12 Money Facts Everybody Should Know in 2021

Child with money and a piggy bank
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Still clinging to that Econ 101 textbook from college? Whole chapters of it probably are outdated.

The world of money is changing at such a rapid pace that even advice and tips from just a few years ago might be out of date.

Read on for a quick primer on modern money facts you need to know now.

1. The definition of cryptocurrency

Bitcoin
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You can be forgiven for thinking cryptocurrencies — of which bitcoin is the most famous — sound like something that Captain Kirk might use to buy drinks on board the Starship Enterprise. Really, though, they’re a digital medium of exchange.

What are they good for? It depends. You can purchase almost anything on the internet with them, but not everyone accepts them as payment.

So, cryptocurrencies are not supplanting credit cards and cash — not by a long shot. But in recent years, they have made a splash.

2. How to deposit a check with your phone

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We all write fewer checks these days, but most of us still occasionally get checks and need to deposit them. If heading to your local bank or ATM is a nuisance, know that it takes only a minute or two to deposit a paper check via your smartphone.

Banks and credit unions typically offer this option for remotely depositing checks. Generally, you just download your bank’s app, locate the “deposit check” feature, snap photos of both sides of the check and follow the app’s simple instructions. Voila!

3. How to use an e-budget tool

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Some of us look upon the word “budget” with the same dread we do “dentist appointment.” Do I really need one, and just how painful will it be?

It really doesn’t have to hurt. Budgeting is like brushing your teeth — just a little dedication in advance goes a long way.

A program like You Need a Budget (YNAB) helps you give every dollar a job, and ensures that living paycheck-to-paycheck will be a thing of the past. YNAB is our favorite budgeting tool, but there are others tailored to varying needs and styles.

4. How to get cash back if you shop online

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Online shopping can save you from going out in the rain or snow to pick up essentials, and it also can help you deliver that last-minute birthday gift. But don’t just spend money while shopping online — be smart about your spending.

Cash-back online portals such as Rakuten, TopCashback and Swagbucks Shop — as well as apps like Ibotta, Honey and Drop — help you tap into rebates as you shop. It takes seconds to sign up, and then you’ll have access to cash rebates on goods from thousands of merchants.

5. How to hunt for travel bargains online

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Dreaming of a vacation? The internet is full of travel sites that can help you save money on vacations. If you’re not using them, you are overpaying. Start by checking out the latest deals from Money Talks News partner ShermansTravel.

For more tips on cutting travel costs, see “11 Smart Ways to Save on Travel.”

6. The ABCs of ETFs

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“ETF” stands for “exchange-traded fund,” an investment fund traded on stock exchanges. Depending on your age, your business school prof might not have covered ETFs because they only emerged in the U.S. in 1993.

Today, they’re a popular investment vehicle. Like an index mutual fund, an ETF typically follows the performance of a particular index, such as the Standard & Poor’s 500 index.

For more on ETFs, check out “2-Minute Money Manager: Should I Invest With ETFs?

7. Why you might need a 529 account

College fund
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Everyone knows tuition rates have skyrocketed. No matter if your child is 4 or 14, the magic number for college savings is 529. A 529 plan is a tax-advantaged savings plan operated by states or schools, and its funds grow free of federal taxes.

You may want to consult a financial adviser to help you choose a plan. But once it’s set up, making deposits — even small ones — can be done in just seconds online. Now, that’s going to the head of the class.

8. How to run a side hustle

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If you want to make some extra cash, there’s an abundance of sites that can help you land different types of gigs. Here are some to start with:

  • Fiverr: For freelance writing, translation, marketing, design, computer programming and similar projects.
  • Rover: Find dog-walking, pet-sitting or house-sitting gigs.
  • Turo: Make money renting out your car to others.
  • Uber: Make money driving for others.
  • Airbnb: Make money renting out your home, or part of it, to visitors.

The possibilities are endless. Just remember to tuck something away from each paycheck for the taxman. Side hustles often aren’t taxed upfront like a full-time employee’s paycheck might be, so set enough aside to cover Uncle Sam.

9. How to keep an eye on your credit score

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How’s your credit? You might not know until you apply for a loan or a credit card — and that could be too late.

Start with your credit report. Request it from the three big credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — as we detail in “How to Get Your Free Credit Report in 6 Easy Steps.” Federal law requires these credit-reporting agencies to each give consumers one free copy of their credit reports every 12 months. Scour it for mistakes and weirdness.

Once you’ve pored over your credit report, find out your credit score. To learn how to get it for free, check out “6 Companies That Give Free Credit Scores to the General Public.”

If you discover your credit is a mess, stop by our Solutions Center to determine whether you are better off getting professional help to repair your credit instead of taking the DIY route.

10. How to keep passwords under control

Bad password
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Please say you don’t have your important passwords written on a sticky note attached to your computer, as in the photo above. And double-please don’t say any of them are a string of in-order numbers like 1234567 — possibly the most hackable password out there.

Also, make sure you’re not using the same password for multiple accounts.

Better still, get a password manager like 1Password, which allows you to log in to all your different accounts securely while only having to remember one password.

11. How to recognize a phishing email

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It’s easy to think that you won’t be fooled by phishing emails, those scams that try to coax you into revealing your personal financial information so you can be robbed. But smart people do fall prey to these email scams.

A few tips: Don’t click on attachments in emails you didn’t expect. Be especially paranoid about any email claiming to be from your credit-card company or bank. Those places already have your financial information, so why would they demand that you provide it again?

Call your bank or credit-card company directly — through the number on your card, not a number provided by an email — if you have questions.

12. How to stave off social media scams

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From Facebook to Twitter to Instagram, social media can offer a relaxing break from work or a satisfying chance to catch up with everyone from family members to former co-workers. But don’t let your guard down there either.

Fraudsters know that social media is a ripe environment for them to work their scams. So, don’t fall for get-rich-quick offers or anything of the kind. If it sounds too good to be true, it is.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.