Tips to save money and energy this winter

(BPT) – Winter is a time of year when expenses can soar, especially your utility bills. Thankfully, Chip Wade, HGTV expert, has some advice on how you can save energy, and ultimately money, this year:

* Lighting: LED bulbs are 90 percent more efficient than incandescent light bulbs.

* Prevent heat loss: Find and seal air leaks in your home. “Areas around windows and doors are often culprits for allowing heat to escape,” says Wade. Use caulking or weatherstripping to seal these leaks and keep the heat inside your home.

* Water heating: Did you know you can control the temperature of your water heater? Most households only require water heater thermostats to be set at 120 F, which is lower than what the temperature is typically set at. By lowering your water heating temperature, you’re not only reducing energy, but also preventing water from becoming dangerously hot.

* Adjust the temperature: Hosting a gathering? Consider turning the thermostat down. “More people in your home means an increase in your home’s temperature,” says Wade. “To accommodate for this, I turn my thermostat five to ten degrees lower than normal before guests arrive, so that they are comfortable.” Also, if you’re traveling, it’s good to keep in mind that programmable thermostats like the YORK Affinity Hx Touch-screen Thermostat can take care of temperature adjustments for you while you’re away. YORK’s free downloadable app allows you to control the thermostat from your smartphone, no matter where you travel.

* Maintain your heating system: Be sure to schedule regular service appointments with your local technician to keep your heating and cooling system running properly. Also, set a calendar reminder to replace your air filters once a month to maintain proper airflow.

* Choose a high-efficiency furnace: Save energy heating your home by choosing a high-efficiency furnace. “Always consider a furnace’s annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) rating,” says Wade. “The higher the AFUE, the more efficient the furnace and the greater the amount of heat it delivers for your money. Look for models with AFUE of 90 percent or higher.”

For more ways to save energy and money, visit www.YORK.com.

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Woman visibly stressed while reviewing family finances

Solving 5 pain points in the homebuying process

(BPT) – When it comes to buying a home, the beauty of the process is truly in the eye of the beholder. Some people see the opportunity to start a new life, live their dreams and make memories that will, quite literally, last a lifetime. Others get caught up in the problems associated with the home purchasing process, including its myriad pain points, some of which are listed below.

Whichever path you follow, buying a home should be one of the most exciting moments in your life, so follow along to see which pain points in the process you might encounter, and what you can do about them.

1. Packing and moving

According to research from loanDepot, almost 66 percent of respondents listed packing and moving as one of their biggest moving stressors. To combat this problem, start packing early and you’ll avoid the mad dash at the end. You should also seek friends to help you move your items with a promise of a party at the end. The money you spring for pizza will be well worth it.

2. Timing the move

Timing is crucial during a move, so it’s no surprise that 63 percent of those surveyed listed it as one of their greatest stressors. To take the stress out of your situation, it helps to plan for a delay. Rent a storage locker or set up a relative who can host you in a pinch just in case things don’t align as you plan. Plan for the worst and chances are you won’t need your backup plan.

3. Not selling your home quick enough

This is often a product of supply and demand, but your real estate agent should be able to give you a realistic expectation of when your home should sell with current market timing based on realistic comps available in your region. Be honest with them as to when you need your home to sell and be ready to lower your price if absolutely necessary. If getting rid of your old house is paramount, lowering your price to its minimum acceptable value can help make that happen.

4. Coordinating the inspections and paperwork

Inspections and paperwork take time, so your best bet here is to make sure you have time available and protected on your calendar. Once again, your real estate agent can be a valuable resource to guide you through all of the paperwork and inspections that must be completed. They may also have some advice on who to contact to hurry the process along. Once you’ve got the proper information, reach out immediately. The sooner you make contact, the sooner you can get on their calendar and get this necessary work done.

5. Not being able to meet your financial obligations

Whether it’s the down payment for your home or the mortgage itself, buying a new house carries with it a considerable financial obligation — probably the largest you will ever enter into — and that’s certainly cause for stress. Since it’s such an important purchase, not any loan will do. You want to find the best loan opportunity you can. loanDepot can help. loanDepot matches borrowers through technology and high-touch customer care with the credit they need. This allows you to use loanDepot to look for potential loans outside your immediate market and even compare loans to find the best plan for you — a must with a purchase as important as your new home. So don’t delay. Connect with our lending experts today and take some of the stress out of your homebuying process.

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3 technology tips for last-minute gift giving

(BPT) – The holidays are a favorite time of year for many. We love decorating our homes, baking cookies, donating to our favorite charities, and listening to those classic songs we only get to enjoy a few short weeks each year. There’s all the holiday parties and celebrations. And of course, a big part of the season includes buying gifts for those we care about.

There’s a lot that’s crammed into the holidays, so finding the time to get to everything we want and need to do can feel challenging. Fortunately, technology can help!

Check out these gifting tips to help you save time and stay within budget this year.

Free up some room in your sleigh.

If you’re traveling for the holidays, the trip itself often has an impact on the gifts you purchase. But it doesn’t have to. If a long flight or drive made you shy away from larger gifts in the past, choose to buy online and ship your gifts to your final destination this year. Many of these services also offer gift wrapping and because the package is already being shipped, you don’t need to delay your trip waiting for your package to arrive.

No minute like the last minute.

This holiday season forget old fashioned cash and checks. There’s a new way to gift money right from your mobile banking app with Zelle®. Forget about going to the ATM, or having to find a stamp and then wait for the person to go cash your check. Zelle enables you to send money quickly, safely and easily with your mobile phone to almost anyone with a bank account in the U.S. Best of all, the funds are available to your loved one typically within minutes[1] when both parties are already enrolled. Most likely, you already have Zelle as part of your mobile banking app; otherwise, you can still use Zelle by downloading the Zelle app for Android and iOS.

Getting the elves together.

You have that special friend who deserves the designer purse and you know how much it would mean to her. You round up your girlfriends and pool your money together. You can use Zelle to split the cost of the gift with everyone. All you need is their email address or U.S. mobile phone number[2]. Zelle lets you request money with just a few taps on your mobile phone, making it easy to pool your resources and get the perfect gift for that special person on your list.

The holidays are the most wonderful time of the year, but they can also be hectic, particularly if you haven’t finished your shopping. Technology can help you make every minute count. Utilize some of the tips above and hopefully your holiday shopping and the festivities will be a littler merrier for you and your loved ones.

To learn more about Zelle and its participating financial institutions, visit www.zellepay.com.

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[1] Transactions between enrolled users usually take minutes. Must have a bank account in the U.S. to use Zelle. Zelle and the Zelle marks are property of Early Warning Services, LLC.

[2] Must have a bank account in the U.S. to use Zelle. Zelle and the Zelle marks are property of Early Warning Services, LLC.

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New ways renters are becoming homeowners

(BPT) – Sponsored Content from Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance, Inc.

The world that millennials have grown up in is a lot different than the world the Gen Xers and Baby Boomers knew. The digital revolution, widespread use of smartphones and adoption of disruptive technologies such as ride sharing and vacation rental apps are just a few of the factors that have altered the social landscape.

Unfortunately, rising student debt, rising home prices and other economic factors have hit many millennials and left them to believe that they cannot afford a home. Many feel as though they have been priced out of the American dream and they will never be able to buy a home.

But no matter what your age, there are plenty of ways to become a homeowner, you just have to think a little more creatively.

The rise of the rental

Looking at current trends, a recent research study found that more U.S. households are now renting than at any time in the last 50 years. With a rising number of renters, many have worried that we are becoming a nation of renters rather than a nation of homeowners.

This is most evident with the younger generation, people under 30, who the National Multifamily Housing Council have found now account for 50 percent of all renters in the U.S.

They aren’t renting because it’s a more affordable option, either. As many residents know throughout the country, rents are going up and up. Between 2012 and 2015, the median gross rent has gone up 8.24 percent, rising to $959. When you combine that with the utilities, a deposit and first and last month’s rent, it’s a lot of money to spend on something you will never own.

So why do people choose to rent? One reason is that many don’t realize that just like phones, cars and countless other things we use on a daily basis, homes have changed.

New priorities mean a new solution

As demand for housing increases, and prices on new and existing homes continue to rise, manufactured housing has adapted to the standards of today’s first-time homebuyers and provides a solution for a market in short supply of quality, affordable options.

In 2016, the average sales price for a manufactured home without land was around $70,600 — that’s an average of $48.82 per square foot — making them an affordable solution to renters looking to become homeowners.

“We believe manufactured homes offer a great solution for many households seeking affordable housing,” says Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance Inc. President Eric Hamilton. “We work with our customers to help find financing options that fit their needs and circumstances.”

Renters don’t have to continue doling out a monthly check for something they’ll never own. The housing market has changed and with this change, manufactured homes have brought forth new opportunities to become a homeowner.

NMLS Disclosure

Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance, Inc., 500 Alcoa Trail, Maryville, TN 37804, 865-380-3000, NMLS #1561, (http://www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org/), AZ Lic. #BK-0902616, Loans made or arranged pursuant to a California Finance Lenders Law license, GA Residential Mortgage (Lic. #6911), Illinois Residential Mortgage Licensee, Licensed by the NH Banking Department, MT Lic. #1561, Licensed by PA Dept. of Banking.

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Top trends for the 2018 housing market identified

(BPT) – In the real estate market, springtime is go time. It’s the busiest time of the year for home sales, and with this year’s stable economy and low unemployment rate, the spring of 2018 has the potential to be especially active.

Every market is defined by its trends, and while each year is different, identifying these trends early on can be a useful tool for buyers, sellers and agents to navigate the upcoming market and secure the best long-term solution for themselves or their clients.

With that in mind, here are a few top real estate trends to watch for in 2018, according to the real estate experts at RE/MAX.

1. Generations on the move

The shift in home buying preferences is more than just an individual choice; it’s a generational one. Two of the nation’s largest generations are suddenly competing with one another in the real estate market. Millennials have come of age, so to speak, and they’re starting to abandon their condos in the city for single-family starter homes in the suburbs to raise their families. This shift has put them in direct competition with baby boomers, who are looking to downsize to something smaller that meets the needs of their new lifestyle.

With these two groups looking for similar housing, well-maintained single-family homes are expected to go very quickly in 2018.

2. Inventory is tightening

While the spring will be flush with buyers, it remains to be seen if sellers will follow suit. The fall of 2017 proved to be sluggish in regard to the number of homes available for sale; in fact, total housing inventory was down 13.4 percent in October 2017 compared to the same time the year before, according to the RE/MAX National Housing Report.

The report also found that only three of the 53 metropolitan areas reported being in a buyer’s market or having an even balance. For the rest of the country, sellers seem to have the advantage. Will that change in the spring? It may, but buyers should be prepared for a market where they will have to be aggressive to purchase the home they want.

3. Housing policies have shifted

The presidential election in November 2016 and local elections from this past fall both have implications on housing policy. Adjustments to tax rates, the growth or decline of suburban options and zoning ordinance changes may all impact the markets where consumers are shopping.

To better understand how these changes may affect the housing search in a given area, potential homebuyers should contact a licensed real estate agent who understands the latest housing policies and how those policies will affect a potential home sale.

4. Technology is king

Like most other industries, real estate today is profoundly affected by the advent of technology. Homebuyers and sellers can go online or use apps to access information about a house or the market like never before, and virtual walk-throughs allow a buyer to enter a prospective home for the first time with few surprises.

For buyers and sellers, technology has the potential to reward those who do their homework and make the most of digital options before deciding how to use their precious time.

Navigating the 2018 market requires expert advice

The 2018 market will be dictated largely by what takes place in the spring, and the trends above figure to play a prominent role in most home sales and listings across the country. Every market contains its own subtle nuances, but homebuyers and sellers everywhere will benefit from the expertise of an experienced real estate agent, one who can help them capitalize on these latest trends and leave the 2018 market with everything they ever wanted and more.

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The hidden dangers of oversharing on social media

(BPT) – Locking doors and windows and leaving a light on used to deter criminals from breaking into homes when you were away on vacation, but our obsession with sharing photos and experiences in real time on social media has created a whole new security risk for travelers. According to Mercury Insurance, burglaries involving social media have become all too common these days.

“Instead of looking for physical signs that a home is unoccupied, burglars can simply scan Instagram posts, monitor Twitter feeds and check Facebook for signs that someone isn’t home. Posted photos can also show them exactly what to look for when they break in,” says Mercury Insurance Vice President of Claims Kevin Quinn. “Oversharing on social media is commonplace and built-in smartphone features like geotagging, which share the user’s exact location when they post, are only making things easier for thieves.”

One example is a Mercury claimant who took his family on vacation to Cancun, Mexico. The family was very active on social media, publicizing their upcoming vacation and continuing to post updates throughout the trip. Thieves used this information to break into the claimant’s home and steal nearly $200,000 worth of personal property, along with a Mercedes-Benz parked in the driveway. Many of the items stolen were pictured on the family’s social media accounts, so the thieves knew exactly what to target.

“It’s important to make sure no one in your family is posting your travel plans. Facebook posts checking into restaurants or Instagram photos of your family’s vacation blatantly advertise that you’re away from home and put your property at risk,” adds Quinn.

Quinn offers the following social media tips to consider before taking off on your vacation:

* Never share photos of your belongings. Be careful about displaying any expensive belongings on social media that might entice thieves. Steer clear of posting pictures of expensive jewelry, cash, designer clothing and accessories, and electronics.

* Don’t tag your location. Disable the geotagging feature on your smartphone and resist the urge to check in at locations while you’re away.

* Avoid uploading photos during your vacation. Wait until you’re home to share your family’s trip.

* Be selective about what and with whom you share. Limit your following or friend base on your personal accounts and adjust your privacy settings so that others have a limited view of your profiles. You never know if a friend of a friend is looking at your photos or other posts.

* Never announce your vacation plans on your social media channels. If you plan to go out of town, consider having a neighbor check on your home, or hiring a trusted friend or family member to housesit.

* Verify friend requests. It’s easy for people to pretend to be someone they’re not online, so don’t get “catfished.” Be wary of connecting with people you don’t know.

* Power down your PC. Disable the internet connection to cut off access to any personal information stored on your computer, because unattended machines are easy marks for hackers.

“Live in the moment and enjoy your time with your family. The purpose of vacation is to relax, recharge and experience things in person, not just on a screen. Save the photo sharing and status updates for when you return home — it could make the difference between whether you need to file an insurance claim after your well-deserved time away or not,” adds Quinn.

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5 hacks to save time and money during the holidays

(BPT) – The holidays are a wonderful time of year to spend with family and friends, and to reconnect with those you may not often see. However, the festive season can also be a busy and expensive time. By January, many are left feeling exhausted physically, emotionally and financially. But don’t let the stress of the season stand in the way of the magic — follow these easy tips and tricks to enjoy a more relaxing and joyful holiday season.

* Make a list: And check it twice! Getting organized this holiday season can save you time and money. When shopping for holiday gifts, having a complete list before you enter the store can prevent you from browsing the aisles for items you do not need. You will also have an estimated total cost before shopping, so you can stick to your budget.

* Send e-cards: It is always exciting to receive holiday mail from loved ones, but between the postage and printing fees, sending your own cards can quickly add up. Sending e-cards, however, is a more cost-effective approach and you can send as many as you’d like! You can also apply the money you save to your gifting budget.

* Switch to Straight Talk: From searching seasonal recipes to online shopping, there is no better helper than a smartphone during the holiday season. Straight Talk Wireless recently launched its new Ultimate Unlimited Plan for just $55 per month — helping you tackle the holidays and stream your favorite videos at DVD quality, without worrying about running out of high speed data. Never get throttled again. So treat yourself to the gift of unlimited data by switching to Straight Talk Wireless, the leading no-contract wireless provider that offers customers the best phones on the best networks for less. With no contracts, no credit checks and no mystery fees, your phone bill will be one less cost to worry about this season.

* Wrap like a pro: Gift wrapping can be one of the most time consuming activities of the holidays. However, there are multiple hacks to expedite the wrapping process. For oddly shaped gifts — use Kraft paper bags and decorate with a silver paint marker. You can also spruce up plain wrapping paper using twine, ribbons and stencils. Be creative if you run out of supplies, in the end it is the thought that matters, not the presentation!

* Monitor for deals: Online holiday shopping has made it easy to avoid the craze of the mall. But another added benefit of shopping from home is finding ways to avoid paying full price. Once you reach the checkout page, do a quick online search for discount codes for that particular site. You will be shocked to find how simple it is to save a few extra bucks or even snag free shipping!

Make it a priority this year to not lose the spirit of the season within the hustle and bustle. While they may seem simple, these few steps will help you put an end to the post-holiday slump before it hits.

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5 steps to making annual enrollment the most wonderful time of the year

(BPT) – It’s that time of year again. But before you plan your Thanksgiving menu or check off your gift list, it’s time to think about employee benefits.

VSP Vision Care surveyed employees about their attitudes around that special time of year when they must choose a benefits package and found that annual open enrollment is less popular than even tax season. While selecting your benefits may not exactly be a party, there’s no need for dread. They’re called benefits for a reason.

In spite of how important employer-sponsored benefits are, The 2015 Ninth Study of Employee Benefits: Today and Beyond from Prudential shows that people spend very little time considering their benefits. In fact, 32 percent spent just one to two hours on this important topic and 23 percent spent less than 30 minutes.

“The decisions we make during open enrollment can have an impact throughout the next year,” said James Gemus, senior vice president, head of product and business segments, group insurance for Prudential Financial. “These decisions deserve careful consideration and people owe it to themselves to consider every possible option. The research shows us that 55 percent of the time spent on benefit decisions was devoted to medical coverage. That’s certainly understandable, but they should be careful not to overlook other key benefits offered through their employer, like disability or life insurance.”

Make the most of this season’s open enrollment with these tips from Prudential:

1. Review all of your options. Employers and employees often look at medical, dental and vision as taking priority, and with good reason. However, don’t overlook other benefits, such as life and disability insurance, critical illness and accident insurance, which can complement these core offerings and are key to overall financial wellness. Seventy-one percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, according to the study Getting Paid in America. Disability insurance can help protect a portion of your income if you become too sick or injured to work and earn a paycheck. That’s important because 62 percent of bankruptcies are based on a medical event and 78 percent of those who experience medical bankruptcies had health insurance. Critical illness insurance can help reduce the amount of out-of-pocket costs associated with certain serious medical issues. Insurance is a great way to help protect yourself financially from unexpected risks, so explore all of your options.

2. Take advantage of cost and convenience. Purchasing benefits like life or disability insurance through your employer can simplify things for you in two ways: First, you often pay less for them than had you purchased them on your own because you’re taking advantage of group rates; and second, you pay for these benefits through payroll deduction, which is not only simple, but also reduces your gross income, which may help lower your taxes.

3. Make the most of financial wellness programs: In a recent Prudential survey only 22 percent of individuals described themselves as feeling financially secure. Sixty-three percent said that employee satisfaction with benefits is important for their company’s success and employees are increasingly looking to those benefit offerings as a basis for financial security. So as more workers rely on their workplace as a primary source of insurance and savings — 35 percent of workers as of 2015 up from 30 percent in 2013 — employers are trying to ensure that every employee gets the most from the benefits they have. As an employee, don’t forgo this opportunity, ask questions both of your company and your coworkers to learn more about all of your options. It’s your benefits package but it only benefits you if you use it.

4. Look for tools to help make decisions. Often, employers will provide websites where you can not only enroll, but also offer tools like calculators and videos that can help you make sense of your benefits. This means getting the help you need in understanding your financial protection needs and selecting the best options to meet them. So take the time to explore them. It’s time well spent.

5. Ask for help. With all the options out there, it’s easy to feel confused. Speak with your employer’s benefits experts or HR resources. You can also speak to a financial professional and learn more about how to select the coverage that will fit your needs. You may be amazed at the good information that’s available.

The Prudential Insurance Company of America Newark, NJ

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