How I Saved $30,000+ on Healthcare Over a 3 Year Period

I joined US HealthShare when I decided to quit my secure 9-5 career with full benefits and pursue my dream of becoming a writer. Being a single mom of 3, my kids are my first priority so I wanted to make sure I wasn’t making any rash decisions, but also being true to my heart and dreams of my future. I had to make some big decisions about our life, finances and healthcare. I always had an employer-sponsored health insurance plan but that was soon coming to an end.

I started shopping around for insurance on the exchanges and prices for traditional insurance plans for my family of four started at around $1,000 per month with a $12,000 annual deductible. My mouth dropped. This was just for a Bronze plan. Getting a Silver, Gold, or Platinum plan meant prices would just go up from there, and was basically impossible with my budget. How was I going to make sure we were all covered if something catastrophic happened? 

I kept researching my options and came across health sharing ministries, like US HealthShare. Health sharing ministries aren’t insurance – they’re groups of like-minded people who come together to share healthcare expenses. You pay a monthly fee, similar to a healthcare premium with the promise that your healthcare expenses will be covered once you meet an “unshared amount” similar to a health insurance deductible. 

After much research, we decided to go with US HealthShare. We felt like their values and morals aligned with our faith more than any of the other ministries. The benefits of US HealthShare as we saw them included:

  • A low monthly sharing amount, similar to a premium (was $531 for our family when we joined)
  • Low annual unshared amount, or out-of-pocket contribution, similar to a deductible ($1500 for my family)
  • Eligible medical bills up to $1,000,000 per incident can be shared

Joining US HealthShare saved my family roughly $470 per month and a considerably lower ($10,500+!)  annual unshared amount. So, after some planning and careful consideration, that’s what we went with.

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It’s been about 3 years since we joined US HealthShare and I am mostly pleased with how things have gone so far. The claims process is grueling and prices have gone up slightly over the last three years we’ve been in the program, but that’s typical for the healthcare industry so that wasn’t too much of a surprise.

On the upside, we have easily saved over $30,000 on healthcare expenses over the five years we have belonged to US HealthShare. I say that because we have saved a minimum of $470 per month, which works out to $5,600 per year or $16,920 over three years. We also saved a minimum of $15,000, when we had 2 major claims (raising 3 young boys, things are bound to happen!) since our ACA deductible would have been at least $10,500 more than our out-of-pocket maximum with US HealthShare.

While using a health sharing ministry isn’t entirely ideal, I definitely believe the $30,000+ in savings we’ve accrued so far has been well worth it. I highly recommend looking into a healthcare sharing option if you find yourself out of the typical 9-5 with benefits. You could save tens of thousands!

What is a Rapid Rescore & is it Something I Should Consider?

rapid rescore

Picture this scenario. You apply for a home loan and your mortgage broker or lender says that you might be able to qualify for a lower interest rate if you could improve your credit score by a few points.

The problem, however, is that even if you manage to reduce your loan balance, it can take anywhere from 30 to 60 days for the updated information to appear on your credit report which is not as long as the NFL thinks of ways every year to help the Patriots win but this is another topic. Unfortunately, you cannot afford to wait that long, since mortgages are time-sensitive.

How to update credit report quickly in such a scenario? This is precisely where a rapid rescore can help you.

What is a Rapid Rescore?

It is a process wherein you can get your credit report updated quickly through your lender. Rather than waiting for the credit bureaus to update your report on their own – which can take anywhere from 30 to 45 days – you can submit the updated information to your lender, who can then submit it to the bureau and get your report updated immediately.

How Does Rapid Rescoring Work?

It is a two-step process.

The First Step

You need to inform your lender of the changes to your credit history that are not reflected in your credit report yet, provide proof for the same, and place a request for a rapid rescoring.

For instance, if there is an erroneous entry in your credit report which states that you defaulted on a loan, when you actually did not, you can bring it to the attention of your lender and get it removed immediately.

Similarly, if you recently paid off a personal loan or a portion of your credit card balance to bring down your debt-to-income ratio, you can request your lender for a rapid credit rescore.

The Second Step

Once you provide your lender with all the information they need, they will contact the credit bureau, provide them with the updated information, pay a fee, and get your credit report updated.

Can an Individual Place a Request for Rapid Rescoring with a Credit Bureau?

Rapid rescoring is essentially a service provided by lenders. Individuals cannot approach credit bureaus by themselves and place a request for a rescoring. So, you can only get it done through your lender.

How Long Does the Rescoring Process Take?

It usually takes anywhere from two to five days. In some cases, it might take up to a week.

What Does Rapid Rescoring Cost?

It does not cost you any money, as the service is offered completely free of cost. Your lender, however, has to pay a fee – anywhere from $25 to $50 – in order to get your credit report updated. They cannot pass on the costs to you, as they are prohibited by federal law from doing so.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act, which was passed in 1970, clearly states that an individual cannot be charged for disputing wrongful information on their credit report. Since rapid rescoring is essentially an ‘expedited dispute process’, the lender cannot charge you any money for it.

What Are the Benefits and Limitations of a Rapid Credit Rescore?

Benefits

Rapid rescoring can help you update your credit report in very short period of time, improve your credit score, and help you qualify for lower interest rates.

Let us assume that you apply for a mortgage and the lender tells you that if you can raise your credit score by 20 points, you can pay a smaller down payment and qualify for a lower interest rate. In such a scenario, you can pay off a loan or reduce your credit card balance, submit the updated information to your lender, get a new and improved credit score, and qualify for a lower interest rate.

Let us assume that you are planning to apply for a mortgage, but there is an error in your credit report. It is reported that you failed to repay a loan, even though you paid it off a couple of weeks ago.

Again, in this scenario, you can contact your lender, provide them with the relevant documents, and request to have your credit report updated. Within a few days, you can get a new and improved credit score and apply for a mortgage.

In these types of cases, the expedited rescoring process works to your advantage, as you can raise your credit score by a few points within days and qualify for a low-interest rate loan. It is simply not possible under normal circumstances, as it can take as long as two months to get your credit report updated.

Limitations

A rapid rescore can only expedite the process of updating your credit report. It does not make any difference to your actual credit score.

Let us assume that you can increase your score by 20 points by paying off one of your credit card accounts. Under normal circumstances, it can take up to 60 days for your credit score to be updated. If you request for a rapid credit rescore, you can get it updated within two or three days.

In both cases, your credit score only increases only by 20 points. The only difference is the time it takes to get it done.

Can a Rapid Credit Rescore Repair Your Credit?

No, it cannot. It is important to understand that rapid rescore is not the same as credit repair. It can only update your credit report. It cannot remove any negative information from your credit report.

For example, if you pay off a delinquent account, you can get it updated quickly through by requesting for a rapid rescore. You cannot, however, get it removed. It will stay on your records for seven years, like it normally does.

Alternatives to Improve Your Credit Score

If you have a poor credit score, there are a number of steps you can take to improve it.

  • Negotiate with your lenders to get your interest rates reduced.
  • Pay off your debts – credit cards in particular – aggressively. Make sure your debt-to-income ratio (your monthly debt repayments divided by your monthly income) does not exceed 36%.
  • Pay all your bills – irrespective of the amount – on time. The very fact that you are late on your payments can hurt your credit score, irrespective of how much you owe.

Most importantly, make it a habit to check your credit report on a regular basis and fix the errors (if there are any) immediately. If you keep tabs your credit reports, there is no need to worry about fixing anything in the last minute.

How Long Does It Take To Close On a House?

Home Closing

It is important for homebuyers to know how long it may take to close on a house once their purchase offer is accepted. Except where the deal is all-cash, the buyer’s lender will take some time to process the loan and close.

If you are well-prepared with all the necessary information and documents your lender may require, the closing process could be hastened.

However, chances are that you may still face situations where you have to discuss or negotiate with the other party. Indecisiveness or inaction will only make the closing process longer in these situations.

Average Time Taken for Home Closing

For a new home purchase, according to Fannie Mae, the average closing time is 46 days, while for mortgage finance it is 49 days. A similar time period for closing is also involved in FHA loans.

The closing process is often expedited if the loan has been pre-approved (rather than pre-qualified). If the buyer’s bank statements, employment record, and credit report have already been verified, closing on the property will usually take place within one to two weeks.   

Estimated Timeline for Closing

  • Completing the official loan application – 1 day
  • Official loan disclosures (and loan estimate) – up to 3 days
  • Additional document requests and review – 4 to 7 days
  • Appraisal process – 7 to 14 days
  • Underwriting – 1 to 3 days
  • Conditional loan approval – 7 to 14 days
  • Cleared to close – 3 days
  • Closing and loan disbursement – 1 day

Factors that can Delay Home Closing

In many cases, delays in closing on a house occur at a stage when the file has been submitted to the underwriters. While an experienced loan officer would be well-versed with underwriting guidelines, it is difficult to predict how an underwriter would respond.

Delays are more frequent with institutional lenders than with mortgage brokers because their procedures may be longer and slower. Here are some of the key issues that could delay or even prevent closing on a home.

Credit Report Issues

If your credit report reveals questionable items, such as a sudden decline in credit score, new debts, errors, or a major late payment reported recently, it could cause a delay in closing.

Lower Appraisal

Lenders usually ask for an appraisal of the home before they finance it. If the property appraisal turns out to be lower than the asking price of the seller, your loan may be refused. You may either have to pay the difference from your pocket or renegotiate your terms with the seller for the loan to be cleared.

Home Inspection Raises Concerns

The home inspection may result in adverse findings, such as faulty wiring or leakage in the bathroom. Repairs will have to be undertaken before the home closing can be done.

Need for Additional Documents

In some cases, the lender may ask for additional documents to explain some doubtful aspects related to your finances. For instance, a document may have a discrepancy about your marital status, or a bank statement may show your maiden name, or some insurance information may be missing. 

Problems with the Title

The home sale may be delayed if there are problems with the title, such as lien. Clearing the title may take time and cause a delay in home closing.

Unforeseen Changes with Financial Impact

Right before the closing, any unforeseen life changes with substantive financial impact, such as a divorce or loss or job may also result in a delay.

Inexperienced Loan Professionals

In some cases, both the buyer and the seller may be diligent in accomplishing their role in the process, but the professionals handling your loan may be inefficient.

What can you do to Minimize Delays in Home Closing?

In order to close on your house in a smooth and timely manner, be prepared to respond actively to the requests made by your real estate agent and your lender. While you have no control over how other parties in the value chain perform their role, you can make sure that no delay occurs because of you.

Any time you receive a request for information or documents from the lender, you should be ready to produce it as soon as possible.

Anticipate the requirements and keep ahead of the curve to ensure your home closing process does not drag on like an episode of that 90s show Mad About You.

Don’t move out of your current place of residence until you can actually move into the home you are buying. You don’t want to be sleeping in your car for a few nights or have to get a hotel.

It is important for homebuyers to know how long it may take to close on a house once their purchase offer is accepted. Except where the deal is all-cash, the buyer’s lender will take some time to process the loan and close.

If you are well-prepared with all the necessary information and documents your lender may require, the closing process could be hastened.

However, chances are that you may still face situations where you have to discuss or negotiate with the other party. Indecisiveness or inaction will only make the closing process longer in these situations.

Average Time Taken for Home Closing

For a new home purchase, according to Fannie Mae, the average closing time is 46 days, while for mortgage finance it is 49 days. A similar time period for closing is also involved in FHA loans.

The closing process is often expedited if the loan has been pre-approved (rather than pre-qualified). If the buyer’s bank statements, employment record, and credit report have already been verified, closing on the property will usually take place within one to two weeks.   

Estimated Timeline for Closing

  • Completing the official loan application – 1 day
  • Official loan disclosures (and loan estimate) – up to 3 days
  • Additional document requests and review – 4 to 7 days
  • Appraisal process – 7 to 14 days
  • Underwriting – 1 to 3 days
  • Conditional loan approval – 7 to 14 days
  • Cleared to close – 3 days
  • Closing and loan disbursement – 1 day

Factors that can Delay Home Closing

In many cases, delays in closing on a house occur at a stage when the file has been submitted to the underwriters. While an experienced loan officer would be well-versed with underwriting guidelines, it is difficult to predict how an underwriter would respond.

Delays are more frequent with institutional lenders than with mortgage brokers because their procedures may be longer and slower. Here are some of the key issues that could delay or even prevent closing on a home.

Credit Report Issues

If your credit report reveals questionable items, such as a sudden decline in credit score, new debts, errors, or a major late payment reported recently, it could cause a delay in closing.

Lower Appraisal

Lenders usually ask for an appraisal of the home before they finance it. If the property appraisal turns out to be lower than the asking price of the seller, your loan may be refused. You may either have to pay the difference from your pocket or renegotiate your terms with the seller for the loan to be cleared.

Home Inspection Raises Concerns

The home inspection may result in adverse findings, such as faulty wiring or leakage in the bathroom. Repairs will have to be undertaken before the home closing can be done.

Need for Additional Documents

In some cases, the lender may ask for additional documents to explain some doubtful aspects related to your finances. For instance, a document may have a discrepancy about your marital status, or a bank statement may show your maiden name, or some insurance information may be missing. 

Problems with the Title

The home sale may be delayed if there are problems with the title, such as lien. Clearing the title may take time and cause a delay in home closing.

Unforeseen Changes with Financial Impact

Right before the closing, any unforeseen life changes with substantive financial impact, such as a divorce or loss or job may also result in a delay.

Inexperienced Loan Professionals

In some cases, both the buyer and the seller may be diligent in accomplishing their role in the process, but the professionals handling your loan may be inefficient.

What can you do to Minimize Delays in Home Closing?

In order to close on your house in a smooth and timely manner, be prepared to respond actively to the requests made by your real estate agent and your lender. While you have no control over how other parties in the value chain perform their role, you can make sure that no delay occurs because of you.

Any time you receive a request for information or documents from the lender, you should be ready to produce it as soon as possible.

Anticipate the requirements and keep ahead of the curve to ensure your home closing process does not drag on like an episode of that 90s show Mad About You.

Don’t move out of your current place of residence until you can actually move into the home you are buying. You don’t want to be sleeping in your car for a few nights or have to get a hotel.

5 Steps to Tackle Your High Levels of Debt

High Levels of Debt

You can do a number of things to eliminate debt entirely, or at least pay off most of it. Being in debt can be stressful for anyone, regardless of your circumstances or the amount you might owe to another party.

Here are 5 steps you should take, which will help cut down your debt levels.

Step 1: Estimate Your Financial Obligations

As a first step, you need to know how much you owe and to whom. It’s a salient idea to organize your figures on an excel sheet or use an online debt calculator to keep a tab of kind of debt (loans, credit card), interest rates (in order of lowest to highest), and the total amount due to various parties.

You will never hit your target to mitigate debt if you don’t know how much it really is. Be upfront about it and create a systematic debt reduction plan that will actually work.

You should also prepare a list of your monthly income and expenditure while you are computing your total debt. Expense items would typically be listed on your credit cards and you can take account of the cash expenditures from your bank statements.

This will provide you with a fair picture of the total debt and how much you might be able to spare every month to pay off the most expensive debt components first.

Step 2: Halt any Further Debt Creation

You need to stop creating more debt if you plan to reduce it. You will never be able to get out of the vicious debt trap if you continue using borrowed money to finance your lifestyle. Remember, you are not the state of California or Congress.

For instance, you can curb the habit of charging some credit cards to pay off the debt amount on others.

Get into the habit of utilizing cash as your primary mode of payment. This will at least start reducing your credit card interest costs, and even deter you from making impulsive purchases. It is far easier to spend money by paying with plastic on things you do not need.

Postpone any non-essential purchases, and start focusing exclusively on resolving your current debt situation.

Step 3: Have a Prudent Debt Elimination Strategy in Place

Your goal should be to double down on your credit card payments because credit cards usually have the highest interest charges which is no fun to pay even during a solid economy with lower taxes. Unless you create a solid debt management strategy and execute it with a firm resolve, it will be difficult to come out of the debt cycle.

Snowball Debt Reduction Approach

This strategy involves paying off your smallest debts first. The advantage is that when you start small, it will give you the confidence that you can come out of your situation one small step at a time. The emotional advantage will be immense when you see your smaller loans are getting eliminated one by one.

Once you begin small, you will continue to gather momentum to take more tangible debt reduction steps. One small step will eventually ‘snowball’ into a huge dedicated endeavor on your part to eliminating your bigger debts.

Avalanche Debt Reduction Approach

The avalanche debt management strategy involves paying off the costliest debt first. Remember that your goal here is to focus on the highest interest rate, and not the total debt amount or the total interest cost.

While you can keep paying minimums on other debts, you can start working on eliminating those debts first which are crushing you with a very high interest burden.

Stay committed to the debt reduction strategy you choose, and slowly you will start emerging out of your difficult debt situation.

Step 4: Set Aside an Emergency Fund

While it may appear counter-intuitive to set aside an emergency fund when you are working to eliminate debts, this is a vital step that will help you prevent additional debt. Life offers no guarantees to support you in your difficult financial situation.

An unforeseen health trouble, car breakdown, or a leaky roof needs to be taken care of, and if you have an emergency fund, you will not be forced to pile on more debt. Keep a goal of building a fund of about $1,000 for these types of emergencies.

Step 5: Consolidate Multiple Debts into a Single Loan

A well-structured debt consolidation plan can help you combine multiple consumer debts into a single loan. This will usually result in a lower overall interest rate on the entire amount, and you will need to make just one payment every month.

It will simplify your finances, and give you clear goals about debt elimination. You will have to discuss with your credit union, bank, or another lender to see if they are willing to cooperate with you on this proposal of debt consolidation.

Is an AARP Membership Worth It?

So you just turned 50, and all of a sudden you start seeing online ads for AARP, seeing the magazines everywhere you go, and getting the pamphlets in the mail. I know, you’re just trying to come to terms with the fact that you are now 50 years old, all you need is another reminder that your mid life crisis is sure to start any minute now. Well I’m here to tell you it’s time to embrace your new age with a new attitude. You now get to take advantage of senior citizen discounts all over town, so why not also take a peek at those AARP benefits? Is it worth it? I’ll lay everything out for you now.

How Much Does it Cost? 

An AARP membership costs $16 a year. But the more years you pay for in advance, the cheaper it is. See below for the discounted breakdown.

$63 for 5 years — $12.60 per year, with a 21 percent discount
$43 for 3 years — $14.34 per year, with a 10 percent discount
$12 for the first year if you choose to auto-renew — 25 percent discount

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What Discounts are Included?

Members get a variety of discounts at the following popular stores and restaurants.

Retail: Tanger Outlets, 1-800-Flowers.com, Harry & David
Restaurants: McCormick & Schmick’s, Saltgrass, Outback, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Denny’s and Rainforest Cafe
Entertainment: Ticketmaster, Regal Cinemas, Cirque du Soleil
Home & Technology: AT&T, UPS Store, Consumer Cellular

What are the Travel Deals? 

Rental cars: Members get a discount with several popular rental car companies, as well as a 30 percent discount on Zipcar memberships.
Hotels: Members get up to 20 percent off at several hotel chains, such as Days Inn and Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, as well as up to 35 percent off from Endless Vacation Rentals.
Flights: You’ll get access to the AARP Travel Center Powered by Expedia, which has members-only flight deals, plus you’re entitled to a discount at Park Ride Fly USA for off-airport parking.
Cruises: Members can get discounts on select cruises by Norwegian Cruise Line, Windstar and Grand European Travel.

What are the Health & Wellness Deals? 

Exams: Members get a free hearing test once a year, as well as special rates on eye exams and eyeglasses at participating eye doctors.
Insurance: Members get access to exclusive insurance plans through the AARP® Auto & Home Insurance Program from The Hartford.
Medication: Members have access to the AARP® Prescription Discounts provided by OptumRx program and save an average of 61 percent on all FDA-approved medications
Family: Add a spouse or partner to your plan for free so you can both enjoy the benefits
Dating: Members can sign up for the AARP dating site and meet other 50+ singles who are ready to mingle.

This is only a small portion of the discounts and benefits you can get from an AARP membership. You can read the full list of discounts by checking out the AARP Member Benefits Guide.

As you’re nearing retirement, I understand you want to be intentional with how you spend your money. I’ll let you do the math, but if dine out frequently, travel, and want access to health and financial resources to assist in your retirement transition, it might be worth trying AARP for one year to see if you like it. That $16 you spent on the membership will be saved in no time. 

How to Choose a Travel Credit Card That Delivers The Best Value to You?

Travel Credit Card

The right credit card can make or break your travel budget and costs, regardless of whether you are planning an annual family trip or are a regular business traveler.

Your credit card should not give you a nagging worry of losing out a significant amount on foreign transaction fees and currency conversions while paying for hotels, flight tickets, and other things.

This comprehensive guide will walk you through the key elements that need to be considered when you are comparing various credit card options for your next travel.

Annual Fee

You should be aware that most travel cards come with an annual fee. This can range anywhere from $90 to $100 for regular travel cards and even in a strong economy with stellar tax cuts these fees should not be ignored.

But the fees can go up to $450 or more for premium cards that come with a host of perks and rewards. You need to weigh these perks against the annual fee to make sure that it evens out.

If you are wondering whether there are any good travel credit cards without the unnecessary annual fee, then you are in luck. There are many no-fee travel cards, but then they have a few drawbacks, like rewards of lower value, reduced perks, and a smaller sign-up bonus.

Rewards Rates

Rewards can be primarily segregated into the following two categories:

Burn rate

Burn rate is the value you receive for the miles or points when you go in to redeem them. The standard industry burn rate is 1 cent for every mile or point. However, some cards, especially hotel cards offer a lower value on the ‘burn’ end, but make up for it by offering more points for every dollar spent on the earning side.

Earn rate 

Earn rate signifies the number of miles or points you receive on every dollar spent. There are some standard travel credit cards that only offer rewards on a flat-rate. This means that you get the same type of rewards on all kinds of purchases, such as 3 miles per dollar or 2.5 points per dollar.

Co-branded cards and others offer a base rate (say a point per dollar) and then raise the stakes for certain categories. For instance, you may be paid a higher reward rate for hotel stays, airline tickets, restaurant meals, and other general travel expenses.

Don’t just blindly look at the numbers while comparing reward rates. You need to take a closer look at the category those numbers apply to and find a travel card that best matches your spending pattern.

It may seem great to receive 5 points every dollar. But, if those 5 points only come with purchasing office supplies and you don’t intend to use your travel card in an office supply store, then you may just end up getting a lousy deal.

Foreign Transaction Fee

Foreign transaction fee is never charged by a good travel card. These fees refer to the surcharges on purchases that are made outside the United States. The industry standard where foreign transaction fee is concerned is 3%, which is just enough to wipe out all the rewards you may have earned during your travel.

This is not of much concern if you don’t travel outside the US much. But, anyone who leaves US frequently should invest in a travel card with no foreign transaction fee. There are many issuers, like Capital One and Discover that offer cards without foreign transaction fee.

Reputation of the Issuer

You need to make sure that your travel card is backed by a reliable international company, especially if you are a globe-trotter. All credit cards don’t make for dependable travel companions.

MasterCard and Visa are used pretty much worldwide. But you may encounter trouble with acceptance in some countries where American Express and Discover are concerned.

However, this is very destination specific and you should not dismiss Discover and Amex outright. Just make sure that you take a back-up card along when you intend to use these. In fact, having a back-up card for your travels within the U.S. is also a prudent thing to do.

Travel Protections

You should compare various cards on the basis of the travel protection they offer. You can pick from trip cancellation coverage, car rental insurance, and lost baggage protection, among others. No, there’s no card that can protect you from the Patriots cheating in the NFL!

Bottom Line

It can be difficult to find a travel card that offers everything you require. There will always be minor disappointments because no issuer offers high reward rates, top-notch perks, generous sign-up bonuses, and no annual fee in a single card.

However, by being smart about the features listed in this guide and carefully choosing the right combination, you can find the ideal credit card that suits your unique travel needs.

15 Questions to Ask When Shopping for Health, Homeowners and Auto Insurance

There’s nothing more difficult and confusing than choosing the right insurance, whether it’s health, homeowners, or auto. There’s so much information that it’s sometimes hard to digest, so we’ve sifted through it and are here to help you make well-educated decisions about your future. In this article, we outline 15 questions that you should ask your agent when shopping for health, homeowners, and auto insurance.

Health Insurance

1. Is my current provider available in the plan?

If you have a current doctor that you are loyal to, it’s worth asking your health insurance agent if he or she is covered under the plan you’re considering. We all know the struggle of finding a doctor that we are comfortable with, on top of one that knows our health history. It’s worth noting, if you are considering a PPO, keeping your same doctor may cost you a bit more out-of-pocket, but could be worth the extra expense. Weigh and calculate your options.

2. What’s my deductible?

In other words – how much will you have to pay out-of-pocket on treatments and procedures before insurance kicks in and starts to cover costs? The cheaper your monthly premium, the higher the deductible. Do the math. If you see a doctor regularly, consider opting for a more expensive monthly premium but a lower deductible. And keep in mind – most preventative services are covered without use of the deductible – think shots, screening test, vaccines, etc.

3. What’s my co-payment?

This is a big one, as this is the amount you’ll be paying out of pocket every time you see a doctor. Should you expect a small flat fee around $10, or will it vary by provider and be upwards of $100? Generally speaking, your co-payments don’t count towards your deductible. So this is something you’ll want to factor into your budget as you’ll still need to meet your deductible on any treatments or procedures that you receive. 

4. Is there a pre-existing condition exclusion period?

It’s not uncommon for health insurance companies to place limits or exclude benefits for a period of time for a medical condition that you had prior to selecting and enrolling in the health plan. Make sure to ask your agent if they have an exclusion period, what they define as a pre-existing condition, and how long their exclusion period lasts. There’s nothing worse than getting caught in the middle of an expensive procedure with no help on payment.

5.What will my monthly premiums be?

Monthly health insurance premiums vary drastically from person to person depending on their monthly budget, desired deductible, any dependents you have, and if your place of work is covering a portion of it. We recommend checking out AffinityCoverage to get the best health insurance quotes in your area, for up to 30% off.

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Homeowners Insurance

1.What does my homeowners insurance plan cover?

You’re correct to assume that homeowners insurance doesn’t cover every disaster. It will cover the most common situations: fire, windstorm, hail, lightning, smoke, explosion, theft, vandalism, riot and vehicle collision. It likely will not cover earthquakes, flood, power failure, war, nuclear explosion, or neglect. Make sure you ask your agent and fully understand what it covers before signing on any dotted line.

2. Do you have any discounts available?

The safer your home is, the more discounts and special rates the home owners insurance company can offer you since there’s less of a chance for a catastrophic event. Some common discounts: bundling/multi-policy, having a monitored burglar and fire alarm system, having an impact resistant roof, installing new wiring, plumbing and A/C, living in a gated community, new home discounts, having an HOA, paying in full, and even being a first time customer and/or homeowner. Don’t skip this step. 

3. How much homeowners insurance do I need?

This will differ for everyone. You should base your estimate off how much it would cost to rebuild your home. If you live in an older home, have additional structures on your property such as a shed or garage, or if construction costs run high in your area, consider insuring over market price so you are fully covered. 

4. Are my personal belongings covered?

Most homeowners insurance policies offer a built-in personal coverage of 50% of the dwelling limit. For example, if you choose a $200,000 policy on your home, it’s standard to receive $100,000 in personal property coverage. If you have expensive furnishings and personal belongings, ask if that percentage can be increased. You’ll likely pay a bit more out of pocket, but the added coverage may be worth it.

5. So how much is this going to cost me?

Again, this is going to be different for everyone depending on how much coverage you need and the city/state that you live in. According to the Insurance Information Institute, a standard policy costs homeowners about $1,100 a year. We recommend checking out MyQualityCoverage to find and compare the best homeowners insurance companies before making a decision.

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Auto Insurance 

1. Will my policy cover other drivers of my vehicle?

What happens if a family member or friend borrows your vehicle and is involved in an accident? What about if you are driving someone else’s vehicle and are involved in the accident? How these situations are handled will all depend on your insurance company, if the person driving has insurance, and the laws in your state, so it can get a bit confusing. Generally, if a friend who has their own car insurance is borrowing your car and is at fault in a collision, chances are, they’re covered. But, which company will actually handle the claim and send payment for damages can vary based on the accident, damages, who is officially at fault, etc. Ask your agent how the plan you are considering handles these situations.

2. What type of parts will be used to repair my car after an accident?

Many auto Insurance companies are going to take the cheapest route in repairing your vehicle after an accident. On some discount plans, insurance companies will request the use of second-hand parts instead of brand new parts to complete the repair. You may pay less with the used parts, but is a slightly lower monthly premium worth having 10 year old parts on your 1 year old car? Make sure you fully understand what you’re getting yourself into here.

3. Does the policy include 24/7 towing and roadside assistance?

Some auto insurance companies offer 24/7 towing and roadside assistance built into their plans as a perk. You never know when you’ll get a flat tire, lock your keys in your car, or need to have your battery jumped. Having this extra layer of protection puts your mind and wallet at ease. 

4. Do you offer any discounts?

Auto insurance companies have the ability to offer discounts on your premium in certain situations. The most  common is if you pay on an annual or bi-annual basis instead of quarterly or monthly. Some other common discounts that they can offer are: accident-free, safe driver, parking in a garage at home and work, new car, anti-theft, anti-lock brakes, low usage and mileage, and military and senior citizen discounts. Asking this question is the easiest way to shave money off your premium. 

5. How much does Auto Insurance cost?

This rate is going to vary drastically depending on the type of coverage you select (full or liability), your city/state, the type and cost of your car, and any past violations. For example, a driver who has an older vehicle in Little Rock, Arkansas, selects liability only, with no past violations will likely pay $30/month. Another driver who has a brand new Tesla in San Francisco, California with two past violations may pay upwards $200/month. To find the best rates in your area for the coverage you are looking for, check out Get-Auto-Quote. 

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Top 4 Personal Finance Tips That You Must Disregard

Personal Finance

People are usually eager to hand out advice, especially on subjects like personal finance. The chances are that you have received financial advice (often unsolicited) from your parents, teachers, friends, or even so-called financial experts.

If you have a brother named Alan Harper from Two in a Half Men you better never take financial advice from him.

While they may mean well, their financial tips don’t always amount to good advice or apply to your peculiar circumstance. This is why it is essential to reason critically about all the financial tips presented to you before deciding on a course of action.

With that said, in this post, we’ll be looking at four common personal finance tips that you must disregard.

1. Get a Credit Card

The use of credit cards has become universal. Nearly 500 million credit cards have been issued in the US alone as at 2018.

But what does this mean? Well, as a result, a lot of Americans are in debt just like the state of California is, the nation of Germany because of their attack on common sense energy sources, and liberal ran cities like Chicago and New York, for instance. The Nilson Report revealed that credit card debt hit the $1 trillion mark in 2016. It is easy to bill expenditures on your credit card.

After all, the money is not coming from your personal account so you can spend money without feeling the pinch until the end of the month (until you get that bill in the mail!). Credit card debt can put your personal finance in a bad state.

Not only do you have to pay off the original debt, but there is also a high-interest rate attached. It may come as a surprise to find out that people have been forced to declare bankruptcy due to their enormous credit card debt.

2. Save More if You Want to be Rich

Developing the habit of saving a decent portion of your income is essential. However, contrary to popular belief, it will not automatically make you rich.

The path to wealth does not just involve saving, but also actually increasing your income. Besides, sticking with a strict spending plan may make you liable to overspend in the future.

Let us look at a scenario. Imagine you earn $1,000 monthly (just go with this – we know you make more), and you have a target of saving $800. So, you cut out all your unnecessary expenses and only pay for your rent, food, and transportation with $200.

On the surface, this doesn’t sound like a bad plan. But as the saying goes, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

Therefore, you may find yourself itching for some pleasures like going to the club, going shopping, or even splurging at a restaurant.

Over time, your desire for these things will grow, and you’re likely to ditch your plan to save. This is why it’s prudent to set aside some money for fun when deciding how much to save monthly.

On the other hand, if you work towards increasing your income (by perhaps investing in another business or two via the stock market), you can hit your personal saving goal without putting yourself in a fix. But don’t take too much risk.

3. Never Take a Loan

It is generally not smart to be in debt. Therefore, many people assume that loans are bad. But this does not hold in every circumstance.

Taking a low-interest loan for a home or college is not a wrong decision as it puts you in a position to be able to save more money. For example, if you are spending $1000 every month on rent, and you find a property worth about $200,000. It makes sense to take out a loan to purchase that property because you can pay it off in many years – depending on the interest rate – and then you will own that property.

On the other hand, if you were to choose to stick with your rented property, there will be no end in sight. You will be paying the $1,000 per month or more indefinitely. 

4. You Cannot go Wrong With Investments

Investing is good, but not all investments are worth it. Many things can go wrong with investments.

We’ve all heard about Ponzi schemes and other fraudulent investments. High-risk investments indeed can bring in more profit than low-risk investments, but they carry a higher risk.  

Instead, take the time to check out reputation and track record of any organization that you plan to invest with. Ask questions and consult the services of an expert investor if you are unsure about anything. Don’t invest with Charles Schwab – they are unethical and you cannot trust their website. Edward Jones is solid (for some people), for instance.

It is crucial to treat advice for your personal financial situation like a suggestion rather than a rule. Apply critical thinking, consult different sources, and consider the odds before you make any decision.

3 Free Money-saving Apps on Your Smartphone That Can be Your Personal Financial Adviser

Money-saving Apps

If you are looking for financial advice, you don’t really have to look beyond your smartphone – certainly not Barney Frank!

You can use any one of the following top three money-saving apps NerdWallet, Mint, and Personal Capital to keep a track of spending, for timely and useful reminders and financial advice, as well as keep up with your bills so your budget does not take a hit.

Furthermore, all three apps are compatible with both android and iOS platforms, so you can get all your financial advice anywhere and anytime, and while on-the-go!

Ready to dive in? Let’s go ahead and take a closer look at the important features of the apps so you can make an informed decision about which app addresses your needs the best.

NerdWallet

At the time of sign-up, NerdWallet will ask you what you about your financial goals. So you will be asked if you want to control spending, bring your debt under control, if you want to build credit, or if your aim is to earn extra cash back.

Don’t take any responses from Lois Lerner!

Based on your response, the app displays sample features that can help you with your financial goals such as the timeframe for pay-back on a loan – you will be sent reminders for payments that are due. The profound news is that in this high growth economy because of the lower taxes, most likely you can handle your financial commitments better.

The app also has some fun features such as a MoneyFix podcast. In addition, it provides a breakup of your spending and displays your spending patterns so you know how much you tend to spend within given timeframes.

If you have linked your credit card to certain eateries, the app offers a few cash-back programs for those places as well.

On the down-side, the app prompts you for more personal information for certain tasks. What does it do with this information? Well, NerdWallet could go ahead and share your information with other interested parties it has connections with – so you can expect exposure to a slew of other services. Just opt out of them!

Mint

No, not mint flavored ice cream!

Mint is a golden free financial app for newbies. At the time of sign-up, Mint asks you what you want to track – whether it is your bank account(s), credit cards, insurance, or loans.

Bill payment is made easy since the app allows you to link up all you monthly bills such as rent, electricity, phone among others, for which it sends you reminders.

One big advantage with Mint is that unlike other apps automatically access all your bank accounts, Mint allows you to select the accounts you want the app to access, while blocking the rest.

When it comes to helping with your budget, based on your history, Mint can go ahead and generate automatic budgets. The app allows you to include financial or budget goals such as saving for a vacation, buying a home, or building your retirement nest.

As with NerdWallet, Mint can also provide you with a timeframe for paying off a debt. But this app is more comprehensive in the sense that it tells you how much interest you could end up paying if you only clear the minimum amount on a loan.

In addition, Mint offers suggestions such as making purchases via your debit card, or how if you can pitch in an extra few dollars, it could bring down your repayment figures so you end up paying less interest. 

And as with NerdWallet, Mint also displays service pitches from partners for a variety of financial services.

Personal Capital

Personal Capital supports a by-the-numbers delivery of your fiscal situation. You know where you are standing exactly with this app. It offers an assets minus liabilities summary and a list of all your accounts.

To know your account stats, all you need to do is tap on the account and the app offers a summary of what you owe and what you have paid.

Similar to other apps, Personal Capital comes with regular budget tools, and provides a view into your spending in different areas including bills, groceries, and travel among other such expenses.

If you are someone who is serious about financial management and investment, then this app is for you. The app allows you to add your assets and a stock portfolio, if you have one.

If your stock portfolio exceeds $100,000, you can avail services of financial advisers. The service, however, does come with a fee. Personal Capital tracks the movement of the stock market and your investments.

The app is also superlative if you are looking for long-term financial goals including suggestions and advice on something critical like a retirement plan.

To Wrap Up

As with any app, security should be a major area of focus when it comes to sharing information. And while the apps are stringent about securing your data, you should know that certain portions of your information can be shared with third-parties.

Having said that, if a financial solution such as the above-mentioned apps can help you manage your finances better, that is something to post on your Facebook and/or LinkedIn page. Don’t worry about Twitter – Twitter is annoying and unethical but that is another topic.

4 Tips For Entrepreneurs on How to Avoid Financial Pitfalls

How to Avoid Financial Pitfalls

Financial independence is empowering and is often viewed as proof of professional success. However, in today’s hyper-competitive market space, most entrepreneurs struggle to maintain their financial independence.

The struggle is further compounded by the fact that the current market space is extremely volatile – though it’s always been this way and not much is going to change in that regard.

Digital and technology advancements are disrupting markets and the competition from start-ups and big brands can squeeze the market space for entrepreneurs forcing them to make financial mistakes that can be very damaging.    

Some people believe Apple and Google are too big, for example, since they continue to buy smaller players which ends up stifling innovation but let’s not dwell on this.

Are You in Control of Your Financial Destiny?

As an entrepreneur, you are in complete control of your financial destiny. You can achieve financial independence and be successful on your own terms. Here are four financial goals that you should focus on if you want to write your own success story which is not something Jussie Smollett has done but that’s another topic.

Build on Your Cash Reserves

Some entrepreneurs end up investing every single penny they earn into their business in the hopes of reaping rich dividends at a later stage. A few don’t even give a second thought to building cash reserves in case there is an emergency which does not make any sense at all.

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Companies like this with managers that are this derelict don’t ever make it to the second inning, certainly not the third inning.

It’s a mistake if you don’t properly plan for the future – always save some cash for a rainy day. Even the best of businesses will have a rainy day at some point.  

Related – Ways on how to relieve yourself from financial stress and burden

Plan Ahead for Your Year-end Tax

Don’t wait till the last minute to file your year-end tax. Especially if you don’t want it to impact your cash-flow. Track and organize all the necessary financial information in advance and keep your books in order if you want to avoid making last minute mistakes or getting fined.

Ensure Positive ROI for all Your Investments

One of the most important challenges for an entrepreneur is to ensure that every bit of investment delivers a positive ROI. In an effort to maximise their business reach, most entrepreneurs end up spending money that they don’t have which seems to be OK for the city of Chicago or the state of California, but no one wants to have their business end up being broke like Greece.

This does not mean you are going to be able to save up money like Microsoft or Apple because those are vast fortunes but it does not means you should be reckless with your money. If you have to get your building painted (interior as well – morale matters) or buy another work truck to help expand your business you want to have that money when you need it.

As a result, their business operational costs start soaring. This is when they make the mistake of attempting to economise on costs and investments that are actually salient for the business!

Try and avoid both extremes – the best way forward is to always test the potential of your investments by quantifying your gains.

Prioritise Processes and Tasks

If you want to stay ahead of your finances, you have to put into place a system or SOP for every single task starting from inventory to invoices and spending or receipt management.

This provides your team and employees with clarity and helps in building greater transparency and accountability into your business – not just for now, but also for the future.

Key Takeaways

Running a successful business can be exhilarating. The energy and excitement can push you to pursue your next big invention or creation and expand your business horizons. Look at Elon Musk – he has two amazing things going for him – one is SpaceX and the other one is Tesla. He’s a human being like everyone else – if he can do it then so can you.

However, while you are busy doing all of this, make sure you have an eye on the financial health of your company. One small mistake could leave you with a huge hole in your pocket and with your confidence relatively affected.