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Smart Buying

Score the Best Deals on Banking, Investing & Insurance

Help make your stock investments and bank accounts stretch further than ever before.

Online bank accounts

Find free checking at a virtual bank.

A number of online banks offer FDIC-insured accounts with no monthly maintenance fees and free ATM withdrawals. Open an account with $1 at Fidelity and Schwab, which refund all ATM surcharges in the U.S. and abroad (you must have a brokerage account for both). ING Direct and Ally Bank also refund all ATM fees. Scottrade requires a $100 deposit to open an account, and it refunds all U.S. ATM fees. USAA Bank refunds up to $15 a month in ATM fees. At Schwab and State Farm Bank, you can also deposit checks or pay someone with your smart phone.

SEE ALSO: How to Score Even More Deals

Euro stocks


The Continent’s crisis spells opportunity for investors. Investors have pounded European stocks over worries about the euro crisis. These three are undeservedly cheap (prices are as of June 1):

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Sanofi (SNY, $33). From vaccines to animal health care, the French drug maker boasts a well-diversified product line. Earnings will take a hit this year in the wake of expiring patents for several key drugs. But growth should pick up in 2013 if products now in the late stage of testing, including one to treat diabetes and another for colon cancer, win approval. The acquisition of biotech firm Genzyme last year should also contribute to profits. Meanwhile, the stock, which is 17% off its 52-week high, yields a generous 5.0%.

Total (TOT, $42). The French energy giant’s shares have tumbled 26% since March 1, with investors concerned not only about falling oil prices but also about a leak in one of Total’s natural gas wells in the North Sea. The leak should be plugged soon, and damage is not likely to be great. The company is also investing in a slew of new projects that will boost oil and gas production and, therefore, earnings. The stock yields a hefty 6.2%.

Velti (VELT, $7). This Irish company manages mobile-ad campaigns for such companies as Intel and Johnson & Johnson. After we recommended the shares at $6.36 in our March issue (see “6 Winning Stocks for $10 or Less”), the stock popped to nearly $15 before retreating recently. Velti is well positioned to benefit from exploding sales in the mobile-ad market. Analysts see earnings soaring 46% in 2012.

Bargain ETFs

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Vanguard undercuts the competition.

The typical exchange-traded fund charges 0.5% a year. We found three, all from Vanguard, that go for a lot less. But expenses weren’t the only concern. We also considered fund size. Bigger ETFs typically have slimmer bid-ask spreads, costing you less to buy and sell shares.

Vanguard Total Stock Market (symbol VTI) charges a rock-bottom 0.06% in annual expenses. That means for each $10,000 you invest, you’ll pay $6 a year for operating expenses. This $20 billion fund also offers broad exposure to U.S. companies of all sizes and holds about 3,300 stocks.

The average bond ETF carries a 0.3% annual expense ratio. Vanguard Short-Term Bond (BSV) has $7.9 billion in assets and charges just 0.11% in expenses a year. And it has a short average duration (a measure of interest rate sensitivity) of just 2.7 years.

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Vanguard MSCI EAFE (VEA), a $7.5 billion fund that tracks stocks of large foreign companies in developed markets, charges 0.12% per year.

Insurance perks

Clean living can cut your premiums and loan rates.

Several insurers now offer extra breaks for safe drivers. Progressive’s Snapshot program gives you credit for driving fewer miles, less aggressively and during safer times of day. You plug a device the size of a garage-door opener into your car, which sends driving data—number of miles driven, sudden stops and time of day (speed and location are not tracked)—to Progressive for 30 days. Drivers with the safest habits can get discounts of up to 30%; the average savings is $150 per year. Allstate offers a similar program.

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Healthy habits can also garner you a deal on life insurance. A 40-year-old man in good health can get a $500,000, 20-year term policy for as little as $355 per year. But if he smokes, his annual rate jumps to $1,450. And if he is also slightly overweight and has high cholesterol, his annual premiums could be $2,100 or more. More employers are offering health-premium discounts, cash, gift cards or extra health savings account contributions to people who participate in wellness programs or take health-risk assessments.

Good credit habits—which translate into a higher credit score—can help you qualify for money-saving loan rates. For example, the average person with a FICO credit score in the top tier (760 to 850) pays $37,000 less in interest on a 30-year, $300,000 mortgage than someone with a score between 660 and 679.