How Much Does a Penny Weigh in Comparison to Its Worth?

Many people mistakenly believe that the U.S. penny is minted from 100 percent copper. Since the latter part of 1982, pennies are just 2.5 percent copper. The remaining 97.5 percent of the penny’s composition is zinc. Since copper is now considered an inexpensive way to trade on the commodity value of metals, many people look at their pennies in a different way. The ubiquitous penny jar can contain treasure.

Pennies are also quite heavy relative to their worth unless you happen to receive a 1934 wheat penny worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in your change. Wheat pennies with errors from the 1940s are also quite valuable. Check your change to identify old coins. It’s an educational and enjoyable pastime.

Melt Value of Older Pennies

Older pennies are worth more than their one cent face value even if they are not especially rare collectible specimen. For instance, older pennies from 1909 to 1958 (wheat) or 1959 to 1982 (Lincoln Memorial) have an average composition of 95 percent copper to five percent zinc. (Later coins as described have slightly less copper.) These pennies weigh an average 3.11 grams. Note that the 1943 steel penny has no copper or zinc.

Using current metal commodity prices, an older U.S. penny’s melt value is $2.07 (copper/pound) at 95 percent copper. The value of zinc at today’s prices is $0.70 (zinc/pound) at 5 percent zinc. Using .002220 as a pound/g conversion factor, the copper value ($2.07 x .00220) times (average penny weight of 3.11 g x .95 copper composition), the older penny is worth approximately 0.0137, or 1.37 cents.

Melting down older pennies to capture a small premium isn’t likely to capture the imagination of most Americans. However, owners of some pennies could realize a greater return by trading or selling their older specimens. For instance, a 1933 penny (more than 14 million minted) is worth between $0.50 and $1.00 in good circulated condition and about $10.00 in uncirculated condition.

Old Pennies: Worth a Fortune

Metal composition is one of the important ways that the U.S. penny has changed over time. In periods of war, pennies were minted from steel coated with zinc. However, in the late 18th to mid-19th centuries, pennies were minted from almost pure copper. From 1837-1857, pennies were actually bronze. Thereafter, pennies were composed of copper and an inexpensive bronze or nickel alloy. In late 1982, U.S. pennies are primarily composed of zinc.

Copper has tended to increase in value over time. If you owned pennies made of pure copper, the coins would be worth at least two or three times more than the spending value of one cent.

Incredibly Rare Pennies

Of course, owning rare pennies are the best way to cash in on a penny worth more than its face value. Some mostly copper pennies from the 1940s are rare but not because of their composition. Since the American Numismatic Association believes only 40 such pennies exist today, collectors trade them for huge sums. In 2012, ABC reported that buyer paid more than a million dollars to own a rare and seldom-handled bronze Lincoln penny.

The 1943 copper-bronze alloy penny is obviously a great collectible find. It’s unlikely that you’ll find one in your penny jar. Since circulated pennies in the 1940s were primarily zinc-coated steel, the rare Lincoln penny reflects a time when America used nickel and copper to win World War II.

The first 1943 Lincoln cent was resold in 1958 and brought its owner a princely sum of at least $40,000. A later collector sold one for just $10,000 during the 1981 high interest rate and inflation economy. In 1996, another 1943 Lincoln sold at more than $82,000.

Counterfeits of the rare coin are abundant. Fraudsters coat steel pennies and change the dates on 1945-1949 pennies in an attempt to lure novice collectors. Check any 1940s penny for steel content by using a magnet. If the penny sticks, it isn’t copper. If it doesn’t stick, the coin should be taken to a reputable expert for verification.

Valuable Old Pennies

Collectibles experts know that a coin’s value is reflected by what the new buyer pays for it. Many old pennies are valuable collectibles: they are worth many times their one cent face value.

Online markets show prospective buyers the actual purchase and sales prices of old pennies. Market conditions ca change quickly, so books and out-of-print magazines do not reflect actual examples in a real-time environment.

Many people are passionate coin collectors. Saving pennies to lighten your pocket or handbag load is sensible. Many pennies are intrinsically worth more than their one cent face value, and learning about the collectible value of pennies is a fascinating way to approach the history of money.

Checking your pennies every so often is an enjoyable activity to share with someone you love. You never know what you’ll find in spare change.

The Benefits of an Introductory Offer Credit Card

Introductory credit card offers may benefit consumers in several ways. A few years ago, credit card companies inundated the market with introductory credit card offers for clients with good credit, such as offering a 0 percent APR on balance transfers from other cards. With the economic downturn, however, these offers have subsided a bit, but now they are slowly making an appearance once again. If you have received an excellent introductory offer from a credit card company, there are a few benefits of taking the offer.

1. Emergency Funds

Accepting an introductory offer on a credit card is one way to keep emergency funds in your wallet. If you do not use the card for ordinary purchases, the introductory offer can provide you with a cushion in case of sudden unemployment, household emergencies and other urgent conditions that may drastically impact your financial security when cash-on-hand is low. For this benefit, you need a rolling 0 percent APR balance transfer, and you must remember to roll the balance off of the card before expiration of the introductory period. Additionally, you must be extremely disciplined to realize this benefit. After all, the funds are for emergencies only, not a family vacation or a new flat screen.

2. Pay Off High Balances

If you have a credit card with a high balance, you can greatly benefit from a balance transfer introductory rate. Many credit card companies are now offering customers 0 percent APR and no fees on balance transfers. You can pay off the high balance on a credit card on which you may be paying 8 percent or more in interest by transferring the balance to the new card. However, be sure to cut the original card up or retire it! There is no point in realizing the savings by transferring the balance to the new card only to run the original card up once again.

3. Use Introductory Offer to Lower Your APR on Other Cards

If you receive introductory offers for credit cards you do not yet have, use the offers to request a lower APR from a credit card you possess. A BankingSense.com blog post demonstrates that APRs can be lowered by negotiations with your credit card company, and introductory offers from other cards may be your ace-in-the-hole for negotiating a lower rate. A 2002 study found that 56 percent of credit card users who requested a lower APR were granted their requests, many by as much as a six percent reduction.

To pursue this option, gather all introductory offers you have received and then call your credit card company. Have in mind how much of a rate reduction you are seeking. If you speak to a representative and she refuses to help you, ask to speak with her supervisor and threaten to cancel your account. If you are still unsuccessful, wait and try again on another day.

4. Balance Transfer Arbitrage

Way back when savings accounts and some checking accounts paid respectable interest rates, some consumers would practice an arbitrage strategy where they would obtain an introductory rate on a credit card, extract a large amount of cash on the card, and then deposit the cash into an interest-bearing bank account. She would then withdraw the cash and pay of the card before the introductory period expired, pocketing the profits. However, because interest-bearing accounts currently have such a low rate of interest, this strategy no longer benefits the credit card holder.

The Negatives of Introductory Offers

You may find a few negatives with introductory offers, as well. According to another blog post here on BankingSense.com, lower APRs provided by introductory rates may encourage consumers to carry a balance on the card. In addition, cards with low APR introductory rates may charge other fees, such as an annual fee or a usage fee. Be sure to consider all fees when determining the best credit card for you.

How You Can Cancel Amazon Prime without Paying a Fee

You’ve probably heard a lot about Amazon Prime. Maybe you’ve already signed up for a trial membership in Prime. If you decide it’s not for you, it’s pretty easy to cancel without having to pay the fee. But since Prime can quickly pay for itself, it makes sense to explore the benefits before you cancel.

Amazon Prime bundles an array of services to shoppers and users. Online shopping on Amazon is quite popular, and Amazon Prime offers free two-day shipping, grocery delivery, free/rent/purchase video streaming, photo services, and other benefits. Amazon Prime Student is a cost-effective service that helps students buy textbooks and other media at competitive prices.

Free two-day shipping can pay for the cost of Amazon Prime in a relatively short time frame for many users. Standard shipping can require four or five days, especially when the seller sends books or other materials media mail or parcel post. Most items, but not all, are eligible for free Amazon Prime two-day service, and residents of Hawaii, Alaska, and Puerto Rico do not receive two-day shipping. Expedited or overnight shipping is available at preferred rates. Recently, Amazon Prime introduced “add-on” purchases of less than $25 that ship for free.

Video Streaming
Prime Instant Video is popular with users of all ages because, after purchasing Amazon Prime, you can access a large number movies and TV shows for free. If you aren’t an Amazon Prime user, watching these videos requires payment.

Current movies are frequently available with Amazon Prime Instant Video. Other recently released movies are available for rent for 24 hours or longer or purchase. Purchased movies remain in the user’s Amazon Video Library.

Use Amazon Instant Video on the Amazon website, or on a PC, Apple/Mac, Android smartphones and tablets (at v.4.0 or better), iOS phones and devices, or use Amazon Fire TV Stick to watch video streaming on your tv. If you have a gaming console or smart TV, access videos using the Amazon Prime app.

Prime Music
Amazon Prime users in the U.S. and Puerto Rico also have access to more than one million songs. It’s also possible to access advertisement-free playlists or make your own custom and/or Amazon-mixed playlists. Search for the musical artists you’re looking for to listen to just one song or an entire album. Access Prime Music on the devices mentioned above, and look for new titles that are constantly added to the site.

Cloud Storage
Prime Photos helps users with large photo libraries to store and secure them. Unlimited cloud storage for photos or personal videos is available with Cloud Drive for Amazon Prime members. Access Prime Photos through the Amazon site or use any mobile or PC device. If you cancel Amazon Prime at any point in the future, your cloud storage is limited to the amount offered to all free Amazon account users.

Prime Pantry
Prime Pantry is a great resource for busy shoppers. Although you probably won’t find lots of fresh foods offered on Prime, you can order packaged snacks, baby products, beverages as well as household detergents and cleaning items, pet care products, nutrition and wellness, or personal care goods online. Ship your Prime Pantry order for a small flat rate or get free shipping during promotional periods.

How to Cancel the Amazon Prime Free Trial
Amazon Prime’s one month free trial makes it easy to evaluate your potential annual savings. Sign up for Amazon Prime online. If you decide that Amazon Prime doesn’t offer enough value to justify the yearly fee and you don’t want to continue Amazon Prime, cancel it on or around the end of your free trial period.

If you want to make sure that Amazon doesn’t bill for Prime, contact Amazon Customer Service. Tell the Amazon representative you don’t want to continue with Prime. If you’ve been charged already, ask for Amazon for reverse the charge. The assisting representative will send an email after your conversation. Keep the email if you don’t see the Amazon Prime charges reversed right away.

Amazon Prime is a useful resource for millions of Americans. The free trial period can help you decide if the money to join Amazon Prime is worth it for you. Canceling Amazon Prime is a simple and no-hassle experience

The Banking Industry’s Best Savings Accounts

As the old adage goes, a penny saved is a penny earned. However, choosing the best way to save money can often be a confusing and overwhelming process. To help you in this process, most banks offer several different savings vehicles. It’s vital for you to understand each savings vehicle and review the pros and cons of each. The following information explains a few of the most common types of savings accounts available in today’s banking industry.

Typical Savings Account
As the most common savings account, a passbook or regular savings account requires you to typically go into the bank or sign up online. While savings accounts are similar to checking accounts, savings accounts do not allow check writing privileges and do pay interest. These accounts are simple to setup and easy to maintain. In most instances, the savings account will be linked to the checking account, which allows you to easily move money between the two. One of the key benefits of this type of account is it helps you to avoid overdraft charges in your checking account. However, the biggest disadvantage to this account is pays a significantly low interest rate.

Online Savings Account
While regular savings accounts allow you to go into the bank and make transactions, online savings accounts require you to deal with it exclusively online. Since the institution has fewer overhead costs, online savings accounts typically will pay a higher rate of interest. However, these accounts may take longer for you to access your funds. Most online savings accounts do not have minimum daily balance requirements, minimum opening deposit amounts, or monthly maintenance fees.

Money Market Deposit Accounts
If you have a larger amount and are looking to earn a higher rate of interest, Money Market Deposit Accounts (MMDA) may be the way to go. These financial savings instruments offer short maturities and high liquidity. Although money market investment accounts do have risk, MMDAs are essentially risk-free because they are backed by the FDIC. These accounts generally have monthly fees and require higher minimum balance requirements, which can range anywhere from $500 to $2500. While you may be able to withdraw money from the account with check-writing privileges, there are federally imposed limits on the number of withdrawals you can make each month.

Certificates of Deposits
Certificates of deposits (CD) are a savings vehicle that entitles you to receive interest when the instrument matures. Since CDs are bank products, your funds are insured by the FDIC. Most CDs with have either a fixed or variable interest rate, a set maturity date, and can be issued in almost any amount. CD terms can range from one month up to five years. In most instances, your interest rate will be based on the term of the instrument, and you will generally receive higher interest rates on longer terms. In general, CDs pay higher interest rates than other savings vehicles. In exchange for this higher rate, there are restrictions, such as penalties for withdrawing your money before the maturity date.

Automatic Savings Plan
As an excellent way to establish saving habits, most banks offer automatic savings plans. With these types of plans, you must choose a certain dollar amount you want to have withdrawn from your checking account. This amount will be withdraw one time a month and transferred to your savings account. Automatic savings accounts are designed to help you stick to your budget, while saving money on a regular basis. In the event you notice the amount is too high, you can always lower the amount. One of the top benefits of an automatic savings account is that you will not have to remember to save money because it will be automatically done for you.

Beginner Travelers: How to Score Cheap Hotel Rooms

Traveling to new places is great fun, and it’s even better when your hotel room doesn’t cost a fortune. The smartest travelers know there are deals out there for saving on hotels. The trick to scoring a cheap hotel rate is to use the Internet and well-known travel deals sites to research and compare prices. These tips might help you find some of the best rates and keep a little bit of spending money in your wallet.

Travel Dates/Locations

Flexibility is the key to saving on hotels and airfares when traveling. Typically, hotels charge the highest rates during busy seasons. Right after the tourist season, many hotels almost empty out, and they are anxious to fill empty rooms. So, if you can travel right before or after the busy season, you’ll usually score lower hotel rates.

Hotels located the closest to major tourist destinations always charge the highest rates. People choose these hotels because of location and convenience. However, you can get cheaper hotel rates by staying at a hotel just a little further away from your true destination.

For example, if your destination is Disneyland in Anaheim, CA, you could probably get much better rates staying in a hotel in Santa Ana or Fullerton. Granted, you’ll spend a little more on gas, but it won’t cost as much as paying top dollar for expensive tourist hotels.

Searching Online Websites

After narrowing down your travel dates and desired destination, you should take advantage of several online websites to search for cheap hotels.

Priceline.com

Priceline is a website that allows you to search for car rentals, flights and hotels by stating the price you’re willing to pay. In some instances, you may save as much as 60 percent when looking for hotels. You should be aware that you may have to be somewhat flexible about your travel dates, but this site could provide great savings.

Expedia.com

Expedia is another well-known website for discount travel arrangements. They offer vacation packages, flights and inexpensive rates on hotels. They even have a guarantee. If you find a cheaper rate within one day after booking through their services, you’ll get the difference refunded.

StudentUniverse.com

StudentUniverse offers discounts on a variety of travel plans for young people under 25, university administrators, professors and students. If you meet any of these requirements, it may be worth visiting their website.

Groupon.com

Most people think Groupon mainly deals with discount tickets to events and activities. However, they also have travel plan discounts, and you just might find a good deal for a clean and inexpensive hotel.

Hotwire.com

Hotwire is well known for not only good hotel prices but also entire travel packages. Booking your hotel and airfare all in one package is a great way to save, and it makes vacation planning so much easier.

Bookingbuddy.com

Use BookingBuddy to compare hotel quotes you’ve already received to many other websites. This is a wonderful way to find out if you really are getting the very best deal.

Finding Hidden Discounts

If you’re a member of a professional group, you should check with them to see if they offer member discounts on hotels. Frequently places like AAA, AARP or the American Medical Association offer special discount rates to their members.

Booking Cheaper Hotels

Consider booking hotels that don’t come with all the fancy amenities like spas, workout rooms and swimming pools. If you really don’t need Internet access, or a free breakfast, look for a basic hotel that offers a clean room at reasonable prices.

Negotiating

For one reason or another, most people never think to haggle over the price of a hotel room. However, in most instances, if the hotel has a large number of empty rooms, the manager would more than likely be glad to offer a substantial discount just to book the room. All you have to do is ask.

It really is possible to save on hotel rates if you book in advance, avoid the busy seasons and search for the best rates using travel websites. However, there are also sites that specialize in last-minute travel deals — so it’s never too late to get away from it all!

Five Ways to Protect Your Balance Transfer

Credit cards have become an integral aspect of American finance, and they are an excellent way for you to save money through rewards and discounts on things that you buy on an everyday basis. But you should also be aware that a high interest rate can quickly consume any potential savings that you stand to gain. If you find yourself in a position where you feel like you can benefit from a lower interest rate, then a balance transfer may be the solution to your problem. When you do a balance transfer, a new lender pays off your old debt, preferably for a lower interest rate. Keep in mind, however, that you still need to be mindful of exactly what you’re getting yourself into, so here are five ways to protect yourself in the event of a balance transfer:

Don’t Fall for the Bait and Switch

Predatory lenders are known to send out offers that claim you are pre-approved for a certain amount, but when you actually fill out the application, you find that you are eligible for a lesser amount. This can leave you with the same debt you were in before if you intend to transfer all your previous balances to this card. Additionally, this can cause you increase your credit limit, which will significantly and immediately impact your credit score. If you are about to make a major purchase, like a house or a car, you definitely need to consider using another lender.

Compare Offers

Although this seems like common sense, surprisingly, many people don’t use this simple piece of advice. So if you think you’re getting a low enough interest rate from the first envelope you open, keep in mind that doing a little comparison shopping can save you thousands of dollars in the long run. One of the most efficient ways to see if you’re getting the best deal is to check out some credit card comparison sites.

Calculate the Cost and Fees

You aren’t the only one who benefits from transferring your credit card balances. Credit card companies normally charge a fee for this service. A lender can charge anywhere from three to five percent of the total amount you are transferring. The fee that you pay to transfer your balance may make it disadvantageous for you to transfer your balance at all because of the debt you have accrued. You should also consider the annual fee. Coughing up an extra 100 dollars a year may not be worth it in the long run.

Don’t Close Your Old Accounts Immediately

Once you have transferred your balance form one card to another it’s tempting to throw that old card away and close the account, but this can actually work against you. Your FICO score is partially determined by the length you keep your credit lines open. Furthermore, all past and present credit lines are used to determine the average age of your credit history, so when you close an older account it ages your history down, and the algorithm interprets that negatively.

Consider Uncapped Balance Transfer Fees

In the past, there was a cap on the amount of balance transfer fees. For instance, there used to be a limit of 50 to 75 dollars on any amount of debt that was transferred. So even though the standard rate was three percent, anything over 75 dollars was capped, but in 2008, thing changed. In 2008, many credit card issuers eliminated those caps, and some even increased balance transfer fees. That means that you need to do your due diligence to make sure that the balance transfer fees don’t wipe out any potential savings.

The Less Known Advantages of Good Credit

Although credit scores were initially intended as a criteria for determining creditworthiness, your credit score affects much of your daily life. Most people know that having a good credit score is important when buying a house or a car. Your interest rate, incentives available, and overall cost will be much lower with a good credit score than with a lesser one. However, many people may not know that a good credit score can affect much more than their interest rates.

Insurance Rates
Most insurance companies will run a credit check when you apply for insurance with them, whether you’re applying for auto insurance, homeowner’s insurance, life insurance, or any other type. Consumers with a good rating pay significantly lower insurance rates, sometimes up to several hundred dollars per year, than consumers with a lesser credit score, according to Consumer Reports.

Vehicle Rental Rates
If you need to rent a vehicle, the rental agency will run a credit check. The higher your credit rating, the lower the deposit, if any, that will be required. Particularly for consumers who pay a deposit with cash or a debit card, a lower credit score will increase the amount of the deposit required.

Employment
Many employers now routinely run a credit check on their prospective employees, particularly if the position being applied for is in the finance or accounting department. Although we are reminded daily that wealth does not ensure honesty, employers seem to feel that a high credit score indicates a higher degree of financial integrity in an employee.

Rental Housing and Utilities
If you rent rather than own, your credit score may determine whether a prospective landlord will rent to you or not. Understandably, the landlord wants a tenant that will pay his or her bills timely. However, with the proliferation of identity theft, a poor credit score does not guarantee that a prospective tenant will not pay his or her rent. However, maintaining a good credit score will increase your chances of obtaining the rental unit that you want.

When you need to establish utility service, the utility company will run a credit check. A lesser score may cause your deposit to increase substantially or require that you have a co-signer. A high credit score can eliminate the need for a deposit. Due to the high incidence of lesser scores, many utility companies are now offering prepaid options that eliminate the need for a deposit.

Mobile Devices and Plans
When you need a new mobile phone, tablet, or the like, the provider will run a credit check on you. A good credit score can increase the incentives available to you and ensure that you get the best financing terms on your mobile device. A lesser score will increase the amount of down payment required or may prohibit you from obtaining financing.

Professional Licenses
Many entities that govern professional licensure will run a credit check on their applicants. This can apply to any profession, whether you’re a doctor, lawyer, tax preparer, or the like. A good credit score may be a prerequisite to obtaining your professional license.

Government Scrutiny
Although a credit score has little to do with one’s political beliefs, agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investment, or FBI, are now able to run credit checks on individuals, even if there is little evidence that the individual has a terrorist affiliation. This is one result of the increased security measures taken since 9/11. Since lower credit scores are the result of negative input on your credit report, this can cause you to become the object of government scrutiny.

Your Love Life
In more extreme cases, potential mates are checking credit scores to determine if they want to make a lifelong commitment to someone. In a survey conducted recently, 20 percent of men indicated they wouldn’t marry a person with a bad credit rating and 30 percent of women responded similarly.

Becoming an Entrepreneur
If your intent is to become self-employed, your options are much greater with a good credit score than with a poor one. Since most startups operate with limited finances, entrepreneurs are forced to use their own credit to get the business established. With a poor credit score, this most likely isn’t going to happen.

Whatever the original intent of the credit scoring process, it has become a tool that can either positively or negatively impact your life. If your score needs improving, you can learn quick ways to boost your credit score and the top 5 credit cards to help raise your credit score.

The Must-Know Tax Exemptions of 2015

Almost all taxpayers are entitled to some type of tax exemption. For example, individual filers can generally claim one personal tax exemption while adults with children who live with them can take additional exemptions. Below introduces the must-know tax exemptions of 2015.

Standard Deductions and Personal Exemptions
First, there are changes to standard deductions. The standard deduction for single and married people filing separate returns will rise to 6,300 dollars. The standard deduction for married couples filing jointly will increase to 12,600 dollars. The standard deduction will be slightly raised for heads of household, going from 9,100 to 9,250 dollars. Second, the personal exemption for singles is being raised by 50 dollars, which puts it at an even 4,000 dollars. However, the personal exemption begins to be reduced at individual income levels of 258,250 dollars, or 309,900 dollars for married couples filing jointly. The personal exemption disappears at 380,750 dollars for singles, 432,400 dollars for married couples filing jointly. Finally, the 2015 limitation for claimed itemized deductions for individual returns will start with incomes of 258,250 dollars and for married couples filing jointly it will start at 309,900 dollars.

Additional Tax Exemptions
In 2015, the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) exemption amount will be raised from 52,800 dollars to 53,600 dollars. The AMT exemption for married couples filing jointly will be raised from 82,100 dollars to 83,400 dollars. On the other hand, the maximum Earned Income Credit amount for taxpayers filing jointly with three or more children will be raised 99 dollars, going from 6,143 dollars to 6,242 dollars. The tax exemption for estates of decedents who die will drastically change by 90,000 dollars and rise from 5,340,000 to 5,430,000 dollars. The foreign earned income exclusion will be raised by 1,600 dollars, going from 99,200 dollars to 100,800 dollars. While the annual gift exclusion remains unchanged at 14,000 dollars, the official gift exclusion for gifts to non-citizen spouses will be raised 2,000 dollars up to a total of up to 147,000 dollars.

2015 Tax Exemptions for Businesses
There are major tax exemption changes for businesses because of health care reform. For example, the yearly financial limit on employee contributions to Flexible Spending Arrangements (FSA) will increase by 50 dollars up to 2,550 dollars. Additionally, the small business health care tax credit has various changes for companies. For instance, the maximum credit will be phased out for employers whose total number of full-time employees is at least 10 people. The maximum credit will also be phased out for these employers whose average yearly wages exceed 25,800 dollars per employee. Companies with fewer than 25 full-time employees may qualify for the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit. However, the company must also provide at least half of the health insurance premium costs for their employees and offer coverage through the SHOP Marketplace. Additional, the average salary cannot exceed 50,000 dollars.

Tax Exemption Facts
There are always basic exemption and dependent facts. For example, The IRS’ web-based service is an excellent way to automatically determine the number of exemptions available. Additionally e-file options include using a CPA, commercial software or the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. Keep in mind that taxpayers can only claim a spouse on a separate return if that person has no gross income, will not file a tax return and will not be claimed as a dependent of another taxpayer. Keep in mind that a dependent can either be a child or a qualifying relative. However, a relative must live with the taxpayer all year round and be directly related, such as a sibling, parent, grandparent or in-law. Most importantly, new health care regulations require that taxpayers report basic health insurance information about themselves and their family members. Specifically, taxpayers must be enrolled in a qualified health insurance plan or have an official exemption.

In the end, individuals and companies should visit the official IRS website in order to review updated revenue bracket tables, income thresholds and associated information.

Why an American Express Gold Card is a Great Investment

The American Express Gold Card is becoming more popular as consumers realize the long-term benefits. Below explains why the Gold Card is such a great investment for cardholders.

Exclusive Rewards
According to the Ameriprise website, the American Express Gold Card offers excellent benefits. First, the membership rewards program provides one point per every dollar spent. However, card owners can select how to use their points based on their charges. That is, card owners can redeem their points for categories, such as dining or retail, based on their own preference. Every 10,000 dollars spent will result in an extra 2,500 reward points. However, this is capped at 20,000 dollars. Cardholders can directly use their points in a variety of ways. For example, they can apply it to their credit, shop online, purchase gift cards and use it for travel expenses.

Still, the best possible value is available when cardholders transfer their points to hotel and airline loyalty programs. To illustrate, the cardholder can possibly earn up a tenth of a penny per membership point. However, the conversion rate is different for each loyalty program. Card owners can easily transfer points to over 20 major hotel and airline frequent traveler programs. Finally, the card also comes with exclusive benefits, such as roadside assistance and car rental loss and damage insurance.

Charge Card vs. Credit Card
Most consumers aren’t aware that the American Express Gold Card is in fact a charge card and not a credit card. This is an important point because a failure to understand this may cause serious financial problems down the road. That is, a charge card does not allow the account owner to carry a balance at the end of the month. Therefore, the card owner is expected to pay off all charges at the end of every billing cycle. If the account owner fails to pay off their balance, there are stiff penalties. For example, the American Express Gold late fees are higher than popular credit cards when the person fails to pay off their balances two bill cycles in a row. The typical late fee is 36 percent, which is higher than the average 19 percent for regular credit cards.

A unique feature of the charge card is that there is no preset spending limit. Traditional credit cards have capped credit spending amounts. However, the American Express Gold card automatically sets a monthly credit limited based on their spending trends and payment history. This offers excellent purchasing flexibility over a traditional credit card. Cardholders who lack self-control and struggle to pay off their bills may not benefit from this feature.

Travel Rewards
The American Express Gold Card offers excellent travel rewards. For example, the so-called Hotel Collection reward will give cardholders a 75 dollar hotel credit when they stay for two consecutive nights in a row at a participating hotel. However, the hotel must be booked online through the American Express travel platform. Additionally, cardholders will receive additional money back when they meet other specific criteria. Keep in mind that this unique credit is not limited to a single hotel chain and it can be applied on multiple stays through the year. Therefore, it is one of the travel benefits available through a charge card.

On the other hand, the American Express Gold Card also offers additional bonus points for travel charges. First, whenever the cardholder book flights and hotels through the online Amextravel portal, they will receive two points per every dollar spent. Thus, they can apply these points towards their hotel credit. Finally, cardholders also receive two points per every dollar spent whenever they use the popular Uber service. This is especially beneficial for individuals and business people who often travel.

To wrap up, financially savvy individuals will enjoy the various benefits that come with the American Express Gold Card, which offers exclusive travel rewards and a custom membership point system.

Home Insurance 101: Getting the Best Price

Home insurance is an important financial product, because it protects you from the risks of damage to your house. There are many ways that a house can suffer damage, such as through a storm, flood, or fire, but paying for repairs out of pocket would be ruinous. Homeowner’s insurance is a necessity to purchase a home in some jurisdictions, and even when it is not, then the risk of an expensive disaster is simply too great to do without insurance. That does not mean you need to spend a lot of money on your premiums, though. In this post, we will talk about some useful tips to help you get a good deal on your home insurance.

First of all, consider bundling. Most home insurance companies also offer other kinds of insurance as well. If you buy auto and life insurance from your home insurance provider, you can get a big discount. In fact, this is one of the largest discounts available. You might be able to find individual deals that are better for each policy, but bundling will save you the most money for all three policies combined. Unless you have a strong reason for wanting to get all forms of insurance from different companies, you should probably bundle them together, because you can save a lot of money that way.

You can also get incentives for preparing your home in various ways. This differs by state, but in many areas you can get a discount for doing things like getting a wind-resistant roof or shatter-proof windows. By making your home more resistant to disasters, you are reducing the damage that might occur from such a disaster and therefore reducing the potential liability of your insurance carrier, saving them money. As a result, many companies provide a discount on your premium if you invest in the right precautions, and might even cover the cost of the improvements as well. Check with your carrier to see if they have any potential incentives that you might be able to use. There could even be some that you already have installed, so if the company verifies that you have them, you can get credit for the discount without needing to make any changes.

Next, you should know how to negotiate and compare rates. Never take the first offer when it comes to insurance. Get quotes from several different companies and see if you can get them to lower their price. Ask for any kind of first-time buyer discounts or good credit discounts they might be able to apply to your account. You never know what you can find just by asking, and you might be pleasantly surprised. All you have to do is go to the company that quotes you at the lowest rate and ask them for more discounts. They aren’t going to turn you down just because you asked.

One of the best things to do is call your state’s insurance department. Every state government regulates insurance, so they all have a department or office dedicated to it. Get in touch with them and ask about discounts that are offered in your area. They can tell you about discounts because they regulate the price of homeowner’s insurance and also govern the incentive programs mentioned above.

Even though you naturally want to save money on your homeowner’s insurance, do take the time to make sure you have all the coverage you need. You might consider certain add-ons to your policy to cover risks specific to your area.

The bottom line is that home insurance is a necessity, but you can save yourself a lot of money without sacrificing coverage by shopping around and doing your due diligence. It just takes a few hours of research to save yourself a significant amount of money, and the longer you hold your policy, the more you save. The benefits of getting cheaper home insurance mean you can out that money towards anything else you want.

Term Life Insurance: Important Facts to Know

While death is unavoidable, the age when you will pass away cannot be accurately predicted. Your death could result in financial hardship for loved ones who are dependent on you for financial support as well as for those who are dependent on you for their care and more. Because of the uncertainty of when death will occur, it is important to take action to safeguard your loved ones from a financial standpoint. Purchasing life insurance is one of the more common steps that individuals will take to prepare for the end of life and to protect their loved ones’ financial well-being after they have passed on. Term life insurance is a popular type of coverage to consider, and there are a few important facts to remember about this type of coverage as you shop around and set up a new policy that is right for you.

What Is Term Life Insurance?
Term life insurance and whole life insurance are the two most popular insurance options available. Whole life is coverage that will never expire, and it will remain in place as long as the premium continues to be paid on it. Term life, on the other hand, will expire at a specific date. The death benefits will remain in force throughout the term, but they will cease when the term expires. While term life will expire, it is a popular option because it is significant more affordable than whole life insurance.

The Typical Term Length
There are multiple term lengths that are commonly associated with term life insurance. The most common options are 10, 20 and 30 year terms, but there are some variations outside of this. Generally, the longer the term length, the more expensive the insurance premium. However, because life insurance premium rates can increase as you get older, many may benefit by purchasing a longer term policy earlier in life rather than planning to purchase consecutive 10 or 20 year policies.

The Amount of Coverage Needed
When you purchase a term life insurance policy, you will need to decide the term length as well as the coverage amount. The coverage amount generally can be as high or as low as you desire, but there are some limitations for this. The life insurance underwriter as well as your representative can provide you with their guidelines. Generally, the coverage can be used to pay funeral and burial costs as well as final medical expenses. Outstanding debts, such as credit cards, a car loan or a home mortgage can also be paid off with the death benefits. This can reduce the cost of living that loved ones will have after your passing. Death benefits can also supplement lost income and pay for major life events, such as a child’s college education or wedding. An agent may help you to determine the amount of coverage that you need.

The Ability to Purchase Multiple Policies
It is important to note that different policies can be purchased for different reasons. For example, death benefits for funeral costs will be needed regardless of the stage of life you are in when you pass away. A home mortgage may be paid off in 20 or 30 years, so a life insurance policy can be purchased to pay for this expense. In addition, if you have older kids, they may be out of the house and no longer financially dependent on you in 10 years, so you may purchase another policy that would be related to their financial care and well-being and that has a shorter term. Making a list of coverage needs and time periods when the coverage is needed can be beneficial.

Term life insurance can also be purchased in combination with whole life insurance. This can enable you to take advantage of the benefits of both while purchasing life insurance coverage that most closely meets all of your needs in an affordable way.

5 Ways to Winterize Your Home

5 Ways to Winterize Your Home
Winterizing your home is not just about improving aesthetic appeal or even comfort. Other even more important benefits include increased home safety and lower electricity bills throughout the cold winter months. Whether you do just one or all five things on this list, you will realize a savings in your energy bill this winter. So read on to learn five easy ways to winterize your home before the temperatures drop.

Tip #1: Stop air leaks and drafts wherever you find them.
From windows that don’t seal to drafty cracks to door-to-floor gaps, your first task is to stop the warm air from seeping out of your house into the great outdoors. An easy way to test for air leaks is to stand on one side of a window or door holding a burning candle. Have someone else stand on the other side holding a blow dryer. If the blow dryer burns out the candle, you have just found a draft that needs sealing.

Here are some easy ways to accomplish this:

– Use caulk to seal little cracks, gaps and holes in and around doors and windows.
– Use a “draft snake” (or even just a rolled towel) to stop warm air from escaping in the gap left between a closed door and the floorboards.
– Use big-bubble bubble wrap to seal up old windows.
– Install storm doors and windows to improve heat retention up to 45 percent (and use the tax credits the IRS provides to offset the cost if you are buying them for the first time).

Tip #2: Reverse your ceiling fans to push the warm air down.
Many homeowners don’t realize that ceiling fans were designed to facilitate air circulation in both summer and winter. There is a little switch on the central fan (above the light fixture) that should be reversed in winter. This will push the warm air that rises up towards the ceiling back into the center of the space to warm the whole room.

Tip #3: Invest in a programmable thermostat (or use the one you already have).
Programming your thermostat can have a huge impact on your monthly energy bill – even just a change of 1-2 degrees can help you save money. Also, you can use a programmable thermostat to avoid warming an empty house while you are away.

If you don’t have a programmable thermostat, you can find a cheap one at any home supplies store. Most are easy to install as a DIY project, or you can ask your HVAC manufacturer if there is a specific thermostat that pairs well with your system.

A tip: Save money at night by turning your thermostat down and piling on the blankets (and some warm flannel jammies) instead.

Tip #4: Wrap your pipes and lower your water heater temperature.
These two tactics work together to improve energy efficiency and reduce energy use. By wrapping your pipes, you also guard against pipes bursting in extreme cold temperatures.

Wrapping your pipes also helps raise water temperatures so you don’t need to work your water heater as hard. When setting your water heater temperature, aim for around 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

Tip #5: Replace your furnace’s air filter as needed throughout the cold season.
Many furnaces today also take reusable air filters, which can be washed and reused repeatedly. But whether you choose to use reusable or disposable air filters, you need to make sure you change them regularly. A clean air filter increases energy efficiency, facilitates better air flow and – most importantly – guards against the risk of fire.

By taking a bit of time to winterize your home following these five tips, you can weather the cold winter months knowing you and your family will be warm and safe inside your home. Your wallet will also thank you for the lower energy bills!

What College Students Should Know About 401k

What College Students Should Know About 401k
Good habits and behavior compound over time to lead to positive outcomes. On the other hand, continual poor habits and behavioral choices will necessarily result in negative outcomes later on in one’s life. This principle applies across all areas of life, from achieving career objectives and success to building and maintaining strong interpersonal relationships. Everything must be continually maintained and nurtured on a daily basis to achieve constant growth and beneficial outcomes.

College Students: Uniquely Positioned to Establish Good Financial Habits
This framework of thinking is even more pronounced when it comes to achieving a financial stability and success in life. Individuals who embrace positive financial choices on a daily basis from a young age, such as spending less than they make and allocating savings to effective investment strategies, will be more financially successful later in life. As beneficial habits and positive choices compound over time, so does any money allocated to investment via 401(k) plans. College students, with their entire working lives in front of them, have a unique opportunity to establish positive financial habits from the beginning of their careers. They possess the unique advantage of not having to make up for a history poor financial habits that many older adults currently face.

College Students: Mentally and Financially Flexible
With this framework in mind, it is important to teach college students about 401(k) plans and the great advantages of saving and investing from a young age. Additionally, college students are generally more mentally receptive to embracing such teachings as they are young and have not commenced any type of career in which they have starting receiving a regular, sizable paycheck. Given this lack of disposable income, they are more accustomed to living a simpler life without the trappings of high cost items such as expensive hobbies or resort vacations. Individuals more accustomed to spending frivolously on such items may find it more challenging to cut back these expenses and make the often difficult mental shift to increasing savings for the future in place of high consumption now. Embracing change and new ideas may be difficult for some, but typically not for college students.

Financial Choices Can Be Overwhelming
While college students may be more mentally flexible, they are still somewhat ignorant regarding the range of different investment vehicles and retirement contribution plans offered in the marketplace. 401(k) plans, with extensive rules, can be especially complicated to understand. As many college students have never had a regular source of disposable income, they have not had to make choices regarding how to allocate this disposable income between current consumption and future investment. The wide swatch of different investment options with accompanying costs, contribution options, and withdrawal procedures can be overwhelming for those who have never faced such decisions.

Financial Education Leads to Better Choices
Educated, informed consumers generally make better choices than those consumers who are uneducated or misinformed. As such, it is important to educate college students with basic and useful information so they can make informed choices when they are confronted with 401(k) options in their first job. They will likely appreciate any insights or information you can provide related to this subject area.

Educated College Students Are Good for Society
College students sometimes get a bad reputation today, but ultimately they will serve as the future caretakers of our society and planet. As such, it is important we educate them on all types of financial planning, to include 401(k) options. Thinking back on difficult choices in your life, you likely came to appreciate any mentorship or guidance you received. Helping young adults make beneficial, responsible choices is ultimately a beneficial thing for all members of society.

Real Estate Reality: The Rise and Fall of the Housing Market

Real Estate Reality
Real estate reality is a bit like the physical truth of gravity. Real estate prices rise and fall according to a variety of factors, including sales supply or demand and access to mortgage loans. Within housing market context, supply indicates the total amount of properties available in the market at various price points. Demand is the total amount of would-be purchasers of these properties.

If demand for real estate increases and there are more buyers than sellers of property, prices will rise. If more sellers of real estate exist than there are purchasers of these properties, then prices fall. Fluctuation in these levels of housing supply and demand can result in a housing market boom or a housing market bust.

Housing Market Economics

According to economic theory, a large supply of anything implies that prices will decline. If there are more properties for sale than buyers with the money to buy them, sellers react by reducing prices to entice buyers.

Oversupply of properties indicates a buyer’s market. A buyer with cash in hand or a pre-approved mortgage loan will have his or her choice of properties. He or she might be able to negotiate a better purchase price with the seller in exchange for sale of the property.

In comparison, if there are fewer properties than there are buyers, then buyers must compete for this limited supply. In a hot seller’s market, buyers make quick decisions and frequently agree to the seller’s asking price. In some cases, bidding for a desirable property may cause some buyers to pay more than the asking price. In this environment, housing prices will rise.

Change of Supply

An ideal housing market is one in which buyer and seller demand is perfectly balanced. In such a housing market, prices are relatively stable and gradually rise over a period of time. Since the number of homes in the US is seldom constant, the available supply of residential real estate changes. Factors such as new construction, renovations, demolitions, disasters, or conversions affect available housing stock.

Planning policy and other regulatory factors affect housing inventory. Such regulation restricts building in some areas and encourages it in others. Regulatory fluctuations can affect supply of residential properties at local, regional, and national levels.

Change of Buyer Demand

Buyer demand is an important factor in rising or falling real estate prices. The neighborhood or town’s population can affect buyer demand. If the area population grows but housing supply does not keep pace, home prices rise. For instance, if a large employer builds a plant in the area, new jobs will increase the amount of money that home buyers have to spend. If new construction does not occur in tandem, buyers will be forced to compete for a dwindling supply and home prices will increase.

Of course, home purchase is affected by the home seeker’s buying power. If he or she does not have easy access to a mortgage loan, buying a new home will be challenging.

Access to mortgage money is an important factor in rising or falling housing prices. In a buoyant economy, home prices rise because many people have access to a reasonably priced mortgage. Conversely, high unemployment rates and declining salary levels in the community signal a troubled economy. In such an environment, bankers are likely to restrict the number of new mortgage loans they underwrite.

Inflation also affects home prices. In an inflationary environment—one in which inflation is increasing faster than buyers’ levels of disposable income—housing prices are likely to fall.

Housing Bubbles or Crashes

In a rising economy in which salary and wages are high and rising, new buyers become interested to the housing market. Housing supply levels dwindle as buyers purchase them. An under-supply of available homes boosts real estate prices.

Existing homeowners frequently decide to cash out when a housing boom causes prices to rise. The decision to sell their home may be prompted by the decision to retire in a less expensive market or downsize by purchasing a smaller home.

Of course, real estate developers will respond to the opportunity to make profits and build new construction in a rising housing market. Balance of supply and demand is important, because if new construction exceeds market appetite, an oversupply of homes will result. Residential prices will then start to fall.

Purchasing a home during a housing bubble can cause some buyers to overstretch available finances. Homes bought in a housing boom can cause these buyers big financial headaches. If home prices fall steeply over a short period in a housing crash, these buyers might find themselves holding underwater mortgages. That is, they are now committed to pay mortgage principal and interest that is higher than home value.

Real estate buyers must understand the property value cycles occur in cycles. According to Harvard University, property value cycles occur every 18 years or so.

Governmental Reaction

The U.S. Federal Reserve Bank oversees the national economy. The Fed regulates money flows by controlling current interest rates. Since rising interest rates ultimately affect the buyer’s costs of owning a home, mortgage loan rates effectively stimulate or cool off the housing market.

Lower mortgage loan rates increase home buying demand and cause rising real estate prices. In a weak economy, the Fed plays a role in stimulating the housing market. When homeownership is affordable, buyers enter the market. Loan programs, such as USDA mortgages or FHA-insured loans, encourage new home buyers to shore up a weak housing market. This action in turn boosts the demand for homes and helps to stabilize or increase property values.

5 Tips for Christmas Decorating on a Budget

5 Tips for Christmas Decorating on a Budget
Christmas is a time for love and laughter, and nothing helps put you in the spirit of the holiday like some good old fashioned decorating. The issue with going all out with decorations is that it can prove to be a costly venture. Here are five tips to help keep your Christmas decorations this year within an acceptable budget.

1. DIY Christmas Decorations

Christmas decorations do not need to be extravagant things that are bought from expensive stores during the holiday season. Turn decorating your home into a fun time spent with family and friends where you can create your own holiday decorations. Use potted plants and candles that you already have to create a winter feel in your home. Candles can be found on sale throughout the year, and pine or fresh baking scents are perfect for this time of year. Several websites offer Christmas themed printouts that you can use as decorations; in fact, you can add your own personal touch to them if you desire. Make your own garland as a decoration out of string and painted popcorn or even flower petals.

2. Repurpose Household Items

If you look around your home, I am sure you will come across a lot of vases, bowls, or jars that are not serving any purpose. Take those items and turn them into an elegant Christmas decoration. You can fill a bowl with red or green beads and place a candle in the middle to create a festive feel or you can fill a basket with globe shaped ornaments. You can also use cotton balls to create a snow covered landscape in the bottom of your repurposed item.

3. Utilize Nature

When you think of winter, the scent of pine comes to mind. Christmas decorations traditionally focus around pine trees and holiday wreaths. Purchasing a real tree is often a more budget conscious decision that getting an artificial one. Pine cones are a great addition to many decorations, and they also smell amazing. A project that is simple to complete using nature is to create a wreath. Intertwine pine branches in a circular shape, and then decorate it with berries, pine cones, garland, or anything else your imaginations can come up with.

4. Recycle

Christmas is a time for giving and receiving, but some years we receive a plethora of Christmas cards and have no idea of what to do with them after the holiday is over. One of my pet peeves is throwing away cards, especially when someone personalized it and put a lot of thought into creating it. This year, plan to recycle all of those festive cards for your decorations next year. Cut out the design on the front of the card and punch a hole through the top. This will allow you to string some yarn or ribbon through the hole and create tree ornaments or a unique string of garland that was created from the kind thoughts of your friends and family.

5. After Christmas Sales

Buying decorations before Christmas can be costly and aggravating. But consider this, all of those decorations that are not purchased before the holiday, are still in the store afterwards. These items will be on sale; sometimes at prices that are up to 75 percent off. This is a great time to go out and find decorations to use for the next year. Come up with a decoration scheme early, and as time goes by, those already low, after Christmas, prices may drop even more. If you do end up needing to purchase items before the holidays, make sure to check out the dollar stores and eBay for better deals.

Christmas can be a costly holiday, but there are ways to cut the expense without cutting the presents. Make your own decorations, recycle, and reuse items in your home to create beautiful, low cost decorations that you can share with your friends and family.

American Express Gold Card: Worth Your Time?

American Express Gold Card
According to American Express, they offer 21 different cards. There is the platinum card, the gold card, and the traditional green card, just to name a few. So what makes the gold card different from the other cards American Express offers as well as from all the other cards on the market? The following discusses the benefits and drawbacks of the American Express gold card.

Benefits
There are several benefits of having an American Express gold card. A few of these benefits include complimentary roadside assistance anywhere in the United States and Canada as well as a purchase protection program in which stolen, lost, or accidentally damaged items purchased with the card can sometimes be repaired or replaced. There is also a baggage insurance plan, and a variety of online services are provided when you use this card.

The point system is often considered one of the biggest advantages of having an American Express gold card. Card members can earn points in several categories such as with the airlines, various supermarkets, and gas stations. If you spend $2,000 during your first three months of having the card, you’ll receive a sign up bonus of 25,000 points. This point system is considered one of the best point systems offered by any credit card. With a few exceptions, customers can earn 1 point for every dollar that is charged.

Besides these many benefits, users can also use the card for dining credits when staying at any eligible hotels. Travel protection services are also considered a good benefit of the gold card. While every American Express card includes insurance for rental cars, this particular card adds even more travel perks.

Drawbacks
One of the first and most obvious disadvantages is the annual fee. For the first year the introductory fee is $0. After that, however, the fee is $160 annually. This fee may change from year to year, but is still one of the highest card fees on the market. Most of the other cards American Express offers either have no annual fees or the fees are much lower. There are also high foreign transaction fees when using the card.

It’s important to remember that the American Express Gold Card is a charge card, and not technically a credit card. This basic difference means that the balance must be paid in full each month. Failure to pay each month means the account will be considered delinquent and penalty rates will be applied. If a card user thinks he or she may even occasionally need to carry a balance it’s better to use a regular credit card.

Finally, any American Express card is not as widely accepted as most of the other well-known cards. If you carry this card you’ll almost certainly have to carry another in case you wouldn’t be able to use your gold card.

Is the Gold Card Right for You?
While having an American Express gold card is not as elite as it used to be, there are still several prominent benefits for users to enjoy. If you’re someone who needs or uses costumer assistance, this card may be for you. If you’re willing to put everything from gas and groceries to paying the cell phone bill on the card, and are able to easily pay off the balance at the end of each month, this card may be worth it because of all the points you’ll earn.

If you’re just going to carry it around for emergencies or only a limited amount of spending, paying the annual fee every year probably isn’t worth it. If you need a large line of credit each month, the gold card will work for this as well. This card would generally be worth it for those who would use it extensively and would have no problem paying the balance each month.

Choosing a Holiday Party Venue

Choosing a Holiday Party Venue
Each party planner must decide not only what sort of holiday party to have, but also where to hold the company party, dinner or event during the holiday season. When it comes to company holiday parties, treating your employee base definitely has short and long term benefits. A party grants immediate enjoyment and a sense of relaxation from work-related endeavors. Employees remember the generosity shown to them as a reward for their ongoing labor.

For a holiday party to be considered highly successful, party planners must take numerous factors into consideration. Group events often fail to include all of the planned participants, leaving some employees out of the fun. This is easily remedied by taking the time to choose a venue for your party or event that works well for everyone in the group.

Size is important

First and foremost, party planners must decide how many guests any venue needs to accommodate. Fitting a group of any size into the right venue is also dependent upon what type of party, dinner or gathering will be held. A group entertained with musical entertainment is going to need a large enough dance floor. Likewise, a formal luncheon or dinner must be held in a room that will comfortably fit a sufficient amount of tables and chairs.

Sit-down dinners, buffets, food stations and cocktail parties all have space requirements of their own. This makes sure guests do not feel overly crowded or confined. It also allows servers to quickly deliver food and drinks to their tables. If a party is to include entire families, then creating a play area for youngsters and teens could be a definite option to look into. Generally, most parents will approve.

Location, location, location

The anthem of real estate agents everywhere is just as noteworthy when selecting the best venue for your party. For some party planners, a choice of location comes first. From that point, they investigate local restaurants, hotels and catering halls which can properly accommodate the size of the group. Other planners find themselves exploring new and creative places to hold their gathering, while later taking into consideration the “convenience-factor” offered by these locales.

When looking into how convenient a venue is for your upcoming gathering, make sure it is easy to find on both an online and paper map. Your party guests will be more likely to attend if the venue is located near a major thoroughfare or highway. Where applicable, locations that are reachable by public transportation also strike a positive chord with employees who may not drive or have their own automobile.

Look into late-night lodgings

One thing that inexperienced party planners tend to forget, is when the party is scheduled in relation to where most of their employees live or work. When planning a party that can go late into the evening, holding it at or near a hotel is an excellent idea. This allows guests who are either too tired or intoxicated to drive home a safe place to stay. To make it additionally worthwhile, hotels often extend reduced rates to groups renting out their event rooms.

On-site services can be budget friendly

Overnight accommodations are just one of the many on-site services that a particular venue may offer. The more services available at your venue, the fewer outside vendors that you have to enlist. This is one way to keep party costs down, as on-site services do not have to travel to your locale and set up such things as catering services from scratch. Venues that have their own valet parking, media, lighting or entertainment may include such services into their contract as a “thank you” for choosing them over the competition.

To begin, make a list of what parties held in past years got “right” and got “wrong.” Continue to go with the positive aspects of prior parties, while making a plan to remedy and eliminate items that were not up to par. With simple advanced planning, your next holiday party venue will be the best one yet.

The Surprising Strengths of Low Credit Credit Cards

The Surprising Strengths of Low Credit Credit Cards
It’s difficult for people with low credit scores to get credit cards. Often, the only types available are secured credit cards, where you need to make a down payment that becomes the credit limit. Secured credit cards also tend to come with annual fees and high interest rates, so it’s easy to see why someone might not find them an attractive deal. However, there are some surprising benefits to having a credit card meant for those with poor credit. It’s worth checking out the options.

Anti-Fraud Protection
Probably the biggest advantage of having a credit card is the ability to make online purchases. While you can usually use a debit card to make those same purchases, if the debit card information gets stolen, it can take time to get your money back. That’s not as big of a concern when you use your credit card. Most cards offer anti-fraud protection, and they’ll quickly research the issue if your credit card information is stolen.

Low Limits
Most credit cards for those with bad credit have credit limits $500 or less. Many people see this as a big disadvantage. While it does mean that you are not likely to be able to use the card to purchase something like airline tickets, the low limit can also be beneficial. One of the easiest ways to find yourself into financial trouble is to charge purchases that you really can’t afford. Low limits stop you from spending well beyond your means. Even if you do spend more than you can reasonably afford, it’s a lot easier to pay off a $400 splurge than it is to pay off a $4,000 splurge.

Building Credit
When you have bad credit, you’re stuck in a bit of a cycle. Creditors don’t want to offer you money, which means that you aren’t able to show that you can be financially responsible. Getting a credit card means that you’re able to start building up your credit. It doesn’t matter whether the card is secured, whether it has a low limit or whether it has a high interest rate. If you use the card and make payments on time, you’ll start to increase your score. You should also be aware that you don’t have to carry a balance in order to improve your score. You can pay the balance off in full each month, which is the smart thing to do to avoid interest charges.

Tracking Credit
Some credit cards, such as the Capital One Secured Master Card, offer the ability to track your credit score and report online. This is a big advantage. Seeing your credit score go up month after month can be a big motivation to keep up the good behavior. It will also allow you to easily see if someone’s stolen your identity and opened up new accounts. Catching fraud early is the best way to minimize the damages it can cause.

Moving Up
Getting that first credit card and proving that you’re able to use it wisely is the first step toward getting better offers. With a better credit score, you’ll be able to apply for better offers. Some secured cards, such as the Wells Fargo Secured Visa, even periodically review your card and upgrade you to an unsecured status. Once you have better cards, you can choose to cancel your secured card and get back any of the money you put toward the deposit.

Credit cards for those with low credit scores are rarely ideal. You may even wonder whether it’s worth it to sign up. However, getting the card and using it responsibly starts to build your credit score and opens up the doors to other possibilities. If you apply for a card with this in mind, you’ll be a lot happier with your decision.

Why Squatters are Hurting the Real Estate Market

Why Squatters are Hurting the Real Estate Market
As if the 2008 to 2010 mortgage foreclosure crisis hadn’t been enough, a new kind of crisis has hit the real estate market which is almost unimaginable. Better said, it is the legal structure’s response to what is taking place still five years later that makes this crisis so extraordinary. What is it? Simply put, it’s how the real estate market is being assaulted even further by what are commonly known as “squatters.”

What Constitutes A Squatting Situation

A squatter basically is someone who is occupying a privately owned property, legally or illegally, without an owner’s consent. Our article below covers several different scenarios to better understand how serious this situation really is.

Due legal process must take place before physical or forced action can be taken. Neither can an owner, manager, bank or mortgage holder simply walk in and order the utilities to be cut, locks changed or put belongings on the curb.
A squatter basically is someone who is occupying a privately owned property, legally or illegally, without an owner’s consent.
If occupants were one’s guests who have overstayed their visit, nothing can be initiated until the law says so–even if the owner is living in his own house. Perhaps one of the most unpleasant scenarios is having a tenant evicted from a rented room. Not a good experience.

Various Squatter Scenarios

Who is affected? Just about anyone involved in some facet of the real estate market: rental property owners, career listing agents, banks, mortgage companies, innocent homeowners or renters and entire families.

That said, depending on the municipality and state of the occurrence, squatting is known by a variety of names. Typically known as “adverse possession,” this is the quasi-legal occupancy of a property, home or apartment simply by claiming ownership through possession–whether they own it or not.

In Colorado especially, adverse possession requires an 18–year vacancy to be declared legal. Should homeowners finally get back possession, there may not be property enough left to warrant a repossession of the property as squatters have by now typically gutted the property of any worth-while components or fixtures. Many times, the entire infrastructure is gone.

A real savvy squatter or “squatter broker” knows the law better than the property owner and may turn around and slap the owner with a bankruptcy filing to stall off an eviction.

In Detroit, an attempt is being made to stabilize the housing market as literally tens of thousands of abandoned, dilapidated houses occupied by squatters are preventing the bulldozing of homes. As of last year, more than 40,000 homes were in need of demolition–a health department’s nightmare.

Incredible but true: Miami now has more squatters than homeowner occupied houses. Moreover, the Miami-Dade police department has designated a division to investigate renters who have been sold a bill of goods by “squatter brokers” who many times pose as the legitimate home owner with a strange rental agreement.

Sometimes these “brokers” get a renter’s money and deposit in exchange for moving a legitimate renter into a property. The only trouble is that there is only a scam, illegitimate owner and the recently typed lease has been bought at any one of several local stationary stores in the area.

Possible Proactive Strategies

1- Many times, depending on the situation and locality, an “unlawful detainer” may have to be initiated before getting any police action.
2- If you let someone stay over for more than a few days, have a written lease agreement. Also, because it can take weeks to get the court eviction done, it’s best to act at the first sign of trouble.
3- Another viable and time-honored solution is to agree to pay toward the person’s moving expenses. While it goes against the grain, so to speak, it many times works well in getting rid of undesirable occupants. Definitely, it is less expensive than filing a lawsuit and waiting it out.
4- Real estate agents and managers need to keep an eye out for common squatter indicators such as empty beer cans, cigarette butts and permanently parked cars.
5- Neighbors also need due vigilance as the next house to be illegally occupied may be their own.

5 Ways Winterizing Your Car Saves You Money

5 Ways Winterizing Your Car Saves You Money
During the warm days of summer, most people have little to worry about with their cars. As long as the air conditioning is blowing out cool air while traveling down the highway, everything seems fine. However, inevitably warm days are replaced with the much colder temperatures of winter, and that can spell trouble for a car. To make sure a car is winterized properly, learn about these five ways to winterize that can save car owners plenty of money:

Get a Tune-Up
Before winter arrives, getting a tune-up for the car can save large amounts of money over the season. Not only will it help the engine run smoother and stronger, but it will also help keep the car’s belts and transmission in good working order. When the weather gets cold, the metal on the car’s body constantly expands and contracts. As a result of this, belts can start to squeak, gears can start sticking, and transmissions can start to lag when shifting from one gear to another. By making sure a car gets a tune-up before winter, chances are many of these problems can be avoided.

Change the Oil
Without a doubt the most important component to keeping an engine running smoothly, an oil change prior to winter can save potentially hundreds if not thousands of dollars. If the oil is not changed regularly, the engine will eventually burn out and need to be replaced, which can be one of the most expensive repairs a car may need. However, by making sure the right grade of oil is used to protect the engine against the cold temperatures, the life of the car can be extended for many more years.

Top Off the Fluids
Before winter arrives, it’s always a good idea to top off all of a vehicle’s fluids. These include the transmission fluid, power steering fluid, antifreeze, brake fluid, and windshield wiper fluid. This saves money in many ways, such as using de-icing windshield wiper fluid to keep windshields clear and save on wear and tear from wiper blades. In addition, using the right fluids can prevent damage to the brakes, transmission, radiator, and more.

Take Care of the Tires
Properly inflated tires not only save money on gas by helping cars run more efficiently, but they also make driving down the road much safer. The workload on the car’s suspension system will also be lessened, since it will have far less stress on its shocks and struts. In parts of the country where winter driving can be treacherous, many drivers also save money by investing in snow tires. These tires allow for safer driving, plus help the car drive more efficiently during inclement weather.

Fill Up at the Pump
One way a car will run better during winter weather is to have a full tank of gas as often as possible. If a gas tank is kept very low during the winter, water can eventually form and mix in with the gas, causing the fuel to not work as well due to it being diluted. Most experts recommend keeping a tank as close to full as possible over the winter, which helps to eliminate the chances of running out of gas and needing a tow truck. When this happens, drivers can almost always expect to pay $100 or more to have the car towed.

By following these five simple tips to keep their cars in good shape, drivers everywhere can have peace of mind when driving along snow-covered roads. Most of these tips cost very little to implement, and by doing so can lessen the chances of expensive repairs needing to be made unexpectedly. For more information on these and other tips, visit http://onecentatatime.com/8-winter-car-care-secrets. While today’s cars are made better than ever before, they still need regular maintenance prior to winter as a way to ensure vital parts such as engines and tires will be at their best.

Meeting the Visa Black Card Requirements

Meeting the Visa Black Card Requirements
Meeting the application requirements for the Visa Black credit card is not for the faint of credit. Barclays Bank has specifically set up this card to appeal to a certain elite group of card holders – the ones who think that a $495 annual fee is pocket change. Having said that, however, the Visa Black card comes with a stellar list of perks and benefits attached. In this post, learn about what it takes to meet the Visa Black card requirements and what you get if you qualify.

Be Among the One Percent
What is so intriguing about the Visa Black card is that, to date, Barclays Bank has been reluctant to share exactly what the approval requirements actually are. What they have said is that only approximately one percent of the population will be able to meet their approval qualifications.

But this is what has been gleaned from cardholder feedback:

– Excellent credit score. You must have excellent credit (at least 700+ for your credit score) to be considered.

– Excellent credit history. You must have an excellent credit history – especially when it comes to repaying balances and loans on time.

– Income history. Finally, you must have the income history to justify carrying a card only a reputed one percent of the nation can qualify for.

What You Get if You Win
If you are approved for the Visa Black credit card, after you pay your $495 annual fee (and an additional $195 for each additional user you authorize to carry a card linked to your account), you do get quite a menu of personalized services as well as some cash back perks.

Here is a basic overview:

– A carbon-based card. The Visa Black card is visually stunning – and it is literally made out of carbon, not plastic, so it has a certain heft in your hand that other cards cannot compete with. The card’s black patterned face is very distinctive looking as well.

– 24/7 personal concierge service. If you need (or just want) help with making travel arrangements, shopping, business services and more, you can call on Visa Black to handle it for you.

– Access to 350+ private airport lounges nationwide. If you like to wait out your layovers in a private members-only airport lounge, this card will get you in.

– Cash back rewards points. This is another grey area, but what cardholders report is earning 1 point per $1 spent – so about one percent cash back on purchases.

– Extra insurance. Travel delay or interruption insurance, lost baggage insurance, purchase security and other insurance against the things no one can control – all of these come along with the Visa Black card.

– Balance transfer promotions. If you want to transfer in balances when you activate your Visa Black card, you can do so at a zero percent APY for the first 15 months of card use.

Decisions, Decisions
Deciding which credit card to apply for can be a challenge in itself. There are a number of cards that can compete on the same level with the Visa Black credit card, and deciding which one of them is the best fit for you will simply come down to comparing the fees versus the perks against your lifestyle.

For example, the Visa Black card is great for cardholders who travel frequently – lots of the perks are geared towards making travel safer and more comfortable. So if you travel frequently you will definitely appreciate both the comforts and the assurances – there is never a time when a delayed flight or lost luggage is not a pain to deal with, and this is one card that is happy to take on those chores for you.

5 Unusual Gift Ideas for the Person Who Has Everything

5 Unusual Gift Ideas for the Person Who Has Everything
Everyone has somebody on their list during the holidays who is hard to shop for, because they seem to already have everything! For people like this, you need to think outside the box a bit when choosing their gifts. With a little bit of creativity, you can really wow them this holiday season with a gift they will not soon forget.

Does the person on your list seem to have every earthly possession? Then try looking in space! There are a whole bunch of websites online that allow you to purchase and name a star for a lucky recipient. Generally, your purchase comes with certificates and documentation that show that the star is yours, along with a star chart that will allow you to easily find your star in the sky. This is a fun and unique gift for kids and adults alike. Getting their very own star will be a memory that is sure to stand out when they think back on the holidays.

If a person seems to have everything, then a great gift to give is not something material – but an experience. This could be anything from concert tickets to wine tastings, kayaking excursions to cooking classes. The possibilities are almost endless, and instead of having another thing they don’t need, they will have a fond memory or a new skill. What better thing to give somebody who doesn’t seem to need anything than that?

If your gift recipient is a person who enjoys having a box to open, there are plenty of companies that provide subscription services for people with a wide variety of interests. For a monthly fee, the person on your list could get a box delivered to their house filled with a selection of make-up, pet supplies, health and wellness items, unique and interesting food… this will provide your recipient with a bunch of exciting experiences each month, as opposed to one (potentially disappointing) gift all at once.

A creative gift that will stand out this holiday season is something monogrammed! You can get a huge variety of items online monogrammed with the recipient’s initials. There are plenty of websites that will engrave anything and everything, including necklaces, bathrobes, and even metal lighters. While the customer might have the item itself, they probably won’t have a monogrammed version that they can call their very own.

Sometimes the best gifts for a person who seems to have everything are the most practical ones. Your recipient might have the latest gadgets and luxuries, but try to think a little more basic. Might they like a brand new pair of house slippers or a soft blanket, or maybe a new set of dishes? While these household items may seem like obvious choices, you would be surprised at how often they get ignored by gift givers trying to “wow” the recipient with a new electronic or gizmo that they probably already have. Your basic gift will be thoughtful in contrast, and will definitely be appreciated.

Is the person on your list a philanthropist? Sometimes the most thoughtful gift to give someone is a gift for someone else. There are plenty of charities that allow you to make a gift donation on the recipient’s behalf. Not only will this be appreciated, it will make the recipient feel great and fulfilled in a way that a material purchase might not.

While the person with everything might seem hard to shop for at first, you really just have to think a little bit creatively. With a little bit of thought about the person’s likes, dislikes, hobbies, and interests, your gift is sure to be remembered for holidays to come.

Title Loans: Financial Help or Hindrance?

Loans: Financial Help or Hindrance
Title loans are offered by financial institutions or finance companies to consumers in exchange for vehicle titles as collateral. These loans are short term and demand payment within 14 to 31 days. Lenders may have different agreements and terms, including application processes, fees, interest rates and due dates. Although the loans are helpful during events of emergencies or the need for extra cash, it can become a hindrance if not repaid by the due date. There are advantages and disadvantages of obtaining short term loans.

Reasons Consumers may Request a Title Loan

Consumers request for title loans for many reasons, including emergency, vacationing, pay off debt, and college tuition. The consumer may be having hardship financially and needs the extra cash to cover other expenses.

Lender Requirements for Obtaining Title Loans

Lenders typically have similar requirements for consumers to receive title loans. The loan process begins with the consumer completing an application online or in-store. The requirements are minimum, which includes proof of employment, valid state driver’s license or state issued ID, and vehicle ownership title. To prove employment status, the consumer is required to supply a recent paycheck stub to the lender. After the application is approved and requirements are met, the lender requests an inspection of the collateral to see if there are any damages.

Title Loan Application Process

The application process for a title loan includes providing information, such as name, date of birth, address, social security number, place of employment, references, and loan amount request. Most companies and financial institutions offering title loans are required to provide information to consumers regarding the terms in writing. The term agreement must provide information concerning applicable fees, interest rates, and late fees. Additional information includes the default of title loans.

How Loan Amount is Determined?

Lenders determine the loan amount based on the value of a vehicle. Loans may range from $100 up to $40,000, based on the blue book value. Lenders request to ensure the vehicle used for collateral is operable and to see if there are damages in the exterior and interior.

Advantages of Title Loans

There are benefits of title loans if the borrower is financially capable of repayment by the due date. Most consumers live on a set budget according their financial means and income. To make the loan advantageous, consumers must consider the timeline for repayment and budget appropriately to ensure the obligation of repayment is fulfilled by the terms of agreement.

Title loans are fast to process and consumers may have access to cash within 10 to 15 minutes. There is no credit checks imposed on consumers to qualify for loans, which is prevalent among title loan lenders. Collateral replaces the no credit check, and the consumer is allowed full access to the collateral after the loan is issued.

Disadvantages of Title Loans

Consumers are advised by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to seek other alternatives to receive loans. Title loans can be costly if consumers do not repay by the due date. The fees and interest rates may double each due date period the loan is defaulted. For an example, if a consumer receives a loan for $100 and the fee and interest rate is $25, the total amount due at the end of 14 days is $125.

Now, if the borrower is unable to repay and has to renew the loan, another $25 is added to the loan. The total amount the borrower is obligate to pay is $150. The fees are doubled and is half the principle amount original borrowed from the lender. The additional fees may cause financial distress and result in repossession of vehicle collateral. If the auto is repossessed, the borrower is given a timeline to pay off the loan, plus fees and interest.

Title loans have their benefits, but have serious disadvantages if not paid by the due date. Consumers are advised to repay the loans by the term agreement to avoid financial burdens.
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