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The Power of Fiscal Literacy Should Never Be Discounted as It Is Too Important

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5 Signs Your Parents Are the Victims of a Financial Scam

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By Cameron Huddleston, Columnist

Although no one is immune to financial scams, older adults tend to be more susceptible. Nearly 30 percent of fraud complaints filed with law enforcement in 2014 were lodged by adults ages 60 and older, according to the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book. And Americans 65 and older who were targets of fraudsters were 34 percent more likely to have lost money than those in their 40s, according to a report by Applied Research & Consulting LLC.

Unfortunately, these statistics don’t reflect the true scope of the problem. According to the FBI, fraud and financial scams often go unreported by older Americans because they don’t know whom to report them to, are ashamed at having been scammed or don’t even realize they’ve been scammed.

That’s why it’s so important to protect your parents from becoming financial scam victims. Here are five signs you need to watch for.

1. They offer personal information over the phone.

When your parents get phone calls, listen for signs that they’re giving out personal information — such as a credit card or bank account number — or making a pledge to donate money, said Ginny Polio, owner of YES Your Executive Secretary, which provides bookkeeping services and financial management for older adults in Massachusetts.

Polio had a client who gave her bank account number over the phone to a scammer who had promised to provide credit card theft protection for a fee — even though she didn’t have a credit card — and to another thief who offered identity theft protection for $350 a month.

Telemarketing scams are common ploys used to target older adults, according to the National Council on Aging (NCOA). Once seniors give out financial information to one scammer, their names and contact information might be shared with other scammers.

To help your parents avoid these scams, you can register their number on the National Do Not Call Registry website, which will help stop scammers from calling them. Then, Polio said, you can tell your parents to hang up on anyone else who calls who isn’t a friend or family member.

2. They say they’ve won prizes or sweepstakes.

If your parents say they’ve won money or a prize, or you see lots of mailings at their home about sweepstakes, it’s a red flag.

Ask your parents whether they had to pay anything to claim their winnings. Typically, scammers tell victims that they have to make some sort of payment to get their prize. The thieves collect their money but don’t deliver the promised prizes. According to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the law enforcement arm of the postal service, 60 percent of people 60 and older are victims of this sort of fraud.

Let your parents know that legitimate sweepstakes can’t require anyone to pay a fee as a condition of playing. You can report scammers and suspicious offers your parents receive in the mail with the Postal Inspection Service’s online complaint form. If they’ve been targeted by scammers, report it to the FTC, their state attorney general and state consumer protection office.

3. They get unnecessary medical tests or have unnecessary medical equipment.

If you notice that your parents are having a lot of medical tests and appointments or have medical equipment in their homes even though they are relatively healthy, it’s worth exploring.

Health care fraud is a big area of financial exploitation, said Ramsey Alwin, NCOA’s vice president of economic security. Scammers might provide bogus services at makeshift mobile clinics or offer free medical products in exchange for seniors’ Medicare numbers.

Check your parents’ Medicare statements for claims for services they didn’t receive or equipment they didn’t order, and report them to Medicare, Alwin said. You also can report fraud through your state’s Senior Medicare Patrol website.

4. They talk about getting a reverse mortgage.

A reverse mortgage is a legitimate way for older adults to tap into the equity in their homes for spending money. So if your parents express interest in one, it doesn’t mean they’re necessarily being conned. Scammers, however, are taking advantage of the popularity of reverse mortgages to steal the equity from the property of unsuspecting seniors, the FBI reports.

Reverse mortgage scams usually involve the offer of a free home or money to seniors in exchange for the title to their property. To help your parents avoid becoming victims, tell them to toss any unsolicited offers they get in the mail and give them the NCOA’s free guide for homeowners considering a reverse mortgage. If they already are victims, file a complaint with their local FBI office and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

5. They go to “free meal” financial seminars.

Be especially wary if your parents express interest in or actually attend financial or investing seminars that offer a free lunch. There is no such thing as a free lunch, according to the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA).

Scammers advertise seminars for seniors in newspapers and through mailings, offering gourmet meals, expert advice and risk-free investment opportunities with guaranteed returns. The food and tips might be free, but seniors who attend these events often end up paying a big price.

According to the NASAA, the goal of these seminars is to get seniors to open accounts with the sponsoring firm and buy investment products, which are risky or unsuitable for them. And the people selling these products aren’t always licensed to do so. If your parents are the target of one of these scam artists and are being pressured by this sales tactic, report the person to your state securities regulator. If they are a victim of investment fraud, you can initiate a dispute through the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.

To help lower the risk of your parents becoming fraud victims, Alwin recommends that you talk frankly with your parents about common scam scenarios. Tell them that the sooner they report a scam, the sooner law enforcement can stop the scammer and prevent him from targeting others, she said.

8 Worst Ways to Make Money Online

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By Holly Hammersmith, Contributor

You’re already working a full-time job, but you’re trying to hustle on the side. Maybe you have debts to pay off, are saving for a dream vacation or need to bank cash for a home improvement. Whatever the reason, you see the appeal of making money online.

And who doesn’t? The Internet has grown the economy and seems like a friendly place to do business. You can work from the comfort of your own home and set your own hours.

But before you jump in, do some research and make sure the “opportunities” at hand are legitimate. Some ways to earn money online should be avoided simply because they are risky, illegal, dangerous or unprofitable. Beware of the following.

1. Taking Surveys for Pennies

Online surveys are abundant. Some you are asked to take as an act of kindness or to provide feedback for a product or service. If you come across surveys guaranteeing you will make good money in hardly any time, be wary. Often these surveys do pay, but at what cost? Is it really worth 30 minutes of your time to make $1? You might be better off working at minimum wage. For a good-paying survey, look for a focus group or a qualitative research study.

2. Selling Any Pirated Materials

Pirated e-books, CDs and Hollywood blockbusters on Blu-ray can be found and downloaded online — often for a small fee. Sounds enticing? Think again. Selling — or just downloading — pirated materials can land you in big trouble with your Internet provider and local, state, and national authorities. Just don’t go there.

3. Selling Click-Bait Links

Many bloggers make a good living from ad revenue, affiliate sales and more. But they don’t buy or sell click-bait links, the links that go nowhere, to the wrong site or just plain spam up your browser. There’s little money in these bottom-feeder games.

Want to make money off a blog? Partner with reputable affiliate programs such as Amazon Affiliates and set up ads with Google AdSense. If you don’t, your readers will catch on to those fake links and stop reading before long.

4. Online Gambling

While the idea of winning big via online gambling is appealing, the odds are not. From 2005 to 2007, only 11 percent of repeat online gamblers ended up in the black, with the average winnings totaling less than $150, according to an analysis in The Wall Street Journal.

Don’t buy into the hype of gambling. Instead, use your smarts to do work.

5. Multilevel Marketing Online

You’ve heard of pyramid schemes. You know, the ones where you try to reel in your closest family and friends and get them to sign up for a product or service. In return, you’ll bank some cash and make even more money when more people “underneath” them sign up.

These multilevel marketing opportunities are risky for your personal life and relationships. They are also risky for your pocketbook, as they often require an up-front investment.

6. Risky Online Investments

Buying penny stocks — typically for very small companies with highly illiquid and speculative shares — might sound appealing. You might think you’ll invest just a little bit and earn big.

Only this is unlikely to happen, especially if you know very little about investing. Put your dollars elsewhere, such as in a strong mutual fund where you are far more likely to have a more solid return.

7. Reckless Buying or Selling on Craigslist

You’ve probably heard about Craigslist scams. Most people read the stories and shake them off, thinking nothing bad will happen to them. Think again. Craigslist is a wonderful marketplace to buy, sell, or trade items; meet people; and find jobs. It can also be a dangerous place to make money.

When selling or buying items on Craigslist, use discretion. If you are meeting a prospect in person, do so in a safe neighborhood, in a public place and at a specific time. Be aware of your surroundings and bring a friend.

Do not show up with more cash than is needed for the transaction. Make sure you are informed about the product you are buying. You can make good money buying and selling on Craigslist when you know the product and its value. If a transaction seems questionable or unsafe, walk away.

8. Selling Your Online Reputation

Selling your reputation online can take many forms. You might be enticed to fill your Twitter feed with spam to earn a few cents. Or maybe you share some content on your Facebook feed for a buck or two. Remember, the Internet never forgets.

These types of actions can ruin your online branding, cause you to lose social media friends and simply make you look like a sellout. Don’t risk your online reputation — which is vital to business these days — for a few clicks.

Don’t let this list scare you off using the Internet to do business. There are plenty of legitimate ways to make money online, and many people are earning a decent income with their online side jobs or hobbies. Be smart and just make sure you understand an opportunity before you pursue it.

3 Mistakes You’re Making Before a Big Purchase

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By Cameron Huddleston, Columnist

You might have kicked yourself a few times for making a bad purchase or buying something that later went on sale, but if you didn’t pay a lot to begin with, you probably didn’t lose sleep over it. But making a mistake with a big-ticket purchase will weigh much more heavily on you and your bank account.

When it comes to buying an appliance, computer, television, car or any other item that can put a big dent in your wallet, it pays to shop smart. Not only should you do your research by reading reviews and comparing prices, but you should also avoid making these three common mistakes that can cost you hundreds of dollars.

1. Falling for the Extended Warranty Upsell

When you buy a big-ticket item, you’ll likely get the hard sell to buy an extended warranty. It makes sense to spend a little more to protect your purchase, right? Wrong. “One of the biggest mistakes we see shoppers make when they buy a big-ticket item, whether in-store or online, is falling for the upsell extended warranties,” said FatWallet.com online shopping expert Brent Shelton.

Why skip the warranty pitch? For starters, you likely won’t need the extra coverage. Consumer Reports’ Extended Warranty Buying Guide notes products typically don’t break during the two- to three-year extended warranty period, and if they do, repairs cost about as much as the warranty.

Plus, your purchase might already be covered if you used a credit card. CardHub.com found that the four major credit card issuers — Visa, Discover, MasterCard and American Express — will extend the warranty up to one year on items with an existing manufacturer’s warranty. Or, you can look for a lower-cost extended warranty than the one the retailer is pushing from a protection plan service such as Square Trade, Shelton said.

2. Waiting for a Big-Ticket Item to Break Before Replacing It

You won’t do your wallet any favors by waiting for an appliance, computer, television or other big-ticket item to stop working before buying a replacement. “If you buy these items when they break, a lot of times you buy them when they are not on sale,” said Howard Schaffer, vice president of deal site Offers.com.

If you have an item that’s showing signs of wear and tear and isn’t working as well as it used to, shop for a new one during one of the big three-day holiday weekend sales, such as Memorial Day and Labor Day. Many big-ticket items typically are marked down at least 20 percent to 30 percent during these sales, Schaffer said.

If you need to replace a car, you’ll get the best deal by shopping at the end of the month, when dealers are eager to meet quotas, and in early fall, when new cars arrive on lots and the previous year’s models drop in price, according to Edmunds.com.

3. Settling for the Sale Price

Although sales on long holiday weekends offer opportunities to save, Shelton said consumers shouldn’t settle for the marked-down price without weighing other savings options.

You might get a better deal by taking advantage of price-matching policies, for example. Perhaps the item you want is on sale at one retailer but another retailer offers better perks, such as free delivery and haul away of old items. If that other retailer has a price-matching policy, you might be able to get the lower price and the perks. (See which stores offer price-match guarantees).

Also look for cash-back offers that can add up to big savings, Shelton said. Sites such as Ebates.com and FatWallet.com partner with online retailers to let consumers earn back a percentage of the money they spend on purchases. By shopping online through these sites, you can take advantage of sales and earn cash back — essentially lowering the price of your purchases even more.

Whether you’re ready to buy an expensive item you’ve been wanting or you now realize that you better replace an old item on its last legs while the new version is on sale, you can go into a store or go online knowing that you have options. Do the extra bit of research and negotiation to get the best deal.

How to Talk About Money With Your Aging Parents

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By Cameron Huddleston, Columnist

Addressing your aging parents’ finances is not easy. Trust me, I know. Several years ago when my mom started showing signs of memory loss, I had conversations with her about her finances.

I felt awkward probing my mom about her accounts, income and estate-planning documents, but that small amount of discomfort was worth it. It would’ve been incredibly difficult to get the information I needed to take over her finances as her dementia progressed if I hadn’t had the money talk with her while she was relatively lucid.

I was fortunate that my mom was willing, for the most part, to have these conversations with me. Plenty of older adults don’t want to talk about money with their children. “People hold tight to their bootstraps,” said Gwen Morgan, author of the “What If … Workbook,” a guide that helps people give loved ones necessary information if anything happens to them. “They don’t want to let the information out.”

Even if your parents are resistant, the sooner you talk to them about money the better, said Morgan and other elder-care specialists. Otherwise, it can be very tricky to get the information you need, manage your parents’ money and make decisions for them if a stroke, injury or dementia leaves them unable to handle their finances on their own.

In the worst case scenario, you would have to go to court to get control — and that can destroy families, said Linda Fodrini-Johnson, a family therapist, care manager and founder of Eldercare Services in the San Francisco Bay Area.

How to Start Talking About Your Aging Parents’ Finances

There are several strategies you can use to get your aging parents to open up about their finances. If one doesn’t work, try another. Regardless of which of approach you take, though, the conversation needs to be respectful, Fodrini-Johnson said. And, you should make sure it’s clear you’re not trying to take over your parents’ finances.

“If you start with an area that doesn’t feel like a loss of power,” she said, “you’ll probably be more successful.”

1. Use a story.

One of the best ways to get your parents talking about money is to tell them a story — true or fabricated — about someone who did or didn’t have information about his elderly parents’ finances and the impact it had, said both Morgan and Fodrini-Johnson. For example, you could tell them a friend’s father recently passed away and it was a nightmare for him to clean up his father’s affairs because he didn’t have any information about his dad’s accounts or legal documents.

Then, let your parents know that you don’t want to be in the same situation if something happened to them, and gently suggest that they share some financial information with you.

2. Get help from your siblings.

Fodrini-Johnson also recommends letting the child who has the closest relationship with Mom or Dad start the conversation. Then siblings can join later conversations to discuss specific details about your parents’ money.

“Every family has a different style of communication,” she said. “Some families share this information all their lives. Other times, families don’t have a clue.”

3. Talk about your own situation.

You might be able to get your parents to open up by talking about what you’ve done to get your financial affairs in order, Morgan said. You could mention that you’ve met with an attorney to draft a will or created a list of your accounts and passwords to give to your spouse in case something happens to you. Then you could ask your parents what steps they’ve taken.

4. Discuss your parents’ future.

Asking your parents about a broader topic, such as their plans for retirement, might get them talking more than if you ask them point-blank about money, Fodrini-Johnson said. Questions such as whether they plan to downsize or what sort of care they would like to receive if something happened to them could open the door to a discussion about their finances.

At the least, you might be able to find out what sort of legal documents they have and where they are if you tell them you want to make sure you follow their final wishes if something happens to them.

5. Take an indirect approach.

Morgan said that her father was unwilling to talk about money with her or her brother because he thought they were being greedy. So, she gave him a copy of her “What If … Workbook” so he could write down his financial information without telling her directly. She said she didn’t need to see what he wrote, but he needed to put it in a safe place where she could access it if something happened to him.

“I think having a tool like that is helpful to approach it in a general way,” said Morgan.

Fodrini-Johnson said the National Council on Aging’s BenefitsCheckup.org site can be a good tool that adult children can use to get information from aging or elderly parents. The site can help older adults find out if they’re entitled to benefits that will help them pay for medication, health care, utilities and more.

To find out if your parents qualify, they have to provide details about benefits they’re already receiving, monthly income and household spending. But parents might be more willing to share information if they know it will get them benefits — and you can walk them through the process.

6. Offer to lighten their load.

Ask your parents if there’s something you can help them with or take off their plates so they can have more time to enjoy the things they like doing. Fodrini-Johnson recommends starting with a task not related to money then gradually offering assistance with their finances. You might have the most success offering to help with tax preparation because it’s a task most people don’t like, and it will give you access to important details about your parents’ finances.

7. Get professional help.

If your parents aren’t willing to talk to you, suggest that they meet with an elder law attorney, financial planner or aging life care professional — you can find one through the Aging Life Care Association. Most likely, these professionals will encourage your parents to share important financial information with you, Fodrini-Johnson said.

More Tips on Talking About Elderly Parents’ Finances

If your parents are willing to talk, start with the basics: what sources of income they have, where they bank, whether they still have a mortgage and what types of insurance they have. You’ll need to get contact information for the mortgage company and insurance agents and — if they have one — broker, financial planner and attorney.

Ideally, you should get their Social Security numbers, account numbers and passwords. You could always suggest, as Morgan did with her father, that they write down this information and store it somewhere you could access if necessary, such as a lock box. Also, ask about their medical history and the prescription drugs they take.

Most importantly, find out whether they have a will, living will and power of attorney documents. If they haven’t drafted these legal documents, they need to do so to specify their final wishes and to appoint someone they trust to make health and financial decisions for them if they are unable to themselves. These documents need to be drafted while they have the decision-making ability to do so.

How to Fund a Last-Minute Summer Vacation Without Credit Cards

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By Terence Loose, Contributor

Summer is almost over, and you’re staring down the barrel of another long year. Work, school, winter — it’s all screaming for you to take one last summer vacation. And if you’re like a lot of people, that has you reaching for your credit cards.

But before you pull out the plastic, you might want to explore some alternative ways to fund your trip that don’t include double-digit interest rates. A little time or creativity could save you a lot of money in financing your last-minute getaway.

Why Paying for Your Vacation With a Credit Card Is a Bad Idea

When it comes to getting yourself to a nice resort, credit cards should be your last resort. It’s likely one of the most expensive options, considering that the average credit card interest rate as of July 22 stands at 15.00% APR, according to CreditCards.com.

That means that your already pricey hotel room could suddenly be 15 percent more. Same with the rental car, the surfboard rental and the margarita. That translates into an extra $750 on a $5,000 last-minute vacation — and that’s assuming you pay it off in one year.

Vacation Payment Options Beyond Credit Cards

With that said, it’s time to find a less expensive way to take a last-minute summer vacation. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Get a New Credit Card

You might be thinking: “You want me to get a new credit card to avoid charging my vacation on my current credit card?” Exactly, but only if it’s the right one.

There are many credit cards that want your business so badly they’re willing to charge no interest for a year or longer. So if you think you can pay off your vacation balance within that time, it can be a great deal.

There is a catch, however. Credit card companies know that about half of these customers will miss a payment and the normal high interest rate will kick in, said Ken Lin, CEO of CreditKarma.com. “So if you don’t have a great track record of paying your bills on time, and your cash flow is a little questionable, be careful,” he advised. “But if you’ve got good discipline, then you can save money.”

Vacation Loans

You might think that the instant you tell a lender that you’re planning to take their money, fly far away and spend freely on spa treatments, snorkel tours and sangritas they will quickly reach for their “Denied” stamp. But in fact, there are many lenders who offer vacation and travel loans.

Vacation loans will often come with a higher interest rate than other loans. But some recent rates have been as low as 9.90% APR at some credit unions, which tend to offer some of the lowest rates in general since they are typically not-for-profit. Vacation loans can have restricted terms, such as a 36-month term or $10,000 limit. And while the rate won’t beat your home mortgage, it might beat your credit card.

Unsecured Personal Loans

If you’ve been with the same bank or credit union for a number of years or you have good to excellent credit, you might be able to qualify for a personal loan. Personal loans almost always have a lower interest rate than your credit card, said Sally Black, founder of VacationKids.com.

These loans also might have longer terms, such as up to 60 months, for repayment. Personal loan rates at Citi, for instance, were listed as low as 10.74% APR. But rates could be as high as 22.24% APR for those who don’t qualify for the best rates.

One final point: If you’re picturing yourself in the islands by the end of the week, your plans might hit a snag. Black said that the application and approval process for personal loans could take weeks.

Peer-to-Peer Personal Loans

Peer-to-peer sites such as LendingClub, LendingTree and Prosper offer investor-funded loans that often come with great rates for those with good or excellent credit. For instance, Prosper recently advertised five-year personal loans up to $35,000 at 5.99% APR for those with a credit score of 650 or more, according to ConsumersAdvocate.org. That’ll buy a pretty nice vacation.

These sites also make it easy to shop rates to get the best deal for your needs. The application process is done online and if you are approved, often you’ll have the money within a week, said Black.

Home Equity Loan

If you own your home and you have some equity in it, you could consider taking out a home equity loan. The difference between this and a home equity line of credit (HELOC) is that home equity loans usually have a fixed interest rate. The downside of a home equity loan is the paperwork, said Black. Like a HELOC and personal loans, it might take up to four weeks to get your money. By then, the sun might be setting on your chance at getting away to the tropics.

Home Equity Line of Credit

There are many uses for a HELOC, and it’s another way to fund a last-minute getaway that’s likely less expensive than your credit card. Since HELOCs are secured by your home, you should be able to find good rates. For instance, Chase recently advertised rates as low as 3.50% APR. You should know, however, that most HELOCs have variable interest rates that might go up with time, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Crowdfunding

We know what you’re saying: “Who the heck is going to want to fund my vacation?” Your family and friends, that’s who. Maybe you have a birthday coming up. Maybe an anniversary. Maybe you’re just cool. The point is, there are a few sites that do the legwork for you. One example is MyTab.co.

Just like with a wedding registry, you create an account and your friends and family chip in — money, not china (unless you’re going to China). “If their vacation is coming up within those two weeks, they can ask friends and family to gift them travel cash,” said Heddi Cundle, founder of the site. “And they’ll see the gifted money accumulate in their pot to spend on this last-minute trip.”

Other Last-Minute, Affordable Vacation Options

If you’ve run through all the above options without any luck but just have to get away, there is one final way to lower how much you’ll have to pay off on your credit card: a less expensive vacation. But before you despair, here are a few pointers.

“Often travelers can find great last-minute cruise deals,” said Black. And since, according to a 2014 Cruise Line International Association study, 75 percent of North American vacationers live within the 30 cruise port cities, you might be able to cut out the expensive airfare and rental car as well.

Plus, cruises are usually all-inclusive and a much better deal than you might imagine. According to a 2014 U.S. News report, a four-day Western Caribbean cruise with Carnival Cruise Lines ran as low as $124 per person, plus taxes and port fees. That price included meals and entertainment, too.

But of course, that price doesn’t include that credit card interest. If you’re determined to take a last-minute summer vacation, weigh all options before using your credit card to pay for the trip.

5 Signs You Have a Spending Problem

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By Cameron Huddleston, Columnist

One in five Americans spent more than what they earned in the last 12 months, according to a Federal Reserve Board survey released in May. Some might be relying on credit or dipping into savings to cover their spending because they are having trouble making ends meet. And, some might be simply living beyond their means.

Regardless of the reason your spending exceeds your income, “overspending is harmful because it could be a sign you’re out of control with your finances,” said Leslie H. Tayne, an attorney who concentrates in debt resolution solutions and author of “Life & Debt.” Your overspending might be making it hard to pay bills, have money for emergencies and save for the future. It could also lead to serious consequences, such as bankruptcy.

Here are five warning signs that indicate you are spending too much, how your overspending can hurt you and how to get your spending under control:

Related: 40 Mindless Ways You’re Burning Through Your Paycheck

1. You max out your credit cards and pay only the minimum.

If you’re maxing out your credit cards and can’t pay off your balances every month, it’s a sign that you’re relying on credit to supplement your income, Tayne said. “This is a hard cycle to break, especially if you can only afford to make the minimum payments each month,” she said. Not only can this hurt your credit score, but it can also leave you in debt longer than necessary.

If a high percentage of your available credit is used — in other words, most of your cards are maxed out — the credit scoring agencies consider this to be a sign that you are overextended and will likely lower your credit score. A lower score will make it harder for you to get additional credit and might force you to pay higher rates on that credit.

Paying the minimum on your credit card won’t necessarily hurt your score, but it could take you a long time to pay off your debt and cost you extra money in interest. For example, if you had a $1,000 balance on a card with a 16.00% APR and made a minimum monthly payment of $25 on your balance, it would take nearly five years to pay off your debt. And, you’d pay about $440 in interest, according to Capital One’s credit card calculator.

2. You pay bills late.

About one out of 20 people with a credit file are at least 30 days late on a credit card or a non-mortgage account payment, according to an Urban Institute report.

Paying bills late because you don’t have the cash to cover them is a sign that you’re overspending, Tayne said. And it sends a red flag to your credit issuers, which could hike your interest rates or lower your credit limit, according to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. You’ll also be hit with fees — which can add up quickly — and several late payments will hurt your credit score.

If you’re more than 180 days late on a payment, your debt typically is assigned to a collection agency or debt collector. Having debt in collections can lower your credit score and will remain on your credit report for seven years, according to myFICO.com. What’s worse is that your creditors or debt collectors can sue you and be allowed to garnish you wages to pay the debt you owe.

Read: This Easy Trick Will Help You Avoid Late Payments

3. You raid your retirement account.

You might think there’s no harm in borrowing from your retirement account because it’s your money. About 20 percent of 401(k) plan participants have taken a loan from their account, according to the Pencil Research Council Working Paper. You can borrow up to half of your 401(k) balance, up to a maximum of $50,000, but Tayne said rarely is this a good idea. “Borrowing from your future is a risky move,” she said.

If you borrow from your retirement account, you will have to pay yourself back with interest — which can be lower than the rate of return you would’ve gotten if you had left the money in the account. So really, you’re just shortchanging your retirement savings.

4. You use payday loans.

Although these short-term loans that typically have to be paid back in 14 days might be seen as a way to cover the cost of an unexpected expense, most people who get payday loans use them to cover everyday expenses, according to a report by The Pew Charitable Trusts. It’s certainly a sign that you’re overspending if you have to rely on payday loans, Tayne said.

There is a high cost to these loans. They come with extraordinarily high annual interest rates — APRs of 391% to 521%. And payday lenders will let you rollover the balance of a loan for a fee if you can’t repay the full amount when it’s due. If you roll over a typical payday loan of $325 eight times, you’ll owe more than $460 in interest and have to repay a total of nearly $800, according to the Center for Responsible Lending.

Keep reading: 7 Ways to Get Quick Cash Besides Risky Payday Loans

5. You borrow from friends and family.

If you have to turn to friends and family for money, it’s a sign that your overspending has left you financially strapped, Tayne said. You might think it’s a good way to get an interest-free loan, but “being unable to pay back the loan can lead to tension and can ruin your relationship,” Tayne said.

How to Stop the Overspending Habit

If you’ve realized that you have an overspending problem, rest assured — there are different ways you can get your spending under control and create healthy spending habits.

1. Create a budget.

The first step to getting your spending under control is to create a budget, Tayne said. Take a close look at what you’re spending money on and look for ways to cut back.

2. Rely on cash.

By living on a cash- or debit-only budget, you can curb the impulse to overspend. Tayne suggested setting a budget for each shopping trip and only bringing that much cash with you to avoid making impulse purchases.

3. Get help.

If you’re buried in debt and can’t curb your spending, your best option might be to get professional help. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling member agencies provide free and affordable debt counseling and other money management services. You can find an agency in your area through NFCC.org.

30 Ways to Avoid Spending Money This Summer

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By Laura Woods, Contributor

Summer is the most carefree season but that doesn’t mean you have to relax your budget to enjoy it. There are plenty of free things to do this summer that allow you to make the most of warm weather.

If you’re trying to determine how to avoid spending money over the 14 weeks of summer, read the following 30 tips to have the best summer ever while sticking to a tight budget.

Read More: 101 Ways to Save Money This Summer

1. Trade Happy Hours for Backyard BBQs

“Host a potluck barbecue at your place and get the troops together for some backyard fun,” said Kendal Perez, a savings expert from CouponSherpa.com. “Make it a regular event by rotating hosts so one person doesn’t feel the burden of hosting all the time.”

2. Choose a Photo Safari Over Shopping

“Plan a photo safari in your town or a nearby city and hit the streets with your smartphone, selfie-ing your way through landmarks with your bestie,” Perez said.

3. Take a Day Trip to a Nearby Nature Area

Get your friends and family together for a day trip to a local nature spot. “Whether it’s a mountain, lake, beach or nature trail, experiencing the outdoors for a day won’t make it seem like you’re missing out on all of the fun,” Perez said.

4. Enjoy Free Community Activities

“The summer represents a great opportunity to enjoy free activities and goodies with your friends and community,” said Perez. “Free outdoor concerts, art walks, fitness classes and kids’ crafts are all available for free at some point during the summer. Check your city, county or community’s recreation guide for free events and activities.”

5. Observe Celebratory Days

“There seems to be a national day of every single day throughout the year,” Perez said. “While some are quirkier than others, many restaurants jump on the food-related ones to push their wares.”

For instance, on Talk Like a Pirate Day on Sept. 19, Krispy Kreme will give out free doughnuts — and free dozens for those who dress like pirates.

6. Find Free Fitness Classes

“Many studios offer a free day or week of yoga to new students, so you and a friend can get these passes and try different classes together without paying anything,” Perez said. “Also, retail stores like Lululemon offer free yoga classes, and Athleta offers free classes in yoga, Pilates, circuit training, community runs and more.”

The average cost of a yoga class is $10 to $20, so if you attend one each week of summer, you’ll save $140 to $280.

7. Enjoy a Free National Park Visit

Just 127 of the country’s 408 national parks typically charge an entrance fee, so find a free one and plan a visit. Admission is free at all parks on Aug. 25 to observe the National Park Service’s birthday.

8. Get Free Restaurant Food

“Sign up for restaurant e-clubs to get coupons for free appetizers, meals or desserts,” Perez said. When you sign up for Chili’s email club, you get free chips and choice of salsa, guacamole or queso when buying an adult entree.

“DelTaco Raving Fan eClub offers two free grilled-chicken tacos, and California Pizza Dough Rewards offers a free small plate,” said Perez. “Many of these programs offer free food on your birthday, too.”

9. Visit the Library

“Your local library is a great resource for borrowing video rentals, video games, e-books and audio books free of charge,” Perez said. “A digital platform called Hoopla makes this seamless, so check if your library has it.”

10. Seek Out Free Alcohol Tastings

“Some specialty liquor stores across the country host free wine or beer tastings on the weekends to attract customers and introduce new products,” Perez said. For example, BevMo holds free tastings Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons.

11. Sign Up for a Free Movie Screening

You don’t have to be Hollywood royalty to screen a movie before its release date. Consumer expert Andrea Woroch recommended entering drawings at Fox Searchlight Pictures, Gofobo.com or SeeItFirst.net to get free tickets to previews. Movie tickets average $8.12 per person, so you can save $32.48 for a family of four.

12. Take Your Kids Bowling for Free

Use KidsBowlFree.com to find bowling centers offering free games for kids ages 15 and under through the summer, said Woroch.

13. Attend a Target Community Event

“Target hosts no-cost community events throughout the country to give kids and their families a chance to explore cultural exhibitions, concerts and more,” Woroch said. “For example, Target offers free admission to the Children’s Museum of Atlanta every second Tuesday.” Tickets to that museum are $12.75 plus tax, saving a family of four $51.

14. Take Part in a Free Home Depot Workshop

“Stores like Home Depot offer free activities, like complimentary weekly workshops for you and your kids,” Woroch said.

15. Get Social Media Savvy

“Many restaurants, hotels and even clothing retailers now offer free food to people who review, like, follow, check in, tweet, retweet, tag, post pictures and pin,” Woroch said. “For instance, I received a free frozen yogurt from Yogurtland and a free soda from Pita Pit for liking the shops on Facebook and a free appetizer at a local restaurant for checking in on Foursquare.”

16. Check for Free Days at Local Cultural Centers

“Take advantage of free days at local museums, zoos and botanical gardens while providing an education and cultural experience for the whole family,” Woroch said. Information can be found on the institutions’ websites.

17. Use Credit Card Freebies

Your credit card might come with free perks you don’t know about. “Bank of America cardholders get free access to local museums, zoos, aquariums and more” every first full weekend of the month, Woroch said.

18. Request Free Samples From Brands

“Most brands are happy to send new customers samples to test out,” said Woroch. “Just visit the brand’s website to put in a request.”

19. Find Free Items on FreeCycle.org

“Look for freebies in your community by searching Freecycle.org, where neighbors post free furniture, appliances, clothing, sporting goods and more,” Woroch said. “What’s one person’s trash may be a treasure to you, so scope it out and take advantage of the free offers.”

20. Host a Book Swap

Get rid of books collecting dust on your shelf by hosting a book swap where you can get new reading material for free. The average mass-market paperback novel costs about $8, so if you read five books this summer, you’ll save $40.

21. Bring Your Lunch

Americans eat lunch out an average of twice per week, spending about $10 each time. Pack your lunch all summer and save approximately $200.

22. Have a Board Game Tournament

Trade a night out on the town for a fun evening at home playing board games. Let each person choose a favorite game, creating a lineup that will keep your group occupied all night.

23. Stop Buying Coffee Out

The average price of a 16-ounce grande coffee at Starbucks is $2.10. Swap this every-weekday habit for a cup of home brew and save $141 this summer.

24. Volunteer for a Local Organization

Giving back to a local organization close to your heart will make you feel rich without spending a dime. Use sites like VolunteerMatch.org to find a cause you’re passionate about.

25. Rearrange Your Furniture

Tired of your home décor but not sure how to avoid spending money to refresh it? Just move furniture around — without purchasing anything new.

26. Take Your Furry Friend to the Dog Park

At your local dog park, enjoy watching your best friend get some off-leash exercise. It doesn’t cost a thing to let your pooch run free and bond with her fellow canines.

27. Catch Up With Family and Friends

Catch up with family and friends you haven’t talked to for a while. Invite those in your area to your home for coffee and pick up the phone and give long-distance loved ones a call.

28. Do Your Own Yard Work

Lawn services average $54 per week to cut your grass. Handle this chore yourself, and even if you have to buy a push mower and gas, you’ll save hundreds of dollars.

29. Stay Away From Places Where You’re Tempted to Spend

When trying to figure out how to spend less money, avoid certain places, such as the mall, that trigger your urge to spend impulsively. Don’t set yourself up to break your budget.

30. Turn Off the AC

Air-conditioning bills soar during heat waves. Turn your air conditioner off, open the windows and use fans to circulate air.

4 Things to Consider Before Consolidating Your Debt

Debt consolidation has been a hot topic in the past few years. Since the financial meltdown in 2008, banks have tightened up on their risk models and it was near impossible to get a personal loan from a bank. The only realistic way to get a loan was through a HELOC and many Americans were underwater on their homes during this time.

Today, a lot of online lenders have emerged and are changing the way consumers borrow money. Most lenders have a 100% online application that doesn’t require branch visits. You can get funds into your account the very next business day and sign contracts entirely online.

With all these perks, it’s important to have a full understanding of how debt consolidation works, but more importantly, the common traps to avoid when trying to consolidate your debts.

Acknowledge the Root of the Problem

Debt consolidation is undoubtedly a great way to pay off those high interest rate credit cards and will save you thousands of dollars in interest in the long run. The main benefits of consolidating your debts are single monthly payments and fixed interest rates. Keep in mind that once you pay off your credit cards through a personal loan, you’ll have a zero balances on all your accounts. This only means one thing. Access to the credit limits that your credit cards have.

You’ll have to be disciplined to make sure you’re not accumulating more debt after you paid it off. Spend some time and take a close look to figure out how you got into debt the first place. Was it poor money management skills? Were you spending too much on food, groceries, or travel? Whatever it is, it’s important to acknowledge the root of the problem before you apply for a loan.

You’re Consolidating the Wrong Debts

When you’re applying for a debt consolidation loan, your instinct might tell you to take the highest amount you’re approved for. This can actually hurt you in the long run. Take a close hard look to see what your interest rates are with each account.

It might make sense to consolidate all your accounts (even your low interest rate credit cards), but you’ll end up paying more interest by doing this. The convenience of having one monthly payment might sound like a brilliant plan today, but make sure you’re only consolidating high interest rate accounts. Only take out the amount needed to pay off high interest rate credit cards. You’ll be doing yourself a favor by having a lower monthly payment and you’ll end up paying less interest in the long run.

Make Sure Lenders are Pulling a Soft Inquiry

One of the last things you want to do is apply for loans with every lender out there. Some lenders will pull a soft inquiry while some will pull a hard inquiry. The main difference is that a soft inquiry doesn’t affect your credit score and will only be seen by you. A hard inquiry will be seen by all the lenders and will have an impact on your credit score.

One way to go about this is to use loan comparison engines like ReadyForZero or LendingTree. For example, when using ReadyForZero’s debt consolidation tool or LendingTree’s personal loan search engine, you’ll be able to see live offers from each lenders. The great thing about this is that you can compare interest rates and payments and figure out which option works best for you.

Carefully Review the Contract

The last and perhaps one of the most important steps in getting a debt consolidation loan is to review the terms of the loan. Some lenders may charge origination fees that are taken out of your requested loan amount and others might charge a pre-payment penalty. A great source to read actual reviews of each lender is Credit Karma.

Take a close look at your interest rate, total repayment, and the length of your loan. Next, carefully calculate if the amount comfortably fits within your monthly budget. Some other things to look out for on the loan contract is to see what their policy is for late fees. Are they pretty lenient? Will they forgive late fees in certain cases?

Lastly, you should always check to see what their policy is in changing your due date. We all know life can throw us a curve ball which might impact our ability to pay on certain dates, so having this extra flexibility can go a long way.

When all is said is done, a debt consolidation loan can be a great way to have a fixed monthly payment to get out of debt within a certain time frame. Always make sure you’re using common sense before applying for a loan and make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.