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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.

7 Hacks for Using American Express' Membership Rewards Program

There are a few different transferable points programs available, but over the years one of the most popular has always been American Express’ Membership Rewards program. The reason is because of the ample ways points can be used and the wide selection of credit cards that can help you earn points quickly. Let’s take a deeper look into how you can earn Membership Rewards points and the different ways you can receive ultimate value.

1. Transfer Points to Loyalty Partners

One of the best ways to receive maximum value for your Membership Rewards points is to transfer them to one of the many loyalty partners. There is a large selection of both hotels and airlines and each of the following partners will transfer 1-to-1 unless noted.

  • Aeromexico — 1-to-1.6
  • Air Canada (Aeroplan)
  • Air France/KLM (Flying Blue)
  • Alitalia
  • All Nippon Airways
  • Asia Miles
  • British Airways — 250-to-200
  • Delta Air Lines
  • El Al Israel Airlines — 1,000-to-20
  • Emirates
  • Etihad Airways
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Iberia Plus — 250-to-200
  • JetBlue Airways — 250-to-200
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Virgin America — 200-to-100
  • Virgin Atlantic Airways
  • Choice Hotels
  • Hilton Hotels — 1-to-1.5
  • Starwood Hotels — 1,000-to-333

To get the most value out of each point, you could use them for one of the following redemptions.

All Nippon Airways From the United States to Japan

Until recently, the All Nippon Airways award chart was based on distances. That used to provide many sweet spots for award travel. Even though they have changed to a region based award chart, there are still some great deals. One of them is round-trip flights from the United States to Japan. You can fly round-trip in coach for just 40,000 miles during low season and business class for 75,000 miles, also in the low season.

All Nippon Airways From the United States to Asia Zone 2

You could use All Nippon Airways miles to fly round-trip from the United States to Asia Zone 2 for just 55,000 in coach or 100,000 in business class. Asia Zone 2 is classified as Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, Myanmar, India, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Flying Blue From the Continental United States to Hawaii

A great use of Flying Blue miles is to fly round-trip from anywhere in the continental United States to Hawaii for just 30,000 miles.

Aeroplan From the United States to Oceania

Transferring Membership Award points to Aeroplan will allow you to use 90,000 miles to fly round-trip from the United States to Australia, New Zealand or anywhere in the South Pacific. You could make this trip for 80,000 United miles, but what makes using Aeroplan miles worth it is that they will allow you to make two stopovers before reaching your destination. That means you could fly to Tahiti and make stops in both Australia and New Zealand on the way.

British Airways From Miami to Lima, Peru

If hiking to Machu Picchu is on your bucket list, you might want to consider flying British Airways from Miami to Lima, Peru. Because British Airways has a distance-based award chart, the flight in coach is just 12,500 miles each way.

2. Buy Gift Cards

Another way to use your Membership Rewards is to receive gift cards from different restaurants, retailers and for travel. The value you receive will be anywhere from a half-cent to one cent per point.

3. Go Shopping

You could also use your points to shop online with certain retailers. Amazon.com, Bestbuy.com and Newegg.com offer 0.7 cents per point. Other partner retailers give you a half-cent per point in value.

4. Use American Express Travel or Airbnb

There are a few different ways you can use your points on travel beyond transferring them to partners. You can book airfare on American Express Travel for one cent per point. You could also book with Airbnb for 0.7 cents per point.

5. Enjoy Entertainment

If you want to redeem your points for concert tickets or for a Broadway show you can do so through Ticketmaster.com, AXS and Telecharge.com. The value is a half-cent per point.

6. Ride With Uber

You could also use your Membership Reward points to pay for Uber rides. You will receive one cent value per point used.

7. Get a Statement Credit

Finally, you could choose to use your points to receive a statement credit. However, by doing this, you will only receive 0.6 cents value per point.

Cards That Earn Membership Rewards Points

There are quite a few different credit cards that give you the opportunity to earn Membership Rewards points. Below you will find a few of our favorite cards.

Platinum Card from American Express

The Platinum Card from American Express has been one of the elite cards available for a few years. When you sign up you will receive 60,000 Membership Reward points after spending $5,000 in the first three months. You can then receive five points per dollar spent on flights and hotels when booked through the airline and by using American Express Travel. All other purchases will receive one point per dollar.

Earlier this year, the annual fee on the Platinum card increased from $450 to $550. This will put the card out of reach for many people. But before you discard the idea of adding it to your wallet, you should consider the travel benefits. Not only will you receive a $200 airline fee credit, which will pay for things like change fees or baggage fees, you also receive a $200 Uber credit. You will receive up to a $100 statement credit to cover the cost of either Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. In addition, you will receive Starwood Preferred Guest and Hilton Honors Gold status. Plus, the next time you travel, it will be in comfort. You will have access to the Delta Sky Club, Centurion Lounges, Airspace Lounges and a Priority Pass Select membership.

Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express

Another of the elite cards from American Express is the Premier Rewards Gold Card. When you sign up for this card, you receive 25,000 Membership Reward points after spending $2,000 in the first three months. You receive three points per dollar spent on any airfare purchased directly with airlines. You also receive two points per dollar spent at U.S. restaurants, gas stations and supermarkets. All other purchases will earn one point per dollar. There is a $195 annual fee, but it’s waived the first year. Other than the earnings potential, the other benefits can make the annual fee worthwhile to travelers. Each year you receive a $100 airline fee credit. You also receive two points per dollar when you book a hotel through the Hotel Collection. Plus, you receive a $75 hotel credit for qualifying charges.

Amex EveryDay Preferred

When you sign up for the Amex EveryDay Preferred card you receive 10,000 Membership Reward points after spending $1,000 in the first three months. When you use the card at U.S. supermarkets, you receive two points per dollar, on up to $6,000 in purchases each year, and one point per dollar on everything else. Also, if you use your card 20 or more times on purchases in a single billing period you’ll earn 20% extra points on those purchases minus returns and credits. Terms and limitations apply.

At the time of this writing, the EveryDay Preferred also offers a 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months. After that, your APR will be a variable 13.74% to 23.74%, based on your creditworthiness and other factors. This card has an annual fee of $95.

If you don’t already have one of these cards keep in mind you’ll need excellent credit to qualify. You can see where your credit stands by getting your two free credit scores on Credit.com.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

The Best (& Worst) Cities for New Graduates Seeking Work

Graduation season is around the corner, which means it’s time to put that degree to work.

Many graduates have little to tie them to any particular place, so they can choose to start their careers where jobs are available. But which cities have the most jobs?

Data provided by Monster, the employment website, show the best and worst cities for job seekers, based on the number of openings. Monster used the CEB TalentNeuron tool to analyze all entry-level job ads posted online from January 1 to March 22, 2017 that require a bachelor’s, master’s or doctorate degree.

Where to Look for Work

Monster also released data on the occupations with the most openings (physical therapist was tops), and that offered the highest entry-level pay (software developers). Those first paychecks are increasingly important for new graduates, who face a growing mountain of student loan debt. (Wondering how student loan debt is affecting your credit? Check out a free snapshot of your credit report on Credit.com.)

Locations on the list are all in metropolitan statistical areas with populations of at least 200,000 or counties with populations of at least 15,000.

10th Best: Philadelphia

8,304 job postings

9th Best: Houston

10,021 job postings

8th Best: Seattle

10,512 job postings

7th Best: Atlanta

10,937 job postings

6th Best: Washington, D.C.

11,132 job postings

5th Best: San Francisco

11,244 job postings

4th Best: Boston

11,498 job postings

3rd Best: Los Angeles

11,933 job postings

2nd Best: Chicago

15,503 job postings

Best: New York

31,682 job postings

You can see the worst cities for new graduates seeking work on Credit.com. 

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

6 Hotels Worth Visiting Just for the Shops

Today’s gift shop hawks more than cheap toothpaste and forgettable postcards. Thanks to boutique hotels and upscale chains, everything from kimono robes to portable speakers are now up for grabs. We’ve rounded up six gift shops worth a stop on your travels, based on research and recommendations.

Hotel San José Store at Hotel San José, Austin, Texas

No trip to the live music capital would be complete without a South by Southwest onesie or a leather Baggu backpack roomy enough to fit your iPad Mini. You’ll find all this and more at the well-edited housewares shop — just make sure not to go over budget.

Madison Hall at Chicago Athletic Association, Chicago 

Take a trip back in time to the jazz-fueled 1930s, when Aesop skincare, Tatine candles and Monocle Magazine were all the rage. Oh wait, that’s today? Never mind, you’ll still find what you need — and don’t need — at this stylish extension of the Roman + Williams hotel.

Ballymaloe Shop at Ballymaloe House, Shangarry, Cork, Ireland 

Turns out Shangarry, once home of Pennsylvania founder William Penn, is a great place to stock up on bakeware. And kitchen utensils. And Irish cookbooks. After rolling out of bed from the Ballymaloe House next door, you can literally spend the day kitting out your kitchen in Celtic style. Who would blame you?

Drake General Store at The Drake, Toronto

Drake aptly bills itself as “a classic general store, a flea market stand and a museum shop all rolled into one,” where you’ll find practical and not-so-sensible gifts. Local goodies like Nicolas Vahe cake mix and Bata sneakers are tempting, but save your cash for the colorful Kreafunk headphones.

Eloise Shop at The Plaza, New York 

Little girls — and little girls at heart — will be delighted by The Plaza’s pink-and-black homage to its most famous resident. Cool your heels in the living room or stage an impromptu costume party in the fashion room. Either way, you’re sure to enjoy this glimpse into the world of author Kay Thompson’s heroine.

Thornwillow Press at The St. Regis, New York 

If your idea of a perfect weekend is thumbing through books in a wood-paneled library, hightail it to the “cognac room” off the St. Regis hotel’s lobby. There you’ll find the stately ambience of Thornwillow Press, where the selection of paper, ink and gilt are enough to make this writer’s eyes water. As you’d expect, all their printing is done at an old-fashioned factory.

Save on Your Next Trip 

Planning a trip to New York to visit Eloise? You should probably make a plan to save on your travels. Rewards cards are a great way to do it, and they can help you nab some freebies — hello, first class — if you swipe them wisely. Remember, before you apply for any credit card, it’s always a good idea to make sure you’re likely to qualify. You can do that on Credit.com, where you’ll get two of your credit scores for free.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

Video: How to Get A Low Credit Card Interest Rate

MoneyTips

Are you struggling to keep up with the interest payments on your credit card? In the video above, Nerdwallet Credit and Banking Expert Sean McQuay describes ways to get credit cards with low interest rates. If you want more credit, check out MoneyTips' list of credit card offers.

7 Credit Card Tips for Soon-to-Be College Grads

We get it, soon-to-be-grad, you’re busy. Finals need to be taken; dorm rooms need to be cleared out. Jobs need to be procured — as does your very first apartment. But amid all these big changes, you’ll also want to make time for some good old fashioned financial literacy. After all, money management is critical to your success in the so-called real world. And, believe it or not, having a credit card can help your overall financial health. Of course, that’s only if you use that little piece of plastic responsibly, so, to help you come out ahead, here are 7 credit card tips for soon-to-be college grads.

1. Get One

30Sure, there are plenty of reasons to be wary of plastic. But a credit card is one of the best ways to start building credit — and you’ll need a solid credit score when it comes time to get an affordable auto loan, mortgage, insurance policy or more. If you don’t have a credit card already, you’ll probably need to look into secured credit cards, which require an upfront deposit that serves as your credit limit and are designed specifically for people with thin or bad credit. If you were using plastic while in school, you may be eligible for an unsecured card with better terms and conditions. Of course, that’ll come down to what your credit looks like already. (You can see where you stand by viewing two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

2. Pay Your Bills on Time …

The number one rule of credit cards? Pay your bills on-time each and every month. If you don’t, you’ll likely be hit with a late fee, face a penalty annual percentage rate (APR) and damage your credit — seriously. A first missed payment can cause a score to drop 100 points or more.

3. … & in Full Each Month

Or, at the very least, keep the total amount of debt you’re carrying on the card below at least 30% and ideally 10% of your total available credit limit. Any balance over that could hurt your credit utilization rate, which is the second most important factor among credit scores.

4. Monitor Your Statements

Do it even if you’ve signed up for auto-pay, because fraud, unfortunately, can occur at any time. Plus, you’ll want to be sure your balances aren’t burgeoning out of control. Check statements every day or at least once a week. Make small payments if those balances are starting to climb too high and be sure to report any suspicious activity your spot right away to your issuer.

5. Upgrade When You Can …

The better secured credit cards on the market (go here to check those out) usually provide cardholders with automatic reviews after 6 to 12 months of use that’ll determine whether they can get their deposit back and possibly receive a credit limit increase. Make a note of when you’ll be eligible for that type of upgrade and keep an eye on your credit as you use your card. You may be able to build a score solid enough to qualify for not just an unsecured credit card but a rewards or low-interest piece of plastic.

6.  … But Resist the Urge to Churn

Be prepared to encounter big signup bonuses as you shop around for new plastic. (Example: Earn $150 when you spend $3,000 or more in your first three months as an accountholder.) But refrain from applying for every offer you see. Yes, an extra $150 or a boatload of bonus miles are nice, but too many new credit inquiries (which are generated each time you fill out a credit card application) can damage your credit score and make it harder to qualify for important financing down the line.

7. Know When to Stop Charging

If your spending starts to get out of control, put your card on ice. Literally, if you have to. (That’s actually a better bet than formally closing the card, which can hurt your credit score, though you can do that, too, if absolutely necessary.) Next, come up with a plan to pay down those debts. Rework your budget to come up with some extra dollars you can put toward your balance and, if you’re carrying debt on multiple cards, prioritize payments. Make the minimum payment on all your cards but put the most money toward the balance with the highest APR (which can lower the total cost of your debt.) Alternately, you can pay off the smallest balance first, which could keep you motivated as you work to get back into the black.

Looking to do some more financial planning pre-diploma? We’ve got 50 money moves you should make before graduation

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

Why Even Full-Time Workers Struggle With Expenses

Unemployment is low, inflation is historically low and even wages are perking up, leading many observers to believe the U.S. economy is humming along nicely. So why do many Americans say they are struggling?

A new book born of meticulous, years-long research offers a fresh insight into this burning question. Month-to-month swings in income, even for those with full-time jobs, are often the cause of Americans” financial anxiety, claim the authors of “The Financial Diaries: How Americans Cope in a World of Uncertainty.”

For a stunning number of American households, both income and expenses swing 25% or more in either direction on a regular basis, leaving many families scrambling on a month-to-month basis, even if things don’t look so bad annually, the authors argue in their book and a Harvard Business Reviews essay.

Economic data tends to examine broad movements; even at its most micro, it tends to identify years-long trends. Researchers Jonathan Morduch and Rachel Schneider had a sense government statistics were missing things, so they went nano. They spent 12 months getting 235 families to track every single dollar going in and out — 300,000 cash flow events in all. The product of their painstaking research offers perhaps the clearest view yet of why even middle-class Americans find themselves living with deep economic anxiety. The book even offers up a new term — “precarity,” or precarious economic volatility — to describe the plight of everyday Americans.

One of the more bold claims made in the book: Despite all the talk about income inequality, the authors say income instability has risen even faster and is the more immediate problem.

What’s Income Instability? 

Many readers are familiar with the idea that unexpected expenses — like a health scare or major auto repair bill — can derail many households. But the book establishes another reality that might be new to many: income volatility, even among those with full-time jobs.

The book’s opening anecdote cites a research subject who works as a truck mechanic in Ohio. While he works full time, his pay relies largely on commissions and can vary from $1,800 to $3,400 each month. In bad weather, trucks break down more often. That means in the spring and fall months, mortgage payments aren’t made, and the electricity bill goes unpaid. Later, for a fee, the family catches up. (You can see how any missed loan payments may be affecting your credit scores by viewing your free credit report summary on Credit.com.)

This same problem is repeated again and again among the families studied. Morduch and Schneider found that the term “average income” is a bit of a farce, as typical families lived through five months each year with income that swings either 25% above or below “average.”

“This is creating a lot of anxiety and uncertainty that is impossible to see in the usual data,” Morduch said in an interview. About five months out of each year, incomes “weren’t even close” to average.

“Often we see the (financial) problems as a discipline problem, a failure of personal responsibility. What we’re trying to say is there’s something else going on,” he said. “The underlying conditions are really hard. It probably isn’t just about self-discipline.”

Income swings are to be expected among families suffering job loss, the self-employed or those who rely on tips, like waiters. But the researchers found a stunning rate of income volatility even among those with traditional-sounding full-time jobs.

“This was the single biggest surprise (in the research),” Morduch said. “There’s insecurity that’s because you are going to lose your job, but that’s not what’s driving anxiety for these folks … What we see is that when paychecks bounce from month to month, people can be making good financial choices but are still struggling.”

As a result, even earners who are safely in the middle class spent a month or two living as poor or “near poor,” the book says. The problem for many is better described as a lack of liquidity — getting enough cash to pay the mortgage this month — than as insolvency, or a hopeless difference between income and expenses.

“Not balancing on a high wire, driving on a rocky road,” the book says. “(There’s a) distinction between not having money at the right time vs. never having the money.”

While economists might just be becoming aware of this month-to-month struggle, the financial industry has known about it for some time. That’s one reason there are more payday lending storefronts in America than McDonald’s restaurants. (You can find tips for escaping payday loan debt here.)

Trouble Saving for a Rainy Day

The volatility problem is closely related to Americans’ lack of emergency savings. Study after study shows a large percentage of Americans don’t have the recommended three months of living expenses stored in short-term savings. Some studies show even more dire data. A stunning 46% of Americans told the Federal Reserve in 2015 they could not cover an emergency $400 expense without selling something or borrowing the money. Income and expense volatility, combined with no savings, is a perilous combination.

“Households don’t have a big cushion. Into this mix is the reality that levels of income have not risen – the bottom 50% has seen no income growth since 1980 — then you are really squeezed,” said Morduch. As a result, even in good months, earners don’t have any extra left over to build a rainy-day fund – economists say their budgets have no “slack.”

“There is a knock-on effect of diminished slack so when the budget gets hit by a car repair or the house needs a new roof, it’s just that much harder,” Murdoch said.

How did this income volatility come to pass? The authors blame what they call “the Great Job Shift.” Employers are increasingly sharing risk with their workers. That means cutting back hours, often on the spot, when times are slow. Or basing a large portion of pay on commission, as in the case of the truck mechanic. In other cases, workers rely on tipping to top-up wages that otherwise aren’t livable. In one of the book’s more frustrating scenes, as casino blackjack dealer in Mississippi describes how her income relies on events as whimsical as the nearby college football team schedule.

The subjects in the book are anonymized. Their names changes and a few other personally identifiable data points have been obscured, but otherwise, their financial diaries are disturbingly real.

How Do We Fix it? 

When asked for policy recommendations, Morduch leaps to the defense of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which he says is working hard to regulate many of the short-term lending products that have emerged to services workers with volatile incomes. He says there’s also been constructive conversations with large firms about making hourly wage worker schedules more predictable, and moving away from so-called on-call workers. The “Schedules That Work Act” that would have promised some workers two-weeks scheduling notices was considered but tabled by Congress under President Barack Obama.

Other changes would help, too. Many social benefits programs are cumbersome to apply for and don’t offer much help for families who are only occasionally “near poor,” and might need help one or two months per year.

Changes that could encourage saving for short-term events would help, too. Tax-advantaged products like 401K accounts help families plan for decades in the future, but families living on the margins are afraid to use them for emergency savings because of the severe early withdrawal penalties. (You can learn more about withdrawing from your 401K here.) More flexible rules would encourage greater use of retirement accounts, Morduch believes.

“A lot of Americans wisely don’t want to lock up their money,” he said. “There isn’t enough attention paid to shorter-term policies.”

In a larger sense, Americans should probably change the way they think about income and spending, Morduch said, and many could learn from research subjects described in the book.

“The families we got to know, they think a lot about liquidity. They have a lot to tell other Americans. Mainly, prepare for a life of ups and downs,” he said.

If you’re looking for ways to keep your finances in check, we’ve got a full 50 ways you can curb and stay out of debt here

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

Studies Show Women & Singles Are Short Retirement Funds. Here's How to Catch Up

A recent report from the Economic Policy Institute revealed that women and singles of both genders face challenges when it comes to saving for retirement. They also tend to be less prepared than others.

Perhaps even more concerning, many single men and women now on the brink of retirement (age 56 to 61) have failed to save anything all, according to the report.

Entering your golden years without a dime in the bank can be frightening, and one financial expert chalks it up to a variety of issues.

For women (single or otherwise,) it’s a complicated matter tied to such things as the wage gap, and the fact that many women put their careers on hold to take care of children or other family members. Among married women, there can be a tendency to leave retirement preparations to their spouse.

For single men, their decision to forgo building a retirement nest egg may come down to their views on life.

“Some singles have the mindset that they can easily compromise on everything since they only have themselves to care for,” said Joanna Leng, a single mother and financial planner who advocates for financial empowerment among women. “Singles also have the assumption that they can always find simple work in life during their latter years.”

And then there’s single parents, who face still a different set of challenges, simply trying to make ends meet and often neglecting retirement savings in the process.

With all of these folks in mind, we talked to some financial advisers to get their top tips for getting on better financial footing.

Start Saving/Save More

Even if you don’t end up doing anything with the money, it’s much wiser to save for retirement than to forgo it altogether.

“Make it a monthly habit and change your mindset,” said Leng.

If you’re still young, you don’t have to start big if making ends meet is an issue. The point is to be consistent and over time the money will build up.

“Don’t be disheartened because it might not be a lot,” continued Leng. “It’s developing the consistent habit that matters. And 3% to 5% percent is good for a start. Then, as kids grow up, you can probably increase what you’re saving.”

There’s a variety of savings options to choose from, including simple savings accounts, employer-sponsored retirement programs such as a 401K and individual retirement accounts (IRAs).

If you’re getting close to retirement, you’ll want to max out your contributions.

A 401K

If you have access to a 401K, it’s probably your best bet for making up for lost time. The upshot of using a 401K for retirement savings is that contributions come from pre-tax income and thus lower your taxable earnings and your annual tax bill. In addition, employers often contribute to your retirement savings by kicking in matching funds.

“To also help to counter the lower pay issue, women should be contributing as much as possible to their tax-advantaged, employer-sponsored retirement accounts and taking full advantage of the match,” said Sherrie E. Grabot, founder and CEO of GuidedChoice, an advisory firm focused on helping people retire. “If they’re not contributing enough to get the full match they are leaving money on the table that years later can make a big difference.”

Traditional & Roth IRAs

For those who don’t have access to a 401K, traditional and Roth IRAs are a solid alternative. Both allow you to set aside money for retirement that’s invested in stocks, bonds, mutual funds and other assets. One of the biggest differences between the two IRAs is how and when they’re taxed. With a traditional IRA your contributions are tax deductible at year’s end on both state and federal tax returns. The taxes are paid upon withdrawal in retirement. Contributions to a Roth are already taxed so are not able to be deducted each year, but the money you withdraw during retirement will not be taxed. With both a traditional and Roth IRA accounts, you can contribute up to $5,500 annually, plus an extra $1,000 for those over 50.

Simple Savings

A simple savings account is a good place to start the habit of saving, but it typically provides the least growth for your money, as banks offer minimal interest on your deposit. Savings accounts are great for small emergency funds, however, as they’re completely liquid.

Keep in mind, your credit scores can cost more than you’re able to save if they aren’t very good. A mortgage and even an auto loan will end up costing you more if your credit scores are weak. You can keep track of your credit standing using Credit.com’s Credit Report Summary, which provides your free credit scores.

Get a Part-Time Job or Plan to Work Longer

If you’re married and relying on a partner for retirement savings, you may want to consider getting a part-time job. The money can be used both to help the family and to create a retirement nest egg.

What’s more, with the exploding gig economy, there are more options than ever to do work based on your talents and availability. Thanks to sites like TaskRabbit, Postmates, Amazon Flex and Etsy, to name a few, earning additional income without overhauling your lifestyle is possible.

“If for example, your kids are in school and you’re able to do something part-time, that’s a great way to bring in extra money,” said Leng.

If you’re older and don’t have the savings to retire, you may have to look at postponing retirement. It will not only give you the chance to save more but also reduce the retirement time you’ll need to save for.

Develop an Action Plan

One of the most critical steps to help get your retirement on track is developing an action plan and sticking to it.

Creating an action plan begins with establishing a retirement goal, which includes identifying your ideal retirement age and what sort of retirement lifestyle you’d like to have. This exercise will help you come up with a ballpark amount of money you’ll need for retirement.

After that, do the math to figure out how much you must save each week and month to reach your goals, reviewing how much you’re currently setting aside for retirement, and whether you’re on track to achieve your desired end point.

If you’re not already setting aside enough money to reach your retirement goals, part of your action plan will be establishing a new savings budget.

Some experts say it’s also a good idea to create five-year milestones, which serve as markers by which you should have accumulated a certain amount of money to reach your final goal.

And finally, an action plan can also include a debt repayment plan, so you’re not heading off into retirement with sky-high bills.

This can sound a little dizzying for some, so it’s a good idea to consider seeking out a financial professional who can help develop a realistic, manageable path to retirement.

“Having some sort of retirement income planning help and support … can help [people] understand all of the factors and decisions that go into creating a sustainable retirement income and help them make more informed decisions,” said Grabot.

Be Prepared to Make Tradeoffs

Getting serious about retirement will likely involve making some tradeoffs.

When financial experts say this they mean cutting some expenses now so you’re able to save more for retirement. The budget cuts could involve downsizing where you live, going clothes shopping less or eliminating cable television. It doesn’t really matter what you choose, the point is to take a look at your spending and decide what can be eliminated in favor of preparing for your future.

Be Honest With Yourself

Brutal honesty is your best friend when it comes to retirement.

Be truly honest about how much you’re spending to live right now. Sit down and do the math. Then, identify the age you plan to retire and add 20 years to that. Those are all years you’ll need income, so it’s a good idea to come up with a ballpark figure to get you through those years.

“Total up how much you will need to set aside from now until retirement to help you reach that goal,” said Leng. “Life is brutal. So the kindest thing you can do for yourself is be honest.”

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

50 Free Things You Can Get This Year

What’s that you say? You like free things? Well, you’re in luck. We’ve rounded up 50 of our favorite things that you can get absolutely free. A few are tied to specific dates and age groups, but for the most part, everything here is free (at least as of press time) for the taking whenever you want it.

So, without further ado, here are 50 things that are totally free and totally awesome that you can get right now or anytime this year.

1. Free Chocolate

We wanted to start this list off right, so, yes, free chocolate. Join the Godiva Rewards Club and you will be eligible for a free piece of chocolate. Every. Single. Month.

2. Free Food at Grocery Stores

Take advantage of the free samples at your local grocer to not only get a free meal while you shop, but to also become familiar with new products. Most stores bring in sample tables during their busiest times – usually on weekends. So skip lunch and head to the grocery store.

3. Free Food at Restaurants

Lots of restaurants and other food retailers have an annual freebie day. Think free pancakes from IHOP on National Pancake Day, a free doughnut from Dunkin’ Donuts, Krispy Kreme and others on National Doughnut Day and even a free Slurpee from 7-Eleven on July 11 (that’s 7/11 if you missed it.)

4. Free Kid Meals

A lot of restaurants, especially chains, offer free or close-to-free kids meals. For a list of restaurants in your area, type “kids eat free” into your search engine.

5. Free Admission to National Parks

Throughout the year certain national parks do not charge entry fees. But each year there are free admission days to all of the national parks. You can check out the free-admission schedule here.

6. Free Admission to Museums & Cultural Events

Washington, D.C., is filled with free art and cultural events thanks to government funding. Head to the Smithsonian American Art Museum or the Phillips Collection and admission will be free. The monuments? Free. National Portrait Gallery? National Air and Space Museum? Free, free, free.

7. Free Credit Scores

Knowing where your credit stands and the impact your financial actions have on your them is important. You can get two absolutely free credit scores right here on Credit.com.

8. Free Credit Reports

Like your credit score, it’s important to keep track of your credit reports as well. They can affect your interest and insurance rates, as well as your ability to land a job or apartment, so it pays to make sure they’re accurate. You can get your free credit reports from all three credit bureaus every year at AnnualCreditReport.com.

9. Free Books

You can download digital copies of thousands of books at Gutenberg.org or the University of Pennsylvania online books page, and you won’t pay a penny to do so. That’s because the copyrights on these books have expired, so they’ve entered the public domain. Some of these books also are available for free through online retailers like Amazon.com and iTunes.com.

10. Free Audiobooks

Likewise, LibriVox.org offers public domain audiobooks for free for anyone to listen to, on their computers, iPods or other mobile devices or to burn onto a CD. And if you’d like to record a reading of one of the books for others to listen to, LibriVox is always looking for volunteers.

11. Free Music, for Listening …

You probably already know you can listen to as much free music as you like (with advertisements, of course) with apps like Pandora and Spotify, but it’s worth mentioning because they’re FREE.

12. … & for Creative Use

The Free Music Archive is an interactive library of audio downloads provided by WFMU. Inspired by Creative Commons and the open source software movement, the FMA provides a legal and technological framework for curators, artists and listeners to harness the potential of music sharing. Each MP3 has varying copyright laws, so you’ll need to check out each rights holders terms of use, but there’s a lot of amazing music to be had.

13. Free Coding Classes

Whether you’re looking at a career change or just self-edification, if you’ve ever wanted to learn to code, FreeCodeCamp.com is offering you the chance to do so.

14. Free Design Content

Are you a photographer, designer or other creative looking for free fonts, software add-ons and graphic elements for your projects? Creative Market offers a rotating basket of freebies each week available for your creative endeavors.

15. Free Font Help

Ever wonder what font is being used for that logo or sign? If so, What the Font can help. You can upload the logo and in a few simple steps, this app will show you a list of possible fonts.

16. Free Online Fundraising

If you’re looking to finance your product or startup and are considering crowdsourcing the funds but want to keep 100% of the money you raise, you might want to check out Redbasket, the crowdsourcing site that charges no fees and doesn’t take a cut of your donations.

17. Free Credit Calculators

These interactive calculators can help you prepare for everything from getting an auto or home loan to planning for retirement and setting savings goals. Our calculators provide instant results with no need to fill out complicated forms.

18. Free Credit Consultation

If you need help getting your credit back on track, or getting rid of some errors on your credit reports, a credit consultation might be just the thing. You can get a free credit consultation at Lexington Law. (Full Disclosure: Lexington Law is a Credit.com partner.) You can learn more about disputing errors on your credit report here.

19. Free Credit Card Perks

If you have a credit card, you may want to take a look at your cardholder agreement to ensure you’re getting the most value out of your card that you can. Many cards offer perks like rental car insurance coverage, extended warranties on purchases made with the card and other valuable offers. If your card doesn’t offer these things, you might want to comparison shop some other credit cards.

20. Free Hotel Stays

Want free hotel stays? One of the fastest ways to get them is by using a hotel rewards credit card. Here’s a roundup of some of the our favorite hotel rewards credit cards. If that’s not your thing, you could always join a hotel loyalty program and earn points that will ultimately earn you free stays. (It’s faster with the credit card, though.)

21. Free Flights

Same goes for airlines. An airline miles credit card is your fastest route to earning free airline travel, but you can also join your preferred carrier’s rewards program to earn points. Doing both, however, is the fastest way to rack up points.

22. Free Carry-On Luggage

Tired of paying to take your bag on the plane with you? Consider flying with Southwest Airlines, which allows two free carry-on bags per customer, or with JetBlue, which allows one free carry-on.

23. Free Tour Guides

Want to see your next travel destination through the eyes of a local? And not pay for it? Well, you’re in luck. Global Greeter Network’s vetted volunteers can show you the area for free with a strict no-tips-allowed policy. They can show you the sites they love or plan an excursion centered around things you want to see and do.

24. Free Travel Planning

Have a road trip in your near future? You’ll want to check out Roadtrippers before you put on your driving gloves. Just tell them your starting point and destination, and the site will provide information on must-see attractions and budget-friendly accommodations along the way.

25. Free Tax Preparation

If you need help preparing your income taxes, check out the IRS’s Free File program. You’ll qualify for free tax preparation software if your adjusted gross income is $64,000 or less. And if you made less than $54,000 last year, you could qualify for tax help through the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program.

26. Free Financial Tools

Want to track your net worth, plan for your retirement and even analyze your portfolio? All in one place? And all for free? Personal Capital has the tools to let you do that. As they say on their website, “Our free financial tools make it easy to manage your entire financial life in one place.”

27. Free Oil & Battery Recycling

If you change your oil yourself, you know it can be a hassle to dispose of the oil you’ve drained from your car. Advance Auto Parts makes it easy. And free. For your used battery as well.

28. Free Mulch & Compost

Many municipalities offer free mulch and compost for home gardeners. Contact your city’s parks and recreation department to see what options are available.

29. Free Pest Inspection

Got bugs? Terminix will do a free pest inspection of your home, as well as a termite inspection. Be sure to ask about any available discounts if you decide to go with their recommended treatment plan.

30. Free Package Pickup

Need to ship a package but don’t have time or transportation to get to the post office? A postal carrier will pick up your package for you, free of charge. You’ll still have to pay for the shipping, but at least you don’t have to stand in line at the post office.

31. Free College Tuition

It’s a growing movement in the United States, with New York being the latest state to offer free tuition to state universities. Check out what options are available to you through your state’s education department or by using a tool like Get Schooled’s free tuition finder.

32. Free Career Training

The Student Career Experience Program is a paid student program that lets participants get work experience directly related to their academic field of study. According to Benefits.gov, “it provides formal periods of work and study while you are attending school. It requires a commitment by you, your school, and the U.S. Department of Commerce. You may be eligible for permanent employment after successfully completing your education and meeting work requirements.”

33. Free Assistance for Starting a Small Business

The Small Business Administration offers numerous resources to help you learn about what it takes to start a business and keep it growing.

34. Free Pet Care

If you’re having trouble affording your pet, whether feeding or medical care, the Humane Society has a list of resources that can help. Some even offer services free of charge.

35. Free Pet Safety Stickers

If your home is ever on fire or there is some other life-threatening situation, there are stickers from the ASPCA that will let neighbors and rescue workers know that your furry loved ones are in the house so they can take appropriate action.

36. Free Digital Estate Planning

You’re going to die someday. We all will, so might as well prepare for the inevitable. Dead Man’s Switch lets you create a secure email that will be sent out to your designated family and/or friends so you can make sure they have all of your important information, like usernames, passwords, bank account and other details. How does it work? The company sends you periodic messages asking if you’re still alive. If you someday don’t respond, it activates your email.

37. Free Price Checking

Ever wonder if you’re really saving on that Amazon purchase, but don’t feel like driving all the way to the store just to see? Services like Honey or CamelCamelCamel can help you compare prices quickly to ensure you’re getting the very best deal.

38. Free Broadband Speed Test

If you’re experiencing some slowness on your computer you may want to check to see just how fast your connection is. You can do that for free using the broadband speed test at Speedtest.net.

39. Free Samples

Want to try some new products, or get teeny-tiny tubes you can travel with? You can get everything from toothpaste and shampoo to mouthwash and more by visiting blogs and sites that compile free offers. Some to consider are Hey, It’s Free!, Mr. Free Stuff and FreeStuffFinder.com.

There’s also a Freebies Subreddit that does much the same thing for all Redditors out there in search of free stuff.

40. Free Used Items

In need of some wooden pallets? Maybe a garden rake or a lamp that needs to be rewired? Craigslist has a “Free Stuff” category that lets people post their unwanted items that are free for the taking. Check out the listings in your area.

41. Free Beauty Kit

If you like makeup, you probably like Sephora. And if you become a “Beauty Insider” you’ll have your choice of a free beauty gift each year.

42. Free Hearing Test

AARP members (only people age 50 or older are eligible for membership) can get a free hearing test over the phone. Membership to AARP is $16 per year and comes with multiple other benefits and discounts that more than pay for the membership costs.

43. Free Phone for Hearing Impaired

This service, funded by the Federal Communications Commission, gives free phones to people who have medically recognized hearing loss. Users are able to read what the person on the other end of the line is saying. Learn more at CaptionCall.com.

44. Free Prescription Drugs

Some supermarket pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies offer generic drugs for free to low-income patients without prescription drug insurance. Contact your pharmacy or search the RxAssist database to find free medication through drug companies’ patient assistance programs.

45. Residential Repair Services

Seniors needing minor work done around their house can reach out to their local government offices for the aging to see what services might be available. Keep in mind that the labor through these programs is offered for free but all necessary supplies will need to be paid for by the resident.

46. Free Baby Supplies

Babies are expensive, but lots of companies offer assistance for families who need a little help. Need formula? Similac offers free infant formula samples. You also can sign up with diaper manufacturers like Pampers to get free samples.

47. Free Birthday Treats

There are literally hundreds of restaurants and retailers that give away free birthday goodies, especially for loyalty club members. Offerings include everything from free desserts and surprise gifts to full meals, all for free. Check out your favorite company’s website to see what’s available.

48. Free Shipping

If you’re still paying for shipping on purchases, well, why? There are dozens of retailers that offer free shipping on all items year ‘round.

49. Free Uber Rides

Next time you need a ride, first check for the latest promo codes to see if any of them will offer you a sweet deal on getting to your destination. Groupon and other online coupon sites also offer deeply discounted fares when you buy in advance.

50. Free Wedding Swag

Planning a wedding? Check out sites like WeddingVibe, which offers giveaways for all sorts of free stuff for your wedding. From photo sessions for you and your spouse-to-be to shopping sprees and more.

Taking advantage of free stuff is one way to stay on budget. We’ve got 50 more ways to stay out of debt right here

Note: It’s important to remember that terms and conditions on 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 providers directly. Related Articles

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

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