4 Friendly Banks

Are you looking for a new bank? With a seemingly endless number of banks looking to add you to their roster, it can feel overwhelming when deciding who to bank with. Some banks offer great benefits, like numerous locations, but charge high overdraft fees while others require large minimum deposits if you want to get the most benefits from your account. In short, choosing a bank is tough, and finding a quality bank that works for you is even tougher. Luckily, the online landscape has changed drastically over the years, with online-only banks causing brick-and-mortar locations to change their banking style to meet customer expectations. Keep reading to learn more about the five friendliest banks so you can bank with the right company sooner rather than later.

Bank of America

Let’s start with the negative: Bank of America is not in every state, interest rates on checking and savings accounts are minimal and $35 overdraft fees can be charged up to 4 times a day.

However, with a comprehensive and easy-to-use online banking system, Bank of America makes self-banking easier than ever before. You won’t need to worry about where your financial information is, nor will you wonder what all that complicated banking legalese actually means. With an A+ rating on the Better Business Bureau website, you know you’re getting a quality banking experience (in comparison, Wells Fargo currently holds an F rating). You also will have access to over 16,000 ATMs and 4,200 branch locations. When you sign up, you’ll receive a $100 sign up bonus as well, giving your bank account a much-needed boost. Finally, you can avoid overdraft fees in a couple of ways (besides not over-drafting your account).

First, their overdraft protection is $12 per transaction. While this can add up quickly, it’s still significantly less than the $140 you can expect to spend if they charge you four times in a day. Second, depending on which account you choose, you can avoid overdraft fees completely. It’s not perfect by any stretch, but it is significantly better than most brick-and-mortar banks.

Ally

Ally truly is your ally in banking, providing some of the most comprehensive and rewarding banking on our list. As an online bank, you’re not going to have access to brick-and-mortar locations; however, you will have access to over 40,000 ATMs across the country via the Allpoint network.

Their high-yield savings accounts make your money grow quickly, while their interest checking accounts give you a little extra every month as well. One of the best reasons to bank with Ally? Their 24/7 customer service. Customers love that they can talk to a real person at any time versus needing to wait for someone in the morning at other banking locations.

Another benefit to Ally is that anyone can open an account with no minimum deposit for the account, and deposits can be made via popular methods like direct deposit, mobile check deposit or through their ATM network if you have cash. The main drawback to Ally is that their checking accounts offer lower interest rates that some of their competitors.

Discover

Discover isn’t just for credit cards; they also offer one of the best checking accounts on our list, with customers earning 1% cash back on up to $3,000 in qualifying purchases every month. With Discover, you can cover all of your financial needs in one institution, ranging from borrowing to investing to banking. With over 60,000 ATMs via Allpoint and MoneyPass, you’ll be able to access your account anywhere you go in the U.S., Canada or Carribean; however, you cannot use your debit card anyplace else in the world (sorry frequent travelers). Another drawback for some people is the single brick-and-mortar location.

Axos

Axos is a highly rated online bank that’s quickly picking up steam amongst those looking for a flexible banking solution. You won’t be able to access a physical location; however, you will have access to roughly 91,000 ATMs in addition to out-of-network ATM fee reimbursement. The main thing that makes Axos stand out from other companies is that they offer the following five different checking accounts:

  • First Checking (13-17)
  • Golden Checking (55+)
  • CashBack Checking (Earn up to 1% cash back on qualifying purchases)
  • Rewards Checking (High APY at 1%)
  • Essential Checking (Get paid 2 days early)

Axos also offers savings accounts in addition to never charging a monthly maintenance fee. All these benefits are great; but Axos does have a rather lengthy list of requirements for certain accounts, including a minimum of $250 to open a high-yield savings account, with a Rewards Checking account requires at least $1,500 in direct deposits, a minimum of 10 debit card transactions per month and investment requirements to get the full 1%.

Finding a new bank can feel like a difficult task, but more and more people are finding they can receive a great banking experience if they explore their options. From staple brick-and-mortar banks like Bank of America to online companies like Axos and Ally, you can easily find the right bank for your needs in no time. Look at the pros and cons of the banks you’re considering to find the right account for your needs, and remember that banking should be friendly and easy rather than scary or hard!

Planning for Lower Tax Returns and Child Tax Credits

As part of the American Rescue Plan, the government started sending out some much-needed relief for those with children. However, unlike the stimulus checks, these monthly payments that lasted from July-December 2021 weren’t money people wouldn’t already receive. Instead, they were advanced tax return payments.

So, what exactly does this mean for you? A lower tax return. With the payments ending in January, many people are worried about not having that extra boost to their finances as well as how to budget for a tax return that’s possibly significantly less than what they’ve received in previous years. Read on to learn how to survive without the child tax credits and move forward with your lower tax return.

Reconfigure Your Budget

A lot of people found the child tax credit payments kept them out of debt, and it can be terrifying to think what can happen when you’re not receiving those payments anymore. The first thing to do is reconfigure your budget. Has your family been making more frivolous purchases since receiving the payments? Are you a little looser with your money in general, such as buying name brands instead of generic? Take the time to see where you can trim the fat on your budget to save some extra money. Many people find they can save money in little ways throughout the day that quickly adds up.

Look at Social Programs

We understand that many people needed these payments to survive, and removing them is causing a severe dent in their finances and adding unparalleled stress to their lives. Luckily, those in need can qualify for an assortment of social welfare programs to give them a hand up. From local food banks to EBT, you and your children won’t need to go hungry until you receive your tax refund. Help doesn’t end at food either. Depending on your state, you may be able to receive reductions or assistance on your utility bills, help on rent or welfare payments. Now is the time to take full advantage of these programs and receive aid.

Increase Work Hours

Have you reduced your work hours to spend more time with your kids? Now is the time to look to returning to your previous work schedule. If you worry about daycare costs, consider trading off babysitting on days off with co-workers so you can both work more than you have over the past few months. If your job simply isn’t cutting it anymore, or if you can’t increase your work hours, look at applying to other jobs that will pay you the salary you deserve.

Prepare for a Smaller Refund or Paying It Back

As tax refunds are filed, many Americans will find they will receive a smaller refund or even need to pay back their payments. This can be devastating for families that rely upon a certain refund amount each year. Take a deep breath and look to file your taxes early so you know exactly how much you’ll receive as well as whether or not you’ll need to pay anything back. By preparing your finances, you’ll be able to budget smarter and know exactly what to expect.

Pay Off Debts

Your refund amount will depend on a variety of factors, but now is the perfect time to work towards paying off debts. Lower those credit card balances and catch up on past-due bills so they aren’t hanging over your head in 2022. Oftentimes, we’re able to catch up more than we may think. By lowering your debts, you’ll have more money going forward being you won’t be spending your hard-earned cash on interest or late payment fees.

Place Funds in a Savings Account

When you receive your tax refund, place it in an interest-bearing savings account, even if you think you’ll spend it quickly. This will allow your money to grow, even if it’s just a few extra dollars a month. Try to keep your money in your account as long as possible to earn as much interest as you can on your refund.

Invest (If You Can)

Don’t worry; we’re not telling you to go buy a ton of Tesla stock. However, investing your money can reap financial benefits for you and your family for years to come. With an assortment of investment apps now available, you’ll find you’re able to invest quickly and easily in companies ranging from tech conglomerates to small startups. Remember though that the stock market is not guaranteed to make you a return on your investment, so take the time to research which companies financial experts recommend and save some of your refund in a savings account for emergencies.

Hold Off on Shopping

Many people will go shopping the moment they get their refund, and retailers count on this. During the spring, most companies won’t have their best prices, counting on people to make impulse purchases with the excuse that they have their tax refund to help them out. Instead of spending your money on big purchases right now (like televisions, appliances, etc.), look to make bigger purchases in the summer months, when companies will be more likely to give you a better deal.

Space Out Your Refund

You’re receiving a tax refund? Great news! Now comes the time to save and space out your purchases. If you can, look to create your own child tax credit payment system by allocating yourself the same amount of money (or lower, if doable) so you can have a steady stream of income over the coming months. If you must make a big purchase or pay off a large debt, look to save your remaining money for as long as possible.

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Planning for a lower tax return and reduction in child tax credits can feel like an uphill battle; however, with proper planning, you can soften the financial blow. By looking for ways to prolong your money, like reconfiguring your budget, putting funds in a savings account, paying off debts, spacing out your refund money to last you for several months or taking out a small dollar installment loan, you can build a healthier financial system for you and your family.

Best Places to Travel in the Winter on a Budget

The new year is upon us, and many people wrote “Travel More” as part of their New Year’s resolutions. Luckily, the new year brings new savings for those looking to travel on a budget during the winter months. Winter traveling offers a host of benefits for those looking to take a vacation on a budget, ranging from cheaper airfare to great hotel deals due to many destinations considering the winter months their off season. However, savvy travelers can still score great deals for nearly any locale they wish to visit. Read on to learn more about the places to travel to this winter that won’t break the bank.

Hawaii

Hawaii offers several destinations, with O’ahu, Maui and Hawai’i (the Big Island) leading the pack, and all have their own unique vibes. Most people will travel to Honolulu, O’ahu this winter, the state’s capital, to visit mainstays like Waikiki and the Polynesian Cultural Center. While Honolulu definitely offers a lot of different activities for travelers, those who want a different atmosphere that’s not saturated with tourists may want to visit a different island. Hawai’i gives a more laidback atmosphere, allowing plenty of time to explore the island’s natural wonders (including volcanoes!). Maui offers a more luxurious vacation experience, with an assortment of large resorts and boutique hotels dotting the island. Those looking to save a little bit will likely want to visit Oahu or Hawai’i, with both offering affordable hotel and airfare rates.

Puerto Rico

An island paradise without a passport? You’ll find it in Puerto Rico. With a plethora of beaches, ranging from Las Salinas’ pink sand to the glow-in-the-dark Mosquito Bay, restaurants and historical San Juan, Puerto Rico has a little something for everyone. Roundtrip air travel can be as low as $150/person to San Juan, making this a much more affordable tropical destination than other places on our list. Because Puerto Rico uses the U.S. dollar, travelers don’t need to worry about currency exchange rates and plush, luxurious resorts cost much less than you probably expect.

Spain

Europe on a budget? It’s easier than you may think if you want to visit Spain. Barcelona, Madrid, Costa del Sol, and Seville offer unique experiences travelers will love. Temperatures during the winter months hover between the 40s-60s in most areas, making it a cool but comfortable destination for nearly anyone. Flights can easily be obtained for under $1,000/person while hotel rooms and food are some of the lowest on the continent. With an assortment of museums, restaurants, festivals and local charm anywhere you visit, Spain will quickly become both you and your family’s favorite winter season travel destination.

Lucerne

Not everyone wants to visit the tropics during their winter getaway, and that’s what makes Lucerne the perfect destination for those who want a cooler holiday. This Swiss town will get anyone in the holiday spirit, offering plenty of cheer thanks to numerous ski resorts and markets as well as plenty of spots for snow-centric activities like snowshoeing and sledding. The variety of hotels in the area means lower prices for those wanting to visit, with many offering rooms for a little over $100/night. Save even more by booking red-eye flights which will also give you the benefit of cutting down on your jet lag.

Quebec City

Don’t want to travel all the way to Switzerland? Quebec City lets you get your snow-covered vacation right here in North America. With chilly temperatures and plenty of the white stuff, Quebec City will quickly become one of your favorite travel destinations. Historical Old Quebec features plenty of shopping and restaurants decked out in holiday décor to put you in the festive spirit while those wanting a more activity-based vacation can go ice skating at Place D’Youville or skiing at Station Touristique Stoneham. While Quebec City is famous for its Christmas décor, the city hosts an assortment of attractions during the winter months, including the Carnaval de Quebec in February. Save some money on your visit by driving or booking a mid-week flight to get the best deal.

Lake Tahoe

Once a hotspot for gangsters and celebrities, Lake Tahoe still has plenty to offer anyone looking for a relaxing winter vacation. With plenty of snow for skiers and snowboarders but moderate mid-day temperatures hovering in the 40s, this picturesque town on the California-Nevada will take your breath away. The casinos offer those who don’t want to go out in the snow plenty of gambling options while the numerous lodges in the area are perfect for cozying up next to a roaring fire. While winter months are the busiest in the area, budget travelers can find plenty of deals for 3- and 4-star hotels at under $200/night, especially if they don’t mind staying on the Nevada side (called Stateline).

Boracay Island, Philippines

Still a hidden gem for those looking for a tropical getaway, the Boracay Islands offer plenty of amenities and scenic views. The affordable prices allow travelers to take their vacation to the next level, getting an experience that would cost tens of thousands for pennies on the dollar. Smaller crowds from January to February means you won’t need to worry about fighting crowds while you snorkel, scuba dive or sunbathe on the beach. Mid-range hotels can be found for about $70/night; however, your food, drinks and activities are (usually) much lower in price than other locales on our list.

Taking a vacation during the winter months doesn’t need to break the bank. Whether you’re looking for a tropical location like Boracay Island or O’ahu or want something a little cooler like Quebec City or Lucerne, you can plan a luxurious vacation on a budget this winter. The main thing to remember when looking for the best deals is to have some flexibility on your dates, so don’t be afraid to shop around. Finally, planning your vacation in advance allows you to create a budget you can stick to. Where are you going this winter? What’s your favorite winter destination? Let us know below!

Winter Recipes

Cold winter nights make everyone want to feel cozy with full tummies. Far too often, our favorite winter recipes are time-consuming, and it can feel impossible to muster up the energy to make our go-to comfort foods. Luckily, we’re here to help! Keep reading to find your new staples for winter—without the hours spent laboring over the stove or oven.

Super Easy Meatloaf

This meatloaf will make everyone want the recipe.

Ingredients

  • 2 Pounds Ground Beef
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 Onion, Chopped
  • 1 c. Milk
  • 1 c. Crackers, Smashed
  • 2 Tbsp. Brown Sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. Dijon Mustard
  • 1/3 c. Ketchup
  • Salt and Pepper to Taste

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan.
  2. Combine beef, egg, onion, milk, cracker crumbs, salt and pepper into a bowl. Mix until just combined. Place in loaf pan.
  3. Combine brown sugar, mustard and ketchup in a small bowl. Mix well and pour over meatloaf.
  4. Bake for one hour. Let rest for 20 minutes once done.

Weeknight Meatball Soup

No one will know you made this soup in 30 minutes!

Ingredients

  • 3 c. Water
  • 2 (14 oz) Cans Diced Tomatoes
  • 5 Garlic Cloves, Minced
  • 1 Onion, Finely Chopped
  • 2 (14 oz) Cans Beef Broth
  • 1 Tbsp. Italian Seasoning
  • 1 lb. Frozen Mini-Meatballs (Italian-Style Preferred)
  • 1 lb. Frozen Italian-Blend Vegetables
  • 1 c. Elbow Pasta
  • ½ c. Parmesan Cheese, Grated

Directions

  1. Lightly saute onions and garlic in a large pot until onions are transparent.
  2. Stir in water, tomatoes, beef broth and Italian seasoning; bring to a boil.
  3. Add meatballs, vegetables and pasta; return to boil.
  4. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for ten minutes or until pasts is tender.
  5. Garnish each serving with Parmesan cheese.

Quick and Easy Pumpkin Soup

Leftover pumpkin? Think outside pies and try this soup.

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
  • 1 Medium Onion, finely chopped
  • 3 Garlic Cloves, Minced
  • 1 Can Pumpkin Puree (15 oz.)
  • 2 Tbsp. Fresh Thyme
  • 1 tsp. Kosher Salt
  • ½ tsp. Ground Cumin
  • ½ tsp. Black Pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. Ground Ginger
  • 1/8 tsp. Cayenne Pepper
  • 2 c. Chicken or Vegetable Broth
  • 4 tbsp. Heavy Cream
  • Toasted Pumpkin Seeds for Garnish

Directions

  1. Heat olive oil in a dutch oven. Add onion and garlic, sauteing about 4 minutes or until fragrant.
  2. Add pumpkin, thyme, salt, cumin, black pepper, ginger, and cayenne pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes or until steaming and fragrant.
  3. Add chicken or vegetable broth, cooking for 3-4 minutes, continuously stirring.
  4. Remove soup from heat, add cream.
  5. Garnish with pumpkin seeds and serve.

Irish Coddle

This traditional Irish dish is perfect for cold winter nights.

Ingredients

  • ½ lb. Thick Cut Bacon
  • 1 lb. Sausage (use a high-quality sausage, preferably bangers)
  • 2 Large Onions
  • 2 Garlic Cloves
  • 2 lbs. Potatoes (Yukon Gold or Red)
  • 1 (32 oz) Carton Chicken Stock
  • 1 Bunch Parsley, Chopped
  • Salt and Pepper to Taste

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 300 F.
  2. In a dutch oven, cook bacon until crispy and golden brown. Remove and place on paper towel.
  3. Brown sausage on all sides. Remove.
  4. Saute onions until carmelized. Add garlic and saute until fragrant (about 2 minutes). Remove.
  5. Remove pot. Add half of the potatoes to bottom of pot. Season with salt, pepper and ¼ parsley.
  6. Add half of onion/garlic mixture and bacon.
  7. Repeat layers.
  8. Place whole sausages on top.
  9. Add chicken broth. Place pot back on stove and bring to a boil.
  10. Cover pot; place in oven and cook for 2-4 hours. Check every hour to ensure an inch of liquid is at the bottom of the pot while cooking. Add more liquid if necessary.
  11. Remove from heat; season with salt and pepper to taste; add remaining parsley for garnish.

Chicken Pot Pie Casserole

Don’t worry about slaving over the perfect pie crust for this one! Instead, the flaky crescent roll dough creates a melt-in-your-mouth crust everyone will love.

Ingredients

  • ½ c. Mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbsp. All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 Chicken Bouillon Cube
  • 1 tsp. Pepper
  • ¾ c. Milk
  • 10 oz. Mixed Vegetables, Thawed
  • 1 ½ c. Cooked Chicken (Cubed or Shredded)
  • 8 oz. Crescent Roll Dough

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease 8×8 baking dish.
  2. In a large saucepan, whisk mayo, flour, bouillon and pepper together until smooth. Slowly pour in milk. Bring mixture to a boil. Cook and stir until thickened.
  3. Add vegetables and chicken to mixture; cook and stir until heated. Transfer to baking dish.
  4. Unroll crescent dough; separate triangles; arrange dough over chicken mixture.
  5. Bake until topping is golden brown (15-20 minutes).

Easy, Peasy Shepherd’s Pie

You’ll fall in love with this pie made with instant mashed potatoes.

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp. Olive Oil
  • 1 Yellow Onion, Chopped
  • 1 lb. Ground Beef or Lamb
  • 2 tsp. Dried Parsley
  • 1 tsp. Dried Rosemary
  • 1 tsp. Dried Thyme
  • 1 Tbsp. Worcestershire Sauce
  • 2 Garlic Cloves, Minced
  • 2 tbsp. All-Purpose Flour
  • 2 tbsp. Tomato Paste
  • 1 c. Beef Broth
  • 1 c. Frozen Peas and Carrots
  • ½ c. Frozen Corn Kernels
  • 5 c. Mashed Potatoes (made from instant boxed potatoes)
  • ½ c. Parmesan Cheese
  • Salt and Pepper to Taste

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  2. Add oil to a skillet and heat on high for 2 minutes. Add onions and saute for 5 minutes.
  3. Add ground meat to skillet, breaking apart with spoon; add parsley, thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper. Stir well. Cook meat until browned.
  4. Add Worcestershire and garlic. Cook for 1 minute.
  5. Add flour and tomato paste. Stir until fully incorporated.
  6. Add broth and frozen vegetables. Bring mixture to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer for 5 minutes.
  7. Place meat mixture into 9×9 inch baking dish, spreading evenly.
  8. Add parmesan cheese to mashed potatoes.
  9. Placed mashed potatoes on top of meat mixture, spreading evenly.
  10. Bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes.
  11. Let cool for 15 minutes before serving.

These quick and easy recipes are sure to keep you feeling warm and fuzzy all winter long. Which one is your favorite? What’s your winter recipe staple? Let us know below!