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Best of, Credit Cards

Longest 0% Purchase Credit Card Offers From Banks & Credit Unions – Februarysn 2018

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. This site may be compensated through a credit card partnership.

0% purchase credit card

If you're about to make a big purchase that you need time to pay off, using a 0% introductory purchase offer on a credit card could be the cheapest way to spread the payment out over time.

  • You can currently find 0% deals for as long as 21 months with no fees, but since rates after the intro period are high, only use these deals if you're sure you can handle paying off the debt before the period is up.
  • When searching for 0% purchase cards, make sure you select a card that waives interest. Far too many cards, especially those offered by retailers only defer the interest which means you can get get a nasty surprise when the intro period is up.

Below we list the longest 0% purchase credit cards broken up by length of 0% intro period from our database of over 3,000 credit card products from banks and credit unions:

18 Months 0% Intro APR

Citi Simplicity® Card - No Late Fees Ever

Citi Simplicity<sup>®</sup> Card - No Late Fees Ever

APPLY NOW Secured

on Citibank’s secure website


The Citi Simplicity® Card - No Late Fees Ever offers a long 0% APR for 18 months on purchases. This provides you well over a year to pay off any purchases without accruing interest, and you receive great perks such as no late fees, no penalty rate and no annual fee. After the intro period ends, the standard APR applies. It’s 15.24%-24.24% variable, depending on your creditworthiness.

Wells Fargo Platinum Visa® Card

Wells Fargo Platinum Visa® Card

APPLY NOW Secured

on Wells Fargo Bank’s secure website


The Wells Fargo Platinum Visa® Card has a long period for you to pay off debt with a 0% intro APR for 18 months on purchases and balance transfers. Following the intro period, the variable APR on purchases will be 16.40%-26.24%. Besides the promotional APR, this card is fairly basic. It does have one other notable perk: You can receive up to $600 of cellphone protection (subject to $25 deductible) against eligible reasons when you pay your monthly cellphone bill with your card.*

TruWest Visa® Signature Card

TruWest Visa® Signature Card

APPLY NOW Secured

on TruWest Credit Union’s secure website


At 18 months, the 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for the TruWest Visa® Signature Card is one of the highest for a credit union. It also has a very low ongoing variable APR (after the intro period ends): 9.15%-10.15%. This card is restricted to people who live, work, own a business or go to school in select Arizona and Texas communities or who work for select employers. You can read more about membership eligibility on TruWest’s website. You can earn 1 point per dollar spent, and up to 10 extra points per dollar spent by taking advantage of bonus point offers with the Get Extra Points Rewards Program. You can also earn up to 1.5% cash back by redeeming rewards through the TruRewards program.

TruWest Visa® Platinum Card

TruWest Visa Platinum Card

APPLY NOW Secured

on TruWest Credit Union’s secure website


Another card from TruWest that offers a long intro period is the TruWest Visa® Platinum Card, with 0% intro APR for 18 months on purchases. Again, this card is only available to TruWest Credit Union members. This card has one of the lowest starting variable APR ranges at 7.20%-21.20% variable, which is beneficial for anyone who qualifies for the low rate and may carry a balance after the intro period ends (though we recommend paying off debt beforehand).

TruWest Platinum Points Visa Rewards Credit Card

TruWest Platinum Points Visa Rewards Card

APPLY NOW Secured

on TruWest Credit Union’s secure website


The TruWest Platinum Points Visa Rewards Credit Card has a competitive 0% intro period at 18 months on all purchases and balance transfers. After the intro period, the purchase APR is    9.15%-16.15% variable. As with the other TruWest cards, this one is only available to members. You can benefit from a rewards program where you automatically earn up to 1 point for every $1 you spend, and earn up to 10 extra points per dollar spent. However, this is a low rewards rate compared to other 0% intro purchase cards on this list.

U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card

U.S. Bank Visa<sup>®</sup> Platinum Card

APPLY NOW Secured

on U.S. Bank’s secure website


The U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card offers a long 0% intro period at 18 months for purchases and balance transfers (variable APR is 11.24%-23.24% when the promotional period ends); however, this card offers few other benefits. There is no rewards program, but there is cellphone protection that can reimburse you for damage or theft up to $600 (with a $25 deductible), for up to two claims ($1,200) per 12-month period when you pay your cellphone bill with your card.

Bank of Hawaii Visa Signature® Card with MyBankoh Rewards

Bank of Hawaii Visa Signature<sup>®</sup> Card with MyBankoh Rewards

APPLY NOW Secured

on Bank Of Hawaii’s secure website


Similar to the other myBankoh Rewards card, the Bank of Hawaii Visa Signature® Card with MyBankoh Rewards offers 18 months 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers. Afterward, the ongoing APR is 15.23% or 18.23% variable. This card is open to most U.S. residents (details above), and cardholders earn one point per dollar spent, as well as a 10% annual year-end bonus of the points earned on purchases.* If you’re not a resident of Hawaii, Guam or the Northern Mariana Islands, you must also have a deposit relationship with Bank of Hawaii to apply for this card. All U.S. residents (except those of Iowa and Puerto Rico) can apply.*

15 Months 0% Intro APR

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Chase Freedom Unlimited<sup>®</sup>

The Chase Freedom Unlimited® provides a 0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers — that is shorter than other flat-rate cash back cards. After those 15 months, purchases are subject to a standard APR of 16.24%-24.99% variable. With the cash back program, you can earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase – it’s automatic.

Chase Freedom®

Chase Freedom<sup>®</sup>

APPLY NOW Secured

on Chase’s secure website


The 15 month 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers that the Chase Freedom® offers is complemented with a cash back program that is great for those looking to maximize cash back in bonus categories. You can earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate and unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – it's automatic. After the promotional period, the purchase APR is 16.24%-24.99% variable.

Chase Slate®

Chase Slate<sup>®</sup>

APPLY NOW Secured

on Chase’s secure website


The Chase Slate® has a decent 0% intro period for purchases (15 months, after which the purchase APR is 16.24%-24.99% variable), but you can find other cards with longer periods, and/or rewards. This card is predominantly known for its balance transfer offer where you get 0% intro APR for 15 months and an intro $0 balance transfer fee when you transfer a balance during the first 60 days your account is open. After that, the fee for future balance transfers is 5% of the amount transferred with a minimum of $5, whichever is greater.

BankAmericard® Credit Card

BankAmericard® Credit Card

APPLY NOW Secured

on Bank Of America’s secure website


The BankAmericard® Credit Card has an average intro period for purchases at 0% intro APR for 15 billing cycles (after that, the purchase APR is 13.24%-23.24% variable). There are no rewards; however, this card shines with its balance transfer period of 0% intro APR for 15 months and $0 intro balance transfer fee for transfers made within 60 days of account opening. After that, the fee for future balance transfers is 3% with a minimum of $10.

Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

APPLY NOW Secured

on American Express’s secure website

Terms Apply

Rates & Fees


The Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express offers an introductory 0% for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers. After that, your APR will be 14.24%-25.24% Variable. There is also a cash back program — earn 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%). 2% cash back at U.S. gas stations and at select U.S. department stores. 1% cash back on other purchases..

Citi® ThankYou® Preferred Card

Citi<sup>®</sup> ThankYou<sup>®</sup> Preferred Card

APPLY NOW Secured

on Citibank’s secure website


At 15 months, the Citi® ThankYou® Preferred Card offers a competitive 0% intro APR period on purchases when compared to other dining rewards cards. (After the intro period, the APR will be a variable 14.74%-24.74%, based on your creditworthiness.) The rewards program benefits frequent diners and those who enjoy entertainment — earn two points per dollar spent on dining out and entertainment, and one point per dollar on all other purchases.

PNC Core® Visa® Credit Card

PNC Core<sup>®</sup> Visa<sup>®</sup> Credit Card

APPLY NOW Secured

on PNC Bank’s secure website


The PNC Core® Visa® Credit Card is a basic card that offers 0% intro APR for 15 billing cycles on purchases for the first 15 billing cycles, then 11.24% to 21.24% variable APR, based on your credit. There is no rewards program or noteable perks. However, there is U.S.-based customer service available 7 days a week.

Truly Simple® Credit Card from Fifth Third Bank

Truly Simple® credit card from Fifth Third Bank

APPLY NOW Secured

on Fifth Third Bank’s secure website


This card offers a decent intro period at 0% APR for 15 billing cycles, however this card is restricted to residents of Ohio, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia. There is also no penalty APR if you miss a payment. The standard APR of 13.24%-24.24% variable applies after the intro period ends.

BB&T Bright Card

BB&T Bright Card

APPLY NOW Secured

on BB&T’s secure website


The BB&T Bright Card offers a good intro period from a community bank at 0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers (variable 12.40%-21.40% variable APR after). Note that this card is restricted to residents of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia.

APGFCU Visa® Platinum Preferred Rewards Credit Card

Visa Platinum Preferred Rewards from APG FCU

APPLY NOW Secured

on Aberdeen Proving Ground FCU’s secure website


This card offers a competitive 0% intro APR on purchases and qualified balance transfers compared to other credit unions at 0% intro for 15 months (11.74%-17.99% variable after). To qualify for this card you need to live, work, worship, attend school, or volunteer in Harford or Cecil County or certain areas in Middle River, Maryland. There is a subpar rewards program where you can earn one point for every dollar spent on purchases.

KeyBank Latitude® Credit Card

KeyBank Latitude® Credit Card

APPLY NOW Secured

on KeyBank’s secure website


The KeyBank Latitude® Credit Card has a decent intro period at 0% on purchases and balance transfers for the first 15 billing cycles (11.24%-21.24% variable APR after, based on creditworthiness). This card is restricted to people who live in Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Vermont and Washington. There is no rewards program.

Deferred versus Waived Interest

Not all 0% offers are created equally. Some credit card companies offer "deferred" interest, whereas others off "waived" interest.

Let's take a simple example. You spend $1,000 on a credit card with an APR of 18%. You will make payments of $75 every month. There is a special offer that gives you 0% interest for 12 months. On "Credit Card A" interest is deferred. On "Credit Card B" it is waived. After making 12 payments of $75, the remaining balance in month 13 would be $100.

Credit Card A: Deferred Interest

With a "deferred" interest offer, the bank does not forgive the monthly interest accrual. Instead, the bank just keeps track of the interest that would have accrued. If you do not pay the balance in full during the promotional period, you will get retroactively charged the interest at a high interest rate. In the example above, you would be charged approximately $117 in month 13. (I use "approximately" because credit card companies have slightly different ways of calculating and charging interest. But it is safe to assume that you would be charged more than $100 of interest on your remaining $100 balance.)

Credit Card B: Waived Interest

Waived interest is very different. For every month of the promotional period, the credit card company actually forgives the interest. There will never be a retroactive catch up after the promotional period ends. In our example, you would only be charged $3.26 of interest in month 13, compared to more than $100 in the deferred example.

Deferred interest products are surprisingly common. If you are being offered 0% financing by a retailer, you are probably being offered a deferred interest product.

How To Qualify For A 0% Purchase Credit Card

In order to qualify for a 0% intro purchase credit card, you will need to have good credit. If your credit score is above 700, you are highly likely to be approved by one of the issuers. If your score is between 650 and 700, you still have a good chance.

With a credit score below 650, it is highly unlikely that you would be approved, though you may want to check to see if you are pre-qualified for a card before applying. Many of the banks let you check to see what deals they are specifically targeting to you, and you can see a list of them here. Checking what you're pre-qualified for won't show up on your credit report or score.

In addition to your credit score, the credit card company will want to ensure that you are employed. And most credit card companies will look at your debt burden.

If your debt burden is more than 50%, it is unlikely that you will be approved.

The lower your debt burden, the better your chances. You calculate your debt burden by dividing the monthly payments on your credit report (which would include your mortgage, auto loans, student loans, personal loans and credit cards) by your monthly paycheck before taxes are taken out.

When Is A Personal Loan Better?

There is no lower interest rate than 0%. So, if you are able to use a 0% credit card to make a purchase, that is your best bet. However, there are a few circumstances where a personal loan might be a better option:

  • Your credit score is too low for a 0% offer. Personal loan companies are offering increasingly competitive interest rates, especially for people with lower credit scores.
  • You need to borrow money for a big cash expense. For example, you might need to pay a contractor who does not accept credit cards. If you need cash, a personal loan is always a better deal than a credit card.
  • You don't trust yourself with credit cards. Some people feel nervous with credit cards. You might be tempted to spend more than you want. Or, you might be tempted to only pay the minimum due, extending the repayment term. A personal loan can be an easy way to borrow a set amount of money for a set period of time.

If you want to consider a personal loan, you can compare and apply using our personal loan comparison tool. You can check your interest rate and see if you are approved without hurting your credit score at most lenders.

Advertiser Disclosure: The card offers that appear on this site are from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all card companies or all card offers available in the marketplace.

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Best of

Best Secured Credit Cards with Low Deposit Requirements – February 2018

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

secured credit cards
iStock

Secured credit cards are used as a tool to build credit history from scratch or put positive information on a credit report after negative incidents such as bankruptcy, missed debt payments or accounts in collections. By feeding positive information into a credit report, you can improve a credit score, which is essential for getting the best financial products on the market.

In order to be eligible for a secured credit card, you must provide a minimum deposit. This deposit typically serves as your line of available credit, but in some cases your line of credit may be higher. Plenty of secured cards require rather hefty minimum deposits of $300 or more, which may be prohibitive for many Americans living paycheck-to-paycheck.

Fortunately, alternatives to the high deposits exist. We’ve pulled together a list of the best secured cards that require a deposit and/or credit union membership fee of $200 or less.

$200 minimum deposit - Discover it® Secured Card - No Annual Fee

Discover it<sup>®</sup> Secured Card - No Annual Fee The Discover it® Secured Card - No Annual Fee has a minimum deposit of $200. This is our favorite secured credit card for a number of reasons including: no annual fee, the ability to earn cash back, and our favorite feature — automatic monthly reviews of your account that start at month eight. However, the one downfall of this card is the high ongoing APR, but you should always pay your bill on time and in full so you avoid interest charges. Here are the benefits of the Discover it® Secured Card - No Annual Fee in more detail:

Automatic monthly reviews starting at month 8: Discover will start automatic monthly reviews of your account at month 8. If you qualify, you could be transitioned to an account with no security deposit. Even better, you could potentially be eligible for a bigger credit limit. This feature really sets Discover apart from the competition – and your goal should be to get back your deposit as quickly as possible through responsible credit behavior.

No annual fee: There is no annual fee for this card.

Bankruptcy? No problem: If you have filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy in the past, you can still qualify for this card. It is a great way for people to rehabilitate their credit.

Earn cash back: Most secured credit cards do not offer any rewards. With the Discover it® Secured Card - No Annual Fee, you have the opportunity to earn cash back while earning rewards. You can earn 2% at restaurants and gas stations (on up to $1,000 of spend each quarter). Plus, get 1% cash back on all your other purchases. Earning cash back is not the primary reason to select a secured credit card, but it is a nice option to have available.

Free FICO® Credit Score: Discover will provide you with a copy of your official FICO® credit score. A good step in proper credit behavior is to monitor your score each month.

Read our review for more information on the Discover it® Secured Card - No Annual Fee.

How to go from a secured card to unsecured card: Discover will automatically review your account starting at month eight to see if you can be transitioned to a card without a security deposit. If you qualify, you can receive an unsecured card and your security deposit will be refunded. Note that the reviews are based on various factors, including responsible credit management across all of your credit cards and loans.

APPLY NOW Secured

on Discover Bank’s secure website

Rates & Fees

 

$49, $99, or $200 minimum deposit - Capital One® Secured Mastercard®

Capital One® Secured Mastercard®

Annual fee

$0

Minimum Deposit

$49

Regular Purchase APR

24.99%

Variable

APPLY NOW Secured

on Capital One’s secure website

The Capital One® Secured Mastercard® offers a minimum deposit as low as $49, depending on credit worthiness. If you don't receive the $49 minimum deposit, you may receive a deposit of $99 or $200. This may be a good option if you don't have $200 to deposit, just remember that the $49 deposit is not guaranteed. If approved for the card, once you make your minimum required security deposit, you will receive a credit line of $200.

How to go from a secured card to unsecured card: Capital One has a new feature where they will automatically review your account for on time payments and will inform you if you’re eligible for an upgrade. If eligible, you will be refunded your security deposit and will receive an unsecured card. The catch is that there is no time frame for when your account will be reviewed. Capital One said that it depends on various credit activities.

 

$200 minimum deposit - Citi® Secured Mastercard®

Citi® Secured MasterCard<sup>®</sup>

Annual fee

$0

Minimum Deposit

$200

Regular Purchase APR

23.74%

Variable

APPLY NOW Secured

on Citibank’s secure website

The Citi® Secured Mastercard® is a no frills secured credit card. There is no annual fee and a $200 minimum deposit requirement, like most cards on this list. Unfortunately, there are no rewards associated with this card — however that's typical for a secured card. When coupled with responsible credit behavior, this card can help you build credit and work your way to an unsecured card.

How to go from a secured card to unsecured card: Citi will hold your security deposit in a Collateral Holding Account for 18 months. Prior to the 18-month term ending, Citi will send you a notification in the mail informing you if you will be transitioned to an unsecured card. If transitioned, you will receive an unsecured card and your deposit back. If not, you will still have your secured card. The status of your account at the end of the 18-month term and whether you get back your deposit depends on your account history and other credit factors.

 

$100 minimum deposit - Visa Classic Secured by Justice FCU

Visa Classic Secured Card from Justice FCU

Annual fee

$0 For First Year

$0 Ongoing

Minimum Deposit

$100

Regular Purchase APR

16.90%

Variable

APPLY NOW Secured

on Justice Federal’s secure website

You can join Justice FCU if you are an employee, retiree, or family member of the Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, United States Courts or another qualifying group. If that doesn’t apply, don’t fret. Anyone can join JFCU by first becoming a member of an eligible JFCU association like the National Sheriff’s Association, charges a $41 membership fee for auxiliary or student members. It only costs $5 for eligible individuals to join JFCU, so that would raise the total cost of membership to $46. Credit limits range from $100 to 110% of pledged shares.

How to go from a secured card to unsecured card: Justice FCU doesn’t provide automatic reviews of your account or a simple way to transition to an unsecured card — you need to initiate the upgrade to an unsecured card. To do this, apply for one of their unsecured credit cards. Then, upon approval, your secured card will automatically be cancelled and you will receive your security deposit back. Note that your approval for an unsecured card depends on your creditworthiness.

 

Best Strategy for Rebuilding Credit

The strategy for building a strong credit score with a secured card is simple. Make one small purchase each month ($10 or less), wait for your statement to come in, pay your bill on time and in full and then repeat the next month. By making just small purchases, you'll be using a very low amount of your overall credit limit (also called utilization), which helps drive your credit score up faster because it shows you're responsible.

 

Keep an Eye on Your Credit Score and Credit Report

Once you're in the process of building or rebuilding your credit, it helps to have a benchmark. The easiest way will be to establish a profile with one of the free credit score websites: Credit Sesame, Quizzle, Credit Karma. Do a monthly check in with your credit score to see how it's improving.

In addition, you should also keep tabs on your credit report by downloading the report from each of the three bureaus. By law, you're entitled to one free report from each bureau per year. You can download them all at once or space them out throughout the year. Go to annualcreditreport.com to download your free reports. Monitoring your reports will ensure all the information there is accurate and alert you about anything that may be damaging to your score, like an item in collections or reported missed payments.

 

A Word to the Wise

Never carry a balance on your secured card. The point of a secured card is to be building (or rebuilding) your credit history. Make one small purchase a month and pay it off on time and in full. Follow those two steps and you’ll see your credit score start to raise quickly.

Find other secured card options on our secured card comparison table.

Advertiser Disclosure: The card offers that appear on this site are from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all card companies or all card offers available in the marketplace.

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MagnifyMoney |

Have a question to ask or a story to share? Contact the MagnifyMoney team at info@magnifymoney.com

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Best of

The Best Airline Credit Cards

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. This site may be compensated through a credit card partnership.

best airline credit cards
iStock

If you have taken a recent flight, you are probably very well aware of all the rewards airline credit cards promise. Earn enough miles and you could nab a free flight or even a free upgrade. Simply signing up for a airline card in many cases can grant you perks like priority boarding and free checked luggage.

Most airline credit cards rewards are specific to that airline’s offerings — it’s their way of rewarding frequent fliers for their brand loyalty and enticing other fliers who might not yet favor any particular airline.

Best for United Airlines

United MileagePlus® Club Card

United MileagePlus® Explorer Card

Annual fee

$0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95

Rewards

2X miles on tickets purchase from United, 1 mile on everything else

Regular Purchase APR

17.24%-24.24%

Variable

What we like about it:

  • Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on eligible purchases in the first three months from account opening. But don’t get too excited about this offer if you’ve nabbed a bonus from this card before — this offer is not available to either current cardmembers of this credit card, or previous cardmembers of this credit card who received a new cardmember bonus for this credit card within the last 24 months.
  • The United MileagePlus® Club Card is the only one that gives you a full membership into the United ClubSM. This means you can visit any United lounge at the airport regardless of what airline you are flying, and some Star Alliance® lounges when you fly on those airlines.
  • Earn 1.5 miles per $1 spent on all purchases; earn 2 miles total for each $1 spent on airline tickets purchased directly from United.
  • You also get great perks when flying aboard United, including Premier Access® travel services and free first and second checked bags — that can easily shave a couple hundred bucks off your cost of flying.

Who is the card best for?

If United is your primary airline and you plan to take more than one international trip every year, the United MileagePlus® Club Card is your best bet. Getting United ClubSM membership from the card is $100 cheaper than buying membership without top tier status. And getting two checked bags on United and some lounge benefits when flying Star Alliance airlines can add up to good long-term value.

The information related to the United MileagePlus® Explorer Card has been collected by MagnifyMoney.com and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.

Best Cards for American Airlines

CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®

CitiBusiness<sup>®</sup>/ AAdvantage<sup>®</sup> Platinum Select<sup>®</sup> World Mastercard<sup>®</sup>

Annual fee

$95, waived for first 12 months

Rewards

2 AAdvantage® miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines® purchases and for every $1 spent on purchases at telecommunications, car rental merchants and at gas stations*, 1 AAdvantage® mile per $1 spent on other purchases*

Regular Purchase APR

16.99%-24.99%

Variable

APPLY NOW Secured

on Citibank’s secure website

What we like about it:

  • Bonus offer: Earn 60,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $3,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening. This is a limited time offer.
  • In addition to offering a first checked bag free on domestic American Airlines® itineraries and preferred boarding on American Airlines® flights, this is the only American Airlines co-branded offer from Citi that offers bonus points on everyday spending.
  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines® purchases; 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on purchases at select businesses, including telecommunications, car rental merchants, and at gas stations; and earn 1 AAdvantage® mile per $1 spent on other purchases. Terms apply.

Who the card is best for?

If you have a small business and American is your primary airline, this card could earn you the most AAdvantage® miles over time. Earning 2 AAdvantage® miles on telecommunications, car rental merchants, and gas stations are among the most generous categories for airline cards, granting many opportunities to earn bonus miles at the places you spend money weekly.

AAdvantage® Aviator™ Red World Elite Mastercard®

AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® from Barclaycard

Annual fee

$95 For First Year

$95 Ongoing

Rewards

Earn 2X miles on eligible American Airlines purchases, earn 1X miles on all other purchases

Regular Purchase APR

17.24%-26.24%

Variable

What we like about it:

  • Through Jan. 31, 2018 you can earn 60,000 bonus miles when you make your first purchase in the first 90 days and pay the annual fee. You may not qualify for this offer if you have owned the card before or are a previous cardmember with accounts closed in the past 24 months.
  • Receive your first checked bag free for the primary cardmember and up to four companions on eligible bags when traveling on domestic itineraries operated by American Airlines®. Conditions apply.
  • Preferred boarding for the primary cardmember and up to four companions on the reservation for all American Airlines operated flights.
  • You can also earn $3,000 Elite Qualifying Dollars when you spend $25,000 on purchases each calendar year, and receive 25% in-flight savings on food and beverages in the form of a statement credit. Terms apply.

Who the card is best for?

If you are loyal to American Airlines® and want to earn extra credit towards elite status every year, the AAdvantage® Aviator™ Red World Elite Mastercard® is your best bet. With the bonus miles, free checked luggage and ability to earn elite qualifying dollars toward status, using this as your primary credit card could yield good value over time if you fly American Airlines® often.

Best for Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card

Annual fee

$75 For First Year

$75 Ongoing

Rewards

3 miles for every $1 spent directly with Alaska Airlines and Virgin America purchases, 1 mile for every $1 spent on all other purchases

Regular Purchase APR

16.24%-24.24%

Variable

APPLY NOW Secured

on Bank Of America’s secure website

What we like about it:

  • Alaska Airlines® Mileage Plan™ miles are among the most flexible available and can be used on more than a dozen different airlines, ranging from American Airlines® to international carriers Air France/KLM, British Airways, and Qantas.
  • The card also offers a generous new account bonus: get 30,000 bonus miles after you make $1,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days.
  • Earn 1 mile per $1 on all purchases; earn 3 miles per $1 on Alaska Airlines® and Virgin America purchases. Terms apply.
  • Every year on your account anniversary date, you can qualify for Alaska's Famous Companion Fare™. If you buy one ticket, you can get a second one and pay just the taxes and fees ($0 fare plus taxes and fees from just $22) after you make $1,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of your account opening. There are no blackout dates.

Who the card is best for?

Even if you don’t live in a city served by Alaska Airlines® or Virgin America®, this card is good for flexible rewards across carriers. Alaska Airlines® Mileage Plan™ awards can be cheaper for flying American Airlines® than using AAdvantage® miles, with good partnerships for travel to Europe and Asia. If you are looking for a card with a lower annual fee and award availability across multiple airlines, this card may be the best for you.

Best for JetBlue

JetBlue Card

JetBlue Card from Barclaycard

Annual fee

$0

Rewards

3x points on JetBlue purchases, 2x points at restaurants and grocery stores, 1x points on all other purchases

Regular Purchase APR

13.24%-26.24%

Variable

What we like about it:

  • Although you could transfer Membership Rewards® or ThankYou® Points to JetBlue TrueBlue, the JetBlue Card comes with no annual fee and lets you earn extra points at the places where you shop the most.
  • Earn 10,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days.
  • You can earn 3X points on JetBlue purchases, 2X points at restaurants and grocery stores, and 1X points on all other purchases and there are no blackout dates.
  • You can also pool points together as a family, which means all miles earned by your household can go toward JetBlue award flights faster.

Who the card is best for

If you are just entering the world of airline miles and live near a JetBlue airport, the JetBlue Card is a great beginner option. With no annual fee and 2X points at restaurants and grocery stores, this card can help you earn real miles towards discounted travel. This card is also great for those who use JetBlue as a secondary airline: Because there is no annual fee, you won’t have to worry about justifying rewards by holding this card.

Best for Delta

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card From American Express

Annual fee

$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.

Rewards

2 miles on Delta purchases, 1 mile on everything else

Regular Purchase APR

16.99%-25.99%

Variable

APPLY NOW Secured

on American Express’s secure website

Terms Apply

Rates & Fees

What we like about it:

  • The welcome offer: Earn 30,000 bonus miles after you make $1,000 in purchases on your new card within your first three months and a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first three months.
  • This card also offers a generous checked luggage fee waiver for cardholders: The fee waiver is available to those traveling on the same reservation as the primary card member, with a maximum of nine waivers per reservation.
  • You earn 2 miles on every dollar spent on purchases made directly with Delta
  • You’ll also earn 1 mile for every eligible dollar spent on all purchases with no cap.
  • The card also offers priority boarding for cardholders.

Who the card is best for?

If you fly Delta regularly with a family or business colleagues, this is the best card you can hold that balances the annual fee with good benefits. The checked luggage fee waiver covers more companions on the same itinerary than any other card, while the priority boarding allows you to get access to overhead bin space before other flyers. But if Delta is the only airline you fly, you may consider getting a higher credit card that offers more benefits and opportunities to earn Medallion Qualifying Miles, including the Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express.

Best credit union airline card

American Airlines Credit Union Visa® Platinum Rewards Credit Card

Visa Platinum Rewards Credit Card from American Airlines CU

Annual fee

$0 For First Year

$0 Ongoing

Rewards

1 Connection Point for every $1 spent on purchases

Regular Purchase APR

9.75%-15.49%

Variable

APPLY NOW Secured

on American Airlines Credit Union’s secure website

What we like about it:

  • With this no-fee card, you’re eligible to earn Connection Points™ for every dollar spent on signature-based purchases. But you also get the added bonus of being able to earn points when you use an American Airlines Credit Union Visa Debit Card — one Connection Point for every $3 spent on signature-based purchases.
  • You’re not beholden to using your points only for American Airlines flights with this card; you can redeem your Connection Points™ for air travel on any airline.
  • You’ll earn 5,000 bonus Connection Points™ when you make your first purchase within 60 days of account opening. This is a limited time offer only available until March 31, 2018.
  • There’s no balance transfer fee, however, there is a foreign transaction fee of 1%. That is on the low side for foreign transaction fees, which are typically 3%.

Who the card is best for:

You’ll have to be a professional in the air transportation industry or related to someone who is in order to qualify to become a member of the AACU. If you’re looking for a card where you can use your points for multiple airlines instead of just one single airline, this card could be great for you. However, you can certainly earn better rewards if you opt for an airline credit card tied to a single airline, as they typically offer richer rewards and other perks.

Learn More

To find the best airline credit cards, we looked at several different features. First, we looked at which cards had specific airline partnerships, not just perks for specific airlines. From there, we narrowed down our picks to focus on non-premium cards, so this article could be more accessible. Finally, we looked for which cards had the best rewards programs, balancing it against annual fees and the APRs on balances.

As a secondary measure, we looked at all the other perks that come with a card, including free checked bags, no foreign transaction fees, and rental car and trip insurances. These benefits can help to offset the annual fee, or provide you even more value than a more stripped-down card.

Although earning airline miles sounds great for free travel, there are situations that can prevent you from flying. With all credit cards, you should watch out for these downsides:

  • Points devaluation: Miles aren’t a good long-term investment, because their value is constantly subject to change. If you aren’t planning to use your miles regularly, you could be better served with a cash-back credit card.
  • Hidden fees: Even when using credit card miles, hidden fees for redeeming miles, cancelling trips, or transferring miles to other people can cut your overall value quickly. Be sure to understand all the fees you may face before you decide if a card is right for you.
  • Blackout dates and reward restrictions: Airlines often place restrictions on the number of seats available on flights, while some dates are completely closed off for awards and companion passes. Unless you can use your airline miles on the dates you want, an airline credit card may not be your best option.
  • Partner carrier rules: Although you can book flights with miles on partner airlines, their prices are often higher and come with more restrictions on dates and routes. Before you commit to one airline program, be sure you understand how to use miles for partner flights — both the number required and special rules for using them.

Extra perks are all well and good, and airline credit cards can be rewarding for many frequent flyers, but they aren’t the best choice for everyone.

If you are thinking about applying, ask these four questions first:

  1. Am I loyal to one airline?
    If you primarily fly one airline and want to maximize your miles towards free flights, a airline credit card could make sense. If not, consider a card that earns bank points or cash back instead.
  2. Do I want miles specifically for flying?
    If your goal is to fly more often for a lower price, airline credit cards can help you achieve that plan by earning miles for your everyday spending. Most miles can’t be used for anything outside flying, however, so it’s important to carefully consider how many miles you need for a flight.
  3. Are frequent flyer perks right for me?
    Most credit cards offer a number of airport bonuses, including priority boarding, checked luggage fee waivers and lounge passes. If you find value in checking luggage for free or stopping at a lounge for a beverage, then an airline credit card is the right choice for your spending.
  4. Will I get the value of the credit card annual fee in return every year?
    Many airline credit cards come with annual fees. If your airline rewards (from perks and free flights) add up to more than the annual fee, then you’re getting a good value from your credit cards.

MagnifyMoney has plenty of options to help you find the right credit card for you. If you want to compare airline credit cards on your own, consider the following:

  • Point values: Not all miles are equal in value. It’s important to understand how many miles you need to take a flight, and if an airline credit card will help you get there.
  • Foreign transaction fees: While most airline credit cards offer no foreign transaction fees, many charge fees of 3%. If you plan on traveling abroad, a card with no foreign transaction fees is a must.
  • Free checked bags: Although most cards come with one free checked bag for cardholders, high-end cards may allow two free checked luggage pieces. Additionally, the number of available pieces varies between cards and airlines, with some offering up to nine people on the same itinerary.
  • Extra benefits: Annual free lounge passes and priority boarding are two of the luxuries offered to most airline credit card holders. In turn, these perks can help you justify the value of credit cards.
  • Point flexibility: Although you often can’t use miles for hotel rooms or rental cars, some programs allow more flexibility than others. If you want to use your miles for other rewards, be sure to understand how much those values would cost.

Advertiser Disclosure: The card offers that appear on this site are from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all card companies or all card offers available in the marketplace.

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Why It’s More Important Than Ever to File Your Taxes Early This Year

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

iStock

You may have April 17 marked on your calendar, but this year consider setting a new target date as Tax Day: Jan. 29.

The IRS will begin taking returns that day.

Tax professionals say it’s a mistake to wait to file until the April deadline — even though Americans have two more days than usual this year — because of concerns including the prevalence of tax return fraud in the wake of the Equifax data breach.

“Tax ID theft is a huge problem,” said Steve Weisman, a law professor at Bentley University and expert on scams.

The good news is filing taxes can be easier and more automated than ever before. More than 127 million people filed their taxes electronically during last tax season, choosing to send the information in an instant, rather than stand in line at the post office.

In total, the IRS expects about 155 million individual tax returns to be filed in 2018.

Here are five reasons to file as soon as possible.

1. Protect your refund from scammers.

The average refund was $2,782, up $32 from the year before, according to the IRS. The majority of the 108 million people who qualified for a tax refund in 2017 — an estimated 80 percent — opted to have that money directly deposited into a bank account.

When someone files a fraudulent return with your Social Security number, you’ll get your refund eventually, but it may take months. You can avoid that headache by filing first.

“The one thing that will work and keep you from being victimized is filing early,” Weisman said. “File early and use a secure Wi-Fi.”

Since 2015, the IRS has been punching back hard against refund fraud, including identity theft. The IRS flagged 4.8 million suspicious returns that year and over the year stopped $8 billion in false returns filed with stolen identities.

In 2016, the IRS stopped 883,000 confirmed identity theft returns, while financial firms caught another 124,000 cases.

In the first eight months of 2017, the IRS stopped 443,000 confirmed identity theft returns, a 30-percent decline from same time last year. Still, nearly 700,000 people had their identity stolen for tax filing in 2015 and 376,000 in 2016.

2. Thwart would-be fraudsters.

Keeping your own money safe is vital, but filing early can make fraud more difficult for crooks, which benefits all taxpayers.

“We know a lot about these criminals,” Weisman said. “[....] Gangs are getting into fraud. They work out of hotel rooms where they use Social Security numbers that they sometimes steal, sometimes buy. The government loses billions of dollars a year.”

Cybercriminals are stockpiling the names and Social Security numbers they have collected, said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen in a statement.

“We know that cybercriminals are planning for the 2018 tax season just as we are,” he says in a statement. “They try to leverage that data to gather even more personal information.”

3. You probably don’t have to deal with the new law yet.

iStock

A survey by Liberty Tax finds that 78 percent of 1,000 people polled were at least a little concerned about how the new tax law would affect the taxes they owe in April. Perhaps their worries may lead them to procrastinate filing their taxes.

But the vast majority of tax reform changes won’t apply to the returns filed for 2017, meaning the 50 percent of people who told Liberty they are concerned that the new law means they’ll owe more in April 2018 are worrying unnecessarily.

4. Know earlier what you may owe.

While it may seem easier to ignore bad news, ignorance doesn’t make reality disappear.

The IRS estimated 13 million people filed extensions last year, but that’s just an extension to file the paperwork. You must make an estimated payment of what you owe by April 17, and any late payments are subject to interest charges.

“If you are going to owe money, it’s better to know that sooner, rather than later,” said Melissa Labant, director of tax policy and advocacy for the American Institute of Certified Professional Accountants. “Surprises aren’t good.”

5. Avoid making bad decisions for next tax year.

Though tax reform rules won’t impact you this year, nearly one-third of 2018 will be gone before the tax deadline on April 17.

“Make an appointment (with an accountant) as early as you can. Particularly this year, there are significant changes. A lot of the decisions that you make during this year will affect your return next year and the next,” said Labant.

Diligent record-keepers who have itemized their spending for years may find that that approach isn’t useful under the new tax rule. People who pay high state and local taxes may not be able to count all those payments as deductions. And small business owners may be eligible to deduct a portion of their income.

Each situation is different, Labant says.

Advertiser Disclosure: The card offers that appear on this site are from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all card companies or all card offers available in the marketplace.

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Americans With Holiday Debt Added an Average of $1,054, a 5% Increase From 2016

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Consumers who said they went into debt over the holiday season racked up an average of $1,054 of debt, according to an annual survey conducted by MagnifyMoney. That’s not only an increase of 5% over last year, but we also found more shoppers put that debt on high-interest plastic.

As in previous years, most shoppers who took on holiday debt put their purchases on credit cards. But the percentage of consumers who pulled out the plastic for holiday gifts and other seasonal spending was significantly higher in 2017. When asked where the holiday debt came from, 68% of shoppers said that credit cards were responsible, up 8 percentage points from 2016. Store cards were the reason for 17% of shoppers, and 9% used a personal loan.

Nor were the amounts of debt accumulated trivial. Many consumers accumulated significant amounts of debt this season: 44% of shoppers racked up more than $1,000 in holiday debt, and 5% accumulated more than $5,000 in balances. Meanwhile, half of consumers admit it will take more than three months to pay off that spending.

Strong retail holiday sales — with a statement to match

Early indications from industry sources show that retail sales rose nearly 5% versus last year, according to a sales report by Mastercard. The MagnifyMoney survey appears to validate that finding: among shoppers surveyed who said they went into debt, the average amount spent this season exceeded 2016 spending by $51, or roughly 5%.

For most shoppers, going into debt wasn’t the plan. According to the survey, 64% of those who have holiday-related debt didn’t plan to incur it. And lack of planning, whether it’s for holiday spending or other types of debt, can lead to financial problems down the road.

Much of that spending won’t melt away anytime soon

Only half of those surveyed said that they expected to pay off their spending in three months or less. Of the remaining half, 29% said they’ll need five months or longer to pay off holiday debt, in most cases accruing additional interest.

An additional 10 percent of people who took on holiday debt said they would only make minimum payments. Assuming that shopper spent the average of $1,054, and paid a minimum payment of $25 each month, he or she would be paying down that balance until 2023. That is nearly as painful as the $500 in interest fees they would pay over that time, assuming an annual percentage rate (APR) of 15.9%. You can enter your own rates and balances to find out how much interest you’ll pay on credit card debt using the MagnifyMoney Credit Card Payoff Calculator.

Zero Percent APR Gotchas

Interestingly, nearly half of respondents indicated they’re paying less than a 10% APR on their balances. Although the survey didn’t ask the source of those low rates, some of these “rates” could be  special financing offers from store cards from retailers – a source of financing for 17% of holiday shoppers surveyed who said they took on debt this year.

The holiday season is prime time for special in-store financing offers, but once you read the fine print, they may cost much more than they help shoppers save. Many of store cards come with  deferred interest clauses, where the consumer pays no interest for a fixed period – often 6 months. If the consumer pays off those types of purchases within the period, he or she does indeed pay no interest. But after that period ends, any balance that hasn’t yet been paid in full will be charged interest retroactively, often at rates much higher than most bank-issued credit cards (APRs of 25% or greater are typical).

Less use of unconventional financing

Although more shoppers resorted to credit cards for holiday shopping this year, fewer used loans like payday or title loans – usually the most costly form of borrowing for consumers. Only 4% of shoppers said they used payday or title loans to finance holiday shopping, down from 6% in 2016. Similarly, only 2% said they used home equity for financing. Although home equity may provide more favorable borrowing terms, there may be additional fees you’ll incur, and in the worst case, your home is the ultimate collateral on these loans.

Getting back on track

By understanding where your finances are now, you’ll likely do a better job with managing your debt and spending in the future. For instance, just tracking your spending, whether or not it’s holiday-related spending, will help clarify which expenses might be able to be reduced or eliminated.

Finding out your what’s in your credit reports (available for free at AnnualCreditReport.com) will confirm there aren’t any unexpected surprises waiting for you should you consider refinancing with a lower-rate personal loan or zero percent balance transfer offer from a new or existing credit card offer.  Other tactics, like automated payment plans and budgeting, can be found in The MagnifyMoney Debt Guide e-book.

2017 Post-Holiday Debt Survey Questions

Methodology: MagnifyMoney surveyed 676 U.S. adults who reported they added debt over the holidays via Google Consumer Surveys from December 21 – 26, 2017. Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

Average debt among shoppers who said they went into debt over the holidays

2017: $1,054

2016: $1,003

If you went into debt, did you plan to go into debt this holiday season?

Yes: 36%

No: 64%

How much debt did you take on over the holidays?

$0-999: 56%

$1,000-1,999: 26%

$2,000-2,999: 9%

$3,000-3,999: 3%

$4,000-4,999: 1%

$5,000-5,999: 4%

$6,000+: 1%

Where did your holiday debt come from?

Credit cards: 68%

Store cards: 17%

Personal loan: 9%

Payday / title loan: 4%

Home equity loan: 2%

When will you pay the debt off?

1 month: 19%

2 months: 16%

3 months: 14%

4 months: 11%

5 months+: 30%

I’m only making minimum payments: 10%

Will you try to consolidate your debt or shop around for a good balance transfer rate?

Yes: 12%

No – Don’t want to deal with another bank: 27%

No – Too many traps: 20%

No – Rate is already low: 23%

No: – Don’t know enough about it: 10%

No – Wouldn’t qualify: 8%

How stressed are you about your holiday debt?

Stressed: 29%

Not Stressed: 71%

What interest rate are you paying on your debt?

Less than 10%: 49%

10-19%: 33%

20-29%: 16%

Advertiser Disclosure: The card offers that appear on this site are from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all card companies or all card offers available in the marketplace.

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The 2017 MagnifyMoney Mobile Bank App Ratings

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

It’s difficult to remember how frustrating mobile banking was for users just five years ago. Some mobile banking apps would struggle to find the nearest ATM. Depositing checks by capturing an image was considered cutting edge. It was even quite possible your bank didn’t have a smartphone app.Fast forward to today. Now, alerts from banking apps are a feature we take for granted. Most apps, if the bank offers a credit card account, will show you your current credit score. Some banks are even allowing you to make ATM withdrawals through the app, without a bank card.

The data in MagnifyMoney’s 2017 mobile banking ratings indicates that, as a class, banking apps have matured. Overall, apps haven’t appreciably improved, with users on the Apple App Store and Google Play rating banking apps an average of 3.7 stars (out of 5), as they did in 2016. But this year, none of the mobile banking apps can be considered especially awful anymore.

How we reviewed the apps

Summary of key findings:

  • Best Overall App: Discover with a score of 4.8, up from 4.2 in 2016.
  • Best Apps Among the 10 Largest Banks: Chase and Capital One both scored 4.6.
  • Worst App Among the 10 Largest Banks: BB&T with a score of 3.0, improving from 2.8 in 2016.
  • Best Apps Among the 10 Largest Credit Unions: SchoolsFirst, PenFed, Alliant, BECU and America First all scored 4.3, well above the average of 3.7 for all credit union apps.
  • Worst App Among the 10 Largest Credit Unions: Star One with a score of 3.2, down from 3.3 in 2016.
  • Best Online Direct Bank App: Discover Bank with a score of 4.8, up from 4.2 in 2016.
  • Worst Online Direct Bank App: Ally Bank, with a score of 3.4, improving from 3.1 in 2016.
  • Overall Most Improved App: First Tech Federal Credit Union, with a score increase of 122% year over year, from 1.9 to 4.2.
  • Most Improved Traditional Bank: Umpqua Bank, with a 30% ratings increase year over year, from 2.3 to 2.9.
  • Overall Most Deteriorated App: First Tennessee, whose score dropped 40%, from 3.5 to 2.1 year over year.

Overall Best and Worst Bank Apps

Discover tops them all

Discover has managed to keep the more than 1 million people who have used its mobile app relatively content. Part of its success may lie in serving more credit card-only users than mobile apps from other large banks, which tend to have customers primarily using mobile apps for more traditional checking and savings accounts. Nonetheless, its score of 4.8 is the highest of any institution in our rankings this year.

Sample Discover feedback from Android app users:

Excellent mobile app with TU FicoScore 8 to know your creditworthiness. Also, allow the manage of authorized user to freeze their credit cards awesome feature. The only secured credit card with rewards. Overall perfect, Thanks Discover. – December 3, 2017

Does pretty much everything you could ever need. Slick UI. Reliable. The only thing I'd change which is minor is being able to manage my bank and my card in the same tab. – November 18, 2017

Screenshots via Google Play

Credit unions still among those highly rated, but traditional banks are catching up

Last year, credit unions monopolized the highest rated app list, when all but one name was a credit union. But this year, credit unions share the stage with two traditional banks and an online direct bank. Capital One and BBVA Compass were also ranked highly by app users this year, each garnering a 4.6 overall rating by mobile app users.

Sample Capital One feedback from iOS app users:

App is super simple and fast. Doesn’t crash. Quick two-factor security. All normal features promised and delivered like auto-pay, one click to see my credit score, simple rewards features, etc. – November 2017

Screenshots via Google Play

Sample BBVA Compass feedback from Android app users:

Love this app. Makes it so easy to do banking without the hassle of going to the ?!!! I can do everything right from my phone. With the new updates it's gotten even better!!! – November 7, 2017

Screenshots via Google Play

10 Best and Worst Bank Apps

(Among the 10 largest banks and credit unions)

Bigger is getting better

Apart from laggard BB&T, the apps of the 10 largest banks were rated better than average by users, which is quite a feat when you consider that many of these apps, like Wells Fargo Mobile and Citi Mobile, not only offer savings, checking and credit card accounts, but also more complicated products like brokerage accounts and holistic personal finance management programs similar to websites like Mint.com.

Sample Chase feedback from iOS app users:

I use this app every day. It’s pretty simply laid out, intuitive. It combines my multiple personal accounts and business accounts in one app. – August 5, 2017

Online banking still a mixed bag

Among the 10 online direct apps we found more dispersion in app user satisfaction. While Discover tops the list with a weighted overall rating of 4.8, four of the banks had apps with a rating of less than 4. Still, nearly all the apps in this category saw a modest improvement in user satisfaction versus last year.

Credit unions hold steady

Credit union customers (shareholders, in Credit Union’s language) tend to be happier than those who use traditional banks, and that trend continues for mobile apps.

5 of the 10 largest credit unions have the same overall score of 4.3, which is unsurprising as the interface of many credit union apps are from the same software developer.

Methodology

App ratings were recorded the week of Nov. 15, 2017 in the Google Play and Apple App Stores, and include ratings for all app versions. Overall ratings are a weighted average, rounded to the nearest tenth, of iOS and Android ratings based on the number of reviews for each platform. Institutions with no mobile apps were excluded from ranking summaries.

The 50 largest banks, defined as those with the largest deposits per FDIC data June 2017, were examined. Those not offering consumer checking accounts were excluded. The 50 largest credit unions by assets according to the CUNA in September 2017 were examined. For online direct banks, and 10 of the largest online direct banks were chosen by number of app ratings.

Advertiser Disclosure: The card offers that appear on this site are from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all card companies or all card offers available in the marketplace.

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Where Americans Cashed In the Most Wealth

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

These are the places where the most capital gains have been realized

Just a few years ago, in the aftermath of the Great Recession, Americans were constantly reading about how home ownership had let Americans down.  There was red ink everywhere: Not only had stocks lost nearly half of their value between 2007 and 2009, but home prices had declined in virtually every real estate market in the country.

That trend has long since been reversed. Last year, incomes grew an average of 4.7 percent. When adjusted for inflation, they have finally fully recovered to levels seen before the 2007-08 financial crisis. But even better, their investments have been paying off.  Stocks, as based on broad market indexes, have more than tripled in value from their 2009 lows. And in most local markets, home prices have also since recovered.

So, who's cashing in?

MagnifyMoney analyzed five years’ worth of Internal Revenue Service (IRS) data — from 2012 to 2016 — to see where American taxpayers are getting the most return on their investments. In particular, we focused on capital gains: a tax on the sale of appreciated assets like real estate and stocks.

For the 100 largest American metros, we looked at two facets of capital gains: How much in gains, per resident, were realized; and, to get a sense of the breadth of wealth being realized and taxed, the percentage of individuals who filed federal taxes that cited a capital gain.

We ranked each metro on these metrics and weighted them evenly to create a Cashing In Score, from 0 to 100 (with 100 representing a metro that would rank first in both capital gains per resident and the percentage of returns with capital gains).

Topping the list were Fort Myers, Fla.; San Francisco; and Sarasota, also in Florida. Others in the top 10 include tech-heavy places like Seattle and Austin, Texas.

#1 Fort Myers, Fla.
Cashing In score: 98 (Scores are rounded in this list.)

By far, the place with the most cashing-in was Fort Myers, on Florida’s west coast. With a relatively small population of well-off retirees, the city and surrounding area realized nearly $103,000 in capital gains per resident, easily eclipsing other American cities. Moreover, with a capital gain appearing on nearly one in four returns over the past five years, there’s been significant activity in the region.

#2 San Francisco

Cashing In score: 94

The City by the Bay is famous for both its tight real estate market as well as Silicon Valley, and the data bear this out. Even with a significantly large population, San Francisco realized more than $76,000 in capital gains per resident, many of the realized gains likely the result of selling stocks which have greatly appreciated in value.

#3  Sarasota, Fla.

Cashing In score: 75

Sarasota has the distinction of having a higher proportion of federal tax returns with a capital gain than any other metro in the nation, including its Fort Myers neighbor to the south. The capital gains per resident, at more than $56,000, are less than those realized in Fort Myers (as well as No. 9 Miami).

#4 New York

Cashing In score: 70

The nation's largest metro also sports large gains: more than $60,000 in capital gains per resident over the five-year period we examined. One in five returns included some sort of capital gain. And where the average price of a home in Manhattan has now exceeded $1 million, a healthy percentage of the gains realized were from real estate sales.

#5 Boston

Cashing In score: 63

Another metro with a hot real estate market, Boston realized more than $48,000 of capital gains per resident from 2012-2016, while, as in New York, 20 percent of federal filings from the Boston area included some sort of capital gain.

What is a capital gain?

According to the IRS, a capital gain can arise from a sale of stock, a private business, real estate or art. In other words, it’s the money that you earn on an investment after you sell it, less the cost of the initial investment. And while these assets are taxed at differing rates, all may be subject to federal taxes, if they are sold for more than the original purchase price.

Homes are still how most Americans typically accumulate wealth. Overall, 64 percent of American households are homeowner households, according to the most recent Census data . The median value of the primary residence of Americans still exceeds the median value of the stocks and bonds they hold outside of retirement accounts and other managed assets like annuities. And homeowners have a net worth of nearly $230,000, versus an average of about $5,000 for renters.

But housing markets are still local, which may in part explain the variance among the 100 largest metropolitan areas we examined for the most capital gains realized from 2012 to 2016.

The second-home factor

Not all home sales will result in a capital gains tax.  Currently homeowners only pay a capital gains tax on gains that exceed $250,000 ($500,000 for couples filing jointly), if it’s their primary residence.

But other property – such as vacation homes and rental properties – aren’t afforded the same protections from capital gains as a primary residence.

Thus, all the gains from these sales may be subject to capital gains tax, which may explain why we found that many of the cities that top our list s are in vacation spots like Florida and Lake Tahoe (considered part of Reno, Nev., by the Census Bureau).

Stocks still likely result in some significant realization.

It’s probably not a surprise that both New York and San Francisco are near the top of the list. Not only do both have tight residential real estate markets, but both Wall Street and Silicon Valley are homes of dozens of public corporations with thousands of employees. Stocks, whether in the form of compensation given to employees or simply bought and sold on the open market, may also result in significant capital gains.

Local economies still a factor.  

Finally, local economies may also be a factor in how much in capital gains are realized. Consider two major cities in Texas: Houston and Austin. Despite being fewer than 200 miles apart, Austin ranks significantly higher than Houston on our scale. One explanation: Austin’s tech-heavy economy continues to flourish, while the energy centric economy of Houston is slogging through a period of depressed energy prices, weighing on the residential real estate market there

Methodology

MagnifyMoney analyzed IRS Statistics of Income data for tax returns filed January 1, 2012 - December 31, 2016, covering five years of tax filings, along with U.S. Census Bureau 2016 population data to create a 'Cashing in score.'

The 100 largest metros in the U.S. were ranked by the % of returns that declared capital gains, as well as the total capital gains reported per resident over the five year period. These rankings were weighted evenly to create the score for each metro, with 100 the highest possible score for a metro that ranks #1 for both metrics.

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Featured

This Place Sure Has Changed: Which Cities Have Changed the Most?

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

A MagnifyMoney analysis looks at a decade of data to determine which communities are undergoing dynamic transformations, and which are standing still.

The cities that have changed the most in 10 years

“This place has changed” is a refrain you often hear from a city’s longtime residents. But change is a curious, inconstant thing; as some communities undergo great transformations, others seem frozen in time.

MagnifyMoney looked at nine elements of local change from 2006-2016 among the 50 largest metros in the United States, creating a Change Score (0-100) for each. The score factors in such measures as the changes in commute times, income, house prices, crime rates, building permits and more.

Change isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing. Big growth in commute times and rents can be negative, but they can also be a function of positive developments like job and income growth. Similarly, places without as much change could be more attractive to people working their way up the salary ladder or those retirees on fixed incomes, offering more affordable housing and less congestion.

But change often brings underlying challenges to the forefront, prompting communities to make tough calls on things that could hamper positive transformations going forward, like diversification of industries, infrastructure investment and tax policy.

MagnifyMoney is highlighting these places to encourage discussion in communities dealing with rapid change.

  1. Austin, Texas (90.4). Austin is a magnet for change, with the fastest job growth in the nation (+40% since 2006), 60% of residents moving since 2010, and a 54% rise in house prices since 2006, the most of the 50 metros ranked. Relatively lower living costs than tech centers like the San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle, along with a combination of satellite offices of larger tech companies, a burgeoning startup scene and no state income tax all contribute to Austin’s change leadership. The lowest-ranked element of Austin growth, building permits (No. 25 of 50), explains some of the outsize housing price appreciation.
  2. Dallas-Fort Worth (89.7). Dallas isn’t tops for change in any of the nine categories we looked at, but it ranks high because it’s in the top 10 for five categories, and ranks no lower than No. 19 (growth in rent, at 31% since 2006) for any single category. Dallas-Fort Worth’s top rank is for the decline in its crime rate, No. 4 (and down 43% from 2006).
  3. Houston (86.2). Houston rounds out the trio of big Texas cities at the top of the change list, led by housing factors. It ranks No. 2 for house price appreciation, at 38% from 2006, and No. 3 for building permit expansion. It lags on crime rate change (-27% from 2006), on which it ranked  No. 23 of 50 metros.
  4. Nashville, Tenn. (84.8). Ranking fifth in the nation for employment growth (24%) and building permit expansion, Nashville is the most changed city outside Texas in our ranking. In all, 53% of Nashville residents report moving since 2010, and median nominal income is up 26% from 2006. More challenging, median rent growth has far outpaced income growth, up 38% since 2006.
  5. Tie: Portland, Ore., and Denver (83.9).  Income, rent and commute times are where Portland ranks highest for change. Portland’s median rent of $1,158 a month is up 52% from 2006, while median income is up 31%, an impressive figure, but one that leaves many stretched in the face of rapidly rising rents. Commute times are up 12% on average from 10 years ago. As for Denver, its story is one of rising housing costs outpacing big job growth.  It ranks No. 2 for rent increases of 60% and No. 3 for house price increases of 35% in 10 years. Employment growth of 23% ranked No. 6, while income growth of 31% also ranked No. 6 of the 50 metros examined.

Places that changed the least

  1. Birmingham, Ala. (61.1) Birmingham ranks in the bottom half of change for all nine metrics we analyzed, and notably lags in employment growth, at 3% in the 10 years between 2006 and 2016. House prices, a double-edged sword, are down 2% from their 2006 level as of 2016, while commute times are identical to levels seen at the start of the 10-year period.
  1. Milwaukee (61.7) Milwaukee also lags in employment growth, at 4% in 10 years, but it’s one of the few areas where rent growth hasn’t significantly outpaced income growth, with median rent up 19% in 10 years (while incomes rose 15% over the same period).
  1. New Orleans (63.4) While New Orleans is third from the bottom in terms of change, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it has made big progress in one key metric; employment is up 30% since 2006, giving this city a No. 3 ranking among the 50 largest metros for growth. Where it lags is in metrics where too much change is a negative: rent growth and commute-time growth. Median rent in the New Orleans area is up 17% in 10 years, ranking No. 48 out of 50, while commute times are up just 1%, ranking No. 47.

What about the tech-heavy Bay Area?

With the rapid growth of tech companies in the last decade or so, there is some expectation that San Francisco and San Jose, the two metros that comprise the greater Bay Area, would rank higher on change than Nos. 24 and 10, respectively.

They are ranked Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, on income, Nos. 2 and 1 on commute-time growth, and Nos. 5 and 1 on rent growth, indicating significant shifts. The median income in San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and East Bay is up 37% in 10 years, while in the South Bay (San Jose) it’s up 36%, both leading the metros in our ranking.

Meanwhile, commute times increased 18% across both the San Francisco and San Jose metros, also ranked No. 1 of 50 metros, on top of already high levels of congestion from the peak of the last business cycle.

But house prices, while setting records and sitting among the most expensive in the country, have not grown as much over 10 years as other metros like Dallas, Houston, and Austin, which had less of a run-up during the housing boom of the mid-2000s.

San Jose ranked No. 20 for house price growth since 2006, while San Francisco ranked No. 47, using an index that accounts for all communities in the metro, not just desirable suburbs and neighborhoods that have seen outsize appreciation.  And crime rates have not declined as rapidly in the Bay Area as in other parts of the country, further limiting change rankings, with San Francisco ranking No. 44 for change in its crime rate.

Ranking Highlights

Commute times

% change in commute times, 2006 - 2016

  1. San Francisco +18%
  2. San Jose + 18%
  3. Los Angeles +12%
  4. Boston +12%
  5. Portland +12%

Employment

Employment change, 2006 - 2016

  1. Austin +40%
  2. Raleigh +32%
  3. New Orleans +30%
  4. San Antonio +29%
  5. Nashville +24%

Income

Median income change, 2006 - 2016

  1. San Francisco +37%
  2. San Jose +36%
  3. Austin +34%
  4. Oklahoma City +31%
  5. Portland +31%

House prices

House price index change, 2006 - 2016

  1. Austin +54%
  2. Houston +38%
  3. Denver +35%
  4. Las Vegas -34%
  5. Dallas +32%

Rent

% change in median rent, 2006-2016

  1. San Jose +68%
  2. Denver +60%
  3. Seattle +55%
  4. Portland +52%
  5. San Francisco +49%

Recent moves

% of residents who moved into their residence in 2010 or later

  1. Las Vegas 66%
  2. Phoenix 61%
  3. Austin 60%
  4. Orlando 58%
  5. Denver 56%

Median age

Change in median age of residents, 2006 - 2016

  1. Riverside, Calif. +3.4 years
  2. Phoenix +2.8 years
  3. Sacramento, Calif. +2.6 years
  4. Detroit +2.4 years
  5. Los Angeles +2.3 years

Methodology

We looked at nine factors to assess change, including:

  • Commute times — the percentage change in average commute times reported for each metro area in the U.S. Census American Community Survey, released in September 2017 and covering 2006-2016.
  • Building permits — The number of residential building permits issued, 2007-2016, as a percentage of the 2006 base of households, using data from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
  • Median age — The change in median age of residents, 2006-2016, via the American Community Survey.
  • Employment — The percentage change in people employed from 2006-2016, via the American Community Survey.
  • Income — The percentage change in nominal median household income, 2006-2016, via the American Community Survey.
  • House prices — The percentage change in the nominal house price index, 2006-2016, via the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
  • Rent  — The percentage change in median rent from 2006 - 2016, via the American Community Survey.
  • Crime rate — The percentage change in the crime rate from 2006-2016, via the Federal Bureau of Investigation  Uniform Crime Reporting program.
  • Recent moves — The percentage of residents who moved into their current residence in 2010 or later, via the American Community Survey.

Ranks for each of the nine factors were evenly weighted to create a Change Score for each metro, from 0-100, with 100 representing the top score.

 

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Strategies to Save

Ultimate Guide to Teacher Student Loan Forgiveness

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

With reporting by Hannah Rounds and Brittney Laryea

Becoming a schoolteacher is heralded as a rewarding profession but not one that often comes with a large paycheck. Starting salaries for public school teachers range from $27,000 to $48,000, according to the National Education Association. And yet, teachers who graduate with a Master in Education carry an average of $50,000 in student loan debt.

With salaries like these, it’s no wonder teachers can struggle to afford their student loan payments. Thankfully, classroom teachers qualify for many debt forgiveness programs. These programs can help give teachers an extra boost to help them pay down debt while working.

These are the most important student loan forgiveness programs for teachers, which we’ll review in detail in this guide.

To skip ahead to the program you’re interested in, just click the links below.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Public Service Loan Forgiveness is a 2007 program that originally promised to forgive federal student loans for any employees of nonprofit or public sector companies. That, of course, includes teachers.  Under the program, borrowers who made 120 on-time payments would ultimately qualify for loan forgiveness.

However, the program's future is now uncertain. A proposed education budget from the White House appears to eliminate the program, and it is not yet clear whether or not enrolled workers will have their loans forgiven as promised. Any budget will have to receive Congressional approval, which means we may not have a certain answer for months to come.

How do l know if I’m eligible?

Teachers at nonprofit schools are eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. This includes public and private nonprofit schools. To qualify, teachers must make 120 on-time payments while working full time in a public service role.

The 120 payments do not have to be consecutive. However, you must pay the full amount listed on your bill. Additionally, your loans must be in good standing when you make the payment.

IMPORTANT: You can only qualify for loan forgiveness if you are enrolled in a qualified income-driven repayment option.  Learn more about income-driven repayment plans here.

Also, payments only count toward forgiveness if your loan is in active status. That means any payments made while loans are in the six-month grace period, deferment, forbearance, or default do not count toward forgiveness.

How can I be sure my employer is covered by PSLF?

There has been a lot of confusion about which employers are considered nonprofit or public service organizations. To be sure your employer is eligible, you should submit an employment certification form to FedLoan Servicing.

Although the future of the loan forgiveness program remains uncertain, borrowers may still want to prepare for a positive outcome and enroll in hopes that the program will continue.

How much of my loan will be forgiven?

After 120 payments, the government will cancel 100% of the remaining balance and interest on your Direct Federal Loans.

Direct Federal Loans include: Direct Loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans, Direct PLUS Loans, and Direct Consolidation Loans.

Will I have to pay taxes?

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) is completely tax-free. You will not see an increased tax bill the year your loans are forgiven.

How to claim Public Student Loan Forgiveness

As the program launched in 2007 and requires 10 years of on-time payments, the first group of graduates who could be eligible for PSLF will begin submitting their applications in 2017.

But don’t expect it to happen automatically. Even if you qualify for loan forgiveness, the government will not automatically discharge your loans. You need to submit the PSLF application to receive loan forgiveness.

The applications for loan forgiveness are not yet available. The U.S. Department of Education will make them available before October 2017.

What if I have a Parent Plus, Perkins or FFEL loan?

As it stands, some types of federal student loans — such as Parent PLUS, Perkins and Federal Family Education Loans — are not included under the PSLF program. One way to get around this is by consolidating those loans through the federal direct consolidation program. If you take this route, the entire consolidation loan will be forgiven.

PSLF works best in conjunction with an income-based repayment plan. These plans lower your monthly payments.

Since you will qualify for loan forgiveness, this means more money in your pocket. Just remember, you must keep your loans in good standing — making 120 on-time consecutive payments — to qualify for forgiveness.

Federal Teacher Loan Forgiveness

The Federal Teacher Loan Forgiveness program encourages teachers to work in the neediest areas of the country. Teachers who qualify can have up to $17,500 in federal loans forgiven after five years.

How do I know if I’m eligible for Federal Teacher Loan Forgiveness?

Teachers must complete five consecutive years of teaching at a low-income (Title I) school. If your school transitions off the list after your first year of teaching, your work in that school still counts toward forgiveness.

Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans and Subsidized and Unsubsidized Stafford Loans can be forgiven. Loans must have originated after October 1, 1998. This is important for anyone who hasn’t paid off loans and wants to consider teaching as a second career.

Your loans may not be in default at the end of your five years of teaching. The only exception includes loans that are set up in a repayment arrangement.

You qualify for teacher loan forgiveness as long as you are on a qualified repayment option. These include the standard 10 year repayment plans or the payments required by an income-based repayment plan. If your loan goes into a default, a repayment arrangement works with this program.

How much of my loan will be forgiven?

To receive the full $17,500 in forgiveness, you must meet one of two criteria: either work as a highly qualified math or science teacher in a secondary school, or work as a qualified special education teacher for children with disabilities.

Other highly qualified teachers can have up to $5,000 of loans forgiven if they work in Title I schools.

You’ll notice that all teachers must be “highly qualified.” To meet the highly qualified standard, you must be licensed in the state you work, hold a bachelor’s degree, and demonstrate competence in the subject(s) you teach. Do you need to check whether you’re highly qualified? The U.S. Department of Education explains qualification in detail.

Will I have to pay taxes?

The Federal Teacher Loan Forgiveness program forgives your loans and does not result in a taxable event.

How to apply

Qualified teachers must submit this application with administrative certification. Be sure you work with your school's administration in advance.

Tips and tricks

Consider teaching at a Title I school directly after graduation. The loan forgiveness may help you achieve debt freedom within five years. Consider an income-based repayment program to lower your payments while you’re teaching.

Teacher Cancellation for Federal Perkins Loans

If you’re a teacher who took out a Federal Perkins Loan from your school, you may qualify for loan cancellation. Teachers can cancel up to 100% of their Perkins Loans after five years.

How do loans become eligible?

The teacher cancellation program for Perkins Loans is one the most lenient programs for loan forgiveness.

You will qualify to have loans forgiven if you meet any one of these three requirements:

  • You work full time in a low-income (Title I) school.
  • You work full time as a special education teacher.
  • You work full time in a designated shortage area (such as math, science, foreign language, bilingual education, or any shortage area declared by your state).

If you work part time at multiple qualifying schools, you may qualify for loan cancellation.

Your loans may be in a grace period, deferment, or any qualified repayment plan at the time of discharge. They may not be in default.

Also, you must be enrolled in a qualified repayment option. Your payment plan could be the standard 10 year repayment plans or an income-based repayment plan. If you qualify fordeferment, your loans may still be eligible for cancellation.

How much of my loan will be forgiven?

Over the course of five years, 100% of your Federal Perkins Loan will be forgiven. The discharge occurs at the end of each academic year. In years 1 and 2, the government discharges 15% of the principal balance of the loan. It cancels 20% of the loan in years 3 and 4 of service. The final year, the remaining 30% of your loan will be canceled.

In most cases, the five years of service do not have to be consecutive. However, this isn't always the case. The university that issued your Perkins Loan administers the loan cancellation program. That means you need to check with your alma mater for complete details.

Will I have to pay taxes?

This program forgives your loans and does not result in a taxable event.

How to apply

You must request the appropriate forms from the university that holds the loans. If you don’t know the office that administers Perkins Loans, contact your university’s financial aid office.

Tips and tricks

If your Federal Perkins Loan qualifies for deferment, take advantage of this option. Under deferment, you don’t have to make any payments on the loan. At the same time, the government pays any accruing interest. Teachers who qualify for deferment can have 100% of their Perkins Loan forgiven without ever paying a dime.

TEACH Grant

The Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant isn’t like other loan cancellation programs. Under the terms of the program, you accept the money during your college years. Eligible students can receive a grant of up to $4,000 per year of education. After you graduate, you agree to work as a teacher for four years in a high-need field in schools that serve low-income families.

As long as you keep your end of the bargain, you don’t have to pay the money back. Otherwise, the grant transforms into a loan. If you’re planning to become a teacher, this can be a great opportunity. But you need to understand the details before you accept the grant.

How do I qualify for a TEACH Grant?

To qualify for a TEACH Grant, you must enroll in a teacher education program, complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, maintain a certain GPA (usually 3.25), and agree to a work requirement.

When you accept a TEACH Grant you agree to work as a teacher in a high-need field serving low-income families. You must complete four years of full-time teaching within eight years of graduation.

In this instance, you take the money first and agree to do the work later. That means that you’re taking on a risk.

You must complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid form, and you must complete a training and counseling module from StudentAid.gov. Pay attention to the training; it will help you understand the risks of the TEACH Grant.

What happens if I change my mind?

If you don’t keep up your end of the bargain and meet all of the work requirements, the funds get converted into a Direct Unsubsidized Loan. What’s worse? The interest begins accruing from the point you received the grant. That means you’ll have the principal and interest to pay.

Don’t take a TEACH Grant unless you plan to meet the work requirements.

Will I have to pay taxes?

TEACH Grants are nontaxable education grants. However, you cannot claim a tax credit for education expenses paid by the grant.

Tips and tricks

The TEACH Grant offers a great way to graduate debt free, but you must commit to follow through. Don’t take the grant money unless you know that you can work as a teacher for at least four years.

Teacher Loan Forgiveness Programs by State

Several states offer generous loan forgiveness opportunities. You can use these programs in conjunction with the federal programs above. Qualified applicants might achieve debt freedom in a few years with these programs. These are some of the highlights of state loan forgiveness programs.

If your state isn't listed, check out the database at the American Federation of Teachers. They keep track of most major scholarship and loan forgiveness opportunities for teachers.

Arkansas State Teachers Education Program

The Arkansas State Teachers Education Program (STEP) helps teachers with federal student loans pay back their loans. Teachers must work in geographical or subject areas with critical shortages.

Arkansas teachers with federal student loans can receive loan repayment assistance if they serve geographical areas with teacher shortages. They can also receive repayment assistance if they have licensure or endorsements in designated subject areas.

Eligible teachers can receive up to $3,000 per year that they teach in critical shortage areas. There is no lifetime maximum of loan forgiveness. Licensed minority teachers can receive an additional $1,000 for every year that they qualify for STEP.

Arkansas Teacher Opportunity Program (TOP)

The Teacher Opportunity Program, or TOP, awards tuition reimbursement grants up to $3000 of out-of-pocket expenses to licensed Arkansas classroom teachers and administrators with the Arkansas Department of Education.

Arkansas classroom teachers and administrators who declare an intention to continue employment as a classroom teacher or administrator in Arkansas after completing their program are eligible for TOP. Applicants must also have at least a 2.5 cumulative GPA in the courses funded by the TOP grant when they apply.

Applicants who meet all requirements can receive reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses up to $3000 for courses related to employment. The grant reimburses educators up to 6 college credit hours each academic year.

Arkansas administrators and educators can find more information about TOP on the Arkansas Department of Higher Education website. Applicants must complete and submit an application to The Arkansas Department of Higher Education by June 1 each year.

Delaware Critical Need Scholarships

The Critical Need Scholarship program reimburses Delaware teachers for all or part of tuition and registration fees paid for courses that contribute toward the completion of a Standard Certification.

Full-time employees of a Delaware school district or charter school who teach on an Emergency Certificate in a critical need area as defined by the Delaware Department of Education. Applicants must also have a minimum 2.0 GPA.

The scholarship forgives all or part of tuition and registration fees paid up to $1,443 for undergraduate coursework or up to the cost of three credits per term for graduate coursework, not to exceed the cost of three credits at the University of Delaware.Courses must contribute toward the completion of a Standard Certification.

Teachers can find more information and application instructions here. You must apply through the school district or charter school where you are employed. The application cycles twice each year; one deadline is in January and the other is in June.

Illinois Teacher Loan Repayment Program

The Illinois Teacher Loan Repayment Program offers up to $5,000 to Illinois teachers who teach in low-income schools in Illinois. This award is meant to encourage the best teachers to serve students in high-need areas.

The Illinois Teacher Loan Repayment Program is a unique loan forgiveness matching program. Teachers must meet every qualification to receive Federal Teacher Loan Forgiveness. In addition, teachers must have served all five years in a low-income Illinois school.

Teachers who meet all requirements can receive federal loan forgiveness up to $5,000. You must apply for Illinois loan repayment funds within six months of receiving federal loan forgiveness.

Iowa Teacher Shortage Forgivable Loan Program

Iowa offers student loan repayment assistance to state-certified teachers as an incentive for educators to teach in subjects with a shortage of instructors through the state’s Teacher Shortage Forgivable Loan Program.

Current Iowa teachers who began their first teaching position in Iowa after July 1, 2007 and are completing studies in a designated shortage subject area are eligible for the Teacher Shortage Forgivable Loan Program.

Teachers must have a balance on either a Direct Stafford Loan or Direct Consolidation Loan and agree to teach in the shortage subject area upon graduation. For 2016 graduates, the maximum award is $6,858.

Recipients are awarded up to 20% of their remaining loan balance annually, up to the average resident tuition rate for students attending Iowa's Regent Universities the year following graduation.

Teachers can find more information on the Iowa College Student Aid Commission website. The 2016-17 application window is between January 1 and March 31, 2017, for the academic year. Recipients must reapply each year.

Maryland Janet L. Hoffman Loan Assistance Repayment Program

Maryland offers loan repayment assistance to excellent teachers who teach STEM subjects or in low-income schools.

Only teachers who earned a degree from a college in Maryland or a resident teacher certificate from the Maryland State Department of Education qualify for this award. Additionally, qualified Maryland teachers must serve in low-income (Title I) schools or other schools designated for improvement. Alternatively, licensed teachers who work in designated subject areas such as STEM, foreign languages, or special education can qualify.

To qualify, you must earn less than $60,000 per year or $130,000 if married filing jointly.

Qualified teachers can have up to $30,000 repaid over the course of three years. The repayment assistance you receive depends on your overall debt load.

Total Debt Overall Award Limit Yearly Payment
$75,001 - Over $30,000 $10,000
$40,001 - $75,000 $18,000 $6,000
$15,001 - $40,000 $9,000 $3,000
$15,000 - Below $4,500 $1,500

The Janet L. Hoffman Loan Assistance Repayment Program offers some of the most generous loan repayment terms. However, the program has stringent eligibility requirements. To find out more about your eligibility, visit the Maryland Higher Education Commission website.

Mississippi Graduate Teacher Forgivable Loan Program (GTS)

The Graduate Teacher and the Counseling and School Administration Forgivable Loan Program (GTS/CSA) was established to encourage classroom teachers at Mississippi’s public schools to pursue advanced education degrees.

Disclaimer: Due to budget constraints, only renewal applicants will be offered funds from the GTS program for the 2017-18 school year. No awards will be made to new applicants. It's not clear whether the GTS program will resume offering funds to new applicants in the future.

Current full-time Mississippi public school teachers earning their first master's degree and Class ‘AA’ educator’s license in an approved full-time program of study at a Mississippi college or university are eligible for the GTS program.

Selected applicants are awarded $125 per credit hour for up to 12 credit hours of eligible coursework.

Teachers can find more information about GTS program on the Rise Up Mississippi website. Complete and submit the online application with all supporting documentation by the year’s stated deadline. The application must be completed each year to remain eligible.

Mississippi Teacher Loan Repayment Program (MTLR)

The Mississippi Teacher Loan Repayment Program, or MTLR program, helps teachers pay back undergraduate student loans for up to four years or $12,000.

Disclaimer: Due to budget constraints, only renewal applicants will be offered funds from the MTLR program for the 2017-18 school year. No awards will be made to new applicants. It's not clear whether the MTLR program will resume offering funds to new applicants in the future.

Mississippi teachers who currently hold an Alternate Route Teaching License and teach in a Mississippi teacher critical shortage area or in any Mississippi public or charter school if teaching in a critical subject shortage area are eligible for the MTLR program. Perkins and Graduate-level loans are not eligible for repayment.

Recipients can receive a maximum $3000 annually toward their undergraduate loans for up to four years or $12,000.

Teachers can find more information on the Rise Up Mississippi website. Complete and submit the online application by the year’s stated deadline. The application must be completed each year to remain eligible.

Montana Quality Educator Loan Assistance Program

The Montana Quality Educator Loan Assistance Program encourages Montana teachers to serve in high-needs communities or in subject areas with critical shortages. The program provides direct loan repayment for teachers who meet the requirements.

Licensed Montana teachers who work in “impacted schools” in an academic area that has critical educator shortages. Impacted schools are more rural, have more economically disadvantaged students, or have trouble closing achievement gaps.

Montana will repay up to $3,000 a year for up to four years.

New York City Teach NYC

Teachers hired by the New York City Department of Education who work in specified shortage positions can receive up to $24,000 in loan forgiveness over the course of six consecutive years.

Teachers must work in a New York City school in one of the following designated shortage areas:

  • Bilingual special education
  • Bilingual school counselor
  • Bilingual school psychology
  • Bilingual school social worker
  • Blind and visually impaired (monolingual and bilingual)
  • Deaf and hard of hearing
  • Speech and language disabilities (monolingual and bilingual)

The NYC Department of Education will forgive one-sixth of your total debt load, each year for up to six consecutive years. The maximum award in one year is $4,000. The maximum lifetime award is $24,000.

North Dakota Teacher Shortage Loan Forgiveness Program

The North Dakota Teacher Shortage Loan Forgiveness Program encourages North Dakota teachers to teach in grades or content levels that have teacher shortages.

The North Dakota Department of Public Instruction identifies grades and content areas with teacher shortages. Teachers who work full time as instructors in those grades and content areas in North Dakota can receive loan forgiveness.

Teachers can receive up to $1,000 per year that they teach in a shortage area. The maximum lifetime award is $3,000.

This program is administered by the North Dakota University System. To get more information, teachers should visit the North Dakota University System website, call 701-328-2906, or email NDFinAid@ndus.edu.

Oklahoma Teacher Shortage Employment Incentive Program

Oklahoma’s Teacher Shortage Employment Incentive Program, or TSEIP, is a legislative program carried out by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education to help attract and keep mathematics and science teachers in the state.

Oklahoma state-certified classroom teachers who are not yet certified to teach math or science are eligible for TSEIP. Teachers must also agree to teach in an Oklahoma public secondary school for at least five years.

TSEIP reimburses eligible student loan expenses or a cash equivalent. The amount reimbursed varies from year to year.

Teachers can find more information on about the TSEIP on the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education website. Fill out and submit the Participation Agreement Form to your institution’s TSEIP coordinator no later than the date of your graduation from a four-year college or university in Oklahoma.

South Carolina: Teachers Loan Program

The South Carolina Teachers Loan awards forgivable student loans to students studying to become public school teachers. The program was created as an incentive for state residents to pursue teaching careers.

South Carolina school teachers and residents enrolled at least half-time at an accredited institution. Students must already be enrolled in a teacher education program or express an intent to enroll in a teacher education program. If already certified, you must seek an initial certification in a different critical subject area.

Freshmen and sophomore recipients can borrow $2,500 for each year, all other recipients can borrow $5,000 each year, up to $20,000. Loans are forgiven only if teachers work in an area of critical need.

Teachers can find more information on about the Teachers Loan Program on the South Carolina Student Loan website.Download and complete the application and submit it to South Carolina Student Loan.

South Carolina Career Changers Loan

The South Carolina Career Changers Loan awards forgivable student loans state residents who wish to change careers to become public school teachers. The program was created as an incentive for state residents to pursue teaching careers.

South Carolina residents who meet all requirements for the Teachers Loan, and have had a baccalaureate degree for at least three years. In addition, you must have been employed full-time for at least three years.

Recipients can borrow up to $15,000 per year up to $60,000.

South Carolina residents can find more information on about the Teachers Loan Program on the South Carolina Student Loan website.Download and submit a completed application to South Carolina Student Loan.

South Carolina PACE Loan

The South Carolina Program of Alternative Certification for Educators (PACE) loan reimburses individuals who have completed a PACE program. Those who are interested in teaching who have not completed a teacher education program may qualify to participate in the PACE program.

Teachers must be enrolled in the South Carolina Program of Alternative Certification for Educators (PACE) program and have received an Educator's Certificate for the current year. You must be teaching full-time in a South Carolina public school.

Participants can borrow up to $750 per year, capped at $5,000.

Teachers can find more information on about the PACE Loan program on the South Carolina Student Loan website.Download and submit a completed application to South Carolina Student Loan.

Tennessee Math & Science Teachers Loan Forgiveness

The Tennessee Math & Science Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program is offered through the Tennessee Student Assistance Coalition. The program awards up to $10,000 of forgivable loans to public school teachers working toward an advanced degree in math or science or earning a certification to teach math or science.

Tenured Tennessee schoolteachers working toward an advanced degree in math or science or earning a certification to teach math or science at an eligible institution. Recipients Must work in a Tennessee public school system for two years per each year of loan funding received.

Recipients are awarded $2,000 per academic year up to $10,000.

Teachers can find more information on the Tennessee Student Assistance Coalition website. Teachers must reapply for the program each academic year. The application has two cycles; one deadline is in February, the other is in September.

Teach for Texas Loan Repayment Assistance Program

The Teach for Texas Loan Repayment Assistance Program encourages Texas teachers to serve high-needs areas. Qualified teachers can receive up to $2,500 in loan repayment per year with no lifetime maximum.

Any Texas-based teacher with outstanding loans can apply for loan repayment assistance. However, funds are given out with priority to teachers who work in shortage subjects in schools with at least 75% economically disadvantaged students. Shortage subjects include ESL, math, special education, science, career education, and computer science.

If funds remain, they are given out in the following order:

  1. Teachers who work in areas with 75% or more economically disadvantaged students in nonshortage subjects.
  2. Teachers who work in shortage subjects in schools with 48.8%-75% economically disadvantaged students.
  3. Teachers who demonstrate financial need.

Eligible teachers can receive up to $2,500 in loan forgiveness each year with no lifetime maximum.

West Virginia Underwood-Smith Teacher Scholarship Loan Assistance Program

West Virginia teachers who work in critical need positions may qualify for the Underwood-Smith Teacher Scholarship Loan Assistance Program. This scholarship helps qualified teachers pay back student loans.

Teachers and school professionals who work in a designated critical position can qualify for the Underwood-Smith scholarship. Critical positions include all teachers in underserved districts and certain teachers who teach subjects with designated shortages.

Qualified teachers can receive up to $3,000 per year in federal loan forgiveness and up to $15,000 over their lifetime.

West Virginia teachers can learn more about the scholarship on the College Foundation of West Virginia website. The most recent list of critical needs can be found here.

Pros & Cons of Student Loan Forgiveness

While some or all of a student loan balance magically disappearing is a dream for many Americans, student loan forgiveness programs aren’t always a walk in the park. Here are the pros and cons.

Pro: Poof! Your debt is gone.

A huge upside of student loan forgiveness is obvious: borrowers can get rid of a significant amount of student loan debt. Beware of caps on the total amount of debt that can be forgiven with some programs. For example, the federal government’s Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program caps loan forgiveness at $17,500.

Con: Eligibility

It’s tough to first qualify and then remain eligible for student loan forgiveness. For example, teachers are eligible for the federal Teacher Loan Forgiveness program, but those who got teaching degrees before 2004, only qualify to have $5,000 worth of loans forgiven. To top that, borrowers must also remember to update their repayment plans each year or risk losing eligibility for the program.

Pro: No tax...sometimes.

The federal repayment plans don’t tax the forgiven amount as income, so you won’t need to pay taxes on the forgiven balance there. However, other programs may not grant the same pardon. If your loans are repaid through a different program, you might be required to count the money received towards your income and pay taxes on it. Look at the program carefully and prepare to set aside funds in case you do need to pay up.

Con: Limited job prospects

Loan forgiveness is give and take. You might be limited to teaching in a particular subject or geographic location for a period of time in order to get your loans forgiven. This could mean relocating your family or a long commute if you unable to live near the location. If you fall out of love with teaching, you might be stuck with the job, just to get your loans paid off.

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5 Lies Your Car Mechanic Might Tell You

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

 

By Kelsey Green

Whether you’re getting an oil change, having your tires rotated, or facing a more complicated repair, like replacing the alternator, it’s possible your visit to the auto repair shop will end up being more expensive than you anticipated.

Automobile maintenance costs an average $792 per year, according to the AAA’s 2016 “Your Driving Costs” study, and you don’t need mechanics padding their bills with unnecessary repairs and charges.

Most technicians genuinely want to help, says Lauren Fix, who is known as “The Car Coach” and is the spokesperson for the nonprofit Car Care Council. But there are times when you should question what the mechanic tells you.

Here are five common lies and ways to combat them.

1. “You can use any kind of oil in your car.”

Technicians often say you can use any oil in your car despite what your service schedule or car manual states.

“Run the oil that your service schedule tells you,” Fix says. “Running the wrong oil in your engine can void your warranty.”

If your car needs synthetic oil, which is for turbocharged, supercharged engines, or high-performance vehicles, make sure your technician uses that kind.

2. “You need to fix this now before it’s a problem.”

Sometimes a technician may exaggerate a problem because he wants to talk you into paying for a repair you may not need at that time.

Check your service schedule before saying yes, because it’s the “Bible for your car,” Fix says. If you’ve lost your service schedule or you bought a used car, check out carcare.org for a customizable service schedule specifically for your vehicle. This will act as your guide.

You can save more than $1,200 a year in repairs if you follow your service schedule and are proactive with any problems, the Car Care Council states.

Fix also warns that sometimes a technician will exaggerate to make you understand that there is actually a problem with your car. Ask for a second opinion if you’re unsure.

“Even if he finds a new problem with your car while working on a problem you have already discussed, you have to assume that it is possible,” Fix says.

3. “That damage didn’t happen here.”

Sometimes it’s just a small scratch or ding. Accidents happen, even by people who are paid to repair your car.

A California shop tried to cover up severe damage to Michelle and Albert Delao’s automobile after it fell several feet from a lift in 2015, the couple says. Employees didn’t tell the Delaos what happened to their car, instead saying that the shop was waiting on a part. The store offered to pay for a rental car while their vehicle was being worked on.

When they finally got their car, Michelle says she immediately knew something was wrong.

“I could tell from little things about the way the car was driving,” she says. “It was wobbly, and we could hear glass in the passenger window, which was weird, because we never had a glass or window problem before.”

To try to resolve the problems, they purchased a new set of tires to stop the wobbling. But they got a call a month later from a technician at the shop, they say. The couple learned that the car fell several feet onto its side, piercing the bottom and shattering the front passenger window, along with other damage to the car’s body. When the technicians could not get the car off the lift, a tow truck was called to pull the vehicle down, causing more damage, they say.

When she called the manager and store to ask about the incident, Michelle says both denied anything happened until she showed the owner the pictures from the technician.

After finding out the true extent of the damage, the Delaos took their car to the dealership, which confirmed all the damage at over $20,000, totaling their car. The couple has filed a lawsuit against the auto repair shop.

The incident has given the couple a severe distrust of technicians, Michelle says.

“It’s just sad, really,” Albert says. “It’s like when people need to go to the doctor. We have to have our car. We don’t know anything about it. We’re not mechanics.”

4. “This part cost more than we anticipated.”

An easy way for technicians to make more money is by overcharging for a part or repair. If you’re not sure how much a repair will cost, get multiple quotes in writing.

“Never do anything without getting a quote in writing,” Fix says. “That is how you know someone knows what they’re talking about and will uphold that when you get it in writing.”

If you don’t like to go in blind, you can get a general idea of what a repair or part will cost with research.

“Education and information are power,” Fix says.

Fix suggests RepairPal.com, which helps people not well versed in car mechanics be more prepared for when someone gives them a quote. You can type in your car’s mechanical issue to research the problem and the reliable cost for the part and labor for your area.

5. “The cheap tires will be just fine.”

When it comes time for new tires, technicians may try to talk you into buying the cheapest brands. Don’t listen, Fix says.

“When people come in saying they need to replace tires, they need to use the same tire brand and size,” she says. “The size and brands of the tires impacts your handling, traction, and safety for your car.”

Tires recommended by Consumer Reports, for example, range from $64 to $121.

Tips for finding a reliable car mechanic

  • Go to a certified technician. Look for signs that state the shops are certified by the Automotive Service Association (ASA) or the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). “Find a master technician when you can,” Fix says. “They are the best in the business.”
  • Ask your friends and family. Personal experience is the best way to find a reliable technician, so ask the people you trust.
  • Check with a dealer. Along with specializing in your car, they can also help with recalls or possibly help find you a new technician if your warranty has expired.
  • If your vehicle is safe to drive, take it to another mechanic for a second opinion.
  • If your check engine light comes on, head to your local auto parts store, not a mechanic. Their equipment will find the issue, which empowers you with information before you schedule your car for service.

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