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    Every time you turn around, someone wants to run your credit. 

    New apartment? The landlords want to see your credit. Applying for a job? Same thing. Oh, and that really cool “freebie” blanket you could get just for signing up for a new credit card? They’ll definitely run your credit first.

    One thing you’ve probably heard is that credit pulls can hurt your credit score. How can that be? If you’re going to get credit, there needs to be a credit inquiry first, right?

    There are two types of credit inquiries: hard and soft inquiries. What are they? How are they different? Here’s what you need to know to keep your credit score looking shiny.

    Soft vs. Hard Credit Check

    Both types of credit pulls involve someone checking in on your credit, but that’s about where the similarities stop. Here’s the difference between a soft vs. hard credit check and what it means for you.

    Hard Inquiry

    Simply put, a hard inquiry happens when a lender, like a bank or credit card company, runs your credit history as a part of its decision-making process. They may run your credit with one or more of the major credit bureaus. 

    Will they give you that loan? Will you get that credit card? What they see on your credit report may make it happen…or not. 

    Soft Inquiry

    A soft inquiry happens when you check your own credit score or even if a lender checks it for the purpose of prequalifying you for a loan or credit card. 

    If a potential landlord or employer does a credit check, that would also count as a soft inquiry. Think of it as a glance at your credit rather than a deep dive. 


    How Do Credit Inquiries Affect Credit Score?

    Here’s where it gets interesting. Each type of credit pull affects your credit differently. Here’s how it breaks down for soft vs. hard credit checks. 

    Hard Inquiry

    Because a hard inquiry is used by someone who is actually checking your creditworthiness for the purpose of issuing you some form of credit, it factors into your credit score. 

    Having multiple hard inquiries in a short amount of time could mean that you’re attempting to open multiple accounts. Why is that an issue? Because it could mean that you’re trying to use credit to stay afloat during financial troubles. 

    Since that’s a red flag to lenders, hard inquiries have a negative effect on your account for a short time.

    Soft Inquiry

    Soft inquiries are not used to issue new credit to you and, therefore, do not affect your credit score. In fact, with a couple of exceptions, you are the only one who can even see soft inquiries on your credit report at all. 

    The two exceptions are that insurance companies can see other insurance company inquiries, and lenders can see if you’ve had inquiries from debt settlement companies. 

    Soft inquiries are not a factor in your credit score at all, so there’s no need to sweat them. 

    Pro Tip

    Before applying for a loan, show the lender your credit report and ask them to prequalify you. This way, you don’t have to apply multiple times and risk denial. 

    3 Reasons Not to Worry Too Much About Credit Inquiries

    Anything that can affect your credit score is worth your attention, but with credit inquiries, there’s little reason to panic. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

    1. Multiple Inquiries Won’t Count Against You When You’re Loan Shopping

    The credit bureaus understand that smart consumers are competitive shoppers. If you have multiple hard credit inquiries for a car loan, mortgage, or something similar, they’ll simply flag it as one hard inquiry. They want you to be a smart consumer, so why would they penalize shopping for the best loan? 

    Pro Tip

    If you’re shopping around for a loan, keep your search window to a two-week period. If it stretches out longer, you could end up with multiple credit inquiries on your report.

    2. A Hard Pull Matters Less Than You Think

    Most consumers will only see a drop in their score of five points to less for a single hard inquiry. Unless you have a bundle of inquiries happening at once, it’s not a big deal.

    3. Other Factors Have a Bigger Impact on Your Score

    There are five factors that determine your credit score. Credit inquiries only make up 10% of that. Your payment history and credit utilization ratio are much greater factors in the big picture.

    Yes, you should be aware of credit inquiries and how they can affect your score, but there’s no reason to panic. There’s no need to worry that a potential landlord or employer doing a credit check will hurt your score. Shopping for the best car loan online? Go crazy. 

    As for that cool freebie blanket? You’d do better to save up and buy one rather than get a credit card that’s not right for you. You’ll sleep better that way. 

    Tyler Omoth is a freelance writer covering topics from personal finance to career advice and even lawn care. His work has been featured on TopResume.com, Writersweekly.com and more. He is also the author of over 70 educational books for children and a proud parent of twin toddlers. 

    This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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    If you’re a veteran or an active-duty member of the military, the idea of owning a home one day might give you warm, fuzzy feelings. Or maybe it’s just the idea of not having to move again.

    When that day comes, you’ll find yourself researching mortgages, and you may go straight for the Veterans Affairs (VA) home loan.

    VA home loans look attractive: They come with lower interest rates, lower closing costs and no private mortgage insurance (PMI), plus you can put 0% down.

    But before you jump right into signing papers, it’s worth taking a closer look to find out if a VA loan is your best option.

    What Is a VA Loan?

    A VA home loan is a type of mortgage that helps service members, veterans and eligible surviving spouses become homeowners. You can’t use a VA loan on an income property or a second home; these loans can only be used for your primary residence.

    VA loans are provided by private lenders — banks, mortgage companies, etc. —  and usually backed by the government for up to 25% of the loan if the homeowner defaults.

    Because 25% of the loan is guaranteed by the government, banks can lower eligibility requirements and don’t require you to pay private mortgage insurance.

    That means veterans with lower credit scores are frequently approved for more mortgage than they would be otherwise.

    “[VA loan] lenders tend to approve a higher mortgage-payment-to-income ratio and a higher total-debt-to-income ratio,” said Doug Nordman of The Military Guide.

    But perhaps the most appealing feature of a VA loan is that you can put 0% down.

    This might look like a deal, especially on a private’s housing allowance, but you’ll pay for it in other ways.

    The Hidden Expenses of VA Loans

    Before we compare VA loans with other options, let’s look at interest rates vs. APRs, or annual percentage rates. The interest rate is the amount you’ll pay each year to borrow money. The APR includes not just the interest rate, but also charges and fees from the mortgage broker.

    VA loans have lower interest rates than conventional loans, but their APRs are higher.

    For example, a lender offers a 30-year fixed conventional loan at a 4.62% interest rate with 4.69% APR, and a 30-year fixed VA loan at a 4.5% interest rate with 4.8% APR.

    That’s because the VA loan has a funding fee. Instead of paying a set monthly charge for private mortgage insurance (PMI) to the bank, veterans pay a funding fee to the VA that is added at the beginning of the loan and compounds monthly.


    The funding fee for regular military is 2.15% when you put 0% down, though it can be lowered by putting a down payment of 5% or more on the house.

    For those in the reserves or National Guard, the funding fee is even higher at 2.4%.

    It’s easy to look at the numbers with rose-colored glasses because you can afford the monthly payment. But it’s important to look at the big picture when taking on a loan of that size.

    When you look at the breakdown of your mortgage, the funding fee will look lower than a PMI payment, but you can get rid of PMI when you reach 20% equity in your home. Unless you pay your funding fee upfront, it stays with you forever.

    To put it in perspective: A $200,000 home with $0 down will have a funding fee of $4,300. That $4,300 gets put on the principal, which means you’ll be paying interest on it for 30 years. Even if you refinance, that $4,300 stays there.

    Who Is a VA Loan Good For?

    The funding fee doesn’t mean the VA loan is bad — it has lots of features that make it a good choice for many service members and veterans. Interest rates are lower, appraisals are more affordable, origination fees are capped at 1%, and you can qualify at a lower credit score.

    But it’s even better if you can get the funding fee waived.

    Those eligible for a waiver are:

    • Veterans who receive VA compensation for a service-connected disability.
    • Veterans who would be entitled to receive compensation for a service-connected disability but are receiving retirement or active-duty pay.
    • Surviving spouses of a veteran who died in service or from a service-connected disability.

    Over 4 million veterans receive VA disability compensation, so a waiver is actually an option for a lot of Americans.

    The bottom line: Don’t rush a decision as big as home ownership.

    “Research indicates that nearly half of all veterans move yet again within two years of leaving the military, because their bridge career doesn’t work out,” Nordman said. “They end up putting that ‘forever home’ right back on the market, or — even worse — becoming reluctant long-distance landlords.”

    Waiting until you’re location-stable will give you time to build your credit and qualify for the best home loan available.

    Jen Smith is a former staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. 

    This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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    The year 2020 is looking a lot like 2019, at least in terms of taxes.

    The IRS just released its inflation adjustments for 2020 federal income tax rates and brackets. While these changes are unlikely to have a huge impact on your bottom line, there are a few things you should be aware of heading into the new year.

    Because these are the 2020 tax rates, they’ll determine your tax bill that will be due in 2021. You’ll use 2019 rates and brackets when you file your taxes on or before April 15, 2020.

    How the 2020 Tax Brackets Break Down

    There are seven tax brackets that range from 10% to 37%. The 2020 tax brackets break down as follows:

    Unmarried Individuals

    Tax Bracket Taxable Income
    10% Up to $9,875
    12% $9,875 to $40,125
    22% $40,125 to $85,525
    24% $85,525 to $163,300
    32% $163,300 to $207,350
    35% $207,350 to $518,400
    37% Over $518,400

    Married Individuals Filing Jointly or Surviving Spouses

    Tax Bracket Taxable Income
    10% Up to $19,750
    12% $19,750 to $80,250
    22% $80,250 to $171,050
    24% $171,050 to $326,600
    32% $326,600 to $414,700
    35% $414,700 to $622,050
    37% Over $622,050

    Heads of Household

    Tax Bracket Taxable Income
    10% Up to $14,100
    12% $14,100 to $53,700
    22% $53,700 to $85,500
    24% $85,500 to $163,300
    32% $163,300 to $207,350
    35% $207,350 to $518,400
    37% Over $518,400

    Pro Tip

    Not sure of your filing status? This interactive IRS quiz can help you determine the correct status. If you qualify for more than one, it tells you which one will result in the lowest tax bill.

    Tax rates apply to the income within each bracket. So if you’re an unmarried individual with taxable income of $50,000, you won’t pay 22% of that $50,000 to Uncle Sam.

    According to the 2020 tax brackets, you’d pay:

    • 10% on the first $9,875
    • 12% on the next $30,250 ($40,125 – $9,875 = $30,250)
    • 22% on the next $9,875 ($50,000 – $40,125 = $9,875)

    4 Tax Changes That Could Affect You in 2020

    The modified tax brackets aren’t the only changes the IRS announced. About 60 tax provisions will be adjusted in the new year. A few highlights:

    • The standard deduction will rise slightly: The standard deduction will rise by $200 to $12,400 for people who are single filers or married filing separately. For those who are married filing jointly, the standard deduction will rise by $400 to $24,800.
    • You may be able to save an extra $500 for retirement: If you have an employer-sponsored tax-deferred retirement plan, like a 401(k) or 403(b), your maximum contribution is $19,500 in 2020, up from $19,000 in 2019. The additional “catch-up” contribution workers ages 50 and older can make will also go up by $500, from $6,000 to $6,500.
    • You can contribute an extra $50 to a flexible spending account. In 2020, the maximum contribution individuals can contribute is $2,750.
    • Some limited-income families can get an extra $103. The maximum Earned Income Tax Credit will increase to $6,660. You need at least three children to qualify for the maximum amount.

    3 Tax Rules That Aren’t Changing in 2020

    • IRA contribution limits won’t change. The traditional and Roth IRA contribution limits will remain at $6,000 for people under 50. The extra $1,000 “catch-up” contribution the IRS allows people 50 and older to make won’t change either.
    • You can still gift someone up to $15,000 without paying the federal gift tax. The gift tax exemption is something you might want to take advantage of if you’re contributing to a 529 plan.
    • There’s no limit on itemized deductions. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 suspended these limits.

    Ready to Start Your 2020 Tax Prep?

    OK, we get it: You’re probably not thinking about your 2020 taxes yet. After all, you haven’t even had your 2019 Thanksgiving turkey.

    But if you’re the plan-ahead type, you can check out this comprehensive summary of 2020 tax changes courtesy of the IRS.

    Even if you’re not ready to jump into 2020 tax planning mode just yet, keep in mind that a new year is often a good time to check your tax withholdings and make adjustments if necessary. So make a date with yourself in early January for a quick tax checkup.

    Robin Hartill is a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder. She edits and writes stories about bank accounts, credit scores, home buying, insurance, investing, retirement and taxes. She is also the voice behind the Dear Penny personal advice column, which is syndicated in the Tampa Bay Times Sunday business section.

    This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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    For a stay-at-home Michigan mom of five, transforming dilapidated campers into chic glamper havens provides a welcome revenue stream.

    But Sarah Lemp’s DIY camper flipping gig didn’t start out that way. 

    In 2014, the frugal family just wanted an affordable way to travel. Lemp dreamed of hitting the road for family vacations, vintage trailer in tow.

    “I obviously can’t afford one that’s already been fixed up,” she thought. “So I’m going to get a really cheap, junky one, and I’m going to fix it.”

    Five years later, Lemp, 35, hasn’t stopped.

    Welcoming Gidget to the Family

    To find the perfect fixer-upper, Lemp scoured websites like Craigslist, eBay and Tin Can Tourists. It took her about a year, but she found it: a 16-foot unpainted 1956 Century trailer. 

    Sure, it had decaying wood. And duct-taped doors. And dead rodents. Most of all, it had character. For $1,700, Lemp jumped on the opportunity.

    It took her about a month of non-stop work to get the old Century in presentable shape. She patched up the holes. Repaired the rusty frame. Removed the oven and stove. Ran all new electrical lines. Installed laminate wood flooring. Painted the interior white and gave the exterior a two toned, white-and-powder-blue retro makeover. 

    Grand total: about $3,000 thanks, in particular, to the frame repairs.

    All the while, she documented the renovations on her DIY blog All Things With Purpose, which was gaining a steady following. She even leaned on her readers to name the trailer. They landed on Gidget, based on the 1959 musical. 

    These two photos show a before and after of what the 1980s RV looked like before and after the renovations.

    To this day and despite some renovation hiccups, she says Gidget was probably the best purchase she has ever made. As a homeschooling parent, Lemp took her kids on numerous field trips in Gidget. That first DIY camper served them through countless road trips to parks, forests, beaches and campgrounds.

    “Travel has always been the retreat,” Lemp said. “You need a change of scenery. You need time to unplug and give your mind a rest.”

    By 2017 and with the adoption of their youngest, Asher, the Lemps outgrew the cozy ‘50s trailer. Lemp wanted to renovate another one. But raising the capital to cover a bigger, newer trailer meant goodbye to Gidget, a family member in her own right.

    Lemp’s husband, Jason, listed Gidget on Facebook Marketplace. That same day, it sold for their asking price, $8,900. That got the Lemps thinking: Could this be a business opportunity?

    Their friends and family’s initial reaction to fixing up a camper was, “What on earth did you just do?” Lemp said. But after the sale, they were singing a very different tune. “Wow, OK. There’s really something here.”

    And that something was the seed of a side gig that would blossom into $22,000 of profits, invaluable memories and myriad business opportunities.

    Lemp’s DIY Camper Side Gig “A Family Project”

    This photos shows the exterior of a renovated 1990s camper.

    With cash in hand from the sale of Gidget, Lemp was ready to expand her operation. Gidget was a “learning experience” that gave Lemp a better understanding of how much time and money a flip would take. And she knew to avoid expensive issues like structural damage. 

    To accommodate her growing family, the second DIY camper definitely needed to be bigger. Definitely less of a time commitment (She had “mom guilt” from being away from her kids during the first renovations.) And definitely fewer dead rodents.

    “We immediately got a newer… trailer that didn’t need nearly as much done to it” for family trips, she said. “And in the meantime, we did a couple different [campers] that were specifically to sell.”

    To curb the mom guilt from the first time around, Lemp made camper flipping a family endeavor. 

    Husband Jason scours Facebook Marketplace for good deals. Prices can vary widely. Trailer purchases run between $1,000 and $2,000. Jason haggles with sellers, meets them and typically tows or drives the trailers home.

    Once the vehicle is parked in their secluded and spacious backyard, the work begins.

    “I usually have all the kids help me in the very beginning,” Lemp said. “They help me clear it all out and do the demo[lition]. They help take curtains off the windows, take smelly couch cushions out. They help pull up carpet. Vacuum everything.”

    (Attention span permitting.) 

    The before and after photo of the bedroom inside a 1980s camper.

    To keep the kids interested, she rotates their duties frequently. She might start them with vacuuming or cleaning, then let them come back when the camper is in better shape to peel off flaky decals, paint and decorate.

    “They love the idea of painting,” she laughed. “They beg me to help paint, but then they don’t last too long.”

    She teaches them to inspect the walls, cupboards and floors for signs of water damage, too. In the earlier stages, the kids chime in on purchase price, guess how much renovations will cost and project how much they will profit off the flip. 

    Allowing her kids to see the money and labor investments enhances their financial literacy — another side benefit to her side gig she didn’t anticipate.

    “As a kid, I didn’t have any kind of grasp of how much money was really worth,” Lemp said. “I didn’t know how it would impact me.”

    Pro Tip

    A financial literacy survey by The Penny Hoarder shows that only 13% of Americans discussed finances as a family – and a lack in money talks as a kid leads to lower savings and income later in life.

    Lemp’s Camper Renovation Process

    Money lessons aside, the flipping process is laborious and expensive. The rest of the cleaning, demolition, remodeling, electrical rewiring, plumbing installation, painting, interior designing and staging? That’s all Lemp. She flips campers mainly, but lately she’s been experimenting with RVs. 

    Depending on what exactly needs to be done, it usually takes her between a few weeks and two months.  

    “I will always try to do it myself first,” Lemp said. “But if I’m in over my head, and it’s something I definitely can’t do, I’ll call in a friend… or lower myself to get a quote” from a mechanic or RV business.

    The interior of a renovated 1990s trailer.

    Mechanical or structural issues are big time and money holes. Because of the engine, she says RVs introduce all kinds of potential problems. But with her first RV purchase for $3,200, she lucked out — there were no serious engine issues. When she sold it for $12,500 in August, she netted about $7,000, the most she’s profited off a single flip. 

    At that sales price, Lemp waded into a different buyer demographic. The RV garnered bids from all across the country. People wanted to fly to Michigan and buy it. 

    But that’s not who her work typically attracts. More often she sells to young families who are buying their first trailer and appreciate an older aesthetic.

    For most vintage trailer flips, she pockets about $6,000 per project – and her profit margins are well into the 70% range. With DIY campers, she doesn’t have to worry about any engine issues, so the turnaround tends to be quicker.

    “My sweet spot, I would say, is more the vintage style – ‘70s and older,” Lemp said. “There’s the cute factor, but yet they’re so old you can get them for dirt cheap.”

    At a DIY Camper-Flipping Crossroads

    After she expanded into RV renovations, Lemp’s side gig snowballed in popularity.

    People from Florida and California reached out for RV requests. The media caught wind. ABC, Detroit News, Fox, Insider, Yahoo! Finance. A Michigan camping and RV expo tapped her as a guest speaker. A production company in LA raised the possibility of a reality show.

    “How am I even in this position to have someone contacting me and talking to me about this?” Lemp mused. “Has this gotten too big for me?”

    All of the recent attention has been “slightly exciting.” Mostly overwhelming. At its core, her side gig is a way to spend time with her kids and travel. With its success, she feels pressured to expand. Then the mom guilt kicks in.

    This photo shows what a renovated 1970s camper looks like.

    She concedes that there’s less of a “get-up-and-go” mentality since her two oldest daughters, both 12, transitioned into the public school system. That’s also freed up a little more of her time.

    “At what age are they not going to be interested in going on family camping trips?” she wondered.

    She’s in no rush to find out. As her kids grow, she’d like to let her business follow suit.

    For now, she’s happy flipping campers on her own time, all the while teaching her kids valuable life lessons about frugality, shared family time, and the importance of waiting for the paint to dry.

    Adam Hardy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. He specializes in ways to make money that don’t involve stuffy corporate offices. Read his ​latest articles here, or say hi on Twitter @hardyjournalism.

    This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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    Thanksgiving is hands down, unequivocally and undeniably my favorite major holiday of the year. (National IPA Day is still waiting to be recognized as “major” by some.)

    Too many holidays require things that are exhausting and stressful. Do I have enough money for all the gifts? What costume should I wear? Is that leprechaun going to attack me? Not cool, man.

    Thanksgiving is free from all of that. On Thanksgiving, you eat a great meal, then you watch some football, take a nap, eat some more food, watch some more football and just chill with family and friends.

    That’s a holiday!

    You might think, “That’s all well and good if you’re not the one who has to make that massive feast.” Well, I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to be the one who does all the cooking this year. You have plenty of options to order Thanksgiving dinner to go from your favorite grocery store or restaurant.

    It just depends on what you’re willing to spend.

    Here’s Where to Order Thanksgiving Dinner To Go

    The average Thanksgiving meal has 12 people ready to dig in, according to the Pew Research Center. That’s a lot of mouths to feed. Sure, some of them — like the young ones and your weird uncle — may be at the kids’ table, but they’ll want food nonetheless.

    So, what are your options when you want to skip the gourmet cooking and let someone else do the heavy lifting?

    Here are seven companies ready to stuff your family for the big day.

    1. Publix

    If you live in the South, you probably know and love Publix. It loves you right back with the pre-made Publix Deli large turkey dinner. All you have to do is buy it, take it home and heat it up. It’ll feed 14 to 18 people.

    This meal rings in at $89.99, which comes out to $4.99 to $6.43 per person.

    It includes:

    • One 16- to 18-pound fully cooked Butterball turkey
    • 5 pounds of dressing
    • 5 pounds of mashed potatoes
    • 64 ounces of Publix gravy
    • 56 ounces of Marshmallow Delight
    • 32 ounces of Publix cranberry orange relish

    And if you’re feeding a smaller family, you can get the Publix Deli turkey dinner for 7 to 10 people for $49.99, or about $4.99 to $7.14 per person.

    The meal includes:

    • One 10- to 12-pound fully cooked Butterball turkey
    • 2 1/2 pounds of dressing
    • 2 1/2 pounds of mashed potatoes
    • 32 ounces of Publix gravy
    • 28 ounces of Marshmallow Delight
    • 16 ounces of Publix cranberry orange relish

    Some items require up to 150 minutes to heat. Heating instructions are included for both meals.


    2. Cracker Barrel

    Nothing says “homestyle” like Cracker Barrel. With its Heat n’ Serve Holiday Family Meal To-Go, you know you’ll get comfort food — and plenty of it.

    This down-home meal feeds up to 10 people for $109.99, which comes out to $10.99 per person.

    The meal includes:

    • Two oven-roasted turkey breasts
    • Cornbread dressing
    • Turkey gravy
    • Cranberry relish
    • Your choice of three country sides
    • Sweet yeast rolls
    • Pumpkin pie and pecan pie

    It’s pricy per person, but Cracker Barrel’s Thanksgiving meal gives some good options.

    3. Boston Market

    Thanksgiving dinner from Boston Market.

    Boston Market prides itself on its homestyle food, so when Thanksgiving rolls around, it’s not about to step back. It gets in on the action with its complete Thanksgiving meal for 12.

    The price for up to 12 people is $129.99, putting it at $10.83 per person.

    The meal includes:

    • One roasted turkey
    • Two orders of vegetable stuffing
    • One order of spinach artichoke dip with crackers
    • 24 ounces of cranberry walnut relish
    • Two orders of mashed potatoes
    • 12 dinner rolls
    • Two orders of gravy
    • One 9-inch apple pie
    • One 9-inch pumpkin pie

    Cranberry walnut relish? Spinach artichoke dip? The downside may be that your family will know that you couldn’t pull that off yourself! If you can convince them, kudos to you.

    But if you really want to be convincing, you could go for the essential turkey meal for $109.99, or $9.17 per person, instead. This meal also serves up to 12 people and includes:

    • One roasted turkey
    • Two orders of vegetable stuffing
    • Two orders of mashed potatoes
    • Two orders of gravy
    • 12 dinner rolls

    No fancy dips or pies included with this one, so your secret is safe with us!

    And for smaller families (up to 6 people), you’ll find two meals to choose from on Boston Market’s heat-and-serve Thanksgiving menu. If you need any additional meats, sides or desserts, you can order from the a la carte menu, which comes fully cooked and chilled for pickup the week of Thanksgiving.

    To make your Thanksgiving dinner preparations even less stressful, you can have your heat-and-serve meals, a la carte sides and desserts delivered right to your door. Keep in mind, all orders are shipped frozen. Once fully thawed, your meal will be ready to heat and serve in two to three hours.

    4. The Fresh Market

    Thanksgiving dinner from Fresh Market

    Fresh Market is known as an upscale grocer, but it doesn’t stretch the budget with its deluxe holiday dinner. If you want variety in your meal, you’ll get it with this one.

    The cost to feed 12 to 14 people is $149.99, which comes out to $10.71 to $12.50 per person.

    The meal kit includes:

    • One 10- to 12-pound fully cooked turkey
    • 3-pound boneless spiral ham
    • 4 pounds of Yukon Gold whipped potatoes
    • 3 pounds of traditional herb stuffing
    • 30 ounces of turkey gravy
    • 2 pounds of corn soufflé
    • 2 pounds of green beans
    • 16 ounces of cranberry relish with walnuts
    • 24 dinner rolls

    Wait. Turkey and ham? That’s crazy talk! Plus, the sides look amazing. If you have a Fresh Market nearby, this could be a great option.

    If your Thanksgiving dinner will be a little smaller — as in 8 to 10 people — then you can go for the traditional holiday dinner for $79.99, or about $8 to $10 per person.

    This meal includes:

    • One 10- to 12-pound fully cooked turkey
    • 3 pounds of Yukon Gold whipped potatoes
    • 3 pounds of traditional herb stuffing
    • 30 ounces of turkey gravy
    • 16 ounces of cranberry relish with walnuts
    • 12 golden dinner rolls

    And if your Thanksgiving table is even smaller, you can grab the essential holiday dinner for 3 to 5 people. This heat-and-serve meal rings in at $59.99, or about $12 to $20 per person, and includes:

    • 2 1/2-pound fully cooked turkey
    • 2 pounds of Yukon Gold whipped potatoes
    • 2 pounds of traditional herb stuffing
    • 1 pound of green beans
    • 30 ounces of homestyle turkey gravy
    • 8 ounces of cranberry relish with walnuts

    The Fresh Market will be open Thanksgiving Day from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

    5. Bob Evans

    Thanksgiving dinner from Bob Evans.

    To feed 12 people with Bob Evans’ Turkey Farmhouse Feast, you’d need to order one eight-person meal and one four-person meal. Together, they run $149.98, putting your bill at  $12.50 per person.

    The meal includes:

    • Two slow-roasted turkey breasts
    • Bread-and-celery dressing
    • Homestyle mashed potatoes with gravy
    • Buttered sweet corn
    • Green beans with ham
    • Cranberry relish
    • Dinner rolls
    • Two pumpkin pies
    • One loaf of pumpkin bread

    You can also opt for the Premium Farmhouse Feast, which feeds 8-10 people for $124.99, or $12.50 to $15.62 per person, and includes:

    • Slow-roasted turkey breast
    • Hickory-smoked ham
    • Bread-and-celery dressing
    • Homestyle mashed potatoes with gravy
    • Buttered sweet corn
    • Green beans with ham
    • Cranberry relish
    • Macaroni and cheese
    • Pumpkin bread
    • Dinner rolls
    • Pumpkin pie
    • Double-crust apple pie

    The meals are packed cold, but heating instructions are included.

    6. Hy-Vee

    If you’re lucky enough to live in the Midwest where you can shop at Hy-Vee, you have a great holiday meal option with its family feast turkey dinner. Those outside the Midwest don’t know what they’re missing from this Iowa-based grocery store chain.

    The price for up to 12 people is $129.99, which comes out to $10.83 per person.

    The meal includes:

    • One 14- to 16-pound Butterball turkey
    • 48 ounces of turkey gravy
    • Two large sides of mashed potatoes
    • Four large sides of your choice (including dessert)
    • 24 dinner rolls

    This is a no-frills, basic Thanksgiving meal, but there’s plenty of it! How much is 48 ounces of gravy, you ask? That’s 6 cups of savory delight, plus more than a pound of turkey per stomach — perfect for bulking up for a hard, Midwestern winter. The instructions say to plan for 2 1/2 hours to reheat the meal.

    7. Whole Foods Market

    Tanksgiving meal from Whole Foods.

    OK, you’re ready to pull out all the stops. “Go big or go home” is a great motto for this holiday. Whole Foods’ festive feast for 12 isn’t cheap, but it’ll blow the doors off your Thanksgiving — as well as your belt buckles and buttons.

    The price for up to 12 people is $279.99, which comes out to $23.33 per person.

    It includes:

    • One classic roast turkey
    • One spiral-cut ham with maple-mustard glaze
    • Creamy mashed potatoes
    • Traditional herb stuffing
    • Green beans with roasted shallots
    • Roasted butternut squash with cranberries and sage
    • Creamed spinach and kale
    • Holiday turkey gravy
    • Cranberry orange sauce
    • Parker House rolls
    • One pumpkin pie
    • One apple pie

    At $279.99, it’s a more expensive option, but you’re getting a lot of food for your buck. Plus, there are a few smaller holiday meal options.

    Remember, holidays should be fun and relaxing, not tiring and taxing. Sometimes it pays to spend a little money to buy back your time.

    So this Thanksgiving, why not order your Thanksgiving dinner to go so you can take a load off and let someone else do the cooking? Your football team needs your help cheering, and it’s hard to do that from the kitchen.

    Tyler Omoth is a freelance writer covering topics from personal finance to career advice and even lawn care. His work has been featured on TopResume.com, Writersweekly.com and more. He is also the author of over 70 educational books for children and a proud parent of twin toddlers. 

    This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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    Protecting your loved ones from financial hardship should something happen to you is the purpose behind life insurance. Many companies make it easy for their employees to have some coverage by including it as a benefit. Chances are, it’s worth about one to two times your salary and costs you nothing. 

    It’s usually not enough.

    Often, you will have the chance to purchase supplemental life insurance in addition to the coverage that is an automatic benefit. But the supplemental coverage might not be as good as it seems. 

    Knowing what you’re really signing up for could save you money and ensure you’re covered. 

    What is Supplemental Life Insurance?

    Supplemental life insurance is a type of life insurance that is often provided through an organization (like your employer) to a group of people. The employer is the policyholder and gets discounted rates because they are insuring their entire organization. The premium is deducted from your paycheck and if you leave the company, you usually can’t take the policy with you.

    According to a March 2019 report about employee benefits by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 83% of people working in private industry and 91% of people working for state or local governments had access to life insurance benefits through their employers. 

    Supplemental life insurance is also called voluntary life insurance and as the name says, is designed to supplement other insurance policies, not replace them. The policies typically are guaranteed issue, meaning there is no health exam and you can’t be turned down. You choose the beneficiary, but not much else. Sometimes, you might be able to buy policies for your spouse, domestic partner, or children in addition to yourself. 

    “This is aimed at people who may not be able to get regular life insurance, either because any of the underwriting circumstances might not be ideal, or their health might not be good, or their finances might not be good,” said Steven Weisbart, senior vice president and chief economist of the Insurance Information Institute. “There is very little underwriting that goes on here. You basically sign up, pay the premium, and you’re covered.”

    Many groups like auto clubs, alumni organizations and veterans groups offer supplemental life insurance policies to members. Anyone who is a member can purchase the policy.

    Types of Supplemental Life Insurance

    Often, the supplemental life insurance offered through an employer or organization is different from term, universal, or whole life policies that are available on the open market. 

    Instead of being true life insurance, which pays a large death benefit to your beneficiary mostly for the purpose of replacing lost income, many supplemental life insurance policies offered through employers have many restrictions. 

    There are two main types:

    • Accidental death and dismemberment: Also known as AD&D policies, Accidental death and dismemberment policies will pay out only if an accident caused the death. Some will pay out if a serious accident resulted in a loss of eyesight, hearing, or a limb, but not in death. 
    • Burial insurance: These policies have a low death benefit, mainly to cover the cost of burial and funeral expenses, and have a value of about $5-$10,000. 

    Weisbart says those policies are basically just applying their small death benefit to a specific function. 

    “The policy will pay under its terms if those conditions arise so if you do in fact die in an accident, then the policy would pay,” he says. “The trouble is, most people don’t [die in an accident,] so the chances of your beneficiary actually collecting a benefit under such a supplemental policy are really, really remote.”

    Supplemental life insurance policies that are based on your employer are usually not portable. So if you leave the job, you leave the insurance policy.

    The coverage available for spouses and domestic partners often has lower death benefits than the coverage you could purchase for yourself and it often has the same restrictions like being just AD&D or burial insurance.

    Who Should Get Supplemental Life Insurance?

    A family dance in their living room.

    Financial experts recommend having life insurance worth about 10-12 times your income, so the policies that are part of your benefits package are usually not enough, even with supplements. 

    Premiums to buy sufficient coverage as part of a group plan are usually much higher than if you bought it privately.

    “It’s not as good of (a) deal as it would be if you are willing to go through the medical exams and the extensive questionnaires that you would have to go through for conventional life insurance purchase,” Weisbart says.

    Employer-based supplemental life insurance is best for people who:

    • Have pre-existing health conditions that might prevent them from being able to get insurance on the open market. 
    • Can’t purchase individual term life insurance because of age, smoking, dangerous hobbies or other issues.
    • Find premiums are too expensive on the open market.
    • Want a quick payout for burial and funeral costs. 

    People who do not smoke, have no pre-existing conditions, and are young can easily find lower rates for less-restrictive term life policies on the private market. 

    “The vast majority of people can buy individual life insurance, it’s only five or at the most 10% of the market that gets rejected,” Weisbart explains. “And the great majority of those [people] can buy it preferred rates.”

    Portability is also a major reason not to opt for coverage through your employer. You might be young and healthy now, but what happens if you develop a chronic condition as you get older, which would make you more difficult to insure on the private market?

    Deciding If You Need Supplemental Life Insurance

    Don’t say no to a free group policy if your employer provides it, but make sure you have enough coverage if you leave that job. 

    If you don’t have enough coverage, shop around and see what you can get on your own. Balance the cost of the supplemental insurance plan against the death benefit it will provide. If you have no debt and no dependants, an emergency fund should cover funeral and burial costs, so there wouldn’t be a need for a supplemental policy to cover those expenses. 

    Chances are, you can do better than buying a supplemental life insurance policy through an employer or other organization.

    “If (your job is) the only place you can get life insurance, okay fine. But it certainly isn’t the first place I want people to go,” Weisbart says. “This is not a plan B, it’s a plan Z.”

    Tiffani Sherman is a Florida-based freelance reporter with more than 25 years of experience writing about a variety of topics, including finance, health and travel. She likes to save money so she can travel more. 

    This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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    I first heard about selling breast milk in the “general comments” area of a writer’s chat room.

     One woman, who was expecting her third child, always produced too much milk, resulting in a freezer full of it. She was considering selling that excess as a way to make some needed extra money. 

    Many doctors recommend breastfeeding as the ideal way to feed babies since they digest and absorb breast milk better than they do formula. In fact, some studies link three childhood health issues to formula-fed babies: atopy (which includes asthma, eczema and allergies), diabetes and obesity.

    Breast milk contains the “perfect combination of proteins, fats, vitamins and carbohydrates,” according to the American Pregnancy Association. It also contains leukocytes, living cells that help fight infection.

    How to Sell Breast Milk Online

    Selling breast milk

    If you are the perfect candidate to sell breast milk — a healthy mom who produces more milk than your baby needs — there’s a website just for you.

    Wired Magazine compared Only The Breast to Craigslist: Women can post a free classified ad for their “liquid gold.” Craigslist itself offers ads for breast milk, but its terms of use prohibit the sale of “body parts/fluids.” 

    The ads on Only The Breast are categorized by the age of the baby: from zero to 2 months, 2 to 6 months and 6 to 12 months. That’s because breast milk composition changes based on the time since birth.

    Mothers can also choose to sell in other categories, such as “selling locally” and “willing to sell to men.”  There’s a section for selling in bulk at a rate of 25 cents to 50 cents per ounce and another section for selling at $1.00 an ounce.

    Babies need between 19 and 30 ounces of breast milk daily between the ages of 1 to 6 months, so selling milk can bring you in a decent side income. For example, if you sold 25 ounces of breast milk per day at $1 an ounce for a year, you’d make more than $9,100.

    To create your own ad, simply register for a free account with the Only The Breast. You’ll need to determine ahead of time whether you want to sell locally to exchange the breast milk and cash in person, or whether you’d prefer to ship frozen breast milk.

    Selling or Donating Your Breast Milk to Milk Banks

    The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Food and Drug Administration both recommend milk banks, companies that collect and process milk, over buying milk from an online site, as some studies have shown that milk bought over the internet is contaminated with bacteria. Some milk banks, such as Mothers Milk Cooperative, pay donors $1 an ounce.

    If you have extra breast milk and are not interested in selling it, you can donate it at National Milk Bank or the Human Milk Banking Association of North America.

    I spoke with a mom, Amber Taufen, who used to buy milk from a milk bank. But at $4 an ounce, Taufen said she could not afford to buy the milk for long and eventually switched to formula.

    The advantage of milk banks is that they screen the milk for pharmaceuticals and other drugs, which was important to Taufen.

    Taufen said that meeting with a local seller, however, “might be more reassuring than using a milk bank.”

    Lee Uehara, who runs PractiMama (formerly PumpMama), agrees. She meets with the women in person and donates her breast milk to them. Uehara prefers this method to donating to milk banks that pasteurize the milk, which reduces breast milk’s benefits.

    Laura Agadoni has a background in credit union marketing. Her articles have appeared in various financial publications such as The Houston Chronicle’s small business section, The Motley Fool, Yahoo! Finance, San Francisco Gate’s real estate section, Zacks, Arizona Central’s small business section and InsuranceQuote.com.

    This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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    Conventional sounds so… conventional.

    But the traditional path to home ownership doesn’t have to be boring — especially if it could save you thousands of dollars over the life of your home loan.

    Government-backed loans — like the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) or Veteran’s Administration (VA) — might get more attention for the low (or no) down payments, but the reality is that the more people get conventional loans when buying a home. 

    Of the $1.63 trillion in first mortgages taken out in 2018, conventional loans claimed 45% of the market while FHA’s and VA’s combined share was 22.6%.

    And although a government assistance program may seem like an easy way to home ownership, there’s a good chance that may not even be an option.

    “At least a third of the people I work with are not eligible for assistance programs,” said Lisa Hamilton, an Accredited Financial Counselor and a counselor at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

    Since a home will probably be your biggest purchase, it’s in your best interest to understand how the loan works. Here’s what you need to know about a conventional home loan.

    What Is a Conventional Loan?

    At its most basic, a conventional loan is a mortgage that is not guaranteed or insured by any government agency.

    The loans follow guidelines set by the Federal National Mortgage Association, aka Fannie Mae, and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, aka Freddie Mac, two companies chartered by the U.S. government to help standardize mortgage lending.

    A monthly mortgage payment has four basic components: principal, interest, taxes and insurance — also known as PITI.

    Compare that to FHA loans, which are insured by the Federal Housing Administration, or VA loans, which are covered by the U.S. government. 

    If a loan is backed by a government agency, the government will cover your loan if you stop paying it. But that comes at a price, compared to the cost of a conventional loan. Here’s how to decide whether a conventional loan is a better fit for you.

    How Do You Qualify for a Conventional Loan?

    As with any loan, there are metrics you must meet to qualify for a conventional loan. When you apply for a mortgage, your lender will consider your current income (verified via paycheck stubs, W2s and tax returns) and employment status, in addition to these other criteria.

    1. Down Payment

    If you’ve heard anything about conventional loans, it’s probably that you need to have a 20% down payment to get one. 

    And although putting 20% down will still get you the best terms with the lowest interest and fewest fees, coming up with 20% for a $200,000 home would mean a home buyer would need to have $40,000 — plus additional money for closing costs, inspections and moving. That’s not an easy bar to clear for most first-time buyers.

    To attract more customers, lenders have relaxed the 20% rule.

    “The lending market has become more competitive, and banks have what they call ‘conventional mortgages’ with 5% down,” Hamilton said. “Or they may run a special and call it a conventional mortgage with 1% down.”

    Pro Tip

    Although you may be tempted to throw every last dollar toward the down payment, hold onto enough money for an emergency fund — home ownership often comes with unexpected expenses.

    If you do decide to put less than 20% down, lenders will require you to add private mortgage insurance (PMI), which is added as a monthly premium to your mortgage payment. 

    After you have reached 20% equity in your home, you can call you lender and ask to cancel the PMI (cancellation should happen automatically once you achieve 22% equity).

    2. Credit Score

    The minimum credit score for a conventional loan is 620 to 640, depending on your lender. However, if you want to take advantage of the lower down payment option, you should plan on raising your credit score as much as you can before you apply.

    If you can put down 20% and raise your credit score before you apply for a loan, you’ll be able to snag even better interest rates and terms.

    3. Debt-to-Income Ratio

    Your debt-to-income ratio gives the lender an idea of how much of your income is going toward paying off your debt each month. 

    A “good” DTI for housing is around 25% while the maximum is typically 43%, according to Brent Weiss, CFP and chief evangelist of Facet Wealth

    However, lenders have been willing to go even higher, given the right circumstances, according to Hamilton.

    “[Lenders] will make exceptions if you have a lot of cash reserves,” she said. “Some lenders are going as high as 55% DTI with those exceptions.”


    How Much Can You Borrow? Conforming vs. Nonconforming Loans

    Once you know whether you can qualify for a conventional loan, you’ll need to know how much you can borrow. 

    For most people, that means applying for a conforming loan. This is a type of conventional loan that meets Freddie and Fannie requirements, so lenders prefer them and thus usually offer better interest rates.

    In most of the United States, the maximum conforming loan limit for 2019 is $484,350 — you can find the maximum amount for your area on this conforming loan limits map.

    Pro Tip

    The majority of conventional loans are for 30 years, but it's possible to qualify for a 15- or 20-year mortgage loan, which could save you money on interest in the long run.

    If you want to borrow more than the limit, you can still get a conventional loan but it will be a non-conforming jumbo loan, which can go as high as $1 million to $2 million. You’ll typically need a combination of really high credit score, large down payment and/or low DTI to qualify.

    If you’re considering a non-conforming loan, it’s essential to shop around for the best rates and terms — and always ask for a loan estimate before signing anything.

    What Are the Benefits of a Conventional Home Loan?

    If you can qualify for a conventional loan, you can save thousands over the life of your mortgage in a couple ways.

    For one, although the smaller downpayment on an FHA or VA loan might look attractive initially, both of those loans come with higher fees because the government is assuming the risk if you default on the loan.

    Additionally, you can cancel the PMI for a conventional loan when you reach 20% equity in your home. If you have an FHA, you’ll pay the insurance (aka Mortgage Insurance Premium) for the life of the loan, which can really add up over 30 years.

    “If your mortgage insurance is $50, $75, $100 per month, that’s quite a bit of money,” Hamilton said. “Buyers need to be aware of that added cost and how it can affect their ability to pay off the loan for that home to become a good investment vehicle.” 

    If you still decide to go with a government-backed loan — whether by choice or necessity — consider re-evaluating the conventional loan option in the future.

    “If you go FHA, then plan to do that assessment every year, every couple of years,” Hamilton said. “Check in and decide, ‘Should I refinance? What’s the best long-term strategy?’”

    Consider it conventional wisdom.

    Tiffany Wendeln Connors is a staff writer/editor at The Penny Hoarder. Read her bio and other work here, then catch her on Twitter @TiffanyWendeln.

    This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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    Some of the links in this post are from our sponsors. We provide you with accurate, reliable information. Learn more about how we make money and select our advertising partners.

    If you shop on Amazon — and who doesn’t? — we’ve found an incredibly easy way you can automatically save yourself money.

    It’s called Wikibuy, and it’s available as a browser extension or as an app. Once you click a button to install it, it instantly becomes your own personal heat-seeking missile for savings.

    That’s why 3.9 million shoppers are using it, and that’s why it’s highly rated in the Chrome Web Store.

    What is Wikibuy? We Use it to Find The Best Deals

    When you shop around on Amazon, Wikibuy pops up and becomes an automatic price-comparison tool.

    If you’re checking out a product like, say, a wireless speaker, Wikibuy searches thousands of other sellers, like Walmart and eBay, looking for a better price. It takes into account shipping, sales tax and availability, including size and color. It also tries coupon codes.

    If you like what you see, click the “Continue to Wikibuy” button that shows up automatically on Amazon, and place your order. Wikibuy even predicts when your order will be delivered.

    It Works Even if You’re Not Shopping on Amazon

    Let’s say you’re not shopping on Amazon. Instead you’re shopping online on a different site, like Best Buy or Target. When it’s time to check out, Wikibuy automatically searches online for any coupons or promo codes or discounts that it can apply to your order.

    It compiles data it collects from its millions of Wikibuy users. If a promo code worked for another Wikibuy user who bought a product before you, Wikibuy copies that code to save you money.

    Honestly, This is One of The Easiest Ways to Save

    If you’re not accustomed to browser plug-ins, then don’t let the term scare you away. It’s easy to download the thing, and it just automatically runs on top of your browser when you’re shopping. Simple.

    Wikibuy is available on the browsers Chrome, Microsoft Edge and Firefox. It’s also available as an iPhone app.

    Wikibuy gets good reviews from users, mainly because it’s free, simple and automatic. The browser extension has a 5-star rating from 3.9 million users in the Google Play store.

    One final thing: You can also earn Wikibuy credits while you shop. You use those credits for gift cards.

    That’s just one more feature. Wikibuy’s main draw is the automatic savings.

    After a simple free install, see how it works for you.

    Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He’s turning into an Amazon guy.

    Wikibuy compensates us when you install Wikibuy using the links we provided.

    This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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    Dear Penny,

    I have had a business credit card for 11 years. It is the only credit card I have, and I pay it off every month. 

    My question is, why don't any of the credit bureaus recognize my usage of this card? None of them have any credit card listed for me. 

    I spoke to one of them regarding this, and I was told they do not acknowledge the use of a business card. I am the only one listed on this account for the usage of this card and the only one responsible for the payment. 

    I believe that with me being the only one using and paying for this card it should be recognized by the bureaus as any other legitimate credit card.


    Dear B.,

    I think your gripe here is more with your card issuer than it is with the credit bureaus.

    It sounds as if the information you got from the credit bureau isn’t entirely correct. It’s not that the bureaus refuse to acknowledge the use of business cards. More likely, your credit card company isn’t sending them the information in the first place, and the bureaus can only report information if your creditors provide it to them.

    When you have a personal credit card, your activity is reported to the consumer credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and Transunion. So when you check your credit, you’re receiving a report from one of those three bureaus.

    And when you applied for your business credit card, your bank probably checked your personal credit. You also most likely signed a personal guarantee that made you responsible for any debt incurred even if your business goes under. (I’m assuming here that this card is for a business you own rather than a card issued by an employer since you’re the one responsible for payments.)

    But once you have a business credit card, things work a little differently. Most credit card issuers don’t report activity on a business card to the consumer credit bureaus. Or they only do so if your account becomes seriously delinquent.

    Instead, most issuers report activity on a business card to the commercial credit bureaus. There are a lot of commercial credit bureaus — the largest three are Dun & Bradstreet, Equifax and Experian — and they create business credit reports and scores.

    A business credit report contains a lot of the same types of information as a personal credit report. So that means that your business credit reports would probably document your history of responsible credit usage, which is good news if you’d want to obtain more credit or a loan for your business.

    Still, I get your frustration. You’ve used your credit card responsibly for 11 years, yet your personal reports contain no evidence of that. But since you and I probably don’t have much sway with big banks or credit bureaus, let’s talk about what you can do.

    If you want a credit card that reports payments to the consumer bureaus, you have two options: You could switch to a business credit card that actually does report activity to the consumer bureaus, or you could open a personal credit card.

    I think Option B is the clear winner here.

    Not only will you build a payment history that shows up on your personal credit reports, but personal credit cards have more protection for borrowers compared to business cards. Plus, it’s generally recommended that you keep your personal and business accounts separate.

    Just maintain the same habits you’ve built with your business credit card, i.e., paying off the balance in full each month, when you use personal credit. In time, your consumer reports will have evidence of what a disciplined credit card user you are.

    Robin Hartill is a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder and the voice behind Dear Penny. Send your questions about credit cards to AskPenny@thepennyhoarder.com.

    This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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    Life ain’t perfect. And given how difficult it can be to reach financial goals (or even just make ends meet), sometimes, our banking and credit histories aren’t perfect, either. 

    Even if you’ve got negative information on your ChexSystems record, which is like a credit report for your banking habits, you likely need a checking account. And while your history may be a dealbreaker at some banks, we found five banks that don’t use ChexSystems. 

    5 Banks That Don’t Use ChexSystems… or Will Give You a Second Chance Account

    Getting back on your financial feet can be difficult in the best of circumstances. Without access to a checking account, it’s that much more of a challenge.

    Fortunately, these banks offer second chance banking products for customers with less-than-perfect banking histories.

    1. Chime

    Internet-based banks are a great alternative in this digital age — after all, chances are you pay most of your bills online already. Chime offers a mobile bank account that you can apply for in under two minutes, and best of all, it doesn’t pull your credit report or use ChexSystems.

    Although Chime doesn’t have any physical branch locations, you can access your cash easily through its network of more than 38,000 ATMs nationwide, none of which charge you a fee. Chime account holders also get to skip overdraft fees, monthly maintenance fees and minimum balance requirements, making this one of the easiest bank accounts to maintain on the market.

    Chime also offers an expedited direct deposit option that could put your paycheck in your hands up to two days earlier than you’d expect with a traditional bank. And if you’re still trying to build your emergency fund, you can take advantage of its automatic savings service, which rounds up your spare change to stuff your piggy bank. 

    Monthly fee: $0

    Minimum opening deposit: $0

    2. Wells Fargo 

    The exterior of a Wells Fargo bank in St. Petersburg, Fla.

    If you want access to a major nationwide bank with brick-and-mortar branches you can walk into, Wells Fargo’s Opportunity Checking account may be your best bet.

    The account has a $10 monthly service fee and requires a $25 initial deposit. The good news is, the monthly fee can be waived by doing one of the following: 

    • Posting 10 or more debit card transactions.
    • Receiving at least $500 per month in direct deposit transfers.
    • Maintaining a minimum daily balance of $1,500. (OK, maybe that isn’t so easy!)

    Like other major financial institutions, Wells Fargo offers its customers a suite of easy-to-use digital tools, including online bill pay, a mobile app, monthly spending reports and more.

    Monthly fee: $10 (waivable)

    Minimum opening deposit: $25

    3. Peoples Cash Solutions

    The Peoples Cash Solutions Second Chance Checking Account is available nationwide and is a convenient way to get back into banking if you’ve had trouble opening an account due to your financial history. 

    There’s no mobile app, but you can monitor your accounts and make payments online for free. The bank also offers you a free checkbook for those bills you have to pay on paper. (We’re looking at you, landlords.)

    You’ll also get a free debit card you can use both to make point-of-service transactions and to access your funds via worldwide ATMs. There is, however, a monthly service fee of $4.95, and there’s no way to waive it.

    Monthly fee: $4.95

    Minimum opening deposit: $30

    4. GoBank

    Another online-only mobile checking account is GoBank, a company that offers users a free debit card that can be used to deposit cash at more than 100,000 participating retailers across the U.S. (for a fee of up to $4.95). Because GoBank allows its users to pay bills online or with paper checks, it’s easy to get your money exactly where it needs to go, no matter where that may be.

    GoBank also has a mobile app that offers some fancy features, like Fortune Teller, an algorithm that uses your balance, budget, and purchase amount to tell you whether that new jacket or delivery pizza you’re thinking about is actually a good idea. 

    You can also take cash from ATMs and receive expedited direct deposits. If you receive $500 or more in direct deposits each month, you can waive the $8.95 monthly service fee.

    Monthly fee: $8.95 (waivable)

    Minimum opening deposit: $20

    5. Radius Bank

    Radius is another online banking and lending company, and if you can’t qualify for its regular checking products, you might consider its Essential Checking option. 

    The account is available to customers with ChexSystems records and other negative factors, and you can upgrade to a cash back Rewards Checking account after a year of positive banking history. Like other virtual banks, Radius offers neat add-on features including a built-in budgeting program and regular spending analysis, plus you can make transfers and pay bills online.

    Note, however, that Essential Checking customers are limited by daily debit card caps, which are gradually lifted over time. When you first open your account, you’ll be able to spend no more than $250 per day, regardless of transaction type (ATM withdrawal, mobile wallet payment, etc.), a limit that goes up to $500 after a month.

    Monthly Fee: $9

    Minimum Opening Deposit: $10

    How to Tell if You’re on the ChexSystems List

    Not sure if you’ve got a bad ChexSystems record?

    Just as with your credit report, you have a legal right to a free copy of your ChexSystems report once per calendar year, thanks to the Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act.

    Requesting your report is easy and can be done online, over the phone, or even by fax or mail. For full details, head directly to the ChexSystems website

    If you see any errors, file a dispute as soon as possible — but even if you’ve got a real-deal mar, take heart: Most items fall off in five years, and in the meantime, you still have banking options.

    Jamie Cattanach’s work has been featured at Fodor’s, Yahoo, SELF, The Huffington Post, The Motley Fool and other outlets. Learn more at www.jamiecattanach.com.

    This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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    Don’t fear the ring.

    Debt collector calls can be scary and intimidating — the callers are trained to convince you to pay off your debt as quickly as possible. But what if you’re unsure of whether you even owe the debt or you think they are scams?

    You’re not the only one confused or annoyed by the calls. Debt collection complaints claimed the #2 spot on the Federal Trade Commission’s list of consumer complaints in 2018 after topping the list for the previous three years.

    However, to save yourself additional stress — along with your money and your credit score — you’re better off answering the phone and opening a line of communication with the collection agency, according to Bruce McClary, vice president of communications for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling in Washington, D.C.  

    “Their efforts to collect the debt will continue regardless of whether you talk to them or not,” McClary said. “It’s better to have a conversation and know what their next steps are going to be rather than guess… and proceed based on the hope that they’re not going to escalate the account or take some type of legal action.”

    But if you’re unprepared, a conversation on the phone may leave you flustered — and without any proof of what was discussed. Although email may seem like an easy alternative for dealing with the situation, many financial institutions won’t accept electronic communications.

    One way to press the pause button on their aggressive tactics? The U.S. Mail — specifically, you can request that the debt collector send you a debt validation letter. Here’s how.

    What Is a Debt Validation Letter?

    Third-party debt collectors are required by law to send a debt validation letter to you upon request. The letter must include how much you owe, who you owe it to and what action you can take.

    A debt validation letter is a legal document outlined in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), a 1977 federal law that provides consumers with legal protection from abusive debt collection practices. The act requires debt collectors to identify themselves and to validate the amount of the debt at the consumer’s request.

    Requesting a debt validation is part of the law’s 30-day timeline. Here’s how to follow it to ensure you’re protected.  

    When to Ask for a Debt Validation Letter

    detail of a man's hand writing a letter

    The first call from a debt collector — even if you let it go to voicemail — starts the 30-day clock for your protection under the FDCPA, so it’s in your best interest to respond promptly.

    Debt collectors are not permitted to leave a message with any information beyond the account holder’s name and the collector’s contact information, so it’s up to you to ask for details, according to McClary.

    If you’re too afraid to even pick up the phone, here are five ways to deal with debt collectors.

    Pro Tip

    Depending on your state, after anywhere from three to 10 years of no payments or activity, a credit card debt is considered past the statute of limitations, meaning you can’t be sued for it.

    When you call the collection agency, remain calm and do not provide personal information like your social security number. If the debt collector states inaccurate information — like the account holder has a different last name than you do — do not give them your correct name.

    “Sometimes less is more, especially with a debt collector that you may be unsure of,” McClary said. “You don’t want to volunteer any personal identifying information that would make it easier for a scammer who may be posing as a debt collector to steal your identity or to fraudulently use existing accounts that you have.”

    Instead, you should request the caller’s name, company, mailing address, phone number and professional license number (depending on your state, the official government website can provide debt collection licensing and bonding requirements).

    To ensure you receive the proper documentation, you should request a debt validation letter from the collector in any of the following situations, according to McClary:

    1. You don’t recognize who the debt collector is.
    2. The debt collector’s information about the debt conflicts with your records of the debt.
    3. The debt may be old enough to be beyond the statute of limitations — also known as “zombie debt” because if you make a payment on it, it restarts the statute of limitations and you’re required to pay it again.
    4. You believe the collection attempt may be a scam.
    5. The account in question is not yours.

    Most collectors send written notification of the debt within five days of an initial call, but it’s your legal right to request a validation of the debt in writing.

    Debt validation letters must contain the amount of the debt you owe, the name of the creditor to whom who owe the debt and what action you must take if you don’t think it’s your debt.

    After the collector sends the debt validation letter, you then have 30 days to respond.

    What Should You Do When You Receive a Debt Validation Letter?

    When you receive the debt validation letter, review the amount and original collector for accuracy. The written communication is also your chance to investigate the debt collection agency for its legitimacy.

    It might only take a Google search to discover the caller is a fraud, but you can also contact the original creditor to ask who has been assigned to collect your debt. Additionally, check with your state’s attorney general or department of consumer affairs to find out if there are any complaints against the company.

    Pro Tip

    Scammers will pressure you to pay by money transfer or prepaid card, because these payment methods may be untraceable.

    If you’re unsure that the debt is even real, you can get a free copy of your credit report to review it for incorrect or outdated info and contact the original creditor to confirm the amount.

    Once you have your facts, you’re ready to write your response, known as a debt verification letter. If you sent a verification letter within the 30-day time period, an agency must cease collection activity until it sends you a verification of the debt or a copy of a court judgment.

    You don’t need any fancy letter-writing skills to craft a response — in fact, we have a helpful debt verification letter template to dispute any inaccuracies or outdated info.


    And if the company refuses to send a written notice but continues to harass you with phone calls, you should submit a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the FTC your state’s attorney general and the Better Business Bureau. There’s a good chance you’re not the only victim of their illegal tactics.

    And that’s further proof that a debt validation letter puts the power in your hands.

    Tiffany Wendeln Connors is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. Read her bio and other work here.

    This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.