Gunning Daily News

Strategies for Managing and Reducing Debt

June 23, 2013 6:18 pm

(BPT) - Are you feeling overwhelmed by your monthly bills? Do you only pay the minimum on your credit cards each month, or use several credit cards to spread out your debt? These are all warning signs that your habits may be keeping you from reaching your financial goals. The good news is, you can take steps to manage your debt and gradually reduce it over time.

Before you take any action, however, you need to know exactly where you stand financially. Look over all your outstanding debt - credit cards, car payments, mortgage or rent, student loans - to help you determine where you are and which obligations have priority. These tips can help you responsibly manage your debt and strengthen your credit situation.

Organizing debt: Not all types of debt affect your finances equally. Collect recent statements from all your creditors. Write down the creditor, amount owed, monthly payment and interest rate on your account. Knowing which debts have the highest minimum monthly payments and interest rates will help you determine which debt is costing you the most.

Prioritizing payments: Examine where you can cut back on expenses, and put that money toward your debts. Try paying off your debts with the highest interest rates as quickly as you can, while continuing to pay at least the minimum due on all of your other debts each month. Once you've paid off the credit card with the highest interest rate, put that money toward the next highest.

Calling creditors: If you can't make a payment or need to make a partial payment, talk to your creditors about setting up a payment plan you can afford. You may be surprised - many creditors will be willing to work with you to find a solution.

Refinancing your mortgage: If interest rates have dropped since you took out your mortgage loan, consider refinancing to lower your monthly payments. If refinancing isn't an option, consider other options to repay your loan more quickly. For example, sending additional principal payments with your regular payments decreases the loan balance and reduces the overall interest owed.

Seeing a credit counselor: These professionals will need to see all your financial material so that they can help you explore your options and make a plan to get you out of debt. To find a reputable credit counselor, visit the website for the nonprofit National Foundation for Credit Counseling,

Consolidating your debt: You might want to consider combining all of your debts into a single loan. This allows you to pay off your debt with one monthly payment, which could be lower than all of your previous monthly payments combined. It will also make it easier to keep track of your debt. Keep in mind that a debt consolidation loan simply transfers the debt to a new lender - you'll still have debt. Additionally, if your consolidation loan has a longer repayment period, it could increase the total amount you repay. You can pay the loan off faster, of course, by making more than a minimum payment each month.

Source: Wells Fargo Smarter Credit Center

Top 5 Tips for a Better Road Trip

June 23, 2013 6:18 pm

The car is packed and everyone is raring to go. Before you head off on your summertime adventure, make sure you take the following road trip tips in mind.

Check the Car – Are your tires properly inflated? Do your oil and fluid levels need to be topped off? Is the AC working properly? If you need a tune-up you can find a repair shop in your area, or if you're really ambitious, can help with do-it-yourself car maintenance tips.

Cater to the Kids – Nothing can ruin a family road trip quite like a cranky kid. If your child sleeps well in a car, consider leaving at bedtime or during early morning hours. Bring healthy snacks and water – especially electrolyte water, which hydrates kids quickly and stays in the body longer (meaning fewer potty breaks).

Pack Some Entertainment – No TVs built into the headrests? No problem. Portable DVD players are very affordable, and of course, passengers can always fire up movies or games on a laptop or tablet. Even if you don't pack the technology, there are still plenty of old-fashioned road trip games – like I Spy, 20 Questions and the Picnic Game - that the entire family can enjoy.

Know Where You're Going – Even if your car isn't equipped with a navigation system, there is a wide variety of free navigation apps – such as Google Maps – available for your smartphone. No matter what app you use, choose one that offers real-time traffic information to avoid crippling backups. And it's never a bad idea to have paper maps on hand in case there are issues with your phone or its network connection.

Keep Calm and Carry On – Whether it's the kids screaming behind you, or the jerk who just cut you off on the freeway, you never know when a flash of road rage will hit. The best way to avoid angry outbursts is to make sure you're rested. Get a good night's sleep before your trip, and for especially long road trips, take a break every two to three hours.


Tips to Create Memorable Family Adventures

June 23, 2013 6:18 pm

(Family Features)—These warm weather months provide ample opportunities for fun-seeking families to scope out some exciting new adventures. Whether your crew loves a taste of nature or if they're hooked on cultural exploration, it's easy to create a special "daycation."

Optimize family-fun time by making sure you have everything you need before heading out the door, such as sunscreen, umbrellas and bug-spray, to ensure you can fully enjoy your day. When it comes to being nutritionally prepared, registered dietitian and author Patricia Bannan suggests these tips to keep your family properly fueled throughout the day:

Munch in the Morning - If your day of adventure starts early, have easy breakfast options on hand. To keep your metabolism revved and hunger at bay, it's best to eat something small with protein and fiber within two hours of waking up. Greek yogurt with fruit or a slice of whole-grain toast with nut butter are easy breakfast options that provide a kick-start to your morning.

Pack Healthy Snacks - Avoid costly and unhealthy food temptations at concession stands and rest-stops by bringing along nutritious snacks.

Don't Skip Meals - Eating every 3-5 hours will help to keep your blood sugar stabilized and set you up for healthier choices the rest of the day. Curb your appetite between meals by packing pre-portioned snacks, like a mix of nuts and dried fruits.

Bring a Cooler - A hot car can turn any snack into a melted mess, so pack a small cooler bag to keep things chilled. The most important addition to the cooler is water, so pack plenty to stay hydrated.

Now that you're ready for your adventure, choose an activity that your family will enjoy. Here are a few suggestions:

Local or state parks - Chances are you're a short drive from a great public park. Do the research to find out if you can enjoy nature trails by foot or rent bicycles for the day. Many parks also have visitors' centers where kids can take part in crafts while learning about native animals and plants.

Zoo - Get up-close-and-personal with wildlife. Check out a zoo in your town filled with lions, tigers and bears, or a petting zoo at a local farm where children can feed goats, sheep, ponies and more.

Beach, lake or river - Pack the car for a day trip to a local waterway in your neck of the woods. Check and see if you can rent kayaks or paddle boats for a day of outdoor activity.

Museums - Give the kids an adventure into the past, wildlife, outer space or the fine arts with a visit to a regional museum. Many museums offer special rates and programs for children to get involved. You may even find you have a mini Picasso or historian-in-the-making in your family.


Word of the Day

June 23, 2013 6:18 pm

Mortgagee. Party or institution that lends money; the creditor.

Q: How Do Capital Gains Work If You Have More Than One Home?

June 23, 2013 6:18 pm

A: For more than one home, you can exclude the gain only from the sale of your main residence.  You must pay tax on the gain from selling any other home.  If you have two homes and live in both of them, your main home is usually the one you live in most often.

Savvy Money Tips to Share With Your Teen

June 23, 2013 6:18 pm

(Family Features) -- Most parents have learned things about money they wish they had known at a younger age. But when it comes to broaching the topic with their own teenagers, about a third would rather talk to them about smoking, drugs and bullying than money. Parents can take the angst out of teaching money management by working it into everyday routines.

"Your kids are most likely interested in money and having more of it, but they may not know where to start," says Susan Ehrlich, president of financial services for H&R Block. "Teaching money skills before they graduate will help them make smart choices and learn from their financial missteps now, so they're better prepared when they're on their own."

Below are several tips:

Encourage learning by earning. You may or may not want your teen to hold down a job while in high school, but you can instill the concept of earning by encouraging occasional paying projects, such as babysitting or mowing lawns.

Practice makes perfect. Ask your teen to manage a portion of the family budget, such as writing the weekly menu and grocery list to fit your budget or keeping track of eating-out expenses every month.

Save now, spend later. Open a savings account for your teen to plan for future purchases. If you're able, offer to match a portion of their savings to encourage the behavior. This can help convey the difference between needs and wants. Verbalize your own wants for something the entire family can save for and enjoy together, then share your progress toward the goal.

Set some limits. If your teen has a credit card, set a realistic credit limit so the balance can be paid in full each month. Your teen will also see the impact of interest rates and annual fees.

Be a good financial role model. Pay your own bills on time and ask your teen to be part of the process. Talk to your teen about the importance of a good credit score and how to maintain it—for example, paying your bills on time accounts for 35 percent of your score. Help them understand lower credit scores mean higher interest that could cost thousands of unnecessary dollars.



Get Your Home Ready for Outdoor Entertaining

June 23, 2013 6:18 pm

(Family Features)--With the warm weather here, it's time to get your house and yard in shape for outdoor entertaining.

Here are a few tips to quickly spruce up your home for your next gathering, so you can spend more time with family and friends, and less time worrying about the prep work and clean up.

Tidy Up the Yard - The first thing guests will notice is the condition of your lawn, so make sure to give it a fresh mow the day before you're having guests over. Tidy up yard debris like extra sticks and mulch, and put away garden tools, lawn toys and garbage cans so they are out of view.

Add Fresh Flowers - Find annuals in your favorite party-theme colors and plant them in ceramic or terra cotta pots to brighten the space. Position potted plants as table centerpieces, near serving stations, and on the patio or deck for pops of color. Use your home as a way to express your personal style and get creative by coordinating flowers with your table linens and furniture upholstery.

Clean Up Your Sitting Area - From picnics and pool parties, to birthdays and cookouts, get your backyard ready for the season. It is a good idea to spruce up your deck at least once a year to remove any weathering and stains that may have occurred, and wipe down lawn and patio furniture that was lying dormant during the winter. Tackle both with a product that is gentle on unfinished wood. Remember to rinse thoroughly any residual product.

De-grime the Grill - Grungy grills are never a welcome part of any backyard barbecue, especially if they were collecting dust and dirt all season. Wipe the grime and grease off the outside of the grill, and clean the interior racks, by scrubbing with a wire brush and a solution of three parts baking soda to one part warm water. Rinse thoroughly.

With the right tips and tricks you can easily prep your home for entertaining and offer your guests a comfortable and relaxed experience during all of summer's festivities.



Take a Break from Technology

June 23, 2013 6:18 pm

(Family Features) As access to technology increases, families may find they are spending more time on their devices and less time together.

Some psychologists worry our growing attachment to technology may result in social isolation.

"We're getting used to a new way of being alone together," says Sherry Turkle, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor, psychologist and author of "Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other."

"People want to be with each other, but also elsewhere, connected to all the different places they want to be."

Ready for a Tech Timeout? Foresters™, a life insurance provider committed to the well-being of families, recently launched the Tech Timeout™ challenge in response to a growing awareness that our attachment to digital devices may contribute to a sense of social isolation among families. Tech Timeout encourages families across North America to take a pledge to turn off their digital devices (including TVs, smartphones, video games and computers) for an hour each day for one week and connect with each other in a more meaningful way. The idea is not to eliminate technology, but to create awareness of the dependence on technology, and ultimately improve personal bonds within families.

Easy Ways to Unplug - Carving out space and time for each other can start the channels of communication flowing. Here are some activities families can do together:

  • Board Game Bonanza - Break out the cards, puzzles and board games for a night of old-fashioned fun.
  • Get Out and Play - Find a local trail and set out on a hike together. You will have a chance to interact with your surroundings and one another and be active too.
  • Volunteer - Volunteering can help strengthen community connections and avoid a sense of social isolation. Find a cause your family is passionate about and volunteer with a local organization.
  • Cook Together - Dig out your favorite recipes and try cooking as a family. Assign each person a role in meal preparation. You will not only have plenty of time to interact, your children can pick up some valuable life skills along the way.
  • Take a Tech-free Holiday - Family vacations are a great time to recharge and bond with your kids, but connecting can be tough if you are each plugged into your electronic devices. Fun time together will create memories your children will cherish for years to come.
  • Rediscover Reading - Begin a family reading hour or book club. Starting a discussion about literature will open up communication.



Word of the Day

June 23, 2013 6:18 pm

Mortgage company or mortgage banker.  Financial intermediary that offers mortgages to borrowers, and then resells them to various lending institutions, government agencies, or private investors.

Q: Can I Deduct a Loss on the Sale of My Home?

June 23, 2013 6:18 pm

A: No. A loss from the sale of personal–use property, such as a home or car, is not deductible. They are considered nondeductible personal losses, and you cannot reduce your tax bill by deducting them the way you would deduct stock and investment losses on your tax returns.