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Volume 3 Issue 4______________________________________________________________________May 2006

Memorial Day

Memorial Day is the American holiday that commemorates the men and women who have died in military service. It started out as Decoration Day and was a day that remembered the Union soldiers who died during the Civil War. After World War I it was changed to include all those who have died while serving the military and was changed to Memorial Day. It is celebrated on the last Monday in May but traditionally occurs on May 30.

Many folks use this day to remember loved ones they have lost in past years. Visiting a cemetery and attending memorial services are standard traditions on Memorial Day. Unofficially, it has been dubbed the start of summer, with people having barbeques or other family gatherings.

Other popular traditions are the Indianapolis 500 and countless car and furniture sales. Many businesses lure customers in with sales on big-ticket items and begin their big summer’s sales push.

Memorial Day sales can be good for the person who has been saving for such items and can get a good deal on it. These same sales can be bad if you are drawn in by the sales and purchase items that you were not intending to buy and therefore have not budgeted for. Don’t be tempted to buy a new barbeque or lawn mower if yours will last another year. I assure you, they will be on sale again next year.

Besides, summer usually brings some extra expenses. You may be planning for a family vacation, or the kids are getting ready for the baseball season. The money you save now can help alleviate some of that extra spending.

It may be tempting to go shopping on this holiday weekend. Challenge yourself to spend as little as possible. Picnics and a day at the park can be just as rewarding and could save you some extra expenses.

If there is an item that you need and you have been saving and waiting until a big sale, than you can take advantage of the opportunities that a Memorial Day sale can bring. Like other purchases, it is always important to weigh the pros and cons and do some research to ensure the best deal.

In recent years Memorial Day has been over-shadowed by the joy of the three-day weekend and the saturation of bargain shopping. This Memorial Day don’t forget the real reasons for this holiday. Take some time to honor our nations greatest fallen heroes and the men and women who choose to serve in our Armed Forces everyday.


 

   
 
 

The long hot days of summer are on their way. What a great time to earn a little extra cash while freeing up some space that is filled with stuff you haven’t used in years. Whether you call it a yard, garage, or rummage sale, with a little effort you can become part of the great American summer pastime. Here are some great tips to use to help you have your own garage sale.

First thing you need to do is sort through your things and determine what you can depart with. You are going to want to do this a couple of times because you will be surprised how little you have chosen to actually sell. When contemplating whether or not to get rid of an item ask yourself, “when was the last time anyone used this.” Even some sentimental items should be considered. I’m not saying get rid of all of your first child’s baby items, just limit the things that you have. If you find something that you forgot you had then it is probably a good contender for the sale.

Don’t neglect an item because you don’t think it will sell. It may just be what that person was looking for, even if it is an incomplete set of something. Someone may buy it because it fulfills his or her missing set. If you have some items that have broken pieces or you think are not worth that much, you may want to label these freebies. This will also help bring in customers.

You will want to recruit some help. Ask family members, friends, or neighbors. Invite them to include some of their items to sell as well. Use colored stickers for price tags and assign a specific color to each person and then take the tag off the item when it is purchased. At the end of the day total each person’s sales and distribute the money. You will have to pick a weekend that works for everyone and then set up how long you want to have it. Plan to start as early as possible; it is not unusual for people to be out at 6 a.m. looking for yard sales.

There will be some small advertising expenses for you to set this up. You will have to buy some poster-board, a staple gun, balloons or anything else you think will help advertise your sale. Use bright signs that will get the attention of customers and that will help direct them to your home. If you have some high end products for sale like electronics, furniture, or exercise equipment, put that on your advertisement. Use grocery store and community bulletin boards to list some of the items you will be selling along with the time, date, and location of the sale. Many newspapers feature a section for garage sales and are reasonably affordable.

Other things you will want to get ahead of time are extra card tables, a money belt (more secure than a lock box), and at least $50 change in smaller bills.

It may be hard to determine what you should charge for an item. If you are considering any older antique items it may be a good idea to get them appraised if you don’t know the value of it. You don’t want to give away something that could be valuable. Feel free to negotiate the price with a customer. If an item is in good shape and works properly you can generally ask for a quarter of the original price. You will also want to make sure all the items you are selling are clean and in good shape.

Pack up any items that did not sell and take them to a consignment shop where they will tag your items and give you a portion of the sales. If you have any bigger or nicer items that didn’t sell you can hang on to them for awhile and advertise them in the paper.

So get out there and enjoy the summer, get rid of some of your unwanted items, and try and make a buck or two.

 

 

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Proceed with Caution

There is a lot of temptation to transfer your high interest credit card accounts into a card that offers low-to-no interest. There are things that you will want to consider and watch for before you sign up.

Many of you are probably bombarded each day with tons of credit card offers with incredibly low introductory rates. The only way to find out which ones will benefit you is to read through them and find any discrepancies. You’re going to want to get out your magnifying glass to comb through the fine print. If you have a question or do not understand something, then find their customer service line and find someone who will sufficiently answer your questions.

This is also a good way to find out how easy the company is to work with. If you are having problems or dealing with a rude employee then you can just throw out that companies offer.

While you are reading the disclosure look for some of these red flags.

Watch out for transfer fees. Many companies will charge you to transfer the balance since they are offering you a lower interest rate.

Look for the timeline of how long the introductory rate lasts. It may last a couple months to a year then escalate to a much higher rate. Some cards may offer the low rate for the life of the balance as long as there are no delinquencies, so it is important to make your payment on time each month. Like we have previously mentioned, pay extra when you can to lower the payoff timeframe.

Many offers will try and hook you with introductory offers but then the fees, rates, and charges will shoot up to the higher range, and may even be higher than your previous card.

Even if the rate is advertised at a lower rate they may determine that you do not qualify for that advertised low rate and hit you with higher interest. Sometimes the low rate only applies to the transfer amount and not on any additional purchases you make under the new card.

If you decide to transfer your balance to another card then you have to restrict yourself from using the new card and adding on to that debt.

Some cards may require you to spend a minimum amount each month in order to keep the low rate. It may be best to avoid this or make sure that you can afford the minimum amount and pay it on time each month. You will also want to call your previous company and close that account. Too many open accounts can negatively affect your credit rating.

If you do use the new card you will want to use it responsibly. It may take only one late payment or over-limit penalty to make your rates rise again. In some cases the interest can be higher than the card that you transferred from.

Once you find a card with a rate and conditions that you agree with you will want to fill out the balance transfer form. Make sure you take your time and double check all the information that you provide. Any incomplete or incorrect information can cause problems and delays.

Make sure to make the minimum payment on the old card until the balance transfer takes place, which can take up to a few weeks. This will prevent you from having any late penalties that carry over onto the new card.

You will probably receive a statement from the new credit card company to confirm that the balance transfer has taken place. You will want to call your old company to verify that it has taken place and there are no problems. Document your phone call with the name of the person you spoke with and the date and time of the call. This way you have proof in case something were to come up at a later time.

Your old credit card company should send you a statement that shows a zero balance. If they do not send you one, then you should contact them to request one. Make sure that once everything is complete you cancel your old card.

Consider calling your current card company. If you have been making timely payments and are in a good standing you may ask to have your interest lowered. Just like penalizing you for delinquency, some companies will reward you for consistent good behavior.

By no means do they have to lower your rate, but they might. This will save you from having to search for cards with low rates and fishing through all the fine print to make sure it’s a legitimate offer.

Before you jump to a new card, consider all the pros and cons. You don’t want to be in a worse position stuck with a card and more mounting debt.

 

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A New Credit Score

You probably all know by now that your credit score is a numerical score of your creditworthiness and is used to assess the risk lenders take loaning you money. Some of you may even recognize that the Fair Isaac Corporation or FICO is probably the most popular scoring system used by the three credit bureaus (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian).

The three reporting agencies decided that nobody knows credit reporting better than them so they decided to come up with their own score.
Their new credit scoring system was introduced on March 14, 2006 to mixed reviews. VantageScore is a joint effort of the three credit bureaus to provide an easier and more consistent model of scoring consumer’s credit.

So when a lending institution gathers your credit score and history they will have a choice between your FICO score or your VantageScore.

VantageScore may make more sense to consumers because they will better understand what their score means. Before, you may have been told your score and you didn’t know if it was good, bad, or average. VantageScore assigns a grade for each particular range of scores making it easier to know where your score stands.

VantageScore Range:
901-990: A
801-900: B
701-800:
C
601-700: D
501-600:
F

This could also be a problem for consumers who have familiarized themselves with the current FICO scoring system. The current FICO scoring range goes from about 300-850. Any score under 600 is pretty risky. A FICO Score of 740 is a great score and will give you good financial opportunities while the same score with the VantageScore system would be in the middle average range and not have as good of financial benefits. Many consumers may find their credit score already confusing and there are worries that learning a new system can be even more difficult.

The grading system can be better for lenders because it can give them a more accurate cutoff system. They can base the types of rates they give consumers according to the letter grade they qualify at. This should help speed up the process of reviewing an application manually. FICO scores do not apply rates based on a specific score and gives lenders more discretion when determining if the consumer’s score qualifies for better rates.

VantageScore claims to provide a more consistent score from each of the credit bureaus because the score will be developed using the same method between each of the credit reporting agencies. There still will be a difference in the scores from each credit bureau because lenders still may not report everything to each agency. So, if you had a delinquency on a credit card that lender may have only reported it to one of the three agencies and therefore your score would be different.

Another advantage that lenders may enjoy is that VantageScore claims that their scoring system will better assess the risks for those who have little or no credit.

Two of the reporting agencies also have their own credit scores. Experian’s is called “ScoreX” and TransUnion’s has “TransRisk”. These too were created as a cheaper alternative to FICO.

Many large banks and lenders also have there own credit scoring system that they use to assess lending risks. In some cases they will still choose an outside credit score and compare it with theirs.

As of right now the new scoring system is being introduced to financial institutions as an alternative to the FICO or any other type of score. Consumers cannot purchase or obtain their VantageScore yet. Experian will be the first to provide the score to consumers and TransUnion and Equifax have stated that they will provide the information by the end of the year.

Even when the score is provided to all consumers it will take a couple years to determine if it is a better and more efficient scoring model than the current leader, FICO.

Dissecting what goes into your credit score and the formulas they use to come up with their score is a science that can be overwhelming. VantageScore may not make it easier for you to figure out how they get your score, but it might make it easier to understand what your score means. Whether it’s a new system or the old standby, knowing what your credit score is can help you make financial decisions and get you on the right track if there is some credit repair to be done.

 
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Greetings, I hope May finds you all well. I don’t know about you but I definitely am catching spring fever. This month we have some good articles that will help spread the summer bug. I thought I might add some personal reflections to some of the articles for this month.

My wife and I are settling into our new house and are excited for the garage sale season. We have been looking in the paper for some furniture for our basement. We definitely did not want to spend a lot of money, but also did not want hand me down furniture that would suffice in a college dorm. After a couple of weekends looking through the classified ads and the early bird garage sales, we didn’t come across anything worth the asking price. Then we saw an ad that included a couch with pull-out bed, lounge chair, 2 end tables, and a coffee table for $150. So like the others we called and waited to hear that they were bought in ’78 and had a lovely floral pattern, or a leg was missing. But this one was different, the nice lady on the phone said that she bought the set less than a year ago from Pier 1. We ran over to her house and found it was in great condition. We asked her what the catch was and she said that she was moving. So for the price she paid for the coffee table alone we bought a 5-piece set for $150.

Did we get lucky? Sure. Does it mean you can too if you look? Absolutely.

Having moved from place to place every six months for the past 5 years has brought on a nice collection of useless items. Well, useless to me anyways. Some friends of ours had a garage sale and asked if we had anything to contribute. I got excited to get rid of some of the extra bulk that we had no more room for. Then I realized that I possessed a gene from my mother’s side of the family, Pac-rat-aritis. I found myself blowing the dust off a souvenir bottle from Mexico telling myself, “I can’t get rid of it even though it was the first I saw of it in 3 years. Nobody will want these gold cowboy boots that are two sizes to small for me, I better hold on to them.”

Good thing common sense finally prevailed and we actually made a couple of bucks. Apparently there is someone out there with an extensive bottle collection, and another who really wanted a size 6 pair of gold spray-painted cowboy boots. Go figure.

I don’t know if I am going to have a lot of time this summer for a vacation, but I am fortunate enough to live in an area that caters very well to tourism. I know that a getaway is just a short drive away.

I spent many summers assisting travelers while working at the Shrine of Democracy, Mount Rushmore. The first week that I worked there I realized that I really didn’t know anything about my own area. A tourist would ask me, “What are some of the other things we must do while we are in the area?” I would just stare off puzzled and say, “Uhm, I’m not sure,” as the family drove off dissatisfied. Anyways, I spent the next weekend playing tourist with a friend of mine and we visited some of the fine attractions the Black Hills had to offer, even Mt. Rushmore itself.

Are you lost yet? (I thought this was suppose to be a financial newsletter not a vacation diary.)

My point is that my mini vacation had a lot to offer and it was inexpensive. I had just as much fun as if I would have spent the weekend out of town blowing my money on gas-station food and motels. I also became a better advocate for my state and could recommend attractions that would make for a more enjoyable time for guests. So take a weekend and play tourist in your area, it’s a cheap and fun way to spend a weekend.

 

 
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Summer Plans

Now would be a great time to start looking into some summer programs for your children before school is out.You may need to make arrangements for daycare services.

There are plenty of programs put on through the summer that will continue the learning process while being fun at the same time.

The summer sport season will soon be in full effect. If you have children out for any activities it’s important to make room in your budget to accommodate for the extra expenses.

When in doubt, choose a nice day and pack a lunch to spend the day at the park. This is an affordable way to enjoy the long warm days of summer.


 
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Hit the Road

It looks like once again gas prices are going to sneak up on us just in time for summer. Even though this may hinder your plans there are still plenty of ways to spend some time away from home. Some planning and readjusting can accommodate your finances for the family adventure.

The family road trip is an American tradition and is still an affordable way to spend your vacation. The media has been predicting that gas prices will be even higher than last summer. Most are saying that the average cost per gallon will be $2.62, which is 25 cents higher than last summer. Just because gas prices are high doesn’t mean that you should have to stay home this summer. This might be a good summer to explore your region. Plan a weekend trip that is less than 400-500 miles from home.

Many states are busy promoting themselves to their residents. More than likely there are interesting attractions and activities in your state or one of your neighboring states.

Let’s say that you have a car that has a 13-gallon tank for gas. At $2.00 a gallon it would cost you $26.00 to fill up. Gas is expected to be on average $2.62 a gallon this summer. That would mean it would now cost you $34.06 to fill up your tank. That’s a difference of $8.06 for every time you fill up. If you travel a distance less than 500 miles you probably can make it there with 2 full tanks if your car gets at least 20 miles per gallon. Of course you have to make it back home so there is another 2 more full tanks. Let’s add another full tank of gas for driving once you reach your destination. So five full tanks of gas at $2.62 a gallon will total $170.30. That’s forty dollars and thirty cents more than when gas was at $2.00 a gallon.

Here’s the good news; that is still considerably cheaper than a plane ticket. There are plenty of ways to save forty dollars during your trip that will make up for the extra gas cost.

Food is a big expense a family of four could easily save forty dollars on by skipping on a roadside meal, or frequent gas-station pit stops. Pack your food and drinks beforehand to prevent you from spending too much on food. You can bake a batch of goodies, or make a bag of homemade Chexmix to munch on throughout the trip. Pull over at a rest station and unpack the sandwiches and thermos full of your favorite drink. Even when you get to your destination, run to the store and pick up some things for sandwiches or buy from their deli. By not eating out for every meal on your vacation, it will help you save a bundle.

Accommodations are another expense that will eat away at a vacation fund. Here are a few quick tips to consider when finding a place to shack-up. Though you may be reluctant, friends and family will offer you a place to stay for free. When making your plans get a hold of them and tell them you are planning on visiting the area. Take them up on their offer (if there is one). You can always offer the same extension and assure them a warm bed whenever they come to visit you.

Campgrounds will also offer a more affordable night’s stay. Make sure you research the weather in the area prior to your visit. You will also want to have some basic supplies and a little Scout knowledge never hurts when in the great outdoors.

You can also stay in a hotel and find discounts or special offers year-round.

Before making any reservations or planning your vacation, it is important to research ahead of time. There may be activities or events that are going on, which could mean higher prices for hotels or maybe even no rooms at all. The last thing you want to do is spend a day on the road only to find out that there are no hotels left unless you want to pay four times the amount.

The resources below are full of fun attractions and ideas for road trips. There are fun, affordable things to do in each state.

A vacation is a time for relaxation and quality time with your family. Remember, it’s not always the destination but in how you get there. Good luck and have fun.

 

Web Resources:
www.roadsideamerica.com
www.roadtripamerica.com
www.travelocity.com/localsecrets
www.legendsofamerica.com

 
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