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How To Save Money on Merchant Processing Fees

If you're a small business and you need to save money, listen up to this.

Save money on merchant processing fees

A company I've talked about a few times recently, Square, has become a huge player in allowing any small business to take credit card payments on the go.

Square offers a plug-in device that can be used with most Apple and Android devices to process credit card transactions anytime, anywhere. There's no monthly fee, no contract and the plug-in device itself is free. You simply pay a merchant fee of 2.75% on every swiped transaction.

Another alternative is one from PayPal called PayPal Here that works with Apple iOS and Android products. PayPal has introduced a new wrinkle with their reader: If you do more debit card transactions than credit card transactions, you can lower your transaction cost from 2.7% to about 1.7%.

Meanwhile, a third competitor is Intuit's GoPayment. It's another free piece of hardware for Android, iPhone and BlackBerry. The merchant fee is 2.7% for low-volume users and again you can process payments right there on the spot.

Finally, the latest entrant to the marketplace is Amazon Local Register. Swiped transactions are 2.5%.

I love these new developments because they can be a potential saver for those with irregular transactions. Yet they're not the best way if you do high dollar ticket transactions. In that case, you may want to look at the merchant processing offers through Sam's Club or Costco Wholesale.

But the bigger question is this: Will these competitors force traditional merchant processors to lower their rate for merchant clear on services in mobile businesses? Because right now, mobile businesses get eaten alive.

Online Restaurant Ordering To Replace Human Jobs

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How many times do you order something at a restaurant and it comes out wrong? Depending on which stats you believe, it's somewhere around 1 in 6 or 1 in 7 times.

Mistakes like that are costly to restaurants. You either have to eat the food and go away feeling unhappy, or you send it back and have to wait for your correct order to come out a second time.

Online Restaurant Ordering Will Save the Day…But It May Cost Jobs

Panera is ready to launch the restaurants of its future. Using online restaurant ordering, you will either place your own order on your smartphone or on a tablet device at the restaurant. And then the kitchen staff will just show up with your order after you pay on your phone or on the kiosk.

This method frees up labor to work on food prep and serving. It enhances order accuracy and gives you better service. But will you miss the human touch of a waiter or waitress?

Having done this kind of ordering outside the U.S., I can honestly say you won't miss it at all.

There's also another reason why you'll see online restaurant ordering take off in the near future. In areas where they plan to boost the minimum wage, there's a good chance that will equate to labor cutbacks. So the person taking your order will be replaced by a machine!


Chili's goes modern too

Tablets are also coming to the table at your local Chili's to take your order, to offer pay games to entertain your kids...and to upsell you on dessert!

Chili's will install table-top tablets in its more than 1,200 stores by next year, according to The Wall Street Journal. Applebee's has also been testing such tablets, but no word yet on a full rollout from them.

The tablets Chili's have will price app-based games at 99 cents. In addition, you can also pay for your meal through the tablet. But perhaps the biggest selling point for restaurants is that customers tend to order more high-profit margin desserts when confronted with the tablets.

That's because the computer knows when you're about halfway through your meal, and it uses that time to pop up pictures of scrumptious goodies on the screen for ordering -- before you're actually full with your meal!

Some restaurant chains will look at this technology and see a way to reduce staff headcount. But the really smart ones will use it as a way to get their servers focused on super-serving you at the table -- since some other parts of the job that used to be done by people are now going to be automated.

Remember, eating out can become a very costly expense and a big budget buster. However, we all like to live a little and eat a little with good company. It's a fact of life. So be sure to check out this article on 8 ways to save while dining out.

And if you've ever wondered how much to tip when eating out, you may want to read this article about the new normal when it comes to restaurant tipping!

For further reading:

Baby Steps To Help You Save for Retirement

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Unless you want to keep working forever, you've got to learn how to save more today for your retirement tomorrow.

Why you need to get started saving -- now!

What percent of Americans contribute to an IRA or Roth IRA? Less than one in four, according to one new survey. Of those that do contribute, what percent put in the annual maximum of $5,500 ($6,500 if you're 50 or older)? Almost nobody.

Do you believe that Social Security will be enough for you to live on in retirement? No way, not any day. So the only rational alternative is this: If you don't save for retirement, you just keep working until you can't anymore. A lot of people will make that choice.

When you think about it, retirement is a very modern concept that has only existed in the world for really the last 140 years. It used to be all through human history that people just worked until they gave out. Boy, that doesn't sound fun to me! I'd like to be able to just hang out when I don't want to work anymore.

But it is a personal preference, as you can see. Yet if you are under 40, another new survey says you're probably not interested in saving at all. Not good!

My favorite way for you to get started saving

Maybe people feel there's no money to save with. If you feel you couldn't possibly do a 401(k) because there's no room for any savings, I want you to start by saving just one percent.

Then, six months from now, bump your contribution up by just another one percent, and do it again in another six months. After five years of that, you'll be saving 10% of your pay before any employer match!

But by doing it just one percent at time, you won't notice the difference in your paycheck because it's all little baby steps.

You can open a Roth IRA at Charles Schwab for as little as $100 or for $1,000 through Vanguard. See my investment guide for more details.

4 Ways To Get the Best Deal on a Mortgage

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Now may be an excellent time to start checking out your local housing markets thanks to interest rates that continue to hover around their lowest point ever. While Baby Boomers and older members of Gen X may remember taking out a mortgage with a 10% (or higher) interest rate, Millennials who are ready to buy can apply for and receive home loans with 30-year interest rates as low as 3.5%.

A better job market and lower unemployment rates leave many members of Gen Y in a better financial state than they were a year or so ago. A recent survey from American Express showed that 25% of Millennials plan to save up for buying a home in 2015.

If you’re part of the growing segment thinking about making their first dive into home ownership, understand these 4 ways to get the best deal on your mortgage.

Look at Your Finances Before Looking at Houses

Before you start house-hunting or approaching lenders for pre-qualification, you want to take a look at your own finances. Even with stricter regulations around mortgage lending, most banks will allow you to borrow more than may be financially wise to accept.

You need to decide for yourself how much house you can really afford. Don’t rely on online calculators to tell you. Look at your current budget, expenses, and financial obligations. Then research to determine a realistic total for your living expenses if you become a home owner.

Remember, a mortgage will cost you the principal and interest on the loan -- but you also need to pay homeowner’s insurance and property taxes. Don’t forget to account for increased expenses associated with repairs, regular maintenance, and upkeep.

Looking at your finances will tell you a number of things. You’ll know how much you can truly afford, and from there you’ll know how much you need to save for a down payment. You should also pull up your credit report and get an estimate of your credit score (which you can get for free from or

Save for a Down Payment

Ideally you should save up 20% of the home’s purchase price to use as your down payment. It’s a big number, but putting down this much in cash means you only finance 80% of the purchase. That means you won’t have to deal with private mortgage insurance (or PMI) and your monthly payments will be much more affordable.

Coming to the table with more cash also makes you a more appealing borrower for lenders. You’ll likely secure a better interest rate if you reach the 20% down payment threshold.

You’ll also have more flexibility in choosing a mortgage loan type; you won’t be limited to choosing something because you only have a few thousand dollars or require adjustable rates to lower your loan payments in the first few years of ownership.

Again, this down payment may work out to be a large number for you. But you’ll need to do the saving yourself from money you earned. Most lenders do not like to see (and may not accept) borrowed money as a down payment -- even if it was an informal loan from a family member or friend.

Work to Improve Your Credit Score

Only credit scores in the “good” or “excellent” range will receive the best interest rates available from lenders. The financial institution underwriting the home loan sees you as more of a risk if your credit score is below 720, and they’ll assign a higher interest rate as a result.

Whether or not the system is fair or favors you, you can take action to improve your credit score if it’s less than good or excellent before you apply for a mortgage. This will help you secure a better interest rate -- and that will give you a lower monthly payment and save you money over the lifetime of your loan.

Here’s what you can do to improve your credit score before you go house-hunting:

  •     Ensure you pay off all your credit card balances on time and in full.
  •     Don’t run up your credit card balances to their limits. This affects your debt-to-credit-limit ratio and that negatively impacts your score. (Yes, even if you pay those balances off on time and in full.)

Remember, improving your credit score can take some time. Be consistent in your actions and be patient. You’ll see results if you stick with these good credit use habits.

You’ll also want to avoid applying for new lines of credit or taking out loans in the months before you apply for a mortgage. Don’t allow anyone to run a hard inquiry on your credit, either.

This won’t automatically disqualify you from approval of a new home loan, but taking out other loans will increase your debt-to-income ratio. That may make it harder to qualify. And you’ll need to explain any recent inquiries that appear on your credit report, which can be a hassle when going through the mortgage process because of the documentation you must provide.

Do Your Research When Choosing a Lender

There are countless mortgage lenders out there -- and not all of them are big national banks. You can receive a mortgage with a bank like Wells Fargo or Chase, but you can also go to credit unions and other institutions whose sole purpose is to underwrite home loans. A mortgage broker is another great resource to tap.

Keep in mind that this is a business transaction for any institution. Lenders make money off mortgages via the interest payments, and they may court you for your business. Don’t feel obligated to go with one over another for any reason. You don’t have to choose the same bank where your checking account is, and you don’t have to go with a lender your Realtor says you should choose.

Do your own research, ask questions, and explore all your options. Here’s what to think about when choosing a lender so you can get the best deal on a mortgage:

  •     Get quotes on interest rates from the lenders you’re interested in working with. I recommend checking with at least 5 different lenders. Be sure to ask for quotes from all of them (and go through any pre-approval processes) within a 14-day time span. All inquiries made in that time period will appear on your credit report as one, which shouldn’t impact your credit score.
  •     Ask about fees and closing costs and get a good faith estimate to compare overall expenses for originating your loan. Getting an estimated interest rate is important, but it’s not the only cost to consider.
  •     Make sure potential lenders answer all your questions and are transparent with their mortgage loan application and underwriting process. If someone refuses to answer your question, cross that lender off your list of prospects.
  •     Think about more than just money. If two lenders provide you very similar information on the financial side of things, consider their customer service and accessibility. The mortgage process is a long and tedious one, and you’ll invest a considerable amount of time verifying information, sending in documentation, and working with your loan processor. Choosing a lender with good customer service is no small consideration.

Applying for and receiving a home loan is a big decision, and you should be prepared before you start this process. Understand what to expect and don’t shy away from asking questions and doing as much research as you can.

If you don’t know or understand something, ask a financial professional or a trusted expert. A CFP, CPA, or attorney may be able to help, as can financial resources and websites online.

By working down this list, you should be able to get the best deal on a mortgage when you’re ready to apply.

About the author: Kali Hawlk is a freelance writer and content manager currently working on building her business and becoming a full-time solopreneur. She's passionate about personal finance, careers and business, and all things Gen Y--and she writes about it all on her blog, Common Sense Millennial. An avid runner, she enjoys getting outside as often as possible when she's not immersed in blogging and helping other small businesses build and manage their online presence. Connect with her on Twitter @KaliHawlk.

Where Can You Turn as a Small Investor?

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If you're a small investor, where can you turn and what can you do when you need investment advice?

Free and pay investing advice for the small investor

With investing, it's like an alphabet soup. You've got the 401(k), Roth IRA, traditional IRA, SEP, and one and on. But when you open up one of those plans, that's just the house. What furniture will you put in it? Those are the actual investments you've got to make a decision about.

The financial service industry is not geared to anybody who's not Daddy Warbucks. If you're a small investor, it seems like you have nowhere to turn. But there is hope.

Vanguard, Fidelity, T Rowe Price, Charles Schwab, and TIAA-Cref all offer free or low-cost guidance to the small investor. Vanguard and Fidelity in particular will even work with a surviving spouse to actively manage money in exchange for a small fee. Vanguard Advisor will give you direct guidance if you have $100,000 or more for a tiny price -- less than one-third of one percent!

If you want more handholding, it's always a good idea to pay for advice from a fee-only financial planner via and Garrett Planning.

But before you can really think about investing, you've got to go back to basics. First, you have to spend less than you make so you have some money left over to invest. That's not something a financial planner can help you with. Second, you can also check my investment guide.  It has advice for everybody from beginners to advance investors when you're ready to get started or take a step up to the next level.

There are options, you've just got to seize them. Just be sure to stay away from commissioned salespeople like those at a full commission stock brokerage house such as Merrill Lynch. They don't have what's called "fiduciary duty" to you under the laws of the United States. In plain English, that means they're free to put you in inappropriate or unsuitable investments to score themselves more money on commission.

Worse yet, they can charge up to 1.5% in typical management fees. I want you paying .5% or less. If you're paying anything over .5%, I seriously want you to consider only contributing at work up to the company match. After that threshold, any additional money you save for retirement should be done in an IRA or Roth IRA outside of the workplace. See my investment guide for my favorite low-cost investments when you're ready. 

Best and Worst Used Cars

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So much has been written about how to buy a new car. But truth be told, far more people buy used than they do new. So here's some guidance to help you get the best used car for your dollar!

Steer away from this list of the worst used cars

Consumer Reports is my favorite source of info on buying cars. They've recently started running a new feature called 'The Worst of the Worst Used Cars.'

These are used cars that are so bad, they make a hall of shame of cars you should not consider buying used! Here is a very partial and selective list of the used cars to avoid, in alphabetical order.

  • BMW 330i ’06; and 335Ci ’07-09
  • Buick Enclave ’08-11; and Terraza ’05-07
  • Chevy Cruze (1.4T) ’11-14; Cruze (1.8L) ’11-13; Uplander ’06-08; and Venture ’05
  • Chrysler PT Cruiser ’05-08
  • Dodge Grand Caravan ’05-12
  • Ford F-250 and F-350 (diesel) ’05-08, ’10-11, ’13; and Fiesta ’11-14
  • Jeep Wrangler (4-door) ’07-09, ’11-13
  • Mini Cooper S ’05-12
  • Saturn Outlook ’07-09; and Relay ’05-07
  • VW GTI ’07; and Tiguan ’09-11

For the complete list, you can either buy one-time access to Consumer Reports at or check out the latest issue from your local library. And if you're driving around in one of these vehicles, don't shoot the messenger! This is not my list. It's the Consumer Reports list!

Consider buying from this list of the best used cars

At the other extreme, Consumer Reports also has a list of vehicles that they've deemed the best used cars, divided by price category. Here's a partial overview:

  • Mazda3 s (2008)
  • Pontiac Vibe (2005-08)
  • Volkswagen Rabbit (2007-09)
  • Acura MDX (2005-06)
  • Toyota Highlander V6 (2005-07)
  • Honda Accord (2008-12)
  • Toyota Camry (2010-12)
  • Lexus ES (2007-08)

When you're looking for a used car, you want reliable, dependable, affordable transportation. So let this list be your guide -- and don't forget to read this important info from me before you buy used!

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