Market Wrap-Up: Scared of Inflation? What Inflation?

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If you’re scared of inflation, you might be in for a surprise: New data on import prices suggests that inflation prices may actually be easing.

The July Department of Labor report on US import prices showed a 0.6% decline, while economists have expected an increase of 0.1%. Even more startling, the data shows import prices dropped 3.2% on a year-on-year basis, the largest such drop since October of 2009.

Taken alone, this reading might not mean much, but other recent indicators are also pointing to a potential decline in inflation.

Signs of Decreasing Inflation

For instance, the recent drop in oil and gasoline prices (down about 10.5%): Although these impact consumer prices rather than import data, they also point in the direction of lower inflation. It stands to reason that with a tepid US recovery, slowing Chinese growth, and much of Europe mired in outright recession, prices are bound to drop.

Speaking of China, its recent import numbers paint a similar picture of declining global demand. And with lower demand comes –you guessed it –lower prices.


But what about the historically low interest rates and all that stimulus money sloshing around? Surely that will lead to higher inflation – if not now, at least eventually –right?

While it’s true interest rates are bound to eventually rise – after all, the Fed Funds rate is currently effectively zero, it doesn’t mean that they’ll rise precipitously. Nor does it mean inflation will skyrocket.

Heck, inflation was just 1.7% as of June – and that’s below the range the Fed and most economists consider healthy. Even if inflation were to double, it would still only be 3.4% — hardly hyperinflation.

The Bottom Line

The fact remains that there are strong downward pressures on the global economy, and unemployment remains high here at home. Import and certain commodity prices are dropping. Banks are still scared and aren’t lending very much. Money isn’t flowing.

Sure, nobody can tell the future, and calamity may strike sending inflation sky high. But in the current environment, it’s hard to see where the inflation would come from.

“Market Wrap-Up: Scared of Inflation? What Inflation?” was written by MintLife Managing Editor, Janet Al-Saad.




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Is Facebook the IPO of a Generation?

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Is Facebook the IPO of a generation? The much-anticipated initial public offering of the world’s most popular social networking site, Facebook, took place this morning on the NASDAQ. With it, the dreams and technologies of the millenial generation have taken root as a core part not only of American society – but of its formal economy.

Already, Facebook bears the distinction of having the largest market valuation of any US company at IPO at $104.1 Bn. That’s no small feat for a company that didn’t even exist eight years ago. The offering, which was originally priced at $38 per share, has “popped” to over $42/share as of the time of writing, creating over $16 Bn in value for the company. That could grow to $18.4 Bn, making it also the largest initial share offering in US history.

But all these big numbers aside, the Facebook IPO is also the hallmark of the new economy. Facebook doesn’t make anything, and its users aren’t even buying any products or servics (with the exception of some gaming functions), but most people still believe it has great value. The power of connectedness – and the technologies that enable us to share and display information across our network – has now taken root.

That, some analysts say, explains in part the $1 Bn Facebook paid for photo-sharing startup, Instagram last month: Sure, Facebook could’ve created a competitor, but Instagram was already growing to be hugely popular – and it’s a bit harder to convince an existing social network to migrate. It also helps explain the company’s big gains in advertising revenue (and its price to earnings value). It’s the network itself, that has value. Advertisers can use it to pinpoint people based on preferences in a more targeted fashion. It’s also a place where people are more tuned in; people care more about their friends’ lives than tv, and the power of social networking holds values for individuals and companies, alike. Ever heard of the term “going viral”?

In the end, we’re all part of social networks, whether we use applications like Facebook, or not. But it took a Harvard student in his dorm room to harness that power for the market.

What’s your take? Is Facebook the IPO of a generation? Will you “like” the social network by investing in its stock?


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Tried and True Money Advice From Warren Buffett

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When it comes to financial wisdom, few people merit as much attention as Warren Buffett. The man renowned as the “Sage of Omaha” built a billion-dollar empire from scratch, all the while maintaining modest spending habits that are the envy of every frugal people everywhere. Liz Claman of the Fox Business Network spoke with Buffett recently, andd shares some of his wisdom with MintLife:

1. When you’re looking to buy a stock, never EVER overpay for it no matter how much you want it. Look at the price-to-earnings ratio, how solid the management is, how much cash the company brings in from its operations and then make sure the price isn’t elevated beyond what’s reasonable. This takes discipline, but you’ll find that Buffett is the most disciplined investor on the planet. He sticks to his rules and never strays. And one of his favorite rules is, “Buy good stuff at cheap prices!”

2. Look for the ugly ducklings that you know will eventually turn into beautiful stock swans. He once said to me, “Liz, you never want to buy the quarterback who just won the Superbowl. He’s too expensive. You want to buy the guy in the hospital bed with his leg in a sling because you know he’s cheaper, and the odds are, he’ll get better and blossom.”

3. Be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful.  It’s his way of saying, “Do not follow the herd. Be the contrarian. It’ll serve you well.”  When the herd was running toward dot-com stocks in 1999 and paying ridiculous prices for companies that showed no profit, he remained disciplined (see #1) and stayed away. That way when the herd shifted direction, he didn’t get trampled.  It works in the reverse as well.  When everyone was running away from stocks during the financial crisis, he was elbow deep, buying up the names he’d wanted for so long but were too expensive.  Suddenly they were ‘on sale’ and he had lots of dry powder to dive in.  

4. Learn how to communicate.  It shocks a lot of people to know that Buffett was incredibly shy and lacked all confidence even through his twenties.  He finally forced himself to take the Dale Carnegie course, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, because he realized the only way he’d be truly successful in life— even with his natural ability to allocate financial assets— was if he could communicate to potential investors.  It took him quite some time to get up the courage to finally enroll in the course but it’s the only document he has framed and up on the wall in his inner office. Not his diplomas, not any awards, just the “Warren Buffett successfully completed Dale Carnegie’s course.”  There’s something very poignant to me about that.

Liz Claman is an anchor at the Fox Business Network.

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Consumer Expert, Chris Elliott Answers Your Questions Live May 3 on Facebook

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Do you have a question for the experts? Nationally-recognized consumer expert, Chris Elliott will be conducting a live Q&A session with MintLife readers on’s Facebook page on Thursday, May 3,  at 11 AM PST/2PM EST. Take a few minutes from your lunch break to interact with the regular MintLife columnist and author of Scammed!  You’ll need to “like” on Facebook in order to participate. The first 5 participants will also win a copy of Chris’ new book – Don’t miss this opportunity to hear it straight from the expert.

Can’t make the Facebook event on Thursday? No problem — Send us your questions in advance to — the first five emailed questions will also receive a book.

See you Thursday!

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What do Airline Mergers Mean for Your Wallet?

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Nothing gives a frequent flyer more anxiety than hearing the word “merger.” Customers tend to be fiercely loyal to their airline and don’t handle change very well. But the last few years have seen some big changes across the American airline landscape, forcing flyers to adjust – anxiety and all. The most recent potential merger news involves American Airlines and US Airways.

What can one expect from an airline merger? There will be differences in the branding and the like, but for the most part your frequent flyer miles will not be taken away and the tickets bought in advance will be honored by the acquiring airline. On the flip side, some cities will see a noticeable decrease in service, while others will lose service all together.

What about price? This one is a bit tricky, but you should generally expect to pay more in the long run. This is not because of one merger, in particular, though. It is due to the confluence of mergers that have taken place in the industry over the last few years, which has managed to slowly give the airlines the upper hand in the battle for your travel dollars.

The History of Airline Deregulation & Mergers

To understand this structural change we first need to understand how the industry evolved. Around 30 years ago, the government deregulated the industry, allowing airlines to charge market rates. The airlines that emerged out of deregulation are known today as the “legacy carriers.”

There were a dozen or so airlines that emerged out of deregulation but only a few have survived. Throughout the 80s and 90s, the airlines battled it out with each other in a fight to the death.

During this time of fierce competition airlines didn’t usually merge. Instead, they went bankrupt and either emerged with a new cost structure or liquidated entirely. Some of the notable casualties during that time include Pan Am and Eastern Airlines. Their routes and planes were picked over by the winners while in liquidation.

The legacy carriers were confronted by a new group of airlines in the 80s and 90s that came to be known as the “low-fare” carriers. The emergence of Southwest Airlines as a major force changed the way we all fly today, as they moved people cheaply and in bulk from point to point(rather than in the traditional “hub and spoke” system). The low fare carriers challenged the heavy cost structure of the legacy carriers, putting pressure on prices.

In the early 2000s things began to change, and instead of dying in bankruptcy, the legacy carriers started to be acquired as whole entities by stronger airlines. The first big combo was formed when American Airlines acquired TWA in 2001. That was followed by America West acquiring US Airways in 2005 (the company decided to use the US Airways name). In 2008, Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines merged as equals with Delta’s name sticking. And then in 2010 you had United and Continental merging as equals with United’s name staying on top.

The merging wasn’t just reserved for the legacy carriers. Southwest started to get in on the action, picking off other low fare airlines. It first snapped up ATA in 2008 and most recently took over Airtran in 2010.

The latest potential merger involves US Airways and American Airlines. US Airways is trying to acquire its much larger rival while it is in bankruptcy, but it isn’t yet clear that American will be receptive.

What the Mergers Mean for Fliers

So what has come out of all these mergers? Let’s look at the American/TWA merger and the America West/US Airways merger as they present us with the most history. First, both carriers honored the acquired airlines’ frequent flyer programs, so customers didn’t lose their precious airline miles. The names of the programs changed, but there was little difference in terms of perks or mileage needed to go somewhere. The club lounges were merged but some were closed at cities that were no longer major focus points for the combined airline.

The biggest change out of these mergers was the frequency of flights for some cities. TWA’s major hub in St. Louis was hit very hard in its tie up with American. The city went from 800 TWA flights a day coming in and out of the city to just 200. Southwest has taken some of that business American Airlines left on the table, but for the most part, the people of St. Louis lost a lot of nonstop flights out of their city, requiring them now to connect through larger American hubs in Chicago or Dallas. This decrease in frequency was also seen in Pittsburgh when America West took over US Airways. S,o these early mergers seemed to hit passengers in terms of frequency, but not  much in terms of price, as the overall fare war between the airlines continued. The Delta/Northwest and United/ Continental mergers, though, were the big game changers. Here, the airline mergers weren’t forced – but were agreed to willingly by all parties while out of bankruptcy.

The United/Continental merger is the latest big airline merger, so let’s look at how this has been handled: The two airlines were very careful not to upset customers who had been loyal to their respective brands for years. Every change (even minor ones) was announced and introduced gradually as to not shock customers.

The major changes to route frequency have not taken effect yet, but United says it won’t be downgrading Continental’s old hubs in Houston, Newark and Cleveland. The two have merged their frequent flyer programs successfully, allowing customers to combine their accounts if they held miles in both programs. The airline did cancel their relationship with American Express, which affected  Continental customers who had used their Amex points and status to book travel and gain access to airport lounges for years. You must now get the United-branded cards to get those perks, which carry annual fees ranging from $95 to $395. As for fare increases, keep reading.

Higher Airfares

With fewer airlines in existence today due to all the bankruptcies, acquisitions and mergers, the airline industry as a whole has fundamentally changed. Airline ticket prices had been going down, relative to inflation, every year since deregulation, but that is starting to change. With fewer airlines in existence, the airlines don’t have to fight as hard for your business — and can charge more.  

Certain airlines now totally dominate cities and regions of the country, giving them major pricing power. As a whole, the airline industry is now able to cut capacity without worrying about other airlines coming in and stealing their customers. That means there are now fewer seats in the air, which has led to stronger competition between customers to get onboard. This translates into fuller planes and, yes, higher prices. Fare increases seem to stick more often than they did before and last longer.

The airlines now have the ability to charge you all sorts of fees that they were never able to do before consolidation. These fees have serious sticking power and have helped pad airline profits. Airlines could have never gotten away with this when there were a dozen or so major carriers, as two or three would invariably not go along with it to try and capture market share. Now, whenever an airline pops a new fee on the board, the other airlines quickly fall in line. It started with charging you a small fee for your first bag and has gone as far as charging you a fee to book your ticket with a reservations agent. You can’t even drink for free on an international flight on most airlines – the horror.

As a whole, there are really no more low cost carriers in the US today thanks to consolidation. These low cost carriers either match fares with competitors, or charge fees for simple things like overhead bags.

As airlines continue to consolidate you should plan to pay more. Airlines say that merging gives customers more choice, but it really doesn’t. It gives the airlines pricing power that transfers the competitive dynamic away from the airlines and on to the customers.

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MommyTech: 5 Cool Gadgets For Busy Parents

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(photo: Griffin)

Children are the sunshine of our lives, but let’s face it: sometimes we parents feel so absorbed by our never-ending child-rearing duties that we forger we, too, are human.

But we’re at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas now, where cool stuff stares at you from every direction. So today, we roamed the showroom floor in search of gadgets specifically designed to make a parent’s life easier – or at least more fun. Here’s what we found:

1. Eye-Fi memory card

Available: online, at Target, Best Buy and Office Depot stores nationwide

Cost: $49.99 to $149.99, depending on memory size

Imagine snapping pictures of the kids at a birthday party or school play, tossing the camera in your purse – and as soon as you pull into your driveway back home, the pictures automatically upload to your computer. By the time you get to the computer screen, they’re ready to send to grandma. No need to plug the memory card into the computer or look for that darndest cable. That’s all possible with Eye-Fi memory cards, which look like any old memory card that stores your pictures and video, but do much more: they automatically upload them to your computer whenever you are in range of your home wireless network. Even more pressed for time? You can customize the card to instantly upload the pictures to Facebook, Flickr, or any other photo-sharing site you use. You also have full access to all of your photos and videos from any computer or mobile device with Eye-Fi View, a recently launched free service.

2. Crayola ColorStudio™ HD iPad App with iMarker

Available: Spring 2011

Cost: $29.99

Say goodbye to half-eaten crayons and “artfully decorated” furniture with this gadget that is bound to win over mommy’s heart even before it does toddler’s. All you need is an iPad and the $29.99 iMarker (a metallic silver electronic “crayon”), and your kids can color away for hours on end with no risk whatsoever to your walls or furniture. The scribbles of the iMarker are impressively crayon-like on the iPad screen, which only responds to the pressure of the stylus, not your child’s fingers or hand. The app includes a built-in library of art, including more than 50 game and activity pages, and will be regularly updated with new activities.

3. Looxcie wearable camcorder

Available:  at, and

Cost: $199

It’s pricey, but consider the possibilities: that tiny little camera that looks and feels exactly like a wireless hands-free device can record up to five hours of continuous video and connects to iPhone and Android phones via Bluetooth for instant sharing. You could stream “see what I see” videos of your toddler’s first steps or record your baby’s giggles as you make behind-the-camera faces at her. (Heck, you can even make a video while washing the dishes.) No more scrambling for the camera or smartphone to commit to memory those precious moments.

4. Sifteo

Available: Currently sold out, sign up here to receive an email when more games are available

Cost: $99

Remember the blocks you played as a kid? It may be hard to sell your little one on old-fashioned board games these days, but this new game system’s blend of traditional and electronic features might just do the trick. The pack’s three cubes feature a full color LCD, 3D motion sensor and wireless connectivity to your computer, so you can choose from all kinds of games, including puzzles, action-adventure and word and math games. Most appreciated by kids in elementary school and up – and even moms and dads themselves.

5. Neer app

Available: for Android 2.0+ and iPhone 4

Cost: Free

Want to know where your spouse or child is without having to rely on their FourSquare or Gowalla check-ins or implanting a GPS in the back of their necks? This app very tastefully enables you to automatically share your whereabouts with family and other chosen ones, without the Big-Brother feel of disclosing a specific address or shouting out your whereabouts to the whole Twitterverse. Simply download the app to your iPhone or Android device, define the locations that you’d like to share (home, school, work, mall), and as you go to that location Neer will automatically share it with the people you choose. And vice versa – you will know when your spouse is dropping off the kids at daycare, or when your teenager has gone to the mall right after school. Best of all, it’s free: try it and if you hate it, at least you won’t kick yourself for wasting your hard-earned money.

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Credit Cards of the Future: Will New Technology Create New Overspenders?

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(photo: author)

The Best of Innovations display at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas could make anyone drool: nerds, geeks, even the technologically challenged. There is, for example, a dishwasher from Kenmore boasting a full-color LCD screen where you can get instant advice and maintenance tips.

There are the world’s first alpine goggles, “Transcend” from Recon Instruments, equipped with a display system offering real-time GPS data, including speed, latitude and longitude, vertical distance travelled, temperature, and time.

And then there’s Card 2.0: a credit card bearing the Citi logo with a built-in battery and microprocessor that will change completely how you use your rewards. The technology, developed by Pittsburgh, Penn.-based Dynamics, is so advanced that it earned an Innovations in Design and Engineering award – the first time in CES history that this type of award goes out to a credit card.

We’ve told you about Card 2.0 before. (Citi has actually dubbed it “2G” – as in Citi PremierPass 2G or Citi Dividend 2G.)

Officially launched in beta mode to a limited number of Citi card users In November 2010, it looks just like any other piece of plastic with a magnetic stripe. Except for one revolutionary new feature: two buttons that enable you to choose whether to pay for a purchase with dollars (credit) — or with ThankYou points (rewards).

By the end of the second quarter of this year, the cards will be available to all new, as well as a larger number of existing Citi customers.

But while the technology is, without a doubt, groundbreaking and seriously cool-looking (the card has two little lights, a blue one that activates when you choose to pay with credit and an orange one when you choose to pay with points), the question is, is it really that much better than the good old boring piece of plastic in our wallets?

At CES, we spent some time with Terry O’Neil, executive vice president at Citi Cards, to learn more of the nitty-gritty details – the fine print, if you will — and we’re not entirely convinced that once we get our swanky new Citi PremierPass 2G card later this year we’ll be in a rush use its cool new feature.

Here’s what any savvy consumer should know about this award-winning technology:

1. It makes it easy – perhaps too easy – to spend your rewards

One of Citi’s main goals with this new capability is to make it more convenient for card members to spend ThankYou points, and O’Neil says the new feature is the result of extensive consumer research in which Citibank’s card members actually asked for the ability to redeem points at the register.

Yes, redeeming points the traditional way is a bit of a pain: you have to click through an online catalog with hundreds of options before you choose your reward. If you choose a gift card or a piece of merchandise, you’d have to wait for weeks on end to receive it.

With the 2G cards, meanwhile, all you have to do is press the card’s “Request Rewards” button before you swipe or hand it to the sales clerk. Voila: you’re shopping with points instead of credit.

At a penny per point, the redemption rate is actually quite fair. You would spend 10,000 points instead of $100; 2,500 points instead of $25. (Meanwhile, you would need 3,500 points in most cases if you’d like to redeem them for a $25 gift card from Citi’s ThankYou rewards catalog.)

Conceivably, this could help your finances – after all, you’re spending points instead of your hard-earned cash – but it could also make you an impulsive shopper. “I’m not actually spending money,” the thinking goes. “So why not splurge on a $200 pair of shoes.”  If you have a hard time controlling yourself in a department store – beware.

2. It’s good for you – and even better for Citi

Let’s assume, though, that you — the epitome of budget consciousness — will treat your ThankYou points the same way you do now. You’ll carefully collect them until you have enough to sponsor your holiday gift shopping or to buy yourself a birthday present, or you’ll spend it at the grocery store on necessities. It will be like nothing has changed, only easier.

That’s great for you, but guess what: it’s even better for Citibank. Because the technology that enables you to shop with rewards also enables Citibank to collect interchange fees on the value of its own rewards program.

Think of it this way: when you redeem rewards the traditional way, for gift cards or cash, Citibank purchases those gift cards or cuts you a check, and that’s the end of it. How, where and when you spend that money – Citibank never knows. But when you use ThankYou points at the register (so-called Point of Sale, or POS), it is processed like any other credit card transaction. Citi collects its interchange fee (that could be anywhere between 1% and 4%, and part of it will also go to Visa or MasterCard), and then processes the payment as a rewards redemption on the back end. You: spent points. Citi: collects a fee. Innovative? You bet.

3. Dinky-dory credit line details

What would happen if you don’t have enough ThankYou points to make the purchase you desire? Glad you asked because this brings up the potentially dicey issue of dipping into your credit line.

All POS reward redemptions are processed as a regular credit transaction on the front end – and adjusted to reward transaction at the back end. In layman’s terms: the cashier will ring you up, a request will go out to Citi and it will at first treat it as if you’ve used your credit card. Purchasing a $3,000 3DTV with points? That’ll be $3,000 deducted from your credit line right there. By the end of the day, the transaction will be processed properly, your ThankYou point balance updated (you’ll be 300,000 points poorer) and $3,000 will be added back to your available credit.

O’Neil says the process was set up this way so people aren’t turned back at the register if they don’t have enough points for a specific purchase. But you see where this is going? If you don’t really have enough points, the transaction won’t be declined. Instead, you will use up however many points there are and the rest will be deducted from your credit limit, so you’ll pay part points and part cash. Oops. And you planned to not spend money.

Another possible issue: what if that original credit adjustment brings you over your credit limit? Will you be charged an over-limit fee even if you’re not using any of your actual credit? O’Neal says that the cards that currently have this functionality – Citi PremierPass and Citi Dividend – do not have credit limits to begin with, so this is kind of a non-issue. But as the bank expands its menu of 2G cards, it is definitely something to keep in mind.

If you think redeeming your points is a pain now, remember: keeping on top of your available credit limits and your ThankYou points balance can be doubly demanding.

4. Creating loyal customers – or frequent spenders?

Finally, a word of caution: banks are, as you well know, for-profit institutions. They do not innovate and introduce new products out of the goodness of their hearts. They do so because they see an opportunity to generate profits.

Citi’s 2G cards may make it more convenient for you to spend your rewards and will definitely give you some bragging rights in front of your friends. But the benefits will be way more tangible for Citi: it will get you to spend your points faster, and may even steer you towards using the card more often, so you accrue more points to spend… and so forth.

“Banks have an interest in getting people to redeem their rewards,” O’Neil says.  “It speaks to engagement and creates a more loyal customer.”

If your loyalty can be bought with cool technology and convenience – great. But we suggest you remember the basics: choose a card that offers you the biggest bang for your buck. When given the choice, we’d take the one with the richest rewards structure and lowest APR and fees – any day.

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Are Groupons Really a Great Deal?

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Group buying websites like Groupon, LivingSocial and Tippr are all the rage these days — but how do you know if you’re really getting a good deal?

The short answer: you don’t. That $20 voucher for the Erotic Exotic Expo in Richmond, Calif., might have sounded like an amazing deal at the time (50% off!), but if you end up not going, you’ve simply ended up $20 poorer–not to mention non the wiser on matters erotic and exotic.

There are, of course, amazing deals to be had with group-buying sites — if you know what to watch out for. And this is something you can take away from “Bargain Babe” Julia Scott’s video for WalletPop, featured above and on

One of the main things to look for, Scott says, is the coupon’s expiration date: some of these expire in as little as three months. (Or, as in the example above, are for one-time events.)

Also, the coupons are typically from businesses you’ve likely never used. Not that this is a bad thing, many small businesses use these sites as a way to spread the word out and build up a clientele. But you may end up paying for dinner or a massage at an establishment that doesn’t match up with your taste.

We’ll add one more word of caution: if the business in question is small (read: it doesn’t have the capacity to serve all those customers who bought coupons within the specified time frame) you may end up simply unable to book and use your voucher. Or you’ll have to schedule a massage three months ahead, without knowing that by that time you will have actually moved across the country. (True story!)

That said, the fine print on these deals is usually quite clear — be sure to read and understand it, and you’re good to go! And if you do end up unable to use your coupon due to unplanned-for circumstances, don’t hesitate to reach out to the vendor. As mentioned above, those are often small business looking for clientele and will likely at least do their best to accomodate your request.

As for tracking all of those deals and a suggestion for reselling your unused coupons (or buying ones for deals you’ve missed) — there are websites for that. Scott gives you the details in the video above, or on the best FREE way to manage your money. Get started here!

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The New Way to Find the Best Airfare Deals

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If you’re like most bargain airfare seekers, chances are your flight shopping goes something like this:

1. Go to or Or,, or Or all of the above.

2. Search for the lowest fares for your desired travel dates and destination.

3. Repeat.

Please. That is so 2001. Allow us to fly you into 2010 and beyond, with some new tricks for scoring airfare deals.

These days, websites alert you when particularly great deals become available out of your local airport to your desired destinations — not to mention the ones that actually predict what airfares will look like in the near future so you can adjust your travel plans accordingly. There are even services that enable you to get some cash back if prices fall after you’ve purchased your tickets.


In the video above, editor at large Jason Cochran walks you through the details, with specific advice on which websites to visit in order to get the best travel deals.

Instead of starting off your search at the sites we mentioned above, for example, Cochran’s advice is to sign up for the free email alerts from and all airlines that fly out of your home airport: this way you’ll know when tickets go on sale and can even create your vacation’s itinerary around the most affordable airfare routes.

Next, swing by Bing Travel and those websites try to predict airfares based on historical data.

Finally, these days your search for deals doesn’t end with the ticket purchase. If the price of your flight falls any time after that, you can get some of your money back thanks to new websites that alert you to those changes.

For more details, watch the video above, or on

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Credit-Card Rates On The Rise? Not At These Banks

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photo: TheTruthAbout…

When President Obama signed the Credit CARD Act into law last May, industry analysts predicted that tighter, consumer-friendly regulations would force banks to hike credit-card interest rates for everybody.

They were, of course, right.

In the months leading up to February 2010, it seemed the banks had engaged in a rate-hike race in preparation of the new credit-card rules, which would prohibit “any time, any reason” interest-rate increases.

According to the 2009 Credit Card Survey by advocacy organization Consumer Action, the big banks hiked interest rates noticeably between March and June 2009. Bank of America (BAC) added 3.25 percentage points to its minimum APR for purchases (from 6.99% to 10.24%); Citibank (C) did the same on three of its cards.

A more recent report backs that trend further. As the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday, average credit-card rates on new cards have climbed to 14.7%, from 13.1% a year earlier. According to research firm Synovate, which supplied the statistics, this is the highest average reported since 2001. The gap between that average and the Prime rate, which credit-card rates are pegged to, is now the highest it’s been in at least 22 years.

Rate hikes have been in the news frequently in the past year, not to mention limit cuts, fees and account closures.

What hasn’t been making headlines nearly as much? The fact that there are still some banks out there offering credit cards with single-digit interest rates, some as low as 6%.

You will not find their names on the top 10 banks list. You will not see them in TV commercials and, most likely, you will not read about them in the newspaper.

Why? Probably because they’re kind of boring. They didn’t jack up their rates in the past year. They didn’t introduce a mindboggling concoction of new fees. They didn’t even tighten their lending standards: those were tight to begin with, says Curtis Arnold, the founder of, a credit-card comparison website.

Take Simmons First National Corporation (SFNC), whose eight affiliate banks operate in 40 communities in Arkansas and one in Missouri. Simmons First’s Visa Platinum credit card now has a 7.25% variable rate.

At the height of the lending boom, Simmons required that credit-card applicants supply a copy of their paystubs, a practice that “for the big boys was laughable,” Arnold says.

Iberiabank (IBKC), headquartered in Louisiana and also operating branches in Alabama and Florida, is another example: its Visa Classic card has an APR as low as 7.25%, while its Visa Select card offers 0% APR on purchases for up to 12 months, as low as 7.5% thereafter.

You might be able to do even better at your credit union. Arkansas Federal Credit Union offers a Visa credit card with APR starting at 6%.

Pentagon Federal Credit Union’s PenFed Promise card comes with a 7.49% rate for the first 36 months. After that, it will vary with the Prime rate, and is now as low as 9.99%.

All of these cards are plain and frill-free to the point of boring. They don’t offer miles, cash back or rewards points on every dollar you spend; they generally don’t offer enticing 0% APR balance-transfer or cash-advance checks.

And they’re very demanding. Per those tight lending standards we mentioned above: you would generally need a credit score in the 700s, a steady income, and in the case of credit union cards, you’d have to be a credit-union member.

But if all you’re looking for is a simple, back-to-basics product that can help you pay off existing debts faster at lower rates, those cards are something to consider. True to their no-frills nature, many of them have no balance transfer fees: a plus when you consider that these days some banks will charge you as much as 5% of the transfered balance.

If you need a new credit card, “don’t just assume that the big boys are the only game in town,” Arnold says. “Check your own back yard.”

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How Full Is Your Money Pot? Find Out With The 15-Minute Budget

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There’s a reason why the saying “budget as a four-letter word” is cliche. We do hate budgets, don’t we? And it’s not so much because they’re so hard to create — it’s because they’re just so easy to fail.

To be sure, services like (disclosure: yes, yes, this is us) have done a lot to improve consumers’ “budgeting” experience, helping people create, track and ultimately stick to their budgets with little effort.  

But for those who like to supplement their online budgeting experience with something of a lower-tech nature, check out these tips from‘s “Bargain Babe” Julia Scott on how to “discover your money pot:” a 15-minute process that will help you create a budget and stick to it throughout the month.

Scott starts by totaling her net income for the month and substracting her fixed expenses (that’s housing, car payment, bills and savings — but not including food and gas). The resulting number is her money pot.

Any time she makes a purchase, she substracts it from the money pot. This way, she knows exactly how much money she has to spend each month and, take note, because a certain amount dedicated to savings has been subtracted from it in the very beginning, she is able to build up a savings cushion at the same time.

Do you think that might work for you? What is your budgeting strategy? Get the details on Julia Scott’s budgeting plan from the video above (or here at and share your thoughts in the comments.


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