MONEY cellphones

How to Slash Your Cell Phone Bill in 7 Minutes or Less

$100 bills peeling off screen of cell phone
iStock

Knowing how much data you actually use is the key to getting the best deal.

As part of our 10-day series on Total Financial Fitness, we’ve developed six quick workouts, inspired by the popular exercise plan that takes just seven minutes a day. Each will help kick your finances into shape in no time at all. Today: The 7-Minute Cell Plan

Dread getting your monthly cell phone bill? There’s a good chance you’re paying for too much data. According to the CTIA-Wireless Association, smartphone users consume an average of 800 MB of data per month—less than the 1GB or larger plans pushed by most cell providers. Here’s how to find out how much you actually need.

0:00: Surf to your wireless provider’s site and log into your account. Look for a tab or section that displays your usage summary. For example, Verizon has a “View My Usage” tab on the left side of the page. Click it, and you’ll see an overview of how many minutes you spent on the phone, how much data you consumed, and how many messages you sent per billing cycle. Print out the totals from three or four months.

2:13: Visit whistleout.com, a site where you can compare various cell plans. The site will prompt you to enter the number of lines you have and select a type of phone. If you’re not in the market for a new handset, choose the “BYO Phone” option.

2:30: Now, grab those usage printouts. Use the sliders in the center of the screen to fill out the largest amount of minutes, data, and texts you used during a single billing cycle. Next, you’ll click through a series of drop-down menus to specify whether you require full-speed data at all times, want a monthly or contract plan, and which provider you use. Click “Compare Cell Plans.”

3:15: WhistleOut will show you a range of cell plans that fit your needs, starting with the cheapest.

4:52: Of course, if you’re thinking of switching carriers, you’ll want to make sure the firm offers adequate coverage where you live and work. Go to Rootmetrics.com, a site that lists coverage maps and quality ratings for the major four wireless carriers and dozens of smaller ones. For local details, search for your metropolitan area.

5:45: Now you have all the information you need to switch to the right plan. Going with a new carrier? Give them a call to sign up. Or, if you want to stick with the same company (or must stick with them, thanks to your contract), have them downsize your plan or point out that a competitor is offering a better plan and request a discount.

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MONEY Insurance

The Fastest Way to Shore Up Your Safety Net

Treadmill screen with dollar sign on it
Alamy

You can make sure you have enough life insurance in less time than it takes to make a sandwich

As part of our 10-day series on Total Financial Fitness, we’ve developed six quick workouts, inspired by the popular exercise plan that takes just seven minutes a day. Each will help kick your finances into shape in no time at all. Today: The 7-Minute Insurance Check-Up

You’ll need some financial info for this one. Pull together an overview of your investments, what you owe on your mortgage, the amount of life insurance you currently have, as well as saving and debt numbers.

0:00 Visit lifehappens.org, and select “Start calculating your life insurance needs.”

0:21 The first part asks about the expenses your family will incur if you die. Life-Happens suggests budgeting $15,000 or 4% of your estate. A funeral typically costs about $10,000, so if you won’t leave major debts, $15,000 is fine.

2:30 Next, you’ll calculate the money your family would need if you died today, and how much your spouse might earn. While your clan won’t need to replace 100% of your income, you will want to cover regular expenses.

4:19 Step 4 asks for an estimated inflation rate (pre-populated with 3%) and after-tax net investment yield (pre-populated with 6%). To be more conservative, decrease the yield.

5:00 Now the site will spit out a suggested amount of coverage. This is a good starting point but may miss some details. Say you’d like to cover a portion of your kid’s tuition; the calculator doesn’t allow for partial payment.

5:59 Go to intelliquote.com for instant quotes on term-life policies from a range of insurers. (Don’t be surprised if you get some sales calls.)

Easy, right? Next you’ll want to do an insurance inventory to check the health of all your policies. Not only will you be better protected, you might save some money too.

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MONEY job search

How to Catch the Eye of a Recruiter in Just 7 Minutes

LinkedIn on a mobile phone
Felix Choo—Alamy

An optimized LinkedIn profile can help you stand out from the crowd.

As part of our 10-day series on Total Financial Fitness, we’ve developed six quick workouts, inspired by the popular exercise plan that takes just seven minutes a day. Each will help kick your finances into shape in no time at all. Today: The 7-Minute LinkedIn Makeover

Nine out of ten recruiters use social media to find or check out candidates, especially LinkedIn. Your profile is 14 times as likely to be viewed if it has a picture. So find a professional-looking photo and upload it to your computer before you start the clock.

0:00 Log in to your LinkedIn account and select “Edit Profile.” Click on “Add Photo” to upload the pic you’ve selected. You’ll see a yellow square that you can drag to change the position and size of the picture. Make sure you’re centered and hit save.

1:05 By default, LinkedIn uses your job title as your profile headline. Instead, write your own bold wording. Stumped? When you highlight the field to change it, LinkedIn lets you peek at what others in your industry are using.

2:34 Check out your profile summary. Are you hitting all the keywords you’ll need to show up in recruiter searches? Take a minute to scan some job descriptions in your profession to make sure you’re using the right language.

5:00 Nothing says LinkedIn novice like an alphabetsoup URL.

Create a custom version by clicking the LinkedIn URL listed right beneath your photo on the Edit Profile page. You’ll be transported to the Public Profile page, where you can create your own. Stick with something simple, like your name.

5:35 Bulk up your recommendations politely. Write a sincere post for one of your contacts, and then email asking if she’d mind doing the same.

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MONEY online shopping

Become a Better Bargain Shopper in 7 Minutes Flat

computer cursor over "sale" sign
Sarina Finkelstein (photo illustration)—Getty Images (1)

The right tools and apps can help you land the best price every time you shop online.

As part of our 10-day series on Total Financial Fitness, we’ve developed six quick workouts, inspired by the popular exercise plan that takes just seven minutes a day. Each will help kick your finances into shape in no time at all. Today: The 7-Minute Bargain Finder

Buying on the web is convenient—maybe a little too convenient! Using smart apps and browser add-ons will help you score deals.

0:00 Surf to getinvisiblehand.com. This browser extension scours the web for the best price on whatever item you’re looking at online.

0:33 Adding it is simple. Scroll to “Download Now,” and in two clicks InvisibleHand pops into your bookmarks bar.

1:03 Take it for a spin. Recently, by scrolling to an HDTV on BestBuy.com and clicking on the yellow InvisibleHand banner at the top of the page, you would have seen links to five other sites selling the TV for less.

3:06 Head to Tracklf.com, a site that monitors price changes on millions of products. Click “Install Tracklf.”

3:49 Skip the lengthy explanation video and try it out yourself. Use the “Tracklf” button to see a three-month pricing history of any item and request an email if the price drops.

5:58 Grab your smartphone and search for “PriceGrabber” in the app store. This app lets you scan barcodes when you’re out shopping and see comparisons on in-store and online prices.

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  • Day 7: Find Ways to Save More
  • Day 8: Boost Your Earning Power
  • Day 9: Learn How Better Health Can Help Your Finances
  • Day 10: Shore Up Your Safety Net
MONEY Budgeting

How to Start Tracking Your Spending in 7 Minutes Flat

stopwatch with money/dollar on it
George Diebold—Getty Images

If you want to save more or get out of debt, knowing where your money goes now is an essential first step.

As part of our 10-day series on Total Financial Fitness, we’ve developed six quick workouts, inspired by the popular exercise plan that takes just seven minutes a day. Each will help kick your finances into shape in no time at all. Today: The 7-Minute Spending Tracker

Seven minutes is a little tight to create a budget, but it’s enough to tackle the first step: pulling together all your spending info using a budgeting tool such as Mint. You’ll need your credit and debit cards to get started.

0:00 Surf to Mint.com and register for a free account.

0:42 Mint asks for your credit card providers and bank. As you type in each one, a list of possible matches will pop up. Select the right one and enter the online login and password you use for that account. (Mint is a secure site and cannot get to your money.)

3:02 Mint will need a minute to pull in all of your transactions, which it automatically slots into categories like “Cellphone” and “Groceries.” Problem is, the app doesn’t always get it right. To fix that, click the “Transactions” tab.

3:34 See those “uncategorized” charges? You can select them to choose a correct label. This is pretty tedious, so tick the box that says “always re-categorize X as Y.” That way, Mint will put all future transactions from that retailer in the right place.

5:02 When you did that, you probably also noticed some charges Mint tried to identify but placed into the wrong bucket. Scroll through those and correct them the same way.

6:30 Grab your phone and download the Mint app. Having the program handy will help you keep on top of charges.

7:00 Now you’re ready to click the “Budgets” tab and create a spending plan. For more help with that, check out our Money 101 stories on creating a budget you can stick to and setting financial priorities.

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  • Day 6: Cut the Fat From Your Budget
  • Day 7: Find Ways to Save More
  • Day 8: Boost Your Earning Power
  • Day 9: Learn How Better Health Can Help Your Finances
  • Day 10: Shore Up Your Safety Net
MONEY Credit

The Easiest Way to Check Your Credit—Fast

Person putting stethoscope on top of wallet of credit cards
Denis Mironov—Shutterstock

Finding out how you look to lenders is a crucial first step to getting your finances in better shape.

As part of our 10-day series on Total Financial Fitness, we’ve got six quick workouts, inspired by the popular exercise plan that takes just seven minutes a day, that will help kick your finances into shape. Today: The 7-Minute Credit Check.

To get a handle on your credit history and credit score in just a few minutes, grab a credit card, sit down at your computer, and start the clock.

0:00 There’s only one legit site to get your report: annual­creditreport.com. Click “Request yours now!”

0:07 The form is super easy: Enter your name, date of birth, Social Security number, and address. (Don’t worry: Using your Social Security number is safe here.)

1:03 When you’re finished, hit “next” to pick which reports you want. You’re eligible for one free report per year from each of the three agencies, Equifax, Experian, and Trans­Union. Opt for just one for now.

1:55 Next, verify some personal info. The questions vary, but expect to confirm details like names of previous employers or your bank.

2:02 Hit submit and presto: your credit report, with pages of information on your borrowing and credit history. Save a copy to scan for errors later.

3:00 Now you’re ready to get your actual score. Some card issuers, including Citibank and Discover, offer it free, so start there.

3:37 No luck? Surf over to myfico.com, where you can buy it for $20. Pick “FICO standard” and check the box next to the agency you picked for your credit report. See that promo code box? Google “myfico promo code.” Enter the best discount you find: We snagged 20% via retailmenot.com.

4:51 Check out and you’ll be prompted to create a profile.

6:30 Fill in your credit card info, hit “submit,” and there’s your credit score.

Once you have your credit score in hand, you can see whether you need to boost it, and by how much. To get the best rates on mortgages and other loans, you should have a score of 700 or above—a cutoff that only 25% of the population meets, according to the credit tracking firm CreditKarma. For some quick tips on how to improve your credit score, check out the video below:

Learn more about credit scores:
How can I improve my credit score?
What kinds of errors should I look for on my credit report?
How can I dispute errors on my credit report?

 

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MONEY holiday shopping

7 Holiday Shopping Tricks That Beat the Sale Prices

gingerbread man with sign saying 30% off
Michael Crichton—Food Styling by Andrew Bullis

The barrage of Xmas sales and marketing ploys is officially upon us. Dive in -- but know that the deals are seldom as good as they look. Here's how to make sure you get the most for every gift-giving dollar.

‘Tis the season to be jolly—though you may lose your merry measure once you start thinking about your holiday gift budget. Americans are feeling the pinch this year, it seems. Based on a survey of consumers nationwide, accounting firm PwC forecasts that U.S. households will spend $684 on average this year, down 7% from $735 in 2013. Respondents cited stagnating wages, rising costs of living, and limited disposable income as reasons for pulling back.

“This is an ‘every dollar counts’ holiday season,” says Thom Blischok, chief retail strategist at Strategy&, a unit of PwC. As a result, he adds, “retailers are going to be very aggressive in trying to entice customers to spend more.”

That will be especially true online, though the promotions may not be all that they seem. “At this time of year, sales and marketing ploys can make prices look really good, even when they’re not,” says Brent Shelton, online shopping expert at FatWallet​.com. Since you’re likely to spend around 40% of your holiday budget online—at least according to a recent Deloitte poll—you’ll want to be strategic with your dot-commerce. Using a combination of the tricks that follow will help you get more for your holiday dollars so that you can give without feeling Grinchy.

Get the Lowest Base Price

“The most obvious way to save on holiday shopping is to avoid impulse buys,” says Shelton. So start by making a list of the gifts you know you want to buy. Then comparison-shop with InvisibleHand a browser extension for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari that automatically scours the web for the lowest price on any item you’re looking at. Also set up email alerts at TrackIf.com, which lets you know when an item’s price drops. You can search products on the site or get a browser plug-in (for Chrome, Safari, and Firefox) that also shows the three-month price history of any product on any retailer’s site as you’re viewing it.

Knowing the price history of a product can help you cut through some of the “buy now!” noise and decide when to pull the trigger. For example, Best Buy recently offered Beats by Dr. Dre Pro over-the-ear headphones for $316. TrackIf’s price-history tool showed that the highest price had been $400 and the lowest was $360. In context, $316 looks like a good deal. Of course, nothing is free: The companies offering these tools get a percentage of the sales made using them. So know that they have a vested interest in getting you to spend, and vow to stick to your list.

Go Through the Right Door

Websites like Ebates.com, FatWallet.com, and TopCashback.com offer cash back for shopping certain retailers so long as you enter those online stores via the cash-back portal. Recently, FatWallet offered 2% back at Kohl’s; TopCashback was paying 6% on certain Amazon purchases. The best part about these sites is that you can also add coupon codes and other discounts to your purchases, says Kristin Cook, managing editor of BensBargains​.com. These sites’ agreements with retailers rotate. So check a few to see which is offering the best payout for where you’re shopping.

You may have access to similar offers through your credit cards. Discover, for example, has hundreds of retailers in its ShopDiscover program, which offers 5% to 15% cash back if you click through Discover’s site to the retailer. Recently you could get $15 off purchases of $150 plus 10% cash back at Sharper Image, in addition to the card’s normal rewards. See if your issuer offers a shopping portal, and if so, add it to the rotation of rebate sites to check.

Always Nab the Best Coupons

You know that you should go to sites like RetailMeNot.com and CouponCabin.com to search for coupon codes before making any purchase. But sometimes fatigue sets in after you try five or six codes that don’t work, and sometimes you simply forget to check at all, right? That’s why the smartest shoppers automate their coupon clipping, says Kyle James, founder of Rather-Be-Shopping.com. He advises installing Honey, a browser extension for Chrome and Firefox that tracks coupon codes for hundreds of retailers and applies the highest value one to your cart at checkout. CouponFollow.com’s Coupons at Checkout extension—available for Chrome, Safari, Firefox, and IE at couponfollow.com/checkout—works similarly.

To find some of the best unpublished codes and private sales, you might also sign up for email lists or loyalty cards from the stores and brands you know you’ll shop this holiday. “A lot of places will invite everyone on the email list to a sale not otherwise advertised,” says Cook of BensBargains​.com. Case in point: Sunglass Hut recently offered an extra 40% off on certain styles, but only those on the email list got into the sale. Also, you might follow the brands and retailers you’re planning to buy from on Facebook and Twitter, says Mark LoCastro of DealNews.com. Cole Haan, for example, recently tweeted a 30% friends-and-family discount. Just be aware that discounts through these channels tend to be better because of what you give up: your contact info and personal data, which retailers will use to market to you in the future.

Pick the Right Kind of Plastic

If you’re not going through a specific credit card’s shopping portal, choose the card to use based on the rewards you’ll get. Two of MONEY’s Best Credit Cards of 2014 are particularly profitable for holiday shoppers—and neither has an annual fee. Chase Freedom gives a hefty 5% cash back on department stores and at Zappos.com and Amazon through the end of the year; Discover It pays 5% on online shopping and department stores for the same period. Just pay the bill off on time so that interest charges don’t erase the rewards.

Another smart way to pay: with a gift card bought at a discount from the secondary market. At aggregator GiftCardGranny.com, you can shop for cards that are as much as 20% off the value of the card.

free

Save on Shipping

Retailers are generally raising the minimum you need to spend to qualify for free shipping, but there are still ways to avoid paying for delivery. Target, for example, is waiving shipping fees on all orders through Dec. 20. And there may be more promos like this during the competitive holiday season. Look for codes at FreeShipping.org.

See if your favorite retailer will give you a break on shipping if you check out through its mobile app (as Tory Burch and Sierra Trading Post do) or if you join the loyalty program (like Best Buy and Sperry Top-Sider do). Also, know that if you have an American Express card, you can get a membership to ShopRunner—which offers free two-day shipping from more than 100 e-tailers and normally costs $79—for free.

Try for a Last-Ditch Deal

Don’t hit that purchase button just yet! Load up your cart, start the checkout process by entering your credit card and shipping info, and then close your window. “Retailers hate this,” says LoCastro. Desperate to convert potential sales into actual ones, stores will often send emails with additional discounts to entice those who have not finalized a purchase to do so. “Of course, this works only if you’re not in a rush,” says LoCastro. “But it works especially well if you’re spending a lot. They want that sale.”

Didn’t work or don’t have time to wait? Before you finish checking out, ping a customer-service rep through live chat or by phone. “Ask if they can offer you free shipping or a discount,” says James of Rather-Be-Shopping.com, who has had luck with this strategy at Foot Locker, J. Jill, Lands’ End, and Shutterfly. “Say, ‘I really want to finish my order, but this is a little more than I can spend.’ It never hurts to ask.”

Get an Adjustment

Save your receipts and don’t turn off the price alerts you set through TrackIf.com. Some retailers—­including Target.com­—will give you a price adjustment if the price drops after you buy. And if the site won’t do it, the credit card you used might; Citi Price Rewind and any Discover or MasterCard offer price-protection programs. Check your card’s terms. Discover will give you the refund for any price change within 90 days, so you could benefit from deep after-Christmas discounts. That should make your new year a little happier.

MONEY Smart Shopping

3 Tricks to Help You Snag the Best Deals Online

140908_EM_AGOODPRICE
Claire Benoist

New 'dynamic pricing' models make it tougher to find bargains online, unless you know how to beat the system. Use these strategies to beat back price bots.

There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of shopping for a product online and discovering that one site sells the item for 20% less. But perhaps you’ve noticed that snagging that kind of deal isn’t as easy as it once was?

Increasingly, online retailers are employing complex pricing algorithms that take into account factors like an item’s popularity and what competitors are charging for it. Sometimes the systems also factor in data about you—such as where you live, when you shop, how often you’ve visited the site, and what you’ve bought in the past.

The result? You might see prices for an item fluctuate by 15% to 20% in a short period, says Rafi Mohammed, author of The 1% Windfall: How Successful Companies Use Price to Profit and Grow. And the amount you’re charged could very well be different from what your friend will pay.

So-called dynamic pricing has long been used by airlines and hotel chains, which index prices to supply. But now both dynamic and differential pricing (based on who’s buying) are becoming “extremely common” in all aspects of online shopping, says Columbia Business School professor Robert Phillips. Amazon, BestBuy.com, and Walmart.com are among the e-tailers that cop to using these tactics. Beat back price bots with these tricks:

Be a secret shopper

If a retailer knows what you tend to buy and when, it can use that info to jack up the price on items you’re likely to pay more for, says Christopher Elliott, author of Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals. So you generally want to tell merchants as little about yourself as possible.

Most of what sellers know about you comes from “cookies,” small files sent to your browser by each site you visit. These relay info about your habits to other sites you surf.

You could delete your browser’s cookies—“clear browsing history” in the settings menu—before you shop. But this may erase info that could help you in the pricing wars (a shoe e-tailer, for example, may market better deals to someone who often shops at Zappos).

So first try opening a “private” window on Firefox or an “incognito” window on Chrome or turn on “private browsing” in Safari, all of which let you surf without saving cookies. That way, you can compare the prices a retailer offers when it doesn’t know who you are with those it offers when it does.

Also, use multiple browsers or devices. “A different IP address can turn up a different price, even if you’ve cleared cookies,” says shopping expert Andrea Woroch. Digital Folio, a real-time pricing site now known as Cartbound, offers a demo on YouTube: A site rep pastes the URL of a TV costing $199 at Walmart.com on Firefox into Chrome—where it’s priced at $168.

Play hard to get

“Customers who are loyal are the least price sensitive, so it makes sense to charge them more,” says Phillips.

Hesitating on a purchase shows your willingness to go elsewhere and may get a retailer to sweeten the pot. Web research firm Baymard Institute found that 68% of online shopping carts are abandoned after initial click-throughs. Retailers are desperate to convert those carts into sales, so in many cases they’ll offer a better deal to get you to buy, says Phillips.

Coupon site Rather-be-shopping.com found 17 well-known retailers (including Bed, Bath & Beyond, Macy’s, and Williams-Sonoma) that offered coupons (ranging from 20% off to free shipping) to customers who left their carts.

Don’t want to pay full price on those towels from Pottery Barn? Log in to your Pottery Barn account and put them in your cart. Within a few days, you may get an email offering them at a lower price.

Arm yourself

There are a few tools you can use to benefit from price fluctuations.

Camelcamelcamel.com, for example, lets you create price watches on Amazon products. (See the chart below for an example of how dramatic price fluctuations can be over a 30-day period.) You are alerted to changes and can browse products with the biggest price drops.

Another smart tool is InvisibleHand, a browser extension you can install on Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. Whenever you land on a page selling a product, it automatically searches the web for the lowest prices on the item.

These tools can help you stay a step ahead of the retailer, says Woroch. “It’s not always easy, but you can save a lot of money in the long run.”

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MONEY family money

How to Talk to Your Aging Parents About Money

Are bills piling up on Mom’s kitchen table? Are you worried Dad might fall prey to a scam?

Time to discuss if they need help with their finances. Proceed carefully because they may not see things as you do: A 2012 Fidelity study found that while 24% of adult children think their parents will need a hand with money, 97% of the parents do not.

“Conversations about money with your elderly parents are really about control — something they don’t want to lose,” says David Solie, author of How to Say It to Seniors. Try these tips.

THE GROUND RULES

Drop the attitude. An I-know-better air will put their backs up. Take care your concern doesn’t come across as if you think their intelligence is diminished, says Solie.

Avoid saying “you should…” Those two little words are sure to put them on the defensive.

Bring in a third party. To your mom and dad, you will always be a kid — which is why the talk may go better if you deliver it alongside an outside expert, says Paula Span, author of When the Time Comes.

WHEN YOU’RE FACE TO FACE…

1. Opening gambit. “Mom, I just read an article with great tips about how to simplify managing your money as you get older. Can I share a few of them?”

The strategy: “Bring yourself into the equation as a helper, not an overseer,” Span says. Framing the advice as someone else’s ideas may make your parents more open to accepting them.

2. Dangle a carrot. “I think we can save you some money on your cable bill, Dad. How about we take a look?”

The strategy: Suggest a small, concrete action with a clear payoff to start. An Allianz survey reveals that 61% of older Americans worry about outliving their money, so helping your parents cut costs is a good first move.

Seeing how beneficial your suggestions can be is likely to make them more receptive to other, more serious forms of help.

3. Keep your warnings indirect. “I know you’re too smart for this, but I want to tell you about this scam I heard about so you can warn your friends.”

The strategy: Being straightforward — “Mom, Dad, you need to watch out for people who ask for your bank account online” — may feel patronizing to your parents. Instead, plant a seed that doesn’t reflect on their competence to manage their affairs, says Colorado elder-law attorney Catherine Seal.

4. Ask if you can tag along. “My friend’s dad keeps getting invited to free-lunch retirement seminars. Do you? I’d love to go if you go.”

The strategy: Instead of trying to put the kibosh on a move you know is not smart, stand beside them during the sales pitch, suggests Kim Linder, a caregiver consultant. Then ask tough questions that will push your parents to think before they leap.

5. Use metaphors. “You wouldn’t buy a used car without a mechanic checking under the hood. Same goes for your investments. Let’s have a financial adviser look into this.”

The strategy: “In the second half of life, the right brain becomes the gatekeeper for information,” says Solie. “We respond better to stories and metaphors — the stuff that gives meaning to facts and linear data.”

MONEY family money

How to Ask a Pal or Relative to Pay You Back

As far as unpleasant tasks go, asking a relative or friend to repay a loan ranks up there with getting your wisdom teeth pulled or spending a weekend alone with your in-laws.

The best way to avoid this awkward conversation?

“Don’t lend money to friends in the first place,” says Peter Post, director of the Emily Post Institute. Of course, that advice isn’t going to help if you’ve already ponied up the cash. Here’s what will.

THE GROUND RULES

Talk in person. Don’t text, email, or call; faceless communications are too easily misread. Instead, invite your friend or family member to chat over coffee or a beer so the atmosphere is more relaxed, says Randy Cohen, author of Be Good: How to Navigate the Ethics of Everything.

Let the relationship guide you. Decide what’s more important: getting your money back or staying on good terms with the borrower. If you care more about the person than the cash and you’re in a position to do so, you may be better off forgiving the debt.

YOUR BEST APPROACH

1. Opening gambit. “I was happy to lend you the money when you needed it. That’s what friends do.”

The strategy: You’re gently reminding your pal that you came through when he or she was in trouble.

“Putting it this way shows you sympathize with your friend,” says Cohen. “Chances are, the person feels bad about not paying you back. An understanding tone decreases your chances of a hostile response.”

2. Be direct. “When do you think you will be able to pay back the $500 I lent you?”

The strategy: Hinting will get you nowhere, says Philip Galanes, author of Social Q’s: How to Survive the Quirks, Quandaries, and Quagmires of Today, because the person may misunderstand (perhaps willfully) what you’re asking.

Like ripping off a Band-Aid, the process will be less painful if you do it quickly and directly.

Start off nicely; getting angry is more likely to result in the borrower pushing back than if you stay calm.

“There’s no sense in starting Defcon 3,” Galanes says.

3. Add urgency, as needed. “We’re going to get hit with some really big tuition bills soon and could really use that money.”

The strategy: Of course, you don’t need to justify asking for your money back, but it can be helpful to cite a pressing reason — as long as it’s true.

“Evoking a specific thing makes repayment seem more like a necessity than simply an option,” says Cohen.

4. Provide a deadline. “I’d really like to get the money back before the end of June.”

The strategy: Specifying a schedule for payback is crucial. Otherwise, the loan may hang out there indefinitely, even if the borrower has given lip service to paying you back — and you’ll just have to revisit the conversation at a later date.

5. Offer flexibility. “Would it be easier for you to pay me back over time, say, $100 a month?”

The strategy: If the borrower pushes back or you know he will have a tough time coming up with the cash, etiquette expert Cynthia Lett suggests breaking repayment into smaller chunks or reaching another compromise.

After all, you must really care about this person; otherwise, you would never have lent him the money.

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