Personal Capital Review – Wealth Management at Your Fingertips

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Investing is frustrating. It can be confusing to know which investments you should choose, and when and how to rebalance your portfolio. Until now. Find out how this investment management tool can help in our Personal Capital review.

Personal Capital Review

For many investors, a robo advisor makes sense–everything is done automatically for you.

But what if you’re at the point in your financial life where you need just a little bit more?

That’s where Personal Capital’s Wealth Management service comes into play.

Designed for individuals with a slightly higher net worth, Personal Capital combines amazing software with robo advising, plus adds in the benefit of having a live investment professional to guide you.

In this article, I’ll review Personal Capital’s Wealth Management service in detail so you can decide if it meets your needs.

What is Personal Capital?

Personal Capital was founded in 2009, and in the personal finance community, was always known for its amazing money management software (which you can still get for free). Slowly but surely, the word got out about Personal Capital’s Wealth Management solutions. That’s what I want to talk about with you today.

Their platform is different than other traditional robo advisors because they utilize a computer algorithm with experienced investment professionals. So the algorithm determines your initial portfolio, but it’s overseen and managed by an investment advisor.

The founders of Personal Capital have a goal of building a better money management experience for consumers. They do this by “blending cutting edge technology with objective financial advice,” and they “believe this is the best way to empower individuals and their money.”

As of this writing, Personal Capital has 1.8 million users tracking over $550 billion in assets. On the Wealth Management front, their advisors manage over $7.5 billion (yes – BILLION) in total assets. This is no small boutique broker, folks.

Here are some of the pertinent details of Personal Capital Wealth Management:

Detail More Info
Minimum account balance $100,000
Management fees Varies; see below
Investment expense ratio 0.08% (weighted average)
Annual fee $0
Account closure fee $0
Transfer fee $0
Accounts supported Multiple; see below
Tax-loss harvesting Yes
Automatic rebalancing Yes
Access to advisors Chat, email, phone, or web conference

Personal Capital has six core values that they stand for, and it shines through their work with you:

  1. Objective – they give their clients objective financial advice, not advice that will line their own pockets.
  2. Holistic – with access to their free software, you can take a holistic view of your money instead of focusing just on assets you carry (or don’t carry) with Personal Capital.
  3. Transparent – everything they do is transparent, including transparency on the costs to you as the investor.
  4. Dedicated – their advisors are dedicated to their clients and don’t want to make investing a poor experience.
  5. Strategic – they’ll find cost-effective solutions that align with your long-term financial goals.
  6. Personal – this is more than a robo advisor. Personal Capital pairs algorithms with human beings to give you an extremely personalized experience.

Key Features

I’d like to share the best features of Personal Capital’s wealth management service:

MPT Portfolio Construction

Personal Capital’s algorithm utilizes MPT (Modern Portfolio Theory) to select investments for you. MPT was published by a guy named Harry Markowitz in the 1950s and he eventually won the Nobel Price in 1990 for the concept. Its basis is that you invest in the lowest-risk assets possible, given your targeted return. Obviously, he won the Nobel Prize, so it’s much more complex than that, but Personal Capital uses the theory to construct the lowest-risk portfolios possible based on a desired return/risk level.

Robo Features to Reduce Costs and Headaches

Utilizing a roboadvisor approach, Personal Capital’s algorithm will automatically rebalance your portfolio whenever it gets too far out of whack. Rebalancing is critical, and this is a service that saves you time and money. They’ll also help you reduce costs by directly investing in stocks instead of ETFs or mutual funds. Finally, you’ll get tax-loss harvesting, which is an automatic feature that reduces your taxes based on the trades that occur within your portfolio.

Multiple Account Type Options

With Personal Capital, you have a few options on the types of accounts you can open:

  • Roth IRA – an excellent option for anyone, allows you to contribute taxed money each year and enjoy tax-free earnings and withdrawals at retirement.
  • Traditional IRA – free from income restrictions, a Traditional IRA allows you to take advantage of tax credits for your contributions in the year you contribute, but you have to pay income tax when you withdraw money in retirement.
  • Joint accounts – this is a joint taxable account and can be used as a savings account (which is what a lot of people do nowadays, since you can choose a low-risk portfolio).
  • Individual taxable accounts – I would recommend opening one of these once you max out your 401(k) and IRA. A taxable investment account is a standard account that allows you to buy and sell stock, but you’ll be taxed at the normal rates (i.e., you’ll pay capital gains tax).
  • Trusts – if you need to establish an account for certain situations or certain people, a trust is a valuable asset to have.

While Personal Capital does not offer 401(k) or 529 savings plan accounts, you can get advice from their algorithms and advisors. Since these are managed through your company in most cases (401(k)) or the state (529 plans) there aren’t a ton of options for brokers like Personal Capital. Providing investment advice is a huge value-add though, because usually, these types of accounts come with none.

Pricing

Personal Capital is very transparent about their pricing tiers for Wealth Management. The most important thing to know is that you need at least $100,000 in your account to use Personal Capital’s wealth management services. That being said, here are the pricing tiers:

Investment Amount Annual Fee
First $1mm 0.89%
First $3mm (if invested over $1mm) 0.79%
Next $2mm 0.69%
Next $5mm 0.59%
Next $10mm 0.49%

Personal Capital Pros

Here are some of our favorite things about Personal Capital’s Wealth Management service:

  • Top-notch wealth management software – anyone can use Personal Capital’s financial management software, but it’s a great feature to have when you’re carrying your investments with them, too. The features are robust and it’s hands-down one of the best budgeting/financial tools out there today.
  • Socially responsible investing – Personal Capital now offers a SRI (socially responsible investing) strategy as part of their algorithm. Many brokers still don’t offer this type of feature, and it allows people who want to put their money into companies that back ethical causes a reality. In fact, you can fund your entire portfolio around socially responsible companies with this strategy.
  • Tax-loss harvesting – tax-loss harvesting is a feature that knows when to sell an asset because it has experienced a loss. When you sell an asset (stock, in this case) that has lost value, those losses can help offset the taxes you’ll pay on gains in your portfolio. Keep in mind, this wouldn’t help you in a tax-protected account like a Roth IRA, but with a joint account or individual taxable account, you could end up saving thousands.
  • Advice for non-Personal Capital accounts – companies like Blooom will charge you to manage your 401(k), which is a helpful resource. While Personal Capital can’t manage your 401(k) directly for you, they can provide advice on how to manage it–and that’s included in the cost you’re already paying for their wealth management services. I like this because you don’t have to pay another company who may give you a different strategy than you’re already going with for your primary assets.
  • The hybrid-robo advisor model – Let me clear the air on this–Personal Capital is already making money off of you by you investing your assets with them, and they charge a flat rate for that (as I showed you above). The benefit is that it’s a sunk cost, so they have no incentive to try and up-sell you on either a strategy or an asset that you simply don’t need. Their advisors are there for you through online tools and resources, as well as personalized advice via phone, web conference, chat, or email. If you need investment advice, you have it at your fingertips. They supplement this with a robo advisor algorithm so you get the best of both worlds, and it’s well worth the cost.

Personal Capital Cons

Although we love many things about Personal Capital, there are some downsides:

  • It’s expensive – For the highest net-worth clients, the cost is the lowest and that most likely isn’t an issue for someone with that much money to be managed. But for most people who want to get into the game, Personal Capital is very costly. You have to have $100,000 just to start, and their lowest tier pricing starts at 0.89% of total assets. That means, at a minimum, you’re paying $890 for investment advice and wealth management.
  • The barriers to entry are high – If you’re a new investor with less than $100,000, you’re out of luck. The minimum amount that you need to have is $100k, so if you don’t have that you’re stuck looking elsewhere. Then you have to worry about the hassle of transferring your assets over to Personal Capital once you have enough to meet the minimum requirement. This usually isn’t too bad, but it’s just a series of extra steps you need to take. If you really like Personal Capital as much as we do, think about this before you move forward with another company.
  • Account types (for active traders) are limited – If you’re into trading cryptocurrency or forex, you won’t find what you’re looking for with Personal Capital. You also won’t be happy if you want to select each and every investment in your portfolio since Personal Capital uses a robo advising algorithm to choose investments on your behalf. If you have over $200,000, though, you can pick individual stocks, it’s just not conducive for day traders.

Who Personal Capital is Best For?

Personal Capital isn’t for everyone. Here are a few scenarios of people who might benefit the most from Personal Capital Wealth Management:

  1. You have at least $100,000 to invest. This is the account minimum, so unless you have $100k, you’re out of luck.
  2. You have a high net-worth. The higher your investable assets, the cheaper Personal Capital becomes, and the more features you’ll have access to. If you have money to invest you’ll love this service.
  3. You are okay giving up control. If you’re a control freak who wants to pick every investment, you’ll struggle here. If you want a hands-off approach though, with the added benefit of a human advisor, you’ll benefit greatly from Personal Capital.
  4. You want tailored investment advice at your fingertips. If you like to do your own research and don’t want advice, this isn’t for you. But if you want personalized investment advice through a variety of means (email, chat, phone, etc.) Personal Capital will be a great partner for you.

How it Compares to Other Options

If you decide Personal Capital is not for you, there are other options available that we would recommend:

Betterment

Betterment was one of the first (and is still one of the most popular) robo advisors. They’re significantly cheaper and don’t have the account minimums that Personal Capital has. Where they lack is the personalized investment advice that Personal Capital offers–they’re simply a robo advisor that will manage a pre-balanced portfolio for you at different levels of risk. You can read all about Betterment in our review here.

Ally Invest

Ally Invest does have a robo advisor option, but in my opinion, it doesn’t compare to Personal Capital or Betterment. When I would recommend Ally Invest is if you don’t want a robo advisor and instead want to have more control over your investments. Ally Invest has some of the lowest fees in the industry and has a huge selection of ETFs to choose from. If you want more control over your investments, this might be a good option for you.

Summary

Overall we love Personal Capital Wealth Management. It’s slightly more expensive than some of the other options we’ve recommended, but we feel the cost is worth it (if you meet the minimum requirements). They offer a lot for the cost, and the addition of a real investment advisor is great. Plus, you’ll be able to use some of the best personal finance software available.


How to Set SMART Financial Goals

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Your guide to setting SMART financial goals. We show you how to create goals that are Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Result-focused, and Time-bound.

It’s fairly easy to set financial goals, if you think about it.

“I want to be rich.” “I want to get out of debt.” “I want enough money to retire comfortably.”

See? Easy.

While these are all wonderful, worthwhile goals, I wouldn’t necessarily argue that they are SMART.

What Is a SMART Goal?

You may be wondering why I’m capitalizing the word SMART. Well, while I believe your goals should also be wise, SMART is an acronym for determining just how smart they really are.

SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable/actionable, relevant/results-focused, and time-bound. Let’s delve into each one a bit and see exactly how you should lay out your goals.

S  for Specific

Goals have different meanings for different people, so the acronym can also be altered slightly to fit the circumstance. Because of this, you could also use S to stand for Simple, Sensible, or even Significant. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll stick with Specific here.

When setting goals in personal finance, it’s important that they be specific. Simply saying that you want to “have more money” just won’t cut it, no matter how great of an overall goal that may be.

In order to actually reach your goal, you need to establish more defined criteria.

So, you want to have more money. Great! But what do you mean by that?

Do you want to pay off high-interest credit cards and student loans, in order to free up cash flow and add more money to savings? Or maybe you want to spend less money each month. This is very easy to say, but without some elbow grease and defined terms, it can be difficult to put into action.

When setting your goals, make them as specific as you can. Say things like,”I want to put $4,000 in my IRA this year” rather than “I want to save more for retirement.” Set goals like,”We want to cut our grocery bill in half” instead of “Let’s spend less on our bills each month.”

M for Measurable

Again, the M can mean different things depending on your circumstance, such as Meaningful and Motivating. For us today, we are going to focus on Measurable.

If you have no way of measuring your goal’s progress, you have no way of really defining it or achieving it. You’ll need to set some parameters, as an extension of the Specific aspect above.

If you’ve determined that you want to pay off debt, define what that means for you personally. Are you alright with having a car payment, as long as those credit cards are paid off? What about your mortgage–do you consider that part of your debt when setting goals?

You may even want to split your goal up into segments. Maybe you have $100,000 in debt and it seems impossible to ever climb out. However, if you break that debt up into measurable pieces that can be more easily achieved, you’ll begin to see light at the end of the tunnel.

Maybe this means saying something like,”This year, I will pay off three of my credit cards.” No, it won’t immediately get you out of debt, but this mini-goal will get you closer to being debt-free. And you can use a method like the debt snowball to help you get there even faster.

A for Attainable

Attainable, Achievable… the idea is the same. At the end of the day, your goals have to be realistic, or you’ll never reach them.

Now, this isn’t to say that you can’t set some wildly exciting goals. For instance, I would love to one day sail around the world in a yacht. Deep down, I know this probably won’t happen, but it’s fun to dream, right?

However, when we are talking about concrete financial goals–and SMART ones, at that–you need to set some more plausible parameters.

Let’s say that you decide you want to be a billionaire. That’s quite the goal, and I wish you luck! However, take a step back and determine whether you’re truly capable of such.

Does your career path allow you to find a position with very high pay? Are you able to find an alternate income source, such as a profitable investment or invention, that can begin building your wealth to extreme levels? Do you have other constraints that would prevent you from being able to maximize your resources?

Set goals that challenge you, but make sure that they are still within the realm of possibility.

R for Realistic

This could also stand for Results-Based, Resources, or Relevant, depending on you and your goal. We are going with Realistic.

This ties in somewhat with keeping your goals attainable, but takes it a step further. It factors in the time, effort, and skills that you have to put toward your goal, and whether your goal is still a realistic one.

If you want to be able to save $2 million for retirement, but you’re 35 and haven’t saved a penny, you might want to consider how realistic your goal actually is. Or maybe you want to pay off all $90,000 of your student loan debt by the end of this year–unless you’ve got some serious savings tucked away, a new job on the horizon, or make some serious changes, you may want to reevaluate your goal.

T for Time-Bound

Timely, Time-Sensitive… no matter which “t” you choose, this last aspect of a SMART goal has to do with some time constraints.

It’s important to set a deadline for your goals, in order to prioritize them, give you something concrete to work toward, and also allow you to evaluate whether you’ve met them.

It’s very easy to say,”I want to pay off all of my debt.” If you don’t establish some rules, though, you could be saying that same thing to yourself ten years from now.

Try setting goals like, ”I want to be completely debt-free in five years.” Or maybe a goal such as, ”I want to cut my monthly expenses by 30% in the next six months.”

Then, as you approach that goal’s deadline, you can decide if you’re on track to meet the goal, if you need to refocus your efforts, or if you’ve even met it early. Having a defined point in the horizon can ensure that your goals don’t just slip by the wayside.

Want to Make Your Goals Even SMARTER?

Paul J. Meyer, author of Attitude Is Everything, established the original SMART goal rules. However, some others have come in and expanded it even further, saying we should be setting SMARTER goals.

The additional letters in the acronym stand for Evaluated and Reviewed. These are particularly helpful with long-term goals, as it is important to regularly evaluate their progress.

It can also be helpful to review, or have someone else review (such as  a financial advisor) whether your goals are attainable. If you could be doing more to reach your goals, or working toward them in a different way, it can be invaluable to have another set of educated eyes looking at the bigger picture.

In Closing

At the end of the day, it’s important to have financial goals. Simply chugging along each day can lead to years of missed opportunities, wasted money, and even financial ruin.

Evaluate your financial situation and any goals that you may have. Do you want to retire early? Maybe it’s important for you to get out of debt as soon as possible. Or perhaps you just want to be able to save 50% of your income.

No matter your financial goals, set aside the time to spell them out. Not only will you ensure that they are smart, but you’ll make them that much easier to reach.


How to Upgrade Your Credit Card

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If you’ve been using a credit card for a while, it may be time for an upgrade. Didn’t know you could upgrade your card? Don’t even know what that means? Here’s what you need to know!

upgrade your credit card

Upgrading a credit card can mean a few different things. Sometimes, you can stay with the same card issuer but tap into a stronger rewards system. For instance, you might move from the American Express Blue Cash Everyday to the American Express Blue Cash Preferred card. The second gives you more cash back rewards on your purchases.

Or you might move from a basic no-frills credit card with one issuer to a great travel rewards card with another.

But rewards aren’t the only reason to upgrade your card. Here are a few other reasons you might consider a move:

  • APR: if you’re currently paying a higher APR, you might consider moving to a card with a lower APR. This is especially true if you’re planning to use the card to finance a large purchase that will take several months to pay off.
  • Higher Credit Limit: Starter credit cards often come with small credit limits. Moving to a new card could get you a higher credit limit.
  • Better Perks: Rewards points and cash back aren’t the only perks credit card issuers offer. Most offer basic items, like additional coverage for rental cars when you use your card to book the car. But some cards have more–and better–additional perks than others.

When Are You Ready to Upgrade?

Maybe you’re ready for a credit card that gives you some of these new benefits. But do the credit card issuers think you’re ready?

It’s not enough to decide you want a different credit card. You need to actually qualify for one. Here’s what credit card issuers are going to look at:

  • Have you had your current card for at least six months? While there’s not a set timeline for when you can upgrade, issuers want to see some history with a card before giving you a new one. If you’ve made on-time payment for six months, at least, you’re more likely to be approved for that new card.
  • Is your credit score better than it was? Maybe you started in a low-rewards card because you didn’t have great credit. If that’s the case, pull your most recent credit score. If you’re better now than you were then, it may be time to apply for a new card. If you’re aiming for one of the best rewards cards, you may want to wait until your score is in the 700+ range.
  • Have you established good credit card habits? Are you paying off your card in full each month? Are you running expenses through your card to take advantage of rewards? If so, you may be ready for an upgrade, especially one that comes with a higher credit limit.

How to Make the Switch

When it comes to upgrading your credit card, you’ve got a couple of options. One is to ask the issuer of your current card for an upgrade. The other is to apply for another card altogether.

Sometimes, a credit card issuer will make the first option available to you without your having to do anything. For instance, the Discover it Secured Credit Card allows for an automatic upgrade. Discover will check your credit card account monthly after you’ve had it for seven months. If you qualify, they’ll return your security deposit. They’ll basically convert your secured card to an unsecured Discover it card automatically.

Issuers will sometimes do similar things with other cards. This is especially true if they issue a new type of credit card that’s basically an upgrade for the one you already own. In this case, the new card may actually build on the same account, rather than opening a new one.

But if you approach your issuer to ask to switch from, say, the American Express Blue Cash Everyday to the Blue Cash Preferred, then you’ll probably be opening a new account. Just remember that this comes with credit caveats, such as a potential score ding from a hard credit pull. Generally, though, any negative effects will be minimal and temporary. This is especially true if the new account gives you a higher credit limit, which will improve your debt-to-credit ratio.

Applying for a card with another credit card company altogether is also a viable option. In this case, you’ll just fill out an application like you did the first time around. Again, applying for a new card can temporarily lower your credit score. But having another account with its own credit limit can help your score, too.

Other Options

What if you’re mostly happy with your current credit card, but just want to make a tweak? In some cases, you can just ask your credit card issuer.

This is especially common when it comes to your credit limit. If you’ve had your card for a while and have used it responsibly, your issuer may give you a credit limit bump.

Increasing your credit limit is helpful if you want to max out a credit card’s reward potential. Say you get 3% cash back on grocery and gas spending. The best way to take advantage is to put all your gas and grocery purchases on the card for the month. At the end of the month, pay off the full balance.

This is great, but it’s hard to do if you have a measly $500 credit limit. But if you’ve managed that low limit responsibly, your card issuer may decide to bump it up just because you ask.

The other option is to lower the card’s variable APR. Say you’ve decided to put a large purchase on your credit card, or have had to use it for an emergency fund. If your credit has improved recently, you may be eligible to lower the APR on the card. Again, you’ll just have to ask your card issuer.

These options may also result in a credit pull, which is usually considered a credit application. Technically, you are applying for more credit, just on the same card.

Upgrading your credit card, whether for a higher credit limit, better rewards with big bonuses, or a lower APR, can be a great option. Just make sure you’ve used your card responsibly and are always improving your credit score. Then, you can move on up into a card that works even better for you.


8 Ways to Land Your Next Promotion

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It’s a classic Catch 22. One of the biggest challenges when it comes to progressing up the career ladder, is that typically what makes you good at this job, could be what’s holding you back from progressing. You learn a certain set of behaviours in any role.

These behaviours help you perform well and cause others to notice you. But when it comes to moving up, it might be time to forget everything you thought you knew about how to behave at work.

Here are some examples of the ‘bad’ behaviours which might just be exactly what you need to get onto the next rung of the ladder.

1. Say ‘no’

As most of us enter the workforce in an entry level job, we find we have a whole bunch of people we have to say, ‘yes’ to. Of course, in customer facing roles in particular, the desire to serve runs deep. But as you move into more supervisory and management level positions, agreeing to everything will lead you to trouble.

Being seen as a people pleaser is a sure fire way to rule yourself out of many management positions. Learn to say no, and do so strategically. If saying a straight out ‘no’ feels too much, practise by saying no in a softer way.

You can say, ‘I would love to help you with that, but I’m at capacity right now, so something will have to give. Maybe I could pass some of this project over to someone from your team, to free up the time?’ By generating options you’re showing a flexibility and a willingness to help. But you’re not being a pushover.

2. Make yourself replaceable

In a world where job security seems a distant memory, this is counterintuitive. But one of the most powerful ways to get a promotion might just be to make yourself entirely replaceable. After all, if nobody else could ever pick up the work you do, how could you ever hope to get a foot up to the next level?

The key here is being in control. It’s not about someone else rendering you redundant, but about you preparing the ground for a step up.

If you want a promotion, consider how your role could be backfilled. Then take some time to talk it over with your boss. Explain how you think you would be able to train another team member to pick up your work if you moved to a bigger and better position.

This demonstrates to your boss that you have the ‘team’ mindset. You have the foresight and skills to bring a successor on and are really committed to not only your own career, but also the long term health of the business.

3. Talk about your weaknesses

You’re never going to get a promotion if you go around talking about what you’re bad at. Right? And it’s true that it can be exhausting talking to someone who is constantly putting themselves down. It’s highly unlikely anyone needs to know how many times you failed your driver’s license, or that your grilling skills suck.

However, being open about some of your development areas can be a massive strength in the workplace.

It might make it easier to think of this more as a process of getting continual feedback from others. You can ask what you can do better next time. By showing you’re comfortable with your weaknesses, you show you’re self aware and open to development and personal growth. These are both key characteristics in successful people.

4. Be a social butterfly

Figuring out the best way to maintain healthy relationships with work colleagues can be hard. Many people fall way too heavily on either the side of the divide. Coworkers make colleagues the best of best friends or refuse to hang out with people from work at all.

You might think that shunning social contact is the best plan if you’re looking to progress your career. After all you might end up being the boss one day. But business gets done on the basis of relationships. Being a wallflower won’t actually do you any favours.

Loosen up a little. Apply a few simple rules, to make sure you’re building an effective network, at the same time as making some friends – and you could even find you’re having fun.

5. Speak truth to power

Sometimes, standing up for what you believe in might make you unpopular. Maybe you have spotted a problem holding the business back, but fixing it is going to rock the boat. Or perhaps you disagree with the direction your boss or coworkers are taking in some respect.

Going with the flow is usually the easy option, but it won’t get you noticed. And if you want a promotion, you need to be noticed.

Don’t wait for a catastrophic issue to arise to practise this. Look for opportunities others have not seen yet. Do an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of your business or team. See what the competition are doing, and how you can match or better them.

And tell someone your ideas. Talk to your manager, or make some small alterations yourself to see how they work. If you’re on the right track, it’ll show, and your proactive approach will put you head and shoulders ahead of others.

6. Admit you don’t want to do this job forever

Of course, you don’t want to do this job forever. You have big ambitions. You have a career plan. But it’s pretty natural to worry that saying so to your current boss might land you in hot water. You could offend your manager, leaving you in a worse position than ever.

Carefully managed, though, talking to your boss or HR department about your desire to move up is effective. Even better, sit your boss down and ask for feedback on your career plan. They may even feel like they’ve played a part in creating it. If your manager feels some ownership over your success, you’re definitely onto a good thing.

7. Care about appearances

You don’t want to seem to frivolous in the office or too concerned with outward appearances. The work you do should speak for itself. How you hold yourself, or what you wear, should be minor factors.

Yet appearances do matter. You might have heard people saying you should dress for the job you want, not the job you have. By dressing in an appropriate, considered way, you’ll be casting yourself as ready for a managerial role in others’ minds. And that’s half the battle.

8.Thank and acknowledge others’ efforts

Finally, sharing the credit for successes might sound like something that’ll hold you back. But chances are that thanking others for their help and sharing the fact that another individual or team have supported you, you’ll come off as someone who is gracious, and able to engage and lead others. Being polite and thoughtful will get you far, even in a cut throat office environment.

Of course, the boundaries of what behaviour is acceptable (and desirable) in the workplace, are contextual. What might be completely normal in a relaxed and casual workplace, might cause raised eyebrows in a traditional business where the culture is more formal. Some industries thrive on creative disruption, surging energy and ‘out of the box’ ideas. Others place a higher value on detail, certainty and a steady hand. Reading the room is key – but the next time you want to act out at work, it’s worth considering if there is a way you can channel that energy to stand out for the right reasons – and help boost your chances of a promotion.


How to Pay Off Your Debt The Fastest Way Possible

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If you’re anything like the average American, your family is probably carrying somewhere close to $10k in credit card debt. For some of you, this number may even be (substantially) higher.

Making the decision to tackle that high-interest debt once and for all is the first step toward transforming your finances forever. Knowing where to start, though, and the best approach to paying off those balances can be tricky.

For example, do you agree with the legions of Dave Ramsey followers, and use the debt snowball method? Do you take the less popular –but perhaps more fiscally responsible – debt avalanche route? More importantly, do you even know the difference between the two?

Let’s take a look at each of these credit card debt payoff methods to determine which one best suits your needs. You may end up saving yourself a lot of money in the long run.

The Debt Snowball

Regularly promoted by Dave Ramsey himself, the debt snowball is a strategic balance payoff method. It is designed to help you “build up” the payoff impact as you go along. You know, like rolling a snowball around the yard.

If you’re at all familiar with Ramsey’s baby steps, you’ve heard of the snowball before. In fact, it’s step 2 of his system. Here’s the general idea behind the method, though:

Step 1: Gather Debts and Arrange from Smallest to Largest

The first part of the debt snowball is figuring out your debts. Once you have them all collected (with the exception of your mortgage), lay them out on paper. You’ll want to arrange them in order from the smallest balance to largest balance. You should also note the minimum payment due each month for each.

With this method, you should ignore interest rates on these debts.

For calculation purposes, let’s say that your debts are spread across four credit cards. We’ll note the interest rates here, but don’t pay attention to them until later.

  • CC#1, balance: $900 (interest rate: 11%), minimum monthly payment: $50
  • CC#2, balance: $2,100 (interest rate: 5.5%), minimum monthly payment: $44
  • CC#3, balance: $6,650 (interest rate: 21%), minimum monthly payment: $137
  • CC#4, balance: $7,500 (interest rate: 15.75%), minimum monthly payment: $219

Holding over $17k in credit card debt would be enough to keep anyone up at night.

In fact, if you only paid those minimum payments, it would be a whopping 110 months before you would be completely out of debt. Plus, your total interest paid over those 9+ years would be $11,191.34.

That’s a lot of sleepless nights and a lot of wasted money.

Step 2: Calculate How Much You Can Pay

If you just go off of the minimum monthly payments required by each of these four cards, you’re looking at $450 a month. That’s $450 each month that you could be investing, setting aside for the kids’ college expenses, or using for a family vacation. Instead, that money is allocated toward these balances and their constantly-accruing interest.

Now you see why debt can be so expensive.

Step two is where you take an honest look at your budget and decide how much further you can tighten the belt. Could you trim a little off of the grocery bill, in order to put $475 toward those credit cards? Maybe you could work to cut utility expenses, too, for an even $500? Or, if you’re really committed, trade in that newer, financed car for something less expensive.

Before you know it, you might figure out that as much as $600 a month could go toward aggressively paying down debts. (Let’s go ahead and use that number for our example.)

Step 3: Pay Off Minimums Due, Except for the Smallest Debt

Now, take all four of those credit card debts, and pay the minimum balance due each month. You already know that this adds up to $450 a month.

What about the extra $150 a month that you managed to squeeze out of the budget? Put that money toward your smallest balance debt, for a total monthly payment of $200 on credit card #1.

If you’d continued paying that $50 minimum each month, it would have taken you 20 months to pay off the card. However, with the added $150 going toward the pay-down, you’ll clear that entire balance in a quick 5 months. Wow!

This is where Dave Ramsey’s method really shines. Seeing your debts get quickly eliminated, one by one, is extremely motivating. Instead of spreading that $150 out across all four cards and feeling like you’re getting nowhere fast, you’re closing out an entire balance in less than half a year.

For many people, this can be all the motivation they need to stay on track and keep working toward becoming debt-free.

Step 4: Close Out One, Move to the Next

Once you’ve paid off that smallest balance, it’s time to refocus your efforts.

You’re now left with three credit card balances. The $200 that you were putting toward credit card #1 should be redirected to the next smallest balance, credit card #2. Now, instead of paying $44 a month, you’ll be sending $244 to that company.

Keep paying only the minimum due on cards 3 and 4, however.

Once you pay off card #2, take that entire $244 monthly payment and allocate it to the next card on the list: card #3.

Eventually, you will have all but one balance remaining, and you can devote your entire $600 debt-payoff budget toward this single card. When talking about paying off high-interest debts, $600 a month goes a lot further than $219.

You’ll have the balance cleared before you know it, and will have had multiple little victories along the way to encourage your progress.

How Much Will It Cost You?

Remember in step 1, where I mentioned that paying only the minimum payments each month would result in 110 months before becoming debt-free and a whopping $11,191.34 in interest paid alone? Well, let’s use an online calculator to see how this debt snowball method measures up.

By adding $150 extra toward your debt payments each month, you would shave off 6 years, becoming debt-free in just over 3 years.

By focusing on the smallest debt and then snowballing your efforts as you move along, you’ll also reduce that total interest payout from $11,191 to only $5,423.

DR snowball.JPG

That’s a savings of $5,768 and 72 months. Woo hoo!

The Debt Avalanche

Dave Ramsey is a big money figure for a reason: he motivates people. He encourages them to establish emergency funds, get out of debt, and helps them figure out their financial priorities.

As I mentioned, this is why the debt snowball works so well. People are motivated by these little success milestones along the way, and it keeps them chugging along. But, the debt snowball has its faults.

With the debt snowball, you’re focusing on the smallest debt balance, regardless of the interest rate. This means that, depending on your unique debt configuration, you could wind up allowing a high balance to sit around collecting a high interest rate.

If that debt is costing significantly more interest than your smallest debt, you could be wasting quite a bit of money by using the snowball method.

Enter, the debt avalanche.

With the avalanche method, you will instead be focusing on the interest rates. Highest and lowest total balances don’t even matter here – we are going for the absolute smallest payout that we can get away with.

After all, every penny saved is a penny that you can put toward your emergency fund or that you can invest.

So, how does it work and how does it measure up?

Step 1: Gather Debts and Arrange from Largest to Smallest Interest Rate

Again, we’ll be gathering our outstanding debts and arranging them. With the avalanche method, though, we’ll be focusing on the highest interest rate instead of the lowest balance.

Here are those numbers again:

·         CC#3, balance: $6,650 (interest rate: 21%), minimum monthly payment: $137

·         CC#4, balance: $7,500 (interest rate: 15.75%), minimum monthly payment: $219

·         CC#1, balance: $900 (interest rate: 11%), minimum monthly payment: $50

·         CC#2, balance: $2,100 (interest rate: 5.5%), minimum monthly payment: $44

Step 2: Calculate How Much You Can Pay

In case you need refreshing, the minimum amount due across all four cards is $450 a month.

However, by establishing a bare bones budget or just cutting out some unnecessary expenses, we’ve determined that we can actually contribute a total of $600 towards paying down these debts. The extra $150 a month will go a long way.

Step 3: Pay Off Minimums Due, Except for the Largest Interest Rate Debt

Once again, you’ll pay off the minimum amount due for three of the debts. For the fourth, however, you’ll put the extra $150 a month toward paying down that balance.

In our example, this is credit card #3. Instead of paying the minimum due of $137, you’ll instead be sending in $287.

By paying just the minimum payment due, this card would have originally taken you 110 months to pay off. Yes, that’s over nine years of your life that you would be dealing with this same balance. Ouch.

However, with the avalanche method, you’ll now pay this card off in just 21 months.

No, you won’t be getting that same gratification that you would have with the snowball method, where you were closing out a balance in 5 short months. However, you will get the joy of spending less money in the end toward that balance’s interest. And that should make you very happy.

Step 4: Close Out One, Move to the Next

Same rule as before: once you’ve paid off that first, highest-interest balance, it’s time to refocus your efforts.

You’ll now take the total that you were putting toward card #3 each month ($287), and focusing it toward the next highest interest rate on the list. For us, this would be card #4. Our monthly payment on that balance will now jump from $219 to $506, which will make a nice dent on the debt.

Keep repeating the process until you’re down to only one debt: card #2. Then, put the entire $600 a month toward whatever is left on that balance, until it is paid off in full and you, my friend, are officially debt-free.

How Much Will It Cost You?

Let’s revisit our original stats: paying only the minimum payments each month would result in 110 months before becoming debt-free and a whopping $11,191.34 in interest paid. Using the same online calculator, let’s see how the debt avalanche method measures up.

By adding $150 extra toward your debt payments each month in the avalanche configuration, you will still shave off 6 years, becoming debt-free in just over 3 years… actually, one month sooner than you would have with the snowball method. However, it will take you a bit longer to pay off your first account (21 months versus only 5).

By focusing on the highest interest rate debt and then compounding your efforts as you move along, though, you’ll reduce your total interest payout from $11,191 to only $4,509.

DR avalanche.JPG

That means that the debt avalanche results in a total savings of $6,682 and 73 months. And that, my friends, is a win in the avalanche column, saving you $913 more than the snowball method.

snowball vs avalanche.JPG

Which Is Really Better?

While you can clearly see that the debt avalanche method will save you both time and money, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the method you should go with. In fact, the only method you should ever choose is the one that you’ll truly stick with.

If you’re the type of person who gets discouraged or is downtrodden about their debt, you may really need the debt snowball to give you nudges of encouragement. It can feel like you’re trying to run through mud sometimes when paying off debt – seeing that $900 card completely paid off can feel a lot more gratifying than seeing your $2,100 balance drop to $1,200.

If you need the motivation, go with the snowball.

However, if you’re the type who is driven to pay off your debt and you simply want to do it in the most cost-effective way possible, you’ll probably want to go with the avalanche method. Use our calculator to compare the two and see how much you’ll really save in the long run. This may be all the motivation you need to stay the course.

Another Option

What if you really want to make this debt payoff as affordable as possible? Well, you may want to combine the two methods.

Depending on your exact debt configuration, balance transfers combined with the two payoff methods may be your best route. For example, if you pay off credit cards 1 and 2 (for a total of $3,000 in available credit and interest rates of 11% and 5.5%, respectively), it may make sense to transfer $3,000 of your debt on card 3 (holding a 21% interest rate).

While you’re working to pay off that card and focusing your payoff efforts there, you’ll also be accruing less interest. That means more money in your pocket in the end.

You will want to watch out for balance transfer fees, however. These are typically around 3% — though fee-free cards do exist — and could eat into your savings.

You may need to spend a few nights crunching numbers, but there are ways to optimize the “snowball vs avalanche” argument even further.

Whichever get-out-of-debt option you choose, make sure it’s one you’ll commit yourself to. Squeeze every extra dollar out of your monthly budget, and put it toward paying down those debts.

Once you are finally on the other side and out of debt – spending that $600 on yourself and your investments instead of credit card interest – you’ll be so glad you did.


How to Order Checks Without Getting Ripped Off

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Your bank is the worst place to buy checks. Banks are way too expensive. Here are the best places to order checks without getting ripped off.

If you’ve signed up for a checking account at a brick and mortar bank, then you likely know the routine.  First show proper ID and sign the necessary paperwork. Then the bank CSR will ask you how many checks you’d like to purchase.   “So Mr. Pruser, are you thinking six books today, or eight?  If you buy eight, we’ll toss in a terrifically generic checkbook cover!”

You may not realize it at the time but the convenience of buying checks from your bank can be quite expensive.  In fact, the cost of checks through your bank can be twice or three times as expensive then if you purchased them elsewhere.  So where can you buy them?  And is it safe to purchase checks outside of your bank?

Best Places to Buy Checks Online

Even though you may not write a lot of checks, let’s assume you decide that you need 500 personal checks (w/ duplicate copies).  A small enough number where you don’t want to spend more than $50 but large enough where you won’t have to worry about this purchase for a long time.  Here’s a snapshot of what that would cost you, through four high quality retailers.

Sam’s Club

Sam’s Club sells their standard personal checks in books of 180.  It will take you three books in order to fill an order of 500, and the cost for each standard book is just $5.98.  Multiply that out by three books, and you end up with a total cost of $17.94.  Sam’s Club offers free standard shipping, so no added fees on top of your total.  The small catch however, is that you must be a Sam’s Club member to take advantage of the pricing.

If you’re into more security, you can upgrade your checks to include a service called FraudArmor.  Think of it like an added layer of identity theft protection.  Should someone fraudulently sign your name to a check or commit fraud in some other way using your checks, they’ll step in and help.  Depending on the book of checks you select, there is either no charge, or a charge of up to $2.70 per pack.  The service lasts one full year.

Walmart

Walmart sells checks in packs of 150, so you’ll need four packs to reach the 500 number (with many left over).  Four packs of their standard blue security checks will cost you $29.84.  Walmart includes free standard shipping but you can rush the order for an additional $15.00

Like many other check printing outlets, Walmart will allow you to customize your checks, or select from a variety of designs and fonts.  CheckSafe is the fraud service you can include in your check purchase. The cost is $1.50 per 150 checks you order.  If your checks are used in a fraudulent manner (within the first 12 months), CheckSafe will provide you replacements at no costs and work with you to tackle the situation.  You can visit their site CheckSafeService.com to view the specifics of their protection.

Costco

Sticking with the blue security check theme, Costco sells their checks in boxes of 246 so buying two boxes of checks will run you a total of just $14.57.  If you’re a Costco Executive Member, the price is an even cheaper $11.66.   All checks are printed through Harland Clarke check printing; one of the largest payment solution companies in the United States.

Costco also provides a wide variety of other payment related stationary like address labels, tax forms, ink stamps etc.  The only thing that would keep Costco from being the obvious go-to stop for the cheapest checks is that you must be a Costco member.  Depending on your membership, that means either $50 or $100 a year.  If you shop Costco often then you’ll earn the membership fee back quickly.  If you’re joining Costco simply to take advantage of their cheaper checks, look somewhere else.

Checks.com

I’ve selected some very tasteful “Wonders of the Sea” checks, with what looks like clown fish on them.  Four boxes of checks (125 per box) totals $19.80.  Checks.com is kind enough to also offer free standard shipping.

In addition to buying checks, you can also find return labels, deposit slips, and routine stationery items.  The free standard shipping applies to all purchases and if you need items rushed, that can be done for a $5.95 fee.  Like others on this list, Checks.com offers identity theft restoration services should something happen.  Their service is called EZShield and it comes in the form of a Check Fraud Protection Program ($2.45 extra per box) and Identity Restoration (one time $6 fee).

Vistaprint

Vistaprint does things a little differently.  You can purchase checks in groups of 25 but when you look at their prices, you may be in a bit of sticker shock.  Fear not, this company is well known for offering a bevy of promo codes to bring down the price.  For example, promo code LABEL25 will cut the cost of your checks in half.  Still however, a full 500 checks will cost you $44.85 before shipping.

The most expensive option on our list, I’ve included Vistaprint because they offer the widest variety of checks.  You can customize them to just about any style or format you wish.  In addition, you can upload pictures to your check and/or create your own design.  If the look of a check is important to you

Is Ordering Checks Online Safe?

If you’re afraid to give your bank account or personal information to the companies above, you should know they’re no less safe than a bank.  In fact, banks like Chase, Citi and Capital One do not print their own checks.  They take your information and give it to the very same check printing companies a merchant like Walmart will.

In order to ensure your checks are printed properly, you’ll need to supply the following information:

  • Your banks routing number
  • Your account number (you’ll likely have to enter this information twice)
  • A check number you’d like to start with
  • Your full name and address.  (Phone number is optional)

If a check printing company is asking you for your social security number, it’s likely a scam.  If a check printing company is asking you for any personal documents, it is likely a scam.  The only additional step you may need to provide is to confirm small deposits into your checking account.  This is done to ensure you are the owner of the account, which prevents random people who have your account number from printing checks with your information.

Do your homework, and do your best to avoid buying checks at the bank.


34 Legit Ways to Make Money From Home

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Working from home is a dream for many. We love it! Ditch the commute with these 34 legitimate ways to make money from home.

34 ways to make money from home

As I write this article, I’m making money from home. Well, technically, from Starbucks. But, still, as someone with a nearly 10-year history of working from home–sometimes full-time and sometimes part-time–I can tell you that it’s possible. The key is to find legitimate work opportunities.

Luckily, the internet abounds with amazing tools to connect far-flung teams. Because of these tools, more employers are hiring part-time and full-time employees to work remotely. Or if you’re looking for a side gig, you can do many from the comfort of your living room. (Preferably in your pajamas with a cup of coffee in hand, if you’re anything like me.)

We’ve worked to round up a huge list of legitimate work-from-home opportunities. I’ve divided them into different categories, so you can quickly click through to the ones that interest you most.

Before you jump to your favorite category, though, you might want to check out our quick disclaimers first.

Quick Disclaimers

The More Things Change…

First off, know that I’ve done my best to research these options and opportunities. But work-from-home options change rapidly. So do your own digging before assuming a particular hourly rate or type of work will be available.

This is also why I haven’t tried to highlight specific companies or work opportunities. Certain fields and types of jobs lend themselves well to working from home. We’ll focus on this instead of particular job opportunities. Otherwise, you’ll come back here in a month only to find the article is out of date!

This list should give you a jumping off point when it comes to looking for remote work.

You’ve Got to Put in the Work

You should also know that many of these opportunities will require hustle on your part. I’ve gone from making pennies per word to serious dollars per article as a freelance writer. But that didn’t just happen. I had to build my business over time.

Many of these opportunities are the same. They’re legitimate, but it’ll take you time to build up to a decent hourly rate.

Beware of Scams

Finally, understand that there are still plenty of scams out there. If a business opportunity requires you to put in money up front (other than standard business costs for assets that you own, like a website), beware. Some multi-level marketing opportunities can make money. But more often than not, those who start these businesses lose money.

So just be aware of all the terms and conditions of a job, opportunity, or website before you sign up!

Great Unskilled Work-From-Home Jobs

If you don’t have a huge amount of experience in any one field, you might want to start working from home with one of these types of jobs. Generally, the companies hiring in these areas will provide the training you need. So you won’t have to show major skills up front.

Note that these jobs may require you to have a certain speed of internet connection or a certain type of landline phone connection. I wouldn’t consider these scam-related asks, as long as the requirements are reasonable.

Call Center and Chat Jobs

If you can work regular hours and like to talk people through problems, a virtual call center job might work well for you. If you type quickly, multitask well, and don’t prefer talking on the phone, you can get a similar job as a chat-based customer service representative.

These jobs typically require that you have uninterrupted work-from-home time. So they’re not a good option if your goal is to work from home with your children. The hours may also be less flexible than other work-from home jobs.

With that said, this can be a good way to make decent money without having to leave home. Glassdoor puts the national average salary for at-home customer service call center representatives at just over $29,000 per year. Some companies may even hire you full-time and provide benefits.

Data Entry Jobs

Most companies looking to hire someone for at-home data entry will hire you as a contractor. This job may be considered semi-skilled. You may need to be able to accurately type a certain number of words per minute to make it work.

Scams abound with this particular type of job. If a company promises to give you work only if you purchase a certain type of non-standard software, beware. You should be able to do data entry with a solid internet connection and some basic computer software, such as Excel.

This type of job may be fairly flexible. Instead of working certain hours, you may just need to meet certain deadlines with the work you’re given. This makes it ideal as a side gig or for a work-from-home parent.

According to Indeed, data entry jobs range from $13 per hour to about $20 per hour, depending on your job description and experience.

Search Engine Evaluation

Are you great at finding things on Google and other search engines? This may be the work-from-home job you’re looking for. With this job, companies hire individuals on a contract basis to make sure search engine results are accurate and comprehensive.

For this job, you basically need to be familiar with search engines and the local language. Many of these jobs are geared towards bilingual applicants who can check results in multiple languages.

Glassdoor puts the average national salary for a search engine evaluator at just over $33,000 per year. With that said, many are hired on an hourly basis and work less than full time. You can expect to make $10+ per hour on an hourly basis, however.

Website QA Testing

One of the banes of most web developers’ lives is that you don’t always know how your code will work on various browsers. That’s why companies hire quality assurance testers for their websites. You can also get QA testing jobs for apps and even physical gadgets.

Most of these jobs are on a first-come, first-served basis. You need to know where to find the gigs and how to get them quickly to benefit. You can make a few bucks per test, and your feedback will help brands and companies do what they do better.

This is the type of flexible job that is great to pick up when you have some extra time. You won’t likely make a living doing QA testing like this. But it can put a few extra bucks in your bank account.

Social Community Manager

These jobs vary widely and normally hire independent contractors. With these jobs, you’ll moderate forums or social pages in particular topic areas. You might contract to monitor a particular company’s social media presence in various platforms, and to make sure that followers are abiding by company guidelines when commenting and interacting.

Community manager and moderator jobs are great for people who are familiar with social media already. Certain jobs may look for experience in community-related areas, as well.

It’s difficult to find consistent pay statistics on this particular work-from-home job. It’s not the same as being an actual social media manager–who is responsible for developing and deploying a brand’s strategy on social. But you can likely expect to start out at around $10 to $12 per hour.

Virtual Assistant

As more and more companies move online, they’re hiring online admins, as well. These jobs normally go to independent contractors, but some companies may hire full-time work-from-home assistants.

These job listings can vary widely. Some are looking for an executive assistant with years of experience. Others give you the ability to learn on the go. These jobs are likely to include tasks like responding to emails, scheduling meetings, distributing business-related documents, and more. Some jobs may also verge into the creative and include tasks like creating content and running social media channels.

According to PayScale, virtual assistants can make anywhere from $10 per hour to $30 per hour.

Mystery Shopping

Here’s another job area where scams abound. But there are plenty of legitimate mystery shopping companies around. Some require you to go to a store in person, which makes the from-home element shaky. But others are now hiring work-from-home mystery shoppers to shop or test customer service by phone or online.

Mystery shoppers are typically paid on a per-assignment basis. But some salaried positions are also available for true professionals. JobMonkey says you can expect to make $8 to $25 per hour or about $10 to $75 per assignment most of the time.

Deliveries, Errands, and Ride Sharing

These are actually all quite different, but I’m going to throw them into the same category for one major reason: they all involve driving, which is obviously outside of the home. I’m including these jobs because they meet the flexibility requirements many “work-from-home” job hunters need.

Uber and Lyft are both excellent ways to earn some money on the side. In some areas with enough demand, you may even be able to drive for these companies full time. Another option is to run deliveries for a company like Instacart or DoorDash. These involve picking up groceries or takeout, respectively, and delivering on demand.

You can also check out jobs that let you run personal shopping errands for locals. Or start your own business as a personal assistant and errand runner. This type of business could fold in some of the tasks of a virtual assistant, combined with tasks like picking up dry cleaning, purchasing groceries, or even dropping pets off at the vet.

Income from these types of jobs will vary wildly. It’ll depend on demand in your area, the types of services you offer, and whether you decide to hang your own shingle or work for an existing company.

Jobs for Word People

If you like words–writing them, editing them, translating them, whatever–you’re in luck. Because words are so easy to create and edit online, there are tons of work-from-home opportunities for people who like words. Here are many of them.

Freelance Writer

Writers like me make a living doing a variety of types of writing. I specialize in blogging about personal finance, but I also do some journalism for trade publications. I’ve also written emails and web copy for local small businesses.

Working as a freelance writer is great because it’s super flexible. I’m able to maintain a robust side gig because I am rarely tied down for specific hours of the day. Instead, I just have to meet my deadlines. It’s a great option for people with a day job and/or kids.

Finding gigs as a freelance writer can be tough. The market is competitive. But you can start with job boards, sites like Upwork, and local publications. Then build up your portfolio as you work to land higher-paying jobs.

Pay for jobs like this varies dramatically. You could make anywhere from $10 per hour to $150 per hour or more, depending on the types of writing you do and your clients.

Social Media Manager

The social media moderator jobs we mentioned above generally involve taking direction from someone else. But as a social media manager, you can help a brand execute its vision on various social media platforms.

This type of job requires a deep understanding of social media platforms and how they work. They often involve setting strategy, running ads within a certain budget, creating and scheduling posts, and monitoring metrics to ensure you’re successful.

Many companies these days are buying into the importance of social media. You may be able to find a full-time work-from-home job in this field. If not, you can always cobble together a business of your own by running social media for several smaller companies. This difference makes it hard to pin down pay, but PayScale puts the median full-time salary at $48,200.

Marketing Manager

Do you have a broader background in marketing, including creating long-term marketing strategies? In this case, you might fold in some of the tasks of a writer, editor, and social media manager into a higher-level marketing manager role.

More modern companies that run entirely or mostly online these days are hiring work-from-home employees on a full-time basis. You’re more likely to command a high salary and benefits in this case. But you can also run marketing campaigns and strategies for a variety of smaller businesses as a contractor.

The average salary of a marketing manager is about $80,000. Of course, you can turn this into a side gig that makes less or a full-time job that makes more. Or you can run your own business and make substantially more.

PR Professional

Public relations professionals are word people with a slightly different focus–helping individuals, campaigns, and or companies present their best face to the public. A good PR professional will help key contacts at the company present the best messaging. They’ll also draft and release press releases, and act as a go-between for the media and the company.

Like many of these other word nerd jobs, PR professionals can usually have flexible hours. But unlike many of these other jobs, they’re the go-to guys in a crisis. That can mean middle-of-the-night calls to tackle emergency public relations issues. If you’re prepared for that, though, you could have a great career that makes around $62,000 on average. Many companies contract our their PR work, making this an accessible work-from-home opportunity.

Editor

Do you like to polish other people’s words more than creating them yourself? Editing actually involves a whole different set of skills compared to writing. But it’s essential.

You can still get a full-time job as an editor. And more companies these days are willing to let you work from home, even if you’re on the payroll with benefits. But you can also look at editing as a side gig or a work-from-home business that lets you work with a variety of clients.

Again, pay varies dramatically here. You should expect to make at least $20 per hour, though. If you can boast industry-specific knowledge for jargon-heavy industries like pharmaceuticals, though, you should command a much higher hourly rate.

Translator

If you’re bilingual, you can probably find work as a translator. Some translation jobs are over the phone or via video conference and take place in real time. These jobs will require that you be available for certain hours of the day. Other jobs are on-paper translation, which will likely let you go at more of your own pace.

Good translation is tough. If you have a knack for capturing the sense of the words in both languages, though, you could make really good money. These jobs pay anywhere from $20 to $100 per hour.

ESL Teacher

I’ve recently come across loads of ads for online ESL teachers. Sometimes these jobs are as simple as talking with a non-native speaker for a certain amount of time per week. Other times, these jobs require actual teaching credentials. It all depends on who you work for and the credentials you bring to the job.

Many of these jobs are paid on an hourly basis, and you count as a contractor. Most of the time, these jobs will require you to be available for certain hours. Although you can sometimes work these jobs as a side gig. Due to time differences, some of the available hours are at odd times, like late into the evening.

How much might you make as an online ESL teacher? It depends. Many companies currently advertising are paying between $10 and $20 per hour for qualified teachers.

Blogger

Do you like to write, have a passion for a particular topic, and have an entrepreneurial streak? Blogging may be for you. As a bootstrapper, you’ll likely tackle the tasks of many of the other jobs listed here, including social media manager, PR professional, and, of course, writer.

Blogging can be difficult to break into these days in such a saturated market. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Some bloggers use their blog as a way to bring in business for other ventures. For others, the blog is the money-making venture.

Whether you make just a little bit of side income or a full-time income, blogging can be a great creative outlet that also earns money.

Jobs for Tech People

Are you good with hardware or software? Or do you have training or expertise in web development? These skills are in high demand. Many companies will hire you as a contractor for specific projects, while others are looking for these employees on a full-time basis.

Software Developer

Increasingly, tech-related jobs are allowing for individuals to work from home on a full-time or contract basis. As a software developer, you could work on a variety of projects as a contractor. Or you could find a company who is hiring a full-time, remote developer.

It can be a good idea to have a specialty as a software developer. This might include mobile development or integration, for instance. The average software developer salary is over $78,000 per year. Even as a part-time side gig, this can be a lucrative option.

Web Developer

Web developers bring website designs to life. They make websites function, and use a variety of programming languages. The most common are Javascript and HTML. You don’t need specific training to become a web developer, but you do need plenty of experience.

These days, many developers specialize in certain types of programming. But it’s a good idea to be able to develop a basic website from end-to-end. You can start by creating your own to advertise your expertise!

Again, some companies hire web developers to work from home full time. But you’re more likely to get contract work for this job. Many smaller companies who can’t afford a full-time developer will hire one to build their site, and then pay a monthly retainer for ongoing support. The median web developer salary is $58,000.

Email Developer

At one time, web developers were able to develop both websites and emails. These days, though, email coding is getting much more complicated. So email development is breaking off into a field of its own.

Most companies don’t need a full-time email developer, but agencies may hire you to work from home full-time as an email developer. Another option is to offer these services as a freelancer. Either way, you could tackle some challenging projects while managing flexible hours in an interesting field.

Again, email development as its own career is less common than web development. But the average salary for an email developer is $70,000.

CRM Administrator or Developer

Customer relationship management (CRM) softwares like Salesforce are incredibly complicated, but they’re capable of some amazing stuff. If you know a CRM software really well, you might be able to work from home as a CRM administrator or developer.

CRM consultants aren’t typically going to be doing the day-to-day management of a company’s CRM. But as a consultant, you might set up new workflows, help streamline the system, or implement new processes for a business. Then, you’ll likely help document what you’ve done and train the staff on how to use these processes.

You can find freelance gigs as a CRM administrator or developer. Or you can work for a CRM consulting company as a full-time consultant working from home. A CRM consultant’s average salary is $79,000 per year.

Jobs for Artsy People

Illustrator

Even with all the technology around these days, people still need old-fashioned illustrating. You might find gigs as an illustrator for books or games, or for marketing campaigns. Breaking in as a freelance illustrator can be tough, and many full-time artists market other skills, as well.

Depending on the jobs you take and your level of expertise, you could earn anywhere from $20 to $100+ per hour as a freelance illustrator.

Photographer

Digital photography is a really competitive field these days. A quick Google search of your hometown will likely turn up a dozen or more family and wedding photographers. But that doesn’t mean you can’t break into this fun and rewarding field. If you have an eye for the artful, a good camera, and editing software and skills, you can do photography for local businesses and families.

Freelance photographers may also shoot work to sell professionally, or work for magazines or other publications on an ad hoc basis.

On average, freelance photographers make about $25 per hour, including the time it takes to edit photos after a shoot. But photographers can make up to $100 per hour or more.

Web/Email Designer

The developers, which we talked about earlier, are the ones who make email and web design actually work. But they’re not usually the ones who make things look nice. For this, you need a web or email designer.

These designs are often built on the same platforms. So you may be able to build both into your career. Sometimes designers learn a bit of code, as well, so that they can develop, or at least troubleshoot, basic designs. As with web and email development, formal education is less important than experience and an impressive portfolio.

As with many of the creative jobs listed here, this one is likely to be paid on an hourly or per-project basis. You may be able to work whatever hours suit you best just as long as you make meetings and meet deadlines.

The average salary for an both email and web design is around $48,000.

Videographer

If you like the idea of photography but want to give it a little more life, consider getting into videography. The equipment to start may be a bit more pricey, since you have to pay for sound equipment. You should also know how to edit your own footage if you’re going to work as a freelancer.

Like photographers, videographers have a variety of available options. They can shoot weddings and other family events, or work for businesses. As social media platforms place more emphasis on video content, more businesses than ever are using video as part of their marketing efforts. This opens up the field for videographers to find gigs.

Since videography depends on having someone there to video, this job will be less flexible than some others. But you can still schedule sessions around your whims, within reason. Salaries for videographers range all the way from less than $40,000 to more than $90,000 nationwide.

Graphic Designer

If you want to design beautiful things for print or for static web images, check out graphic design. As more businesses rely on image-heavy blogs and social media, one-off gigs as a graphic designer abound. These jobs are likely to be on a per-project basis. But some companies have enough design work to hire a full-time work-from-home designer or to keep one on an ongoing contract.

Graphic designers typically use programs like the Adobe suite to create images or beautiful text for print marketing, book covers, online ads, and more. The average graphic designer salary is about $47,000.

Jobs with Specific Training

The majority of the jobs we listed above do require training. You don’t just wake up one morning knowing how to code HTML or streamline workflows in Salesforce. But the jobs in this category are a little different. They will, for the most part, require specific degrees or certifications. This is different from the jobs above where you can get a certification, but can also just make your way based on proving your experience.

Accountant

Many accountants and bookkeepers work from home. In fact, this is probably one of the earlier legitimate work from home opportunities. As businesses increasingly move their accounting information and processes to the cloud, it’s easier than ever to turn this into a work from home job.

As an accountant, you could work from home for a single company, run a business doing bookkeeping for several companies, or work for an accounting firm. Regardless, you’re likely to be able to make a good living, since accountants earn an average of $50,000 per year.

Insurance Inspector

This is one of those work-from-home jobs where you’re really based at home, but do much of your work elsewhere. Insurance inspectors can often work out of a home office, but they travel a lot. They help investigate insurance claims for insurance companies. Many insurance companies hire third-party companies or independent inspectors for this.

You’ll likely need to become licensed in your state to work as an insurance inspector. To get licensed, you may need a bachelor’s degree in a related area. However, “related area” can be defined fairly broadly. All that training can be worthwhile, though, for the average $58,000 salary.

Medical Transcriptionist

Like accounting, medical transcription is one of the older work-from-home jobs. These positions are often full-time telecommuting positions. This was once a way to make a decent, steady living from home. And it still can be. But be aware that computing technology and industry changes are making it more difficult to maintain a career in this field.

Medical transcription requires specialized knowledge. That’s because transcriptionists don’t just copy down information. They actually interpret it. You’ll need to go through some postsecondary training, normally a certificate, to handle this job. The average hourly wage is about $15 per hour.

Online Teaching

As online schools become a popular option for students, online teaching is becoming a more popular option for teachers. These jobs are available for both K-12 teachers and postsecondary teachers.

Depending on your state and the type of online school for which you’re teaching (public, private, or public charter), you may need a degree and a formal teaching license for this job. At the postsecondary level, you may need a master’s degree or higher, or years of industry experience.

Class formats also vary. Sometimes, you’ll need to work during normal school hours because you’ll do direct instruction via video or chat. Other times, you’ll moderate class discussion in a forum and grade posted assignments on your own time frame.

Often, K-12 teachers are paid a salary for this job. As an online college professor, though, you’re more likely to get paid on a per-class basis. The average salary for an online teacher is about $35,000 per year.

Realtor

Like an insurance adjustor, a realtor can often work based out of a home office. But this job involves lots of driving around and interacting with people. It can be a great option for extraverts who want to have control over their own schedules. However, realtors’ schedules often revolve around their clients’ schedules, and that may mean lots of evening and weekend hours.

Training requirements for realtors vary depending on where you live. But you’ll likely need to take a pre-licensing course and a licensing exam. Then if you want to technically become a realtor–rather than just a real estate agent–you’ll need to join the National Association of Realtors and join a brokerage.

Working as a realtor can be interesting and fun. And you can make a median salary of $58,000, with the potential to earn a whole lot more.

Paralegal

Paralegals do research and draft documents for attorneys. They still typically work in a law office, but many now work flexible hours or even work from home full-time. That all depends on your employer. In some cases, you can even pick up temporary paralegal work that allows for telecommuting.

To become a paralegal, you’ll need an associate’s degree. The median paralegal salary in the U.S. is about $46,000 per year.

Project Manager

Project managers are increasingly necessary in this world where various fields collide into huge company-wide projects. These are the people responsible for keeping the whole project in line and under budget.

Some project managers get into the field on a lower level. They might specialize in analysis or coordination. These jobs put you into big projects without putting you in charge. But project managers typically wind up with a certification of some sort. Some also specialize by focusing on projects in certain fields or industries.

Project managers can often work remotely, though they may need to be on site for key meetings with stakeholders. As a project manager, you might work as a contractor for multiple businesses or work full-time for a consulting agency. Project managers make an average of $78,000 per year.

Miscellaneous Jobs

I didn’t want to leave out any of the great work-from-home jobs in this category. But they don’t fit cleanly into the others. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth pursuing!

Airbnb Host

This is not only a work-from-home job, but it also allows you to make money with your home. Whether you rent out for a single weekend every year or for several nights a month, Airbnb can be a great way to make a side income.

My own family has been renting a room in our home through Airbnb this year. And i can tell you this: more months than not, it pays the mortgage.

As an Airbnb host, you’re responsible for cleaning and maintaining the rented area and for communicating with guests. You’ll also need to follow all your local laws in regard to home sharing. But it’s a fun way to make a side income, for sure.

Travel Agent

This is yet another field where you need to be on the lookout for scams. If a questionable company is asking you to pay a lot of money to become a travel agent, avoid them. There may be a call to pay for some education in this area, though.

But more than training, what you need to be a successful travel agent is an entrepreneurial spirit. This is really one of those jobs that is what you make of it. That’s why travel agents can make anywhere from $25,000 to $54,000 per year.

Consultant

This is such a broad term that it’s difficult to define. But many people leverage their day job skills and expertise to become consultants on the side. Or you might decide to partially retire to do consulting. For some, though, consulting is a viable full-time job.

Think of it this way: As a consultant, you can help businesses who can’t afford a full-time employee with your skillset get work done. Or you can come in as a fresh set of eyes to help others in your field solve a particular problem.

Consulting can be quite lucrative, depending on your skills and experience. Since you’re getting paid on a per-project basis without the benefits of a regular employee, you can command quite a high hourly rate. But you can also work from home for a consulting company as their full-time employee.

Either way you slice it, consulting is a great way to leverage skills you already have into an even more lucrative, flexible career or side gig.


20 Ways to Save Money During the Holidays (#3 is our secret weapon)

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All of us, I’m sure, are busy shopping and planning for gifts for all the people we care about. In the process, though, we need to take some precautions. We don’t want to end up in a situation where we are happy for a month, but are left paying December’s credit card bill throughout the next year.

ways to save money during the holidays

 

So, here is my list of money-saving tips for the holidays. A lot of us have smart phones and there is an app for pretty much everything. With a little planning, you can save money, reduce stress, and have a fun-filled holiday.

  1. Make a budget and stick to it: If you have already made a holiday budget and been saving for it throughout the year, excellent! If not, make a budget now and include everything. While this tip is obvious, it’s amazing how many people end up in credit card debt every January. If you are new to budgeting, check out our guide to budgets for those who hating budgeting.
  2. Make a gift plan: Create a gift plan with the list of all recipients and ideas for gifts. If you don’t have ideas, write down their interests, which might lead you to find something. Include a maximum dollar amount. As with everything these days, there are many apps for creating and tracking a gift list. One of our favorites is the Wunderlist.
  3. Give gifts only for the kids in the family. This may require a frank conversation with friends and family, but it accomplishes two important things. First, it helps you reign in spending during the holidays. Second, it makes the holidays a lot less frantic as you reduce the time you spend shopping.
  4. Comparison shop: Know prices before you get out of the house. If you have to go on a “pre-shopping” trip, so be it. Don’t buy anything on this pre-shopping trip. Just note down the prices for all the gifts in your list and go home. There, you can check the prices online, along with how much it costs for shipping. This will give you a better idea of the price range and the best place to buy. There are several websites that allow you to track the price for the items on your list. I use Camel Camel Camel to track Amazon prices. Don’t forget to get points either using your credit card, or using an app like Checkpoints that offers points for just checking in.
  5. Look for deals and sales: If you are buying online, Google [store name + “coupon”]. You will almost always end up with some coupons for online or in-store purchases. Even if it is just for free shipping, you are saving money. Shop on Free Shipping Day or plan your purchases to meet any minimum order requirements to get free shipping. Make use of the holiday events like the Babys’R’Us first Christmas, to score some free stuff for yourself or to gift. And if you do buy online, use Ebates to get cash back on just about every purchase.
  6. Buy in bulk: For commonly used items like holiday treats or baking supplies, try to buy in bulk along with a neighbor, family member, or a friend.
  7. Homemade gifts: Instead of buying gifts,  make your own.
  8. Don’t be afraid to re-gift: This is a very personal decision. If you feel comfortable with the idea and you have a perfectly good gift that is just not for you, consider gifting it to someone who will make use of it. Save all your receipts in one place in case you have to return something. Apps like Shoeboxed can help you keep your receipts organized.
  9. Give time: Give your time instead of money or a gift. This can be ideal for teenagers and college students who are short on money but can offer elderly relatives much-needed help around the house.
  10. Get a part time job: If you can spare some time, consider getting a part-time job in a department store. You could make some money for the holidays and also make use of the employee discounts for all your gifts.
  11. Wrapping paper: Instead of buying wrapping paper, make your own with your kid’s artwork.
  12. Make ornaments: Similar to wrapping paper, instead of buying expensive ornaments, make ornaments from your kid’s artwork or with some meaningful photos.
  13. Food drives: Instead of office gift exchanges, suggest a food drive where you can bring canned and non-perishable food for the local food bank. This won’t save much money, but at least you are not stuck with buying a lame gift for a coworker you don’t even know very well.
  14. Potluck: For parties (whether you are attending or hosting) suggest potluck instead of one person doing all the cooking and cleaning. It can save serious time and money.
  15. Pick your parties: Attend only the parties that are more meaningful to you. Skip the ones from an acquaintance or coworker you don’t know well. This will save you time as well as money for a hostess gift or bring-along dish.
  16. Plan your vacations: Traveling a day earlier or later can save a lot of money. If you fly, use Google Flights to find the best deals and to be alerted when fares go up or down.
  17. Skimp on outdoor lighting: Consider going easy with the holiday lighting. You can also use LED lights which have significantly lower energy consumption. That way, you won’t get stuck with a humongous power bill in January. You could also change regular bulbs to colored ones to add a festive effect and leave it at that.
  18. Don’t replicate your parents’ festiveness: This is one of the mistakes I make — not with just holidays, but in general. I forget that it took my parents probably 50 years to collect all the stuff they have. I am just starting out, so there is no need to have every conceivable holiday decoration the first time.
  19. Buy throughout the year: It is not possible to do this for this year, but the best time to shop for Christmas is the week after Christmas. That’s when everything Christmas-related goes on clearance. Stock up on stuff that won’t get spoiled — decorations, ornaments, gift wrapping, and even gifts.
  20. Buy gift cards using the holiday deals and give yourself a gift, too: Holidays are a great time to buy gift cards at a discount. I stock up on gift cards for myself during this time, to use the following year. Two great options for discounted cards are Gift Card Granny and My Gift Card Plus.

What are your favorite money-saving tips? Do you have a weakness or do you always plan well?


Top Ten Web-Based Money Management Tools

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Many of the best budgeting software tools are totally free. We list the top 10 options for paid and free apps. The #1 budgeting app is totally free.

Each decade brings new and innovative ways to manage your money. In the 1990s, you could use simple PC-based software to track basic income and expenses. These later evolved into reporting and analyzing powerhouses.

In the 2000s, connectivity with the internet made PC-based software easy to synchronize with bank and investment websites. The connectivity, in turn, provided access to detailed account information right at home.

With the arrival of the 2010s, the next phase is to manage the information that already resides out on the internet. We accomplished this through web-based software that will provide data security, keep the records protected against loss, and allow the user access their information from virtually anywhere.

Here’s a list of ten of the best web-based solutions for managing your money.

1. Personal Capital

Emphasis: Tracking your wealth
Price: FREE!
Description: Personal Capital offers a wide variety of tools that allow you to track your banking, investing and retirement accounts. Perhaps their greatest feature is the retirement planner, which can point you in the right direction to secure your future. Personal Capital also has a great cash flow tool which you can use to track returns and dividends on your investments.

2. Wela

Emphasis: Online financial management + advice
Price: FREE!
Description: A lot of personal finance management software allows you to track your accounts.  Wela is a little bit different in that it actually provides you advice based on your financial situation.  Through an app, with a robot named Benjamin, Wela will look at your accounts and make suggestions.  “Perhaps you should be saving your money with Ally, which has a high interest rate” (for example).  Users can choose to listen or ignore the advice, but if you’re looking for actionable steps, look no further.

3. ClearCheckbook

Emphasis: Balancing your checkbook
Price: FREE!
Description: ClearCheckbook provides analysis tools for evaluating and tracking your expenditures. Your bank data is imported, and you can then analyze expenses by category and closely monitor your balance to avoid overdrafts. Uncleared and cleared balances are provided with alerts that can be set to any dollar amount.

 

4. MorningStar

Emphasis: Virtual portfolio tracking
Price: $18.95/month (or free)
Description: MorningStar offers a bunch of excellent premium content to paid subscribers. They also have a great portfolio tracker tool for the investor who sits at a computer all day. Quick glances at your portfolio will alert you to buying and selling opportunities.

Note from Nickel: Google Finance also offers a nice portfolio tracker, and it’s also free. I’m also not a fan of tracking my portfolio on a minute-by-minute basis, but… To each their own. Personally, I use the Vanguard portfolio tracker for a “big picture” view of our investments.

5. Buxfer

Emphasis: Tracking shared expenses
Price: FREE!
Description: Buxfer is great for people who share expenses with roommates. Instead of guessing at fair portions of bills and tracking things in your head, the software does the math and tracks who has paid for each of their expenses.

6. HelloWallet

Emphasis: Online financial management
Price: $8.95/month
Description: HelloWallet is a unique service in that, for every five users who sign up, an account is offered to a person who cannot afford this service. The site offers all the money management functionality necessary to manage and budget and monitor financial investments.

7. Mvelopes

Emphasis: Virtual envelope budgeting
Price: $129.60/year (equivalent to $10.80/month)
Description: Mvelopes is a virtual envelope-budgeting tool. When the bills must be paid, the dollar amount in each envelope is applied to the bill electronically. In other, budgeting and bill payment are combined into one handy tool. You can also track discretionary spending in a dedicated envelope.

8. Moneystrands

Emphasis: Manage cash flow and avoid surprises
Price: FREE!
Description: Moneystrands allows you to create a budget from the ground up, and then it monitors your performance. Alerts are provided automatically when the bank balance drops below a certain level. When bills must be paid, the user is alerted to the tasks that must be completed. They also have an iPhone app.

9. Mint

Emphasis: Complete financial management
Price: FREE!
Description: Mint can track virtually any financial activity. You can create a budget, track monthly expenses, evaluate investment performance, etc. This is by far the most well-known of all the web-based software packages. It’s so good, in fact, that Intuit bought it as a replacement for their own “Quicken Online.”

10. BudgetPulse

Emphasis: Budget planning
Price: FREE!
Description: If writing down a new monthly budget isn’t your thing, BudgetPulse can help to make it easier. Users can import and export their personal finance data, create graphs and charts for category spending, and bring in any financial statement. The primary downside to this easy to use software is that as of today, nothing syncs with your financial institution. The data needs to be input manually.

Do you track your finances online?

Even with the horror stories of website breaches and identity theft, my view is that the benefits of online personal financial management software far outweigh the risks. These services all work hard to protect your information, and some even allow anonymous signups. If you’re not already managing your money online, my advice is to test out a few of these sites and see if they meet your needs.


5 Alternatives to High Yield Online Savings Accounts

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Savings account interest rates have been plummeting. Here are five of the best alternatives to a savings account to make the most of your money.

alternatives to a savings account

Putting your money away in a high yield savings account is one of the smartest and safest moves you can make. The first $250,000 is insured per account holder and at 2% interest, the money will grow over time. The problem is that it’s been some time since online savings accounts yielded a rate north of 2%.

Here’s a sampling of current savings rates (as of May 17th, 2018)

  • EverBank Yield Pledge Money Market – 1.05% – 1.25% APY (1.50% first year introductory APY is available for first-time Yield Pledge Money Market account holders on balances up to $250,000.)
  • Ally Bank Online Savings Account – 1.85% APY
  • Barclays Bank Online Savings Account – 1.90% APY
  • CIT Bank Online Savings Account – 1.55% APY

While rates have improved quite a bit over the last six months, 1.65% is just not something to get excited about. This all begs the question of what you should do when your high-yield savings account no longer qualifies for the “high-yield” moniker. Assuming you don’t want to tie your money up indefinitely, your options are somewhat limited.

Let’s take a look at five alternatives to stashing money in a high yield savings account.

1. Look Toward Your Local Bank or Credit Union

Online banks typically offer significantly better rates than the average brick-and-mortar bank. You can, however, find some great deals by looking locally. Consider both local banks and credit unions, and also look into high yield checking accounts. You might have to jump through some hoops, such as signing up for direct deposit and/or using your debit card a minimum number of times per month, but there are still deals to be had.

When I moved to Connecticut, I was 40 miles from the closest Chase, Citi, or Bank of America. I had no choice but to open a savings and checking account with Citizens Bank. In addition to the convenience of having a brick-and-mortar bank just down the street, I also learned about the wide variety of products they offer. I was able to take out a home equity line of credit with the bank at a fantastic rate (with no closing costs). I was also to open an 18-month CD at 1.75% APY, which I challenge you to find online.

2. Build a CD Ladder

Another possibility would be to put your money in CDs. If you won’t need access to the full amount at the drop of a hat, you can build a CD ladder. With a CD ladder, a portion of your savings will be available to you on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis.

CD ladders are a simple concept. Instead of plunking your money away all in one long-term CD, you spread it out over the course of several years. For example, I put $5,000 into a 5-year CD this year. I do the same next year and so on so that I have five CD’s totaling $25,000. Then, every year after that, a CD matures, and I can either reinvest that money into another 5-year CD, or use it if needed.

  • Discover Bank currently has some of the best online CD rates. Featured are their 1-year CD rate at 2.50%, their 5-year CD rate at 3.00%, and their 10-year CD at 3.10%.

3. Purchase Series I Savings Bonds

While rates on Treasury securities have fallen dramatically since the Great Recession ended in June 2009, savings bonds from the U.S. Treasury are still very secure. For example, Series I Savings Bonds are currently paying a composite rate of 1.96%.

The rate is subject to change on a semi-annual basis because it is a composite rate that depends in part on the CPI-U, which is the value of the Consumer Price Index for urban consumers. The current rate is good until the end of October, at which point a new rate will be generated.

Every year, you have the ability to purchase up to $10,000 in I Bonds, and you can make your purchase online to the penny.  If you want a bond for $777.77, you go right ahead and do you. Keep in mind that I Bonds mature after 30 years.

4. Consider paying off debt

While you always need to maintain a cash cushion, there’s no point in earning a pittance on excess savings if you’re carrying debt. Instead of settling for 1 to 2 percent interest, why not throw some extra cash at your outstanding debts? Note that this breaks the liquidity rule, but it’s still worthwhile if you can swing it.

Most US families carry a variety of debt, all of which is going to be higher than the 1.30% APY you can get by putting your money in a high yield savings account. For example:

  • Home mortgage rates for even the most qualified of buyers is 3.25%
  • Credit card interest rates average 15% and can be as high as 27% for those with average credit
  • Auto loans can offer 0% for a short period of time, then increase to an average of 5%
  • Student loans can cost you between 4% and 11 % depending on whether they’re federal or private

Why have money sitting in a non-interest bearing account when you can take a bite out of your much higher-interest debt?

5. Invest in Loans with Lending Club

If you’re looking for a better return and don’t mind taking on a bit of risk, check out Lending Club. It’s not FDIC-insured, but returns have averaged between 5 and 8 percent historically. It is free to open an account, and you can get started with as little as $25.

Lending Club is a peer-to-peer network where you can invest in loans that are taking out by other users. Lending Club will rate the loans. The riskier the loan, the greater the return. They boast that 97% of all loans on their network yield positive returns, so choose your loans wisely.

Peer-to-peer lending is something that has taken off in recent years as banks have tightened their lending practices. For borrowers, places like Lending Club offer short-term notes for necessary cash flow. For investors, the opportunity to routinely clear 8-10% annually is a welcomed change to the savings account rates you see above.

Last but not least, you could always just choose to suck it up and deal with the low rates. While low rates are frustrating, you have to consider how much you’re actually losing by sitting on your hands. If you don’t currently have a lot of money in savings, then you’re not missing out on much in terms of real dollars. Your time might be better spent figuring out other ways to earn extra money or otherwise improve your financial situation.

If you have any other suggestions, please share them in the comments.