Mike Brassfield - The Penny Hoarder

Fires and lightning and hail, oh my!

If you own a home, you probably have insurance to protect it from threats like these, and from other scary stuff like windstorms, vandalism, explosions, cars running off the road, or airplanes falling from the sky.

And if you have a mortgage on your home, you have no choice here: You’re required to have homeowners insurance.

So here’s one more reason to maintain a decent credit score.

Your credit history is having more and more of an impact on your homeowners insurance rates, according to a new analysis.

If your credit rating is poor, your insurance premium is more than double the rate a homeowner with excellent credit is paying, according to the InsuranceQuotes.com report.

In other words, here’s another way the world isn’t fair.

If you’re broke and your credit rating stinks, you get to pay twice as much as someone who’s NOT broke. Yes, this is how the financial world works.

“Many consumers aren’t even aware that, in most states, credit plays a significant role in determining how much you pay for home insurance,” says Laura Adams, a senior insurance analyst for InsuranceQuotes. “So even if you don’t plan on using credit to borrow money, it still affects your finances.”

Previous studies had come to the same conclusion. The new development here is, the penalty for having lousy credit is getting worse and worse.

People with “fair” credit paid an average of 36% more for homeowners insurance in 2016 than people with excellent credit, according to the study. That’s up from 32% in 2015 and 29% in 2014.

People with poor credit paid 114% more in insurance premiums -- up from 100% more in 2015 and 91% in 2014.

Why does your credit rating have an effect on the price of your homeowners policy?

David Snyder, vice president for policy development and research with the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, told The New York Times that a homeowner's credit history helped predict the likelihood of filing a claim. Insurers are allowed to base rates on factors that affect risk, he says, “and this is simply one of those.”

What Can You Do?

First of all, if you need homeowners or rental insurance, be sure to shop around.

Insurance companies are notorious for wildly varying rates, so call around and ask for the same coverage from each company to see which one offers the best deal.  

Consider bundling your car and home insurance policies to get a better deal.

More importantly, take concrete steps to improve your credit score.

How exactly do you do that? Here are three ways to get started:

1. Figure Out What You’re Dealing With

Map out exactly what kind of debt you have.

For example, which companies do you owe money to? Are any of your debts in collections? What are your minimum monthly payments on each credit card or loan?

An easy way to do this is to sign up with a free service like Credit Sesame. This tool shows your balance on any unpaid bills, credit cards or loans. It also offers tips on reducing your debt and raising your credit score.

2. Consolidate Your Debt

Once you fall behind, you may find yourself getting crushed by credit card interest rates north of 20%. You’ll never catch up that way. You’re spending so much on interest, you’ll never pay off your balances.

If you’re financially treading water like this, it might be worth consolidating and refinancing your debt.

By refinancing an existing loan, you’re taking out a totally new loan, which comes with new terms and (ideally) a lower interest rate. By consolidating your existing loans, you lump all your debt into one big payment, so you’re only making one payment and dealing with one interest rate per month.

Make sense but don’t know where to start? Credible is an online marketplace that offers consumers personalized loan offers. Think of it like Zillow -- but for personal loans.

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

3. Protect Your Identity

What if you work hard to pay down all your debt and you’re totally responsible with your credit going forward -- only to take a hit because of identity theft?

We know you don’t want to risk all your hard work.

A free service like TrueIdentity helps you avoid this situation by keeping a watchful eye on your finances. It sends alerts by email, phone or text if someone tries to apply for credit in your name.

If you improve your credit score, you won’t have to pay as much to insure your home against fires and lightning and hail.

Not to mention those pesky airplanes falling from the sky.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. May we all be a bit richer today.

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Because he lives in Florida, he has homeowners insurance, flood insurance and windstorm insurance.

OMG, we thought we’d seen it all. We really did. But we were wrong. SO WRONG.

There we were, innocently surfing the web looking for Mother’s Day deals, when we chanced upon KFC’s astounding new Mom’s Day giveaway.

It’s …

It’s …

Well, it’s not mild. It’s spicy.

It’s finger-lickin’ good.

It’s “Tender Wings of Desire,” a romance novella featuring Col. Sanders himself as the love interest. Yes, you read that right.

[caption id="attachment_55853" align="alignnone" width="1200"] amazon.com[/caption]

There he is on the cover. The white hair and mustache, the nerd glasses, that weird skinny white beard, the white (sleeveless?) suit -- and his glistening, muscled biceps manfully lifting up our fiery redheaded heroine and carrying her away from all her troubles. (SIGH.)

Mothers -- or anyone, really -- can download this cultural artifact here on Amazon absolutely free for a limited time.

It’s an ebook, which unfortunately means you can’t display it proudly in a prominent place on your bookshelf, and that’s too bad because we totally want to do that. We totally would if we could.

However, KFC says it also plans to surprise 100 fans on Facebook with the chance to win dinner and a hard copy of the book.

As of this writing, the only thing about the novella on KFC’s Facebook page is a link to this YouTube video, which starts out with: “This Mother’s Day, let Col. Sanders take care of dinner -- and Mom’s fantasies.” The video gets even more bat$&%# crazy from there.

“The only thing better than being swept away by the deliciousness of our Extra Crispy Chicken is being swept away by Harland Sanders himself,” said KFC advertising director George Felix, who is clearly embracing this whole thing. “So this Mother's Day, the bucket of chicken I get for my wife will come with a side of steamy romance novella.”

For some reason the Colonel’s love story is not set in Kentucky, but in Victorian England instead. (Guess that’s more romance-y.) With a mix of fascination and self-loathing, we read the plot description on Amazon:

When Lady Madeline Parker runs away from Parker Manor and a loveless betrothal, she finally feels like she is in control of her life. But what happens when she realizes she can’t control how she feels? When she finds herself swept into the arms of Harland, a handsome sailor with a mysterious past, Madeline realizes she must choose between a life of order and a man of passion. Can love overcome lies? What happens in the embrace of destiny, on the Tender Wings of Desire?

So why is KFC doing this -- other than the fact its advertising executives are apparently smoking crystal meth or something? I mean, this is the restaurant chain that gave us fried-chicken-scented sunscreen, secret-spice-scented candles and chicken-flavored edible nail polish.

It turns out that Mother's Day is KFC’s best-selling day of the year. The restaurant chain sees a 40% jump in sales, serving about 380,000 families on that day. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s 6.5 million pieces of chicken, 900,000 servings of mashed potatoes and gravy, and 480,000 helpings of coleslaw.

“Tender Wings of Desire” is KFC’s very first romance novella, just in case you were wondering.

As you read this bodice-ripper, you might embrace it as a fun, free publicity stunt. Or it might leave you deeply disturbed, with emotional scars that will last a lifetime.

But if you ask us, the Colonel makes a natural love interest. After all, women love a man in uniform. And we have no doubt that our hero will bring his secret blend of herbs and spices to the occasion.

No word yet on whether he’s a leg or breast man.

Your Turn: You choose -- Fabio or the Colonel?

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He’s deeply ashamed for having written this, yet he feels an undeniable craving to eat an entire bucket of chicken by candlelight right now, with a glass of Chianti.

When we shop for groceries, we want the meat and produce to be fresh. We appreciate good customer service. And we like a bargain.

When it comes to customer satisfaction at the supermarket, you’ll see various surveys that rank different grocery stores at the top. Sometimes you’re king of the hill, and sometimes you’re not.

A new survey puts Kroger at the top. Kroger! That’s a different result than some other surveys we’ve seen.

Morning Consult, a public opinion data company, got the opinion of nearly 200,000 consumers on 500 of America's biggest brands.

When it came to grocery stores, 53% had a favorable view toward Kroger. Whole Foods was second with 48%, and Safeway followed at 40%. Regional chains Albertsons and Publix were each at 33%.

If you’re going to check out any these supermarkets to see if you like them as much as other customers do, you should check out our tips on saving. Here are our money-saving secrets for shopping at Kroger, Whole Foods and Publix.

No matter where you’re grabbing your grub, don’t miss our 11 smart changes that'll save you big bucks at any supermarket.

What’s the Best Grocery Store? Depends Who You Ask

So according to this new survey, Kroger is king. Yay, Kroger! But like we mentioned, different surveys have shown us different results.

For instance, the American Customer Satisfaction Index conducts an in-depth survey of customer satisfaction at grocery stores every year. Most recently, the highest-ranking chains in ACSI’s survey were Trader Joe’s, Publix, Aldi, H-E-B, Wegmans and Whole Foods, in that order.

Kroger was in the middle of the pack.

Ranked lowest: Walmart.

Walmart was also at the bottom of Consumer Reports’ grocery store ranking. Consumer Reports surveyed its readers, asking them to rank supermarket chains based on factors like freshness, selection, cleanliness, customer service and prices.

In fact, Walmart is routinely ranked the worst for customer satisfaction among grocery stores, even though more Americans buy their groceries at Walmart than anywhere else.

Time magazine spells out the reason why Walmart has become Americans’ most popular destination for groceries: “For a large portion of shoppers, price simply trumps all when it comes to groceries.”

If you’re shopping for food at Walmart, you’re probably doing it to save money. Here’s how to save even more money there.

Your Turn: Where is your favorite place to shop for groceries?

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Full disclosure: He personally shops at Aldi, Publix, Winn-Dixie or Walmart, depending on his family’s needs and what’s on sale.

The Force will be with us -- always.

Because "Star Wars" has embedded itself so deeply into our cultural DNA, it continues to shape the way we think about life.

Over eight movies and counting, “Star Wars” has taught us about overcoming obstacles, about dealing with family drama, about friendship, about patience, about beating the odds -- and even about money.

Because this is The Penny Hoarder, we’re especially interested in the part about money.

Even though the epic saga of Luke Skywalker & Co. played out a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, the financial wisdom we gleaned from it applies to the here and now.

Now, prepare to make the jump to hyperspace! Here’s what we’ve learned:

1. Always Pay Your Debts -- Or Else

Bingo. This is always the first one everyone thinks of.

Han Solo owes money to the giant slug-like crime boss Jabba the Hutt. When he doesn’t pay up, Jabba sends bounty hunter Boba Fett after him -- basically a debt collector with blaster pistols and green Mandalorian armor.

Instead of declaring Chapter 7 bankruptcy, Han ends up frozen in carbonite. Then Princess Leia, Luke, Lando Calrissian, Chewbacca and the iconic droids have to infiltrate Jabba’s lair to save him in a sequel.

Just like with Solo, the longer you don’t pay off your debts, the bigger the problem gets. The interest piles up.

Your first step should be to figure out what you’re dealing with. Map out exactly what kind of debt you have. For example, which companies do you owe money to? Are any of your debts in collections? What are your minimum monthly payments on each credit card or loan?

An easy way to do this is to sign up with a free service like Credit Sesame. This tool shows your balance on any unpaid bills, credit cards or loans. It also offers tips on reducing your debt and raising your credit score.

2. Used Vehicles Offer the Best Value

The Millennium Falcon takes its share of verbal abuse in multiple "Star Wars" films.

“You came in that thing? You’re braver than I thought,” Princess Leia says upon first seeing the starship. And in “The Force Awakens,” Rey calls the ship “garbage.”

But the Millennium Falcon gets the job done. (Did we mention that it made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs?) Turns out you don’t always need a shiny new vehicle.

Used cars are often a better deal than new ones. Consumer Reports recommends buying a car that’s two or three years old. For tips on buying a used car, go here or here or here.

You’ll need to take care of your ride, though. (The Falcon’s hyperdrive keeps breaking down despite Chewbacca’s best efforts in “The Empire Strikes Back.”)

According to a recent AAA survey, 1 in 3 U.S. drivers can’t pay for an unexpected auto repair. Consider creating an emergency fund with a high-yield bank account.

Online bank Aspiration’s Summit Checking account offers up to a 1% interest rate, almost 100 times higher than the average interest rate at most banks.

3. Negotiate the Best Deal You Can

Early in “A New Hope,” Luke and Uncle Owen are bargaining with some creepy little jawas over the price of some used droids.

When an R2 unit they’d just bought immediately breaks down, Uncle Owen aggressively questions the quality of what the jawas are selling: “Hey, what are you trying to push on us?”

The result: Luke’s family gets the best droid ever, R2-D2.

You might not have any droids, but you probably have a few bills, right? A free app like Clarity Money can automatically negotiate your bills down on your behalf. If Clarity successfully negotiates a bill for you, it charges you 33% of that savings -- but only once, and only after those savings have gone into effect.

Moral of the story: Always look for leverage in negotiations.

4. “Do or Do Not. There is No Try.”

Yoda’s admonition to Luke in “The Empire Strikes Back” is probably the biggest zen moment in any of these movies.

As always, Yoda is right on target. You’re either going to do it, or you’re not. Don’t just try.

If you’re going to make financial changes, commit to them and be consistent. Don't just try once or twice and then forget about it. Sticking to it is the key to success.

For instance, saving money is hard. Consider trying an app like Acorns.

Once you connect it to a debit or credit card, it rounds your purchases up to the nearest dollar and funnels your digital change into a savings or investment account.

Because the money comes out in increments of less than $1, you’re less likely to feel an impact in your bank account.

5. Don’t Let the Little Details Blow Up On You

The Empire spared no expense on the Death Star, don’t you think?

You’ve got to figure that moon-sized battle stations capable of blowing up planets don’t come cheap (especially two of them).

But they overlooked that pesky little design flaw that allowed the Rebel Alliance to destroy the whole thing. Whoops!

Don’t neglect the details like that, because they’ll burn you. Don’t skimp on maintenance and repairs for big-ticket items like your home and car. If you blow that stuff off, you’ll just end up paying more in the end.

Another lesson from the Death Star: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. The Empire sure had a lot riding on its supercool Death Star, didn’t it?

Don’t depend on just one thing. Diversify your investments. An app like Stash will invest your money in a set of portfolios reflecting your beliefs, interests and goals. It’ll pull a specific amount from your bank account at regular intervals, so you can grow those investments over time.

6. Get Rid of Your Old Stuff

The "Star Wars" universe looks different than Star Trek and other sci-fi settings. "Star Wars" has that “lived-in” look -- there’s junk everywhere. You know, just like your house.

And in the "Star Wars" movies, people make money selling that junk -- just like you should.

In “The Force Awakens,” Rey is a scavenger on the planet Jakku, feeding herself by salvaging parts from ships

On Luke’s home planet of Tatooine, those jawas we mentioned earlier appear to be scavengers, too.

In “The Phantom Menace” -- hey, here’s our first and only mention of the prequels! -- Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi meet young Anakin Skywalker in a junk shop where he fixes things.

Meanwhile, here on our planet, a number of apps are making it easier than ever to sell your old stuff online.

To free up space and earn some extra cash, use the Decluttr app to sell your old CDs, DVDs, Blu-Rays, phones, video games and gaming consoles.

To sell other types of clutter, check out these other free apps:

  • letgo: You can sell almost anything on this app.

7. Beware of Scams. Know What Things are Worth.

Toward the beginning of “The Force Awakens,” a hungry Rey nearly pawns the droid BB-8 in exchange for 60 portions of inflatable food. She’s sorely tempted, but senses something is wrong and backs off.

That’s the surest way to spot a scam: If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Whether you’re selling a droid or shopping for shoes online, you’ve got to watch out for rip-offs. Here’s how to protect yourself from imposter scams, credit repair scams, identity theft, senior scams and online mobile shopping scams.

Since identity theft remains a huge problem these days, a free service like TrueIdentity will help protect you by keeping a watchful eye on your finances. It sends alerts by email, phone or text if someone tries to apply for credit in your name.

8. Embrace the Gig Economy

When Luke and Obi-Wan need transportation to Alderaan, they basically catch an Uber. A space Uber. They pay for the Millennium Falcon to take them there.

Here on Earth, you can make like Han and Chewie in your Honda or Chevy by driving for Uber or Lyft and make extra money each week on your own schedule.

There are other entry-level ways to make money nowadays that you can do on your own time -- and from your phone -- thanks to the growing gig economy.

Craigslist is an easy place to sell your services under the “Gigs” section. Pay and tasks will vary, of course. And if you don’t trust Craigslist, check out TaskRabbit or Fiverr -- to name just a few.

9. If the Deal Turns to the Dark Side, Cut Your Losses

Here at The Penny Hoarder, we’re always looking for good deals.

We’re always asking, Is this a good deal or not a good deal? And when we hear the words “deal” and “"Star Wars",” we can’t help but think of Lando in “The Empire Strikes Back.”

Lando … Lando did not get a good deal.

When Han, Leia and Chewie first turn up in Cloud City, Lando tells them, “I’ve just made a deal that'll keep the Empire out of here forever.”

Of course, the deal involves betraying his friends. Later, Darth Vader menacingly informs Lando, “I am altering the deal. Pray I don't alter it any further.”

Still later, when Vader threatens Lando further and mistreats his friends, Lando fumes, “This deal is getting worse all the time!”

That’s when he switches sides.

If you make a deal and the reality doesn’t match what you were promised, be prepared to walk away. Cut your losses and move on.

10. Sand People Always Walk in Single File to Hide Their Numbers

You see, from this we can learn that … no, no, wait. That’s not a good example at all. We learn no financial truths from that.

We’ve got nothing for you here.

Let’s try this instead. One of the most important lessons we learned from "Star Wars" is:

10. Make Sure You Have a Long-Term Plan

The heroes and villains of the "Star Wars" universe are seriously into some long-term planning.

Emperor Palpatine’s master plan takes several movies to unfold. After he reveals himself to be Darth Sidious and strikes, Yoda and Obi-Wan lay low for a couple of decades after the prequels, waiting for their chance to return the favor.

Of course, when we first meet Obi-Wan and Yoda, they’re chilling in a cave and a swamp, respectively. Apparently the Jedi Council didn’t have much of a 401(k) match.

The sooner you start saving, investing, and paying down your debt,  the better off you’ll be.

A confession here: We can’t come up with any financial lessons from “Rogue One.” All we remember right now are the cool space battles.

All told, that’s everything that "Star Wars" has taught us about money over eight-movies-and-counting. Take it as you will.

Do, or do not.

There is no try.

Your turn: What money management tips have you learned from "Star Wars"

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. May we all be a bit richer today.

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. His "Star Wars"-loving co-workers helped out with this post.

Holy guacamole!

Avocado prices are skyrocketing. That tasty bowl of guac for your tortilla chips on Cinco de Mayo is going to be pricy.

Avocados cost more than twice what they did a year ago, according to Bloomberg. Prices are higher than they’ve been going back nearly 20 years.

What’s more, they’re expected to stay that way all summer.

What’s the deal with expensive avocados all of a sudden?

As usual, you can blame those wacky, unpredictable market forces: supply and demand. Oh, those crazy kids supply and demand, always causing mischief.

Here are two reasons the supply of avocados is down:

  • A growers’ strike in Mexico, which supplies more than 80 percent of the avocados eaten in the U.S.

  • A drought in California, which supplies the rest of America’s avocados. California production is expected to drop 44% this year.

Meanwhile, here are two reasons the demand for avocados is up:

  • They’re so doggone healthy. Avocados contain healthy oils and fats as well as the highest protein content of any fruit -- catnip to health-conscious Americans. The average American consumed nearly 7 pounds of avocados in 2015 compared to just half that amount in 2006, according to the U.S. government.
  • China. Suddenly, China loves this creamy green fruit. Exports of avocados from Latin America to China have been growing by about 250% a year, according to the Financial Times.

What Can We Do About This Civilization-Threatening Crisis?

“But I want my guacamole!” we hear you saying.

We understand, believe us. Nothing compliments a nice salty tortilla chip or a crisp baby carrot like a generous helping of fresh guac.

Maybe with a margarita on the side?

You can taste it right now, can’t you? Yeah, so can we.

Here are two articles that can help.

First, get your money’s worth with these five affordable avocado recipes. (This article is titled “5 Avocado Recipes for Less Than $5,” but with the surging cost of avocados, we can’t guarantee that price range is 100% accurate anymore.)

Second, don’t let your avocados go to waste. Those things are getting expensive, man. If your avocadoes get a little mushy, don’t throw them away. Instead, try these 11 yummy recipes for overripe avocados.

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Your Turn: Will you do without avocados, or will you pay extra for guac?

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He loves him some fresh guac.

You’ve probably seen this bumper sticker somewhere: I Owe, I Owe, So Off To Work I Go.

Yup, we owe.

An eye-opening new study painfully details just how much debt Americans are carrying around, and the results are nothing short of astonishing.

If you look at its findings, you might have one of the following reactions:

  • Man, we all have a ton of debt.
  • Wow, I thought I had debt, but apparently a lot of my neighbors are REALLY in debt. Like, up-to-their-eyeballs in debt.
  • Jeez, we sure don’t deny ourselves when it comes to extras like hobbies or travel or entertainment, do we?
  • Ugh, I really do need to get out of debt.

Never fear. We’re here to help you with No. 4.

The new report, commissioned by financial services company Northwestern Mutual, studied the finances of nearly 3,000 people. It paints a picture of Americans who are deep in the red but keep on spending like there’s no tomorrow.

Here are some of the scariest tidbits:

  • 1 in 10 Americans have more than $100,000 in debt, not including their mortgages.
  • Nearly half the country owes at least $25,000.
  • The average American borrower owes $37,000.
  • 4 in 10 say debt causes them anxiety and impacts their financial well-being.
  • 1 in 10 have so much debt, they’re pretty sure they’ll die in debt.

So! Now that we’ve cheered you up with these fun facts and figures, there’s also this to think about:

After paying for basic necessities like food and housing, Americans spend 40% of their income on fun things like travel, entertainment and hobbies. Meanwhile, just 33% goes to pay off debt.

Experts say that’s a no-no.

“Building financial security while saddled with high debt is like running a race with a weight around your ankle,” says Rebekah Barsch, Northwestern Mutual’s vice president of planning. “We are carrying around this debt that is getting more expensive the longer we hold onto it, and then spending on things that are not essential.”

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Trying to figure out how to get out of debt? Here are three ways to get started:

1. Map Out What You’re Dealing With

Figure out exactly what kind of debt you have.

For example, which companies do you owe money to? Are any of your debts in collections? What are your minimum monthly payments on each credit card or loan?

An easy way to do this is to sign up with a free service like Credit Sesame. This tool shows your balance on any unpaid bills, credit cards or loans. It also offers tips on reducing your debt and raising your credit score.

2. Consolidate Your Debt

Once you fall behind, you may find yourself getting crushed by credit card interest rates north of 20%. You’ll never catch up that way. You’re spending so much on interest, you’ll never pay off your balances.

If you’re financially treading water like this, it might be worth consolidating and refinancing your debt.

By refinancing an existing loan, you’re taking out a totally new loan, which comes with new terms and (ideally) a lower interest rate. By consolidating your existing loans, you lump all your debt into one big payment, so you’re only making one payment and dealing with one interest rate per month.

Make sense but don’t know where to start? Even is an online marketplace that offers consumers personalized loan offers. Think of it like Zillow -- but for personal loans.

Rates start at 4.83%, and you can check yours by entering a loan amount here (up to$35,000) and comparing your personalized options in under 90 seconds.

3. Protect Your Identity

What if you work hard to pay down all your debt and you’re totally responsible with your credit going forward -- only to take a hit because of identity theft?

We know you don’t want to risk all your hard work.

A free service like TrueIdentity helps you avoid this situation by keeping a watchful eye on your finances. It sends alerts by email, phone or text if someone tries to apply for credit in your name.

Now is the time to start tackling your debt in earnest.

You don’t want to be one of the 1 in 10 Americans who are sure they’ll be in debt ‘til they die.

That’s no way to live.

Your turn: How much debt do you have?

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. May we all be a bit richer today.

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He’s quite familiar with debt, based on personal experience.

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As food deals go, it’s hard to beat a $1 sub.

So mark this one on your calendar: On Tuesday evening, Jimmy John’s is serving up $1 subs to celebrate the chain’s Customer Appreciation Day.

This deal will be available at participating locations nationwide from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 2. If you’re planning to hit up your local Jimmy John’s for a $1 sub, check this page to confirm it’s participating.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • This is for in-store purchases only. No deliveries, you lazy bums.
  • This deal is getting some publicity, so you may have to wait in line at some locations.
  • There’s a limit of one sub per customer, but Jimmy John’s FAQ says you can go back through the line for more orders if the store is OK with it.
  • Some locations may charge extra for wheat bread.

There’s one other thing you should know beforehand. The $1 deal only applies to the chain’s BLT sandwich and six Plain Slim sandwiches:

  • Double provolone cheese
  • Ham and provolone cheese
  • Roast beef
  • Salami, capicola and provolone cheese
  • Tuna salad
  • Turkey breast

Your Turn: You hungry for a $1 sub?

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He likes a good ham and provolone sub.

For just a minute, forget all the bad news we get dumped on us every day.

Here’s an honest-to-goodness, real-life, genuine, bonafide bit of good news. Actual good news. Scout’s honor.

Next time you apply for a car loan, new credit card or an apartment lease, your credit score might be more forgiving -- even if you’re carrying some debt.

Why’s that? Because one of the major credit scoring models is dramatically changing the way it looks at your debt.

VantageScore is a credit scoring model developed by the three major credit reporting bureaus -- TransUnion, Equifax and Experian.

Beginning this fall, VantageScore will look more at “the big picture.”

That means it will evaluate the overall trends of your credit use over time, instead of simply judging how creditworthy you are based on one particular snapshot in time.

Here’s the upshot, according to the Washington Post: It will calculate whether you’ve been actually paying off your debt or just racking up more of it.

The website Lifehacker put it another way: “This could be a drawback for some consumers, but it’s good news for consumers who are actively working to pay down their debt.”

This is more good news for consumers. As we reported in April, 12 million Americans might see a credit score bump in July because the major reporting agencies are dropping tax liens and civil judgements from creditworthiness evaluations.

How to Make This Work For You

Of course, in order to make this change work in your favor, you have to actually be trying to pay off your debts.

When it comes to buying a house, most mortgage lenders use your FICO credit score, which is calculated differently.

However, many other lenders will be checking out your VantageScore before extending you credit.

Now more than ever, it’s important to tackle your debt. The conditions have never been riper to raise your credit score. Your chances of getting a favorable interest rate on your next auto loan or credit card depend on it.

How exactly do you do that? Here are three ways to get started:

1. Figure Out What You’re Dealing With

Map out exactly what kind of debt you have.

For example, which companies do you owe money to? Are any of your debts in collections? What are your minimum monthly payments on each credit card or loan?

An easy way to do this is to sign up with a free service like Credit Sesame. This tool shows your balance on any unpaid bills, credit cards or loans. It also offers tips on reducing your debt and raising your credit score.

2. Consolidate Your Debt

Once you fall behind, you may find yourself getting crushed by credit card interest rates north of 20%. You’ll never catch up that way. You’re spending so much on interest, you’ll never pay off your balances.

If you’re financially treading water like this, it might be worth consolidating and refinancing your debt.

By refinancing an existing loan, you’re taking out a totally new loan, which comes with new terms and (ideally) a lower interest rate. By consolidating your existing loans, you lump all your debt into one big payment, so you’re only making one payment and dealing with one interest rate per month.

Make sense but don’t know where to start? Even is an online marketplace that offers consumers personalized loan offers. Think of it like Zillow -- but for personal loans.

Rates start at 4.83%, and you can check yours by entering a loan amount here (up to$35,000) and comparing your personalized options in under 90 seconds.

3. Protect Your Identity

What if you work hard to pay down all your debt and you’re totally responsible with your credit going forward -- only to take a hit because of identity theft?

We know you don’t want to risk all your hard work.

A free service like TrueIdentity helps you avoid this situation by keeping a watchful eye on your finances. It sends alerts by email, phone or text if someone tries to apply for credit in your name.

Again, now is the time to be doing all this. Since credit rating agencies are going to be evaluating the “big picture” of how you use credit over time, this is your opportunity to paint a prettier one.

Your turn: Do you know your credit score?

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. May we all be a bit richer today.

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Frankly, his credit score could be better.

With the cost of cable staying north of $1,100 per year, the cord-cutting trend is gaining serious momentum. It looks like a whole lot of cords are getting cut these days -- more and more every year.

Here’s an eye-opening statistic: By the end of this year, nearly a quarter of Americans will no longer have a traditional cable or satellite TV subscription.

Nearly 1 in 4!

That’s the prediction according to consulting firm Convergence Research Group’s new report. This report is flatteringly titled, “The Battle for the American Couch Potato.” (C’mon, strategic consulting guys, don’t try so hard to butter us up.)

The group shows the acceleration of the cord-cutting trend:

  • The number of TV subscribers in the U.S. dropped by an estimated 2.05 million in 2016.
  • That followed a decline of 1.16 million in 2015.
  • This year, the analysts are forecasting a 2.11 million decrease in subscribers.
  • That will result in 24.6% of U.S. households being without a TV subscription from a cable, satellite or telecom company.
  • For the traditional TV industry, it’s not the end of the world yet. The industry’s revenue grew 3% to $107.3 billion in 2016, and the study predicts revenue will hit nearly $109.6 billion in 2017.
  • However, streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime -- which we compared here -- are growing way faster.
  • Streaming services’ revenue shot up 32% to $8.3 billion last year. It’s expected to reach $11.2 billion in 2017 and $14.7 billion in 2018.

If you’re thinking about cutting the cord, here are a few places to get more information:

Cord Cutting 101: Here’s how to watch your favorite shows without cable.

How to figure out if cutting the cord is right for your household.

Streaming Service Smackdown: Hulu vs. Netflix vs. Amazon Prime.

Your Turn: Do you still have cable or satellite TV?

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He is uncool and still has cable.

The phony coupon shows up in your Facebook feed.

LOWE'S is giving Free $50 coupons for EVERYONE! to celebrate Mother's Day!” it reads.

Sound too good to be true? That’s because it is.

The coupon certainly looks like the real thing, but it’s a scam. Lowe’s is warning customers to disregard it.

If you click on the coupon in Facebook, it takes you to a website with an official-looking Lowe’s logo.

There’s a short “survey” there that you have to fill out to get this supposed $50 coupon.

Don’t fill it out. It’s a scheme to get you to reveal personal information.

How to Tell if a Deal is Too Good to be True

Man, this kind of thing is scary. The fake coupon looks really real. How are you supposed to know what’s legit and what’s a scam?

Well, for starters: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Listen to the alarms your common sense and B.S. detector are setting off. A coupon for a whopping $50 off that’s available to everyone on Facebook is probably way too good to be true. That would be a lot of money for Lowe’s to shell out.

The Better Business Bureau has some useful tips to help you spot and avoid falling victim to fake online coupons like this one. Here are some of the best:

  • Don't believe what you see. It's easy for scammers to steal the colors and logos of any business or organization.
  • Legitimate businesses don’t ask for credit card numbers or banking information for coupons or giveaways.
  • When in doubt, do a quick web search. If the giveaway is a scam, this is likely to reveal an alert or bring you to the organization's real website, where it may have posted additional information.
  • Watch out for a reward that's too good to be true. Businesses typically give out small discounts to entice customers. If the offer seems too good to be true (a $100 voucher or 50% discount), it may be a scam.
  • Look for a mismatched subject line and email body. Many of these scams have an email subject line promising one thing, but the content of the email is something else.

Your turn: Have you seen this fake Lowe’s coupon?

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He hates scams.

Behold the Instant Pot. If you live in the U.S. or Canada, you probably know someone who has one of these gizmos in their kitchen and just loves it.

Seriously, people rave about these things.

With booming sales fueled by online word-of-mouth and rave reviews on social media, this electric pressure cooker has become 2017’s gotta-have-it gadget. This kitchen appliance has gone positively viral.

If you’re thinking about buying one of these devices, or you just got one and you’re wondering what to do now, we’ve got answers to your questions.

Here’s our list of 15 things to know about the Instant Pot 7-In-1 Multifunction Cooker.

First, The Basics

[caption id="attachment_54056" align="alignnone" width="1200"]instant pot After soaking in water, the rice is drained prior to going into the Instant Pot. Tina Russell/ The Penny Hoarder[/caption]

1. It’s seven tools in one. Like the “7-In-1” name implies, it bills itself as a pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, saute pot, steamer, warming pot and yogurt maker.

2. The most popular version costs about $100. The 6-quart Instant Pot currently sells for $99.00 on Amazon and for $99.99 on the Target and Walmart websites.

3. There are a few versions. While the 6-quart version is $99, there’s also a 5-quart model (price ranges from $93 to $135) and an 8-quart model ($130).There’s even a model equipped with Bluetooth that costs $167, if you’re so totally high-tech that you need to operate your kitchen appliances with your smartphone.

4. Its selling points are “fast” and “flavorful.” Like any pressure cooker or slow cooker, the Instant Pot offers set-it-and-forget-it cooking. Its fans say it cooks food way faster than a slow cooker, and its high-temperature cooking produces lots of flavor.

5. They’re cheaper than they used to be. Last year the 6-quart version cost $120 instead of today’s $100 price tag.

6. They might go on sale later this year. In 2015 and 2016, they went on sale on Amazon Prime Day. Amazon had the 6-quart model marked down to $69 last year, and it sold 215,000 units.

Amazon hasn’t scheduled Prime Day 2017 yet, but it will probably be sometime in mid-July. No word yet on whether Instant Pots will be on sale again.During last year’s holiday season, shoppers found Instant Pots on sale for Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Food For Thought

7. The device is not intuitive. People often say the Instant Pot is user-friendly, but all those buttons and settings can seem overwhelming at first. Don’t be intimidated. Sit down and read the instruction manual first. Watch some introductory videos like this one, this one or this one. Don’t just wing it.

8. Another selling point is safety. Your grandma’s pressure cooker was a scary, rattling, hissing thing. Microwaves replaced those old-timey pressure cookers of the ‘50s and ‘60s for fast cooking.New-generation pressure cookers like the Instant Pot and its competitors from Cuisinart and Breville are easier to use and have more safety features.

9. This cooker is best for foods you want to be tender. The pressure cooking makes meat really tender. It’s good for foods you want soft and succulent -- but you want them fast. Think ribs, chicken, pork, lamb, chili, risotto, soup, stews, beans and hard-boiled eggs.

10. It can brown meat if you use the “saute” function. Before you start the pressure cooking process, you can press the “saute” button to sear meat on the bottom of the appliance’s stainless steel pot. You press the “adjust” button to choose from three settings -- low, medium or high.Keep the lid open.

A caveat here: One food writer who tested the appliance wrote, “You can’t get really good color on your meats with the relatively low heat of any electric pressure cooker. For better browning, I’ll sear on the stove and then transfer to the Instant Pot for the fast braise.”

11. It’s not good at making food crispy or crunchy or crusty. Chicken or potatoes roasted in the Instant Pot will never have that nice crisp crust.

Here we’ll let New York Times food writer Melissa Clark explain a downside of pressure cookers: “They just don’t do crisp or crunchy. Although most cookers allow you to brown meats and vegetables on the sauté function before cooking, any crunchy bits will wilt under the pressurized steam once you lock on the lid.”

So Many Recipes, So Little Time

12. There are a million, billion, trillion, gajillion Instant Pot recipes on the Internet. Not kidding here.

Social media is driving the Instant Pot’s popularity. Its Facebook community page has nearly half a million members. The various models have nearly 18,000 reviews on Amazon.

Fans love to share their recipes for chicken or chili or risotto -- or weirder uses like popcorn or cheesecake. Some good places to start are here, here or here.

13. Some recipes take longer than their titles indicate. Sure, the recipe might be called “1-minute quinoa” or “7-minute rice” or “20-minute beef stew,” but it’s going to take longer than that. It can take 10-15 minutes for the device to build up pressure before cooking, plus more time to release the pressure after the cooking.

14. Use a cup of liquid to cook meat. When you’re starting out, a good rule of thumb is to use one cup of liquid when you’re pressure-cooking meat. That could include broth, water, soy sauce, etc. Too much liquid will dilute the flavor.

15. It has a cool lid. One food blogger, Dad Cooks Dinner, says his favorite feature is the built-in lid holders on top of the Instant Pot. When you remove the hot lid, you don’t have to set it down on the counter. You can fit a tab on the side of the lid into either of the Instant Pot’s handles, and the lid still stand up on its side.

For safety reasons, open the lid away from you. And never force the Instant Pot open.

The Bottom Line

Here’s the bottom line: You might consider acquiring an Instant Pot if:

  • You have an extra 100 bucks.
  • You have the free counter space.
  • You could use a kitchen appliance that cooks a lot of different foods fast.

Your Turn: Do you have an Instant Pot? What do you use it for?

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He cooks a lot.

“Hey, bartender!”

(Our speaker hiccups, belches, squints through one eye and slams a freshly drained pint glass down on the bar.)

“Lookie here, bartender. I’ve got an app on this here phone that’s guaran-TEED to piss you off.”

OK, so maybe that’s not exactly how that conversation should go. You should probably strive to adopt just the right tone when introducing your local bartender to this new app.

The new iPhone app, currently in beta testing, is called Pour Authority. It measures how much beer you’re really getting in that pint glass. Its goal is to fix the vexing problem of “beer shorting” and end the imperfect beer pour once and for all.

Making The World a Better Place -- One Beer at a Time

“Is your pint really a pint?” reads the app’s description in Apple’s iTunes store, where it’s available as a free download. “Pour Authority is a fun and simple way to measure, map, share and catalog your beer pours.”

“With our Patent Pending technology, you’ll know right away if your 16 oz ‘pint’ is really only 12 ounces.”

Pour Authority doesn’t use fancy image recognition technology or complicated algorithms, app creator Craig Robertson told his hometown newspaper, The Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin. Instead, it uses old-fashioned geometry mixed with user-submitted information.

(By the way, we’re shocked -- shocked we tell you -- that a tech bro from Madison, Wisconsin, would engineer himself an app that’s centered around cereal malt beverages and whether he’s getting his fair share of them. That’s some quality American ingenuity right there. He’s disrupting the market, see? Who would have ever suspected that a university town like Madison would serve as an incubator for such an idea?)

Anyway, the app works like this:  

After you select a type of glass in the app — like a standard pint or a snifter or a stein — you’re supposed to line up your phone next to your beer. You compare the image on your phone to the glass of beer in front of you. You position a slider in the app to align with the beer's surface. The app calculates how full your glass is.

https://vengefulmonkeygod.tumblr.com/post/159980021464

According to the app, 90% full or more is a “perfect pour.” More than 80% full is “OK.” Anything below that is “low tide.”

The app also features a map showing bar-to-bar data generated from all of its users.

Crowd-Sourced Quality Control and “Pour Shaming”

Wait a sec. “Bar-to-bar data?”

Oh, man.

Donnie, the guy who tends bar at your local Bennigan’s, is just gonna love this one. Yeah, Donnie’s gonna eat this up, just you wait.

Can’t wait to see Donnie’s reaction when you whip out an app to check if he’s pouring you a proper Bud Light.

“This app is crowd-sourced quality control,” app creator Craig Robertson chirped to The Capital Times.

Robertson, by the way, runs an “iPhone development consulting firm,” because of course he does.

Food & Wine magazine sees some promise in the app:

“In the same way that negative Yelp reviews can encourage a lousy business to clean up its act,” Food & Wine wrote, “if Pour Authority became popular enough to actually influence where people drink, crowdsourced ‘pour-shaming’ could theoretically make a bar more conscious of actually filling its glasses.”

Yes, that’s right. Pour-Shaming: The next big thing.

To his credit, Robertson doesn’t want people to start haranguing their bartenders.

He told The Capital Times that he doesn’t think bartenders are intentionally cheating innocent, unsuspecting beer drinkers. Some may simply be unaware that they’re shorting their customers, he said.

He thinks the good his app could do will outstrip any potential negatives.

“I don’t think it will be so catastrophic as people think,” he said.

Still, when you belly up to the bar at Bennigan’s and you whip out that app, it might be wise to keep your iPhone out of Donnie’s reach. Otherwise, it might be going for a swim.

Your turn: Would you download Pour Authority?

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He expects a full pint.