Uses for aluminum foil

Aluminum foil is a Penny Hoarder’s BFF when it comes to preserving leftovers. But if you’re just using that handy foil to wrap up day-old food, you’re totally missing out on so many other uses for this extraordinary kitchen standby.

The Many Uses of Aluminum Foil

You might be dating yourself if you are still calling the shiny workhorse “tin foil” though it’s not uncommon to hear that phrase used. Foil was made of tin until after World War II when the stronger and cheaper aluminum became widely used. Now you know. Read on for 10 clever money-saving ideas.

1. Sharpen Scissors

Don’t toss a pair of dull scissors or pay someone else to sharpen them. Sharpen scissors with aluminum foil, says Rachel Timmerman, a Virginia blogger with The Analytical Mommy. Fold a piece of 10-by-10-inch aluminum foil three times. Then, cut the foil about 20 times with the scissors to make them as sharp as the day you bought them.

2. Substitute for Dryer Sheets

Crumble a ball of foil and toss it into your dryer, says Gladys Connelly, technical writer for The HouseWire, a product review site. This works exactly the same as a dryer sheet would, Connelly says. “It eliminates static and fluffs up your clothing,” she says. Spray lavender oil or your favorite scent into the middle of the aluminum sheet before you crumple it to make the foil smell just as good as a dryer sheet, Connelly recommends.

3. Lower Your Heating Bill

If you have cast-iron radiators, you can DIY a heat reflector out of aluminum foil. Tape some heavy-duty aluminum foil to a piece of cardboard with the shiny side up. That’s literally it. Place the heat reflector behind your radiator or under the radiator’s top. The heat waves will naturally bounce from the foil into the room instead of going into the wall behind the radiator.

4. Cover Your Paint Tray

Don’t toss your plastic paint tray after each use. Keep the tray clean by wrapping it in aluminum foil. When you’re done, just pull off the foil and your paint tray will look as good as new, Connelly says.

A woman uses aluminum foil to get gel nail polish off her nails.
Getty Images

5. Remove Gel Nail Polish

You can’t use acetone and a cotton pad to remove gel nail polish. Instead, you’re supposed to soak your nails in acetone. But it would be wasteful to use a bowl of acetone just to remove the polish. So Malaika Desrameaux, a Miami content creator with Self Care Sunday Love, figured out an aluminum foil method. 1. File the tops of your gel nails to get rid of the glossy layer. 2. Soak a cotton ball with acetone and put the cotton ball over your nail. 3. Wrap your nail (with the cotton on top) with a 3-by-5-inch piece of aluminum foil. 4. Repeat on all fingers, and let them sit for 10 to 15 minutes. 5. Remove cotton and aluminum foil, and peel off the gel nail polish.

6. Polish Silver

No need for a special polish or even any elbow grease to make Nanny’s heirloom silverware gleam again. Place a sheet of aluminum foil into a pan, add cold water and 2 teaspoons of salt. Put silver into the pan, and leave it for two minutes. Rinse off with water and let it dry. The aluminum causes a molecular reaction, cleaning the silver for you.

7. Clean Jewelry

Similar to the process for polishing silver, you can use aluminum foil to clean jewelry by creating an ion exchange (a molecular reaction with the aluminum). Place aluminum foil in a bowl, and fill the bowl with hot water and 1 tablespoon of bleach-free powdered laundry detergent. Soak jewelry in the solution for one minute, rinse with water and air dry.

8. Battery Replacement

You’re desperate for a battery to fire up the flashlight. Try aluminum foil, says Melanie Musson, a home safety expert with US Insurance Agents. “If your flashlight requires two C batteries but you only have one, you can fill the empty space with compacted foil,” Musson says. It may not be at full strength, but you’ll have a little light to get you by.

9. Garden Buddy

Aluminum foil will miraculously improve your green thumb. Birds are afraid of the shiny foil because of the noise it makes. So tie foil strips around the branches of your fruit trees, you’ll keep the birds from nibbling at the bounty. Same goes for mice and rabbits. These creatures don’t like the feel of the aluminum foil, so placing bits of it on your shrubs serves as a natural deterrent. Bugs bugging you and eating your plants? Nestle foil with soil or stones at the base of plants. Or mix some strips of aluminum foil in with your mulch. In both cases, the foil will keep the moisture in your soil and prevent the weeds from growing while keeping the pests at bay.

10. Custom Cake Pan

Don’t run to the store every time your child wants a cake that looks like something other than a rectangle. Need a dog-shaped pan? A heart pan? Make the shape out of heavy-duty aluminum foil, and place your DIY foil creation into a baking pan big enough to accommodate the shape.

11. Grill Cleaner

Don’t bother purchasing pricey grill scrubbers when a rolled up ball of aluminum foil works perfectly well, Connelly says. The foil ball should be large enough – about 3 inches around – to hold comfortably with tongs (remember that the grill is hot). Grab the foil ball with the tongs and swipe back and forth across the grate before it has cooled. Food bits will be easier to remove when the grate is warm. If you already have stubborn burnt food on the grill, then put a piece of aluminum foil on the grate, and close the grill. Turn on the heat and let it run for a few minutes. Then, remove the foil, turn off the heat and try the original cleaning method. It should be easier now because the foil sheet trapped the heat to help loosen any stubborn debris.

12. Ironing

Aluminum foil is a natural heat reflector. So if you place a piece of it under the cover of your ironing board, the aluminum foil will speed up your ironing time.

Danielle Braff is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

Cut Down These 5 Bills and Save $2,579

Bills, bills, bills. They never seem to end, do they? They take more and more out of your account each month before you even realize it.

You can’t escape them entirely (wouldn’t that be great?), but you can stop them from being so darn painful every month. All it takes is ending your loyalty to a few companies you currently use for bills and fees that come every month.

Trust us, they won’t miss you. And you definitely won’t miss them — especially when you realize how much money you’ve been needlessly throwing away every month.

1. Your Credit Card Bill: Save Up to 10x on Interest Payments

If you’re reading this, there’s a 50% chance you have credit card debt — nearly half of U.S. adults do. And if you don’t pay it off every month, you’re draining your bank account with unnecessary — and terribly high — interest payments.

And the truth is, your credit card company doesn’t really care. It’s just getting rich by ripping you off with high interest rates — some up to a whopping 36%! But a website called AmOne wants to help.

If you owe your credit card companies $50,000 or less, AmOne will match you with a low-interest loan you can use to pay off every single one of your balances.

The benefit? You’ll be left with one bill to pay each month. And because personal loans have lower interest rates (AmOne rates start at 3.49% APR), you’ll get out of debt that much faster.

With a $5,000 balance this month, that could be an extra $150 to your credit card company, or about $15 to a personal loan matched by AmOne. That’s $1,620 going down the drain every year.

AmOne keeps your information confidential and secure, which is probably why after 20 years in business, it still has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau.

It takes two minutes to see if you qualify for up to $50,000 online. You do need to give AmOne a real phone number in order to qualify, but don’t worry — they won’t spam you with phone calls.

2. Your Car Insurance Bill: Save $489/Year

When’s the last time you checked car insurance prices?

You should shop your options every six months or so — it could save you some serious money. Let’s be real, though. It’s probably not the first thing you think about when you wake up. But it doesn’t have to be.

A website called Insure.com makes it super easy to compare car insurance prices. All you have to do is enter your ZIP code and your age, and it’ll show you your options.

Using Insure.com, people have saved an average of $489 a year.

Yup. That could be nearly $500 back in your pocket just for taking a few minutes to look at your options.

3. Your Credit Monitoring Service: Cut $240 Down to $0

When it comes to your credit score, it’s important to stay organized and keep tabs on it. After all, it’ll play an essential role in any big purchase you want to make — whether that’s a home or a car.

But there’s no need to spend $19.99/month on a credit monitoring service, when you can get the same protection for $0.

So if you’re looking to get your credit score back on track — or even if it is on track and you want to bump it up — try using a free website called Credit Sesame.

Within two minutes, you’ll get access to your credit score, any debt-carrying accounts and a handful of personalized tips to improve your score. You’ll even be able to spot any errors holding you back (one in five reports have one).

James Cooper, of Atlanta, used Credit Sesame to raise his credit score nearly 300 points in six months.*** “They showed me the ins and outs — how to dot the I’s and cross the T’s,” he said.

Want to check for yourself? It’s free and only takes about 90 seconds to sign up.

4. Your Investment Broker: Never Pay Unnecessary Fees Again

Investing in the stock market is a great tool to grow your net worth. And for a while, it seemed like it was only available to the upper class — the people who didn’t mind paying up to $50 for each trade. What’s $50 when your investment broker is making you millions?

But if you work for a living and don’t happen to have millions of dollars lying around, smartly investing in the market can sound totally out of reach.

But with an app called Stash, it doesn’t have to be. It lets you be a part of something that’s normally exclusive to the richest of the rich — on Stash you can buy pieces of other companies for as little as $1.

That’s right — you can invest in pieces of well-known companies, such as Amazon, Google, Apple and more for as little as $1. The best part? If these companies profit, so can you. Some companies even send you a check every quarter for your share of the profits, called dividends.1

It takes two minutes to sign up, and it’s totally secure. With Stash, all your investments are protected by the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) — that’s industry talk for, “Your money’s safe.”2

Plus, when you use the link above, Stash will give you a $5 sign-up bonus once you deposit $5 into your account.*

5. Your Banking Account: Skip the $15 Monthly Fees

The monthly fee your bank is charging you is a huge account-drainer. Especially because some banks charge when you don’t have enough money saved. We’re the people who need that $15 the most!

If you’re just looking for a place to safely stash it away but still earn money, a fancy account isn’t necessary. Under your mattress or in a safe will get you nothing. And a typical savings account won’t do you much better. (Ahem, 0.06% is nothing these days.)

But a debit card called Aspiration lets you earn up to 5% cash back and up to 16 times the average interest on the money in your account.

Not too shabby!

Enter your email address here to get a free Aspiration Spend and Save account. After you confirm your email, securely link your bank account so they can start helping you get extra cash.

Your money is FDIC insured and they use a military-grade encryption which is nerd talk for “this is totally safe.”

Kari Faber is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. 

***Like Cooper, 60% of Credit Sesame members see an increase in their credit score; 50% see at least a 10-point increase, and 20% see at least a 50-point increase after 180 days.

Credit Sesame does not guarantee any of these results, and some may even see a decrease in their credit score. Any score improvement is the result of many factors, including paying bills on time, keeping credit balances low, avoiding unnecessary inquiries, appropriate financial planning and developing better credit habits.

1Not all stocks pay out dividends, and there is no guarantee that dividends will be paid each year.

2To note, SIPC coverage does not insure against the potential loss of market value.

For Securities priced over $1,000, purchase of fractional shares starts at $0.05.

*Offer is subject to Promotion Terms and Conditions. To be eligible to participate in this Promotion and receive the bonus, you must successfully open an individual brokerage account in good standing, link a funding account to your Invest account AND deposit $5.00 into your Invest account.

The Penny Hoarder is a Paid Affiliate/partner of Stash. 

Investment advisory services offered by Stash Investments LLC, an SEC registered investment adviser. This material has been distributed for informational and educational purposes only, and is not intended as investment, legal, accounting, or tax advice. Investing involves risk. 

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

Which Debt Repayment Strategy Is Right for You?

We’ve focused on giving you the information you need to know to get rid of your credit card debt once and for all this month. So far, we’ve explained how to get your debts organized and how to balance building up your savings while paying down debt.

Today, we want to discuss how you can choose a debt repayment strategy to make sure you stay on track and reach debt freedom as soon as you can. These methods can help you power through and repay every last balance.

The Debt Snowball

The debt snowball is a debt repayment strategy popularized by financial guru Dave Ramsey. This method asks you to take stock of all your debts — loans, credit cards, mortgages, and other lines of credit with balances — and list them in order of smallest balance to biggest.

That’s the only factor you need to take into account. So, for example, if you have three student loans and owe $5,000, $10,000, and $15,000 respectively, that’s exactly the order you list them out in. And that’s the order you’d work to pay them off in, too.

The debt snowball has you put as much money as you can toward your debt with the lowest balance first, while still maintaining minimum payments on your other balances. Once you repay that first debt, you take the amount of money you were applying toward it, and combine it with the minimum payment you were making on the loan with the second-lowest balance.

Your payment on this second-lowest balance loan “snowballs,” because the payment is the combination of what you paid toward the first loan and the minimum payment you were already paying on the second.

You’ll continue to snowball your payments and knock out your debts one by one, until you’re debt free.

The Debt Avalanche

The debt avalanche is another system for repaying your debt. With this strategy, you again take stock of all your debts and list them out — but this time, you’ll order them by interest rate.

With the debt avalanche, you’ll list them out in order from highest interest rate to lowest (regardless of balance). Then you’ll work to repay the balances in that order, taking out the loan with the highest interest rate first, then the second-highest, and so on.

The only difference from the debt snowball is the order in which you repay your loans. The biggest advantage to the avalanche is, from a mathematical standpoint, you come out ahead because you’re getting rid of your most costly loans first. Because you’re knocking out loans by interest rate, you’ll gradually pay less in interest over your repayment period.

Choosing a Debt Repayment Strategy

There’s no “wrong” way to knock out balances and become debt-free. But there’s probably one strategy that works best for you over other options. So how do you choose the ideal system for your personal situation?

Start by understanding your own personality. The right strategy is likely the one that’s a good fit for you and the way you think. It’s not necessarily about the details of your debt.

The debt snowball does a good job of taking the emotional and behavioral part of personal finances into account. For many of us, money is about more than just the numbers — it’s how we feel and think about it.

The snowball can keep you on track because it gets you to a “win” quickly. Since you’re paying off the lowest balance first, this repayment strategy will likely knock out your first loan faster than other methods of paying down your debt.

This can be the difference between sticking to the hard work it takes to become debt free, and getting frustrated and overwhelmed by the process.

The debt avalanche is, mathematically speaking, usually better than the snowball. That’s because you focus on getting rid of the debt with the highest interest rate first, regardless of balance. This should save you money over the long-term because you’re lessening how much you’re paying in interest.

But if your highest-interest loan also comes with a bigger balance than your other loans, it’s going to take you longer to repay that debt than if you focused on knocking out loans with balances in order from smallest to largest. For some, it’s emotionally tough to have that first milestone be further down the road.

And that’s okay — it feels good to get rid of loans or balances on your lines of credit!

It all depends on what motivates you. If paying off your first loan ASAP will keep you going and prevent you from feeling discouraged or hopeless, choose the debt snowball. If you want to put an end to interest rates eating up your discretionary income, choose the debt avalanche.

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What About Debt Consolidation?

Debt consolidation is another strategy that may be helpful if you’re struggling to keep track of multiple loans and their payments, due dates, and other information. Consolidation can also help those who have high interest rate loans but good credit scores (be sure to check your credit score with a free credit report on a regular basis).

When you consolidate, you start by taking out a single loan for the total amount of the debt you want to repay. You take the borrowed money from the new loan and repay all the individual loans with balances you already had. Then, you work to repay the single, new loan.

This is a good option if you’re feeling overwhelmed because it simplifies your financial situation. Instead of having multiple loans to keep track of, consolidating leaves you with a single loan — with a single interest rate, monthly payment, and due date.

It’s also worth looking into if your current loans carry high interest rates that cost you money. There’s no guarantee, but you can shop around with different lenders to possibly consolidate existing loans for a lower interest rate. This not only simplifies your debts — since, again, there will only be one balance to keep up with — but it could also save you money if you can get a lower interest rate.

Just make sure you take all the fees into account. A new loan may come with a lower interest rate, but the loan origination fees may mean it’s a wash when it comes to saving money. Everyone’s situation is different, so do the math before making any decisions.

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Source: mint.intuit.com

When you order Nachos BellGrande…

A man conducts an interview with a person outside of Taco Bell during one of their hiring parties.


Taco Bell will hire 5,000 people at 2,000 stores across the country. The fast food chain will be taking COVID-19 precautions by conducting interviews in parking lots. Photo courtesy of Taco Bell

When you order Nachos BellGrande at the Taco Bell drive-thru on Wednesday, April 21, you can request a job as well. The fast food empire is hiring 5,000 people at “hiring parties” in parking lots at 2,000 stores throughout the country.

The chain is growing toward its goal of operating 10,000 stores across the globe by the end of the decade, according to a hiring announcement. Taco Bell currently has 7,000 company-owned and franchise locations in the United States and 600 in other countries.

The jobs available vary based on location but include all levels, from “bellhops” who take orders on tablets at drive-thrus, to general managers. Click here to see what positions are open in your area. Interested candidates can fill out an application on that same site in advance or do it in person at a store on Wednesday

Not every Taco Bell is having a hiring party so job seekers should go to TacoBell.com/locations to get phone numbers of stores near them and call to see if they are participating in the event.

Taco Bell will interview candidates outside in order to follow COVID-19 precautions. In some locations applicants won’t even have to get out of their cars. Everyone must wear a mask and stay six feet apart. You can bring a resume and references, but that is not necessary, according to Meagan Ashner, a spokeswoman for Taco Bell.

“While we are hopeful for strong, qualified talent among all applicants, attending a hiring party does not guarantee a job,” she added.

According to Indeed.com, Taco Bell’s wages start at $10.26 an hour for kitchen team members. A shift manager can make $23,494 a year and an assistant manager can make $43,969.

The restaurant gives employees a free meal during a shift, according to Indeed.

Benefits for general managers of company-owned stores have recently been expanded to include up to four weeks of accrued vacation a year and four weeks of “baby bonding” time for new parents and guardians. The company also offers eight weeks of fully-paid short term disability after the birth of a child.

Taco Bell fared well during the pandemic, adjusting quickly to the shutdown of indoor dining. The drive-thru was already a key part of its business, and the chain made it easier for customers to order and pick up food.

The rollout of new “Go Mobile” stores this year is fueling part of the need for more employees. These smaller restaurants cater only to digital orders and drive-thru pickups.

Katherine Snow Smith is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.



Source: thepennyhoarder.com

Wondering How to Become an Audiobook Narrator? Here’s How

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2019. 

While readers and writers have skeptically watched the fluctuating publishing industry in recent years, one literary market has caught us all a bit by surprise: audiobooks.

Somewhere along the path of lengthy commutes and ubiquitous smartphones, a market for audiobooks erupted: people who don’t otherwise read much.

This exploding market makes it imperative for authors and publishers to get books into audio form and on the most popular platforms — Audible (Amazon) and iTunes.

Enter Amazon’s Audiobook Creative Exchange (ACX), which connects audiobook narrators with books to narrate.

Like other publishing services you’ll find at Amazon — CreateSpace for print-on-demand books, CDs and DVDs; and Kindle Direct Publishing for ebooks — ACX simplifies the process of producing an audiobook from start to finish.

If you’re an actor or voice-over artist, you could make money working in this market.

Not sure where to start? Here’s our guide.

How to Become an Audiobook Narrator

Actor Kris Keppeler has been doing voice-over work for over a decade.

“I got started through freelancing and bidding on work,” Keppeler said. “I bid on a short audiobook and got that, and it went well. When ACX came along, I started auditioning there… It’s taken a little bit to discover where my voice fits.”

Based on her experience, Keppeler shares some advice — and warnings — for anyone interested in doing audiobook work.

What You Need to Know Before Auditioning

Before you spend months auditioning to land your first gig, we have some tips to help you get started.

“My voice just fits with audiobook work,” Keppeler said. “Actors are especially tuned in for audiobook work, by the nature of our training.”

That’s because actors learn how to represent multiple characters, necessary for fiction narration in particular. Even for nonfiction, acting training can help you animate narration and make a book interesting.

“You definitely have to have some training,” Keppeler said. “If you regularly listen to audiobooks and like them, that’s a good starting point. But you have to have a real desire to do this kind of work, because it’s a lot of work.”

How is narrating an audiobook different from just reading a book aloud?

“When you read a book, you’re seeing and hearing things in your mind,” she said. “When you’re narrating that book, what you’re seeing and hearing in your mind you have to then vocalize. That’s not easy!”

Because an audiobook listener relies entirely on your narration, painting the picture just right (and meeting the author’s vision) is vital. It’s a distinct difference from other voice-over work, like commercials, where images or video complement the narration.

Because of this need to draw the reader into a made-up world, narrating fiction requires acting skills. Not everyone is cut out for it.

But, “nonfiction has its own challenge,” Keppeler said. “Sometimes what you’re reading is kind of dry, but you still have to make it interesting.”

She says it doesn’t necessarily matter whether a book is interesting to her.

“At this point, whether it is or not, I am narrating it and finding the interesting bits for me and putting it into my voice,” Keppeler said.

Even if you don’t enjoy the subject matter, you can still enjoy the process of producing the book for readers.

Learn Proper Technique

Before landing her first gig through ACX, Keppeler submitted auditions to the platform for well over a year.

Why does it take so long to land a gig?

Some of it, Keppeler says, is just learning how to narrate correctly. “I had some coaching that finally brought me to the point of doing a fairly good job.”

Author Joanna Penn recorded the audio versions of some of her own books. If you can’t afford coaching, she offers some tips for beginners at The Creative Penn to help you get started.

Some tricks to consider:

  • If you’re new at recording, schedule sessions a few days apart to ensure you have enough energy.
  • Try to avoid dairy before recording. Same goes for foods like peanut butter or anything that clogs up your mouth or throat (yeck!).
  • Try to modulate your breathing so you don’t end up holding your breath. This has a real effect on stamina.

Find Your Niche

Once she’d mastered the audiobook reading techniques, Keppeler said, she had to find her niche.

She used trial and error. She took whatever narration work came her way, and listened to client feedback. When an author liked her voice, she knew it was a good fit.

“In voice-over in general, there are so many different genres,” she said. “Most people find you have certain specialities and certain ones don’t fit.”

Once you know your voice and which genres are the best fit, she says, jobs come much more quickly.

Only audition for gigs that fit your voice, and the success rate is much higher. You can even search for books by genre.

“I’m becoming a bit of a nonfiction specialist,” Keppeler said. “[When it comes to fiction], it’s hard to learn to do the different voices… Fiction books are heavily character-based, so you’re going to have to handle [those] unless you’re hired to work with a group, but that’s not that common.”

The Challenges of Audiobook Narration

Some of the work involved goes beyond just recording the voice-over. “Especially if you work through ACX, you have to do the producing yourself,” Keppeler said. “[That’s] editing and mastering yourself. There’s a technical learning curve.”

Audiobooks require hours and hours of editing, making them much more labor intensive than a lot of other voice-over work.

“What I learned editing smaller jobs contributed a lot to being able to jump into audiobooks,” Keppeler said.

So you might consider starting small.

Search online for voice-over jobs — you’ll find promotional videos under five minutes or corporate training videos of five to 15 minutes.

Even online course videos requiring a few hours of voice-over are much shorter than most audiobooks, which run closer to 10 to 15 hours. Hone your skills on smaller jobs and work your way up to the lengthier projects.

What about contracting the technical stuff out to an audio editor? Keppeler says that for what you’re paid, it’s not usually worth it for an audiobook.

You’re expected to record, produce and deliver a finished product. Any additional help you bring in will cut into your pay. Keppeler says you’re better off just learning to do it yourself.

The Creative Penn also offers a few editing tips:

  • Avoid page turning noises — read from a tablet, Kindle or other electronic device.
  • Turn off any devices’ Wi-Fi connections and set them to Airplane mode to avoid static noises. (They may be there, even if you can’t hear them.)
  • Each ACX file needs to be a single chapter of the book. It’s easier to record these as separate files rather than cut it up later.
  • The ACX technical requirements mean you have to add a few seconds of Room Tone at the beginning and end of the file.

How Much Money Can You Make Reading Audiobooks?

ACX doesn’t set or recommend rates for producers to charge.

But it does point out many narrators are members of the SAG-AFTRA union, which lists minimum rate restrictions.

These guaranteed rates vary by publisher/producer. Author Roz Morris tells authors to expect to pay around $200 per finished hour for audiobook narration.

However, Keppeler says most freelance audiobook work will be paid in royalties. As you might guess, this reduces an author’s upfront cost — as well as their risk in hiring you.

While ACX may be a good place to find the work, the pay is usually lower, especially compared with freelance broker sites that aren’t dedicated solely to audiobook narration.

When you record an audiobook with ACX, you’ll choose between setting your own per-finished-hour rate or splitting royalties 50/50 with the rights holder (usually the book’s author or publisher).

If you charge a flat rate, you’ll be paid upon completion of the book. Royalties are paid monthly based on sales from the previous month.

Mostly, Keppeler focuses on short books she can quickly complete. And she gets paid a flat rate of about $100 per finished hour, rather than royalties.

“I have done royalty deals but only on ACX with short books,” she said.

“I don’t want to tie up my time, because you [typically] make very little on royalty books… I have four royalty books [on ACX], and about $20 trickles in every quarter.”

Whether or not a royalty deal pays off is largely based on an author’s platform, The Creative Penn points out. Research an author before signing an agreement.

If you’re just looking for a quick job and aren’t concerned with long-term sales, you can work with an author regardless of their audience. Set a flat rate, and get your money when the job’s done.

But if you want to develop a long-term relationship with an author and you’ve found someone with a sizable audience, you may be better off with the royalty deal.

Long term, you could make much more money in sales royalties. Your working relationship with the author also will be strengthened, because you’ll be invested in the book’s success.

Where to Find Audiobook Work

As with any freelance work, booking a gig directly with the client in your network allows you the most autonomy in setting your rate.

Connecting with a client through a freelance broker like Upwork and Freelancer offers less autonomy and usually lower rates than working with someone directly.

Bidding through an exchange site like ACX offers the lowest of both.

“I only go out to ACX when I don’t have other paid work,” Keppeler said.

ACX also makes it difficult to achieve one of the staples of successful freelance work: repeat clients.

Keppeler said the platform isn’t really set up to connect authors with narrators long-term. Instead you audition for each job. It eliminates a huge opportunity for narrators to work with an author on a series or future books.

Directly connecting through a freelance broker does offer that opportunity. Keppeler said it’s how she found the author of this series of books on Wicca, which offered her ongoing work.

What ACX is good for, she said, is building your portfolio.

If you’re just getting started, the platform gives you an opportunity to hone your chops.

Practice your narrating and editing skills through auditions, and improve from author feedback. Once you land a few gigs, use those as samples to land clients elsewhere.

As audiobooks increase in popularity, Keppeler is seeing more audiobook work appear on Upwork. Freelancers, she says, tend to be better for general voice-over gigs, but not audiobook narration.

Audiobook Narrator Must-Haves

Keppeler’s top tip for anyone getting into voice-over work is to invest in a good microphone and headphones.

Early on, she says,  “I lost out on work because I didn’t have a really great pair of headphones, and there was background noise that I wasn’t hearing. If you send something out that’s not good enough, they will never hire you again.”

Eventually, she hired a professional to help improve her set-up. She says she wishes she had done it up front, instead of DIYing.

A good pre-amp or audiobox can also help clean up your sound and eliminate background noise. But Keppeler warns against buying a cheap one — it’s a tool worth spending money on.

Finally, “You have to have a desire to learn the technical part of it,” she said. “You can ruin an audiobook with bad editing.”

How to Get Started

ACX offers comprehensive guides and FAQs for authors, narrators and publishers, so review those before you get started.

Here’s an overview of how it works:

  1. Create a profile to detail your experience.

  2. Upload samples to your profile to showcase your various skills — accents, genre, style, etc.

  3. Determine whether you’ll always want to be paid per finished hour or by royalty agreements, or if you’re open to either.

  4. Search for books authors/publishers have posted, and record a few minutes of the manuscript to audition for the gig.

  5. When you’re chosen by the author/publisher, they’ll send you an offer. To take the job, accept the offer. All of this should happen through ACX (not over the phone or via email) to ensure the contract terms are on record.

  6. Record and edit a 15-minute sample for feedback before recording and editing the full project. They’ll also have the right to approve or request changes once you’ve submitted the full project.

  7. You’ll be paid a flat rate upon completion and approval of the project or monthly royalty payments based on book sales.

If you’re just getting started in voice-over work, try browsing Upwork for smaller projects you can use to find your voice, build your technical skills and grow your portfolio.

Or reach into your network, and get creative to find freelancing gigs on your own.

Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a former branded content editor at The Penny Hoarder.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

Piggyback Loan Is Another Home Financing Option

Shopping around for a home loan? Then you’re probably trying to figure out how to strike the best balance between your down payment and monthly mortgage expenses. Understanding just how much house you can afford is tricky, which is why it helps to know all of your options in advance.

Piggyback loans are just one more financing option you have at your fingertips for purchasing the home of your dreams — even without that 20% down payment. These loans involve taking out two rather than one mortgage, but can save you thousands of dollars on private mortgage insurance for borrowers who can’t afford a large down payment. Ready to learn more about piggyback home loans and if borrowing one is the right choice for you? Keep reading.

What Is a Piggyback Loan?

A piggyback loan, true to its name, is a set of two loans — with one piggybacking off the other. These loans are also sometimes referred to 80/10/10 loans, where the first loan is equal to 80% of your home’s purchase price, and the second loan is equal to 10% of the purchase price. This type of financing structure assumes you have at least 10% of the home’s purchase price to put toward a down payment.

Since many lenders require private mortgage insurance (PMI) on mortgages with less than a 20% down payment, this financing structure can help bridge that gap (for borrowers who don’t have the full 20% saved up) and ensure that you avoid paying extra PMI fees— which definitely don’t come cheap.

Let’s crunch some numbers as an example. Say you want to buy a home for $300k. Using a piggyback loan, your financing plan would look something like this:

1st loan (80%) $240k
2nd loan (10%) $30k
Down payment (10%) $30k

As you can see, using this financing structure will save you roughly half the sum of your down payment, allowing you to focus on saving up $30k rather than a whopping $60k in order to buy your home.

Benefits of piggyback loan

The biggest benefit of a piggyback loan is the savings you get from not having to take out a PMI policy. These insurance policies, which are required by most banks for borrowers putting less than 20% down on their homes, typically cost anywhere from 0.5% to 1% of your total loan amount per year. Some experts claim this number can even go up to 1.86% per year. This might sound insignificant, but let’s crunch some numbers to really see what it might actually cost you.

Using the same example as before, let’s say you were to take out a conventional loan for a house with a $300k listing price, and put 10% as a down payment. This would put your loan amount at roughly $270k. Here’s what various PMI payments might look like on a loan this size.

PMI rate (as % of your loan) Annual payment due Monthly payment due
0.5% $13,500 $1,125
1% $27,000 $2,250
1.86% $50,220 $4,185

As the numbers will show, PMI is clearly nothing to scoff at. In fact, PMI is so expensive that it could easily cost you a monthly mortgage payment many times over— in addition to actually having to pay your mortgage each month as well.

Things To Keep in Mind

Now that you know a bit more about piggyback loans, and all the savings they can provide, let’s talk about some of the downsides. After all, if piggyback mortgages are so convenient, why don’t more people get them?

The biggest downside of piggyback loans (and the reason more people don’t have them) is because they’re actually pretty hard to get. Think about it: Instead of going through the loan approval process once, you have to go through it twice. You’ll also be borrowing two separate loans at once, which is seen as a higher risk to many lenders.

These loans require higher credit scores, and you might even need to apply through a special lender who is accustomed to dealing with these types of financing packages. There’s also repayment to consider. Although refinancing a mortgage is typically seen as a relatively simple move for borrowers interested in securing lower interest rates— refinancing will be a lot harder when you have two loans instead of one. You’ll also be responsible for paying the closing costs on two separate loans (typically 2% to 5% of the loan amount) as well as any loan origination fees the lender may charge.

How To Apply

According to the credit experts at Experian, you’ll need a “very good to exceptional” credit score in order to qualify for a piggyback loan. Meaning, your score will need to be at least 700, although you’re more likely to qualify with a score of 740 or higher.

You should also plan on having enough saved up for as much of a down payment as you can afford, plus some extra funds for closing costs and other fees associated with buying your home. Finally, you’ll want to make sure your debt-to-income ratio is within a reasonable range before approaching lenders. While all of these things are pretty standard for anyone on the market to buy a home, the requirements are even more strict when applying for a piggyback loan— making it that much more important to have your financial ducks in a row.

Final Word

Piggyback loans might not be the most straight-forward financing package out there, but for the right home buyer— they can make all the difference in the world. Sit down and take a good hard look at your finances to decide if borrowing a piggyback loan might be able to help you reach your financial goals. And if the answer is no, don’t worry— there are a lot of other options that can help you afford your dream home.

Contributor Larissa Runkle specializes in finance, real estate and lifestyle topics.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

How a Sou-Sou Helped This Woman Save Money to Start a Business

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in 2016.

Saving has always been a challenge for me. While I continuously applied the pay-yourself-first principle to my finances, I struggled to stick to my budget.

So when I wanted to start a cake-decorating business, I needed another way to cover my startup costs. I preferred not to take out a loan because of interest charges.

A co-worker suggested starting a sou-sou.

What’s that? you’re wondering. Well, read on.

What’s a Sou-Sou?

A sou-sou is a simple savings plan.

The West African tradition, which is also popular in the Caribbean, requires a group of people to contribute a fixed amount of money either weekly, bi-weekly or monthly to a group account, with one member responsible for collecting the cash.

The group holds a random draw to determine the order in which each person will receive their lump sum payment. However, once each person receives their cash, they still have to contribute until everyone gets paid.

A sou-sou could run for six months or up to a year — it all depends on how many people are in on it. Sou-sous continue until everyone receives a payout at least once.

How I Used a Sou-Sou to Start a Business

Here’s how I started a sou-sou to help me make enough money to get my cake-decorating business off the ground.

Determine How Much Cash You Need to Start Your Business

I created an inventory of supplies I’d need, then calculated the total cost of buying them. This helped me make sure I’d be able to get started once I received my payout.

Next, I shopped around to find the best prices — then asked vendors about a discount for buying in bulk. It never hurts to ask! It helped me save 20% of the original cost when I eventually bought everything.

Find Cash in Your Budget and Earn Extra Money

I needed to free up some money to go toward my sou-sou, so I decided to eliminate one bill from my monthly budget.

I compared my cable and internet bills to see which was costing me more, and then canceled my $50 per month cable service.

To earn extra cash, I sold cakes at community events at a reduced price.

Consider how you could earn a few extra dollars a month for your business. Consider this list of 43 ways to save money fast.

Form a Group

Everyone in my department had previously been involved in a successful sou-sou, and since we were all working toward financial goals, it was easy for the team to get on board.

A total of 10 colleagues joined the sou-sou, but you can start one with any number of people. Ask co-workers, relatives and fellow church or gym members if they want in.

Choose a Cash Collector

We nominated my supervisor as cash collector and placed our money in a locked box in her office. Two people had to be present when money was deposited or paid out.

Since we all earned monthly salaries, we decided on a deadline for everyone to pay up.

My supervisor was also in the sou-sou. If the person collecting the cash isn’t in on it, they’re sometimes paid a percentage by each member. If my supervisor hadn’t been a member, she would have received 5% of our earnings for managing the sou-sou.

Decide on a Reasonable Contribution 

We considered our final objectives and unanimously decided on a realistic amount each person would pay.

With 10 members, we decided to each contribute $100 per month — meaning we’d each get a $1,000 payout.

A few members were unable to contribute the full amount, so they joined with another member to each contribute $50 per month. When their payout time came, each person received $500 — a 50% payout.

I decided to double my contributions and pay $200 a month, meaning I’d get two $1,000 payouts to help me fund my business.

Propose Accountability 

We suggested each person in the group be accountable to another member to make sure they spent their money on fulfilling their goals.

For example, I chose an accountability partner who would make sure I invested my $1,000 in my business.

If I didn’t, I’d have to pay my partner 20% of my payout — a huge amount we chose to help motivate me.

How My Sou-Sou Worked Out

Our sou-sou began in January and I received my payout in May. Since I doubled my contributions, I received another payout in November, which I also put toward my business.

The group initiative was a huge part of my motivation, and everyone agreed that having the support of other members of the sou-sou was crucial to our success.

My choice to use a sou-sou rather than take out a loan paid off. I didn’t owe the bank any money, and I saved $200 I would have paid in interest charges.

With the assistance of friends or family, saving money to start a business is possible. Making $100 or $200 contributions may not seem like much, but with time, it could be enough to get your business off the ground or help expand it without a loan.

Kerry Mc Donald is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

5 Steps to Claim Your Ex’s Social Security After Divorce

Love and marriage don’t always last forever. But if your matrimony lasted 10 years or more, the financial benefits can last a lifetime. That’s because you may be able to take Social Security based on your ex-spouse’s benefits instead of your own, even if you divorced decades ago.

The philosophy is that both spouses often contribute economically during the marriage, even if only one person was employed. The Social Security rules protect those who spent most of their working years raising a family or playing a supportive role to their spouse and may have no retirement savings of their own.

The Rules for Social Security After Divorce

The maximum benefit you can get based on the record of a spouse — whether you’re currently married or divorced — is 50% of their full retirement age benefit. Full retirement age is the age at which you qualify for 100% of your benefit. It’s 66 or 67, depending on when you were born.

If your ex-spouse dies before you, you’ll typically be eligible to receive survivors benefits of 100% of the monthly payment they were receiving, just as you could if your current spouse died.

People with a long employment record will typically qualify for a bigger benefit based on their own earnings instead of a spouse’s. Social Security will give you the bigger benefit, but not both.

If you do qualify for more money thanks to your ex-spouse, they’ll technically give you whatever benefit you earned based on your record. Then, they’ll use your ex’s record to make up the difference.

Seeking to get revenge on an ex-spouse by claiming their Social Security? Move on. Your decision won’t affect their benefits in any way, nor will it impact their current spouse if they’ve remarried. If they’ve been married multiple times, all their exes are allowed to claim on their record.

Occasionally, a divorce settlement will state that one spouse can’t collect Social Security based on the other person’s record. Such stipulations are utter nonsense. The Social Security Administration says they’re “worthless and never enforced.”

How to Get Your Ex’s Social Security in 5 Easy Steps

Since your Social Security checks won’t affect your ex in any way, the only reason to try to claim their benefits is if you think you can get more money. If you suspect their record will maximize your Social Security, follow these five steps.

1. Make Sure You Can Answer ‘Yes’ to These Questions

To qualify for an ex’s Social Security benefits, you need to be able to answer “yes” to these four questions.

  • Were you married for 10 years or more? If your marriage lasted less than 10 years, you won’t qualify for an ex’s benefits. Common-law marriages don’t count. You also need to have been divorced at least two years before you can start getting checks based on your former spouse’s history, unless they’ve already started receiving benefits.
  • Are you at least 62? This is the minimum age for starting Social Security retirement benefits, no matter whose record you’re using. However, you can qualify regardless of your age if you’re caring for your ex’s child who is under 16 or disabled. If your ex-spouse is deceased, you can qualify for survivors benefits at age 60, or age 50 if you’re disabled.
  • Are you still unmarried? If you’re currently married, you can only claim on your record or your current spouse’s record. You’ll only be eligible 50% of their full benefit as well. And if you’ve been married and divorced multiple times? Social Security will use whichever ex-spouse’s record gives you the biggest benefit. Remember, though: Only marriages that lasted 10 years or more will count.
  • Is your ex eligible for benefits? In addition to the minimum age of 62, Social Security requires at least 40 work credits, which amounts to 10 years of full-time work, to start benefits. If your ex doesn’t meet these criteria, there’s no benefit for you to claim. Note that they don’t need to be receiving benefits. They just need to be eligible.

2. Gather Your Ex’s Information

You’re going to need some information to prove to Social Security that you’re eligible for your ex’s benefits. Be prepared to provide your marriage license and your divorce decree.

Social Security will also need to locate their record. This will be easiest if you still have their Social Security number. If you no longer have it, Social Security may be able to find their record if you can provide their date of birth, where they were born and the names of their parents.

3. Resist the Urge to Tell Them

Remember: Your decision to seek more Social Security on your ex’s record does not affect them in any way. So there’s absolutely no reason to contact them about it. You don’t need their consent to get benefits based on their record. Social Security will not contact them about your application.

4. Ask Social Security Whose Record Gets You the Best Benefit

Now take that information you gathered about your ex to Social Security so you can figure out whose record will give you the biggest benefit. You can call them at 800-772-1213 or visit your local office. An appointment isn’t required, but scheduling one can cut down on your waiting time.

5. Delay as Long as Possible (but Not Too Long)

The earlier you take benefits, the lower your monthly checks will be, no matter whose record you claim on. The 50% you can qualify for from their history is the maximum you’ll get if you wait until your full retirement age of 66 or 67. For every year you claim before then, you’ll permanently reduce your benefits by 6.66%. If you claim at 62, you’d only qualify for 32.5% of their benefit.

Don’t wait too long, though. When you take benefits on your own record, you get an extra 8% for every year you delay past your full retirement age until your benefits max out at 70. But when you’re getting spousal benefits, you don’t earn delayed retirement credits. You won’t get extra money for waiting past your full retirement age, so there’s no point in delaying any further.

A final note: In the past, a common Social Security strategy was to claim based on a current or former spouse’s record as early as possible, then switch over to your own bigger benefit later on. But the rules changed under a 2015 law called the Bipartisan Budget Act. Now this is only an option if you were born Jan. 2, 1954, or earlier.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. She writes the Dear Penny personal finance advice column. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected]

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

5 Ways New Grads Can Screw Up Their Credit

Generally, the credit bureaus consider anything over 670 a good credit score.

If your score is 671 or higher, you’re doing fairly well. The best credit score and the highest credit score possible is 850 for both FICO® and VantageScore models. FICO considers a score between 800 and 850 to be “exceptional,” while VantageScore considers a score above 780 to be “excellent.” It’s possible to get an 850 credit score, but it’s tough to achieve.

In This Piece

FICO and VantageScore Credit Score Charts
What Credit Scores Mean
Do Lenders Prefer FICO or VantageScore
What Makes a Good Credit Score
What Else Do Lenders Consider
How to Get Your Credit Scores
How to Improve Your Score


Credit Score Charts for FICO and VantageScore

Credit scores calculated using the FICO or VantageScore 3.0 scoring models range from 300 to 850. Those scores are broken down into five categories, though the breakdowns differ slightly.

For FICO, a good credit score is 670 or higher; a score above 800 is considered exceptional. For VantageScore 3.0, a good score is 661 or higher, and a score of 781 to 850 is excellent.

On the flip side, FICO scores below 670 fall into the fair and poor range, while VantageScore 3.0 scores below 660 are considered fair, poor, or very poor.

FICO and VantageScore aren’t the only credit scoring models. However, they are the most commonly used models and the ones used by the three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Some lenders even have their own scoring models. But most lenders and credit card companies use FICO scores or VantageScores.

>> Learn more about how Vantage Score compares to FICO.

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What Do Credit Scores Mean?

The three-digit numbers called credit scores are how the scoring institutions break down your credit profile. That number is calculated based on the information in your credit report at a credit bureau. Each bureau has its own file, which explains why your score might differ from one scoring institution to the next. Your file is a picture of how you’ve used credit to date.

Your score and where it falls tells lenders and credit card issuers how likely you are to pay off a loan, pay off a credit card, make late payments, and default on payments. In other words, it tells them if you’re an acceptable risk and if they should approve you for a loan or credit card.

A low score doesn’t necessarily mean lenders won’t give you a loan or card. Instead, it can mean they do so at a higher interest rate and with inferior loan terms. In other words, to offset the risk you pose, they charge you more interest or a higher annual fee.

For example, if you’re buying a $300,000 house with a 30-year fixed mortgage and you have good credit, you can end up paying around $94,000 less for that house over the life of the loan than if you had bad credit.*

Scores are also used by landlords, cell phone companies, and even employers to check how risky you are.

Do Lenders Prefer a Good VantageScore Score Over a Good FICO Credit Score?

Lenders don’t necessarily prefer one score over the other. It’s likely, though, that a given lender uses only one credit scoring institution.

FICO reports that 90% of the top US lenders use FICO scores when deciding whether to loan money to an applicant. On the other hand, VantageScore states that between July 2018 and June 2019, approximately 12.3 billion VantageScore credit scores were used.

The VantageScore model offers these advantages to lenders and consumers:

  • It was developed by the three major credit bureaus to offer a model across all bureaus that’s more consistent than FICO.
  • It calculates scores for more people by giving a score to people with a shorter credit history.

Both models are consistent enough that knowing where you stand in one gives you a reliable indication of your credit in general.

What Makes a Good Credit Score?

The same primary considerations go into calculating VantageScore credit scores and FICO credit scores:

Payment History

A history of late and missed payments for either scoring model lowers your credit score more than any other factor.

When determining your score, the FICO and VantageScore scoring models look at how recently you missed a payment or were late, how many accounts you were late on, and how many total payments on each account were missing or late.

Credit Utilization Ratio

Your credit utilization ratio is the amount of credit you’ve used divided by your total available credit limit. For example, if you have credit cards with a combined credit limit of $8,000 and balances of $3,000, your credit utilization ratio is 37.5%.

A good credit score requires a credit utilization ratio of 30% or less, although 10% or less is ideal.

Credit Age

Your credit age is how long you’ve used credit. More specifically, the length of your credit history is how long your credit accounts have been reported open, and your credit age is the average of how long all of your accounts have been open.

Say your oldest account was closed and fell off your file, and the next oldest account is 10 years “younger” than the account that fell off. Now, instead of showing how long you’ve actually used credit overall, credit files may show the age of the oldest account on file and your score may decrease.

To maintain a high credit age, keep at least one account on your credit file that is at least six months old. As you grow older, it should be easier to maintain a higher credit score as your accounts continue to grow in credit age.

Account Mix

Account mix is how many installment accounts and revolving accounts you have.

  • Installment accounts are loans—such as mortgages, car loans, or personal loans—with a fixed monthly payment for a specific term (number of months or years).
  • Revolving accounts are credit cards and credit lines with a credit limit that you can charge against.

Lenders want to see you can handle both types of accounts, so a good mix of the two makes for a better credit score.

Credit Inquiries

Hard inquiries happen when a lender looks at your credit report because you’ve applied for credit. A hard inquiry affects your credit score—lowering it by 5 to 10 points. The inquiry can stay on your credit report for up to two years, but it will impact your score for only 12 months. Though hard inquiries make up only 10% of your score, try to minimize credit inquiries to maximize your score.

When you need an auto loan or mortgage, it’s normal to shop around to find the best rates. Depending on the scoring model used, if you do your loan shopping in a 14- to 45-day span, the inquiries can be lumped into a single inquiry and affect your score less. FICO score models allow 45 days. On the other hand, the VantageScore model uses only a 14-day span.

Soft inquiries don’t affect your credits score.

Is a Credit Score the Only Thing Lenders Consider?

Lenders look at more than credit scores. The score plays a large factor, but so does your full credit report—sometimes from one bureau, sometimes from all three. Lenders may also look at your annual income and your debt-to-income ratio or overall debt.

Your debt-to-income ratio is calculated by dividing the total recurring monthly debt you have by your gross monthly income. This determines the percentage of debt you have compared to your income.

Credit card issuers and lenders may also look at how many reported delinquencies you have, how many hard inquiries were added to your credit file, your overall credit card utilization rate, your annual income, and your credit history’s health.

How Do I Get My Credit Scores?

You can get your full credit report from each credit bureau free once a year from AnnualCreditReports.com. Through April 2022, you can get a free copy of your credit report from each bureau weekly to help protect your financial health during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Those reports don’t include your credit score.

Most online options for viewing your credit score—free or paid—are limited to one or two scores. ExtraCredit from Credit.com takes it twenty-six steps further by offering you 28 of your FICO scores from all three major credit bureaus. When you sign up for an ExtraCredit account, you can also earn money when you get approved for select offers, monitor your accounts with $1 million identity theft insurance, and get exclusive discounts on credit repair services. All for less than $25 a month.

If you’re not ready for ExtraCredit, Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card offers you your Experian VantageScore 3.0 credit score for free for life.

What if My Credit Score Is Less Than Good?

Now that you know what’s a good credit score, it’s crucial to act on yours. If your credit is fair or poor, find out why. Then you can address the factors and work to improve your score.

Do you want to boost your credit profile? Our new ExtraCredit Build It feature can help. ExtraCredit identifies rent and utility bills you’re already paying and adds them to your credit reports as new tradelines. This allows the credit bureaus to see additional payment information from you, which can help build your credit profile.

*Assuming someone with poor credit (620–639) gets a 30-year fixed-rate loan at 4.03% APR compared to someone with excellent credit (760+) getting a 2.441% APR. Interest for the borrower with poor credit would total $217,478. Interest for the borrower with excellent credit would total $123,425. The difference of $94,053 is based on calculations made on 9/30/20 from https://www.myfico.com/credit-education/calculators/loan-savings-calculator/.


Source: credit.com

3 Easy Ways to Improve Your Credit Score

If you’ve never actively worked to improve your credit, a credit score might seem like black magic. You may understand that scores run from 300 to 850, but that’s where most people’s knowledge ends. When you don’t understand the forces at work, it’s easy to assume you have little immediate control over where you land on that spectrum.

In reality, your credit score is based on very real, very measurable criteria – and you absolutely have the power to change it. In fact, most consumers are in a position to improve their credit with very little effort.

Here are three easy of the easiest ways to improve your credit score:

#1 Change Your Credit Limit

One of the biggest factors in determining your credit score lies in how much of your current credit balance you’re using. Every credit card has a credit limit or a maximum amount you can spend. Your credit score will take a hit if your credit balance is more than 30% of the available limit.

There are two ways to decrease your credit utilization ratio: either pay off part of the balance or increase your credit limit.

For example, if you routinely have a $5,000 balance on a card with a $10,000 limit, you’re using 50% – much too high. However, if you spend $5,000 on a card with an $18,000 limit, you’ll have a 27% ratio. This should improve your score.

Most credit card issuers will happily increase your limit if you’ve been a loyal customer. It’s as simple as calling and asking for a higher limit.

#2 Set Up Autopay

Whether or not you make payments on-time is the single most important element in the calculation of your credit score. As long as you pay your bills on or before the deadline, your score will improve. Unfortunately, it’s common for customers to neglect this.

The easiest fail-safe is to set up autopay, so your bill will be automatically charged before the deadline. Almost every bill you have, whether it’s a credit card bill or car loan, offers autopay. Some student loan providers even give a small deduction on your interest rate for doing it.

If you don’t want to set up autopay or want to confirm that every payment goes through, use the Mint bill pay reminder. You’ll get a notification 10 days before the bill is due, so you’ll never see another late payment again.

#3 Keep Old Accounts Open

This is probably the easiest piece of advice on the list. Your credit age makes up 15% of your credit score, and the only way to increase the age is to keep old accounts open and avoid opening new ones. Every time you open a new credit card or take out a new loan, the average age decreases. In other words, if you just sit tight your score will likely increase on its own.

Did you know can check your credit score for free in the new app from Intuit, Turbo? Check it out today!

Zina Kumok is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance. A former reporter, she has covered murder trials, the Final Four and everything in between. She has been featured in Lifehacker, DailyWorth and Time. Read about how she paid off $28,000 worth of student loans in three years at Debt Free After Three.

What’s Turbo and why are we talking about it?

Turbo is part of the Intuit family of products, just like us. We work with Turbo, TurboTax and Quickbooks to get all our customers on the right track financially. While Mint provides free credit scores to our customers, Turbo combines the same score, plus other information like verified IRS filed income and debt to income ratio to create a broader financial health profile. Try out our sister app to see where you truly stand financially – beyond the credit score.

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Source: mint.intuit.com