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These 5 money-saving details about your credit card are unforgettable.

These fine-print tips could help you better understand what you're signing up for.

These 5 money-saving details about your credit card are unforgettable.

When a shiny new credit card shows up in the mail, what's the first thing you do?

If you’re like most people, you activate it, peel off that sticker, and load it into your wallet like artillery in a spending cannon.


Welcome to adulthood! Image by Sean MacEntee/Flickr.

But what about all that other stuff that comes along with the card? Petite as they are, credit cards usually arrive in thick envelopes, jam-packed with all the information issuers have to disclose by law.

That, my friends, is your credit card agreement, and every time you swipe that cut of beveled plastic, you’re giving two thumbs up to everything therein.

During my first few years out of college, I had no idea what terms like "overdraft protection" or "cash advance" meant.

I paid plenty of fees as a result, some of which I got refunded by calling and asking nicely. But if I’d read and understood my credit card agreement, it would have saved me hours of frustration.

Recently the CARD Act outlawed a few of the worst practices that some credit card issuers use (things like "universal default" and "double-cycle billing"). But no matter what, you do need to know the nitty-gritty details of credit cards before you start swiping. Here are five areas of your credit card agreement that could throw you for a loop if you’re caught unaware.

1. Cash advances

First, you should definitely check out the Schumer box on your credit card agreement, which outlines stuff like annual percentage rate (APR), grace period, and annual fees (if applicable). That’s a good place to start. (If you're like me and you’ve already tossed your credit card agreement, you also can pull up a copy online, either on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s credit card agreement database or on your card issuer’s website.)

Photo by _Dinkel_/Flickr

But here’s something I found out after I’d had a credit card for a while: Many issuers charge a transaction fee for cash advances on a credit card, plus interest that starts immediately, not after a grace period. "Even if you did read all the fine print, that’s something you might not understand,” says Beverly Harzog, credit expert and author of "The Debt Escape Plan: How to Free Yourself from Credit Card Balances, Boost Your Credit Score, and Live Debt-Free."

Unfortunately, it’s easy to take a cash advance without even realizing it. For instance, if you overpay your bill and transfer the extra money back to your bank account (as I once did) or you mistakenly use your credit card instead of a debit card at an ATM.

2. Late payments

Grace periods can vary from card to card and not every card has one. Paying your bill late not only damages your credit score, but if you pay more than 60 days late, it could trigger a higher penalty APR. “You could end up with that penalty rate retroactively against your whole balance,” Harzog says.

Plus, your issuer could revoke any rewards you’ve earned (buh-bye, Bermuda trip!). "If you do make a late payment, call the issuer right away and let them know what happened," Harzog says. "If you’ve got a good payment history, they might not do anything to your rewards."

3. Fees on top of fees

You probably know you’ll be charged interest on any unpaid balances. But what about things like balance transfers, foreign transactions, and overdraft protection? Alas, you don’t even have to leave your home country to get hit with a foreign transaction fee, I’ve learned. If you’re ordering online from a company that uses a foreign bank, the fee may still apply and it typically adds 1-3% to your transaction.

Photo by wsssst/Flickr.

With a prepaid or secured credit card, your issuer may also charge you a monthly fee and other fees that you may not expect unless you read the agreement closely. Knowledge is power, people!

4. Mandatory arbitration

If something goes wrong, you can always take them to court, right? Power to the people! But not so fast ... some credit card agreements actually strip you of this right, so if something goes wrong, you can’t sue them in court. Instead, a third-party arbiter would rule on your dispute and their decision would be binding.

In some cases, you even have to pay filing fees if you initiate the claim. Total lame sauce!

5. Terms are subject to change

Now that you’ve untangled the terms of your credit card agreement, here’s the kicker: Almost everything is subject to change. That’s right: card issuers can devalue your rewards, increase your APR (although usually not in the first year you have the card), or remove perks like warranty coverage or travel accident insurance.

For most changes, they must notify you in writing, so don’t toss any communications from your credit card issuer before reading it thoroughly. If you have a card with a low introductory APR, the card issuer doesn’t have to notify you when the introductory period ends and a higher APR kicks in automatically.

The bottom line: Read your credit card terms carefully, no matter how boring they are.

That's true adulting. “If you don’t understand something, call the company and ask,” Harzog says. “If the customer rep doesn’t understand, ask to speak to their manager.”

It's better to spend a few minutes familiarizing yourself with the agreement and to walk away armed with knowledge than find out the hard way about late payment fees or penalty APRs. Take it from someone who's been there.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

It's one thing to see a little kid skateboarding. It's another to see a stereotype-defying little girl skateboarding. And it's entirely another to see Paige Tobin.

Paige is a 6-year-old skateboarding wonder from Australia. A recent video of her dropping into a 12-foot bowl on her has gone viral, both for the feat itself and for the style with which she does it. Decked out in a pink party dress, a leopard-print helmet, and rainbow socks, she looks nothing like you'd expect a skater dropping into a 12-foot bowl to look. And yet, here she is, blowing people's minds all over the place.

For those who may not fully appreciate the impressiveness of this feat, here's some perspective. My adrenaline junkie brother, who has been skateboarding since childhood and who races down rugged mountain faces on a bike for fun, shared this video and commented, "If I dropped in to a bowl twice as deep as my age it would be my first and last time doing so...this fearless kid has a bright future!"

It's scarier than it looks, and it looks pretty darn scary.

Paige doesn't always dress like a princess when she skates, not that it matters. Her talent and skill with the board are what gets people's attention. (The rainbow socks are kind of her signature, however.)

Her Instagram feed is filled with photos and videos of her skateboarding and surfing, and the body coordination she's gained at such a young age is truly something.

Here she was at three years old:

And here she is at age four:


So, if she dropped into a 6-foot bowl at age three and a 12-foot bowl at age six—is there such a thing as an 18-foot bowl for her to tackle when she's nine?

Paige clearly enjoys skating and has high ambitions in the skating world. "I want to go to the Olympics, and I want to be a pro skater," she told Power of Positivity when she was five. She already seems to be well on her way toward that goal.

How did she get so good? Well, Paige's mom gave her a skateboard when she wasn't even preschool age yet, and she loved it. Her mom got her lessons, and she's spent the past three years skating almost daily. She practices at local skate parks and competes in local competitions.

She also naturally has her fair share of spills, some of which you can see on her Instagram channel. Falling is part of the sport—you can't learn if you don't fall. Conquering the fear of falling is the key, and the thing that's hardest for most people to get over.

Perhaps Paige started too young to let fear override her desire to skate. Perhaps she's been taught to manage her fears, or maybe she's just naturally less afraid than other people. Or maybe there's something magical about the rainbow socks. Whatever it is, it's clear that this girl doesn't let fear get in the way of her doing what she wants to do. An admirable quality in anyone, but particularly striking to see in someone so young.

Way to go, Paige. Your perseverance and courage are inspiring, as is your unique fashion sense. Can't wait to see what you do next.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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