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Author Topic: Guide to the USA
Hannibal
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So...

I am moving to the USA (New Haven CT to all of you who missed this) in 3-4 months.
Infact, I am coming for a two weeks visit with my newly wed wife (we married last week) to start arrange our things for when we will arrive in July/Augost.

I have found myself looking on the internet to learn many things that one needs to learn when he comes to live in a new country. Then it came to me in a flash of thought, why dont I ask people here ?

The thing that puzzles me the most currently is credit and credit history.

WTF is the difference between a debit card and a credit card ?

I am going to open a bank account (do you recommend a bank?) when I arrive in a few days. I need to create a credit history, so that I will be able to rent a place (they all want good credit history)
does debit card generate a credit history?
do I even want a credit card? from the partial things I understood I think I only want a debit card.

I am puzzled O_o

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cherrypoptart
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If you are a student, even for your master's degree, you should look into student perks for banking like free checking.

I like Dave Ramsey and listen to his radio show.

Here's his take on debit cards, credit cards, and credit scores.

http://www.daveramsey.com/article/the-truth-about-credit-card-debt/


http://www.daveramsey.com/article/the-truth-about-your-credit-score/lifeandmoney_creditcards/

--------------------------------------------


There's more to it than that, but it's a place to start. I'm very happy having just the debit card and haven't found anything I can't do yet. Debit card is also called a check card, and it's like writing a check, meaning you have to have the money in the bank already to cover it especially with instant electronic check cashing nowadays. A credit card means you are borrowing money and have a good chance of paying high interest rates to do so.

When you're here driving around check out the AM side of the radio sometimes.

You might look at your local Jewish Community Center and see if it's right for you. I like mine, even though I'm not Jewish. It seems like a good place for kids and even for me.

Welcome to America!

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edgmatt
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If you are trying to build a credit history, you should get a credit card with a low limit, like $500.00, and use that to buy things you need and can afford. For example, you know you have 100.00 to spend on grocery's. Instead of paying cash, use the credit card, then go online and pay it off. You can set up the card to be paid off on line easily.

This is a great idea that I have used since I was 18 and got my first Sears credit card. I am 33 now and I have excellent credit. It only works great because I always pay off the card, I never accrue any interest. The interest wont effect your credit score, but you'll start piling up the interest if your not careful and you'll be buried in a few years. That's the mistake many people make.

For me the best card was a Costco/American Express card. Both of those companies charge an annual fee, but if you get the combo (which you get AT costco) you only pay one fee annually. I also get up to 3% cash back every year on whatever I buy, so I use it like a Debit card. I just make sure I pay it off every month. I never buy more than I can afford.

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Hannibal
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Ok.. This is very different than how things work in Israel.


In our cards (I dont want to call them credit or debit) we can select the date where the payment is made (for instance, every 2nd or 10th of a month, to synchronize with the paycheck)

and then EVERYTHING I purchased duing the last month is automatically payed from my bank account at that date.
(Unless I specifically choose to pay some transaction in payments)

if I accumulated transactions of 2000 shekels, on the 10th of the month, 2000 shekels will come off from my bank account.

I dont need to do anything.

I take it, this is NOT the way things work in the USA

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cherrypoptart
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Credit card companies were busted sending out your statements so late that you couldn't make your payment on time. They will look for any excuse, and will try to invent new ones, to get you to pay as much as possible. It's an adversarial role you are in and you can't take your eyes off them for a moment. I also don't like the fees. It's excessively complicated filled with trick trips for the unwary. It may be like blackjack at the casino where theoretically the counter strategy gives the edge to the player, but you have to really stay on your toes to pull it off.
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edgmatt
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Hannibal - I think you could probably set up your accounts to pay the entire balance at a certain date. The difference might be that in Israel, you don't have the option; you have to pay it all off on that date. In the U.S., you have the option to pay it off completely or not.
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JWatts
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Congratulations on getting married! And remember the husbands first rule of a good marriage. The wife is always right. [Wink]

Hannibal if you open a Checking account with a bank, (nearly all of them) will issue you a Debit Card. The card can be used in two ways.

First, you can use it to get cash from an ATM machine. Fees will apply unless you use an ATM from your bank. You can also get just an ATM card if you don't want a Debit card. It is only good for directly getting cash from ATM machines.

Second, you can use the Debit card at most businesses and it will take the money directly from your bank account at the time of the transaction.

Also, most banks will charge you a monthly service fee for a checking account. However, most banks will waive that fee if you have your pay check automatically deposited in the account.

You do not need a credit card to build a credit history, though it's probably the easiest. Once you start paying any bills regularly and on-time you'll start builing a credit history. Check out the links cherrypoptart posted for Dave Ramsey.

If you do get a credit card, keep the limit low and pay off the balance at the end of the month every month no excuses. Credit card companies exist and thrive, because most people don't follow that rule.

Also, don't buy a car you can't pay cash for if you can avoid it. This might not be possible when you are just starting out, but if you buy a car on credit, buy a cheap car and make the loan period short (24-36 months). I've never owned a new car in my entire life. If you don't need a car immediately, set up an automatic savings plan to take out $200-$300 a month into a savings account as a car fund. Within a 3 years you'll have enough money for a decent, older used car.

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Chael
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I've liked the Discover card. They have one with no annual fee, 1-5% cash back, and I've never had a problem with them (paying, redeeming the cash back, anything). Their website is well-designed. They have the same fees if you mess up as everyone else, but if you just pay attention when you get your monthly bill, there is nothing to worry about. And it sounds like you already know you need to stay within your means. If you treat the credit card's limit, not as income, but as a very short-term loan, and get it with a company that is reputable, it's a great deal. Ours gives us about $300 a year, and the only cost is a wee bit of vigillance.

Credit cards are also nice because they /aren't/ linked directly to your checking account, and so if someone steals yours, you don't need to depend upon your bank to have decent policies or believe that you are in the right to protect your money. Unfortunately, finding a reputable bank can be as difficult as finding a reputable credit card. Buying things with credit cards, depending on your credit card, can also provide you with more consumer protections than can a debit card (extended warranty, someone to go to if the seller has tried to cheat you, etc.).
--------
The banks that will give you free checking if you have your paycheck directly deposited into your account will /not/ give it to you unless there is a direct deposit into your account each month (they may just charge you a fee for that month--but it's still a fee you don't need). I know this because I teach at a college, and am not paid every month. There are other options: opening a savings account at the same bank and keeping a balance of a certain dollar amount (which will probably be quite doable for you) in your combined accounts, for example.

No bank that I've found will give you anything like a good interest rate right now (your region may differ, but I doubt it will differ /that/ strongly), and so while you're doing your research it would probably be best to look instead for banks with fewer gotchas, fewer fees, and fewer people griping online about them. [Wink]

You may also want to look into credit unions. Make sure that if you choose a credit union over a bank, it is federally insured. From what I've heard from other people, they are slightly less convenient (fewer branches, for one thing), but they have a more personal touch.

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Chael
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Also, to JWatts: you probably know this, but credit card companies don't just make their money off of unwise borrowers. They also make it off merchants (in other words, everyone), by charging a per-transaction fee.
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Chael
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To answer more of your questions, Hannibal: I don't think you'll be able to build a good credit history by the time you need to rent a place, though yes, it would be good if you had your bank accounts opened and your ducks in a row. My husband was in the same situation once, because he had no debt, never used credit cards, and just generally didn't seem to exist much for the purposes of a credit history. He was able to rent an apartment that required a good credit history because he could show that his lack of one was caused by good financial sense. And it was one in a complex he actually liked--he didn't lose out by it.

(After that, he started trying to do what you're trying to do.)

If you can do likewise (drawing upon your life as it now stands, your acceptance to a prestigious school as a foreign student, etc.), you should be able to find something. Credit histories are used to show how good a risk you are. If you can use other factors to show you're a good risk, you're in decent shape.
------------
Unfortunately, I cannot recommend a bank. I'm using mine at present because the bank I was /actually/ using (and liked!) was bought out by it. The one I'm using doesn't have the best reputation out there (not the worst, either, by a long stretch, but not the best), and is very much geared towards spenders, not savers. They've been reasonably good to me (and the other people in my position) so far, attempting to alter their policies somewhat to reflect what my old bank's policies were, but they've been changing those recently, and I'm sure it's just a matter of time before the gotchas appear.

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Pyrtolin
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In lieu of a credit history, you may be able to help yourself slightly if you can get some king of letter of recommendation from your current landlord and perhaps bring a few utility bills that show reliable payment. Since you'll be in a major University town you should actually have a bit easier going of it because they're more used to dealing with foreign students. The school should also have a housing department of some sort that can help you.

These folks: http://www.jccnh.org also may have material to help orient you to resources specific to someone with a Jewish background.

For a bank, I'd start with seeing if the school has a specific partnership with a bank or, better, a Credit Union (essentially, a member-owned bank) that you're eligible for.

http://moveyourmoneyproject.org/find-a-bank

Is a good resource for tracking down the best local banks.

The only thing I'll add to the Credit Card advice, should you go that route, is try to limit your statement balance each month to 20% of the card's limit. Showing 0% isn't much better than not having a history, while showing a more full credit line, even if you pay it down before interest is charged, counts against you. If you put more than 20% off, pay it down to 20% before your statement (as part of your previous month's payment is ideal), then pay the balance off afterwards. No interest, but it helps you show up as an active, but responsible customer.

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Chael
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Oh! And congrats on your marriage. [Smile]
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Hannibal
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Thank you all for your info, I will follow the links here and get back to you [Smile]

And thanks for your congrats!

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TommySama
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If you don't want people to know you are a foreigner, get a few tshirts that say things like "I'm with stupid" and "My other ride is your mom." They will help you fit in, and they are super cool!
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JoshCrow
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Hannibal - I just went through all this as Canadian moving to the US last year. In some ways, I am still going through it. [Smile]

Credit history takes a long time to build. At a minimum, you won't have a credit score until 6 months after you get a credit card (usually with a bank, since nobody else will give you one). The most simple type of card is a "secured" credit card - what that means is that the entire balance of the card has actually been put aside from your account by the bank. It is being "held hostage" and basically guarantees that the bank can always simply keep your money if you fail to pay off the card properly. Because there is no risk to the bank, many will do this for you. Just be aware of annual fees and discontinue the card once you have established yourself... and then you get the secured money back.

Some other things I found useful:

I got a mortgage on a house mostly because I found a bank that could look up my Canadian credit history (Wells Fargo is the bank that did this for me). I don't know if there's an equivalent for Israelis, but you can always investigate. I found out through Googling it and reading about people's experiences.

I also opened a Canadian "American Express" credit card several months before I moved to the US, because I found out that it is one of the few credit cards that allow you to move countries while keeping your credit history - but only after at least one year (I just past that mark and now have a card with 1 year and 2 months of history, despite me only moving here 9 months ago).

Debit cards (or "check cards") are just ways of paying with funds in an existing account instantly. They do not built credit. Some check cards from banks, like the one I have, can ALSO be used for credit - but it is credit that is automatically paid down through your account. These are just ways of "putting off payment" a but longer and won't build your credit either. Consider the secured credit card I described earlier - they are designed to help you build credit.

Oh yeah - important: Do you have or can you get a Social Security Number (SSN)? This is going to be key. To everything.

Finally, after some time passes and you have a few lines of credit, considering checking your credit report. Don't fall for scams... there's only one site "annualcreditreport.com" and it's free once every 12 months to check what the agencies have on your file. Remember, only the first check of this is free every 12 months, so do this at a time when you need it. Your credit score can also be damaged by "too many requests for information", meaning, too many applications for new loans! It's tough to avoid when you start out.

Good luck!

[ April 10, 2011, 07:35 PM: Message edited by: JoshCrow ]

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Viking_Longship
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quote:
And remember the husbands first rule of a good marriage. The wife is always right.

This is excellent advice. Mazel tov!
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cherrypoptart
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If you have trouble renting an apartment starting out because of your job or credit situation, sometimes offering three months rent in advance can smooth things along nicely. If you're rolling like that.
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Hannibal
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Thanks everyone for your inputs

I will get a credit card, but indeed I will make sure that I pay everything each month just like the way I do in Israel. I am not going to accumulate interest for no reason.

And of course I will buy what I need only (and not everything I want [Smile] )

I've been to Amex's site and discovercard.

The AmericanExpress/costco combo card might be interesting, because I will mostly buy food and groceries.
The discover student card is also interesting.
I will check these things further.

The bummer is that I am almost 28 years old, and I have an excellent (I guess) credit history in Israel. I have a good income and have accumulated enough money to pay for Yale's tuition and all of this sorta does not count. I also have an Israeli gold Amex card, however I've spoken to their customer service, they cant transfer my credit history to an american Amex card, all they can is provide me with a letter indicating that as far as they concern I have a good credit history.


As for health care, the Yale university provides a plan, and I intend to enroll myself and my wife to it. (including dental and other stuff)


"Oh yeah - important: Do you have or can you get a Social Security Number (SSN)? This is going to be key. To everything."

Why is this going to be the key to everything?

I think my J visa number will be my SSN equivalent.

Are you talking about taxes?

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JWatts
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A note on American Express and Discover as credit cards. They are not accepted at as many places as MasterCard and Visa.

I personally use an American Express card as my primary credit card (because it deposits 2% of all purchases into a retirement account). As a backup, I keep a MasterCard with a low limit that I rarely use. Cash works fine also, as long as, your wife doesn't use your wallet as her personal ATM. [Wink]

After several years of marriage, my wife and I worked out a system whereby if she leaves me less than $20 in cash in the wallet, she leaves the wallet propped open. I went to breakfast at Waffle House a couple of times while she was out shopping at garage sales after having looted my wallet. Waffle House at the time didn't take any credit cards. Luckily, they always held my Driver Licenses as collateral while I went to the ATM to get some cash. [Razz]

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Hannibal
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Yey


I opened an account in Bank of America, I also ordered a secure credit card.

Now I need a mobile phone, any advice?

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TomDavidson
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Where are you living? The best cellular service in the country is U.S. Cellular, but they're mainly a Great Lakes company.
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Hannibal
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New Haven CT

I am going to be a student, I guess there will be student deals too

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TomDavidson
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It's likely, although it's been my experience that student "deals" for cell phone service are rarely much better than ones you can line up on your own.
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Chael
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The quality of a given cell-phone provider really depends on where you live. Example: T-Mobile is apparently good in Maryland, but it's crud in my part of Texas (not the boonies). This is a long-winded way of saying I can't give you any advice on this one.
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OpsanusTau
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I've been considering to which carrier I will switch after AT&T finishes acquiring T-Mobile. People say good things about Virgin Mobile, and their service does indeed look good.
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Pyrtolin
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I've been facing the same issue with T-Mobile. If it gets final approval, I'm going to give some serious consideration to Credo since Pittsburgh, at least, has a pretty solid Sprint network.
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Hannibal
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News update :

I rented a place in New Haven.

That was a very difficult thing to find a place that I allows the renter to bring dogs.

From july first my address is 782 Orange street New Haven CT

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Hannibal
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Yo

After two weeks I am back in Israel for now.

It seems that the "vacation" is now in Israel. in two and a half months I am returning to the states.

Is there a home furniture network with a price range that competes with IKEA ?

Which is the best cellular network in connecticut ? T-mobile ? or AT&T I keep mistakening between the two.

In the first week of my stay I had a very stressful time looking for a place to rent. It was very difficult to find a place that could accomodate my dog. eventually we found a 2bd apartment about a mile walk from Yale, and right on a Yale Shuttle stop so we are very happy.

After we found a place in New Haven, there wasnt really much more to do in that small city so we went for 5 nights in New York.

We went to Merry Poppins musical it was great, and we also went to "The Importance of Being Earnest" which was really good.

We also went to the metropolitan museum of arts, and had a great time in B.B King's blues bar.

The flight home was kinda horrible, as we were stuck with wailing babies for 10 hours.

There has to be laws about that... its like a nightmare and you cannot escape.

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Pyrtolin
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Imagine what it's like for the babies, who didn't really have a choice in the matter.
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Funean
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IKEA is in the US, too. There are two here in the Philadelphia area, for example.

Cellular networks vary greatly. Verizon has enjoyed the greatest customer satisfaction and best nationwide coverage, at least until recently (not sure who's winning the 3 & 4G contest). TMobile has tended to better rates and spottier coverage. I've had horrid experiences with AT&T and won't ever use them again just for that, though I'm told they're "good again."

Congratulations on finding a place! That's the biggest hurdle (after being accepted to a program, of course).

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ken_in_sc
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Babies on planes usually cry for one of two reasons. They have painful gas because of the reduced cabin pressure, or their ears are stopped up for the same reason. Aircraft cabins are maintained at a 10,000 ft pressure altitude--if they are above 10,000 ft in actual altitude. Unless you can get the baby to pop its ears and belch, it is going to cry in an airplane.
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OpsanusTau
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That's why it's a good idea to offer parents of wailing babies something for the kid to suck on. A good sucking action can get the baby to clear its business.
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Hannibal
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"IKEA is in the US, too. There are two here in the Philadelphia area, for example."

I know, there is one right outside of New Haven at exit 46 on I-95, its like 5 minutes from my new place.

What I meant is if there is any other comparable brand that I should even bother looking for? or are they all more expansive.

@ken

"nless you can get the baby to pop its ears and belch, it is going to cry in an airplane."

That particular baby started crying even before takeoff, and went at it for like 3 hours.
For some reason I dont know, the plane waited on the ground about an hour before takeoff and the wails started then.

There has to be flights for children 5 and up only, and flights that allow babies.

Or just like the buisiness/first-class sections are seperated, have a "baby section" at the rear of the plane and seal it shot.

One way trip from Israel to the States costs between 500-800$ depending on the season, and its 10/11.5 hours depending on the direction.

you shouldnt suffer like that for such an expansive ticket.

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Viking_Longship
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HAnnibal it's not a brand but if you check out Big Lots you can furnish an apartment pretty cheaply. Also the big box stores like Wal-Mart and Meijer have a lot of furniture. (I presume you're looking for stuff which will see you through your studies, not stuff to pass on to your grandchildren.)

[ April 30, 2011, 11:53 PM: Message edited by: Viking_Longship ]

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JWatts
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I would say IKEA would be an expensive way to decorate an apartment. So if you want trendy, the IKEA is the way to go, if you want cheap and functional I'd second that Big Lots is awesome for that purpose. Generally, Wal-Mart has a poor selection of furniture, I think Target is a little better. And of course it's worth checking out Home Depot and/or Lowes.
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Hannibal
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There is also a Big Lots on exit 9 at I-91 5 minutes out of New Haven so I will check it out.

I did not go in there this time because I thought its just another Wal-Mart/Target

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JWatts
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Big Lots specializes in buying odd lots of merchandise and selling it off quickly at a discount. So the assortment of goods there is generally eclectic, mismatched and cheap.

In other words, it's a perfect place for picking up starter furniture. Also, it's sometimes worth browsing the local Good Will. While their pricing is usually completely arbitrary, sometimes there are very good deals. But they are mostly clothing stores.

I was once wandering through a Good Will store waiting on my wife, when I noticed they had a stack of free AOL disks. Some clerk had stamped each one with a $0.99 sticker. [Wink]

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OpsanusTau
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Hey hannibal you probably don't want your real life address posted on here, right?

Regarding furniture: I wouldn't buy much of anything new. Seriously.

It's a college town, so around and after graduation there will be TONS of people leaving and trying to get rid of their furniture and whatnot. When they can't get rid of it, they'll donate to Goodwill. If you're arriving in July, you might be too late for that - but if you know anyone in town who can grab you some stuff, it might be worthwhile.

Anyways - my two cents is that if you're looking for inexpensive stuff and don't care if it matches, yard sales are a better way to go. The stuff you get at discount furniture stores is going to be cheaply made and ugly most of the time, will be more expensive than yardsale or goodwill prices, and will have little to no resale value.

Do you know craigslist?
http://newhaven.craigslist.org/

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TommySama
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Goodwill usually has a ton of nice, cheap furniture. Any furniture I didn't build I bought from SA for under $10 (large wooden desk, several coffee tables, etc). You can too!

Whoops, Ops beat me to it.

[ May 03, 2011, 05:57 PM: Message edited by: TommySama ]

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JWatts
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From above, SA probably means Salvation Army.
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