Should I Trade in my Car Now?

Q: I’ve heard that used cars can currently fetch a pretty penny from dealers because of a nationwide vehicle shortage. Should I trade in my car?

A: The auto market has been red-hot for months as manufacturers scramble to catch up on pandemic-induced supply shortages. While circumstances vary, this can be a great time to get top dollar on a used car. 

Here’s what you need to know about the current auto market for sellers.

How high did prices go?

According to online automotive resource Edmunds, the average transaction price for a used car in the second quarter of 2021 was $25,410, which is up 21% year-over-year. This was the first time the average list price for used cars in the U.S topped $25K. Also, fewer than 1% of used cars on dealership lots were priced below $15,000 during this quarter, compared to 18% offered below this mark the previous year. 

Why have prices of used cars increased so sharply? 

Several interconnecting factors have led to the increase in auto prices. 

First, the pandemic put a freeze on the production of new vehicles for nearly a full business quarter. Factory output at the time of the nationwide lock-downs was reduced by 3.3 million vehicles and sales dried up, which also reduced the volume of trade-ins. This led to a decrease in the available supply of used cars and led to a driving up of prices. 

With production on pause, chip-makers focused on the electronics industry instead of creating semiconductor chips for automakers. When production resumed, manufacturers faced a worldwide shortage of these chips, which experts predict will last well into 2022. Consequently, manufacturers have been limited in the number of new cars they can make. This, too, means there are fewer trade-ins and fewer used cars available for buyers, leading to an increase in prices.

A third factor that has influenced the fall in the supply of used cars is the months-long shutdown of business and leisure travel during the lock-downs. Car rentals were virtually unused at this time, prompting the agencies to hold onto the cars in their lots instead of selling them to used car dealerships. This, of course, led to a reduction in the number of used cars available for sale and contributed to the spike in prices.

Finally, the single factor unrelated to the pandemic that has decreased the supply of used cars is the fact that today’s used cars were manufactured during the Great Recession. During this time, automakers faced severe financial challenges and the number of cars sold during that time was far lower than average. Today’s dearth in used cars, then, is also a trickle-down effect of the Great Recession and now directly impacting the current auto market. 

Will the market settle down soon?

Auto prices are already showing signs of leveling off, with some used car prices dropping by as much as $2,000 over the month of July. Many drivers are eager to sell their cars at top dollar now, adding more used cars to the available supply. Car rental agencies are also recovering from their business freeze during the pandemic, adding their own vehicles to the available pool of used cars. While it will take some time for the market to recover completely, it does seem to be cooling off from its post-pandemic sizzle. 

Should I trade in my car now? 

If you plan on trading in your car sometime in the near future, you may want to do so sooner rather than later. With inventory still low, dealers are eager to get their hands on as many used cars as possible and will offer you more than you’d typically expect. Be sure to check what price you can get from several dealers before you sell. It’s equally important to note that those same inflated prices will work against you if you plan on buying a new car now. 

Used cars can fetch a pretty penny in today’s hot auto market, but it’s crucial to weigh all factors carefully before deciding if trading in your car now can work in your favor. 

Your Turn: Have you recently traded in your car? Tell us about it in the comments. 

Beware Cryptocurrency Scams

As one of the hottest investments on the market, cryptocurrency has been enjoying the spotlight for quite a while, and scammers are eager to cash in on the excitement. Cryptocurrency scams are particularly nefarious since the digital currency is not regulated by any government, and once it has transferred hands it usually cannot be reclaimed. Here’s what you need to know about cryptocurrency scams and how to avoid them. 

How the scams play out 

There are several ways scammers are using cryptocurrency to con people out of their money. 

  • Blackmail. In this ruse, scammers send emails to their targets claiming they have compromising photos, videos, or embarrassing information about them. They threaten to go public with these unless the victim pays up in cryptocurrency. Of course, the scammer is lying about the materials they possess and this is illegal blackmail and extortion.
  • Social media. Here, a target receives a social media message appearing to be from a friend and asking them to send cryptocurrency immediately to help them out of an alleged emergency. If the target complies and sends cryptocurrency to their “friend,” they’ll never see that money again. 
  • Mining. In this scam, bogus websites lure targets into what appear to be opportunities for mining or investing in cryptocurrency. The site may even offer several investment tiers, promising bigger returns for a more significant investment. Unfortunately, any money invested through these sites can never be withdrawn. 
  • Giveaways. These “giveaways” appear to be sponsored by celebrities or big-name cryptocurrency investors, like Elon Musk. Victims are promised exponential returns for small investments in cryptocurrency, or for simply sharing some personal information. Of course, none of it is real, except the loss you’ll experience if you fall victim.
  • Romance. Through online dating sites, scammers convince victims they have met a legitimate love interest. As the “relationship” deepens, the victim’s long-distance date starts talking about fabulous cryptocurrency opportunities with incredible returns. The victim acts upon this advice, and sadly, loses their money to the person they believed was a new romantic partner. 

In each of these scams, the victim has no way of recovering the cryptocurrency they shared if an “investment” has been made. Scammers also use common spoofing technology to make it appear as if they represent a legitimate business or website. As always, when in doubt, opt-out. 

How to spot a cryptocurrency scam

Look out for these red flags to help you avoid cryptocurrency scams: 

  • You’re promised big payouts with guaranteed returns for a small investment in a specific cryptocurrency. 
  • A celebrity or famed cryptocurrency investor is sponsoring a cryptocurrency giveaway.
  • A friend contacts you on social media, claiming they are caught up in an emergency and need immediate rescue, but only through cryptocurrency. 
  • You’re promised free money in cryptocurrency in exchange for sharing some personal information.
  • A caller, new love interest, organization, or alleged government agency insists on payment via cryptocurrency.

Be sure to follow common safety measures when online and never share personal information or money with an unverified contact. If you are unsure whether you’ve actually been contacted by a friend or an authentic business, reach out to them to learn the real deal. Finally, if you’re looking to invest in cryptocurrency, never click on an ad or email; look up secure investment sites like Robinhood and Coinbase on your own.

If you’ve been targeted

If you believe you’ve been targeted by any of the above cryptocurrency scams or a similar scheme, immediately report the scam to the FTC. If the scam was pulled off on social media, let the platform owners know so they can take appropriate measures. Finally, let your friends and family know about the circulating scam.

Cryptocurrency offers unique opportunities for beginner and experienced investors alike, but scammers are exploiting digital currency for their own schemes. Proceed with caution to keep your money and your information safe. 

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a cryptocurrency scam? Tell us about it in the comments. 

What Should I Consider Before Getting an Auto Loan?

Q: I’m ready to finance the purchase of a new car. What do I need to know before finalizing my auto loan?

A: Financing a new car is a big decision that will impact your monthly budget for the entire term of the loan. That’s why it’s important to weigh all relevant factors carefully before making your decision. 

Here are five questions to ask before taking out an auto loan.

1. What is the actual cost of this car? 

In many dealerships, the sticker price on a car and the one you end up paying can be vastly different. In some lots, you can negotiate with the salesperson to get them to lower the price. Meanwhile, in other lots, you may find out at the last minute that you need to pay extra fees that will bring the price up significantly. Before you sign on an auto loan, make sure you know how much you’re actually paying for your new wheels.

2. Is this the lowest interest rate I can get from any lender without extending the term?

The interest rate on your loan determines how high your monthly payment will be and how much you’ll be paying overall for the privilege of financing your car. The range of rates you’ll be offered will depend on the lender, the market rates at the time and your credit score and credit history. Be sure to shop around and check out what different lenders can offer you before making your decision.

3. What will my monthly payment be with this loan? 

Your monthly payment will be determined by the loan amount, the annual percentage rate on the loan and the loan term. It’s best to use these details to run the numbers on a potential loan to be sure you can afford the monthly payments (there are hundreds of monthly payment calculators throughout the internet). Defaulting on an auto loan can mean risking the repossession of your vehicle and a massive dent in your future credibility. You’ll also be better prepared to incorporate this new payment into your monthly budget if you have a number to work with before finalizing the loan.

4. Are there any available incentives that can bring down the cost of this loan?

Before closing on a loan, ask the lender about any available incentives that can help you save on the cost of the car. Here are two incentives you may be able to access:

  • The cash rebate. This incentive allows borrowers to apply a dollar amount to the price of a vehicle, effectively bringing down the price. The borrower receives the discounted amount in a cash rebate when the loan is finalized. These rebates are typically offered regionally or under specific circumstances, such as to repeat buyers of a certain brand, buyers who have left a competing brand, recent graduates or members of the military. 
  • Dealer cash. This incentive is similar to the cash rebate, but it’s offered by the dealer instead of the automaker. Dealers may offer these incentives near the end of the month, quarter or model year, as they scramble to reach a quota set by the automaker. The dealer will be compensated for reaching this quota and is consequently open to bringing down the price for the buyer. However, you’ll only know about this incentive if you ask.

5. Do I really need an extended warranty?

Dealers can be overly eager to sell extended warranties to new car owners, but these may not be in the buyer’s best interest. If you’re purchasing a new car, it likely comes with a factory warranty covering the vehicle up to 100,000 miles, making an extended warranty an unnecessary expense. If you’re buying a used car, have it thoroughly inspected by a mechanic and get a detailed vehicle report on AutoCheck.com or Carfax.com to see if you need the extra protection that an extended warranty provides.  

Your Turn: Which factors do you consider before finalizing an auto loan? Tell us about it in the comments. 

6 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score

An excellent credit score is the ultimate goal of the financially responsible consumer. Those three magic digits tell a story of accountability, good financial sense, and the ability to spend mindfully. A great credit score also unlocks doors for large, affordable loans; employment opportunities, and more.

Its significance notwithstanding, achieving and maintaining an excellent credit score is easier said than done. There is no quick and easy way to dramatically boost your score over a short amount of time, but you can take steps to increase your credit score gradually. Below, we’ve listed six ways you can start amping up your credit score today.

1. Pay your bills on time

Your payment history is the single most important factor in determining your score. A missed credit card payment can significantly impact your score and it can take months to recover the loss. Set a reminder a few days before your bill is due to ensure you never miss a payment.

2. Reduce your credit utilization ratio

Another crucial factor in your score, your credit utilization ratio refers to the amount of available credit you use. It’s best to keep your utilization under 30%, or even 10% if you can swing it. This means, if you have $50,000 of available credit, try to keep your usage below $15,000 at most and, ideally, below $5,000.

It can also be a good idea to accept offers of increased credit or to request an increase on your own, which can instantly bring down your credit utilization ratio. However, only go this route if you know you are not at risk of overspending as soon as you have more credit at your disposal.

3. Use your cards

Taking a pair of scissors to credit cards can seem like the perfect way to increase your credit score, but you need to use your cards to keep your score high. A great way to make sure you use your cards on occasion but don’t overspend is to charge fixed expenses, like monthly subscriptions, to your card. Just be sure to pay the balance in full before the credit card bill is due.

4. Work to pay down outstanding debt

If any of your cards are carrying a balance from month to month, showing that you are working to get rid of this debt can do wonders for your credit score. Maximize your monthly payment by trimming an expense category in your budget and channeling that extra money toward your credit card bill. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your credit card company to ask for a lower interest rate as you work to pay off debt. Finally, consider consolidating credit card debt with a personal loan from Advantage One Credit Union, which will help you get rid of your credit card debts and leave you with one low-interest payment to make each month.

5. Look for errors on your bill and credit history

A fraudulent charge on your credit card can bring down your score without your knowledge. That’s why it’s important to check your statements each month and to look for charges you don’t remember making. If you see anything suspicious, contact the credit card issuer immediately to dispute the charge. It’s also a good idea to get your free credit report once a year from annualcreditreport.com for a more comprehensive look at your credit usage and signs of possible fraud. 

6. Become an authorized user on another cardholder’s account

If you’re new to the world of credit, and you’re looking to thicken your credit file to build your score, becoming an authorized user on another cardholder’s account can be a great way to get results quickly. Team up with someone who has excellent credit and never misses a payment. Your partner’s responsibility will reflect well on you and help build your credit history and boost your score. 

Credit scores are a crucial component of financial wellness, but achieving and maintaining a high score can be challenging. Use the tips outlined above to start boosting your score today. 

Your Turn: Have you taken steps to boost your credit score? Tell us about it in the comments. 

How do I Raise my Kids to be Financially Independent Adults?

Q: How do I raise my kids to become financially independent adults?

A: It’s commendable to try raising your kids today with an eye toward their future. Teaching your children how to be financially independent will help smooth the transition into adulthood. It will also give them the tools they need to achieve and maintain financial wellness throughout their life.

Here are some tips for raising kids to grow into financially independent adults. 

Start with basic budgeting

Successful budgeting is the foundation of every financially independent household. You can introduce your children to the concept of earning money and spending it mindfully when they’re still young, and then build upon that knowledge as they grow older. Preteens can watch you work on an actual budget, and teens can even assist you in creating a budget for a large expense, such as a family vacation. 

Another way to bring this lesson home is by showing kids how to budget their own money. Help them create columns for “income” and “expenses,” listing their allowance, occasional gift money and income from any jobs they may have in the income column, and the ways they’d like to use their money in the expense column. Show them how to divide their money across their expenses in a reasonable fashion and talk to them about setting aside money for the future. 

Finally, you can allow your older kids to make some spending decisions on their own, provided they don’t later complain about the choices they made. For example, you can give your preteen a specific amount of money to spend on a fall wardrobe, and then let them choose to spend more on a jacket and less on a pair of sneakers, or vice versa. They may make some mistakes, but you’ll be teaching them a lesson they’ll carry with them throughout life. 

Split the costs of “must-have” items

If your kids are like most, they’ll likely be asking you for all sorts of trending items they claim they absolutely need; from a pair of designer jeans all the in-kids are wearing, to the latest fad toy they insist their entire class already has. As a parent, you may be inclined to bend and give them what they want more often than you’d like. Or maybe you play hardball by refusing most of these requests. Neither approach is likely to leave both you and your child feeling happy with your choices. 

A great way to compromise on just how often to say yes to kids, and to teach them a fantastic financial lesson at the same time, is to have your child pay half the cost of expensive trending items. They’ll quickly realize that what seems like a “must-have” really isn’t when you’re the one footing half the bill. Or, they may go ahead with the purchase and either come to regret it as they learn this lesson later or enjoy the gratification that comes from paying your way toward an important goal. 

Teach them about credit cards

To a child, a credit card is a magical piece of plastic that makes everything possible. If your child observes you using a credit card or debit card often, you owe it to them to teach them what’s behind that little card. Show them your credit card bill when it arrives in the mail and talk about how you need to pay for all those expenses you swiped during the month, plus the interest you may incur. Teach them about debit cards, too, explaining how money is withdrawn from your checking account when you swipe the card. It’s also a good idea to give older kids a quick rundown on credit scores, how they work and why they’re so important. 

Open a checking account for your child 

Experience is the best teacher, and giving your child their own checking account can be an excellent way to teach them how they manage their own money. You can open a youth account, or a regular checking account under both your names, at Advantage One Credit Union to help your child learn all about money. They’ll make their own deposits (with your help), check on their balance, and may even enjoy a debit card to use as appropriate, so long as they have enough funds in their account to cover the purchases. This first account opened and managed under your watch will help them transition easily into truly handling their own money as financially independent adults. 

Talk openly about what they can expect in terms of support for the future

When your child is mature enough to talk about their college years and beyond, it’s time to have a conversation about their transition into financially independent adulthood. The more you communicate about your plans now, the less room you’ll leave for misunderstandings and upset feelings in the future. 

Be open and specific about how much financial support you plan to offer while they attend college, immediately after they graduate and further into the future. Ask about their plans as well, paying attention to when they anticipate being financially independent and whether you believe they are being realistic in their planning. 

When speaking to your young-adult child about the future, it’s a good idea to bring up the topic of career paths and earning potential as well. You can help your child determine a basic budget for the lifestyle they plan to lead, and then assist them in narrowing down their career choices to just options that can support their future desired lifestyle. Talk to your child about student loans too, and explain how crippling debt can be. 

It’s a scary world when you must step up to manage your money on your own, but it’s also a world filled with wonderful opportunities. Use the tips outlined above to help raise your child to be a financially independent adult. 

Your Turn: Do you have additional tips for raising financially independent adults? Share them with us in the comments.

Don’t Get Spooked by One of these Scams this Halloween!

That cackling, long-haired witch might send your heart fluttering with fear, but these Halloween scams are even spookier! Here’s what to know about these common Halloween scams. 

 1. The Joker

Desperate for money before the holiday shopping season hits? Looking to pad your pockets with a bit of extra cash? Scammers know this all too well, and target consumers with messages promising loads of money for very little work. All you need to do is send a small amount of money to a designated digital address via CashApp, Venmo, or another money transfer app, and your money will be doubled, tripled, or more. 

Don’t fall for the tricks! Much like another variation of the money-flipping scam, they’ll ask you to share your account information so they can withdraw the money and then “treat” you with the cash you’ve earned. It’s like getting free money – which, of course, doesn’t exist. 

Spot a money-flipping scam through the amateur writing and too-good-to-be-true promises. Any request for you to share your banking information is another dead giveaway. 

2. Night of the Living Dead

This scam can be pulled off at any time of year, but it takes on an extra level of spookiness when yards are decorated with ghosts and cobwebby graveyards. In the deceased identity theft scam, scammers actually steal the identity of someone who is no longer living. They may empty the decedent’s accounts, pass off their credit history as their own and use their Social Security number to collect benefits, apply for a job, and more.

Protect a loved one’s identity from being stolen after they pass on by taking steps to lock down their social media accounts, credit report, and Social Security number. Keep an eye on their accounts until their assets have been lawfully divided. 

3. Trick or Treat

You found the perfect costume online, and for a bargain price! You happily pay up, complete your order and wait for the package to arrive. And wait. And wait. Unfortunately, you’ve been tricked. 

In a variation of the online order scam, the package arrives on your doorstep as promised, but has little resemblance to the way it looked online. The quality may be lacking, the size and color completely off, or important components missing. You may try to find a customer service line, but there’s no working number listed. You may also try returning the purchase, but a street address for returns will be more elusive than the invisible man. 

Don’t get tricked! Only order from reputable sites that display complete contact information for the company. Ignore all offers that scream “Hot Deal! Act Now!” and feature prices that are way below the average sale price. Shop with caution and you’ll only walk away with treats.

4. Hitman

There’s a hitman at your door – and no, this is no disguise! 

In the hitman scam, scammers pretend to be assassins who were hired to take out a target. They’ll send the target extortion emails and messages, promising to spare their life for just a few thousand dollars. Often, they’ll even drop the name of the friend or family member who allegedly put a hit on the target’s life. 

Don’t get scammed! If you receive an extortion message of any kind, contact local law enforcement. Never share money with an unverified contact. And finally, if the scammer shared the name of the person who allegedly hired them, reach out to this person to verify that no, they didn’t put a hit on your life. 

It’s a frightening world out there, but being aware of these scams and following smart precautions, you can protect your money and your information. 

Have a happy and safe Halloween!

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a Halloween scam? Tell us about it in the comments. 

All You Need to Know About Home Equity Loans

As you pay down your first mortgage or the value of your home increases, you develop equity. When you have equity built up in your home, borrowing against it with a home equity loan is a great way to tap into the money when you need it most. Many people take out a home equity loan to finance home improvements, pay for their child’s college education, cover unforeseen medical costs, and many other purposes. Here’s all you need to know about home equity loans. 

What is a home equity loan? 

A home equity loan (HEL), or second mortgage, is a secured loan that allows homeowners to borrow against the equity in their home. The loan amount is based on the difference between the home’s current market value and the homeowner’s outstanding mortgage balance. Home equity loans tend to be fixed-rate, while the typical alternative, home equity lines of credit (HELOCs), generally have variable rates and allow the borrower to withdraw funds as needed.

How is a home equity loan amount determined?  

Your primary mortgage is the amount you borrowed when you first purchased your home. Over time, as you pay down the loan and/or the value of your residence increases, so does your equity. You can take a home equity loan out against the equity you have built up in your home, essentially borrowing against your home’s value minus what you still owe on your mortgage. It’s important to note that a home equity loan is a second loan against your home. You’ll still need to pay your primary mortgage along with new payments for your home equity loan.

A lender will typically want you to have at least an 80 percent loan-to-value (LTV) ratio once your home equity loan has been approved. 

Interest rates on home equity loans 

Home equity loans typically have a fixed interest rate, making budgeting for the payments easy. The lender provides a lump sum payment to the borrower, which is then repaid over the life of the loan, along with a set interest rate. Both the monthly payment and interest rate will remain the same over the entire loan term, which can last anywhere from 5 to 30 years. If the borrower sells the home before the loan term is matured, the loan must then be repaid in full. 

A home equity loan can be a great choice for a borrower with a one-time or straightforward cash need such as a home addition, large medical expenses, debt consolidation, or a wedding. 

Are there any costs associated with home equity loans?

As with mortgage loans, there are closing costs associated with home equity loans. Closing costs refer to any fees incurred when originating, writing, closing, or recording a loan. These fees include application, appraisal, title search, attorney fees, and points. Some lenders may advertise no-fee home equity loans which require no cash at closing, but these will usually have other associated costs or a higher interest rate which can easily offset any gains. 

What are the pros and cons of a home equity loan?

There are several advantages to taking out a home equity loan to fund a home improvement project or a large expense: 

  • The amount of interest paid toward a home equity loan may be tax-deductible.
  • Interest rates on HELs are generally lower than those provided by credit cards or unsecured loans. 

Home equity loans do have some disadvantages as well: 

  • Using your home as collateral for the loan means risking foreclosure and the loss of your home if you default on the loan. 
  • If your home value declines over the term of the loan, you may end up owing more than your home is worth. 
  • You’ll need to pay closing costs and other fees when you take out a home equity loan. 
  • You may qualify to borrow more than you actually need and ultimately end up using more than planned, which of course you’ll need to repay. 

The hot real estate market has led to a boom in popularity for home equity loans. However, it’s important to weigh all factors carefully before determining if a home equity loan is best for your specific needs.  

Your Turn: Have you taken out a home equity loan? Tell us about it in the comments.

Beware of Gift Card Scams

Everyone loves a gift card for their favorite retailer or restaurant. It’s like getting money to spend in any way you please! Unfortunately, scammers also love gift cards, but for all the wrong reasons: They often use gift cards to pull off scams. Here’s what you need to know about gift card scams and how to avoid them.

How the scams play out

There are several ways scammers utilize gift cards to con victims out of their money:

  • The IRS gift card scam. In this scam, a target receives a threatening message that’s allegedly from the IRS and claiming they are at risk of arrest for tax evasion if they do not pay up immediately. However, they insist that payment can only be made in the form of a gift card. Often, the scammer will ask specifically for an iTunes gift card, because, as you know, the IRS always asks for tax payments in the form of digital music. 
  • The tech support gift card scam. In this variation, a caller pretends to represent tech support at a recognized company, like Apple or Microsoft. They’ll insist there is something wrong with the victim’s computer and offer to “assist” in fixing the problem. Payment can be made with a gift card, of course. Lucky for you, there is nothing wrong with your computer, but you’ve just been targeted by a scam and are at risk of getting tricked. 
  • The romance gift card scam. A new dating partner found through a dating website asks for money in the form of a gift card to help them out of a sticky situation. Believe them and you’ll lose both your date and your money. 
  • The sweepstakes gift card scam. Congratulations — you’ve won a trip to the Cayman Islands! But first, you have to pay the small processing fee via gift card. Follow directions and you’ll never see that vacation or the money you spent on the gift card again. 
  • The utility gift card scam. You don’t want your gas or electricity cut off, do you? If you don’t pay up with a gift card, the lights might just go out. They won’t, but if you fall for the call, you’ll be out the money you spent on the gift card.
  • The balance-check gift card scam. You spot a discounted gift card up for sale online and happily purchase the card. The seller will send you the card, but then ask you to read the numbers over the phone to confirm the balance. If you comply, the seller now has all the information they need to use up all the funds on the gift card. 

How to spot a gift card scam

A little bit of knowledge goes a long way in recognizing gift card scams:

  • The IRS will never initiate correspondence by phone call, text message, or email. Instead, they will send a letter to taxpayers through the U.S. postal system. 
  • No authentic business or government agency will insist on payment by gift card. 
  • If you don’t recall entering a sweepstakes, chances are you didn’t win it either.
  • A caller or message claiming a matter is urgent and demands immediate action is nearly always a scam. 

In general, gift cards should be used for purchases or to send as gifts, and not as payments. Also, as with all sensitive information, the numbers on your gift card should never be shared over the phone or online. Finally, it’s best to only purchase gift cards through reputable sellers or those that have excellent customer reviews and/or offer a cash-back guarantee.

If you’ve fallen victim to a gift card scam

If you’ve paid a scammer with a gift card or shared your gift card information after being taken by any of the above ruses or similar schemes, take immediate steps to mitigate the damage. 

First, contact the company that issued the card as soon as possible. You can find the customer service number for most companies on the card itself or through a simple Google search. Tell the representative what happened. If you still have them, hold on to the receipt and the actual card for proof should it be required. 

Next, if the scammer continues to contact you by phone, text message or email, do not engage further. Block the scammer’s number from your mobile device and mark their emails as spam. 

Finally, report the incident to the FTC and alert your family and friends about the scam. 

Stay safe! 

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a gift card scam? Tell us about it in the comments. 

Real Life Money: An Honest Guide to Taking Control of Your Finances

Title: Real Life Money: An Honest Guide to Taking Control of Your Finances 

Author: Clare Seal

Paperback: 288 pages

Publisher: Headline

Publishing date: August 24, 2021

Who is this book for? 

  • Readers trying to get rid of debt 
  • Anyone interested in an honest, insightful memoir of a young woman’s journey to financial wellness 
  • Late teenagers looking for advice on avoiding the debt trap as they transition into adulthood

What’s inside this book?

  • Seal’s personal journey from the queen of debt to money master 
  • A straightforward introduction to budgeting, debt repayment, and the psychology of finance 
  • Tips and strategies for managing money while under challenging circumstances

4 lessons you’ll learn from this book: 

  1. How to negotiate repayment terms. 
  2. How to set realistic budgets. 
  3. How to create an actionable plan for paying down debt. 
  4. How to stop defining yourself by your financial situation.

4 questions this book will answer for you: 

  1. Is money anxiety an inevitable part of life?
  2. How do I have the “money talk” with my partner without jeopardizing our relationship?
  3. How does a person’s mental health affect their finances and how do I overcome the guilt/shame I feel about my debt?
  4. How do social media and influencer culture impact our spending choices?

What people are saying about this book: 

  • “Her voice [is] refreshing in a world where finance and investment still feels so male-dominated.” ―Grazia
  • “This book is going to be a gift to the lives of many. It’s packed with encouragement, support and wisdom that will dismantle shame, and equip people in finding balance both financially and in the way they emotionally approach money.” ―Anna Mathur
  • “Want to finally get a grip on your cash? This is the book for you.” ―Cosmopolitan
  • “Whether you have debt, are a bit too trigger happy with contactless payments, or just can’t bear checking your bank account in the middle of the month, Seal’s non-judgmental book is unmissable… this is an essential and kind book that everyone could benefit from reading.” ―Stylist

Your Turn: What did you think of Real Life Money? Share your opinion in the comments. 

How Do I Apply for FAFSA?

Q: Help! I need to fill out my FAFSA forms and I don’t know where to start! What do I need to know about filling out my FAFSA forms?

A: Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) season is in full swing! Whether you’re a college student, a high school senior or you’re seeking financial aid for your college-age child, it’s time to get those forms filled out. The rules and deadlines can be confusing, but we’re here to help. Below, we’ve answered many of the questions you may have on applying for FAFSA.

When is my application due? 

There are three FAFSA deadlines you need to note: federal, college, and state. The federal FAFSA submission has one set date, while each college and state sets its deadlines that may or may not coincide with the federal deadline. 

To be considered for federal student aid for the 2021–22 award year, the FAFSA form must be completed between Oct. 1, 2020, and 11:59 p.m. Central time (CT) on June 30, 2022. Any FAFSA corrections or updates must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. CT on Sept. 10, 2022.

The application for the 2022-23 award year will become available on Oct. 1, 2021, and must be completed by 11:59 p.m. Central time (CT) on June 30, 2023. Any corrections or updates must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. CT on Sept. 10, 2023.

As mentioned, many states and colleges have their own deadlines for submitting applications for state and institutional financial aid. You can find your state’s deadline here. Check with your college choice(s) about their deadlines.

The deadlines can get confusing, and while the federal government provides ample time to submit forms, many states and colleges provide aid based on a first-come, first-served basis. For this reason, it’s best to get your application in as soon as you can to increase your chances of receiving aid. 

 Who is eligible for FAFSA?

To qualify for FAFSA, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Demonstrate financial need.
  • Be a U.S. citizen or an eligible noncitizen.
  • Have a valid Social Security number (unless you are from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, or the Republic of Palau).
  • Men must be registered with Selective Service.
  • Be enrolled or accepted for enrollment as a regular student in an eligible degree or certificate program.
  • Maintain satisfactory academic progress in college or career school.
  • Have a high school diploma or a recognized equivalent.

There are more eligibility requirements for FAFSA. You can view the full list of criteria here

 How do I apply for FAFSA?

You can now apply for FAFSA using the free myStudentAid app, available on Apple and Google Play. If you use the app with an Apple device, be sure to disable the “smart punctuation” feature before filling out the form to avoid errors. You can also apply for FAFSA online at FAFSA.ed.gov

You can still send in your application via snail mail, but this is not recommended for several reasons: Online applications are simpler to complete and generally have fewer errors because they are designed to detect common mistakes and/or typos. Your application is also likely to be processed sooner when it’s submitted online. Finally, when applying for FAFSA online, you will be given the option to have your IRS data automatically retrieved and then populate the relevant fields, significantly lowering your chances of errors in your tax reporting. 

What are some common mistakes people make on the FAFSA form? 

A mistake on your form can delay your application and limit your eligibility for aid. To avoid errors, be sure to read every question carefully and review your application before submitting it. 

Here are some of the most common errors on FAFSA forms: 

  • Leaving blank fields. If a question does not apply to you, enter a “0” or write “Not applicable.”  
  • Using commas or decimal points in numeric fields. Instead, round to the nearest dollar.
  • Listing an incorrect Social Security number or driver’s license number. Triple-check these numbers to ensure accuracy. 
  • Using the wrong name. Be sure to use your full legal name as it appears on your Social Security card. 
  • Entering the wrong address. Use your permanent address to avoid confusion. 
  • Forgetting to list your college. Be sure to obtain the Federal School Code for the college you plan on attending and list it along with any other schools where you’ve applied for admission.
  • Forgetting to sign and date. Don’t forget this crucial step! 

Can I apply for FAFSA as an independent? 

If your parents are not paying any part of your college tuition, you may be able to apply for FAFSA as an independent. If you can apply as an independent, your parent’s income will not be considered when your eligibility is determined. 

You may be able to apply for FAFSA as an independent if you meet any of the following criteria:  

  • You will be 24 years of age or older by Dec. 31 of the award year. 
  • You are an orphan (both parents deceased), ward of the court, in foster care or you were a ward of the court at age 13 or older. 
  • You are a veteran of the Armed Forces of the United States or serving on active duty.
  • You are working toward a master’s or doctorate degree.
  • You are legally married.  
  • You have legal dependents (excluding a spouse). 
  • You are an emancipated minor or in legal guardianship. 
  • You are homeless.

If you do not meet any of these requirements, consider contacting a financial aid administrator to discuss your options. 

The sooner you apply for FAFSA, the greater your chances of obtaining financial aid for college. Don’t delay; complete your FAFSA early! 

Your Turn: Have you applied for FAFSA? Share your tips with us in the comments.