Money-Saving Hacks to Implement Now

Redo your monthly budget (and stick to it)

You can do plenty of things to improve your budget, and it's not all about pain and suffering, as many would have you believe. Everyone has a few things they overspend on. The challenge lies in identifying those particular items and weeding them out. A good place to begin is with restaurant spending, grocery bills, and impulse buying. A wise general philosophy is to assign a destination for every dollar you earn and place that category on your budget. Try cutting restaurant expenditures in half, reducing impulse buys at convenience stores, and shopping for groceries just once each week to regulate what goes toward food items.

Refinance your education debt

If you have any education debt still hanging around after all these years, refinancing student loans through a private lender is a way to lessen your monthly expenses. Not only can you get a longer repayment period, but have the chance to snag a favorable interest rate. But the clincher for money-saving enthusiasts is that your monthly payments can instantly go way down. That means extra cash for whatever you want. Use the excess to fatten savings or IRA accounts, or pay off high-interest credit card debt.

Install a programmable thermostat

For less than $20, it's possible to chop at least three percent off your utility bills and perhaps much more than that. 

Programmable thermostats are easy to install. You don't need special tools or advanced skills. Be sensible about summer and winter settings and you'll see a difference in your electric bill almost immediately, especially during the hottest months of the year. Don't forget to program the device to go into low-use mode while you're away for long weekends or longer vacations.

Join a shopping club

Although shopping clubs come with annual membership fees, the savings on groceries, household items, and gasoline usually offset them within a month or two of actively using the membership. That leaves the other months of the year for you to save money on household necessities. 

For people who drive a lot, shopping clubs with on-site gas stations offer one of the best deals going. Not only do the clubs offer gasoline for about 10 cents off the regular price, but some also offer free car washes and coupons for repair work at participating shops. Although shopping clubs are a win for most anyone, a family of three or more can log thousands per year in savings.

Refinance your home or car

If you have owned your home or car long enough to ride the interest rate waves, you likely qualify for a refinancing agreement. This strategy is excellent for consumers who have better credit now than when they made the original purchase. 

Young couples are perfectly positioned to refinance a home after several years of making payments on it. Likewise, anyone who still owes on a vehicle and can get a lower interest rate should look into a car or truck refi. Not only can you get additional months to pay off the obligation, but with a lower rate, you stand to save a nice chunk of money.

Take bagged lunches to work

One of the oldest, more reliable ways to instantly cut personal expenses is to prepare and take your own lunch to work each day. Not only do you save money by not eating out or buying lunch in the company cafeteria, but you also have added control over what you eat. That means you're doing a favor for your wallet and your health at the same time. 

Don't fall into the rut of eating at your desk. Consider taking your bagged meal outside and enjoying the scenery, taking a walk after eating, or joining friends in the cafeteria to socialize. 

Use public transportation as often as possible

If you live on or near a bus or light-rail route, do the logistical planning necessary to travel to work at least a few times each week by public transit instead of by car. 

Unless you reside in a small town, chances are you have access to buses and trains for commuting purposes. Once you get into a habit of using the public transit system, consider buying a one-month or annual pass, which can represent a major discount on one-time fare prices. Public transportation can take a bit longer to get you to your destination, but it's easy enough to make use of the time reading, catching up on work, or just relaxing.

Use credit cards wisely

If you use credit cards to make purchases you can't afford, you're headed for trouble. But if you use your plastic wisely, you can reap real benefits.

If you have a good credit rating, you'll likely qualify for cashback cards that give a percentage of your money back on some or all of your purchases. You can use that cash to pay for a portion of your monthly credit card bill. You could also let your cashback savings accumulate and use it to pay for larger purchases in the future.

Just make sure not to outspend your monthly budget so you're able to pay your credit card balance off in full each month. Keeping a balance on your cards is counterproductive because you'll also be paying interest fees.

Source: quickanddirtytips.com

How to Plan and Save on Holiday Travel

Some of my fondest college memories aren’t from going to homecoming games, attending my first college party or walking around campus when no one else was going to class. Some of my favorite memories are going home for winter break and seeing all my high school friends. Seeing old friends was always so fun, especially since we had all matured during the previous semester.  

But getting home was another story. I went to college in Bloomington, Ind., a small college town where the university was the main attraction. That meant getting a flight back to my hometown of Memphis, Tenn. was always a struggle. I hated having to coordinate buses and flights while in the middle of finals. 

Here’s what I learned about booking flights home, so you don’t have to struggle like I did.  

Plan Ahead 

The first step to saving on holiday travel is planning ahead. If you wait until the last minute to buy plane tickets, you’ll probably pay more. You may even be completely out of luck and not find any flights that work for you. 

You can sign up for travel alerts through Hipmunk.com, which aggregates flights from most major airlines. You can also look at Google flight alerts or sign up for emails for your favorite airline.  

Learn about what airlines fly out of your hometown’s airport and what alternative routes there are. For example, if you’re struggling to find cheap flights coming out of Louisville, look at Cincinnati’s airport. You might have to get creative and look at airports you never consider. 

According to the travel website Skyscanner, the best month to buy plane tickets for Christmas is in October. Yes, it might seem crazy to book tickets for winter break when the leaves are barely falling off the trees, but you could save lots of money. 

Carpool with Other Students 

If you’re at a big university, you might find someone who’s also traveling to your destination for the holidays. If you carpool with them, you’ll save money on transportation while also dividing the driving time. 

I did this a lot in college because I didn’t have a car, but I only needed to travel a couple hours for Thanksgiving break. It was easy finding someone who was also going that way.  

If you’re not traveling to a popular city, you should put out feelers ASAP. Make a shareable post on Facebook, put a physical notice in your dorm’s common area or ask your college advisor if there are any official student carshare groups. 

Look at Buses 

Even though the US isn’t known for its public transportation system, buses can be a decent way to save money on travel if you’re going somewhere close. For example, you can find MegaBus tickets as little as $5 if you book way in advance. Some of these buses include WiFi and let you pick your seat beforehand. 

Buses almost always take longer than driving, but are a good option if you’re on a budget and have time to kill. If you’re lucky, you can find a fellow student who’s also traveling by bus and book your tickets together.  

Compare Alternative Dates 

If you’re flying home for winter break, you probably have some leeway on when you arrive and when you need to leave. Being flexible on travel dates can save you a lot of money, especially during the holidays. 

When you look at flights, you can often look at dates with one to three days of flexibility. Flights that leave or arrive on Tuesdays and Wednesdays are often less expensive than weekends. You should also use an incognito browser when you book tickets. 

If you find an especially good deal that coincides with class, ask your professor if you can get an excused absence. Some may be ok with you taking a final early or if you miss the first day of classes for the new semester. 

Again, ask your professors about this ahead of time. They may be more lenient if you’re asking in early November instead of the week before finals. 

Use Credit Card Points 

If you or your parents have a travel rewards credit card, see if they have enough points to book a flight. This works best if you book early, because flights often increase in price as the dates get closer. 

Travel rewards programs all work differently so it’s good to compare offers before you book a flight. Your parents can book your flights using their account, or they can transfer points to your personal account. This doesn’t work for every credit card, so call and ask if there’s a way to do it for free. It may be easier to do if you’re an authorized user on the account. 

Read the Fine Print 

Nowadays airlines are trying to cut corners everywhere, by trimming seats and charging more for basic amenities. When you buy your flight, read through the ticket agreement to understand what’s included and what’s extra. In some cases, a carry-on bag costs extra just like a checked bag. But a checked bag may be cheaper than a carry-on. 

If snacks aren’t provided, bring your own beforehand. Also, try not to pack your bags completely full. If you’re like me, you’ll have Christmas presents and new clothes to take back with you. And who wants to pay a $30 carry-on fee?  

Understand What Your University Provides 

If you’re lucky, your college may have some free transportation options. For example, my university was in Bloomington, Ind., an hour away from Indianapolis. There was a free shuttle to the Indianapolis airport that left every two hours. 

There’s also a student-only bus that goes from Indy to Chicago and Chicago-area suburbs. This is only available during the holidays and is very affordable.  

The key to saving on holiday travel is to plan ahead, ask other people and do lots of research. You may discover someone in your dorm who’s driving through your city on their home or someone who also takes the bus home.  

 

The post How to Plan and Save on Holiday Travel appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Cheap Ways to Keep Kids Entertained During Holiday Break

Cheap Ways to Keep Kids Entertained During Holiday Break is a post originally published on: Everything Finance – Everything Finance – Its all about Money!

During the winter, it can be difficult to keep our kids entertained. Depending upon where you live, it can be really hard to entice them to stay outside for any length of time. And during the holiday break, it seems to be even worse because they don’t have school work to keep them distracted. So, we have found some cheap ways to keep kids entertained during the holiday break and the winter. Some of these ideas won’t cost you a penny, while others may cost a tiny bit of money if you don’t already have items to work with.

Volcano Fun!

If you ever went to a school science fair, I am sure you have seen a homemade volcano at least once in your life. While there are plenty of different ways to make a volcano, there is one that I ran across on accident that I prefer.

One of my favorite ways to keep my drains clear is with baking soda and hydrogen peroxide. The two of them create a chemical reaction that burns away all of the gunk that may be stopping up your drains. And when my kids were younger, they loved to watch me do it because it created a really cool effect.

Which gave me the idea to start using just those two ingredients (and sometimes food coloring when I want to get really crazy) to create homemade volcanoes for them. If you have some playdoh lying around, then that and a plate will do the trick for a volcano vessel.

Just have your kids create a volcano out of the playdoh on the plate, or even on an old piece of wood from the yard. Put a couple of spoonfuls of baking soda into the volcano. Add food coloring for effect, if desired. Then take the volcano outside and add baking soda until you start to see a reaction.

We have done this with snow also, and it was pretty cool to watch the eruption change the shape and color of the snow volcano. However you choose to create the volcano, the kids will love it and it shouldn’t cost you anything to create.

Lego Contest

If you are anything like us, then you probably have some Legos lying around somewhere. In fact, we have two huge bins of them, so there is no shortage of Leg’s around here. During the holidays, one of our favorite things to do with the surplus of Legos is to create a Lego contest.

If you have a ton of them, then the contest can get fairly creative and elaborate. And, depending upon the ages of your children, the contest will vary also. However, some of our favorite Lego contests have been:

  • Best Lego house
  • Most elaborate Lego swimming pool
  • Most creative Lego car
  • Craziest Lego family
  • Biggest Lego city
  • Best Lego luxury boat

These are just a few ideas to get you started, so get creative and have fun!

Treasure Hunt

Having a treasure hunt is always a crowd pleaser and is sure to keep kids entertained. Creating a treasure hunt is similar to the Lego contest, in that it can easily be varied based on the ages of your kids and the environment. If it is too cold outside, then you can keep the treasure hunt inside.

I like to create our treasure hunts so that they are both inside and outside, so the kids can get some fresh air. The easiest way to do this is to create a simple map and create clues to where you have hidden the treasure. The treasure can be anything, really. Hiding candy for pretend gold doubloons are always a favorite of our kids. But, you could also hide a deck of cards, a pair of warm fuzzy socks, or a small set of Legos.

I like to try and find things that we have lying around that the kids have forgotten about to hide as treasure. Sometimes I’ll throw a lollipop or piece of candy in the treasure also, for added excitement.

The treasure can be hidden in an old bag or something more elaborate like a plastic pirate treasure chest with a lock. If you use something like this, then they will have to find the key along the way before they get to the treasure. This is a ton of fun!

Make Your Own Games

Making your own games can also be a lot of fun. Especially if you put the kids in charge of making them. We happen to have a couple of artists in our house who love creating and drawing, so this is a great plan for them.

Just give them some blank paper, scissors, and crayons, markers or colored pencils to get started. Then have them create their own Snakes and Ladders, Candy Land or Pin the Tail on the Donkey game. And it doesn’t even have to be a donkey, but any animal they’d like to pin the tail on.

Let them get creative and really work hard to create their own versions of the games. Once they are done, then comes the real fun for everyone. Making and playing these homemade games can keep kids entertained for hours. Which I am a huge fan of!

Obstacle Course

And last, but definitely not least, creating an obstacle course is always a ton of fun. We like to use things such as:

  • Old boards
  • Chairs
  • Buckets
  • Planters
  • Hammock
  • Garden hose
  • Plastic bins
  • Rakes
  • Shovels

Creating an obstacle course is something that we usually prefer to create outside, just so there’s less chance of slamming into walls or furniture. But, it could be created indoors also, if the weather outside simply won’t comply.

Have your kids work on finding the raw materials around the house or yard to create the obstacle course with. Then have them create the obstacle course, which needs to be realistically doable. Then, you can time each kid running the obstacle course to see who the winner is.

After the course has been run a few times, then have the kids rearrange to create a completely different course. This is an activity that can not only keep them busy for hours but help burn out some energy and get them some fresh air. Bonus!


These are some fantastic, cheap ways to keep kids entertained!
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Keep Kids Entertained Summary

When it comes to the holidays and too much free time, there are many ways to keep kids entertained. And they don’t have to cost you very much if any, money. Use what you have at your disposal first, so you don’t have to buy anything extra. So, creating a volcano or an obstacle course might be great first choices. After you’ve tried those, I would suggest having your kids make their own games and a Lego contest, followed up by a massive treasure hunt. No matter which options you choose, your kids are sure to be entertained, which makes everyone’s life much easier.

What ideas do you have to help keep kids entertained during the holidays this year?

Cheap Ways to Keep Kids Entertained During Holiday Break is a post originally published on: Everything Finance – Everything Finance – Its all about Money!

Source: everythingfinanceblog.com

Escape your home for a safe holiday staycation

With the 2020 holidays upon us, it’s likely you’ve spent some time considering how you’ll have a COVID-safe celebration. Should you stay? Should you go? Is travel to your family even an option this year as some states impose new travel restrictions and mandatory quarantine periods?

Perhaps for safety’s sake, you’ve decided to stay put. But you also recognize that being “home for the holidays” doesn’t have the same cozy appeal as it used to when you’ve already been home working from home for months on end. What you might need is a staycation – the getaway for when you can’t get away.

Check out all the answers from our credit card experts.

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Get away for the holidays without going away

Traditionally, when we think about holiday travel, we’re most likely planning how to get ourselves to a faraway destination – whether that’s to see family across the country, or to flee from some combination of family, holiday hustles and winter weather.

This year, I’ve personally decided I won’t be among the holiday crowds attempting to fly on the busiest travel days of the year. Instead, I’ll be sticking closer to home, celebrating in my own city with a staycation – and testing a theory that there is no place like a Hyatt for the holidays.

If you’re planning to stay close to home like me, here’s some good news: Your credit card points work just as well for living it up in luxury in your hometown as they do when you’re on the road.

Some more good news: You’ll save lots of points and dollars by not flying anywhere this holiday – so go ahead and book the suite!

How to use your credit card points to book a staycation

If you live in or near a city, finding a hotel to tuck into for a few days over the holiday period should be pretty straightforward.

To plan a staycation, I normally start by checking what’s available near me by searching the website for each of the hotel groups in whose loyalty programs I participate.

Here in my hometown of Portland, Oregon, I found plenty of options at varying price points when I looked up Marriott, IHG, Hilton and Hyatt – the four hotel programs in which I currently have points.

For example, a few weeks ago, I decided to take an early holiday staycation at the Hyatt Centric Downtown Portland. I chose the hotel because of its location right in the middle of the city, and because Hyatt has a 25% points-back offer on award stays and free parking for The World of Hyatt Credit Card holders through the end of the year.

I paid 30,000 World of Hyatt points for a two-night stay, got 7,500 points back, and got upgraded to a suite thanks to my World of Hyatt elite status. Without points, the suite would have cost $355 dollars a night – plus the free valet parking saved me another $47 a day. I was able to get a $804 value for 22,500 rewards points. Even though I was less than two miles from my actual house, I felt a world away.

How to use travel rewards to book a staycation

If you don’t already have a hotel-branded rewards credit card for earning points in a specific hotel program like World of Hyatt, or if you live in a location where there aren’t many chain hotels, you’ll likely have more luck booking a staycation using travel rewards points.

You can book directly through the respective program’s travel planning portal. Flexible bank programs include Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou points.

Once you find a hotel you want to visit, and before you make the booking, you’ll want to check to make sure the hotel amenities that excite you for your staycation are going to be open and accessible.

Other than being snuggled up in a warm bed that I didn’t make myself, the best part of my staycation weekend at the Hyatt Centric Portland was the food.

Masia, the hotel’s signature restaurant designed by Portland’s award-winning Spanish chef Jose Chesa, was finally open and serving after a long COVID closure. Since I live in a city where indoor dining still hasn’t made a full comeback (and is now taking a pause for the holiday season), it was a rather delightful experience to spend two mornings lingering over a long breakfast.

If you’re booking more than a week in advance, you should also make sure your reservation is flexible or cancelable should your own plans change, or the COVID regulations in your state or county change and require the hotel to amend their offerings.

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How to Save Money on Food This Year

How to Save Money on Food This Year is a post originally published on: Everything Finance – Everything Finance – Its all about Money!

With the winter months comes less fresh fruits and veggies to choose from. And with that, food costs usually go up. But just because we don’t have as many great fresh options available to us, doesn’t mean that feeding our family has to be expensive. In fact, I have found a few great ways to help save money on food this winter. The foods are not only budget-friendly but delicious and nutritious too!

Use Everything You Have

The first trick when it comes to trying to save money on food costs is to use everything you have. What I mean is to make sure you reduce food waste by getting creative with leftover items. This doesn’t have to mean eating leftovers for multiple nights in a row. Because we all know that the kids will riot when that happens!

But, you can get creative with the leftovers and create a completely different dish. A good example of this is when I made a huge pot of coconut rice in my Multi Use Express Crock-pot. I freaking love this thing because it makes my life so much simpler! I used the rice originally to go with a pumpkin curry that I made. But I usually make a lot of rice at once, so we had a lot of leftovers. I knew the kids didn’t want the same meal again the next night. Instead, I made a casserole out of the rice with black beans, pinto beans, spices, salsa, cheese, and sour cream. It was a huge hit!

Another Example

Another great way I regularly do this is with pasta sauce. The kids love pasta night, but not all of us eat pasta sauce on our noodles. So, we don’t use a full jar of pasta. Instead of letting it stay in the fridge and go bad if we don’t use it fast enough, I use it as a sauce base for my cassava pizza crusts. That way I can use up the entire jar within the standard 7-day time frame and I don’t have to spend the extra money on pizza sauce.

No matter how you look at it, just get creative with your leftover items and it will definitely help feed your family for less this winter. And save you a ton of time also!

Great Staple Foods

One of the best ways to help save money on food costs, not only in the winter but all year round is to keep staple foods on hand. Staple foods may not be the same items for everybody, depending on the foods you prefer to eat or grew up with. But, overall, these foods have a very little cost associated with them and can be stretched pretty far. Plus they fill you and your family up, so you won’t be as inclined to eat other foods on top of your meal.

Staples I Keep On Hand

Some of the best staple foods I have found, that I continually keep on hand are:

  • Rice – various types, but preferably whole grain since the fiber helps fill you up and slow down insulin uptake.
  • Beans – dried are the cheapest and go the furthest, but sometimes you can find a great deal on the canned no sodium added versions also.
  • Potatoes – Russet potatoes are great for baked potato night, and the smaller versions work great for oven potatoes or mashed potatoes.
  • Pasta – this is one of the cheapest foods for the amount you get and can be used so many different ways.
  • Vegetable broth – this works great in soups, making rice, flavoring casseroles, etc.
  • Canned tomatoes – fire-roasted tomatoes usually have the most flavor, if you can find them.
  • Coconut water – this is a regular go-to for making rice because it adds so much flavor and keeps the rice tender.
  • Oats – we use Gluten-Free oats to make overnight oats or oat balls for breakfasts for the kids and they stay full for a long time!

If you can keep even a few of these on hand, it will help make your winter budget stretch a lot further.

Soups and Chili

Winter is the best time for warm, hearty soups and chili. And I love making them almost as much as I love eating them. Most of the time the rest of the family feels the same way. But it’s hard to please everyone all the time, so I try to keep a few options in the freezer.

Ultimately, one of the easiest, and sometimes the most flavorful option is a vegetable soup. I call mine the Kitchen Sink Vegetable Soup because it has everything in it but the kitchen sink. This soup is very simple to make in that you can throw whatever vegetables you have at your disposal in it. I usually add one of my cans of fire-roasted tomatoes and a quart box of low sodium vegetable broth. Don’t forget to add whatever spices strike your fancy to top it off. Then just heat it on a slow simmer so the flavors mix. Since the vegetables always differ and so do the spices, the soup is never the same. Which my family likes because it is always a fun surprise!

Chili

My other favorite is a vegetarian chili. Which happens to be the only chili my daughter will eat, for some reason. This is almost as simple as the aforementioned soup. I throw a bag of Beyond Meat Feisty Grounds in the multi-use Crock-pot. Add in a can of fire-roasted tomatoes and 4 cups of beans. I usually use a mix of black beans, kidney beans and pinto beans.

Add a couple of bay leaves (we have a tree in our yard so I just make the kids go and pick some leaves for me). Then add in some chili spices, a pinch of salt and some pepper. To top everything off, add in a quart box of low sodium vegetable broth. Put the lid on and use the “Beans/Chili” option so that it will simmer slowly. It usually takes about 25 minutes and then we have hot, delicious, and nutritious chili. Yum!


These are some awesome hacks to help feed your family for less this winter!
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Help Feed Your Family For Less This Winter Summary

Feeding your family for less this winter can certainly be done. And without too much complaining also! Just remember to use everything you have first to offset waste. This will reduce your overall grocery bill since you won’t have to spend as much buying excess food. Next, make sure you have a few staple foods on hand that can be stretched very far and fills up your family.

Lastly, try making a myriad of different soups and chili. Freeze whatever you don’t eat so that you can thaw them and use them at another time. Your family and your budget will thank you!

What are some of the best hacks you have found to help feed your family for less in the winter?

How to Save Money on Food This Year is a post originally published on: Everything Finance – Everything Finance – Its all about Money!

Source: everythingfinanceblog.com

Don’t Get Tricked: Identity Protection Tips You Need

A woman sits on a gray couch with a laptop on her lap, drinking a cup of coffee

The weather is turning, fall is in the air, and Halloween is around the corner—which means it’s National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. How can you ensure October is full of treats while not falling for any scammers’ tricks? By arming yourself with these identity protection tips.

Every American should understand the basics of identity theft protection. According to the most recent report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 10% of people 16 and older have been the victim of identity theft. That’s why we’re encouraging people to educate themselves on identity protection tips this autumn. After all, there’s nothing quite as scary as identity fraud!

Here are some identity theft tricks to watch out for and identity security treats to take advantage of.

Trick: Using Your Data to Open New Accounts

According to the FTC, credit card fraud—including opening new credit card accounts—was the most commonly reported form of identity theft in 2019. Thieves can rack up hundreds of dollars’ worth of bills before you know it happened.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to your cybersecurity to avoid your data being used to open new accounts in your name:

  • Never use the same password across multiple accounts. Switch your passwords up.
  • Never use a password that’s easy to guess. This includes passwords that include your birthday, first or last name, or address.
  • Use passwords that are random combinations of numbers, letters, and symbols.
  • Enable two-factor authentication whenever it’s offered.
  • Don’t share or write down your passwords.
  • Never click on unknown email links or pop-ups on websites.
  • Make sure websites are secure before entering your payment information.
  • Never connect to public Wi-Fi that isn’t secure.
  • Never walk away from your laptop in public places.
  • Enable firewall protection.
  • Monitor your accounts and credit reports for unusual activity.

Treat: Check Your Credit Reports

Identity theft protection starts by being proactive and regularly monitoring your information for suspicious activity. That includes monitoring your credit report.

Did you know that you’re entitled to one free copy of your credit report each year from all three credit reporting agencies? In honor of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, make October the month that you request your reports and go over them with a fine-toothed comb. Make sure you recognize all the open accounts under your name.

[Note: Through April 2021, you can review your credit reports weekly.]

An added bonus of checking your reports early in the month is that you can give your credit a good once-over before the upcoming holiday shopping season. Unexplained dips in your credit score could be a sign that something is wrong.

When you request your free credit report from the credit bureaus, your report does not come with your credit score—you have to request that separately. Sign up for ExtraCredit to get 28 of your FICO® scores and your credit reports from all three credit bureaus. You’ll also get account monitoring and $1 million identity theft insurance.

Protect Your Identity with ExtraCredit

Trick: Charity Fraud

October also happens to be Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and everywhere you look, pink is on display. With so much national attention on breast cancer, it’s easy to fall for scams that claim to be legitimate charities.

Consumers should also be on the lookout for phony COVID-19 related scams this fall and winter. For example, watch out for fake charities that pretend to provide COVID relief to groups or families but are simply stealing money.

Even worse than handing over money to these heartless fraudsters is that you may have handed over your credit card numbers or other personally identifiable information in the process.

Treat: Know Your Worthy Causes

Before donating to a charitable cause, do your homework. You can use websites such as Charity Navigator, CharityWatch, and the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance to check a charity’s reputation. Additionally, consider contacting your state’s charity regulator to confirm the organization is registered to raise money in your state.

After you’ve verified the status of the charity, consider making donations directly through the national organization. Avoid giving money or financial information directly to someone that reaches out to you through email, phone calls, or door-to-door interactions.

It might be a bit of extra work, but at the end of the day, you can feel good knowing your money is going to support a real cause. If you want to support October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, consider donating directly on the national website. An added bonus is that you’ll receive a receipt you can use for tax deduction purposes.

Trick: Tax Refund Fraud

Every year, the Internal Revenue Service announces its “dirty dozen” scams. These are the tax fraud scams the IRS determines to be the most common for the year. The 2020 list includes refund theft. A tax thief gains access to your information, files a fraudulent return in your name before you do, and has the funds paid out them. The only way you find out about it is that your legitimate tax return—the one you submit—is rejected for having already been filed.

Another way individuals fall victim to tax refund fraud is by using an unscrupulous return vendor. Dishonest vendors and ghost preparers steal personal information to file a tax refund and pocket the money or use that information for other types of identity fraud.

It’s unclear what exactly the next round of stimulus legislation will include, but if another stimulus check is included, watch out for attempts to steal your COVID stimulus checks. Remember that the IRS never contacts you via email, social media, or text.

Treat: File Early

It may feel like you just finished filing your 2019 taxes, but it’s never too early to start preparing for next year. While filing your taxes might be the last thing you want to think about this month, it’s crucial to stay on top of your tax return documents so you’re ready to file as early as possible. This is especially true for individuals who have reason to believe that their personal data has already been breached.

Always ensure you work with a reputable tax return vendor. You can look at the vendor’s online reviews before considering them as an option for tax return help.

Additionally, individuals that are paid to assist with or prepare federal tax returns must have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). Paid preparers must sign and include their PTIN on returns. Always ask for this number before you hire an individual and hand over your personal information.

If you file early, you can beat out someone filing before you and receiving your return first. The earliest you can file is January.

Trick: Social Media Scams

Our social media accounts allow us to stay connected with friends and family. Unfortunately, scammers understand this and have started using social media to commit identity fraud.

There are many variations of social media phishing scams, but the basics are generally that a scammer creates an account to gain your trust and gather personal information from you. For example, many people have their name, birthday, and workplace information on their Facebook or other social media account. Those three things alone could be enough for someone to gain everything else they need to create a credit card application under your name or access your existing accounts.

Treat: Be More Exclusive and Private

Consider taking a quiet October morning to comb through your social media accounts. Start with your followers. Consider deleting everyone you don’t know personally.

If a follower base is important to you, consider another approach. Go through each social profile and scrub any personal details. Change the spelling of your last name slightly, delete your birthday, and remove other personal information, such as place of work. Ultimately, this can reduce the risk of being an easy target for identity fraud.

These core identity protection tips should help you stay safer online. With COVID-19 causing people to feel scared, individuals are more vulnerable to being tricked. Remember that identity fraud happens to millions of people every year, and it’s important to remain vigilant.

Stay Vigilant This Fall

Identity theft can have long-lasting consequences. If you’re recovering from identity fraud or simply unhappy with your credit score, consider signing up for ExtraCredit. ExtraCredit is a five-in-one credit product that provides tools to helps you build, guard, track, reward, and restore your credit.

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The post Don’t Get Tricked: Identity Protection Tips You Need appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com