College Grads, Get Ready for Real World Finances

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The party’s over, you’ve graduated and it’s time to get ready for your financial future. Don’t wait. Start growing your financial future now. You’ll be glad you did. Here are some steps every graduate should take the first year out of college.

Establish credit.
A great credit score doesn’t just happen. You have to build it. Get in the habit of paying your bills on time every time and spending below your credit limit. When the time comes to finance a car or a house, your credit score can help you get a lower interest rate and save money.

Live with a little less luxury.
Your parents worked hard to finance their home, buy their cars and pay for some of life’s luxuries. You’re not there yet. Spend a little less on going out to dinner, fancy coffee, and expensive movies. Cut the cable cord and find other ways to save some cash. Luxury can come later.

Create a budget.
And stick to it. Determine how far your paycheck can go and find ways to put a little aside for emergencies. The more you earn, the more you can add to your savings. Every time you get a raise or earn a little extra cash, add some to your emergency fund.

Take advantage of employee benefits.
If your company has a retirement plan, take advantage of the tax-free savings option. At the very minimum put in the amount your employer will match. The employee match is part of your benefits and it’s a big one. If you can, contribute 10 percent each pay period. This money adds up quickly. And if your insurance program has a health savings account, add to that, too. This money builds up as savings but also is there for you if you have unforeseen medical expenses.

Set up a ROTH IRA or another savings plan.
If your company does not have a retirement plan, check into a ROTH IRA. You can contribute up to $5,500 a year, and it can serve as a great savings account, as well. Talk to a financial planner about your options.

Pay your student loans on time.
Student loans will come due six months after you graduate. Check out payment programs to see if there are any that can help you pay your loans off efficiently and effectively. Like other bills, do not miss a student loan payment.

Find a side gig.
Need more money, want to pay off bills faster, or want to save more faster? A job waiting on tables, bartending, working at a carwash on weekends, or walking dogs can help. Don’t let your new 9-5 job limit your financial aspirations.

Get a roommate or two.
Life’s expensive. Share living expenses with a roommate or two. Even if you can afford to pay the rent on your own, having a person to share costs with will help you to save for your future. Take the money you are saving in rent and put all or some of it into your savings account.

These are just a few ways to put yourself on the path to financial success after college. Have a goal in mind for what your future looks like. Do you want a house? A new car? To pay off your debts faster? To build your savings? Keep this in mind and you’ll be well on your way to reaching your success. Journey on, graduate!

Is it Time to Review Your Homeowners’ Insurance Policy?

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Your home may be your biggest investment. Don’t let an unexpected surprise take it away. If there is one thing we have learned over time it is this. No matter where you live, you can expect the unexpected. Fires, floods, earthquakes, storms — we can’t stop them, but we can protect ourselves from financial devastation should the unthinkable happen.

Review your homeowner’s policy to make sure you know what is covered and what you may want to add to the policy in addition to what is already covered.

Things to consider:

Flood insurance and earthquake insurance typically need to be purchased separately from the homeowner’s policy or as additional endorsements.

Your policy may cover hail damage, but what if your roof is destroyed in a hail storm? Will you be able to get a new roof? Does your insurance cover full replacement value of your roof?

Your insurance may cover fire damage, but how do you ensure that all of the contents of your home are protected?

Do you need to consider an umbrella policy, just in case?

There may be ways you can save money and insure your home and its contents even better. An insurance professional will help you review your insurance coverage and make sure you and your family have the coverage you need.

Learn more with this Homeowner’s Guide to Natural Disasters from the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, Inc., and the The Actuarial Foundation, or contact your insurance agent today.

This year, don’t just renew your homeowner’s insurance policy — review and revise before you renew.

What Can You Do with Leftover PLASTIC Eggs?

Happy easter! Closeup Colorful Easter eggs in nest on green grass field during sunset background.

Everyone’s got a favorite egg salad recipe to put all of the hardboiled eggs to use, but what can you do with the leftover PLASTIC eggs? There are always more plastic eggs than jelly beans and no one remembers where their plastic eggs are a year later. Here are some tips for fun educational activities and other uses for the leftover plastic eggs.

Hold Small Snacks: Put goldfish crackers, pretzel bites, Cheerios or whatever your kids may be snacking on in these fun-size snack holders. They make a nice change from the plastic bags and they add a little variety to your day. And to top it off, they are easier to find in your car, bag or whatever you use on the go.

Play Egg Word Scramble: This is a great activity for older children who are working on spelling. All you need is some alphabet letters and either matching objects or pictures. Place both the letters and the object in the same egg. Explain to your child that each egg contains an object (or picture) and the letters that spell that object. Then have them open the egg and see if they can spell the word.

An alternative for older kids is to put letters in the eggs and have kids make as many words out of the letters as they can.

Play Object Matching: Put pictures of small objects in the eggs. You need two of each object or picture. Have the kids one open all the eggs and then find the matching pairs.

An alternative for older children or to make it a little more challenging, place all the eggs in an empty egg carton and play little memory game by making them find two eggs that have matching objects or pictures.

Get Crafty for Halloween: Plastic eggs make great spider bodies. Paint the eggs back and glue four black pipe cleaners on one side. These are the legs. Use some white paint for the eyes and you have some scary spiders made out of your colorful eggs.

Keep Your Home Smelling Fresh: Stuff with potpourri and use the eggs as an air freshener by puncturing a small hole in the plastic or by using eggs that have holes in them already. Hide them under the couch, behind a chair, on a dresser….they keep your room smelling fresh all year long.

Donate Plastic Eggs: Give your leftover eggs to a church or organization that sponsors a community egg hunt. They’ll know where to find them the next time they need them!

No matter what you choose, you never need to let another plastic egg to waste.

Two Tips for Agents Working with Sellers with Homes that Need Renovation

Home renovation concept. Shape of a house from construction tools.

Not every buyer will want to put hours of labor into their home before placing it on the market. This can be a challenge for the real estate professionals who are tasked with selling it as their seller wants to gain top dollar, but without making the necessary changes that buyers expect.

Work with what you have. Keep in mind, you are not attempting to hide or make the imperfections look perfect to the buyer. Instead, positioning it as an easy DIY project can attract the homeowners that do not mind a project in return for a little hard work. Depending on the amount of work that is required, it may also be a great property to market to flippers.

Manage the easy tasks. You can take some of the burden off of the buyer by managing the easier tasks. Cleaning up debris and leaves on the outside of the house and hiring someone to put a fresh coat of paint on the walls can make the task seem less daunting. Consider the resale value of each project and what it is worth to the overall cost of the house.

Just a couple of tips. If you have others, we’d love to hear them. 

Spring Clean Your Financial Paperwork

Couple managing the debt

If you’re spring cleaning, you might be ready to go through your entire house and get rid of anything that doesn’t bring you joy. While your financial paperwork likely isn’t something that brings you joy, that doesn’t mean you can toss it into the trash. Learn about what you should be saving, how long you need to keep it, and how you can organize it, so it fits in with your newly tidy house.

Tax Returns: Keep for three years from the date you filed. If you filed a claim for a loss, keep for your return seven years.

Receipts: Keep receipts for itemized deductions on your tax return with your tax records for three years.

Paycheck Stubs: Keep until the end of the year.

Medical Bills: Keep for one year. If you deduct medical expenses on your taxes, keep with the returns for three years.

Utility Bills: Keep for one year. If you claim a home office tax deduction on your taxes, keep with the returns for three years.

Bank Statements: Keep for three years.

Credit Card Statements: Keep until you can confirm the charges and have paid the bill. Keep for three years if you need them for tax deductions.

Paid Off Loans: Keep for seven years.

Active Contracts, Property Records, Insurance Documents, and Stock Certificates: Keep as long as they’re active. Once they’re complete, you can discard.

Marriage License, Birth Certificates, Adoption Papers, Wills, Death Certificates, and Paid Mortgages: Keep forever.

Once you have all your financial papers in order, purchase a few storage boxes to hold everything. Label the outside with what’s in the box so you always know where your important financial documents are located.

Source: Her Money

9 Tips to Get Your Home Ready for Spring

senior man stands on ladder and cleans a roof gutter

Spring’s popping up all over. Longer days, early blooms – these are signs that it’s time to make some simple home repairs after the long winter. Here are 9 simple jobs to take care of in order to make sure you’re ready for the change of seasons.

Inspect your roof. Check for loose or missing shingles, and ensure that seals around skylights are in tact and that chimney flashing is still in good shape. You don’t want any leaks during spring showers.

Check your gutters. While you’re inspecting your roof, inspect your gutters, too. They may have been overworked in the winter, with ice dams and falling branches. Clear the debris, check your downspouts and drains, and make sure the gutters are still secured to the house.

Check your pipes. Pipes that freeze and then thaw can cause some problems. Look for sign of damage under your sinks. And while you’re checking pipes, now is a good time to check your washing machine and dishwasher hoses and do a quick check in the attic, basement and crawl spaces for leaks.

Inspect your siding. Do a quick walk-around of your house and make sure no siding has been damaged or come loose.

Caulk your windows and doors to make sure these are sealed and still able to protect your windows and doors from water getting in.

Check your screens for tears. As long as you’re caulking your windows, check your screens, too. If any have tears or holes, now is a good time to repair those so you can open your windows and let in the fresh air.

Patch driveway and sidewalk cracks. Shoveling and salt can do a job on your cement in the winter, leading to cracks. Repair these now to keep them from growing and causing bigger problems.

Get your heating and air system checked. Call a qualified and recommended HVAC technician to come out and do a check on your system. Your heater worked hard in the winter and now your air conditioning is going to work hard in the summer. Make sure it’s in top condition. And, while you’re at it, change your filters.

Check trees and bushes for broken limbs and snapped branches. Heavy snow can harm trees and bushes. A good trimming can prevent additional damage. Grab your clippers and spend some time outside.

Getting your home ready now means more fun this summer! 

It’s Time to Get to that Spring Cleaning!

Angry woman vacuuming while man is resting

It may be too early to get out and do a lot of garden prep for spring, but it’s definitely not too early to get going on some spring cleaning jobs inside your home. Here are a few things to tackle inside to get your home springtime fresh, while you wait a little longer to start on garden prep.

Clean walls and ceilings. When was the last time you did this? Use a vacuum cleaner attachment to remove dust; test a degreaser in a hidden area of the kitchen to tackle that room’s walls with a degreaser and sponge.

Dust books and bookshelves. It’s time to take books off the bookshelves and actually dust them. And before you put them back, clean the shelves, too. And while you’re at it… now may be the perfect time to donate some of those books that you’re really not going to read again (or for the first time) to a local nonprofit.

And then dust the rest of your house. Dust from top to bottom, in the hard-to-get-to places and in the obvious places. Clean the top of the fridge, the top of curtain rods, the baseboards, and behind furniture. Always work from the top of the home to the floor and don’t use sprays, which really attract and hold more dust.

And then vacuum. A quick vacuum after the dusting will let you get any of the dust that lands on the floors.

Change out the batteries. Now’s a good time to change the tired batteries in smoke detectors and CO2 monitors. You should do this a couple of times a year, so if you do it now, mark your calendar for Halloween and change them out then, too.

Clean window treatments. Some draperies and curtains may be machine washable so read your labels. Some may be dry cleanable. And blinds are always ready for a thorough dusting. These items are dirt magnets. Do it now and you won’t cringe when it’s time to open your windows.

These are a few odd jobs that will get you started on spring cleaning. Don’t try to do the whole house at once. Start with these tasks and tackle others later. When your home is springtime fresh, you’ll be glad you put this effort in!