Save For A Baby

Babies are expensive. According to recent figures, the cost of raising a child is a whopping $233,610! Here are some ideas to get smart with your money and save for a baby:

  • Check your insurance and shop around. Call your provider and note the overall cost of pre-and postnatal care, then shop around to find the best option. You could save on copays, deductibles, and in-network doctors.
  • Start saving on health expenses, smartly:
    • HSAs (health savings accounts) are applicable if you have a high deductible insurance plan. An HSA might be a good option if you can’t change insurance. Plus, they are tax-exempt!
    • Flexible spending account (FSA) – these are usually established through an employer and can help pay for medical costs. This fund is also tax-exempt.
    • Dependent Care FSA (DCFSA). Another type of account offered by employers, this one is for childcare expenses for children under 13. You can save up to $5,000 per year in this account on a married filing joint household.
  • 529 Plan. This helps you to prepay or set up a savings account for education expenses. Each state has different rules, but withdrawals for qualified education expenses are tax-free.

Manage Bad Reviews Online

Running a business can be challenging, especially in an era when customers can leave reviews online in so many different places.

A 2016 Harvard Business School study of the impact of Yelp reviews on revenue showed that one truly awful review can cost a business tens of thousands of dollars, while five positive reviews only count for a 10% revenue increase. So, let’s look at how you can increase positive reviews while minimizing the negative impacts of bad reviews.

  • Read your reviews. Go where your customers are. Have a business presence on all the review sites, including Yelp, LinkedIn, Google, and Facebook, and then read all your reviews. You can also set up alerts (such as Google Alerts at google.com/alerts) to be notified of new reviews on sites you aren’t familiar with. Set up an alert with your business name and see what pops up.
  • Look for patterns. When similar issues come up in multiple negative reviews, it’s an opportunity to identify systemic problems, improving your business in the process.
  • Apologize. Often, a sincere apology is all it takes to turn an unhappy customer into a happy one—especially if you offer a free service or product to demonstrate a policy change.
  • Address complaints. Don’t just apologize for a mistake or problem—you must actually fix it or the cycle will start over again with another customer. Make sure to reply to each review as well. Even if there’s no satisfactory outcome, others will see you made the effort.
  • Request positive reviews. Ask your happy customers to leave positive reviews for you whenever possible. Even if one negative comment remains unresolved, if it’s only one amid dozens of positive reviews it carries less weight.

            You won’t always be able to satisfy everyone, particularly as some of the negativity may come from so-called “trolls” who are just trying to stir the pot. In some cases, when a negative review is inaccurate or defamatory, you can request that it be removed by the review site. Keep in mind this is only for reviews that are genuinely inaccurate—not for negative reviews you simply don’t like. It’s illegal in the US to impose penalties of any kind for honest reviews (per the Consumer Review Fairness Act).

Homes Across the Country Are Selling Fast [INFOGRAPHIC]

Homes Across the Country Are Selling Fast [INFOGRAPHIC] | Keeping Current Matters

Some Highlights

  • In today’s whirlwind real estate market, houses are selling at astonishing speed – from sea to shining sea.
  • Four years ago, the average house spent 39 days on the market. Two years ago, homes were on the market for about 24 days. Today, that number has dropped to just 17 short days.
  • If you’re looking to sell your house quickly and on the best possible terms, today’s market can’t be beat. Reach out to a local real estate professional to discuss how to secure a speedy, top-dollar sale for your house.

The post Homes Across the Country Are Selling Fast [INFOGRAPHIC] appeared first on Keeping Current Matters.

Ingredients to Watch For In Sunscreens

Image by chezbeate from Pixabay

We’ve been told for years that we need to wear sunscreen daily, but what do we know about the ingredients in the stuff we’re slathering on our skin all summer?

You might not know this, but you might be ingesting sunscreen from inhaling sprays and applying sunscreen to your lips. Sunscreen is also absorbed by the skin. These chemicals can show up in your blood, urine, and even breast milk! That’s why the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is investigating the safety of sunscreen and insisting that consumers have clear information about the chemicals contained within sunscreen products.

The FDA has stated that there isn’t enough information to determine if a wide range of chemicals contained in sunscreens are safe. In particular, concerns have been raised about these chemicals, so check your sunscreen to see if any of them are on the ingredients list:

  1. Oxybenzone is associated with affecting hormone levels and altered birth weights. It has relatively high rates of skin allergies. It’s one of the ingredients found to be contaminating coral reefs.
  2. Octinoxate has moderate rates of skin allergies and impacted hormone levels. This ingredient also affects sea life.
  3. Octocrylene has been associated with relatively high rates of skin allergies.
  4. Homosalate is known to disrupt hormone levels.

Mineral sunscreens, however, rate much better! The FDA has stated that natural minerals like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are safe and less likely to penetrate the skin, while still providing sun protection.

For much more detailed info and a downloadable sunscreen guide plus an app for your phone, visit: www.ewg.org/sunscreen/

How Misunderstandings About Affordability Could Cost You

How Misunderstandings about Affordability Could Cost You | Keeping Current Matters

There’s a lot of discussion about affordability as home prices continue to appreciate rapidly. Even though the most recent index on affordability from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) shows homes are more affordable today than the historical average, some still have concerns about whether or not it’s truly affordable to buy a home right now.

When addressing this topic, there are various measures of affordability to consider. However, very few of the indexes compare the affordability of owning a home to renting one. In a paper just published by the Urban Institute, Homeownership Is Affordable Housing, author Mike Loftin examines whether it’s more affordable to buy or rent. Here are some of the highlights included.

1. Renters pay a higher percentage of their income toward their rental payment than homeowners pay toward their mortgage.

The report explains:

“When we look at the median housing expense ratio of all households, the typical homeowner household spends 16 percent of its income on housing while the typical renter household spends 26 percent. This is true, you might say, because people who own their own home must make more money than people who rent. But if we control for income, it is still more affordable to own a home than to rent housing, on average.”

Here’s the data from the report shown in a graph:How Misunderstandings about Affordability Could Cost You | Keeping Current Matters

2. Renters don’t have extra money to invest in other assets.

The report goes on to say:

“Buying a home is not a decision between investing in real estate versus investing in stocks, as financial advisers often claim. Instead, the home buying investment simply converts some portion of an existing expense (renting) into an investment in real estate.”

It explains that you still have a housing expense (rent payments) even if you don’t buy a home. You can’t live in your 401K, but you can transfer housing expenses to your real estate investment. A mortgage payment is forced savings; it goes toward building equity you will likely get back when you sell your home. There’s no return on your rent payments.

3. Your mortgage payment remains relatively the same over time. Your rent keeps going up.

The report also notes:

“Whereas renters are continuously vulnerable to cost increases, rising home prices do not affect homeowners. Nobody rebuys the same home every year. For the homeowner with a fixed-rate mortgage, monthly payments increase only if property taxes and property insurance costs increase. The principal and interest portion of the payment, the largest portion, is fixed. Meanwhile, the renter’s entire payment is subject to inflation.

Consequently, over time, the homeowner’s and renter’s differing trajectories produce starkly different economic outcomes. Homeownership’s major affordability benefit is that it stabilizes what is likely the homeowner’s biggest monthly expense, assuming a buyer has a fixed-rate mortgage, which most American homeowners do. The only portion of the homeowner’s housing expenses that can increase is taxes and insurance. The principal and interest portion stays the same for 30 years.”

A mortgage payment remains about the same over the 30 years of the mortgage. Here’s what rents have done over the last 30 years:How Misunderstandings about Affordability Could Cost You | Keeping Current Matters

4. If you want to own a home and can afford it, waiting could cost you.

As the report also indicates:

“We need to stop seeing housing as a reward for financial success and instead see it as a critical tool that can facilitate financial success. Affordable homeownership is not the capstone of economic well-being; it is the cornerstone.”

Homeownership is the first rung on the ladder of financial success for most households, as their home is most often their largest asset.

Bottom Line

If the current headlines reporting a supposed drop-off in home affordability are making you nervous, contact your local real estate professional for the real insights into your area.

The post How Misunderstandings About Affordability Could Cost You appeared first on Keeping Current Matters.

Buying a Home Is Still Affordable

Buying a Home Is Still Affordable | Keeping Current Matters

The last year has put emphasis on the importance of one’s home. As a result, some renters are making the jump into homeownership while some homeowners are re-evaluating their current house and considering a move to one that better fits their current lifestyle. Understanding how housing affordability works and the main market factors that impact it may help those who are ready to buy a home narrow down the optimal window of time in which to make a purchase.

There are three main factors that go into determining how affordable homes are for buyers:

  1. Mortgage Rates
  2. Mortgage Payments as a Percentage of Income
  3. Home Prices

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) produces a Housing Affordability Index. It takes these three factors into account and determines an overall affordability score for housing. According to NAR, the index:

“…measures whether or not a typical family earns enough income to qualify for a mortgage loan on a typical home at the national and regional levels based on the most recent price and income data.”

Their methodology states:

“To interpret the indices, a value of 100 means that a family with the median income has exactly enough income to qualify for a mortgage on a median-priced home. An index above 100 signifies that family earning the median income has more than enough income to qualify for a mortgage loan on a median-priced home, assuming a 20 percent down payment.”

So, the higher the index, the more affordable it is to purchase a home. Here’s a graph of the index going back to 1990:Buying a Home Is Still Affordable | Keeping Current MattersThe blue bar represents today’s affordability. We can see that homes are more affordable now than they’ve been at any point since the housing crash when distressed properties (foreclosures and short sales) dominated the market. Those properties were sold at large discounts not seen before in the housing market for almost one hundred years.

Why are homes so affordable today?

Although there are three factors that drive the overall equation, the one that’s playing the largest part in today’s homebuying affordability is historically low mortgage rates. Based on this primary factor, we can see that it’s more affordable to buy a home today than at any time in the last eight years.

If you’re considering purchasing your first home or moving up to the one you’ve always hoped for, it’s important to understand how affordability plays into the overall cost of your home. With that in mind, buying while mortgage rates are as low as they are now may save you quite a bit of money over the life of your home loan.

Bottom Line

If you feel ready to buy, purchasing a home this summer may save you a significant amount of money over time based on historical affordability trends. Reach out to a local real estate professional today to determine if now is the right time for you to make your move.

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Where Do Experts Say the Housing Market Is Heading?

Where Do Experts Say the Housing Market Is Heading? | Keeping Current Matters

As we enter the middle of 2021, many are wondering if we’ll see big changes in the housing market during the second half of this year. Here’s a look at what some experts have to say about key factors that will drive the industry and the economy forward in the months to come.

realtor.com

“. . . homes continue to sell quickly in what’s normally the fastest-moving time of the year. This is in contrast with 2020 when homes sold slower in the spring and fastest in September and October. While we expect fall to be competitive, this year’s seasonal pattern is likely to be more normal, with homes selling fastest from roughly now until mid-summer.”

National Association of Realtors (NAR)

Sellers who have been hesitant to list homes as part of their personal health safety precautions may be more encouraged to list and show their homes with a population mostly vaccinated by the mid-year.”

Danielle Hale, Chief Economist at realtor.com

“Surveys showed that seller confidence continued to rise in April. Extra confidence plus our recent survey finding that more homeowners than normal are planning to list their homes for sale in the next 12 months suggest that while we may not see an end to the sellers’ market, we might see the intensity of the competition diminish as buyers have more options to choose from.”

Freddie Mac

We forecast that mortgage rates will continue to rise through the end of next year. We estimate the 30-year fixed mortgage rate will average 3.4% in the fourth quarter of 2021, rising to 3.8% in the fourth quarter of 2022.”

Bottom Line

Experts are optimistic about the second half of the year. Reach out to a real estate professional today to learn more about the conditions in your local market.

The post Where Do Experts Say the Housing Market Is Heading? appeared first on Keeping Current Matters.

How to Spot Bed Bugs in Hotels

Image by ming dai from Pixabay

It’s every traveler’s worst nightmare: finding bedbugs in your hotel. And it can happen anywhere, even 4-star hotels! Here’s how to check:

  1. Bring a small flashlight to inspect your room for bugs as soon as you arrive — before unpacking. And don’t put your suitcase on the bed yet!
  2. Inspect the bed: around each corner of the mattress, the box spring/bed frame, be sure to look along the edging and seams and zips.
  3. Check nearby furniture: framed pictures, furniture screws holes and joints, and other upholstered furniture.
  4. Look out for signs of bugs: blood smears or black marks on the mattress — these can be signs of an infestation.
  5. Inspect the luggage rack/valet, as bugs can be found in cracks.

Even if you don’t find any, it is worth taking some extra precautions:

  • Check the hotel reviews before booking. Look at bedbugreports.comwhich lists bug complaints in hotels.
  • Never put your clothes on the bed and bring a large plastic bag with you to store dirty clothes – bed bugs are attracted to the odor.
  • Vacuum inside and outside your suitcase when you get home, immediately discarding the contents in a sealed bag in the trash.

Stress-Free Family Flying

Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

Traveling is a great way to build memories with your family — if done thoughtfully. Last month we offered general family travel tips. This month we take to the skies. Buckle up!

  • Board early. Most airlines invite families to board first, so take advantage to get settled in.
  • Avoid busy airports and peak travel times. Mid-week, early and mid-mornings, and late at night are good options.
  • Come prepared with entertainment. Pack coloring books, games, crayons, stuffed animals, movies on a portable DVD player, and anything else that might keep your kids busy.
  • Pack your carry-on bag with an assumed 48-hour delay. This means you’ve got a change of clothes, diapers, and enough to entertain the whole family should your original travel plans be thrown off track. Bring your own snacks as well.
  • Avoid unnecessary stops. If possible, fly straight to your destination.
  • Choose seats that let you keep a bag within arm’s reach. This means avoiding the bulkhead seats, even if they have extra room.