Easy ways to save money—fast!

January 20, 2006

In a matter of minutes, you can slash your monthly bills and boost your cash flow.

Got too much month left at the end of the money? Want to free up some extra cash you don't even know you have? Either way, the means to slash your bills is as close as your computer or phone. "Most people don't realize they're paying thousands of dollars more than they have to," says Stacy Johnson, author of Money Made Simple: How to Flawlessly Control Your Finances in Minutes a Year (Ballantine Books, 2004). "Competition is steep these days, with everyone from lenders to retailers vying for your business." Here's how to put it to your advantage:

Mortgages

Your first click should be on http://www.myfico.com, to learn your credit score. This is important because all banks quote the rates they'd offer the highest-quality borrower. Don't waste time crunching numbers only to find that you don't qualify for the best advertised rates.

"Most people focus on the interest rate, but it's far more important to look at the APR," stresses Johnson, "since that figure incorporates some of the fees, such as points." A lender touting the lowest interest rate, therefore, may not ultimately be offering the best deal. And fees can mount up. On a $500,000 loan, for example, a single point-1 percent of the loan amount-comes to $5,000.

Call two or three lenders that seem to offer the best deals and find out the exact type and cost of fees (points, administrative charges, express delivery, document preparation, etc). If you're refinancing or currently have a mortgage, shop around, but always include your present lender, as it may waive certain fees or closing costs for existing customers.

Credit cards

First determine your needs: Do you carry a balance or pay it off each month? If it's the former, make sure you're paying a low APR, although you're more likely to get hit with an annual fee. Rebate or rewards cards usually come with higher interest rates, but if you don't maintain a balance, it won't matter.

Click on http://www.cardweb.com, http://www.cardratings.com, or http://www.lowcards.com to search for low-rate cards. If you tend to single out cards with a fixed rate, thinking that's a guarantee the rate won't go up, guess what? "Fixed doesn't really mean fixed," explains Johnson. "A card-issuing bank can raise even a 'fixed' rate with just 15 days' notice." Also, keep in mind that card companies on these websites sometimes pay a fee to be listed, so the best deals may lie elsewhere-even with the cards you already have. Armed with the knowledge of better rates featured on the websites, call your current card issuer.