Managing cellular service options while traveling abroad

Both frequent travelers and the occasional vacationer will need to prepare in advance to secure mobile data and phone service abroad.

There are many options available depending on the person’s current situation, according to Engadget.

The easiest route to take is to just do nothing, and that is possible for those using T-Mobile, Sprint, or Google’s Fi service because each of these offer some unlimited data coverage in most foreign countries.

T-Mobile and Sprint will cap the user at slower 2G speeds, but Google Fi will let you use up to high-speed 4G data if it is available. Check with a provider to be sure, but usually, this option requires enabling ‘roaming data’ in the phone’s settings to work.

Customers signed up with AT&T or Verizon, unfortunately, won’t have the luxury of free roaming data and will instead have to purchase roaming passes that are often expensive for what they offer. With monthly packs, for instance, AT&T will sell 1 gigabyte of data for $60 while Verizon has half a gigabyte for $70, but some plans might offer a few free passes each month.

To avoid this extra expense, local SIM cards can be an excellent option for saving money as long as the provider has unlocked the phone. For this option, head into a local telecom upon arrival, such as Vodafone in the UK, and purchase a temporary, ‘pay-as-you-go’ SIM or whatever variant they say is best for your situation. Unfortunately, a new SIM means a new phone number and anyone calling the usual one will be sent straight to voicemail as if the phone had been turned off. To make matters worse, certain new phones or devices that are still on an installment plan through the provider likely cannot be unlocked to use a local SIM, but those that hang on to older devices might be able to find something new enough to use for a short trip.

Should I replace my home’s windows?

Though new windows are pricey, a lot of homeowners assume that they will pay for themselves in a few years in energy savings.

You might want to think twice about that. True, new energy-efficient windows can help keep your house warmer in winter and cooler in summer (assuming you use an air conditioner), but they won’t necessarily save you a bunch on your monthly energy bill.

An article in’s Money section said that new windows produce about 5 to 15 percent of your total energy savings; and with the average homeowner in America paying about $1,000 a year to heat and cool a home, it would take more than 100 years to earn back your investment.

So does that mean you shouldn’t bother? Hardly.

You also need to determine whether the windows are doing their job of keeping moisture out, as they may need repairs or replacement on that factor alone. And even if they don’t save you the money you expected, new windows can make you feel a lot more comfortable by helping to reduce draftiness in the winter and retaining cooler air in the summer.

Newer windows are usually a lot easier to clean because of their tilt-in design, too. And new windows can help your home’s resale value; prospective buyers see new windows as a plus, not to mention an indicator that the house has been well cared for. The Time article said homeowners get about 73 percent of their replacement window investment back when they sell the house, according to the National Association of Realtors’ 2016 Cost Versus Value study.

How to make your business a government contractor

Owners of small businesses might not realize that Uncle Sam could become a valuable customer through government contracting.

But, to bid for government contracts, you have to be certified, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).

Each year, there is around $100 billion earmarked for spending through small businesses to help them compete amongst larger companies. To qualify as a small business according to the government, manufacturing companies can have up to 500 employees, and non-manufacturing companies should have annual receipts of less than $7 million.

Signing up to be placed into the pool of businesses that sell or want to sell to the government requires applying for a Dun and Bradstreet (DUNS) number to verify that there is a real physical business.

There are additional opportunities with separate spending earmarks for companies that are women-owned, veteran-owned, disadvantaged, or working in particular urban or rural areas that are part of HUBZone.

Once you are on the government list, you’ll have to learn how to write applications targeted to certain projects or goals.

The SBA’s 8(a) program can set up a small business owner with a mentor-protege program to help navigate the contracting system and give them an edge over the competition.

Avoiding mortgage refinancing scam

Scammers are targeting homeowners, trying to trick them out of cash and home equity, according to U.S. News.

‘Loan flipping’ scams seem to offer relief for those struggling with monthly mortgages. What actually happens is the scammer offers a fantastic deal on lower interest rates or mortgage payments. The homeowner goes through the lengthy loan application process only to find the terms and fees are much higher than advertised.

Scammers get away with this because victims are either too fearful or exhausted by the process to end the deal.

Some schemes strip equity from homeowners who are in danger of foreclosure. ‘Mortgage rescuers’ focus on homeowners who have a lot of equity in the property, but now can’t make mortgage payments. They tell delinquent payers that they will pay off the mortgage if they sign over the deed and make rental payments. Unfortunately, the rental fees are likely to be just as high. The scammer waits until the person falls behind, evicts them, keeps the equity and sells the home or skips town.
Here are things to look for:

  • Leaseback schemes. The scammer is going to own your home and you will rent from him. Always crooked.
  • Bad credit doesn’t matter. Credit always matters. If someone tells you otherwise, be suspicious.
  • Upfront fees. These criminals review public records of people in default on their mortgages. For a big fee, they offer to help homeowners refinance, usually through a government program, but they actually do nothing. In the end, the house is foreclosed, the homeowner loses everything, and the helper pockets the fees.

Is college worth the cost to you?

College gives young people more than a degree. It is also offers critical thinking skills while forcing young people to manage independent living.

But is it necessary for everyone?

Many jobs do require a college degree, and graduates do tend to make more money.

In college, you’re acquiring lifelong skills like critical thinking, organization, problem-solving, and teamwork. You also have access to counselors, career centers, internships, job fairs, clubs, and volunteer opportunities to intensify your marketability after graduation.

However, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reports that 43 percent of today’s college graduates work in a job that doesn’t require a degree. A 2017 Gallup survey revealed that 51 percent of Americans who went to college would consider changing their degree, major, or institution. Moreover, The National Center for Education Statistics found that only 59 percent of college students get their degree within six years.

Try to determine whether the money you’ll earn with a degree will be worth what you’ve paid for it. If you’re not entirely sure about your career choice, you may later regret going to college at all.

While a college degree can open doors, sheer ambition, determination, and willingness to work open others. Do not dismiss such alternatives as trade schools, community colleges, and apprenticeships, among others. Becoming a real estate agent, medical assistant, or web developer doesn’t require a college degree. Capitalize on your entrepreneurial spirit by starting your own business through websites like eBay, Amazon, and Etsy. Take free online classes, learn a trade skill, or earn an associate degree at a community college, among other possibilities.

Most people invest in college to prepare for a productive and rewarding future. This pursuit is viable when you know what you want, manage your expectations, and intend to pay for everything from your own pocket. If necessary, apply for scholarships, find a part-time job, maybe even take a few semesters off to save up before you leave for college.

This way, you may earn a college degree without being haunted by a student loan for years and maybe decades to come.

How to scale the company ladder

It takes more to get ahead in a company than just doing the basics.

“Simply meeting expectations is not enough if you want to get ahead,”

writes business trainer and consultant Cy Wakeman in her book, The Reality-Based Rules of the Workplace.

If you want to climb the ladder, strive to be a low-drama, high-value employee, Wakeman says.

Victor Lipman agrees, and he’s an author and management specialist with more than 20 years of Fortune 500 experience.

“Be relentlessly reliable,” he says. “Reliability is a cornerstone of business and a fine core personal attribute. Businesses may not often need brilliant bursts of artistic creativity, but they always need the trains to run on time.”

For example, try to become a go-to person by developing as many skills as possible. The more you can do within a company, and the more you can learn about its operations, the more relevant you are to its goals.

Your attitude and willingness to work do matter too. Try to be consistently collaborative. In projects involving multiple participants with conflicting views and opinions, the person who can react effectively with all kinds of people is appreciated.

Also, create strong, enduring relationships. In the corporate world, networking has been and always will be an influential factor regardless of an individual’s status in the company. As much as others may profess that professional advancement is based on merit, individual relationships do have their roles in any company, large or small.

Think about ways and means of resolving an issue that may have been gnawing at the company for years. Although some of these problems are unique to each organization, the more common challenges include containing costs, improving production processes, and discovering new markets for established products.

Be a self-starter. Try to identify obstacles before they get worse. Try to be valued as a team member who tries to make difficult decisions easier.

Keep in mind that any solution you propose is likely to be met with skepticism; if not, the issue most likely would have been solved long ago.

Should you succeed–or even make noticeable progress–your efforts could advance your career in ways you had not imagined.

Finally, try to make your boss look good (and if possible, his boss too). This sense can set you apart, showcase potential, and promote an ability to think beyond current circumstances.

Are you checking account wisely? Your credit score could now go up

This year, people who wisely manage their checking accounts could see an increase in their credit scores.

The new UltraFICO credit score will let some consumers offer their banking activity as proof that they are credit worthy.

A credit score has never been based on income. A person who makes $20,000 per year — and pays loans faithfully — could have a higher credit score than a person making $200,000, who doesn’t pay loans on time. The credit score tries to predict if a person will pay back a loan and pay it back on time.

Some people, especially younger people, may not have much of a history of loan payments. Those people pay for things mainly in cash, and through their checking accounts and debit cards, which aren’t counted toward a credit score. If they do apply for a loan, their lack of credit history could put them in the subprime category, scores below 670. They might be denied credit.

With the UltraFICO scoring system, a lender can offer to recalculate a consumer’s score based on banking activity. People who have had a checking account for some time, maintain a balance of about $400, and don’t overdraw are likely to see their score rise, possibly high enough to get a loan and therefore build credit history.

One caution: those who do overdraw their accounts could see their scores go down in an UltraFICO calculation.

Since the subprime mortgage crisis, banks have been focused on only the most creditworthy borrowers. In 2018, a record 58.2 percent of U.S. consumers held a score between 700 and 850, the FICO maximum. These high-score consumers aren’t taking out as many loans these days and lenders have been eager to find responsible borrowers.

Fair Isaac Corporation, the creator of the widely used FICO score, estimates 7 million people with thin credit histories could benefit from an UltraFICO recalculation. Another 26 million people could see an increase, and 4 million could see their score increase 20 points.

Can balance transfers backfire?

The average American had $6,354 in credit card debt at the end of 2017 which continues the upward trend of recent years, and many people might be looking for a balance transfer after overspending during this year’s Christmas shopping season.

The benefits of a good balance transfer card are that a person with existing high-interest credit card debt can get as low as zero percent interest rate for up to 21 months. That can allow them to focus on the debt itself without worrying about interest charges slowing them down, according to The Simple Dollar.

Without proper preparation, however, balance transfers can backfire.

Balance transfers still require work and sacrifice to totally clear the debt. Bad spending habits and a lack of budgeting probably created the debt in the first place. Transferring a balance might save you interest, but it won’t save you from bad habits.

One of the worst things to do is continue to use an old credit card while trying to pay off a new one, racking up even more debt in the process.

This includes falling into the trap of wanting to use the credit card to access the rewards for things like presents for the family at the end of the year – they are not worth it if there is a balance at the end of the month.

The only way to clear out debt with a balance transfer is to divide the total balance by the number of interest-free months. That is the monthly payment you must make to ensure your profit from the balance transfer.

This payment will likely be much higher than the minimum required but paying only the minimum amount will not make much progress toward total payoff.

You’ll get the best deals on a balance transfer with a great credit score. The best scores can attract offers of zero interest for close to two years.

A strict monthly budget can help carve out extra money to pay down debt. Focus on absolutely perfect payments to increase your credit score.

Tax moves to make before year-end

As April’s tax deadline looms, there are some things you can do before Dec. 31 to cut your tax bill.

First, use any extra money to make a final contribution to an IRA or 401k. This makes a tidy deduction in taxable income. In 2018, those limits are $5,500 and $18,500, respectively.

Don’t forget that unused money in a flexible medical spending account will be lost at the end of the year so use the balance to stock up on eligible household items like bandages, vitamins, and sunscreens.

Homeowners that plan to itemize their deductions should think about squeezing in an extra mortgage payment at the end of the year, something that adds to a deduction and pays your house off sooner.

One significant change in the 2018 tax code caps the deduction for state and local taxes (SALT) at $10,000 for any combination of property, income, or sales-related taxes. For those with expensive homes in high property-tax states, this can be a hit. For example, New York’s average deduction last year was $21,000. The deduction cap won’t affect the average homeowner outside coastal and metro areas.

According to Quicken, the end of the year is also an excellent time to make energy-efficient improvements such as insulations, roofs, or doors that can qualify for up to $500 through the Residential Energy Tax Credit.

According to Quicken, the end of the year is also an excellent time to make energy-efficient improvements such as insulations, roofs, or doors that can qualify for up to a $500 credit.

Many people can gain a small advantage in their taxes by selling investments that lost money during the year and using the losses to offset capital gains on a dollar-per-dollar basis, up to $3,000, on the ones that did well. Extra losses can also be carried over to future tax years, meaning one particularly lousy year can spread out over time.

Additionally, donating cash to charity is deductible, but it is important to remember that unwanted items can be given and written off at current fair market value as well.

Money saving tips during holiday shopping

Avoid impulsive shopping during the holidays by making your plan and sticking to it.

One method to avoid the madness, according to Real Simple, is to work out a complete gift plan, then set aside one day for shopping.

Before the big day, shop sales for specific items and download any necessary retailer coupons and price scanning comparison tools onto a smartphone for real-time help.

On the big day, get up early, eat a healthy breakfast, dress for business, leave the credit cards at home and plan on using cash only.

By some estimates, spending cash only will save you up to 23 percent on your shopping trip.

While at the store, shop solo, avoiding salespeople, unless you really need help.

Buy cheaper items first. If you buy the big ticket items first, tossing around $20 or $50 here and there seems easy. So start small.

Break up the day with a coffee or soft drink to stay in a good mood and make better choices.

Get in and out of stores more quickly by checking out in less crowded areas of major department stores and steering clear of sales pitches.

During lunch and dinner breaks, cash in credit card rewards on discounted gift cards and exclusive special offers to round out the list.

An extra sneaky tip is to load up an online cart but cancel it right before finalizing. Often, they will send an email offer with a discount code but if not, there is no harm in asking the live chat representative.