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ally-penny

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 now, called Ally Lucky Penny. They minted 100 special pennies and dropped them in each of ten metropolitan cities. Since doing so last month, Ally has been giving out little clues as to where you can find these copper coins.

The pennies were dropped in Washington, DC (so believe me, I’m also on the lookout) as well as San Diego, Los Angeles, Charlotte, New York City, Chicago, Detroit, Denver, Austin, Miami. Each city had a total of ten coins dropped in random locations, but keep in mind that coins move. So, just because one of the town’s hints says it’s in a park somewhere, doesn’t mean it hasn’t been inadvertently moved across town (or even to another city!). It’s probably wise to go ahead and check your coins each time you get change, no matter where you live, just in case one of these pennies winds up in your pocket.

So, what happens if you end up with one of the special pennies? You’ll need to take it into an Ally Bank, and in exchange, they will give you a 100,000% return… or $1,000 in cold, hard cash. Not a bad deal, just for checking the jingle in your change purse.

But be on the lookout now, as this promotion only goes through December 31, 2016. For more information, rules, and city-specific clues, visit AllyLuckyPenny.com. Good luck!

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In 2006, I was receiving about five deliveries a week from online shopping orders. What can I say? I was an online shopaholic.

Amazon Prime was only a year old at the time, and I became tired of hoarding filler items in order to qualify for the $25 free shipping minimum. To me, receiving free two-day shipping on most Amazon items for $79 a year was a bargain. It was that “happy medium” between instant gratification and having to drive to a brick and mortar store, hoping an item was there, and waiting in line for checkout.

Since then, Amazon Prime has grown to more than just free two-day shipping.

Amazon Prime Membership

The standard Amazon Prime Membership is $99 per year and includes:

  • FREE Two-Day Shipping on tens of millions of items
  • Prime Music. Unlimited, ad-free access to millions of songs and thousands of playlists and stations with Prime Music
  • Prime Video. Instant streaming of thousands of movies and TV shows with Prime Video
  • Amazon Drive. Free unlimited photo storage
  • Prime Reading. Read unlimited books, magazines, and more on any device with Prime Reading
  • Twitch Prime. Ad-free Twitch viewing with free in-game loot and a free channel subscription every 30 days.

Most of my friends and family members who have Amazon Prime don’t take advantage of all the features or fail to understand all the features that are available. If you are looking for a Netflix alternative, the Prime Membership pays for itself. Plus, it comes with additional benefits — if you want to listen to ad-free music or read a book every now and then, you get that, too.

Let’s take a look at each feature.

Free Two-Day/Expedited Shipping

Two-day shipping charges for most items without a Prime Membership usually start at $6 a shipment. However, an Amazon Prime membership includes many shipping benefits in addition to just getting free two-day shipping.  Here are the other shipping benefits listed on Amazon’s website:

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FREE same-day delivery is also available in many metropolitan areas, an added value of about $32 or more for shipping costs. (I got this number by estimating Fedex same day costs for a one pound shipment in the same zip code).

Many of those metropolitan areas also offer Prime Now, which offers FREE 2-hour delivery. If you only need two or three items from the supermarket or drugstore, the convenience of Prime Now may be worth the small tip to the delivery guy when you consider the time and gas saved.

Prime Music

Prime Music includes over two million ad-free and on-demand songs in the Amazon library. As of 2014, Pandora had about 1.5 million songs in their library. Currently, Pandora One is priced at $4.99 a month. Amazon’s functionality and catalog (which you’ll access for free with Prime membership) is very competitive with Pandora One’s ad-free offerings.

Prime Video

Prime Video includes award-winning Amazon Originals, exclusive streaming rights to many TV series, and thousands of other movies and TV shows. In 2016, Amazon’s original series were nominated for 16 Emmy Awards, so these are quality shows and movies that can directly compete with Netflix, HBO, and Showtime’s catalogs.

In addition, you can concurrently watch Prime Video on up to three devices (as opposed to Netflix’s Standard Plan, which includes two devices). You can also download Prime Videos for offline viewing on mobile devices for when you travel. The Netflix Standard Plan is $9.99 a month — compare that to Amazon Prime’s membership rate in terms of months, and it comes out to $8.25 a month for Prime Video (assuming you don’t utilize your membership for anything else).

Amazon Drive

You’ll get free unlimited photo storage with Prime Photos, and 5GB on Amazon Drive for personal video and document storage.

Google Photos is a direct competitor with Prime Photos, and is free for high-quality (lower resolution) images. If you would like to store your DSLR-quality images on Google Photos at maximum resolution, you will more than likely go over the 15GB of free storage limit provided with your Google account. You may have to upgrade to 100GB of Google Drive storage at $1.99 a month, which will allow you to store more DSLR-quality images on Google Photos at original resolution.

With your Amazon Prime membership, you can store an unlimited amount of DSLR-quality images on Prime Photos as long as your Prime Membership is active.

Prime Reading

Last month, Amazon launched a new Prime Reading program which grants you access to a catalog of over a thousand books, magazines, Kindle Singles, and more. Many of these books are available for purchase on the Kindle app for around $3.99 to $4.99.

Twitch Prime

Are you a gamer? Do you follow other gamers on Twitch? One of the lesser known features of a Prime Membership is Twitch Prime, which gives you ad-free viewing, a free channel subscription every 30 days, and free in-game goodies for some of the most popular games.

With the exception of the aesthetic Turbo Badge and Banner, Twitch Prime is identical to Twitch Turbo subscription ($8.99 a month). Even Twitch recommends considering cancelling your Turbo account if you subscribe to both!

Amazon Prime Value Calculator: Adding It All Up

Your favorite games, online shopping habits, music streaming preferences, and video streaming routines will vary from family to family and person to person. Because of this, estimating the value of an Amazon Prime membership can be a little difficult.

However, by comparing Amazon Prime features to competing services and subscriptions, we can determine the value of all of the benefits of an Amazon Prime membership with our handy Amazon Prime Value Calculator.

If the value of your services are over $99, then it is worth subscribing to Amazon Prime. Even if you intend to just use Prime Video or Twitch Prime, those features alone makes it worth subscribing.

Purchasing Your Amazon Prime Membership: Discounts

  • From now until Black Friday 2016, you can get a free trial of an Amazon Prime Membership for 30 days.
  • For the past few years, Amazon Prime Memberships have been discounted during the week of the Emmys to celebrate their nominations in the 67th and 68th Emmy Awards. In the past, this has been a steal at $67 (2015) and $68 (2016), respectively. I’m guessing that when Amazon Prime Originals get nominated again next year, you can expect a $69 discounted membership rate during next year’s 69th Emmys.
  • If you’re a qualifying student, the Prime Student membership gives you a free 6-month trial and

“After your 6-month trial ends, your Prime Student membership makes you eligible to receive 50% off Amazon Prime, including all Prime benefits, for up to four years or until you are no longer a student.“

Extra Amazon Prime Benefits: Tips, Tricks, & Tools

  • You get early access to some Lightning Deals.
  • Itching for Black Friday deals in the middle of the year? Amazon gives you exclusive discounts on Prime Day.
  • Amazon’s acquisition of Diapers.com lead to the creation of Amazon Family, which gives new moms and dads 20% off of diapers and more.
  • You can share select Prime Benefits and your digital content with up to two adults and four children using Amazon Households and Family Library.
  • Use Chrome extensions. There are two great Chrome browser extensions that can help with your Amazon shopping experience: Camelizer will search CamelCamelCamel.com for pricing trends for any Amazon item and Honey will search for any relevant coupon codes or less expensive sellers on Amazon.

Amazon Device Tips

  • If you own a Kindle, you already have access to the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library and Kindle First. Prime Reading will unlock more free content to read, but Kindle Unlimited may be worth it for you voracious readers out there.
  • If you own an Echo or Echo Dot, you can get an Echo plan subscription of Amazon Music Unlimited (only available for play on your Echo device) for $3.99 a month. Prime members get a full subscription at $7.99 a month.
  • Check here to see if your current Smart TV or internet connected media device supports Amazon Prime Video. Don’t have a compatible device? Purchase a Fire TV to start streaming your Prime Video content.
  • Going on a road trip? Download Prime Video movies for offline viewing on a Fire Tablet.

Summary

The Amazon Prime subscription is definitely worth the price for most people. Uamazon2sing the calculator, it only takes about nine shipments under $49 and occasional use of both Prime Music and Video to utilize a total value over the $99 membership price.

For those new to cord-cutting, Prime Video will help with the transition and will also give you alternatives like Prime Reading to get you away from the tube.

Content has shifted from tangible mediums, to digital files, to subscriptions, and now as a service.

Amazon clearly understands this shift and has aligned their Prime Membership as a freemium model. They offer free shipping to everyone on orders over $49, or orders that include $25 worth of books.

When you subscribe to Amazon Prime, you are subscribing to their first tier of freemium services listed above. This introduces you to the Amazon ecosystem. With the purchase of Amazon brand devices, this can further unlock new features and functionality of your Prime Membership. The final freemium tier are the additional subscription services of Kindle Unlimited and Amazon Music Unlimited.

Whether you are a music enthusiast, book nerd, couch potato, computer gamer, student, or new mom, Amazon Prime has something for everyone. With our tips, tricks, and Amazon Prime Value Calculator, you will definitely find out if it is worth it for you.

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Over the past few years, cell phone providers have declared an out-and-out war to win over consumers. This spells good things for the consumers, who can now take advantage of more low-cost cell phone plans than ever.

These days, even the “big four” cell providers — Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon — are lowering their prices. And there is a host of other companies jumping on board with cheap voice, text, and data services.

Finding the right plan for your needs requires some research, though. First off, the provider you choose should have decent coverage in your area and areas to which you travel often. Saving $15 a month on your cell phone bill doesn’t mean much if you constantly drop calls in your own living room!

Plus, you’ll need to ensure that the plan you choose has what you really need in a cell phone plan. That might mean unlimited voice and text, or a hefty amount of data for your business.

Whenever you are ready to lower your cell phone bill, check out these 20 low-cost plan options.

Sprint Unlimited Freedom and Family Plans

This plan offers two lines with unlimited data, talk, and text for $100 per month. It offers unlimited 4G LTE data, and allows you to add up to 10 additional lines for $30 each. Or you could opt for a cheaper family plan with limited, shared data and $20 per line access.

T-Mobile ONE

The ONE plan offers unlimited talk, text, and data for $70 for the first line, $50 for the second line, and $20 for up to two additional lines — so $140 per month for four lines. Or you could get four lines for $120 per month when you use Auto Pay. The plan offers unlimited everything in Mexico and Canada, and unlimited text and data just about anywhere else in the world.

AT&T Mobile Share Advantage

This customizable plan allows you to choose how much data you want to share, from 1GB for $30 a month to 100GB for $450 per month. Then, add smartphones for a monthly access fee of $20 per month. If you don’t use much data, this plan would be a great way to cut your expenses down to as little as $70 per month for two lines and limited data access.

Verizon Plan

This giant is known for its great coverage, but has started to lower its prices to stay competitive. The plan comes in five “sizes” from S to XXL. As with AT&T, this plan allows you to customize your data to what you’ll actually use, which can save low-data users some money. There’s a $20/month charge per phone, and data costs anywhere from $35/month for 2GB to $110/month for 24GB+2GB per line.

Metro PC

Launching into the smaller providers, we’ll start with Metro PCS, which offers nationwide 4G coverage. Its “unlimited” data, talk, and text plan really comes with 1GB of 4G data before kicking you down to lower data speeds. Still, the plan is a good deal at just $30 per month, or $25 per month as part of a family plan. For just $50 per month, you can get unlimited talk and text plus 5GB of 4G data.

Cricket

Cricket’s Basic plan runs just $40 per month, and includes unlimited nationwide text and talk plus 2.5GB of high-speed data access. Or the $70/month Unlimited plan offers unlimited high-speed data, unlimited nationwide talk and text, unlimited international texting, and data access and unlimited talk and text to and from Mexico and Canada. Cricket also offers group pricing and discounts for signing up for auto-pay.

Page Plus Cellular

Page Plus Cellular is a no-contract provider that still offers super-cheap plans with restricted minutes and text. The cheapest plan is just $12 per month for 250 minutes, 250 texts, and 10MB of data. Or opt for the largest plan at $69.95 with unlimited calling, unlimited national and international texting, and 7GB of 4G LTE data, which is then restricted down to 2G.

Virgin Mobile

This provider is gaining in popularity, and not without reason. Its main plan is just $40 per month and includes 4GB of high-speed data. Plus, it allows you to stream music from services like Pandora and Slacker without tapping into your data.

Boost Mobile

Boost’s Unlimited Starter package starts at just $30 per month and includes 1GB of 4G LTE data. You can add additional data for $5 per GB per month. Like Virgin, Boost offers unlimited music streaming through certain music apps. For more data, check out the $50/month Unlimited Unhook’d plan, which offers optimized streaming for videos, gaming, and music, and unlimited 4G LTE data for everything else.

Straight Talk

Available plans for Straight Talk depend on your phone and current phone number, so you’ll have to check availability. But some example options include a 1-year unlimited plan for $495 total. This one offers unlimited nationwide talk and text and 5GB of data per month at 4G LTE, restricted to 2G service after that.

Republic Wireless

For just $15 per month, Republic offers unlimited talk and text without data (except on WiFi). It’s a good plan option if you’re near a WiFi signal most of the time. Plans add more data from there, up to 10GB per month on the $90 plan.

GoSmart Mobile

This provider offers four service levels, including a $25/month plan that includes unlimited international texting, unlimited national talk, and unlimited 4G LTE access for Facebook. Its largest plan is $55/month and includes up to 20GB per month of 3G data access, as well as the other perks listed.

FreedomPop

This provider actually offers a free Basic Plan that includes 500 texts, 200 minutes, and 500MB of data each month, as well as free calling over WiFi. You may be able to bring your own existing device to this provider, or purchase a device from them.

H2O Wireless

For $30 per month, you can get unlimited talk and text, 500MB of data, and $10 of international talk credit. Or go up to $60 per month of unlimited talk and text, 4.5GB of high-speed data (restricted to 2G data thereafter), and $20 per month of international talk credit. H2O also offers pay-as-you go plans, which let you customize your payment based on how much talk, text, and data you’ll actually use at a time.

Scratch Wireless

This provider, like many other small providers, operates on the “Wi-Fi First” principal. In other words, if WiFi is available, your phone will operate on that rather than using data. When connected to WiFi, you’ll have unlimited text and data. The service is free for three months, and costs just $7.99 per month after that. If you’re typically in places where WiFi is available, Scratch could be the ideal service for you.

ChatSIM

Communicate mostly by text? ChatSIM is a super-cheap way to make that happen. The base plan costs $15 per year and comes with unlimited texts and emojis anywhere in the world. You can also purchase multimedia credits to cover photos, videos, and calls, ranging from $15 to $60 each.

Red Pocket

Red Pocket offers two types of service: its Flagship Plans, which work on all its wireless networks and allow you to keep your phone and phone number, and Device-Specific Plans. Flagship Plans begin at just $29.99/month for unlimited talk and text and 500MB of data. These plans go up to $59.99 per month for unlimited everything with 3GB of high-speed data (and lower speed data after that).

Simple Mobile

You can bring your own phone or buy a phone through Simple Mobile, and then sign up for a $60/month plan with unlimited 4G LTE data. Don’t need the data? Keep it simple with a $25/month unlimited talk and text plan.

US Mobile

This provider offers completely customizable plans, so you only need to pay for the services you actually use. For instance, you can pay $3/month for 100 talk minutes, or $15/month for up to 5,000 minutes. Similarly, texting costs $2/month for 100 texts or $7/month for unlimited texts. And data costs from $2/month for 100MB to $35/month for 6GB. Add on a $2/month service charge, and you’ve got a plan you can completely customize to your actual usage.

ROK Mobile

As with other providers, this one cuts back on the cost of streaming music by providing the ROK Music App. It offers a $49.99/month plan with unlimited talk, unlimited text, and 5GB of 4G LTE data.

So which one wins?

As you can see, there’s some huge variability in plan prices here, from free plans that focus on WiFi coverage to $100/month plans from the “big four.” The key is to ensure that any provider you choose will have good coverage in your area, and that the plan will be sufficient to meet your talk, text, and data needs.

Be sure to read the fine print. Also talk to friends and neighbors about their coverage, especially with less well-known providers. Then, pick a plan and start reaping the financial reward of this wireless war for customers.

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On September 7, 2016, Apple unveiled the new iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. Trendsetters will have been eagerly awaiting today, the 16th, when the new iPhones start being shipped; preorders started on the 9th.

There is no doubt that this launch will be successful. Apple occupies 40% of the smartphone market share — the largest majority. This market control coupled with Apple’s customer-brand loyalty makes it easy to expect the iPhone 7 phones to be a big hit.

iPhone 7 Features

Let’s take a look at the key features of the iPhone 7 — some of which are standard among all iPhones and some of which are new and upgraded.

Design:

  • The sleek design is standard among iPhones in general.
  • What’s new is the water and dust resistance. The water resistance, especially, should give you peace of mind when in wet environments such as the rain or bath.
  • Colors include: jet black, matte black, silver, rose gold, gold, and space gray. The jet black and matte black are new.

Headphone Jack:

  • It’s gone! Apple nixed the headphone jack in the iPhone 7 edition
  • Instead, customers will receive “Lightning EarPods” that fit in the same port as the charger. Customers can also opt to purchase wireless Bluetooth headphones. Apple has released its own wireless Bluetooth headphones, called AirPods.

Camera:

  • Apple has overhauled its camera technology for the iPhone 7. The rear camera is 12 megapixels; and the front camera is 7 megapixels.
  • The rear camera is touted to let in 50% more light than the iPhone 6 did. It is also 30% more energy efficient and 60% faster.

Battery:

  • Apple claims that the iPhone 7 will have the longest-lasting battery ever. It will generate two more hours of battery life than the iPhone 6.
  • Apple claims the iPhone 7 can offer 13 hours of wireless audio, which is pretty nice.

Display:

  • The iPhone 7 has the same screen size as the iPhone 6: 4.7 inches.
  • The iPhone 7 has a brighter display than the iPhone 6 with a resolution of 1334×750.

iPhone 7 Price

The retail prices for the iPhone 7 phones are as follows:

iPhone 7 32GB $649
128GB $749
256GB $849
iPhone 7 Plus 32GB $769
128GB $869
256GB $969

 

There are ways to offset these large price tags, however. First, if you have an older model iPhone, you can trade it in for an Apple gift card and then use that gift card towards the purchase of the iPhone 7. Here are the estimated trade-in values (information from Apple’s website):

  • iPhone 4s: $50
  • iPhone 5, 5c: $75
  • iPhone 5s: $125
  • iPhone 6: $225
  • iPhone 6 Plus: $250

Another way to offset the cost of the new iPhone 7 is pay for it in monthly installments through one of the large cell phone service providers. For example, Verizon is offering a monthly installment plan of $27.08 per month for 24 months.

Wrapping Up

Is the new iPhone 7 worth the large price tag? For technology trendsetters, the answer is a surefire “yes”. For most of us, the answer may not be that clear.

The features are definitely attractive. But when you take a closer look at just the new features, you may realize that the iPhone 7 isn’t that much different from the iPhone 6 to justify shelling out another $600 to $900. If you have an older model iPhone, trading it may work out to be a good deal for you.

Ultimately, the decision to purchase the new iPhone 7 will come down to your wants versus your needs. Do you have the room in your budget right now for the phone? Are you willing to sacrifice additional savings to have the newest technology? These are just a couple of questions you’ll want to consider before making the purchase.

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The IRS Tax Scam and What Happens When You Owe Taxes

by Luke Landes
Telephone

For a few years, a ring of criminals believed by the U.S. government to be based in India have been involved in a pervasive tax scam. Callers impersonate IRS officials, connect with American taxpayers, and convince many that they have an outstanding bill for tax payments. The scam has been so pervasive that it has […]

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Black Friday Was a Bust

by Luke Landes
Holiday shopping

The National Retail Federation has admitted defeat. Sales over the past holiday weekend dropped 11 percent over Thanksgiving weekend in 2013 according to the organization in a press release yesterday. The organization reversed course after being highly positive about the prospects for shopping leading up to the announcement of the estimated figures. Shopping traffic for the […]

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Beware the Inspirational Story or Your Wallet Will Suffer

by Luke Landes
Story

Storytelling is powerful, and is the smart marketer’s tool for separating consumers with their money. Watch out for inspirational stories.

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Don’t Let Contractors Rip You Off

by Mitch Lipka

It’s the height of home repair season, a time when established contractors are often in demand and unavailable. That’s a big opportunity for the fly-by-night operators to step in. Hiring a contractor to do work on your home, whether it’s a relatively small job or a major renovation, is a big deal. For most consumers, […]

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How to Win the War Between Consumers and Creators

by Luke Landes
Consumer

As the title implies, there is a war between consumers and creators, and the battles in this war are played out with money. It’s a war I’ve been seeing from both sides of the trenches. I am a consumer, but more than that, I’ve been writing and thinking about consumer behavior from an empowerment perspective […]

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Home Grocery Delivery: Peapod vs. FreshDirect

by Luke Landes
FreshDirect

Although I don’t take advantage of this type of service every time I need to go food shopping, grocery delivery is one luxury I enjoy about once a month. I’ve been a customer of Peapod for about eighteen months. Peapod is a company associated with Stop & Shop, a supermarket in my area. The food […]

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