What's the Difference

When dealing with your credit it's important that you know the difference between a "soft" and "hard" credit inquiries. Whether you are applying for a mortgage loan or a credit card the potential creditor is going to check your credit report beforehand.

Soft inquiry
A soft inquiry, or soft pull, is a term used to refer to an inquiry into your credit history that does not adversely affect the credit score. Often, you are not even aware that there has been a soft inquiry on your credit report. For example, if you receive a solicitation in the mail offering you a credit card, the credit card company has most likely conducted a soft pull to see if you qualify. When mortgage lenders pre-approve you for a loan, they initially use a soft pull. Potential employers use it as a part of background checks, and your current credit card companies use soft inquiries to check up on you. Banks use them to verify that you are who you say you are when opening an account. If you check your own credit report, which you can do for free once a year, this is done with a soft pull. Most of the time, you do not even know when they occur, and they do not affect your credit report.

Hard pull
A hard pull on a credit report is different. It does affect your credit score. Anytime that you are actually getting a loan or a new credit card, the lender conducts a hard pull on your credit report. This stays on the record. It also lowers your credit score by about five points for six months. For this reason, it is important to guard your credit report from too many hard pulls. If you get a store credit card just to save 10 percent on a single purchase, you have hurt your credit score. That is probably not worth the 10 percent savings. Some banks even use a hard pull if you are opening a savings account, so be sure to check your potential bank's policy. Additionally, the incentives that credit card companies offer for signing up may not be worth the hit to your credit score.

A good rule of thumb for your credit report is to try to avoid any inquiries that are considered hard pulls. By limiting them your credit will be in good shape and you can qualify for the best interest rate available to you when it comes time for you to apply for a loan that you truly need.






An affordable weekend getaways romantic trip isn't hard to plan. First, decide how much money you have in your budget to spend, then decide what you and your significant other would enjoy doing together. Now, you're ready to begin planning that perfect romantic weekend!

Start at home: If your budget is really limited, then take a look around your area. Instead of spending gas money to drive several miles away, spend that money on a show, movie, or nice restaurant, and end the night in a local bed and breakfast or nice hotel. Remember, others may just choose your city to visit, so why not experience the better hotels in your area as well?

Find the deals: While you can find plenty of hotel deals on the Internet, you may be able to find some local lodging deals by simply calling the hotel directly. Explain that you live in the area, and you just want to try out the local accommodations. You may be offered discounted rooms simply because you do live in the area. Pay a visit to your local chamber of commerce and inquire about any coupons they might have to offer as well.

Package deals: If you and your sweetie share a hobby, like golf for instance, then you might want to take advantage of golf packages. For example, the Robert Trent Jones golf trail often features world class championship golf courses and hotels. When you purchase a package, you save money.

Depending upon your area of the country, you can find hotel packages that include golf, theater tickets, amusement park admissions, and more. Some of these packages also include breakfast and/or dinner specials, too.

House swapping: Do you know another couple who needs a change of scenery? If you have friends that live in another town, either near or far, then why not consider swapping homes for the weekend? Be sure and leave a list of your favorite restaurants, as well as information on the best shopping, parks, theaters, etc.

Romantic getaway at home: Don't have any extra money to get out town, but still want to spend some quality time with your loved one? One of the most affordable weekend getaways romantic rendezvous can be experienced right in your own home. Turn off the phone, dim the lights, cook a yummy dinner (or order takeout), put on some soft music, get dressed up, and break out that bottle of wine. Sleep late the next morning, and have breakfast in bed. Spend the day in your jammies, play games, watch movies, and just enjoy your time together. Who says you even have to leave your home to experience a bit of romance?

In searching for that perfect getaway, do your homework. Compare prices. Search for deals on the Internet, and above all, have fun!



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Helpful Tips

With the economy in downward affair and job security a concern for many people, it may be a good time to enhance your credentials by going back to school. It may seem crazy right now to spend a lot of money on something you are not sure that you will get a return on.

You may be surprised by the amount of money you can receive if you choose to go back to school and a degree can be important for employers who are more selective when it comes to hiring future employees. The National Center of Education Statistics showed that someone with a bachelors degree will earn and average of $22,000 more than someone who only has a high school degree.

This is a big decision and the more you thoroughly plan before making the commitment will increase your chances of following through successfully.

Are you in a location where you can easily attend classes? It's important that you live in an area where you can attend classes. If you have to commute too far it may become a hassle and discourage you from continuing.

Another growing trend is many universities offer classes away from their campus and you may be able to attend classes that are closer to you. Also there are many classes that you can take care of on your own through online correspondence. You may not be able to take all of your classes online but you should be able to take care of a few, limiting the time it takes to attend the class physically.

The biggest question you need to address is how you are going to be able to financially handle all of this. You not only have to find out how you are going to pay for the education, but you also need to determine how you are going to support yourself (and maybe a family) financially. More than likely you will have to balance school with a job to help you pay your bills. Everyone has a different financial situation so it's up to you to make up a budget to figure out how much you spend on everything.

The good news is there is plenty of financial aid, scholarships, and government money for those looking to continue their education. Most financial aid and scholarships do not have any age restrictions.

Federal student aid generally does not have any age restrictions. The main exception is the Coverdell Education Savings Account, which requires the funds to be used by the time the beneficiary reaches age 30. Section 529 college savings plans, on the other hand, do not have any such age restrictions.

There are, however, restrictions based on educational background. A student who has already earned a bachelor's degree or first professional degree is no longer considered an undergraduate student and is ineligible for the Pell Grant. (There is an exception for post-baccalaureate programs necessary for teacher certification or licensing credentials as required by the state.) However, such a student is still eligible for federal education loans and work-study.

You may also work for a company that offers tuition reimbursement or assistance. They may encourage you to go back to school because they know that it will improve your job skills and help the company in the long run. The company may require you sign a contract to ensure you stay with them after you earn the degree. They may also require you maintain a certain GPA in order for them to continue their assistance.

Even though nontraditional students may be eligible for increased loan limits, they should avoid overborrowing. Do not borrow more than your expected starting salary after you graduate. It may be tempting to borrow more for your living costs, but this will make it more difficult for you to repay the debt after you graduate.

It's important that you have a good plan and a great support system around you in order to achieve this goal. In a time where employment is never guaranteed the more things you can do to help you stand out can help you land a secure job and supplement your financial future.



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What to Expect

I'm sure there are plenty of us out there who keep asking, "What can I expect from the economy this year?" Many experts are forecasting what 2009 will bring us. There are both positive and negative expectations for the coming year and the more you are prepared the better you can take advantage of the positives and dodge the negatives.

One of the most important things you can do for yourself is to cut down on any unnecessary spending. Make wiser choices and find ways to cut down on the things you buy. This doesn't mean you have to stay homebound and not do anything all year. Putting some money back into the economy will only help the situation get better. There are literally thousands of ways you can save money and still have an active and enjoyable life. It takes some research and effort and hopefully we can help you out along the way.

One of the negatives is that it is projected that more people could be losing their jobs. Many companies will be cutting costs and that usually means letting go of staff members. However, if you prepare yourself and your finances you should be able to handle the unfortunate event of being laid off. Make sure your savings is healthy enough to buy you time to find another job.

At the very least have a months worth of living expenses in your savings. Ideally, most experts want you to have at least 3-6 months worth of living expenses in your savings. That may not be a feasible option for everyone. Some of the "lucky" people who will become unemployed this year may get a severance package and be able to live off of that while looking for new employment.

You may also want to make any updates to your resume and references so they are ready in case you need to look for another job. Chances are if you find another job that it may not be as well paying as your previous one so it's important to make or redo your budget to adjust accordingly.

There are ways you can take advantage of the housing market mess that was a catalyst to the economic downfall. If you are in the market to buy a home you will probably find a wide range of options and some of the most affordable prices in years. However, they are not handing out loans like they were for the past few years. You will need to have a down payment, a stronger credit score, and show more proof that you have a substantial income capable of making monthly mortgage payments.

Gather some of the information beforehand so you are better prepared. You can go online at to receive a free credit report from one of 3 credit-reporting bureaus. Review your report and look for any red flags that could cause problems. For an extra charge you can receive your credit score and have a better idea of where you stand.

When buying a house in this market it is important that you plan on living there for a committed period of time. If you are uncertain that you want to be in the same area for that time you may want to reconsider buying since it is more difficult to sell a house in a short amount of time.

So, if you are currently in a house and you can comfortably make your payment you are better off staying put then trying to put your house on the market in hopes of selling it and moving up the property ladder. Instead you may even want to invest some money into your home and make improvements or upgrades. This way when the market recovers you may have a better chance of selling with improvements that increase your home's equity.

As far as investing goes, the stock market is expected to continue it's up and downs. This can make it uncomfortable to entrust your money in something that has been so unstable. Many experts suggest staying in the market while trying to find investments that will do well during a recession. If you have investments it's important to discuss your concerns with a professional who can assist you with your investment choices.

It's hard to say exactly what we can expect in the coming year. The important thing is to make smart choices when it comes to your finances. Many of these things we should be doing regardless of the surrounding economic condition. Keep yourself aware of what is going on and prepare ahead of time. Making smart money choices today can assist you through the ups and downs of the coming months.



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It seems that we survived another holiday season. We did a good job sticking to our limits and caught a break with the decrease in gas prices. My wife and I chose to get each other a small gift and use the money we would have used on gifts to make some improvements to our bedroom.

We didn't do a whole lot, but we started with a new color scheme with a couple gallons of paint. We also bought some new window treatments and installed a ceiling fan. We also bought a new bed, which was long overdue since we have only had a hand-me-down bed that wasn't all that comfortable. This became a necessity as my pregnant wife was having problems with the old bed that had little support. We topped it off with replacing the outlets and switches and have the feeling of a whole new bedroom. By limiting ourselves to improvements we could do on our own we saved money while at the same time increased the value of our home.

As predicted 2009 has already started off with a bang. There will be plenty of things that will affect our finances this upcoming year. The big one is obviously the birth of our second child due towards the end of April.

I feel more prepared this time, but in a way that scares me more. There is still quite a bit we have to get ready but for some reason it keeps getting postponed. I think we had the room for our first baby painted 6 months before she was due and now we are a couple months away and the new baby room is still being used as a "catch-all" room. I have a feeling this is going to sneak up on us and I'm grateful we have a strong family who will be able to help us out for the second round.

Some other good news involves the recent engagements of my brother and my cousin. They are getting married to their lovely fiancˇs in back to back weekends in late summer. Just when I thought the wedding season may have calmed down a little. I have the honor and the privilege of being part of both of their ceremonies as a groomsmen. I'm sure they will both be sick of hearing any tips that I can offer them on how they can save some money on their special days.

The other thing that has caught us by surprise is unexpected medical expenses. I have been getting sick recently and had to go to the doctor a few times. I have been dealing with a sensitive stomach for quite awhile and the latest occurrence was just too much for me to handle. The doctor visits were full of a variety of tests, all of which had a cost. All I can say is for as much as there is to complain about insurance it is nice to know that it is there when you need it. Insurance won't cover it all so there are still some adjustments we need to make to offset the extra expenses.

After a couple of weeks I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a manageable disease that affects the colon. Along with some pretty expensive prescriptions I will need to have regular checkups with my doctor. My wife and I are so used to paying a couple of bucks for generic prescriptions it came as a surprise to have to pay over $70 for a prescription that did not have a generic alternative.

I am happy to report that the medicine has been working well and even though this is something I will probably have to deal with the rest of my life I am quite optimistic that I will be able to lead a normal, healthy life.

We will adjust our budget to be able to handle more regular doctor visits and the potential of having to purchase medication. This is just another indication that it is important to take care of yourself and don't hesitate seeing a doctor regularly.

We are getting "excited" to file our tax returns as soon as we can and we are not going to procrastinate this year. Not that we need the money any sooner, but why wait to file when there is a return waiting for us. No big plans for the return this year as it will probably go into savings and help offset some costs while my wife is off from work this summer.

I have preached in the past how much I like tax preparation software and we will probably use it again. It's just too easy to use and helps me avoid the inevitable mistakes I would make if I tried to tackle this myself. Our taxes have never been too complicated to where I felt we needed any extra assistance.

Keep your eye to the Pilot as we will try to squeeze in as many tax tips as we can before the mid April deadline. With that in mind it's time for me to track down some W-2's and get started. Until next month, good luck and have fun.


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Resolutions You Can Keep!

With the tax season in full effect many of us have worries about doing our taxes on our own. We fear that we will make a mistake that the IRS will perceive as intentional and instead of enjoying a tax return we will be audited. These fears lead many of us to hire someone to take care of our taxes for us. Here are some of the options that are available and if they are worth the cost.

It seems that there is a tax preparation place on every street corner. You have probably seen the volunteers dressed like Uncle Sam or Lady Liberty carrying a sandwich board and waving to you as you drive by. The chain store tax preparers are probably the most affordable option to help you file your return. If you have a relatively simple return than this might be a good option for you. Workers for these preparers are well trained but may not have the experience to handle more complicated tax situations.

Don't be frightened off by their title. Enrolled agents (EAs) are former IRS employees, or individuals who have passed tax exams and an IRS background check and are licensed by the federal government. They can be less expensive than CPAs and offer you more services/help than Tax Preparation Centers. EAs can prepare taxes, advise you on tax-related decisions, help you in the event that you're audited, and even represent you before the federal government.

CPAs (Certified Public Accountant) are tax professionals who typically have a degree in accounting (or another closely-related finance field) and who have passed the rigorous CPA exam. They are state-licensed and required to keep current on tax code changes. CPAs have been trained to handle the most complicated tax returns and can offer professional tax advice. In addition to preparing your tax return, they can help you identify and take advantage of tax savings and give you advice on how to invest wisely to minimize your taxes in the future. CPAs aren't cheap, however. They typically charge a flat fee of at least $700 - $1,000 or more depending on how much time it takes them to prepare your return.

The IRS operates Taxpayer Assistance Centers in all 50 states. These Centers offer you a personal one-on-one opportunity to ask a professional your tax questions free of charge. In some cases you can also receive assistance in preparing your personal taxes. For example, IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center employees will help prepare basic individual income tax returns if you earn $35,000 or less. There is no appointment necessary and multilingual assistance in available in every office.

There is a way that you can do it on your own with the assistance that a professional can give you. Purchasing a tax preparation software program. These programs walk you through the process step by step and will make sure the information you are putting in is correct. It can also let you know if there is tax breaks that you are eligible for just by asking you some questions. You can buy the software at a store or download it through the companies website. Two of the more reputable and popular programs are TaxCut and TurboTax.

Don't wait until the last minute to get your paperwork together or make a call for an appointment with a tax professional. Give yourself enough time to get your papers together, ask the questions you need answers to, and for your tax professional to have the time he or she needs to prepare your return.

If you are going to pay a professional to prepare your taxes, be sure to evaluate their qualifications.
Suggested questions include:

What education and training do you have in preparing taxes?

How many years have you been preparing taxes?

Do you have experience preparing taxes for people in financial situations similar to mine?

Do you provide any assistance if I'm audited?

How quickly can I expect you to complete my return?

Will you be able to give me advice on how to get in better shape for next tax year?

What is your fee?

Looking ahead to next year, consider getting some basic financial planning help. A professional financial planner or advisor can help you create a practical game plan to help you begin saving, investing and possibly reducing your taxes.

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