Free money. It sounds too good to be true, or like something you'd be offered on a late-night infomercial. But, the reality is, there are lots of ways you could be claiming free money that you're probably missing out on.
To avoid missing out on any cash that you're entitled to, make sure you do these five key things.
1. Squeeze more cash from your employer
Only 68% of private sector workers with access to a 401(k) retirement savings account take advantage of it, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed in 2015. If you don't invest in a 401(k) you have access to, you're not only giving up tax perks, but also potentially any employer match you're entitled to — literally free money your employer adds to match contributions you make.
Employers match money in different ways, but a dollar-for-dollar match on the first 6% of what an employee contributes is fairly common, according to HR management company Zenefits. If you earn $50,000 a year — close to the median income for a worker between ages 25 and 35 — and you invest 6% of your income, that's $3,000. A dollar-for-dollar match would mean your employer puts an additional annual $3,000 in your 401(k).
Don't get a 401(k) match? It's still worth talking to HR about other valuable benefits you might not have heard of — or might be able to negotiate. For example, some companies offer a "cash in lieu" of health care option if, say, you are already covered by your spouse's or parent's health plan. And certain employers will even hand out cash to help cover student debt or travel.
2. Get coupons on stuff you already buy
There are probably certain products that you buy all the time, or certain stores you shop at regularly. If you do, consider paying a few cents to buy coupons from The Coupon Clippers for the products you're going to purchase anyway — like a coupon for $1 off hand soap or $5 off dog food — or find coupons for free from websites like RetailMeNot and Coupons.com. It takes very little time and money to go through your shopping list and order coupons, and even less time to do a quick Google search for a coupon before making a purchase.
If you could've snagged deals like $5 off a $50 Target purchase or 15% off a purchase at Kohl's, but you didn't even look, you're passing up free money. Browser extensions like Honey make this extra easy.
3. Snag all your credit card rewards
Follow instructions from your card provider to redeem points as soon as you earn enough for gift cards or other rewards, so you don't miss out on the money your creditor owes you per your account's terms and conditions. And be sure to choose a simple card with a reward system you actually understand and that is useful to you so you'll be more likely to use your points.
If you don't travel often, switch to a cashback card instead of one offering travel deals — then you can use the money for whatever you want!
4. Send in rebates you're entitled to
More than $500 million in rebates goes unredeemed each year, according to ConsumerAffairs. The site reports, "Rebate redemption rates never hit 100%." Depending on the value of a rebate, typically only 5% to 80% of eligible recipients actually claim the rebate money they're entitled to.
Unsurprisingly, rebates are designed to discourage redemption, often requiring consumers to mail in receipts and other documentation via snail mail and then wait weeks or months for money to come back to them. By this time, many consumers forget they're owed cash — or they get a denial and just give up on the rebate, rather than trying to fix the problem, which may be as simple as correcting an error on their rebate form.
If you're owed a rebate, that money should be yours. To make sure you can claim it, the Balance recommended reading through the terms and conditions carefully, including any available supporting documentation when you submit your rebate, making a copy of everything you're sending in and developing a system for tracking submissions. If you don't get the money you're owed, follow up with the manufacturer to claim your cash.
Here are more tips on getting rebates.
5. Bump up your account interest rate
Banks should be paying you for the privilege of keeping your savings, but many banks pay really minuscule amounts of interest or no interest at all. If you don't shop around to find a bank that pays the most for storing your money with them, you're missing out on the opportunity to maximize free cash you should be earning from the bank.
If you're willing to jump through a few hoops, like making a certain number of debit card purchases per month, you could earn up to 5% interest on a no-fee account at Northpointe Bank Ultimate Account. A Goldman Sachs Online Savings account — featured in Mic's guide to the top five banks of 2017 — also offers a relatively solid interest rate, with no fees or minimum balance.
Whatever bank you decide to use, make sure it's paying at least a reasonable interest rate so you don't pass up the chance to receive free money as a reward for saving.
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