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7 Questions to Ask Before Switching Cell Phone Carriers

Your current cell phone carrier isn’t cutting it anymore, and you’re ready for a change. But pause before you pull the trigger. You don’t want to be surprised by hidden costs or merely trade one shoddy carrier for another.

To make sure you end up with a better deal, ask yourself these seven questions before you switch.

1. Am I under contract, and do I need to pay off my phone before switching?

If you’re on a two-year contract and you want to switch before it’s over, look into your carrier’s policy on early termination fees. You’ll usually have to pay several hundred dollars to escape. Keep an eye out, though: Sometimes your new carrier will pay your early termination fee when you switch.

If you’re not under contract but are paying for your phone on an installment plan from your carrier, you’ll need to buy it outright before you can switch.

2. Am I actually using all my data?

Before you pick a new carrier, evaluate your plan structure. How much data do you really use? Average users go through 2 to 3 gigabytes per month.

Make sure your plan fits your usage, but be careful when downsizing. Some companies, including Verizon and U.S. Cellular, still charge for data overages, which might wipe out any savings you get from having a smaller plan.

3. Can I jump on a family plan?

You can start a family plan with anyone you trust to pay their portion of the bill on time, even people who aren’t related to you. These plans can mean significant monthly savings as long as you don’t mind managing the logistics.

Set clear expectations upfront: Who will pay the bill? When is the money due? If you’re handling the bill every month, you’re on the hook for it, whether everyone’s gotten their money to you or not.

» MORE: Best family cell phone plans

4. Would a nontraditional carrier save me money?

Some carriers, such as Project Fi and Republic Wireless, route their customers’ cell usage through Wi-Fi as much as possible and fall back on cellular networks only when necessary. They also have attractive rates for people who don’t use much data. Together, those factors can add up to great savings.

These “Wi-Fi first” carriers do have some drawbacks, though. Traditional carriers are often cheaper if you’re a heavy data user, and Wi-Fi first carriers have more limited phone selections. Still, if a Wi-Fi carrier is a good fit for you, you could be looking at dirt cheap wireless service.

5. Will I get good reception?

Once you know what you want in a plan and have a carrier in mind, start considering specifics. Cost is important, but your new carrier’s prices don’t matter if you can’t make calls or surf the web in your own home. Ask around to find out which one has the best local service. Maybe even invite a friend who uses the carrier over to see if her cell phone works at your place.

6. Can I bring my own phone?

If you currently use a GSM carrier — those are AT&T, T-Mobile and the mobile virtual network operators that use their networks — your phone is probably compatible with any other GSM network. Some of Verizon’s and Sprint‘s newer phones are also GSM compatible. If you have a compatible phone, make sure it’s unlocked before switching.

If you can’t bring your own phone, ask your new carrier if you can trade it in for a credit toward another handset. Or sell it online, either through eBay or a phone reseller service. You’ll likely get more money for your phone on eBay, although eBay takes a cut and you’ll have to manage the buyer relationship and shipping. Reseller services like Gazelle and Orchard offer lower prices, but they’ll send you a box for shipping and make selling a breeze.

» MORE: How to sell your old phone

7. If I’m switching for a promotion, what will happen when it ends?

Always play the long game. Sure, you’re getting a wicked deal with that promotional price now, but what will happen to your bill when it expires? Make sure that you can live with the increased price or that you’re prepared to switch carriers again when the time comes. Don’t lock yourself into a long-term agreement if you’re planning to bounce in a year.

Stephen Layton is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: slayton@nerdwallet.com.

Don’t Go Into Debt to Pay for These 5 Things

By Kurt Smith

Learn more about Kurt on NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor

In some cases, borrowing money helps build wealth. Most people need a mortgage to buy a home, for instance, and student loans allow many people get an education that leads to a career.

But in other situations, going into debt does more harm than good. When you’re paying off debt — and the interest that comes with it — you’re giving someone else money that you could be saving. In other words, debt payments are money you’re not investing in your future.

Charging that new computer or handbag might seem harmless, but if you can’t really afford it, you’re running up debt — and debt restricts you financially and ultimately limits your future.

You should especially avoid going into debt to pay for these five things:

1. Vacations

No matter how much you need a break, it isn’t worth going into debt for a vacation. Yes, you’ll return to work with enviable photos on your smartphone, but you’ll have to put in a lot of hours to pay off the trip. Even worse, making debt payments will hamper your ability to save for the unexpected. If you get laid off while you’re still making payments, you could be in a bind.

Vacations should be rewarding and rejuvenating. But going into debt for an amazing trip will just pile on the stress after your return. The memories might last, but so could the bill.

2. Gifts

People often throw financial caution to the wind during the holidays or on special occasions. It’s easy to justify spending to create magical memories — and it can be hard to admit it when you can’t afford the gifts on your family’s wish lists.

Remember that your children won’t love you any more or less because of the awesome presents you give them. They could, however, learn about sacrifice and budgeting if you set an example. Isn’t that better than any stuffed stocking in the long run?

3. Clothes, shoes and accessories

Retail therapy is a reality for many men and women. People buy things in the hope of portraying more confident, put-together versions of themselves — and sometimes it’s tough to walk away from a good sale. There’s nothing wrong with going shopping. But when you rely on objects that you can’t afford to make yourself feel good, it becomes a problem.

Avoid charging anything on a credit card that you can’t pay off right away. Looking fabulous while being buried in debt doesn’t enhance your life. It makes it more burdensome.

4. Gadgets

No one needs the newest Apple wearable or Bose noise-canceling headphones. But you might think, “That new smartphone will keep me organized,” or “The robot vacuum will mean I have to clean less.” The fact is, you accomplished those tasks before these gadgets existed, and having the newest technology won’t change your life that much. Even worse, the next greatest thing will likely hit store shelves before you’ve paid off your new gadget, .

5. Weddings

You and your partner might have dreamed about your perfect wedding day, but you shouldn’t go into debt to pull it off. A 2014 study by researchers at Emory University in Atlanta showed that couples who spent more on their weddings had shorter marriages than those who kept costs down.

This is understandable. Starting off your marriage in debt causes stress on both partners. And couples who focus on the event rather than the relationship can lose sight of why they wanted to get married in the first place.

Debt cycle

Spending money on material items or extravagant events won’t change your life in significant, lasting ways or make that depressed mood go away. Eventually the novelty will wear off or the event will end and you’ll want to buy or plan something new and exciting, starting the debt cycle all over again.

The next time you’re tempted to go into debt to buy something, remind yourself of that debt cycle and practice self-control instead. Learn to budget and save for those desirable items, getaways and events. It’s the only true path to financial stability and peace of mind.

Kurt Smith is a financial and relationship counselor at Guy Stuff Counseling and Coaching.

European Commission orders Apple to pay $14.5B

Apple is being forced to pay roughly $14.5 billion in back taxes to Ireland in what's regarded as Europe's biggest tax penalty.

>> Read more trending stories

After a multi-year investigation, the European Commission ruled the technology giant received unfair and illegal tax breaks in Ireland, where its European headquarters are located.

The $14.5 billion fee represents more than a decade of tax breaks. In 2003, the Irish government was charging Apple 1 percent on its European profits. In 2014, the tax rate fell all the way to 0.005 percent.

According to the commission, Ireland will have to be the one to recover the back taxes. But both Apple and Ireland are expected to appeal the ruling.

The European Commission said the amount Apple is forced to pay Ireland could go down, if other countries – including the U.S. – are willing to tax the technology company more.

It's unlikely the U.S. will go for that, since American officials are warning the commission it's exercising more power than it has, and arguing taxes are a national government issue.

A recent report by the U.S. Treasury Department said these European Commission investigations could hurt the U.S. government's ability to tax American companies.

The European Commission has argued that "profits should be taxed where profits are made."

In recent years, the commission has brought similar cases against Starbucks in the Netherlands, Anheuser-Busch InBev in Belgium and Amazon in Luxembourg.

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Mortgage Rates Today, Tuesday, Aug. 30: Slight Boost, Affordability Fears

Thirty-year and 15-year fixed rates and 5/1 ARM mortgages all rose slightly on Tuesday, according to a NerdWallet survey of mortgage rates published by national lenders this morning.

Although it’s a slight increase, could it be that we’ll be seeing rates continue to rise on the heels of the Fed’s announcement that it will likely raise federal funds rates soon? Only time will tell.

Younger homebuyers fear lack of affordability most

Millennials would love to buy a home, but rising prices are giving them pause — and prompting worry — that homeownership might be out of their grasp, according to a new survey from Redfin.

More than 28% of all U.S. homebuyers said “prices are rising or are too high” when asked their biggest concern about the housing market. Even more telling is that 32.5% of millennials (homeowners 35 and younger) cited affordability as their top concern.

With 10.3% of millennial homebuyers fearing they might not have enough money in hand for a down payment, that adds another wrinkle to the already precarious issue of home affordability.

It doesn’t help that home prices rose in a vast majority of metro areas during the second quarter of 2016, according to the latest quarterly report by the National Association of Realtors. The median existing single-family home price increased in 83% of measured markets, with 148 out of 178 metro areas showing year-to-year gains based on closed sales in the second quarter, the report found. Only 29 areas (16%) recorded lower median prices from a year earlier.

But it’s not just home prices that factor in. There’s another key issue that could coax would-be first-time homebuyers off the fence and into a home: rising rents. The Redfin survey found that nearly half (45.4%) of all first-time homebuyers said they were prompted to buy a home because of high rent, compared to just 24.7% of respondents in 2015.

The NerdWallet Mortgage Rate Index compiles annual percentage rates — lender interest rates plus fees, the most accurate way for consumers to compare rates. Here are today’s average rates for the most popular loan terms:

Mortgage Rates: Aug. 30, 2016

(Change from 8/29)

30-year fixed: 3.64% APR (+0.01)

15-year fixed: 3.06% APR (+0.01)

5/1 ARM: 3.52% APR (+0.01)

Homeowners looking to lower their mortgage rate can shop for refinance lenders here.

NerdWallet daily mortgage rates are an average of the published APR with the lowest points for each loan term offered by a sampling of major national lenders. Annual percentage rate quotes reflect an interest rate plus points, fees and other expenses, providing the most accurate view of the costs a borrower might pay.

Deborah Kearns is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: dkearns@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @debbie_kearns.

Men working at bra company see what it's like to have breasts

Male employees at a Belgium-based lingerie company work to create and promote products that cater to a woman's physique.

"A question I often get is, 'As a man, how can you know what it is like to have a bigger cup size?'" PrimaDonna CEO Ignace Van Doorselaere said in a video. PrimaDonna specializes in luxury lingerie for larger cup sizes, up to J.

>> Read more trending stories  

To better answer that question, Doorselaere challenged male employees to emulate the female experience by giving them weights to hang on their chests via neck straps. The weight mimics that of E cup breasts, weighing 2.2 to 3.5 pounds.

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"You make lingerie for women with a larger cup size, but you have no clue," Doorselaere said. "But there is only one way for a man to realize what an E cup feels like … and that is having an E-cup."

The men complained of sore backs and sore shoulders. One wearer leaned on a table to rest them and alleviate the weight.

Doorselaere said the experience, which only lasted a day, taught the male employees how to craft more functional, supportive and comfortable bras.

"Good support is important. Everybody at PrimaDonna knows that now," he said.

Mylan hopes generic EpiPen will end pricing controversy

The maker of the EpiPen is hoping to end the controversy surrounding it by offering a generic version of the life-saving drug.

>> Read more trending stories

Pharmaceutical company Mylan announced Monday it will launch an alternative to the EpiPen at half the price. 

While the cost of two generic injectors of the emergency allergy drug will still be pricey at $300, Mylan has been facing severe criticism for the $600 price tag for a pair of EpiPens.

>> Related: Sarah Jessica Parker ends EpiPen partnership after price hike

That same number of EpiPens cost roughly $100 in 2008, but Mylan has had a virtual monopoly on the market. 

The company is assuring the public the generic version will be the same as the EpiPen in terms of how the drug is made and how the device is used. 

And Mylan is going to keep offering a $300 discount on EpiPens for families that qualify based on income. However, outside experts have said few families will benefit from that discount program. 

>> Related: Mylan's EpiPen discount won't help everyone

Some argue Mylan's nonbranded version isn't just a move to stop controversy, but to beat competitors to the punch. 

Teva Pharmaceutical Industries has been working on a generic substitute for EpiPens, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration won't allow that drug on the market until at least 2017

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5 Times You Shouldn’t Use a Credit Card

A credit card used responsibly can be a great tool to build your credit score and a credit history.

If you pay off your bill in full every month and balance your budget like a pro, using a credit card for most expenses allows you to track your spending easily and take full advantage of cash-back and other rewards programs.

But if you don’t pay off the bill each month, the high interest rates on a card will cost you as your debt keeps rolling over. That’s when you should consider cheaper methods of financing.

Here are five times you may want to ditch the credit card.

1. To pay for a big expense

You may be moving to a new city, remodeling your kitchen or paying for your dream vacation.

If you don’t have the money to pay your entire bill, any unpaid balance racks up heavy interest. Using more than a third of your available credit can have a negative effect on your credit scores, too.

Obviously, saving the money you need ahead of time, paycheck by paycheck, is optimal.

If that’s not possible, a personal loan may be a cheaper option than charging your card. A personal loan typically is an unsecured loan, which means you don’t pledge any collateral and you get the loan at a fixed interest rate determined by your creditworthiness. The rate on a personal loan is often lower than the average rate on a credit card, which is typically above 15%. Since the loan payments are fixed and generally paid back over two to five years, it may be easier to work a personal loan into your monthly budget.

Some major banks offer personal loans, as well as most credit unions and online lenders.

2. To consolidate credit card debt

The average American household carries $130,922 in debt, with $15,762 of it on credit cards, according a 2015 NerdWallet study.

If you are trying to consolidate all your consumer debts into one simple payment, the best option depends on your credit scores, how much debt you have and, most importantly, your ability to pay down your obligations.

Those with excellent credit may qualify for balance transfer cards, which offer introductory annual percentage rates of 0% for a certain period and typically charge a balance transfer fee. If you can pay the balance before the 0% rate expires, it’s your cheapest option.

But if your credit is average, you can tap your home equity or take a loan against your retirement account or life insurance policy, among other options. Use caution, however: The consequences for defaulting when you borrow against your home or retirement account are severe. An unsecured personal loan may be more expensive but less risky.

Those with bad credit should resist consolidating debt to stay afloat; you may just be delaying the inevitable. Most experts say debt management plans or even bankruptcy are better options, despite the pain involved, if you can’t reasonably pay off your consumer debts in five years.

3. To fund emergencies

A credit card shouldn’t be your first option in an emergency situation, especially if you don’t have the money to pay your bill in full later on.

Today is the best day to start building your emergency fund, so you don’t have to use your credit card for that busted car part or trip to the emergency room. You don’t need much to make a difference. A recent study by the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, showed that as little as $250 was usually enough keep a family from facing eviction, missing a utility payment or receiving public benefits.

4. To pay for your wedding

Many couples use credit cards to help finance a wedding, but that brings with it the temptation to overshoot the wedding budget.

It’s not a great idea to start your married life in debt, but in some instances, a wedding loan for a portion of the expenses could help you stick to your budget. Loans come with fixed interest rates, which can help you easily factor your monthly payments into your budget.

Saving for the event or keeping it simple are even better ways to have a wedding within your means.

5. To pay your taxes

You can pay your taxes by credit or debit card, but the vendors that the IRS authorizes to accept card payments charge a convenience fee of 1.87% to 2.25% of the amount you owe. E-filing software companies charge even higher rates for card payments.

It’s better to tap into your savings or make use of the IRS installment plan option to avoid paying a fee on top of your tax bill. If you have excellent credit, you may qualify for a balance-transfer credit card to make your payment, but make sure you can pay off your bill before the 0% APR period ends.

Amrita Jayakumar is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: ajayakumar@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @ajbombay.

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

Amazon experimenting with 30-hour work weeks for some employees

Amazon is will experiment with a shorter work week for specific employees.

According to a report from The Washington Post, which is owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the company is launching a program that will give a few technical teams a 30-hour work week.

The Post says these select employees will be salaried and receive the same benefits as their 40-hour counterparts, but they will only earn 75 percent of the pay that full-timers make.

>> Read more trending stories  

Amazon already offers its part-time workers the same benefits as full-time employees, but this is the first time the company is giving that option to specific teams, including their managers.

A posting by Amazon for an informational seminar on the initiative said it was created with the company's "diverse workforce" in mind. 

"We want to create a work environment that is tailored to a reduced schedule and still fosters success and career growth," the post said. "This initiative was created with Amazon's diverse workforce in mind and the realization that the traditional full-time schedule may not be a 'one size fits all' model."

Many are speculating that the move is in response to The New York Times' derogatory investigation into Amazon's work culture last year, which labeled the company as a "bruising" workplace.

The idea of a shorter work week definitely isn't anything new.

Many companies all over the world have switched to a 30-hour week, and studies show it has increased productivity and happiness among employees.

According to the Post, Amazon doesn't have plans to reduce its work week for the entire company.

Amazon to expand physical bookstores

Amazon is expanding its brick-and-mortar bookstores.

The e-commerce front-runner opened its first physical bookstore last year in Amazon's founding city, Seattle, and so far, reports say the store has been successful. 

>> Read more trending stories  

Now, the company is reportedly expanding Amazon Books to Chicago.

Amazon's claim to fame is its convenience. Customers can go online and find just about anything, so why move to physical bookstores? Some say it's about branding.

The stores stock their shelves based on data from Amazon.com. So reviews, number of sales and popularity decide what customers will see.

This is only the latest in a number of big steps to improve Amazon's reach.

Last month, the retailer unveiled its first branded cargo jet called Amazon One. The company plans to roll more jets out in the next several years.

Plus, the company's highly anticipated drone delivery service is finally going to be tested.

Amazon's expansion announcement comes after Barnes and Noble dismissed CEO Ronald Boire earlier this month. Barnes and Noble's stocks have plummeted recently, and the company determined Boire was "not a good fit" for the role.

Amazon's Chicago bookstore will join the ranks of other confirmed locations in San Diego and Portland.

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