How to Keep Your Banking Information Safe Online

Credit Card Fraud

Cyber security is an issue that affects us all, which is why it is crucial to understand how to keep your banking information safe online. By taking a few simple precautions such as using secure Wi-Fi and creating difficult passwords, you can rest assured your private information and account numbers will stay protected.

Browse on Secure Networks

While most of us have grown accustomed to using apps and browsing online from any location, it’s important to save banking tasks for when you’re on secure networks. Avoid checking your account or sending money while using a public computer or free Wi-Fi, especially networks that do not require a password login. These networks are more susceptible to attack, so only log in to your bank while at home or on a password-protected internet provider.

When banking, be sure the website has a “https” at the start (rather than “http”); the “s” stands for secure, and safeguards you against dangerous situations.

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Three Ways to Get a Free Credit Score

Checking Credit Score

Staying up to date with your credit score helps you know where you stand in terms of your creditworthiness, so when you apply for a loan or credit card, you have an educated idea of whether you'll be approved. Additionally, the United States Federal Trade Commission suggests checking your credit report yearly to make sure your information is accurate. Learn more about the three ways to get a free credit score below!

Get a Free Annual Credit Report

The Fair Credit Report Act entitles you to at least one credit report every year from all of the three main credit bureaus: TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. To check your credit score, as well as your full credit report, you can order yours online from annualcreditreport.com — which is the only website authorized to provide a free report. You can order online or by phone. To keep track of your creditworthiness, it's a smart idea to order once every four months from each of the three bureaus — one in January from TransUnion, one in May from Equifax, and one in September from Experian.

Use Your Credit Card Account to Get Your Score

Some credit card companies offer a free monthly credit score or a credit report copy, such as Discover, Bank of America, American Express, and more. If you check your credit card account online, you may be able to keep track of your score right from the dashboard. While these free monthly credit scores aren't FICO scores, they can help you gauge your credit status and keep an eye out for strange increases or decreases.

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Can I Pay My Credit Card with Another Credit Card?

Credit Cards

Usually, no — at least not directly. Most credit card companies won't allow you to punch in the numbers for another credit card to pay your bill. The main reason why it's typically not an option is that the processing fees are too high for the company. However, if the due date on your credit card bill is fast-approaching and you don't have the cash, you can find another way to use a second credit card or try another approach.

Cash Advances

If you have a second credit card, you can take a cash advance against it to pay off the first credit card, or at least pay the monthly bill. You can then deposit the cash into your bank account and make your payment. However, there is a drawback to cash advances: the fees. It's not uncommon for a fee to be 5 percent or $10 — whichever is higher. There are also limits to how much you can get. Usually, the limit is lower than a credit limit, so if you're in considerable debt, a cash advance likely won't cover it.

Debt Consolidation

Do you have several lines of credit that you're struggling to keep current every month? If so, consider credit card debt consolidation. For example, taking out a personal loan can help you manage your debts and reduce your monthly payments to one credit bill — that is, your loan repayment. This is a great option, as long as you make your payments on time and can snag a loan with reasonable rates and terms.

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How Much Cash Should I Keep in the Bank?

Credit Cards

If you're like most people, you've probably asked yourself, "How much cash should I keep in the bank?" There's no right or wrong answer, but there are general guidelines you can follow to maximize your savings and avoid wasting money. Everyone has a different savings formula. However, overcomplicating how you look at your own money can cause you to stress over every dollar spent. Read on to learn more about how you can structure your checking and savings accounts for success.

What to Keep in Your Checking Account

If possible, store at least one month's take-home pay in your checking account. This gives you a buffer without putting you at risk for living paycheck-to-paycheck or hoarding all of your extra money — only to overspend later. Saving the equivalent of your monthly take-home gives you peace of mind for 30 days should you paycheck get lost in the mail or another extenuating circumstance arises. Additionally, it reduces the worry of overdrawing your account or feeling unprepared to deal with emergency situations.

While it may seem like keeping a large cushion of funds is smarter, the truth is: mixing your checking and savings money can trick you into thinking you have more money available. If you keep a smaller but adequate amount in your checking, you'll be less likely to splurge on that new TV or designer jacket because the money's sitting in your account.

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Credit vs. Debit Cards

Credit Cards

What's the difference between credit cards and debit cards? Chances are you have at least one of the two in your wallet. Which is better? Both have their benefits and potential drawbacks, depending on your financial situation, spending habits, and credit history. Learn the basics of credit vs. debit cards below.

What You Need to Know About Credit Cards

Institutions, such as banks, issue credit cards to cardholders after they've applied for and been approved for a line of credit. Cardholders agree to repay the money borrowed with interest. There are four types of credit cards:

  • Standard Card — provides a line of credit.
  • Rewards Card — offers perks like travel points and cash back.
  • Secured Card — can't be used without a cash deposit as collateral.
  • Charge Card — doesn't come with a spending limit, but typically doesn't allow unpaid balances to carry over.

Credit card usage also impacts your credit report and credit score. Your credit report provides lenders with a window into your financial history, while your credit score summarizes your creditworthiness. Using credit cards responsibly can significantly raise your credit score and improve your chances of getting approved for personal loans, low auto financing rates, and more. On the other hand, failing to repay your credit card bills can send your credit score into a downward spiral. None of this is true for a debit card.

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Diversifying Investments

Business Finance Saving

If you've heard the phrase "Don't put all your eggs in one basket," then you already know one of the top pieces of advice from the leading financial experts! This simple phrase is the heart and soul behind the concept of diversifying investments. Rather than placing all of your money in one place, you divide your assets among a variety of investments to maximize gain and minimize losses. But how does your average Joe learn how to diversify investments in the best way possible? Let's dive into exactly what is a diversified investment and how you can take advantage of this concept in your personal portfolio:

Different Types of Investments

What is a diversified investment? It means spreading your savings across different types of investments - the key words being "different types." Let's say you have a portfolio of stocks and you want to diversify. Should you load up on new stocks? The smarter option would be to add new types of investments like bonds or real estate. This allows you to take advantage of the different pros and cons of investments across the board. Here are a few of your options:

  • Bonds
  • International investments
  • Real estate
  • Stocks
  • Cash
  • And more

Doing the Math

Just how much of your money should you put into each of these investments? It's important to think practically. We like to use a tiered approach with financial planning. Your first tier of savings is your rainy day fund. This pool of money is used as a safeguard against any emergencies you encounter, like medical issues or auto troubles. Your second tier is your stocks and bonds.

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Debt Management

Debt Management

If you're trying to become debt-free, you need to have a plan to move forward - and learning debt management is the way to do it. What is debt management? It is a customized system that you create to live within your means and slowly emerge from debt. Because the causes of debt are different for everyone, your management system will also be personalized to your specific needs. This guide will break down how to identify your unique needs and how to create a sensible debt management plan that will carry you into the future. Let's get started!

Can Debt Management Help Me?

This debt management plan is best for those who have "unsecured debt". Unsecured debt includes things like credit card debt, bank overdrafts, and personal loans. If your debt is caused by mortgages or rent, this is considered "secured debt." Secured debts are a little trickier, and you may want to consult a financial advisor instead.

Why Do I Need Debt Management Skills?

It's easy to spiral into debt, but it's a lot more difficult to climb out of it. That's why it's crucial to come up with a strategy to move forward, rather than hoping things will simply get better with time. Not only does extended debt reflect poorly on your credit history, but it can also affect your ability to secure loans and mortgages down the line. Not to mention, interest accumulates and puts you in an even deeper financial hole. The best time to work on your debt is the present!

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How to File Taxes

How to File Taxes

The new year marks the official beginning of tax season, but do you know how to file taxes the right way? After working hard all year long, many people shudder at the very thought of 1040s and W2s, but luckily, the process isn't too tricky with the right information by your side. Let's dive into the basics of how and when can you file taxes, so you can file with total confidence!

Forms That You May Need

While the old system was full of confusing paperwork like the 1040A and 1040EZ forms, the IRS has created a new 1040 form that is the size of a postcard. The 1040 tax form is the standard federal income tax form that you'll need to report your income properly, so don't forget that number! So, where do you pick it up? You can easily download the 1040 tax form online for convenience, but if you'd prefer a hard copy, there are many locations that you can visit. Post offices, libraries, tax centers, and IRS offices across the nation have the supplies you need to file by the deadline of April 15th.

Factors That Affect Taxes

Why do taxes vary so much from person to person?

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Apps to Save Money on Groceries

Apps to Save Money on Groceries

You've scoured the sales ads, you've created a grocery budget, but did you know that there are even more ways that you can save on your weekly food costs? Thanks to the latest technology, you can take advantage of tons of different apps to save money on groceries - and it's as easy as tapping the screen of your smartphone! Let's dive into some of our top picks, so you can learn how to save money on food without sacrificing your favorites. These handy apps are available for free on both iOS and Android, so anyone can save big:

Ibotta

Ibotta is one of the most popular apps for good reason. This isn't your traditional coupon app. Simply go to the grocery store, check the app for cash back opportunities, and scan in your receipt after checkout. Within one week, you'll get cash back on all of your qualifying items - and you'll get an automatic five dollars with your first checkout! Best of all, you can use Ibotta on hundreds of different retailers from grocery stores to apparel shops - which means you can save money across the board!

SavingStar

If you're already a coupon-clipping pro, then SavingStar might be your new favorite app. Sign up for this service to register all of your rewards cards in one place. Then, feel free to browse through the latest deals and plan your shopping list ahead of time. All of your discounts will appear at the register when you check out. This flexible choice is a great option that works with nearly all of the major grocery store chains in the United States, so it's definitely worth the quick download!

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Why is it Better to Rent a House

Real Estate

Many people dream of getting the keys to their very first home, but not everyone is clear on the details. Do you want a huge home or a cozy abode? Do you want modern fixtures or that vintage feel? And most importantly: Do you want to rent vs. buy? While buying used to be the more coveted option, renting has surged in popularity due to rising housing costs and a greater need for flexibility. In fact, renting a house can be a much better option for many Americans. If you're not sure whether renting vs. buying a house is for you, then check out our guide. We've laid out some of the top benefits of renting, and how to tell whether this modern option is the best for you.

Flexibility

When you rent a home, you have a lot more flexibility than a buyer. Your contract typically lasts for one year. If you decide to leave after the contract is over, there's no problem. Feel free to find a new residence with better amenities, or downsize to a more affordable living space if you'd like. Unlike a buyer, you have no obligation to to invest a lot of money in a house that you might outgrow. And if your financial situation changes, you're not trapped in a long-term mortgage.

Cost

One of the biggest perks to renting is the lower cost overall. There's no need to squirrel away thousands of dollars for a huge down payment. There's no need to deal with massive real estate taxes. And there's no need to budget for seasonal maintenance and unexpected home repairs. Renting is a much simpler process for those who aren't committed to the sometimes arduous homeowning lifestyle. Additionally, homeowners must deal with the stress of fluctuating property values. When you rent a home, you can focus your attention on other things.

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