Samsung Pay’s expanding to cheaper phones and online payments in 2016

samsungpay

Mobile payment systems are the new fingerprint sensors: Everybody’s got to have one, it seems. But while Android Pay and Apple Pay enjoy fairly widespread phone support—at least where mobile payments are accepted—Samsung’s own creatively named Samsung Pay has been limited to the Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy S6 variants alone.

But not for long!

Not only will Samsung Pay likely start landing on more modest Samsung phones next year, global co-general manager of Samsung Pay Thomas Ko told Reuters, but the service will also expand to making online payments. Samsung’s clearly banking on ubiquity to help propel Samsung Pay forward: Ko says that the mobile wallet is accepted at far more locations than its rivals, due to its ability to work with older payment terminals and not just new NFC-equipped models. Online payments, meanwhile, will transform the service into a PayPal rival.

The more ways you can use a mobile wallet, the better—and teaching Samsung phone owners to store their payment info in Samsung Pay for swift online payments could coax them into pulling out their phones at the cash register more often, too. Time will tell whether Samsung’s in-house solution can gain traction in the face of the Android Pay/Apple Pay combo, but wider phone support and expanded payment options are nothing but a good thing for Samsung Pay users.

New Obamacare Premiums Available Online This Weekend

New health law premiums available online this weekendWASHINGTON — Premiums are expected to rise in many parts of the country as a new sign-up season under President Barack Obama’s health care law starts Nov. 1. But consumers have options if they shop around, and an upgraded government website will help them compare.

Consumers can see their own premiums for 2016 starting this Sunday night onHealthCare.gov, officials said Friday. The federal website will serve 38 states this time. States running their own sites may have different timetables.

Online health insurance markets are entering their third year, offering taxpayer-subsidized private coverage. That’s helped cut the share of Americans who are uninsured to about 9 percent, a historical low. Still, the many moving parts of the Affordable Care Act don’t always click smoothly, and Americans remain divided about “Obamacare.”

Here’s a look at what’s new for 2016:

Average Premium? No Such Thing

Independent experts are forecasting bigger premium increases in 2016 than last year, averaging from the high single digits to the teens. Next week the government will release a master file that researchers use to piece together national trends.

Averages won’t tell the story, because health care is local. Premiums can vary widely from state to state, and within a state.

Most states won’t be like Minnesota, where all five carriers selling individual policies on the insurance exchange have posted double-digit hikes, from 14 percent to 49 percent.

They’re not likely to be like southern California either, where officials forecast an average rise of 1.8 percent for consumers who stay with their current plan.

For more than 8 in 10 customers, premium increases will be cushioned by taxpayer subsidies. That will absorb most of the cost, but it still may pay to shop around.

New Help Figuring Out Costs

Too many consumers look only at the monthly premium when picking a plan. They shouldn’t. Other costs can be just as important. These include the deductible — the amount individuals must pay each year before their plan kicks in — and cost-sharing or copays for medical services.

Trying to demystify the process, HealthCare.gov will feature a new calculator that estimates total costs based on a consumer’s expected medical needs.

Tip: Even if consumers use the calculator, the website will still rank options starting with the lowest premium plan. Look below that figure for total costs.

Patients who need medical follow-up for ongoing health issues may come out ahead by paying a higher monthly premium for a plan that has lower out-of-pocket costs. Instead of picking a plan at the “bronze” coverage level, they might look at “silver,” which also offers subsidies for cost sharing, based on the consumer’s income.

Smoother Renewals?

As before, returning customers who don’t want to make any changes will get automatically re-enrolled. That process will be smoother this year, insurers say, because the government has better information to update subsidies for customers who just want to keep the same plan.

Tip: Returning customers must make sure to file a tax return. Those who got subsidies in 2014 could lose their financial assistance next year if they have not filed.

Some New Features Still in Testing

Consumer advocates have been clamoring for an upgrade that allows patients to easily search for insurance plans that their doctor participates in.

That’s coming, but it may not be ready by Nov. 1, the date when consumers can start signing up.

Administration officials say the doctor look-up — as well as a prescription drug finder — are in final testing. They want to be sure the information is accurate before flipping the switch.

Tip: Trust but verify. Call doctors and insurers to check doctor and hospital listings.

Penalty Peril

The tax penalty for people remaining uninsured in 2016 is no slap on the wrist. It’s high enough to cover several weeks of groceries.

The fine will rise to the greater of either $695 or 2.5 percent of taxable income. That’s for someone without coverage for a full 12 months. This year the comparable numbers are $325 or 2 percent of income, whichever is greater.

Several organizations, from TurboTax to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, will be offering online tax penalty calculators. That can put a dollar figure on the trade-offs for those who are on the fence about signing up.

Website Upgrades

Changes for HealthCare.gov include new privacy protections. A “privacy manager” will let consumers opt out of embedded connections to third-party websites. If customers have enabled the “Do Not Track” setting on their browsers, the government will automatically honor their preferences.

In another improvement, consumers will get real-time reminders to enter Social Security numbers and key details from immigration documents. That can head off major problems later on by helping the government quickly verify a person’s identity.

Officials say a maddening glitch that resulted in some consumers getting locked out of their accounts has been fixed. Call center operators can now help reset passwords for consumers who no longer have access to the email address they used to set up their HealthCare.gov accounts.

Date Change

For the third year in a row, the dates for HealthCare.gov’s sign-up season have changed.

This time, it’s Nov. 1 through Jan. 31, 2016.

7 Keys to Successful Price Matching

Caucasian woman admiring shirt in mirrorThe best way to get a good deal is to shop around, right? But running from store to store can gobble up time and gas. That’s where price matching comes in: Top retailers from Best Buy to Walmart have pledged to match competitors’ prices, so consumers can get the best deals from around town with only one stop. Target recently expanded its policy to include a total of 29 online retailers. Problem is, these guarantees are far from straightforward. Cheapism examined eight retailers’ price-match policies and found scads of rules and exclusions. Here are seven things every bargain shopper should know about price matching.

Only a few stores match online prices. Some retailers match local competitors’ websites, but many policies exclude online pricing. Target is one of only a few stores that have agreed to match prices at select online retailers, even if there is no corresponding store nearby. The price-match guarantees at Best Buy and Walmart also extend to specified online competitors, including Amazon. Shoppers can scan items at these stores with the Amazon app on their phones to find out if they can get a better price without ordering online. One catch with online price matching: It does not extend to marketplace items listed by third-party sellers.

‘Local’ has different definitions. Most policies require the competitor to be a local store, but what qualifies as “local” may be up for debate. Retailers tend to leave it to store managers familiar with the area to decide what lies within the same market or within a “reasonable distance.” Best Buy sets a specific radius of 25 miles, while JCPenney stores in Alaska will match the prices of any similar store in the entire state.

A competitor’s print ad is the best evidence. Each retailer has its own rules about what qualifies as proof that another store is offering a lower price. A print ad with the competitor’s price clearly displayed is the only verification accepted everywhere. A photocopy, picture or mobile version of the ad may not work. Walmart doesn’t officially require any form of proof (an employee can call the other store to verify a claim), but shoppers suggest bringing in an ad to minimize the wait and hassle.

The items must be identical. The item you’re buying and the item offered for less at the other store must be identical in every way — brand, style, color, condition, size, weight and — perhaps trickiest of all — model number. Retailers such as Home Depot, Lowe’s and Best Buy sell many high-priced appliances and electronics with store-specific model numbers, which rules them out for price matching.

Certain sales and promotions are excluded. Retailers won’t match another store’s going-out-of-business or clearance-sale prices. Limited-time promotions, rebates and offers of free products or gift cards with purchase are also unlikely to be eligible. One exception: Walmart matches buy-one-get-one-free offers as long as the ad lists the price of the item. In general, an ad must specify a price in order for a retailer to match it; a percentage or dollar amount off is not enough.

Many retailers offer price adjustments even after purchase. Shoppers may be able to request a price match for something they’ve already purchased, depending how much time has passed. Some policies include a specific time frame for price adjustment — Target now allows 14 days, for example — but often the decision is left to a store manager. Some stores offer a price adjustment only if they’ve dropped their own price, not if a customer spots a better deal from a competitor.

Policies are subject to employee interpretation. This can cut both ways. At JCPenney, Cheapism found that managers seem to have a lot of authority to match competitors’ prices, so it may not hurt to stretch the limits of the store’s price-matching policy. At Walmart, on the other hand, shoppers complain that employees deviate from corporate policy in denying customer requests. In either case, it helps to know the fine print going in. Cheapism’s comparison of stores that price match highlights important features of each policy and offers some store-specific money-saving tips.

Why So Many Black Friday Deals Are Here Already

Macy's Black Friday

Black Friday may be on life support.

The day after Thanksgiving, replete with doorbuster deals at jam-packed department stores and long lines at electronics purveyors, has for years marked the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season. But Black Friday continues to diminish in importance for shoppers as major retailers start offering deals online right after Halloween in order to get the jump on one another and drive more holiday sales overall, and more people choose to shop on their mobile devices at their own leisure.

Black Friday was named for the start of the period when stores traditionally began to claim a profit for the year, with black ink used to mark profits by accountants, versus red ink for losses. But Black Friday shopping as a relic of years past is once again starting to take shape this November.

On Nov. 1, Walmart (WMT) began offering discounts on thousands of items online, including toys and electronics. For example, Apple’s (AAPL) iPad Mini 2 is being sold for $199, down from $268. A 48-inch RCA smart TV could be had for $299.99 compared to $319.99 previously. At the top of its homepage, Walmart is promoting “hot holiday rollbacks all season long”, likely in an attempt to reawaken sluggish sales in the U.S. before the holiday season kicks into gear.

Walmart’s fiercest rival, Amazon (AMZN) isn’t standing idly by. On Nov. 2, Amazon rolled out its new “deals of the day” holiday season promotion, which will lead up to its more serious discounts for Black Friday on Nov. 27.

Reminiscent of once popular flash sales, Amazon’s deals are timed, in order to create a sense of urgency among gift-seeking consumers. Some of the first deals offered by Amazon include video-game Metal Gear Solid 5 for Sony’s (SNE) PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s (MSFT) Xbox One, which is discounted to $39.99 from $59. A pair of Saucony running sneakers is listed for $39.99, down from $70 previously.While Walmart and Amazon do battle online for holiday dollars in the early going, Target (TGT) isn’t joining the fray. The Minneapolis-based retailer began to stock its stores with holiday merchandise on Nov. 1, but isn’t offering any specific deals in the weeks leading up to Black Friday. Target didn’t return a request for comment.

Meanwhile, department store retailer J.C. Penney (JCP) downplayed the declining relevance of Black Friday, saying via email that “Black Friday remains an important shopping period for the company.”

“Black Friday is not dead, but it’s definitely different — I don’t think it will ever die, but it has to change because customers are changing,” said Kathy Grannis Allen, senior director at the National Retail Federation. Those changes to traditional Black Friday buying, fueled by a combination of more mobile shopping and earlier deals offered by retailers, were front and center during Black Friday 2014.

U.S. shoppers spent $9.1 billion at brick-and-mortar stores on Black Friday last year, according to data from research firm ShopperTrak. That represented a drop of 7 percent compared with Black Friday in 2013. In 2013, sales at physical retailers declined an even steeper 13.2 percent from the previous year.

Customer traffic on Black Friday has also declined by a similar amount, falling 5.6 percent in 2014 and 11 percent in 2013, according to ShopperTrak.

However, online and mobile shopping have surged. Online sales on Thanksgiving Day last year increased 14.3 percent over 2013, with sales on Black Friday up 9.5 percent year over year, according to IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark. Black Friday mobile traffic reached 49.6 percent of all online traffic, an increase of 25 percent from 2013. Black Friday mobile sales accounted for 27.9 percent of total online sales, up 28.2 percent from a year earlier.

“Black Friday is not irrelevant, it’s just that a lot more people are [buying] on mobile devices,” says Hannah Egan, product strategy specialist at IBM Commerce. Egan notes that mobile buying experiences have improved, as retailers have done a better job of targeting consumers with specific promotions on mobile devices.

Adds Egan, “the mobile device has become one’s personal shopper — those retailers that will win are the ones who treat their customers as one customer, offering good deals both online and in-store.”

If traditional Black Friday shopping at physical stores is starting to become a thing of the past, there may be some distinct winners and losers from the retail sector.

Winners could include companies that sell electronics such as Best Buy (BBY) or Amazon, as consumers look for good deals on these products throughout November and December and not just on Black Friday weekend. On the other hand, companies hawking impulse items people would buy for themselves while they’re out shopping on Black Friday, such as winter coats, boots and other apparel, may be hurt.

“Athleisure normally sells well over Black Friday weekend because it’s never discounted,” noted Allen, suggesting the likes of Lululemon (LULU) and Nike (NKE) could be impacted if fewer consumers are in the malls to buy yoga pants and joggers.

And this year, November may also mean another in which the Black Friday buying orgy fades further into the background of importance for retailers.

Amazon’s a Better Fit for Clothing Shoppers Than You Think

African American woman shopping for clothes

Amazon has long been seen as a predator to brick-and-mortar stores, but operators in one category in particular may have thought they were in the clear. Clothing retailers assumed they’d have an easier time keeping consumers because they’d want to try on clothing before making a purchase.

Unfortunately for those retailers, it’s getting harder and harder to buy into that line of thought as Amazon’s apparel business continues to grow by leaps and bounds, and customers become more comfortable buying apparel and accessories online.

Amazon (AMZN) will sell about $16 billion in apparel this year, or about 5 percent of the U.S. apparel industry, according to Cowen analyst John Blackledge, and Blackledge predicts that percentage will rise to 14 percent by 2020. Following that trajectory would mean that Amazon would displace Macy’s (M) as the No. 1 U.S. apparel retailer by 2017.

But the belief that shoppers will be reluctant to buy clothes online still persists in some quarters.

At a conference in October, panelists were discussing innovations in retail and the connected store, when one speaker singled out clothing retailers.

“Retail is going to win out against Amazon because you’re not going to buy your jeans off of Amazon if you can’t try them on and touch them, feel them,” said Steve Cheney, co-founder and SVP of Estimote, a company that makes beacons that can communicate with customers’ smart phones when they’re in stores.

But Cheney’s comments seem outdated in a world where 69 percent of consumers in the U.S. regularly buy products online, according to Forrester Research (FORR). U.S. consumers spent $52.2 billion online on apparel and accessories last year, up from $28 billion in 2010, according to eMarketer. That number is expected to grow to $86.4 billion in 2018.

“With free returns it’s very easy for someone to purchase two items, try them on in the living room, and send back the one they don’t like,” Gartner analyst Gene Alvarez said. “To think Amazon or another online retailer will not figure this out and make it attractive to consumers is a dangerous position.”

Not only does online shopping tend to offer free returns, but it also offers a larger selection compared to a finite physical store.

“Much of what you find in stores may not fit you and isn’t exactly what you’re looking for anyway,” Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuru-Kodali said. “Online actually offers you much greater and more appropriate selections online.”

Amazon has also been working on ramping up its fashion efforts for years, and is even considering creating a fashion label of its own. At the WWD Apparel and Retail CEO Summit in October, Jeff Yurcisin, vice president of clothing atAmazon Fashion and CEO of Amazon’s Shopbop unit, said that 40 million customers shop Amazon Fashion.

Cathy Beaudoin, president of Amazon Fashion, was hired by Bezos in 2008 to help grow the company’s fashion business. “We needed to be important to customers in categories that they buy from every day,” she told The New York Times.

Amazon has also taken steps to break into the fashion world through moves such as sponsoring the 2015 New York Fashion Week for men and the 2012 Costume Institute Benefit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and hiring a former fashion director for Barneys, Julie Gilhart, as a consultant for three years.

And while there are many online retailers that sell clothing, Amazon, as always, maintains a key advantage with Prime. Prime members can easily get free shipping and returns, which makes it that much easier to buy a dress and return it if it doesn’t fit.

Sure, there may always be a group of consumers that prefer visiting a physical store and shopping at a designer brand as opposed to Amazon.com, but the idea that clothing is inherently safe from the threat of e-commerce is becoming increasingly untenable.

“While there will always be a desire to try things on in the flesh, the increasing availability of next day delivery and free returns means customers can act on the instant gratification of buying online at any time, in any place,” ABI Research analyst Patrick Connolly said. “As a result, clothing cannot rest on its laurels.”

7 Best Rewards Credit Cards for Holiday Shopping

Row of Credit CardsFrom presents for the kids to special food for family get-togethers, holiday traditions have the potential to put a significant dent in your wallet. However, you can take the sting out of that spending by earning rewards for every purchase.

Rewards credit cards come in many flavors, with some offering cash back and others providing miles or points that can be redeemed for travel, gift cards or merchandise.

U.S. News spoke to four credit experts to learn which cards they recommend consumers use this holiday season. They say shoppers shouldn’t only worry about which card they select, but to also focus on how to maximize rewards.

“I’m a strong believer that rewards cards are best used by people who pay off their balance each month,” says Jason Steele, the credit card expert at CompareCards.com. If you fail to pay off your balance, you could get charged interest that will negate any rewards you earn.

Online shoppers should also always visit their card’s website to look for special offers before making a purchase. “A credit card bonus mall is an online portal that allows you to get extra points or cash back on your online purchases,” says Sean McQuay, a credit card expert for NerdWallet. “But remember, the consumer has to use the card associated with that bonus mall to take advantage.”

Beyond that general advice, McQuay and Steele say it helps if you are swiping the right card for you. Here are their picks for the best rewards cards for holiday shopping, along with those of Bethy Hardeman, chief consumer advocate at Credit Karma, and Jill Gonzalez, credit card analyst for WalletHub.

Best rewards credit card for online shopping: Chase Freedom

Any rewards credit card can be used online, but Hardeman, Steele and McQuay all single out the Chase Freedom card as a particularly good choice this holiday season.

The card offers 5 percent cash back on categories that change quarterly. This quarter’s bonus retailers include Amazon, a go-to destination for many holiday shoppers, as well as Zappos, diapers.com and Audible. “[The current bonuses] are very helpful for those who like to do shopping online with ease and convenience,” Hardeman says.

For all other purchases, Chase Freedom offers 1 percent cash back. Plus, you get a $100 bonus if you spend $500 in the first three months after you open your account.

Best rewards credit card for in-store shopping: Blue Cash Preferred from American Express

If you’d rather shop in stores, Steele recommends using the American Express Blue Cash Preferred card.

The 3 percent cash back you get for department store purchases is nice, but the 6 percent offered at supermarkets is even nicer. “While you may not think of supermarkets as a place for gifts, you can find a lot of gift cards there,” Steele says. You can either give those gift cards as presents, or use them to buy presents at other retailers.

You may need to register for cash back promotions on the American Express website, and the supermarket cash back offer is limited to $6,000 in purchases. Other card perks include a $150 statement credit after you spend $1,000 on your card in the first three months and a 0 percent APR in the first 15 months.

Best rewards credit cards for cash back: Discover it and U.S. Bank Cash+

For those who split their shopping between online and brick-and-mortar retailers, the Discover it and U.S. Bank Cash+ cards are two solid options.

The Discover it card offers 1 percent cash back for most purchases with the exception of three bonus categories that rotate quarterly. For the current quarter, cardholders can get 5 percent back at Amazon, department stores and clothing stores. “It also offers one of the best bonus malls in the industry so it’s an awesome choice for shopping online for the holidays,” McQuay says

The bonuses are even better if you use Apple Pay, Steele says. Currently, Discover it offers 10 percent cash back for up to $10,000 of in-store purchases made with the mobile payment service through the end of the year. New card members also receive double cash back for their first 12 billing cycles, which means you could earn a whopping 20 percent cash back before 2016.

For those who’d prefer a Visa to Discover, the U.S. Bank Cash+ card offers 5 percent cash back on two categories of your choice, on the first $2,000 in purchases. You can also earn 2 percent cash back on one category, such as gas or groceries, that you select. On top of that, you get 1 percent back on all other purchases.

Hardeman likes the card because it allows consumers to evaluate where they will spend the most and select the appropriate categories.

Best rewards credit card to help you stay out of debt: Citi Double Cash

The Citi Double Cash card gets a nod from McQuay as having one of the highest flat cash back rates in the industry. Users get 2 percent cash back on all purchases, with no rotating categories to worry about.

However, the catch is the card gives you 1 percent when you make a purchase and 1 percent when you pay your bill. For those tempted to carry over some debt into the new year, the card’s structure could provide a little motivation to pay off the balance ASAP.

Best rewards credit card for big spenders: Chase Sapphire Preferred

If you have a long gift list, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card could be a good choice, according to Gonzalez.

New account holders who charge $4,000 in the first three months receive 40,000 bonus points, worth $500 of travel through Chase. The card also offers other perks for travelers, including 2 points per dollar spent on travel expenses and restaurants, point transfers to eligible frequent flyer and hotel rewards programs and a 20 percent discount on travel redemptions.

The card is free for the first year but charges a $95 annual fee after that.

Best rewards credit card for those with average credit: QuicksilverOne from Capital One

Not everyone has stellar credit and for those with a few dings on their record, Gonzalez recommends the QuicksilverOne from Capital One. “It is a bit easier to get your hands on,” she says.

The card has a $39 annual fee and doesn’t offer any upfront bonus like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, but it does come with 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases. Not too shabby for a card that may be willing to approve customers who wouldhave their applications rejected elsewhere.

Before you start applying for cards, check your credit score to find out whether you should start with a card like QuicksilverOne or if you can apply for a more lucrative account. Hardeman points out too many applications at once could drop your score. “You don’t want a bunch of inquiries on your report and nothing to show for it,” she says.

Should You Use a Third Party to Negotiate Your Cable Bill?

Woman paying bills online at homeDespite many consumers’ interest in streaming content online, TV subscription prices continue to rise. In fact, consumer research from Leichtman Research Group Inc. found in a survey of 1,222 American households earlier this year that the mean reported monthly spending on TV cable, satellite or other TV subscriptions is nearly $100, an increase of 39 percent since 2010.

If you notice your bills creeping up, then maybe it’s time to call your provider and ask for a better rate. But if you hate sitting on hold or negotiating, a few new services will do the dirty work for you.

BillCutterz and BillFixers

Companies like BillCutterz and BillFixers will call to negotiate on your behalf in exchange for half of whatever discount they negotiate for the first year.

BillCutterz has been in business since 2009, and customers most often request help negotiating cellphone, cable, satellite TV and Internet bills, according to vice president Sydney Alcala. The company can also negotiate gym memberships, landscaping, pest control and alarm and security bills. Overall, the average savings is around 35 percent, and customers can save 10 percent off BillCutterz’s cut by giving the savings amount for a year upfront rather than splitting the costs monthly. (If the savings last longer than a year, you keep all the of savings beyond those first 12 months.)

A more recent entrant to the market, brothers and recent graduates Julian and Ben Kurland launched BillFixers in July 2014 as a side gig. Now Ben works on it full time and Julian is part time, along with five employees. The brothers say they attract a variety of customers, and they’re able to negotiate a discount around 95 percent of the time.

“You get folks who are really savvy about dealing with money, and that’s why they come to us,” Ben Kurland says. “You get folks who are just busy and don’t want to deal with the hassle and figure they’ll throw it to someone else.” Senior citizens are another key market, Julian Kurland adds.

Both companies ask that you send a copy of your bill so your negotiator has your account number and knows what you’re currently paying and for what plan. One way he or she can help, according to Alcala, is by identifying premium channels, cellphone insurance or other add-ons you don’t use. “We’ll ask, ‘Do you know you’re paying for that, and is that something that you want?'” she says. “We want to make sure you’re not paying for something you’re not going to use.”

The amount of additional information you must share with BillCutterz or BillFixers depends on what the provider requires. For instance, some providers require the last four digits of your Social Security number or a passcode to verify your identity. If customers balk at giving out their personal information, they can join the call to verify their identity and authorize the negotiator to speak on their behalf.

AirPaper

If you’re ready to cut the cord entirely, a San Francisco-based company called AirPaper will help you minimize hassles by sending a letter to Comcast, Time Warner Cable or Verizon at a cost of $5 (in some cities, you can have someone else return your equipment for an additional fee).

AirPaper launched its Comcast cancellation letter service earlier this year and has since added Time Warner and Verizon. You’ll need to provide the minimum amount of information required by that service provider, which is typically name, address and account number. “When a customer signs up to cancel with our service, we generate a letter and mail it on their behalf to their local Comcast branch,” explains co-founder Eli Pollak. “It’s a fully automated process.”

However, it’s not automated on Comcast’s side, Pollak explains, so it can take five to 10 business days for them to process. And if you’re still under contract, then AirPaper’s process won’t help you avoid early termination fees.

Should You Enlist One of These Company’s Help?

That depends on whether you have the time and motivation to do it yourself. While many people dread negotiating, Stuart Diamond, author of the best-selling book on negotiation “Getting More,” says it’s easier than we think. “[For] small things like phone company discounts, it’s probably better to do it yourself,” he says. “Sit down, figure out your arguments and try to make a human connection.”
Instead of threatening to switch providers (which may not even be an option in some markets), Diamond recommends asking if they’ve ever given a discount to other customers and under what circumstances. “If you can find a precedent, a big company will usually say OK,” he says.

Another strategy is to reference the language on the company’s website. “These companies all have website that promise good customer service, and people hate to contradict themselves,” says Diamond, who also teaches a popular course on negotiation at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. “Just reference their own standards.”

If all else fails and you’re not getting anywhere with one representative, “you can always call back and get somebody else,” Diamond points out.

Some customers first try negotiating themselves and then enlist BillCutterz to see if they can increase their savings, Alcala says. “Since we do this every day, our savings experts have been trained and they know what to say, who to say it to,” she says. “Some people are good negotiators so they can get similar to what we get. Or we can call back and get $20 or $30 off [a month], which is a pretty big difference for most people.”

Ben Kurland says they’ve boiled it down to a science with each provider. “We’ve figured out the right people to talk to and when to talk to them,” he says. (Pro tip: Representatives tend to field fewer calls between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m., according to Ben Kurland, so that’s a good time to call when they’re less frazzled.)

Negotiating yourself means you’ll get to pocket the entire discount without sharing anything with an outside company. But if you put it off or never enlist the help of a third party, then you’re likely leaving money on the table every month – and that won’t do your wallet any favors.

Busted! The 14 Biggest Myths About Black Friday

Holiday Shopping Black FridayEvery year, savvy shoppers find deep discounts online and in stores on Black Friday. Whether they’re looking for the newest, most advanced tech device or the perfect outfit for New Year’s Eve, buyers know retailers will offer some of their best deals during this time.

But are all the deals great? Do you have to shop online to find them? And doBlack Friday sales even have to begin on Black Friday? We’ve addressed these questions, and quite a few more, in our list of the biggest myths about Black Friday. Brush up on some shopping knowledge now, so you’re well prepared for the upcoming deal season.

1. Black Friday Sales Begin on Black Friday

Much like Christmas itself, Black Friday is now a full season. Sure, Black Friday proper is the main attraction, but stores have increasingly started to release deals in waves. Bargains can be found early in the week of Thanksgiving and run all the way through the weekend. (In fact, some of Amazon’s deals have beenavailable all week.) The bottom line is, if you’re doing all your deal-hunting exclusively on Black Friday, then you’re missing out.

2. You’re Missing Out if You Only Shop Online

Companies advertise doorbusters in order to attract customers to their brick-and-mortar stores. But in recent years, as competition has escalated among rival retailers, those eye-catching deals have steadily moved online as well. In fact this year, we saw our first mobile app-only deals and perks.

The reason is simple. Traditional retailers like Walmart, Target and Best Buyknow that online retailers such as Amazon will match their best prices on in-store deals. Thus it only makes sense to offer the same deals online, to remain competitive. The goal is to beat Amazon, but the real winners are deal-hunters.

3. Black Friday Shopping is Dangerous

We’ve all seen the footage. Hordes of crazed holiday shoppers stampede into a store at four in the morning, trampling anyone and everyone in the way. It makes for a morbidly fascinating spectacle, a case study for shoppers as social Darwinists, played out on live TV.

But the truth is that those sorts of incidents are actually extremely rare. We just happen to see the worst on the news because it translates into great TV. While you should be aware of the potential for chaos during your in-store shopping, know that it’s unlikely to reach aggressive proportions.

4. All Black Friday Deals Are Amazing

This is shopping 101. Remember, retailers are in business to make a buck, and they can’t do that if they lose money — or even make too small a profit — on every deal.

Some deals are great, but others are filler. The great ones are there to lure you into buying more stuff, ideally at a healthy markup. So do your research and uncover the truth about those “rock bottom” prices before you buy.

5. All Black Friday Deals Appear in Ads

Nope. For one thing, websites like Amazon don’t even run traditional ads. So you won’t be able to scope out their deals beforehand on TV or in the newspaper. Plus, because most of the big stores want to out-do each other, there’s a certain amount of responsive pricing that comes after the ads debut.

If Walmart, for example, is offering a crazy discount on a TV, and it’s getting a lot of attention for that price, then there’s a good chance that its competitors will consider doing the same at the last minute.

6. Apple’s Black Friday Sale is a Must-Shop Event for Apple Fans

Apple Stores across the country will be packed on Black Friday, but they won’t be offering great deals. Last year, the tech giant offered gift cards with its full-price devices, which was pretty disappointing for shoppers hoping for a discount. If you want a real deal, you’d be better off checking out what third-party retailers such as Walmart, Best Buy and MacMall can do.

Apple doesn’t want to be known as a brand for discounts, but in the past few years, these resellers have been a lot more liberal with their Apple promos. In fact, last Black Friday, Target offered huge gift cards with every iPad model, while the MacBook Air fell to all-time low prices. Check out our roundup of the best advertised Apple device prices for more details on where to shop this year.

7. You Have to Stay Glued to Your Computer All Day to Get Deals

Sure, Black Friday can be stressful. With deals popping up throughout the day, you might feel like you have to keep your eyes on the computer monitor.

But that’s simply not the case. DealNews has you covered. Before you spend 24 hours staring at a pixelated screen, set up an alert with us to receive notifications when your favorite deals are posted. (Keep in mind though that once your deal of choice goes live, you will have to buy quickly.)

8. Once You Hit “Purchase,” It’s Yours

Every year, plenty of shoppers have online orders canceled for various reasons. The price listed on the website might be incorrect (it happened infamously with Best Buy in 2011), or the item might have sold out so fast that the company couldn’t process all the orders before you pressed “purchase.”

On the other hand, check the fine print. If you want to back out of a buy, you might be able to cancel the order. But you might also be stuck if the merchandise is listed as “final sale.”

Just remember, with all the money changing hands, businesses tend to tighten their return policies during the holiday season. Buy wisely, and make sure to ask for gift receipts when necessary.

9. Online Shopping is Always Easier

As anyone who’s lived through Black Friday knows, the online experience isn’t always stress-free. Technology isn’t perfect. Websites can crash or even fail. And when everything works properly, some deals will simply sell out before you can place your order. The latter is a common complaint for flash sales from Amazon, for example. But at least you’re still shopping from home!

10. Luxury Goods Don’t Go on Sale for Black Friday

It’s true that Black Friday emphasizes lower-end electronics, however, in recent years, several luxury retailers have begun offering sales and promotions through their outlets. Stores like Last Call by Neiman Marcus, Barney’s Warehouse and Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th are a few outlets you can expect to participate in Black Friday sales. Plus, even Apple products go on sale now! (Check out our Black Friday clothing guide for more info on luxury items.)

11. Cyber Monday Sales Are Full of Leftovers From Black Friday

Black Friday may get all the attention, but last year Cyber Monday managed to trump Black Friday in terms of overall Editors’ Choice deals (our designation for the best sales of the year, with prices we’ve rarely seen before). So Cyber Monday isn’t a slouch, and it certainly doesn’t just recirculate Black Friday castoffs. Cyber Monday is no longer a holiday you can afford to skip!

12. Doorbusters Are Always Crappy Quality

Bargain bin devices have a reputation for being bottom-of-the-barrel items that nobody wants, and you have to be careful for retailers trying to pass off questionable devices as “special edition.” But over the past few years, the doobuster selections have been showing more flair than usual to entice customers. For example, we’ve seen rock-bottom prices on laptops with better-than-average specs, as well as eye-popping TV deals from brands you’ve actually heard of before.

13. Black Friday is Overrated

Sure, it’s bloated. Yes, there’s plenty of nonsense. And in all the chaos, some shoppers can forget that they’re members of the human race. We get it. Black Friday can be crazy. But if you do your research and stick with DealNews, you can find some amazing prices out there, many of which will be the best of the year. When you know what to look for and expect, then you’re less likely to get burned by Black Friday.

14. You Should Feel Bad if You Miss Black Friday

But, despite all the good deals we’ll see during Black Friday, don’t beat yourself up if you can’t partake in the savings this year. The Black Friday season is special because it contains such a high level of amazing discounts in a short period of time, but we’ll frequently see these promos again. They might require more patience and hawk-eyed attention throughout the year, but you can find many Black Friday prices again later if you miss out. It’s just a matter of when.