11 Tech Purchases You Won’t Regret Making

We live in a world of consumer excess. With hundreds of new products hitting the market every year, it’s hard to believe that every single one of them is necessary — or even useful. In fact, tech is one area where consumers are extremely likely to suffer from buyer’s remorse.

But that doesn’t mean you should ignore all gadgets and devices. Even as gimmicks and pointless ideas abound, there are plenty of things you can buy that are tried, true, and proven to be valuable. Here are a few that won’t lead to disappointment.

1. Solid State Drive

When it comes to boosting PC performance, the first thing you should do is swap out your hard disk drive for a solid state drive (SSD). This change alone can turn a one-minute bootup sequence into one that takes 5 seconds or less. SSDs also help with file transfer and app launch times — whereas Photoshop or Word may normally take a while to open, it happens in a flash with an SSD.

11 Tech Purchases You Won't Regret Making solid state drive samsung evo

The most commonly cited reason not to use an SSD is the fact that they don’t live as long as hard drives. While that’s technically true, modern SSDs are built well enough that they will last several years before wearing out, even with heavy daily use. So don’t worry about it and upgrade to an SSD soon!

2. External Data Drive

The importance of data backups cannot be overstated. What makes a drive failure so catastrophic? The fact that you didn’t see it coming. That it happens in the blink of an eye and leaves you devastated before you can even process what happened. And yes, data loss is a catastrophe.

You can use cloud storage as a backup method, but we don’t recommend it for files that are sensitive or large (i.e., music, videos, photos, game development files, and so on). For these, choose an external data drive instead.

There are a few things to look for in a good drive for data backups, but the most important aspects are total capacity, longevity, reliability, and price. Hard drives tend to make better backup drives than SSDs because they’re cheaper, larger, and last longer.

3. Mechanical Keyboard

Most keyboards are membrane keyboards, which use rubber or silicone membranes under each key that must be depressed to complete a circuit and register the keypress. The keys on a mechanical keyboard complete the circuit using a spring-based switch system instead of membranes.

11 Tech Purchases You Won't Regret Making das keyboard mechanical switches

The benefits of this are three-fold. Mechanical keyboards have much better tactile feedback, so typing is more comfortable and pleasing. They last much longer, because switches are significantly more durable than membranes. And membrane keyboards are limited in how many keys can be pressed at once, while mechanical keyboards can register many simultaneous keys.

A lot of users think mechanical keyboards are only for gamers, but I believe they are essential for anyone who does extensive typing on a daily basis. I’ve never met someone who regretted upgrading from membrane to mechanical. Check out these mechanical keyboards to get started.

4. Second Workstation Monitor

As of this writing, I’m stuck with nothing more than an iMac and a Chromebook, but there was a time in my life when I had a double monitor setup — and not a day goes by where I don’t yearn for that setup again. You won’t believe how much it can boost productivity until you try it out yourself.

Prior to buying a separate monitor, you can try using virtual desktops on Windows 10 or Spaces on Mac — these features allow you to emulate having multiple monitors by allowing you to set up and switch between multiple desktops. You can also use a laptop as an external monitor.

But nothing beats the actual experience of having a second physical monitor. If you regularly do work on a computer and you’ve never gone beyond a single monitor, you must try this as soon as possible.

5. Convertible Standing Desk

A poor workstation setup can kill your productivity. Sitting too long has been linked with serious health issues, which launched the standing desk movement a few years back. But standing desks can be problematic too! So the recommendation now is to take advantage of both worlds: alternate between sitting and standing every hour or so.

Obviously it’s impractical to have two workstations (though feel free to do that if you can manage it). The solution is to use a convertible standing desk, such as a FlexiSpot Adjustable Standing Desk (UK). You can find cheaper ones, but this one is built well, ergonomic, and spacious. If you decide to go with another one, get one with a keyboard tray to encourage good posture habits.

6. Chromebook

Modern Chromebooks are amazing, especially ones labeled “for Work” which are designed for maximum robustness and performance. But even regular Chromebooks, which rarely cost more than $350,  are well worth their price. These days, most users would actually be happier with a Chromebook than with a tablet, laptop, or desktop.

11 Tech Purchases You Won't Regret Making chromebook acer for work

There are a few caveats, though. First, Chromebooks only support web apps and cloud-based services, so they become useless when you don’t have an internet connection. Second, you need to plug yourself into Google’s ecosystem to get the most out of a Chromebook. Third, you can’t install regular Windows or Mac apps, so Chromebooks aren’t good for professional use.

But if all you do is check email and browse the web, and if you’re happy enough with Google’s online office suite and the apps available on the Chrome Web Store, then a Chromebook is perfect for you.

7. Streaming Media Device

More people are starting to cut the cord and give up on overpriced cable television packages. Why pay over $100 every month for hundreds of channels you never watch when you can pay anywhere from $10 to $50 for on-demand access to shows you’ll enjoy watching?

We’re talking about services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO Go, and others. And here’s the good news: you can actually stream these shows directly to your TV. All you need is one of these streaming media devices to transform your TV into an all-in-one media center.

I personally recommend a Roku; either the streaming stick (UK) or the full-blown media player. They’ll both serve you well. That being said, you can’t go wrong with a Chromecast or Amazon Fire TV. They all work in the same way: plug into your TV, sit back, and enjoy.

8. Kindle

In retrospect, it’s easy to see how revolutionary the Kindle actually was. Even die-hard book lovers are starting to fall in love with the Kindle’s convenience, and now that there are several different Kindle models available, there’s no excuse to forego it if you like to read.

Obviously, you can skip this if you have no desire to read at all. On the other hand, if you’re an avid reader with a mind for maximum comfort and readability, consider getting a Kindle Oasis. For middle-of-the-road readers, a basic Kindle (UK) or Kindle Paperwhite (UK) will be more than enough.

11 Tech Purchases You Won't Regret Making woman reading kindle oasis

9. Smart Home Thermostat

Believe it or not, there is a right way to heat and cool your home for maximum savings on energy and money, and most people are doing it wrong. That’s why smart thermostats have exploded in popularity over the last few years: they actually do what they promise!

We previously said that you’ll probably regret smart home gadgets, but this is an exception. A smart thermostat learns your temperature preferences and then adjusts itself to maximize comfort while minimizing waste. (Note that you’ll need to own your home to install one of these. Sorry, apartment dwellers.)

As far as smart thermostats go, you should look into the two main contenders: the Nest Smart Thermostat (UK) and the Ecobee3 Smarter Thermostat. We did a Nest vs. Ecobee3 thermostat comparison in the past, so check that out if you aren’t sure which one to get.

10. Moisture Sensors

If there’s one other smart home device that you buy, let it be a moisture sensor. It goes by different names depending on which smart brand you purchase, but they all operate on the same basic principle: you place the sensor in a leak-prone area and it will alert you when it detects moisture.

Why is this a good buy? Because you can get individual sensors for between $20 to $40, and you can place as many as you want around your house, but most importantly, they can prevent your house from sustaining severe water damage in the case of, say, a broken water pipe.

Water damage can be expensive to repair, so think of these moisture sensors as a form of insurance. Investing just $100 up front for three sensors could save you thousands of dollars in damage later.

11. Light Therapy Lamp

As of this writing, close to 10 percent of the American population suffers from seasonal affective disorder, sometimes called seasonal depression or winter depression. Symptoms may mimic those of depression or burnout; feelings of emptiness or hopelessness, fatigue, restlessness, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, loss of interest in activities, and more.

If that sounds like you, then you may benefit from regular use of a light therapy lamp. Since winter depression is linked to reduced exposure to sunlight, these lamps aim to restore balance by emulating the effects of sunlight.

But even if you don’t suffer from this, your mental health may still benefit from a particular gadget called the Philips Wake-Up Light (UK). The Wake-Up Light simulates the gradual brightening of a sunrise and combines it with natural sounds to wake you up as naturally as possible. It’s a shining example of how technology can improve day-to-day life. No more sleep-shattering alarms!

Avoiding Disappointment as a Tech Geek

Perhaps the most common source of buyer’s remorse is being an early adopter. We’ve covered several reasons why being an early adopter is a bad idea, including the fact that early adopters often pay the highest price, don’t have the luxury of hearing other users’ experiences, and tend to be victims of marketing hype.

Want to avoid disappointment? Wait, then buy! You may miss out on the social prestige of participating in hot new trends, but you’ll also avert the associated risks and regrets. You’ll end up saving a lot of money on unnecessary items and may even end up happier for it.

What have you purchased in the last few years that you don’t regret one bit? Or, on the flipside, have you bought anything that you intensely regret? Share with us in a comment below!

Image Credits: Dean Drobot/Shutterstock

Free Shipping Day 2016: Here Are All Participating Retailers

Shopping-related “holidays” are getting a bit out of hand, don’t you think? We can forgive Black Friday because it’s been a tradition since the 1930s, but the debut of Cyber Monday in 2005 made my eyes roll, and then came Super Saturday, which is the last Saturday before Christmas.

Now we have Free Shipping Day, which is a one-day event where hundreds of major retailers have agreed to provide free shipping on online orders without any minimum purchase amounts. (For example, Amazon requires you to spend at least $35 to qualify for free shipping.)

free-shipping-day-2016-retailers

This year, Free Shipping Day falls on Friday, December 16. There are over 650 participating retailers as of this writing, and that number is only going to go up. All of these retailers promise to deliver all orders by Christmas Eve.

Want to see the full list? Just visit FreeShippingDay.com where you can filter by one of many categories. You can also sign up for the newsletter, which will remind you as Free Shipping Day approaches so you don’t forget.

Note that these retailers aren’t promising free two-day shipping like Amazon Prime! That’s a whole different beast altogether. If you’re more interested in that, check out these retailers with free two-day shipping.

Will you be shopping on Free Shipping Day? Do you think it’s as exciting as Black Friday or Cyber Monday? Share with us in the comments below!

Image Credit: Marta Design via Shutterstock

3 Tips To Beat The Debt Collectors When Facing Bankruptcy (Or Late With Bills)

A crisis can hit at any time, and you may fall behind on bills. In fact, you may even find yourself facing guaranteed bankruptcy. That doesn’t mean you have to endure endless calls and countless threatening letters. Below are a few tips that can help you stay sane.

The reality is that bad things happen to good people. You may lose a job. Someone in your family may get sick and face expensive, long-term medical bills. There will come a point when you need to make the choice whether to pay a credit card bill, or buy groceries and medicine.

Once you’ve made the decision to stop paying those bills and head toward filing bankruptcy, a lot of automatic things happen. Many of those things will cause a hell-storm of phone calls and other annoyances to rain down on your household. Thankfully, there are tech solutions that can protect you and your family from that harassment.

What Happens When You Stop Paying Bills?

The technology behind the debt-collection business is pretty fascinating.

debt-collectors1

Most people who fall behind on their bills assume that there’s a team of debt collection agents just waiting by the phone, dialing your phone number every single day. That’s actually not what’s happening.

1. Putting a Stop to All the Phone Calls

Many debt collection companies that are hired by large credit card companies and banks to collect outstanding debts often use what are called “robocallers”.

These are pre-recorded messages that these companies program into an automated system, which calls hundreds of thousands of people at any given time. The automated voice usually asks the person answering the phone to please call a number back “about a very important business matter”, or something along those lines.

The good news is that these almost always come from either one number, or a small cluster of numbers.

daily-calls1

Sometimes they’ll leave a voicemail. Other times they’ll just hang up. Often, you can call the number back, and it’ll identify the company name – this will let you know it’s a creditor that you need to block. Over time, collect all of these numbers. The next step is to add them to your block list so that even the robocaller system can’t bother you.

Depending on your mobile plan, companies like AT&T and Verizon typically allow for up to 5 numbers that you can block without having to pay an extra fee.

debt-collectors2

If you only have a few creditors or debt collection agencies that are after you, that should really be all you need to silence those incessant phone calls.

debt-collectors3

If they’re calling your home phone, you still have a lot of options. If you have a landline, companies usually allow for a similar number of blocked numbers, by using a special code. For example, if Verizon is your provider, you’d type *60 for instructions on blocking. AT&T lets you press *77 to block anonymous or blocked caller ID calls. Contact your provider to find out how you can block calls with your landline.

Of course, if you’re already behind on your bills, the odds are you’ve probably cut your landline by now, and may be using a cheaper VoIP solution, like Ooma, Skype Phone or Google Voice for home phone calling.

I use Ooma, and with Ooma the blocking options are excellent. You just go into Preferences, click the Blacklists option, and enable call blocking.

debt-collectors4

At the bottom of this screen, you’ll want to type in the numbers you want to block. I use this feature to block annoying telemarketers, poll and survey companies, and various other nuisance callers.

debt-collectors5

Plenty of people have legitimate reasons for not being able to pay bills. Whether job loss or a medical crisis has you shifting money away from credit cards and toward basic life necessities, that doesn’t mean you deserve to get harassed every day, all day. Blocking calls is an amazing, effective way to put a stop to this.

This is especially effective if you know you’re headed toward bankruptcy, already talking to a lawyer, and negotiating with creditors won’t do you any good. In that situation, these phone calls really serve no purpose. And once you actually file for bankruptcy, you can disable all of these call blocks, because it’s illegal for them to call you at that point anyway.

2. Email, Shm-email

Another line of attack against you will be email. You’ll receive everything from “notices” that your account is about to be “charged off” and credit bureaus notified, to “amount due” notices in the thousands, as month after month the minimum payments add up, and they pile on all of those late fees and interest charges.

debt-collectors6

It’s ridiculous of course. You are barely lucky to pay the electric bill and buy groceries, and you’ll have several credit cards threatening that if you don’t send them thousands of dollars, you’re in a world of hurt.

Of course, if you’re already facing bankruptcy as your final option, these emails are meaningless. Time to block them. First, take a look at the header of the email and identify where that creditor sends their bill notification and reminders from.

debt-collectors7

Now just set up a filter to send these emails directly to the trash. In Yahoo Mail, this is easy. Just click “More” in the options at the top of the email, and choose “Filter emails like this…”

debt-collectors8

 

The correct fields are all filled in for you, with the appropriate email address. All you have to do is change the “move to” field to “Trash”.

debt-collectors10

The same is true with Gmail. At the top of the email, you’ll see a “More” button. Click it, and in the dropdown you’ll see “Filter messages like these”.

debt-collectors12

This will also fill out the incoming email field for you, then on the next screen in the filter wizard, just check off the box next to “delete it”, and you’re done.

debt-collectors13

That’s it. You’ll never see another threatening email from one of your creditors again.

3. Save All Written Letters!

What do you do about all of those written letters that arrive in your mailbox, some of which are officially certified and even require your signature? This is simple. When it comes to things you receive in writing from our creditors, save everything.

This is because when it comes down to legal issues, such as your bankruptcy case, everything that’s put down on paper is evidence. Threats, overcharging on fees, excessive interest charges – all of these things will only bolster your financial case once you are standing in the bankruptcy court.

Do you need to save all that paper? Absolutely not – there are plenty of mobile apps you can use that let you scan those letters and store them away in your favorite cloud storage account. One of the best apps that I’ve found to accomplish this quickly and easily is Camscanner, which Angela reviewed before.

debt-collectors14

It can take a snapshot of the letter above, under moderate to poor light conditions, and then optimize it and convert it into a clear PDF electronic copy of that letter.

debt-collectors15

Once you’v captured and converted the letter, you can then quickly share it out to email, or your favorite cloud drive like Google Drive or Dropbox.

debt-collectors16

This saves you the hassle of having to file away months worth of correspondence. You’ve got all of the electronic copies right at your fingertips, whenever you need it. Other options for this include Doxie Go and Xerox Mobile, Scanr, and of course the various OCR apps we’ve tested.

Finding Your Way Out – It’s Possible

Keep in mind that these tools and techniques are intended to completely block debt collectors from harassing you. When you’re through, you won’t receive any phone calls or any emails from the robo-dialers meant to annoy you, or the human agents meant to harass you.

This technique is only intended for the situation where you’re 100% guaranteed to file bankruptcy, and there’s no turning around. Maybe you have to wait a few months before you file for some reason – at least you can live in peace during those months.

resting-by-phone

However, if you don’t intend to file bankruptcy, then this isn’t the right approach. You should actually talk to your creditors, explain your change in financial situation, and work with them on a new plan to avoid bankruptcy. Most creditors are more than willing to work out a new plan with you if you are over 4 to 6 months behind on payments.

They may even be willing to settle your debt for much less than you owe, if you have a way to obtain that big chunk of cash right away (like from a 401k loan, for example).

One thing to keep in mind is that there’s always a solution. Things are never so dire that there’s no way out – you just need to know your options, and then organize your life and your technology in a way so that you can live in peace and have a happy life, regardless of the option you’re forced to choose.

And once you’re out of debt, whether it’s through bankruptcy or debt negotiations, make sure to sit down and make that budget, and stick to it.

Have you ever missed many months worth of bills, or were you ever faced with bankruptcy? How did you deal with the regular harassment of debt collectors? Share your own coping tricks with other readers in the comments section below!

Gajus via Shutterstock, maxriesgo via Shutterstock, Minerva Studio via Shutterstock

10 Sites That Help You Compare Savings Accounts Online

Everyone needs to save money, but it’s not easy to find the best savings accounts. Banks love to obfuscate their real interest rates and fees, and the deals on offer change on a seemingly hourly basis. If only there was some way to find and compare all the various savings accounts out there…

Luckily, there is — it’s called the Internet! Here are ten sites that’ll help you understand which is the best savings account for you.

MoneySuperMarket

MoneySuperMarket specializes in UK-based providers and has offerings from all the leading banks, such as Barclays, NatWest, Lloyds, and Halifax.

Naturally, it lets you compare rates, minimum/maximum account opening amounts, terms, and ease of access to your money. However, it also helps you search for accounts for a specific purpose — for example, saving towards your children’s trust fund or their college education.

moneysupermarket

It also has a lot of specialist advice for UK savers, including how to maximize your Individual Savings Account (ISA) allowance and its various tax implications. Finally, it covers lots more aside from simple savings accounts, including mortgages, loans, credit cards, and insurance.

The Simple Dollar

The Simple Dollar started life in 2006 as a blog for people who were fighting to get out of debt while simultaneously trying to save for their futures. It’s since expanded into one of the best personal finance sites on the web, part of which includes a regular look at savings accounts.

simpledollar

They recently published their article on the best savings accounts available in 2016, which divides the accounts into various categories such as “Best All-Around Best Savings Account,” “Best Savings Account/Checking Account Combo,” and “The Best Savings Accounts for Check Writing.”

Each category has a winner and its pros and cons are presented in a simple list, so you don’t have to know a lot of financial jargon to understand the differences.

CompareTheMarket

Like MoneySuperMarket, CompareTheMarket is a UK-based direct comparison site that pulls data from numerous providers and displays it all on an easy-to-digest page.

Interest rates and account features are shown prominently, and each listing includes a “More Details” option that can be expanded to illustrate additional information along with the account’s various benefits.

comparethemarket

CompareTheMarket also has details on other types of banking accounts, many types of insurance, electricity, broadband, and mobile phone plans, as well.

NerdWallet

NerdWallet lets you search for both national and local banks in the US, and includes filters to help you determine the best account based on how much you want to save. There are also lots of detailed explanations concerning fees, variable rates, and transaction limits.

nerdwallet

The site offers guidance on how to find the accounts with the highest yield, including information on community banks, credit unions, and online-only providers. It’s also one of the best places to find great credit card deals online.

Canstar

Canstar is one of the best comparison sites for people who live in Australia. It lets you search by state, opening amount, and account type. All of Australia’s biggest banks are present, and like the other sites on this list, it shows information concerning interest rates and features.

canstar

Canstar also boasts one of the most in-depth “More Info” sections, which includes data on all the bank’s fees, the cards and checks available, and whether or not you can get overseas access.

Money Rates

Money Rates in another US-based site. They monitor rates from more than 200 banks to find the best savings account rates available. All that information is then displayed on an easy-to-understand list that has lots of specific details.

One of the best features is the “Learn More” option; it’ll take you to a profile page for each provider that summarizes the institution’s history, lists current facts and figures, and highlights the various accounts that it is currently offering.

moneyrates

You can also get information on mortgage rates, credit cards, checking accounts, and other types of banking products from Money Rates.

Advisory HQ

Advisory HQ specializes in independent reviews of financial firms, advisors, products, and services from around the world.

With regard to savings accounts, they split their site into five sections:

  • Best Online Banks
  • Top Brick-and-Mortar Banks
  • Best Banks for Small Businesses
  • Top Credit Unions in the US
  • Biggest/Largest Banks in America

advisorhq

Each category lists their top ten picks and has a detailed article dedicated to it. The lists are updated on a frequent basis.

Consumerism Commentary

Consumerism Commentary is a well-known financial site that has been featured in both the Wall Street Journal and Money magazine, among others.

They update their list of high-yield savings accounts on a monthly basis, keeping rates and fees current. As their name suggests, they also offer a running commentary of observations and opinions on the various banks’ accounts.

consumerismcommentary

The site also covers credit cards, investments, taxes, debt reduction, and real estate with comparisons and useful articles.

Magnify Money

Like Advisory HQ, Magnify Money also splits their website by category. They announce a winner in each section every month. Categories include “Highest Rate Without A Minimum,” “Highest Overall Rate,” and “Top Choice.” Each winner has a paragraph or two dedicated to it, with details on rates, fees, benefits, and features all included.

magnifymoney

Another useful feature is that each bank is rated with regards to the complexity of its terms and conditions, from Very Transparent (“A”) to Way Too Complex! (“F”). There are a number of useful calculators on the site as well, which can help you look at paying off credit cards, refinancing student loans, and comparing debt payoff methods.

MoneySavingExpert

MoneySavingExpert is perhaps the most well-known consumer financial site in the UK. Its author, Martin Lewis, has become something of a TV celebrity, and his website is packed with deals, vouchers, and money-saving ideas.

Unsurprisingly, the site also offers lots of comparisons, covering everything from car insurance to telephone providers, including savings accounts.

moneysavingexpert

Aside from the comparisons, there is also a handy guide to 12 need-to-knows before you pick a savings account, which covers tax implications, account tips, and ideas to help you maximize the offers available.

Which Sites Do You Rely On?

There are thousands of websites dedicated to account comparisons, so it’s impossible to cover them all. What we’ve tried to do is give you a flavor of what’s available, both in terms of information and presentation.

Which site do you use most frequently? Did it make our list? If not, what makes your preferred choice stand out? Why should your fellow readers head there? Let us know your tips, opinions, and thoughts in the comments below.

How To Improve And Monitor Your Credit Score By Using Technology

People often say that you should try to stay away from credit as much as possible so that you don’t end up in lots of debt. But the fact is that it’s impossible to stay away from credit in the United States. If you stay away from credit forever, it’ll have other adverse effects that will hurt you down the road. Therefore, it’s important to be smart with credit so that things will be easier later in life and you won’t be drowning in debt.

The whole point of using credit responsibly is to improve your credit score. What does this magical number mean and do for you? I’ll explain all of that and how to improve it.

Disclaimer: I’ve done quite a bit of research and the tips I provide is a combination of my research and personal experience. I am not an expert/professional and am not responsible for any potential damages.

What is a Credit Score?

Your credit score is simply a number that tells lenders and creditors how well you use credit that’s available to you. This number ranges from 300 to 850, where 850 means that you’re the ideal credit user while 300 means you’re the worst credit user imaginable.

credit_report

A high credit score is important because it makes it easier to get loans at lower interest rates (such as car loans, mortgages, or personal loans), meaning you pay less money back throughout the life of the loan. It also has lots of other uses. Utility and cable/internet companies often check your credit score and ask for deposit if your credit score is too low for their liking. Even most employers now include credit checks when screening candidates — a low credit score can show that you could be financially irresponsible, and that could translate into the workplace as well.

Simply put, a credit score is very important in your life and you need to check it regularly. If you want to get technical about it, you could go through life without a credit score (or with a bad one), but then you’ll have to pay for large items immediately; most people don’t have that much money saved up at the time when they want to make such purchases.

How to Improve it — Credit Cards

credit_cards

So, the easiest way to improve your credit score is through credit cards. A lot of people say that they’re evil and should be avoided at all costs, but they’re only bad if you use them incorrectly. Otherwise, they can actually be very beneficial to you because they help you improve your credit score and also give you rewards points.

The only things that you have to do — as far as debt is concerned — is to spend within your means (if you get $2,000 a month but have a $5,000 credit limit, spend $2,000 but not $5,000) and to pay your balance in full every month to avoid interest charges. Interest only starts accumulating on any remaining balance from your previous statement. So if you get a statement for $200, and you only pay $150, then the following month will include interest charges for the remaining $50. But if you pay in full every month, you’ll never get any interest charges.

mint_com_budget

If you’re worried about losing track of how much you can actually spend with your credit card since it doesn’t automatically take money out of your checking account, you can use any budgeting tool you’d like — such as Mint.com or various tools on Google Drive — to help you out. With such tools, you can easily tell it how much income you expect and start budgeting all of your expenses. You can easily revisit the site to check on how much of your budget is left in each category to track your progress. The great thing about Mint.com is that it’ll connect with your bank accounts and credit cards so it’ll automatically track your expenses and categorize them appropriately.

What Cards to Get

If you’re in college, start early! You can often get a college credit card from a bank. As long as you have a small side job to provide some sort of income, these cards are easy to obtain despite having no credit. They will have a very low credit limit (my first one was just $500), but it’s all you need to get started.

If you aren’t in college or you have bad credit, then your only option is to get a secured credit card. These are cards that can affect your credit score, but you basically have to provide a deposit that ultimately becomes your credit line. So if you pay a $500 deposit, your secured credit card’s credit line is $500. This simply eliminates risk for the bank because if you use up your credit limit and then refuse to pay any money back (which will destroy your credit score), at least the bank hasn’t lost any of their own money. However, if you use the card responsibly, your credit score will go up and eventually you can upgrade to a regular credit card that isn’t secured and therefore doesn’t require a deposit.

Don’t apply for too many credit cards all at once. I’d recommend applying to up to two, and if you get denied for both, then go for a secured credit card because you won’t get denied for that one. When it comes to starting and/or improving your credit score, the earlier the better.

If you need help to search for credit cards — whether it’s a college/secured card or better cards once your credit score improves — there are plenty of online help. Credit Karma can give you plenty of suggested choices for credit cards (although some of them are sponsored), and there’s also NerdWallet which asks you a few questions before suggesting some cards to you. Heck, even Google has a credit card comparison tool. You should most certainly be able to find a credit card using any of these tools. You just have to be honest when answering any questions it asks you. It does nothing but hurt you if you apply for cards that require higher credit scores because you told it that your credit score was better than it actually is.

Pay Before Your Cycle Ends

So, let’s quickly review. The steps so far are to get a credit card, spend money using it (within your means) because it gets you rewards, and then pay in full every month to avoid accumulating interest.

cash_payment

Sounds easy enough, right? Let me add one more tip to that: pay off most of your balance before the statement cycle ends. 30% of your credit score is determined by how much of your credit limit you’re using. If you’re using a high percentage of your total available credit limit, then your credit score will decrease dramatically. The ideal number is to keep your credit utilization at 10% or less. So if your credit limit is say $1,000, then ideally your reported balance should be $100 or less.

The great thing is that the balance is only reported at the end of the statement cycle and you’re able to pay toward your credit card before the statement cycle ends. So if your cycle ends on the 15th and your current balance is $800 (out of a $1,000 credit limit), then you could pay $750 on the 12th to give it enough time for the payment to be processed and then the statement balance will only be $50. That is what is then reported to the credit bureaus. And this is an important tip, because it truly lets you spend however much you want (again, within your means) without having to worry about the problems that come with high credit utilization.

Again, there’s no need to worry about interest charges. Let’s ignore the credit limit for a moment. If you have a statement balance of $200, spend an extra $800 on your card, and then pay $600 back, then $200 of those $600 will always go towards paying off your statement balance first, and then the remaining $400 go towards paying off your new purchases. So you still won’t have any interest charges in such a scenario. If, however, if you had a statement balance of $200, spend an extra $800, and then only pay $150, then you’d accumulate interest charges on the remaining $50 from the last statement, plus you’ll have all those new purchases to pay for as well.

Let Time Do Its Thing

So let’s review again! Get a card, use it within your means to get rewards, and then pay a few days before your statement cycle ends to reduce your credit utilization to under 10%, while making sure that you’re paying at least the full balance of the last statement.

credit_karma_landingpage

Now here comes the hardest part — waiting. You’ll need to be satisfied with your current card for at least two years. It may take even longer if you already had bad credit rather than starting with no credit. You can now use a service such as Credit Karma to check your progress on your credit score. If you’d rather use something else, you can use the government’s official website to get your full free credit report. While extremely descriptive, you can only get it once a year for free. If you don’t mind paying, Wells Fargo offers a service that pulls the full credit reports from all three reporting bureaus monthly.

Credit Karma is free, allows you to check for updates weekly (for TransUnion and Equifax only), and provides its own scores that are similar but maybe not exactly what score the bureaus would give you. It also uses the information it collects on it to suggest you cards, loans, and more, but that information never reaches those companies — it stays with Credit Karma. My recommendation is that you should wait until your score reaches at least 700 before you consider applying for a better credit card (but not one of the premier ones — 700 is still too low of a score for those).

If You Already Have Credit Cards

If you already have credit cards and your credit score is bad, then applying this strategy (if possible) will start getting you on the right track. There’s no need to get another card if you already have one. Chances are that if you have a bad credit score in this scenario, you have large balances on your card(s). Before you start applying this strategy, you’ll need to pay off your balance(s).

If you have multiple balances, it’s usually advisable to focus your payments on the card that has the highest interest rate so that you’re not unnecessarily having to pay extra money. Don’t forget to also try to reduce your expenses to help make payments on your cards. Once your balances slowly go away, you’ll see relief. For more information on getting rid of your debt, check out our How to Get Rich guide.

It’s Possible

buying_a_house
It can seem like an impossible task — improving your credit score to something that you can be proud of. It’s simply a bit test of financial responsibility and patience.

The gist of the whole strategy I outlined is to simply show that you have credit, and you use it, but seemingly little of it. Creditors love seeing you having credit and using it, but only in small amounts (which shows responsibility and no dire need to actually use all of it). If you don’t meet all of that, then that’s something to improve. If you have no credit, then you need to find a way to start. If you use all of your credit, you need to find a way to pay off all your balances. That’s what it simply boils down to. Just keep faith and work hard at it and you’ll eventually reach your goal.

If you have any questions about improving your credit score, just ask and I’ll try my best to answer! Perhaps you’ve got some tips to pass on other readers? Or maybe you’ve hauled yourself out of bad credit and now have an exemplary score? We’d love to hear your stories and opinions.

Finally, don’t forget that there are also plenty of other great resources, such as Reddit’s /r/personalfinance.

Image Credit: Credit report via Shutterstock, Credit report with score on a desk via Shutterstock, Luis Ramos, businessman counts money via Shutterstock, Loving couple looking at their dream house via Shutterstock