debt, and leaving without paying. Even if travel insurance is recommended instead of required by your destination country, the peace-of-mind that comes with medical and trip coverage may be worth the comparatively small expense.

    Finding a Quality Travel Insurance Plan

    To find a travel insurance plan suitable for your trip, using the aforementioned comparison sites SquareMouth and Insure My Trip are key to getting the best coverage at a price right for you. There are hundreds of travel insurance providers online, but not all plans are created equally.

    Things to look closely at while browsing insurance plans include:
    • Customer reviews
    • Refund policies (usually there's a "review period")
    • A.M. Best rating (unaffiliated, third-party insurance ratings company with rigorous standards for providers)
    • "Cancel for Any Reason" coverage
    • Coverage minimums and limits for medical, emergency evacuation, trip delay/cancelation, and accidental death
    • Additional benefits (e.g., 24-hour emergency assistance, rental car protection add-on, identity theft protection, etc.)
    Although many countries do not require foreigners to come with travel insurance, it's still a good idea to have some level of coverage during your international travels. Although it may seem unlikely that you'll have to cancel your trip or that you'll experience any illness or injury while abroad, the old adage of "better safe than sorry" holds true here.

    Take a look at your options before departing. You may find that adding a travel insurance policy to your vacation budget is a small price to pay compared to the potential of massive medical bills later on if anything unfortunate happens.

    Have you ever purchased travel insurance? Is it worth your time and money?

     

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    Our Best Ever Hotel Tips
    If you travel often, you've probably noticed that hotel prices are rising all over the world. But luckily there are a few insider tricks that can help you save on your next stay.

    Hotel rates can fluctuate, and when sales do occur, they aren't always advertised openly. One clever way hotels keep their low rates hidden is by bundling rooms with airfares on travel sites like Travelocity, Expedia, and Orbitz.

    For example, a three-night flight and hotel package for two from Newark to Nassau, Bahamas can go for $2,090 on Expedia. Booking separately however, that same trip would cost over $4,000 -- that's nearly 50 percent more than the bundled rate.

    And what about booking last minute, like when you have a sudden change of plans? If you're looking to save money and avoid the scramble of 11th-hour reservations, check out HotelTonight.

    This app is great when you're in a pinch -- you can find international deals as late as 2 a.m. the night of your stay, at discounts of up to 70 percent. And don't forget that a lot of hotels will let you cancel your reservation as close as 24 hours before without a cancellation fee, although some major chains have started to adopt stricter policies. It pays to know the policy though, because in many cases, you can still cancel your reservation if a better deal comes along.

    Lastly, don't hesitate to call the hotel directly to book. The staff will often have access to prices not advertised online, so check the rates on the web before you contact them. One phone call just might save you an estimated 10 to 25 percent off the lowest online price.

    With a little digging and a bit of know-how, you can find a hotel that doesn't break your stride -- or your budget.

    Related: 9 hotel scams and annoying fees to watch out for

     

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    Late on rent? Can't fill your car with gas to get to work? Assuming all available funds and traditional sources of credit are tapped out, here are 25 ways to raise cash in a few days. Keep in mind, while all of these ideas are legal, some of them are not something we would encourage. From being an Amazon Mechanical Turk to banking your sperm we share DailyFinance's 25 ideas for raising cash in a hurry in order of the least to the most desperate.

    More from AOL.com:
    Top 4 mistakes CEOs make on Facebook
    Top 10 revenue-generating companies in the America
    Your old cars may be worth a lot of money now

    Now check out the best selling books on Amazon of 2016 so far:

     

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    Identity theft continues to increase, with millions of Americans becoming victims every year. Dealing with identity theft can be time-consuming and stressful. Many products and services charge a monthly fee and offer protection. But you don't need to pay to get higher levels of protection: there are now free credit monitoring services and you can handle resolution yourself. However, if you do decide to pay, make sure you focus on the most important product features. The best products offer daily credit monitoring from all three credit bureaus and a dedicated case worker to help resolve any crime, which can take countless hours.

    Account Monitoring

    86% of all identity theft in 2014 was account takeover. In an account takeover, a fraudster takes control of an existing bank account or credit card and starts spending. So long as you report the fraud promptly to your bank or credit card company, your liability is limited. On credit cards, your maximum legal liability is $50, but many credit cards offer $0 fraud liability as a product benefit.

    To protect yourself against account takeover, you need to monitor your transactions closely and report any suspicious transactions immediately.

    Fortunately, there are tools that can help notify you right away if there is a suspicious transaction on your account. Most banks and credit card companies will let you set up text or email alerts. The service is usually free, and you can usually decide when and how you want to be notified. You can learn how to set up text message alerts with most major banks here.

    If you don't sign up for alerts, make sure you read your statement every month. Pay close attention to any credit cards that you don't use and make sure you read any electronic statements that you receive. And make sure you call your bank as soon as you see a suspicious transaction.

    Credit Report Monitoring

    The most serious type of fraud is identity takeover. With identity takeover, someone steals your personal information, including your Social Security Number. The thief will then open a new account in your name. The best way to see if someone is opening an account in your name is to monitor your credit report. There are a few ways to do it.

    First, everyone is entitled to a free credit report from all three credit reporting agencies once a year. You can get your reports at AnnualCreditReport.com. If you discover that you have been a victim of identity theft, you will need to take a number of steps, including filling a police report. The government has created an excellent resource, IdentityTheft.gov, which should be your first stop. On this site, you will be able to create a recovery plan. But be prepared: it can take hours, days or even months until everything is resolved. The biggest cost to most identity theft victims is stress and time. Although the law protects your liability, it does not protect the amount of time it takes to ensure you have no liability.

    Checking your credit report once a year is good, but you should really monitor your report more often. CreditKarma, which is famous for its credit scores, also offers free credit monitoring with TransUnion. By monitoring your TransUnion report daily, you will greatly increase the likelihood of discovering identity theft as soon as it happens. The earlier you find out about the theft and deal with it, the less time it will take you to recover.

    If you want to monitor all three credit reports daily, you will need to pay. You can use a site like MagnifyMoney to compare the best solutions that charge a fee. For example, ProsperDaily charges $9.99 a month. With that fee, you are able to monitor all three bureaus daily and receive resolution services, which is explained below.

    Resolution Services

    Anyone who has suffered identity takeover understands how complicated the resolution process can become. Depending upon how many fraudulent accounts were opened in your name, it can take a very long time navigating multiple bureaucratic mazes to get your situation resolved. So long as you report identity theft, your legal liability is limited. However, you could be forced to spend hours dealing with banks, credit card companies, police departments and more to get the situation handled. The best resolution services provide you with a dedicated case worker. Typically, you will sign a power of attorney which enables the company to do all of the work on your behalf. Think of it as an insurance policy on your time. Although challenging, you could probably do all of this yourself. But if you don't want to spend the time, paying for a service could make a lot of sense.

     

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    Save on Summer Seafood
    Did you know: You can save on summer seafood if you avoid a few costly catches?

    While buying fresh is always ideal, unless you live by a major fishery, any "fresh" seafood you're buying has likely been frozen at some point.

    Check the label - if it says "previously frozen" or something similar, that same product can probably be found in the freezer aisle for 40 percent less. And while you're there, buying larger bags of shrimp, scallops, mussels and clams can also reel in similar savings.

    But if going frozen isn't your style, there are ways to spot the freshest fish. They should be displayed on a thick bed of ice, with clear eyes and healthy, bright red gills. Lastly, fillets shouldn't be overly soft, with no discoloration, darkening or dry edges.

    So look close and shop smart, and you'll be able to catch some great deals on summer seafood.

     

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    Interest rates are incredibly low, but they will not remain low forever. The Fed is threatening to increase rates later this year. If you are a saver with a lot of money in a bank account, higher rates couldn't come sooner. But if you are in debt, low interest rates are a great way to keep interest costs down and get out of debt faster. Almost all debt can be refinanced, and now is a great time to consider your options. Here are five types of debt that you should consider refinancing now.

    1. Mortgages

    Interest rates on mortgages remain low. For example, Wells Fargo is charging 3.625% on 30-year fixed rate mortgages, and only 3.00% on 15-year fixed rate mortgages. Many Americans have already taken advantage of low rates to refinance. But if you haven't taken advantage of the low rates, now is a good time to consider it.

    Just make sure you don't fall for a common trap. Far too many people just continue to refinance into yet another 30-year mortgage. While that might give you the lowest payment, you are actually extending the term and could end up paying more over time. Try to refinance into a 15-year term loan. Not only will you get an even lower interest rate, but you will be able to own your home that much faster.

    2. Student Loans

    After mortgages, student loans and Parent PLUS loans are some of the biggest financial burdens facing people today. But now you can actually refinance student loans to take advantage of lower interest rates. If you have private student loans, refinancing makes perfect sense. If you have federal loans, you should be careful before you proceed. When you refinance, you give up access to the federal government's income-driven protection plans.

    But if you want to refinance, you can find rates as low as 2.14% variable and 3.50% fixed. Use a site like MagnifyMoney to compare and get the lowest rate. You should feel comfortable shopping for the best rate: all credit inquiries in a single shopping period only count as one inquiry. You do not need to worry about the impact on your credit score.

    3. Auto Loans

    Many lenders offer the opportunity to refinance an auto loan. You might want to consider shopping at your local credit union. If you have good credit, you can find auto loan refinance rates as low as 1.49% at a credit union like PenFed. PenFed will refinance up to 100% and you should be able to apply online and get an instant decision.

    You can also shop for a loan at one of the many online lenders which have been created over the last few years. Use a site like NerdWallet to shop for the lowest interest rate.

    4. Credit Cards

    Credit card interest rates are high. The average credit card interest rate is 13.5%, according to the Federal Reserve. There are many ways that you can refinance and reduce the rate. The best way is to use a balance transfer. With a balance transfer, you can reduce the interest rate to 0% for up to two years, depending upon the offer. Shop for the best balance transfer rates here.

    In addition to balance transfer offers, you can also use personal loans and home equity loans to refinance your debt. If you decide to use your home equity, just make sure you pay enough to eliminate the debt in a few years. The biggest temptation and risk of a home equity line of credit is to pay only the minimum due and keep the debt for twenty or thirty years.

    5. Any Other Debt

    Interest rates are low, and now is the time to lock in low rates on any type or debt or obligation that you might have. For example, if you have medical bills consider applying for a low rate personal loan from your credit union or online. Eventually interest rates will increase. And you will kick yourself if your debt costs more as a result.

     

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    If you shop at Costco, you've likely heard the company ended its partnership with American Express. The switch to a Costco-branded Visa from Citibank, called the Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi, happens Monday, June 20, 2016. Here's what you need to know.

    TrueEarnings card will no longer work

    The TrueEarnings card and other Costco-branded American Express cards that you may have used get deactivated. You won't be able to use them anywhere. That includes such smartphone mobile wallets as Android Pay, Apple Pay, or Samsung Pay. If you want to make payments through these systems, you'll need to set up a different card. The Jawbone UP4, which can only be linked to one American Express card, won't allow any payments whatsoever and, for the time being, there is no way to associate it with another card. The device will still perform other functions like fitness tracking.

    What happens to my rewards, balances, and old card benefits?

    The last rewards notice you received was on your February 2016 billing. You can redeem it in person at any Costco in the U.S., including Puerto Rico. The expiration date is August 31, 2016, so be sure to do so while you still can. Any rewards you earned between that billing and June 19 gets transferred to the new Citibank Visa card you will get from Costco. Any balance gets transferred to the new card. As for benefits, those provided by American Express might be transferable to another American Express card. Some might continue for a period of time because you paid a premium. Check the American Express frequently-asked questions site for more information.

    Do I need to apply for the new Costco Citibank Visa?

    If you currently had the Costco American Express card, you should have received the Visa card automatically by early June. If you didn't, contact Costco. There is no additional credit check to receive the replacement card so there is no impact on your credit score.

    What is the interest rate, payment date, and annual cost?

    The information should have been mailed to you. If the mailed information listed the standard purchase annual percentage rate (APR) as 15.49 percent and you had a lower rate for new purchases with the American Express card, you keep the lower rate. Payment dates will either be the same or close, but check to be sure. And there is no annual cost beyond your Costco annual membership cost.

    What if I had automatic payments set up with the American Express card?

    If you have set up automatic payments with third parties, you'll need to contact them and update your payment card information.

    What are the cash back rewards?

    You get different rewards, depending on the type of spending:
    • Gas purchases, including those at Costco, get 4 percent a year up to the first $7,000. After that you get 1 percent.
    • Restaurant and eligible travel purchases offer 3 percent cash back.
    • All other purchases at Costco and Costco.com get 2 percent.
    • Any other purchases received 1 percent.

    Does the Visa card act as my membership card?

    It does. You don't have to show an additional membership card when making a purchase.

    What other benefits do I get with the new card?

    The new card has many benefits, including extended warranties and worldwide car rental insurance. Check the site (link above) to learn more.

     

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    Maybe things were week to week for too long. Perhaps your company slashed pension benefits or the 401(k) plan didn't do too well. Retirement can seem a scary proposition if you're not rolling in dough, and few people are. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the median amount couples have saved for retirement is $5,000. At the 80th percentile, the total is $116,000. Even though the ages spanned from 32 to 61, that's not a lot of money. Although older couples tend to have more in savings, for those born between 1946 and 1951, average retirement savings in 2010 were $179,310. It's nothing to sneeze at, but not a nest egg to provide security and comfort. The site GoBankingRates.com ranked the states and the District of Columbia on how financially good they were to retire in. They took the following factors into account:
    • taxes, including state sales, state taxes on Social Security benefits, and property taxes
    • living expenses, including average home listing price, median home value, and cost of living index
    • savings account and two-year CD account interest rates
    • average health insurance premiums, average Social Security benefits, and Medicare spending per capita
    According to the site, the top ten states for better retirement finances all were east of the Mississippi. The East has 8 of the top states when it comes to lower housing prices. Eastern states spend more per person on Medicare and average Social Security benefits tend to be higher in the east as well. Here are the top 10 states for smart financial retirement:
    1. Delaware
    2. Michigan
    3. Indiana
    4. Maryland
    5. Florida
    6. New Jersey
    7. Pennsylvania
    8. Mississippi
    9. Ohio
    10. Georgia
    Of course, the east/west dichotomy isn't a hard rule. Look at the worst states, according to GoBankingRates, and you'll see some eastern names (with the lowest ranking of 51 because the list includes 50 states and the District of Columbia).
    1. Nebraska
    2. Maine
    3. West Virginia
    4. Colorado
    5. Alaska
    6. New Mexico
    7. Montana
    8. North Dakota
    9. Vermont
    10. Hawaii
    The differences can be stark. Top average Social Security benefits were $1,452.47 in New Jersey. Compare that to $1,212.45 in Louisiana. At $ 11379.37, the District of Columbia had the highest Medicare spending per capita. The lowest of $6,941.74 was found in Hawaii. Mississippi's cost of living index was lowest (83.5); Hawaii (168.6) was the highest. All that said, you have to think carefully before deciding to relocate. Maybe higher Medicare spending meant an older population or more expensive care, and home value listing prices and values might not mean so much if your mortgage is already paid off. Be sure to check with your financial planner or advisor before making any significant changes.

     

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