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The Cheap and Easy Way to Build a Great Credit Score

Dear Mary: You have written in the past that it’s important that we keep our credit cards “active” even when we keep them at zero balance. How often should we use them to keep them active? Does it matter how much we put on them? Can it be a small purchase that we pay off immediately? Thanks. Nancy

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Dear Nancy: Using a credit card twice a year is more than sufficient to keep the account active. The purchase amount is inconsequential. Use it to purchase a 99-cent app and you’ll accomplish the goal. Then pay it off right away—even on the very same day. That way you won’t forget or run the risk of allowing a silly small purchase to create a rolling debt.

The system isn’t looking at the size of the purchase or the amount of time between purchase and repayment—only that a transaction is recorded and payment is received according to the terms and conditions you agreed to when you opened the account.

These days it’s important for every adult to own one good, all-purpose credit card for the purpose of maintaining a high credit score. To do so does not require one to carry a smidgen of debt (it’s NOT a debt score), nor to use the thing habitually. You could use your card to purchase two apps a year ($1.98 total, paid off immediately) and build a killer credit score. I have a feeling that’s exactly what you plan to do. Good for you!

How Credit Inquiries and Cosigning Can Affect Credit Score

Dear Mary: My son is looking for an apartment near his new job in order to avoid a horrendous daily commute. He recently told me that each time a landlord/manager runs a credit check on him, his credit score drops 15 points. What recourse does he have?

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Dear Judy: Most potential landlords and their management companies do check a potential tenant’s credit history because it’s a good indicator of how a person lives his or her life.

Credit inquiries are classified as either “hard inquiries” or “soft inquiries”—only hard inquiries have an affect on one’s FICO score.

Soft inquiries are all credit inquiries where your credit is NOT being reviewed by a prospective lender. These include inquiries where you’re checking your own credit, and inquiries made by businesses with whom you already have a credit account.

Hard inquiries are inquiries where a potential lender is reviewing your credit because you’ve applied for credit with them. These include credit checks when you’ve applied for an auto loan, mortgage, credit card, insurance and a search for a rental property such as an apartment.

Cheap Ways to Fly, Stay Cool and Clean Up, Too!

Mostly, what I know about every way imaginable to save time and money I’ve learned  1) out of sheer desperation or 2) from kind and clever readers who’ve taught me so much over the years. Today I can officially add three more such ways:

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Dear Mary: I have discovered a website, Skiplagged.com (also a companion smartphone app) for finding super cheap airfares. I have comparison shopped but have found nothing cheaper, and I fly a LOT! The secret: one way flights. Often you are skipping the second leg and your destination is actually the stopover city. It’s the best thing since sliced bread!

When I first started using Skiplagged, I booked a last minute trip to a football playoff city for a game. The best roundtrip fare I could find was $1,000. I got roundtrip at Skiplagged for under $300 (biggest savings so far). It was a weekend of storms in the east and many flights were canceled. The airline kept changing my flight because the storm was hitting the connecting city (my actual destination, but to them it was a connecting city). All I had to do was call each time (twice) and tell them I had a meeting at that airport and had to keep my layover city the same. The storm passed in time and I got in okay.

Not all of the amazing deals at Skiplagged.com involve skipping a leg of the trip you purchase (getting off at the layover city and not continuing on to the destination city on your boarding pass), when it does there is a very important thing to keep in mind when using this tactic: DO NOT check luggage or it will continue on without you. This is a tactic that requires carry-on only. Kasey

Dear Kasey: Great find. I just spent a little time comparing prices trips I have taken recently and also future trips I have booked and I’m amazed. This site really delivers. Thanks so much for letting us know about Skiplagged. I can’t wait to hear how others use this resource to figure out super cheap ways to travel. 

How to Eliminate Odor of Gasoline Spilled Inside Family Vehicle Plus GIVEAWAY!

Recently a message showed up in my inbox that made my heart sink. I couldn’t help imagine what it would be like to lend my car to someone, only to have it come back to me with a little something I’d not counted on. And what if that condition was permanent?! Thankfully, I have good news for one desperate reader.

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DEAR MARY: I have a problem that I can’t solve and was wondering if you would be able to help.  Someone borrowed my car recently and transported a small generator in it.  Somehow, the gasoline spilled out inside my Explorer and left a very intense gasoline smell. I have tried everything I can think of and nothing has removed the smell.  I steamed cleaned it with carpet shampoo, sprinkled it with baking soda and vacuum it up, saturated it with Nok-Out at least three time to no avail. Any ideas? Lisa

DEAR LISA: My first response to your dilemma was to wonder if this “someone” was at one time on your list of friends (relatives?) but I won’t go there. Instead, I do have a solution for you and one that does not involve pushing that SUV off a cliff. It’s long, so bear with me.

This is definitely a job for Nok-Out—an odor-eliminating product that is non-toxic, fragrance-free and absolutely works wonders providing it is used specifically.

Super Inexpensive Chromebook Laptop Gets Another Rave Review Plus More Reader Feedback

Somedays I stare at my email inbox the way a meteorologist stares at a barometer. While the meteorologist counts on his barometer to forecast the weather, I look to my email inbox to measure and predict your reactions and feedback.

You might recall a recent post on how to use up every last bit of a rotisserie chicken. I have to admit that my thoughts were on how to use up all of the chicken meat. About 10 minutes after that post hit, my inbox started going crazy. I got hundreds of responses scolding me for failure to include making stock from the chicken carcass. Whoops!

A post on a type of very inexpensive laptop brought another tsunami-strength wave of mail—this time from happy, satisfied readers turned Chromebook fans.

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Humidity—Not too High Not Too Low, But Just Right

Humidity is a popular topic among friends and neighbors here where I live in northern Colorado. It’s like we have none! Well, not exactly, but it averages in the low to mid 20 percent during the summer and fall months, and that’s dry! We have a humidifier in our home to keep the air moist and it runs 24/7 year round.

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And then there’s the matter of high humidity—a troublesome condition for many—which came to mind when I heard from Will a few days ago.

DEAR MARY: I enjoy reading your daily emails, particularly ones on appliances. Do you have any recommendations for a quality dehumidifier for the home? Thanks in advance! Will

DEAR WILL: Apparently we make a great team, you and I, because I love testing, reviewing and recommending household appliances. I am confident and very happy to recommend two different high-quality machines (depending on the size of the space you have), both of which just happen to come from Frigidaire.

FRIGIDAIRE FAD504DWD Energy Star 50-pint Dehumidifier, about $189. This 50-pints-per-day machine will give you continuous operation in an area up to 1,500 sq. ft., as long as it is near a suitable drain. It will help to eliminate bacteria in the air, room odors, mold, mildew and other airborne particles. This machine is very quiet, and allows you to control the exact percentage of humidity in the room. For the money, I don’t think you can beat this option

Help! My Shark Vacuum is Acting Awkward and Stubborn

Did you hear about the shark incident in Florida? A young woman was bitten last Sunday and rushed to the hospital with the shark still attached to her arm!

Rescuers killed the shark before transporting the victim, but still it hung on. That was one stubborn shark and a lot creepier than the stubborn Shark one of my readers has been dealing with.

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DEAR MARY: We purchased the Shark vacuum you so highly recommend. I do love the suction and cleaning prowess of the machine, but it seems awkward and difficult to push around on good quality plush carpeting. Marge

DEAR MARGE: Oh dear—something is not right! I can’t be sure which model Shark you have (the one I love, recommend and use nearly every day is Shark Navigator Lift-Away Professional) but for sure your Shark should not be difficult to maneuver on carpet!

With the Brush-Roll turned on, you’ll discover the Shark Pro has a self-propelling feature that pushes it forward, similar to a power lawn mower. Something tells me that perhaps you are attempting to use your Shark on carpet without this feature engaged.

Assuming we have the same model, take a look at yours. You should see a Power button and also a button for the Brush-Roll. In Power mode, you’re ready to vacuum hard surfaces like wood and tile. When you move to carpet, you need to press the Brush-Roll so it lights up green. When the Brush-Roll is engaged and you step on the foot release, you can feel the self-propelling feature kick in. Shark will nearly vacuum that carpet on its own!

If the suction is still too much for your plush carpet, you can make another adjustment. Towards the top of the handle, there is a ring you can turn to adjust the level of suction.

Once you’re set, all you need to do is follow behind and steer the thing with minimal effort. I sure hope that helps. There is nothing about a Shark Navigator Lift-Away Professional that should be awkward to push around.

If yours is a different model than mine, look for adjustments for suction and an indicator that the brush roll is engaged. And don’t forget to make sure that your Shark and filter is clean

Get Pesky Rabbits Out of the Garden

DEAR MARY: Love your column! Now that it is spring, it is time to put out beautiful young plants, hoping for flowers all summer long. My problem…rabbits!  They munch my plants right down to the ground. The vegetables I put in a fenced area are safe, but the bunnies make short work of my perennials and annuals that are out in the open. Any ideas? Connie

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DEAR CONNIE: Short of fencing your entire property and then attaching chickenwire to the lower 18-inches all the way around, there are two labor-intensive tactics that seem to work pretty well: 1)Plant vegetables they hate in with the flowers to repel them: peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, corn and squash. Not very attractive so perhaps this will be more appealing to you and the rabbits: 2) Plant vegetables they love. Give them the beans, peas, parsley and rosemary they crave to draw them away. Just plant this rabbit bait far from the beautiful flowers.

DEAR MARY: I know you’re a big proponent of living with cash. I’ve tried it but I really like the convenience of a debit card and am able to better manage my spending with it. The problem is I’m not earning any interest on the money in my checking account—none! Do you know of any high-interest checking accounts that would work well for a person in my situation? Maxine

DEAR MAXINE: These days, “high” interest is a relative term. Thirty-years ago that would have meant 9.00% APY or more. These days? Compared to nothing, I suppose 2.00% APY could be considered “high.”