Gunning Daily News

6 Ways to Cut Your Homeowner, Car Insurance Costs

March 27, 2012 5:24 pm

There is nothing that makes your wallet squeal louder today than pulling into the gas station and dropping $50. Gasoline prices have risen more than 12 percent over the past 12 months, and some experts are predicting they’ll reach $5 per gallon in the next six months. 

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

“But that’s not the whole picture,” Rodgers says. “Higher fuel prices affect a lot of other expenses in the family budget, from heating to food. The government estimates the average household is spending $150 per month more this year because of higher oil prices.” 

You can try to ease the pain at the pump by using your car less, but you should also look for other places to offset that extra $150. Car insurance is a good place to start. 

According to the Insurance Information Institute, the national average auto insurance premium is $850 per year. Can you reduce that? Rodgers says you probably can. He offers six ways: 

• Shop around regularly. Your insurance agent doesn’t have a lot of incentive to reduce your premiums. I recently met a consumer who told me he had been with the same agent for 15 years. After he shopped his insurance with another agent, he saved $1,600 on his premiums for all his coverage. The internet makes it easy compare costs for the same coverage, or you can 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. Bundling is combining different types of policies (auto, homeowners, liability, etc.) with the same company. The theory is that the company will discount the premiums if they have all of your business. The most common combination is packaging your auto insurance and homeowner’s policies together. Or, find companies that will bundle auto insurance with renter’s or tenant’s insurance. Bundled packages usually result in a 10 to 15 percent savings. 

• Ask for discounts. You may qualify for discounts, but you won’t know until you ask. They’re commonly 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. The spunky Flo from Progressive claims discounts are also available for buying your policy online, paying in full up front, and being a loyal customer. 

• Take a defensive driving class. Even if you’ve been driving for years, you can learn a lot from driver education and most insurance companies recognize the value of a refresher course, which can help you avoid accidents. The amount of discount varies by insurance company and from state to state, although most insurers offer a 10 percent discount on your premium for three years. AARP offers a driver safety program for those over age 50, and it’s available online. 

• 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. But your homeowners policy may be the first place to consider raising the deductible, since statistics show the average homeowner files a claim only once every nine years. Be sure to check with your mortgage holder first; some specify maximums. 

• Change Cars. This is probably the most difficult savings tip to implement but may have the largest impact on your premium. Used cars are cheaper to insure than new ones (excluding antiques); sports cars are more expensive to insure than minivans. Insurance companies like cars with safety features and low repair costs. Insure.com surveyed 900 vehicles in the 2012 model year and lists the rankings from the most expensive to least expensive on their website. Six of the 10 cheapest were minivans. 

Certified Financial Planner Rick Rodgers is president of Rodgers & Associates, “The Retirement Specialists,” in Lancaster, Pa. He’s a Certified Retirement Counselor and member of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisers.

For Your Kids: Tips for Superior Sibling Relationships

March 27, 2012 5:24 pm

Are you constantly stepping in between your children and acting like a referee? Whether your kids are four or 14, and their fights are mild squabbles or intense brawls, raising children who don’t get along is stressful. Plus, growing up with a positive relationship with your siblings is a beautiful thing. Katie Laminski, LCSW, a licensed child and family therapist and parenting coach, recently wrote on this topic for SWParents.com.

“While sibling squabbles can be normal, there are definitely things that parents can do to make them happen less frequently, empower the kids to resolve them, and help siblings grow into having great relationships with each other,” Laminsky wrote. Below are her tips for creating and keeping peace in your family.

• Teach your kids how TO play together. Your older child especially will benefit from your instruction on how to play with the younger. For example, “Hold this blanket over your face and then drop it down quickly and say Peekaboo and smile.” The baby will love that and will giggle!” When you find yourself repeating a list of “Don’t,” try to switch over to a happy encouragement of “Do.” In addition to being more effective, it’s being more enjoyable for everybody, too.

• Teach both kids to notice, understand, and respect other’s non-verbal signals. A simple one is to watch the other person’s smile—big smile: things are probably going well. No smile? Maybe take a break. Another example: a one year old, who when she gets too worked up, will grab her sister’s hair—ouch! Teach the big sister to recognize the signs of an over-stimulated baby so she can take a break and save her hair.

• Pay attention to the messages that your children are getting from TV, books, and friends. The bulk of kids’ media portray siblings as annoying, or bothersome, or mean, or worse. It is rare to see loving sibling relationships—but kids need to see this way of relating to their sibling if they are going to actually do it, and they need your help identifying and rejecting the negative images of sibling relationships.

So point out crummy behavior when you see it on TV or in books… talk about your family values on how brothers and sisters treat each other… show your kids how to play with each other well and how to understand other’s signals, and most importantly: give your kids some extra love and support when they are loving to each other. These things will really help!

Source: http://www.swparents.com

Word of the Day

March 27, 2012 5:24 pm

Commission. Payment, or brokerage fees, given by the seller of a property to a real estate agent for services rendered, usually paid at the closing.

Question of the Day

March 27, 2012 5:24 pm

Q: What should I know about zoning issues and approvals?
A: Zoning regulations establish how the land can be used, either for residential, industrial, commercial, or recreational purposes, or sometimes a combination thereof. Designed to protect property owners and communities from undesirable, or inappropriate, land uses and/or construction, zoning laws can be very rigid and inflexible. 

On the other hand, they can protect your property value and ensure against the stationing of a mega-store right next to your home. Before you begin any remodeling job, determine how your local zoning laws might affect your project. You can visit your local zoning office, city hall, or some other local planning board to get a copy of your local ordinance and determine how you will need to seek approval for your project. Take nothing for granted; some communities even require approval to erect fences.

5 Steps to Paying off Credit Card Debt in 90 Days or Less

March 26, 2012 4:42 pm

If you are carrying credit card debt, you are paying too much in monthly interest and robbing yourself of the extra cash that could be enhancing your lifestyle.

That’s the position of Yahoo contributor Brenda Barnes, who managed to pay off more than $3,000 in debt in 71 days without undue sacrifice or penny-pinching.

Here are the five steps Barnes recommends to get yourself out of debt fast:

1. Go through the closets – Take all outgrown or unwanted clothing in good condition to a consignment store, which may pay you up to 75 percent of the sales price. It could net you hundreds in cash you can use to pay against debt.
2. Collect the collectibles – and other dust-catchers taking up space in your home, basement, or garage. A variety of items can be sold on eBay or Craigslist, and could be worth hundreds more dollars you can use toward your debt payoff.
3. Shave personal splurges – If lunch is costing $5 to $10 a day or more, cut your cost in half by packing your lunch and save the difference. But be sure to set aside the difference each day in cash, and use it to pay against debt. ($25 in savings every week for three months equals $300!)
4. Try the barter system – If you do artwork or photography, knitting, sewing, or woodwork, take samples to display at local beauty shops or coffee stores. Pay the proprietor a percentage of the sales and use the rest of the income for debt relief.
5. Shop cheap – Barnes discovered unbelievable bargains at consignment and even thrift stores. Check them first for clothing and household goods and stow all the estimated savings for you-know-what. Also, use coupons at the grocery store and put away the cents-off amount you saved on each item.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Keeping You Safe and Informed

March 26, 2012 4:42 pm

I was recently perusing the new federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau website. The site—consumerfinance.gov—should not only be a resource, but a place for consumers to "tell their story," in the hope of seeing consumer issues addressed more effectively.

The central mission of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is to make markets for consumer financial products and services work for Americans—whether they are applying for a mortgage, choosing among credit cards, or using any number of other consumer financial products.

The consumer bureau is working to give consumers the information they need to understand the terms of their agreements with financial companies. And working to make regulations and guidance as clear and streamlined as possible so providers of consumer financial products and services can follow the rules on their own. 

Congress established the CFPB to protect consumers by carrying out Federal consumer financial laws. Among other things, the agency: 

• Conducts rule-making, supervision, and enforcement for Federal consumer financial protection laws
• Restricts unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices
• Takes consumer complaints
• Promotes financial education
• Researches consumer behavior
• Monitors financial markets for new risks to consumers
• Enforces laws that outlaw discrimination and other unfair treatment in consumer finance

Anyone in the market for a home should be aware that the CFPB's Know Before You Owe, program is well on the way to combining two federally required mortgage disclosures into a single, simpler form that makes the costs and risks of the loan clear and allows consumers to comparison shop.
The CFPB also published a report on the Variation in credit scores sold by certain consumer reporting agencies, which also may be helpful if you are about to begin the process of buying a home. 

We'll be covering a lot more from this agency in the coming months, so stay tuned.

Tackle Clutter Tonight; Tips to Organize Your Apartment

March 26, 2012 4:42 pm

Spring is in! That means it’s time for a little deep cleaning; time to clear away clutter, organize closets, and tackle the pantry (again!) If you are ready to tackle clutter in your apartment, now is a great time. There’s still enough of a hint of winter that you won’t succumb to Spring fever and ditch it all for a day at the park, but there’s enough warmth and daylight that you won’t mind a few trips out to the dumpster.
Marcia Bollinger, president of Apartment Finder, offers the following tips from Apartment Finder’s blog, The APT, to help usher in a nice clean Spring: 

1. Make a Plan. Decide which projects take priority. Does your closet need a massive redo? Are your kitchen drawers so filled with clutter they won’t open? Are you buried under an avalanche of assorted storage containers every time you open your kitchen cabinet? Once you decide what you want to tackle, put it on your calendar. Setting a date will keep you from finding excuses to put it off, and it will give you time to plan.

2. Be Creative. You have a target date and a list of projects—now what? Before you begin, think about what storage features you are lacking. Get imaginative. For example, try using bins to create easy weeknight meals in a basket. A bin labeled “spaghetti night” would contain pasta, a jar of sauce, and a loaf of Italian bread—an ideal solution to the “what-am-I-gonna-make-for-dinner” blues. 

3. Make Some Room. If your closet is also in serious need of attention, perhaps you’ll want to focus on this space, as well. Shoe organizers are handy in the closet, and so are storage bins. Take everything out of the closet until you have an empty space. Sort everything you haven’t worn or used in the past year into two piles: toss and give away. Place items back into your closet by type (pants, skirts, suit jackets, etc.). If you have empty wall space in your closet, add hooks (the removable type is perfect). The more hooks, the better—use these for belts, ties, and scarves. 

For more great tips on apartment living, visit Apartment Finder’s blog, The APT.

Personal Loans Top Consumer Choice for Financial Help

March 26, 2012 4:42 pm

The ongoing economic sluggishness has left many consumers facing high levels of personal debt, burdened with bad credit scores, and buried by bills with inflexible due dates. According to ReallyBadCreditOffers.com, borrowing is up and personal loans are the overwhelming choice amongst 18-32 year olds.

But what are personal loans? Personal lending offers borrowers access to money without the hassle of requiring a security deposit that may or may not be available.

People use personal loans for a variety of different things. According to a 2009 release from Prosper.com, 49 percent of personal loan applicants are seeking a personal loan for the purpose of debt consolidation.

What is the average interest rate paid by personal loan borrowers? This, of course, depends on credit score and perceived creditworthiness. "A" borrowers pay an average of 10 percent. But "D" borrowers can pay more than 25 percent.

The most popular reasons that people turn to personal loans include: 

• Utility Bills
• Emergency Expenses
• Auto Accident Repair
• To Avoid Late Fees or Penalties
• Medical Emergencies

Source: www.reallybadcreditoffers.com, www.rebuild.org

Word of the Day

March 26, 2012 4:42 pm

Commingle funds. Mixing of clients’ funds, or escrow, with an agent’s personal funds in an account; considered to be grounds for the suspension or revocation of the broker’s real estate license.

Question of the Day

March 26, 2012 4:42 pm

Q: Do I have to be concerned with building codes and permits?
A: Depending on how your contract is written with the home improvement professional, either you or the contractor will be responsible for securing government approval to perform most remodeling jobs.
Building codes set minimum public-safety standards for such things as building design and construction. Codes vary from one state, county, city, and town to the next, but specialized codes generally exist for plumbing, electricity, and fire. Each usually involves separate inspections and inspectors. 

In addition, permits are generally required when any structural work is planned or the basic living space of a home is altered. They generally cover new construction, repairs, alterations, demolition, and additions to a structure. 

Some jurisdictions require permits to be posted in a visible spot on the premises while the work is being done. Besides structural changes, permits also may be needed to cover the installation of foundations for tanks and equipment, as well as the construction or demolition of ducts, sprinkler systems, or standpipe systems.