Are you afraid to even think about checking your credit score? Or do you just need some help sorting through the pre-Black Friday chaos? The experts at NerdWallet have answers.
Win big on Black Friday by buying this — and not that
The day that discount shoppers have waited for all year is practically here.
Black Friday — the day after Thanksgiving — has long been touted as one of the best times of the year for buying just about anything.
But despite huge sales at nearly every retailer, it won’t be all deals during the 2019 post-Turkey Day shopping bonanza. Our guide can help you steer clear of the duds and get only the best bargains this Nov. 29.
Buy: Apple products
Traditionally, major retail stores such as Best Buy, Target and Walmart discount Apple products each year on Black Friday, and previous-generation models usually see the most dramatic deals. These offers may include price cuts, free gift cards with purchase or a combination of both. This year, look for deals on MacBooks, iMacs, iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches and Apple TVs.
Target devoted an entire page of its 2018 Black Friday ad to Apple. The Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS) started at $199.99, and select App Store and iTunes gift cards were buy one, get one 30% off.
Toys are one of the seasonal purchase staples, but you might want to think twice before checking them off your list on Black Friday. Historically, it’s best to wait until closer to Christmas to purchase dolls, action figures and play sets. You run the risk that certain items will sell out, but you may also be able to find bigger savings on what’s left.
In past years, select toys have been on sale for as much as 50% off in the final days before Christmas.
Buy: Gaming system bundles
Black Friday is for gamers just as much as it is for shoppers. This year, look for savings on video games and video game systems from retailers such as Best Buy, Walmart and GameStop. You’ll also find particularly great offers on gaming bundles. Traditionally, these include the game console plus a combination of accessories and sometimes games.
Last year, for example, Best Buy sold the Microsoft Xbox One X 1TB Gold Rush Special Edition Battlefield V Bundle for $429.99 with a free select Xbox One wireless controller with purchase.
Skip: Christmas decorations
You’ve likely seen the blowout post-Christmas clearance sales every year on Dec. 26 as you made your way to the store to return that gift that missed the mark. That’s when Christmas decorations, wrapping paper, tinsel and other seasonal trimmings reach super low prices (for obvious reasons).
If you can’t wait until after Christmas, hold off for a little while. Sure, you’ll see plenty of deals on artificial trees and rolls of wrapping paper on Black Friday — especially at home and craft stores — but retailers are particularly eager to slash prices closer to Dec. 25.
Buy: Electronics (TVs, tablets and smartphones)
Low-priced electronics deals are a Black Friday staple. Last year, Target sold a 55-inch TV in stores for only $199.99. Walmart had a 40-inch TV for just $99.
No matter where you choose to spend your Black Friday (or Thanksgiving), you’re almost guaranteed to find TV doorbusters. Other electronics deals to keep an eye out for are tablets and smartphones. In the past, some retailers offered free gift cards (in amounts as substantial as $400) with a qualifying phone purchase on an installment plan.
You’ve got the entertainment center covered, but consider hesitating before stocking up on supplies to refresh the look of your bedroom this Black Friday.
The lowest prices on bedding and linens have been known to appear in January during what are called “white sales,” so hold off until then if you can. Discounts at that time can hit 70%. Past white sales have taken place at retailers such as Overstock, Pottery Barn and Sears.
Buy: Video games, CDs, DVDs
If you’re in need of some affordable stocking stuffers, look no further than the video game, CD, DVD and Blu-ray department at most major retailers this Black Friday.
You’ll find films and gaming titles deeply discounted from their original prices. In 2018, Walmart had over 110 movie titles for $1.96 apiece.
Skip: Outdoor essentials
You won’t see too many grills or patio furniture sets plastered on the front pages of Black Friday ads this year. That’s because, not surprisingly, outdoor products and patio furniture are deeply discounted immediately after summer ends.
If you didn’t pick up these products at the close of this summer, wait until Labor Day sales roll around next year. Can’t wait until then? Another viable option is the Spring Black Friday Sale that home improvement store Lowe’s usually holds each year.
Buy: Home appliances
No secret here. Black Friday is well known for its offers of huge savings on washers, dryers, refrigerators and major kitchen appliances. It’s common for retailers to mark down home appliances by 40%. Look for similar deep discounts again this year.
And if you’re in the market for smaller appliances such as coffee makers, mixers, blenders or vacuum cleaners, you’ll find those, too. Expect deals this year from department stores such as Kohl’s, Macy’s and JCPenney.
Skip: Winter clothing
Fall and winter clothing generally isn’t the best value on Black Friday. Jeans, for instance, see big sales in October, and retailers frequently offer big clearance sales on jackets when winter gives way to spring.
But if you need something to keep you warm before then, you’ll be able to find some bargains this Black Friday. Year after year, department stores have offered doorbuster deals on women’s boots. In the past, select pairs have been just $19.99 each.
Buy: Travel deals
Whether it’s hotel rooms, ski lift tickets or airfare, you can expect bargains on travel this Black Friday and Cyber Monday (Dec. 2). Check for deals from online travel sites and major airlines. In the past, most of these promotions were available for a very limited time. You’ll likely have to book during that window and travel during an allotted period.
Skip: Mail-in rebates
If you want to avoid some of the hassles related to Black Friday shopping, resist deals that require a mail-in rebate. Unless you’re disciplined enough to fill out the form, you could end up paying more than you intended.
Always read the fine print; some kitchen appliances, electronics and other popular items may require you to fill out a mail-in rebate to achieve the advertised price. In the past, Kohl’s, for example, offered some small kitchen electrics for $9.99 — but that was after a $12 mail-in rebate.
Buy: Online doorbusters
Finally, for the ultimate combination of convenience and savings, spring for online doorbusters this year. Plenty of big-box retailers will be bringing their doorbusters online this Thanksgiving and Black Friday.
That’s good news for shoppers, but take precautions when shopping on your phone or laptop, such as making sure you’re not on public Wi-Fi.
If you do Black Friday shopping from the comfort of your own home, you’ll usually also enjoy free shipping. Or, you can choose to make your purchases online and pick them up at the store.
Vanquish 5 common financial fears
Fear can consume you. The anxiety of the unknown can drive you to pull the blanket over your head, whether you’re worried about a rustling sound outside your bedroom window or that you won’t have enough retirement savings.
Financial fears — not wanting to check your credit, confront your debt or even discuss your student loans — can feel especially shameful. But facing those fears can empower you to take action.
1. Student loan stress
Student loans topped the list of most-feared financial topics among U.S. adults, according to a 2019 survey of 1,006 consumers by TD Ameritrade. Student loan debt, at 36%, outranked even living paycheck to paycheck (26%) and credit card debt (20%).
How to conquer it: Understand your loans in detail — that’s key to knowing whether you’re on the best repayment plan. Know each loan’s term, balance, interest rate and whether it’s a federal or private loan.
For unaffordable federal loans, look into income-driven repayment plans. For private loans, you may be able to refinance for a lower monthly payment (but it may cost more overall).
2. Recession anxiety
Indicators like slowing global economic growth hint that a recession might be coming, raising fears of job loss and asset depletion.
How to conquer it: Shore up your savings and diversify your skills. Build up at least $500 in savings to cover an emergency, advises Boston-based financial coach Kimberly Zimmerman Rand. After that, work toward having a few months’ worth of expenses saved in case of job loss. Make saving easier with direct deposits from your paycheck or automatic transfers from checking to savings.
“On the professional side, since we’re not in a recession right now, see how you can improve your job skills, your network, your resume, so if the unfortunate does happen, you’ve already laid the foundation to transition to a new position,” Zimmerman Rand says.
3. Credit card debt concerns
Paying off credit card debt can feel like a never-ending task, but there are ways to get it done.
“I’ve had clients who come to us for debt counseling that have the fear that they’re the worst situation we’ve ever seen financially, and that’s never the case,” says Maura Attardi, director of financial wellness at Money Management International, a nonprofit credit counseling agency.
This fear can be a self-fulfilling prophecy: You’re afraid to check your overall debt because of how high it might be, but while you’re not looking, you keep accruing interest.
How to conquer it: List each account, interest rate and balance. Then choose a payoff strategy. One popular option is the debt snowball, where you pay off your smallest debts first then roll those payments toward your bigger debts.
4. Credit crisis
Ever been afraid to undergo a credit check or apply for credit because you thought your credit profile wasn’t up to snuff? You’re not alone: 46% of 1,503 U.S. adults surveyed by the financial service company Finicity found themselves in just that situation.
How to conquer it: Check your own credit score at your favorite personal finance website or bank website, and access your credit reports for free by using AnnualCreditReport.com. Looking at your score and reports will help you understand your options for improving your credit.
“Go through your credit report with a fine-tooth comb and contest any untrue information,” Zimmerman Rand says.
“For bringing up your score, start on positive financial behaviors, like making on-time payments,” she says. If you use credit cards, keeping the percentage of your credit limit you use below 30% on all cards will help too.
5. Broke retirement blues
“Among my clients, there’s a kind of feeling of hopelessness when it comes to the idea of retiring,” Zimmerman Rand says. But starting early is most important, not waiting until you can put away a lot.
How to conquer it: Choose a retirement plan. If you have a workplace retirement plan that offers an employer match, contribute enough to get it. An individual retirement account is a good alternative if you don’t have a workplace plan. Set yourself up for success by automating contributions and bumping up how much you’re saving every time you get a raise.
Avoid withdrawing money from your retirement account to get the maximum benefit from compound interest, where you earn interest on your interest.
“The magic of compound interest is truly magic — and it works,” Zimmerman Rand says. “After you’ve been saving for years, your investment begins to double a lot faster. For millennials, now is the time to start investing.”
This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.
How to choose the right health plan
When we’re given a choice about our health care plans, we often choose badly.
In one study, more than 80% of the employees at a Fortune 100 company picked the wrong plans, often choosing low-deductible options that ultimately cost them more. Another study found that inertia — sticking with the same plan, rather than evaluating the options each year and choosing a better one — cost workers an average $2,032 annually.
These findings shouldn’t surprise anyone who has tried to compare multiple health insurance plans offered by an employer, an Affordable Care Act marketplace or insurers with coverage that supplements Medicare.
There are simply too many moving parts: what you pay each month (your premium), how much you have to pay before insurance picks up a larger share of the cost (your deductible), and the limit on how much you’ll pay in a year (your maximum out-of-pocket), for starters. There’s also how much you’ll owe for each doctor’s visit, test or prescription, which could be a flat amount (your co-pay) or a percentage (your co-insurance), or both. These amounts can vary not just by insurance plan, but also by the types of medical service you get, with different amounts for hospital stays, lab work, preventive care and so on. Which prescription drugs are covered varies from plan to plan and from year to year. So does the list of medical providers who are considered “in-network.”
But we owe it to our health and wallets to make the best choices we can during open enrollment. The following steps won’t guarantee you’ll pick the best plan, but they may help you avoid the worst.
Match your consumption to your deductible
Many experts recommend high-deductible plans for healthy people who rarely visit the doctor, since premiums for these plans are lower. But high-deductible plans also can be a good fit for people who need a lot of health care, says Carolyn McClanahan, a physician and certified financial planner in Jacksonville, Florida.
Parents of young children or people who have chronic health conditions often spend so much on care that they can easily meet a higher deductible, McClanahan says. Many high-deductible plans (those with deductibles in 2020 of at least $1,400 for individuals or $2,800 for families) qualify for tax-advantaged health savings accounts, as well.
These plans aren’t a good fit, however, for people who would put off necessary care rather than pay out of pocket. If you don’t have enough savings to cover medical costs until the deductible is satisfied, consider spending more for a lower-deductible plan.
Just don’t pay an extra $500 to lower your deductible by $250, as many people did in that first study. If you’re allowed to choose different deductibles for the same plan, multiply the difference in premiums by 12 to get your yearly cost and compare that to the difference in deductibles.
Call your doctors
If you have physicians and specialists you prefer, call their offices to ask if they are in the network of the plans you’re considering. It’s important to ask “Are you in network?” rather than “Do you take this insurance?” A provider who’s not in the network may be willing to bill your insurer, but you’ll typically pay a (much) larger share of the cost.
Do the ‘worst case scenario’ math
Some employers offer software that allows workers to upload their claims history from the past year and uses that to recommend a health care plan. I wish that were available to everyone. The closest I’ve seen is HealthSherpa, which helps people winnow their ACA marketplace options based on how they generally use health care.
The plan that may have been a good fit for your past claims, though, may not be the best choice for the future — especially if you become seriously ill or injured. To protect against worst-case scenarios, you also need to consider the “out-of-pocket” limits. These are the maximum amounts you’d have to pay in addition to your premiums. Out-of-pocket limits typically range from $2,000 to $6,000, although there may be different maximums for in-network versus out-of-network costs, and not all policies have these caps.
Some plans give you only a small break in premiums while exposing you to much larger potential costs, says Alan Silver, senior director of benefits delivery and administration at Willis Towers Watson, a benefits consultant.
Before signing up for any policy, add your annual premiums to the out-of-pocket limit to see the potential costs you could face. If the total scares you, look for a plan with a limit that lets you sleep at night.
This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.
These popular gifts will be on sale in November
At long last, it’s time to feast on Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals.
In a month that’s filled with sales, here are the categories to buy — and a couple to skip — over the next few weeks to get the most for your money.
Electronics take center stage in November. Big-box stores stuff their Black Friday ads with markdowns on TVs, tablets, laptops, gaming systems, smartwatches, smartphones and more. This often equates to hundreds of dollars in savings.
Accordingly, shoppers should be patient and wait until Black Friday, Nov. 29, to make an electronics purchase. Some major retailers will kick off Black Friday deals a day early, on Thanksgiving. If you don’t want to brave the crowds to get a deal, you can shop for discounts online at many retailers.
Skip: Bedding and linens
January is just around the corner, and it’s your best bet for a deal on bedding and linens. Stores promote bedding discounts, called white sales, at the beginning of each year as a way to bring shoppers into their home departments.
In past years, bedding basics were slashed by 50% or more at retailers like Sears and Overstock. We expect similar savings again in 2020.
Aside from spring cleaning season, November might be the best time to add a new vacuum cleaner to your closet. Last year, Walmart had vacuum models from Dyson, Shark, Bissell, Hoover and more on sale during its Black Friday event. Expect these sweeping sales to land at the end of the month.
Skip: Winter products
The first day of winter is fast approaching. Dec. 21 will mark a change in seasons, but retailers are already gearing up for the cold months by releasing winter apparel and sporting equipment early, usually at full price.
Similarly, Christmas decorations now adorning store displays are more expensive when they first hit shelves than when they’re on their way out the door. Consider reserving your seasonal purchases until near Christmas, or even after.
Shop: Black Friday, Cyber Monday sales
When it comes to retail, November is perhaps best known for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, two of the biggest shopping days of the year. This year, Black Friday is Nov. 29 and Cyber Monday is Dec. 2.
If you’re planning a substantial purchase such as a refrigerator or computer, hold off until the end of the month. Major retailers like Best Buy, Target, Walmart and Amazon usually release Black Friday ads in the days or weeks before the sales to announce their upcoming deals and doorbusters, so you can plan your shopping accordingly.
Bonus: Veterans Day
Black Friday isn’t the only shopping holiday this month. Veterans Day traditionally delivers military-specific discounts at retailers and restaurants to salute members of the armed forces, but savings often extend to everyday shoppers as well. A variety of popular stores usually host patriotic promotions, including JCPenney and Macy’s.
Veterans Day is Monday, Nov. 11, but sales will likely start before that.
To round out the month, keep an eye out for freebies. If you’re a fan of sandwiches, you’ll likely be able to find a buy one, get one free sub offer on National Sandwich Day, which is Nov. 3. Check social media to see how to claim deals near you.
You may also be able to take home a free turkey for Thanksgiving this year. In the past, many grocery store chains have given turkeys to customers who spend a certain amount. You could hit that minimum if you buy other Thanksgiving meal trimmings.
How much would you save? A 16-pound turkey cost an average of $21.71 in 2018, according to an informal price survey by the American Farm Bureau Federation.