How to Make a Side Income Running a Vending Machine Business

As we continue to make our way through COVID-19, many people are still looking for ways to get items they need without physical contact with another person.

Vending machines serve that purpose — and make money for the machine’s owner.

Owning and operating vending machines is big business, providing passive income without any specialized skills. It’s also called automatic merchandising.

Basically, all you need to get started is some startup money to buy a machine, a good location and the right products.

The Vending Machine Business During COVID-19

Revenue for the vending machine industry was $24.2 billion in 2019, up 3% from the year before.

That data came from the Automatic Merchandiser’s Annual State of the Industry Survey — before the full impact of COVID-19 hit.

There were 2,175,756 vending machines in service in 2019 in a variety of locations including:

  • Manufacturing areas
  • Offices
  • Retail spaces
  • Hotels/motels
  • Schools
  • Hospitals and nursing homes
  • Universities/colleges
  • Correctional facilities
  • Military bases
  • Restaurants, bars and clubs

Cold beverages were the top-selling product category. A majority of vending machines involve food and beverage products including sodas, coffee, snacks and candy.

There are also machines for bulk vending like gumballs, stickers, toys, novelties and more. During COVID-19, machines popped up selling masks and hand sanitizer.

At places like airports, vending machines often sell tech accessories and travel essentials like neck pillows, blankets and eye masks. Laundry rooms in residential buildings often have machines with detergent and fabric softener.

With many offices, businesses and other public spaces closed or restricted due to the coronavirus pandemic, the vending industry is certainly taking a hit.

“We’re in a tough, tough industry right now with COVID-19. A lot of stores don’t want the machines there, they don’t want the kids congregating, they don’t want people touching them,” said Scott Ausmus, director of manufacturing for National Entertainment Network, Inc. and president of the National Bulk Vendors Association.

He grew up in the vending business. The machines he sells and operates are the novelty kind, offering things like stuffed animals, toys and gumballs. Many are in restaurants and entertainment venues like bowling centers.

Many factors make owning a vending machine an attractive business venture.

The startup costs are relatively low, sometimes around $2,000. The work is flexible and often doesn’t require much day-to-day involvement. The risk is comparatively low and there is growth potential.

“There’s a higher profit in the gumball then there is anything else,” Ausmus said. “The cost of goods is low on the gumballs and everybody likes gum, so everybody still purchases a gumball and so that is a winner for a lot of people.”

Starting a Vending Machine Business

While the startup costs are low and the income is often passive, owning vending machines is not without risk. You must be able to understand your own financial situation and how much you can afford to invest.

There is the cost of the machine, the cost of inventory, personnel to keep it stocked, maintenance and more.

The more perishable the product and the busier the area, the more of your time the machine will take.

“If (your machine location has) a big break room and a lot of employees, you would have to be there once a day to fill your machines up because that’s how busy they are,” Ausmus said. Other machines like toys and candy don’t require as much restocking.

One of the first steps in starting a vending machine business is finding your niche and deciding what to sell. That takes a bit of research and knowing who your customer is.

“You gotta buy the right product. If you buy the wrong product, it won’t move and you won’t make any money and you certainly don’t want to throw [product] away,” Ausmus said. “You’ve got to have the variety for people and find out which ones they want and that’s what you restock with, what sells.”

Vending machine businesses are scalable, meaning it’s possible to start small and expand. You don’t have to wait for payments because customers pay when they purchase an item.

Location, Location, Location

To put yourself in the best position to be profitable means finding the right location.

Places with lots of foot traffic are good. Before COVID-19, that meant schools and universities, malls, office parks, etc.

Think about where people need to wait. While waiting, they may get hungry or thirsty. Ausmus’ novelty machines need kids around.

“One of the hardest things to do is to locate a location,” he said.

Location can be about trial and error.

“It’s really not a bad risk to put it in a location and find out that it’s not making enough money. … You can remove it and move it to the next one until you find that right location,” Ausmus said.

When looking for locations, be prepared to approach the owner or landlord with a business plan for the machine.

Also be prepared to:

  • Pay a percentage of sales or other fee for having your machine in their location.
  • Pay for the electricity the machine uses.
  • Ensure the security of the machine. There is money inside a machine as well as inventory. Theft and vandalism are always possible.
  • Research state and local laws and regulations.
  • Pay sales tax on the revenue the machine generates.

Key Purchase: Your Vending Machine

Then you will need an actual vending machine. There are several types, and prices vary depending on what is in the machine, whether it needs refrigeration or heating, and the interactivity.

Buying directly from a manufacturer or supplier is one option, as is purchasing on a secondary market. Some companies also rent machines. Ausmus cautioned to make sure there are spare parts and support available for what you buy.

Machines range from about $1,500 for a used or refurbished machine to several thousands for a new, high-end machine with many technical features.

Some machines have:

  • Remote monitoring software: This helps keep track of how the machine is working and notifies the operator if something is wrong.
  • Low stock alerts: Notify the operator when items needs replacing.
  • Vending management systems (VMS): Tracks sales and other data to help owners make better business decisions.
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Running a Vending Machine Business

While owning vending machines does not require any special skills, it is a business.

You will need inventory and someone to keep the machine stocked and maintained. This may require a van or truck.

Perishables need to be stocked more often than other items. Learning some basic maintenance skills could keep you from having to hire someone if there is a problem with the machine.

Different types of machines have different capabilities. Some take only cash while others will process credit or debit cards. Some models have touch screens or voice capabilities.

“Make sure that you have your phone number on the machine, and that the store location knows your phone number,” said Ausmus. “If somebody didn’t get what they wanted, make sure the store can give them a refund and you pay the refund back to that store. Then get out there as soon as you can to fix the machine so that you can continue to make money.”

Automatic merchandising isn’t for everyone, but owning and operating a vending machine can be a good business. Being able to retrieve the money you make and restock your machines easily is the key.

“Then you only work probably three days a month, basically on the whole gig,” said Ausmus. “Three four days a month can make somebody a good little extra income.”

Tiffani Sherman is a Florida-based freelance reporter with more than 25 years of experience writing about finance, health, travel and other topics.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

Credit Card Balance Transfers

Credit card balances are crippling households across the United States, giving them insurmountable debts that just keep on growing and never seem to go away. But there is some good news, as this problem has spawned a multitude of debt relief options, one of which is a credit card balance transfer.

Balance transfers are a similar and widely available option for all debtors to clear their credit card balances, reduce their interest rate, and potentially save thousands of dollars.

How Credit Card Balance Transfers Work

A balance transfer credit card allows you to transfer a balance from one or more cards to another, reducing credit card debt and all its obligations. These cards are offered by most credit card companies and come with a 0% APR on balance transfers for the first 6, 12 or 18 months.

Consumers can use this balance transfer offer to reduce interest payments, and if they continue to pay the same sum every month, all of it will go towards the principal. Without interest to eat into their monthly payment, the balance will clear quickly and cheaply.

There are a few downsides to transferring a balance, including late fees, a transfer fee and, in some cases, an annual fee.

What Happens When You Transfer a Balance on Credit Cards?

When you transfer a balance, your new lender repays your credit card debt and moves the funds onto a new card. You may incur a transfer fee and pay an annual fee, which can increase the total debt, but transferring a balance in this way allows you to take advantage of a 0% introductory APR. While this introductory period lasts, you won’t pay any interest on your debt and can focus on clearing your credit card debt step by step.

Why are Balance Transfers Beneficial?

A little later, we’ll discuss some alternatives to a balance transfer offer, all of which can help you clear your debt. However, the majority of these methods will increase your debt in the short term, prolong the time it takes to repay it or reduce your credit score. 

A balance transfer credit card does none of these things. As soon as you accept the transfer offer, you’ll have a 0% introductory APR that you can use to eliminate your debt. The balance transfer may increase your debt liabilities slightly by adding a transfer fee and an annual fee, but generally speaking, this is one of the best ways to clear your debt.

To understand why this is the case, you need to know how credit card interest works. If you have a debt of $20,000 with a variable APR rate of 20% and a minimum monthly payment of $500, you’ll repay the debt in 67 months at a cost of over $13,000 in interest.

If you move that debt to a card with a balance transfer offer of 0% APR for 12 months, and you continue to meet the $500 minimum payment, you’ll repay $5,000 and reduce the debt to $15,000. From that point on, you’ll have a smaller balance to clear, less interest to worry about, and can clear the debt completely in just a few more years.

Of course, the transfer fee will increase your balance somewhat, but this fee is minimal when compared to the money you can save. The same applies to the annual fee that these cards charge and, in many cases, you can find cards that don’t charge an annual fee at all. 

You can even find no-fee balance transfer cards, although these are rare. The BankAmericard credit card once provided a no fee transfer offer to all applicants, in addition to a $0 annual fee. However, they changed their rules in 2018 and made the card much less appealing to the average user.

Pros and Cons of Credit Card Balance Transfers

From credit score and credit limit issues to a high variable APR, late fees, and cash advance fees, there are numerous issues with these cards. However, there are just as many pros as there are cons, including the fact that they can be one of the cheapest and fastest ways to clear debt.

Pro: 0% Introductory APR

The 0% APR on balance transfers is the best thing about these credit cards and the reason they are so beneficial. However, many cards also offer 0% APR on purchases. This means that if you continue to use your card after the transfer has taken place, you won’t be charged any interest on the new credit.

With most cards, the 0% APR on purchases runs for the same length of time as the balance transfer offer. This ensures that all credit you accumulate upon opening the account will be subject to the same benefits. Of course, accumulating additional credit is not wise as it will prolong the time it takes you to repay the debt.

Pro: Can Still Get Cash Rewards

While cash rewards are rare on balance transfer cards, some of the better cards still offer them. Discover It is a great example of this. You can earn cash back every time you spend, even after initiating a balance transfer. The cash rewards scheme is one of the best in the industry and there is also a 0% APR on balance transfers during an introductory period that lasts up to 18 months.

Pro: High Credit Limit

A balance transfer card may offer you a high credit limit, one that is large enough to cover your credit card debt. You will need a good credit score to get this rate, of course, but once you do your credit card debt will clear, you can repay it, and then you’ll have a card with a high credit limit and no balance.

Throw a rewards scheme into the mix (as with the Discover It rewards card) and you’ll have turned a dire situation into a great one.

Con: Will Reduce Credit Score

A new account opening won’t impact your credit score as heavily as you may have been led to believe. In fact, the impact of a new credit card or loan is minimal at best and any effects usually disappear after just a few months. However, a balance transfer card is a different story and there are a few ways it can impact your score.

Firstly, it could reduce your credit utilization ratio. This is the amount of credit you have compared to the amount of debt you have. If you have four credit cards each with a credit limit of $20,000 and a debt of $10,000 then your score will be 50%. If you close all of these and swap them for a single card where your credit limit matches your debt, your score will be 100%.

Your credit utilization ratio points for 30% of your total FICO score and can, therefore, do some serious damage to your credit score.

Secondly, although FICO has yet to disclose specifics, a maxed-out credit card can also reduce your score. By its very nature, a balance transfer card will be maxed out or close to being maxed out, as it’s a card opened with the sole purpose of covering this debt.

Finally, if you close multiple accounts and open a new one, your account age will decrease, thus reduce your credit score further.

Con: Transfer Free

The transfer fee is a small issue, but one worth mentioning, nonetheless. This is often charged at between 3% and 5% of the total balance, but there are also minimum amounts of between $5 and $10, and you will pay the greater of the two.

This can sound like a lot. After all, for a balance transfer of $10,000, 5% will be $500. However, when you consider how much you can save over the course of the introductory period, that fee begins to look nominal.

There may also be an annual fee to consider, but if your score is high enough and you choose one of the cards listed in this guide, you can avoid this fee.

Con: Late Fees and Other Penalties

In truth, all credit cards will charge you a fee if you’re late and you will also be charged a fee every time you make a cash advance. However, the fees may be higher with balance transfer cards, especially if those cards offer generous benefits and rewards elsewhere. It’s a balancing act for the provider—an advantage here means a disadvantage there.

Con: High APR on Purchases

While many balance transfer cards offer a 0% APR on purchases for a fixed period, this rate may increase when the introductory period ends. The resulting variable APR will often be a lot larger than what you were paying before the transfer, with many credit cards charging over 25% or more on purchases.

Which Credit Cards are Best for Clearing Credit Card Debt?

Many credit card issuers have some kind of balance transfer card, but it’s worth remembering that credit card companies aren’t interested in offering these cards to current customers. You’ll need to find a new provider and if you have multiple cards with multiple providers, that can be tricky. 

Run some comparisons, check the offers against your financial situation, and pay close attention to late fees, APR on purchases, cash rewards, and the length of the 0% introductory APR rate. 

You’ll also need to find a card with a credit limit high enough to cover your current debt, and one that accepts customers with your credit score. This can be tricky, but if you shop around, you should find something. If not, focus on increasing your credit score before seeking to apply again.

Here are a few options to help you begin your search for the most suitable balance transfer card:

Discover It

  • Balance Transfer Offer: 18 Months
  • Transfer Fee: 3% on transfers
  • Purchases APR: 0% for 6 months
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Rate: Up To 24.49% Variable APR
  • Rewards: Yes

Chase Freedom Unlimited

  • Balance Transfer Offer: 15 Months
  • Transfer Fee: 5% on transfers
  • Purchases APR: 0% for 15 months
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Rate: Up To 25.24% Variable APR
  • Rewards: Yes

Citi Simplicity

  • Balance Transfer Offer: 21 Months
  • Transfer Fee: 5% on transfers
  • Purchases APR: 0% for 12 months
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Rate: Up To 26.24% Variable APR
  • Rewards: No

Bank of America Cash Rewards

  • Balance Transfer Offer: 15 Months
  • Transfer Fee: 3% on transfers
  • Purchases APR: 0% for 15 months
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Rate: Up To 25.49% Variable APR
  • Rewards: No

Capital One Quicksilver

  • Balance Transfer Offer: 15 Months
  • Transfer Fee: 3% on transfers
  • Purchases APR: 0% for 15 months
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Rate: Up To 25.49% Variable APR
  • Rewards: No

Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express

  • Balance Transfer Offer: 15 Months
  • Transfer Fee: 3% on transfers
  • Purchases APR: 0% for 15 months
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Rate: Up To 25.49% Variable APR
  • Rewards: No

Capital One SavorOne

  • Balance Transfer Offer: 15 Months
  • Transfer Fee: 3% on transfers
  • Purchases APR: 0% for 15 months
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Rate: Up To 25.49% Variable APR
  • Rewards: Yes

How to Clear Debt with a Balance Transfer Card

From the point of the account opening to the point that the introductory period ends, you need to focus on clearing as much of the balance as possible. Don’t concern yourself with a variable APR rate, annual fee or other issues and avoid additional APR on purchases by not using the card. Just put all extra cash you have towards the debt and reduce it one step at a time.

Here are a few tips to help you clear debt after you transfer a balance:

Meet the Monthly Payment

First things first, always meet your minimum payment obligations. The 0% APR on balance transfers protects you against additional interest, but it doesn’t eliminate your repayments altogether. If you fail to meet these payments, you could find yourself in some serious hot water and may negate the balance transfer offer.

Increase Payment Frequency

It may be easier for you to repay $250 every two weeks as opposed to $500 every month. This will also allow you to use any extra funds when you have them, thus preventing you from wasting cash on luxury purchases and ensuring it goes towards your debt.

Earn More

Ask for a pay rise, take on a part-time job, work as a freelancer—do whatever it takes to earn extra cash during this period. If you commit everything you have for just 12 to 18 months you can get your troublesome debt cleared and start looking forward to a future without debt and complications, one where you have more money and more freedom.

Sell Up

It has never been easier to sell your unwanted belongings. Many apps can help you with this and you can also sell on big platforms like Facebook, eBay, and Amazon. 

Sell clothes, electronics, books, games, music—anything you no longer need that could earn you a few extra dollars. It all goes towards your debt and can help you to clear it while your introductory APR is active.

Don’t Take out a Personal Loan

While you might be tempted to use a loan to cover your debt, this is never a good idea. You should avoid using low-interest debt to replace high-interest debt, even if the latter is currently under a 0% introductory APR. 

It’s easy to get trapped in a cycle of swapping one debt for another, and it’s a cycle that ultimately leads to some high fees and even higher interest rates.

Focus on the Bigger Picture

Debt exists because we focus too much on the short-term. Rather than dismissing the idea of buying a brand-new computer we can’t afford, we fool ourselves into believing we can deal with it later and then pay for it with a credit card. This attitude can lead to persistent debt and trap you in an inescapable cycle and it’s one you need to shed if you’re going to transfer a balance.

Instead of focusing on the short term, take a look at the bigger picture. If you can’t afford it now, you probably can’t afford it later; if you can’t repay $10,000 worth of debt this year, you probably can’t handle $20,000 next year.

Alternatives to Credit Card Balance Transfers

If you have the cash and the commitment to pay your credit card debt, a balance transfer card is perfect. However, if you have a low credit score and use the card just to accumulate additional debt and buy yourself more time, it will do more harm than good. In that case, debt relief may be the better option.

These programs are designed to help you pay your debt through any means possible. There are several options available and all these are offered by specialist companies and providers, including banks and credit unions. As with balance transfer cards, however, you should do your research in advance and consider your options carefully before making a decision.

Pay More Than the Minimum

It’s an obvious and perhaps even redundant solution, but it’s one that needs to be mentioned, nonetheless. We live in a credit hungry society, one built on impulsive purchases and a buy-now-care-later attitude. A balance transfer card, in many ways, is part of this, as it’s a quick and easy solution to a long and difficult problem. And like all quick patches, it can burst at the seams if the problem isn’t controlled.

The best option, therefore, is to try and clear your debts without creating any new accounts. Do everything you can to increase your minimum payment every month. This will ensure that you pay more of the principal, with the minimum payment covering your interest obligations and everything else going towards the actual balance.

Only when this fails, when you genuinely can’t cover more than the minimum, should you look into opening a new card.

Debt Consolidation

Balance transfers are actually a form of debt consolidation, but ones that are specifically tailored to credit card debt. If you have multiple types of debt, including medical bills, student loans, and personal loans, you can use a consolidation loan to clear it.

This loan will pay off all of your debts and then give you a new one with a new provider. The provider will reduce your monthly payment and may even reduce your interest rate, allowing you to pay less and to feel like you’re getting a good deal. However, this is at the expense of a greatly increased loan term, which means you will pay considerably more over the duration of the loan.

As with everything else, a debt consolidation loan is dependent on you having a good credit score and the better your financial situation is, the better the loan rates will be.

Debt Management

Debt management can help if you don’t have the credit history required for debt consolidation. Debt management plans are provided by companies that work with your creditors to repay your debts in a way that suits you and them. You pay the debt management company, they pass your money on, and in return, they request that you abide by many strict terms and conditions, including not using your credit cards.

Many debt management programs will actually request that you close all but one of your credit cards and only use that one card in emergencies. This can greatly reduce your credit score by impacting your credit utilization ratio. What’s more, if you miss any payments your creditors may renege on their promises and revert back to the original monthly payments.

Debt Settlement

The more extreme and cheaper option of the three, but also the riskiest. Debt settlement works well with sizeable credit card debt and is even more effective if you have a history of missed payments, defaults or collections. A debt specialist may request that you stop making payments on your accounts and instead put your money into a secured account run by a third-party provider.

They will then contact your creditors and negotiate a settlement amount. This process can take several years as they’re not always successful on the first attempt but the longer they wait, the more desperate your creditors will become and the more likely they will be to accept a settlement.

Debt settlement is one of the few options that allows you to pay all your debt for much less than the original balance. However, it can harm your credit score while these debts are being repaid and this may impact your chances of getting a mortgage or a car loan for a few years.

Credit Card Balance Transfers is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

What is a credit card statement credit?

A recent trend in credit card rewards is increased flexibility in how you can redeem your cash back, points or miles. You can book travel, invest, get gift cards and more – but one of the most common ways a credit card company will issue rewards is as a statement credit.

Statement credits may seem simple, but they’re handled a little differently by each rewards program, and there’s a lot to consider when you’re trying to decide if they’re the best way to redeem cash back or other rewards.

See related: What is cash back?

What is a statement credit?

Put simply, a statement credit is money credited to your account. In its most basic form, a statement credit is not much different from a payment. Like a normal monthly payment, a statement credit is deducted from your card balance, reducing the amount of money you owe. But where cardholders are responsible for payments, credits come from either a merchant or card issuer.

rewards cards also allow you to redeem the points or miles you’ve earned as statement credits. While some cards allow you to use a statement credit to reduce your balance with no restrictions, others only apply credits to your account after you meet certain criteria or make purchases in specific spending categories.

Statement credits on cash back cards

Cash back cards usually make it easy to redeem your points as a statement credit. In most cases, all you need to do is meet the card’s minimum redemption criteria, then choose a statement credit as your redemption method. Once a credit is applied to your account, your card balance decreases accordingly.

If, for example, you were to spend $3,000 with a flat rate 1 percent cash back card, you’d earn a $30 credit; and if you were to redeem this entire credit, $30 would be deducted from your account balance.

While many cards give you the option to request your cash back in the form a check, some only allow you to redeem as a statement credit – so be sure to read your issuer’s terms carefully. After all, when you get your cash back as a check or direct deposit, the money is yours to spend or save as you’d like. With a statement credit, however, the funds are “trapped” in your account and only impact your card balance. If you stop using your card or close your account, you could lose any cash back or points you haven’t redeemed.

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, for example, allows you to book travel through the rewards center at a rate of 1 cent per mile. But if you redeem your miles for cash back as a statement credit, their value is cut in half to just 0.5 cents per mile.

If you prefer to redeem your rewards as a statement credit, make sure doing so doesn’t dilute the value of your points or miles, as each rewards program grants and values statement credits a little differently.

Statement credits for an introductory bonus

Statement credits also frequently appear as part of a card introductory or annual bonus, when issuers offer to reward you if you spend a certain amount of money within a given timeframe. The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, for example, offers a $250 bonus after you spend $1,000 with your new card in the first 3 months. Instead of simply sending you a check for $250, however, American Express credits your account $250 after you’ve met the conditions of the offer. Once received, the credit will cover the next $250 you charge.

Statement credits for card benefits

Many cards also award extra perks in the form of a statement credit. The United Explorer Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve, for example, each offer up to a $100 credit to cover the cost of a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application.

In these cases, a statement credit is applied to your account only after you make the eligible purchase and cannot be used for anything else.

How statement credits work with the major rewards programs

Here’s how some of the major rewards programs treat statement credits:

Rewards program Can you redeem rewards as a statement credit? Minimum redemption Rewards rate when redeemed as a credit
Discover cards Cashback Bonus Yes None 1:1
Bank of America Cash Rewards Yes None ($25 for automatic redemptions) 1:1
American Express Membership Rewards Yes $25 1:0.6
Chase Ultimate Rewards Yes $20 1:1

Should I redeem my points as a statement credit?

Once you know what a statement credit is and how it’s treated by your rewards program, you’ll probably wonder if it’s smart to redeem your points or miles in this form. While the answer will depend on your spending habits, goals and financial situation, it makes more sense in certain circumstances.

If you’re trying to decide whether you should redeem your points as a credit statement, consider the following:

  • Are you going to carry a balance? If you’re not sure whether you’ll be able to pay off your balance in full by the due date, redeeming your points as a statement credit makes sense. You’ll knock a chunk off your balance and make it easier to pay in full and avoid interest charges. Keep in mind, however, that statement credits are not usually considered payments, so if you can’t help carrying a balance, you’ll still have to make a minimum out-of-pocket payment.
  • Does your card offer an incentive for redeeming points as a statement credit? Some cash back cards offer redemption bonuses when you opt for a statement credit over “true” cash back in the form of a check or direct deposit. If that’s the case, and you plan to continue using the card, go with a statement credit to get more mileage out of your cash back rewards.
  • Are your points worth less when redeemed as a statement credit? If you’re using a card with a more flexible rewards program, redeeming your rewards as a statement credit is likely possible, but not necessarily wise. Check your issuer’s terms to see if your points lose any value when redeemed as a statement credit. If 1 point is worth 1 cent when used for travel purchases, but only 0.5 cents when redeemed as a statement credit, you’re missing out on a lot of the value you’ve earned. If you have no interest in travel, see if you can get full value out of your points in a roundabout way, like redeeming points for gift cards at stores you frequent.

Other ways to redeem your credit card rewards

Many cards offer several other options for redeeming your rewards. In addition to statement credits, you may be able to redeem cash back, points, or miles for:

  • A direct deposit – You can link your bank account so that when you hit “redeem,” that money goes directly to your account. For some, this is more satisfying than receiving a statement credit.
  • A check – If you don’t mind waiting, many credit card issuers will mail a check for the value of your rewards.
  • Gift cards – Some credit cards allow you to exchange your points or cash back for gift cards. Make sure that you’re getting the same or more value before you choose this option – sometimes the dollar value of gift cards is different from what you would get redeeming for a statement credit or direct deposit.
  • Merchandise – Credit card issuers sometimes have shopping portals that give you the option to use your cash back or points to pay for merchandise. This is another option that you should approach with caution. Do the math to make sure you’re getting the same dollar value as you would with a direct deposit or statement credit.
  • Travel – Travel redemption options vary from card to card, but there are two main methods, one of which is receiving a statement credit for travel purchases you’ve already made. The other is using the issuer’s portal to book travel, such as flights or hotels, online.

Final Thoughts

A statement credit is just one way you can receive bonuses and redeem the rewards you’ve earned. If you’re using a cash back card, it could be a smart, low-maintenance way to reduce your balance and build good spending habits. If you’re using a more flexible rewards or travel card, though, make sure redeeming as a statement credit still gets you fair value for your points or miles.

Source: creditcards.com

How to Buy a Used Car, Step By Step

You’ll have to purchase the report if you’re buying from a private seller, so wait until you’re seriously interested in a particular vehicle. If you’re buying from a dealership, the salesperson should provide a copy of the vehicle history report for free.
These tips will give you some guidance to make a good choice.
Montoya said plans sold by auto manufacturers or reputable dealerships are better options than those sold by third-party companies. Make sure you understand exactly what your plan covers.

Why Buying a Used Car Is a Smart Money Move

For any dealer you visit, do some due diligence and check customer reviews online. If you know others who’ve recently purchased a car, ask for recommendations.
The end of a model year — around September or October — is another good time to shop, DeLorenzo noted, as salespeople are looking to make deals to clear out their used vehicle stock to make room for new inventory.
Buying an extended warranty or service plan can give you peace of mind that certain repairs or maintenance jobs will be covered.
“Severe accidents and instances where a car has been declared a total loss should signal the buyer to use caution,” he said. “That said, a small fender bender shouldn’t always mean that a buyer should walk away from a great deal.”
But don’t just assume a car’s history. Getting the car’s history report, such as through Carfax, is a crucial step when buying a used car.
Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Former staff writer Carson Kohler contributed to this post.
Don’t just look at the tires’ tread. Each tire should include a four-digit number marking the month and year it was manufactured. Tires older than six years can be dried out and need replacing.

The Best Time to Buy a Used Car

RobertCorse/Getty Images

If cost is your primary concern, a private seller is likely to offer a lower price. A dealer folds overhead, repairs and marketing into its price.
Of course, when you need a car might not align with a particular sale or time of month. Shopping for a vehicle before you’re in critical need of one will allow you time to search for the best deal rather than having to settle for something quick.
Sharifi said to watch out for discrepancies with the odometer reading and if there’s a branded title, which indicates that the car has been significantly compromised in some way.
Be wary of independent car lots that boast they can make you a deal regardless of your credit or circumstance.
“The end of the month (or the end of a quarter) can also be a good time to strike a deal, since dealerships may need to hit monthly or quarterly sales goals,” he said.
Before you accept a sales price, research the value of the car to make sure you’re not overpaying. Carfax, Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds all have price appraisal tools online.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.
DeLorenzo recommends pre-qualifying for a loan at a bank or credit union before visiting a dealership. You can compare the offer with the dealer’s financing terms for better negotiating leverage.
Matt DeLorenzo, senior managing editor for Kelley Blue Book, said when dealerships host big sales events for new models that can also benefit used car shoppers.

FROM THE SAVE MONEY FORUM

Where to Shop for a Used Car — and Where to Avoid

Where you shop for a used car matters so you can avoid purchasing a lemon.
When you’re buying from a private party, you may be able to get more accurate information about how they’ve driven and maintained the vehicle and what particular issues it might have, said Ron Montoya, senior consumer advice editor at Edmunds.
Knowing when and where to buy a used car is just half the battle. Figuring out how to vet a used car can be tough, especially if you have little to no car knowledge.
The older a car is, the cheaper it’ll be — but the more it’s likely to have issues requiring repair. Everyone has a different comfort level when it comes to what they’re willing to handle. A general rule of thumb is that a car is driven about 12,000 miles per year. A higher average could mean the car has more wear and tear.

Pro Tip
“In the first year of ownership, depreciation can continue, and that same car could be worth up to 20% less than its original sale price,” he said.

Montoya said used car buyers must strike a balance between the age of the car, the amount of miles and what price they’re willing to pay.
However, there are certain times when you’re more likely to score a better deal.
“You want to make sure there’s enough room for you,” Montoya said. “Take a look at the cargo area. Take a look at how easy it is to see out of the vehicle. Test out the entertainment system.”
Source: thepennyhoarder.com
However, you also need to be OK with buying the vehicle as-is and securing your own financing. And be sure the owner has clear title to the car — in other words, don’t let anyone sell you a car they don’t legitimately own.

What to Look for When Buying a Used Car

GreenPimp/Getty Images

You can also compare similar vehicles on the market to get an estimate of a car’s value, but keep in mind, no two used vehicles will be the same due to how they were driven and maintained. Use all this information when you sit down to negotiate — and don’t be afraid to walk away if you don’t think you’re getting a fair price.
Knowing the ins and outs of how to buy a used car will make the whole process less stressful and, most importantly, save you money.

1. Find a Vehicle That Fits Your Needs

Sometimes just looking at a car will give you some idea of its history. Rust, worn out pedals and a side panel painted in a different color are red flags.
DeLorenzo recommends shopping at franchised car dealerships that have certified pre-owned cars — used vehicles that have been thoroughly inspected and typically come with some type of warranty coverage. Non-certified cars aren’t bad — and they’ll typically cost less — but they’re more likely to have higher mileage and more maintenance needs.

2. Determine How ‘Used’ You’re Willing to Go

Unlike new car releases, used cars come on the market throughout the year. It all depends on when their previous owners end their leases, put them up for sale or decide to trade in their vehicles.
It’s best to avoid shopping for a car on the weekend when there’s an influx of customers and sales staff is spread thin, Sharifi said. You’ll get more attention from the sales team by visiting on off hours, specifically on weekdays.
Those vehicles often have low mileage and are in great condition, having had only one previous owner. Sometimes they even still retain a hint of that new car smell.

Pro Tip
“Typically they’ll try to get you in with a low price, but you may not be getting the best quality car,” he said. “The other thing is that if you get your financing through those types of dealers, they typically charge you a much higher interest rate.”

3. Make Sure The Price is Right

According to Kelley Blue Book, the average price of a new car in November 2020 was more than ,000. Yowser.
New cars are sleek, shiny, full of impressive tech and smell amazing — mmm, new car smell. But they also come with price tags that can take your breath away — and not in a good way.
So that covers the why. Now let’s get into how to buy a used car.

4. Check the History of the Car

For any used car purchase, but especially if you’re buying from a private seller, have your mechanic inspect the vehicle before committing to buy.
When you’re budgeting for a car purchase, make sure you’re factoring in all the associated costs, like sales tax, insurance and getting the car registered.
Always, always, always take a car for a spin before buying it. If you can bring a mechanic with you, even better.
Think of the big sales that fall around holidays like Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day.
“[Dealerships] will have more used vehicle inventory as a result of those types of promotions,” he said.

5. Go for a Test Drive

Outside of dealerships, look for cars online at trusted sites like Autotrader, Kelley Blue Book, Carfax or Edmunds — or buy from a private seller.
Just because you’re buying a car at a lower price point doesn’t mean you’ll be stuck with a clunker that was manufactured decades ago. Cars that are just two or three years old often hit dealership lots when their previous owners reach the end of their lease.

Pro Tip
If you’re in the market for a set of wheels that’s more affordable, steer your sights over to the used car lot to save a little money. Or even a lot of money.

Jim Sharifi, formerly a content editor at Carfax, said research shows a new vehicle can lose as much as 10% of its value within the first month.
It’s easy to focus on the numbers — age of the car, mileage and cost — but you also want to make sure you’re buying a car that’ll fit your needs for however long you expect to have it. If you have a growing family, you might want to rethink that two-door coupe or compact vehicle.
“Some general things you can do on your own without being super knowledgeable about cars is [to] turn off the radio [and] listen for any strange noises,” Montoya said. “See if the steering wheel stays straight when you drive down the road. Does it pull to one side? Look at the tires to see how old they are.”
If you’ve ever heard someone refer to a car as a depreciating asset, it’s true. The longer you have a car, the less it’s worth. The first year of owning a new vehicle is when depreciation really packs a punch.
When you buy a used car, the original owner has already taken that initial hit on depreciation and the price you pay accounts for that, so you don’t have to shell out as much cash.

10 Things to Know About Living in Minneapolis

Some people often don’t realize that while they’re called the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul are actually two separate cities. Between the two of them, the Cities, as they’re often called, have a population of more than 733,000 people. Surrounded by dozens of suburbs, the Twin Cities’ metropolitan population runs about 3.28 million.

However, as Minnesota’s largest city with more than 425,000 people, Minneapolis is the hotbed for entertainment, sports and much more.

From the Vikings to the birth of the Jucy Lucy, Minneapolis offers residents a lot to do year-round. Here are 10 things you need to know about living in Minneapolis.

1. Cost of living is a little higher than average, but rent is more affordable

Living in Minneapolis costs a little more than in other cities, with a cost of living about 6 percent higher than the national average. While housing is higher than other cities its size, rent for a one-bedroom apartment — $1,621 nationally — is actually cheaper, averaging $1,473 a month.

  • The Uptown neighborhood offers locals excellent public transportation, great dining options and outstanding outdoor activities. Rent for a one-bedroom apartment averages about $1,900 a month.
  • Urban living enthusiasts love calling the Downtown West neighborhood home. With views of the city’s skyscrapers, access to some of the city’s best restaurants and an easy walk to entertainment venues, the area defines living in Minneapolis. Rent for a one-bedroom apartment averages $1,583 per month.
  • Nicknamed a “hipster’s neighborhood,” North Loop is considered one of the fastest-growing areas of Minneapolis. The former warehouse district is home to impressive restaurants, retail outlets and Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins. North Loop, a safe walking neighborhood, offers great views with one-bedroom apartments averaging $1,875 a month.

Minnesota’s unique sales tax exempts several items, including clothing, prescription drugs and most food items. Food items considered taxable are ones that are prepared by a person or include eating utensils. The sales tax rate in Minneapolis is 8.025 percent, including state taxes.

minneapolis public transportation

2. Public transportation is a great alternative to driving

Getting around town is as easy as hopping on a bus or grabbing the light transit. If you live or work downtown and need to go a few blocks, hop on a bus for only 50 cents in the Downtown Zone. If you’re near Nicollet Mall, look for the “No Fare” buses for a free ride.

The light transit will get you nearly anywhere you want to go for a small fee. The Blue line takes you to stops en route to the Mall of America in Bloomington, while the Green line includes stops along University Avenue and St. Paul.

If you want to leave your car at home, Uber is another great service in the area. It’s fairly inexpensive to order a ride around Minneapolis.

However, if you decide to drive, traffic can easily become congested. The Twin Cities have an excellent interstate system, but it’s challenged by the thousands of vehicles making their way into the downtown area from the suburbs on both sides of the state line, as Wisconsin cities help make up the 16-county metro area.

Drivers spend an average of 56 hours a year in traffic delays, up from 12 hours nearly 40 years ago, according to a report by Minnesota Compass.

3. Minneapolis is home to a unique culinary scene

Living in Minneapolis means you don’t need to head to New York or L.A. for fancy food or coffee. You’ll find some of the nation’s best restaurants in Minneapolis. From Linden Hills’ Martina featuring a Brazilian menu to Asian at Peninsula Malaysian Cuisine, Minneapolis is a hotbed for international dining.

But, if you covet a steak or other traditional American fare, Manny’s Steakhouse needs to be on your must-dine list. Manny’s serves its own beef, as its USDA-verified Angus Beef comes from cattle sired by its own bull from Manny’s own cattle operation.

As a new Minnesotan, you’ll need to visit Matt’s Bar, home to the nation’s original Jucy Lucy. The burger, with oozy cheese cooked inside, is a Minneapolis staple. Matt’s invented the double burger with cheese in the middle shortly after opening in 1954. While some other places claim they created the delicious burger, locals know Matt’s is the place to enjoy it. Be careful when ordering a Jucy Lucy, as you’ll want to give it a few minutes to cool, so you don’t burn your mouth with your first bite as the hot cheese squirts out.

Since you’re in the Land of 10,000 Lakes (more like 12,000), you’ll want to sample the freshwater fish, such as walleye, northern pike and largemouth bass. Open since 1990, Tavern on Grand offers an outstanding menu featuring walleye, including an appetizer sampler, as well as a taco, sandwich and entrée.

With 18 restaurants featuring outstanding food, Midtown Global Market offers an international line-up, from Asian and African to Mexican and Italian. But, one restaurant that stands out is the Indigenous Food Lab, which features Native American food based on natural items dating back to pre-colonial days. Founded by Oglala Lakota (Sioux) chef Seam Sherman, creator of the Sioux Chef food truck, the kitchen is focused on producing natural, healthy food for the community.

4. There’s plenty to do outdoors…

Mention living in Minneapolis to most people, and they’ll ask if it’s home to the Mall of America (it isn’t). But, it is home to unique and historical places, such as the Mill City Museum, site of a grain mill and a major explosion that left remnants of the mill, the museum’s key attraction.

The city’s 170 public parks offer more than 6,500 acres of green space for hiking, walking, playgrounds, picnicking, fishing, swimming, golfing and more. With 15 of the city’s 20 miles of groomed trails, Wirth Park is the largest of the cross country skiing parks in Minneapolis.

The Stone Arch Bridge over the Mississippi River is another nice pedestrian/jogging/bicycling area. It also makes for the perfect spot to watch the city’s annual Independence Day fireworks show. The Minneapolis City Hall offers impressive artwork, as well as history. The Walker Art Center features outstanding paintings and other works, but its outdoor sculpture garden may be the best part of a visit there. You may recognize the cherry and spoon sculpture from TV or movies.

minneapolis snow

5. But it can get really cold

Minnesota winters are notoriously long and cold. The average high temperatures in the winter barely get out of the 20s, and lows below zero are not unusual. And that’s without the wind chill. The city also gets about 55 inches of snow each year, and it’s not uncommon to see flakes as early as October or as late as May.

Fortunately, the city is well equipped to handle the chilly temperatures. The Minneapolis Skyway System connects buildings across 80 city blocks and 9.5 miles of downtown, so you never have to go outside. These enclosed pedestrian footbridges are the longest such continuous system in the world.

6. Skol Vikings. And Timberwolves. And Twins. And…

With the Twin Cities home to five professional sports teams, including Major League Soccer’s Minnesota United and the Minnesota Wild of the National Hockey League in St. Paul, downtown Minneapolis hosts the NBA’s Timberwolves and WNBA Lynx at Target Center and Major League Baseball’s Twins at Target Field.

While those four teams have their fans and allegiances, Minneapolis, and the state of Minnesota, is Vikings territory. No matter how the other teams do, every sports fan focuses on the ups-and-downs of the Minnesota Vikings.

Born in 1960, the team has been to four Super Bowls (unfortunately, winless), and has turned out some of the greatest players in National Football League history, including Fran Tarkenton, Mick Tingelhoff and the Purple People Eaters — Carl Eller, Alan Page, Jim Marshall and Gary Larsen. The defensive line foursome accounts for 19 Pro Bowl appearances and two Hall of Fame inductions. Nothing beats attending a sold-out game at U.S. Bank Stadium, led by fans’ Skol chant right before kickoff.

Fans also enjoy tours of their favorite stadiums, and Target Field is among the best in professional baseball. Open since 2010, you’d swear it’s a brand-new ballpark, because of the way it’s cared for. You’ll tour key player areas, a miniature museum and team Hall of Fame, as well as visit the Twins’ dugout and stand near the field. The Twins have won two World Series championships, in 1987 and ’91 (plus a third, in 1924 as the Washington Senators). The Twins have made the playoffs three times since moving to Target Field.

Learn about the Vikings’ history during a tour of US Bank Stadium. Catch the mural of Minneapolis native Prince — the pop star was a Vikings fan — created in purple and gold (team colors) lyrics from his songs. You’ll also see a mural of former Coach Bud Grant, with quotes, won-loss records and other football-related words. Looking up at the seats from field level sends a chill down any Vikings’ fan’s spine.

7. Minneapolis schools face challenges

As with most public school districts in large cities, the Minneapolis Public Schools district faces several challenges in providing a good education for its 36,000 students (pre-kindergarten to 12th grade). With a 70 percent graduation rate for the 2019-20 academic year, the district enjoyed its best graduation rate in 10 years, continuing annual improvements. With an international enrollment, MPS provides documents in English, Spanish, Hmong and Somali to meet its goals.

Minneapolis is also home to more than 100 private schools, ranging from elementary to more than 30 high schools. Private schools have enrollments from a few hundred to more than 1,300 students.

minneapolis skyscrapers

8. The job market is booming

With an unemployment rate of about 3.1 percent before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, Minneapolis was in a good situation. As the economy bounces back and the unemployment rate decreases, jobs and careers will improve.

Minneapolis is home to six Fortune 500 companies, including US Bancorp, Excel Energy, Ameriprise Financial, Thrivent Financial, General Mills and Target. Other major companies with headquarters in the Twin Cities are Pearson’s Candy Company, Dairy Queen, Best Buy and Cargill.

9. Minneapolis has a real music scene

Prince may be the most famous musician to hail from Minneapolis. The Grammy-award winning singer was proud of his hometown, and could often be seen hanging out at downtown’s First Avenue, home to great live music and parties. A visit to First Avenue is a life-changing experience, as you realize you’re at the same place where Prince performed and hung out. You can visit his home and studio, Paisley Park, in suburban Chanhassen.

With two concert venues, First Avenue features the 1,500-person Mainroom and 7th Street Entry, which hosts up to 250 people. Famous musicians whose performances helped lead to stardom after playing here include Joe Cocker, the Ramones, Depeche Mode and Lucinda Williams.

Living in Minneapolis introduces you to other outstanding live-music venues, including the Dakota Jazz Club, Varsity Theater, El Nuevo Rodeo and Fine Line (now owned by First Avenue).

10. The crime rate is higher than the national average

Crime is up in Minneapolis this year compared to recent years. Several crimes are ones of opportunity, such as people stalking others late at night and targeting who they think may be easy prey. Minneapolis residents have a 1-in-123 chance of becoming a victim of a crime, compared with 1-in-454 across Minnesota.

Living in Minneapolis

Minneapolis offers the best of urban living. From outstanding restaurants and live music to pro sports and a great outdoor sports scene, finding the right neighborhood to call home may be your biggest challenge when moving to Minneapolis.

The post 10 Things to Know About Living in Minneapolis appeared first on Apartment Living Tips – Apartment Tips from ApartmentGuide.com.

Source: apartmentguide.com

‘Home Town’ Reveals One Thing in Your House That You’ll Regret Tossing

home townHGTV

“Home Town” stars Erin and Ben Napier know that there’s a fine line between classic and dated, so they need to be careful when it comes to their latest renovation.

In the episode “Big Apple to Little Catfish,” Erin and Ben meet with Susan and Seth, who have moved from a tiny New York City apartment to a big old house in Laurel, MS. The couple love the classic Cape Cod style of their house, and they want to keep its old-fashioned charm. Still, Erin and Ben know they need to make some important updates with their $140,000 budget.

Read on to find out how Erin and Ben update the house without taking away from its classic style, which might inspire some upgrades around your own abode, too.

Use limewash instead of paint to keep the character of brick

house
This home has a beautifully classic look, but Seth and Susan don’t like the dark brick.

HGTV

When Seth and Susan first see this old, brick-covered house, they aren’t impressed. Seth says he never pictured himself living in a brick house, and Susan says it seems a little dark from the outside.

So Erin and Ben decide to limewash the house, which, she explains, is not the same as painting it.

house
A limewash helps make this home look brighter.

HGTV

“Limewash is movable for about 48 hours,” Erin says. “So you have the opportunity to distress it, to rub it off. It’s really pliable.”

The team has the opportunity to show some of the brick through the limewash, giving the house back some texture.

When the limewash is finally set, the house looks great. The spots of exposed brick give the house an aged look. Now, Seth and Susan can hide the dark brick without losing its character.

You don’t need to demo a wall to bring in more light

staircase
Erin and Ben Napier couldn’t open up a wall to give this staircase more natural light.

HGTV

Inside, this old house is closed off and dark, so Erin and Ben get to work opening up some walls to let in natural light. However, there’s one dark area that can’t be opened up: the staircase.

So Erin comes up with the idea to fill the space with mirrors. She buys a bunch of old mirrors from an antiques store, knowing the classic gold frames will go with this home’s elegant style.

mirrors
These mirrors brighten up the space.

HGTV

When she finally puts the mirrors on the wall, they look great. The mirrors themselves are classically beautiful, and the light they reflect gives the staircase a more open feel.

“I love it because it reflects light, and it makes this darker area feel brighter, almost like you have all these windows,” Erin says.

Don’t toss your wainscoting!

dining room
Erin and Ben were determined to keep this millwork in the dining room.

HGTV

Erin and Ben are delighted to see some old wainscoting in the dining room, but when they widen the doorway to the kitchen, they realize that this old paneling will need to be removed or shifted.

While simply removing the paneling would have been easier, they definitely don’t want to ditch this old wainscoting. Why? Because it adds character to the room.

So they start the painstaking task of taking each panel off, and moving the pieces over so they’ll fit in the new space.

wainscoting
With some dark paint and new wallpaper, this dining room is back to its former glory.

HGTV

“We could have taken off that paneling. We could have popped it off, trashed it, and then just painted out however we wished,” Erin explains. “But it was beautiful and it made a lot of sense for that dining room to have the formal little moment of millwork.”

When the panel shifting is finished, Erin chooses some new paint and wallpaper, which highlight the elegant wainscoting. The room is now filled with classic charm, and it’s clear that these panels were worth the trouble.

A kitchen can have both a modern look and classic style

kitchen
This kitchen was small and dated.

HGTV

While Erin works hard to keep this home’s classic look, there’s one room that she’s eager to modernize: the kitchen. The original kitchen is small and dark, so Erin and Ben want to give it a 21st-century update. One way they do that is with a new quartz countertop. The countertops Erin chooses have gray veining with just a hint of gold. It’s so beautiful and elegant that Erin decides to use the same material on the backsplash.

kitchen
This kitchen has all the modern comforts and a classic style.

HGTV

“The veining is so much more defined,” Erin says of the quartz. “And once it’s on the backsplash, it’s going to look like abstract art.”

Of course abstract art may not go with the style of this old home, but when this modern kitchen is finished, it has a timeless look. The white materials and wood hood vent give this space an old-fashioned look that Seth and Susan love.

Wallpaper can look modern in the right color

bedroom
This wallpaper was too dated to keep.

HGTV

Upstairs in the master bedroom, Erin and Ben want to continue with the classic theme, so while they remove the original wallpaper, they replace it with a similar look.

“Seth and Susan have bought a house that’s pretty formal, but also it’s very dated,” Erin explains. “I’m paying homage to some of the things that were original to the house, like trim and wallpaper, but not the colorful and crazy wallpaper that was there. It’s a more modern take.”

The new wallpaper is a little simpler and a little darker. It still has that classic look, but in a more modern style. To finish the room, Ben helps build an elegant wooden bed that fits the era of this home.

bedroom
Erin and Ben decide to put this wallpaper on only one wall for a more modern look.

HGTV

The post ‘Home Town’ Reveals One Thing in Your House That You’ll Regret Tossing appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

How To Become a Freelancer and Make a Full-Time Income

Today, I have a fun interview to share with you that will show you how to become a freelancer.

I recently had the chance to interview Ben Taylor. Ben has been freelancing since 2004, and he has worked for dozens of companies.

Yes, this is a career path that you can learn!

As Ben will tell you in the interview below, a freelancer can be anything. You can be a freelance designer, personal trainer, nutrition coach, online teacher, virtual assistant, writer, and more.

If you are looking for a new business or even just a side hustle so that you can learn how to make extra money, learning how to become a freelancer may be something that you want to look into.

In this interview, you will learn:

  • What a freelancer is, who they work for, what they do, etc.
  • How much a new freelancer should expect to earn
  • How a person can find their first freelancing job
  • The steps needed to take to make money as a freelancer

And much more!

He also has an informative course called Freelance Kickstarter. This course takes you through the step by step process of creating your own freelance business.

Check out the interview below for more information.

How to become a freelancer.

 

1. Please give us a background on yourself and how you started as a freelancer.

I’m Ben, and I live by the sea in England with my wife and two young sons.

I started a career in tech back in 1998, and by 2004 was Head of IT for a government department. It didn’t take long for me to tire of company politics, and the endless meetings that were more about displays of ego than really getting anything done.

I came from an entrepreneurial family and my parents both had businesses rather than jobs. The businesses weren’t always successful, and there were definitely periods of “feast and famine.” However, I was well used to that and I think that branching out on my own was something I was destined to do.

My move into freelancing splits into a couple of clear phases:

Initially, in 2004, I quit my IT job, walking away from business class travel and a gold-plated pension with nothing more than a vague plan to begin to work as a freelancer!

I started to provide IT support and consultancy to both businesses and individuals. I do actually still do some of that work for a select group of long-term clients, but by 2009 I had managed to burn myself out with it. The business was going well, but I was working ridiculously long days and every holiday I tried to take was interrupted by constant phone calls and emails.

So phase two began when I sold off most of my client-base and moved to Portugal! That’s when I really started to broaden my freelance horizons. I had to start from scratch, with an unclear intention to start writing for a living, and no real plan for how to do it.

I did lots of things, including wasting a LOT of time down fruitless blind alleys. I wrote for content mills, started blogs, found clients on freelance job boards, and – slowly and steadily – started to build my income back up. The difference was that I was doing it all completely on my terms with work I really enjoyed. 

I was also living in a dream destination whilst doing it.

 

2. Can you explain what exactly a freelancer is, who they work for, what they do, etc.?

This seems like a basic question, but it’s very worthwhile. There’s a considerable difference between freelancing and remote working that not everybody appreciates.

First off, a freelancer can be anything. For some reason many people immediately think of writing when they think about freelancing. But you can be a freelancer designer, personal trainer, nutrition coach, online teacher, virtual assistant, and dozens of other things.

It’s also worth noting you don’t only have to be one of those things. I AM a freelancer writer, but I also still dabble in IT consultancy, run my own blogs, provide coaching, and even build websites for people (if they ask nicely and the price is right!)

Regardless of what you do as a freelancer, the important thing to realise is that you are running your own business. The big plus of this is that you are in total charge. But the big negative is that you don’t have any of the safety nets you have if you are employed by a single company. This means you’re responsible for everything from your own insurance and healthcare to your own technical support!

Freelancers typically work for several different clients. There are myriad places to find those clients. It’s quite common for freelancers to find clients within their existing professional networks, and not at all unusual for ex-employers to be among them. Then there are freelance job boards like Upwork and PeoplePerHour, which provide an endless stream of new opportunities.

 

3. How much should a new/beginner freelancer expect to earn?

This is an incredibly difficult question to answer! I can think of one freelancer I coached who’s in a very specific writing niche. He went onto Upwork with an initial rate of $100 per hour and found lots of work. I started out in IT consultancy charging a similar rate and was quickly earning more than I did in my full-time job.   

However, at the other end of the scale there are people with limited experience or specialist skills who will need to pay their dues. This means building the foundations of a freelance career by proving yourself and taking low paying jobs to build up examples of work and positive feedback. My move into writing was much more like this!

I think “job replacement income” is a useful target for new freelancers to keep in mind. That can vary vastly from individual to individual. Obviously replacing and exceeding a corporate-level income takes much more than freelancing as an alternative to a part-time, entry-level job. That said, people with senior-level experience command much higher freelance rates.

Related content: 20 Of The Best Entry Level Work From Home Jobs

 

4. What do you like about being a freelancer?

Not having a boss!

The difference in lifestyle is massive when you work for yourself. This is always brought home to me when I’m making plans with friends and family, and people say “I’ll see if I can get the time off.”

This makes me shudder, because it’s SO alien to me now. The example I always use is that I never have to ask anybody before I can tell my children I’ll be at their sports day or nativity play.

When you have what I call a “traditional job,” you DO have the security of healthcare, and perhaps things like holiday and sick pay. But you give up a tremendous amount of freedom in return. Freelancing is profoundly different, and it’s rare to find people who’ve given it a go that would ever choose to go back to full-time employment.

So that’s a huge thing for me, but there are other huge benefits too. I love the fact I can pivot into different things, which always allows me to keep things fresh.

About four times a year I reassess my priorities and lay out new goals for the short, medium and long term. They might involve starting a new blog, writing another book, learning a new marketable skill. For somebody like me who relishes variety, I love having total control of this.

 

5. How can a person find their first freelancing job?

There are SO many ways to find freelance jobs. I have an article listing 50 different options!

However, they broadly split into two categories that I call “real world” and “online world.”

It’s always worth starting out by thinking of your real life networks. As I’ve said, many freelancers do their first self-employed work for people who already know them. I’d advise people to think about any contacts who’ve already seen the kind of work they’re capable of. These are “warm leads” that are well worth perusing.

It makes sense to think about personal contacts as well as business contacts, too. Plenty of freelancers find clients who are their “wife’s best friend’s brother” or something like that!

Remaining in the “real world,” there are also options like local business groups and networking events – although they are obviously far less accessible at the present time.

Moving to the online world, the freelance job boards are the place to be. They can be intimidating places initially, and it’s crucial to learn how to use them and how to avoid scammers and low paying clients. But there are plenty of great clients out there, including many household name companies who use those boards to hire freelancers.

Often, a quick one-off $50 job can evolve into a long and lucrative client relationship. My wife and I both have clients who we first met on the freelance boards years ago. We still work with them now.

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to where to find the first client, but there are options for everybody.

 

setting rates when learning how to become a freelancer

6. How does a freelancer decide what to set their rates at?

This is a question I’m asked a LOT! The answer leads to lots more questions, and I think many of my readers are disappointed when I don’t just give them an answer of “$x per hour” or “$x per article!”

It’s a subject I cover in my Freelance Kickstarter course, and I’m happy to share a slide from that particular lesson here. The factors to consider include tangible things like the “market rates” for specific types of work, and how each client’s geographical location could impact how much they expect to pay.

But there’s much more to consider beyond that: How much does the gig align with your long-term goals? Will the job produce a great example of work that will help you win more clients in the future? Is this a job that could lead to on-going, long-term work?

I guess a simpler answer is that your rate needs to be fair and competitive, and sufficient to make it worth your while to do the job. However, the rate for each job really needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

The reality is that there are millions of freelancers out there charging vastly different rates, often for very similar services. There’s a bit of an art to working out where you sit on the pricing spectrum, but it’s an art you can learn, and it gets easier with experience.

 

7. What steps does a person need to take to make money as a freelancer?

The first and most important is working out what it is you actually want to do. That may seem obvious, but my inbox is full of emails from people asking what they should do, without telling me what they’re capable of and what kind of work would make them happy.

I will attempt to lay it out in a fairly simple series of steps:

  1. Work out what skills you have and what market there is for them.
  2. Look at who else is providing those services, what they charge, and what you can provide that will make you stand out and appeal to clients.
  3. Identify any gaps in your knowledge and experience, and work to fill them. This could mean doing some training, or doing some voluntary jobs to bulk out your portfolio.
  4. Establish a personal brand. This isn’t as big a deal as it sounds, but does mean having a solid resumé and LinkedIn profile, and sometimes some other ways to demonstrate your expertise.
  5. Learn how the freelance job boards work. Even if you have a rich personal network to draw on, it’s wise to understand the wider world of freelancing.
  6. Put yourself out there, and start pitching and applying for things.
  7. Make sure you provide perfect work and delight your clients, so that they want to work with you again and recommend you to others.

Repeating and refining these steps is the essence of becoming a successful freelancer.

 

8. How much does it cost to start this type of business and how much on a monthly basis to maintain it?

Freelancing is generally a low-cost venture, but that’s not to say it’s free. Depending on what you do, you may need specialist equipment and / or software. And if you’re switching from an employed position, you may have to buy things like this yourself for the first time.

A good computer is a must, as it’s often the key tool of your trade. You may also need to budget for things like insurance, possibly including healthcare cover if you are somewhere like the US where this isn’t covered by tax payments.

When it comes to monthly costs, the main things I pay for include software subscriptions and insurance policies. Thankfully these tend to build over time and no individual thing is particularly expensive. You can start out as an online freelancer without even having a personal website, and add things like that once you gain some momentum.

I also recommend budgeting for ongoing training and learning. Thankfully there are all kinds of ways to learn online inexpensively. Companies have training budgets, but when you’re a freelancer, keeping your skills on point is on you.

 

9. What kind of training is needed to become a freelancer?

I’d say the training splits into two: learning about freelancing itself, and building skills around the specific work you want to do.

Courses like my own Freelance Kickstarter cover the first part. Freelancing is a skill in itself, and we’ve covered some of the important areas in this interview already. Stuff like setting rates isn’t immediately obvious, so learning from those who have been there and done it already is very valuable.

When it comes to skills-specific training it depends what work you’re doing. Let’s say somebody wanted to work as a freelance social media manager. Not that long ago it would have been all about Twitter and Facebook. Nowadays Pinterest is a much bigger deal for many people, and TikTok is emerging as the latest trend.

So as that freelancer, you need to decide what you’re going to focus on. Do you want to be the “go-to guru” for TikTok, or be more of a generalist with social media in general?

It’s wonderful to have the choice.

 

10. Are there any other tips that you have for someone who wants to become a freelancer?

I have many!

The one I repeat over and over is that you have to eventually go for it and make the jump. I see a lot of people who never get past the “thinking about it” phase. Meanwhile the go-getters have taken the leap of faith and started to build success.

Moving to freelancing is one of those things where there may never be a perfect time to do it. Those who keep waiting for that time to arrive can easily find themselves looking back ten years later with the same commute and the same job.

Another thing I’m like a broken record about is the importance of “paying your dues.” There are often plenty of less-than-ideal gigs to finish successfully before you arrive at the amazing ones.

I wrote about some really dull topics in my early days of freelance writing, for example. But I had to wade through that stuff to build my reputation. It all felt thoroughly worth it a few years later when I was being well paid for travel articles and restaurant reviews!

You learn something from every job along the way: How to handle clients, renegotiate rates, refine your skills, and get work done more efficiently so that you’re boosting the value of your time. Freelancing isn’t supposed to be easy but it’s almost always challenging, interesting and rewarding.

And let’s face it, many people don’t feel that way about their jobs.

 

11. What can a person learn from your course? Can you tell us about some of the people who have successfully taken your course?

OK, so Freelance Kickstarter expands on all of the topics I’ve touched on here, and many others. It’s intended to remove confusion, and that feeling of overwhelm that often descends when researching this stuff online. It helps new freelancers make a clear plan for getting started. As the strapline goes, the idea is that people “stop wasting time, and start making money!”

I never intended to create a course, but after running the HomeWorkingClub website for several years, it became clear there was a space for something like this. I make it very clear that it’s not some kind of “get rich quick” scheme.

To be brutally honest, I don’t want students who are looking for shortcuts. There is real hard work involved in being a successful freelancer, but it’s a more than viable option for those willing to do what’s required.

The course starts with the basics of working out what you can do and want to do, and presents LOTS of different options. It then moves on to auditing your skills and experience, building your brand, and working out your own personal goals. I particularly like that section because it helps people learn the exact process I use myself every few months to keep things moving forward.

The next lessons cover finding clients, and there’s a big module on learning how to use freelance job boards like Upwork. Once people have completed this, they will know how to uncover the good and genuine jobs, and how to side-step the time-drains and scams.

Students also learn about setting rates, and all the other practicalities of running a freelance business, from getting the tech right to taking undisturbed holidays! We also cover side gigs, and long-term slow-burn projects like blogs and self-published books.

I provide personal support on the course, and people can ask me all the questions they need as they go along. There are also regular exclusive podcasts with extra advice and news of industry developments and new opportunities.

In terms of people who have already taken the course, I recently published a case study from a lady called Lyn. She now has “more work than she can handle” as a freelance writer working via Upwork. Two things that have particularly pleased me about her situation is that she’s cherry-picking projects that interest her, and that she’s been able to do exactly what I suggest in increasing her rates as she builds experience and reputation.

I’ve also had great feedback from people at a much earlier stage. I’ve kept the course price low so that people can use it to help decide if freelancing is for them – just dipping their toes in for the first time.

As one student said, the course is “ideal if you are considering going freelance and don’t know where or when to start, or even if freelancing is for you.”

Several of the testimonials so far have aligned perfectly with the original objective, which was – essentially – to help people see the wood for the trees in an environment than can seem very daunting to begin with.

I set out to create the course I wish I’d had! I’ve made more than my fair share of mistakes in over 16 years of freelancing. The people taking Freelance Kickstarter should hopefully be able to avoid the same ones!

Click here to learn more about Freelance Kickstarter.

 Are you interested in learning how to become a freelancer?

The post How To Become a Freelancer and Make a Full-Time Income appeared first on Making Sense Of Cents.

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Per Stirpes vs. Per Capita in Estate Planning

Three generations of one familyWhen creating an estate plan, one of the most basic documents you may wish to include is a will. If you have a more complicated estate, you might also need to have a trust in place. Both a will and a trust can specify how you want assets distributed among your beneficiaries. When making those decisions, it’s important to distinguish between per stirpes and per capita distributions. These are two terms you’re likely to come across when shaping your estate plan. Here’s a closer look at what per stirpes vs. per capita means.

Per Stirpes, Explained

If you’ve never heard the term per stirpes before, it’s a Latin phrase that translates to “by branch” or “by class.” When this term is applied to estate planning, it refers to the equal distribution of assets among the different branches of a family and their surviving descendants.

A per stirpes designation allows the descendants of a beneficiary to keep inherited assets within that branch of their family, even if the original beneficiary passes away. Those assets would be equally divided between the survivors.

Here’s an example of how per stirpes distributions work for estate planning. Say that you draft a will in which you designate your adult son and daughter as beneficiaries. You opt to leave your estate to them, per stirpes.

If you pass away before both of your children, then they could each claim a half share of your estate under the terms of your will. Now, assume that each of your children has two children of their own and your son passes away before you do. In that scenario, your daughter would still inherit a half share of the estate. But your son’s children would split his half of your estate, inheriting a quarter share each.

Per stirpes distributions essentially create a trickle-down effect, in which assets can be passed on to future generations if a primary beneficiary passes away. A general rule of thumb is that the flow of assets down occurs through direct descendants, rather than spouses. So, if your son were married, his children would be eligible to inherit his share of your estate, not his wife.

Per Capita, Explained

Older couple signs a will

Per capita is also a Latin term which means “by head.” When you use a per capita distribution method for estate planning, any assets you have would pass equally to the beneficiaries are still living at the time you pass away. If you’re writing a will or trust as part of your estate plan, that could include the specific beneficiaries you name as well as their descendants.

So again, say that you have a son and a daughter who each have two children. These are the only beneficiaries you plan to include in your will. Under a per capita distribution, instead of your son and daughter receiving a half share of your estate, they and your four grandchildren would each receive a one-sixth share of your assets. Those share portions would adjust accordingly if one of your children or grandchildren were to pass away before you.

Per Stirpes vs. Per Capita: Which Is Better?

Whether it makes sense to use a per stirpes or per capita distribution in your estate plan can depend largely on how you want your assets to be distributed after you’re gone. It helps to consider the pros and cons of each option.

Per Stirpes Pros:

  • Allows you to keep asset distributions within the same branch of the family
  • Eliminates the need to amend or update wills and trusts when a child is born to one of your beneficiaries or a beneficiary passes away
  • Can help to minimize the potential for infighting among beneficiaries since asset distribution takes a linear approach

Per Stirpes Cons:

  • It’s possible an unwanted person could take control of your assets (i.e., the spouse of one of your children if he or she is managing assets on behalf of a minor child)

Per Capita Pros:

  • You can specify exactly who you want to name as beneficiaries and receive part of your estate
  • Assets are distributed equally among beneficiaries, based on the value of your estate at the time you pass away
  • You can use this designation to pass on assets outside of a will, such as a 401(k) or IRA

Per Capita Cons:

  • Per capita distributions could trigger generation-skipping tax for grandchildren or other descendants who inherit part of your estate

Deciding whether it makes more sense to go with per stirpes vs. per capita distributions can ultimately depend on your personal preferences. Per stirpes distribution is typically used in family settings when you want to ensure that individual branches of the family will benefit from your estate. On the other hand, per capita distribution gives you control over which individuals or group of individuals are included as beneficiaries.

Review Beneficiary Designations Periodically

Multi-generational family

If you have a will and/or a trust, you may have named your beneficiaries. But it’s possible that you may want to change those designations at some point. If you named your son and his wife in your will, for example, but they’ve since gotten divorced you may want to update the will with a codicil to exclude his ex-wife. It’s also helpful to check the beneficiary designations on retirement accounts, investment accounts and life insurance policies after a major life change.

For example, if you get divorced then you may not want your spouse to be the beneficiary of your retirement accounts. Or if they pass away before you, you may want to update your beneficiary designations to your children or grandchildren.

The Bottom Line

Per stirpes and per capita distribution rules can help you decide what happens to your assets after you pass away. But they both work very differently. Understanding the implications of each one for your beneficiaries, including how they may be affected from a tax perspective, can help you decide which course to take.

Tips for Estate Planning

  • Consider talking to a financial advisor about how to get started with estate planning and what per stirpes vs. per capita distributions might mean for your heirs. If you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be complicated. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool can help you connect, within minutes, with a professional advisor in your local area. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • While it’s always a good idea to consult with a financial advisor about estate planning, you can take a do-it-yourself approach to writing a will by doing it online. Here’s what you need to know about digital DIY will writing.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Georgijevic, ©iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages, ©iStock.com/FatCamera

The post Per Stirpes vs. Per Capita in Estate Planning appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

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Different Types of Debt

Debt comes in all shapes and sizes. You can owe money to utility companies, banks, credit card providers, and the government. There’s student loan debt, credit card debt, mortgage debt, and much more. But what are the official categories of debt and how do the payoff strategies for these debts differ?

Categories of Debt

Debt is generally categorized into two simple forms: Secured and Unsecured. The former is secured against an asset, such as a car or loan, and means the lender can seize the asset if you fail to meet your obligations. Unsecured is not secured against anything, reducing the creditor’s control and limiting their options if the repayment terms are not met.

A secured debt provides the lender with some assurances and collateral, which means they are often prepared to provide better interest rates and terms. This is one of the reasons you’re charged astronomical rates for credit cards and short-term loans but are generally offered very favorable rates for home loans and car loans.

If the debtor fails to make payments on an unsecured debt, such as a credit card, then the debtor may file a judgment with the courts or sell it to a collection agency. In the first instance, it’s a lot of hassle without any guarantee. In the second, they’re selling the debts for cents on the dollar and losing a lot of money. In either case, it’s not ideal, and to offset this they charge much higher interest rates and these rates climb for debtors with a poorer track record.

There is also something known as revolving debt, which can be both unsecured and secured. Revolving debt is anything that offers a continuous cycle of credit and repayment, such as a credit card or a home equity line of credit. 

Mortgages and federal student loans may also be grouped into separate debts. In the case of mortgages, these are substantial secured loans that use the purchase as collateral. As for federal student loans, they are provided by the government to fund education. They are unsecured and there are many forgiveness programs and options to clear them before the repayment date.

What is a Collection Account?

As discussed above, if payments are missed for several months then the account may be sold to a debt collection agency. This agency will then assume control of the debt, contacting the debtor to try and settle for as much as they can. At this point, the debt can often be settled for a fraction of the amount, as the collection agency likely bought it very cheaply and will make a profit even if it is sold for 30% of its original balance.

Debt collectors are persistent as that’s their job. They will do everything in their power to collect, whether that means contacting you at work or contacting your family. There are cases when they are not allowed to do this, but in the first instance, they can, especially if they’re using these methods to track you down and they don’t discuss your debts with anyone else.

No one wants the debt collectors after them, but generally, you have more power than they do and unless they sue you, there’s very little they can do. If this happens to you, we recommend discussing the debts with them and trying to come to an arrangement. Assuming, that is, the debt has not passed the statute of limitations. If it has, then negotiating with them could invalidate that and make you legally responsible for the debt all over again.

Take a look at our guide to the statute of limitations in your state to learn more.

As scary as it can be to have an account in collections, it’s also common. A few years ago, a study found that there are over 70 million accounts in collections, with an average balance of just over $5,000.

Can Bankruptcy Discharge all Debts?

Bankruptcy can help you if you have more debts than you can repay. But it’s not as all-encompassing as many debtors believe.

Chapter 7 bankruptcy will discharge most of your debts, but it won’t touch child support, alimony or tax debt. It also won’t help you with secured debts as the lender will simply repossess or foreclose, taking back their money by cashing in the collateral. Chapter 13 bankruptcy works a little differently and is geared towards repayment as opposed to discharge. You get to keep more of your assets and in exchange you agree to a payment plan that repays your creditors over 3 to 5 years.

However, as with Chapter 7, you can’t clear tax debts and you will still need to pay child support and alimony. Most debts, including private student loans, credit card debt, and unsecured loan debt will be discharged with bankruptcy.

Bankruptcy can seriously reduce your credit score in the short term and can remain on your credit report for up to 10 years, so it’s not something to be taken lightly. Your case will also be dismissed if you can’t show that you have exhausted all other options.

Differences in Reducing Each Type of Debt

The United States has some of the highest consumer debt in the world. It has become a common part of modern life, but at the same time, we have better options for credit and debt relief, which helps to balance things out a little. Some of the debt relief options at your disposal have been discussed below in relation to each particular type of long-term debt.

The Best Methods for Reducing Loans

If you’re struggling with high-interest loans, debt consolidation can help. A debt consolidation company will provide you with a loan large enough to cover all your debts and in return, they will give you a single long-term debt. This will often have a smaller interest rate and a lower monthly payment, but the term will be much longer, which means you’ll pay much more interest overall.

Debt management works in a similar way, only you work directly with a credit union or credit counseling agency and they do all the work for you, before accepting your money and then distributing it to your creditors.

Both forms of debt relief can also help with other unsecured debts. They bring down your debt-to-income ratio, leave you with more disposable income, and allow you to restructure your finances and get your life back on track.

The Best Methods for Reducing Credit Cards

Debt settlement is the ultimate debt relief option and can help you clear all unsecured debt, with many companies specializing in credit card debt. 

Debt settlement works best when you have lots of derogatory marks and collections, as this is when creditors are more likely to settle. They can negotiate with your creditors for you and clear your debts by an average of 40% to 60%. You just need to pay the full settlement amount and the debt will clear, with the debt settlement company not taking their cut until the entire process has been finalized.

A balance transfer can also help with credit card debt. A balance transfer credit card gives you a 0% APR on all transfers for between 6 and 18 months. Simply move all of your credit card balances into a new balance transfer card and then every cent of your monthly payment will go towards the principal.

The Best Methods for Reducing Secured Debts

Secured debt is a different beast, as your lender can seize the asset if they want to. This makes them much less susceptible to settlement offers and refinancing. However, they will still be keen to avoid the costly foreclosure/repossession process, so contact them as soon as you’re struggling and see if they can offer you anything by way of a grace period or reduced payment.

Most lenders have some form of hardship program and are willing to be flexible if it increases their chances of being repaid in full.

Different Types of Debt is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

7 Cheap or Free Meditation Apps to Foster Mindfulness

Stress is something we all deal with in varying forms. The past 12 months have tested everyone’s ability to cope with unprecedented stressors, and well, it’s tiring having to adapt to a constantly changing landscape. Meditation is scientifically proven to lower stress levels and help soothe the hamster wheel of thoughts racing through our minds.

Best of all, thanks to modern technology, meditation has never been so accessible. You need no equipment, and there are hundreds of free meditation apps and mindfulness apps to assist you in finding your zen.

1. MyLife Meditation: Mindfulness

Selected as the Apple App Store’s “App of the Day” in 2020, MyLife Meditation: Mindfulness is a free meditation app that is personalized to how you feel and only asks for a few minutes of your day.

According to the app, users were 82% more likely to be less anxious with consistent use of MyLife Meditation: Mindfulness. Sign us up! This free meditation app also offers breathing exercises to catalyze calm and groundedness, tracking mental health with a daily feelings log, and guided meditations recommended just for you.

For those who are ready to kick things up a notch, the meditation app has a premium membership for $9.99/month or $58.99/year that unlocks 400+ activities, guided journaling prompts, yoga and soundscapes.

2. Simple Habit Sleep, Meditation

With 71,000 ratings totalling 4.8/5 stars on the Apple App Store, Simple Habit Sleep, Meditation is one of the top free mindfulness apps available today.

Simple Habit’s goal is in its name — make daily meditation a simple, easy habit. This free app offers five-minute meditations, progress trackers and downloadable meditations for situations like air travel or remote adventures.

It has programs guided by top mindfulness experts from Google, former monks and leading mental health experts. Whether you need a quick decompression before heading into work or a longer, pre-sleep session, Simple Habit makes meditation easy.

To access even more mindfulness content, Simple Habit has a premium subscription for $11.99/month.

3. Ten Percent Happier

The Ten Percent Happier app was Apple’s best of 2018 award winner and was the top app in the Wirecutter’s list of “Best Meditation Apps” .

This easy-to-use app is led by Emmy-award winning journalist Dan Harris, who works with some of the best meditation teachers in the world to bring you sessions focused on meditation practices like self-compassion, emotional balance and navigating crises.

Ten Percent Happier opens by asking users a series of questions about their life and lifestyle, then curating a plan specific to each person. You can select goals such as fostering daily calm, lowering anxiety levels and more. You are also invited to choose the way you learn best, whether that’s through audio, reading, videos or hands-on experiences.

Here’s the catch: the Ten Percent Happier program isn’t free , though you can start with a 14-day free trial before paying $99.99 for a one-year subscription.

4. Headspace

Headspace is one of the best-known mental health apps. Its nearly five-star rating and 65 million downloadsshow Headspace is on it for meditation practice.

One of Headspace’s more unique offerings is its Weathering the Storm collection, a series of guided meditations, prompts, body scans and stories geared toward helping folks navigate the challenges presented by the past year.

Headspace is changing the meditation app space by offering mindful workouts, too. Led by Olympians Kim Glass and Leon Taylor, Headspace workouts combine mental grounding with body-pumping training sessions to promote holistic wellness.

This affordable (but not free) meditation app has a free 14-day trial before charging $12.99/month or $69.99/year (which brings the monthly total down to $5.99/month).

5. Insight Timer

Another heavy hitter in the free meditation app space is Insight Timer, which was named App of the Year by TIME Magazine and Women’s Health.

Insight Timer is a must-have for those who want a wide variety of meditation practices, as the app offers thousands of guided meditations and is constantly adding more. It also has no-cost music and ambient soundtracks to promote better sleep and focus.

This free meditation app promotes community by offering numerous discussion groups and ways to connect with other Insight Timer users.

Whether you’re looking to sleep better, move through an addiction, improve leadership at work, or work on your meditation practice, Insight Timer has a guided meditation for you.

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6. Calm

Calm is one of the original mindfulness programs for smart devices. It boasts 40 million downloads worldwide and 1.1 million reviews on the Apple App Store.

With its free version, users get access to loads of guided meditations, sleep stories, ambient sounds and breath timers that all seek to promote a more tranquil, fulfilling life.

Calm offers a wide variety of meditations, from flight anxiety to SOS panic sessions designed to ground users in the present. Some of its meditations and bedtime stories are led by famous voices like Bindi Irwin, Matthew McConaughey and Stephen Fry, to name a few.

This app lets you track the number of days you’ve meditated, helping to make using Calm a rewarding habit.

If the free version of Calm isn’t enough, users can upgrade to a premium subscription for $69.99/year and get access to even more mindful content.

7. Breethe: Meditation & Sleep

With more than 10 million downloads, Breethe: Meditation & Sleep is one of the best meditation apps in the mindfulness market.

Breethe has over 1,000 tracks of nature sounds, guided meditations, bedtime stories, five-minute and three-minute meditations and more.

Wellness experts like mindfulness coach Lynne Goldberg walk you through practices to help you achieve a smiling mind and a calm body. Breethe seeks to help all users find peace with their emotions, physical sensations and current events through deliberate mental health practices.

The app is free to download. But to access its features, you can join the Breethe membership community for $12.99/month or $89.99/year.

Kristin Jenny is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com