Dear Mary: My husband and I own a small business, and we are looking for a credit card that offers reward air miles. Our plan is to pay it off each month but collect miles for travel to buy goods for our business. One of our sales reps told us that many small businesses pay for goods at gift shows with their credit card and use those miles to pay for trips to the next trade show. Do you know of a site where we can find a credit card for this purpose? Thank you so much. Your column is filled with wisdom and inspiration and I really enjoy it. Toni C., Washington

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Dear Toni: Your plan is a good one, provided you really do pay the balance in full each month and your credit card has a 25-day grace period in which to do that. That way the miles you earn will truly be free. But if you should happen to lapse and let the balance roll to the next month, not only will you lose your grace period until the balance is paid in full once again, you will pay so much interest any miles you earn will pale by comparison. It takes effort and finesse to not get caught in the debt trap. If you decide to move forward with this, my advice is to stick with a personal credit card, not one that is designated for business. You want all of the legal protection afforded to personal credit cards by the Fair Credit Billing Act. To find a reward credit card, go to Index Credit Cards, a comprehensive list of current credit-card offers. More than likely you will have to pay an annual fee for the card, something you will want to weigh carefully against its potential benefits. Read more


SOFTEN BREAD. If you have a baguette or a loaf of uncut bread that has gone stale, sprinkle the item with water until fairly damp. Pop into a hot oven for a few minutes until the bread is soft and hot. Sally P., Kentucky 

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WEIGH DOWN. After just hanging new curtains I found that a butter knife works well in the hems to weight down and straighten out the edges if needed. Natalie B., North Carolina

SLEEPING SHEET. When your large-size fitted sheet loses its elasticity or your flat sheet gets too tired for regular use, fold it in half and stitch up the bottom and side, leaving the top open. Then you have a sheet sack that is great for camping on warm nights when a sleeping bag is too hot. Carolyn S., Minnesota Read more


There are lots of reasons to not carry credit-card debt. The most obvious is that it’s really expensive. And here a reason often overlooked: It’s so much harder to work for money you’ve already spent.

But what if you do not carry any credit-card debt at all? There are some who would say it is perfectly reasonable to use credit to pay for everything you possibly can during the month, provided you are able to pay it back down to $0 during the grace period. But it’s still a habit that can have a negative effect on your financial situation.

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You need to kick your credit-card habit for these simple reasons: Read more


Not all debts are created equal, nor is every type of loan hazardous to your wealth. There is a world of difference between a home mortgage and a revolving credit-card balance. While both types of debt are liabilities in which a borrower is legally obligated to a lender, the first I call intelligent borrowing: the latter is ridiculous debt because it is toxic to your financial health and your life.

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Here are the characteristics of intelligent borrowing:

1. The borrower has a safety valve—a legally and morally sound alternative to get out of the obligation at any time.

2. The debt is secured. The lender holds something that is at least as valuable as the amount of the loan. This is called collateral. Think of it as a security deposit for the lender. Read more


Grilling, barbecue: Two of my favorite summertime words. Of course whenever my thoughts go to outdoor grilling, immediately I think burgers. But let’s be honest. Aren’t we tired of plain, old boring hamburgers?

Thankfully our friends at, have come up with some amazing alternatives to share with us today. My only problem is which of these burger recipes to try first!

Lamb Burger

eMeals is a meal planning service that has a plan to fit your family, your budget and your lifestyle. If you could use a little help with simplifying your meal planning while still making great choices, check out all of the meal plans offered at (hint: use code debtproofliving for 15% off).  Read more


Dear Mary: I contacted TransUnion because there was a blatant error on my credit report. It stated I owed the federal government $80,000. A lien was filed in 1991 and the debt was discharged in bankruptcy in 1998. The TransUnion rep was not very nice on the phone. When I asked why something from 1991 was still on my report he told me they can keep a lien on indefinitely. What do I do now? Linda, New York

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Dear Linda: I am not an attorney and cannot give legal advice. What I can do is urge you to contact an attorney right away. I am concerned that this lien was never discharged, as you were lead to believe. My understanding is you can’t discharge a federal tax Lien. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy will wipe out your personal obligation to pay the debt, and prevent the IRS from going after your bank account or wages, but if the IRS recorded a tax lien on your property before you filed for bankruptcy, the lien will remain on the property. In effect, this means you’ll have to pay off the tax lien in order to sell the property. For you sake, I hope I’m wrong.  Read more


CHECK FIRST. Before renting a car, make a quick call to your insurance agent to find out if your regular auto insurance will cover the rental car in the area you’ll be driving. Chances are great it will, that means you can just say ‘No’ when the rental agency tries to force you to pay $10 or $15 a day extra for insurance coverage. It’s silly to pay for duplicate coverage. Kyle D., Florida


ALL GONE? No matter how much you squeeze a toothpaste tube, chances are there still is some paste left. So when you’re certain you’ve squeezed the last drop, cut open the tube and you’ll be able to brush once more. Lauralee D., Montana

SOFTENING SHEETS. make your own dryer sheets by pouring a tablespoon of liquid fabric softener onto a damp rag. Rub it in and toss it in the dryer. Barb L., Colorado Read more

Shopping for a vacuum cleaner can be a mind-numbing experience because there are so many makes and models to choose from and with price tags from $25 to $1,500 or more. But don’t worry.  Even the most neat-freaky of neat freaks need not spend four-figures on a vacuum to ensure a clean house.

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To identify the best inexpensive vacuum cleaner out there, I came up with this criteria: A great vacuum has to be lightweight, bagless, easily cleanable and most importantly—have consistent suction power.

Lightweight. The test for me is if I can pick it up with one hand and carry it up a flight of stairs. If it takes two people to lift, you know that’s a machine that will knock the paint off door jambs and slam into legs of furniture because it is just too heavy. Read more