Picking a health insurance plan? Prepare for the unexpected

(BPT) – As many Americans know, fall is the season when we must select our health benefits for the upcoming year. Choosing a health plan can be a daunting task, but selecting the right coverage protects you and your family’s general health needs and can prepare you for an unexpected medical crisis. While no one plans on receiving a blood cancer diagnosis, for example, an estimated 173,000 Americans were diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma in 2017. As there are no means of preventing or early screening for most blood cancers, a diagnosis can often appear without warning. Well-planned health insurance coverage can make an important difference in how patients can fare in fighting the disease.

This year’s open enrollment season, which runs approximately from October to December, is your opportunity to consider your health benefits and plan ahead. With the cost of care for major health events and severe illnesses increasing every year, you will want to select a health plan that ensures you and your family are prepared in the case of a health emergency. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) offers three tips to consider when selecting your 2018 health plan.

Compare physician and hospital networks: Be diligent when choosing a plan. While it is important to compare plan prices, including co-payments, deductibles and premiums, it is equally important that your primary care doctor and any specialists you visit are part of the plan’s network. Not all plans cover every doctor, hospital or comprehensive cancer center near you, so review the plan’s network list carefully. You also can call your doctors and hospitals to ask if they are in the plan’s network. If your spouse or children are on your plan, you will need to consider their physicians as well.

Prepare for the unexpected: No one expects to receive a serious diagnosis like blood cancer, but it helps to be prepared. The cost of cancer care is rising at an alarming rate and these costs include more than drugs and doctor visits. From diagnostic tests to hospitalizations to special home health equipment, there are many hidden costs to having a serious illness. In fact, a recent survey conducted by Russell Research on behalf of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society found that 84 percent of adults are not sure how they would cover all medical costs if they were diagnosed with cancer. That’s why it’s important to ensure that you have the coverage you’ll need at an affordable cost.

Pay close attention to the numbers: As you evaluate your coverage options — whether through an employer, Medicare, spouse or your parents — it’s important to estimate your health care costs for the following year carefully. Understand what your deductible and co-pays will be and take stock of where coinsurance will be required; review your health bills from the previous year to guide your choice, but make sure you are covered for unexpected health issues as well.

If you purchase health insurance from the federal or state marketplace, the plans you are offered will depend on your location and income. It is very important to make sure your personal information is accurate and up-to-date on the federal website, HealthCare.gov, or on your state’s website. Depending on your income, you could qualify to save on your insurance through advance premium tax credits. In fact, 8 out of 10 people who purchase insurance through the marketplace are eligible for lower premiums. Open enrollment in the marketplace will run this year from Nov. 1 through Dec. 15.

If you or a family member had or has cancer, or are at risk for cancer, there is a checklist available at www.cancerinsurancechecklist.org that can help you choose the right plan when shopping on the health insurance marketplace. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society also provides free information and resources about health insurance coverage for people living with cancer at www.lls.org.

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Paving the way to college: 4 things parents need to know

(BPT) – Senior year: It’s a time to finish college applications, solidify friendships and look forward to the freedom and the responsibility that come once that final bell rings. A lot of feelings surface during that final year, especially for parents. While your son or daughter might be overjoyed to finally fly the coop and live independently, you’ll probably be dealing with your own mix of emotions, and you’ll want to be sure they’re ready to begin college in the fall.

For families with a child headed to college, senior year is best thought of as a transition year. Plan ahead to make sure your family stays on track.

To help you and your child with a successful transition, here’s the essential list of landmarks on the road that will take your child from a senior in high school to a freshman in college.

1. Apply yourself in the fall

The journey to college begins early, and by the fall of senior year in high school, your child should be in full transition mode. They should be finishing campus visits and finalizing the list of colleges where they want to apply. Make sure they’ve spoken with admission counselors, thoroughly researched schools they’re interested in and have everything they need to complete their college applications.

Keep tabs on important deadlines and stay organized to avoid missing any critical due dates. For example, will they want to apply early decision or early action? If so, make sure you have weighed how this could impact your financial plan for college.

2. Focus on financial aid from the start

For many parents, one of the biggest anxieties around college is the cost. Don’t forget that the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) opens on Oct. 1, and some aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Make sure you submit the form as soon as it’s available.

Because everyone has different needs, figuring out how to finance your child’s education requires some research.

At College Ave Student Loans, you can find private loan options for parents and students. Even if you’re not ready to take a loan out yet, parents and students can try out the fast and easy pre-qualification tools to find out if their credit pre-qualifies for a loan, and what interest rates they could expect, all without impacting their credit scores. Calculators are also available to help you explore your options and see how you can customize the loan payments to fit your budget.

3. Spring time is decision time

Early in the spring, your child will start to receive their first acceptance letters. Once they’ve heard from all of the schools where they applied, they’ll have a big decision to make.

They need to do more than just decide which school to attend; they’ll also need to send in a deposit, complete their housing form and accept financial aid packages.

A crucial step in this process is comparing award letters from the colleges where your child has been accepted. In reading these letters, pay close attention to how schools list the total costs. For instance, some schools will subtract the awarded loan amount from the total cost of attendance, while others will not. This could make the net cost of some schools appear less than others when in reality they are not, so take your time reading the documents.

4. Tie up everything in the summer

Before they head to campus, you and your children should create a budget to keep tabs on college bills. This will help you to stay on track financially and set the right expectations about how they need to manage their money.

You can help your soon-to-be freshman by working with them to outline a monthly budget that will take into account expected and unexpected expenses. Take a look at their financial aid packages and any income they might be earning and block out the monthly mandatory expenses. Then decide how much money they can spend on things like entertainment.

If you find that scholarships, grants and federal aid don’t cover everything, private loans could be one solution for some college-bound students.

For parents and students, senior year is an exciting period. Knowing what steps to take and staying ahead of financial matters with useful tools like the ones at College Ave Student Loans can help make the transition easier for everyone.

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Easy ways to make your data, and your dollars, go further

(BPT) – Wireless providers would love for you to believe that a modern lifestyle requires an endless, unlimited stream of data; and by the way, they’d love to sell it to you! On its face, there’s probably nothing wrong with this assumption. Just think about how much of your day is spent on data-dependent activities, like streaming video or music, searching the internet or using GPS on your smartphone. They all require data, in some form, to deliver what you need.

But in our fast-paced, plugged-in world, don’t lose sight of the fact that all of these things can actually be done while using far less, and sometimes even none, of the data from your cellular plan. This means that in just a few simple steps, you can save considerable money each and every month. Here’s how:

Tame the video beast

The convenience of watching video on your smartphone can sometimes obscure an important fact: it’s a data glutton. For example, viewing a full-length movie on Netflix consumes about 1GB of data per hour in standard definition video, and up to 3GB per hour in high definition. At that rate, you’ll burn through even the most robust data package in no time.

Try connecting to Wi-Fi instead. It’s widely available, and lets you stream without using any cellular data at all, often with a faster connection. While connected to Wi-Fi, you can also download videos, TV shows or movies to your phone or SD card to watch anytime at your convenience, with no data required.

In addition, when you’re streaming video on a small screen, such as a cellphone, you really don’t need high resolution. Many apps give you the ability to change video quality settings, and therefore consume less data. For Netflix, log into your account and switch to one of three settings: low (using 0.3GB per hour), medium (which uses 0.7GB per hour) or high (using up to 3GB per hour). In the YouTube app, just tap the three-dots menu and click “Quality” to lower it.

Manage social media and streaming music

Videos have also become a standard part of the social media experience. Adjusting your settings to prevent videos from playing automatically will prevent them from eating up your data. The steps to change this setting can vary between applications. On most platforms, like Facebook, you’ll go to your Account Settings and either disable the “Autoplay” feature entirely, or change it so that videos will only play automatically when you’re connected to Wi-Fi.

All of the popular audio streaming apps offer ways to listen to your music without having to use a network connection, or even Wi-Fi. Spotify lets you download your albums and playlists right to your device. If you use Apple Music, you can add songs, albums and playlists to your library. With Google Play Music, you can download everything: songs, albums, playlists and even radio stations.

Try a smaller plan for bigger savings

By managing data effectively, you can save money by choosing smaller, less expensive data plans. Consumer Cellular, for instance, offers no-contract monthly plans ranging from 250MB to 10GB, for $5 to $40 per month. That’s far less than most “unlimited” options, and you also get the flexibility to change your plan as needed with no extra charges.

Also, be sure to take advantage of Usage Alerts, which most carriers provide for free. On an Android device, you can do this by going to your device settings, and then tapping the data usage option. Simply turn on “Alert me about data usage” to receive notifications about how much data you are consuming.

Follow these tips and you’ll enjoy streaming movies, listening to music and so much more while also keeping money in your pocket for things other than a colossal data plan. You can truly have it all, without needing an unlimited budget to do it.

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Gig worker gains: Are you grabbing the best possible tax relief?

(BPT) – If you earn all or part of your income these days from freelance or contract work, you’re far from alone.

A CNN report this year estimates some 34 percent of the U.S. workforce is now part of the so-called gig economy, a segment expected to reach 43 percent — representing some 7.7 million workers — by 2020.

The gig workforce includes people paid per task through companies such as Uber and Lyft and those paid per project in more traditional roles such as writer, tutor, entertainer, carpenter or electrician. Some freelance by preference, enjoying the sense of freedom that comes with being their own bosses. Others become gig workers because they can’t find other work. And a certain portion holds down a part-time gig in addition to a steadier job so they can gain extra income or experience.

Because the surge in gig work is relatively new, however, many remain unsure how to maximize the multiple tax breaks available to freelancers. If you’re among them, user-friendly, online tax preparation software available through TaxAct can tell you everything you need to know about maximizing your gig income when tax time rolls around — regardless of your freelance profession. For example, did you know the following expenses are tax deductible?

* Home office and utility costs: Even if you only use a corner of your dining room as your work space, you can count that area as a deduction. Opting for the Simplified Home Office Deduction (instead of the regular deduction) lets you deduct $5 per square foot, with a 300-foot cap, of any portion of your home used exclusively for business. Conversely, the regular-deduction method allows a more specific professional-space deduction while also allowing you to write off the portion of your electricity, gas, cable and cell phone bills pertaining to your business. Further, under either method, a portion of your mortgage interest and real estate taxes could also be deductible under Schedule A guidelines.

* Website expenses: Many savvy freelancers invest in their own websites to further their self-employment. Related fees are all deductible, including anything spent over the last year on domain rights, design, building and maintenance.

* Equipment and supply costs: Save your receipts! If you’ve never taken time to identify and list the costs of doing business, you may be surprised how quickly they can add up in the form of a tax benefit. You can deduct all expenses related to purchasing computers, software (including standard programs such as Microsoft Office), printers, cameras and supplies, pens and paper as well as any other equipment needed to complete your work effectively.

* Professional development fees: Conferences, seminars and other educational opportunities that relate to your freelance career are all deductible. The same goes for travel and accommodations for business-related events and half the cost of your business-related meals. Are you networking through your local trade group or business association? Good news: Dues and membership fees associated with professional organizations also qualify as deductions.

* Unpaid invoices: One of the biggest thorns in freelancers’ sides can be unreasonable employers and/or disorganized accounts payable departments that don’t pay up in a timely manner. Unpaid invoices can be hugely problematic when you’re trying to stay on top of your expenses. Fortunately the IRS has sympathy for such woes. If you previously recorded the invoice as income, you can likely deduct the amount you weren’t paid as a bad debt.

Have more specific questions about your tax benefits as a freelancer? TaxAct has the answers. Let us demystify the complexity of your taxes so you can focus on maximizing your freelance income.

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An overlooked benefit to consider this open enrollment season

(BPT) –

Being a parent is a balancing act. You are constantly being pulled in different directions and it can be challenging managing all of the things you need to get done. Your company’s open enrollment period is a chance to take stock of what benefits your workplace offers that may be able to help you manage some of the issues you face.
One often overlooked benefit is a group legal plan, which provides access to a nationwide network of attorneys for help with personal legal issues for around $20 a month. Here are just a few reasons why a legal plan can be a valuable benefit for a parent:
It helps with the things keeping you up at night. Have you considered who would take care of your children if something happened to you or your spouse? Or what if someone in the family became disabled? Do you have financial and health care directives in place to protect your family? If you have kids, you need to have estate planning documents. A group legal plan covers the cost of drafting documents like wills and powers of attorney for you, your spouse and dependents.
It can help protect or restore your identity. Identity theft is on the rise, with child identity theft quickly becoming one of the fastest-growing identity theft crimes. Contacting creditors and other agencies to resolve an identity theft issue can be very time-consuming and costly. In fact, the average cost to resolve an identity theft issue, including legal fees, is around $1,300, according to a U.S. Department of Justice study cited by CSID. Access to identity theft assistance through a group legal plan connects you to experts who can do the work for you, saving you time and money.
It helps with buying or selling a home. Having children can mean having to move to a bigger house. There are numerous legal issues involved in buying or selling a home. Attorneys can review contracts, draft documents related to the purchase or sale, as well as attend the closing for you. A legal plan provides you with access to an attorney to guide you through the homebuying or selling process, taking away the stress of dealing with complicated paperwork and legal issues.
It can help with school-related issues. As your child enters school, there are many complicated issues he or she may face. Dealing with special needs requests, administrative hearings at school or even juvenile court for traffic infractions are all legal issues that can be difficult for most parents to maneuver without legal help. When you are enrolled in a legal plan, it’s similar to having an attorney on retainer. You can contact an attorney for any questions you have related to issues your children face throughout their school years.
Having access to affordable legal help through a group legal plan can help you navigate many of the issues you face as a parent. If your company offers this as a benefit at your work, it’s one to consider this open enrollment season.

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5 tips to help prepare for open enrollment and save on health care costs

(BPT) – Millions of Americans will soon select or switch their health benefits plan during open enrollment, so now is the time to prepare for that important decision that usually happens once a year.

More than 70 percent of Americans say they are prepared for open enrollment, yet most people struggle to understand basic health insurance terms, according to a recent UnitedHealthcare survey. Only 9 percent of survey respondents could successfully define all four basic health insurance concepts: plan premium, deductible, co-insurance and out-of-pocket maximum.

To help people make the most out of their health benefits, and better understand how to use their health care dollars, Rebecca Madsen, chief consumer officer of UnitedHealthcare, offers the following five tips.

1. Know your open enrollment dates

Open enrollment isn’t the same or at the same time for everyone, so there are key dates to keep in mind depending on your situation:

* For the more than 177 million Americans with employer-provided coverage, many companies set aside a two-week period between September and December when employees can select health benefits for the following year.

* For the more than 59 million seniors and other people enrolled in Medicare, their Open Enrollment runs from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7 each year.

* Health insurance marketplace or individual state exchange open enrollment runs from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15.

For most people, changes made to coverage during open enrollment take effect Jan. 1, 2018.

2. Take time to review your options

Every person or family has unique health and budget needs, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach to selecting a health plan. Take the time to explore your options, and understand the benefits and costs of each plan so you can find the coverage that works best for you and your family members.

* Check if your current coverage still meets your needs and if your benefits will change next year.

* Determine if the plan is a good fit for your budget, and pay attention to more than just the monthly premium. You should also understand the other out-of-pocket costs, including deductibles, copays and coinsurance.

* Make sure your medications are covered. Even if you don’t expect to change plans, it’s important to ensure your drugs will still be covered next year.

3. Make sure your doctor is in your plan’s care provider network

Even if you don’t make any changes to your health insurance this year, it’s still a good idea to ensure that any doctor you see regularly — or plan to visit in the coming year — is in your benefit plan’s care provider network. If you plan to visit a doctor or hospital outside of the network, be sure to understand how your costs will differ from a network care provider because those costs will most likely be higher.

Also, check if your plan includes 24/7 telehealth services for consultations on minor health issues. Often, telehealth — defined as online, or virtual, visits with a doctor over a computer, tablet or mobile phone — is available to people enrolled in employer-sponsored health plans and group Medicare Advantage plans, as well as select individual Medicare Advantage plans. Virtual visits may provide convenient and affordable access to care for minor medical issues, including allergies, bronchitis and seasonal flu.

4. Don’t forget about additional benefits

Additional benefits such as dental, vision, accident or critical-illness insurance are often affordable options that can protect you and your family from head to toe. For people enrolled in Medicare, many are surprised to find that Original Medicare doesn’t cover prescription drugs and most dental, vision and hearing services. But many Medicare Advantage plans do, often at a $0 monthly premium beyond the premium for Original Medicare.

5. Take advantage of wellness programs.

Some health plans offer discounts on gym memberships and provide financial incentives for completing health assessments, signing up for health coaching programs, lowering your cholesterol, losing weight, meeting walking goals or stopping smoking. Programs are designed to reward people for making healthy choices and being more engaged in improving their health.

For help navigating open enrollment, visit UHCOpenEnrollment.com for articles and videos with easy-to-understand information about health benefits and health insurance terms.

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Embracing the awkward: Why you should pay back your friend (and how to do it right)

(BPT) – Spending time with friends is rewarding and fun, but things can become tricky when money is involved. Almost everyone has that friend who conveniently heads to the restroom when the check arrives at a group dinner; or regularly “forgets” his or her wallet on a coffee run claiming they’ll pick it up the next time; not to mention the friend who never chipped in for that hotel room you covered over a bachelorette weekend. In fact, nearly one in four Americans admit they have borrowed money from a friend or family member and never paid them back, according to a recent online survey.

It’s no surprise that owing money or being owed can put a serious strain on a relationship — sadly, more than 50 percent of Americans report they have seen a friendship end over money owed. So how do you approach a friend or loved one who won’t pay you back before your relationship goes haywire? Or initiate a conversation with a family member you’ve had a falling-out with over money you still owe?

“When money has become an issue in one of your relationships, don’t wait to address it, even if it feels uncomfortable,” said Dr. Melanie Ross Mills, relationship and friendship expert, and licensed temperament therapist. “A little compassion and tactful communication can go a long way — and, in this day and age, there are technologies that offer fast and easy ways to send and receive money, making the payment part painless.”

To help navigate awkward financial situations with your friends in a manner that doesn’t result in the termination of a friendship, here are three tips to keep in mind.

1. Plan ahead to avoid conflict

Always consider the unique relationship you and your loved ones have with money. While you may be someone who budgets for everything down to dish soap and paper towels, your friend may spend more freely. Think about whether you prefer to split shared expenses right down the middle, itemize the check or alternate who pays. As you coordinate a get-together, consider asking your friend how he or she prefers to handle the expenses so you can come to an agreement before the check arrives and the awkwardness strikes.

2. Keep the lines of communication open

If you find yourself in a situation where you’ve covered the cost of a friend’s concert ticket, or you need to repay a roommate who spotted you 50 bucks, don’t be afraid to talk about it. Even if you can’t pay your friend back right away, don’t wait to let them know when you plan to return the funds. Open, honest communication is always better than ignoring the problem or hoping someone forgets what you owe. Likewise, if you’re waiting for someone to pay you back, it’s OK to reach out with a gentle reminder. If you keep things cordial — not demanding — and remain sensitive to your loved one’s circumstances, you can come to a mutually agreeable solution.

3. Take advantage of P2P technologies

With the proliferation of person-to-person payments (P2P) that allow consumers to send money to others via their mobile device, it’s never been easier to settle up with a friend in real-time. The Bank of America(R) mobile app is a simple way to send, request and receive money from friends and family, no matter where they bank. So even when you or your loved ones aren’t carrying cards or cash, it’s easy to cover your portion of shared expenses on the spot.

Findings are from an online survey of 1,000 nationally representative panelists ages 18+ administered in July 2017.

Bank of America and the Bank of America logo are registered trademarks of Bank of America Corporation.

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Don’t be misled by these down payment myths

(BPT) – Confused about how much you need for a down payment on a house? You’re not alone.

Whether it’s your first time buying a home or you’ve been around the block, calculating the right amount for a down payment can be a challenge. Many admit that accumulating down payment funds is one of the more daunting parts of the homebuying process. However, the down payment hurdle is not always based on financial reality, but rather on a longstanding myth — that 20 percent of a home’s purchase price is required. In fact, almost half (45 percent) of first-time buyers thought they needed 20 percent or more for a down payment, according to Bank of America’s 2017 Homebuyer Insights Report.

While putting 20 percent down was an established rule of thumb for previous generations, people are rethinking the former one-size-fits-all approach to homeownership.

So, what’s the magic number?

Is it 3 percent? 5 percent? 10 percent? 30 percent? With so much uncertainty about down payment requirements, it’s no wonder people have trouble determining when and if they can buy a home. The truth is, however, that the magic number varies from one homebuyer to the next. According to the National Association of REALTORS, buyers put an average of just 6 percent down when buying a home, far below common perceptions. With this truth in mind, prospective buyers can access tips and tools that will help them create a plan that’s customizable to their financial situation, helping them feel confident in their decision to buy.

Whether you’re financially stable or could use a little assistance, don’t feel trapped by the 20 percent down payment — it’s a myth after all.

Knowledge is (buying) power

With U.S. homeownership near a 50-year record low, according to Rosen Consulting Group, it’s important that potential buyers understand the affordable housing options available to them so they have the opportunity to pursue their dreams of homeownership.

Down payments don’t need to be intimidating. There are affordable entry points to homeownership for creditworthy buyers, many of which require down payments as low as 3 percent. Prospective homeowners can explore ways to lower upfront figures by searching for down payment and cost-saving programs, using tools like Bank of America’s Down Payment Resource Center. This database has more than 1,000 local and national assistance programs and is a way to navigate and research many of the existing options in the buying space.

Purchasing power correlates with responsibility and accountability. With that said, if buyers put in the time to research and educate themselves on affordable-housing solutions, they will discover that homeownership may be closer in reach than they thought.

Be realistic, not idealistic, about buying a home

While you want to confirm that you are in a financial position to comfortably make monthly mortgage payments and properly maintain a home, you don’t have to have a perfect financial situation. Before you begin house hunting, there are things you can look into to get prepared. Checking your credit score will give you a better understanding of how you’ll be viewed as a potential borrower. While having a healthy credit score is ideal, there are options for applicants with limited or nontraditional credit histories. For instance, Bank of America’s Affordable Loan Solution mortgage accepts nontraditional forms of credit history, meaning buyers can show financial accountability in the form of monthly rent payments and utility bills. This low down payment program allows buyers to put down as little as 3 percent, and there is no mortgage insurance requirement.

Beyond formalized down payment assistance programs, many first-time buyers today get help from family in the form of gifts or assistance from employers. It’s also common to ask the seller of a home to contribute toward closing costs, which can help reduce out-of-pocket costs to close a loan.

Educational resources that support and inform the modern homebuying process allow buyers to feel confident in choosing an affordable solution that makes buying more accessible. Homeownership remains the best way for families to build wealth and stability over the long term, and busting common down payment myths helps people overcome the obstacles that stand between them and their dream of homeownership.

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All home warranties are not created equal

(BPT) –

Having a home warranty is a smart way to help deal with the inevitable home repair problems that all property owners face at one point or another.

After all, a good home warranty can mean getting expert help when your HVAC system needs to be fixed, your water heater needs to be replaced, or your refrigerator requires a new part.

But unfortunately, all home warranties are not created equal. And shopping for a home warranty can be tough, especially if you aren’t familiar with home warranty coverage and providers.

So to find a home warranty that will protect your home and budget, here are three important questions to ask, along with a few tips on what to look for in a top-notch home warranty.

1. What’s covered?

Some home warranties are only good for appliances. Others focus on systems within your house, such as your air conditioning, heating or plumbing systems. The best warranties offer broad protection at a fair price, and even allow you to select from various coverage approaches based on your needs.

When shopping around, inquire about exclusions, limitations and non-covered expenses. Most, if not all, plans DO have these. For example, there may be a cap on the amount of coverage for a particular item; an environmental disposal fee, required in some counties, may be excluded from coverage; or modifications, not covered under the home warranty, may be needed to bring a covered system up to code or in compliance with new standards.

2. Is the price affordable?

Obviously, you’ll want to initially know the specifics of how much a warranty will cost you — not just for the annual price of coverage, but also for future service calls.

When purchasing an American Home Shield warranty, you choose a $75, $100 or $125 fee for your service requests, which gives you the flexibility to pay more or less for your annual contract. As with all home warranty companies, the price of an American Home Shield warranty plan varies based on multiple factors, including the specific type of plan you choose and your state of residency. But basic coverage starts at about $300 and goes up to around $600 annually for more comprehensive plans — a bargain considering the cost of replacing things in your house that will likely break down at some point.

When considering cost factors, also ask if all the items you want covered are included in the base cost of the plan, or whether you will need to add additional items to create the perfect plan for your home.

3. Does the home warranty cover just mechanical components?

Before you buy any home warranty, inquire about the extent of coverage different companies may provide based on normal wear and tear of an item — as well as any limitations.

Many components of home systems and appliances contain both mechanical and non-mechanical features. While the primary goal of a home warranty is to repair or replace covered items so that they function mechanically, American Home Shield covers both mechanical repairs and certain non-mechanical items, such as handles, doors, knobs and shelves.

That doesn’t mean everything is covered, of course. So let’s say your child stands on your dishwasher door and breaks the seal. Sorry, but that is NOT a covered repair, because it is not “normal” wear and tear.

Also, what happens if a repair person comes to your home and, despite his or her best efforts, simply can’t fix something covered under your home warranty?

With an AHS home warranty, if a repair person can’t fix a covered item, AHS will replace it.

That doesn’t mean you will necessarily get the precise brand and color of, say, a washing machine or dryer. After all, you may have bought your laundry set four years ago, and the manufacturer might not even make those exact same models or colors today.

However, if your washer and dryer do fizzle out completely, AHS will install a replacement that has similar operational features.

What’s more, at American Home Shield, 98 percent of service requests are dispatched to local repair technicians within 24 hours.

Using your home warranty wisely

Regardless of the type of home warranty you buy or whom you buy it from, always follow the maintenance guidelines specified for your home’s appliances and systems. Likewise, it’s a smart idea to have those systems and appliances regularly serviced.

Taking both of those steps can prevent many service repair calls and help reduce your overall cost of homeownership.

Ultimately, an excellent home warranty provides you with a solid asset that helps safeguard one of your biggest investments.

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Be safe while getting social to avoid social media scams

(BPT) – For many people, social media has become a part of our daily lives. We follow friends on Facebook, share our opinions on Twitter and highlight our latest creative projects on Instagram or Pinterest. According to Statista, 78 percent of all Americans have a social media profile, and that adoption rate continues to grow. Yet while this number has created a vibrant social media world, it’s also made the medium an attractive target for scammers, making it important for all of us to think safety when we get social.

Understanding the characteristics of a social media scam

In most cases a social media scam starts in a similar fashion to a conventional phone or mail scam, with the scammer reaching out to the would-be victim. In a social media scam, this overture may appear as a message claiming the recipient’s profile was chosen at random to win a raffle or lottery through the social media website.

Sophisticated fraudsters are incredibly adept at making such communications appear legitimate by replicating official logos and graphics. They use these messages to build trust before requesting a handling fee or asking the victim for their personal information or passwords. Once the victim has handed this information over, the scammer may use it to steal the victim’s identity and amass additional debt.

Protecting yourself from social media fraud

As social media usage continues to increase across the globe, scams associated with it figure to increase as well. To protect yourself from such scams while enjoying your social media channels, follow these tips from Western Union.

* Follow the rules of scam awareness. While social media scams may be a relatively new threat, some of the telltale signs of a hoax appear here just as they do in other scams. Look for poor grammar, as it is a surefire sign that the messaging you have received might be a scam. You should never provide your personal information no matter how appealing the “award” may be.

* Think logically. No matter what you’ve seen or what the message says, remember scammers use social media sites as the avenue to facilitate their fraud. As tempting as it may be to believe otherwise, remember even the luckiest person cannot win a contest they didn’t enter.

* Send money smartly. Western Union is a great way to send money to your family and friends, but you should never use it to pay taxes or fees in claiming a lottery or prize winnings. Legitimate sweepstakes companies do not tell winners to pay money in advance to receive a prize or award.

And while Western Union makes it easy to send money from one person to another, you should never transfer money to someone you have not met in person.

* Report it immediately. If you suspect you have been a target of fraud, you should report it quickly to the social media site where the outreach took place, as well as local law enforcement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation Internet Crime Complaint Center and the Federal Trade Commission. If you sent money through a Western Union money transfer and believe you may have been a victim of fraud, call the fraud hotline at 1-800-448-1492.

As social media becomes more and more a part of the daily fabric of your life, the need to be safe in your social media usage increases as well. Apply the tips above and your social media use will be as safe as it is enjoyable. To learn more about how to protect yourself from scams, visit wu.com/fraudawareness.

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