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Title: How Do You Know If Your Insurance Company Is Great?

I recently read an article regarding the difference between a good insurance company and a great one.

While getting the right amount of coverage is really critical, it’s also important that you know that you are doing business with the right carrier.

Check to make sure the company is licensed in the state. While insurance companies have different entity names, do business with companies that are licensed to do business in your state. You can check the state’s insurance licensing website, which will have a list of all the companies. If they are licensed and in good standing, this allows you to get help from the state insurance department if you are having problems.

Check to make sure they are financially healthy. A company that is in poor financial shape may not have enough money to pay your claim…or they might try to negotiate lesser coverage when it comes time to cut a check. Here are several websites you can visit to check on their financial health. It is suggested that you check at two of them.

Check the number of complaints. Again, the state’s insurance department should provide you with the number of justified (keyword: justified) complaints from consumers. The report gives you a “complaint ratio”, meaning it compares the number of justified complaints to the total number of insurance complaints in the state. You can also find that ratio at, The National Association of Insurance Commissioners website. Look for a low complaint ratio.

Check their response time. If you find yourself holding on the phone for a long period of time. If you don’t receive timely callbacks. Or if the explanations of coverage are confusing to you, it’s a good indication that you will have similar problems when it’s time to file a claim.

If you are looking to buy insurance or change insurance companies, please contact me because I know many great insurance agents for you to check out.

Increasing Your Wealth by Living Below Your Means

Having a healthy bank account. Emergency money. Money for retirement. It does not happen overnight. So, I’d like to share with you a couple of tips that I recently read about.

  1. Try to live below your means – Instead of buying a new car, look for a low-mileage used one that would typically be 2/3 of the price of a new one. If you no longer need that giant house, sell it and buy one that is more suited to your family’s needs.
  1. Never pay full price–Use coupons. If buying online, use coupon codes. Grocery stores usually post “a special of the week”. Buy those products in quantity. Negotiate big-ticket items.
  1. Cut out unnecessary expenses – Small charges add up to big money at the end of the year. Can you eliminate some or all of your bank fees by changing banks? How about credit card fees? Do you really need 80G internet speed when 40G will do?
  2. Sell some of your current possessions – Take your unwanted clothing to a consignment store. Sell locally on Craig’s List. Sell nationally on eBay. Let friends and family know that you have items for sale.
  3. Leave your credit cards at home. Unless you are on a mission to buy something that is totally necessary, you won’t be tempted to buy an item that you don’t “need”. Use a debit card instead because it is like “cash” and will make you think twice before purchasing.
  4. Don’t buy lottery tickets. You may think that this is your chance to get rich quickly, but your chances of winning are slim to none. And it all adds up. Spending $10 a week is $520 that could have gone into your savings account.
  5. Think about going Green. Can you carpool to save money on gas and wear and tear on your car? Recycle your glass and cans and get cash for them. Turn down your heat when not at home. Turn off electric lights.

Oh, and if you are really intent on increasing your wealth, the experts advise that you get a side job to bring in additional income. It maybe only 10 hours a week – but again, it all adds up.

Question: What do you do to save money?

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Buying a Second Home

Buying a second home can be an awesome experience for years to come, but financially, I’d like to share some of the things that you might want to think about first.

How much will it cost? It’s not just the sales price – there are other costs associated with it. Maintenance. Property taxes. Insurance (which is usually more expensive than for a first home). The experts claim that the expenses are about 20% higher than your primary residence.

Can you afford it? It’s important to do the numbers. While it may be a fun getaway, take a look at your finances. Do you have 6 months’ worth of mortgage payments socked away to cover your current mortgage and second home mortgage—in case of a job loss or health issue?

Are you buying it for the right reasons? How much time will you spend there? How much vacation time do you have each year? How many times will family members use it? Do the numbers and compare it to the cost of travel, hotel rooms and meals. However, if you are buying it as an investment in an area that is appreciating or you plan to retire there, that’s another story.

What are the long-term plans? Are you going to have exclusive use of the home, or do you plan to rent it out for part of the year? Be sure to review the rental rules in the area because not all areas allow rentals based on the homeowner’s association covenants. Income tax rules are different for second homes and rental income, so check with an accountant before you buy.

Can you find hired help? If the second home is quite a distance from your home and it needs repairs, are there contractors or handymen available to help you out in a pinch? In some more remote areas, help is either hard to find—or more expensive.

Ask about weather-related conditions. If located near a river, lake or shoreline, do you need to buy flood insurance? Earthquakes. Hurricanes. Tornados. Check the history of weather-related occurrences over the past 10 years because it will also increase the cost of your insurance. Not to mention the downtime to make repairs.

Finally, don’t rush into making a decision. Make sure that you aren’t buying your second home purely based on impulse or emotions. Take your time to find the property you really want. Do the math so you know you can afford it.

And let me know if you need a mortgage to buy that second home.

Telltale Signs that It’s a Scam

History is jam-packed with stories of innovative ways that scammers have used to trick people to give them their money. Their possessions. Their homes.

With e-commerce. Information on the web. Social media. Robo-phone calls. It’s even easier to fall into a scammer’s web of deceit.

So, how can you tell if you are one of their targets?

Well, there is no single solution, but there are warning signs that can tip you off to whether it’s a bona fide offer (or company) or a trick to get your money.

The Offer Is Too Good to Be True. A product that you’ve always wanted at a ridiculously low price. That you won a contest (that you never entered). That you were recommended by a friend (hackers create fake identities using your friends’ profiles) and the friend never mentioned it to you. That you won a lottery. A prize.

Find out as much as you can and then Google it. For example, you won a Samsung TV and all you have to do is pay $100 for shipping charges. Google the term “Samsung TV Scam”. Get phone numbers to call back. Most scammers won’t give you phone numbers. Don’t rely on email addresses because those could be fake too.

Are There Grammatical or Spelling Errors? Yes, we all make mistakes, but poor English or grammar is a sign that you might be dealing with a scammer. You may think that the person is not well-educated, but experts say that might not be the case. Sometimes they are deliberately worded that way to filter out the smarter people, and the most gullible become the victims.

Hurry, This Offer Won’t Last Long – Scammers use fear or urgency as a tactic to bully you into action, so that you don’t have time to ask for help or think things through or do your research. Legitimate companies will give you time to make a decision.

They Ask You for Money – At some point, they are going to ask for money. (See The Offer Is Too Good To Be True.) They will ask for payment in advance to give you the information about the lottery that you “just won”. They will ask you to “wire” funds. Even though the bank can trace the funds, scammers often close the bank accounts right after receiving the money. Don’t give your credit card info either—unless you are absolutely certain that it’s not a scam. They will use your credit card info to buy stuff.

Do you have a scammer story that you’d like to share so we can warn others?

What Can You Do To Make Your Home Appraise Higher?

If you are considering refinancing your current mortgage, the mortgage company usually (but not always) requires an appraisal.

I recently read an article co-written by a couple of appraisers with some tips on how you can help ensure the highest and most accurate value of your home.

  1. Clean up the yard. Appraisers are required to take pictures of the home. If you have stuff laying around the yard or several cars in the driveway, move them before the appraiser arrives.
  1. Clean the house. They also take pictures of the rooms in your home. Store stuff in closets. Under the bed. In the garage. That may help you get a higher value.
  1. Make repairs. Maybe there is a hole in the drywall. Or water stains from a plumbing leak. Be sure to repair those before the appraiser arrives
  1. Layout a sketch of your home. If you had a previous appraisal or you built your home, provide those to the appraiser.
    1. If you made any improvement to the home, let the appraiser know. Providing copies of invoices and a list of updates within the last 5 years or so will also help.
    1. Other home sales in your area. If you know of any homes (like yours) that have sold within the last 6 months, mention that to the appraiser and ask them to check them out.
    1. Best home feature. Tell the appraiser what you like about the home. Its location. and its best “feature” (i.e., open floor plan).
    1. Safety features. Does the local government require smoke or carbon monoxide detectors? Make sure those are installed and functioning correctly.

    Please contact me if you are considering refinancing your home to lower your payment, to pay off debts or get some cash to buy a car or pay for college.What About Those Energy Audits?

    What is an energy audit?

    It’s an audit by a qualified company to determine the efficiency of your heating, insulation, doors, windows, etc.

    The audit considers a home a “system” where the components work together to determine where you might improve and save money on energy costs.

    The contractor provides a series of tests.

    A blower door test and a duct blaster test are done. This determines if there are potential “leaks” that can be plugged around windows, doors and furnace area.

    They also should check for air-flow pressure, energy efficiency, moisture and air-quality issues.

    Here’s the thing.

    Many of the recommendations are inexpensive fixes. You normally don’t have to replace windows or doors—just provide additional insulation.

    Good air flow may be a matter of cleaning your furnace or servicing your air conditioning unit.

    Most of all, you may save a ton of money in energy costs.