March 2, 2021

Bucks Blog: The Approved Card: Reader Feedback

In my Your Money column Monday, I write about Suze Orman’s Approved card, a prepaid debit card that is essentially a checking account without the checks (or any bank branches).

While much of the column is about her business model – and her efforts to change the way credit reporting companies evaluate people who use debit cards – I don’t want to give short shrift to the question of whether this sort of product is truly useful.

I see at least three potential strategies for consumers here:

1) Use the Approved card or other prepaid debit cards to replace a bank account, whether it’s because you don’t qualify for a checking account because you’ve bounced too many checks or overdrawn too many times, or because you choose to steer clear of big banks.

2) Use a card as an isolated budgeting tool – say for a hobby or a vacation, where you don’t want to exceed a certain spending level. The card won’t let you spend more than you have. Then again, the monthly fees that most cards charge will cut into that budget.

3) Hand a card over to a teenager or college student as the first step on the road to a true checking account or credit card. Sort of like training wheels.

Have any of you used prepaid debit cards as your primary spending or budgeting tool? Or would you use Ms. Orman’s Approved card?

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Gadgetwise: Everything You Need to Know About the New iTunes

Last week, at the opening of its annual developers’ conference, Apple announced iCloud — its new online storage and syncing service for music, photos, files and software. Although not all of its features are available immediately, one part — “iTunes in the Cloud Beta” — is, if you’ve updated to iTunes 10.3.1. Here is a primer about what you need to know, right now, about it.

Q: “ITunes in the Cloud Beta” — that really rolls off the tongue. What is it?

A: It’s a way for stuff you’ve purchased through the iTunes Store to show up on all your computers and iDevices.

Q: But doesn’t that happen when I sync my device to my computer?

A: It does, but the change is that now you don’t have to physically connect anything. When you buy a song on, say, your iPhone, you can set it up so that the song will  automatically appear on your iTunes library on your Mac at home, your iPad and your PC running iTunes at work. You don’t have to go through the rigamarole of syncing just to get Music Store purchases from one device to another.

Q: How are my various devices linked? How does Apple know which machines get my music?

A: Remember your AppleID? The one that’s linked to your credit card for easy purchasing? That’s the link. Any machine associated with that ID can download purchases you’ve made on another device.

Q: How do I do this? Where does this new feature live?

A: On a PC or Mac, go to iTunes, then to the “Purchased” section, found in the lefthand column. Click on that and then look in the lower-right corner for “Download Previous Purchases.” The new window has two views —”All” and “Not In My Library” — and you can toggle between them using the buttons in the upper right of the window. Anything you’ve already purchased on another device (the music you have on your work PC, or your iPhone, say) will be visible with a small cloud icon next to it. Click on the cloud, and the track will begin downloading immediately.

If you’re on an iPhone or other Apple mobile device, you’ll find this feature in the iTunes app. Go into the “Purchased” menu; things are pretty much the same as on your computer from there on.

Q: Do I have to do this manually all the time? What if I just want anything I buy on iTunes, from here on out, to go to all my linked devices?

A: You can set up automatic downloads so that you don’t have to think about managing where your music goes. (Be patient. We’ll get to how to do it automatically in a minute.) Every device has the ability to get a copy of something purchased through the iTunes Store on another device. This doesn’t just apply to music, by the way; apps and books can also be distributed this way as well. Buy, for example, a song on iTunes on your iPhone, and it will show up on your other devices about a minute afterward.

Q: What about movies and TV shows?

A: Not yet. That’s still a matter for studios, Apple and battalions of corporate lawyers to figure out.

Q: So how do I set up Automatic Downloads?

A: On Apple mobile devices, you’ll find the controls in Settings. Go to “Store,” and you’ll see what you need there. You can limit auto-downloads to either music, books or apps (or any combination), or you can set your iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch to accept all content, all the time. Automatic downloads will use a Wi-Fi signal if you’re on a wireless network, but you can also set a control on this screen to use a 3G cellular signal if Wi-Fi is unavailable, and if you don’t mind using your wireless-data plan.

On Macs and PCs, you’ll find these controls in iTunes’ preferences, under “Store.” Once there, the process is similar to what you would do on the phone or tablet.

Q: What if I add music to iTunes that I didn’t buy from the iTunes Store? Will that get sent out to my other devices?

A: Not yet. Right now, this new feature only works with iTunes Store purchases. Later this fall, Apple will have a new service, iTunes Match, which will allow you to share all of your music — whether you bought it from Apple, ripped a CD or got it from another source like Amazon’s MP3) — across all your devices for $25 a year.

Q: So does all of this mean I don’t have to sync anymore?

A: Not quite. While you can share some of your media wirelessly right now, you still need to connect to a computer to sync photos, to back up contacts and calendar data (unless you were on Mobile Me, which did this sort of thing, but is being phased out in favor of the new iCloud services), get software updates, etc. Later this year, Apple will be rolling out more iCloud features, which will address these issues and make syncing truly a thing of the past. But that’s not until this fall.

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Bucks: Monday Reading: Picking the Right Credit Card for Travel

April 25

Monday Reading: Picking the Right Credit Card for Travel

Choosing the right credit card for travel, a Toyota recall, new efforts to help shoppers find the right clothing sizes and other consumer-focused news from The New York Times.

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