6 Ways To Keep Your Finances Intact This Holiday Season

Middle aged black woman holiday shops online from the comfort of her cozy living room‘Tis the season to shop until you drop-or until you go broke. But you don’t have to overspend. There’s no need to rack up a huge credit card bill or go into debt just to cover your holiday expenses. Enjoy a stress-free season by keeping your spending in check with these six tips:

  1. Create a detailed list of all your expenses
    Don’t leap into your holiday shopping armed with nothing but a credit card. Before you hit the mall or start browsing, sit down and draw up a complete list of every holiday expense you can anticipate. Include all gifts, holiday décor, travel expenses, charitable donations and food costs. Try to keep this list as trim as possible by cutting out any non-essentials and using stuff you may already have in storage from previous years. Bonus points for any homemade gifts!
  2. Determine how much money you can spend
    Once you have all of your expenses written out, work on finding a magic number that will cover everything on your list and that you can realistically afford. Ideally, this money should come from funds you’ve set aside just for this purpose.
  3. Divide and conquer
    Next, assign specific amounts of money in your budget for each expense category and for every person on your gift list. For example, you can decide to spend $300 on your preteen daughter’s gifts and to donate $100 to charity this season. Again, make sure your numbers will work from both a financial and practical perspective.
  4. Track as you shop
    You’re ready to hit the mall! As you shop, keep a careful account of exactly how much money you’ve spent for each person and in each expense category. It’s best to use cash or a debit card when shopping, and to review your budget often to make sure you’re staying on track. This way, you’ll know how much you’re spending and you won’t be hit by awful “Santa shock” come January when you need to pay those credit card bills.

    To make this job easier, use an app designed for this purpose. A common favorite is one called Santa’s Bag. The app allows you to set a budget for each person on your list and then makes tracking the amount you spend super simple. It will even warn you when you’re nearing your preset spending limit or when you’ve gone over budget.

  5. Shop smartly and spend less
    Keep your spending to a minimum by following these hacks:

    1. Use shopping apps
      Use the Coupons App and Shopular, to get your favorite retailers’ best deals and coupons delivered right to your phone.
    2. Follow the 24-hour rule
      Before purchasing anything on the expensive side, wait 24 hours. Sometimes, after sleeping on it, you’ll find that you don’t need to buy that pricey gift after all. Or, you might find the same item somewhere else at a lower price.
    3. Shop online on Tuesday morning
      Research shows this time of week is when you’ll find the hottest online deals.
      Shop with a friend. Take advantage of BOGO sales by splitting the cost of a single item with a friend and each of you taking one item home.
      Shop late. Everyone likes to get an early start on holiday shopping, but prices actually drop in the weeks leading up to Christmas as retailers seek to clear out their holiday inventory.
  6. Let Advantage One Credit Union help
    If you’re having trouble covering your holiday expenses, or you want to get a head start on next year’s costs, let Advantage One Credit Union help! Here are three ways we can take the financial stress out of the holiday season:

    1. Skip-a-Payment
      We get it. The holidays are crazy expensive. That’s why we allow qualifying members to skip a payment on a qualifying loan this time of year without hurting their credit or defaulting on their loan. It’s extra breathing room, just when you need it most!
    2. Personal Loan
      If you can’t come up with the funds you need for the holidays, consider taking out a Winter Loan. Our fantastic terms and affordable rates make it a no-brainer!
    3. Christmas Club Account
      Spread the cost of the holidays across the year with an account created just for that purpose. You’ll set aside a little bit of money each month into your Christmas Club Account, and next year, when the holiday season rolls around, you’ll have all the funds you need on hand.

Don’t let financial stress ruin your holiday cheer this year. Follow our tips to keep your spending down, and stop by Advantage One Credit Union to see how we can help!

Your Turn:
How do you get through the holidays with your finances intact? Share your best tips with us in the comments.

Learn More:
thebalance.com
investopedia.com
mentalfloss.com

The Ultimate Smart Shoppers Cheat Sheet

Middle-aged woman in business attire shopping for a new stove in a big-box appliance store.You’ve already perfected your monthly shopping schedule to get the best possible prices throughout the year: linens in January; luggage in March; household appliances in May; patio furniture in September and wedding dresses in December.

But, did you know you should be timing your shopping throughout the week as well? That’s because each weekday brings its own deals and specials. There are some items you can get the cheapest on Wednesdays, others that are best bought on Fridays and still others that will see their biggest markdowns on Sundays.

Here’s the ultimate cheat sheet for your weekly shopping.

Sunday: Large household appliances
Does your refrigerator need replacing? Looking to swap out your oven for a newer model? Home improvement stores, like Lowe’s and Home Depot, tend to mark down their large appliances on Sundays.

Monday: Deals on wheels and electronics
If you’re in the market for a new car, hit the dealer’s lot on Monday. Car dealerships are busiest over the weekend, and the comparative quiet of a Monday will put you in a favorable position to negotiate a great price on a new car. [Don’t forget to stop by Advantage One Credit Union to ask about our auto loans before you start shopping!]

You’ll also want to check out the large chain stores for discounted electronics on the first business day of the week. Stores like Best Buy offer exclusive manufacturer rebates on Mondays, which can significantly lower the price of an expensive product.

Tuesdays: Houses, airline travel and more
Tuesdays are the recommended weekday for making an offer on a house, particularly the first Tuesday of the month. This is when most sellers will review the activity surrounding their home from the last month and be more open to accepting an offer that’s considerably lower than their original asking price.

If you’re looking to fly in the near future, book your flight on a Tuesday morning. According to data analyses performed by travel-planning company Skyscanner, airlines mark down flight prices by 15-25 percent late each Monday evening. By Tuesday morning, competing airlines will offer matching or lower prices, giving you the best selection of affordable flights.

Tuesdays are also great for purchasing computers online from major retailers, like HP or Dell. Don’t look for discounted MacBooks, though, as Apple rarely marks down its products.

For a terrific way to end your Tuesday, go see a movie. Tickets to the latest blockbusters are usually discounted during the mid-week slump.

Wednesdays: Groceries, discounted apparel and fuel
Forget the weekend grocery run; the best time to restock your pantry and fridge is on Wednesday. Most supermarkets roll out their new sale events on this day, rearrange their aisle end-caps and slap discounts onto perishable products that are left over from the beginning of the week, such as meat, poultry and cheese. If you can swing it, shop early to take full advantage of the sales. Feel free to load up on the marked-down perishables, which will still be days away from their sell-by date. Stick them in the freezer if you won’t use them before they go stale. You’ll also get the biggest bang for your buck in the produce aisle on Wednesdays, when most groceries set out a fresh display of fruits and vegetables.

If you’re a fan of discounted quality clothing, you’ll want to hit TJ Maxx and Marshalls on Wednesdays, as this is when these stores post their new markdowns. Old Navy also features new discounts on Wednesdays.

Unless gas prices are on a downward spiral, fill ‘er up on Wednesday! Weekly gas hikes will take effect over the weekend, often as early as Thursday morning.

Thursday: Clothing, shoes and handbags
Get first dibs on weekend clothing sales at the big-name stores by hitting the mall late on Thursday. Shop for matching footwear with in-store coupons, which also debut on Thursday. Then, complete your new look with a new handbag, which see steep online discounts each Thursday.

Friday: Accessories
Pick up your costume jewelry, belts and scarves on Fridays to score the best prices. According to Lifehacker, online accessories see an average discount of 42 percent on the last workday of the week.

Saturday: Books and yard sale treasures
Amazon offers discounts on books and e-books on most Saturdays, so you’ll want to check out the e-tailer giant at the beginning of the weekend for the best selection at the best prices.

Saturdays are also prime time to pick up treasures at neighborhood yard sales and thrift stores. You’ll get the best picks in the early morning hours, but you’ll score the hottest deals later on in the day when the owners are itching to get rid of all their wares and close up shop.

Your Turn:
Is there a weekday shopping hack that has worked for you? Tell us your secret shopping strategy in the comments.

Learn More:
thekrazycouponlady.com
aol.com
dcrstrategies.com
thekrazycouponlady.com/cheatsheet
rather-be-shopping.com

Can I Buy A House When I’m Paying Off A Student Loan?

A young couple sits on the lawn of their modest home watching their two young children play in the yardQ: I graduated college with a huge student loan debt. Since then, I’ve landed a decent job and I’ve been making steady payments toward paying down my loan. Is it possible for me to buy a house while I’m still paying off this debt?
A: Student loan debt that is managed responsibly should not hold you back from purchasing a house. There are several important factors to consider before making this choice and steps you’ll want to take before you start house-hunting.
Are you really ready to buy a house?
Before you take a look at your finances to determine if you can pull off this purchase, make sure this goal is in your best interest.
For starters, do you really know which city or neighborhood you’d like to live in at this point in your life? You are likely just starting out in your career and you might be better off with the flexibility that comes with renting. This way, if an excellent employment opportunity requiring a move arises, you’ll be free to accept it. You also may or may not have settled down in terms of a life partner. It generally does not pay to buy a home you’ll only live in for a few years before selling.
Next, think about the financial ramifications of this purchase. Are you really comfortable taking on another huge loan right now? Also, you will likely have to live with a bare-bones budget to meet your mortgage payments without neglecting your student loan debt. Do you really want to live with a no-frills spending plan in the foreseeable future?
Consider these questions carefully before making your decision.
Getting started: Boost your credit
Once you’ve determined if it would be beneficial for you to purchase a home right now, you’ll want to start improving your credit. Your credit wellness is the primary factor that home lenders consider when deciding if you’re eligible for a mortgage. It also figures into the rate they will offer you.
Here are some ways you can boost your credit score in the months leading up to your mortgage application:
  • Pay all your bills on time. Set up automatic payments to make it effortless.
  • Keep your credit utilization at less than 30 percent.
  • Pay your credit card bills in full, and before they’re due.
  • Don’t close old accounts or open new cards. You want your credit history to be lengthy, and both of these steps can significantly bring down your average.
How high is your DTI?
Lots of young college graduates think it’s impossible, or difficult, to obtain a mortgage when carrying student loan debt. In fact, a 2018 Student Loan Hero survey found that 43% of college-educated Americans with student loans postponed buying a home because of their student debt.
Lucky for you, there is very little truth to this concern. As mentioned above, a student loan that is handled well should not be a deterrent to getting a mortgage. To make sure you’re managing your student debt responsibly, set up automatic monthly payments on your loan so you never miss a payment or a due date.
In addition, make an effort to pay your student loan back as quickly as possible so it doesn’t reflect badly on your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio. Since taking out a mortgage means accepting more debt, lenders are careful to check that you aren’t carrying too much other debt. Ideally, your total debt payments, including your mortgage, should account for less than 36 percent of your income.
If your DTI is on the high side, you may not be eligible for a mortgage just yet. Consider refinancing your student loan to a loan with lower interest rates so you can pay it off sooner and then apply for a mortgage when your DTI improves. You can also look for ways to increase your income to tilt your debt ratio in your favor.
If you’re carrying any other debt, such as credit card debt, you’ll want to pay it down as quickly as possible as well.
Determine how much house you can afford
Before you start shopping for a home, find out how much house you can actually afford. The best way to obtain this information is by applying for a preapproval from a home lender. This will tell you exactly how high you can go while showing sellers that you’re serious about buying.
If you won’t need your pre-approval just yet, but you’d like an idea of how much you’ll need to save for a down payment, you can use an online mortgage calculator to get your magic number.
Start saving for a down payment
Once you have your numbers worked out, you’ll need to save up for a down payment. Trim your budget in any way you can and look for side hustles to boost your income and make saving simple. Then, set up an automatic monthly transfer to your Advantage One Credit Union Savings Account so your money can grow while you sleep.
At this point, you may want to look into a local down-payment assistance program or a federal loan program, such as an FHA loan, which only requires a down payment of 3.5 percent. If you live in a rural area, you might qualify for a USDA loan, and if you’ve served in the military, you’re likely eligible for a VA loan.
[When you’re ready to take this step forward, call, click, or stop by Advantage One Credit Union to find out about our home loans. Our rates and hassle-free pre-approval process make a Advantage One Credit Union home loan an excellent choice!]
Your Turn: Do you think it’s a good idea for college graduates to buy a house while they’re paying off a student loan? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.
Learn More:

Step 9 of 12 Toward A Debt-Free Life: Put All Windfalls In Your Snowball

Young man and woman look at one another happily over fanned 1 dollar bills in their hands.Let your debt snowball grow by packing it with all your unexpected windfalls. Seasonal bonus at work? Add all or most of it to your snowball. Unexpected refund? Let it go toward paying down your debt. Birthday gift money from Great Aunt Sally? You know where it’s going!

It isn’t easy to say goodbye to an unexpected windfall, but all that extra money will help you reach your goal that much sooner.

Your Turn:
Which windfalls did you pack into your debt snowball this month?

Your Complete Guide To Identity Theft Protection

Young woman in business attire seated at an outdoor cafe stares worriedly at a laptop screen with her head in her hands.Did you know there were 14.4 million victims of identity theft in 2018? According to Javelin Strategy, each case cost the victim an average of $1,050 – and that’s only the cost in dollars. When an individual’s identity is stolen, the thief wreaks major havoc on the victim’s financial health, which can take months, or even years, to recover from.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent yourself from becoming the next victim. Here is your complete guide to identity theft protection.

1. Monitor your credit
One of the best preventative measures you can take against identity theft is monitoring your credit. You can check your credit score for free on sites like CreditKarma.com and order an annual report once a year from each of the three credit reporting agencies at AnnualCreditreport.com. Also remember that Advantage One offers members a free annual credit checkup as well. However you obtain your score, be sure to check for any sudden hits and look through your reports for suspicious activity. It’s also a good idea to review your monthly credit card bills for any charges you don’t remember making.

2. Use multi-factor authentication
When banking online, or using any other service that utilizes sensitive information, always choose multi-factor authentication. If possible, use your thumbprint as one means of identification. Otherwise, use multiple passwords, PINs or personal questions to make it difficult for a hacker to break into your accounts.

3. Use strong unique passwords
Never use identical passwords for multiple accounts. If you do so, you’re making yourself an easier target for identity thieves. Instead, create strong, unique passwords for every account you use. The strongest passwords use a variety of letters, symbols and numbers, and are never mock-ups or replicas of popular phrases or words.

If you find it difficult to remember multiple passwords, consider using a free password service, like LastPass. You’ll only need to remember one master password and the service will safely store the rest.

4. Only use Wi-Fi with a VPN
Did you know you are putting your personal information at risk every time you use the free Wi-Fi at your neighborhood coffee shop (or any other public establishment)? When using public Wi-Fi, always choose a Virtual Private Network (VPN) instead of your default Wi-Fi settings to keep the sensitive information on your device secure.

5. Block robocalls
Lots of identity theft occurs via robocalls in which the scammer impersonates a government official or the representative of a well-known company. Lower the number of robocalls reaching your home by adding your home number to the Federal Trade Commission’s No Call List at donotcall.gov. It’s also a good practice to ignore all calls from unfamiliar numbers, because each engagement encourages the scammers to try again.

6. Upgrade your devices
Whenever possible, upgrade the operating system of your computer, tablet and phone to the latest versions. Upgraded systems will keep you safe from the most recent security breaches and offer you the best protection against viruses and hacks.

7. Shred old documents
While most modern-day identity theft is implemented over the internet or through phone calls, lots of criminals still use old-fashioned means to get the information they need. Dumpster-divers will paw through trashed papers until they hit upon a missive that contains personal information. It’s best to shred all documents containing sensitive information as soon as you don’t need them.

8. Keep personal information personal
Be super-cautious about sharing sensitive data, like your Social Security number and banking PINs, with strangers – and even with friends. It’s also a good idea to use the strongest, most private security settings on your social media accounts to keep hackers out.

9. Invest in identity theft protection
If you’re still nervous about being the next victim of identity theft, you may want to sign up for an identity-theft protection service. Advantage One offers affordable Identity Theft Protection service in conjunction with our Benefits Plus checking account. Other services don’t come cheap, but services like LifeLock and IdentityForce will monitor your personal information online and immediately alert you about any suspicious activity.

Identity theft can be an expensive nightmare. Be proactive about protecting your identity and keep your information and your money safe.

Your Turn:
Which safety procedures do you follow in order to protect yourself from identity theft? Share them with us in the comments.

Learn More:
safesmartliving.com
wisebread.com
centsai.com

Understanding The Credit Card Trap

Young couple uses credit card to pay for their stay at a pricey hotelDid you know the average American household carries $6,358 in credit card debt?

If that doesn’t sound too alarming, consider this: A debt of $5,000 with an interest rate of 24.99% (which is the current rate of a typical Capital One or Citibank card), where only the minimum payment is made each month and no additional charges are made to the card, accumulates $4,823 in interest over five years. That means the cardholder would be paying nearly double the amount that was originally spent!

Why do most Americans carry so much credit card debt and find themselves stuck in the debt trap? Let’s take a deeper look at credit card usage, debt and interest rates so we can understand this phenomenon and ensure credit cards are used responsibly.

The minimum payment mindset
According to the National Bureau of Economic Research website, a third of credit card holders make just the minimum payment each month.

Here’s how it usually happens: You use your card for a purchase you can’t really afford, or you want to defer paying for it from your savings. When your credit card bill arrives, you either choose to make just the minimum payment or it is all you can afford to pay at the time. You figure you’ll pay off the rest when your finances improve. Soon, you’re in the trap of pulling out your card whenever you want to purchase something beyond your budget. Since you’re only making the minimum payment, it seems like it doesn’t matter all that much if your credit card debt grows a little larger. From there, the cycle continues as debt climbs and you continue using your card for purchases you’d be better off not making.

This is a quick illustration to show how your “small balance” of just a few thousand dollars can really mean paying more than double that amount over the years because of interest.

Also, when you’re trapped in this mindset, your balance barely budges. With a debt of $5,000 and a minimum monthly payment of $150 (at 3% of the total balance), you’ll only be paying $47.30 each month toward your principal. The rest goes toward your interest accrued.

Take a moment to think about this the next time you decide to use your credit card to pay for something you can’t afford. Is it worth paying $5,000 over the next five years for a $2,500 vacation?

Credit scores and prolonged debt
Another important aspect of prolonged credit card debt is the detrimental effect it can have on your credit score. Your credit score gives potential lenders and employers an idea of how financially responsible you are.

One of the crucial factors used in determining your credit score is your debt ratio, or the percentage of available credit that you’ve already spent. In most credit score formulas, the more credit you’ve used, the lower your score. If you’ve fallen into the habit of using your credit card whenever you’re short on cash, and are only making the minimum payment each month, you likely use a high percentage of your available credit.

Even worse is when your credit card company sees that you’re running low on available credit, and may offer to increase your line — or even do it automatically. If you agree to the upgrade, there’s nothing stopping you from racking up another huge bill, further decreasing your score.

Another important component of your credit score is the trajectory of your debt. If you’re barely making progress on your balance, you won’t score high in this area either.

A low credit score can prevent you from qualifying for a mortgage, auto loan or even an employment opportunity. If you do get approved for such loans with your less than stellar credit score, you’ll likely be saddled with a hefty interest rate, which significantly increases your monthly payments and the overall interest you’ll pay.

Is it really worth racking up that credit card bill?

Should I throw out all of my credit cards?
Hold onto your cards. You need to have some open and active cards for maintaining a healthy credit score; however, it’s important you use your cards responsibly.

First, be careful not to fall prey to the minimum payment mindset. Live within your means and learn to find happiness in what you have instead of chasing the elusive and transient thrill of material possessions. Before using your card for something you can’t afford, imagine this purchase haunting you for years to come. Is it worth paying double the amount it costs in interest payments? Is it worth harming your financial health?

Second, if you’re already carrying a large credit card balance, stop using that card and work on increasing the amount you pay off each month. Even a relatively small monthly increase can make a big difference in the total amount you ultimately pay toward your balance.

Third, to use your cards responsibly and keep your score high, it’s best to use your credit card for non-discretionary payments, like your monthly utility bills. This way, you’ll be keeping your accounts active without running the risk of overspending. Remember to pay your credit card bill on time to avoid paying interest.

Finally, take a long look at your current cards. What’s the interest rate on your cards? As mentioned above, the current interest rate on a typical Capital One card is 24.99%, which can nearly double a balance of a few thousand dollars over the course of five years. Look at alternatives, like an Advantage One Platinum Rewards Visa® credit card that may offer you a substantially lower rate. If the new card rate is substantially lower, you could literally save yourself thousands of dollars over the coming years.

Your Turn:
Have you gotten yourself out of the minimum payment trap? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
nytimes.com
creditkarma.com
genxfinance.com

All You Need To Know About Remote Deposit

Young woman using her cellphone to deposit a paper check to ehr checking account from her home office.In a world where you can order almost anything through your mobile phone — from a new pair of shoes to a dining room table to tickets to a Caribbean cruise — it only makes sense that Advantage One Credit Union offers mobile banking services for our members. You can now check your account balance and transfer funds between accounts, all from the comfort of your home or while on the road.

One of the most convenient features we offer through our mobile banking service is Mobile Deposit. There’s no need to squeeze a trip to the credit union into your already busy schedule. All it takes to deposit a check is a few minutes of your time and a phone that has internet access.

Remote deposits first made their appearance in the banking world back in 2003 with the passing of the Check 21 Act. This law afforded scanned images of checks identical legal standing as the original paper documents. While the law was passed with the intention of speeding up the check-clearing process between financial institutions, the concept was quickly adapted by large businesses that were handling loads of checks each month. In 2009, when smartphones were already being used by most consumers, financial institutions began offering remote check capture and mobile deposits to their members.

Advantage One Credit Union is proud to have been one of the very first credit unions in Michigan to have offered this service to our members. We believe this service makes our members’ banking easier and more convenient.

Let’s take a closer look at remote check capture and mobile deposits.

What is remote check capture?
Just like it sounds, remote check capture is a way for you to deposit a check into your Advantage One Credit Union Checking Account from a distant location using your smartphone or another mobile device that has internet access. You can be practically anywhere in the world and make your deposit at any time of day or night.

The process is remarkably simple: You’ll sign into your mobile Advantage One Credit Union account and prepare your check for deposit. Tap the Mobile Deposit icon and your phone will guide you through snapping a picture of both the front and the back of the check. You’ll also be asked to verify the amount on the check. Once you’ve made that confirmation, your check will be submitted to be deposited into your account.

It’s that easy.

The benefits of remote check capture
It’s not just another errand crossed off your list. Here are some of the benefits you’ll enjoy by using Advantage One Credit Union Remote Check Capture:

1. Convenience
You’re no longer bound by regular business hours. As mentioned, you can now make your deposit anywhere, and at any time.

2. Speed
Your check will generally clear more quickly through a mobile deposit than it will through an ATM deposit. You’ll also receive instant confirmation that your check has been submitted.

3. Accuracy
There’s no room for errors when it comes to remote check capture. You’ll be asked to confirm the check amount in case the character-recognition software is not reading it correctly. On the small chance that an error occurs, you’ll still have the physical check, which you can then deposit at Advantage One Credit Union.

But is it safe?
If you’re worried about sending a personal check through the airwaves, you can rest easy. Your safety is always our priority, and we take multiple precautions for ensuring your personal information is protected throughout the remote check capture process.

First, no one can sign into your Advantage One Credit Union mobile account without two-factor authentication. Always make sure to use strong, unique passwords and never allow your phone to “remember” the PINs and passwords to your Advantage One Credit Union account.

Second, our mobile app does not store your check images in your phone. As soon as your check has been submitted, the image is erased from your phone and stored only in our own software. There’s no need to worry about someone picking up your phone and helping themselves to your check.

Finally, as mentioned, if an error occurs with your check deposit, you’ll always have the physical check to deposit if necessary.

If you haven’t already done so, try Advantage One Credit Union Remote Check Capture. It’s quick. It’s easy. And it’s safe. You’ve got nothing to lose but one more errand crossed off your to-do list. Try it today!

Your Turn:
What do you love about Advantage One Credit Union‘s Remote Check Capture? Tell us about it in the comments!

Learn More:
thebalance.com
bankrate.com
digitalcheck.com

5 Apps To Download Before The Holiday Shopping Season

Before you start making your lists and checking them twice, check out our list of free apps that can help you save boatloads of money and stress this holiday season. It just may make holiday shopping fun again!

The Coupons App
Look up deals, coupons and special online promo codes from over 100,000 retailers on this nifty, free app. You can also find thousands of exclusive deals and offers at local chains and restaurants; sign up for alerts so you can be the first to know when your favorite stores and eateries are holding sale events or offers and get calendar reminders when your saved coupons are about to expire. Sign up now to find out why millions of happy users have trusted The Coupons App to help them save more since 2008.


Shopular
Another favorite coupon app, Shopular, gives you the latest scoop on deals and coupons as well as location-based notifications. The app prides itself on getting you the best price wherever you are, and will alert you to a retailer’s trending deals as soon as you walk into the store. Redeem coupons and deals on your phone, and join the Shopular community to share savings tips and tricks with thousands of cost-conscious shoppers.

 


Santa’s Bag
Kick off your holiday shopping this Black Friday with Santa’s Bag, a handy Christmas gift list app. This free app allows you to create and store your lists, monitor your holiday budget, track your purchases and count down the days remaining until Christmas. Never forget a gift or go over budget again with this popular ad-free app!

 

 


Price Cruncher
Love saving on gifts but hate the math it takes to figure out which deals are worthwhile? Try Price Cruncher, the app that does the dirty work for you. For a one-time fee of just $1, Price Cruncher compares different sales to let you know which is actually the better deal; helps you calculate the price per product when purchasing items in bulk and tells you what the final price of a for-sale item will be after all discounts and coupons are applied. Use the app’s integrated shopping list for an all-in-one experience that makes shopping easy!


Slice
If you hate elbowing your way through crowded shopping malls and you do most of your holiday shopping online, this is the one for you! Slice will organize all the receipts that land in your inbox and track your packages so you know exactly how much you’ve spent. The app will remind you of Groupons and other deals or coupons you might want to use based on your online spending habits, and will also send you alerts about price adjustments for products you’ve been searching for. Best of all, the app safely stores all of the order numbers, tracking information and descriptions of your purchases so you can easily pull them up when you want to check an order’s status or delivery time. No more digging through dozens of emails to find out when that gift will arrive on your doorstep!


Download these apps and start saving on your holiday shopping today!

Your Turn:
What’s your favorite shopping app? Tell us about it in the comments!

Learn More:
nerdwallet.com
shopular.com
paypath.com
slice.com
thecouponsapp.com

 

The Ultimate Guide To Your First College Laptop

Young man sitting on floor holding laptop in front of him.Your laptop will be your new BFF in college. This is where you’ll store your notes, record important lectures, outline your study schedule and write up your term papers. But, with such a wide variety of laptops on the market, the choice can be overwhelming and confusing.

Check out our comprehensive guide for laptop-shopping before deciding which one is right for you.

1. Choose your platform
You have three primary choices when it comes to choosing an Operating System (OS) for your laptop.

  • Microsoft’s Windows
    Widows offers a flexible OS that is featured in notebooks that cost as little as $150 and in upgraded models that retail for as much as several thousands of dollars. Windows digital assistant, Cortana, is a powerful tool that can help you navigate your computer and search the web for relevant information, and its stylus is super-versatile, too.
  • Apple’s Mac OS High Sierra
    Similar to Windows, Apple’s OS offers what many users consider to be a simpler interface. Mac users have digital assistant Siri, and can use Apple Pay to manage their finances. If you’ve got an Apple Watch, you’ll be able to unlock your laptop with a flick of your wrist.
  • Google’s Chrome OS
    You’ll findGoogle’s Chrome OS on cheaper Chromebooks, like the Samsung Chromebook 3. Chromebooks are extremely portable, but with the Chrome browser serving as the laptop’s primary app, it’s essentially a tablet with slightly more functionality.

2. Choose your specs
Make sure your computer is equipped with the tools you need:

  • RAM
    Look for a laptop with a minimum of 4GB, or even 8GB if you can swing it financially.
  • CPU
    The brains of your computer will determine its processing power. You’ll find a broad range of CPUs in laptops and notebooks. Your best bet for a budget laptop that still performs well is to get one using an Intel Core i5 CPU or its equivalents, like the AMD Ryzen Mobile. More powerful CPUs can really hike up the price, and those that are cheaper usually aren’t worth the money you’ll save.
  • Display
    If you can afford it, choose a laptop with a minimum of 1920×1080 pixels, or full HD. Most cheaper laptops only offer 1366×768, but it’s usually worthwhile to pay extra for a sharper image and a larger capacity for content on the screen.
  • Touch screen
    Touch screens are standard in all two-in-one models, but if you’re purchasing an ordinary laptop, a touch screen will decrease your battery life without offering many benefits.

3. Choose a price range
These days, you can pick up a laptop for as little as $150-but those are usually web-centric Chromebooks that offer very little storage and have weak processors that won’t meet your needs as a college student.

Here’s what you can expect to find in various price ranges:

  • $350 to $600
    You can find a very decent laptop for less than $600, complete with 8GB of RAM and an Intel Core i5 CPU. At this price range though, you’ll likely be missing out on the longer battery life and HD display.
  • $600-$900
    Once you break the $600 mark, you’ll have your choice of upgrades, such as metal finishes and sharper, higher-pixel displays.
  • $900+
    If you’re ready to pay anything near the $1,000 mark for a laptop, expect to see lightweight computers that deliver a faster, more powerful processor and a super-sharp display.

4. Choose a battery life
Here’s where you need to determine exactly how you will be using your laptop. If it’s mainly going to serve as a desktop computer that’s carried around only occasionally, you can afford to choose a cheaper computer with a short-life battery. But, if you’re like most college students who wind up lugging their laptops around everywhere like a third arm, aim for a battery life that offers a minimum of 7 hours of untethered power.

Your laptop might be the most important tool you use in school. Spend some time choosing the one that’s right for you so it serves you well throughout your years in college.

Your Turn:
Did you recently purchase a laptop for college? Tell us all about it in the comments!

Learn More:
laptopmag.com
techradar.com
pcmag.com

Four Super-Scary Scams To Watch For This Halloween

woman in witch contest holding jack-o-lantern in front of her faceDon’t let a Halloween scam spook you! Stay a step ahead of those crooks by looking out for these four scams this season.

1. The shipping scam
The internet is brimming with Halloween-themed stores in the months leading up to Oct. 31. Lots of these retailers offer an impressive selection of costumes, accessories and decorations at great prices.

Unfortunately, though, some of the retailers that own such sites will never deliver the ordered goods. That’s because, though the company may exist, and will appear legit, at the end of the day there was never a real intent to ship the item(s). The delivery date may be postponed until after Halloween, or the order might get canceled without notification. Sometimes, the shopper will receive the promised package on time – only the package is empty!

Before placing an order with a seasonal store, look for the company’s physical address and phone number. Check what the Better Business Bureau (BBB) has to say about it and look for information about return and refund policies in case things go south. Finally, as always, be careful about sharing your credit card information with an unsecure site. Look for the lock icon near the URL and the “s” after the “http” in the web address; both indicate you’re on a secure site.

It’s also a good idea to order your costumes and décor in September. This way, you’ll have time on your side if you need to return a costume or a product that didn’t turn out as expected. You’re also less likely to purchase goods from iffy retailers and vendors you don’t recognize when you aren’t pressed for time. Finally, you won’t be forced to spend a ton of money on last-minute shipping costs when you make your purchase early in the season.

2. The fraudulent offer
In this scam, a bogus company advertises a “Super Special Deal” for “Today Only” offer, or something similar. It will offer amazing Halloween goods for prices that are too good to be true and lure lots of unsuspecting customers into the trap. Unfortunately, the company is bogus and the offer doesn’t actually exist. If you purchase the advertised product, you’ll never see the product – or your money.
As with all potential scams, check out a company’s authenticity and a website’s security before purchasing.

3. The fake ticket scam
Planning to take a trip to an amusement park, attend a concert or take in another event on Halloween? Be wary of the fake ticket scam, in which third-party vendors sell bogus tickets to unsuspecting customers right before an event. They’ll also tack on an exorbitant commission, claiming that they need to charge extra because of the last-minute purchase. Of course, the ticket is bogus and they’ll pocket the ticket money, plus the commission.

Make sure to get your tickets to any event you’d like to attend well in advance. Contact the event organizers directly to make sure you’ve reached the right address. If you find tickets being sold online near Halloween time, do a quick online search to see if the event has already sold out. Check for spelling mistakes and erroneous information about the date and time of the event on the ticket, as well.

4. The bogus purchase scam
In this scenario, scammers try to convince you that you ordered something you have no recollection of purchasing just to get you to share your personal information. Once the scammers have this data, they’ll do anything from emptying your accounts to taking out loans in your name or committing full-blown identity theft.
If you receive any emails, phone calls or text messages asking you about a costume you never ordered or a ticket you never purchased, do not engage with the sender or caller. Delete the emails or flag them as spam. Also, block the contact from calling or texting you again. With any luck, the scammer will get the message that you’re not an easy target and leave you alone.

Here’s wishing you and yours a safe and frightfully fun Halloween from all of us here at Advantage One Credit Union!

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

Learn More:
scam-detector.com
help-center.pissedconsumer.com
legalshred.com