ScoreCard Research Dana Sitar - The Penny Hoarder

Parents give their kids a lot of credit.

You give them credit for eating the carrots you send in their lunch and not trading them for the snack-size Snickers some other parents send for their kids.

You give them credit that the mystery fleck of something they just spotted on the couch disappeared anywhere but into their mouth (or nose).

You give them credit for the effort they put into tee ball and ballet class, even though you’re pretty sure their level of coordination will be better suited for, say, debate team when they’re older.

But should you give them actual credit?

1 in 5 Parents Give Their Kids a Credit Card

Nearly one in five (18%) parents give their 8- to 14-year-old kids a credit card, according to the latest T. Rowe Price survey.

That number’s rising fast, too. Just 11% of parents said their kids had a credit card in 2015, while only 4% said they did in 2012, according to Moneyish.

We know you all don’t have a bunch of little tykes walking into a bank to sign up for a credit card (unless your kid is Ava Ryan, in which case, you do you, girl).

Nearly 60% of parents whose kids have credit cards in that T. Rowe Price survey pay the bill for their kids. Because your kid is, well, a kid, you’ll probably have to bear the brunt of responsibility for their credit card. You could add them as an authorized user to your existing card, or find a card that lets you set parental controls on their spending.

Either way, you’re going to want to keep a close eye on their activity.

I mean, you saw the havoc little Johnny wreaked on your living room practicing his pirouettes. Imagine what an 8-year-old can do to your credit score.

2 Tools to Protect Your Credit Score From Those Meddling Kids

Disclaimer: I’m not a mother. And I spend as little time around actual children as I can manage. They seem troublesome.

Here’s what I imagine kids doing with credit cards: cleaning out candy stores and trading their Visas in the lunch room like Pokémon cards.

Is that about right?

Regardless, you’re going to want to...

1. Keep an Eye on Your Credit Report

To make sure the bill from the latest candy-store binge doesn’t jeopardize your financial future, you’ll want to keep a close watch on your credit activity.

To see what kind of activity is affecting your credit score, grab a copy of your credit report anytime from FreeCreditReport.com.

This site gives you a free copy of your Experian credit report, one of the three major reporting agencies. By perusing that, you can see how your credit card debt and payment history — as well as student loan debt, mortgages, bill payments and more — affect your credit score.

2. Protect Yourself From Identity Theft

So you trust your kiddo to spend responsibly. But what about those lunchroom thieves? Little Johnny could lose a high-stakes game of marbles and find himself upside down by the ankles being shaken down for that valuable piece of plastic in his pocket.

Or he could trade it for Janie’s Mastercard, because her mom got her the one with a butterfly on it.

Protect your bank account from Janie’s Hello Kitty addiction with identity theft protection from Credit Sesame.

Every Credit Sesame account automatically comes with $50,000 in identity theft protection insurance — and it’s free to sign up.

Plus, Credit Sesame’s credit report card lets you see your credit score, keep an eye on your credit report from TransUnion (another of the three major agencies) and figure out tons of ways to improve your credit score.

So… what do you say? Do you think credit cards for kids are a good idea?

Dana Sitar (dana@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer/newsletter editor at The Penny Hoarder. Say hi and tell her a good joke on Twitter @danasitar.

What can you buy for a dollar? When you think of what you could do with it, do you think of things like…

  • Stick it in a change jar, and think about it when you’ve gathered 20 of them?
  • Gift it to a toddler, who doesn’t yet know the value of money?
  • Fold it into an origami bowtie?
  • Use it as a bookmark, instead of spending $3 on an actual bookmark?

The dollar alone doesn’t seem very valuable these days. Can it even buy you anything in the vending machine down the hall? (We’ll wait.)

OK, now that you’re back, let’s redeem the almighty dollar. If you know where to look, it could go a long way.

Here are six surprisingly valuable things you can do with just $1.

1. Give Any Room a Makeover

Hit up a dollar bin at just about any craft store — or general retailer like Target and Walmart — and pick up supplies for your next project.

For example, you can liven up your living room by re-upholstering old throw pillows with fabric from the $1 bin at Joann’s.

Get creative! Materials like popsicle sticks, cork boards and yarn can go a lot further than you might think. Here are a few DIY projects you can create using these affordable components.

2. Start Investing (No, We Mean It!)

When you don’t have a lot to begin with, investing to grow your money seems like a far-off goal. But new micro-investing apps let you dip your toes in this once-rich-man’s game and put your money — no matter how little — to work.

For example, the Clink investment app lets you invest in the stock market with as little as $1 a day.

The smallest amount you can invest is $1 a day, which Clink automatically withdraws from your checking account. You can also choose to invest larger amounts on a daily, weekly, bi-weekly or monthly basis

Or, link your credit card, and have Clink invest a percentage of what you spend — so you can make sure you’re balancing your spending habits with smart savings!

Clink charges $1 a month, but also offers a $5 signup bonus — which is like getting five months free.

To get started, download the app here.

3. Enjoy 45 Days of Hulu

Tired of your smug friends looking down their noses at you and your common cable subscription? Take the leap into the 21st century, and give Hulu a shot.

The service normally costs $7.99 a month, but if you sign up for Groupon, you can get this exclusive deal: 45 days of Hulu Limited Commercials for $1.

You can watch tons of popular shows streaming on Hulu the day after they air, plus entire series, including past seasons of current shows like “Modern Family” and classics like “The Twilight Zone.”

Hulu is also making its mark in the original content game, with exclusive series like “Behind the Mask” and “Difficult People.”

The basic subscription is ad-supported, and you can upgrade to the $11.99 a month No Commercials plan to watch everything ad-free and really stick it to your no-TV friends.

Here’s the link to sign up for Groupon.

4. Buy Dinner at Jimmy John’s Every April

Fans line up for this deal every year. It happened in April its first two years, so mark your calendar for 2018!

To say thanks to us, the eaters of sandwiches, Jimmy John’s sells select subs for just $1 on Customer Appreciation Day. Lnes are long, but at least you get to connect with other JJ fans while you’re there!

5. Wash It Down With a Soda From McDonald’s

Earlier this year, McDonald’s tried to lure us back in with a simple move: It charges just $1 for any size soft drink and $2 for select McCafe drinks.

I like the sound of that deal, Ronald, but I don’t know if it’s enough to get me gobbling a McFish instead of Whole Foods salmon anytime soon. Times, they are a’changin’.

But if you like a bargain, this one’s tempting. And once you’re close, you won’t be able to resist the smell of the fries. Thankfully, rumors say the restaurant will bring back our beloved Dollar Menu any day now

5. Buy a Boat

OK things are getting kind of crazy now, but stick with us. This is really cool.

This couple bought a used boat through Craigslist… for $1. Does it sound too good to be true? Yes. Is it, actually? Yes, but only kind of.

Roxy and her husband found a boat they loved that was listed for $3,500. Then they waited. And waited. Finally, when they knew the seller would be desperate, they offered to take it off his hands for a measly $1. He accepted.

They had to put in some elbow grease to repair the thing — and the deal came with the stipulation they’d pay some slip fees for the old owner. But they still got a killer deal on the thing for that $1 down payment.

Are you going to find someone willing to sell a boat for $1? Not super likely (but tell us if you do!). But you should read Roxy’s tips to get a great deal like this on your next big-ticket purchase.

6. Rent an RV

Have you heard of RV relocation deals? If you’re a frequent road-tripper, you’ve got to check this out.

Rental companies have to move vehicles around to meet demand in certain cities.

If a glut of vehicles has made their way to New York — but not back to Indiana, Colorado or Washington — those other locations have to somehow be restocked.

Instead of taking on the full expense of sending an employee to drive a vehicle across the country, companies rent their vehicles to you. In exchange for sticking to their schedule and destination, you get a steep discount.

You can find relocation deals for RVs, as well as cars, trucks and campervans.

Pretty cool deal, right?

Stretch Every Dollar

Sure, some of these ideas are wacky, and some may not fit your needs (or your diet). But it’s important to get back to basics and realize the — sometimes surprising — value of that little $1 bill.

Keep an eye out for deals, think outside the box and don’t ever settle for paying the first price you see. That’s how a Penny Hoarder lives a rich life, even on a tiny budget.

Dana Sitar (dana@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer/newsletter editor at The Penny Hoarder. Say hi and tell her a good joke on Twitter @danasitar.

As the end of summer looms and you start thinking about making room in your home for winter clothes, school projects and holiday-gift hiding places, a lot of people are plotting garage sales to clear the clutter and make extra money.

The prospect is tempting. But is a garage sale worth your time?

How Much Can You Make From a Garage Sale?

What I know of garage sales — albeit second-hand and anecdotal — looks something like this: Spend weeks digging junk out of your house, borrow tables and hangers from friends and family, give up your weekend to haggle with strangers...

...and earn about $300.

It doesn’t sound fun -- or worth it.

Crystal Paine at Money Saving Mom says she made $1,000 during a two-and-a-half-day yard saling, which sounds great. Until you realize her family split the haul with her siblings (she doesn’t specify how many) and her parents.

And she recommends preparing at least three to four weeks in advance, then setting aside several hours a day in the days before the sale to price items, organize everything and set up.

Then you play retail clerk for the weekend — say, if you’re savvy, five hours a day for three days.

That’s at least 25 hours of work for $40 an hour — split among three or more households. Subtract possible advertising costs and taxes, which we know you’re scrupulous enough to pay each quarter.

So… you do the work of basically running a business for less than $13 an hour.

Oh, and did you ask for time off work to make time for this? With lost wages, you might not even break even.

Garage Sale Tips: Don’t Have One!

Here are a bunch of places you could use to sell your stuff with less effort and for more money than a garage sale.

1. Sell CDs, DVDs, Video Games and More on Decluttr

Your impeccably-alphabetized CD tower might not be a hit in your dusty garage, but you could cash in selling them through this app.

Decluttr will buy your old CDs, video games, DVDs and Blu-rays. You scan the barcode with the app on your phone, and Decluttr makes an offer.

Prices vary — usually about 50 cents to $3 per item — and you can unload your media in bulk to make an extra $50 to $100 this week. And never have to look at them again.

With Decluttr, you can sell stuff online without having to deal with individual listings and buyers.

And shipping is free. The company emails you a shipping label to cover the cost. Just print, pack your items in any box and ship it.

2. Find the Best Place to Sell Textbooks With Bookscouter

Hoarding old college textbooks? I get it. I was sure I’d crack my Sociology 101 text to answer important questions in the future. Alas…

To get them off your hands, use Bookscouter.

Search the book’s ISBN, and the site will connect you with more than 25 of the best-paying and most reputable buyback companies online, so you can find the best price.

3. Sell Almost Anything on letgo

You can sell virtually anything on Letgo.

This intuitive app lets you snap a photo and upload your item in less than 30 seconds. It’s free to use, and a simple way to connect with people who want your old stuff — without inviting them into your yard.

4. Find a Local Gold Buyer for Old Jewelry

You probably know you can sell gold and silver for cash; those TV commercials won’t let you forget.

But don’t be tempted by those companies.

Sell your precious metals locally for a better deal and faster payment. If you have bullion bars lying around, great.

If you’re like most of us and do not stock gold bars, try selling these items:

  • old jewelry
  • real silverware
  • serving dishes
  • tooth fillings (if they’ve fallen out and you’ve held onto them for some reason…weirdo)
  • quarters and dimes minted before 1965
  • wedding and engagement rings (sorry)

5. List Vintage Jewelry Through Etsy

Don’t be that person trying to sell valuable jewelry at a garage sale.

Yes, it’s probably worth what you’re asking — but not to a garage-sale shopper. They’re looking for cheap. To get a decent price for classic pieces, get them in front of shoppers willing to pay a premium for vintage.

Etsy is known as the marketplace for crafts and handmade goods. But you can earn money on the site without making anything. Your vintage goods may take longer to sell online than in your garage — but you’ll probably nab a much better price for a lot less effort.

6. Sell Your Used Clothes Online

Forget about tagging, folding, hanging and displaying all your clothes for sale. Just snap a photo of a willing friend in the garb, and list it through an online consignment store or peer-to-peer app.

Poshmark lets you create a profile and acquire followers — like social media, if your social circle was always at the mall. We talked to an expert to get tips for making the most of your listings on the app.

Online consignment works similar to its brick-and-mortar cousin. You’ll send in your items, and the site will sell them for you. Some make you an offer and pay upfront, but most make you wait for payment until an item sells.

You can even sell your wedding dress on consignment — and make another frugal bride very happy!

7. List Your Wares on Ebay, Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace

To sell your items locally without commandeering the garage for a weekend, turn to these online staples.

If you have rare or antique items you think could go for big bucks, list them on Ebay to connect with collectors and other bigger-ticket buyers.

List pretty much anything else on your local Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist. Follow these tips (for either) to make your listing more attractive and to stay safe from scammers.

If you’re headed out of town and just want to get rid of stuff as fast as possible, you can list it as a freebie on Craiglist or in a local buy, sell and trade Facebook group.

8. Sell Unique Items Through Online Flea Markets

If you want to think beyond the most saturated markets, look for online flea markets.

These catch-all marketplaces are as quirky and wonderful as their in-person counterparts — minus the dirt and fleas. Their smaller audience could yield better relationships and help you connect with niche buyers for your more unusual pieces.

9. Trade or Sell Exercise Equipment at 2nd Wind

No one wants to impulse buy your unused treadmill at a yard sale.

If you live near a 2nd Wind exercise equipment store, sell it there for a better price — or trade it in for an upgrade.

10. Upcycle Your Furniture and Sell It for More

If you’ve been thrifty about furniture purchases in the past, you could turn a profit by reselling in the right place.

For quality furniture you’ve treated well, try selling to consignment stores.

If you bought cheaper items that were a bit worse for the wear, try sprucing them up with a coat of paint, stain or new hardware. Some buyers will pay a premium for shabby chic — as long as you put a little more emphasis on the “chic.”

11. Donate Everything for a Tax Deduction

Think you can sell your stuff for, say, $700 at a garage sale? You might do better by donating it.

Instead of spending days — or weeks — to earn that $700, spend an hour emptying your closets, storage rooms and garage, and take your unused stuff to a thrift store. Just make sure you leave with a receipt.

Next April, you can claim the fair market value of all that stuff as a tax deduction (if you itemize deductions).

It’s tough to calculate the value of that tax deduction precisely, but let’s try a scenario.

Say you sold a bunch of clothes, baby toys and accessories for less than $1 apiece. That’s well below “fair market value” — no way is the IRS calling a rummage sale a “fair market.” In good used condition, maybe that stuff is worth at least $5 apiece.

For reference, here’s Goodwill’s “Donation Value Guide.”

Donating those items means you could claim a tax deduction of around $3,500 (five times the rummage sale value).

At a 15% tax rate, that deduction would save you $525 in taxes for the year.

With your time gathering stuff to donate and itemizing your tax deductions, you’ll invest maybe two hours into that $525? That’s $262.50 an hour.

You could spend up to 12 hours packing for the thrift store and doing taxes, and you’d still earn more for your time than hosting a rummage sale.

Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a senior writer/newsletter editor at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, Writer’s Digest and more, attempting humor wherever it’s allowed (and sometimes where it’s not).

Banks are not the most popular businesses in the world these days. That’s putting it kindly.

Two of the top five most-hated companies in America last year were well-known banks, with Wells Fargo and Bank of America inviting the ire of customers.

Think of your last interaction with a big bank.

I know I tend to avoid them whenever possible. I know I’ll be stuck on hold with customer service for 45 minutes, waiting to speak to someone who definitely can’t answer my question about the unexpected “maintenance fee” that showed up in my statement.

It’s enough to make you want to stick your money under a mattress… but you know that’s a terrible solution.

Thankfully, a few smart companies have become privy to everything we hate about traditional banks, and they’re starting to offer solutions.

Modern institutions are popping up with online bank accounts seemingly designed in direct response to every complaint we’ve ever had about our traditional banks.

Why Open an Online Bank Account?

Lee Best opened a spending and savings account with Chime on a co-worker’s recommendation. He’d been venting over the proverbial watercooler about his existing bank, and the co-worker suggested the company, which Best had never heard of.

“He spoke so highly of Chime and his experience with them,” Best says, “I decided to check them out. I have been highly satisfied ever since!”

Is Your Money Safe in an Online Bank Account?

Skeptics often worry about the security of an online bank account whose name they don’t know. Something about a brick building with a literal vault inside makes you feel like your money is safe.

To mimic vault-like security online, Chime partners with The Bancorp Bank to offer FDIC-insured accounts — just like your existing bank, and it offers a huge fee-free ATM network.

Chime issues a Visa debit card, which offers protection against unauthorized transactions. Its website and app use 128-bit encryption, two-factor authentication for password protection, as well as Touch ID login to keep your digital information safe.

And then there are all those reasons you were thinking about leaving your old bank in the first place

Eliminate the Inconveniences of Traditional Banks

Samuel Demeny switched from Wells Fargo to Chime to get away from unnecessary fees and restrictive daily spending limits.

The move is already paying off.

When we spoke, Demeny’s sister and her dog were visiting for a couple of weeks, and the poor pup had recently visited the vet.

Demeny’s sister found herself at the vet’s office without a way to pay the $700 bill — not what you want to deal with when you already have a sick pooch. She had the funds in her account, but her card was declined “because of the daily spending limit at her credit union,” Demeny says.

Luckily, he was able to step in and cover the cost with his Chime card. “It was nice that I was able to pay for it right then and there without having to call my bank.”

If he’d still been with Wells Fargo, he’d have been stuck with a $300 limit and an annoying wait on the phone with customer service to raise it.

Though online-only banking is still new and unfamiliar for a lot of people, both Best and Demeny have been pleasantly surprised by their experiences using Chime.

Here’s why they say it works better for them than their old (more well-known) institutions.

1. Save Money Without Thinking About It

One of the most attractive things about this online bank account, both guys said, are the automatic savings options.

Demeny is using both of Chime’s “Automatic Savings” options to build a nest egg -- one option is to save every time he spends, and another feature lets him save every time he gets paid.

The app rounds up his Chime card purchases to the nearest dollar and moves the digital change to his savings account. He likes that he doesn’t have to think about these savings, and he doesn’t notice them absent from his budget.

In nine months, he’s saved $800 this way.

He also recently activated Chime’s option to stick 10% of every paycheck into savings. He’s already stashed $450 from three paychecks.

He and his boyfriend Thomas will use the savings for a move to Seattle.

“It’s just so hot down here,” he says of his current home in Houston, Texas. “I want to move up north.”

Demeny and Thomas visited Seattle two years ago and fell in love with the Pacific Northwest. They look forward to calling the area home eventually.

When they move, they’ll be able to put their savings toward all those little moving expenses that add up — like down payments on furniture — instead of using credit cards.

“We can pay for a lot of things up front, because we both use Chime, and the money’s saved,” Demeny explains.

2. Enjoy Great Customer Service (Without Getting on the Phone)

While Demeny’s been able to convert a lot of friends to Chime, Thomas was a harder sell, he says. He had reservations about using an online-only bank account.

Who would he go to with questions?

But Demeny showed Thomas a few chat logs with Chime’s customer service and explained how simple it was to send a message through the app when he had a question

“Their customer service is top-notch,” Demeny told me. “…You can send a text message and within 10 or 15 minutes have a response. With Wells Fargo, it was, like, two or three days.”

Best agreed. Chime reps are “always professional, polite and knowledgeable” he says.

Demeny’s enthusiasm for the company is simple. “The people working for Chime just seem happier, like they like their jobs more.”

3. Get Your Paycheck Up to Two Days Earlier Than Your Co-workers

“I receive my direct deposit a day earlier than all my co-workers who use other banks,” Best says. “I receive mine Wednesdays, they get theirs on Thursdays.”

Demeny gets his paycheck two days ahead of his coworkers — on Wednesday instead of Friday.

Unlike most financial institutions, Chime doesn’t wait to give you access to your money until your pay date. It adds money to your account as soon it receives notification from your employer and immediately posts the funds to your account.

“The fact that I’m paid on Wednesday versus Friday… helps me budget before the weekend even starts,” he explains, “so … I can set up my plans accordingly without overspending.”

4. No More Hidden Fees to Use Your Account

Demeny cited fees as one big reason he left Wells Fargo after opening a Chime account. He was paying $25 a year just to keep his checking account active and would’ve had to pay another $45 a year to add a savings account.

“I don’t want to have to pay to keep a bank account open, especially if I have money in it,” he says.

Chime, in comparison, charges no monthly fees (and has no minimum account balance), no overdraft fees and no foreign transaction fees.

ATMs are fee-free at MoneyPass locations. Demeny uses the ATM at a local Walmart, about a 10-minute drive from home.

On those rare occasions when there’s no fee-free ATM nearby, the app also helps him find businesses where he can get cash back at check out, like a nearby grocery store.

5. Earn Money for Telling People Why You Love Chime

Demeny is an Apple sales associate by day, but he doesn’t rely on salesmanship to convince friends and co-workers to try Chime.

“I don’t feel like I’m upselling a product,” he says. “I feel like I’m talking very happily about something, because I feel for it..”

Lucky for him, Demeny can get paid for those he “happily” converts.

6. Do Your Banking From Anywhere

“The app is user friendly and convenient,” Best says.

Demeny echoed that sentiment, mentioning several times how easy the Chime app is to use. Signing up took just a few steps, and he received his debit card in the mail in four or five days.

You can also link an existing bank account and transfer money back and forth with the Chime app. Once you have direct deposit set up, you can use Chime's mobile check deposit feature to deposit paper checks via the app.

If you ever need to mail a paper check for those old school payments like your monthly rent, you can enter the payment info into the app, and Chime will cut a check and mail it for you.

Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a senior writer/newsletter editor at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, Writer’s Digest and more, attempting humor wherever it’s allowed (and sometimes where it’s not).

Do a quick search for information about student loans, and you’ll find myriad sites offering comprehensive guides… about federal student loans.

This information is great, of course, because millions of undergrads and grad students borrow student loans from the federal government.

But what about the students who rely on private loans to pay for school? That number reached 1.4 million in 2012-13

Of the $1.4 trillion in outstanding student loan debt, private loans represent about 8% of that total, or $108.2 billion. 

Private loans represented 10% of the $107 billion in loans taken out by students in the 2015-2016 academic year, according to the latest numbers from The College Board.

The abundance of information about federal loans can be confusing for borrowers who need more than what the Department of Education has to offer.

We decided to untangle the information for you — whether you’re considering borrowing private loans yourself or you just want to know what the heck all this talk about Sallie Mae is about.

Your First Step

To start, before you look into private loans, your first step should always be to fill out a FAFSA to see what you can get through federal grants and loans.

This will show you which grants (free money!) you’re eligible for and whether you’re eligible for work study programs (money you work for, instead of paying back) — two options you don’t have with private lenders.

Federal loans also often come with flexibility that could come in handy in the future, like deferment, income-based repayment and loan forgiveness. These are harder to come by with private loans.

Why Apply for a Private Student Loan?

“I often tell people even if the interest rate's a little bit lower on the private loans, you might still go with the federal loan,” explains Kevin Walker, VP and Head of Education Loans at LendingTree.

With federal loans, he says, “you have flexibility for deferment, forbearance, income-based repayment. There's a lot of conditions on federal loans that private loans don't have.”

With that giant caveat, why should a student even look at private loans? Walker explains two common scenarios.

1. Your Federal Loans aren’t Enough

The traditional reason to apply for private student loans is you simply aren’t eligible for enough in federal loans, grants or work study to cover your college costs.

In your financial aid award notice from schools, you’ll see how much federal aid you’re eligible to receive. If that won’t cover your tuition and other costs, you could consider private loans to fill the gaps.

2. You Can Get a Lower Interest Rate

Increasingly, Walker says, students and parents are able to get a lower interest rate on private loans than federal ones.

This is most often true, he says, of parent PLUS loans, a federal supplemental loan in your parent’s name.

“So there might be some occasions where a student would borrow a private loan or a parent would borrow a private loan instead of a federal loan,” he said.

PLUS loans for parents and grad students tend to have much higher interest rates than other federal loans. So if you or your parents have a strong credit score, a private loan could be a better deal.

To see what kind of interest rate you’d qualify for — to compare with your federal loan options — you can enter your information into a student loan marketplace like Credible.

It’s free, and you don’t have to make any commitment to find your rates. Credible will just show you what you might qualify for from several lenders, so you can pick what works best for you.

Why NOT to Apply for a Private Student Loan

When you consider borrowing a private loan, keep the caveats in mind.

If you anticipate any point in the future when you might struggle to repay your debt, federal loans are much friendlier than their private counterparts.

(You can read about options you get with federal loans here.)

You should also make sure you’ve exhausted your options for scholarships and working through college before deciding to take on more debt.

Giving up four summers to work full time sounds terrible now, but you’ll be thankful when you see all your friends working to pay off $50,000 in student loans for the next 20 years.

How to Apply for a Private Student Loan

Applying for private loans is not the same as applying for federal loans. That comes with pros and cons.

One pro is you don’t have to navigate your way through something like the FAFSA again. Plus, you can probably just go to your bank and ask someone there to help you get started.

The flip side of that is every process will be a little different, so we can’t offer clear guidance.

The major con of applying for a private loan is... your credit score matters.

For a lot of students — like those just leaving high school — that’ll mean you can’t take out a loan without a co-signer (often a parent).

But this comes with a huge benefit down the line. While 43% of federal borrowers are having difficulty repaying, Christine Roberts, head of Student Lending at Citizens Bank, says a majority of private student loan borrowers are successfully keeping up on their payments.

Do You Have to Apply for a New Loan Every Year?

When you accept federal student loans, you sign a master promissory note, which basically lets your loan application and terms roll over from year to year. Heading into each school year, you don’t have to file a full FAFSA again, just update some information to confirm your financial situation.

Most private lenders, Walker explains, don’t have that option. You have to reapply for a new loan to cover your expenses each year. That could be a good thing, though.

“[It’s] an opportunity to shop around again, because there might be a new lender,” he says.

Some private lenders do offer the option, though, so be sure to ask about it.

For example, Roberts says of Citizens Bank, “While applying for aid has historically been an annual process for families, we offer a multi-year approval allowing them to fill out one full application and receive an approval through graduation.”

What Kinds of Loans Are Available?

When you look at federal student loans, you’ll see a variety of loans that come with different repayment conditions. They even have neat names to make them easy to remember (in theory).

Private loans aren’t categorized like that. You’ll qualify for an interest rate and repayment structure based on your (and your co-signer’s) credit history.

“Really the only differences (among private loans) usually are the fixed rate and variable rate,” Walker explains.

Fixed rate means your interest rate will be set when you sign and never change for the life of the loan. Variable rate means the interest rate could fluctuate with the market over the life of the loan.

The Difference Between Private Student Loans and Other Private Loans

So… you apply with a private lender and get a loan (or not) based on your credit history. Does that mean private student loans are the same as, say, your car loan? Or your mortgage?

Kind of.

Private student loans are more like those other private loans than they are like federal loans.

The main difference is the lender consults your school before giving you a student loan.

“The college is intimately involved in the private loan, because they ultimately have to certify the student's eligibility for the amount that [the student is] looking to borrow on private loans,” Walker explains.

The lender will let the school know the amount you qualify for, and the school will let the lender know whether that makes sense for your needs there.

When Do You Have to Start Repaying the Loan?

Most students know one thing about their federal student loans: You don’t have to start repaying them until six months after you graduate — or leave — college. (Speaking of caveats, this comes with plenty.)

Private lenders often offer that option, too, but it might not be your best bet.

“With most private loans today, you have the option of paying interest during school, [paying] interest and principal [during school], or deferring,” Walker explains. “And lenders will sometimes charge more interest in a situation where the payment is deferred, because it's taking longer for them to get cash flow.”

You also won’t find a private loan that doesn’t accrue interest while you’re in school (as with federal Direct Subsidized loans).

“Every private loan accrues interest during the in-school period,” Walker says, “and if you're not making payments, the interest that is accruing is usually capitalized into principal at the time repayment begins.”

How Can You Find Out How Much You Owe?

If you’ve already taken out private student loans, and you’re ready to get serious about repayment, the first step is to know how much you owe… and who gets your payments.

Like application, managing private loans is slightly more complicated than federal loans — only because there’s no one-size-fits-all system.

You’ll have to stay in contact with your lender to find out where you can keep track of the status and terms of your loan. (e.g. Do you have an account on the lender’s website? Is there a special portal for borrowers?)

You can, however, use a site like Free Credit Report to get a quick overview of your student loan debt (and anything else you owe).

These sites show you a simplified credit report, so they’ll let you see how much you owe and to whom, as well as your current interest rates. If you’ve let your student loan debt slip way under the rug for a few years, this is a great way to figure out where you stand and who you should reach out to with issues.

Who Can Answer Your Questions

While the Department of Education is equipped to help you navigate your federal student loans, it’s not the best place to learn more about private loans.

If you have questions about your private loans, start by contacting the lender. This is the best place to look for information to clarify your loan agreement or learn about repayment options.

For general information, you can also ask your school’s financial aid office for guidance — even after graduation. And the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a whole host of information about student loan repayment.

Can You Postpone Payments on Private Loans?

Federal student loans come with built-in guidelines for deferment or forbearance of your loan payments. The guidelines for private loans are more variable, and the definitions of these terms are a little different.

Here’s what they mean, in regards to private student loans:

  • Deferment: A period of postponing or reducing payments while you’re in school, an internship or residency.
  • Forbearance: A limited period of postponing or reducing payments due to financial hardship. Rather than being tied to your status (e.g. “in school”), forbearance will be set for a limited time (e.g. 12 months).

With private loans, your options for deferment or forbearance aren’t guaranteed.

“Often they exist internally, meaning that if the borrower got into a difficult situation, they might be able to negotiate forbearance, for example, with a private loan lender,” Walker explains. “But usually the private loan lender doesn't specify upfront what would be available.”

What qualifies you for either of these options varies among lenders, and it’ll be up to you to negotiate the options with your lender.

What Does It Mean to Default?

Defaulting on a loan means you’ve failed to make payments for several months. The entire balance of your loan becomes due immediately, and the debt could be sent to collections.

A private loan is generally defaulted after 120 days (three months) of missed payments.

When you default on federal loans, the government could start garnishing your wages or withhold your tax refund to collect payment. It’s not so easy for private lenders to get your money.

When you default on a private loan, the lender will have to go to court — and win — before enforcing measures like wage garnishment to collect on the loan.

What is Student Loan Refinancing?

Refinancing will generally mean replacing loans with a new one (or a few) that brings all your student debt under one umbrella.

This could simplify your life with one monthly payment, instead of several. It may also lower your monthly payment, improve your interest rate and/or give you more time to pay.

For some, this could be one of the best ways to pay off student loans.

You could get a lower interest rate on your loans by refinancing with a company like Credible. Other companies offer similar services, but we like that the average Credible user saves about two interest points on their current federal loans.

You can refinance anytime, so don’t hesitate to look into it, even while you’re still in school.

“The earlier you refinance, the more you can save [if you get a lower interest rate] and the faster you can pay off your loan,” Roberts says.

Enter your info at Credible to find out what your new interest rate could be.

Note: If you increase the length of your repayment period, you’ll potentially pay more in interest over the life of your loan — make sure you do the math to figure out how much money you could actually save by refinancing.

Should You Apply for a Private Student Loan?

The biggest mistake students make when applying for private loans, according to Walker, is skipping the FAFSA. He warns against assuming you can’t get federal loans.

Don’t assume your parents make too much money.

Don’t assume you won’t qualify for grants or work study.

Don’t even assume it’s too late to apply.

“You should always [fill out the FAFSA], even if it's past the deadline,” Walker said. “It's still worth doing so that you can make sure that you have the option of taking out federal loans.”

Leave yourself open to all options, so you can shop around and get the best deal to pay for your education.

Whatever you do, make sure you’re not desperately applying for that private loan due to lack of planning or research.

“The biggest mistake that people make across the board when it comes to financing an education,” Roberts says, “is not talking about it as a family soon enough.

“[This conversation] needs to start early and cover things like what we as a family can afford, what the student needs to contribute (if anything), debt at one type of school versus another and ability to repay following graduation.”

In a nutshell? We can’t tell you whether a private loan is right for your situation.

But we hope this information sheds light on the complicated process of paying for college — so you can make an informed decision before joining the millions of people struggling to repay student loan debt.

Dana Sitar (dana@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer/newsletter editor at The Penny Hoarder. Say hi and tell her a good joke on Twitter @danasitar.

Your gown is tucked away. Your cap is proudly Instagrammed. The last notes of “Pomp and Circumstance” have fizzled out.

You’re looking to the future, and you’re excited to enter this thing everyone condescendingly calls the “real world.” Welcome.

Oh, just one little thing: You’ll be slapped with a monthly reminder of the burden of your college education for the next 10 to 20 years.

OK, good luck, byeeeee!

We know you’d like to spend your time enjoying a last summer at home, settling into a new job or taking that overseas trip you’ve been putting off. But if you could take a few minutes today to take a quick look at your student loan debt, we promise your future self will thank you in spades.

Here are some steps you can take now to help pay down your student loan debt faster than your sun-soaked peers.

1. Figure Out How Much Debt You Have

Before you can pay off your student loan debt, you have to know how much you owe and to whom. It’s such a basic step, a lot of people overlook it.

But do you want to blindly receive a bill every month, send a check and wait for the next one?

Considering you often sign off on student loans as a teenager without a clear understanding of what they even are, you probably don’t remember the terms of repayment down to the finest detail.

It may seem overwhelming, but the information is simple to retrieve.

Use these tools to see how much you owe and who owns your debt, so you can make plans fully armed with information:

Credit Sesame’s Free Credit Report Card

Credit Sesame will let you see how much money you owe and to whom (even if you’ve defaulted on loans). It’ll show your balance on both private and federal loans (and other debt) and offer tips to help reduce your debt and raise your credit score.

Office of Federal Student Aid

For federal student loans, sign in at studentaid.ed.gov to see:

  • Which grants and loans you received.
  • How much you still owe on each.
  • How much interest you owe on each.
  • Status of each loan (in repayment, forbearance, default, etc.).
  • Your repayment plan for each loan.
  • Loan servicer (to whom you make payments).

2. Simplify Your Loan Payments

One of the simplest ways to repay your loans quickly is to refinance.

“The earlier you refinance, the more you can save and the faster you can pay off your loan,” says Christine Roberts, Head of Student Lending at Citizens Bank.

Refinancing will generally mean replacing your laundry list of loans with one loan that brings your student debt under a single umbrella.

For your federal loans, the Department of Education offers a direct consolidation loan.

This federal loan lets you combine multiple loans into one new one and takes an average weighted interest rate. You’ll only have to make one payment each month, and you have more time to pay off your balance.

If you have private loans — or you’re still struggling with payments on your federal loans — try getting a lower interest rate with a company like Credible.

Other companies offer similar services, but we like that the average Credible user saves about two interest points on their current federal loans

Refinancing could simplify your life with one monthly payment, instead of several. It may also lower your monthly payment, improve your interest rate and/or give you more time to pay.

Drawback to this method? A longer repayment period means your balance will spend more time accruing interest. While it’ll make life easier each month, it could cost you more money over the next 10 or 20 years.

Enter your info at Credible to find out what your new interest rate could be.

3. Create Your Monthly Budget

For many 20-somethings, the months after college graduation are when you finally start adulting for real. A huge (and hugely unpopular) part of that is taking control of your finances.

The first thing you should know is budgeting doesn’t have to be complicated.

You don’t have to be an Excel genius or a numbers wiz. You just have to pay attention to how much money is coming in and how much is going out.

Don’t forget to include your student loan payment in your monthly budget! If it’s an afterthought, it’ll be a burden every month.

4. Earn Extra Money

When staring down a mountain of debt, many people forget to consider this option.

Instead of sacrificing the lifestyle you want when student loans eat away your paycheck, try to earn extra money dedicated to paying off debt.

Think it’s easier said than done? We’re talking about stuff so simple, you can do it around two jobs, a family and a social life — no excuses.

These 12 apps help you earn extra money for doing almost nothing. Or try something a little more lucrative, like cashing in your aluminum cans for $150 a month.

If you have more time, try launching a flexible side hustle, like reselling clothes and other thrift store items, or driving with Uber and Lyft.

Or, maybe you’re savvy enough to nab an apartment with a spare room. List it on Airbnb to cash in. If you’re a good host with a desirable space, you could bank hundreds of dollars this way.

These gigs let you earn more money when you’ve got the time and energy to hustle — and take a break when you’re worn down by the new job you hopefully landed straight out of college.

5. Know Your Options

In a perfect world, you’d understand the ins and outs of student loans before signing the contract. But we understand that’s not realistic for most people.

Instead, do your research now — before your loan payments become a looming nightmare of debt that follows you around for the rest of your life.

You have several options for repaying federal loans. Standard repayment has you paying off your loans over 10 years.

If that means a monthly payment you can’t afford, consider signing up for an income-driven repayment plan. They limit your monthly payments to a certain percentage of your income and extend the period you have to pay.

When you can’t make monthly payments, deferment or forbearance could allow you to temporarily postpone or reduce payments.

For private loans, you may be able to negotiate deferment, but the option isn’t built in the way it is with federal loans. Or you can look into refinancing for better repayment terms.

Even if you’re on top of your loans, learn your options now. You don’t know how your finances will change in the future, so it’s better to understand your options before you’re in a panic.

6. Start Making Payments

You just graduated. Aren’t you supposed to wait six months to start paying back your loans?

Wrong.

Yes, many student loans come with a grace period — you’re not penalized for skipping payments in those months. But you can start paying anytime (even while you’re in school).

“You can start paying off student loans right away, and you should pay what you can as soon as you can,” Joseph DePaulo, CEO and co-founder of College Ave Student Loans, explained to us a few months back. “Students who put money toward their loans during school save money in the long run.”

Private loans don’t all come with a grace period, so make sure you understand your repayment terms.

“With most private loans today, you have the option of paying interest during school, interest and principal [during school] or deferring [until after school],” explains Kevin Walker, VP and Head of Education Loans at Lending Tree.

But, Walker added, “every private loan accrues interest during the in-school period.”

The earlier you make payments, the less time your loans will have to accrue interest, so get crackin’.

Conquer Student Loan Debt

That wasn’t so bad, right? Now tell your friends — you don’t want them still drowning in debt at 35 (albeit in the sunshine beside a pool) while you’re ready to take on the world.

Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a senior writer/newsletter editor at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, Writer’s Digest and more, attempting humor wherever it’s allowed (and sometimes where it’s not).

What is a credit score, really? And which one matters the most?

Your credit score is a number that generally ranges between 300 and 850. It’s like a grade that tells lenders, credit card companies and others how well you manage money and repay debt.

Now the complicated part: You don’t have just one, definitive score. You have several, and they come from several sources.

Which Credit Score Should You Pay Attention To?

Choosing the “most important” one is a little like choosing the best grub from under a log. They’re too unique to compare, and you don’t really like any of them all that much, anyway.

FICO scores are the most commonly used credit scores.

It was created by Fair Isaac Corporation, a software company that uses information from credit reporting agencies Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. They’re the prom queens of credit scores.

But tons of little, lesser-known agencies may mine your credit history to report to lenders, too.

Each agency uses its own grading system, so your scores will vary — sometimes slightly, sometimes significantly.

How to Use Your Credit Score

Well, this is a real bummer. You want to stay on top of your game and keep an eye on your credit score. But what, exactly, are you supposed to look at?

Most important to know: The score you pay to see online — or the one you find for free — isn’t the same one your lender sees. Yup, that surprised us, too.

Your free credit score is helpful to get an idea of your creditworthiness, but don’t count on it to make important decisions based on obtaining credit, like how much house to buy.

Instead, use your credit score as a guide to make sure you’re managing your money well.

The three national bureaus are each required to give you a free credit report (not including a score) once every 12 months. Take advantage of that to check for errors or identity theft throughout the year.

You can also keep an eye on your credit report and score through free sites like Free Credit Report.

If you’re rejected for a loan, shop around. Different lenders may see different scores or use different guidelines to assess your creditworthiness.

If you continue to face rejection or know your score(s) sits below 650 — considered “good” by most lenders — take these steps to improve it.

Disclosure: Clink! Clink! Clink! That’s the sound of pennies hitting our piggy bank, thanks to the affiliate links in this post. It’s a better savings plan than stopping traffic to pick up loose change -- and safer, too!

Dana Sitar (dana@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer/newsletter editor at The Penny Hoarder. Say hi and tell her a good joke on Twitter @danasitar.

Talk to anyone with massive debt and poor credit, and you’ll learn one thing for sure: The hardest thing about improving your credit score is knowing where to even begin.

I know from experience.

I have nearly $60,000 in debt and a credit score below 600. I was paralyzed by these awful numbers — one unbelievably high, the other embarrassingly low — so, for years, I did nothing.

Then I started writing about personal finance, and I learned some companies exist specifically to help you wrap your head around your credit history.

No scammy promises to drastically raise your credit score. No massive upfront fees for services that never deliver. No late-night commercials that look like they were designed on Microsoft Word in the 90s.

I wish I’d heard of this years ago…

Last year, I signed up for Credit Sesame — a free service that shows me my credit score and credit report, plus suggests steps I can take to improve my score.

It’s gone up 66 points already!

But now I’m wondering if I can do even better with Credit Karma. This service looks similar to Credit Sesame — free credit score, report and recommendations, all with the goal of improving your credit.

Because each is free — so no risk in joining — I signed up for Credit Karma to see how it compares.

Here’s what I learned...

What You Get With Credit Sesame vs. Credit Karma

Let’s start with the similarities.

These services have a lot in common and both work with the same goal: to help you maintain or improve your credit score.

With both apps, you’ll get:

  • Access to your free credit score.
  • To see what’s on your credit report.
  • Recommendations for services and actions to improve your credit score.

Both are free to use. The companies make money from the lenders and other services they recommend.

Both apps make your credit report easy to understand. Their designs are quite different, but both let you see:

  • Your credit score
  • Which factors affect your score
  • How much each factor matters
  • What, exactly, is on your credit report
  • What you can do to improve any pain points that are hurting your score

Both even include a color-coded system, so you can see at a glance how you’re doing in each area: Green is good, yellow is so-so and red is bad.

What’s Different Between Credit Sesame and Credit Karma?

They both have similar interfaces, though Credit Karma’s has a slightly more modern, user-friendly feel.

Which Reports You’ll See

Looking beyond cosmetics, the first difference you’ll see between the apps is Credit Karma gives you access to reports from two credit reporting bureaus: TransUnion and Equifax.

It shows the credit score each bureau reports for you, plus what each includes on your credit report.

Credit Sesame shows the same, but only from TransUnion.

Why does that matter? You don’t have just one credit score — you actually have several, reported by multiple agencies, and they’re not always the same.

Debt Information

One thing Credit Sesame includes on your dashboard that I didn’t see anywhere on Credit Karma is total debt.

Your debt — from student loans, mortgage, auto loans, whatever — is a key part of your credit score, so it’s nice to see up front what you’re dealing with.

Identity Theft Protection

A major benefit Credit Sesame has over Credit Karma is identity theft insurance.

Both services monitor your credit reports and alert you of major changes — but only Credit Sesame actually insures you against damages.

It provides $50,000 in identity theft insurance, plus fraud resolution assistance, for free — just for being a member.

Other Small Differences…

I also noticed a few less important differences between the services:

  • Credit Sesame offers a few more options to help you improve your credit score.  While Credit Karma focuses on financial offers — credit cards and lenders — Credit Sesame also refers you to services that can help with delinquencies or late payments on your report.
  • Credit Karma features a community forum and member reviews of the products it recommends.

Credit Sesame vs. Credit Karma: The Verdict

Which service you choose is probably more a matter of personal taste than anything else.

If you have poor credit and want to improve it, Credit Sesame might have a slight edge with a wider variety of affiliate offers and the clarity of your total debt balance.

If you want to apply for a major loan soon — like a mortgage or auto loan -- Credit Karma’s reports from two major bureaus (versus one) could help you see important differences in reporting.

That could be beneficial, because you don’t know which report your lender will pull. Only seeing one report could give you false confidence in applying for a loan.

In my case, my main goal is improving poor credit, and I like seeing my total debt in one place. (Well, “like” might not be the right word…). So, I’m going to stick with Credit Sesame.

Want to cover your bases? Use both.

Both services are free to use and sign up only takes a few minutes. With access to both, you can be sure you’re not missing any helpful advice or recommendations that could help you improve your credit score.

Here’s the link to sign up with Credit Sesame.

Here’s the link to sign up with Credit Karma.

Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a senior writer/newsletter editor at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, Writer’s Digest and more, attempting humor wherever it’s allowed (and sometimes where it’s not).

Young people and their dagnabbit phones, right? With their snaps and their grams and their selfies…. What’s the world coming to, really?

You might guess from what you see in restaurants and at bus stops that we — the country’s young people — are obsessed with seemingly shallow platforms like Snapchat and Instagram.

We’re mindlessly scrolling our days away and never bothering to process a word or — gasp — a full sentence.

You’d be wrong.

Here’s Exactly How Much Time We All Spend Browsing Selfies

For the first time in three years, Instagram has revealed how much time users spend on its app, Bloomberg reports.

The app’s most popular demographic, people under 25, are on the app a whopping… drumroll, please… 32 minutes a day.

Womp womp.

Do the math: That’s two minutes per waking hour.

Instagram users over age 25 spend less, about 24 minutes a day.

Snapchat users are similar, spending about 30 minutes a day on the app.

On Facebook, which captures a higher percentage of older users, the average U.S. consumer hangs out for around 40 minutes a day.

If we’re doing all three, that’s about 6 minutes an hour on social media. Not earth-shattering.

So get off your “young people these days” high horse and stop scoffing at my partner and me at dinner.

Hate Social Media? Use These Apps to Make Money Instead

Fine. Even if the number isn’t shockingly high, we could be doing other things with our time.

Almost anything else would probably be more valuable than scrolling through photos of our high school prom date’s new baby.

Here’s a compromise: We’ll use the time to make money… but we still get to be on our phones.

Here are some free mobile apps to make money while we ignore our family members over dinner tonight.

1. QuickThoughts: Go on Secret Missions

QuickThoughts turns your smartphone into private-eye technology, taking you on top-secret missions in your area.

QuickThoughts Missions relies on your input — and sneakily-taken cell-phone photography — to give businesses important feedback. And like any respectable PI, you get paid for your investigative footwork.

For your missions, you’ll earn points toward gift cards to retailers like Amazon and iTunes.

Bonus: It’s a great excuse to avoid eye contact with the cashier next time you go to CVS!

2. Letgo: Sell Your Old Clothes

Instead of sharing a #tbt photo of yourself in your old prom dress (‘hem, date cropped out), dig that dress from the depths of your closet — and sell it.

Stop storing clothes indefinitely, and try selling them on an app like Letgo. You can literally list something in less than a minute.

Need help getting rid of stuff? The Minimalists recently told us how to get started living more meaningfully.

3. Ibotta: Get Cash Back for Your Groceries

This rebate app lets you earn money for taking a picture of your receipt — but skip the #richkidsofinstagram post.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Sign up for Ibotta here with your name and email address.
  1. Browse through the cash-back offers in your area and take note of offers next time you go to the store (they change every week).
  1. Once you’ve reached at least $20 in earnings, you can request payment via PayPal or Venmo.

And right now, Ibotta is giving new users a $10 sign-up bonus when you redeem your first receipt.

4. I-Say: Get Paid to Take Surveys

We need an excuse to put our opinions anywhere except Facebook. Here’s a way to get paid to share yours. Seriously, it’s better than likes.

The Ipsos I-say mobile app lets you earn about $5 for about 30 minutes of answering simple questions. Like: Coke or Cherry Coke? (Cherry, obvs.)

You won’t qualify for every panel, but if you answer surveys instead of scrolling through social media while you watch your favorite sitcom each night, you could pocket $100 this month!

5. InboxDollars: Get Paid to Watch Videos

Take a few minutes away from puppy videos each day, and flip over to InboxDollars instead.

The app’s videos are sponsored by brands that need to get them in front of as many eyeballs as possible. Every time you watch one of the ads, InboxDollars will credit your account with a little bit of cash.

Plus, you’ll get a free $5 just for signing up!

6. Stash: Get $5 to Start Investing

Stop clicking on GoFundMes for your friends’ cats, and start making your money work for you (and your cat).

Penny Hoarders are kind of obsessed with Stash, because it simplifies something we know we should be doing but always put off: investing.

Anyone can use Stash to start investing. You don’t have to have an MBA or even make it all the way through “The Big Short” to understand how to invest with this app.

You just choose from a set of simple portfolios reflecting your beliefs, interests and goals, and the app does the rest.

Here’s how to get a free $5 to invest:

  1. Use your email to sign up here.
  2. Download the Stash app on your smartphone, and set up your account with the same email address.
  3. Within two business days, you’ll see a $5 bonus in your account — just for signing up.

7. Acorns: Save Money Without Thinking About It

When I wanted to start saving money, I tried Acorns. It connects to your bank account, plus credit and debit cards, to help invest your spare digital change.

I spent about 10 minutes setting it up, and I saved $116 in three months without even realizing it.

At that rate, you could easily save $420 this year without even noticing a change in your budget. Plus, you’ll get a free $10 when you make your first investment.

That’s enough to cover one Insta-worthy road trip this year…

Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a senior writer/newsletter editor at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, Writer’s Digest and more, attempting humor wherever it’s allowed (and sometimes where it’s not).

Yesterday, the website GOLF reported President Donald Trump told golf buddies he was frequently away from his new home in Washington, D.C. because, “That White House is a real dump.”

The White House has denied the quote, so we don’t know whether it’s true. If it is true, we also don’t know whether the comment was meant as a joke or an earnest disparagement of the home of our nation’s First Family.

Regardless of the facts, the story has unsurprisingly filled headlines and sparked plenty of rage-filled jokes on Twitter.

All this talk got us thinking… Regardless of your standards, no one wants to live in any home they’d consider “a dump,” right?

What to Do if Your House Is a Dump and You Can’t Afford to Fix It

When you buy a fixer-upper, you tell yourself you’ll get around to, well, fixing it up.

Eventually.

But then… work, kids, pets, friends, family, church and that vacation your therapist convinced you to take all fill your time. And you look around after a couple years to realize you’re still living in a dump.

Some new paint, carpets, trim, cabinets and countertops would really brighten your day (and home). But they’re not free — so where are you going to find that money?

First, consider how much simple home renovations could boost the value of your house. Even the color you paint your walls can make a difference in your home’s resale price.

So, sprucing the place up is an investment in more than just your day-to-day comfort.

Here are seven simple home renovations you can probably afford.

And if you don’t want to pay for a contractor — labor costs can really add up — here are some places you can learn DIY home improvement skills for free.

How a Personal Loan Could Help You Spruce Up Your Dump

If you want to take it a step further than a coat of paint, a personal loan could help cover the cost of home renovations. You’ll be able to improve the atmosphere and value of your home now, but get a few years to pay for it.

If you’re thinking “home” and “loan” in the same sentence sounds scary, don’t fret. Taking out a personal loan is less complicated than a mortgage — and the amount you’ll need is probably way less.

You can potentially get a personal loan for as little as $500 — and you can do it online.

Credible is an online marketplace that offers consumers personalized loan offers. Think of it like Zillow — but for personal loans.

Interest rates start at 5.99%, and you can check yours by entering a loan amount here ($500 to $40,000) and comparing your personalized options in under 90 seconds.

Give Your Dump a Bump

Whether you live in a cabin in the woods or a stately mansion in D.C., everyone should love the four walls surrounding them. Give these home improvement tricks a try, and you may just consider a few more staycations next year.

Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a senior writer/newsletter editor at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, Writer’s Digest and more, attempting humor wherever it’s allowed (and sometimes where it’s not).

Each year, around 2 million people apply for jobs at Google. About 5,000 are hired, according to The Guardian.

How do you feel about your odds? Somebody has to fall into that elite 0.25%... right?

Even if you don’t land — or necessarily desire — a job with this particular giant of Silicon Valley, tech jobs are the future of work. Your dream job is out there.

These tips from top tech companies and employees can help you land it.

Here’s how to get a job at Google -- or any other tech company...

1. Learn the Right Skills

If you want a job in tech, you’ll have to speak the language.

Java, that is. Or Python or Ruby… or one of about a dozen other popular programming languages.

If this is all brand-new to you, try one of these free apps to learn to code from scratch.

If you want more guidance, consider a coding bootcamp. These short — usually 12-week — courses help you learn a marketable skill quickly, without spending a ton of time or money in school.

And they can yield some pretty fantastic job opportunities.

A coding bootcamp “gives you a good foundation and kind of springboards you into the new career,” Philadelphia-based developer Cody Norman told us. “… It allowed me to get jobs that otherwise would’ve been pretty tough.”

If you want to work in the tech world, but not in development, think about how to use your other skills.

These companies have tons of departments to staff, from HR and accounting to social media and marketing to food service for those famous on-site cafeterias.

2. Know Where to Look for Jobs

You probably won’t happen across a Google job listing on Craigslist. (If you do, please don’t tell your interviewer that’s where you found it.)

To stay in the loop with the top jobs in tech, use a site geared toward people who work in your industry.

Dice is a job site exclusively for tech careers.

Use it like any job-search site to filter by position, location, company and other criteria — except you won’t have sift through a bunch of irrelevant listings, because the site caters to the kinds of jobs you’re looking for.

You can also use Dice’s Hack Your Career feature to find your market value — so you know you’re being paid fairly for your skills and experience.

3. Get Ahead at Your Current Job

Before telling your boss to take your job and shove it you-know-where, make the most of your current position to set you up for success in your next one.

Even if you hate your job, seize every opportunity to learn something new. Consider it paid training for whatever you do next. Use the time to network with people in your industry (or others, which may come in handy).

Practice soft skills you’ll need no matter where you go next.

Take it from Google’s own former senior vice president of people relations (the guy who hires people). In his book “Work Rules!,” Laszlo Bock advises giving your work meaning.

“Connect work to an idea or value that transcends the day-to-day,” he says, “and that also honestly reflects what you are doing.

“If you’re a lox slicer, you’re feeding people. If you’re a plumber, you’re improving the quality of people’s lives. Whatever you’re doing, it matters to someone. And it should matter to you.”

Get to the root of what purpose your job serves, and conquer it — even if you know you don’t want to be slicing lox for the rest of your life.

4. Develop Skills Google Cares About (Other Companies Will Care, Too)

The Guardian asked Bock what Google looks for in employees.

It’s clear you don’t have to exude a traditional professionalism to make it onto the campus decorated in colors reminiscent of kindergarten. What does matter, then?

First, Bock says, “general cognitive ability… Not just raw [intelligence] but the ability to absorb information.”

They also look for “emergent leadership. … when you see a problem, you step in and try to address it. Then you step out when you’re no longer needed.”

Next, they look for a quality you may have heard of in the lore: “Googleyness.”

It’s the name the company gives to those characteristics that make you a cultural fit, which Bock says boil down to “intellectual humility.” You don’t have to be warm and friendly, but you need to be able to admit — and believe — when you’re wrong if you want to mesh with other Googlers.

Last on the list, they look for “expertise in the job we’re gonna hire you for.”

Surprised that one’s last? Google isn’t the only company that hires this way — it’s just the company that’s made the idea most famous in the past decade.

If you can learn and understand new information, are willing to step in where you’re needed, and can admit and adjust when you’re wrong, then picking up the skills needed for a position should be a piece of cake.

5. How to Apply for a Job at Google

Google, for one, makes applying for its sought-after jobs very easy. It lays out — online — exactly what it’s looking for in your application.

The real secret here? These tips are helpful anywhere you want to apply, so pay attention.

About your resume, Google says, “This is the first piece of information we’ll see about you, so highlight your achievements. Here’s how to frame them…“

So nice of a company to make it that simple! Here’s what its hiring managers want to see in your resume:

  • Make sure the skills and experience you highlight are in line with the job description.
  • Be specific! Which projects did you work on? What were the outcomes? How did you measure success?
  • What leadership roles have you held? How many people did you oversee?
  • If you have limited work experience, what kinds of school projects or coursework did you do that will show off your skills?

Finally, Google says, “Keep it short! If there’s additional information (like a portfolio) we need during the hiring process, your recruiter will work with you to collect it.”

6. Prep for Your Interview

Job interviews can be the absolute worst. Or they can be the best… and then the subsequent five days while you await a phone call can be the absolute worst.

Head into the recruiter’s office with confidence by bringing your best game. Start by knowing concise and thoughtful answers to these common interview questions

Next, don your thinking cap. (Not literally, unless that’s a quirk you think will get you ahead with your future employer.)

The Valley’s finest are famous for truly out-of-the-box interview questions, so be prepared for… something you weren’t prepared for.

To warm you up, think about how you’d answer these challenging questions real interviewees faced at major tech companies:

  • “How would you go about to find the top five Java Developers in a certain area?” — Google, technical recruiter.
  • “Write an equation to optimize the marketing spend between Facebook and Twitter campaigns.” — Uber, data analyst.
  • “How many happy birthday posts do you think Facebook gets in one day?” — Facebook, sales operations.
  • “Name a brand that represents you as a person.” — Twitter, brand strategist.

Land Your Dream Job

Regardless of the position or industry, you bring the most important pieces you need to land your dream job — your sparkling personality and wealth of talent.

We hope these tips can give you the nudge you need to get in the door with the company you’ve been dreaming about since you were a toddling little 101-year old with *’s in your eyes.

(101 is binary for five… but you already knew that.)

Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, Writer’s Digest and more, attempting humor wherever it’s allowed (and sometimes where it’s not).

When I think of school shopping, I think of doing it as a kid. It was one of my favorite times all year.

Maybe it was my obsession with organization — so many folders! — or maybe it’s that feeling I got picking out clothes and imagining the kid I could be for the next nine months.  

Whatever it was, I’m sure my mom didn’t share my excitement.

For parents, school shopping means big bills, long lines and reading that list wondering, Really? The school’s not supplying its own toilet paper anymore?

Thankfully, retailers feel your pain (and they really appreciate your perennial business). You’ll find sales galore this time of year on everything your kids need to become the brilliant, fabulous little people they’ll be this school year.

I gathered some of the best deals for school supplies available from Target this week to help you save money and skip the crowds while you shop for your kids’ bright futures. (To deal with that toilet paper issue, you should probably just register to vote in your local elections.)

Note: These offers are good online at Target.com. Check with your local store to see if they’re valid before shopping in the store.

1. Get a $5 Gift Card When You Spend $50

[caption id="attachment_62696" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]Customers walk into a Target store at the Gateway Market Center in St. Petersburg, Fla., on July 31, 2017. Customers walk into a Target store at Gateway Market Center in St. Petersburg, Fla., on July 31, 2017. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

Order the kids’ back-to-school supplies online, and select in-store order pickup. You’ll pay no shipping (because it’s shipped to the store), and you’ll earn a $5 gift card if you spend $50 or more.

The deal applies to these school supplies and is good through Aug. 5. You’ll get the gift card in the mail after you pick up your items at the store.

2. Save 15% on School Supplies

[caption id="attachment_62694" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]Pens and markers are included in the Best Back-to-School Deals at Target shot at the Gateway Target store in St. Petersburg, Fla. Pens and markers are included in back-to-school deals at Target. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

Tons of school supplies for all grades are on sale at Target in preparation for the school year. Get scented markers for the young ‘uns or binders for the older kids — maybe pick up a few fun supplies for your office!

We don’t know when these prices will change, so keep an eye on the supplies you need, and nab them when you can.

3. Get a Backpack for $25 (or Less)

[caption id="attachment_62698" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]Mossimo Supply Co. backpacks are on sale at Target along with other back-to-school items. Mossimo Supply Co. backpacks are on sale at Target, along with other back-to-school items. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

Target’s Mossimo Supply Co. backpacks are on sale for $25. It’s not exactly a steal, considering their original prices are between $26 and $30.

But you can reduce the sale price even more by deal stacking.

  1. Start with the sale price of $25 — an automatic savings of between $1 and $5.
  2. Add this coupon code at checkout: HANDBAGS20. You’ll save another 20% — $5 off. That code’s good through Aug. 5.
  3. Sign up for Target’s RED debit or credit card. It offers 5% cash back on every Target purchase (except prescriptions). Knock another $1 off the price of your backpack. (If you spend $500 shopping for school, that’s $25 cash back!)

Now your backpack is just $19 — a savings of up to $11.

Then, think outside the big box, and try these other creative ways to save money at Target.

For example, save your email receipts, and sign up for an app called Earny.

Earny scans your inbox for receipts and tracks to find price drops on your purchase, always trying to get you the most money back. It then claims the difference with the retailer or credit card issuer on your behalf through price protection policies.

4. Buy 3 Hanes Basics, Get a Free $5 Gift Card

[caption id="attachment_62700" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]Select Hanes products are part of the back-to-school deals at a Target. Select Hanes products are part of the back-to-school deals at Target. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

I know you’re going to need socks and undies — kids want to start the school year fresh! And Hanes is pretty much the go-to brand for these staples.

Throw in a pack of T-shirts, undershirts, bras or any of these select Hanes products, and you’ll earn a free $5 Target gift card.

Plus, these items are already on sale, so you’ll stack deals to save even more!

Say you buy…

  • 10-pack of assorted girls underwear — originally $9.99, on sale for $6.49
  • 10-pack of boys boxer briefs — originally $13.99, on sale for $11.49
  • 5-pack of boys T-shirts — originally $9.99, on sale for $6.49

You’ve already saved $9.50. Stack the gift card on that, and you save $14.50!

You’ll get the gift card in the mail separate from your order, whether you choose home delivery or store pick up. This offer is good through Aug. 5.

5. Get a Free $5 or $10 Gift Card When You Buy Kids’ Clothes

[caption id="attachment_62702" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]Cat & Jack kids clothes are are on display at a Target store in St. Petersburg, Fla. Cat & Jack kids clothes are are on display at a Target store in St. Petersburg, Fla. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

Whether your kids wear uniforms or their own style to school, you can find their new outfits at Target.

Shop through Aug. 5, and you’ll get a $10 Target gift card when you spend $40 or more select kids clothes. Spend at least $25, and you’ll get a $5 gift card.

That’s 20% to 25% cash back!

6. Get a Free $5 Gift Card When You Buy 3 Always or Tampax Products

[caption id="attachment_62705" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]Always feminine products are displayed at a Target store in St. Petersburg, Fla. Always feminine products are displayed at a Target store in St. Petersburg, Fla. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

For your older kids (or yourself), this week is a smart time to stock up on menstrual care products — always good to have some stashed in a locker.

Buy three select Tampax or Always products, and you’ll earn a $5 Target gift card.

Add that to the deals above, and you’ll earn $25 in Target gift cards just for buying the stuff your kids need! That could go a long way in buying fixins for lunches in your local Target grocery section.

7. Buy 1, Get 1 50% Off Select Kids Shoes

[caption id="attachment_62706" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]Kids shoes on display at a Target store. Buy one pair of select kids shoes at Target, and you’ll get another 50% off — good through Aug. 12. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

We weren’t super fashion-forward in my house, so I usually got two pairs of shoes at the beginning of the school year: something cute for day-to-day wear, and the obligatory pair of sneakers for gym class.

This deal is perfect for that simple shopping list. Buy one pair of select kids shoes, and you’ll get another 50% off — good through Aug. 12.

As always, the discount will be applied to the cheaper pair, so shop accordingly. For example, get these sneakers for $19.99, and you’ll pay just about $9 for these cutie patootie ballet flats.

Save Money on School Supplies

If you won’t nab Target deals this week, here are a few more tips to help you save on school supplies this year:

Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a senior writer/newsletter editor at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, Writer’s Digest and more, attempting humor wherever it’s allowed (and sometimes where it’s not).