Gunning Daily News

5 Ways to Trim Insurance Expenses

April 18, 2012 5:16 pm

The average household now spends $50 per month more on gasoline than last year, says financial planner Rick Rodgers, author of "The New Three-Legged Stool: A Tax Efficient Approach To Retirement Planning" (www.TheNewThreeLeggedStool.com). 

Ease the pain by looking for other places to offset that extra expense. Car insurance is a good place to start. 

According to the Insurance Information Institute, the national average auto insurance premium is $850 per year. Rodgers says you can reduce that:
• Shop around regularly. Your insurance agent doesn't have a lot of incentive to reduce your premiums, so shop around yourself on the internet or get an independent insurance agent to shop for you. Contact the Independent Agents Association at (800) 221-7917. (Be sure the company you go with has a good credit rating and claims-paying history.)
• Bundle your coverage. Combining different types of policies (auto, homeowners, liability, etc.) with the same company can be rewarded with discounts on premiums. Bundled packages usually result in a 10 to 15 percent savings.
• Ask for discounts. Ask whether discounts are offered for good driving records, anti-theft devices, vehicle safety features (anti-lock brakes, air bags, automatic seatbelts), low annual mileage and insuring more than one car. Discounts are also available for buying your policy online, paying in full up front, and being a loyal customer.
• Take a defensive driving class. You can learn a lot and most insurance companies recognize the value of a refresher course. Most offer a 10 percent discount on your premium for three years. AARP offers a driver safety program online for those over age 50.
• Increase your deductible. Do your auto and homeowners policies have low deductibles? If so, you may be able to reduce your premiums 15 to 30 percent by raising the deductible on your collision and comprehensive coverage. Make sure you have an emergency fund set aside to cover the cost of repairs before you make the change. 

Certified Financial Planner Rick Rodgers is president of Rodgers & Associates, "The Retirement Specialists," in Lancaster, Pa.

For more information, visit www.rodgersspeaks.com.

Word of the Day

April 18, 2012 5:16 pm

Deed restrictions. Provisions placed in deeds to control how future landowners may or may not use the property. Also called deed covenants.

Question of the Day

April 18, 2012 5:16 pm

Q: What if my contracting job is botched?
A:
If you are displeased with the results for obvious reasons, keep after the contractor to make the needed repairs. When that fails, contact your local consumer protection agency. Make sure you have a copy of the contract, receipts showing payments, and photographs of the work.

Although it has no legal authority, you also may want to contact the Better Business Bureau, as well as your state’s Contractor License Board. And you can take the contractor to Small Claims Court to recover amounts usually under $2,000.


How to Stop Birds from ‘Attacking’ Windows

April 17, 2012 5:10 pm

Spring is here and once again; the air is fresh, the flowers are blooming, and the birds are flying head first into windows. Wait, what? Many homeowners have experienced this strange, but very common phenomenon--birds repeatedly flying into windows, car mirrors or any other reflective surface. What is going on and how can it be stopped? 

The bird experts over at Duncraft shed a little light on this situation. According to the company, although female birds have been known to do this, it's mostly male birds that repeatedly fly into windows. The reason is simple. In spring all birds are staking out territories. Birds seldom allow other birds of the same species to share territories because too many of one species in an area depletes food sources and nesting locations. 

A bird may tolerate a bird of a different species nesting nearby because the birds are after different nesting locations and different foods, but it won't tolerate another one of its own. When a male bird spots another male, a chasing fight will ensue. The dominate male gets the mate, the nesting location, the territory and the food in that area. A lot is at stake! When a bird happens to see its reflection in your window, or car mirror, it's seeing a bird of the same species in its territory--and that's not allowed. The bird will continuously attack until the other bird goes away. In nature, the other bird will indeed go away, but that reflection just stays there! Being persistent, the bird just continues to attack its own reflection. 

So, how can this irritating behavior be stopped? Duncraft advises that homeowners block the reflection. The easiest way to do this is to put a piece of cardboard on the outside of the window where the bird is attacking. It may not look pretty, but it doesn't have to be done for long--only until the bird thinks the other bird has departed. As soon as the bird has mated and is busy with nest building and feeding nestlings, he'll calm down and won't be worried about intruders. Others of its species will be busy too, in territories of their own. 

So, what initially seemed like a mystery turns out to be a simple, springtime response to a challenger bird--and it's easily remedied! 

Source: www.duncraft.com.

Keys to Peace: Teaching Your Kids Integrity and Social Responsibility

April 17, 2012 5:10 pm

Parents and educators are always trying to spark student participation whether it’s in the classroom, in the local community, or throughout the world. 

When middle-school students at Allison Academy in North Miami Beach were asked what they could do to improve their country, they focused on what they understood – bullying, violence and racism.
Those problems are all rooted in the same issues, says Rachel Albert, author of “Quest to Telos,” (www.QuestToTelos.com), a young adult novel where fantasy meets reality and even world peace is possible. 

“They stem from a lack of personal integrity and absence of social responsibility,” she says.

“Children who choose to put those values into practice are actively working toward peace. But they can only put into practice what they’ve learned; instilling those values may seem simple, but many parents miss the mark and actually model the opposite.” 

Throwing money at social problems like racism or violence doesn’t resolve them, Albert says. But children can. 

“The energy from kids’ excitement can make a real difference and we need their energy focused right here at home,” says the mother of four. “They see problems; it’s up to us to give them the tools to address them.” 

The following tips can help parents teach their children personal integrity and social responsibility, giving them the keys to world peace. 

• Never lie in front of your kids. It may seem obvious, but many parents lie in front of their children or encourage them to lie; misstating a child’s age to save money on movie tickets or allowing them to take credit for school projects completed by the parent. These seemingly inconsequential lies suggest it’s alright, even good, to distort the truth. This causes long-term damage a million times more costly than whatever was gained in the short term. 

• Give your kids a reason why. Author Mark Twain once said that the two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you figure out why. If you fail to tell your kids why we are here, you have missed the opportunity to figure out what motivates them and gets them excited. This is the most important key to getting kids’ cooperation and empowering them to help the world. 

• Don’t criticize your children. Criticism is toxic, so why do almost all parents criticize their kids? When we focus on what they aren’t, they believe they can’t. This creates angry children who express their pain by bullying others. It’s better to tell them how you feel rather than what you think of them, e.g., “I feel frustrated that you didn’t listen to me,” or “Can you say that in a more loving way?” 

• Don’t speak badly about other people. This is probably one of the hardest things to do, considering we’re a generation that pays for gossip. Speaking badly about others teaches kids to look for what they view as the negative in others and take joy in sharing it. 

• Model charity. Actions speak louder than any words. When you teach kindness to children, they tend to feel empathy and have more successful lives, a crucial step toward achieving world peace. 

Once we tackle the issues plaguing America, then as a model nation, we will be ready to tackle world peace, Albert says. Kids are hungry to form an identity and make their mark on the world. It’s easier to try to bring peace to another country, but that never works. We need to start at home. 

Rachel Albert is a certified court reporter and business owner. “Quest to Telos” is her debut novel; it’s being used by a private school to develop an inspirational, critical-thinking curriculum for middle-school students ready by the summer.

Take a Bite Out of Sleepless Nights with 10 Bedtime Snacks

April 17, 2012 5:10 pm

Most of us have an idea about which foods we should avoid right before bedtime. From sugary snacks to caffeine-laden drinks, making the wrong choices can leave you tossing and turning all night long. But what many people don't know is that there are healthy snacks that may help you take a bite out of sleepless nights, so you can get a better night's rest and seize your day. 

"What we put into our bodies prior to going to bed can really affect the level of sleep we get every night," says Ben Thorud, Senior Vice President of Ashley Sleep. "If you've tried everything and you're still experiencing sleeplessness, it may be time to explore other possibilities, including your diet." 

Experts have believed for a long time that eating foods that are high in complex carbohydrates, with a little bit of protein—about an hour or two before bedtime—may boost your serotonin levels and help you relax. In addition, foods high in calcium and tryptophan, like some dairy products, may help to produce melatonin, which can also help regulate sleep. 

So which foods will give you that sleep-boosting power you crave? Check out the following list.
1. Turkey. Ever wonder why you feel so sleepy after those big holiday meals? Turkey may be the culprit. It's high in tryptophan, which can make you feel drowsy. While turkey may be the best-known food in the battle of sleepless nights, almost any type of poultry will do the job. 

2. Milk/Dairy. Warm milk has been a bedtime tradition for centuries -- and now we know why. It not only contains tryptophan (as do yogurt and cheese), it is rich in calcium, which experts believe may help reduce stress. 

3. Bananas. These self-contained sleep inducers are loaded with tryptophan, melatonin and serotonin, not to mention magnesium, which may actually help relax your muscles. 

4. Cherries. In terms of sleep-friendly foods, these guys are the new kids on the block. But recent studies have shown that a glass of tart cherry juice or a serving of fresh, frozen or dried cherries may boost your melatonin levels and reduce insomnia. 

5. Chamomile Tea. This drink has long been touted for its relaxing qualities. One small cup of decaffeinated chamomile tea before bedtime contains theanine, which may have relaxing and tranquillizing properties that can help you put an end to sleepless nights.
 
6. Hummus. Forget the fake cheese dip. A couple of all-natural pita chips dipped in hummus makes for a snack that's a great mix of carbs and protein. 

7. Almonds. A handful of these crunchy treats is loaded with tryptophan and magnesium, making it a quick and easy snack to enjoy before bedtime. 

8. Warm Oatmeal. Rich in sleep-promoting nutrients, this popular breakfast food may also be a great nighttime snack. Just don't choose the kind loaded with sugar. Top it with bananas, walnuts or cherries and you have a sleep-inducing powerhouse. 

9. Peanut Butter Sandwich. Peanut butter is high in tryptophan, but many brands add sugar. Choose a natural peanut butter (with no added sugar) and spread it on a piece of whole-grain bread or a half a bagel. 

10. Hard-boiled Egg. If you've already loaded up on high-sugar, high-carb snacks for dinner, consider eating an egg or other food that's high in protein. It can help counterbalance the negative effects that those simple carbs may have on your sleep. 

Source: Ashley Sleep

Flexible Spending: Stretch Your Tax Refund Dollars

April 17, 2012 5:10 pm

If you get a tax refund, what will you do with it? This year, one in two Americans receiving a tax refund (50 percent) say they plan to spend the extra money on bills or other household expenses, as opposed to vacations (15 percent), leisure activities (8 percent) or gifts (4 percent), according to a recent poll from Cricket Communications. 

The survey also noted that more than three-quarters (78 percent) of Americans receiving their refund will be "smarter" about how they spend it, with more than half (55 percent) pledging they are more likely to use refund dollars on practical "needs" instead of "wants." 

To give you tips on stretching tax refund dollars, Cricket has partnered with certified financial planner and savings expert Robert Pagliarini, author of "The Other 8 Hours," and "The Six-Day Financial Makeover." 

• Set up an emergency fund - Stocking away six to twelve months of expenses can really help if you find your home equity line of credit has been reduced -- or you face unexpected medical fees arise.
• Open a 529 college savings plan - According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the cost of a college education continues to rise every year. Between 1999-2000 and 2009-10, prices for undergraduate tuition, room, and board at public institutions rose 37 percent, and prices at private institutions rose 25 percent, after adjustment for inflation. Planning early and setting aside money for college now is the most important thing you can do for your children's collegiate success.
• Seek out classes to boost budgeting skills - Taking a refresher course at a community college or neighborhood center can help boost financial planning skills that you currently have or help you learn a new one.
• Research the best deals on monthly expenses - There are expenses you will incur each month, such as food, transportation and cell phone costs, which are easy to re-evaluate and cut -- as long as you do the right research. For example, choosing a pre-paid wireless provider such as Cricket will help you save hundreds of dollars each year, without sacrificing all of the fun apps, games and music that your family enjoys. Cricket has the latest devices with a no-contract plan that includes unlimited talk, text and data for less than half what you'd end up paying at a larger wireless provider. 

Source: www.mycricket.com.

Question of the Day

April 17, 2012 5:10 pm

Q: What are the benefits of having a co-op?
A: In addition to being able to take advantage of tax deductions, the National Association of Housing Cooperatives (NAHC) says shareholders will find that co-ops have low turnover rates, lower real estate tax assessments, reduced maintenance costs, resident participation and control, and the ability to prevent absentee and investor ownership.

Also attractive: housing cooperatives come in all shapes, sizes, and types. They include townhouses, mid-and high-rise apartments, garden apartments, single-family homes, mobile home parks, artists’ cooperatives, and senior housing. 

For more information about co-ops contact NAHC at (202) 737-0797, or log on to www.coophousing.org.

When Retirement Meets Divorce: Dissecting the QDRO

April 16, 2012 5:54 pm

What is a QDRO? To those of us unversed in the common acronyms of divorce law, this means Qualified Domestic Relations Order. However, notes Find Law writer Andrew Chow, if you have a retirement account, and you're facing a divorce, you may quickly become quite familiar with this acronym.
Chow breaks down the basics of a QDRO, below:

A QDRO is a court order that allows an alternate payee— a spouse, an ex-spouse, a child, or some other dependent— to collect money from a retirement account. This may be needed for spousal or child support, for example. In some states, a retirement account may also be considered community property that must be divided upon divorce. 

Because QDROs can be complicated, it's probably wise to consult an attorney experienced in dealing with them. But here is some basic information about QDROs: 

What Qualifies as a QDRO?
In general, a QDRO is a court-issued judgment, order, or decree that formally approves a property-settlement agreement that involves a retirement plan. A QDRO must contain the following information:
• The name and last known mailing address of the participant, and each alternate payee;
• The name of each plan to which the order applies;
• The amount or percentage, or method for calculating the amount or percentage, to be paid to the alternate payee;
• The number of payments, or time period, covered by the QDRO. 

How Does a QDRO Work?
A QDRO generally describes how retirement assets will be divided between the retirement plan's participant and his alternate payees. A QDRO is required for any retirement plan covered by ERISA, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. 

The plan's administrator must approve the QDRO, provided it meets certain requirements. QDRO transfers from a retirement account do not incur an early-withdrawal penalty. 

How Do QDROs Get Drafted?
Plan administrators may provide QDRO forms that participants can fill out on their own. But because there are a number of legal requirements for what a QDRO must contain, it's probably best to speak with an attorney about drafting a QDRO that meets your specific needs. 

Source: FindLaw.com

Word of the Day

April 16, 2012 5:54 pm

Deed. Written document that when executed and delivered conveys title to real property.