Welcome to Best Money Saving Blog. Here we like to write articles about all ways in which normal people like me and you can save or make money. Covering a range of subjects from discounts and voucher codes, how to make money, general saving ideas and the occasional rant from myself. If you're a blogger out there with something to say or a company with a money saving product you'd like to write about - please get in touch with us. We're happy to help out and offer guest posts for anyone who's interested.

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Claiming Social Security Benefits

Published on March 27, 2015, by in Retirement.

One of the most important decisions that an American consumer will make as they near or reach retirement age is deciding when to actually start collecting their Social Security benefits. One of the biggest questions is going to be whether to start collecting them at the age of 62, when it’s possible, or at the “full” retirement age of 66.

Below are three important factors that you should know if you’re a retiree, or will be one soon, before you make the decision to start receiving your Social Security benefits. Enjoy.

The first is that the amount you receive monthly will depend on how much income you earned during your working life that was eligible for Social Security benefits, and also when you decide to start receiving those benefits.

Social Security has chosen 66 as the year for full retirement and, if you wait until that age, you’ll get the full benefit you’re due. If you decide to start receiving them early however, for every month early your benefits will be reduced. For example, if you choose to start getting them at age 62 instead of 66, your benefits will be 25% less. On the other hand, if you wait until you’re 70 years old you’ll increase your benefits by 8% per year, or 32%.

This next factor might be somewhat confusing because, let’s face it, Social Security was designed by the federal government. It’s the fact that, for the average consumer, it really doesn’t matter when you apply and start receiving your benefits because the Social Security Administration designed their program to average the lifetime payments out so that, no matter when you start receiving them, you still get the same amount of money in the end.

What that means is that, for most American consumers, getting smaller checks if you start receiving benefits early won’t last for the rest of your life.

Lastly there’s the simply the fact that, if your quality of life demands that you have extra money and need your social security payments, you should start taking them. On the other hand, if you don’t, then you should defer them as long as possible. For many American consumers, 62 is the age for starting to claim benefits simply because they need them in order to either get by or stay at their current standard of living. If that’s not you then by all means wait.

The most important thing to keep in mind when you’re considering the decision to start receiving your Social Security payments and that retirement is all about you. Retirement should be a time of comfort, reflection and hopefully even a bit of leisure and, when deciding whether or not to start receiving your Social Security benefits early, sometimes crunching the numbers isn’t exactly useful.

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Want Your Tax Refund in Cash? Visit Wal-Mart

Published on March 21, 2015, by in Taxes.

As an extra benefit to customers, and an excellent marketing gimmick, consumers this year can go to their local Walmart store to collect their tax refund in cash. For those consumers who don’t have a bank account, it’s a convenient and cheaper alternative to getting their check cashed.

Even better, Walmart won’t charge any fees for the service, although they have said that some tax preparers will be charging for making the arrangements, up to $7.

It’s definitely an added convenience for many taxpayers and, for Walmart itself, a great way to not only get customers into their stores but also give them the cash they need to stay there and make purchases.

The fact is, Walmart didn’t become the biggest retailer in the world for nothing, and they know a good idea when they see one. Their senior vice president for services, Daniel Eckert, recently commented that “It’s always a good thing to have customers in our stores web jingles in their wallets and their pockets.” While we’re not sure exactly what “jingles” are, but we assume that Mister Eckert was referring to good old American dollars.

The service is directed at those customers who, for one reason or another, don’t have bank accounts. Frankly, getting cash at your local Walmart won’t exactly be cheaper or quicker then having it deposited directly into your bank account but, if you don’t actually have a bank account, it definitely is a cheaper alternative.

The reason being is that, for consumers who don’t have a traditional bank account, it can cost upwards of $70 in fees to cash their tax refund check cashed. That’s quite a bit of money wasted just to cash a check, you have to admit, and consumers can actually get both their federal and state refund checks cashed at any of the retail giant’s locations.

One caveat however is that taxpayers who prepare their taxes themselves, using online tax preparation services, won’t be able to use any of the 25,000 tax preparers that Walmart has in their stores.

As an added bonus, 3000 Walmart stores across the country will have Jackson Hewitt tax preparers in-store and, when eligible clients use their services, they’ll get a $50 Walmart gift card for e-filing through them.

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Protect yourself from Dishonest Tax Preparers

Published on March 14, 2015, by in Taxes.

For millions of Americans preparing their taxes every year is a complex and stressful task, one that they usually count on tax preparers to help them complete. In fact, nearly 60% of American consumers file their taxes with the help of a tax preparer, but the IRS recently warned that consumers need to be wary of who they choose.

The IRS Commissioner, John Koskinen, recently said that “We see bad actors every year that steal from their clients or compromise returns in ways that can severely harm taxpayers.”  That’s a scary statement and, in order to help you protect yourself from becoming a victim of a fraudulent tax preparer, today’s blog will give you some excellent tips and advice. Enjoy.

First and foremost, always make sure that your preparer has an IRS Repairer Tax Identification Number (PTIN), certifying that they’re authorized to prepare federal tax returns for consumers.

When choosing a preparer, it’s best to avoid one that bases their fees on the size of your refund, for obvious reasons. Also, make sure that your refund is sent directly to you or deposited into your bank account, never the account of your tax preparer.

If you find a tax preparer that says they can file your taxes simply using your last pay-stub, instead of the initial W-2 form that you receive from your employer, definitely avoid them as it’s almost impossible to do that without their being able to verify what you tell them and have the proof they need to correctly prepare your return.

According to the IRS, the safest and most accurate way to file taxes these days is to do it electronically. What that means is that finding a tax preparer who can file your return electronically (e-file) is a great idea.

Remember that you, not your tax preparer, are responsible for all the information on your tax return. It’s for that reason that you should never sign a blank or incomplete return and, before it gets filed, review it completely and ask your preparer about any questions you have or errors you might find.

Lastly, your tax preparer is required by law to sign their name and include their PTIN on your tax return. Be sure they do, and also that you get a copy of the return that they sent to the IRS.

If for some reason you believe that your tax preparer has scammed you, you can report it to the IRS by filling out Form 14157 as well as Form 14157 – A, to report them and prevent other consumers from becoming victims as well.

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Protecting Your Assets

Published on March 7, 2015, by in Personal Finance.

It’s amazing how many people work for years building up their assets only to suddenly lose them because they weren’t prepared, and protected, for divorce, lawsuits or bankruptcy. Even worse is that, when advised about asset protection, many consumers are reluctant to do anything about it, leaving themselves open to risk even while knowing the dangers.

Below are a number of common beliefs (or misbeliefs, if you will) that could possibly ruin you financially. Knowing about them will help you to avoid them and make some important financial decisions. Enjoy.

First, many people feel that if they are “lucky enough” to have a lot of wealth and assets, wanting to protect them is selfish. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Protecting your assets also safeguards many other people, including your family members, employees and tenants.

Some consumers believe that all they need is liability insurance, but let’s look at some facts. Fact 1 is that liability insurance will go sleep only will protect you if any claim you make doesn’t exceed your actual coverage. Fact 2 is that it’s possible that your insurer denies your claim and Fact 3 is that, in some cases, an insurance company will go bankrupt in the middle of a lawsuit. If any of these 3 things happen, your liability insurance isn’t going to be helpful, or protective.

Occasionally you’ll find a very naïve consumer who believes that, in general, most people can be trusted. With that in mind, they believe that asset protection simply isn’t necessary. After they’ve been through a nasty divorce or breakup of a partnership in business, and after it’s too late to protect their money, they find out that they were wrong.

Many believe that asset protection is only something that “rich people” need. The fact is that the vast majority of consumers aren’t very rich but what they do have, including, for example. a rental property, maybe a small business or a 401(k) retirement plan with $70,000 in it, are still valuable. If they lose those assets, they have absolutely nothing.

Then there are those consumers who believe that, as long as they never do anything wrong, why would they need asset protection? The fact is however that every day in the United States people with high morals and integrity, as well as a lot of money, are the targets of frivolous lawsuits. Even if these lawsuits don’t have merit and, eventually, are dismissed, a lot of time, energy and, you guessed it, money is wasted defending against them. In fact, some plaintiffs actually sue in the hopes that a defendant will be unwilling to go through all the hassle and expense of defending themselves and instead “settle out-of-court”.

Last, but certainly not least, of those who believe that asset protection is unethical or somehow “shady”. These people believe that those who use asset protection are simply trying to illegally hide their assets, something that couldn’t be further from the truth.

The simple fact is this; if you worked hard to become financially independent and successful, and have assets to show for it, protecting those assets is morally and ethically justified and also makes a lot of sense. Like a shelter from the storm, asset protection will shelter all those years of diligent hard work from any type of financial storm you might encounter.

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5 Great Ways to Save Money on Everyday Things

Stay in your means and budget by shopping for everyday things like clothes, personal products, fitness gear and more by shopping savvy. Quite often we forgo things like fitness, health, beauty, gift giving at parties and travel because it’s too expensive or not in our budget. Below are some great ways to stretch your dollar and still have a fabulous lifestyle!

 

Health and Fitness

Getting fit and staying healthy is hard enough with the cost of food, supplements and gym memberships. Buying fitness clothes and running shoes puts a damper on your wallet–big time. The best way to find ways to cut corners and save more is at stores like Sports Authority and Finish Line. Both have regular sales, and Groupon normally offers big savings in coupon codes and online deals.

Fashion

Dress in the latest fashions for less! Everyone wants the ability to feed a family, pay the bills and buy a pair of designer shoes. The best way to do this is to shop designer for less at department stores like Nordstrom which offer holiday sales, coupon codes and more. Of course, if your budget still doesn’t allow that, you can check out stores like Forever 21 whom offer fashion that might not be designer but sure does look like it!

Home Improvement

Shop savvy, get the kids to soccer practice and remodel your bathroom for less. Whether you want a new oven, or to add small appliances to your kitchen, or simply need some hardcore home improvements there are stores that offer things on deep discount that can help you save money. The best way to get home improvement for less is DIY. Stores like Home Depot are great for DIY projects, help and big savings!

Travel

Cut corners and take a holiday! Save money on travel with coupon codes, value websites and bundling travel. These are great ways to make your dollar go as far as the plane, car or your feet will take you. One great way to travel, even just for a weekend getaway is car rental. You don’t have to drive across the U.S. to get away. Try companies like Fox Rent A Car for big savings on weekends, week rates, and more.

Gift Giving

Whether it’s a birthday, wedding or special occasion there are loads of ways to save on giving your favorite people something special. Sears is a great place to find wedding ideas. Shutterfly is great place for family keepsakes. Both regularly appear on Groupon with coupon codes and big deals for your every gift giving whim!

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Property Investment is a Means to Retirement

Have you been thinking about property investment as a means to an end? By means to an end I am referring to the silver lining of retirement on the horizon. We all want to retire today so that we can use our time as we see fit, and not the daily 9 to 5 grind that we have all grown so accustomed to today. In fact, I have many friends and online acquaintances that have used property investment as a means to financial freedom and independence. While I am still working on this goal myself, I’d like to share some of their top tips at how to be successful when investing in property and real estate.

Finding a reliable low cost mortgage company is important in order to keep upfront costs reasonable. Chances are you will be financing the purchase price of these properties and not paying cash outright. For example, Newcastle permanent home loans have reasonable loan fees and fair interest rates. Perhaps you can even bargain with certain costs like reduced appraisal fees if you end up ordering several different loans through the same company.

Be aware of property taxes and school districts. These are two important factors that play into most potential renters and buyers minds when deciding on where to live. Property taxes can be quite expensive depending on what location you live in, and often are a deal breaker when factoring in the cost of a home on one’s budget. Also, parents are naturally concerned with the school district for their children’s sake. You might see a larger and new home for much less money in a poor school district, but turning that house over could take a lot longer.

Unless you have plenty of free time and consider yourself Mr. Fix-It, I would hire a property management company to do all of the heavy lifting. They will collect rent money from borrowers and hound the renter until it is paid. If a furnace goes out or a roof is leaking they will find a reliable low cost contractor to come out and do the work for you. They often times take one month of the rental income as their fee, which isn’t all that much considering the hassle they save you from.

If you think that real estate investment is key to early retirement for you then make sure you do your homework before getting started. Heed the tips and advice above, and happy hunting!

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Low Interest Rates Are Still a Reason to Act

Published on January 13, 2015, by in Personal Finance.

Every financial quotation that uses history as part of its marketing always qualifies its use by stating it is no guarantee of what will happen in the future. It is often used as an illustration of what growth an investor could expect if history was to repeat itself over a given period. Property is generally recognised as a good investment beyond the very short term. There are occasions when values fall; it happened during the recession but it is generally a temporary setback.  One aspect of investment that is extremely interesting is the prevailing interest rate and certainly the current position is very interesting.

Fixed Rates

Thirty years ago the average house price in the UK was around £30,000 with interest rates around 12%. Today the average is just under £180,000, a few thousand lower than the peak of 2007 before the financial crash. Values are rising again however and it is also encouraging that interest rates are so low. They dropped to single figures two decades ago but historically they have never been so low. There are now fixed rate mortgages for those with good sized deposits as low as 2 – 3% for a number of years.

Personal Finance

In this financial environment and with decent job security within the UK there has rarely been a better time to look at personal finance, everything from buying a house, remortgaging, consolidating debt or taking out a loan.  It is an opportunity that is not available to everyone; those who got into real financial trouble during the recession and those setting out on a career and yet to build up assets.

Even for those people however it is an opportunity. Those with current debts would be well advised to look at their financial problems to see whether they can reduce their monthly outgoings. There are indications that interest rates are unlikely to rise until the second half of the year and then only very slowly. There is a fairly new breed of financial institution; those that operate primarily online and place more store on an applicant’s ability to repay a loan over the specified period rather than deciding purely on the applicant’s credit history.

Internet

The Internet is full of information. It cannot create financial experts overnight but there is enough online to get people thinking and asking questions. It would be time well spent. No one should lock themselves in to expensive deals unnecessarily.

Cheap Money?

Credit cards are convenient yet interest rates on outstanding balances are crippling. There is plenty of cheap money round to pay such balances off and the temptation to build one up again should be resisted at all costs. Every financial decision must be thought through to see whether there are any major disadvantages in a course of action. Interest rates and the term of any borrowing are the two parts of any financial ‘contract’ that get the headlines but it is the practical detail that needs close examination. What is the total to be repaid and the monthly commitment to do so?

There is always help available from people who are involved in finance every day. It does not mean that such advisers are right on every occasion. After all the whole industry was found out when the recession hit. What is certain is that someone that carefully considers their personal finances and asks the right questions is more likely to be on the right track as not.

Everyone has the opportunity to improve their financial position with a little care. It can be by reducing mortgage repayments, consolidating expensive ‘money’ into more affordable loans or simply showing a level of responsibility that will make themselves into ‘good risks’ in the future. While rates are at an historic low why not act?

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If you are single do you need to invest in life insurance?

Life insurance is a very important acquisition as it allows you to provide for the people left behind after you die. In the vast majority of cases this means your dependents such as a partner and any children you may have.

Life insurance is normally intended to help these dependents meet the financial burdens of life when they no longer have the benefit of your income. These burdens can include the payment of a mortgage, or the cost of education. If you don’t have any dependents then is it really necessary to have life insurance?

If you are single, how does life insurance apply to you?

Firstly, it’s about more than just being single. You can be single and still have children who you want to provide for if you die. It’s also about the costs involved. In the majority of cases if you are single and have no dependents then the only thing you really have to be concerned about is the cost of your funeral. You may want to consider the benefits of a funeral pre-payment plan. It should be noted that these plans do have some risks attached to them and you also have the option of approaching your bank to set up a fund to pay for your funeral expenses.

What if you’re only young and you don’t know what the future may bring?

No-one really knows what is just around the corner; you may be single with no dependents today but that situation can change very quickly. Is it worth taking out a life insurance policy while you are young and healthy, just in case? It’s certainly true that life insurance premiums are cheaper when you are young and in good health but even so is it really worth paying out for life insurance when there is no-one to benefit, probably not.

When should you think about life insurance?

As soon as you have dependents to provide for, and a mortgage to pay, then it’s a good idea to purchase HBF life insurance. Once you have a policy in place then you no longer have to worry about what will happen should you die. You just need to make sure that you are insured for enough value to make sure that the mortgage can be paid off, and that the ongoing costs of raising your children can be met. This means that your family will at least have some financial stability whilst they are dealing with the emotional trauma of losing you.

It’s likely that you will need to purchase term life insurance which is normally suited to younger people in good health. You can take out the policy for a set number of years and if you die within that period then your family is paid a lump sum. In most cases this time period is long enough for your children to have grown up and for your mortgage to be mostly paid off. After these two things happen it may no longer be necessary to have a life insurance policy, depending on what other expenses will exist if you die.

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Stock Buybacks are Booming!

Published on August 26, 2014, by in Personal Finance.

After faltering for a couple of months, buyback announcements from many major US companies shot up to a three month high recently, putting 2014 on track to be one of the biggest years ever for buybacks. Companies from 21st Century Fox Inc. to several airlines and many other businesses continue to buy back shares of their own stocks, even though they’re being criticized by many analysts for doing so.  Here are 3 reasons why buybacks have become so popular in the last decade or so.

First of all, this is what they call “financial engineering”. When a company has earnings that aren’t doing so well, they can actually maintain and even boost their earnings per share by repurchasing those shares. What this does is shrink the denominator/shares outstanding, and many businesses have realized that it’s an excellent way for them to bolster their per-share earnings and sustain any momentum that their stock might have.

Second, businesses have realized that buybacks are a great way to return money to shareholders. While some are quick to criticize companies for buying back their shares instead of investing in things like new equipment or hiring better people, that criticism is a akin to criticizing them for paying dividend payments. The fact is, buybacks are just another way to distribute corporate profits to shareholders and, since it avoids double-taxation, it’s seen as a better way to do it as well.

Finally, many businesses have realized that buybacks are an excellent way to offset employees who cash in. While there is certainly criticism of companies that ramp up buybacks after their stocks have climbed, what most of these critics simply don’t understand is the need for these companies to “buy high” in order to offset employees cashing in. The fact is, when stock prices go higher, employees begin exercising their in-the-money stock options and, when they drop, the same employees hold back from exercising these options.

So far in 2013 businesses have announced about $300 billion worth of buybacks, and July saw $55 billion, the highest amount since April. What this means is that, even though buybacks are still extremely popular, it’s unlikely that they’re going to top the $669 billion total of 2013 or the all-time record that was reached in 2007.

Nevertheless, buybacks are more and more an option that companies are using in order to maintain their earnings, pay shareholders and offset employee cash-ins. Whether or not analysts like them, they certainly will continue to happen into the future.

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Terms you need to Know in order to Understand Financial Risk

Published on August 20, 2014, by in Personal Finance.

When it comes to investing there are a lot of terms that you really need to know in order to be able to make educated decisions. Many of those terms deal with the financial risk that you take when investing, and knowing those terms is vitally important to your success. Below you’ll find the most important financial risk terms that you need to know. Enjoy.

Probably the most important term is Market Risk or what’s known as “principal risk”. This term refers to the chance that a downturn in the market, or a bad investment, lowers the value of any asset you might have. It’s used mostly for stocks and bonds.

At the other end of the spectrum from market risk is Risk of Avoiding Risk. This usually applies to investors who are too conservative and whose investments don’t grow fast enough to keep up with inflation.

Many consumers seek the elusive risk-free return by putting their money into CDs. The problem with this is Interest Rate Risk, which you face if your assets get stuck at a below average rate of return because interest rates have risen.

One term that applies to an individual more than the market is Shortfall Risk, the risk that an investor won’t have enough money to make their goals. Being too conservative or, on the other hand, too aggressive, can open an investor up to shortfall risk. For consumer that doesn’t believe their portfolio is strong enough, saving more is the key to addressing shortfall risk.

A similar term is Special Situation Risk, which applies to an individual investor with special needs like a wedding, home purchase or college costs. A couple that is so worried about paying college for their child that it distracts them from saving for their own retirement, for example, is suffering from special situation risk.

Timing Risk is similar to special situation risk in that it depends on the individual investor as well as the specific timing that they’ll need to keep up with in order to have enough money by the time a specific event occurs. For example, if an investor is going to be purchasing a home in four years but it doesn’t appear that their stocks will make enough money to enable them to do that, their timing risk is high.

If government decisions could possibly damage the value of any of your investments or assets, you have Political Risk. Obamacare, tax law changes and changes to Social Security are all specific political risks in that all of them may negatively affect your investments.

Looking at everything from a “big picture” perspective, Societal Risk is the risk that your assets and investments face due to world events like terrorist attacks, wars and natural disasters.

Unless you’re a complete newb  investor, you should already know that Diversification is one of the best ways, if not the best way, to lower your risk from any of the factors above. Diversification means simply spreading your money around in different assets and asset classes so that, if one were to falter or fail, the others will still continue to grow, keeping you from losing everything.

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