5 Frugal Ways to Celebrate Your Debt Successes

5 Frugal Ways to Celebrate Your Debt Successes

One of the lessons I’ve learned as I continue to work my way out of debt is that you need to treat yourself and celebrate your little successes along the way so you can avoid debt fatigue down the road. Celebrating small milestones, like getting another $1,000 knocked off your debt total, starting to put money aside for retirement or paying off a credit card balance, is important for both your sanity and your family’s sanity.

Find out now: How much money do I need to save for retirement?

I don’t have kids, but several of my personal finance blogger friends do, and they have talked about how kids don’t always understand how they can contribute to the family financial goals since they don’t earn any money. Plus, sometimes kids don’t understand why there is a sudden need to cut back on expenses they have come to know as normal- things like going out to eat or having a night out at the movies with friends. Allowing yourself and your family to celebrate your financial wins as you work your way out of debt will help them understand that while your family is now living on a different budget, it’s still okay to enjoy the present.

With that in mind, here are five frugal ways you can celebrate your financial successes, so you don’t erase all your progress!

1. Go out for Dessert

As a kid, whenever we’d go out for dessert after a home-cooked meal, it felt like a real fancy treat. Now I know that this was mom and dad’s way of having a celebration without spending a lot of money on paying for a whole meal.

2. Rent a Movie

5 Frugal Ways to Celebrate Your Debt Successes

This may not seem like a treat if you rent movies all the time, but if you are living on a very strict budget and don’t often rent movies, this could be a treat for you and your family. Make it the full experience – popcorn, candy, etc. Renting a movie and making popcorn at home is a fun way to celebrate, and it’s still a lot cheaper than going to the theater.

12 Affordable Ways to Have Fun on a Tight Budget

3. Hit a Matinee

Wait, didn’t I just say to avoid the theater to save money? Yes, but sometimes movie theaters offer cheaper matinee movies earlier in the day. Often showings before noon can be as little as half price. This is a more budget-friendly way to enjoy a new movie.

4. Buy a Book or Magazine

One of the first things that got cut from my budget when I started focusing on financial goals was my magazine subscription. Most of the time I don’t miss it as I have plenty of things to keep me busy, but sometimes it’s nice to somewhat mindlessly flip through a magazine in the evenings. Buying yourself a new book – maybe one of these investing books – or magazine is a fairly cheap way to entertain yourself and if it’s a rare occasion, it can serve as a reward too.

Frugal Summer Fun for Adults

5. Go on a Day Trip

5 Frugal Ways to Celebrate Your Debt Successes

If you aren’t traveling too far, the most expensive part of the trip is usually the overnight accommodations. By taking a day trip instead to the beach or somewhere else, you can get out of town and away from the norm without having to shell out for an expensive hotel room.

What other frugal ways can you think of to celebrate your debt successes?

Photo credit: Â©iStock.com/andresr, Â©iStock.com/sdominick, Â©iStock.com/AleksandarNakic

The post 5 Frugal Ways to Celebrate Your Debt Successes appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com

Expert Homebuying Tips for Buying in a Seller’s Market

Buying a house is a big decision, but it can feel especially overwhelming to place an offer on a home less than 24 hours after seeing it for the first time. Plus you’re under pressure to outbid several other buyers — or risk losing the house.

While these circumstances might sound extraordinary, they’re not. With housing inventory nationwide at an all time-low — down 22% from last year according to the National Association of Realtors — it’s no wonder buyers are competing for the same few houses.

I was in this exact position last fall. Here are seven key takeaways from my experience buying in a seller’s market.

Get a Pre-Approval Letter

In order to be competitive in a hot seller’s market, you will need to line up your financing in advance.

Besides all the usual suspects, like saving up for a down payment and improving your credit score, you’ll also want to get a pre-approval letter from your bank. It states that a bank would approve you for a mortgage of a certain amount, and acts as a guarantee to the seller that you can actually afford to buy their house.

This is where it helps to know your budget up front.

“It’s important to understand that the strength of financing is a key consideration a seller takes into account when selecting an offer,” said real estate developer Bill Samuel.

No seller wants to risk accepting an offer that might fall through. Aand since pre-approval letters can take some time to get, have one ready before you find your dream house.

Be Friendly With Neighbors

This might sound crazy, but making a good impression on your new neighbors can actually make a difference when it comes time for a seller to review offers.

Since you’ll likely be visiting the home at least once before making an offer, be prepared to talk to any neighbors you might run into. In close-knit neighborhoods, or ones where people share resources (like an HOA), sellers might care a bit more about the type of person they sell the house to.

If you happen to meet a neighbor when visiting the home, introduce yourself and make a good impression. You never know how much their opinion of you might factor into any final decisions.

Submit an Offer Quickly

After you’ve seen a house, and decided you love it, be prepared to submit an offer quickly— as in, ASAP.

Work with your real estate agent to determine how many other offers the seller already has (or expects to get) and then be prepared to draft something up that day. In our case, we toured our home for the very first time at 11 a.m. on a Monday — it came on the market the evening before — and made an offer by 4 p.m. that same day.

If that sounds fast, it is. But by the time we submitted our offer, the seller already had three others. This is where it helps to have a great real estate agent on your side.

“Having a realtor who can get your offer submitted quickly is crucial,” said Erik Wright, owner of New Horizon Home Buyers. “You want to get your offer in front of the seller first, and make it strong. Purchase price is the obvious factor and in a competitive market, houses often go for over asking price. However, a strong offer has several factors and it depends on what’s most important to the seller.”

Work with your real estate agent to find out what matters most to the seller — is it money, closing quickly, something else entirely? Then make sure your offer addresses their needs.

Minimize Your Contingencies (Within Reason)

Another way to win over your seller (and prevail in any bidding wars) is by keeping your contingencies to a minimum.

Contingencies are the contractual stipulations buyers and sellers must meet before the deal can close. Unsurprisingly, sellers don’t like to have too many of them to deal with. Contingencies can include such things as requesting a seller to make certain repairs, getting a home inspection, or even the fact that you’ll need to sell your old house before being able to buy the new one.

“In a really aggressive seller’s market, a home buyer who has to sell a current property should do so before placing an offer on another home,” said Jason Gelios of Community Choice Realty. “Don’t always assume that the seller will take the highest price. Other conveniences can play a factor in gaining the seller’s attention, especially things like faster closing times and less restrictions.”

While my partner and I didn’t make the highest offer on our house, we did have the fewest contingencies — mainly, we didn’t ask too much of our seller in the way of repairs, or have another house to sell in order to afford the new one.

All that said, there are certain contingencies you should never forgo, and a home inspection is one of them. Getting your home inspected is hugely important, since inspectors will often find things even the sellers weren’t aware of. No matter how much you love a house, don’t be afraid of exercising your right to an inspection.

According to buyer protection laws in most states, sellers are required to report any findings in home inspections to subsequent buyers. In other words, if an inspector finds something wrong with the house, the seller will have to deal with it one way or another— either with you, or the next buyer should you choose to drop out of the deal.

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Make a Generous Earnest Money Deposit

When trying to woo your seller in a competitive market, it helps to make a generous earnest money deposit. An earnest money deposit is a good-faith deposit requested by the seller when you enter into a contract to buy the house and typically run anywhere from 1% to 3% of the sale price of the home.

When deciding how much of an earnest money deposit to include in your offer, keep in mind that whatever amount you give comes off the price of the home (and is returned to you if the deal falls through). In other words, there’s no reason to be cheap. If you can, go slightly above the seller’s requested deposit amount. Even if it’s just a little more than what they’re asking, that gesture of good faith might just be what gets you the house.

A row of houses on a cul de sac in a suburban neighborhood.

Offer Above Asking Price

Wait. Why would anyone make an offer that’s above asking price? Because the competition did it first, and in a hot seller’s market, offering above asking price is often what it takes to even be considered.

Upping your offer may not break the bank as much as you’re fearing. “With interest rates so low these days, offering more than what the seller is asking may not make a drastic difference in your overall monthly payments,” real estate agent Pavel Khaykin of Pavel Buys Houses said.

Let’s say the listing price on your dream home is $320,000 and you’re able to put down a 6% down payment. That leaves you with a mortgage of roughly $301,000. For a 30-year fixed mortgage at an interest rate of 3%, that translates into $1,269 monthly payments. Now let’s say you decide to bid a little higher on the home and offer $10,000 over asking price. This would only bump up your monthly payment (assuming you qualify for that low interest rate) by $42.

Lace Up Your Running Shoes

In a hot seller’s market, you’ve got to be ready to move fast. Often this is more of a change in mindset than anything else. When my partner and I first started looking at homes, we considered ourselves casual buyers — that is, until our dream home came on the market late one Sunday night. From there, things moved quickly. We saw the home, made an offer, were under contract by morning, and spent the next month and a half going through the process of closing on the house.

If you’re serious about finding your dream home in the next few months, the best thing you can do is know what you want from the outset, and get your ducks in a row to make a compelling offer when you find it. Maybe this means making a list of your must-haves in a house, and working to improve your credit score. It might also mean reaching out to a real estate agent before you need one, and getting that pre-approval letter in place.

Although inventory is low, new houses come on the market all the time.

Larissa Runkle is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

Why You Should Not Buy a Credit Privacy Number (CPN)

What Is a CPN, or Credit Privacy Number?

If you’re looking to repair your credit, you may have come across websites that advertise a credit privacy number, credit protection number or CPN. These numbers are nine digits like a Social Security number (SSN), and sellers claim that you can use them instead of your SSN. However, these CPNs are often actual SSNs lifted from real people, reportedly children, prison inmates and the deceased – and you can never legally buy a new SSN. In other words, a CPN is no solution to your credit rating problem. Under no circumstances should you try to buy a CPN.

Why a CPN is No Credit Fix

Websites have sprung up all over the internet, offering CPNs to people with bad credit or low credit scores. They advertise that this number can serve as a “get out of jail free” card for your bad credit. In theory, you can use a CPN instead of your SSN on credit applications to hide the poor credit associated with your personal SSN. If you have bad credit but still need a credit card or loan, this can seem like the solution, assuming you can pay anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

That price might seem worth it for a chance to wipe the slate clean. However, these offers are essentially a big scam. The CPNs you can buy online are not legally assigned credit protection numbers. Instead, they are usually stolen Social Security numbers, taken from children, the deceased or inmates.

Also, using a purchased CPN puts you in some hot water, too. Credit agencies can easily spot discrepancies if you try to use a CPN on an application instead of your SSN. Not only will this fail to help your credit, but it’s also committing fraud which is punishable by jail time.

How to Avoid CPN Scams 

What Is a CPN, or Credit Privacy Number?

If you’re dealing with some bad credit, don’t turn to a CPN. Only scammers sell CPNs, and they in turn may cheat you out of your personal information as well as hundreds or thousands of dollars. Using a purchased CPN can also put you in jail, even if you didn’t know the number was fraudulent. This is why it’s important to be aware of this popular scam.

If you really need a CPN or new SSN, it will be free. The process will go through the Social Security Administration Office, since a new number would be tied to your old SSN. That said, it is very hard to qualify to receive a new number. Having bad credit is never a qualifying reason.

How to Get a Legal CPN

With so many fraudulent websites and companies trying to sell you a way to reset your credit, it’s hard to know how to get a legal CPN. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation out there. Some experts say that you can speak with an attorney to obtain a legal CPN. The attorney can then contact the Social Security Administration Office on your behalf. However, others maintain that all CPNs are illegal.

Generally, it seems that you cannot get a legal CPN unless you actually need one. These situations include celebrities, government officials and people under witness protection. You can also apply in other specific instances, like if you’re a victim of abuse, stalking or identity theft. A real CPN would be attached to your SSN, so it’s still not an escape from the credit tied to your SSN.

You may also stumble upon offers to obtain an EIN, or Employer Identification Number. The IRS does issue EINs, but only businesses can use them for business costs. This means that you cannot legally obtain an EIN as an individual looking to improve your credit. You also cannot make up a home business, apply for an EIN and use that new number for a credit reset. It is a federal crime to obtain an EIN under false pretenses. In any case, the credit profile for your EIN is still tied to your SSN.

Bottom Line

What Is a CPN, or Credit Privacy Number?

You shouldn’t ever, under any circumstances, try to purchase a CPN. These offers are fraudulent and don’t provide any credit repair or relief. At the very least, buying a CPN wastes money you should put towards repaying your loans in the first place. At worst, you could go to jail for fraud. There are better, more constructive ways to repair your credit. If you’re truly in a situation that calls for a CPN, contact your lawyer for assistance.

Tips on Rebuilding Your Credit 

  • Of course, the best way to legally clean up your credit is to pay back your debts and improve your credit practices. A good place to start is to pay off your credit card debt with the highest interest.
  • Sometimes you’ll just have to wait for your bad history to fall off your record. Generally, negative info stays on your credit report for seven years. If you can’t get a debt collection removed from your credit report, for example, it’ll stay there for seven years. However, as time goes on, the toll it takes on your report lessens.
  • Don’t go it alone. If you have a good income, but you’re just bad at managing your money, a financial advisor can help. With guidance, you can make smarter choices – and even start growing your wealth. To find an advisor, use our free, no-obligation matching tool. It will connect you with up to three advisors in your area.

Photo credit: Â©iStock.com/becon, Â©iStock.com/Xesai, Â©iStock.com/Kerkez

The post Why You Should Not Buy a Credit Privacy Number (CPN) appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com

New to Market: Matt Damon’s Zen Los Angeles Home Asks $21 Million

As part of his plan of leaving Los Angeles and moving his family to the Big Apple, Matt Damon has now listed his Pacific Palisades home for sale. And he’s hoping to cash in big from the sale, asking $21 million for the Zen-inspired contemporary home set in one of LA’s most desirable neighborhoods.

Recently listed with Eric Haskell, an agent with celebrity real estate brokerage The Agency, Matt Damon’s house is an architectural masterpiece with 7 bedrooms, 10 baths, tons of distinct design features and some pretty extraordinary amenities. The Academy Award-winning actor will be trading all this for a 6,000-square-foot penthouse in Brooklyn, New York, having broken records last year by paying $16.745 million for the top floor unit of a famous former hotel, The Standish.

inside matt damon's beautiful house in los angeles
Inside Matt Damon’s house in Los Angeles, now on the market for $21 million. Image credit: Alexis Adams

An architectural gem with striking features & Instagram-worthy interiors

Designed by award-winning architect Grant Kirkpatrick, founding partner of leading-edge design studio KAA Design Group, Matt Damon’s house is an extraordinary contemporary home that showcases masterful craftmanship throughout its 13,508-square-foot interiors.

With a modern-yet-timeless design, the house is anchored by a breathtaking atrium with 35-foot mahogany vaulted ceilings. The interiors are bathed in natural light and mix warm wood elements with natural stone, giving the whole space an inviting, relaxing vibe. Other striking features that deserve a shout-out: clerestory windows and glass walls that fuse the indoors with the outdoor areas.

two-story-atrium-with-vaulted-ceilings-in-matt-damons-house
Inside Matt Damon’s house in Los Angeles, now on the market for $21 million. Image credit: Alexis Adams
inside matt damon's house, living room
Inside Matt Damon’s house in Los Angeles, now on the market for $21 million. Image credit: Alexis Adams
inside matt damon's house, living room and dining room
Inside Matt Damon’s house in Los Angeles, now on the market for $21 million. Image credit: Alexis Adams

The family room opens to the magnificent chef’s kitchen with custom mahogany cabinetry, Bluestone countertops and stainless steel Viking, Wolf and Miele appliances. The kitchen then opens to the expansive backyard retreat (but more on that in a minute).

All in all, Matt Damon’s soon-to-be former Los Angeles abode packs 7 bedrooms and 10 baths across 13,508 square feet of space. The primary suite comes with its own private terrace, dual dressing rooms, massage room and a spa-style bath with soaking tub and expansive shower. Pretty much every room offers leafy property and treetop views, adding an extra note of serenity to this wonderfully Zen-inspired home.

kitchen in Matt Damon's house in Los Angeles, now on the market for $21 million.
Inside Matt Damon’s house in Los Angeles, now on the market for $21 million. Image credit: Alexis Adams
Inside Matt Damon's house in Los Angeles, now on the market for $21 million.
Inside Matt Damon’s house in Los Angeles, now on the market for $21 million. Image credit: Alexis Adams
primary suite in matt damon's los angeles house
Inside Matt Damon’s house in Los Angeles, now on the market for $21 million. Image credit: Alexis Adams
massage room in matt damon's house
Inside Matt Damon’s house in Los Angeles, now on the market for $21 million. Image credit: Alexis Adams
beautiful bedroom in matt damon's house in Los Angeles
Inside Matt Damon’s house in Los Angeles, now on the market for $21 million. Image credit: Alexis Adams

Amenities galore and a wonderful backyard retreat

Most celebrity homes tend to outdo themselves when it comes to amenities and bonus rooms and Matt Damon’s house is no exception. Interior amenities include a game room, bar, office, gym, plush media room, staff quarters and wine storage and tasting room. And that’s just what you’ll find inside the house.

Outside, the modern home has quite a few amenities that invite calm and relaxation (perfectly in tune with the rest of the house), including an expansive pool, spa, a cascading waterfall, koi pond and Hawaiian-inspired Lanai with a covered lounge and alfresco dining terrace. To appeal to the little ones — Damon is a father of four — there’s also a nice children’s play area.

Pool and outdoor area of Matt Damon's Los Angeles home in Pacific Palisades.
Pool and outdoor area of Matt Damon’s Los Angeles home in Pacific Palisades. Image credit: Alexis Adams
outdoor lounge and alfresco dining area in matt damon's $21 million house
Pool and outdoor area of Matt Damon’s Los Angeles home in Pacific Palisades. Image credit: Alexis Adams
kids playground in matt damon's house
Playground outside Matt Damon’s Los Angeles home in Pacific Palisades. Image credit: Alexis Adams

Matt Damon’s next home is vastly different from his Los Angeles digs

The Academy Award-winning actor, who is starring in the highly anticipated Ridley Scott-directed The Last Duel (to be released this year), will soon be leaving Los Angeles behind. The move has long been planned, with Damon and wife Luciana Bozán Barroso having purchased a Brooklyn Heights penthouse two years ago for a record-breaking price.

The couple paid $16.745 million for a 6-bedroom, 6,201-square-foot penthouse at The Standish — a historically significant converted building that was originally built in 1903 as a Beaux Arts hotel. At the time, Damon’s purchase set a new record for the borough, making him the owner of the most expensive property ever sold in Brooklyn.

Despite the fact that the penthouse consists of several units merged for extra space, the actor will be downsizing considerably. And the loss in square footage is matched by a significant downgrade in outdoor space — though it’s worth noting that Matt Damon’s new home does have an expansive terrace, a rarity for New York City. There’s no Zen backyard pool though, so we’re pretty sure the Good Will Hunting actor will, at times, miss his Pacific Palisades retreat.

More beautiful celebrity homes

Check Out this Beautiful House the Hemsworth Brothers Just Sold in Malibu
Wayne Gretzky is Selling his $22.9M California Home Designed by ‘The Megamansion King’
Morgan Brown Re-Lists Stunning West Hollywood Home Amid Split from Actor Gerard Butler
Chrissy Teigen & John Legend Buy $17.5M Beverly Hills Mansion

The post New to Market: Matt Damon’s Zen Los Angeles Home Asks $21 Million appeared first on Fancy Pants Homes.

Source: fancypantshomes.com

Best cards for food delivery and meal kit subscriptions

Credit cards for foodies are the latest trend, with more and more rewards programs and additional card benefits catering to both dining in and eating out. Restaurant and grocery bonus categories are becoming commonplace – letting cardholders rack up a few extra points or cash back on those purchases.

But what about those who prefer to order delivery? If you like to take advantage of popular food delivery services like DoorDash or Uber Eats or simplify cooking with a meal kit subscription, there are plenty of credit card rewards and benefits you can leverage to save a little money.

Finding the best card for your favorite services

Finding the best card for your favorite food delivery or meal kit service depends on a variety of factors, including the card’s yearly credits, special perks or rewards rate. For example, many dining cards offer bonuses that are tailored to a specific delivery service, as a monthly Uber credit.

See related: Food delivery perks on luxury travel cards

For meal kit services, matching rewards is a little more complicated. You could opt for a rewarding grocery card, as many meal kit brands are now partnered with major supermarkets – so you can buy them in the store.

Alternatively, a card that earns rewards on dining or online shopping can help you get rewards on both food delivery and meal kits. Earning dining rewards can be complicated, as not all delivery services have a merchant category code that qualifies for a point or cash back bonus. You can test it by making a small charge to your card and seeing what rewards you earn.

Online shopping rewards, on the other hand, are much more flexible. They apply to both web and app purchases, so whether your order from your phone or computer, you can rack up bonus points or cash back.

Best cards by delivery service or meal kit subscription

With all this in mind, here are some of our favorite cards for some of the most popular food delivery and meal kit subscription services.

Delivery service Card Rewards rate Why we like it
DoorDash Chase Sapphire Reserve
  • 10 points per dollar on Lyft purchases (through March 2022)
  • 3 points per dollar on travel and restaurants (excluding purchases covered by $300 travel credit)
  • 1 point per dollar on general purchases
  • Generous rate on dining purchases
  • Receive a yearly statement credit for DoorDash purchases ($60 in 2020 and $60 in 2021)
  • Get at least one free year of DashPass when you enroll with your card (activate by Dec. 31, 2021)
Uber Eats The Platinum Card® from American Express
  • 10 points per dollar on eligible purchases at U.S. gas stations and U.S. supermarkets, on up to $15,000 in combined purchases, during the first 6 months of card membership
  • 5 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel (starting Jan. 1, 2021, earn 5X points on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year)
  • 5 points per dollar on eligible hotels booked with amextravel.com (starting Jan. 1, 2021, earn 5X points on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year)
  • 1 point per dollar on general purchases
  • Terms apply
  • Get up to $200 in Uber credits per year ($15 per month, plus an extra $20 in December), which can be applied to Uber Eats
  • Up to 12 months of complimentary Uber Eats Pass when you enroll before Dec. 31, 2021
  • Automatic Uber VIP membership (where available) without ride requirements
Instacart Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card
  • 8% cash back on Vivid Seats tickets (through January 2022)
  • 4% cash back on dining and entertainment
  • 2% cash back at grocery stores
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • Top-tier cash back on restaurant delivery, including most delivery services
  • Grocery bonus category includes eligible grocery delivery services, including Instacart
  • As a Mastercard, offers complimentary a 2-month Instacart Express membership if enrolled before March 31, 2021
Grubhub/Seamless/Boxed/Instacart/Uber Eats American Express® Gold Card
  • 4 points per dollar at restaurants worldwide, including Uber Eats orders
  • 4 points per dollar at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 in purchases per year, then 1 point)
  • 3 points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com
  • 1 point per dollar on other purchases
  • Terms apply
  • Enroll to receive up to $10 in statement credits per month (up to $120 per year) to use at participating restaurants, including Grubhub, Seamless and Boxed
  • Up to $120 in Uber Cash per year ($10 per month), which can be applied to U.S. Uber Eats orders (Gold card must be added to the Uber app)
  • Up to 12 months of complimentary Uber Eats Pass when you enroll before Dec. 31, 2021 (Uber Eats Pass will auto-bill starting 12 months from initial enrollment in this offer, at then-current monthly rate)
  • Excellent rewards on grocery delivery services, such as Instacart
HelloFresh Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
  • 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in purchases per year, then 1%)
  • 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions
  • 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and on transit purchases
  • 1% cash back on general purchases
  • Terms apply
  • Generous rate on U.S. supermarket purchases (HelloFresh meal kits are sold in supermarkets such as H-E-B and Giant Food) and eligible grocery delivery services, such as Instacart
  • Unlimited 3% cash back on delivery purchases from ride-share services, like Uber and Lyft
Home Chef Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express
  • 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%)
  • 2% cash back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores
  • 1% cash back general purchases
  • Terms apply
  • Generous rate on U.S. supermarket purchases (Home Chef meal kits are sold in select Kroger locations)
Other delivery services Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card
  • 3% cash back on a category of choice (gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drugstores or home improvements and furnishings)
  • 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs
  • $2,500 combined limit on 2% and 3% categories each quarter
  • 1% cash back on other purchases
  • Generous rate on online shopping purchases (if you select it as your 3% category) and good rate at grocery stores
  • Can swap choice 3% category monthly to account for different delivery services. For instance, the dining category rewards Grubhub purchases and the travel category rewards ride share purchases from services like Uber

If you don’t have a delivery service you prefer – or if you like to switch back and forth based on restaurant availability – a card with rewards on online shopping is your best bet.

Bottom line

Ordering food can be expensive, but using the right rewards card can help you alleviate some of that cost by racking up points or cash back. With some cards, you might even get a few extras that cover your next couple of meals.

Source: creditcards.com

"How Will You Measure Your Life?" The Question that Changed Me Forever

Reading is one of my superpowers. I make time daily in my work life to consume an article or a chapter of a non-fiction book. I usually learn something—a new fact to absorb or a tactic to try. 

Incredibly rarely, something I read actually changes me. 

When I first read this piece, I was an exhausted, overworked, always-feeling-guilty mom with a long commute and a need for something to change.

Seven years ago, I first stumbled on an article called How Will You Measure Your Life? written by the renowned Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen. The piece captivated me, and I credit it with setting me on a new path. Christensen, who has since passed away, offered me a sense of direction and clarity. I find many people around me seek the same thing right now, which is precisely why I'm revisiting a seven-year-old article with you today.

When I first read this piece, I was an exhausted, overworked, always-feeling-guilty mom with a long commute and a need for something to change. Reading it helped me ask and answer some big questions for myself—not by telling me what to think, but rather how to think. Christensen's article applied big wonky management concepts to the everyday business of humanity. And he did it beautifully.

Since I first read "How Will You Measure Your Life," I've made a habit of rereading it once a year. And each year I take something new from it.

Today, in case you’re one of those people sitting with big questions, I’d love to share some of my favorite insights. If you’ve ever wondered how to maintain fulfillment, balance, and integrity in your life and career, then this one’s for you.

How do I achieve fulfillment in my career?

Professor Christensen begins with an introduction to the work of Frederick Herzberg whose research in the mid-twentieth century taught us that money is not our most powerful motivating force.

As Money Girl Laura Adams tells us, money can buy us happiness … but only to a point. To have emotional well-being, we need to have enough money to cover basics like food and shelter comfortably. A widely cited 2010 study set that bar at $75,000 a year. Making more than that, data told us, didn’t equate to more happiness.

Unlock those golden handcuffs and free yourself to find joy in your work.

So if money doesn’t drive happiness, then what does? According to Christensen, it’s the opportunity to learn, to grow in responsibility, to contribute to the development of others, and to be recognized for your hard work and achievements. 

So ask yourself: Are you having these fulfilling experiences in your work today? 

If you could use a bump, are there ways you can infuse more life into your work? Can you take on a project that might help you expand your thinking, network, or knowledge? Can you mentor someone whose success you’d love to enhance? Can you publicly recognize a colleague who did you a small solid?

Or are you ready for a change you now realize you can afford to make?

Maybe you’ve always worked in corporate and dreamed of rolling into the non-profit space. Or you’re being pulled in multiple directions and want to transition to working part-time for a while. Or there’s that side hustle you always wanted to try, or that degree you dream of getting.

Unlock those golden handcuffs and free yourself to find joy in your work. 

For me, this meant finally stepping out of a job that felt heavy and taking that chance on starting my own business. I’ve never looked back.

How do I maintain balance?

This, Christensen explains, is really a question of how your strategy is defined and implemented.

”…A company’s strategy is determined by the types of initiatives that management invests in.”

If a company's strategy is to win by creating high-quality products, but it chooses to maximize its profit margin by using cheap materials to manufacture them, well … I think you can see why the strategy is doomed to fail.

So the question here is what strategy have you defined for your life. And are you making the right investments to support it?

To make the analogy work, Christensen imagines each important part of his life as a line of business—his career, his family, and his community.

He wants each of them to succeed. So he allocates his investments—his time, his focus, his care—in alignment with that strategy.

I realized that my time is my investment portfolio. I wanted to take ownership of it.

“Allocation choices,” he says, “can make you turn out to be very different from what you intended.”

He goes on to observe that “People who are driven to excel have this unconscious propensity to underinvest in their families and overinvest in their careers even though… loving relationships… are the most powerful and enduring source of happiness.”

When I first read this, I knew my sense of balance was off. Yet I somehow felt powerless to change it. But there was something in his framing about the allocation of resources that really hit me. I realized that my time is my investment portfolio. I wanted to take ownership of it.

Did I quit my job and start my business the next day? I assure you I did not. But this reframing was exactly the gift I needed to move from feeling constrained and trapped to feeling encouraged and ready to explore some options. 

Where have you possibly overinvested in work and underinvested in the things or people that bring you joy?

I’m not suggesting you follow my path. I’m inviting you to assess yours. Are you investing according to the outcomes you hope to achieve? Where have you possibly overinvested in work and underinvested in the things or people that bring you joy?

How do I keep integrity at the forefront?

Ever hear of something called the “marginal cost mistake?” I hadn’t. It’s the idea that most people who’ve fallen from grace (think Bernie Madoff) didn’t wake up one day and decide to commit a major crime.

“A voice in our head says ‘Look, I know that as a general rule most people shouldn’t do this. But in this particular extenuating circumstance, just this once it’s OK.’ The marginal cost of doing something wrong ‘just this once’ always seems alluringly low. It suckers you in.”

Personally, I’ve never stood on the precipice of making a criminal choice. But this concept has shown up in my life in different ways.

Think long and hard before you break the golden rule. Otherwise, your 'marginal cost mistake' will stay with you.

In my life today, I stand firmly in the camp of respect and equality for every human being. If someone in my life—a client, a colleague, even a family member—makes an off-color joke or comment, I know it’s easier to ignore it. Just this once. 

But I won’t. And having that clarity makes the choice so simple for me.

Maybe your boss asked you to “borrow” a competitor’s idea you heard about… just this once. Or a friend needs a reference and wonders if you’ll play the role of her former boss… but just for this one potential job.

Think long and hard before you break the golden rule. Otherwise, your "marginal cost mistake" will stay with you. I still remember kids I didn’t stand up for on the playground. I can’t change what’s behind me, but I can be a version of myself going forward that the little girl in me would be proud of.

I wish the same for you.

I hope these ideas have triggered some insight or courage or inspiration. May you be fulfilled, may you be in balance, and may you be the most gleaming version of you.   

Source: quickanddirtytips.com

8 Hidden Problems in the Bedroom You Might Not Spot in a Home Video Tour

bedroom virtual tourFeverpitched

Video tours have quickly become the norm in the COVID-19 era as a safe way to get a closer look at the house you want to see in person. And while no doubt the kitchen and living room are high on your list to check out, the bedroom deserves more than a passing glance.

After all, a bedroom isn’t just a place to catch some zzz’s; it’s also a place that can function as a retreat or a quiet workspace. For your kids, it’s a room to play, do homework, and host sleepovers. And sure, a bedroom’s size and closet space are important—but they’re not the only things you should ask to see during a video tour. In fact, glossing over the bedroom could mean huge peeves after you buy—or worse, real problems that cost you money.

Here are some potential issues you might find hiding in the boudoir.

1. It might not actually be a bedroom

“Many listings will call a bonus room a bedroom even if it does not have a closet and a window, which is technically not correct, ” says John Gluch, founder of the Gluch Group in Scottsdale, AZ.

The legal requirements for classifying a room as a bedroom vary by state. Still, while taking the video tour, you should verify that bedrooms have a door and a window as two means of escape in an emergency.

The ceiling should be tall enough for a person to comfortably stand, and the square footage sufficient to accommodate a bed.

Be sure to ask your agent if the room is legally considered a bedroom.

2. There’s no privacy

Photo by Creative Window Designs 

Have your agent scan the windows and sills to check their condition. Take note of features such as triple-pane or tilt-and-turn windows.

Finally, check the view.

“You’ll want to know if a large, beautiful window in the master bedroom lacks privacy and looks right into a neighbor’s yard,” says Jennifer Smith, a Realtor® with Southern Dream Homes in Wake Forest, NC.

3. The fixtures and outlets are dated or in bad shape

“Buyers’ eyes tend to naturally go toward the beautifully made bed with lots of accent pillows and the art hanging on the walls,” Smith says. “But it’s important to remember to look at the more permanent features of the room that you’ll have to live with day to day.”

Ask your agent to zoom in on things like the flooring, ceiling fan, light fixtures, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and heating and cooling vents. Is there a radiator hiding behind the headboard or an air conditioner in the window?

Be sure to find out how many outlets are in the room. Older houses often have fewer outlets, and they may be the outdated, two-prong variety, which isn’t grounded.

4. The early morning sun will wake you up

Photo by Gaetano Hardwood Floors, Inc.

Oodles of natural light is a coveted feature—unless the morning sunlight wakes you up hours before your alarm goes off.

“Many Realtors and home buyers who visit a property at varying times throughout the day unintentionally fail to consider what the exposure is like at 5:30 a.m. with the sunrise,” says Gluch.

Curtains and blinds are obvious solutions, but you may not want to cover windows that showcase a beautiful view or are placed high in a vaulted ceiling.

5. Your furniture won’t fit

Whether it’s a large master suite or a children’s bedroom, pay attention to how much furniture is in the room and how it’s arranged, Smith says.

“Staging declutters and depersonalizes a space as much as possible, so buyers should think about how their current belongings will fit or if they’d have to buy all-new furniture,” says Smith.

Ask the listing agent for the dimensions of the bed and/or dresser for comparison. But if the dresser is missing, it could mean the bedroom has a large closet with organizational options.

Ask to see inside all the closets, and make note of the size, shelves, and other organizational components.

6. The bedrooms are in an inconvenient location

It’s easy to get disoriented when you’re taking a live video tour, so “buyers shouldn’t forget to pay attention to where bedrooms are located in the house,” Smith advises.

Ask yourself how the locations of the bedroom will suit your lifestyle. Will you be more comfortable with the kids’ bedrooms on the same floor? Is the master suite adjacent to a busy living room or kitchen? Where are the bathrooms in reference to the bedrooms?

7. The master bathroom doesn’t offer separation

Photo by Elad Gonen 

A spacious master suite isn’t just a place to rest your weary head at night. It’s your future dream retreat, where you can sink into a soothing bath or luxuriate in a rainfall shower. But if you want a bit of privacy, be mindful of how the master suite is laid out.

“Many people overlook the fact that there is not a door between the bedroom and the bathroom,” says Gluch. “Likewise, many floor plans now have a water closet—a small toilet room with a door—but do not have a door separating the bedroom from the rest of the bath.”

8. There might be potential safety hazards

If you’re looking at a multilevel home or a house with a bedroom in the basement, verify fire escape routes.

“Consider potential safety hazards such as how difficult it might be to drop a fire escape ladder out of an upstairs bedroom window or a ladder up from a basement bedroom,” says Gluch.

Basement bedrooms should have an egress window, and upper-floor windows should be clear of obstructions like trees or sections of the house that would make an emergency exit difficult.

The post 8 Hidden Problems in the Bedroom You Might Not Spot in a Home Video Tour appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

7 Tax Benefits of Owning a Home: A Complete Guide for Filing This Year

tax benefits of owning a homeTijana Simic / Getty Images

What are the tax benefits of owning a home? Plenty of homeowners are asking themselves this right around now as they prepare to file their taxes.

You may recall the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act—the most substantial overhaul to the U.S. tax code in more than 30 years—went into effect on Jan. 1, 2018. The result was likely a big change to your taxes, especially the tax perks of homeownership.

While this revised tax code is still in effect today, the coronavirus has thrown a few curveballs. For one, the Internal Revenue Service has delayed filing season by about two weeks, which means it won’t start accepting or processing any 2020 tax year returns until Feb. 12, 2021. (So far at least, the filing deadline stands firm at the usual date, April 15.)

In addition to this delay, many might be wondering whether the new realities of COVID-19 life (like their work-from-home setup) might qualify for a tax deduction, or how other variables from unemployment to stimulus checks might affect their tax return this year.

Whatever questions you have, look no further than this complete guide to all the tax benefits of owning a home, where we run down all the tax breaks homeowners should be aware of when they file their 2020 taxes in 2021. Read on to make sure you aren’t missing anything that could save you money!

Tax break 1: Mortgage interest

Homeowners with a mortgage that went into effect before Dec. 15, 2017, can deduct interest on loans up to $1 million.

“However, for acquisition debt incurred after Dec. 15, 2017, homeowners can only deduct the interest on the first $750,000,” says Lee Reams Sr., chief content officer of TaxBuzz.

Why it’s important: The ability to deduct the interest on a mortgage continues to be a big benefit of owning a home. And the more recent your mortgage, the greater your tax savings.

“The way mortgage payments are amortized, the first payments are almost all interest,” says Wendy Connick, owner of Connick Financial Solutions. (See how your loan amortizes and how much you’re paying in interest with this online mortgage calculator.)

Note that the mortgage interest deduction is an itemized deduction. This means that for it to work in your favor, all of your itemized deductions (there are more below) need to be greater than the new standard deduction, which the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act nearly doubled.

And note that those amounts just increased for the 2020 tax year. For individuals, the deduction is now $12,400 ($12,200 in 2019), and it’s $24,800 for married couples filing jointly ($24,400 in 2019), plus $1,300 for each spouse aged 65 or older. The deduction also went up to $18,650 for head of household ($18,350 in 2019), plus an additional $1,650 for those 65 or older.

As a result, only about 5% of taxpayers will itemize deductions this filing season, says Connick.

For some homeowners, itemizing simply may not be worth it. So when would itemizing work in your favor? As one example, if you’re a married couple under 65 who paid $20,000 in mortgage interest and $6,000 in state and local taxes, you would exceed the standard deduction and be able to reduce your taxable income by an additional $1,200 by itemizing.

__________

Watch: Ready To Refinance? Ask These 5 Questions First

__________

Tax break 2: Property taxes

This deduction is capped at $10,000 for those married filing jointly no matter how high the taxes are. (Here’s more info on how to calculate property taxes.)

Why it’s important: Taxpayers can take one $10,000 deduction, says Brian Ashcraft, director of compliance at Liberty Tax Service.

Just note that property taxes are on that itemized list of all of your deductions that must add up to more than your particular standard deduction to be worth your while.

And remember that if you have a mortgage, your property taxes are built into your monthly payment.

Tax break 3: Private mortgage insurance

If you put less than 20% down on your home, odds are you’re paying private mortgage insurance, or PMI, which costs from 0.3% to 1.15% of your home loan.

But here’s some good news for PMI users: You can deduct the interest on this insurance thanks to the Mortgage Insurance Tax Deduction Act of 2019—aka the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act—which reinstated certain deductions and credits for homeowners.

“These include the deduction for PMI,” says Laura Fogel, certified public accountant at Gonzalez and Associates in Massachusetts. (This credit is retroactive, so talk to your accountant to see if it makes sense to amend your 2018 or 2019 tax return in case you missed it in past years.)

Also note that this tax deduction is set to expire again after 2020 unless Congress decides to extend it in 2021.

Why it’s important: The PMI interest deduction is also an itemized deduction. But if you can take it, it might help push you over the $24,800 standard deduction for married couples under 65. And here’s how much you’ll save: If you make $100,000 and put down 5% on a $200,000 house, you’ll pay about $1,500 in annual PMI premiums and thus cut your taxable income by $1,500. Nice!

Tax break 4: Energy efficiency upgrades

The Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit was a tax incentive for installing alternative energy upgrades in a home. Most of these tax credits expired after December 2016; however, two credits are still around (but not for long). The credits for solar electric and solar water-heating equipment are available through Dec. 31, 2021, says Josh Zimmelman, owner of Westwood Tax & Consulting, a New York–based accounting firm.

The SECURE Act also retroactively reinstated a $500 deduction for certain qualified energy-efficient upgrades “such as exterior windows, doors, and insulation,” says Fogel.

Why it’s important: You can still save a tidy sum on your solar energy. And—bonus!—this is a credit, so no worrying about itemizing here. However, the percentage of the credit varies based on the date of installation. For equipment installed between Jan. 1, 2020, and Dec. 31, 2020, 26% of the expenditure is eligible for the credit (down from 30% in 2019). That figure drops to 22% for installation between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2021. As of now, the credit ends entirely after 2021.

Tax break 5: A home office

Good news for all self-employed people whose home office is the main place where they work: You can deduct $5 per square foot, up to 300 square feet, of office space, which amounts to a maximum deduction of $1,500.

For those who can take the deduction, understand that there are very strict rules on what constitutes a dedicated, fully deductible home office space. Here’s more on the much-misunderstood home office tax deduction.

The fine print: The bad news for everyone forced to work at home due to COVID-19? Unfortunately, if you are a W-2 employee, you’re not eligible for the home office deduction under the CARES Act even if you spent most of 2020 in your home office.

Tax break 6: Home improvements to age in place

To get this break, these home improvements will need to exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income. So if you make $60,000, this deduction kicks in only on money spent over $4,500.

The cost of these improvements can result in a nice tax break for many older homeowners who plan to age in place and add renovations such as wheelchair ramps or grab bars in bathrooms. Deductible improvements might also include widening doorways, lowering cabinets or electrical fixtures, and adding stair lifts.

The fine print: You’ll need a letter from your doctor to prove these changes were medically necessary.

Tax break 7: Interest on a home equity line of credit

If you have a home equity line of credit, or HELOC, the interest you pay on that loan is deductible only if that loan is used specifically to “buy, build, or improve a property,” according to the IRS. So you’ll save cash if your home’s crying out for a kitchen overhaul or half-bath. But you can’t use your home as a piggy bank to pay for college or throw a wedding.

The fine print: You can deduct only up to the $750,000 cap, and this is for the amount you pay in interest on your HELOC and mortgage combined. (And if you took out a HELOC before the new 2018 tax plan for anything besides improvements to your home, you cannot legally deduct the interest.)

The post 7 Tax Benefits of Owning a Home: A Complete Guide for Filing This Year appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

6 Signs Your Personal Finance Software Makes Life Easier

6 Signs Your personal finance software makes life easier

6 Signs Your Personal Finance Software Makes Life Easier

Finding personal finance software is easy, because there are countless choices in mobile apps, online programs, and finance software you can run on your home computer. But they’re certainly not equal. Personal finance software should make your life simpler, not more complicated, and it should be customizable for your particular life, goals, and needs. You know you’ve found great software when your financial life becomes easier over time. Here are 6 signs your personal finance software makes life easier.

1. You Haven’t Paid a Late Fee in Months

Does your personal finance software let you know in advance of when bills are due? It should be easy to set up automated alerts that tell you a few days before monthly, quarterly, or yearly bills are due, so you can take care of them and avoid annoying and guilt-inducing late fees. Ideally your software should notify you by text, so you’ll be sure and get the message whatever you’re doing and wherever you are.

2. Spending Categories Correspond to Your Actual Life

When personal finance software requires you to shoehorn your actual spending patterns into pre-set spending categories, the result can be confusion and frustration. Look for software that lets you create an unlimited number of spending categories you can customize. Do you buy your employees breakfast once a month? You can make a spending category for it. Are you a coffee or microbrew aficionado? You can make a spending category for it. Your budget should conform to your life, not the other way around.

3. You See How Trimming Budget Fat Affects Financial Goals

Sometimes it just doesn’t feel worth it to hold back at the grocery store after a long day or when buying Christmas presents. But when your personal finance software shows you exactly how disciplined spending helps you achieve your financial goals, like a vacation or paying off a loan, it’s easy to avoid giving in to those little temptations you face every day. When you can see how your discipline pays off, you’re more likely to stick with your good habits.

Start now: Get budgeting software from Mint to help manage your finances and make everyday life simpler by clicking here.

4. You May Have Faced One or Two Painful Truths

Powerful personal finance software can tell you things like how much you spent on fast food last week, or how much you’ve paid in non-network ATM fees this month. Sometimes, getting control of your personal finances means facing some harsh truths, like how much those little extras add up to. Your software should also be able to tell you how much more quickly you can reach financial goals if you cut a certain dollar amount from various spending categories. It’s a great way to stay on track to your goals.

Meeting finance goals with personal finance software5. You Know Exactly How Close You Are to Meeting Financial Goals

Maybe you want to save for retirement, or build up a down payment on a home. Your personal finance software should show you exactly how close you are to your goal at any time. You should also be able to receive monthly emails that track your progress and see how your everyday spending decisions affect how much you’ll have left over at the end of the month. Don’t settle for software that doesn’t let you track your progress easily.

6. Your Personal Finance Software Goes With You Everywhere

Personal finance software that links your computer and your mobile devices empowers you to make smart spending choices anytime, anywhere. Thinking about buying an item you unexpectedly find on sale? You can check your account balances right on your phone and know instantly if you can afford it. You can also set up convenient alerts that can tell you right away such things as whether you’re approaching your credit limits on your credit cards.

Personal finance software has come a long way since the days you had to manually enter checkbook balances and draft amounts. Today’s software offers an astonishing array of features that not only help you achieve financial goals, but actually make your everyday life easier. And when it links your accounts to your computer and your mobile devices, like Mint does, you have all the budget tools you need, wherever you go.

Start now: Get budgeting software from Mint to help manage your finances and make everyday life simpler by clicking here.

The post 6 Signs Your Personal Finance Software Makes Life Easier appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

These 50 Brands Will Fix or Replace Products You Buy From Them

Don’t worry about wearing out that backpack or yoga mat; these 50 companies will fix or replace your items for free.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com