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An employee holds Apple's iPhone 4s and Samsung's Galaxy S III smartphones at a store in Seoul, Korea, in 2012. With a few simple steps, readers can boost the value of their old smartphones to get the best deal possible when they trade in for a new phone. (Lee Jae-Won/Reuters/File)

Spruce up your old smartphone, get your next one for free

By Lou CarlozoContributor / 08.09.13

With more than 43.5% of people accessing the internet via a mobile phone the pressure to have a new smartphone can be overwhelming. But at the same time there are still folks who want to own any old smartphone, whether it be something cheap or secondhand. This demographic makes for a lucrative arena in which selling off an older or obsolete smartphone can net a decent price.

Selling an Old Phone Could Pay for Your Next Upgrade

When consumers pay $199 for a brand new smartphone with a 2-year contract, they're actually forking over much less than the MSRP; without a contract, most unsubsidized smartphones cost $600 or more. But rather than charge its customers full price, wireless carriers supplement the cost of the newest smartphones in exchange for locking customers into contracts. The facts and figures behind the contract-subsidy model came to light recently when T-Mobile seceded from the Big 4 and opted to offer (mostly) untethered, contract-free service for new smartphones, and in some ways, this route can be more cost effective.

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Despite the benefits to a contract-free plan, subsidized phones and 2-year contracts remain the norm in the United States. And for this reason the resale value of most 2-year-old smartphones seems quite high compared to what the user initially paid. In many cases, smartphones are valued at about the same price point two years later; these phones do drop in value, like all electronics, but they depreciate from their full retail price, rather than their subsidized cost.

As such, an older smartphone could garner enough money on the resale market to cover the cost of upgrading to a newer smartphone. Of course, earning about $200 on the sale of a 2-year-old phone depends on a variety of factors. We turned to Edgar Navarro, owner of Cell Phone Repair in Chicago's North Center neighborhood, for some advice on how to maximize the trade-in value of an old phone to get a new smartphone for free. ( Continue… )

A 2013 VIZIO HDTV is pictured. Most HDTVs are set to show their best picture quality under the fluorescent lighting common to electronics showrooms. Slaybaugh tells readers how to calibrate their TV by themselves. (VIZIO, Inc./PRNewsFoto)

Forget calling an expert. Calibrate your TV for under $4.

By Stephen SlaybaughContributor / 08.08.13

If you're like most HD television owners, chances are you haven't touched the video settings on your TV since the day you pulled it out of the box. But did you know that the default settings for most HDTVs are optimized for the glare of a showroom's fluorescent lighting?

If your living room isn't lit by a dozen fluorescent lights (and we hope it's not), then you'll want to calibrate your HDTV to get the best picture quality. Every TV has its own idiosyncrasies that are affected by the attributes of the room you place it in, specifically lighting and viewing distance; to get the most out of the latest technology, whether it be a standard set or something more fancy that sports 3D or 4K TV, then it's necessary to make some adjustments to your set's brightness, contrast, sharpness, and color.

Easy TV Calibration

As with most things in life, hiring a professional calibrator to fine tune your set is the simplest way to calibrate your TV. Just make sure that the professional is certified by either the Imaging Science Foundation or THX. While there are plenty of independent contractors to be found (at various price points), for $250, an ISF-certified technician from Best Buy's Geek Squad can calibrate two inputs.

If you've just dropped a cool $1,000 or more on your new HDTV, the expense of hiring a pro may no doubt seem worth it. A professional calibrator will be able to correctly adjust your TV's temperature, as well as access the fine-tuning controls in its service menu — modifications beyond most laymen's capabilities.

Easy and Cheap TV Calibration

If you don't want to hire a professional to calibrate your TV, you can do so on your own without spending more than $5. The cheapest and easiest method of TV calibration just takes a few minutes and your own eyeballs. Knowing what to look for when tweaking your TV's picture and using some appropriately helpful materials, it's possible to make dramatic improvements without dropping a dime. We recommend THX Optimizer, which is a free on-screen calibration tool available on any DVD with the THX logo. Don't own a THX DVD? You could potentially borrow one from your local library for free, though some of the tests require special glasses that cost about $4.50 with free shipping. ( Continue… )

Sara da Silva, seen here working on an online course in March, is enrolled at Mass Bay Community College in Wellesley Hills, Mass., to save money and hopes eventually to transfer to the University of Massachusetts. One of the most popular ways to save money for college is through a 529 plan. (Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor/File)

What is a 529 plan? A good way to save for college.

By Neda JafarzadehContributor / 08.07.13

Plenty of savings vehicles help parents finance their child’s college education – and with student debt on the rise, those savings can minimize the financial burden when college graduates move into the working world. One of the most popular savings plans is a 529, which comes in two flavors that let you either prepay tuition or save for it in a tax-advantaged account.

One word of caution before contributing to a 529: Consider your own retirement needs. Many financial advisers recommend that parents first fund their own 401(k) retirement plans up to the point of their company’s match and contribute the maximum amount allowed to their individual retirement account (IRA). Then it’s time to save for your child’s college education.

Here’s how the two versions of the 529 work:

529 college prepaid plan

The 529 college prepaid plan allows savers to purchase credit points for a university in their state at the current rate. This means that if tuition costs increase due to inflation or other factors, parents are protected from paying those higher rates. However, it’s important to note that with this prepaid plan, parents should be confident that their child will attend a particular school in their home state and know that the credits only cover tuition costs and mandatory fees. ( Continue… )

An iPhone 5 is pictured on display at an Apple Store in Pasadena, Calif. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters/File)

Want a $99 iPhone 5? Here's how to get it.

By Louis RamirezContributor / 08.05.13

iOS 7 is on its way and with it may come the promise of new iPhone hardware. But while the rest of the tech world speculates on the next-gen iPhone, we here at dealnews are excited about the iPhone 5; if Apple sticks to tradition, then this highly rated smartphone could soon hit the bargain bin, giving consumers yet another excellent choice in the heated smartphone wars. So what price can you expect to pay for current iPhone models if Apple does indeed release a new iDevice this fall?

A Sub-$99 iPhone 5 Arriving Fall 2013

At last year's iPhone 5 announcement, Apple hit the kill switch on the iPhone 3GS while simultaneously slashing the price of the iPhone 4 to $0, and the iPhone 4S to $99 (both with a new 2-year service contract). Assuming there's a new iPhone announcement this fall, we can expect the iPhone 4 to reach the end of its tech life, the iPhone 4S to be reduced to $0, and the iPhone 5 to fall to $99.

$99 iPhone 5 would be an Editors' Choice-level deal. And even though we've already seen the iPhone 5 at this price before (back in July), it would become the new base price across the board; with all retailers offering the iPhone 5 for under $100, we expect to then see actual deals that would drop the price even further beneath the $100 mark. Considering the fact that analysts believe that the high-end smartphone boom is beginning to wane, this price-cutting trend is especially likely. As such, smartphone prices have peaked and are dropping, so we wouldn't be surprised to see a wealth of iPhone 5 deals from the likes of Fry's,Walmart, and Best Buy, all of which have undercut Apple's prices before. ( Continue… )

Signs for American Express, Master Card and Visa credit cards are shown on a New York store's door in 2007. Unlike these major credit cards, issued by banks, store credit cards typically offer zero percent deferred interest, which can cost consumers a bundle if they don't understand the terms. (Mark Lennihan/AP/File)

Zero percent offer on a store card? Watch out.

By Michael DolenContributor / 08.04.13

Stroll into any furniture store or tire shop and there’s a good chance the sales associate will try and peddle you their in-house financing card. Often times, it will be described as being “zero percent for six months” – sometimes, much longer.

If you’re in a financial rut, getting zero percent for six months on that new set of tires you desperately need sounds like a no-brainer. Pay no interest for a couple of years on that new living room set? You might jump at the chance.

But don’t – until you understand what you’re signing up for. It’s probably not a zero-percent credit card offer from a major bank, like JP Morgan Chase or Capital One, where you really do get zero percent on purchases, balance transfers, or both for 12 or 18 months. Typically, store credit cards offer something entirely different: zero percent deferred interest.

What that means is that the interest charges are deferred during the promotional period. The “no interest if paid in full” part means that if you pay off the entire purchase within the zero percent window, you won’t get charged interest. If you don’t pay it off, then you get charged the interest retroactively, going back all the way to the first day of the purchase. Even if you only have a dollar left to pay, the retailer can charge retroactive interest on the full original purchase price. ( Continue… )

People cover themselves with umbrellas as they listen to Pope Francis at the Varginha area of the Manguinhos slum complex in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, July 25, 2013. Buying a sturdy but more expensive umbrella could save money in the long haul. (Silvia Izquierdo/AP/File)

Stop buying cheap umbrellas: 4 with lifetime warranties

By Ashley WatsonContributor / 08.03.13

We've all been there. It's pouring rain, and you're umbrella-less. Maybe you forgot your umbrella at home, or maybe you haven't purchased a new once since that last storm reduced your old (and favorite) umbrella to bits of shredded cloth and a broken post. Guess you'll have to duck into the nearest pharmacy or gas station to buy another cheap umbrella and just pray that a single gust of wind won't turn it inside out and render it useless... again.

Why do we keep buying the cheap umbrellas? It's presumably for the same reason we buy cheap sunglasses or gloves that barely keep our fingers warm. They will get scratched, broken, or most likely, lost in that vortex of the backseat of the car or left behind in a restaurant. We live in a disposable society for the most part, but there are some products that are still made to last, or at least have some sort of guarantee to give us peace of mind if we decide to fork over the cash for quality and durability. Umbrellas shouldn't be any different.

With hurricane season kicking into full gear, we've rounded up a few high-quality umbrellas that are actually guaranteed to last. Unless you're the type to lose belongings, a sturdy umbrella can actually save you money in the end. ( Continue… )

Beachgoers enjoy a sunny day on Okaloosa Island in Fort Walton Beach, Florida earlier this summer. With United Airlines offering deals on fares to Florida, it may be the perfect time to take your family on vacation, Rubio says. (Devon Ravine/Northwest Florida Daily News/AP/File)

It's not too late: Snap up deals on trips to Florida

By Josie RubioContributor / 08.02.13

Where did the summer go? With August here and back-to-school sales in full swing, kids everywhere are sharing a collective sigh thinking about the end of summer fun. But it’s not too late to book a trip to fun-filled Florida and soak up the last of summer at theme parks in Orlando or a beach in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or the Keys. Start planning your getaway and check out these roundtrip fares to Florida on United Airlines (from $185.80, a low by $10; expires August 15).

Once you’re there, explore the Sunshine State with a car rental from Sixt, where you'll take 15% off (from $13.25 per day, a low by $53; expires August 15) and cash in on the third-lowest base rate we’ve seen from Sixt in the past 12 months.

Beauty and Adventure in Orlando

Orlando boasts myriad theme parks — most famously Walt Disney World and Epcot — but there’s truly something for everyone. Explore water parks such as Discovery Cove and Blizzard Beach, the marine life of Sea World, Florida’s swamp creatures at Gatorland, or out-of-this-world adventures with a visit to John F. Kennedy Space Center. No matter your itinerary, you can kick start your vacation with the excitement of booking a cheap Orlando-area hotel for as little as $26 per night. A Hotwire Mystery Hotel deal, you won't actually know the name of the property you'll be staying at until after you've booked. From there, plan your visit to nearby LEGOLAND where a single-day adult ticket is 30% off ($59, a low by $22; expires October 27). From there you can survey all of the park’s rides and activities from Island in the Sky, a 150-foot rotating platform, then take the kids to LEGOLAND Water Park where a wave pool, lazy river, tube and body slides, and an interactive play structure will keep them splashing about for hours on end. Deals for the whole family include a single-day child/senior ticket for $51, a single-day child/senior ticket with water park admission for $59, and a single-day adult ticket with water park admission for $67.

After a day of family fun, return to poolside relaxation or take in the setting sun overlooking Lake Davenport with a 4-night stay in a villa at the Bahama Bay Resort & Spa (from $260, a low by $8; expires August 3). You'll be just minutes from theme parks and attractions and be saving: this promotion is the second-lowest rate we've seen this year for stays at this property. What's more, you'll score free parking and a room upgrade (meaning space for you and the kids!). The resort also boasts a children’s play area and basketball courts and fishing, which are the perfect places for the kids to get out all their energy pre- and post-theme park visits.

Dive Into Key Largo

Quite the opposite of Orlando, the Florida Keys boast an aura of "Ahh...." These islands have inspired everyone from literary great Ernest Hemingway (who called Key West home) to Old Hollywood, as it was setting for the 1948 film Key Largo. Book your hotel as Bogey and Bacall would — by phone — to reserve a stay at the Key Largo Resort (from $99, a low by $20; expires September 30). The resort, which just received a $12 million makeover has its own private beach, where you can relax while the kids go snorkeling and swimming with dolphins. ( Continue… )

iTunes, Amazon, Google Play: Where can you get the best deals on digital music? Sakraida breaks down readers' options. (Apple/PRNewsFoto/File)

iTunes vs Amazon: Where to get the cheapest music

By Lindsay SakraidaContributor / 07.31.13

The Apple iPod, introduced in 2001, may be the device most responsible for sparking the digital music era. And now, over a decade later, consumers have access to a wide variety of digital music made available by download through a variety of sources. However, three vendors in particular — Apple's own iTunes Music Store, Amazon, and Google Play — stand above the rest.

But despite this triumvirate of digital music stores backed by major international brands, only one truly dominates the market. And that is, of course, iTunes. According to data from the NPD Group, about 63% of all digital music sales occur through iTunes. That accounts for 8 out of 10, or 80%, of digital music shoppers — and that 80% is likely overpaying.

iTunes Dominates, But Amazon Is Cheaper

For many people, buying iTunes music is an act of convenience. However, through our daily deal hunting, we have discovered that Amazon more frequently offers discounts on MP3 downloads. Regardless, people are still overwhelmingly buying from iTunes, which rarely — if ever — slashes the price on its digital wares. Thus, we set out to see just how much the convenience of downloading music through the iTunes Music Store is costing consumers.

Over the course of four weeks, our staff noted the prices on a variety of singles and albums at iTunes,Amazon, and Google Play. Each week, we checked the prices of Billboard's top 20 singles and albums, as well as CMJ's top 20 albums (to account for indie offerings). The results of this research show that Amazon offers a better album price than iTunes 77.5% of the time. For shoppers who are primarily interested in Billboard's top albums, then Amazon music downloads are cheaper a whopping 84% of the time.

Albums That Are Up to 50% Less

Of course, there's a caveat; music from Amazon, as well as Google Play, is cheaper largely because both stores tend to offer albums that are just 50 cents less than iTunes, by default. For some people, this half-dollar difference is negligible and won't impact where they buy music online. ( Continue… )

A woman smiles as she cools off at the splash pad at Tempe Beach Park in Tempe, Ariz. on June 29, 2013. August is the last chance for most buyers to find deals on swimsuits, Sakraida says. (David Wallace/The Arizona Republic/AP)

August: the best and worst things to buy this month

By Lindsay SakraidaContributor, Louiz RamirezContributor / 07.30.13

During the last few weeks of summer, it can be fun to indulge in a happily lazy routine, perhaps lounging poolside with a cold drink in hand. But as appealing as that may sound, don't let that carefree attitude extend to any of your shopping excursions; there are still clear lines in the sand about what you should, and should not, buy this month.

For example, this month grills and patio sets will see red-hot discounts, but it would be smart to avoid buying a new tablet. And while we'll see great back-to-school sales in the coming weeks, don't even think of wasting your money on these eight items that your matriculating student may demand. For even more money-saving tips, here's our analysis of what you can expect from deals in August.

Back-to-School Shopping Heats Up

According to our deals from the past two years, August is the best summer month to get discounts on back-to-school items. While a number of sales that began in July will continue into August, expect more stores to cut prices even further. For example, apparel retailers like American Eagle Outfitters and Abercrombie & Fitch slashed an extra 30% to 50% off sale items last year, and we anticipate seeing similar trends in 2013. That said, keep in mind that last year the best time to buy jeans was July through mid-August; after that, discounts from popular jeans brands dropped off.

Also keep an eye out for cheap dorm furniture from retailers like Walmart — which offered futons for as little as $89 last year, as well as computer desks for $29 — and special sales on backpacks and computer cases for as little as $10. As for back-to-school laptops, consider taking advantage of special promotions that bundle your purchase with gift cards, gaming consoles, and printers. ( Continue… )

Visitors look at motherboards being displayed at the Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) booth exhibition in Taipei, Taiwan, in 2012. Although Intel dominates the laptop market, AMD processors can save consumers looking for a new laptop significant amounts of money. (Yi-ting Chung/Reuters/File)

Need a new laptop? Try AMD, save money.

By Louis RamirezContributor / 07.29.13

These days it's easy to find any number laptop deals. Between back-to-school sales and falling consumer demand, notebook prices are at all-time lows. Furthermore, today's technology is so advanced that even last year's processors are still able to meet nearly all general computing needs.

However, for the truly cash-strapped who are in need of a laptop that can get online and smoothly stream some of those HD Netflix movies, there's one more laptop buying tip that we've left for last — a tip that can slash up to 38% off your final price.

Intel Dominates the Market, But AMD Is Up to 38% Cheaper

There's no denying that when it comes to laptops, Intel owns the market. While AMD's processors have generally trumped Intel's CPUs in terms of graphics performance, Intel's Core series processors have outperformed AMD in every other test. In addition, with each CPU refresh Intel's integrated graphics have managed to ever so slightly close the gap between the two. As a result, Intel has dominated the laptop industry not just this year, but since the days of the Core 2 Duo.

However, AMD is far from doomed. Its APUs have boasted excellent graphics, power efficiency, and most importantly price. While Intel has concentrated on performance, AMD has dominated the budget market. Over the past year, our listings of 15" AMD dual-core systems have been, on average, 31% cheaper than 15" Intel dual-core systems, with prices at $251 versus $383, respectively. (Oddly, Intel's Core i3 systems have at times been pricier or equal to Intel's Core i5 deals, so for our purposes we compared AMD E- and A-series notebooks to the cheapest Core i3 or Core i5 laptops we could find for each month.) And some months the savings on AMD laptops reached as much as 58% over its Intel cousins. ( Continue… )

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