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

6 Cheap Super Bowl Snacks to Serve With the Big Game

Everyone knows that Super Bowl time is snack time.

But this year, given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, you may be staying home to watch the game rather than heading to a big bash or going to a bar or restaurant and plunking down big bucks.

However you decide to watch the game, you can still enjoy some classic Super Bowl snacks.

6 Cheap Super Bowl Snacks to Enjoy With the Big Game

1. Chex Party Mix

Everyone loves this crunchy, salty snack. While there are thousands of different ways to make it, this time-tested recipe from The Spruce Eats is super easy and will appeal to the garlic lovers in your crowd.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 60 minutes

You’ll need:

  • ½ cup butter
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • 3 cups corn Chex cereal
  • 2 cups wheat Chex cereal
  • 1 ½ cups mixed nuts
  • 1 cup small pretzels
  • 1 cup garlic-flavored bagel chips
  • 1 cup mini pretzel rods

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Melt the butter in a large pan and stir in Worcestershire sauce, seasoned salt, garlic salt and onion powder. Add everything else and toss thoroughly until well-coated. Bake for one hour, stirring the batch every 15 minutes. Let cool and store in an airtight container.

2. Honey Garlic Crockpot Meatballs

For a hearty main course, this incredibly easy meatball recipe from Family Fresh Meals will keep your crew happy. Serve them over noodles or rice for a main dish, or just let people enjoy them as an appetizer.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 4 hours

You’ll need:

  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • ½ cup ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 (28 oz) bag fully cooked, frozen meatballs

Mix together the brown sugar, honey, ketchup, soy sauce and garlic. Next, place the meatballs in a three- or four-quart crockpot and cover in sauce, tossing to coat. Turn the crockpot on low for four hours and stir occasionally.

3. Baked Mozzarella Sticks

Enjoy the diner classic at home with The Spruce Eats recipe for baked mozzarella sticks.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 5 minutes

You’ll need:

  • ½ cup brown rice flour
  • ¼ cup tapioca flour
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, finely grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 large eggs
  • 6 sticks of low-moisture, part skim milk mozzarella string cheese (cut in half crosswise and frozen for 3-4 hours)
  • Grapeseed oil for frying
  • Marinara or other sauce for dipping

Add grapeseed oil to a skillet, and then mix the flours, parmesan, garlic powder, salt and black pepper in a shallow dish. Beat the eggs and add them to a separate dish. Coat the cheese, alternating between the dry mixture and the egg. Make sure to cover the entirety of the cheese pieces, including the ends.

Next, heat the oil in the pan to 360 degrees and then drop the frozen cheese into it. Turn them every 20 to 30 seconds until they are a golden brown color. Place the cheese on paper towels to absorb the excess oil, and then transfer them to a platter for serving.

4. Pigs in a Blanket

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Go with the classic childhood favorite: buttery dough enveloping tasty mini-sausages. Pillsbury has a great recipe for pigs in a blanket. 

You’ll need:

  • 2 cans (8 ounces each) refrigerated crescent dinner rolls
  • 48 cocktail-sized smoked linked sausages

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Unroll all the dough and pull into 16 triangles. Cut each triangle into three narrow triangles. Roll a sausage link up in each triangle of dough. Place them on unlined baking sheets. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until golden brown, rotating halfway through. Serve warm.

5. Crockpot Beer Cheese Dip

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 40 minutes

This snack from The Spruce Eats just may be the most indulgent one on this list. Have it with pretzels or tortilla chips — or even try something fancier like apples and vegetables.

  • 1/2 cup beer
  • 1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
  • 1 pound processed cheese spread loaf, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • You’ll also need food to dip into it; The Spruce Eats suggests not only tortilla chips and hard and soft pretzels but also apples, crackers, bread cubes and assorted vegetables.

Combine the beer, Tabasco sauce and processed cheese spread in a slow cooker. Add more Tabasco sauce if you prefer a spicier treat. Cover and cook on high for 40 minutes. Once the cheese has melted, stir it to make it smooth. Keep it in the slow cooker on low and serve with the dippers.

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6. Restaurant-Style Buffalo Chicken Wings

It really is possible to enjoy restaurant-style buffalo chicken wings at home. This recipe from AllRecipes takes more time than others on the list, but that’s only because you need to chill the chicken before cooking it.

Prep time: 60-90 minutes (includes time to chill ingredients before cooking)

Cook time: 15 minutes

  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 10 chicken wings
  • oil for deep frying
  • ¼ cup butter
  • ¼ cup hot sauce
  • 1 dash ground black pepper
  • 1 dash garlic powder

Mix flour, paprika, cayenne pepper and salt in a small bowl. Put the chicken wings in a nonporous glass dish or bowl and then sprinkle the flour mixture on top, evenly coating the wings. Cover the dish and refrigerate it for 60-90 minutes.

Heat the oil in a deep fryer to 375 degrees. Mix butter, hot sauce, pepper and garlic butter in a small saucepan and then put it over low heat. Stir until the butter melts and blend the mixture thoroughly. Then remove it from the heat.

Remove the wings from the refrigerator and fry them in the hot oil for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove them from the heat, put them in a serving bowl, add the hot sauce mixture and stir before serving.

Kristen Pope is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder. Editor Sushil Cheema contributed to this post.

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

I Thought I Was Too Good For Community College

4 reasons you should go to community college firstWhether you are about to head to college (no matter what your age may be), if you have a child who is about to attend college, or if you know someone who is about to experience this, then this article is for you.

When I was around 17, I applied to several different colleges, but one mistake I made was that I didn’t even give community college a thought.

Unfortunately, there is a stigma attached to going to community college, like thinking it is for those that can’t get into a “regular” college, for those that don’t have enough money, or for those that have no other options. When, in fact, these are all far from the truth.

And, sadly, I bought into these myths and thought I was too good for community college. If you want to save money in college, community college is a great way to do that.

The stigma about going to community college is absolutely ridiculous.

And, I was a young kid, so, of course, I let other people’s opinions get to me. And, I thought everyone was right!

It isn’t just kids that believe those myths about community college, as even adults (parents or returning learners) buy into those myths.

Well, that is a big mistake!

For many people, community college should be their first choice.

College costs are increasing, and they’re not going to stop anytime soon.

According to College Board, the average yearly tuition and fees for a:

  • Private four-year college is $32,410.
  • Public four-year college for out-of-state students is $23,890.
  • Public four-year college for in-state students is $9,410.

Community college, on the other hand, is just $3,440.

Those tuition differences are huge, and just look at how much you could save if you did only your first year at community college!

For many people, going to college means taking out loans, and according to a student survey done by Nerdwallet, 48% of undergrad borrowers said they could have borrowed less and still have afforded their educations. And, 27% regretted going to a school that required them to take out loans to afford their tuition.

I know this regret personally.

I only spent one summer semester taking classes at community college, where I earned 12 credits, and I still regret not taking more. I probably could have saved over $20,000 by taking more classes at my local community college.

Yes, I could have saved that much money!

Whether you are in college already or if you haven’t started yet, taking classes at a community college can be a great way to save money.

Today, I want to talk about common myths I hear about community college, so that I can persuade more people to give it a shot. It can save you so much money, and is a great option for a lot of people.

Related content:

  • Should I Ruin My Retirement By Helping My Child Through College?
  • FAFSA Tips So That You Can Get The Most Financial Help For College
  • Learning How To Survive On A College Budget
  • How I Graduated From College In 2.5 Years With 2 Degrees AND Saved $37,500
  • How Blogging Paid Off My Student Loans
  • 16 Best Online Jobs For College Students

Here are common myths about attending community college:

 

But, all of my credits won’t transfer.

This is the top reason (and myth) I hear for not attending community college.

If you take the correct steps, the credits you earn at a community college will transfer.

If you decide to go to a community college first, always make sure that the 4-year college you plan on attending afterwards will accept all of your credits. It’s an easy step to take, so do not forget to look into this! You should take this step before you sign up and pay for any classes at the community college so that you are not wasting your time.

My four-year university made it easy and had a printed list of what transferred from the local community college – it’s seriously that easy! I’m sure many universities do this as well.

When I took classes for college credit in high school and at the community college, I made sure that all of the classes transferred to the university in which I was getting my degree from.

I have heard too many stories about people not checking this ahead of time and wasting years by taking classes that didn’t transfer, which means you are wasting time and money.

Make sure you get it in writing and talk to your college counselor as well about this. They can help you determine which ones will transfer and provide you proof of transferability.

Also, know that by accepting transfer credits, your four-year university is basically saying “these community college credits mean the same thing here.”

 

Community college won’t actually save me that much money.

I want to repeat, the average yearly tuition and fees for a:

  • Private four-year college is $32,410.
  • Public four-year college for out-of-state students is $23,890.
  • Public four-year college for in-state students is $9,410.

And, community college is $3,440.

As you can see, college tuition is a significant amount of money, and it is a drastic difference between four-year institutions and community college.

Now, the problem here is that many people “afford” college by taking out student loans, so the amount of money you are paying for college isn’t an immediate thing that you “feel” – because it’s all debt!

Note: If you are a parent and you are thinking about taking on debt to put your child through school, please, please, please consider having them attend community college first. Please, also read Should I Ruin My Retirement By Helping My Child Through College?

 

The classes won’t be as good.

I’ve heard this community college myth over and over again. Many people think that the classes won’t be “good enough” for them. That is usually far from the case, though. Your first two years, no matter where you go, are most likely going to consist of very generic classes or classes that are similar, if not the same, as ones at the four-year college you are thinking about attending.

It’s usually not until the last two years, after you get those beginner classes and electives out of the way, that your classes really begin to matter for your degree.

And, if you’re afraid you really need more of those beginner classes from a four-year college, I recommend at least taking a summer semester or two at your community college for elective classes. There are usually lots of elective options at community college, and you can at least take those at a more affordable rate. That is exactly what I did – one summer while I was attending my four-year college, I enrolled at the community college for a bunch of electives. I was able to easily, and affordably, knock out a bunch of electives.

 

My degree will be worth less coming from a community college.

When you graduate with a four-year degree, the school name on your diploma will be the name of the college you graduated from. It won’t say, “graduated from here but took some classes at community college.” This is because your community college credits transferred (if you followed the step above).

So, no worries here.

Nowhere on my college degree does it say that I took some classes at the community college.

Did you attend community college? Why or why not?

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How an Employer 401(k) Match Works

Man at desk on tablet

Whether your retirement plans involve writing your memoir from a lovely little seaside cottage, a heated game of bocce against your (*ahem* sore loser) neighbor, or hitting up every farmers market in a 50-mile radius, a 401(k) is one savings strategy you can use to save money to get you there.

Simply put, a 401(k) is a mechanism for saving retirement funds by making pre-tax contributions through deductions from payroll. Some plans offer a 401(k) employer match, which can be the equivalent of getting “free money” from an employer.

A Quick Breakdown on 401(k) Plans

A 401(k) is an investment plan many employers offer their employees as a way to save for retirement. Employees can contribute either a percentage of or predetermined amount from each paycheck and, in some cases, the contributions can be matched by the employer up to a certain amount.

These deferred wages, also called “elective deferrals,” aren’t typically subject to federal income tax withholding, and are not listed as taxable income on the employee’s annual return.

If someone is self-employed, they can contribute to a one participant 401(k) plan plan with the same rules and requirements as an employer-sponsored 401(k) plan. Similarly, 457(b) plans can be used for public sector employees, and 403(b) plans for public schools and certain tax-exempt organizations.

Advantages of Participating in a 401(k)

A few advantages to participating in a 401(k) :

1. Investment gains and elective deferrals to 401(k) plans are not subject to federal income tax until they’re distributed, which is typically when:

•   The participant reaches the age of 59½
•   The participant becomes disabled, deceased, or otherwise has a severance from employment
•   The plan terminates and no subsequent plan is established by the employer
•   The participant incurs a financial hardship

2. Elective deferrals are 100% vested. The participant owns 100% of the money in their account, and the employer cannot take it back or forfeit it for any reason.

3. Participants choose how to invest their 401(k). The plans are mainly self-directed, meaning participants decide how they’d like to invest the money in their account. This could mean mutual funds or exchange-traded funds (ETFs) which invests in a wide array of sectors and companies, but typically doesn’t include investing in individual companies and stocks.

Investment tactics might vary from person to person, but by understanding their goals, investors can decide whether their portfolio will have time to withstand market ups and downs with some high-risk, high-reward investments, or if they should shift to a more conservative allocation as they come closer to retirement.

What About 401(k) Vesting Schedules?

“Vesting ” means “ownership” in a retirement plan. The employee will vest, or own, some percent of their account balance. In the case of a 401(k), being 100% vested means they’ve met their employer’s vesting schedule requirements to ensure complete ownership of their funds.

Vesting schedules, determined by 401(k) plan documents, can lay out certain employer vesting restrictions that range from immediate vesting to 100% vesting after three years to a schedule that increases the vested percentage based on years of service. Either way, all employees must be 100% vested if a plan is terminated by the employer or upon reaching the plan’s standard retirement age.

How Does a 401(k) Match Work?

A 401(k) match is an employee benefit that allows an employer to contribute a certain amount to their employee’s 401(k) plan. The match can be based on a percentage of the employee’s contribution, up to a certain portion of their total salary or a set dollar amount, depending on the terms of the plan.

Not all employers offer this benefit, and some have prerequisites for participating in the match, such as a minimum required contribution or a cap up to a certain amount.

Meeting with an HR representative or a benefits administrator is a one way to get a better idea of what’s possible. Learning the maximum percent of salary the company will contribute is a start, then the employee can set or increase their contribution accordingly to maximize the employer match benefit.

Benefits of a 401(k) Employer Match

According to a report from Fidelity Investments , the average employer 401(k) match reached a record high of 4.7% in 2019 and “boosted the average total savings rate to an all-time high of 13.5%.”

Many employees are taking advantage of this benefit. Some reasons they could benefit:

It’s Basically “Free Money”

An employer match is one part of the overall compensation package and another way to maximize the amount of money an employer pays their employees. Those employees could be turning their backs on free money by not contributing to an employer-matched 401(k) plan.

Reducing Taxable Income

According to FINRA , “with pre-tax contributions, every dollar you save will reduce your current taxable income by an equal amount, which means you will owe less in income taxes for the year. But your take-home pay will go down by less than a dollar.”

If a participant contributed $1,500 a year to a 401(k), they’d only owe taxes on their current salary minus that amount, which could save some serious money as that salary grows.

The Most Common Employer Match Formulas

Not all employer matches are created equal.

According to a recent report from Vanguard , “How America Saves,” among the 150 distinct match formulas administered through their employer-matched 401(k) plans in 2018:

•  70% of plans used a single-tier match formula, with the most commonly cited being $0.50 on the dollar on the first 6% of pay.
•  21% of plans used multi-tier match formulas, e.g., dollar-on-dollar on the first 3% of pay and $0.50 on the dollar on the next 2% of pay.

A Sample Employer Match 401(k) Scenario

For the sake of breaking a few things down, here’s a retirement saving scenario that can illuminate how 401(k) matching works in real life:

Let’s say a person is 30 years old, with a salary of $50,000, contributing 3% of their salary (or $1,500) to a 401(k). Let’s also say they keep making $50,000 and contributing 3% every year until they’re 65. They will have put $52,500 into their 401(k) in those 35 years.

Now let’s say they opt into an employer match with a dollar-for-dollar up to 3% formula. Putting aside the likelihood of an increase in the value of the investments, they’ll have saved $105,000— with $52,500 in free contributions from their employer.

That’s a no-cost way to increase retirement savings by 100%.

How Much Should a Participant Contribute?

The average 401(k) employee contribution amount, according to Fidelity , reached a record level of $2,370 in 2019. Still, there’s no across-the-board amount that will work for everyone.

When deciding how much to contribute to a 401(k) plan, many factors might be considered to take advantage of a unique savings approach:

•   If a company offers a 401(k) employer match, the participant might consider contributing enough to meet whatever the minimum match requirements are.
•   If a participant is closer to retirement age, they’ll probably have a pretty good idea of what they already have saved and what they need to reach their retirement goals. An increase in contributions can make a difference, and maxing out their 401(k) might be a solid strategy.

A retirement calculator can also be helpful in determining what the right contribution amount is for a specific financial situation.

Are There 401(k) Contribution Limits?

In addition to the uncertainty that can come with choosing how much to contribute to a 401(k), there’s the added pressure of potential penalties for going over the maximum 401(k) contribution limit.

Three common limits to 401(k) contributions :

1. Elective deferral limits: Contribution amounts chosen by an employee and contributed to a 401(k) plan by the employer. In 2020, participants can contribute up to $19,500.

2. Catch-up contribution limits: After the age of 50, participants can contribute more to their 401(k) with catch-up contributions. In 2020, participants can make up to $6,500 in catch-up contributions.

3. Employer contribution limits: An employer can also make contributions and matches to a 401(k). The combined limit (not including catch-up contributions) on employer and employee contributions in 2020 is $57,000.

If participants think their total deferrals will exceed the limit for that particular year, the IRS recommends notifying the plan to request the difference (an “excess deferral ”) “be paid out of any of the plans that permit these distributions. The plan must then pay the employee that amount by April 15 of the following year (or an earlier date specified in the plan).”

Getting Started With Investing

Real, human advisors are a great outlet for discussing financial situations and potentially finding a retirement planning strategy that works for each investor (remember that beachside cottage?).

Opening a SoFi Invest® account lets you get started with as little as $1 and comes with complimentary access to financial advisors who are held to the highest fiduciary standards, meaning they’re required to act on your best interests. Try an exploratory conversation at no cost.

Start saving for retirement with SoFi Invest.



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Disclaimer: The projections or other information regarding the likelihood of various investment outcomes are hypothetical in nature, do not reflect actual investment results, and are not guarantees of future results.

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20 Cheap Home Decor Stores to Adorn Your Place for Less

Some moving costs — like truck rentals, security deposits or down payments — are obvious. The expense of decorating your new place can come as an afterthought. If you’ve already drained your bank account just to get the keys to your new address, don’t go into debt adorning your home to make it feel less […]

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.

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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

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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.”
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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

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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.

2020 Destroyed Your Personal Cash Flow. Here’s How to Rescue It

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If you’re like most of us, 2020 did a number on your cash flow.

What is cash flow, you ask? We’re so glad you asked! Cash flow refers to the money that’s constantly moving into and out of your bank account.

Your paychecks (assuming you have work) flow in, and your payments (for food, housing and everything else) flow out.

For many of us, the COVID-19 pandemic has torn a hole in our finances, mucking everything up. Whatever has your cash flow bottled up, we’ve got six suggestions for improving it, one step at a time.

1. Stop Paying Your Credit Card Company

Credit card debt will destroy your cash flow. And the truth is, your credit card company doesn’t really care. It’s just getting rich by ripping you off with high interest rates. But a website called AmOne wants to help.

If you owe your credit card companies $50,000 or less, AmOne will match you with a low-interest loan you can use to pay off every single one of your balances.

The benefit? You’ll be left with one bill to pay each month. And because personal loans have lower interest rates (AmOne rates start at 3.49% APR), you’ll get out of debt that much faster. Plus: No credit card payment this month.

AmOne keeps your information confidential and secure, which is probably why after 20 years in business, it still has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau.

It takes two minutes to see if you qualify for up to $50,000 online. You do need to give AmOne a real phone number in order to qualify, but don’t worry — they won’t spam you with phone calls.

2. Get Paid Every Time You Buy Groceries

Grocery shopping was never exactly pleasant. But these days, it’s a downright struggle — wondering about your personal safety, maintaining six feet of distance from other customers, etc. Shouldn’t you have something to show for it?

A free app called Fetch Rewards will reward you with gift cards just for buying toilet paper and more than 250 other items at the grocery store.

Here’s how it works: After you’ve downloaded the app, just take a picture of your receipt showing you purchased an item from one of the brands listed in Fetch. For your efforts, you’ll earn gift cards to places like Amazon or Walmart.

You can download the free Fetch Rewards app here to start getting free gift cards. Over a million people already have, so they must be onto something…

3. Make Sure You’re Not Overpaying

Here’s another way to improve your cash flow: Stop overpaying for things.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you got an alert when you’re shopping online at Target and are about to overpay? That’s what this free service does.

Just add it to your browser for free, and before you check out, it’ll check other websites, including Walmart, eBay and others to see if your item is available for cheaper. Plus, you can get coupon codes, set up price-drop alerts and even see the item’s price history.

Let’s say you’re shopping for a new TV, and you assume you’ve found the best price. Here’s when you’ll get a pop up letting you know if that exact TV is available elsewhere for cheaper. If there are any available coupon codes, they’ll also automatically be applied to your order.

In the last year, this has saved people $160 million.

You can get started in just a few clicks to see if you’re overpaying online.

In this illustration, a car drives on a road that's between mountains and water.

4. Knock $540/Year From Your Car Insurance in Minutes

Speaking of overpaying for things, when’s the last time you checked car insurance prices?

You should shop your options every six months or so — it could save you some serious money. Let’s be real, though. It’s probably not the first thing you think about when you wake up. But it doesn’t have to be.

A website called Insure makes it super easy to compare car insurance prices. All you have to do is enter your ZIP code and your age, and it’ll show you your options — and even discounts in your area.

Using Insure, people have saved an average of $540 a year.

Yup. That could be $500 back in your pocket just for taking a few minutes to look at your options.

5. Add $225 to Your Wallet Just for Watching the News

This is a historic time for news, and we’re all constantly refreshing for the latest news updates. You probably know more than one news-junkie who fancies themselves an expert in respiratory illness or a political mastermind.

Research companies want to pay you to keep watching. You could add up to $225 a month to your pocket by signing up for a free account with InboxDollars. They’ll present you with short news clips to choose from every day, then ask you a few questions about them.

You just have to answer honestly, and InboxDollars will continue to pay you every month. This might sound too good to be true, but it’s already paid its users more than $56 million.

It takes about one minute to sign up, and start getting paid to watch the news.

6. See if You Can Get More Money From This Company

Here’s the deal: If you’re not using Aspiration’s debit card, you’re missing out on extra cash. And who doesn’t want extra cash right now?

Yep. A debit card called Aspiration gives you up to a 5% back every time you swipe.

Need to buy groceries? Extra cash.

Need to fill up the tank? Bam. Even more extra cash.

You were going to buy these things anyway — why not get this extra money in the process?

Enter your email address here, and link your bank account to see how much extra cash you can get with your free Aspiration account. And don’t worry. Your money is FDIC insured and under a military-grade encryption. That’s nerd talk for “this is totally safe.”

In summary: Take these six steps and watch your cash flow improve.

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at 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