Kelly Gurnett - The Penny Hoarder

I recently shared my tips for growing your freelance career enough to quit your day job. In that post, I discussed how I gradually “stepped down” from my full-time job by working one day less a week, then going part-time, until I had enough freelance income to quit altogether.

We received some questions from Penny Hoarder readers who wanted to know more about how exactly to negotiate reducing your work hours -- and understandably so. Of all the conversations you have with an employer, the “I want to work less so I can do my own thing” conversation is one of most petrifying.

So here are nine actionable tips, from my own experience and the advice of employment experts and fellow freelancers, to help you in this nerve-wracking situation.

1. Know What You Need

Before you walk into your boss’s office, you must have a solid idea of what you want to ask for. “I want to work less” won’t cut it.

Sit down with your monthly budget and your anticipated side gig income and ask yourself exactly what you’ll need from your employer.

  • How much money will help you keep your bills paid?
  • Would you rather work half-days throughout the week or work a few full days so you can take other days off?
  • Are you open to working from home on occasion, knowing you can get more done there (and hopefully spend some time on your own projects)?

While your employer is likely to offer a counter to whatever you ask, you need to know how much you’re able to budge and which items you consider deal breakers. Otherwise, you’re negotiating blind.

2. Time Your Request Right

The easiest way to kill your chances is to catch your boss on a bad day.

As the keeper of my immediate boss’s calendar, I knew which days he’d likely be stressed out due to big deadlines or a heavy meeting schedule. I also knew which days he tended to be in the best mood, like Friday afternoons right before he left for a weekend trip.

If you don’t have that sort of insider knowledge, try buddying up to another colleague who might, like your boss’s assistant.

“Wait until you've reached your recent targets,” recommends Kuba Koziej, CEO and co-founder of Uptowork. You want to make sure you approach your boss from a position of strength:

When you’re ready to talk, emphasize the need for the change to balance your life. Focus on the fact that a better work-life balance would make you happier and more productive. You think that a change in the schedule will help. Back that up with a couple of examples of goals you've achieved or targets you've met.

This sort of argument is stronger when you’re just coming off an achievement. If you’ve recently missed a goal or two, it’s better to wait until you’ve upped your performance so you have more negotiating power.

3. Think Like Your Employer

As CFO of New Eagle, Mickey Swortzel has been approached by employees asking to decrease their hours to pursue a personal project. She advises:

The key to making this a win-win for both parties is for the employee to think through the financial and workload issues from the company’s perspective.

Some of the questions that are helpful to start the conversation include: How can the work get accomplished? What is the timeline for this adjusted schedule? How is this going to work under your current employment contract?

Put yourself in your employer’s place and brainstorm what fears and concerns your proposal might inspire.

As Evan Harris, co-founder and Director of HR for SD Equity Partners, puts it, your employer “will want to make sure you are not trying to take advantage of the company. Cover your bases and try to discuss any issues that the employer may have with the transition before they bring it up to you.”

4. Emphasize the Benefits for Your Boss

Yes, you want a new arrangement because it will be better for you -- but you need to frame it in a way that shows what’s in it for your employer.

Studies have shown employees who work from home are more productive. So are employees who are more satisfied with their jobs. Be sure to emphasize how the new schedule you’re seeking will actually help you do better work.

“Keep in mind that you'll only achieve your goal if you can convince your employer that you will meet targets,” Koziej says. As he explains, you want to be able to say to your employer, “‘Here's what it looks like when I'm productive. Now, imagine I'm even happier with the schedule.'”

When I negotiated my step-down, I presented my boss with an estimate of how much time I spent doing billable, paralegal-level tasks only I could do, and how much I spent on basic administrative work.

I proposed he could hire a part-time assistant to do these less critical tasks for a much lower hourly rate than he paid me -- and he loved the idea.

The work would still get done and the company would save money. Putting my plan into these dollars-and-cents terms made it much more palatable to him.

5. Go In With a Plan…

The more specifics you can offer, the better.

Presenting a detailed plan shows you’ve really taken the time to think about your proposal and decreases your boss’s ability to generate tons of “what if?” concerns.

“Having a plan ready shows that you are committed to the company and presents the employer with a few choices,” says Harris. “Often, the employer will want to make their own solution, but by presenting an option or two, it steers the conversation into the direction you want it to go.”

Dr. Heather Rothbauer-Wanish, a professional resume writer and owner of Feather Communications, agrees:

When asking for time away to focus on a side hustle, it’s extremely important to let the company know that this will NOT affect your current work with them. For example, stating that you would be willing to work an alternate schedule to maintain the same hours will be vital.

When asking for an alternate schedule, adding a direct compliment to the company and/or manager will be a nice way to break into the conversation.

Here is an example:

“I love my position here with ABC Company. As you know, I am also working on {insert side business here} and would love to allot time to that opportunity, too. Is it possible to come in two hours late two days per week? In exchange, I would be willing to make those hours up in the afternoon or on a weekend.”

6. ...But Be Open to Alternatives

As a rule, in any negotiation, there needs to be give and take,” says Trevor Lamson of Connected Recruiting Ltd.

“What are you willing to do or give up to make this happen? Think about how this affects your employer and have ideas to adapt, work from home on that day or split schedules. Be creative; having solutions always increases success in negotiations.”

Aviva Legatt attempted to negotiate a step-down from her administrative job at the University of Pennsylvania to launch a side business and finish her doctoral dissertation. She went in with a clear request but was flexible enough to pivot when it didn’t work:

I wrote out a list of tasks, what I could do from home, and how much money seemed appropriate with the proportion of tasks versus my full-time salary. When I learned that this kind of arrangement wouldn't work for my department, I took on another role at the university as a high-performance team facilitator [for another department].

7. Consider Benefits

When asking for a reduced schedule, bear in mind many employers will balk at the thought of extending full-time benefits once you go part-time -- although they are required to offer health insurance if you work at least 30 hours per week and the company has 50 or more employees.

If you’re worried about the added cost to your bottom line, consider tweaking your offer to include a lower salary or hourly rate in exchange for retaining some of your benefits, which might also include paid vacation or a 401(k) match.

You can also consider alternative health insurance options available to you, such as joining a partner’s plan. Legatt was still a Ph.D. student at the University of Pennsylvania when she asked to work less, so she was able to switch to a student insurance plan when she was no longer able to use the staff one.

8. Offer a Trial Period

One of the best ways to ease the blow of requesting to reduce your work hours is to offer your employer a way out.

My boss asked that we have regular check-ins to touch base and make sure the new arrangement continued to work for both of us, and I was happy to agree. It reassured him and also gave me a chance to do a test run of my business’s viability.

At first, we met every couple of weeks to discuss my project load and upcoming deadlines. After a couple of check-ins, it was clear I was getting my work done and there were no complaints from the rest of the team, so we met less often.

I made sure to go into each meeting armed with a list of what I’d been working on, as well as an outline for how I’d tackle upcoming tasks, to put my boss’s mind at ease. I suspected he was also polling my colleagues to make sure my new schedule didn’t put any extra work on their shoulders, so between meetings I made sure to work my tail off to get everything done, and done well.

If your boss decides to nix your new schedule after a trial period, you’ve still bought yourself some additional time on the payroll while you decide what to do next.

9. Decide Whether to Be Transparent

How much should you reveal about why you’re asking for a different arrangement? Our sources’ opinions varied.

Lamson, the recruiter, believes that “if this is truly your desire, just be upfront. This is a difficult discussion in itself; accept the fact that asking this may lead to the employer becoming concerned. Be prepared for the repercussions.”

But Adam Hatch, a career advisor at Resume Genius, prefers a more cautious approach. He knows firsthand what it’s like to ask a boss to cut your hours so you can focus on a side business. Here’s what he recommends:

[Don’t] even mention your side business. If your boss asks why you want less time, deflect. You don't have to explain yourself, so be general. Say you have a lot on your plate, or you need to spend more time with family, or even that you have some projects you've been meaning to tackle.

But you don't need to go into too much detail. Be careful, though; you want to avoid coming across tight-lipped because it will seem like you're hiding something… you have no responsibility to inform your employer what you are up to during your off hours.”

It all depends on your personal work situation and risk tolerance. If you have a good relationship with your boss, your company has shown flexibility to employees in the past or you have a high risk tolerance, the simplest thing to do is lay all your cards on the table.

My boss knew I’d been working on my writing in my off-hours, so I saw no point in being coy about it. I was ready to accept his reaction, whatever it was, even if that meant finding a different job elsewhere.

In short: Trust your gut.

Reducing Work Hours: A Case Study

Ron Stefanski stepped down from his day job to focus on building websites like Jobs for Teens HQ. His story is a great example of many of these tips in action:

The first thing I did was tell my boss exactly what was going on. I explained to him that I had a side-business that was going well and I wanted to work on that full-time.

Then I told him that the last thing I wanted to do was "leave the company in a bad position because they had been so good to me as an employee," and I explained that I would be available for them as a consultant if they'd like. The key here was that I was ready for them to say "no," but was hopeful they would say “yes” as I needed the money.

The arrangement didn't include any paid vacation or health insurance benefits. My thought was that in order to make this happen, I'd have to become a paid consultant for them because otherwise they'd still have to provide me with benefits, which is a big ask since I was no longer a full-time employee.  

After my boss discussed the situation with the executive team, they agreed that this arrangement would work and we could have a trial period of one month. I went with an hourly consulting cost that was 20% greater than what I was making as a full-time employee because that's a good estimate of how much an employer pays over a salary for all benefits.

We limited the engagement to six months (with the option to sign another six months if needed) so that I could have an end date that would allow me to work fully on my own projects. In the beginning, I had a lot of work from them, but then they transitioned further away from me as time went on and overall, I would say the arrangement was a win-win for both of us.  

What If Your Boss Says No?

So, the biggest question of all: What if your boss flat-out denies you?

Well, at least you tried, and you’re no worse off than you were when you were working full time and wondering “if only.” Now it’s time to find another way to make your dream happen.

That might mean applying for a part-time job at another company. It might mean switching to a work-from-home job so you have more control over your hours. It might mean “slashing” together a handful of side gigs like dog sitting or selling stuff on Etsy.

There’s more than one way to make time for your freelance business, and as anyone who wants to be an entrepreneur will quickly find out, hustle is only one part of being successful -- the rest is learning to never take “no” for an answer.

Your Turn: Have you ever negotiated a new working arrangement with your company? How did you do it? Share your tips in the comments!

Kelly Gurnett is a freelance blogger, writer and editor who runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. Follow her on Twitter @CordeliaCallsIt.

When searching for the best backpacks for college, cost isn’t the only thing to consider. Value is key, and that includes durability, comfort and the space to meet all your storage needs.

But how can tell you tell which, from the myriad options out there, are really the best college backpacks? We studied the options and narrowed them down to these 11 must-see bags. Whether you’re on a budget or prepared to splurge for special features, you’re sure to find something for you.

1. SwissGear Travel Gear ScanSmart TSA Laptop Backpack

Storage

This bag has plenty of space for your textbooks, binders and whatever else you may need to lug around.

Stay organized with features like an internal phone pocket and headphone port, accessory pockets, an accordion file holder, and a built-in daisy chain and carabiner to attach even more. When you have a lighter load, the condenser straps cinch the bag smaller.

The padded laptop sleeve holds laptops up to 15 inches, offers easy side access and can open and lay flat to meet TSA requirements (so if you travel a lot, you won’t have to take your computer out at security). There’s also a padded compartment for your tablet.

Durability

This backpack is made of “durable 1200D ballistic polyester.” One owner posted in the Amazon Q&A section that he’s used his bag heavily for five years and it’s just recently begun to show wear.

Comfort

This bag is durable and comfortable, with ergonomically contoured and padded shoulder straps (one has a convenient glasses holder) and a padded back panel with Airflow ventilation technology.

There are no chest or waist straps to aid with weight distribution, however, so bear that in mind if you need the extra support or plan to carry heavy loads.

  • Specs: 18.5” x 15” x 8.5”, 30L of storage
  • Colors: black, black/blue, black/gray, gray heather, red
  • Price: $50.99+ (all prices were valid at the time of writing)

2. Oakley Kitchen Sink Backpack

Storage

It’s the most expensive bag on our list for good reason; you could live out of this bag for days, whether you’re attending classes, going on spring break or studying abroad.

It has plenty of compartments, including a mesh sunglasses pocket, brushed media pocket and shoe compartment, but it’s still compact and easy to carry. The padded laptop sleeve fits laptops up to 15 inches.

Durability

An abrasion-resistant bottom panel gives it extra durability (and offers added protection for your stuff) in the event of a drop. A compression-molded back, adjustable shoulder straps, and chest and waist straps ease your carrying burden, and the construction is strong and secure.

Comfort

That said, some users have found the flap on the main compartment annoying to access on a regular basis, and depending on your stature and strength, this bag may be too big for you. For a smaller version, check out the Oakley Bathroom Sink Backpack.

  • Specs: 20” x 14” x 8”, 34L of storage
  • Colors: black, stealth black, herb (camo),
  • Price: $127.93+

3. Herschel Supply Co. Little America Backpack

Storage

This fun mountaineering-style bag has two faux leather buckled straps down the front for extra security (they close with easy magnetic snaps) and a classy striped fabric lining. The main compartment has an adjustable drawstring closure and internal media pocket with headphone port for your phone or MP3 player.

There’s also a front pocket with a hidden zipper and key clip and a padded laptop sleeve that holds up to a 15-inch laptop. This bag doesn’t offer a ton of compartments if you’re looking to keep your stuff separated, though.

Durability

It’s made of 100% polyester you can wipe clean with a damp cloth, and the company offers a lifetime limited warranty covering “common and everyday use for the duration of the original purchaser’s lifetime.”

Comfort

Contoured padded shoulder straps and air-mesh back padding make carrying it a breeze.

  • Specs: 19” x 11.25” x 7”, 25L of storage
  • Colors: 19 colors to choose from
  • Price: $77.26+

4. High Sierra Swerve Backpack

Storage

Compartments are the name of the game for this bag. Multiple large sections, including a main one with two-way access, keep your stuff separate and easy to find.

There’s also a handy shoulder strap media pocket with a headphone port, as well as two water bottle pockets, lots of places to put things like cords and pens, and a key fob hook.

Durability

Made of long-lasting Denier Duralite material, this bag offers plenty of protection for your gear with a padded Cushion Zone laptop sleeve that fits laptops up to 15 inches, a Tech Spot tablet sleeve and a cushioned bottom panel. There’s also a lifetime limited manufacturer’s warranty against defects in material and workmanship.

Comfort

It also offers protection for your back and shoulders in the form of S-shaped Suspension System shoulder straps, a padded Airflow back panel and condenser straps to adjust its overall size.

There are no additional support straps, but from customer reviews, it doesn’t sound like you really need them.

  • Specs: 19” x 13” x 7.75”, 31L of storage
  • Colors: a whopping 25 color and pattern options
  • Price: $33.48+

5. High Sierra Freewheel Wheeled Backpack

Storage

Similar to No. 4 in terms of compartments and laptop storage, this model comes on wheels for those with back problems (or those who simply prefer to pull their gear).

Durability

Two inline, corner-mounted wheels make for smooth rolling, while a kick-plate adds extra durability against bumps. This model doesn’t come with a lifetime warranty, but it does have a limited five-year manufacturer’s warranty.

Comfort

The telescoping handle can be hidden away when not in use, and should you decide to carry your stuff instead, Cushion Zone sleeves and a padded back panel make the experience comfortable. (The straps can be tucked away in a pouch on the bag when not in use.)

  • Specs: 13.5” x 20.5” x 8”
  • Colors: red or black
  • Price: $52.99 for red, $69.99 for black

6. North Face Surge Backpack

Storage

This bag comes in two similar varieties: unisex and the slightly smaller, rounder women’s model. The unisex version’s fleece-lined laptop compartment holds laptops up to 15 inches, while the women’s version holds up to 17 inches.

Both styles feature a large main compartment, front pocket, and fleece-lined pockets for your tablet, phone and sunglasses. Plus, there’s a lay-flat design for easier TSA inspection.

Durability

It’s constructed of “hyper-durable ballistics nylon,” and several reviewers commented on how long it has lasted them. One even mentioned that it still looks great after she tossed it in the washing machine!

Comfort

Both styles enable you to carry a large load with surprising comfort thanks to FlexVent injection-moulded shoulder straps, a removable chest strap and non-removable waist strap, and a padded air-mesh back panel with Spine Channel and PE sheet for added support.

  • Specs: 22” x 16” x 5”, 30L of storage (unisex); 21” x 16” x 5”, 26L of storage (women’s)
  • Colors: 12 to choose from for unisex; 19 for women’s
  • Price: $94.86+ for unisex; $100+ for women’s

7. Bolang Water Resistant College Laptop Backpack

Storage

If simple’s more your style, check out this lightweight, streamlined bag with a clean design and plenty of fun color options from black to bright to pastel.

The main pocket has a padded laptop sleeve that holds laptops up to 16 inches. There are also three front pockets with lots of storage features, and two mesh water bottle pockets on the sides.

Durability

Made of durable nylon with an inside liner, this bag is water-resistant to help keep your things dry as you dash between buildings in a rain shower. It’s not waterproof, however, so don’t test your luck by walking home in a downpour without an umbrella.

Comfort

Padded shoulder straps, a padded back and a chest strap help you shoulder the load. Several reviewers mention how comfortable they find this pack.

  • Specs: 18.5” x 12” x 6”
  • Colors: 11 colors to choose from
  • Price: $51.89

8. KAKA Terylene Fabric Backpack for 17-Inch Laptops

We'll pause a moment to let you get out any snickers that may inevitably bubble up at the rather unfortunate name of this company. It may have a silly moniker, but this bag’s no joke.

Storage

Offering the largest storage capacity on this list in terms of sheer volume, this bag has a huge main compartment, a large secondary compartment, two smaller front compartments and two water bottle pockets.

Some customers have complained the main compartment is too deep, which can lead to smaller items having to be fished from the bottom. That said, the bag zips all the way open, and its big zippers work smoothly to make retrieval as convenient as possible.

The laptop compartment can hold laptops up to 17 inches and has a neat combination lock to deter theft.

Durability

Made of tough terylene oxford material with water-resistant lining, it’s adjustable and can even be washed if it gets too dirty.

Comfort

Several reviewers describe this bag as comfortable to carry, even with a heavy load on a bike or motorcycle.

  • Specs: 12” x 22” x 7”, 35L of storage
  • Colors: black, blue, gray, red, camo
  • Price: $27.99+

9. OutdoorMaster Hiking Backpack

Storage

Whether you’re trekking the mountains or trekking across campus, this hiking backpack has plenty of great features that will keep all your gear in order.

Store your books and binders in its big main compartment or secondary pocket. Smaller stuff can fit in the slip pocket in front, which has plenty of places to organize supplies and gadgets.

There’s also a phone pocket (though the location of the headphone port isn’t terribly convenient), a sunglasses hanger, and straps underneath intended to affix a sleeping bag or tent (they work just as well for a rolled-up sweatshirt).

Laptops up to 15 inches fit in the padded laptop compartment. Add two water bottle pockets and you’ve got all your basics.

Durability

Made of lightweight and durable nylon, this backpack is meant to survive laung hauls through the great outdoors -- so chances are it’ll do just fine on your daily hikes across campus. A waterproof rain cover tucked away in one of the pockets keeps your stuff dry in all weather.

Comfort

S-curved shoulder straps, adjustable waist and chest straps (the waist strap is padded), and a thick back cushion make carrying easy. The waist belt even has zippers on each side for easy access to things like cards or keys.

  • Specs: 23” x 14” x 9” inches, 50L of storage
  • Colors: seven to choose from, from vibrant hues to classic black
  • Price: $36.99

10. EcoCity Vintage Canvas Backpack

Storage

There’s a hanging pocket in the main compartment and a front pocket for smaller items, as well as side pouches.  

The laptop sleeve fits devices up to 13 inches. (If you prefer a Chromebook or tablet to a standard laptop, this compartment will be just right).

Durability

Feel like an explorer with this cool bag’s rucksack vibe. Made of eco-friendly cotton canvas, it has a top-loading main compartment that closes with a drawstring and flap secured with leather-looking straps (they’re actually magnetic). Reviewers were surprised to find this bag doesn’t sacrifice substance for style; its heavy canvas material holds up to wear and tear much better than expected for such a fashionable item.

Comfort

Even without the padding other bags offer, this backpack’s thick, adjustable thick shoulder straps are comfy. While it may not be as large or offer as many complex storage options as other options on this list, for those without massive class loads, it’s a stylish and affordable option worth mentioning.

  • Specs: 11” x 16.5” x 6.3”, 19L of storage
  • Colors: black, army green, coffee, gray, khaki
  • Price: $36.99

11. AmazonBasics Laptop Backpack

Storage

When it comes to getting maximum value for minimum dollar, this bag is a great choice. It offers plenty of storage, with five main compartments, lots of smaller compartments, a tablet pouch and a padded laptop sleeve that fits devices up to 15.6 inches (17 inches for slim models).

A mesh compartment on the front of the left shoulder strap allows for easy smartphone access. It also has two water bottle pockets and an array of organizational options for accessories like pens and calculators.

Durability

This bag isn’t as heavy-duty as others on this list, but is well-made given the price point. If you tend to play rough with your stuff -- dropping your bag on the floor when you get home, shoving it into overhead compartments -- a pricier bag may be a wise investment for the peace of mind it provides.

But for daily handling and wear and tear, this bag gets the job done for a fraction of the cost.

Comfort

Padded, adjustable shoulder straps are a nice feature, but this backpack is missing any added features like waist and chest straps or a reinforced back.

For the cost, it’s comfy enough, but if you need extra support or plan on carrying a super-heavy load, you may find you want something that offers a little more in terms of weight distribution.

  • Specs: 15” x 17” x 19”, 32L of storage
  • Colors: black
  • Price: $29.99

Kelly Gurnett is a freelance blogger, writer and editor who runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. Follow her on Twitter @CordeliaCallsIt.

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

So goes the frugality adage born in the 1930s or ‘40s, and it’s great wisdom to live by to this day. In a highly disposable world, making the possessions you already own last as long as possible is just plain smart.

But how far are you supposed to go when it comes to “making it do”?

I can play handywoman if something basic breaks around the house, like a doorknob or a window screen. But if my microwave goes wonky and a thorough Google search hasn’t helped me troubleshoot, I’ll be honest with you: I’m gonna replace the microwave.

For most of us, DIY dreams and YouTube videos can only take us so far when it comes to fixing our own stuff. We get discouraged, feel overwhelmed or simply decide it’s not worth the time -- and pull out our wallets instead.

Until now.

Welcome to the age of the Repair Café, a new way of putting power back in the hands of consumers, celebrating practical knowhow and doing a little good for the Earth to boot.

What is a Repair Café?

Repair Cafés are free events where local craftsmen and specialists help community members fix broken items and learn new skills. They’re typically held about once a month in places like church basements, community centers and libraries.

And they’re not just for electronics repairs. Each Repair Café workshop offers a unique mix of professionals, based on who is available in the area, and their expertise can include bicycles, sewing, jewelry, furniture, toys and more.

You don’t even need to bring something broken -- you can simply watch and learn (or help, if you want) while enjoying some free tea or coffee. There’s usually also a reading table where you can leaf through repair books on various subjects.

The inspiration for these events is simple. As the Repair Café website explains,

We throw away vast amounts of stuff. Even things with almost nothing wrong, and which could get a new lease on life after a simple repair.

The trouble is, lots of people have forgotten that they can repair things themselves or they no longer know how.

Knowing how to make repairs is a skill quickly lost. Society doesn’t always show much appreciation for the people who still have this practical knowledge, and against their will they are often left standing on the sidelines. Their experience is never used, or hardly ever.

That is, until now…

The Many Benefits of Repair Cafés

Repair Cafés serve several much-needed purposes. They help people save money by learning to fix the things they own rather than simply tossing them. They give craftspeople a chance to share their wisdom and empower average consumers.

Repair Cafés also preserve valuable memories by giving new life to sentimental items, like an heirloom locket or a vintage typewriter. They’re also fantastic for the environment.

Sustainability is a growing trend in everything from fashion to technology to coffee. It’s a mindset and a movement that focuses on standards and policies that reduce waste, conserve natural resources and support ecological balance. Repair Cafés play right into this movement, as the site notes:

People who might otherwise be sidelined are getting involved again. Valuable practical knowledge is getting passed on. Things are being used for longer and don’t have to be thrown away.

This reduces the volume of raw materials and energy needed to make new products. It cuts CO2 emissions, for example, because manufacturing new products and recycling old ones causes CO2 to be released.

Sounds to me like a “win” all around.

How to Find a Repair Café Near You

Sustainability advocate Martine Postma opened the first Repair Café location in Amsterdam in October 2009. Today, there are more than 1,200 Repair Cafés around the world. Check the map here to find one in your area.

These nonprofit, volunteer-run groups rely on donations to cover operating costs. If you’re interested in starting one yourself, you can get a starter kit here for €49 (around $52). It includes information on setting up and run a Repair Café, connecting with others in your area who are interested in starting one and promoting your event to your community.

Your Turn: Have you ever been to a Repair Café? Would you consider going to one? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Kelly Gurnett is a freelance blogger, writer and editor who runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. Follow her on Twitter @CordeliaCallsIt.

You have insurance for your health, your car, your home… but what about your pets?

If you don’t currently have pet insurance, you’re not alone. While around 68% of U.S. households own pets, only 1% of those pets are insured, according to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA).

But given the price of vet care, it’s worth looking into. Petfinder estimates the annual cost of routine vet visits is $45-$200 for dogs and $50-$400 for cats depending on your pet’s age. Emergency vet visits can cost up to $2,000, and sometimes more, for dogs or cats.

And as someone who’s found herself at the animal hospital at 3 a.m., I can attest that when your beloved furbaby is pawing at you in distress and you don’t know what’s wrong, you’re willing to shell out pretty much anything to make her better again.

That’s why we’ve put together this breakdown to help you decide: Is pet insurance worth it for you and your pets?

How Does Pet Insurance Work?

[caption id="attachment_55343" align="alignnone" width="1200"] Trixy, the dog, waits to be examined at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Tampa, Fla.[/caption]

Like human health insurance, pet insurance helps alleviate some of the costs of keeping your pet healthy. You can choose from different levels of coverage, with each plan costing a monthly or annual premium based on how much coverage you choose.

Some plans cover basic scenarios like accidents and injuries, some only cover accidents, and others include accidents, injuries and genetic/hereditary conditions. The more comprehensive the coverage, the higher you can expect the cost to be.

Many plans have a deductible, a certain amount you must pay out of pocket before coverage kicks in. Depending on your policy, this could be anywhere from $0-$2,500 in a plan year. Typically, higher-deductible plans will give you a better percentage of your money back. Which leads us to the payment bit…

While human health insurance works on a copay basis (you pay a certain percentage when you see the doctor and the insurance covers the rest), pet insurance is largely a matter of reimbursement. You pay the full amount due when you take your pet in for care, then submit a claim to the insurance company afterwards. Depending on your policy, they’ll pay you back anywhere from 20-100% of covered costs.

Pet Insurance Review has a handy chart comparing the major companies’ policies side by side. Bear in mind you’ll still need to contact each company for a personalized quote, as your rates will be calculated based on your pet’s age and breed, as well as your location (vet costs are higher in some areas than others).

How Much Does Pet Insurance Cost?

[caption id="attachment_55345" align="alignnone" width="1200"] From left, Ashley Gandees, a veterinary technician, comforts Sara, the dog, as Amee Grise, a veterinary technician, gives Sara cancer treatment at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Tampa, Fla. Tina Russell / The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

While individual costs will vary based on your pet’s breed, age, health and the tier you opt for, the average cost of pet insurance for dogs is around $22 per month, while pet insurance for cats costs around $16 per month, according to Consumer Reports.

Have an exotic pet (i.e. anything other than a dog or cat)? Your options are a bit more limited, but you can still find coverage. Check out Pet Assure and Nationwide for plans for birds, rabbits, reptiles and other members of the animal kingdom.

Pros of Pet Insurance

It’s easy to compare your options. Unlike human insurance, which can be a labyrinth of plans and riders you need a pro to help decode, pet insurance is relatively straightforward. Policies are simple, tiers are easy to compare, and you can get a no-commitment quote from different companies within minutes, making price shopping a breeze.

Premiums can be low. If your pet is young or healthy, or you choose a lower tier, you can get coverage for less than the cost of a meal out each month. It’s not a huge price to pay for the security of knowing your pet can get the help it needs.

Deductibles are reasonable. Compared to the cost of one late-night animal ER visit, most plans’ deductibles are affordable. If, heaven forbid, your pet is seriously injured or ill, you could wind up paying at least the cost of the deductible anyway -- but with insurance, you can get your pet the extra care you may not have been able to afford on your own.

You get to choose your vet. There are no “out of network” provider headaches when it comes to pet insurance. As long as your vet is licensed, eligible expenses should be covered and there’s no need to worry if your vet “accepts” your plan. Since you pay for the cost out of pocket and then submit a claim to the company for reimbursement, all you need from your vet is a copy of their invoice and for them to fill out a section of the claim form.

You can do more for your pet. The NAPHIA reports owners with pet insurance are more likely to seek medical care for their pets than those without. No one wants to have to choose between a sick pet and a mountain of debt. Too many pet owners, faced with a catastrophic medical crisis they hadn’t prepared for, are forced to make the heartbreaking decision to elect for “economic euthanasia,” USA Today reports. If you invest in pet insurance, you could save yourself -- and your pet -- from ever facing such a decision.

Cons of Pet Insurance

[caption id="attachment_55344" align="alignnone" width="1200"] Molly, the cat, is examined at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Tampa, Fla.  Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

Premiums can be high. If your pet is older, has a pre-existing condition or you choose a high tier, you could be looking at premiums of $50 or more per month. You’ll want to carefully weigh whether the annual cost makes sense for you.

You still have to pay for procedures up front. Having pet insurance won’t save you from having to shell out big bucks if your pet needs a costly procedure. Whether you have coverage or not, it’s wise to have a separate savings fund for vet emergencies to ensure you can handle upfront charges until your claims are processed.

It doesn’t cover everything. On average, pet owners with insurance still pay around 20%of their pets’ medical expenses, according to a report by The New York Times. Routine wellness checkups usually aren’t covered, so you’ll still pay for those out of pocket. Certain hereditary/genetic conditions may also not be covered; be sure to check each policy’s specifics carefully.

The coverage has limitations. Many plans also limit the amount you can claim, either annually or over your pet’s lifetime. If your pet is unfortunate enough to suffer a major medical problem, you could max out your plan’s limit pretty quickly and find yourself paying the difference.

If your pet only needs routine vet care, you won’t save much. If they insure their pets, owners spend an average of $324 out of pocket on a dog and $264 out of pocket on a cat, according to the NAPHIA, compared to $251 for an uninsured dog and $146 for an uninsured cat.This is largely because, unsurprisingly, owners with pet insurance take their animals to the vet more often than those who don’t have insurance.

And these numbers don’t include the annual price of pet insurance premiums. With an average cost of $22 a month for dogs and $16 a month for cats, insuring your pet could mean your total costs hit $588 for a dog or $456 for a cat. If your pet is fortunate enough to avoid any big issues, the cost of insurance could outweigh the savings.

Should You Get Pet Insurance?

[caption id="attachment_55350" align="alignnone" width="1200"] Dr. Jen Coyle, a veterinarian, examines Molly, the dog, at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Tampa, Fla. Tina Russell / The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

So, is pet insurance worth it?

Like property insurance (car, home, etc.), you won’t necessarily “save” or “make” money in an average scenario, but in the event of a catastrophe, you may find it’s worth the investment. Unlike human insurance, pet insurance is more about peace of mind and being prepared for a potential emergency than guaranteed savings.

While you may not get the most bang for your buck with a relatively healthy pet, there’s no way to predict what illnesses or injuries might occur, and for many pet owners, knowing they have a safety net in place is value enough.

"Pet insurance can help offset routine medical expenses and can be especially helpful for the unknown," said Dr. Jennifer Welser, chief medical officer of BluePearl Veterinary partners in Tampa. "Keeping the coverage may give you the freedom to make medical decisions for your beloved pets based on quality of life, not finances."

If you do decide to get pet insurance, enroll your pet when they’re young for maximum savings. Talk to your vet to get an idea of your pet’s potential breed-specific health problems, and ask them which insurance they’d recommend. If you decide to choose catastrophic coverage (generally the best cost-to-savings option), spring for the highest deductible you can afford.

Whether or not you opt for pet insurance, start an emergency fund now for vet care to make sure you can handle unexpected out-of-pocket costs. When Fluffy is in distress in the wee hours of the morning, money is the last thing you want to worry about.

How to Get Pet Insurance

To sign up for pet insurance, you’ll need the following information for your pet:

  • Name
  • Breed
  • Age
  • Pre-existing conditions (if any)
  • Vet’s name and contact information

Have your pet seen by a vet if you haven’t done so within the past year.

Most policies have waiting periods, which means you can’t get coverage immediately following an accident or illness. (This ensures people don’t sign up for coverage only when they know they need to cover a big bill.) So if you think you’d be interested in pet insurance, apply now before you end up needing it.

Check out Pet Insurance Review’s chart of the major pet insurance companiesto get started.

Your Turn: Do you have pet insurance? Would you say it’s “worth it” or not? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Kelly Gurnett is a freelance blogger, writer and editor who runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. Follow her on Twitter @CordeliaCallsIt.

You can discharge some debts, like credit cards, in Chapter 7 bankruptcy, and some, like auto loans, mortgages, student loans, you can’t. That’s what most financial websites and gurus will tell you.

But they’re leaving out some fine print that could save you a ton of money and grief: In certain circumstances, you can wipe out your student loan debt in bankruptcy.

Only around 0.1% of people who file for bankruptcy even attempt to include their student loans, according to an American Bankruptcy Law Journal report. Yet the study found that around 40% of those who sought to have their student loans discharged were successful in getting at least some, if not all, of the debt dismissed.

In other words, if you’re in very dire straights, it’s at least worth considering. While rare, there are limited circumstances that could qualify you for a full or partial bankruptcy student loan bankruptcy discharge. Here’s what you need to know if you think you might qualify.

The Brunner Test for Student Loan Bankruptcy

If you pass what’s known as “the Brunner test,” you may have a shot at discharging your student loans in bankruptcy. Named for a case involving debtor Marie Brunner in 1987, the Brunner test sets forth the standard by which a bankruptcy court could consider your student loan debt an “undue hardship” you can’t reasonably repay.

To meet this standard, your must fit all three of these criteria:

1. You’re Unable to Maintain a Minimum Standard of Living

The word “minimum” is key here. If your student loan obligations are preventing you from being able to pay for housing, utilities and groceries, they would be an undue hardship. If they’re preventing you from being able to pay your cable bill or keep a third car, the courts will expect you slash these budget items first because they’re unnecessary and/or frivolous.

2. Your Situation is Not Likely to Change

In other words, it’s unlikely you’d be able to bring in more income or cut your expenses any further in the foreseeable future. This takes into consideration your qualifications and responsibilities. If you’re no longer able to work due to illness or disability, you have a pretty strong argument.

Less cut and dry, but still arguable, would be if you’re a single parent and can’t reasonably take on a higher-paying position without sacrificing your ability to care for your family’s basic needs.

A lot depends on your personal circumstances, so always consult an attorney if you’re considering filing for bankruptcy.

3. Made a Good-Faith Effort to Pay Back Your Loans Up to This Point.

This includes making your payments on time and contacting your lenders to negotiate a more affordable repayment plan. If you’ve made every attempt you can to stay up to date on your payments and are still struggling, you may have a case.

2 Other Scenarios in Which Your Debt Could be Discharged

If your school closed before you could earn your degree or due to fraudulent practices, you may be eligible for a discharge. Check out this post for a breakdown of the specific requirements for each of these situations.

If you took out private student loans for a school that was not eligible for federal student aid programs, you could argue that these loans don’t fit the strict definition of “education loans” set forth in the bankruptcy code -- and as a result, they should qualify for discharge. Again, it’s best to consult an attorney, as this can get tricky.

Some borrowers have argued they should be able to discharge any portion of their student loan funds used on “non-eligible” expenses (i.e., a laptop their school did not strictly require).

This is very risky, though, because the promissory note you signed when you accepted your loan most likely contained a clause in which you agreed to only use the funds for eligible expenses. If this is the only way you think you might qualify for a discharge, you’re probably grasping at straws and are better off reading the next section.

Alternative Repayment Arrangements

If you don’t pass the Brunner test, that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. There are many student loan repayment options that could make your payments more affordable:

1. Deferment

Deferment allows you to put your payments on hold temporarily due to extenuating circumstances, like job loss or military service. The federal government pays the interest on subsidized loans during this time.

2. Forbearance

Forbearance allows you to put your payments on hold or reduce your monthly payment for up to 12 months due to unforeseen problems, including health issues and financial hardship. Interest will accrue during this period.

3. Refinancing/Consolidation

This allows you to combine several loans into one single loan, potentially lowering your interest rate, monthly payment and/or granting you more time to pay. Bear in mind, extended payment periods could increase the amount of interest you’ll pay over the lifetime of the loan.

4. Income-Based Repayment Plan

Income-based repayment plans, which are only available for federal student loans, take into account your current income. The lender calculates a new payment based on a percentage of your income, and after a set period of time (typically 20 years), the lender forgives any remaining debt. Learn more about income-based repayment plans here.

For more details and help determining which of these options is best for you, click here.

Beware of Scams

Scammers love to take advantage of people in tough situations who are desperate for a way out. Watch out for these signs a student loan company offer may not be on the up and up:

  • It promises ridiculously low payments. As the saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • It offers to work with your lenders on your behalf. No company can get you a deal better than you can get by working directly with your lenders — but many companies are happy to charge you a fee for trying.
  • It wants to change your account contact info to its own. Never agree to be cut out of the loop on your own loans.
  • It wants to charge you a fee. Federal law requires lenders to work with you to make sure your payment terms are reasonably affordable. No additional fee will give someone else the power to magically do this better than you would.
  • The name or logo looks a little too familiar. Scammers often rip off well-known companies to make themselves appear more legit. Just because a company’s name has the word “American” or “National” in it, that doesn’t mean they’re reputable. As with anything, do your research on the company before agreeing to anything.

Your Turn: What strategies have you found to ease your student loan repayment burden?

Kelly Gurnett is a freelance blogger, writer and editor who runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. Follow her on Twitter @CordeliaCallsIt.

Six Flags amusement parks offer plenty of stomach-flipping action.

The fun kind happens when you go up, down and all around on gravity-defying rides.

The not-so-fun kind happens when you tally up the damage a day of thrills can do to your wallet.

From tickets to food to parking, a day at the amusement park can put a significant dent in your entertainment budget. But thanks to the following tips we gathered from money pros and savvy park visitors, you can visit Six Flags on the cheap -- so the only fear you’ll need to face is the fun kind.

1. Buy Your Tickets Ahead of Time

Never, ever buy tickets at the gate. Whether your Six Flags trip is weeks away or a spur-of-the-moment decision, purchase your tickets online. You’ll save $20 on a daily pass ($45.99 versus the $65.99 full price)!

Make sure to specify the date you plan on visiting; otherwise you’ll spend $55.99 for an any-day pass. Then, simply print the pass at home, bring it to the park, and you’re good to go.

Planning your summer fun early to beat the winter blues? “Buy your tickets before the park opens for the year, because before opening day, the tickets are less expensive,” recommends Billie Jean Bateson, manager of Amazing Wristbands.

2. Buy a Season Pass

If you plan to visit Six Flags twice or more in a year, you should definitely buy a season pass.

At $84.99 a person, the cost is less than two full-price daily tickets, and you’ll get perks like passes for your friends, in-park discounts and free admission to Fright Fest.

3. Watch for Sales

When I wrote this post, Six Flags was running a Mardi Gras sale that added even more benefits to season pass purchases. If you bought four or more season passes and picked up your ID card at the park by July 2, 2017, you’d save almost 30% off each pass. You’d also get bonus perks like free parking, free admission to Holiday in the Park and more.

4. Buddy Up with Season Pass Holders

If you know someone with a season pass, plan a park visit with them on one of Six Flags’ “Bring-a-Friend” days to get in free. Season pass holders are allowed one friend per day per pass, so if your family of five is friends with a pass-holding family of five, your whole family could get free admission!

Etiquette note: It might be nice to do something in return for the family that’s helping you go to Six Flags for free. Maybe you could offer to pack a picnic lunch for everyone? (See No. 6, below.)

5. The More, The Merrier

Groups of 15 to 74 people qualify for a group discount when they purchase their passes at least 10 business days in advance. Each person pays only $33.50 (plus tax), and for every 15 people who pre-purchase, you can get an additional ticket free.

6. Eat on the Cheap

Skip the so-called savings of park-offered meal deals and bring your own food. Not only is it way cheaper, but you can pack healthier food that will actually fuel the rest of your day rather than making you want to take a nap.

Fill a cooler with ice, sandwiches, veggies, dip and other goodies, and leave it in the trunk of your car. When mealtime hits, go back out to the parking lot to fill your stomachs, enjoy some in-car air conditioning, and take a break from the noise and crowds.

What do you do if you start to feel munchies between meals? Budget travel blogger Lia Saunders of Practical Wanderlust says it’s ok to “ignore the ‘no food and drinks policy’” to an extent.

While outside food is “not strictly allowed per se,” she says, “we can all claim a medical reason for needing a few Lara Bars (low blood sugar, hanger, etc).” When she and her husband visited a Six Flags recently, “We simply stuffed some Lara and Kind bars into an extra jacket in our day pack, and security didn't notice a thing.”

7. Drink for (Nearly) Free

Sure, you could buy a Season Drink Bottle from the park and save on refills, but that’s an amateur move, and you’re a savings pro.

Instead, bring your own reusable water bottle and refill it at the water fountains throughout the park. Plenty of sports bottles have straps on them, so you can attach them to your purse or backpack rather than holding them all day.

Prefer something to cool you down on a steamy summer day? “Buy reusable ice cubes to keep your drink cold all day,” suggests Amanda Thomas of Liaison Technologies.

Finally, if you forgot your water bottle or lose it on a ride platform, you still don’t have to pony up any money to stay hydrated. “You can always ask for a free cup of water,” Saunders reminds us. Hit up any concession stand between rides, and you’re all set.

8. Look for Six Flags Promos and Coupons

In addition to scoping out Six Flags’ own Special Offers page, there are lots of ways to knock your costs down even further.

“Plenty of Coke brand products have promo codes on their cans good for discounts,” says David Bakke of Money Crashers, “as do products from Ortega, Kraft (string cheese) and Tony's (frozen pizza). Check your local grocery store for discount coupons in the checkout line as well -- they're usually good for about $5 off admission.”

If you live in California, you can save $15-$20 off a general-admission ticket if you bring a can of Coca-Cola to the ticket booth at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom or Six Flags Magic Mountain. (Purchase your tickets online and you can save even more.)

You can also look for coupons on group deal sites like Groupon, in local entertainment books and by following Six Flags’ Twitter and Facebook accounts.

9. Don’t Forget Membership Discounts

Save even more with the cards you already have in your wallet.

“AAA members get 30% off ticket prices and 10% off merchandise at certain AAA parks,” says Mike Catania, Chief Technology Officer of PromotionCode. “But it varies by park,” he adds, so it’s best to call your park’s ticket office to double-check.

Using a credit card to buy your tickets? “At certain times of the year, you can get 5% off your Six Flags purchases by using your Discover Card,” says Bakke.

You may also be able to get discounted tickets through your employer, alumni association or for being a member of the military.

And, as always, it doesn’t hurt to use a rewards credit card to get some extra points or cash back (if, of course, you’re able to pay off the balance in full on your next statement).

10. Consider Package Deals

“You might also want to look at ticket packages if [you’re] visiting a city with a Six Flags theme park,” says Bakke. “I live in Atlanta, and I know that there is such a program where you get admission to several local attractions (including Six Flags) at a reduced overall rate.”

If you’re making an extended trip to another city to visit a Six Flags, this might be worth your while.

11. Go on Non-Peak Days

Saunders and her husband “just visited Six Flags Magic Mountain [recently] on Superbowl Sunday,” she says.

“This is the best day all year long to go to a Six Flags park if you want to save money on a Flash Pass; the park is totally empty. We rode almost everything and never had to wait in line more than 15 minutes!

12. Know What to Skip

Carnival games are rarely fair and typically overpriced, so it’s best to skip them. The same goes for park merchandise, which usually just ends up as clutter when you get home.

Skip using your credit cards by having cash on hand. If you want to do or buy something at a stand that doesn’t accept cards, or the card machine is down, you’ll be stuck using an in-park ATM, which is rarely from your card-issuing bank and can sock you with extra fees, Bateson points out.

13. Pack Light

Don’t take more than you can carry or you’ll face hefty locker rental costs.

If you plan on doing a clothing swap for the waterpark, you can always leave your stuff in your car and make a quick trip to the parking lot when you’re ready to change. Either change in your car or, if you want more privacy, in the restrooms near the entrance gates.

14. Save on Parking

Certain season pass holders can get free parking, but if that doesn’t apply to you, try making a little bit of an extra trek to save some cash.

“At Magic Mountain,” Saunders say, “you can save $20 on parking by taking a public bus to the parking lot entrance and walking the rest of the way.”

15. Save on Accommodations

My sisters and I have an annual summer tradition of visiting a big amusement park in another state for three or four days, which means we also need to find lodging.

But the thought of shelling out a large chunk of our vacation budget on a hotel feels like a waste, especially since we rarely do more than sleep and eat outside the park, anyway.

So we’ve turned our theme park outings into theme park/camping trips. We book a small campsite at a park or campground a short drive from the park, pool our camping gear (tent, cooking utensils, etc.) and have somewhere to crash at the end of each day for a fraction of the price.

If camping isn’t your style, consider other alternative accommodations like Airbnb, hostels or crashing at a friend or family member’s house.

16. Go Late

Some Six Flags parks offer discounted admission if you arrive when the bulk of visitors are leaving (typically around 4 or 5 p.m.). If you live close to a park and only want to hit up specific rides rather than experiencing everything, this could be a great way to do so.

Sally Ernst of Buffalo, New York, lives close to Six Flags Darien Lake and says going late still offers plenty of opportunity to do everything she wants. “The park is small,” she says, “so it actually is a good amount of time.”

17. Be an Early Bird

Last but not least, if you’re making a day of your Six Flags visit, be sure to max out your time.

“If you’re only visiting the park one time,” Bakke says, “be sure to get there early -- at least 30 minutes before opening -- and make sure you take advantage of all the park has to offer. This doesn't save money, but ensures you get the most bang for your buck.”

Your Turn: Do you have any additional tips for saving money at Six Flags? Share them with us in the comments!

Kelly Gurnett is a freelance blogger, writer and editor who runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. Follow her on Twitter @CordeliaCallsIt.

You ask, and we respond.

We recently received a message from a Penny Hoarder reader who knew about plenty of places to make a buck off gently used women’s threads, but wondered whether there were any good place to consign men’s clothes.

Why, yes, dear reader, there are. Here’s what we found:

Online Men’s Consignment Stores

No physical location, no problem.

1. Grailed

Named as a nod to the Holy Grail -- i.e., something priceless but hard to find -- Grailed bills itself as “a curated community” where “each piece is sourced directly from the closets of like-minded fashion-conscious individuals.”

If you’re a luxury wearer, the Grailed marketplace is the place for you.

But even if you’re not, you could sell your items in its other sections: Hype (for streetwear) or Basics (for well-known mass-market and vintage clothing). The curation team reserves the right to move your items to whichever section they fit best.

Grailed offers PayPal buyer and seller protection, as well as its own appeals process for any disputed PayPal claims. It also offers a unique spin on the eBay bid site model -- in addition to setting an asking price and accepting offers from buyers, you also have the option to accept multiple offers at once and ship to whoever pays you first.

Grailed takes a 6% cut of any profits after PayPal fees -- by far the lowest commission of any other company on this list. That said, you set the price for your items, which may mean they take longer to sell than they would on a site that sets the price for you.

2. The RealReal

As its name implies, The RealReal prides itself on authenticity. While all of the sites on this list forbid replicas and knockoffs of brand-name items, The RealReal takes it one step further by employing trained professionals -- from gemologists to apparel experts -- to ensure every item it offers is the real thing.

Your item must pass a rigorous multi-point inspection before the site will list it. (If it doesn’t pass, The ReaReal reserves “the right to confiscate the item and destroy it in compliance with all laws.”) If you’re not sure whether your item will pass the test (we’ve all been taken in by bargains), TheRealReal offers videos that walk you through how to tell a fake from the real deal.

If the site accepts and sells your item, you get up to 70% of the selling price. If your item sells for less than $120, however, your take falls to 55%, so you’ll likely want to list only the highest of your high-priced items here.

3. Menswear Market

Menswear Market touts itself as “going beyond the traditional consignment store model” by “offering a personalized service to each client who supplies a collection.” It takes some of the guesswork (and legwork) out of reselling your items by offering services like garment prep, photography, copywriting, packaging and inventory management.

Menswear Market may sell your pieces on its own website or through its selling accounts on eBay, Amazon and Etsy, which means your items can reach a wider customer base.

Menswear Market offers free item pickup in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, or prepaid FedEx shipping for out-of-state sellers. You will receive 50% of the net sale price via a monthly check over your collection’s selling period, which can last up to 120 days.

4. Linda’s Stuff

Don’t let the name fool you; Linda’s Stuff isn’t just for women’s clothing and accessories. It also has a sizeable men’s section with everything from jeans to shoes (although blazers seem to be, far away, the crux of its menswear offerings).

Based on the belief that “high fashion and high quality do not have to accompany high price tags,” this company strives to sell your luxury items at a price that will net you the most money and interest the most buyers.

Listing managers set a sales price for your items based on their experience -- most items start as a seven-day auction and later transition to a set price. Linda’s Stuff pays sellers monthly and takes a sliding commission based on how much you sell: 20% of sales over $5,000, 25% of sales between $1,000 and $4,999 and 38% of sales under $1,000.

The listing managers work to relist unsold items to find just the right buyer, and the site states, “Most of our clients will see 100% of their items sell within one year.”

5. Eliot

Not sure if your items are worth consigning? Simply take photographs of each one and submit them to Eliot’s stylists with its designer name, category and condition. They’ll tell you which items they can sell and for how much, and you decide which items you want to send to the site. Eliot offers free home pickup to sellers in the New York metropolitan area and free shipping for everyone else.

Every time one of your items sells, the site deposits your cut of the proceeds (up to 70%) into your Eliot account. You can transfer these funds to your bank account as you like.

Brick-and-Mortar Men’s Consignment Stores

Prefer an in-person experience?

6. Well Suited

From the same people who brought you women’s consignment site My Sister’s Closet and home furnishings consignment site My Sister’s Attic, Well Suited has retail stores in Arizona and California, and also allows shoppers to browse items online and place orders by phone.

You can stop by a store with items you’d like to sell or follow these instructions to ship them to the company.

To qualify for resale, your items should meet the “three C’s” My Sister’s Closet originally set forth:

  1. Cute (or, one could argue, “handsome” in this case): brand-name designer items, whether classic or trendy, that retail for at least $50

  2. Clean: in like-new, ready-to-wear condition

  3. Current: stylish and no more than 4-5 years old

You can receive 45% of the item’s sale price in cash or 55% in store credit.

7. Plato’s Closet

Plato’s closet focuses on teen and young adult clothing and accessories -- for guys, this means clothing in the 28-40 waist size range in “current styles that are still in the mall.”

Check here to see if there are any locations in your area. If there are, you can stop by with your items and your ID, and a sales associate will review your stuff while you browse the store’s racks. (Plato’s Closet doesn’t have a ship-to-sell option.)

Unlike other consignment stores that pay you when your items sell and take a cut as commission, Plato’s Closet buys your items outright and stocks them for resale -- so once you receive and accept its quote, you walk out with either cold, hard cash or store credit.

According to consumer reviews, you may only get $2-$5 per accepted item, unless you have high-demand items. But if you’re looking for a quick, easy way to unload your unwanted stuff and get a few bucks, Plato’s Closet is worth checking out. Choosing store credit could get you a little bit more, too.

8. Buffalo Exchange

Like Plato’s Closet, Buffalo Exchange buys acceptable items upfront and pays you in cash or store credit. Like other companies on this list, you can either drop your items off at one of its physical locations or send them by prepaid UPS shipping.

Buffalo Exchange lists what each location is looking for here, but as a rule, it focuses on “current trends, denim, designer, everyday basics, leather, vintage and one-of-a-kind items.” You can call ahead to find out what your local store is looking for if you’re selling in person or go here to see its biggest sell-by-mail needs.

Accepted items typically net you 50% of the selling price in store credit or 30% in cash .

Your Turn: Have you found any other places to sell men’s clothing and accessories? Share them with us in the comments!

Kelly Gurnett is a freelance blogger, writer and editor who runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. Follow her on Twitter @CordeliaCallsIt.

This may make me a horrible writer, English degree holder and book lover, but I’ll confess: I haven’t been to a public library since I graduated college. (I blame the internet and Amazon’s Kindle.)

That said, I know that libraries offer a wealth of free resources I could tap into at any time -- including some things you might be surprised to learn about.

They also have a wealth of resources that can help you in your job search, whether you’re in need of a better resume, interview tips, help finding the right position — or all the above and then some.

Read on to learn how your nearby public library could be your secret job search weapon.

The best part about the services on this list? They’re totally free.

1. Internet Access

Forget shelling out money for pricy food and drinks or wondering when you’ll get kicked out of your seat for loitering; your days of hunkering down at the coffee shop are over. A library is the perfect place to search for and apply to jobs, network on social media and more.

In addition to offering computers with internet access, now most libraries also offer free Wi-Fi, which means you can take your laptop, find a quiet nook and work to your heart’s content without fear of being interrupted or distracted.

2. Books and Magazines and Reference Materials (Oh My!)

Looking to transition to a different field but not sure what would be the best fit for you? Thinking of going back to school and wondering which colleges specialize in your subject area? Need to brush up on your interviewing skills?

Whatever you’re looking for, your public library is chock-full of books, ebooks, magazines and more to help you find it. If it doesn’t have a particular title in its own stacks, chances are the staff can request one from another local branch.

3. Software and Training

Resume templates, cover letter builders, job search databases, civil service exam study guides, salary calculators… Whatever phase of the job hunt you’re in, you’ll find plenty of tools to make it easier. Many libraries also provide on-site training in popular workplace software, like Word, Adobe and Excel -- perfect for anyone who wants to add to their skill set or brush up on a program they haven’t used in a while.

4. Career Workshops

Check out your local branch’s workshop schedule for classes on career-related topics, like resume writing and interview prep, as well as lessons in basic fundamentals, like writing and math, that can help you succeed in any job.

5. Continuing Education

Career skills aren’t the only things you can learn at your public library; many provide free access to adult learning programs, like Coursera, Lynda.com and GED/high school equivalency courses. If you’re thinking of transitioning to a new field or want to beef up your knowledge to go further in your current field, this is a great way to do so.

6. Business Center Services

Sure, you could go to a FedEx or UPS store to print copies of your resume and scan it for online job applications — or you could do it at the library for free. We’d choose free.

7. Career Center Services

Remember when you were a college student and just had to stop by your campus career center for help with whatever job search struggle you were facing? Many libraries now offer the same services, including access to online education portals, career training and coaching, help completing applications and more.

The New York Public Library, for instance, provides pro bono career coaching in 50-minute, one-on-one sessions. At the Greensboro Public Library, you can make an appointment with a job and career counselor for services such as vocational guidance and resume help. The San Francisco Public Library offers a regular Job Seekers’ Drop-In Lab and life coaching.

Many libraries also offer access to LearningExpress Hub’s Job & Career Accelerator, which features a wide array of skill assessments, tutorials, sample resumes and even a personalized job search dashboard.

8. Employment Partnerships

Get a leg up on job seekers by taking advantage of the employment partnerships many libraries have entered into.

By partnering with companies, business organizations and educational institutions on the local, state and national levels, these partnerships provide things like additional training, job placement and matching services, and networking opportunities.

9. A Quiet Environment

When you’re evaluating job offers, composing compelling cover letters and trying to find the perfect words to sum up your credentials for your resume, you need to concentrate, and that’s not always easy at home or in a public area with a Wi-Fi hotspot. Libraries are the perfect place to shut out life’s distractions and get down to business.

10. Librarians

The job search can be daunting, but your friendly, highly trained librarians are there to assist you in navigating it all. From research assistance to tech help, you’ll find a judgment-free, trustworthy sidekick whose job is to be as helpful as they possibly can. No question is too big or small, and if they don’t know the answer themselves, they’ll help you track down the best place to find it.

This list is by no means exhaustive, and each public library has its own mix of resources and tools. Be sure to ask your librarian what their branch offers to guarantee you get the most of your visit.

Your Turn: Have you used your public library for your job search? What resources did you find there?

Kelly Gurnett is a freelance blogger, writer and editor who runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. Follow her on Twitter @CordeliaCallsIt.

One of the biggest drains on a landlord’s rental income is expenses. Owning rental properties is never as easy as buying a property, finding a tenant and waiting for the big fat checks to roll in -- and savvy landlords know this.

“Once a property is purchased, its ROI mostly comes down to minimizing losses,” says Brian Davis, a real estate investor with 15 rental properties and co-founder of the real estate blog SparkRental. “I like to think of rental income as a pipeline that you want to keep flowing smoothly and with minimal leakage.”

Whether you’re planning on getting into the landlord business or you’re an experienced landlord, you probably want to know how to net more income. We talked to an array real estate experts to gather their top suggestions for how to maximize your rental income.

1. Thoroughly Screen Tenants

One of the biggest hassles we heard landlords mention was the cost (in money, time and stress) of evicting troublesome tenants. An eviction can take three to six months and can cost upward of $5,000, so do some preventative work by putting new tenants through a thorough screening process.

Run a credit check to give you a sense of their financial responsibility, along with a criminal and eviction investigation. Also, do a little reconnaissance.

Drive by their current residence,” says Denise Supplee, a real estate agent, investor and former property manager, as well as co-founder of SparkRental. “Is it messy? Are there trash cans thrown all over -- or worse, is the trash just piling up? Is there an old broken-down car with expired tags just sitting? Big warning flags!”

2. Tenant-Proof Your Property

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“Landlords can’t deduct money from a security deposit for ‘normal wear and tear,’ so they need to do what they can do prevent it,” says Davis.

This includes forbidding mounted TVs in your lease, securing hardware like towel bars into studs, opting for low-maintenance flooring like hardwood over carpeting and installing door stops. Anything that prevents reasonable daily use from leaving a mark on your property is a wise move.

Simpler landscaping and durable exterior materials like brick and vinyl can also cut back on your maintenance costs, advises Chad Carson, a real estate investor and blogger at CoachCarson.com.

3. Get the Right Insurance

This should go without saying, but always spring for landlord liability insurance.

“Just the cost of one frivolous lawsuit could empty your bank account,” Carson says. “A good insurance policy will hire attorneys to defend you in the unlikely case of a lawsuit.”

The Penny Hoarder editor Justin Cupler rented out his old house for a year after moving out, and he adds: “Call your insurance company and change to a structure-only policy. Most homeowners policies cover the entire house and its contents. If you’re renting it to strangers, no need to insure their items. This can save you about $25 to $50 per month.”

4. Buy a Home Warranty

If your house is older, things are bound to break,” Cupler says. “(A home warranty) typically costs only $20 to $50 per month and covers you in the event of an unexpected breakdown that can drain your reserves.”

5. DIY Whenever Possible

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Having a rental property is less about maximizing income and more about minimizing expenses,” says Andy Panko, owner of two one-bedroom condos in a complex in Woodbridge, New Jersey. “I always try to personally do as much as I can with regards to my properties. I'm very handy and can handle most typical repairs and updating. I also do all of my own advertising (free via Craigslist), showing of my units, and do all of the background checks and credit screening (via TransUnion's SmartMove service, which I charge to the tenant).”

6. Use Rental Agencies With Caution

Some landlords find rental agencies and property managers are worth the expense, as they save them time and stress in the long run.

“I was too easy on my tenants — not charging late fees or starting evictions when they got behind. This allowed them to walk all over me and cost me even more money,” says Mark Ferguson of Invest Four More. “When I had seven properties, I handed them over to a management company, and they were much tougher. Even though I paid them a percentage of the rents, we collected more rents and had better tenants. It saved me headaches, time and money.”

If you go this route, just make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck. Cupler suggests comparing fees first by “getting a few agencies vying for your business and finding the one with the best benefits for the cost.”

If you’d prefer to forgo the fee, there are helpful tools.

“Hiring a property manager may take some of the headache out of dealing with tenants, but their fees can take up to 10% of your returns. In today’s real estate market, that could reduce your cash flow to the point of barely turning a profit,” says Callie Hamilton, a real estate investor whose husband founded Rentlit to help fellow landlords handle things like online automated payments, maintenance services, background checks and lease creation on their own.

7. Check Your Properties Regularly

Even if you’ve hired someone to handle your day-to-day management, make sure to inspect your properties on a regular basis to ensure your tenants are properly keeping up on your investment.

“Walk through the properties as often as you can,” says Deb Tomaro, broker associate with RE/MAX Acclaimed Properties. “Changing the furnace filter every 60 days is a great excuse. That gives you a chance to look for any issues before they turn into a huge and expensive repair. For example, I can't tell you how many cabinets under the kitchen sink get rotted out because the tenants stuff the cabinet full of things and never know that there's a small leak. The leak goes on for a year, the sink base is destroyed. Every time I go into a rental unit, I ask if I can check under the sinks for any leaks, and I run my hands along all the plumbing to make sure I don't feel a leak.”

Even a simple drive-by to make sure things are being maintained on the outside can tell you a lot, she says.

[caption id="attachment_51605" align="alignnone" width="1200"]rental income monkeybusinessimages/ Getty Images[/caption]

8. Keep Your Tenants Happy

In addition to eviction, turnover costs rank high on landlords’ lists of things to avoid.

“The biggest expenses in the rental business occur when a tenant moves out,” Carson says. “A tenant who stays five or six years doesn't complain about smudges on the wall, but for a new tenant, you'll have to paint and do other repairs.”

Keep your tenants happy by responding to maintenance requests promptly and politely. If you find you have to raise rents to meet monthly expenses, give tenants an incentive to stick with you, like a small upgrade when they renew their lease, Carson suggests.

9. Get the Most Rent Per Square Foot

Bigger is not always better in the rental world,” Carson warns. “Find properties with the highest rent per square foot. Many times a 1,000-square-foot apartment will rent for the same as a 1,300-square-foot apartment. But the painting and other ongoing maintenance will cost more for the larger unit.”

Or follow the example of Keisha Blair, co-founder of Aspire-Canada, and focus on renting out multifamily properties, which “can reduce the risk of having long periods of vacancies significantly, reducing your risk of loss of income,” she says. “In multifamily homes like triplexes, this significantly increases the income potential while minimizing significant losses if one tenant decides to leave. Even though these properties tend to be more expensive, they tend to outperform single-family investments quite significantly in the long run.”

10. Don’t Include Utilities

Never include variable utilities like heat or electricity in the price of rent. Jennifer Stahlman of PayLease explains why:

  • “Padding the price of rent to include utilities means you have to overly inflate the rent in an already competitive market.”
  • “When utilities are included, there is no incentive for the resident to conserve, leading to higher utility bills.”
  • “If you don’t add enough to cover all utilities, you have to pay the difference.”
  • “Utility providers frequently increase their rates, leading to inconsistent invoice amounts.”

11. Build Things In

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Consider investing in built-in furniture like shelves or a breakfast nook.

Generally, if it can't be moved, it can't be broken,” says landlord and real estate investor Eugene Gamble. “Although initially more expensive, the costs are mitigated by the reduced number of repairs needed as tenants can't move pieces according to their particular desires. You also save on the time in finding replacements or doing repairs.”

Carson also recommends including lots of built-in storage solutions, for a very ingenious reason: “more stuff = harder to move!”

12. Charge Extra for Add-Ons

Consider renting any garage(s) located on your property separately, Gamble advises. “Not all tenants have a car, so you can rent that extra space out if it is suitably located and laid out.“

If you rent to tenants with pets, ask them to pay a one-time or monthly pet fee rather than paying a pet deposit, says Kaycee Wegener of Rentec Direct. “If you ask for a pet deposit, that money can only be used to clean up any damage caused by the pet, and the remaining balance must go back to the tenant… However, if you charge a one-time or monthly pet fee, you can use the income at your discretion.”

13. Form an LLC

“A successful business begins (and remains so) by positioning itself to reduce risk. Notice, not ‘eliminate’ risk, because that's impossible,” says attorney and real estate investor Craig Morgan. His strategy for doing so:

Have a single LLC (the most common entity choice for investors) for real estate holdings. Keep your rentals in one LLC; this LLC does not partner on other projects or conduct other services (e.g. contractor work). All the LLC does is hold property.

If you have a short-term portfolio (read: fix-and-flips), then put those in another LLC. If you're a home repair person or property manager, then that service is performed in a different entity. The crux here is that you limit the exposure (i.e. the liability) of each LLC. In theory, a plaintiff can only go after what is in the LLC/the value in the LLC. So, if you get sued as a contractor, the plaintiff can't get ahold of your rentals because it's a separate and distinct business.

14. Crunch the Numbers

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“Since a rental property is an investment, it should be analyzed as such,” Panko says. As a result, “it is more important to maximize return than to maximize income. Even if you have enough cash to buy a rental property outright, you can typically earn a better return on your money by taking a loan to pay for most of it.” He provides this example using of his own units:

The total monthly cost of taxes, maintenance fee and insurance is about $525, and monthly rent is $1,250. That's monthly net income of about $725, or $8,700 per year.

The property costs about $110,000. If I had put out the full $110,000 to buy it outright, I'd only be making about 8.3% per year on my investment, i.e. $8,700 of net income divided by an initial investment of $110,000. Instead, I only put $27,500 of my own money in (25% down payment) and borrowed the rest with a 30-year loan. The loan is about $400 per month. So adding that to the taxes, maintenance and insurance means my total monthly expenses are $925.

With monthly rent of $1,250, this means my monthly net income is only $325 a month, or $3,900 per year. However, that equates to a 14.2% return per year, i.e. $3,900 of net income divided by an initial investment of $27,500. So by taking out a loan instead of buying it outright, my income is reduced but my investment return is increased.

That said, you still need to know what you’re getting into: “It should be noted that borrowing money increases the risk of owning a rental property,” Panko adds. “For example, even if the unit is unoccupied for months and, therefore, not producing any income, the loan still needs to be paid every month.”

As with any complex business decision, if you feel your head start spinning, it’s always best to consult with a professional.

15. Use Your Tax Breaks

Too many landlords miss out on savings because “they don't know what is an allowable expense” when it comes to tax breaks, says Gamble. “Landlords can claim all sorts of breaks for the upkeep of their property and in the repayment of mortgages. Learn what you can do, or hire an experienced property accountant.”

Your Turn: Do you have a rental property? What other tips would you add to this list?

Kelly Gurnett is a freelance blogger, writer and editor who runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. Follow her on Twitter @CordeliaCallsIt.

Working from home affords you many things -- flexibility, freedom, independence. But it can also cost you plenty — from the high-speed internet you need to stay in touch with clients to your ability to have a normal social life.

Fortunately, the government recognizes this and offers plenty of tax deductions to people who work out of their homes. Read on to find out what you might be eligible for if you work from home.

Self-Employed vs. Remote Workers

Most of the following deductions apply largely to the self-employed, also known as independent contractors. That’s because when you’re an employee of a company, your company foots the bill for 50% of things like Social Security and Medicare taxes, and withholds the other 50% from your paycheck to pay the rest.

But when you’re self-employed, you’re responsible for both halves -- something too many independent contractors learn by surprise when April rolls around and they find out how much they owe in taxes. (As a rule of thumb, you should set aside around one-third of your self-employment income for taxes.)

To offset this additional expense, the IRS allows self-employed workers to deduct certain business-related costs, so long as they itemize each of these expenses on their returns. That means you’ll need to keep detailed records and receipts throughout the year.

If you’re a remote employee -- you work for one company but do so from home -- you will only be eligible to deduct expenses incurred out of your own pocket at your employer’s request.

What You Can Deduct

According to IRS guidelines, “To be deductible, a business expense must be both ordinary and necessary.” This includes:

1. Home Office

If you have a dedicated room or workspace in your home you use solely for business purposes, it counts as a “home office,” and you can deduct a portion of certain home expenses for it. It doesn’t need a fixed partition, like a wall or a door to close, but you do need to clearly identify it as a separate space (i.e., a dedicated corner of your kitchen).

So if your home is 1,200 square feet and your home office is 120 square feet, that means it makes up 10% of your home’s square footage, so you can deduct 10% of the following:

  • Rent (NOT monthly mortgage payments).
  • Utilities (heat, electricity, internet, landline).
  • Mortgage interest.
  • Homeowners insurance.
  • Property taxes.

Remote workers, take note: You can only deduct a home office if your employer asks you to work from home “for the convenience of your employer.” If you’ve negotiated a few work-from-home days to accommodate your own schedule, this does not count.

2. Office Supplies

From staples to printer paper, office supplies are deductible. Just be careful with larger “supplies,” like furniture.

If it’s essential to your business (think: desk, desk chair, filing cabinet), you can probably deduct it. If it’s not (think: picture frames and a second, comfier chair for brainstorming in), you probably can’t.

3. Equipment

You can also deduct any equipment you buy for your business, like computers, printers and accessories (headsets, webcams, etc.), as well as any repairs on these items. If you have a smartphone you use solely for business purposes, you can deduct the cost of the phone and monthly bill.

If your industry requires specialty equipment, like camera gear for photographers, that also qualifies.

4. Software

Do you use a paid invoicing system to bill your freelance clients? You can deduct that. Graphic design software, PDF software, word processing software? You can deduct those, too. As long as you use them strictly for business, any software you purchase or pay for monthly qualifies.

5. Travel Costs

If you ever need to travel to visit a client or attend a conference, you can deduct your mileage or airfare. The same goes for any lodging, parking fees and other travel-related expenses you incur on your own dime.

6. Meals and Entertainment

Be careful with this category, as it can be all too tempting to write off business meetings that aren’t strictly business.

Coffee meeting with a new client to discuss strategy? Deductible.

Five-course dinner with friends where you spend 15 minutes talking business? Not so much.

As a rule, expect the IRS to limit your deductions to 50% of business-related “entertainment” costs, so keep things modest.

7. Training and Education

You can deduct any professional education necessary to run or grow your business, so go ahead and sign up for that course or webinar you’ve been wanting to take.

8. Marketing and Advertising

If you attend a trade show, send out flyers or buy a box of business cards, this counts as marketing, and you can deduct it. Same goes for any fees in connection with a personal website that advertises your services — hosting fees, WordPress theme purchases, etc.

9. Professional Services

When you hire someone to help you with your business, it’s deductible. So keep track of those invoices from the IT pro who debugged your website, the attorney who reviewed a tricky contract and the CPA who put together your tax returns.

10. Health Insurance

You can deduct 100% of your health insurance premiums for yourself and any covered spouse and dependents, if you meet the following criteria:

  • You’re self-employed.
  • Your business is claiming a profit for the tax year.
  • You (and your spouse and dependents) were not eligible for coverage from an employer or under your spouse’s plan during the months you’re claiming.

11. Miscellaneous

Throughout the year, make note of any other expenses that the IRS might consider necessary in the normal course of business. This could include holiday gifts for your best clients (within reason), banking fees, shipping fees, post office box fees, etc.

Your Turn: Do you work from home? If so, did you realize you could deduct all these things?

Kelly Gurnett is a freelance blogger, writer and editor who runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. Follow her on Twitter @CordeliaCallsIt.

There’s a lot of advice out there on how to keep your credit score healthy — and as is often the case with advice, much of it is conflicting. So we did some digging to cut through all the noise and find out what really does -- and doesn’t -- impact your credit score.

Here’s what we found:

Things That DO Affect Your Credit Score

There are many factors at play when it comes to your credit score, but here are seven that have a significant impact.

1. Applying for Multiple Credit Cards at Once

Too many inquiries from lenders in a short period of time looks irresponsible to credit-reporting agencies, and for good reason. According to FICO, a credit scoring company, “people with six inquiries or more on their credit reports can be up to eight times more likely to declare bankruptcy than people with no inquiries on their report.”

So, if you’re planning a shopping spree and think you’ll save a ton by opening up a store card at each retailer, think again. The temporary discounts probably aren’t worth it.

2. High Balances

One of the factors credit-reporting agencies consider when determining your credit score is your credit utilization (otherwise known as your debt-to-credit ratio). This is a fancy way of saying “how much of your available credit limit you’ve used up.” A high ratio indicates you may be charging more than you can afford.

Whether you have one card or several, be sure to keep the balances low and pay them off fast. Ideally, you should pay them off in full each month to avoid getting hit with interest.

3. Late Payments

Late payments are another indicator you might not be handling your finances well -- and the longer your payment has been overdue, the harder it will hit your score. If you’ve always paid on time and just had a momentary mental lapse, remedy it immediately, and then follow these tips to have the creditor remove the late fee from your credit report. Most companies will be flexible if you’ve been a good cardholder up until now.

[caption id="attachment_51405" align="alignnone" width="1200"]what affects my credit score Kimberly Deprey/Getty Images[/caption]

4. Closing an Old Account… Most of the Time

This one confuses many people, so let’s set the record straight. Closing an old account that’s been paid off for a while will affect your credit score if:

  • It’s the oldest of all your accounts. Length of credit history is important, so you never want to close your oldest card unless it’s only a year or two older than your next-oldest card.
  • You made your last payment within the last 10 years. Length of payment history also matters, and it goes back as far as 10 years (for good payment history -- negative payment history cuts off after seven years). So if you made your last payment on the card anytime in the last decade, keep it open for now to boost your score.
  • It increases your debt-to-credit ratio. An open and fully paid account gives you more available, unutilized credit. This is good for your credit score. If closing your old card will significantly increase the percent of available credit you’ve used, reconsider doing so.
  • It hurts your credit mix. Creditors and lenders want to see that you can handle a variety of credit wisely. This includes revolving debt (like credit cards) and installment debt (like auto loans, student loans and your mortgage). If you don’t have many accounts, closing one could throw off this mix.

5. Waiting Until the End of an Interest-Free Period to Make a Payment

You bought a new dining room set for your home, and the store gave you 12 months of zero-interest, zero-payment financing. You could wait until those 12 months are up before paying the balance in full without incurring any fees, but you will see a decrease in your credit score if this pushes your debt-to-credit ratio too high.

It’s always better to make small payments toward this type of balance rather than waiting until the end of your interest-free period, especially since delaying could result in you accidentally forgetting to make a payment and getting hit with a late fee and a super-high interest rate.

6. Severely Overdue Fines

Did you know library late fees, unpaid parking and speeding tickets, and overdue rent and medical bills can impact your credit score? They can, if they go into collections. So be just as diligent about paying these debts as you would a credit card balance.

7. Joint Debt

If you know your spouse has a habit of being a spendthrift, don’t open up a credit card with them or make them an authorized user on one of your accounts. Any overdue, maxed-out or nearly maxed-out account that has your name on it can tank your credit score, regardless of who made the purchases.

Things That DON’T Affect Your Credit Score

While there are plenty of factors that can negatively impact your credit score, there are also many issues that people incorrectly think will hurt their score. Here are some of the more common ones:

1. Applying for Multiple Traditional Loans at Once

When applying for large loans, like a mortgage, auto loan or student loan, you want to shop around to make sure you’re getting the best rate. Fortunately, you won’t get penalized for this the way you would if you applied for too many credit cards at once. As long as you make your traditional loan inquiries within 30 days of one another, multiple inquiries won’t affect your score.

2. Checking Your Credit Score

When a lender checks your score to determine if it should give you a new card, that’s a hard inquiry, which does impact your score. But when you (or a potential employer) check your score to see how well you’re doing with your finances, that counts as a soft inquiry. A soft inquiry has no bearing on your credit score because it isn’t an attempt to secure more credit.

3. Home Equity Lines of Credit… If You Pay On Time

If you take out a home equity line of credit (or HELOC) to finance a home improvement, you’re borrowing against the equity you already have in your home, so the lender has a way of getting its money back if you default. As a result, although your credit report will show a HELOC as revolving credit, FICO does not consider it in your debt-to-credit ratio, which plays a big role in the calculation of your credit score.

That said, it is considered when calculating your payment history (which also plays a big a role), so you want to make sure you make your payments on time, or your score could go down. You also want be very careful about opening a HELOC in the first place; since fees and interest can add up fast, make sure you don’t bite off more than you can chew, or you could risk foreclosure.

4. Income/Employment Status

If you lose your job or have take one with a lower salary, it will affect your ability to open a new credit card or obtain a loan, but it won’t affect your credit score -- so long as you’re still able to make your payments on time and don’t fall too far behind on your existing balances.

5. Marrying Someone With Bad Credit

Marrying someone with bad credit won’t, in and of itself, impact your credit score -- but it will impact your financial future together. You’ll want to work out an aggressive debt-repayment plan to make sure you right the joint ship and don’t go further into debt as a couple.

Your Turn: Are you uncertain if any other factors affect your credit? Let us know what they are in the Facebook comments!

Kelly Gurnett is a freelance blogger, writer and editor who runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. Follow her on Twitter @CordeliaCallsIt.

It comes as no surprise that millennials are big on work-from-home jobs.

Of this flexibility-loving, tech-savvy generation 75% would like to start working (or work more often) from home, according to Deloitte’s 2016 Millennial Study.

But older workers can find just as many potential employment opportunities online, if they know where to look.

Whether you need a little extra money in your retirement or just like to keep busy, if you’re looking for a new position, here are 10 great jobs for retirees you can do from the comfort of your home.

First, a Word of Warning

As with anything you find online, some opportunities are better than others.

Sadly, there are plenty of work-from-home scams out there, so keep an eye out for the following red flags:

  • They ask for personal information, like your Social Security number or bank account information.
  • They ask you to pay. Legitimate job offers will never require payment to apply, purchase inventory, attend training, etc.
  • They don’t mention a specific pay rate, or they make vaguely worded promises like, “You can earn up to $30 an hour!”
  • The only physical location you find for the company is a P.O. box (if it’s local).
  • They offer you an advance on your pay.

If a position meets one or more of the criteria listed above, there’s a good chance it might not be on the up and up, so you’re best to keep searching.

The Top 10 Online Jobs for Retirees

1. Customer Service Representative

What you’d do: Answer customer questions, troubleshoot problems, and take and track orders. Depending on the company, you may be communicating over the phone, via online chat or both.

Good if you: Are a people person, can multitask, have a decent typing speed and have a quiet place to work.

Average Pay*: $12.64/hour

Where to look: Working Solutions, LiveOps, Arise

2. Virtual Assistant

What you’d do: Everything a traditional administrative assistant might do: composing correspondence, calendar management, making travel arrangements, data entry.

Good if you: Already have experience working in an office, are organized, have good time-management skills, and are proficient in basic word processing and spreadsheet software.

Average Pay: $16.09/hour

Where to look: This list

3. Transcriptionist

What you’d do: Typing out, verbatim, what you hear on audio files. You may be captioning a video, capturing the words in a court presentation or taking down a written record of a dialogue between two or more people.

Good if you: Are a quick typer, have good hearing, can identify speakers by voice, are able to understand sometimes thick accents and can pass a transcription test.

Average Pay: $19.65/hour

Where to look: This list

4. Brand Advocate

What you’d do: Chat online with visitors to your favorite brand’s website, offer advice and recommendations, and answer questions about products.

Good if you: Consider yourself an expert on a particular brand or product, love sharing your favorite finds with others, and always dreamed of being a personal shopper.

Average Pay: $9-$12/hour, plus you’ll earn points you can redeem for products.

Where to look: Needle.com

5. Tutor

What you’d do: Share your knowledge with students of all ages. You may compose lessons, grade tests and papers, or help review material in preparation for a standardized test, like the SATs.

Good if you: Are knowledgeable in a certain subject (teacher certifications are nice but not necessary; real world experience counts), can pass an online exam in that subject, and have a knack for explaining things to people.

Average Pay: $10-$15/hour, according to a review of current openings.

Where to look: Tutor.com, Kaplan, Pearson Education

6. Subject Matter Expert

What you’d do: Answer a wide variety of questions from customers and businesses on a subject you’re knowledgeable about.

Good if you: Have lots of real-world or academic experience in a particular field.

Average Pay: $10-$15/accepted answer

Where to look: Just Answer

7. Online Juror

What you’d do: Serve as a mock juror for attorneys who want to see how their cases will fare if taken to trial. You’ll listen to testimony, weigh evidence and render your verdict just like a juror in a real court case.

Good if you: Are analytical, enjoy processing large (and often conflicting) amounts of evidence, like giving your opinion and have a clean record.

Average Pay: $5-$50 per case, according to a review of current openings; some extensive cases can pay $100-$120.

Where to look: JuryTest, eJury, OnlineVerdict, Resolution Research

8. Writer/Editor

What you’d do: Anything from proofreading to writing articles for online publications. This is a huge field, and if you’ve got the chops for it, you can find a wide range of opportunities.

Good if you: Have a way with words, have strong grammar and punctuation skills, and are an expert in a particular field.

Average Pay: $27.45/hour

Where to look: FlexJobs, FreelanceWriting.com, Morning Coffee Newsletter

9. Website Tester

What you’d do: Review and critique websites to shine a light on what users really think of them. Since these critiques are meant to give companies a true understanding of how the average person interacts with their sites, you don’t need to be a tech pro or a layout guru; you just need to be able to articulate your thoughts and feelings in real time.

Good if you: Know what you like and don’t like (and WHY you like it or or don’t), are comfortable thinking out loud, and can follow basic written instructions.

Average Pay: $3-$10 per test; tests take an average of 5-20 minutes.

Where to look: See the “Who’s Hiring” section at the bottom of this post.

10. Translator

What you’d do: Translate documents and provide interpretation over the phone or by video.

Good if you: Are fluent in another language.

Average Pay: $15-$40/hour, according to a review of current openings.

Where to look: VerbalizeIt, Ubiqus, Telelanguage, SDL, American Translators Association

*Unless otherwise indicated, average pay is based on Indeed.com estimates at the time of writing.

Your Turn: Are you a retiree with a great work-from-home job? Tell us what you do  in the Facebook comments!

Kelly Gurnett is a freelance blogger, writer and editor who runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. Follow her on Twitter @CordeliaCallsIt.