Search Schools

13 Most Common Sneaky Charges on Your Credit Card Bills (and How to Spot Them)

With a credit crisis looming for years, things may get worse before they get better. With the average citizen holding two to three credit cards, some with balances in the thousands, sneaky charges on your credit card bill can cost more than an all expense trip to Cancun.

Be sure you know how to spot the most common, along with the most uncommon, charges on your credit card, along with a few tips on what to do about them, by reading the below.

Most Common Sneaky Charges on Your Credit Card Bills

Everyone knows about these credit card charges, but know why and how much they add up to by learning more.

  1. Annual Fees Averaging around $50 a year, credit card companies may charge you this for the privilege of being their customer. Always a good idea to shop for a card that doesn’t have one, however things are changing. With the current credit crisis, cards that previously had no annual fees may begin to charge them. This article in “The Chicago Sun Times” shows which cards are likely to start carrying fees and even what to do about it. credit-card-debt
  2. Interest Rates If you carry a balance on your credit cards, interest rates can be extremely harmful, adding up to hundreds or thousands of dollars a year. Even low interest credit card rates can balloon after their introductory period. Other cards can change interest rates for a variety of reasons. As this article explains, most of the 400 most popular cards on the market still have contracts that can raise interest rates even more on outstanding balances. Make sure to know what your interest rate is, will be, and how much you can talk it down to.
  3. Reduced Rewards Love your credit card for all those rewards, miles, and even cash back you earn? That may be changing. American Express is one of the first cards to cut back on its cash back rewards. Other cards such as the Chase Freedom Card and Discover Card are following suit.
  4. Cash Advance Fees Need some quick cash, but don’t see your ATM in sight? Then drive to one, because the rates on a cash advance from a credit card can be anywhere from an instant two to four percent. There may even be heftier fees when it comes time to pay the cash back, especially if you are unable to pay it all back at once.
  5. Late Fees It can happen to anyone. A lost bill, forgotten envelope, missing stamp, and just like that, you’ve incurred a late fee and a black mark on your credit score. With fees climbing to as high as $39, there is even another reason to avoid paying late. A bright spot is that most credit card companies will waive one late fee per year if the account is kept up to date shortly after the due date is missed.

Most Uncommon Sneaky Charges on Your Credit Card Bills

These are the less known charges that can sneak their way onto your credit card bill.

  1. Early Fees According to this “USA Today” article, those who don’t carry a balance and/or pay on time can also be hurt by the credit card crisis. Starting in 2010, Bank of America customers will be charging a small amount of customers an annual fee that can range from $29 to $99. This fee will apply even if you don’t carry a balance or have been charged a late fee. They go on to report that Citigroup will fine those who don’t put more than approximately $2,400 a year on their card.
  2. Balance Transfer Fees Think you’re getting a deal by transferring your balance to a lower interest card? Then check if and what the balance transfer fee for either card is before doing it. The practice was introduced in the U.K. in 2000 and modified in 2005 to add up to a two percent fee for each balance transferred. When looking into a balance transfer card, check the small print, where card issuers are required to disclose what, if any, transfer fee will be imposed.
  3. Foreign Transaction Fees If traveling in another country, just because they take your credit card doesn’t mean you are getting the best rate. Credit card companies can issue just about any exchange rate and many consumers won’t know what that is until they open their statement. In addition, credit cards can also stick you with an extra fee for the transaction, called a foreign transaction fee or currency conversion fee. This site lists popular cards and their fees, but a better idea is to find a local exchange agency with a decent rate and do business with them.
  4. Delinquency Rate If you’re not keeping up with your monthly payments, a delinquency rate may be incurred. In fact, many credit card issuers are increasing their delinquency rate to as high as 14.54%. A rate this high would cost you $145.40 for every thousand dollars your are delinquent on, each month you are delinquent. If unable to make payments, be sure and contact the bank ahead of time to ensure that this doesn’t happen to you.
  5. Cancellation Worse than unexpected fees, credit cards can be cancelled at any time, even if you keep up with balances and payments. Another piece of bad news is that they don’t even notify you of cancellation, leaving you high and dry the next time you try to make a purchase. Although the Credit Card Act requires providers to notify a customer of any changes within 45 days, surprise cancellations still happen. Make sure you have a back up card or alternate plan to ensure this doesn’t happen to you.

What You Can do About Sneaky Charges on Your Credit Card Bills

Feeling helpless? Then look at these top ways to fight back against sneaky charges and practices on your credit card bills.

  1. Stay Ahead of the Curve Fight back on untrue allegations, bad credit ratings, and even identity fraud by getting a copy of your credit report. This site will let you request it online, by phone, or through the mail. The site stands out for getting an annual report for you at no charge and without signing you up for services that you may not want like some other companies. There are also answers to commonly asked questions and a fraud alert option.
  2. Beat the Banks Have all these fees made you consider a new card? Then check out this site. An independent and expert review takes a look at the best and worst in credit cards. Ratings are given in the five star system and a variety of options, fees, and more are analyzed. You can even get the Editor’s Picks right on the homepage.
  3. Unionize According to the experts at “Forbes” magazine, a credit card union is the way to go. They reported on a study that found that interest rates on a union card were 20% lower than those issued by banks. This can add up to hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars a year in savings. There are even options for those who do not belong to a credit union, such as joining the National Military Family Association.

Just because there are more and more sneaky common and uncommon charges on your credit card bills doesn’t mean there isn’t anything you can do about it. Learn how to spot them, fight back, or even ditch the old card for a new one that treats you right, by paying close attention to the above or even by contacting the credit companies directly.

Top 10 Most Stolen Cars and 10 DIY Ways to Keep Them Safe

As technology develops to keep our cars safer, so to do the thieves who prey on them. Below are the top ten most stolen cars in the United States as compiled by the Highway Loss Data Institute, which uses millions of insurance records to process its data.

To help keep your car from ending up like these top ten, we have also included the top ten DIY ways to keep them safe and protected from thieves.

    1. Cadillac Escalade ESV: Twenty inches longer than the base model Escalade, it makes an attractive target, not just for the visibility, but for the standard features. It comes with many high-ticket items such as a DVD navigation system and Bose surround sound. The best DIY way to keep it safe? Park it in a locked garage. If the garage is full, find another place for your stuff. If you don’t have a garage, how can you afford a $65,000 car?

    2. Ford F-250 SuperCrew: These trucks make tempting targets due to the fact that they often have toolboxes in the rear, or even in the cabin of the car, making it a tempting target. In addition, parts such as the wheels and others can also be sold quickly for cash. One of the cheaper cars on the list, a kill switch can be installed manually for only a few dollars. The guys at Mighty Car Mods show you how. 

    3. Cadillac Escalade: Starting at $62,205, this vehicle is practically the cousin of the number one most stolen car. Also, models with flashy and expensive rims can make tempting targets for these looking to make some money or upgrade their own Escalade. A quick and easy way to deter them is to purchase tamperproof screws and nuts to keep thieves from taking your property. They can be purchased at any auto store, are easy to install, and impossible to remove without the correct tools.

    4. Dodge Charger: According to a Fox affiliate in Detroit, Chrysler products are so easy to steal, even a child can do it. Requiring only a screwdriver, a brick, and minimal force, thieves regularly steal and use these vehicles simply for transportation. The Detroit PD recommends etching your VIN on key areas of the vehicle to deter thieves. The entire video can be seen here.

    5. Ford F-350 SuperCrew: This truck and similar ones are most valued in the Southwest and any other area that is driving distance from the border. They are often stolen, driven across the border, and then sold for parts. This forum has a useful discussion on how your own truck’s antenna can be used to help or deter thieves.

    6. Hummer H2 SUT: Part SUV, part truck, it is one of the most visible, and therefore most attractive, targets to thieves. It also boasts attractive features such as GPS, OnStar, Bose speakers, and more. If you can afford a Hummer, you can afford a decent alarm. Check out eCarSecurity for the latest in all sorts of car alarms, buying guides, DIY info, and even useful articles.

    7. Dodge Magnum: Also easy stealing, this wagon trim vehicle actually boasts an impressive engine that is attractive to joy riders. The newer models come with Sentry keys, making it difficult to start the car without one. Owners of older models are advised to purchase a steering wheel lock, starting at around $16.00.

    8. Hummer H2: Much like its counterpart, this vehicle also comes with all the goodies thieves love, just like the SUT. Can’t afford an alarm? Try purchasing a low cost decal to make them think you do. They sell for only $4.95 for a pair on this site.

    9. Dodge Durango: The SUV of Dodge/Chrysler, it is also an easy steal. The fact that is an SUV also helps thieves pick it above other cars. Try purchasing a tire lock to instantly deter thieves and make them think law enforcement is already after the vehicle. This site sells them for as low as $189.

    10. Honda S2000: The only convertible on the list, it is a tempting target to thieves, simply because there is no need to pick a lock. With a simple slice from a household knife, a thief can cut open your top and be in the driver’s seat within seconds. If considering a purchase, try getting a hard top. It will pay for itself if it saves you from just one break-in.

The Insurance Information Institute estimates a car is stolen every 24 minutes. Increase the odds of having your car off the list by following these top ten DIY ways to keep them safe. If you have further questions, contact law enforcement or another professional security provider to get expert information, especially if you own a newer, or even late, model of the top ten most stolen cars.

Top 20 Hiding Places for Valuables That Burglars Will Never Guess

Although the bank may be the best place to “hide” money, it isn’t the only one. Fool burglars and all sorts of untrustworthy types by trying out these top 20 hiding places for valuables. Remember that burglars are high on need for quick cash but short on time when hiding for maximum results.

Most Obvious Places Burglars Look for Valuables

Keep valuables out of the below to ensure their best chance at surviving a burglary.

    1. The Usual Suspects. If it is a cliché, such as “under the mattress,” the burglar will probably look there. Other obvious choices can include inside the toilet tank, the freezer, an obvious Coca-Cola safe – especially if it isn’t where you would normally find a soda, and the like. Chances are if you’ve heard of it, so has a burglar.

    2. Drawers. Whether dresser, nightstand, cabinet, etc. a burglar will not hesitate to open and overturn every drawer in your home. Hiding them underneath clothes, books, or items does not help. Neither does taping envelopes underneath them.

    3. Desks. It is a convenient place for your checkbook and valuables, and burglars know that. Make sure not to keep any sensitive information in there either as a social security number, account information, and others can easily lead to identity theft.

    4. Closets. They may be large, but it will only take a burglar a few seconds to minutes to clean out the entire contents of the racks and shelves to expose any hidden valuables. This also goes for hiding valuables in shoes.

    5. The Jewelry Box. A guaranteed source of valuables, it is a bullseye for burglars. Even if you have nothing of true value inside, a burglar may just empty the entire contents of the box into their bag and look for pricey pieces later.

    6. A Safe. But isn’t a safe the safest place to put valuables? Although they may be fireproof and waterproof, these types of safes that can easily be picked up, can easily be inserted into a criminal’s bag to be opened at a later time. These safes work best when professionally bolted down to a safe area.

Decoys for Valuables That Burglars Will Never Guess

Because many won’t stop until they find it, help them out by trying these tricks for hiding valuables from burglars.

    7. Money! Because a burglar with time can be a destructive force in your home until they get what they want, it makes sense to give it to them. Keep a fake stash with a couple of bucks in one of the obvious places. This is one of the easiest and most inexpensive ways to get a burglar out of your home while doing the least damage.

    8. Jewelry Decoy. Similar to the above, all women have had jewelry that they didn’t care for offered as a gift. Before you re-gift it all, take some and put it in a jewelry box to give would-be burglars what they came for. If it gets stolen, it’s a great excuse for why you never wear it.

    9. Receipt for Safety Deposit Box. Leave this in a dresser drawer or desk to show burglars that all valuables of worth are indeed stored in the bank. Don’t feel like spending the money on a one time purchase of a safety deposit box? Visit here to make a receipt online, or get creative with Photoshop. Be sure not to have any sensitive info on the receipt. 

Places for Valuables That Burglars Won’t Look

Still have money, jewelry, etc. to hide around the home? Try these top hiding spots or a variation of them.

    10. The Kid’s Room. Full of toys, clutter, and nothing valuable, this is probably the last room a burglar will search, if at all. Also useful if you can find a diversion/prop safe, that looks like it belongs in a child’s room. Because every child is different, this is only a good idea if the valuables are more safe with the child than they are with a burglar.

    11. Someplace Gross. A place such as inside a sealable bag in between the bottom of the trash and the liner isn’t a bad place to start and unlikely a burglar will look there, especially if you use a decoy. Someplace like a tampon box or dirty underwear can also turn off burglars.

    12. Filing Cabinets. Not just useful for storing files and papers, valuables can also easily be stored there under lock and key. Be sure to get one that is too heavy to easily lift or smash. They can be a bit pricey but an excellent choice if you already have them or need the filing anyway.

    13. AC Vents. This is especially useful if the vents are difficult to get to, screwed on tight, and the house is covered in them. Burglars may not have the time or patience to unscrew every single vent to check. Try choosing a vent that curves around so that the valuables are not visible when peeking through the slits. Also, don’t leave tools that can open vents out for burglars to utilize.

    14. The Gun Safe. No matter the type or reason you have firearms in your home, a safe for them is always a good idea and can easily double up to store valuables. Be sure to get one with a sturdy lock and that is too big to remove from the home. This safe weighs 76 pounds when empty, fits up to 14 rifles, and currently sells for only $179. If you don’t have any firearms, add a few weights to it to make sure that any burglar or burglars won’t be taking it from your home without a forklift.

    15. Air Vent Safe: With dozens of air vents in the average home, why not use this clever decoy? It hides valuables inside your wall and disguises them as just another air vent. It bit pricey at $259, you can also make your own with the help of any home improvement store for less.

High Tech Hiding Places for Valuables

These devices and hiding places are the latest in keeping your valuables safe from burglars.

    16. Water and Fireproof External Hard Drive: Protect your important data from all sorts of disasters, including flood, fire, or water damage for $239.99. This USB drive can hold 80 GB of data, works with Mac or PC, and can be password protected for ultimate security. It is ETL-verified for 30 minutes of exposure to fires up to 1550 degrees Fahrenheit and can be submersed in water.

    17. Floor Safe: As simple as hollowing out a section of floor, you can have a safe that will be very difficult to find by a burglar. Starting at $299, these safes can even be inserted in the walls or ceilings. Make sure to hide them somewhere less obvious than behind a hinged painting or area rug.

    18. The Diversion Safe. They look like regular household items, but are actually safes. A good rule when keeping one of these safes in the house is to keep it where the diversion item would normally be found. Amazon has an impressive selection of safes starting at $7.00 and come with customer ratings, or try making one of your own.

    19. The Toilet Paper Holder. As low tech as it gets, many holders are hollow inside and can be an easy way to hide some cash. Be sure to put valuables in the permanent holder, not the cardboard one that every roll comes in.

    20. Use your talents. If you’re a plumber, use the plumbing to hide valuables. Talk to friends and family members for creative ideas to turn your home into a veritable Fort Knox of home safety. You can even ask one of your nosier friends/family members to try and find your hidden valuables in a predetermined amount of time to see if it worked. 

Remember that one of the top keys to security is knowledge. If you can read this, so can a burglar. Don’t take any security advice you hear word for word. Get creative, mix it up, and put your own personal spin on the above to go beyond the top 20 hiding places for valuables that burglars will never guess.

Be sure when hiding valuables around the house to tell your significant other to avoid accidents. Also, if something happens to you and nobody knows where your valuables are, chances are they never will.

Handling Racial Discrimination at the Workplace

There are many things that people are willing to put up with at the workplace – discrimination because of race is definitely not one of them. We don’t choose to be born who we are, so to be discriminated against based on the color of our skin and our cultural heritage is against the order of nature. If you feel that you are at the receiving end of such discrimination, you need to know how to handle it. There are various ways to tackle such situations:

    Ignore it: Although this is not the best thing to do, if the teasing or discrimination is not too disturbing or blatant, it’s easier to just ignore it. But, if you’re going to brush it off, you must be very sure that it does not affect your work or your peace of mind in any way.

    Report it: If the problem is because of your colleagues, it’s best to report it to your superiors before its gets out of hand. If your employer itself is the problem and you find yourself being sidelined for promotions and other perks because of your race, you must take up your case with the local authorities or with organizations like the employment tribunal that have been set up to deal with and eradicate discrimination in the workplace.

    Negotiate or take it to court: If you are going to sue the people who you hold responsible, you must have enough proof before you file suit. You could talk to an experienced lawyer to find out if you do have a strong and valid case. In some cases, employers may be willing to settle out of court or offer to make it up to you in the workplace. Negotiations are at times better than filing suit because they don’t take up as much of your time, effort and money.

    Ensure that it does not happen again: It’s not enough to sue or seek redress for the discrimination that you’ve faced; you also need to ensure that you and others like you are not harassed or discriminated against. One way to do this is to encourage people to speak up if they think they are being sidelined because of their culture, nationality or color.

The Race Relations Act of 1976 was established in order to help people overcome race-related difficulties at the workplace and elsewhere. So take advantage of it if you think you’re being harassed, and work to putting an end to such practices.

Mandatory Sentencing, Drug Laws and Legal Marijuana

To legalize or not to legalize marijuana – that is the burning question now before lawmakers. On the one hand, we have people who believe strongly that legalizing a drug could have disastrous consequences; and on the other, there are those who argue that legalizing marijuana is just the same as legalizing alcohol, because both are equally addictive and dangerous and that its relative danger boils down to how we use it – if we are responsible, it is nothing more than a simple high, and if we are not, it could lead to damage and even death.

There are a few states that have legalized marijuana for medical reasons – it has been proven to be an effective painkiller for cancer patients, under palliative and curative conditions. It is also being used for a variety of other purposes in the medical world. More and more people are becoming aware of the medicinal the value of this addictive crop, and even the iPhone has a third party application that facilitates your search for medical marijuana, helping you find a doctor near you who will prescribe the drug for you and guiding you to the nearest legalized pharmacy where you can buy it.

But, with mandatory sentencing for drug possession, usage and trafficking, how does a person defend himself against the possession and use of legal marijuana? Through prescriptions and other documents that prove that he is really in need of the drug for medical reasons? What if the authorities refuse to accept the proof and take him to court for his transgression?

Mandatory sentencing laws relating to drugs were brought about in an effort to curtail drug trafficking which became rampant in the 80s. But, for the most part, it has failed to bring about the desired effect. The big bosses of the drug cartels are still at large and running successful operations while it’s their minions and the people who buy drugs on the streets are the ones who are being sentenced according to these laws. And since a judge has no discretion in these sentences, there is no room for the court to judge how guilty a person is of the charge that is levied against him.

As a result, prisons have become overcrowded and the state’s exchequer has been taxed because of the cost associated with the trials. Although drug courts (which seek to rehabilitate those who have been booked for possession and usage) have been set up to minimize these problems, it does not help in solving the problem in the long run. The huge financial and political clout that drug lords command ensure that they not only stay out of prison, but are also able to continue their operations unhindered, while lesser mortals bear the brunt of mandatory sentencing.