Monthly Archives: November 2012

An Introduction to Internships

Some view internships as resume builders, and others view them as free labor. So should you accept an internship? Better yet, should you accept an unpaid internship? No matter how you view this real world experience, there is no question that by having an experience as an intern under your belt you become a valuable asset to any perspective employer. Finding, accepting, and excelling at an internship can be what puts you over the top in a competitive career field. Here are the steps you should take in order to find the perfect internship match for you.

Internships

Stage 1: The Search

This is the stage where you search out an internship in the field you are interested in. First, search for internships in your area and areas within a 15-20 mile radius. Look online, call local businesses, check with friends of the family; do anything you can to find an internship opportunity. If you are interested in leaving the state or even the country, there are internships that will take you there as well.

Stage 2: Application Process

Applying for internships can take a while, but if it is something that you really want it is worth the time. Answer the questions honestly. Make sure you do a little research into the company of which you are applying so that you know exactly what they are looking for. By doing this, you can boast the skills you have that would best benefit the company. The application is the first impression the company will have of you, so make it good!

Stage 3: Interviews

Though the application is the first impression the employers will have of you, the interview is what will make or break you. Review your application and the questions that were asked. This will help you prepare for what kind of things the company may ask. You should also review the information that you discovered about the company. Employers want to hire people who know about them. It not only tells them that you know about their company, but it also flatters them. Speak slowly, stay calm, smile, and look the interviewer in the eyes. Do not fidget, play with your hands, or look around the room. Show the interviewer that you mean business. Another good, and rather obvious, tip is to practice interviewing. Many college campuses have counselors hired for the specific purpose of helping students perfect their skills before an interview. Take advantage of these options and it will pay off in an internship offer.

Stage 4: The Wait

This is the stage in which your patience will be put to the test. It can take weeks to hear back from perspective internship offers. However, do not be afraid to call, email, or stop in to ask about the selection process and if there has been a decision made yet. This will make you look ambitious and determined. Employers want to see these qualities in an intern and it will excite them to see you taking initiative.

Stage 5: Accepting an Internship

Just about the time you think you are about to burst from the wait, if you followed these tips and stages, at least one of the internships you applied for will call or email you with an offer to join their team. Accept or decline graciously and then go celebrate! A good way to celebrate would be to go on a shopping spree for work appropriate clothes! Not the most exciting thing in the world, but it is necessary. Make sure to ask the company if there is anything you need to do or bring with you on the first day, so that you are fully prepared. Show up at least 10 minutes early with a smile and a positive attitude, and show this company just how good of a choice they made in picking you.

If you do exceptionally well, there is a chance that the company may offer you a job after the internship is complete. You will also be able to use your boss as a reference for future endeavors. Just remember, an internship can be one of the best investments you make in your future. Whether it is paid or not, an internship is more than worth your time.

Renting an Apartment in NYC

Finding an apartment in NYC can seem like one of the most daunting experiences of your life, especially when on a budget in such an expensive city; but if you break the process down, it becomes far less stressful. The first thing you need to consider is your budget. This will help steer you in the right direction regarding realistic locations, and whether or not you will need a roommate(s). Once you have figured out your budget, begin to look into various areas in the city you are interested in to get a feeling for average pricing and availability. Depending on what you find, you will then be able to determine if you need a roommate or roommates to help split the costs of your apartment. It’s very important to have your budget, ideal locations, and roommates all finalized before beginning your search. This way, you won’t waste any time during the process.

 

New York City

Once all your preferences are set, you should first browse various websites to see what’s available. It’s important to be wary of what you see online, though, as many posts are scams. There are websites pertaining to all cities, but two of the most legitimate sites in NYC are www.citihabitats.com and www.streeteasy.com. Though these sites guarantee real listings and great service from licensed professionals, they often come with hefty broker fees. Broker fees are often 15% of one year’s rent. In addition to this, you will have to put down a deposit upon signing the lease, so it’s vital to keep these costs in mind when choosing how to pursue your apartment.

A different approach to take is to use Craigslist or sites like HotPads. These sites are more risky, in that one can never be sure who they are dealing with on the other end. However, some of the best deals are on these sites and often do not come with a broker’s fee. Craigslist has an option to look for only no fee apartments, and you can even look for sublets or roommates if you are having difficulty finding any. Sometimes going with a sublet is a favorable option, because you often won’t have to pay a broker’s fee or deposit, depending on your roommate. This is also a more non-committal option, as you won’t sign a lease. If you are looking for something temporary or short-term, subletting may be ideal.

Once you have found a bunch of places to look at, check them all out to get a feeling for what you like best. Walk around the area at night to make sure you feel safe, and get a feeling for the neighborhood at large. Other factors to consider are pets, walk-ups versus elevator buildings, and whether or not you prefer having a doorman. Once you figure out exactly what you want upon viewing these apartments, your search will narrow down quite a bit.

Once you’ve found the apartment you love, sign a lease – FAST! Apartments go off the market like rapid fire in NYC, and it can be horribly disappointing to lose a place you love; however, this is incredibly common. Once you do get to lease signing, read the fine print extremely closely, as you may be surprised by what you see. One of the biggest issues today with apartments in NYC is bed bugs. Landlords are required to tell you if there have been cases of bed bugs within the past year in the building, but they may not be as forthcoming with that information as you would like. If there have been bed bugs in the building recently, it will be in your lease, so be sure to look for that disclosure or anything else that seems out of the ordinary.

After you’ve signed your lease, celebrate and enjoy your new life in one of the greatest cities in the world!

How do I Improve My Credit Score?

When it comes to the importance of improving your credit score, it is almost as important as losing weight!
Credit Score
Whether your credit is bad or relatively okay, you need to know your current position before you try to improve your credit score. Free credit reports can be obtained one every calendar year. If you haven’t gotten yours yet, now is the time to do so. Before proceeding with anything, make certain there are no mistakes on your credit report. If you find something fishy, be sure to report it, have it investigated and maybe even have it removed from your report.

If you want to improve your credit score, like we all do, then here are a few steps that will help you quickly improve your credit score:

1. Pay Down Your Current Cards – While it may not be at the top of your list, it is important to pay down your current credit cards. When you go into a bank for a loan, lenders want to see a significant difference between your available credit and the credit that you’ve used – or are currently using. Balances under 30% of your credit limit are great, but lower than 10% is fantastic! Start with the highest-rate credit card or the credit card that is closest to be being paid off.

2. Get a Credit Card – If you don’t already have a credit card or just have one, apply for a new credit card. You can build your credit by using your credit and then paying off the balance. If your credit happens to be too poor, get a secured credit card. These are similar to that of a pre-paid debit card, as you load money onto the card and that is your credit limit, except that these report to the credit bureaus. Make sure to get a secured card that reports to all three of the major credit bureaus in order to benefit the most.

3. Get an Installment Loan – Revolving, which is considered a credit card, and installment, which is a student loan, a mortgage and a personal loan, are known to be the best types of credit to improve your credit history and your credit score. Get an installment loan if you can – even if it’s a small personal loan.

4. Don’t Max Out Your Cards – There’s no reason to max out every single one of your credit cards. Regardless of whether you pay it back quickly or not, your credit score will not benefit from maxed out credit cards.

Most delinquencies will appear on your credit history for as many as seven years, so you can’t expect to rebuild your credit history and improve your credit score overnight. It is possible to improve your score, though, and it is worth the time and effort to do so. Follow the four steps above and you’ll be well on your way to improving your credit score!

Budgeting College Style

Every college student knows that money does not exactly grow on trees. Sometimes you have to make choices about what you do or buy based on how much money you have. This is called budgeting and it is an important skill to have, especially in today’s economy.

college saving

The summer is an especially hard time to budget because of all the fun stuff to do and the free time to do it, but the more you save now the more you will have come the fall, and the start of the school year.

A few tips to help budget and save money are:

1. Limit how many times you go out to eat, each time you go out you are typically paying for food at a higher price than you need to. For lunch it is easy to buy cold cuts and make sandwiches instead of going to a deli to buy them. Not only will it be cheaper, but cold cuts can last for several meals making the cost even less.

2. Try to find free or cheaper things to go to. Look around your area for free activities such as concerts, fairs or even just going to the park or the beach. It is easy to find fun things to do that are free or inexpensive if you just spend sometime looking for them.

3. Keep track of your spending. If you keep a record of what you spend your money on, you not only will see how much you money you have and how much you are spending, but you can also see what you do not need to buy, and places where you can save a little extra money.

Has Gold Gotten too Valuable to Invest In?

With the stock market wavering from boom to crash, and banks offering interest rates on your money that cannot even keep up with inflation many investors have looked to commodities as a way to put their money to work. Among commodities the leader of the pack both historically and lately is gold.

gold bars

Gold has been through bubbles for thousands of years. At one time it was the mark of a king, then the sole currency of the land, and with the widespread use of paper money, gold was simply an “idea” tucked away in a bank somewhere. But of late, with the markets and world in turmoil, gold has seen its profile rise. In fact, gold has been on a steady climb for the past 10 years reaching a peak just under $2000 an ounce in early 2011. That is a remarkable climb from 2008 when the yellow metal was hovering around $800 an ounce. Lately, there has been a slight pull back and many investors are asking the question: Is the gold bubble bursting or is it just a pull back as gold refuels for another rise.

The recent rise in gold has been a result of numerous geo-political factors. From the European debt crisis, to the U.S. housing bubble to the conflicts in the Middle East all of these uncertainties have sent investors to so-called safety nets like commodities with gold deemed the safest. However, unlike when people carried a leather pouch full of gold coins, gold as currency is the same creation of the mind as paper money. Its only worth what people think its worth and in the end, in a true crisis, you can’t eat it. So, really as the currency of last resort, its not really much of a bastion should all other forms of money break down.

Next, is the theory from investors that “they’re not making anymore.” Well, unlike beach front property, they kind of are. As gold prices have soared, many companies are exploring old abandon mines, or digging deeper in existing mines in an effort to root out more ore. Much the way, fracking has become viable in the oil industry, reviving these once dead mines is enabling gold miners to find new sources that were once too costly to be profitable. That certainly alters the supply side of the equation.

Finally, ten years in and the world is changing. While turmoil still abounds, things seem to be settling in. The Middle East conflicts appear to be closer to reaching a result as opposed to winding up and the financial crisis in the West is now one of dealing with the results than the shock of discovering the debt crisis. So with uncertainty on the decline gold may likely follow.

While $400 an ounce gold may not be something that will be seen any time soon, I would not be so quick to assume $4000 an ounce is right around the corner.

Banks vs. Credit Unions

Before starting a savings account, making investments, and making your own financial plan, you have one choice to make. Should you put your trust in a bank or a credit union? From the outside, the two financial institutions appear the same. What you do not know, however, could be the difference between becoming a member of a local bank or the local credit union.

Charles Funk, president and chief executive officer of MidWestOne Bank in Iowa City, Iowa delves into the subject.

“From the outside, banks and credit unions look basically the same,” Funk says of the two financial institutions. However, there is one distinct difference. Credit unions were created with the goal and mission to serve the under served. Taking a quick look at how credit unions have grown into a large brand shows how the original goal has been strayed from.

Banks have common stock and shareholders, whereas credit unions have members instead of shareholders. This also means that, unlike banks, credit unions do not pay income taxes. This allows them to use more of the money the collect for profit.

Banks and credit unions both offer similar services, from checking to savings accounts but how they operate on the inside is not as similar as the outside appears.

When it comes down to it, the choice between using a bank or credit union is up to the student. The thing to remember is to check all available options and find the one that works best for you.

My First Certificate of Deposit

Certificate of deposits are basically similar to a savings account that earns interest. The interest rates are only fixed interest rates. These types of accounts can only be set up through a commercial bank. When a person gets a CD, they will generally have it for only 1 month to 5 years. CD accounts benefits anyone who gets it, because you cannot withdraw any funds from that CD account. If you do, you will have to incur a penalty.

CD

If you want to setup one of these accounts you will have to visit a bank branch. Some banks even let you open these CD accounts up online. For example, if you open up a CD account with Chase, you will have to choose from a 6 month account, and up. These accounts require a $1,000 opening balance. If you have that, you will be on your way to go. Some banks require a opening balance of $5,000, or more to get started with them. The same rules will apply if you visit the branch in person, as far as the opening balance and information needed.

You will need information as far as your social security number, driver’s license or state identification, and checking, savings, or brokerage account and routing number to make your initial deposit. Some of these banks let you pick a term for as long as 10 years, but as stated before, it depends what bank you open it through.

Depending on the length of the CD term that you choose, that will determine the interest rate. The higher the term, the higher the interest rate will be. It doesn’t matter which term you choose, the opening amount will still be the same. All you would have to do after you have all the required information, is fill out the application, whether online or in person. These applications will not take much of your time. The entire process is simple, and before you know it, your CD account will be open in no time. They are good accounts to have, if you are looking to save some money with interest. You will just need to make sure that you have that opening balance already so that you won’t have to worry about anything else. Let the interest start building.

How I made -$7 selling my iPad on Amazon

There is nothing worse than mourning the loss of your beloved Mac Book Pro. When my 5-year-old laptop finally died, I eventually decided it was time to purchase a new one. Because this can be quite an expensive endeavor, I chose to sell my iPad and contribute the money I made off of it to my new Mac Book. I stumbled upon Amazon’s trade-in service, which seemed to be the ideal route to go. I could trade my 32 GB iPad 2 with WiFi in for $440 if it was deemed in perfect condition (and it was in perfect condition: no scratches, no sign of use, all buttons operated perfectly), but if it was deemed not quite up to par, I could select to be offered a lesser amount in return. I decided to go for this option, rather than to have my iPad returned to me if it was rejected for the $440, because I needed whatever I could get to put towards my new computer. I’d most likely be offered a little less than $400 if it was determined to be in “good condition” rather than “perfect condition”, so I felt that was still worth it. On top of that, Amazon offers a great price for Mac Books –$100 less than the Apple store — so it seemed like a no-brainer.

All I had to do was submit my iPad to Amazon and fill in a few blanks to describe the condition it was in. Amazon then sent me a shipping label, allowing for free shipping minus the cost of the box I had to buy to send it in. I went to UPS, bought a $7 box, and sent my iPad on its way.

I waited in anticipation for about five days before hearing anything from them. When it arrived at headquarters a few days after sending it, Amazon said the order was “processing” for three more days after that. Finally, my impatience got the best of me and I decided to contact them myself. I spoke to someone via their chat system, and he assured me I’d be informed of my iPad payment by the end of the week. Keeping in mind this was on a Monday that seemed like a long time to wait. But I digress. Finally, later that day, I got an e-mail from Amazon letting me know my order had been processed, and that it had been deemed “unacceptable”. It said its value was “$0.00” and its status was “returned”. On top of my outrage at not being paid a SINGLE dollar for my iPad which was in perfect condition, Amazon went against the option I had checked off to be offered a lesser amount for the gadget, instead of it being returned to me. I was furious. I went back onto Amazon’s chat service, and at first the man I spoke to had nothing of substance to tell me. All he could say was my item had not been accepted, and that was that. His lack of knowledge only added fuel to the fire, so I asked to speak with his supervisor. After a few minutes, another representative joined my chat. I explained my situation to him, and waited a while for his response. Finally, he said, “I am really sorry for this. Your chat has been transferred incorrectly to MP3 digital team. Please hold on while I connect you with our retail team.”

Absolutely dumbfounded, I awaited the FOURTH Amazon representative I would speak to that day. I had never seen such incompetence from such a reputable company in my entire life. I gave the new person I was chatting with my information once again, and she actually had some information to offer me. Apparently, Amazon sends the trade-ins to random merchants, and if that merchant rejects the item, that’s the end of that. Amazon has no record of which merchant processed my item, and thus have no specific reason to give me as to why my iPad was rejected. The woman I was speaking to suggested once I receive the item that was being returned to me, I should send it in again and hope for the best. There was no way I was going to go through this experience again. When I asked her when I’d receive my iPad, she said one to two weeks. Trying my best not to let my frustration get the best of me, I finally let it go and thanked her for her help.

Needless to say, Amazon’s trade-in service is an absolute waste of time and money. Not only did I not make the $440 I expected, but I actually lost seven dollars during the process. iPad sellers: if you want to lose money on your iPad and deal with the most atrocious customer service in the history of e-commerce, absolutely go for it and use Amazon’s trade-in service! My sarcasm aside, I will be 100% skeptical going forward when using Amazon for anything it offers at all.

Smart Online Shopping, Part 2: Saving

If you’ve done any online shopping, you’ve probably noticed that the original item price rarely matched the checkout price. Check out these tips for saving between “add to cart” and “submit order.”

When you’re choosing items for your cart, pay attention to items that are specially marked and know what the website’s various symbols mean. Certain items may be marked as eligible for free or discounted shipping, or you may be able to save by ordering multiple items of a certain brand, line or style. If you don’t know what symbols to look for or you don’t notice the symbols at all, you may be missing out on savings without even realizing it.

You should also pay attention to the header and the sidebars throughout the website, as they often advertise upcoming sales. Online stores run sales and promotions as often as physical stores, if not more often, but the ads for these sales aren’t always delivered to your doorstep or played during commercial breaks. Unless you’re ordering on a strict deadline, simply waiting a few extra days for the start of an upcoming promotion could save you 10% or more on your order.

But the savings don’t stop once you’ve finished filling your cart and clicked “proceed to checkout.” There are still opportunities to save as you work your way toward submitting your order.

You can earn big savings if you’re not afraid to wait for your order. Vendors and delivery services know that last minute shoppers will opt for more expensive overnight shipping so don’t fall victim to the procrastination price hike. Choose standard shipping options rather than rush options, choose ground over air, and rely on the USPS instead of FedEx or UPS when doing so will save you cash.

If you’re lucky enough to be ordering from a company that has both an online shop and physical stores, you may be able to select an even cheaper shipping option: ship to store. Some stores allow you to send your order to the nearest physical store for a cheaper price, or for free, as long as you come to pick it up yourself. If there’s a store near you and you don’t mind a short drive, you could save big.

Now for the golden egg of online shopping tips: Always – I repeat, ALWAYS – search for a promo code. To do this, simply open a new tab in your browser and navigate to Google. Type in the name of the company or website, and the words “coupon code,” “promo code” or “savings code.” You will be given a list of websites containing various alphanumeric codes that you can enter at checkout for big savings. It’s free, it’s easy and it works almost every single time.

The most common coupon codes are for free shipping, and 5%, 10% or 15% off your order. Sometimes, the codes come with a stipulation that you spend a certain amount, or have purchased a certain brand of items. It doesn’t hurt to try entering the codes, either. If the code is expired, faulty or doesn’t apply to your order, the website will let you know and you can usually just try a different code. Keep trying until something works.

The only catch is that most websites will only let you use one code per order, so be sure to calculate the savings if there are multiple codes to choose from. While “10% Off” may be tempting, that “free shipping” code may work out to a larger savings in the long run. Or, if you’re just a few dollars off of being eligible for that “$5 off $50” code, maybe you can add on that extra item you were debating without feeling guilty.

If you time your purchases carefully, shop the sales, and aren’t afraid to try a few promo codes before you checkout, you can save big online with minimal effort.

Another way to save, if you’re not in a rush is to abandon your shopping cart. Many retailers respond by offering you a coupon, or a targeted online ad to try to get you to return to the store.

Check out the first article in this series at “Smart Online Shopping, Part 1: Security” for tips on a safe online shopping experience!