Monthly Archives: February 2016

Boost Your Credit Card Rewards with Swipe

This weekend I had the good fortune to meet the creator of an iPhone app that I am completely enamored with.  Swipe is kind of a curator for your rewards credit cards.  It tracks all of your cards and pairs them with the purchase you are making to assure that you are receiving the best rewards deal for that particular purchase.

Swipe Logo

I’m a big fan of leveraging credit card rewards.  Last year I received several hundred dollars in cash back from my credit cards by chasing the right rewards for the right purchases.  This app takes the guesswork out of that process (which is very helpful since one of my cards has higher rewards for categories that rotate from quarter to quarter).

I was lucky enough to have an in-person demonstration with the developer this weekend, but you can see a great demo of the app on the Swipe website.  I’m more than a little disappointed that this awesome app is not yet available for Android (I’m assured it’s coming in the future).  But for the iFolks out there…I think it’s awesome!

Gas is Cheap!

Gasoline is cheap right now.  The cheapest I remember in a lot of years.  And for most families, this means a big difference in the household budget.  The reality is most people spend a lot of time in their cars getting from one place to another.  And when gas costs less, that frees up money for a lot of other things….like paying off debt or saving for the future.

This is why it blows my mind that every time the price of gas drops, there is a noticeable increase in the sales of trucks and SUVs.  “Gas is cheap…I should buy a Hummer!”  It just doesn’t make sense to me.  The price of oil and gasoline fluctuates more than most commodities.  And just because gas is cheap now, it won’t be forever.  When it goes back up to the $4 per gallon range again at some future date (and it will), you don’t want to be stuck driving a vehicle that gets only 12 miles to the gallon.  I think it makes sense to choose a vehicle that offers the best gas mileage available for something that suits your needs.  Sure…some people do have need for a truck or an SUV.  But certainly not everyone.


Gas is cheap.  So don’t spend the extra money on a car that burns more gas.  Stick with a more fuel efficient model.  Then maybe you’ll be able to use the savings to actually go somewhere.

Income Tax Tips for Students

I received my federal tax refund this week!  I haven’t done my state and local yet, but I like to do the federal early.  If you haven’t started thinking about filing your income tax yet, it’s probably time.  I, like many, hate the process, so don’t feel bad if you do too.

I’m thankful that there is lots of help out there.  There are a couple of different options to get help with your taxes:  in person or in the form of computer software.  Many people just run in fear from the idea of taxes and assume their best option is to go to the local tax prep office and have somebody else do it.  This is going to be a pricey option.  If your tax picture is simple (e.g.: standard deduction and just wages and interest for income) there’s absolutely no reason to pay someone else to do this for you.  You can easily do it yourself.  If you have itemized deductions and capital gains, it’s a little more complicated, but you should still be able to handle it with the help of a computer program.  You can find a list of several good ones here.

Please remember that if your adjusted gross income for 2015 is less than $62,000 you are able to e-file and receive tax preparation assistance at no charge.

Income tax 2

Also, keep in mind that you may be eligible for some educational tax benefits.  You should soon be receiving your Form 1098-T from the University (or you can find it on eLion under “Taxes—1098-T Credits” in the Financial section).  This will help you to calculate your eligibility for these benefits.

The Lifetime Learning Credit is a tax credit of up to $2,000 available to individuals who file a tax return and owe taxes.  This credit is subtracted from your tax liability, reducing the total amount of federal income tax you pay.  In order to claim this credit, you will need to complete and submit IRS form 8863 with your federal tax return.

If your income is too high to allow you to claim the Lifetime Learning Credit, you may qualify for the Tuition and Fees Tax Deduction of up to $4,000.  This is an “above the line” deduction, which means you do not need to itemize your deductions in order to claim it.  You can find this deduction on line 34 of your 1040 or line 19 of your 1040A.  The required supporting form is available online.

Additionally, student loan interest is an “above the line” tax deductible expense.  If you paid any student loan interest in 2015, you may be able to claim the Student Loan Interest Deduction.  You can find this deduction on line 33 of your 1040 or line 18 of your 1040A.

If you would like to learn more about tax benefits for education, you should reference the IRS publication on these benefits.


Explore Multiple Options

This weekend I found myself standing in line outside the Bryce Jordan Center, attempting to get tickets to see Bruce Springsteen.  The Boss has been on my bucket list since I first heard Born In the USA when I was in high school.  And now he’s coming to State College and I have enough money to buy nosebleed tickets, so I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss this opportunity.


The problem with concerts in State College is that the cheap seats tend to sell out.  Sometimes very quickly.  I wanted to make sure I pursued all available options for ticket purchase.  So I participated in the wristband lottery for a right to stand in line at the BJC.  But when the number called to start the line put me near the back, I was prepared for that.  When the ticket sale started at 10 am, I started working the Ticketmaster app on my smartphone.  Turns out I was able to get tickets through my phone right away, so I stood in the cold for no reason (other than the amusement of the whole adventure—which was quite worthwhile).  The folks standing in line right behind me watched in amazement as I secured my tickets online and left them standing there, hoping.

The reality is that it’s always best to explore more than one option.  If you’re making a purchase of any sort, you want to make sure that you do your research.  Check prices at more than one store.  Read reviews to make sure you’re getting the best whatever it is that you’re buying (within your price range).  If you need a new coffee maker, for example, you don’t want to just grab the first one you see at whatever store you happen to be in.  Look at online reviews of various models.  Compare prices and sale flyers to see where you will find the best price.  Explore more than one option.

Whether it’s a coffee maker, Springsteen tickets, a new car, or anything else, it’s always good to explore more than one purchase option.  That way you’ll walk away confident that you got the best deal possible.  And you’ll likely be happier in the long run.

Moving Forward for Charity

A couple of weeks ago I discovered a smartphone app called Pact that pays me cash for doing things that are good for me (that I happened to be doing anyway).  So far I have earned $4.61 for exercising and eating fruits and veggies.  And I don’t know yet how much I’ll get for this past week’s success, but I’m thinking it’ll be close to another $2.00.  Not bad.  Not bad at all, considering that I really haven’t even had to change my behaviors.


This week I started using another app that rewards my good behavior…but with this one the reward goes to charity.  Charity Miles tracks the miles that I run, walk, or bike.  For every mile I walk, a corporate sponsor makes a donation to a charity that I pick from a lengthy list of options.  Again, I was going to be walking and running and biking anyway.  Charity Miles just adds a little extra bonus that helps a good cause.  It’s a win/win.  If you have a smartphone and you like to move, maybe you should give it a try.  The charity you help will appreciate it!