Affordable Sustainability 10 of 12-Green Cleaning Solutions for Your Home

When cleaning our homes, it’s only natural for us to reach for commercial cleaning products that promise immediate results. Unfortunately for the environment, though, these products can be anything but natural. And they’re not too kind on your wallet, either. The good news is, there’s a greener and more budget-friendly way to maintain a sparkling clean living space. Here are eight green cleaning agents and DIY solutions for your home. 

  1. Baking soda brilliance

Baking soda has long been hailed as the Swiss Army knife of green cleaning products. Sodium bicarbonate, the key ingredient in baking soda, can be mixed with water to create a powerful paste that can remove stubborn stains and grime from countertops, sinks and other surfaces. Pair with vinegar for a fizzy reaction that cleans and freshens drains. Or, you can mix four tablespoons of baking soda with one quart of warm water for enough paste to clean your entire kitchen. 

  1. Lemon freshness

Lemons are so much more than a zesty addition to recipes. These highly effective cleaning agents are equipped with a natural acidity that cuts through grease and stains while leaving a fresh aroma. Use lemon juice to clean cutting boards, disinfect countertops and brighten up white fabrics. The combination of lemon and salt can also restore the shine to copper and brass items. For tough rust stains, dip half of a lemon into ½ cup of borax powder, scrub the surface and then rinse clean. 

  1. Essential oils

Incorporate the power of essential oils into your DIY cleaning solutions to create a calming and refreshing atmosphere in your home. Tea tree oil is a potent antiseptic, ideal for disinfecting surfaces. Lavender oil offers a relaxing scent and has natural antibacterial properties. Mix a few drops of your preferred essential oil with water for an aromatic and effective cleaning spray.

  1. Homemade air fresheners

Commercial air fresheners often contain harmful chemicals that can affect indoor air quality. Create your own natural air freshener by simmering a pot of water with your choice of fragrant ingredients, like citrus peels, cinnamon sticks or cloves. The gentle steam will carry the pleasant aroma throughout your home without the need for artificial scents.

  1. The power of vinegar

Vinegar is a versatile and eco-friendly cleaning superstar that can tackle a range of cleaning challenges. Mix equal parts of white vinegar and water in a spray bottle to create an all-purpose cleaner. The mixture will effectively cut through grease, disinfect surfaces and eliminate lingering odors. For a refreshing twist, infuse citrus peels into the vinegar solution and you’ll be rewarded with a natural, pleasant scent.

  1. DIY tile scrubber

To get your tub and other tiled areas sparkling, use a sponge to wipe the surface with a bit of vinegar. Then sprinkle baking soda or non-iodized salt over the wiped areas, scrub well with a damp sponge and rinse with water. Then, watch those tiles shine!

  1. Non-toxic floor cleaner

Keep your floors in perfect condition without resorting to toxic commercial solutions by mixing a small amount of liquid castile soap with warm water. Pour a moderate amount of the cleaner over your hardwood, tile or laminate floors and mop as usual. To keep your carpets fresh, sprinkle a bit of baking soda over them before you vacuum; this will neutralize any odors. 

  1. Scented all-purpose cleaner

Mix equal amounts of white vinegar and water, and then add lemon rind and a few sprigs of rosemary. Pour the mixture into a spray bottle and shake well. For best results, let the solution sit for a week before using. The cleaner can be used to remove stubborn hard water stains, freshen up trash cans, get rid of wall smudges and more. Just be careful not to use this versatile homemade cleaner on granite or stainless steel because the acid from the vinegar can damage these surfaces. 

You can have a spotless home without resorting to toxic, expensive cleaners. Use the tips outlined here for DIY cleaning solutions that are great for the environment, and your wallet, too.

TikTok Inspo: Do you have a go-to green cleaning solution? Tell us all about it in a short video.

Beware Third-Party App Scams

Scammers are experts at hijacking our favorite conveniences for their schemes, and third-party app scams are no exception. These scams can be difficult to spot and have already conned millions of unsuspecting victims. In fact, according to a report published by ACI Worldwide, third-party app scams, also known as Authorized Push Payment (APP) scams, are the number one fraud threat around the world. And with their popularity rising, the scam risk for every consumer is very real. 

There are several variations of the third-party app scam. Let’s start by taking a look at scams that con the victim into downloading a bogus payment app. Here’s what you need to know about these scams and how to protect yourself. 

How these scams play out

Victims of third-party app scams can be swindled into downloading a bogus app through one of these schemes:

  1. The bogus withdrawal notice. Here, a target receives an email allegedly from a third-party app, like Venmo or Zelle, claiming that a large withdrawal will soon be made from the target’s account. The email helpfully includes a number for the victim to call to contest the withdrawal. Unfortunately, when the victim calls the number, a scammer impersonating a bank or credit union rep instructs them to download an app to give the “rep” access to their phone. When the victim does so, the scammer proceeds to empty the victim’s account into their own. 
  2. The look-alike app. Here, a victim unknowingly downloads an app owned by a scammer, believing it’s a popular mobile payment app, like Cash App or Zelle. Unfortunately, by downloading the app, the victim is giving the scammer direct access to their funds and sensitive information.

Protect yourself

Keep yourself safe from third-party app scams with these precautionary measures:

  • Only download apps from trusted sources. Use official app stores, like the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store, to find the apps you need. These platforms have security measures in place to detect and remove malicious apps from being offered.
  • Carefully check the URL of the app you’re downloading to ensure it’s the authentic site. 
  • Before downloading an app, check its reviews and ratings. Look for any suspicious patterns, such as a large number of recent positive reviews that seem fake. Genuine apps will usually have a consistent track record of positive reviews over time.
  • Research the app and its developer or the company behind it. If there is limited or no information available, you may be looking at a scammer’s app.
  • Pay attention to the permissions the app requests during installation. If an app asks for unnecessary access to sensitive data or features, it might be malicious.
  • Regularly update your operating system and app versions. Developers often release security patches to fix vulnerabilities that scammers may exploit.
  • Install reputable mobile security apps that can help detect and block suspicious activity on your device.
  • Be cautious of phishing attempts. Avoid clicking on suspicious links or providing sensitive data unless you are certain of the website’s legitimacy.
  • Be skeptical of “too good to be true” offers. If an app promises unbelievable rewards or benefits, it’s likely a scam. 
  • Review your billing statements. Regularly check your app store purchase history and credit card/bank statements for any unauthorized charges.
  • Report suspicious apps to the app store and relevant authorities.
  • Educate yourself. Stay informed about the latest scams and security threats related to third-party apps. Awareness is your best defense against potential risks.

If you’ve been targeted

If you believe you have fallen for a third-party app scam, and you’ve sent money to a scammer, reach out to the app as soon as possible. Cash App recommends chatting through their app for the quickest service, or calling 800-969-1940 to speak to a representative. For Venmo, open a chat through their app for the quickest response or give them a call at 855-812-4430. If your scam was employed through PayPal, you can report it online through their Resolution Center or call the company at 888-221-1161. Finally, if you’ve used Zelle to send the money, you can chat with them on their site or give them a call at 844-428-8542.

Third-party app scams can cost victims their money and their security. Use the tips outlined here to stay safe. 

TikTok Inspo: Can you scam us? Try to con us into a third-party app scam using the info shared above.

Travel Hacks 10 of 12-Should I Use Cash, a Debit Card or a Credit Card While on Vacation?

Traveling doesn’t come cheap, and part of keeping your finances intact during vacation includes knowing the best way to pay for your purchases during your getaway. Should you primarily use cash, a debit card or a credit card?

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each choice so you can make an informed decision during your vacation.

Using cash on vacation

Cash may be going out of style, but it’s still the preferred method of payment for many travelers. 

Payment cards can be complicated when you’re far from home and you may not be familiar with the protocol of your financial institution and credit card company when it comes to using your debit card on foreign soil. Cash, on the other hand, works anywhere. It’s also easy to stick to a budget when you only have cash on you since there’s no way you can possibly overspend. Also, cash offers its own form of security by not leaving a digital trail. Finally, cash is easy to use to pay for small purchases when on vacation, such as food you may want to buy from a street vendor or a tip you may want to give the bellhop at your hotel.

On the flip side, cash is not the most convenient to lug around. You’ll also need to decide how much cash you need for your vacation before leaving home, as you may not find an ATM that’s connected to your credit union while on vacation. Finally, cash always carries a risk of loss or theft. Once it’s gone, there’s no way to get your funds back.

Using a debit card on vacation

If you’re like many Americans, your debit card is your go-to method of payment at all times. But, should it be your number-one choice while on vacation? 

First, let’s take a look at the good news. Your debit card rarely carries with it any surcharges or merchant fees, and the money comes directly out of your checking account, so there will be no surprise bills waiting for you when you get back home. Tracking your spending is easy, with account statements readily available on your financial institution’s website or app, and you can also link your account to any of a number of third-party payment apps, which work just like using a debit card. 

The bad news is, your debit card is not necessarily the prime choice for covering expenses while on vacation. First, it doesn’t come with robust purchase protection. This means, if you want to backtrack a purchase, you may not have any way of doing so. There are also no rewards offered for your purchases and your card may not be accepted at every vendor. 

Using credit cards on vacation

Credit cards are generally the recommended choice of payment method to use when traveling. 

First, credit cards offer convenience and unparalleled security. When making payments in a foreign country to vendors you’ve never encountered, the fraud protection on credit cards and the ability to dispute unauthorized charges make this payment method desirable and super-safe. Credit cards may also be necessary when booking a hotel stay or car rental. Also, many credit cards offer travel-related perks for purchases, which can include travel insurance, rental car coverage and access to airport lounges. Additionally, using a rewards credit card can earn you points, miles or cash back on your purchases. Finally, when traveling internationally, credit cards often provide competitive exchange rates compared to currency exchange kiosks. This can result in cost savings and more accurate budgeting. 

Unfortunately, credit card use does have some downsides for vacationers. When you’re away from your normal surroundings and routine, you’re likely more relaxed and chilled. This can easily translate into less willpower and less responsible money decisions. Using your credit card when vacationing can trigger overspending, leaving you with a nightmare bill to pay off when you return home. It’ll also cost you more, as you may have interest tacked on to your bill if you don’t pay it off before it’s due. Last, but certainly not least, some credit cards have foreign transaction fees, which can add up to a significant amount over the course of your trip.

Cash, debit or credit? It’s a tough decision, but with all the pros and cons of each choice laid out for you, you can make a responsible choice for your vacation. 

TikTok Inspo: Show us how you pay for purchases on vacation in a short video.

Should I Adopt a Minimalist Lifestyle?

Q: Minimalism is all the rage, and with everyday expenses at an all-time high, I’m wondering if I should start living with very few possessions. Should I adopt a minimalist lifestyle?

A: The minimalist movement, or the idea of living with just the barest of necessities, has exploded in popularity in recent years. Let’s take a closer look at this trending lifestyle choice so you can make an informed decision about embracing its philosophies.  

What is minimalism?

In a twist of irony, the generally accepted definition of minimalism is itself as sparse as possible, diluted into just three words: Less is more. The less you own, the more you have. But adopting a minimalist lifestyle is more than just a massive decluttering. It also means getting rid of, or whittling down, any expense category in your budget and any activity you engage in that is not absolutely necessary for your life or peace of mind. In an ideal minimalist life, your home, wardrobe and daily schedule hold only what you need and nothing more. 

The trending minimalist lifestyle is a takeaway from the art genre of the ‘60s and ‘70s and was initially made popular by “The Minimalists,” Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, who have spread their message through their documentary, podcast and nationwide tour. Since its introduction in 2011, the movement has grown by leaps and bounds. At its core, the minimalist philosophy is a focus on the present, as well as a decision to really feel every experience by eliminating all distractions and non-essentials. 

Getting started on minimalism

There are lots of ways to live a minimalist life. Here are some popular ways to get started:

  • The 90/90 rule. Choose an item in your home and ask yourself if you’ve used it in the last 90 days. If the answer is no, ask yourself if you will use it within the next 90 days. If the answer is still no, toss it out. 
  • The 30-day declutter. In this challenge, you throw out one item in your home on Day 1, two items on Day 2 and continue like this until Day 30, when you throw out 30 items. 
  • The 100-item life. Here, you choose 100 essential items that you need to live with and toss out everything else you own.  

It’s important to know that there is no “right way” for embracing this lifestyle. Since minimalism means living with what you need and what brings you joy, it will look different to everyone. In addition, some of these approaches may seem extreme and unattainable to you, and that’s OK, too. For example, if you’ve decided to go with the 90-day rule, and you have a large collection of books you haven’t touched in years and are cluttering up your home, causing you stress or landing you in debt, you can decide to hold onto them in defiance of the rule. As long as you are left with a home and a lifestyle that fills you with peace and serenity, you have adopted the minimalist lifestyle.

Pros of living a minimalist life

Here are some benefits of minimalism:

  • Define your values and think clearly. When you get rid of all the extras in your life, you’re left with what truly matters. 
  • Improved mental health. Evidence suggests that a cluttered life is a stressful life.
  • Increased opportunities to experience life at its purest level. Walking away from extraneous commitments, or even a career, can free you up to experience the true pleasures in life. 
  • More room in your budget. When you throw out all the unneeded expenses from your budget, it’s easier to save and avoid falling into debt. In addition, when you remove yourself from the rat race, you will likely find you need a lot less money to support your lifestyle.

Cons of living a minimalist life

Minimalism does have its disadvantages as well, including:

  • Feelings of deprivation. If taken to an extreme, a minimalist life can be depriving and ultimately backfire. 
  • Unhealthy obsession. Minimalism can require a lot of brain power as you try to determine which items you really need. If you spend all day thinking about your stuff, it still owns you.
  • Owning just a few items doesn’t work with cheap stuff. If you plan to go forward with only having one laptop, or just two pairs of jeans, you’ll need to invest in items that will last for the long haul. But durable goods don’t come cheap. Ultimately, it will likely come out less expensive than owning lots of cheaper items that frequently need replacing, but the initial outlay can be challenging for some people to cover.
  • It can be isolating. Unless you jump into this lifestyle with a partner or friend, it can be a very lonely life. 

A minimalist lifestyle can clear your home, life and budget of clutter, but it’s not for everyone. Use this guide to make an informed decision about embracing a minimalist life. 

TikTok Inspo: Have you embraced a minimalist lifestyle? Tell us about it in a short video.

All You Need to Know About the New Income-Driven Repayment Plan for Student Loans

After the Supreme Court blocked the Education Department’s student debt cancellation plan in June, the department announced its latest student loan overhaul: a new income-driven repayment plan called SAVE (Saving on A Valuable Education). The exact details of the new plan can be confusing, especially when the parameters and rollout dates keep changing. Here, we’ve broken down the plan into simple terms and outlined the steps you may need to take. 

What is SAVE?

Income-driven repayment plans are based on a borrower’s discretionary income, and not on the amount borrowed. Payments typically do not cover all the interest that accrues. After a specific number of payments, the remaining balance is forgiven.

SAVE, the new IDR plan, features the most generous student loan repayment plan yet. Most significantly, the plan raises the amount of income not counted as discretionary income from 150% of the federal poverty guideline to 225%. It also includes the following benefits:

  • Borrowers earning less than $32,805 individually, or less than $67,500 for a family of four, would see $0 monthly bills.
  • Students who borrowed less than $12,000 would see their outstanding balance wiped away after just 10 years of payment. 
  • Most other borrowers would see their payments cut by at least half. If the loan is an undergraduate loan only, the borrower will pay 5% of their discretionary income. If there are some graduate loans mixed with the undergraduate loans, the borrower will pay 5-10% of their discretionary income.

When will SAVE go live?

Parts of the new plan have already gone live this summer ahead of the end of forbearance. With all loan payments set to resume on Oct. 1, 2023 – and interest building again from Sept. 1 – borrowers are encouraged to apply for an IDR plan now. It may take a few weeks to process your application, so it’s important to do it as soon as possible. If your application is accepted, you should see the difference as soon as payment resumes in the fall.

The following SAVE benefits are already available:

  • Additional income protection. Income exemption has been raised from 150% to 225% of the poverty line.
  • Interest won’t accrue. Unpaid interest will not accumulate if monthly payments are met.
  • Benefits for some married borrowers. Spousal income for borrowers who are married and file separate taxes will be excluded from IDR payment calculations. Also, spouses are no longer required to co-sign an IDR application.

Additional benefits will not go live until July 2024:

  • Monthly bills halved from 10% to 5% of income above 225% of the poverty line.
  • Loan forgiveness applied for smaller loans ($12,000 or less) for borrowers who have been making payments for a minimum of 10 years.
  • Consolidation penalty lifted for borrowers who consolidate their federal loans. These loans will no longer lose progress toward IDR loan forgiveness.
  • Automatic credit toward IDR forgiveness applied to borrowers’ accounts for specific periods of deferment and forbearance.
  • Make up for missed payments allowed for borrowers to receive credit for all other periods of deferment or forbearance that don’t qualify for automatic credit.
  • Automatic enrollment in an IDR plan for borrowers with default risk, or payments at least 75 days late, if they previously agreed to give the Education Department access to their tax information.

How will the IDR plan differ from the existing plans?

The new plan will be a direct replacement of REPAYE, one of the current IDR plans. 

While there are many similarities, repayment choices under the new SAVE plan are simpler. In addition, as mentioned above, the protected income amount has been raised significantly. Also, the monthly payments will be halved. 

Let’s take a look at a true-to-life example to illustrate the differences between existing and new plans. 

A family of four with an income of $75,000 has a discretionary income of $30,000, according to the 2023 U.S. federal poverty guidelines. Payments under the current IDR plans are 10% of that amount. Monthly, that would amount to a discretionary income of $2,500 a month, and a monthly payment of $250 toward student loan debt. With the new plans in place, and the threshold for discretionary income now at 225%, the same family would see payments based on only $7,500 of their income, or $625 a month. With payments also now halved to just 5% of this number, this family would only pay $31 a month toward their student loan debt. 

How do I apply for the new IDR plan?

If you have an open federal student loan and you haven’t already applied for the new SAVE plan, you’ll want to do so as soon as possible. Contact your student loan servicer and submit an 

IDR application on the website. If you are already enrolled in REPAYE, your plan will automatically be transferred to a SAVE plan when it rolls out. 

The new SAVE plan can seem confusing to student loan borrowers, but this guide can help you work through the details and learn what you need to know about the new plan.

TikTok Inspo: Can you tell us about the new IDR plan in a 15-second video?

8 Super-Scary Halloween Hacks to Save You Money

It’s that time of year again, when jack-o’-lanterns leer into the dark night and cobwebby skeletons hang from every bush. Halloween is great fun for kids and kids-at-heart. But, if you’re the one left paying for all those costumes, decor and candy, you may find the only scare you’re getting from Halloween this year is fear of the credit card bill’s arrival.

Don’t let Halloween costs spook you out! We’ve got eight great hacks for saving on costumes and decor.

  1. Ghastly ghosts

Create an army of floating ghosts using nothing more than white trash bags. Gather a bunch of bags and stuff them with crumpled newspaper. Tie the “head” with a rubber band and use a permanent marker to draw spooky faces on your ghosts. Hang your frightful friends around your house and yard to scare off your party guests and trick-or-treaters.

  1. Spooky bird houses

Create a mini haunted house to hang on your door or decorate your table using nothing more than a bird house, black paint and some cotton. Paint the bird house black and stretch cotton over it for a cobwebby effect. Finish it off with a few paper ghosts peeking out of the windows and doors and you’ve got yourself a tiny haunted house!

  1. Shark attack!

For a fun and freaky costume that costs next to nothing, go as a surfer being eaten by a shark. Dress in swimwear, with a towel draped over yourself if the weather makes it necessary, and apply fake blood to a visible spot on your neck or arm. Use face paint to create a line of triangle-shaped marks to mimic the shark bite and apply the blood so it surrounds the bite and drips out. To create a realistic pull on the skin, apply several layers of non-flexible collodion on the triangles. As it dries, the collodion will shrink and pull in the skin. It won’t be too comfortable, so only do this extra step if you’re ready to go all in – and make sure you have the correct remover, too. Finally, for a fun touch, attach an inflated or stuffed toy shark to your costume. 

Tip: You can spring for fake blood, or easily create your own with some corn syrup and red and blue food coloring. Stir in the red coloring, mixing until you reach the desired consistency. Darken with the blue coloring until you achieve that perfect color. 

  1. Mason jar lanterns

For easy DIY decor, paint mason jars with spooky designs and insert battery-powered tea lights for a bewitching glow. Line your walkway or porch with these lanterns to welcome trick-or-treaters.

  1. Creepy crawlers everywhere

Use an inexpensive package of plastic spiders to scare your guests silly! You can freeze some in ice cubes for a spooky surprise in everyone’s drinks, scatter a few across the table to make someone shriek and even add some to your soap dispenser to really freak everyone out. Let your trick-or-treaters in on the fun by sprinkling some of these plastic critters into your bowl of candy. Let your young visitors stick their hands in at their own risk!

  1. An eerie flicker

For a super-easy and super-cheap centerpiece, paint old wine bottles black. Use matte paint for the best effect. When your candlestick holders have dried, insert long orange taper candles into each one to add a festive look to your table. 

  1. Care for a lollipop?

Turn your pumpkin into a fun lollipop dispenser with the help of an electric drill. Use the drill to make small holes in your pumpkin and then stick a lollipop into each hole. Set it up on your steps for an adorable, help-yourself trick-or-treat.

  1. Retro costume

For a costume that will make everyone laugh and won’t cost a penny, go as your college-aged self. Dig out those neon leggings from the ‘90s, or the bell-bottom jeans from the ‘80s, and use old accessories to make the full costume. If you had a crazy hairstyle back then, incorporate it into your costume for a head-to-toe effect. 

TikTok Inspo: What’s your favorite Halloween hack? Share it with us in a short video.

Affordable Sustainability 9 of 12-All You Need to Know About Electric Vehicles

With prices still rising on just about everything, and the cost of fuel stubbornly refusing to budge, electric vehicles (EVs) are more popular than ever. The idea of never having to pay for gas again is awfully tempting to the average cash-strapped American, but those cars don’t come cheap! 

Of course, in addition to the anticipated savings on fuel, EVs offer their owners a clean, emissions-free ride. 

Let’s take a closer look at EVs, their initial and ongoing costs, and factors to consider before springing for this expensive, but environmentally friendly, car. 

How much do EVs cost? 

EVs come in a wide range of prices, with the Chevy Bolt starting at just $26,500 and BMW’s M60 xDrive, arriving this fall, going for a whopping $85,095. Prices on EVs are based on their range, or how far they can drive on a single battery charge, as well as their durability, performance, styling and size. In general, as with most cars, you get what you pay for and the more expensive EVs will last longer and perform better than their cheaper counterparts. 

Many EV owners have taken advantage of government incentives to help cover the cost of their vehicle. With a chunk of the price covered by Uncle Sam, the EV becomes much more affordable. Plus, many states also offer their own tax credits, rebates, reduced registration fees and access to carpool lanes. 

In addition, many corporations and businesses are promoting EV adoption by incorporating electric vehicles into their fleets. This not only showcases their commitment to sustainability but also encourages consumers to follow suit.

Finally, there’s good news coming for EV pricing. Manufacturers are bringing down their prices as battery technology improves. Prices on Tesla and Ford, for instance, have already dropped in 2023, and more models are expected to get cheaper with time. 

Electric vehicle maintenance

In general, EVs have a lower maintenance cost than their gas-powered cousins. According to Consumer Reports, an owner of an EV can expect to save more than $6,000, on average, over the lifespan of the car relative to a traditional vehicle. Lots of common maintenance issues for cars, such as replacing or repairing spark plugs, transistors and oil, are irrelevant to EVs. This translates into easier and less expensive maintenance for electric vehicles across the board. 

Electricity costs

While one of the primary draws of EVs is the monthly savings on fuel costs, keeping your EV running will not be completely free. You’ll need to pay for the electricity it costs to run your car, and with prices rising on all commodities – energy included – it can cost a pretty penny. It’s hard to put an exact price tag on charging an EV, though, as energy costs will vary by state and are always fluctuating. However, it’s good to make note of these cost-saving energy measures:

  • Charging your EV overnight or on the weekend will cost you less than charging it during weekday afternoons and/or evenings. 
  • Some utility companies offer special plans for EV owners. It’s worth a call to find out if there are any savings available to you before buying an EV.
  • It’s best not to charge your battery to 100% unless absolutely necessary (such as before a long trip with few charging stations along the way), as this can degrade the battery and cause a negative charge.

Will I qualify for a tax incentive for my electric vehicle?

The government incentive of $7,500 for EVs has prompted thousands of buyers across the country to make the leap toward electric-powered cars. But the good times are running out and many car models are no longer eligible for the full federal incentive. To see if your chosen car makes the cut, check out the IRS’s most recently updated list of vehicles that qualify for the incentive program. Expect this list to grow shorter as strict criteria for manufacturers, including a supply chain based in North America, makes it difficult for car makers to keep their vehicles on the coveted list. 

Another way to check tax credit eligibility for a specific car is by looking up the vehicle’s identification number (VIN) on the Energy Department’s website

Before ruling out a tax incentive, be sure to check for any additional cuts or rebates from your state government. Lots of states are offering their own incentives for going electric, and it’s best to do your research before paying for an EV to ensure you’re getting all the credits and rebates you possibly can. 

Is it a good time to buy an electric vehicle?

The jury is out on this one, as consumers are eager to start saving on fuel costs, but sky-high prices on EVs drive them back to traditional car sales. The promise of newer, more updated EVs is also keeping buyers waiting for something better. Finally, energy is at a record high now, so keeping an EV running now won’t be cheap. There’s no telling where the market will go, though, so it’s anyone’s guess if prices will really fall enough to justify a wait. 

Electric vehicles are growing increasingly popular as consumers seek creative ways to balance their budgets during times of sky-high prices. Use this guide to make an informed decision that may benefit your wallet, and the environment, too. 

TikTok Inspo: Should you buy an electric vehicle now? Share your take in a short video.

Don’t Get Caught in a Debt Collection Scam

No one likes to be in debt. It’s a downward spiral that never seems to end, and it’s an expensive burden to carry, too. Unfortunately, scammers often exploit the feelings of helplessness and overwhelm to lure victims into their debt-collection scams. Let’s take a look at these scams and how to keep yourself from falling victim. 

How the scams play out

In a debt-collection scam, a scammer posing as a debt collector will call a victim and demand payment for an outstanding debt. The caller insists on a specific means of payment, usually a wire transfer or prepaid debit card. The scammer will sometimes threaten to tell the victims’ family members about the debt if it’s not paid up immediately. The alleged debt may be completely fabricated, or an actual debt the victim has that the scammer has learned about through social engineering or by hacking the victim’s private accounts. In either scenario, though, the caller is not a debt collector and represents only themselves. Of course, any money the scammer collects will go directly into their own pocket. 

Red flags

Here’s how to recognize a debt-collection scam:

  • The alleged debt collector demands immediate payment. A legitimate debt collector will always provide you with the option to dispute the debt and discuss payment arrangements. 
  • The caller insists on a specific means of payment. Scammers love having their victims cough up money through a payment method that cannot be undone, such as wire transfer or prepaid cards. 
  • The “debt collector” knows very few details about the debt. A genuine debt collector will have all the information on the debt and be able to answer any questions you may have. 
  • There is no contact information for the debt collection agency the caller allegedly represents. Ask for a phone number and street address for the agency. If none are forthcoming, it’s likely a scam. 

Protect yourself

Debt-collection scams can be difficult to spot, but with the right knowledge, you can protect yourself. Follow these tips to stay safe.

  • When called by an alleged debt collector, verify the debt. Request written validation of the debt, including detailed information about the creditor, the amount owed and the nature of the debt. Legitimate debt collectors should be able to provide this information.
  • Never share personal information with an unverified contact. If you’re asked to provide sensitive information by an unknown contact, it’s likely a scam.
  • Check for licensing and credentials. Debt collectors are often required to be licensed in the state where they operate. Research the collector’s credentials and licensing status through your state’s attorney general’s office or consumer protection agency.
  • Know your rights.  Familiarize yourself with your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and other relevant consumer protection laws. These laws outline the rules that legitimate debt collectors must follow when attempting to collect a debt. For example, they can only contact borrowers at reasonable hours, they cannot call them at their workplace, harass them about a debt using threats or violence, lie about money owed or falsify the name of the agency they represent, among other restrictions. 
  • Keep detailed records. Maintain thorough records of any communication you have with debt collectors, including dates, times, names and contact details. If you suspect a scam, these records can serve as evidence if you need to report the incident.
  • Request written communication. Ask the debt collector to communicate with you exclusively in writing. Legitimate collectors should be willing to provide written documentation of the debt and any payment arrangements.
  • Stay informed. It’s a good idea to check your credit report on a regular basis for any unfamiliar or fraudulent accounts. Monitoring your credit can help you quickly identify any unauthorized activities related to debt collection. It’s also advisable to keep up with the latest scams so you are better equipped to identify and avoid them. 

Debt collection scams can make the nightmare of debt even worse. Use the tips here to stay safe!

What Do I Need to Know About the Recent Student Loan Changes?

Q: There have been so many changes to federal student loans over the last few years, and I’ve heard there are more coming. As a college graduate with a federal student loan, what do I need to know about these changes and how will they affect my payment plan?

A: Student loans have undergone quite a few changes over the last few years. Backtracked statements and moving rollout dates have only made the headlines more confusing. As a borrower, though, it’s important to keep up with these changes and stay informed about how they will impact you. Here, we’ve outlined the important changes you need to know about and included steps you might need to take to benefit from these adjustments. 

A brief overview of recent student loan changes 

First, let’s take a look at the timeline of student loan changes of the last few years: 

  • Mar. 2020-Forbearance (a temporary pause) on student loans is enacted by the federal government in response to financial hardships caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Apr. 2022-The Education Department announces an Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) plan and Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF).
  • Oct. 2022-Congress passes the Joint Consolidation Loan Separation Act.
  • June 2, 2023- A debt-ceiling deal is passed by congress. A provision in this deal prevents any further payment pause extensions on federal student loans. 
  • June 30, 2023-President Biden’s proposal to erase up to $20,000 in federal student loans is struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • July 14, 2023-The Education Department announces that the first major wave of loan forgiveness is coming for over 804,000 borrowers.
  • July 30, 2023-Parts of the IDR plan goes into effect.
  • Sept. 1, 2023-Interest on student loans resumes accrual.
  • Oct. 1, 2023-Student loan payments resume.
  • July 1, 2024-The rest of the IDR plan goes into effect. 

Forbearance ending on Oct. 1, 2023

After more than three years of student loan pauses, payments are set to resume this October. In the meantime, though, interest will begin accruing again on Sept. 1. Borrowers who’ve grown accustomed to skipping their monthly payments will need to readjust their budgets for these “new” bills. 

Steps to take: If you have an open student loan, prepare for the change in your budget instead of waiting until it hits you by surprise. Review your budget to see whether you have room for this new expense or if you need to make some major adjustments. If you are unsure of how much your monthly payment will be, contact your loan servicer now to find out. 

PSLF account adjustment, or waiver

On July 14, the Education Department announced that loan forgiveness is coming for more than 804,000 borrowers who’ve been paying off their student loans for at least 20 years. In total, close to $39 billion in student debt will be automatically wiped out with this adjustment. Millions more borrowers will have three years of additional credit toward forgiveness under the new plans when their accounts are updated next year. 

If you’ve been steadily paying off a student loan for at least 20 or 25 years (including forbearance) you’ll be student debt-free after the adjustment. If you borrowed less than $12,000, you’ll be debt-free even if you’ve only been paying off your student loan for 10 years. 

Steps to take: The adjustment is mostly automatic. However, if you have a loan from the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program, Perkins or Health Education Assistance Loan (HEAL) Program, you must apply to consolidate them at by the end of 2023 to enjoy the full benefits of this adjustment. The consolidation process can take a while, so get started as soon as you can. 

A new IDR plan

The existing income-driven REPAYE plan is being replaced by a new, broader plan called Saving on A Valuable Education, or SAVE. SAVE is expected to halve the monthly payments for many borrowers. 

Steps to take: Borrowers can sign up for this new plan before forbearance ends this fall. However, the full plan will not take effect until July 2024. If you are already enrolled in the REPAYE plan, your loan will automatically be moved into the SAVE plan in October.

Also, if you qualify for the PSLF waiver above, but you’ll have a balance remaining after the adjustment, you’ll need to sign up for an IDR plan when payments resume this fall to keep building credit toward loan forgiveness. If you believe you are in this category, be sure to contact your servicer to get your paperwork submitted soon. This way, it’ll be set up to go into an IDR plan as soon as forbearance ends. 

Student loan servicer switches

In April, 2023, the Education Department signed contracts with five federal student loan servicers, which are expected to go live in 2024. Eventually, the department plans to launch a central servicer portal at, but for now, it’s important to know the name and contact info of your servicer. If the department transfers your loans to another servicer, your current and new servicers will notify you of the change.  

Steps to take: Make sure your contact information is up to date with your current servicer. 

Other student loan changes underway

There are several other changes underway for student loans:

  • Fresh Start program for delinquent or defaulted loans. Borrowers with past-due loans now have more opportunity to get them back on track through the new “Fresh Start” program. Eligible borrowers must sign up for Fresh Start within one year of the end of forbearance on or by calling the Education Department at 800-621-3115.
  • Updated bankruptcy guidance. The departments of Education and Justice jointly released updated bankruptcy guidance in November 2022 to standardize the requirements for borrowers to discharge their federal student loans in bankruptcy.
  • Joint Consolidation Loan Separation Act. Passed in October 2022, this law allows consolidated student loans of spouses to be separated so that each partner can access debt relief for their loan. 

Use this guide to stay informed on recent student loan changes. 

Affordable Sustainability 8 of 12-7 Tips for Building an Energy-Efficient Home

Building a new home involves many decisions and expenses. As you work through the process, it’s a good idea to try making your new home as energy-efficient as possible. By incorporating sustainable design principles and utilizing innovative technologies, you can dramatically decrease your home’s energy utilization and save a significant amount of money in the long run. Let’s explore seven ways you can build an energy-efficient home that promotes a sustainable future.

  1. Optimize site selection

The first step in building an energy-efficient home is to choose the right location. Consider factors such as solar orientation, prevailing winds and surrounding vegetation. Maximizing natural resources, like sunlight and wind, can significantly reduce the need for artificial heating, cooling and lighting. Additionally, selecting a site that’s close to amenities like public transportation, schools and grocery stores can encourage sustainable living practices and reduce reliance on private vehicles.

  1. Efficient building envelope 

A well-insulated building envelope is crucial for maintaining a comfortable indoor environment while minimizing energy loss. Use high-quality insulation materials, such as cellulose or spray foam, in walls, roofs and floors of your new home. Opt for double- or triple-pane windows with low-emissivity coatings to reduce heat transfer. Finally, properly seal any gaps or cracks to prevent air leakage, ensuring your home remains airtight. By focusing on the building envelope, you can significantly reduce the need for mechanical heating and cooling, resulting in lower energy consumption.

  1. Use sustainable materials

Choosing sustainable and locally sourced materials can have a positive impact on both the environment and your health. Look for materials with low embodied energy, such as recycled content or renewable resources, like bamboo and cork. Consider using reclaimed or salvaged materials for construction and furniture. Also, choose finishes and paints that have low volatile organic compound (VOC) content to improve your indoor air quality. By opting for sustainable materials, you can reduce the carbon footprint of your home and create a healthier living environment.

  1. Install energy-efficient appliances and lighting

Investing in energy-efficient appliances and lighting fixtures can significantly reduce your home’s energy consumption. Look for appliances with an ENERGY STAR® label, as they meet strict efficiency standards. LED lighting is another excellent choice, as it consumes less electricity and has a longer lifespan compared to traditional incandescent bulbs. You can also incorporate smart home technologies, such as programmable thermostats and motion-sensing switches, to optimize energy usage. By selecting energy-efficient appliances and lighting, you can save both energy and money every month in your new home.

  1. Consider renewable energy systems

Integrating renewable energy systems into your home is a proactive step toward energy independence. These include solar panels, wind turbines or geothermal systems that generate clean energy while reducing your reliance on the grid. You can hire a professional to conduct a small study to determine the most suitable renewable energy source for your location and energy needs. Additionally, consider incorporating energy storage solutions, such as batteries, to store excess energy for later use. With renewable energy systems, you can generate electricity sustainably that will pay off for many years to come.

  1. Water conservation strategies 

Conserving water is an essential part of building an energy-efficient home. Install low-flow fixtures, such as faucets, showerheads and toilets, to reduce water consumption without sacrificing performance. You may also want to install graywater systems to recycle water from sinks, showers and laundry for non-potable uses. Implementing water conservation strategies will save water while also reducing the energy required for water treatment and distribution.

Building an energy-efficient home is an investment in a sustainable future. Use the tips outlined here to build a home that has a lower carbon output and saves you money for years to come.

TikTok Inspo: Can you sell us an energy-efficient home? Describe the most sustainable house you can imagine in a short video.