MONEY

10 Smart New Uses for Your Old iPhone

old iphones hanging
If all else fails, tap your crafty side. Obsolete old phones + twine = wind chimes! Jeffrey Coolidge—Getty Images

Don't let it take up space in a landfill or gather dust in a desk drawer. With a few free or cheap apps, you can give your out-of-date iPhone a second life.

With about 10 million new iPhone 6s ordered in the initial days on the market, a whole lot of old iPhones are destined for the scrap heap.

Sure, you could sell, donate, or recycle your old iPhone, but you probably will not. And there are better things to do with it.

One creative example: At the Missouri University of Science and Technology, a biology class is making old iPhones into microscopes. Using less than $10 worth of supplies, the old phones are mounted onto a lens and can magnify an object to 175 times its size.

Even an old phone with a cracked screen can be repurposed, says Josh Smith, editor of GottaBeMobile.com. “You’re only really limited by your imagination,” Smith says.

Here are 10 smart—and cheap—uses for old iPhones.

1. Clock

Set your old phone on a dock or a stand and use a clock app. With Standard Time ($3.99), you will have a timepiece unlike any other.

With this app, your clock is a non-stop time lapse video of construction workers switching out pieces of lumber to shape the actual time. “It’s mesmerizing,” says Shawn Roberts, 47, an Oakland, Calif., marketing executive.

You can also set up flexible alarms and get the phone to play soothing white noise as you go to sleep. Set it close enough to the bed, and it can be a sleep tracker, too, with an app like SleepBot (free).

2. Music for your car

Take your music library on the road. Some cars come equipped with docking ports for iPhones and have dashboard screens so you can navigate your musical options hands-free. Or you can just use the cigarette lighter for power.

3. Remote control

Televisions, speakers, and other devices now have apps that allow users to make their iPhones into sleek remotes.

Carm Lyman, 42, of Napa, Calif., converted his iPhone 4 into a remote for his household sound system after his iPhone 5 arrived. Lyman can control the audio levels and activate speakers in various parts of his home as well as access different music services.

4. Surveillance system

Apps can convert an old iPhone that has access to WiFi into a surveillance camera and motion detector. Presence, which is a free app, provides a live stream from the area you want to monitor. You can set it up to record video clips when it detects motion, too.

If you buy a robotic viewing stand for about $100, you can move the camera 360 degrees rather than stick with a stationary view.

5. Cookbook

No need to go through recipe books or hunt around for other devices when you have a kitchen iPhone. Download a cookbook app, such as My Recipe Book (99¢) or Big Oven (free), and just leave the device on the kitchen counter. It takes up almost no space and will hold far more recipes than any book.

6. Extra storage

Need a place to store old photos and music or other files? Turn your old phone into a storage drive using a free app like USB & Wi-Fi Flash Drive.

7. Voice recorder

Why buy a digital voice recorder when you have a retired iPhone? Using any of several free apps, including Voice Recorder and Voice Record Pro, you will have a designated memo recorder or a device to record interviews and speeches.

8. Document scanner

Genius Scan and Doc Scan are two apps that will turn an iPhone into a handy portable scanner that you can use for work, school reports, genealogical research, or recording receipts. And they will not cost you a penny.

For $20 and up, you can buy a stand that makes your iPhone into a stationary scanner.

9. Baby monitor

Sure, you can spend $100 or more on a baby monitor, or you can just set your old iPhone up to watch streaming video of your baby as well as hear and even talk to him or her.

Cloud Baby Monitor ($3.99) also allows parents to receive the signal on a wireless network or on WiFi so they do not have to be within a certain number of feet of the monitor.

10. Vehicle Tracker

Whether you need to find your car if it is stolen, record where you have traveled, or spy on your teenage driver, the built-in GPS in your phone can be used as a tracking device. An app like InstaMapper ($2.99) lets you watch the vehicle in real-time and have a record of it.

Of course, you may end up taking the simple path of letting a child use your old iPhone as an iPod Touch. Keep in mind that the phone can still dial 911, even if it does not have cellular service, Smith says.

You can also use your old phone as a back-up in case your new model suffers irreparable harm. That said, the battery of a phone that sits in a drawer unused could drain to the point where it is no longer viable.

MONEY Tech

How to Cut Your Wireless Bill Down to Size

stack of phone bills
Christine Balderas—Getty Images

Cell phone carriers are battling for your business by cutting prices, ditching contracts, and offering to pay your fee to switch. Act fast to lock in your savings.

If you’re unhappy with your cell phone service—and really, who isn’t?—now might be a unique time to either renegotiate your contract or move to a new carrier.

Your window of opportunity may be short, however, as carriers have reached a crescendo in an escalating battle over prices and plans.

The mobile business started to change about a year and half ago, when T-Mobile first said it would ditch contracts and stop subsidizing phones.

In April, after some tit-for-tat between companies, T-Mobile said it was getting rid of its data overage charges and doubled the data that consumers were allotted, among other changes, and offered to pay the often-steep switching fees carriers can charge to break contracts.

AT&T responded by lowering some of its package prices and debuting a new line of no-contract plans. Verizon last month began offering a new $60 plan that previously would have cost users $90. Both companies also offered deals involving data shared by a family of users.

Then, last month, Sprint changed its offerings to include more data usage than its rivals were delivering at the same price. T-Mobile countered with a low-price starter plan of $45 that comes with 2GB of data. And with the iPhone 6 launch on the horizon, carriers are trying to lure in new business—or keep existing clients.

The result of these changes? Savings can be dramatic.

James Pillow, 41, of Orlando, Fla., was lured recently to switch from AT&T to T-Mobile’s $50 unlimited text, talk, and data plan (which limits users to 1GB of data over its 4G network).

Pillow, president of the sports apparel company FanCastle.com, says he had been spending $98 a month on cell phone bills and didn’t want to constantly worry about extra data usage. Now his bills are $57. He had evaluated smaller companies, but says he was concerned about the reliability of their coverage.

“Since I travel with my job and with my family, it made sense to chose a national company with a national tower network for better coverage,” Pillow says.

To best take advantage of the offers, you need to go through the complicated math, as cell phone carriers notoriously make their packages difficult to compare.

Also, the best plan for you depends on how much data you want, whether you already own a phone and the number of users tied to your contract.

Here’s how to evaluate the offers:

Study Your Bills

What if you merely think you’re getting a bad deal? To know for sure, take the last six to 12 bills from your current service and see what you really use, says Jon Colgan, who runs a service called Cellbreaker.com that helps consumers break their contracts.

Ask yourself: How many minutes a month do you use the phone? How much do you text? How much data do you consume?

Pay attention to the fine print. A $100 plan doesn’t necessarily mean your bill will be $100. To know what your charges will actually be, you can go to a website like MyRatePlan.com or Whistleout.com to sort out what options you have within the parameters you’ve set.

Negotiate First

Changing plans isn’t always necessary, says Jeff Kagan, an Atlanta-based industry analyst. The first place to start is with your own carrier. Make a simple, friendly phone call asking for a better deal.

“Don’t go in as an adversary. Go in as a partner,” he says.

The typical customer can expect to see their rate drop by 20% to 30%, Kagan says. If you have a particularly poor deal for your usage pattern, like paying per text when you’re a serial texter, you should be able to save far more.

Make the requests annually, Kagan says, rather than waiting for the end of a contract.

Shop Around

Your business could be worth something to a competitor, and without penalties, moving could be in your best interest.

“The ideal person to take advantage of this is someone whose commitment has ended,” says Northeastern University finance professor Harlan Platt.

That’s what Holly Johnson, 34, of Noblesville, Ind., did to find a good deal for her cell service last year. Johnson, who writes the ClubThrifty.com blog, switched her husband’s phone for the second time in two years, from Verizon to a local discount carrier to Republic Wireless, a carrier that relies on the use of WiFi to control costs.

Johnson says the bill is now $25 a month for a plan that includes unlimited talk, text and data, while the previous Verizon bill topped $100 a month.

One warning for consumers is that even though some carriers have limited-time offers to offset costs you incur for changing plans, there may be other hidden charges. Platt warns that carriers now try to lock in consumers by selling them phones on a payment plan.

Instead, you can go to a retail website that sells prepaid phones, like Amazon.com, and purchase one that will work on the company’s network that you’ll be using. That will ensure you’re a free agent and can move to another carrier of there’s a more tempting deal.

“There’s nothing special about AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, or Verizon,” Platt says. “They provide a commodity. What consumers need to do is make those phone calls and get the bills down.”

MONEY Travel

When Airport Clubs Are Worth the Money (and When to Save the $500)

The Sky Deck at the Delta Sky Club
Flight delayed? An airport club like the Delta Sky Club in Atlanta can ease your pain. courtesy of Delta

True frequent fliers can kick back at an airport lounge for free. Some high-end credit cards give you access too. For everyone else, that privilege comes at a high price.

When you fly several times a month, as Gabriella Ribeiro Truman does, finding a comfortable place to wait for a flight and grab a snack can make traveling a lot more enjoyable.

She used to have free access to co-owned American Airlines and US Airways lounges through her American Express card, but with that program over, she now pays $500 a year to be a member of American Airlines’ Admirals Club, which gets her access to private airport lounges around the world through the oneworld alliance. “It was worth it for me to pay for it,” says Truman, 39, a New Jersey-based travel marketing executive.

Travelers have a wide range of options when it comes to the airport clubs, whose lounges can offer some peace from often chaotic, warehouse-like airport terminals. Snacks and drinks are available for the taking, seating tends to be more comfortable, and there’s free Wi-Fi and lots of power outlets.

But whether it is worth it for the cost depends on how you are getting access and whether you are paying extra for it. Airport lounges are run by either airlines or a handful of private operators. While some are restricted to top-tier flyers, most allow travelers a variety of ways to get in.

  • Membership through airlines or airline alliances: For instance, if you achieve gold status in the Star Alliance (which includes United Airlines, Air Canada, and Lufthansa ), you are permitted access to more than 1,000 lounges worldwide as long as you fly on a member airline. Otherwise, you will pay about $300 to $700 a year, plus initiation fees (air miles can be used).
  • A day pass: Prices are typically about $50, but advance-purchase deals for some can cut that in half.
  • Route-specific: Some travelers are given entry to an airline’s lounges along the route they are flying if they fly internationally on a first-class or business-class airline ticket or on certain transcontinental flights.
  • Membership through cards: Fewer credit cards offer the perk now. Among those that still do: the American Express Platinum Card, through which you receive a complimentary membership to Delta’s Sky Club network when flying on that airline, and you can apply for a free membership in the independent Priority Pass lounge network (worth $399) as part of the card’s $450 annual fee. Also, Citi Executive/AAdvantage card holders get a membership worth $500 in American’s Admirals Club included as part of their $450 annual fee.

What You Get

At the estimated 2,000 lounges worldwide at more than 500 airports, services and amenities vary. One way to keep track is with a free app like LoungeBuddy, available for iPhone and Android, with data on nearly 1,800 lounges. Users can input their travel information and get ratings, lists of amenities, and photos for the lounges they can access.

For food, U.S. clubs will typically offer basic snacks like carrots, pretzels, and apples, with a bit more in the mornings like pastries and yogurt, according to Tyler Dikman, founder of LoungeBuddy, who says he has personally visited 600 to 800 lounges. Beer and wine will be free, but travelers usually have to pay extra for top-shelf liquor domestically. Nearly half of lounges will have showers, he adds.

In smaller airports, marketing executive Ribeiro Truman says she finds that many lounges resemble hotel bars—not much more than a separate seating area with some snacks.

But in larger airports, expect to find more, especially overseas.

At Cathay Pacific Airlines’ The Bridge Lounge in Hong Kong, for example, there is an enormous, elegantly decorated space divided into two wings, and spacious shower suites. Food includes fresh-baked bread, pizza, soups, and sandwiches on one side and a range of high-end hot and cold food for self-service on the other.

Access to that lounge is available to Emerald- and Sapphire-level members of the oneworld alliance, which includes American Airlines.

Private shower rooms, in particular, win wide praise from those who have used them. “It’s something you’ll find in a nice hotel,” Dikman says, who has enjoyed plush towels and fancy toiletries.

For the infrequent traveler or someone stuck waiting a long time for a connection, buying a day pass to a lounge could be a big benefit, particularly if you have work to do. Road warriors report that paying about $500 a year is money well spent to regroup when it is inconvenient to check into a hotel.

Sonita Lontoh, a Silicon Valley technology executive who flies regularly to Asia and Australia, prizes her lounge access. She says after being on a plane for 15 hours, having a place to decompress and take a shower is a real benefit.

On the other hand, Becky Pokora, 28, the Richmond, Va.-based writer of The Girl and Globe blog, says her credit card just discontinued free access to lounges and her 15 round trips a year do not warrant paying extra.

“The value proposition was different when there were lounges in nearly every U.S. airport participating in their program, but now I doubt I’ll be renewing the card when next year’s annual fee comes due,” she says.

MONEY

Why Some Bags Are Not Going to Fly This Summer

High checked-bag fees have travelers carrying on bigger bags. Now carriers are pushing back.

Jamming as much as possible into carry-on luggage has become routine for travelers, considering the fees many airlines charge for checking baggage. But those bags may be barred from overhead bins this summer.

Some travelers are discovering that bags that once were acceptable are now too big and must be checked.

The airlines say it is about space. Industry experts argue that the carry-on crackdown is a ploy to get more revenue. “Airlines have for years turned a blind eye to their own baggage restrictions,” says Tim Winship, editor of FrequentFlier.com, a travel website.

Among the three largest airlines—American Airlines , Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines—only United says it is taking a harder line on the size of luggage destined for overhead bins.

Earlier this year, the airline let travelers know it was going to enforce size limits, disqualifying any bag that exceeded the following measurements: 22 inches in height, 14 inches in width, and 9 inches in depth.

“Customers with the right size bags were telling us that often times there was no more room on the aircraft for their carry-on bags,” United spokesman Charles Hobart said. “This is a response to customer feedback.”

One problem for travelers is that a lot of bags sold as acceptable carry-ons are 15 inches wide, in violation of the three largest airlines’ policies. They are, however, still permitted on the largest of their rival carriers.

While the other airlines say they have not gotten tougher, they acknowledge that during busy times they are more aggressive about policing carry-on bag size. During vacation periods, for example, they pay more attention to what passengers are trying to bring on board, Delta spokesman Morgan Durrant said.

Airlines have tried to keep up with increased demand to bring bags on board by getting larger bins on new planes. “All those bins get bigger and bigger; yet it’s never enough,” said Robert Mann, an airline analyst for R.W. Mann & Company Inc and a former airline executive.

Airlines are trying to catch oversized bags as early as possible, because it is easiest to charge passengers for checking a bag at the counter, Mann said. If the bag has made it all the way to the gate, time pressure often prevents airline workers from even trying to collect a fee.

The three largest airlines share the same carry-on size limits, which happen to be smaller than what is permitted on rival carriers. Southwest Airlines, JetBlue Airways, and Spirit Airlines all allow bigger carry-ons. But Spirit, which is known for low-base fares and a raft of fees, charges as much as $100 for carry-ons.

When choosing a carry-on bag, consider avoiding one with wheels, says Tim Leffel, editor of PracticalTravelGear.com. Wheels gobble up room because they count in the measurement.

Travelers should also avoid over-stuffing their carry-ons, he says. “Nothing should be put into an outside pocket of a 9-inch-wide carry-on except flat things like magazines and papers,” Leffel says. Otherwise, the extra bulge will exceed regulations.

AIRLINE RULES

These are the maximum carry-on bag sizes permitted on America’s largest airlines:

* American: 22 inches x 14 inches x 9 inches

* Delta: 22 inches x 14 inches x 9 inches

* United: 22 inches x 14 inches x 9 inches

* Southwest: 24 inches x 16 inches x 10 inches

* JetBlue: 24 inches x 16 inches x 10 inches

MONEY credit cards

What MasterCard’s Zero Liability Pledge Means for Your Debit Card

MasterCard's new policy makes using your debit card a lot safer. Here's what you need to know.

June 4 (Reuters) – In the wake of a spate of data breaches highlighting the vulnerability of companies that hold consumer information, MasterCard Inc announced last week it would apply the same rules to PIN-based debit card transactions as those used for credit cards: zero liability when fraud is reported.

“Fraud and identity theft have been in the news a lot lately. We want to give cardholders peace of mind,” says MasterCard spokeswoman Beth Kitchener. The breach at Target last year, which affected more than 40 million customers, is still a top concern for many.

For consumers who have MasterCard-branded debit cards, the extension of zero liability means some things will change, while others won’t. Here is what you need to know about the new policy, which takes effect on Oct. 1.

Q: Does this mean that using a debit card is just as safe for transactions as using a credit card?

A: Not exactly. While those who have MasterCard-branded debit cards will benefit from the policy change, the inherent issues with debit cards remain. The main difference between debit card and credit card transactions is debit cards are tied to users’ bank accounts.

“With credit cards, it’s not a big deal. It’s their money not yours,” says Gerri Detweiler, director of consumer education for Credit.com. “With a debit card it is a big deal. Consumers still need to be very careful when a debit card is tied to their main financial account.”

Q: How much money could I be on the hook for right now if someone steals using my debit card?

A: Federal laws extend protection to consumers using both credit and debit cards, but losses for victims of fraudulent credit card transactions are capped at $50. Most credit card issuers, however, set the cap at zero. Responsibility for fraud on a debit card is tied to when it is discovered and reported.

If you report the loss within two days, federal law caps consumer responsibility at $50. If you report it within 60 days of receiving a statement that shows the fraudulent transactions, liability is capped at $500. If you don’t report it within 60 days, that liability is unlimited.

Q: Why isn’t a PIN enough to protect me?

A: Theoretically, using a PIN protects the cardholder because it’s a secure password. However, card skimmers can steal numbers, and some people use PINs that are easy to figure out.

Javelin Research & Strategy, which analyzes banking and fraud, found that about 10 percent of identity fraud victims had their debit card PIN taken. That works out to more than 1.2 million cards.

Q. How do I get money restored to my account if it is stolen?

A: You should contact your bank as soon as you learn your account has been compromised, says MasterCard’s Kitchener. Call the phone number on the back of your card or the financial institution that issued the card. How quickly the money is restored varies from bank to bank.

Q. What’s the biggest issue for consumers when someone commits fraud with their debit card?

A: Getting back the money in a timely fashion. Only about a quarter of the leading financial institutions offer to make money lost to fraud available in bank accounts the day after it is reported, according to Javelin. However, that one quarter includes some of the largest banks in the country: JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America.

Q. What are the exceptions to the zero liability rule?

A: There is one exclusion for exercising “reasonable care in safeguarding your card.” Consumer experts complain that this is not very specific. “Reasonable can have variable definitions depending on who you ask,” says John Ulzheimer, credit expert for CreditSesame.com.

Kitchener says it’s up to individual financial institutions to determine what would be considered a violation of the “reasonable care” rule. An example, says Detweiler, would be giving your card and password to someone to buy a gallon of milk and ended up spending $200. Or writing your PIN on the card.

Q. Is this policy change a good thing for consumers?

A: Credit experts say that it is. “Certainly the notion that certain transactions weren’t covered by zero liability was confusing to the consumer,” Detweiler says. “It’s great that they’re simplifying that for their customers and covering all transactions.”

Given that so many consumers use debit cards as a way to control spending – using their own cash rather than borrowing on a credit card – Ulzheimer says any effort to protect users is beneficial.

“By and large this is a good thing for consumers who choose debit over credit,” he says. “It lets them keep their budgetary controls in place while worrying less about fraud.” (Editing by Beth Pinsker and Sofina Mirza-Reid)

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