Tips to Keep You Hydrated

While we all know water is essential for our health, not all of us enjoy chugging those recommended eight daily glasses. Or maybe it’s your child who refuses to drink plain old water. Below are a few tips to help you up your water intake.Add flavor. A squeeze of citrus, fresh mint or a handful of blueberries can make drinking water a bit more fun. Make sure to keep these twists simple and fresh, and avoid sweeteners (artificial or otherwise), which can have health repercussions.Swap in tea. Unsweetened herbal tea can aid your water consumption, especially if you’re steeping the bags yourself, which helps assure there are no sneaky additives. Add a hot cup of herbal first thing in the morning and before bed to squeeze in a few more fluid ounces.Choose fruit. While this should not replace the water you drink, focusing on a few juicy fruits a day can help keep you hydrated. Try watermelon or oranges for a fresh liquid burst.Keep it cold. If you enjoy cold beverages, then keeping chilled water around can help you drink it down faster.

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Four Ways to a Higher Credit Score

Improving your credit can take time, often many months. But there are some things you can do to raise your credit score quickly, even if only by a few points.Pay Bills on TimePayment history is the most important factor in FICO scores, accounting for up to 35 percent of a credit score. Paying your bills on time-regardless of whether it’s a credit card bill or a utility bill-can significantly improve your score.Late payments stay on a credit report for seven years. The longer ago they happened, the less they affect credit scores. If a bill goes unpaid long enough, the debt can be sold to a collections agency and will get reported to credit bureaus.Maintain Low BalancesKeeping a low balance lowers your credit utilization rate, which is the amount of credit you’re using. Also called credit usage, it is the second most important factor in credit scores and accounts for 30 percent of a score.Your credit usage is calculated by dividing the total of your balances by your total credit limits. For example, $3,740 in credit card debt divided by $16,000 in a total credit card limit equals 23 percent usage.Paying off the balances in full each month should keep the credit utilization rate low, which should preferably be at no more than 30 percent on any one card or in total.Increase Your Credit LimitAnother part of credit usage is how much your credit limit is. Increasing your limit in small increments by getting a new credit card can lower your credit utilization rate by giving you more money to use. You could also ask your current credit card provider to increase your credit limit. However, using that higher credit card limit could increase your credit usage, so you may want to use it rarely and pay it off in full each month.Keep Credit Card Accounts OpenAge of credit history has a 15 percent impact on a credit score. Creditors and lenders like to see an average account age of more than five years. Keep your older accounts open to get over the five-year average. While this isn’t a quick step to improving your credit score, it’s worth keeping in mind for the long-term health of your credit. If you want to see faster results, start by paying your bills on time, using less of your available credit and ask for a credit limit increase.

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Where to Check for Unclaimed Money

Found money is a gift. And with the internet, it’s easier than ever to find it.Unclaimed assets may be sitting somewhere in your name, waiting for you to find and claim them. With some simple online searches, you can look for unclaimed money in seconds and possibly find a windfall.Unclaimed money can come from a family member who has died. They may have a life insurance policy, retirement benefit and other policies you may not know about that are legally yours as an heir. Here are some resources for finding missing, unclaimed money:Two websites offer free, multi-state searches for unclaimed property:

  • National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, or NAUPA.
  • Missing Money, a service endorsed by NAUPA.

Both are simple to use. You only enter your first and last name, and the state where you live-a free government search for missing money in your name is done in seconds.Missing Money is a database of governmental unclaimed property records. They include bank accounts, safe-deposit box contents, stocks, mutual funds, unwashed checks and wages, insurance policies, CDs, utility deposits, and escrow accounts.The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation has a free database to search for bank accounts or safe deposit boxes in your name or the name of a loved one who has died.Paper StatementsThose overstuffed filing cabinets and drawers that you or a relative have been meaning to organize for years may be full of old paper statements from banks, life insurance companies and other businesses that may be holding money owed to you.Anything that was reported to the IRS on a tax form could be an area where unclaimed money could be hiding. Also, be on the lookout for pay stubs, pension deduction and 401(k) contributions. They may show if a former employee owes a benefit.An Old Pension PlanIf your former employee offered a pension plan but the company has gone out of business, you may have unclaimed pension benefits waiting for you.Contact your former employer if you can find it. The company should also be looking for you. If it can’t find you, the pension money goes to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., a government agency that protects retirement income.Go to the PBGC’s unclaimed pensions database to see if you’re on its list from your former employer or as a beneficiary.Life Insurance PolicyThere isn’t a national database of life insurance policies. The Insurance Information Institute has 12 ways to make finding life insurance documents for a deceased relative easier. They include searching for insurance-related documents, contacting financial advisors, contacting previous employers and contacting state insurance departments, such as through the National Association of Insurance Commissioners Life Insurance Company Location System.

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Cash-Back Credit Card Mistakes to Avoid

A cash-back credit card can result in 5 percent or more back on your purchases, essentially giving you a small discount for everything you buy with a credit card.But that perk can cost you some money in the long run, if you’re not careful. Here are some mistakes to avoid with a cash-back credit card:Spending to Earn MoreBuying something for the sake of earning more cash back rewards is wasted money. If a purchase is unnecessary, then doing it just for the rewards is equally unnecessary.Why spend money to earn a little money back? Most of the purchase price won’t be returned anyway, with 1 percent cash back being the norm. Even at 5 percent in rewards, that leaves 95 percent of the purchase price you spent on something you don’t want or need.High Annual FeeA cash-back reward is essentially a discount on a purchase. If you’re going to buy gas and groceries anyway, you might as well get 5 percent cash back on them if you can. But take into account the cost of an annual fee, as it can take a few thousand dollars in spending per year to earn enough cash back to make up the cost difference between a fee and no-fee card.If a cash-back credit card has an annual fee of $75, for example, and pays 5 percent cash back for grocery store purchases, it would require spending $1,500 to get that $75 fee back. That’s a lot of groceries to buy before getting money in your pocket.Paying InterestYour cash rewards will be useless if you don’t pay off your balance in full each month or on time and incur interest. People who pay interest each month are often charged a higher interest rate on their cash-back card than on a credit card with no rewards. If you regularly carry a balance on your credit card, look for a card with the lowest interest rate instead of one with rewards.Incurring Transaction FeesPrivate retailers, government entities and public utilities sometimes charge a transaction fee to consumers who use a credit card. This fee can easily exceed the cash back you’d get on a rewards card. Credit card companies don’t allow many businesses to charge a fee for using a credit card, though the business cost can be passed on through higher prices or a minimum charge. Ask if there’s a fee before you swipe.

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5 Ways to Save Energy and Money

Cutting down on energy use is great for the environment. It can also save you big bucks. Alternative energy proponent IGS Energy suggests four green and easy ways to do both:Minimize ‘phantom loads.’ The term ‘phantom load’ refers to the energy that an appliance or electronic device consumes when it is not actually turned on. According to theU.S. Department of Energy(DOE), some 75 percent of the electricity in an average home is used to power electronics while the products are off. A report from the University of California Berkeley says thatphantom loads account for about six percentof all residential electricity consumption. You can eliminate phantom loads by unplugging appliances and electronics when you are not using them or by plugging them into a power strip and turning the strip off when they are not in use.Upgrade your appliances. When shopping for new appliances, look for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star label. These appliances use less energy and water than their conventional counterparts. They may cost more than appliances without the Energy Star designation, but, in most cases, they will more than make up that additional cost through energy savings.Change your lightbulbs. One of the least expensive and most effective changes you can make in your home is replacing your light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL), which cost just a few dollars more and will save about $30 in energy costs over their lifetime. CFL bulbs use 75 percent less energy and last about 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs. Some people are concerned because CFLs contain mercury, but Energy Star says CFLs do not release any mercury when in use, and actually reduce mercury emissions because they lessen the need for electricity from power plants that emit mercury.Install a programmable thermostat. These thermostats automatically adjust your home’s temperature to your schedule, keeping it comfortable only when you need it to be. If you don’t already adjust your thermostat throughout the day, a programmable thermostat could save you as much as 15 percent on heating and cooling costs.

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5 Ways to Pick the Perfect Color Scheme

If you’re revamping your interior design scheme, you may be considering a new color palette. Should you go with earthy hues? Vibrant jewel tones? Cool blues and grays? Below are five ways to pick a color scheme that will work for you.Choose from what you have. If you’re not revamping with an entirely new furniture set, then you may want to pick a color from what you already have. A boldly patterned sofa or floor rug can serve as a jumping off point.Start with three. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with options, choose three colors you love and keep it to there, with one as your main color, another as your secondary and a third for accents. (Four if you count white, which is more of a neutral).Base with black. If you can tie black into your color scheme, you’ll always have something easy (and versatile) to return to. No need to get macabre-think black appliances in the kitchen, black end and coffee tables in the living room, and black cabinetry in the bathroom.Decorate with 60-30-10. This rule, used by many interior designers, gives you a mathematical breakdown of how much of each color you should use to give your space balance. Go with 60 percent of your main color (like, your walls), 30 percent your secondary (hello, furniture) and 10 percent that pop of accent-light sconces, art, throw pillows, blankets, etc.Move from dark to light. So, you have your chosen colors-now what? A top designer tip when adding color to your home is to place the darkest colors low, like the carpet, floor or furniture, and then move to medium shades for the walls and art, and the lightest hue on the ceiling.

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Repaying a Student Loan? Be Aware of These Issues

The average college graduate in 2016 had $37,172 in student loan debt, according to the website Student Loan Hero. That’s a lot of money to pay off after graduation.Paying it off should be as simple as writing a monthly check to the lender. Unfortunately, there are some potential student loan problems that borrowers should be aware of when repaying their student loans. Here are some of them:Track your loansKnow how much you owe and to whom. This sounds straightforward, but it can be confusing. Why? Because the servicer of the loan that collects payments often isn’t the original lender.If you have federal loans, the National Student Loan Data System will help you track your loans after you set up an online account.Banks that have given you private loans should contact you. If you’re unsure, check your credit report to see if a lender has reported your loan.Tie loan payments to your incomeFederal loans have payment plans that allow monthly student loan payments to be reduced for borrowers with a family or lower income level. You’ll have to requalify for the plan each year.The Education Department has a repayment estimator tool to help determine if you’re eligible. Your loan servicer should also be able to help, and its cooperation is needed for enrollment in an income-driven repayment plan.ForbearanceIf you can’t repay your loan for a while, your loan servicer may offer you help through forbearance. This allows you to reduce or eliminate payments for an amount of time, though interest continues accruing.Private lenders may not offer income-driven payment plans, but have something between them and forbearance. They may extend the term of a loan, leading to lower payments over a longer time, for example.Dropping a co-signerIf a relative or someone else with good credit helped you by co-signing on your student loans – leading to a lower interest rate for taking on the legal obligation of repaying the loan if you can’t – you can release them from this obligation after you graduate.It requires making on-time payments for a certain number of consecutive months. However, if you skipped payments the clock will be reset to zero on your consecutive monthly payment count.Make sure the bank or servicer is properly crediting your payments by using its online site to track your account.Hope you found these tips helpful! Contact me for more insights and info.

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Using Personal Loans Against Credit Card Debt

A poor credit score can affect people in many ways. It can make it difficult to get approved for a mortgage or other type of loan, and can lead to paying higher interest rates on those loans and on credit cards. It can also make it hard to get a cellphone contract or rent an apartment.By paying off a high credit card balance, borrowers can improve their credit score and, over time, start to see lower interest rates offered to them.Those with bad credit can pay $4,975 more in interest on their credit card debt than those with good credit, according to a report by Syracuse University.One option for paying off a massive credit card debt is to get a personal loan from a lender. Keep in mind, personal loans are often expensive, so users may want to limit them to emergencies.Personal loans come in two forms: secured and unsecured. A secured loan requires collateral that can be taken by the lender if you don’t repay the loan, such as a home or a car. An unsecured loan doesn’t require collateral, making it a higher risk for the lender and thus a higher interest rate for the borrower.Applying for a personal loan usually requires information such as your employment history, monthly bills, pay stubs, tax returns for the last few years, a list of unsecured debts like credit cards, and a list of assets and how you’re paying them off, among other things.A lender will determine if you can afford payments for a personal loan. Having bad credit can make proving your repayment ability difficult, but this can be overcome by showing proof of payment history for other loans or assets. The same goes for showing you’ve paid your monthly bills on time. A steady job and living in the same home for a long time can also work in your favor.The repayment term for a personal loan varies between 1 – 5 years. Ask how much the monthly payment will be and how much interest you’ll be paying over the life of the loan. The lender will likely charge you fees, which can include origination, late, personal check and returned payment fees.

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The Benefits of a Hardship Plan

If you’re buried in credit card debt, there’s a reasonable solution that your credit card company may allow you to use, but only if you ask about it.A hardship plan, also known as a credit card payment plan, can help dig you out of debt and ultimately improve your credit score. A hardship plan can also save you money in interest payments and reduce your monthly credit card bill.Don’t be scared if you think a hardship plan is the same thing as the debt management plans you see on TV commercials. Those require you to pay a fee to a credit counseling agency to negotiate debt repayment terms with each of your lenders. All of the debts are paid through a single monthly payment that the counseling agency collects from you. The credit counselor is the liaison between you and your debt collectors.A hardship plan, however, doesn’t have an intermediary or mass payment of lenders. You work directly with your credit card issuer and the repayment program it sets up.Creditors can differ on what they offer in hardship plans, typically a combination of a lower interest rate, smaller minimum payment, lower fees and penalties, and a fixed payment schedule.Being allowed to take part in a hardship plan can be as easy as calling your credit card issuer and explaining why you need one. You may have just lost your job or had an emergency that is costly, and need a credit card payment plan to help you through this rough time.Credit Score Could DropSigning up for a hardship plan doesn’t immediately affect your credit, but your scores could be indirectly impacted by the way the program works.The credit card issuer will put a note on your credit report that you’re participating in its hardship plan. This is a sign that you’re taking responsibility to repay your lenders, which is a good thing. But to potential creditors, it could be a sign that your finances aren’t stable. Ask your credit card issuer what note it will send to the credit bureaus and how that might affect your ability to get future credit.While you’re in a hardship program, your credit card company may close or suspend your account until you’ve paid off the debt. Closing a credit card-no matter if it’s you or the credit card company that does it-can lower your credit score.Eventually, a hardship plan should help you get a hefty increase in your credit score once you complete the plan successfully. An initial drop should be expected, though after months of on-time payments and other responsible behavior you should start to see your credit score improve.

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3 Conversations to Have Before You Say “I Do”

Getting ready to walk down the aisle? Congratulations! As you prep for your new life together, it’s important to talk about the big stuff. While hopefully you’ve cleared some topics already-like whether or not kids are in your future-the following conversations can help create a smooth ride should things shift later on.Location, location, location. How happy are you both where you currently live? If kids enter the picture, would you want to move closer to family? Would either of you be willing to move with the other for a work opportunity? Clear these things now to minimize surprises later when one of you gets a new job offer or wants to leave city (or country) living behind.Finances. How will marriage impact the way you do your finances? Will you share certain expenses? Merge bank accounts? Keep things separate? Money is the No. 1 cause of dissatisfaction in marriages, so financially clear the table now to save trouble later.Home sweet home? If you aren’t already homeowners, is owning a home high on your priority list? If so, create a plan together to achieve it. Set a goal for when you would like to make the move from renting to owning. How much money should you each sock away annually to make your goal a reality? What does your dream home look like, and do your wants and needs align?Hope you found this information helpful! Contact me for more insights and info.

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