7 Ways to Get Your FICO Credit Score for Free

Man checking his credit score
Photo by garagestock / Shutterstock.com

A good credit score is the key that unlocks the door to better loan terms, an improved chance of getting a rental apartment and even the odds of landing a job.

So, this three-digit number packs a punch. Knowing the score reveals whether you need to work to improve your credit score.

In the past, you’d have to pay to see your credit score. But that has changed. Today, you can get a free score from any of the following sources.

1. Discover

Anyone can access their credit score for free through the Discover Free Credit Scorecard program.

You don’t have to be a Discover customer to sign up for the service. It not only provides your credit score, but also will notify you of new accounts on your Experian credit report and send an alert if your Social Security number is found on the dark web.

2. Credit cards

Through the FICO Score Open Access program, FICO works with more than 200 financial institutions to provide their partners’ customers with free access to credit scores. The following credit card issuers are among those participating in the program:

  • Citi
  • Barclaycard
  • HSBC

3. Lenders

If you have student loans, an auto loan or a mortgage, you may also be able to get a free FICO score through your lender. Here are a few of the loan companies that have partnered with the FICO Score Open Access program:

  • Sallie Mae
  • Payoff
  • Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance

4. Banks and credit unions

Dozens of banks and credit unions across the country also offer access to free FICO scores through FICO Open Access. These include both large and small institutions. Here are a few examples:

  • SunTrust
  • Bank of America
  • Affinity Federal Credit Union

Depending on the institution, free scores may only be available to customers enrolled in certain products, and the program may change.

5. Credit counselors

If you’re using the services of a credit-counseling program to improve your finances, you may be eligible for a free FICO score through that organization via the FICO Score Open Access program.

Partner organizations (see them listed below participating banks and credit cards) include companies with national or regional clients.

These are a few of the credit counseling organizations offering free FICO scores:

  • DebtHelper.com
  • Operation Hope
  • Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Savannah

6. Experian

The credit reporting company Experian offers free access to FICO credit scores through its website FreeCreditScore.com.

You won’t have to enter any credit card information to create a free account and see your FICO score. The company says it does not sell your information to third parties. It updates scores every 30 days.

7. Credit applications

A sometimes overlooked option for getting a free credit score is simply to ask to see it when applying for a loan.

If your credit is being pulled by a dealership, mortgage lender or bank, see if they will be willing to share your score with you. While this won’t work for an automated credit application, such as for a credit card, it is an option anytime you have contact with a company representative.

Keep in mind, though, that a major reason for checking your score is to provide you time to repair or boost your credit score before applying for a loan. If possible, try one of the options above first.

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

Source: moneytalksnews.com

5 Reasons You Should Pay for a Pre-Drywall Inspection

When building a new home, there are architectural requirements along with city and state codes that the builder must follow; and while general builder inspections are required along the way, it’s still a good idea to pay for your own inspections, especially the pre-drywall inspection. 

If you’re building (or thinking about building) a new home, congratulations! Unlike buying an existing home, you get to select everything you want from top to bottom, inside and out, to create your dream home. We’re currently building our new home and recently had our pre-drywall inspection. You usually don’t hear much about these kinds of inspections, so I wanted to share with you why we did a pre-drywall inspection, and what we learned.

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Our soon to be new home!

Isn’t the Builder’s Pre-Drywall Inspection Enough?

During the builder’s inspection, the builder will go over anything you added during the design process,  explain how things work, and show you where things are located inside your walls before the drywall is added. It’s the perfect time to ask questions — but what if you don’t know what to ask? This is where a pre-drywall inspection is beneficial.

Think of it as more of a pre-drywall “walk through”  and not so much of a traditional inspection. The purpose is to look at every aspect of the home, not just the pretty parts. If there are potential issues with the foundation, plumbing, electrical or roof, it’s better to address them sooner and not after signing the papers and moving in.

(READ MORE: The Pros and Cons of Building vs. Buying as a First-time Homeowner)

What the Process Looked Like for Us

We used Chad Brittingham with Cardinal Home Inspections, LLC out of Charleston, SC. The timing of this inspection was perfect because we scheduled to meet with the builder for their pre-drywall walk through a few days later.

Mr. Brittingham went through the house several times and with each pass, looked at different building aspects. The first pass involved the foundation, followed by framing, plumbing, electrical, HVAC, and the roof. We walked with him and he explained the reason for certain building items, pointed out any issues and took pictures for his report, and also took the time to explain how certain systems worked. As an inspector, his job was to comb through the fine details and find potential issues that we as buyers may overlook because we just don’t know. 

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Chad Brittingham, home inspector, testing the window function.

5 Benefits of a Pre-Drywall Inspection

  1. It can address any issues: Once the drywall is installed it will be more challenging to fix any issues involving the internal items behind the drywall. Cracks in foundation, poor building materials, mold, etc., will simply be a lot harder to see later.
  2. It can check on any modifications you added during your design meeting: We added recessed lighting to some rooms, extra outlets, a security light and a few other things. But, during our pre-drywall inspection, we discovered that a few of those items were not there. It’s a lot easier to add them before the dry wall; like the builder put it, it would be like doing surgery on your house and then leaving scars!
  3. You can visualize where important pieces are in your wall: Word of advice, take pictures. When you move in and you need to find a stud, you’ll have a better idea where they are located within the wall. Most importantly, you’ll know where plumbing, gas lines, and electrical lines are located so you can avoid them before you hang anything or secure anything to your walls. 
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Taking pictures before hanging drywall will help you avoid any costly repairs when affixing items to the wall.

4. It can reveal workmanship and materials: While builders have a construction manager who oversees everything, each part is handled by a different subcontractor. Getting a chance to see the work of the electrical team, plumber, roofer, HVAC, etc can not only ensure they’re not only using the proper materials, but that these systems are installed within code.

5. It can protect your investment and your peace of mind: You’ll have a written record of the issues that were found and you can document how it was fixed. This is your home that you’re spending your money on and you want to know that your home is sound. After the inspection was over, we were more confident that we picked a great home for our family.

Man bending over pointing to the floor in partially constructed house. Man bending over pointing to the floor in partially constructed house.
Mr. Brittingham pointing out construction details.

After the Pre-Drywall Inspection: Next Steps

At the end of the pre-drywall inspection, Mr. Brittingham gave us a couple items that he felt were of a greater concern to keep an eye on, but overall felt that the items he found were typical for this stage in the building process. Mr. Brittingham provided us with a full inspection report, including the items he found with pictures of areas that needed to be addressed, which I forwarded to the builder prior to our walkthrough. As the buyer, we definitely felt our inspection better prepared us for the walk through with the builder.

While the builder is bound by certain laws and codes, and their own inspections, the pre-drywall inspection we paid for independently, is acting on our behalf as the buyer. I definitely don’t believe our builder is trying to “slide anything past us,” and we did our research on the builder prior to signing. This was just one more step to further protect our investment, which will ultimately protect our family. 

Need More Home Building Advice?

Be sure to check out the Homes.com “How to Build” section, with videos and articles covering a range of topics that’ll carry you on the building journey from start to finish!


Brooke has a lifestyle blog called Cribbs Style and currently lives in Charleston, SC. This wife, mom of two almost tweens, and mom of three fur children enjoys all things DIY and organizing. When she’s not helping others tackle the chaos of life, she’s either working out, at the beach, or just enjoying time with family and friends.

Source: homes.com

Benefits of an Employer Tuition Reimbursement Program & Policy

While they may not have a line item on a balance sheet, employees are your company’s most important asset. Their knowledge, skill sets, and expertise impact your ability to keep customers or clients satisfied and improve your bottom line.

A tuition reimbursement program is an employee perk that shows you’re invested in their long-term success.

What is Tuition Reimbursement?

Just as it sounds, tuition reimbursement in an employee benefit program or policy where the employer pays back employees for education expenses. Although the program’s rules vary from employer to employer, most cover the cost of tuition as well as textbooks and other required course materials.

Employees still have to pay out of pocket for the courses they take, but when the course is over, the employee can get back some or all of their tuition expenses. At some institutions, students with financial constraints qualify to defer payment until their coursework is complete.


Advantages of an Employer Tuition Reimbursement Program

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) 2019 Employee Benefits survey notes more than half of employers (56%) offer some sort of tuition or student loan repayment assistance for employees, so education is clearly a priority for businesses.

1. More Skilled Employees

As the International Labour Organization (ILO) states, “Many of today’s skills won’t match tomorrow’s jobs, and skills acquired today may quickly become obsolete.” So workers need to update their skills on an ongoing basis.

Investing in your employee’s education can help you custom-build the skills, talent, and expertise you need to grow your business today and in the future.

2. Higher Retention Rates

Employees who take advantage of tuition reimbursement tend to stay with the company longer.

The Harvard Business Review noted one powerful example: when Fiat Chrysler Automobiles partnered with Strayer University to allow its dealership employees and their families to earn a degree free of charge, participating dealerships saw employee retention rates increase by nearly 40%.

3. Lower Recruiting Costs

Companies can promote educated employees to higher-level positions, saving the company time and money compared to filling vacancies with outside talent.

According to SHRM, the average cost of hiring a new employee is $4,425, or $14,936 for hiring an executive. That includes the cost of advertising the position, training, conducting interviews, and providing new hire orientation. Plus, it can take months for the new hire to acclimate to company culture and become fully productive.

On the other hand, promoting people from within generates little if any additional cost to the company.

4. Tax Breaks

The IRS allows employers to write-off up to $5,250 of tuition reimbursements per employee per year. These reimbursements are considered a tax-free fringe benefit, so they aren’t included in the employees’ wages, and the employer doesn’t have to pay Social Security, Medicare, federal or state unemployment taxes on the reimbursement.

To qualify for this tax perk, the tuition reimbursement plan has to be in writing and meet other requirements, including:

  • The program can’t favor highly compensated employees — generally defined as someone who owns at least 5% of the business or received more than $130,000 of compensation in the prior year.
  • The program doesn’t provide more than 5% of its benefits to shareholders, business owners, or their spouses or dependents.
  • The program doesn’t allow employees to opt to receive cash or other benefits instead of educational assistance.
  • All eligible employees have to receive reasonable notice of the program.

You can find more information about the IRS requirements for educational assistance benefits in IRS Publication 15-B.


Eligibility for Reimbursement

Employers can determine their conditions for reimbursement of employee tuition. Some common conditions include:

Length of Service and Performance

The first condition that may limit eligibility is length of service. Many employers offer tuition reimbursement only to full-time employees who have worked at the company for at least six months to a year. They also require the employee to still be employed with the company when they complete the course.

Employers can also require that the employee is meeting all performance expectations for their current position or require that the employee hasn’t been formally disciplined during the previous six to 18 months. The definition of discipline can vary from company to company but typically includes written warnings, demotions, or suspensions.

Program of Study

The next condition that may hinder eligibility is course of study. Many employers require that the courses or degree program can be applied within the organization. For example, a consulting firm may broadly define relevant subjects; on the other hand, a small IT firm may only reimburse specific technology-related courses.

The program can also require the employee to take classes only at a pre-approved educational institution such as a local university or community college or an accredited online college.

Cost

Another potential condition is the level of cost the company is willing to reimburse. Most tuition reimbursement programs have an annual cap on what they’ll cover. This limit varies greatly from company to company, but most employers base their caps on IRS limits.

As mentioned above, the IRS allows employers to deduct up to $5,250 of tuition costs per employee each year. Employers who pay more than $5,250 for an employee’s educational benefits during the year have to include it in the employee’s wages and pay all applicable payroll taxes, thus negating the tax benefits of the program.

Grades

An employer can require the employee to earn a passing grade to qualify for tuition reimbursement. For example, the policy may require that the employee passes the course with a letter grade of C or better.

Employers can also have scaled grade requirements. For example, the employer’s tuition reimbursement plan may specify that an A grade receives full reimbursement, a B grade receives 80% reimbursement, a C grade garners 60% reimbursement, and anything below a C is not eligible.


Final Word

A tuition reimbursement program is an attractive benefit that can help companies find, develop, and hold on to skilled talent. How you design your program depends on the needs of your business and employees.

If you want to try it out, consider starting by reimbursing employees for one work-related course per year, subject to manager approval. This will give you an idea of how popular the program will be with your employees, and you can decide whether to expand it in the future.

Source: moneycrashers.com

What to Know About Being an Authorized User on Someone’s Credit Card

Advertiser Disclosure: This post includes references to offers from our partners. We receive compensation when you click on links to those products. However, the opinions expressed here are ours alone and at no time has the editorial content been provided, reviewed, or approved by any issuer.

No one is born with perfect credit. It takes time to build a substantial credit history and even longer to achieve a credit score high enough to qualify for top-of-the-line cash-back and travel credit cards.

If you’re impatient to learn what life is like for high-rolling cardholders, consider a shortcut: convincing a friend or family member with excellent credit to add you as an authorized user to a new or existing card account.

But before you rush to convince a creditworthy friend or relative to add you to their account, take stock of the rights and responsibilities that come with authorized user status — and the potential downsides.

What Is Authorized User Status?

The rules vary by card and account type, but virtually all credit card issuers allow primary cardholders to add authorized users. In most cases, there’s no charge associated with authorized user status, although some high-end cards — mostly those with hefty annual fees for the primary user — do levy annual surcharges for each additional user.

Authorized user status allows you to accompany the primary cardholder on their credit journey, but it’s not exactly a free ride. For starters, you need to spend responsibly or jeopardize your status, which the primary cardholder can revoke at any time.

More importantly, you need to remember you’re not entirely in control of your fate. If all goes well, your authorized user account will build your credit history (or help rebuild it after bankruptcy) and could improve your credit score over time. If the primary user falls behind on their payments, however, expect something closer to the opposite.

Authorized user status has other notable benefits for primary cardholders and authorized users alike, including keeping little-used card accounts active and building credit for teens and young adults. But it also has notable risks.

Pros of Authorized User Status

With responsible use and timely payments, authorized user status help you build or rebuild credit and can improve your credit score over time. Designating an authorized user can be a boon for primary cardholders by increasing reward earnings and lowering credit utilization.

  1. Builds the Authorized User’s Credit. The most compelling case for authorized user status is its credit-building power for people without a history of credit, such as students and young adults. Provided the issuer reports the authorized user account to the consumer credit reporting bureaus, it helps build up the user’s credit — an essential prerequisite for future loan applications.
  2. Could Improve the Authorized User’s Credit Score. Over time, a pattern of timely repayments and responsible use (in other words, low credit utilization) can work to raise the authorized user’s existing credit score. Although the improvement is unlikely to be quick or dramatic, anything helps when you’re repairing damaged credit.
  3. Keeps Seldom-Used Accounts Active. By adding an authorized user to a seldom-used credit card account, the primary cardholder ensures the account remains active. Each older, still-active credit card account helps keep the primary’s overall credit utilization rate low and raises their average account age. Both factors work to raise credit scores over time in the absence of negative factors like delinquencies.
  4. Increases Reward Earnings. Two spenders are better than one — when it comes to racking up credit card rewards, at least.

Cons of Authorized User Status

Authorized user status is a potential credit risk for authorized users and primary cardholders alike. A breakdown in communication between users could have consequences for their personal relationship as well.

  1. Potential Risks to the Authorized User’s Credit. Although the primary cardholder is ultimately responsible for making timely card payments and keeping credit utilization in check, any lapses could negatively impact the authorized user’s credit if the account displays as delinquent on the authorized user’s credit report.
  2. Could Negatively Affect the Personal Relationship Between the Primary and Authorized User. Should the authorized user rack up more charges than the cardholders can repay on time, acrimony is all but assured. If you’re not certain you can live up to your obligations as an authorized user, think carefully before jeopardizing a close relationship.
  3. Higher Risk of Lost or Stolen Cards. A credit card is more likely to go missing or fall into the wrong hands when it has a copy. If your authorized user card has the same number and security code as the primary card, the primary cardholder will need to cancel and reissue the card in the event of a loss.

Your Rights & Responsibilities as an Authorized User

As an authorized user, your rights and responsibilities differ from the primary account holder’s. Your role is subordinate and you lack full control over the account, so it’s a stretch to call an authorized user account “yours.” But you’re still expected to keep up your end of the bargain.

What You Can (& Should) Do as an Authorized User

As an authorized user, you’re obligated to keep your card secure and use it responsibly. Here is what you can — and should — do:

  • Earn Rewards on Card Spending. Authorized user spending earns rewards at the same rate as the primary cardholder’s spending. It doesn’t hurt to ask your primary if they’re willing to share the spoils with you — if you don’t already live together, that is.
  • Enjoy Certain Card Benefits. Authorized user cards generally carry the same benefits and privileges as primary cards. For instance, the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card’s airport lounge access benefit — one of the card’s top selling points — applies to the primary card and all authorized user cards. The exceptions to this rule are benefits awarded on a per-account basis only, as is the case with travel credits such as The Platinum Card from American Express’s $200 annual airline fee credit.
  • Keep Your Physical Card and Card Number Secure. Using the card is a responsibility, not a right. Treat your authorized user card and its number with the same care as you would a credit card in your own name. If you misplace an authorized user card with the same number as the primary card, the primary will need to lock the entire account and reissue the card — a major inconvenience, especially if you or they are on the road.
  • Avoid Overspending. Although you’re not personally responsible for the charges you make as an authorized user, overspending could strain the primary’s ability to make timely repayments. That, in turn, could negatively affect your credit down the line.

What You Can’t Do as an Authorized User

As an authorized user, you’re forbidden from making changes to the primary cardholder’s account information or payment methods. Although you have the ability to make charges on the account (unless the primary revokes this), you’re not technically responsible for them — the primary is.

Here is what you can’t do as an authorized user:

  • Change the Primary Cardholder’s Information. As an authorized user, you’re unlikely to be granted your own account management login, which means you can’t change any account-related information without the primary cardholder’s credentials. If the primary account holder trusts you, they could always give you the password — although for obvious reasons that’s not recommended.
  • Close the Account. You’re not authorized to close the entire card account.
  • Redeem Rewards. You can earn rewards on the account, but you can’t redeem them. That’s the primary’s benefit, although they should be happy to spread the wealth.
  • Directly Pay Card Balances. Without your own login for the card account, you can’t directly pay card balances. However, nothing stops you from compensating the primary cardholder for your charges.
  • Take Responsibility for Card Balances. As an authorized user, you’re explicitly not responsible for card balances. If the primary cardholder always pays the bill on time, this is a good thing — you get the benefits of responsible credit use without being personally liable.
  • Disclaim the Primary Cardholder’s Account Activity. On the other hand, you can’t disclaim the primary cardholder’s account activity. Your fates are joined. If they go on a spending spree that they can’t afford, your credit could suffer.

What You Might Want to Do as an Authorized User

Although authorized user status obligates you to none of the following moves, some or all could benefit you.

  • Ask the Issuer to Report Your Authorized User Account to Credit Bureaus. Most credit card issuers report authorized user accounts to consumer credit bureaus, but it doesn’t hurt to confirm with your issuer. Without such reporting, your authorized user account is useless for credit-building purposes.
  • Help the Primary Make Timely Payments. Although the primary cardholder is solely responsible for all card balances, nothing stops you from helping them out if they can’t make a payment on time. Faced with a choice between credit-damaging delinquency or a temporary hit to your bottom line, you should choose the latter.
  • Set Usage and Spending Limits. Consider working out informal usage and spending limits with your primary cardholder with the aim of keeping the account’s credit utilization below 40% or so. Higher credit utilization could be detrimental to your credit score (and the primary’s).
  • Apply for an Entry-Level Credit Card. Leverage your authorized user account’s credit boost to apply for a credit card of your own — probably an entry-level card like the Petal Cash Back Visa Card or a low-limit secured credit card. You don’t want to be an authorized user forever, after all.

Final Word

In the early stages of your credit-building journey, one of the best moves you can make is to snag a supporting role as a credit card authorized user on a friend or family member’s account.

As long as the primary cardholder makes timely payments and you’re able to keep your own spending in check, your status as an authorized user will build your personal credit history and could increase your credit score over time.

Just be mindful of the risks — and remember that credit is a privilege, not a right.

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Source: moneycrashers.com

10 Best Artificial Intelligence (AI) Stocks to Buy in 2021

Technology has made amazing leaps and bounds over the past decade. Among recent innovations like autonomous vehicles, machine learning, and Bitcoin, artificial intelligence (AI) is a major force that’s changing the way the world works.

Today, some of the world’s largest companies are using chatbots to provide faster, more accurate customer service, detailed algorithms and deep learning capabilities are leading to better outcomes in health care, and cloud computing has changed the way data is stored, served, and used.

These innovations have made the world a different place, and have made many investors fifthly rich in the process.

Wise investments in tech companies like Amazon.com, Google (now Alphabet), and Microsoft in the early 2000s would have yielded returns of more than 4,800%, 3,200%, and 320% respectively. These are among the major players in AI and cloud computing, making them some of the strongest AI stocks today.

But in a market that’s becoming saturated with many artificial intelligence stocks, choosing the best investment opportunities in the space may be a daunting task. So where do you start?

Pro tip: Earn a $30 bonus when you open and fund a new trading account from M1 Finance. With M1 Finance, you can customize your portfolio with stocks and ETFs, plus you can invest in fractional shares.

Best AI Stocks to Buy for 2021

When looking for strong opportunities in the artificial intelligence industry, it’s important to look for companies on the leading edge of innovation. As we saw with the once-king of the smartphone, BlackBerry, and the once-king of social media, MySpace, when companies in tech fail to innovate, they get bulldozed by the competition.

It’s also important to look into how these companies are actually implementing their AI technology and the market potential that comes along with their applications.

As is the case in any industry, each company has its own history, risks, and potential future. So, it’s important to do your research and make wise investment decisions when diving into the space.

Some of the best AI stocks on the market today include:

1. Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN)

The brainchild of Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com is one of the biggest success stories that has ever taken place in the stock market. The stock traded at just $1.73 per share 23 years ago, and few had faith that it would ever become anything worthwhile.

By early 2015, the stock was trading at around $300 per share, and there were still plenty of naysayers. Bezos seemed to be on a spending spree as he piled on debt to build out a world-leading infrastructure.

Then something amazing happened. That expensive infrastructure gave Bezos the edge that led it to become the biggest e-commerce company in the world. The company was already the go-to online shopping experience before the COVID-19 pandemic, got a major boost as coronavirus kept people indoors, and continues to see rapid growth in revenue and earnings, as well as interest from investors.

So, what does a massive e-commerce company have to do with artificial intelligence? Everything!

As a major player in tech, the company realized early on that AI would be the way of the future, and it became one of the first online stores to incorporate the technology into the shopping experience. It’s the technology that leads to suggestions as you shop, makes it possible to predict what you’re looking for as you type into the search bar, and connects related products often purchased together to build an unmatched shopping experience for consumers.

But this tech conglomerate is far more than just an e-commerce play. The company is incorporating artificial intelligence into products for various industries.

AI Applications

Aside from running major features of the company’s e-commerce shopping experience, Amazon uses AI technology in several other applications; primarily:

  • AWS. Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the company’s cloud computing service, the type of service that hosts artificial intelligence programs. AWS is a cloud computing powerhouse, dominating the industry with control of over 30% of the global market.
  • Alexa. Alexa is the company’s well-known artificial intelligence assistant. The voice behind the Amazon Echo family of products, when paired with compatible devices, Alexa can turn lights on and off, close and open smart blinds, make phone calls, and perform a vast array of other tasks, bringing AI and automation home, quite literally.
  • Autonomous Driving. Through its AWS product, Amazon offers a full suite of cloud computing services specifically designed to address the challenges of making advanced driver assistance systems and autonomous driving possible.

Considering the company’s dramatic growth since inception, its proven ability to stay ahead of the curve in innovation, its impressive use of AI technology, and the dominance of its core e-commerce business, AMZN stock is one for the watchlist.


2. Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOG | GOOGL)

Alphabet originally started as Google, a company so important in American and global culture that it became both a noun and a verb — to Google something is synonymous with searching for it online. Very few companies have ever achieved this kind of brand awareness.

Google has long been a player in the artificial intelligence space. One could argue the company laid the groundwork for modern AI with the algorithms it has been creating for its search engine since its inception.

As you might imagine, AI is part of just about everything the company does today. It’s the reason you receive relevant ads when you use Google Search, how the search bar knows what you’re typing after you’ve entered just a handful of letters, and how you receive relevant localized results for businesses near your location.

But, like Amazon.com, the company is far from a one-trick pony.

AI Applications

Alphabet changed its name from Google as it entered into several industries, where it incorporates the power of AI technology. Some of the most impressive include:

  • Autonomous Vehicles. The company was one of the first to explore the possibilities of autonomous driving. The company plans to use this technology to gather data for Google Maps and Google Earth with driverless cars and provide disabled consumers a safe way to travel. For example, the company’s autonomous driving capabilities appeared in a video in 2016 in which a blind man used a Google vehicle to get around.
  • Health Care. Alphabet is also using its AI capabilities as a means to better outcomes in the health care space. The company has already demonstrated its AI detects breast cancer more accurately than standard testing procedures, has received FDA clearance for a smartwatch for arrhythmia monitoring, and used its AI to provide communal data during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Advertising. You can’t mention Google without mentioning advertising. It’s the leading player in the space and advertising revenue represents the lion’s share of the company’s top line. The fact is the company wouldn’t be a leader in the advertising space if it wasn’t for its artificial intelligence technology. Through this technology, the company is able to show more relevant ads, resulting in higher click-throughs and sales for advertisers and a better experience for the end user.

Over the past couple of decades, the company has proven an ability to dominate any space it touches. With a history of consistent growth and an ability to stay ahead of the competition in terms of innovation, GOOG stock is one to pay close attention to.


3. Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL)

Apple is another household name. The company is the maker of smash-hit technology products like the iPhone and iPad. Its innovation and continued dominance in the mobile devices space is what makes the company the massive success it is today.

The smartphone pioneer was one of the first companies to put artificial intelligence into the hands of everyday people with Siri, an AI assistant that comes installed on every iPhone and iPad. Consumers can ask Siri questions, have the AI solve riddles, and even have the intelligence write out texts and make phone calls.

Just about anything that can be done on the iPhone can be done through Siri. However, Siri isn’t the company’s only application of AI technology.

AI Applications

  • Autonomous Vehicles. Apple is yet another massive tech company that’s working on the future of transportation: self-driving cars. The company is actively working to develop the Apple car. When it hits the market, the car is expected to be a fully electric vehicle capable of driving itself and providing quality entertainment during your ride.
  • Facial Recognition. The company was also one of the first to incorporate artificial intelligence technology into the way you unlock your phone, with the iPhone being one of the first smartphones to provide facial recognition features.
  • Sleep & Fitness Tracking. The tech giant also uses its AI technology in the health care space, with sleep and fitness tracking built into the Apple Watch.

Apple has proven its dominance through the years and continues to do so. It only makes sense that the company is staying on top of innovation as artificial intelligence leads to yet another pivotal shift in the way people do just about everything. Moreover, this leadership and innovation makes the stock a great pick for the tech stock investor.

Pro tip: Before you add any stocks to your portfolio, make sure you’re choosing the best possible companies. Stock screeners like Trade Ideas can help you narrow down the choices to companies that meet your individual requirements. Learn more about our favorite stock screeners.


4. Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT)

If you haven’t heard of Microsoft, chances are you live under a rock. The company is a leading player in software and dominates the computer operating system space. According to Statista, the company controls more than 76% of the global operating system market.

We’re talking about the company behind Windows and the Microsoft Office suite of products, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook.

As a leading player in the technology industry, Microsoft is also leading the way in artificial intelligence innovation. AI is used in just about every piece of software developed by the company, driving better user experiences than its competitors and keeping the company in the leading position.

The tech pioneer isn’t just using AI in its software offerings; the company’s activity in artificial intelligence spreads into multiple areas of tech.

AI Applications

While the company’s use of artificial intelligence in its own software keeps it in the leadership position, the company is incorporating its AI in various applications, including:

  • Cloud Computing. Microsoft is a big player in the cloud computing space. Its cloud computing platform Azure is second only to Amazon Web Services in terms of market share.
  • AI Classes. Knowing that building a community solidifies its leadership in the AI space, Microsoft hosts an AI school, bringing new talent into the community every day.
  • AI for Good. The company is also the pioneer of the AI for Good movement, which is designed to use AI as a tool to overcome humanitarian, environmental, accessibility, cultural heritage, and health challenges.

Microsoft has a strong history as a solid performer in the stock market. This history and likely future gains are the result of the company’s ability to consistently innovate, bringing cutting edge solutions to consumers and businesses. This trend is likely to continue along with the AI revolution, making MSFT stock an investment worth consideration.


5. NVIDIA (NASDAQ: NVDA)

Artificial intelligence wouldn’t be possible without advancements in microchips and graphics processing units (GPUs). These top-of-the-line technologies are used in the data centers that house the cloud and keep artificial intelligence alive. In essence, they can be thought of as vital organs for artificial intelligences.

This is where NVIDIA thrives.

The chip maker is a dominant player in the GPU space. According to WCCF Tech, the company controls 82% of the discrete GPU market as of the fourth quarter of 2020. That’s a massive statement, showing that the company has created a balance between cost and effectiveness, providing top-notch GPUs at reasonable pricing and attracting the vast majority of its target market.

AI Applications

NVIDIA’s most prominent application of AI technology is the use of its GPUs in the data centers that make up the heartbeat of today’s AI. The company also is involved in AI in other areas, including:

  • Intelligent Machines. The company’s GPUs and other technologies provide the framework needed for intelligent machines like autonomous vehicles and robotic surgery technology.
  • Improved Communication. NVIDIA researchers have found a way to use artificial intelligence to greatly reduce the bandwidth needed to make video calls while simultaneously improving quality and reducing latency.
  • Breakthroughs. According to Forbes, NVIDIA chips have been used in nearly every major artificial intelligence breakthrough, from detailed graphics in video games to self-driving cars.

Artificial intelligence wouldn’t exist without graphics processing units, and without NVIDIA, they may have never been invented. Since the introduction of the technology, NVIDIA has continued to innovate, maintaining a growing and controlling share of its market. As the AI industry grows, it only makes sense that the company will continue to grow, making it a strong investing opportunity.

Pro tip: Before you add any stocks to your portfolio, make sure you’re choosing the best possible companies. Stock screeners like Trade Ideas can help you narrow down the choices to companies that meet your individual requirements. Learn more about our favorite stock screeners.


6. IBM (NYSE: IBM)

Just about everyone has heard of International Business Machines by its acronym, IBM. Throughout its history, the company has centered itself around providing top-of-the-line technology to businesses to improve productivity while reducing costs.

It’s done a great job of doing so too, and in the process IBM has grown to a market cap of more than $110 billion.

As the business environment changes and new tools become available, the tech giant has worked to stay ahead of the curve. As the AI industry started to bring new, more effective solutions to businesses, IBM jumped all over the opportunity.

AI Applications

Like just about every other company on this list, IBM uses artificial intelligence technology in a wide array of applications, including:

  • Watson. Named after IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, Watson is an artificial intelligence designed to answer questions. The AI is capable of answering questions posed in natural human language, one of the first AIs with this capability.
  • Watson for Business. Once Watson became capable of answering questions, the company continued to work on the AI to make it a perfect tool for business owners. Today, Watson for Business can be used to discover and solve inefficiencies in just about any process.
  • Watson Health. Finally, Watson Health is quickly becoming an important aspect of clinical trials during the development of new therapies that address some of the world’s most challenging medical conditions.

Throughout IBM’s history, the company has been a leader in technology, specifically aimed at providing efficiencies in the business process. With such a strong history, it’s hard to imagine the future would be any less fruitful as the company continues to grab the AI bull by the horns and bring solutions to some of the most challenging problems in business today. All told, IBM is a stock that’s well worth your attention.


7. Baidu (NASDAQ: BIDU)

A leading technology company in China, Baidu is making a splash among American and other investors around the globe, and for good reason. The company is essentially China’s version of Google, which poses an incredible opportunity.

China is an emerging market that’s evolving quickly. As a result, investments in thoughtfully chosen Chinese stocks are proving to be fruitful. With Baidu leading the way in Chinese innovation in Internet services such as search and advertising, as well as artificial intelligence, it is a clear leader within this emerging economy.

As with Google, the Chinese online search leader uses artificial intelligence to provide quality search results as well as advanced advertising capabilities. Moreover, the company also uses artificial intelligence in several other applications.

AI Applications

While Baidu uses artificial intelligence in online search and advertising, it’s not a one-trick pony. Some other ways the company applies AI technology include:

  • Brain. Brain is the leading AI open platform in China. The platform has more than 220 capabilities and is used by more than 1.5 million AI developers.
  • Little Fish. Little Fish is Baidu’s artificial intelligence for consumers, and like Amazon’s Alexa, consumers can purchase Little Fish units to bring artificial intelligence into their homes.
  • Home Assistance Robots. Finally, Baidu is actively working to develop home assistance robots that will help with menial tasks around the house.

Baidu is a massive company and a clear leader in the Chinese AI and online services markets. Considering how quickly the Chinese economy is emerging, and the fact that there’s still a vast audience for the company to tap into as the economy grows, BIDU is a clear choice for any tech and AI investor’s portfolio.


8. Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX)

When you think of Netflix, AI may not come immediately to mind. After all, the company is a video streaming service — albeit a leading streaming video service, but a streaming video service nonetheless.

So, what is Netflix doing that makes it worthy of inclusion in a top artificial intelligence stocks list?

Netflix isn’t working to solve some of the world’s most pressing health or social challenges. It’s not a company that is using AI in various applications and industries. The company’s aim is simply to provide the best home entertainment experience possible. However, it’s doing a great job of using artificial intelligence technology to do just that.

Netflix uses machine learning technology to create custom lists of video content that you might enjoy based on what you’ve watched in the past. The company also uses artificial intelligence to choose the thumbnails that are most likely to lead to clicks when displayed in browsing screens.

All told, the company’s use of artificial intelligence is a major reason for its leadership in the highly-competitive streaming video industry. According to Business Insider, Netflix controlled about 34% of the streaming video market share as of the fourth quarter of 2020.

With a leading position in a highly competitive industry, Netflix is obviously doing something right. As it continues to use AI to create a more compelling user experience, growth is likely to continue, making Netflix a strong stock to consider for your portfolio.


9. Salesforce.com (NYSE: CRM)

Salesforce.com isn’t exactly a household name. But if you’re a business owner, chances are you’ve heard the name. The company’s claim to fame is its customer relationship management (CRM) software.

Through the use of the company’s software, companies are able to streamline the workflow, ensuring customer satisfaction while taking advantage of every reasonable opportunity to upsell.

As artificial intelligence became available, Salesforce.com jumped on the opportunity to incorporate it within its services. As a result, the company’s customer relations management software has stayed ahead of the curve, dominating with over 19% of the market share according to Forbes.

Salesforce.com developed an artificial intelligence known as Einstein. Einstein provides intelligent case classification, making it possible to get more done in a shorter amount of time. It also assists in the provision of more personalized customer service and streamlines sales through deep learning capabilities.

As Salesforce.com continues to use artificial intelligence to streamline sales, customer support, and lead generation, it will continue to be an integral tool for businesses of all sizes moving forward, allowing it to capture more and more market share and making it an investment that’s hard to ignore.


10. Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA)

Tesla is a household name in transportation. The company is known for its electric vehicles and its eclectic founder and CEO, Elon Musk.

So, what is an electric car manufacturer doing on the list of the top AI stocks?

Like Salesforce.com and Netflix, Tesla isn’t in a rush to use artificial intelligence to solve a wide array of problems. Instead, it’s focus is more singular: to provide a safe, reliable, clean, and enjoyable driving experience.

To do so, the company has incorporated artificial intelligence into its vehicles through the use of its Autopilot AI. All the company’s new vehicles come with driver assistance capabilities.

Interestingly, AI has created a network through its vehicles, collecting data from each and mapping that data to create an improved driving experience for all. Moreover, this data collection will make the company’s vehicles safer and more efficient when the company begins mass producing fully autonomous versions of its vehicles.

Tesla is by far the leader in high-tech vehicles, and there’s no sign of that changing any time soon. As the company continues to use AI to provide a safer and more enjoyable traveling experience, its vehicles will continue to be met with high levels of demand, making it a stock that should be paid attention to.


Final Word

Artificial intelligence can be seen all around you. Chances are you have it in your home either through smart-home technology, smart-television technology, or simply on your cellphone. This technology is changing the way people treat illnesses, work out, connect with others, and run businesses, and it’s generating massive profits for the companies on the leading edge of innovation in the industry.

The stocks listed above are some of the strongest players in the AI industry as it stands today, and they provide compelling opportunities for significant growth ahead.

As is always the case, before making any investment decisions, it’s important to do your research. Investing without research is akin to gambling and will likely result in significant losses. Nonetheless, if you take the time to research opportunities in AI and make well-thought-out investment decisions, the potential returns can be mind boggling.

Disclaimer: The author currently has no positions in any stock mentioned herein nor any intention to hold any positions within the next 72 hours. The views expressed are those of the author of the article and not necessarily those of other members of the Money Crashers team or Money Crashers as a whole. This article was written by Joshua Rodriguez, who shared his honest opinion of the companies mentioned. However, this article should not be viewed as a solicitation to purchase shares in any security and should only be used for entertainment and informational purposes. Investors should consult a financial advisor or do their own due diligence before making any investment decision.

Source: moneycrashers.com

Does Comparing Loans Affect My Credit Score?

loans and credit score

When it comes to shopping for the right loan, it makes sense that you’d want to do your research in order to score the best rate possible. And the Internet has made it easier than ever to do so. But before you start comparing loans, it’s important to understand the effect this could have on your credit.

And the answer isn’t as clear-cut as you might think.

Credit inquiries

Whether or not comparing loans will affect your credit score depends on whether a hard or soft inquiry is required.

Soft inquiries happen when a business pulls your basic credit information without your directly applying for anything — for instance, when credit card companies check to see if you prequalify for a card. Soft credit checks have no impact on your credit report.

Hard credit inquiries come whenever you directly apply for a loan or new line of credit, such as a mortgage, car loan, or new credit card. The lender pulls your complete credit report to determine whether you’re a safe borrowing candidate.

Since you took the steps to apply, hard inquiries are considered “authorized,” and they do end up on your credit report and affect your credit score. Luckily, if your credit is otherwise in good standing, the effect is fairly minimal; your credit score will only drop by a few points, and it usually bounces back from the hit within six months. (However, the effect may be more impactful if your credit isn’t as strong.)

When credit checks are required

Hard inquiries may not be required until you’re further into the loan process. Lenders can get an idea of what interest rate you’d qualify for by performing soft inquiries using basic information including your name and annual income. So if you’re shopping around, this is the best way to look at all of your options.

However, to get an official rate quote, you will have to directly apply for the loan, which will result in a hard inquiry.

But here’s the good news: if you submit multiple applications for the same type of loan (say, a car loan) over a short period of time (usually between 14 and 45 days), it’s not considered risky behavior because it’s evident to the credit bureaus that you’re simply looking for the best deal. As such, credit bureaus will often count these multiple applications as a single hard inquiry.

(Note: This isn’t the case for credit cards. Submitting multiple credit card applications over a short period could not only bring down your credit score, it could also make you look like a risky borrowing candidate to lenders.)

How to shop for loans

In order to avoid damaging your credit as you shop for loans, make sure you’re aware whether your credit is being submitted for a hard or soft inquiry. Many websites will let you know, but if you’re not sure, call the company’s customer service to ask.

Also, make sure you’re protecting your privacy. A secure Web page will begin with “https,” so if you’re entering your social security number or any other sensitive personal information, make sure to double-check for that protocol.

If you’re having trouble getting approved for a loan, it could be that you need to fix your credit. For credit help, consider speaking with a credit repair expert. Lexington Law offers the legal expertise to help you repair your credit and ensure that your credit report remains fair and accurate.

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Source: lexingtonlaw.com

Shaquille O’Neal’s OG Home in Orlando — with the Superman Bed

NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal is known to have one of the craziest celebrity homes of all time: a sprawling, 31,000-square-foot megamansion he picked up in 1993 when he was a rookie with the Orlando Magic.

The mansion, which served as Shaq’s home for the past 25 years, is truly one of a kind. And that’s not just because Mr. O’Neal has very particular tastes — which are nonetheless showcased throughout the property — but because the home was never a financial investment for the Hall of Famer. And while Shaq has repeatedly tried to sell the property — it was last listed in 2019 for $22 million — in the end, it wasn’t meant to be and the basketball star decided to sell his Los Angeles home instead.

According to his former listing agent, Dustin Fealy with The Agency South Florida, the NBA star spared no expense in fitting his longtime Orlando-area house. “This was home to him, cost did not matter when it came to the security and comfort of his family.”

Set in Windermere, Florida, Shaq’s home comes with 12 bedrooms (including that iconic Shaq bed), 15 baths, a media room with a bar, a entertainment room with game tables and a wet bar, a few other unique amenities, and a Superman-themed bed.

O’Neal routinely took reporters on tours of the house, and even shot an episode of “MTV Cribs” there when, he introduced us to Shaq-apulco: his 95-foot long swimming pool with a large waterfall spilling over boulders and a swim-up bar.

Briefly listed earlier this year for a mind-boggling $28 million, Shaq’s house is now back on the market with fresh representation — with upscale brokerage The Agency now handling the listing — and a new price: $21,990,000. Scroll down for more details.

Definitely not your ordinary house

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Shaquille O’Neal’s Superman bed. Image credit: Jasen Delgado Photography

Needless to say, Shaq’s massive Lake Butler home — set within the Isleworth private golf community in South Florida — is sized to accommodate a big family, stand to show the 28 rooms (!)

Believe it or not, the impressive size of the house pales in comparison with some other unique features.

The NBA superstar house comes with some unusual yet charming rooms, including a temperature-controlled, cedar-planked humidor with wine storage and an aquarium-style room with a triangular tank. Yet most striking is the wall mural of a true-to-size tractor-trailer barreling toward the interior of the room on an expressway. And, of course, Shaq’s oversized Superman bed, pictured above.

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Shaq’s house. Image credit: Jasen Delgado Photography
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Shaq’s house. Image credit: Jasen Delgado Photography

Shaquille O’Neal’s house also comes with two garages that together fit 17 cars, one a show-car garage with a fitness center and the other with dance and recording studios — making you think back to Shaq’s rap releases in the 1990s.

Unsurprisingly, the lakeside mansion includes a 6,000-square-foot indoor basketball court fit for basketball royalty, but does come with a rather unique “aquarium-style room” with a saltwater triangular fish tank.

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Shaq’s house. Image credit: Jasen Delgado Photography
Image credit: Jasen Delgado Photography
Shaq’s house. Image credit: Jasen Delgado Photography

Don’t miss: Take a Tour of Tom Brady’s Custom-Built Home in Brookline, Massachusetts

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Shaq’s house. Image credit: Jasen Delgado Photography
shaquille-oneal-home-garage
Shaq’s house. Image credit: Jasen Delgado Photography

The grandeur doesn’t stop with the interior, though.

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Shaq’s house. Image credit: Jasen Delgado Photography

Shaq nicknamed his party-perfect outdoor area “Shaq-apulco” quite aptly. The 95-foot long swimming pool has a large waterfall spilling over boulders and a swim-up bar. All of this looks out over the lake, the long private pier with boathouse, and the life-size statue of Shaq’s favorite comic book character: Superman.

Oh, and did we mention that the property boasts 700 feet of prime Lake Butler frontage?

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Shaq’s house. Image credit: Jasen Delgado Photography

Shaq’s latest attempt to sell the house

Initially brought to market in May 2018 with an ambitious listing price of $28 million — likely priced aggressively in order to leave room for negotiations — Shaquille O’Neal’s house kicked off 2019 with a whole new marketing strategy.

With new representation, in the hands of upscale brokerage The Agency, who specializes in million dollar homes and celebrity estates, Shaq’s home relisted with a more realistic price tag of $22 million. But even the lowered listing price failed to attract a serious buyer, so Shaquille O’Neal quietly took the property off the market and is now back to enjoying his longtime home.

More celebrity homes:

New Netflix Doc Sparks Renewed Interest in Aaron Hernandez’ Former Home
Spotlight On: the Razor House — Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz’ Crazy New Mansion
“Neverland Ranch” No More! The Sycamore Valley Ranch is Much More than Michael Jackson’s Former HomeMindy Kaling is Moving Into Frank Sinatra’s Beach House in Malibu, Known as Ol’ Blue Eyes’ “Happiest Place on Earth”

Source: fancypantshomes.com