Many people are still suffering the consequences of natural disasters. For example, in 2017 there was Hurricane María in Puerto Rico, Hurricane Harvey in Texas, Hurricane Irma in Florida, and the devastating wildfires in California. Even after immediate needs like shelter and food are met, financial hardships from a disaster can last for months and even years. It’s important for people to know the federal government programs and services available to them, especially housing-related assistance, as they work to rebuild.
In Puerto Rico, for instance, there are still many people living without electricity post-Hurricane María. Faced with post-disaster hardships, some homeowners in Puerto Rico have become delinquent on their mortgage payments. People in other places, like the U.S. Virgin Islands, face similar challenges.
If you are struggling to make your mortgage payment or can’t meet your reverse mortgage obligations, such as paying taxes and insurance, in the wake of a natural disaster, there are resources and potential options to avoid foreclosure. You may first want to contact a HUD-approved housing counselor. Housing counselors are available for free or at low cost to assist you with information and advice if you can’t make your mortgage payment.
Primary federal government disaster resources
Government programs and services may have application deadlines. Sometimes these application deadlines are extended, so check the program website to get the most current information.
More resources to help
As part of our mission to educate and empower consumers to make better informed financial decisions, we have resources to assist people in the aftermath of natural disasters.
Finally, for community service organizations, another resource we offer is Your Money, Your Goals. Social service agencies and financial institutions in Puerto Rico and elsewhere have used this material to help the people they serve learn more about a variety of financial topics. Your Money, Your Goals is a set of financial empowerment materials for organizations to help people meet their financial goals by increasing their knowledge, skills, and resources. The Your Money, Your Goals toolkit is available for free on the Bureau’s website in English, Spanish, and Chinese.
As people tackle the financial challenges stemming from natural disasters, these and other resources can help you understand the programs and educational resources available to protect your home.
I don’t remember what it was like to drive to new places before I had GPS on my phone — how did I get anywhere? Similarly, I don’t know how I survived road trips before I had GasBuddy to lead me to the best gas stations along the way. Given this reliance, you’d think I would have learned about their Pay with GasBuddy feature sooner. Alas, it was only a few weeks ago that it was brought to my attention and decided to give it a try.
Put simply, the value proposition of Pay with GasBuddy is that you can use a special card that’s accepted at most gas stations in order to save a few cents off of every gallon of gas you buy. That sounds good — almost too good, if you think like me. However, after getting a chance to test the service out on my recent trip from Missouri to Florida, I can report that Pay with GasBuddy really does work and could be a great feature for some drivers.
With that background, let’s take a closer look at what Pay with GasBuddy is and how it could save you money on the road:
Signing Up for Pay with GasBuddy and How it Works
The first thing you should know about Pay with GasBuddy is that it is completely free to sign-up and start using the service. All you’ll need to do is either select the Pay with GasBuddy option in the app or go to their website to begin the process. On top of basic information like your name, address, and phone number, you’ll also be asked to link a checking account. Keep in mind that the account you select will be the one that’s charged whenever you use the service.
After you sign-up, a Pay with GasBuddy card will be shipped to (again — this is all free). To the untrained eye, these look like any regular credit or debit cards except that it lacks an EMV chip or Visa/Mastercard/etc. logo. Before using your new card, you’ll also be asked to create a Driver ID number, which will essentially function as a PIN.
Once your card is activated, you’re ready to go. You’ll be able to insert your card at the pump or most stations and automatically save 10¢ per gallon on your first fill-up and 5¢ per gallon after that. Alternatively, thanks to a new partnership with Sears, you can now elect to earn Shop Your Way CASHBACK points instead, earning 30¢ per gallon in points for your first 60 days and 15¢ per gallon after that. These points can then be redeemed at Sears and K-Mart locations as well as online.
Using Pay with GasBuddy
On their website, GasBuddy says that their service works at most gas stations — calling out a few where it doesn’t work while showcasing logos of a few that do. Since my local station was not explicitly listed, I was very skeptical when I went to insert my Pay with GasBuddy card for the first time. To my surprise, after swiping my card, the pump prompted me to enter my Driver ID. Once that was done, I was good to select my fuel grade and start pumping.
Admittedly, at this point, I still wasn’t 100% clear on how Pay with GasBuddy actually worked, so I printed my receipt to keep tabs on the whole process. What I soon discovered was that the price listed on that receipt is not what would end up being debited from my account. Instead — with this being my first fill up — I saved 15¢ per gallon, with the net balance deducted from my checking account (note: Pay with GasBuddy’s site says you get 10¢ per gallon off of your first fill-up, so I’m not clear on why mine was higher). It was like magic!
With my first fill-up behind me, I really knew the ropes now — or so I thought. The next station also asked me for my Driver ID but then also asked for an odometer reading. Not wanting to take the time to look at the dead-on reading, I entered a nice, round number and that seemed to work just fine. Unfortunately this may have caused some issue down the literal and proverbial road (more on that later).
Finally, something I noticed when using Pay with GasBuddy is that, while some purchases showed up immediately, others took some time to reach both by GasBuddy and bank account. This wasn’t really a problem but it’s something to be aware of (lest you think you made off with a free fill-up).
The Pros and Cons of Pay with GasBuddy
First, the biggest compliment I can give Pay with GasBuddy is that, to my surprise, it was accepted at every station I tried it at. That said I should note that the service is only intended to work at the pump itself and cannot be used inside (even if it is just to pre-pay for gas). As a result, if you only want to pump a certain dollar amount, you’ll have to do it manually.
Going back to the odometer reading, I later found out that this is a feature GasBuddy is testing in order to eventually be able to offer you tips for improving your gas mileage. That’s all well and good, but the problem I ran into was that, at the station I arrived at, I entered another fake number and was told to see an attendant. This may have been because I added an extra digit (oops) but, either way, I elected to just use another card. While this was a minor inconvenience, I also discovered you can just enter “99” to opt-out of this upcoming service and proceed without issue.
Another feature that’s both a pro and a con is the upgrade to earning Shop Your Way points. At 30¢ gallon back in your first 60 days, you can quickly rack up CASHBACK points on a road trip. Even at 15¢ per gallon, it’s still a pretty good deal. The problem is that these points don’t last forever and expire a couple months after they’re earned. Therefore, if you’re not a frequent Sears or K-Mart shopper, you’ll need to make an effort to use your points on time.
Something else that should be noted is that I’ve been unable to find a way to go back to the regular Pay with GasBuddy savings scheme since “upgrading” to the Shop Your Way offer. That said, it’s possible there is a way to make that happen and I’ve reached out to GasBuddy for confirmation. Since this is still a relatively new partnership, I’ll give them a pass for not making it more obvious, but I do hope there is a way to toggle between the two.
Final Thoughts on Pay with GasBuddy
Overall, I was really surprised and impressed with the Pay with GasBuddy product. After all, it’s essentially giving users free money. Of course the big disadvantage for people like me is that I’d be missing out on credit card rewards by using this service instead. With one of my cards granting me 4% back on gas, that likely bests the 5¢ off GasBuddy offers after the initial fill-up. Again, the Sears Shop Your Way figure would actually exceed the credit card cash back offer, but I’d also have to redeem my points sooner rather than later.
With all that said, if you don’t have a credit card that puts a premium on gas, Pay with GasBuddy could be a great option for saving at the pump. Given its wide acceptance, ease of use, and now two reward options, I can honestly say I’ll be taking my Pay with GasBuddy card along with me for many future road trips.
Whoa! I’m not talking about planting skunkweed or doing a nude rain dance in your yard! I’m talking about those budget busting habits that can drain your wallet faster than a nest of termites can chew through a woodpile. Here are 10 things you definitely don’t want to get caught doing in your yard this summer.
Buy the cheapest grass seed you can find. This is counter-productive if you don’t also check that the seed will grow well in your yard. Know the zone you’re in and shop accordingly. Sometimes buying the more expensive seed is cheaper in the long run.
Pay big bucks for weed killer. Besides dousing your lawn with enough chemicals to create your own mini science experiment, most weed killers do a poor job. Instead, buy a dandelion digger for about $5 and go to work digging up the individual weeds. If you do it once in the spring and occasionally throughout the season, the weeds will leave your lawn alone.
Pick a mower by how many clippings it can hold; the bigger the better. Instead, go for a mulching mower. The decomposing clippings help add nitrogen back to the soil.
Spend a lot of money on fertilizer for your lawn. Most cities have a free soil and fertilizer giveaway, usually in the spring and fall. Check with your public works department. Or you could start your own compost pile and make your own organic fertilizer for free!
Don’t waste time and money mulching your garden and flower beds. Mulching actually saves time by suppressing the weeds, holding moisture in, and enriching the soil as it deteriorates. You can also get one pickup load free, if your city gives away free mulch.
Water your lawn every day. Too much water is just as detrimental as too little, besides running up a huge water bill. Test the soil first. If it is hard and crumbly, it’s time to water. Better yet, set up rain barrels under your gutters to catch the rain. It’s free and better for your garden and grass.
Fill every bare spot in your yard with expensive new plants. Start a sharing program with your neighbors. You can divide the irises that are taking over your yard and she can give you some of her prolific lilies. Hosta plants are another type that need to be divided and are great for sharing.
Need a fence? Go with the biggest ad in the yellow pages. No! First, decide what kind of fence you want. Get ideas by driving around the neighborhood. Then get at least three bids, comparing price as well as companies. Only hire companies with licenses and references. Don’t ever pay for the whole job upfront. Instead, pay a deposit as necessary but keep at least half of the payment for when the job is completely done to your satisfaction.
Trimming bushes and trees stunts their growth. On the contrary, trimming about a 1/2" will encourage growth and fullness. You can get free gardening advice at Lowe’s or other home improvement centers.
Mow every day. If you want a healthy lawn, experts say to let it grow to about 3" and cut off about 1" at a time. This keeps the blades of grass stronger and provides more shade for the roots. Keep your mower blade sharp to get even cuts. It only costs about $3 to sharpen them at a hardware store or your local small engine repair shop.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to maintain a nice yard, but you don’t want to spend all your money on it, either. Get outside and enjoy your yard, but don’t get caught doing these 10 things!
These days, more and more issuers are positioning their credit cards as premium products, charging equally premium fees. The annual travel credits that come with these cards help to offset hefty annual fees by giving you a break on some common travel expenses.
Travel credits reimburse you for specific types of travel charges that you put on your credit card. When you make a charge that is eligible to receive a travel credit, the card issuer will credit your statement for the full amount, often automatically. You can think of travel credits as an automatic gift card from your issuer that covers certain eligible expenses.
What Can You Use Annual Travel Credits For?
You can use travel credits for all sorts of travel-related expenses. Some charges that may be eligible for a travel credit include:
Flight change fees
Airport lounge passes
In-flight meals and entertainment
Airline gift cards
Not all annual travel credit are created equal
It’s important to note that individual cards and issuers have different rules surrounding what expenses are eligible for a travel credit.
Some cards will give you a credit for nearly any travel-related purchase. Others have a very specific list of the types of charges that are eligible.
You should know exactly what charges are eligible for a credit from your card issuer, because if you make an ineligible purchase expecting to receive a credit, you’ll be left footing the bill.
Other types of travel credit
Most of the credits listed above are related to direct purchases from airlines and travel companies. Many premium credit cards also offer credits towards programs like TSA PreCheck or Global Entry. These programs can help you speed through security lines and customs when you travel.
Credit related to TSA PreCheck and Global Entry are usually separate from the other annual travel credits offered by the card.
Annual Travel Credits Offset Annual Fees
Most credit cards that offer annual travel credits carry hefty annual fees, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve which costs cardholders $450 per year. Paying that much every year just for the privilege of holding a credit card can be hard to stomach, no matter what benefits you receive.
The annual travel credits offered by these cards help make those fees more manageable, though. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve card offers $300 in travel credits each year, making its effective annual fee $150 — a far cry from the $450 listed on its application.
It’s much easier to justify paying a $450 annual fee for a premium card if it offers a broad travel credit worth over 60% of the fee. All you have to do is make sure to use the full travel credit each year.
How to Use Annual Travel Credits
Most travelers will find that using travel credits requires little to no effort on their part. Just spend on the same travel purchases you would otherwise.
You’re about to leave on vacation, and decide you could use a little more leg room on the plane. You have tickets to fly on JetBlue and an American Express Personal Rewards Gold card. You designate JetBlue as your airline of choice in the American Express app, then speak to someone at the JetBlue counter to arrange a seat upgrade.
You pay the charge using your American Express Personal Rewards Gold card, and the total comes to $35. A few days later, you get a credit of $35, essentially getting extra leg room for free.
Getting around town
You’re in a new city for the weekend and need a quick way to get downtown. You order an Uber using your Chase Sapphire Reserve card and spend a fun night out. You then Uber back to your hotel. Because the Chase Sapphire Reserve card offers credits on Uber — and nearly any other travel expense — you’ll see a credit for the cost of your rides within a week or two.
Visiting an airport lounge
You have a long layover between two legs of your long-distance trip and want to visit an airport lounge to get away from the hustle and bustle of the busy airport. Your Ritz-Carlton Rewards card includes the cost of lounge entry in the list of charges eligible for a credit, so you swipe your card and spend your layover relaxing.
What Cards Offer Annual Travel Credits?
There are many premium cards that offer annual travel credits, but we think these are among the best.
Chase Sapphire Reserve
The Chase Sapphire Reserve card offers what might be the most flexible travel fee credit program.
The card’s $450 annual gives you $300 in annual credits that can be used on nearly any travel expense, including the purchase of airline tickets, incidental fees and ridesharing fares. It’s easy to use the full credit each year because so many purchases qualify.
American Express Platinum Card
The American Express Platinum card charges a $550 annual fee and offers a $200 annual travel credit. This credit resets each calendar year, so if you only hold the card for one year, it is possible to get $400 in credit while only paying one $550 fee.
The credit offered by American Express is less flexible than the credit offered by Chase. You must choose an airline at the start of the year, and you will only receive credits for purchases related to that airline.
The airlines you can choose are:
Officially, the credit only applies to incidental fees and in-flight purchases. Some people have had success with getting credits by buying gift cards in the $25-$50 range, though we wouldn’t bank on it.
US Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite
The US Bank Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card charges a $400 annual fee, but offers $325 in annual credits, making its effective fee just $75. The credit is quite flexible, applying to nearly any purchase made directly from airlines, hotels, car rental companies, passenger trains, cruise lines, limousine companies, or taxi companies.
Though most premium credit cards on the market charge annual fees in the $400-$600 range, significant travel credits can help offset these fees, making the cards a great bargain. Just be sure to sign up for a card that offers credits that fit your spending habits.
The proposed settlement order resolves charges the FTC brought last year, alleging that Cooper and his companies deceived consumers and suppressed complaints about them using threats, intimidation, and gag clauses. A federal court subsequently halted the Florida-based scheme and froze its assets pending litigation.
According to the FTC, consumers paid the defendants thousands of dollars to patent and market their inventions based on bogus “success stories” and testimonials. After stringing consumers along for months or even years, the defendants did not deliver what they promised, and many people ended up in debt or lost their life savings with nothing to show for it.
Under the proposed settlement order, the defendants are banned from invention promotion activities, misrepresenting any good or service, and suppressing the availability of truthful negative comments or reviews by consumers. They are also prohibited from profiting from consumers’ personal information collected as part of the challenged practices, and failing to dispose of it properly.
The order imposes a $25,987,192 judgment that will be partially suspended when $78,670 in frozen funds are transferred to the Commission and Cooper has paid $976,330. The full judgment will become due immediately if the defendants are found to have misrepresented their financial condition.
The new head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), Mick Mulvaney, has just released the updated agenda for the CFPB.
According to the new agenda, the CFPB would drop its efforts to push forward regulations of student loan collectors and scrap “student loan servicing” from its focus.
Mulvaney has also indicated the CFPB will retreat from doing anything regarding student loans in general.
“This defangs the watchdog and instead turns the office into a lapdog for the industry,” said Chris Peterson, a former top CFPB official who is now director of financial services at the Consumer Federation of America.
The unit which has been the tip of the spear on these CFPB student loan efforts to protect debtors has been informed they will be reorganized into the CFPB Office of Financial Education. Now there is a department title which just screams no enforcement.
“This is a very significant change in the mission of the student office,” said Christopher Peterson, a law professor at the University of Utah and former enforcement attorney at the CFPB.
“America is facing an ongoing student debt crisis, with outstanding student debt surpassing $1.5 trillion and over 8 million borrowers in default on their student loans. Closing the office for students is like shuttering the fire department in the middle of a three-alarm fire,” Alexis Goldstein, the senior policy analyst at Americans for Financial Reform, said.
I don’t get it. All actions that have been taken by the Department of Education and now the new modified CFPB have the net effect of restricting supervision of student loan collectors, limit state authority to protect citizens from student loan collection abuse, reduce debt elimination from federal student loan fraud by schools, and give easier access to student loan money by for-profit schools.
You don’t need to read the tea leaves here to see what is going on, you just need to look at the billboard.
I don’t care what your political stripes are. With all these changes any student with any student loan debt should expect to be less protected from collector misinformation, bad advice, and poor servicing.
If you don’t believe me, just go ahead and file a complaint against your student loan servicer and see how much protection you get. Your new friend will be the word NONE.
My family is from the south and I grew up eating seafood all the time. We ate all types of fish and shellfish. I love shrimp, lobster, scallops, and all types of fish, especially catfish. Seafood tastes better the closer you live to the coast. Sadly, I live in the city and have to suffer with the mediocre taste of seafood in my area.
I love seafood and can eat it all day every day, but unfortunately, the prices of seafood up north are much higher than down south. I have used dozens of methods to try to save money when buying seafood. It is difficult to find fresh seafood, especially fish. Most fish are farm-raised, which can cause health issues and do not provide the same health benefits as fresh fish. Some seafood is available year-round while other seafood is only available at certain times. However, most seafood is available frozen throughout the year. Here are some dynamite tips to use when buying seafood any time of the year.
When purchasing fish, a thick glaze of ice should be on it that protects the fish. Fish should not be stored in a styrofoam container, covered with plastic wrap, stored in an ice chest or other unsafe methods. Look for seafood with shiny skin, bright clear eyes, no freezer burn, no milky liquid on the meat, tight skin, and brightly colored gills.
Fresh shrimp should look clear and smell like salt water. Frozen shrimp should look opaque. Beware of fish fraud. Is this fish really wild salmon, red snapper, grouper, etc.?
Avoid buying seafood that is imported. Overseas countries have different safety rules that are in some cases less strict or not enforced. Purchase seafood from a fish market, which has better quality seafood than grocery stores. Shop at a fish market with knowledgeable salespeople.
Beware of tricky labels such as "only caught in the wild," "fresh farm-raised" (farm-raised fish are not fresh or wild), farmed Chilean seabass (it is not a seabass and is not from Chile), or "wild Atlantic salmon" (most Atlantic salmon is farm-raised because they are an endangered species).
There is no universal seafood labeling system for restaurants, grocery stores, or fish markets. However, the USDA requires all fish to carry a label identifying its country of origin and stating if it is wild-caught or farm-raised. Look for "Frozen-at-Sea" (FAS) fish that has been flash-frozen onboard the ship. Look for certifications. If you cannot find a certification, buy seafood caught in North America.
Buy frozen shellfish unless you live near the coast or a local fishery. Lobster prices drop in May and June. May is the best month to buy live lobsters. Hard shell lobster prices peak in August and drop again in September. After Labor Day, lobster prices drop and remain economical until Christmas. Prices increase as winter approaches. Fresh shrimp is available between May and October.
Fresh Versus Frozen
Not every fish freezes well. Fish that can freeze well can still suffer quality if frozen too long. You do not know how long the seafood sold at the grocery store has been thawed, which is why it is best buy it frozen and defrost it yourself.
When purchasing fish, ask for the fish to be packed with a separate bag of crushed ice to keep it cold. Refrigerate whole fish, fillets, or steaks for up to two days. Thaw frozen fish in the refrigerator. Look for seafood that is vacuum-sealed to maintain freshness.
Sometimes farm-raised fish is sold as wild-caught fish and sold at a much higher price. Out-of-season fish are harder to find in winter months. Buy fresh fish in-season to save money. Buy frozen fish out-of-season.
More Ways to Save Money
Whole fish offers more value for per-pound price. Canned fish or smoked fish are budget-friendly options. Shop when it is raining or during bad weather to get a good deal. Go later in the day or at night just before closing time. The selection may not be as good, but vendors are eager to sell everything rather than have leftover inventory. Look for specials at fish markets or fisheries. Buy seafood in two or three month supplies.
You will pay more for seafood the farther you live away from the coast. Buy shrimp based on the count per pound. Shrimp sold at grocery store seafood counters have been shipped frozen and then thawed at the seafood counter. Shrimp sold in the frozen food section is the same as the shrimp sold "fresh" at the seafood counter. Buy squid or octopus frozen if you do not live near a fish market or the coast. Keep abreast of seafood alerts and information at Seafood Watch or The Safina Center.
The U.S. Department of Education (Department) has launched a process for federal student loan borrowers to be reconsidered for loan forgiveness under a temporary expansion of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program.
This limited opportunity— which the Department is referring to as Temporary Expanded PSLF (TEPSLF)— was made possible by a $350-million appropriation through the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018. The law provides additional conditions under which borrowers may become eligible for loan forgiveness if some or all of their payments made on William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan) Program loans were made on a nonqualifying repayment plan for the PSLF Program. This opportunity is only available on a first-come, first-served basis until the $350 million has been allocated or other criteria are met.
The Department will reconsider eligibility for the TEPSLF opportunity using an expanded list of qualifying repayment plans, which includes the Graduated Repayment Plan, Extended Repayment Plan, Consolidated Standard Repayment Plan, and Consolidated Graduated Repayment Plan. Funds for this opportunity are limited, and borrowers will be considered on a first come, first serve basis. Once funds under this opportunity are depleted or other criteria are met, the program will end.
In order to qualify for the TEPSLF opportunity, a borrower must have done the following:
Submitted the Public Service Loan Forgiveness: Application for Forgiveness and had that application denied because some or all of the payments were not made under a qualifying repayment plan for PSLF
Worked at least 10 years of full-time employment with a qualifying employer, certified by the employer, and approved by the Department
Made 120 qualifying monthly payments under the new requirements for the TEPSLF opportunity while working full-time for a qualifying employer or employers
Borrowers who believe they may qualify for the TEPSLF opportunity should email a request for reconsideration to TEPSLF@MyFedLoan.org.
You may think that a long commute is unavoidable. After all, the average American commutes for nearly an hour a day. Unfortunately, after giving the best 8-9 hours of the day to their employer, many people give up one to two more stuck in traffic. I am aware that there are productive things you can do while commuting, make phone calls, listen to podcasts/audiobooks, etc. In fact, you can get two free audiobooks with this link. However, think about how much sweeter those stories would sound if you listened to them while tuning up your bike or fixing things around your house.
As shown below, the financial case for riding a bike to work speaks for itself. However, there’s a time argument to be made as well. If you trade your 25-minute car commute for a 10-minute bike ride, you’ll save yourself 148 days over 20 years. That’s almost five months! Not to mention that with all the money you’ll save you can retire at least five years earlier!
If you are interested, here’s my full take on the true cost of commuting. If you’re more of the visual type, see the infographic below.
Scammers need a good story to get to your wallet. Once they find one that works, they use it again and again. One of their old favorites brings together fake checks and secret shopping, and we’ve been hearing a lot about it lately.
Here’s how it starts. You get a check in the mail with a job offer as a secret shopper. You deposit the check and see the funds in your account a few days later, and the bank even tells you the check has cleared.
Now you’re off to the store you’ve been asked to shopat and report back on, often a Walmart. Your first assignment is to test the in-store money transfer service, like Western Union or MoneyGram, by sending some of the money you deposited. Or you might be told to use the money to buy reloadable cards or gift cards, such as iTunes cards. You’re instructed to send pictures of the cards or to give the numbers on the cards.
Fast forward days or weeks to the unhappy ending. The bank finds out the check you deposited is a fake, which means you’re on the hook for all that money. How does that even happen? Well, banks must make funds from deposited checks available within days, but uncovering a fake check can take weeks. By the time you try to get the money back from the money transfer service, the scammers are long gone, and they’ve taken all the money off the gift cards, too. (By the way, money orders and cashier’s checks can be faked, too.)
The moral of the story? If anyone ever asks you to deposit a check and then wire or send money in any way, you can bet it’s a scam.No matter what they tell you.
Want to avoid the latest rip-offs? Sign up for free scam alerts from the FTC at FTC.gov/Scams.