An affordable way to qualify for a home loan without that big down payment

(BPT) – For many Americans, the biggest hurdle in buying a home is the 20 percent down payment they think is required for mortgage approval. According to a recent survey by the National Association of Realtors, 34 percent of respondents believe they need more than 20 percent. Meanwhile, low down payment mortgages account for a significant amount of home buying annually.

Families with down payments as low as 3 or 5 percent have been able to purchase a home thanks to private mortgage insurance (MI) for 60 years. Since 1957, MI has helped 25 million families become homeowners. In the past year alone, MI helped more than 795,000 homeowners purchase or refinance a mortgage. Nearly half were first time homebuyers and more than 40 percent had incomes below $75,000.

How MI works

Mortgage insurance is simple. In addition to the other parts of mortgage underwriting process — such as verifying employment and determining the borrower’s ability to afford the monthly payment — lenders traditionally required 20 percent down to ensure the borrower had some of their own money committed before the bank would provide a loan. This is where MI enters, bridging the down payment divide to qualify borrowers for mortgage financing.

Benefits of MI

* It helps you buy a home, sooner. For the average firefighter or school teacher, it could take 20 years to save the typical down payment. Private mortgage insurers help borrowers qualify with as little as 3 percent down.

* It’s temporary, leading to lower monthly payments. MI can be cancelled once you build 20 percent equity, either through payments or home price appreciation — typically in the first five to seven years. This is not the case for FHA loans, the federal government’s form of MI. The majority of which require MI for the life of the loan.

* It provides several flexible payment options. Your lender can offer several options for MI payment; the most common is paid monthly along with your mortgage.

* It’s tax-deductible. Subject to income limits, MI premiums are tax deductible — similar to interest paid on a mortgage. In 2014, 4 million taxpayers benefited from this deduction with the average being $1,402.

MI is a stable, cost effective way to obtain low down payment mortgages, and offers distinct benefits to borrowers. It’s been a cornerstone of the U.S. housing market for decades, providing millions the opportunity to own homes despite financial barriers. Ask your lender for low down payment options using MI. Visit www.USMI.org for more information.

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7 Social Security facts you need to know

(BPT) – Planning ahead and getting an accurate picture of your options may be key to getting the most out of your retirement. However, a survey commissioned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual) aimed to better understand how much Americans know about Social Security retirement benefits suggests many may be leaving Social Security retirement benefits they’re entitled to on the table, or incorrectly assuming what benefits may be available in retirement. Here are some the most common questions and answers for people of all ages:

My spouse can qualify for Social Security retirement benefits, even if he or she has no earnings history. True! Many spouses choose to stay at home to raise children or otherwise spend extended periods of time outside the paid workforce. This can affect a spouse’s ability to qualify for Social Security benefits. In such cases, the spouse who earns less may be eligible for a Social Security spousal benefit. A spousal benefit can be as much as 50 percent of the higher earning spouse’s full retirement age benefit. The exact percentage will depend on whether or not each spouse has reached his or her full retirement age.

As a divorced person, I can collect Social Security retirement benefits based on my ex-spouse’s earnings history. True! You may be eligible to receive retirement benefits based on your ex-spouse’s earnings record, provided your marriage lasted at least 10 years, you are currently unmarried, you are at least 62 years old and the benefit you would receive based on your personal earnings history is less than the benefit amount you would receive if you filed for benefits based on your ex-spouse’s earnings record. If your ex-spouse has not yet applied for retirement benefits, but qualified for them, you can collect benefits based on his or her record provided that you have been divorced for at least two years.

Under current Social Security Law, full retirement age is 65. False! Your full retirement age is based on the year you were born. For people born between 1943 and 1954, the full retirement age is 66. If you were born in 1960 or later, the full retirement age is 67. For anyone born between 1955 and 1959, the full retirement age increases gradually.

Once I start collecting Social Security, my benefit payments will never change. False! The Social Security Act of 1973 included a provision for cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) to help Social Security benefits account for inflation. Each year, the Social Security Administration uses specific indexes and formulas mandated by this legislation to determine whether a COLA will apply to benefits paid in the coming year and if so, how much the increase will be.

If I file for retirement benefits and have minor dependent children, they also may qualify for Social Security benefits. True! When you file for Social Security retirement benefits, your children may also qualify to receive benefits based on your record. An eligible child can be your biological child, adopted child or stepchild. A dependent grandchild may also qualify. Normally, benefits stop when children reach age 18 unless they are disabled. However, if the child is still a full-time student at a secondary school at age 18, benefits will continue until the child graduates or until two months after the child becomes age 19, whichever is first.

I must be a U.S. citizen to collect Social Security retirement benefits. False! You do not have to be a U.S. citizen to qualify for Social Security retirement benefits. Resident aliens who pay into the Social Security system may qualify to receive retirement benefits, assuming they earn enough credits and meet additional criteria. To become part of the Social Security system, non-U.S. citizens must have lawful alien status, permission by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to work in the U.S. and a Social Security Number.

I can continue working while collecting my full Social Security retirement benefits — regardless of my age. False! You can work and receive Social Security retirement benefits. However, if you have not reached full retirement age, your earnings will be subject to the retirement earnings test. If your income exceeds the test limit, Social Security may withhold all or a portion of your benefits. Withheld benefits are repaid over your lifetime once you reach full retirement age.

Final decisions about Social Security filing strategies always rest with you and should always be based on your specific needs and health considerations. It is important to acquire as much information as possible in order to make an informed Social Security claiming decision because one year after the Social Security claiming decision is made, it cannot be changed.

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These online tools can help you find a mortgage that fits

(BPT) – Whether you’re a first-time or experienced homebuyer, chances are a good portion of your real estate journey will take place online. In fact, four in 10 homebuyers start their house-hunting with an online search, according to the National Association of REALTORS. It’s easy to understand why: Online tools and apps can make the homebuying experience — including finding a mortgage — easier and more enjoyable.

If you’ll be shopping for a home, use the tools homebuyers find most useful, according to the Bank of America Homebuyer Insights Report:

* Mortgage calculators — It’s important you’re as comfortable with your mortgage terms and lender as you are with the home you’re paying for. An affordable mortgage helps homebuyers reap the full benefits of home ownership, including building equity and long-term financial security. A mortgage calculator can help you understand what you would pay each month, as well as estimate monthly mortgage payments and rate options.

* Finance websites — Home shoppers can learn a lot about mortgage options and a bank’s customer service through websites that feature reviews of mortgage loan officers and lending institutions. More than a third (36 percent) of first-time homebuyers and more than a quarter (28 percent) of experienced homebuyers use bank apps or websites to research reviews of lenders and loan officers.

* Loan status portals — Applying for a mortgage can sometimes be overwhelming, but real-time loan status information is transforming the process. For example, Bank of America’s Home Loan Navigator allows mortgage applicants to securely upload, submit and sign documents, get real-time status updates on their application and loan, receive important documents and disclosures and communicate with experts via secure messaging.

* Mobile real estate listings — With many home listing websites available, it can be difficult to narrow down online searches to homes that meet all your criteria in your location of choice. Using a bank’s online real estate center can help you refine your home search or, if you’re selling, it can help you determine your home’s estimated value.

* Down payment sources — Saving for a down payment can be one of the most challenging tasks of buying a house. Tools like Bank of America’s Down Payment Resource Center offer a searchable database of more than 1,000 local and national assistance programs that may be able to save you money on your down payment.

* Home design apps — With inspiration in hand, homebuyers can use home design apps to put their ideas into virtual reality. These apps allow you to take and store room measurements, make notes on design ideas and see virtual representations of what your decor plans will look like in your home.

To learn more about home buying and mortgages, visit Bank of America — Home Loans.

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Autumn and early winter: The best times to be a homebuyer?

(BPT) – The long-held belief that summer is the only time to buy a home is fading fast. Savvy home-buyers are learning that when temperatures drop, numerous benefits emerge that simply aren’t available other times of the year.

“With warm weather and many homes on the market, summer is generally the busiest real estate season. However, autumn into early winter can be opportune times for people who are serious about buying a home, too” says Geoff Lewis, RE/MAX, LLC President. “This time of year has big advantages — like motivated sellers and less competition — that simply can’t be ignored.”

If you’re in the market to purchase a home, there’s no need to hang up your house-hunting hat until spring or summer. Lewis offers eight reasons why now might just be the best time to purchase a home.

Year-end tax breaks

As long as you close on the property on or before Dec. 31, any property tax and mortgage interest paid are tax-deductible for that year. This can dramatically impact the amount of money you owe Uncle Sam, or increase your refund.

Less competition

The National Association of Realtors(R) recently noted that, in an average year, nearly half of all home sales occur from May to August. Although most people wait until the hustle and bustle of the spring selling season, you’ll likely encounter less competition during fall and winter. That means less stress and a reduced chance you’ll be involved in a bidding war.

Eager sellers

Sellers become more motivated the longer their home is on the market, especially now that the summer rush is over. If a home has been listed for a while, it may allow buyers more room for negotiation and potentially a better deal.

Quicker transactions

Motivated sellers paired with less-busy title companies may mean a faster closing in fall and winter. Do you want a new home in time for the holidays or new year? It’s entirely possible when you house hunt now.

Cheaper moving prices

You’re probably planning to hire a moving company in some capacity, whether you’re moving across town or across the country. In the fall and winter moving companies tend to be less busy, which means you might have the options of more flexible schedules and lower prices.

Easier to outfit your home

Need a new couch, cutlery or curtains for your home? Year-end sales are perfect for scoring a deal on these otherwise expensive items. Plus, if you move in around the holidays, there are plenty of deals on house-warming gifts.

“In addition to all these benefits for buying post-selling season, interest rates for home loans are still at record lows,” says Lewis.

If you’re thinking of purchasing a home, find more helpful information at www.remax.com.

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No excuses: Preparing for earthquakes goes beyond the ‘Big One’

(BPT) – Through September, more than 2,700 earthquakes with a magnitude of at least 2.5 have rattled the contiguous United States in 2016, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

A majority of those tremors are harmless and might provoke little more than a “Did you feel that?” However, the pure volume of seismic activity should spur more homeowners to be more proactive in mitigating any potential damage.

Earthquakes are unlike any other natural calamity in that there aren’t any warning signs or advanced notice that one will occur. There isn’t a natural earthquake season and, as a result, homeowners may put preparation on the back burner.

Sunde Schirmers, product management director at USAA, believes these common excuses can put property homeowners in a bind should the rumbling come knocking on their doors. Schirmers says it is important to practice emergency plans with your family, review your insurance coverage and prepare your property to help minimize damage.

“Earthquakes don’t happen where I live.”

In a game of word association with a typical U.S. citizen, the word “earthquake” would probably elicit responses like San Andreas and California. Given how quakes are depicted in movies, television and other media, it’s not surprising. Earthquakes are a west coast thing, right?

Wrong. The truth is that every state has a record of earthquakes. In 2015, for example, more earthquakes occurred in Oklahoma than California. Just because one hasn’t hit recently doesn’t mean one won’t hit eventually. Sure, living along the Pacific Coast — from Washington down through California — means having exposure to earthquakes, but there is also a major fault in the Midwest that affects Missouri, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee.

“I can’t protect my home against major earthquakes.”

No, there is not a lot homeowners can do when the big one hits. Earthquakes reaching a 7.0 magnitude are considered major and can cause a significant amount of damage. Gladly, those are rare.

The bad news is that earthquakes need only reach a magnitude of 4.0 to cause minor damage according to the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale. Of the 2,700 earthquakes mentioned above, more than 60 reached that threshold.

Household damage from a minor quake is most often broken dishes and shuffled wall decor, but it could stretch beyond that without some basic preparation.

Potential trouble spots could include:

* Chimneys: A few well-placed metal straps may prevent it from toppling — and taking chunks of wall with it.

* Water heaters: Brace your household water heater to the wall. A fallen water heater may expose pipes and lead to flooding and even fire.

* Windows: To prevent shattering, install protective safety film on the inside of your windows to minimize damage from a temblor.

“My homeowners/renters insurance should cover any property damage.”

Simply, earthquake damage is not covered by a standard homeowners insurance policy, but coverage can be added by endorsement or by purchasing a separate policy. Though USAA renters insurance includes earthquake coverage, many leading insurers do not. The seemingly growing prevalence of tremors should make supplemental earthquake coverage a serious consideration for homeowners.

In addition, the cost of a serious quake could devastate your finances. According to a 2010 study by the Consortium of Universities for Research in Earthquake Engineering (CUREE), estimated damage resulting from an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.0 will equal more than 30 percent of your home’s value.

According to Schirmers, for most states, the average cost for coverage is between $100 and $300 annually. California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska tend to have higher average premiums, with an average cost around $800.

For more information on earthquake preparedness and insurance, visit USAA.com and search “earthquake.”

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Scaring up cash: Liberate yourself from haunted finances and prosper

(BPT) – Did you retire the checkbook and register years ago? Do you now pay your bills automatically? If you answered yes to these questions, then you may be in the dark about your account balance(s) and exactly where your money is going. One or more skeletons could be lurking in your financial closet. Oh, the horror!

Fear not this Halloween season. Let’s get you to a healthier, happier place. It’s time to reverse the ghastly trends bewitching your finances and scare up some cash for life’s next big moment.

1. Prioritize for less trick or more treat.

To get the most out of your money, you need priorities. Start with a list of core expense categories: home (mortgage, repairs, utilities), health (meals, gym, medical), vanity (clothing, hygiene), entertainment (movies, sporting events), travel, commute (car loan, gas), savings and miscellaneous. Organize as many expenses as you can under these. When one doesn’t fit, boot that skeleton and it won’t spook you any longer. Now, order the categories from most to least important. When money is scarce, priorities help you to reduce or cut an expense altogether. Here’s a budget tracker to help you get started.
TIP: Any system you create or adopt to eliminate distractions and better sort through the numbers will increase your ability to make sound financial decisions.

2. Look into your haunted habits.

Pull aside the cobwebs on your checking account and closely examine the ghosts of intentions past. Maybe it’s a gym membership you no longer use, or perhaps you’re spending too much on a hobby. Here’s one that can really haunt cash flow — dining out too often. It’s easy for new expenses to creep in, stay too long and burden you. Some begin as an investment in a good thing, but then life happens. Be honest — you won’t finish all you start. The wind shifts and so will you.

TIP: By facing the realities, you can re-align your spending with your greatest wants and needs.

3. Don’t get spooked.

Financial habits form easily. While some can be difficult to reverse, few things are as frightful as a shrinking account balance! Be strong and level with yourself. Which expenditures can you continue to afford? Which need to be retired? Calm those eerie voices in your head that won’t leave you alone. You should be doing this. You could be there instead. The calling may be medical expenses, a bigger car to accommodate the kids, a much-needed home repair or a vacation.

TIP: As Benjamin Franklin warned, “Never leave that till tomorrow which you can do today.”

4. Be patient, but be constant.

Depending on the amount of money you’re trying to scare up, it could take months or years to save, so start now. Monitor progress and hold the course dutifully. The ghosts that once haunted your cash flow probably lingered for months (if not years). Saving money often takes time, and while the impact of your new financial priorities could produce an immediate bump, most will take longer to deliver. Some experts in supernatural phenomena recommend you clean your house regularly to discourage ghosts from returning. Some believe ringing a bell is a good practice.

TIP: Set alarms in your phone to encourage regular reviews of expenses and other sound financial habits.

5. Live peacefully and prosper.

The hard work has been done — you faced the ghosts, weren’t spooked, retired them and got your financial house in order. Congratulations, you chose the future over the past! Now, go forward with renewed energy.

Here are a few suggestions for the cash you’ve scared up:

* Open or boost a savings account.
* Take on a certificate with a yield.
* Invest in a money market fund.
* Enjoy that vacation you’ve wanted to take.
* Contribute to your retirement savings.
* Get a head start on home improvements before the spring.

“You rarely hear anyone say, ‘I started saving for retirement too early in life,’” says Kevin Driscoll, vice president of advisory services at Navy Federal Financial Group. “If you start saving earlier than later, you’ll be financially healthier throughout your retirement years.”

TIP: Align your money closely with short and long-term goals to reduce anxiety and enhance your well-being.

Get started.

Money matters are so much more than a series of cold numbers. How you manage your financial house can bring warmth to your life or haunt your cash flow. Here’s to taking a few sound steps toward scaring the horror from your finances.

“Invest in your future today and reap the rewards of financial freedom later,” says Thomas Racca Jr., manager in Navy Federal’s Personal Finance Management division. “The choice is ultimately up to you. If you work hard at following these steps, then you can achieve your personal goals and also enjoy the journey along the way.”

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Open Talk About Open Enrollment: 5 Surprising Ways Americans React to the Annual Process

(BPT) – We all have annual to-do’s — from filing our taxes to celebrating our birthdays, these once-a-year rituals are in the fabric of our lives. Some tasks we enjoy more than others, but each holds significance. One of these important yearly tasks is selecting your insurance benefits at work during what is commonly referred to as open enrollment. With the stresses of work and life already bearing down on us, having to choose from a sometimes complicated set of benefit options can be a struggle. But is this process really so bad? How do people really feel about open enrollment?

For the second year in a row, VSP Vision Care, the nation’s only not-for-profit vision care company, conducted the “Open Talk About Open Enrollment” national survey to get to the bottom of what this time period really means for people — and some of it may surprise you.

Here are five key takeaways revealed by the 2016 survey:

1. You may not know it, but you’re probably not looking forward to it.

More than a third (36 percent) of respondents reported approaching open enrollment with “dread” or “annoyance.” However, more than half (53 percent) of respondents felt “satisfied” or “relieved” when the process was over.

2. Most people take their time with the open enrollment process, but don’t push the deadline.

Among all respondents, the majority (54 percent) chose “Relaxed Rule Follower” (not early, not last-minute) to describe the timeliness with which they actually complete open enrollment. Just over a third (35 percent) chose “Eager Completer” (get it done right away) and the remaining respondents (11 percent) went with “Persistent Procrastinator” (put it off until the last possible moment).

3. The ultimate question: open enrollment or doing your taxes?

In a list of other annual to-dos, open enrollment landed in the middle when survey respondents were asked to rank in order what they would most like to do:

1. Doing your taxes
2. Celebrating your birthday
3. Completing open enrollment
4. Doing holiday shopping
5. Getting your yearly physical

4. Public speaking trumps all.

When included on a list of possible things to never have to do again, open enrollment came in last, with the majority preferring instead to eliminate speaking in public, waiting in an airport security line, and going to the dentist (in that order) from the rest of their lives.

5. Vision plan knowledge and importance are up.

The number of respondents who reported feeling “more knowledgeable” about their vision benefits increased by 11 points this year (66 percent compared to 55 percent in the 2015 survey). Additionally, the number of respondents who ranked having a vision plan as “important” or “very important” was up by 10 points (83 percent compared to 73 percent in 2015). Vision care is typically one of the easiest, quickest and least expensive benefit options to review and select. When it comes to vision care, just “check the box”. Learn more at www.SeeMuchMore.com.

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Chores earn high marks as financial teaching tools, parents agree

(BPT) – When you pay your child $5 to clean the garage or $6 to mow the lawn, you’re accomplishing far more than just getting the tasks done. A majority of parents use chores to teach their kids that money should be earned, a new study reveals.

“Sixty-eight percent of parents believe kids should get an allowance for doing chores,” says Troy Frerichs, director of wealth management at COUNTRY Financial, which sponsored the survey. “Assigning kids chores and paying them for accomplishing their tasks is one way parents can teach their children about finances and the value of money, in a way that they can easily understand. Paid chores also instill work ethic, impart an understanding of the value of money, and inspire financial independence.”

In teaching kids about the value of money, today’s parents appear to be trying to spare their children some of their own pitfalls when it comes to learning about finances. The survey found that nearly half of parents learned about money on their own, and only 39 percent were taught by parents or family members. Among millennials, 48 percent learned from their parents.

Chores are a powerful way to help children learn money management skills that will be valuable throughout their lives.

Using chores to teach

COUNTRY Financial, which recently launched the free ChorePal app to help parents teach children the basics of money, asked a panel of family bloggers how they use chores to help teach financial lessons to their children.

* Ari Adams, who blogs at www.lovepeaceandtinyfeet.com, suggests playing a grocery-themed game with children. Gather grocery items from home and put price tags on everything. Give children play money to shop with, making sure you have more groceries than they have money. The “shortfall” teaches children the importance of planning and making careful selections. Older children can use coupons to make their money go farther.

* Turn “no” into a teachable moment. “When a child asks for something in a store, instead of just saying no, take the opportunity to teach a financial lesson,” suggests Paula Rollo of www.beautythroughimperfection.com. “Show your child something you want to purchase in another area of the store, and explain why that item, along with the toy he or she wants, is staying at the store. This helps children understand budgeting and smart spending.”

* Establish a time for chores. Just as you have set hours for work, set kids up with a time of day for doing chores. “This will teach them how to plan ahead to get their responsibilities done,” Rollo says. “It will also help them to start creating their own daily schedules so they have time to do everything they want to get done each day.”

* Introduce spending, saving and giving concepts. “Giving teaches them to be generous first,” Kristen Chidsey of amindfulmom.com says. “And saving teaches money management skills at an early age. If children can master these lifelong skills at an early age, they will have a better chance of being financially responsible adults.”

* Teach children how fortunate they are by serving with them at local food banks, visiting nursing homes or children in the hospital, making cookies for a friend, or helping with a community cleanup project. “When your children see the needs of others, it opens their eyes to how blessed they are,” Chidsey says.

* Tap technology to communicate money and chore-related lessons. The ChorePal app, which is available on Apple and Android devices, allows parents to set chores and rewards, helps kids see their earnings add up as they complete tasks, set long- and short-term goals, and even earn fun badges for accomplishments. Parents and children can discuss household chores, schedule them, and agree on rewards. Learn more at GetChorePal.com. To download the free app, visit googleplay.com or itunes.com.

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4 popular benefits that can help protect your retirement savings

(BPT) – Would you plug a leak if it cost $6 billion a year?

That’s the amount of “leakage” or retirement savings lost every year from retirement savers defaulting on their loans from 401(k) plans, according to a 2014 report by the Pension Research Council (PRC), Borrowing from the Future: 401(k) Plans and Loan Defaults. Draining retirement savings for other purposes ultimately makes is harder to prepare for retirement.

But loans and withdrawals from 401(k) plans are sometimes the only options available to workers who are faced with unexpected financial emergencies. Bankrate.com’s 2016 Financial Security Index finds that 29 percent of Americans have no savings to address emergencies. But other options are increasingly becoming available.

“Employers are focusing more on improving their employees’ financial wellness by making available educational programs and introducing financial products that can help workers protect their savings,” says Tom Foster, spokesperson for workplace solutions at Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. (MassMutual). “It’s important to make sure you’re aware of all of the benefits your employer makes available and how they can help you manage your personal finances.”

Benefits are being introduced at the workplace to help employees address financial emergencies such as a critical illnesses, disabilities, accidents, big car repair bills or other misfortunes without cracking open their retirement savings:

* Pre-approved emergency loans: Some programs allow employees to obtain credit online without having to fill out forms or visit a bank. The most helpful programs prequalify employees for credit based on their employment and their ability to repay. Often, employees can repay the loans through payroll deduction. The rates on such loans can be as low as 6 percent.

* Critical illness coverage: Medical treatment and other expenses related to a serious illness can quickly run into several thousands of dollars, especially with the growing prevalence of high-deductible health care coverage. Critical illness policies provide cash for insureds to pay for a myriad of expenses, from medical deductibles and co-pays to pharmaceuticals and comfort-related costs if an employee or a family member suffers a serious illness.

* Accident insurance: Few emergencies can derail personal finances more quickly than an injury caused by an accident, especially for those who live paycheck to paycheck. More than 40 million injuries are treated by emergency rooms every year, according to the 2014 FastStats report on Emergency Department Visits by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Policies typically pay cash in a lump-sum to cover anything from medical insurance deductibles and co-pays, down time from work and other unanticipated expenses.

* Disability protection: Many people can’t make ends meet for more than a few weeks without a paycheck. A disabling accident or illness can easily knock someone out of work for weeks or even months. Group disability policies are available to cover short-term disabilities that last as long as six months or long-term disabilities that can take years or even become permanent. Many workers should consider securing a policy that protects at least 50 percent of their paycheck and buy additional coverage of up to 60 percent or 70 percent, if available.

Many employers make these benefits available on a voluntary basis, meaning employees pay the premiums at relatively low group rates.

“Taken together or individually, these protection benefits can help shield you against financial misfortunes and give you an alternative to tapping your retirement savings,” Foster said. “Then, as your financial situation improves, you can gradually boost your personal and retirement savings to enhance your financial wellness.”

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Wireless home phone devices offer savings and mobility

(BPT) – It seems more and more of us are “cutting the cord” these days, moving away from hard-wired connections to cable TV, internet service and more. The freedom to go wireless offers options that we couldn’t have imagined just five or 10 years ago — you can stream movies on your phone while sitting in the backyard, or do a Google search as you wait in line at the grocery store.

The last bastion of hard-wired service, the good old home telephone, is undergoing this transformation as well. Cellular providers now offer devices that let you turn your traditional home phone into a line on your cellular account. You keep your home phone number, and even continue using your existing home telephone. But you’re no longer required to stay tethered to phone jacks — nor do you have to keep your home phone at home.

Small device, simple setup

Wireless home phone service is offered under various names — usually Wireless Home Phone or Home Phone Connect. It allows a regular wired telephone to connect to cellular networks as if it were a mobile phone.

Connections are made via a small device you can place almost anywhere in your home. It’s about the size of a wireless router, and contains the necessary electronics to provide voice-only telephone service to your phone from one or two jacks on the back of the unit. It also has a small radio antenna and a transceiver for the wireless side of the connection.

The only plug-ins required are your phone (or its charging base) into one of the rear jacks, and a power cord. Most wireless home phone devices also include LED indicator lights on the front to show signal strength and indicate waiting voicemail messages.

Savings on landline, long distance

If you already have cellphone service, you can add wireless home phone to your account for the cost of purchasing the device (expect to pay around $50), plus the cost of adding a secondary line for the service, which can be as little as $10 per month.

With most carriers, you’ll simply share the airtime minutes on your existing monthly cellular plan with your home phone line. Nationwide coverage is also a feature of most cellular calling plans, so in addition to your redundant landline service, you eliminate the need for a long distance carrier. There are even special rates just for seniors: for instance, Consumer Cellular, which specializes in service to users over 50 years of age, offers no-contract, post-paid plans at discounted rates to AARP members.

If you don’t currently have cellular service, you can still convert your landline to mobile simply by ordering a wireless home phone device, then signing up for a monthly service plan that covers the number of minutes you’re likely to use each month.

Never miss a call — anywhere you go

Wireless home phone service redefines the meaning of “home.” The device is completely portable, so your service is, too; you can make and receive calls anywhere you have access to a cellular signal and an electrical outlet. Set it up anywhere you want in your home — you’re no longer restricted to locations near a wall jack.

Perhaps more significantly, you can take it with you to a second home, a hotel or even a campsite and still receive calls made to your home telephone number, if cellular reception and a power source are available. It also works well with home phones that have additional handsets. By connecting the wireless home phone device to the base of your primary cordless phone, it becomes accessible to your other cordless extensions, giving you even more calling flexibility.

Making the cut

Like any cord cutting measure, wireless home phone service isn’t necessarily for everybody. Your telephone service becomes completely dependent on a cellular signal — if, for instance, the nearest cell tower experiences an outage, you’ll be unable to make anything except emergency calls. There’s also no data signal on the line, so wireless home phone devices can’t be used with medical monitoring devices or fax machines.

But if you’ve been seeking a way to cut the costs of your landline service while also keeping your longtime home telephone number, it offers a practical and affordable solution. You save on monthly service, eliminate long distance charges, and the portability offers true modern luxury, especially for “snowbirds” or retirees who travel frequently. It’s a nice way to make yourself feel at home — wherever you go!

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