William Neilson
Phone:  267-872-1326Office:  215-679-9797
Email:  wneilson@remax440.comCell:  267-872-1326Fax:  267-354-6937
William Neilson
William Neilson

Bill's Blog

Store-Branded Credit Cards: Worth the Rates?

December 10, 2016 12:06 pm

“Would you like to save an additional 10 percent on today’s purchase by applying for a credit card?” That option is always so tempting and can often take every bit of willpower to resist. When you consider what you’re potentially paying in the long run, however, you might have an easier time saying no to store credit cards.
 
According to the results of a recent CreditCards.com survey, store-branded credit cards are charging record-high interest rates, such as 29.99 percent at Big Lots, 29.24 percent at Zales and 28.24 percent at Staples. The survey was conducted using the terms and conditions agreements of 68 cards from 44 retailers. Each of the 100 largest retailers (as defined by the National Retail Federation based upon 2015 sales) that offers a retail credit card program was selected for the study.

Over the past year, the Federal Reserve raised its benchmark interest rate by 0.25 percent, and the average store credit card interest rate rose by 0.41 percent. The Fed is expected to take a similar action this month, which will likely push store card rates even higher.

The average store card charges 23.84 percent, according to the report, much higher than the national average for all credit cards, which is 15.22 percent. Retailers get customers to sign up for these cards by offering incentives, but the deals aren't very generous. For example, while half of the credit cards offered by the nation's 100 largest retailers give new cardholders a sign-up bonus, only 13 exceed $25 for a $200 purchase.

For example, Best Buy's 10 percent sign-up bonus would be worth $100 to someone who buys a $1,000 television. But the benefit would be lost—and then some—unless the cardholder pays the entire bill before interest starts to accrue.

But what about the ongoing rewards offered by store credit cards? According to the report, unless you’re a frequent shopper at the store in question, such rewards tend to pale in comparison to those offered by general-purpose cards. For example, someone who spends a lot at Target would benefit from its 5 percent cash-back program since the best general-purpose cash-back cards yield about 2 percent.

The bottom line? As with any credit card—but even more so with store-branded credit cards—unless you can pay off the balance in full each month, you’ll be spending much more in the long run than any offer or reward could make up for.

Source: CreditCards.com
 
To learn more about store-branded credit cards, contact our office today.

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'Tis the Season...for Insurance Claims

December 10, 2016 12:06 pm

Before you mix up the egg nog and deck the halls, take a good look around. While the holidays bring lots of merriment to your home, they also introduce a new set of hazards to both your property and your person. Consider these top five seasonal insurance claims, according to Franklin Mutual Insurance (FMI), and take the following precautions.
 
1. Fire. Christmas trees, turkey fryers, candles, fireplaces, electric heaters and even wrapping paper can be at the root of a conflagration. Unplug lights, turn off ovens and heaters, never leave a lit candle unattended, and fry the turkey outdoors at a safe distance from the house or garage.
 
2. Burst pipes. If you’re headed out of town, be sure to keep your thermostat set at 55 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent pipes from freezing and bursting.

3. Damage caused by outdoor decorations. A good wind is all it takes for that snowman lawn ornament to become a dangerous projectile. Make sure your outdoor lights and décor are properly secured with hooks and tethers.
 
4. Theft. Keep your lights on timers, have a neighbor collect your mail and avoid piling up empty gift boxes at the curb when you’re out of town. All of these are red flags to thieves that you’re not home.

5. Ice-related accidents. Be sure to have plenty of rock salt on hand, and make sure someone’s manning the shovel to keep driveways, stairs and entryways clear.
 
According to Dale Martin, co-vice president of claims for FMI, while homeowners should take the necessary steps to help prevent the above mishaps from happening, they should also be aware that not everything is covered through a standard homeowner’s policy.
 
For example, “If a homeowner is using a ladder to hang Christmas lights, slips and injures his or her back or leg, homeowners insurance will not cover the homeowner’s medical bills,” says Martin. “However, if a caroler slipped on a homeowner’s icy walkway, homeowners insurance would cover the claim if the insurer found the homeowner negligent. It would be covered under Bodily Injury Liability coverage.”
 
If you do fall victim to a seasonal snafu, Martin recommends the following steps for efficiently and effectively filing an insurance claim:
 
  • Prepare a home inventory before a loss occurs. In the event of a fire or catastrophe, a home inventory list helps insureds and insurers identify the personal belongings and their respective value. “We recommend taking photos or videos of each room in the house along with the contents,” adds Martin.
  • Take photos of the damage or loss.        
  • When reporting the claim, provide a detailed description of the loss. If property is lost or stolen, list the value of items and provide receipts, if possible.
  • Prevent further damage by taking temporary precautions—i.e., placing a tarp over a damaged roof to prevent further water damage or boarding up a window that was broken. “Avoid making permanent repairs before speaking with your insurance agent or carrier,” advises Martin. 
As you head into the new year, take the time to reassess your homeowners insurance. “It’s important to schedule an annual insurance review with your independent agent,” says Martin. “As your insurance needs change through the years, your agent is there to help make sure you have the most appropriate coverage to protect your home and family year-round.”
 
For more information about insurance claims, contact our office today.

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In this Edition: Don't Let Insurance Claims Put a Damper on Your Holiday Spirit

December 10, 2016 12:06 pm

Our lead story in this month’s Home Matters examines the top five seasonal insurance claims, and what you can do to protect both your property and your person. Other topics covered this month include what you need to know before signing up for a store-branded credit card and 6 tips for putting social media to work when purchasing a home. We hope you enjoy this month’s edition of Home Matters and as always, we welcome your feedback. Email us anytime!

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How to Pay Less at the Gas Pump

December 9, 2016 2:00 am

While gas prices dropped to a 12-year low this past July and are expected to remain favorable, it’s always a smart idea to be prudent when it comes to fuel usage – both for your wallet and the environment. Here’s some great advice from the U.S. Department of Energy, on saving money at the pump.

Turn your engine off when you’re parked for more than 10 seconds. Idling can use a quarter to a half gallon of fuel per hour, depending on engine size, adding up to $.03 cents* of wasted fuel a minute.

Calm down behind wheel. Aggressive driving – i.e., speeding, hard braking, rapid acceleration -  can lower your highway gas mileage by up to 33 percent and your city mileage by 5 percent.

Watch your speed. Every five miles per hour above 50 miles per hour, equates to an additional $.19 cents per gallon of gasoline. 

Stow items inside the car as opposed to the roof rack. This reduces “drag,” which can decrease your fuel economy by up to 8 percent in city driving and up to 25 percent at Interstate speeds. 

That said, avoid keeping heavy items in your car; an extra 100 pounds in your vehicle could increase your gas costs by up to $.03 cents per gallon.

Run all your errands at once since stopping and starting cold can use twice as much fuel as one trip covering the same distance when the engine is warm.

Drive less. Of course telecommuting, carpooling, and public transportation are the ultimate ways to save on fuel costs. Try walking or biking and you can tick off the exercise box, too.

*All cost estimates assume an average price of $2.69 per gallon.

Source: fueleconomy.gov

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5 Tips for Easy Holiday Shipping

December 9, 2016 2:00 am

(Family Features)--It's the most wonderful time of the year, and holiday gift-giving and receiving is at the top of everyone's to-do list. There are several simple steps you can take to make those deliveries a little easier.

1. Pack like a pro (or rely on one). Be sure your packages arrive intact by using the proper materials. Use sturdy, corrugated boxes as well as foam packaging peanuts and bubble cushioning to protect your gifts. Allow at least 2 inches on all sides of the items being packed, including the top and bottom.  

2. Secure delivery locations. If you're expecting deliveries of online purchases or gifts, you may hesitate to leave the house and enjoy holiday outings and family activities. Some companies allow you to redirect packages to a neighbor or a nearby business so you can rest assured your packages are in good hands.

3. Ask for a guarantee. After spending precious time selecting each gift, you need assurance and peace of mind that your efforts won't be for naught. For example, The UPS Store offers the Pack and Ship Guarantee, a service that covers lost or damaged items. Some providers even offer coverage for the cost of packing materials, service and shipping.

4. Use tracking tools. The holiday season is no time to wonder when or if your package will arrive. Using a trackable delivery service helps ensure you can monitor your package's progress and receive an alert when it is successfully delivered.

5. Ensure gifts arrive before Santa. Timing is key when it comes to holiday shipping. Mark the calendar with these shipping deadlines so all gifts arrive just in time.

Source:  theupsstore.com 

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How to Prepare Your Car for Winter

December 9, 2016 2:00 am

As winter weather blows in, many of us are thinking about the holidays. But with temperature drops and inclement conditions involving snow and ice, it's important to pay attention to your car to ensure your safety all season long. Routine maintenance, changing tires and fluids, and traveling with an emergency kit can help drivers avoid weather-related issues.

Below are six tips to prepare for the winter season, courtesy of YourMechanic.

Store an emergency kit in your car that includes a first-aid kit, flashlight, batteries, jumper cables, food, water, flares, warm clothing, blankets, tools, and any other items that may help if your vehicle breaks down or you are at risk of being stranded.

Check your engine coolant to ensure it is able to withstand the coldest sustained temperature in your region. Consider scheduling a cooling system flush to keep the vehicle in top condition.

Inspect the windshield washer system. Make sure wiper blades are working and regular washer fluid has been replaced with winter washer fluid, which has antifreeze properties. Replace old wiper blades before winter and keep an ice scraper in your vehicle.

Perform routine maintenance including regular oil and filter changes. Extreme cold weather, below -25°F, may require a different blend of motor oil for your vehicle.

Consider winter tires if your vehicle will be driven in a region with three or more months of snow annually. The tread on winter tires provides enhanced traction. All-season or summer tires lose effectiveness below 45°F.

Test your battery. A weak battery may have difficulty starting because reserve energy levels drop when temperatures plummet.  At 0°F, a car battery can lose about 60 percent of its strength, and at 32°F the battery can lose 35 percent of its strength.

Source: http://www.yourmechanic.com

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How to Pay Down That Debt

December 8, 2016 2:00 pm

Ever daydreamed about what you would do with your wads of cash if you were to win it big in the lottery? If you're anything like those interviewed in a recent survey conducted by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®), then your first priority would be less-than-glam: paying down debt.

Among the 1,729 people who took part in this online poll, 87 percent indicated that they would use their winnings to become debt-free. Conversely, only 8 percent would use the funds to invest and grow savings before considering other priorities.

Since most of us will never win it big, the NFCC offers the following tips for paying down debt:

- Rethink the approach toward debt management. When progress is slow on the road to being debt-free, consider increasing monthly payments to make faster progress. Additionally, consider prioritizing all extra payments to the accounts that are charging the highest interest rates. Even the slightest adjustments can make a big difference.

- Pay yourself first. Contributing to a personal savings account and 401(k) before turning attention to other expenses will help keep important financial goals in sight, and will maintain steady progress toward reaching them.

- Declutter the debt. If dealing with more than a few accounts, it helps to merge them into a single loan or credit card with one payment. This is called debt consolidation, which works best when resulting in lower interest and fees.

Source: www.NFCC.org.

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5 Ways to Save Money on Your Next Move

December 8, 2016 2:00 pm

Are you planning for a move? Read on for five tips to save money and stress as you relocate.

1. Declutter first.  Start your moving process by getting rid of as much as possible. This does two things: you will score some extra dollars by selling old items, and save money by transporting less. You will also save yourself the hassle of moving boxes from one musty garage to another.

2. Find a professional. While it may seem cheaper to enlist the help of your friends and family to pack up and move you, it can cost you more money and stress.A pro mover is fast, efficient, experience, and has all the tools you need. And when you hire a professional, you don't have to worry about cousin Jimmy not showing up on move day.  

3. Research. Before you choose a professional, do your research. Read reviews, get on the phone and ask questions. These days, you can find a company that will not only move you, but also help you set up your cable and utilities. Bonus!

4. Shut down your services: In order to avoid paying for an overlap of service, consider cutting some of your services in advance if your your billing cycle doesn't line up with your move date. While you can't live without electricity, you could do without those cable channels for a week or two.

5. Plan smarter: The height of moving season takes place between May and September. Consider moving in the off season so you have room to find a moving bargain, and book early.

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Med-free Ways to Conquer Insomnia

December 7, 2016 2:00 am

Whether it’s due to stress, health issues or simply age-related, insomnia is sheer misery. Poor sleep can wreak havoc on our productivity and relationships, both at work and at home. Chronic fatigue is also dangerous, contributing to a host of illnesses and making it unsafe to drive or perform certain tasks.

But are over-the-counter or prescribed sleeping medications the only answer? For some, there may be no choice, but for many, there are several great, drug-free ways to induce better sleep. Give the following a try before turning to pharmaceuticals.

Read. Find a book that really grabs your interest, and make reading your nightly before-bed ritual. Reading relaxes the mind, whereas screens of any kind – TV, phone, tablet – stimulate your brain and make falling asleep even more difficult. If you wake in the middle of the night and can’t fall back to sleep, instead of endlessly turning and tossing, start reading again. A good story will divert your mind from anxious, middle-of-the-night thoughts, and before you know it, you’ll be slipping back into sound slumber.

Meditate. For anxiety-induced insomnia, meditation can be life-saving. The goal of meditation is to relieve your mind of all thoughts and simply focus on the power of deep breathing. Don’t be discouraged if you find this almost impossible to do—meditation is an acquired skill and the mere act of just trying, starts relieving your mind of stress. Try a popular meditation app, such as Deepak Chopra’s Ananda, which allows you to choose you meditation, music and the duration. A simple 10-minutes worth can provide tremendous benefits.

Do Some Yoga. While certain yoga poses get the blood flowing and leave you invigorated, other poses are geared toward relaxation and will help you wind down, such as Locust pose and Legs up the Wall. According to mindbodygreen.com, these restorative poses activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps to counteract stress and promote relaxation. Such poses are for beginners and pros alike and can even be done right in bed!

Try Some Tea. Often underrated, natural night-time teas can work wonders. You can also brew a cup if you wake up in the middle of the night, since they are always caffeine-free. There are many on the market, but look for ingredients such as chamomile, valerian, lavender and lemon balm. You can also grow your own lemon balm and add a little to your dinner.

If all else fails, please do see your doctor. A good night’s sleep should be priority-one for all.

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Make Safety a Priority This Holiday Season

December 7, 2016 2:00 am

Your ideal holiday likely does not involve a trip to the emergency. Unfortunately, approximately 15,000 people are seriously injured and visit the emergency room during the holiday season. Between stringing lights on tall trees, enjoying fires inside and shoveling snowy drives, there are numerous ways to forget your own safety.

Below are a few holiday safety tips, courtesy of the National Safety Council.

- Never use lighted candles near trees or boughs

- Use a ladder or step stool to decorate high places

- Keep poisonous plants such as poinsettias out of reach of animals and children

- Check holiday lights for fraying, bare spots, gaps in insulation or excessive kinking in the wire

- Turn off all tree lights and decorations when not in use

- When cooking, wash hands, sink, utensils and anything else that touches raw meat

- Immediately refrigerate leftovers, and reheat food to at least 165 degrees

- If you are hosting a party and serving alcohol, make sure everyone has a safe ride home. Impairment begins with the first drink.

- Avoid giving children gifts with small parts or button batteries, which are easily swallowed and can be fatal.

Source: nsc.org

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