How to Write a Winning Cover Letter

A cover letter is your 60-second chance to promote yourself. Write a poor cover letter and your resume lands in the rejection pile. Craft a compelling cover letter, however, and you land the coveted interview. Here are five keys to writing a great cover letter.

write a cover letter

Picture this scene. A recruiter at a popular company arrives to work Monday morning to look over applications that have come in over the weekend. These applications are for good opportunities available with her employer. And she has a very busy job sorting through them all.

She receives dozens or even hundreds of applications for each job opening. So how does our recruiter decide which applications she reviews carefully and which will receive an immediate rejection letter?

Many businesses automate some of the processes. A computer program often screens resumes and applications in the first instance for the basic role requirements. This process may knock a few resumes out of the running–mainly where people have hit ‘apply’ to jobs for which they don’t have the required skill set.

The remainder land on our recruiter’s (virtual) desk, and she needs to narrow the field to a smaller shortlist for interviews. This is where your cover letter comes in. Chances are all the resumes that have made it this far are from candidates who can perform the basic functions of the job. But our recruiter wants more. She wants to know you really care about this job. You’re interested in the company and what they stand for. And you’re going to stick around, do a good job, and grow with the business.

Here’s how to grab her attention.

Show some personality

Your cover letter is the best possible way to get your ‘foot in the door’ for a new job. Your resume will contain all the substance that shows why you’re able to perform the job. It’s your cover letter, however, that makes the recruiter actually want to invest time in reviewing your resume. Don’t forget: yours will be one among many. A hiring manager may not even see a many of the resumes submitted for popular jobs. A below par cover letter sees them heading straight for the trash!

The first key to writing a knock out cover letter is to understand that people want to work with people. Producing a cover letter that could have been written by a robot won’t make you stand out in the crowd. You need to show a little spark. That might be telling the reader a little about your (relevant) personal interests, demonstrating your passion for a particular product the company makes, or simply writing in a catchy tone.

It’s a good idea to start your letter with an introduction that sparkles. Of course, precisely what will work depends entirely on the circumstances. You can often get away with a very informal note, with a good dollop of humor, if you’re applying for a creative role or applying to a startup or small business. If you’re looking for a job with a more traditional institution, like a bank, you might want to hold the humor. You can still show a spark elsewhere. Consider these two possible cover letter openers:

“I’m an experienced customer service professional, and have worked in banks and finance for the last ten years”

Or

“I’m passionate about working in customer service. After ten years of looking after my bank’s clients, I still like nothing more than seeing a smile, as I turn a disgruntled customer into a delighted one”

I would rather talk to the person behind the second one! Wouldn’t you?

Connect with the brand

You’ve managed to persuade the reader you’re a real person. You’ve connected on a human level. The next priority is to show that you connect with the brand of the company.

This is really important to recruiters. They’re looking for someone with longevity in the business. If you truly love the company, chances are you’ll stay on for a good length of time. You may even seek internal promotions and professional growth within the business. A good recruiter thinks about not only the job you’ve applied for, but also about more senior positions you might be suited to with a bit of experience under your belt.

Show you connect with the brand by talking a little about the product, service, or mission of the business. How to do this might be obvious. Maybe you’re applying to a company that makes a product you love. Or perhaps you regularly use the company’s services, and as a loyal customer, you’re excited by the chance to work for a brand you love.

Of course, it might not be so obvious–especially if you’re looking to work with a business that does something more abstract or everyday. Think about how you could make this connection if you’re applying for a role with a utility provider, for example. In this case, it’s better to show a connection to the mission of the company–what they stand for rather than what they do. Take, for example, the largest energy company in the USA, PGE. You could say:

“I’d love to work for an energy company”

Or you might go with the following, to reflect their mission statement, and show a degree of excitement about the job:

“I’d love to work for a company that contributes so much to the lives of 15 million Californians. Building a better California is an ambitious mission, and one I’d love to get behind.”

Meet the brief

If you’re writing your cover letter from scratch, then you’ll probably include the first two key points above in the opening paragraph. Introduce yourself and why you’re applying up front, with a nod to your passion for the business.

Then you need to move to the substance of the cover letter. Here you show you meet the requirements of the role being advertised. Don’t forget; your cover letter isn’t a repeat of your resume. But it’s a smart plan to pick out a few key skills and experiences to showcase here. These will motivate the reader to properly review your resume. You’ll also want to make sure it’s built strongly and tailored to the role in hand.

You should focus on the job listing. The skills or experiences that are listed as ‘key’ here are the ones to focus your attention on. Think about how you concisely show you’re able to deliver on these, either through your experiences to date or your qualifications.

If you can, pick a mixture of behavioral and technical competencies to feature. Most roles ask for a skillset which is a mix of these, so you need to be able to use Excel or write reports (technical skills). But you also have to be organized and willing to work in a variety of teams (behavioral skills). By highlighting a couple from each category, you show yourself to be a well-rounded individual–exactly what our recruiter is after.

Sum up your USP

We’re arriving at the last paragraph or so of your cover letter now. You’re aiming to pique the interest of the reader and make sure they actually move onto reviewing your resume. To do this, you have to sum up what’s unique about your personal mix of skills and experience. You’re marketing yourself here, and in marketing talk, this is your USP–unique selling point.

You might need to invest some time thinking about what your USP really is. It should be just a sentence or two, describing what you think you really add to any role you take on.

For ideas, think about the things you have done to drive your own personal development. They don’t have to be strictly work related. Maybe you have contributed your time to an important cause or taken on extra responsibilities while you’re still in school. If the skills and experiences you gained are relevant to the job, you can use them.

It’s safe here to expand your thinking a little to cover the ‘desirable’ skills and experiences which are listed in the job ad. You will have already shown how you meet the core requirements of the role in the paragraphs above, so this is your chance to emphasize the added value you can bring to the business.

End positively

You should round off your letter with a positive note. As an example, ‘I look forward to hearing from you soon’, or a more proactive ‘I would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you to discuss the position in more detail’.

Whatever else you do now, you must proofread your cover letter. Make sure that details (like the name of the person you’re addressing it to) are correct. Even small errors can be costly when a recruiter has only a few seconds to scan each letter.

Your cover letter is an important document. It’s your shop window. It’s the first thing that the recruiter will read about you, and it will help them form their decision about whether or not to read on. No matter how good your resume is, if the reader is put off by a poor cover letter, the work you’ve put into your CV or resume will be wasted.

Often the most difficult thing about writing your cover letter, though, is getting started. Staring at a blank sheet of paper is daunting, but now is no time to procrastinate. Follow these pointers and capture the key messages the recruiter needs to see.

Get writing, and good luck!


How to Save Money on Car Insurance

Lowering car insurance costs is a great way to save money. Sometimes a quick phone call is all it takes. Here are 6 ways to save money on car insurance.

Save Money on Car InsuranceEveryone is always looking for new ways to save money. Cutting expenses, trimming monthly bills, and tightening the budget are all great options. And this includes auto expenses.

So, as a companion to my other articles on how to save money on health insurance, homeowners insurance, and even life insurance, I thought I’d tackle car insurance.

What follows is a list of tips for reducing your premiums and saving a ton of money.

Keep your driving record clean

Your driving record can play a pretty big role in the premiums that you’ll pay for insurance coverage, whether shopping around for a new policy or just retaining the one you’ve had all along.

In other words, don’t get nailed for speeding like I did a few months back. I was fortunate in that it was a first offense. This meant that I was able to keep my record clean by pleading nolo contendre (no contest) and paying the fine.

However, next time I won’t be so lucky, as I’ll wind up with points on my license and higher insurance premiums. Get enough of these tickets (or a particularly bad one, like reckless driving), and your insurance company could even drop you!

Compare Auto Insurance Quotes

Increase your deductible

Your deductible is the amount of cash you’re expected to pony up if a claim is made on your own insurance policy (if there isn’t someone else whose insurance is responsible for the damage). You’ll be given a handful of options for setting the level of this when you sign up for or renew your policy.

Well, if you’re willing to bear a greater portion of the risk — in the form of a higher deductible — you can save a significant amount of money on your premiums.

Simply call your agent and ask them to increase your financial responsibility. This will likely lower your premiums a noticeable amount; the higher the deductible, the lower your monthly premium expense.

One word of warning, though: just be sure that you have enough cash on hand to cover your out-of-pocket expenses in the event of an accident. It’s not worth the monthly savings if you can’t afford that new $2,000 deductible when you get in a wreck.

So, be sure to balance the savings with what you can actually afford at a moment’s notice.

Related: Rebuilding Your Savings After An Emergency Expense

Drop unnecessary coverage

If you’re driving an older car, you might want to consider dropping your comprehensive and/or collision coverage entirely. After all, what’s the sense in paying a ton of money to insure against damage to a car that might not be worth repairing?

Note that I’m not suggesting that you drop your insurance coverage entirely, just the portion that pays for repairs on your own car. Liability insurance is still required by law, at the very least.

Bundle multiple policy types together

I can’t speak for all insurance companies, but we get a nice “multi-line” discount through USAA for carrying multiple policies with a single company.

We actually have two car policies, our homeowner’s policy, a personal articles policy (for my wife’s engagement and wedding rings), and an umbrella policy… all with the same company. In the end, it’s much cheaper than buying the same coverage through multiple different companies.

Ask about other discounts

You might qualify for discounts for being accident-free, renewing your policy, driving relatively few miles each year, taking a defensive driving course, etc. Be sure to talk to your agent and get what you have coming to you.

Shop around

Assuming that you’re doing everything else right, another great way to save money on car insurance is to comparison shop. You can either call around to local agents or use an insurance comparison tool. Here are four of our favorites companies:

Whatever you do, be sure to buy from a reputable company so you won’t run into any problems if/when you file a claim.

Resource: Reducing Your Automotive Expenses

So there you have it. These simple tips for saving money on car insurance can help you trim quite a bit off of that monthly payment.

Keep your driving record clean and only keep as much coverage as you feel you really need. Be sure to compare policies and ask about discounts regularly, too — insurance products change frequently, and you could be missing out on savings if you aren’t proactive!

If you have any further suggestions, please be sure share them in the comments.


15 vs 30 Year Mortgages–What’s the Best Choice?

A 15 vs. 30 year mortgage–what’s the best option? It’s a question everybody who buys a home must answer. Here we provide the pros and cons of both mortgage types.

I’ve had mortgages on the brain recently. When assembling our mortgage history, I was struck by the decisions we face along the way. Aside from deciding when to refinance, the biggest decision we faced was what type of mortgage to get.

While we could’ve (arguably) saved some money by opting for adjustable rate mortgages, we already have enough unknowns in our life. Thus, we quickly narrowed our options to fixed rate products. While there are some 20 (and even 40!) year fixed rate mortgages out there, 15 and 30-year mortgages are far more common.

So… Which to choose?

Advantages of a 15-year mortgage

The higher payment on a 15-year mortgage might look scary at first. But it’s actually got some major advantages.

For one, a shorter mortgage is amortized over half the total time of a 30-year option. A bigger chunk of that larger payment goes to pay down principal each month. That means that even if you’re paying the exact same interest rate, you’ll pay much less interest on a 15-year mortgage.

But here’s the thing: you likely won’t pay the same interest rate. In fact, mortgage rates are usually significantly lower for 15-year vs. 30-year mortgages, all other things being equal. Combine that with the shorter amortization term, and you could save hundreds of thousands on interest.

Plus, since you’re paying more towards principal each month, you’re building up equity faster. This is great for your net worth, of course. But if you have to pay private mortgage insurance until you have 20% equity in your home, it’s even better. You’ll hit the 20% mark faster so that you can remove PMI payments from your mortgage check.

Advantages of a 30-year mortgage

That breakdown makes 15-year mortgages sound like the way to go. But 30-year mortgages also have some advantages.

The main advantage in a 30-year mortgage is the lower payment. Even with a higher interest rate, your monthly payment is likely to be lower with a 30-year mortgage. Sometimes it could be hundreds of dollars per month lower.

If you’re just on the brink of being able to afford homeownership over a rental, a 30-year mortgage may be your best option. Getting into a home with a longer term mortgage at least gets you started building up equity in your home. And you can always refinance to a 15-year mortgage later on, should you choose to do so.

But here’s the deal: those smaller payments on a 30-year mortgage will largely go towards interest for the first several years of the loan. It will take much longer to build up equity in your home.

15- vs. 30-year mortgages by the numbers

One place to look when making this decision is at the hard numbers. Let’s look at a scenario to get you started:

With your credit score of 700-719, you get some great mortgage rates. You’re shopping for a mortgage of $200,000, and you have a 20% down payment saved.

Note: If you don’t know your credit score, here are several free ways to get it.

Let’s say your interest rate on a 30-year mortgage would be 3.7%. On a 15-year mortgage, you’d qualify for 3.1%. Not a big difference, right? Well, look at the math, first.

We’ll use this mortgage calculator.

15-year mortgage

  • Monthly Payment: $1,390.80
  • Total Mortgage Cost: $250,344.45
  • Total Interest: $50,344.45

30-year mortgage

  • Monthly Payment: $920.57
  • Total Mortgage Cost: $331,403.75
  • Total Interest: $131,403.75

In short, if you pay no extra payments on your mortgage, a 15-year mortgage could save you $81,059.30 over the life of your loan!

That’s a lot of money. But don’t apply for that 15-year mortgage just yet.

The best of both worlds

What if you’ve decided that you want to be mortgage-free as soon as possible? A 15-year mortgage is a no-brainer, right? Maybe, but maybe not.

Depending on a number of factors, such as your income, job stability, and level of self-discipline, you might be better off taking out a 30-year mortgage and then simply over-paying it every month.

The advantage of this approach is that you get the best of both worlds. You can pay your mortgage off in 15 years (give or take) while still having the flexibility to fall back to the lower payment level if you ever run into financial problems.

Another look at the numbers

Let’s say you take out the 30-year mortgage but decide to make the 15-year mortgage payment every month. So you’ll add about $470 per month to your mortgage payment.

In this case, you’d pay off the mortgage in 15 years and 11 months, and you’d pay a total of $64,701.42 in interest. That’s a $66,700 savings above what you would have originally paid in interest on the 30-year mortgage.

You’ll still pay more in interest with this plan than with the 15-year mortgage, of course. You’re paying a higher interest rate. But here’s the thing: while you’re paying off your mortgage more quickly, you’ll have tons of flexibility.

Maybe you’re purchasing a home that needs some updates. So you make the minimum mortgage payments for a year and put that extra $470 towards home improvements. Then you kick that money into your mortgage for the next decade or so. You’ll still pay off your mortgage early and save, but you’ll also cash flow home improvements.

Also, if you happen to lose your job or run into other financial difficulties, you can easily free up nearly $500 per month from your budget without risking losing your home.

Alternatively, since mortgage interest rates are so low right now, you might decide not to pay off your mortgage early. Instead, you take that $470 per month and invest it. If you earn an average 7% return, you could easily out-earn the extra interest you’ll pay on your home!

So which is best for you?

Honestly, it depends. Here are a few ways to think about your goals and how to reach them:

Goal: Become mortgage-free

  • If you’re very motivated and self-disciplined, the 30-year mortgage could work well for you. You’ll just make the extra payments, but have some flexibility if you need it.
  • What if you tend to spend all the money you have available? In this case, a 15-year mortgage forces you to pay off your home more quickly.

Goal: Buy your first home

  • If you don’t have a lot of wiggle room in your budget, a 30-year mortgage can get you into your first home more quickly. You can buy an affordable home, build up equity, and then try a 15-year mortgage when you refinance or buy your next home.
  • What if you have enough room in your budget for a 15-year mortgage? In this case, you’ll build up equity much more quickly, which can help you move up in homes sooner if that’s your goal.

Goal: Invest as much as possible

  • If your goal is to invest as much as you can and you think you can beat your mortgage’s interest rate, opt for the smaller payment on the 30-year mortgage. Then, invest the difference in the payments. With today’s low mortgage rates, you could come out well ahead.
  • But if you’d rather become as debt-free as possible before you start investing heavily, the 15-year mortgage helps you do that faster.

The best place to begin here is with a clear understanding of your personal mortgage goals. Then, run the numbers for your particular situation to see which option works best for you.


8 Tips to Make the Most Out of Business Travel

Business travel has its pros and cons. At first, it can be exciting to hit the road on your employer’s dime. Eventually, however, it can become tedious. The good news is it’s easy to make the most of business travel.

make the most of business travel

Business travel doesn’t have to feel like work if you do it the right way. Optimizing the way you travel is important if your career is going to take you away from home frequently. You can’t succeed in your work if you’re too busy focusing on the headaches of travel. Luckily, you can take a few simple steps to enhance your travel experience, be better prepared for meetings, and earn great travel rewards. Take a look at the five ways to make the most of business travel.

1. Join an Airline Loyalty Program

Joining a miles program is a smart idea if you’ll be flying frequently. Ideally, you’ll fly on the same airline. This will allow you to build miles quickly.

In addition to free flights, you can earn perks. Members of airline loyalty programs receive perks like seat upgrades, priority check-in status, lounge access, and free checked bags. Earning enough points to reach a top-tier status and receive the best perks should be easy if you book frequent flights for business travel.

2. Stay in a Business-Oriented Hotel

A business traveler really shouldn’t be staying in the same hotels as families and honeymooning couples. A business trip requires a business-oriented hotel. Business-oriented hotels are becoming more important in light of all of the talk about laptop bans going on in the world of air travel.

Hotels that cater to business travelers usually offer several key perks. These include 24-hour business centers, flexible check-in times, fitness centers with good hours, free WiFi, and meeting rooms. Do you really want to run around a new city late at night looking for a store where you can make copies or print charts? Rooms with large desks are a must, too.

Staying in a business hotel can really save the day if you need to prepare a document or polish a presentation at the last minute before meeting with clients or contacts.

3. Steal an Hour Every Morning

The funny thing about business travel is that people who visit amazing cities for work don’t usually get to do any sightseeing. It can feel like you’re going from inside of the airport to inside an office building without ever stepping foot outside. This can definitely make you feel like you’re missing out.

A schedule full of meetings and deadlines usually doesn’t allow a person much time to do fun things. However, getting up one hour earlier than you need to just to take a walk near your hotel can help you feel like you have a chance to connect with the city you’re visiting. Try to make a habit of stealing one hour right after you wake up to take a walk by yourself.

4. Invest in a Good Pair of Headphones

You can justify spending a lot on a good pair of noise-canceling headphones if you travel frequently for business. Good headphones can change your life if you constantly try to fall asleep on airplanes. Having the ability to block out the noise from other passengers can be priceless.

This is a small investment that can have a big payoff. Arriving at your destination feeling rested and relaxed is priceless. You will be able to hit the ground running when it comes to preparing for meetings or charming clients.

Our top pick is the Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones. The size and quality can’t be beat. Bose also offers a wireless version.

5. Get the Right Credit Card

You may not be optimizing every charge you make if you don’t have a credit card that caters to business travelers. This is especially important if you work for a company that requires you to put travel expenses on your own card before being reimbursed. You can actually look forward to raking in amazing perks for no cost if you have the right card.

The The Business Platinum® Card from American Express OPEN, the Ink Business Preferred? Credit Card, and the Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express all offer great up front bonus offers for cardholders who meet spending thresholds and generous perks.

6. Pack Smart

Lugging more than you need through the airport is the worst. Packing smart means taking only what you need. It also means using the right luggage.

For those on a budget, the City Traveler Durable Nylon Business Suitcase is a good option. It typically sells for under $100 on Amazon. For those with a bigger budget, the Briggs & Riley Baseline Domestic Carry-On Upright Garment Bag is a good choice.

7. Track Your Miles

Tracking multiple airline and hotel rewards programs can be a headache. Use free tools like Award Wallet to track all of your miles and points. You can even use the site to track your itineraries.

8. Track Your Expenses

Expense tracking can be a nightmare for frequent travelers. Your hotel and airline expenses are easy to track. It get’s more burdensome to track small-dollar purchases. Cash expenditures, such as tips, are also difficult to track.

Mobile apps can save you a ton of time and aggravation. Once such app is BizXpense Tracker. This app helps you track all of your business travel expenses. It also generates pdf reports. You can find several other options on the American Express OPEN Forum.


Best Airline Miles Credit Cards of 2017

Some people choose a credit card based on the interest rate or perhaps a balance transfer promotion. However, if you don’t intend to carry a balance on your credit card, you may be more interested in a rewards program.

The best credit card rewards programs are tied to your interests. Here, you can check out a number of credit and charge card offers that also come with rewards. We’ve compiled enough of these programs that you’re sure to find one that matches the way you want you to be rewarded.

The Best Airline Miles Credit Cards of 2017

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express – American Express loves big bonuses, and the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express is no different.

New cardmembers will earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 in the first three months. Plus, you’ll get a $50 statement credit after you make your first purchase. As a one-time thank you, American Express will also waive the first year’s annual fee (of $95).

You’ll earn 2x miles on all Delta purchases and 1x miles on all other purchases. And your earned miles will never expire.

Unlike the Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express, you will not earn bonus Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs). But all the other perks apply to both cards. These perks include free checked luggage on your first bag (for up to 9 members of your party) and all American Express travel benefits.

  • Biggest PRO: Big up front bonus/first year annual free waived.
  • Biggest CON: No bonus Medallion Qualification Miles
  • Includes free access to your FICO® score

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card – New cardholders of the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card will earn 40,000 points after they spend $1,000 in the first three months of account ownership. Since I fly Southwest almost exclusively, I can tell you that these points are good enough for at least one round trip. Sometimes you can squeeze in two if you’re smart about times and flight distances.

Cardholders earn double points on all Southwest purchases, including hotel and car rental partner purchases. You’ll earn single points on all other purchases. As always, when you fly Southwest, you’ll have no baggage or change fees, no blackout dates, and no restrictions on using your reward points.

Every anniversary, you’ll earn 6,000 bonus points. Unfortunately, this card carries a $99 annual fee that is NOT waived for the first year.

  • Biggest PRO: 40,000 intro bonus points is good enough for two frugal round-trip flights
  • Biggest CON: $99 annual fee
  • Includes free access to your FICO® score

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World EliteTM Mastercard® – BIG BONUS ALERT: Cardholders earn 60,000 American Airlines AAdvantage bonus miles after making $3,000 in purchases during the first three months.

The standard rewards program is similar to others on this list. Cardholders earn double miles per each dollar spent on all American Airlines flights and single miles on all other purchases. Every time you redeem your AAdvantage miles, though, you earn a 10% bonus. For example, if you redeem 20,000 miles, you’ll be credited 2,000 miles back!

The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World EliteTM Mastercard® waives the $95 annual fee for the first year. It also includes perks like free checked baggage for the first bag and 25% off American in-flight food and beverage purchases.

  • Biggest PRO: Big upfront 60,000 mile bonus
  • Biggest CON: High spend hurdle to acquire the bonus ($3,000)
  • Includes free access to your FICO® score

JetBlue Plus Card – One of the lower up-front bonuses on our list, the JetBlue Plus Card starts off by offering 30,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days (a common theme, for those paying attention). The larger value in owning this card, though, comes from its rewards program.

You’ll earn six points per dollar on JetBlue purchases, two points per dollar spent at restaurants and grocery stores, and one point per dollar elsewhere. Cardholders of the JetBlue Plus Card get their first checked bag for free, 5,000 annual bonus points, and 50% off in-flight JetBlue purchases.

This card carries a $99 annual fee. Also, if you spend $50,000 or more annually, you’re eligible to receive TrueBlue Mosaic benefits. This includes express lines, free alcohol on the plane, and higher point multipliers on JetBlue flights.

  • Biggest PRO: 6 points per dollar spent on JetBlue flights.  Fly often, and that adds up quickly
  • Biggest CON: Comparably low intro bonus
  • Includes free access to your FICO® score

Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express – Out of the gate, American Express serves up 35,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 in purchases in the first the first three months. As an added bonus, they’ll also give you a $100 statement credit after you make any Delta purchase (again during the first three months).

Every anniversary, you’ll receive a domestic, main cabin, round-trip companion certificate and 5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs). Your first checked bag on all Delta flights is FREE (up to 9 people in your reservation), and you earn double miles on all Delta Airlines purchases.

One last bonus to mention: every year that you spend $25,000, you’ll earn 10,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles. Spend another $25,000, get another 10,000 bonus and 10,000 MQM miles. The Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card does, however, carry a pricey $199 annual fee.

  • Biggest PRO: Free companion certificate every anniversary year
  • Biggest CON: $199 annual fee
  • Includes free access to your FICO® score

United MileagePlus® Explorer Card – Newly-approved cardholders can earn 30,000 bonus miles after they spend $3,000 in the first three months of card ownership. Add an authorized cardholders to your account and you’ll get another 5,000 bonus miles.

The United MileagePlus® Explorer Card offers a standard rewards program: 2 miles per dollar spent on tickets for United flights and one mile per dollar spent on everything else. The first checked bag for you and a companion are free. You’ll also receive priority boarding on all United flights.

Every year that you spend $25,000, you’ll get an additional 10,000 bonus miles — which would offset the cost of the $95 annual fee. The last benefit to mention is that every year, cardmembers will receive two United Club passes to relax before a flight ($100 value).

  • Biggest PRO: Two annual United Club passes on the house
  • Biggest CON: High spend hurdle ($3,000) for a low up-front bonus (30,000 miles)
  • Includes free access to your FICO® score

Qualifying for a rewards credit or charge card

Most credit and charge cards that offer rewards are limited to customers with good or excellent credit. If you have poor credit, you may need to work on building up your credit score by paying off credit card balances and making on-time payments before you can be approved for a points and miles credit card.

Interest rates and fees

While it’s great to be rewarded for using your credit card, credit cards with miles promotions or other rewards often have a higher interest rate than other credit cards. Some also have a higher annual fee in order to compensate for the rewards you’ll earn.

Don’t apply for a rewards credit card unless you’re sure that you can pay off the balance in full each month. Also be sure that the annual fee won’t cancel out the benefit of the rewards you earn.

Choose your rewards

Before choosing a rewards credit card, you need to decide if you want to earn cash back, gas rebates, points you can use for travel or merchandise, or airline miles that you can use to supplement your frequent flyer miles.

Even if you decide a free airline credit card is perfect, you’ll need to choose whether you want to earn miles for one specific airline or miles that you can use on multiple airlines.

Comparing points/miles credit cards

Next, you’ll need to compare the specific programs to see which one will earn you the most rewards. Compare:

  • Signup bonuses. Some credit cards offer new customers a bonus of extra points for their first purchase or a certain level of purchases within a certain time.
  • The rate of rewards earnings. If you are looking for airline miles, look for a credit card that earns you airline miles at a rate of at least one mile per dollar spent. Some credit cards allow you to earn rewards in specific categories at a faster rate, depending on where you use your credit card.
  • Reward redemption rules. Some credit card rewards programs require you to wait until you accrue a certain number of points before you can redeem them. Others may limit your rewards to gift cards or to flights on specific airlines. If you are looking for airline miles, check that the airlines you use are covered by each rewards program. Make sure you leave enough time to cash in your points before your next vacation if you want to use points for a hotel room.
  • Compare your spending with the rewards. The number of points you need for a free flight varies by rewards program. Try to find the program that earns you the most points for the least amount of money or the one that allows you to convert points to airline miles at a low rate.
  • Check the dates. Make sure your points or miles won’t expire before you can use them. Some rewards programs don’t have an expiration date at all. Also, see if your airline miles are subject to blackout dates. If you plan on traveling at a popular time, you want to make sure you can use your points.

If you’ve decided that a credit card with miles promotions that you can use for airline tickets, hotels, or merchandise is best for you, compare the points and miles credit card offers on this page to find the credit or charge card that matches your needs.


The Best Way for Couples to Manage Their Money

Should couples keep separate bank accounts or a joint account? There is no one right answer to this question, and some couples keep both types of bank accounts. Here’s our take on the best way for couples to manage their money.

It’s hard to find a less romantic topic than banking. Yet nearly every couple eventually faces this question: Should we have a joint bank account or keep separate accounts?
According to a survey by TD Bank, the answer is often “both.” Nearly half (42%) of couples with joint bank accounts also keep individual ones.

Independence was the most commonly cited reason for maintaining separate accounts. Women were more likely to value their financial freedom, though. In fact, 43% of women said independence was their top motivation, compared with 34% of men.

Just over 20% of couples said they kept separate accounts in order to make sure they had enough money for individual needs, including emergencies and personal spending. Another 16% reported that convenience when budgeting and paying bills was a significant factor, though men were 38% more likely to say so. Only 7% of couples said they kept individual accounts to maintain their privacy.

The survey also found a number of generational differences in couples’ money habits. Millennials were more likely than older age groups to combine their finances before getting married — 70% percent of millennial couples waited to exchange vows before opening a joint account, compared to 88% of duos 55 and older.

Right now, the implications of keeping separate accounts are a little unclear. Some researchers suggest couples are happiest when they combine most, if not all, their money. But those findings might not apply when couples are raising kids together, for example.

Like most money matters, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to joint banking. There are about as many ways of handling this money issue as there are couples dealing with it.

Related: The Best Way for Couples to Manage Their Money

Wondering whether or not you should combine finances with your significant other? Or how to do it? Here’s a quick guide to reasons to combine (or separate) your finances, and ways to make it happen.

To Combine or Not to Combine?

As the TD Bank survey showed, couples don’t usually maintain separate accounts for privacy reasons. Sure, you might want to hide Christmas shopping from your spouse. But if you feel the need to keep most of your spending private, maybe it’s time to rethink being in a serious relationship.

With that said, there are some great reasons to combine your accounts, just as there are great reasons to keep them separate:

Reasons to Combine

Although the TD Bank survey cited ease of budgeting as a perk of separate accounts, sometimes this can get hairy. How do you handle paying for joint expenses, like your mortgage and childcare? What do you do on date night? These questions can be easier when you combine at least some of your finances.

Combining finances can also make it easier for one parent to stay home with the children if that’s what works best for your family. Separate finances only work well when both partners are bringing in an income.

Combined finances also means you need to work towards the same financial goals, and that you need to communicate about your progress. Money can be a source of fighting in marriage, for sure. But once you work through the fight and get on the same team, it can also be a source of strength.

Retirement planning is easier. While you might want to save for retirement through separate accounts, planning holistically as a couple is easier. What happens if one of you saves a lot more than the other? Is one spouse going to travel the world during retirement while the other lives a quiet, frugal life of necessity?

Reasons to Separate

One common reason couples keep their finances separate is that they come into the marriage with significant assets. In this case, you may be more comfortable keeping your money separate.

Also, if you have widely varying spending styles, separating your accounts could help you smooth out money arguments. You’ll each have to meet your obligations to the family unit, but then be free to spend or save as you please.

This seems to be one of the main reasons, in fact, that couples keep their finances separate. They want to be able to make independent spending decisions. And if you ever separate, having separate finances already can make that a bit easier.

Finally, when couples combine finances, the money management often falls exclusively on one spouse. Even if this is what both parties prefer, what happens in the case of divorce or death? The spouse who had no hand in the money management may be clueless about how to even access accounts or pay the bills!

Options for Both

In reality, the majority of couples are somewhere in the middle of completely separate finances and completely combined finances. In order to have completely separate finances, you’d have to maintain completely separate lives–no shared home, grocery bills, etc. And even couples who combine almost all their assets might maintain separate accounts for personal spending.

Here are a few ways you might go about managing money somewhere on this spectrum:

1. Combined, but with separate fun money

This is how my husband and I manage our money. We married young and broke, so we weren’t concerned about keeping anything separate. After all, who cares about separating your assets when they consist of a 10-year-old vehicle and $20 in your checking account?

We’ve had to work hard over the past ten years to meld our differing money management styles. But one thing that’s helped us tremendously is separate fun money accounts. It’s basically an allowance for adults.

Each month, we look at our income and expenses. From the money that’s left, we each get a set amount–the same for each of us–to transfer to a personal checking account. We can spend that money however we want, no holds barred. But we’re also responsible for using this money to fund things like new clothes and other essential personal expenses.

This helps us have some personal flexibility, but keeps us on the same page financially. Plus, we can use these accounts to shop for each other’s Christmas and birthday gifts! Before we did this, I was notorious for finding out what I was getting while balancing the common checkbook.

2. Contributing a set amount

One option for semi-combined finances is to make sure your basic financial goals and needs are covered together. To get started, figure out what you spend each month on things that benefit both of you or the whole family. This might include:

  • Mortgage/rent
  • Shared transportation costs
  • Childcare if you both work
  • Other child-related expenses
  • Food that you cook at home
  • Shared restaurant trips
  • Utilities and other items like internet and cable
  • Pet care expenses, etc.

Let’s say this comes out to $3,500 per month, at a minimum. Plus, you want to save $300 per month for your annual family vacation, and $300 per month for emergencies like a broken washing machine. So your total is $4,100 per month in shared expenses.

You should then maintain a shared checking and savings account, and each spouse can contribute $2,050 to that account each month. You’ll pay your bills and essentials out of that account. But whatever is left over goes to your personal accounts, to spend or save as you please.

This option works well when your income levels are similar, but you have divergent financial goals. Or it works well if one spouse enters the marriage with significant debt that the other spouse doesn’t want to take on.

In this situation, you need to discuss what you’ll do if one spouse becomes unemployed or gets a raise or a steep pay cut. You’ll also need to be flexible on what counts as a common expense over time, and you’ll have to be excellent at making those spending decisions as a team.

3. Contributing according to income

What if you’re dealing with two widely varying incomes? Maybe one spouse works for a non-profit making $30,000 per year, and the other is in a high-paying career making $80,000 per year? That’s a big spread!

And it’s probably unfair to expect the spouse making $30,000 per year to contribute his whole paycheck to the common fund while the other spouse contributes less than half of what she makes.

If you still want to maintain separate accounts, in this case, use similar steps as the option above. First, total up all your shared expenses and savings goals. Then, divide them according to income.

In this case, the lower-earning spouse could contribute about 27-30% of the shared expenses, while the higher-earning spouse contributes 72-80%. In the case of the $4,100 budget mentioned above, that’s $1,107 per month from spouse A and $2,952 per month from spouse B.

Spouse B will still have significantly more left over than spouse A. But they’ll both have money left over for personal spending, saving, or investing.

Again, communication is essential here. Maybe it makes sense to split the input a little unevenly, having the lower-earning spouse put in even less money so he has more left over. Or maybe it makes sense to split things exactly according to income, but have the higher-earning spouse take on more of the extras, like vacations.

The bottom line is that any time you’re combining lives, you’re combining finances on some level. Even if you’re only sharing some expenses, marriage means you’ll have to figure out how to meet those expenses together. And your money management choices might change dramatically over time.

So be sure to keep track of all your savings and spending–whether on personal or common expenses–and be open to changing your money management style over time.


Our Best Cash Back Credit Cards List for 2017

I carry many types of credit cards in my wallet. I have several travel rewards credit cards for when I need to book a flight or rent a car. And I use one balance transfer credit card that I got to make a large transfer a few years ago. And I also have a few cash back credit cards that I use for just about everything else.

To say that I know my way around a cash back rewards program would be an understatement. Which is why I wanted to put together a list of the best cash back cards I’ve come across in my rewards-earning ventures.

You can find the best cash back credit cards listed below. They come from a variety of issuers. They also include a variety of cash back rates and other perks.

These perks make each card somewhat unique. So you need to consider them when deciding which one is right for you. I use a combination of half of the cards on this list — and I rack up hundreds of dollars in annual cash back savings!

Whether you’re a big spender or a casual spender, it’s financially responsible to own at least one of the cards on this list. (After seeing how much I got back last year, I would even argue more than one.)

The Best Cashback Credit Cards

Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer – The Citi® Double Cash Card offers 1% cash back on every purchase and another 1% cash back when you pay your monthly credit card bill. Add it up, and you’ll earn 2% cash back on every purchase.

It also includes a 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 18 months (no intro offer on purchases). The standard APR after the intro period expires is 14.49% variable to 24.49% variable.

There is no annual fee to own the Citi® Double Cash Card.

  • Biggest PRO: 2% cash back on all purchases, the highest rate on this list
  • Biggest CON: No 0% intro APR on purchases
  • Includes free access to your FICO® score

Chase Freedom Unlimited – The Chase Freedom Unlimited opens up with a $150 cash back bonus after you spend $500 in purchases during the first three months of account ownership.  The everyday cashback rate is 1.5% on all purchases. It has no categories or tier levels to worry about.

New cardholders will earn a 0% intro APR on both purchases and balance transfers for the first 15 months. Then a 15.74% – 24.49% variable interest rate kicks in.

There’s also no annual fee for the Chase Freedom Unlimited.

  • Biggest PRO: 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 full months
  • Biggest CON: A high ongoing APR after the intro rate expires
  • Includes free access to your FICO® score

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American ExpressThis is the card I seem to use most often. The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express includes a $150 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in the first three months of card ownership. This card offers a tiered cashback level: earn 6% cash back on groceries ($6,000 max spent annually), 3% cash back at gas stations and department stores, and 1% cash back on everything else.

The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express also has a 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months. It offers a standard variable APR of 13.99% – 24.99%.

Unfortunately, for the higher cash back rate, there is a $95 annual fee (which is not even waived for year one)

  • Biggest PRO: 6% cash back at the grocery store
  • Biggest CON: $95 annual fee
  • Includes free access to your FICO® score

Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card – The Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card provides a $150 cash back bonus after you spend $500 in the first 90 days of opening an account.

The everyday cashback rate is 1.5%. IIt applies to all purchases without tier levels or spending limits. All cardholders will receive a 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 9 months. Then the APR reverts to the standard 13.99% – 23.99% variable. If you transfer a balance, the fee is 3%.

There is no annual fee to own the Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card.

  • Biggest PRO: An added perk of 50% cashback savings on your monthly Spotify premium (expires April 2018)
  • Biggest CON: 1.5% cash back is one of the lower rates on our list
  • Includes free access to your FICO® score

Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express – The baby brother of the card above, the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express is the no-fee version with a slightly reduced rewards program.

Cardholders will earn a $100 cash bonus after spending $1,000 in purchases during the first three months. You’ll earn 3% cash back at the grocery store (up to $6,000 spent annually), 2% cash back at gas stations and select department stores, and 1% cash back everywhere else.

Cardholders also receive a 0% intro APR for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers. The ongoing APR is 13.99% – 24.99% variable. As mentioned, there is no annual fee for this version.

  • Biggest PRO: 3% cash back at the grocery store
  • Biggest CON: Low 1% cashback rate on most everyday purchases
  • Includes free access to your FICO® score

Barclaycard CashForward™ World Mastercard® – Earn a $200 cash rewards after you spend $1,000 in 90 days, if you’re approved for the Barclaycard CashForward™ World Mastercard®.

The everyday cashback rate is 1.5%, and there’s a 5% redemption bonus. This means the effective everyday cashback rate is actually 1.575%. There is a 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months. After that, the variable APR becomes 15.74% – 25.74%.

The Barclaycard CashForward™ World Mastercard® has no annual fee.

  • Biggest PRO: $200 up front cash bonus
  • Biggest CON: $50 minimum for redeeming cashback
  • Includes free access to your FICO® score

Discover it® – Cashback Match™ – The title says it all.

Discover it® – Cashback Match™ will match the cashback you earn for the first full year of card ownership. The regular cashback rate is 1% on all purchases with 5% cashback on select categories every quarter (like gas, restaurants, and Amazon.com). This means that for the first year, your effective cashback rate will be 2% and 10%.

The card includes a 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 14 months. Then the standard APR is 11.74% – 23.74%, variable.

The Discover it® – Cashback Match™ does not have an annual fee.

  • Biggest PRO: Up to 10% cash back for the first year
  • Biggest CON: 1% cash back on most purchases beyond year one, the lowest on our list
  • Includes free access to your FICO® score

Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card – Wells Fargo is kind enough to give all new cardholders of the Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card a $200 cash bonus after spending $1,000 in the first three months.

Cardmembers will earn a flat 1.5% cash back on every purchase. You’ll earn an extra 20% bonus cash back on purchases made with Apple Pay or Android Pay in the first 12 months of account opening.

There is a 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months. After that, the variable APR is 13.99% – 25.99%. As a nice little bonus, cardholders also receive up to $600 protection on their cell phones ($25 deductible).

The card carries no annual fee.

  • Biggest PRO: $200 up front cash bonus
  • Biggest CON: A potential 25.99% interest rate is highest on our list
  • Includes free access to your FICO® score


Should You Buy Savings Bonds for the Grandchildren?

One of the best parts of being a grandparent is doing thoughtful things for your grandchildren. In addition to spoiling them with the latest gadgets, fun vacations, or simple trips out for ice cream, you also want to give them gifts for their future.

This is why savings bonds have been a popular choice with grandparents for decades. However, a lot has changed in the world of savings bonds in the last five years.

For one, the government has given them a digital makeover. This can make the process of giving them as a gift a bit more complicated. In addition, some people have dismissed bonds because of their less-than-stellar rates.

So are bonds a dependable, low-risk investment option or a relic from a bygone financial era?

Take some time to look at bonds with fresh eyes to see if they still matter in the modern financial landscape. Of course, the first step to giving a savings bond may be explaining to your grandchildren what this iconic staple of the American economy actually is.

A Look at Savings Bonds

Grandparents have been giving their grandchildren bonds for holidays, birthdays, and milestones for decades. However, a savings bond today isn’t the easy gift it once was.

Getting your hands on a bond used to be as easy as showing up at your local bank and requesting one. A change made in 2012 saw the end of bonds being given out at banks. You can now only purchase bonds digitally.

Here’s a look at all of the information you’ll need to have to set up your account online:

  • Email address
  • Social Security number
  • Bank account information
  • Bank routing number
  • Driver’s license number

What do you need to do once you have all of the proper information in your hands? Here are the steps you will need to take to gift a bond to a grandchild in 2017.

    1. Create a TreasuryDirect account. You’ll need to create your own account first.
    2. BuyDirect. Through your account, you can click BuyDirect to choose the types of savings bonds you want to buy.
    3. Register to your grandchild. If your grandchild isn’t already registered at TreasuryDirect, you’ll need to do this. You’ll need your grandchild’s Social Security Number. And you’ll have to designate them as either the sole owner or primary owner.
    4. Decide on your amount. You can enter a purchase amount from $25 to $10,000.
    5. Pay for the bond. You can fund your bond through your checking account or other means in your TreasuryDirect account.
    6. Submit the order. After you check all the details, you can submit the order to give the savings bond to your grandchild.
    7. Go to the “Gift Box.” This page in your account will let you select the confirmation number of the bond you want to gift, and will then allow you to digitally deliver it to your grandchild’s account.

These are the steps that you must take. But your grandchild’s parent or guardian must also take some steps to allow the child to receive the gift bond. Otherwise, you’ll be unable to send the bond to your grandchild.

You can find the complete step-by-step instructions from TreasuryDirect here.

Do Savings Bonds Still Have Value?

Clearly, the way people open savings bonds has changed. But has the value of these bonds shifted, as well?

One important thing to know is that the Treasury announces bond rates on May 1 and November 1 every year. So you’ll want to take a look at the most recent rates when making your decision.

Whether or not a bond is a good option for a gift will depend on the age of your grandchildren right now and when you anticipate they will want to cash out their bonds.

Related: 7 financial lessons recent college grads still need

A Series EE savings bond is a decent choice if you anticipate your grandchild will hold the gift for a full 20 years. A Series EE savings bond is required by law to double in value over a period of 20 years.

However, this is not the case if the owner cashes out the bond before 20 years. In this case, the bond will deliver the rate posted when the bond was purchased.

You could also go with Series I savings bonds if you think your grandchildren may want to cash out their bonds before 20 years go by. This type of bond pays both a fixed rate and a variable rate. The fixed rate remains the same for 30 years. The variable rate is tied to inflation.

The big perk of giving savings bonds is that you can take a very hands-off approach once you’ve given your gift. They don’t require any additional management to ensure they’ll continue to earn interest.

The Limits of Savings Bonds

A savings bond remains a decent choice if you’re giving a modest amount of money. This is especially true since the limit for savings bonds is $10,000 per year. You can, however, purchase an additional $5,000 in Series I bonds using money from your tax refund.

What if you want to give more money than this? You’ll want to work with a financial advisor to set up a trust fund or alternative arrangement. You’ll exceed the legal cap for bonds. Plus, you might find other options with better earning potential for such a large gift.

Resource: The Four Types of Savings Accounts That Everyone Should Have

Giving Savings Bonds to Your Grandchildren Still Makes Sense

Bonds remain a safe and solid option if you’re looking for a way to give your grandchildren small financial gifts that have the potential for a little bit of growth. They’re also great if you want to help your grandchildren save. Kids are likely to spend cash right away. With a savings bond, there’s a better chance they will hold onto it.

While rates for bonds are pretty low, they’re still a better option than many gifts. Giving bonds when grandchildren are still celebrating single-digit birthdays is really the best option because your gifts will have time to grow in value. Then, they’ll be available when they can really be appreciated.


Balancing Career Satisfaction With Financial Security

Earlier this week, I attended a career development seminar that talked about how to find a satisfying career. In general, this was a pretty low-level presentation, and it was largely based on a diagram similar to the following:

This got me thinking: is this simple graph really the key to “having it all?” What’s the actual balance between being happy in your job and also feeling secure in your finances?

Breaking it down

Simply stated, we each have a unique set of passions/interests as well as a certain skill set. At the same time, life presents us with a more-or-less limited range of opportunities.

Resource: Top 5 Financial Moves to Make This Year

While our passions sometimes overlap with our skills, that’s not always the case. Likewise, we’re sometimes presented with an opportunity to work in a field that we’re passionate about, or for which our skill set is particularly well-suited, but…

It’s relatively uncommon for all three to overlap. When they do, the thinking goes: you’ve hit the jackpot. You’ve been presented with an opportunity to work in a field that you’re not only passionate about, but also particularly well-suited for when it comes to the necessary skills. How perfect!

That’s all well and good, but it leaves out a major variable: Compensation.

What about financial security?

One of the big problems with feel-good career advice such as this is that it often ignores financial realities. Sure, it would be wonderful if we could all work jobs that we love, and in which we excel, but the truth is that we also have to support ourselves financially.

Sometimes, the careers that pay the bills and buy the lifestyle we need/want aren’t the same ones that make us jump out of bed, ready to clock in for the day.

Numerous personal development gurus have argued that if you follow your passion, the money will follow. This sounds great in principle, but how true is it in practice?

I’d argue that this worldview is wildly overblown. There are tons of fulfilling jobs out there that won’t pay the bills, no matter how strong your passion may be.

Resource: 10 Steps on the Career Ladder

This isn’t to say that you should chase money over happiness, but you do need to make sure that you can make ends meet. In my opinion, blindly following a passion in hopes that things will magically work out is a recipe for disaster.

Questions to ask

Unless you’re one of those wildly blessed folks who manages to find the seven-figure job that they’re [perfectly suited for and love, you’ll need to find a balance. And balance almost always involves some sacrifice.

Figure out what is the most important to you, and make adjustments accordingly. Are you willing to do whatever it takes to support an expensive lifestyle, or retire early? Maybe you would rather be happy and have a fulfilling family life, even if it means that you don’t drive a brand new car.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself honestly, when trying to find your own perfect balance:

  • What is the bare minimum you need to make in order to meet your true needs (not wants)?
  • How much would you like to make, in order to support a wants-based lifestyle?
  • Are you more concerned with building a family and your life outside of work, or building your career?
  • What is the likelihood of turning your skills or passions into an actual career?
  • If you can’t turn your passion(s) into a career, can you create a side hustle from them?
  • How will your happiness be affected if your dream job doesn’t turn out to be your career?
  • How would your happiness be affected if you made $X a year? More? Less?

Related: How to Prepare to Shift Into a New Career

Asking yourself these questions may help you determine where your own, unique level of happiness lies, especially as it relates to your career.

No, we won’t all be the lucky ones that turn a fun passion into our dream job and rake in six or seven figures in the process. However, that doesn’t mean that we are all forced to settle for miserable careers or even low-paying jobs.

Finding a balance of career satisfaction and financial security may be tricky. By asking yourself a few key questions, though — and doing a little soul-searching — you might just discover your own “dream job.”


Don’t Sign a Lease Without Asking Your Landlord These 8 Questions

Getting a new place can be an exciting process. It can also require some savvy thinking and careful planning.

It’s important for renters to take steps to protect their own interests and financial reputations. This is especially true when dealing with landlords and leases. The truth is that what’s written in the fine print really can turn your living situation into a nightmare if you don’t know what you’re getting into.

Nobody wants to pay good money for an apartment that doesn’t allow them to enjoy their environment, feel safe, or host friends. So, how can you make sure your new apartment or rental home is a good fit and also protect your rights as a renter?

Here are eight key questions to ask the landlord before ever touching your pen to a lease.

1. What Methods of Payment Do You Accept?

There was a time when paying by check was really the only way to take care of your rent. However, many apartment complexes now offer electronic payment options.

Electronic payment options are a secure and convenient method for paying your landlord. You may even be able to set up automated payments to avoid missing a month, especially if you’re routinely out of town or have a lot on your plate.

You should definitely avoid a landlord that only accepts cash payments. That’s a sign that something isn’t quite right.

Also, never under any circumstances provide a payment before you’ve viewed your apartment and signed a lease. There are actually a ton of online scams on popular websites, intended to lure in and take advantage of renters. They often hinge on collecting payment up front. So if any landlord asks for payment before you’ve signed the lease, beware.

2. What Is the Guest Policy in This Complex?

The complex you want to live in may have a great pool area, tennis courts, and a state-of-the-art gym. However, there is the chance that you may not be able to bring friends to enjoy these activities if a complex has a strict guest policy.

Sometimes, amenities are only open to leaseholders. This might disappoint you if you’re not a big fan of the idea of paying extra for fancy perks that you can’t share with guests occasionally.

In addition, you may be restricted from even letting friends crash on your couch for more than a few nights if your lease has a policy against long-term guests.

3. What Could Cause Me to Lose My Security Deposit?

Some renters receive an unpleasant surprise when they turn in their keys at the end of a lease term because they didn’t fully understand the conditions attached to their security deposit when they moved in.

You probably already know that damages that go beyond general wear and tear could cause you to lose some or all of your security deposit. However, every landlord has different expectations. Some require a professional cleaning and/or carpet treatment (with receipts) upon move-out, so you can’t even do that yourself. You might get your security deposit back, but you’ll have spent much of that money cleaning your apartment!

Resource: Why I’ll Never Be a Landlord

Be sure to ask about the specific types of damage that could result in your potential landlord withholding your money. This is also a good time to ask if you’re allowed to personalize your apartment without forfeiting your security deposit.

4. What Is the Parking Situation?

The parking situation at your apartment can have a big impact on your life. A simple trip to the grocery store can turn into a complicated juggling act if you’re constantly forced to park far from your front door.

Be sure to ask if the parking lot has reserved spaces. You’ll also want to inquire about guest parking. An apartment complex that doesn’t offer a decent amount of guest parking could prevent you from ever being able to host gatherings at your new place, even if it’s technically allowed.

5. Am I Allowed to Sublet My Apartment?

Being able to sublet your apartment is a big deal if you have the type of career or lifestyle that could require you to relocate temporarily or on short notice. You’ll need to know if subletting qualifies as a breach of contract before you sign a lease.

6. How Does Lease Renewal Work?

It’s important to start thinking about the end of your lease the moment it starts.

Be sure to ask your landlord if month-to-month leasing options are available once a lease is finished. Living in an apartment complex that offers a month-to-month option following the end of a lease is beneficial because you’ll have some extra time if your next lease doesn’t start exactly when your current one ends.

Learn More About Renter’s Insurance

7. How Do You Handle Repairs?

Waiting around for your landlord to take care of repairs is one of the most frustrating aspects of being a renter.

You could lose time and money if you sit around waiting for a maintenance visit that never happens. Be sure to ask about the protocols for both routine and emergency repairs. You should also ask what the typical turnaround time is for a repair like a clogged toilet or broken heater.

8. What Is Your Policy for Entering a Tenant’s Apartment?

The way a potential landlord answers this question will be a big indicator of what to expect if you do commit to a lease. You should always feel safe and comfortable inside your apartment.

Landlords need to give tenants proper notice before they are legally able to enter their apartments for things like inspections or repairs. The state you live in has its own minimum notification requirement. Make sure your potential landlord gives you a clear answer regarding the policy of entering your apartment.

Related: The Hidden Savings In a Rent Payment

No matter how great that new place may seem, be sure to ask as many questions as possible before signing on the dotted line. These eight will hopefully save you from potential heartache (and lost money!) that could come from a bad lease agreement.