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Best Time and Website for Buying Airline Tickets

Booking the cheapest fare is easy if you follow these guidelines

Every day I'm asked, "What's the best time to buy an airline ticket, and what's the best website to do it on?" I've got some new answers to share with you.

The Airline Reporting Corporation (ARC), which is like the back office of ticket selling for the nation's airlines, has monitored data continually over a 19-month period and found that the magic time to buy a ticket is generally 8 weeks before you travel.

Try booking an airline ticket on this day...

So the latest ARC study suggests the old advice of booking 42 days before your departure has shifted to 57 days before travel.

Meanwhile, there's always the question of what's the best day to buy an airline ticket? Conventional wisdom held that it was Tuesday.

Not so anymore, says ARC. Their new recommendation is book on a Sunday as your first choice, followed by Saturday. Weekend airfare shopping is in!

Now, this is a general rule; it's not true for every ticket. But overall, if you're looking for a cheap fare, why not give it a try?

If you book way in advance or too close to travel, you're likely to overpay. Yet what the ARC findings don't take into account is that at the last minute, you really have a split scenario: People can pay both the highest fares and the lowest fares. Based on demand, airlines may deeply discount their fares, particularly if the travel dates go over a weekend. Or they may slam you on price.

But for most situations, as a general rule, 8 weeks is the number to remember for both domestic and international travel, and Sunday is the new best day to do it.

The best website for booking your ticket is...

Now, where do you get best deal? A Wall Street Journal test reveals there is no one definitive website that will save you money every time. Whoever is cheapest one time may not be cheapest the next time. So shop and shop and shop on multiple websites to save the most money.

You can see my favorite websites for comparison shopping here.

And remember, the best deal flows to the opportunist. When you see a screaming deal, buy it and then figure why you want to go to the city you've booked!


4 Gateway Cities For Cheap European Fares

If you are going to Europe, the question of when to book is important, but not nearly as much as the question of what city you depart from. I've long recommended buying one ticket to a key bargain city and then going overseas from that city.

The cheapest gateway cities to Europe include New York, Orlando's Sanford Field, Ft. Lauderdale, and San Francisco/Oakland.

If you're frustrated with European fares, start with those gateways and you may wind up saving a substantial amount. But remember, don't buy way early because you'll probably later regret it.

As just one example of a discounter that flies out of those cities, Norwegian Air Shuttle is flying New York to Oslo for about $500 RT (roundtrip); NY to London at $384 RT; NY to Copenhagen at $474 RT; and San Francisco to Oslo at $596 RT.

For further reading:

Fund Your Favorite Band and Make a Profit (Maybe)

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Imagine being able to profit share with your favorite bands when they release new music. So you get new music from a beloved artist and, if it does well, a little something back. It's a win/win, right?

That's the premise of a new startup called Loudfund. Based in Atlanta, Loudfund allows fans of under-the-radar kind of bands to have a direct financial stake in their favorite artists' careers.

What's the ROI on investing in music?

For as little as $100, you can get in the ground floor of a promising band's career. "The terms of the campaign are decided by the artists themselves...[and] several of the artists on the startup’s "beta roster" have chosen to split profits 50/50," according to The Atlanta Business Chronicle.

Loudfund essentially lets a band fund and distribute their music, thereby eliminating the need for a traditional record company.

My take? It's likely you'll lose all the money. But if band turns out to be a big hit, you'll be happy they sold out because you get the money!

Make no mistake about it, this is high risk investing. Do it because you love music, not because you want to make a profit.

VIDEO: T-Mobile offering unlimited free music

The Worst Places for Mortgages and Refinances

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Do you know that it's a rip to get a mortgage or refinance from a giant monster mega-bank?

Giant monster mega-banks are the full price people, like the Nordstrom or Saks in terms of pricing, but not in terms of service!

Credit unions and mortgage brokers challenge the banks

The banks offer the worst of all possible worlds: Mediocre to terrible service, high prices, with potentially higher interest rates and absolutely much higher fees.

So people have migrated away from them. One in 4 mortgages now being made is by nontraditional lenders like online lenders. For a refinance, online lenders are great. Though I don't recommend them when you're purchasing a house; there are enough 'what ifs' in home buying to begin with that you want to deal with a person locally. I recommend a mortgage broker instead.

The other thing to look at when buying a home is a credit union. Credit unions are becoming a bigger part of the home mortgage market. They excel for non-traditional loans like a 10 year refis or 7 year refis. They will write you a shorter-term mortgage at incredibly low rates with very low fees.

So I know the brands are so prominent with the giant monster mega-banks. But I can tell you with a mortgage, don't even think about it!

SoFi offers new option without all the paperwork hassle is a company that began with P2P lending, branched out into student loans, and now they've moved into mortgages in a half dozen states including California, Washington, Texas, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and North Carolina.

What makes them significant is the amount of documentation they require is tiny compared to what you normally have to do. The reality is those getting a mortgage or a refinance are beaten down by endless documents requirements from the lenders. There's been a backlash to the point that people abandon a refinance that could save them hundreds a month because they can't stand all the hassle.

SoFi's underwriting process takes into account your social media standing and other non-traditional metrics to make a determination about you. They offer, as they say, "less headache" with "no need to hunt down old tax returns…or provide additional letters."

They offer rapid closings. The whole process is designed to be easier.

The question later will be did they use good enough underwriting standards or are they going to have a higher rate of defaults? Only time will tell.

Robocalls Annoy You? Here's How One Man Got $22,500 for His Inconvenience

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Feeling frustrated by robocalls on your cellphone? Imagine being able to make the company behind the automatic dialing pay you $500 or more per call! One man did it and here's his story.


Dish Network fined over robocalling

Chester Moore of West Virginia was never a Dish Network customer. But he had a cellphone number that was previously owned by a customer who did owe money to the satellite company.

That little discrepancy didn't stop Dish from robocalling Chester's phone an alleged 7 or 8 times a week for 8 months in 2012. On 2 separate occassions, Chester told Dish representatives that he wasn't their man. Each time he was promised the automated debt collection dialing would stop. But it never did.

After a total of 31 calls, Chester got so angry he sued Dish. Now a judge has awarded Chester $22,500 for "emotional distress, frustration, worry, anger and/or loss of capacity to enjoy life,"

That's $500 for 24 calls before Chester told them to stop it -and- $1,500 for each of 7 calls after he gave them fair warning!

The robocalls were deemed "in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which prohibits non-emergency auto dials to cell-phone customers who have not given prior consent," according to The New York Post.

ARTICLE: New robocall scam warns of bank account shutdown


Know your rights when dealing with debt collectors

If you legitimately owe a debt, you have specific rights under federal law. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind when dealing with collectors:

  • Always record any calls from/to a collector. Both parties must consent to recording in California, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Washington.
  • If your debt is outside the statute of limitations, you are not required to pay up. However, you should honor your obligations when you're financially able to do so. The statute of limitations is 3 to 4 years on many debts in most states. Yet a negative mark resulting from a delinquent account can hang out on your credit for up to 7 years.
  • You have the right to tell a collector never to contact you again. Use a drop dead letter and send it via certified mail. You can still, however, be sued against the debt even after sending this letter.
  • If you legitimately owe money and wish to make a deal to pay, never give a collector your checking account number over the phone. Collectors routinely take more money than they say they'll take. Pay only by money order.
  • Never pay one cent until you have an agreement in writing stating your payment(s) will resolve the debt in full.

Customers Asked To Pay for Employee Health Care at Restaurants

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Have you taken a close look at your bill when you've dined out recently? There may be an added line charge...and I'm not talking about restaurants charging for tap water!

Paying for employee health care when you go out to eat

Some restaurants are now adding a health care surcharge to their bills. This first started in Southern California because mid-sized chains have to provide health coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). So in making what could be a political statement, or just dealing with a new expense, some restaurants are breaking it out as a separate charge.

It's kind of like buying an international air ticket in coach. The actual fare may be $200 roundtrip, but nobody pays that because everything else is an unbundled charge: Security, customs, fuel surcharges, etc.  

But this one is new with the restaurants adding the health insurance surcharge. The amounts will vary as a percent or a dollar amount.

So I just want you to know when the price isn't the price it may be because a business is trying to pass off to you their cost for healthcare.

My question is, where does this all stop? Should the cost for electricity, or the cost of rent, be passed on to you as a diner? Where does it end?

ARTICLE: Why Doing an FSA Makes More Sense Than Ever

Health insurers cancelling plans that aren't ACA compliant

On the health insurance front, there are people who are getting notices about the cancellation of their health plans. Those health plans are ones that insurers have decided to can because they're not compliant with all the rules of the ACA.

The insurers can continue to offer them, but they've decided to bail on them anyway because -- and this may surprise you -- people have migrated to the more robust coverage under the different levels of Obamacare.

So in an ironic twist, the cost for insurers in operating the noncompliant plans has gone up to the point that they're losing money on those plans that don't meet the minimum ACA requirements. So if you get a notification, that's likely what's going on.

I'd started getting calls about this and it was a mystery to me until I read about what was happening. The good news is the plan you'll buy in replacement may be cheaper, but the coverages will be better.

GUIDE: Clark's Guide to Obamacare/Affordable Care Act

Why You May Want To Pay Cash for Medical Care

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With open enrollment upon us, I'm getting more and more questions about paying for health care.

If you buy insurance on the health care exchange or you get your health care through an employer, the deductibles are getting larger and larger. Sometimes they're huge.

Negotiate for a cash price before service is rendered

You may be having a scheduled procedure in an outpatient facility or maybe a minor operation. You go in with insurance, but don't be surprised if you get a call from the hospital doing some form of "pre-enrollment" with you.

Only it's not really pre-enrollment. But under the guise of pre-enrollment, they are calling to figure out if you have any ability to pay the deductible your plan has.

It's not unusual for someone to have a deductible of several thousand dollars. The hospital wants to know if they're going to get that deductible money. Because in most cases, they're not; people just don't have it.

ARTICLE: Why Doing an FSA Makes More Sense Than Ever

Listen to this from BusinessWeek: Someone in a bronze plan bought on the health care exchange may well have a $6,000 deductible. So you might have a minor procedure that would cost in the range of what the deductible is! It's all essentially uninsured care by the medical provider. So they're going to try to get some kind of arrangement out of you to pay that money.

This is where the power of the dollar speaks. If you are someone who can afford to meet the deductible, and you can afford to pay the care provider, try to negotiate a cash discount. In return for cash up-front, they may be willing to do this because they don't have to worry about the money becoming uncollectible.

But your time to negotiate that is upfront, before any care is provided.

Likewise, if you don't have the money, and you're facing one of these big deductibles, you should negotiating a payment plan upfront to keep yourself from being sent to collections and having your credit harmed.

ARTICLE: 4 Key Things You Need To Know Before Open Enrollment

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