Kelly Smith - The Penny Hoarder

In a day and age where it’s getting harder and harder to make money in the digital world, there’s still good news for those who flex their creative muscles.

Patreon, the online platform that gives artists and creatives an opportunity to earn a sustainable income, just released some new statistics -- and according to them, business is booming.

To date, content creators have been paid out over $100 million, and the number of people willing to pay them has increased in the past year.

Are you ready to make some money?

Good News for You: Patreon is Still Going Strong

In the past year, the number of people willing to pay content creators on Patreon has doubled -- the site now has over 1 million active paying patrons.

This is fantastic news, considering other platforms have been doubling down on earning potential.

YouTube, for example, now requires 10,000 views in order for a channel to be allowed to advertise. This has raised the standards significantly for those looking to cash in on their content creation -- and has forced out those with smaller followings.

Patreon’s setup offers a way to break through this barrier; those who follow your page financially support you. They are required to pay every other week or once a month in order to have access to your content -- and you decide how much to pay and when.

This system has allowed creators to earn anywhere from $25,000 to more than $150,000 per year, as reported by TechCrunch.

One example is Joanna Penn, a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author. She has been using her Patreon page, The Creative Penn, since mid-2015. She started podcasting in March 2009 and eventually needed a way to offset the costs as her audience grew.

She admits she was embarrassed to ask listeners to help her financially, but over time, she noticed they gave more and more each month, and they love keeping her show on air.

To date, she has made over $21,000.

Tips for Getting Started on Patreon

Considering Patreon has doubled in the past year, it’s safe to say the opportunity to make money on it isn’t disappearing any time soon -- so you might want to get on it!

If you’re just now venturing into the Patreon world, Penn offers these three tips for success:

1. Build an Audience First

Before Penn got started on Patreon, she had been podcasting for nearly six years. She already had an audience and a well-built library of episodes, and she credits that to be a key part of her success.

“If you build up goodwill first, people are more likely to support you,” she says.

Grow strong roots first, then branch out for payments.

2. Be Committed for the Long Term

Like many online money-making programs, you won’t become a millionaire overnight while using Patreon.

Penn stresses it takes time to gain traction on Patreon. She almost gave up after the first few months, but over time her followers have grown.

”You will start small but if you’re offering enough value, your support will grow,” says Penn.

On Patreon, patience and persistence are key to making a profit.

3. Don’t Promise Anything You Can’t Deliver

Some Patreon users like to offer incentives to their patrons. Penn, for example, offers bonus audio if her patrons meet a separate goal amount.

She warns you should be careful when offering these incentives, though.

“Make sure you don’t promise anything in your stretch goals that you won’t be able to deliver,” she says. She gives some examples of unrealistic incentives, such as personalized calls or customized posts.

For more tips on how to get started on Patreon, check out our article “How Bloggers, Bakers and Other Creatives Use Patreon to Make Money.”

Good luck!

Kelly Smith is a junior writer and engagement specialist at The Penny Hoarder. Catch her on Twitter at @keywordkelly.

If you’re one of the hundreds of thousands of people banking on your job in the public or nonprofit sectors to pay off your student loans, listen up.

The Trump administration is set to release its first detailed budget May 23 -- and it could hit you hard.

Among its proposed budget cuts? The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, according to budget documents obtained by The Washington Post.

This means public school teachers, firefighters, health workers and others are facing a huge amount of uncertainty about their student debt.

What You Need to Know About the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program

The Bush administration established the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program in 2007. It aimed to encourage college grads to seek jobs in public service or the nonprofit sector by forgiving their student loan debt after 10 years of service.

The Washington Post reports that at least 552,931 people are on track to receive loan forgiveness, with the first loans scheduled to be forgiven this October. It’s not clear how borrowers currently enrolled would be affected.

The program has been criticized for allowing borrowers to rack up hundreds of thousands in student loan debt to obtain graduate or doctoral degrees, though supporters argue that many public service jobs require advanced degrees.

In its 2015 budget proposal, the Obama administration suggested a $57,500 cap on the amount the program can forgive. (That cap was dropped from the budget, and no cap is currently in place.)

In March, the U.S. Department of Education said the student loan forgiveness letters the program handed were “not binding and can be rescinded at any time.”

People participating in the program have said they based many major life choices on the program. Some told NPR last month they passed up higher pay in the private sector to take advantage of the loan forgiveness program. Others said that cutting the program could cause them to delay their retirement and marriage plans, and even make them reconsider having children.

A White House official told The Washington Post that it’s too early to comment on the specifics of the budget, but had this to say:

The president and his Cabinet are working collaboratively to create a leaner, more efficient government that does more with less of taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars,” the official said.

Other Ways the Budget Would Impact Your Financial Aid

The elimination of public service loan forgiveness is part of a proposed $10.6 billion cut to federal education programs, according to the preliminary documents The Washington Post obtained.

The Trump administration says it’s focused on creating a leaner budget that focuses on school choice.

If you weren’t thinking about taking advantage of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, what’s proposed in the budget could still affect you or your children.

Other proposed changes that might impact your financial aid and/or student loan debt that you might want to take note of:

  • The cuts would slash work-study programs in half. That means if you’re working your way through school, you might have a harder time finding an on-campus work-study job in the coming years.
  • If you’re a low-income student who qualifies for Perkins loans, your financial aid award could be reduced because the budget would eliminate $700 million for Perkins loans. Pell Grant funding for students with financial need would remain in place.
  • The Washington Post reports the spending proposal would “take a first step toward ending subsidized loans.” The government pays the interest on subsidized loans while you're still in school, meaning you could pay more in the long run if subsidized loans are cut.

If you’re one of the hundreds of thousands of borrowers facing uncertainty about your student loans, don’t panic yet. The president’s proposed budget typically goes through significant changes under Congressional scrutiny.

Of course no matter what happens, always talk to your student loan servicer about your repayment options.

Kelly Smith is a junior writer and engagement specialist at The Penny Hoarder. Catch her on Twitter at @keywordkelly.

It’s been a long time coming.

More than eight years have passed since the first vehicles were recalled due to exploding Takata airbags. But soon, nearly 16 million vehicle owners could finally get compensation.

The Takata Airbag Settlement is Worth Millions

On May 18, plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit filed a $553 million settlement agreement with four of the automakers that used the defective airbags.

The airbags were reportedly rupturing, sending dangerous material into vehicle cabins, harming passengers.

To date, at least 16 deaths, 11 of which were in the U.S., have been linked to the defect. Automakers have recalled and repaired more than 14 million vehicles, but plaintiffs argue the the companies have worked at a slow place, endangering those who are still driving the affected vehicles.

In January, Takata agreed to pay $1 billion for concealing its faulty airbags and submitting false tests to automakers. Three of its executives were also criminally charged with wire fraud and conspiracy stemming from the alleged cover-up and fake tests.

According to NPR, here’s how many vehicles are covered in the settlement and how much the automakers will pay if a judge approves the settlement:

  • 9.2 million Toyota vehicles: $278.5 million
  • 2.3 million BMW vehicles: $131 million
  • 2.6 million Subaru vehicles: $68,262,257
  • 1.7 million Mazda vehicles: $75,805,050

Ford, Honda and Nissan are also named in the suit, but they have not yet settled.

The settlement compensates those who own or lease the affected vehicles. Those whose vehicles are included in the suit could receive financial assistance to fix their vehicles, free rental cars while they wait for repairs and up to a $500 payment.

USA Today reports that those who have been injured by the exploding airbags are eligible for compensation under a separate fund.

The settlement will also create an outreach program for those who still drive affected vehicles. The program will work to get them repaired as quickly as possible.

More than 42 million vehicles worldwide have the potentially defective airbags. For a full list of vehicles involved in the recall, head to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website.

The website also lays out the steps you need to take to get your vehicle fixed.

Kelly Smith is a junior writer and engagement specialist at The Penny Hoarder. Catch her on Twitter at @keywordkelly.

OK, I’m sufficiently grossed out.

In theory, meal delivery services are great. They’re cost-effective and convenient, and they taste great.

But do you really know what you’re sacrificing for that convenience?

Well, it could be your health. *gasp*

A recent study from Rutgers University revealed the worst about home delivery meal kits -- and the findings make sense.

The findings aren’t for anyone with a weak stomach (this is your warning, BTW).

Meal Delivery Services Can be Hazardous to Your Health

Earlier this month at the Food Safety Summit, a Rutgers professor presented research on 169 home meal kits and over 1,000 consumer interviews.

Of the 169 home meal kits, nearly 47% of the meats, seafood and poultry arrived at over 40 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning they were unsafe to consume.

Hot food hot, cold food cold. If you’ve ever worked in the restaurant industry, you know temperature control is a vital part of food safety.

According to Delish, many of the animal products delivered were laden with pathogens.”

Gross. So gross.

Why is this happening?

The research revealed that part of the issue is the length of time between refrigeration and delivery. Products are often left outside for eight hours or more, which increases the chances of the food becoming hazardous.

Eating food that’s been stored at unsafe temperatures can result in foodborne illness from germs like listeria, E. coli and salmonella.

Ain’t nobody got time for that.

What You Risk for Convenience

When you pay for convenience, you’re paying for someone else to do the heavy work for you. Sometimes that heavy work is labor you just don’t have time for -- which, in this case, is grocery shopping.

But when you make a decision based on convenience, you should be aware of the costs associated with it.

You may save time by getting meals delivered straight to you, but you’re also opening a black hole of health hazards.

This isn’t to say meal kits are bad. But a little extra consideration on your end, like having someone at home for the delivery so they can properly store the food, should be part of the process.

Kelly Smith is a junior writer and engagement specialist at The Penny Hoarder. Catch her on Twitter at @keywordkelly.

Phone bills suck.

Mine is exponentially more than I’d like it to be -- and sometimes I don’t even feel like I’m getting what I’m paying for.

Maybe your monthly phone bill is monstrous, too. After a few months, it can really add up. Maybe it makes it so you have to stick to a strict grocery budget or keeps you from heading to Disney World. (Who doesn’t love Disney World?)

What if I told you that your phone bill doesn’t have to hold you back anymore because you could have six months of cell service for free?

It’s true. Thanks to this awesome deal, we can slash our cell phone bills together.

Republic Wireless Offers 6 Months of Free Cell Phone Service

Have you ever heard of Republic Wireless? I hadn’t until I came across this deal. The more I read about it, though, the more I’m intrigued.

The cell phone provider is offering up to six months of cell service for free, and it can save you big. I’ll be straight up, though: It requires a startup cost of $35 or less.

But after the math is said and done, you’ll still save in the long run. I’ll prove it with numbers later.

To snag this deal, you must own a qualifying phone. Phones included in this deal include Moto G, Nexus, Pixel and Samsung Galaxy -- sorry, no iPhones. For a full list of qualifying phones, click here.

After you confirm your phone is eligible, download the Republic app to verify it. Your phone must run Android 6.0 Marshmallow or higher for the app to work.

The next step is to purchase a $5 SIM card kit, which fits in all compatible Android phones. The Republic Wireless website says it will ship the card to you two to three days after your purchase.

And now, the bulk of the startup cost: activating your plan. After you install your SIM card, you’ll head to the app and activate your monthly plan. Plans start as low as $15 per month for unlimited talk, text and Wi-Fi data, and they go as high as $60 per month for unlimited talk, text and Wi-Fi data, and 6 GB of cellular data.

There are some stipulations, though. The free six months only includes the $30 per month plan, which gives you unlimited talk, text and Wi-Fi data, and 2 GB of cellular data. If you choose a more expensive plan for your six-month free term, you’ll have to pay the difference between the $30 plan and the one you select. And you have to pay monthly taxes and telecom fees, but they’ll likely be just a few bucks.

So, in simpler terms, go for the $30 per month plan so you don’t pay extra.

After paying for the first month’s service, you’ll get the next six months free.

This offer isn’t good forever, though -- you have to purchase a SIM card between May 16-22, and activate it by June 6. So, get on it!

Here’s Why This is a Deal

Maybe you’re ticked off now. This isn’t a deal, you buffoons! I’m still paying money! This isn’t FREE!

You’re right — it isn’t free at first. But after that initial cost, it’s totally worth it.

I’ll use my personal situation as an example.

I pay $55 a month for my cell phone bill, which is an unlimited plan.

I barely talk on the phone, and I’m always connected to Wi-Fi, so I would say my data usage is low.

If I chose Republic’s $30 per month plan, I would pay $30 for unlimited talk, text and Wi-Fi data, and 2GB of cell data.

Total startup costs? $35 before taxes.

Under my current $55 plan, I will spend $330 over six months.

With Republic’s plan, I would only pay $35 over six months.

Total savings if I got in on this deal?

$295 minus a few bucks here and there for taxes and telecom fees.

To me, it still sounds like a good deal.

Of course, the savings do not include any money you might owe on your phone if it’s financed or early termination fees, so your mileage may vary.

What do you think? Is this deal good enough for you to make the switch?

Kelly Smith is a junior writer and engagement specialist at The Penny Hoarder. Catch her on Twitter at @keywordkelly.

I am very, very single. And I’m OK with it.

Look, I’m a really nice girl. But I’m young, and men my age absolutely suck just aren’t meeting my standards right now.

A recent article in MarketWatch reminded me of all the financial disparities singles face. But when it included this quote from “Sex and the City’s” Carrie Bradshaw, it really hit me hard, considering I just graduated college:

If you are single, after graduation, there isn’t one occasion where people celebrate you,” she said.

Carrie Bradshaw was only talking about gift-giving, but the article goes beyond that, claiming that being single can cause you to experience some major financial drawbacks throughout your life.

Is this true? Am I doomed to foot the bill of my adult necessities on my own? Am I going to be single and poor for the rest of my life?

After taking a closer look, I’m not convinced.

Being Single Sucks for Your Wallet -- or Does it?

Being married means you’re showered with seemingly endless amounts of free s--t.

Weddings include abundances of perfectly wrapped presents simply because two people made the major life decision our society seems obsessed with.

I recently watched my sister get married and rake in a sofa, pots and pans, plates, wine glasses, a bar cart and more -- all for free, thanks to her posh Crate & Barrel wedding registry.

Single people, on the other hand, get the cold shoulder when they hit milestones in perfect stride -- all because they’re doing it alone.

As this article in The Atlantic says, “trips are not planned when we're promoted at work, nor crystal glassware gifted when we buy our first homes. It seems that milestone celebrations are still reserved for couples and families.”

So, yeah -- my fellow single peeps and I are left in the cold when it comes to free stuff, all because we aren’t putting a ring on it.

The MarketWatch article also brought up some obvious points, like how people in relationships save money on dating costs and housing.

Couples who live together not only save money on rent, but they also save big on daily expenses, such as groceries and household chores, because they’re splitting it all in half.

Cutting those expenses in half does sound like a dream, but I’m not downloading Tinder anytime soon.

Still, there are even more financial benefits to marriage that single pringles don’t have access to, such as the tax advantages of filing jointly and the ability to lean on someone financially, should something prevent you from working.

(Look, I can’t argue about tax benefits, but I think you should have your own emergency fund whether you’re single or coupled. Just sayin’.)

Married men make nearly $16,000 more per year than single men, according to this American Enterprise Institute study, although the study also found that married men work more hours than their single peers.

And what about women? The study found that despite married women working fewer hours than their single counterparts, the difference in incomes between married and single women is not statistically significant.

Why Being Single Could Save You Money

There are major financial perks to being married, so is it time to bite the bullet and fling yourself into the dating world?

Well, not exactly. There can be some major setbacks.

One thing you don’t have to worry about when you’re single? According to The Knot’s Real Weddings Survey, the average cost of a wedding in the U.S. soared to $35,329 in 2016.

I think my stomach just fell to the floor.

Don’t forget the ring, either. The same study found the average engagement ring costs $6,163. **gulp**

Also, I hate to be grim, but 40% to 50% of marriages in the U.S. end in divorce. And while there’s no set number on how much one can cost, The Huffington Post reported a divorce could cost between $15,000 and $20,000.

As for me, there’s no amount of money or free things that could convince me to settle down with someone I wasn’t 100% gaga over -- even if that means having to buy my own plates (most likely from the dollar store).

That said, I’m going to enjoy my solitude -- for now, at least.

Kelly Smith is a junior writer and engagement specialist at The Penny Hoarder. Catch her on Twitter at @keywordkelly.

O Trader Joe’s, how I love thee.

Aside from just generally being awesome, the grocery store is also known for its Two Buck Chuck wines -- an affordable collection of vinos that doesn’t lack in taste or quality. (Check out our wine snob’s review here.)

In case you needed yet another reason to love TJ’s (seriously? You’re still on the fence about it?), the company recently announced a new product that will blow your mind.

And it’s just in time for summer. 😎

Trader Joe’s Introduces New Canned Wine

On April 29, TJ’s announced it will offer sparkling Italian wine in four-pack cases. The company partnered up with an Italian supplier to create its line of Simpler Wines Italian Sparkling Wine .

Two flavors are currently available: a white wine with hints of honeydew and fresh-cut herbs, and a rosé.

That’s right. I said it -- rosé.

Let’s imagine the possibilities, friends.

You’re on a giant pink flamingo floaty in your pool, and you feel a bead of sweat form on your forehead. To freshen up, you grab a can of wine out of your cooler, pop it open and return to your summer bliss. No safety hazards of popping corks required.

You now live a life of immense luxury and barely have to lift a precious finger while seeking your bourgeois beverage of choice.

Your picnics will no longer require the stress of gathering the appropriate cups and lugging around an entire bottle of wine -- not to mention the risk of spilling the leftovers everywhere on your way back home.

And you know what? Tailgating at country concerts is about to get 10 times classier — I can’t wait to see people try to shotgun these things.

A four-pack of 187-milliliter cans will cost $3.99 -- that’s about 99 cents per can.

At that price, I’m willing to drink my wine out of a can for the entire summer. Try and stop me. I dare you.

Kelly Smith is a junior writer and engagement specialist at The Penny Hoarder. Catch her on Twitter at @keywordkelly.

Oreos.

I was a cynical child, so I grew up making them “drown” in my milk. (Maybe I still do? Maybe I’m still cynical? You decide.)

No matter how you eat them -- whether you dunk them in milk, pull them apart, lick the icing first or devour them in one bite -- they are delicious. So delicious, in fact, I thought they were called “America’s favorite cookie.” My officemates laughed and informed me the actual slogan is “milk’s favorite cookie.” **shrug**

Like many brand-name items, Oreos have plenty of cheaper knockoffs to contend with.

But is it worth it to ditch the posh, household-name cookie for a generic version in the name of savings? Do generic sandwich cookies taste just as delicious, or does nothing compare to the real deal?

I put a few Penny Hoarders to the test to find out.

The Ultimate Sandwich Cookie Duel

We love Double Stuffed Oreos, but to keep it fair, we put the original Oreo to the challenge.

The contenders? Generic versions of “Milk’s Favorite Cookie” from four popular supermarkets: Walmart, Target, Aldi and Trader Joe’s.

To keep things fair, taste testers weren’t allowed to look at their cookies before the first bite.

[caption id="attachment_56202" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]Sandwich cookies We tested generic versions from Walmart Target, Costco, and Aldi.
Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

1. Great Value - Walmart

Cost: $1.98

Cost per ounce: 12.8 cents

According to our four taste testers, these weren’t too terrible.

Editorial intern Jacquelyn Pica and associate video producer Teyonna Edwards both said their cookies tasted “pretty good” — though Edwards could definitely tell it wasn’t an Oreo.

Editorial intern Matt Vandenburgh mentioned how he could tell the cream filling was “generic.”

The cookie was notably crunchy, and social media graphic designer Pareesa Khwaja — who called herself a “cookie connoisseur” multiple times during the taste test — had strong feelings about the cream “not separating cleanly” when she pulled the cookie apart.

“Separation is weak, the cream came off,” she said. “A good cookie would come off cleanly.”

Verdict: Mediocre

2. Market Pantry - Target

Cost: $1.97

Cost per ounce: 10.9 cents

Thoughts on Target’s generic sandwich cookie?

Well, they were… mixed.

Edwards took one bite and looked like she wanted to throw up.

“I’m not finishing that,” she said through a scrunched “ew” face.

Vandenburgh noted that the cookie was thinner than the first one, which he said was “a little better, but not much better.”

Khwaja tried dunking it in milk, which seemed to ease her disgust.

“This tastes better with milk,” she told me. “I wouldn’t eat it without milk because it tastes gross.”

Her furious cookie dunking ended with milk in her hair. (We’re serious about our taste tests here.)

Pica complained about the lack of cream filling. Isn’t that the point of a sandwich cookie? C’mon, Target.

Verdict: Sketchy. Proceed with caution.

[caption id="attachment_56200" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]Sandwich cookies The Penny Hoarder staff wanted to see if we could taste the difference between store-brand Oreos and the real thing.
Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

3. Oreo

Cost: $2.99

Cost per ounce: 20.9 cents

Everyone pretty much knew these were Oreos -- except for Khwaja. Let’s just say she had an existential crisis midbite.

“I don’t like this one. Do I not like Oreos? Was my whole life a lie?” she said as she stared off-camera for a while.

While Edwards wasn’t “100% sure” if it was an Oreo, she ate the entire cookie. She only took small bites out of all the other ones.

Vandenburgh looked at the cookie and smiled because he knew it was an Oreo.

Pica said it tasted like “the real deal.”

Verdict: They’re Oreos. Obviously they’re good.

4. Aldi

Cost: $1.69

Cost per ounce: 10.6 cents

Edwards complained about the lack of sweetness this cookie brought to the table. “I need to have my daily intake of sweets,” she said of the cheapest cookies in the taste test.

Vandenburgh took one bite and said, “Well, this is disappointing.”

After chewing for a few seconds, Khwaja realized there was a “minty” aftertaste.

“IT’S ALL A LIE,” she said, raising her voice. (And yes, in case you were wondering, she continued eating the cookie.)

Pica said it was “good,” she but noted the floral designs on the outside were “weird.”

Verdict: One big minty lie.

5. Trader Joe’s

Cost: $2.99

Cost per ounce: 15 cents

A box of Joe Joe’s, Trader Joe’s generic sandwich cookie brand, costs just as much as a package of Oreos, although Joe Joe’s cost less per ounce. So you might think you’re getting a deal by picking these cookies up instead of brand-name ones, but our testers clearly didn’t think that was the case.

Edwards took a single bite and immediately reached for her milk.

“NO” was all she said as she politely pushed the half-eaten cookie to the other side of the table.
“THIS IS GROSS. WHAT FILLING IS THIS?” Khwaja asked, pulling the cookie apart for intense analysis.

Her backstory of how this cookie came to be a sad one was as follows:

This is the cookie your grandma keeps in the cabinet that she keeps for only for when you come over. And they stay there for years and years,” she explained, while continuing to eat the cookie.

“Or, it tastes like the cookies you find in the back of your pantry that you know you shouldn’t eat, but you eat them anyways because you have no other food in your house,” she said. “Or is that just my problem? It’s a desperation cookie, that’s what it is.

Vandenburgh rated it his second favorite, but he’s obviously an outlier.

Pica rated it as one of her favorites -- but since she’s the one who brought the box in for us, so I’m throwing away her biased response. I never said this experiment followed the rules, all right?

Verdict: Don’t eat these.

[caption id="attachment_56203" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]Sandwich cookies Writer Lisa Rowan eats a dunked Oreo during a taste test between store-brand Oreos and the real thing.
Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

Oreos Vs. Generic Sandwich Cookies: A Final Word

The lesson here is pretty obvious: You get what you’re paying for when you drop nearly $3 on Oreos.

If you choose to buy generic, expect your cookie to come with a few quirks.

And don’t forget the milk!

Kelly Smith is a junior writer and engagement specialist at The Penny Hoarder. Catch her on Twitter at @keywordkelly.

If you’re sick, the last thing you want to deal with is figuring out how you’re going to get to your doctor’s appointment.

Even worse, missing a preventative care appointment because you can’t find a ride can be detrimental to your well-being.

Blue Cross Blue Shield has noticed that a lack of transportation in certain areas has created a barrier for those in need of non-emergency medical attention. Now it’s teaming up with Lyft to fix the problem.

Blue Cross Blue Shield Will Soon Offer Free Lyft Rides

Blue Cross Blue Shield reports that an estimated 3.6 million Americans miss or delay medical appointments due to a lack of reliable transportation.

To help, the insurer plans to offer some policyholders no-cost Lyft rides to medical appointments. According to CNN Tech, the free-ride pilot will start in August or September,.

Patients won’t be able to use the Lyft app to access free rides.

Patients will schedule their free rides through their doctor or BCBS, according to Forbes. An alert on their phone will notify the patient of their scheduled ride.

The program will be available with company-sponsored insurance plans, but BCBS is considering expanding it to those who have insurance through Medicare Advantage or the Affordable Care Act exchanges.

The free-ride pilot will begin in metropolitan and rural areas where public transportation is scarce. BCBS will announce specific details on the pilot markets later.

A statement from BCBS said that the partnership will be a “critical way to help make our communities stronger and families healthier.”

Kelly Smith is a junior writer and engagement specialist at The Penny Hoarder. Catch her on Twitter at @keywordkelly.

It’s 5 p.m. After doing nothing a ton of work for eight mind-numbing hours, you think to yourself, “A massage would be just what I need right now.”

And it is. Plus, you truly deserve one, you rockstar. But massages are expensive, so you head to Bed Bath & Beyond and purchase a handheld massager for $50 (I see you there, big baller).

You get home and close your eyes. You feel your body start to relax as the vibrating contraption inches closer and closer to your bare skin, bringing your mind, body and spirit closer to paradise…

But -- oh no!

The massager starts shooting flames and burns the living sh** out of you.

Listen, friend, this isn’t a made-up nightmare. This is reality.

HoMedics has recalled about 400,000 handheld massagers due to short-circuiting that can result in burns. And yes, shooting flames.

Scary.

Be Careful With This Thing

You just wanted to chill and finally decided to indulge in a little bit of that treat yo’self business. You were looking forward to some serenity in the comfort of solitude.

But your handheld massager had other plans. And you’re angry. Hurt. Upset. Feeling betrayed.

HoMedics is sorry.

On May 2, the company recalled about 400,000 handheld massagers. The recall came after a February 2017 complaint from a customer who claimed the device caught fire where the power cord enters the device handle.

According to the official report from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), there have been 140 reports of “exposed wires, sparks, smoking and some shooting flames coming from the massagers.”

Unfortunately, the CPSC says that 15 people have reported burns to their fingers and other parts of their bodies.

Bed Bath & Beyond, Macy’s, Rite-Aid, Walmart, HSN and other stores nationwide sold the affected devices, which retailed for $30 to $50, from August 2013 through February 2017.

The recall includes three models: HHP-375H model Handheld Dual Node Percussion Massager with Heat, HHP-250 model Handheld Hot and Cold Massager, and the PA-MH-THP model Handheld Compact Percussion Massager with Heat.

If you purchased one of these products, the CPSC urges you to stop using it immediately and contact HoMedics at 1-888-803-0509 for instructions on removing the cord. HoMedics will try to smooth everything out with a credit toward a replacement product.

Stay safe out there. A hand massager that shoots flames sounds scary AF.

Your Turn: Were you burned by a handheld massager from HoMedics?

Kelly Smith is a junior writer and engagement specialist at The Penny Hoarder. Catch her on Twitter at @keywordkelly.

Net neutrality.

If you’ve been keeping an eye on the news lately, the term has been popping up everywhere.

There are talks of repealing net neutrality regulations that were passed two years ago, and tensions surrounding the topic have increased as a result.

Type what is net neutrality? into a Google search and headlines that pull up don’t exactly sound positive.

“Here’s What Comes Next In The Fight To Save Net Neutrality”

“Net Neutrality Protects the Rights of All Internet Users”

The FCC’s Plan to Kill Net Neutrality is Here and It’s a Vague, Open-Ended Mess”

If you’ve been wondering what all the buzz is about when it comes to net neutrality and how it affects you, we’ve done some digging, and here’s what you need to know.

What Is Net Neutrality?

Let’s start off with the basics: WTF is net neutrality?

Net neutrality describes the Open Internet Order, a set of policies focused on net neutrality, also referred to as the open internet, which is the requirement of all legal data on the internet to be treated equally by internet service providers (ISPs).

The regulations were put in place in 2015 after ISPs were accused of manipulating speeds and accessibility of certain websites.

How can data be discriminated against, you ask? Well, internet service providers could block or slow down traffic and charge companies extra to send their traffic at a faster rate, as reported by NPR.

The Open Internet Order was put in place by the Federal Communications Commission under the Obama administration in 2015, and Republicans have been against it since. Now, Republicans are fighting to remove it.

What the Removal of Net Neutrality Could Mean For You

The removal of net neutrality can have some huge pros and cons.

Those in favor of net neutrality argue the openness of the internet and its users should be protected.

Those against it claim net neutrality puts ISPs at a disadvantage because they’ll have to foot the bill of pushing data from content providers -- and those providers use a lot of data.

Here are a few more arguments for and against the removal of net neutrality:

Pro #1: More Free Data Plans Could Become Available

The Hill reports that repealing net neutrality regulations could result in mobile broadband providers being able to let their customers “access certain content without using up their data plans.”

ISPs and content providers could pair up and create deals to make this happen. However, this may end up with ISPs giving preference to those providers they have deals with.

Con #1: Content Provider Costs May Increase

ISPs could charge content providers, such as Netflix, extra money to ensure that its customers have a fast enough connection to stream content.

Without these regulations in place, the internet could become a battle of which online companies can afford to shell out top dollars to major corporations such as Comcast, Time Warner and Verizon.

And what happens if they can’t? You, the customer, will experience slower connections while using them.

If Netflix has to pay more, your membership cost may increase as a result (psst...here’s a way to get Netflix for free instead!).

Considering some ISPs are responsible for providing cable as well, Wired reports thatdegrading your Netflix streams [would] encourage you to buy cable television instead.”

And as we all know, cable is expensive -- that’s why cutting the cord has been a hot topic lately.

Pro #2: It Can Keep ISPs Innovative

In a 2014 opinion column by New York Times writer and Forbes technology contributor Gene Marks, he states removing net neutrality can keep ISPs motivated to provide the services its customers paid for.

Marks stated that not all services should be created equal, mainly because if they are, ISPs will no longer have an incentive to continue to push toward innovation, such as improving infrastructure and bandwidth. Without these strives for improvement, ISPs can begin to fall stagnant.

Under Marks’ argument, if consumers want to continue to have access to cutting-edge internet technology, they should be comfortable with the concept of paying more for exceptional service -- and they should see it as an investment.

Con #2: Small Businesses Could Suffer

As stated earlier, net neutrality created a low barrier of entry to the internet. Removing it could increase that barrier and hurt small businesses as a result.

If you were to launch a new content-providing service and didn’t have the money to pay for priority from ISPs, your business might experience little to no growth due to slow connections and customer dissatisfaction.

One of my Facebook friends, Laura Fiorella Egocheaga, is a small business owner. I asked her thoughts on net neutrality, and she spoke directly on the impact it has on small businesses like hers.

“The market should dictate the winners or losers, not the providers,” she said. “If the repeal happens it will stop new start ups from existing and innovation will slow down, and that's a shame.”

The repeal of net neutrality regulations could take some time to go into effect -- but now you know how it might affect you if it does.

Your Turn: What do you think about the possibility of net neutrality regulations being repealed?

Kelly Smith is a junior writer and engagement specialist at The Penny Hoarder. Catch her on Twitter at @keywordkelly.

For college students who want to travel home during breaks, having a car can be crucial. Plus, mom and dad might not want to move you in and out of the dorm every year (trust me, it gets to be a huge hassle). Plus having a car makes it way easier to run errands and get to work, especially if you have an off-campus job.

But what makes a good car for a college student? And what models are best for college students?

To take some of the guesswork out of it, we decided to pick out the eight best cars for college students. We selected four new options and four used models.

Multiple factors go into choosing a car: safety, size, features and more. For college students’ needs, we felt the following criteria were most important:

  • Manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of $25,000 or less: You’ll keep your monthly payment affordable.
  • Predicted reliability score: You’ll save money on costly repairs.
  • 30-plus mpg combined: You can drive home without breaking the bank.
  • Basic connectivity (Bluetooth streaming audio or auxiliary cord): Because no twentysomething listens to CDs.
  • Engine output: Because you want to beat your grandma’s Oldsmobile in a race, right?
  • Cargo room: You need plenty of room for your belongings when you travel to and from school during breaks between semesters.  

Best Cars for College Students: New

We looked at Consumer Reports’ Best New Cars Under $30,000 report and then found the ones that best matched the above requirements.

Here are our top four picks for the best new cars for college students:

1. Mazda 3

[caption id="attachment_54426" align="alignnone" width="893"] Mazda/Facebook[/caption]

Consumer Reports says Mazdas “tend to be very reliable,” which is one reason the 2017 Mazda 3 is at the top of our list.

It’s a vehicle that won’t cause you too many headaches, and it has an Environmental Protection Agency-estimated fuel economy rating of 30-31 mpg combined, depending on powertrain options. (Models with the 2.5-liter engine and manual transmission don’t meet our 30-plus mpg criteria, because the EPA rates them at only 28 mpg combined.)

The Mazda 3 is available as a four-door sedan or five-door hatchback and costs between $17,845 and $24,945. Standard features include blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, a 7-inch touch-screen, keyless entry and ignition, Bluetooth connectivity and an auxiliary input.

And even better, it’s spacious. Consumer Reports says its 12.4-cubic-foot trunk could fit two large upright suitcases and three duffel bags, making it a perfect candidate for lugging belongings around during semester breaks. The hatchback has 20.2 cubic feet when the rear seats are upright and 47.1 cubes with the seats folded, making this model even roomier.

IIHS rating: Top Safety Pick Plus, which means it earned good ratings in five crash tests, an advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention, and a good or acceptable headlight rating.

Warranty:

  • Bumper-to-bumper: Three years or 36,000 miles.
  • Powertrain: Five years or 60,000 miles.
  • Rust through: Five years and unlimited miles.
  • Roadside aid: Three years or 36,000 miles.

2. Toyota Corolla

The Toyota Corolla has always been known for its functionality at an affordable price, and the 2017 model doesn’t disappoint.

Toyota made safety a priority for the 2017 Corolla. Standard features include forward-collision warning, automatic braking with pedestrian detection and lane-departure warning with lane-keeping.

The 2017 Toyota Corolla rings in between $18,500 and $22,680, meaning that even the highest-end model meets our budget criteria. Upscale features like a rearview camera, automatic climate control, LED headlights, Bluetooth connectivity and an auxiliary input are standard on this model.

The Corolla ranks “much better than average” on Consumer Reports’ predicted reliability spectrum, which is the highest ranking possible. The 13-cubic-foot trunk can fit up to three large upright suitcases and a duffel bag, and the rear seats fold down for additional room.

It also gets 30-32 mpg combined, according to the EPA.

IIHS rating: Top Safety Pick Plus

Warranty:

  • Bumper-to-bumper: Three years or 36,000 miles.
  • Powertrain: Five years or 60,000 miles.
  • Rust through: Five years and unlimited miles.
  • Roadside aid: Two years and unlimited miles.

3. Kia Forte

[caption id="attachment_54431" align="alignnone" width="1200"] Kia Motors of America/Facebook[/caption]

The Kia Forte ranks No. 3 on our list of the best new cars for college students. To hit our mpg requirement, we had to limit our picks for the Forte to its LX and S trims, which are priced between $16,600 and $19,300, to meet our 30 mpg requirement.

With an EPA fuel economy rating of 32 mpg combined, this vehicle is perfect for the student on the go. The Kia Forte isn’t as fun to drive as the Mazda 3, but it provides extras some college students might deem important, such as access to Pandora radio services, a USB port and auxiliary jack.

Consumer Reports says that three large, upright wheeled suitcases and one duffel bag can fit in the Forte’s 14.9-cubic-foot trunk.

IIHS rating: The 2017 Kia Forte did not qualify as an IIHS Top Safety Pick because it was never put through the required small-overlap test. It did, however, receive top ratings in other IIHS safety tests.

Warranty:

  • Bumper-to-bumper: Five years or 60,000 miles.
  • Powertrain: 10 years or 100,000 miles.
  • Rust through: Five years or 100,000 miles.
  • Roadside aid: Five years or 60,000 miles.

4. Chevrolet Cruze

Not all of the Chevrolet Cruze lineup fits within our budget of $25,000 or less, but if you leave out the priciest model — the Cruze Diesel with automatic transmission, which comes in at $25,395 — prices are between $16,975 and $23,945.

This vehicle comes standard with a backup camera and a touch-screen infotainment system, complete with full color and Bluetooth connectivity. Consumer Reports says the sedan’s 14.8-cubic-foot trunk is a “good size” for items, and by folding the rear seat, you’ll have plenty of room for longer items.

If you need even more space, consider the hatchback version, which has 22.7 cubic feet of room with the rear seats up and 47.2 cubic feet with the rear seats folded.

With its combined fuel economy ratings of 31-32 mpg for the hatchback and 32-37 mpg for the sedan, the Cruze will save college students a ton on fuel. .

IIHS rating: The 2017 Chevrolet Cruze did not qualify as an IIHS Top Safety Pick because it has not gone through full testing yet. It did, however, receive top ratings in the two IIHS tests it’s completed.

Warranty:

  • Bumper to bumper: Three years or 36,000 miles.
  • Powertrain: Five years or 60,000.
  • Anti-corrosion: Six years or 100,000.

Best Cars for College Students: Used

To find the best used cars for college students, we compared all the major car brands’ certified pre-owned programs.

We looked at Consumer Reports’ 30 Best Used Cars for Under $30,000 report. From there, we narrowed our list by limiting it to models no more than 5 years old that best matched our college student criteria. We did, however, drop our fuel economy requirements to 28 mpg, since cars that get 30 mpg or more were not as common five years ago as they are today.

Here are our top four picks for the best used cars for college students:

1. 2012-16 Toyota Corolla

Ranking as one of the cheapest college cars on our list, the 2012-16 Toyota Corolla is a winner. With a price range of $10,250-$17,250, the 2012-16 Corolla has available Bluetooth connectivity, so students can talk hands free or stream music from their devices. 2014, 2015 and 2016 editions have available rearview cameras, another safety bonus.

Consumer Reports hails it as a car of practical size with good performance and great reliability. The rear seats fold down, giving ample room for packing it to the brim when moving back home for the summer. With a 29-33 combined mpg, this fuel efficient compact car is worth considering.

IIHS rating: 2012-2014 Top Safety Pick, which means it received at least a good rating on a variety of safety tests. Beyond 2014, it did not qualify for a top safety pick because it received only a “Marginal” rating on the required small-overlap test, which simulates a vehicle’s front corner crashing into another vehicle, or a tree or pole.

2. 2012-16 Honda Fit

[caption id="attachment_54671" align="alignnone" width="1200"]Best cars for college students A 2016 Honda Fit is an affordable used car option for college students to buy. Tina Russell / The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

The Honda Fit is a cute hatchback that has a 29-36 combined mpg. It has up to 57.3 cubic feet of cargo room with the rear seats folded, putting it above other smaller-sized crossovers. The rear seats fold completely flat, giving ample room to transport belongings to and from campus.

The Fit has all the connectivity a college student needs, including USB ports, Bluetooth and auxiliary ports. Sweetening the deal is its spacious interior and cheap price tag of $9,775-$17,600. Newer models come standard with backup cameras.

IIHS rating: 2012-15 Top Safety Pick. In 2016, IIHS changed its requirements for the Top Safety Pick designation, and the Fit’s “Acceptable” rating for the small-overlap front test was no longer good enough to receive this designation.

3. 2013-15 Buick Encore

The Buick Encore made its debut in 2013. Its price, features, size and fuel economy make it hard to leave out.

According to Consumer Reports, a 2013-15 Buick Encore costs between $14,300 and $21,575. In its front-wheel-drive setup, this subcompact crossover gets 28 mpg combined and comes standard with all the features a young adult might need, including a rearview camera, USB and auxiliary cord connectivity.

With up to 48.4 cubic feet of cargo room with the seats folded, hauling your stuff back home for the summer won’t be an issue.

Unfortunately, you’ll have to skip the all-wheel-drive versions, as they do not hit out 28 mpg combined requirement.

IIHS rating: 2013 and 2015 Top Safety Pick. In 2014, the IIHS began requiring at least an “Acceptable” rating in the small-overlap test to receive the Top Safety Pick designation, and the Encore’s “Poor” rating wasn’t up to snuff.  

4. 2012-15 Toyota Prius V

The Toyota Prius V is the wagon version of the famous hybrid. While it may not be the sexiest car on the list, the 2012-15 editions cost $14,375-$19,575 and get an incredible 41 combined mpg, which certainly makes up for what it lacks in appearance.

This Prius V also has massive cargo space -- 34.3 cubic feet with the seats up and 67.3 cubes with the seats folded. Transporting dorm items back-and-forth over the years won’t only be easy on your wallet, but you won’t have to worry about how you’ll manage to fit all of it in one trip.

The Prius V seats five and meets our entertainment connectivity requirements, and it has an available rearview camera. In the 2015 model, the rearview camera is a standard feature.

IIHS rating: 2012, 2013, Top Safety Pick; 2015 Top Safety Pick Plus. The tightened requirements for receiving the Top Safety Pick designation and the Prius V’s “Poor” small-overlap rating caused it to lose this designation in 2014.  

Your Turn: What are your picks for the best cars for college students?

Kelly Smith is a junior writer and engagement specialist at The Penny Hoarder. Catch her on Twitter at @keywordkelly.