Equifax has proven that absolutely no one is immune to cybercrime. In September 2017, the credit bureau announced that it had fallen victim to one of the biggest data breaches in recent history. As a result of the hack, an estimated 145.5 million American consumers’ information had been compromised. Indeed, even credit bureaus, government agencies and financial institutions — the organizations consumers trust and expect to treat their confidential information with utmost care and security — cannot take enough precautions to prevent such attacks.
But the Equifax incident is but one of thousands that have affected Americans this year. In fact, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center’s most recent Data Breach Report, 2017 is on track to register the highest number of data breaches since the center began tracking them in 2005. As of Oct. 10, nearly 8,000 breaches with access to more than one billion records had occurred, representing a 630 percent increase from the previous historic high of 1,093, recorded just in 2016, and nearly 5,000 percent since 2005.
Identity theft occurs when someone gains unauthorized access to your personally identifying information – such as your name, Social Security Number (SSN), or bank account information – and uses it to commit fraud or other crimes.
Consumers and merchants often rely on the security of cashier’s checks for major transactions such as the purchase of a home, car or jewelry. But “security” in this case simply means that cashier’s checks won’t bounce because the issuing banks take full responsibility for covering payment. They aren’t, however, secure from fraud and scams.
Printing technology has grown so advanced over recent years that it’s relatively easy for scammers to forge cashier’s checks in their own basements. As a result, even bank employees may find it difficult to detect a fake, and it can take weeks before a counterfeit cashier’s check is discovered. What’s more, if you spend the funds prematurely, you’ll be liable for the unpaid check (and the resulting fees) once the bank discovers it’s fraudulent.
Identity thieves are opportunistic. They tend to exploit simple vulnerabilities in individuals’ personal information security practices, and each critical piece of information or account they garner access to can help them steal more. Signs of fraud can also take weeks or months to reveal themselves.
Energy is expensive. In fact, it’s one of the biggest household expenses for American consumers. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average U.S. family spends at least $2,000 per year on utilities, with heating and cooling of spaces alone accounting for more than half the bill. In 2016, the average consumer spent another $1,900 on motor fuel and oil, though that figure represents a decline in recent years.
The Energy Department estimates that adopting energy-efficient measures in the home could reduce a family’s utility costs by as much as 25 percent, proving that it pays to conserve, especially during a time of increasingly warmer temperatures. As for transportation, the agency found that a more fuel-efficient vehicle could save the average driver about $625 per year.
3% intro balance transfer fee for 18 months (5% after)
The Verdict: The Wells Fargo Platinum Visa Credit Card is one of the best 0% credit cards on the market right now. It offers 0% introductory APRs on both purchases and balance transfers for 18 months, trouncing the market averages for 0% cards in those categories: roughly 10 months for new purchases and 11 months for transfers.
However, Wells Fargo Platinum’s balance transfer fee (3% intro for the first 18 months) is above average, too. Similarly, Platinum’s regular APR could be 25%+, while the average among credit cards for people with good credit (which you need for approval) is just under 19%. So you may want to think twice about transferring existing debt. And you definitely shouldn’t carry a balance from month to month once the 0% intro rates have come and gone.
People choose to adopt plant-based diets for various reasons, some ethical, others health-related. According to a 2016 Harris Poll commissioned by the Vegetarian Resource Group, about eight million U.S. adults are vegan or vegetarian.
But finding meatless options at restaurants and supermarkets can be a challenge, depending on where you find yourself hungry in America. And though some experts contend that forgoing animal protein could save the average person at least $750 per year, many find the lifestyle still tough on their wallets.
The Verdict: A name like Chase Freedom Unlimited® puts a lot of pressure on a credit card, hinting at boundless spending power and invaluable perks while building high expectations that are hard to live up to. But the only limitless aspect of the Chase Freedom Unlimited® Credit Card is your ability to earn 1.5% cash back on all purchases. There’s no cap on how much you can earn, and those earnings won’t expire until account closing.
The rest of the offer is pretty strong, if not completely free or flexible. You have to spend $500 within three months of account opening to qualify for Freedom Unlimited’s $150 initial bonus. There’s a 15-month clock on the card’s 0% introductory rates, which apply to both new purchases and balance transfers. And if you transfer a balance, carry a balance from month to month after the 15-month mark or spend money abroad, you’re going to pay big.
The Verdict: We gave the OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card an above-average rating not because of its fee structure or other account terms, which aren’t particularly impressive, but rather because it’s characterized by a very unique feature: no credit check. That means you can get it and thus begin the credit-improvement process no matter what storm clouds may be hanging over your finances. And in that sense, the OpenSky® Credit Card truly lives up to its name. In return for a chance at finding clearer financial skies, you’ll have to pay a $35 annual fee and place a security deposit of at least $200 — both reasonable but not exceptional price points.
A number of cheaper options are available, including a few with no annual fee, which means opening the OpenSky® Visa would require you to open your wallet a bit wider than necessary. With that being said, annual fees aren’t the only thing that you should take into account when comparing secured credit cards, so you’d be wise to check out the rest of this in-depth review, including how OpenSky® stacks up to its competition, below.
5% back on T.J. Maxx and affiliated-brand purchases (1% elsewhere)
No annual fee
Very high regular APR
The Verdict: If you like taking things to the Maxx, including your shopping list, you’re going to love the TJX Credit Card — thanks to the 10% online discount that you’ll receive on the day of account opening and the 5 points that you’ll earn for each $1 spent at T.J.Maxx, Marshalls, HomeGoods, Sierra Trading Post and tjmaxx.com. Plus, there’s no annual fee.
Beyond that, the most important thing to understand about the TJX Card is that it’s not built for financing. Balance transfers aren’t allowed, no low introductory purchase APR is offered, and the regular APR is an extremely high 27.99%. You should therefore strive to always pay your monthly bill in full when using this card.
The Verdict: Merrick Bank, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the institution, is an online lender headquartered in Utah that specializes in credit cards and boat/RV financing. That’s interesting enough, but the Merrick Bank Secured Visa Card doesn’t offer much to hold your attention. Don’t get us wrong; it’s not a bad card. It’s just a no-frills, moderately priced option with competitors that are both cheaper and more exciting.
More specifically, Merrick Bank’s Secured Card requires a $200 minimum deposit, which you can increase up to $3,000 over time, and charges a total of $36 in fees each year. That’s pretty much all you need to know. The Merrick Bank Card also features a relatively low regular APR and a 2% foreign-transaction fee, but both can be easily avoided — by always paying your bill in full and refraining from making international purchases.
The Verdict: The Total VISA® Credit Card is the exact opposite of the complete package, charging you an arm and a leg for a very modest unsecured credit line.
You have to pay an $89 application-processing fee just to get the Total VISA®, which is issued by Mid America Bank & Trust Company. And once your account is open, you will be responsible for a $75 first-year fee, which jumps to a total of $123 in subsequent years between annual and monthly fees. Furthermore, if you carry a balance from month to month — ostensibly what this type of card is intended for — interest will accrue at a ridiculously high 29.99% APR, one of the highest rates on the market.
The Verdict: As a student (or perhaps a concerned parent) looking for a credit card, your top priority should be to find a no-annual-fee offer for which you have a high likelihood of approval. Beyond that, some rewards for using the card or 0% financing would be nice.
Well, the Discover it® for Students and its sibling, the Discover it® chrome for Students, check all those boxes. In addition to their lack of annual membership fees, these Discover student credit cards offer at least 1% cash back on all purchases and 0% interest on all new purchases for the first six months your account is open. Both will also double whatever rewards you earn during the first year.
2% back at Cabela's and participating Cenex locations (1% elsewhere)
No annual fee
Lower purchase APR for Cabela's purchases
No low introductory financing rates
Potential for a high regular APR
1% foreign transaction fee
The Verdict: Cabela’s may help outfit you for outdoor excursions, but the Cabela's Credit Card won’t do anything extraordinary to help you save. You’ll receive a $25 discount the day of account opening, plus the ability to earn another $10 by making five non-Cabela’s purchases within 30 days of account opening. Beyond that, you’ll earn the points equivalent of 1% cash back — just slightly below the average earning rate for a rewards card — on all purchases except those at Cabela’s and Cenex convenience stores, which earn 2%.
The thing is: You don’t even need a Cabela's Credit Card to get that 2% earning rate. Simply signing up for Cabela’s free CLUB REWARDS program enables you to earn at that rate no matter how you pay. But you’ll have to pay up to get perks that aren’t readily available to everyone else. Assuming you pass an undisclosed creditworthiness test (beyond simply having the good credit needed for standard-account approval), spending at least $10,000 per year at Cabela’s qualifies you for the Cabela’s CLUB Visa Silver Card, which offers 3% back on Cabela’s purchases. And spending at least $25,000 per year qualifies you for the Cabela’s CLUB Visa Black Card, which offers 5% back at Cabela’s.
The Verdict: At the end of the day, there are effectively three prerequisites for getting the Priceline Credit Card. You must:
Have Good Or Excellent Credit: There are two versions of the Priceline Credit Card: a Visa Signature offer for people with excellent credit (i.e. a score of 720+) and a Visa Platinum version for those with “good” credit (660-719). If you don’t know your credit score, you can check it for free on WalletHub.
Be A Frequent Traveler: If you don’t travel on a regular basis, you’ll risk devaluing your rewards. And you simply won’t be able to enjoy the fruits of your spending as often as you should with a rewards card.
Commit To Priceline.com: This card’s overall value depends on the amount you spend not just on Priceline.com but also on certain types of Priceline purchases, as numerous restrictions limit both the number of points you earn and their ultimate redemption value. Just consider the following provisions from the card’s terms and conditions:
Earning: “You earn 5 points for every $1 spent on eligible purchases made at priceline.com and charged to the Card. Purchases at priceline.com that are not eligible earn 1 point for every $1 spent and include cruise bookings, non-Name Your Own Price® car reservations, and hotel reservations designated as Pay When You Stay.”
Redeeming: “Eligible priceline.com purchases of $25 or more posted to your Account within the last 120 days are eligible for statement credit redemptions at a 1.5% value. … Purchases at priceline.com that are not eligible for redemption at the 1.5% value include cruise bookings, non-Name Your Own Price® car reservations, and hotel reservations designated as Pay When You Stay,” which are “eligible for a statement credit redemption at a 1% value.”
Those restrictions could cost you as much as 650%, considering that spending $1,000 would yield $75 in rewards value in the best-case scenario — 5 points per $1 spent and a 1.5% redemption rate — yet just $10 in the worst.
Green living is a conscious choice we make every day, albeit not an easy one for some. But everyone, regardless of political affiliation, has a responsibility to protect Mother Earth for future generations.
Today, nearly three in four Americans would agree with that statement. Some worry, however, that “going green” would cost the economy too much green and result in major employment cuts. But the Union of Concerned Scientists counter-argues that “more jobs are created for each unit of electricity generated from renewable sources than from fossil fuels.” The union further points out that fossil-fuel technologies tend to be capital-intensive, whereas the renewable-energy industry depends more heavily on labor. The Solar Foundation, for instance, reported that the solar industry created jobs nearly 20 times faster than the national rate in 2015.
Americans today liberally apply the term “foodie” to anyone who loves gourmet dining. But foodie culture isn’t limited to restaurants. More importantly, far fewer than the many who claim to be foodies truly deserve the label. “Authentic” foodies, according to experts, not only crave new and different flavors but also savor the exploratory experience of eating, learning and discovering food.
Bad credit is not a life sentence, which is good news for the roughly one-third of people with credit scores below 620. So if your credit is damaged, there are indeed steps that you can take to rebuild. After all, rebuilding credit is a process that takes time and requires focus on the fundamentals. And we’ll explain exactly what you need to do below.
What you don’t want to do, however, is pay for credit repair. Anyone who claims the ability to “fix” or “clean up” your credit for a fee is scamming you. There is nothing any purported credit “repair” service can do that you cannot do yourself for free.
There are many ways to improve your credit score. They range from paying down debts and reducing your credit utilization to simply making on-time bill payments each month. But you can remove guesswork from the equation by signing up for a free WalletHub account. We’ll tell you exactly how to improve your credit score and even how long it will take, as part of your Credit Analysis.
5% back at Banana Republic, Old Navy, Gap and Athleta (1% back everywhere else)
Very high regular APR
No 0% introductory interest rates
3% foreign-transaction fee
The Verdict: If you love Old Navy, Gap and Athleta but have a special affinity for Banana Republic, then either the Banana Republic Credit Card or the Banana Republic Store Card is for you, depending on your credit standing. The Visa is for people with good credit or better, whereas the store-only card accepts those with limited/fair credit. And both enable you to shop at their namesake, Banana Republic, in addition to the trio of aforementioned retailers. Both also offer terms identical to Old Navy’s and Gap’s own cobranded credit cards, which can in turn be used at Banana Republic.
The highlights include 20% off your first purchase at BananaRepublic.com following account approval; the lack of an annual fee; and 5% back on purchases at Banana Republic, Old Navy, Gap and Athleta. That all applies to both the Visa and the store card. The Visa will also earn you 1% back on all other purchases, which is about average for a rewards card, according to WalletHub’s latest Credit Card Landscape Report.