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What is bitcoin? What you need to know about cryptocurrency

If you own bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies, it might be a bad day for you.

The price of bitcoin plunged by 15 percent Tuesday morning, dropping below $12,000 for the first time since Dec. 4. Other cryptocurrencies have also seen price declines, with Ethereum falling by 20 percent and Ripple falling by 33 percent. The plunging prices are a stark difference to the success bitcoin saw last month — hitting a record of nearly $20,000 on Dec. 16.

>> On DaytonDailyNews.com: Currency of the future? Some argue it’s bitcoin

As the digital currency bitcoin surges in popularity, curious investors and entrepreneurs alike are watching closely to see what happens with the fluctuating prices. Don’t understand the basics of bitcoin? Here’s what you need to know:

What is bitcoin?

Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency, or a digital token, that can be sent electronically and directly from peer to peer. There is no physical backing and it is a decentralized currency — meaning it is not controlled by any government or banking entity. Bitcoin is the first cryptocurrency ever created, and remains the most popular one to date.

“I tell people it’s a digital currency and it’s a program,” said Jad Mubaslat, Wright State University graduate student and founder of BitQuick.co, a bitcoin trading platform. “For the first time in history, it allows anyone anywhere in the world to send any amount of money instantly. Most importantly, it’s without a third party … like a bank or a government. Now, you can truly send your money without somebody telling you what you can or cannot do.”

>> On MyDaytonDailyNews.com: I bought bitcoin. Here’s what I learned

The record of all bitcoin exchanges and transactions are on what is called the blockchain, which is a network of decentralized computers.

How was bitcoin created?

Bitcoin was created by a programmer going by the name Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008. He communicated only through email and social messaging, and no one truly knows Nakamoto’s identity. He released the software globally in 2009, and now anyone can use and download it.

How do you buy bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies?

In the U.S., several websites have popped up where you can buy and sell bitcoin online. One of the most popular websites is Coinbase and others include Mubaslat’s BitQuick.coCoindesk.com and bitcoin.com. Investors can also meet with other bitcoin users in person and trade bitcoin via their virtual wallets on their phones. After meeting another bitcoin user through websites like Craigslist or LocalBitcoin.com, a user simply scans a QR code with another person’s wallet to transfer bitcoin.

Some people prefer to buy bitcoin in person or through a bitcoin ATM because the bitcoin transfer over faster than when they buy it online — it can take up to seven days, and sometimes longer, for bitcoin to show up in a virtual wallet after purchasing it online.

Why do some criminals use cryptocurrency for illegal transactions?

Some criminals use bitcoin because users can open a wallet to send and receive bitcoin without giving a name or identity. There is no bank or central authority, like a government, to control this information. Bitcoin also became a popular method for making ransom payments when a computer system is taken over by ransomware.

>> On DaytonDailyNews.com: How criminals use bitcoin illegally

However, bitcoin is not completely anonymous and transactions can be traced by police through bitcoin trading websites. Other untraceable cryptocurrencies, like Monero, are becoming popular for dark web uses including drug trafficking and human trafficking.

How is the worth of bitcoin decided?

The price — and ultimate worth — of bitcoin fluctuates, and experts are calling the cryptocurrency extremely volatile. The price is determined by open-market bidding on Bitcoin exchanges. The worth of bitcoin could be compared to the way that gold prices fluctuate — in the sense that gold has value because people believe it does.

What exactly is bitcoin mining?

Mining is the process that creates new bitcoins in the blockchain, or network of computers. The bitcoin miners race to process new transactions, and the fastest computers get a chunk of new bitcoin. A miner wins the race about every 10 minutes, which will happen until there are 21 million bitcoins in the world. No new bitcoins will be created after the blockchain has 21 million, which is expected to happen in 2140.

Anyone can set their computer up to mine bitcoin, but programmers with specialized hardware are usually the only ones to win bitcoin now.

Are there any other cryptocurrencies as popular as bitcoin?

Other cryptocurrencies also exist, but bitcoin is the most popular one right now. Other popular cryptocurrency includes Ethereum, Bitcoin Cash, Ripple, Litecoin and Monero. Digital cryptocurrencies are being created for all types of uses like the legal marijuana industry and adult entertainment and sex worker industries.

>> Read more trending news 

What are the legal uses of bitcoin?

Most transactions on the bitcoin network aren’t illegal — it’s typically people buying and selling bitcoin to each other. People in countries with high inflation or unstable governments are putting their money into bitcoin to avoid losing their savings. It’s also used to transfer large sums of money internationally. It is quicker to transfer bitcoin than it is to go through a bank transfer, which can take weeks.

Some businesses also accept bitcoin, including Overstock.com, Wikipedia, backpage.com and Square. For a short time, a franchise of Firehouse Subs in Cincinnati accepted bitcoin. The restaurant, in Clifton, shut down a few years ago. “Firehouse Subs didn’t do very many transactions in bitcoin, but it has generated buzz around the shop,” the Cincinnati Business Courier wrote.

Reported data breach at Sonic Drive-In could impact ‘millions’

A reported data breach at Sonic Drive-In fast food chain could impact “millions” of credit cards used by customers.

A reported 5 million credit and debit card accounts went on sale on an illicit website last week, according to journalist Jordan Krebs, who reports on data breaches. The leaked financial information could include cards from nearly all states across the country.

» RELATED: Local startup grows in cyber security industry

“Our credit card processor informed us last week of unusual activity regarding credit cards used at SONIC,” reads a statement the company issued to Krebs. “The security of our guests’ information is very important to SONIC. We are working to understand the nature and scope of this issue, as we know how important this is to our guests. We immediately engaged third-party forensic experts and law enforcement when we heard from our processor. While law enforcement limits the information we can share, we will communicate additional information as we are able.”

Sonic, which operates thousands of locations across 45 states, including locations in Kettering, West Carrollton, Beavercreek, Dayton, Huber Heights, Englewood, Xenia, Franklin, Eaton, Springfield, West Chester, Hamilton and Cincinnati.

The fast food chain has not issued a public statement about what locations were specifically impacted.

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Equifax breach: You can sue if your data was exposed; here's how

Two class-action lawsuits have been filed on behalf of customers affected by a massive breach at Equifax.

>> Watch the news report here

Officials with the Atlanta-based credit reporting and technology company said a “cyber security incident” may have exposed the personal information of 143 million U.S. consumers.

The data that might have been accessed includes names, Social Security numbers, birth dates and addresses.

>> Equifax reports massive data breach that could affect 143 million in U.S.

Former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes has partnered with a Florida firm for a class-action lawsuit. 

"This is not a windfall thing. These are real damages and real fears that folks have," he said. "There's no telling, but I guarantee you most of this information was auctioned off in just a matter of hours."

>> Equifax data breach: What to know

Barnes said that if you've been compromised, you are automatically a part of the class-action suit unless you opt out.

"You don't have to do anything. We have class representatives and there will come a time when we'll contact folks," he said. 

>> Equifax cyberattack: How to get a free credit report, protect your identity

He said he is going after what it takes to make things right. 

"What the money should be is what is necessary to hire someone to straighten out your credit so that you don't disrupt your life forever," he said. "And some money for the fact that (Equifax) negligently, and in violation of several federal statutes, allowed for this information to get out."

>> Read more trending news

Barnes said among many demands is that Equifax have its security audited, tested and trained and that the company purges information it doesn't need. 

WSB-TV's Nicole Carr visited the Clark Howard Consumer Action Center, where volunteers have received nearly three times their normal call volume with concerns about Equifax.

Volunteers said more than 500 calls came in Wednesday and 99 percent of them were about Equifax.

"I've been here for 20 years. This is the busiest day we've had," said Consumer Action Center volunteer Lori Silverman. 

She said volunteers are working to ease fears about the data breach. 

"Because 140 million people are trying to freeze their credit, the sites are crashing and they're unable to thaw their credit. That's a difficult situation to be in," she said. "We're recommending (everyone) hang tight. Hopefully, all of the hysteria will slowly go away and within the next couple of weeks you'll be able to freeze your credit."

The Consumer Action Center recommends you freeze your credit through Credit Karma. Equifax has rescinded fine print that kept consumers from suing them if they signed up for their free credit file monitoring and identity theft protection. 

"Now they say they're backing off of that, but I would advise everybody: Do not interact with Equifax right now," Barnes said. 

Click here for Barnes' advice on what you should do.

Forgotten lottery ticket worth $24 million found days before deadline

A lottery player’s luck almost ran out this week after a ticket worth more than $24 million was nearly forgotten in their home.

An anonymous individual with a Lotto ticket came forward to claim the winnings two days before their ticket was set to expire.

News coverage of the unclaimed Lottery prize escalated in the days leading up the deadline, causing the individual to check their house, where they discovered the winning ticket in a pile of other old tickets, the New York Lottery said.

The individual went to a lottery office in Lower Manhattan on Tuesday. The ticket was set to expire Thursday.

>> Read more trending news

Lottery rules allow winners to claim their prize up to a year after a drawing.

“We are thrilled that this lucky winner was able to locate this life-changing ticket,” said Gweneth Dean, director of the Commission’s Division of the Lottery. “We look forward to introducing this multimillionaire who came forward in the nick of time.”

The New York Lottery said they will reveal the identity of the winner after a security background check review.

The winning numbers were 05-12-13-22-25-35 and the bonus number was 51.

The 20 Most Profitable Housing Markets This Year

If you’re looking to buy or sell a home this year, you probably know the housing market is booming in virtually every corner of the country. In fact, homeowners who sold in the first quarter of the year realized an average price gain of $44,000 since purchasing their home, a new ATTOM Data Solutions report shows. That equals an average 24% return on purchase price across the country — the highest average price gain for home sellers in nearly 10 years.

“The first quarter of 2017 was the most profitable time to be a home seller in nearly a decade, and yet homeowners are continuing to stay put in their homes longer before selling,” said Daren Blomquist, senior vice president with ATTOM Data Solutions. The report showed homeowners are staying in their homes just shy of eight years on average. “This counter-intuitive combination is in part the result of the low inventory of move-up homes available for current homeowners, while also perpetuating the scarcity of starter homes available for first-time homebuyers,” Blomquist added.

Of course, there are still some laggards. Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for example, saw average home prices decline by $15,000 from their previous purchase price. The same is true for Huntsville, Alabama, where average home prices declined by $8,100.

Of the 20 metro areas with the highest percent return on the previous purchase price, 10 were located in California and three were in Colorado. Competition among homebuyers, especially in these areas, is fierce, so it’s particularly important to have your finances locked and loaded before you start your search. Regardless of where you’re looking, getting pre-approved for a mortgage is key. You’ll also want to be sure your credit is in good shape so you’ll get the best mortgage terms available. You can check your credit scores for free on Credit.com.

These are the top 20 metro areas where home sellers are making the most money when selling their homes.

20. Port St. Lucie, Florida

Average return on investment: 39% Average price gain: $53,000

19. Austin-Round Rock, Texas

Average return on investment: 39% Average price gain: $81,795

18. San Diego-Carlsbad, California

Average return on investment: 41% Average price gain: $144,000

17. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, California

Average return on investment: 41% Average price gain: $90,000

16. Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Massachusetts-New Hampshire

Average return on investment: 41% Average price gain: $111,100

15. Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, California

Average return on investment: 43% Average price gain: $160,000

14. Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade, California

Average return on investment: 43% Average price gain: $99,000

13. Fort Collins, Colorado

Average return on investment: 43% Average price gain: $97,500

12. Greeley, Colorado

Average return on investment: 44% Average price gain: $85,050

11. Urban Honolulu, Hawaii

Average return on investment: 46% Average price gain: $161,110

10. Salem, Oregon

Average return on investment: 46% Average price gain: $70,800

9. Vallejo-Fairfield, California

Average return on investment: 47% Average price gain: $115,000

8. Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, Colorado

Average return on investment: 50% Average price gain: $110,000

7. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, California

Average return on investment: 50% Average price gain: $187,000

6. Stockton-Lodi, California

Average return on investment: 51% Average price gain: $101,000

5. Modesto, California

Average return on investment: 51% Average price gain: $87,500

4. Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, Oregon-Washington

Average return on investment: 52% Average price gain: $110,799

3. Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Washington

Average return on investment: 56% Average price gain: $139,325

2. San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, California

Average return on investment: 65% Average price gain: $276,750

1. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California

Average return on investment: 71% Average price gain: $356,000

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

How to Remember All the Passwords You Need in Your Life

It seems like everything you do on any of your digital devices requires a password and the requirements for these security codes are getting more and more extensive. Some sites don’t allow words that can be found in dictionaries, while others don’t want any logical sequences or personal elements like a house number, street name, zip code, birth date, birth year, child’s name or pet’s name. Many accounts require your password to have both uppercase and lowercase letters, as well as numbers, special characters and a specific minimum and maximum length. The list goes on and on.

So while you might still use poodle1234 to log into your old email account, that password may not get approved for more current accounts. (You probably don’t want to be using the same password across multiple accounts, anyway.)

The strongest passwords are typically long and random, as this makes them harder for hackers to guess. Because of this, passwords often end up looking like gibberish, like: (&cR=x?fae~c[R5GAs3AN4?.

Remembering Complex Passwords

It isn’t easy to remember all of these long, random, complex passwords and some websites disable password saving on their login screens, but there are password managers that can help. They’re available from a variety of sources, including anti-virus software providers and standalone password services. If you’re looking to try out a password manager tool, but aren’t sure where to start, we’ve highlighted four common ones below to help you get started researching your options.

It’s important to make sure you feel safe with any of these options, as you don’t want your passwords to fall into the wrong hands. A weak password could help make you a victim of identity theft, which can wreak havoc on your finances. While you’re beefing up your passwords, another good practice is to regularly monitor your credit for signs of identity theft, like a sudden drop in your scores. You can check two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.

LastPass

LastPass, a free password manager, generates random passwords using a browser toolbar extension. You can access the passwords using your LastPass account menu, stored right in your browser bar. However, once you’ve saved credentials for a particular site, it will show up automatically in a popup when you click the icon. Do you have three different Gmail accounts? No problem. You can save multiple login credentials for any site. You can also edit the credentials and you can share passwords with others if you want someone else to have access to one of your accounts, even if the password changes. (Just make sure you’re selective about who you share personal information with.) You can use LastPass across multiple devices, and your password vault is available even if you’re offline.

Google Smart Lock

Google Smart Lock runs in the Chrome web browser and will automatically log you into the sites you visit if you turn on this feature. Once active, Google will ask you if you want to save the account info when you log into sites.

To get an overview of your saved information, visit myaccount.google.com. Start at “Sign-in & security,” click on “Connected apps & sites” and scroll down to “Saved passwords.” Click on “Manage passwords” to see options. If you turn on Smart Lock, Google will log you into saved websites and bypass the login screen. You don’t want to turn this feature on if you’re uncomfortable being removed from the login process.

Your Google account is the master login for the Smart Lock feature. That makes password management extremely convenient, but it also means that if someone gains access to your Google account, they can also access and control your passwords. Google Smart Lock does not include a password generator and it doesn’t work on iPhones or browsers other than Chrome.

Norton Identity Safe

Norton Identify Safe is a free password manager made by Symantec, the company behind the well-known Norton AntiVirus products. It is installed on your computer and any other device you choose, as well as your browser. You’ll find a link to a random password generator right at the top of the Norton Identity Safe website.

When you set it up, you’ll need two passwords: one for your account and one for your password vault. Both passwords should be complex but memorable because your stored passwords will be inaccessible until you open the vault.

Once you enter your various login credentials in the app, the sites appear in an alphabetical list in your password vault. A colored bar tells you whether your password is weak (red), moderate (yellow) or strong (green).

Norton Identity Safe can also securely store your credit card numbers for easy online payments. (It’s important to be careful when you’re sharing personal information like credit card numbers online, as this can open you up to credit card fraud.)

SecureSafe

SecureSafe is a cloud storage service for sensitive files and passwords. File storage is its standout feature. If you need to store a digital copy of a sensitive file (like one of these seven documents you need to fill out before you die), a SecureSafe free account includes 100 MB of file storage space and can save up to 50 passwords. Paid accounts (starting at $18/year) get unlimited passwords and more file storage space. The app includes a variety of security features for file storage, including a free, secure PDF viewer for smartphones.

When you open the app on desktop or mobile, passwords are listed alphabetically. If you’ve entered the URL, you can click the arrow icon to go straight to the site. The password is copied to your clipboard automatically so you can paste it into the field on the login screen. The clipboard is erased after a short period of time; the time period is customizable.

SecureSafe doesn’t run as a browser extension, so you need to log into your account to access your passwords. This is an advantage for people who don’t want extension clutter or popups, or for people who use shared devices. The extra steps are cumbersome, though, for anyone who wants passwords to automatically populate.

Want to learn more about how to keep your information safe? Here are eight ways to protect your privacy online.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

12 Ways to Save at The Container Store

The Container Store is the place for organization-lovers to shop for all their bins, baskets and bathroom storage goods. The problem with The Container Store, however, is that once you start shopping there, it can be hard to stop. After all, who’s going to pass up the perfect laundry room drying rack or a garbage odor eliminator? I know I couldn’t.

To help you scale back on what you spend here, try some of these cost-cutting options on for size. Here are 12 ways to save at The Container Store.

1. Shop the Sales

Container Store sales are no joke. Check out the sales section online or in the store (generally at the very front, although that will vary by location) for discounts on hundreds of items.

2. The Elfa Sale Is Worth the Wait

Besides the hundreds of regular items available in the sales section every day, The Container store usually has two big yearly sales on its main brand — elfa — and they’re worth checking out. One usually begins after Christmas and runs through some time in February, and another usually takes place in late summer or early fall (though certain elfa items may be excluded during that one). Be sure to check the site frequently for updates.

3. Search for ‘Spend More, Save More’ Options

Every now and then The Container Store will offer extra savings when you spend a certain amount of money on a particular brand. For example, at the time this article was being written, customers could receive 25% off when they spent between $200 and $349 on InterMetro & Metro shelving, 30% off InterMetro & Metro shelving purchases between $350 and $499, and 35% off InterMetro & Metro shelving purchases of $500 or more. Check online or ask a sales associate for any current deals.

4. Join the POP! Perks Program

Enter your information to become a POP! Perks member and you’ll get $15 in POP! Perks, invitations to exclusive events and sweepstakes, a birthday gift and more.

5. Use a Rewards Credit Card

There is a The Container Store credit card, but it’s big draw is special financing deals (0% interest on purchases for 12 or 24 months if you spend $500 or more and $3000 or more, respectively), but you’ll only skip the interest if you pay any balance off in full by the time that period expires — and the card’s go-to APR is pretty high (a variable 29.99%). Plus, there are no rewards for cardholders so, while in-store financing can certainly be convenient, you’d likely save more by charging purchases you can pay off in full to a rewards credit card and redeeming those points, miles or cash back down the line.

You can find a list of the best credit cards for shopping right here. (Just be sure to check your credit before applying. You can view two free credit scores on Credit.com.)

6. Make the Most of Free Services

Be sure to check your local Container Store for any in-store events they might be offering, and make the most of their free elfa customized design solution offers with trained design experts as well.

7. Read its Blog

While we’re on the subject of free services, it doesn’t hurt to check out The Container Store blog either, which is loaded with craft tips on staying organized. You could spend a ton hiring a personal organizer to help you figure out how to organize that pantry, or you could read one blog post on the topic and do it yourself.

8. Skip the Shipping Fee

Shipping is free on orders of $75 and more on the site, but why not choose the products you want and schedule your own pickup time at one of the store locations for free? Use The Container Store drive up and pickup service and someone will even bring your order out to your car for you.

9. Use Your Teacher Discount

The Container Store currently offers an Organized Teacher program with special discounts throughout the year to help educators organize their classrooms. (Per its website, the program is set to end December 31, 2017.)

10. Search for Coupons Online

Check sites like Groupon, Retail Me Not and Coupons.com for promo codes you can use with your purchase, and do a general Google search to see what you find, as well.

11. Buy Discounted Gift Cards

Use sites like Gift Card Granny and Cardpool.com to purchase gift cards for The Container Store at a discounted price.

12. Follow The Container Store on Social Media

Catch all the latest promotions and sales by following the brand on Facebook and Twitter.

Want more hacks for your favorite brands? We’ve got 17 ways to save at Lowe’s right here.

Note: It’s important to remember that prices for products and services frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms cited in this article may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with the company directly.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

Is It Time to Buy a Biometric Scanner?

Identity theft is still out there, keeping pace with the latest innovations and security measures, and snaring new victims every day. With the advent of cheaper, standalone, easy-to-integrate biometric technology for authentication, is it time to buy a fingerprint scanner?

What’s a Biometric Scanner?

Biometric technology uses physical or biological information, like a fingerprint, retinal scan or heartbeat, to authenticate a person’s identity. You can currently purchase the most commonplace biometric scanner — that is, one that uses a fingerprint —starting at around $50. The scanner can be used to protect computers and other devices that support biometric scanning technology.

Do Biometrics Provide Additional Security?

The short answer: Yes.

Authentication can effectively use three things to keep the wrong people out: something you know, something you have and something you are. We’re all familiar with the first line of defense. “What you know” takes the form of security questions, passwords and a security picture, and there are various strategies to keep it all straight. Some choose to use password managers or proprietary systems like Apple’s iCloud Keychain. Others prefer to have an encrypted personal security list (logins, passwords) stored on a cloud server. Still others put “what they know” (but couldn’t possibly remember) on a USB stored on a keychain or in a safe if the information is not encrypted. And, yes, some go a little further, choosing to use a fingerprint-encrypted drive (i.e., biometrics). How you manage what you know comes down to personal preference, but the first line of defense is not fail-safe. In fact, there are hacks and breaches all the time. (If you believe you were the victim of a hack, you can view two of your free credit scores on Credit.com for signs of identity theft.)

The second line of defense, “something you have,” could be access to an email account, a key fob or your mobile phone. You need to have your phone in hand, for instance, to receive the verification code so you can get waved through some digital security checks. This is called two-factor authentication — and, yes, it’s more secure than simply protecting accounts with an alphanumerical password.

The last line of defense, “something you are,” is a really hot topic right now. As I mentioned earlier, in sophisticated systems, this might include a scan of your retina, your finger- or handprints, your body weight (including ups and downs), your height, your face or all of the above. This information is clearly specific to you — and not so easily replicated — so again, it’s miles more secure that the old standard password or, even, two-factor authentication.

Needless to say, were you to implement a security protocol that combined all three of the above protocols of authentication, a.) criminals would have a really hard time making any money, but b.) we would all be frustrated.

Does It Have a Place in the Home?

Biometric authenticators have been the security mode for quite some time in the military and wherever large amounts of money or gold or drugs or weapons are stored, as seen in countless spy and heist movies, but they are slowly making their way into people’s homes.

From smartphones to gun lockers to personal computers, a steady march of devices is offering a biometric element for the user-authentication process. One example comes by way of a new secure credit card being tested by MasterCard in a chain of supermarkets in South Africa. The card is able to store an encrypted copy of the user’s fingerprint, which would make it exceedingly difficult for a scammer to beat.

(Would it be impossible to beat? As with all great capers, only the crooks know for sure. There was a flurry of coverage not too long ago about how photos of people flashing a peace sign could lead to the theft of their fingerprints, thanks to the proliferation of high-definition cameras. But fact-checking website Snopes listed the story as “Unproven,” and for good reason. While it is theoretically possible, no criminals have been caught doing it.)

Should I Run Out & Buy a Fingerprint Scanner?

Here’s the rub: You won’t really need to.

Unless you were born a long time ago, you may not know what an 8-track is. It came before the cassette tape, which preceded the CD, which is the grandfather of the MP3. When you want to make a point about obsolescence, there are few better examples than those clunky old tapes. I bring them up because current standalone biometric scanners are without a doubt the 8-track of digital security devices.

If you accept the similarity between biometric scanning devices and MP3 players, the answer to the question above will be crystal clear. These days, MP3s can be played by all the devices we use most. We’re seeing the same thing happen with biometric scanning.

Whether it’s a smartphone, a computer or Mastercard’s new fingerprint-encrypted cards, all stripes of products you use on a daily basis will eventually feature built-in biometric scanners. And, if you are buying something today and prefer devices with built-in (rather than bolt-on) security, don’t despair. There are already plenty of choices out there. Case in point: Anyone with the latest generation of a particular smartphone likely has the option of locking and unlocking the device with their thumb.

Personally, unless and until all devices that should be secure feature biometric scanners, I would suggest opting for those that do — much in the same way I’d advise you to refrain from using ‘1234’ as your password. You can learn more about biometric technology, how it works (and whether it can be hacked) here.

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

Where's My Tax Refund?

MoneyTips

You have bought an expensive new toy in expectation of your tax refund, and are now desperately waiting for the refund to arrive before the repo man and his large friend Vito come to visit. How can you find out the status of your refund at any time to estimate whether you need to make a run for it? A more likely scenario is that you are just curious about your refund, and would like to check the status periodically. In either case, regardless of who prepared your taxes, you need to go through the IRS website to get your answer. Under the Refunds tab at www.irs.gov, you can select the “Where’s My Tax Refund?” link and find out the latest on your return. The site is only updated once every 24 hours and is also available in Spanish. If you e-filed, you can check the status within 24 hours after the submission, but on a traditional paper return, you will have to wait four weeks before checking. This process c...

The Airbnb Hotel Tax: What Guests & Hosts Need to Know

The summer travel season is nearly upon us and if you’re a fan of staying with Airbnb hosts instead of hotels, you probably already know some locations charge some or all of the same taxes that hotels charge.

If you don’t already know that, surprise! The number of locations charging taxes for that spare room or whole house is only growing. Beginning May 1, Texas will join 30 other states where taxes are charged at either the local or state level or a combination of both.

Clearly, there’s a financial benefit for the communities levying these taxes. The Dallas Morning News estimates Airbnb would’ve remitted an estimated $8 million in Texas state taxes in 2016. However, it’s not the states and cities that initiated the effort. For that, you can thank the hotel industry, which has been lobbying hard for the taxes.

Why?

“Airbnb has brought hotel pricing down in many places during holidays, conventions and other big events when room rates should be at their highest and the industry generates a significant portion of its profits,” Vijay Dandapani, chief executive of the Hotel Association of New York City, told The New York Times in a recent article.

While Airbnb has said on its website it is happy to collect its fair share of taxes, there’s clearly some negative feelings about how it’s all gone down.

“The hotel hypocrisy is almost unbelievable,” Nick Papas, a spokesman for Airbnb, said in an email. “The hotel cartel wanted Airbnb to collect taxes and when we implemented a way to do so, they changed their position and lobbied cities to leave millions of dollars on the table.”

The continuing fight has led to a variety of tax schemes across states and municipalities, creating a confusing landscape for hosts and guests.

What It Means for Airbnb Hosts & Guests

For Hosts

If you’re considering becoming a host, be aware that the taxes present some confusion for some people renting out their spaces.

The reasons are numerous and varied. To start, no one really likes paying taxes. But additional layers of frustration can come with the Airbnb taxes. They can be levied and remitted in different ways depending on the tax laws in particular states or municipalities and Airbnb’s agreement with those entities. Then there are the host’s options of how to charge guests once taxes are implemented. Many hosts get confused when it comes to collecting the tax, where to note it on the listing and the bookkeeping process.

Jeff Cook, who owns several properties in Pennsylvania, said sales and use taxes were already in place when he started hosting with Airbnb several years ago. “The biggest issue here is that many people weren’t paying it simply because they didn’t think they had to,” he said. “I paid it from the get-go, because I wanted my business to be legitimate.”

But it wasn’t easy. Cook’s price for guests bakes in the 6% state and 3% local tax, so he doesn’t note it on his site and doesn’t have to worry about asking for local taxes when guests arrive. His revenue is submitted to Airbnb, but then it gets a little complicated.

Airbnb removes their 9% fee and sends him the remainder, he said. “And then I have to figure out what the tax amounts are independently. If something could be done better … perhaps if they distinguished between the tax and the regular revenue that would be helpful. The lump sum is sent to me, I figure out what the correct tax amounts are, and then I submit a return and payment to the appropriate authorities.”

Laura Jesse, a host in San Antonio, said she’s ambivalent about the tax that begins in Texas next week. “I live near projects that were funded in part with the [state’s occupancy] tax,” she said. “I get a fair amount of convention business as I live near downtown, etc.”

As for raising her rates to offset the taxes, Jesse said she has no plans to do so at this time.

Of course, taxes aren’t the only costs Airbnb hosts face. Here are a few others you’ll want to know about. But the spare money can still help you do things like pay off debt (you can see how your debt affects your credit with a credit report snapshot on Credit.com). It’s also good to keep in mind that many of the expenses involved with renting out your space are tax-deductible. See which ones you can write off here.

For Guests

Taxes mean your stays are probably costing more – anywhere from 3% to 15% depending on locale and host. On top of that, the process can become confusing depending on how the host applies those taxes to your bill.

Airbnb addresses how that can be done on its Airbnb Citizen site, but there are no clear-cut guidelines available, so many hosts are left scratching their heads and conferring with other hosts on how they alert guests and even charge them.

Airbnb offers guidance thusly:

“If you determine that you need to collect tax, you can usually either add it within a Special Offer or ask your guests to pay it in person. In each case, it’s important that guests are informed of the exact tax amount prior to booking. If you choose to collect tax outside of your listing’s rates, please note that it should be collected only upon arrival and that we are unable to assist with collection.”

So, if your host suddenly asks you to hand over a little cash to cover the taxes, it’s probably not a scam. As Airbnb explains on its site, “this needs to be clearly stated on the listing prior to booking.” So, if the host can’t show you where that’s stated, you should be wary.

Hopefully, however, most hosts will bake in the taxes like Cook does, and you will see only a price increase at your favorite Airbnb homes.

“I think separating taxes as a line item [on guest bills] would help clarify the issue for people,” Cook said. “I’m a big supporter of Airbnb. I think they are an awesome company, and as they evolve and grow, distinguishing tax through line items would be beneficial to everyone.”

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

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