Managing all of life’s demands on limited funds can feel like a never-ending chore. Every family’s budget is unique, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to saving money. However, establishing priorities and looking for ways to make small cuts can add up.
How to Help Your Family Budget
(Family Features) Managing all of life’s demands on limited funds can feel like a never-ending chore. Every family’s budget is unique, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to saving money. However, establishing priorities and looking for ways to make small cuts can add up.
Many people turn to creating a personalized budget or a spending schedule to help keep track of their expenses. Planning payments on a monthly basis can sometimes be helpful when it comes to setting an appropriate family budget, anticipating short-term expenses and planning ahead for long-term payments.
However, creating a personalized budget is not always enough. Some companies also offer discount and incentive programs for particular customers, so it’s best to do some research when planning your next month’s budget and take advantage of available programs.
For example, Amazon offers a discounted Prime membership for $5.99 per month for customers receiving government assistance. This offer is already available to Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cardholders and now Medicaid recipients also qualify. Members have access to a wide selection of more than 100 million items, video and music streaming services, low prices on select items and fast, convenient delivery options, which can ultimately help save both time and money.
In addition to fast, free shipping on millions of items, these benefits come at no additional cost to Prime members:
To help make your budget more manageable, take a close look at your bills, ongoing purchases and opportunities to save where possible.
Find more information to help balance your budget at amazon.com/qualify.
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(BPT) - As our nation seeks solutions to help improve the health care system, there is at least one goal we can all agree on: the importance of making health care quality and cost information more accessible to all Americans.
This is an important effort that has the potential to help improve health outcomes and make care more affordable — laudable goals considering the nation’s health care system ranks among the least efficient in the world, according to a recent Bloomberg analysis.
More widespread use of health quality and cost resources may be part of the solution. Providing health care prices to consumers, health care professionals and other stakeholders could reduce U.S. health care spending by more than $100 billion during the next decade, according to a 2014 report by the Gary and Mary West Health Policy Center.
That is in part because there are significant price variations for health care services and procedures at hospitals and doctors’ offices nationwide, yet a study by Families U.S.A. concluded that higher-priced care providers do not necessarily deliver higher-quality care or better health outcomes.
Fortunately, there are many new online and mobile resources that help enable people to access health care quality and cost information, helping them to comparison shop for health care as they would with other consumer products and services. And people are starting to take action: nearly one third of Americans have used the internet or mobile apps during the last year to comparison shop for health care, up from 14 percent in 2012, according to a recent UnitedHealthcare survey.
These resources are far more accurate and useful than those of past generations, and in some cases provide people with estimates based on actual contracted rates with physicians and hospitals, including likely out-of-pocket costs based on their current health plan benefits. Some resources also include quality information about specific physicians, as determined by independent standards.
There are many resources people can consider when shopping for health care. In addition to online and mobile resources, people can call their health plan to discuss quality and cost transparency information, as well as talk with their health care professional about alternative treatment settings, including urgent care and telehealth options. Public websites, such as www.uhc.com/transparency and www.guroo.com, also can help enable access to market-average prices for hundreds of medical services in cities nationwide.
These resources can help people save money and select health care professionals based on objective information. A UnitedHealthcare analysis showed that people who use online or mobile transparency resources are more likely to select health care providers rated on quality and cost-efficiency across all specialties, including for primary care (7 percent more likely) and orthopedics (9 percent more likely). In addition, the analysis found that people who use the transparency resources before receiving health care services pay 36 percent less than non-users.
As people take greater responsibility for their health care decisions and the cost of medical treatments, transparency resources are becoming important tools to help consumers access quality care and avoid surprise medical bills.
(BPT) - Your smartphone, your tablet, your computer - they are some of your most important and most used possessions. They are the daily tools you use for research, to connect with others and make purchases. You take them everywhere and fill them with your important, personal information.
And all of that makes them the perfect targets for a cyberattack.
The number of cybercrime incidents in the United States grows each year, and as Americans move into an increasingly digital society - thanks to smart phones, smart cars and smart in-home technologies - cybercrime is expected to grow in frequency again in 2017. Protecting yourself, your family and the vital information on your devices means increasing your focus on your own cybersecurity. That starts with these five tips.
* Recognize you're not immune. Cyberattacks increase in frequency and severity every year, so don't make the mistake of believing it can't happen to you. "It's important to protect yourself by taking personal responsibility for your data; we can't expect banks or other institutions to do it for us," said Jim Karagiannes, Ph.D., professor in DeVry University's College of Engineering & Information Services.
"We lock our doors and take other security measures to protect our home and car. We need to also take precautions with our personal security and information."
* Don't store your username, password or credit card information with a website. The convenience makes it tempting, but websites are a popular target for cybercriminals because a successful hack gives them access to hundreds or thousands of files, including yours. Even storing this information on your own computer can expose it in a cyberattack, and if your credit card information is captured, criminals can use it to gather your social security number. That exposes you to identify theft. Keep this information off your devices and, instead, create complex passwords and write down all of your usernames and passwords on a piece of paper that you keep in a safe place, such as a deposit box.
* Use only a credit card, not a debit card, when making online purchases. Using your credit card instead of your debit card allows you to keep better track of the purchases you have made. It also limits the effects of any possible theft to just the one card instead of several. If you have no choice but to use a debit card for an online purchase, do not use your pin number online.
* If it feels like a trick, it probably is. Cybercriminals often engage in "social engineering" or other non-electronic methods to try and trick you into surrendering your data. If you get a phone call about a banking or credit card issue or if your computer tells you to call a number because it just caught a virus, be cautious. Do not divulge any personal history or credit card details. Hang up or ignore the computer-generated notices and call the customer service number of the institution's website with any questions.
* Replace your existing credit cards with chip cards as soon as possible. Chip cards are becoming the new normal these days, and if your current credit card does not have a silver square chip on its front, consider replacing it quickly. Popularized in Europe, chip cards possess the necessary encrypted information to eliminate delays in the transaction process. Doing so closes the window criminals need to steal your personal information, thus protecting you from identity theft.
You have no intention of abandoning your devices, of course, so protect them. Following the tips above will help better secure your technology and personal information from the threats of cybercrime so you can enjoy your devices with greater peace of mind.
(BPT) - With a population of more than 55 million and estimated buying power of over $1.5 trillion, Hispanics in the United States are continuing to shape economic trends; however, as new research finds, they're shaping digital trends as well.
This year's Bank of America Trends in Consumer Mobility Report shows Hispanic consumers are increasingly reliant on mobile devices to navigate daily life. In fact, 35 percent of Hispanics say they are more likely to interact with their smartphone in an average day than anything or anyone else, including their significant other.
The survey, which explored mobile trends and banking behaviors among adults across the country, found this digital lifestyle also extends to how they manage their finances. More than three-quarters (78 percent) of Hispanic consumers use a mobile banking app and 69 percent cite digital as their primary method of banking. These numbers mark a stark contrast from non-Hispanic users, whose percentages were 51 and 61 percent, respectively.
"This survey reinforces what our Hispanic customers show us every day - the Hispanic community leads the way in mobile adoption, usage and engagement," said Michelle Moore, head of digital banking at Bank of America, adding that it was the actions of the Hispanic community that spurred Bank of America to release its mobile app in Spanish. "We're committed to delivering solutions that meet the needs and behaviors of these consumers."
The report revealed further insights into Hispanic consumers' mobile-first mindset.
* Texting becomes the new small talk. Nearly one-third (32 percent) of Hispanics cite texting as their preferred communications method. The vast majority (80 percent) feel that the appropriate response time to a text is under an hour, and 54 percent text someone when they're in the same room.
* Documenting life moments. Hispanics are more inclined to share events with others, as nearly all (95 percent) say they want to have their smartphone on hand to capture important life milestones. They're also more likely than non-Hispanics to post these life moments on social media (78 percent, compared to 69 percent).
* Growing comfort with emerging payments. More than half (56 percent) of Hispanics would use or already use their phone to make purchases at checkout, compared to just 36 percent of their non-Hispanic counterparts. Seventy-seven percent of Hispanics say they're likely to use emerging payment methods such as mobile wallets and social media apps, and 72 percent cite they would use or already use their bank's peer-to-peer payments service.
For more information, visit bankofamerica.com/convenience.
(BPT) - Your Facebook profile is a representation of you on the Web. It's where you connect with friends, learn the latest news and find the best reviews of the restaurants and products you enjoy every day. You use your Facebook profile all the time, so you want to make sure the information you display on Facebook remains as safe and secure as possible.
Facebook works 24/7 to protect people's accounts, but there are also simple things you can do to take more control of your security. Here are three easy options:
1. Take a security checkup.
Security Checkup is the quickest and easiest way to add extra layers of protection to your Facebook account. With three simple steps you can:
* Control where you're logged in. This makes it easy to log out of devices you haven't used in a while or may have forgotten about, meaning you'll only be logged into Facebook on devices and browsers you approve.
* Turn on Login Alerts. When this feature is activated, you'll receive a notification or email alert whenever someone tries to log into your account from a new device or browser.
* Review your password security. Only use strong and unique passwords. You should never use your Facebook password anywhere else online and never share it with anyone.
You can start your Security Checkup any time by searching for "security checkup" in the Facebook Help Center, or by typing facebook.com/securitycheckup into your browser.
2. Turn on login approvals.
If you're only going to make one change to improve the security of your account, this is it. Otherwise known as two-factor authentication (2FA), login approvals provide an extra security step whenever you log in from a new device. You will get a special code on your phone that you use along with your password to complete the login process.
To turn on login approvals, all you have to do is go to "Settings" in the Facebook app on your phone or in your browser. Once you've done this, select "Security Settings" and check the box next to "Login Approvals." If you don't have login approvals turned on already, you should do it as soon as possible.
3. Use your Facebook login with third-party apps.
Your Facebook login allows you to quickly and safely log into many third-party apps using your Facebook account. Maintaining a login system is hard, and by using your Facebook account, you don't need to trust your login to every app you sign into. They never get to see your Facebook password. As an added bonus, using Facebook Login means you don't need to create and remember lots of new passwords.
You can also control what information you share with these apps by clicking "Edit the Info You Provide." And best of all, you choose whether to let the app post on your behalf.
To sign into an app with Facebook, simply click on the Facebook button on the app's sign-in page.
Improve your Facebook security today
In addition to the steps above, you can also visit the Facebook Safety Center, which provides additional tools to help control your experience on Facebook, as well as numerous tips and resources for safe and secure sharing. It also gives you access to the Bullying Prevention Hub, a resource for teens, parents and educators seeking guidance on how to prevent and address bullying on the Internet.
Your home comes with locks on the doors. Your car comes with an alarm. Your cell phone comes with a passcode. Yet every day you take additional steps to protect these possessions and the valuable information they hold. Why not do the same for your Facebook account? With just a few simple clicks, you can give your account a tune-up and more safely connect and share on Facebook with the people you care about.
Real Estate in the Digital Age: Why you still want an agent by your side
(BPT) - Homebuyers and sellers today can instantly check listings, monitor price fluctuations, research their credit scores and find lenders - all from their smartphones.
The advent of mortgage industry apps - which mingle aggregated data with complex algorithms in easily accessible formats - enables many shoppers and sellers to approach the process with more confidence.
While technology empowers consumers to shop and sell smarter, it can't replace the service and expertise of an experienced agent. Real estate agents know the local market and have access to the freshest sales data.
For sellers, real estate agents can price a house in line with the market to maximize earnings.
According to recent data from the National Association of Realtors, sellers using an agent earn $40,100 more per transaction. The median sale price for the 88 percent of sellers who worked with an agent was $215,000, versus a median sale price of $174,900 for the 9 percent of sellers who didn't use an agent, according to the association.
Buying a home is not like purchasing a plane ticket according to Greg Jaeger, president at USAA Residential Real Estate Services and a former real estate agent. He said buyers and sellers often fail to account for the psychological side of a transaction.
"An agent can help prepare the seller for offers that are intentionally too low," Jaeger said. "You're asking $250,000 for your home; I offer $200,000 and you're immediately insulted. An agent can keep you calm and focused on the end game."
Agents also help buyers navigate the rollercoaster of emotions in getting credit approved or viewing a home inspection report for the first time.
Jaeger knows of this psychological value not only as a former agent, but also as a father of a first-time homebuyer. His 24-year-old son recently bought an older home that was initially chockfull of cheaply done rehabilitation projects.
"The seller was pretty irritable about some items and flat out embarrassed about others," Jaeger said.
"My son's real estate agent really earned his commission in making sure the proper repairs were on track and protecting my son from the ire of the seller."
Homes, neighborhoods and their governing state laws are as diverse as the people living in them. Real estate agents are entrenched in those ever-changing state regulations, contracts, laws and practices.
"When making one of the biggest financial decisions of your life, it's important to have a trusted, experienced counselor by your side," Jaeger said.
Many resources are available to help consumers find the right agent, including USAA Real Estate Rewards Network, a program that gives members access to USAA's network of real estate agents and rewards when they buy or sell.
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