'Tis the season of holiday cheer, family and friends, and unfortunately, excessive spending and credit card debt. While I love the seasonal spirit of giving and love, I can't help but feel a burning sensation in my pocket. Covering everything from traditional holiday decor to the Christmas shindig, I've compiled nine savvy and affordable alternatives to celebrate the holidays without breaking the bank!
That said, if you know you can pay off what you owe, travel reward credit cards will be a neat way of earning free flights and hotel stays. Here are some good options:
- Sign-up bonus: Earn 10,000 Starpoints after your first purchase and an additional 15,000 if you spend up to $5,000 in six months.
- Earning points: Get one Starpoint for every dollar spent on most purchases and five Starpoints on every dollar spent on SPG hotels.
- Transferring points: Transfer Starpoints to about 30 airlines. The conversion rate for most airlines is one to one, so you'll be getting one mile for one Starpoint. You get a 5,000 Starpoint bonus when you transfer 20,000 Starpoints to a frequent flier program.
- Annual fee: No annual fee for the first year, then a $65 annual fee for subsequent years.
- APR: 15.24 percent, 17.24 percent, or 19.24 percent.
- Cons: There is a foreign transaction fee of 2.7 percent if you use it outside of the US. American Express isn't accepted everywhere. There is also a pretty high annual fee and APR.
- Sign-up bonus: Earn 20,000 bonus miles if you spend at least $2,000 within three months of signing up.
- Earning points: Get two miles for every dollar spent on net purchases. Miles don't expire, and there is no limit on earning miles.
- Transferring points: You can transfer rewards to any other US miles or point accounts.
- Annual fee: No annual fee for the first year, then a $59 annual fee for subsequent years.
- APR: 13.9 percent, 16.9 percent, or 20.9 percent.
- Bonus: No foreign transaction fees.
- Cons: People with weak credit scores may not qualify. There is also a pretty high annual fee and APR.
- Sign-up bonus: Earn 40,000 bonus points if you spend at least $3,000 within three months of signing up. That equates to $500 toward a flight.
- Earning points: Get two points for every dollar you spend on travel and restaurants. Get an extra point for travel expenditures when you book a hotel or flight through its Ultimate Rewards program. You get one point for all other purchases.
- Transferring points: Transfer points to participating mileage and hotel reward programs like United MileagePlus, Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards, The Ritz-Carlton Rewards, Marriott Rewards, and Hyatt Gold Passport. The rate is a one-to-one transference with no transfer fees. So one Ultimate Rewards point equals one hotel reward point or one mile when you transfer it.
- Annual fee: No annual fee for the first year, then a $95 annual fee for subsequent years.
- APR: 15.99 percent, but may vary with different people.
- Bonus: No foreign transaction fees. You get 20 percent off your flight, hotels, car rentals, and cruises if you redeem your points through Ultimate Rewards. You'll also get 24/7 access to an expert service adviser. You get triple points if you dine out on the first Friday of every month through 2014.
- Cons: Very high annual fee and APR. There is also a limited selection of participating mileage and hotel reward program partners if you compare it to other cards like American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Card, which provides you with about double the amount of options.
- Sign-up bonus: Earn 20,000 bonus points if you spend at least $2,500 within three months of signing up. That equates to $200 toward a flight.
- Earning points: Get five points for every dollar you spend on flights. You get one point for all other purchases.
- Transferring points: You can't transfer points to any airlines or hotels, but you can purchase airfare with those points.
- Annual fee: No annual fee.
- APR: 9.99 percent.
- Bonus: No foreign transaction fees. You can access a 24/7 concierge, and you'll get VIP lounge access to over 350 airport lounges worldwide.
- Cons: You have to be a Pentagon Federal Credit Union member, but it's quite easy to join even if you don't belong to one of the qualifying organizations. You can also opt to pay a one-time $15 donation to a qualifying organization instead. American Express isn't accepted everywhere.
- Sign-up bonus: Earn 40,000 HHonors bonus points if you spend at least $1,000 within four months of signing up. That equates to a free night at a Hilton property.
- Earning points: Get six points for every dollar you spend on a hotel under the Hilton Worldwide portfolio. Earn three points for supermarket, drugstore, and gas station purchases. You get two points for all other purchases.
- Annual fee: No annual fee.
- APR: 14.24 percent.
- Bonus: No foreign transaction fees. You can redeem your points for hotel stays, car rentals, partner airlines, and more.
- Cons: The APR is pretty high, and you'll need to be a regular Hilton customer to best reap the benefits.
- Sign-up bonus: Earn 40,000 bonus miles if you spend $1,000 in the first three months. That equates to a $400 credit toward travel expenses.
- Earning points: Earn two miles for every dollar you spend. Get 10 percent miles back when you redeem your miles for travel. No limit on earning mileage points.
- Annual fee: No annual fee for the first year, then $89 for subsequent years.
- APR: Zero APR the first year, then the APR is 14.99 percent or 18.99 percent.
- Bonus: Free subscription to TripIt Pro mobile travel organizer ($49). No foreign transaction fees.
- Cons: High annual fee.
As always, be careful when you're using credit cards, and if you don't have the means to pay it back in full before the end of the month, you should consider spending less.
- Do set a budget. Christmas isn't a time to go wild and spend money on presents you can't afford. Sure, it's a time to be generous, but remember to be kind to yourself first and don't empty out your wallet. Start making a list of people you're giving gifts to and set a cap on how much you're going to spend on them.
- Do consider giving homemade gifts. Personally, I tend to appreciate the gift more when it's homemade because it shows a lot of thought and effort on the gift-giver's part. Here are some incredible ideas.
- Do be smart about regifting. If you're planning on regifting, remember to avoid major no-nos, such as giving a used item and giving the gift to a friend of a friend. Regifting a bottle of wine is always your safest bet, but do remember to do it with a personal touch like a small card.
- Do get a gift receipt. If you're purchasing something for your friend, make sure you ask the salesperson to include a gift receipt. It's just a polite gesture, and you know your money won't go to waste because if your friend doesn't like the gift, she can just exchange it.
- Do put thought into your gift. If you like something, that doesn't mean that your recipient is going to like it, too. Take some time to really think about what she likes and what her interests are. Here are a list of thoughtful gifts that won't break the bank if you need ideas. Don't get her a generic gift, and reflect back on your previous conversations to see if she talked about a certain item she's been wanting to get. A good idea is to check out her Pinterest profile to see if she lists products she wants, and Etsy also has a great suggestions for gifts .
Remember when you were younger and you gave "coupons" to your parents for things like a free car wash? Well, this holiday season, it's time to bring those back, except in a more sophisticated, grown-up way. There are still things you can do to help your family or friends, either by taking a family portrait or booking their next vacation, at little or no cost to you. No doubt they'll appreciate the sentiment, no matter how old you are.
When it comes to enrolling for health coverage, a lot of questions may spring to your mind. LearnVest shares some tips to help you figure out which policy is best suited for you and your health needs.
Scott Kraft, a 40-year-old marathon enthusiast, spent more than a decade covering health care policy in the Washington, D.C., area as a reporter before transplanting to Portland, Ore., a few months ago with his longtime boyfriend.
But while he knows the insides and outsides of the Affordable Care Act, and appreciates that he can get access to the same insurance as his friends without asthma (a pre-existing condition), he is having a hard time making the commitment to enroll in a plan through his state’s health care exchange website (a handful of states launched their own health care exchange websites when HealthCare.gov launched, as part of the ACA).
The problem: He doesn’t know what kind of access to doctors and primary care he’ll have whether he enrolls in a premium “platinum” plan, a “gold-level” plan, a “silver-level” plan, or a basic “bronze-level” plan.
“The X Factor has been network availability,” says Kraft, who is unable to get insurance through his domestic partner’s employer because the two are not married. “I’m fairly new to Oregon, so I don’t have a network of doctors. I don’t have to worry about, ‘Will I lose my provider?’ But for all the information I can get on the site, I am struggling to find out, ‘What if I can’t find a plan … with a good doctor with an open panel?’”
Kraft’s anxiety about the actual “coverage” that comes with these plans—how easy it will be to find a doctor, make an appointment to be seen quickly and related needs — is at the heart of the uncertainty surrounding the enrollment in the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchange plans. So far, about 100,000 consumers have already enrolled.
Still, many of those who have or plan to soon enroll may be in for a shock when they realize that finding a great doctor and getting the care and services they need may not be as easy as picking a plan on a website—or as “affordable.”
According to a recent survey of more than 1,000 medical groups (representing more than 47,500 physicians) from the Medical Group Management Association, an organization that represents primary care physicians, 14% of physician practices currently say they won’t participate in the new health insurance exchange plans, while only about one in three practices say they definitely will.
Another 40% said they are still evaluating whether or not they will participate with health insurance exchange products. One of the biggest reasons doctors don’t want to participate: Financial burdens such as the pain-in-the-butt task of collecting payments from patients with high deductibles.
Doctor interests aside, for consumers like Kraft who want to get the most for their money when it comes to affording health care, this begs a few questions: What kind of health care coverage are you actually buying into when you purchase an exchange plan? And could it change overnight?
Here’s a closer look at coverage issues, and how to figure what insurance policy makes sense for you financially.
- Over-the-counter items: We're not allowed to spend our FSA dollars on over-the-counter medicines without prescriptions but there are plenty of nonmedicinal products that we can still use the FSA money for. For example, band aids, crutches, first aid kits, reading glasses, sunscreen, and wound are all covered under the FSA.
- Acupuncture: Acupuncture is covered by your FSA, so if you have a condition such as pain, consider acupuncture.
- Chiropractic: Your FSA also covers chiropractic visits, so now may be the time to schedule an appointment with your chiropractor.
- Birth control: Many contraceptives are now covered by insurance, but your preferred brand may not be. Use your FSA if your insurance doesn't cover it.
- Glasses and contact lens: Schedule a vision exam and use your FSA dollars to buy a new pair of glasses or supplies of contact lenses.
- Prescription medicine: Buy prescription medicine if it makes sense for you to do so. Most insurance policies will only let you buy a month's supply at a time, so you can't exactly stock up on medicine.
- Copayment: Your FSA will cover the copay for your prescription medicine, doctor's visit, dental visit, and vision visit. So try to go before the end of the year to spend your FSA dollars on copays.
- Laser eye surgery and Lasik: If you've been meaning to get your vision corrected with laser surgery, it's worth considering using your FSA account to do so.
- Medical monitoring and testing devices: If you need a gadget to measure and monitor your blood pressure or ovulation, perhaps it's time to buy one now. Pregnancy and glucose test kits also qualify.
- Therapy. FSA covers therapy if it's for treatment of a medical disorder.
- Massage. Your FSA may cover massage if it's for a treatment of a medical condition, so check with the FSA administrators to see if you qualify.
For a more detailed list on what's allowed, check out this list by WageWorks, and remember to always check with HR just to make certain your expenses qualify. FSA is best used when it covers items that your health insurance doesn't generally pay for. Remember to use them or you'll lose them before the year's up!
It's always sad to see a company we love or a well-known personality go bankrupt. However, filing for bankruptcy doesn't always mean that the companies and people won't ever recover from the financial setback.
Many companies rebound after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which just means they need a little time off for some financial reorganization. A Chapter 7 filing is the one we should all be mournful for; it's the final nail in the coffin for firms. We've also seen plenty of people bounce back after bankruptcy, such as Donald Trump, who filed for bankruptcy four times but is a billionaire today.
This year, saw a drop in bankruptcies. In fact, there were 12 percent fewer commercial and personal bankruptcies in the first nine months of 2013 compared to the same period a year ago. This is definitely good news; we haven't seen as many household names on the brink of financial collapse this year compared to last year.
What was the saddest bankruptcy in 2013?
If you're planning to work with a tax preparer, it's important to always be honest about your money moves. Business Insider has compiled seven examples you'll want to share next time tax season rolls around.
When it comes to making your money work for you, transparency is key. Just like it's important to disclose potentially embarrassing life events to your wealth adviser, it's equally, if not more, important to be honest with your tax preparer.
However, that's not always the case. In a 2011 IRS report, twice as many Americans (eight percent) believed a little fibbing on tax returns is "fine," compared to the same survey issued in 2010.
And although it's true that the IRS doesn't exactly go after "small potatoes" taxpayers for fibs (generally, you'd need at least $1 million in assets to interest them), even a few missing details could put your refund in jeopardy.
Here are seven confessions we recommend making:
"I made a nondeductible contribution to a traditional IRA."
"While nondeductible contributions have no impact on your tax liability in the year they are made, by not reporting these contributions on your return, it’s more difficult to claim these same amounts are not taxable when they’re later withdrawn from the IRA, usually many years later," says Tim Steffen, CPA and director of financial planning at Baird.
"I've earned income outside of my regular 9-to-5 job."
Whether it's a lawn-mowing service you keep on the side, or a freelance writing gig at your local newspaper, any additional income will need to be reported on your tax forms.
We know. It's a pain to gather all your 1099 forms and keep track of every dollar and cent that you've earned yourself, but it's a big red flag to potential auditors if you don't. At least 4 million people were audited in 2010 for underreporting their income, according to Minyanville.
The IRS uses document-matching programs that let agents cross-check income reported on tax returns against what is reported on forms like a W-2, 1099-INT, 1099-DIV, and 1099-B.
Now that Black Friday is finally over, it's time to take advantage of Cyber Monday sales. Check out what's in store for consumers today (keep watching this space as we continue to update the list):
- Orbitz: 20 percent off the best hotel deals with the code CHEERS. Promo ends Dec. 3.
- Travelocity: Save up to 50 percent on hotels and flight and hotel packages. Get $100 off $1,000 toward a flight and hotel package with the code TURKEY100. Promo ends Dec. 2.
- Alaska Airlines: One-way fares start from as low as $49.
- Southwest: $100-or-less one-way tickets for travel Dec. 24, 25, and 31, 2013, and Jan. 1, 2014.
- Virgin America: Book today with the code GAMEPLANE, and you'll get up to 20 percent off main cabin fares for travel between Dec. 18, 2013, and March 6, 2014.
- Priceline: Save up to 55 percent on hotels. Save an extra 10 percent off hotels with the code CYBER13.
- Shopbop: From Nov. 26 to Dec. 2, Shopbop and its menswear counterpart, East Dane, are offering a tiered promotional sale. A $250 purchase will get you 15 percent off, a $500 buy will save you 20 percent, and if you drop $1,000, you'll get 25 percent off.
- BaubleBar: Enjoy
20 percent off sitewide if you head over to BaubleBar on Cyber Monday.
- : Shop online with 1960House of Harlow 1960 through Dec. 2, and you'll get 25 percent off with the code BLACKHOH.
- Rebecca Minkoff: Shop sitewide to participate in Rebecca Minkoff's tiered promotional sale. Spend $200 for 20 percent off, $400 for 25 percent off, and $600 for 30 percent off, plus receive a special gift with your purchase!
- Century 21: If you're a loyalty customer, you're in luck! You can score one already-discounted designer piece for an additional 25 percent off through Dec. 2.
- Bluefly: A $200-or-more purchase will get you $40 off your entire order plus free shipping.
- BeachMint: From Black Friday through Cyber Monday, receive 50 percent off sitewide.
- TUMI: Cyber Monday is the only day you can purchase your suitcase in this limited-edition camo print.
- Urban Outfitters: On Cyber Monday only, Urban Outfitters is offering a tiered promotional sale. A $75 purchase will get you $15 off, a $100 purchase will get you $25 off, and a $150 purchase will get you $50 off plus free shipping.
- Rent the Runway: In need of a holiday dress? Enjoy 20 percent off your purchase. If you spend over $150, you'll also receive a pair of Moschino headphones, designed exclusively for Rent the Runway.
- Yoox.com: Shop the Fall and Winter Collection now through Cyber Monday with up to 40 percent off pieces by Lanvin, Emporio Armani, Valentino, and many more.
- DVF: Get 30 percent off wear-now styles from the Fall 2013 collection through Cyber Monday. And take an additional 10 percent off on Cyber Monday using the code EXTRA10.
Vince Camuto: Take up to 40 percent off regularly priced items and 50 percent off sale items with code BFRIDAY online through Cyber Monday.
- Diesel: Take advantage of up to 40 percent off select items from Black Friday through Cyber Monday.
- Urban Outfitters: Stop by today, and take $50 off $150, $25 off $100, or $15 off $75 plus free shipping on all orders; no code necessary.
- Express: Take advantage of 40 percent off sitewide plus free shipping; no code necessary.
- Alice + Olivia: Take advantage of an extra 25 percent off sitewide through Cyber Monday; no code required.
- Forever 21: Get 50 percent off sales items and 50 percent off all boots and bags.
- ASOS: 30 percent off everything with code GIMMEMORE.
- Modcloth: Get 30 percent off sitewide with code ROBOPUG.
- Ahava: From Nov. 27 to Dec. 2, you'll get 40 percent off sitewide. You can also get a hand-cream gift set for $18 (originally $42).
- Birchbox: When you buy $55 worth of full-size products, you can get an exclusive Rebecca Taylor makeup bag for free. Just type in REBECCAGIFT.
- Bliss: Save 20 percent on full-size bottles of Elemis and Remede products.
- Bobbi Brown: You'll get five free samples with any order on Cyber Monday only.
- The Body Shop: Save 50 percent on the entire site, and get free shipping with a purchase of $30 or more.
- Chanel: For Cyber Monday, Chanel is offering a special set of polishes.
- Clarisonic: Pick up the new Mia First for only $99 from Nov. 26 through Dec. 5 as well as on Dec. 9, Dec. 26, and Jan. 5.
- Dr. Brandt: It's all about the eyes! With this deal, you'll get 40 percent off eye cream and a bonus BB or CC cream when you spend $150.
- Drybar: All bundles are 20 percent off!
- Elf: 50 percent off any purchase of $30 or more.
- First Aid Beauty: On Cyber Monday only, get free shipping and 30 percent off your purchase.
- FragranceNet.com: New shoppers can get 20 percent off your purchase plus a free gift with purchase if you like FragranceNet.com on Facebook.
- Go Smile: Buy the Smile Whitening Light System for only $69 (originally $129).
- H2O+: With any purchase of $100 or more, you'll get $25 off. Plus, receive a free gift with purchase when you shop from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.
- Make Up For Ever: Get two full-size Aqua Shadows for $10 at Sephora.
- Prescriptives: 30 percent off sitewide and free shipping.
- StriVectin: With the code CMJINGLE25, you can receive 25 percent off a cart of $200 or more.
- Shu Uemura: Treat yourself to an extra 20 percent off and free shipping on orders over $50, and get 25 percent off orders over $100 through Cyber Monday. Don't forget to use the code SUGAR.
- Urban Decay: The brand is bringing back a fan-favorite book of shadows from 2011, and it will only be $25.
Check out POPSUGAR Beauty's full list for a more extensive array of Cyber Monday deals.
Usually it's tough to bounce back after a long weekend, but today is not your average Monday — it's Cyber Monday, the biggest online shopping day of the year. For those of you who steered clear of Black Friday, now is your chance to scoop up some gifts at a discount, without leaving your desk.
The brains behind Cyber Monday are no dummies and know that you'll be sitting in front of your computer all day, but you need to make sure shopping doesn't get in the way of completing your work. Here's a plan for balancing your Monday priorities.