Gunning Daily News

Raise Your Hand: 3 Questions Every Investor Should Ask

January 4, 2014 3:33 pm

(BPT)—We live in a busy world full of demands on our time and attention—everything from keeping up with our families and careers to making sure we are taking care of ourselves and answering our cellphones by the third ring.

To meet all of life's challenges, sometimes you need to take a step back, sometimes you need to take charge, and other times it makes sense to delegate tasks to someone else - often times a professional such as a contractor, attorney or financial advisor. But for most people, turning things over to someone else shouldn't mean tuning out completely—especially when it comes to something as important as your financial future. When it comes to money and investing, most people feel more confident keeping one hand on the wheel to help ensure their best interests are being served.

But how do you know if you're doing that now or not? Here are three questions every person who invests should ask to determine how involved they are with their investments and if they're getting the level of engagement they want from their current investment professional:

1. Does my broker encourage me to be actively involved in my investment strategy?

Ninety-seven percent of Americans who are highly engaged in various activities in their lives say they want to be involved in the decisions that their broker is making, according to a Schwab study of engaged Americans conducted in May 2013. Does your broker make this easy for you to do? Sitting down and having a conversation with your broker to discuss the level of involvement you want is the first step. You should determine how and when you'd like to be contacted so your broker can keep you up-to-date on major developments in your financial situation. Make sure you feel empowered to ask questions and your broker's answers make sense, you are comfortable giving feedback, and your broker encourages you to check in as frequently as you want - on your terms.

2. What are my broker's recommendations based on?

Do you ask for the rationale behind the recommendations your broker is making for your money? Not only do you deserve an explanation, but you need to understand how your broker's recommendations are suitable for your unique goals, risk tolerance, time horizon and ongoing changes in your personal and financial situation—as opposed to being the same cookie cutter ideas everyone else receives. It's also a good idea to make sure you understand how your broker is compensated for the advice you receive and the products being recommended.

3. Do I understand the progress I am making toward my goals?

Schwab's study of engaged Americans from May 2013 found that 56 percent of those surveyed have a customized financial plan, which is an important first step to taking ownership over your financial future. But do you understand the progress you are making in that plan? It's important to have simple and transparent benchmarks and measures, so make sure your broker offers the tools you both need to track progress against your goals.

If you weren't able to answer these questions on your own, it may be time to ask your broker. Communication is key to any good working relationship and your broker is no exception. It's worth the time and effort to make sure you are on a path toward a successful financial future.


Word of the Day

January 4, 2014 3:33 pm

Installment payment. Periodic payment, usually monthly, of interest and principal on a mortgage or other loan.

Q: When Is the Best Time to Refinance?

January 4, 2014 3:33 pm

A: Many people flock to refinance while mortgage interest rates are low, particularly when rates are two percentage points below their existing home loans.

Other factors, like when to finance, will depend on how long you plan to hold on to your home and whether you have to pay considerable fees to refinance. It also will depend on how far along you are in paying off your current mortgage.

If you expect to sell your home shortly, you are not likely to recoup the costs you incurred to refinance. And if you are more than halfway through paying your current mortgage, you probably will gain little by refinancing. However, if you are going to own your home for at least another five years, that is probably long enough to recoup any refinancing costs and realize real savings as a result of lowering your monthly payment.

In fact, if it costs you nothing to refinance, you can gain even more. Many lenders will let you roll the costs of the refinancing into the new note and still reduce the amount of the monthly payment. Plus, there are no-cost refinancing deals available.

Contact your lender, and its competitors, before you refinance. 

3 Fun Ways to Eat Healthier

January 2, 2014 5:03 pm

Okay, so you’ve spent the holidays stuffing your mouth with fudge, eggnog, and lasagna. It’s a seasonal lapse, one we all give into, but a new year is here. If healthier eating is on your to-do list for 2014, here are three simple tips from nutritionists at Good Housekeeping to set you and your family on the road to healthier eating and making it fun for all:

Veggies are for way more than salads – Plan to include them in every meal and snack. Throw some kale or beans into your breakfast smoothies along with the yogurt and fruit. Eat salad for lunch, and have at least three kinds of veggies with dinner. Try roasting carrots, onions and bell peppers for a yummy, caramelized treat. And don’t forget dessert. Grate a little zucchini into your brownie batter or cut down on the sugar and add some leftover mashed sweet potato to homemade oatmeal cookies.

Try something new – Get the family involved in finding and preparing new foods and recipes to try. Go for main dishes featuring natural foods like quinoa or faro. Grate raw beets (or even carrots) on top of salads. Try some of the many kinds of squash – like spaghetti or acorn squash – you may not have experienced before. Peruse the local farmer’s market with the kids to find new and exotic veggies.

Be prepared – When you’re tired, starving and in a rush, you may not feel like preparing veggies. Get into the habit of prepping them for meals and snacks when you bring them home from the market. Cut vegetables store well in plastic bags or containers – so dice them for smoothies, peel and cut them for snacking and for packing into lunchboxes and brown bags. Tempt skeptical kids with mini-kabobs of colorful veggies strung together on toothpicks.

Five Tips to Cut Your Insurance Costs, without being Dangerously Underinsured

January 2, 2014 5:03 pm

Trimming ongoing expenses is a popular New Year's resolution for many people. While there are smart ways to save on homeowners and auto insurance, making the wrong choices can result in being dangerously underinsured, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).

"There are simple steps you can take to cut the cost of your home and auto insurance while continuing to be financially protected against a catastrophe," said Jeanne M. Salvatore, senior vice president and consumer spokesperson for the I.I.I.

Following are five insurance mistakes that consumers should avoid, along with practical suggestions for ways to save money:

1. Insuring a home for its real estate value not rebuilding cost. The amount for which you can buy or sell a home can fluctuate for many reasons. But insurance is designed to cover the cost of rebuilding your home, not the sale price. Make sure you have enough coverage to completely rebuild your home and replace all your belongings in the event of a disaster.

A better way to save on homeowners premiums: Raise your deductible. An increase from $500 to $1,000 could save up to 25 percent on your annual premium. And don't forget to ask your insurer about all available discounts.

2. Selecting an insurance company by price alone. You want an insurance company that offers the type of policy and coverage that you are looking for; it should also be financially sound and provide excellent customer service.

A savvier way to pick an insurer: Ask friends and family for recommendations. Get the names of local agents and/or insurance companies that provided helpful information and a satisfactory claims filing experience.

3. Dropping flood insurance. Damage from flooding is not covered under standard homeowners and renters insurance policies. Even though the cost of flood insurance is rising, don't be tempted to drop this coverage. Ninety percent of all natural disasters involve some form of flooding. Flood insurance is available from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), as well as from some private insurance companies.

A smarter way to lower flood insurance costs: Before purchasing a home check with the NFIP to see whether the house is located in a flood zone. If so, consider buying a home in a less risky area. If you already own a home and it is in a flood zone, you still have some options: increasing your deductible; and elevating the structure. There may be grants available to help you with the costs of elevation—to find out more, talk to your community officials. You may also want to talk to your community officials about joining or improving their status in the Community Rating System. This is a FEMA program that offers flood discounts to communities that adopt standards that are higher than those required to join the National Flood Insurance Program.

4. Purchasing only the legally required amount of liability for your vehicle. In today's litigious society, buying only the minimum amount of liability means you are likely to pay more out-of-pocket if you are sued—and those costs may be steep. The insurance industry and consumer groups generally recommend a minimum of $100,000 of bodily injury protection per person and $300,000 per accident.

A less risky way to cut auto insurance costs: Consider taking a defensive driver class that would offer a discount on insurance cost. You can also raise the deductible on comprehensive and collision coverage. If you are driving an older vehicle, you may want to think about dropping one or both of these coverages.

5. Neglecting to buy renters insurance. The average renters insurance policy is less than $200 per year ($187 dollars a year) or about $22 per month. For the price of a couple of fancy coffees a week, you can insure the contents of your apartment, as well as get liability protection in the event someone is injured in your home and decides to sue. Lastly, renters insurance policies also provide coverage for additional living expenses—so if you can't live in your home because of a fire or other disaster, you would get the money to live elsewhere temporarily.

A good way to cut the cost of renters insurance: Look into multi-policy discounts. Buying several policies with the same insurer, such as renters, auto and/or life insurance, will generally provide savings.



5 Energy-Saving Tips to Keep You Green in 2014

January 2, 2014 5:03 pm

As 2014 approaches, the go-to resolutions remain unchanged; weight loss, time spent with family and friends and budgeting. One way to cut back on funds is to invest some time and a little money into your home to save on energy bills in the long run. Here are 5 habits that custom homebuilder Nate Abbott, of Falcon Custom Homes, encourages his clients to implement in 2014 that will affect your energy bills in a positive way:

1. Invest in energy technology, like a programmable thermostat, power timers or a smart charger.

2. Vow to never again leave your electronic devices in standby mode. Here are a few items that you probably have in your home along with the amount of money wasted annually by leaving the devices in standby mode instead of shutting them off entirely:

  • LCD monitor: $2.51
  • Computer: $34.21
  • Laptop: $15.90
  • Laser printer: $12.43
  • Plasma TV: $159.76
  • DVD player: $8.67
  • Game console: $25.73
  • Convection microwave: $3.85
  • Rechargeable toothbrush: $1.35

3. Caulk or weather-strip air leaks around doors and windows to keep the warm or cool air in, depending on the time of year.

4. Replace your furnace filter at least every three months for high air quality.

5. Turn off water when brushing your teeth or doing the dishes.

Although some of these tips only save pennies here and there, putting all these tips to use could save you hundreds of dollars annually. By putting these home-oriented resolutions into place, you will begin to find yourself with extra spending money to accomplish your other resolutions


Word of the Day

January 2, 2014 5:03 pm

Right of survivorship. A feature of joint tenancy giving the surviving joint tenants the rights, title and interests of the deceased joint tenant. Right of survivorship is the basic difference between buying property as joint tenants and as tenants in common.

Q: How Does an Unsecured Loan Work?

January 2, 2014 5:03 pm

A: The interest rates on these loans are often higher than on secured loans and you generally will not be able to get a tax deduction for the interest paid. However, the costs to obtain an unsecured loan are usually lower. And the relative ease of getting this type of loan makes it popular for small projects costing $10,000 or less. The lender evaluates applications based on credit history and income. 

5 Tips for Improving Financial Fitness in 2014

December 30, 2013 3:15 pm

New Year’s resolutions are nothing new, and, according to the credit reporting firm Transunion, nearly 40 percent of Americans say they will make at least one big financial change in their life next year.

More than 32 percent say they will save more money, while 28 percent vow to pay down debt, and 27 percent saying they will eliminate unnecessary expenses.

No matter where you fit in the spectrum, the money mavens at Transunion suggest five steps you can start with to set you on the right path to financial fitness:

  1. Check your credit – Start by knowing where you stand. Check for any evidence of bad financial habits such as late, missed and minimum credit card payments. Knowing where problems lie is the first step toward fixing them.
  2. Dispute false credit data. Wrong information on a credit report can be the start of significant credit and financial problems for years to come. Protect your credit health by disputing any items on your credit report that are incorrect or that you do not recognize and getting those items removed.
  3. Address credit rating deficiencies – Once you know your credit score, take the necessary steps to raise your score. Pay down debt, hike those minimum card payments, and keep a lid on spending.
  4. Don't overspend – It seems like a simple concept, but vow to stop spending too much money on services and stuff you don't really need. Create a monthly spending plan (b-u-d-g-e-t!) and set limits on how you spend your disposable income.
  5. Watch out for identity theft. Recent news that millions of Target shoppers were victims of a security breach should resonate with every consumer. Keep ID thieves at bay by using a reputable credit monitoring service and tracking your credit card and bank statements regularly to make sure you're not exposed to a data breach. 

How Well Do You Know the Flu?

December 30, 2013 3:15 pm

(BPT)—About half of US adults incorrectly believe that antibiotics or flu vaccines will treat the flu, according to a new survey from the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID). The good news is that two-thirds of those surveyed know that people should be vaccinated against the flu each year.

"It is reassuring that individuals recognize the importance of receiving an annual vaccination but that's not enough," says Dr. Susan J. Rehm, NFID medical director. "To help keep influenza out of homes, schools, and workplaces, everyone six months and older should get vaccinated and contact their doctor when experiencing flu symptoms. Remember Flu F.A.C.T.S.: Fever, Aches, Chills, Tiredness, and Sudden onset, to help determine if your symptoms are flu related."

According to the CDC, the most important step in protecting against the flu is getting an annual flu vaccine. Also, when viruses are circulating, everyday preventative actions (like washing your hands and covering your cough) can stop the spread of viruses. Once you are infected with the flu virus, vaccination and hand washing will not stop the virus from replicating. Antibiotics won't help either, as they fight against bacterial infections. If you get the flu, a doctor can prescribe medicines to help treat the flu.

Flu spreads quickly and easily from one person to the next. Anyone can become sick and experience serious complications. Watch "Freddie the Flu Detective" identify flu symptoms in a new public service announcement from NFID.

Protect yourself this flu season, get vaccinated. To help your children learn flu-fighting habits, download a free "Freddie the Flu Fighter" coloring book at or