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Check for adequate Zipcar coverage

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NEW YORK (5/2/11)--Car-sharing services like Zipcar, or Hertz’s Connect, are filling a customer need in some cities and on college campuses. Too bad there’s a potential gap in customer exposure to huge legal judgments if users have a serious accident (The New York Times April 22). Is total liability of $300,000 per accident enough protection when renting a Zipcar? Right now the company caps liability insurance coverage it provides for members age 21 and older at $300,000 an incident. Other providers, like Connect, offer even less coverage. Hertz sells better coverage but only for traditional car rentals. It may make sense for some drivers to get their own nonowner liability or to use an umbrella liability coverage to supplement the car rental offering. Granted, $300,000 coverage has been adequate for almost every accident since Zipcar began operations--93% of accidents have been for claims of less than $10,000 and 99% for claims of less than $50,000, Zipcar says. And about 2% of bodily injury liability insurance claims in the U.S. are for more than $300,000, according to ISO, a data provider to insurance companies. So if you’re happy with those odds and don’t have many assets or much income to protect, the comprehensive $300,000 Zipcar offers may be sufficient. But if you want more coverage, you can buy something called a nonowner’s auto policy. For an added $200 or so you can bump that liability coverage up to half a million dollars. Or you can make sure you have umbrella liability coverage in your homeowners insurance. Whether you drive your own car, or a shared or rental car, it’s wise to have these items in the car in case of accident (Money Mix April):
* Current insurance card; * Pen and paper; * Basic first aid kit; * Disposable camera if you don't have a camera phone or don't consistently carry your phone with you; and * Emergency contact information and special medical requirements (in case of an injury crash).
For more information, read “Review Insurance to Ensure Proper Coverage” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Rising bank fees student borrowing on HandFF Radio

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WASHINGTON (4/29/11)--Sunday’s H&FF Radio program covers bank fee increases, couponing, student loan delinquency, and tax liens. The show, which you also can hear later via the Internet, features Paul Berry, Washington, D.C., journalist and broadcaster, discussing these topics with special guests:
* “Majority of Americans Ready to Change Banks if Fees Increase.” Gail Cunningham, vice president of communications, National Foundation for Credit Counseling, Wichita Falls, Texas, explains why many consumers are ready to switch financial institutions if higher fees are imposed. * “Six Ways to Save Like an Extreme Couponer.” Andrea Woroch, consumers savings expert, Santa Barbara, Calif., reviews basic tricks couponers use. * “Delinquency: The Untold Story of Student Loan Borrowing.” Alisa Federico Cunningham, vice president of research and programs, Institute for Higher Education Policy, Washington, D.C., shares key research findings about delinquent student loan borrowers who do not default. * “IRS Eases Up on Tax Liens: Good News for Credit Scores.” Gerri Detweiler, personal finance author, credit adviser, and host of Talk Credit Radio, Credit.com, Sarasota, Fla., discusses the impact a tax lien can have on your credit score.
Home & Family Finance is a resource center for personal finance information at the Credit Union National Association (CUNA). The radio show is sponsored by CO-OP Network, the national credit union ATM network; Cabot Creamery Cooperative, maker of award-winning cheddar; and the Defense Credit Union Council and member credit unions, serving those who serve the country worldwide. Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. ET on the Radio America Network. The show also is carried on American Forces Radio Network. The one-hour program devoted to consumer finance issues is brought to you by America's credit unions and their 90 million members, and is presented by CO-OP Network. CUNA and Radio America are podcasting Home & Family Finance through iTunes, Podcast Alley, Odeo, and other popular podcast library sites, as well as on Radio America and CUNA's websites. For more information, listen to “Credit Unions: Alternatives to Banks” and use the “What Will It Take to Save for a College Education?” calculator in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Study Auto loan markups cost 25.8 billion

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WASHINGTON (4/27/11)--American consumers financing a new or used vehicle through a dealership will drive off the lot and pay more than $25.8 billion in hidden interest rate markups over the lives of their loans, according to a study released April 19 by Washington-based Center for Responsible Lending (CRL). Their out-of-pocket cost is not insignificant, averaging $714 per consumer, with an average rate markup of 2.47 percentage points. States with the highest markup costs are California ($2.6 billion), Texas ($2.2 billion), New York ($1.6 billion), Florida ($1.5 billion), and Pennsylvania ($1.2 billion), with Alaska having the lowest ($54 million). Also known as “dealer reserve” or “dealer participation,” hidden interest-rate markups are described by dealers as how they compensate for the time they spend putting a financing deal together. It’s considered “hidden” because consumers usually don’t know what interest rate they actually qualify for. According to industry data, the average customer spends 45 minutes with the finance and insurance department, or only 27 minutes if taking a test drive, so a markup of $714 translates to $952 to $1,587 per hour just to finance the vehicle. The Consumer Federation of America, National Association of Consumer Advocates, and CRL offer these suggestions:
* Run your credit report. Do this before you visit the dealership. Visit annualcreditreport.com or call 877-322-8228. Get one free report a year from Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. * Buy your credit score. Order one individual score (FICO Standard) directly from FICO for $15.95 at myfico/com/Products/Products.aspx. Here’s a tip: Call FICO at 800-319-4433 and ask a customer service representative for the promotion code to get your score for $14.95. Normal business hours are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. (CST) Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays. If your score is low, take steps to improve it before you apply for a loan. * Be skeptical of ads for “0%” loans. You’ll likely be switched to a higher rate, or find it difficult to negotiate on the price of the vehicle. * Research prices. Check price information at Edmunds.com. For used cars, visit kbb.com. * Line up financing at the credit union. Get prequalified for a loan before you shop for a vehicle. You don’t have to accept financing from a dealer; the sales and finance people may tell you they can provide the best financing, but kickbacks and markups add to the cost you’ll pay.
If you have a complaint concerning car dealership financing, contact the Federal Trade Commission at ftccomplaintassistant.gov or call 877-FTC-HELP (382-4357). For more information, click on “Calculator: When a Rebate is Better than a Low-Rate Auto Loan” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Review policies in wake of quakes tornadoes

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CHICAGO (4/25/11)--Do you know exactly what your insurance policies cover--and don’t cover--if you’re the victim of a tornado, earthquake, flood, or other natural disaster? Concerned consumers are questioning whether they have adequate insurance coverage after witnessing the devastating losses from recent storms that swept through portions of the southern U.S. and the disaster surrounding Japan’s earthquake (MarketWatch.com April 18). Know the basics and get answers before disaster strikes. The Insurance Information Institute suggests addressing these questions with a qualified insurance representative will help consumers understand if they have proper coverage:
* Do I have enough insurance to rebuild my home? If your home is destroyed, your coverage should enable you to completely rebuild it at current construction costs. Be sure to understand your coverage for replacement costs, extended replacement costs, inflation guard, flood insurance, water backup, and law or ordinance coverage that pays for you to rebuild to stricter code standards. * Do I have enough insurance to replace my possessions? Conduct a thorough home inventory by listing all possessions, taking pictures of them, and recording how much you estimate it would cost to replace each item. Compare these figures with the dollar amount your homeowners policy provides for personal possessions. * Do I have enough coverage for additional living expenses? If you are forced from your home due to an insured disaster, many homeowners insurance policies will cover additional living expenses such as lodging and meals. It is important to understand the exact amount and types of expenses covered, and whether these additional living expenses are covered for a specific period of time.
For more information, listen to “Are You Prepared to Survive a Disaster?” and read “Review Insurance to Ensure Proper Coverage” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

HandFF Radio discusses surviving a job layoff

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WASHINGTON (4/22/11)--Sunday’s H&FF Radio program explains how to deal with a layoff, run a financial stress test, save money at the pharmacy, and understand payroll cards. The show, which you also can hear later via the Internet, features Paul Berry, Washington, D.C., journalist and broadcaster, discussing these topics with special guests:
* “Surviving a Job Layoff: Impact on Relationships.” Scott and Bethany Palmer, financial counselors and authors, “First Comes Love, Then Comes Money,” Colorado Springs, Colo., discuss how to handle the financial and emotional strain of a layoff. * “Run a Financial Stress Test.” Susan Tiffany, certified credit union financial counselor and director of consumer periodicals, Credit Union National Association (CUNA), Madison, Wis., suggests conducting a financial stress test to clarify budget priorities. * “A Tough Pill to Swallow: Wasted Money at the Pharmacy.” Dr. Steven Miller, senior vice president and chief medical officer, Express Scripts, St. Louis, shares advice for saving money on prescriptions and other health-care expenses. * “Payroll Cards: Are Employees Treated Fairly?” Lauren Saunders, managing attorney, National Consumer Law Center, Washington, D.C., outlines core principles to help ensure that payroll cards offer a fair, safe and convenient way to deliver wages to employees.
Home & Family Finance is a resource center for personal finance information at CUNA. The radio show is sponsored by CO-OP Network, the national credit union ATM network; Cabot Creamery Cooperative, maker of award-winning cheddar; and the Defense Credit Union Council and member credit unions, serving those who serve the country worldwide. Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. ET on the Radio America Network. The show also is carried on American Forces Radio Network. The one-hour program devoted to consumer finance issues is brought to you by America's credit unions and their 90 million members, and is presented by CO-OP Network. CUNA and Radio America are podcasting Home & Family Finance through iTunes, Podcast Alley, Odeo, and other popular podcast library sites, as well as on Radio America and CUNA's websites. For more information, read “Run a Financial Stress Test” and “Get Back in the Game After Losing a Job” in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Guard against data-breach phishing scams

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NEW YORK (4/20/11)--Double-check that spam filter: The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is alerting consumers to the first phishing e-mail it says stemmed from a massive data breach earlier this month (WalletPop April 8). E-mail marketing firm Epsilon reported the breach on April 1 after hackers stole e-mail addresses and names from the company’s databases, exposing millions of consumers to potential phishing scams. Phishing occurs when scammers send e-mails that appear to be from legitimate companies in an attempt to acquire your personal information, such as account numbers. The scams can become even more deceptive--and convincing--when crooks obtain and use your name to target messages directly to you. This is known as “spearphishing.” According to the BBB, many more phishing attacks are likely to follow as a result of the data breach. Take these steps to protect your personal information:
* Avoid links. If you receive a suspicious e-mail, don’t click on any links contained in the message. You could be directed to a fraudulent website or to dangerous malware. * Don’t share information. Legitimate companies will never ask for your personal information via e-mail. Don’t respond to requests for financial account numbers, Social Security numbers, or other information. * Talk it over. Make sure all family members with an e-mail address know how to spot a phishing e-mail. Kids and older adults often are more susceptible to these types of scams. * Get secure. Before submitting credit card numbers or other sensitive information online, make sure the website is secure. A secure website starts with https at the beginning of the URL. * Watch for errors. E-mails that contain frequent spelling mistakes or poor grammar usually signal a scam. * Don’t wire money. Never wire money in response to an e-mail request or to anyone you don’t know. You’ll be sending funds to a crook--and you’ll be out the money when the scam is discovered. * Shield your computer. Update and run antivirus programs regularly.
For more information, read “Crooks Use High-Tech Scams to Commit Fraud,” and watch the “How to Prevent Identity Theft” video in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Couples Get retirement plans in sync

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NEW YORK (4/18/11)--Creating a retirement plan with your partner gives you a better chance at a retirement that will please you both. But, according to a Fidelity survey, 82% of respondents say they and their partners disagree about key planning issues such as the age at which they’ll quit working and the lifestyle they plan to maintain (CNNMoney.com April 6). Recent economic conditions--mass layoffs, home-equity plunges, and pension freezes--make getting retirement planning in sync even more important. Here are questions to ask:
* What are key retirement issues and what’s important to us? Brainstorm individual wish lists then compare notes to get on track. When do you want to retire? Will you work part time? Where would you like to live? What kind of lifestyle do you want? Do you or your spouse have aspirations of starting a business, traveling, or learning a new skill? * How much do we have? It’s imperative for spouses to know the value of their own retirement accounts as well as the value of their partner’s accounts. In the Fidelity survey, about half of respondents didn’t know the balance in their own 401(k) accounts. Only 37% of husbands and 21% of wives knew the value of their partner’s accounts. Couples should take time to sit down together with their most recent retirement statements and review details. * Are we investing in sync? Many couples make the mistake of not looking at their asset allocation as a household. Looking at each other’s investments can help each of you decide if you have proper asset allocation. You’ll be able to see if you’re exposed to more risk than you should be and if you have overlapping investments. It’s a good move to choose a household allocation that caters to the growth needed to cover the younger spouse’s life span. Each account does not have to be set up exactly the same. For example, the more conservative spouse may feel better holding a larger amount of bonds vs. stocks. Also, be sure to examine the benefits of each of your work plans--look at employer matches, better investment choices, and lower fees. * Will money affect timing? Almost 60% of couples disagree about when they’ll leave the work force, although when to leave work can have a huge impact on what type of retirement lifestyle you’ll be able to afford. If you or your spouse will get a pension, review details of payouts and what will happen if one of you dies. To estimate Social Security benefits, use the Retirement Benefit Estimator at ssa.gov.
For more help in determining if you’re on track for retirement, use the “How to Calculate Your Retirement Needs” calculator in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

HandFF Radio Card rates electric cars food prices

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WASHINGTON (4/15/11)--Sunday’s H&FF Radio program helps you reduce your credit card rate, make electric-car purchasing decisions, and save money on food. The show, which you also can hear later via the Internet, features Paul Berry, Washington, D.C., journalist and broadcaster, discussing these topics with special guests:
* “Lower Your Credit Card Rate.” Phil Heckman, director of product development and delivery, Credit Union National Association (CUNA), Madison, Wis., shares advice for finding the lowest rate possible on a credit card. * “Five Reasons Not to Buy an Electric Car--Yet!” Stacy Johnson, president, Money Talks News, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., explains why you should wait to buy an electric car. * “Food Day.” Michael Jacobson, co-founder and executive director, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Washington, D.C., tells how you can shop for nutritious food on a budget.
Home & Family Finance is a resource center for personal finance information at CUNA. The radio show is sponsored by CO-OP Network, the national credit union ATM network; Cabot Creamery Cooperative, maker of award-winning cheddar; and the Defense Credit Union Council and member credit unions, serving those who serve the country worldwide. Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. ET on the Radio America Network. The show also is carried on American Forces Radio Network. The one-hour program devoted to consumer finance issues is brought to you by America's credit unions and their 90 million members, and is presented by CO-OP Network. CUNA and Radio America are podcasting Home & Family Finance through iTunes, Podcast Alley, Odeo, and other popular podcast library sites, as well as on Radio America and CUNA's websites. For more information, read “New Law Prompts Close Look at Your Credit Cards” and “Cars Are Plugged In and (Almost) Ready to Go” in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Dont go in the red when going green

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ATLANTA (4/13/11)--You’re conscientious about your health and the environment, and you’re watching your spending. All good, but doing it all at the same time is getting more expensive as wages remain flat (CNNMoney April 1). Examine these five ways you may be spending too much money in your efforts to be healthy and environmentally responsible. Eating only organic. Some organic foods are worth the extra investment, but not all. That’s especially the case if you have unrealistic expectations about the benefits of a particular organic product. Don’t give up on organic, but become a smart shopper. If you’re looking for fewer calories, read labels--organic doesn’t mean less calories. If your goal is to support a small farmer, do your research: General Mills and Kraft own a lot of organic brand names. For fresh produce, find fruits and vegetables that require few pesticides in conventional farming--for example, bananas and broccoli. Save your organic food dollars for the foods that require more pesticides such as strawberries and spinach (Yahoo News April 5). Trading in a low-mileage gas guzzler for a hybrid. Dealers selling hybrids are taking advantage of rising gas prices and Japanese parts-supply disruptions to raise already high price tags. With uncertainty over the rising cost of gasoline, it’s hard to calculate how long it could take you to break even, but it rarely makes sense to trade in a newer car, even if the next one is more fuel-efficient. Depreciation is steepest in the early years. Take advantage of this by buying slightly used cars and driving them for 10 years or so. Save money on fuel by carpooling, using public transportation, grouping errands, inflating tires properly, and getting rid of unnecessary cargo. Take off from and approach stop lights smoothly (MSN Money March 30). Installing new windows. New energy-efficient windows are great. They pay for themselves by reducing heating costs--if you have at least 20 years to recoup. The opposite is true of the resale value that new energy-efficient windows can add to your house. If you sell within a year of installation, the typical return for window replacements is about 72% of their cost. The longer you wait, the lower the resale payback. Unless you're remodeling anyway, you can save money and keep out the cold by sealing leaks, applying window film, and installing storm windows. Purchasing a tankless water heater. Tankless water heaters are energy-efficient but cost more and are more expensive to install compared with tank water heaters. It takes about 22 years to recoup those extra expenses--yet most models don’t last that long. Instead, save money on your water-related energy by wrapping insulating blankets around your tank water heater, lowering the heater’s thermostat slightly, taking shorter showers, installing low-flow heads on all your faucets, and washing some loads of clothes in cold water. Rushing into solar. Solar panels are worth investigating; right now federal tax credits reimburse 30% of the cost. You also might get a substantial rebate from your state and your utility company. The catch is in the payback period, which could be five to 20 years or more. Make sure you do the math before you invest. Since the panels cost thousands of dollars to install, include in your calculations the long-term cost of the interest you’ll pay if you borrow the money, how much of your current electricity use the solar panels can replace, and the cost of electricity in your area. Unless you have other compelling reasons to go solar, such as wanting to reduce your dependence on coal or having power in an emergency, there are cheaper ways to lower your energy costs. For example, adding insulation can quickly pay for itself, as can installing a programmable thermostat to reduce heating and cooling when the house is empty or you’re asleep. Upgrade to compact fluorescent or LED lights, which give you better light and longer life than from incandescent bulbs. For more information, read “How Green are ‘Green’ Cars?” and listen to “10 Ways to Cut Gas Costs and Consumption” in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Retired--and still working

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MADISON, Wis. (4/11/11)--Are you planning to retire to a life of leisure? If so, you’re an exception. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI), nearly three of four workers (74%) expect to continue working after they “retire” (EBRI 2011 Retirement Confidence Survey). The EBRI survey also asked workers how confident they were about having enough money to live comfortably throughout retirement. In 1993, 73% expressed confidence; this year, only 49% did, a drop from three of four workers to merely one of two. Apparently, that lack of confidence is well founded--more than one-half (54%) of workers admitted to having less than $25,000 in household savings and investments, if any, excluding primary residence and pension. If you’re thinking about retirement--and if you’re not someone’s dependent you should be--the sooner you take action, the easier it will be to reach that goal. Here’s how CUNA’s Center for Personal Finance editors outline the most important steps:
* Calculate the nest egg you’ll need. Use one of the many online retirement calculators--Ballpark E$timate is a good one--to determine how much money you’ll need to provide a certain income at a certain age, given your financial resources. The calculations will only be estimates based on assumptions such as an average inflation rate and an average investment return. However, even a rough projection of your future needs will allow you to set manageable saving and investment goals. * Gather information and advice. Take advantage of your credit union’s staff and educational resources to examine all your retirement and investment options and plot a course of action. There probably will be several different ways to accomplish your goal; the more you know about them, the better the plan you’ll devise. You still might decide that you want to work after you officially retire. But planning ahead will make it much more likely that a post-retirement job will be a rewarding labor of love rather than a survival necessity. * Start now The younger you are when you begin retirement planning, the fewer sacrifices you’ll have to make to accumulate the nest egg that will keep you from having to return to the labor force. For example, let’s say that two workers, one 55 years old and the other 25 years old, each want to amass $500,000 by age 65. Assume that their investments will achieve average annual earnings of 5%. The 55-year-old will have to set aside $38,000 each year to reach that goal, by saving $380,000 total. The 25-year-old, in contrast, will have to set aside $4,000 a year, saving a total of only $160,000.
For more information, read “How to Calculate Your Retirement Needs” in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

HandFF Radio Financial skills for youth young adults

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WASHINGTON (4/8/11)--Sunday’s H&FF Radio program covers money skills for kids, identity protection for college students, ways to calculate higher education costs, and credit union philanthropy. The show, which you also can hear later via the Internet, features Paul Berry, Washington, D.C., journalist and broadcaster, discussing these topics with special guests:
* “Build Your Kids’ Money Skills.” Janet Bodnar, author, “Raising Money-Smart Kids,” and editor, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine, Washington, D.C., offers strategies for teaching kids about money. * “Six Ways to Protect Your Identity on Campus.” Farnoosh Torabi, author and personal finance contributor, Credit.com, New York City, discusses how college students can prevent identity theft and other forms of fraud. * “Net-Price Calculations: Figuring the Cost of a College Education.” Diane Cheng, research associate, Institute for College Access and Success, Oakland, Calif., covers individual factors students and families should consider when calculating college expenses. * “Philanthropy: Credit Unions’ ‘People Helping People’ Motto in Action.” Bill Prichard, public relations manager, CO-OP Financial Services, Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., explains how contributing to charities and communities fits with the credit union philosophy. * “Listener Questions Answered.” Host Paul Berry answers audience e-mail questions about buying a home in today’s economic climate, paying down debt, and buying “daily deal” online vouchers on the secondary market.
Home & Family Finance is a resource center for personal finance information at the Credit Union National Association (CUNA). The radio show is sponsored by CO-OP Network, the national credit union ATM network; Cabot Creamery Cooperative, maker of award-winning cheddar; and the Defense Credit Union Council and member credit unions, serving those who serve the country worldwide. Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. ET on the Radio America Network. The show also is carried on American Forces Radio Network. The one-hour program devoted to consumer finance issues is brought to you by America's credit unions and their 90 million members, and is presented by CO-OP Network. CUNA and Radio America are podcasting Home & Family Finance through iTunes, Podcast Alley, Odeo, and other popular podcast library sites, as well as on Radio America and CUNA's websites. For more information, read “Create Financial Checklist to Ease Transition to College” and watch the “How to Use Children’s Wants to Motivate Them to Save” video in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Timing the market for airline tickets

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NEW YORK (4/6/11)--The question of when to buy an airline ticket for the best price, always a crap shoot, is being complicated by the recent acute rise in fuel costs, which drives air fares higher (The New York Times March 23). Travel pros have this advice for booking your tickets:
* Buy now for imminent travel. Book now for a trip in the next month or two. For summer travel, it might pay to wait, as some cheap seats have not yet been released. And it’s likely that, if prices rise a lot, travelers will spurn the air--causing a drop in ticket prices you can exploit. * Use social networking tools. The March issue of MoneyMix, from the Credit Union National Association, recommends signing up for airline social networking feeds to pull all the information into one place so you can browse and compare deals quickly. * Go old school. While online resources are usually the way to fly, MoneyMix recommends sticking with travel agents for best buys on overseas flights. “International airlines often aren't included on travel websites such as Orbitz, Travelocity, and Expedia, which could mean you're missing out,” said Erienne Andvik, author of the MoneyMix article, "Find a Deal on Airplane Tickets." But travel agents have superior access and can research finding an international flight at no additional cost to you. * Stay flexible to grab last-minute deals. Airlines sometimes cut fares within days of departure, so keep checking. Look for sales at sites like airfarewatchdog.com and farecompare.com. * Get help monitoring price trends. Air fares can fluctuate dramatically in a short time. Bing Travel tracks trends between destinations and shows whether fares are dropping, holding steady, or rising. That information can give you the confidence to buy now if fares are on the rise, or hold out if fares are dropping.
For more information, view the “Money and Travel” video in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Find homes for your spring cleaning rejects

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MADISON, Wis. (4/4/11)--This time of year sees a flood of donations to thrift stores as people clear their homes in the annual spring cleaning ritual. Those resale charities are getting pickier about what they’ll accept (AARP Bulletin March 25). Some resale agencies now reject or send to the landfill items that used to be welcome. And the landfill may reject some of your offerings, too. For example, many electronic items contain mercury or lead, making it hard to dispose of them. Here are alternative outlets for your surplus:
* Electronics--The Environmental Protection Agency keeps a list of programs that take computers, television sets, mobile phones, and similar devices to recycle, trade, or buy back. Look for local chapters of organizations such as Computers for School, or find out if your school district participates in a similar program. * Large appliances--See if your local utility has a pickup program as part of the Energy Savers effort. Or your city trash collection may have special arrangements for large items, sometimes for a nominal fee. * Linens--Shelters for homeless or abused individuals may be able to use bed linens. For items past their prime, the March issue of Consumer Reports suggests offering them to an animal shelter for use as pet bedding or cleaning rags. * Toys--Condition is key; if stuffed animals and toys are clean and in good shape, they might find a second home at a women’s shelter, day care center, or Ronald McDonald house. * Clothes--Condition matters here, too. For career-grade clothing in good condition, consider Dressed for Success for women and the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive. Both programs help disadvantaged job seekers prepare for job interviews.
If you strike out on these venues, or they’re not available where you live, look into Freecycle or the “free stuff” category of craigslist. Just be safe, says Cassie Holman, writing in “Cash In Your Clutter” for the Credit Union National Association’s MoneyMix: “If you…decide to complete the sales transactions face to face, be smart about meeting specifics. Take someone with you when meeting the buyer, meet during the day, and in a public place. If the buyer comes to your home, have someone there with you so you're not alone.” For more seasonal ideas, read “Spring Clean Your Records” in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.