Category Archives: Consumer Advice

Telltale Signs that It’s a Scam!

History is jammed packed with stories of innovative ways that scammers have used to trick people to give them their money.  Their possessions. Their homes.

With e-commerce.  Information on the web.  Social media.  Robo-phone calls.  It’s even easier to fall into a scammer’s web of deceit.

So, how can you tell if you are one of their targets?

Well, there is no single solution, but there are warning signs that can tip you off to whether it’s a bona fide offer (or company) or a trick to get your money.

The Offer Is Too Good to Be True.  A product that you’ve always wanted at a ridiculous low price.  That you won a contest (that you never entered).  That you were recommended by a friend (hackers create fake identities using your friends’ profiles) and the friend never mentioned it to you.  That you won a lottery.  A prize.

Find out as much as you can and then Google it.  For example, you won a Samsung TV and all have to do is pay $100 for shipping charges.  Google the term “Samsung TV Scam”.  Get phone numbers to call back.  Most scammers won’t give you phone numbers.  Don’t rely on email addresses because those could be fake too.

Are There Grammatical or Spelling Errors?  Yes, we all make mistakes, but poor English or grammar is a sign that you might be dealing with a scammer.  You may think that the person is not well-educated, but experts say that might not be the case.  Sometimes they are deliberately worded that way to filter out the smarter people, and the most gullible become the victims.

Hurry, This Offer Won’t Last Long  – Scammers use fear or urgency as a tactic to bully you into action, so you don’t have time to ask for help or think things through or do your research.  Legitimate companies will give you time to make a decision.

They Ask You for Money – At some point, they are going to ask for money.  (See The Offer Is Too Good To Be True.)   They will ask for payment in advance to give you the information about the lottery that you “just won”.  They will ask you to “wire” funds.  Even though the bank can trace the funds, scammers often close the bank accounts right after receiving the money.  Don’t give your credit card info either—unless you are absolutely certain that it’s not a scam.  They will use your credit card info to buy stuff.

Do you have a scammer story that you’d like to share so we can warn others?

Tweak Your Withholding Taxes: Filing a New W-4 Form with your Employer

Remember filling out a W-4 form when you were first hired?  It’s the form that determines how much money your employer withholds from your paycheck to pay federal and state taxes—based upon the number of “allowances” that you claimed.

But have you checked to see if it’s still applicable?  Consider adjusting your W-4 form if the following applies:

  1. You owed the IRS money – You may want to have more money withheld from your paycheck. In fact, if you owe too much, the IRS can assess you and add a penalty for not depositing enough money into your account.
  2. You’ve experienced a “life change,” such as
    1. Marriage
    2. Divorce
    3. Birth or adoption of a child
    4. Purchase of home
    5. Refinance of mortgage
    6. Retirement
  3. You expect to earn money from your home-based business or other source that does not withhold income taxes from the check.
  4. You have a change in itemized deductions
    1. Medical expenses
    2. Gifts to charity
    3. Dependent care expenses
    4. Education credits
    5. Child tax credit

To INCREASE the amount of taxes from your paycheck, you will need to DECREASE the number of dependents.  You can also specify a dollar amount—like $50 per pay period.  Likewise, to have LESS money deducted, INCREASE that number.

I recommend that you check your withholding every year—right after you’ve filed your income tax return.  The IRS offers a withholding calculator at www.IRS.gov and you’ll need your most recent tax return and current paycheck stub.  Or, ask your tax preparer to help you adjust your withholding so you don’t owe too much—or get a large refund from the IRS—at the end of the year.

If you are looking for a tax preparer or CPA, please send me a message because I work with many excellent professionals for you to choose from.

What Are the Top Kitchen Trends for 2018?

So, every year, the website Houzz creates a trends report regarding design, kitchens, color, housing and remodeling trends.

You may be thinking of remodeling your kitchen.

Maybe just making minor upgrades.

Or just changing the color and accessories.

I just recently read a report that I would like to share with you on Kitchen Trends for 2018 that will remain trendy at least for the next few years.

First of all, some goals that homeowners are striving for when upgrading their kitchens:

  • Decluttering counters – 75%
  • Putting things away – 65%
  • Recycling bins – 49%
  • More home cooking – 48%
  • Dishwasher – 46%
  • High-end coffee makers – 38%

Refreshing the surface of the countertops was mentioned by 94% of those who responded to the survey.

  • 43% Engineered Quartz
  • 34% Granite

40% wanted to add a kitchen island.

And it’s 50/50 split on whether homeowners opted for a traditional or a farmhouse-style kitchen.

Total kitchen remodeling costs can run up to $40,000 depending on your area of the country.  However, upgrading countertops could cost as little at $3,000 to $5,000.  Depending on the brand, updating appliances averages $3,000.

Some less expensive updates are:

  • Changing countertops only
  • Upgrading faucets and handles
  • Adding a tile backsplash
  • Changing the door style (only the doors and drawer fronts) on the cabinets
  • Changing the sink
  • Changing the lighting fixtures
  • Painting the walls.

Home Improvement stores usually employ kitchen designers who will help you with the process.

In addition, keeping your kitchen on trend will be a huge selling point if you ever decide to sell your home.

Increasing Your Wealth by Living Below Your Means

A View from the Beach

Having a healthy bank account. Emergency money. Money for retirement. It does not happen overnight. So, I’d like to share with you a couple of tips that I recently read about.

  1. Try to live below your means: Instead of buying a new car, look for a low-mileage used one that would typically be 2/3 of the price of a new one. If you no longer need that giant house, sell it and buy one that is more suited to your family’s needs.
  2. Never pay full price: Use coupons. If buying online, use coupon codes. Grocery stores usually post “a special of the week”. Buy those products in quantity. Negotiate big-ticket items.
  3. Cut out unnecessary expenses: Small charges add up to big money at the end of the year. Can you eliminate some or all of your bank fees by changing banks? How about credit card fees? Do you really need 80G internet speed when 40G will do?
  4. Sell some of your current possessions Take your unwanted clothing to a consignment store. Sell locally on Craig’s List. Sell nationally on eBay. Let friends and family know that you have items for sale.
  5. Leave your credit cards at home. Unless you are on a mission to buy something that is totally necessary, you won’t be tempted to buy an item that you don’t “need”. Use a debit card instead because it is like “cash” and will make you think twice before purchasing.
  6. Don’t buy lottery tickets. You may think that this is your chance to get rich quickly, but your chances of winning are slim to none. And it all adds up. Spending $10 a week is $520 that could have gone into your savings account.
  7. Think about going Green. Can you carpool to save money on gas and wear and tear on your car? Recycle your glass and cans and get cash for them. Turn down your heat when not at home. Turn off electric lights.

Oh, and if you are really intent on increasing your wealth, the experts advise that you get a side job to bring in additional income. It may be only 10 hours a week – but again, it all adds up.

Question: What do you do to save money?

How Do You Know If Your Insurance Company Is Great?

I recently read an article regarding the difference between a good insurance company and a great one.

While getting the right amount of coverage is really critical, it’s also important that you know that you are doing business with the right carrier.

Check to make sure the company is licensed in the state. While insurance companies have different entity names, do business with companies that are licensed to do business in the state. You can check the state’s insurance licensing website, which will have a list of all the companies. If they are licensed and in good standing, this allows you to get help from the state insurance department if you are having problems.

Check to make sure they are financially healthy. A company that is in poor financial shape may not have enough money to pay your claim…or they might try to negotiate lesser coverage when it comes time to cut a check. Here are several websites you can visit to check on their financial health. It is suggested that you check at two of them.

Check the number of complaints. Again, the state’s insurance department should provide you with the number of justified (keyword: justified) complaints from consumers. The report gives you a “complaint ratio”, meaning it compares the number of justified complaints to the total number of insurance complaints in the state. You can also find that ratio at www.NAIC.org, The National Association of Insurance Commissioners website. Look for a low complaint ratio.

Check their response time. If you find yourself holding on the phone for a long period of time. If you don’t receive timely call backs. Or if the explanations of coverage are confusing to you, it’s a good indication that you will have similar problems when it’s time to file a claim.

If you are looking to buy insurance or change insurance companies, please contact me because I know many great insurance agents for you to check out.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Buying a Second Home

Buying a second home can be an awesome experience for years to come, but financially, I’d like to share some of the things that you might want to think about first.

How much will it cost? It’s not just the sales price – there are other costs associated with it. Maintenance. Property taxes. Insurance (which is usually more expensive than for a first home). The experts claim that the expenses are about 20% higher than your primary residence.

Can you afford it? It’s important to do the numbers. While it may be a fun getaway, take a look at your finances. Do you have 6 months’ worth of mortgage payments socked away to cover your current mortgage and second home mortgage — in case of a job loss or health issue?

Are you buying it for the right reasons? How much time will you spend there? How much vacation time do you have each year? How many times will family members use it? Do the numbers and compare it to the cost of travel, hotel rooms and meals. However, if you are buying it as an investment in an area that is appreciating or you plan to retire there, that’s another story.

What are the long-term plans? Are you going to have exclusive use of the home, or do you plan to rent it out for part of the year? Be sure to review the rental rules in the area because not all areas allow rentals based on the homeowner’s association covenants. Income tax rules are different for second homes and rental income, so check with an accountant before you buy.

Can you find hired help? If the second home is quite a distance from your home and it needs repairs, are there contractors or handymen available to help you out in a pinch? In some more remote areas, help is either hard to find — or more expensive.

Ask about weather-related conditions. If located near a river, lake or shoreline, do you need to buy flood insurance? Earthquakes. Hurricanes. Tornados. Check the history of weather-related occurrences over the past 10 years because it will also increase the cost of your insurance. Not to mention the downtime to make repairs.

Finally, don’t rush into making a decision. Make sure that you aren’t buying your second home purely based on impulse or emotions. Take your time to find the property you really want. Do the math so you know you can afford it.

And let me know if you need a mortgage to buy that second home.

Nine Extraordinary Uses for Ordinary Household Items

In a recent issue of Real Simple Magazine, they published a list of ordinary items that you probably have in your home right now—and shared how they can serve double-duty. Here is a list of the items and alternative ways to use them.

Ice-cube tray – Organize desk supplies like paperclips and rubber bands. Use them to store buttons and beads. Use them as an organizer for jewelry.

Uncooked spaghetti – When you don’t have a match long enough to light a candle sitting in a deep candle holder, use a piece of uncooked spaghetti. They easily catch on fire and stay lit for a long time.

Colander – Keep flies away from food by inverting the colander over the plate during your outside cookout.

Baby oil – Easily remove latex paint from your skin by squirting baby oil on a cotton ball or rag and wipe away.

Dental floss – Use unwaxed, unflavored dental floss to easily cut a cheese cake or layer cake. You won’t have the crumbs and mess of using a knife.

Antacid tablets – Drop a tablet in a little water to remove stains from the bottom of vases. Just let sit for several minutes and wipe clean.

Cotton swabs – Touch up paint chips on walls, cabinets or furniture by using a cotton swab instead of breaking out the paint brush.

Pillow case – Make lettuce last longer by placing it in a pillow case. Then put the lettuce and pillow case in a plastic bag in the fridge. The cotton will absorb the moisture and it will last longer than in just plastic.

Laundry basket – Line a laundry basket with a trash bag and fill with ice if you need an extra cooler for your party.

So, how do you use some of your ordinary household items in a unique and different way?