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New Year's Savings

Here's a short list of things you can do to make 2008 the best year of your financial life.

Make an Assessment:
As your December account statements start coming in, now is a great time to figure out exactly where you stand with your finances. By making a simple personal balance sheet of all your assets and liabilities, you can calculate your net worth and get a basic picture of your financial health.

Rainy Day Savings:
If you've been living from paycheck to paycheck, you know just how devastating unexpected expenses can be both to your stress level and your bank account. Stashing away enough emergency cash to cover your costs of living for even a couple of months can save you a fortune in late fees and finance charges, not to mention bring you peace of mind.

Set Your Goals:
Once you get your basic finances in order, it's time to turn your attention to the future. You can't reach your financial goals if you don't know what they are. Take some time and think about what's really important to you, figure out which of your goals take priority over others, and look into what you need to do to reach them.

Plan Your Retirement:
If you've been putting off opening up an IRA or starting to make contributions to your 401(k) at work, now's a good time to get started. If you start early, even just $20 a month can grow to almost $100,000 in 35 years at 11%. Add in a company match and profit sharing, and you can't afford not to start saving.

Get Ready for Tax Time:
Tax laws are complicated, and it's easy to make mistakes that can cost you time and money. By being aware of tax issues throughout the year, you'll find it much easier to gather the information you need to get your returns done well before the dreaded April 15 rolls around.

Treat Yourself Right:
Unless you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth, becoming financially successful takes a lot of effort and diligence. As you work to improve your financial life, keep in mind that your real goal is to improve your life overall. So don't forget to take a break every once in a while to stop and enjoy yourself. You've earned it!

    

 


 

   
 
 

There are plenty of ways that you can both save money and reduce the ecological effect you have on the environment. As the saying goes, “if everyone did a little, it would do a lot.”

Start with work and how you get there. If you live within a close proximity to your job then you can bike or walk to work. You will be spending less money on gas while reducing carbon emissions. If you live too far from work to bike or walk then set up a carpool with those in your neighborhood who also work in the same vicinity as you do. You may also even consider moving closer to where your job is located. Compare the costs of the living area to what you pay for gas monthly to see if it could help you save some money.

You may be using energy when you don't even realize it. Many appliances still use power when they are turned off. Plug your electronic appliances into a power strip and use the switch to turn off your electronics when you're not using them.

When you are using your computer it can take a lot of time to turn it on and off. If you are using it sporadically during the day choose to put it into a sleep mode and turn off your screen. This way you are reducing the energy used but don't have to wait to turn it back on and load. Make sure that you shut it down and turn the screen and printer off when you are done using it for the day.

Instead of buying countless bottles of water, buy a faucet filter. You will save a considerable amount of money. Plastic water bottles can produce up to 1.5 million tons of plastic waste each year. There are many options to choose from. You can buy filter pitchers for as low as $11. You can get a filter for your faucet for as low as $25, and you can even get filters installed for your refrigerator dispensers for as low as $30. Then all you have to do is buy replacement filters every four months.

You may think that you are saving money by running old appliances, when in fact you may be using more money and energy on them. Newer appliances run more efficient and tend to use less energy then older models. When buying new appliances always look for the energy star label.

The same goes for vehicles. It's important that you keep your vehicle properly maintained so you get the most out of it. Tires that are over flatted or under flatted wastes gas, as does a having a dirty air filter. Well-maintained vehicles also burn cleaner and reduce harmful emissions than those that are running poorly.

Consider using more natural products around the home. Instead of buying a lot of different harsh cleaning supplies use ingredients such as baking soda, tonic water, or vinegar to do your cleaning. They work very well and will provide your home with cleaner air.

These tips will help you save a little more than money.


     

 

 

 

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Protect Your Rights As a Consumer

There has probably been a time or two when you have had to deal with a debt collector who was more aggressive than they needed to be.

There are laws that protect you from abusive practices while trying to collect on a debt. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) was enacted in 1978 and added to the Consumer Credit Protection Act.

The FDCPA sets the guidelines in which debt collectors can conduct business, defines the rights of consumers involved with debt collectors, and lists the penalties associated with violations of the FDCPA.

The FDCPA broadly defines debt collectors as “any person who uses any instrumentality of interstate commerce or the mails in any business the principal purpose of which is the collection of any debts, or who regularly collects or attempts to collect, directly or indirectly, debts owed or due or asserted to be owed or due another.”

We will list some of the more common ones that may be able to help you when dealing with collectors.

A collector may not contact you by telephone outside of the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. local time.

They may not contact the consumer after being asked to stop. Contacting consumers in any way (other than litigation) after receiving written notice that said consumer wishes no further contact or refuses to pay the alleged debt, with certain exceptions, including advising that collection efforts are being terminated or that the collector intends to file a lawsuit or pursue other remedies where permitted.

Creditors my not contact consumers at their place of employment after having been told verbally or in writing that this is not acceptable.

They may not contact a consumer who is known to be represented by an attorney.

A collector may not misrepresent themselves or deceive a consumer in any way. They may not misrepresent the debt or use deception to collect the debt, including a debt collector's misrepresentation that he or she is an attorney or law officer.

They may not publish the consumer's name or address on a “bad debt” list.

Collectors may not seek unjustified amounts, which would include demanding any amounts not permitted under an applicable contract or as provided under applicable law.

They may not threaten arrest or threaten to take legal action that is either not permitted or not actually contemplated.

Collectors are not allowed to use abusive or profane language during the course of communication related to the debt.

Collectors are not allowed to contact third parties. They are not allowed to reveal or discuss the nature of debts with third parties (other than the consumer's spouse or attorney) or threaten to do so.

They may not report false information on a consumer's credit report or threaten to do so in the process of collection.

Debt collectors must identify themselves and notify the consumer, in every communication, that the communication is from a debt collector, and that information received will be used to effect collection of the debt.

It's important to keep detailed records of your conversations with collectors for accurate documentation if you choose to file a complaint against a collector or company. If your rights have been violated according to the FDCPA then you have one year from the date of the violation to file your complaint. You could receive up to $1,000 in addition to actual damages and attorney and court costs.

RESOURCES:

www.ftc.gov/os/statutes/fdcpa/fdcpact.htm - The FTC’s official site for the complete FDCPA. The site includes updates and answers many additional questions.

www.fair-debt-collection.com/- Feature’s additional rules for both collectors and consumers. Answers frequently asked questions about the FDCPA.


 

 

 

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Sell Faster and Easier

I'm sure that everyone by now understands that there is a housing slump. This is not great news for those who are or have been trying to sell their home. With a lot of homes on the market, your house needs to set itself apart from all the other homes for sale along with many new homes being built.

The good news is that there are still buyers out there ready to choose among the number of available houses. The trick is to get them to choose your house as the one that will become their new home.

It is a good idea to hire a real estate agent. It's hard enough to do it yourself in a good market, and there are many benefits to having an agent help you. You obviously want an agent with a proven track record. You may want to hire an agent that has more experience. A new agent may not have that much experience in a slower market, while a veteran may have some good ideas that have worked well in similar markets.

The best way that you can sell your house quicker is to set the right price. You need to have a price that works in your neighborhood and for your size and style of house. If houses in your neighborhood aren't valued at the price you want to sell your home, there is a good chance you won't be able to get that price.

Your real estate agent should be able to determine a fair and attractive price for your home in regards to these factors. Don't think that if you start with a high price you will get counter offers and be able to negotiate, if your price is too high you may get passed over all together.

Many new homebuilders and sellers are offering incentives to entice prospective buyers. You may offer to help pay the closing costs, home inspection, or include stipends for new floors or window dressings. You may even offer your agent an incentive if they can sell your home quicker. You can include a commission bonus if they can sell your home in under a pre-determined time. This may persuade them to focus their priority to your property over the handful of others that they are trying to sell.

It's going to be hard for you to sell your house if the outside doesn't appeal to potential buyers. First and foremost, just make sure that it's cleaned up and maintained. Make sure there isn't any garbage in the yard that may have been blown into your yard. If you have plants and flowers make sure you prune them and get rid of any dead or dying plants. If your yard needs a lot of work you may consider hiring someone to do some landscaping. This may cost you up-front, but it will cost you a lot more if your house sits on the market too long because you can't get people past the driveway.

Once you get them in the door it's important that they are able to see how they would fit in the home. This means that you should clear out as much stuff as you can. Get rid of all the clutter. You may want to rent a storage unit in between selling your old home and moving into your new home.

Start packing stuff up early so you can show your home with just the essentials. You can leave things that help show off the home, such as wall art, but try not to set up a decorating theme. You may love your Asian themed bathroom, but it may not work with buyers and it may make it difficult for them to see it in any other way. You may want to even clear out a few of the spare bedrooms so buyers can see how big the rooms actually are. Pack up framed personal photos and mementos. This will also make it easier for buyers to see their own stuff in the home.

Keep your house clean and tidy. It's time to attack the places that get the most attention like the bathroom and kitchen. Scrub the floors and clean the windows and mirrors. The cleaner the house is the more the potential buyer can focus on if they like it.

If you find yourself in the market of selling your house, hopefully some of these tips will help you sell your home faster and easier.

 

 

 
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I hope that everyone is making it through the holidays, as I write this I have yet to experience any problems. I'm on the verge of traveling 400 miles to spend Thanksgiving with my wife's family and I am really looking forward to it. I may have a more interesting story next month, as we are carpooling with her sister's family to share expenses. So it will be myself and my wife, our one-year old, her sister, her husband, and their “baby”, which happens to be a human sized pit-bull cramming into our minivan at 4:30 in the morning. What could go wrong?

I bet that I see an article every other day about the ups and downs of the housing market. I sure have noticed a lot of houses in my neighborhood that have been for sale for some time now. I have a friend who is trying to sell his house and it has been on the market since June. After talking to him he said that he had only had a few people even come to look at it, let alone put down an offer. He has a really nice house, so I couldn't see why he wasn't getting any offers.

He ended up switching real estate agents because his original agent had too many houses and couldn't devote as much attention needed to sell it. He got a new agent and has already had a lot more people look at the house. It's important to find the right real estate agent. I suggest you find one that will take a personal interest in selling your house and doesn't have too much on their plate already. It might not always be a good thing if they have a lot of listings.

Another topic that we talked about this month is one that we have reflected on in the past. I've done a lot of research on whether leasing or buying is better and I also seem to find valid arguments for both sides. My wife and I lease one of our cars because we find that it gives us a reliable vehicle with an affordable payment. I am also not a gear head so I can't tinker with the car if there is a problem. Under our lease we can take the car in and everything is under warranty while we lease, which is important to me. I grew up with cars that have had numerous problems, some my own doing and other problems that were unexplainable.

For a stretch of time I couldn't drive between college and home without breaking down on the side of the interstate and having to get towed into the next town or limp my way home. So when I thought I was getting a good deal on a car where I didn't have to make payments I was actually getting a car that required large payments every other month. So you can see why I value a car that is reliable and can be repaired quickly and with little to no extra cost.

My wife and I have been talking about gifts and such. In consecutive months we have her birthday, Christmas, and my birthday. We have been talking about not getting each other gifts and instead using the money to make some cosmetic changes to our home. We are both bored with the interior color of our house and are ready to brighten it up with color.

It has taken a long time to decide on colors as paint isn't cheap and you want to make sure you will like the colors you pick and you don't feel like you are living inside a giant avocado. Then of course you have to buy supplies besides just the paint. Maybe next year we will go back to giving traditional gifts.

We have yet to do all of our Christmas shopping, which is kind of scary. My wife's family started the tradition of drawing names out of a hat for gift giving. This has saved us all a lot of money and headaches, as you only have to shop for one person. I would recommend it for those with a big family and tight budget. You can also make a wish list to help that person pick a gift for you. It may not follow “it's the thought that counts” rule but it also isn't very frugal to spend money on a present that is never going to get used. It also means that I get to spend less time at the mall and more time eating peanut butter cookies.

I've never been a fan of the Christmas shopping frenzy. It seems to detract from what the meaning of the season is. It may be different if people were more friendly and patient, but it seems like the mall is always packed with frustrated people in a hurry who are only looking out for themselves. So if you still have some shopping to do, practice patience and good manners. Hold doors open for people, say please and thank you, and treat holiday workers with respect. You'll get a lot more from the holidays than a discounted turtleneck.

Until next month, I wish you all the best and have a safe Christmas.

 

 

 
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The Choice is Yours

Have you ever noticed that you seem to recognize car commercials more when you are in the market to want or need a new vehicle? Many people will tell you that you should buy, while others say that leasing is the way to go. The good news is that they are both right. Whether you should buy or lease is ultimately up to you. We will look at both sides and you can then determine if you should buy or lease.

Leasing is basically the use of the vehicle over a contractual period, while you are making monthly payments on it. There is no ownership included. At the end of the lease you do have some options. You either turn the car and keys in, you can buy the vehicle for the residual value (stated in the lease contract), or you can lease another vehicle.

When you purchase a vehicle you are making monthly payments in pursuit of owning the vehicle out-right. You either finance a loan through a bank or dealership, or you pay for it all together with the money you have saved.

One leasing benefit is that the monthly payments are generally smaller and require little, if any type of down payment. Most leases last for 2-3 years, and you don’t have to worry about selling the vehicle after the contract term. This also gives you an opportunity to get into another new vehicle and lease.

Be careful though, most leases restrict the amount of miles you can put on the vehicle during the lease. Going over the contract miles can cause charges when the vehicle is returned. You can calculate the estimated miles you put on a vehicle per year. Find out how far you travel to and from work, to the store, or any family trips where the miles would add up. If you find out that you put a lot of miles on your vehicle each year you may not want to lease.

Consider your personality. Can you live with the factory stereo, or do you need a six-disc CD changer with surround speakers and a sub-woofer. Do you need a ski or luggage rack, or love the collection of ski resort stickers that usually plaster your bumper? If you like to personalize your vehicle than you will definitely want to consider purchasing a vehicle, as most leases will not allow you to make any personal changes to the cars appearance or features.

Do you know your way around the gears and belts of a car? Or, do you take your car into the shop and describe what is wrong by making funny imitating noises? By leasing a vehicle you have the benefit of having the vehicle under warranty and can take it in to get repaired. If you can fix minor problems or recognize big ones and do not mind repairs, than the purchase of a vehicle could suit you. Remember, whether leasing or buying, regular scheduled maintenance (changing the oil, replacing the air filter, or rotating tires) is important to the value of the vehicle. If you lease a vehicle and do not take proper care of it, you can be charged for the abuse.

If in the past you have bought a car, and as soon as it was paid for you were looking into another new vehicle, you may want to consider leasing. It is generally the same idea and you will be able to do so with a lower monthly payment. However if you buy a vehicle and drive it for around ten years, than leasing may not appeal to you.

If you choose to try and get out of a lease contract early, you will be able to, but you will probably incur heavy fees. It is good to make sure that the vehicle you choose will suit your needs for the length of the contract. For example, if you are looking into starting a family in the next couple of years, you may not want to lease a small two-door sports car if in a year you are going to need a larger or safer vehicle for your family.

If you decide to lease or buy your next vehicle it’s important to do your homework. Research a variety of cars, and shop around different dealerships. If you feel pressure from a salesman you can always leave. Ask for help and advice from friends or family members who have purchased or leased a vehicle recently. Bring someone you know who is good with a salesperson. Spend as much time on it as you need to feel 100% comfortable. When you finally choose the right vehicle and terms, make sure to read every word of the contract and ask questions about anything you don’t understand. The more information you know beforehand, the more equipped you are to get the better deal and you will feel more comfortable.

So the next time you see that car commercial and you’re looking to get into a car or truck, do your homework and determine if you a buyer or leaser. Remember, it’s all up to you.



 
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