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A simple test can save lives

Mar 1
Category | Helpful Tips

smoke detector with a finger about to press the test button

A simple test can save lives

The National Fire Protection association reports 70% of smoke alarms that did not work during a fire had missing or dead batteries. Have you tested yours recently?

It's a good idea to get in the habit of changing the batteries in your Smoke and Carbon Monoxide detectors when you change your clocks for Daylight Saving time. As a rule of thumb, it’s important to change your detector batteries yearly, test your detectors monthly and replace the entire alarm every ten years. Take some time this month to check that your detectors are installed correctly to keep yourself and your family safe.

Firefighters spraying water at a blazing fireSmoke and Carbon Monoxide Detector Safety Checklist:

  • Make sure there are smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in EVERY sleeping room in the house, every hallway and every additional level of your home including the basement.
  • The smoke alarm in the basement should be placed on the ceiling at the bottom of the stairs that lead to the next level.
  • Smoke alarms that are mounted on the wall should be 4” from the ceiling. Smoke alarms that are mounted on the ceiling should be mounted 4” from the wall.
  • Avoid putting your Smoke alarms within 10 feet of cooking appliances to avoid false alarms.
  • Carbon Monoxide Detectors should ideally be at knee level, but they can be installed at chest level if you have children. Make sure Carbon Monoxide detectors are not blocked by curtains or furniture.
  • Never paint over your alarms or put any sort of decal over them. This can affect the ability of the alarm to work properly.

​These steps may seem like a pain, but it's a little bit of effort that can save lives. Make the time and be safe!

Fire extinguishers

Helpful Tips

A tree bearing money

5 ways to accomplish your financial goals in 2019

Just about everyone sets resolutions after January 1. A recent Better Sleep Council poll found nearly 90 percent of Americans consider making new personal goals when the year begins anew. 

The resolutions people hope to achieve are as numerous as the stars in the sky — and many of them relate to money. The BSC survey found spending less and saving more was the fourth-most popular one in 2018.

More important than setting resolutions is actually achieving them. That's easier said than done — as anyone who's tried knows. Now that a little time has passed, some of those goals may have been set on back burners by now. Here are five steps that can help you get new inspiration and cross the financial wellness finish line.

1. Write down the goal

Goals are like problems: You have to define them in order to go about reaching or solving them. As recommended by the American Institute of CPAs, ask yourself "What do I want?" when it comes to finances. Are you looking to save more money? Get out of debt? Improve your credit? Be as specific as possible.

2. Keep track of your spending

Here's an eye-opening stat: Nearly 70 percent of U.S. gross domestic product derives from consumer spending. You can understand why. Everyone buys to improve their lives, whether it's basic necessities or wants, like the latest smartphone or tablet. 

It's the ongoing expenses that really add up. Whatever you buy or spend on a daily, weekly or annual basis, jot it down. Alternatively, consider downloading a mobile app. There are literally dozens of free and pay-for apps that can help you identify what your money is going toward and how you can go about curbing spending if anything seems disproportionate.

3. Take control of your credit

If you've ever borrowed money, you have a credit score, which is a barometer of your money management habits. Generally speaking, the higher your credit score, the better off you'll be in terms of approval and interest rates for loans.

If you're not checking your score at least every few months, get into that habit. Your score will improve by paying down debt, keeping balances low and consistently meeting bill deadlines.

4. Budget, budget, budget

The ideal is never having to worry about money. A great way to achieve this aim is through budgeting. Making a budget requires running the numbers. Whether it's for groceries, dining out or spending for your kids' extracurricular activities, set a limit for each category and commit to not going over it. The money saved adds up rather quickly.

5. Outline a deadline

Deadlines for accomplishing goals can be tricky because you don't want to set up one too soon, or late. In other words, you want it to be achievable, but not in a time period that's unrealistic.

Talk to a financial advisor about setting up a deadline that is challenging enough for it to require accountability and discipline. Mobile apps may offer suggestions on the ideal time line.

Here's to 2019 being the year your money goals become financial feats!

Helpful Tips

Front yard

4 expert curb appeal tips for home sellers

So you're thinking about selling your house. Well, you picked a great time to put it up for sale, as inventory remains quite low nationwide.

gardening and painting toolsAs of early 2019, there were roughly 1.74 million properties available for purchase, according to the National Association of Realtors. That is better than where things were at this point in 2018 (1.67 million). Historically speaking, that's the textbook definition of a seller's market.

In short, when you include your house among online listings, it will almost surely receive notice from those eager to buy. With that said, though, placing a "for sale" sign on your front yard and hoping for the best won't cut it. You're going to want to add some good old-fashioned curb appeal to wow would-be buyers.

There's no need to reinvent the wheel to give your place some added panache. Here are a few of the most popular curb appeal ideas you might want to consider:

1. Beautify with colorful plants

Nothing captures the attention quite like colorful plants do. Speaking to HGTV, landscape designer Sheri Silver noted that window boxes, front beds and potted plants provide an "instant lift" to your home's look, so be sure to include them when posting pictures.

2. Change the door knobs

Little things can make a big difference. Chief among them are the door knobs. As noted by DIY Network, while they may seem somewhat insignificant, door knobs add ready-made flare to the front and back doors, which the eyes naturally gravitate to when scanning listings. Get some feedback from your design-enthusiast friends so you find the best match for your house's architecture. Adding color to the front door - like a bold red - can help make the knobs more of a focal point.

3. Seek symmetry

Whether it's matching plants to flank your house's entrance or lantern-style sconces positioned similarly, symmetry is naturally pleasing to the eye, according to Better Homes & Gardens. Whatever style, item or installation you decide to add, look for opportunities to correspond one feature with another.

4. Clear out the gutters

When was the last time you cleaned your gutters out? Gutters collect debris and channel rainwater away from your house to reduce localized flooding. That's an important job, but a dirty - and unsightly - one if you don't maintain the gutters. Be sure to give them a good cleaning.

With a little creativity and some elbow grease, you can get your house in tip-top selling shape in no time!

Helpful Tips

Spring cleaning tips

Feb 5
Category | Helpful Tips

box full of clothes and toys

Spring cleaning tips

The new year is in motion and spring is in sight. It's a great time to evaluate the things you have in your home, declutter, and donate. Donating things you no longer need will free up space in your home and allow your items to better serve someone else who needs them. Decluttering your home can seem like a daunting task, but sorting through your home will be more manageable if you tackle it in these four categories: Toys, books, wardrobe, and furniture.

Declutter and Donate -  spread the love

If you have children, or are an adult with a healthy toy collection of your own, toys and entertainment items are a good place to start. Look through and donate the entertainment items that have been outgrown or no longer hold interest. If these are your children's toys, involve your kids in the process of going through their toys to teach them the positive impact of clearing space. Make sure to include them in donating their toys so they can understand and appreciate that their toys are going to children who might need them. If these are outdated electronics, look locally to see if there are programs near you that accept old technologies for teaching or recycling.

Trust the Dust - a signal that it might be time to let go

Sort through the books that have been collecting dust on your shelves. Used bookstores, schools, libraries, and thrift stores will be thrilled with your donation.

Undress the Mess - figure out what you love and use

Clearing out your closet is a great opportunity to create more order in your daily routine. Oprah Winfrey’s closet hanger experiment is an excellent way to create space in your closet. Turn all of your hangers to the reverse direction in your closet. Every time you wear a garment, flip the hanger to the correct direction. After six months, evaluate the articles of clothing with hangers still facing the reverse direction and consider donating them.

Does your household have a pile of tennis shoes that are too worn to donate? Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe Program can still put those dirty kicks to good use. The Reuse-A-Shoe Program takes old sneakers and turns them into footwear, apparel, and sport surfaces through Nike Grind. Nike placed Reuse-A-Shoe bins in every one of their retail locations and accepts any brand of athletic shoes for this program. 

Go Big - out with the old

If you have gently used furniture and appliances you no longer need, there are many charities that will come to you and pick up your donations for free.

Decluttering your home can reduce stress and maximize space in your home. Donating the gently used items you no longer need will ensure that your things will be used and help the community after you part with them. Make it a positive activity and get everyone in your household involved in decluttering your home and spreading the love!

Things to Consider

house sitting on top of a piggy bank

Should you consider refinancing your mortgage?

If you've been a homeowner for a little while now, you may be asking yourself the all-important question, "Should I refinance my mortgage?"

People refinance their mortgages every day. Back when rates hovered between 3.5 percent and 4 percent, refinancing constituted a majority of the home loan application volume that took place each week, according to archived data maintained by the Mortgage Bankers Association. Lately, however, the refinancing portion of application activity has slid considerably, dipping below 40 percent.

You probably know the reason why: Rates have risen. Based on Freddie Mac data, 30-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged approximately 4.8 percent toward the end of 2018. That's up nearly a full percentage point from the final month of 2017.

Given this, you may be under the impression that refinancing your home loan doesn't make sense. However, even a fraction of a difference in your current interest rate can help you save potentially hundreds - if not thousands - off your mortgage over time.

Generally speaking, experts say refinancing is worthwhile when you can lower your rate by half a percentage point. As an example, perhaps your mortgage currently has an interest rate of 5 percent or thereabouts. By shopping around and running the numbers via a refinance calculator, a 4.5 percent rate can take off around $50 to $100 off what you spend each month in interest. The exact amount, of course, depends upon the terms of the loan. That kind of money really adds up over time so you can keep more of what you earn.

Having said all that, a lower interest rate isn't the only reason why it may make sense to refinance. Here are two other worthwhile justifications:

1) Your house is worth more

Homeownership is a smart investment, especially these days, as more homes are appreciating in value. According to recent quarterly figures from ATTOM Data Solutions, approximately 14.5 million properties are in positive equity. That accounts for roughly 1 in 4 homeowners who still have outstanding mortgage balances. Determining the value of your house is a bit more involved than positive equity data, but this gives you an idea.

As noted by Credit Karma, refinancing your mortgage with more equity available can provide added funds to pay off other expenses. This is made possible through cash-out refinance services, which work much like a home equity loan. You can then use the extra cash however you'd prefer.

2) You have a better credit score

Do you check your credit score? More specifically, do you check it often? Many people don't, unfortunately. You should get in the habit because the higher your score is, the better terms you get from lenders. You're entitled to a free credit report every year - one from all three credit bureaus. Once you get the information, reach out to your mortgage loan officer and run the numbers. You'll see what you may be able to save assuming your score is in better shape now.

Sure, rates may be slightly higher today compared to last year - but they're still quite low by historical standards. Your next step here is a simple one: Talk to your lender soon to determine if refinancing is ideal for you.

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