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    Business Tips from Shark Tank's Barbara Corcoran

    Entrepreneurs who make it onto a "Shark Tank" episode have the opportunity to introduce their company to a viewing audience of seven million potential customers.

    The companies that land a deal with one or more of the show's investors then have the chance to scale and, in some cases, become a nationally recognized brand.

    We looked through old episodes and asked the Sharks themselves about their most successful deals. Read on to learn about the biggest "Shark Tank" success stories so far.

    Scrub Daddy

    scrub daddy

    Scrub Daddy/Facebook

    A sponge company has far and away become the biggest "Shark Tank" success story. Over the past three years, Scrub Daddy has brought in a total of $75 million in revenue, according to investor Lori Greiner.

    Greiner made a deal with its founder and CEO Aaron Krause in Season 4 for $200,000 in exchange for 20% equity. At that point, Krause had struggled to reach $100,000 in sales over 18 months, but Greiner saw great potential in the company's signature offering, a proprietary smiley-faced sponge that was more durable, hygienic, and effective than a traditional one.

    She helped Krause expand his product line and brought them onto QVC and stores like Bed Bath & Beyond, where they have become bestsellers.

    Tipsy Elves

    Tipsy Elves

    When Robert Herjavec invested $100,000 for 10% of Evan Mendelsohn and Nick Morton's ugly Christmas sweater company in Season 4, it could seem to viewers that he was betting on a fleeting fad. It turned out, though, to be his most profitable "Shark Tank" investment, he told Business Insider.

    To stay ahead of trends, Herjavec helped make Tipsy Elves a year-round novelty apparel company that can capitalize off multiple holidays and college football season.

    Before its 2013 "Shark Tank" appearance, Tipsy Elves made $900,000 in annual revenue; last year it brought in around $8 million, and this year it's on track to make $15 million.

    Breathometer

    "Shark Tank"/ABC

    In Season 5, Charles Yim got a five-Shark deal for Breathometer, a portable breathalyzer that works with a smartphone. Mark Cuban, Kevin O'Leary, Daymond John, Herjavec, and Greiner got in on a $650,000 deal for 30% of the company.

    Since his "Shark Tank" appearance, Yim secured an additional $6.5 million in funding, partnered with the prestigious Cleveland Clinic, and developed a more accurate and more portable main product in addition to a device that tracks oral health and hydration levels.

    Yim told Inc. Breathometer is expected to end 2015 with $20 million in sales, double last year's number.

    Bubba's-Q Boneless Ribs

    Shark Tank

    Al "Bubba" Baker, 1978 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, secured a deal with John in Season 5 for $300,000 in exchange for 30% equity in and licensing rights to his company, Bubba's-Q Boneless Ribs.

    John told Business Insider that as someone who built a career in fashion, he never expected that his most profitable investment would be in a rib business.

    John helped Baker secure a deal with a large-scale food processing plant and said he thinks he can soon get Bubba's-Q to become a national brand with $200 million in lifetime sales.

    Grace and Lace

    "Shark Tank"/ABC

    In Season 5, Barbara Corcoran invested $175,000 for 10% of husband-and-wife duo Melissa and Rick Hinnant's fashion company Grace and Lace. Corcoran told Business Insider that it's her most profitable "Shark Tank" investment.

    Before their appearance, the Hinnants brought in about $1 million in sales. They are now expecting $6.5 million this year, a boost helped by an appearance in Cosmopolitan magazine.

    As the company has grown, its philanthropic mission has as well, and since appearing on the show it has used profits to open two orphanages in India, housing a total of 100 kids.

    Ten Thirty One Productions

    Ten Thirty One Productions

    In Season 5, Cuban decided to put up $2 million for 20% of Melissa Carbone's live horror entertainment company Ten Thirty One Productions.

    Last year the company brought in $3 million in revenue, and although he did not disclose an exact number, Cuban told us it is making at least half a million dollars in annual profit.

    Ten Thirty One had another successful Halloween season this year in its birthplace of Los Angeles, but struggled in its expansion to New York City due to a lack of preparation for storm conditions. Carbone said it was a stressful but valuable learning experience, and she looks forward to expanding to Cuban's hometown, Dallas, next year.

    Wicked Good Cupcakes

    Wicked Good Cupcakes

    Tracey Noonan and Danielle Vilagie are a mother-daughter duo from Boston with a company that makes cupcakes in a jar. In Season 4, they made a deal with O'Leary in which he invested $75,000 for royalties instead of equity. He made $1 from every cupcake sold until he made his money back, and then began receiving 50 cents per cupcake sold.

    Since its appearance on the show, Wicked Good Cupcakes has expanded to a new production facility and a couple of new locations.

    O'Leary said it's been his most profitable investment of the show, and since Noonan and Vilagie appeared, they've gone from around $7,000 in monthly sales to $400,000 (or about $4.8 million annually).

    Red Dress Boutique

    "Shark Tank"/ABC

    Cuban and Herjavec split a $1.2 million investment for 10% equity in Diana and Josh Harbour's online women's fashion retailer The Red Dress Boutique in Season 6, with Cuban taking the lead advisory role.

    In the week following their television appearance, the husband-and-wife team brought in $1 million in sales, but also couldn't keep up with demand. Cuban helped them with infrastructure issues, and last year they brought in $14 million in revenue.

    Cuban said it's making at least half a million dollars in annual profit.

    Bombas

    Bombas

    In Season 6, Bombas cofounders gave John a 17.5% stake in their company for $200,000. It is an online-only athletic sock company that donates a pair of socks to a homeless shelter for every pair sold.

    Bombas' founders told radio host Jason Bax that they sold $400,000 of socks in the four days after their television appearance and ended 2014 with $2 million in sales.

    John said it is one of his most profitable investments.

    Simple Sugars

    "Shark Tank"/ABC

    Lani Lazzari was just 18 years old when she entered the tank in Season 4 to pitch her skincare company Simple Sugars. She ended up making a deal with Cuban for $100,000 in return for 33% equity.

    Within just 24 hours of her episode's premiere, Lazzari's sales jumped to $220,000 from $50,000, and she hit $1 million six weeks later. Today Simple Sugars products are in more than 700 retail locations and ship internationally.

    Last year the company brought in more than $3 million in revenue, and Cuban said it's one of his most profitable investments from the show.

    GrooveBook

    "Shark Tank"/ABC

    Husband-and-wife team Brian and Julie Whiteman came into the tank in Season 3 to present GrooveBook, a digital photo subscription service. For $2.99 a month, users get a bound book of high-resolution photos they took with their smartphones. The founders made a deal with Cuban and O'Leary for $150,000 in exchange for 80% of licensing profits, with O'Leary taking the lead advisory role.

    Not only did the Whitemans gain 50,000 subscribers shortly after the premiere of their episode, but last November, the publicly traded company Shutterfly bought GrooveBook for $14.5 million.

    Cousins Maine Lobster

    "Shark Tank"/ABC

    Cousins Sabin Lomac and Jim Tselikis shipped lobster from their home state of Maine to their new home in California and started a high-end food truck named Cousins Maine Lobster, which became known for its lobster rolls. The cousins made a deal with Corcoran for $55,000 in exchange for 15% of their company in Season 4.

    Shortly after their episode premiered, the company hit $700,000 in sales. Last year they brought in $8 million in revenue, according to Entrepreneur.

    Bottle Breacher

    "Shark Tank"/ABC

    Former Navy SEAL Eli Crane and his wife and business partner Jen made a deal with Cuban and O'Leary for $150,000 in exchange for a 20% stake in Bottle Breacher, a company staffed by military veterans who turn dummy .50 caliber bullets into stylized bottle openers.

    O'Leary has taken the lead brand ambassador role and said it's one of his most profitable investments. It's continued to grow to meet increasing demand, and has made more than $2.5 million in sales this year.

    Lumio

    "Shark Tank"/ABC

    Herjavec invested $350,000 for 10% of Max Gunawan's foldable, magnetic lamp company Lumio in Season 6 after calling him "possibly the best entrepreneur" he had seen so far on the show.

    Last year Lumio made $3 million in sales, hitting that mark again this past June, he told Forbes. He explained that his growth is healthy and that he will continue to make distribution deals with stores that appeal to a high-end, artistic audience.

    ReadeRest

    "Shark Tank"/ABC

    Rick Hopper essentially handed the reigns of ReadeRest over to Greiner when he agreed to a $150,000 investment in exchange for 65% of the company in Season 3, but it turned his little one-man show into a huge success.

    The product, a magnetic clip that holds eyeglasses in place on a shirt, regularly sells out on QVC. Last year, Hopper said that he's made over $8 million in total sales since his "Shark Tank" appearance.

     

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    Tax Time spelled out on a calculator.
    Getty


    By Lisa Greene-Lewis

    With the holidays around the corner, most of us are focused on decking the halls or charting out our New Year's resolutions. But the end of the year is also the ideal time to take actions that could lower your tax bill.

    Here are 10 quick and easy tips you should make before the end of the year to increase your tax refund when you file next year.

    1. Gather forms and receipts.


    It may seem a little early, but gathering receipts for tax deductible expenses and sources of income for the past year will keep you organized and ensure you don't forget anything when you sit down to do your taxes.

    2. Defer bonuses.


    All of your hard work paid off this year, and you are expecting a year-end bonus, but this extra money in your pocket may bump you up to a higher tax bracket and increase your tax liability. If you can hold off on receiving that extra income this year, see if your employer will pay your bonus in January. You will still receive it close to year-end, but you won't have to pay taxes on it when you file your 2015 taxes.

    3. Donate to charity.


    The holidays are a great time to get organized for the new year and clean out clothes and household goods while giving to those in need. You can help someone in need and reap benefits of a tax deduction for donations to a qualified charitable organization by Dec. 31. Even if you make a donation by credit card, you do not have to pay it off in 2015 to receive the tax deduction. Don't forget that you can deduct your mileage (14 cents for every mile) driven to do charitable service if you volunteer at a qualified charitable organization.

    4. Take a class.


    If you take a course to advance your career you may not only see a boost in your salary, but you may also boost your tax refund. Paying for next quarter's tuition by Dec. 31 may give you a valuable tax credit up to $2,000 with the Lifetime Learning Credit.

    5. Maximize your retirement.


    Another great way to reduce your taxable income and build your nest egg is to make a contribution to your retirement savings account. Whether you contribute to a 401(k) or a traditional IRA, you can take a dollar for dollar deduction in your income and also save for the future. The 2015 contribution limit for 401(k)s is $18,000 (or $24,000 if over age 50) and $5,500 (or $6,500 if over age 50) for a traditional IRA. The contribution deadline for 401(k)s is Dec. 31, but you have until April 18, 2016 to put money in your IRA.

    6. Take the saver's credit.


    The saver's credit, also known as the Retirement Savings Contribution Credit, is a special tax break available for low- to moderate-income earners who contribute to their retirement plans. The credit is up to $1,000 ($2,000 if you're married filing jointly), and you can claim it in addition to your tax deductions for a traditional 401(k) or IRA contribution.

    7. Spend your FSA.


    If you have a flexible spending account and you have money left, now is the time to take care of those doctor's visits you've been putting off. If you have unused money in your FSA account on Dec. 31, you may only be able to carry over up to $500 into your 2016 FSA. Depending on your plan, there may be a grace period to use your funds in the beginning of next year.

    8. Offset investment gains.


    If you have been holding on to losing stocks, you can recognize your losses and use them to offset investment winners. In order to take advantage of this, you will need to sell the losing investments and offset your losses against your gains. If your losses exceed your gains, you can apply $3,000 of your loss against your regular income. Any extra will then be passed onto the next tax year.

    9. Estimate your household income for health insurance.

    Are you applying for a subsidy or discounted insurance in the health insurance marketplace this open enrollment season? If so, you will have to project your 2016 household income and family size when you apply. Start looking into any changes that may take place in 2016 (growing your family, job promotion, heading into retirement, etc.). These changes may affect the amount of the subsidy you are given to help you pay for insurance.

    10. Increase your advanced premium tax credit.

    If you received assistance for health insurance in the form of an advanced premium tax credit, one smart move you can make is to lower your adjustable gross income by contributing to your retirement plan, which may increase the premium tax credit you're eligible for at tax time. If you are purchasing new insurance in the marketplace you can also request to take half of your assistance to help pay for insurance upfront and alleviate having to pay anything back if you experience changes to your income.

     

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    Tax Time spelled out on a calculator.
    Getty


    By Lisa Greene-Lewis

    With the holidays around the corner, most of us are focused on decking the halls or charting out our New Year's resolutions. But the end of the year is also the ideal time to take actions that could lower your tax bill.

    Here are 10 quick and easy tips you should make before the end of the year to increase your tax refund when you file next year.

    1. Gather forms and receipts.


    It may seem a little early, but gathering receipts for tax deductible expenses and sources of income for the past year will keep you organized and ensure you don't forget anything when you sit down to do your taxes.


    2. Defer bonuses.


    All of your hard work paid off this year, and you are expecting a year-end bonus, but this extra money in your pocket may bump you up to a higher tax bracket and increase your tax liability. If you can hold off on receiving that extra income this year, see if your employer will pay your bonus in January. You will still receive it close to year-end, but you won't have to pay taxes on it when you file your 2015 taxes.


    3. Donate to charity.


    The holidays are a great time to get organized for the new year and clean out clothes and household goods while giving to those in need. You can help someone in need and reap benefits of a tax deduction for donations to a qualified charitable organization by Dec. 31. Even if you make a donation by credit card, you do not have to pay it off in 2015 to receive the tax deduction. Don't forget that you can deduct your mileage (14 cents for every mile) driven to do charitable service if you volunteer at a qualified charitable organization.


    4. Take a class.


    If you take a course to advance your career you may not only see a boost in your salary, but you may also boost your tax refund. Paying for next quarter's tuition by Dec. 31 may give you a valuable tax credit up to $2,000 with the Lifetime Learning Credit.


    5. Maximize your retirement.


    Another great way to reduce your taxable income and build your nest egg is to make a contribution to your retirement savings account. Whether you contribute to a 401(k) or a traditional IRA, you can take a dollar for dollar deduction in your income and also save for the future. The 2015 contribution limit for 401(k)s is $18,000 (or $24,000 if over age 50) and $5,500 (or $6,500 if over age 50) for a traditional IRA. The contribution deadline for 401(k)s is Dec. 31, but you have until April 18, 2016 to put money in your IRA.


    6. Take the saver's credit.


    The saver's credit, also known as the Retirement Savings Contribution Credit, is a special tax break available for low- to moderate-income earners who contribute to their retirement plans. The credit is up to $1,000 ($2,000 if you're married filing jointly), and you can claim it in addition to your tax deductions for a traditional 401(k) or IRA contribution.


    7. Spend your FSA.


    If you have a flexible spending account and you have money left, now is the time to take care of those doctor's visits you've been putting off. If you have unused money in your FSA account on Dec. 31, you may only be able to carry over up to $500 into your 2016 FSA. Depending on your plan, there may be a grace period to use your funds in the beginning of next year.


    8. Offset investment gains.


    If you have been holding on to losing stocks, you can recognize your losses and use them to offset investment winners. In order to take advantage of this, you will need to sell the losing investments and offset your losses against your gains. If your losses exceed your gains, you can apply $3,000 of your loss against your regular income. Any extra will then be passed onto the next tax year.


    9. Estimate your household income for health insurance.


    Are you applying for a subsidy or discounted insurance in the health insurance marketplace this open enrollment season? If so, you will have to project your 2016 household income and family size when you apply. Start looking into any changes that may take place in 2016 (growing your family, job promotion, heading into retirement, etc.). These changes may affect the amount of the subsidy you are given to help you pay for insurance.


    10. Increase your advanced premium tax credit.


    If you received assistance for health insurance in the form of an advanced premium tax credit, one smart move you can make is to lower your adjustable gross income by contributing to your retirement plan, which may increase the premium tax credit you're eligible for at tax time. If you are purchasing new insurance in the marketplace you can also request to take half of your assistance to help pay for insurance upfront and alleviate having to pay anything back if you experience changes to your income.

     

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    Mixed race woman stacking coins
    Getty

    By Kentin Waits

    Doesn't it seem as if spenders get a lot of good press? The woman with the flashy car, the guy with the obscene Rolex collection, and the couple who leverage their McMansion to buy holiday gifts grab our attention and get the glossy spreads.

    Savers, however, aren't media darlings. They are relegated to the back pages and labeled with less-than-flattering descriptors such as "tightwad," "penny pincher" or "miser."

    Savers are seldom seen as powerful, confident or sexy. However, here are six reasons why savers actually are more attractive than their spendthrift peers:

    1. Savers can seize the moment ... and the deal


    Good deals come and go quickly. To take advantage of a red-hot bargain, you've got to be ready and able.

    By living below their means, savers generate and bank a surplus each month. That capital can be used to seize and seal deals that might not be accessible to buyers with more sluggish personal economies.

    Imagine hearing through the grapevine of a fixer-upper house in a prime location that's being offered at a bargain-basement price. Which do you think an impatient and off-site seller would choose: the buyer with cash in hand who's ready to sign right after the inspection, or the buyer who needs to talk to a banker and maybe ask for a few financial favors from Mom and Dad?

    Admit it, there are few things sexier than a man or woman of action, the one with the knowledge and the means to make those large and small deals happen.

    2. Savers aren't beholden to lenders


    In some fashion, borrowers always answer to their lenders. There's nothing particularly wrong with strategic borrowing for investment purposes. However, borrowing and chronic debt can sap our wealth and energy, making life seem much more restricted.

    By contrast, a saver is freer to make bold choices, reinvent a career, take some time off or follow a dream. That combination of flexibility and freedom is a rare quality these days, and it can be potently attractive.


    3. Savers swim against the tide


    Consumption has become a national sport, with the bowl game of Black Friday being bumped up a full day. Today, the economic challenges our nation faces aren't won by encouraging citizens to buckle down and save more. Instead, Americans are encouraged to make a collective effort to shop more.

    It's no wonder that savers represent a new sort of pioneer who ignores what the neighbors are doing and rejects the flawed logic that spending more is always better. If you're a saver, you know what I mean: It takes a bit of confidence and comfort in your own skin to follow a different path.

    4. Savers are strategic


    Successful savers didn't get that way by being indiscriminate with their money. They understand the innate and intimate connections between time, labor, money and things, and they apply that knowledge in tactical ways.

    Savers know the secret: If a person can invest enough time and labor and be a shrewd steward of the money that results from each, he can gradually reduce or completely replace his own exertion with "working" assets. Isn't being smart sexy?

    5. Savers tend to be more self-reliant


    Speaking broadly, saving and self-reliance tend to go hand in hand. Savers see the value in self-reliance, and they build the skills that help them keep expenses low.

    From gardening to simple construction, and from basic car repair to sewing, savers quietly and confidently get it done, usually without taking out their wallets. What could be sexier?

    6. Savers have something to teach


    Collectively, these points show that savers have something important to teach. Modern life has created a dearth of good examples of personal financial restraint. We need folks who can save and manage money wisely, exercise a basic level of self-reliance, and use their resources to build wealth slowly and strategically.

    Almost by default, savers are teachers, instructing others by what they reject as much as by what they embrace. Savers, in their many shapes and sizes, are quietly leading the way - and leaders have a certain appeal.

    So, savers, come out from the shadows and strut your stuff. If you didn't know it before, you do now: Your frugality and your financial sensibility make you sexy after all.

    Do you think savers are sexier than big spenders? Why or why not? Sound off in our Forums. It's the place where you can speak your mind, explore topics in-depth, and post questions and get answers.

     

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    Close-up of woman's hand holding credit card
    Getty

    By Dan Rafter

    Burdened with thousands of dollars of consumer debt? Do you dread reading your credit card statements each month? There is hope. You can pay down your credit card debt fast. But first, you have to stop using your cards to make new purchases.

    And before you start paying off that debt, know this: You're far from alone. It can be difficult to track down just how much credit card debt the average cardholder is paying off, but in the spring of 2015, CardHub released a study showing that those households that carry a balance on their credit cards have an average debt of almost $7,200.

    How do you remove yourself from this statistic, and do it (fairly) quickly? Here are seven tools you can try.

    1. Stop Charging


    No debt repayment plan will work if you keep adding to your credit card balances. So make a vow to stop charging gas, groceries, or clothes. Buy only what you can afford to purchase in cash. Breaking the credit card habit can be challenging, but doing so will give your efforts to eliminate your consumer debt a huge boost.

    2. Pay More Than the Minimum


    You can't just pay the minimum monthly required payments on your credit cards if you want to eliminate your debt quickly. You'll simply be paying a ton of interest while whittling away at that debt.

    Here's an example. Say your credit card balance is $6,000, your card's interest rate is 18.9% percent, and your minimum required payment each month is 4% of your balance. If you only pay that minimum each month, it will take you 144 months - or 12 years - to pay off your debt, and that's only if you never make any additional charges with that card. While paying this debt off, you'll pay a total of about $9,750, or about $3,750 in total interest.

    The lesson here is obvious: No matter how you choose to tackle your debt, always pay more than the minimum each month.

    3. Choose a Repayment Method


    There are two good ways to approach paying off debt, and both can help you eliminate your credit card balances quickly.

    Snowball Method

    This is when you pay the minimum required monthly payment on all of your credit cards except for one. Use the majority of the money you have each month for paying down your debt on this last card. How you choose this card is up to you: Some consumers will pick the card with the lowest balance so that they can quickly pay it off. Others will choose the card with the highest interest rate so that they can eliminate their debt that grows the quickest each month.

    But once you pay off your targeted card, repeat the process: Pick another card to spend most of your debt-reducing dollars on and pay the minimum on the rest of them. If you stay at this long enough, you'll eventually eliminate all of your credit card debt.

    Debt Ladder Method

    In the debt ladder method, you'll list all your credit cards from the one with the highest interest rate to the one with the lowest. Then, much like with the snowball method, you'll spend most of your money each month paying down the card with the highest interest rate while paying the minimum required monthly payment on the rest of your cards.

    Once you pay off the card with the highest interest, you'll then move to the next card on your list, spending most of your money on that debt until it, too, is paid off.

    The difference between the snowball and debt ladder methods is subtle: With the debt ladder method, you'll always target the card with the highest interest rate. In the snowball method, you might do this, but you might also go after the cards with the lowest balance first so that you can more quickly snowball the dollars you have available for other accounts.

    4. Take Out a Home Equity Loan


    Do you own a home? Do you have equity in it? If so, you might consider taking out a home equity loan to pay off all or most of your high-interest-rate credit card debt.

    If your home is worth $250,000 and you owe $180,000 on your mortgage loan, you have $70,000 worth of equity. A mortgage lender might give you a home equity loan of, say, $50,000. You can then use that $50,000 to pay off credit card debt.

    The benefit of a home equity loan -- or a home equity line of credit, which is similar but works more like a credit card than a standard loan -- is that such loans come with lower interest rates. It makes sense to swap low-interest debt for high-interest credit card debt. But be sure to pay your home equity loan back on time. If you don't, you could lose your home.

    5. Use Your Savings


    It's important to have savings. Your savings account can act as an emergency fund, one that can help you cover the costs of unexpected expenses such as a furnace that suddenly conks out in the middle of winter.

    But if you have thousands of dollars in savings and are paying off thousands of dollars of credit card debt, it might make sense to use those savings to eliminate your high-interest debt. Think of it this way: Your credit card debt might have an interest rate of 19% or higher. The odds are that your savings account is paying you interest of less than 1%. It makes sense to get rid of that credit card debt that is growing so quickly each month. (See also: When to Use Savings to Pay Off Debt)

    Once you do erase your credit card debt, though, build your savings back up each month. You don't want to be without an emergency fund for too long.


    6. Do a Balance Transfer to a 0% APR Card


    A key factor in repaying your credit card debt expediently is your interest rate, since a lower rate reduces not only your minimum monthly payments, but also the total amount you'll repay on the debt. A common technique for obtaining a lower rate is transferring your credit card balances to a card with a 0% APR. There are a few caveats worth considering, however. (See also: When to Do a Balance Transfer to Pay Off Credit Card Debt)

    First, most 0% APR credit card offers are for a limited period -- say, six or 12 or 15 months. Therefore, you should only transfer the amount of balance that you expect to be able to repay in that amount of time. After the introductory 0% APR period expires, the interest rate on your new card - and any remaining transferred balance - will rise, leaving you again with a higher interest rate. So make it a priority to pay off all the transferred balance during the 0% APR period. (See also: Best 0% Balance Transfer Credit Cards)

    Second, it's important to understand that balance transfers often come with a fee, usually expressed as a percentage of the amount transferred. (The Chase Slate card is a rare one that has zero intro balance transfer fee as well as a 0% Intro APR.) So, any savings you achieve by transferring to a zero percent card should exceed the total of the fees. If you meet these two conditions, however, a
    balance transfer can help you reduce your repayment time significantly.

    7. Get a Personal Loan With a Lower APR


    Another means for lowering your interest rate involves paying off part or all of your balance using a personal loan with a lower APR than your card offers. A variety of lenders, ranging from your local credit union or bank to online lenders, such as LendingClub can potentially offer rates below your credit card's. (See also: Should You Use Peer-to-Peer Lending to Pay Down Credit Card Debt?)

    However, it's again worth noting the terms of the loan. Are there any fees associated with a personal loan that might make it less economical? Can you afford the repayment schedule and terms (the higher your credit score, the better these will be)? If you can't, you may just be trading one type of debt for another. But if the personal loan's terms are favorable, you'll likely have an opportunity to repay your debt faster -- and save significantly in the process.

    Did you retire a mountain of credit card debt? How'd you do it?

     

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    Couple reading paperwork in new house
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    By Karla Bowsher

    Members of the millennial generation have been criticized for poor spending and saving habits in the face of large student debt burdens. Others have chided them for relying on the "Bank of Mom and Dad."

    But a new report from Fannie Mae suggests that more millennials are becoming homeowners.

    Fannie Mae -- a government-sponsored company that purchases and guarantees mortgages -- says in the report that the number of young homeowners has been decreasing for decades, except during the housing boom from 2000 to 2005.

    The Great Recession and its aftermath accelerated the decline in homeownership among younger people.

    Data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey show that the number of owner-occupants between the ages of 25 and 34 plummeted by an average of 300,000 annually between 2007 and 2012 despite the young adult population growing during that time period.

    The decrease in the number of young homeowners started to slow in 2013, when it fell by fewer than 100,000. Last year's figure was "essentially flat," according to Fannie Mae's report.

    So what's next? According to the report:

    Given that the young-adult population is expected to continue expanding rapidly during the second half of the decade, it would take only modest further improvements in homeownership rate trends for the number of young homeowners to return to growth.


    If such a return to modest growth among young homeowners occurs, it could have several implications for the housing industry, the Fannie Mae report notes, including:
    • Creating the need to adjust the size, type and geographic location of new housing construction.
    • Expanding education and counseling efforts targeted at inexperienced homeowners.
    • Stepping up efforts to provide services and technologies suitable for young homebuyers.

    Have you noticed any changes in homeownership patterns in your area in recent years? Share your thoughts below or on Facebook.

     

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    What to Shop for After the Holidays
    Many of the products you see on sale now will be significantly cheaper after Christmas, so before you rush out for some last-minute shopping, here are a few deals you should skip.

    First, when it comes to clothing, you're better off waiting until after Christmas. A staggering 45 percent of all after-Christmas sales are clothing related, so if you can hold out for just a few more days, you might find discounts as high as 75 percent off the week after Christmas. Additionally, if your New Year's resolution includes a new workout routine, hold off until January for the best deals in new exercise equipment and gear.

    Next, if new furniture is on your wish list, wait until February. Many new furniture collections debut in January and February, which means many items will be on clearance in that time. While you can find discounts up to 30 percent in December, if you wait until the new year to shop, you might find sales as high as 75 percent off.

    Lastly, hold off on buying expensive jewelry, if possible. Jewelry is always priced higher during the holidays, so wait until after Valentine's Day to buy and you can save up to 25 percent off.

    So, while the holidays do bring some great sales, they're not always the best deals you can find. Remember these tips and you'll see that sometimes it can pay to wait.

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    Where to Get the Best Deals on Groceries
    With so many places to shop, finding the best deals on groceries can be a challenge. So, where do you find the greatest savings on certain products? To answer that question, we took a few grocery essentials, and matched them to the stores that can save you the most. Let's take a look.

    First, when it comes to paper products, stick to your local supermarket. Although a warehouse club might seem like the logical choice for jumbo packs of toilet paper, you're not always getting the best deal.

    Supermarkets typically put paper products on sale on the first and third weeks of the month, which can save you up to 25 percent per roll compared to the warehouse club. Buy these items in bulk and you can save money and extra trips, too.

    Next, with canned goods, buying at the discount grocer or big box stores can be the best way to go. You'll typically get the best savings by buying the store's own brand. At supermarkets, canned goods are one of the worst items you can buy. Grocery stores can commonly mark them up as high as 50 percent.

    Finally, when it comes to produce, dollar stores, discount grocery stores and ethnic markets are all great for finding some delicious deals. For the best prices on meat, you'll save the most money with manager's specials at the supermarket, or buying in bulk at the warehouse club. But no matter if you're buying meat or produce, stay away from the pre-cut items. Stores can charge up to 60 percent more for meat, and 40 percent more for produce for something you can easily do yourself for free.

    The next time you shop for food, remember these tips. Knowing where to grocery shop can help you bag some more savings.

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    By Kathleen Elkins

    If you want to be successful and grow your wealth, start by learning from those who have already done it.

    "Successful people look at other successful people as a means to motivate themselves," writes T. Harv Eker in "Secrets of the Millionaire Mind." "They see other successful people as models to learn from. They say to themselves, 'If they can do it, I can do it.'"

    To help you out, we rounded up seven of the best money lessons we heard this year from self-made millionaires, CEOs, and bestselling authors.

    If you want 2016 to be a year of building wealth, take notes on what they had to say:

    Focus on the skills you build, not your paycheck.

    Tim Ferriss, angel investor, best-selling author of "The 4-Hour Workweek":

    Optimize for learning, not earning. Work directly under or with master dealmakers and acquire skills. This is particularly true for negotiating and hard skills, like coding.

    What would you rather have: $20,000 more per year in your 20s, leading to making $100,000 to $200,000 a year in your 30s, or a lower-paying job from 20 to 25 - but one like a real-world MBA you're paid for - leading to making millions in your 30s?

    It often comes down to prioritizing skill acquisition over immediate, post-college earning. McKinsey or Goldman can be seductive, but it's easy to get trapped in a 20-plus-year path of paying for a bloated lifestyle that is always a bit more expensive than the year before. Serfs can become self-made kings, but consultants tend to remain consultants. The only true job security is a superior skill set.


    Investing from a young age can give you a huge advantage.

    Kevin Cleary, CEO, Clif Bar & Company:

    In my 20s, I wish I better understood the power of investing. At the time, I had fewer expenses, more free time, and a long investment horizon - it would have been the perfect time to learn about investing.

    While I was disciplined about saving money, I missed the opportunity to leverage my money over the long haul.


    It's better to do something you love than chase money.

    Blake Mycoskie, founder, chief shoe giver of TOMS:

    In my 20s I wish I knew that the best advice for any person is to follow their passion as opposed to chasing money. I've seen time and time again that the people who foster their true passions and true callings are the ones that end up the most successful.

    It's hard in your 20s not to worry about money, but to focus on making sure you do something you love. Today, I feel like every time I've made a decision at TOMS that I'm passionate about and improves someone's life, the company grows and makes more money.


    The most powerful asset we have when it comes to getting rich is our mind.

    Steve Siebold, self-made millionaire, author of "How Rich People Think":

    Getting rich begins with the way you think and what you believe about making money. If your parents were broke or in the middle class, you will end up the same if you adopt their beliefs and philosophies about money. The only reason people settle for a mediocre, middle-class existence is because they are unaware of how to move beyond it.

    The secret has always been the same: thinking. While the masses believe becoming wealthy is out of their control, rich people know that making money is really an inside job. It's a cause and effect relationship. The cause of our behavior is our belief system, and the effect of our behavior is the result we get. Change the cause, and by default, you automatically change the behavior and bottom line result.

    Let's set the record straight once and for all: Anyone can become wealthy ... Start by telling yourself that you deserve to be rich, have every right to be rich, and that being rich is an inside job. It's up to you and only you.


    Helping others is a smart habit to build.

    Tony Robbins, life and business strategist, best-selling author:

    You can get rich by screwing someone, but if you're going to stay rich, you have to be constantly helping people.

    Find your passion and find a way to use it to do more for others than anyone else does and add value. And proximity is power. If you want to get the job done, you have to get in the environment of the best of the best.

    My own growth has always been about challenging myself to be around people who play the game of life at a higher level. In order to stay on the court with them, you need to lift your game, you need to grow. If you're around them and you're adding value, you'll find opportunity. Proximity is power.


    Spend on the things you love ... and save on the things you don't.

    Jim Cramer, cofounder of financial site TheStreet.com and host of CNBC's "Mad Money":

    I am a big believer in finding something that you really like that's expensive. You can put your money on that, and then be frugal besides that.

    I am a Stanley Frugal except for my box at the Philadelphia Eagles games.
    "My wife and I are of the same ilk: We're not crazy about spending, but when we do it, we do it big.


    Retirement is a reality - and so is the need to save.

    Alexa von Tobel, founder and CEO of LearnVest.com, New York Times bestselling author of "Financially Fearless":

    Start saving for retirement! It's never too early to put money away towards an IRA. Teens can even contribute money earned from baby-sitting or other jobs, and doing so can go a long way towards building up a sizable nest egg.

     

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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.

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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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