Before the Holidays get in Full Swing, check out these tips from Consumer Reports on how to get your finances in shape.
Get Ready for Black Friday
Black Friday is still a few days away, but retailers are already advertising holiday sales. The best way to keep your holiday shopping in check is to make a budget and a list before making any purchases, advises the National Endowment for Financial Education, which offers financial advice and educational programs.
In addition to figuring out how much you can reasonably spend on family and friends, you’ll need to factor in some money for other holiday costs like decorations, cards, wrapping paper, and entertaining. Having that list on-hand when you hit the malls can help keep you from going over budget on gifts or buying additional items just because they’re on sale.
Take Your Required Minimum Distribution
If you have money in a tax-deferred retirement account such as a traditional 401(k) or IRA, and you’re over age 70 ½, taking a required minimum distribution before the end of the year should be on your financial to-do list. The amount that you must withdraw is based on the amount of money you have in such accounts and your life expectancy, according to the IRS. Note that you will also have to pay taxes on this income when you file in April.
Failing to take your required minimum distribution can be costly: You’ll owe the IRS a penalty that comes to half of the amount that should have been withdrawn. It’s a smart idea to get in touch with your financial adviser now to figure out how much money you need to withdraw.
If your money is in a Roth IRA, you won’t need to add this to your financial to-do list. Roth IRAs are not subject to minimum distributions. You are also not required to take a distribution from a 401(k) with an employer for which you currently work.
Visit Your Doctor
If you’ve still got money in a medical flexible-spending account at work, put this on your financial to-do list: Start spending it down. While many companies now offer a grace period into next year, you’ll forfeit any money you haven’t spent once that period expires. Take the opportunity to make doctor’s appointments that you’ve been putting off, or to schedule a flu shot if you haven’t had one yet. November is the slowest month of the year for doctors, according to Zocdoc, a website that helps you to find a doctor and make medical appointments online. So you should be able to get a convenient appointment with a reasonable wait time.
Note: If your money is in a health spending account (an HSA rather than an FSA), the unused balance will roll over to next year.
Not only is giving money to important causes in keeping with the spirit of the holidays, but doing so before year-end can give you an extra-write off at tax-time. Before sending in money, run a check of the organization via sites like Charity Navigator or GuideStar, where you’ll find reviews from donors as well as data on how much of the contributions you make go directly to the cause. (For local or regional charities, check the BBB Wise Giving Alliance.) When you do give, be sure to save the receipt, so that you have it at tax time.
Buy Items on Deep Discount
Aside from the savings you’ll get on Black Friday, November is a great time to get a discount on televisions and on toys.
For more great information, visit Consumer Reports
Fall is here and Winter is knocking on the door. While the days get colder and shorter, we get ourselves ready for winter. Your home also needs to get ready. Here are some handy tips on what to do to be ready for Old Man Winter.
Check foundation for cracks and caulk around the areas where masonry meets siding, where pipes or wires enter the house, and around the windows and door frames to prevent heat from escaping.
Install storm windows and doors and remove screens. Before storing, clean and repair screens, spray with a protective coating and place in a dry area of the basement or garage.
Inspect exterior walls to see if any paint is peeling or blistering on the house or outbuildings.
Make sure the roof is in good shape. Inspect for missing and loose shingles.
After leaves have fallen, clean out the gutters and downspouts, flush them with water, inspect joints, and tighten brackets if necessary. Clogged gutters are one of the major causes of ice dams. Replace old or damaged gutters with new ones that have built-in leaf guards.
Examine your pool cover for damage and replace if necessary.
Weather-strip your garage door. Make sure the seal between your garage door and the ground is tight to prevent drafts and keep out small animals.
Inspect your driveway for cracks. Clean out and repair any damage with driveway filler, then coat with a commercial sealer.
Apply weather stripping and caulk to these areas will help cut down on drafts.
Have your heating system checked by a licensed heating contractor. Heating systems will use fuel more efficiently, last longer and have fewer problems if properly serviced.
Get your wood stove and fireplace in working order.
Change the direction of your ceiling fan to create an upward draft that redistributes warm air from the ceiling.
Test and change the batteries in your smoke and carbon dioxide detectors and keep extra household batteries on hand.
Check basement windows for drafts, loose frames or cracked panes.
Vacuum internal parts of air conditioners. Remove units from windows or wrap outside box with an approved tarp or plastic air conditioner cover in order to prevent rusting of vital parts.
Clean your humidifiers regularly during the heating season. Bacteria and spores can develop in a dirty water tank resulting in unclean moisture misting out into your room.
YARD AND GARDEN
Organize your garage. Clean and store summer garden tools.
Clear leaves from lawn, reseed patchy areas, and plant spring flowering bulbs. If deer are a problem, start deer-proofing by covering plants with netting and chicken wire.
Prepare your yard equipment for storage. This includes draining fuel from all gas-operated equipment such as lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and chain saws.
Check to see that all of your snow equipment is up and running before the first flurry falls. Organize your snow clearing gear.
Drain garden hoses and store them inside. Also shut off outdoor water valves in cold weather. Any water left in exterior pipes and faucets can freeze and expand breaking the pipes.
Inspect and fill bird feeders. Keep in mind that once you start feeding birds you should continue on a regular basis throughout the winter months.
Fertilize the lawn with a high phosphorous mix to ensure healthy grass in the spring.
PORCH AND DECK
Check the supports, stairs, and railings on porches and decks. Make sure the handrails can support someone slipping on snow or ice.
Clean porch and deck furniture, and look for any needed repairs. Cover and store outdoor furniture and barbecues in a protected area.
Make sure all soil is emptied from pots and planters. Dirt left in clay pots will freeze and cause the pots to crack if left outside.
While ads promising big savings on your insurance in exchange for just a few minutes of your time may seem enticing, it’s important to question what you may be losing for this "savings" and how comprehensive your coverage is if it's designed in only a few minutes time.
Price represents just one of many important factors in the insurance industry. In fact, finding the right coverage for your needs often involves research, but you don’t need to conduct this research alone. Instead, you can opt to work with an independent insurance agent, who will review many different insurance companies’ rates and coverage options to determine the best fit for you. You can try to save 15 percent on your insurance in 15 minutes, but here are 4 great reasons to consider working with an independent insurance agent instead:
1. Customer Service – If you have coverage questions, or worse, need to report a claim, would you rather reach an automated recording or an actual person when you call your insurance provider? More and more companies have switched to automated systems, often making it difficult and time consuming to reach the right person. However, at many independent insurance agencies, an actual person will still greet and assist you. In the unfortunate event of a claim, your agent can help you report the claim as well as explain what exactly your policy covers. If you’ve experienced a significant loss, such as water damage to your business, your insurance agent can help you there as well, connecting you to a reputable remediation company right away.
2. Personal Shoppers – Working with an independent insurance agent can be compared to having a personal shopper. Similar to the way in which a real estate agent sorts through properties to help you find your ideal home, an insurance agent reviews many different insurance companies’ rates and coverage options to help you secure policies that best suit your needs. You may believe that this comes at an additional cost to you, but independent agents do not add extra charges to insurance companies’ rates. So you can choose to work with an independent agent, who will handle your coverage needs, assist you with claims reporting and answer any questions you may have, from billing issues to coverage concerns, always advocating on your behalf, at no additional cost to you.
3. Community Involvement – In addition to assisting you, many independent insurance agents also actively help your local community. As local business owners, many insurance agency principals place a strong emphasis on giving back to their communities. From sponsoring fundraisers and donating to local charities, to volunteering and serving as board members for non-profit organizations, there are many ways you may witness your local insurance agents giving back to the community, which can make you feel confident about your decision to do business with them.
4. Understanding – Independent insurance agents understand that insurance can seem complicated and confusing, especially when you don’t deal with it on a daily basis. For this reason, your personal insurance agent will work to ensure that you fully understand your coverage, from what is and is not included, to the deductibles and limits you should carry. After you purchase your policies, an independent agent’s work isn’t over – instead, he/she is available year-round to help answer all your questions, update your policy, and make coverage recommendations.