Bank Deals 
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Kick start your savings with goal-based accounts


Saving money is always one of the top New Year’s resolutions, but halfway through the year, you’ve usually kicked that goal to the curb.

Hard to believe, but some banks and credit unions actually want to help you make those resolutions stick, paying higher interest rates or bonuses if you stash money in your savings regularly.

Play it right and you could get an extra $250 added to your account or earn 2.50% APY on your savings.

What’s the catch? You typically need to contribute monthly to these goal-based savings accounts, and leave it there. No making withdrawals to buy Justin Timberlake concert tickets or the latest Coach handbag.

It’s tempting to “want to spend money to keep up with the Joneses,” says Brett Engel, manager of deposit products at Baxter Credit Union, or BCU as it is usually called, in Vernon Hills, Ill. But once you start setting money aside, “you get excited. You want to see more digits in your bank account.”
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 Cars 
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Be ready for insurers to ask your car what really happened in an accident


The next time you file an accident claim don’t be surprised if your insurance company wants to download data from your car or truck to make sure you’re telling the truth.

No one knows exactly how much auto-insurance fraud goes on, but experts peg the losses at up to $30 billion.

That covers a wide range of cheating, from lying on an application to staging accidents and bogus injuries. But deliberately deceitful accounts about how a wreck occurred are part of the problem, too.

Let’s say a driver sideswipes a parked car or backs into tree.

Instead of reporting the mishap as it actually happened, he drives to the mall, parks his car and claims to be victim of a parking-lot hit and run.

A law enforcement officer will more than likely take the driver at his word, write up the report as a hit and run, and the driver will file a claim with his insurance carrier.

Although insurers know this kind of fraud happens every day, they’ve chosen to pretty much ignore it.

That’s changing however, as those companies consider making better use of the Event Data Recorder (EDR) that’s in most vehicles today and will be in all new vehicles this fall.
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 Observations 
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Mobile finance apps have reduced my spending…And I don’t even use them


Do you want to change your spending, saving and budgeting habits, but keep putting off downloading a financial app because that would make it all just too real?

Well, I have found a solution to this problem — or at the very least, a step in the right direction.

This solution is relatively stress-free and doesn’t require you to do much at all, because it involves a psychological trick you play on yourself. (I do wonder—will this work now that I’ve exposed it?)

I’ve downloaded a number of finance apps, but have never been able to use them with any degree of consistency.

Some I delete, some are too painful to look at, some I just choose to ignore. Most recently, I downloaded an app that reminds me at 7 p.m. to upload my expenses and income for that day.

I haven’t entered anything in ages, and yet, for some reason, I continue to allow the app to notify me every day, rather than simply deleting it. (The notifications often pop up right about when I’m in the process of spending too much money on dinner).

Despite my decision to accept these nagging requests as a mere annoyance in my life (I have to actively cancel out of them), I have found myself undergoing some new, personal changes.
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 Bank Deals 
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Whether you’re a novice saver or seasoned investor here’s how to make up to 3% on CDs this summer


Interest rates are at record lows, but you’ve got to put your money somewhere.

With most savings accounts paying a pathetic 0.10% APY CDs remain a better paying alternative.

Believe it or not, you can earn as much as 3% on some local deals and up to 2.30% on nationally available certificates of deposit.

There are also some special types of CDs that help savers get started, provide the flexibility to make additional deposits or even benefit from a higher rate during the term of the investment.

Let’s start with where to find the best nationally available deals on three of the most popular terms – 5 years, 2 years and 1 year.
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 The Home 
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Are hamsters the cheapest, yet cutest, pets ever?


We shall now pause to consider one of the Internet’s most hotly debated financial topics: The relative worth of hamsters.

Well, to be honest, we aren’t going to waste so much as a pixel on the curmudgeonly views of hamster haters. (What is wrong with some people?)

But we will take a realistic, dollars-and-cents look at just how much they cost to own — and just how adorable they can be.

When Jennifer Keishin Armstrong and her then-boyfriend decided to get a pet together, they didn’t even consider a cat or dog.

“A friend of mine had just bought a dwarf hamster for her daughter,” says Armstrong, who today lives with her now domestic partner in Manhattan. “When I saw that, I thought ‘I must have one of those.’”

Three years later she’s had five.

“They’re the cutest little things,” Armstrong says. “I love sitting there watching TV and holding them.”
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 Career 
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Where to find the highest pay, lowest cost of living


We often hear people say things like, “I’d be able to save more, if I lived in a cheaper city.”

But a lower cost of living usually means lower paying jobs, too.

So here’s the question you should be asking yourself: Which cities have the best balance of high pay and low cost of living?

National Public Radio recently put out a really cool interactive chart that answers that question.

It lets you see how far the typical paycheck really goes in 365 U.S. cities.
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 Travel 
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Stop guessing about how much you’ll spend on gas


If you’re planning a summer road trip here’s a quick and easy way to see how much the gas will cost.

FuelEconomy.gov, the official government source for fuel economy information, recently released My Trip Calculator.

It’s a nifty tool that provides the best route and estimates your fuel costs based on whatever you’ll be driving, all in one spot.

The precision of this calculator is a real revelation for me because my typical trip planning goes something like this:

“Let’s see, I’m driving about about 300 miles, I’ll get about 30 miles per gallon and gas costs about $3 a gallon, so this trip will cost (pause for the mental math) about $30.”

Then I’m shocked when I spend twice that much.
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 Credit 
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How I earn credit card rewards responsibly

The topic of maximizing credit-card rewards seems to be a popular one lately, especially in the world of personal finance blogging.

Many of us use our credit cards to pay our bills and monthly expenses. We earn cash back and rake in the rewards. Some of us have even mastered the envious ability to churn credit-card rewards to pay for awesome vacations.

Because personal finance readers are so financially savvy, we usually take for granted that, for many people, this is a dangerous habit. After all, the average US household credit card debt is upwards of $15,000.

If you do it right, earning credit card rewards is a great money hack. Last year, for example, I earned $450 in cash-back. But you should have control of your finances before trying any kind of hack like this.

Let’s say you have control of your financial situation and you’re ready to play this credit-card-rewards game. How do you play properly? And what precautions should you take?

Here’s what’s worked for me.
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