1. Saving on back-to-school purchases
Back-to-school shopping isn’t the “frenzied one-day spending spree” it used to be, said Kaitlyn Krasselt in USA Today. Families are expected to spend an average of $670 on school supplies, clothes, and electronics this year, but more parents “are shopping strategically online and picking up additional in-store items when necessary,” spreading out their purchases over time. For the essentials, experts say the best way to save is to avoid brick-and-mortar stores altogether and wait for Labor Day sales. In the meantime, late July and early August can be a great time to cash in on deals for classroom supplies, while big-ticket items like laptops are likely to go on sale in August, “when 62 percent of all 2013 laptop deals occurred.”

2. The risks of medical credit cards
Don’t let plastic you can use at the doctor’s office put your finances in critical condition, said Crissinda Ponder in Bankrate.com. For uninsured Americans with steep medical bills, medical credit cards may appear to be an attractive financing option for their health expenses. The cards, which can be used only for medical costs, are similar to ordinary credit cards, with minimum monthly payments, reporting to credit bureaus, and attractive signup offers. But experts say the cards should only be used as a “last resort,” because “the interest rate can be shockingly high.” Consumers should instead try to negotiate with their health-care provider to reduce their medical bills or seek financial assistance at a nonprofit hospital. If those avenues fail, it’s probably best to rely on regular plastic.

3. Don’t go broke on a gluten-free diet
A gluten-free diet doesn’t have to break the bank, said Gerri Detweiler in Credit.com. Though eliminating cheap wheat-based staples like bread and pasta can drive up your grocery bill, there are simple strategies to make a gluten-free lifestyle more affordable. First, “stop wasting food.” The average household already wastes about $2,300 in food each year. To reduce waste, buy salad greens on the stem, not pre-chopped, and store them in plastic bags with as little air as possible. Next, avoid gluten-free branded snacks, which are not necessarily healthy and are often overpriced. Finally, “make the freezer your friend.” Frozen vegetables can cost half the price of fresh ones, and buying meats when they’re on sale, and freezing them for later, can save you big bucks.

4. Saying no to LinkedIn requests
Don’t say yes to every LinkedIn request, said Quentin Fottrell in MarketWatch.com. While “Facebook may have stretched the definition of ‘friend’ to include even your second cousin’s chiropractor,” be more selective when it comes to professional networking sites like LinkedIn. The site itself suggests “that connections should be limited to people one has actual connections to,” and experts say “other users of the site may judge you by the number and quality of your connections” because they  “are seen as an endorsement and reflect on your professional reputation.” That means you should check out “would-be connections” to make sure their digital trail won’t reflect poorly on you. Avoid connecting with rival companies, and beware of LinkedIn spammers who collect connections to mine your data.

5. Get a handle on money anxiety
To tame financial stress, take a few sensible steps, said Sharon Epperson in CNBC.com. The levels of household debt many Americans carry, ranging from college loans to credit card debt to large mortgages, can lead to constant financial anxiety. But there are three guiding principles that can help reduce your money worries. First and foremost, “don’t spend money that you don’t have.” It’s the only way to keep even more debt from piling up. When you do decide to splurge, “buy experiences, not things.” Studies say spending money on vacations or restaurant dinners can often be more satisfying than material things, whose appeal quickly dwindles. Finally, do your best to sock away something each month, ideally 10 percent of whatever you earn. “Sticking to this principle early can make a great impact in overcoming financial stress.”

6. What late filers need to know
Did you miss the tax deadline? asked Blake Ellis in CNN.com. If you’re owed a refund, the good news is that “you won’t get hit with a penalty.” But for taxpayers who owe money, you’re out of luck. “By both failing to file and failing to pay on time, you will incur a maximum penalty of 5 percent for each month after the deadline.” And if you’re more than 60 days late, you’ll be fined $135 or 100 percent of the unpaid tax, whichever amount is smaller. The safest way to avoid a fine is, of course, to file on time. But if that just isn’t possible, ask the IRS for a six-month extension. Just “remember, even if you get an extension, you still have to pay 90 percent of the tax owed by the filing deadline.”

7. Beware of cards bearing gifts
If you’ve been receiving a flood of credit-card offers, you aren’t alone, said Kara McGuire in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Credit experts say card offers “are hitting the mailbox at rates not seen in a long while.” Since fewer Americans carry a credit-card balance these days, lenders are trying to make up lost profits by netting new customers and encouraging existing ones to use their cards more often. The offers are often tempting, including 0 percent balance transfers, waived annual fees, and thousands of free frequent-flier miles. “But there’s usually a catch.” If you get an offer that seems too good to pass up, read “every last bit of fine print.” Take stock of your financial situation, too, and make sure you aren’t “missing any terms or conditions that would cost” you in the long run.

8. Rules for smart renters
Before signing a lease, take care “to avoid common and costly renter’s errors,” said A.J. Smith in Credit.com. The most important—and obvious—thing to do is to read the lease. “Bring up any issues you have with the document” before you sign, and make sure you fully understand any fees and requirements. That includes policies covering security deposits deposits, utilities, neighbor disputes, pets, and roommates. Next, consider renter’s insurance, which will protect your personal property and cover you from liability if anyone gets hurt in your new place. Finally, “it’s a good idea to take photos or videos documenting the apartment’s condition and note any preexisting damage” before you move in. Your security deposit will thank you.

9. Help choosing disability insurance
If your company has ditched long-term disability insurance, don’t despair, said Ron Lieber in The New York Times. Many employers are lowering their disability-insurance payouts or leaving workers to find their own coverage. The insurance replaces some fraction of your income in the event an illness or injury prevents you from working; premiums tend to run roughly 1 to 3 percent of your annual salary. But few people give the coverage much thought, and deciding on a policy can be tough. Luckily, you can see whether disability insurance is a smart purchase for you with the help of a site called PolicyGenius.com, which aims to eliminate consumers’ confusion with an online “insurance checkup” tool that can provide quotes and clear comparisons for different types of coverage and policies.

10. Avoiding hotel scams
Beware of hotel booking sites bearing deals, said Alina Tugend in The New York Times. In what travel experts label “a systemic industry problem,” a growing number of customers are being duped “by promises of great deals” on official-looking websites. But in reality, they are being pushed to affiliate sites, incurring unwanted charges, and getting lost in a maze of fine print and Byzantine booking policies. Customers looking to book online should be “careful of what you click,” avoiding third-party sites and, whenever possible, booking directly from the hotel website. And if you need another reason to “always pay online with a credit card,” here it is: Unlike debit cards or money orders, you can dispute unwanted credit card charges before paying up.

11. How debt collectors track their prey
There’s nowhere to hide from debt collectors, said Gerri Detweiler in Credit.com. While it’s hard for just about anyone to get off the grid these days, if you’re behind on a debt, it’s all but impossible. Debt collection agencies “have many tools at their disposal” to track you down, starting with information you provided to the original lender. When that fails, debt collectors might turn to your credit report and public databases, which can provide information about other accounts, address histories, and name variations. And forget Facebook. Collectors can comb through your social media postings to get information about your income, assets, spending patterns, location, employer, even banking habits. Some firms steer clear of this tactic, “but for the moment it’s probably safe to say that anything you post is fair game.”

12. Time to prioritize your bills
When it comes to paying your bills, you’re probably doing it all wrong, said Catey Hill in MarketWatch.com. While paying your mortgage before your credit card is always smart, many Americans are still putting their car loans ahead of those debts, “a trend that’s been happening for at least a decade.” Financial planners say that’s plain backward, in part because most Americans have access to public transportation. But even when paying all your bills on time isn’t possible, savvy consumers should always put the mortgage first. When you do need a break, “call the company and ask for a payment extension.” If the first person says no dice, “ask to speak to a supervisor,” who may be able to exercise some discretion.

13. IRS revises overseas tax rules
The Internal Revenue Service is easing up on its overseas crackdown, said Brian Knowlton in The New York Times. The agency has been aggressively pursuing overseas tax cheats, but criticism that its methods “had disproportionately hurt small taxpayers guilty of innocent oversights” has forced the service to revise some of its rules. Among the changes is an expansion of the voluntary disclosure program, removing the existing $1,500 limit on unpaid taxes and empowering the IRS to determine whether or not the taxpayer’s “failure to file previously was ‘non-willful.’” Those deemed to have complied will be spared any penalties, but “anyone remaining out of compliance” could face penalties of up to 50 percent of the taxes due, nearly double the current rate of 27 percent.

14. Don’t waste a dime on old tech
If you’re looking to save money, start by ditching obsolete technology, said AnnaMaria Andriotis in MarketWatch.com. Your pay-TV subscription should be the first thing to go. More and more consumers are cutting the cable and switching to services like Hulu and Netflix, “which provide much of the same programming at a fraction of the price.” Landlines are out, too, with many users switching full time to cellphones and video-chatting services like Skype. For drivers, rather than paying $300 for a new GPS, many are relying on free map apps instead. And don’t bother with a “point and shoot” camera now that smartphones are “quickly catching up” in terms of photo quality.

15. The rules for rewards cards
Don’t forfeit your rewards, said Michele Lerner DailyFinance.com. According to a new study from CardHub, “while credit card companies provide about $48 billion in rewards each year, about one third of those rewards are never redeemed.” Some of that money is left behind by forgetful consumers, but the shortfall also has to do with the limits on how rewards can be redeemed. Common requirements include minimum spending thresholds and clauses that cause points to expire after a missed payment. If you’re shopping for a new card, remember that cash-back rewards are still best, since they “have the bonus of letting you use your rewards to pay your bill.” Lastly, be wary of deals that offer big signon bonuses and low introductory rates. The savings today could cost you rewards points down the road if you ever miss a payment.

16. Skip the holiday gift card
If you’re shopping for stocking stuffers, steer clear of gift cards, said Anthony Giorgianni in ConsumerReports.com. Recent regulations “have made gift cards safer,” but there are still “many drawbacks.” Just think of gift cards “as cash with lots of strings attached.” Some cards carry hefty fees, including purchase fees and dormancy fees. And unlike traditional debit and credit cards, gift cards carry “no right to dispute purchases made with gift cards, even if there’s an error or fraud.” Finally, if the card’s retailer goes belly up, you could end up “holding worthless plastic.” If you can’t come up with a traditional gift, “just give a check or cash, which can be used anywhere.”

17. JetBlue increases fees, adds seats
JetBlue is joining the baggage fee club, said David Koenig in the Associated Press. The airline announced last week it will create three ticket classes beginning next year and charge passengers in the cheapest class to check a bag. The two highest classes will include at least one free checked bag, with fees for additional luggage. JetBlue “declined to give a price for the bag fee,” though the carrier said pricing “would fluctuate with demand.” The move leaves Southwest as the only large U.S. airline that allows all passengers to check at least one bag for free. JetBlue will also add 15 seats to its Airbus A320 planes, increasing flight capacity to 165 from 150, and reduce average legroom from more than 34 inches between rows to 33 inches.

18. A budget for holiday spending
Don’t get stuck “with a week or two of ramen noodle dinners” in January because you overspent your holiday budget, said Maryalene LaPonsie in DailyFinance.com. The average consumer will spend $804 during this year’s holiday season, according to the National Retail Foundation, and more than a third of shoppers will go over their budget. In order to stay within your means, write down each of your holiday expenses in advance, including food costs, “the white elephant gift for the family party, the office Secret Santa exchange, and all the service workers you tip extra.” To save some dough, think of giving presents that “cost more time than money,” like knitted scarves, baking mixes, or even chores you can offer friends and family. Finally, embrace your inner Scrooge. Once you have crossed someone off your list, “it’s time to stop shopping for them.”

19. Credit scores and car insurance
Bad credit could be driving up your car insurance, said Andrea Coombes in The Wall Street Journal. A new study of five large auto insurers has found that credit history can make or break a driver’s premium, leaving motorists with no credit paying 65 percent more than those with good credit. Depending on where you live, that differential can go even higher. In Washington, D.C., drivers with no credit can pay premiums 126 percent higher than those with good credit. Drivers in California, Massachusetts, and Hawaii can rest easy—those states ban the use of credit histories to set car insurance rates. But for everyone else, the findings are another reminder to keep your credit in check.

20. So long to salary secrecy
Are workers becoming more open about their paychecks? asked Alina Tugend in The New York Times. “Discussing money, as it is often said, is the last taboo.” But thanks to a push by federal authorities for more pay equality and the rise of salary-comparing websites like Glassdoor.com, that taboo may be “on the wane.” Finding out that a co-worker is earning more might be upsetting, but pay transparency can be a good thing. “Studies show that when pay is confidential, workers often believe the salary distributions are more unfair than they really are.” And “when pay is open,” workers “can directly ask why someone is earning more and how to equalize the salaries.” Widespread transparency may be a long way off, but employees should “know they are allowed to talk about salaries and can’t be punished for it,” because of federal laws that say employers can’t forbid workers from discussing wages.

21. Check your benefits
It’s never too early to look at your Social Security statement, said Michelle Singletary in The Washington Post. “It used to be that a few months before each birthday, you would get a statement from the Social Security Administration telling you your estimated benefit.” The agency pulled the plug on paper statements a few years ago, but workers who want a peek at their future can view their statements online. The portal, at SocialSecurity.gov, requires setting up an account, but retirees “can get benefit-verification letters, change their address and phone number, and input or change direct deposit information.” For those of us who are still working, the website is a good way to make sure earnings are correctly reported.

22. Don’t raid your 401(k)
Quit treating your retirement savings like “a piggy bank,” said John Schmoll in Daily Finance .com. More and more Americans are “pilfering from their 401(k) accounts.” In 2011, American workers withdrew $57 billion from their 401(k)s prematurely—a 37 percent increase from 2003. The trend has been fueled in part by younger workers cashing out of their company-backed savings plans when they change jobs. But early withdrawals are not good. In fact, the best thing to do when switching jobs is to either open an IRA or roll your existing 401(k) into your new employer’s plan. “Not only will this allow you to avoid losing money due to early withdrawal penalties, but it will also keep the power of compound growth on your side as you build up a retirement nest egg.”

23. Planning a career change
Changing careers can be “terrifying,” but there are ways to ease the transition, said AJ Smith in Credit.com. First of all, “remember that the grass isn’t always greener,” so be sure to learn as much as possible about your new career before ditching your current one. Once you decide to move, “make yourself a good fit.” If more education or training is required, you’ll need to “look carefully at how this will affect your finances.” If possible, land a parttime job or internship “to get your feet wet” while you’re still employed, and “get that added degree or certification at night or on weekends.” It’s also best to build up an emergency fund, since starting a new career may mean taking an initial pay cut or even going into debt while you hunt for a job.

24. What to know about secured cards
If you’re trying to rebuild your credit, consider a secured credit card, said Michael Estrin in Bankrate.com. “Unlike traditional credit cards, secured cards require the cardholder to put down a cash deposit that serves as collateral if the bill isn’t paid on time.” But don’t forget to read the fine print. Secured cards can carry higher interest rates, and often charge fees for exceeding the credit limit or making late payments. And keep an eye on your deposit. While some issuers will refund your down payment and convert the account to an unsecured card, others simply “close the secured account and offer the cardholder the opportunity to open a new unsecured account.” That’s good news if you need your cash back, but remember that closing accounts can also impact your credit score.

25. Letting go of landlines
Is it time to ditch your landline? asked Tara Siegel Bernard in The New York Times. The government estimates that 38.2 percent of households now do without landline phones, relying solely on wireless or Internet-based phones. But while cutting the cord might save you money, there “are some factors to consider.” When emergencies strike, traditional landlines can be more reliable than wireless phones, since it’s easier for dispatchers to pinpoint a caller’s location. Landlines also use “the old copper wire system of circuits and switches, which are generally self-powered.” Internet-powered phone services—such as Verizon’s FiOS and AT&T’s U-verse—use fiberoptic lines, which can fail when the power goes out. And contracts with the “more nimble” Internet-based phone providers are not always subject to “the same regulations and consumer protections as traditional lines.”

26. New rules on mortgages
If you’re in the market for a mortgage, brush up on the rules, said Les Christie in CNN.com. New guidelines from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau went into effect last week, aiming to “lower the risk of defaults and foreclosures.” Lenders will now need to “determine that a borrower has the income and assets to afford to make payments throughout the life of the loan,” which means borrowers can expect stricter underwriting scrutiny. And since “lenders will be required to document” more information about borrowers, count on “more paperwork and longer processing times.” The new rules stipulate that “your debt-to-income ratio generally must be below 43 percent,” though banks can still give you credit if other factors, such as substantial assets, mitigate the risk of default.

27. When debt troubles surface
“If you’re in debt, you don’t get to set the repayment terms,” said Bev O’Shea in Credit.com. But that doesn’t mean there’s no room to negotiate. “Collectors are smart enough to know some money is better than no money, and their job is to get you to pay as much as possible as quickly as possible.” If you’re behind on a bill, try to work out a payment arrangement “you can stick with,” and whatever you do, “get it in writing before you pay. If the debt winds up in court, you’ll want documentation of your agreement.” Check your credit report regularly for errors, and “work toward getting your credit back on track by addressing any derogatory items.”

28. A strategy for shorter hours
There's no need to pull all-nighters, said Sue Shellenbarger in The \¥Iall Street journal. If you're good at your job, don't think you have to burn the midnight oil until your boss leaves the office. Instead, learn "to go home withour looking like a slacker." Good bosses want to be sure "their subordinates are meeting deadlines, that they can be reached when needed, and that they aren't creating extra work for colleagues." That doesn't have to mean working late. You may want to sit down with your boss to clarify that, bur come with specific examples of your great performance. It may not work: Some corporate cultures insist on long hours. Either way, "such conversations can open a dialogu~r expose a brick wall." If it's the laner, you might want to start sending out resumes.

29. How to avoid a tax audit
"Do you ever wonder how the IRS chooses which taxpayers it wants to audit?" asked Daryl Paranada in Fool.com. While individual tax audits are rare, mistakes on your tax return-such as putting down the wrong Social Security Number or fudging >- your math-are one way to "give the IRS ~ pause." Another is incomplete or missing information. If you're itemizing your deductions, don't "overstate your deductions or lie abour them. The IRS is well aware of what is outside the norm for people at your income level." And "if you do pull a fast one on the IRS, think twice before you brag abom it." The agency offers whisdeblowers a reward of up to 30 percent of the money it collects from tax evaders.

30. Tracking your FICO score
Learning your credit score just got easier, said Ann Carrns in The New York Times. Several credit-card issuers are now "providing cerrain types of free FICO credit scores to cardholders, both as an enticement to get you to open an account and as a way to educate you about what goes into your credit scorc." Discover, First Bankcard, and Barclaycard are among the first card issuers to provide free, regular credit scores to customers, bur "details of the card programs and the scores they offer vary." While these lenders all use FICO's commercial formula, they "may use slightly different data" to arrive at their scores. Nonetheless, "the free scorcs from the credit-card companies are likely to reflect the general trend of your credit profile," giving you a good idea of where you stand.

31. refunds could be delayed
If you’re expecting a tax refund next year, you may have to wait, said Laura Saunders in The Wall Street Journal. Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen suggested last week that next year’s tax season could be the most complicated ever for the IRS, thanks to dozens of expired tax provisions that Congress has yet to act upon. In years past, “late action by Congress on such provisions created problems” and sometimes delays. Among the expired provisions are “a deduction for state and local sales taxes; a tax exemption for the forgiveness of mortgage debt; a tuition deduction; [and] an enhanced break for transit commuters.” New laws that took effect this year, including the Affordable Care Act, are also expected to make the IRS’s job harder. Congress is not expected to address the expired provisions until after the midterms.

32. Mortgage rates keep falling
Now may be the time to refinance your mortgage, said Marcy Gordon in the Associated Press. Mortgage rates have fallen for five straight weeks, with the nationwide average for a 30-year mortgage falling to 3.92 percent, the lowest level since June 2013. The average rate for a 15-year mortgage fell to just 3.08 percent. Many lenders and borrowers had assumed that mortgage rates “would soon start rising closer to a two-decade average of 6 percent,” but volatility in the markets has compelled investors to move into bonds for safety. That has pushed up prices of U.S. Treasuries and suppressed their yields, which likewise keeps mortgage rates low. Consumers who refinance won’t save much on the extra fees, known as points, that they have to pay to lock in the lower rate. Average fees for 30- and 15-year mortgages have stayed flat at 0.5 point.

33. Therapy goes high tech
A new startup its taking talk therapy to the Web, said Ann Carrns in The New York Times. Instead of “buying a self-help book and paying $100 or more for an hour of inperson therapy,” a slew of new sites and mobile apps is offering “online therapy” to help clients get help. One new service, Lantern, charges users $49 a month or $300 a year to connect clients with licensed therapists, “initially by telephone and then via secure electronic messaging.” For now, Lantern is aimed at helping subscribers with anxiety, but “programs for other concerns like sleeping and relationship problems are expected to be added later.”

34. How much life insurance is enough?
Plenty of people struggle with deciding how much life insurance to buy, said Leslie Scism in WSJ.com. Unfortunately, that means many are “underinsured or have no insurance at all.” As a rule of thumb, you should aim to buy “eight to 10 times the breadwinner’s annual income.” And don’t rely solely on a life insurance policy provided through an employer. “Most private-sector workers’ employer-sponsored policies pay just a year’s worth of paychecks,” according to a 2013 Labor Department survey. If that’s not enough coverage—and it probably isn’t—you can shop around for a basic term-life insurance plan at sites like Term4Sale. A healthy, nonsmoking 40-year-old man can get a $1 million policy for as little as $600 a year.

35. Be careful combining finances
It’s important to be aware of the potential money pitfalls of walking down the aisle, said Christine DiGangi in Credit.com. Combining finances after getting married might mean combining debt, which “may limit your financial future together,” especially when it comes to buying big-ticket items like a house or a car. Taxes can be tricky, too, and new couples should check out marriage penalty calculators online to determine whether they’ll be better off filing jointly or separately. Lastly, there’s property. Know your local law, given that nine so-called community property states say any property acquired during the marriage is owned jointly by the spouses. For couples trying to keep things separate, it’s critical to know the rules before tying the knot.

36. How to qualify for in-state tuition
Figuring out how to pay in-state college tuition for an out-of-state student “is the ultimate money hack,” said Ron Lieber in The New York Times. At desirable state universities in Michigan and Colorado, the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition now approaches $100,000 per undergraduate degree. And with more stringent residency  requirements being established to prevent people from gaming the system, it can be difficult for students to claim a new state as their home. Generally, “it takes a year and requires a child to become financially independent to varying degrees.” A new startup called In-State Angels is aiming to help students navigate the process, which varies widely by state. The company’s assistance is legal but costly: “Once the company succeeds, it asks for roughly 10 to 15 percent of the ultimate savings as a fee.”

37. Signs you should keep renting
Trying to decide whether to rent or buy? asked AJ Smith in Credit.com. While the  homeownership decision is “ultimately personal,” there are a few things to consider before taking the plunge. “If you don’t have an emergency fund yet, or if purch asing a home would drain all of your savings, you probably aren’t ready.” Besides a down payment and a mortgage, “homeownership comes with expenses” like repairs and improvements, so basic safeguards, like job security, are key. “If you are unsure whether you will have your job for the next few years, you may want to wait.” And before you rush into buying, do your research and “learn what you can about the local housing market, including the price trends, the school district, and the property taxes.”

38. Be smart with rebates
Don’t blow your tax refund, said Gene Kosowan in DigitalJournal.com. If you’re getting money back from Uncle Sam this year, be sure to “get the biggest bang out of those bucks.” The best thing to do is sock the money away in a retirement account. But if you are going to spend it, why not pay down your debt? Some experts suggest attacking high-interest debts first, but others advise taking “the path of least resistance” by prioritizing lower-rate obligations. You should also consider using part of your return to set up an emergency fund. For homeowners, investing in your property is a smart move. You’ll improve your current space and get “a higher resale price on the home once you decide to relocate.”

39. Vetting alternative funds
If your financial adviser is suggesting “alternative” mutual funds, start asking questions, said Linda Stern in Reuters.com. As “a catch-all category,” alternative funds can be slippery, and can refer to everything from “real estate partnerships to mutual funds that mimic hedge funds.” If your planner recommends one, it’s important to get a few things straight before buying in. First, ask why. Is investing in alternatives meant to “calm your portfolio during bad times or to add extra income?” Then ask how, as in “How will the fund accomplish its stated goal?” Next, “find out who the manager is and what she or he did before.” Were they a hedge fund manager? How did they do in 2008 and 2009? And lastly, check the cost. Alternative funds can be pricey, and since some advisers earn commissions for selling certain products, it’s “worth asking how much more you’ll get for your money.”

40. How to protect your credit cards
“Ever wonder how your credit card could have been used to buy cellphones in Cleveland when you just swiped it at your grocery store an hour ago?” asked Christine DiGangi in Credit.com. It actually isn’t difficult for thieves to “manufacture fake cards” with stolen data and go on spending binges. And though it’s possible that your data might be stolen by an “ATM that has been tampered with” or a dishonest restaurant server, it’s far more likely your card will be compromised “in one of those massive data breaches you’ve been reading about recently.” You can’t prevent all theft, but you’ll be more protected by using only secure payment websites, never storing payment information in your Web browser, and checking your account activity daily.

41. Avoid common investment errors
There are some mistakes that I see investors make again and again, said John Schmoll in DailyFinance.com. “Not taking an active interest in investing” is a major one. “I have seen investors lose tens of thousands of dollars” because they didn’t check on their accounts every few months. Make sure you schedule regular times throughout the year to rebalance your investments and keep an eye on fees, which can “add up to a significant drain on your portfolio.” As always, keep your portfolio balanced to avoid risk. And in your attempts to diversify, try to avoid becoming “highly concentrated” in the relatively small number of popular stocks that form the core of many mutual funds. Finally, be rational about your money. Investors who lead with their emotions can lose big money by following the herd or reacting hastily to each upswing and downturn.

42. Catching counterfeit goods online
If an online deal seems too good to be true, said Kristin Wong in Lifehacker.com, it probably is. “To avoid being scammed” by counterfeit goods, be especially cautious about buying handbags, wallets, watches, jewelry, electronics parts, and pharmaceuticals—they are some of the most commonly faked goods in the U.S. And be sure to vet sellers before you hand over any cash. Look for physical mailing addresses, phone numbers, and return policies before you click Buy, and check out a seller’s reviews before purchasing anything. And “when it comes to pharmaceuticals, it helps to confirm a seller’s affiliation with a manufacturer” so you don’t end up with fakes.

43. Is college choice important?
Your alma mater may not matter, said Mitchell D. Weiss in Credit.com. According to a new Gallup survey, while 80 percent of Americans think school choice is either “very” or “somewhat” important “when it comes to finding well-paying employment,” employers don’t always agree. “Of the 623 business leaders who were also surveyed, only 9 percent responded that where a job candidate earns a degree is very important, while 37 percent said it is somewhat so.” And as college tuitions continue to rise, “that’s good news for students and their families” feeling increasingly stressed by education expenses at brand-name schools.

44. Rethinking Roth IRAs
It may be time to rethink your Roth IRA, said Dan Caplinger in DailyFinance.com. While paying taxes up front on long-term savings may protect you from higher rates in the future, that benefit could come at “too high” a cost for many taxpayers. For instance, Roth IRAs are a good choice for workers “who are just getting started and are in low tax brackets,” since they’ll pay a lower tax rate on their savings now and get to withdraw their money tax-free later. But savers in the prime of their career who are currently getting taxed at high rates would be better served by the tax break they can get now with pretax contributions to IRAs or 401(k)s. And if your employer offers a 401(k) plan with matching contributions, that will help you build up your nest egg faster than contributing to a Roth on your own.

45. The ‘new math’ of car leases
When you’re shopping for a car, does it make more sense to buy or lease? asked AnnaMaria Andriotis in The Wall Street Journal. Many “automobile-makers are trying to make leasing a new car more appealing by lowering the cost of monthly payments,” which could translate to “significant savings” over the course of a standard three-year lease. But there are some significant pitfalls to be wary of. While leasing has become increasingly popular lately, it “makes less sense if you are looking at a brand that doesn’t retain its value,” if you are likely to exceed the mileage limit, or if you “plan on owning a car long-term.” But leasing may be worthwhile for drivers who are looking to frequently upgrade to new cars, which should also save on the cost of maintenance “since new cars tend to break down less often.”

46. Zombie bills can ruin your credit
Don’t let moving wreck your credit, said Gerri Detweiler in Credit.com. When you’re  witching  addresses, it’s important to make sure final or unexpected bills don’t go unnoticed. If accounts still have a balance and remain unpaid, they could go into collection and ding your credit score. To avoid that scenario, send a letter to any accounts you need to update or close and ask for a confirmation number. Remember to “check your balances the month you move, the month after you move, and six months after you move” to make sure no wayward bills or balances are lingering on your report. Monitor your credit, too, since “any unexpected drop in the score could indicate a problem.”

47. Life insurance mistakes to avoid
Common life insurance gaffes can cost you a bundle, said Hank Coleman in DailyFinance.com. For one, don’t “leave savings on the table by blindly renewing” your policies. If your insurance automatically renews, give your carrier a call to try to “negotiate a discount.” And remember to “re-examine your coverage” every few years, especially after any significant life events, such as the birth of a child, marriage, divorce, or major purchases like a new home. Finally, remember that there’s safety in numbers. “If you want a good deal on products and services, life insurance included, you need to get multiple quotes.” That includes premiums, but also benefits. “Read all of the clauses in your policy” and “understand exactly which perils” the insurance will cover. “While price of the premiums may be the same among many policies, the terms and clauses may be the differentiating factor.”

48. Using rewards cards responsibly
If you use credit cards to rack up rewards, beware, said Kristin Wong in Lifehacker.com. Many cards offer “great incentive programs,” but the rewards game can be “like playing with fire,” especially if you use the cards to pay for everyday expenses. Opening a new card can shave a few points off your credit score, but so can closing one, since it reduces your debt-to-income ratio. A better approach “is to leave the card open and simply not use it after you’ve earned whatever sign-up bonus it offers.” For heavy rewards cards users, the best way to protect your score is to pay the cards in full every month and never pay interest. Stick to your budget and never “use rewards as an excuse or reason to spend more.”

49. Save money on winter heating
“Americans could save a fortune this winter, if only they understood their thermostats,” said Chris Mooney in WashingtonPost.com. Residential thermostats control an incredible 9  percent of all U.S. energy use, but even though money-saving programmable thermostats have been available for decades, only about 3 in 10 households have them installed. And many of those consumers “just don’t understand how to use” them. Thankfully, the latest generation of smart thermostats moves “beyond the realm of merely ‘programmable,’” automatically adjusting to a homeowner’s location. Honeywell’s Lyric thermostat, for instance, can be operated remotely from your phone, and Google’s Nest “‘learns’ your behavioral patterns—and selfprograms to save you energy.”

50. Year-end tips for retirement savers
Before we ring in the New Year, “retirement savers of all ages need to check their to-do lists,” said Mark Miller in Reuters.com. If you’ve already retired, make sure you take your required minimum distribution, which must be taken from all retirement accounts starting at age 70 and a half. “It’s important to get this right: Failure to take the correct distribution results in an onerous 50 percent tax—plus interest—on any required withdrawals you fail to take.” If you are near retirement, “consider moving part of your annual contribution” to a Roth IRA. Your aftertax savings will then grow tax free. And if you are young, make a resolution to increase your 401(k) savings for 2015. “Getting an early start is the single best thing you can do” for your future.

51. A safe, global portfolio
“Foreign stocks are in the red this year,” said Jason Zweig in WSJ.com, so it’s no surprise that many investors have pulled their money out of international-stock mutual funds in recent months. But “there are plenty of reasons for U.S. investors to hold foreign stocks.” For one, they can be “an effective hedge against a rise in U.S. interest rates.” You’ll also get more bang for your buck overseas, since “U.S. stocks have become much more expensive than those in the rest of the world.” For a safe international exposure, consider an exchangetraded fund like Schwab International Equity or Vanguard Total International Stock, both of which charge low fees. “Or you can opt for a low-cost mutual fund that also spreads its bets widely outside the U.S., such as Fidelity Diversified International.”

52. Deciding to retire early
Stocks have been on a tear, said Liz Moyer in The Wall Street Journal, and the five-year bull market has allowed many investors to “at least ponder the possibility” of retiring early. But there are some important questions to ask before you cash in your nest egg ahead of schedule. First, have you saved enough? The market will inevitably dip, so it’s important to “discount the current value of your portfolio” to account for future drops in the market. Retirement also means lifestyle changes, including learning to live on a leaner budget. Drawing on other accounts—like 401(k)s, IRAs, or Social Security—ahead of selling assets can make your money last longer. Finally, have a backup plan prepared. “Retirement isn’t for everyone,” and “resting early could leave you bored and restless.”

53. When to buy a new car
When is the right time to spring for new wheels? asked Gerri Detweiler in Credit.com. With the average car payment hovering around $350 a month, buying a new car is “not a decision to be taken lightly.” So before you head to a dealer, make sure the time is really right. Safety is first on the checklist. If your vehicle isn’t safe, or you fear it will break down and leave you stranded, it’s time for something more reliable. “Keep the hassle factor in mind as well.” If your car is racking up repairs, replacing it may be a better option for your budget. Finally, check that it fits your lifestyle. A new job or growing family could mean your current car no longer makes sense.

54. Beware of debit cards on campus
Debit card fees are the latest “campus peril” for college students, said Kelley Holland in CNBC.com. A new report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has found that debit card issuers are frequently charging “hefty overdraft fees,” which “are hitting Millennials and college students especially hard.” That’s because debit cards are increasingly replacing credit cards on college campuses, partly because schools “have lucrative deals with outside companies to provide the cards in exchange for payments to the schools.” And while those products aren’t always a bad deal—many of the fees are “roughly in line with those of competing banks”—it’s still “important for students to make sure the card their school offers is the best one for them.”

55. Purchases that turn into savings
Sometimes you have to spend money to make money, said Meg Favreau in USNews .com. While frugal shoppers might fret over purchases, some can actually save money in the long run. If you live in an area where it’s feasible to forgo a car, buying a bike or transit pass will save thousands in car expenses each year. And with monthly cable bills averaging around $123, a one-time investment in a TV-streaming device like Apple TV, Roku, or Amazon Fire can add up to thousands in annual savings. For caffeine addicts, an espresso machine is a smart buy. While one “can cost anywhere between $100 and $1,200,” the initial investment will pay off down the road. Just think: “If you buy a $4 latte 250 days of the year, that’s $1,000,” and you still won’t have coffee on weekends.

56. How to build a college fund
If you’re planning to send a child to college some day, start saving now, said Dan Caplinger in DailyFinance.com. One of the best tools for building a college fund is a tax-advantaged 529 plan, which allows you to put away cash “on a tax-deferred basis, meaning that even if the investments you select pay interest, dividends, or other forms of income, you won’t have an immediate tax bill.” And if the money pays for educational expenses—tuition, fees, or housing—even the withdrawals are tax-exempt. Contribution limits vary from state to state, but most 529 plans have caps of between $235,000 and $400,000. That’s enough to “give most families all the flexibility they need to save for their children’s college education.”

57. Protect yourself from cybercrime
Your PIN isn’t the only number you need to keep safe, said Adam Levin in Credit.com. These days, data breaches are a “certainty in life.” But credit card numbers, email addresses, and passwords aren’t the only things hackers are “gunning for.” Phone numbers, significant dates—like birthdays and graduation dates—Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, and even IP addresses can all be exploited by identity thieves. The best defense is to avoid posting sensitive data online whenever possible. But as cybercrime becomes a fact of life, “the smartest thing you can do is assume the worst” and be vigilant about monitoring your accounts, bank statements, and credit reports for signs of fraud.

58. Too many choices
Are your investment options overwhelming you? asked Carl Richards in The New York Times. The sheer number of available choices for parking your cash can make your head spin. There are almost 25,000 investment options among mutual funds and exchangetraded funds alone. “Realistically, you could spend your entire life looking for the perfect investment.” Don’t drive yourself crazy; just “use a broadly diversified, low-cost index fund” and call it a day. Excessive choice can be a paralyzing trap in any financial scenario, whether you’re buying a house or a new insurance policy. “We could spend the rest of our lives researching an ever-increasing number of choices and searching for perfect, but to what end? We have better things to do.”

59. Canceling a gym membership
Consider “getting off your gym’s financial treadmill,” said Lindsay Gellman in The Wall Street Journal. “If the gym is shrinking your bank account but not your waistline—and you don’t see that changing anytime soon—it might be time to cut ties.” But leaving your gym can be tricky. Some clubs charge termination fees, though many will waive them “if you’ve moved away, been injured, or are similarly unable to use the gym as before.” You may need to provide proof of your new address or a doctor’s note, so check the club’s policy. If you’re taking a temporary break, “some gyms offer the option to freeze your membership for a period,” which will suspend your access privileges—but also your dues—“though there may be a nominal fee.”

60. Safeguard your card data
You have to work harder to make your credit card payments safe, said Byron Acohido in USA Today. “The U.S. stands alone as a modern nation that continues wide use of magnetic striped payment cards.” Other nations long ago switched to chip-embedded cards, which are difficult to counterfeit. While U.S. businesses are slowly shifting, “magnetic striped cards aren’t going away anytime soon,” so you have to protect yourself. Start by having your card issuer set up behavioral alerts, which flag suspicious transactions based on your previous purchasing history. And avoid linking your debit card to your savings account to “reduce your risk profile.” Of course, plastic isn’t the sole risk: Mobile payments are becoming more popular, but they increase the number of “access points” through which attackers can steal your data.

61. Save on your cable bill
Quit overpaying for cable, said Charles Passy in MarketWatch.com. Believe it or not, cable bills “can be easily bargained down with a relatively quick call to a customer service rep.” If you’re digging for a discount, many providers “will offer you a deal—typically, a lower bundled price or free extras (like a movie channel)—that’s good for half a year.” Their hope is that you’ll forget when the six months are up, but you can always call back to try to renew the deal. And pay attention to the competition. “You’re more likely to make an effective case if you can quote a promotion you’ve been offered by a competing company.” And “if at first you don’t succeed,” call back. “A different customer-service rep may be authorized to offer a different deal.”

62. A better bead on debit cards
Finding the best deal among prepaid debit cards can be a hassle, said Ann Carrns in The New York Times. It’s often “difficult to determine just what fees the cards charge and what terms they offer.” Each company seems to have a different fee structure, charging for everything from registering for the card in the first place to reloading it and even calling customer service. In a bid to bring more transparency to prepaid cards, the Pew Charitable Trusts is promoting “a simple, uniform disclosure box that card issuers can use to help consumers compare card fees and terms.” So far one bank—JPMorgan Chase—has pledged to adopt the new format for its Liquid prepaid card beginning this spring, and Pew hopes others will follow suit.

63. The upside of investing abroad
Are U.S. stocks really “safer” than those in foreign countries? asked Brett Arends in The Wall Street Journal. Though stock markets in emerging countries “have been in turmoil lately,” broadening your portfolio might not be a bad idea. No market provides “the best return in all periods,” so the best place to park your money can vary over time. A smart strategy is keeping a “balanced global portfolio and then adjusting it roughly annually.” One expert suggests splitting up your investments equally across several low-cost funds tracking five major indexes: the S&P 500, London’s FTSE 100 index, Europe’s Euro Stoxx 50, Japan’s Nikkei 225, and the MSCI Emerging Markets index. If rebalanced periodically, this portfolio “beats a traditional portfolio by a significant margin over time,” says investment manager Joachim Klement.

64. The value of vacation days
Don’t bother burning the midnight oil, said Bob Sullivan in Credit.com. While it’s no surprise that American workers often leave vacation time on the table, a new study from the U.S. Travel Association found that clocking more hours at the office isn’t likely to pay off. In fact, “workers who left 11 to 15 days unused during a year were 6.5 percent less likely to receive a raise or bonus than those who used all of their vacation days.” And if you need more motivation to cash in those unused days off, consider this: A separate report from audit firm EY suggests there’s value in heading for the beach. For every 10 vacation hours an employee takes, EY found, annual performance review scores increase 8 percent.

65. AT&T’s not-so-unlimited data plans
The feds say AT&T’s unlimited data plans come with a catch, said Edward Wyatt in The New York Times. The Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit against the telecom giant last week, accusing it of misleading customers by slowing the connections of people with unlimited plans after they used more than 2 gigabytes of data in a month. The FTC said 25 percent of AT&T’s 14 million unlimited data plan customers have been affected since 2011, and that in some cases, downloads were slowed by as much as 95 percent, rendering users’ smartphones unable to access the Internet. “If you make a promise about unlimited consumer service, we expect you to fulfill those promises,” said Edith Ramirez, the FTC’s chairwoman. AT&T, which says it has been “completely transparent” with customers about the usage threshold, called the FTC’s accusations “baseless.”

66. Car loan market could stall
The auto loan industry may be headed for trouble, said Annamaria Andriotis in WSJ .com. The Treasury Department’s Office of the Comptroller of the Currency “sounded the alarm about lax car lending standards” last week over concerns about a spike in the size of car loans that banks and other lenders are writing off. The average write-off at the end of 2013 was $8,520, up 17 percent from a year prior. At the same time, the total balance of car loans that have been delinquent more than 60 days has surged past $4 billion—up 27 percent from last year. The increase in write-offs has followed “a pickup in subprime lending in the car sector,” with lenders doling out $83 billion of subprime auto loans during the first seven months of the year.

67. Saving enough for retirement
“It doesn’t take a heroic savings effort” to boost the eventual size of your nest egg, said Walter Updegrave in The Wall Street Journal. Setting aside an extra 1 percent of income each year on top of your existing savings can “appreciably boost” your retirement balance. In a recent survey of 3.5 million employees with 401(k)s, the average worker in his 20s reported saving 7.6 percent of his salary. The savings rate rose with age, topping out at 13.4 percent for workers in their 60s. If the average worker in his 20s, earning $50,000 a year, boosted his savings rate by just 1 percent on top of the age-group averages in the survey, his 401(k) balance would increase from an eventual $1.1 million to $1.2 million by age 65. Boost the savings rate another 1 percent each year, and the account’s projected value rises to almost $1.3 million at retirement.

68. The best back-to-school computer
For college-bound students, choosing between a laptop or a desktop computer can be a tough decision, said Devin Coldewey in NBCNews.com. Each option has its pros and cons. Laptops can be handy for their portability, allowing students to “type out notes in class” or “work from a coffee shop off campus.” But theft is a risk, and when it comes to storage, life span, and entertainment options, a desktop may be a better bet. Students with the means might consider both. These days, “there are inexpensive options that give you the best, not the worst, of both worlds.” A nice Chromebook laptop costs less than $200, while a decent desktop and monitor can be had for $600-$700.

69. Betting on boomerang employees
Are you interested in returning to work for a former employer? asked Alina Tugend in The New York Times. Though “there is no hard data on how frequently employers rehire workers who’ve left to go elsewhere,” experts say bringing back so-called boomerang employees is a growing trend. Thanks to social media, it’s easier for companies to keep track of former workers, and “it’s often cheaper to rehire them because firms can bypass the search process.” Plus there’s less risk, since “employers know what they’re getting.” But there are pitfalls, and experts say potential boomerangs should consider carefully why they left in the first place. If you had a rocky relationship, were underpaid, or lacked growth opportunity, “there is no guarantee” those problems will be resolved.

70. The best time to book flights
When it comes to booking a flight, timing is everything, said the Associated Press. Airfares today “fluctuate so frequently” that many vacationers simply don’t know if they’re getting a good deal or not. Luckily, travel site CheapAir.com has crunched the numbers, and according to its data, 54 days in advance is generally the ideal time to book domestic flights. But other factors can change the equation. For instance, “airfares to popular destinations tend to go up sooner,” which is why the website recommends a “prime booking window” of 29 to 104 days before departure. For holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, five or six months out is a good rule of thumb. But when it comes to bargain international rates, “forget about it.”

71. Prioritizing student loans
Put the student loan bill aside, said Gerri Detweiler in Credit.com. While many college graduates “may think it wise to do everything you can to pay off your student debt as fast as possible,” paying down debt faster isn’t always “the smartest move.” As long as you maintain timely payments, student loans “will likely be a plus” for your credit score. So before “throwing all your available funds” at your loans, start building an emergency fund. That will help you “in a pinch” and also ensure that “you’ll be able to make the minimum payments on your debts and maintain a good credit rating no matter what life throws your way.” And if your employer matches retirement contributions, make sure to use your available cash to max out your 401(k).

72. How to stick to a budget
There are some tricks to staying on a budget, said Sabah Karimi in USNews.com. While keeping your spending in line can be challenging, you can “adopt habits that will make you more mindful about your spending choices and shopping routine.” The first tip is to “always shop with a list,” which will help you prioritize purchases and alert you to unnecessary expenditures. Next, keep a daily log of everything you buy, which will help you keep track of your spending habits. And whenever possible, keep your debit or credit card in your wallet. “Shopping with cash can make it easier to manage your budget and be more mindful about how much you spend.” By only spending “dollars you can see,” you’re more likely to become “more cognizant about your purchases.”

73. Target’s credit card gaffe
Stay focused if you did any holiday shopping at Target, said Gregory Wallace in CNN.com. The big box retailer suffered a pre-Christmas hacking scandal in which credit and debit card data from 40 million accounts was stolen from its computers. The purloined data includes names, card numbers, expiration dates, security codes, and encrypted PINs for millions of customers who shopped between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15. If that could be you, look for a notice from Target, which is offering compromised customers free credit monitoring, a telephone hotline, and storewide discounts. Monitor your statements vigilantly for unauthorized transactions, and call Target, your bank, and your credit card company if you see any. In the meantime, “request a replacement card—if one isn’t already on the way—and change your PIN.”

74. Tips for preparing your 2013 return
Tax season is approaching quickly, said Beth Braverman in TheFiscalTimes.com. The IRS will begin accepting 2013 tax returns at the end of January, so “now’s the time to start thinking about and preparing” your annual paperwork. To avoid costly tax mistakes, start by putting down the pen and paper. The roughly 20 percent of filers who still fill out their returns the old-fashioned way are “much more likely to introduce math errors or simple mistakes.” If you hire a tax preparer, “look for someone who’s either a certified public accountant (CPA) or an enrolled agent (EA).” And don’t drag your heels if you’re eager for your tax refund. “Early filers get their refunds more quickly than laggards; plus, starting early gives you a time cushion if you discover missing documents or need to verify information.”

75. Cleaning up your c redit score
A bad credit score can cost you, said Kelley Holland in CNBC.com. Experts say that a poor credit rating can cause a consumer’s interest rates to soar, adding tens of thousands of dollars to the cost of mortgages and other big loans. In fact, “a truly low score can make it impossible for you to obtain credit at any rate.” Insurance companies can refuse to issue policies, and employers still use credit scores to evaluate job applicants. To clean up your score, start by obtaining a copy of your own credit report. Write to the credit bureaus to correct any errors, and improve your financial habits. Pay bills on time, don’t carry a balance, and use no more than 30 percent of your available credit.

76. Personal loans go online
Need a loan? You might want to consider a peer-to-peer lending site, said Ann Carrns in The New York Times. Several new sites, including Prosper, LendingClub, and Karrot, offer loan seekers an online alternative to banks and pricey payday lenders by bringing together “borrowers who need financing and investors who have cash to lend.” The sites offer loans up to $35,000 with fixed interest rates, ranging from just over 6 percent to 35 percent, for terms of either three or five years. But consumers should keep in mind that these startups are aimed at “borrowers with credit scores that are considered prime,” or at least 640. Origination fees of 1 to 5 percent may also apply, and like most lenders, these companies report your record to the credit bureaus. “While the peer-to-peer label may suggest a friendlier approach,” you still need to take your payment deadlines seriously.

77. Tax credits for college grads
Recent college graduates would be wise to study up on tax breaks, said Daniel Huang in The Wall Street Journal. There are a number of “money-saving features in the tax code” that can offer them serious savings. Filers paying interest on student loans, for instance, may qualify for a deduction of up to $2,500. For those still in school, the lifetime learning credit “works as a ‘nonrefundable’ dollar-for-dollar reduction of one’s tax bill,” up to $2,000. And for grads who are relocating for a new job, some moving expenses can be written off as a deduction, though “the details can be tricky—and those taking it must meet stringent conditions imposed by the IRS.”

78. How to survive between jobs
If you are close to retirement age but between jobs, think twice before tapping into your retirement savings, said Liz Weston in Bankrate.com. Once older workers lose a job, they “tend to be unemployed longer than younger workers” and must often take a pay cut to find a new gig. If you do decide to withdraw some of your savings, calculate the withdrawals carefully. It’s best to choose more conservative withdrawal rates, because if new work doesn’t come along as fast as you hope, you might otherwise “put a major dent in your savings.” A good approach is to withdraw 3 percent of your total portfolio in that first year. That could translate into “a big cut in pay, yes, but it may be enough for you to live comfortably while you look for either parttime or full-time work.”

79. Insurance you don’t need
Sometimes it makes sense to skimp on insurance, said Aaron Crowe in DailyFinance.com. “You could almost insure every step you take in life,” but that doesn’t mean you should. Getting life or health insurance is a no-brainer. But in other cases, it might make more sense to start an emergency fund instead. Buying rental car insurance from the rental agency is often redundant—and expensive—since your credit card or auto insurance may cover you anyway. And speaking of cars, if you’re all paid up on an old car, skip the collision insurance. “If a car is totaled in an accident, insurers only pay the current value of the vehicle.” If your old clunker isn’t worth much, “you’re better off putting that collision premium in a fund to help you buy a new car when you need one.”

80. The consolidation conundrum
Debt consolidation loans can be a catch-22, said Gerri Detweiler in Credit.com. They’re a helpful “lifeline” for people with bad credit, but you need good credit to get one. Lenders typically factor in how much of your available credit you use, your debt-to-income ratio, and your payment history before approval. The first step toward improving your odds is to evaluate your credit reports “to see where you stand.” Once in the market, avoid products like payday loans, which carry high interest rates, and home equity loans, which may not be helpful if your equity in the home is low. Personal loans are a good bet, but “just make sure you are dealing with a reputable company.” And if all else fails, consider signing on with a credit-counseling agency. “You’ll only have to make one payment a month to the counseling agency, which in turn will pay all your participating creditors.”

81. Count expenses like calories
Are you making a basic budgeting blunder? asked Hank Coleman in DailyFinance.com. Believe it or not, even the most diligent bookkeepers can fail to track all their expenses. And one of the trickiest things to monitor is cash, which “has a way of leaking out of your pocket. You don’t remember where it went, and it’s easy to toss or misplace receipts.” The best way to keep your spending in line is to count expenses like you would calories. That means writing every transaction down in a notebook or on a spreadsheet. Once you’ve mastered the habit and gathered enough data, “analyzing several months of bank statements will show you where your money is going.”

82. catch of co-branded cards
Steer clear of retail credit cards, said Jason Steele in Credit.com. These days, “nearly every retailer wants you to sign up for its cobranded credit card,” incentivizing sign-ups by offering discounts or interest-free financing. While “these cards can really work if you leverage the rewards and discounts,” they can also get customers into trouble if they don’t pay them off in full. So before signing up for a co-branded card, check out other options. Some banks offer even better credit financing, and some major cards offer points, miles, or cash-back rewards that dwarf retail cards’ sign-up discounts. And if you do decide to get a retail card, perhaps to purchase a big-ticket item, shop around first. Different stores may offer better promotional financing, so be sure to ask for a written application and “review the offer later at home.”

83. Protecting against lawsuits
Are your assets safe from lawsuits? asked Jonathan Clements in The Wall Street Journal. While getting sued may not be on everyone’s list of “financial fears,” the “risk can loom large” for small-business owners and the wealthy. But there are some precautions you can take. For example, small-business owners should incorporate, as that will make it “harder for creditors to take your share of the business to satisfy a personal debt.” And for wealthy individuals, consider putting your money into an asset-protection trust, where “distributions are at the discretion of a trustee, who could stop payouts” if you lose a lawsuit. Thanks to homestead exemptions, losing a legal battle won’t leave you on the street, but while some states have “robust” protections, “other states might protect only a portion of your home’s value.”

84. Dealing with problem employees
For bosses with subpar workers, these tips may help get them motivated, said Will Yakowicz in Inc.com. First, “don’t wait.” Experts say “underperformance is like an infection,” and a good boss must “treat it and help it heal, or else it will spread.” The key is to identify “specific improvements and goals” and create a framework for how to achieve them. “Agree on measurable actions and start tracking their progress,” but be realistic and “make sure you give ample time.” Finally, follow up. For workers who “turn their performance around, you should reward them.” But if improvement is nowhere in sight, it may be time to cut your losses.

85. Sprint’s half-off bills
Sprint has “kicked the wireless industry’s price war up a notch,” said Ryan Knutson in The Wall Street Journal. The carrier said last week it will let AT&T and Verizon subscribers pay half what they currently pay “in perpetuity if  they switch from those carriers.” The half-off Sprint plans “would offer unlimited text and talk and however much data the subscribers were buying” from the rival telecoms. While there’s plenty of fine print—customers must turn in their old phones and buy new ones, for example—the move signals how desperate the country’s third-largest carrier is to “add subscribers after years of losing customers and money.” It also “ratchets up the pressure” on other carriers to slash prices and offer promotions of their own.

86. Resisting retailers’ credit cards
Don’t let yourself get bullied into opening a store-branded credit card you don’t need this holiday season, said John Wasik in Forbes .com. Retailers push these deals a lot this time of year and sweeten the sign-ups with discounts, betting that “many of us can’t resist this chance to save money.” But nearly half of consumers say they later regret their decision to open store cards. That’s no surprise, since the cards carry fees and interest rates that are often higher than those of ordinary credit cards, “so whatever money you would’ve saved on a purchase is consumed in interest on your monthly balance.” When considering a store card, stick to retailers where you shop “on a regular basis” and don’t open one if you plan to apply for a mortgage or car loan in the next six months. You can also compare retailers’ offers at Credit.com.

87. The drawbacks of mobile deposits
Depositing a paper check via a smartphone has become “one of the most popular features of mobile banking,” said Ann Carrns in The New York Times, but there are a few downsides. Some banks, for instance, don’t allow immediate access to the funds or cap how much you can deposit as a way to limit fraud. While such fraud is rare, it can be a headache. Consider endorsing your checks with the phrase “for mobile deposit only,” which “helps reduce the chance that someone could—intentionally or by accident—try to cash or redeposit the check.” Be careful with the leftover paper checks, too: Consult your bank’s rules about how long to keep them after making a mobile deposit, and put them in a safe place to guard against loss or theft.

88. Saving on a low income
Earning a small salary doesn’t mean you can’t build a sizable nest egg, said Emily Brandon in USNews.com. Putting money in an IRA not only allows you to sock away money for retirement, but it also helps you reduce your tax bill. For instance, “a worker in the 15 percent tax bracket who contributes $500 to a traditional IRA will save $75 in federal income taxes.” Low-income workers are also eligible for the saver’s tax credit, which can be worth up to 50 percent of your retirement account contributions, depending on your salary. Roth IRAs are another good option, because they let you pay taxes on your contributions at a lower rate now instead of in the future, when a higher-paying job might place you in a higher tax bracket.

89. Mortgage mistakes to avoid
Failing to do all of your homework when you are securing a mortgage “can prove especially damaging” to your financial future, said Chris Birk in Credit.com. Before you sign on the dotted line, get a handle on your credit. Check your credit reports for errors and know where you stand, because a better credit score can help you win a better deal from your mortgage lender. Investigate whether you qualify for any federal, state, and local home-buying assistance programs, such as those for veterans or rural residents. And remember to conduct a home inspection. They “aren’t mandatory,” but you can use the results “as a pivot point to renegotiate with the seller or walk away from the deal” if there’s a problem.

90. Firing your financial adviser
Breaking up is never easy, said Liz Moyer in The Wall Street Journal, even if it’s just with your financial adviser. But sometimes, it’s the best option for your portfolio. You might need new advice, for instance, “if your income and assets grow substantially or your family goes through major events such as a divorce.” Your investments’ performance should be another key benchmark: Ask how your portfolio is doing compared with the major indexes, and don’t hesitate to demand that fees be disclosed in writing. If you do decide to fire your adviser, be a “savvy client” and take stock of your needs before hiring a new one. “Think hard about what else an adviser can do beyond choosing investments,” such as helping you “prevent rash decisions” in a downturn or sticking to long-term savings goals.

91. Rules for emergency funds
Start building up your emergency fund, said Christine DiGangi in Credit.com. “It may not be the most fun budget category,” but emergency funds are an essential part of personal finance. First off, define “emergency.” The answer “may not be the same for everyone,” but one rule of thumb is to maintain separate accounts for “income emergencies,” such as job loss, and “expense emergencies,” like paying for unexpected repairs. Financial planners suggest stashing the cash in a dedicated savings account to avoid the temptation of simply writing a check, but “if you don’t like the idea of letting money sit in a savings account,” you might consider a CD or a Roth IRA. Be wary of early withdrawal fees, but the higher yields will be a nice bonus if you don’t have an emergency after all.

92. Negotiating a debt settlement
Sort out your debts like a pro, said AJ Smith in Credit.com. While “there are countless services out there” for settling debts, “it is possible to resolve this on your own.” Begin by making a list of your creditors, and then prioritize the bills with the highest interest or smallest balances. Collectors typically won’t settle unless the account is delinquent, but “there is no guarantee they will accept a settlement even if you stop paying.” Being up front about  your inability to pay may encourage them to negotiate. Calculate the “percentage of the debts you are able to pay and the maximum you can afford,” factor in other expenses, and start negotiating with a lowball offer: 25 or 30 percent of the balance. This “sets the tone” and will help you score a more realistic settlement, ideally between 40 and 60 percent of the original debt.

93. Countering cash buyers
Don’t get beat by all-cash bidders, said Daniel J. Goldstein in MarketWatch.com. These days, all-cash deals are making the high-end housing market more competitive than ever. But for buyers who want to finance, there’s still hope. For example, some borrowers might combine “second mortgages, home-equity lines of credit, and quick closings” to get a leg up. And since many all-cash bids come from overseas, the offers “can appear and disappear.” With a big down payment and some patience, “your financing-contingent offer still might have a shot.” And recruiting an expert—such as a real estate agent or a loan officer—can help you find sellers who are more “open to accepting bids with financing.”

94. The end of free checking
The age of free checking is fading, said Chris Morran in Consumerist.com. While U.S. consumers and businesses have $1.4 trillion stashed away—more than ever—in checking accounts, banks are limiting “the availability of unconditional free checking” and tightening their requirements, making it harder for many customers to avoid fees. Luckily, “there are still plenty of free checking accounts out there, but many of them are through smaller regional banks and credit unions.” Those institutions should be rewarded for continuing to offer a service that used to be—and still ought to be—a given. Consumers can do that “by moving their money, or putting it into interest-earning accounts so that they at least get something in return for allowing the bank to use their deposits.”

95. Curb your shopping enthusiasm
Stop overspending, said Donna Fuscaldo in FoxBusiness.com. If you’re hemorrhaging cash, one way to stanch the flow is to learn to keep your spending “triggers” in check. These days, “it’s easier than ever to hop online when we’re bored.” For compulsive shoppers, that can be dangerous, since “boredom or feeling stagnant is a common trigger.” Anxiety can also cause people to stress-shop, so “try other activities like taking a walk, chatting with a friend, or organizing a closet to regain some control.” And while “the idea of having to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ resonates” with many people, such insecurity can “drain our budgets.” One way to “prevent that trigger from turning into a bingeshopping spree is to set spending limits.” Try carrying only cash so you can better “fight the urge to use” your credit cards.

96. Retiring when self-employed
Can self-employed workers ever really retire? asked Michele Lerner in DailyFinance .com. Irregular income can make it difficult for self-employed people to save, but experts  recommend they open a retirement account anyway. “You don’t have to fund it right away, but having it open will make it easier to contribute money when you do come into a windfall,” said Lule Demmissie of TD Ameritrade. Self-employed people also have a few special retirement options available to them, including SEP-IRAs, which have higher contribution limits than traditional and Roth IRAs, and Solo 401(k)s, which are ideal for self-employed workers with no additional employees.

97. How to switch bank accounts
Moving your money to a different bank “can be a huge hassle,” said Kristin Wong in Lifehacker .com. To make the process “as painless as possible,” start by finding the right bank, weighing your priorities and habits against balance requirements, fees, interest rates, and proximity to ATMs and branches. Before you close your old account, check for any unposted checks or scheduled payments to avoid incurring an overdraft fee. And don’t empty it right away. “Keep a small cushion in your old account until the transition is complete,” just in case. If you have set up automatic payments, remember to reroute them to your new account and “contact your employer and update your direct deposit info.” Once you think you’ve finished with your old bank, beware of “zombie accounts”: Some banks reopen recently closed accounts if a deposit is made, which can restart maintenance and minimum balance fees.

98. Index vs. actively managed funds
Torn between actively managed and index funds? asked Michael A. Pollock in The Wall Street Journal. The good news is you don’t have to choose. While “some investors swear” by one or the other, you can “combine the two types of funds to achieve specific purposes.” Index funds are great for broad markets over long periods, but a skilled fund manager may be better for “less efficient market areas that don’t trade as actively and are slower to react to new information.” Indexes help you cash in on market rallies, while adding “a defensively minded active fund to your index holdings” can help “dial back overall volatility.” Some of both may be best.

99. Nailing your performance review
Don’t let your annual performance review “get you down,” said Daniel Bortz in CNN .com. These meetings offer “one of the few times of the year you get to chat with your boss about your career,” and you can use them to “set the stage for a big raise or promotion.” Submit a one-page self-evaluation before the review to set a baseline, summing up a handful of your contributions. Then “request a real critique” to get some useful feedback. Unfortunately, “budgets are typically set by the time of the review,” so don’t count on a raise. But ask for “details on the salary review process to help you prep for next year.” By finding out “how and when your raise was decided and who was consulted,” you’ll have a head start for the next review.

100. A very early 529 gift
Why wait until a child is born to start a 529 college savings plan? asked Peter S. Green in The Wall Street Journal. Anyone hoping to become a grandparent one day can open a 529 to “get the savings ball rolling early.” A future grandparent who designates the beneficiary as the future parent can contribute as much as $70,000 in a single year tax free (equal to five years’ worth of contributions at $14,000). When the infant arrives, the account can be transferred into his or her name. Starting early has major benefits: A 529 plan opened with an initial gift of $14,000, five years before a child is born, funded with $500 every month, and earning interest at 3 percent compounded monthly, would yield $226,784 by the child’s 18th birthday. The same plan started at birth would yield $167,336.

101. IRA and 401(k) changes in 2015
Some taxpayers will be able to save more in their retirement accounts next year, said Emily Brandon in USNews.com. The annual limit for 401(k)s and 403(b)s has been raised by $500, to $18,000. The IRA contribution limit has been left unchanged at $5,500, or $6,500 if you are 50 or older. Savers will also soon have a new account option: the myRA, the no-fee Roth IRA accounts offered by the Treasury Department an d available later this year. The accounts are open to individuals who make less than $129,000 a year ($191,000 for couples) and are guaranteed to never lose value. And for those savers with several IRA accounts, a new rule takes effect Jan. 1 prohibiting more than one rollover from one IRA to another in any 12-month period.

102. Beware of power-sucking appliances
Don’t let “vampire appliances” bleed your bank account dry, said Catey Hill in MarketWatch.com. “Even when you’re not using electronics and appliances, they may still be sucking up energy” and costing you hundreds of dollars a year. Utility experts estimate that roughly 10 percent of the average household’s energy bill is thanks to power-sucking appliances. Flat-screen TVs are often the priciest power drain, and though it’s impractical to unplug your TV each day, one option is to buy an advanced power strip, which prevents electronics from using power when they’re not in use. At a cost of $15 to $30, the strips will “save you money in the long run.” Experts also recommend using the power strips to plug in video game consoles, cable boxes, laser printers, and small kitchen appliances.

103. The right way to rent textbooks
If the high cost of textbooks has you in a panic, consider renting, said Ann Carrns in The New York Times. The average cost of college textbooks and supplies is about $1,200 per year, but more-affordable alternatives are becoming more popular. Last semester, more than a third of students rented at least one textbook, up from a quarter a year earlier. When deciding whether to rent or buy, start by comparing prices, both at your campus bookstore and online booksellers like Chegg.com and Amazon. If you rent and are worried about late fees, text and email reminders can help you stay in the clear. And don’t forget that there are a few downsides to renting, including fees for any damage and the fact that you won’t “recoup any of your money by reselling the volume.”

104. Consolidating IRAs with a spouse
If you and your spouse are trying to merge a retirement account, forget it, said Liz Weston in Bankrate.com. Though spouses can inherit retirement accounts after a partner’s death, retirement accounts are ultimately “like credit scores. Each person has his or her own, and they can’t be merged after marriage.” But if you’re trying to make managing your retirement funds more, well, manageable, consider consolidating your family’s accounts to a single investment firm. “Not only will it be easier to manage and coordinate your investments, but some firms lower or waive fees based on how much a household has invested with them.” Vanguard, for example, waives one of its annual fees when a household has combined assets of $50,000 or more.

105. The cost of retail-branded cards
Stay away from store credit cards, said Mitch Lipka in DailyFinance.com. Though big signup discounts can make store-branded credit cards a tempting offer, a new survey released last week shows those initial savings will cost you—big time. The CreditCards.com survey found that the average retail card’s annual percentage rate was 23.2 percent—more than eight points above the average credit card’s interest rate, “and more than double what consumers with good credit can get.” That means that a cardholder with a $1,000 balance on a typical store-branded card who makes minimum monthly payments would spend more than six years paying off the debt, including $840 in interest. That’s a year longer—and more than twice as much in interest—than the same balance on the typical nonstore card.

106. The benefits of aging
There are more perks to turning 50 than just cheap movie tickets, said Lindsay Gellman in The Wall Street Journal, but surveys indicate that fewer than half of eligible seniors are taking advantage of them. Unlike their youthful counterparts, investors who have hit the half-century mark can bolster their retirement savings by making pretax “catch-up contributions” of up to $23,000 annually to their 401(k) accounts, $5,500 more than investors under 50 are allowed. Seniors can also put up to $6,500 toward an IRA, $1,000 more per year than permitted for younger investors. And while 59 ½ is typically the age at which retirement distributions can be taken without incurring a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty, workers who retire, quit, or are laid off can tap an employer-based savings plan penalty-free beginning the year they turn 55.

107. Keeping wealth in the family
While you can’t take it with you, the wealth you leave behind may not last as long as you’d like, said Beth Pinsker in Reuters.com. Studies have shown that roughly 90 percent of families with at least $5 million in investable assets exhaust their estates within three generations. The main reason, according to new research from Merrill Lynch, is that many rich families have an “unreasonable expectation of how much they can withdraw and still have the money last.” It’s partly a math problem, as estate planners often don’t account for just how big families can get by the third or fourth generation, and thus fail to adjust distributions or lower expectations. Another major problem: Later generations rest on their laurels. “To make wealth last forever,” said study co-author Michael Liersch, “you’re probably going to need future generations to replenish that wealth.”

108. Cash floods the housing market
When it comes to home buying, cash is still king, said Doug Carroll in USA Today. Allcash home purchases accounted for one third of total sales in the first quarter this year, up from 29 percent in 2012. While speculators have been paying cash to snap up homes to rent or flip in recent years, the current trend is being driven by retirees and Baby Boomers who have been put off by the challenges of today’s mortgage market. Thanks to “decades of accumulated equity,” older Americans have the funds to buy a home outright or to buy rental property as an additional income stream during retirement.

109. Cheaper deals in 2014
This is the season to seize big savings on a range of goods, said Kelli B. Grant in CNBC .com. For automakers, 2013 “was a banner sales year,” and now they’re offering low prices designed to keep competition sharp for new wheels. “Drivers are likely to see more money on the table as automakers fight for sales and market share,” with especially good deals in the offing for trucks. And if you didn’t get that electronic gadget you wanted for Christmas, now is the time to shop around. Manufacturers often roll out new models in January, and once pre–Super Bowl sales kick in, shoppers can find deep discounts. And if you’re planning a last-minute getaway, consider the Caribbean: Cruise lines and air carriers plan to add new routes this year, and fares are already falling quickly.

110. The upside of turning 50
Many of the youngest Baby Boomers will turn “the big 5-0” this year, said Carolyn T. Geer in The Wall Street Journal. If that includes you, take heart: That’s the age at which “many investors enter their peak earning years and their expenses begin to taper off.” If you fear you haven’t saved enough for retirement, “don’t panic: 50 is also the age at which you become eligible to make ‘catch-up’ contributions” of up to $5,500 a year to your 401(k) retirement funds. And there’s no need to wait until your actual birthday—“as long as you turn 50 in 2014, you can make extra contributions anytime this year.” The sooner you start, the better, since adding money into your account early in the year will give it more time to generate earnings.

111. Make the jobs come to you
Employers these days are getting more proactive about seeking out candidates, said Anne Fisher in Fortune.com. Since most high earners say they plan to stay put in 2014, “organizations that need to fill senior-level  positions will have to try harder to lure potential candidates, rather than expecting those people to apply as they did in past years,” said Shon Burton, CEO of HiringSolved. More employers and headhunters “will be using big-data-based algorithms that are both fast and cheap” to find potential hires, so if you’re interested, “spend less time polishing your résumé and getting the keywords exactly right, and a lot more time making your online signal stronger so that headhunters can find you.”

112. Preparing for higher interest rates
The balmy climate for bond investors is “about to get chillier,” said Jonathan Burton in The Wall Street Journal. The Federal Reserve is signaling that the benchmark federal funds rate, currently near zero, will soon begin to rise and could approach 4 percent by the end of 2017. As a result, bondholders should “adjust their portfolios—and expectations.” Experts say investors should keep a close eye on the pace of the rate increases. “Fast and furious will damage bond portfolios more than slow and steady.” The good news is that the Fed has hinted any rate hikes “would be incremental,” and there’s still money to be made. One option is to park your money in “more stock-like” vehicles—such as high-yield, junk, or corporate bonds—or to try “laddering,” which involves holding bonds or bond funds with staggered maturities.

113. A warmer, less-expensive winter
People across the U.S. can expect lower heating bills in the coming months, said Clifford Krauss in The New York Times. The latest forecasts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration “show much warmer weather than last winter east of the Rocky Mountains.” Roughly half of U.S. households using natural gas can expect a 5 percent drop in their gas bills, the Department of Energy said last week. Northeast residents whose homes rely on heating oil could see a 15 percent drop, while homes that heat with electricity, the norm in the South, can expect to shave 2 percent off bills. Rural and Midwestern Americans who use propane will save the most: 34 percent, thanks to both lower fuel prices and reduced consumption.

114. Help picking 401(k) investments
More than 50 million workers participate in 401(k)s, said Beth Pinsker in Reuters.com, and most of them “are not good at making their own investment choices.” Just a little guidance can make a big difference: Studies show that people who get even a little investment advice “do better than those who receive no advice.” So where can you turn? “Start with your human resources department.” You might have access to free financial advice as an addon  benefit. You can also find free help online. Sites like FutureAdvisor and Kivalia offer “detailed advice on allocating funds” and can even generate sample portfolios for your retirement plan. And what if you decide you still want to be hands-off? Your plan probably offers a managed fund that does the selecting for you.

115. Making salaries transparent
It’s time to break the salary taboo, said Claire Zillman in CNN.com. “Very few of us gab about how much money we earn with co-workers,” and about half of all workers say “discussion of wage and salary information is discouraged or prohibited by their employers or could lead to punishment.” But “salary transparency gives workers ammo to advocate for themselves” during pay negotiations and helps workers know whether they are underpaid. It can also “work to a company’s benefit,” because it encourages lower-paid workers to “strive to be more productive.” Plus, businesses are held more accountable, since such openness “demands” that they “actually have a good explanation for why one employee makes more than another one.”

116. The safest way to pay
You’ve heard it a million times: “Credit or debit?” said Kim Komando in USA Today. In the wake of data breaches at Experian and Target, there’s more reason than ever to be careful about where you punch in your PIN. Criminals have been known to install “near-invisible skimmers on ATMs,” which can steal your card and PIN information. “When you can, use ATMs in a restrictedaccess foyer” and “hold your hand over the keypad when you enter your PIN” to block any hidden cameras from recording your actions. To maximize security, pay cash for goods and services. But when convenience requires a card, opt for credit—which offers better fraud protection—over debit, especially at gas stations, restaurants, retail stores, and online outlets.

117. Keeping car insurers honest
You have to be vigilant to keep your insurance rates from climbing, said Gerri Detweiler in Credit.com. These days, “insurance companies are secretly ‘price optimizing’ customers; charging them a higher rate for no other reason than they think the customer won’t shop around for a better deal.” If your insurance rates have “been creeping up” without any specific cause, you may “have been PO’d.” To keep your premiums low, call your insurer’s bluff by shopping around. Or “better yet, shop around every time your policy comes up for renewal, even if you think you have a good rate.” Savvy shoppers can play insurers against each other and snag more favorable rates that could save them hundreds of dollars.

118. Investing in your company’s shares
Don’t put all your eggs in your employer’s basket, said Jason Zweig in The Wall Street Journal. Before you buy stock in your own company, “set your emotions aside” and carefully assess the risks. While you’re at it, look at the “tragic tales” of ex-employees of failed firms like Enron, Bear Stearns, and Lehman Brothers, “who had nearly all their retirement assets riding on those firms’ own shares.” While subsequent laws have made linking retirement plans to your employer’s stock harder, the problem “hasn’t disappeared” completely. A smart investor should remember to diversify away from company stock. Yes, you might miss out on a spectacular gain, but you also “limit the risk of being wiped out” if the company goes belly up.

119. Knowing when to buy or lease
If you’re shopping for new wheels, think carefully “before choosing a loan or a lease,” said Christina DiGangi in Credit .com. First, when it comes to monthly payments, a lease is likely to be cheaper, but if you exceed your lease’s mileage limit, that can result in fees that will effectively erase any savings. A lease can also include covered maintenance that purchases do not, but it might require a big deposit, while loans can often finance the full cost of the car. Finally, consider your usage. Leasing offers some tax advantages if you use the car for business, but buying makes more sense for a “frequent road-tripper,” whose long-haul trips could put many miles on the car.

120. Understanding overdraft protection
If you’re still confused about overdraft rules, you’re not alone, said Scott Gamm in Main Street.com. While the Credit CARD Act of 2009 required banks to stop automatically enrolling consumers in overdraft protection, many customers are still getting hit with overdraft fees. That’s because “when opening up a bank account, you’ll be swamped with papers to sign,” including the overdraft protection form. But that form isn’t worded very clearly, and the best course of action is to avoid completing it altogether. If you do sign up for overdraft protection, beware of how your institution orders transactions. If they’re processed chronologically, you should only be charged once a check or purchase exceeds your balance, but if your bank prioritizes transactions by size, you could be hit with a fee for smaller transactions even if they were executed prior to the overdraft.

121. A new way to measure your 401(k)
The way we evaluate retirement savings “is about to be turned on its head,” said Liz Moyer in The Wall Street Journal. The conventional method of assessing your 401(k), by looking at the lump-sum balance, doesn’t tell you much beyond how much you have saved and how well the market has treated your portfolio. But a new approach, called projected income, is beginning to catch on among retirement plan companies; it shows what your current balance “would pay out as income beginning at a certain age.” Supporters of the new method say it gives investors a “more concrete way to look at their savings” and could help people think twice before tapping their retirement funds early. After all, if someone who is considering cashing out a 401(k) sees how much income he can expect at 65, he might “leave the money to grow in the plan instead.”

122. Deciding between debit or credit
Does “debit or credit?” leave you stumped? asked Jeffrey Weber in DailyFinance.com. The common checkout question should be a nobrainer for responsible credit card users, who pay off their balances and earn rewards. But “for those who alternate between credit and debit cards,” there are some situations “when you should always choose credit.” That includes online purchases, since credit card fraud is easier to deal with than debit card fraud; paying for gas or hotels, where using a debit card can cause “a short-term monetary hold” that can trigger overdrafts or prevent additional purchases if your balance is low; large purchases, where credit card holders can place a stop payment on defective items; and “dubious places,” where using a debit card might risk that your data will be stolen.

123. Tipping for the holidays
“December is prime tipping time,” said Jillian Eugenios in CNN.com. But who should get what? Given how many people we rely on, the list can get quite long, with house cleaners, nannies, hairstylists, building superintendents, dog walkers, personal trainers, and school-bus drivers typical recipients. “For nannies, the recommended holiday tip is one to two weeks’ pay. For day-care workers, it’s $25-$50, plus a small gift from your child.” If you are wondering where to draw the line, “it’s simple: If you wouldn’t gift that person, don’t tip them.” And if “a cash tip isn’t possible, send a handwritten note or a homemade food item” to show your appreciation instead.

124. New rules for inherited Roths?
Be wary of bequeathing your Roth IRA to loved ones, said Andrea Coombes in The Wall Street Journal. People like using taxadvantaged Roths for bequests because there is no minimum age for distributions, so “money can sit untouched and grow tax free throughout the owner’s lifetime.” That estate-planning perk, however, might soon disappear. A proposed rule before Congress “would require Roth owners to start taking distributions at age 70 and a half,” which would diminish assets available for heirs. Another proposed change would require beneficiaries to receive funds from an inherited IRA within five years, rather than stretching out those payments over their own lifetime. Neither reform is guaranteed, but consider the impact of the changes before you make plans.

125. Don’t avoid credit cards altogether
Young people are ditching credit, said Ann Carrns in The New York Times. A new survey found that more than 60 percent of Millennials (people ages 18 to 29) don’t have a single major credit card. The shift could be the result of new regulations making it tougher for those under 21 to get credit or reluctance on the part of already-indebted young people to take on more debt. The survey also showed that Millennials were more likely than other age groups “to miss payments or pay late,” so steering clear of credit might be a prudent choice in some cases. But there is “a downside to avoiding credit cards entirely,” since a thin credit history can make it hard to get a mortgage or car loan. A good middle ground is opening a single credit card account and using it for small, affordable purchases.

126. Seniors squeezed by student debt
It’s not just recent grads who are getting hammered with student debt, said Jonnelle Marte in The Washington Post. The share of elderly Americans with student loan debt jumped to 4 percent in 2010, up from 1 percent in 2004. For most of those seniors, the debt is the result of loans they took out for their own education, including graduate school or continuing education courses. But 20 percent of seniors’ student debt comes from loans they took out for their children or other dependents. Seniors are also “more likely to hold defaulted loans than younger borrowers, making them more vulnerable to aggressive collection efforts,” including garnishments of their Social Security benefits—the primary source of income for about three fourths of single seniors.

127. How pay impacts credit
A pay cut may hurt twice, said Christine DiGangi in Credit.com. While “income isn’t reported to credit bureaus,” the size of your paycheck “can still have an impact on your credit standing.” For starters, your income will affect your ability to make loan payments and determine how much total debt you actually have. And while your salary isn’t factored into your credit score, “it’s often part of a credit application,” with some lenders setting standards for debt-to-income ratios beforetaking on a customer. If your cash flow does change, the first thing you need to adjust is your budget. And be sure to pay “extra attention to your bank accounts,” and limit your credit card purchases to correct your spending habits and protect your credit.

128. Keeping car loans in check
Quit extending that car loan, said Kerri Anne Renzulli in Time.com. According to a new report by Experian, the average length of new car loans is at a record high of five and a half years. But longer loans are “costing us, big time.” Car loans of five years or more may require lower monthly payments, but that only means you are paying more interest over time. And since cars are depreciating assets, longer loans work against you by limiting your equity in the car even as it loses value. The best way to save on monthly costs is to put more money down and reduce the amount you need to finance. When negotiating, try to be armed with rate quotes from outside lenders, which may encourage car dealers to improve their financing offers.

129. New rules for inherited IRAs
Beware of bequeathing your IRA, said Dan Caplinger in DailyFinance.com. The Supreme Court issued a new ruling last week that changes the game for inherited IRAs. The decision “drew distinctions between one’s own retirement accounts and those inherited,” making the latter fair game for creditors seeking to collect on the deceased’s debts. Surviving spouses can still roll inherited IRAs into their own accounts, but for other heirs, the impact could be huge. Individuals who plan to bequeath “substantial amounts in IRAs” should consider making serious changes to their estate planning, “establishing trusts to receive inherited IRA money rather than leaving it outright to your heirs.” But be careful here, too, since the wrong terms can “reduce or eliminate the ability to stretch out IRA distributionsand preserve tax benefits.”

130. Buying stock where you work
Should you invest in your employer? asked Chris Seabury in Yahoo.com. There is no simple answer: Buying stock in the company that signs your checks “has benefits and drawbacks that differ from investing elsewhere.” As an employee, you may get a discount on the stock’s price, and you may have better knowledge than the average investor of the company’s performance. The pitfall, of course, is that if the firm runs into trouble, “you might have to face the risk of both unemployment and a decline in the stock.” Experts suggest capping your investments in company stock at 5 to 10 percent of your overall portfolio. And as you get closer to retirement, minimize risk by reducing “your allocation even more.”

131. Payback for home equity loans
If you have an open line of home equity credit, brace yourself for higher payments, said Lisa Prevost in The New York Times. These loans “were aggressively marketed from 2004 to 2007, and now the bills are coming due” as the typical 10-year breaks on paying back principal expire. Experts suggest that this is a good time to review the terms of your equity line. If you have doubts about being able to make the higher payments, explore your options with the lender. If there’s equity in your home, you can refinance the loan; if not, ask the lender for a forbearance plan. “All lenders will look at this differently from the perspective of the borrower’s situation,” said mortgage consultant Allen Jones. “But it starts with the borrower understanding where they are.”

132. Are platinum cards worthwhile?
It may be time to cut up the platinum credit card, said AJ Smith in Credit.com. While such sought-after cards offer “major perks for cardholders,” they’re not for everyone. The first thing to consider in deciding to go platinum is your debt level. Customers already in debt should avoid these cards and look instead for products with lower interest rates. If you’re a debt-free frequent traveler, however, a platinum card might be a smart option. They often offer airline perks, including points, rapidly accumulating miles, rebates, access to airport lounges, and special upgrades and amenities at hotels. And for big purchases, platinum cards can offer “longer coverage for purchases that are fraudulent, damaged, or lost”—features that could make a premium card’s annual fee worth it.

133. Outsmarting car repair cheats
Don’t get conned by your mechanic, said Charles Passy in MarketWatch.com. If you feel you’ve been hit by one car repair “horror story after another,” you’re hardly alone: 27 percent of Americans have some gripes with their mechanics, according to Consumer Reports. But there are ways to “get repair work done for less (and done right, I should add).” Recommendations from friends, colleagues, or relatives are best, and the Better Business Bureau and reviews on sites like Yelp.com can also offer important clues. If you get a dubious charge, don’t be afraid to question it. Mechanics who work on commission have “a strong incentive” to upsell services. “Materials” and “miscellaneous” fees, for instance, “can often be successfully challenged.” There should be no surprises: Pros say that “a reputable repair shop will often fold the fees into any estimate they provide.”

134. How much to withdraw?
Once you quit working, how much can you afford to spend? asked Adam J. Wiederman in DailyFinance.com. “It’s been a long-held rule of thumb among retirement experts” that retirees should withdraw up to 4 percent of their portfolio each year. “But the times, as they say, are a-changin’.” With low interest rates and the specter of a stock market that could stop rallying, a 4 percent withdrawal rate may be “too aggressive.” These days, it’s still “a good starting point,” but “there are many variables at play in determining what works for you,” such as the size of your nest egg, your life expectancy, and your portfolio’s growth rate. The best way to plan is to “start running different growth and withdrawal scenarios,” giving yourself time to adjust your plan for your twilight years.

135. When filing separately makes sense
For married couples, “picking the best filing status can be tricky,” said Tom Herman in The Wall Street Journal. Filing jointly is the best option for most couples, but there are some situations “where it may pay to file separately.” One is when a lower-earning spouse has big medical expenses, which can trigger a larger deduction on a separate filing. If one spouse may be “hiding taxable income, fabricating deductions or credits, or somehow lying about his/her tax situation,” the other should file separately to avoid being on the hook. And if a couple is in the process of divorcing, filing separately will help “avoid postdivorce complications with the IRS.”

136. How to research a financial broker
If you’re hiring a broker, do your homework, said Liz Moyer in WSJ.com. Troubled brokers often “cluster in communities with lots of elderly investors,” but “bad apples can be found anywhere.” To check the background of a potential broker, investors can use the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA)’s BrokerCheck tool, which provides a broker’s license status, history, and any black marks against him or her—including “regulatory proceedings, customer disputes, and settlements.” Individual states also have their own regulatory bodies with online databases, which investors can use to check whether any additional investor complaints have been lodged.

137. Beware of ‘zombie’ bills
When it comes to consumer debt, watch out for so-called zombies: “bills that cannot be killed even by declaring personal bankruptcy,” said Jessica Silver-Greenberg in The New York Times. Federal authorities say some of the nation’s biggest banks are ignoring bankruptcy court debt discharges and “forcing borrowers to make payments on bills that they do not legally owe.” The Justice Department is investigating banks, including JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America, for failing to update data for credit reports, a tactic that essentially compels borrowers to clear purged debts, since their still-tarnished credit reports prevent them from getting loans, houses, and even jobs. Banks have defended their practices in court, but the Justice Department could extract steep penalties if it determines that the institutions have violated bankruptcy law.

138. New rules for prepaid cards
Prepaid cards aren’t as safe as other plastic, but regulators hope to change that, said Kara Brandeisky in Time.com. The cards have become increasingly popular among consumers—12 percent of U.S. households have used them, including more than 25 percent of people ages 25 to 34 in the last year—but the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau believes many people don’t realize how risky the cards can be. The regulator last week proposed new rules that would require prepaid cards to carry fraud and lost-card protections similar to those of credit cards, including limiting a user’s liability for fraudulent charges on a lost card to just $50. Prepaid card issuers would also be required to send “statements about your balance, offer you opportunities to resolve errors like double charges, and disclose more information about fees.”

139. Get bank fees reversed
Stop putting up with those bank fees, said Allison Martin in Credit.com. Though it’s tempting to just “bite the bullet and pay,” it’s possible to reverse those annoying fees with a little legwork. First, make sure to “address the issue promptly.” That means calling your financial institution as soon as you spot the charge. Time your call right—“don’t wait until the late afternoon when the representatives are exhausted and their patience is thin.” When you have someone on the line, explain your case “and request a pass because of your usual stellar history.” Good and longtime customers will have an advantage, but “if the first request doesn’t work, you can always ask to speak to a supervisor, or hang up and try again.”

140. How to score scholarships
College students who need more cash are in luck, said AnnaMaria Andriotis in The Wall Street Journal. While tuitions at colleges and universities continue to rise, so does the “scholarship money being handed out by corporations, foundations, and other private-sector benefactors.” Prospective students should start their search early, using websites that can help families find scholarships for which they might qualify. Parents should also check with their employer to determine if it offers scholarships to employees’ children. Lastly, “aim high.” Though the competition for large national scholarships can be stiff, qualified applicants should give it a shot. “The payoff can make it worth the effort.”

141. Driver tracking slashes insurance costs
You can save big bucks on your car insurance—if you are willing to pay “the price of some privacy,” said Ron Lieber in The New York Times. A growing number of auto insurers, including Progressive, Allstate, and State Farm, now offer usage-based coverage, which gives drivers an annual discount in exchange for letting the companies “track every second of your driving” using a device that plugs into a vehicle’s onboard diagnostics port. The device tracks things such as driving speed, turns, and acceleration, and wirelessly transmits the data back to the insurer. On average, these programs can save drivers 10 to 15 percent off their premium, but those with privacy concerns might be leery. “One lingering worry,” for example, is the possibility of insurers adopting a “FICO-like driver score,” which could follow drivers around whenever they shop for new insurance.

142. Why investors underperform
When it comes to poor returns, investors often have only themselves to blame, said Jason Zweig in The Wall Street Journal. The average investor in all U.S. stock funds earned 3.7 percent annually over the past 30 years, but over that same period, the S&P 500 stock index returned 11.1 percent annually. Why did individuals fare so poorly compared with the overall market? “Fear and greed.” Investors tend to get nervous when stock prices dip and overeager when they surge, increasing the likelihood that they sell low and buy high, and driving their average return below that of the fund in which they’re invested. The best course? Stay the course. Think of a mutual fund as a train that runs from Chicago to San Francisco. Some people who boarded in Iowa might get off in Nevada, but only those who travel the full distance will get the full benefit.

143. The financial risks of aging
The biggest risk to your nest egg isn’t market volatility or inflation, said Howard Gold in MarketWatch.com. It’s your aging brain. One simple fact of getting older is that there is a “massive drop-off in our own capacity to manage our investments.” Because of the predominance of our frontal cortex, where cognitive functions are processed, we “get better and better at investing until we hit our mid-50s.” Beyond that, the limbic system, which regulates primal emotions like fear and greed, starts to hold sway. That shift can lead to an uptick in panic selling, like “the kind we saw in 2008–2009.” The best bet is to start planning in your 60s by shifting your investments away from alternative markets and individual stocks, and instead stick to a simpler “buyand-hold strategy.”

144. Be smart about insurance
People make irrational money decisions all the time, especially when it comes to insurance, said Jean Chatzky in Fortune. One major mistake is focusing too much on deductibles, which can artificially narrow your options. To get the best policy for your needs, sort first for benefits like preferred providers and leave the deductible comparisons to the end. And beware of bad math. Premiums are often presented in monthly or quarterly amounts, while deductibles appear as annual figures. If you don’t convert to a common increment, you may think you’re saving money when you’re not. And don’t sweat the small stuff. “If you can’t afford to replace it, insure it.” If you can, don’t.

145. Renters with bad credit
Having a high credit score is vital not only for buying a house, said AJ Smith in Credit.com. It’s “important for renting as well.” If you’re seeking a new place to stay but have bad credit, you may need a friend or family member to co-sign your lease. It’s not a favor to be taken lightly: “Adding someone’s name to your lease is a big benefit for you and carries significant risk for them,” since it makes them equally responsible for paying the rent. If that’s not an option, you can offer to provide a landlord with a larger-than-usual security deposit. Having several months’ rent in hand may allow him or her to “overlook your poor credit scores.” It may also help to have a few references on hand from previous landlords who can vouch for your reliability.

146. Training kids for wealth
The wealthy face a tricky if enviable task in “teaching the next generation how to be rich,” said Liz Moyer in The Wall Street Journal. Parents who want to prevent their offspring from squandering a hard-earned family fortune should start talking about money early, “well before children are grown, and then building on those early conversations as the time nears when kids will receive any inheritance.” Kids should know “the rags-to-riches story” that led to their family’s privilege, and should be well coached on “the need for discretion and privacy”on social media. Oversharing online can increase the risk of theft, and “even as adults, heirs need to learn how to handle questions about their personal circumstances” if they want to maintain their privacy.

147. Prepaid tuition
Tax-advantaged 529 savings accounts aren’t the only way to save ahead for your child’s  college, said Kim Clark in Money. Some conservative investors find prepaid tuition plans to be an attractive option. “Offering identical tax benefits, these plans allow you to buy future  tuition credits at a fixed price” to certain groups of schools, thus eliminating “the uncertainty of relying on investments that fluctuate in value to pay for college.” Look for plans that are backed by the “full faith and credit” of the state or participating schools, and carefully vet the rates and policies: “Some plans charge a premium over current tuition rates,” while others let you lock in current prices. And be aware that you’ll take a hit “if your child doesn’t attend a member school or you want a refund.”

148. Choosing a college loan
If your family hasn’t set aside anything for your kids’ college tuition, don’t panic, said Ron Lieber in The New York Times. You aren’t alone, but “the sad fact is, most families with no savings will be borrowing a fair bit of money to send their children to college.” Schools may offset the cost with grants, “but don’t count on generosity here unless the school is particularly well endowed.” Do your research on loans: Government-backed loans are the best, “and most traditional-age students can take out $31,000 in loans during their time as undergraduates.” They also come with more-flexible repayment options “if you get in trouble later.” Private lenders can be less understanding, so if you still need to borrow more, remember to “read every word” of the loan agreements.

149. Money apps for splitting bills
Want to manage your money like a Millennial? asked Charlie Wells in WSJ.com. As our lives go increasingly mobile, several personal finance apps have sprung up to help consumers split bills and pay peers. A particularly popular one, Venmo, allows users to pay one another using saved debit cards and bank accounts at no charge. Another, called Splitwise, can help you divvy up costs by keeping “a running tab of shared expenses” and lets users “pay each other in lump sums.” And if you have a big, shared expense coming up—such as a group dinner or a vacation trip—try Tilt, a service that “makes it easy to collect money in advance” by setting up and sharing an event page, where participants can contribute funds.

150. Obama’s identity-theft plan
The White House wants to curb consumer identity theft, said Katie Zezima in WashingtonPost.com. President Obama signed an executive order last week mandating that government agencies use enhanced security features—including credit cards with advanced security chips—to process payments. The Buy Secure initiative is “meant to spur retailers and banks toward using chipand-pin technology,” which requires people to enter a PIN for the card rather than use the traditional magnetic strip cards, which are more vulnerable to theft. At least 15,000 retailers—including Home Depot and Target, which recently suffered huge customer data breaches—have vowed to adopt chip-and-pin technology by next year.

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