If your homeowner insurance rates are creeping up even though you haven’t filed any claims, it may be time to take a look at how you can bring those prices back down. Research, smart shopping and even some home upgrades can make a noticeable difference in your insurance premiums. Explore the cost-savings potential with these tips.
Save Your Way to Lower Home Insurance
(Family Features) If your homeowner insurance rates are creeping up even though you haven’t filed any claims, it may be time to take a look at how you can bring those prices back down.
Research, smart shopping and even some home upgrades can make a noticeable difference in your insurance premiums. Explore the cost-savings potential with these tips from the experts at CertainTeed, a leading manufacturer of exterior and interior building products:
Shop for the best rates. It’s easy to be complacent when you’ve used the same insurance company for years, but if getting the best rate is your objective, it’s a good idea to shop around. To do effective comparison shopping, have a copy of your current policy ready and contact a handful of competitors. Provide them the exact same coverage details so you can compare like rates, but also be ready to listen to information about additional coverage options that may suit your needs.
Combine homeowner insurance with other policies. Most insurance carriers offer multiple policy discounts, which they apply when you insure more than one item. For example, if your homeowner insurance carrier also insures your cars, you’re likely to save money on the rates for protecting both your home and automobiles.
Update your home’s first line of defense. Many homeowners focus on aesthetics when it’s time to make upgrades, but there are some important functional improvements that can make a difference when it comes to your insurance premiums. For example, as extreme weather becomes more commonplace, the first line of defense is often the type of roofing material chosen. Many insurance companies even offer discounts for using impact-resistant shingles. Check with your insurance provider before making a final selection, but in general, look for products that include “impact-resistant” in their name and specs, and “Class IV Impact Resistance,” the highest rating available for roofing materials.
For example, NorthGate Class IV impact-resistant shingles from CertainTeed are engineered to have a higher probability of resisting hail. These shingles are made using rubber-like polymers that offer flexibility and impact resistance, as well as crack and shrink resistance, even in cold weather. So when severe weather strikes, your home can be protected and stay looking good.
Install a home security system. An intruder alarm can provide more than peace of mind. Insurance companies often reward homeowners who take steps to minimize the chances of burglary or vandalism. After all, a well-protected home is less likely to result in a claim for losses. Some companies offer varying degrees of discounts on insurance rates depending on the type of system you install, so be sure to thoroughly research the options. For example, a system that simply emits a loud noise when triggered may generate one level of discount, while a system that dispatches emergency personnel when activated can lead to an even better rate.
Insurance rates are one place to save money on your home costs. Learn more about impact-resistant shingles and how they can save your home and wallet at certainteed.com.SOURCE:
(BPT) - If you haven't made solid financial plans, now would be a good time to consider a life insurance policy to protect you and your family in your time of need - or protect your loved ones in your absence.
Given the importance of life insurance, it's surprising that 37.5 million American households lack such a policy, according to the 2016 Facts About Life study by the industry group LIMRA. That may be because many people misunderstand how such policies work and how much they cost. For example, recent Insurance Barometer studies by LIMRA and Life Happens found 63 percent of Americans cite expense as the reason they don't carry term insurance, yet 80 percent overestimate the cost - millennials by 213 percent and Gen Xers by 119 percent.
While some Americans hope to rely on other sources to protect their families, they may not realize all the benefits life insurance offers. Every family has different needs, and some life insurance products are flexible enough to offer customizable options to provide a measure of financial security to your spouse and children - the people that matter most.
Consider these other common myths about life insurance:
Myth: Life insurance is only available through financial advisors. In fact, quality policies for your entire family are often available through your employer or your spouse's employer. For example, Boston MutualLife Insurance Company offers a range of workplace solutions paid for by employers, employees or both, including permanent life, term life, critical illness, accident and disability insurance. Talk to your company's HR department about the process involved in securing comprehensive coverage for your family.
Myth: Workplace policies can't offer enough options for your needs. You'll find that well-established life insurance companies understand the market well enough to offer a range of flexible products, including policies that are payroll deductible, stable in cost regardless of your age, portable when you're changing jobs and available with add-on riders or other insurance types through the same carrier.
Myth: Young, healthy people don't need life insurance. The truth is, your health can change at any time and it's best to expect the unexpected. Uninsured people can easily leave behind personal, medical or mortgage debts and/or funeral expenses that end up burdening family members or executors when they die.
Myth: Your life insurance policy only covers you, not your family. Not true. Some products protect you, your spouse, your dependent children and even your grandchildren, often at one affordable cost. That's why marriage and becoming a parent can be excellent reasons for buying new policies.
Investing in life insurance is a crucial step to take to protect yourself and your family from unexpected losses. But it doesn't have to be confusing or complicated. Find more detailed information about life insurance options for you and your family at www.BostonMutual.com.
From heading off to college to marrying the love of your life to taking those dream vacations, life’s biggest moments are often tied to being financially responsible. A credit card is one tool that can help you achieve your financial goals while offsetting some costs along the way. These tips from financial experts can help you maximize financial tools like credit cards throughout life’s milestones.
A Financial Planning Tool for Every Stage of Life
(Family Features) From heading off to college to marrying the love of your life to taking those dream vacations, life’s biggest moments are often tied to being financially responsible.
While memories of your first dance as newlyweds don’t often include the cost of the band, money is frequently front and center when planning for some of life’s larger events. From early adulthood through retirement, a credit card is one tool that can help you achieve your financial goals while offsetting some costs along the way.
“No matter your stage in life, it’s important to plan ahead and have the right tools to meet your financial needs,” said Jason Gaughan, credit cards executive at Bank of America. “A credit card offers flexibility, convenience and an increasing amount of rewards that can make your budget go even further.”
These tips from financial experts can help you maximize financial tools like credit cards throughout life’s milestones.
“Though credit can be a somewhat foreign topic for beginners, online resources such as Bank of America’s Better Money Habits offers tips to help young adults learn about things like how your credit score is calculated, the difference between a credit report and credit score and explains why it’s important to understand before signing up for a credit card,” said Lysandra Perez, a relationship manager for Bank of America who is responsible for educating clients on establishing strong financial habits including managing and building credit.”
According to BetterMoneyHabits.com, an important rule for building strong credit is to spend no more than 30 percent of your available credit line. The online resource also recommends that students look for credit cards that offer low interest rates and no annual fee to help minimize finance charges if they aren’t able to pay their bills in full each month.
“Establishing strong financial habits early on can help set you up for future credit opportunities later in life,” Perez said.
Using a credit card that offers rewards tied to interests is a strategy some young adults utilize. According to a Bank of America survey, 91 percent of Millennials ages 23-29 plan to use a rewards card to help pay for upcoming travel.
“It’s common for people in their mid-to-late 20s to prioritize maximizing credit card rewards,” Gaughan said. “They understand using a card for smaller, everyday purchases like coffee and groceries can be an easy way to earn points to pay for fun events like a trip abroad or home for a college reunion.”
Saving and tracking rewards is key during this period, too. Digital tools like My Rewards provide new visibility into the rewards you earn and how to maximize their value. Also look to explore banking rewards options like Preferred Rewards, which can offer special perks and benefits like credit card rewards bonuses, discounts on home and auto loans, interest rate boosters and no-fee ATM transactions.
Marriage and Parenthood
These years typically require more financial savviness to make every dollar count as large expenses requiring loans, such as houses and cars, are more prevalent during this stage.
Along with larger purchases, these years also often come with grocery store trips, filling up the gas tank for carpool duty and buying new clothes as your kids grow. Look for a cash back card that lets you earn rewards on your everyday purchases and offers redemption for cash back to cover expenses or invest in a savings account.
“There are many ways to continue saving and investing once in retirement,” said David Poole, head of Merrill Edge Advisory, Client Services and Digital Capabilities at Bank of America. “Credit cards that allow you to invest rewards back into your retirement fund is an easy way to continue contributing to your 401(k).”
Credit cards can also help retirees fulfill long-standing travel goals. Some like the Bank of America Premium Rewards card offer lucrative travel benefits such as earning two points for every dollar spent on travel and dining purchases. Look for points that are flexible and can be used toward future travel purchases or as cash back.
“With so many credit card options available, it’s important to understand what your current needs are,” Gaughan said. “Do your research, develop a strategy and work with your financial institution to determine the best card for your lifestyle.”
Find more information and credit card options at bankofamerica.com/creditcards.
Photos courtesy of Getty ImagesSOURCE:
Bank of America
With the increasing likelihood that Social Security and Medicare benefits may be reduced in the future, it’s more important than ever to use every technique available to maximize your retirement savings. These three outside-the-box strategies could make an enormous difference in your retirement readiness. The sooner you start, the more you may save.
(BPT) - Individuals who rushed to prepay property taxes after the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act may have saved some money in 2018 — but that’s pennies compared to the long-term tax savings taxpayers should take advantage of before the TCJA’s individual tax provisions are expected to expire in 2026, according to Robert Fishbein, vice president and corporate counsel at Prudential Financial.
Also expected to expire in 2026? According to trustees for Social Security, that’s when Medicare’s main trust fund will run out of money. With the increasing likelihood that Social Security and Medicare benefits may be reduced in the future, it’s more important than ever to use every technique available to maximize your retirement savings.
Three outside-the-box strategies could make an enormous difference in your retirement readiness. The sooner you start, the more you may save.
Fund an HSA for retirement health care
Estimates suggest even a healthy 65-year-old couple will need at least $275,000 to cover retirement health care costs. A Health Savings Account, or HSA, provides a way to save that money without paying a dime in taxes. An HSA account is available to individuals enrolled in a high deductible health insurance plan.
First, these individuals can fund their HSA through a tax-deductible contribution or pre-tax payroll deduction. Second, any interest and investment gains are tax-free. Finally, the funds can be withdrawn tax-free to pay for qualified medical expenses— a triple tax advantage over a traditional savings account.
The best part? There is no requirement to use HSA funds in the year of contribution, which means funds can grow on a tax-favored basis for future health care expense needs.
For 2018, family contribution limits are $6,900, or $7,900 if you are 55 or older, and those amounts are indexed for inflation in future years. If you start contributing the maximum even as late as age 55, and earn 3 percent per year, you could have more than $90,000 to pay for your retirement health care by age 65. If you start contributing the maximum as early as age 40, you could have saved almost $270,000. These funds will continue to grow tax-free in retirement until you need them.
If you don’t use HSA funds in full before you die, excess funds are subject to income tax, but will be otherwise available for your heirs.
Consider a Roth IRA conversion
The typical dogma says that converting an IRA or traditional 401(k) to a Roth IRA does not make sense if you expect your tax rate in retirement to be lower than at the time of conversion. However, lesser known benefits of a Roth IRA may make it worthwhile to have at least part of your retirement assets in Roth IRA form.
Start with no required minimum distributions. With a Roth you aren’t forced to draw down your funds once you attain age 70½ and can continue to benefit from the tax-free growth, thereby maximizing the after-tax funds eventually available for you or your heirs.
Another significant benefit of a Roth IRA or Roth 401(k) is tax diversification. For example, you may choose to take taxable distributions up to a certain amount and then tax-free distributions to avoid a higher income tax bracket.
If you are a high-income taxpayer, Roth IRA distributions are not considered income when determining thresholds for increased Medicare premium charges or the 3.8 percent income tax surcharge on investment gain. If your income is more modest, Roth IRA distributions are not considered income when determining whether you are subject to income tax on Social Security benefits.
If anything, a conversion is more attractive now since you have an opportunity to convert and pay income tax with marginal rates that are generally lower than under prior law. Since individual tax law changes are temporary and tax rates will revert to the former higher amounts starting in 2026, you have an eight-year window to benefit from lower rates.
Make “backdoor” Roth IRA contributions
The tax law prescribes income limits so high-income individuals may not make a direct contribution to a Roth IRA. However, there are no income limits on converting traditional IRA funds to a Roth IRA.
Any person under age 70.5 who has earned income by year-end can make an IRA contribution. While income limits may prevent you from making a pre-tax contribution, you can make this contribution even if you have fully funded a 401(k) or another employer plan.
Once you have made your contribution to a traditional IRA, simply convert that amount to your Roth IRA. As long as this is your only traditional IRA and you have made an after-tax contribution, then an immediate conversion will have converted a tax-deferred asset into a potentially tax-free asset. If you have multiple IRAs, the IRAs are aggregated to determine how much is taxable upon conversion.
While we spend much time on our investment strategies to help gain an extra percentage or two of investment yield, these tax planning strategies can be a more reliable way of maximizing your after-tax retirement income and wealth for your family — no matter how Social Security and Medicare turn out.
Prudential Financial, its affiliates, and their financial professionals do not render tax or legal advice. Please consult with your tax and legal advisors regarding your personal circumstances.
Managing all of life’s demands on limited funds can feel like a never-ending chore. Every family’s budget is unique, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to saving money. However, establishing priorities and looking for ways to make small cuts can add up.
How to Help Your Family Budget
(Family Features) Managing all of life’s demands on limited funds can feel like a never-ending chore. Every family’s budget is unique, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to saving money. However, establishing priorities and looking for ways to make small cuts can add up.
Many people turn to creating a personalized budget or a spending schedule to help keep track of their expenses. Planning payments on a monthly basis can sometimes be helpful when it comes to setting an appropriate family budget, anticipating short-term expenses and planning ahead for long-term payments.
However, creating a personalized budget is not always enough. Some companies also offer discount and incentive programs for particular customers, so it’s best to do some research when planning your next month’s budget and take advantage of available programs.
For example, Amazon offers a discounted Prime membership for $5.99 per month for customers receiving government assistance. This offer is already available to Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cardholders and now Medicaid recipients also qualify. Members have access to a wide selection of more than 100 million items, video and music streaming services, low prices on select items and fast, convenient delivery options, which can ultimately help save both time and money.
In addition to fast, free shipping on millions of items, these benefits come at no additional cost to Prime members:
To help make your budget more manageable, take a close look at your bills, ongoing purchases and opportunities to save where possible.
Find more information to help balance your budget at amazon.com/qualify.
Photo courtesy of Getty ImagesSOURCE:
(BPT) - With the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 having been signed into law, here are some of the things you should be thinking about as tax season approaches, according to Robert Fishbein, vice president and corporate counsel, Prudential Financial Inc.
2017 tax returns
The new tax law is generally effective starting in 2018, which means that your 2017 income tax return is largely unaffected. However, there may be actions you can take now to benefit from the change. For example, assuming you are eligible, you could fund a traditional IRA before the due date of your tax return; the income exclusion may be more valuable under higher 2017 tax rates.
Lower tax rates and new withholding
The hallmark of the new tax law is lower marginal tax rates for individuals. The IRS has issued withholding tables employers started using in February to reflect these lower rates. While this could mean lower tax withholding and more take-home pay, you should evaluate your personal income tax position to determine if you will pay more or less under the new law and adjust your withholding accordingly.
If you make estimated tax payments, you should also estimate your tax liability under the new tax law and make necessary adjustments to your quarterly tax payments.
Assuming your withholding or estimated tax payments need no adjustment may create an unpleasant surprise if you are under-withheld and owe penalty tax and interest when you file your 2018 income tax return.
Higher standard deduction
The new higher standard deduction of $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for married couples will greatly reduce the number of taxpayers that itemize deductions. If you did not itemize in 2016, and your tax position is similar now, you will probably not itemize in 2017. The increased standard deduction, combined with lower marginal rates, may mean your tax liability will go down.
If you itemized in 2016, compare your total itemized amount to the new standard deduction. If less, and assuming a similar tax position in 2017, you will likely no longer need to itemize.
For many, this provision will turn out to be the greatest simplification aspect of the new tax law, since they no longer must track itemized deductions or complete multiple associated forms.
No personal exemptions
Some taxpayers will need to look more closely to determine if they will pay less or even more. The new law eliminates personal exemptions and reduces deductible items, such as limiting the total deduction for state and local income taxes to $10,000, reducing the amount of deductible mortgage interest and eliminating the deduction for interest paid on a home equity line of credit. Therefore, if you itemized deductions in 2017 and your deductions were greater than the applicable standard deduction, you will have to consider what deductions are available in 2018 and estimate your tax liability.
In states with higher income taxes and property taxes, it is possible that the loss of itemized deductions will be greater than the benefit of lower rates and your tax liability could increase.
Increased child and dependent credits
The new law increases the child tax credit for children under 17 to $2,000. The income limits to phase out the credit are also significantly increased so more taxpayers will be eligible. In addition, there is a $500 credit for other qualifying dependents. Depending on your tax bracket, this could be better or worse than getting an exemption for each dependent.
Increased AMT exemption
Adding one more layer of complexity to your 2018 planning is the new tax law’s modification of the Alternative Minimum Tax or AMT. The AMT is a parallel tax system that requires you to calculate your income tax under the normal rules and then again under AMT rules, paying the higher of the two. The new tax law increases the AMT exemption, or the amount you can earn and not be subject to this alternative tax. If you have been subject to AMT in the past, you should review the new increased exemption and whether that will change.
The bottom line
The bottom line for most is whether they will pay more or less income tax in 2018 than in 2017. While it is likely many will pay less, you need to consider all the above before you know how you will be impacted by the new tax law.
Please consult your legal or tax advisor concerning your particular circumstances. The Prudential Insurance Company of America, Newark NJ and its affiliates.
(BPT) - It’s that time of year again when you may find a little bit of extra money in your pocket, thanks to your annual tax refund. There are plenty of practical ways to spend it, such as putting it toward paying off credit cards, loan payments or even starting a college fund, but there is always something tempting about taking that money and putting it toward something just a little bit more fun. Instead, consider something that is both practical and fun that you will use every day and will help you save money throughout the year.
1. Learn something new: Maybe you have been meaning to learn a new skill or explore a subject that you have taken interest in. Your refund is the perfect solution to fund a new hobby. A little bit of cash and a few extra hours a week can go a long way in honing in on one of your new (or old) passion points. Look into your local community college, dance studio, art center, etc. and check out the various classes offered to find one that piques your curiosity. If you are lucky, these courses could turn into something far more fruitful that will last far beyond tax season.
2. Be on the cutting edge: Haven’t you always wanted to be the first among your friends with one of the latest smartphones? Often though, it becomes too expensive between the phone, the update charge and the data fees. This year, use your tax refund to purchase one of the latest smartphones and a new wireless plan that allows you to save in the long-term. Achieve balance with Straight Talk’s $55 Ultimate Unlimited* Plan, and stay in touch with friends and family, stream the latest videos and navigate while you’re on-the-go without worry. While you reward yourself with the latest technology and unlimited* data, you’ll also give yourself the gift of saving on your phone bill all year long.
3. Plan a staycation: Planning a vacation can be tough with a hectic family schedule. Between working out the details and packing, the planning process can become overwhelming. Why make it complicated when you can instead vacation from the comfort of your own home? Use your refund to have family-based experiences in your hometown — many museums, zoos, waterparks, etc. offer discounted year-round family memberships, too. Even though your staycation may end once the weekend is over, the new membership will allow for family fun to continue throughout the year.
4. Get fit: Have you faltered on that New Year’s resolution to spend a few more hours a week at the gym? Your tax return is your second chance at getting into better shape this year. If the gym isn’t for you, put it toward trying a new exercise class, or better yet, do it with a friend or partner! Many workout studios give discounted classes for your first session, so you’ll have the opportunity to “try before you buy” — and if you love it, pick up a package of classes to reduce longer-term costs.
5. Cook a homemade family feast: While you could take your hard-earned tax return to a fancy restaurant, you could also make a fancy dinner right at home. Use your extra spending cash to revamp your kitchen with new appliances and ingredients that will allow for more exciting in-home dining. Splurge on a homemade pasta maker or a brand-new mixer, then work as a family to cook up your very own secret recipe. These purchases and new creations will result in a fun night of cooking for the whole family, but also will be around for years to come!
You work hard all year and deserve to reward yourself with something fun and practical that can bring a little more balance to your emotional and financial health. For more information and ways to save, visit StraightTalk.com.
*At 60GB, Straight Talk reserves the right to review accounts for usage in violation of its Terms and Conditions. Please refer to the latest Terms and Conditions of Service at StraightTalk.com. A month equals 30 days.
Whether you’re considering ways to give to deserving causes or looking for the perfect gift for a loved one for a special occasion, remember that not every gift is a tangible item. In fact, some of the best gifts are those you can’t touch at all, but those that make the world a better place. Consider these giving options to make a lasting impact.
Make a Lasting Difference
(Family Features) Whether you’re considering ways to give to deserving causes or looking for the perfect gift for a loved one for a special occasion, remember that not every gift is a tangible item. In fact, some of the best gifts are those you can’t touch at all, but those that make the world a better place.
Socially motivated gifts, of your own accord or on behalf of someone else, are much more than a one-time present. They have the potential to make a significant impact on lives or to further the work of a cause-based organization.
Consider these giving options to make a lasting impact:
Retirement plans: Because retirement plans are taxed differently than most assets, they may actually become a tax liability. Naming a nonprofit organization as a beneficiary of your retirement account can be an attractive option for leaving a legacy and reducing income, and possibly estate taxes, for loved ones. A tax-exempt organization may be eligible to receive the full amount, bypassing income taxes. This means, for example, that a $100,000 IRA can be worth the full $100,000.
Life insurance plans: A gift of life insurance is an affordable way to make a significant gift while also enjoying tax savings during your lifetime. Benefits include the ability to give a significant gift at a fraction of the value; tax savings that can be immediately realized; a reduction in the final taxes of your estate and the ability to pass gifts outside of your estate.
Gifts of real estate: You may decide that the greatest gift you can make is to leave your home or other property to a charitable organization. This kind of gift is ideal for someone who intends to continue living in his or her home or property through their lifetime, but still make a charitable gift. You can leave this generous gift by signing an agreement with an organization about maintaining the property so you can use it throughout your lifetime. You may even receive a tax deduction for your gift.
Gifts of stock: Stocks, bonds and mutual funds that have appreciated in value are among the best ways to gift a nonprofit organization. You may receive a charitable income tax deduction for the full market value of the stock (up to a maximum of 30 percent of your adjusted gross income) and avoid paying the capital gains tax on any increase in the value of the stock.
Gifts of cash: This type of gift is simple and eligible for an immediate charitable tax credit. Although many organizations allow you to specify how you would like the funds to be used, an unrestricted monetary donation allows the organization to allocate your contribution into the project or area that needs funds most.
If you designate a gift on someone’s behalf, be sure to share a card or a note with the honoree letting them know about the contribution. Particularly if it’s a cause close to the heart, it’s sure to be just as gratefully received, if not more so, as any trinket you might buy.
Find more ideas for gifts that make a lasting difference at eLivingToday.com.
4 Ways to Make an Impact on Children
When looking for opportunities to make an impact on the lives of others, selecting a cause to support can be an overwhelming task with so many options to choose from. However, considering opportunities that can change the lives of kids is one way to make a lasting impact for generations to come.
Helping children early on can change the trajectory of their lives, set them up for success and empower them to achieve their dreams. This is especially important for kids living in poverty who are not guaranteed access to things like medical care and quality educations. According to global humanitarian organization Children International, nearly half the world lives on less than $2.50 a day and 1 in 5 kids in the United States lives in poverty.
Consider these ideas to make an impact on children in need now and well into the future:
Become a mentor or coach. A positive role model can make a life-changing difference for a child from disadvantaged circumstances. As a mentor or a coach, you can help children explore and nurture their unique talents and guide them toward a successful future.
Volunteer at a local school. Families increasingly rely on two incomes to support their households, which means parents are less available to lend their time to their children’s classrooms or schools. At the same time, public school funding is shrinking. As a volunteer, you can help fill these gaps and contribute to bettering the learning opportunities for children in your community.
Sponsor a child. You may be surprised to learn how far a monetary donation can go. For example, Children International supporters can join a monthly giving program and sponsor a child in poverty for $32 per month. Your donation establishes a connection with an individual child who receives access to life-changing benefits like medical care, educational support and life-skills training. The institution is a CharityWatch top-rated organization that serves 250,000 children in 10 countries. If a reoccurring donation is not right for you, the organization also accepts one-time donations. Learn more at children.org.
Donate new or used items. Service organizations such as shelters generally operate on tight budgets and rely on contributions from the community. Gently used items in good condition such as children’s clothing of all sizes and warm bedding are generally welcome.
Photo courtesy of Getty Images (Young boy and Grandmother)SOURCE:
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