Don’t know what to do with your Holiday Gift Cards? Sell them for Cash

It happens every year; you get all sorts of gift cards for Christmas, and some of them are from stores and restaurants that you simply never visit. This year, if you get  the gift of a gift card that you simply don’t want and know that you will never use, you actually have a number of choices rather than to “re-gift” it, including selling it online for cash.

For example,  there is a website called Raise Marketplace (www.raise.com) where you can buy and sell gift cards from practically all of the major retailers and restaurant chains, including Whole Foods, The Home Depot, Nordstrom’s, Sears,  Dunkin Donuts  and many more.

In fact, the website launched their new app back in November and it’s been steadily becoming more popular with users since.

Over in  Israel a company called Zeek  launched recently an app that allows consumers to sell their gift cards in both that country and the United Kingdom for a bit less than their face value. Of course they take out a fee for doing that as well, once the transaction has been finished.

Since launching the app for Zeek  it’s been downloaded over 200,000 times and, according to the CEO of the company, Daniels Zelkind, has already helped consumers to buy and sell more than $200,000 worth of gift cards.

In the UK it’s estimated that nearly $1 billion worth of gift cards actually go  unused every year, which is quite a bit of money if you think about it.  The market for gift cards in the US is quite a bit larger but, statistically speaking, around 1% of the value of the cards sold is never used.

On these new gift card selling platforms you should expect to lose a little bit of the face value of the card itself in order to sell it and, as we mentioned earlier, the companies and apps that help you to do it will also want to take their cut for the service.

On the other hand, taking a gift card and stashing it in a drawer at home in the kitchen, where it sits unused, is certainly a waste of good Christmas cash. Rather than get nothing from Uncle Bob or your Grandma this year, you may wish to go online and sell your gift card for cash instead.

At least then, if they ask you whether you enjoy the gift or not, you’ll be able to tell them “yes” with a straight face

Important Financial Resolutions

As each new year approaches, people come up with a variety of resolutions. Some commit to lose weight or exercise more, others want to be more generous and some are determined to get out of debt or start saving for retirement.
Although not all resolutions are kept throughout the year, it’s still helpful to create some goals, especially as a new year approaches. A new year offers a fresh start, so it’s the perfect time to improve your finances.
One of the most common resolutions regarding finances is to save more. This is actually a valid resolution regardless of your current financial state. Saving money isn’t easy, but it can be easier to save when you have a specific goal.
For instance, money your just dump into a low-interest savings account is easy to spend when you see something attractive at the mall or you’re tempted to take a weekend trip. However, you’ll be more likely to leave that money alone if you are saving for an important goal.
The best goals are specific and attainable. Instead of just saying, “I want to save more money this year,” set a goal of saving $100 a week or even $100 a month.
Once you set a goal, it’s important to have a way to track your progress. If you don’t know whether or not you’re even on track, it’s hard to stay motivated. There is no right or wrong way to keep track of your finances. Today’s consumers can take advantage of a variety of technological advancements, so you can track your finances from your computer, tablet or smart phone. However, you even use a pen and paper to keep track of your goals. The method isn’t important, but the process of careful tracking is.
If you feel overwhelmed by the process of managing your assets and finances, remember that you don’t have to do it all alone. Using a service like Hennion and Walsh Asset Management allows you to benefit from the help and advice of trained and experienced financial professionals.
You want to be sure that you are wisely investing the money that you are saving so you can enjoy the maximum benefit. An asset management service will assist you in meeting your financial goals, and it’s very helpful to have someone available to answer your questions and provide sound advice.
At some point during the year, it will likely get at least a little difficult to stick with your financial goals. Goals sound great on paper, but they don’t seem to care about broken toilets, leaky roofs, dental bills and all of the other expenses that are a part of life.
Having accountability in place can help you stick with your financial resolutions when times are tough. Consider asking your partner, a friend or someone else you trust to hold you accountable regarding your finances. When you know that someone will be asking you about your spending and saving on a regular basis, it becomes a little harder to make unnecessary splurges.
If you just can’t keep up one month, don’t quit! You can always get back on track and still make a big difference in your family’s finances. Good financial management doesn’t require perfection. You simply need to learn from your mistakes and keep making progress.

Home Loan Pre Approval Handbook

You probably already know that having a pre-approved loan speeds up the mortgage application process, but did you know that it can also give you more bargaining power when you’re shopping for a new property?

Home loan pre-approval can give you the confidence to make faster decisions when the right house comes knocking. As someone with some experience owning a home, you know how important that is in today’s market.

What is Pre-Approval?

When a lender provides you with a conditional amount that you can borrow, based on your financial situation – that’s home loan pre-approval. Most banks offer this at no additional cost.

Being pre-approved means that you have a better idea of what your price limit is when you shop for your new home. This puts you in a much better position to know how much you can spend when bidding at an auction or negotiating the price with a vendor.

A pre-approval also lets you know what your home loan interest rate and monthly repayments will be, which is really helpful when it comes to planning ahead.

The Pre-Approval Process

1. Gather all your details
Doing your figures lets you know the amounts you can comfortably manage when you shop around for a new home. When applying for a new home loan, a lender also needs to know your current financial situation. Have detailed records of your income, level of savings, and any expenses and financial commitments you have, at hand. This can help the pre-approval and formal application process move along much faster.

2. Speak with your lending specialist or mortgage broker.
Your lending specialist or mortgage broker can help you make sense of all the details relating to the wide range of home loans out there. This includes going over things like any potential changes to rules or restrictions that may come with your new home loan.

Knowing about these changes are important, otherwise you may find yourself caught with unexpected extra conditions on your loan later. You want to be able to plan for those. Don’t hesitate to book an appointment with your bank’s lending staff to learn more.

3. Paperwork check and credit and financial assessment
The bank’s lending staff will assess your situation based on the bank’s assessment criteria. As a general guide, they will require:
• Personal identification details
• Income verification, such as recent pay slips or current signed lease agreements
• Savings and transaction account history

Your latest credit and repayment history for any previous home or personal loans can also serve as collateral, to improve your chances in getting your pre-approval.

Keep in mind that the more details you can provide on your current financial situation, the less likely it is that a lender will decline your loan application down the road.

4. Get your conditional pre-approval in writing
Once your application is pre-approved, your bank will provide you with a formal letter of pre-approval. This document details the conditional amount that you can borrow, as well as the number of days the pre-approval is valid for.

It is important that you read over this document, including the disclaimers, terms and conditions. A pre-approval is a conditional offer and the bank has no obligation to lend you the amount should you continue on with a formal mortgage application.

What happens next?

Your pre-approval is valid for a certain amount of days, depending on your lender. During this period, you can shop around the housing market with a good idea of what you can afford to spend.

Once you’ve found your perfect home, you will now need to complete the formal mortgage application. If your needs and financial situation have not changed from the pre-approval stage, your final loan can be approved faster.

Be aware of home loan providers that offer pre-approval without assessing your financial situation. These automated pre-approvals often come with many disclaimers and are less reliable when it comes to negotiating your offer on a house.

The Baby Steps of Investing

A lot of people are afraid of investing. They fear that there is a stock market bubble (and that it will burst). They worry about another crash, like the one we experienced in 2008 where lots of peoples’ retirement accounts were cut in half. The truth is, as you already know, that if you want to ever retire you cannot count on Social Security to keep you afloat. You have to invest and you have to invest wisely.

That’s an intimidating prospect. There are so many stocks and bonds and dividends and investment opportunities out there. Choosing between them feels like a Herculean task. Here’s a little tidbit of good news that most investment advisors don’t want you to know: you do not have to have a perfect portfolio from the beginning. In fact, it is better to start small and build your portfolio over time. This way you can learn about the investing process. You can figure out what works for you and what doesn’t.

Here is how you get started.

Step One: Make Sure You Can Afford It

A lot of people believe that investing is something that they can only do after they have paid off all of their debts. This is absolutely not true! While you might not be able to invest as much or as widely if you’re drowning in debt, you can still invest. At this stage of the game, you are simply investing in yourself.

This doesn’t mean, though, that you should put off paying your debt in favor of investing. It is imperative, if you want to become a successful investor, that you get your financial house in order. For some this might simply mean making a budget and setting up automatic payments. For others professional help might be required.

If you decide to hire someone to help you clean up your credit and get your finances back on track, it is important that you hire the right someone. There are a lot of scam artists out there. One of the best ways to tell the difference, according to the Lexington Law reviews page on Lawyers.com, is the value the professional places on transparency. In some cases, transparency is even more important than the rates they choose (especially if you’re thinking of hiring a non-profit).

Step Two: Start With Yourself

As we’ve already mentioned, it is absolutely possible to fix your credit, get your finances in order and build an investment portfolio at the same time. You simply have to start building that portfolio by investing in yourself. Building an emergency fund and having a savings account that can keep you afloat for at least a year (it used to be six months, but given the economy a year seems more practical) are your first goals.

Step Three: Baby Investments

As soon as you have that year’s worth of savings built up you can start contributing to your investment fund. You can create this fund by setting up a separate account with your bank. In fact, that separate account–if you make it a money market account–can be your first real investment.

After your money market account, you should buy a few CDs. CDs are basically high-powered savings accounts that you can’t touch for a predetermined period of time. “High powered” in this case means higher interest rates than your standard savings or money market accounts.

Step Four: Build Momentum

What a lot of people do is open a couple of CDs and, when they have matured, take the interest they’ve earned; after reinvesting their original CD deposit into new (and hopefully even higher interest rated) CDs use that to start buying small but more “high profile” investments. They might, for example, buy a few shares of stock in a company. They might buy into a small mutual fund.

If you have multiple CDs you might consider, after one of them has reached maturity, cashing it out so that you can invest even more into “high profile” investments.

Step Five: Diversifying

By the time you’ve reached this point you will have likely built up at least a passing knowledge of what the major types of investments are and how they work. This is knowledge that you can use to start diversifying your portfolio. For example, if you’ve been concentrating primarily in straight forward stock purchases, you can start exploring our preferred type of investment: dividends (which are actually just a different type of stock, so it shouldn’t feel like a big stretch to explore this area).

Some people do so well with their investments that they start to branch out into things like angel investing and non-profit building (which carry their own tax benefits). The point is to diversify as much as possible so that you don’t have all of your eggs in one basket.

Hiring Someone to Help You

It is totally possible, especially if you have the knowledge and the know how, to manage your portfolio yourself. It is better, though, to hire someone to take care of your portfolio for you. This doesn’t mean that you give that person completely control over your investments. On the contrary! A financial or investment manager might advise you and encourage you to make certain investments, but they cannot actually buy into anything without your express permission.

Make sure that you choose your financial planner with the same level of care that you used to hire your personal finance advisor or credit repair professional. While the person will require your permission to do anything with your money, it is important that you hire someone whose advice you will trust. Just like in other areas of financial management, there are a lot of amateurs and scam artists who are just trying to make a quick buck. (you’ve seen Wall Street, right?)

The point is this: you can invest. You should invest. You should start laying the groundwork for building your portfolio now so that later you can enjoy your retirement!