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Abby Hayes

Bank of America has a long history of supporting the arts through philanthropy and raising awareness. But they’re stepping up their game in 2017 with their Museums on Us program.

This program allows qualifying Bank of America members to get into local museums for free on certain weekends, through the rest of this year! Here are some details of the program:

Who is Eligible?

Anyone who holds a Bank of America credit or debit card or a Merrill Lynch debit or credit card can participate. You’ll just have to show up at the right museum on the right weekend with both your card and a photo ID.

Here’s the catch: this is only good for one free general admission ticket. It doesn’t apply to special events or exhibits. And you can’t bring guests with you.

However, if you have a Bank of America credit card with an authorized user, that person can get into the museum for free, as well. It sounds like an excellent option for a free date night to me!

Resource: The Best Cash Back Credit Cards of 2017

Plus, many of these museums already allow children under a certain age to get in for free, so it could make for a great family adventure at no cost. Even if the museum does charge for your children, the little ones are usually at a very discounted rate, making the adventure definitely worthwhile.

When Can You Go?

Do you fit the bill? Or have you been considering a Bank of America or Merrill Lynch credit card, anyway? Here’s when you can take advantage of this free museum admission:

  • August 5th and 6th
  • September 2nd and 3rd
  • October 7th and 8th
  • November 4th and 5th
  • December 2nd and 3rd

You’re responsible for figuring out if the museum is actually open on those days, of course, but most participating museums should be.

Related: Which Credit Card Should Be Your First?

Where Can You Go?

Here’s another catch: the list of participating museums is fairly short, especially if you’re outside of a major metropolitan area. But if you’re traveling to a larger city, you could have loads of options.

In Chicago, for instance, you have a long list of options. These include:

  • The Art Institute of Chicago
  • Chicago History Museum
  • Museum of Contemporary Art
  • National Veterans Art Museum
  • Shedd Aquarium
  • The DuSable Museum of African American History
  • The National Hellenic Museum

New York City has an impressively long list of participating museums, of course, as do Miami, San Antonio, and Charlotte, NC.

You can check out the full list of available options here. Just keep in mind that it could be a good idea to call ahead and confirm participation before you count on those free tickets!

Should You Get a Bank of America Card for This?

In short: probably not. There’s much more that goes into choosing a credit card than a random one-off perk that you might use once per year. The benefits or lower interest rate on another card might easily outweigh the free museum tickets.

With that said, it’s one perk to consider if a Bank of America credit card is already in your wallet or on your to-apply-for list!

So, how about you? Will you be taking advantage of this Bank of America perk?

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Sales tax holidays are a surprisingly great way to save money, especially during the back-to-school shopping season.

On specific dates, states do not require merchants to charge customers sales tax. Even if sales tax seems like a minor line item in your budget, it can make a big difference.

Sales tax holidays are an excellent time to purchase big ticket items that are on your list, or to get the kids’ clothes for the school year. Retailers often make this time even more enticing by offering additional sales and discounts during these tax holidays.

Not all states offer sales tax holidays. The ones that do set their own dates and rules. For instance, in some states, only certain school supplies count. In others, weather preparedness items, Energy Star products, and more are eligible.

Before you go purchase a new fridge or school uniform, check this list to see if your state has a sales tax holiday this year:

StateDatesEligible Items and Limits
AlabamaJuly 21-23

  • Clothing - $100/per item

  • Computers, Software, and School Computer Supplies - $750/purchase

  • Noncommercial School Supplies - $50/item

  • Noncommercial Books - $30/item
ArkansasAugust 5-6
  • Clothing and Shoes - $100/item

  • Clothing Accessories - $50/item

  • School Supplies and Instructional Materials
ConnecticutAugust 20-26Clothing and Shoes - $100/item
FloridaJune 2-4Disaster Preparedness Items, Including:
  • Reusable Ice - $10

  • Portable, Self-Powered Lights - $20

  • Gas or Diesel Fuel Containers - $25

  • Batteries, Coolers, Ice Chests - $30

  • Tarps, Sheeting, Anchor Systems, Tie-Down Kits, etc. - $50

  • Portable Generators - $750
FloridaAugust 4-6
  • Clothing, Footwear, Wallets, Bags - $60/item

  • School Supplies - $15/item

  • Computers - $750/item

IowaAugust 4-5Clothing and Shoes - $100/item
LouisianaMay 27-28Hurricane Preparedness Items, Including:
  • Portable Light Sources
  • Portable, Self-Powered Radios
  • Tarpaulins, etc.
  • Anchors and Tie-Down Systems
  • Gas or Diesel tanks
  • Batteries
  • Nonelectric Coolers
  • Portable Generators
  • Storm Shutters
  • Carbon Monoxide Detectors
  • "Blue Ice" Products

Lowered state sales tax rate on the first $1,500 of the sales price of each item.
LouisianaAug 4-5Sales tax reduction on "most items of tangible personal property." Available for the first $2,500 of sales price of the item.
LouisianaSept 1-3Items Exempt from Local Tax and with Reduced State Tax Include:
  • Archery Items
  • Off-Road Vehicles Designed for Hunting
  • Airboats and Pirogues
  • Hunting Accessories
  • Animal Feed for Game
  • Hunting Apparel and Safety Gear
  • Other Hunting Supplies
MarylandFeb 18-20EnergyStar Items, Including:
  • Air Conditioners
  • Clothes Washers and Dryers
  • Furnaces and Heat Pumps
  • Boilers
  • Refrigerators
  • Dehumidifiers
  • Programmable Thermostats
  • CFL and LED Bulbs
MarylandAug 13-19Clothing and Footwear - $100/item
MississippiJuly 28-29Clothing and Footwear - $100/item
MississippiAug 25-27Firearms, Ammunition, and Hunting Supplies
MissouriAug 4-6
  • Clothes - $100/item
  • School Supplies - $50/item
  • Computer Software - $350/item
  • Computers and Accessories - $1,500
  • Graphing Calculators - $150/item
MissouriApril 19-25EnergyStar Certified Appliances, Including:
  • Clothes Washers
  • Clothes Dryers
  • Water Heaters
  • Dishwashers
  • Air Conditioners
  • Furnaces
  • Refrigerators
  • Heat Pumps
Up to $1,500 Per Appliance
New MexicoAug 4-6
  • Clothing and Shoes - $100/item
  • School Supplies - $30/item
  • Computers, Some e-Readers, Tablets - $1,000/item
  • Computer-Related Items - $500/item
  • Bookbags, Backpacks, Maps, and Globes - $100/item
  • Handheld Calculators - $200/item
Note: Not all retailers participate
OhioAug 4-6
  • Clothing - $100/item
  • School Supplies - $20/item
  • Instructional Materials - $20
OklahomaAug 4-6Clothing and Shoes - $100/item
South CarolinaAug 4-6
  • Clothing and Accessories
  • Footwear
  • School Supplies
  • Computers, Printers, and Printer Supplies
  • Computer Software
  • Certain Bed and Bath Items
TennesseeJuly 28-30
  • Clothes - $100/item
  • School Supplies - $100/item
  • Computers - $1,500
TexasApril 28-30, 2018Less than $3,000:
  • Portable Generators
Less than $300:
  • Emergency Ladders
  • Hurricane Shutters
Less than $75:
  • Axes
  • Batteries
  • Can Openers - Nonelectric
  • Carbon Monoxide Detectors
  • Coolers and Ice Chests
  • Fire Extinguishers
  • First Aid Kits
  • Fuel Containers
  • Ground Anchor Systems
  • Hatchets
  • Ice Products
  • Portable, Self-Powered Light Sources
  • Mobile Phone Batteries
  • Portable, Self-Powered Radios
  • Smoke Detectors
  • Tarps
TexasMay 26-28, 2018EnergyStar Products:
  • Air Conditioners
  • Refrigerators
  • Ceiling Fans
  • Incandescent and Fluorescent Light Bulbs
  • Clothes Washers
  • Dishwashers
  • Dehumidifiers
  • Programmable Thermostats
TexasAug 11-13
  • Clothing and Shoes - $100/item
  • School Supplies - $100/item
VirginiaAug 4-6School Supplies, Clothing, and Shoes:
  • School Supplies - $20/item
  • Clothing and Footwear - $100/item
Hurricane and Emergency Preparedness Items:
  • Portable Generators - $1,000/item
  • Gas-Powered Chainsaws - $350/item
  • Chainsaw Accessories - $60/item
  • Other Items - $60/item
EnergyStar and WaterSense Products:
  • Qualifying Products for Home Use - $2,500/item

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We recently updated an article here on Consumerism Commentary, arguing that high schools should not require students to take personal finance classes. The article, written by the site’s original founder several years ago, makes some compelling arguments.

But I don’t buy it.

As a parent, I sure plan to teach my kids personal finance. In fact, we’re already talking about how to start teaching our five-year-old about money management. But just because I’m planning to teach my kids these concepts doesn’t mean other parents are. And that’s not only bad for students graduating high school, it’s bad for our society as a whole.

Teaching Personal Finance: Required versus Offered

To be fair, the author of the original piece didn’t argue that personal finance shouldn’t be offered in schools. He argued that it shouldn’t be a graduation requirement. I don’t necessarily disagree with that premise, but apparently some states do. According to a recent Business Insider article, 17 states in the US require public high school graduates to take a personal finance class — or an economics or civics course covering personal finance — before they can graduate.

The article cites the Great Recession as the reason behind this requirement. That time was when many people suddenly had to go into major debt, were underwater on their homes, and had serious financial troubles. When it all imploded, we saw just how lacking in basic financial knowledge the US really was.

So, no, I don’t necessarily believe that personal finance should be required for high school graduation, though the states seem to be moving in that direction. But I do believe that high schools — actually, even elementary schools — should work more personal finance into their educational efforts.

Why Should Schools Teach Personal Finance?

So, why do I think that personal finance should be taught? Here are the main reasons:

1. Many parents aren’t comfortable teaching this subject.

One 2012 survey showed that 81% of parents believe that it is their responsibility to teach their kids about money. But the problem is that two in five US adults rate their own knowledge of personal finance as very poor. Add in the fact that many parents are simply uncomfortable talking to their kids about money, and you get a very sticky situation.

Sure, some teachers may be uncomfortable with teaching personal finance, too. But, honestly, they only need to stick to the basics and it would have an impact on the next generation. If these kids were taught how compound interest works, spending less than you make, how debt works, and the basics of filling out tax forms, they would have a substantial leg up.

Basic personal finance really isn’t that difficult. With a decent curriculum — there are many in action and more being developed right now — most math and civics teachers could handle introductory personal finance classes easily.

2. Personal finance doesn’t have to be a standalone class.

Many commenters on the original article pointed out, fairly, that their kids don’t even have room in their schedules to take all the classes they want to take. The idea of adding an additional course for finance seems impossible. But here’s the thing: personal finance doesn’t have to be a separate course that takes a full year, or even a semester.

The best option, I think, would be to work personal finance concepts into other math courses, starting in elementary school. Even small children can understand what happens when you make $10 but spend $15!

Related: How to Develop the Habit of Spending Less Than You Make

Working personal finance applications into everyday mathematics — and even higher-level math courses, like algebra — helps with two things. First, it familiarizes students with money management concepts they’ll need their entire lives. Second, it helps them see how their math knowledge actually applies to their lives moving forward.

What about other concepts, like balancing a checkbook or filling out tax forms? Many middle and high schools still require economics, health, and similar courses. It doesn’t take a visionary to develop a course that combines these concepts. The end result could be a class focused on functioning as an adult and a citizen in the world. Students could learn to take care of their homes, their bodies, their finances, and their societies in a single course over a school year.

3. We can probably agree on the basics.

Another issue the original article points out is that personal finance is complicated, and there are many different opinions out there. Which type of life insurance? How much life insurance? Stocks or bonds? Traditional or Roth?

As someone who is even reading this blog, you’re probably aware of the many opinions on personal finance matters, most with good research and data to back them up.

But here’s the thing: we don’t necessarily have to give kids all the answers in a personal finance-related class. Instead, we need to help them define terms and understand very basic financial concepts. Here are some of the questions a personal finance class might seek to answer:

  • How does insurance work (whether it’s life, health, or homeowner’s… whatever)? And why do people even pay for it if they’re not likely to use it?
  • How does compound interest work? What happens if I put $100 in a savings account and leave it there for 50 years? Or, what happens if I rack up $500 in credit card debt and make the minimum payments?
  • What is a credit score? Why is it important, and how do you keep it in good shape?
  • Why do we pay taxes, and how do we fill out the most basic tax forms?
  • What are some tools you can use to budget? And what happens if you consistently spend more money than you make?

Learn More: Things You Won’t Find In Your Credit Score

These concepts aren’t that hard. They don’t require us to recommend term life insurance over whole life insurance. And they don’t require a lot of detail. But they give students a jumping off point. Plus, they’ll at least have an understanding of the basic terminology. They’ll know what they’re getting into ten years from now, when they go to buy and insure a home.

Good teaching, after all, isn’t always about providing kids with the right answers, but about helping them ask the right questions. A hands-on personal finance curriculum could do just this, while setting kids up to make better choices in their lives.

4. Students are jumping straight from high school into major debt.

Personal finance instruction may be even more important now than it has ever been. The average college graduate in 2016 had $37,172 in student loan debt. Many high school students are signing the promissory notes on these huge loans before they even graduate!

Sure, there are times when taking on debt to further one’s education isn’t a terrible choice. But all too many students don’t understand the future implications of this choice, including how much of their future income will be tied up in student loans. Even understanding basic loan terminology could help students make better student loan choices, where possible.

Related: How to Remove a Cosigner from a Student Loan

One Fox Business article makes the case that teaching financial literacy early is pointless because kids will forget most of it before they have a chance, or need, to use it. And that may be true. But many high school seniors are already examining school acceptance letters and financial aid offers, and they’re getting ready to take on that debt.

5. At-risk kids need these classes the most.

Finally, the original article argued that kids in high-risk areas don’t have time to deal with personal finance in school because they’re just trying to survive. I would argue that these are the students who most need to graduate high school with a basic understanding of money and how it works.

Sure, kids from advantaged backgrounds are more likely to score well on financial literacy tests, whether a course is being offered or not. But these kids are also more likely to score well on the ACT and SAT, and that doesn’t mean we give up on helping at-risk kids get to college.

If a high school student lives within a few blocks of fifteen payday lenders, they have the right to know what a 25% interest rate looks like played out over time. And these concepts are not difficult to teach in high school.

Read More: Payday Loans’ Fees and Interest Rates: A Fair Comparison?

So, What’s My Verdict?

We may disagree on what should be taught in elementary or secondary school personal finance courses. We may disagree on how those courses should be taught. But I think that we could mostly agree that finding ways to incorporate basic personal finance concepts into our children’s education would be a good thing.

I won’t try to dictate how states should set up their graduation requirements. But I will say that, as a parent, a school offering both advanced calculus and personal finance courses would look pretty good to me!

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard whisperings of the Federal Reserve’s rate hike last month. This is only the third time since the Great Recession that the Fed has increased rates… and, well, it’s both a good thing and a bad thing.

A Fed rate increase means that the economy is on the upswing. The Fed will only raise the benchmark rate when the economy no longer needs stimulus. Janet Yellen, chairwoman of the Fed, said that her organization plans to go slowly with such rate increases. So, it’s best to assume that the Federal Reserve is cautiously optimistic about the economy and where we stand today.

The most recent benchmark increase was only a bump from .75 to 1 percent. It doesn’t seem like much, but even a tiny change in the benchmark rate can spell major changes for your personal financial situation. Let’s take a look at what the latest increase may mean for you.

How the Fed changes interest rates

The Federal Reserve doesn’t directly affect interest rates. Instead, its benchmark rate affects the federal funds rate — the rate that banks charge each other. The banks then pass those costs (or savings) on to consumers by changing the rates of short-term loans. Then, when short-term rates increase, long-term rates increase, as well.

In short, when the Fed increases its benchmark rate, you’ll first feel the pinch with your credit cards and other adjustable-rate or new shorter-term loans. But you’ll eventually feel the pinch if also you try to take out a longer-term loan, like a mortgage.

Here’s how the current rate increase is most likely going to impact your wallet:

If you have adjustable-rate debt

Variable- or adjustable-rate debts — like credit cards, HELOCs, and variable-rate mortgages — will likely be the first place to feel the difference, post-rate hike. A quarter-percentage interest hike doesn’t seem like much, but it can really add up over time. This is especially true if you’re carrying around a lot of credit card debt.

Let’s assume that you’re holding the average American family’s $16,000 worth of credit card debt. Depending on your terms, the rate increase could potentially cost you several hundred dollars per year.

Learn More: How Is the Nation REALLY Doing With Credit Card Debt?

Just how much more can you expect to pay on your variable rate loan? Dig into your statements to ensure you always know your rates, even as they change. Then, use an online calculator to see how much you’re going to pay in interest when your rate increases.

The best way to deal with this particular issue? Just pay off that debt as soon as you can. Right now, you may only be looking at a difference of $100 a year or less. But if the Fed continues to increase their benchmark rates, the interest rates on your already higher-interest debts are only going to increase.

Need a boost to get you started? Consider transferring some of your debt to a card with a 0% APR introductory period. Paying no interest for even 12 or 15 months can make it much easier to get that principal paid down before you end up paying through the nose because of rate increases.

If you have, or are in the market for, a mortgage

Fixed-rate mortgages, which remain the most popular option, may not skyrocket immediately. But the pinch will come.

According to Freddie Mac, the average 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage in January charged 4.15% interest. In March, that increased to 4.2%. That’s a fairly large increase from this time last year, when rates were more like 3.69%. But from February to March, that much of an increase would probably only make a few dollars’ worth of difference in your monthly payments.

With that said, even a point’s difference on a 30-year mortgage can have a big impact on your finances over time. That’s because you’re paying interest on this loan for so long. Even a few bucks a month will add up over the course of 30 years!

Read More: Can This Simple App Get You Out of Debt?

So, what should you do with all of this in mind? Well, if you’re in the market for a mortgage, you might try to buy sooner rather than later. But only if you have a sufficient down payment and good credit. It doesn’t make sense to pay more for a mortgage, simply because you’ve rushed in before you’re financially ready.

With the Fed’s cautious outlook, it doesn’t seem that interest rates are going to skyrocket any time soon. So, it doesn’t make sense to lock in a lower rate if you’re not financially prepared to buy yet.

What about those who already own a home? If you’re still paying pre-Great Recession interest rates of 5% or more, you might want to consider refinancing while the rates are still low. This is especially true if you’re also in a better credit and all-around financial situation now than you were last time you bought or refinanced your mortgage. If nothing else, it’s worth looking into your refinance options now, before rates increase any more.

In the Know: Can You Refinance Your Mortgage With Bad Credit?

If you have savings and investments

Just as interest rates on consumer debt are rising slowly, so will rates on savings products. Chances are you’ll see a slight increase on the rate on your interest-bearing accounts, including savings accounts. Other interest rates — like those on CDs — will also rise, albeit slowly.

Bottom line: now could be a good time to shop around, Make sure that you’re getting the best interest rate on your high-yield savings accounts and, if you’re not, think about switching.

What about your longer-term investments, including those in your retirement account? It’s much harder to predict a rate hike’s impact on savings vehicles like these. When it comes to long-term investing, just stay the course and keep paying attention to the basics, like asset allocation.

Related: The Perfect Asset Allocation Plan

So, what exact impact will the Fed’s rate increase have on you? It really depends on your current financial situation, especially your debt and savings account mix. Just be sure to pay attention to interest rates on both debt products and savings products, so you can take advantage of the best deals around.

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How is the Country REALLY Doing With Its Credit Card Debt?

by Abby Hayes

National averages for credit card and other consumer debt can be a good barometer of consumers’ financial capacity and goals. For instance, when debt decreases, Americans, as a whole, may be spending less and saving more. Of course, that’s a good thing. So, when SmartAsset released its average credit card debt study recently, we took […]

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Is Quicken Right for You? Here’s Our Ultimate Review

by Abby Hayes

We’ve always been fans of Quicken here at Consumerism Commentary, and we’ve got a lot of reviews floating around to prove it. But you don’t really need reviews of Quicken from five years ago. You just need to know what to expect from the latest version: Quicken 2017. Here, we’ll give you the highlights, and […]

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Humana: Yet Another Player Pulling Out of Obamacare

by Abby Hayes

After pulling out of a merger deal with Aetna, major insurance company Humana announced that it will drop out of the Affordable Care Act exchange in 2018. The company had already been scaling back its plans available on the exchange. For 2017, it was only selling policies in 11 states. Although Humana has been a […]

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Millennials Don’t Use Credit… But Should They?

by Abby Hayes

A recent survey by Bankrate showed that many millennials don’t carry credit cards on a day-to-day basis. In fact, just 33 percent of those surveyed in the 18 to 29 crowd even owned a credit card at the time of the survey. People in the 30 to 49 category carried significantly more plastic, with about 55 percent […]

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11 Ways to Start Preparing for the Holiday Shopping Pinch

by Abby Hayes

Does your New Year usually start with a resolution to pay off all that debt you racked up during the holiday shopping season? If so, you’re certainly not alone. Holiday retail sales increased 3 percent in 2015, and many consumers carried that extra spending into the new year in the form of new debt. The key […]

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33 of the Best Work From Home Jobs (That Are Legitimate)

by Abby Hayes
work from home jobs

A reader recently wrote in asking about part-time, work from home jobs. After all, wouldn’t it be great to bring some extra money in without worrying about a commute, needing to find childcare, or having it interfere with your other job(s)? So we put together this list of some of the best work from jobs […]

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