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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Money Explained in this Infographic

Published on April 23, 2014, by in Personal Finance.

This is a very interesting Infographic that explains exactly why we need money and why these worthless papers are so valuable when they represent cash money. Comparison of money with gold and lot of other interesting stuff is provided in a very professional way. Misconception of monetary value against gold has been explained very cleverly. It’s a good resource for anyone who needs to understand how money works and how we value it. I must say the guys at BuddyLoans have developed an infographic that will be remembered for a long time. Please see the infographic below and dont forget to visit BuddyLoans Blog for more unique and interesting content.

Lets Talk About Money and Why We Value It

courtesy of BuddyLoans.com

 

 

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Does Fracking cause Earthquakes?

Published on April 23, 2014, by in Personal Finance.

Instead of the usual financial blog today were going to get a little bit crazy with some breaking news about fracking, the relatively new approach to mining natural gas, and its possible link to earthquakes.  (When we’re done you may be wishing that we‘d given you a financial blog instead.)

In Ohio, geologists have for the first time linked fracking in the Appalachian Mountains to earthquakes, something that is at once terrifying and unsurprising that the same time. It’s also led to new, stricter conditions for companies to get permits in one of the areas of the country where the laws are already quite strict.

In March an investigation by the state that concluded that five small tremors in the Youngstown area of Ohio, which lies in the Appalachian foothills, were caused by the increased pressure due to the high pressure injection of sand and water that accompanies something called “hydraulic fracturing” or “fracking” for short.

Rick Simmers, the state oil – chief for Ohio, called the link between this newish form of drilling and the small tremors “probable”.

This is the first time that fracking has been directly linked to earthquake tremors and, even though they couldn’t be felt by people living in the area, it was concluded that the five seismic events that happened in March of this year were all part of a single, larger event.

This this was confirmed by the Glenda Ostman, a seismologist with the US Department of the Interior, and makes it the first time that a connection between the extraction of oil and gas (as opposed to wastewater disposal) and earthquakes has been made. At the same time it was found that a series of quakes in the same region back in 2012 were likely caused by a deep injection well involved in the same type of natural gas extraction activities.

James Zehringer, director of Ohio’s natural resources department, said that “While we can never be 100 percent sure that drilling activities are connected to a seismic event, caution dictates that we take these new steps to protect human health, safety and the environment.”

The scarier factor behind all of this is that, over the last several years, energy companies have been drilling literally thousands of what they call “unconventional” gas wells in and around Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio, an area of the country with an abundance of Marcellus Shale.

The fact that Marcellus shale is one of the richest natural gas reserves in the entire world, and that drillers of only recently begun to tap deeper into it, has many people in the Northeast concerned that one day fracking won’t just lead to tremors but to an actual, full-blown earthquake.

And now we  return your back to your regularly scheduled personal finance blogs.

 

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Are you an Identity Theft Victim? Here’s how you’ll know

Published on April 19, 2014, by in Personal Finance.

A report from the US Justice Department shows that nearly 17 million people were the victims of identity theft last year. They estimate that the cost was nearly $24 billion in direct as well as indirect losses from the two most common types of theft, credit card theft, which equaled  40%, and bank account hacking at 37%.

Ironically, the majority of consumers don’t actually find out that they’ve been victimized until their financial institution contacts them about a problem. Fraud experts, on the other hand, say that consumers must start doing more to protect themselves rather than relying on their financial institutions and credit card companies to do it for them.

“The longer ID theft goes on, the more damage is done and the longer it takes the victim to recover from it,” said Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center.

Velasquez’ statement shows how important it is to always be vigilant and keep an eye out for any warning signs that your personal information has been stolen and is being used by a criminal.

“Surveys show nine out of 10 people don’t check their financial statements,” Siciliano said. “That’s irresponsible. You shouldn’t be waiting for a retailer to tell you there’s been a breach. You should be checking your financial statements more than you check your Facebook page, but people’s priorities are skewed.”

In order to help you avoid identity theft, below are a number of tell-tale signs that you’ve been victimized.

  1. Charges, some of them relatively small, start appearing on your credit or debit card statements. The fact is, many identity thieves will start using your credit little by little in order to “test” your stolen account.
  2. If statements for unknown credit card accounts start showing up at your door,  an identity thief has more than likely gotten a hold of your Social Security number and opened up accounts in your name. Closing down those accounts as quickly as possible is imperative.
  3. The same thing has probably happened if a credit card or department store card shows up in your mail.
  4. If you start receiving collection notices or calls for debts that you don’t know, it can be due to the fact that an identity thief is using your personal information to make purchases and, of course, not paying for them.
  5. If errors or false information start showing up on your credit report it’s possible that an identity thief has stolen your ID. You have the right to a free report from the big three credit bureaus, Trans Union, Equifax and Experian, once a year or so make sure you take advantage of that.
  6. If you have “good” credit but you’re turned down for more, it’s possible that an identity thief has made a mess of your credit and your credit score has dropped.
  7. If you notice that you haven’t gotten a specific bill from a credit card company or financial institution, it’s possible that a thief is either stealing them or has changed your address so that the statements will come to their address and not yours

“If you take five minutes to follow up on something that’s out of the ordinary, weird or just doesn’t make sense, you could save yourself a lot of headaches later on,” Velasquez said.

If you surf to the Identity Theft Resource Center online you’ll find that they have a complete list of Identity Theft Red Flags that will help you to be more vigilant and deter these nasty criminals before they get a chance to ruin your credit.

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Obama’s New Budget Proposal Bad News for Consumers Unprepared for Retirement

Published on March 30, 2014, by in Retirement.

Experts are saying that the budget for 2015 proposed by Pres. Obama will be an absolute disaster for millions of Americans who are not fully prepared for retirement because it would reduce the tax incentives employers now get for offering 401(k) retirement plans to their employees.

The fact is, the retirement situation in United States is an ugly mess. Neither political party has come up with a solution to a grossly underfunded Social Security which, as it stands right now, is headed for insolvency. Most corporations got rid of their pension plans years ago because they simply couldn’t afford them anymore, and pension plans of most state governments are so broke that many cities and municipalities across the country are in complete disarray.

Right now the 401(k) is the largest retirement savings vehicle in the country, a plan that allows employees to have a portion of their paycheck automatically deducted and put into a retirement plan. The amount they put into their 401(k) is not taxed until it’s withdrawn during their retirement years.

While it is difficult for many American consumers to save, the beauty of the 401(k) is that the money put into it is taken out of a person’s paycheck automatically, before they see it and have a chance to spend it.

While the new budget proposal probably won’t affect you nearly as badly if you work for a Fortune 500 company and have a decent 401(k) plan already in place, if you are one of the millions of Americans who work for a smaller company it may well be a huge blow to your retirement plans and future financial independence.

The reason is simply that the new budget would reduce tax incentives for small business owners to first establish and then maintain a 401(k) plan. Even worse, higher income earners would be limited to 28% when it comes to tax deduction time, even if the bracket that their current income puts them in is much higher.  So, for a person who is in the highest marginal tax bracket (39.6%) their tax deduction would only go as high as someone who is in the 28% tax bracket. When they withdraw the money during retirement, they would also be fully taxed at their current rate even though they were only able to receive a partial deduction right now.

This amounts to double taxation because they would not be able to contribute as much today and thus be taxed on that money as well as being fully taxed when they withdraw it in the future.

Since most high income taxpayers are business owners themselves, the question must be asked about whether they will want to start a retirement plan that can potentially hurt them both personally and professionally.

The simple, unavoidable fact is this; more Americans are now working for small businesses than for larger corporations. These people deserve the same retirement incentives as the people who work for a Fortune 500 company. The shame is that, under Obama’s new budget, they’re going to be deprived of a very valuable tool to do so.

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Court steps in to stop ‘robocalls’ aimed at seniors

Published on March 23, 2014, by in Stories.

Unfortunately elderly members of society seem to get victimized much more often than others and, when it comes to “phone scams” the numbers are startling. Recently the federal government stepped in to “pull the plug” on a nationwide telemarketing scheme that was using illegal “robo-calls”  and targeting seniors in the United States and Canada.

The calls were tricking them into purchasing medical alert devices that they had actually never ordered, and signing up for monthly charges to their credit cards for “monitoring”. The phone message that folks were receiving was so well made and so convincing that it didn’t sound like a typical scam recording but legitimate instead.

In the Federal Trade Commission lawsuit it was noted that when seniors received these fraudulent robocalls  they were told that a “free” alert system was ready to be shipped to them and had been purchased by another family member or friend of the family. It wasn’t just any system either, it was for the Life Alert system, one of the most popular and most famous systems around because of the long-standing television advertisement that so many people know so well. (“I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”)

In fact, Life Alert has nothing at all to do with this scam and is suing as well to have these calls stopped and clear their name and reputation..

Since it began, 60,000 complaints have been received by the FTC about this one   fraudulent telemarketing campaign in particular.

“These telemarketers used illegal robocalls to make a sales pitch that was 100 percent false,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection in a statement. “Their M.O. was to take advantage of older people’s concerns about their health.”

Seniors who answer the calls, listened to the “pitch” and then pressed the number 1 on their phones were immediately connected to a “salesperson” who then (allegedly) continued the fraudulent call by providing even more for deceitful information about the device and the monthly monitoring charge that came with it.

Seniors, according to the FTC lawsuit, were informed that a monthly monitoring charge of $34.99 would be charged them only after the system was installed and then activated. In fact, as soon as they agreed to receive the system the charges started, whether the device had been activated or not.

It’s believed that  $13 million in commissions was made by the companies that ran this fraudulent marketing campaign since it started in March 2012. Prosecutors on the case said that many of the seniors who responded to the fraudulent offer were suffering from dementia.

Florida Atty. Gen. Pam Bondi, working alongside the FTC on this case, has frozen the assets of the fraudulent companies and said that her office is going to do everything possible to compensate the thousands of people who were duped by them and lost money.

“We will not tolerate unscrupulous individuals targeting the elderly,” Bondi said.

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Beware of the ‘one ring’ phone scam

Published on March 16, 2014, by in Stories.

There’s a new phone scam sweeping the United States and the worst part about it is that the thieves perpetrating it don’t even need any of your credit card information to start stealing your money, all they need is for you to call them back.

Maybe it’s happened to you already? The phone rings and, before you can get to it, it stops after just one ring. Out of curiosity, you take a look, see the number and decide to call back.

Con-artists rely on your curiosity and, when you call back, they quickly use it against you and charge your phone with unauthorized charges, usually long distance and very costly.

Called the “one ring scam”, the Better Business Bureau recently issued a fraud alert about it after being contacted by hundreds of people across the country. It works when scammers using auto dialers to randomly call phone numbers all over the US. After the first ring, the auto dialer disconnects and the thieves hope that you’ll pick up your phone, see the missed number and be curious enough to dial it and return the call.

Once you do, they’ve got you in their claws.

What happens next is that you’ll be connected to an extremely expensive international hotline, in most cases an adult entertainment service, that charges as much as $19.95 as soon as you’re connected. Normally there is a very high per-minute fee as well and, when your bill comes in at the end of the month, you’ll notice that you’ve been charged for “premium services”

Katherine Hutt, director of communications at the Council of Better Business Bureaus, said this “ring and run” scam is highly effective because it’s so simple.  ”No one would ever imagine they’d be charged as much as $20 to make a phone call,” Hutt said. There’s no warning message about the charges, and there’s nothing that indicates that the area code you’re dialing is for the Caribbean Islands.”

The area codes, including 264 Antigua, 284 for the British Virgin Islands, 809 for the Dominican Republic, 473 in Grenada, 876 for Jamaica and 649 for Turks and Caicos Islands, are all high-priced long-distance calls.

If you’ve got a mobile phone (and who doesn’t these days) you’re a prime target for these dirtbags because every smart phone and cell phone has a missed call log and caller ID. Since most of us have a plan that includes long-distance calls for free, we don’t think twice about making a call to what we consider a “safe” area code within the United States. Indeed, with most smart phones these days you don’t even need to dial a 1 first.

In order to defeat these scumbags, before your return any call where the number isn’t known to you, you should Google the area code and make sure there aren’t any scam reports that have been filed about it. Even better, just ignore the number. If you don’t recognize it, simply don’t call back.

If you’ve unfortunately become a victim of this scam already, you should contact your cell phone service provider right away and also keep an eye on your future phone bills to make sure that there aren’t any unauthorized charges on it. Filing a complaint with the FTC is also a good idea and, if you surf to their website, you’ll find a tip sheet entitled “How to Beat a Mobile Cramming Scam”.

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How to Cope With Overspending

Published on March 5, 2014, by in Personal Finance.

There are many reasons for overspending. Some people do it because they’re insecure and use possessions as comfort objects. Still others use acquiring new things as a quick pick-me-up if they’re feeling a bit low. Shopping gives you a buzz and is always great entertainment – window shopping is fun, but often leads to unnecessary purchases.

Sometimes people spend money to fill up a gap in their lives, or they buy things when they’re in emotional turmoil. If any of this applies to you, then you need to do something about it before your spending gets out of control and you’re  relying on the infamous payday loan provider (wonga et al)  so you can buy your weekly groceries…it’s the start of the classic debt spiral and that’s one rabbit hole you don’t want to go down.

Face up to your problem! You know you go on a splurge when you’re stressed at work, or you have relationship problems. So, when these issues rear their ugly heads, resolve not to make things worse by getting into debt. Remember the spectre of Wonga.com or CashCowNow? While not as bad as loan sharks, these companies can get you into that spiral of debt that’s hard to pull up from.

Keep yourself busy. If you’re bored, find cheap things to do. Find a few hobbies, or an inexpensive sport like power walking or running. Maybe start up an online shop of your very own, so that you can still go shopping for stock, but you’ll actually make money from it! Sites like ebay and maybe the slightly lesser known etsy make this easier than ever to do.

Give someone else a list and get them to shop for you. A man is best, as they are often eager to just get out of the store! This will stop you from being tempted to add one or two (or several) little knick-knacks that catch your eye.

Before you part with your cash for an item, think about how many hours it took you to earn it, and how much energy – this might dissuade you at the last minute. Another useful trick is to postpone the purchase by a few days. If you’re still thinking about it a few days later, then take it a bit more seriously. Chances are, you’ll have forgotten all about it.

Try out a budgeting tool, so you can keep track of your spending, and see it in black and white. This might act as a big incentive to rein in your cards.

Don’t get sucked in by sales. If you need it and it’s on sale – result! If you don’t need it, it’s just slightly less money down the drain. True fact! Buying next year’s Christmas presents in the January sales isn’t a bad idea, though, it has to be said. Same goes for cards and wrapping paper.

Do price comparisons. Try out generic versions of your regular purchases and only buy big brands once in a while. Very often, when people swap to generics, they realise they were throwing their money away on packaging and status.

If you’re on a spending roll, just go for it and cut up your credit cards. It’ll hurt, but studies show that people with no credit cards spend a lot less.

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Prepaid Cards Get New System, Less Surprises

Published on March 5, 2014, by in Personal Finance.

While scrutiny is still required, if you’re a consumer that loves prepaid cards you’ll soon have a better way to tell how much it’s actually costing you to use them.

New rules are expected to be issued by the Consumer Financial Section Bureau sometime in the spring of 2014, including new legislation introduced by Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va) that would require improved disclosures. Ahead of those changes however a number of consumer advocates as well as banks are doing their best to get a jump on the new regulations.

For example, The Pew Charitable Trusts disclosed on Wednesday what their fee for prepaid cards would be and Chase followed suit by announcing it would voluntarily adopt the new format.

Susan Weinstock, director of Pew’s safety checking research, had this to say in their news release; “Pew’s research shows that inconsistent disclosures make it difficult to understand the fees associated with each prepaid card.” She added that “Terms should be plainly stated so that consumers can make fully informed financial decisions.”  Released in 2012, their new disclosure model has already been adopted by 26 banks and credit unions gone terribly and now covers over 50% of domestic deposits.

Over the last few years prepaid cards have become much more popular even though they were originally marketed to consumers who, for whatever reason, couldn’t or didn’t have a checking account. This included “tween’s” as well as college students.

Using these types of cards a person can have their earnings directly deposited onto their card, withdraw cash at most ATM machines and also avoid charges like overdraft fees.  Even more portly, they can afford going into debt because once the use of any cash that’s on the card their limit is met and they can’t go any further.

In 2012, the last year with hard data, $71.6 billion was loaded onto prepaid cards, a huge increase from the $28.6 billion that was loaded onto them in 2008.

The complaints that consumer advocates have had about prepaid cards in the past include the fact that they aren’t subject to a lot of the same protections on unauthorized transactions as credit cards are, and the fact that their fee structures can not only be confusing but expensive. For example, prepaid cards usually come with a purchase price that averages $9.95 as well as a $5.95 monthly maintenance fee and a transaction fee of $1. Out-of-network ATM fees are usually $2 while live customer service calls can cost $1.95.

It’s important to note that, in comparison to traditional checking fees, prepaid card fees still pale in comparison. A recent study done by CardHub.com found that the average checking account has between 20 and 40 different fees versus 10 fees for the average prepaid card.

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What to Consider Before You Buy a Home

The American dream of home ownership simply won’t go away. You would think that there never was a credit crisis even though it wasn’t that long ago that we were bombarded on a daily basis with stories about underwater mortgages, foreclosures and crashing prices. If anything, it was an American nightmare, not a dream.

The reasons, both emotionally and economically, that most people want to purchase a home rather than rent are not so hard to understand however. If you ask most financial advisors, they’ll tell you that first-time home buyers usually want to buy a home for the following reasons;

  • They don’t want to pay a landlord when they could be building equity in their own home
  • They feel like paying rent is akin to “throwing money away”
  • They don’t want to put their trust in stocks or bonds but rather in real estate
  • They believe that renting is temporary and instead want to “put down roots”
  • They want to be able to  “do what they want” with their home, something that they can’t do when they rent

These are relatively good reasons, to be sure,  but what really needs to be done before any decision is made to buy new home is an analysis of the key financial components  that must be in place, including what a person is earning and what money they have saved.

Comprehending the costs of the new home

There are a number of questions that simply must be asked before purchasing a home, including how much the person has saved for a down payment, the closing costs are and what type of cash reserves that they have on hand. Most experts will tell you that it’s best to put at least 20% down so that the borrower can receive gifts of up to 100% of the down payment and not need private mortgage insurance (PMI). This is vital as PMI can often add several hundred dollars to a monthly mortgage payment.

Many first-time homebuyers are very restricted due to cash flow however and some will probably request a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan, something that allows them to put down only 3.5%. Many opt to put down 10% however, which allows them to pay only 5%, put the rest of the down payment as a gift and get PMI.

Another thing to consider are closing costs, which normally are about 2% of the purchase price and include costs like title insurance, appraisal fees and escrow fees. On some home purchases there may also be a local transfer tax, a cost that can oftentimes be quite substantial.

There is also the fact that up to 12 months’ worth of cash reserves are required by lenders, money that will cover the monthly mortgage costs, insurance, property taxes and other debts. Some of that can be cash reserves held in retirement accounts but, unless a person is over 59 ½ years of age, only 65% can be in those accounts.

An example

Let’s say that Joan and Richard want to buy a home for $400,000. Let’s also say that, together, they bring in $90,000 a year and opt to put down 10% as a down payment. Their lender requires them to have a cash reserve of 5 months and their closing costs will be 2% of the total price. Richard and Joan will also split a $15. per-$1000. city transfer tax with the seller and they have approximately $500 a month in other debts that they need to pay.

With all of these things taken into consideration, Joan and Richard would need to have just under $66,000 saved in order to purchase a $400,000 home. There might also be a considerable cost for moving from their rented home into the new one.

If all of these numbers look feasible (for your particular situation, of course) that you should probably talk to lender and get prequalified for a loan. If you have a credit score above 700 you shouldn’t have any problems but, below that, you should speak to a mortgage professional and get advice on how to improve your score. Finally an excellent real estate agent and being extremely patient are also two things that will help you greatly in your quest to become a homeowner.

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Is it financially responsible or feasible to own a pet?

In 2012 approximately 70% of all US households had a dog or cat, about 83 million homes. It can truly be said that the emotional bonds that people have with their pets are very strong and growing stronger but, as with any other “family member”, providing the care that they need can prove to be quite expensive.

While obedience school certainly costs less than college, and there’s no need to spend money on clothing for your cat, the typical owner will spend approximately $1600 for a dog and $1300 for a cat in just the first year of ownership. Every year thereafter will cost approximately $700 including paying for things like vaccinations, food, toys, leashes and routine veterinary care. These cost don’t even take into account the cost of boarding your pet should you go away or paying for a sitter, a cost that could be quite prohibitive if you travel frequently.

According to the APPA, spending has increased almost 10% in the last two years alone and Americans now spend nearly $56 billion a year for things like grooming, “doggie hotels” and even gifts.  The cost of health care is going up as well and the ASPCA reports that annual expenses for owning a cat equal approximately $160 and $230 for a medium-sized dog. If you’re not keen on paying out huge amounts of money every time you go to the veterinarian, health insurance for your pet can cost upwards of $200 a year. Considering that the cost for emergency care if your pet is critically injured or ill can be upwards of $5000, having insurance is almost a must.

One key concern that veterinarians have is that owners are spending less on preventative care for their pets and making fewer visits for preventative care to their offices. It was estimated that between 2006 and 2011 the percentage of households not taking their dogs for check-ups at all increased by almost 10% and, for cat owners, a startling 24%.

Dr. Kimberly May, assistant director of communications for the AVMA, says that “so many diseases are preventable with relatively little cost upfront.” For example, having your dog or cat’s teeth examined and cleaned regularly is the best way to prevent serious dental problems in the future as well as keeping overall health issues normal.  Health problems like heartworm are also significantly cheaper to prevent rather than to treat.

The cost to feed and care for a dog or cat is becoming more exorbitant every year. If you have children or are planning on retiring soon, it may be a cost that you should avoid. On the other hand, dogs and cats do offer companionship and love that money simply can’t replace. If you have the financial ability to afford one, and you take some steps to keep them healthy and avoid large veterinary expenses, it can be well worth it.

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