Get approved for the cards you want
“Rejection stings,” said Jason Steele at Credit.com, not least when it’s for a new credit card. Luckily, there are a few tricks to maximize your chances of getting approved. The “single most important factor,” of course, is maintaining a high credit score by paying your bills on time and carrying as little debt as possible. You also want to “space out your credit applications.” Lenders “view multiple recent applications for new credit cards as a warning sign of financial trouble.” If you are rejected, call and ask for your application to be “reconsidered,” and if that doesn’t work, take the lesson to heart. Creditors often send a rejection letter that will explain why you were denied, so “you can take targeted steps to remedy the problem” next time.
Paid family leave for federal workers
The White House is making a big push for more parental leave, said Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin at The Washington Post. President Obama signed an order last week instructing federal agencies to give workers six weeks of paid family leave to care for a new child or ill family members. In an article posted on career site LinkedIn, Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said the president will also call on cities and states to adopt similar paid leave policies and will provide funds to conduct feasibility studies. “Only three states — California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island — offer paid family and medical leave,” Jarrett wrote, even though studies have found that providing paid sick and parental leave improves workplaces without hurting companies’ economic output.
(This article originally appeared in The Week magazine. Try 4 risk-free issues, and stay up to date with the week’s most important news and commentary.)
The case for online savings accounts
“Americans are not known as great savers,” said Ann Carrns at The New York Times, but 2015 offers the chance to turn over a new leaf. This year, “an improving job market and plunging fuel prices” may allow consumers to start saving more. Unfortunately, “anemic interest rates” don’t appear likely to budge soon; the average annual yield for a savings account hovers around 0.17 percent, meaning you’d earn just $1.70 this year on $1,000. A better option is to save your money with online banks, which typically “offer better interest rates and charge lower fees” because they don’t have the cost of maintaining physical branches. GE Capital Bank’s online savings account and MySavingsDirect both offer 1.05 percent. That’s “hardly a life-changing” yield, but it’s better than nothing.
The case for leasing a car
If you’re looking for a new set of wheels, consider leasing, said Jessica Anderson at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. Some drivers who own their cars outright can “come out ahead financially,” especially if they pay cash or keep their car past the loan payoff date. But for those who always have a car payment — because they trade in their cars often or finance with long-term loans — “leasing is a good choice.” Your payments will be lower, since “you’re paying for a car’s depreciation only over the term of the lease.” And since “the majority of leases are written for three years,” a leased car “is almost always under warranty.” Take the 2015 Chevy Malibu. Leasing for three years will leave you “more than $4,600 richer” than if you bought the car with a five-year loan and sold it after 36 months.
In Illinois, a push to save
A new law in Illinois aims to help residents save for retirement, said Josh Barro at The New York Times. Employed residents who don’t already have a retirement plan at work will be automatically enrolled in individual retirement accounts, which will be funded through a 3 percent deduction from their paychecks. The program, called Secure Choice, is voluntary — workers can opt out or adjust their deductions to save more than 3 percent. The program aims to fill the gap for workers who lack access to employer-based savings plans, which “is one of the reasons middle-income Americans tend to have not saved enough for retirement.” If the program is successful, “it may end up being a model for other states and the federal government.”
Beat the post-holiday shopping trap
Beware of the post-holiday sales season, said Liz Weston at Bankrate. Though after-holiday clearances can be tempting, you don’t want to blow your budget before the year has really begun. Since quitting cold turkey after the holiday spree can be tough, “set aside some cash or set a dollar limit to take advantage of a sale or two.” But “once the money’s gone, shopping stops.” You might also make “a no-spend pledge” and limit your purchases to nonessentials, such as groceries or gas, for a certain period. Consider unsubscribing from deal sites and retailers’ newsletters to remove temptations. And before purchasing what you think is a must-have item, try “giving yourself at least a three-day ‘cooling-off period.’” That can “help you figure out if the purchase is worthwhile or just a passing fancy.”