Strategies to Tackle Debt

Strategies to Tackle Debt

When the pandemic hit and the restaurant that Eric S. managed in Brighton, Mich., closed its doors temporarily, Eric filed for unemployment insurance benefits. When the business reopened a couple of months later and Eric returned to work, his hours were cut in half.

Although Eric and his wife managed to keep up with their mortgage payments, the couple found themselves strapped for cash and began to fall behind on their credit card bills. By September, they had accrued about $13,000 in credit card debt, and Eric’s credit score had dropped nearly 75 points, to the low 600s. “I felt like I was losing control,” he says. “It also put a lot of stress on our marriage.”

SEE MORE 2 Credit Card Gotchas to Watch Out For

The couple sought out a credit counselor, who helped them retool their budget—getting rid of their Hulu and Netflix subscriptions alone saved them $70 a month—and begin paying down their debt. Just two months later they had shaved $3,000 off their total balance. “We’ve learned how to manage our money a lot better from this whole experience,” Eric says.

The debt divide

The coronavirus crisis has been a double-edged sword for Americans in terms of debt. First, the good news: After receiving an infusion of cash from stimulus checks last spring, millions of consumers used their relief funds to pay down debt. On April 15, 2020, as the first major wave of checks hit Americans’ bank accounts, there was a near-instantaneous increase in debt payments, according to a TrueAccord study of data from 12 million U.S. consumers.

Moreover, a majority of Americans have managed to stay on top of their credit card bills, an October LendingTree study found. The survey, which analyzed credit reports of nearly 7,300 consumers who had paid off at least $1,000 in credit card debt in a month’s period, found that nearly 6 in 10 borrowers (59%) maintained a zero balance on their credit card three months later. (The average FICO score even hit an all-time high of 711 in July, according to Fair Isaac Corp., the data analytics firm behind the credit rating.)

However, “in some ways it’s a tale of two cities,” says Bruce McClary, a spokesman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), which represents nonprofit credit counseling agencies. “While a numb

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Find Higher Yields for Your Cash

Find Higher Yields for Your Cash

There’s no way to sugarcoat it: Yields on savings accounts, certificates of deposit and other safe places to park your cash are disappointingly low, and interest rates will remain in the dumps for a while. In response to the coronavirus crisis, last spring the Federal Reserve slashed short-term rates back to the near-zero levels at which they had hovered from late 2008 through most of 2015. “It’s pretty much ‘back to the future.’ We’re revisiting the territory that became all too familiar after the Great Recession,” says Greg McBride, chief financial analyst for Kiplinger expects rates to remain near zero through 2024.

SEE MORE The Best Bank for You, 2020

Even keeping pace with inflation on your cash holdings is a tough prospect. Annual inflation recently ran at 1.4%, and nearly all the top-yielding savings accounts and money market deposit accounts offer less than 1%. The Fed has stated that with inflation running persistently lower than its long-term goal of 2%, it will aim to achieve inflation “moderately above 2% for some time.” That means that at least for a while, the Fed doesn’t expect to raise interest rates even if inflation starts to accelerate.

Savers who struggled to scrounge up a respectable yield during the last low-rate period may notice that the pickings are even slimmer this time around. Ken Tumin, founder of, notes that rates for several savings accounts and certificates of deposit from online banks and credit unions have fallen to lower levels in the past several months than they did when account rates last bottomed out, around 2012 and 2013. Many banks saw a surge in deposits in 2020 as consumers stepped up their savings rate, reducing the banks’ desire to lure savers with competitive interest rates, says Tumin.

Despite the dim outlook, seeking accounts with above-average rates is worthwhile. If you put $50,000 in a savings account yielding 0.75% (compounded monthly) and maintain that rate for a year, you’ll pocket $376 in interest earnings. If you instead use an account yielding 0.09%—the recent national average, according to Bankrate—you’ll have only $45 in interest after a year.

Here, we’ve highlighted several ways to earn a relatively strong yield without sacrificing safety.

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Build a Bond Ladder with ETFs

Build a Bond Ladder with ETFs

The bond world can seem set in its ways, but once in a while an innovative product comes along to upend the notion. In this case, we’re talking about target-maturity bond exchange-traded funds, currently offered by Invesco and iShares. The ETFs invest in bonds in a particular sector—corporate debt or municipals, say—with all of the bonds maturing in a specific year. How the ETFs work takes some explaining, and they’re not right for everyone. But they offer investors some unique benefits.

SEE MORE The 5 Best iShares ETFs for a Core Portfolio

Though not well known to many investors, these ETFs are not exactly new. The earliest of these types of funds, an iShares series of target-maturity muni bond ETFs, arrived in 2010. But target-date bond ETFs are growing in popularity, especially among investors who are nearing retirement or already retired.

There’s a lot to like, starting with the fact that, like individual bonds that you buy and hold to maturity, these ETFs “mature.” Come December of their target year, the funds close and return all of the capital to shareholders. “It’s like buying and holding to maturity a single bond, except that it’s a fund that holds hundreds of bonds,” says Karen Schenone, head of fixed-income strategy for iShares.

That’s chiefly what makes these funds easy to incorporate into a bond ladder, an old-school technique to boost yields and reduce interest rate risk without locking up all of your money for the long term. You spread your investments across bonds with staggered maturities—the “rungs” of the ladder—and as portions of your portfolio mature at regular intervals, you reinvest the proceeds in another rung further up the maturity line (or spend the cash or invest it elsewhere).

We’ll walk you through the basics of laddering, how these ETFs work and how to use them in your portfolio. (Returns and data are through November 6.)

The upside of laddering

Fans of bond laddering can sound like a late-night commercial. (It slices, it dices—and so much more!) That’s because laddering addresses multiple goals: It provides a steady stream of income, it smooths out interest rate risk in a bond portfolio, and it can offer risk-averse investors some stability.

Bond prices and interest rates tend to move in opposite

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Stock Market Today: Stocks Start Another Week With a Vaccine Bump 

Stock Market Today: Stocks Start Another Week With a Vaccine Bump 

The "rotation" trade returned once more after the market was greeted with COVID vaccine news for a third consecutive Monday.

The heroes today were AstraZeneca (AZN, -1.1%) and the University of Oxford, whose trial vaccine is far easier to store than other vaccines, which could make it easier to distribute across the globe. Trial data revealed an average efficacy of about 70% against COVID – lower than competitors Pfizer (PFE)/BioNTech (BNTX) and Moderna (MRNA), hence AZN's down day – but adjusting dosages could get efficacy up to 90%.

SEE MORE The 13 Best Healthcare Stocks to Buy for 2021

The news prompted a massive spike in cyclical sectors such as financial stocks, up 1.9% as a sector, as well as energy plays such as Exxon Mobil (XOM, +6.6%) and Chevron (CVX, +6.1%) as U.S. crude oil futures climbed 1.5% to $43.06 per barrel. Stocks also enjoyed a bump after learning that President-elect Joe Biden may nominate former Fed chair Janet Yellen as his Treasury Secretary.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped 1.1% to 29,591, while the Nasdaq Composite gained a more subdued 0.2% to 11,880.

Other action in the stock market today:

The small-cap Russell 2000 closed at another record high, up 1.9% to 1,818.The S&P 500 improved by 0.6% to S&P 500. Gold futures dropped 1.8% to settle at $1,837 per ounce. Could 2020 Finish Like It Started?

Wall Street is increasingly warming to the idea that the market could rally into the new year.

SEE MORE 14 Best Biotech Stocks for a Blockbuster 2021

"The impending roll-out of multiple highly effective COVID vaccines and the Fed's commitment to backstopping the economy give me confidence that stocks will trade higher into year-end and beyond," says Marc Chaikin, founder of quantitative investment research firm Chaikin Analytics. "I don’t believe that caution is in order and view sideways to downward price action as

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15 Best Consumer Staples Stocks for 2021

15 Best Consumer Staples Stocks for 2021

Consumer staples stocks held up well in 2020, and for good reason. When the worst of the pandemic hit in March, Americans stocked up on toilet paper and bottled water, with social media full of pictures showing empty grocery store shelves.

As we look to 2021, however, investors should be more discerning about what stocks they're putting in their shopping carts. While the pandemic still is raging in many areas of the U.S., with record cases and serious strains on the healthcare system, there is also favorable news about research into vaccines that should give everyone hope that next year will be much better – for our health, for our economy and for our sanity.

That's not necessarily welcome news for every company that sells household necessities, however. If you're looking to reposition your cash in consumer staples, then, you may want to look beyond 2020's "stay-at-home trade" names that did well but might be running out of gas.

Here are 15 of the best consumer staples stocks for 2021. Each one has plenty to offer in the coming year, and isn't simply dependent on pandemic stockpiling to boost performance. Better still, Wall Street's analyst community rates each of these stocks a Buy or Strong Buy on average. Average analyst scores are listed for each stock; any score below 2.5 means that analysts, on average, rate the stock as being Buy-worthy. The closer a score gets to 1.0, the stronger the Buy recommendation.

SEE MORE Warren Buffett Stocks Ranked: The Berkshire Hathaway Portfolio Data is as of Nov. 22. Dividend yields are calculated by annualizing the most recent payout and dividing by the share price. Analysts' opinions provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence. Stocks listed in reverse order of bullishness by the analyst community.

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30 Great Black Friday Deals and Doorbusters for the 2020 Holiday Season

30 Great Black Friday Deals and Doorbusters for the 2020 Holiday Season

Seasoned holiday shoppers know that things are a little different this year. Retailers began rolling out pre-Black Friday deals in October and haven’t let up. From Amazon to Costco to Walmart, these big names have been offering discounts online and in-store that rival what you’d find the day after Thanksgiving. This has been especially helpful for the millions of consumers who’ve chosen to shop exclusively online this holiday season to avoid potential exposure to COVID-19. Starting November 23 and throughout the days immediately leading up to Black Friday, the bargains will only get better.

SEE MORE 47 Stores That Won’t Be Open on Thanksgiving Day, 2020

Although many retailers are shuttering their doors on Thanksgiving Day, holiday shoppers can find many of the same doorbusters online -- unlike in years past. We’ve compared prices and  talked to trusted smart shopping experts to find out which Black Friday deals are worth your time and money. Take a look:


If you’re looking for home goods, add the e-commerce giant to your list of retailers to shop at. No matter if you’ve got a neat freak on your gift-giving list or you’re looking to step up your cleaning game around the house, don’t miss out on the iRobot Roomba 981 Robot Vacuum (currently on sale for $399.99, marked down from $598 -- about 35% off). The vacuum cleans carpet and hardwood, is Alexa-compatible and connects to WiFi allowing you to operate it from your smart phone via an app.

If someone on your list has been perfecting his or her culinary skills during the pandemic, then a new cookware set may be on your must-give list this holiday season. Consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch recommends the Ayesha Curry Home Collection Cookware line. It made Oprah’s Favorite Things list this year and is available at a variety of big-box and online retailers. However, bargain shoppers will find many of the pieces available at significantly lower prices on Amazon. For example, the 12-piece Porcelain and Enamel Nonstick Cookware Set (in the brown sugar colorway) sells for $85.99 on Amazon, compared to $139.99 at Kohl’s. You’ll pay about 40% more at the big-box retailer.

Best Buy

Remember Black Friday shopping in the

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Retirees, Declutter for a Profit

Retirees, Declutter for a Profit

Nearly 40 million Americans over age 50, about 60% of that cohort, say they have too much stuff, according to a survey by University of Kansas professor David J. Ekerdt.

SEE MORE 38 Ways to Earn Extra Cash With a Cool Side Hustle

“It’s quite stressful,” especially when you think about the possibility of moving, says Ekerdt, author of Downsizing: Confronting Our Possessions in Later Life (Columbia University Press, $26). “Almost every move in later life is going to be to smaller quarters.”

Fortunately, a whole cottage industry has sprung up online to help you shed possessions and make a tidy profit in the process, but forget eBay. That’s so 1990s. Today, most new selling sites work in connection with a smartphone app, and different apps are better for selling different things. For instance, Decluttr and NextWorth are great for selling electronics, whereas Mercari, ThredUp, Poshmark and The RealReal are better for clothes. 

To find the app that’s best for you, check out the products and brands people are selling on the site. If the item you want to sell or something very similar is featured, you’ve probably found the right market. Be sure to understand the shipping fees, return policies and the cut the app takes from your sale. Try out the app to see how easy it is to use and list items for sale. Some sites do more of the work for you and others less.

“It’s a question of time versus money,” says Michelle Madhok, online shopping expert and CEO of, a website that spots deals and fashion trends. When it comes to selling items, “are you going to style them, photograph them, measure them? If you do that, you’ll get the most amount of money.”

But if you’re the type who prefers having someone else market your items for sale, Decluttr, ThredUp, NextWorth, Poshmark and The RealReal take on the hard work of presenting and selling your gently used belongings. All you have to do is ship off the merchandise in a prepaid box. 

Before giving an app your business, look for a customer service number or chat feature, so you know what kind of support to expect if something goes wrong. For any site, make sure you understand the policies for payment and returns. Stacy Kahn, a 50-year-old educational consultant in Potomac, Md., once had a buyer return a Supreme sw

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