Archive for the ‘Economy’ Category
DOWNSIZING OR REFURNISHING? DONATE YOUR FURNITURE TO THOSE IN NEED
There is a wonderful way to improve other lives while improving your home. The Furniture Bank has 70 locations throughout the country, picking up furniture from your home or store and delivering it to those in need. With more than 1 million homeless in America, gently used furniture donations are greatly needed to provide comfort to seniors, battered women, the unemployed and students.
The Furniture Bank works with donators and the recipients of some very functional furniture. A side benefit of donating furniture is being able to write off furniture donations from taxes. You may also wish to send a check to the Furniture Bank.
Some local furniture stores are even offering discounts of up to 10% if they work with a local furniture bank to donate furniture. Ask your local furniture store.
How to Donate Furniture if You are a Homeowner
Visit www.furniturebank.org to find one of the 70 locations for pickup across the United States. Each furniture bank operates independently and decides which items they are willing to take. Large items like beds, sofas, dressers and lamps are all functional pieces that families starting over need.
Donate Furniture if you Own a Hotel or Other Business
Businesses can reap the benefits of donating gently used furniture. Many banks will pick up the furniture even two or three hours away.
Why not help someone else in the coming year? Visit www.furniturebank.org
By Sonja Haller, for The Arizona Republic
Most Americans will pay down their debt. Some will sock it away for a rainy day.
But about 24 percent will use their tax refunds this year to buy something pricey, such as a big-screen TV, car or vacation, the National Retail Federation reports.
Of course, financial planners wince about taxpayers getting refunds at all.
“I’m a firm believer that we should not be allowing the government to borrow our money throughout the tax year, interest-free, by ‘giving us’ a big tax refund at the end of the year,” said Victor Encinas, a Phoenix financial coach. “If we have the money throughout the year, we can build an emergency fund, strengthen our budget or save more for retirement or education.”
This isn’t news to Eldon Stetson, 36, of Glendale. If he and his wife “were doing our homework like we should be, we’d try to balance things out that way.”
Life happens, though, and soon another year has passed and the formula for owing nothing and receiving nothing on taxes hasn’t been worked out. So this year, Stetson is putting a portion of his tax refund toward a $2,500 mountain bike.
Like Stetson, 70 percent of Americans will receive tax-refund checks – and marketers will try to get them to part with them. The average tax refund is $2,150, the IRS reports.
Encinas suggests that people negotiate all major purchases.
“When you have ‘cash power’ mixed with ‘walk-away power,’ you become a force for retailers to reckon with,” he explained.
If you plan to make a major purchase with your tax refund, here’s some advice on making the most of your money:
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By Ellen James Martin for Arizona Local News
Nowadays, few home sellers – and especially those trying to avert foreclosure – have spare funds to hire a “stager,” a professional trained in the art of making a property look as beguiling as possible to prospective buyers.
Good stagers are skilled at making an ordinary property look extraordinary, often by removing excess furnishings, augmenting the remaining items and then rearranging the entire mix.
“A house that’s beautifully staged usually sells faster and for more money than a similar home in the same neighborhood that hasn’t been staged,” said Michelle Minch, a veteran in the field and an official of the Real Estate Staging Association .
But sellers in a financial pinch can gain many of the benefits of staging without the expense of hiring a professional, she said, by asking family and friends for help and bartering for their services.
For example, someone who is skilled at car mechanics could offer a free tuneup or oil change in exchange for staging help. Or you could barter baby-sitting services or gourmet dinners in exchange for assistance in upgrading your decor.
As Minch notes, it’s better to find low-cost ways to improve the appearance of your property before it’s shown than to put it up for sale in “as is” condition, which could cost you dearly at the bottom line.
“These days, buyers expect perfection in a home,” she said. “They don’t want an ‘allowance’ to make your house look better after they move in. They want a place that looks ready to move in right now.”
Buyers’ standards have gotten higher, Minch said, because in recent years, retailers who sell home furnishings have done market research to find out what they really like, and they have been exposed to good interior design in magazines and on television shows.
Here are pointers for home sellers with scarce resources.
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- Time it right. Like clothes, furniture and other home goods are seasonal. New merchandise arrives in stores twice a year, and sales are pegged to clear out old inventory. Discounts start at 20% around Memorial Day and again around Veterans Day in November, according to Jackie Hirschhaut of the American Home Furnishings Alliance. The percentage off tends to increase as the weeks pass; you’ll find the best bargains (up to 60% off) after July 4 and Christmas. Don’t feel like waiting? Christine Edmonds, an interior design consultant at Trove Decor in Newtown, Pa., suggests you check out Room & Board (roomandboard.com). ”It sells well-built, good-value, timeless pieces that mesh with just about any decor” – and the company generally keeps prices at the same reasonable level year-round.
- Use high-tech helpers. For flash sales on high-end home goods, check out onekingslane.com and gilthome .com. Follow your local Groupon and LivingSocial feeds for housewares sales near you. And never buy anything without Googling a promo code: You might score 10% off or free shipping-which, with heavy furniture, can really add up.
- Go vintage for certain pieces. Wood furniture built 40 or more years ago is often better quality than similarly priced new pieces, according to Edmonds. ”The best bargains today are on dining tables and chairs -they’re the first thing people get rid of when they downsize,” says Carolyn Baker of Baker Auction and Estate Sale Services in Denver. ”You can find nice sets for about $200 to $400 now.” (Avoid upholstered items; the cost of replacing the fabric will ruin the deal.) Find estate sales near you at estatesales.net and auctions by searching NAAAuctions.com.
- Don’t snub flea markets and yard sales. They may seem downscale, but these days many offer fantastic deals on vintage home goods such as silverware, lamps, and cabinets that need a little inexpensive TLC (polishing, rewiring, a coat of paint). Next month is the time to check out flea markets: Vendors start discounting before packing up in October, says Jennifer Litwin, author of The Best Furniture Buying Tips Ever. To find them, go to keysfleamarket.com; to find yard sales near you, download the app iGarageSale ($1.99, available for Android and iPhone).
MY SUMMER SPENT TRAVELING, ON THE REQUEST OF MY KIDS
Because I’ve spent the past many years traveling for work, I haven’t had much time or desire for leisurely travel. And traveling with little kids wasn’t always the easiest. But this past summer was different. My son, Edward, told me last year that he wanted to travel, to see the world. Planning the trips wasn’t easy, as I wasn’t sure which hotels to stay in, which places offered the best values, and best times and ways to book our trips.
RECENT TRIP TO THE REGENCY HOTEL IN NY WAS AN EYE OPENER
My brother and sister-in-law recently took my nephew, Justin, to NY for a weekend. They were so proud of the amazing rate they were able to get through Orbitz. For somewhere in the low $200′s, they were able to get a room at one of my favorite hotels, the Loew’s Regency in NY. I couldn’t believe the rate–a rate that I hadn’t been able to secure in years, since right after 9/11.
THE ARTIFICIALLY LOW HOTEL RATE QUOTED BY ORBITZ
Orbitz said in fine print that upgrades may be available upon arrival, but that they couldn’t guarantee the room you get when you book through them. Unfortunately, when my brother, sister-in-law and nephew got to the famed Regency Hotel, they discovered they would be sleeping in a room with 2 twin beds—something unacceptable for the 3 of them. So they went to the front desk, spoke with a reservations clerk and were able to upgrade to a room with 2 doubles—for an extra $100, of course.
PROBLEMS WITH ORBITZ, EXPEDIA, PRICELINE AND OTHER ONLINE TRAVEL COMPANIES
We’ve all had the same complaints when booking trips with the online travel companies, as Consumer Affairs reports:
1) The rate you are promised promises you nothing—wait til you see your room. No online or in-person guarantees of a room type or that your view won’t be the parking lot!
2) When you need to change your travel plans, good luck finding someone who picks up the phone to help you.
3) Changing your travel plans will require you to spend a hefty change fee, with no added benefits.
4) With online travel agencies you won’t usually be allowed to take advantage of all the freebies, miles, rewards and other ways the travel industry is extending to nearly every human being on Earth right now.
5) Travel websites are hard to use and are inefficient when you need to change your plans.
CONSIDER USING A WORLD-CLASS TRAVEL AGENT
I recently asked my friend, Erin, how she always plans the best trips, and how she keeps her kids so happy on vacation, even when traveling great distances. Erin was excited to share her little travel secret with me. As Erin travels all over the world to spend time with her husband and children, as her husband travels a lot for work, she has found that having the right travel agent is key to happy travels. Erin referred me Paul Klein Travel, in Chicago, a corporate travel agency, where I turned over my business and headaches. Through using Paul Klein Travel, I have been able to secure the best seats, best rooms, best hotels, best upgrades and packages, and yes, best prices. I have tried to comparison shop the trips I have taken using Paul Klein, in almost 100% of the cases, Paul Klein Travel has beat everyone.
CORPORATE TRAVEL AGENTS’ VOLUME BUSINESS GOOD NEWS FOR VACATIONING FAMILIES
The beauty of traveling with a corporate travel agency is that you can book great vacations at well-known hotel chains and resorts, and take advantage of the corporate travel agency’s great rates. Paul Klein, as it turns out, is one of only 80 travel agencies that “partners” with hotel chains like the Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton, among many other great chains–chains that are often expensive and have little in the way of a rewards program. Through Paul Klein, we were able to stay in some great spots and take advantage of the opportunities to see different places we may not otherwise know about.
BENEFITS OF USING A CORPORATE TRAVEL AGENT–WHAT YOU SHOULD ASK FOR
1) Alerts if prices drop or are about to go up so you can secure the best air/hotel packages
2) Resort credits that average between $100-300 per trip—credits that may include meals or spa packages; even high tea and room service breakfasts—free with your travel agent relationship.
3) Instant phone calls made to the manager of a hotel to request a room change or upgrade on your behalf–something you may not be able to secure on your own.
Recently, I did a segment for ABC in Minneapolis about melting your gold and selling it because you could get more money for gold than a few years ago. Recessions work that way. Gold holds its value during a recession. But someone whose parent had recently died asked me if now was also a good time to sell an old wedding band, made up of several diamonds. Her jeweler suggested making an eternity ring, or using the small diamonds to make something for her daughters.
BAD NEWS: PRICES FOR DIAMONDS HAVE GONE UP
If you own diamonds and want to sell them right now the good news is you will be able to sell them for a little more than you could have in 2009, by about 5%. The reason is because manufacturers of diamonds are slowing production of their supply, which is causing prices to go up. It is unclear how long this upward trend will continue, but since January prices have been going up a little each month.
SHOULD YOU BUY DIAMONDS NOW?
There is no question that in the past three years diamond prices plummeted 30%. That is the question of the day. The diamond industry now has a set price marker, called the IDEX. This pricing index should be a good judge of what a diamond should sell for.
FIND OUT THE VALUE OF THE DIAMONDS
- Go to your local jeweler for an appraisal
- Compare venues across the board to see where you may be able to get the highest price (auction, jeweler, web)
- Consider buying inexpensive little diamond(s) and turning them into something else for your children. The prices have not gone up steadily for a few years, and you may want to hold out.
By Farnoosh Torabi
Furniture can be a big expense — and if you end up with a poorly manufactured piece that falls apart after a short period of time, you can wind up with a big hole in your bank account.
Since 2002 the industry has been unregulated, leaving the door open for a great deal of misleading sales tactics. How to shop smart and save money at the same time? Consumer expert Jennifer Litwin, author of Furniture Hot Spots and Best Furniture Buying Tips Ever, recently shared with me her five best cost-saving strategies for consumers:
1. Beware of Online ‘Antiques’
Online hubs that bring together buyers and sellers are under no obligation to guarantee the quality or condition of antique or vintage, or previously cherished pieces, says Litwin. If you frequently buy previously owned pieces — whether new or old — make sure you get some sort of business insurance, insurance against fraud or cyber insurance policy that protects buyers from fakes or product misrepresentation. ”These insurance plans protect you in litigation or arbitration. Otherwise, you absorb all of the risk,” she says.
Litwin also reminds us it’s important to always pay with a credit card — as opposed to a debit card or wire transfer — so you can stop payment if the item turns out to be a fake, or badly damaged. Litwin is soon launching her own furniture company, Certified Gorgeous, which she says will offer various insurance policies to protect buyers.
2. Don’t Rely on ‘Solid’ Label
Most new furniture sold in the U.S. is imported from Asia now, explains Litwin – and while the level of craftsmanship has improved, many of these pieces still don’t come with proper labeling that specifies the materials used. If you didn’t know any better, you might think the finishes look authentic (cherry, mahogany, walnut, etc). But different manufacturers may define “solid” differently. Many pieces are made of a mixture of woods or small pieces glued together, and may crack because the wood may be weaker or not constructed properly. “Mixing woods to create particle board doesn’t necessarily weaken the wood,” says Litwin. “But if [the manufacturer is] not using the right hot glue, or strong wood of a good quality, the piece can weaken.”
Actual solid wood usually lasts longer because it isn’t weakened by composition. If you’re not enough of an expert to recognize the difference, make sure you get a one-year warranty for both the parts and labor.
3. Ship in Bulk
If you’re furnishing an entire house, look for a package shipping price for all of your delivered purchases, says Litwin. Rising gas prices have made shipping costs more expensive, so one way to save is to shop in bulk. And bear in mind that local retail stores have the best shipping prices and many install and deliver free of charge — so weigh shipping costs when you’re comparing online sources with the store down the street. (Chain stores will typically offer fewer deals in shipping, or do so seasonally.)
4. Shop Wholesale
Wholesalers who typically don’t sell to the public seem more than willing to sell to the average person these days, says Litwin — particularly fabric houses that sell fairly generic fabrics, like Sunbrella or leather. ”Call these wholesalers and ask them directly if you can buy from them, and then negotiate the same discounted prices you would at any home furnishings store. Many wholesalers even include shipping — a huge savings,” she says.
5. Update Fabric Trimming
Rather than replacing your existing fabrics and curtains, why not give them an makeover by simply replacing their trim? Litwin suggests visiting a fabric wholesaler in your area where you can often find upscale trims at a fraction of the cost at a design center. ”Your room will take on a whole new look that will stay fresh and current for another 10 years,” she says.
If you are shopping for a mortgage now, you have probably discovered that getting a mortgage just isn’t as easy as you thought it might be.
TRENDS IN THE MORTGAGE MARKET:
- Both the 15-(5.42%) and 30-(5.88%)-year fixed rates have gone down by about ½% point in 1 year.
- The mortgage crisis began in 2007, as people failed to pay their loans. This quarter, alone, 900,000 homes are going through the foreclosure process, and home values are the lowest they have been since 2001.
- Loss of jobs—in March, alone, the economy lost 80,000 jobs.
- If you had an ARM (Adjustable Rate Mortgage), you paid a low introductory rate, but rates have soared after 2-3 years, making it harder to pay your mortgage. EX: If you have a $200,000 mortgage and your introductory ARM was at 4% at closing, it might be 7.5% now, after the adjustment period. This costs you almost $400 more per month. Continue reading »
BANK REFINANCING RATES THE BEST IN 50 YEARS
That’s what you see over and over in the press. True. Yes, the cash-strapped can win big when refinancing right now, saving money over the life of your mortgage, or so we’ve been led to believe. But wait. There’s a catch. In effect in most states now:
APPEALING YOUR REAL ESTATE TAXES WILL NOW REQUIRE YOU TO GET AN APPRAISAL, OR TO SHOW ANY APPRAISAL YOU HAVE GOTTEN IN THE PAST THREE YEARS
Wow. So if you have had your home appraised for refinancing purposes, that appraisal will come in most likely at much more than what you paid for your house possibly years ago. Your higher appraised home will hurt your ability to now get your real estate taxes lowered, ever. Especially if you get all the way to your appeals court. The counties will do anything to get revenue and property taxes are one of the best ways to recover the financial losses over the past few years.
HOME APPRAISALS MEAN A HUGE GAMBLE IF YOU WANT TO EVER TRY TO APPEAL YOUR ALREADY HIGH PROPERTY TAXES
Counties across America are getting smarter. They are coming down hard on people who claim they are overpaying for taxes relative to their neighbors. Too many people are hiring too many lawyers and the courts are overflowing with real estate tax appeal cases. With states and counties feeling cash-strapped, they are looking for any way to collect more taxes. Your county knows that if you are required to submit your appraisals done within the past three years you will be less likely to try to get your real estate taxes lowered.
Something important to consider when deciding whether or not to refinance. Don’t learn after the fact.
HOW THE CREDIT CARD ACT OF 2009 AFFECTS YOUR KIDS AND CHARGING
The Credit Card Act of 2009 went into effect to limit a credit card’s ability to charge high interest rates and service fees. Kids and especially kids in college were trapped with high balances and high interest rates. Kids and credit cards have always been a risk to credit card companies, and to their parents, of course.
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