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7 Best Apps for Holiday Shopping

Apps can help smart consumers make holiday shopping more manageable. But with so many to choose from, how can you pick the best?

Here’s a list of our favorite shopping apps. These mobile tools — which are free to download — can help you find deals, manage your shopping list or even locate your car in a crowded parking lot.

ShopSavvy

ShopSavvy helps you find the lowest price available on gift items. If you’re in a store, use the app to scan a product’s barcode, and ShopSavvy will locate the best deal locally or online. If the store offers price matching, show a salesperson your ShopSavvy research to request that lower price.

Download from iTunes or Google Play.

CouponCabin

CouponCabin is a coupon and cash-back app. Members can search for offers from more than 4,000 stores and brands, and earn up to 10% cash back on online purchases from more than 1,800 stores.

Download from iTunes or Google Play.

Retale

Retale is like flipping through a retailer circular without the paper. This location-based app presents weekly ads, coupons, store locations and more in an easy-to-navigate digital format. Users can also create shopping lists and set alerts for specific products.

Download from iTunes or Google Play.

Discount Calculator

Avoid sticker shock at the register with Discount Calculator, an ingenious app that figures the real prices for all of your items, including store discounts and applicable sales taxes. The Discount Calculator apps for Apple and Android devices are made by different companies, but both have easy-to-use interfaces and positive user reviews.

Download from iTunes or Google Play.

Santa’s Bag

If you want to be organized and stick to your holiday budget, use Santa’s Bag to combine a shopping list, budget tracker and Christmas countdown clock. The app is only for iOS users, but there’s a similar app for Android users below.

Download from iTunes.

Christmas Gift List

Android users can manage their shopping list and budget with a fun, holiday-themed interface using the Christmas Gift List app. It’ll help keep you on track, especially if you’re like the 42% of respondents from a survey in NerdWallet’s Consumer Holiday Shopping Report who didn’t stick to their 2015 holiday budgets. The app also lets you set reminders for things — for example, to set aside time to wrap your gifts.

Download from Google Play.

Find My Car

Find My Car can be useful to help figure out where you parked in a gigantic shopping center lot. The app shows the GPS location of your car. The iOS and Android apps are made by different companies, but they share the same name and they work well, reviewers say.

Download from iTunes or Google Play.

Updated Dec. 5, 2016.

Find the Used-Car-Buying Sweet Spot

It’s an oft-cited rule of thumb that cars lose at least 20% of their value when you drive them off the lot. But that’s actually just the beginning of a scenario that, if you work the angles, can save you a ton of money on vehicle ownership.

Data from Edmunds.com puts first-year depreciation at almost 22%, and roughly 12% annually in years two through four. Taking an average midsized sedan as an example, with a selling price of about $24,000, that first-year depreciation drop means an initial loss of almost $5,300, and the car has lost about half its value by the end of year four.

Lease returns soaring

This isn’t good news for the new-car buyer. But the savvy used-car buyer can use this information to save money on both ends of the ownership cycle. Furthermore, with the increasing popularity of two- and three-year leases, there’s a flood of good used cars to choose from.

Used-car shoppers should try looking for 2- and 3-year-old cars coming off lease, says Lisa Rosenberg, an analyst for CarGurus.com, a car shopping website that features 5 million new and used vehicles. CarGurus’ data show that a person could save at least $6,750 buying a 2-year-old formerly leased car, a 25% savings over a new model. Additionally, a 2-year-old car will still be under factory warranty.

[In the video below, NerdWallet’s Philip Reed and other auto experts share tips on used-car buying.]

Tony Hoang, head of vehicles at eBay Motors, has a slightly different take. “If you are looking to get a great value for nonluxury, midsize vehicles, [you] should purchase a used vehicle that’s around a year old,” he says.

To sell that car “strategically,” Hoang says to put it back up for sale after about four years since it still holds much of its value, based on the used purchase price. After the fifth year, the value begins to drop as the factory warranty expires and repairs and maintenance increase.

Putting it all together, if you buy a used car and drive it for three or four years, you’ll get a modern set of wheels at a bargain price. Edmunds estimates that the three-year depreciation cost of an average midsize sedan, bought at 1 to 2 years old, could be as low as $7,000, or about $2,333 each year.

But Hoang points out that each vehicle class has its own peculiarities when it comes to depreciation. For example, the market for midsize sedans is softening as the popularity of SUVs and trucks increases.

Make depreciation your friend

It’s important to understand the effect of a car’s depreciation on your automotive budget and that you pay dearly for that whiff of new car smell. A chart of ownership expenses on Kelley Blue Book shows that depreciation is the single biggest expense, dwarfing the cost of fuel, insurance, registration, financing and maintenance.

Buying a near-new car is easier today than ever before, particularly if you take advantage of nationwide Internet searches and online vehicle history reports. Even the interest rates for used cars have dropped, increasing the overall savings. Concerns about buying a car sight unseen are addressed by a network of mobile inspectors such as WeGoLook.com, which recently teamed up with eBayMotors to provide onsite inspections for $69.

An oft-cited disadvantage of buying used is that you don’t get the latest technology. However, many safety features, such as blind-spot warning and forward collision avoidance systems, have been on the market for several years and are now available in many used cars.

Choosing a car that depreciates slowly can save you thousands over a four-year ownership cycle. Buying the car after it’s already depreciated — and selling it strategically — reduces your costs even more.

And when buying a used car, you can arrange auto financing even before you hit the dealer; your research can include a car loan calculator to help you set a budget.

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.

6 Financial Concepts You’ll Actually Use

By Melissa Sotudeh, CFP

Learn more about Melissa on NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor

Financial jargon often sounds horribly dry, but I get excited about it because the concepts it represents can have such a big impact on everyday life. These aren’t just terms to be learned for a test or that wealth advisors use only at work. These ideas can help you save money, gain financial security and find opportunity.

Here are definitions of a few key phrases and concepts to know, and an explanation of why each is important.

Cost per use/Cost per unit

A measure of the utility of a purchase, found by dividing the item’s cost by the number of units it contains or the number of times you’ll use it

Take a moment to do this calculation before you buy, and you’ll make better shopping choices. For example, if you tend to spend about $150 on a new winter coat every year, it would be less expensive to buy a $250 coat that is designed to last for three years or more.

It’s generally a good idea to shop with a low cost per use in mind, but there is one caveat: Just because something costs less in bulk doesn’t always mean it’s a better deal. Consider how many “uses” you’ll get out of a purchase before it goes bad (or it gets outgrown, or otherwise becomes unusable).

Diversification

Holding different types of investments — including domestic and foreign stocks, bonds and other asset classes, such as real estate — to reduce your risk in case one type underperforms

Just like your grandma said, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. This is just as true for other aspects of your life as it is for your portfolio. For example, you might diversify retirement income sources with tax-deferred and after-tax accounts or diversify the food you eat for proper nutrition.

Liquid reserves

Cash or cash-equivalent assets that can be accessed quickly without affecting the value

It’s important to hold a portion of your wealth in liquid cash reserves — typically in a savings account or cash-equivalent investments, such as Treasury bills — in case of an emergency or opportunity. If you received a high medical bill, for example, and the majority of your net worth was tied up in the value of your home, you’d need to take out a home equity loan or a reverse mortgage, or maybe even refinance, to get the needed cash. And you might need the money before you could complete any of those processes.

Liquidity can also be important in other ways. An example of this would be a job that gives you transferable skills. Even if your company failed or you lost your job, you would have an “asset” that you could use in a new career. The idea is to have wiggle room in many areas of your life in case of the unexpected.

Opportunity cost

What you lose when you pursue one opportunity and give up another

Choosing one path necessarily means not choosing another path. In a financial sense, this applies to picking one investment style over another. By leaving your savings in cash, you lose out on gains occurring in equities or bonds.

Opportunity cost has a clear application to career choices as well: Do you stay in a job that is currently stable, but in a dying industry? Do you decide to become a stay-at-home parent and put your career on pause? There are no easy answers to these questions, and sometimes the cost vs. benefit isn’t financial at all. It could have more to do with your relationships and values. However, it’s always important to understand what you gain and what you give up by making different choices.

Return on investment

A performance measure for investments, found by dividing the net gain of an investment by the cost of the investment

Return on investment is relevant to your portfolio, of course, but you can also use the concept to decide whether the time or money you spend on other parts of your life are worthwhile. For example, should you to spend an hour doing a particular task at work, or is the cost lower — and ROI higher — for your company if you delegate it?

Sometimes the answer is cut-and-dried, and sometimes it’s completely subjective. Is it better to buy a professionally made birthday cake or make one yourself? For some, the enjoyment of baking outweighs the enjoyment of giving a Cake Boss-worthy store-bought cake — and for others, it’s the reverse.

ROI applies to educational decisions, too. Not all colleges or majors provide an equal value for the investment. A bachelor’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology costs more than $200,000, but the school has a 90% graduation rate and its graduates have good job prospects. This gives it a better ROI than less expensive schools with lower graduation rates and whose graduates are less likely to find good-paying jobs.

Other parts of college life don’t have an exact dollar value, such as opportunities the school provides to network and study abroad. When you consider the ROI of major decisions like these, account for tangible and intangible factors in the gain/cost equation.

Compounding

Exponential growth that occurs as interest you earn on savings earns its own interest, typically over a long time period

Compounding can work for you and against you in the financial world. When it comes to savings and investment growth, compounding is a good thing. As your balance grows, the amount of interest you earn grows exponentially. But if you carry a balance on a high-interest credit card, debt can compound quickly. Albert Einstein is often said to have called compound interest “the eighth wonder of the world,” ostensibly noting, “He who understands it, earns it. He who doesn’t, pays it.”

Small actions in other parts of your life can have a compounding effect. Physical fitness is probably the closest equivalent, since even spending 20 minutes per day walking, taking the stairs rather than the elevator, or choosing a lettuce wrap over a tortilla wrap can lead to positive outcomes. The same goes for cleaning your house. You could do a major cleaning once per month or tidy up a bit every day to achieve a clean home.

Small positive habits don’t always have much of an effect on their own, but adopting many or repeating them adds up, just as gradually increasing your savings adds up to a healthy nest egg and retirement.

Melissa Sotudeh, CFP, is a wealth advisor at Halpern Financial, an independent, fee-only registered investment advisory firm in the Washington, D.C. region. She is also the author of the free e-book Find Your Financial Safety School.

Gift Card vs. Prepaid Debit Card: What’s the Better Gift?

Cash is an easy gift option, but what form it should take is another question.

Putting bills into an envelope may work, but it’s not ideal: There’s no way to recover cash if it gets lost or stolen. Plus, it’s easy to forget cash was a gift once it’s tucked into a wallet.

Storing cash on plastic cards is better, provided you choose wisely between gift cards and prepaid debit cards. Here’s what to know.

Gift cards vs. prepaid debit cards

Both are prepaid cards, meaning you put money on the card in advance for spending at physical and online stores. They also offer protections against loss if you register them in your name. They work differently, though. Gift cards are only spending cards, so they don’t allow cash withdrawals, and most aren’t reloadable.

Prepaid debit cards, on the other hand, let you make purchases but also withdraw cash at ATMs, banks or certain retail stores, as well as use web features such as bill pay. They’re also reloadable.

Because of their flexibility, prepaid debit cards can serve as budgeting tools or even as replacements for checking accounts. They’re popular for curbing overspending, which teens or young adults may struggle with.

» MORE: What you should know about prepaid debit cards

Winner: Gift cards

Prepaid debit cards have more uses than gift cards, but they’re not ideal as gifts. The biggest reason is cost. Many have monthly fees that add up to between $12 and $120 per year, and there may be other fees as well.

Gift cards are the better choice, but they’re not all equally good deals.

“Generic gift cards like those from Visa or American Express allow recipients to buy at any store that accepts that card network, but they may come with activation fees that the gift giver will have to pay,” says Courtney Jespersen, retail expert at NerdWallet.

If you buy a Visa or MasterCard gift card from a bank, there might not be an activation fee, but there may be fees for card replacement and for not using funds within a year.

“Shoppers can get around most, if not all, fees by buying a specific gift card directly from a retailer or restaurant instead,” Jespersen says.

“The bottom line is that traditional [retail] gift cards are easier to use and a better value,” says Lauren Saunders, associate director of the National Consumer Law Center in Washington, D.C.

Understand the terms and any fees on a gift card before you buy it, so that your holiday gift brings joy with no fees attached.

Spencer Tierney is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: spencer@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @SpencerNerd.

Amazon to open grab-and-go grocery store with no checkout lines

A store with no checkout lines? According to Amazon, it's right around the corner -- at least in Seattle.

>> Read more trending stories  

Amazon Go is be a brick-and-mortar store in which customers use an app to pay for items instead of waiting in line.

Using the Amazon Go app, customers enter the store, take the products they want and then walk out of the store.

The app keeps track of what is taken, so customers don't have to spend time scanning them or manually entering them in.

Amazon said the technologies for the Amazon Go store is the same as those used in self-driving cars.

The company said the "Just Walk Out" technology "automatically detects when products are taken from or returned to the shelves and keeps track of them in a virtual cart. When you're done shopping, you can just leave the store. Shortly after, we'll charge your Amazon account and send you a receipt."

The store, located in downtown Seattle, is currently only available to Amazon employees while it's being tested, but will open to the public in early 2017.

The store, which is about 1,800 square feet, is compact so customers can get in and out quickly.

It offers ready-to-eat foods, grocery staples and meal kits that can be made at home.

Customers will need an Amazon account, a supported smartphone and the Amazon Go app.

For more information, visit http://amazon.com/go.

Mortgage Rates Today, Dec. 5: Rates Tick Higher; Carson Accepts HUD Nomination

Thirty-year fixed, 15-year fixed and 5/1 ARM rates ticked higher Monday, according to a NerdWallet survey of mortgage rates published by national lenders this morning.

Meanwhile, former campaign rival Ben Carson has accepted President-elect Donald Trump’s nomination to serve as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“Ben Carson has a brilliant mind and is passionate about strengthening communities and families within those communities,” Trump said in a statement. “We have talked at length about my urban renewal agenda and our message of economic revival, very much including our inner cities. Ben shares my optimism about the future of our country and is part of ensuring that this is a presidency representing all Americans.”

Mortgage Rates Today, Monday, Dec. 5 (Change from 12/2) 30-year fixed: 4.34% APR (+0.01) 15-year fixed: 3.73% APR (+0.01) 5/1 ARM: 3.79% APR (+0.01) Latest jobs report barely budges mortgage rates

The monthly Labor Department employment report is usually a catalyst for mortgage rate movement, but not this time. Perhaps rates have moved so much in recent weeks that there was little motivation to push them higher from what Doug Duncan, chief economist of Fannie Mae, called an “unremarkable” jobs report issued Friday.

“Some attention will be paid to the drop in the unemployment rate to 4.6 percent, but that is driven by the combination of jobs added and a decline in workforce participation, the latter of which was disappointing,” Duncan said in an analysis released Friday.

» MORE: FHA loans: What you need to know

Duncan said the table is set for a Federal Reserve short-term rate hike at next week’s meeting, with continued gradual increases from there.

“Housing supply growth continues to grind upward, adding to economic growth,” Duncan said. “In sum, there’s no reason to believe that the pace of future rate hikes will pick up based on this release.”

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.

Hal Bundrick is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: hal@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @halmbundrick.

Trump Tax Plan Could Affect Housing Market

MoneyTips

Donald Trump's choice of treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, suggests that the new President-Elect's administration could initiate the "largest tax change since Reagan." Though the full details are not known, there are a few expected objectives. These include cutting the existing seven tax brackets down to three, capping itemized deductions, and increasing the standard tax deduction. While these sound like positive steps for many taxpayers, they could have a negative effect on the housing market. Under Trump's plan, the amount of tax-exempt income for single filers may soar from $6,300 to $15,000, and the exemption for married couples could rise to $30,000. If that happens, fewer people would need to file itemized deductions and take the mortgage interest deduction. Under the current system, someone paying mortgage interest of $10,000 would itemize the deduction to get a higher tax break, as their interest is greater than the standard $6,300 tax exemption. In such a case, it makes more sense to buy a home than rent. Under Trump's potential changes, however, there would be no need to itemize the mortgage interest, as the proposed standard tax deduction of $15,000 would be greater. This would make taxes far simpler to file but there would be little financial difference between buying and renting, so Americans may be less incentivized to buy homes. National Association of Realtors president William E. Brown said, "Doing anything that would limit incentives for homeownership is a fundamental step in the wrong direction that could harm home values and keep more buyers on the sidelines." Mortgage Bankers Association chief economist Michael Fratantoni said that simplification of the tax codes is welcomed. He added, "The other side of the argument is that mortgage interest deduction helps homeowners by lowering the cost of their interest on an after-tax basis." First-time homebuyers usually benefit the most from this deduction.

Originally Posted at: http://www.moneytips.com/trump-tax-plan-could-affect-housing-market/175

How To Maximize Your Tax Refund

Mortgage Interest Tax Deduction Doubles For Unmarried Cohabitants

Tax Breaks for the Young

Trump Tax Plan Could Affect Housing Market

MoneyTips

Donald Trump's choice of treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, suggests that the new President-Elect's administration could initiate the "largest tax change since Reagan." Though the full details are not known, there are a few expected objectives. These include cutting the existing seven tax brackets down to three, capping itemized deductions, and increasing the standard tax deduction. While these sound like positive steps for many taxpayers, they could have a negative effect on the housing market. Under Trump's plan, the amount of tax-exempt income for single filers may soar from $6,300 to $15,000, and the exemption for married couples could rise to $30,000. If that happens, fewer people would need to file itemized deductions and take the

Alarm Bells Sound Over Auto Loan Delinquencies

MoneyTips

Figures show that six million Americans are behind on their auto loan payments by at least 90 days. This delinquency is causing concerns for lenders. Researchers from the Federal Reserve Bank say that late payment levels are now at their highest since 2010, and pressure may increase for borrowers to prove their financial circumstances. The car loan market is robust but recent years have seen an increasing level of delinquency in subprime loans. As a result, there is a mounting worry, because similar trends in behavior occurred in the lead-up to the financial crisis in 2008. In a blog post, a team member from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York wrote, "The increased level of distress associated with subprime loan delinquencies is of significant concern, and likely to have ongoing consequences for affected households." There is little risk posed to the overall financial system, noted credit rating agencies. This is because it is simpler to repossess a vehicle than a bank-owned properties. In the housing market, any spike in foreclosure levels would hit property prices hard, undermining the sector and causing a crash. The same is not true of the auto loan industry. It is nevertheless important for borrowers to consider their financial stability before opting for large car loans. If you are interested in an auto loan, visit our curated list of top lenders.

Originally Posted at: http://www.moneytips.com/alarm-bells-sound-over-auto-loan-delinquencies/168

Government Concern Over Growing Auto Loans Increases

Capital One Takes On More Subprime Auto Loans

Lenders Cut Back On Long-Term Auto Loans

Alarm Bells Sound Over Auto Loan Delinquencies

MoneyTips

Figures show that six million Americans are behind on their auto loan payments by at least 90 days. This delinquency is causing concerns for lenders. Researchers from the Federal Reserve Bank say that late payment levels are now at their highest since 2010, and pressure may increase for borrowers to prove their financial circumstances. The car loan market is robust but recent years have seen an increasing level of delinquency in subprime loans. As a result, there is a mounting worry, because similar trends in behavior occurred in the lead-up to the financial crisis in 2008. In a blog post, a team member from th...
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