Categories
Budgeting & Saving

What’s the Deal with the New EMV Cards?

Whenever I shop in Target I always have a goal to spend less than $100.

I swear, I try to limit my purchases but I always seem to find something that I need!

I think it’s the bull’s-eye that draws me in.

On a recent trip to Target, I was in the self-checkout line and I swiped my credit card. Normally, as soon as I swipe my card, I see the receipt printed a few moments later and I’m on my way; my wallet approximately one hundred dollars lighter. However, this time, the screen prompted me to insert my card. “What?” I immediately thought. What if the machine eats my card? But I inserted my card and my transaction finalized a few moments later.

You might have had a similar experience in the recent months. On October 1, the U.S. credit card industry completed the formal migration to EMV chip-enabled credit cards. When I swiped my card at Target, I was prompted to insert my card in the terminal so that the chip could generate unique, dynamic data. So what is the deal with these EMV chip cards?

The implementation of enhanced security measures such as chip-enabled cards in the United States was prompted by the new “BuySecure” initiative, put into place by executive order. Identity theft is a serious issue. In 2014, the FTC reported identity theft as the top consumer complaint with a total of $16 billion stolen from 12.7 million fraud victims in 2014. The same 2015 Identity Fraud study found that in 2014 a new identity was stolen every 2 seconds. With such a prominent issue affecting Americans, President Obama signed an executive order to protect consumers from identity theft and a component of that “BuySecure” initiative includes implementation of the new chip technology.

Discover has created an EMV resource center to answer questions that you might have as a consumer. Here are a few questions that I had and answers that I learned from Discover.

How does the security of a chip-enabled card compare to a non-chip card?

  • The new chip cards have an extra layer of protection against fraud at point of sale. If you don’t have a chip card, or the merchant you are shopping at isn’t EMV ready, your magnetic strip card will still work the same way as it always has.

How does the chip-enabled card work?

  • Using a chip card is simple. At chip-enabled terminals, consumers can insert their cards into a terminal and follow the guided instructions on the terminal screen. In the case that a retailer does not have chip-enabled terminal, consumers can use the magnetic stripe on their card as they’ve always done before.

How are EMV cards more secure?

  • The microchip in chip cards generates unique, dynamic data every time a consumer completes a transaction in a store, making it harder for fraudsters to collect their card information. In turn, it is more difficult for hackers to copy and use credit card information.

While it might be an adjustment at first, ultimately, the EMV card technology aims to make each transaction more secure. And even though the technology can’t cure me of my Target shopping addiction, or change how much I spend on each visit, at least I will feel more secure knowing that those purchases are my own.

This post was created as a part of the Discover partnership program.

Originally posted 2015-10-26 10:00:30.

Categories
Budgeting & Saving

4 College and Education Related Tax Benefits

Investing in your education is important even though tuition costs keep climbing. College tuition, fees, and room and board average $42,419 at private institutions and $18,943 at public institutions, according to College Board.

While it can be difficult to keep higher education costs down, there are plenty of tax benefits to be gleaned.

Here are 4 college and education tax related benefits every student should be utilizing:

Deductions

During college I was able to benefit a lot from education related deductions. On behalf of yourself, your spouse or your dependent, you may be able to deduct qualified education expenses paid during the school year. This deduction can reduce the amount of your income that is subjected to tax by up to $4,000 if you’re single and can’t be claimed as a dependent.

If you graduate college with student loans and your modified adjusted gross (MAG) income is less than $75,000 (if filing single) or $150,000 (if filing jointly), you may receive special a special deduction. You can get student loan interest deducted from your taxes.

Tax Credits

Education tax credits can help reduce the amount of income tax you have to pay each year you’re in school. If the credit reduces your tax to less than zero, you may actually get a refund. Hooray for tax refunds!

The American Opportunity Tax Credit (formerly known as the Hope scholarship credit), can be claimed in tax-years from 2009 through 2017. The credit applies to educational expenses including tuition, fees, course materials and more. Expenses related to room and board, transportation, insurance, and medical expenses don’t qualify unfortunately. But students can receive a tax credit up to $2,500. 40% of the credit is refundable. To learn more about this specific tax credit, visit IRS.gov.

The Lifetime Learning Credit is another tax credit that can be utilized school expenses while in attendance. The credit helps students pay for undergraduate, graduate and professional degree courses. The credit is limited to $2,000. However, it can be used for as many years as enrolled. To learn more about eligibility requirements for the Lifetime Learning Credit, click here.

Scholarships

Scholarships are great because even though they’re competitive, you don’t have to pay them back. A fellowship can also be earned. It’s similar to a scholarship. But it’s paid to a student to pursue a certain type of research.

I earned quite a few various private and public scholarships during college. Sometimes I got worried that the money I desperately needed to pay for college was going to get taxed and counted as income. The best thing about scholarships and fellowships is that they can be tax-free if they meet the following conditions:

  • You are pursuing a degree at an eligible institution.
  • You use the scholarship or fellowship funds to pay for qualified educational expenses.

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To learn more about tax-free scholarship and fellowship requirements, check out this information from the IRS.

College Savings Plans

Qualified tuition programs, also known as 529 plans, are maintained by states. They allow you to either prepay tuition or contribute to a special savings account for future expenses. Either option is convenient. However, consider opportunity cost before you prepay for education. Earnings in a 529 plan are tax-free when invested and tax exempt when withdrawn for qualified higher education expenses. Qualified expenses include tuition, room and board, fees, books, supplies and materials.

State sponsored college savings plans are very popular for parents. While contributions are not deductible, there is also no income limit for contributors. This is an option everyone can consider.

Getting a head start on college prep is a great idea. No one enjoys last minute panic. Use one or many of these programs and your finances will thank you.

Higher education may always be pricey. But these tax benefits will definitely help. For further assistance, see our Ultimate Tax Guide and consult a tax professional.

How have you/how will you pay for college?

Originally posted 2015-10-14 10:00:25.

Categories
Budgeting & Saving

How to Stay Organized as a Busy College Student

Glossy college brochures show students hanging out on the quad, playing Frisbee, and staying up all night to watch movies with friends. It seems like college students have endless free time, right? Nope! With 80% of students working while attending school, and school course loads taking up approximately 12-15 hours a week, free time is rare. Add in labs, homework, and student organizations, and you start to realize college doesn’t offer up as much freedom as you may think.

However, there are certain ways a busy college student can stay organized and get everything done. With a little organizational skills, you can set up your schedule to work efficiently for you. Who knows… maybe you’ll even get some time for Frisbee!

As a Busy College Student, You Need to Study Smart

Your primary focus in college is to graduate. Therefore, studying is your number one priority. This doesn’t mean you have to spend all day studying. Think of studying in terms of quality, not quantity.

Keep your study time efficiently organized by using a planner. That may sound nerdy but nerds get good grades. A planner can be physical or digital. Make sure to keep it up-to-date.

If you’re most alert in the morning, create an early morning study block. If you’re a night owl, dedicate some late night time for studying. Listen to your body and study when it’s most alert.

Studying is your number one priority. It leads to graduation. Graduation leads to a job. A job leads to fulfillment (and money!).

Set Up Your Space Efficiently

A cluttered desk is a cluttered mind. A messy room is a stressful room. A busy college student doesn’t have time for wading through clutter. At the beginning of the school year, set up your room to maximize space:

  • Put things you use often, like a backpack, purse, jacket, or keys, out where you can see them. Buy plastic hooks you can hang on the wall for these items. Hang them up as soon as you get in the room.
  • Group like items together. This means keeping your shower stuff all in one area, like on hooks inside your closet.
  • Put away your clothes. I know, it sounds like something your parents might say, but seriously: put away your clothes. You’ll do yourself a favor. By organizing your clothes in ways that make sense, you’ll save yourself a ton of time in the morning. This is awesome because you’ll be able to sleep later. That’s because you won’t have to spend all morning searching for a clean outfit!

If you share a room, it will be harder to control your roommate’s mess. However, by keeping your own space clean, you’ll be able to get what you need done. Maybe your roommate will adopt your time-saving methods.

Take Advantage of Breaks

The best way to stay organized as a busy college student is to take advantage of breaks throughout the day.  If you have 2 hours between class and your job, run a load of laundry. You’ll likely have a free washer and dryer available in the middle of the day. That will save time on the weekend when everyone is arguing over the washing machines.

Have an hour between lunch and your next class? Grab a friend who’s in the same class as you and have a quick study session. You can help each other. You both get a free tutor.

If you work a relaxed on-campus job, use the quiet time to review your class notes. When I worked at my school’s library, I was able to read a book in between helping patrons. I brought whatever book we were reading in English class.

Capturing free time during the day is a fantastic idea. It may even lead to wide-open weekends. That can lead to way more college fun!

Crib Notes:

Staying organized as a busy college student doesn’t have take up much time.

Establish good study habits. Create a living space conducive to living and studying. Use your free time efficiently. These 3 tips will lead to graduation and a fulfilling life thereafter.

Good luck and have fun!

Originally posted 2015-10-12 10:00:03.

Categories
Career

Smart Answers to Stupid Interview Questions

Getting a job interview can be tough! As a recent graduate, you likely don’t have vast work experience or networks to draw on. After submitting dozens of applications, you finally get a call: you have an interview! It’s time to practice for those interview questions.

Unfortunately, some interview questions are really dumb. We’ve all been there: interview questions we don’t expect, or questions so stupid you wonder why employers bother to ask them at all. Unfortunately, many companies still ask dumb interview questions, so it’s best to be prepared for them. Here are several stupid interview questions you may face and the smart way to answer them.

What Did You Not Like About Your Last Job/Boss?

This interview question is terrible for so many reasons: it tries to bait you into speaking badly about your previous employer, it may embarrass you, and it doesn’t help the company hiring you. Employers want to know about your personality and if they’ll like you, so being negative in this negative question sets you up for failure.

The smart way to answer negative interview questions like this is to be positive about what your previous jobs have taught you. If a micromanaging boss ruined a job for you, you may want to highlight how you’ve learned to communicate effectively with managers. This shows the interviewer(s) that you’ve thought about challenging aspects in the workplace but have learned how to handle them. It’s important to stay positive throughout an interview.

Tell Us Your Greatest Weakness

This stupid interview question is terrible because it’s old and won’t go away, and because almost no one tells the truth with this question. If your greatest weakness is difficulty waking up on time, you likely wouldn’t tell your future employer this.

The smart way to answer interview questions like this is to focus on the things that make you great. Use your knowledge of the company to highlight things they’re looking for in the job: writing skills, analytical skills, or technical knowledge. You can also talk about a weakness you’ve improved, which shows your tenacity and willingness to learn. Again, stay positive!

Why Should We Hire You?

This is one of those dumb interview questions that just makes you want to stare at your interviewer in disbelief. They will meet your competition. You will not. You don’t know what qualifications the others have. How could you possibly know who’s the best person to hire?

The smart way to answer this interview question is actually pretty easy. This question usually comes at the end of your interview. It’s your time to remind the interviewers why you think the position is right for you. This question is a chance for you to summarize your qualifications. A strong close will be remembered.

Tell Us Your Salary Range

This dumb interview question is sometimes asked during the interview or on your application. If you’re applying to a public sector job, you can look up salary ranges online, making this question irrelevant. If it’s a private sector job, you can try to use sites like Glassdoor.com to find salary ranges. Or there are many ways to determine what the job will pay.

This question is stupid, especially for recent graduates with limited work experience. Don’t say that $12/hour would be good enough to pay rent. You have to answer this question very carefully.

The smart way to answer this question is to say that you expect the salary to be commensurate with experience. If you can find salary ranges, state those ranges and add any experience you already have in the field to boost your salary estimate. Give them a reason to pay you more.

Where Do You See Yourself in 5/10/15 Years?

This interview question is not just stupid, but difficult. No one can predict with certainty where they will be in 5 years. You may not even expect to stay in that job for 5 years, as you could move or choose to start your own business.

The smart way to answer this question is to talk about skills you hope to acquire or improve over the next few years. If you do see yourself interested in becoming a manager, you could talk about your interest in mentorship opportunities and training. This will show your potential employers you’re interested in improving yourself, which is what they’re looking for in an employee.

It’s Time to Get out There

While many employers are moving away from stupid interview questions, you will occasionally run into them.

Above all, stay positive during negative interview questions. Employers want to hire people they can get along with. Life will always be a bit of a popularity contest.

[Tweet “”People won’t always remember what you’ve done but they will remember how you made them feel.” -Napoleon Hill”]

Originally posted 2015-10-05 10:00:48.

Categories
Budgeting & Saving

National Coffee Day: How Much Do YOU Pay for Coffee a Week (And How You Can Cut That Cost in Half)

In celebration of National Coffee Day, celebrated on September 29 this year, let’s talk delicious, hot (or iced!) coffee! Coffee is one of America’s favorite beverages, with it coming in only behind water as a drink of choice.  More than 75% of Americans drink some type of coffee, from lattes to cappuccinos to plain coffee.

According to the Huffington Post, the average American drinks 2.1 cups of coffee a day. We spend an average of $3.28 per drink, a number that has increased annually since 2013.

While it seems like we all celebrate national coffee day pretty regularly, it’s worth estimating how much you pay for coffee in a week. Let’s face it, unless you’re dedicated to brewing only the most basic coffee at home every day, you’re likely spending money on coffee out. That money adds up! Here’s how you can cut your coffee consumption costs in half – and still get your caffeine fix.

Estimate Your Average Coffee Expenses

If you’re curious to see how much you spend on coffee regularly, USA Today has a nifty coffee calculator that tells you how much you spend monthly, annually, and over the course of 30 years on your coffee habit. For example, if you go to Starbucks for 2 cups of coffee a day, the calculator predicts you’ll spend $126 a month. That’s approximately $31 on coffee a week!

Of course, your expenses may vary widely. Not every day is national coffee day, so it’s likely some days you’ll make coffee at home or possibly skip it entirely. According to the USA Today Coffee Calculator, if you make 2 cups of coffee at home every day, you’ll spend $4.80 a month – basically a dollar a week on coffee.

Being aware of your regular coffee expenses will go a long way toward understanding where your money goes weekly. Here are additional ways to continue cutting those expenses, especially if you’re one of those people who has more than 2 cups of coffee daily!

Brew At Home

As the USA Today calculator shows us, you’re better off overall if you make coffee at home. The best part of brewing at home is you can be more creative in your coffee flavor choices. Every day can be experimental national coffee day when you have your own coffee machine!

By brewing at home, you can try different types of coffee (not just Starbucks – there are many coffee brands out there with very distinct and tasty flavors!), flavors, and sizes. The “tall” size you get at Starbucks may be more affordable, but you can brew yourself a giant cup at home for less than half the price.

Plan Ahead

One reason why many of us purchase coffee is lack of time. Have you ever been rushing out the door only to realize you desperately need coffee, so you swing by the drive thru on your way to work? You can cut down on these unplanned coffee runs by planning ahead.

There are a few easy steps to planning ahead. When you go grocery shopping, make sure you’ve stocked up on coffee grounds, or pods if you use a single-brew machine, flavored syrups, creamer, or half-and-half. By having everything on hand at home, you’ll be less likely to make an excuse of running to the coffee shop.

The morning you get up, stumble over to the coffee machine, put in your coffee of choice, and press “on” or “start”. Then get ready like you normally do while your coffee brews. You can even have everything pre-measured the night before, so it’s ready for you to just press “start”!

You Don’t Need a Fancy Machine

While it’s really handy to have a coffee machine you can set, so it automatically brews coffee for you at the time you choose, you don’t have to spend a ton of money on a fancy coffee machine. Keurigs are nice, handy, and easy to use, but they’re not your only choice.

Mr. Coffee is an excellent brand that makes coffee machines you can pre-set, ones for single-serve cups of coffee, and smaller sizes that fit easily in an apartment or in an office cubicle. If you simply can get up early enough to brew your own coffee at home, consider a smaller, affordable coffee pot you can use at work! None of those machines should cost you more than $30, and if you can’t afford one now, you can always ask a loved one to buy it for you on national coffee day!

Make Educated Coffee Choices

Even after purchasing your own home machine and brewing coffee there, sometimes you just can’t help going to Starbucks and buying a cup of coffee. It happens! However, you can save money by making the right coffee choices.

Instead of purchasing a grande latte from Starbucks, approximately $4, consider other coffee choices. Could you purchase a grande plain coffee, approximately $2.50, and add your own flavoring, creamer, etc.? If you’re willing to try different types of coffee, or bring your own creamer or syrups from home, you can save money by buying a plain coffee and adding to it.

Splurge When You Have Coupons or Freebies

Many coffee chains offer perks to regular customers. If you’re a regular Starbucks customer, for instance, you can download the Starbucks app and redeem rewards for free or half-priced coffees and meals. On days you’re offered these perks, it’s like a national coffee day celebration for you! Take advantage of these rewards by indulging in your coffee fix.

Use your rewards or discounts to purchase a large size of your favorite coffee, or to get your regular-sized coffee at half-price. This is a great chance for you to get your grande latte for $2 instead of the regular $4+.

 

By brewing at home, making educated choices, planning ahead, using the right machine, and taking advantage of freebies, you can cut your coffee expenses in half quickly. It may take some getting used to, especially if it’s a habit for you to visit the drive-thru every morning, but think of the savings. If you cut out just one Starbucks visit every day, you’ll save an estimated $766 in one year. Now that’s something to celebrate National Coffee Day over!

Originally posted 2015-09-28 10:00:59.

Categories
Budgeting & Saving

Which is Better? Credit Union or Traditional Bank?

When it comes to choosing a bank, you may become stuck between settling with a traditional bank and a neighborhood credit union. On the surface, banks and credit unions are quite similar. They both offer checking and savings accounts, loans and other financial products. However, there are quite a few important differences.

This post will show you how they’re different. Then you’ll know which one is right for you!

The Main Differences

Generally speaking, a bank is a business that holds onto your money and creates a profit by investing the money or loaning it out to others. The bank also makes money by charging you with account fees and ATM fees.

Credit unions are member-focused institutions that operate as non-profits. A checking account is commonly known as a ‘share draft’ because when you deposit money at a credit union, you’re actually buying shares of the company. With a credit union, instead of being a customer, you’re a partial owner.

Credit unions generally offer the same services as a bank. On top of that, there is also a greater sense of community. It’s also common to find lower interest rates for loans. Basically, credit unions are known for friendly faces and low rates.

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Traditional Banks are Convenient

Traditional banks are on almost every corner, making it accessing your cash an easy feat. If you’re traveling or just need cash quickly and have a major bank like Wells Fargo, Bank of America, or JPMorgan Chase, you won’t have to go far to find a branch. You can even utilize their various different ATM locations when the bank is closed.

Most traditional banks also offer convenient tools like online banking and mobile apps so you can track and manage your account on the go. Large banks have the client-base necessary to create these conveniences. Expect smooth online operations at big banks.

The one downside with large traditional banks is that they can be very impersonal. You may be subject to long lines. You may never get the same teller twice.

Credit Unions are Personable

While credit unions may not be located on every corner, they take a more personalized approach and generally get to know their customers. At a credit union you’ll feel more like a member. You’ll have more of a say in what type of service and experience you want to have. When it comes to getting a loan, credit unions will be more lenient and willing to work with you and understand the financial factors that don’t show up on paper.

However, credit unions operate on a smaller scale than traditional banks and run fewer branches with stricter hours of operation. This may be an inconvenience for some people who live far from their credit union or work late hours. Friendly faces are nice but only when you see them!

The Truth about Fees and Interest Rates

Credit unions generally offer fewer fees and better interest rates for savings accounts, hands down. According to a recent report from Wallet Hub, credit unions continue to offer leading interest rates for savings accounts (while still being inferior to online banks) as well lower interest rates for personal loans. Credit unions also have lower checking account fees.

Most traditional banks have a long list of rules and requirements when you open a checking account. It’s important to read the fine print to ensure that you aren’t overpaying by getting charged a monthly fee, multiple withdrawal fee or any outlandish overdraft fees. At a credit union, there is less of a chance that you will get stuck with so many fees because these institutions do not rely largely on fee money for profit as is the case with banks.

Which is Better?

The answer to the age old question of whether you should choose a credit union or a traditional bank is almost always going to be subjective. In the end, it all depends on what you value: saving money or convenience.

If you are looking for convenience, easy access to your money when traveling, superb mobile banking tools and a wide variety of credit card programs, you may prefer to use a traditional bank. Just remember to read the free agreement before signing! If you don’t require the convenience of multiple locations and prefer a more member-focused type of institution with lower fees and better interest rates, you should consider a credit union.

It’s important to do your research and read the fine print before opening an account with either types of institution.

 

Do you prefer a credit union or a traditional bank? Let us know in the comments below!

Originally posted 2015-09-18 10:00:22.