Do Your Homework Before Buying A Vacation Home

There’s nothing quite like the thrill of looking for a vacation home to own. But don’t let all the excitement overtake your need to approach this purchase pragmatically.

There are a lot of things to consider before taking the plunge. Do you want access to the home year-round? Do you plan to rent the home to others? Will the home be large enough to accommodate guests as well as immediate family? How will a vacation home affect your taxes?

Let’s take a closer look at what needs to be weighed before sealing the deal on a vacation property:

Location, location, location! As with any property being eyed for purchase, where it’s located is a major consideration. If the home is intended to be used by family and friends on a regular basis, such as a beachfront house during the summer months, then you probably want a property that doesn’t require flying to every time you want to get away.

And if you’re looking to also rent the property, then you should think about its rental demand potential beyond one season a year. Other factors to consider from an investment perspective are the community’s overall economic health and growth projections, and the property’s appreciation potential.

Check it out before you buy. If possible, rent the property for one or two weeks on several occasions and at different times of the year. This gives you the opportunity to determine if the home is a “good fit” and will help you gauge the busier times of the season(s). Also, get to know the “locals” and whether you feel comfortable around them. This is especially important if you intend to eventually retire there.

Don’t overextend yourself. Stay within your budget when buying a second home. The last thing you want is to be stressed out over whether you can afford the home while you’re spending your vacation there. This means getting a handle on costs beyond the purchase price, such as property insurance, homeowner association fees if any, and routine maintenance costs.

Figure out the tax situation before buying. Property taxes on a vacation home typically are different than for a primary residence. For instance, they may be higher if the property is located in a resort area. And there may be tax consequences if you intend to rent the property to others.

Don’t lose sight of expenses when renting. Repairs are an inevitable part of renting a vacation home. A good rule of thumb is to presume repairs will be about 1.5 percent of a property’s value. That equates to about $3,000 in repair costs annually for a $200,000 house.

There’s definitely a lot to consider when buying a vacation home. But by doing your homework ahead of time, you’ll be able to truly sit back and relax in your personal getaway.

Prepare Yourself For Back To School Shopping

As the sands of summer slip away, back-to-school season looms just ahead. And that means it’s time to start shifting into shopping mode.

If the kids aren’t already bugging you for new clothes and backpacks and other school stuff, they will soon. The age-old question is – will you be prepared this time?

If you answered “yes,” then you get an “A.” If you hesitated, you obviously have some homework to do.

But don’t lose hope. Here are some “assignments” that can help ease the anxiety of back-to-school shopping:

Hold a “family meeting” to discuss what the kids need. Just be prepared to explain to your youngsters the difference between needs and wants and where you’re willing to compromise. Sometimes writing down what’s needed and what’s wanted provides a clearer picture when it comes time to making purchases.

With your list in hand, create a budget. You can then use it in two ways – as a guideline, or as spending plan that you intend to strictly stick to.

Take an inventory of what’s left over from the previous school year. Are the kids willing to re-use lunchboxes and backpacks? Are their school clothes still in good shape and do they fit? Are there pens and pencils and other supplies tucked away in a box somewhere? Just remember that the more you find, the less you’ll need to spend.

Search around for bargains, either online or the old-fashioned way of going into brick-and-mortar stores. While you’re at it, look for coupons. There are loads of them out there and they could save you big bucks depending on what you buy.

Don’t wait too long to start shopping. “The early bird gets the worm” appropriately applies here. Get to the deals before the other guy does; otherwise you could end up spending more than you really intended.

Buy generic instead of brand name if at all possible. The savings could be as much as 50 percent or, if you’re lucky, even more.

Round up family and friends and buy items in bulk. This is a great way to cut costs on such things as notepads and pens.

 Keep all your receipts. There’s always a chance you’ll have to return something and it’s a lot easier to do if you have receipt in hand. And familiarize yourself with the refund policies of stores and websites where you make purchases.

Some Ins and Outs of Student Loans

Are student loans the only way you can feasibly attend college? You’re not alone. Unfortunately, thousands of people have no choice but to borrow money to pay for their college education. But the good news is that there are a lot of loan options out there to help you obtain your degree.

The trick is knowing what loan is right for you, and this requires doing a little homework. You really can’t afford to leave things to chance and grab the first loan offered to you, or you could end up regretting it down the road. A recent national study revealed that more than half of polled student loan holders said they would have done things differently when choosing their student loans if given the opportunity to make those decisions again.

To ensure you don’t regret your student loan choices, review these tips before you commit!

Check out the different types of loans available to you. For instance, there are various federal loans such as PLUS, Stafford, and Perkins loans, as well as private loans available through financial institutions like banks and credit unions. Each type of loan has different features and rules, so compare at least a few of them before deciding which way to go. You can find out what’s out there by doing an online search or using a student loan comparison tool like SimpleTuition . As a courtesy, you will be leaving Blog.BankFive.com and going to another website. We have approved this site as a reliable partner, but you will no longer be under the security policy of BankFive.com. Come back soon!

Don’t get in over your head. In other words, don’t borrow more money than you need. Experts recommend that your loan payments shouldn’t exceed 8 percent of your salary, so before taking out a loan it’s a good idea to research an entry-level salary in the field you’re planning to get into. This way you’ll have at least some idea of what schools you can and can’t afford. If you still have a few years until college begins, it would be smart to start saving as much money as possible in order to reduce the amount you’ll need to borrow. There are many handy college saving calculators out there to help you plan.

Understand the terms of your loan. Know when you’ll be expected to begin making payments on your loan, and understand how frequently those payments will need to be made (usually monthly). It’s extremely important to keep in mind that you’ll be responsible for repaying the loan. Don’t lose sight of the fact that even if you don’t complete your education, or secure a job right after graduating, you’ll still be expected to pay your loan back.

Keep the paperwork. No matter how good your memory is, it’s nearly impossible to remember all the details surrounding a student loan. So keep all the documents you’re given throughout the loan application process, in case you need to refer to them later.

Know the importance of making your loan payments on time. You don’t want to end up ruining your credit by missing student loan payments. Doing so can make it extremely difficult (if not impossible) to purchase a car or home in the future. If you run into problems repaying your loan, contact the loan company immediately to discuss your payment options.

Stay in touch. With the loan company, that is. They’ll need to know if you change your address or name, or if you withdraw from school, transfer to another school, or drop below half-time status. Remember that it’s up to you to stay on top of your student loan payments!

Improve your Cell Phone Battery Life

Are you sick of charging your phone every night only to have the battery die a few short hours later? You’re not alone. The good news is that there are many ways you can fight back and improve your phone’s battery life.

Here are some energy-extending tips:

  • Turn off “Vibrate” mode! A phone set to vibrate uses more power than one that’s only set to ring. If you need to turn off the ringtone because you’re in a setting such as a business meeting, put your phone in silent mode and keep it within sight so you can see if you’re getting an incoming call, text, or alert.
  • If you’re worried that your cell phone battery will die while you’re out and about, consider using a portable USB power bank to recharge on-the-go. There are also phone cases with built-in batteries than can keep your phone from having to be charged as frequently.
  • Keep tabs on your phone’s signal strength. When you’re in an area with poor cellular coverage, your phone has to work harder to pull in a signal which puts a strain on the battery. If you’re having trouble getting a signal and aren’t able to make calls or access the Internet, switch the phone to Airplane mode to conserve battery power until you get to a better coverage area.
  • Find out which apps are sucking up your battery life. By going to Settings > Battery, you can see a list of the top battery-draining apps. Once you know the culprits, you can decide whether they’re worth the constant re-charging, or you can delete them to help improve your phone’s daily battery life.
  • Reduce your screen’s brightness. Keeping the phone on a less-bright setting can help to significantly extend battery life. Most phones also have an auto-brightness feature that automatically adjusts the screen’s brightness based on how dark or light out it is. Using this setting will help to ensure you’re not wasting power with an unnecessarily bright screen.
  • Don’t allow apps to use location services unless you absolutely need them to. Any time an app uses GPS to determine your location, your phone’s battery takes a huge hit. If you have an Android phone, an alternative to revoking access to location services is to visit Settings > Location > Mode, and select the “Battery Saving” feature instead of “High Accuracy”. This will force your phone to use Wi-Fi and mobile networks to determine your location instead of GPS, which drains your battery faster.
  • If you’re looking to boost your battery’s standby time, switch to Power Saving Mode if your phone has it. But beware that this mode could limit the phone’s capabilities.
  • Keep your apps up-to-date, as the latest versions often use less cell phone battery power than their older counterparts.
  • Adjust your phone’s display settings so the screen times out faster when it’s not in use. The longer it takes for the screen to automatically go dark, the more battery power is being wasted.
  • Lastly, it can’t hurt to reboot your phone every few days. Some battery drainage problems can be fixed by simply powering down and restarting your phone periodically.

It’s Not Too Early to Start Your Holiday Shopping

With all of the summer fun you’ve been having, holiday shopping has probably been the last thing on your mind. But if thinking back to the stress and anxiety you felt during last year’s holiday shopping rush makes you cringe, you might want to put the holidays on your radar now!

Starting to plan your holiday shopping strategy now can help you from having to fight traffic, crowds, and “out of stock” notices come November and December. Here are some tips to help you create an early holiday shopping plan of attack:

  • Create a budget. The first step to creating your
    holiday shopping budget is to make a list of who you plan to give gifts to. Then, come up with some potential gift ideas for each person on your list. Once you’ve estimated your expenses, you’ll need to decide where the money will come from. Savings? End-of-year bonus? A part-time job during the holidays? If it looks like you’ll be short in terms of money, you’ll either need to make some tweaks to your gift list, or find a way to pull in some extra funds.
  • Stick to the budget. It’s easy to get caught up in the holiday spirit and overspend, but you’ll have less holiday stress and anxiety if you adhere to your budget and spend within your means. Almost everyone has financial limitations, and you should know what yours are before you begin buying.
  • Start searching for deals today. Just decide what it is you want to buy, and begin scouring websites and stores for the best bargains. Time is on your side!
  • Cash or credit? If you’re disciplined enough to pay off credit card purchases right away or quickly enough to avoid amassing too much interest, then there’s little to no risk using a credit card. If, on the other hand, you’re more inclined to let the debt pile up, cash is probably the best way to go. Sure, it’s easier to “buy now and pay later” rather than make purchases solely with the funds you have on hand, but sticking to cash will prevent you from overspending and having to deal with paying off debt (and interest!) later on.
  • To DIY or to not DIY? If you’re a crafty sort of person and enjoy making things, then homemade do-it-yourself gifts may be the way to go. They can be less expensive than buying similar pre-made gifts, and if you get started right now you’ll have plenty of time to put in the thought and time you need to create the perfect presents for your loved ones. Plus, you’ll free yourself from the pressures of having to slap them together at the last minute.
  • Online or in-store? Cyber-shopping continues to gain holiday customers every year, and 2016 isn’t expected to be any different. The beauty of starting your online shopping early is that you won’t have to worry about items selling out within the blink of an eye, and you’ll have more time to comparison shop among sites to ensure you get the best deals. When online shopping however, it’s important to only do business with those websites that are reputable and have strong security systems in place. Otherwise, you could unknowingly expose yourself to cyber crooks. They’re constantly seeking out new victims, and not just during the holidays. And keep this in mind — if a cyber deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Teach Your Kids to Save

Every parent wants their children to grow up to be financially secure. And a good way to get them headed in that direction is to teach your kids to save, starting at an early age.It can be as simple as buying them a piggy bank to store their change, or you could head in a more formal direction and help them to open their own interest-bearing savings account.

Whatever methods you choose to encourage saving, it’s never too soon to promote this habit. Here are some suggestions to teach your kids to save and help them get excited about their own finances.

For the youngest crowd, the piggy bank is an approach that has stood the test of time, but a large jar or two can also do the trick. One jar can be devoted to saving enough money to buy a certain toy, while another jar can be used to save for a larger purchase, such as a trip to an amusement park. And it doesn’t hurt to have a “Little Treats” container which can be used to save for small purchases such as ice cream or stickers.

Marking each jar with a picture of your child’s purchase goal can help to visually reinforce their saving habits. Using clear jars can help with this as well, since kids can literally see their savings adding up. It’s also a good idea to place the jars in a common area such as the kitchen to give your child a sense of pride and accomplishment. You can even consider setting up your own savings jar next to theirs to further encourage their efforts!

Other incentives include matching your child’s savings contributions dollar for dollar (a child’s version of a 401k plan), and offering small rewards when certain savings goals are reached.

Once your child is around 7 years of age you can start to shift things into a higher gear and give them more financial responsibility since they’re better able to understand savings concepts. For instance, if they have their own savings account, go over their banking statements with them so they can literally see the interest they’re making on the money they save. You can also explain to them how credit cards and loans work, and what happens when they borrow money to “buy now and pay later”. You can even reinforce this concept by offering them a loan to buy a larger item upfront. Tell them that, just like dealing with a credit card company, they’ll have to stick to a repayment schedule (you might even want to charge them a little interest!).

You can also use everyday errands like a trip to the grocery store as an opportunity to bestow financial wisdom. For example, point out when you’re purchasing a generic version of a product instead of a brand name because it’s cheaper and basically tastes the same.

The more you can do now to get your kids excited about saving, the more financially prepared they’ll be down the road.

Boating Safety Tips: Stay Safe on the Water!

If you feel like a fish out of water when you’re not on the boat, you’re not alone. Millions of people flock to lakes and the ocean to enjoy water activities this time of year.

But it’s important not to sacrifice safety when having fun, especially when it comes to boating. Taking the proper precautions before setting sail should always be a top priority. Here are some boating safety tips to keep in mind:


  • Consider a free vessel safety check.
    The U.S. Coast Guard offers recreational boaters a free Vessel Safety Check every year. The courtesy check is performed at your boat (whether that be in a slip, at a launch ramp, or in your driveway) by a certified Vessel Examiner. More information can be found on the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary website.
  • Share your travel plans with someone onshore. Let them know when you intend to depart, where you’re going, and when you’re returning.
  • Check the weather forecast in advance. Don’t take chances if the weather looks iffy, and if there’s a sudden change for the worse while out on the water, head back to land as quickly as possible.
  • Everyone on board should wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets. And if the boat is 16 feet or longer, an approved throwable device should be onboard the vessel, too.
  • Be prepared for an emergency. Stock the boat with a fire extinguisher, first aid kit, maps, flares, day signals, and anything else you think is appropriate to respond to an emergency situation.
  • Make sure everything is in working order before shoving off. This includes boat lights, radios and other communication devices, as well as the boat’s electrical and fuel systems.
  • Don’t consume alcohol or drugs before or while operating the boat. Both can impair reaction times and heighten sensitivity to such things as sunlight, wind, and noise.
  • Follow the rules. Whether they’re general in nature or specific to the location you’re boating in, obey the regulations. That includes maintaining a safe speed based on conditions such as traffic, visibility, and the boat’s ability to maneuver. And, after leaving the boat launch, maintain a no-wake speed for a distance that’s both safe and legally acceptable.
  • Attach your boat and vehicle keys to a floating bobber. You may also want to invest in a dry bag to help keep personal items like cell phones, wallets, and purses from getting wet.
  • Always have the boat’s registration and certificate on the vessel. For more information on the registration process for boats in your state, visit DMV.org.

Remember to keep these boating safety tips in mind while out on the water, and that ultimately, the boat owner and/or captain is responsible for the safety of everyone on board. Happy boating!