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Strategies to Save

Where People Save the Most: Super Saving Metros

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Give credit to the residents of Dubuque, Iowa. They saved their pennies last year, according to a recent study by MagnifyMoney.

Dubuque earned the highest Saving Score in MagnifyMoney’s Super Saving Metros report, which looks at the savings habits of residents living in the biggest metropolitan areas across the United States.

Relying on data from the IRS and U.S. Census Bureau, MagnifyMoney created a Saving Score for nearly 400 U.S. metropolitan areas. This score reveals:

  • Which areas boasted the greatest percentage of adults who earned money from interest-bearing vehicles, such as savings accounts and certificates of deposit (CDs)
  • How much interest on average these residents claimed on their 2017 tax returns
  • What percent of their annual income came from interest

We’ve changed our study a bit this year. Instead of looking at cities with populations larger than 25,000, as we have in the past, this year we are looking at savings within entire metropolitan statistical areas. These areas often include several cities and provide a more accurate look at the savings habits of residents within a larger area.

One of our key findings? As a nation, the U.S. doesn’t have a lot of savers. Nationally, 28.3% of U.S. residents who filed income tax returns in 2017 earned interest income on their savings. This interest income averaged $554, equal to 0.76% of filers’ total income for the year.

Not all metro areas are created equal when it comes to savers, though. In Naples, Fla., for instance, filers reported an average of $3,224 of interest income on their taxes last year. But in Pittsfield, Mass., that average was a far lower $481.

There are also significant differences among metropolitan areas in how many residents earn enough interest from their savings to report to the IRS. Filers who earn more than $10 of interest on savings accounts, CDs, money market accounts, high-yield checking accounts or certain types of taxable bonds have to report their interest income. MagnifyMoney found that in Peoria, Ill., 48% of filers reported interest income on their returns. But in Los Angeles, just 30% did.

Key findings

  • Dubuque pulled down the top savings spot among the 381 U.S. metropolitan areas that MagnifyMoney studied. The city had the highest Saving Score, an impressive 97.8 out of a possible 100.
  • Naples, which came in second with a Saving Score of 97, topped the country with the highest amount of average interest income per return, a strong $3,224. Naples also ranked first in highest percentage of interest income compared to total income. Filers here earned an average of 2.33% of their total annual incomes from interest on their savings.
  • Peoria had the highest percentage of filers who earned at least some interest income. About half of the federal tax returns filed here last year had some amount of interest income.
  • Iowa might have been the thriftiest state in the country in 2017. Dubuque notched the highest Saving Score in this year’s study. But the cities of Cedar Falls and Cedar Rapids also earned high scores. This isn’t a one-time fluke either. MagnifyMoney found a similar trend when looking at the numbers from earlier tax years.

What does the Saving Score measure?

It can be challenging to determine how much the residents of a particular metropolitan area are saving. For our study, we crafted a Metro Saving Score that relies on data from the IRS and U.S. Census Bureau for 381 metropolitan areas across the country.

We looked at three key factors to calculate our score:

  • The percentage of all tax returns that declared interest income
  • The percentage of residents’ total annual income that came from interest earned from savings
  • The average interest income recorded on tax returns in a metropolitan area

50 cities with the top Saving Scores


Dubuque led our list of the metro areas with the biggest savers, earning a healthy Saving Score of 97.8. But what’s so special about Dubuque?

The area isn’t especially rich: The U.S. Census Bureau reported that the median household income stood at $56,154 in 2016 in Dubuque County and $48,021 in the city of Dubuque itself. That’s below the median annual household income of the U.S. as a whole, which was $57,617 in 2016. The Census Bureau also said 16.8% of the city’s residents lived in poverty, while 29.7% of residents have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Regardless of the relatively modest incomes here, 44% of tax filers in the Dubuque metro area claimed interest income on their returns. This interest income averaged $781 per return, which accounted for an average of 1.24% of these residents’ annual income.

So why the high savings rate? Maybe it’s the low unemployment rate. The Bureau of Labor Statistics said the unemployment rate in Dubuque was a low 2.2% as of August 2018. It’s easier to save when you’re employed. Also, it’s not that expensive to live in Dubuque. The Census Bureau said the median costs for owners with a mortgage is $1,102 a month, while the median cost for renters is $728 a month.

Things are a bit different in Naples, where the Census Bureau said the annual median income was $84,830 in 2016. It’s important to note that median income isn’t the same as average income. The median is the dollar amount that half of all residents in an area earn less than each year and half earn more. In Naples, half of all households reported an annual income of less than $84,830, while half reported an annual income higher than that.

What is clear, though, is that the residents of this Florida city have more money to save, which might be why Naples ranked second with a Saving Score of 97. Here, 36% of income tax returns included interest income. The interest income per return in Naples was high, too, leading our survey with a hefty $3,224.

In Fairfield County, Conn., which came in third with a Saving Score of 96.3, 36% of tax returns recorded interest income. The interest claimed here was sizable, too, with an average of $2,434 claimed per return. Again, the residents here have more money to save, with the Census Bureau reporting a median household income of $86,670 in 2016.

Santa Barbara, Calif., and Boston rounded out the top five metro areas on our list. Santa Barbara earned a Saving Score of 95.7, with 36% of tax returns here claiming interest income. This income accounted for 1.18% of annual income earned by residents here. The interest income per return in Santa Barbara was a healthy $1,074.

And in Boston, with its Saving Score of 94.2, 37% of returns claimed interest income, with an average per return of $920.

10 cities with the most savers

Dubuque again represented itself well on our list of metropolitan areas with the most savers. But it didn’t top it. The No. 1 spot went to another Midwestern city, Peoria, where 48% of tax returns listed some form of interest income.

What makes Peoria residents such good savers? It’s hard to say. The income here isn’t sky-high, with the Census Bureau stating that the median household income stood at $46,547 in 2016. At the same time, though, it’s not expensive to live in Peoria, freeing up residents to save. The Census Bureau said it cost $1,200 a month for owners with a mortgage, while the median value of a home was $127,200. Those who rented didn’t pay too much, either, with the Census Bureau reporting a median gross rent of $746 a month.

Then there is Dubuque. Again, the income here wasn’t high, but housing isn’t overly expensive, perhaps making it easier for residents to save. The Census Bureau reported that owners with a mortgage paid a median value of $1,102 a month, while those who rented paid a median of $728 a month. Maybe that’s why Dubuque tied for second with 44% of returns claiming interest income.

Dubuque tied for this spot with Ithaca, N.Y., where the same percentage — 44% — of returns claimed interest income. It’s not easy determining how Ithaca residents were able to save so much. The Census Bureau reported that the median annual household income here was just $30,291 in 2016, while 44.8% of the people lived in poverty. At the same time, the median value of owner-occupied homes stood at a fairly high $219,100. This makes Ithaca’s high savings rate a bit of a mystery.

Appleton, Wis., is easier to explain. This area ranked fourth on our list with 42% of returns claiming interest income in 2017. This isn’t surprising: The Census Bureau said the median household income here was $53,878 in 2016, while the median value of owner-occupied homes was a fairly low $137,800. Perhaps residents spent less on housing costs and were able to save more.

Iowa City, Iowa, finished fifth on our list, tied with Appleton with 42% of returns claiming interest income. That percentage was a popular one, with Rochester, N.Y., and yet another Iowa city — Cedar Falls — tying with Appleton and Iowa City.

10 cities that earned the most interest income

Here is a not-so-shocking fact: People who make more money tend to save more of it. That’s proven by our list of metro areas in which taxpayers claimed the most interest on their returns.

Look at Naples. Those living here earned a lot of interest income in 2017. According to our research, the average return filed here in 2017 listed a whopping $3,224 in interest income. That easily topped our list. The reason is fairly obvious: A lot of wealthy people live here.

The city is a costly one, with the Census Bureau showing that the median home value is $770,000, while it costs owners with a mortgage a median $2,987 a month. With those barriers to entry, it’s not surprising that the median household income was $84,830 in 2016. When you earn more, it’s easier to save more — a lesson made clear in Naples.

Fairfield County was second on this list, with the average tax return listing interest income of $2,434 in 2017. Again, this is another high-income area, with the Census Bureau reporting that the median household income was $86,670 in 2016.

Next on our list is Vero Beach, Fla., where the average interest income reported on tax returns stood at a healthy $1,839. This city is a bit more puzzling: The Census Bureau showed that the median household income was a modest $38,405 in 2016. And it’s not particularly cheap to live here, with the Census Bureau stating the median costs for owners with mortgages as $1,654, while monthly rent stands at a median of $829.

Coming in fourth on our list is another Florida tourist metro, Fort Myers, where the average interest income per return was $1,195. This is an interesting place: In the city of Fort Myers, with a population of almost 80,000, the median household income is $38,971. But if you focus on the smaller area of Fort Myers Beach, where the population is just more than 7,000, the median household income is $59,416.

The New York City metro area claimed the fifth spot on this list, with an average interest income of $1,146 reported per return. With a population of more than 8.6 million, New York City itself sees a wide range of yearly incomes. The median household income is $55,191, but plenty of households saw a far higher income than that. This helps explain the Big Apple’s high spot on this list.

10 cities with the lowest Saving Scores

While there are plenty of metro areas where people are saving, there are others that have earned low Saving Scores from our research. In most of these areas, the median household income is low. In others, unemployment is high.

This isn’t surprising: It’s a challenge to save when you don’t make enough and you’re struggling to find a job.

The first metro area on our list of areas with the lowest Saving Scores — Hinesville, Ga. — earned a Saving Score of just 0.5, with 15% of income tax returns filed in 2017 claiming interest income. The average filer here claimed just $80 worth of interest on their returns.

The median household income stood at $42,949 in 2016, according to the Census Bureau. That is below the median household income for the U.S., which the Census Bureau said was $57,617 in 2016.
El Centro, Calif., ranks high on this list, too, coming in second. Unemployment is a problem here, with the Federal Reserve Bank showing the rate at a high 17.2% in El Centro as of August 2018.

Third on our list was Fayetteville, N.C., earning a Saving Score of 1.8. Only 18% of tax returns here claimed interest income in 2017, with the average return listing just $149 in interest income. The median household income was $43,882 in 2016, while 18.4% of the population lived in poverty. The Census Bureau also reported that 14.2% of the people younger than 65 do not have health insurance, a factor that could account for the low savings rate here.

Pine Bluff, Ark., scored a low 3.0 Saving Score with 19% of income tax returns claiming interest income. Pine Bluff’s population is declining, falling to 42,984 in 2017, a drop from 49,083 in 2010 — a dip of 12.4%. At the same time, the median household income was just $30,942 in 2016, while 32.5% of residents lived in poverty.

Rounding out the bottom five of savers was the metropolitan area of Florence, S.C., with a Savings Score of 3.7. Just 17% of returns here claimed interest income in 2017. The median household income here was not terrible, but at $44,989 is still below the median for the U.S.

How to save more money

Need to increase your savings rate? There’s no secret formula. Start with crafting a household budget. List the income that comes into your household each month and the money you spend during the same time. Include both fixed expenses such as your monthly rent, mortgage payment, auto payment or student loan payments while estimating those that vary each month, such as your utility bills, transportation costs and grocery bills. Make sure to also budget for discretionary expenses such as eating out and entertainment.

This budget will tell you how much you should have at the end of the month for savings. If you don’t have much, or if you are spending more than you are earning, you’ll need to cut back on whatever expenses you can. This might require slashing your spending at the supermarket or cutting back on restaurant meals.

Be sure to start an emergency fund, too. You use the dollars in this fund to pay for any unexpected expenses that pop up, such as a busted water heater or blown transmission on your car. If you have this fund built up, you won’t have to resort to paying for these emergencies with a credit card, something that will build up your debt and make it even more difficult to save.

It’s important to note, too, that it might be a bit easier now to earn interest on your savings. That’s because as the Federal Reserve raises its benchmark interest rate, banks and credit unions are starting to do the same, boosting the interest rates attached to their savings accounts and CDs. These rates might still be small, but they are set to improve, so now is a great time to begin saving those dollars.

Methodology

To rank cities, MagnifyMoney created a Saving Score on a scale of 0 to 100 that included three equally weighted components:

  1. How broadly individuals in the metro saved (measured by the percentage of all tax returns that declared interest income, ranked by percentile).
  2. The metro’s dedication to saving regardless of their income (measured by the percentage of total income that came from interest, ranked by percentile).
  3. The absolute magnitude of savings in the metro (measured by the average interest income per tax return, ranked by percentile).

MagnifyMoney measured these factors using anonymized data from tax returns filed with the IRS from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2017.

To be counted as a saving household, the taxpayer must declare interest income using Form 1099 on their 2016 tax returns. Filers who earned over $10 in interest on savings and investments, including a high-yield checking or savings account, a CD, a money market account or certain types of taxable bonds, should have received a copy of 1099-INT, which reflects interest income reported by financial institutions to the IRS.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be 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 financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Dan Rafter
Dan Rafter |

Dan Rafter is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Dan here

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New Era Debt Solutions Debt Relief Review

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Is your debt growing each month? Are you struggling to keep up with the number of creditors to whom you owe money? Debt settlement could be an option. For a fee, private companies negotiate reduced payments with your creditors, lowering the amount of debt you owe. This is a different approach than debt consolidation, in which your existing debts are combined into one account that you then pay off with regular monthly payments.

Camarillo, Calif.-based New Era Debt Solutions specializes in debt settlement and might be able to help you settle your debt. Here’s what you need to know.

What is New Era Debt Solutions?

New Era Debt Solutions has an A-plus rating with the Better Business Bureau. The company boasts competitive settlement agreements and a high success rate.

Breakdown of New Era Debt Solutions

Let’s break things down even further:

Services offered

Debt settlement

Minimum debt required

New Era does not specify a minimum debt level to participate in its services.

Credit score

New Era says participating in debt settlement will hurt your credit score.

Debt settlement timeline

New Era says the average customer completes its debt settlement process slightly more than 27 months.

Consultation fees

New Era doesn’t list specific fees, but does say it only charges clients after a settlement has been reached. It does not charge any upfront fees.

Service fees

New Era only charges fees after a settlement has been reached.

Types of debt accepted

New Era says it can settle unsecured debt. Everything from credit cards to unsecured personal loans can be negotiated. New Era can't work with secured debt such as mortgages and auto loans. The creditors behind this debt can simply take back the collateral by foreclosing on your home or repossessing your car.

Accreditations

New Era is an accredited member of the Better Business Bureau.

Ratings

New Era has an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau.

Service limitations

New Era does not operate in Iowa, Maine, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota or West Virginia.

Free tools and resources

New Era’s website includes information about debt reduction options. It also features a debt reduction calculator that can help you calculate how long it will take you to pay down your debt.

Customer service

It’s easy to contact New Era. You can visit this page to reach out to the company online or you can call New Era at 800-527-4421 .

Who’s eligible?

New Era doesn’t list any strict requirements for who can and can’t qualify for debt settlement. New Era doesn’t list a minimum amount of debt that you need to qualify or a minimum income or credit score.

The company, though, does provide some general guidelines:

  • New Era does say that consumers who are struggling mostly with credit card debt are the best fit for its services.
  • Those consumers who are fighting a financial hardship — caused by events such as a job loss, medical issues or a divorce — are also a better match for debt settlement.
  • Household income matters, too. As New Era says, participants will need to have money available to make payments on whatever debt settlement they reach.
  • New Era says participants in its program should be able to set aside about 1.5% of their debt amount on a monthly basis to cover the payments of a debt settlement. The company gives this example: If you owe $30,000 in unsecured debt, you should be able to devote $450 a month to pay back your new negotiated debt. If you do this, New Era says, it would take you about three years to pay back the average settlement.

Benefits and risks of New Era Debt Solutions

Benefits

Risks

There are no upfront fees involved with working with New Era Debt Solutions. You are only charged after you agree to a debt settlement deal. This is known as a performance-based fee model.

Your three-digit credit score is probably already dinged if you are looking to settle your debt. But, as New Era says, your score will fall even further if you agree to debt settlement.

Debt settlement could save you a significant amount of money. New Era says it settles clients’ debt for an average of 43.73% of what they owe.

It’s not the fastest process. New Era says it takes clients about 27 months to complete the debt settlement process.

Most people who start a program with New Era do finish. New Era says only slightly more than 18% of clients drop out before reaching a settlement.

The collection calls won’t necessarily stop. If you are stressed by the calls from collection agencies, New Era can’t promise that you won’t receive any new calls while in the program. Collection agencies don’t have to stop calling just because you are enrolled in a debt settlement program.

The odds are low that you’ll be sued once you begin the debt settlement process. New Era says only 6% of its clients experience any legal activity.

Not all debt can be settled. New Era says it can settle most forms of unsecured debt, but it can’t settle auto loans or mortgages — debt that requires collateral. New Era also can’t negotiate federal student loan debt, but it can settle private student loans that are in default.

How much does New Era Debt Solutions cost?

New Era Debt Solutions does not provide pricing information on its website. The company does, though, operate under a performance-based fee model, meaning that you are not billed until a debt settlement has been reached. New Era does not charge monthly administrative fees.

The amount New Era charges depend on several factors. The company says such factors like how much debt you owe, whether you can contribute monthly payments to pay down that debt after a settlement is reached and how long it takes for a settlement to be reached all affect how much you’ll pay.

How long does the program take?

New Era says debt settlement programs usually take three to four years from the time a client signs up. The company, though, says it acts faster, completing the debt settlement process in an average of 27.73 months.

Clients working with New Era who are struggling with debt from several creditors can expect to reach their first settlement within the first six months of starting the program, according to the company. In some instances, though, that first settlement can arrive even sooner. New Era states that some clients start receiving settlement offers from their creditors within 90 days.

It’s important to remember that no debt settlement company, including New Era, can guarantee that you’ll reach settlements with your creditors. New Era, though, does claim that most of its clients do agree to offers from their clients, saying that only 18% of its clients leave the program before settling their debts. New Era also says its clients usually pay about 43% of what they initially owed when signing up for the program. This, though, doesn’t guarantee that you will have the same success rate.

Is New Era Debt Solutions safe to use?

New Era Debt Solutions has been an accredited business with the Better Business Bureau since 2001. The bureau has zero customer complaints on file about the company.

Of the 19 reviews on the Better Business Bureau site, 18 were positive five-star reviews. Customers leaving reviews complimented the company on the regular contact and updates from New Era, the comprehensive way that employees explained the debt settlement process and the results that they received.

New Era also has no complaints listed in the Consumer Complaint Database maintained by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

How do I sign up for New Era Debt Solutions?

New Era offers a free analysis of your debt. The company says it will review your basic information and send you an estimate of how much time the debt settlement process will take and how much money you might save.

To get started, you’ll have to send New Era your name, phone number, the state in which you live and how much money you owe.

You can also call New Era at 800-527-4421 to speak directly with a representative.

What to expect after signing up for New Era Debt Solutions

Once you sign up with New Era, representatives from the company will start negotiating with your creditors. How long this takes will vary, though New Era says you should start receiving your first settlement offer within six months.

Before starting the process, New Era will review your debts to determine which can be settled and which can’t. Unsecured debt — debt not tied to collateral such as a home or vehicle — can usually be settled. New Era says it can settle debts from credit cards, department store cards, signature loans, personal lines of credit and private student loans that are in default. The company, though, can’t settle debt associated with mortgages, federal student loans, car loans, credit unions and medical/hospital bills.

You will have to set up an escrow account during the process. This is an account that you pay into on a monthly basis so that when settlement offers are made, you’ll have the funds necessary to pay them. How much you deposit into the account will depend on the amount you owe and your monthly income.

Alternative methods to pay down debt

We’ll take a look at debt consolidation, debt management plans, bankruptcy and DIY debt settlement.

Debt consolidation

Part of the challenge when paying down a significant amount of debt? You have so many creditors to pay back, deciding who to pay first can become overwhelming. Debt consolidation can help with this.

In debt consolidation, a private company consolidates all your loans into one package. You then pay this company a single payment each month, and the company makes your payments on your behalf.

Pros

  • Making just one payment a month can reduce the stress of paying down your debt.
  • Your debt consolidation company might be able to reduce the interest rate you pay on your debt.

Cons

  • Your debt doesn’t go away just because you are consolidating it into one payment. You still have to pay it off.
  • You might end up paying more than what you owe when you factor in the fees that a debt consolidation provider charges.
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A Personal Loan can offer funds relatively quickly once you qualify you could have your funds within a few days to a week. A loan can be fixed for a term and rate or variable with fluctuating amount due and rate assessed, be sure to speak with your loan officer about the actual term and rate you may qualify for based on your credit history and ability to repay the loan. A personal loan can assist in paying off high-interest rate balances with one fixed term payment, so it is important that you try to obtain a fixed term and rate if your goal is to reduce your debt. Some lenders may require that you have an account with them already and for a prescribed period of time in order to qualify for better rates on their personal loan products. Lenders may charge an origination fee generally around 1% of the amount sought. Be sure to ask about all fees, costs and terms associated with each loan product. Loan amounts of $1,000 up to $50,000 are available through participating lenders; however, your state, credit history, credit score, personal financial situation, and lender underwriting criteria can impact the amount, fees, terms and rates offered. Ask your loan officer for details.

As of 28-Feb-2019, LendingTree Personal Loan consumers were seeing match rates as low as 3.99% (3.99% APR) on a $10,000 loan amount for a term of three (3) years. Rates and APRs were based on a self-identified credit score of 700 or higher, zero down payment, origination fees of $0 to $100 (depending on loan amount and term selected).

Debt management plan

When you sign up for a debt management plan, you’ll work closely with a credit counseling agency that will set up a schedule for you to repay your debts. The goal is to leave you with a monthly payment that you can afford and that your creditors will accept.

After you agree on a debt management plan, you’ll send money directly to your credit counseling agency each month. This agency will then make payments to your creditors. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling says it usually takes three to five years to settle your debt through a debt management plan.

Pros

  • Enrolling in a debt management program won’t affect your credit score.
  • You can focus on making just one monthly payment, eliminating the stress of dealing with several different creditors.
  • Credit counselors might be able to negotiate lower payoff amounts or interest rates on your debt.

Cons

  • Debt management usually isn’t free. Your credit counseling agency will generally charge a setup and monthly fee.
  • It can take a long time to pay off your debt.

Bankruptcy

Declaring bankruptcy can eliminate your debt, depending on the type you declare, but it will also have a devastating impact on your credit score. A Chapter 13 bankruptcy sets up a repayment schedule that allows you to pay back your debts at a pace you can afford. In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, your unsecured debts could be eliminated. But you could also lose certain assets.

Pros

  • A bankruptcy filing could wipe away some of your biggest debts.
  • Collection agencies cannot pursue you for those debts that are discharged.

Cons

  • Bankruptcy filings will wreck your credit score, causing it to fall by 100 or more points.
  • Chapter 7 bankruptcy filings remain on your credit reports for 10 years, while Chapter 13 filings remain for seven.

DIY debt settlement

Instead of hiring a company to negotiate your debt on your behalf, you can try to settle your debt on your own. To do this, you’d have to contact companies, explain your financial situation and try to negotiate a lower payoff amount with them.
Pros

  • You won’t have to pay fees to an outside company to negotiate your debt.
  • You can tackle your outstanding debts in the order with which you feel most comfortable.

Cons

  • Negotiating debt on your own will take plenty of time.
  • You might not have the same negotiating skills possessed by private companies.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be 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 financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Dan Rafter
Dan Rafter |

Dan Rafter is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Dan here

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How to Get Cheap Personal Checks

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

You probably don’t write nearly as many personal checks as you once did. And if this is true, you’re far from alone. The 2016 Federal Reserve Payments Study found that in 2015, checks accounted for 13.4% of all non-cash payments in the United States. However in 2000, checks accounted for 57.8 percent of such payments. The same study found that in 2015, U.S. households wrote an average of 7.1 checks per month. But in 2000, check writing in U.S. households averaged 19.3 checks per month.

It’s clear, then, that check writing is on the decline; more consumers are choosing to pay for everything from groceries to their monthly bills with credit or debit cards, direct deposit or mobile wallets.

This doesn’t mean, though, that you won’t ever write a check again. Maybe you owe a friend money and that friend prefers paper checks, for example. Or, maybe you find it easier to pay your dogsitter with a personal check rather than a lump of cash. Sometimes it’s easier and more convenient to give a check as a wedding gift than to buy a registry item.

And when you do need to pay for checks? Many people probably would think that it’s best to pay as little as possible for them. Many consumers order checks from their personal banks and then re-order when they run out. This, though, might not be the most cost-effective approach. Instead, you might save money by hunting for cheap personal checks.

Where to get cheap personal checks

You do have options when searching for cheap personal checks. Today, you can purchase checks online, order them from a national chain or buy them from your own bank or credit union.

Getting cheap personal checks online

Plenty of companies offer cheap personal checks online. When ordering checks from these retailers, though, make sure that the checks they offer meet all the requirements of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which Checks.com states on its Frequently Asked Questions page.

Checks.com: This online retailer sells books of 100 checks starting at $4.95, although the price varies depending on which checks you order. For example, one box of 100 Savvy checks, with duplicates costs $5.95.

Checks Unlimited: Ordering a box of 100 checks decorated with a Harley-Davidson motorcycle will cost you $21.99 at Checks Unlimited. And a box of 100 blue side-tear checks will run you $20.99.

The Bradford Exchange: The Bradford Exchange also offers plenty of options for consumers. A box of top-tear or side-tear checks contains 120 checks if you order single checks, or 100 checks if you order duplicates. A box of single parchment paper checks costs $19.95, and a box of duplicate parchment paper checks costs $22.95.

TechChecks: You may order 150 Blue Safety single checks from TechChecks for $12.95.

When ordering cheap personal checks online, you will need to provide these companies with your bank information, including its routing number and your bank account number. How long it takes your checks to arrive depends on the company. TechChecks’ website indicates that it typically ships basic checks within 48 business hours; and Checks Unlimited’s site says it takes from two-to-five business days to print and ship its checks.

Getting cheap personal checks from national chains

You also may order cheap personal checks from national chains such as Walmart and Costco, whose prices tend to be fairly cheap.

Walmart checks: You can find plenty of cheap checks at Walmart. For instance, the company offers its Pink Ribbon personal checks at $9.46 for a box of 150, with duplicates. If you want to reduce that price even more, you can get the same amount of checks for just $8.46 if you order single instead of duplicate checks.

Costco checks: Costco automatically directs its customers to the website for Harland Clarke Check Printing, the company that prints the checks for Costco. But the prices still reflect Costco’s inexpensive costs. The Costco high-security checks cost $34.90 for Costco Gold Star/Business Members for two boxes (348 checks), with duplicates; or $32.40 for the same amount of single checks.

Getting checks from your bank

Many consumers still re-order their personal checks directly from their banks. Why? Because they believe that this is the simplest solution.

Centier Bank is a good example: This bank lets customers order checks either online or by phone. When ordering by phone, customers need to provide their account numbers; and when ordering online, they need to provide their account numbers and their bank’s routing numbers.

Citizens Bank also lets customers order checks either online, phone or in person. Or, they may order new checks directly from Deluxe, the check-printing company that works with Citizens Bank.

U.S. Bank says that its customers can order replacement checks online, by phone, or at U.S. Bank ATMs or bank branches.

Some banks even offer automatic reordering so you won’t need to remember to reorder your checks. PNC Bank’s Automatic Check Reorder program tracks the number of checks that you’ve written that have cleared your account since you last reordered. Then, about three months before they expect you to run out of checks, the bank will notify you that it’s about to order your new checks. PNC Bank will mail you the checks and deduct the cost from your checking account.

Security

Security is key no matter where you get your personal checks. Fortunately, checks today come with enhanced security features.

The Check Payment Systems Association (CPSA) explains on its website that checks with enhanced security features have a small padlock symbol printed on their fronts and backs. This symbol indicates that the check is embedded with certain security features — such as micro-printed data and security screen prints — that make it more difficult to reproduce or counterfeit.

When you are ordering cheap personal checks, whether you get them online or from your bank, make sure they include these security features.

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Dan Rafter
Dan Rafter |

Dan Rafter is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Dan here

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