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Thursday, October 31, 2013

5 must have iPhone apps for US road trips

By Michelle Fach

There is a somewhat romanticized ideal surrounding the great American road trip. For good reason, considering the many sights to see driving from state to state, and the draw of the open road. But more than most trips, this style of travel takes an awful lot of planning. It takes much longer to drive somewhere than to fly, and there are additional costs, needs and concerns to take into account.

For a smooth trip with nothing but great memories, you should have as many tools to help you out as possible. These are five fantastic iPhone apps that you must download before you drive off into the sunset.


RoadNinja
Staying aware of roadside services enhances travel planning success


This app was voted one of the ten best apps for "traveling like a local" by Forbes, and the moment you get it you will agree. Find out what is coming up at each new exit, find out about local businesses and holes in the wall, compare gas prices at different nearby stations and a lot more. You can't find other apps more helpful than this one, and it is incredibly popular with people w ho do a lot of driving. Best of all, it is totally free.


Trapster
Speed traps cost Americans millions of dollars each year

Speed traps...every city has them, and they are easy to fall into if you have never been somewhere before. This app will track them for you, along with other road hazards and give a constantly updated traffic report. Cut down your driving time and reduce the risk of tickets, accidents and annoyances with this fantastic (free) app. Oh, and it will tell you where te speed camera are, too.


Roadside America
Not all tourist attractions are listed in a single print travel guide

This one is directed at a niche audience, but it still deserves to be on the list. If you are a fan of strange and quirky off road attractions, you can find them as you go along using this incredible app by the popular website. The price difference has to do with which one you buy. There is a $2.99 charge per region, so you can buy one for the area you will be in. Or it is $5.99 for all areas within the US and Canada. It is worth it to buy the full version, trust me.


Hotel Tonight
Comparing hotels helps save money on travel expenses


Get the cheapest rates on hotels possible, including discount rates for multiple nights. That is pretty much it; you search, you choose, you book. They have 24-hour customer service available, and you can book in advance or on the same night. It is probably the best hotel app on the market.


Wi-Fi Finder
Free WiFi allows Internet access on the road


Have you ever been on your way through a city and just wanted to stop somewhere with a WiFi connection for awhile? We have all been there, and this will quickly find the nearest locations with a signal for you to use for free. It includes businesses, and even public areas like parks.

Do you have an app that would be perfect for a road trip? Let us know in the comments.


About the author: Michelle Fach is the avid traveler and social media enthusiast writing for Dobovo, the free travel web app.

* Images: Author owned and licensed

Need help managing your auto insurance responsibilities? Check out these handy apps

By Claire Winters

You are busy with work and family life, and so you forget to pay your auto insurance bill. The next thing you know, your insurance has been cancelled and you're driving illegally. In order to avoid these kinds of problems, you need some help to make everything more convenient. More and more insurance companies are recognizing people's need for speedy and time-saving methods for auto insurance management, which is why more brands are creating their own apps that will make it easier for people to take care of their financial responsibilities.

Mobile apps help manage auto insurance policies
Several auto insurers offer free mobile apps to their clients

1. Geico App


This app is really handy for individuals who have auto or motorcycle policies. Policyholders can use this tool to do all sorts of things that would otherwise take up a lot of their time and energy. Pay bills; examine or change your payment plans; follow up claims or reschedule meetings or appointments to discuss claims; or check your driver and car information. These are only some of the things that you can do using the Geico app, and it comes highly recommended because it is fast and easy to use.

2. Pocket Agent by State Farm


State Farm is another well-known financial institution that focuses on banking, mutual fund management, as well as insurance. The company has also come up with the Pocket Agent, an app with so many wonderful and very functional features. This can be used to - pay bank or insurance bills; submit or process claims; check balances; view pending transactions, and so much more. In case you are in need of an agent, you can also use the app to find the nearest one in your area. It also offers a convenient way to record auto accidents or car damage so that you can file your claim more quickly. It has a feature, known as "Draw the Scene," which allows users to illustrate a road accident scene via their gadgets and save the drawings which can then be used when filing a claim. These are only some of the many clever features of the Pocket Agent app.

3. Manilla


Aside from getting late payment charges, there are other problems that you might face just in case you forget to pay your car insurance on time. Avoid this problem by using Manilla and other similar apps that will remind you to promptly settle your bills. This app possesses a nifty bill organizer system that alerts you via text or email about your soon-to-be-due fees. In addition, Manilla can also be used to sort out or keep track of your financial accounts, household bills, and even your magazine subscriptions and other reward plans that you might have joined.

4. Allstate Mobile


It's touted as "Your insurance. On the go." This pretty much sums up what the app can do. It offers a very convenient way to handle all of your insurance concerns. Through this app, you can do the following quickly and expediently - view your insurance account and information; use the accident toolkit; utilize the Quick Foto Claim; and call emergency roadside services. Don't panic in case you get into an accident. By following the accident checklist, you can readily examine if you're doing the right thing so that making a claim will be much easier. Use the app to get witnesses' accounts and info, and the personal details of the other drivers involved.



About the author: This blog post was written by Claire Winters, a freelance writer since 2008. Most of her articles are about car safety and auto insurance, and her materials have been used by Advantage Insurance Agency and other businesses.
  
Image: Creative Commons image source

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Business financial management in one slideshow

The following 43 slides summarize business financial management in a nutshell. Why pay hundreds or thousands of dollars when you can learn it for free? 


Insight in to the cost of college education

By Maxine Wells

A college education used to be the path to a secure financial future. However, for current students, finding ways to finance college has become a much greater challenge than it has been for generations past. Not only have college costs risen over 500 percent in 60 years, the current economy prevents the average household from pulling together the necessary savings for higher education pursuits. The unprecedented growth in tuition will result in many households seeking out financial assistance. 

Student loans are often the only assistance available to help pay for an undergraduate degree. However, with major funding cuts happening in the world of education, traditional financial assistance avenues may not be the most reliable. Crowdfunding is an unusual and viable fundraising alternative that holds some potential as financial support in the future.

With an uncertain economy and an unknowable future, student loans quickly can become just another financial burden to shoulder. This Consolidated Credit infographic sheds some light on just how much the cost of education has grown over the years and how much debt to expect from student loans. Not only will the average student be saddled with years of debt, but also they would be faced with the challenge of coming up hundreds of thousands of dollars for their children’s education. Gain some insight on past, current and future cost of education below.

http://www.gryffin.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Consolidated-Credit-update.jpg
Government funding of education started to decline in the 1980s

How much does breastfeeding really save?

By Kate Supino



New parents are often staggered by the number of expenses that arise over providing for a baby. Before the baby is even born, credit cards have been maxed out, and the nursery is filled with teddy bears, double strollers, baby hangers for baby clothes, and baby "grooming" supplies like powder, lotion, and Q-tips.


Increasingly, parents are considering breastfeeding as a means to reduce the cost of feeding their baby. So how much does breastfeeding really save? 

Trying to calculate the actual cost of formula versus the savings of breastfeeding is difficult to impossible. Babies don't all eat (or in this case, drink) the same amount, the price and brands of formula are highly variable, and there are hidden monetary and non-monetary costs involved in both methods.


Costs associated with formula-feeding include:

  • Actual formula
  • Fuel to shop for formula
  • Time to shop for formula
  • Bottles for formula
(By the way, if you think there is no added time or expense in shopping for formula, you are mistaken. You run out of formula just like you run out of milk, toilet paper, and diapers, and probably more often than that. You would definitely be making separate formula runs.) 

Breastfeeding a baby is free
Even the look of baby formula is unappealing

Short-term benefits of breastfeeding

  • Infants who are breastfeed are a third less likely to perish from sudden infant death syndrome.
  • Mothers and babies bond during breastfeeding.
  • No cost to buy formula.
  • Fewer bottles needed (some bottles are still needed for times when you're not around to feed).
  • No "running out" (limitless supply, relatively speaking).

Long-term benefits of breastfeeding

  • The American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusively breastfeeding for at least the first six months of life. After that, the introduction of solids would complement continued breastfeeding for up 12 months of age, as long as it's mutually comfortable. The availability of sufficient amounts of breast milk to ensure optimal nutritional levels must also be considered.
  • Breastfeeding has been shown to provide nutrients that are not replicated in commercial baby formula.
  • Adult onset diabetes is reduced by up to 30% in individuals who were breastfed.
  • The incidence of childhood illnesses requiring physician treatment such as earaches, asthma, and other respiratory conditions, skin irritations like eczema and dermatitis, and general malaise is reduced significantly.
  • High adolescent and adult intelligence quotients have been linked to early breastfeeding.
How babies are fed after birth affects their interest in breastfeeding
Medical bills for sick infant care can be shockingly high.
When you have your baby in a hospital, be sure you let the nurses know that you intend to breastfeed. Otherwise the nurses will bottle-feed your infant, and you might have trouble getting your new baby to latch on.

It's been estimated that 75 percent or more of newborns instinctively attempt to breastfeed. If your baby is one of the remaining 25%, don't be discouraged. Your nurse will be able to teach you a few tricks that will nudge your baby in the right direction.

There are an overwhelming number of benefits to breastfeeding. For assistance with breastfeeding issues, or if you have additional questions, both the La Leche League and the World Health Organization are valuable resources.



About the author: Kate Supino is a professional freelance writer, small business owner, and mother. Through her writing, she advises businesses and individuals regarding budgeting and smart money moves.


* Image licenses: 1.  Media shower, licensed with attribution; 2. Media Shower, licensed with attribution.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

How insurance companies try to trick car accident victims

Difficult to undersand insurance contract language may be a red flag
Quick insurance claim payment may have strings attached
By Sophie Evans

English author Aldous Huxley once wrote, "Experience is not what happens to you; it's what you do with what happens to you.” And this is most true when dealing with the aftermath of an automobile accident -- especially if you are the victim!

Very few people would agree that being involved in a car accident is a good experience, especially if you are the victim. However there are steps you can take to make it less of a bad experience whether you are the driver at fault, the other driver, or a passenger in the vehicle.

Are you really in good hands?


Sadly one of the most negative aspects of being in a car accident is with the organization that gives the impression that it is there to provide you with the most help, and that is with your insurance company. Now don’t get me wrong. Not all insurance companies are out to take advantage of you.

But all too often insurance companies play dirty tricks to try and avoid paying the compensation you are due after a car accident, whether it is to cover your damaged vehicle or pay the cost of your hospital bills. Here are some of the ways that insurance companies try to make a profit at your expense.
  • Employee rewards - Some insurance companies reward the clever employees who use loopholes or whatever other means at their disposal to successfully deny your otherwise valid claim.
  • Delaying claims - If some long-term insurers knows that the victim in an accident is likely to give up or pass away before the claim is awarded, they will make every effort to delay, using every last stall tactic in the book, to get out of settling up.
  • Confusing jargon - Have you ever looked at your insurance contract and felt like you were reading total gibberish? Densely worded contracts with phrases incomprehensible to anyone not in the insurance business are a common tactic to avoid a payout.
  • Credit scores - Some insurance companies use credit scores to reevaluate what premium you will pay after you file a claim, such as the one you might file after a serious automobile accident. And if you have a record of filing a lot of claims, new insurance companies could use this tactic to deny you service right off the bat.
  • Recinding policies - If your claim becomes too expensive, or your medical bill associated with a car accident become too costly to treat, then it is possible that your insurance company could find a way to retroactively cancel your policy to avoid future payments.
  • Quick payment - Any time an insurance company is quick to offer a payment after a serious incident like a car accident, look for strings attached. Often the payment is only offered with the stipulation that the victim agrees to seek no further damages, which prevents you from filing additional claims for the same accident later.
As you can see, filing an insurance claim after a serious incident, such as an automobile accident, is as risky of a gamble as betting your life’s savings at a high stakes poker game in Vegas. Do you really want to try being a lone crusader, fighting all alone to see that you get your due after filing a claim?

Protecting yourself against tricks of the insurance trade


Fortunately there are things you can do to avoid being a victim of your insurance company’s tricks. First of all, stay off the roads during the hours when crashes are most likely to occur. The Arizona Department of Transportation reported that the peak hour of alcohol-related automobile crashes occurred between 2 AM and 3 AM in 2012 (http://www.azdot.gov/).

Additionally never drink before getting behind the wheel, because a DUI arrest or conviction is only giving your insurance company more leverage against fulfilling your claim. Avoid common bad habits like texting and driving, or driving a car that has not been properly serviced at the appropriate times.

And finally, as soon as possible after your accident, call a lawyer who is well-versed in the tips and tricks that insurance companies use to get out of paying for claims. The fee you pay to have someone like this on your side is nothing compared to the risk you take for trying to go it alone.


About the author: Californian Sophie Evans is more than a freelance writer. She is also a wife and mother, two roles which allow very little free time - especially when you live in the same neighborhood as Mickey Mouse! For quiet time Sophie can be found at Starbucks, whether she is reading blogs like the ones on www.travisblacklaw.com or just grabbing a latte.

* Image license: Mzacha, RGBStock royalty free

4 personal budgeting tools to help you get a grip on your money

Improve budgeting with personal finance sotware tools
Budgeting is a must if you want to keep your household afloat.
By Andrew Lisa

Budgeting for yourself or for your household is the difference between sinking and staying afloat in a difficult economy. Keeping track of your household's income and expenses is the only way to get a picture of how much you have, how much you need, and what your fiscal future holds.  



When spreadsheets replaced longhand lists, things improved slightly, but modern software makes everything immensely easier - if you choose the right tools. Follow this guide to getting the budget tools to bring your budget up to speed.  

Mint




In the class of free personal budgeting software,  Mint  is at or near the top. It's free and it's fast; you're up and running in a few minutes, and the software is web-based, which means you don't have to download anything or worry about security issues on your end.  



Mint centralizes all of your financial data in a single location, giving you overall perspective at a glance. Easy, clear charts and graphs make the interface user friendly and simple, and a range of options allow you to tailor the software to your specifications.



Outright




Like Mint, Outright  is web based and free. It provides much of the same functionality and is an excellent tool for unifying all of your different accounts, from your checking and savings accounts to your third-party payment gateways such as PayPal.  



Outright will automatically update your budget as your income comes in and your expenses go out. Outright simplifies your life at tax time by organizing your income and deductions.



'You Need A Budget'




If you're looking for a step a above the free, entry-level software already mentioned,  You Need A Budget  helps you achieve saving goals, manage your money, help you identify budget leaks, and plan for future projects. The software is about $60, but comes with a free, 34-day, full-featured demo.  

Mvelopes


Mvelopes strives to not only lay out a budget for you, but to incorporate your credit cards and other expenses to help you get on a path out of debt. It can automate repetitive functions and help you track your finances on the go with a mobile app, and help you set aside money for future savings.

Save prescious time by using apps for budgeting
Modern software makes budgeting easier than any spreadsheet could.
Budgeting is tedious and drains time you don't have to spare, but it's absolutely necessary to a healthy, functioning household. The good news is, there are tools that take the heavy lifting and guesswork out of it for you.

Many are free, and all can help. There is something for everyone. Shop around and don't be afraid to try a demo to make sure it fits your needs before you commit.


About the authorAndrew Lisa  is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. He writes about personal finance and gives tips for  creating a budget.

* Image licenses: 1. Media shower, licensed with attribution; 2.  Media shower, licensed with attribution

Monday, October 28, 2013

Extraordinary facts about customer service

By Sarah Hoove
Good customer service is the bread and butter for the majority of retail companies, but delivering it to the highest possible standards is no easy feat. Keeping customers happy is a challenging task, that requires constant attention and involves a lot of pressure. Here are a few simple stats and facts about customer service, and the importance of excellent customer interaction: some may even surprise you!
Business brand equity rises with strong customer service
Keeping customers costs less
  • Happy consumers who get their issues resolved quickly and efficiently tell approximately 4-6 people about their positive experience. This shows that businesses can’t afford to underestimate the power of speech, which is often the most effective (and free) marketing tool.
  • Unfortunately, this works the other way too: a third of consumers say they interact with rude sales representative at least once a month, and 58% of them tell their friends about it. This means that customers are twice as likely to tell a friend if they received bad service than if they received good service, with potentially detrimental effects to company image and reputation.
  • Somewhat depressingly, that one bad customer review can cause large ripples; Parature asserts that it takes 12 positive customer experiences to assuage the bad rep that comes with just one negative experience. 
  • It is around 7 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than to keep an existing one. This makes customer retention through excellent service a key factor for any customer-facing business. 
  • 63% of customers indicate customer service as the leading reason why they stick to a brand, according to Parature.
  • On the other hand, 62% of US customers have moved on from brands they regularly used because of bad customer service. 26% of them  stated that the main cause of their move was being shuffled from representative to representative, without reaching any concrete resolution to their enquiries.
  • Cheap prices and quality products are essential, but good customer service can close a sale just as well as a discounted price tag. Defaqto Research shows that a whopping 55% of consumers is willing to pay more in return for a better customer experience.
    Raise revenue by training customer service reps to sell
    Revenue is linked to customer service
  • Although customers don’t like a hard sales tactic or constant attention, they definitely want (and need) a helping hand. According to eConsultancy, this is particularly true in the world of e-commerce, with approximately 83% of consumers requiring some degree of customer support when making online purchases.
  • Timing is key to effective customer interaction. In a recent survey, around 45% of consumers reported that they would abandon an online transaction if their questions or needs were not addressed as quickly or efficiently as they expected. Even if a company cannot resolve an issue, customer definitely love a trier: 33% of consumers would recommend a brand that provides a quick response - even if it is ineffective.
  • The right method of communication is just as important as the right timing. eConsultancy recently conducted a survey, and found that 61% of consumers prefer to receive assistance over the phone, a 60% favour correspondence with emails, and 57% prefer receiving help through a Live Chat.
  • Finally, brace yourself, as the fact you’re about to discover may shock you. Can you guess how much money U.S businesses lose because of shoddy customer service every year? According to Parature, estimate losses amount to around $83 billion
Although all these figures may suggest that it’s impossible to get anything right, focusing on providing excellent standards of service to every customer is worth the effort. Bain & Co report that a simple 10% increase in customer retention levels results in an overall 30% increase in the value of a company. Ultimately, from retaining existing customers to acquiring new ones, top quality service is imperative for each and every company’s success. The one thing you always needs to remember;  the customer is always right!
About the author: Sarah Hoove is a blogger and catlover from London
* Image licenses: 1. Photobucket 2. Photobucket

Tips for saving money on textbooks

Spend less on early editions of textbooks
Some educational institutions offer coupons

By Alex Faubel

Textbooks can be an expensive cost in college and students will often have to pay a large amount of money for one semester’s worth of books. Textbooks account for nearly $8 billion of the publishing industry, with companies releasing new editions of the same textbook yearly. 

College students have the tendency to overspend on their textbooks. Why is this? Well, for the most part, it's because they don't know how to go about getting their hands on these same textbooks for half the price. Let's take an in-depth look at how college students can save a considerable amount of money on their textbooks.

Tip 1. Locate used books


Buying used books is the way to go when it comes to saving money. Fortunately, there are many places to locate used books, including the bookstores on campus. Many offer entire sections of the same books with a bit of wear and tear on them. While some textbook stores offer textbooks for a reduced price, keep in mind, this discount usually equals out to only about 25 percent off the price in which the book could be purchased for new. While 25 percent is quite a bit of money, especially when spending several hundred dollars, there are other places to find used textbooks for an even further reduced price. Such places include eBay, Amazon and Craigslist. Students can save even more by purchasing their books from peers or friends who have the same book.

Tip 2. Shop online


In addition to locating books from other students through eBay and Craigslist, Amazon and Barnes and Noble tend to be great places to shop for textbooks. Much of the time, college students can obtain new books for nearly 20 percent off their new-price value. One thing to keep in mind when shopping online is to make sure the right edition of the book is being purchased. More importantly, make sure the book can be returned if it happens not to be the correct one. Some other websites include: CampusBooks, Half.com, eCampus and Textbooks.com, just to name a few.

Tip 3. Sell old books


Another great way to save money on textbooks is to sell the old ones. Chances are, after a student completes his or her courses, there will be no need to access old books. If this is the case, a considerable amount of money can be made back on the old books. For example, if a student purchased a used history book for $75, there is a good chance he or she can turn around and sell it to another student the following semester for somewhere around $50-60; this is a great way to make back a significant portion of the money being spent on textbooks to use on your next semester’s books.

Tip 4. Check the local library


That's right. Some textbooks can be checked out of a local library free of charge. When going this route, college students must remember not to mark, highlight or draw in the books. If they do, they may end up having to pay for them. Also keep in mind the loan period, as having to return the book right before finals is not an ideal situation.

Tip 5. Borrow a book


When possible, the best way to save money on college textbooks is to borrow them from friends and fellow students. There is also the chance that a professor may have an extra book laying around that can be borrowed by the first student willing to ask.

Tip 6. Split the cost


If a student has a friend who is in the same class, it then becomes possible to save a few dollars by splitting the cost of one book. The only issue with taking this route is that the book will have to be shared among two students; however, if feasible, this is a great way to keep textbook expenses to a minimum.

Tip 7. Rent the books


There are many online sites that allow college students to rent their textbooks for a fraction of the price of actually buying them, such as Chegg. When renting, students need not mark in their books because once the class is over, the books have to be returned. If marks are found in them, a student's credit card may be charged for the book price.

Tip 8. Look for coupons


There are many colleges and universities that offer promotional coupons to their students. By using the coupons, students can usually save anywhere from five to 50 percent off their textbook costs.


About the author: Alex Faubel enjoys writing about topics related to business and technology in career-focused online education programs.

* Image license: Dawn Endico, CC BY-SA 2.0 

The truth about fracking: A guide

By Brandon William Peach

So much hype and misinformation exists around hydraulic fracturing (better known as fracking), so it's tough to separate fact from fiction. Since it's a hotly debated issue, it's important to arm yourself with facts about fracking that don't depend on the spin of lobbyists. Here are a few things we can say for sure about fracking - along with a handy infographic that should help make sense of the process.

Fracking seeks to recreate natural processes to extract gas, petroleum, and water

Fracturing occurs naturally beneaths the earth's surface. Hydro fracturing does exactly what it sounds like: it uses water to create fractures so that natural gas, water, and petroleum can be extracted from below. Although much has been made of the chemicals used in fracturing, the vast majority of them are not harmful - like table salt and lemon juice. Moreover, water used in the process is recycled and harmful chemicals removed.

The process can lead to energy independence and cleaner, greener fuel


With America facing dependence on other nations for its energy needs, fracking actually offers the potential for freedom. The United States could become a net exporter of natural gas in less than a decade, and guess what? Natural gas is a cleaner-burning, more efficient alternative to some other energy-production methods. It produces only a fraction of the carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur oxides as coal.

Natural gas production in America may depend on fracking


Did you know that fracking may eventually account for 70% of natural gas production in the United States? The surprises don't stop there - over the next decade, four our of five natural gas wells drilled will require fracking. Without the process of hydrofracturing, nearly half of America's natural gas production and 17 percent of its oil production would be lost within five years - a staggering statistic, particularly if hydraulic fracturing is safe. And speaking of the safety of fracking.

The research shows that fracking seems to be extremely safe


Of the facts obscured in the debate over fracking, one may pose the most important implications: in the vast majority of hydraulic fracturing cases, the process has been deemed perfectly safe. Federal and state regulations, and EPA investigations, have found no reason to believe otherwise. Furthermore, the President on the American Council of Science and Health has concluded that no instances of adverse health effects have been documented as a result of fracking.

One of the loudest voices in the anti-fracking movement has 

been largely discredited


Gasland, a film seeking to expose the dangers of fracking, was determined to have been fraught with errors. The damage to the environment, communities, and personal health have been debunked by numerous investigations into the veracity of the film's claims. It's sensationalism at best, and doesn't always jibe with the facts of the matter.

For more detailed information, check out the great infographic by RankPop below, that further dispels rumors about the process of hydraulic fracturing and attempts to sent the record straight. There's still more to learn about fracking - but it certainly looks like the benefits outweigh the dubious costs.

The National Petroleum Institute forecasts 70% of U.S. natural gas will come from fracking
U.S. natural gas production is heavily dependent on fracking


About the author: Brandon William Peach is a writer across many topics, including religion, pop culture, literature, marketing, politics, human rights, and animal welfare. His work has been featured at RankPop, RELEVANT Magazine, Lure of Mac, I Think I Believe, Existimatum, and much more. Follow him on Twitter @BrandonPeach.

* Infographic: Author owned and licensed

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Pitfalls and risks of timeshare investing

Annual timeshare costs are perpetual without expiration dates
Timeshare maintenance costs can be high as monthly rent costs
By Liz Nelson

Timeshares are alluring when considering some of the areas and locations they are available in. Even bragging rights when discussing locations to friends can make these investments seem more than they are. However, there are a great deal of risks that come with owning a part of a timeshare that sellers don't really discuss with those interested in putting money into the venture. 

Without taking precautions, you could wind up spending a lot of money on something that merely glittered in the dirt that definitely wasn't gold. What kind of problems can arise from such a hyped-up prospect? 


Your availability 


Many timeshare owners invest in the property in order to take a yearly vacation at the resort or location they purchase into. Although the first year or two provides reason to travel, life has a way of interfering. Before too long, you wind up incurring extra expenses for the property for no other reason than to say you own a timeshare. These chunks of availability are limited and you may not be able to break away from work during your allotted time. The most you can hope for is to hand your time to someone else for them to enjoy such as a family member or friend.

Fraudulent sellers 


When it comes time to unload your timeshare, you could be faced dealing with someone who promises that they can sell the property. Once you hand them your money, they could disappear. Of course this practice is common among many markets outside of property management. However, It may seem a greater loss due to the amount of money that is in question during the transaction. Expecting a $10,000 return after handing a person a couple hundred dollars only for the fraudulent seller to disappear is disheartening. 


Annual costs  


After the upfront fees of buying into a timeshare, you usually pay an annual maintenance fee for the property. For many individuals, this could be close to a month's worth of rent or mortgage payments. If things don't work out for you and your income is diminished, you could lose out on the several thousand dollars you invested in the original purchase. These annual fees could be a haunting reminder of this investment as it hangs over your head. 


Market values  


Affects within the economy could alter how the timeshare is viewed as well. If you are truly unable to use the timeshare and wish to sell it, you could be left holding the bag as others are in less of a position to buy it from you as you are to pay for something you can't use. Although there are a few websites that may be able to help you sell your slot to recuperate some of the money you've spent, they usually are not guaranteed to succeed and usually cost a monthly fee of their own. 


Lost interest 


The first few times you may visit a resort, the experience could be greater than your wildest dreams. However, time has a way of dampening the euphoric effects that the location once had on you. Before long, you could find yourself bored of visiting the same location year after year when there are so many other places in the world you can visit. While this "boredom" may not affect everyone, many still find themselves regretfully attempting to sell the timeshare. There's only so many times you can visit the same location before the excitement begins to wear off. However, many timeshares are tied in with global resorts allowing you to stay at other locations.
 

No end in sight 


For many timeshare owners, the financial burden is perennial. As there isn't usually an expiration date on these investments, you can be paying for the lot until the end of time - theoretically. Unless you are willing to lose a great deal of money on the investment, you could be obligated to pay the annual fee regardless if you have a job or not. This could put you in a stressful predicament if you can't afford to put food on your table.

Timeshares can be a wonderful thought at first, and the salespeople will make the experience all that more enticing. It's their job to separate you from your money and lock you into an annual fee. Is this really an investment if you only pay money without seeing positive returns from the venture? The goal of any investment is to at least break even in terms of expense. If you continuously pay an annual fee on top of your initial deposit, which could be as much as $20,000 depending on the locale, then where is the payoff exactly?


About the author: This is a guest post by Liz Nelson from WhiteFence.com. She is a freelance writer and blogger from Houston. Questions and comments can be sent to: liznelson17 @ gmail.com.

* Image license: Obyrneje, RGBStock royalty free

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Long-term housing market trends across the nation

The rental market is forecast to increase due to low-cost real estate investments
Rising interest rates contribute to a rise in foreclosures
The housing market has taken a pounding over the past several years. In many parts of the country, housing values are significantly lower than they were five years ago. While some signs of a recovery are underway, it may not be the best time to try to sell your home if you are looking to move.

Watch out for future foreclosures


There are going to be a second wave of foreclosures on the horizon. This is because mortgage loan rates are going to go up as the economy starts to get stronger. However, this is not a good thing for folks who used variable rate interest loans to purchase their house. Their mortgage payments are going to go up and that could put a strain on their finances. If rates go up too much, it could force those who are barely making their payments to stop making them altogether.

Rental properties will be popular


Many people are going to continue to buy investment properties to take advantage of the depressed housing market. With prices well below market value, those who can afford the higher cost of investor home loans are going to do so. Those who are looking to rent a home instead of buy a home are going to jump at the chance to live in a home without having to be saddled with a mortgage.

Mortgages may be easier to get


As the economy recovers, lenders may start to be a little more lax when it comes to their lending standards. Today, it is almost impossible to get a loan unless you have a 20 percent down payment. However, it may be possible to find a lender or two willing to give you a break on your down payment if you have good credit or plan to live in a duplex with a tenant.

FHA loans should continue to be used by more first-time buyers


First-time homebuyers are going to continue to use FHA loans instead of traditional mortgages. This is because you can get a house for up to $300,000 or more in some locations without putting any more than 3.5 percent of the purchase price down. Over the past decade, FHA loans have become the preferred choice among borrowers due to the fact that you can buy a home with poor credit. You can also buy a home as long as your debt-to-income ratio is over 40 percent. That is not possible with a traditional mortgage.

Interest rates should stay low for another year or two


The good news for buyers is that interest rates should remain low for the next year or longer. This means that you can start saving up now and buy the home when you are ready without having to pay a high rate of interest. While there may be some temporary upticks in mortgage rates, they should smooth themselves out quickly. Investor home loans should come with lower interest rates for the next couple of years as well.

Buying a home is a goal for many people. The best thing that you can do for yourself is save up as much money as possible and clean up your credit to increase the chances of getting approved for a mortgage. When you have done that, you should be able to find a home for a reasonable price and interest rate almost anywhere in the country.

* Image license: mzacha, RGBStock royalty free

5 important tips for monitoring your credit

Correction of credit reporting errors helps ensure proper loan underwriting
Loan underwriting uses credit data
If you're like the average American, you probably haven't checked your credit recently. Being credit ignorant can be a really dangerous situation, particularly when it comes to applying for credit and protecting yourself against identity theft. If you follow these simple tips, you can be much more aware of the overall state of your finances and credit history.

 

1. Get the complete picture


If you have not checked your credit report before or it's been a few years, now is the time. Experts recommend that you check your credit at least once a year. You can do it for free by going to AnnualCreditReport.com and requesting your report. There are three major credit reporting bureaus:
  • Experian
  • Equifax
  • TransUnion
These bureaus collect information from your creditors about your payment obligations and history. Every year, you should get a complete credit report from each agency.

2. Fix inaccuracies quickly


When you look at your three credit reports, you may notice some inconsistencies between them. You may also spot a few mistakes in your current address, job record or payment history. When you find an error, it is important to fix it as quickly as possible. Inaccuracies that show you were late on a payment when you weren't or that show open accounts as closed can affect your chances of obtaining credit when you need it. Your reports should always be accurate. If they aren't, you should follow the process to correct it, or hire a professional credit repair agency to help you.

3. Know your score


There are two different versions of credit scores. The first is your Fair Isaac and Company (FICO) score, which ranges from 300-850. Higher scores are preferred. This credit score takes the information in your credit report and assigns a number based on the length of your credit history, your payment record and any negative factors such as late payments. Since your credit reports are all a little different, you can have a different score from each reporting bureau.


In 2006, the bureaus themselves decided to get into the credit-scoring game. Experian, Equifax and TransUnion released the Vantage Score to compete with FICO. Scores range between 501-990. The agencies argue that the Vantagescore is more accurate than FICO because it represents potential risk more than simply past history.

4. Consider a credit-monitoring service


Checking your credit once a year may not be enough. If you are in the process of rebuilding a problematic credit history, you have had a history of identity theft, or you don't have much of a credit history, you should be monitoring your report more regularly. Many companies offer credit monitoring services at a reasonable rate. Depending on what you pay, you will usually get notices if someone has requested your credit report, and be able to see your credit reports and scores as often as every month.

5. Check alerts


A regular feature of any credit monitoring service is alerts. This option will let you know when someone has requested your credit report. Since this is one of the first lines of defense against identity theft, you should follow up on these alerts as soon as possible. If you don't recognize the company checking your credit, or if you know you haven't applied for any loans recently, contact your monitoring service and the reporting bureau for advice on how to proceed.

Sometimes we don't stay up-to-date on our credit reports, but this is easy to fix. By checking all versions of your report at least once a year, making sure they're accurate and considering a monitoring service, you'll be in a much better position to apply for loans and avoid identity theft.


About the author: Nicole writes about credit, credit monitoring, and credit repair. She thinks that BestCreditRepairCompanys.com offers the most unbiased reviews on credit repair companies.

* Image license: Lusi, RGBStock royalty free

Friday, October 25, 2013

Managing your credit rating

If you have bad credit, it is important to learn how to properly manage your credit score, so you can gain approval for loans, and get a new job. Many employers review your credit history as part of the hiring process, and if you aren't managing your credit wisely, you can easily hurt your career -- and financial -- future.

Credit scores can decline when more than 30% of credit limit is used
Image via Shutterstock

How your score is calculated


A credit score is based on several different factors. Some of the largest elements that impact your credit score include the length of your credit history. Creditors prefer people with a longer history since it helps them evaluate their financial discipline. The type of credit accounts you have open will impact your credit rating. A poor history with credit cards and personal loans can cause more damage to a credit score than a student loan.

One of the major factors that impacts your credit score is your payment history. The amount of money owed on each line of credit can impact your score. If you are using more than 30% of the total credit limit available, that can also hurt your credit rating. Lenders want to see that you sparingly use available money and that you do not rely on it.

How often do you apply for new credit? If you are sending out credit card offers every month, it will ding your credit rating. Reduce the amount of times you seek new credit -- even for car loans -- to increase your credit rating.

Fixing your credit score


You can obtain a free copy of your credit report from each credit bureau once each year. Order a free copy of your credit report to review the information on the report. There are usually some inaccuracies on credit reports that can be disputed and it is important to make sure all the information on the report is accurate if you want to keep a good score. After disputing inaccurate information, be sure to review your new score.

You can also help your score by automating the payments on your credit cards and other accounts, as this will help ensure that your payments are made on time.

Focus on paying down your credit card balances as quickly as you can. One way to do this is by picking the lowest balance credit card and paying off the balance. Once you have paid off this card, move to the next card. You can double the payment amount now that you have paid off the other card.

As you focus on paying off each card individually while still meeting the minimum requirements on your other accounts, you will notice that your credit rating is improving. Don't close your old credit cards, even the retail cards, as the old accounts increase the total credit that is available to you. This helps to reduce the usage amount in your name, which lowers your score. It is wise to avoid opening new credit card accounts, especially the retail accounts since they have a higher interest rate from other cards.

Managing your credit responsibly will make you eligible for lower interest rates on new loans. This can help you save thousands of dollars a year when you are applying for large loans, such as a mortgage. 


About the author: This article was contributed by Richard Craft, an MBA student who hopes to help you with your personal finance issues. He writes this on behalf of www.bestcredit.net. Check out their website today and see how they can help you with your credit! 

The IMF says Europe needs a central budget authority

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has published a report calling for the Euro Zone nations to create a central budget authority. The thinking behind the recommendation is that such a move will enable the Euro Zone area to deal better with any future economic downturns.

Specifically, the IMF believes that should one nation suffer a downturn, as we’ve seen Greece, Spain, and others do in recent years, then the rest of the Euro Zone economy won’t be impacted if a central budget authority is in place.

Footing the bill


Euro
The IMF has proposed increased pooling of capital reserves
That the IMF has published this report is somewhat surprising. The European Union (EU) already made similar recommendations last year, only to see Germany and the other ‘better off’ Euro Zone nations dismiss them.

The concerns of these nations stem from a belief that they are, in effect, being put in a position to foot the bill should a weaker nation on the periphery hit economic trouble in the future.

Although the report does point to this as a solution, it also says that, "[Fiscal] risk sharing means that, at any point in time, countries experiencing better cyclical conditions support those at the other end of the spectrum; it does not mean the same country is always on the giving or receiving end."

Given that recent years have seen very few Euro Zone nations in a position to support the rest of the economic area, it is unsurprised that those like Germany are resisting.

Taking advantage


This is a specific recommendation proposal from the IMF, who in the past have made suggestions related to the ‘pooling of resources’ but never tackled the subject so directly. In effect, they’re telling Euro Zone nations to save money so that, when it is needed, it is there.

Although Germany, where Angela Merkel has been re-elected as Chancellor for a third term, haven’t said so directly, they’re surely concerned that the traditionally weaker countries will use this as an excuse to not manage their national budgets effectively and forget the lessons of the last three to five years.

The IMF is also proposing that different funds are set up for different needs. For example, they’re saying that if a country is experiencing higher than usual unemployment, then money can be taken to pay unemployment benefits rather than eating into national expenditure budgets unexpectedly.

Protecting the future, now


Although the report is related to any future potential economic crises, the IMF is clear that they would like to see action now, to immediately deal with failing Euro Zone banks and prevent any further losses from these institutions.

The IMF’s reasoning behind these recommendations appears sound. This is true particularly given the sums raised will dwarf the EU budget should the initiative go ahead, and there won’t be as much red tape attached to accessing and using the funds.

However, it is unlikely that the nations who probably won’t make use of such a fund are going to be convinced it is a good idea anytime soon.


About the author: Danny is a finance entrepreneur who is currently looking to pay cash for annuity. Danny also has several investments in Europe, with a lot of money tied up in various countries that are still currently struggling to grow their economies.
* Image license: AranJuez1404, CC BY-SA 2.0

Best finance strategies for women heading into a divorce

Take control of personal finances in the event of divorce in preparation for single life
Establishing personal accounts helps build credit rating
Most women dream of finding their prince, marrying him and living happily ever after. Everyone steps into marriage with the intention of happiness, but unfortunately it doesn't always turn out that way. 

Although you may be besides yourself, don't forget to protect yourself financially so that you can make a fresh start after a divorce.

The month of January traditionally sees more divorce filings than any other month of the year. If you are anticipating a divorce during 2014, take some time to prepare your finances so that you can better weather the financial storm that accompanies the emotional storm.

Organize your financial documents

Gather up statements from all of your accounts and investments. Statements reflecting the previous year are mailed in January. Be sure to organize and keep copies (or scans) of everything both legal and financial. Store them with a trusted ally or invest in a private safe deposit box your husband will not be able to access. The ability to have your ducks in a row early in a divorce process may undercut any messiness later on.

Know your credit

Request copies of your credit report from all three of the credit reporting agencies. Be sure to correct any errors or mistakes contained within them. Your good credit will be necessary to obtain loans, credit or run an independent household. Be sure to critically note all of your husbands purchases on joint credit card statements if they will help you in the divorce process later.

Establish accounts in your name

Once you are no longer married, you will need credit cards and bank accounts in your name only. Set these up as soon as possible by using another bank from the one where your jointly held accounts are kept. Having a solo checking account and savings account in your name starts the process.

Opening credit cards in your name may be a bit tougher. As a homemaker or stay at home parent, you may not have enough credit on your own to satisfy a credit card company. In 2012 the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009 was amended to allow non-working spouses to apply for credit in their own name but based on credit from their household's shared income status.

Put together team divorce

You will have to assemble a team of professionals to assist you. Do not go it alone as things can get quite complicated. Retain a matrimonial/family law attorney to handle legal issues for you. A therapist or counselor can also be helpful for coping with the emotional upheaval divorce brings.

Observe

Take close observation of your spouse and his financial dealings. Many husbands become unethical as they head into divorce by hiding and misappropriating finances. The income he under-reports today is the settlement you won't be able to obtain tomorrow. Speak with your accountant about filing a separate tax return even before the divorce is final.

As you head into this difficult time, be sure to take advantage of all a new start will bring. You are not alone in this situation. There are professionals and resources that you can tap when you need to. Make today is the first day you can walk down your own financial path. Do so with strength and confidence in your abilities. 

 


About the author: Derek is currently blogging for Tips of Divorce, a divorce blog for women. He enjoys blogging about divorce topics and offering divorcee’s financial advice. 

* Image license: Muriellesw, RGBStock royalty free