Does your bank account need a lifeline?
As the winter wave of the pandemic surges across the U.S. — breaking daily records for new cases — many Americans are hunkering down at home, some communities have put lockdowns back in place, and the economy is losing jobs again.
All of that makes this a good time to be topping off your emergency fund, just in case your budget takes a financial hit.
Here are 16 ways — from money making to money saving — to essentially give yourself a raise, so you can shore up your finances.
1. Stop spending so much on debt
High-interest debt from credit cards and personal loans can be a major drain on your bank balance, especially if you’re making only the minimum payments each month.
If you want to break free from your debt ASAP, your best bet is to take out a debt consolidation loan. You’ll trade in all of your current debts — credit cards, loans, everything — for a single monthly payment at a lower interest rate.
You can borrow up to $100,000 with no collateral at rates as low as 5.95%. Depending on how much interest you’re paying on your current debts, consolidating them could save you thousands of dollars and help you become debt-free years sooner.
2. Switch to a high-deductible health plan and HSA
If you’re relatively healthy and your medical expenses generally don't go beyond physicals and screenings, a high-deductible health plan could save you money.
Your deductible is the amount you pay out of pocket before your insurance covers the rest, and the higher the deductible, the lower your premiums will be.
Also note that switching to one of these health plans will make you eligible for a health savings account (HSA), a tax-advantaged account for medical-related expenses. The funds in the account grow tax-free, and as long as the money is used for eligible health costs, it can be withdrawn tax-free.
To shop for a high-deductible health insurance plan, you might use a free online service that will help you search for the right policy at the lowest rate.
3. Save every time you shop online
If you do most of your shopping online — and nowadays, who doesn’t? — you likely go to the same website again and again. You know which one.
But Amazon doesn’t always have the best prices, and nobody has time to price-check every store.
So, just download a free browser extension that will automatically find you deals and coupon codes every time you shop online.
You also can set price-drop alerts for your favorite products, so if they go on sale you’ll be the first to know. Installation takes just a moment and could save you hundreds of dollars each year.
4. Slash the cost of your car insurance
If you've got a car and aren't shopping around for cheaper insurance every six months, you could be throwing away more than $1,100 a year, according to one estimate
Comparing rates from multiple insurance companies may sound like a lot of work, but there are websites that do the shopping around for you and can find you a better deal in three minutes.
Just answer a few quick questions, and you'll soon be sorting through quotes from hundreds of car insurers to find you the lowest price available for the coverage you currently have.
5. Play the market with as little as $1
If you’ve never played the stock market before, you might think that owning stock in a well-known company is out of reach right now.
But one popular investing app will let you buy pieces of companies like Google and Tesla for as little as $1 — and when they profit, so can you.
You can invest in fractional shares of stocks, options, exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and cryptocurrencies. Best of all, there are no fees and no commissions.
6. Scoop up your forgotten funds
You know where all your money is, right?
Actually, people move on and forget all about money in old accounts all the time. It's so common that Americans currently have more than $40 billion in unclaimed funds waiting for them.
Is a chunk of that yours? Search MissingMoney.com, which will show if you left any money in an old checking or savings account, or if you’re entitled to unclaimed life insurance policies from relatives who have passed away. (You'll want to be much more careful when you buy your own life insurance policy.)
You also should check with the IRS to see if there are any tax refunds you're missing.
You can amend your previous tax returns for up to three years if you were eligible for a refund but neglected to claim it.
7. Get a payday from your old playthings
Got a closet full of collectibles? Well, maybe the time has finally come to say goodbye and list them online — because they might be worth even more than you think.
For example, some of your toys from the 1970s and '80s could be worth hundreds of dollars — maybe even thousands — if you’ve kept them in good condition.
Selling stuff on eBay is relatively simple, but if you’ve never done it before, check out this handy guide on how to get started.
8. Refinance to a cheaper student loan
Payments on federal student loans have been on a long pause, but if you have debt from a private student loan, you’ve been on the hook for your regular monthly minimum all year.
The good news is that right now interest rates on private student loans are at all-time lows — as low as 1% in some cases — and refinancing your loan can save you a bundle.
Refinancing lets you pay off your current debt with a new loan that has a lower interest rate. Your monthly payment will go down, and you’ll have more money to spend on other things.
You can find quotes from multiple lenders in just minutes, so you can shop around and make sure you’re getting the best rate possible.
9. Make money with your digital spare change
Another easy way to start investing in the stock market is by putting your spare change to work.
You can use an app that offers micro-investing accounts starting at just a few dollars a month. The "round-up" feature lets you invest the spare change that’s left over whenever you make a purchase.
So if you buy a coffee for $3.65, 35 cents will be added to your account. It may not seem like much, but over time that spare change can really add up.
10. Grab no-cost housing with a live-in flip
What are you doing with all that pandemic downtime? If you have the skills, why not try a live-in flip. You could buy a fixer-upper with an ultra-low mortgage rate, move in and renovate the place, then flip it for a profit that rivals a year's worth of mortgage payments.
You can pay a lower long-term capital gains tax on your profits — rather than the higher tax for short-term gains — as long as you live in the home for at least one year.
Mortgage rates are hovering near record lows today, meaning you may never pay less for a home loan. Try gathering and comparing at least five mortgage offers to find the best rate.
11. Use artificial intelligence to find a better job
We know the job market is tough right now, so if your job hunt is coming up short it might be time to expand your search to positions that fall outside your field.
There's a free online job board that uses artificial intelligence to match you with the best jobs from more than 8 million postings, based on your skills, education and experience.
It also provides valuable information on over 35,000 job titles, including the credentials required and the criteria that recruiters look for in a top candidate.
12. Dump private mortgage insurance, if you're a homeowner
If you have plain-vanilla conventional mortgage and made less than a 20% down payment, you’re likely familiar with private mortgage insurance.
PMI protects the lender in case you default on your home loan — and it could be costing you up to $2,000 a year. So, how do you ditch this?
If you can manage making payments that will get you down to 80% of the original mortgage balance, you can request to have PMI removed. You also might refinance to a new home loan that’s below 80% of the home’s value.
Even if you can't junk the PMI, you can refinance and cut your monthly payment by hundreds of dollars, thanks to today's spectacularly low mortgage rates.
13. Turn your clutter into cash
Mess creates stress, and if you’re already worried about money, you don’t need piles of clutter adding to your anxiety. But trying to sell your old electronics, books, and movies online can be a chore, and you might make only a fraction of what your items are worth.
We conducted a test of the top services online and found Decluttr pays up to 33% more than other buyback programs, plus it was super easy to use.
Just type in the specs of your old gadgets or use the Decluttr app to scan the barcodes on your books, video games and DVDs, and you’ll get a quote instantly. Then all you have to do is put your stuff in a box, stick on the free shipping label, and drop it off at the nearest UPS store.
14. Stop paying so much for home insurance
If your homeowners insurance bill seems steep, you might be able to cut it down to size by shopping around online for a better rate.
Just go online and compare quotes from hundreds of insurers for free, in only two minutes.
Answer a few basic questions, and you’ll instantly see the best deals available in your area.
You could save close to $1,000 a year on your homeowners policy by comparing rates, while still keeping the same level of coverage you currently have.
15. Get paid if businesses behaved badly
When companies do the wrong thing, they get taken to court — and sometimes their customers get compensated.
Check ClassAction.com to see if you qualify for reimbursement over products or services you purchased in the past that were falsely advertised, defective, or that you were overcharged for.
Recent settlements have involved companies including Apple, Tesla, Juul and others. Many class action claims can be completed online in a few minutes, though it may take up to a year to receive your rebate.
The criteria for eligibility will vary depending on the lawsuit, but in some cases you may not even need a receipt to get reimbursed. If proof of purchase is required and you can’t find your receipt, remember to check your bank and credit card statements.
16. Turn your hobby into a lucrative side gig
Everybody's got a hobby: What's yours? You could use it to score some side gigs and supplement your income.
The world’s largest online marketplace for digital services makes it super easy to get paid for doing what you love.
It’s sort of like using a dating site — you just create a profile describing what you bring to the table, and people will find you based on what they’re looking for.
Once you start completing gigs and racking up positive reviews, you can bump up the price of your services and make even more money.