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Banking

Save Money on Credit, Debt and Banking

Make sure you aren't paying more than you should -- and that you're getting all the benefits you deserve -- with these 12 tips.

Balancing credit cards, student loans, checking and savings accounts can be quite daunting. Make sure you aren't paying more than you should -- and that you're getting all the benefits you deserve -- with our 12 tips.

We've laid out our list in text format below, or you can check them out in our slide show. Plus, you can share your favorite ways to save in our reader comment box at the end of this article.


UNLOAD YOUR BURDEN
Carrying a $1,000 balance at 18% blows $180 every year on interest. That's money you could put to better use elsewhere. Get in the habit of paying off your balance in full each month.

If you've already racked up a large balance, do what you can to pay it off. This may sound obvious, but it is the best way to save money on those hefty interest charges. See Climb Out of Debt Faster for help.


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NEGOTIATE YOUR RATE
Instead of paying an APR of 18% on your credit card, call your issuer and ask for a lower rate. If you have good credit, your lender might consider it.

You'll strengthen your case if you can provide examples of offers you've gotten from other companies.


CONSIDER A BALANCE TRANSFER
Shop for a new card with a lower interest rate.

Watch out for introductory offers, though. You don't want to get reeled in with the promise of a 5% rate only to find that it'll shoot up to 18% after three or six months -- unless you're confident you can pay off your entire balance within the introductory time frame.


SAY GOODBYE TO YOUR ANNUAL FEE
Your low-rate card may not be the deal you think it is if you're paying an annual fee.

For example, if you pay $40 each month toward a $1,000 balance on a card with a 12% interest rate and a $50 annual fee, that's equivalent to a no-fee card with an 18.4% interest rate. Use our calculator to find out whether a low rate is worth the annual fee.


REAP SOME REWARDS
You have to buy groceries and gas anyway, so why not use those purchases to get a little more green in your wallet? Sign up for a rewards credit card and get free money, gift certificates, airline miles or other perks.

If you spend $600 a month on groceries and gas, for example, on a card paying 2% cash back, you'd save almost $150 per year.

(Of course, it's only free if you pay the balance in full each month without incurring interest charges.)


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LOWER YOUR STUDENT LOAN RATE
If you haven't yet consolidated your student loans, you can shave between one and three percentage points off your interest rate -- saving hundreds of dollars -- by going with a lender that offers a discount when you make on-time payments or automatic payments from your bank account.

You can compare deals through SimpleTuition.com.


CUT A DEAL ON STUDENT DEBT
If you're in over your head, ask your lender if you qualify for a graduated payment schedule (your payments start out small and increase as, presumably, your income increases). Or ask fo an extended payment period, such as 15 or 20 years.

See How to Pay Off Student Loans for more tips.


USE FREE ATMS
A buck or two here and there may not seem like a big deal. But if you're frequenting ATMs outside your bank's network, the surcharges can add up quickly. Get money from an ATM that belongs to a surcharge-free network.

Allpoint has about 200 participating institutions and 32,000 ATMs. Money Pass has 600 members and 8,000 ATMs.


GIVE YOUR CREDIT A CHECKUP
Making sure your credit is in tip-top shape can save you hundreds or thousands of dollars in the long run.

You're entitled by law to one free credit report once a year from each of the three main credit bureaus. Go to www.annualcreditreport.com to see what lenders can see about your credit history. Learn more about why your credit report matters.


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GET CHECKING WITH BLING
No-interest checking is so old fashioned. Instead, give your money more opportunity to shine with an interest-bearing online checking account through such reputable companies as Everbank, Charles Schwab, E*Trade and ING Direct. They currently pay between 2.25% and 3.25%.


KEEP TABS ON YOUR BALANCE
At $20 to $30 a pop, overdraft fees and bounced checks can put a damper on your savings efforts. So it literally pays to keep tabs on your spending.

If you use a debit card for convenience over your checkbook, jot down all your debit transactions on your checkbook register to make sure you know how much money is in your bank account at all times.


EVALUATE YOUR SPENDING
Looking for help keeping tabs on your budget? Track your spending patterns through the free service at Wesabe.com. You enter your accounts to organize your spending into different categories on one convenient site.

Wesabe will also help you pinpoint areas where you could improve and lets you get feedback from other Wesabe users, all while protecting your passwords, identity and other sensitive information.


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