Gunning Daily News

How-To: Manage Credit while Traveling

March 8, 2013 4:00 pm

(BPT) - When it comes to the excesses and indulgences of vacation, you might like to think that "what happens in Vegas (or wherever you travel) stays in Vegas." Unfortunately, poor spending and credit choices made on vacation definitely come home with you, so it's important to take steps to protect your credit - both before and while you travel.

If your spring and summer plans include vacation, keep these financial considerations in mind:

Prepping for your trip

Planning ahead is one of the best ways to save money on travel. Book air tickets, lodging reservations and rental cars well in advance; prices rarely go down as your travel date approaches. Booking in advance also allows you extra time to shop around for the best possible deals.

Comparison price everything - from airfare to attraction tickets - online. Remember to include Web coupon sites in your search, not just popular travel sites. Online review sites can also help you learn more about lodging and attraction options in far-away destinations.

Shopping around can also help you decide if you're traveling at the best time for you, or if you have some flexibility to travel when prices are lower.

While using a credit card to book online is a smart move - credit cards offer consumer protections that cash and debit cards don't - be sure to pay off the purchases right away. If you know you won't be able to pay off the travel costs immediately, review your credit standing. Consider how credit purchases for travel might impact your credit score. Websites like freecreditscore.com can help you understand the impact certain credit decisions may have on your overall finances. Freecreditscore.com has a patented Score Planner that lets you see how financial behaviors can affect your credit score.

Prepare for your travel plans by saving money toward that goal. Some banks have revived the tradition of a vacation club savings account, but you can set aside money in any interest-bearing account to fund your travel plans.

While traveling

If you planned ahead, booked in advance and did your homework to find the best deals on airfare and lodging, you've made a good start. It's important to continue making good financial choices while on the road. Take steps to protect your cash, credit and identity while traveling.

Some cash will likely be required on your trip. Never carry all your cash in one place; instead, split it up between multiple bags, or have a traveling companion carry some of your cash. When you arrive at your destination, store cash in the hotel safe and only take out what you think you will need for the day's activities.

When using your credit card on the road, never let it out of your sight. Be aware of "shoulder surfers" who may stand behind you in a ticket line and use a smartphone to snap a picture of your card. Carry just one card for use and store a backup in the hotel safe in case of emergencies. Leave unnecessary cards and identification - such as your Social Security card or wholesale club card - at home.

Never use a public Wi-Fi connection - such as the ones found in airports or hotels - to access your online financial accounts. Enterprising crooks have been known to use special devices to hack account information from unsuspecting travelers.

Once you're back home, take another look at your credit and keep a close eye on financial statements and credit accounts for a few months. Catching fraud early may help mitigate its financial impact.

Now Hiring: 7 Careers on the Rise

March 8, 2013 4:00 pm

While jobs seem harder to come by these days, the need for qualified candidates is growing in at least seven job categories.

Penny Morey, managing director of an employment service in Boca Raton, Fla., suggests checking out career possibilities in these busy and lucrative fields:

Accountant/auditor – Recovery from the recent business slump is increasing the need for hirees qualified to work with financial records and accounting systems. A bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field is necessary in most cases.

Medical assistant – The aging population and a need for more preventive services means physicians will be hiring more assistants to perform clinical and administrative tasks. While there are no formal educational requirements, many employers look for graduates of an accredited postsecondary program.

Health services manager – The same increasing needs are opening opportunities to help physicians and health facilities manage finances and organize records. Bachelor’s and even Master’s degrees are required in health services, public health or administration.

Social workers – The need for direct-service social workers is climbing to help government and private agencies manage benefits or evaluate services. Applicants will need a bachelor’s degree in social work or a related field such as psychology.

Human resources specialist - Specialists could be responsible for anything that has to do with the hiring process and/or managing benefits - interviewing applicants, contacting references, performing background checks, and hiring candidates. A bachelor’s degree in human resources or business is generally required.

Public relations specialist – The growing desire to shape public opinion will increase the hiring of PR specialists by 23 percent in this decade, according to the Department of Labor. A bachelor’s degree is necessary in communication, public relations, journalism or related field.

Paralegal – A growth of 18 percent is anticipated for paralegals, who now perform many of the routine legal tasks once completed by higher-paid attorneys. Candidates will need an associate's degree in paralegal studies, or a bachelor's degree in another field and a certificate in paralegal studies.

Take Charge of Your Career

March 8, 2013 4:00 pm

(Family Features) Whether you want to advance your career or make the change to a new career, it’s up to you to make it happen.

“Sometimes hundreds of professionals are sending resumes for one open position, so you cannot leave things up to chance,” says University of Phoenix School of Business Dean Dr. Bill Berry. “You need to put a solid plan in place that will help you set the right career goals and obtain the skills you need to give you a competitive advantage.”

Determine Your Career Goals
Think about what you really want to do with your career — and be specific. Ask yourself some questions:
—What are the things that interest you most?
—What motivates you?
—In what kind of work environment do you thrive?
—What kinds of jobs fit these criteria?

If you’re not sure, it can be helpful to take a personal assessment. “Doing so can help you uncover your passions and preferences,” said Dean Berry. “It can help you identify strengths and can help you make an informed decision about your career.”

Identify Skills Gaps
There are more than three million job openings in this country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, yet many companies are finding it difficult to fill those positions. A common reason given for this is that employers can’t find qualified people with the appropriate skills.

A survey by University of Phoenix found that many people are recognizing the need to add skills in order to improve their careers:
—89 percent of working Americans believe there is still room for them to grow in their careers, and can point to at least one skill they will need to learn.
—58 percent who are not currently enrolled in school full-time believe that going back to school would be crucial if they were considering a new career path.

—36 percent say they need additional education in order to get to the next level of their careers.
“Taking an objective look at the skills you currently have and comparing them to the skills required for the type of job you desire, gives you a clear picture of what it will take to make the job changes you want,” Berry says.
—Start by writing down the skills, knowledge and qualifications you currently have.
—Next, research the types of jobs you want, and write down the qualifications needed.
—Compare the two lists, and take notes on the skills you’re currently missing.
“Once you do that, you can make decisions on how you’re going to bridge that skills gap,” says Berry. “At the University, we are seeing working adults pursuing education in order to address their own skills gaps — and it’s helping position them for career growth.”

Bridge the Gaps

If you have a skills gap in one area, such as knowledge of current computer software, you can take a single course or seminar to catch up. But for many, getting or finishing a college degree is the key to making a positive career change.

University of Phoenix’s survey found that having a degree has given those surveyed tangible benefits:
—63 percent of those with bachelor’s degrees or higher believe that their education led to more responsibility.
—60 percent of those with bachelor’s degrees or higher believe that their education positively affected their ability to get promoted.
—Those with bachelor’s degrees also say they perceive that their education led to other benefits including receiving raises (58 percent), keeping a job (58 percent) and being given more management opportunities (57 percent).

“For those returning to the classroom after many years, they’ll find that learning tools and platforms have changed significantly,” says Berry. “With online learning and other innovations, the classroom is evolving to mirror the workplace and the skills that employers want.”

Online coursework is one way that many adults are achieving their goals while holding down a job and/or raising a family. Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed say they are currently taking such a course, or plan to in the near future. When investigating education opportunities, look into your online options to help you maximize your time and pursue the degree plan that best fits your needs.

“The bottom line is that you have to take charge of your career,” says Berry. “With a good plan and clear goals in place, you can make yourself more marketable and put yourself on the path to a more fulfilling and rewarding career.”

Source: www.phoenix.edu.

Q: When Is the Best Time to Sell a Home?

March 8, 2013 4:00 pm

A: The best time to sell is when you are ready, or when you must. That is, when you have outgrown the space in your current home, or you prefer to trade down to something smaller. Perhaps your martial status has changed, which necessitates a move, or you need to relocate for a job.

Market conditions also play a role, as do seasonal conditions. For example, your chances of getting top dollar for your home are more likely in a seller’s market, when demand outweighs supply, than in a buyer’s market.

Local and national economic factors also may dictate when to sell. If a major employer in your area is laying off workers, it may not be a good time to put your home up for sale. People will be cautious about buying when the future seems so unpredictable or bleak.

Most agents agree the best time to sell is in the spring. This is when the largest number of potential buyers hit the market. Your home is likely to sell faster and at a higher price, although sales begin to pick up as early as February and start to slack off in July, the slowest month for real estate transactions.

Q: What are the specific responsibilities of the contractor vs. the architect?

March 7, 2013 5:50 pm

A: Beyond having the architect create the design and the contractor implement it, both professionals have additional responsibilities. The contractor is responsible for pricing the project and ensuring that it is completed in a timely fashion. The architect is responsible for getting the construction drawing completed with proper specifications and architectural detail. Since many jurisdictions require architectural drawings to be reviewed to ensure the plans sufficiently meet local codes, the architect may also be responsible for applying for and securing the permits. Make sure that everyone, you included, understand who is responsible for what before work begins in your home.

5 Tips for Tax Filing in the Digital Era

March 7, 2013 5:50 pm

(BPT) - Filing taxes online has become more popular than ever. In fact, the rate of individual tax returns filed online hit an all-time high of 80 percent last year, according to the IRS. But filing isn't the only step in the process that can now be accomplished with the help of online tools. Use digital technology to your advantage to make the complete process - from organizing receipts to claiming your refund - quick and simple.

"No longer do consumers have to sort through stacks of paperwork or wait in long lines at the post office during the dreaded tax season to successfully complete the filing process," says Rebecca Smith, vice president of marketing for Master Lock. "There are now a number of digital tools that not only make the tax process faster and easier, but also offer increased security as they eliminate the risks associated with hard-copy files of important or confidential documents, such as checks or W-2 forms."

Follow these tips for a secure and successful digital tax filing process:
1. Request electronic copies of your tax forms. Many employers offer workers the option to receive their W-2 forms electronically, instead of by mail. Eliminating the risk of postal delays or missed deliveries ensures that your W-2 will be delivered securely as soon as it is available. Plus, faster W-2s can mean faster tax returns.
2. Securely store documents online. Avoid the mess of a mound of paperwork by storing - and organizing - all your tax-related documents online. A secure service such as the Master Lock Vault (www.masterlockvault.com) ensures you'll have easy access to all your files wherever you are and that none of your paper documents will ever be lost, misplaced, stolen or damaged. Not only can you upload PDF forms, you also can upload photos from your phone of important receipts and expenses for your records. All data is instantly synchronized between the website and the app.
3. Think taxes year-round. Don't wait until you're ready to file your taxes to start collecting and organizing the supporting documents you'll need to complete your return. Avoid the scramble by capturing and uploading a digital image of your receipt each time you pay the babysitter or have a tax-deductible transaction, fill a prescription at the pharmacy or make a charitable contribution such as dropping off a clothing donation to your local thrift store.
4. Opt for direct deposit. If you've done everything else online, why request a hard-copy check when it comes time to claim your refund? When combined with electronic filing, direct deposit is the fastest way to get your refund. If you're on the other side of the spectrum and find that you owe taxes, opt to pay online and you can avoid the long tax-season lines at the post office.
5. Call for help. Sometimes, outside advice is necessary, and you can now get the help you need without leaving home. Based on the complexity of your question, there are a variety of resources to turn to. For example, the IRS offers a toll-free hotline for tax questions during weekdays. Several tax-prep software providers also offer guidance via online forums or on their social media feeds.

Source: www.masterlockvault.com

Scholarship Application Tips

March 7, 2013 5:50 pm

(Family Features)--The high cost of a college education means that a lot of students are looking for financial aid to help pay for it. But the competition can be stiff. According to the most recent National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, only 5.5 percent1 of undergraduate students received non-athletic scholarships. What can students do to give themselves the best chance of receiving some much-needed scholarship money?

“Start your search and application process as early as possible,” says Tiffany Turner, Program Manager at International Scholarship and Tuition Services, Inc. “Give yourself plenty of time to find scholarships that fit your skills and needs. And most applications will require essays and letters of recommendation, so you want to make sure you have plenty of time to pull those together.”

Turner also encourages students to apply for as many scholarships as they qualify for. “There aren’t a lot of big, full-ride scholarships available, but many smaller scholarships can add up to a surprising amount.”

The Scholarship Application

When applying for scholarships, attention to detail is an important step to success:

  • Follow directions carefully. Make sure you have all the supporting materials required, but don’t include anything that is not requested.
  • Fill out the entire application. Don’t skip any questions. If one doesn’t apply to you, make a note of that on the application. If you’re not sure how to answer, you can contact the scholarship coordinator.
  • Proofread carefully. Typos and grammar errors can hurt your chances. Have a parent or teacher double-check your application.
  • Watch all deadlines. Set up a calendar for application deadlines and make sure you meet them. If you miss one, your application won’t be considered.


Many scholarship applications require some kind of written essay or letter.

  • Be specific. Focus on the topics the application requires. Use concrete examples rather than vague, general statements.
  • Be yourself. This is your chance to show scholarship providers what kind of person you are and why they should help pay for your education. Let your personality come through, and include details that reveal who you really are.
  • Be honest. Never exaggerate grades, skills or experience. If you find yourself feeling the need to do so, you’re probably not applying for the right scholarship.

Volunteering and community involvement plays a big role in awarding today’s scholarships. “More and more scholarship providers are looking for well-rounded students who not only take their studies seriously, but also have a long-term commitment to their local communities,” says Turner.

“Do some research on the organization providing the scholarships,” Turner says. “You may find that successful applicants have volunteered more than the minimum, and that can make a difference in their award decisions.”

You can find local volunteer opportunities by searching www.volunteermatch.org, and find or create your own teen-specific charitable projects at www.dosomething.org. Foresters also provides volunteer opportunities for its customer members.

Source: www.foresters.com

Telecommuter Tips: Furnishing a Home Office

March 7, 2013 5:50 pm

In a previous segment we focused on some home office IT basics. Now, we'll tap Rhonda Campbell at writemoneyinc.com, for her advice about furnishing your home office the right way - the first time.

Getting the Right Desk - Campbell recommends trying out several desks at an office or department store to know for sure which feels most comfortable. Choose a design with inviting style, like a cherry wood desktop versus a clear plexi. And get the height right – or you could suffer pain or discomfort, especially after sitting for several hours. Be sure the desk has sufficient storage, and with enough surface space to keep at least a staking 'In' and 'Out' tray.

Working Chairs - Similar to your desk, chairs that are too high or too low can force you to strain your spine, shoulders and neck. That’s why so many companies provide an ‘ergonomics analysis’ for employees. Consider an adjustable chair that molds closely to your spine, and test for enough cushioning to keep you comfortable for long stretches.

Lighting It Up - In addition to sunlight, a good desk lamp that’s gentle on the eyes and on the environment is a plus. Look for lighting designed with an adjustable neck for maximum lighting flexibility. She mentioned that metallic desk lamps and accessories also tend to show less dust than wood desk lamps.

Stow It - One or two tall file cabinets should be sufficient to keep documents organized. Should you need to secure your stuff, Campbell says look for file cabinets with sturdy key or combination locks.

Or you can shop the many secure, cloud-based storage systems that are available. Then you can put that new scanner to work and really go paperless!

Word of the Day

March 7, 2013 5:50 pm

Lease-purchase option. Opportunity to purchase a piece of property by renting for a specified period, with the provision that the lessee may choose to buy after or during the leasing period at a predetermined sale price.

Protection Tips for Spring Break Travel

March 6, 2013 5:46 pm

As families pack up for a week of fun and relaxation over spring break, everyone knows to take plenty of sunscreen to protect against sunburn. But it's just as important to take steps to protect against identity theft.

"While identity theft can happen at any time, it can be more likely while traveling because you're carrying a lot of personal information in a distracting and unfamiliar environment," says Brad Smith, Kansas Regional President, BMO Harris Bank.

Identity theft occurs when someone obtains your personal information -- such as your Social Security number -- and illegally uses it to open accounts or initiate transactions in your name. This can cause financial loss and damage your credit. The most common identity theft occurs when your wallet or purse is stolen, as the thief has easy access to check cards, IDs and other personal information.

Says Smith, "Your spring break trip doesn't have to be ruined by the threat of identity theft. Take a few simple precautions so you can enjoy your vacation without worry." He recommends the following steps when traveling to protect you and your family from identity theft.

  • Protect your Social Security number. Don't carry your card with you. If asked for your number, ask why the information is needed.
  • Never leave your personal documents unsecured in a hotel room. This includes checks and legal papers or computers and smartphones that may have personal information. Many hotels offer a security box in each room. This rule is especially important in foreign countries.
  • Carry the minimum. You do not need to travel with every piece of personal information you own. Only carry necessary credit cards and documents.
  • Beware of your surroundings. When accessing an ATM or using your PIN, beware of your surroundings. Cover your hand when typing in codes.
  • Don't check-in personal information. At airports, never place personal documentation in luggage that you intend to check-in. Once it is checked-in, it is out of your control and sight.
  • Use appropriate security measures when carrying information and money. Reduce the risk of personal information loss and identity theft by consciously using travel accessories like security money belts, security travel purse, security travel bags and money clips.
  • Be wise about Wi-Fi. Before you send personal information over your laptop or smartphone on a public wireless network in a coffee shop, airport, hotel, or other public place, see if your information will be protected.
Source: BMO Harris Bank