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6 Hacks for Using the Citi ThankYou Points Program

If you surveyed a group of people about credit cards, it’s likely they would say pretty much the same thing: Their favorite cards are part of a transferable points program. That’s because these cards tend to have the most flexibility when it comes to redeeming rewards. One of these programs is Citi ThankYou. (Full Disclosure: Citibank advertises on Credit.com, but that results in no preferential editorial treatment.)

Over the past several years, Citi has made several changes to the ThankYou program to help it keep up with Chase Ultimate Rewards and Amex Membership Rewards. Two of the most noticeable changes are the selection of credit cards that allow you to earn ThankYou points and the airline transfer partners. Let’s take a look at how you can hack your Citi ThankYou points for maximum value.

1. Transfer Points to Loyalty Partners

One area where the Citi ThankYou program has improved over the past couple of years is with the quality of transfer partners. Unless noted below all partners transfer at a 1:1 ratio.

  • Jetblue (1,000:500)
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Etihad
  • Eva Air
  • Air France/KLM
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Quantas
  • Qatar Airways
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Thai Airways
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Hilton (1,000:1,500)

While the list of partners continues to grow, not all of them are a good use of your points. To get the most value, you could redeem points for one of these rewards:

Continental U.S. to Hawaii on Singapore Airlines

From the United States, one of the best uses for Singapore Airlines miles is to fly to Hawaii. One-way flights in coach, business class, and first class cost 17,500, 30,000 and 40,000 miles, respectively. Compare this to United Airlines, which charges 22,500, 40,000 and 50,000 miles.

Air France/KLM Flying Blue Promo Awards

One of the best ways to use Flying Blue miles is to book their promo awards. Each month, they release new promo routes and you can save 20% to 50% off normal redemption rates.

Continental U.S. to Mexico on Air France/KLM Flying Blue

Flying Blue includes Mexico in the same flight region as the United States, which means flights cost only 12,500 miles each way in coach.

TransAtlantic in Singapore Suites

If you’re tired of always flying coach, you can splurge and spend 57,375 Singapore Krisflyer Miles to fly Singapore Suites from New York to Frankfurt, Germany. If you’d like to continue, you can go all the way to Singapore for a total of 93,500 miles. But be warned: Flying in coach might never be the same.

Use Etihad Guest Miles from New York to Brussels in Business Class

Most airlines are part of large alliances or have partner airlines. This is great for consumers because it opens up a lot of options when using your miles. If you know where to look, you can find a lot of value when flying. One of the best ways to fly to Europe is to use Etihad Guest miles to fly Brussels Airlines from New York to Brussels. Traveling round-trip in economy will cost you 21,972 miles and business class will be 36,620 miles. If you want a card that earns you direct airline miles, here are our picks for some of the best airline miles credit cards out there.

2. Book Travel on Citi Travel Center

Another way to use your ThankYou points is to book your travel through the Citi Travel Center. This is where the specific card you have will dictate the value you receive. If you have a Citi ThankYou Premier card you can redeem your points for 1.25 cents each. Through July 23, those with a Citi ThankYou Prestige card can redeem points on American Airlines for 1.6 cents each and on all other airlines for 1.33 cents. Afterward, redemptions are 1.33 cents on all airlines. For any card that is not Premier or Prestige, you can book travel at just 1 cent per point.

3. Redeem for Cash

You can redeem your points for cash, but this is a pretty weak valuation. You will only receive 0.5 cents per point, but…

4. Pay Your Mortgage or Student Loans

You’ll receive 1 cent of value when you use your points to pay off your mortgage or student loans.

5. Shopping With Points

Citi has partnered with several retailers, making it possible to shop with your points. However, values fluctuate from 0.6 cents to around 1 cent per point, so unless it’s necessary for you to redeem through shopping, there are better ways to redeem points.

6. Gift Cards

Finally, you can also redeem your points for gift cards for select retailers and restaurants. Most of the time you will be able to receive 1 cent per point with this method.

Earning Citi ThankYou Points

Earning Citi ThankYou points is fairly simple. You can use one of a few different Citi credit cards or have select Citi banking products.

Citi Prestige

When you sign up for the Citi Prestige card, you receive 40,000 ThankYou points after spending $4,000 in the first three months. Then, when you use your card for airfare or hotels, you receive 3 points per dollar. You will also receive 2 points per dollar spent at restaurants and on entertainment. Any other purchase made will earn 1 points per dollar. This card has a steep $450 annual fee, but you will receive several travel benefits, including a $250 air travel credit, which you can use for airfare, upgrades, baggage fees and more. You will also receive a $100 statement credit to cover the cost of either Global Entry or TSA Precheck. If that’s not enough, you also receive your fourth night free when booking hotels through Citi Prestige Concierge. Plus, you can travel in comfort knowing you have complimentary access to more than 900 Priority Pass Select airport lounges.

Keep in mind before signing up for this or any rewards card that your credit will need to be in very good shape to qualify. If you’re not sure where your credit stands you can get your two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, right here on Credit.com.

Citi ThankYou Premier

With the Citi ThankYou Premier card, you receive 30,000 ThankYou points after signing up and spending $3,000 in the first three months. You then earn 3 points per dollar spent on travel expenses, which includes gas. Plus, you can earn 2x points when you use your card at restaurants and on entertainment. All other purchases will earn 1x points. There is a $95 annual fee, which is waived for the first year.

Citi ThankYou Preferred

If you prefer a card with no annual fee, then the Citi ThankYou Preferred card might be the best fit. You will earn 15,000 ThankYou points after signing up and spending $1,000 in the first three months. When you use this card at restaurants and on entertainment, you receive 2x points. All other purchases earn 1x points. This card also has an introductory 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers.

Citi ThankYou Preferred Card for College Students

If you’re a college student you can also earn ThankYou points with the Citi ThankYou Preferred card for College Students. With this card, you will earn 2,500 ThankYou points after spending $500 within the first three months. When you use your card at restaurants and on entertainment, you receive 2x points. All other purchases receive 1x points. After signing up for this card you receive an introductory 0% APR for the first seven months on purchases. There is no annual fee to carry this card.

Citi Banking Accounts

While you won’t be able to earn a huge number of points through this method, you can take advantage of the banking relationships you have with Citi. Depending on the product, you could earn up to 19,200 points per year.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

This Common Mistake Can Kill Your Mortgage

In order to qualify for a mortgage, you need to show your lender that you have a down payment and access to funds for closing. This money needs to come from documentable sources prior to moving it from your bank account to your escrow account. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t do this, which can end up creating unnecessary challenges during the underwriting process.

Lenders are going to require at least 60 days of asset documentation from each source that your money comes from. This is required because your mortgage lender will need to verify that the money promised does exist and is eligible for use.

Let’s say you’ve put your money into escrow and, as requested, are doing your best to document the movement of money from the account going to escrow. This entails providing a bank statement specifically showing the money leaving your account and the money being accepted by escrow through an EMD (earnest money deposit).

If you can’t get a bank statement, though — say it’s the middle of the month and new statements are not out yet — the next best thing is to get a bank printout confirming the transaction and confirming the amount of money remaining in the account. (There are literally dozens of other things you also should be thinking about during the home buying process. Here are 50 ways you can get ready for buying your home.)

How a Bank Printout Can Help You Close

The bank printout must show the date of the transaction and the current timestamp of the printout, confirming that the money has been moved prior to the printout date. If the bank printout does not have this information, it will automatically halt the closing process of your loan and delay your loan contingency removal or extend your close of escrow date.

This method can be used for both your down payment and funds for cash to close. This is to provide authenticity for your account and to show clearly on paper that the account is yours and the money is yours to use. Banks and lenders require this information to be clear cut and “in your face.” Never assume that “common sense” will be enough.

Documents & Other Items You’ll Want to Avoid

Providing any of the following items in lieu of the bank printout will not work:

  • A bank statement with someone else’s name on it
  • Bank statement in trust
  • Pictures of bank statements taken from a smartphone or snapshot application
  • Bank printout with no timestamp and date

In addition, the bank printout and timestamp must show the remaining balance that is left in your account. For example, if you had $130,000 in assets and your down payment from this account was $50,000, your account statement should now show $80,000 remaining.

If you are looking to purchase a home, talk to a seasoned loan professional who can walk you through properly documenting the money required to buy your home. Also, take a few minutes to check your credit scores so you’ll know going in what kinds of terms you’re eligible for. You can get two of your free credit scores, updated every 14 days, at Credit.com.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

Heed These 3 Lessons, Millennial Snap Investors

These are intriguing times for impressionable young investors.

The Dow’s cresting 20,000 for the first time in January before making a 24-day climb to 21,000 — the fastest 1,000-point climb since 1999 — coupled with this month’s $3.4 billion initial public offering for Snap Inc., parent company of social media darling Snapchat, has a lot of millennials wondering how to buy stock — or just jumping in and doing it.

“Snapchat, the social media platform owned by Snap Inc., is all the rage among millennials. The company’s newly public stock is, too,” The Wall Street Journal reported two days after trading began. Stock trading app Robinhood reported that 43% of users who made trades on the day of the IPO purchased Snap stock — and that the median age of those users was 26.

Wondering if you’re missing out? If you want to buy individual company shares for the first time, there are a few things to note. First, individual stock ownership is somewhat uncommon, with just 14% of U.S. families investing directly in stocks, according to a 2014 Federal Reserve report. More people invest in stocks indirectly through mutual funds and exchange-traded funds.

Second, individual stocks can be risky. NerdWallet recommends restricting individual stocks to no more than 10% of your investment holdings.

That said, if you are determined to learn how to invest in stocks, here are some tips to help you along the way:

1. Develop a taste for homework

To succeed with stocks, you must invest in a company whose stock is undervalued today or otherwise poised to sell higher in the future. For most investors, finding such companies means doing some homework, such as digging through public information — annual reports, Securities and Exchange Commission filings and company earnings — and the opinions and ratings of professional analysts.

If you need some handholding with this, consider choosing a broker who offers quality research and educational materials.  

2. Buy to own

Remember, you’re not buying a lottery ticket — you’re buying a piece of a company. Some questions experienced investors ask that can’t be answered by financial statements: What is the track record of the management team? Has the company found a unique market niche? Will it still be around 20 years from now?

As Warren Buffett once said, “Buy into a company because you want to own it, not because you want the stock to go up.”

3. Build patience for profits

Investing is built on the simple “buy low, sell high” principle, but panicked selling and following the investor herd often results in the reverse — ditching stock where some patience would literally pay.

Most experts recommend holding a mix of companies across a variety of industries to spread the risk around, and to let strong long-term investments ride out bumpy market cycles.

To build discipline, start investing slowly with a limited number of stocks and a sum of money that you are OK with possibly losing. If your stocks gain value, you can reinvest that money back into the stocks — or other companies — but don’t invest more money until you’ve learned the ropes and become confident in your ability to research stocks.

Kevin Voigt is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: kevin@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @kevinvoigt.

Got Extra Cash? Here Are 11 Smart Purchases Under $400

There’s always a lot of talk about how to be financially responsible and increase wealth with very little money. Many Americans live paycheck to paycheck. But put some real numbers behind that generic statement. The Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey of 2015 reports an average household income per consumer unit (think entire household of family members or single, financially independent people living alone or with other people) is $69,629. And the consumer’s unit average yearly expenses is $55,978.

Let’s say you dedicate those yearly expenses to standard things, such as food, housing, transportation and insurance. While the actual percentage breakdown per expense differs from household to household, depending on your family picture, you’ll still be dedicating a good chunk of your income to various necessities each month.

If we continue with this logic, the money you have left over — that unreasonably small portion of your salary that remains after paying bills — is what many would dub “play money.” The average consumer unit will have about $13,000 a year to play. (Speaking of “play money,” here’s how to stop buying stuff you can’t afford.)

With all that extra cash, what can we do? Of course, we could blow it on a steak dinner or splurge for the newest tech gadget. But what are a few smart items we should buy when we have the opportunity? We’ve compiled a list of smart purchases you should never feel bad about buying. And the best part? They’re all less than $400.

1. Student Loans

The average recent graduate has about $37,172 in student loan debt and pays about $351 per month toward the loan, according to Student Loan Hero. For those who are super strapped for cash, they might choose to defer their loans to a later date or skate by paying just the minimum. But the interest will kill you. One of the smartest things you can do with extra cash is to pay more into your loans when you can afford to do so. It’s a solid bet that added expenses will pop up eventually, and staying ahead of the curve means one less financial burden down the road. (Check out some tips for paying off your student loans here.)

2. An Interview Suit

Even if you’re not in the job market, investing in an interview suit is a wise decision. You never know when you’ll need a go-to outfit for networking events, conferences or a random “I’ve got someone I want you to connect with” meeting. Shopping for the perfect outfit is a lot more bearable when you’re not under duress or in a time crunch. Instead, you can browse for sales. You’ll find cheaper options in many locations, but a nice suit should put you right around that $400 mark. (What else can you do to get yourself ready for a job interview? Check your credit — many employers look at a version of your credit as part of the application process, so it’s helpful to know where yours stands. You can see two of your credit scores — absolutely free — on Credit.com.)

3. A Durable Mattress

What does anything matter if you don’t get a good night’s sleep? When you have extra cash at the end of the month, put it toward a high-quality mattress that will ensure you wake up ready to tackle each morning with spunk. High-quality mattresses come at a price. But they also last for years. You could spend thousands on a name-brand mattress, but a foam mattress from IKEA could work just as well.

4. Digital File Protection

External hard drives and online storage are perfect for backing up all those vacation shots, your wedding album and imperative side-business files. Hard drives are easy to find online, and they’ll run you about $82 for one with worthwhile storage capacity. Online storage pricing varies when it comes to options and personal preferences, but you can choose between services, such as Mozy, Dropbox or SugarSync. These cloud-storage providers charge a monthly fee but give discounts for yearly subscriptions. Expect to pay between $28.98 and $99.99 per year.

5. Online Classes

The most successful people will tell you learning never stops. As workforce trends continue to change, the need for specialized expertise grows. Devoting a few extra bucks to improving your knowledge is a practical expense. Maybe you want to become a better public speaker. Or pick up a new hobby to clear your head at night. And maybe you’ve heard tech gurus ramble about an increasing demand for coding professionals. Buy books, go online and enroll in a course. Do whatever you can to set yourself up for future success.

6. A Commuter Bike

Why spend what you could save? One of the smartest purchases you can make with $400 or less is a commuter bike. When considering what you’d also pay for gas, maintenance and car insurance, a commuter bike will pay for itself. There are definitely good, better and best when it comes to bikes, but you could find a quality road bike for around $300.

7. An Emergency Fund

It’s never a bad idea to start establishing an emergency fund. Experts say three months’ worth of expenses is a reasonable amount of cash to stash away just in case. A good trick is to make your savings automatic. Once you’re unable to see your money coming in, it’s easier to get by without it and find ways to work with what you have. Then, when you break your arm doing back flips off a boat or blow a radiator in your car, it’s covered.

8. Retirement Savings

Expanding on the previous point, try to accumulate as much wealth as you can for early retirement. Consider creating a moderately aggressive investment plan by opening IRAs, 401K accounts, brokerage accounts, etc. Take advantage of your employer opportunities and set up automatic contributions to your company’s 401K plan. Start at a respectable 3% contribution, and gradually increase it until you get to at least 10%. When in doubt, seek a fiduciary financial planner.

9. Solid Clothing

Some of us find it absolutely insane to buy a pair of jeans that cost more than $39.99. However, quality clothing items, such as boots and winter coats, hold up over time. And the money you shell out is worth it later. Reddit’s Buy It for Life adheres to this philosophy. This subreddit aims to “emphasize products that are durable, practical, proven and made to last.” It might seem insane to pay $219 for insulated L.L. Bean Duck Boots, but you’ll be grateful when they’re still keeping your toes warm and dry 10 years later.

10. A Coffee Maker

Does life really exist without coffee? Another smart purchase is to invest in a solid coffee maker. If you fancy those specialty drinks, you could buy a combination machine from DeLonghi for $162 on Amazon. Considering the price of specialty drinks from coffee shops — and our dependency on caffeine — this is a purchase that will pay for itself in a matter of weeks.

11. Various Fitness Programs

There’s no safer bet than to invest in your health. Health equals wealth, right? Whether you buy a treadmill for $399.99 or invest in various meal prep services popular for those always on the go, they’re all worthwhile expenses.

Depending on your employer, you might also be eligible to receive reimbursements for health-related expenses, such as gym memberships, fitness classes or playing in sports leagues. While you’re at it, look into other reimbursement programs you might be eligible for, such as cellphone plans, moving costs or professional-development classes.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

Sears, Kmart parent company warns of 'substantial doubt' about its survival

The parent company of Sears, once the nation's largest retailer, issued a somber warning Tuesday about its survival.

According to USA Today, Sears Holdings, which also owns Kmart, broke the news in an annual report filed with the Security and Exchange Commission.

>> Read more trending news

"Our historical operating results indicate substantial doubt exists related to the company's ability to continue as a going concern," the company said.

According to The New York Times, Sears Holdings lost $2.2 billion last year. Sears reported a 9.3 percent decline in sales, while Kmart's sales dropped 7.4 percent, Fortune reported.

Earlier this year, Sears Holdings said it would shutter 150 Sears and Kmart stores in 40 states. 

>> Which Sears, Kmart stores will be closing? Here's a list

Read more herehere or here.

50 Things to Do If You Plan to Sell Your Home This Spring

Have you heard? It’s a seller’s market. Well, in most zip codes at least. But a hopping homebuying season doesn’t necessarily mean your home will go well over asking price just by putting up a For Sale sign. There’s still plenty a seller must do if they want to get the best price for their soon-to-be-former digs.

Here are 50 things to do if you plan to sell your home this spring.

1. Learn the Market

The reports of a seller’s market are greatly exaggerated — which is to say every zip code is different. If you want to expedite a sale, your “property has to be marketed properly and be priced appropriately,” said Glenn S. Phillips, CEO of Lake Homes Realty. “The feeding frenzy of a few years ago has not returned, and buyers are better informed than ever.”

2. Avoid Over-Pricing

Gradual price drops signal to house hunters that more decreases are to come, Phillips says. Plus, if your home sits on the market long enough, prospective buyers will wonder what’s wrong with it. “In the end, most homes that start overpriced sell at a price lower than a home priced [appropriately] from the start,” he said. “And the deal happens much faster and without the pain of months trying to sell.”

3. Hire a Realtor

Yes, you’ll have to pay them a commission. (Side note: You’ll be expected to cover the buyer’s agent, too.) Still, a good Realtor can be instrumental when it comes to the whole “learn-the-market, price-it-right” stuff. Plus, they’ll do the heavy lifting when showing the house and negotiating offers. Of course, be sure to …

4. Vet Prospective Agents

“Find someone who is in the business full time and who can demonstrate their skill at listing a house,” Reba Haas, CEO of Team Reba at RE/MAX Metro Inc. in Seattle, said. “This will show up in their print materials, online photos, services provided marketing presentation and ability to find the right price range to help you sell in a reasonable amount of time.”

5. Get a Home Estimate …

Yes, your real estate agent can help you set the right price on your home, but it doesn’t hurt to get a general idea of the pricing in your area on your own. There are plenty of sites online that can help you get an idea of your home’s current value.

6. Or, Better Yet, a Pre-Listing Appraisal

That’ll help preclude any problems during the bank appraisal. “An independent appraisal performed prior to listing can determine the value that a lender would assign your home,” Bruce Elliott, president of the Orlando Regional REALTOR Association, said. “While the process is never scientific, many buyers do find an independent appraisal to be a credible source for judging a home’s value.”

7. Determine How Much the Sale Will Cost You

Because there are plenty of expenses associated with selling a home. “A lot of sellers are not aware of what their costs are, including attorney, commission to broker and any other closing costs, including potential repairs before putting the home on the market,” says Kobi Lahav, managing director, Mdrn. Residential, a real estate brokerage in New York City. Fortunately, your broker or listing agent can help you pin down a rough estimate of what you might have to shell out.

8. Hire an Attorney

They’ll be instrumental when it comes time to negotiate the purchase contract with your chosen buyer, but you’ll, of course, want to …

9. Research Their Reputations (& Fees)

Ask friends and family for recommendations, or do a search online to find an affordable real estate attorney you can trust.

10. Ask for a Mortgage Pay Off Quote

You may think you know how much you owe on your mortgage. However, “it is not always what you see on your lender’s website,” Denise Supplee, co-founder of SparkRental and Pennsylvania Realtor, says. “And it is a good idea to have that information, especially if the money from your sale is going towards another sale.”

11. Build Your Coffers

Like we said, selling your home can be very costly. Be sure you’ve got an adequate emergency fund on hand to cover the costs, moving expenses and mortgage or rent associated with your next abode.

12. Check State Tax Records

“Make sure any debts you thought you paid off, were, in fact, posted in municipality tax records [and] satisfied,” Janice B. Leis, Accredited Buyer’s Representative and associate broker with Berkshire Hathaway, says. “Otherwise, you will have an arduous task getting issues resolved if faced with either a quick closing or finding out by the title company near closing, when life is hectic.”

13. Consult an Accountant

Or a trusted financial adviser before putting down For Sale stakes. They can fill you in on any tax deductions or bills associated with the sale that you’ll be expected to pay next year, Leis says.

14. Pull Your Credit Reports

In addition to liens, look for any judgments because those can go against the title of your home. “I have seen … people who thought they were getting X amount of dollars find out that they owe back taxes from many years ago,” Supplee says. (You can pull your free annual credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com.) If you’re also searching for a new home while you’re trying to sell yours, well, then, you’ll want to …

15. Get Your Full Credit Check On

Because the better your credit score, the more affordable your new mortgage will be. Check for credit report errors, because they may be needlessly weighing you down. If you find one, be sure to …

16. Dispute Any Errors …

You can go here to learn how to handle errors on your credit report.

17. … & Otherwise Shore Up Your Scores

Beyond that, pay down high credit card balances, limit new credit inquiries and address any other credit-score killers to improve your credit scores. You can monitor your progress using your free credit report summary, along with two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

18. Set Realistic Deadlines

“It takes a lot of time to prepare a home for sale,” Haas says. “Be realistic in what you can do, and consider where you may need help from family, friends or by hiring professionals.”

19. Map Out Your Move

“If coinciding with a closing and purchase, make sure there is a contingency in your purchase contract,” Reis says. “Otherwise you owe on two properties or will be in default on new purchase due to lack of proceeds from the sale of your existing home.”

20. Get a Pre-Home Inspection Home Inspection

Sure, it’ll cost you. Still, “spending a few hundred dollars on a thorough home inspection can help you get a better idea of what repairs need to be made, and more importantly, what your net proceeds will be from the sale of your home,” Emile L’Eplattenier, a New York City real estate agent and member of the Real Estate Board of New York, says.

21. Make Any Major Repairs …

Pay particular attention to roof and air conditioning issues, as buyers tend to shy from expensive repairs, Elliott says. “Completing as many repairs as your budget allows will pay off when potential buyers are not put off by the amount of time or money they would need to bring the home up to speed,” he adds.

22. … & Consider Some Small Upgrades

“Replacing old curtains and blinds or even appliances and fixtures will make your home look better in pictures and on showings,” L’Eplattenier says. At the very least …

23. Paint

So long as you don’t use one of these four colors, of course. By the way …

24. Carefully Consider Major Home Improvement Projects

Fix the roof, sure. Have the AC serviced, but consult with your Realtor or stager before blinging out the bathroom or wallpapering the basement. Certain home improvements that seem like a good idea may not actually bring any value to your home — or, worse, could be a turnoff to potential buyers. (We’re looking at you, outdoor bathtub.)

25. Get Your Disclosures Ready

Though there are variations by city or state, some types of seller’s disclosure are generally mandated by law. “If you know of an issue in your home, write it down on the disclosure form provided by your Realtor,” Elliott says. “Nothing is too small to disclose, and failing to disclose is a serious breach of real estate law that can undermine the sale or worse.”

26. Trim the (Furniture) Fat

“Too much furniture makes a home look smaller than it really is, so sell or move out furniture to make the home feel more spacious,” Phillips says.

27. Tap a Photographer …

And consider hiring a professional. Solid listing photos make a big difference when it comes to getting buyers over to your house.

28. … But Clean Your Windows Before Showings

“Multi-exposure photography … will make the photos really stand out, but if the windows are dirty, you don’t get the best shots,” Haas says. “Plus, cleanliness in general just makes for a better showing.”

29. Actually, Clean Everything

We’re spelling this out just in case you hadn’t taken the initiative to do so already. “Nothing turns buyers off like grime, odor and general dinginess,” Elliott says.

30. Grout & Glaze

“How does the bathroom look?” Max says. “Do you need to reglaze the tub or put new grout on the tile?”

31. Set the Stage

Your Realtor can provide some valuable insights into how to organize your (leftover) furniture. “Stagers can also help you organize your furniture, and they can bring in just a few pieces that accentuate the positives of your home,” Kathryn Bishop, Realtor with Keller Williams Realty in Studio City, California, says.

32. Change the Light Bulbs

Lighting can be just as important as furniture feng shui when it comes to attracting homebuyers.

33. Up Your Curb Appeal

“Neatly trimmed bushes, fresh mulch and a colorful pot of flowers work wonders on that all-important first impression,” Elliott says. “Repainting (or washing) the front door and pressure cleaning the driveway and sidewalks are also simple tasks that provide eye-catching results.”

34. Find a Place for Fido

Sure, Sparky is cute and all, but you’ll want your pets out of the house during any showings. Plus, “it will always bring questions about any pet damage or difficult-to-remove smells,” Phillips says. Speaking of smells …

35. Deodorize …

“Homeowners become smell blind and don’t realize how powerful smell is to homebuyers,” he says. “The home should smell fresh and clean, not perfumed and not like cats, dogs, cigarette smoke, old furniture, mothballs, mold, old food, gym locker or just plain stale.”

36. … De-Personalize …

Pack away those personal pictures and mementos. “Removing these items helps buyers imagine themselves in the home,” Phillips says.

37. … De-Clutter …

That goes beyond offloading some excess furniture and your picture words. Bottom line: It’s time to put all those books, toys, video games and figurines away. “The more crowded the apartment is, the smaller it appears,” Stacey Max, the sales manager of BOND New York, a residential brokerage, says.

38. … & Detach

“Sellers are usually emotionally attached to their homes, which is natural,” Lahav says. “However, they have to remember that any potential buyer is looking at it without the emotional aspect that the owner has for his own property.”

39. Clean Out Your Closets …

“They should look roomy,” Max says.

40. … & Your Drawers

“We all say that one day we will go into all the rooms and drawers and throw out a lot of old items,” Lahav says. “Selling your home is the best time to do it.” In fact, while you’re at it, go ahead and …

41. Start Packing

You’ll have to do it sooner or later. Might as well get a head start.

42. Store

You don’t have to junk all your belongings — or avoid decluttering just because you don’t want to part with your old Buffy the Vampire Slayer box sets. Consider renting out a storage space or keeping some stuff over at a friend’s or family member’s place while you’re trying to sell.

43. Talk to Your Neighbors

Consider this part of your curb appeal project — especially if you’re selling an apartment, co-op or condo. “You want your neighbors to be aware that there will be open houses,” Lahav says. “Buyers coming to view your home and see unhappy neighbors who look mad that the elevator [doesn’t] work or the driveway is blocked will assume that the neighbors are nasty, and that can affect their decision.”

44. Do a Final Walk-Through

Just to be sure there’s nothing you missed with regard to repairs, curb appeal or staging your home.

45. Advertise Amply

“Some sellers believe that it is OK to not put the home on the local MLS, that the agents in the area will just bring the perfect buyer,” Phillips says. “While this could happen, it rarely does. Doing this is like trying to sell a secret. The price does not matter because few buyers know the house is even for sale.”

46. Host an Open House

“Recently, my listings have all sold to buyers who came to the open houses,” Bishop says. Beyond that …

47. Be Available

“Appointments often come with only an hour’s notice,” she adds. “Work as smoothly as possible with your Realtor to accommodate showings.”

48. Adjust …

If you find you did list your home for more than it’s worth, go ahead and change your listing. (Again, consulting with your Realtor can come in handy here.)

49. … & Stay Flexible

“We’ve seen purchases fall apart over very small amounts of money, over a single appliance and over attitudes,” Phillips says. “Remember the big picture and how much it will cost to start over finding another willing and capable buyer. [Getting] the deal closed is often the best financial (and emotional) choice, even if you have to give up a little more than you wanted.”

50. Brush Up on Your Homebuying Skills

Chances are, you’ll be buying a new abode before or after you sell your current one, so you’ll want to go refamiliarize yourself with that process as well. Fortunately, we’ve got 50 things you should do as a house hunter right here.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

How to Avoid Monthly Checking Account Fees

Few of us enjoy reviewing our bank statements, and for good reason: “I spent how much on takeout this month?” “When’s the last time we even watched that channel?” “Maybe I should just quit the gym already.” It can be a sobering and downright frustrating experience.

Perhaps even more maddening is seeing that your bank hits you with checking account fees for “maintenance.” This is the price you pay just to park your cash in a safe place, and it can add up to more than $100 a year.

But you might be able to avoid paying a monthly service fee by meeting one of the following requirements. Better yet, they’re pretty reasonable.

Meet the minimum balance requirement

Fees and rules vary by institution, but customers at most banks and credit unions can dodge monthly charges by keeping their balance above a certain amount. For basic checking accounts at national banks that don’t earn interest or other perks, that figure tends to be around $1,500. For premier accounts, it may be as much as $10,000.

If you can’t meet that mark today, you can make moves to bolster your balance. Approach this as you would any other savings goal.

“Put aside $25 per week, or whatever you can reasonably save, until you meet your goal,” says Carrie Houchins-Witt, a financial advisor in Coralville, Iowa. “Keep saving that $25 each week until you have a cushion. That way, you won’t have to worry daily about dipping below the minimum and getting hit with fees.”

» MORE: NerdWallet’s best checking accounts

Enroll in direct deposit

Another way to avoid fees is to enroll in direct deposit, a service through which your paycheck or some other money you receive regularly is paid into your bank account automatically. Some banks and credit unions will require you to receive a certain amount of money in direct deposits each month, typically not more than $500 for basic checking accounts. If that applies to you, don’t distribute your income to more than one account.

“If you’re splitting your direct deposit between two accounts, like checking and saving, you may never meet the minimum,” says Johanna Fox Turner, a financial advisor in Mayfield, Kentucky. “But you can set up your direct deposit so that your entire income goes to your checking account, and then simply transfer some of that money to your savings each month.”

Open a savings account at the same institution

A bank or credit union also might waive fees for customers who have multiple accounts under the same roof. For most people, opening a savings account will be the easiest solution.

In addition to helping you avoid monthly service charges, opening a savings account and linking it to your checking account can protect you from incurring overdraft fees, which can be as high as $38.

Switch to plastic

A few banks and credit unions waive monthly service fees for customers who use a debit card linked to the account a certain number of times each month, usually around 10 transactions. If you’re having trouble meeting some of the other waiver requirements, consider finding a financial institution that cancels fees for frequent debit card users.

Look for free checking elsewhere

Another option, of course, would be to simply ditch your bank or credit union for one that offers free checking. Just make sure that you won’t be hit with an early account closure fee when leaving your current financial institution, which can happen if you close your account within a few months of opening it.

But if you like your bank or credit union and just want to eliminate fees, these moves can help you avoid paying them.

Tony Armstrong is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: tony@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @tonystrongarm

Updated March 21, 2017.

Itemize Or Take The Standard Deduction On Your Federal Income Tax?

MoneyTips

To itemize or not to itemize? That is the tax question. Whether tis' wiser to suffer the slings and arrows of standard deductions, or take advantage of a sea of deductions, and by itemizing, utilize them.... Okay, Shakespeare and taxes may not be the best combination, but the original question above is still relevant in tax season. Do you take the simpler standard deduction, or itemize and try to gain further advantage? The IRS offers some advice regarding deductions in IRS Tax Tip 2016-21. The basic message: calculate your taxes both ways, but let us help you do it. Start by making sure that you are eligible for standard deductions. There are cases where standard deductions are not an option — for example, when you and your spouse choose married filing separately ...

You Don’t Need Great Credit to Help Your Kid Get a Credit Card

Parents with less-than-perfect credit: You can still help your teenager or young adult child get a credit card and start building a strong credit history.

You might not be able to co-sign on a credit card application if your own credit history is rough — but nowadays, most major issuers don’t accept co-signers, anyway. There are other ways to help your child access credit and learn to use it responsibly.

Your credit history isn’t shared

Let’s make one thing clear: Your credit history and scores are yours alone. A person who shares an account with you shares only the history tied to that particular account. Spouses each have individual credit histories and scores, even if they share some accounts. The same goes for parents and children.

That’s why you don’t need perfect credit to give your child a leg up — you just need one credit card account in good standing. You can add your child to that account as an authorized user no matter what the rest of your credit history looks like.

The ideal account to share looks like this:

  • You haven’t made late payments for seven years or more
  • The balance is below 30% of the card’s limit. Below 10% is ideal
  • The account is several years old — the older the better
  • The credit card card issuer reports authorized users to the credit bureaus. (Most do.)

A few words of caution: Even if your child is an authorized user, you’re still the primary account holder, which means you’re responsible for the bills. And your child could damage your credit and his or her own by charging more than the limit. It’s up to you to set spending limits and clear expectations about whether and how you’ll be paid back for purchases.

After gaining some authorized user experience as a teenager, your child can eventually get approved for a solo credit card. Eighteen-year-olds can qualify for their own accounts if they demonstrate significant income. Once your child turns 21, it’ll be easier for him or her to get approved for a student credit card.

If you don’t have a card in good standing

Let’s say you don’t have a credit card account at all, or the ones you have are a bit tarnished. It won’t help your child to be added to an account with late payments, a high balance or that’s currently in default.

But you can still get your child started with credit by helping him or her apply for a secured credit card. These require a cash deposit, which is usually equal to the credit limit. Look for a secured card with low fees that allows users to transition to unsecured credit cards in the future.

Once he or she has become an authorized user or gotten a secured credit card, your child will need to build good credit over time, just like an adult. That means developing good financial habits so he or she doesn’t overspend. You can recommend books or classes if you don’t feel comfortable teaching these skills yourself. That also means keeping credit card balances low relative to available credit, keeping older accounts open and always — always — paying the bill on time.

Virginia C. McGuire is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: virginia@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @vcmcguire.

 This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by USA Today.

5 Ways Millennials Can Make Car Buying a Smoother Ride

As millennials shop for wheels — some for the first time — they’re finding it’s not as easy as swiping right on their smartphone. Some dealers might assume millennials don’t have enough money and show them little respect. Worse, some younger car buyers might be pressured to overpay, make poor financing decisions or spring for extras they don’t need.

For some time, it appeared millennials didn’t even want cars, but recent trends show otherwise. A study by Jumpstart Automotive Media found millennials are not just surpassing baby boomers as the largest U.S. generation; they’re also buying more cars more frequently than members of other age groups. They’ll likely wield increasing purchasing clout despite little car-buying experience.

Oren Weintraub, a car-buying concierge and president of Authority Auto, in Tarzana, California, says that millennials who hire him say they’re afraid of overpaying and feel at a disadvantage when negotiating. Friends sometimes ask Jaclyn Trop, an automotive expert and herself a millennial, to help with car buying, citing sales associates who are ill-informed about vehicles and unable, for example, to explain the difference between a hybrid and an all-electric car. Ron Montoya, senior consumer advice editor for Edmunds.com, says millennials have little patience for the car-buying process and expect products — and their prices — to be readily accessible.

To help millennials avoid common car-buying headaches, experts offered these five tips.

1. Use technology

Millennials, stereotyped as always being on their smartphones, can use those devices to contact a dealership without physically going to one, Edmunds’ Montoya says. Emailing the internet department — which operates separately from the traditional showroom sales force — can quickly get you a firm price quote and a less confrontational buying experience. Or try texting, he says. Many dealerships have created text and live chat lines for answering questions about inventory and, sometimes, negotiating.

But even before communicating with the dealership, visit automotive websites, which can tell you roughly what you should pay for a car, the bedrock of negotiations, Trop says. Start with comparative research to choose the right car and check pricing guides, such as Kelley Blue Book, for the current market price paid by other buyers.

2. Get preapproved for a car loan

While dealerships typically have access to the lowest interest rates, it’s still essential, particularly for millennials, to shop for a car loan before going to the lot. Getting preapproval “sets a baseline, so that you know what interest rate you deserve” when you’re at the dealership, Montoya says. A preapproval also deflects the salesperson’s favorite negotiation gambit, Weintraub says, “which is trying to turn you into a monthly payment buyer” so he or she can hide the true cost of the car.

The preapproval process is also a good time to check your budget. Estimate car payments that match your income level with an auto loan calculator. Montoya warns buyers not to be tempted by long loan terms, up to 84 months. “If that’s what it takes to buy a car, take a look at leasing instead,” he recommends.

3. Drive multiple cars

According to Montoya, millennials tend to skip the test drive, turned off by visiting a dealership and interacting with pushy salespeople. But he says it’s important to drive multiple cars to compare features and make the best choice.

Set up back-to-back test-drive appointments for your top picks through the internet department, preferably during the slower weekdays, Montoya recommends. The differences between competing models will quickly become apparent.

4. Avoid test-drive hassles

Weintraub, a former dealer, says some salespeople might refuse to let millennials test-drive a car, or first demand a credit check to make sure they have enough money. With a preapproved loan, the shopper can simply say he or she is a “cash buyer.” Asking to see a shopper’s driver’s license is legitimate, he adds, “but make sure you get it back right away so they can’t hold you hostage.”

Young-looking or casually dressed car buyers might be ignored by salespeople who superficially evaluate customers. To avoid this, Trop recommends dressing as if you’re going to work or a business meeting.

5. Keep the deal clean

To sign the sales contract, a customer is escorted into a dealership’s finance and insurance office. There, Weintraub says, the finance manager tries to build more profit in the deal by selling extended warranties, alarms and other extras. Salespeople are trained to overcome resistance by isolating objections and using tactics he describes as “psychological warfare.”

Decide ahead of time what you want and what you’re willing to pay for it. If all else fails, Trop advises using the time-tested negotiation strategy of letting your feet speak for you: “Be prepared to walk away if you have to.”

Philip Reed is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: preed@nerdwallet.com.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by USA Today.

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