Finance

Financial Security

Plan for Retirement "Go Green" Protect Yourself Assisted Living Vacation Rental Homeowner Repair Budget Buying a Used Car

Five Dos And Don’ts For Financial Security

(NAPSI)—Many Americans trying to get their financial lives back on track could benefit from five tips for building a brighter financial future.

1. Save for emergencies. When asked if they would be able to come up with $2,000 if an unexpected need arose in the next month, nearly two in five (39 percent) of Americans surveyed said they probably or certainly could not. The best way to avoid this is to build up rainy-day savings in a federally insured savings account. If you can set aside $40 every week, then by this time next year, you will have saved over $2,000.

2. Don’t chase yield. With low yields on fixed-income investments and an economy on the mend, investors have been facing a difficult investing environment. Some investors have been chasing return, meaning they put their assets into riskier products that promise higher yields than they can get in more traditional investments. Investors should realize that they could be taking on more risk if they invest in products with higher returns.

3. Take advantage of tax breaks when saving for college and retirement. If you have children, try to save for college using tax-advantaged savings accounts like a 529 plan or Coverdell Education Savings Account. The FINRA Investor Education Foundation’s recent National Financial Capability Study showed that only 34 percent of respondents with financially dependent children are setting aside money for their children’s college education. Only 54 percent of nonretired respondents have some kind of retirement account. If you’re working, consider using tax-advantaged savings accounts like a 401(k) to boost your retirement security.

4. Reduce your debt. More than two out of five Americans (42 percent) surveyed felt they have too much debt, regardless of income. The best way to avoid an endless cycle of credit card debt is to try to pay your credit cards in full and on time. If you have credit card debt, pay it off as quickly as possible. If you’re unable to pay your whole bill, pay more than the minimum due, which will reduce the amount of interest you’ll pay.

5. Check your credit report and score. You need to do both. Only 42 percent of survey respondents said they obtained a copy of their credit report and only 41 percent checked their credit score within the 12 months preceding the survey. With credit hard to get and identity theft a continuing problem, it’s critical to see whether your credit history is accurate and correct any mistakes immediately.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) is the largest independent regulator for all securities firms doing business in the United States. Its mission is to protect America’s investors by making sure the securities industry operates fairly and honestly.

For more resources, visit www.finra.org/investors.

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Millions Are Already Doing It... Are You?

(NAPSI)—Whether retirement seems like it’s just around the corner or years away, it’s good to know that Social Security is working for you now—even if you’re not receiving benefits yet. How? By providing you with the information you need to plan ahead for the retirement you want.

One of the best tools for planning a secure retirement is waiting for you at www.socialsecurity.gov: a my Social Security account. When you create your personal my Social Security online account, you’ll be able to get your online Social Security Statement, review your lifetime earnings history (and catch any errors while it’s easier to fix them), see estimates of your future benefits, and more—important information that can help you plan and save for greater peace of mind.

How to get started.

Opening a my Social Security account online is quick, safe, free, and easy. It takes only minutes. Go to the Social Security website at www.socialsecurity.gov and click on my Social Security. Then follow the instructions for creating your secure, online account. You must be at least 18 years of age and have:

• A valid e-mail address,

• A Social Security number, and

• A U.S. mailing address.

You’ll also need to provide some personal information and answer some questions only you are likely to know. This process protects you and keeps your information private. There are extra security features, too. You can have unique text message codes sent to your cell phone each time you want to sign in. There’s even an address bar at the top of your screen indicating the website has an extended validation certificate. This means the information you provide to Social Security will be encrypted and that the website has been verified by a certification authority.

You’ve created an account. Now what?

Once you see your estimated retirement benefits, you can really start to plan, invest, and save with more confidence. You can even explore when you might retire.

While Social Security will be here to provide you with a secure foundation in the future, it was never intended to be your sole source of retirement income. You may want to put aside more for a comfortable retirement.

And once you do retire, or start receiving benefits for any reason, your my Social Security account is the best place to manage those benefits. You can use your account to get an instant benefit verification letter, change your address and phone number on Social Security’s records, and start or change direct deposit of your benefit payment.

More than 11 million people have opened a safe and secure my Social Security account. Join them—take control of your future retirement security by signing up for a my Social Security account. Learn more and create yours today at www.socialsecurity.gov.

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Tips To Help You “Go Green”

(NAPSI)—A growing number of consumers are learning that “going green”-taking steps to conserve energy and resources—can be very rewarding. Not only are they saving money, but they are also helping to cut back on waste in their home and in their community.

They’re also finding that getting started is easier than they expected. To help you “go green,” here are some tips:

• The next time you boil water, use any that’s left over to water your plants—just make sure to let the water cool down first.

• In lieu of sending old rugs to the landfill, check with local animal shelters to see if they can use them. Old towels, blankets and sheets are also welcome as they make great items for pet bedding.

• Instead of keeping leftover wall paint in old, rusty cans, use a funnel to transfer paint into a clean plastic bottle.

• Help your food dollar to go further by dropping fruits and veggies into lightly salted water to prevent them from turning brown.

• Using high-efficiency appliances in your home, such as the Energy Star Qualified Front Load Washer and the Electric Dryer with Efficiency Monitor from Amana, can help you save some green while going green.

This high-efficiency Amana laundry pair has simple and eco-efficient features, helping you save $3,300 in lifetime water and energy costs. This comes from comparing the average use of pre-2004 traditional top-load pairs with 11-year washer life and 12-year dryer life. The combined savings apply only to the electricity costs.

• According to Real Simple, about 90 percent of the energy used for washing clothes is used to heat the water. Unless you’re washing clothes that have oily stains, the warm or cold setting on your machine will generally do a good job of cleaning your clothes. GoodHousekeeping.com says you can save up to 25 cents for every laundry load you wash in cold water compared to using hot water.

• According to Amana.com, by using two six-month, 200-gallon water filters a year, a refrigerator system can filter the equivalent of 3,000 bottles of water, saving over $600 a year, based on buying the water in 24-pack units of 16-oz. bottles.

• An act as simple as putting green plants in your home/office can really pay dividends. Plants can make a space look cheery and improve air quality.

For additional tips and information, visit the website at www.amana.com.

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Easy Ways To Protect Yourself Against Phone Scams

(NAPSI)—As children, we were taught not to open the door to strangers or let an unidentified caller know our parents weren’t home. Today, as adults, we’ve been warned not to believe an email claiming a loved one is stranded in London without money, and not to sign the back of our credit cards with anything other than “See Photo ID.”

We can take precautions, but it still won’t stop technically savvy criminals from trying to take advantage of consumers. Scams have become so advanced that even the most prepared could easily fall victim, with new methods surfacing too frequently. Two recent phone scams that have hit unsuspecting people with fraudulent charges are the IRS phone scam and the one-ring scam. Here’s how they work:

IRS phone scam

In this particular scam, a criminal will call pretending to be an IRS agent, requesting personal information like date of birth and Social Security and bank routing numbers. Scammers prey on consumers’ fear, so many people wanting to show compliance with a government agency relinquish their information to the fraudster.

One-ring scam

Another recent innovative scam is called one-ring, which involves scammers dialing American mobile phones from robo-calling facilities outside the United States, typically in the Caribbean, from 10-digit numbers that appear to have U.S.-based area codes. Their trick is to hang up after one ring in the hope that the recipient will be curious and call back, thinking that he or she has missed an important call. Since the number is actually international, callers are charged exorbitant connection and long-distance fees, as scammers attempt to keep victims on the line.

So how can you protect yourself?

Hang up immediately. If you get a call from a government agency or other business asking for a payment, hang up. No one from a federal government agency will ask for money over the phone, even the IRS.

Don’t call a suspicious number back

In the case of the one-ring scam, the number appears like it’s from the United States when it’s not and, therefore, is not legitimate. Scammers are able to set up systems to ensure all incoming calls are charged-most of the time consumers are unaware of the charges.

Use mobile apps

There are many apps that can identify callers to help ensure verification. WhitePages Current Caller ID takes call identification a step further, warning you of potential scams and providing alerts for both incoming and outgoing calls to signal users if a number is one of thousands identified as a scam.

Never provide personal information

Avoid giving out credit card information, Social Security number or other personal details to an incoming caller whom you do not know, even if you are familiar with the business they claim to represent. Some scams spoof well-known entities like Microsoft or Verizon tech support.

Do not pay money up front

If you have been contacted that you’ve won a contest or have been accepted for a new insurance policy, do not provide any payment. For any legitimate offer, an upfront payment is not required.

In addition to hanging up the moment a call seems suspicious, the most important rule of thumb is to never return a call to a number you do not recognize. If it is a legitimate caller, they will leave a voice mail or call back. And if you feel that you have become a victim of a scam, report the phone number to local authorities, the FTC and your mobile carrier. If you shared personal information, make sure to monitor your credit report and immediately contact your credit card company and other financial institutions.

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How To Decide About Assisted Living

by Michael Newman

(NAPSI)—Here’s news about getting old:

• The U.S. population aged 65 or older will double during the next 30 years—by 2040, one in five Americans (81+ million) will be 65 or older.

• 80 percent of seniors have at least one chronic health condition—50 percent have at least two.

• By 2030, 7.7 million adults 65 or older will have Alzheimer’s.

• Extreme stress can take as much as 10 years off a family caregiver’s life.

All this suggests that more and more people will be deciding whether to move to an assisted living community. These are designed for people who still have and want some independence but need more care than most families can provide.

Five signs may suggest someone needs assisted living.

1. Failure to Thrive—Your senior has difficulty with daily activities; doesn’t eat well; isn’t showering as often as before; can’t keep the house as clean; isn’t dressing as well.

2. Chronic Health Conditions—Your loved one may be getting sick more often; losing or gaining weight; becoming more frail; having difficulty walking or with balance issues; or needing more time to recover from colds.

3. Behavioral Changes—He or she has become more forgetful, more agitated and is having mood swings.

4. Medication Management Issues—Your mom or dad is forgetting to take prescribed medications.

5. Socialization Declines—Conversations are getting shorter; there’s less community involvement and less engagement with friends.

If these signs are present, it may be time for an assisted living community. These tips may help:

• Early Intervention—The sooner you talk about it, the better.

• Early Education—Encourage your mom and dad to visit people they know at a community. Some places even offer tours where you can meet the staff, see the facilities, visit with residents, have a meal in the dining room and gather information needed for an informed decision.

• Involvement in the Decision—Making Process-What would the person concerned like in a facility? The more everyone is engaged in the process, the smoother the transition can be.

• Family Involvement—This is critical. Remain involved with regular visits, especially on holidays, birthdays and so on, and engage in special outings. Make sure you’re spending quality time.

• Be Honest—Don’t say they’ll be coming home soon if they won’t. It will be far worse when reality sets in.

Mr. Newman is Chief Executive Officer at Always Best Care Senior Services. For more information, visit www.alwaysbestcare.com or call (844) 723-CARE (2273).

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Pointers On Booking The Perfect Vacation Rental

(NAPSI)—Good news for travelers: As more and more families are discovering, vacation rentals can offer twice the space at half the price of a hotel room and are easier to book now than ever. That may be one reason, according to the global travel market firm PhoCusWright, online bookings of vacation rentals increased from 12 percent in 2007 to 24 percent in 2012.

Built-In Savings

There are a number of ways to save when staying in a vacation rental. For example, extra bedrooms mean additional family members or friends are able to join in the fun and split the costs. Preparing your own food, instead of going to restaurants for every meal, and having access to a washer and dryer both offer even more ways to minimize expenses. With baggage fees possibly tacking on an additional $100 to $200 per family each way, travelers have the option to pack less, travel lighter and save more.

Other potential cost-saving benefits found with vacation rentals include Wi-Fi, as well as entertainment for the kids, such as swimming pools and game rooms. Plus, unlike in a hotel where the only adult time is if parents secure a babysitter, those in vacation rentals can sip wine and share stories on the patio, or gather together to watch movies in the living room, after the kids are in bed.

“My kids love it when we travel with their grandparents. We do so at least once a year and have found that it’s easiest for everyone to stay together in a vacation rental,” said Erin Gifford, mother of four and founder of family travel website Kidventurous.com. “It’s nice to be able to spread out and each have our own space after fun-filled days of taking in attractions. We also like being able to cook, play games and spend time with each other under the same roof.”

Top Five Planning Tips

Use these hints to help secure the perfect vacation rental for your family’s next getaway:

1. Book Early

Moms and dads know all too well that planning is key when doing anything with kids—especially traveling. Booking a rental as early as you can is important because each property is unique. You want to have as many options as possible to accommodate your group, such as checking to see if a crib is available or if the property is pet friendly.

2. Read Reviews

Learn from other guests’ opinions. They’ve stayed at the properties and offer unbiased, firsthand accounts of what to expect. Reviews clue you in on details that may be overlooked in the listing, such as the need to bring your own beach towels.

3. Go the Extra Mile

Look for vacation rentals that aren’t located near popular attractions, such as the waterfront or theme parks. The farther you are from tourist areas, the better the deal.

4. Stay Off the Beaten Path

Search for properties in lesser-known destinations for a more peaceful getaway that costs less because demand isn’t as high.

5. Use Reputable Sites

Search and book through professional online vacation rental sites, such as HomeAway.com, which offers access to the most vacation rental options in the industry. Alternatively, try VRBO.com, which has been around for nearly 20 years.

More Advice

The cardinal rule for booking a vacation rental is to always pick up the phone and call the homeowner or property manager. Not only will they know the specifics about the property, but they give an insider’s perspective on the destination itself.

Gifford recently booked a vacation rental via HomeAway and added, “Speaking with a property owner or manager provides insights into a rental and the surrounding community that I only get over the phone. It gives me those extra details I need to determine ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when considering a particular vacation rental.”

Once a final decision is made on a property, travelers should request a rental agreement that outlines all rules and cancellation policies so everyone is on the same page. If possible, pay online by credit card or through secure services like PayPal, and avoid mailing cash or using a wire transfer service.

Learn More

For further facts and to view some available rentals, go to www.homeaway.com.

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Summer Heat Can Burn Through A Homeowner’s Repair Budget

(NAPSI)—The unexpected breakdown of a major appliance or system in summer can leave a homeowner hot under the collar in more ways than one. These types of breakdowns usually mean costly repairs and a less-than-comfortable home until they’re fixed or replaced.

While not always possible to prevent, it is possible to prepare.

To help, here are some suggestions from an expert in the field of preparation—Sandra Finn, president of TotalProtect Home Warranty.

Q: Is there a particular time of year when major appliances or systems are more susceptible to breaking down?

A: Summer is the time when most expensive breakdowns occur. In many cases, it’s a combination of the system being taxed to its limit from constant use and its age.

Q: How is age a factor?

A: According to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and a Bloomberg report, the average age of consumer durable goods is the highest it has been since 1962. This means homeowners are keeping their items longer than ever before, increasing the chance they could break from routine wear and tear.

Q: Why should you prepare for an appliance and system breaking down?

A: A recent report showed that most folks are not prepared for unexpected expenses and even a small dollar amount could cause a household financial distress.

Having a home warranty can make a big difference because it provides a safety net for the homeowner’s budget and, in the case of our company, will send the right repair person to your home.

Q: So a home warranty is about more than just money?

A: Exactly. In addition to helping protect your savings, a home warranty can help you feel more confident, knowing you are prepared to handle a breakdown.

In fact, according to a recent survey conducted by our company, 34 percent of people polled said that an appliance or system breaking down at the wrong time would cause more stress than getting into a fender bender. A home warranty can help you.

Q: How is a warranty different from homeowner’s insurance?

A: Most homeowner’s insurance policies do not protect against normal wear-and-tear damage like home warranties do.

Typically, covered items include the heating and air-conditioning (HVAC), electrical, plumbing, water heater, kitchen appliances, clothes washer and dryer and garage door opener.

Q: How is your company different from others that offer a home warranty?

A: TotalProtect is built around making sure we fix your problem right the first time. We are so committed to this that we have the largest network of service techs in the industry—40,000—so you can get a qualified technician there when you need them.

We also stand behind the quality of their repair work with a six-month workmanship guarantee-the longest in the home warranty industry.

Q: What kind of investment are we talking about?

A: For an average cost of $300 to $600 per year, a home warranty can be a helpful tool in home and budget management. That’s compared to potentially spending more than $4,000 to fix or replace a broken A/C, which our research shows is the average repair cost.

Warranty products such as TotalProtect Home Warranty can be purchased directly from the company and are offered through local mortgage and utility companies, banks or realtors.

To learn more, visit www.totalprotect.com.

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Buying A Once-Wrecked Car

(NAPSI)—When it comes to used cars, safety is no accident. But an accident shouldn’t keep you from buying a used car you love. In fact, you may drive away with a bargain.

The Problem

There are plenty of previously damaged cars out there. In the U.S., car crashes happen about every 60 seconds—and one in six used cars being sold has been in an accident. The key is to know what you’re buying.

An Answer

You can start your used car search at the new Carfax.com. Every car for sale comes with a free Carfax Report that includes any reported accidents. It’ll help you tell things like how severe the accident was, what areas of the car were damaged and if the air bags deployed. Next, get a mechanic to help you determine if the car was repaired properly.

Following these steps can help you find a swan where others see only an ugly duckling.

Learn More

You can get more information and shop for great used cars at the new www.carfax.com.

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