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Consumer

One of the best things you can do to build awareness of your financial condition is to view your credit report. Your financial condition — as perceived by potential lenders — can cost or save you thousands of extra dollars throughout your credit repayments, such as the life of a mortgage, for instance.

Credit Card

You can get them for free these days, too. In fact, you are entitled to three credit reports, one from each of the three major reporting bureaus, each year. You can either get them all at once or visit annualcreditreport.com (the government’s official free credit report source) three times a year, to space the credit reports out evenly. Personally, I prefer the latter approach.

What You’ll Probably Find

Well, if your credit report is anything like mine, it contains a list of credit cards with basic information like partial account numbers, a credit limit, and payment history. Some probably date back to college, when you signed up for a credit card in exchange for a free t-shirt at freshman orientation. You may not even know where to find the actual credit card anymore.

For example, here’s a snapshot of one of my own records. This card account hasn’t been touched since 2011, but here it is, on my 2017 report:

old cc sc

There are a number of reasons that I keep this card active, though.

Reason 1. It’s one of my oldest accounts. I opened this card back in 2005 when I was a college freshman (cliché, I know). It’s the second oldest credit card I have, and even though I don’t use it, I like to keep my credit score’s Average Age of Accounts as high as possible.

Average Age of Accounts and How Your Credit Score Is Calculated

Were I to cancel this card, that number — an average of the credit length of all my revolving accounts — would go down. No, it wouldn’t be substantial, but I would still rather avoid it unless necessary. Which leads me to…

Reason 2. It doesn’t have an annual fee. Since I don’t use this credit card, it just sits around collecting dust (actually, I shredded it years ago, so that’s just a figure of speech). It doesn’t have any sort of fees involved, so I’m alright with that. However, if I were being charged an annual fee to hold the account, I would close it faster than you could say “Semi-Annual Sale.”

Many rewards credit cards do have annual fees; whether they’re worth it or not is up to you. If you’re using the card and earning great cash back (that more than negates the fee), go for it. If not, then you’re just throwing money away. And with a mere $1,000 credit limit impacting my credit utilization ratio, it wouldn’t be worth my cash to keep the account open.

Before closing an unused card due just to an annual fee, though, try calling the issuer. Sometimes, they will be willing to waive the cost for you — at least for that year — just to retain your account. Others may have a version of the card that doesn’t have an annual fee, and would happily switch your account over to that product instead. It would keep the benefits of the account on your credit, while avoiding the unnecessary drain of a fee every 12 months. Win-win.

Reason 3. I am still paying off balances on other cards. That credit utilization I just mentioned? This is where that comes into play.

If you don’t hold balances on any of your other accounts (i.e.: you have no credit card debt), closing a card like this won’t really impact you. I, on the other hand, am still paying off some old credit card balances… so closing an account with a $1,000 limit would ding my credit score in yet another way.

This is because of my debt-to-available credit ratio. Also called credit utilization, this is the ratio of how much debt you owe (your balance) versus your line of credit (the available credit). Let’s look at an example.

  • If you have three credit cards, adding up to a total of $10,000 in available credit, but keep a $0 balance on each one, closing a $1,000 limit card won’t hurt. Your utilization will remain at 0%.
  • However, if you have $10,000 in credit but hold balances adding up to in $5,000 in debt, your ratio is already 50%. If you close down that $1,000 card with a $0 balance, your debt-to-credit ratio just jumped up to 55.6%!

So, take into account where your credit already stands before closing an unused card. If you don’t hold any debt, you’re probably fine to close the card and won’t notice much of a difference. If you need that line of credit to boost your utilization, or need the account to factor into your average age of accounts, perhaps it’s worth keeping the plastic around.

Related: Millennials Aren’t Using Credit… But Should They?

Still Want to Close the Card?

So, the above reasons don’t impact you, and you’re still ready to cut up some cards? Go right on ahead… but take these three steps into account.

Step 1. Save your best, oldest card. Find the credit card with the longest, cleanest history, and keep this card. If you don’t know where the credit card is, call the company to update your address information and ask them to send you a new card. This probably isn’t the card you want to use moving forward, though. Just keep the credit history clean, and spend on/earn rebates with newer cards.

Step 2. Close all other inactive accounts. You can do this by calling the phone numbers that are listed with the information for each card. If you have an active card with the same company, ask to move your credit limit from the inactive card to the active card, and then close the inactive card. This will keep your credit history long and your credit report short.

Step 3. Choose the best card to use. If you are struggling to get out of debt, you should choose a low-interest card with no perks. If you are managing your money well, this should be the card that offers the best perks (like cash back, airline miles, etc.) for you and your lifestyle.

Try looking through lists of cards like

You may not have to apply for a new card if you already have one by the same lender; just call customer service and ask to convert your card. They may have some additional options for you, too.

How to Get Your (Legitimately) Free Credit Report

If you want to improve your credit score and get the lowest mortgage rates, the bottom line is you want to keep your oldest, cleanest credit card to show a long, solid history of responsible credit. You also want to have a low debt-to-income ratio and credit utilization ratio (by paying off your balances every month).

Doing these will help you to improve your credit score, qualify for the best interest rates, and receive some of the best credit products (such as rewards credit cards).

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Former President Barack Obama signed an order into law back in March 2010, which later became known as Obamacare. He did so with the hope that it would revolutionize the way Americans handled their healthcare.  However, if Obamacare was to ever survive, it required a large number of healthy individuals to sign-up for healthcare.

To “persuade” healthy individuals to sign up for plans, Obamacare included a mandate. This required everyone in the United States who didn’t have other healthcare to sign up for healthcare on either the state or government exchanges… or else.

trumpcare

This meant that if you had healthcare from your employer, you were covered. If you signed yourself and/or your family up on the exchanges, you were covered. But if you currently had no health insurance, and did not have an employer that offered it to you, then you either had to sign up for healthcare on the exchanges or face a financial penalty. In 2016, the penalty for not having health insurance was $695 per adult, $347.50 per child, OR 2.5% of your adjusted gross income (whichever number was higher), with a maximum amount per family of $2,085.

Now, on its face, that amount might make you think, “Geesh, I better get health insurance.” The sad reality of the mandate, though, was that it wasn’t punishing enough.  Let’s take a healthy individual, who hypothetically needs to pay $500 a month in health insurance premiums. Many of them would rather just pay the $695 one-time penalty than fork over $6,000 for health insurance premiums in a given year.

Related: Another Insurance Giant Pulls Out of Obamacare

The end result was tens of millions of Americans still declining to sign up for Obamacare, which meant the amount of money in the health insurance pool was far lower than what was predicted.  To compensate, health care providers increased the costs for existing exchange owners, sometimes as much as 115% year over year.  Hanging by a thread, the law needed Hillary Clinton to be elected president in order to survive. Instead, it was given Donald Trump.

Obamacare Mandate

Goodbye Obamacare Mandate

It may feel like Donald Trump has been president for four months and not four weeks. However, if you can think all the way back to President Trump’s first executive order, it was one to remove the enforcement of the Obamacare mandate. To put it simply, President Trump ordered the U.S. government to defer to the individual, rather than the government, should a dispute arise regarding the enforcement of the mandate. This didn’t really mean much the day he signed it because its implementation was unclear. However, last week the IRS put out a statement that said, “If you don’t answer the healthcare question on your tax return, we will still accept your return.”

Wait… what?

So, Line 61 of your 1040 tax return will ask if you had healthcare coverage for more than 9 months in the 2016 tax year.  Before this change in policy, you had three options to answer the question:

  • You can check YES, and show proof of coverage
  • You can check NO, and expect the penalty amount above to be included in your return
  • You can check EXEMPT, and show proof of exemption

Now, there’s a fourth option for every US taxpayer:

  • Naa Na Naa Na Naa Naa, I’ll never tell you

To be clear here, there is no guarantee that if you leave the question unanswered, the IRS will simply look the other way.  The IRS has not explicitly said they will be avoiding all Obamacare penalties for the 2016 tax year. However, considering they’ve decided to allow taxpayers to leave this question blank, it’s highly unlikely that they plan to create more work for themselves and audit individuals who choose to avoid the question.

Thus, in one stroke of the pen, the mandate is done. This all-but-means that Obamacare has been effectively killed, and the need for a replacement healthcare plan is of great urgency.

What Will a Trumpcare Mandate Look Like?

Knowing that the end is near for Obamacare (you might say it’s already here), the next logical question is: Will there be a Trumpcare mandate and, if so, what will it look like?

Well, I’m here to tell you that a gentleman by the name of Tom Price proposed a conservative healthcare plan back in 2015…and wouldn’t you know it, he’s just been confirmed as the new Health and Human Services Secretary. Without getting into specific detail about the entirety of the plan, I’d like to focus squarely on his idea for how to make a mandate work in the future.

The crux of Obamacare, and the part that Republicans have always hated, was that it forced people to buy health insurance, even if they didn’t want it. But you see from the text above that the only way a national healthcare plan would work is if everyone contributed, healthy or otherwise. So, how can a Republican plan provide enough money so that those with Obamacare do not lose coverage AND people that don’t want health insurance don’t have to buy it?

Tom Price proposed two main ideas:

  • This should not be national health care. It should be private and sold across state lines, which is expected to increase competition and lower prices.
  • Pre-existing conditions should be included, so long as the consumer has had 18 consecutive months of healthcare coverage.  If someone without healthcare suddenly gets sick and tries to buy coverage, they can be charged appropriate rates based on a previous medical condition. Also, their current healthcare costs can potentially be increased by 50% annually, for up to three years.

The best analogy I can think of is comparing this idea to your auto insurance policy. If you’ve just signed up for auto insurance and get into a big accident, your insurance provider is likely to increase your rates substantially. However, if you’ve been with your auto insurance carrier for years, you likely have small (or large) accident forgiveness, so your rates are not increased. Similarly, if you’re healthy and have avoided buying health insurance for years and then get sick, don’t expect to walk through the door with a low-cost health insurance policy.

Resource: 15 Auto Insurance Discounts You May Be Missing

Now, this is not to say that the healthcare proposal Congressional Republicans put forward will include a mandate specifically like the one above. It is simply an idea on how to go about getting people to pay for health insurance, without forcing them to pay for health insurance. You can bet any plan that we see proposed in the next few weeks will receive extreme scrutiny from tens of millions of Americans, so the benefits and drawbacks will be widely known.

Make sure that when the dust settles, you’ve done your research on whatever 2018 health insurance looks like, and do the best for you and your family. Something tells me you won’t be short of options.

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Whether or not you should pay more for quality is a decision that comes up often when shopping. The answer varies depending on the product.For some purchases, paying more is a giant waste of money which would be better spent elsewhere. For other items, it’s well worth the additional investment up front to ensure a quality product that lasts. So, how do you decide?

buyright

This question could be asked of virtually any purchase, so we can’t cover them all. However, here are seven examples of popular purchases and our verdict on whether it makes sense to pay more for quality:

Cars: Pay More for Quality

When it comes to buying a car, especially a used car, going with the cheapest option could be a big mistake. There are plenty of stories of people who bought used cars thinking they were getting a deal, only to discover the car needed costly repairs. Although state “lemon laws” exist to protect consumers in situations like those, you may not discover the car’s problems right away. Ultimately, you could be left with a vehicle that costs you more than expected.

It’s worth it to pay more for a quality car that has a clean history and is up-to-date in its maintenance. Buying cheap will likely cost you more in the long run. A completely new car might be out-of-budget for many people (and isn’t the best idea from a personal finance standpoint, anyway!). Buying a late model used car can be just as good as new, though, and you’ll likely be able to extend the warranty on it.

Homes: Pay More for Quality

Things like location and square footage are important factors to consider when purchasing a home. These shouldn’t be overlooked solely for the sake of price.

Unlike an ugly kitchen that can be remodeled, the big concerns will be difficult (or impossible) to change later on. Buying a home that’s in a bad neighborhood or is too small for your family can make you incredibly dissatisfied after a while. Turning around and selling the home too soon after buying is not only a headache, but can also make you lose money.

Learn as much as you can about the homes you’re considering for purchase. If you don’t find the ideal place right away, that’s absolutely fine. House hunting can take months before you find the right property for you and your family.

Smartphones: Don’t Pay More for Quality

You’re probably familiar with absurdly high-priced smartphones like the Apple iPhone or Samsung Galaxy S series. With these phones costing $500 and up, many consumers opt for payment plans. They have a monthly installment added to their cell phone bills in order to even afford the device.

However, if you want a high-functioning smartphone, a $500+ device isn’t your only option. There are competitors who make comparable smartphones that come with top of the line specs as well. For example, the ZTE Axon 7 will cost you about $400 and comes with a sharp camera, generous storage, and an attractive design. Another example is the Moto G4 Plus, which costs $299. It comes with an HD display and a long battery life.

Part of the reason high-priced smartphones are so popular is because they’re seen as a status symbol. If you’re just looking for a reliable smartphone, you can definitely forego the brand name and still get good quality.

Mattresses: Pay More for Quality

You go to sleep on a bed every night. Why not pay a little more to ensure your mattress is comfortable?

Getting a mattress that’s made from durable and high-quality materials can make a big difference in how well you sleep and how pleasant your body feels. Whether you choose a bouncy innerspring mattress or a firm memory foam mattress, you usually get what you pay for in terms of quality. A good mattress can last up to 10 years. But a poor quality one could have broken springs or stagnant memory foam after just a couple of years.

Mattresses can cost thousands of dollars. But you don’t have to pay that price. Department stores like Macy’s have sales throughout the year that can save you a considerable amount of money on such a large purchase. Be sure to also shop around at local mom & pop stores near holiday weekends (like Labor Day), as many of them will be willing to negotiate the price with you.

Walking/Running Shoes: Pay More for Quality

Foot health is important, but often overlooked. Many see foot pain as unavoidable and as something you just have to deal with when you’ve been on your feet for long periods of time. However, that doesn’t have to be the case. High quality walking/running shoes can not only prevent foot pain, but can also support your soles and offer breathability.

Although high quality walking/running shoes offer better support, they do experience wear and tear just as any other pair of shoes would. If you use them daily, it’s recommended to replace them about every six months. This may come as a large expense to you if you’re not used to buying top of the line shoes or replacing them that often. But it’s worth it if it means preventing pain and promoting good foot health.

Batteries: Pay More for Quality

If you have small children with lots of electronic toys or otherwise use electronics often, you know how important it is to have long-lasting batteries. Dollar store batteries just don’t hold up to the trusted brands, Duracell and Energizer. In fact, some electronics specifically call for high-quality batteries in order to function properly. I’ve experienced this with my digital camera.

If you look at some dollar store battery packages, you’ll even see recommended purposes for the batteries. The recommendations are usually for low-drain devices like alarm clocks or television remotes. When it comes to high-drain devices, like a video game remote control or a digital camera, you’ll want to pay more for high-quality batteries.

Sunglasses: Don’t Pay More for Quality

Sunglasses are eyewear that protect your eyes from the ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunlight. There are two types of UV rays: UVA and UVB. As long as your sunglasses protect from both types of UV rays, you don’t have to worry about the price of them. Beyond that, you often pay more for style. Just look for the sticker that indicates the UVA/UVB protection. It might also say “100% UV protection”, which means the same thing.

Sunglasses, in general, are fragile. To decrease the likelihood of breaking them, try not to keep them in your pockets or hanging from your shirt. The best place for them when they’re not on your face is in a case.

Final Thoughts

There are plenty of times when paying more for quality equals a better product. There are also times when, clearly, it doesn’t. When you’re considering a purchase, really take time to think about and research whether the increase in quality is substantial enough to warrant paying a lot more. This is when it’s important to do things like read online reviews, to further examine your choices.

What other purchases can you think of that warrant paying a bit more for quality… or some that don’t?

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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 relatively small provider in the Obamacare healthcare marketplace, its pulling out of Obamacare may signal more changes to come. Humana cited an “unbalanced risk pool” as its reason for pulling out of the marketplace. But Humana, like many insurance companies, is likely anxious about the future of the entire Affordable Care Act.

Related: Insurance Giant Aetna Pulls Out of Obamacare

Congress and President Trump have promised to “repeal and replace” the ACA, but haven’t given many details about their plans. Because of this, many insurance companies have already pulled out of the healthcare marketplace.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 18 states have only one or two insurers in their marketplaces in 2017. In general, insurer participation increased between 2014 and 2015, but dropped significantly between 2016 and 2017. Alabama, Alaska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Wyoming each have only one insurance company operating in their exchanges. Many states maintain diverse exchange offerings, but participating insurers are still on the decline.

So what does it mean for you?

As noted above, Humana was only offering health insurance plans in 11 states for 2017. If you’re one of the consumers currently covered by a Humana plan through the individual marketplace, you’ll have to find an alternative plan next year. You can, however, keep your current plan through the end of the year.

On a grand scale, Humana’s change of heart won’t directly affect many consumers. With that said, Humana’s exit puts even more pressure on the Republican Congress and White House administration to make some serious changes to the healthcare law.

More Ahead: President Trump’s Proposals for Childcare

With more insurers leaving the marketplace, those that remain are likely to increase their 2018 rates in an attempt to ward off further financial losses. Those costs will fall to the consumers if the law isn’t altered or replace quickly and efficiently.

It remains to be seen what sorts of changes the Trump administration and the Republicans in Congress have for the Affordable Care Act. But with major players like Humana pulling out, the pressure is on to come up with a solution–one the insurance companies can live with–sooner rather than later.

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A Sign of the Times: Amazon to Begin Accepting Food Stamps

by Stephanie Colestock

There are over 44 million Americans currently receiving SNAP benefits, better known as food stamps. This financial assistance was designed to provide nutritious food to qualifying citizens, and about 54 percent of beneficiaries are children and the elderly. However, there are a number of struggles that SNAP recipients can face as far as actually spending these […]

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Getting Out of Debt: Make That New Year’s Resolution Work

by Luke Landes
CLIMB DEBT

Along with losing weight, getting out of debt is the most popular New Year’s resolutions in the United States. This resolution, like all others, unfortunately tends to be forgotten within weeks. Well, if you resolved to get out of debt this year — and haven’t yet abandoned that idea now that we are at the […]

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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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The Philadelphia Soda Tax Is Now In Effect – Time to Start Drinking Water

by Michael Pruser

Last year, the city of Philadelphia decided to pass into law a “beverage tax,” which taxes the sugary drinks you consume at the rate of 1.5 cents per ounce.  At the time, there was some considerable outcry from residents of the city. Nevertheless, the government stuck to their guns. Well, at the turn of this new […]

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Today is the Day to Finish Your Gift-Buying… It’s Free Shipping Day!

by Stephanie Colestock

Well, we’re less than two weeks from Christmas, which means the shopping pinch is upon us. If you’re like me, you’re probably nowhere near done with your Christmas shopping – still have three people to shop for, and we are coming down to the wire. This year, though, I’m avoiding that last-minute, mad dash at […]

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A Penny Saved is $1,000 Earned

by Stephanie Colestock

Are you the type of person who picks up coins on the street? Even pennies? Well, I’d encourage you to step up the habit — and the rest of you may want to take up this hobby, at least for the next few weeks. Ally Bank has a fun scavenger hunt promotion going on right […]

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