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Useful Tips for Staying out of Debt and Managing your Money

Welcome to America, the land of excessive spending!  Well, it's not really that  bad, you just need to be careful when it comes to buying things in the United States.  With so many products and "goodies" out there, easily accessible to everyone, it can be far too easy to suddenly wind up in debt to a credit card company.

So, what can you do to protect yourself, and your hard-earned money?  There's lots of things!

Using a Credit Card

First, avoid using credit cards whenever possible.  Yes, they are easy to get, and yes it's convenient to swipe the "plastic" when you're shopping, but trying to pay back the interest rates that many card companies charge can quickly turn a small purchase into a big waste of money.  Credit Card companies in the United States are notorious for luring in customers with their "Platinum" (or other valuable metal) offers which promise lots for little or no fee to you.  Unfortunately, hidden deep in the fine print on the contract they often manage to have some clause that allows them to charge you a obscene interest rate, or perhaps insurmountable late-fees if you are even 2 days late with your payment.

Cash or Check?

Use cash or check whenever you can.  Obviously everywhere will accept cash, but be careful how much you carry on your person.  While the risks to your safety are minimal in Cedar Rapids, it's a good habit to not carry hundreds of dollars on you, especially if you happen to drop your wallet or purse somewhere and lose all the money in it.  Usually people carry enough money with them to make any immediate purchases (gas, food, etc), and also have a check-book with them to pay for any larger purposes that they make.  Checks are much safer to use if you're making a large purchase, and if you lose them you just have to call your bank or credit union and have them cancel all the checks.

Automatic Teller Machines (ATM's)

Automatic Teller Machines (ATM's) can be found in or near almost any place you go in Cedar Rapids, or the Unites States for that matter, and are an excellent way to withdraw cash in an emergency situation.  In fact, Kirkwood has several right here on campus from Linn-Area Credit Union.  To use an ATM you need to become a member of a bank and obtain an ATM or Debit card, which really is a simple process.  Linn-Area for example offers free ATM sign-up, while other banks may charge you a small fee ($1-2/month) for the service.  Also, if you use an ATM card, look for machines with your banks name on it, or a sticker that says "Privileged Status" on them, these machines will not charge you the transaction fees that many machines will.

Keep Transaction Records

Finally, no matter what you do, be sure to keep records of all your income and purchases.  These are especially important if you ever use a credit card, or your Debit/ATM card or checking account.  If there is ever a conflict over a charge on any of your accounts, you will have proof as to what you did buy, and what you didn't.  Also, records are needed when it comes time to pay taxes every year (if you have to), so its better to be safe than sorry.