HerMoney Podcast: Get Present Over Perfect With Shauna Niequist (Episode 36)

Are you feeling frantic this holiday season? How about on a daily basis? If you feel like you spend wayyyyy too much time trying to be perfect at everything you do, only to disappoint the ones you love — and yourself — at every turn, this show is our holiday gift to you.

“Present Over Perfect” author Shauna Niequist sat down with me, and the resulting conversation was good for my — and I hope your — soul. Kelly and I chatted about where to put money when saving for a home and figuring out the best insurance for you and your family.

And then we discuss the cost of taking a break from work in this week’s Thrive. Please spread some HerMoney cheer by sharing this episode with your friend who needs it most.

HerMoney Podcast: All About 529 College Savings Plans, with Abby Chao (Episode 138)

We hold nearly two-thirds of all student loan debt in the United States. To bring it closer to home, the average graduate walked off campus with around $39,400 last year, which is up 6% from 2016. It’s trending up, so what can we do for ourselves and our loved ones to lower the cost? One (big) option: 529 college savings plans.

We have Abby Chao, co-founder and COO of CollegeBacker, to talk us through what they are, how they work and how you can easily get your loved ones on board.

In Mailbag, we answer your questions on retirement planning for when you’re out of work, credit cards for new adults and how to go from joint accounts to yours, mine and ours. In Thrive, HerMoney reporter Kathryn shares her coverage on the increase in workplace demotions. We discuss what to do and how to handle them.

This Week In Your Wallet: A Purchasing Pause

Estimates continue to show that the sales totals for 2018 will be record breakers. Which seems like a good enough reason to pump the breaks a bit and note that you can have holidays that are merry, happy and bright without breaking the bank. Here are three things that might help you do that.
 
First, consider abandoning that mobile wallet you’ve taken to and reverting to old fashioned cash or even (gasp) credit cards instead. Research conducted overseas (where mobile wallets are more popular than they are here) showed that not only do consumers spend more when they’re using a mobile wallet, they make more purchases overall. Actually having to swipe a card reduces the total financial outlay.  
 
Second, make this the month you actually track your spending. Kristin Wong, who writes about money for The New York Times — and notes that as someone who writes about money, she’s pretty good at it — recently did this and then wrote about the eye-opening results. Among her revelations: $20 has become the new $3 when we’re spending money on small everyday things like food and books — but that $20 is always worth a second thought. Also, spending can sometimes seem like the quick and easy way to solve a problem — like the fact that you don’t like how you look that day — yet it rarely works. And money flies through our fingers when we don’t even know it. She’d spent more than $600 on Amazon in the prior three months and had little to show for it. If you’ve never done this, give it a try.
 
And third, stop to consider how brand/designer sensitive you are. Sometimes, I’ll give an item a second or third look just because of the label it’s wearing. Sometimes, it even comes home with me. And I’m not the only one. Payless recently put up a fake store —  Palessi — in Los Angeles (because if you’re going to do this, you might as well do it in the Kardashian zone) then invited fashion bloggers and social media influencers to come shop the sophisticated boutique. It stocked it with it’s regular merchandise, then sat back and watched what happened. Sales. That’s what happened. One shopper actually spent $640 on a pair of boots, which represented an 1,800% markup. In the end, Payless returned the money spent and the shoppers got to keep the shoes but the company said it was a good social experiment. And it was a good reminder that rocking a pair of $20 pumps to that big holiday party, as long as we like the way they look, is like spending an evening with a dirty little secret. Saving money can be very, very sexy.
 

FIREd Up!

 
Have you heard of the FIRE movement? The acronym stands for Financial Independence, Retire Early, and it’s got a lot of folks fired up, but for different reasons. Devotees of the movement are dedicated to saving 50 percent of their annual income or more in a quest to amass 25 times their annual spending which would allow them to, in many cases, retire. Detractors say that this kind of lifestyle is basically one step above freeganism, and that they’re making the rest of us — who are only able to save 10 percent of our income (if we’re lucky) — feel bad. But as Michelle Singletary writes in this week’s Washington Post, the movement may be misunderstood. Just 35 percent of FIRE practitioners said they were motivated by quitting work and retiring early — most folks said they’re just seeking a work-life balance. Additionally, 67 percent of FIRE folks said that hitting their savings goal isn’t worth it if it means they have to live as though they’re broke. In fact, whether you go full-on FIRE or not, the movement has a lot to teach us about ways to earn a little more, spend a little less and line up both with your values. 
 

Eco-Beauty

 
Finally, as Amelia McBain writes for HerMoney.com our beauty routines come at a cost not just to our wallets — but to the environment. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it would cost about $500 million to clean the plastic pouches that many beauty products come in out of the ocean. And aside from the packaging, the ingredients in our products can cause further damage to our oceans (and our bodies) — like plastic micro-beads found in exfoliants. Some products are actually toxic and are filled with cancer-causing parabens. But before you toss all of your face washes and night creams into the trash remember: waste isn’t green either. So research new, eco-friendly products to choose next while using what you already have. For more green beauty hacks, keeping reading here.

The Other Talk: Taking Out Student Loans

Note: This is a sponsored article, and it’s a part of a paid campaign, The Other Talk with Citizens Bank.

Here are a few others that might make your chin drop:  

  • Millennials spend nearly one-fifth of their annual salaries on debt repayments, according to a recent Citizens Bank survey.
  • Nearly six in 10 borrowers regret taking out as much in loans as they did, according to the same study.
  • And, nearly half of college students believe they will be helped by federal loan forgiveness, according to research from QFinance. (To put it in perspective, fewer than 100 of more than 30,000 loan forgiveness applicants received it.)

What could have made for a happier financial picture for these students and so many others? Talking about the amount of borrowing – and the impact it would have on their future lives – in advance. That’s not something enough families do these days. Having a conversation like this may not be the most comfortable one – it’s hard for parents to acknowledge that they wish they could contribute more – but it’s a necessary one. Here’s how to go about it.

Start Young – With A Pep Talk

Your first conversation about college shouldn’t happen as the PSATs roll around. If that happens, you’ve missed years of opportunity. And, don’t start with debt. Start with what they might want to do with their lives.

“When kids are younger, career exploration is really what the early talks should be about,” says Reyna Gobel, student loan expert and author of the CliffsNote’s “Parents Guide to Paying for College and Repaying Student Loans.” A career is something students can get excited about, she notes. “If you’re not excited about something, you’re not really going to care about the debt conversation.”

Acknowledge The Cost – And That There Will Be A Plan For Paying For It

Woven into conversations about college should be a discussion about financing, says Joel Best, professor of sociology and criminal justice at the University of Delaware and author of “The Student Loan Mess: How Good Intentions Created a Trillion Dollar Problem.” “When you start talking to kids about going to college, you also need to start talking to them about how it’s going to be paid for.”  

When they’re young, this can be a general discussion incorporating the fact that you’re saving what you can and that it’s their job to do well in school so that they will qualify for scholarships and grants from schools that want them. As they get older, you can expand to a discussion of how choosing a college these days is a value proposition. It’s not just about going to the best school that accepts you; it’s about going to a school that makes it attractive for you to attend financially. That means you have to cast a wide net as you conduct your search.

Get Specific About What It Means To Borrow

One thing Best notes – and I’ve witnessed from college grads after the fact – is that while many understand that they’re borrowing, they don’t understand how it works, that interest continues to accrue, and what a sum borrowed translates to in repayment.

“If you have a house loan or a car loan, people will understand that, but they tend to treat student loans kind of like they’re magical,” he says. “I think a lot of people are not aware of what they’re getting into.” As part of the continuing conversations you have with your children, run some numbers.  Or simply look them up. Many schools have charts like this one from Penn State that show how much an amount borrowed translates to in monthly payments and what sort of salary you’d need to earn to make that payment manageable (manageable usually equates to between 5% and 15% of your income).  You’ll see, for example, that $25,000 in loans at a rate of 6% equals a $277 monthly payment and that you’ll need a salary of $41,000 or more to afford that comfortably. Borrow $60,000 and without a salary of $100,000 or more you’ll feel squeezed. Yes, numbers like this can be daunting. But not as daunting as finding out you can’t afford your own apartment because you overborrowed.

Be Realistic About A Career Path’s Potential

It’s one thing to borrow six figures knowing you’re going to work in finance or as an engineer where salaries are competitive and generally hefty. It’s another to borrow six figures thinking that you might want to work in publishing or for a not-for-profit. If you don’t borrow smartly, you’re setting yourself up for years of financial frustration.

“There’s a myth that student loans are always bad,” says Gobel. They’re not. But you do need to be realistic about what’s coming down the pike. And if you’re not comfortable having this conversation with your child alone, know that help is available. “Go to a financial aid officer at a local college and have them sit and explain it with you,” she suggests. “You can’t really tell your kids what or how much to borrow unless you understand the options yourself. They’re going to have these loans for potentially 30 years, you want them to understand them beforehand. An hour researching loans can save you years of heartache.”

With Amelia McBain

College as a Value Proposition: Is It Worth the Price of Admission?

Note: This is a sponsored article, and it’s a part of a paid campaign, The Other Talk with Citizens Bank.

College is expensive — we get it. When you add it up, each year of tuition, fees, room and board can cost as much as an annual salary. Yikes.

Still, the worth it question is a tough one to nail. “When you try to give a blanket answer to that question, it’s always wrong,” said Reyna Gobel, student loan expert and the  author of the CliffsNote’s “Parents Guide to Paying for College and Repaying Student Loans.”The mostly right (and complicated) answer is that it depends. It depends on the kind of school your kid goes to, what the major is and if your kid even goes into the field their major is for.

“There is no one return, no one amount of money you get from a college degree, there’s no one cost,” said Dr. Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. “The question for young people is, ‘What’s the value of the degree I’m about to get?’”

It’s daunting to calculate the cost of every degree at each college and university, so let’s check out the averages. According to The College Board’s Trends in College Pricing 2017 report, we can see that a degree will cost an average $56,840 at a four-year in-state public school and $104,400 at a four-year private nonprofits.  And if you can’t pay it all upfront, you can expect to pay off student loan debt for years after graduation, which only adds to those totals. …

What’s the benefit on the other side? You’ll see that a recent college graduate’s average salary is $50,390. The average salary of someone with a high school degree is $35,356. There’s a big difference, and as each raise you receive tends to be based on the amount you earned before, the salary gap tends to grow rather than shrink over time.  

You can see that in these numbers: According to the Georgetown College Payoff Report, a Bachelor’s degree is worth $2.8 million over a lifetime, which is more than twice a high school degree ($1.3 million). An Associate’s, or two-year, degree (the cost of which runs around $16,000 on average at a community college)  is worth $1.7 million.

Bottom line? “In general, yes, college degrees are worth the cost,” said Carnevale. “Whatever benefits you get, stretch over 40 years.” So college (on average) is probably worth it, but there are a lot of ways to help your kid maximize the value of their degree. Here are just a couple of them:

Weigh the Financial Pros and Cons of Each School

The days in which you simply enrolled in the best-ranking college that accepted you are over. More than ever, college is a value proposition. Minimizing the amount of student debt you take on gives you a leg up on building a life when you get out.  That means casting a wide net in the application process and including schools likely to see you as someone who would be a big asset to the student body (and offer you money as a result).

Consider the Value of Your Major

No, not everyone is meant to be an engineer or a coder. But as you choose a school to attend, you should be cognizant of the fact that some fields pay significantly more than others. The top-paying majors earn $3.4 million more over a lifetime than the lowest-paying majors. “It all depends on your field of study,” said Carnevale. “What you take has a lot to do with what you make.”

And if you are going into a field that’s not especially lucrative, keep an eagle eye on the amount you borrow. “If you’re not going into something that’s going to make $200,000 and you’re borrowing $300,000 to go into school, that may not be a good idea,” said Gobel. “But if you pick a high-paying job like engineering and you’re not an engineer, you’re just wasting money until you switch to the major you really want.”

Saving for College: 3 Quick Tips to Get on the Road to College Savings Success

Note: This is a sponsored article, and it’s a part of a paid campaign, The Other Talk with Citizens Bank.

More than $145,000: That’s the approximate cost to send your freshman to a moderately priced, in-state public college or university according to The College Board.  It includes room and board but not a lot of other things like books, travel to and from, Saturday night pizza and beer. The cost of a public school if you’re out-of-state or a private college or university can soar far higher.  

And all of that is counting on the fact that your child will actually graduate in four years — these days it often takes an extra year or more for students to make it through.  Bottom line: You’re going to need a lot of cash to get your kid through school. Here’s how to get there without going into debt.

How to Approach College Savings

  1. Start Saving Now
  2. Find the Right 529
  3. Check Out Age-based Investment Options

1. Start Saving Now

Even if you can only put away $25 to $50 each month, get that money invested in a 529 college savings account. Setting up automatic contributions will make saving a habit, and the dollars will add up over time thanks to the tax-free investment growth they get when used for qualified education expenses.

What is a 529?
A 529 is a tax-advantaged savings plan — named for the section of IRS code they fall under — designed to encourage saving for future education costs, according to the SEC.  

We started saving in a 529 for our 7-year-old when she was born, and when she graduates from high school we anticipate to have around $10,000. A nice jump-start on paying for books if nothing else, but we still have a long way to go to reach the $145,000 mark.

HerMoney co-founder Jean Chatzky, financial editor of NBC Today, says not to feel bad about that. “Although it’s admirable to want to save all the money your kids will need for college, your retirement saving has to come first. There’s no financial aid for retirement.” She suggests trying to save about a third of the overall cost, then strategizing a way to pay for one-third out of current cash flow when your child is in school and covering the final third with financial aid.  

Want to create a college savings target for your family? Try the world’s simplest college cost calculator.

2. Find the Right 529

A 529 plan is the most popular college savings tool for good reason: It provides tax-deferred investment growth, and distributions used to pay for college (and some other qualified education expenses) are federally tax-free. 529 plans are offered by each state, and you can invest in any state’s 529 plan. But some are better — in terms of investment performance and incentives — than others. For example, we live in Florida, but we invest in the 529 from Virginia. About 30 states offer a state tax deduction for residents who contribute to the plan.  Sites including savingforcollege.com and morningstar.com allow you to compare 529s across the states to see which has the best benefits for your needs.

What counts as qualified education expenses that can be paid for with 529 plan withdrawals?
Qualified education expenses, as they related to 529 plans, include post-secondary education costs including tuition, room and board, technology items, and books and supplies.

3. Check Out Age-Based Investment Options

Make sure you’re putting the money you put into the 529 plan to work.

Like 401(k)s, 529s plans offer a wide range of investment options. Typical 529 plans will have age-based investment options that automatically rebalance, taking more risk when your child is young and less as college gets closer. These work much like the target date funds you’ll find in 401(k)s.  If you have a financial advisor, make sure you keep him or her in the loop to make sure you’re still on track to hit your goals. As your income goes up, you can and should bump up the money you’re putting into the 529 as well. And, don’t hesitate to tell grandparents, aunts, uncles and anyone else who regularly gives your child gifts that you’d love them to consider padding the 529 instead of, say, the closet or toy box.  Websites including giftofcollege.com and leafsavings.com make it easy to contribute. Or, they can just write a check for you to put in: Every little bit helps.

We’re all in this together. Join the HerMoney Facebook group to talk money and more in a judgment-free zone.

This Week In Your Wallet: Deal Magic

Retailers have launched their holiday sales well before the holiday. I actually wasn’t there to do holiday damage, rather to get a birthday gift for a friend and a pair of snow boots for my daughter (on which we scored 30 percent off at Cole Haan, plus an extra 10 percent for giving them an email address).

If you’re looking to make the most of Black Friday and the days that follow, our friend Edgar Dworsky at Consumer World pulled together his list of Top 10 Tips that include a reminder that not all Black Friday deals are actually steals. Use a price checker, he suggests, like the one at Consumer World or camelcamelcamel.com to separate the good from the bad. He, too, points out that getting a jump on holiday shopping can pay off. The good news: You’ll have more time this year than last. Why? Experts say you no longer have to brine the turkey.

Just Say No

If you do hit the stores over the next couple of days — or weeks — one thing you should say no to are the offers for store credit cards. According to a new survey from credit cards.com, about half of all Americans have impulsively acquiesced when offered a discount in exchange for adding another piece of plastic to their wallets. Here are two good reasons to say nay: The interest rates on these cards are absurdly high — they’re in the mid-20 percent range on average. (Just to put that in perspective, carrying a $2,000 balance will cost you $500 over the course of a year.) And, the act of signing up can ding your credit score as much as 10 points, which (if it moves you from, say, a good credit tier to a fair credit tier) could translate to hundreds or thousands of dollars in interest on loans that you really care about, like a mortgage or auto loan.

On the other hand, here’s a new financial services provider that we’ve got our eye on: Zero Financial. (Although, as the New York Times’ Ron Lieber notes, while there are good reasons to get excited by this offering, there are just as many to remain, in his words, “intensely skeptical.”) Here’s the deal: Zero proposes to be a one-stop shop for your banking needs. It combines a checking account (Zero Checking) and a credit card (Zerocard) that acts like a cash-back debit card. The service cuts you off if you don’t have enough money to make a purchase, meaning no overdrafts and no going into debt. And there’s a cash back rewards program. (Zero is making money on transactions, in case you’re wondering.) Folks who spend $100,000 or more a year get 3 percent back on everything, at $50,000 you get 2 percent back, at $25,000 1.5 percent and below that 1 percent. Should you make the switch? Lieber says for now he’s taking a wait-and-see approach. We’re with him on that.

Magic And Manners

The magic of the holidays seems to be kept alive by two things: the spirit of giving, and children. Their excitement around this time of year is contagious and it puts pressure on parents to not disappoint. But it’s important that your child understands that they aren’t going to get everything they want this holiday season, nor will they be in love with every gift they get. For tips on how to manage their manners and expectations this holiday season, keep reading here.

Make a Bigger Down Payment on a Home or Invest the Cash?

Conventional wisdom suggests that if you have cash saved up and are looking to purchase a home, you should put that cash toward your down payment in order to reduce the size of your loan. But is that right?

Many traditional financial experts, such as Dave Ramsey, promote eliminating debt as the fastest and most secure way to financial freedom. After all, without debt, you are free to put your money to work however you want. However, a singular focus on avoiding debt at all costs may not be right for everyone, especially younger millennials who could benefit from getting into a house while also building their retirement portfolios.

When you look at your financial health as a whole, it may make more sense to consider both the short-term advantages of not paying down your loan (you keep your cash) and the long-term advantages of using the money in other ways (investing it to actually make more than you would save on interest).

There are several questions to consider when deciding what to do with “extra” cash if you are purchasing a home. At first glance, it might seem like the obvious answer is to pay down as much as you can from your mortgage. But first, ask yourself a few questions:

Can you make more money putting that asset elsewhere?

Kyle Tank, a financial advisor with Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc. in Troy, Michigan, says answering this question really depends on your situation. Compare how much money you will spend on interest over the lifetime of your loan (based on how quickly you plan to pay it off) with the average return rate of market investments.

Tank adds that there may be other financial advantages to carrying debt on your home, especially when you consider tax deductions and interest rates.

“Interest rates on mortgages tend to be more reasonable than on other types of credit and can potentially be deducted on your taxes,” Tank says. In other words, it’s better to take out a mortgage and have extra cash on hand than it is to put too much down on your house and end up carrying a balance on your credit card. Mortgage interest rates are significantly cheaper than credit card rates. In addition, a home is an asset that can grow in value, in addition to the tax advantages.

What kind of return could I make on my investment?

Here’s where being young has a great advantage. If you’re looking at buying a home as a millennial, not only will you have time to pay down your mortgage, but your home will also have plenty of time to grow in value. Concurrently, you’ll also be able to increase your wealth through your investment accounts.

Plus, if you put money in the market while you’re young, those investments have a lot of time to grow into a sizable nest egg. Another thing to consider: You won’t have to opt for as many high-risk stocks as an older investor since she has less time for her investments to grow.

“Millennials are in a great position to begin investing because they have time on their side,” Tank says. “The earlier you can start investing, the sooner you can begin taking advantage of compounding interest.”

For finance coach Juliana Valverde, there is little doubt about what route is best for a young millennial looking to start investing for retirement. She points out that the advantage of compound interest can’t be discounted and could very well outweigh any risks of carrying debt for the life of a mortgage.

“If you delay retirement investing until after you pay the mortgage, you’re losing valuable time that you won’t be able to make up — even with increased contributions to your retirement accounts,” she explains.

Despite the fact that millennials have time, investing doesn’t bring a guaranteed rate of return. As Tank points out, the return you make on your investments will depend on market conditions, your risk tolerance, and your financial situation. A 30-year-old couple living in the country with a couple of kids will have different needs and different results than a 30-year-old professional in the city who plans to remain single.

Are all your other ducks in a row?

Before you do anything else, make sure you have all of your ducks in row, advises Julie Ford, a certified financial planner and CPA with Ford Financial Solutions in New York City. If you have extra cash, Ford advises you to first make sure that all of your financial needs are met and priorities accounted for.

Ford’s recommended order of priority includes:

  • Having an emergency fund of at least three months’ spending
  • Eliminating credit card debt
  • Tackling any other high-interest debt, like school loans
  • Maxing out employer matches on retirement savings
  • Contributing to your Roth IRA, if eligible, or maxing out other tax-deferred savings in 401(k), IRA, 529 college savings, etc.

From there, Ford notes that deciding on what to do with any excess cash flow depends on individual goals and tolerance for debt. “I often lean towards extra mortgage payments before saving into a joint brokerage account,” she says. “Even with a low-interest mortgage, paying down debt faster creates more opportunities and flexibility for clients. It’s a guaranteed return compared to unpredictable market returns.”

Can you split the difference?

If you’re still unsure, consider a compromise. Can you invest some of your cash flow and make a plan for extra payments on your loan? Can you use your savings to pad an emergency fund instead?

Depending on the type of mortgage you get, you may not have to put as much money down as you thought, and it may make sense to invest that surplus cash instead of automatically putting it toward your mortgage. Talk with a financial advisor who can help you figure out what kind of return you can expect on an investment, compared to what you would save on interest.

Options are always good, and in this case, having more options at your fingertips may just end up being more money in your pocket in the long run.

This Week In Your Wallet: Here’s How You Can Help

We all know help can’t come fast enough. But the rapid pace of natural disasters has also taught us that we should give carefully. Here’s what you need to know:

  • The best donation is your money. This allows organizations to purchase exactly what is needed.
  • There a variety of nonprofits looking for donations like the California Community Foundation’s Wildfire Relief Fund, Caring Choices and Entertainment Industry Foundation.
  • GoFundMe has a page set up where you find campaigns for families who lost their homes in the fires.
  • Finally, if you haven’t heard of a charity, make sure you check out its legitimacy and reputation. Charity Navigator is a good source to use.

And, if you have been affected by the wildfires or think you might be, it’s important that you know what steps to take when filing an insurance claim. (Actually, this is important information for anyone in any sort of natural disaster at any time.) First, make sure to document everything — take photos of your home and your belongings — so that you’ll be able to show proof to your insurer of what was damaged. (If you’ve got before photos, even better. In fact, if all is calm in your community, now would be a good time to take a set of those.) It’s also important to know the ins and outs of your coverage — does your policy cover hotel stays and meals if you’re displaced? Is there a cap on how much, and for how long it’ll cover those incidentals? For more tips on how to prepare your insurance claim, keep reading here.

In Pursuit Of F-R-E-E

If you’re like me (and many other rewards points hounds) the allure of getting a new credit card with a big fat rewards bonus sends your heart fluttering: 50,000 points, 70,000 points, 100,000 points, woo-hoo. But what then? If you’re like many cardholders, you’re leaving a lot of rewards on the table and that equates to missing out on free cash, travel and many other opportunities. It’s time to clean up your act. How? Well, for starters, as long as you’re not keeping a balance on those cards and paying high rates of interest, there’s absolutely no reason not to put every little charge on these cards. This will immediately boost the rewards you’re earning. Also, if you’ve got a card with rewards categories that you have to opt into to earn more points, it’s time to get with the program. We tell you how — and give you 5 other ways to snag more value from your rewards cards here.

The Target Effect

I once gave a talk to Target employees at their Minnesota HQ. Of course, I made a purchase in the company gift shop. A t-shirt that reads something to the effect of: “I went to Target and only bought what was on my list — said no one ever.” We’ve all been there: You pop into Target to get paper towels but then you walk out with a new bath mat, workout outfit, dishware set and a few candles. In fact, this phenomenon is so common that Urban Dictionary even recognizes as “The Target Effect.” If you need a Target intervention, here are some helpful strategies to curb your addiction. And if those can’t cut it, maybe you should consider a Target detox. If you need one item, like paper towels, try picking them up at a place that doesn’t appeal to your inner shopper quite so much.

Subject: Thank You

Finally, if you are an avid reader of this newsletter, you know that I love to highlight gratitude practices, especially the simple ones — like writing a thank-you note. But turns out you may want to put away your stationary set and ballpoint pen when writing a thank-you note to a hiring manager. According to an Accountemps survey, 91 percent of hiring managers said they like to be thanked. But 62 percent said that sending a thank-you via email was the best way to follow up, compared to the 13 percent that said a handwritten note was best. Handwriting your note and sending in the mail to a hiring manager is too slow, especially if the job is looking to be filled quickly. By the time your note gets there, a hiring manager may have already made their decision. Come the holidays, though, snail mail notes will be just fine.

Missing Out on Credit Card Rewards? 7 Ways to Get More Value From Your Rewards and Points

Rewards credit cards can be an amazing way to get some money back for your purchases, to travel for free or to even save for college. But if you’re not paying attention to the way you’re using your credit cards and redeeming your rewards, you could be leaving some of that value on the table.

“You always want to be earning points that match your rewards goals, and [you want to be sure] that you’re using the card that earns those points the most quickly,” says Gary Leff, points expert and co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com.

Missing out on the full value of your credit card rewards? You’re not alone. Here’s what what to do if you’re making these common mistakes:

Not using credit cards for all your purchases

As long as you’re able to pay off the total bill each month, there’s no reason not to shift all your spending onto cards to increase the value of the rewards that you’re earning.

How to get more value: Make a conscious effort to shift your spending from debit or cash to your credit card, and then pay off your balance in full each month.

Letting rewards points expire

While most credit cards don’t allow rewards to expire, there are a handful that do. It’s easy to forget about a rewards balance on a card that you don’t frequently use.

How to get more value: Read the fine print on your account. Most credit card companies will reset the expiration for simply making one purchase with the card. If you’re phasing out that card, consider ways to spend down the rewards balance to avoid losing the points entirely.

Spending too little to get a signup bonus

As credit card issuers compete for customers, they offer sizable signup bonuses to new cardholders. The catch is that you have to spend a certain amount of money within the first few months of holding the card to get the bonuses. Fail to meet that threshold, and you’ll miss out on receiving the bonus.

How to get more value: Before applying for a credit card with a signup bonus, consider whether your current spending habits or upcoming expenses would allow you to meet the threshold for the rewards. (You never want to spend more money than you normally would just to get credit card rewards.) If so, put that card on the top of your wallet and use it exclusively until you’ve met the minimum spend.

Failing to opt in on for rotating rewards categories

Some rewards credit cards offer additional cash back in specific categories tied to the seasons.

The Chase Freedom card, for example, offers 5% cash back on shopping at department stores this winter, compared to 1.5% cash back on all other purchases. The catch is that you have to “activate” the categories by opting in.

How to get more value: Set an alert to remind yourself to opt in to the bonus categories as they happen throughout the year.

Forgetting about online shopping via portals

Many credit cards offer the chance to earn additional rewards if you use their online portals to get to a retailer for online shopping.  Barclays Reward Boost, for example, was recently offering an additional points bonus for cardholders who clicked through their portal before shopping at online retailers like Bed Bath & Beyond and L.L. Bean.

How to get more value: See if your card’s shopping portal offers a browser extension, which you can install on your computer for automatic notifications when you’re on a site that might offer additional reward bonuses.

Skipping a business rewards card

Many small-business owners use their personal cards for business purchases out of convenience, but the rewards offered by business cards may be even more generous than those on an individual card.

Bonus: Having a separate business card makes it easy to separate business and personal expenses for record keeping.

How to get more value: Apply for a business credit card, and make that your primary form of payment for business expenses.

“Many small-business owners don’t realize they can get a business credit card very early in their business,” says Gerri Detweiler, education director for the small-business site Nav. “It doesn’t need to be incorporated or making money, as long as they have a strong enough personal credit score and enough income from other sources.”

Carrying a balance on your rewards card

The average credit card interest rate for all new offers is nearly 20% —that’s way higher than the value of any rewards you might earn on purchases.

How to get more value: If you’ve got credit card debt, see whether you can roll it over to a card that offers an interest-free transfer. Then focus on paying the balance down before the promotional interest rate expires—and sit out the rewards game for a while.

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